Part of USS Apollo: Starship Down and Bravo Fleet: The Stormbreaker Campaign

Prologue

USS Apollo
February 23, 2400
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Each time Captain Gaudain visited Counselor Altmann’s office, he was reminded that he’d been cheated out of installing a captain’s mess. For the Apollo’s whole service life, the compartment mirroring the officers’ lounge on deck one had been unassigned space—the only free room on the ship with a viewport—until Starfleet had seen fit to embark a permanent counselor for the first time and it had been given over to an expert in post-traumatic stress, grief, and all manner of other crises that needed counseling. At least it wasn’t a fully private office—Altmann regularly had to pause counseling sessions to allow maintenance crew to pass through his overly large new office into the impulse control room beyond. Gaudain knew precisely why he felt so petty about the whole situation: Altmann was as much there for his mental health as any of the other 93 souls aboard his ship, and he resented presence.

For his part, Altmann knew fully well what Gaudain thought, and he hadn’t tried to push too hard in their sessions—Gaudain was fit for service, after all, and there was no point in dredging up the past unless it came up naturally. So, it was more the idea of a counselor at all than any specific annoyance with Altmann himself that got Gaudain grumpy each time he sat down on the psychologist’s couch. Starfleet had at least found someone his own age, rather than letting a greenhorn fresh from the academy have at him, as was the case with many of his other senior staff.

The compartment had been reconfigured with nearly the same capabilities as a holodeck, so they’d be able to use it for something else once Gaudain managed to get Altmann reassigned and his ship psychologist-free. He did admire the décor choices Altmann had made, though: dark woods, leather, and books, though the stars streaking past the viewport did break the 19th-century illusion somewhat. 

“You know, I think I’ve figured this out,” Gaudain said as he sat down on the leather sofa and gestured around him. “You’ve selected an aesthetic that appeals to my hyper-performed masculinity,” he quipped.

“Yes, Captain. You are simply an epitome of the male form, and I wouldn’t dare threaten your identity by making you sit in a room full of flowers and pastel colors for an hour twice a week,” Altmann replied dryly. “I see we’re starting off with deflection today?”

“Don’t do that ‘we’ crap. I hate it,” Gaudain replied, crossing his arms. 

“Oh, deflection and projection,” the counselor noted as he sat down in the chair next to the couch. Gaudain knew that was the signal to lay back, so he stretched out, his hands behind his neck as he alternated between looking at the ceiling and out the viewport. Altmann was perpendicular to him, so they didn’t have to make eye contact during the session; another admittedly good idea on his part. “So, how’ve things been for you in the last few days?”

“Just peachy. We’re nearly back to Starbase 4, and we managed to avert an interstellar diplomatic crisis. Vice Admiral Kominek has been successfully dropped off and is no longer my responsibility,” Gaudain replied. He sighed, knowing he was going to be asked to speak a little more personally. “I’m feeling fine. Breaking in a new crew is never easy, and I’m happy that we seem to be working in sync now. I’m looking forward to a little shore leave.”

“I didn’t think I’d ever hear you say you’re glad to have some leisure time, so that’s progress. Any plans when we’re back?” the other man asked.

“My brother and his kids are going to be there in a few days. We’re going camping. It’s not something we grew up with—being Martians and all—but he wants to give them that traditional Earthling childhood I keep hearing so much about,” Gaudain replied. “Fishing, and that sort of thing.”

“Well, that sounds a little bit like work still, but it will be nice to see your family. Who knows how long we’ll be gone the next time,” Altmann replied. “Especially if we’re sent back with the Arcturus for good.”

“That’s still the plan,” Gaudain confirmed; he was eager to get back to the Delta Quadrant, even if their first few months there in 2399 had been so hard. “Now that I’ve proven myself to be sane, do you think you’ll stick around, or will they find someone more expendable than a man of your great expertise and talent to join us?”

Altmann chuckled. “Sanity shifts so easily, though, doesn’t it? I’m not afraid of a trip behind the wormhole if that’s what you’re asking. It does make me want to ask if you are, though,” he noted.

“Any sane… rational person would be afraid to go to the Delta Quadrant. Rational beings don’t move towards the Borg, after all,” Gaudain replied. “I have a healthy respect for what’s out there.”

