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Part of Challenger: While The Iron Is Hot


Challenger NX-03, en-route to Denobula
Saturday February 8th, 2155
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Commander Stanton was working in the transporter theory lab, attempting to ascertain how the most recent transporter accident had occurred. His solution had caused the loss of the specimen container to be avoided, but he was intensely curious on how the transporter beam could have energized the containment field. He was always fascinated by the theoretical approach to engineering, certainly preferring it to the physical labour of actually building an engine, and was the only engineer currently working on the project.

“Hmm,” he murmured, running both of his hands through his dark, curly hair, as he read a display.

Engineering to Commander Stanton. We need you down here,” came a voice over the communications system.

“Why?” Stanton asked airily, as he pushed the answer button on the nearest comm panel.

Uh… You’ll need to see for yourself, sir.” the response came. Stanton frowned, but got up from his seat and left the room.

After a few moments, he found himself walking through the hatchway into the upper level of engineering. He was greeted by a state of general disarray as his staff ran around attempting to solve something.

“Report,” he said, in a confused tone, as he came up to the ensign at the reactor control station.

“Uh… Well, sir, we think we have a virus in the engineering control systems,” Ensign Peterson reported, as he gestured to the controls in front of him. The display was in Vulcan. “Everything’s in Vulcan,” the ensign added. Stanton looked at the young blond man for a moment, before looking at the screen.

“Yes,” Stanton replied. “A virus?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. We’ve spent about five minutes trying to fix it… and that’s what we think it is,” he replied.

“Can any of you read Vulcan?” the chief engineer asked, looking around at his staff. None of them spoke up. “Vulcans don’t write viruses. And it hasn’t destroyed the ship,” Stanton said, after another moment of thought. “No, not a virus,” he decided. “The engineering computer isn’t programmed to render Vulcan text, either… the only computer on the ship, that is, is the communications sub-processor, it’s loaded with the universal translator,” he said aloud.

 “Yeah-,” the ensign tried to interject.

“Why would the universal translation software be loaded into the engineering computer,” Stanton wondered. “Access to the controls for the computer are on the starboard side of D Deck, communications on the port,” he said. At that point, several of the junior officers were looking at him, wide-eyed as he talked to himself. “Communications officer, can’t remember his name, must have tried to update the software, and accidentally uploaded a copy to the wrong sub-processing cluster!”

“That makes sense.” the ensign said, after a moment.

“Yes, it does,” Stanton agreed, as he reached for the communications panel. “We can’t just wipe that sub-processor core, though, as the ship would… explode. We’ll need someone who can understand Vulcan, so that we can switch it back to English,” he said, before hitting the button. “Engineering to Communications. We need Ensign…” he started, but trailed off.

“Hennessy, sir,” Petty Officer Johnson supplied.

“We need Ensign Hennessy down here on the double,” the commander said.

Ned Hennessy sat at his station on the bridge, reviewing a list of tasks, some of which he had assigned to himself, and the rest he had delegated to the Xenolinguistics Specialist, whom he had not yet met. He knew only by the officer’s electronic signature that his name was “C. Johnson,” as he had seen it already on several progress reports.

He was about to move on to C. Johnson’s next report on the latest universal translation software upload when he heard his name being called over the ship’s public address.

“Ensign Hennessy to engineering immediately. Ensign Hennessy to engineering.”

Hennessey heaved a sigh and rose from his chair. “What could they possibly need from me in engineering?”

Several engineers gathered around a console muttering to themselves when they heard a voice approaching from behind.

“I’m Ned Hennessy. Someone called for me?”

“Yes,” Stanton said, turning his head around to look at him. “All of my consoles are in Vulcan. I need them not to be since none of us can read Vulcan,” he explained, before turning completely around. “I think the universal translation program is in the wrong computer cluster.”

“Hmm.” Hennessy narrowed his eyes, slid his spectacles to the edge of his nose, and peered at the data on the engineering readout.

“Actually the designation is Vulcanian and this is T’Lik; a sub-dialect, pre-Reformation. You can tell because of these glyphs here.” He pointed to a cluster of symbols. “Very jagged. Very martial.”

“Uh huh,” Stanton said, looking. “I’m sure it’s very fascinating, but I need it switched back to English, so that the ship doesn’t… well… explode, if we can’t read the system reports. I think the universal translation program got loaded into the wrong data core,” he added, looking at the ensign.

