Challenger had now been at high warp for almost three hours and was quickly approaching its destination. On the bridge of the NX-class ship Captain Burton stepped out of his office and made his way over to his chair in the centre of the room. He had just spent the last hour updating Secretary Campbell on what was happening while she remained on Denobula. Thankfully she had understood why he had left her and her staff there when the distress call had come in. She had even remarked she would ask for another ship to return them home if it came down to it.
“Report?” He asked, wanting to know the latest.
“We are only two minutes away from the colony ships sir.” spoke Ensign Alcott from the helm.
Lieutenant Commander Callahan then interjected. “Long range sensors are detecting a Vulcan cruiser on a similar intercept course sir.”
Burton turned to his chief armoury officer. “Which ship?” He asked
“The T’Paal.” He responded after double-checking over the readings on his console. “She’s a Suurok-class combat cruiser.”
Burton nodded as a sign of acknowledgement with the information. He hoped the Vulcan ship was responding as well and wouldn’t just pass by. He knew that as part of the Coalition Compact they would be expected and required to respond. Even though the Compact would not be signed for another week or so, Burton hoped the Vulcan ship would still respond to a distress call; the alliance between Earth and Vulcan still remained. He turned to face the main viewer and wondered what was happening with their colony ships. They would know in two minutes.
Sitting back in his chair the Challenger‘s captain smoothed out his uniform. “Tactical alert.” He ordered calmly, knowing that they would probably find themselves in a dangerous situation in a moment. The bridge’s lights dimmed and the screens all around switched to their red and yellow displays as per the tactical alert protocol.
“Coming out of warp.” Alcott announced as he looked up from the helm and starred at the main viewer to show the ship slowing down.
Burton turned in his chair to look at his first officer, “Commander, begin scanning for the colony ships.”
“Scanning…got them Captain, bearing oh-thirty mark two-nine-nine.” Levesque announced bringing the sensor display up on the view screen. “Other than the ships themselves, I’m not reading much out there.”
“Ned, see if you can get in touch with them.” Burton ordered as he looked at what Levesque had displayed on the main screen.
“Yes, captain,” the communications officer answered as he busied himself with the subspace radio.
Tapping the intercom button on his chair, Captain Burton opened a channel. “Bridge to Major Yu, prepare your MACOs for a boarding party.”
“Affirmative Captain, I’ll have Lieutenant al-Fayyad prep a shuttle and Iyer and Hardberger’s teams ready for transporter insertion.” Replied the MACO leader.
A beep at the armoury station went off and straight away Callahan spoke up. “Sir, I’m detecting a non-allied ship in the area, quickly approaching us.”
“Put it up.” Lloyd ordered as he stood to see who was out there. Was it a ship that attacked the colony ships or was it some poor soul who had shared the same fate as the others?
The view screen changed to show a green vessel making its way towards them, it had an almost bird-like appearance to it with its nacelles outstretched above it like wings.
Burton glared at it for a second before speaking up. “Can we identify it?”
“Hmm, not yet…” Levesque mused; too engrossed in flipping through the various sensor bands to notice she said anything. Quickly giving up on the passive sensors, the Science Officer spun her chair around and looked into the science station viewer. “By the silhouette and the energy readings…Captain that’s a Romulan ship…Bird of Prey by the looks of it.”
“Open a channel.” Burton commanded his communication’s officer. Inside of him he started to feel a sense of anxiety. The presence of a Romulan ship normally brought bad news. He had been briefed by Starfleet Intelligence on a list of races to keep an eye out for, who to see as a potential ally and those to avoid outright. The Romulans sat on that last list. “But keep trying to get the colony ships.”
“Aye, sir,” Hennessy replied toggling a switch on his console. “Channel open, sir.”
The moment he got the all clear to speak to their guest, the captain spoke up. “Romulan vessel, this is Captain Lloyd Burton of the Earth ship Challenger. Please state your intentions in this unclaimed area of space.”
