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The Sky's The Limit

First Contact comes in all shapes and sizes, but Captain Burton never knew it would end up him giving the one order he promised himself he wouldn't issue.

PROLOGUE – DAY 47

Challenger NX-03
Friday, July 25th, 2155

You have all done your best and I can’t ask anymore from you. It’s time to face reality, as we can’t keep going on like this. We’ve lost two decks; primary systems are failing, and life support is barely operational. Challenger can no longer protect us.” Captain Burton paused as he took a breath and shook his head in disbelief at where they found themselves in this moment of time. The entire crew was assembled in the crew lounge; those injured were lying on the makeshift medical beds while the rest of them were all huddled together in small groups dotted around the room. The room itself was barely lit and had all of its doors either blown off from the bulkheads or were hanging from their hinges. The smell of scorched metal was pungent. Tables and chairs were stacked at one end of the room or scattered around like pieces of a broken jigsaw puzzle.  All of the crew had their focus on Captain Burton as he spoke. He knew none of them would want to hear what he was saying. Their miserable faces told him that. None of them looked like the crew he had taken out of space-dock months ago. He hadn’t seen them this low since Captain Karim’s death. He continued talking as he walked in between them, “I promised myself that I would never give this order, that we would always make it back in one piece,” Taking in another breath he stopped as he reached one end of the room and turned to look at them. Hands on his hips, he finished his sentence, “but asking you to stay would be asking you to die. You will proceed to the escape pods and abandon ship.”

Those last words hung in the air like thick acid fog and caused a bitter taste with everyone who was in the mess hall. Everyone’s defeated expressions suddenly looked worse than what they had been moments before, yet Captain Burton had to be honest with them and they needed to hear it. It was a decision he had mentally wrestled with over the last few days. He had agonised over it and had only discussed it with Stanton before sharing his decision with what was left of the senior staff one day ago. Now he stood before everyone and gave out what could be considered his very last order to his crew. Deep down Burton hoped that was not the case. In the distance he could hear some of them crying over their current predicament. He too found it hard to accept it as well and was doing his best not joining in with them. He had to remain strong, yet if he could feel his eyes becoming watery. He was the commanding officer and he had to lead his crew to victory even if that meant them all leaving the ship behind. 

“You will make your way for the Minshara planet we were originally heading to. You’ll need to keep a strict radio silence to avoid being detected by any enemy ships. Once you’ve landed then find somewhere to set up a shelter. You’ll have to rough it until you’ve been able to determine what you can use from the land to survive on.” Burton had started to walk in and around the makeshift beds again. He was taking his time to look at everyone, as he knew this was important that they felt he valued every single one of them. “Some of the senior staff and I will remain on board as long as possible. We will try somehow to find Commander Levesque and her missing group.” He paused after he said those words as he passed Corporal Jenkins and rested an assuring hand on the young man’s shoulder; it was a small gesture just so that Jenkins knew that his captain understood how hard he was finding to cope in their current situation. Jenkins had lost his fiancé and his heartbreak was plastered across his expression. Burton knew they had all been affected in one way or another since all of this started and none of them would be the same once it was over. Burton drew in a breath and finished his speech as he approached Ben-Ami. “I’ve decided to promote our good doctor to Lieutenant Commander.” He shook her hand in a half-hearted attempt to congratulate her. “Lieutenant Commander Ben-Ami will be in command of you all. You’ll take your orders from her and when we find each other again,” He paused as he knocked on a nearby table in a vain attempt to gain some luck from the fates (deep down he realised the table was not made of wood but carrying out the gesture made him feel good), “and we will, we will find each other again, I expect all of you to be in good health and in one piece with some interesting adventures to share. That’s an order!” He took one more look around the room. His strong conviction that they will meet again had to be what drove them now. “Godspeed.” He finished on.

Burton watched solemnly, attempting his hardest to keep it together still, as one at a time they shuffled out of the room. As Jenkins walked past him, he could hear the young MACO sniffling and trying to hold back the tears that stung his eyes, instinctively Burton just put his arms around the man just as if he was one of his younger brothers. “We’ll get through this Liam, I promise.” He whispered into the man’s ear.

“Thank you, sir.” Jenkins whispered back before letting go of his commanding officer and leaving with his comrades.

Eventually Captain Burton was just left with his senior staff. They all looked as exhausted and deflated as he did. Not one of them had a uniform on that didn’t have a scratch or a piece missing from it. Like their uniforms, they all looked dirty too from smudges of dirt smeared across their faces, necks and arms. Any part of their skin that was exposed was also complimented by an array of bruises and cuts. Their hairs were all dishevelled. None of them had washed in days. What they had been through over the past month was a living hell. He looked at the woman that stood the tallest in the room. These last few months he had grown accustomed to her and was starting to be able to read her body language and guess what she was going to say before she said it. 

“Sub Commander, I can hear your objections already.” Burton uttered softly.

T’Plau raised her left eyebrow; surprised he was able to predict what she was going to say to him. She spoke up anyway, “Given Challenger’s damaged state the probability of it surviving another battle is negligible sir.”

Burton smiled at her Vulcan pessimism. “I know but I owe it to Nicole and the others. We won’t leave them behind.”

“I respect your decision.” T’Plau said with a hint of reluctance in her voice, finally admitting defeat in trying to convince the captain to reconsider his decision. She knew that neither her nor Stanton could change his mind when it came to the plan to rescue Commander Levesque.

Burton looked to his Chief Medical Officer; he wanted this moment to quickly go away so he could remove the heartbreak he was feeling and concentrate on getting on with his work. “You ready to go Kefira?”

She nodded and smiled half heartily at her comrades one more time. “I wish I could stay.”

“Just don’t get too comfy in those escape pods!” Commander Stanton said from where he was leaning against the wall, arms-crossed, trying to lighten the mood, if that was possible. His head was so far backward he looked as if he was trying to use the wall as a place he could sleep against; his entire demeanour displayed his fatigue too. 

She smiled at him, appreciating that he tried to share some humour with them. “We promise not to.” Ben-Ami said looking to her three other travelling companions: Major Yu, Ensigns Conrad and Hennessey. 

“Keep them safe Major.” Burton said to his MACO commander who just quietly nodded in response. “And Ensign Conrad, make sure you bring back Shuttlepod One in good condition.”

“I’ll do my best not to scratch her paintwork sir.” Conrad responded, also trying to keep the mood as light as possible.

Burton looked at them all individually again. “Good luck.” He said, indicating for them to get going. They all said their goodbyes, which included them all hugging one another apart from T’Plau. Unexpectedly she gave them the Vulcan salute and said goodbye to them by reciting Surak’s famous phrase of “Live long and prosper”. 

They soon departed from the ship. 

Once the last escape pod launched, Captain Burton stood back as he read the computer monitor saying the final lifeboat was clear. He then looked to Commander Stanton and Sub Commander T’Plau. The three of them were the last ones left on board. Around them, just like every other corridor and room on board, was what was left of the wrecked ship. Challenger had taken a pounding that had almost destroyed it. Whereas before they would have been standing in a well-lit clean corridor, now they found themselves standing among collapsed bulkheads, burnt out circuitry. A few overhead lights flickered on and off alongside an annoying buzzing noise filling the air. The atmosphere was filled with a thick sense of defeat left behind by their crew.

Burton turned to his two remaining officers and whispered as he took in the scenery around them, “Tell me something, how did we end up here?” 

Sub Commander T’Plau considered the captain’s question as she thought back to when it all started…

ONE – DAY 1

Challenger NX-03
Sunday, June 8th, 2155

“The Deltans? I’ve never heard of them.” Commander Stanton stated from where he sat opposite Captain Burton. “Are they a peaceful bunch?” He asked. 

Sub Commander T’Plau found herself having breakfast with Captain Burton and Commanders Levesque and Stanton in the captain’s private dining room. This was not the first time she had shared a similar dining experience with the three most superior officers on board Challenger. The Captain had invited her to join them previously and she found herself appreciating their company. “They are.” She said to answer the engineer’s excited tone.

Burton chuckled at how eager his Second Officer was at the news of them meeting a new race. “We’ll be the second Earth ship to meet Deltans.” He added in between a mouthful of bacon. 

“The second?” Levesque said disappointedly as she picked up her glass of orange juice. “I don’t remember reading anywhere that Enterprise made contact with them?”

“No, they didn’t.” Burton said, “The E.C.S. Horizon met one of their freighters years ago and logged the contact with Starfleet which included the location of their home-world. Since then no one has actually bothered to meet up from either side. Secretary Campbell wants a Starfleet ship to visit Delta and open up formal trading negotiations.”

“So officially this will be the proper real first contact with them?” Stanton asked, seeking clarification.

“We’ll be official representatives from the United Earth Commonwealth and the first Humans to visit Delta, so yeah I suppose it can be classified as a real first contact.” Burton answered. He was still smiling at how thrilled Levesque and Stanton were at the news of meeting a new race.

Levesque looked over to T’Plau who sat from across. “Sub Commander, have the Vulcans met with the Deltans before?”

“We have; however, no official relationship has ever been formalised between our governments. Their space was deemed too far away to establish any treaties.” T’Plau clarified. “Challenger’s visit to Delta would help other Coalition worlds in founding agreements with the Deltan Union too.”

“Are they really called the Deltans?” Stanton quickly quizzed his captain, sounding almost unable to believe that fact.

“Actually, it is, or it’s as close to how we can pronounce it.” Burton responded. “When the Deltans met the crew on the Horizon, they explained they were from the planet Dhei and their sun was called Lta, the Horizon crew marked it in their star charts as Delta. The Deltan crew went on to using the name until both freighters went their separate ways.”

“The universe never ceases to amaze me.” Levesque stated as she picked up a slice of toast that was shaped into a triangle. She bit on one end and after swallowing it carried on talking. “So how long will this mission take?”

“Not too sure yet.” Burton replied. “This will be completely new for us and for them. We’ll just need to make sure we’re complete experts based on Horizon’s logs.”

T’Plau then added her thoughts on the matter. “From what I am aware of captain, the Deltan species are quite sexually active.”

At that point all three Human officers coughed on what they were either eating or drinking. Stanton, who had been drinking a mug of coffee, quickly swallowed the hot beverage and looked at the Vulcan. “Sexually active, in what way?” He curiously asked. 

T’Plau looked at him. “Is there more than one way of being sexually active Commander?”

Levesque started to laugh at that question. “I think Michael meant how do they come across as sexually active?”

“I do not believe they are intentional in being promiscuous Commander. Like Orion women, they produce a pheromone that elicits sexual attraction to others. Apparently, many from the Horizon crew were unable to control themselves and Captain Mayweather was forced to order many of them to engage in heavy physical activity to release their tension.” Explained T’Plau

“I bet he did.” Stanton remarked in a crude manner.

T’Plau ignored his comment and carried on sharing what she knew. “Also, their facial features are more symmetrical than other species, prompting a more physical reaction to them being attractive.”

“Sounds like then the good Ro-fa will need to find a way to combat this pheromone or we won’t be getting any work done.” Levesque suggested towards Burton’s direction.

Burton, who found the entire discussion amusing looked back at his First Officer. “Indeed.” He looked at the others. “Well we’ve got a couple of days before we arrive to prepare the crew. Perhaps we need to expand the gym?”


“So, what are our plans today?” Corporal Jenkins said as he snuggled tighter with his boyfriend.

Ensign Stewart wiggled himself on their shared bed, so he was more comfortable with having Jenkins literally curled around him like a python. Their duvet was now tangled in between their legs. “How about we go meet everyone for breakfast like we said we would, then head to the gym before coming back here and having a lazy day watching films?”

Jenkins considered his options. “I like the first and last part but not the stuff in the middle.” He looked up at the man he was wrapped around. “It’s our first day off together in weeks and you want to spend it at the gym?”

“Well can you suggest what else we can do on an NX-class ship?” Stewart countered. 

“More sleep perhaps?” Jenkins offered as he kissed Stewart’s cheek.

Rolling his eyes, Stewart sighed at how his other half was trying to play cute and sweet with him. Inwardly he promised himself he wouldn’t let him get away with it this time. “That’s all you do on your time off though!”

Jenkins now got off from him and leant back on his elbows, “Well as you implied there’s not much to do on an NX-class ship!”

Stewart chuckled and admitted his boyfriend was right. “Fine, you win! But let’s go to the recreational rooms and do something instead of being cooped up in here. Perhaps a game of pool? Darts? Anything!”

“Done deal!” Jenkins returned and extended his hand to shake Stewart’s.

“Love it!” Stewart said and moved to kiss Jenkins instead of shaking his hand to formalise their deal. He was met with a kiss and a muffled laugh from him.


The crew lounge was lively and busy with a good number of people having breakfast. On one particular table sat many of Challenger’s low-ranking crewmembers. Ensign Conrad was digging into a bowl of cereal, while sat next to him was his girlfriend, Ensign Habiba, who was drinking a mug of tea while reading a tablet. It was becoming a daily routine for many of them to meet in the morning for breakfast. With them also sat Ensigns Larsen, Hathaway, Cortez and Metaxas. All of them were munching on their first meal of the day and talking about various topics.

“Where’s Sakura this morning?” Conrad asked Habiba with a mouthful of milk and cereal.

Habiba looked at him with a disgusted expression at the fact he spoke before swallowing, “I can’t believe I find that attractive sometimes.” She remarked at his actions before answering him. “She had to stop by engineering to pick up something, she said she’ll be here.”

“What about the other power couple?” Ensign Larsen asked as he cut up his pancakes, referring to Jenkins and Stewart. Since Conrad and Habiba had officially got together and made their relationship “public” on the ship, the banter between the friends had started around as to which couple was the best. They all received the title of “power couples”. It was now an on-going joke that became a common label for them. 

“Isn’t it their day off today?” Hathaway pointed out as she played with the scrambled egg on her plate in an attempt to pick it up on her fork.

Conrad nodded. “Yeah Niall mentioned he was able to pull a favour with the good Ro-fa so he could get the day off with Liam.” The pilot swallowed his food so he could talk further. “I still don’t think it’s fair that the MACOs get a whole day off!”

“Hey, don’t be a MACO hater!” came the voice of Second Lieutenant Trommler as he approached the group with his breakfast on a tray. He sat down in the empty chair beside Conrad. Unlike the rest of them who were all wearing their uniforms, the MACO soldier was dressed in civilian clothing. “Captain Burton promised Major Yu that once things got quiet, he would pay the MACOs back for their efforts on Docana with a day off. Now seeing as that was way over a month ago, I think it’s only fair we finally got that!”

 “You fell sick Trommo and got pulled out almost instantly! You don’t deserve a day off for not doing any work!” Conrad countered as he called the MACO officer by the nickname he had given him a few weeks ago. 

Trommler snickered at that fact before arguing back. “And you crash landed a shuttlepod which I hear the Captain has yet to forgive you for Jacky!” He used his own nickname for the senior pilot at the end. The two of them were becoming fast friends to the point their other friends would tease Habiba that she would lose Conrad for going off with Trommler and having an affair with him. On many occasions she had joked she was more than happy for that to happen, especially with how crude Conrad could be with his humour. 

 “Hey if it wasn’t for me, we wouldn’t have been able to save a civilisation!” Conrad boasted.

 “Yes, the whole of Andoria owes you one Jack!” Cortez replied sarcastically. She looked at his girlfriend, “Remind me again what you see in him Martha?”

Habiba chuckled at that comment as she put her tablet down. “I ask that question almost every morning when I wake up and see him next to me.”

“Hey, you weren’t complaining this morning!” Conrad said in defence.

Trommler ruffled Conrad’s hair and in his German accent spoke up to protect his friend. “Ah don’t worry bud; I still love you!” 

Conrad quickly hugged him. “Thanks bro, glad someone has my back!”

Everyone started to laugh at their antics before getting back to their food and carrying on sharing what their day would entail.


On a nearby table Major Viktoria Yu sat with Ensign Ned Hennessey, the two of them both being silent as they ate their food and read from their own computer tablets. They were interrupted by the arrival of Challenger’s Chief Medical Officer. “May I join you both?” Ben-Ami asked politely.

Hennessey and Yu both looked up from their texts and agreed for the doctor to join them. As Ben-Ami sat down she overheard and saw the younger crewmembers laughing out loud with each other. She shook her head at how energetic they all were. “Ah what it means to be young.” She said as she placed her napkin on her lap, still looking at the group.

Yu chuckled at her comments. “Speak for yourself doc,” She said. “I still consider myself young!”

Hennessey also laughed at that as he took a sip of his coffee. “Feeling your age Kefira?”

“Let’s just say I’m not looking forward to the next birthday.” She responded with a wry smile.

The other two continued to chuckle a bit more. In the last couple of months, the three officers had become close, normally joining each other for various meals. As the older members of the crew they shared a kindred spirit in that sense. Many of the other members of the crew were almost all in their twenties, some being fresh out of training while the others only having one or two (at a stretch) assignments under their belts before being posted on Challenger. As Challenger’s seasoned officers who had years of experience in various jobs, the three of them had been nicknamed as the “wise trio” by Ensign Conrad.

“Ah the big four-oh?” Hennessey checked with her, referring to her upcoming fortieth birthday. “I remember mine well.”

Groaning at the idea she would be in the forty plus age bracket now, Ben-Ami just sighed. “It is a little bit depressing.” She looked down at her breakfast and started to spread the chocolate sauce across her pancakes. “So, Viktoria, what are your plans for your day off?”

“I’ve got some messages to catch up with from my family. Then I’m planning to spend the rest of my day just catching up on some reading.” Yu replied, smiling at the idea that she will be able to have the day to herself. 

“That sounds nice.” Ben-Ami said with a smile. She was pleased the MACOs were resting and relaxing today. They had been working extremely hard, just like the rest of the crew, but Yu had been pushing them a lot lately and they were almost screaming for a break. She only hoped the Captain had plans to allow the rest of the crew to take a break in the near future. “And what are your plans for today Ned?” She asked the communication officer.

Ned now put his tablet down to finish off the remains of what looked like a full English breakfast on his plate. “I’ve got upgrades to make to the universal translator matrix. That should take me most of the morning and possibly the afternoon.” He paused as he took a mouthful of hash brown. “You?” He asked finishing his mouthful.

“I’ve got my next set of command training with Commander Levesque.” She answered as she reached for her glass of orange juice to take a sip from it.

“Ah yes, how’s it going?” Yu asked, now sounding more interested at the doctor’s words.

Nodding in between gulps, Ben-Ami responded. “Really well. I can see why the Captain wants us all to take it. Are either of you up next for it?”

Hennessey shook his head. “I’m not allowed to take it until I’ve completed another six months of active starship duty.”

“That’s your mistake for taking the crash course in officer’s training!” Yu stated, joking with him. She looked back at Ben-Ami, “The Captain has asked me if I would take it but I’m in the middle of preparing an extensive training for some of the greener MACOs. I don’t have the time for it.”

“Was the Captain okay with that?” Ben-Ami enquired.

“He understood, but I’ve had to promise him once we’re finished that I’ll do it.” Yu said. “I did hear that he was considering Ensign Conrad for it too.”

“Oh, dear god, please hope that’s not true. I would hate to have to call him sir if he is made a lieutenant before me!” Hennessey expressed with some despair.

Yu now shook her head, “I think it would do him some good.” She commented. “I’ve seen officers like Conrad before. A bit of focus and some mentoring will do him good.”

“He is definitely like a little puppy,” Ben-Ami said. “However, when he is on duty you can’t deny that he works hard.”

“Well for Ned’s sake let’s hope he isn’t put on it for another six months!” Yu joked with them.


“Sir there’s an incoming call for you, it’s Admiral Gardner.” Spoke Ensign Hennessey through the intercom.

Captain Burton was sitting at his desk drinking a mug of tea and reading crew performance reports when his work was interrupted by Hennessey’s call. He minimised the work on his desktop computer and tapped the button on his desk to respond. “Put it through down here Ensign.” He ordered.

“Aye sir.” Hennessey said.

A moment later the call was directed to his computer and Burton inputted the correct command codes to open the channel. The face of Rear Admiral Sam Gardner appeared, showing the African-American flag officer sitting in his office back at Starfleet Command Headquarters on Earth. The San Francisco nightline appeared behind him; its idyllic scenery made Burton wish he were there. “Good day admiral.” He said, greeting his superior officer.

“Lloyd, how are things progressing with your mission?” The flag officer queried in a frank and straight to the point manner.

“Proceeding as expected sir.” Burton responded before explaining more. “We’re still on route to the Deltan homeworld. All systems are operating within normal parameters.”

“Excellent.” The Director of Starfleet Operations said with satisfaction.  

Burton was unsure as to why the Admiral had called him. He fidgeted in his seat slightly. “Sir is there anything else you need?” He asked.

“Yes, there is Captain,” He remarked. “I need you to be aware that both Enterprise and Columbia have been assigned to convoy duties again.”

“Ouch,” Burton said in sympathy for his fellow captains. “Is it getting that bad sir?”

“Unfortunately, yes. Pirating raids against Coalition freighters has increased.” Gardner frowned. “We’ve lost several escort ships.”

Burton sighed at the news and then considered for a moment why Gardner was calling him. “Sir is Challenger being reassigned?”

Shaking his head, Gardner answered, “No, your mission to Delta is far too important to remove you from, we need you to open formal relations with their government. If we can eventually convince them to join the Coalition, then all the better for us all.”

“I didn’t realise their entry to the Coalition was on the table sir?” Burton remarked.

“It’s not,” Gardner said as he explained what he meant. “But that said if an Earth ship is able to bring another member to the table to become trading partners with the Coalition it would work in our favour hugely. The Andorians are still not happy with us after Docana.”

Burton couldn’t blame the Andorians for how they reacted at the end of the Docana incident. At a recent summit of Coalition leaders, Chancellor Margerit had spoken out against the lack of support the Empire had received from its so-called allies when the Malurians and Nausicaan had attacked the Docana colony. Those that had been there at Docana knew the Chancellor was in fact aiming her fury at the Earth leadership for not joining Andoria in their initial response against the Romulans. The Andorians had wanted to make it public knowledge that the Romulans had been behind the entire thing, but President Littlejohn had convinced the Chancellor to reconsider her position. The cost of such a move had been greatly negative on relations between the leaders of Earth and Andoria. However, no one else knew the true reasons behind it all. Burton had been surprised at how that secret had lasted; nonetheless he imagined that if war with the Romulan Star Empire were ever declared then everything that happened at Docana would finally be released. The public reaction to it all would be an interesting one. He suspected that the Andorian people would call for immediate military action by the Imperial Guard against the Romulans (which wouldn’t be too hard to do if they were at war), but he couldn’t guess what the Human response would be. He imagined it would be a mixed one. With some backing Starfleet in supporting the Andorians while others would criticise the Littlejohn administration for getting involved in what they would consider an Andorian national security matter. 

“You think bringing another ally to the table would please them?” Burton enquired, unsure he understood the admiral’s logic and how it would help them.

“It may not please the Andorians, but it would please the Vulcans and Tellerites. If we can keep them in our favour, then it’ll be easier to work with them.” Gardner stated. 

Burton thought that was a feeble answer from Admiral Gardner, but he didn’t have time to consider the political ramifications. “Well I suppose having another friendly face out here couldn’t harm us either.” He stated.

“Indeed.” Gardner agreed. “Keep me apprised and good luck. Gardner out.”

Burton sat backwards as his screen went back to its previous display of his work. He considered what Gardner had said and wondered if there was more going on here then he knew about. He tapped his intercom button and spoke into it. “Burton to Levesque.” He said calling his First Officer.

“Go ahead sir.” Levesque replied.

“Where are you Nicole?” He asked.

“In Cargo Bay One, is everything okay sir?” 

Burton stood up as he answered. “I’m on my way to you now, I’ll tell you all when I arrive.” He tapped the button one more time and closed the channel down. He needed to share this and get Levesque’s point of view on it. He wanted to make sure he wasn’t seeing too much (or too little) into Gardner’s words.


Burton was seated on a cargo container while Levesque was seated on one directly opposite to him. He had just finished retelling her his conversation with Gardner. “So, what do you think?” He asked.

Levesque shrugged her shoulders initially. “I think you’re right that there could be more here that the Admiral isn’t letting on about. Maybe the Coalition is in jeopardy and its survival all rides on this mission!”

“Well that doesn’t make me feel any better Nicole!” He groaned at her as he considered the pressure further. 

She chuckled at him. “You know I didn’t mean it in that way. You and I both know that Admiral Gardner can’t say certain things over subspace, in case anyone is listening in. I’m pretty certain if it was such a big deal then think about how drastic things could be right now.” She offered.

“What do you mean?” He asked as he fidgeted so he could cross his legs under him instead of having them dangling like spaghetti off the edge of a canister.

Levesque waved her hands in the air as she answered him. “I mean if it was so important that we do well with the Deltans then surely they should have sent an Ambassador or Secretary Campbell to be here with us.”

“Perhaps,” He considered her thought. “But that said they never sent an Ambassador or the Foreign Secretary when Archer or Hernandez made first contact with other races.”

“Hmm, good point.” She said as she considered it.

“Maybe I am reading too much into this.” Burton said again.

“Or our dealings with the Denobulans and Andorians have impressed them so much that they think we are ready to play with some of the key players out here. In any case, we just need to complete the mission with the Deltans liking us and leaving them with a good idea about us as a potential trading partner, if not more.” Levesque said with confidence and a smile.

“So not too much to do really!” Burton said sarcastically after considering her point.

They both laughed at it and carried on their conversation around their current mission.


Keeping his focus on the navigational readouts, Ensign Conrad was in full pilot mode as he called it. When in this mode he found his body reacted a lot quicker to anything that happened in a split second. His natural piloting abilities just took over everything else. He could ignore the constant ache in his lower back from where he had been sitting all morning. The ship was due to arrive in the Deltan home system shortly and he wanted to be there when that happened. He refused to miss out on the opportunity to get a first glance of these people when Captain Burton initiated the first opening hail. The reports of them being attractive people got his interest the moment Sub Commander T’Plau said it in the briefing earlier. Though over lunch he had received a firm punch in the arm from his girlfriend for even mentioning it. He knew she only meant it in a joking manner; it was something he liked about their relationship. They were carefree when it came to having fun, they could really wind each other up over anything. 

For a moment he was distracted as the sensors bleeped at him once, then twice. Knowing what it was telling him, he began to slow the ship down. He looked over his shoulder and noticed that Sub Commander T’Plau was the senior officer on duty on the bridge. “Sub Commander, we’re approaching the Deltan system.” He reported.

The Vulcan officer rose from her chair at the armoury station. “Bring us out of warp Ensign.” She ordered as she took the captain’s chair. She touched the button to the left and opened an intercom channel, “Bridge to Captain Burton, we have arrived at our destination.”


On arrival at the bridge Captain Burton wasn’t surprised at all to see his entire senior staff present, all either manning stations or standing around waiting patiently to see this new race. 

“Report?” He asked aloud, he was mostly aiming it to T’Plau and Conrad, but he was happy for anyone else to chip in.

“We’re entering the system at one quarter impulse sir.” Conrad mentioned. “And we’re being approached by two vessels that took off from the fourth planet sir.”

Burton looked at his armoury officer. “Deltan ships?”

She nodded. “Their hull alloys have similar properties to the ones encountered by the Horizon several years ago.”

“Have they attempted to hail us?” Burton asked as he remained standing in the centre of the room and now looked over to his communication officer.

The older gentleman who sat with an earpiece in looked up and shook his head. “Nothing sir but I am detecting a number of signals coming from the planet towards other locations in the system. I would say it is as busy as the Sol system.” Hennessey said.

Levesque, who had been studying the sensor scans closer via the built-in scope, looked up and turned around in her chair to study what was coming up on her main computer monitor. “Ned’s spot on there.” She reported. “I’m picking up over a dozen orbital structures as well as colonies located on other planets and moons besides Delta itself. The home world itself is definitely Minshara class, very much like Earth in its makeup, I’m detecting at least seven moons, and two of the biggest ones are highly populated. All in all, I would estimate there’s at least nine and a half billion people living in the system, maybe more.”

“Wow!” Commander Stanton said from the engineering station. He had just been sitting there, listening to everyone else intently. 

Burton was pleasantly surprised as well at the statistics that Levesque was sharing with them. “Well let’s see if we can’t make any new friends.” He nodded to Hennessey to open a channel, once he had carried out that task Burton cleared his throat and spoke up. “This is Captain Lloyd Burton of the Earth ship Challenger to the Deltan Union. We come in peace to make friendly contact with you and your people.” 

They all waited for a moment; it was obvious the Deltans had received his opening hail. It was most likely being sourced to the appropriate people in charge as well as being translated. 

Conrad made a mental bet to himself that it would most likely be someone in command of one of those ships approaching them who answered them.

“Sir there’s an incoming transmission from the fourth planet.” Hennessey finally announced from his post.

Burton, who had been pacing while they waited, stopped in his tracks, smoothed out his uniform jumpsuit and nodded to the older Ensign to open a channel. The main screen flicked from the image of the Deltan system as they were entering it to one showing a bald human looking man with piercing blue eyes. He was extremely attractive and before he spoke, he gave a smile that put a shiver down Burton’s spine. 

“Greetings Captain Lloyd Burton, I am Prime Minister An’die of the Dhei Union. I bid you a warm welcome to our star system.”

Burton stepped forward towards the main screen, placing himself completely by Conrad’s side. The pilot looked up and noticed Burton returning the same welcoming grin. “Mister Prime Minister, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

TWO – Day 6

Challenger NX-03
Saturday, June 14th, 2155

Captain’s star log, June Fourteenth Twenty-One-Fifty-Five. We’ve been in orbit of Delta Four for almost a week now and the crew have been enjoying some R&R while we continue with our cultural exchange with the Deltans. We have had to limit their time on the planet below as Doctor Ben-Ami has detected some negative side effects with long-term exposure among the population. It would seem their potent pheromones cause severe headaches and unusual behaviour with Humans. Sub Commander T’Plau has yet to report any medical issues; it would seem Vulcan physiology is immune to it. Doctor Ben-Ami has been working with Deltan medical experts to come up with a treatment plan. Meanwhile my talks with the Deltan leadership have been going well, however I’ve had to limit the amount of time we spend together.”

“This is Main Engineering.” Burton said as he led his group of VIPs into the large room. Throughout the entire day he had been feeling nervous at undertaking such a task of showing the Deltan leader and his staff around Challenger. They were finally showing off what Humanity was about. He wanted to paint a great picture for them. Everything laid on this going well if future talks were to be successful between the Coalition and the Union. Burton had led the group in first with Prime Minister An’die following him.

“An impressive sight Captain.” An’die said after walking through the door and taking in what his view had to offer.

“We’re very proud of our accomplishments, Challenger was the third ship built to use the Warp Five engine.” Burton stated as everyone finally filled the room. 

An’die nodded as he inspected the warp core from where he stood. “I am sure many of our own engineers would appreciate meeting with some of yours to share technical insights.”

“Well I’m sure my engineers would be happy to do that.” Burton replied as Stanton approached the group and stood by his side. “Prime Minister An’die let me introduce you to my Chief Engineer and Second Officer, Commander Michael Stanton.” Burton indicated to the engineer next to him with his right hand.

Extending his hand out to greet Stanton, An’die went to shake the engineer’s hand. “A pleasure to meet you Commander Stanton.” He said with the same smile he used when he first made contact with Challenger a few days ago.

Stanton was impressed that he had learnt the Human greeting of a handshake and took the man’s hand and shook it firmly. “Welcome aboard sir and I can vouch for what the Captain said. My engineers and I are more than happy to meet with your people to share ideas. It’s what we are out here to do!”

“I will speak with the Science and Engineering Ministry and see if we can arrange it.” Prime Minister An’die said. “I know many of our warp theorists would be interested to see if Humanity came to similar conclusions about how to achieve warp five like we did.”

“Are your ships limited to warp five as well?” Stanton asked.

“Unfortunately, yes and like you only a few of our vessels are capable of it.” An’die answered.

A heartbeat later, engineering trembled hard, forcing many to fall down to the deck plating. Captain Burton held on to the nearest side handlebars, using his upper arm strength to keep him standing. He noticed his Deltan guests on the floor; all being helped up as sparks blew above them all.  Attempting to keep his balance, Burton made his way over to the nearest communication panel. He tapped the call button and automatically called for the bridge. 

“What’s going on up there?” He called in to it.

“We’re under attack sir,” Levesque answered him.

“Typical,” Burton mumbled to himself. Please don’t let it be the Romulans he thought for a brief moment. “Who is it?”

“We don’t recognise their ships sir.” The Chief Science Officer said. “They’re attacking us and the Deltans.”

An’die who was now walking over to the Human captain spoke up “Captain Burton can I see a visual of the ships attacking us?”

Burton nodded and led the Deltan leader over to the main console in main engineering. He tapped in his command codes, brought up the sensor readings and showed the image of three ships attacking them. 

After an inhaled breath Prime Minister An’die named the attackers, “The Carreon.” 

“I take it you don’t get along with them?” Burton said looking at An’die.

“That’s putting it mildly Captain.” He said back.

Burton sighed in frustration. They didn’t need to make another enemy. He rushed towards the exit of engineering, shouting out to Stanton on his way out. “Michael, keep everything together down here for me!”

“Already on it!” Stanton replied as he climbed up to monitor the main warp core controls. 

Before reaching the hatch, Captain Burton turned to look at his Yeoman. Thankfully Harris had joined him on his tour of the school. “Jamie, get our guests to a secure location.”

The young enlisted man answered, “Aye Captain.”

Prime Minister Theo was hot on Captain Burton’s heels. “Let me come with you Captain. I may be able to help.”

Agreeing to the Deltan man joining him to the bridge, Burton indicated for him to join him as he opened the bulky door and exited the heart of the ship.


“Break orbit Ensign!” Levesque commanded as she gripped onto the arms of the captain’s chair.

“Aye ma’am!” Conrad responded as his fingers raced over the flight controls in front of him. Challenger swiftly darted away from being above the Deltan homeworld, so it was able to deal with three new bullies attacking them from behind. 

“Begin evasive manoeuvres.” Levesque added to her list of orders to the pilot. She had been in similar positions before and knew the drill. She looked over to Hennessey. “Ned, any luck?”

Hennessey, who was trying to get in touch with the attacking ships, had his finger to his earpiece while his free hand was tapping away at the console he sat at. “None, they’re not responding to our hails ma’am.”

“Then tell them we will respond if they don’t cease their attack.” Levesque said before she turned to T’Plau. “Sub Commander, fire several warning shots in their path.”

After programming the attack in, T’Plau hit the fire button and watched as the four forward phase cannons came to life as they fired a number of shots towards the enemy vessels. All missed them but forced them to swerve out of the way. The Carreon ships were smaller compared to Challenger. They had almost two spherical shapes at either end, connected by a long narrow neck. On the rear end of the ships four massive engines sat within their bodies. One pair was dedicated to impulse flight while the other pair was connected to the warp drive. Sitting on either side of the front sphere were large cannon-like shapes that housed their entire weapons array. The Carreon ships’ hulls were almost mint green in colour and had rectangular shaped windows dotted in different locations. 

Rushing out on to the bridge, Captain Burton and Prime Minister An’die made their way to the middle of the room. “Report?” Burton asked as Levesque vacated his chair and took her place at science, relieving Ensign Habiba. 

“We’ve fired a number of warning shots sir after they’ve refused to talk to us, we’re in the middle of taking evasive action as well.” She replied as he logged herself in to her system.

An’die quickly looked at Burton.  “Captain let me try speaking to them.”

