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Part of USS Endeavour: There Must Be Wonders, Too and Bravo Fleet: Labyrinth

There Must Be Wonders, Too – 4

Bridge, USS Endeavour
September 2401
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The dim lights of yellow alert flared as Kharth rushed onto the bridge. She was almost impressed they had the power for a different alert condition. ‘What do we have?’

‘All I know right now is it’s… a ship,’ said Logan through gritted teeth. ‘Probably somewhere in the destroyer size category. Don’t got the processing power for more details.’

Destroyer implies it’s a military vessel, Commander,’ Airex chided. ‘It could be anything.’

‘I want enough power for shields,’ said Kharth, cutting off the dispute as she stood in the centre of the bridge. She’d assumed the captain’s chair when everything had gone wrong before. That felt like a lifetime ago now. Valance’s lifetime. ‘I’m not taking any chances.’

‘Got it,’ said Logan and added, a moment later, ‘Shields up.’

‘They’re too far away for comms at the moment,’ Kally reported.

‘Power signature from them is hot,’ Logan warned. ‘They got a lot of systems burning.’

‘I’m assuming,’ Kharth said to Lindgren, ‘we didn’t get warp back in the last few minutes.’

‘No, Commander.’

‘They’re hailing us.’

Kharth gave Kally a sharp nod, and the viewscreen changed. It was just as well Endeavour had ventured into the Delta Quadrant a year ago. Her preparatory reading was the only reason she recognised the alien face that appeared, brown-skinned and lizard-like features encased in gunmetal-blue armour.

I am Venor,’ the Hirogen said, voice a low growl. ‘Alpha of my pack. Who… are you?

‘Oh,’ murmured Lindgren. She’d likely done the reading, too. ‘That’s not good.’

Kharth stepped forward, making sure she was the centre of attention. ‘I’m Commander Kharth of the Federation starship Endeavour. Hold your position, Venor, and do not think to interfere with our operations.’ It was her first time interacting with a member of a species that were more myth than anything else, a distant power. And there she was, posturing to keep them at bay. Somewhere, one of her Academy professors was crying.

‘They’ve stopped,’ Lindgren confirmed as Venor gestured to something off-screen.

But the Alpha’s gaze quickly returned to her. ‘Your operation seems to be repair-work, Kharth. But nevermind that. Federation.’ He said the word like he was tasting it, chin tilting up. ‘I’ve heard so much about you. And here you are. How? Why?

It probably wouldn’t do, Kharth thought, to volunteer the existence of a network of tunnels that could take famous hunters anywhere in the galaxy. Even if they were volatile and dangerous. She muted the line. ‘Charge weapons.’

Logan sucked his teeth. ‘Can’t confirm we can fire ‘em…’

‘Redirecting power,’ Centurion Caede butted in crisply from where he sat at Ops. ‘Logan’s right. But it might fool their sensors.’

Kharth gave a sharp nod, and returned her gaze to the Hirogen, unmuting. ‘I can’t answer that,’ she said crisply. ‘You should see now you shouldn’t assume that just because we’ve taken a few hits, we’re defenceless. I know you’ve heard of Voyager. We’re a lot nastier than Voyager.’

No doubt, a ship of your size.’ Venor’s eyes raked over her. ‘And you. What are you?’ She hesitated but he pressed on. ‘A Vulcan? I hear your strength is impressive.

‘Sure,’ said Kharth. This wasn’t time to nitpick. ‘Don’t test it.’

But the Hirogen’s eyes lit up. ‘Oh, you are magnificent, aren’t you? Not just your ship, not just in all your wandering. You, Kharth. Magnificent.

‘He’s powering up his weapons,’ growled Logan.

You now have a new operation, Endeavour.’ Venor’s voice lowered in pitch, raking across the comms link to reverberate across the bridge. ‘A simpler one: give me a good hunt.’ The viewscreen dropped his image, showing instead the approach of the predatory Hirogen ship.

‘They’re firing!’

‘Evasive action!’ The deck surged as Endeavour swung to life, but still they were hit. Kharth felt the shudder run through the ship of energy weapons on shields wrapped around shaky foundations.

‘That weren’t good,’ snapped Logan. ‘Shields already down to sixty percent. With our structural integrity field down, we got no resilience when they drop.’

‘Lindgren, tell me we can go to warp.’

‘Sorry, Commander!’

