Main Bridge | Deck One | USS Elysion
10:13 Zulu – 21 minutes until evacuation deadline
Lieutenant Commander Talak, chief science officer of the USS Elysion pursed his lips as his eyes quickly scanned the lines of data which scrolled across his console once more. He tapped his communicator.
From his position in the centre command seat, executive officer Chivras turned sharply to the right, looking up towards the Vulcan science officer, his eyes widening slightly and his antennae twitching in anticipation.
“Ransom here. Go ahead, Commander.”
“Captain, you instructed that you should be informed if there were any changes in the results of my ten-minute interval scans…”
“I’m on my way,” Ransom cut him off. Within seconds he appeared through the doorway which led to his ready room, almost running up the small flight of steps to the raised semi-enclosed science station at the starboard rear of the bridge. “Show me,” he ordered as he took up position next to the science officer.
Talak tapped at his console, a visual representation of Eskon IV filling the left half of one of his monitors. Two red dots were visible on the screen, red dots which Ransom alone knew were manifestations of Omega molecules. The first dot continued to maintain a geosynchronous orbit above the planet, whilst the second dot appeared to somehow be within the planet itself, just over three hundred metres beneath the colony’s primary atmosphere processor.
“This was ten minutes ago,” he informed Ransom. “These readings are consistent with each of the twelve scans I have completed since your first orders. However, these are the results of my latest scan.” With a theatrical flair which belied his ethnicity, Talak tapped a short series of commands into the console and the right-hand side of the monitor came to life.
At first glance, the two sides of the screen looked identical, then Ransom realised that the red dot beneath the surface of the planet seemed to be enlarged. He looked at Talak anxiously.
“It’s got bigger?” he asked with surprise.
“No sir,” Talak replied as his fingers played over the console once more. As the magnification of the right-hand screen increased, Ransom realised that what had initially been a single molecule of Omega was now… multiple molecules.
“My God,” he muttered. “It’s replicated itself.”
“Unknown,” Talak replied. “However, the space which initially contained a single molecule now contains seventeen molecules.”
“Will they continue to increase in number?”
“Also unknown,” Talak admitted. “However, I shall continue to monitor the situation.”
“Thank you. Well done, Commander.” Ransom chewed on his lower lip as he slowly descended the steps to the bridge command area. Chivras wordlessly vacated the centre seat for his captain, moving back to his own seat.
“Mister Shanko, open a channel to Magister-Administrator Keelie,” Ransom ordered.
After a pause, the Turei colony administrator appeared on the main viewer.
“Captain Ransom, you agreed three hours. You are somewhat early,” he said, his displeasure evident in both tone and expression.
“My apologies, Magister-Administrator,” Ransom raised both hands in a placating gesture as he approached the viewscreen. “The danger I spoke earlier about has increased significantly. We need to get all of your people off the planet as soon as possible.”
Keelie gave a sad smile. “Do you realise that is the first time that you have offered your apologies to me Captain Ransom? Perhaps if you could explain just why you believe that we are in such danger, then perhaps…”
On hearing Keelie’s words, Ransom resisted the urge to glance back at Chivras, the conversation a familiar one.
“I’m sorry, Magister-Administrator but I’m not at liberty to share that information.”
Keelie gave a humourless laugh.
“Two apologies in one conversation, Captain Ransom? Now you really are spoiling me.” He sighed deeply. “Very well. Most of my people are already assembled in our commissary – your sensors will no doubt be able to detect them. They are ready to beam up to your ship now. I will… what is the human phrase? Ah, yes – I will ‘round up the stragglers’. Keelie out.”
The image of the Turei administrator winked out and Ransom tapped his communicator.
“Hobbes here, Captain.”
“Commander – we have two hundred individuals to beam aboard as quickly as possible. What are our options?”
“Well, using all three transporter rooms means we can beam up eighteen at the same time. Based on an individual transport cycle of say, fifteen seconds – and assuming everyone down there is ready to go at the point we need ‘em – that means around seventy a minute… So maybe just over three minutes for the whole lot? Of course, if you can get us to within ten thousand kilometres, we could use the emergency transporters and grab them all at the same time.”
Ransom shook his head even though the engineer couldn’t see him.