Furthermore, from Starfleet Intelligence’s briefing, not much was known about the Romulans besides the encounters that Captain Archer and Enterprise had with them. They were extremely hostile, territorial and xenophobic. It was believed they were the ones responsible for the drone attacks earlier on in the year. Burton knew that Captain Archer had nearly lost Enterprise a few years back after hitting one of their minefields. A fate himself wished to avoid. But he also knew that from that engagement their territorial claims were what drove Archer to make quick decisions to ensure his ship survived. Not giving them an inch to take over such claims this time, Burton wasn’t going to let them scare him off. Was that the right decision to make? Could he truly avoid them while trying to save the convoy?
The channel remained open for a few seconds but there was no reply from the Romulans.
“Get a weapons’ lock on them.” Burton ordered Callahan after signalling for the channel to be cut. “Thoughts everyone?”
“Captain, we know Romulan ships have technology comparable to our own, and probably more advanced. I suggest we try to avoid a firefight… at least until the Vulcans get here.” Levesque said a bit vexed at the thought of needing the Vulcans’ help.
She made a good point, Burton thought as he considered his options. He was about to order Alcott to back them off from the Romulans when another alarm went off at the armoury station and he knew that sound too well.
“They’re charging their weapons!” Callahan announced a few seconds before the Romulans fired at the Challenger. The ship rocked from the fire; thankfully the ship was ready for the first volley of fire.
Walking back to his chair the captain sat back down. “Take evasive action away from the colony sips and return fire!” He commanded as he gripped on to the arms of his chair.
Challenger quickly rolled onto its starboard side as the Romulan Bird-of-Prey moved over them as it tried to come back around for another pass. Callahan fired several shots from the ship’s aft phase cannons and a spread of photonic torpedoes. They hit their destination but fizzled against the enemy’s energy shields.
“Bring us back around.” Burton ordered as the Romulans fired back at them. “Target their weapons and engines; hit them with everything we’ve got!”
The impressive NX-class did what looked like a belly roll combined with a head flip, as the weapons came into range of its target a number of torpedoes were fired followed by streaks of phase cannon fire. The Romulan ship tried to avoid the barrage, but was pummelled by a majority of the fire. It returned fire with its green bolts from its forward plasma cannons, each fire scoring direct hits against the Earth ship.
On the bridge of the Challenger the ship dealt with heavy fire as it rocked harder than before. The final hit must have been a direct one to the power systems as an almighty whirl of energy exploded from the helm control forcing Ensign Alcott out of his chair and to fall on the floor. Burton got up from his chair to see the injured pilot.
Burton knelt down beside him and found him to be conscious but with a dazed look on his face. He had slight burns to his face and right arm. Two crewmembers from the aft stations joined him to help him. “Get him to sickbay.” Burton ordered them and then realised he had no one to take the helm. He naturally made his way over and sat down at the controls. He hadn’t flown a starship in a long time, however he had spent many days in the simulator back on Earth learning the basics for the NX-class. Instinctively he looked over the controls to see what was working. He took the ship off from automated support and went straight into manual control, using the sensors to show him where to go. He noticed the impulse engines had been slightly damaged and weren’t at hundred-percent. He pushed the engines as far as they would go and then set a course to bring the ship around so that Callahan could get a clear shot on the aggressor. However, in a blink of an eye the Vulcan combat cruiser finally arrived alongside Challenger. It also opened fire on the Romulan ship, scoring a number of hits. Working together, the two allied ships began to make the Romulans feel very uncomfortable. Realising they were outnumbered and now outgunned, the dark green ship flew away at high warp, retreating to the unknown.
Burton gave out a sigh of relief when he watched the Romulan ship head to warp. In a second he realised they still had to save the colony ships. He brought the ship around and headed towards the drifting colony ships. “Nicole, try and see where those Romulans were heading.”
