Part of Challenger: The Romulan War: The Tholian Stratagem


Challenger NX-03
Friday, November 14th, 2155
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Dimmed lighting appeared across the entire ship as Challenger moved across space with its armada surrounding it. Travelling at a respectable speed of warp three point five, the flotilla was planned to reach its target soon, but in the meantime it was decided that they would reduce the amount of power each ship would be giving out to prevent the Romulans from picking them up. Alongside that to reduce the subspace distortion created by the fleet, each ship travelled in pairs with some distance between those pairs. Again, another strategy to ensure their attack against the Romulans was a surprise. 

Working quietly in the ship’s gym, Rosa Sandoval was undertaking her daily yoga training. This was something she did every day to keep herself calm and relaxed. With her eyes closed, she controlled her breathing and allowed her body to remain still as much as she could. Eventually she moved from one position to another which resulted in her companion groaning inwards thus making her roll her eyes at his impatience before closing them again. 

“Alex,” She said, still keeping her eyes closed, “breathe before you strain something. Move gently into it.”

Gritting his teeth, Alex Rodham copied the warrior pose that Sandoval now did with one leg bent forward, the other backwards and her arms both stretched high. “I feel and look stupid.” He moaned through a whisper.

Suppressing a smile, the gamma shift officer remained still in her position. “Close your eyes so that you can remove any outside influence.”

“I can’t see why we couldn’t do a workout together.” He groaned back to his friend. 

The two of them had been close friends and with the ship operating under what Fleet Captain Burton had entitled ‘grey mode’, the crew had some time to compose themselves before the upcoming battle. As such Sandoval had offered to help Rodham calm himself since he had not been able to sleep for the last few days. She had suggested there was some level of anxiety coming from the first officer and pilot since the last battle they went into he had lost his husband from it all. So having him join in her daily yoga exercise seemed like a good idea. He agreed to give it a go and where they both stood now in the middle of the gym, he didn’t appear to be able to take it seriously. 

Wearing just a black vest and shorts, Rodham gave up and closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing as he held his pose. It was obvious that Sandoval ignored his last comment.

The doors to the gym, which Rodham and Sandoval had the luxury of having to themselves so far, parted open allowing for the ship’s chief science officer to walk in. Walker stopped in mid-stroll as he took in what he encountered in the middle of the gym. Clearing his throat at seeing both Rodham and Sandoval in such positions made him smirk a bit. He cleared his throat before speaking. “Is it okay to come in?” 

Both officers opened their eyes and instantly Rodham dropped his arms and stood up straight. “Yeah of course Cooper.” Rodham said, appearing somewhat embarrassed.

Shaking her head at him, Sandoval once again rolled her eyes at him. “Why don’t you join us Cooper?” She offered.

Looking at them both, Walker who wore similar gym apparel (all grey though) like Rodham considered the suggestion and eventually agreed. “I gotta admit, I’ve never done yoga before.”

“Neither has Alex, so just follow my lead.” Sandoval said as she gestured for him to take up a position on the other side of her. 

Relieved slightly that Walker was joining in and not mocking it all, Rodham closed his eyes again and went back to copying Sandoval’s next yoga move. “So anything on long range sensors yet?” He whispered towards Walker. 

Walker, who had also copied Sandoval’s posture, opened one eye as he answered in a low tone. “Nothing.” He answered.

“I can’t believe the Romulans haven’t seen us yet.” Rodham remarked back in between breaths, still muttering under his breath. 

“For now, the captain’s plan of being undetected appears to be working.” Walker stated.

“Will you both be silent please?” Sandoval said, sounding annoyed in her low voice. “Any louder and the Romulans will pick us up from your chattering alone.”

Both men apologised. A few seconds later, Rodham opened his eyes. “Cooper, do you feel stupid like me and want to go punch the bags at the back?”

Quickly opening his eyes and standing up straight, the science officer sounded relieved in his response. “I thought you’d never ask!”

