Commander Stanton was replacing the last damaged circuit within the helm. (Inside, however he wished he could be enjoying some R&R on the planet below them, but the ship needed fixing and they weren’t even halfway there yet.) Closing the opened casing, he pulled himself up to kneel on the deck plating to check and make sure the glitch was no longer present. Activating the main console, he ran a quick diagnostic to make sure there were no loose network connections. Pleased he had achieved his task, he smiled at his efforts and stood up. As he did there was a beep from the science station. T’Plau had been sat working on something there the moment the alarm went off. She had turned her chair around to look at what the secondary displays were telling her.
“What is it?” Stanton enquired.
T’Plau activated the scope to see what was happening. “Long-range sensors have detected a large Carreon fleet.”
Stanton gulped at that news, “How large a fleet?”
“Forty-one ships.” She answered as she lifted her head from looking into the scope to register everything. “And they’re heading for the Deltan system.”
Stanton moved over to the communications station and opened a channel. “Challenger to Burton.”
A second later and Captain Burton replied. “Go ahead Michael.”
“Sir I think both Commander Levesque and you should get up here straight away, we’ve had some interesting developments.” Stanton stated, not wanting to give away what they had discovered. He didn’t know what the Deltans knew and he didn’t know where the captain and first officer were. For all he knew they could be having a meeting with Prime Minister An’die. Alerting the Deltans could cause a panic and he wasn’t prepared to be the perpetrator.
“Understood, are the hangar bay doors repaired?”
“No sir, since we retrieved Shuttlepod Two we haven’t been able to fix them.” Stanton replied.
“Then is the transporter working?”
“It is sir; however, I haven’t had time to test it completely. Can you not get a ride up in a Deltan ship?” Stanton wondered.
“You tell me how urgent it is that we’re with you because I’m not too sure how long we would have to wait to organise a shuttle up to you.” Burton said.
“Standby then, I’ll transport you both up.” Stanton said cautiously and closed the channel. “T’Plau will you help me?”
The Vulcan armoury officer nodded once as she got up from her chair. “Of course, Commander.”
The transporter had been one of the first systems that had been repaired since Challenger had arrived at Delta. However, as Stanton had told his commanding officer he had been unable to test to see if it was safe to use. The diagnostics and readings were telling him it was okay, but to play it safe he had brought T’Plau along with him to be a pair of second eyes. He had called for Ensign Stewart to meet them there in case it injured Burton or Levesque somehow.
“Are you really that worried?” Stewart had asked the chief engineer once he had arrived. The young nurse took out his medical scanner and switched it on ready to use.
“I’d prefer to be safe than sorry.” Stanton said as he began to operate the transporter. “Sub Commander will you monitor their patterns as they go through the pattern buffers?”
“Understood.” T’Plau replied as she stood next to Stanton and pulled up the readings for the pattern buffer.
“Energising.” Stanton stated after he had got a fix on the two senior officers.
As the cycle began a warning light came up. “I am having trouble separating their patterns.” T’Plau reported.
Stanton did his best not to panic. “Reset the pattern buffers.” He commanded her.
She did as she was told and a moment later the computer beeped in acceptance of her efforts. “The signals are clearing.”
The transporter beam finished, and the two officers looked around once they were materialised.
“Are you both alright?” Stewart asked as he stepped forward and began taking an initial scan.
Burton looked at Levesque and nodded that they were okay. “Feel fine, but it felt like it took a bit longer than normal.”
“Your patterns merged for four point eight seconds; however, we were able to separate you two after resetting the pattern buffers.” T’Plau reported.
“You both look fine to me.” Stewart offered after finishing his scan, “Though once sickbay is back up and running, we should run more in-depth scans to ensure you’ve got every molecule back.”
“Schedule it for another time Ensign.” Burton said as he stepped off the transporter. “So, what’s important for us to see Commander Stanton?”
“Come with us sir.” Stanton indicated for them to follow T’Plau and he returned to the bridge.
“Damn it.” Burton cursed under his breath as he looked at the sensor readings of the incoming Carreon armada. The four senior officers stood in the situation room, aft from the bridge, studying T’Plau’s findings. “And they’re definitely on their way here?” He asked for assurance.
“Their trajectory confirms their heading sir.” T’Plau stated.
“Just when we thought we had seen the last of them.” Levesque commented as she crossed her arms and leant against the raised central worktable.