“Aye.” The Science Officer replied, brushing a few stray strands of hair out of her eyes. Quickly spinning her chair back to the scope, she tried to get a good reading on the Romulans’ warp signature, a task made far more difficult than normal as the scope blinked out. Slapping the console a few times, she prayed that the malfunction was simply a loose connection rather than actual damage. After giving up on the hope of fixing a few buttons, she tried to get what information she could using the short-range sensors. “Sorry Captain, I’ve got a basic heading, but that’s about it. Beyond about an AU, if they made a course correction we’d never know.”
“Ned, coordinate with the Vulcans-” Burton was interrupted when he noticed another ship dropping out of warp on the display before him. The ship registered as another Earth ship, a J-type cargo ship named the E.C.S. Raven. “What are they doing here?” He asked himself.
“Shall I raise the cargo ship, sir?” Hennessy asked but then he got a message through. “They’re offering to help sir.”
“Tell the Raven thank you but stand by so we can coordinate our rescue efforts with the Vulcans.” Burton ordered. “Commander Levesque the ship is yours, I’m leading a team over to the colony ships to see what happened and what help they need.”
“Aye Captain.” She replied; turning over her station to Ensign Habiba and taking up her own position in the command chair.
Burton tapped the communications panel on top of the helm. “Burton to Stanton.”
“Go ahead Captain.”
“Meet me in the shuttlebay with a repair team commander.” He ordered.
“Aye sir, but the repair team is going to be short-handed sir. We’ve got critical repairs to Challenge to make.” advised Stanton.
“Spare whoever you can, Michael. Burton out.” Burton then tapped the button again. “Bridge to sickbay.”
Knowing he may regret asking the next question, Burton took a breath and spoke. “What’s your status down there?”
“Six injured, nothing serious.” She replied.
“Excellent. Then Ro-fa, have Ensign Stewart meet me in the launch bay with a full med kit and prepare sickbay for mass traumas.” He ordered.
“Understood, we’ll be ready.”
Burton closed the channel and looked over to his armoury officer. “John you’re with me too.” He indicated as he made his way over to the lift with his Armoury Officer in tow. From one mess they were about to enter another one.
“Here you go sir.”
Ensign Niall Stewart looked up after zipping up his field jacket to see a MACO soldier offering him a phase pistol. “What’s that for?” He asked the younger looking soldier.
The soldier looked puzzled and wasn’t too sure how to answer the question. “Umm, your protection sir?”
Challenger’s Nursing Officer and senior field medic examined the weapon in the MACO’s hand and then looked at the markings on the soldier’s uniform. He wore the rank of Private and his name read: L. Jenkins. Niall had yet to get to know the entire MACO unit, however this individual had deep brown eyes and his hair was all swiped over to the left side with a parting on the right hand-side. He looked almost twenty-one maybe twenty-two.
“Well Private Jenkins I think we can hold off on that. We’re boarding Earth ships and I don’t plan to fire on any of my own kind.” Stewart responded quickly. He was a bit irked that a young soldier was telling him what to do. Stewart had completed his Starfleet training probably before this guy had enlisted with the MACOs.
“Actually it’s standard procedure for all landing parties to be armed with a phase pistol, Niall.” Said a voice next to him.
Stewart turned to see his friend Sakura Masuko doing up her field jacket before taking the pistol out of Jenkins’ hands and almost slapping it into place on Stewart’s thigh.
“Why are we arming ourselves before boarding Earth colony ships?” He asked in slight protest.
Lieutenant Masuko picked up the rucksack that contained her tools inside. “You never know they may have been boarded by these Romulans or you may need to use that pistol to cut your way through something.” She offered. “I promise you Niall unless the crew has turned into zombies you hopefully won’t be firing against any of them.”
He rolled his eyes at her and looked at the Second Engineer. “I’m going to hold you to that!”
