Alone among a sea of junior officers, Counsellor Vittoria Chiera had assumed command of the Santa Fe upon the Captain’s withdrawal to her ready room just over an hour before. In the intervening time, absolutely nothing had happened. Nothing. Not so much as a speck of space dust in the wrong place. This was, perhaps, the most boring part of being in command when you were so far down the food chain; by the time command got to you, either everyone else was dead, or so busy with nothing happening that they felt they could leave you in command. Thankfully, it was the latter in this case. Everyone else was off doing their own thing in reference to the ship’s mission, so she was the only senior officer left to take over the bridge in the commanding officer’s absence.
She’d had a lot of time to debate with herself the merits of disclosing her growing angst at the captain’s state of mind moving forward, opting at one point to very nearly call the XO and question the poor Andorian’s mental state. But she had thought better of it. The Captain had, after all, gone through a lot in recent times, so surely she could be forgiven for a few remarks and an abundance of caution. Right? Or was that a dereliction of her duty as Counsellor and advisor on all matters mental health related?
She had allowed her mind to wander again, when she was pulled to the present by a beeping from a forward station.
“Approaching Freecloud, Lieutenant,” the junior officer at Flight Operations called out, glancing back at the Counsellor briefly.
Shooting a look at the viewscreen, the Betazoid nodded slowly and reached down to the controls on the arm of the chair she had inherited, albeit briefly. “Captain to the bridge. We are approaching Freecloud,” she called across the open comm.
It took a few moments, but Tharia eventually emerged from the ready room, taking a few steps across the bridge until she was once again stood beside the Betazoid. “Take us out of warp when ready,” the Andorian instructed, before tapping the Counsellor on her shoulder and nodding her head back towards the command chairs at the center of the bridge. Together, they returned to their seats. Tapping her commbadge, the Captain called for her senior staff to return to the bridge.
Within minutes, the entire staff on the bridge had taken a different look with the more familiar faces back in their rightful seats. A deep breath in and a reassuring smile to the XO beside her, the Captain finally looked like someone relishing the idea of stepping into the crucible of command. Sat at the heart of the bridge, hands clasped together in her lap, she looked towards the forward stations. “Okay,” she eventually spoke, “whilst you were all at work elsewhere, I’ve been in contact with Starfleet Intelligence. According to their latest updates, they have a contact on Freecloud that can fill in some missing pieces of our puzzle. So, Lieutenant Prida, commence sensor sweeps for the Thesis. Noli, Dante; get looking for a shuttle matching the signature in the file I have shared with you. I want to get them aboard at the earliest opportunity.”
”I’m detecting a lot of traffic in the area, it might slow down our search,” Dante reported from the conn as his fingers started to dance away with glee.
Pushing into action, Prida sat at her station tapping her mottled fingers to a furious, focused melody. “Reconfiguring sensors to conduct a multiphasic sweep, overlapping scans with all previous data regarding the Thesis,” the Operations Chief announced to the bridge in general.
Working in coordination with the Flight Controller, the Bajoran at Tactical swept her fingers across the controls at her disposal. “We should be able to find the signal through the noise and get a sense of where they’ve been and where they’re going. In the meantime, shields and weapons are on standby Captain,” Noli informed. Tharia gave a simple nod, appreciative of the Bajoran’s cautious approach.
“You don’t think the Thesis could still be in the area, do you?” Kayla enquired, looking to her left at the Captain. “It’s been hours since she was last seen near here.”
“You weren’t with us the last time we dealt with this ship,” the Andorian told, her voice carrying an air of matter of factness, “she came out of surprise then, and if they are having the same issues now, anything is possible…”
[Some distance away…]
With his counterpart having been shot during their escape, and laying in the aft chair of the small vessels command compartment, a bloody mess of a Terran was getting a crash course in learning how to pilot the unknown alien craft. The controls were far from usual, and it was proving difficult to keep the ship stable. Of course, the weapons fire from the Orion Interceptor giving chase probably wasn’t helping.Another hit on the port shields sent sparks flying into the cockpit of the shuttle, with alarm bells calling out to the Terran pilot. “Systems failing,” the masculine voice of the computer declared as the Lieutenant did his best to remedy the situation. Another declaration from the machine did little to appease him. “Second vessel detected on intercept course.”Through the distorted sensor readings, the only thing the Lieutenant could make out was that he was now sandwiched between the Interceptor and a much larger vessel. “Computer!” he yelled, “send out a distress call on all frequencies.””Long range transmitter offline,” the male voice barked back.”Then send it via short range and lets hope those in front are less hostile than those behind,” he ordered sternly, gripping the console as the ship took another hit from the Interceptor. If he didn’t get help soon, they were done for.