For a moment none of them said anything as they just kept looking at what their long-range sensors had picked up. Their silence was interrupted by an incoming call from the communications’ station. Levesque headed over first to answer it as the others moved towards the middle of the bridge. Burton watched Levesque work the console from where he stood in front of his chair.
“We’ve got an incoming call from the planet below.” Levesque stated as she looked over to Burton.
“Put it up.” Burton ordered; he turned his body, so he was now facing the main screen.
The video feed of Prime Minister An’die appeared and he spoke straight away. “Have I caught you at a bad time Captain Burton?”
Feeling slightly nervous, Burton briefly glimpsed at Levesque before looking at the Deltan leader. “No, of course not.” He wondered if An’die knew about the incoming armada.
“I’ve just received a disturbing report from one of our listening posts. Long-range sensors have picked up…” An’die said, but Burton interrupted him.
“Yes, we know. The Carreons have assembled a large fleet.”
An’die didn’t look surprised that the Human captain was aware of the news. “How many ships have you detected?”
“Forty-one and they’re on a direct course for Delta. It’ll cross the Deltan-Carreon border in less than an hour.” Burton answered.
“We are mobilising a fleet by one of our lunar shipyards in orbit of Cinera, but we may not be ready when they enter the system.” An’die remarked.
“We’re going.” Burton bluntly stated.
Levesque coughed to interrupt her commanding officer. “What do you mean, ‘We’re going’?”
Burton gave her a look that silenced the first officer. It was obvious that An’die caught her questioning his decision, but he didn’t say anything. Burton continued, “Mister Prime Minister we may be able to convince the Carreons to stand down. If we’re able to present them with the same information we’ve given you about the Romulans and their ability to take over your ships, then they may reconsider.”
“Captain that is very brave of you to offer, however I cannot ask you to take such a risk for us. From what I’ve been told your warp drive is only just operational. You couldn’t mount such a task with the limited resources you have.” An’die said.
“If we do nothing, then this will only end badly for both sides.” Burton stated. “We need to at least give it a try.”
“Very well,” The Prime Minister said hesitantly, “I wish you good luck. An’die out.” The channel closed and the Deltan commander-in-chief was replaced by the view of Delta IV from Challenger’s orbit.
“Lloyd are you out of your mind?” Levesque asked the moment the channel was closed.
Burton snapped at her. “Not now Nicole.”
“Captain, I’m with Nicole on this one. We’re no match for a couple of Carreon ships let alone a whole fleet.” Stanton said.
“I must concur sir.” T’Plau added.
Burton looked almost lost between them. “Your objections have been noted.” He sat down at the helm. “If we can get close enough to their fleet, we may be able to determine if they’re under Romulan control or not. If they are then we’ll attempt to find the Romulan ship and take them out.”
“And if they’re there by their own freewill?” Levesque asked as she walked over to her chair at the science station.
“Then we’ll transmit everything we have about the Romulans to them and hope and pray that someone listens to us. If they don’t then we’ll warp back here to help the Deltans as best as we can.” Burton replied as he began to power up the ship’s engines. He looked over his shoulders at the others. “Let’s get moving.”
T’Plau and Stanton acknowledged his orders and she took her post at the tactical station while Stanton left the bridge to head down to engineering.
Burton tapped a few commands into the helm station, “Sub Commander T’Plau take us to tactical alert.”
“Aye sir.” The Vulcan woman said as she activated the change in the ship’s status.
“I’m laying a course now for the Carreon fleet.” Burton stated as worked the controls. “Nicole I’ll need you to begin scanning them the moment we’re close enough. We need to know if they’re under Romulan control or not.”
“Understood sir.” Levesque said as she carried out her orders.
“Let’s go.” Burton said and he hit the button that engaged the ship’s warp engines.
Running, Commander Stanton made his way into main engineering within a few short minutes after leaving the bridge. Ever since the crew had abandoned ship, he had yet been able to get used to the sight of an empty ship, especially his engineering room. After closing the main door behind him he was pleased to see he wasn’t on his own in engineering. Levesque’s two most senior science officers were in the room: Ensigns Habiba and Dalton. Ensign Sebastian Dalton was a young officer who was fresh out of Starfleet Training Command. He had been assigned to Challenger from day one and was still green with the lack of experience, like many others on the crew who had Challenger as their first assignment. He was a smart person and was their Third Science Officer and held the post of Chief Physicist. Once Challenger had arrived in orbit of Delta, Dalton (who had been left behind on the planet when the ship escaped) hadn’t left Stanton’s side to help with repairs in engineering. Stanton had joked with Levesque that he was slowly turning her trusty physicist into one of his top engineers. She had replied that if he did such a thing, he would regret it. Fortunately for Stanton, he had already known Dalton from Training Command. The physicist had taken the basic engineering course and had aced the exam with full marks. He was extremely competent and knew why Levesque liked having him with her.