“Yes, the ship exploding would be a problem,” Hennessy replied as though he was talking about flies buzzing around a picnic basket. “If I may?”

“Yes,” the commander replied, stepping back from the console. “I suppose if you can’t reset it, you’ll just have to be on duty twenty-four-seven in engineering,” he added, in a teasing sort of tone.

Hennessy simply looked at the Commander. “Right.” He slid between the clutch of engineering staff members and began closely scrutinizing the instrument panel. “Uh-huh.” His eyes darted back and forth between the control panel marked in standard and the monitor notated in ancient Vulcanian. He tapped in a few commands. After a few long moments he spoke again.

“What exactly is a warp field?”

“Warp fields are immensely powerful subspace distortion fields that make it so that the ship can go faster than the universal speed limit of ‘C’ by reducing our absolute mass,” Stanton explained, in his professorial voice. “The asymmetry of the field is what causes us to move forward in space, by forming what is essentially a subspace pressure front behind the ship, causing the universe to push us forward,” he added.

“According to this, it’s imbalanced,” he replied pointing to the monitor. 

“That can happen if the plasma accelerators aren’t exactly aligned to the same power register,” Stanton said, looking at the monitor. “Things start to flash red and alarms go off if it is too severe but being able to see exactly how it’s imbalanced would help, uh, soon,” he added. “The translation software has decided that all of our engineering inputs need to be displayed in archaic Vulcan. Try to access the control subroutines and disable it.”

“Working on it, Commander,” Hennessy said. His fingers pounded away at the panel. “The engineering subroutines are a little hard for me to navigate, especially in Vulcanian. Wish I could teach you, but…” Moments passed. The tap-two-tap of Hennessy’s long fingers on the control panel grew rapidly. Finally, the monitor shifted abruptly from alien symbols to Earth Standard. Hennessy cocked his head. “I liked it before. This all is gibberish to me. Except…” Once again, his eyes narrowed. “Aha! The culprit. Petty Officer C. Johnson.” He pulled off his spectacles and looked up at Stanton. “Do we still keelhaul people?”

“The Challenger doesn’t technically have a keel, Ensign,” Stanton replied, after a moment of thought. “Someone get on that warp field imbalance,” he said, turning to look at his staff, who were already starting to return to their duty stations to make sure that nothing else had gone awry while the computers had been unintelligible. “As long as the program isn’t overriding our normal displays, there’s no real reason why the universal translation software can’t be in both computer sub-cores, but it might be best to remove it anyway.”

“Yes, I’ll get Petty Officer Johnson on that right away since it was his fault to begin with,” Hennessy answered. He slid the eyeglasses back onto his nose. “No keel, huh?”

“Well, a keel is a single structural member that runs the length of a vessel to give it longitudinal support,” Stanton said, looking at the ensign for a moment. “Challenger‘s framework is built on circular support members, instead, to provide omnidirectional support,” he added. “Plus, well, one mistake isn’t really grounds for having someone tortured,” he continued. 

“Quite right,” Hennessy said. He continued tap, tap, tapping away at the panel. Finally he stopped. “And the engineering core is now clear of the linguistics software.” He stood up from the control console and looked around at the compartment for the first time since he’d arrived. “My God, this place is big.”

“Yeah, the gravimetric field displacement manifold takes up quite a bit of real estate. It’s actually pretty compact for the fact that it’s currently making enough energy for this ship to go one-hundred-twenty-five times faster than the speed of light,” Stanton replied, also looking up. “You’ve never been aboard a ship, have you?”

“None this big. When I was with the embassy, we travelled quite a bit, but on small transports. Nothing this fast,” He looked toward Stanton’s chest, seemingly at his rank insignia. “You must be Commander Stanton.”

“Yes… I must be,” Stanton said, also looking at his uniform for a moment, before shaking the thought off and looking at the ensign. “Thank you for de-Vulcanizing the computer,” he said.

“Oh, sure. I’ve only had eight weeks training, so I guess I should be ready for anything,” Hennessy deadpanned. He looked at the behemoth contraption Stanton called the gravimetric field displacement manifold. “How many moving parts does that thing have?”

“Moving parts? Well, none really,” Stanton said, with a curious expression on his face. “It’s basically all magnets. No pistons or steam pumps or anything,” he added, as he looked up at the warp core. “It’s actually a very simple, elegant design.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Hennessy said. “I can’t stand systems with so many parts, just too many more things that can go wrong. And I’ll take your suggestion to read the technical specifications of the ship under advisement, but it’ll only enable me to foresee the worst. Where this,” Hennessy gestured at the core, “is concerned, I’d just as soon believe that it’s voodoo and you’re some kind of witch doctor that makes it go.”