“Sorry Rosa.” Rodham said as he got off his mat and picked up his trainers. The two men walked over to the other side of the gym towards the hanging punching bags, leaving Sandoval to shake her head in disbelief at them both for not having the commitment to see the yoga through. 

Lying on the deck plating of engineering with a coil spanner between her teeth, Masuko was adjusting a plasma injector when footsteps approached her. Sitting up from where she laid she smiled at the arrival of the ship’s senior nurse.

“Niall, to what do I owe the pleasure?” The chief engineer asked.

Smirking back at her, Stewart answered quickly. “I’m here to take you and several others for your first aid teaching.”

Grumbling at the remark, the chief engineer shook her head. “Niall, I appreciate you’ve got a job to do but so do I. These modifications the captain has asked me to undertake are taking longer to do and the more time I spend on it the more I worry he is going to find someone else to be the chief engineer.”

“I understand it lieutenant but-” Stewart started before Masuko snapped at him.

“But nothing else Niall! I’ve got strict orders from the captain to get these modifications done. I would have completed them sooner if it wasn’t for the high number of battle drills we’ve had to do as well  So if you would kindly go back to the good Ro-fa and tell her that I will need to skip today’s lesson unless she is able to spare me anyone from sickbay who can perform micro-surgery on a warp nacelle.”

Realising he had arrived at an awkward time, Stewart stepped back a bit from his superior. “So shall I just say I couldn’t find you and I’ll take those who are left in engineering who need their training?”

“You do that and I promise I will shut down power in sickbay.” Masuko returned. “Now get out of my engineering room and if anyone asks, just say the door was locked and no-one was answering your call. Dismissed lieutenant.” 

Taking the hint, Stewart left engineering at a quicker pace than the one he had arrived in with. Entering the corridors of D deck, the senior nurse moved out of the area quicker than a flash of lightning and back towards sickbay. 

As he returned to sickbay he bumped into Doctor Payne, Challenger’s new second medical officer. “I take it your lesson wasn’t successful either?” He asked her. 

Payne just shook her head, “The armoury team wasn’t having any of it.”

“Snap with engineering.” Stewart said as they turned down a corridor. Before they had a chance to arrive at sickbay, they heard a commotion coming from the nearest lift. Turning around in a snap, both medical officers saw a number of MACOs charging down the corridor carrying Rafferty in their arms. Instantly Stewart recognised one of the MACOs as his husband and the other two were Trommler and Iyer. 

“What happened to him?” Stewart asked as he approached the group and joined them in their rush towards the medical wing of the ship. Payne fell beside them as well.

“Training accident.” Jenkins answered. 

Looking down at the injured young MACO soldier, Stewart and Payne saw a long black pole in the right leg of Rafferty as he tried to remain awake.

“Is that an arrow in his leg?” Payne quizzed.

“It might be.” Iyer said, wincing slightly as he kept hold of the young soldier. 

“What do you mean, it might be?” Stewart inquired as they came down the long corridor towards sickbay. “Is it, or isn’t it?”

“It is!” Trommler answered as they approached the sickbay doors and Payne slapped the door controls to open allowing them to enter straight away.

“What on Earth has happened?” Ro-fa Ben-Ami asked the moment she heard and saw the group entering sickbay in their hastily manner. 

The three MACO men placed Rafferty carefully down onto the main surgery bed.

“We were training and Rafferty was caught by friendly fire.” Iyer reported to the doctor as she examined her patient. 

As she looked at the injury both Stewart and Payne got on their gloves and gowns. 

“It looks like the arrow has gone only through tissue; no bone appears broken.” Ben-Ami reported as she used her medical scanner over Rafferty. “Let’s get him out of his gear so we can carefully remove the arrow.”

Stewart grabbed the nearby scissors that would cut through Rafferty’s trousers so they could get to the injury a little bit easier. “Hold still Harvey.” He instructed the young MACO as he started cutting from the base of his right trouser leg.

Rafferty just mumbled something as Payne placed an oxygen mask over him and injected him with some pain relief with a hypospray into his neck. 

