Return to The Belt
Day 1: 0712 Zulu
Borden’s Quarters, Deck 4, USS Elysion
Tarabella Borden fell back onto the mattress, her pulse pounding, her body glistening with sweat. A broad smile crossed her face as she turned her head to look at the naked form of the man who lay next to her. John Hobbes laughed at the expression on the younger woman’s face.
“You enjoyed yourself,” he panted, his words a statement rather than a question.
Borden’s smile widened even further. “It wasn’t bad,” she admitted.
“Wasn’t bad?!” Hobbes asked incredulously. “Seriously?!”
Borden laughed as she brushed a loose comma of dark hair from her forehead. “Wow. Wounded male pride there?” She leaned towards him and tenderly kissed his bearded cheek.
“It was better than ‘wasn’t bad’ wasn’t it? Admit it,” Hobbes maintained, his eyes narrowing in mock-annoyance.
“Well, you did pretty well for an old guy,” Borden conceded.
“An old guy?…” Hobbes rolled his eyes.
“Technically, you’re old enough to be my father,” Borden reminded him with a raised eyebrow.
“That’s it,” Hobbes stated. “Now you’re going to pay.” His hands grabbed at her waist and he pulled her towards him and began to tickle her.
“No!” screamed Borden with laughter. “Stop it! Hobbes! Stop it! I mean it!” Both of them collapsed into peals of laughter. She lay her head on his chest and he held her close to him.
“Bella?” Hobbes ventured.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to say…”
Borden propped herself up in one elbow, her interest piqued. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. You see…”
“XO, Bridge.” The voice from the internal communicator cut through the private moment without warning. Hobbes sighed and rolled to the edge of the bed to rummage through the tangled pile of clothing that lay discarded on the bedroom floor. Eventually, he found what he was looking for and rolled back to lay beside Borden once more, the gold-coloured communicator in his hand. Borden looked at him with amusement.
“Saved by the bell?” she suggested. She took the communicator from her lover’s open palm and tapped it. “Bridge, XO. Go ahead.”
“Commander Borden, we’ve just received our orders from Odyssey. Commodore Marshall-Bennet has ordered all Task Force vessels to be at the Ready Line by 0815 Zulu.”
“Understood. Recall all hands and contact the captain. I’m on my way. Borden out” She kissed Hobbes softly on the mouth. “Sorry, Hobbes. Gotta go to work,” she murmured.
“After a shower?” Hobbes replied, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
“After a shower,” Borden agreed. “A quick one.”
“Whatever you say, ma’am,” replied Hobbes as he kissed her again.
Day One: 0738 Zulu
Ivy Terrace Restaurant, Civilian Sector, Starbase 38
Rear Admiral Matthew Cody leaned back in his chair and sipped his coffee as he examined the younger man seated opposite him across the table. The restaurant was doing a brisk business in breakfasts already, and waiting staff moved deftly between the tables to take orders and deliver plates of food and pots of coffee to the early morning clientele. The admiral glanced out of the panoramic picture window which framed a number of Starfleet and civilian vessels anchored at the various sized berths of the starbase’s primary docking ring. His eyes rested on the sleek lines of USS Elysion. He turned back to the younger man.
“So that’s it?” he asked, hoping that he had managed to keep the irritation from his voice but realising as he heard his own words that he’d failed.
“Yes sir,” replied his companion. “That’s my decision.”
“You’re going straight back out to the Delta Quadrant,” the admiral shook his head. “No break, no leave. No time to see the people who care about you.”
The younger man nodded in response. “I’m sorry, Dad. But it’s my job. My ship needs me. My captain needs me. Surely you of all people must understand that?”
The admiral sighed. He did understand. But it didn’t make his son’s decision to return with Elysion to the Delta Quadrant almost immediately after returning to Starbase 38 any easier to accept.
“Well, at least we had some time together on the trip back from Delta-Bravo. And some quality father-son time here on the station while you were waiting for that damn wormhole to reopen again.”
His son smiled. “We did. You’ll be here when we return to the Alpha Quadrant?”