“Well, there are actually eight major components to the main reactor, and dozens of secondary components, it’s just that none of them move,” Stanton replied, as he considered the rest of what Hennessy had said. “You escaped the STC without having me or Lieutenant Commander Spiros for an engineering course?” he asked, looking as though he really wanted to say something about the voodoo comment or to go and explain the physics of warp propulsion and antimatter power generation.

“They seemed more concerned with teaching me computer programming and how to fix the subspace radio. I didn’t really question it much,” Hennessy replied. “Ten weeks ago, I was an interpreter/translator for United Earth. Then I-” he stopped short, and the look on his face indicated he wished he could rewind and erase those two words. He continued. “A Starfleet recruiter visited me, asked me if I wanted access to the latest in universal translation hardware and unlimited opportunities to do field research. So, I said, ‘yes.’ Two weeks later, I was in San Francisco training. And now, eight weeks later, here I am.” He looked around the engineering compartment with a mixture of marvel and intimidation. “It still hasn’t quite sunk in.”

“A few days ago, the only things I had to worry about were exams to grade, Friday afternoon faculty senate meetings, and what to make for dinner,” Stanton replied, looking at the ensign, as he got an idea. “Ensign Alcott was… attentive… in class. I’m sure he’d help you get up to speed,” he suggested.

“I may do that,” Hennessy said. “Well, it’s always nice to meet a fellow academic, but I must be off. I need to teach Latin to the translator. Sorry about the computer mix-up.”

“I’m sure that’ll come in handy for all the Romans we’ll be meeting,” Stanton said, dryly, as he climbed back up to the reactor control panel. “Carry on, Ensign,” he said, before returning to his work.

“Captain’s starlog, February 8th, 2155. Challenger has rendezvoused with the task force and we are on our way to Denobula.”

Lloyd Burton had just finished reading the material Admiral Gardner gave him regarding the delegates that were attending the mission in his ready room. Along with Secretary Campbell, Ambassador Soron of Vulcan, Ambassador Kora jym Gouth of Tellar and Ambassador Chamagerit zh’Thachker of Andoria, were joining her.

Soron was the Ambassador to Earth and had taken over from Soval after he became Foreign Minister for the Vulcan Confederacy. Soron had been Vulcan’s ambassador to Denobula prior; as such his insights to the Denobulan negotiations would be crucial. Apparently Soron and Campbell were close colleagues due to the fact they had shared the same period of time in being the ambassadors for their respective governments on Denobula. The prominent Vulcan diplomat V’Lar had trained Soron for many years. It was also rumoured that two were also married but Starfleet couldn’t confirm that matter.

Kora jym Gouth had only recently been appointed to her ambassadorship to Earth. There wasn’t much on Kora in the data the admiral had sent. However unlike other Tellarite politicians that the United Earth Government had dealt with, she had been noted as being quite amicable to work with. 

Then there was Chamagerit zh’Thachker (Magerit), the Andorian ambassador. She was a renowned diplomat within the Andorian Empire and rivalled Anlenthoris ch’Vhendreni (Thoris), the Andorian Ambassador to Earth. Magerit had been involved in numerous peace talks with the Vulcans and the Tellarites. She was also a retired general of the Andorian Imperial Guard and was an honorary member of it now. Magerit was also one of the candidates who were running for election to become the new Chancellor of the Andorian Empire in the coming months. Lloyd wished the mission wasn’t going to become part of her campaign efforts. 

Burton had poured himself a mug of English white tea as he was studying the text in front of him. Sipping slowly on it he was trying to memorise all of the different customs and traditions he would be expected to use in front of the three ambassadors. He hadn’t even started to think about the Denobulan customs he would have to observe once they arrived at their destination. Secretary Campbell during their lunch had lent him some of the notes she had taken over the years with the various aliens she had interacted with. That was next on his reading list. 

The intercom chime then went off and was followed by the husky voice of Petty Officer Johnson, Challenger’s Xenolinguistics Specialist. “Bridge to Captain Burton.”

The captain finished the sentence he was reading before tapping the panel on his desk to answer. “Go ahead Mister Johnson.” 