After getting herself into her surgery gear, Ro-fa Ben-Ami took out her scanner again. “The blade of the arrow has entered quite far; I think I may have to operate to get it out.” She looked up at the MACOs that stood by the door. “What training was this?”

Looking over to his husband and his comrades, wondering if they could answer the question, Stewart could see a sense of shame and horror across their faces. None of them replied. Trommler then spoke up.

“Will he live?” The MACO leader asked.

“He will, but he won’t be running on this leg for some time.” Ben-Ami answered bluntly. “I’ll ask again, what training was this? I’ve not seen any of you with bows and arrows before!”

“Alternative combat measurers.” Trommler blurted out. “The captain wanted us to try something different in case our normal weapons wouldn’t work.”

Rolling her eyes and shaking her head at the remark, the doctor went on with treating her patient. “Very well, please can you all leave here so we can do our work.”

Watching the MACOs leave, Stewart couldn’t help but feel there was something they weren’t sharing with Ben-Ami. 

Stepping into the hallway, running his hands through his hair from stress, Trommler was sweating from everything that was happening. He couldn’t believe how stupid he had been.

“Take it easy Luis.” Iyer reminded him. “Harvey is in the best hands.”

Nodding to the words from his first sergeant, Trommler appreciated the comments from him. “I know Rupesh, but if I hadn’t insisted on us doing that exercise then…”

“…our unit wouldn’t be ready.” Jenkins finished with.

“That’s not the point Liam.” Trommler snapped back. “I’m the commander for the detachment, I shouldn’t be so reckless in what I get the unit to do.”

At that point heavier footsteps could be heard coming down the corridor from where the three men had just rushed from. Looking over they saw the arrival of more MACOs. 

 “We heard what happened.” Spoke First Lieutenant Sheridan Alder, Trommler’s new deputy. She stood only a few inches smaller than the German captain. Her short pixie cut of her dark brown hair was flattered by her sky-blue eyes. Overall Alder had a somewhat boyish look to her features but she was quite fierce when engaged in combat, as recently seen in the last training session. Born and raised on Mars, the woman was a year younger than Trommler and had come highly recommended by General Casey. 

Besides her was Trommler’s assistant commander, Second Lieutenant Alizeh Javini. The Iranian soldier had served with Sheridan in her previous unit. Both were excellent additions to the Challenger’s MACO detachment. “Will Raftery live?”

“I hope so.” Trommler replied, as he kicked the nearby bulkhead and walked away from the scene to compose himself in private.

Working quietly in the port armoury room, Cortez was working on the last set of spatial torpedoes that were being modified to carry their new payloads. The thermo-nuclear warheads had been picked up from Cold Station Four without a hitch and it had been her job to ensure the ship was able to fire them. Adjusting the casing on the torpedo she was on, Cortez checked her readings on the warhead, it remained calm for now. Once it was secure in its casing then it would be safe. With the help of a few others, she finished the last modification and locked the casing.

Leaning back on the stall she was on, she gave out a huge sigh of relief. “Thank god,” She looked at her team and thanked them all. “Go grab yourselves some coffee and a well earned break. We’ll get back together in half an hour to run final checks on the targeting scanners.”

Appreciating the time away from their work, the team began to file out of the room just as Ensign Reddick stepped in. Looking just as exhausted as she was, the young deputy made his way over to his superior with a tablet in his hand. “Modifications complete to the phase cannons ma’am.”

Sagging her shoulders down and closing her eyes as she took the device from him, she was wondering just how many changes the captain wanted to make to the ship’s arsenal before they engaged the Romulans at Rator. “Thanks Adrian, how many shots will we get?”

“Three at best, but I’ve not modified the pulse cannons. I thought we may need them more, but I can’t be certain the by-pass we installed to avoid damaging the entire tactical array will actually prevent us losing all of our weapons.” Reddick answered as he took a seat on the edge of a nearby crate. “But it won’t take long for us to switch the overload on.”

“I’m sure the captain will appreciate it.” Cortez remarked as she dropped the tablet onto the floor. “I noticed in the last drill or response time was a lot quicker.”

