Part of USS Endeavour: A Handful of Dust and Bravo Fleet: The Stormbreaker Campaign

A Handful of Dust – 12

Shuttlebay, USS Endeavour
January 2400
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‘We’ve stripped out every unnecessary pod,’ Chief Koya said as she fell in-step beside Cortez, the two women crossing the shuttlebay to approach the buzzing swarm of engineers around the runabout King Arthur. ‘If it’s not part of phasing through subspace or cramming crewmembers aboard, it’s gone.’

‘Good,’ said Cortez, then hesitated. ‘You left us with a bathroom, right?’

‘Well, you got one.’

‘Then we better not load everyone aboard and get stuck. Or this mission jumping through space-time to find a lost ship in the middle of a subspace aperture could get real nasty.’ It wasn’t that Isa Cortez didn’t care about things. But there was no problem she’d ever faced she didn’t feel was improved by being glib.

‘Better you than me, Commander.’

The shuttlebay looked empty, with most of Endeavour’s ships dispatched on the various tasks before them. Even the Black Knights were still out near the Scar, even the captain’s yacht was gone – possibly for the first time ever – leaving the solitary shuttle Lancelot as an emergency craft once the away team took the last runabout. ‘This is weird,’ Cortez muttered, getting a grumbling agreement from Koya, before she proceeded to the King Arthur.

She found Arys already in the cockpit, running pre-flight checks. He was always rather intense, so if the stakes weren’t so unseemly high she might not have noticed anything was wrong. She put a hand on the back of his chair and leaned in. ‘You know I’m here, right, Lieutenant?’

He turned to her, big eyes guileless even as he said, ‘What do you mean, ma’am?’

‘I mean you’re not expected to put the brakes on Commander Valance and Lieutenant Kharth. I am. That does mean you might have to nod vigorously in support sometimes.’ Rourke hadn’t said anything of the sort to her. All she was formally there for was her professional expertise. But she supposed he didn’t have to warn her that her girlfriend and closest friend were in danger of driving off a cliff. Cortez still preferred this to dealing with the fallout of Graelin being sent instead.

But then Kharth and Valance themselves thudded aboard, and Arys turned back to his controls with another flurry of tension. ‘All systems optimal, Commander. We’re ready to get underway.’

‘Does anyone,’ grumbled Kharth as she buckled herself in at Tactical, ‘want to explain the science of this ridiculousness to me?’

‘Oh, it’s simple, really,’ said Cortez in an airy voice as she pulled up her chair at systems control. ‘We’re going to duplicate what the Odysseus did to get trapped in a rift in space-time and through sheer genius not get stuck there.’

‘Reassuring.’

‘Just watch your displays,’ said Valance tersely from the co-pilot’s chair, ‘and trust Commander Cortez and Lieutenant Arys to do their jobs, Kharth.’

Kharth gave the back of Valance’s head an unimpressed look, then clicked her tongue in a manner Cortez thought sounded rather like a sardonic Airex and did indeed focus on her displays.

Launch wasn’t as smooth as it might have been, the area around the Scar still heavily ionised and agitating the dispersed nebula particles. It wasn’t anything Arys couldn’t compensate for, and soon the King Arthur was sliding away from Endeavour, away from the fighters providing extra eyes and ears around her in this blanket they’d dived into.

‘It’s nice,’ mused Cortez, looking at Black Knight flight through the canopy, ‘that Whitaker gets to pretend he’s useful sometimes.’

‘Fighters are useful,’ muttered Kharth. ‘We’ve spent half the resources we would on shuttles to get four times the coverage just today.’

‘With worse sensors,’ said Cortez. ‘Let’s face it, they’re mostly here because we can’t use them on the relief mission, and once in a while they’ll make Hale look more impressive flying escort formation.’

‘Commander.’ Valance’s voice was clipped in a tone she never normally turned on Cortez. ‘We’re approaching the rift. Focus up.’

This was not the time to bring in her personal feelings. ‘Aye, Commander,’ Cortez said in a bright, professional tone, and turned to her controls. ‘Arys, I’m gonna bring the warp engines online at the lowest power; the nav computer will yell at you. Ignore it and hold position. It’ll take me a hot minute to modify the warp field.’ Theoretically they were travelling at warp to a spot mere metres away, because their interest was not in crossing a vast distance but slipping through the cracks in space-time.

‘Ready,’ Arys confirmed.

‘Keeping active sensor scans up for the Odysseus,’ Kharth said.

‘Good,’ said Cortez. ‘We’ll have to slink right up to them to connect our warp fields once we’ve modulated it right and you find them.’ The ship began to hum around them, and indeed, Arys’s nav computer blatted out an indignant warning until he switched it off.

Valance gripped her armrests as the King Arthur shuddered. ‘Commander.’

‘Modulating our warp field. Anything yet, Saeihr?’

‘Not yet.’

The alarm came back on, or perhaps a different one, and Arys knocked that off, too. ‘Warp field coils are under significant strain, Commander!’

‘Everyone just breathe,’ Cortez said rather tartly. ‘This is child’s play.’ Another alarm went off, and she winced. ‘Saeihr?’

‘Nothing – wait -’

Then a fresh ping appeared on their sensors as everything else faded away. It was a small dot, in itself nothing significant, but of the exact right location and dimensions to be the USS Odysseus. Most of her.