“All readings for the warp drive are nominal, sir.” The young man from Alpha Centauri colony said.
Stanton nodded in acceptance as he climbed up to the main workstation by the warp reactor to stand beside Dalton. Dalton, whose parents were originally from New York before moving to Alpha Centauri, was quite a handsome man. He was just over five feet seven, had broad muscular shoulders like some of the MACO soldiers and short dark sandy coloured hair. He had similar coloured eyes like Captain Burton (he almost looked like one of the captain’s brothers) and a friendly nature about himself. Stanton remembered how shy Dalton had been in his first basic engineering lecture, but since joining Starfleet his confidence was developing.
“Keep a close eye on all the readings,” Stanton ordered him. “I don’t want the warp drive failing us when we’re trying to escape the Carreon fleet.”
“The Carreon fleet?” Dalton questioned. “Why would we be trying to escape from them?”
“The captain wants us to determine if they’re under Romulan control or at least attempt to stop them from attacking the Deltans.” Stanton replied, carefully choosing his words so he didn’t share his disagreement with the captain’s decision.
“One ship against an entire fleet?” Dalton remarked with some surprise. “That’s helluva a plan! Does he think we’ll succeed?”
Stanton just nodded before looking over his shoulder, he saw Ensign Habiba standing at the primary diagnostic console. She was overseeing the status of primary systems. Habiba was a biologist by nature and had limited engineering knowledge. “Martha, if anything goes into red with the primary systems then shout as loud as you can!” Stanton stated.
“Aye sir.” She quietly responded.
Sighing to himself, Stanton knew that Habiba was keeping to herself. It was no secret between those that had been left behind on Delta that she had publicly opposed Levesque over helping the Deltans. Levesque had told Burton and he that she wasn’t going to press any charges against Habiba for insubordination. She felt the humiliation of doing it in front of her colleagues and not having any support was enough punishment for the young officer. Their extraordinary circumstances were another factor and it wasn’t going to be added to her permanent record.
“Engineering to bridge,” Stanton said after tapping the nearby communication panel.
Burton soon answered. “Go ahead Michael.”
“Captain, I’ve just thought of an idea which may help us against the Carreon armada.” He stated.
“I’m listening, Commander.”
Stanton started to explain his strategy. “Well we need to force them out of warp sir, so the Deltans are given more time to assemble their forces. It would also give us a greater chance to determine if they’re under Romulan control or not. We could disrupt their warp fields with an inverse graviton burst. It would force them to drop to impulse until the gravitons dissipated.”
“Could we generate something that large in the state we’re in?” Burton asked back.
“Possibly.” The chief engineer replied. “I’ll need to divert power from the warp engines, but it would give us at least three minutes, maybe four of them being out of warp.”
“How long will you need to make the modifications Commander?”
“I’ll have it done before we intercept the Carreons.”
“Make it happen then.” Burton ordered before cutting the channel.
Dalton looked at Stanton. “Sir are you really going to be able to have that done before we reach the Carreons?”
Stanton jumped down from the raised platform as he shouted back his answer. “If I do then I expect to be called a miracle worker!”
The Ardanan sun was setting in the distance and was shining a rich crimson light across the skyline. Powerful and bold, the light shone against and into Stratos, piercing through every window and open port. Sat around the circular balcony table, the four Human men were enjoying their evening meal together. As they weren’t allowed to visit too many public places, they had decided to use this time to get back together and catch up with each other.
Jenkins was pushing around the food on his plate with his fork (which looked more like a mini trident) and was listening in to what his crewmates were saying.
“The shuttlepod is fixed and ready to go, but they did a good number on our computer systems. I’ve had to almost re-write every single piece of software.” Metaxas complained as he picked up a crystal glass goblet from the table and drank from it. “Fortunately, the back-ups weren’t touched.”
Conrad nodded in response. “Okay now we have that we need to work on being able to access it if circumstances require us to.” He was being weary of what he said in case the Ardanans were listening in to their conversation.
“Have you been able to find the rest of the crew?” Jenkins offered after taking a mouthful of a piece of meat that came from a bird and tasted a lot like steak.
