Silence had rocked the bridge for the last few minutes, the only noise piercing it was the random hails from the Cardassian operations officer at the front of the bridge targeted to the planet below.
“Still nothing sir,” she frowned, turning back to the Captain, “Adriatic and Bristol are reporting unsuccessful attempts also. No communications, no transporter signals, and no ability to scan inside,” the woman confirmed.
“Well, this is odd…” Ensign Walter Caplan was sat at the starboard science station, staring at the console in front of him, trying to make sense of the readings that he had detected. Suddenly, and for the third time, the reading disappeared. “Seriously?!” he fumed, tapping away on his controls until… yes, there it was again for a fourth time. Okay, enough was enough. He turned in his chair and looked towards the commanding officer who was occupying the command chair. “Captain, I’ve detected something that I think you should see, sir.”
This declaration perked the interest of all on the bridge, not just the ship’s CO. Dante glanced over his shoulder from the CONN, ‘something you should see’ was usually not good things when on the bridge.
“Unless it is a weird and wonderful way to get our people back, I’m not sure I have time for something to see, Ensign,” Sebastian shook his head as he rose from the command chair and headed towards the science console. Something you should see. A phrase the Captain hated, especially in the middle of a crisis. Waving at Lieutenant Prida and the Conn officer, the Captain gestured for them to join him at the science station.
”Sensors keep detecting something,” the scientist revealed as he pointed to an icon on his screen, only for it too blink out of existence, “…and then it disappears, just like that.” Caplan frowned as he tapped and brought up another screen beside it. “It’s almost like an energy signature, but then when it disappears, it’s like there is nothing there at all. But watch this…”
Sebastian and his senior officers watched as instructed and, as if on cue, the signature appeared again, but sensors were clearly struggling to identify what it could be.
”Approximate location?” Dante enquired. Despite the Ensign’s obvious frustration, something new was intriguing. They were Starfleet, after all. From what little he could see of the readings from where he stood, he could categorically say it was an intriguing development.
“Less than a thousand kilometers from here,” the scientist told, looking up at the Flight Operations chief.
After a few seconds of pondering, the Cardassian finally popped up with a reply. “Sounds like a malfunctioning cloaking device to me,” she suggested with a shrug said as he looked at the readings. “Is it moving or stationary?”
”If it were a cloak that was malfunctioning we would be picking up things like tachyons,” the Science officer surmised as he sat back in his seat and glared at the screen with folded arms.
Sebastian walked around the tactical rail and made his way to the command chair, not feeling entirely happy with the developing situation. “Time until the storm hits?” he queried, returning to his command chair.
Dante stood next to the relief officer at the CONN, reaching down to tap on the console display. “We’ve got less than thirty minutes,” the acting XO told the Captain, looking back at the senior man with a look of ‘what now?”
“We’ve got an energy field around the station; we’ve lost contact with our people; we’ve got the storm of all storms approaching and, now, we have something akin to a cloaked vessel on our doorstep,” the Captain frowned, “something isn’t right here and I don’t like it. Red alert,” he barked, swiftly descending into the comfort of his chair.
Dante and Prida were at their duty stations within seconds, tapping away and getting to work on the task at hand. “Captain, I’ve got both Adriatic and Bristol on the horn requesting updates,” the Flight Controller revealed within seconds of resuming his station.
“Inform them of the situation and order them to retreat,” Seb frowned as he slouched back in his chair, “we’re not putting them at any further risk, but we have no choice. We’re staying put.”
Dante shared a look of concern with his Cardassian counterpart once again before nodding in acknowledgement. “Aye sir,” he confirmed.
Beside the captain and in the safety of the chair usually reserved for the executive officer, Counsellor Chiera had been listening, and waiting for her moment to speak. As an advisor in all matters, she tried to keep clear of things she had little understanding of, but even she knew hanging around here would be a risk. “Captain,” she whispered, leaning in to give the man her words of wisdom, “would it not be prudent to withdraw and return for our people when the storm has abated? We need to safeguard the lives of everyone on this ship as much as those on the planet,” she reminded him, looking the man in the eye .
“There may not be a world left for our people once this storm hits,” the master and commander of the vessel confided in her as quietly as she had, “…but you are right. I plan to stay here as long as we can,” he told her with a faint smile and a quiet whisper.
At the back of the bridge, Lieutenant Udal from engineering and a cohort in science blue stepped off of the turbolift and crossed to the aft engineering displays. “We’ve transferred everything we can to engines and shields sir,” the Orion spoke in his gruff tone in between taps on his console screen. Soon enough, the displays from engineering were replicated in the command center. “Given the projected trajectory and speed of the storm, you’ve got eighteen minutes before we have no choice and have to warp out of here. A second later and we have no choice but to ride it out,” the burly, green-skinned engineer told with a nod to his superior.