“You said it yourself Mister Prime Minister, your people don’t get along. Why would they listen to you?” Burton dismissed the idea. He knew he should respect the leader however this was his ship in the middle of this disaster. 

“Let me try, if not my own support ships will be here in no time to defend us.” An’die remarked, not prepared to give up.

“I am detecting incoming Deltan ships, at least four.” T’Plau announced.

“Quickly then.” Burton said and gestured to Hennessey to open a channel. 

The moment it was done An’die spoke up. “Carreon ships this is Prime Minister An’die on board the Earth ship you are attacking. Stand down now before the Deltan Star Guard arrives. You are violating our sovereignty.”

For a split second they stopped their attacks however it did not last as they opened fire and their intensity increased. Burton shook his head; annoyed that the Prime Minister’s plea fell on deaf ears.  “Sub Commander I think they’ve had too many pot shots at us. Lock your targets and open fire at will. Keep firing until we disable them.” He finally ordered.

Challenger’s phase cannons and torpedo launchers came to life as they fired barrage after barrage at the smaller ships. They were hit constantly, thankfully because of T’Plau’s Vulcan accuracy in her firing solutions. 

“Multiple hits sir,” The Armoury Officer stated after her first attack was successful. “And the Deltan reinforcements have arrived.” She added.

The Deltan ships, similar in size to the Earth ship, began to join in the fight. The Carreon ships soon swooped in and out of the crossfire and all jumped into high warp, fleeing like bees buzzing in various directions.


“Apparently the Carreons and Deltans have had poor relations for years. It all stems from disputed territorial claims.” Captain Burton explained to his senior staff as they all stood around the table in the situation room, aft of the bridge. He stood at the head of it as data around the Carreons was pouring out from the computer banks and being displayed on the table’s inbuilt screen, as well as on the other monitors behind him. An hour had passed since the Carreon attack and they had been able to compose themselves to assess this latest threat to them. Prime Minister An’die had briefed Captain Burton on almost everything he was able to share on the aggressive species. “Prime Minister An’die said that they had almost gone to war over one of the nearby systems, but they had been fortunate enough to sign a treaty that places it and others into a neutral zone. Effectively creating a buffer between both states.”

“But it hasn’t stopped the fighting between them?” Ensign Conrad questioned to the left of Burton. 

“Unfortunately, no.” Burton answered. “Carreon raids happen on rare occasions. The Deltans believe they are only testing their defences.”

“I’m surprised they haven’t gone to war over it.” Hennessey said, standing next to the senior pilot.

“The Deltans value peace above all else.” T’Plau said to Burton’s right. Her arms crossed against her chest. “However, they are a passionate people and have the conviction to go to war if needed to.”

Levesque breathed out heavily as she shook her head in disbelief. “Do you think we’ll ever find a race that is completely at peace with the universe?” She asked rhetorically. She then turned to the Vulcan woman who she stood next to. “T’Plau have your people encountered these Carreon before?”

“Indeed, they have.” T’Plau replied. She predicted that Levesque wanted more from her answer, so she elaborated further. “A single Vulcan survey ship encountered them over a decade ago, however they were extremely hostile during their exchange as they considered the Vulcan ship to be part of an invasion force. The Vulcan captain described them as paranoid and assumed them to be xenophobic. I believe her suspicions have been confirmed today from what we have witnessed.”

“We shouldn’t just write them off our Christmas list, Sub Commander.” Major Yu remarked from the other side of the table. “They attacked us as they most likely thought we were allies with the Deltans and then when the Prime Minister announced he was on board they took a shot at us because they thought they could do some serious damage to the Deltan leadership.”

“Maybe we can offer our assistance in being a neutral third party to help negotiate a formal non-aggression between the two people?” Ben-Ami offered. She was standing parallel to Burton on the end of the table.

“Is that what we’re coming to be these days, peace negotiators?” Stanton said. The Chief Engineer was leaning up against the table corner to Burton’s left. “We were meant to come out here to explore.”

Internally, Burton shared his Chief Engineer’s similar views. Since Challenger’s launch, all they had been involved with was dealing with conflicts and trying to find a solution to different problems. But on the other hand, he couldn’t state they had not done their own fair share of exploring.  “Unfortunately, Michael we need to do it so we can peacefully explore.” He said in response. “I did offer Earth’s services to act as a mediator to Prime Minister An’die which he kindly took on board and said he would speak with his advisors about it. The pressing issue here is do we carry on in trying to formalise relations with the Deltans?” 

“Why wouldn’t we sir?” Conrad probed. He was confused by his Captain’s question.

Hennessey was the one to share the captain’s wisdom. “Because if we become trading partners then we run the risk of Coalition ships becoming Carreon targets.”

“It certainly won’t look good to our partners in the Coalition if we are having to assign more of Starfleet’s assets to protect cargo ships. They would question our judgement in being able to determine who would be good to become additional signatories to the Coalition Compact.” Levesque added.

Burton just nodded to what the two officers said. “On the other hand, their ideology and values are just like ours.  I want us to spend some more time here on Delta, getting to know the people a lot more before we make our recommendations to Admiral Gardner.”

“If we’re going to stay here a bit longer then can I suggest we give the crew complete R&R sir?” Stanton requested.

“Giving everyone longer breaks from their duties would be welcomed by all. Even if it’s for a day or so.” Ben-Ami added. 

Burton looked to Levesque who just nodded in agreement and then looked back at everyone else. “I can’t see why not. I’ll speak with Prime Minister An’die and I’ll leave it to Commander Levesque to make the necessary arrangements in the crew rotas.” He said.

Ben-Ami cleared her throat so she could speak again; “I would recommend though sir that we continue to limit our crew to the less populated areas to avoid any complicated medical issues, if you get my drift?”

A round of chuckles came from everyone, minus T’Plau, at the Doctor’s attempt to avoid mentioning the aroused sexuality they’ve been dealing with since meeting the Deltans. The crew that had visited Delta had found their experiences to be almost overwhelming with their willpower to refuse Deltan advances. 

“Coordinate with Commander Levesque what our crew will need to have with them while they take their breaks.” Burton ordered.  “Is there anything else? 

Everyone shook their heads and Burton dismissed them to return to their duties so they could carry out his orders. At the back of his mind though, he was still worried about the Carreon problem. Closing his eyes, he just shook his head as he left the room.


Arriving in the main armoury room on F deck, Sub Commander T’Plau was amazed at seeing Ensign Cortez on duty at the main station. “Ensign, I thought you were off duty?” She asked as she approached her assistant department head.

Cortez twisted her head round slightly to look at T’Plau. “I swapped with some others so I could take a later shuttlepod.”

“Very well.” T’Plau said as she climbed up the stairs to see what Cortez was working on. She was impressed to see that the Human woman was working on the same project she was going to undertake reviewing and analysing the Carreon attack. “You are studying the Carreons?”

Cortez nodded slowly in response as she became transfixed with her work after returning her attention to it. “I thought if we had to engage them again, we may be able to disable them quicker, so we didn’t sustain too much damage. Ensign Metaxas mentioned over coffee that Commander Stanton wasn’t happy at having to send out a repair team to fix some of the scorching that the port nacelle housing received.”

“Have you been successful in finding a solution?” T’Plau asked as she started to look over the work her subordinate had out in front of her.

“I think I have.” Cortez said indecisively, showing her lack of confidence in her work. She brought up a simulation of the Carreon ships and played it. “From what I can tell what makes them good in a fight is their speed. If we can take out their engines in the first round, then we would be in a better position. It would seem that their hull plating around their engines is extremely durable though.”

T’Plau looked at what Cortez was showing her and didn’t say anything for a moment. “Your analysis is accurate Ensign; however, I believe you are limiting your targets to only one area of the ship.”

“Oh?” Cortez said, interested to hear what her superior could see that she couldn’t.

T’Plau tapped at the console and brought up all the data the sensors had recorded about the Carreon ships. “The section that connects the forward and aft areas together has a number of relays in it, passing energy from the main reactors from one end of the ship to the other. Although this is the thinnest and well shielded area of the ship, I believe a sustained burst from our phase cannons would be enough to cut through it.”

Then a small volley of torpedoes ought to do the trick of knocking out their power cables and more!” Cortez said, happier at their conclusions.

“Indeed.” T’Plau said. “Help me programme the correct simulation to test our theory.”


It was becoming late in the evening now and Ensign Stewart was sitting by himself in sickbay. He was deep in studying a medical journal that Doctor Ben-Ami had given him recently, as such where he was sat meant he had not heard the sickbay’s doors open and shut. He also didn’t hear the footsteps approach him. A pair of hands soon placed themselves around his eyes.

“Guess who?” An excited female British accent whispered into his left ear.

Startled at what happened, Stewart leapt out of his stool like a jumping kangaroo and turned to see who it was. “Martha that isn’t funny!” He screamed at her.

The Second Science Officer gave out a belly laugh at how she was able to scare him so easily. “I’m sorry Niall, I couldn’t help myself!”

Now annoyed at how he had embarrassed himself in front of her, the senior nurse sat back down and looked at her. “What did you want anyway? I thought you were heading down to Delta?” He then rotated himself back to his original position, so he was facing the screen he was reading and placed his chin on to his raised palm as his elbow rested on the desk. 

“I am.” She answered as she placed her arm around his shoulders in an attempt to be friendlier to him. “Commander Levesque is taking a few of us science geeks down for dinner and a few drinks. Jack can’t come and I know that Liam is busy training with Luis so I thought I would see if you wanted to be my date for the evening?”

“After you scared me?” He asked in disbelief that she believed he would accept her offer after scaring him earlier. “You’ll need to make the offer more tempting now.”

“I’ll pay for everything?” She offered.

“Deal.” Stewart replied with, proving he didn’t need much convincing.

“That was easy!” Habiba surprisingly said. “I thought I would have to work harder in getting you to come, especially as you wouldn’t be joined at the hip with Liam!”

“Hey, we’re not always together!” He defended. “Just most of our off time!”

She laughed some more at his words. “Are you allowed to leave sickbay?”

He nodded. “Yeah, Melánia is only in the medical lab down the hallway and she’s meant to be on duty in here.”

“Cool!” Habiba said as she watched Stewart rise from his chair and switch off the computer monitor. She interlaced her arm in with his and the two friends began to walk out of the medical facilities. “While we’re down there we can compare notes on our boyfriends!”

“Sounds like fun but I’m pretty certain mine will beat yours!” Stewart mentioned.

“Umm, let’s see about that then!” Habiba quickly countered as they continued to laugh with one another.


Viktoria Yu was quietly reading a book in her quarters when the door chime went off. She had been lying on her bed, leaning up against her pillow, with some soft jazz music playing in the background. The MACO leader gracefully put her book down on her bed, followed by leaning over to switch the music off. She stood up and made her way over to the door, tapping the release button, she was pleasantly surprised to see who was there.

“Rupesh, I thought you were in training?” She enquired.

The Pakistini Sergeant smiled at his superior officer. “Luis and Liam were taking their sparring too far, so I decided to leave them to it.” 

Yu laughed at the comment. “Feeling the age Sergeant?” 

“Something like that ma’am.” He replied before holding up a data tablet. “Commander Levesque asked me to pass this on to you before she left. It’s the timetable for MACO shore leave on Delta.” 

Yu took the tablet and indicated for Iyer to come in. “All of this R&R lately and we may end up having a lazy unit Rupesh!”

“Don’t worry Major, we’ll kick them back into shape if we have to!” Iyer said. “Are you planning to visit Delta yourself?”

Yu shook her head. “No, I don’t think I’ll have the time to do so. Sub Commander T’Plau has asked me to work with her on some countermeasures in case we run in to the Carreons again.”

“We’ll all I’m going to say ma’am is ‘all work and no play’.” Iyer stated. He looked around the room and noticed that the major had been occupied with something else. “Well I was only popping over to give you that, I’ll leave you with your book.”

Yu placed the tablet in her hands on her desk before turning back round to her visitor. “Thanks Rupesh, enjoy the rest of your evening.” She said as she watched him leave her quarters.


Sat in his plush black leather chair in his quarters, Captain Burton was finally relaxing off duty. A mug of tea in one hand he was reading a message from his brother Roman. The Discovery was finally launched and Roman was enjoying his new position as Chief Engineer and Second Officer on board the newest NX-class ship. Starfleet had launched the ship alongside the Atlantis. Both ships were mapping systems far from the other three NX-class ships. Roman had reported that it was currently boring, but it was giving him plenty of time to get to know his new ship and make some improvements based on what he had carried out on Columbia. Lloyd had known the real reason for both ships on their mapping missions. Starfleet had sent both ships to systems close to what they believed to be systems close to Romulan claimed territory. It was part of a larger Coalition effort to gain vital information before anything else happened with the aggressive, faceless race. 

Taking a sip from his tea he was about to reply to his brother when the ship shook and automatically the craft was put on tactical alert. Sparks flew above him as he raced out of his quarters, heading to the lift to see what was going on.


Almost flying on to the bridge, in just his grey baggy hoodie and black jogging bottoms, Captain Burton was confronted with the scene of watching his ship coming under attack by Carreon vessels again. “Report!” He bellowed over the commotion. 

Thankfully T’Plau had got to the bridge before him and had taken command in his absence. “Twenty-one Carreon ships have dropped out of warp and have begun to open fire on us and Deltan targets. The Deltan Star Guard is responding but they are outnumbered sir.” She said as she got out of his seat and headed to the tactical station.

An explosion erupted behind them as an EPS conduit was blown from the pressure of the incoming fire. Burton’s ears rang for a few seconds from it. “When it rains.” He said as he slumped into his chair. “Break orbit again and return fire. Let’s show these Carreons we mean business!” He commanded.

THREE – DAY 11

Challenger NX-03
Thursday, June 19th, 2155

Racing to where Conrad landed heavily on the bridge’s deck plating, Burton knelt down to make sure his pilot was still alive. “He needs medical attention!” He shouted over his shoulder before looking down at the injured man. “Stay with me Jack.” He said shaking the man’s shoulder to keep him conscious. Placing his hands behind his head to keep it raised, Burton wanted to avoid any more injuries to the pilot. The captain couldn’t determine if he had damaged his spine as he fell backwards after the conn almost exploded from the last exchange of fire between them and their attackers. 

Conrad, who had received burns to his face and chest just nodded and tried to croak out a reply but failed, instead he just coughed and rolled his eyes backwards. Eventually Corporal Jenkins and another MACO carried him off the bridge down to sickbay. Burton raced over to the helm, noticing his Chief Engineer had taken over the controls. Stanton was no Conrad when it came to fancy flying but he knew how to pilot the ship, even in its damaged state. 

“Hull plating at seventy percent. The Carreons are firing again.” T’Plau shouted as the ship shook again.

 “Evasive action Michael. Full axis rotation to port, fire all ventral cannons!” Burton commanded his engineer and armoury officer.

Stanton threw the ship into a spin to avoid the incoming fire for a few more seconds before they struck against the Earth ship’s hull plating. Four of its phase cannons lanced out their red beams of firepower against the enemy ship.

Hennessey then spoke up, tightly holding to his earpiece. “We’re being hailed.”

Burton looked up, surprised at the news. “About bloody time. Put them up.” He ordered as he stood up straight behind Stanton. The moment the image of the Carreon man appeared on the screen Burton almost screamed at him. “We’ve done nothing to provoke these attacks!”

“You’ve consorted with our enemy and your presence in this region is provocation enough!” This was all the reply Burton got from his counterpart.

Desperate to find a peaceful solution before it ended them, Burton sighed out in despair as he tried to put his diplomat face on. “We’ve tried to communicate with your vessels, but the only answer we get is weapons fire.”

The arrogant Carreon commander only sneered in return. “Who are you?”

“Captain Lloyd Burton of the Earth starship-” Burton couldn’t finish his sentence as the Carreon cut him off.

“And explain why you are here?”

Burton took a second to compose himself. He could feel everyone’s eyes on him, watching how he dealt with this obnoxious enemy. “We’re explorers. We are only trying to make peaceful contact with others-” Again he was stopped by the Carreon who instantly became angry.

“No, I will not accept that pathetic excuse.” He swung on his chair, looking extremely cocky as he attempted to show off that he believed he was in a better position than the Starfleet crew. “I would prefer to capture your ship with as little damage as possible. Surrender and I promise you that we will be merciful with your crew as subjects of Carreon rule!”

Burton looked down at Stanton who shared his infuriated expression before glaring back at his enemy. “I don’t respond well to threats!”

“Then prepare to be boarded.” The Carreon said before punching his chair’s armrest and obviously closing the channel.

Burton walked back to his chair, which had been scorched in a previous attack. He noticed as he slumped into it that it was losing its ability to be comfortable. “This is turning into the Week of Hell.” He said looking at Stanton before turning to T’Plau, “Sub Commander, target their engines.”

T’Plau didn’t say anything as she followed her orders and used the ship’s phase cannons to target the Carreon ship. The Carreons didn’t have time to open fire first, instead the Earth ship quickly shot out in anger. Seven shots at first as the impressive NX-class ship flew over them before circling around to take another attempt at the smaller craft. As they headed for each other the Carreon ship opened fire too but was no match for the bigger ship as it unleashed another salvo from all of its ventral phase cannons, scoring multiple hits that took out its engines just as Captain Burton wanted.

“Their engines are disabled.” T’Plau announced, satisfaction almost filling in her tone, she had quickly hidden it before completing her sentence.

“Then let’s not wait around for them to follow us. Get us out of here, warp three.” Burton commanded with determination.

“Warp three, aye sir.” Stanton said as he danced over the flight controls and took the ship away from their enemy. “No signs of pursuit or any other enemy ships.” He looked over his shoulder and spoke. “I suggest we drop out of warp to make some needed repairs.”

Burton nodded in agreement. “We have been taxing the warp drive a lot these last few days, let’s give them a rest. How bad is it?”

Stanton got up and made his way over to the engineering station. “It’s pretty bad in fact. That last round of fire took out the main power on B and C decks; we’ll have to switch to emergency power.  Some of the main computer processor is damaged too; we’ll probably have to deal with some malfunctions until repairs are complete. We’ve got hull breaches on E deck too, but emergency bulkheads are in place and holding. The long-range sub-space communication array is also destroyed.”

Deflating at the news of how badly damaged his ship was, Burton scratched his growing beard and considered his options.

“Sir, sickbay reports fifteen injured, no fatalities.” Hennessey stated from his station after spinning around in his chair. “Ensign Conrad is reported to be in stable condition too.”

Burton just nodded at the news; grateful to hear they still hadn’t lost anyone. He moved his chair around to look at T’Plau. “Sub Commander, place the ship on twenty-four-hour tactical alert.”

“Yes Captain.” The Vulcan replied.

“And keep an eye out for any more Carreon ships.” Burton ordered. “In the meantime, Michael, use whoever you need to make repairs.” Burton watched as his crew got on with their work, knowing it was going to be tough on all of them. Stanton quickly left to head down to engineering. Burton’s eyes dropped on to the view of the empty chair to his left. The science station had no one currently sitting at it. Exactly five days ago, Levesque and the group she had taken down to Delta had been unable to return after the ship was attacked and forced to leave them behind to avoid being destroyed by the Carreon invasion. Burton had decided to take the ship to a Minshara class world they had picked up on long-range sensors in an attempt to avoid the conflict. The planet was far away from the Deltans and Carreons, but not too far away for them to be unable to return in a decent amount of time. His plan had been to make orbit and attempt repairs before regrouping and heading back to rescue their missing crew. Now that idea seemed a million light years away. 

Feeling the need to get off of his bridge, Captain Burton stood up. “I’ll be in my office. T’Plau you have the bridge,” He rose from his chair and started to make his way towards the door that had been behind his right shoulder. “Well what’s left of it.” He commented as he kicked a broken piece of hardware out of his way.


In her medical career, Kefira Ben-Ami had never enjoyed the experience that came from emergency triage. For that fact she didn’t know any sane medical doctor that got a kick from it all. She found herself in the centre of chaos as more injured crew filled sickbay. Her medical team was overtaxed with those that needed them and to top it all she was missing her right-hand man. She felt almost at a loss without Ensign Stewart. She had come accustomed to his presence and the two of them had almost been in sync with each other’s actions that allowed them to react to each other during a crisis. Instead Ben-Ami found she was working closely with her lost comrade’s other half: Corporal Jenkins.  Jenkins was an adequate field medic and had picked up a lot of Ben-Ami’s tricks to deal with the injuries in the last couple of days. He was becoming a valuable replacement and she appreciated his conviction to help her out to the best of his abilities. 

 “Ro-fa,” The young MACO said gaining her attention as he approached her. “I’ve reset Ensign Metaxas’ shoulder and given him some pain relief.”

“Good, discharge him and tell him not to overdo it when he returns to duty.” She ordered. Her attention was on healing Ensign Conrad’s burns as she prepared him to go into the imaging chamber. 

“Are you sure he should return to duty ma’am?” Jenkins checked.

“One of the rules of medical triage when out in the field Liam, if the patient is no longer in any pain or from certain death then patch them back up and get them out of here. We could end up with more injured in here and I’m pretty certain that Commander Stanton would want one of his top engineers back helping with repairs.”

“Understood ma’am.” Jenkins politely replied before heading away from her.

She took one more look over her hand scanner and what it was telling her about Conrad. “Jack how are you feeling?” She asked.

“My breathing feels a lot better, thanks.” The pilot answered before coughing a bit.

She smiled at his optimism. They all needed some of that. “Good, give the pain relief I’ve injected you with some time to enter your system properly. In the meantime, I need you to relax so you can go into the imaging chamber.”

Conrad just nodded and closed his eyes so he could undertake his next round of treatment. The surgical bed almost flew backwards as it took him into the chamber and its door rolled downwards, locking him into place. Ben-Ami set the computer to watch his vitals as she moved on to the next person who needed her attention.

Jenkins moved through the crowd of his fellow injured crewmates and made his way over to Metaxas who sat on the edge of a put-up bunk with Ensign Cortez next to him. She was holding some dressing over her forehead just above her left eye.  “Teddy you’re free to go.” Jenkins said, using the engineer’s nickname that Niall had given him.

“Thanks Liam.” Metaxas replied in satisfaction to be getting out of there. “Hope you’re feeling better Rachele.” He said to the woman he had been sat next to. 

Jenkins looked down at Cortez who had just wished the engineer farewell after thanking him. “Let me guess you had a brief encounter with a bulkhead?” He said to the armoury officer.

She snickered at his lame attempt at humour. “Actually, I was knocked off by my feet in the armoury when the inertial dampeners didn’t compensate in time when the ship took a sudden roll.”

“Well you can blame our good chief engineer for that move.” Jenkins replied as he took out his medical scanner and began to check over Cortez’s injury.

“So, it wasn’t Jack?” She asked, peering over Jenkins’ shoulder to see the Doctor put the pilot into the imaging chamber.

Jenkins switched off his scanner and put it on the floor as he bent down to take a proper examination of how bad her injury was. “I was on the bridge when the helm blew up in his face. Commander Stanton took over while I helped the Captain get Jack to safety.” He paused as he looked at her bruise and cut under the bandage she was holding tightly in place. “It doesn’t look too bad Rachele, just keep the cut clean but I’ll give you some pain relief for the headache.”

“Thanks.” She replied as she blinked a few times with a dazed expression.

“Feeling dizzy?” Jenkins asked as she reached for his medical kit to dig out his hypo-spray.

“Sort of.” She answered.

Nodding at the information she told him, he adjusted what was giving her in the spray before placing it close to her neck on the left-hand side. “This should help with the pain and dizziness. You need to go rest in your quarters for a good couple of hours.”

“Yes Doc!” She said after he injected her. Once he was finished, she looked back at him. “How are you doing anyway?”

“I’m fine.” He said, avoiding her questioning gaze.

She placed her left hand on his shoulder. “We’ll find him I promise.” Mentioning Jenkins’ missing partner.

Jenkins smiled at the assurance she offered and raised his left hand to grip her hand that was on his shoulder. “Thanks.”

Cortez squinted as she looked at Jenkins’ hand when she noticed a small silver band on his third finger. “Liam what the hell is that?”

Instantly he retracted and hid his hand. “It’s nothing.” He said dismissing her.

She instantly stretched out to take his left hand again and looked closer. “Liam that’s an engagement ring.” She looked up at him as she stood up and looked at the MACO. “Liam are you and Niall…”

“Engaged?” He finished her sentence before looking around at everyone else before looking back at her. He just nodded in answer with a beaming grin spread across his face.

 Cortez almost screamed in excitement at the news and attacked him with a giant hug. “Oh, that’s great news Liam! When were you going to tell everyone?”

Blushing at the revelation, Jenkins shrugged his shoulders. “We were going to keep it low key at the moment as we didn’t want everyone telling us it was too sudden.” He looked down at the ring. “At first, we decided not to wear them, we were planning to wait a few more months before we wore them. We wanted to see if anyone noticed, but then with Niall going missing I couldn’t bare it anymore, so I put it on this morning.”

Cortez bobbed her head, understanding why he was wearing it. It was obvious her friend needed a source of hope and the ring was it. “I’m so pleased for you.” She said before placing a friendly kiss on his cheek. “We will get him back and then have the biggest wedding here on the ship!”

“That’s if there’s a ship left to do it on!” Jenkins remarked in an almost defeated tone.

“Nonsense Liam, there will be. Have some faith!” Cortez said, assuring him once more that day.


Ambhat City, Delta IV

 

The cold night air hit Levesque as a gentle breeze past her. She considered for a moment going back indoors to get her field jacket to keep her warm but decided against it once the breeze had died down. She exhaled slowly in frustration of her current predicament. She and her colleagues were stuck here on the Deltan homeworld with no foreseeable means of escaping and meeting with Challenger. The First Officer was standing leaning against the balcony of the penthouse suite that the Deltan government had put them up in. She was itching to get out there and find out what happened. All they had been told was that Challenger had fled from orbit after the Carreon had attacked the Deltans. The ship had apparently been heavily damaged. That was all they had been told five days ago. 

“You best be out there alive Lloyd.” She whispered up to the night skyline, focussing on a few of the stars wondering if he and the rest of them were out there still.

“Commander,” said Ensign Stewart from behind her.

Levesque looked over at her shoulder at the nurse. “Yeah Niall?”

“Prime Minister An’die is here to see us.” He said with a slight sense of optimism in his tone.

Levesque nodded at the news and followed him off from the balcony, through the large bay windows and the white satin nets that draped over them to enter the living area of their suite. “Mister Prime Minister.” She greeted the politician. As Challenger’s ranking officer, it was her job now to be the diplomat in Burton’s place.

“Commander Levesque.” An’die said as he stepped forward to greet the woman with a Human handshake. 

Levesque shook his hand, noticing that the rest of her crewmates had assembled with the arrival of the Prime Minister and his entourage of advisors. She gestured for him to sit on one of the sofas near to them. At the corner of her eye she noticed that the board game that Ensign Stewart had been playing with Crewmember Harris was still out on the small coffee table that sat between the sofa and the one opposite to it. The game resembled a form of three-dimensional chess and the two of them had been playing it since they were stuck here. “Do you have any news on Challenger or what is going on with the Carreons?” She asked as she perched on the edge of the settee. 

An’die was almost mirroring her posture. “Some news but none of it good I’m afraid.”

“Oh.” Levesque responded with, feeling defeated at hearing that.

“From what the Star Guard Intelligence has been able to find out the Carreon attack is part of a much larger issue. It would seem a number of military officers in the Carreon fleet have gone rogue, causing political upheaval on their homeworld. Apparently, a number of their ships have gone quiet and aren’t responding to any orders at all. We suspect their captains are preparing to strike several worlds that we own. They believe these worlds are sacred and that we are trespassing.” An’die explained. “It would seem that they’ve been planning this for some time now and we fear they have more planned. The Deltan Star Guard is assembling a task force of ships to defend our worlds. I’m putting up blockades in these systems to stop them from trying to take any.”

Levesque looked at the others; she picked up their expressions of feeling useless as much as she felt. “Have you been able to contact Earth or any other Coalition world or ship?” She asked.

An’die shook his head. “I’m afraid not.” He answered. “A relay network has been set up on the far edges of our space that is purposely blocking all outgoing long-range transmission from Delta. I’ve assigned two ships to hunt it down and disable the network by whatever means necessary.”

Levesque noticed that subconsciously her shoulders had dropped at that information. She sat back up straight. “And any news on Challenger?”

With an even more solemn expression, the bald leader nodded. “Again, I’m afraid so.” He took a breath before he recounted what they knew. “Earlier on today one of our long-range explorers was travelling back to Delta in response to the attack. They picked up Challenger fighting off a Carreon ship. By the time they moved in to help, their sensors detected a large antimatter explosion from the scene of the battle. They planned to investigate however were forced to move away as three Carreon ships entered sensor range and were moving in to most likely do the same thing.”

“So, they could be destroyed.” Levesque stated, she could feel tears appearing, so she took in a breath and pushed them back. 

An’die nodded, “Yes, it is a possibility, but I don’t think you should give up hope yet.”

“Are you able to send any other ships out to find them?” Ensign Stewart asked. He was sat on the opposite sofa next to Harris while Habiba and the others who had been left stood behind them.

Wincing at the question, Prime Minister An’die answered the nurse. “Unfortunately, I don’t have any ships to spare. They are either on defence duties or escorting our civilian ships.” 

There was some grumbling coming from the Starfleet officers. Levesque hushed them so she could carry on talking with the Deltan leader. “Is there anything we can do to help?”

“For the moment please just let us sort out this situation, once it is safe, I assure you I will assign some ships to begin searching for them.” An’die guaranteed them. “I know this is frustrating, but I hope you can understand.”

“What about the Avenkerev?” Harris asked out of the blue.

“The what?” An’die asked, confused.

“It was the Andorian ship that we’ve been working with these last few weeks. We went our separate ways when we were ordered to make contact with you.” Levesque clarified. 

“Will they help you?” An’die enquired.

“Possibly.” Levesque considered. “That’s if they are within range.”

“If you have a way for us to look out for them then I will see what I can do.” An’die offered.

“We should have their warp profile saved in Shuttlepod Two.” Habiba stated from behind Stewart.

“That should suffice.” An’die said. “If you can get it to us, I’ll have our ships keep an eye out for them.”

Pleased with the news, Levesque nodded to Habiba to undertake the task. “Thank you, Mister Prime Minister. I appreciate the gesture.”

“It’s the least we can do to repay you for being dragged into our conflict.” He said as he bowed his head. 

Levesque smiled back at him, realising all of their hopes now depended on either the Andorians flying close enough to a Deltan ship or the Deltans defeating the Carreons. Neither option sounded good, but it was better than nothing.

 

Several hours later, Levesque found herself unable to sleep and decided to leave her bedroom and make her way back out onto the balcony she had been standing on when the Prime Minister had visited them. She had placed a gown over the bed-clothing that the Deltans had given them to wear. She had found the chemise they had given her to be a bit too revealing for her liking however from what their Deltan hosts had told them it was the least revelling version they could acquire. Slowly she walked through the lounge that connected to all of their bedrooms and towards the large bay windows that went out onto the balcony. She pushed the bay door slowly to the side and made her way out. She had turned around to slowly close it but was startled when she saw Ensign Niall Stewart sat there with a glass of liquor in one hand and in the other, he was playing with what looked like a silver ring. He was wearing a grey zipped up hoodie over his undershirt and a pair of loose bottoms. 

When he heard her, he quickly shoved the ring into his hoodie’s pocket. He then smiled at her trying to act normal. “I didn’t think anyone else was up ma’am.”

“Likewise.” She returned as she joined him on the hammock he was in. “I take it you can’t sleep like me?”

He nodded. “My bed isn’t very comfortable to sleep in. I know this is going to sound extremely mushy and it’s probably all the Deltan pheromones affecting me, but it’s not the same without having Liam next to me.”

“I understand.” Levesque said smiling and placed her arm around him to comfort him. The gesture felt normal and both of them needed close contact to deal with the nightmare they were currently in.

“I feel like I’ve got nothing at the moment.” He said after taking a sip from the liquor and scowling at the effect it had on his taste buds. He offered it to Levesque. “I thought a nightcap may help, but this does taste worse than Andorian ale.”

She took it from him and smelt it. It had a sweet potent aroma; it reminded her of amaretto, a drink she knew that Burton was fond of. She took a sip and nodded in agreement as she coughed at how strong it was as it travelled down her throat. “Powerful stuff.” She corresponded with in between her coughs. Once her throat was clear she looked back at him. “I know how you feel Niall, I’m feeling a bit lost myself. I just need to know for sure if the Captain and the rest of them are alive or not. The uncertainty is killing me.”

“As I said I feel like I’ve got nothing at the moment.” He replied, at that point a strong Irish twang came through his tone. 

Levesque had kept her spare arm around him, and she instantly pulled him closer to her again. “We do need to keep everyone’s spirits up as best as we can.”

“That’s going to be very difficult ma’am.” Stewart said in a solemn manner.

Levesque slowly released him from her embrace and closed her eyes for a second. What would Burton do here?  She pondered to herself.  Inspiration struck her. “Niall, we need to carry on with our mission.”

Confused at what she was saying, Stewart looked at her in a perplexed manner as if she was talking Klingon or Vulcan. “Sorry Commander?”

“Until we know otherwise, we need to consider that Challenger is still out there and will either come back for us or send someone for us. In the meantime, we carry out our original orders. Establish good relations with the Deltans. Those that are here can use the time to get to know the Deltan culture, their history, everything that Starfleet and the United Earth Parliament will need to present to the Coalition Council. We’ll provide them with the most detailed report ever created in Starfleet history about a new race.” She clarified with a renewed excitement at the prospect of really getting to explore something. 

“That’s not a bad idea.” Stewart remarked, considering her idea. “We could even continue to work with their doctors to perfect the pheromone inhibitor.”

“That’s the spirit Niall!” She said becoming excited about the idea. “It’s going to be tough Niall but I’m confident we’ll be able to do this.”

“I’m sure Jamie would be happy to be the one to coordinate everyone’s report.” He added.

“Definitely.” She liked where they were going with this. “We may not have a ship, but we are still a crew.”

“With a new captain.” Stewart smirked.

“If I’m the captain then that makes you my first officer.” She returned. “You are the senior most officer after me.”

“Damn I didn’t think of that!” Stewart said, still smiling. “That’s if you have me Captain Levesque?”

“Without a doubt,” She returned, “Commander Stewart!” She joked back.

He chuckled at that and then rested backwards on the hammock, placing his left arm behind his head. “Let’s just hope the Deltans don’t mind us doing it.”

“I’m sure Prime Minister An’die would appreciate us doing something which isn’t bugging him about the conflict with the Carreons.” Levesque replied. 

Stewart took his hand out of his hoodie pocket and played one more time with the ring in his hand. Levesque noticed it again. “What’s that?” She probed him.

He slipped it on to his left hand on to his third finger. “My engagement ring.” He responded. 

“Your what?” She said, confused at his comeback. She wasn’t expecting that.  

“I asked Liam to marry me and he said yes.” He clarified. “I bought us matching rings here a few days ago. We decided not to wear them just yet as we knew everyone would go on about us rushing into things. Now I don’t care what anyone says as this is all I have of him with me here.”

Levesque nodded, understanding what he was saying and sympathising with his issue. “I promise you Niall we will return to Challenger and you’ll marry Liam. Just keep holding on to that hope and stay strong.”

Stewart just nodded. “I will and ma’am if you don’t mind me talking freely?”

Levesque said yes, if he was going to be her right-hand man for this, she needed him to be honest and talk freely to her just like how she was with Captain Burton.