Trommler answered for him. “We think we’ve found the group of equatorial islands that we planned to land on originally, but we can’t determine if that’s where Ben-Ami and the others went.”
“Still having scanner interference from this zenite?” Metaxas asked.
“Indeed.” Conrad stated. “And a similar ore that we encountered on Docana that is inhibiting sensors. The Ardanans call it kelbonite.”
“So, what’s the plan?” Jenkins enquired.
Conrad glanced at Trommler for assurance to share what they had discussed earlier that day. “I’ve decided we’ll use the Ardanans to help us find the crew. We’ll leave tomorrow afternoon to begin searching the islands.”
Metaxas looked at both men. “You seem hesitant about that.”
“We’ve got some concerns about how they’ll host the rest of the crew here on Stratos.” Trommler explained.
“That’s understandable, especially with how they treated us.” The Greek engineer returned as he took in a mouthful of salad.
The four men went silent, none of them prepared to share their thoughts on the dilemma of using the Ardanans’ offer of help. Could they truly be trusted? Would the crew be safe? Or would they take them all in as prisoners or worse kill them all?
By the time they had finished their dinner and said goodnight to each other, Corporal Jenkins made his way over to his room and closed the door behind him. He got undressed from the clothes they made them wear and got ready for bed. Once he was under the sheets he leant over to turn off the lights. Almost pitch darkness filled his room, apart from the bright white light shining through the curtains. Ardana’s moon was a lot like Earth’s own. Closing his eyes, he wondered if his fiancé was doing something similar on Delta. That if he was still alive and hadn’t been killed by a Carreon attack. Jenkins shook his head, trying to get rid of the thought and attempted to remain positive.
In the room next door, Ensign Conrad sat on the edge of his bed in just his vest and shorts. He was ready to call it a night and get some sleep, but in the back of his mind his concerns about what they had planned for tomorrow were running through his mind at warp speed. He was worried that he would be leading the Ardanans to where the rest of the crew were hiding; he was sealing their fates. On the other hand, since being on Stratos and released from captivity, the Ardanans hadn’t shown any aggression towards him and the others. Those that knew they were “off-worlders” had been welcoming and friendly; High Advisor Tonisus went out of his way to speak with Conrad every day. Nevertheless, Conrad kept on thinking to himself what Captain Burton or Commander Levesque would do in this type of situation. If there was anything that he had learnt from them since joining Challenger and that was to always have a backup plan in a difficult situation if everything fell apart. Trommler and he had worked on that plan earlier that day, again they had to do it in a covert manner to avoid the Ardanans discovering it. When they had shared it with Metaxas and Jenkins over dinner, they seemed to understand the plan. Conrad eventually fell backwards onto his bed, rubbed his temple and prayed he didn’t need to resort to their backup plan.
Equatorial Islands, Ardana (New Mars)
If anything could be said about New Mars (or New Vulcan as some of the crew were calling it), then its sunsets were just as beautiful as those that happened back on Earth. Ben-Ami had just watched the spectacular view happen while sitting on the beach of their current home. In the near distance she could hear the laughing and screaming coming from Edro and Roburn as they played in the ocean with Iyer and several others. Their small group had decided to take the children down to the beach for a barbeque, to play a game of cricket and then to go swimming as the sun had set. It had been the perfect end to the day in Ben-Ami’s mind. She had joined them for the food and game but declined the invite to go swimming. She had paddled her feet in the water, before returning to the shore to watch the sunset. A warm breeze kissed her skin gently. If they hadn’t been here for dire reasons, then this would be a perfect vacation spot. Closing her eyes momentarily, she took in a few deep breaths as she listened to the lapping of the water against the shore. Since re-joining the rest of the Challenger’s survivors at their encampment, she had spent the day getting to grips with understanding how Major Yu had organised everything. Ben-Ami had been impressed with Yu’s application of her survival knowledge and skills to ensure the crew were safe in their camp. Ben-Ami then went on to check in on those crewmembers who still had injuries and was pleased to see all of them had either recovered or were close to being back to themselves. The only medical worry she had now was keeping a close eye on Edro’s asthma-like symptoms. Thankfully the MACOs had set up a medical tent with all of her equipment in it. She had been able to alleviate his breathing issues and was now pleased he was able to enjoy the evening’s entertainment without any major cause for concern. Opening her eyes, she saw two of her friends approaching her, Major Yu with Ensign Hennessey. Yu had her arm linked into the communication officer’s arm. She knew the gesture was purely platonic. Both of them had been married before, in fact Hennessey wasn’t Yu’s type. She smiled at them both as they approached her.