“Yeah, the drills seem to be actually working.” Reddick agreed. “I know we’re at war, but everything just seems tense.”

“It’s the nature of the beast, ensign.” Cortez said as she looked up. “Fancy grabbing a cup of coffee before the next drill?”

Nodding as he got up, Reddick liked the sound of it. “If we get to the mess hall in time, I heard that Chef Lawson has made some apple pie and ice cream, if there’s any left I’ll treat you to a slice!”

As they began to walk out, Cortez looked up at him, “I may need a whole pie to get me through the rest of this day.”

“Now that sounds like a plan.” Reddick said as they crossed the threshold and left the armoury suite. 

Alpha shift was about to come off duty, so when Commander Rodham noticed the proximity alarm had picked up something coming behind them at high speeds he let out a quiet curse before reporting it in. “Captain, long range sensors are picking up multiple warp signatures. Four point nine light years distant, and closing from behind at warp five.”

 Instantly Burton looked up from the tablet he was reading to his helm officer. “Romulans?”

Glaring at the readings, Rodham struggled to determine who they were at first but then the moment the computer ran a comparative scan using the various warp signatures on record, the first officer and pilot was surprised by its results. “No, Tholian!” He answered as he turned to look at Burton as he said his last word. “And they are spreading themselves outwards, they’re trying to surround our fleet.”

“Ensign Avery, inform the fleet to drop out of warp, to form up together  and begin evasive manoeuvres. We’ll make a stand together if we have to.” Burton ordered his acting chief communications officer before tapping the intercom panel built into the arms of his chair. “All hands to battlestations!” His voice echoed through the corridors and decks of his ship. 

Challenger and its battle group all came to a gradual halt from its faster than light speeds and began preparing the onslaught from the Tholians. Burton had read the reports about how vicious and hostile the Tholians could be, he wasn’t going to let them stop them from their attack. Whatever it took. 

Commander Walker had activated his scope to bring up the visual scanners to determine just how large the incoming force was. “I’m reading two Tholians vessels.” He paused as he squinted. “Make that three. Four. No, five.” Walker then looked up from his scope and at the captain as he spoke. “Seventeen Tholians vessels. Distance one point two light years and closing.”

“Hull plating to maximum, standby all weapons.” Burton commanded as he gripped the ends of his chair. 

“They’re in visual range.” Cortez announced from the armoury station. 

“Onscreen.” Burton ordered. 

The seventeen Tholian vessels all dropped out of warp and appeared to have paused in their movement. None of them did anything for a few seconds. Then the tips of their vessels began to shine a bright white and blue cobalt colour. Dashes of energy were then released and all of them hit multiple targets belonging to the joint Earth-Andorian task group.

On the bridge, Burton ordered for them to return fire which Cortez followed it up by announcing that all of their weapons were down. The Tholians had used some sort of energy-dampening weapon against them all. Forced to not do anything, Burton wondered if this was it, would this be the Challenger’s last stand? Rodham announced that the warp drive was also disabled, he had impulse and that was it. Unable to work out why the Tholians were so specific with their targets, Burton looked over to Walker.  “Cooper, what about the rest of the fleet? Are they in the same situation?”

A brief look at his sensor readings and he was able to determine that everyone was in the same predicament. No warp engines and no warp drive. “Yes sir, but I can’t work out how the Tholians did it, sir.”

Looking at the viewscreen, Burton considered his next options when the surprise image of the Tholian fleet moving away from them at high impulse occurred. Within a few seconds all of them jumped into high warp. 

“That was strange.” Rodham said, a sense of relief was present in his tone though. 

“Agreed.” Burton took a breath, trying to understand the sudden arrival of the Tholians felt like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Why would such a large force of their ships be so far from their territory and so close to the Romulan border? “Alex, did we sustain any damage? Besides the loss of power to the weapons and warp drive.”

Rodham looked down at his controls and shook his head. “No. Hull plating held. Warp engines will be back online within an hour or so, same with the weapons. Every other system is stable.”

With a finger on her earpiece, Ensign Avery spoke up from her station. “The rest of the fleet is reporting similar statements.”