“No,” Admiral Cody shook his head. “I have six days here, then I’m heading back to Earth.”
“In that case, we’ll all get together as soon as we can then,” his son said, placatingly. Admiral Cody nodded in acceptance. An operations petty officer made his way through the sea of tables towards the two men.
“Excuse me, Admiral,” he ventured. “I’m looking for Lieutenant Henry Cody?”
The admiral gestured towards his son with an open palm and sat back in his seat with resignation.
“I’m Harry Cody,” said the younger man.
“Commander Borden’s compliments, sir,” said the petty officer stiffly. “The commander requests that you return to Elysion at your earliest opportunity and prepare for immediate departure.”
Harry Cody looked at his father with sadness. “I’m sorry Dad.” He gestured at their unfinished breakfast. His father forced a smile.
“It’s fine. There’ll be other breakfasts. Go. Go.”
Day 1: 0740 Zulu
Transporter Room 1, Deck 5, USS Elysion
Yeoman 2nd Class Lehx Brail faced the transporter platform with anticipation, a padd gripped tightly on one hand.
“Got him,” muttered Transporter Chief Drex from his station. “Here he comes.”
The familiar shimmering sound of the transporter beam filled the compartment, accompanied by a bright light, as a tall figure materialised on the platform. As the sound faded away, Captain Jonathan Ransom stepped down into the transporter room, adjusting his uniform cuffs as he did so.
“Thank you, Chief,” he said with a nod to the NCO operating the console. He smiled at his yeoman. “Hey, Lehx.”
“Good morning sir,” Brail replied. Her tone and words were more formal, but she was unable to prevent herself from smiling. She offered him the padd. “Commodore Marshall-Bennet’s orders, sir.”
Ransom took them and set off at pace through the doorway and into the companionway beyond, with Brail hurrying to catch up and keep pace with him. Ransom glanced through the orders on the padd as he walked, his brow furrowing as he read his instructions from the Task Force commander.
“Good morning sir,” said a passing petty officer. “Welcome back.”
“Morning, Wylie,” Ransom replied, looking up from the screen. “Thanks”. Turbolift doors parted as Ransom and Brail approached. “Bridge,” Ransom instructed the computer. The doors closed with a hiss and the turbolift car shot upwards.
Ransom handed the padd back to Brail. “Alright.” He considered what he had just read. “I want all department heads in the bridge briefing room at 0800. It’ll be a quick meeting. Make sure they’re all aware that we need to be on the ready line before 0900. We’re the first vessel to go through the wormhole.”
“Aye sir,” Brail nodded with brisk efficiency. The turbolift doors opened to reveal the sights and sounds of Elysion’s main bridge. Ransom felt his heart begin to beat faster as he stepped out onto the bridge. His bridge.
“Captain on the bridge,” came the baritone voice of Elysion’s command master chief, Josiah Banquo. A dozen pairs of eyes turned to face Ransom. Lieutenant Commander Borden stood up from the XO’s seat and smiled.
“Welcome back, Captain,” she said with genuine warmth.
“Good to be back, Commander,” he responded. “I’m going to brief the department heads now. You’ve seen our orders?”
“I have,” Borden admitted. She crossed the bridge with him and both officers entered the small bridge briefing room. Ransom moved to the far end of the table and ran one hand along the high back of the chair which he normally occupied. Borden took the seat to his immediate right and the two of them talked business for a while as the ship’s other senior officers drifted in to take their places around the table. As usual, Master Chief Banquo took his place opposite the captain.
“All present, sir,” he reported.
“Thank you, Master Chief.” Ransom looked around at each of his officers in turn. The blonde-haired, pale-skinned Layla Thorne who looked after tactical, the Deltan conn officer Luel Colia, Luce Rayas who ran her operations team with unsurpassed efficiency, the vastly experienced engineer John Hobbes, the veteran medical officer Peter Valentine, and the Vulcan science officer Talak. All of them gazed back at him, their expressions ranging from detached curiosity to excited expectation.