“The adjustments we’ve made to the shields should allow us to withstand the worst of the storm, Captain,” Ensign Kedam spoke up from science. A junior to Commander Travis, Nisha had stepped in for the man on more than one occasion recently and always did so very ably. “It won’t be comfortable, and we won’t be unscathed,” she added, then diverted her attention back to his own display.
Ensign Caplan quickly butted in from the other side of the bridge, “Captain; I’m still getting a variable reading on the signal but I’ve pinpointed its location somewhat better,” he reported, tapping a few command and he changed the view screen to a map of the current heading. “It’s moving at a fast drift, so if it’s a ship they’re either drifting without propulsion or moving very slow. It’s headed outward from the planet. The intermittency of the signal is getting less stable, which could indicate increased power fluctuations, especially if it is a cloaked object.”
“So it is increasingly likely that it is a ship?” Farrell quizzed, turning ever so slightly to regard the scientist with curiosity.
”Yes… but I stand by my earlier assertion that we should be detecting tachyons if this was some sort of cloaking device,” Ensign Caplan spoke up from the aft science station, “unless…” he then turned back to his controls and started tapping away furiously.
”Whatever, or whoever they are, their either they have no control, they’ve lost sensors or they don’t mind us being here,” Dante surmised from the Conn, spinning in his chair to look directly at the Captain, “there’s no noticeable change in the course associated with it attempting to get away.”
Sometimes, scientists just didn’t get the respect they deserved. Caplan huffed and shook his head as he continued tapping away at his console, hoping to come up with a way to… ”Frak me! Captain!”
With a glare from the CO and XO alike, and all eyes now on him, the Acting Science Officer gave his report. “Captain… the signal… it IS a vessel but…”he paused as he considered the gravity of what he was about to say, ”…it’s a Starfleet ship, sir…” Caplan responded.
“Impossible. Starfleet vessels are prohibited from having cloaking devices,” Counsellor Chiera chipped in, shaking her head as she turned to look at the scientist.
Instead of a look of surprise on the face of the Captain, there was actually a smile. “I’ll be goddamned… they did it…” he whispered with a smirk, and a shake of his head. His remarks drew a confused look from those around him, each one wanting to know more. Realising what he had said, and knowing it was too late to take them back, he simply ignored them. “Lieutenant Prida,” the Captain called out as he turned his command chair back to the front of the bridge, “open a channel and direct it at the source of the signal.”
Prida nodded, slowly, and turned back to her console. ”Aye ma’am.” the Cardassian tapped a few keys, and then there was a chime. “Channel directed and open.”
“Unidentified Starfleet vessel, this is Captain Sebastian Farrell of the starship Santa Fe. Please identify yourself,” In the ensuing silence, Sebastian looked back briefly towards the tactical station and, with two fingers, gestured for the relief officer to keep his eyes peeled for anything suspicious. Then, he repeated his message. “=/\=This is the USS Santa Fe. Please respond.”
Then, suddenly and without warning, a sound of static filled the bridge as the communications speakers came to life, followed by a voice. A gruff male voice that was slightly distorted by the static, but was clear enough to be understood. “Santa Fe, this is the Starship Thesis,” the voice began, “keep your distance and refrain from any interference.”
With a raised eyebrow, Sebastian quickly turned and shared a brief exchange with Counsellor Chiera. “Thesis,” he whispered, “find everything you can on that ship.” Chiera nodded dutifully and set about her task, allowing the captain to return to his conversation. “Understood Thesis,” the dark-skinned captain declared, inching forwards in his seat, ”but we have a storm front approaching and we’ve lost contact with the surface. Is there anything you can tell us?”
“Standby,” was the only response that came through the communications channel, but within a matter of seconds, a shimmering patch of the star field on display on the main viewer disappeared and was replaced with the very real form of one of the brand new Inquiry-class vessels just a matter of a few hundred kilometers off the starboard bow of the Santa Fe.
Lieutenant Prida, like all those around her, watched in awe as the vessel ’emerged’ from her supposed hiding place. It was inconceivable before today to even think of a Federation starship with a cloaking device, yet here one was, in all its resplendent glory. Flickering above her secondary hull, the nacelles of the Thesis betrayed the condition of the ship; something was going wrong aboard the Inquiry-class vessel.
A chirping from the operations station drew the Cardassian’s attention back to her display. “Incoming hail from the Thesis, priority one,” she called out.
