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Part of USS Elysion: Chain of Command and Bravo Fleet: Phase 1: Omega

Chapter Three – Enforced Evacuation

USS Elysion, Gradin Belt, Delta Quadrant
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Main Bridge | Deck One | USS Elysion

07:07 Zulu

All eyes turned in silent expectation as Ransom stepped out of the turbolift. He had spent a fitful night in his quarters – he estimated that he’d managed to get somewhere between three and four hours of sleep – and had then showered, shaved, and dressed in a clean uniform.

“Captain on the bridge,” Master Chief Banquo broke off his conversation with the chief of the watch to make the announcement.

“Good morning everyone,” Ransom said softly as he descended the steps to the lower level.

“Good morning Captain,” Chivras replied as Ransom took his position in the centre seat of three. It was impossible to discern his executive officer’s mood from those three simple words and although Chivras’s tone sounded amenable, Ransom knew from experience that his friend would most likely still be brooding over last night’s frank exchange of views.

“Anything to report?” Ransom asked.

“Nothing that needs your attention sir,” Chivras replied efficiently. “There were one or two things that cropped up, but I’ve dealt with them.”

“Very well,” nodded Ransom. “Lieutenant Colia – time to the Eskon system?”

The Deltan chief conn officer half-turned in her seat to respond. “Seventeen minutes, Captain.”

Precisely on schedule. Ransom stood and ascended the steps to the aft starboard station which was configured as the bridge’s primary science console. Talak, Elysion’s Vulcan chief science officer watched him approach with an expression which, if watched by a less generous observer could almost be perceived as expectation.

“Talak, when we get to the Eskon system, I’ll need you to scan for this, every ten minutes…” Standing next to the science officer, Ransom tapped rapidly at the console.

“Of course, sir.” Talak raised an eyebrow with interest as he watched Ransom work. “If I may, Captain – that looks as though…”

“I don’t need a commentary, Talak. I just need you to scan for it. If you find it, let me know immediately. And once you’ve found it, that additional scan every ten minutes is to see if your initial readings have changed. If at any point they have changed, then you let me know immediately, OK?”

“Captain…” Talak began.

“Are we clear?” Ransom asked bluntly, interrupting the other man.

Talak glanced past him towards the command area where he knew without looking that Chivras was watching.

“Don’t look at him, look at me!” Ransom snapped angrily. “Are we clear Lieutenant Commander?”

Talak’s eyes snapped back to Ransom.

“My apologies, Captain. Yes, we are clear,” Talak nodded.

“Good. One more thing – I don’t want anyone but you conducting these scans. Unfortunately, that will mean you remaining on watch until the conclusion of this mission.” Ransom knew better than to expect his words to elicit an emotional response from the chief science officer, even though his orders to remain on watch were unusual to say the least. Talak nodded at his commanding officer’s words, almost as if he had been expecting them.

“Of course, Captain. I understand.”

“Thank you.” Ransom returned to his seat in the command area, conscious of two unusual factors – firstly, that the crewmember at each bridge station was working in complete silence – normally the background operational chatter between bridge personnel acted as a signal that all was well with the ship. Secondly, every single member of the bridge crew now studiously avoided making eye contact with their commanding officer. Even Chivras stared directly ahead at the viewscreen, the Andorian XO appearing to be intently examining the white lines of warp space as Elysion rapidly approached her destination.

Correction. Almost every member of the bridge crew avoided eye contact. Standing behind the chief of the watch’s seat, Elysion’s command master chief watched Ransom return to his centre seat, an expression of either curiosity or concern – or perhaps a combination of the two – on his face. Master Chief Joe Banquo nodded to his commanding officer as their eyes met, then giving chief of the watch Ballard a reassuring pat on the shoulder, he crossed the bridge to sit down in the vacant seat to Ransom’s left.

“And what do you need from me, Captain?” Banquo asked in a matter-of-fact manner.

“Just keep doing what you normally do, Master Chief,” Ransom replied quietly. He tapped his communicator. “CHENG, Captain.”

“Hobbes here, Captain.”

“Commander, have all modifications been completed?” Ransom asked.

“Aye, sir. All completed as per your orders. Everything is running just as smooth as silk down here,” Hobbes replied.

“Very well. Captain out.” He turned to look over his shoulder to where Lieutenant Commander Layla Thorne operated the tactical and security station directly behind the command area. “And your modifications, Commander?”

“Modifications to both torpedoes have been completed sir,” Thorne replied.

In the XO’s seat, Chivras’ expression remained unchanged, as if the conversations between Ransom, Hobbes, and Thorne were standard operating procedure. His gaze remained fixed on the forward viewer.

Ransom sat back in his seat for several minutes, conscious of the continued unnatural silence of the bridge crew as they worked around him. Eventually, Lieutenant Colia broke that silence.

“Arriving at Eskon in ten seconds. Five seconds. Three. Two. Dropping out of warp.”

The familiar streaks of white light which signified travel at warp speed fell away from the main viewscreen to be replaced by an image of a yellow star and the four planets which together made up the Eskon system.

“Talak…” Ransom said.