Sir, you have an incoming call from Enterprise.” He spoke.

Burton frowned at the mention of the flagship. “Pipe it through.” He responded.

The enlisted officer did as he was told and the captain’s monitor changed to show the face of a man he had never met in real life but knew the legend of; Captain Jonathan Beckett Archer. “Good afternoon captain.” Archer greeted with. 

“Captain Archer, this is an unexpected call but a welcomed one. How are you?” Burton asked as he tried to quickly and subtly make himself look presentable to the man who literally saved Earth. 

Archer gave his usual charismatic smile. “Well, thank you Captain Burton. And yourself?

“Likewise.” Burton replied, pulling a similar grin to his counterpart. He was trying his best not to come across as too confident, but on the other hand appearing not to be incapable of command. “I have a feeling this isn’t a social call captain?” 

Archer shook his head. “I’m afraid not. I’m calling to warn you of a possible threat.

Concerned, Burton sat up in his chair. “What sort of threat?”

We were just attacked by Orions and Captain Hernandez has reported a similar incident happening with Nausicaans. It seems too unbelievable to think it wasn’t a coordinated attack and we think you may be next.” Archer remarked.

Burton nodded, understanding the captain’s thought process. Both Enterprise and Columbia were leading similar diplomatic convoys to Rigel and Coridan, but why were the Orions and Nausicaans attacking them? “Understood, thank you for the head’s up.” 

You’re welcome. I’m sending you everything we have on both attacks. I’m not sure if it would be useful or not, but I think it’s better than nothing.” Archer said before taking a breath. “And my apologies for Enterprise not being home to see your launch.”

The younger captain waved it off. “It’s understandable, captain.”

Well good luck Captain Burton. Archer out.” He nodded once before the signal was cut from his end. 

Burton leaned back in his chair to stretch slightly. He had a feeling if both Enterpriseand Columbiawere attacked with their convoys then it was pretty certain they would be too. He got himself up from his desk and headed to the bridge. As he walked out onto the bridge, he noticed that none of the senior staff were on duty. It was late in the afternoon and he knew by now they would all be with their various departments overseeing various matters. He looked at the younger relief crew on duty. He walked over to his chair, which was empty and sat in it. He looked over to the armoury officer on duty, Ensign Cortez. 

“Take us to Tactical Alert.” He ordered and then tapped the intercom panel built into his chair’s arm. “All senior staff report to the situation room at once.” He ordered.

It hadn’t taken long for everyone to report to the bridge per the captain’s request. Burton now stood at the head of the situation table as he loaded up the information Enterprisehad sent to them. The various sensor logs and data about the two attacks now appeared on the screen on the raised table and the screens behind Lloyd. 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I have just spoken with Captain Archer and he informs me that Enterprise and Columbia, along with their convoys, were attacked by Orions and Nausicaans respectively.” He looked around the table at the seven others. This was it, he thought to himself, our first test. A slight sense of anxiety and caution swept through the young captain’s mind, but he kept control of it by not showing everyone else what he was feeling. “Columbia was boarded during their assault and one of the intruders was captured. Captain Hernandez has questioned this individual and she believes this is a coordinated attack, in hopes of disrupting the summits.”

“I figured that ship had sailed with Terra Prime,” Hennessy offered.

“I wonder who that leaves us with then, Klingons?” Commander Stanton mused.

Callahan shrugged. “Terra Prime bein’ gone ain’t gonna make people happy with galactic politics overnight, an’ that’s just Earth – who knows what upsets other species have. Xenophobia don’t die easy, and it ain’t exclusive to humans.”

“That’s too bad; it’d be nice if there was one species in the universe that didn’t think it was superior to all the rest.” Levesque said with a sigh. “And I wouldn’t count Terra Prime out either Callahan. They’re like weeds: you pull one, five more pop up.”

Burton continued with the briefing. “We’ll remain at tactical alert for the rest of the journey. Commander Levesque, begin long range scans for any hostile ships, be it Orion, Nausicaan or anyone else.”

“Yes sir, I would suggest that any ship approaching the convoy without prior notification be considered hostile.” Levesque offered

Burton nodded. “Agreed.” He then carried out handing out orders. “Commander Stanton, ensure all systems are operating at peak efficiency and are battle ready, just in case.” Burton ordered the chief engineer.

“Everything on this ship is showroom new and functioning perfectly, sir. We’ll be ready,” the commander replied, with a nod. “I’ll have hourly diagnostics run just to be sure, though.”

