Part of USS Challenger: You Can’t Go Home Again and Bravo Fleet: The Stormbreaker Campaign

Small Fish in a Big Pond

U.S.S. Challenger NCC-71099
Stardate 77025.85
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Chris Jackson winced as the cold nozzle of a hypospray was pressed against his neck. The young medical officer quickly administered the anti-nausea medication before moving onto the next person. “You sure this is necessary Doc?” Jackson asked as he rubbed his neck where the hypospray had been seconds earlier.

“The captain experienced severe nausea when he beamed down.” Miller replied as he injected the medication into Lieutenant Commander Mitchell. “It’s not foolproof so we may still feel a little nauseous upon materialisation but it shouldn’t be nearly as bad.”

Jackson nodded as he typed a message into his PADD informing the captain that they would be beaming down to the coordinates he’d provided in just a few seconds. He leaned over, stuffed the PADD haphazardly into his go bag and picked it up in one hand and his engineering toolkit in the other. “We all good?” The chief engineer glanced around the room at the officers who were beaming down from transporter room one. “Alright, let’s go.”

The group moved onto the transporter pad. In addition to Jackson there were three of his engineers, Doctor Miller and Lieutenant Commander Mitchell. Each of them had a go bag and a kit relevant to their job. Jackson took a deep breath, steeling himself against what would normally be as easy as stepping from one room to another. He met the gaze of the transporter chief and gave them a nod. “Energise.”

The transport sequence began as normal and ended a few seconds later. As the captain reported it took a few seconds longer than usual and by the end of it, it felt like he’d been on a rollercoaster. His stomach churned for the few seconds after materialising but the sensation quickly passed, no doubt thanks to Miller’s injection.

“Welcome to Coltar.” Forrester greeted them with a smile. “You guys have first choice of the bunks.” He motioned to row after row of bunk beds that would be home for the Challenger’s contingent for the next month and a half. “What are you doing here?” He asked Mitchell.

Mitchell was stowing his go bag on the top bunk of a nearby bed. “My engineering knowledge makes me more useful down here than sitting at the helm of a starship that’s going nowhere. I have no doubt that da Costa can handle things.”

“Doctor Miller, how’d group one hold up?” Forrester asked, turning to his chief medical officer. 

Miller, who was pointing a medical tricorder at one of the engineers, studied the device silently for a few seconds before deactivating it and turning to face the captain. “Pretty well. A few reported momentary nausea upon materialising and Ensign Hezat,” he motioned towards the Benzite engineer, “had a headache but I’ve given her something for it and that seems to have done the trick.”

“Good.” Forrester nodded and turned to Jackson. “Signal the rest of the teams to begin beaming down. Once your team is settled, you and I will go to planetary power operations and devise a plan for upgrading the power grid.”

Jackson was already typing another message on his PADD, instructing the remaining engineers and the few other medical officers to beam down. “I’ve already had a look at what the Federation database had on Coltar’s power grid.” He said as he transmitted the databurst. “The last major upgrade was carried out about half a century ago. Since then there’s been a few patches and upgrades but it’s still largely fifty years old.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that.” Forrester sighed. “Will that affect the timeline of your work?”

Having studied the planet’s power grid prior to the mission briefing, Jackson had already factored it into his timing. “No, sir.”

“Alright. Good work.” Forrester nodded, seemingly pleased by that answer. “Get yourselves settled in. It’ll be a while before the rest of the team arrives.”

Jackson’s brow knitted together and his eyes narrowed. “They’re standing by, ready to go. It’ll take them 30 seconds, maximum to start beaming down.”

“Commander, you’re about to find,” a wry smile pulled on the captain’s lips, “that thirty seconds is a looong time on Coltar right now.”

***

It took roughly two hours for all the engineers to beam down. While they settled into their new home for the next month or two, Forrester and Jackson travelled to the planet’s power generation facility to discuss the plans with its chief administrator and chief engineer.

“The current fusion reactor was installed fifty years ago and the old one was decommissioned and dismantled soon after.” The facilities chief engineer, Derek Pottinger, told them. “This facility was originally built to house up to four fusion reactors, the idea being that as the colony expanded then further reactors would be built.”

Jackson studied the schematics displayed on the screen in front of him. There were no holographic computer displays here, the LCARS version the facility used was one that the engineer had only encountered a handful of times; it was mainly green and blue and hadn’t been used onboard Federation starships in more than half a century. “Why weren’t the other fusion reactors built?”

“Because the Federation doesn’t care about Coltar.” An unfamiliar female voice announced from behind them. The group turned to find two women standing there. Jackson didn’t recognise either of them but the captain seemed to.

Forrester offered them a tight smile that held little warmth. “Governor Wells, Ms Forsyth. It’s good to see you again.” He turned towards Jackson. “I’d like to introduce my chief engineer, Lieutenant Commander Christopher Jackson.”

“It’s a pleasure, Commander.” Governor Wells reached out a hand and flashed him the easy, well practised smile of a career politician. 

Jackson shook her hand and offered a polite smile of his own. He turned towards Forsyth, the woman who’d declared the ‘Federation didn’t care about Coltar’, and offered his hand. She took it lightly and gave it a single shake, her features carefully schooled to give nothing away. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both.” He said.

“The Commander was just about to lay out his plan for us.” Forrester raised his eyebrows, a silent instruction for Jackson to take the floor.