Starting to pace around the bridge with his hands on his hips, Burton tried to work out his next move. He paused as he stopped by in front of the helm and looked over to Cortez. “Stand down from battlestations, Rachele but I want you to maintain a long range sensor lock on that Tholian task force.”

Cortez nodded and got straight to work. “Aye, sir. They’re heading did place them back on the same course we were on for the Romulan border. Within an hour or so, if they maintain their current speed, they’ll cross into Romulan territory and be at Rator.”

Agreeing with her assessment, Burton walked around the helm and towards the tactical station to look at what Cortez was seeing on her readings. “They did appear to be in quite a hurry, didn’t they? I’d like to know what they’re up to so close to Romulan space.”

“Maybe they’re joining forces with the Romulans.” suggested Avery.

“I disagree, if they were about to join the war on the Romulans’ side then why not destroy us here and now.” Walker countered as he looked at the sensor readings belonging to the Tholian force. “They took out the two things we could use to stop them, our warp engines and weapons. I think they were trying to slow us down or prevent us from fighting with them. Either way, it’s a good near-miss for us.”  

“There’s too many unknowns to have hope that their intentions are more peaceful with us then the Romulans.” Burton said, disagreeing with his science officer’s idea. “I’m heading down to engineering to get more answers about what their weapon did to our systems. I suggest we use this time to concentrate on getting the ship up and ready as soon as possible.” The captain then stepped across the bridge and towards the lift. “Alex, you have the bridge.” He stated as he got into the cart with his yeoman closeby. This encounter with the Tholians could change everything he had planned. 

Middle of the month of T’ke’Tas, Year of ShiKahr 8764
Naweeth City, Vulcan

The shuttle from the Jarok lifted off behind them and Commander T’Plau looked at Hennessey with her usual cool and collected Vulcan expression. They had just been dropped off on the outskirts of a city that the human had never heard of during his time of learning the Vulcan language. 

“Naweeth City is the home to the Vulcan Ministry of Information, my brother and his wife all reside here with their children.” T’Plau shared. “We shall visit them first and see if we can gain access to the ministry with my brother’s assistance.”

T’Plau started walking ahead and Hennessey ran a few steps to get in line next to her. Vulcan was a very warm place, so he was pleased to have put on his excursion gear as he was certain his jumpsuit would be covered in sweat by the high humidity. “Did you not call ahead to inform your brother of our arrival?” 

“I am an open guest in my brother’s house, as he and his family are in mine.” T’Plau replied. Her all white catsuit was covered by the long white hooded robe she wore over the top of it. “I am certain he will not object to my presence or you being a guest of mine. He is a reasonable man.”

“Well I hope we don’t irritate or disturb him with our arrival.” Hennessey stated. As they took a few more steps, Hennessey looked at his companion. “Commander, you never told me how the mind-meld with Lukret went.”

T’Plau appeared to give out a sigh, or what sounded like a quiet one before answering the question. “I completed my mind-meld with Sub Lieutenant Lukret without any issues, however it did not reveal any desired answers that would clarify why he attacked you..” 

“What will happen to him now?” Hennessey asked.

“He is in the process of being handed over to the Vulcan authorities for further questioning and to be processed to answer for the crimes he has committed.” T’Plau explained as they turned down a path along a barely busy street. “My brother’s residence is at the bottom of this path to our left.”

Nodding as a sign of confirmation that he heard her, Hennessey wondered just how T’Plau was dealing with being in the big centre chair now. “So, do you prefer being in the captain’s chair or being the armoury officer?”

Raising her eyebrows at the illogical question spoken by the lieutenant, T’Plau took in another breath as she replied. “I am not sitting in Fleet Captain Burton’s chair nor is there an armoury position on the Jarok, however I believe you are not speaking in literal terms but instead trying to engage in small talk regarding my assessment of which position, commanding officer or tactical officer, do I favour?”

Realising that she was taking the long way to understand him, Hennessey just nodded. “Yeah, that.” He simply answered with. 