“That’s too close – I can’t risk that. Three minutes it is, then… bring all three transporter rooms online.” He tapped his communicator to close the channel. “Lieutenant Rayas, get Chief Carrington and his staff to meet our guests as they come aboard and escort them to the crew lounges on deck six. Tell him to make sure that they have everything that they need. Lieutenant Colia, take us in closer to Eskon IV – but no closer than forty thousand kilometres. Keep the body of the planet between us and the geosynchronous ‘red dot’ at all times.
Hearing affirmative responses from both the operations and conn officers, Ransom returned to his seat. Master Chief Banquo ascended the steps to the rear auxiliary consoles and began to configure one to show transporter operations.
“What can I do to help Captain?” Chivras asked as the captain sat down. Resisting the urge to respond with a sarcastic comment about supporting his commanding officer, Ransom merely shook his head.
“Thank you, XO. I have it covered.”
“Forty thousand kilometres, Captain,” Colia reported from her position at conn.
“Very well. Rayas, commence transport.”
“Aye sir.” The Bolian chief operations officer tapped at her console. “All three transporter rooms report transports are underway.”
Ransom’s pulse was pounding in his temple. Forty thousand kilometres from the planet surface, with that orbiting Omega molecule as far away as possible… With luck, the distance and the multiphasic shielding which Hobbes had installed around Elysion’s warp core would protect the ship somewhat – but if the molecules beneath the planet which had somehow replicated themselves detonated… Well, it would be over before they realised what was happening. At least for his crew and the Turei colonists it would mean that there would be no pain.
“Captain, Master-Fourteen has returned,” Talak reported. “They are headed towards Eskon IV.”
“God-damn,” Ransom muttered. “Open a channel. Unidentified merchantman, this is the Federation starship Elysion. Our previous warning still stands – if you do not change course immediately, you will be fired upon.”
Silence filled the bridge.
“No response,” Shanko reported.
“Have they changed course?” Ransom demanded.
“Negative,” said Talak. “They will breach your previously stated perimeter of fifty-thousand kilometres in one minute, sixteen seconds.”
Ransom unconsciously ran one hand through his hair, his pulse pounding. If this damn-fool freighter captain continued his approach to Eskon IV, the proximity of his warp core would most likely detonate the Omega molecule in orbit around the planet – which in turn would collapse most of subspace in the sector and destroy both the merchant vessel and Elysion at the same time. Then if the cluster of molecules below the planet’s surface were to be triggered in some sort of secondary detonation… Ransom couldn’t imagine the extent of the damage to subspace.
His initial urge was to raise Elysion’s shields, to give his ship and his crew as much protection from any Omega explosion as possible – but he knew that doing so would halt all transporter operations and prevent the evacuation of the remaining Turei civilians from the planet below.
“Rayas, how long until the evacuation is complete?”
The operations officer checked a display.
“One minute, fifty-two seconds,” she stated.
Too long, Ransom thought. Too damn long. If he broke off transporter operations to intercept the merchantman, maybe he could force the captain of that vessel to alter course. But then again, maybe not… Plus he’d be putting Elysion dangerously close to the orbiting Omega molecule in order to do that. The proximity of Elysion’s warp core might end up detonating the molecule anyway…
A wave of nausea washed over Ransom as the inevitability of the only course of action remaining to him became clear. He turned to Talak.
“What’s the crew of the merchantman?” he asked quietly.
“Forty-six,” the science officer replied. “Of various races.”
“Captain…” Chivras began, getting to his feet.
Ransom cut him off.
“Unidentified merchantman, change your course immediately! This is your final warning!”
“No change to the merchantman’s course,” Talak reported. Ransom was already ascending the steps towards the tactical console even as the science officer spoke.
“Captain!” shouted Chivras as the horror of what Ransom planned to do finally dawned on him. “Captain! Please don’t do this!”
“Thorne, you’re relieved,” Ransom said to the tactical officer as he drew level with her.
“Sir?” she replied with confusion.
“You’re relieved!” Ransom barked. Thorne stepped away from the console in surprise, making way for the captain.
“No!” shouted Chivras, sounding almost in pain as he scrambled up the steps on the other side of the bridge. “That’s an unarmed ship with a civilian crew!”
Ransom was tapping rapidly at the controls of the tactical panel, loading the forward launchers and activating the targeting system when his executive officer barrelled into him, knocking him sidewards. His left hand grabbed the trailing edge of the console which prevented him from falling to the deck.
“You’re relieved!” Ransom bellowed furiously, his anger fuelled partly by the knowledge that Chivras’ interference – however well-intentioned – could kill them all, and partly due to the fact that it was his executive officer – his right-hand – and one of his closest friends, who was trying to stop him.