“Yellow Alert. Captain Gaudain to the Bridge,” came the first officer’s voice over the intercom. 

“Saved by the bell, Captain.”

**

Meanwhile, Ensign Lassus was lying in the center of Dr. Bradley’s bed. For the first several weeks of their journey, Lassus was convinced that Bradley disliked her and perhaps all other sentient beings. For someone whose job it was to heal people’s bodies, he certainly didn’t seem to care much about their feelings. On a dare from one of her fellow ensigns, she’d confronted him in the officer’s lounge to see why he was such an ass, which resulted in the sort of cut-to-black moment from the bar to his bed that she’d only ever read about in novels. 

“Ready for round two?” Bradley asked as he returned to the bedroom with a glass of wine in one hand and a glass of scotch in the other. He set the wine down on her bedside table and then moved around to his own side. She couldn’t help but admire his physique as he took a drink from his glass, though she couldn’t fathom why he’d bother to put his Starfleet-issue trunks back on.

“You’re incorrigible, Adam,” she laughed, taking a sip of sapphire wine; he hadn’t asked her what she wanted, but the sweet beverage had been an excellent guess on his part. 

“You seem to be under the mistaken impression that sleeping with me has given you permission to use my first name, Ensign. It’s ‘Doctor’ or ‘Sir’ to you still,” Bradley replied as he sat down next to her.

Lassus looked at him to see if there was any hint of a smile or evidence of jocularity that she couldn’t detect in his tone but found none. At least his hands were warmer than his bedside manner. She rolled her eyes and sat up. She also had known what she was getting into, as he’d made no promises of friendship, let alone romance, when propositioning her, but it was a little disappointing nonetheless.

“Well, are you at least going to be nicer to me in public now?”

That did earn her a grin from the blond Human. “Mm. Probably not. I can’t appear to pick favorites, can I?” Bradley asked rhetorically. He leaned in and placed a spectacular kiss on her lips. “Even if you are amazing,” he conceded.

Lassus’s heart did a small somersault at the compliment; she didn’t detect any deception from him about his attraction towards her. He didn’t seem to be as complex as she’d imagined; he wasn’t very nice, but there didn’t seem to be any massive psychological complex driving that behavior. 

“Captain Gaudain would let me call him by his first name, I bet,” she challenged.

 “Ah, I see. I was merely the first rung on your ladder of seduction.”

The Trill laughed. “Hardly. I just thought that improving your sex life might also lead to an improvement in your collegiality,” she offered.

“How very utilitarian of you. I’m sure it had nothing to do with me being exceptionally handsome,” Bradley replied with a smirk. If that boast hadn’t been true, Lassus would have felt the urge to slug him in the shoulder, but she instead leaned over to kiss him again. Bradley accepted the kiss and then pulled back. “I’d advise trying to cure Ensign Knight’s shyness and general awkwardness this way, though; I don’t think he’d survive.”

“Yellow Alert. Captain Gaudain to the Bridge,” said the first officer’s voice over the comm. 

Both of them stood up and started scrambling to put their uniforms on; the wisdom of Bradley at least putting his underwear back on was now fully evident to Lassus as she struggled to find the appropriate garments tangled in the sheets. She did have to give the doctor credit for helping her fix her hair, at least, as they made for the door. She pushed him against the bulkhead next to the door on an impulse. He was twelve centimeters taller and significantly more muscular than she was, so the gesture was perfunctory at best, and the efficacy of her restraining him was minimal.

“I’m not calling you ‘sir’ if you ever want a rematch. And be nicer to Knight. Understood?” she said, locking eyes with the taller man. 

“Deal. As long as you don’t tell anyone about this.”

Lassus thought about that for a split second; she didn’t really need their new acquaintance to make it into the gossip pool, either. “Deal. Pleasure doing business with you,” she said, letting him go.

“I know,” Bradley replied, with a wink that made her really want to punch him that time before the two of them left his quarters.