“Thank you all for sparing me ten minutes,” Ransom continued. “I know you’re all finishing up your departure preparations – and we still need to be on the ready line by 0900 Zulu, ahead of the wormhole opening. We’ve been assigned a sector of the Gradin Belt to…”
He paused as the door slid open to reveal a blonde-haired human female wearing command red. She stepped wordlessly into the room, the door closing behind her.
“Hi,” said Ransom, glancing at Borden.
“Hello,” replied the newcomer.
“Can I help you?” Ransom asked.
The woman seemed to consider the question for a moment. She frowned. “I don’t think so, Captain. I’m not aware of needing any help.”
“Ah, Captain Ransom – this is Lieutenant Commander Alice Winters,” Borden explained hastily. “Our new strategic operations officer. She came aboard this morning.”
Ransom nodded and smiled at the newcomer. “Of course. My apologies, Commander. Welcome aboard.” He indicated the remaining empty chair to Banquo’s right. “Please – take a seat.”
Winters looked momentarily confused, looking first at the indicated seat and then back to Ransom. “Where would you like me to take it, sir?”
Ransom frowned. Borden and Hobbes exchanged a glance. Doctor Valentine tried – and failed – to keep a wry smile from his face. Master Chief Banquo stood up and pulled out the empty seat.
“Why don’t you sit down, ma’am?”
Winters looked at Banquo and realisation dawned on her face. “Oh. Yes, of course. Thank you.” She sat down.
Ransom smiled at her again and laid both palms flat on the table before him. “As I was saying – we’ve been assigned a sector of the Gradin Belt to survey, but before we begin that part of our mission, Commodore Marshall-Bennet has asked us to check in with the Dagmari colony at Selwar II. They have been sending colony updates and supply requests to the Turei on Mithrar Anchorage every thirty days. They missed their last update – and nobody has heard from the colony now for fifty-two days. It may be nothing, but we check in with the Dagmari first, then we start exploring the sector.”
There were nods of understanding around the room. Winters spoke up.
“Who are the Dagmari?”
“They’re an indigenous species to the Gradin Belt. The star in their home system is dying and they estimate it to have less than a hundred years of life remaining. The Dagmari have sent out colony ships to dozens of lifeless worlds with the objective of creating a number of viable colonies to evacuate their people to before their star dies. We first met the Dagmari on Selwar II during our last visit to the Delta Quadrant. I like to think of them as friends.” Ransom looked around the room. “Anyone else?”
“Sir,” began tactical officer Thorne. “Have the Turei – or anyone else – sent a ship to investigate?”
Ransom shook his head. “No. Which to be honest is what I’ve come to expect from the Turei. They’re leaving it to us.”
Hobbes grunted in response but didn’t offer an opinion. Ransom pursed his lips as he looked at each department head in turn.
“Anything else? Last chance.”
There was a general murmur to the negative and several shakes of heads.
“Alright,” Ransom concluded. “Remember – ready line at 0900. Keep your teams informed. Dismissed.”
Day 1: 0856 Zulu
Main Bridge, Deck 1, USS Elysion
Captain Jack Ransom sat comfortably, his right leg casually crossed over the left, in the centre seat of the three in the command area of Elysion’s main bridge as he watched the icons move around the holographic image projected from the low free-standing pedestal before him.
Each holographic icon represented a vessel assigned to Task Force 17 – and those that were gold in colour represented those starships attached to Task Group 38. Ransom watched as the Atlantia-class USS Sheffield took up position off Elysion’s starboard quarter. Elysion was to be the first vessel into the wormhole and Ransom had reasoned that if there was anything… unwelcoming waiting for them at the other end, then he wanted something like Commander Jonas Flanigan’s cruiser – and her significant tactical resources – close by to support.