“Promise me you’ll hold on to hope as well and that you’ll see the Captain soon enough.” Stewart said with a friendly smile.

Levesque blushed at his words. What did he mean by that? “Thank you, Niall.” She said slowly, unsure of how to take his comment.

“Don’t worry ma’am I haven’t spoken to anyone else about it, well except Liam. We both think you make an adorable couple.” Stewart added and then stopped himself from talking any more. He realised what he just said. “Oh my God ma’am I hope I didn’t offend you or talk out of line!”

She chuckled at how quickly he changed his emotions from one of benevolence to one of complete dread. “Well between us Niall I appreciate the support, but I can assure you there is nothing going on between Captain Burton and I.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to imply there was it’s just…” Stewart stopped himself and rapidly stood up. “I should go, I’m sorry.”

Levesque reached out to him and stopped him. “What do you mean with ‘it’s just’?”

Stewart grimaced at how much trouble he had got himself into now. He attempted to find the courage to tell her, so he closed his eyes as he spoke. “It’s just ma’am the way Captain Burton looks at you is the same way I look at Liam.”

She let her hand drop from him. “Good night Niall.” She said, indicating that she had heard enough. Levesque wasn’t annoyed at him, but knew they needed to stop their conversation before anything more was said about her relationship with Burton. 

He nodded and apologised again before leaving her alone on the balcony. Levesque waited for him to leave before leaning against the edge, looking out against the Deltan capital city. How had she been so blind not to see what Stewart saw from Burton?  Did Burton truly look at her in that way or was it a young officer seeing too much into a close professional relationship between two senior officers? She rubbed her temple, deciding she was now becoming tired enough to attempt to sleep again.

FOUR – DAY 24

Challenger NX-03
Wednesday, July 2nd, 2155

“Come in.” Burton answered to the knocking on his office’s door that was stuck open halfway. He was currently rummaging through the mess that littered the floor from the various broken pieces of furniture and other bits and pieces that had been damaged or destroyed from the constant attacks they had endured in the past week. He still hadn’t moved to see who was there, as he reached to pick up something he spoke again. “Sorry about the mess but make yourself comfortable!” He eventually got what he was stretching for and got up from the floor. He turned around to see Stanton squeezing through the doorway.

“Don’t worry sir my quarters are just as bad, if not worse.” He remarked with a wry smile. 

Burton smiled at the small gesture of his engineer to keep the mood light between them. In the past two weeks the two men had grown close, Burton had come to depend on Stanton to fill in as Levesque’s replacement as First Officer. Stanton was doing an excellent job in her place. Pleased with his find of the photo frame he had been looking for, the Captain placed the cracked object down on his desk. He was more pleased that the photograph inside of it was still intact. It was a photo of him, and his siblings taken before Challenger’s launch at the family home in Portsmouth. “What’s on your mind Commander?” He asked as he cleared the debris that covered his chair with the back of his sleeve. He wasn’t too bothered at the dirt that now covered his sleeve. None of the crew had been able to maintain their smartness recently. It was a luxury that Burton wasn’t going to demand of them. As long as they were alive and surviving that was all that mattered.

Stanton placed his hands behind his back as he answered his captain. “Sir I think we should reconsider our strategy.”

Burton slumped into his chair with a heavy thud as he listened. He rose his feet, so they sat on the edge of his desk after reaching for a tablet. He tried to activate it but was disappointed that it wasn’t switching on. “Broken.” He muttered to himself before chucking the useless device on to his desk. He looked up at Stanton now. “What do you mean, reconsider our strategy Michael?”

“We had one week of grace after the Carreon vessel we destroyed before they began their daily attacks.” Stanton started.

Burton frowned at Stanton’s recollection. “We didn’t destroy that ship Michael. We disabled its engines, yes it’s a possibility we contributed to its destruction, but they did start this.”

Stanton conceded the captain’s point as he raised his hands in surrender. “Okay, fair point if that’s how you want to view it. Then we had one week after that where they couldn’t find us, which gave us time to do some repairs. Suffice to say sir, they’ve been on our tail ever since and we have yet to lose them.”

“Not yet, but with every attack we are able to overwhelm them quicker than the previous ones. T’Plau has been able to learn a lot about them, especially their weaknesses.” Burton stated with conviction.

“I know sir, but there isn’t going to be much of a ship left at this rate to defend.” Stanton said down at his superior officer.

“Your idea Commander?” Burton asked, wanting him to get straight to what he wanted to say to him since he entered the room.

Stanton took a breath in. “The communication array is back up and running, we should try and send a message to some friendlies, see if we can get some help.”

Burton shook his head. “No, the moment we transmit the easier of a target we become for them. We keep to a strict radio silence unless a friendly ship passes close enough to us to see them. I’m not going to rest our survival on the slim chance a friendly ship will be able to reach us before another Carreon attack craft is able to find us.”

“But sir, we can’t keep this up.” Stanton said, sounding almost defeated.

“As long as the ship is still together Michael we fight on.” Burton said in a strong tone. “Is that clear?”

Stanton sighed. “Crystal clear sir.”

Burton stood up to face his acting first officer. “I don’t like it this any more than the rest of the crew does but I’m not going to give up hope. The Carreons aren’t as advanced as we are. We can do this.”

The intercom went off and T’Plau’s calm logical voice followed it. “Tactical Alert. We’re under attack. Two Carreon vessels off the port bow.”

Burton pushed himself through the door frame to get to the bridge with Stanton behind him. As the ship began to tremble from the enemy ships’ weapons the photo frame that Burton had put back up on his desk began to vibrate viciously across the desk until it reached the edge. Like a falling tear, the frame landed on the deck plate with a mighty crash as the glass and frame broke into pieces, just leaving the photograph of the Burton siblings laying among the ruins.

Rushing out on to the bridge, Burton saw that T’Plau was at the armoury station, studying what was happening and responding to the enemy ships by returning fire. Ensign Conrad was already piloting the ship in a series of evasive manoeuvres, most of them he had designed himself since this had all began. Stanton instantly moved himself over to the science station and took his place, still covering for Levesque when he could. 

“Report?” Burton asked as he sat down in his chair.

“We’re keeping ahead of them.” Conrad reported.

“Their attack is unusual.” T’Plau added as one of her eyebrows rose in curiosity. “Fascinating.” 

Burton waited for her to elaborate further. “Sub Commander what’s going on?”

“Several more shots and I’ll be able to disable both ships in a matter of seconds sir.” She answered. “Their defensives aren’t completely operational and I’m detecting a number of failing systems on both ships.”

“Maybe they’re damaged?” Stanton offered up a reason.

“Then why attack us?” Conrad countered with.

Interested in the puzzle before him, Burton stood up and walked around to see T’Plau’s results. “Fascinating indeed.” He said as he saw the same things she saw. 

“Sir I’m detecting an incoming transmission from one of the Carreon ships.” Hennessey told them as he dropped his normal hand against his earpiece to look at the other senior bridge crew.

“Put it up.” Burton ordered as he returned to his chair.

The distorted image of a Carreon captain appeared. “Please don’t…we cannot…our ship…computer systems are not under our…” The transmission was cut instantly, and the blurred image of a different Carreon male appeared. Burton squinted his eyes as he recognised the man instantly as it cleared up. It was the same Carreon captain they spoke to over two weeks ago. How could it be, unless the man had a twin or a clone? His image seemed paused and then it came to life. “…your presence in this region is provocation enough!” He shouted in mid-sentence at Burton in the same tone he had two weeks ago. Confused as to what was going on, Burton was about to reply when the image went off the main screen.

An alarm went off at the science station. “Sir both Carreon ships’ warp cores are going critical!”

“Damn!” Burton mumbled. Challenger’s own warp drive was offline. “Jack get us out of here full impulse!”

“Full impulse, aye sir.” The pilot said and instantaneously pushed the ship’s sub-light engines to max. 

Challenger moved away from the Carreon vessels and cleared the blast radius as both ships went up in multiple balls of flames.

Once everything calmed down, Burton cleared his throat. “Does anyone want to stab a guess as to what the hell just happened there?”

It was obvious he wasn’t going to get an immediate response from anyone, they were all dumbfounded at the scene that had just evolved before them like he was. 

“Sir,” Conrad spoke up interrupting the silence that had fallen on to the bridge. “I’ve just picked up a ship entering warp on the edge of our long-range sensors.”

Burton sat up at that news. “Can we identify their warp profile?” He asked.

Frowning at what the computer was telling him, Conrad answered. “I’m hoping the computer is suffering from a glitch because if it’s not sir we may be in more trouble than we thought.”

“How worse could it get?” Hennessey asked.

“A lot more Ned.” The pilot said as he twisted his chair round to face the captain. “The warp profile is a Romulan one sir.”

“Romulan?” Burton repeated in amazement. They hadn’t seen a single Romulan craft since the Docana incident. What the hell would they be out here for? Scratching his dirty stubble, he handed out his orders. “Ensign Hennessey, Sub Commander T’Plau, go over every second of that engagement including the transmission. Try to determine what the hell was happening with the Carreons and why the same opening hail we received a couple of weeks ago was repeated. Commander Stanton, carry on with repairs. Ensign Conrad, maintain our heading to that Minshara planet.”

They all acknowledged him in their own way and got on with their work. Burton decided he would remain on the bridge for a bit more to lend a hand with repairs. In the back of his mind he was trying to figure out what was going on, but he knew they were missing a piece to the puzzle, he hoped that T’Plau and Hennessey could find it.


When fatigued finally took over the good Ro-fa, it had beaten her to the point she could no longer keep her eyes open for long. Ben-Ami had taken herself to the mess hall to grab a mug of coffee and a snack of some sort. She was finally off duty and was looking forward to resting in her own bed soon. The thirty-nine-year-old physician had learnt from her time in the Israel Defence Force that during times of crisis one needed to keep their wits about themselves, which included ensuring they rested to remain extra vigilant. For her, she knew she needed her rest and her first few years at Starfleet Training Command had reminded her of that. 

Entering the mess hall, she wasn’t surprised to see it in such a damaged state. It was a low-key area that didn’t require the attention of any of Commander Stanton’s damage control teams. It was evident though that Chef Lawson and her team of stewards were doing their best to keep the room as tidy as they could. Ben-Ami had heard that a fire had broken out in the last attack and Lawson had fought it back along with a few others. The shard remains of several chairs were left crumpled in one of the corners while what was left was arranged in the least damaged areas. 

Ben-Ami noticed that Chef had left several pots of coffee, tea and other cool drinks out for the crew to help themselves too as the beverage dispenser was currently non-operational. Picking up an empty mug, the chief medical officer tested the pots to see which one was the heaviest and hottest before pulling herself a warm looking mug of coffee.  The mess hall had been empty giving her plenty of choice of where to sit. She headed towards the nearest table to her and sat down in the chair that was opposite the view ports. Slowly sipping on her drink, Ben-Ami took in several breaths hoping to gain some composure after having to spend so long in sickbay recently. She had never dealt with so much triage on the go. She counted her blessings and thought that they had not lost a single soul. It was certainly a miracle in her eyes. She was interrupted with her trail of thoughts with the arrival of Chef Lawson.

“Montana, how are things going?” Ben-Ami greeted through asking.

The African American woman looked up at her name being called and swiftly placed the tray of food she was carrying down by the wall that had all of the serving hatches in it. “As well as it can be, thank you Lieutenant.” Lawson replied using Ben-Ami’s rank instead of title. “How are you doing?” She asked back.

 In between sips Ben-Ami answered. “Just taking a break before heading home to get some needed rest.”

“I’m sure you’ve deserved it.” Lawson remarked as she made her way over to the doctor and took a seat next to her. “How’s the crew holding up?”

“Well, surprisingly.” Ben-Ami said before taking another eager sip. “We’ve been patching them up and sending those who can return to duty back out.”

Lawson chuckled. “Yes, I sent Crewmember Romanoff to you earlier today with a cut on her hand. She returned half an hour with a bandage on it and told me to keep the cut clean.”

“Unfortunately, my osmotic eels have been in high demand lately and need to rest.” Ben-Ami stated. “I’m certain Crewmember Romanoff will be able to keep her hand clean to allow the wound to heal.”

“I hope so, I would hate to lose my Sous-Chef.” Lawson mentioned as she relaxed in her chair a bit more. “It made me think about something earlier on how we could help you guys out.”

“Oh?”

“Sickbay and the recovery wards need to be filled with those that need the most critical care, yeah?” Lawson enquired. 

“In best practice yes, but we don’t have the room or the manpower to-” Ben-Ami started with before being stopped by Lawson raising her right hand.

“Stop there my good Ro-fa.” She said. “How about we use the mess hall as a triage centre to deal with those that need only first aid or need to recover. I can get some of the MACOs to set up bunks and the stewards and I could care for them.”

Ben-Ami considered the idea for a moment. “What about serving up food? Where will the crew go for that?”

Lawson appeared to deflate. “Sadly, my kitchen is almost destroyed, the hydroponic bay was exposed to the vacuum of space two days ago and most of our crops were destroyed in the attack. By tomorrow morning we will be going to emergency rations.”

“Damn.” Ben-Ami said after swallowing a sip of her coffee. “I didn’t know.”

“You’ve been busy with sickbay, but the Captain told me not to tell anyone until tomorrow.” Lawson explained. “So, I’ve got a room and a staff unable to do much except hand out ration packs, do you want a hand in caring for our injured?”

“Chef that sounds like a great idea to me.” Ben-Ami replied. “I’ll get Corporal Jenkins to run the triage centre, he’s definitely able to and he can share his training with your staff so they can help do some of the basics.”

Lawson stood up. “Excellent, let me know when you want to get started.” She looked down at the medical officer. “I’ll leave you to your coffee.”

“Thanks.” Ben-Ami said as she watched the ship’s cook walk out of the room.


“Sensor logs are coming up now.” T’Plau said as she worked at the main controls in the Command Centre. 

Captain Burton was sat on the edge of the table in the middle of the room, looking up at the large wall monitor as T’Plau loaded up what she wanted to show him. Behind her at an auxiliary control unit, Ensign Hennessey stood working on what he was doing. Burton had been called down to see them both after they had been working on their Carreon puzzle for the past four hours. Burton could feel the muscles in his body aching and screaming out at him to take a rest, but his mind was silencing them as he needed to know what had happened earlier that day. T’Plau had seemed confident they had the answers he wanted.

“I am displaying the scans of the Carreon ships we took of them during the battle.” T’Plau clarified as various windows popped up on the screen with different readings. “As you can see sir there is a significant difference in power output before they opened fire on us.”

Burton winced his eyes to pay attention to what the Vulcan armoury officer was saying. “You’re saying that once they engaged us things changed on their end?”

“Indeed.” She answered. “Before we returned fire their ships seemed perfectly operational however zero point zero seven seconds before the engagement began both ships suffered computer malfunctions. There is no evidence of any damage on either ship prior too.”

“So, what happened?” Burton quizzed as he looked over his left shoulder at T’Plau.

“Mister Hennessey,” T’Plau said motioning for the communications officer to step forward.

“Sensors detected a low-level communication frequency being connected to both ships.” Hennessey reported. He tapped a button on the console he was using and displayed the frequency pattern on the large wall monitor. 

Burton had turned to see what Hennessey was showing them. He stared at the frequency and then at the sensor logs of both ships for a little while longer before Hennessey spoke up again.

“Our web of mystery became more complex as we untwined another piece.” Hennessey said as he pulled up another log, this time it was of the garbled recording of the Carreon captain talking to Burton. “Sir their transmission was being disrupted by the same frequency that connected both ships’ computers.”

Rubbing his chin as he considered what he was being told, Captain Burton stood up now to look at what his two officers had uncovered. “So basically, what you’re saying is…”

“…the Carreons were not in control of their ships.” T’Plau finished.

Burton, shocked at the news, had looked at them as T’Plau spoke and now raised his eyebrows to show his surprise at their revelations. “So, the question remains. What caused them to lose computer control?”

“The better question would be who was controlling them and stopping them from contacting us?” T’Plau interjected. “Based on the fact we have before us, I believe the Carreons were trying to retake back control of their ship, hence the erratic sensor readings of their computer systems and the corrupted message you received from their captain.” 

“Whoever had control of their ship didn’t want the Carreons to retake it, so they most likely destroyed them.” Hennessey added. “Especially when they realised, they made a faux pas when they showed us the pre-recorded message of the first opening hail, they sent us a couple of weeks ago. It was a pre-recorded message.”

Burton nodded in agreement with their assessment. “It would seem that whomever did this has the ability to manipulate the Carreon fleet quite easily.”

“They could be using them to attack the Deltans, perhaps push both sides to the brink of war with each other.” T’Plau theorised. 

 “Indeed.” Burton said. He started to feel angry at the idea of someone else using other innocent civilisations as their own pawns in their games. He wondered if somehow his own ship was part of this elaborate game or was just stuck in the crossfire of it all.

“The only other available evidence to us is Ensign Conrad’s detection of the fleeing Romulan ship.” T’Plau said. “It is a possibility sir they have developed the means of taking over the Carreon ships.”

“Which is something we don’t need.” Burton said turning to look at both of them. “Well done for finding this all out. Is there any way we can defend ourselves against a computer attack?”

Hennessey shrugged his shoulders. “Without knowing the basic principles behind the underlying technology, I wouldn’t know where to start sir.”

“However, we may be able to install a number of defence buffers into the ship’s computer systems. I would also recommend completely deactivating and uninstalling the transceiver array from the rest of the ship’s computer systems.” T’Plau suggested. “We need an independent communication array that has no links with other systems to prevent them from being compromised. Our communication array is the most logical source to be attacked first to gain computer access.”

“Okay get a team on it.” Burton ordered as he turned back to take one more last look at their findings. He pondered for a moment, was this some new Romulan tactic or was someone else deceiving them? The question remained why though. “Keep me informed.” He said leaving them both.


Taking time to have a break was a luxury. Well that’s what Corporal Jenkins considered when he finally rested his head down on his bed and closed his eyes. He hadn’t been able to rest his feet in what felt like a long time. He had been doing double, and in some cases triple, shifts in sickbay to help out with the injured crew. Doctor Ben-Ami had told him that he was going to take charge of their new triage centre in the mess hall, so for the past three hours he had been working with others to set it all up. It was now fully operational and now waited for the next lot of patients to enter it. He prayed deeply to whatever God was listening to him, that they would not be attacked again today. A break from the constant assaults would be a welcome to them all.

Laying with his head down he turned slightly to his left and a sudden feeling of guilt and grief engulfed him. For the past three and a half weeks he had yet been able to realise that his fiancé was not with him at the moment. His heart ached not knowing where Niall was or how he was doing. He hoped dearly that he was safe still on Delta with the others and that they would see each other soon. He extended his hand out across the bed and with the main lights out he felt beneath his fingertips something soft. Knowing what it was straight away, he pulled at the piece of clothing and automatically put it on over his head. It was one of Niall’s jumpers, it was a lot baggier than his own, however the idea that his other half was this close to him in some way was reassuring to him.

Two knocks echoed through the room from the doorway. He looked over to it and simply shouted in response. “Come in.”

The door was pushed open as Second Lieutenant Trommler made his appearance. “There you are Liam.” He said pleased at the idea of finding his fellow MACO.

Jenkins pushed himself up on to his elbows and looked down at his squad leader and superior officer. “Is there something you need from me sir?”

The young German shook his head. “Nein, I heard you pulled three shifts in a row earlier, I was coming down here to ensure you were taking a break.”

“Chef Lawson threatened to beat me senseless with one of her pans if I didn’t leave the crew lounge for a few hours of sleep!” He stated.

Trommler chuckled at the idea of their head cook hitting Jenkins with her favourite cooking pan. “Glad to hear you’re taking her advice. I don’t want you back on duty until you’ve had at least six hours of sleep. Is that clear Corporal?”

Jenkins just nodded.

“Good,” Trommler said. “Sleep well Liam.” He added before exiting Jenkins’ quarters.

Jenkins dropped his entire body back on to his bed and quickly found it easy to close his eyes and enjoy his well-deserved rest.


“How are we doing Michael?” Captain Burton asked as he entered Main Engineering. The entire room was filled with repair crews, all busy fixing blown systems and fallen bulkheads. The warp core sat in the middle of the room, dead like a burnt-out candle. The sight of it brought a twisting feeling to Burton’s gut. He hated seeing that their main source of power was lifeless. It made him realise just how vulnerable they were. How without it his crew were lost from home. It would take them years to get back home without it (or getting a tow back). 

“The port nacelle is a lost cause sir.” The Chief Engineer glumly replied as he climbed down from the upper level. As he approached his superior officer he continued to talk. “We’re attempting to repair the starboard nacelle.”

Burton, who had crossed his arms and was now leaning against one of the workstations, sighed heavily at the news. “How long?”

Stanton grimaced before answering. “I’m sorry sir, but if we were docked at the Obama Repair Facility, we would be looking at less than a week’s work. For us out here and with the state we are in then it’s going to be at least three weeks, maybe more.”

Burton rolled his eyes at the bad news. “And the power grid?”

“Up to thirty-three percent, we think we may be able to get it up to fifty but that’ll be another two days as long as we’re not attacked.” Stanton answered.

Rolling his body so his forehead was leaning against the nearest bulkhead, Burton groaned inwards. “This is going to take us ages.” He said as he rolled backwards to look at the engineer.

“I’m afraid so sir.” Stanton said. 

The two senior officers remained there for a little while longer, not saying anything as they considered their options.

“Keep me posted on how things are going.” Burton finally said as he decided he would leave his acting first officer to carry on with fixing their ship back together.

Stanton nodded in sympathy for his captain. “I will sir.”

Once Burton had left, Stanton’s two most senior engineers, Masuko and Metaxas, approached him. Stanton looked at them, they too looked like everyone else with their filthy appearance, if anyone from Earth had seen them they would have imagined they had been working deep in the Luna mines with the amount of dirt and sweat that covered their faces and uniforms. 

“How was the captain?” Metaxas asked after Burton had closed the large hatch door behind him. 

“Frustrated.” Stanton answered before turning on his heels to return back to work, the two engineers following close behind him. “Which is understandable.”

“Well we’ve got some good news.” Masuko announced. “The entire weapons array will be back online within the hour. All phase cannons, minus the destroyed one, will be fully charged and ready to use while the forward torpedo launchers will be operational too.”

Stanton scratched his beard at the update. “What about the aft launchers?”

Metaxas shook his head. “We’re having a number of issues with burnt out power relays in getting them operational again. Sub Commander T’Plau’s teams are working on it with our people, but they can’t see it being fixed for at least

another two days.”

“Well let’s hope the good Sub Commander doesn’t come to count on using them during a battle.” Stanton said as he stopped by one of the side workstations by the warp core. “Anything else?”

“Environmental controls on B Deck are online again.” Masuko shared.

“Good, keep going.” Stanton said as he began to stare at the console, attempting to load up a warp core diagnostic. 

“We think we may be able to get the hull plating polarisation grid back to eighty percent however we’re having problems with the deflector dish.” Metaxas stated.

“What sort of problems?” Stanton asked as he looked up at the young Greek man.

“Power to the particle emitters is constantly fluctuating, we are unable to stabilise it above seventy percent effectiveness. I’ve got a team attempting to determine what is causing the issue.” Metaxas said. 

“Okay.” Stanton said, feeling just as deflated as the captains looked only moments ago. “Anything else good?”

The two engineers looked at each other and Masuko answered for them both. “Not at the moment sir.”

“Carry on then.” He commanded and soon they left him by himself. Stanton was glad to receive some time by himself. He hadn’t had the luxury for some time. Being alone to think about other things except damaged systems was what he craved for. Now that he was alone and deep in thought about the issue around the warp core, he considered for a moment that he had yet to stop and think about when he last put a message together for Alex, his partner, or the rest of his family back on Earth. With the communication array now completely offline he wondered when he would next be able to talk to any of them. Then a black idea entered his lonely mind, what if he never had a chance to speak to them again? Would he survive the current situation Challenger was in and get back to Earth? He shook his head and soon snapped out his negative mood, he knew such thoughts were dangerous and he needed to concentrate on his work which meant doing his best to fix the ship back together so he would make it back to Earth in one piece. He owed it to those he left behind.


Ambhat City, Delta IV

 

“Good Evening, tonight I report to the Deltan people about an attack that has taken place against our forces defending Brannik Four by the Carreons. Our armed services were able to repel the assault, but the cost was a high one as both sides fought to a mutual destruction. Some of our service men and women were able to flee in lifeboats from their ships and were rescued by emergency services on Brannik. This terrible attack against Deltan sovereignty will not go unpunished. I have decided to send in elements of the Deltan Star Guard into Carreon territory to take out what our intelligence services have confirmed as military targets that are considered viable threats to our national security. The War Powers Act requires me to notify the Assembly of my decision and I have already met with Assembly Leadership to discuss this. Our Assembly will meet in an emergency meeting tomorrow morning to vote on the official declaration of war against the Imperial Realms of Carrea. These last few weeks of hostilities with our Carreon neighbours can now no longer go on without a firm response. Our diplomats have been trying to find a peaceful resolution, but their attempts of contact have only received silence from the Carreon leadership. We have pleaded with them to join us in a cease-fire however our requests have been ignored. I cannot let the Deltan people suffer anymore and as Commander-in-Chief I will order our military to defend our brave union in these dark times. I ask all Deltans to pray for those brave soldiers who have put their lives on the lines for our freedom and security. Please keep their loved ones in your thoughts as they go to work on putting a stop to these unprovoked attacks against our way of life. Thank you and may the Infinite Oneness bless us and the Union.”

The video feed of Prime Minister An’die talking from his offices stopped and was followed by the emblem of the Deltan government. Sat around in their penthouse suite, the Challenger crew were speechless at the news they had just viewed.

“Well that’s just great.” Huffed Ensign Habiba sarcastically from the bar stool she sat on.

Commander Levesque couldn’t blame the Challenger’s Second Science Officer’s reaction. They had been stuck on Delta for over a fortnight now and the excitement of getting to know the Deltans better was starting to fade away amongst the nine of them. Levesque herself was finding it difficult to keep the enthusiasm between them going until they were rescued.

“I’m surprised it’s taken them this long to declare war.” Harris remarked from the sofa that he shared with Ensign Stewart. The two men had been deep in a game of the three-dimensional chess they had been taught by their Deltan guests. He had just picked up a piece and placed it on the second board up.

Stewart winced his head slightly as he considered the move that Harris had just taken. “Have you not learnt anything since we got here Jamie?” He asked the yeoman as he kept his focus on the game before him. 

“Yeah I’ve learnt not to visit any bars with you late at night that has a lot of young sexually active Deltans in it!” Harris countered back with as he reached for the glass of water that sat on the same table as the chessboard.

 The group of crewmates all laughed at that comment. Two days prior both men had decided to have a night out, being the only males in the group they had decided to call it a “Boys Night Out”. They had returned, both drunk, in the early hours of the morning the next day but had reported they had been propositioned by a number of Deltans to join in with their evening entertainment. 

“I didn’t hear you complaining when we went in there!” Stewart responded with. “Anyway, the point I was trying to make was that the Deltans are a passionate people about peace.”

“How have you worked that one out?” Harris asked.

Levesque enjoyed watching the exchange between the two men but decided to return her attention to the news broadcast currently being shown on the large flat screen wall monitor that hung on the opposite wall to where they all sat. The newsreader was talking about how the Deltan Star Guard, the Deltan Union’s version of Starfleet and MACOs, were preparing to redeploy their forces to retaliate against the Carreons. Some specialist was sitting with them in the studio debating over the possible targets they would take. 

“What do you think, Commander?” 

Levesque snapped herself out of her focus and looked at Habiba who had asked her the question. “Sorry Martha, what do I think about what?”

“About what Niall and Jamie were saying about the Deltans being like Vulcans in their response to conflict.” She answered.

Levesque, who had been sitting comfortably on one of the sofas in their living area, pulled her legs up closer to her as she considered her answer. “I don’t think they are.” She said.

“How comes ma’am?” Stewart asked as he sat back in his armchair. 

“I think they’re more like us.” Levesque stated. “They’re explorers like us but aren’t afraid to defend themselves if provoked. Now we may not know the entire history of their issues with the Carreons, but from what we’ve observed so far, they aren’t the aggressors in this. Do you really think the Earth would stand still if, say Starfleet lost all of its forces defending Vega?”

The group of officers all went silent as they considered the grim idea. Harris was first to respond. “Ever since the Xindi attack I don’t think Starfleet will ever return to its complete commitment to just engaging in peaceful exploration.”

Stewart rested back in the corner of the sofa he was on. “If there’s anything we’ve learnt since Enterprise launched is the galaxy isn’t a peaceful place that we expected it to be.”

“And this corner of it is another true example of that.” Habiba remarked solemnly. 

At this point Levesque felt a bit cross at the low morale her crew were now displaying. “Well then it’s our duty to share hope and set an example to these people.” She finally got up from where she was and walked out of the room leaving them all to contemplate her words. Levesque made a promise to herself that she would do whatever it took to accomplish their mission, even if she had to do it by herself and it took the rest of her life to achieve it.

FIVE – DAY 40

Challenger NX-03
Friday, July 18th, 2155

Captain’s star log, July Eighteenth Twenty-One-Fifty-Five. This afternoon’s attack destroyed the power grid on B and C decks, rendering them inhabitable. Fortunately, we were able to gain further readings on the Carreon vessels. Our suspicions of them not being under the control of their Carreon crews have been confirmed. During the battle our own communications array was hacked, fortunately our computer safeguards were able to protect the ship. Ensign Hennessey is currently reviewing our logs, attempting to determine who our hackers are. In the meantime, we’ve been able to creep into a micro-nebula and are using it as a safe haven to make needed repairs.”

“How hell did all of this gas get in here?” Major Yu shouted over the in-built communicator in her EVA suit’s helmet. She was wading through the thick mauve gas that was covering almost the entire deck from ceiling to floor. Using the headlamps on her helmet she slowly made her way through, doing her best to avoid anything that she would bump into or trip over.  

Shrugging his shoulders in response to his superior officer, Staff Sergeant Iyer was also wearing a similar MACO issued EVA suit as they made their way down B deck. Commander Stanton had requested for the Major to assemble small two-man teams to begin a survey of the damage sustained on the evacuated decks. Yu and Iyer were one of many teams crawling through B deck gaining the information their chief engineer would need before his teams attempted repairs. With the ship’s internal sensors down they had to do the work the old-fashioned way with their eyes and the use of portable hand scanners.  

Eventually they reached the end of the corridor and approached the small computer workstation that was barely operational. Strapping a power source to the side of it, Yu began to access its log to reveal what it could tell her about the status of this section of the deck. “Emergency transverse bulkheads are in place.” She read aloud.

“Maybe it’s coming through the ventilation system? Commander Stanton did say life support and environmental controls were either offline or damaged on parts of this deck.” Iyer suggested. 

Yu nodded in agreement with the sergeant’s assessment. Knowing some basic engineering knowledge, she accessed the deck’s environmental controls and was impressed to see what Iyer had said was in fact the reason for them having their own indoor nebula. “Okay I’m going to attempt to reverse the osmotic pressure.” She knelt down and pulled open the panel that sat underneath the computer controls. Thankfully the circuits hadn’t been corroded and appeared in a good state. Pulling a few parts out and re-installing them in their opposite order she put the panel back and pressed the activation sequence on the computer screen to complete her work. Eventually they could hear a high pitched whirring noise around them as the environmental controls finally kicked in and rejected the gas that had filled the deck.

Tapping the button on his chest plate, Iyer opened a channel. “Damage survey team alpha one to engineering.”

Commander Stanton’s voice came over the intercom in response. “Go ahead Sergeant.”

“Sir I’m happy to report that Major Yu has been successful in repelling the invasion of the gas monster on B deck!” He stated with a hint of humour in his voice.

Yu chuckled at her officer’s words, as did Stanton.

Tell the Major I’ll put her in for a commendation for her bravery!” Stanton said.

“She heard you loud and clear, sir.” Iyer replied.

Excellent, if you can meet up with beta three team in section four, they’ve found a damaged EPS conduit. I’m sending in two of my people to help repair it, but from the sounds of it they need some more muscle there to help move a fallen bulkhead.” Stanton ordered.

“We’re on our way Commander.” Yu answered through her microphone. “Alpha one team out.” She added before closing the channel. She looked at Iyer, “Ready to take on another monster Sergeant?”

“I hear the dreaded fallen bulkhead beast can be a killer ma’am, but as long as I’ve got you by my side, well I feel a lot safer!” He responded with his cheeky grin plastered across his face.

Both MACOs moved away from the computer console, laughing at their almost childish humour. If they didn’t laugh and find some humour in their current predicament then they would only be reminded of the constant depressing fighting they had been involved with.


Sitting aft of the main bridge in the situation room, Ensign Hennessey had been glaring at the images before him for some time now. Various windows on the main wall screen were actively open and were displaying the different readings of the attempted cyber-assault against Challenger’s computer systems only a few hours ago.  He was trying to make sense of it all, find the hidden connection and then determine the source of it all. If he could decrypt this sophisticated frequency, then he may be able to create countermeasures to any future attacks. Also finding out who was responsible was high on his list although at the back of his mind his subconscious was telling him to blame the Romulans for this. The fact that over two weeks ago they had detected one of their ships nearby was all the evidence he needed to be convinced it was the Romulans. However, with the ship’s main computer processor severely damaged the job of uncovering the truth was taking longer than it normally would. Hennessey was going to call it an evening, he felt he needed to sleep on it and the constant noise of hearing the repair teams behind him fix some of the damaged bridge systems was starting to irritate him. He couldn’t focus and concentrate on what he needed to do. His attention was completely interrupted when the ship’s doctor entered the bridge via the aft door to his right.

“Kefira, what brings you up to the bridge?” Hennessey asked her. 

The Israeli woman smiled at seeing her friend whom she had shared many meals with. “The captain asked me to see me.”

Hennessey turned around to look towards the bridge, as he thought Burton wasn’t there and he was pretty certain he hadn’t returned. “I’m pretty certain that Captain Burton was called down to engineering about ten minutes ago by Commander Stanton.”

Ben-Ami sighed in frustration. “Do you know why?”

“Something about the port nacelle?” He recalled slowly; he wasn’t completely sure of the reason why the Chief Engineer wanted to see their Commanding Officer. “I’m sure he’ll be right back up if you care to wait?”

She mentally juggled with the idea for a few seconds and agreed to his idea. “It was early this morning over a cup of tea that he suggested we caught up with one another.” She took one of the high stools that were by the central computer display table. “How’s the hacker hunt going?” Ben-Ami enquired.

“Very slow.” He responded as he rubbed his forehead with his right hand and turned around to look at her. “How’s the crew holding up?”

Ben-Ami rocked her head slightly from side-to-side showing she couldn’t give him a definitive yes or no that they were okay. “It’s hard to completely explain.” She started with.  “I was able to release the last of my patients only a few moments ago so the mess hall is back to being empty and sickbay is finally clear. However, I don’t think we’ve healed everyone’s mental scars.”

Hennessey grimaced at that fact. He wondered how many of them would suffer (or were suffering) from post-traumatic stress disorder. “Unfortunately, we’re in a profession that is susceptible to such things.”

“Indeed, and after all of this I certainly think Starfleet will be tightening up its mental health assessment of its new recruits.” She countered. “I don’t think many people were ever prepared to deal with such stress under fire.”

“As a race we’ve been fortunate to experience almost a century of peace since Zefram Cochrane’s warp flight. The notion of constantly fighting for survival is an abstract one for us to understand.” Hennessey said.