“You’re wrong!” Chivras shouted back, his anger and frustration mirroring that of his captain. He stood, breathing heavily and blocking Ransom’s return to the tactical console.
“Master Chief!” Ransom barked. “Remove Commander Chivras from the bridge and escort him to his quarters!”
Banquo looked from Ransom to Chivras and back again. The two officers whom he admired most on the ship, facing off against each other in anger. For the first time in his long career, he found himself at a loss about what to do.
“Captain, Commander…” he began in a vain attempt to defuse the situation.
“Now, Master Chief!” spat Ransom, his anger turning then towards his senior NCO. Decades of training and experience came to the fore and Banquo stepped decisively towards Chivras in response, both hands held up before him in a placating manner. Chivras struggled in vain to maintain his position, but Banquo successfully managed to move the executive officer away from the tactical console. Stepping forwards, Ransom jabbed his finger down onto a single trigger control, his head snapping up towards the main viewer in time to see the lone photon torpedo streak away from beneath Elysion’s primary hull.
Seconds later, the merchantman disappeared in a bright white flash of light and the viewscreen automatically dimmed. The flash faded after several seconds to reveal empty space – the unknown merchant vessel had been destroyed completely.
In Banquo’s firm grip, the previously struggling Thill Chivras now seemed deflated, the destruction of the freighter having stripped all of the fight from him. Tears stung the Andorian officer’s eyes as he stared at his friend in disbelief.
“Oh, Jack…” he whispered.
Ransom turned towards him, but looked directly at Master Chief Banquo.
“Get him off my bridge,” he said hoarsely. As Banquo led the unprotesting executive officer to the turbolift, Ransom descended the steps to the command area. “Status of transport?” he said, his tone level.
“Rayas!” he snapped at the operations officer. “Status of transport?”
At the sound of the captain’s raised voice, Rayas closed her mouth which hung open in shock and turned back to her console.
“Transport complete,” she reported. “Transporter Chief Drexx reports that all of the colonists are safely aboard.”
“Very well,” Ransom nodded as he retook the centre seat. “Colia, move us away from the planet, full impulse. Let me know when we’re at a distance of three-hundred and fifty thousand kilometres. Silence filled the bridge once more as Elysion moved rapidly away from Eskon IV.
“Three-hundred and fifty thousand kilometres sir,” Colia reported.
“All stop, aye.”
Ransom turned to look over his shoulder to where Lieutenant Commander Thorne had retaken her position at tactical.
“Commander Thorne – load both gravimetric torpedoes into the aft launcher and target the colony.”
“Aye sir,” she replied. The turbolift doors opened with a hiss as Master Chief Banquo returned to the bridge.
“Lieutenant Colia, set a new course for Mithrar Anchorage. Engage at maximum warp on my mark,” Ransom ordered. Banquo lowered himself into the vacant seat to Ransom’s left with a delicate grace which belied the man’s size.
“Commander Thorne… fire one. Fire Two.”
“Torpedoes away,” Thorne reported. The silence continued for several seconds before Talak spoke.
“Eskon IV has been destroyed.”
“Any changes to subspace in the local vicinity? Any unusual sensor readings to report?” Ransom asked.
A pause, then:
“No sir. No unusual sensor readings detected – subspace or otherwise.” Talak paused once more. “However, I must advise you that the shock wave of the planet’s destruction will reach us in twenty-four seconds.”
“Understood,” Ransom nodded.
“How are you doing, Captain?” Banquo asked softly, the man’s baritone almost a whisper. Ransom looked at him as though genuinely surprised by the man’s question. He gave him a tight smile in response.
“You know what, Joe? I don’t know yet,” replied Ransom. “I really don’t know. And I think it might be that way for a while.”
Banquo stared into his eyes for several seconds before giving a curt nod and turning away, seemingly content with his captain’s reply. He glanced down at the repeater console built into the arm of his chair.
“Engineering reports ready, Captain,” he announced loudly. “Warp speed at your discretion.”
“Thank you, Master Chief. Lieutenant Colia? Engage.”
Elysion jumped away in the direction of Mithrar Anchorage and the shock wave which had successfully absorbed the energy of the Omega molecules and contained the remains of the planet Eskon IV, the Turei colony and an unnamed civilian freighter with a crew of forty-six innocent people continued to expand gradually before finally petering out to nothingness…