Kharth’s fist clenched. ‘Fuck it! Back into the aperture!’

Colour drained from Airex’s face. ‘I’ve only had a probe at the opening reading the tachyon flows for fifteen minutes. There is no way we can retrace our footsteps.’

‘But we can be not here, and maybe lose them in the tunnels. Lost is lost.’ This time, she didn’t hesitate to throw herself back into the command chair. ‘Helm, go! Tactical, give them a volley and let us get some distance!’

She felt the ship’s hull creak through the deck as they swerved, saw the flash of Hirogen weapons fire miss them by far too little, heard the plink on Logan’s systems confirming they’d fired torpedoes in retribution. Ahead, the swirling bronze maelstrom of the aperture to Underspace shone, not a threat this time, but an escape hatch.

It was clear that if they were fighting fit, the Hirogen ship would have been little match for them. They could have blasted them apart or sped away without incident. As it was, onward they limped, and the deck shook again as the gravitational distortions of the aperture clenched around them.

‘Go! Go!’

They juked to the side as the Hirogen fired again, and a sparking explosion off their port side confirmed that Airex’s probe had been destroyed. Then the maelstrom opened its maw, and back into the passageways they rocketed.

‘Go with the flow,’ Kharth barked. ‘Anywhere is better than here. Stay out of trouble, lose the Hirogen, and get us out once you think we’re clear.’

Airex looked up at Caede ‘Give me as much power as you can spare to the sensors array; we’ve no hope of retracing our footsteps if we don’t have a complete picture of navigational conditions on our route.’

What, Kharth wondered, would they have to cut to do that? Thawn would have figured it out, sliced the margins from the near-essential to fuel the essential. But she was in engineering, stopping them from tearing apart at the seams. She did not yet have the measure of Centurion Caede, but he was no Rosara Thawn.

Indeed, the Romulan soldier gave a low growl. ‘First priority’s the SIF so we don’t get blown apart. We can chase breadcrumbs later.’

‘Do what you can!’ Kharth interrupted. ‘Are they following us?’

‘Impossible to say!’ Logan called. The ship rocked, the flows of Underspace buffeting them mercilessly.

Airex made another frustrated noise. ‘I’m detecting another egress point ahead. We shouldn’t stay in here.’

‘We don’t know if we’ve lost them.’ Caede gripped his control panel hard to stay steady.

Go,’ Kharth ordered. Escaping the Hirogen only to be blown apart by Underspace was not what she’d had in mind. Lindgren had already ridden the tunnels, and by the fact this trip was less shaky, was clearly more confident navigating their ebbs and flows. The Hirogen might not have such a smooth ride.

‘Leaving!’ Lindgren confirmed, and, as the shuddering of Endeavour’s deck seemed to hit a crescendo, they burst out of the bronze chambers of the swirling corridors, and back into normal space.

Or so Kharth thought. As the maelstrom of Underspace faded, the viewscreen filled not with the diamonds on velvet of stars in deep space. Instead sprawled clouds, ebbing and flowing in blues, purples, pinks, stretching deep, deep across whatever passed for the cosmos’s horizon. Rather than the pinprick of distant stars, balls of light the size of her clenched fist pulsed faintly, brightening the clouds; elsewhere, pockets of dust cast deep silhouettes of vibrant, moody violet and navy.

Kharth stood. ‘What…’

‘We’re in a stellar nursery,’ said Airex, looking up from his controls. His voice was hushed, almost reverent. ‘It’s a region of… protostars, dust, gases. The stuff of stars. We appear to have emerged somewhere at its periphery and our sensors aren’t giving me a complete idea of its scope, but it probably stretches for several light-years.’

‘I’m reading gas clouds nearby,’ piped up Lindgren. ‘Fluctuating magnetic and gravitational fields from the protostars. Navigating this could be tricky.’

Kharth turned to Logan. ‘Any sign of the Hirogen?’

‘Not yet,’ he said, eyes glinting in the gloom of the bridge. ‘Doesn’t mean they couldn’t track us.’

Lindgren looked over her shoulder. ‘Can’t we go to ground here? Hide and repair?’

Logan’s expression pinched. ‘Commander, I ain’t sure we’re in a condition to run into a different stellar phenomenon. One dust cloud too many, an’ our integrity field ain’t gonna hold it.’