The captain turned to both Callahan and Yu. “Commander Callahan, ensure all of our tactical systems are ready to be used and coordinate with Major Yu all security arrangements on board Challenger.”

“It’ll be done, sir. These pirates are difficult to anticipate ‘cos there’s very little uniform about their ship classes, but it won’t be anything we haven’t seen before,” confirmed Callahan. “And I’ll have the personal security for the Secretary stepped up.”

“The MACO team is ready to provide that stepping up, all commandos and all gear accounted for.” Yu added before turning back to her Texan counterpart. “If you don’t mind, Commander Callahan, I’d like to review your security plans…I have previous operational experience in protecting government officials and counter-terrorism.”

Callahan looked a little tense at this, but he didn’t dispute it and just nodded.

Burton stared at Ensign Alcott. “Ensign, take us to warp four at once. The Denobulan government is aware we’ll hopefully arrive ahead of schedule.”

Alcott had been actively listening to each of the senior staff members who spoke, yet he himself remained quiet throughout the meeting itself as he closely observed each department head as they spoke in turn. When the Captain then turned to him with orders, he nodded his head in acknowledgement of the order itself before replying, “Warp four, aye sir.” He would wait until the briefing had concluded and they were dismissed before carrying out the order itself. As he waited patiently, Ezrah’s excitement grew incrementally as the opportunity to take his first starship to high warp drew nearer.

“Ensign Hennessy,” Burton said, grabbing the attention of his communications officer. “As our protocol officer I want you to ensure that Secretary Campbell and her staff are aware of the situation and to ensure they have everything they need.”

“Yes, sir,” Hennessy replied.

Finally, he turned to the last person in his senior staff. “Doctor,” Burton paused as he remembered Ben-Ami didn’t like being called that. “Ro-fa, please make sure sickbay is prepared and all emergency protocols are ready.”

She nodded her head, “Of course Captain. We have everything squared away and my staff have been running some drills in case of an emergency.”

He looked at them all now as he prepared to conclude the briefing. “The rest of the ships in our convoy have been made aware of the situation and are making similar preparations. Challenger will be taking the lead in any battle we find ourselves in, so I want us at our best. I’m sure you’ll all ensure that happens. Any questions?”

“Will the Vulcans or the Andorians be sending any other ships?” Stanton asked, after a moment of thought. “Any one of their combat cruisers is more than a match for anything the Orions could throw at us.”

Burton shook his head. “I’m afraid not. We’re on our own for now.”

There was a slightly tense sigh from Callahan at this. “Of course, we are,” he muttered, his bitterness more wry than angry, but there.

“Did the Captain say how large a force attacked their convoys?” Levesque asked next.

Callahan nodded, straightening and also looking at Burton. “Yeah, a full tactical breakdown of the other two attacks can leave us in a better state to be anticipatin’ what sort of trouble they might throw our way.”

“Captain Archer engaged three Orion raiders while Captain Hernandez took on five Nausicaan raiders.” Burton answered. “I’ve sent all the data to your relevant profiles on the network for you all to review.”

“Nausicaans are nasty in a one-on-one fight.” Major Yu recalled with a sigh, her thoughts drifting to a previous encounter the Republic had recently while on patrol. “Ran into them once out near Rigel. Dirty tricks, brutal strength, and they have both a serious case of sadomasochism as well as a fondness for long sharp jagged bladed metal objects. Very tough. We’ll have to increase the output on the phase weaponry and baton stun settings if you want any such fight with minimum casualties…they do love to get up close and personal.”

Burton understood the major’s suggestion. “Do whatever you need to do Major.” He said.

Viktoria gave an affirmative nod but also a word of serious caution. “I’d be careful about saying things like that, sir.”

“Yeah, I might need a bucket of bourbon to wash this fight down when we’re done,” joked Callahan quietly.

Burton smirked at the two officers and their remarks. “Thank you everyone. Dismissed.” He ordered.

The lift deposited Hennessy on G deck and he stepped out of the car into the corridor. All of a sudden, this mission had gone from simple diplomatic escort duty to potentially hazardous duty. The concept of the unknown and the associated danger was something that had been hammered into Ned and his classmates at officer training, but it was not one he had given a lot of thought to. He wasn’t kidding when he told Stanton the instructors had been keener on training Hennessy in the science of programming the universal translator than they had about other starship systems. They wanted him to be a translating machine, putting the hardware and software through its paces, building on the voluminous linguistics database Starfleet had already started.