“Scanning,” the Vulcan science officer replied. The bridge crew listened to the cyclical sounds of the sensors as Talak followed his orders. “Two contacts,” he reported.

“Show me,” Ransom instructed as he stood up. A yellow-coloured holographic representation of Eskon IV materialised in the centre of the bridge, between the command seating area and the conn and ops stations. Ransom moved to inspect the small red spot which appeared to be in geo-synchronous orbit around the planet. “That’s one?” he asked.

“Yes, Captain,” Talak replied.

“And the second?”

“Confirming exact coordinates now,” Talak’s fingers tapped rapidly at the science console. “There. It is beneath the planet’s surface… three hundred and seventeen metres directly beneath what appears to be the primary atmosphere processor of a small colony.”

“Of course it is,” Ransom muttered to himself.

“Captain?” Chivras crossed to the holographic display to stand beside the captain.

“We need to avoid the red dots,” Ransom explained. “The red dots are very bad. And the colony is a Turei terraforming and mining set-up with over two-hundred people.”

Terraforming…?” Chivras raised an eyebrow wryly.

“You know what I mean,” Ransom snapped. “The important thing is, we need to evacuate those people as quickly and as safely as possible.”

“They are in danger?” Chivras asked.

“Oh yeah,” Ransom nodded.

“From whatever those red dots are?”

“That’s right.”

“And the Turei are aware of the danger?”

“I doubt it. Even if they’ve noticed the appearance of them, I’d be surprised if the colony administrators have the equipment to identify the risk.”

Chivras walked around the planetary representation as he considered what Ransom had just told him. He leaned in closer to examine the red dot which was in geosynchronous orbit of the planet. He turned to face Ransom, a frown darkening his face.

“So, we’re just going to hope they’re happy to leave?”

“Yeah,” Ransom muttered as he returned to his seat. “Let’s not debate this now, Commander…”

“And if they don’t want to leave?” Chivras continued, ignoring Ransom’s words. “Are we planning to just make them?”

Ransom stared at his executive officer.

“Sit down, Commander. We’ll discuss this at a more suitable time.”

“Captain!” Chivras’ single word of exclamation was almost begging in its tone.

“Commander…” Ransom began slowly. “The colony – and this entire area is in significant danger. If the colonists aren’t evacuated immediately, they will most likely die.”

“Captain we cannot forcibly remove two hundred civilians from their homes!” protested Chivras loudly. “We have regulations which were created to stop us from doing precisely things like this!”

“Commander…” Ransom’s warning tone dropped an octave.

“Starfleet General Order 2,” Chivras continued. “No Starfleet personnel shall unnecessarily use force, either collectively or individually, against members of the United Federation of Planets, their duly authorised representatives, spokespersons or designated leaders, or members of any sentient non-member race, for any reason whatsoever,” he quoted, emphasising the last four words. He held his arms wide with palms facing upward. “Any reason whatsoever, Captain,” Chivras repeated quietly.

Ransom stood suddenly, his face flushed with anger. “I’m aware of my duties Mister! Now take your position or leave the bridge! I believe that I’ve made myself clear in terms of my expectations but if you find yourself unable to carry out your orders, you may relieve yourself of duty and I will note your objections in my log!”

The two command officers faced each other across the bridge, Chivras’ fists balled at his side, his confrontational stance complementing the furious expression on his face. Ransom had seen his friend’s temper on many occasions – but rarely directed towards him, and until now, never whilst on duty. To Ransom’s left, Master Chief Banquo shifted in his seat as if getting prepared to forcibly interject his body between the two senior officers if required.

“Commander, please,” the big man intoned.

Chivras looked first to Banquo, then back to Ransom.

“Thill…” Ransom addressed the XO by his given name. Moments passed and slowly, gradually. Chivras’ balled fists relaxed. The Andorian officer crossed the bridge without another word and dropped heavily into the seat to Ransom’s right.

The bridge crew members who had studiously ignored the situation earlier now looked on with open expressions of abject shock and surprise.  Ransom took some time to compose himself before addressing the communications officer.

“Ensign Shanko. Hail the colony, please… Turei colony, this is Captain Jonathan Ransom of the Federation starship Elysion.”

After some moments, the main viewer switched from the planetary view of Eskon, to a male Turei wearing the black tunic of that race’s administration division.

“I am Magister-Administrator Keelie,” he spoke slowly, his expression curious. “How may I be of assistance, Captain Jonathan Ransom of Elysion?”

“Magister-Administrator… I bring news of grave danger. You and your people must evacuate the colony immediately. Your lives are at a risk – I know this must come as a shock to you, but please believe me when I say that it is vital that you do as I ask.”

Keelie remained silent for several seconds before replying.

“Captain… this colony has been established for twenty-three years… There is no danger here.”

“There has been a… recent occurrence,” Ransom replied. “A new danger. Please… prepare your people for departure.”

“And if I was to… decline your kind offer?” Keelie asked, his tone now warier.

“Then I’m afraid that I would have to insist,” said Ransom. To his right, Chivras shifted position uncomfortably but remained silent.