‘I can chart us a route.’ Airex turned towards them both, shoulders setting. ‘I didn’t get much on the Hirogen ship, but we have information about their vessels on record. I can identify a part of the nursery we can go to ground where they will struggle to find us and, maybe, where their ship won’t be as resilient. If we get shields back to full, we can hide nearly on top of a protostar -’

‘Our shields ain’t up to full,’ Logan countered. ‘We don’t need to go wandering into something we don’t know. I say we drop into one of these nearby gas clouds, drop to low power, and wait. Keep weapons trained on the aperture. Repair. And if those Hirogen show themselves, we take ‘em out.’

‘And if we can’t, as you say, “take them out,”’ said Airex brusquely, ‘then we have a fight on our hands. If they’re following us, they won’t be long. We wait this out.’ His eyes flickered back to Kharth.

Kharth hesitated. Her instincts didn’t tell her to agree with Logan, so much as to advocate for what he was saying. If Valance were here, she’d have likely nodded along. But that would have been with the trust and expectation that the captain would weigh up the downsides, assess how much risk lay in either plan, and decide accordingly. It was very different when she had to make the decision – difficult to weigh up the risks, and difficult to know if she was second-guessing herself. Why was what she’d believe as an XO different from what she’d do as a CO?

But it was different.

Lindgren shifted in the silence. ‘Endeavour has some of the most sophisticated maneuvering thrusters in the galaxy. We don’t need too much power for me to follow any flight plan perfectly.’

‘If the flight plan is perfect,’ pointed out Caede. ‘Drop some mines here, hurt them as they come out, plan the ambush right. We can maybe hit them.’ He didn’t sound wholly convinced, but rather like a man who preferred the certainty to a risky fight than the vagueries of the unknown.

The certainties were not, however, reassuring Kharth. An ambush had a lot of variables. So did navigating deeper into the stellar nursery, but there was one key factor.

She turned to Airex. ‘You can plot a route.’

His stance remained firm. ‘I’ll find us a safe haven.’

Logan shifted. ‘I don’t -’

‘Discussion’s over.’ Her hesitation had let them think this was a democracy. It was too much to suggest Kharth felt like she was in charge. She felt, in fact, like Valance was in the next room and once this was done, she was going to have to go and explain herself. But adrenaline still shot through her veins, keeping her moving, and for all that she doubted, she knew that doubt couldn’t be allowed to sink into the crew.

‘Airex, plot a course. Find us somewhere to hide.’ She looked at the captain’s chair. Without desperation robbing her of her thoughtfulness, she did not want to sit in it again. She turned to the viewscreen, where the vastness of the nursery stretched out, the birthplace of stars shining bright to promise them salvation or destruction. ‘Time to live to fight another day.’

Comments

  • A game of cat and mouse with the Hirogen through the Underspace? What ever could go wrong? Not sure it was a good idea to posture with the Hirogen. They like a good hunt, and Venor hit on all the notes we’ve come to know and love from the hunters. I enjoyed the race back into the aperture after that, and now that they’ve found themselves in a star nursery, I’m left wondering - same as the crew themselves - whether we’re going to see Venor again. The Hirogen are excellent hunters, but the Underspace is not their domain.

    June 20, 2024
  • I loved the way you are tussling with the Hirogen. I remember a story I did with the Hirogen and I love that you chose to give the Hirogens what they love a hunt that will test them. I am really interested to see where this is going to go after the ship went back into an aperture. Are the Hirogen going to find the ship? Or will they perish trying to navigate the Underspace.

    June 21, 2024
  • The examination of Kharth when wearing the big pants is fascinating. Cutting off the debate on the bridge in an emergency is a key skill and I question is it something Kharth is skilled in, or a natural inclination? That'll be interesting to see develop and evolve through the story and over time in general. The command pressures, the snap judgements and the decisions she had to make all really testing that command mindset. I'm here for it. I'll wager Logan is the one going to have the most issue perhaps? That'll be another fascinating development - who has taken issue with Kharth's decisions? Who raises those issues? Public or private? And then how does Kharth deal with them? My money is on Logan and Airex. I think Caede 'gets it' but hey, he could be some sort of wild card, right?

    June 21, 2024
  • The hunt is on! How good are the Hirogen at navigating Underspace, they certainly love a good hunt and the Endeavour might just give them one they'll regret starting. This is proving to be a real test for Kharth. Will she make the right decisions, and who will back her up or tell her straight when she's wrong?

    June 22, 2024