“The job of commanding officer is challenging, but rewarding. I prefer it to my previous posting managing the security  and tactical department.” She answered as blunt as ever.

They then entered the courtyard of her brother’s home and T’Plau indicated for Hennessey to show further respect and cordial demeanour as she approached the main foyer. A tall Vulcan man, with short brown hair walked out. Raising her hand to salute in the typical V sign made by Vulcans, she greeted the man.

“Solpak, it is agreeable to see you brother.” She said in an extremely calm tone.

Raising his hand to copy her gesture, Solpak bowed his head. “Sister, it is agreeable to see you as well, even if your visit is unexpected.” He looked at Hennessey, with a similar calm expression and then back to T’Plau. The family resemblance was uncanny. “You didn’t tell me you were bringing a guest.”

“Brother, this is my colleague, Lieutenant Ned Hennessey. He is a linguistic expert and is currently with my ship as part of the officer-exchange program. He is undertaking further research into Vulcan languages.” T’Plau explained.

“Welcome to Vulcan.” Solpak said to his other guest before looking back to his sister. “This is the first time you’ve brought a colleague home with you.”

“My position within the High Command has changed.” T’Plau shot back at her brother.

“Indeed, your promotion and new assignment was shared with us.” Solpak said, still not a flicker of emotion creaking through his voice. “You appear well.”

“As do you.” T’Plau replied, she looked over her brother’s shoulders. “Is T’Kath not home?” She asked, referring to her sister-in-law. “Or the children?”

“No, she is currently supervising a school outing to Mount Tar’hana of which your nephew and niece are in attendance.” Solpak answered. “Today is my day of rest and I was using my time to meditate.”

“I apologise for us intruding and disturbing your meditation, but I am in need of your assistance.” T’Plau said. 

“Why do we not continue this conversation inside, perhaps a cup of tea would assist?” Solpak suggested as he gestured for them to enter his house. “Mister Hennessey, do you like spice tea?”

“Indeed I do.” Hennessey replied in a courteous fashion.

“Then join us, I have some of the best spice tea in the city.” Solpak insisted as he led them inside and towards the main living area. As they made their way across the living area, he turned to his sister. “What type of assistance do you need?”

Following him in, T’Plau explained further to him that Hennessey is interested in finding out about the Rhian language. “I know you have a high level of clearance, so I can tell you that we believe by understanding the Rhian language further, we may be able to decrypt a database that was stolen from the Romulans.”

Appearing somewhat surprised at the mention of the Romulans, Solpak looked at his sister after he placed the kettle on to boil. “T’Plau, why are you supporting a matter that is not related to Vulcan security?”

“Solpak, I did not come here to debate with you Vulcan foreign policy. Can you assist us in gaining access to more information around the Rhian language or not?” T’Plau asked, sounding annoyed with her brother’s words. 

Pausing, he took a breath and then answered her. “As you said, I have a high level of clearance. I am able to assist. I suggest we visit the Central Library in ShiKahr first.” Picking up a nearby cup, he looked at Hennessey. “Lieutenant Hennessey, do you like anything else in your tea?”

“No, just hot and wet is fine.” Hennessey answered, feeling a bit awkward about the low level sibling conflict he just witnessed. “I do appreciate any information you can find for us on the Rhian language.”

Adding the hot water to the tea, Solpak looked deadpanned at his guest. “It is my job to assist others in finding information, so it is of no trouble, lieutenant. If it means my sister is able to visit her family then it would be worth the work.”

If T’Plau could give her brother a scorned look, she would and Hennessey was certain her brother would be dead from it. Instead of speaking any further the communications officer just took the tea that was offered to him and sat in silence as he joined T’Plau and Solpak in the armchairs in the living room as they drank their tea. Looking at the Vulcan man, he wasn’t sure if he would call him reasonable, but then Hennessey had always known that he could not read Vulcan body language like he could with other races. They truly were an enigma sometimes, Solpak certainly was an interesting man. Hennessey only hoped though that he could lead them to the answers they truly needed to decrypt the Romulan database.