“That’s certainly true Ned.” Ben-Ami then rested her left elbow on the table and placed her chin in her palm. “I just hope we get back soon, so everyone can see some trained counsellors.”

“Perhaps Starfleet should consider posting trained counsellors on board their ships?” Hennessey proposed. 

Ben-Ami considered his recommendation before speaking up. “It took Starfleet a few years to agree to put armoury officers on board their ships, my money is on them taking a good couple of centuries before they allow shrinks on board. The idea that a trained therapist could question the captain’s decision making may make some feel uneasy.”

“We can only hope my good Ro-fa that Starfleet Medical is able to convince them one day.” Hennessey said as the computer beeped behind him. He stopped and looked around at the information that was now displaying on the computer screen before him. “Now that is interesting!” He exclaimed.

Ben-Ami rose from where she sat and looked at the data the communication officer was reading too. “Ned didn’t you say you were trying to determine the hacker’s frequency?”

“Yup.” He answered, popping the ‘p’. He looked as astonished as she did.

“I’m no communications expert but that isn’t a typical communication frequency, in fact I would say it’s a…”

 

“…brain wave signal.” Ben-Ami finished.

Captain Burton, Commander Stanton and Sub Commander T’Plau all looked at the Chief Medical Officer and Communication Officer with similar surprised expressions on their faces. The senior officers were all currently standing around in the corner of main engineering where Commander Stanton kept his own desk. Hennessey and Ben-Ami had just shared their findings with the other three the moment they had finished their work on the bridge. 

“Brain waves?” Burton repeated, completely unsure what he was hearing. “How? Who’s it?” He added.

“They are brain waves sir. They’re not your standard frequency you find in a computer connection.” Hennessey confirmed.

“We are unable to determine at the moment where they’re from as the medical database is inaccessible due to damage to the computer processor.” Ben-Ami added. “But the signal itself has several properties that are only unique to brain waves sir.”

“Okay,” Burton said as he crossed his arms against his chest. He was currently sat on the seat that was by Stanton’s desk. “Have we got any theories here on what this is?”

Both Ben-Ami and Hennessey shook their heads. Burton looked at the others and got a similar response from Stanton who looked just as puzzled as the others. Finally, he looked at T’Plau who was studying the data with great interest.

“Telepresence.” She simply said.

“Tele-what?” Stanton questioned back.

“Presence.” T’Plau stated again. “It’s a form of computer control which allows for telepathy to be used from long distance to regulate a ship.”

“That’s what Enterprise encountered with the Romulan drone ships about eight months ago.” Burton explained. “Their drone ships were equipped with telepresence units and were controlled by Aenar pilots.” The captain paused as he considered all the facts before them. “So, could it be the Romulans have further developed this technology to be able to gain access to non-Romulan ships?”

“The evidence would seem to fit that hypothesis sir.” T’Plau responded. “However, I would be reluctant to jump to that conclusion until we have further evidence that does not contradict it.”

“From what I can tell of the information we’ve gathered so far this telepresence system does need to be adjusted to interface with the computer systems they’re hacking.” Hennessey stated. “If it is the Romulans then they need to know how our computer systems operate to be able to successfully take over.”

“So, it’s a possibility the Romulans have captured a Carreon ship?” Stanton asked aloud, apparently, he was jumping ahead of everyone else and attempting to form connections to explain everything that had been happening. It was clear for him to see the bigger picture. However, the chief engineer could see most of his colleagues were perplexed with his train of thought. “Think about it, if they’ve had access to a Carreon ship then they know how to compromise the Carreons’ systems before unleashing their telepresence units on them to control their ships.” 

 “They’ve probably orchestrated the whole thing.” Ben-Ami said, hinting that she was starting to understand what Stanton was getting at.

“What do you mean Kefira?” Stanton asked as leant against the wall.

“Think about it, the Carreons and Deltans have a tense history. By taking over the Carreon fleet they’ve been able to ignite a conflict in this region of space that would eventually weaken both sides.” Ben-Ami described.  

“Which would allow the Romulans to easily conquer them.” T’Plau said. “Both sides are evenly matched as well. They would not be able to put up a proper resistance against a Romulan invasion if they had already fought each other and spent valuable resources.”

“And with the Carreon fleet under Romulan control then they can easily wipe out the defences of both sides through mutual destruction.” Burton summarised. “It’s an interesting and ambitious stratagem.”

“If it’s the truth.” Stanton quickly said. 

“And if it is then it would also mean cutting away any chance for the Coalition in formalising any relations with the Deltan Union.” Hennessey mentioned.

Stanton shook his head as they all started to realise why they were finally going through hell. “We need to tell the Deltans and try and make contact with the Carreons. We need to de-escalate the situation. Both sides need to stand down somehow.”

“Easier said than done Michael.” Burton said before standing up. “Okay, the first thing we need to do is to increase security for our own computer systems. Michael and Ned, I want you to work on some sort of encryption lockout for the main computer. I know it’s badly damaged but having something in place is better than nothing. The rest of you carry on with repairs, we will need to consider our options on how we deal with this possible Romulan threat.”  

They all nodded and soon walked away from their little corner. Burton looked over to T’Plau who had yet to walk away. He signalled to her to follow him out, she complied and walked alongside him. 

Once they had left main engineering, they made their way down the corridor towards the access ladders they would climb to return to the bridge. Burton spoke to her in a low voice to avoid anyone passing them catching on to what they were discussing. “Your thoughts, Sub Commander on this?”

The Vulcan woman only raised her left eyebrow to begin with as she pondered how to respond. “The evidence accumulated would appear to match the theory the crew have created.”

“I hear a ‘but’ coming.” Burton instantly said.

“There is no ‘but coming’ sir,” She replied as they approached the hatch, they would have to manually open to begin their ascent. “Previous Romulan strategies have evolved around them attempting to destabilise peace between races. The drone ship incident from last year and the Docana invasion are recent examples of that. What is happening between the Deltans and Carreons does fit the profile.”

“I can still sense a ‘but’.” Burton remarked as he began climbing the ladder first with T’Plau behind him. 

“Unfortunately, sir we are not in a position to be able to tell someone what we believe and show them our evidence. I am unsure on how to advise you on what course of action to take.” She concluded. 

Burton deflated as he rushed up the steps. “For a moment there T’Plau I thought you were going to say something to inspire me or at least give me an idea that would help us.” 

“My apologies for making you optimistic sir.” She apologised. 

The captain chuckled as they continued their lengthy climb. “Vulcan optimism would be a treat about right now, Sub Commander.”

“I will remember that for future reference sir.” T’Plau countered as she looked up at him, only seeing the base of Burton’s boots.

Burton only chuckled at that as he pulled himself up on the last few steps before heading through the open exit at the end of their crawl-way. After putting both hands either side of the hatch the captain pushed himself out before extending his hand out to help pull his Vulcan armoury officer through. She took his hand in gratitude and came through the exit too. The two senior officers soon walked around the very small corridor that existed on the top deck that would take them to the bridge. Entering via the rear doors via the situation room, both of them stepped into the command pit. Ensign Conrad had been sitting in the captain’s chair and when he heard the two senior officers entering the room he soon rose from the chair and looked at them both. 

“Good news?” He asked them, knowing they had come from main engineering, to talk about what Hennessey and Ben-Ami had discovered.

“Depends how you define good news Jack.” Burton stated as he took his chair. “Report?”

“Nothing to report sir.” The pilot answered as he took his post at the helm.

“Can you be more specific, ensign?” Burton pushed for.

“There’s nothing new to report sir. Sensors haven’t detected any ships beyond the nebula and repairs continue to go well.” Conrad said, re-phrasing his answer as requested.

Burton rubbed his temple. The nebula was meant to become a safe haven while they carried out repairs and not become a permanent home for them. They needed to get back out in open space, find their missing crew and tell the Deltans and Carreons about what was going on. 

“Captain I’m picking up a faint energy signal off the port bow.” T’Plau announced. She had been looking at the sensor readings at her station since they had returned.

“I’m not detecting anything sir?” Conrad reported, puzzled at T’Plau’s words.

Sighing at the pilot’s comments, T’Plau spoke up. “The energy signature is ever so faint; it is barely registering on our scanners.” 

Burton listened to her before making his way over to her to see for himself. “The sensors are still damaged and with the interference from the nebula I’m surprised you’ve picked it up. But what is it?”

She shook her head. “I cannot say. 

“Most of our probes are still intact. Perhaps we should launch one to get a better look?” Conrad offered.

“That’s a good idea however the probe launchers are offline.” Burton stated grimly. 

The ship then shuddered harshly as if something had slammed into it face on. 

“What the hell was that?” Burton demanded.

“The energy signature has grown.” T’Plau answered.

“Whatever it was we’re moving sir!” Conrad declared. “Something is pulling us out of the nebula.”

“With the limited answers all I can summarise is that a tractor beam has been attached to the ship.” T’Plau offered. 

“Damn it.” Burton cursed as he strode over back to his chair. He slammed his chair’s arm to open a channel to engineering. “Bridge to engineering, Michael I need a clearer picture on what is happening out there.”

Stanton soon answered. “We’re putting a bit more juice into the sensors sir.”

“I have something.” T’Plau said once the energy transfer was complete. 

“Onscreen then Sub Commander.” Burton commanded as he placed his attention on the main viewer.

The screen flickered to show a distorted image of beams of dark emerald green covering most of the ship’s forward hull. The beams originated from a vessel of a similar shade of green. The shape of its hull was recognisable straight away. It’s almost eagle-like silhouette gave it away as Challenger was pulled closer to it.

“T’Plau fire everything we have at them!” Burton screamed, as he realised the Romulans had finally caught them. He wasn’t going to give up without a fight.

T’Plau struggled to give what her commanding officer wanted from her. “The tractor beam is scattering our targeting scanners and affecting some of our primary systems, I cannot even fire our phase cannons manually until we take out their tractor beam.”

Burton thought for a few seconds as he considered his options. “Is the tractor beam affecting our transporters?”

T’Plau checked the computer readings and then shook her head. “No, they are unaffected sir.”

“Do the Romulans have anything that is blocking our transporters from beaming over to their ship?” He asked next.

She ran a scan and when the answers appeared T’Plau reported. “They do not appear to sir however I must advise sending over an armed detail sir. I don’t think the transporters are safe in their current condition to use for the crew.”

Burton looked at her, showing his confusion at her comments. “Who said anything about sending anyone over there?” He paused for a moment as she realised she had wrongly assessed what the captain was thinking of doing. “Have Ensign Cortez and a team of your armoury guys bring up a photonic torpedo to the transporter.” Burton then flicked his communicator on his chair’s arm, re-opening the channel to main engineering. “Michael meet me at the transporter right away!”

Aye sir!” The Chief Engineer replied.

Burton stood up from his chair. “Jack the moment we are free from the tractor beam move us away and T’Plau hit them with everything we’ve got once you’ve got a clean shot.”

Both officers acknowledged his orders as he escaped from the bridge and went back down the main shaft, rushing to get himself to the transporter on D deck.


Ensign Cortez had never run so fast in her life while pulling a torpedo through the ship. After receiving her orders from Sub Commander T’Plau she had grabbed the nearest people available to her in the main armoury room. They then pulled one of the photonic torpedoes from storage, placed it on a trolley before heading to the cargo bay lifts with it to take it up to D deck. They had then rushed through the damaged corridors to make it to where Captain Burton would meet them. As they barged through everywhere, they screamed at anyone who would be in their way to stand clear. Crewmembers instantly pulled themselves against the corridor walls to let the armoury team through. Everyone now knew they were close to their demise, again, if they didn’t act and if Cortez had worked out what the captain had in mind, she hoped it would work. 

Turning left down the corridor she saw Captain Burton and Commander Stanton working on the transporter as they waited for them. Burton had heard them coming through, he looked up from the main controls that he was operating at while Stanton had his head in an open panel in front of the main controls.

“Well done Rachele.” Burton congratulated her. “Now place it on the transporter pad and then open its shell so we can gain access to its arming sequence.”

“Aye sir.” She answered back with and turned to her team to carry out their commanding officer’s orders. The five of them instantly picked up the weapon and carried it over to the pad and carefully put it down. Cortez knelt down to her knees and tapped a few buttons on the torpedo’s casing that automatically released the panels to give her access to its on-board guidance and arming systems. “I’m in, sir!” She said.

Burton had finished his work the moment she had spoken and joined her by her side. He quickly pressed a few buttons and the small digital counter that sat within came to life. The number seven came up on it. 

“You’re setting its self-detonation for seven seconds sir, is that enough time?” Cortez questioned.

“It has to be.” He replied as he looked over to Stanton. “Commander have you got your target?”

Stanton had taken over from Burton at the main controls. “I’ve got the location of their main power reactors. I’m just hoping their tractor beam is tied into those systems.”

“If not, we’re going to make a massive explosion.” Burton returned. “Rachele, stand clear.” He ordered. As she got off the pad she watched as Burton pressed the button that activated the torpedo’s arming sequence.

“Energise!” He ordered.

Stanton had already started the transporter cycle the moment Burton had got off the pad. The high pitch whine of the transporter coming to life filled the area and the torpedo disappeared. Like the torpedo, Captain Burton made his exit with Commander Stanton hot on his tracks.


“Four…three…two…one!” T’Plau finished saying and on cue she looked up at the screen to see the captain’s plan come to life as the armed torpedo detonated causing a massive explosion to tear across the Romulan vessel. “Full reverse Ensign Conrad!” She ordered from her station at the pilot.

“Yes ma’am!” He answered as Challenger rocked from the exploding torpedo’s shock wave.

At the same time, she loaded the manual targeting display on her main screen and found the Romulan ship automatically. Straight away she opened fire, using whatever weapons were available in that firing arc. Several shots came from the phase cannons that were operational and with the forward photonic torpedo launchers offline she loaded a spread of spatial torpedoes instead. The Romulan ship was spinning out of control after Challenger’s sneak attack. The torpedoes swiftly flew across space, like deadly angels of mercy on a kamikaze mission bringing destruction to the enemy craft. T’Plau fired several more shots from the phase cannons. She wasn’t targeting any specific systems; she was just trying to score as many direct hits she could. Her trained eye was successful with every attempt as Challenger’s weapons pounded the Romulan craft.  She took a quick glance over the sensor readings and they told her how badly damaged the ship was. Continuing the attack with just phase cannon fire she decided to aim for the ship’s engines. If they could stop them from running, then maybe they would be able to capture them. If they could find out more information about the Romulans, especially their telepresence systems, then it could be used to stop the Deltan and Carreon conflict and possibly save the Coalition too. 

T’Plau’s heightened sense of hearing soon picked up the heavy panting of Captain Burton and Commander Stanton as they rushed on to the bridge. She looked over at them, both men showing exhaustion from quickly climbing up the access ladders. 

“Captain,” She said, “The Romulan ship is almost disabled.”

“Excellent.” He said in between breaths and coughs as he took a seat in his chair.

Stanton had moved to take over at the science station. “Looks like we scored a direct hit with that torpedo. I’m sure Starfleet will nickname it the Burton manoeuvre in years to come!” 

Burton chuckled at his chief engineer’s remark. “How badly damaged are they?” He asked.

“Main power is offline, heavy hull damage and T’Plau’s shots at their engines have completely stranded them, sir. They’re adrift, but salvageable.” Stanton reported, almost pre-empting what the captain would ask of him.

Burton smiled at that as he turned to look at his armoury officer. “I want you and Major Yu to take over armed landing parties to take that ship-”

He didn’t get a chance to complete his orders as the Romulan ship exploded which caused a shockwave to hit Challenger hard like a powerful hurricane. The Earth ship rolled backwards towards the nebula it had been using to hide in. As it did this more systems became damaged on-board causing ultimate darkness to fill the ship as the crew were dragged into oblivion.

SIX – DAY 46

Ambhat City, Delta IV
Thursday, July 26th, 2155

Friday, July 25th, 2155

Ambhat City, Delta IV

Commander Nicolette Levesque had never been called by a head of state to meet them on some military base as such the entire experience was pretty daunting for Challenger’s first officer. She was currently sat in the back of some sort of military transport that was flying her to the base along with Ensign Stewart and Crewmember Harris. Wearing their field jackets over their jumpsuit uniforms, the three humans had remained silent for most of the journey. The trip had not been planned and they were only informed of it late the previous evening. A military officer had visited them informing them that Prime Minister An’die requested that Commander Levesque meet him. Levesque had decided to take both Stewart and Harris with her as she was finding their company while on Delta to be more useful than the others. The rest of her crew appeared to have given up hope on them ever seeing their crewmates or even returning back home, except these two. The past three and a half weeks they had spent collecting valuable information on the Deltans that would keep the cultural anthropologists on Earth busy for some time. 

Eventually the transport slowed down and began to descend through the clouds as it prepared to land at its destination.  The three Starfleet officers were shown off the craft and escorted across the military base in the open. The wind had hit them the moment they had stepped off the vessel and Levesque was pleased she had put on her field jacket. The Deltan officers that had accompanied them on the transport led them to a smaller land vehicle that resembled a hovercraft. They boarded it and within minutes were off it and entering a large hangar bay.

“Welcome to Brizten base.” Said a familiar voice to the Starfleet team from the other end of the large hangar bay. The bay itself was as huge as a soccer pitch. Approaching the team was their host, Prime Minister An’die who was flagged on either side by other governmental officials and his staff. Many of them Levesque had met before.

“Prime Minister An’die, thank you for the welcome.” Levesque started as they met up with the Deltan leader. “However, we are unsure as to why you asked to see us here?”

An’die nodded, showing his understanding of their confusion to his request. “I’m sure you are, but if you follow me, I have something that may interest you and I would like to ask your help with it.”

Levesque looked at both Stewart and Harris who were just as puzzled as she was before following the Prime Minister. He led them further down the hanger bay towards an area that was bustling with many military officers and what appeared to be civilian scientists. They were all busy moving in and out of what looked like space debris that loitered the bay’s floor. Different Deltan computers and scanners were set up too and were being operated on.

“A couple of days ago one of our scouts encountered a large amount of debris by a small micro nebula which we call the Arakid Nebula. Originally the ship’s science officer and chief engineer thought it was part of a new craft made by the Carreons. However, when they salvaged what appeared to be a functioning computer terminal, they found out its technology was not Carreon in origin. When they brought it and the rest of the debris back to Delta for further analysis, we were able to access the logs of the ship.” An’die explained as they approached a free-standing computer console that had three monitors that were attached to a portable stand. He nodded to the scientist sitting there to bring up the records he was talking about. The screens all changed to show the flickering image of a sensor reading. What happened next surprised Levesque as the video showed a purple coloured nebula being blocked out by a huge grey and silver saucer like shape with two red and blue glowing lights above and behind it. 

“That’s impossible.” Said Crewmember Harris.

Ensign Stewart looked to his superior officer. “Commander that’s Challenger!” He spoke. 

The video continued to show the Earth ship open fire on the vessel and quite viciously assault it. The sensor readings also showed how badly damaged the craft was. The hull was scorched, and pieces of the hull were missing. The port nacelle was flashing on and off to show its instability in securing full power. The ship looked like a wreck. Wave after wave of fire struck out from Challenger as it scored multiple hits on its target. The screens then all went blank.

“What happened next?” Levesque asked An’die.

The Prime Minister leant against the black glass desk that the Deltan scientist had been operating and crossed his arms against his suit like navy blue jacket. “That’s all we’ve been able to uncover from their logs however from what we can determine the craft that your ship was attacking was obliterated only a few moments after that attack. From what we can tell a massive explosion happened internally and ripped the craft apart, vaporising a good amount of it apart from the few bits we found.”

 “Do you know who they were?” Stewart asked as he peered over An’die’s shoulder to take a sneak peek at the debris.

An’die shook his head. “No, that’s where you come in.” He explained. “My people believe they have determined an approximate model of what the ship would have looked like. It’s nothing we’ve seen before and we wondered if you’re people had encountered them?”

Levesque could understand why Prime Minister An’die was asking them for help. She would have done the same thing in his position. “Sure, if we don’t recognise them straight away we can always check our records in our shuttlepod.”

An’die grinned at their cooperation and gestured for the scientist that remained near to them to bring up the computer-generated image of the destroyed ship. The moment it came up Levesque’s face went completely white as if she had seen an unwelcome ghost from her past. In fact, it was exactly that.

“That’s a Romulan ship, Mister Prime Minister.” She stated after a second of taking in what they were looking at.

“Romulan?” An’die repeated, showing his complete unawareness of them.

Levesque looked at them. “Sir, if Challenger has engaged a Romulan ship this close to Deltan territory all I can say is we are in grave danger. The Romulans are an aggressive, territorial and xenophobic race.  They’ve engaged our allies and us in a few campaigns to undermine our development; it’s always ended with casualties. I’m more than happy to release whatever information we have on them but in short sir, you need to warn your military.”

An’die took her words seriously and nodded in acknowledgement of them. “Could they be in league with the Carreons?”

Harris then spoke up. “Unlikely sir, from when we’ve dealt with them to date, they have not shown any interest in formal alliances with others, but they had co-opted others to do their dirty business or found ways to blame others for aggressive behaviours against others.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the Romulans have found some way to manipulate the Carreons in taking such drastic measures against you Mister Prime Minister.” Levesque said. “If you want to prepare yourself for the oncoming Romulan storm then you need to find a way to mediate a cease fire with the Carreons and re-establish the peace treaty that existed between you both.” 

“That’s easier said than done Commander.” An’die remarked as he considered his options. “Commander Levesque, would you and your men be prepared to help us with this?”

Levesque nodded. “I will have all of our resources made available to you. If we can help you find peace with the Carreons and prepare you for the Romulans then at least we’ll be doing something else productive here.”

An’die extended his hand towards Levesque. “Then let’s shake on the beginning of the Deltan-Human alliance.”

Levesque appreciated the Prime Minister’s gesture and gave him her hand as they shook in a firm embrace. “To new beginnings.” She said with a warm smile. She only hoped that what she had just signed them up for was worth it and she wouldn’t be getting them into any trouble with their superiors back home.


“So that’s the plan.” Levesque finished on as she explained what had happened. Her, Stewart and Harris had all returned to their accommodation after spending several more hours with Prime Minister An’die and his staff, studying the wreckage from the Romulans. They had returned and she had told them her agreement with An’die to help them begin work on defenses against the Romulans. The entire group were quiet as they listened to her. 

“No offence ma’am,” spoke Habiba from one of the sofas. “But do you have the authority to agree to an alliance with the Deltans on behalf of our government?”

Levesque had been standing when she told her crew her plans to help the Deltans. She looked at the science officer and knew why she had asked the question, even if it caused self-doubt with the others in the group. “This isn’t a formal alliance. We’re not given them weapons or ships to defend themselves with. In return for our protection and their agreement to send a ship towards Coalition claimed territory to let them know we are here, we will help the Deltans with everything we know about the Romulans and help them find a peaceful solution with the Carreons.”

“Martha, they could easily overwhelm us and take the information from our shuttlepod.” Stewart offered. “At least this way we are doing something productive and have control on what we give them.”

“Permission to speak freely ma’am?” Habiba asked after giving Stewart a look that told him to be quiet.

Levesque had noticed Habiba’s hostile glare at her acting first officer but ignored it to see what she was going to say. “Of course, Martha.” She agreed. 

“Ma’am this isn’t our fight to get involved in. There’s some sense here where the Vulcan’s non-interference approach makes sense. We shouldn’t get ourselves involved in a world’s internal matters.” Habiba said.

“It’s not internal Martha,” Levesque replied. “They could end up engaging with the same security threat both the Commonwealth and the Coalition currently face. Helping a potential ally to deal with it will go down as a massive gesture on our part to them. The Romulans have not stopped fighting us on different fronts for several months now; it’s obvious they see us as a threat too. It is our duty to do whatever it takes to protect the lives of those who are innocent enough to be stuck in the middle of it.”

Habiba looked around at her fellow officers before looking back at Levesque. “With all due respect ma’am none of us joined Starfleet to be soldiers, we joined to be explorers. We aren’t trained in warfare; we’re scientists first and foremost and so are you.”

Silence filled the room, no one would look at each other, especially Habiba. “Ensign you’re relieved.” Levesque said coldly. She wasn’t prepared to listen to the young science officer anymore. She was as Starfleet Commander first and foremost, which meant her duty was to the mission coming first. Their orders had been to make first contact and establish a working relationship with the Deltans. She was going to see that through and if Habiba was not going to do her job then she refused to let her carry on talking in that manner. 

Habiba just got up and stormed out of the lounge and returned to her room. Levesque watched her leave, thinking that this was not like her second science officer. Habiba had always been willing to help out and be involved in the mission to whatever extent. That all said their time on Delta was placing a strain on all of them, Habiba the most. 

Once Habiba had slammed her door closed like a hormonal teenager, Levesque looked at the others that remained. “Is there anyone else who wishes to join Martha?” She looked at them all, again none of them looked at her. “Say now or forever hold your peace.” She added. Once more she got no response. “Alright we’ve got a lot of work to do. Jamie will give you your assignments. I want this to work, everyone, make this work. Dismissed.” She commanded. 

They all got up and went over to the young yeoman who handed them all what they had to do. Ensign Stewart walked over to Levesque’s side as the others left. “Do you want me to speak to her?” He quietly asked.

Levesque smiled at the nurse. In the last couple of weeks, he had changed and was becoming a confident officer and an excellent right-hand man to have around. “No leave Martha with me. Just make sure this works Niall.” She emphasised after releasing her arms from being folded across her chest. 

“Yes ma’am.” He said before heading over to Harris and the others to ensure their new mission started without any more complications.


Challenger NX-03

Standing in pitch-blackness alone with nothing to disturb him, Captain Burton stood with his arms crossed in his quarters staring out at the almost cracked window. His ship was heavily damaged and now adrift in the middle of nowhere. They had no idea where they were as the navigational sensors were offline. However, that wasn’t the worst thing that was affecting them. After the destruction of the Romulan ship, Challenger had been swept back into the nebula by the force of the shockwave. The crew had lost control of stabilising the ship and were only able to regain its composure almost a day later once it had drifted out of the nebula. When the ship had been hit, a number of working systems had been damaged and those that were already damaged received further harm. Since then they had received a godsend in the sense that no one was interested in them. No Carreon attacks or any signs of more Romulan ships. T’Plau had wondered if they had removed the Romulan ship that was controlling the Carreon ships with telepresence. Burton’s Vulcan armoury officer still seemed sceptical that the evidence they had collected in the last few days could be used to prove the Romulans’ involvement with the Carreon attacks, but she had nothing to contradict it. So, it had left Captain Burton with a lot to think about. His ship was heavily damaged, and his crew injured with their morale severely beaten. If this was an old ship that sailed Earth’s oceans, they would be lucky to encounter a large wave that would sweep them across and possibly against some large rocks that would eventually crush them from the hell they were living. Fortunately for them there were no such waves heading in their direction that they could tell. Burton had considered their options deeply since the battle with the Romulans. The ship was barely holding herself together, but the crew needed to find a way to survive. They had used the sensors from Shuttlepod One to determine the location of the habitable world they had planned to fall back to when this all started over a month ago. If they could restore the impulse engines, they would be within its star system in less than twelve days. 

There was a knock at his doorway and Burton instinctively turned around to see who it was. Seeing as many of the ship’s automatic doors were no longer operated by themselves, the crew had to revert to opening and closing them manually. He had forgotten to close it behind him when he came in earlier. He saw the outline figure of his acting first officer and chief engineer standing in the doorway. Déjà vu crept over Burton instantly. Stanton and he had started a similar conversation about their survival several days ago. Now here they stood about to go down a similar route.

“You wanted to see me Lloyd?” Stanton said in an almost whisper tone.

Burton nodded and gestured for him to come in and take a seat at the chair by the broken desk. “We’ve reached that point Michael.”

Stanton nodded solemnly, showing he knew what Burton meant. “I guessed this was why you summoned me down here. How do you want to break the news to the crew?”

Burton looked at his friend. Only a few months ago they barely knew each other but now they trusted each other with one another’s lives. Burton had come to depend on Stanton’s judgement since Levesque had been left behind on Delta. The chief engineer had become a great sounding board and always offered his captain alternatives he may not have considered. Sitting on the edge of his unmade bed, Burton gave out a sigh. “It can wait until the morning, but I want to speak to the senior staff tonight before they go to bed. I want them all to be clear with our plan.”

Exhaling slowly, Stanton appeared to slump further into the chair as if to show he was too tired and ready to give up. “Our plan?” He questioned.

Burton nodded. “I’m not going to give up on Levesque and the others Michael.” He said with conviction. “The crew will abandon ship, make their way towards that Minshara class planet while I take Challenger back to Delta Four and see if I can find our missing crew. If I’m lucky then I might be able to get the Deltans to help repair the ship and come find you all.”

Stanton listened attentively. “Lloyd with all due respect there’s no way this bulk will get you to Delta Four without constant serious care and love.”

Burton stood up gradually, he knew this was conversation was coming the moment he had set his heart and mind on his plan. “Michael, I appreciate the sentiment, but I won’t leave them behind at least without trying.” He said with his back to Stanton. He turned around. “Anyway, you know the saying: captain goes down with the ship, right?”

Stanton groaned inwards at Burton; he was completely frustrated at the captain for coming out with such an archaic naval tradition. “Typical armoury officer, having to be the brave soldier that goes out fighting in a blaze of glory!” The engineer stood up and looked at his captain. “If you’re planning to do this then you need an engineer at your side to keep this bucket of bolts together.”

Shaking his head at the idea, Burton refused to hear Stanton’s suggestion. “No, I need you to lead the crew.”

Throwing his hands up in the air, Stanton continued to exasperate over Burton’s refusal to take his help. “Lloyd this crew needs its captain to lead them, if you’re dead then there’s nothing I or anyone else can do to save them!”

“As you said I need to save them, I need to save those back on Delta!” Burton barked back while pointing with his right hand towards the window in a vain attempt to hopefully be indicating in the right direction towards the Deltan homeworld.

“Fine then we do it together. You and I.” Stanton said after letting the atmosphere between them calm down. “Let T’Plau or Kefira lead the crew to safe waters.”

The captain placed his hands on his hips while looking at the man before him. He knew there was nothing he could say that would convince him to leave his side. He appreciated Stanton’s loyalty. “Alright assemble the troops and we’ll tell them.” He said after calming himself down.

SEVEN – DAY 58

Escape Pod NX-03-LB-Beta-1
Tuesday, August 5th, 2155

Deep in a slumber and resting in the reclining chair of the escape pod, the loud computer beep slowly woke Kefira Ben-Ami up. Her fellow crewmates who she shared the lifeboat with were starting to stir too. She sat up automatically and the chair returned to its normal upright position as she did this. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, the doctor got to work in responding to what the computer wanted from her. She soon noticed it was an incoming call from Shuttlepod One. 

She answered. “Go ahead Jack.”

“Good Morning Commander,” came the cheerful voice of Ensign Conrad over the channel. “Ma’am good news to report we’re approaching our safe harbour.”

At the sound of that news Ben-Ami grinned to herself. “That’s great news Jack!”

“Liam and I have already performed scans and we need to land as many escape pods soon. Their power systems are starting to degrade from their overuse.” Conrad mentioned. “The vector we’re approaching the planet from means we’ll be landing in the dark as it’ll be night time once we enter orbit.”

“Will that be a problem Jack?” Ben-Ami asked as she began to check over the controls of her lifeboat. It too was starting to use its emergency energy reserves to keep them going. 

“Not at all ma’am. Liam has already found us a nice little equatorial island to land on. It’s got plenty of vegetation and it’s a nice spot to keep us out of trouble. We’re registering a comfortable climate.” Conrad stated.

“What about other life forms? Any ships?” Ben-Ami asked.

Conrad answered. “I’m afraid our sensors are limited ma’am, so I can’t be sure. I can only see this side of the planet.” 

“Well we have no choice. Once we get into orbit, begin coordinating everyone to land.” She ordered.

“Will do ma’am. I’ll be back in touch once we are within full visual range. Shuttlepod One out.” 

Ben-Ami rested back into her chair and was pleased to see a hand sticking out in front of her holding a mug of coffee. “Montana you read my mind!”

Challenger’s chef smiled at the doctor. “Seeing as we’re almost safe I thought using the last of our coffee rations was worth it. We’re going to need our wits about ourselves if we’re to survive this!” 

“I just hope you know how to grow coffee beans on this new planet because if not you’re not going to be a popular person!” Ben-Ami remarked as she sipped on the hot beverage, savouring each sensation that tickled her taste buds.

Lawson chuckled at that. “Hopefully the Captain will save us before that happens!”

“Let’s hope so!” Ben-Ami said as she raised her knees to her chest and looked out of the tinted glass that showed the planet they were approaching. From where they were it almost looked like a cross between Mars and Vulcan. It had a deep scarlet red sky that had whispers of diamond white clouds across it.

 


Shuttlepod One

 

Conrad yawned as he pressed several buttons to adjust the craft’s heading. He was keeping an eye on the planet that was to become their safe harbour. It was quickly approaching them as their caravan of lifeboats followed closely behind the shuttlepod. Conrad span on his chair around to see his travelling companions busy doing something else. Corporal Jenkins was reading everything coming through on the sensors. Ensign Metaxas was keeping a close eye on the status of all of their escape pods while Second Lieutenant Trommler was trying to sort out their kit in the rear of their cabin.

“Gentlemen we’ve arrived home!” Conrad said with a confident smile.

Jenkins snorted at his comment. “Isn’t it a bit early to be celebrating?”

“And we’re technically not home!” Metaxas replied.

Conrad sighed and threw his hands up in disbelief. “Not really optimistic are we today?”

“Jacky, I appreciate your positivity, but I have to admit I’m with these two. We should hold off with the celebrations!” Trommler stated from where he was kneeling on the floor packing up their gear. Once they would land on the planet, they would need to unpack the entire shuttlepod and begin to set up shelter for everyone. 

“Fine!” Conrad said, feeling defeated and deflated by his fellow shipmates’ lack of appreciation of their good news. He turned his chair back around and looked back at the readings on his controls. Soon he would need to focus on their descent to the planet below.


Challenger NX-03

 

Sub Commander T’Plau pondered to herself just how dire their situation was. She had calculated that their chance of surviving was negligible, and that number decreased if they were forced to engage any hostile ships. Fortunately, since the crew’s departure her work with Captain Burton and Commander Stanton in repairing the ship had been productive. As it was only three of them it meant they were able to reduce life support in certain areas giving them extra power to get other systems operational. They had spent most of their time concentrating on the ship’s propulsion systems. After almost a day of hard work they had determined that the warp drive was beyond repair and would need access to a shipyard or repair facility to fix it. So, they had focussed on getting the impulse engines working. Their next priority had been getting the ship’s tactical systems back up and operational. It had taken them much longer to restore power to all of the phase cannons as well as make repairs to the ship’s hull plating generators. The torpedo launchers had been the most disappointing as their calculated repair time had now gone over by a full day. 

She had now decided to take a break and get a cup of green tea from the crew lounge. T’Plau wasn’t surprised when the drink dispenser was not working. So, she left the mess hall and entered the kitchen. There wasn’t much left as Chef Lawson had taken as much as she could take before they abandoned the ship. T’Plau searched several cupboards before finding a kettle she could use to boil the water. She approached the sink, filled the kettle up and placed it on the electric stove that thankfully was working. She then went into the pantry to find the tin that Lawson used to keep the green tea in. Once she located it, she took the tea strainer from a draw and collected a mug on her way back to the stove. Several stools were placed under the middle preparation stand. T’Plau sat down while she waited for the kettle to begin whistling. She picked up the nearest tablet she had brought down with her to read. She was in the process of redesigning the targeting scanners. The subroutines and algorithms needed to be completely re-written due to the damage sustained to the computer processors. 