The Turei administrator remaining silent for several moments, a pensive expression on his face.

“And by ‘insist’, does that mean you intend to forcibly remove us?”

Ransom stood to address the colony administrator and gave an almost imperceptible nod.

“Unfortunately, yes. But I was hoping that it wouldn’t come to that.”

Keelie sighed in resignation.

“It won’t come to that. I will need to brief my people. Some of them have families… How long do we have?”

“Two hours,” Ransom replied, stony-faced.

“Impossible!” Keelie almost scoffed in disgust, the first display of real emotion that the Turei had shown since the conversation had begun. “We will need at least 6 hours to ready ourselves, if not more! There are shut-down procedures to follow, and we have a number of delicate experiments at a critical…”

“Alright, I can give you three hours,” Ransom interrupted. “Have your people assembled in one area and ready to leave. Personal effects only.”

Keelie reverted to his prior demeanor and sighed once more.

“We will be ready. Keelie out.”

The communication channel closed and the main viewer once more showed the Eskon planetary system. Ransom returned to his seat, incredibly conscious of the silent gazes from the bridge crew.

What the hell am I doing? he asked himself. This goes against every tenet of everything that I believe as a Starfleet officer – and against how I’ve conducted myself as an explorer since the day I stepped aboard Redemption fifteen years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if…

“Captain, the colony has activated their subspace comm array,” Ensign Shanko interrupted his reveries, the Arkenite communications officer turning in his seat to face him. “Would you like me to jam them?”

Ransom almost laughed out loud at how quickly the young officer had got with the script – a feeling which was just as quickly replaced with an intense sadness for the ensign. He shook his head quickly.

“No. Let them send their messages. The nearest Turei outpost is Mithrar Anchorage and that’s – what? Two days away at maximum warp?”

“Fifty-six point four hours,” corrected Talak with typical Vulcan precision.

Ransom smiled and looked over at his chief science officer.

“Thank you, Mister Talak.” He turned back to Shanko. “Mithrar Anchorage is fifty-six point four hours away at maximum warp. We’d be halfway to them before they even set off.”

“Captain,” Talak spoke once more, but this time his voice had a tone of urgency. “An unidentified vessel has just dropped out of warp. Range two-hundred and ten thousand kilometres, bearing… zero-two-nine.”

“They’re headed for the colony,” murmured Chivras, speaking for the first time since his angry exchange with the captain. The executive officer leaned forward in his seat.

“On screen,” instructed Ransom.

The main viewer focused on what looked to be a battered-looking merchantman of uncertain origin.

“The vessel design lineage does not match anything in our main computer,” Talak reported.

“Designating unidentified vessel as Master-Fourteen,” Thorne called out from the tactical station.

“Shanko – hail them and warn them off. Let them know that if they get closer than 50,000 kilometres, they will be fired upon,” Ransom spoke softly but firmly.

“Aye sir,” Shanko replied, turning back to his console. Master Chief Banquo crossed the bridge to the communications station, giving his silent support to the relatively inexperienced junior officer. To the captain’s right, Chivras shifted his position in his seat once more. Ransom glanced at him.

“You have something to add, XO?”

“No sir,” Chivras replied after a moment. “I have nothing to add.”

“Very well.” Ransom nodded, then looked over to the science station. “Talak?”

“Master-Fourteen has altered course, Captain. Her new trajectory will take her past Eskon IV with a perigee of 62,000 kilometres.”

“Any acknowledgment from Master-Fourteen?” Ransom asked the communications officer.

“None sir,” Shanko replied. “But they definitely heard me.”

“Evidently,” Ransom said drily. He looked at Chivras. “XO, I’ll be in my ready room.”

“Aye sir,” Chivras watched his captain – his friend – cross the bridge and disappear through the doorway of his private sanctum. As he leaned back in his own seat, he wondered just what on Andoria had got into Ransom to make him behave so out of character. He glanced over to the science station where Lieutenant Commander Talak unblinkingly met his gaze. The Vulcan officer was obviously having similar thoughts…

Chivras considered leaving the bridge to go and inform Doctor Valentine of his concerns. Valentine had known Ransom for even longer than Chivras had – plus if he had reason to believe that the captain was ill in some way… He decided against talking to Valentine at this stage. Although Ransom’s behaviour was unusual, there could be a valid reason for it which he was currently unable to share with anyone else. He would give his friend the benefit of the doubt – at least there had been no risk to life, after all. And if he raised his concerns with the CMO, then he knew that there was no going back from that… He looked over to the ops station.

“Lieutenant Rayas – do we have a countdown clock?”

The Bolian officer nodded as her fingers moved deftly across her panel. A bar of scarlet numbers against a black background appeared on the forward bulkhead just below the main viewer, the numbers steadily counting down towards zero.

Two hours, fifty-four minutes, and thirty-six seconds.

Thill Chivras leaned back in his seat once more and considered the situation.

Two hours, fifty-four minutes, and thirty-six seconds.

And then Captain Jonathan Ransom of the Federation starship Elysion would commit a clear and absolute breach of the Prime Directive.