“Five minutes to wormhole opening,” Lieutenant Commander Borden announced to the bridge crew as she moved from the port-side communications station to the curved conn & ops console situated ahead of the command area. Borden was continuing her circuit of the bridge stations, checking on the status of each and providing calming words and reassuring smiles to those who needed them. At just 27 years old, Bella Borden was a first-time executive officer – but Ransom had seen maturity, ambition, and intelligence in the young woman when they had first met. Another major factor in his decision to appoint her as Elysion’s new executive officer was her sociable nature and natural empathy – a characteristic which Ransom himself sometimes lacked.
The voice of Elysion’s second officer Lieutenant Commander Layla Thorne sounded from her position at the tactical console directly behind the command area, her tone, as usual, clear and business-like. “Shields and deflectors configured for wormhole transit, Captain.”
“Thank you, Commander,” Ransom acknowledged without turning. He remained motionless for several moments, savouring the anticipation of the journey they were about to begin. Ransom looked around at his bridge crew as they worked, with a feeling of immense pride mixed with the natural anxiety that he always experienced at the start of a mission. He let the sights and sounds of starship bridge operations wash over him as he forced himself to relax and enjoy the moment. He looked over to where his senior enlisted advisor sat at his station on the port-side of the bridge.
“Chief of the Boat. Status all decks if you please.”
Master Chief Banquo gave his panel a final check before giving his commanding officer a firm nod in confirmation. “All decks standing by, Captain.”
“All stations ready for departure sir,” Borden announced as she took the vacant seat to Ransom’s right.
“Thank you, XO,” he responded. “Ensign Shanko, open a channel to Starbase 38.”
The Arkenite communications officer nodded, his fingers responding to Ransom’s order. “Channel open, sir.”
“Starbase 38, this is Captain Ransom of Elysion. The wormhole will be opening in a few moments. Please confirm our departure.”
“This is Starbase 38,” the rasping tones of Ransom’s mentor and former teacher John McBride came over the speakers. “Your departure is confirmed. May the wind always be at your back, and the sun upon your face, Elysion.”
Ransom smiled at the older man’s unusual whimsical message. Maybe the crusty old man was getting soft in his dotage?
“Thank you, 38. We’ll bring you back a souvenir. Ransom out.”
“Captain,” called out Science Officer Talak from his position behind and to the right of the command area. “I am detecting increased verteron and neutrino emissions. I estimate one minute until wormhole opening.”
“Keep me appraised,” Ransom replied to the Vulcan officer. “Mister Shanko, on the 1-MC.”
The communications officer opened the ship-wide channel and nodded to the captain in confirmation.
“All hands, this is the captain. The wormhole is about to open and we will shortly be commencing our journey to the Delta Quadrant. I wanted to take this opportunity before we departed to say thank you for all that you – that we all – have already achieved as a crew to get our vessel ready in such a short period of time.” Ransom paused before continuing. “I can’t tell you what we will see and experience as we return to the Delta Quadrant – but what I can tell you is that as always, I continue to be so incredibly proud to be leading this crew, wherever we are in the galaxy. This is the captain.”
“Thirty seconds,” reported Borden, glancing up from her screen.
“XO’s calculations are confirmed,” intoned the Vulcan science officer.
On the main screen showing the view ahead of Elysion, a shimmering effect was now noticeable as the area of space where the mouth of the wormhole would soon materialise began to rotate slowly in a clockwise direction.
“Chief of the Boat,” said Ransom. “Set Condition 2 throughout the ship. Blue Alert.”
A warning klaxon sounded once and the standard bridge lighting was replaced instantly by the subdued, cool glow of the blue alert lights.
Ahead, the main viewer showed the clockwise rotation of space accelerate momentarily, then with a flash, the wormhole was open. Elysion’s bridge crew fell silent, the only background sounds being those of a Starfleet vessel in operation.
The wormhole opening pulsed slightly like a huge maw.
Ransom gripped the arms of his seat in anticipation. “Sensors?”
A pause. Then: “No contacts, Captain. The wormhole is clear.” Talak glanced at Thorne. “You may relax your trigger finger, Commander.”
Ransom and Borden exchanged an amused look. Was that Talak’s attempt at humour?