“Enjoying the view?” Hennessey asked as he sat down next to her.
“It definitely beats the view of a broken ship.” Ben-Ami replied.
“Amen to that.” Yu praised as she too sat down on the beach. She looked out at where the others were in the water. “Rupesh has grown very fond of those two.” She commented.
Ben-Ami and Hennessey looked over to where the others were. Iyer had Roburn wrapped around his neck while Edro was climbing on his back. Ensigns Hathaway and Gonçalves were splashing them. It looked like the boys were trying to wrestle Iyer into the water and doing their best to bring him down by holding on to his bare chest with all their might. Eventually Edro dropped off him, like the anchor he was trying to be and splashed into the water. Everyone laughed as Edro re-appeared above the water. Iyer picked him up and put him on his shoulders while still holding on to his younger brother.
“Do you think we’ll ever find their parents?” Hennessey asked aloud.
Ben-Ami shrugged her shoulders. “That’s hard to say. Edro explained he didn’t know where their mining village was. I showed him a map of his world and he didn’t know what it was.”
“Perhaps the boys have never been to school?” Yu postulated.
Ben-Ami nodded. “It turns out he never went to school or for that matter a school doesn’t exist in their village.” She paused. “Actually, he didn’t know what a school was.”
“Really?” Hennessey said, surprised.
“It would seem his family and the rest of their village is expected to work in these mines. The children are sent into the mines when they are almost eight years old.” Ben-Ami shared.
“Child labour,” Yu said in disgust. “I can remember my old school history lessons about slavery, but you would have hoped that in this day and age that civilisations would have evolved beyond the use of slaves.”
“Far from it I’m afraid.” Ben-Ami remarked. “Plus is it our job to judge other civilisations and their rate of development compared to ours?”
Hennessey turned to her. “You’re not going to let them return back to that life are you Kefira?”
“Is it our right to stop them from returning to the family?” She answered back with.
“I think so if it means they’re going to spend the rest of their lives stuck down a cave.” Hennessey argued.
Yu chuckled at the antics the boys were getting involved with Iyer and the others. They had teamed up with Iyer and had pulled Gonçalves into the water. Their laughs were filling the air. “We can’t let them go back. Just look at them.” She said.
“I know,” Ben-Ami responded. “Within a space of a day they’re completely different and are having the childhood they rightly deserve but remember we’re not their family and we can’t force Human values on to alien cultures.”
Hennessey looked at Ben-Ami, checking both sides of her head before speaking. “Are you sure your ears aren’t a bit pointy today?” He joked. “I understand what you’re saying Kefira, yet it still doesn’t feel right.”
“Well let’s leave it for tonight and deal with it when we cross that bridge, if it ever comes.” Ben-Ami said, hoping to change their conversation. “Back to more pressing issues, where do we stand with our rations and other supplies?”
Yu answered, “Montana and Ensign Larsen are enjoying the opportunities to use the local vegetation for our main meals, but I think the crew may become a bit bored of constantly eating soups or broths.”
The three of them laughed at that.
“I’m sure Montana and Erik will make something different once they’ve got themselves going. And what about morale?” Ben-Ami asked next.
Hennessey spoke up, “It’s improved with you and the others turning up, but the crew will begin to get restless if we don’t give people tasks to do. If people are idle for too long, I think it may affect the entire mood in the camp. We need to keep everyone on a positive note.”
“We should look at giving everyone jobs to help with our survival. We could look at sending out more survey teams to see what is available on the island. First Lieutenant al-Fayyad is more than capable of organising that for us.” Yu suggested before carrying on. “I know Lieutenant Masuko’s engineers are eager to break down the escape pods and use them to build better shelters and use their power reactors for various things, but I would suggest we should hold off on doing that. We may need them to make a swift escape again. They should concentrate on repairing them.”
“I think we may need to do more than give people work to do.” Hennessey stated.
“What do you have in mind Ned?” Ben-Ami wondered.
“We should try and treat this like a holiday.” He answered.
Both women looked at each other, both having combined expressions of doubt and surprise that he just said that.
“Really Ned?” Yu asked.