At that moment Captain Burton entered the locker room where the entire boarding party had been getting themselves sorted. Commander Stanton, Lieutenant Commander Callahan and Major Yu followed him in. It was obvious they were ready as they were all in their field jackets along with having phase pistols and scanners attached to their hips. Major Yu had her standard MACO gear while Commander Stanton carried his rucksack that was most likely filled with the tools he would require over there. It was also obvious they had met briefly to discuss how they would operate the mission before as they all had a confident look about themselves.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” The captain said grabbing their attention. Stewart had only spoken to Captain Burton on a few occasions but he had heard the captain ask Doctor Ben-Ami to have him assigned to the team, something he was proud of. “We’ll be journeying over to the colony ships shortly to determine their status and render as much assistance as we can.” He paused as he looked around the room. “Due to the damage they have sustained we won’t be using the transporter yet. We’ll break off into two teams. The Mayflower, the lead ship, has reported they have sustained the most injuries and damage while the Haig reports minor injuries, that’s particularly down to the fact they are carrying less people as they need the room for most of the colony’s equipment and supplies. Lieutenant Commander Callahan and Major Yu will take a group of MACOs to secure the Haig and help those who are injured. Commander Stanton and I will lead the team to head to the Mayflower. Report to your department heads for your team assignments, except Ensign Stewart who will be with my team.” Burton stated.
After some discussions the boarding parties were giving their assignments and were making their way towards the launch bay. Captain Burton led his team into Shuttlepod One that was now pretty cramped with a team of seven crewmembers. Burton had decided to take the helm and was eager to launch. Once the green light had been given for them to get underway, the captain had looked over to Shuttlepod Two where Commander Callahan sat at the controls of the craft. They both smiled at each other before the bay doors opened up beneath them and they were set free from Challenger.
Ensign Stewart looked over to Lieutenant Masuko who sat next to him and she gave him a wide grin and she inclined her head towards the right, motioning towards the fact that he was seated next to Private Jenkins. She gave him a look that indicated something mischievous however he ignored the look. He turned to the MACO, who was one of three soldiers assigned to their team. “So Private Jenkins, what does the ‘L’ stand for?” He asked in a whisper.
Jenkins turned to look at the nurse. “Liam sir.”
Stewart smiled at him and extended his right hand. “Pleased to meet you Liam, I’m Niall.” He said as they shook hands. “I owe you one for making sure I don’t look like an ass in front of the captain for not being properly equipped on my first rescue mission with him.”
“Anytime sir.” He replied as he let go of his hand.
“And do me a favour, drop calling me sir. You make me feel old.” Stewart explained, still whispering. “I’m only twenty-six.”
Nodding, the soldier responded in a low voice. “Understood…Niall.” He said with a smirk on his face. “And for the record I never considered you old. I’m only twenty-two.”
“Good-” Stewart started but was interrupted by the captain.
“Here we go everyone.” Burton announced as he flew the shuttlepod around the Conestoga-class colony ship. The shuttlepod slowed down as it approached one of the ship’s outer hatches and latched on around it. Burton switched off the engines and began the process of securing the ship with the airlock. The computer cycle went through its normal routine and a green light appeared on the shuttle’s ceiling to indicate that a secure air-tight connection had been made. “Let’s go.” The captain ordered as he led the team off their shuttlepod.
S.S. Mayflower BF-21
Moments later they had gone through the Mayflower’s airlock and were now on one of its decks that was darkened out without main power. The deck itself was blazing with emergency blue lightning along the floor. The odd light flickered off here and there. Burton continued to lead the team forward with Stanton and Stewart either side of him while the MACOs flanked them all with Maruko taking scans as they marched forward.
“Halt!” Someone shouted down the corridor at them.
Burton did as he told and raised his hands slightly to show they meant no harm. “I’m Captain Lloyd Burton of the Earth ship Challenger. We’re here to help you!”
Bright white lights covered the landing party from the direction the voice came from and it didn’t take long for them to realise that they were torchlights hitting them. The sound of footprints making their way towards them could be heard and soon they came face to face with their hosts. An Indian woman led the group; she wore civilian attire and held a torch and an EM-Pistol in either hand. Once she saw their guests were Human she lowered her weapon and torch and nodded to those with her to do the same.