Being caught off guard, Jackson’s start was a little unsure. “Uh, yeah. I…um…our plan is in two stages. The first involves upgrading the planetary power grid to meet our additional power needs. We’ll build a secondary fusion reactor to supplement the current one while at the same time we’ll upgrade the grid itself to be able to handle the extra power. Once that’s done, we’ll begin constructing the shield generators and installing them in each of the towns, with smaller units installed in remote farms and settlements.”

“And you can do all of that in less than two months?” The governor asked, sounding sceptical.

Jackson nodded once in reply. “Yes, ma’am. With the industrial replicators we brought with us, I estimate it should take us no more than six weeks to complete our work.”

“How much additional power will this new reactor provide?” Forsyth asked, her steely eyes meeting Jackson’s.

Shifting his weight from one foot to the other under her intense gaze, Jackson replied, “Enough to handle the extra power draw from the shield generators while ensuring that there’ll be no loss of power for your citizens.”

“Typical.” Forsyth folded her arms and turned her head to address the governor. “We’ve been begging the Federation for a new fusion reactor for fifteen years, begging for the additional power we need to be able to grow and it takes some once in a century storm for us to get a new reactor. And when we do get one it won’t help with our growth plans at all” She turned her steely gaze back on Jackson. “Like I said, the Federation doesn’t care about Coltar.”

Jackson bristled at the suggestion and was quickly winding up to shoot back but the captain beat him to the punch. “If that were true, Ms Forsyth, we wouldn’t be here.” Forrester told her smoothly. “Coltar was only out of contact for three hours before the Challenger was sent to investigate.”

“So why has it taken fifteen year for us to get a new fusion reactor?” Forsyth asked tartly. “And when we do it’s a half measure in an emergency situation?”

Jackson was unaccustomed to hearing a Federation citizen being so openly hostile towards it. “Even the Federation’s resources are finite.” He told her hotly, jabbing an angry finger towards the ground. “Decisions have to be made and Coltar is…” The engineer trailed off quickly as he realised what he was about to say would only feed into her negative opinion of the Federation.

“Coltar is what, Commander Jackson?” Forsyth asked with a satisfied smile on her face. “Unimportant?”

A glance at the captain confirmed he would be no help; Forrester was suppressing a smile but the twinkle of amusement at watching Jackson walk straight into her trap was clear in his eyes. “A low priority.” He finished weakly before immediately turning to Forrester. “You agree with her?”

“Kinda.” Forrester replied with a shrug after a moment’s deliberation. “I don’t agree that the Federation doesn’t care about Coltar, but we’re a small fish in a big pond and the big fish are a lot more powerful. The founding member worlds hold a lot more sway over the council than a small agricultural colony like Coltar.”

Jackson couldn’t believe what he was hearing. It was one thing coming from someone like Forsyth but to hear the captain, a man who’d devoted his entire adult life to Starfleet and the Federation, was stunning. “With all due respect sir, all worlds in the Federation are equal.”

Forsyth scoffed but said nothing. A smile crept slowly onto Forrester’s features. “Some more equal than others.” Jackson thought he recognised the captain’s words but he couldn’t place them.

“We seem to have gotten slightly off topic.” Governor Wells said, making her presence known once again. “What timescale are we looking at before this ion storm arrives?”

Jackson was glad of the chance to return to the matter at hand. “We should have a little over three months.”

“And how long would it take for you to construct a full size fusion reactor?” The Governor asked, the hope shining brightly in her eyes..

Although he wished that he could give the governor the answer she wanted, he had to disappoint her. “Longer than we have.” He watched her features fall. “If you don’t mind me asking, have you thought about financing a private endeavour?”

“Three years ago, my predecessor tried that.” Wells replied. “He managed to raise the capital necessary to start construction on a new fusion reactor only to have the Tellarite businessman we were dealing with disappear with all that latinum. It led to his resignation and the special election that landed me in this job.”

A thought struck Jackson and without putting too much thought into it, he announced, “We’ll get you a new full scale fusion reactor to allow your colony to grow.” Out of the corner of his eye he could see Forrester’s head turn slowly towards him, eyes wide. Not wanting to meet his captain’s gaze at that moment, Jackson kept his eyes locked on the Governor. “Once this crisis has passed.”

“Do I have your word on that?” Governor Wells asked casting sceptical glances at Forrester and Jackson. Obviously she and her people had been burned before so he didn’t blame her for being sceptical.

The Challenger’s chief engineer nodded. “Yes ma’am.”

“I’ll hold you both to that.” Wells told them as Forsyth made a gesture that meant nothing to Jackson but was obviously some predetermined signal the governor had worked out with her Chief of Staff. “If you’ll excuse me, I have another engagement to attend to.”

Forrester and Jackson said their goodbyes and as soon as Wells and Forsyth were out of earshot, the captain rounded on his chief engineer. “What the hell was that?!”

“I just thought-”

Forrester quickly caught him off. “No, no, no, no, no.” He said quickly. “You weren’t thinking, that’s the problem. How in the hell are we supposed to get these people a fusion reactor? The Challenger can’t stay in orbit for the months it would take to build it.”

“I’ll come up with something.” Jackson tried to reassure his captain. It would have been more convincing if he believed it himself.

Scrubbing his face roughly with his hand, Forrester let out a sigh. “You’d better. If we don’t follow through on what you’ve just promised them, neither one of us will be able to set foot on this planet ever again.”

The captain walked away, leaving Jackson to consider the weight of what he’d just committed them to.