“Look I know holiday was the wrong word to use here, but we need to do something that encourages the crew to look at this place,” He said gesturing towards everything around them, “as somewhere that is positive. We’re not in any danger from the Carreons attacking or from the ship exploding around us.”
“However, we do have the possibility of more aliens attacking us.” Yu said, reminding him of their encounter with the aliens that almost blew up Ben-Ami’s escape pod and either destroyed Shuttlepod One or captured it.
“And Ensign Cortez can do a lot of security training and preparing for that, however in the meantime we have a crew who needs their morale kept up. We may not be able to hold movie night anymore, but there’s plenty of other things we can do together.” Hennessey shared.
“Ned, I think you’ve just earned yourself the position of morale officer.” Ben-Ami said with a wry smile.
“Wait a sec, I didn’t say I would do that.” He protested.
Ben-Ami and Yu both laughed together at his response in trying to worm himself out of what he had been champion any moments ago.
“Well officially Montana holds the dual role of chef and morale officer, however with her workload being so big in keeping us all fed she may be happy to relinquish it.” Yu remarked. “I vote we appoint the remaining officers of the communications department to take on the job of crew morale.”
Ben-Ami nodded in agreement. “As acting-captain I concur with my acting first officer.” She looked at Hennessey. “Congratulations Ned, you’re now our new morale officer!”
Hennessey sighed in despair as fell backwards onto the sand, realising what he had to do. “I’ll have my revenge on you two one day.” He mumbled.
“You’ll thank us.” Ben-Ami said, still smiling and returning her attention back to watching those in the water.
Yawning slightly, Ben-Ami stepped out of the tent she had just been in and covered her mouth with the back of her right hand. She then pushed her hands into her standard Starfleet field jacket. Since returning from the beach the temperature was starting to drop. She had wrapped up warm before helping Edro and Roburn get ready for bed.
“How are they?” Yu whispered as she walked across their small field.
“Roburn is finally asleep,” She answered. “Rupesh has just finished reading Captain Proton to them. He’s just finishing off with Edro.”
Yu smiled. “I take it then Rupesh has taken on the full-time duties of being their babysitter while we’re here?”
Ben-Ami quietly chuckled at Yu’s words. She didn’t want to be too loud, especially as most of the crew were calling it a night and retiring to their tents to go to bed. “He’s a natural at being a parent.”
“He’ll make one hell of a father one day.” Yu added in agreement. “Do you fancy getting a mug of hot chocolate before calling it a night?”
“That sounds like a lovely idea.” Ben-Ami whispered as the two women headed to the marquee where most of the crew met for their meals.
Around them the small campfires were slowly burning themselves out and lights inside tents were being turned off. Soon the campsite would be covered in darkness from the deprivation of light. Walking across the grass, they were only a few feet away from the entrance when Ensign Cortez approached them.
“Commander, Major – am I glad you’re still awake.” She said, holding a torch in one hand and a data tablet in the other.
“Rachele, aren’t you meant to be on night guard?” Ben-Ami questioned the second armoury officer. One of Yu’s initiatives when they had set up their camp was to have the remaining MACOs and armoury personnel take it in turns to remain on duty during the night-time to guard the campsite.
“I am, however, I thought you both would want to see this.” Cortez replied as she handed them over the tablet in her hands and activated its contents.
“What are we looking at?” Yu asked.
“Ma’am, this is the last recording sent to us by one of our micro drone planes.” She shared. “This is the visual scans it was taking before we lost contact.”
“Why did we lose contact?” Ben-Ami probed.
“Watch ma’am and you’ll see why.” Cortez explained.
They watched the video feed of the drone’s flight. The image was almost green, showing that the drone had changed to its night vision mode and infrared mode. Soon a large white object appeared in front of it and two minutes later the video went blank.
“Did it crash into something?” Ben-Ami asked as she looked at Cortez.
“We believe it did ma’am, however what it crashed into was what concerns me the most.” She stated. “The drone was flying at an altitude of eighteen kilometres. There was something floating up there which was pretty big.”
Ben-Ami looked at Yu, both sharing the concern the ensign had brought to their attention. “Where was the drone when it went down?” She asked.
“It was exactly five thousand, five hundred and sixty-seven kilometres from the camp.” Cortez said. “The last part of the drone’s sensor log indicates it to be a large airborne structure, possible a craft of some sort, but the outer hull alloys are similar in signature to those of that alien craft that approached Shuttlepod One and took out your escape pod ma’am.”
Ben-Ami winced at that news. She considered their options for a moment. “Do we have any more drones?”