**

In Main Engineering, Lieutenant Commander T’Rann and Lieutenant Tasev were attempting to solve a slight inefficiency in the ship’s power transfer systems. Very slight. Extremely minute. It was a drain that was barely perceptible on standard diagnostics, and they’d only uncovered it when performing other scheduled systems checks. 0.0000001% of the ship’s EPS power was being lost, and they couldn’t account for it. 

“You have ensured that there is no unauthorized equipment connected to the grid?” T’Rann asked, arching her eyebrow with as much Vulcan skepticism as she could muster. 

Tasev had found her to be quite reasonable and nearly even pleasant—for a Vulcan—until he’d spent almost six hours working with her to solve a problem that he barely even would identify as a problem. The ship was built in the 2380s, and they were now past the year 2400, so inefficiencies were bound to creep up over time. 

“I’ve checked every lab myself. I think it must be a containment breach somewhere,” Tasev replied. “Or a newer model replacement part somewhere in the system that we’re not accounting for.”

T’Rann turned to tap a few commands into the primary engineering console, and Tasev could see that there were no apparent contenders on first inspection. Such a power loss was marginal, but it could be the symptom of a more significant problem, or it could be something that would become worse if the captain really cranked the throttle.

“What if the problem is not internal to the ship? Subspace drag, perhaps?” the Andorian suggested. 

“Perhaps. An impact so subtle on the ship’s systems may be caused by something too minor for the ship’s normal sensing patterns to detect it,” T’Rann said. “I am increasing power to the navigational sensors,” she said, nodding towards the display next to her.

Tasev stepped up to the console and began going over the data. “It appears that we are passing through the edge of a subspace distortion. The engines are having to push harder to maintain our speed,” he said, as the numbers started to make sense to him. “All projections indicated that the Century Storm’s impacts would be fully on the other side of the nebula, though.”

“Clearly, those projections are wrong. We should—,” T’Rann started but was cut off by the comm chime.

“Yellow Alert. Captain Gaudain to the Bridge.”

**

Lieutenant Commander Rhodes had command of the bridge. As was the case on many smaller starships and even the largest of vessels in Starfleet’s early years, he served both as Chief Science Officer and First Officer, as every berth on the Apollo counted. So far, they hadn’t had much to do in the realm of science; his first assignment under Captain Gaudain had been a milk run delivering an admiral to a conference after all. The closer they got to Starbase 4, though, the more interesting the data was that started to pour in through their long-range sensors. 

“I bet we’ll be sent right back out to help with this,” Lieutenant Schaeffer announced from the tactical station, looking at the same readings that Rhodes was from the command console. “I hope no one had any time-sensitive shore leave plans,” he joked.

“Let’s not start speculating, Mr. Schaeffer,” Rhodes warned, mildly; neither he nor Captain Gaudain cared much about an informal atmosphere on the bridge, but there were limits to how much chatter was helpful. “We’re still a day out. It’s unclear how much longer this storm will last.”

“How can you have a storm across an entire interstellar nebula like the Paulson one, though? I’ve never heard of anything like that,” Schaeffer asked, looking back towards the first officer. “Is it some kind of attack?”

“The answer ‘unique subspace properties’ isn’t very exciting, but it is the answer,” Rhodes said, crossing the bridge to where Shaeffer was sitting. He tapped in a command to show the young man a diagram of the nebula’s subspace topography. “Think of the boundary between space and subspace like a sheet of ice. It’s thinner over this part of the pond than in other regions, and we’re not entirely sure why.”

“Got it. I think,” Schaeffer said, looking as though he did not get it.

As Rhodes started to explain further, he heard something from the aft end of the bridge, but it wasn’t clear. When he turned, he saw Ensign Knight looking quite excited about something from the communications station. The rail-thin ensign in blue was a brilliant linguist, but he was almost comically inept when it came to personal communication on the bridge because of how quiet he was. He’d only been out of the academy for a few months, and Rhodes had so far failed to help him learn to be more assertive.

“Speak up, Mr. Knight,” Rhodes said.

Knight cleared his throat. “I’m picking up a distress signal, sir. It’s very faint, but there’s a ship approximately 1.5 light-years from our current position. They’re requesting help. Urgently,” he reported. 

Rhodes tapped his badge. “Yellow alert. Captain Gaudain to the bridge.”