Within seconds, the viewer changed to reveal the bridge of the Thesis, but instead of a male with a gruff voice, a familiar face appeared, a face that the Captain had not expected to see again anytime soon. “Captain Ruas,” he nodded respectfully to the officer on the viewer, “fancy seeing you here?”
A former crewmate from before the ship’s time in the Gamma Quadrant, Ruas had been promoted and re-assigned to a command of her own, never to be seen again. Until now. “Welcome to Sathea IV, Captain. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have as soon as I can, but we have more pressing matters to attend to. We’re used to storms in this area, so we’re sending you some shield adjustments to minimise the effects of the incoming one. They won’t be perfect, but they’ll help.”
Looking up at his tactical officer, the Captain got the confirmation he needed to signal the modifications were coming through. A thumbs up gave the tactician permission to implement the changes. “Thank you, Captain. Have you any idea why we’ve lost contact with the surface? Or about this energy field?” Sebastian enquired, shuffling forward onto the edge of his seat, hands still gripping the armrest as his former colleague shook her head.
“We assumed it was some sort of defence for the incoming storm, but the lack of communication worries us,” the woman told, mimicking the man’s stance on the screen. “We’ve tried everything we can think of to get through the barrier ourselves, without success. We’re plan… to… s..nd…”
Interference on the comm array was to be expected with the storm that was incoming. The sudden shockwave that rocked the starship was not, especially with over ten minutes to go until the storm hit. Once again, the red alert klaxon rang out across the ship, the hull plating rumbling under their feet. When the rumbling stopped, those among the bridge crew let out a sigh of relief, only to be thrown for a loop when a second, more violent wave hit them.
Then a third. But something about the subsequent waves felt off… almost familiar. A fourth, unmistakable shockwave threw the Captain forward and out of his seat.
“Vor’Cha class attack cruiser off the port bow!” Dante called out over the din and the ensuing explosion from yet another disruptor attack.
“All forward weapons, engage the enemy,” Sebastian ordered as he dragged himself back into the command chair. “Have the Thesis form up on our flank and recall the Adriatic and Bristol,” he dictated a series of orders to anyone around him that could hear him, hoping one of them would pick them up over the chaos.
“Thesis is dead in the water,” a gruff voice yelled from tactical behind him, “she hadn’t recovered functionality in time, but the Vor’Cha is focusing its efforts on us,” the tactician informed the Captain before him.
“Attacking a weakened enemy is not their thing,” the Captain called out, “maybe they do have some honor left after all?”
In a rare show of strength, powerful lances of orange, phased energy flew towards their Klingon attackers at speed, with several swift vollies of torpedo fire joining them. But unlike the Vor’Cha’s advanced disruptors, the Federation weapons seemed to make little or no impact on their enemy’s shields. Santa Fe was at risk of turning into a burning hulk under the sustained barrage from their aggressors, and chaos had ensued across the ship already. Just as with outside, explosions and smoke filled the interior with countless rooms and corridors becoming uninhabitable as the affects of the attack took hold. Red lights flickered across the ship as smoke filled rooms and corridors alike, the environmental systems struggling to filter the gas. In the centre chair, Farrell was dabbing at a wound on his forehead as blood trickled down his left cheek and he let out several coughs. What he saw ahead of him sparked a wave of fury and deep concern.
Explosions ravaged the external hull of the Inquiry-class vessel which, to anyone watching, seemed to be hurtling out of control at an alarming speed, leaving thick plumes of black smoke trailing in her wake. Thesis tumbled on all three axis, and the captain of the Santa Fe now found himself caught between a rock and a hard place. Did he attack the Klingon’s and go back for the Thesis, or did he save the Thesis and hope they lived to chase off the Klingons? He didn’t have long to decide.
“Report!” he beckoned over the sound of the chaos, the alarms and the sparking consoles, unaware of whoever would be able to respond.
Echoing their captain’s call to almost the exact second, Lieutenant Udal entered main engineering to find complete and utter chaos. His eyes swept the smoke filled room, looking for one person amongst the sea of yellow shirts. There were shouts, orders being barked out from somewhere near the warp core and so many alarms that all the sounds quickly blended into a unique and foreboding cacophony of noise. Sidestepping those rushing by, he pressed on, lungs burning as another series of explosions knocked them all off their feet just as a a bank of workstations to his right exploded.
Eniara Pol was switching between terminals when she saw the Chief Engineer return at last. “Not good, Chief.” She glanced at him, her face covered in sweat, grime and somebody’s blood was matted in her hair. On top of the odours and sounds, the temperature was more than a little uncomfortable. “Cascade failures. EPS and power transfer conduits ruptured and now we’re moving power out from the engines. Mac and his team were able to shunt the power and vent plasma… but it’s not looking good.”