“I’m Captain Amita Choudhary of the Mayflower. I’m glad to see you!” She said with a genuine smile.
“Once they had forced us out of warp they just sat there, circling like vultures.” Captain Amita Choudhary said as she finished recalling the Romulan attack against her two colony ships to Captain Burton. The two of them were now walking down one of the few corridors of the Mayflower that didn’t have someone injured lying across the floor or something that was broken. Choudary stopped walking and looked up at Burton. “Can I share something with you, captain to captain?”
Burton nodded after stopping to face her. “Sure.”
“I feel like an idiot, I should have agreed to the Starfleet escort we were offered.” She shared, realising she had made an error in judgement. “I was too damn proud to accept it, wanting to prove we didn’t need Starfleet.”
Burton smiled at her. He wondered how many more civilian captains would be saying something similar to that in the near future. “It’s okay. The main thing is you haven’t suffered any fatalities and we’re now here to help.”
Choudary nodded in a humble manner. “And I am grateful for your arrival but I have to say I wasn’t expecting one of the prides of Starfleet to turn up along with a Vulcan combat cruiser and my first officer said an Earth Cargo Ship has arrived too? Talk about the cavalry turning up!”
“Well let’s not waste any more time on getting both the Mayflower and Haig back on the road.” Burton offered as they continued on their stroll. “Challenger along with our other two friends out there can help get your ships up and running again in no time. And I’m even prepared to escort you all the way to wherever you’re going?”
“We’re heading to Archer Four.” She shared. “And in light of what has happened I will be more than happy to accept any help you all can provide and having an NX-class to protect us will be an added bonus!” Choudary answered.
“Archer Four?” Burton repeated, and he finally made the connections that this convoy was the one heading to the colony his sister and brother’s ships were helping out with. Choudary had just given him a silent nod when he asked for confirmation on their destination. “Then let’s get moving on this.” Burton suggested and unzipped the pocket in his right arm sleeve and took out his communicator before flipping it open. “Burton to Stanton.”
“Go ahead captain.” His chief engineer responded.
“Michael, is it safe enough for Mayflower to dock with Challenger?” The captain asked him into communicator.
“I’ve just finished inspecting the main docking port; there are a few minor issues with the airlock cycle, but nothing that will stop both shops from docking safely.” He replied.
“Excellent, keep working on restoring their systems and once we’re docked get a full engineering team over here to get repairs complete.” Burton ordered and then tapped his communicator again to close the channel and open another. “Burton to Stewart.”
A second later came the reply from Challenger’s Nursing Officer and Senior Field Medic. “Go ahead sir.”
“Where do we stand with the injuries?” Burton inquired.
There was a slight pause from the ensign’s end; possible due to the fact Burton had disturbed him while treating patients. “Private Jenkins and I have been able to stabilise some of the major injuries, nevertheless we need to get them back to Challenger as soon as possible.”
“We’re about to dock both ships together, once we’re docked start moving the critical patients to sickbay.” Burton commanded.
“Burton to Callahan.” The captain said after closing the channel with Stewart and making a new one with the other boarding team.
“Callahan here sir.” Replied the chief armoury officer and third officer.
“John what’s the status of the Haig?” Burton asked, speaking into the communicator in his hands.
“The ship is secure, our MACO medics have helped with some of the injuries. We could do with getting a full engineering detail over here to help get the warp drive working again. “ Callahan replied.
“Understood, standby John.” Again the captain pressed his communicator and spoke more into it. “Burton to Challenger.”
Back on the bridge of the Challenger, Commander Levesque had found something to keep her busy. While sitting in the big chair had long been an aspiration of hers, at this moment she felt uneasy about the whole thing. Since leaving Earth a month ago the ship’s mission had been more than true to her name. Being attacked, being abducted, the ship out-matched and out-gunned by the Orions and now the Romulans; it did not bode well for the rest of their mission. It had taken almost everything they had to force the Romulans to retreat, and really the Vulcans had been the tipping point in the battle. Without them arriving when they did, things would be far worse. Now with their battle damage mostly repaired, Levesque had to admit that despite the setbacks she found herself itching for round two with the Romulans.