The doors to the kitchen opened once again making her look up at who was coming in. Commander Michael Stanton squeezed himself through as he pushed the two doors apart from each other. “I definitely need to get back to the gym after all of this.” He said as he struggled against the doors. Eventually he got through and smiled at T’Plau. “Taking a break too?”

“Indeed.” T’Plau answered as she got up from her chair and proceeded to check on the boiling water. “Tea?”

Stanton nodded. “The captain’s got me hooked on English breakfast tea, if there’s any going?”

“I was making green tea, but I can locate your choice.” She offered as she turned to head towards the pantry.

“Nah, green tea sounds fine to me.” He replied before helping himself into a cupboard and pulling out a large jar. T’Plau watched him unscrew its lid, wondering what was in it. As if on cue Stanton looked at her and appeared to read her mind to explain what was in it. “It’s the cookie jar T’Plau. Chef Lawson keeps some of her cookies in cool storage.”

“An interesting method in storing such food.” She remarked as she picked up another mug for the engineer and got enough tea for his drink too.

Stanton placed the jar on the middle counter and pulled out a stool on the opposite side to where T’Plau had been a moment ago. He took the lid off the jar and pulled a chocolate cookie out and began to nibble on it. “How are repairs going at your end?” He asked her.

T’Plau began to pour the hot water into their mugs and answered him at the same time. “I am currently working on re-writing the algorithms for the targeting scanners.”

“I’m sure your new ones will be more efficient than the original ones.” He said after swallowing a chunk. 

“I am sure they will be.” T’Plau bluntly put it as she carried over their mugs to where they were sat. 

“Thanks.” Stanton said in appreciation. 

“You are welcome.” T’Plau replied as she sat on her stool up straight.

 After a few minutes of silence between the two officers, Stanton cleared his throat after taking a sip from his tea. “T’Plau you never said why you would stay with us?”

She raised her left eyebrow at Stanton. “I do not believe my reasons were necessary to share with everyone.”

“No, I’m sure they’re not and please don’t be offended by what I said. I’m just curious as to why you would agree to stay. You could have easily left with the others.” Stanton said looking at her.

“Captain Burton is an excellent tactician; a competent leader and you are an excellent engineer however you both would not have been able to survive with at least another person helping you. I was the obvious choice from the senior staff to stay behind to help.” She explained.

“And there was me thinking it was out of loyalty to the captain?” Stanton quizzed her.

“My decision was not influenced by how I feel about Captain Burton.” T’Plau defended with. “However, that does not mean I do not respect the captain and I will carry out his orders as my commanding officer.”

“Do you not have any thoughts about how proud we all are at how we’ve survived the past month and a half against the Carreons and Romulans?” Stanton wondered.

She nodded her head gently. “I am highly impressed at the fact we have not had any fatalities and I admire how well this crew has kept their emotional balance in check in such difficult circumstances.”

“So, you do care.” Stanton said, chuckling at how well the Vulcan was avoiding answering his questions completely. 

The intercom went off, preventing T’Plau from saying any more. “Heads up you two, we’ve got company.”

“Damn it!” Stanton cursed as he picked up his cookie and mug and rushed with T’Plau to leave the kitchen to head up to the bridge.

 

Thankfully they had been able to repair the lift system between A and D decks which meant that Burton didn’t have to wait too long for his two officers to join him. As they entered the bridge from the lift, they took their positions either side of him. Burton himself was at the helm while T’Plau took her usual chair at tactical while Stanton sat at the science station. 

“A ship is approaching us at full impulse, but they’re too far to register who they are.” Burton explained to them as they moved around the bridge to get to their spots. 

“No idea if they’re friendly or an enemy ship?” Stanton inquired as he tried to bring up all the information he would need where he sat. He also loaded up the engineering dashboard on his screen so he could manage the ship’s systems from where he was. He also tied in the ship’s communication systems into his station too. 

“Nope.” Burton said. “They just dropped out of warp and have been heading straight for us. T’Plau bring the phase cannons online and prepare to open the aft torpedo launch bays.”

“Captain can I remind you the torpedo launchers are non-operational. We cannot fire with them.” T’Plau stated.

“I know that, but if we can’t outrun them on impulse, I want to use the torpedoes like mines. I plan to drop them in their way as they approach us and then destroy them with our phase cannons as they get close enough to them.” Burton responded with.

“Understood captain, arming all torpedoes in the aft bays, opening their launcher doors too.” She said.

“Umm sir you may want to hold off on that idea.” Stanton declared once his station beeped at him. “That’s a friendly vessel sir and we are being hailed!”

“Onscreen!” Burton said with a sense of hope in his tone.

The main screen changed and the image of an Andorian zhen appeared. “Captain Burton, what have you done to your ship?” spoke Commander Ashanthi zh’Becthor from her command chair on the bridge of the Avenkerev.

“It’s a long story Commander Anthi, but all I can say is we are pleased to see you. We are in dire need of help.” Burton said.

“I notice your docking ports are too badly damaged for us. We’re dispatching shuttles with medical and engineering personnel with supplies.” She stated. “Don’t worry captain you’re safe now.”

“Thank you, Commander.” Burton said in relief.

“It seems you need a friend today, Captain. We’re on our way. Avenkerev out.” The screen went blank. 

Stanton got up and as he did, he spoke. “Captain, we may have to force open the launch bay doors. They took a direct hit after the Romulan battle.”  

Burton got up and placed the bridge computers on lockout, “Come on T’Plau we may need some of that Vulcan strength to activate the manual releases.”

T’Plau nodded her head in acknowledgement and joined her two fellow officers on the lift as they made their way down to greet their saviours.


Shuttlepod One

 

If Corporal Jenkins had nodded off, just the way his body was telling him to do, he would not have noticed the sensor blip on his screen. He winced his eyes to concentrate on it for a second time and he was certain there was something out there.

“Umm, Jack we’ve got an incoming bogey.” Jenkins announced to the pilot.

Conrad turned around in his chair to look over at his comrade. “Clarify Liam?”

“Something fast is ascending from the planet and is making its way over to us.” Jenkins responded. “It’s no bigger than a Y-class freighter, I’m detecting twenty-four life forms on board.”

Conrad quickly turned around in his chair and moved their shuttlepod to face the angle of the incoming alien vessel. “Shuttlepod One to Commander Ben-Ami.” He said after tapping the communication button in front of him.

Ben-Ami’s voice crackled over the radio. “Go ahead Ensign.”

“Ma’am we’re detecting an alien vessel, it’s approach vector places it on an incoming trajectory course for our current location. I suggest we hurry up and move our escape pods out of the way.” Conrad swiftly stated. 

“How long do we have?” The doctor asked.

He looked down at his own readings now. “Less than a minute and a half.” Conrad answered.

“Alright, I’ll signal everyone to begin rapid descents.” Ben-Ami said; the concern in her voice was now apparent. They all knew if they didn’t land soon then they could become someone’s target practice or worse be captured.

A few seconds later Conrad watched as he saw most of the escape pods fire their retro-thrusters that slammed them into the planet’s atmosphere. If they all made their way into the lower layers of the atmosphere, they would be able to avoid detection due to it being partly ionised. 

“Jack that ship is coming straight for us and will be with us in less than thirty seconds.” Jenkins stated.

“And that’s not the worst of it.” Ensign Metaxas added. “That ship is armed with particle cannons and I’m registering a thick hull plating plus a tractor beam. However, it doesn’t have a warp drive.”

Conrad looked over his left shoulder to catch Metaxas’ eye. “So only impulse?”

“If you can call it that.” Metaxas returned. “It’s not like our engine configuration or any sub-light engine I’ve seen before.”

“Okay, polarise our hull plating and bring the forward phase cannons online.” Conrad ordered.

“Really Jack?” Trommler asked out of disbelief from where he sat behind Jenkins. “You’re going to fight them?”

 “We should open a channel and attempt to make contact.” Jenkins suggested.

“Or at least speak with Ben-Ami.” Trommler stated. “Liam, open a channel to her escape pod.”

Jack spun his chair round in rage for his friend trying to undermine him. “I’m the senior officer here, Second Lieutenant Trommler, you’ll follow my orders!” He said in a loud, stern voice. 

“Then give the appropriate orders, Ensign Conrad.” Trommler countered back with a similar tone of voice as he stood up, without bumping his head on the low shuttlepod ceiling.

Both Jenkins and Metaxas looked at both men back and forth. It was like watching a game of fierce tennis, waiting to see who would return the serve hardest. Conrad looked at Jenkins. “Get Ben-Ami.” He conceded, knowing his friend was right. 

 Jenkins did as he told and opened the channel.

“Ma’am they’re going to be here soon, and we still need more time to get everyone into the planet’s atmosphere. I recommend we try to make contact, buy ourselves some time.”

“I was thinking the same thing Jack.” She returned. In the back of Conrad’s mind, he was annoyed, as he knew that Trommler would rub it in his face later that his decision had been the best one to take. He kicked himself mentally for acting without thinking. “I’m moving my escape to be alongside you but let’s move closer to the atmosphere just in case we need to make a speedy escape.” Ben-Ami carried on with.

“Yes ma’am.” Conrad said and spun his chair back round to face the cockpit as he adjusted their course and headed to move alongside the escape pod, so they were now facing their new guest. 

“The last of the escape pods has entered the lower atmosphere.” Jenkins announced after a few seconds of silence filled the cabin.

“They’ll all be down within four to five minutes.” Metaxas remarked.

“Commander Ben-Ami is hailing the alien ship and is patching us through too.” Jenkins said.

The radio speakers came to life as Ben-Ami’s feminine voice filled the shuttlepod. “I am Lieutenant Commander Kefira Ben-Ami, chief medical officer of the Earth starship Challenger. We come in peace.”

There was a harsh silence after her opening hail. The alien vessel had now stopped in front of them and was doing nothing from what they could see. 

Conrad squinted his eyes when he saw a blue ball of energy begin to emerge from the side of the alien ship’s hull. Automatically he registered what it was and spun the shuttlepod hard to starboard while at the same time shouting down the communicator to Ben-Ami’s lifeboat, “Take evasive action they’re firing on us!” 

Two bolts of energy streaked out towards both Earth ships, the first one aimed at the shuttlepod missed by a meter while the other one grazed the hull of the escape pod as it too moved out of the way.

“Return fire!” Conrad ordered.

Metaxas did as he was told and locked the shuttlepod’s smaller phase cannon on to the target and opened fire. He shot at them three times; none of them were targeting any specific part of the ship. He was just retaliating.

 “Jack the escape pod was hit badly, they’re heading down towards the planet. They’ve lost two of their engines.” Jenkins shouted over the commotion.

Conrad was too busy to answer as he tried to outfly their attacker. “Keep returning fire. I’m going to try and lose them in the atmosphere. Theo, I need all the available power for the manoeuvring thrusters and hull plating.”

“I’m on it!” The Greek engineer said as Conrad spun the shuttle on its axis into a nosedive, heading directly into the planet’s atmosphere. As he did, Conrad prayed that Ben-Ami’s escape pod survived their fall and landed somewhere safely.


“Apart from a few cuts and bruises our guests are fit to leave my infirmary.” 

Captain Burton looked at the Andorian doctor that had finished scanning him, Stanton and T’Plau. He nodded to the tall Andorian man in gratitude as he left their company.

“Thank you chirurgeon.” Commander Anthi said in her usual calm tone.

Burton had been sat on one of the beds in the Avenkerev’s sickbay but decided to jump off from it once he had been given the all clear from the ship’s doctor. He wondered if the chirurgeon, as Anthi referred to him using the Andorian word for doctor, had actually studied human or Vulcan physiology before and knew what he was looking for. That all said he wasn’t going to argue with the hospitality that Anthi was providing for the three of them. Stanton and T’Plau, who had also been checked over by the doctor, were standing by Burton’s bed when Commander Anthi started to talk to the three of them.

“I have to admit, I am pretty impressed at how brave you three all are in staying on your ship, especially in the condition it’s in.” She remarked. Anthi was still the same woman that they had all met at Docana and whom they had worked with on a few joint missions since then. She was unlike any other Andorian senior officer that Burton had been briefed on. She seemed a strong supporter of the Coalition and was eager to work alongside her human allies. Burton found her curiosity about exploring the galaxy to be one of our alluring traits compared to the stereotypical Andorian soldier who was more bothered about fighting for the good of the Andorian Empire. 

“Thanks.” Burton returned with. “We had planned to return to Delta to rescue some crewmembers of ours.”

Anthi looked surprised at his statement and indicated with her head for them to walk with her out of the Avenkerev’s infirmary. She led them down the corridor as they walked through the clean ship their conversation continued. “I knew you were heading to Delta to open up negotiations, what went wrong with the Deltans?”

“Nothing.” Burton replied. “It was going extremely well however they were attacked by an old rival. A species named the-”

“Carreon?” Anthi finished his sentence with.

“Let me guess you’ve had the pleasure of meeting them too?” Stanton asked from where he walked behind Burton and Anthi. 

Anthi looked over her shoulder and nodded to the engineer. “Yes, two of their ships attacked us however they didn’t put up much of a fight.”

“What do you mean?” T’Plau enquired.

“Their attack was erratic, and they didn’t have their full defences deployed. They were easy targets.” Anthi answered as she looked at the Vulcan before looking back at Burton. “Please continue Captain.”

Burton had looked at his two officers, both of them indicating that they shared similar thoughts with him. It was obvious that Anthi had encountered the Carreons in a similar fashion as they had. He would ask her later if he could review her sensor logs from the battle, as it would confirm their suspicions of the Romulans controlling the Carreons. He obliged with Anthi’s request and went on to recall what happened on Delta, how they were forced to leave the planet and how the past fifty days or so they had been under constant attack by the Carreon. 

“That’s really interesting.” Anthi said once Burton had finished recounting their ordeal, “After they attacked us the first time, we entered a star system not from here and observed the Carreons and Deltans engage in a battle. We tried to intervene and offer the chance of being a mediator, but both sides opened fire on us. We left before we were too badly damaged and watched them on long-range sensors fight it off until they mutually destroyed each other. They just wouldn’t give up.”

Burton looked at both Stanton and T’Plau and they gave him their silent blessing to share what he wanted to say to their ally. “Commander we believe the Carreons, and it’s possible the Deltans too, are being controlled by the Romulans.”

“The Romulans?” Anthi said surprisingly. “How are they controlling them?”

“We think they’re using a form of telepresence computer virus that gives them remote access to their ship’s systems from long range.” Stanton explained. “We encountered a possible attack on our own systems but were able to move out of range and create some countermeasures from it.”

“We also encountered a Carreon ship that seemed to be having technical difficulties. We believe the Romulans had infiltrated their systems, but the crew were attempting to retake control. There was a number of irregularities during our battle with them including them not having their defences completely engaged either.” T’Plau stated. “We expect the Romulans activated a form of self-destruct from allowing the crew in completely retaking control or allowing us from finding them out.”

“The Romulans did show themselves to us and we engaged one of their ships only a few days ago. They attempted to capture Challenger.” Burton said. “We hypothesised that to perfect their telepresence remote control virus they need to have technical intelligence on their target’s computer systems. If they had captured us then they would be able to gain access to Earth targets with ease.” 

Before Burton had spoken, Anthi had led them into a lift and had pressed the button to take them to the command deck. “If you’re correct then this can cause a lot more issues for the entire Coalition, more than the drone ship attacks from last year.” She said. 

“We need to inform our governments of our findings at once.” T’Plau stated.

“Easier said than done.” Anthi remarked as she folded her arms. The three of them all looked at her, showing they didn’t understand what she meant by that. “Long range communications are being blocked. We think the Deltans or Carreons have set up some network that is interfering with long-range subspace communication. We’ve been unable to connect to any of our subspace amplifiers.”

Burton copied Anthi’s actions as he too folded his arms against his chest and lowered his head. “We’re screwed.”

“Maybe not.” Stanton countered back with. Burton had looked up at his acting first officer, looking to get what he meant. Stanton continued. “If we can get to the Deltans maybe we can show them what we’ve learnt about the Romulans and their computer virus. Perhaps we can help them call for a ceasefire with the Carreons or at least not fight them until they achieve mutual annihilation.” 

“We should also attempt to take out what is blocking our long-range communication.” T’Plau offered.

“We’ve tried to locate what is causing it but haven’t been entirely successful yet.” Anthi said as the lift finally stopped and reached its destination. She led her guests out and on to her command deck. 

She reached where her seat was in the middle of the room. Burton smiled to himself, this was the first time he had been on an Andorian warship of the Kumari-class and so he found it fascinating that they shared a similar design with their Human allies in having the captain’s chair in the middle of the room. Anthi’s chair was on a raised platform with more space in between it and the other stations, unlike the layout of Burton’s bridge. Sat in the chair was a familiar face that they had met before on Docana. 

“Lieutenant Thom, report?” Anthi asked the communications’ officer and Anthi’s first officer. . 

The young Andorian man stood up from the chair to look down at his superior officer. “Lieutenant Dreu reports that repair teams are still determining the extent of damage that Challenger has sustained but his early estimation is that it won’t be able to achieve warp flight without replacing a number of major parts.” 

Stanton spoke up in defence of his ship. “Yes; we know that.” He said a little bit irritated at the state of his ship.

Burton placed a hand on Stanton’s shoulder to calm his acting first officer down. “We appreciate the help with repairs Lieutenant Thom.” He said. “It’s good to see you though lieutenant.” 

Thom smiled back at the Human captain. “Likewise, sir.” He returned. 

Anthi looked at Stanton, “Commander you know your ship better than any of my crew. I am more than happy for you to take charge of my repair teams. You know what needs to be done.”

Stanton looked at Burton who just gave him an assuring nod before he looked back at the Andorian leader. “Thank you, commander, I appreciate it.”

Anthi noticed that Thom may have been a bit irked at her decision, but she knew he believed in their alliance as much as she did. She knew he would remind her later that the crew may not like taking orders from a Human though. “It’s fine Michael, it’s the least we can do to pay you back for saving us back on Docana.” She looked at T’Plau, “Sub Commander T’Plau, would you mind working with Lieutenant Thom in trying to track down where the interference is coming from so we could try and bring it down?”

T’Plau nodded in agreement, she knew that the Andorian lieutenant was a communications specialist so between the two of them they should be able to achieve the task. 

“Captain Burton would you join me on the observation deck?” Anthi offered to Burton.

Being the guest on her ship, Burton obliged and let her escort him off the command deck and into another corridor. 

“Thank you for being so accommodating commander.” Burton said after they left the room and their crews to get on with their jobs.

Anthi looked up at Burton. “Let’s drop the ranks when it’s just us two captains.”

Burton smirked at her directness. “That’s fine with me Anthi.”

“Much better Lloyd!” She said teasingly. “I truly mean it when I say I believe in our alliance.”

“I know and I share your sentiments too.” Burton returned as they turned down a corridor and approached a set of large doors. 

Anthi pressed the button on the side to let them in. As they crossed the threshold the lights in the room came to life and she showed him a room that was just as large as the crew lounge on Challenger. It had bigger bay windows that extended from floor to ceiling. To the side was a small bar area. Anthi was already moving to it. “I’m glad to hear that Lloyd because unlike some of my other colleagues I believe in what our good chancellor said when she was elected. For the Empire to survive we need to make strong relationships with those around us, including the Vulcans and Tellerites.” She pulled out a bottle of crystal blue liquid with two short glasses. She began to pour it and automatically Burton recognised the Andorian ale. The two of them had shared a bottle after the liberation of Docana. “But the most important relationship I see from it is the Andorian-Human one.” She said as she offered him a glass.

Burton moved over to the bar and took a seat on one of the stalls. “How come?”

“Simple because we’ve had nothing to fight over which makes us the perfect friends.” She answered before taking a swig from her glass. She had downed the drink in one go and Burton soon followed her. Anthi filled their glasses again. “The Avenkerev is your new home until your ship is properly repaired. I’ll have our VIP guest quarters prepared for you and the others if you wish to stay here instead of your ship.”

Burton smiled at the gesture. “Thank you, Anthi. That’s very kind, but I’m eager to get her repaired and attempt to find my missing crew.”

Anthi nodded in appreciation. “I’m sure giving the order to abandon ship was tough. I promise you that we will find your crew and restore your ship to her former glory. Tell me where do we start to find them?”

“We’ve got two places to look, one is in the opposite direction we were coming from while the other is back on Delta.” Burton answered.

Anthi sighed. “Okay well we can’t split into two yet. We are closer to Delta though and at the moment we wouldn’t be able to pull Challenger at warp with the state its hull is in. It will only rip itself apart from the stress.”

Burton agreed with her analysis. “The plan was for the rest of the crew to go and hide out on a Minshara class planet while we went back to Delta to find those we left behind.”

“Then let’s stick to it.” She gave him his glass back and raised hers. “To bringing back the Challenger crew.” She toasted.

“I’ll drink to that.” Burton said and gently knocked his glass against hers before drinking the Andorian ale in one go. 

EIGHT – DAY 60

Unnamed Minshara class world
Thursday, August 7th, 2155

Staring out into the night sky, Major Yu was completely lost in awe of the beauty before her as she watched the evening clouds fill the dark scenery. The stars were glistening against the backdrop and the gentle sound of the ocean lapping against the shore was hypnotic. 

“Major?” A voice said, interrupting from behind her.

Automatically, Yu turned around to see Lieutenant Masuko standing there, her hands in her field jacket trying to keep them warm. Yu smiled at the engineer, “Yes lieutenant?” 

“Our ‘hot rod’ is ready to be tested.” Masuko stated with pride beaming through her smile.

“That’s excellent news!” Yu replied as she uncrossed her arms and began to follow Masuko back to their camp once the engineer gestured for them to head back to their makeshift home. The two women walked from the coastline and inwards passed several trees that were almost like palm trees, except for their spiky maroon leaves. As they made their way through the shrubbery Masuko explained how her team and she had use parts from the other lifeboats to upgrade another one to be a bit faster and more manoeuvrable. As Yu listened to the engineer share the news, she hoped their endeavour had been worth it. Only two days ago they had landed after fleeing from the possibility of being shot down by an alien ship and now what was left of their crew were hiding out on some tropical island. She wondered if they would ever be rescued, however right now she had to ensure the crew survived. Two days ago, she had not been ready to take lead, but that’s where the fates had placed her. The memory of the crew assembling after landing their escape pods and trying to work out what they should do next was still vivid in her memory. When they realised that Doctor Ben-Ami’s escape pod had been shot down and the fact they had lost contact with Shuttlepod One, the crew were beginning to falter in their belief they would survive. The senior most ranking officers had assembled together to discuss their plan of action. Ensign Hennessey had declared Yu the senior most member of the crew present and suggested she assumed command. That had caused rumblings from some of the Starfleet crew when many of them felt that Lieutenant Masuko should be made their acting captain, as she was the highest-ranking Starfleet officer. They didn’t like the idea of a MACO leading a Starfleet crew, however Masuko had declined stating that Yu had the experience and knowledge that they all needed to survive. Stanton’s deputy had also reminded them all that they were all one crew under Captain Burton; he would be ashamed of them for discriminating against their fellow comrades in the MACO unit. Yu had gracefully accepted the role with Masuko agreeing to be their acting first officer. Once the issue around leadership was resolved they went straight on setting up a base camp beside a waterfall that led into a running river. It gave them access to fresh water. Those in the science and engineering departments had been sent to set up a filtering system so they could drink the water as well as find edible vegetation. Ensign Cortez had taken over as acting chief armoury officer and got her people to begin setting up the base camp while First Lieutenant al-Fayyad had taken the MACOs to scout their area and set up defences just in case they were found by the aliens that had attacked them in orbit. Ensign Gonçalves and Petty Officer Kowalski, Challenger’s surviving pilots, had pleaded with Yu to let them go search for Doctor Ben-Ami and her escape pod. Lieutenant Masuko had suggested they could modify one of their escape pods to do it. So, with the two pilots and her best engineers, Masuko had worked hard on the last few days improving its flying capabilities. In that time period they had not been disturbed by their attackers, a sense of good fortune had spread among the crew. Ensign Cortez had believed it might have been down to the fact that a layer of the planet’s atmosphere was ionised and could have disrupted the alien’s scanners. Yu had prayed that their luck wouldn’t run out too early.

Eventually they got to their base camp and Yu smiled at the scene before her. Everyone was wearing their field jackets; many of the crew were huddling around in groups in front of the different campfires they had set up. Tents littered the opening they were staying in while the escape pods had been moved to form a defence perimeter around their camp. Yu caught Hennessey’s smile; he shared a nod with her from where he sat on a knocked down log. He was sitting with several other members of the crew in front of a fire. They were all cleaning the dishes used earlier to serve their evening meals. Ensign Larsen, their second communications officer, had turned out to be quite the cook and had taken on the role of head cook in Chef Lawson’s absence. Some of the foraging teams that Yu had sent out had found what was a crop of vegetables that tasted like a mixture of carrot and coriander. Larsen had turned the vegetables in a soup like dish, which the crew had enjoyed earlier. 

Yu and Masuko soon stopped in their tracks as they reached the upgraded lifeboat. There were no discernible differences to its appearance from where Yu stood but the engineer took the MACO leader around to the rear of the craft to show her what they had done to it.

“We’ve moved two thruster modules from another escape pod and attached them to this one, increasing its speed and manoeuvrability.” Masuko explained as she now led Yu inside. Yu was surprised to see the changes made to the cockpit of the craft. This was where they had done the most work. “We’ve completely upgraded the flight controls, but we’re going to have to test it first to ensure it all works.” She added.

“When do you plan to test it?” Yu asked the pilot. She wasn’t going to ask any more about the technical work they had performed, as she was highly impressed with their work.

Masuko leant up against one of the pilot chairs as she answered. “Cristiano and Adrian are ready to go now if you’re happy for us to take it out for a spin?”

Yu nodded with approval. “If you guys are rested and ready to go then I say let’s get moving. The quicker we find the doctor and her team the better morale will be.”

Smiling with gratitude, the young engineer rushed out of the craft to find the two pilots and assemble the team she would take to find their missing crew.

Yu moved back into the main area of the camp and was approached by Ensign Hennessey. “Ned,” She said, greeting her friend.

“Major,’ He returned as he came to stand next to her. He ended up crossing his arms around his chest to keep warm. He had zipped his jacket right up to the point his neck was completely covered, with his chin just bobbing above the raised collar. He also wore one of the ship’s baseball caps that had the ship’s registration number of NX-03 on it.  “I take it our ‘hot rod’ is ready to go?”

Nodding in response, Yu looked at him as she placed her hands into her own jacket’s pockets. “Sakura wants to take it out for a spin.”

“Do you think they’ll find Ben-Ami and the others?” Hennessey asked, looking at her.

Yu looked back at him. “I hope so.”

“And then?” He questioned.

Yu shrugged her shoulders. “Then do as Captain Burton ordered us. Find a quiet corner and keep out of the way of others.”

Hennessey looked back out at the camp before them. “And just how long do you think the crew will be prepared to follow those orders?” 

Yu, who had followed the communications officer’s gaze, replied. “I’m hoping until we’re saved.”

“Well then I best start working on that subspace radio or no-one will know where we are or that we need saving from New Mars!” Hennessey said and then slowly walked away from the MACO leader.

Yu chuckled to herself at the mention of New Mars. The crew had nicknamed the planet New Mars after they had seen the planet from orbit. It looked like a fully terraformed Mars from orbit (although a few others had said it looked more like Vulcan) and as such they had named it after the fourth planet in the Sol system. 

Looking around the camp she saw the expressions that her crew all shared. None of them looked as happy as they had been when they had launched, the still defeated faces that they had shown to Captain Burton when he had ordered them to abandon ship. Nothing had changed. Not even the idea of them being out of danger from Challenger blowing up and killing them all had improved their moods. She ended up sighing to herself, watching Hennessey walk away from her. She wondered just how long the crew would have to live like this. Would they end up living the rest of their lives here or would they be saved? She knew that they needed some small celebrations at first, so rescuing Doctor Ben-Ami and her party would be the first aim for them all and finding out what happened to Shuttlepod One too would be an added bonus.


Unknown location

 

Kefira Ben-Ami hated her survival course during her time at Starfleet Training Command. She had spent two weeks in the wet, cold and windy hills of the Peak District in the United Kingdom for some of it. She was currently reminded of those two horrible, godforsaken weeks with where she found herself. Since her lifeboat had crash-landed after being shot at by the alien spaceship, she had spent the last two days sheltering within what remained of their crash site.  Fortunately, she and her companions had not suffered any fatalities, except for minor injuries that included some nasty bruises under her left ribs from the collision of her smacking against the lifeboat’s controls on impact. However, they now had to deal with a cold and wet location to survive. 

She was sat in the cockpit, alone with her own thoughts reading the next page of her romance novel when Chef Lawson popped her head around the corner. “Have you seen the approaching weather?” The cook asked.

Ben-Ami sat up in the chair and turned around to look out at the sky. Huge thunderclouds were approaching them. “Are you kidding me?” Ben-Ami said, frustrated at their lack of luck recently. She got up and followed Lawson out of the lifeboat and towards the small camp they had put together.  When the two women had stepped outside Ensign Hathaway and Staff Sergeant Iyer approached them.

“The scanners are stating it’s forming into a tornado.” Iyer reported to his superior officer. “We’re going to have to leave camp and find some shelter elsewhere.”

“Any ideas?” Ben-Ami asked the group.

Hathaway nodded. “Yes ma’am, there’s a number of caves less than a kilometre from here. We can make them long before the tornado arrives.”

“Then let’s grab everything we can carry and need then move out.” Ben-Ami ordered. 

Almost two hours later Ben-Ami found herself following Challenger’s second helm officer as they trekked through the thick woodlands towards the caves that they hoped would protect them from the oncoming storm. It was beginning to get dark and they had already put on their torches.

“Just over this hill.” Hathaway shouted to them all. 

Ben-Ami quietly prayed to herself as a thank you for the good news. The climb up and over the hill took them almost a quarter of an hour but once they were done, they could see the entrance to the caves. 

“Our scanners are being limited in their range by something in the rocks and soils ma’am.” Iyer mentioned with his scanner still in his right hand. “The closer we approach the caves it’s possible they won’t be as effective.”

“I’m sure we won’t be using them that much for the foreseeable future Rupesh.” Ben-Ami answered. 

Eventually they got into the cave and activated their head beacons and cracked some glow-sticks to help them see. They walked a few more metres until they stopped as they reached a large cavern that would be sufficient for what they needed. 

“Let’s setup camp here.” Ben-Ami ordered them. 

Once their fire was started and their bedding sorted the storm had hit. The whistle noise of the strong winds filled the cave with a cold chill. Ben-Ami had already wrapped herself up with the standard issued field jackets along with the thick gloves and a scarf. The four of them all huddled around the main fire while Lawson cooked them something from the field rations they had salvaged from the crashed lifeboat. 

“In the morning, if the storm has passed over, we should consider looking for a source of freshwater and finding anything that is edible.” Lawson offered as she stirred the pot over the naked flames.

“Let’s hope we don’t become too dependent on this world.” Ben-Ami stated as she hugged herself close to the fire.

“Missing the creature comforts from Challenger ma’am?” Iyer asked with a slight chuckle at the start of his question.

“There’s nothing wrong in having a warm place and a comfortable bed to lay in.” Ben-Ami countered.

“Or a fresh pot of coffee!” Hathaway added, which resulted in the four of them laughing at each other.

There was a sudden beep coming from Iyer’s pocket and the MACO soldier took out his handheld scanner to respond to it. He looked at the screen and quickly pulled out his sidearm and pointed it towards a small entrance that would take them further into the cave.

“What is it Rupesh?” Ben-Ami asked as she followed his lead and took out her phase pistol and aimed her torch in the same direction as his.

“I’m detecting a life-sign, or it could be more than one approaching us.” He answered.

The other two grabbed their weapons and by this time Iyer had pulled his rifle around and aimed it at the cave. They started to hear footsteps approaching them over the noise coming from the storm.

Ben-Ami was glad she had not opened fire the moment the life forms had appeared before them. Standing only a few metres away was a teenage boy with a much younger boy wrapped in his arms. They both appeared scared and neglected. Ben-Ami lowered her weapon and slowly approached them. “Hello.” She said, hoping the universal translator would work.

The teenage boy flinched backwards and pulled the younger boy closer to his body to protect it. Ben-Ami got a better look at them both, their clothes were pretty much rags and the older boy’s boots were torn to shreds. 

“We won’t hurt you; I promise you.” She assured him with a smile and gestured for the others to lower their weapons. “My name is Kefira,” She said placing her hand on her chest, “This is Rupesh, Angela and Montana.” She had pointed at them all one at a time. “What are your names?” She asked, indicating to them, hoping the translator had now kicked in.

“Edro.” The teenage boy answered, trying to sound brave. He bounced the boy in his arms and said, “Roburn”

“Well it’s nice to meet you both.” Ben-Ami said, still smiling at them both. “Are you cold?” She asked, wondering if he could understand her.

Edro just nodded at her. “Yes.” He whispered.

Ben-Ami looked over her shoulder at Iyer. “Sergeant, pass me that blanket.” She pointed towards the spare blankets they had taken with them from the lifeboat. 

Iyer instantly grabbed the blanket and brought it over to the doctor. She placed the blanket over his shoulders and wrapped him and Roburn in it. “Better?” She asked.

The young lad smiled and nodded. “Thank you.”

“Come sit by the fire and warm up with us.” Ben-Ami said, still smiling. As they sat down, she thought to herself she would never have considered encountering children this far deep in the woodlands on this world. She wondered if they were inhabitants or had crash-landed here like them. She also couldn’t get over the fact how much they looked like humans. Once again, the universe had thrown another surprise her way.


Another unknown location

 

Jack Conrad was awoken by the sudden noise of a door being unlocked alongside the appearance of a bright light bleeding through the dark room he occupied. The human pilot had been leaning up against the cold wall and was trying to rest as best as he could so he could store some of his strength to deal with his captors. He slowly opened his eyes to see what was happening and was greeted by the sight of four guards entering his cell. He had been in this cell for what felt like days, after his shuttlepod had been captured him and his team had been separated and placed into solitary confinement. Since then his captors had interrogated and probed him. They wanted to know everything about him, the ship, where they came from, literally everything. He had always considered himself a strong individual but after what he had to endure, he no longer thought that of himself. During one of his interrogations he was certain he heard the screams of one of his comrades. It sounded like Second Lieutenant Trommler, but he couldn’t be sure of it. 

The guards surrounded him, with weapons pointed directly at his head. He didn’t have any energy to fight them anymore. He felt absolutely disgusted with himself for not being able to hold up a fight with them, but he had been knocked down too many times and his own physical and emotional turmoil had reached its limits. Two of the guards had picked him up and dragged his body out of his cell. He couldn’t recognise where they were taking him, his eyes were still attempting to adjust to the vivid light around him. The corridors were brightly lit, yet it didn’t feel like it was by artificial light. 

