Part of Challenger: The Romulan War: The Tholian Stratagam

NINE

Challenger NX-03, entering Rator System, Beta Quadrant
Sunday, November 16th, 2155
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The gradual deceleration of the task force was carefully planned so every ship was reducing its speed prior to entering the Rator system. The idea was to reduce just how large the subspace distortion wave they would create together. Though the fleet was separated, the idea was in a vain hope that the Romulans would not pick them up too soon. 

The strategy appeared to have worked, the fleet arrived just behind one of the moons of the eighth planet, a large gas giant that looked like Andor. It’s huge icy rings generated magnetic distortions, thus almost making them invisible for a moment. 

With his fleet now assembled and in formation, Fleet Captain Burton was sitting in his command chair as he got a round of updates from everyone on his bridge. They were ready. “Any signs of the Tholian armada we encountered earlier?”

Commander Walker was spending extra time looking into the scope at the science station and didn’t respond to Burton straight away. Instead the chief science officer turned away from the visual scanner and pulled his chair into the main science station as he reviewed the sensors again. “I’m not sure I quite believe this, sir.” He commented. “However, I think we owe the Tholians.”

Baffled by Walker’s comment, Burton turned his chair to face the science station. “Explain, commander.” He instructed. 

“I’ve re-aligned our sensor array three times now, but I am detecting what appears to be the remains of a battle between the Tholian armada and the Romulan forces in the system.” Walker shared.

“I’m picking it up too, sir.” stated Cortez from the armoury console. “I’m starting to pick up two distinct weapon signatures, one Romulan and the other Tholian.”

Looking up from the communications station, Ensign Avery announced that she was getting several hails from the other ships in the task force, confirming similar readings. 

“Can we get a visual?” Commander Rodham asked from the helm. The first officer and pilot almost sounded frustrated in his tone about what they had encountered. His fingertips were itching over the flight controls to take the ship into battle. 

“Not at this range.” Walker answered. “We’ll need to break orbit from Rator Eight to get a better look.”

Standing up from his chair and walking down to the side of his first officer, Burton placed his hand on the back of Rodham’s chair before looking down at the pilot. “If I decide to move in closer, I assume my First Officer would concur.”

“You assume correctly.” Rodham replied.

Pushing the ship forward, Rodham flew the ship out of its close orbit of the gas giant with its companions all flying closeby. As they moved away at high impulse, the entire task force got closer to the inner planets. Rodham was counting down their proximity to their original target before he was interrupted by Walker. 

“I’ve got a visual.” The science officer, anticipating the captain’s order, placed the image on the large viewscreen at the centre of the forward section of the bridge. 

Everyone paused for a few moments to take in the imagery of destroyed ships, all of them adrift. Plasma fire erupted across most of them. Their broken hulls were torn into pieces. Several alarms went off at the armoury station and Cortez instinctively reacted to it. 

“There’s one Tholian ship remaining, sir.” She shared before switching the visual to show the lone Tholian web-spinner. It was heavily damaged and was taking a beating from a nearby station that almost looked like a dark green version of the repair yards that orbited Earth. The Romulan shipyard that they were here to deal with. It was firing a very low-yield plasma cannon, the Tholian ship appeared to just take the hits. Seconds later, the Tholian vessel launched what appeared to be a missile from its undercarriage. The missile was aimed at the planet below. Walker turned the ship’s visual sensors to show the planet of Rator Four. Astonished to see the planet in a dire state. Everything that Burton had planned to do as part of the attack had already happened. The Tholians had launched a planetary assault and devastated the Minshara-class world. It looked almost dead and as the missile from the last remaining ship entered the atmosphere smoke could be seen coming from its tail end before it plummeted into the ground, creating a massive mushroom cloud upwards. 

“Sir, we’re being hailed by the Tholian ship.” Avery announced, with her right hand covering over her earpiece. 

“Put it through.” Burton ordered. 

Switching on the bridge speakers, Avery had not prepared for the loud screeching noises that followed, causing everyone to place their hands over their ears. The message was short but the noise it created sounded like someone was pure agony. The channel closed and then on the viewscreen the Tholian ship spun around on its axis and increased its speed to its maximum, it then brought its warp drive online and slammed head first into the shipyard. The collusion tore almost through the middle, separating the entire superstructure apart. Explosions then erupted seconds later and the shipyard was no more. 

More shock, more surprise, more uncertainty to what had just happened filled the thoughts of Fleet Captain Burton. What had happened between the Romulans and Tholians for them to fight to the end like this? Were the Tholians now joining the war effort? Had Earth just found the ally it craved? 

“Cooper, begin full sensor sweeps. Let’s see if there’s anything else out there that could give us the answers to what has happened here. Scan for lifesigns too.” Burton commanded as he took himself back to his chair. 

“There’s a few lifesigns, but they’re faint. Most of them are exposed to the vacuum of space or high levels of thermo nuclear radiation. I’d advise keeping away from the debris, sir.” Walker announced after making some preliminary scans. “The Tholians truly smashed the Romulans into a million pieces here.”