Cortez nodded in response. “Yes ma’am.”
“Then send one more to track it, but stealthily. I don’t want whoever is up there to know we’re aware of them. Let’s get a better picture of what it is and if it’s heading in this direction.” Ben-Ami ordered.
“Aye ma’am.” Cortez said and soon left the two women to get on with her work.
Yu looked at Ben-Ami and gave her the assurance she needed. “We’re safe at the moment and the metal alloys in the rocks around us are helping to hide us from any scans.”
“I know, it’s just I was starting to get used to the idea of actually feeling comfortable in this place.” Ben-Ami said. “You still want to grab that drink?”
“Most definitely!” Yu responded and she followed Ben-Ami into the marquee.
Captain Burton was sat still at the helm like a statue. He was watching the sensor indicator on one of the screens tell him how close they got towards the Carreon armada. They were almost within range. He pressed the controls to begin slowing down the ship, so they didn’t overshoot the fleet; however the controls weren’t responding to his input. Slight panic went over him that only increased as the computer beeped at him loudly at the sudden increase in temperature within the warp core.
“What the hell?” He said aloud before slamming his fist on the nearby intercom panel. “Bridge to engineering, Michael what the hell-”
Stanton interrupted him from finishing his sentence. “I know sir, we’ve picked it up here as well. Some computer programme has been activated and has locked us out of control of the warp core.”
“Can you override it?” Burton quizzed.
“I’m trying, but the core temperature is reaching critical and with the damaged state it is in I can tell you now sir the antimatter will be hard to cool down. The plasma coolant injectors won’t be able to help us.” Stanton responded.
“Sir did you change our course?” Levesque quickly interjected.
Burton shook his head. “No, why?”
“We’ve just altered course, heading straight for the centre of the Carreon fleet.” She replied.
“At our present speed and with the current rate of temperature increase in the warp core we will have a core breach the moment we approach the fleet.” T’Plau added.
“Sounds like someone’s deliberately played with our systems to turn us into a moving bomb!” Levesque reacted.
“Indeed, it would seem that way.” T’Plau remarked.
Burton was getting angry at their situation. Who the hell had tampered with his ship and now was forcing them to become a ticking time bomb? Sudden realisation dawned over him. “Michael could the Deltans have set us up?” He asked his engineer.
“I couldn’t tell you right now sir.” Stanton retorted. “I’m having difficulty keeping the core from blowing apart.”
“Dump it then.” Burton ordered.
“Sir?” Stanton responded, his shock at the captain’s words echoing through the intercom.
“We haven’t got time to save it, Michael. Eject the warp core.” Burton commanded.
“Lloyd, if we lose the core then we’re stranded out here and main engineering will be exposed to a vacuum.” Levesque said in a low tone.
“Noted, but it’s better than being the Deltan’s surprise present for the Carreons.” He remarked. “Prime Minister An’die seemed all too happy to let us go to deal with them. I’ll put any good money on the idea that the Deltans had planned to use us if the opportunity arose.”
“A startling theory sir.” T’Plau stated. “However, it is a logical assumption based on the facts we currently have. I am not picking up any Romulan ships or interference from their telepresence capturing device in our systems.”
“Bridge, standby I’m about to release the last maglock on the warp core. It’s going to be a bumpy ride out of warp!” Stanton shouted over the speakers.
All three bridge officers took hold of the nearest handrail and braced themselves for the sudden lurch as the ship dropped out of warp. “Make sure you and your people are out of there Michael!”
“We are, here goes!” The chief engineer announced.
The ventral bulkheads of main engineering exploded from beneath the deck plates, revealing open space as three decks below became exposed to the vacuum. The large deuterium injector arms retracted out of the warp core, followed by more explosions that forced the core outwards into open space. Challenger jolted, its main form of propulsion exited it from its underbelly and the ship threw itself out of warp speed and into normal space.
“I’m attempting to gain control!” Burton screamed over the commotion. A number of systems had reacted badly to the loss of the ship’s warp core, causing them to overload. Sparks flew all around the ship.
“The core is breaching!” Levesque shouted as she registered the reactor hitting its critical point and exploding. The shockwave from it slung outwards in all directions, hitting the nearby Earth ship, inflicting more damage to it.
On the bridge of the Challenger, Burton looked at the other two with the same glum expression that hadn’t left his face for some time now. They were dead in the water again, this time without a warp core and a chance in hell of saving their crew.