His carriers eventually took him into a room he had not visited yet. Before he could put up a fight, he found many hands surrounding his body. They were literally tearing what clothes he had on him off. Some sort of cutting device was used to rip the fabric off from him. He soon found himself completely naked. That said though when he had been captured his uniform had been ripped off from him and the others and they were just left in their undergarments. This level of humiliation was making him feel sick. His stomach wanted to chuck up what was left in it, but in fact he had nothing left in his stomach, so he was pleased he couldn’t have anything out of his system. He felt two strong arms wrap around his body and pick him up in an almost bridal carry. Placed into an alcove with a glass door on it, Conrad tried to work out what was happening to him. He was covered in what felt like warm water. Eventually he got his balance and whereabouts and realised he was in some kind of shower. Looking down, he was pleased to see that the water was being drained out by small holes that existed in the tiled flooring (he was thankful they weren’t planning to drown him in this tank). Some sort of liquid squirted at him from every direction before more water showered him. He realised it was soap and so helped it by rubbing it over his body and hair. The feel of being clean and fresh was a welcome one. For almost two months now he had not been able to have a proper wash and make himself feel clean. Eventually all the soap had washed off him and the shower stopped. The glass door swivelled open for him and he saw what looked like two masked human men standing before him through the mist. They approached him and gave him what felt and looked like two towels to dry him with. 

“Thanks.” Conrad quietly croaked. His throat felt dry as a dessert and tasted just as bad. He hadn’t expected his abductors to begin taking care of him. Was this part of their plan perhaps? Maybe he had revealed some secret about Challenger during his interrogation and now they were rewarding him? Or was it part of some sort of other ploy to gain his trust? He couldn’t work it out and he felt too tired to. For now, he decided he would comply with what they wanted him to do, just so he stayed alive. He felt embarrassed though as the two men stared at him as he dried himself. 

Once he was done, he wrapped one of the towels around his waist, then he looked at what he thought were his guards. Both of them wore similar uniforms he had seen before when he had been caught. They wore peculiar shaped bonnet-like hats while their uniforms appeared to be sky blue togas with a thick black belt around their waist. They also wore knee high boots with handheld weapons and what looked like a communicator or small computer device strapped on to the belt. One of the men passed him an outfit that was hanging on what looked like an alien shaped coat hanger. The outfit was a pair of shiny dark olive-green trousers, with a grey sleeveless top and a suit jacket that was the same colours as the trousers. He was also handed some underwear and similar black knee-high boots as the guards to wear. Once he put on his outfit, he noticed a mirror hanging on one of the walls. He checked himself out and noticed that suit jacket and trousers clung very close to his body. Brushing his hair with his right hand he pushed it back to how he normally had it in an attempt to make himself look presentable. The guard that had handed him his new apparel then gestured for him to follow them out of the room. As they left the room, they walked either side of him and marched him down a corridor. He wondered if it had been the same one that he had barely seen earlier when he had been taken from his cell. Looking at his surroundings he noticed how abstract the designs and décor of the place he was in. He also noticed a number of windows on all walls looking out onto a cloudy red sky. Almost every wall was a different shade of blue and red with various pieces of artwork either hanging on them or stood on pedestals. He thought he was in an art gallery or a museum compared to a prison. After being taken into a frosty glass lift, Conrad was taken to a large room that had a massive glass ceiling that made it look like an old fashion observatory he had once seen back on Earth. The room was also furnished with different antics and quite regal looking furniture. The guards left him and returned outside leaving him by himself. He began to explore the room, noticing a desk on the raised balcony. Heading towards it, he heard the same doors he entered from open and he was pleased to see the three people who came through. 

“Jack! Am I glad to see you!” Corporal Jenkins said as he moved across the room at warp speed to greet his comrade in a bear hug.

“Likewise, Liam.” Conrad returned after hugging his friend and greeting the other two in a similar fashion. The moment they came in he had caught on that they all wore almost the same clothing as he. However, each of them was in different shades of dark earthy colours. Jenkins wore a suit that was a dark crimson colour. While Trommler had a taupe suit and Metaxas’ was a charcoal colour. “Are you all okay?” Conrad asked them next.

“Apart from being held in captivity and interrogated for what seemed like an eternity, yeah I’m fine.” Trommler replied.

Metaxas and Jenkins both agreed with the MACO soldier. 

“Any idea who they are?” Metaxas asked, referring to their captors, as the four men began exploring the room again.

“None.” Conrad responded as he went back to look at the desk on the balcony. 

“They look Human.” Jenkins stated as he looked at one of the portrait paintings of a man and woman that looked regal in appearance. “And obviously whoever is keeping us has a fascination with art.” He added.

“Of course we do Corporal.” Said a masculine voice from a doorway none of them had noticed before. All four men looked over to where the voice had come from. Where one of the walls had been a hidden entrance was now revealed. The man who had spoken stood in the middle of it with guards either side of him. “You’ll find that many of my people enjoy the fine arts and we celebrate them by displaying them everywhere we can.” He paused as he realised his guests didn’t know how to react to him. “I’m High Advisor Tonisus, welcome to Ardana.”

The four Challenger crewmembers all looked at each other with the same displeasing expression. As the senior officer, Ensign Conrad spoke up. “You have a funny way of welcoming your visitors, High Advisor.”

Tonisus soon bowed his head in an apologetic manner. He wore a long mint green cloak that draped over a similar suit the four humans wore. The cloak was trimmed with a silver pattern around the collar and cuffs. If he was Human, he looked like he was in his late forties/early fifties. This was due to him having thick mop of grey hair, bushy black eyebrows and a goatee beard of similar shades. He extended his arms outward in a peaceful manner as he spoke. “My sincerest apologies gentlemen for your treatment these last two cycles. I hope you can understand that my people are not a spacefaring race like yours and when others have visited us, we have been forced to take drastic measures to protect our people from their violence.”

“You’ve been visited by others not from this world?” Trommler asked, as he stood almost shoulder-to-shoulder with Conrad.

“Indeed, however we have not made it knowledgeable to our public as it would cause mass hysteria.” Tonisus stated. “The creatures we’ve encountered before were called the Carreons and before them we had to deal with quite a savage race known as the Romulans.”

Once again, the human men all looked at each other, recognising both names instantly as the two races had been fighting back on Challenger

Well I’m glad we’re not the only ones who have dealt with both of them.” Metaxas uttered from where he stood near Jenkins.

“Your people have encountered the Romulans and Carreons?” Tonisus inquired. 

“We have and they have been extremely hostile towards us as well.” Conrad replied. “I take it then you are the leader here?”

Tonisus bowed his head again. “I am and I take it you’re the leader of your group as well?”

Conrad nodded. “I’m the most senior officer here.”

“Well gentlemen please let me make it up to you all for our poor hospitality so far.” Tonisus stated. “Would you all join me for a meal?” He offered and gestured for them to join him in the room he had just come from. Once he had moved to the side, the secret entrance revealed a room of similar size and décor with a huge circular table in the middle of it with various dishes and drinks on it with chairs placed around the edges. 

“What assurances do we have that you won’t lock us back in those rooms you have had us in before?” Trommler challenged with.

Tonisus placed his hands together in front of him in a non-threatening manner. “If we wanted you to remain in them then I would have kept you there for much longer, but the information we have been able to gather from you and your craft makes us feel you are not a threatening people. Are you Second Lieutenant Trommler?”

“You seem to know a lot about us.” Jenkins remarked as he and Metaxas moved to stand by their comrades.

“As I said we’ve had time to translate your on-board computers and find out what we need to know to assess your level of threat to us. My military advisors believe you are not to be a threat, particularly as you did not come to us on board a faster-than-light spaceship. However, as I understand it you left your spaceship far behind.” Tonisus answered. “Now gentlemen I’m sure you’re hungry and would appreciate a decent meal. It is almost sunset and the end of another cycle, I would like us to start first contact the right way, a peaceful way. Is that possible?”

Conrad considered it for a moment and felt the other three all looking to him with some guidance. He didn’t have a chance to answer when Tonisus continued talking. 

“Gentlemen you abandoned your spaceship and flocked to my world in an attempt to save yourselves. You could say you have invaded my world inadvertently. However, all I am trying to do now is make amends to how we have treated you so far. Please I must politely insist you join me for a meal to show how sorry we are and possibly discuss how we can help each other out.”

“Alright High Advisor.” Conrad gave in with them and gestured for his colleagues to follow the Ardanan leader into the next room.

Once they were sat down different waiters came in and filled their plates with different cuisines and filled up glass flutes with a green clear beverage that bubbled and fizzed as they were poured. 

“To new friends.” Tonisus toasted as he raised his flute to his guests.

The four men copied the action before sipping on their drinks. Conrad considered the taste to be very similar to fizzy apple cider. Once they had placed their glasses down, they began eating the food in front of them. The palette was a mixture of spicy and sour vegetables along with a type of fried meat that tasted like pork. Conrad had realised just how hungry he had been and found himself eating a lot quicker than he normally would.

“So High Advisor you said we could try and help each other out?” Jenkins probed in between mouthfuls. Jenkins’ question had caught Conrad off guard, and he had realised he was not performing as the senior most officer and leading the conversation. Nevertheless, he looked to Tonisus and waited for his answer.

The Ardanan nodded at first. “Yes, as I said to you earlier my people do not know about non-Ardanans and I think if it ever was to get out it would cause a lot of social issues among the public.”

“Even though we look alike?” Trommler countered back while holding his glass flute before taking a sip of its contents.

Tonisus placed what looked like a small trident for a fork as he responded. “We may look alike Lieutenant however not all species that we’ve encountered share in similar traits. Yours is the first that appears similar to us. The Romulans and Carreons are complete opposites to us.”

“So, what’s these social issues of yours got to do with us?” Metaxas asked.

“My ship that found you all in orbit stated there was more than one of your crafts.” Tonisus explained, “Your escape pods, I believe you call them that? Well they landed on our planet and we’ve been unable to locate them. Our planet is enriched with many resources including one called zenite that can interfere with scanners. If your people were discovered, it would cause mayhem with our citizenship. I’m proposing we work together to find them all and in return we will provide you all with a safe sanctuary here in Stratos.” He offered.

“Stratos?” Conrad repeated, not knowing what Stratos was apart from it being the place they were in.

“Yes, Stratos is our capital cloud city.” Tonisus clarified. “Do you not have cloud cities from where you come from?”

Once again, all four men shared similar looks of surprise. Metaxas, being the inquisitive engineer, answered on their behalf. “No sir, what is a ‘cloud city’?”

“It is a settlement that levitates above the ground level.” Tonisus stated straightforwardly. 

“We’re in the clouds?” Jenkins asked, still in shock from the revelation. “I thought we were in a really tall tower!”

“Stratos is far from being a tower, please see for yourself.” Tonisus offered with his right hand for them to look out of the large windows on the far side of the room.

They got out of their chairs and moved over to the window, instantly they looked out and then down to see what he was saying was true. They could see the planet, several hundred kilometres below them. 

“That is impressive.” Conrad remarked.

“Astonishing that you are able to keep such a large settlement air-bound for such a long time.” Metaxas said.

“Over eight hundred years ago my people built Stratos and our cloud cities. They are the shining examples of our world’s accomplishments.” Tonisus said with pride.

“I can see why.” Trommler said as he gazed at the view before them.

Once they had finished looking out, they all returned to their seats and Tonisus continued with his offer. “As I was saying we would be willing to offer you shelter here on Stratos until you are rescued or able to leave our world safely. In return all I ask is for your people to keep your true identities as off-worlders to yourselves.”

Conrad realised that the older man was now looking at him, as was everyone else in the room. “I’m truly grateful for the offer, High Advisor and for your superb hospitality. I still don’t understand if you’re able to build such magnificent things as your cloud cities and are aware of faster than light engines then why don’t your people explore the stars like we do and expose your people to what is out there?”

Tonisus leant forward from where he sat opposite Conrad. “We have the means to do so, Ensign Conrad, but what we would be exposed to would have huge social ramifications on our people. The Council of Advisors doesn’t feel we are ready to take that leap yet, however one day I believe we will take our place among the stars with races like yours.”

“Well I hope your encounter with our race helps change your perception of the galaxy and that not all of us off-worlders are hostile.” Jenkins commented.

“It has with me and I’m sure by the cycle when my new-born grandson, Palsus, takes his place on the Council of Advisors he’ll be in a world that is eager to explore the stars and welcome off-worlders. Sadly though, there are many on my world who believe we are not ready for that just yet.” Tonisus answered. 

Conrad looked at his teammates. “Well, High Advisor Tonisus you’ve given us a lot to think. If you don’t mind, I would like some time with my fellow comrades to discuss your proposal.”

“Yes of course, however I do ask that you do not take too long. I believe the longer we leave it then the chance of your crew being discovered increases.” He said.

“And what about if we decline your offer?” Trommler said with wonder.

Tonisus appeared not to know how to answer it, but in a true statesman fashion he took in a deep breath and his chest rose and answered the young MACO. “Then we will help you fix your craft and ask you to leave our world at once.”

Conrad looked at the other three knowing that wasn’t going to be a choice they could afford to take. “Very well then High Advisor, I don’t think we have any choice except to accept your offer.”

Tonisus smiled at that. “I’m pleased gentlemen that we’ll be working together for both our people.”

NINE – DAY 68

Ambhat City, Delta IV
Friday, August 14th, 2155

Jamie Harris’ heart was racing at what felt like warp five as he ran down the flight of stairs within Brizten base towards the room that Commander Levesque was currently in. He had been near the situation room when a member of Prime Minister An’die’s staff had approached him telling him to get Commander Levesque and the others at once. Since starting their informal alliance with the Deltans, the remaining Challenger crew had been helping the Deltans out with a slight problem their military was encountering. It would seem that in every engagement with the Carreons in recent weeks neither side would come out victorious, each fight resulting in mutual annihilation. Prime Minister An’die had asked Commander Levesque and her officers to help them with the investigation to determine why their forces were never successful.  The Deltan Star Guard was losing a lot of ships at an alarming rate, yet the same was said for the Carreons too. 

Harris burst through the doors of the laboratory that Levesque was working in with other Deltan scientists and engineers. Instantly he saw her and jogged over to her. Almost out of breath he called for her. “Commander…” He said gasping for air. “You’re…needed…in the situation room…with Prime Minister An’die.” Harris panted. 

Levesque looked concerned at how Harris had come to her and instantly stood up from the stall she had been sitting on, excusing herself from her Deltan colleagues and made her way out of the room with Harris beside her. “Do you know why?”

“No, I was just told it was urgent and to get you and Ensign Stewart.” He answered. 

“Where is Niall?” Levesque asked. While she had been working out on the technical side of things by sifting through the wreckage of destroyed Deltan and Carreon ships, Ensign Stewart had been working with Deltan doctors on the biological front in examining the corpses of dead soldiers. They were trying to find out if there was something that was forcing both sides to fight to the bitter end. 

“He’s on the other side of the base. I’ve got Kastrovich heading over to find him to meet us there.” Harris reported.

“Good.” She answered as they swiftly made their way through the base. Eventually they reached the bottom of the stairs that Harris had flown down earlier. When they did, Ensign Stewart and Petty Officer Kastrovich joined them. 

“Any idea what this is about?” Stewart asked as they climbed the small flight of stairs.

“None.” Levesque remarked as she and Stewart led the group upwards.

Once they got up to the top they went through a pair of doors before heading down a long corridor. Deltan guards protected an archway at the end and the moment they saw the approaching Humans they ushered them into the large room that acted as the command centre for the entire Deltan Star Guard during the current conflict with the Carreons. 

“Prime Minister An’die?” Levesque called out, gaining the attention of the leader of the Deltan people at the other end of the room.

The middle aged Deltan turned around from where he stood with his back to the door the Starfleet officers had entered from. He stood with other Deltans in an almost circular shape and hearing Levesque’s voice he moved to the side to reveal what he was surrounding. Instantly a smile fell over Levesque’s face as she realised why they had been called up.

“Hello Nicole!” Captain Burton said with his boyish smile at his first officer.

“Oh my god!” Levesque replied as she ran forward towards her captain who also stood with Commander Stanton, Sub Commander T’Plau and Commander Anthi. She was unsure why the Andorian woman was there but was so pleased to see her fellow crewmates alive and well. Burton had stepped forward and greeted her with a hug. The two embraced for a short time before releasing each other, not wanting to make a scene in front of everyone else.

Eventually the entire Starfleet crew were embracing each other, besides T’Plau. It had been over two months since they had all seen each other and they were all pleased to see each other.

“I’ve got so many questions for you.” Levesque said once they had all calmed down.

“Likewise.” Burton returned. “But the main thing is you’ve all survived, I’m pleased to see you all.”

“Captain what happened?” Ensign Stewart asked.

Burton turned to the other two Challenger officers that had arrived with him before looking at Anthi. “A lot has happened Ensign and we’ve got a lot to do still. I would like to see everyone else and properly catch up with you all. If Prime Minister An’die doesn’t mind?”

An’die shook his head. “No not at all Captain Burton, in fact I insist you see the rest of your crew especially after you’ve brought us all that data about the Romulans. Plus, it will give time for our engineers to fabricate the parts you need to repair your warp drive.”

“What data about the Romulans?” Levesque questioned looking at Burton. 

Stanton chuckled and answered for the captain. “Don’t worry Nic, we can explain everything.”

 

Several hours later Burton followed Levesque out of the living area from where the Challenger survivors had lived for the last two months and on to their rooftop balcony. It was now late in the evening and the stars above them were beginning to glisten in the night sky.

“It’s beautiful here.” Burton commented as they sat down on one of the benches together.

“You get used to it after a while.” Levesque said back. She looked at Burton. “It’s really good to see you again Lloyd.” As she said it, she noticed him blushing and quickly added, “and obviously Michael and T’Plau too.” She paused to slow herself down, “It’s a shame about the others having to abandon ship.”

“I had no choice, Nicole.” Burton said grimly. “But I plan to get everyone back together.”

She leant over and took his hand into hers. “We’ll get them back.” She assured him.

“We’ve got a ship to finish off fixing first.” Burton stated, still holding her hand.

“I’m sure Michael has enjoyed sharing repair methodology with our Andorian friends!” She remarked after letting go of his hand and laughing at that idea.

“Lieutenant Dreu and he have been inseparable for days now.” Burton said. “But if Commander Anthi hadn’t turned up when she did, I’m sure we would have been goners.”

“Thankfully for us you’re not.” Levesque said, smiling sweetly.  “That said the news you bring about the Romulans and Carreons isn’t what I expected to hear.”

“However, it does explain the Deltans and Carreon fleets fighting each other to the death.” Burton stated. “Hopefully with the information we’ve provided the Deltans with on the Romulan computer telepresence virus they may be able to find a defence to it.”

“So, if you’ve destroyed the Romulan control-ship then what’s causing the Deltans and Carreons to carry on fighting?” Levesque asked. 

“It’s possible the Romulans have sent more than one ship to do this. If so, we need to find that last remaining ship and stop them.” Burton said. “Or the Carreons could be carrying on with the fight. Now the conflict is in full gear they may not stand down, at least not with enough evidence to convince them too. Either way we need to help bring this conflict to an end.”

“Easier said than done, Lloyd, especially with a broken ship and a divided crew.” Levesque said with a slightly defeated attitude in her tone. 

“Both of which we can sort out now.” Burton responded before standing up and walking over to the banister. He turned around to face her again and leant against it. “I’ve yet to say how proud I am of your work you’ve done here. From what Prime Minister An’die and Ensign Stewart have told me you’ve done an impressive job in getting to know the Deltans and promoting a good relationship with them.”

Levesque now blushed at his compliment. “Thank you Lloyd, but I couldn’t have done it without the others and their hard work too. A lot of them have had to restrain themselves from the Deltans and their advances. I think we should consider promoting a few of them and placing a number of commendations into their files too.”

“Once we’ve got the crew back together and got this crisis behind us then we’ll do it.” Burton said.

“So, what is our next move?” Levesque asked as she got up and joined Burton where he stood.

“Let’s get the ship back up and running as best as we can then find what is blocking our long-range communication and take it out.” Burton said. 

“And the rest of the crew?” 

“We’ll find them, but for now I’m hoping they’re safe wherever they are.” Burton said as he looked up at the Deltan sky, wondering which star Ben-Ami and the others would be looking at right now.


Challenger NX-03, in orbit of Delta IV

 

“Another ruptured EPS conduit.” Stanton said as he and T’Plau walked down D deck, listing the damaged systems they were passing by.  Stanton was using a hand scanner to detect the damages.

“Twenty-one so far.” T’Plau stated as she wrote system down on the list she had created on the tablet. They walked past two Deltan officers and T’Plau looked at them as they went down.

Stanton noticed his colleague’s glare but ignored it as they went down further down the corridor. He indicated with the scanner in his hand at the more damaged EPS conduits, “Twenty-two, twenty-three, and twenty-four.” As he was talking, they went by two Andorian engineers purging a fluidic converter. Again, T’Plau looked intensely at them and their work before following him. Once they turned a corner Stanton stopped in his tracks and T’Plau also did as well. They looked at each other and Stanton quickly spoke up. “Is there a problem, Sub Commander?”

T’Plau rose her left eyebrow and looked slight around them and back at the chief engineer. “I am sorry Commander, what do you mean?”

“We’ve passed four people and you’ve glared at each of them.” He replied.

“I was now glaring at them Commander; I was merely assessing what they were doing for the security of the ship.” T’Plau answered.

Stanton was now confused. “Assessing them for what?”

“Captain Burton has opened the ship to allow for both Andorian and Deltan repair teams on board.” T’Plau started with. “We cannot be sure if they any of them plan to sabotage the ship.”

“Sabotage the ship? Why would any of them want to do that?” Stanton questioned as he continued their walk down the corridor and catalogued the damaged systems.

T’Plau followed him. “If not sabotage then they may use this opportunity to do reconnaissance and attempt to steal any technology we have.”

Stanton shook his head in disbelief at the woman’s claims. “T’Plau for one thing the ship is so badly damaged there’s nothing here valuable stealing, along with that Andorian technology is more advanced than ours and the Deltans are on a technological par with us. There’s nothing neither of them could learn from stealing from us.”

“They may install components that could damage ours for being incompatible with theirs.” T’Plau threw back.

“Again unlikely, we are using all of our spare parts and those parts we need replacing the Deltans have offered to create to Starfleet specifications at their own parts factories.” Stanton stopped what he was doing and looked at her. “T’Plau seriously once we’re back on Earth, I plan to have the people at the Obama Repair Facility pull out every system and replace it with brand new parts. This ship will be stripped to its bare bones before it is completely fixed.” He paused as he looked at the woman. “On top of that, your cynicism is not helping the nature of our relations with both races. The Andorians are our allies and Commander Anthi is a strong supporter of the coalition, she wouldn’t risk doing anything to jeopardize it. While Prime Minister An’die wants all the information we have on the Romulans and Carreons and in returning he is letting us use one of his dry-docks so we can repair our ship. Captain Burton wants to make a friend out of Delta to Earth and the rest of the coalition. Allowing their engineers on board to help repairs is a massive gesture to show our trust in them.”

T’Plau had raised her eyebrow again. “I still believe it is a huge security threat, so we should check over their work once they have finished.”

“We’ll run diagnostics, don’t worry but as long as we can fly the ship and defend her until we get home well that’s all we need for now.” Stanton said.

T’Plau rose her eyebrow at the engineer. “I only hope your optimism does not put any of us at risk Commander.”

“Trust me T’Plau, I’m an engineer.” Stanton replied with his boyish grin.


Composed, relaxed, unruffled, Ensign Niall Stewart made his way around sickbay. It was now a damaged, broken place with destroyed, wrecked pieces of equipment laying everywhere. The place looked like a warzone, yet he felt calmer now he was finally home on Challenger. Shortly after returning to the ship he had made his way to his place of work to see what state it was. Since the ship had docked with the Deltan shipyard, repair crews were now running around at the speed of light in an attempt to repair a majority of the Earth ship. The urgency in getting Challenger up and running again was for two reasons. One was to go and rescue the rest of the crew and the other was to help bring an end of the Deltan-Carreon conflict. Ensign Stewart still wondered how Captain Burton planned to do the latter but that wasn’t something he had to worry about. The captain had ordered him to begin sorting out sickbay. As Challenger’s acting chief medical officer now, he needed to get the entire area ready in case it was needed. When he had entered the room, since his almost two month ‘vacation’ on Delta, he hadn’t realised how much he missed the place and was eager to get things back to the way they were before the ship had been beaten up. 

He had found a broom in a nearby storage area and began sweeping up the dirt and debris that currently littered the floor of the medical facility. Stewart had not registered the arrival of one of his friends until he had heard walking on some shattered glass on the floor. Looking up in her direction, he paused what he was doing. “Martha,” Stewart said, surprised to see her there, “what are you doing here?”

Ensign Habiba entered the room and began to survey the damage, in a similar manner that Stewart had done himself. “I came down to give you a hand in getting sickbay up and running again.”

“Oh, well thanks.” He answered, his Irish accent being noticeable at the start of that sentence. The two of them had become distant during their stint on Delta due to the way Habiba had been with them all. She had spoken out against Levesque’s plan to get to explore and get to know the Deltans as well as help them with knowledge about the Romulans. Stewart had been Levesque’s right-hand man through the entire thing and fully supported the commander with her decision. As such it had caused a number of arguments between the two friends, ending with them no longer talking to each other in recent weeks. 

Habiba walked over to one of the sides, picked up an empty wastebasket and began sweeping the debris off one of the sides into the bin with a brush she had taken out from a cleaning storage. After several sweeps she stopped in mid-motion, unable to deal with the uneasy silence between the two of them. “Niall this is ridiculous.” She said turning around to confront him.

Stewart paused using the broom in his hands and turned to look at her. “What do you mean?”

“I mean us.” She indicated to them both with a brush in her left hand. “We were good friends before everything that happened on Delta.”

“Well it’s obvious we just need to be colleagues and leave it at that.” He returned bitterly.

She put the brush down and walked over to him. “You really think that?”

Shrugging his shoulders, he didn’t say anything back and went back to his cleaning.

“Come on Niall, can we please put this behind us and try to save what’s left of our friendship, please?” She begged. “Right now, you’re the only one here I’m close to and my stomach feels sick of dread that when we go to find the others that something bad has happened. I can’t cope not having anyone to go to over it.”

Stewart stopped and looked directly at her while wincing slightly at her words. He shared in her concerns, particularly for his own fiancé that he had no-idea if he had survived. Breathing, he considered her words at first. If there was something he had learnt about being an acting first officer under Levesque it was to make sure to think carefully before reacting to anything. “Well that’s your fault Martha.” He bluntly answered with. “You made your decisions down there when you decided to side against Commander Levesque and the rest of us.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” She cried back. “I’ll most likely face a disciplinary action once this is all over.” 

“And what? Do you think if we were friends again then that will all go away? That somehow us both rekindling our friendship will make it all better?” He rhetorically asked. “No Martha! You’ve made your bed and now you must lay in it. I won’t be part of it. You went against everything this uniform stands for. You showed your true colours in not pretending to do whatever it takes when being a Starfleet officer.”

Tears began to slowly sting her cheeks as Habiba tried her best to keep herself composed. “You know what Niall I never thought you were this mean. I honestly believed that you were the forgiving type, that you would at least try and put what happened on Delta behind us and at least try to be my friend again.” She threw the brush on to the floor. “I didn’t think this could get any worse, not only does my department head hate me, but on the same day I found out my boyfriend is missing somewhere and could quite possibly be dead. And to top it off one of my good friends refuses to help me. Thanks very much Niall!” Habiba stormed out of sickbay, leaving her bitter words hanging in the air.

Stewart watched her march out and down the corridor away from him. Annoyed, irritated, frustrated, he gave out a loud sigh of anger at how quickly he had changed how felt since returning to the ship. Habiba had put him in an awful mood now. The rage only fuelled his determination to get the sickbay all sorted as soon as possible, even if it meant keeping to himself to get it all done. He refused to let Habiba get to him.


I.G.S. Avenkerev

 

Quietly sat behind her desk in her ready room, Commander Anthi was reading the latest repair estimates for Challenger. Since their arrival at Delta she had been surprised at how generous and friendly the Deltan people were, especially their leader Prime Minister An’die. She knew that a lot of that was down to the hard work that Captain Burton’s first officer had put in while she and other members of their crew had been left stranded on the planet. Anthi herself had told her crew to make the same amount of effort with the Deltans; she wanted them to impress them as much as the pink-skins had. The door chime to her private office went off. Placing her desktop console into standby mode, she answered whoever wanted to come in. 

“Yes, enter.” She said.

The doors opened to reveal her own first officer walking in. Lieutenant Thom made his way over to her desk. Unlike her Human counterpart’s office, hers was a larger room and less cramped in size and feel. It had a higher ceiling and more space, allowing her to meet with most of her senior officers in comfort. If that was one thing, she hoped the Humans would learn from their alliance: to make their starships more relaxing for their crew to inhabit. The Imperial Guard believed if their soldiers felt comfortable while on duty then they focussed more on their work. Due to her office being slightly larger, Thom had to take several steps before he stood in front of her. She gestured for him to take the seat on the other side to her. 

“Thom, how can I help you?” She asked as she watched him sit down.

He handed her a computer tablet and responded, “Commander I’m pleased to report we believe we’ve located what is blocking our long-range communications.”

The good news made Anthi’s eyes light up. “Really? That is excellent! Where are they?” She asked.

“In a nearby uninhabited star system ma’am.” Thom answered. 

Anthi stood up from her desk, pushing her chair slightly backwards. “Are there any enemy ships nearby?”

Thom shook his head. “We’re not picking up any on long range scanners.”

“Then let’s not waste any time.” She ordered as she led the two of them out on to the command centre. “Lieutenant Thom, recall all of the crew at once.” Anthi ordered as they stepped through the main entrance. Quickly, she made her way over to her command chair and sat in it. Activating the communicator in the chair’s arm, she opened a ship-wide channel, “All hands to battle-stations, set to condition one throughout the ship!” 

The lights on the Avenkerev’s bridge dimmed and a blue hue filled the room and the rest of the ship. Thom had taken his position at one of the side stations, he spun around on his chair to look towards Anthi, “All decks are at condition one ma’am.”

“Excellent, get me Captain Burton.” She ordered as she crossed her right leg over her left one and relaxed into her chair.

Thom followed her orders and was able to get the Human captain. “I have him ma’am, audio only as he’s still down on Delta.”

“Captain Burton can you hear me?” The Andorian woman asked.

“Burton here, go ahead Commander Anthi.” Burton replied.

“Captain we’ve just found the location of what we believe is blocking our long-range communications. I’m preparing to depart to investigate.” She stated.

“That’s good news to hear. Do you want me to ask Prime Minister An’die if he can spare any ships to help you?” Burton offered.

“No, I think it’s best we go alone, we won’t raise too much suspicion, but it does mean I need to recall my entire crew. Will Commander Stanton be able to carry on without Lieutenant Dreu?” She asked.

“I believe so.” Burton said. “Please pass on my thanks to your entire crew for their help these last few days.”

“I will.”

“Good hunting then Commander.” 

“Thank you Captain, Anthi out.” She finished with and indicated to Thom to close the channel. Turning her attention back to the helm, she spoke up to her pilot and navigator. “Once everyone is back then lay in a course and engage at warp three.” 

The two Andorian officers sitting in front of her both nodded in response, allowing Anthi to relax a bit more into her chair. 

Finally, she thought, some action at last

TEN – DAY 71

Ardana
Monday, August 16th, 2155

Sleeping quietly, Kefira Ben-Ami had learnt over the year that when something unexpected happens it usually occurs during the night when you’re fast asleep.  She felt warm hands carefully shaking her, attempting to grab her attention. One eyelid opened, followed by the other. 

“Kefira you need to wake up!” whispered Lawson in a panic.

Pushing herself up while at the same time attempting to stretch outwards, Ben-Ami gathered her surroundings and realised she had been in a deep sleep within the comfortable confines of her sleeping bag. She looked at Lawson and before she could ask what was wrong, she heard the heavy coughing and wheezing noise coming from one of their guests. Placing herself on autopilot, she climbed out of her bed and made her way over to where Edro sat being comforted in the arms of Sergeant Iyer. 

Picking her medical kit up on her way over, she soon made her way over to their young friend to see what was wrong. It had been over ten days since Edro and his younger brother Roburn had joined them. Since then they had discovered that the boys had become lost when they had gone searching in the caves without their families. Edro had explained that their families were miners here on the planet, but since getting themselves lost they had not been able to find the entrance they had originally gone through. Ben-Ami had promised that the boys could stay with them until they were rescued and able to help both boys track down their families. During this time, she had found out that Edro and Roburn’s race was similar in physique to Humans, as such Edro suffered from something similar to asthma symptoms. Unfortunately for him she didn’t carry the right equipment to properly treat him, which resulted in him becoming unwell the last few days. Taking out her stethoscope she warmed it up in her hands before placing it on his back to hear his breathing. He had gotten used to her doing this to him and took in several deep breaths to help her with her examination. He was getting worse. She took out her medical scanner to see if there was anything else she could do, but sadly she knew there was nothing. What medicines she had left wouldn’t help him. She really needed access to her sickbay to help him recover. 

“Continue those breathing exercises I taught you.” She said as she continued to listen to his breathing.

Edro nodded and just held tightly on to Iyer’s hand. Eventually he was able to calm himself down and appear more relaxed with his suffering. Pleased he was no longer in any danger, Ben-Ami stood up and suggested for him to get back to bed and to rest. She got up from where she knelt beside him to see Ensign Hathaway holding on to Roburn. It was clear he had woken up from hearing his brother’s coughing fit and had become upset over what he was witnessing. Calming him down through stroking his hair, Hathaway eventually got the toddler to fall asleep in her arms. Ben-Ami just smiled at the pilot as she made her way over to where she kept all of her gear. Lawson followed her over.

“We need to think about getting ourselves out of here.” Lawson quietly said, hoping to avoid disturbing the others.

Ben-Ami nodded in agreement. “You’ll get no argument from me, Montana.” She returned. “However right now where do we go? I know living in a cave isn’t glamorous, but it’s warm, safe and secure.”

“I know, I just feel helpless!” Lawson explained, appearing deflated at their current predicament.

“All we can do right now is survive this and hope and pray that someone will find us!” The doctor said as she packed her gear away before heading back to her bed to fall back asleep. Iyer’s scanner then beeped. Ben-Ami stopped walking and turned to look at the MACO. They all knew what that alarm meant.

Iyer had already pulled out the computer device from his pocket and was quickly trying to work out what it was telling him. “Three of our proximity trips have detected movement.” He announced to the group.

Ben-Ami moved over to his side to see what was happening. Reading the device from over his shoulder she saw what he had reported before a fourth one went off. Adrenaline began to rush over. It was either someone rescuing them, or someone who could potentially be hostile.  Iyer had set up the invisible portable laser trips around the cave entrance to give them an early warning system. 

“Montana, take the boys further into the cave.” She ordered. 

The chef nodded and quickly picked Roburn out of Hathaway’s arms before encouraging Edro to follow her as she took out her phase pistol and handed him her torch. 

Hathaway had picked up the phase rifle that was nearby, chucked it at Ben-Ami while picking up another one for herself. Iyer had copied their actions and took his own rifle out before taking up a defence posture behind a boulder.  Ben-Ami and Hathaway had done the same and crouched behind a large rock on the other side to where Iyer stood. 

Ben-Ami had taken out her own scanner, setting it to silent mode, so she could see how far their guests were. They had gone past the last checkpoint and were mere metres from the caves entrance. Thankfully where they had set up their little camp away from the entrance, behind the boulders they were hiding behind which meant their incoming visitors would not see any of their gear at first. Her scanner kept on refreshing the information it could give her. Every three seconds it updated with more information. Three people were incoming. They entered the cave. The scanner showed they were arm. Ben-Ami controlled her breathing. Looking at Hathaway she could see the young pilot doing the same. Nodding at her, the doctor slowly crept to look through a small crevice that gave them a clear sight to see who was there. Three tall figures stood tall, holding rifles with torches attached to them. They were quickly scanning their surroundings. One of them held a device in their hands. They lowered it. 