The prospect that had inspired him to sign on with Starfleet — playing with the universal translation equipment — had grown hollow, though, in his early hours aboard the ship. He had already run afoul of the ship’s science officer and chief surgeon. As he arrived at Secretary Campbell’s accommodations, he rang the chime and hoped that things could not get any worse. 

When the door snapped open, he realized that they could.

At the sight of his ex-wife, Ned almost staggered back. Before he could open his mouth, though, he heard Campbell’s voice from the bunk area.

“Who is it, Jane?”

Although she was a head shorter than Ned, the woman called Jane, the former Mrs Hennessy, was formidable looking. Her short, blonde hair framed an angular face that might have looked elegant had it not been for the piercing look she was giving her former spouse. It took her a moment to recover from her own surprise.

“Jane?” Campbell’s voice rang out again.

“It’s-” she began, but Ned stepped past her into Campbell’s quarters. 

“Ned Hennessy, Madam Secretary,” he said. “Ship’s communications, linguistics and protocol officer.” He straightened his glasses on his nose as he said it.

Campbell emerged from the other room. Seated on a sofa in the main area were two men, one who Ned recognized as Robert Campbell, the Secretary’s husband and chief of staff. Scattered on a coffee table in front of them were several documents, maps of space and the occasional pen or pencil. 

The Secretary regarded Ned’s face for a moment. “You look familiar, Ensign.”

“Ned Hennessy,” he repeated. “I interpreted for you a few times at the United Earth embassy.” And I’ve been introduced to you countless times at embassy parties, not that I expect you to remember. He looked uncomfortably over at Jane and then back at Secretary Campbell.

“Are you the one who translated The Wizard of Oz into Andorian?” she asked.

Ned grimaced. Okay. She remembers.

“Why is the ship at tactical alert?” Robert Campbell asked.

Ned explained what he had just learned on the bridge: the attacks on the Enterprise and Columbia by Orion and Naussican raiders, the capture of a Naussican intruder aboard Columbia and Captain Hernandez’s theory that the attack was coordinated between the two nefarious groups.

“Is this an attempt to thwart the summits?” the Secretary asked.

“Captain Hernandez believes so, yes,” Ned answered. “We’ll be at Tactical Alert for the remainder of the journey to Denobula.” Again, he cast a fleeting look toward his ex-wife, then toward Campbell. “The Captain has assigned me to you. If there is anything you need, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

“Security,” said Robert Campbell.

“Robert!” the Secretary protested.

“There’s a real danger, Madelyn,” he said. The Secretary’s husband looked back up at Ned. “Security?”

“You’ll see a military presence on this deck in short order. Ship’s security and the MACO contingent are working jointly to ensure your safety.” Ned paused, looked over at Jane again and then back at Secretary Campbell. “I can see you’re working here, so I’ll see if I can get someone from the galley to send down an urn of coffee for you. In the meantime, I’ll be on the bridge. If there’s anything else you require, please call for me.”

They all thanked Ned, and the Ensign departed the Campbell’s guest quarters. He had almost made it to the lift when he heard a voice behind him.

“What are you doing here?”

He stopped and turned slowly. At the other end of the corridor Jane stood, looking indignant.

“I might ask you the same thing, Janie,” he said. “This is the ship I was assigned to. What’s your excuse?”

“Campbell took me on as her deputy chief of staff,” she said, defiantly. “I’ve been angling for a position in the Secretary’s office for a long time, you know that. What about you? Starfleet? Really?”

Ned straightened a bit, smoothing out his uniform as if he felt he needed to defend it. “I know I’m too old. I know you think it’s beneath me. And maybe it is,” he took a few steps closer to her. “But I saw an opportunity to get away and still do the work I love.”

“Get away from what, Ned?” she asked.

He shook his head and turned back around, heading toward the lift. “I’m surprised you have to ask.” He pushed the call button and waited.

“So where is Zephyr?”

“He’s here,” Ned answered, still not facing her. “In my quarters. He’s being well cared for.”

“Can I see him?”

The lift arrived and the doors parted.

“I’ll think about it,” he replied, stepping into the car.


He turned around to face her.

“I said I’d think about it.”

The lift doors snapped closed. He closed his eyes and as the lift car slowly made its ascent to the bridge he leaned back against the curve of its wall.