‘Oh, hell,’ Valance breathed, and Cortez’s chest tightened as she realised this was the only real confirmation she’d had that they weren’t wrong, this wasn’t a wild goose-chase, and the Odysseus was still out there after all.

‘Their warp field is still active. Adjusting our warp field’s harmonics to match, then we’ll connect to the same subspace bubble,’ Cortez called. ‘Once that’s happened, bring us in to dock, Arys.’

A moment later, Arys’s controls pinged for the first time in a positive. ‘Bringing us in.’

‘There’s an emergency access hatch along the bridge,’ said Valance. ‘Start there.’

Space beyond the canopy looked normal. Stars still shone, they weren’t facing Endeavour or the sixth planet anyway, and it could have all been the same. Except as the King Arthur drifted in, they could now see the missing ship that had been hidden from view minutes before.

‘This is very odd,’ Kharth breathed, glaring at her controls. ‘She’s still got power, but the levels are fluctuating wildly across different sections. I can’t pick up life-signs, but I don’t – my sensor readings aren’t great,’ she added, making it plain an absence of sensor readings didn’t mean an absence of life.

‘I can detect the rift,’ Cortez said. ‘It’s exerting different levels of pressure across not just the ship, but the warp field.’

‘Meaning?’ said Valance tersely.

‘I’m not sure,’ she admitted. ‘But I don’t think the ship exists entirely in the same point in space-time.’

‘Meaning?’ repeated Kharth.

‘Damned if I know.’

Arys brought the King Arthur closer, and now they could see the score-marks across the hull, the lack of lights at windows. The aft was a mess, one nacelle blaring bright, the most active part of the whole ship, while nothing but rent metal existed where its partner should have been. Then they came closer, and Cortez felt the soft thump of landing, of a docking seal, of a connection.

‘At least their systems are picking up and we don’t have to rip through the hull,’ she pointed out.

‘Seal is good,’ Arys confirmed. ‘Life support active on the other side. We should be good to board.’

Kharth was first on her feet, first heading to the hatch, hand on the phaser nestled in its holster. Valance gave her a look as they all followed. ‘Planning on shooting people to rescue them, Lieutenant?’

‘Following standard protocol, Commander.’ Kharth glared.

Cortez cast an anxious glance at Arys, who looked even less happy, and she drew a deep breath. ‘How about we take it carefully and move along?’ On the one hand, she couldn’t imagine what possible physical threat might be waiting for them. On the other, she’d never conceived of this situation, either.

The hatch hissed, slid open, and then there was the lurching shift in gravity as their ladder extended down from the dorsal hull of the Odysseus and into her bridge from above. Kharth swept the phaser about a dimmed chamber below before sliding down, and Valance was there a heartbeat later. When the immediate response wasn’t violence, Cortez and Arys joined them.

To find themselves at the business end of a pair of phaser rifles.

Karana?’

‘Cassia?’

Phasers all-round were lowered, and Cortez breathed a slow sigh of relief. Commander Cassia Aquila and her Chief of Security, Lieutenant Tegan, had taken position behind a set of dim consoles, weapons ready, but at the sight of familiar Starfleet officers they emerged. ‘Took you long enough!’ said Aquila in that light tone Cortez knew was reserved for absolute emergencies.

But she looked a complete state, her uniform worn and battered, her cheeks and eyes sunken, and Tegan was in no better condition. The bridge looked like it had been cannibalised, consoles ripped open, parts hanging out and rearranged, the beating heart of the Odysseus turned into some sort of Frankenstein’s monster.

Valance was straightening, and Cortez could see her shields coming back up. It wasn’t in apprehension of what might be wrong, but the knowledge that one vulnerability was safe meant her guard was settling into place once more. Control was now easier to reassert, and so reassert it she did instead of express anything in front of four fellow officers to a woman she’d built her life around.

‘We got to Whixby, heard what had happened, and all we detected was your nacelle,’ Valance explained. ‘It took a little to go through sensor records and pick up your message – you did leave a message?’ As they talked, Cortez slid to the side, towards one of the few bridge consoles that still had light and power.

Cassia Aquila gave a tight but thoroughly pleased smile. ‘Yes, Karana. I left a message. We modulated the warp field just enough to leak tachyon radiation in what we hoped would be a detectable pattern.’ But she shook her head, delight shifting for business. ‘How’s Whixby?’

‘They took a light beating but they’re alright. We’ve sent a relief team down to the afflicted regions and a diplomatic team to try to get Administrator Nyder to accept the refugee shelter.’

‘They’re still holding out?’ Aquila frowned. ‘The storm’s not stopped yet? How long have you been there?’

‘Less than a day -’

‘Oh shit,’ breathed Cortez as she read the display, then looked up as everyone stared at her. Her throat tightened. ‘I… don’t know how to say this.’

‘Say what?’ said Valance and Aquila at the same time in the exact same Completely Done tone.

So that’s where that came from. Cortez swallowed. ‘Commander Aquila, Whixby was hit by the storm less than five days ago, and Endeavour has only been here for about a day. Commander Valance…’ She had to straighten and force herself to meet Valance’s cool gaze, hesitating even though she knew she was right. ‘Time hasn’t passed at the same rate in the rift. The Odysseus? Has been stranded for approximately three months.’