“Thank you, Commander Talak,” turning his attention to the viewer once more, Ransom leaned forward in his seat and addressed the conn officer. “Lieutenant Colia – ahead one-half impulse. Take us in.”
At her position at the flight control station, the Deltan officer had been waiting for the order. A smile crossed her face as her hands played across conn panel. “Aye, sir. Ahead one-half impulse.”
Elysion moved slowly forwards towards the wormhole, accelerating as she went.
“Captain,” Talak spoke up as he peered into the scope which extended up from the science console. “We will cross the horizon of the wormhole in twelve seconds.”
Ransom nodded in response as he watched the wormhole approach on the viewer. The seconds ticked away in silence. A small judder passed through the ship and Colia adjusted a control on the conn station to compensate.
Suddenly phosphorescent ribbons of bright blue light flecked through with white began to stream towards the viewer and then Elysion was travelling through the wormhole to the opposite side of the galaxy.
“We are inside the wormhole,” reported Colia unnecessarily. She glanced at a display. “Exiting in one minute, thirty-two seconds.”
Ransom exhaled slowly, suddenly aware that he had been holding his breath. He smiled. Everything was going to plan so far. To his right, Borden was checking the status of the ship, deck by deck and system by system. She looked at him with a grin. “All systems and sub-systems are functioning within operating parameters,” she reported with satisfaction.
“Very well,” responded Ransom quietly. He unconsciously chewed at the thumbnail of his right hand as he watched the wormhole ribbons streaming by.
And then they were gone. Normal space filled the viewscreen once more – a view which looked no different to the one that they had just left, less than two minutes but 45,000 light-years behind them.
“We’re in the Gradin Belt,” Lieutenant Rayas reported as she looked up from the navigational sensors of her ops console.
“Exactly as we’re supposed to be,” noted Ransom. “Chief of the Boat, secure from Blue Alert. Mister Shanko – please confirm each department’s status with division officers.” The bridge lighting returned to normal as he spoke, and on the viewscreen the Delta Quadrant lay before them, ready to be explored. Ransom stood.
“Mister Talak, perform a long-range scan if you please. Let’s find out if there’s anybody close by. Miss Rayas – how long will the wormhole remain open for?”
“Another eleven minutes, forty-two seconds sir,” replied the Deltan officer, checking her panel.
“Good. Upload our transit log to Delta-One and send it back to Starbase 38 before the wormhole closes. I’d like them to know we all arrived safely.”
“There are no contacts on long-range sensors,” reported Talak.
“Captain,” said Ensign Shanko. “All decks have reported in. No problems identified.”
“Thank you, Ensign,” replied Ransom. “On the 1-MC.”
“Aye, sir. Channel open.”
Ransom stood in the centre of the bridge; his hands clasped firmly together behind his back.
“Crew of Elysion, this is Ransom. The good news is that we all got here safely and without any problems. Our work starts from now. You all have your pre-agreed mission objectives – all that remains for me to say is do not forget that while we’re here in the Delta Quadrant, all we have is each other. Remember to talk to each other regularly – talk to your NCOs and talk to your officers. We’re a long way from home and we’re all we have.” Ransom paused, his face grave. “I know you’re all eager to start our mission… so I’ll leave it there. Thank you. This is the captain.”
He looked to his conn officer. “Lieutenant Colia – you have the coordinates of the Dagmari colony?”
The Deltan conn officer turned in her seat to face him. “I do sir. May I remind the captain that the coordinates are on the edge of Hirogen space…”
“They are indeed, Lieutenant,” Ransom agreed. “Set a course, if you please. Warp five.”
“Aye sir,” Colia responded, turning back to her console.
Ransom looked at Borden. “You ready, XO?” he asked with a grin. Borden grinned back at him.
“I am, Captain,” she replied.
“Course laid in, sir,” Colia confirmed from the conn. “Ready to engage on your mark.”
Ransom settled comfortably back in his seat to face the viewscreen and the expanse of the Delta Quadrant that lay enticingly ahead of them.
“Alright, Lieutenant… Punch it.”