“It never rains, but it pours,” he said softly to the empty car.

Captain Burton was sitting on his double bed reading over the latest information about Denobulan customs and traditions. He was trying to cram as much as he could, so he was useful to the Secretary if she needed his support in the negotiations. However, he found his body telling him he was exhausted from so much work today. He was finally glad to take a break from being on duty. He had caught a late dinner with Commanders Levesque and Stanton. The three of them were slowly forming a good working relationship, even as they took their time to get to know each other. After dinner he had retired to his quarters, taking a shower and was now sitting just in his pyjamas. He wore just a black vest and grey bottoms. He was about to start practicing how to do the formal Denobulan greeting when his bed and the rest of the ship jerked harshly several times.

He put the tablet down and tapped the nearest communications panel. “Burton to the bridge, report!”

The convoy is under attack by six Orion raiders sir!” came a response.

“Damn it.” Burton replied as he rushed off his bed, picked up his Starfleet hoodie and literally sprinted to the nearest lift to get to the bridge. 

Once he arrived on the bridge, he found himself slightly out of breath. 

“We’re dropping out warp!” Crewman Todd Kipling declared from the helm. “So is the rest of the convoy.” He added.

The captain nodded towards Ensign Martha Habiba who had been sitting in the centre chair and was now vacating it for him. “Charge all weapons and polarise the hull plating.” He ordered as he sat down. “Take evasive action as you bring us around Mister Kipling!” 

The Delta Shift team were all working in unison as the captain handed out orders. “Lock phase cannons on the nearest target and fire at will!”

Ensign Cortez, the current armoury officer on duty, nodded as she targeted Challenger’s weapons and fired them. “Direct hit sir, but not enough to do any real damage.”

“Photonic torpedoes, maximum yield then.” Burton ordered as the ship rocked again. “Fire!” 

Challenger fired a barrage of its torpedoes at the Orion ship they were fighting. While around them the Andorian warship, the Kemaree was throwing everything it had at another two Orion ships. The Tal’Kit, a Vulcan D’kyr-class cruiser, was also engaging two enemy ships while the Tellarite cruiser, the Brere, was battling it out with the last Orion raider. The battle was fierce as the two sides slogged it out against each other. 

“Hull plating is down to fifty-three percent sir!” shouted Cortez after two Orion raiders hit Challenger with a barrage of disruptor fire.

Ensign Habiba quickly followed with another loud announcement. “Sir, I’m detecting a massive energy surge coming from one of the Orion ships.”

At that moment the bridge’s lift doors opened to reveal the arrival of Commander Levesque, Lieutenant Commander Callahan with Ensigns Alcott and Hennessey. Just as Burton was about to respond to Habiba’s statement he had turned around to see his senior staff reporting for duty and was horrified as he witnessed both Levesque and Alcott disappear in a flash of green light as they were transported off the ship. 

It had felt like everyone had paused for a second in shock from what had just happened. “Get them back!” Burton shouted as he interrupted everyone’s glare. 

Ensign Habiba was trying to get a sensor lock. “I’m finding it difficult sir to locate them.”

Burton tapped the comm. unit built into his chair. “Bridge to Engineering, Commander Stanton, we need to boost power to the sensors to increase their resolution.”

Sorry captain, Lieutenant Masuko here. Commander Stanton and Crewmember Stahl just disappeared in what looked like a transporter effect.” Stanton’s deputy responded. “I’m afraid I can’t boost the sensors any further. That last hit knocked out several power relays; we’re having a tough time keeping the reactor stable.

Challenger shuddered several more times as sparks blew behind the captain’s left ear and smoke began to fill the bridge. The captain coughed a few times and used his hoodie’s sleeve to cover his mouth. “Do whatever you can lieutenant to keep us in the waters!” He said, knowing that wouldn’t be enough.

“Captain, the other ships in the convoy have been disabled and the Orions are preparing to jump to warp.” Habiba revealed as she studied her current sensor readings. 

Burton was about to order Callahan to hit them with everything they had but was too late as the Orions flew past Challenger, firing several shots at her and ended up knocking her weapons offline. The Orion raiders all formed up alongside each other and jumped to warp. Captain Burton sat there in despair. Their first real engagement and they lost with the enemy kidnapping a number of their crew. He clenched his fists as he hit the side of his chair slightly in frustration. “Damn it.” He muttered to himself for no one else to hear.