“Burton to Challenger.”
Dragging herself out from under the science console, she made her way over to the fore-mentioned command chair. “Challenger here, go ahead Captain.” She said after tapping on the communications panel built into the side computer station.
“Nicole, begin docking procedures between Challenger and the Mayflower. Once we’re docked, inform the good Ro-fa she’ll be having patients coming in.” Burton directed over the intercom.
“Aye, Captain. Ro-fa Ben-Ami has already prepared a triage area and all personnel with medical training are waiting to receive casualties. Is there anything else Captain?”
“Have a pilot come over and bring Shuttlepod One back and then prepare an engineering team to head over to the Haig to help Yu secure the ship. Get John to return with Shuttlepod Two with their seriously injured.” Burton stated.
“Understood.” She responded.
“Thanks Nicole. Burton out.” The captain said and closed the channel.
“Miss Hathaway,” Levesque began carrying out her orders. “Adjust course one-one-two mark five. Bring us alongside the Mayflower and prepare to extend umbilical.”
“Aye, Ma’am.” Ensign Hathaway replied, the ship’s red-haired Second Helm Officer.
As the ship began to move, the First Officer scratched her chin as she considered their current situation. She looked over to the armoury station that was currently being manned by Callahan’s right hand. “Cortez, keep an eye on your sensors. This is the perfect time for the Romulans to get the drop on us. If they do come back I want you ready to blow the umbilical as soon as it’s clear and get us ready for action.”
“Yes Ma’am.” Cortez replied as Nicolette dropped into the command chair.
S.S. Mayflower BF-21
“Thanks Nicole. Burton out.” Lloyd flipped the communicator and looked at Choudhary. “Now let’s see if we can get you back on the road!”
Choudhary gave the Starfleet captain the same smile she had welcomed him with as she extended her arm and pointed down the direction of the corridor they were on. “This way then Captain Burton.” She said in a much happier tone.
Imperial Bird-of-Prey ChR Dhivael
Commander T’Voras glared at the sensor readings from his chair in the middle of the Dhivael’s control centre. The Hevam ship, whose commander had designated Ch’lenjer, was now engaged with saving the other crafts they had attacked. His ship was far away now for the enemy ships not to see them.
“Commander, incoming transmission from the home-world.” Decurion Morek reported from the communication station.
The Romulan leader blinked and turned round to face the main screen. “Put it through.” He snapped.
His orders were quickly carried out and the image of Admiral Valdore appeared before them. “Admiral.” T’Voras greeted his superior officer with.
“Report Commander T’Voras.” The flag officer said in a cold but stern tone.
“Our initial attack was disrupted by the arrival of another Hevam ship. It is of the same configuration as the ship named En’ter’priz.” T’Voras described. “We began to engage them however the arrival of a Thaessu combat cruiser forced us away.”
Valdore appeared to growl at the mention of their distant-cousins. “Very well. How much damage did the Hevam aaenhr ships take?”
“They are adrift admiral.”
The Romulan admiral considered his options for a split-second before making a choice. “Proceed to phase two then and rendezvous with the rest of the task force. We move on to Gai’h’er-mne at once!” Valdore commanded before cutting the channel dead.
T’Voras took in a deep breath before he carried out his orders. “You heard the admiral’s order. Pilot set a course for the Gai’h system. Warp three.” T’Voras knew that this incursion of the admiral’s was important to the greater scheme of things. They had to stop the Hevam emaifha spreading to any more worlds. If the Romulan Star Empire was to survive and to defeat the Hevam vermin (as well as their Thaessu cousins) they certainly were not going to allow them to establish another colony or beachhead near to their space.