“Doctor Ben-Ami?” A thick Canadian accent shouted towards their direction.

Ben-Ami recognised that voice automatically and stood up. “Major?” She said as she was confronted with the sight of their MACO leader along with Ensigns Hennessey and Gonçalves.

Yu had been wearing night goggles, she ripped them off from around her face and pulled them back to be on top of her hair.  “We are glad to see you all.” Yu said with a warm smile.

Ben-Ami walked out to their crewmates and went over to greet them with Iyer and Hathaway joining her. “How did you find us?” She asked the group.

“It took some time to determine where you had landed and then when we found your escape pod we then had to work out where you went.” Yu answered. “Where’s Chef?”

Ben-Ami gestured for Iyer to go find Lawson along with their two guests. “She’s taking refuge further in the cave.”

Yu appeared puzzled at that statement. “How come?”

Ben-Ami hadn’t much time to respond as Iyer had rushed to go and get Lawson and the boys. Lawson was now walking up with the two boys. 

“Well this should be an interesting story.” Hennessey remarked from where he stood next to Yu.

“Edro, Roburn I want you to meet members of our crew.” Ben-Ami said, encouraging the two boys to come further. “This is Major Viktoria Yu, Ensign Ned Hennessey and Ensign Cristiano Gonçalves.” 

Roburn was still cranky from being woken up from his sleep and only cuddled further into Iyer who had taken the youngster into his arms to free Lawson up. Edro only greeted the other three with a nod. 

Yu smiled at them and looked at Ben-Ami. “Natives?” She asked.

“We think so.” Ben-Ami said. “They’ve been lost in these caves for some time and stumbled on to us shortly after we arrived.” 

“Do we take them back with us?” Gonçalves inquired. 

“Of course, we do Cristiano.” Hathaway countered back with.

“Angela’s right, we can’t leave them here and Edro isn’t well.” Lawson added.

Yu nodded in agreement. “We have a lot of your resources from sickbay back at our base camp.”

“Good.” Ben-Ami said. “Talking of a base camp, I assume you’ve set up in a secure place and the crew are okay?”

“They are.” Yu answered. “We landed on a tropical island and modified one of the escape pods to help us get here.”

“Well why don’t we pack up our gear here and head back with you guys?” Iyer suggested.

“I second that.” Lawson remarked. “Being stuck in a cave for another ten days does not appeal to me.”

“But living in a tent does?” Yu asked the cook.

“A tent on a tropical island, what more could a girl ask for?” Lawson threw back with a grin.

The group laughed and began gathering everything that Ben-Ami’s group had taken from their escape pod to survive. They may have been moving from one camp to another, but Ben-Ami was glad she would see the rest of their crew.


Stratos

 

Sitting comfortable, Corporal Jenkins found himself enjoying the meal he was currently having. It was some sort of cooked breakfast that reminded him, on some level, the way his mother cooked an English breakfast. Currently he was in his own room, sat out on the balcony looking out at the bright morning Ardanan sky. It was beautiful. He could understand why High Advisor Tonisus wanted to protect it. The sound of wind chimes going off caught him off guard, he was still getting used to that noise as being the doorbell. 

“Come in.” He answered as he looked through the bay doors to see who was coming in.

Opening, the doors made a swishing noise allowing for a tall, blonde and beautiful woman to enter. She had deep sky, crystal, blue eyes. Her blonde hair was as bright as the sun and was tied up into a high beehive style bun. She wore a long, black sleeveless jumpsuit that had flared bottoms with a white lacy shawl that hung from her arms. High-heeled shoes that were encrusted with diamonds (just like other parts of her outfit) made her appear taller. If she was human, she appeared to be in her late thirties or early forties.  Her plump pink lips glistened against the sunlight, which only went on to show how immaculate her make-up had been applied. 

“Loianna, I wasn’t expecting you.” Jenkins said in surprise to his visitor.

The Ardana woman appeared to glide into the room, still keeping her warm smile. “I’m sorry Liam I didn’t realise I was disturbing you. I can come back another time?”

“No, no, please come in.” The young MACO said, still showing his unpreparedness for his guest. “Please join me out here.” He finally said after standing from his chair and offering her to join him out onto the balcony.

She smiled in gratitude and moved to be with him. He went over to the seat next to his and pulled it for her. Her smile grew at his manners while holding the chair out for her. 

“I find your Human mannerism so amusing.” She remarked as she sat down and thanked him. “You say your people believe in equality, but your men appear to act differently around women.”

Jenkins chuckled at that as he took his own seat again. “My mother and father raised my brother and I to be perfect gentlemen. My mother always said when a lady entered the room the men should always pay her presence with their respect. Pulling a chair out, holding a door for them, that type of thing.”

“And it doesn’t matter how wealthy you are?” She enquired. 

Shaking his head, Jenkins replied. “No not now, but over a century ago that type of thing did bother people too back on Earth.”

She smiled in appreciation of him sharing more cultural knowledge with her. Since their arrival on Stratos, Loianna and he had spent a lot of time together. “Well I thought I would take you to one of our most revered exhibits from the Plasuan Dynasty.” She paused after realising she had babbled that all very quickly. “That’s if you’re interested?”

Jenkins who had taken a sip from what he believed was tea nodded in response. “Oh, I am, however, don’t you have any work of your own to complete? I’m sure the office of the Deputy High Advisor must keep you occupied. I would hate to get you behind in your work.”

“Nonsense Liam. I enjoy spending time with you, getting to know more about your race and sharing all there is about mine. High Advisor Tonisus and our military advisors are busy with Ensign Conrad and Second Lieutenant Trommler, while Ensign Metaxas is continuing with repairs to your shuttlepod.” Loianna stated.

In Jenkins’ thoughts he knew what she said was true about them spending time together. Since being introduced over a week ago he had sparked a good working relationship, almost friendship, with Ardana’s Deputy High Advisor. Loianna was an intelligent, beautiful woman yet commanded her respect from her peers with a calm and peaceful manner. He understood why Tonisus had picked her to be his second-in-command. In some sense the two Ardanan leaders’ style of relationship reminded him of how Captain Burton and Commander Levesque were with each other.  They trusted each other whole-heartedly with their close relationship, yet were extremely professional in front of others. They made an excellent team, just like Burton and Levesque. 

“I should really check in with Ensign Conrad today.” Jenkins stated. 

Loianna stood up, “Then let’s do that now before we reach half-cycle.” She said as she offered her hand to him. 

Jenkins was still translating some of the Ardanan words and phrases to what they meant. Cycle meant day while half-cycle meant midday.  “How can I refuse?” He said back after taking her hand and standing up next to her. She linked her arm into his and led them both out of his room.

 

If there was one thing that Jenkins would take away from his experience on Stratos was the appreciation of how diverse art could get. He was never one to appreciate it before, but Loianna had gone out of her way to expose him to various paintings, sculptures, music and pieces of literature. They had moved swiftly across the city after checking in with Ensign Conrad and Second Lieutenant Trommler. Conrad had told Jenkins with the amount of cultural observations he was taking, he expected him to write up a report about it all. On the other hand, Trommler had joked with the younger MACO saying that he hoped Loianna knew he was engaged, as he was certain the Ardanan politician had a thing for Jenkins. 

“The Plasuan Dynasty occurred just before our cloud cities were launched. It brought an end to a massive global conflict that had killed millions.” Loianna explained gently as they entered what appeared to be a museum. 

“Earth went through three world wars too before we reached absolute global peace.” He returned.

“Thankfully the last remaining monarch, Queen Plasuan, unified the warring factions together. She was a mighty warrior, a strong diplomat and quite the artist as well.” Loianna said as they entered a room and came face-to-face with a large portrait of a woman who sat on a throne. She wore a crown, had long regal robes on and quite the determined, yet beautiful face. “She established the Advisory Assembly to help govern Ardana, but she didn’t want any typical government. She wanted it to be a mixture of elected officials working alongside experts in various fields of science, engineering, the arts and religion.”

“You said she was the last remaining monarch, how come?” Jenkins asked as they looked up at the painting of the mighty leader.

“Well due to our global conflict most royalty had been killed off and there was a massive social upheaval between the different classes. Queen Plasuan decided she would not bear any heirs once she felt the Assembly was strong enough to govern without a monarch.” Loianna said. She looked at Jenkins, “Does your world have any monarchs?”

Jenkins nodded. “It does, however they’re only figureheads for their nations. The country I come from has a king and queen leading it. In fact, my country has one of the richest histories of having a royal family.”

“I would love to visit your world one day.” Loianna said with sincerity. “Tell me Liam, you said you don’t have any cloud cities on Earth, do your people all dwell on the land?”

Jenkins found the question an unusual one to ask. “Yes, we all live together in peace and are governed by an elected parliament. The United Earth Government is led by a president and prime minister, who is part of a political party that must gain a majority of seats in the Houses of Parliament to effectively govern.”

“I found the entire process bizarre. We Ardanas either dwell within our cloud cities if you are wealthy enough, if not then you live on the surface or serve as city-dwellers.” Loianna stated.

“That sounds like a caste-system.” Jenkins remarked. “The poor must live below while the rich live in luxury.”

Loianna became shocked and upset by his words. “Liam, I promise you that is not the case. Those who live on the surface choose to be there, they live peaceful happy lives in their small settlements, some even within the caves mining zenite. They trade with us, but don’t want to be among us. Those that do are unable to afford the living expenditures here, so they find work serving our communities in various forms. This way of life has kept us in peace for over half a millennium.”

Jenkins couldn’t grasp why anyone would want to live in a world where two societies co-existed under such conditions. “And everyone is happy with that arrangement?”

Loianna looked around sheepishly, it was obvious she didn’t want anyone to hear what she was going to say. “There are only a small handful of people from the surface who do not favour us, but they keep to themselves.” 

Finally understanding what she was saying, Jenkins replied. “Is that why High Advisor Tonisus wants us to find our crew before anyone else does? In case our presence entices those who might be against your way of living?”

“Can you blame him for not wanting to upset the delicate social balance our world sits on?” She returned with.

It was a tough choice, Jenkins couldn’t dispute that, but he still didn’t like it.

ELEVEN – DAY 72

Challenger NX-03, in orbit of Delta IV
Tuesday, August 18th, 2155

Commander Stanton was replacing the last damaged circuit within the helm. (Inside, however he wished he could be enjoying some R&R on the planet below them, but the ship needed fixing and they weren’t even halfway there yet.) Closing the opened casing, he pulled himself up to kneel on the deck plating to check and make sure the glitch was no longer present. Activating the main console, he ran a quick diagnostic to make sure there were no loose network connections. Pleased he had achieved his task, he smiled at his efforts and stood up. As he did there was a beep from the science station.  T’Plau had been sat working on something there the moment the alarm went off. She had turned her chair around to look at what the secondary displays were telling her. 

“What is it?” Stanton enquired.

T’Plau activated the scope to see what was happening. “Long-range sensors have detected a large Carreon fleet.”

Stanton gulped at that news, “How large a fleet?”

“Forty-one ships.” She answered as she lifted her head from looking into the scope to register everything. “And they’re heading for the Deltan system.”

Stanton moved over to the communications station and opened a channel. “Challenger to Burton.”

A second later and Captain Burton replied. “Go ahead Michael.” 

“Sir I think both Commander Levesque and you should get up here straight away, we’ve had some interesting developments.” Stanton stated, not wanting to give away what they had discovered. He didn’t know what the Deltans knew and he didn’t know where the captain and first officer were. For all he knew they could be having a meeting with Prime Minister An’die. Alerting the Deltans could cause a panic and he wasn’t prepared to be the perpetrator.  

“Understood, are the hangar bay doors repaired?” 

“No sir, since we retrieved Shuttlepod Two we haven’t been able to fix them.” Stanton replied.

“Then is the transporter working?”

“It is sir; however, I haven’t had time to test it completely. Can you not get a ride up in a Deltan ship?” Stanton wondered.

“You tell me how urgent it is that we’re with you because I’m not too sure how long we would have to wait to organise a shuttle up to you.” Burton said.

“Standby then, I’ll transport you both up.” Stanton said cautiously and closed the channel. “T’Plau will you help me?”

The Vulcan armoury officer nodded once as she got up from her chair. “Of course, Commander.”


The transporter had been one of the first systems that had been repaired since Challenger had arrived at Delta. However, as Stanton had told his commanding officer he had been unable to test to see if it was safe to use. The diagnostics and readings were telling him it was okay, but to play it safe he had brought T’Plau along with him to be a pair of second eyes. He had called for Ensign Stewart to meet them there in case it injured Burton or Levesque somehow. 

“Are you really that worried?” Stewart had asked the chief engineer once he had arrived. The young nurse took out his medical scanner and switched it on ready to use. 

“I’d prefer to be safe than sorry.” Stanton said as he began to operate the transporter. “Sub Commander will you monitor their patterns as they go through the pattern buffers?”

“Understood.” T’Plau replied as she stood next to Stanton and pulled up the readings for the pattern buffer. 

“Energising.” Stanton stated after he had got a fix on the two senior officers. 

As the cycle began a warning light came up. “I am having trouble separating their patterns.” T’Plau reported. 

Stanton did his best not to panic. “Reset the pattern buffers.” He commanded her.

She did as she was told and a moment later the computer beeped in acceptance of her efforts. “The signals are clearing.”

The transporter beam finished, and the two officers looked around once they were materialised.

“Are you both alright?” Stewart asked as he stepped forward and began taking an initial scan.

Burton looked at Levesque and nodded that they were okay. “Feel fine, but it felt like it took a bit longer than normal.”

“Your patterns merged for four point eight seconds; however, we were able to separate you two after resetting the pattern buffers.” T’Plau reported.

“You both look fine to me.” Stewart offered after finishing his scan, “Though once sickbay is back up and running, we should run more in-depth scans to ensure you’ve got every molecule back.”

“Schedule it for another time Ensign.” Burton said as he stepped off the transporter. “So, what’s important for us to see Commander Stanton?”

“Come with us sir.” Stanton indicated for them to follow T’Plau and he returned to the bridge.


“Damn it.” Burton cursed under his breath as he looked at the sensor readings of the incoming Carreon armada.  The four senior officers stood in the situation room, aft from the bridge, studying T’Plau’s findings. “And they’re definitely on their way here?” He asked for assurance.

“Their trajectory confirms their heading sir.” T’Plau stated.

“Just when we thought we had seen the last of them.” Levesque commented as she crossed her arms and leant against the raised central worktable. 

For a moment none of them said anything as they just kept looking at what their long-range sensors had picked up. Their silence was interrupted by an incoming call from the communications’ station. Levesque headed over first to answer it as the others moved towards the middle of the bridge. Burton watched Levesque work the console from where he stood in front of his chair. 

“We’ve got an incoming call from the planet below.” Levesque stated as she looked over to Burton.

“Put it up.” Burton ordered; he turned his body, so he was now facing the main screen.

The video feed of Prime Minister An’die appeared and he spoke straight away. “Have I caught you at a bad time Captain Burton?”

Feeling slightly nervous, Burton briefly glimpsed at Levesque before looking at the Deltan leader. “No, of course not.” He wondered if An’die knew about the incoming armada.

“I’ve just received a disturbing report from one of our listening posts. Long-range sensors have picked up…” An’die said, but Burton interrupted him.

“Yes, we know. The Carreons have assembled a large fleet.”

An’die didn’t look surprised that the Human captain was aware of the news. “How many ships have you detected?”

“Forty-one and they’re on a direct course for Delta. It’ll cross the Deltan-Carreon border in less than an hour.” Burton answered. 

“We are mobilising a fleet by one of our lunar shipyards in orbit of Cinera, but we may not be ready when they enter the system.” An’die remarked.

“We’re going.” Burton bluntly stated.

Levesque coughed to interrupt her commanding officer. “What do you mean, ‘We’re going’?”

Burton gave her a look that silenced the first officer. It was obvious that An’die caught her questioning his decision, but he didn’t say anything. Burton continued, “Mister Prime Minister we may be able to convince the Carreons to stand down. If we’re able to present them with the same information we’ve given you about the Romulans and their ability to take over your ships, then they may reconsider.”

“Captain that is very brave of you to offer, however I cannot ask you to take such a risk for us. From what I’ve been told your warp drive is only just operational. You couldn’t mount such a task with the limited resources you have.” An’die said.

“If we do nothing, then this will only end badly for both sides.” Burton stated. “We need to at least give it a try.”

“Very well,” The Prime Minister said hesitantly, “I wish you good luck. An’die out.” The channel closed and the Deltan commander-in-chief was replaced by the view of Delta IV from Challenger’s orbit.

“Lloyd are you out of your mind?” Levesque asked the moment the channel was closed.

Burton snapped at her. “Not now Nicole.”

“Captain, I’m with Nicole on this one. We’re no match for a couple of Carreon ships let alone a whole fleet.” Stanton said.

“I must concur sir.” T’Plau added.

Burton looked almost lost between them. “Your objections have been noted.” He sat down at the helm. “If we can get close enough to their fleet, we may be able to determine if they’re under Romulan control or not. If they are then we’ll attempt to find the Romulan ship and take them out.”

“And if they’re there by their own freewill?” Levesque asked as she walked over to her chair at the science station.

“Then we’ll transmit everything we have about the Romulans to them and hope and pray that someone listens to us. If they don’t then we’ll warp back here to help the Deltans as best as we can.” Burton replied as he began to power up the ship’s engines. He looked over his shoulders at the others. “Let’s get moving.”

T’Plau and Stanton acknowledged his orders and she took her post at the tactical station while Stanton left the bridge to head down to engineering. 

Burton tapped a few commands into the helm station, “Sub Commander T’Plau take us to tactical alert.”

“Aye sir.” The Vulcan woman said as she activated the change in the ship’s status. 

“I’m laying a course now for the Carreon fleet.” Burton stated as worked the controls. “Nicole I’ll need you to begin scanning them the moment we’re close enough. We need to know if they’re under Romulan control or not.”

“Understood sir.” Levesque said as she carried out her orders.

“Let’s go.” Burton said and he hit the button that engaged the ship’s warp engines. 


Running, Commander Stanton made his way into main engineering within a few short minutes after leaving the bridge. Ever since the crew had abandoned ship, he had yet been able to get used to the sight of an empty ship, especially his engineering room. After closing the main door behind him he was pleased to see he wasn’t on his own in engineering. Levesque’s two most senior science officers were in the room: Ensigns Habiba and Dalton. Ensign Sebastian Dalton was a young officer who was fresh out of Starfleet Training Command. He had been assigned to Challenger from day one and was still green with the lack of experience, like many others on the crew who had Challenger as their first assignment. He was a smart person and was their Third Science Officer and held the post of Chief Physicist. Once Challenger had arrived in orbit of Delta, Dalton (who had been left behind on the planet when the ship escaped) hadn’t left Stanton’s side to help with repairs in engineering. Stanton had joked with Levesque that he was slowly turning her trusty physicist into one of his top engineers. She had replied that if he did such a thing, he would regret it. Fortunately for Stanton, he had already known Dalton from Training Command. The physicist had taken the basic engineering course and had aced the exam with full marks. He was extremely competent and knew why Levesque liked having him with her. 

“All readings for the warp drive are nominal, sir.” The young man from Alpha Centauri colony said.

Stanton nodded in acceptance as he climbed up to the main workstation by the warp reactor to stand beside Dalton. Dalton, whose parents were originally from New York before moving to Alpha Centauri, was quite a handsome man. He was just over five feet seven, had broad muscular shoulders like some of the MACO soldiers and short dark sandy coloured hair. He had similar coloured eyes like Captain Burton (he almost looked like one of the captain’s brothers) and a friendly nature about himself. Stanton remembered how shy Dalton had been in his first basic engineering lecture, but since joining Starfleet his confidence was developing. 

“Keep a close eye on all the readings,” Stanton ordered him. “I don’t want the warp drive failing us when we’re trying to escape the Carreon fleet.”

“The Carreon fleet?” Dalton questioned. “Why would we be trying to escape from them?”

“The captain wants us to determine if they’re under Romulan control or at least attempt to stop them from attacking the Deltans.” Stanton replied, carefully choosing his words so he didn’t share his disagreement with the captain’s decision.

“One ship against an entire fleet?” Dalton remarked with some surprise. “That’s helluva a plan! Does he think we’ll succeed?”

Stanton just nodded before looking over his shoulder, he saw Ensign Habiba standing at the primary diagnostic console. She was overseeing the status of primary systems.  Habiba was a biologist by nature and had limited engineering knowledge. “Martha, if anything goes into red with the primary systems then shout as loud as you can!” Stanton stated.

“Aye sir.” She quietly responded.

Sighing to himself, Stanton knew that Habiba was keeping to herself. It was no secret between those that had been left behind on Delta that she had publicly opposed Levesque over helping the Deltans. Levesque had told Burton and he that she wasn’t going to press any charges against Habiba for insubordination. She felt the humiliation of doing it in front of her colleagues and not having any support was enough punishment for the young officer. Their extraordinary circumstances were another factor and it wasn’t going to be added to her permanent record. 

“Engineering to bridge,” Stanton said after tapping the nearby communication panel. 

Burton soon answered. “Go ahead Michael.”

“Captain, I’ve just thought of an idea which may help us against the Carreon armada.” He stated.

“I’m listening, Commander.” 

Stanton started to explain his strategy. “Well we need to force them out of warp sir, so the Deltans are given more time to assemble their forces. It would also give us a greater chance to determine if they’re under Romulan control or not. We could disrupt their warp fields with an inverse graviton burst. It would force them to drop to impulse until the gravitons dissipated.”

“Could we generate something that large in the state we’re in?” Burton asked back. 

“Possibly.” The chief engineer replied. “I’ll need to divert power from the warp engines, but it would give us at least three minutes, maybe four of them being out of warp.” 

“How long will you need to make the modifications Commander?”

“I’ll have it done before we intercept the Carreons.”

“Make it happen then.” Burton ordered before cutting the channel.

Dalton looked at Stanton. “Sir are you really going to be able to have that done before we reach the Carreons?”

Stanton jumped down from the raised platform as he shouted back his answer. “If I do then I expect to be called a miracle worker!”


Stratos, Ardana 

 

The Ardanan sun was setting in the distance and was shining a rich crimson light across the skyline. Powerful and bold, the light shone against and into Stratos, piercing through every window and open port. Sat around the circular balcony table, the four Human men were enjoying their evening meal together. As they weren’t allowed to visit too many public places, they had decided to use this time to get back together and catch up with each other. 

Jenkins was pushing around the food on his plate with his fork (which looked more like a mini trident) and was listening in to what his crewmates were saying. 

“The shuttlepod is fixed and ready to go, but they did a good number on our computer systems. I’ve had to almost re-write every single piece of software.” Metaxas complained as he picked up a crystal glass goblet from the table and drank from it. “Fortunately, the back-ups weren’t touched.”

Conrad nodded in response. “Okay now we have that we need to work on being able to access it if circumstances require us to.” He was being weary of what he said in case the Ardanans were listening in to their conversation.

“Have you been able to find the rest of the crew?” Jenkins offered after taking a mouthful of a piece of meat that came from a bird and tasted a lot like steak. 

Trommler answered for him. “We think we’ve found the group of equatorial islands that we planned to land on originally, but we can’t determine if that’s where Ben-Ami and the others went.”

“Still having scanner interference from this zenite?” Metaxas asked.

“Indeed.” Conrad stated. “And a similar ore that we encountered on Docana that is inhibiting sensors. The Ardanans call it kelbonite.”

“So, what’s the plan?” Jenkins enquired. 

Conrad glanced at Trommler for assurance to share what they had discussed earlier that day. “I’ve decided we’ll use the Ardanans to help us find the crew. We’ll leave tomorrow afternoon to begin searching the islands.”

Metaxas looked at both men. “You seem hesitant about that.”

“We’ve got some concerns about how they’ll host the rest of the crew here on Stratos.” Trommler explained.

“That’s understandable, especially with how they treated us.” The Greek engineer returned as he took in a mouthful of salad.

The four men went silent, none of them prepared to share their thoughts on the dilemma of using the Ardanans’ offer of help. Could they truly be trusted? Would the crew be safe? Or would they take them all in as prisoners or worse kill them all?

By the time they had finished their dinner and said goodnight to each other, Corporal Jenkins made his way over to his room and closed the door behind him. He got undressed from the clothes they made them wear and got ready for bed. Once he was under the sheets he leant over to turn off the lights. Almost pitch darkness filled his room, apart from the bright white light shining through the curtains. Ardana’s moon was a lot like Earth’s own. Closing his eyes, he wondered if his fiancé was doing something similar on Delta. That if he was still alive and hadn’t been killed by a Carreon attack. Jenkins shook his head, trying to get rid of the thought and attempted to remain positive. 

In the room next door, Ensign Conrad sat on the edge of his bed in just his vest and shorts. He was ready to call it a night and get some sleep, but in the back of his mind his concerns about what they had planned for tomorrow were running through his mind at warp speed. He was worried that he would be leading the Ardanans to where the rest of the crew were hiding; he was sealing their fates. On the other hand, since being on Stratos and released from captivity, the Ardanans hadn’t shown any aggression towards him and the others. Those that knew they were “off-worlders” had been welcoming and friendly; High Advisor Tonisus went out of his way to speak with Conrad every day. Nevertheless, Conrad kept on thinking to himself what Captain Burton or Commander Levesque would do in this type of situation. If there was anything that he had learnt from them since joining Challenger and that was to always have a backup plan in a difficult situation if everything fell apart. Trommler and he had worked on that plan earlier that day, again they had to do it in a covert manner to avoid the Ardanans discovering it. When they had shared it with Metaxas and Jenkins over dinner, they seemed to understand the plan. Conrad eventually fell backwards onto his bed, rubbed his temple and prayed he didn’t need to resort to their backup plan.


Equatorial Islands, Ardana (New Mars)

 

If anything could be said about New Mars (or New Vulcan as some of the crew were calling it), then its sunsets were just as beautiful as those that happened back on Earth. Ben-Ami had just watched the spectacular view happen while sitting on the beach of their current home. In the near distance she could hear the laughing and screaming coming from Edro and Roburn as they played in the ocean with Iyer and several others. Their small group had decided to take the children down to the beach for a barbeque, to play a game of cricket and then to go swimming as the sun had set. It had been the perfect end to the day in Ben-Ami’s mind. She had joined them for the food and game but declined the invite to go swimming. She had paddled her feet in the water, before returning to the shore to watch the sunset. A warm breeze kissed her skin gently. If they hadn’t been here for dire reasons, then this would be a perfect vacation spot. Closing her eyes momentarily, she took in a few deep breaths as she listened to the lapping of the water against the shore. Since re-joining the rest of the Challenger’s survivors at their encampment, she had spent the day getting to grips with understanding how Major Yu had organised everything. Ben-Ami had been impressed with Yu’s application of her survival knowledge and skills to ensure the crew were safe in their camp. Ben-Ami then went on to check in on those crewmembers who still had injuries and was pleased to see all of them had either recovered or were close to being back to themselves. The only medical worry she had now was keeping a close eye on Edro’s asthma-like symptoms. Thankfully the MACOs had set up a medical tent with all of her equipment in it. She had been able to alleviate his breathing issues and was now pleased he was able to enjoy the evening’s entertainment without any major cause for concern. Opening her eyes, she saw two of her friends approaching her, Major Yu with Ensign Hennessey. Yu had her arm linked into the communication officer’s arm. She knew the gesture was purely platonic. Both of them had been married before, in fact Hennessey wasn’t Yu’s type. She smiled at them both as they approached her.

“Enjoying the view?” Hennessey asked as he sat down next to her.

“It definitely beats the view of a broken ship.” Ben-Ami replied.

“Amen to that.” Yu praised as she too sat down on the beach. She looked out at where the others were in the water. “Rupesh has grown very fond of those two.” She commented.

Ben-Ami and Hennessey looked over to where the others were. Iyer had Roburn wrapped around his neck while Edro was climbing on his back. Ensigns Hathaway and Gonçalves were splashing them. It looked like the boys were trying to wrestle Iyer into the water and doing their best to bring him down by holding on to his bare chest with all their might. Eventually Edro dropped off him, like the anchor he was trying to be and splashed into the water. Everyone laughed as Edro re-appeared above the water. Iyer picked him up and put him on his shoulders while still holding on to his younger brother. 

“Do you think we’ll ever find their parents?” Hennessey asked aloud.

Ben-Ami shrugged her shoulders. “That’s hard to say. Edro explained he didn’t know where their mining village was. I showed him a map of his world and he didn’t know what it was.”

“Perhaps the boys have never been to school?” Yu postulated. 

Ben-Ami nodded. “It turns out he never went to school or for that matter a school doesn’t exist in their village.” She paused. “Actually, he didn’t know what a school was.”

“Really?” Hennessey said, surprised.

“It would seem his family and the rest of their village is expected to work in these mines. The children are sent into the mines when they are almost eight years old.” Ben-Ami shared. 

“Child labour,” Yu said in disgust. “I can remember my old school history lessons about slavery, but you would have hoped that in this day and age that civilisations would have evolved beyond the use of slaves.”

“Far from it I’m afraid.” Ben-Ami remarked. “Plus is it our job to judge other civilisations and their rate of development compared to ours?”

Hennessey turned to her. “You’re not going to let them return back to that life are you Kefira?”

“Is it our right to stop them from returning to the family?” She answered back with.

“I think so if it means they’re going to spend the rest of their lives stuck down a cave.” Hennessey argued. 

Yu chuckled at the antics the boys were getting involved with Iyer and the others. They had teamed up with Iyer and had pulled Gonçalves into the water. Their laughs were filling the air. “We can’t let them go back. Just look at them.” She said.

“I know,” Ben-Ami responded. “Within a space of a day they’re completely different and are having the childhood they rightly deserve but remember we’re not their family and we can’t force Human values on to alien cultures.”

Hennessey looked at Ben-Ami, checking both sides of her head before speaking. “Are you sure your ears aren’t a bit pointy today?” He joked. “I understand what you’re saying Kefira, yet it still doesn’t feel right.”

“Well let’s leave it for tonight and deal with it when we cross that bridge, if it ever comes.” Ben-Ami said, hoping to change their conversation. “Back to more pressing issues, where do we stand with our rations and other supplies?”

Yu answered, “Montana and Ensign Larsen are enjoying the opportunities to use the local vegetation for our main meals, but I think the crew may become a bit bored of constantly eating soups or broths.”

The three of them laughed at that. 

“I’m sure Montana and Erik will make something different once they’ve got themselves going. And what about morale?” Ben-Ami asked next. 

Hennessey spoke up, “It’s improved with you and the others turning up, but the crew will begin to get restless if we don’t give people tasks to do. If people are idle for too long, I think it may affect the entire mood in the camp. We need to keep everyone on a positive note.”

“We should look at giving everyone jobs to help with our survival. We could look at sending out more survey teams to see what is available on the island. First Lieutenant al-Fayyad is more than capable of organising that for us.” Yu suggested before carrying on. “I know Lieutenant Masuko’s engineers are eager to break down the escape pods and use them to build better shelters and use their power reactors for various things, but I would suggest we should hold off on doing that. We may need them to make a swift escape again. They should concentrate on repairing them.” 

“I think we may need to do more than give people work to do.” Hennessey stated.

“What do you have in mind Ned?” Ben-Ami wondered.

“We should try and treat this like a holiday.” He answered.

Both women looked at each other, both having combined expressions of doubt and surprise that he just said that. 

“Really Ned?” Yu asked.

“Look I know holiday was the wrong word to use here, but we need to do something that encourages the crew to look at this place,” He said gesturing towards everything around them, “as somewhere that is positive. We’re not in any danger from the Carreons attacking or from the ship exploding around us.”

“However, we do have the possibility of more aliens attacking us.” Yu said, reminding him of their encounter with the aliens that almost blew up Ben-Ami’s escape pod and either destroyed Shuttlepod One or captured it.

“And Ensign Cortez can do a lot of security training and preparing for that, however in the meantime we have a crew who needs their morale kept up. We may not be able to hold movie night anymore, but there’s plenty of other things we can do together.” Hennessey shared.

“Ned, I think you’ve just earned yourself the position of morale officer.” Ben-Ami said with a wry smile.

“Wait a sec, I didn’t say I would do that.” He protested.

Ben-Ami and Yu both laughed together at his response in trying to worm himself out of what he had been champion any moments ago.

“Well officially Montana holds the dual role of chef and morale officer, however with her workload being so big in keeping us all fed she may be happy to relinquish it.” Yu remarked. “I vote we appoint the remaining officers of the communications department to take on the job of crew morale.”

Ben-Ami nodded in agreement. “As acting-captain I concur with my acting first officer.” She looked at Hennessey. “Congratulations Ned, you’re now our new morale officer!”

Hennessey sighed in despair as fell backwards onto the sand, realising what he had to do. “I’ll have my revenge on you two one day.” He mumbled.

“You’ll thank us.” Ben-Ami said, still smiling and returning her attention back to watching those in the water.

 

Yawning slightly, Ben-Ami stepped out of the tent she had just been in and covered her mouth with the back of her right hand. She then pushed her hands into her standard Starfleet field jacket. Since returning from the beach the temperature was starting to drop. She had wrapped up warm before helping Edro and Roburn get ready for bed. 

“How are they?” Yu whispered as she walked across their small field.

“Roburn is finally asleep,” She answered. “Rupesh has just finished reading Captain Proton to them. He’s just finishing off with Edro.”

Yu smiled. “I take it then Rupesh has taken on the full-time duties of being their babysitter while we’re here?”

Ben-Ami quietly chuckled at Yu’s words. She didn’t want to be too loud, especially as most of the crew were calling it a night and retiring to their tents to go to bed. “He’s a natural at being a parent.”

“He’ll make one hell of a father one day.” Yu added in agreement. “Do you fancy getting a mug of hot chocolate before calling it a night?”

“That sounds like a lovely idea.” Ben-Ami whispered as the two women headed to the marquee where most of the crew met for their meals. 

Around them the small campfires were slowly burning themselves out and lights inside tents were being turned off. Soon the campsite would be covered in darkness from the deprivation of light. Walking across the grass, they were only a few feet away from the entrance when Ensign Cortez approached them.

“Commander, Major – am I glad you’re still awake.” She said, holding a torch in one hand and a data tablet in the other.

“Rachele, aren’t you meant to be on night guard?” Ben-Ami questioned the second armoury officer. One of Yu’s initiatives when they had set up their camp was to have the remaining MACOs and armoury personnel take it in turns to remain on duty during the night-time to guard the campsite. 

“I am, however, I thought you both would want to see this.” Cortez replied as she handed them over the tablet in her hands and activated its contents. 

“What are we looking at?” Yu asked.

“Ma’am, this is the last recording sent to us by one of our micro drone planes.” She shared. “This is the visual scans it was taking before we lost contact.”

“Why did we lose contact?” Ben-Ami probed. 

“Watch ma’am and you’ll see why.” Cortez explained.

They watched the video feed of the drone’s flight. The image was almost green, showing that the drone had changed to its night vision mode and infrared mode. Soon a large white object appeared in front of it and two minutes later the video went blank. 

“Did it crash into something?” Ben-Ami asked as she looked at Cortez.