Glancing down at his terminal, the Chief shook his head. “Coolant systems ruptured with the additional energy flow. Multiple plasma fires are going all over.” He pointed at the screen. “Warp core temperature is climbing and pressure inside is building. We are over 800 kilopascals and climbing fast. Pressure fields are holding but won’t last long at this rate. Antimatter pods 2 and 5 are struggling to keep magnetic containment.”
None of those words were anything anybody wanted to hear from an engineer, let alone the chief of the department. “Chief,” Eniara began, keeping her voice low but firm as she made him look at her, “do you think we can keep containment? Because if the answer is even close to no, we need to eject the core.”
Udal looked over flickering readouts. “We’re in bad shape. Coolant is under 50% and we need to slow the reaction in the core down but the matter injectors are frozen open.” He looked for a moment at a display and then got an odd expression on his his face. He looked over to Mac who had been tossed around the engineering deck more than once in this venture but was still on his feet. “Mac, do you think we could eject just antimatter pods 2 and 5 in the next couple minutes and still maintain integrity for the rest of the pods?”
“They each have their own containment field so we should be able to do it.” Mac slowly nodded, piecing together the direction he thought the Chief was going in. “Which would slow down the fuel being fed into the system and buy us some time.” He made eye contact with Udal, a serious expression etched across his face, “We’ll need to make sure the containment fields for each of the pods remain stable which will be difficult with so many system failures, but it’s possible…”
“Bridge! We have an idea Captain,” through the distortions, the voice of the Orion engineer filled the bridge, much to Farrell’s relief. “We need to jettison the two failing antimatter pods and then go to full impulse. That will stop the pressure and heat build-up we’re suffering and decrease two major chances of vaporization. Once we get the ship out of danger, we can retrieve the pods and take our time getting them reinstalled and online safely.”
There was enough certainty in Udal’s choice of words that the Captain was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He knew the risks if it didn’t work and the engineer probably knew this ship better than he did. Still…
”Chief, this ship feels like it is about to fly itself apart already,” the Captain pointed out, at which point another explosion just two decks below them helpfully emphasised his point.
“And we’ve got less than four minutes until the first wave of the storm hits,” Caplan reminded from the aft science station.
“There is a risk to this sir, but its all I can come up with to save the warp core. All we would need to do is get far enough away from the antimatter pods blast radius in case they blow,” the engineer retorted quickly.
Sat just a few feet in front of the Captain, Lieutenant Dante Rawlings turned quickly in his chair. “What if we don’t…” he asked through a sinister, bearded smiled.
[In the ocean of space…]
Santa Fe hurtled past the crippled starship Thesis at her best possible speed, the aging vessel doing her best to dodge and weave her way around the disruptor and torpedo fire of the far newer Klingon vessel. Green plasma bolts lit up her shields as the Starfleet vessel sought to make some distance from the planet below only to begin to level out her flight path.
Showing the type of cunning an honorable warrior would be proud of, the Starfleet crew put their plan into action. Jettisoning the antimatter pods from their lower hull, the two containers floated directly into the path of the advancing Klingon vessel. And as the Starfleet vessel made its escape, a single photon torpedo left its aft bay and glistened through the darkness until it ignited the pods and engulfed the Klingon vessel in a blaze of glory. Sure enough, the Santa Fe turned on its heels and faced down its aggressor, in a much stronger place than she had been before. Instead of destroying the remnants of the damaged vessel, she simply flew by and went about her business.
“Warp core is stable. Diverting power back to shields.”
Sebastian let out a sigh of relief at the conclusion of the battle and the subsequent securing of the damaged systems. Reports from his crewmates made him feel somewhat at ease, but they weren’t out of the woods yet. “ETA for the storm?” he called out, rising from his seat, a torn piece of cloth held to the wound on his head.
“Two minutes…” Caplan called out quietly from the science station after a moment of gaining composure.
“Thesis has re-established shields and impulse engines but warp drive is offline. The Klingon vessel is limping away,” Prida informed from Ops, a hand clasped to her side in order to stem the pain from some suspected broken ribs.
“Captain,” Dante called out, turning to look at the captain of the Santa Fe. “We’re way past the withdrawal point. At this point I’d recommend we turn ourselves into the storm and ride it out,” he suggested, offering his expertise as was required in such a moment.
A single nod from the captain gave the Lieutenant leave to put the plan into place. Farrell turned back to his chair and, once safely sat down, he pressed a button on the arm of the chair. Across the ship, the familiar boatswain’s whistle rang out. “All hands,” he spoke between winces of pain, “brace for impact.”