“Someone more powerful than the Romulans? It’s hard to imagine.” Burton said, staring at the viewscreen with a sense of mixed emotions. The Tholians appeared to have been absolutely ruthless in their tactics. The Romulans didn’t stand a chance. But what prompted the Tholians to attack? There was no logic. 

“But they did it. An entire Romulan fleet and their support stations! We might’ve just found our ticket to winning this war. An ally.” Cortez remarked, sounding almost hopeful in their discovery. 

“Let’s not jump to conclusions.” Rodham advised.

“I’d agree with the commander,” Avery said as she took her earpiece out and looked over to the captain and commander. “That hail from the Tholians was not just a message but it also contained a huge datastream that they uploaded into our receiver. We’ll need time to decrypt it but I’m translating their final broadcast.”

“What was their message?” Burton asked. 

Looking at the communication console and then back to him, Avery just repeated what she saw. “You’re welcome.”

Still surprised at what was unfolding before them, Burton’s gut instinct was telling him to get out of the system as quickly as possible. Something was wrong, something was off about what had taken place and he didn’t want to stick around to encounter any Romulan relief flotilla. “Alex, reverse course, maximum warp. Take us five light years out of Romulan territory and hold position. Tanisha, tell the fleet to follow suit.” 

“Aye, captain.” Rodham and Avery said in almost unison. 

Just like the last surviving Tholian ship had done only moments ago, Challenger turned around and within a few seconds jumped into high warp out of the Rator system. It’s fleet copying the exact move left in a similarly hurried manner. 


Almost an hour later and Burton was standing in the ship’s command centre, watching as his chief engineer and acting chief communication’s officer finished deciphering the Tholian datastream. With him were also his first and second officers and patched in via their subspace radio the other captains of the joint Starfleet-Imperial Guard task force. The faces of the men and women that led these ships were also in the private domains of their own offices or quarters without anyone else nearby. For now Burton wanted to keep the revelation of the contents between those working on it from his crew and those captains now present. 

“I think that’s it.” Masuko announced from where she was sitting at the main controls.

“I agree.” Avery said, backing the chief engineer’s assessment. 

“Load up the data then.” Burton instructed them.

With a flick of a few switches the large wall console came to life as multiple computer windows popped up, showing various forms of data. Trying to work out what it was, everyone for a moment appeared even more confused to what it was. 

“If it hadn’t been for what the Tholians had downloaded into our systems beforehand, I don’t think we could have decrypted all of this so quickly.” Masuko mentioned. 

“What is it though?” Avery wondered aloud. 

“Star charts.” Rodham said after pointing out one set of files that was open. He was right, it was an unusual format but there were clear indications that the Tholians had sent them numerous starcharts. 

“It’s more than that,” Walker stated as he crossed the room to stand behind Masuko. “That data block contains planetary surveys.”

“And those are ship schematics.” Masuko pointed out another lot. “Sir, the outline of those crafts appear to be Romulan.”

“Did the Tholians just share with us a treasure chest of intelligence on the Romulans?” Captain Frank Müller asked from the small screen he was currently using to talk to the others from the personal confines of his ready room on the Discovery

“It certainly looks like it.” answered Captain Madison Burton. Burton’s own sister looked just as surprised as her brother did at what they had just uncovered. “The question is, why did they share it with us before they collided with that station?”

“Whatever their reasons, we owe them a sense of gratitude for doing the job we intended to carry out.” spoke Commander Anthi of the Andorian contingent. Her antennas were both stood up straight, showing how serious she took this all. “The next question we should be asking ourselves, is what next? Do we return to allied space or do we press on with the war effort? It would seem like a waste of resources while we have this fleet here so close to other potential targets. Fleet Captain Burton, what do you say?”

Noticing everyone’s eyes on him, Burton was silent for a moment as he considered his options. “We’ve got a war to win people, so I say we take this time to take a breather so we can reconsider our options before doing anything else.”

Before anyone else could react, the intercom went off and Lieutenant Cortez spoke over the intercom. “Sir, the Vulcan combat cruiser, Jarok is entering range. Commander T’Plau is requesting to dock so she and Lieutenant Hennessey could meet with you.” 

Tapping the nearest communication panel, Burton acknowledged the call and gave permission for the Jarok to dock. Deciding to end his conference call, Burton told everyone to standby for orders while he met with his former armoury officer. “Commander Anthi, you may wish to join me in meeting with Commander T’Plau as well.” He offered to the Andorian leader. 

“I’ll be over shortly.” She replied before closing her channel. 

The sudden arrival of the Jarok distracted Burton’s train of thought over the entire Tholian-Romulan conflict. Maybe T’Plau and Hennessey had been lucky in decrypting the Romulan database. Maybe they had news of a new target they could attack to help with the war effort or had discovered a weakness in Romulan ship design they could use in their favour. Burton was certain on one thing though, whatever the reasons behind the Tholians fighting the Romulans at Rator, Earth and its allies certainly owed them a debt of gratitude. He just hoped one day they would be able to repay the favour back to them.