“We believe it did ma’am, however what it crashed into was what concerns me the most.” She stated. “The drone was flying at an altitude of eighteen kilometres. There was something floating up there which was pretty big.”

Ben-Ami looked at Yu, both sharing the concern the ensign had brought to their attention. “Where was the drone when it went down?” She asked.

“It was exactly five thousand, five hundred and sixty-seven kilometres from the camp.” Cortez said. “The last part of the drone’s sensor log indicates it to be a large airborne structure, possible a craft of some sort, but the outer hull alloys are similar in signature to those of that alien craft that approached Shuttlepod One and took out your escape pod ma’am.” 

Ben-Ami winced at that news. She considered their options for a moment. “Do we have any more drones?”

Cortez nodded in response. “Yes ma’am.”

“Then send one more to track it, but stealthily. I don’t want whoever is up there to know we’re aware of them. Let’s get a better picture of what it is and if it’s heading in this direction.” Ben-Ami ordered.

“Aye ma’am.” Cortez said and soon left the two women to get on with her work.

Yu looked at Ben-Ami and gave her the assurance she needed. “We’re safe at the moment and the metal alloys in the rocks around us are helping to hide us from any scans.”

“I know, it’s just I was starting to get used to the idea of actually feeling comfortable in this place.” Ben-Ami said. “You still want to grab that drink?”

“Most definitely!” Yu responded and she followed Ben-Ami into the marquee.


Challenger NX-03

 

Captain Burton was sat still at the helm like a statue. He was watching the sensor indicator on one of the screens tell him how close they got towards the Carreon armada. They were almost within range. He pressed the controls to begin slowing down the ship, so they didn’t overshoot the fleet; however the controls weren’t responding to his input. Slight panic went over him that only increased as the computer beeped at him loudly at the sudden increase in temperature within the warp core.

“What the hell?” He said aloud before slamming his fist on the nearby intercom panel. “Bridge to engineering, Michael what the hell-”

Stanton interrupted him from finishing his sentence. “I know sir, we’ve picked it up here as well. Some computer programme has been activated and has locked us out of control of the warp core.”

“Can you override it?” Burton quizzed.

I’m trying, but the core temperature is reaching critical and with the damaged state it is in I can tell you now sir the antimatter will be hard to cool down. The plasma coolant injectors won’t be able to help us.” Stanton responded.

“Sir did you change our course?” Levesque quickly interjected.

Burton shook his head. “No, why?”

“We’ve just altered course, heading straight for the centre of the Carreon fleet.” She replied.

“At our present speed and with the current rate of temperature increase in the warp core we will have a core breach the moment we approach the fleet.” T’Plau added.

“Sounds like someone’s deliberately played with our systems to turn us into a moving bomb!” Levesque reacted.

“Indeed, it would seem that way.” T’Plau remarked.

Burton was getting angry at their situation. Who the hell had tampered with his ship and now was forcing them to become a ticking time bomb? Sudden realisation dawned over him. “Michael could the Deltans have set us up?” He asked his engineer.

I couldn’t tell you right now sir.” Stanton retorted. “I’m having difficulty keeping the core from blowing apart.”

“Dump it then.” Burton ordered.

Sir?” Stanton responded, his shock at the captain’s words echoing through the intercom.

“We haven’t got time to save it, Michael. Eject the warp core.” Burton commanded.

“Lloyd, if we lose the core then we’re stranded out here and main engineering will be exposed to a vacuum.” Levesque said in a low tone.

“Noted, but it’s better than being the Deltan’s surprise present for the Carreons.” He remarked. “Prime Minister An’die seemed all too happy to let us go to deal with them. I’ll put any good money on the idea that the Deltans had planned to use us if the opportunity arose.”

“A startling theory sir.” T’Plau stated. “However, it is a logical assumption based on the facts we currently have. I am not picking up any Romulan ships or interference from their telepresence capturing device in our systems.”

“Bridge, standby I’m about to release the last maglock on the warp core. It’s going to be a bumpy ride out of warp!” Stanton shouted over the speakers.

All three bridge officers took hold of the nearest handrail and braced themselves for the sudden lurch as the ship dropped out of warp. “Make sure you and your people are out of there Michael!”

We are, here goes!” The chief engineer announced.  

The ventral bulkheads of main engineering exploded from beneath the deck plates, revealing open space as three decks below became exposed to the vacuum. The large deuterium injector arms retracted out of the warp core, followed by more explosions that forced the core outwards into open space. Challenger jolted, its main form of propulsion exited it from its underbelly and the ship threw itself out of warp speed and into normal space. 

“I’m attempting to gain control!” Burton screamed over the commotion. A number of systems had reacted badly to the loss of the ship’s warp core, causing them to overload. Sparks flew all around the ship. 

“The core is breaching!” Levesque shouted as she registered the reactor hitting its critical point and exploding. The shockwave from it slung outwards in all directions, hitting the nearby Earth ship, inflicting more damage to it. 

On the bridge of the Challenger, Burton looked at the other two with the same glum expression that hadn’t left his face for some time now. They were dead in the water again, this time without a warp core and a chance in hell of saving their crew.

TWELVE – DAY 79

Stratos, Ardana
Tuesday, August 25th, 2155

“Were there any Survivors?” 

Loianna looked down at the report in her hands and then back up at Tonisus, she shook her head briefly. “No sir, our satellites hadn’t detected any lifeforms after the crash. The entire mining settlement was obliterated with it as well.” 

Tonisus sighed in despair and anguish. An entire mining settlement had been destroyed when a Carreon ship came crashing down on their world. They had no way of being able to protect their people from knowing the truth. “Is there anything else Loianna?” He asked his right-hand woman. They both stood in his private office, which looked out towards Stratos. 

“There is.” She replied after sharing the devastating report. “We need to bring the Advisory Assembly together to discuss this matter. People may find out about this and we need to discuss how we will deal with the ramifications.” 

“Ideas?” He asked her. Tonisus stood with his back to the Deputy High Advisor, staring out of the large bay window. (Deep down he was contemplating if his people were truly ready to be exposed to the existence of off-worlders.) 

“Our Science and Military Advisors are telling us that the crater could be defined as a meteor crash. It’s a plausible story.” She replied.

“But a weak one Loianna.” He countered back as he turned to look at her. “Let’s keep working on it, but I want to see the Assembly by this evening.”

“There’s also the issue with the Humans.” Loianna included. “I think we should consider letting them go.”

Tonisus squinted his eyes at her. “Why would you say that Loianna?” He asked, perplexed at her suggestion.

She took a breath in and shared her thoughts. “We could be on the edge of our society discovering that there is life beyond our own world. As the Assembly knows, we don’t know what the reaction will be like on to our society. By setting the Humans free, then we shed ourselves of the responsibility of hiding them if it becomes public knowledge. Our search teams have yet to find the rest of their crew. Let Ensign Conrad and the others go, so they can explore the last three equatorial islands without us. Their shuttlepod has powerful sensors on it that will help them. Classifying our search as part of a botanic expedition isn’t holding up. Their cover will be blown if we try it again. If we let them go, we only ask in return that they don’t make contact with us. It will protect us and our people, Tonisus.” 

The Ardanan leader didn’t respond straight away. Eventually he just nodded in agreement. “However, Loianna, make that last point clear to them. Tell them we will do whatever it takes to protect our people from off-worlders.” 

“I understand sir.” She said before quickly exiting from his office.


Standing in front of Shuttlepod One, Corporal Jenkins was saying his last goodbye to their gracious host. “Loianna I can’t explain how much we appreciate your efforts.” He leant in and hugged her. 

Returning the hug, the Deputy High Advisor shared the affection she had built with the Human man. “You’re welcome.” She said while she held him.  After letting go she spoke up. “Just make sure you all remember what I said. Your people can’t get in contact with us again and must remain on that island to ensure your own safety.”

Ensign Conrad had joined the two of them after stepping out of the shuttlepod. “Don’t worry Loianna, we plan to stay there until we are rescued.”

She nodded in appreciation. “Thank you for understanding, but this Carreon crash has spooked my government. I do not know how the Advisory Assembly will react to this if it becomes public knowledge, so your people will be safe to stay out of the way.”

Conrad smirked at those words. “Those were the orders our Captain gave us before we abandoned our ship. We were to keep out of the way of others and to survive.”

“Then do it.” Loianna said smiling to both men. “And be safe my friends.”

Conrad and Jenkins returned the smile and said their final farewells to the Deputy High Advisor before getting back into their craft. 

“Bring engines online.” Conrad ordered as the hatch sealed itself.

Metaxas tapped away at the console he was sitting at. “Engines online and ready.” He answered.

“Liam, do you have the coordinates of those last three islands?” Conrad asked.

“I have,” Jenkins replied. “I’m transferring them to you now.”

“Hey Jacky, I’ve been studying the topography of those islands and the southernmost island seems like the best place to set up a base camp. Knowing Major Yu, she would have made her way there.” Trommler stated.

“Sounds like a good place to start.” Conrad said as he brought their little ship alive and lifted it off the small hangar deck they were situated in. The doors opened for them and he flew the shuttlepod straight out and flew the ship down towards the planet to avoid anyone else witnessing their launch. Lioanna had organised everything so they could leave covertly, so there was no one else aware of their presence on Stratos.

“I have to admit, I may miss this place.” Metaxas remarked as they flew past the cloud city one more time.

“It surely was impressive.” Trommler agreed. 

Conrad took one more look. “I’m sure one day we may return, if not us then I’m sure some other explorers will and hopefully they’ll have better chances at making first contact the right way.” He stated as pulled the shuttle’s nose up and onwards to their destination.


Equatorial Islands, Ardana (New Mars)

 

Understanding sensor logs (unless they were of bio-scans) was not Ben-Ami’s specialism. She was relying on Ensign Cortez to explain it to her in simple terms. They were sitting in the makeshift command post/tent that Yu had setup since the discovery of the cloud-base almost a week ago. The engineers had set up a few monitors and rigged up a few computers to allow the armoury officers to monitor the large airborne structure. They were now going through their morning briefing and Cortez was sharing some startling revelations. 

“The drone flew over the crater at a low altitude and took these images.” The armoury officer reported and pressed a button to bring up the data on the largest screen in the tent. 

Ben-Ami stood with Major Yu, Lieutenant Masuko, First Lieutenant al-Fayyad with Ensigns Hennessey and Hathaway. All of them in the tent were made up of Ben-Ami’s senior staff. All of them brought different expertise and experience to the table. She preferred listening to them all before she made a decision. 

“That looks like a good ten or twelve kilometres in diameter?” al-Fayyad stated. She looked at the pictures closer in depth. “The blast radius isn’t consistent with a meteor or anything natural falling from the sky.”

“I’ve gotta agree with Khawla, those burn marks look like an antimatter explosion. Plus if that’s debris that is scattered around then they look like duranium signatures.” Masuko stated as she pointed at the screen. 

“So, what is it then?” Hennessey asked the group.

Hathaway squinted her eyes at the pictures a bit more. “The debris makes it look like a Carreon ship, the hull configuration here and here.” She said as she approached the screen and tapped out what she was looking at.

“My thoughts too.” Cortez responded glumly as she crossed her arms against her chest.

A shocked silence filled the tent between them all. 

“Do you think they came for us?” Yu questioned aloud.

Ben-Ami placed her hands on her hips. “It’s a possibility, but don’t forget before we left Challenger, we were working on that theory of the Romulan telepresence computer capturing.” The doctor said, trying to justify why the Carreons had come here. She was hoping that somehow this had something to do with the Romulans trying to take control of the Carreon ship, but it’s crew had crashed their craft to prevent being completely controlled by the Romulans. “Rachelle were there any survivors?” 

“The drone didn’t detect any, however that’s not the only news from this morning’s scan.” She stated before pressing a few more buttons. “Angela I’m really sorry.” She added as the computer screen changed to show a higher resolution of the landscape as to where the crash site was. 

Hathaway breathed in with shock and placed her left hand on her mouth. “Oh no.” She said.

Everyone else was looking at Hathaway and Cortez for the answer as to what was bad now. Cortez replied for the pilot. “As you know, Angela and Rupesh have been trying to work out where Edro and Roburn are from. Based on the caves where we found them, plus what they told us about what they remembered of the landscape from where their village was located, we determined that their settlement was in this area.” She said drawing an imaginary circle around the map. “We moved one of our drones in to take a look at one of the range of mountains that Edro had described to us this morning. Before it registered the large explosion at the crash site it had detected a small settlement with life signs. Sadly the settlement is no longer there.”

That news only increased the sadness in the room. 

“Then let’s hope that wasn’t their village.” Ben-Ami remarked.

Cortez winced at the doctor’s words. “Ma’am, the drone has searched the surrounding area of where we found you and there are no other settlements nearby. We also detected the highest amount of one particular ore. I think this was where their home was.” 

No one said anything for a few seconds, but that was interrupted by the sudden arrival of Ensign Larsen. “Sorry to disturb you all,” He said as he panted to get his breath, “But you all need to get down on to the beach now.”

“Why Erik?” Hennessey asked his deputy.

“Shuttlepod One,” He replied in between breaths. “Has just landed!”

“What?” Yu said in shock and quickly followed Ben-Ami as she rushed out of the tent and down the trail they had created towards the beach.


“And that’s how we ended up here.” Conrad finished recounting their tale of how they got caught by these Ardanans. 

“To quote our distant Chief Armoury Officer: ‘Fascinating’.” Hennessey said in delight, which had a few others chuckle at his impression of Sub Commander T’Plau. “It’s good to see all four of you alive.” He added.

“Indeed.” Ben-Ami was joyful at the return of their crew. “All of you, from the sounds of it, have done us proud. Well done.” 

The four men all looked at each other, their pride showing through their current grins at finally being back with their own kind. They were all sat in the marquee, where everyone else had assembled to see them and hear what had happened to them.

Ben-Ami looked around at her people, eyes fell on Edro and Roburn who were sitting with Iyer and Hathaway on a nearby bench made out of a tree trunk. The sense of having to tell them that their home and their family were possibly dead was pulling on the strings of her heart. She quickly looked back at the four prodigal crewmen. “Gentlemen, we will find you a tent and somewhere to rest and I’m sure there are many here who want to speak to you in person.” She looked at everyone else. “Let us all celebrate this evening with a special dinner for the return of our friends.” The marquee roared with a round of cheers and applause at that idea. 

Soon after Ben-Ami found herself walking out of the marquee with the four men along with Major Yu and Hennessey. Conrad had asked to speak to them in private. She led them out and across the field towards the medical tent that was empty. “What is it gentlemen?” she asked once the door went down and gave them the chance to have some privacy.

The four men looked at each other before gazing back at her. “Ma’am,” Conrad started. “As we shared with you in there, we had help leaving Stratos, but it came with a price.”

Yu sighed. “I knew there was a catch. What happened?”

“Earlier this morning when we left the Ardanans, they detected a Carreon ship entering the system before it crashed and landed on top of one of their mining settlements.” Conrad explained.

“We picked up the same thing.” Ben-Ami revealed.

“It’s more than that ma’am.” Jenkins stated.

“Yeah, I’m afraid ma’am that the Ardanan government has dealt with aliens before, but their people are not aware of extraterrestrial life. The Ardanan High Advisor believes their society will fall apart from outside influence. They had planned to find you all and bring you in to prevent anyone else from finding out about off-worlders.” Conrad told them and got a response of confusion from his last word. 

“That’s what they call aliens.” Trommler added to clarify what an off-worlder was.

“Why the change of heart?” Ben-Ami enquired.

“Liam, you want to answer that?” Conrad said.

Jenkins nodded before speaking. “They want to deny us four ever being there. We had to agree not to make contact with them ever again and for us to ensure we stay here on the island.”

“That almost sounds like a threat.” Hennessey said.

“They didn’t say it in a threatening manner sir.” Jenkins countered back. “I can understand if it becomes public knowledge that their government knew about off-worlders, it could tear their society apart. Their government would lose confidence from the general public. Plus, we would cause mass panic and hysteria across their world and on their other cloud cities. Their beliefs and values would come into question. A similar thing happened on Earth when Vulcans made first contact, but our people were preparing themselves for deep space exploration when Zefram Cochrane flew the Phoenix at warp for the first time. They don’t even have that aspiration of journeying to the stars.” 

“So, we’ve literally met a people who place a lid on their people’s views on the universe outside of their world?” Hennessey stated. “What a ridiculous policy.”

“But it’s worked,” Conrad said. “Ma’am we need to ensure we don’t have any contact with any other Ardanans. We don’t know what the consequences would be.”

Ben-Ami winced at him. “That may be difficult.” She returned. “We rescued two boys when we first got here. They had been trapped in a cave and had lost contact with their family. But it would seem that recent evidence points to the fact that the Carreon crash landed where they came from.”

Conrad cringed at the predicament they were now in. “And if the Ardanan government doesn’t want us to get in contact with them then we have no way of being able to return them to their people.”

“On top of that the boys were pretty much slaves in those mining settlements.” Yu stated.

Once again Ben-Ami was in a tent that had fallen silent from everyone being speechless, not knowing what to say in response. She finally spoke up, “Okay everyone, give me some time and space to think about this. Dismissed.” 

They all filled out, with Yu mouthing to Ben-Ami if she was okay. She just nodded with her answer to the major. She needed time to think about their next move. Once she had given it a few minutes after her staff had left, she decided to leave the tent herself and made her way down towards the beach to take a peaceful walk alone with her thoughts.


I.G.S. Avenkerev

 

“He’s coming around.” A familiar male voice said close by.

One eye opened, followed by the other and the sudden dawn of pain hit Captain Burton at light speed as he tried to wake his entire body up. Every muscle and joint was screaming out to him not to do it, but his mind was telling him otherwise. “What…where…am I?” He muffled out as he tried to sit up but was overwhelmed with a dizzy spell that forced himself back down.

“Easy sir.” Spoke the familiar voice again.

Burton looked to his right and saw Ensign Stewart looking down at him. Challenger’s senior nurse smiled in assurance towards his captain. “Niall, what happened? Where am I?” He asked again, and this time slowly rose up from the bed he was on.

“You’re on the Avenkerev.” Stewart said. “Don’t push yourself sir, but you’ve been in a coma for almost a week now.”

Burton winced his eyes as he began to remember what happened after they ejected Challenger’s warp core. The core breach had caused a shockwave that had pummelled at their ship. A flash of memory swept through his mind of him being at the helm when it exploded and sent him flying backwards and crash landing on the deck plate with a heavy thud. He remembered Levesque calling for him, but that was it. “A coma?” He repeated for clarification.

“You hit your head pretty hard sir, I had to put you in a medically induced coma to protect you. Thankfully Commander Anthi arrived a few hours later to help out.” Stewart shared.

“The crew and ship?” Burton asked next as Sutton placed another pillow under Burton’s neck and head, so he could sit up slightly.

“All fine. Challenger is being towed by the Avenkerev.” Stewart answered. 

“How is he Niall?” Commander Levesque spoke as she approached them with Commander Stanton, Sub Commander T’Plau and Commander Anthi.

Stewart and Burton looked at the approaching party. “He’s awake and full of questions, but he still needs to rest.” 

“We’ll keep our visit brief Niall.” Stanton said.

“Make sure you do.” Stewart replied before leaving the group.

Anthi spoke up, “He’ll make an excellent chirurgeon one day.” The Andorian woman looked at her Human counterpart. “How are you feeling?”

“A bit groggy.” Burton responded. “But thank you for saving us again.”

Smiling at the sentiment, Anthi bowed her head slightly. Her antennae copied her movement. “It’s an honour to be your ally Captain Burton.”

Burton appreciated her comment and smiled at them. “So how bad is she?” He turned to ask his officers, referring to their ship.

“We’ve got repair teams over there right now working around the clock to fix as much as they can, we’re trying to secure her for warp travel back home.” Levesque said. 

“We’ve only got impulse engines and a few thrusters left, sir.” Stanton added.

“And no available tactical systems.” T’Plau included. 

“However, we are now two days away from the Minshara world that we sent the rest of the crew too.” Levesque reported, trying to bring some positivity to their conversation.

Burton accepted the latter news more than the former. “What happened to the Carreons? Did we hear any more from the Deltans?”

Anthi cleared her throat, “Would you three mind me speaking with Captain Burton alone, one commanding officer to another please?”

Burton wasn’t sure what Anthi was playing at but respected the fact that this was her ship and they were her guests. He gestured for them to leave them be. 

The Andorian commander watched as they left the infirmary before speaking. “Lloyd,” She said as she pulled up a nearby stool. “After we destroyed the Carreon communication network which was blocking our long-range subspace links we quickly headed back to Delta. Prime Minister An’die got in touch and told us to avoid coming to your help as you planned to take the Challenger and detonate your warp core to take out as much of the Carreon fleet as possible. I decided to ignore his plea and chased after you. When we detected your core breach, we thought you had gone, but when we noticed it was not near the Carreon fleet we investigated. We found you adrift and soon sent over rescue parties to help you. However, we witnessed on long range scans the fight between the Deltans and Carreons.”

“What happened?” Burton asked again.

“They fought for a long time until they destroyed each other, however the Carreons were able to launch a few nuclear warheads at Delta. One of them hit the capital city and destroyed it.” She said.

Burton closed his eyes and shook his head in disbelief at the news. “Was An’die killed?”

“We believe so. We intercepted some communication traffic between Delta and its colonies in the system. The entire capital city was destroyed and the warheads took out a number of government buildings, we think it included where Prime Minister An’die was stationed. But the devastation doesn’t end there.” Anthi remarked before taking a breath. “The Deltans had sent a small task force into the Carreon home system to attack their ship construction facilities. They were successful with their mission, but only one ship made it back home. My tactical officer believes that it will take both sides at least five if not ten years to fully recover their losses.”

“Damn it.” Burton cursed.

“We’ve also investigated what happened on board Challenger.” Anthi continued. “The Deltans had planted a programme that would mean they could detonate your warp core. I suspect it was a last-ditch effort by An’die to use you if all else failed. I suspect if the Carreon armada hadn’t invaded them then he would have encouraged you to open negotiations with the Carreons on their behalf. He probably would have used you to take out either their leadership or some worthwhile target, but we’ll never know what they had planned.”

“Have you made contact with the Deltans at all since then?” Burton wondered.

“No.” Anthi replied. “And I don’t think we should. It’s clear they’re not the allies we want right now and what’s happened to their world is a burden the Coalition couldn’t take on, especially now.”

“What makes you say that Anthi?” Burton quizzed.

“I’m afraid Lloyd that once we re-established contact with the nearest communications relay, we found out that we are at war.” Anthi answered.

“With who?” Burton asked as he tried to sit up on his elbows.

“The Romulans.”

EPILOGUE – DAY 90

Equatorial Islands, Ardana
Friday, September 5th, 2155

Fleeing exhausted and nauseous, Commander Levesque had to swiftly run out of Shuttlepod Two and empty her stomach for the third time that morning. She hadn’t been feeling well ever since they made orbit and was blaming the Andorian cuisine that wasn’t sitting right on her stomach. She had refused treatment from the Andorian doctor (or chirurgeon as they called them) stating she would get over it, but she was far from that. Unfortunately for her, others had seen it.

“Commander, are you okay?” T’Plau had asked her as she chased after the first officer once she had exited the shuttle at warp speed.

She nodded and put her hand up to tell her to give her some privacy for a moment to sort herself out. Once she was feeling almost human again, she wiped the back of her against her mouth. “I’m fine,” She groggily said. 

The chief armoury looked at her, not convinced of her statement. “Really?”

“I think it’s just a bug I’ve caught or some food poisoning.” She remarked. Until now she had been able to manage it, yet this morning when she awoke, she had been emptying her stomach for a good hour or so before reporting to the hanger bay to visit the planet. 

“Maybe you should get Doctor Ben-Ami to look at you?” She offered with some sympathy in her Vulcan voice.

“Can’t,” Levesque remarked. “She’s still overseeing the packing away of the camp.”

T’Plau raised her eyebrow at her. “A job that Major Yu could easily take over while Ben-Ami examined you.” Levesque didn’t have a chance to protest as she continued. “The medical tent is still up.” She added and gestured in the direction of the medical tent to see if the doctor was available. Levesque nodded in agreement and followed the Vulcan woman over.   


“New Mars?” Burton chuckled a bit as he looked around the campsite that his crew had put together and had lived in for almost a month now. The sun was shining brightly down on the encampment as his crew started to take down what had been their shelter. Around him smiling faces were present as he and Major Yu walked around. Nine days ago, when the Avenkerev arrived in orbit (with Challenger in tow) they had made contact with the Challenger survivors and had even detected the local inhabitants. The first shuttles down to the encampment had been met with open arms and cheers. Burton, Levesque, Stanton and T’Plau had visited their crewmates alongside Commander Anthi and some of her crew. They had been told about the inhabitants being pre-warp and not wanting to engage with “off-worlders”. It had been agreed that both crews would work hard to avoid any contact with the Ardanans while they removed their presence from their world. Now as they made the final preparations to leave the world behind, Burton cursed their situation and the need to get back home. Their quick departure prevented them from really exploring this world and he was completely disappointed at the inability to make first contact with these Ardanans himself. He had read Conrad’s report about the fact that they had the knowledge to create a warp drive but refused to use it to take them beyond their world.  Commander Anthi and he had agreed that it wasn’t worth creating another interstellar incident for the Coalition to deal with. The news about the war with the Romulans had not been shared with either crew. Anthi had been wise enough not to share it with anyone, apart from Burton of course. Both commanding officers had discussed when to tell them they also wanted to cut their losses in this area of space and head back to friendly territory as soon as possible. The Deltan-Carreon conflict was one that they couldn’t help with right now. On top of that it was unlikely that either side would be able to fight the other. They were now licking their wounds and rebuilding what they had lost.  Burton, as well as Levesque, were still feeling bitter over how the Deltan leader had used them as a ticking bomb against the Carreon armada.

“It was either that or New Vulcan and the crew felt New Mars seemed more homelike.” Yu responded to her captain. “No offence towards Sub Commander T’Plau and the Vulcans sir.”

He chuckled at that too. “I’ll keep that between us Major.” Burton said. “Unfortunately, it’s taken us nine days to recover the last of the Challenger’s escape pods. By tomorrow we’ll be back on the road home.”

Yu nodded with his assessment. “However not under our own sails.”

Wincing at her remark, Burton understood why she said it though. “Sadly not.”

The loss of the ship’s warp core had been a massive blow and once it was shared with the survivors the look of horror on their faces had been one image that Burton would never get out of his mind so quickly. Fortunately for them, the Avenkerev would tow them all the way back to Earth for their repairs and refits. Neither Anthi nor Burton had made contact with either the Imperial Guard or Starfleet to give them an update. They had felt that keeping a radio silence for now would be the best thing until they got closer to their homes. 

“Even with all of this mess we’ve been in for almost three months now, we can happily say that our entire crew have survived it sir. We’ve pushed the limits of space exploration and made first contacts with three new races we obviously needed to be aware of. We’ve also prevented another possible Romulan incursion, or at the least we’ve stopped them from having a means of taking advantage of others for their own political gains.” Yu stated.

“That’s all fair to say Major, but it’s come with its own costs. Too many people have lost their lives because of them.” He replied.

“You are right sir, yet we’re still here and that’s not no mean feat considering the circumstances.” Yu said, trying to remain positive. She paused while walking and saw something in the corner of her eye. “And I’m pretty sure they won’t argue with me either sir.” 

Burton looked over at what she had stopped for and smiled slightly at the sight. Ensign Stewart had been unable to visit the planet as he was helping the Avenkerev’s medical staff in checking over the survivors, while Corporal Jenkins had been with the rest of the MACOs who were tasked with taking down the encampment. Stewart had finally arrived with the recent shuttle and both were finally reunited. They stood together hugging each other tightly. 

“So, I heard a rumour they got engaged?” Burton stated as Yu and he started to move off again.

“You’ll be right on that one sir.” Yu answered. “Just be prepared for them to ask you to conduct the ceremony.”

Burton chuckled as they moved towards one of the last tents that remained up. “Now that’s one job as a captain I’ll be happy to conduct right now.”


“Heads up!” Hennessey shouted towards Lawson.

Lawson looked up from the case she had been packing up. She was finally happy to put all of her utensils away and take them back to the Challenger and not to use them around a campfire again. Instantly she caught a pack of playing cards flying in the air in her direction and looked up to see Ensign Hennessey approaching her. “What are these for Ned?” She asked, waving the pack of playing cards at him.

“I’m returning them to you.” He explained. “My time in office as moral officer is at an end and I’m more than happy to return it back to you!”

Lawson chuckled at the communication officer. “And I humbly accept the transfer of power back to me.” She put the cards in the case and closed the lid before giving it over to a crewmember that was packing the shuttlepod with their gear. “However, from what I hear about the state the ship is still in, I may need to call on your morale boosting expertise!”

“Well let’s hope now that all of Commander Stanton’s engineers have returned to the ship that they’ll be able to fix most of it before we get home.” Hennessey said. “I’m sure they’ll get it back to its normal happy looking place.”

“Normal perhaps, but I doubt most of our crew will consider it a happy environment just yet.” Lawson said.

“I don’t know, perhaps the laughter of children will change that.” Hennessey said as he gestured at the sight of the two Ardanan orphans they had been caring for. Edro and Roburn were being taken to see Captain Burton with Sergeant Iyer and Ensign Hathaway in one of the last remaining standing tents. 

Lawson looked at the boys with the same hope that many of the other survivors had. They were hoping that Captain Burton would agree to bring the boys with them and away from this planet that treated them like slaves. “You think he’ll say yes?” Lawson asked Hennessey.

“Burton’s a compassionate man. I can’t see him saying no.” Hennessey stated.

“He’s also got to weigh up the political ramifications of this. Starfleet Command may not like the idea of Challenger returning with some possible unwelcome guests.” Lawson said.

“Well thankfully one of their carers is related to the Commander-in-Chief.” Hennessey said before looking back down at what Lawson was packing. “Need a spare of hands to finish off here?” He offered.

Lawson shook her head out of her gaze as the boys were led into the tent with Iyer and Hathaway. “Yes please.” She gracefully accepted. 


“Captain Burton, please meet Edro and Roburn.” Ben-Ami said as Iyer and Hathaway ushered the two Ardanan boys in front of him. “Edro and Roburn, this is our leader, Captain Lloyd Burton.”

Burton automatically gave them a friendly smile and bent his knees down to greet the boys with a handshake. “So, these are the two famous cave explorers I’ve heard so much about?” He rhetorically asked. “Boys it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

They both replied with smiles and shook the captain’s hand in return. He gestured for them to come join him by sitting on a few chairs that were still left up. Yu and Ben-Ami sat down with them while Hathaway and Iyer just stood close by. 

“Boys I understand you would like to come with us?” Burton asked them.

“Yes, please sir.” Edro responded on behalf of both him and his brother. 

“Well before I make a decision I need to know if you understand that we live on a powerful ship that flies through the stars. We don’t come from this world and we will be leaving it very soon.” Burton explained. “That means if you come with us then it is very unlikely, we will ever return to your world so soon. You’ll be leaving your people behind.”

Edro nodded in acknowledgement. Ben-Ami had guessed that Edro was close to being fourteen in Earth years while Roburn was close to six. “I know that sir, but we don’t have anywhere to go.”

Burton winced slightly at that. He wanted Edro to understand there were other options for them. “Well Edro we wouldn’t leave you and Roburn here on this island alone. If you wanted to stay then we would take you to another village or even one of the cloud cities, perhaps Stratos.”

Edro shook his head. “We wouldn’t be welcomed anywhere sir. We would either be sent back down the mines or become servants to some noble family. Our parents worked hard so that neither my brother nor I would end up doing such a thing. They were saving their fortunes so they could find us a place on Stratos. My father was an artist and would have become wealthy to look after us and send us to school.”

Burton took in a breath through his nose and looked to the others. He knew what they were all thinking. He stood up and paced for a few seconds as he considered his options. “Edro we left our world to be explorers, so that we could meet new civilisations, to discover new wonders but we didn’t come out here to play with people’s lives.” Burton turned to look at the two boys. “And that’s something I need to remind myself every day.” Instantly he saw his officers beginning to protest in their body language and facial expressions. “That said though I need to believe that if two Human children were the only survivors from their own settlement’s destruction then if anyone found them, then they would care for them.” He stepped back to where the boys sat and took back his chair. “I would lose what it means to be Human if I left you behind knowing what would happen. I could no longer be a Starfleet captain, because we’re not just out here to explore, but when someone needs help then it’s in our nature to help them and that’s what we are doing here today. It’ll be our pleasure to have you join us on Challenger.” He gave them a smile.

Edro’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree at the end of the captain’s speech and automatically he jumped out of his seat and leapt onto Burton’s lap and hugged him. Roburn jumped off his seat and followed his brother. “Thank you so much sir.” Edro whispered into Burton’s ear while the others in the tent gave out a little cheer at the captain’s decision.

“You’re both welcome.” Burton said, hugging them. Once they had let go of him, Burton looked at Iyer. “Rupesh, I hear that Angela and you have been taking care of the boys?”

Iyer nodded in acknowledgement, as he stood closer to the helm officer. “We have sir and we’ve spoken about it and we are more than happy to carry on being their guardians while they are with us.”

Hathaway agreed. “Rupesh and I are prepared to arrange whatever we need to do to take care of them.”

“And I believe a number of the crew would also be happy to help out too.” Ben-Ami added.

Burton stood up. “Then let’s get them packed and back to the ship before the next shuttlepod departs.”

“Aye sir.” Iyer said with joy and he quickly ushered the boys out of the tent with Hathaway following.

Burton watched them leave the tent and stood back up as some MACOs came in to begin taking out what was left in the tent. Yu began giving out orders, allowing for Burton and Ben-Ami to walk outside without interrupting their efforts.

“That was a tough decision sir, but well done.” Ben-Ami congratulated him as they walked out of the tent’s doorway.

“Thank you, but I’m not sure what the fallout will be once we return to Earth.” Burton stated. “I’m not sure how I’m going to explain it to the brass.”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something.” Ben-Ami said as they walked across the almost naked campsite. “They have to see that the other choice you had was creating an interstellar incident with a pre-warp civilisation who had categorically told us not to get in touch with them again. The freedom of two boys is a small price to pay for being told off by the admiralty. You’ll be fine sir.”

Burton nodded in appreciation. “Oh,” He said after a few seconds, pausing and looking around to see if he could see someone. “Where did Nicole and T’Plau end up? I thought they were going to join us for that?”

“Well sir,” Ben-Ami began, coughing as she delayed her answer. “Commander Levesque wasn’t well and Sub Commander T’Plau took her back to the ship to rest.”

Frowning, Burton became worried at the news of his first officer’s ill health. “Nothing too serious I hope?”

“No, no,” Ben-Ami stuttered. “I think it’s exhaustion and a few other factors related to what stress we’ve been under. I’m pretty certain she’s just pushed herself too far, but I will check up on her when we get back soon.”

Burton wasn’t completely convinced at first but decided to relent. He was too tired to find out if Ben-Ami was covering something up. However, knowing Levesque as well as he did, she was quite a proud and private person when it came to her health. She had told him once she hated being ill, especially if it affected her work. She had most likely hidden her condition to him just so he didn’t think she was letting him down. “Understood.” He said as they waded through some grass that reached up to their knees. “Well the sooner we leave here the better. I’m eager to get back on the road home.”

“You won’t hear an argument from me sir about that. It was a nice vacation spot with a beautiful skyline, but nothing quite beats seeing stars warp pass you while you sleep!” Ben-Ami stated as they made their way over to one of the shuttlepods that had landed to take them back to Challenger.