[Bridge, USS Santa Fe]
Someone had once told her, do not believe in coincidences. And yet, in this exact moment, Commander Desai-Scott was inclined to do so. From her position on the Bridge she called up a visual image of a nearby shuttle, or something which resembled a shuttle. Heading directly for them and taking heavy fire.
Either someone out there was having a very bad day and had decided to throw themselves at Starfleet’s door or…
”Lieutenant Rawlings, is it our people?” Kayla called towards the conn.
In spite of his best efforts, Dante’s manipulations of the sensors seemed sluggish, glitchy as he attempted to get a solid reading – and quick. With a short, annoyed exhale, the Chief of Flight Operations looked to the view screen and said, “On a hunch? Probably,” he replied, trying to sound cool, “but the biosignatures I’m picking up are scrambled worse than eggs right now – all I can tell you is we’ve got two highly distressed humanoids aboard that shuttle.”
”Sensors are detecting weapons fire,” the blonde Bajoran declared from the tactical station, her hands dancing across the controls as she tried to ascertain more details for the Captain. “Two Orion interceptors approximately a thousand kilometers from the shuttle and closing.”
sh’Elas, however, had heard enough, and reached down to the controls on the arm of her chair. “Red alert,” she beckoned sternly before opening a comm channel. “Bridge to Transporter Room One. Standby to receive coordinates for transport,” she declared without waiting for a response, turning to the aft medical station. “Doctor,” she spoke, a look of focus and intensity, the single word serving as her order for the Chief Medical Officer to leave the bridge and head for the transporter room.
Zinn didn’t need to wait for the Captain to instruct him; he was already out of his chair and headed for the exit. He didn’t give a verbal reply as he strode towards the turbolift and barked his destination order.
”Closing the distance to them, hang on,” Rawlings said, “Let’s see what this baby can do,” he added as he pushed the sublight engines to full impulse and threw the ship into combat manoeuvres, avoiding the larger nearby ships and relying on ‘if it’s bigger than you get out of it’s way’ for the smaller ones. “Closing on the target, 20 seconds.” He said.
”Noli, open hailing frequencies,” the Captain ordered of her Tactical Officer. She wanted to speak with the shuttles assailants and hoped to reason with them, in the best traditions of Starfleet. Once the nod came from the Bajoran, the Andorian stepped up. “Orion vessels; this is the Federation starship Santa Fe. You are firing on two Starfleet officers. Stand down, or we will open fire,” the Andorian advised. And waited.
”No response and they continue to fire,” the Bajoran growled, her trigger finger getting rather twitchy.
“Orion vessels; this is your final warning,” Tharia told more sternly, “stand down.”
Failing to acquiesce to the Captain’s request, the Interceptors turned their attention to the Starfleet vessel, breaking off their attack on the shuttle and training their disruptors on the giant vessel that glided towards them. The impacts on the shields were light, the ship hardly registering their hits as the Captain stood in the centre of the bridge and smirked. Was that the best they had?
”Okay Lieutenant,” she called out to the Tactical Officer, “target their weapons systems and fire.”
Nodding dutifully, the Bajoran did as instructed and targeted the weapons systems of her targets, without remorse and without concern. Three bursts of phaser fire and a couple of photons from the dorsal torpedo pods later and they had achieved the desired effect. “They’re bugging out, Captain.”
”Excellent,” sh’Elas smiled as she walked back to her command chair and resumed her seat. “Lower shields and have the transporter room lock on to the shuttles crew. Take us out of the spacelanes and position us at the edge of the system, Lieutenant.”
“Transporter Room to Bridge. Transport complete. Two individuals have been transported to sickbay.”There was a sigh of great relief from the Captain as she nodded slowly and gave the go ahead to the helm.
“Aye Ma’am, adjusting course,” Dante retorted from the CONN.
With the shuttles occupants now aboard safely, and the Orion’s hot footing it out of the Freecloud system, the Santa Fe crew could, once again, go about their search for the Thesis. Hopefully, they would find her in time.
[Somewhere in the Beta Quadrant…]
Thesis streaked out of normal space and into the starscape, travelling at their maximum speed possible with the technological issues they were having. Travelling at such speeds was often bumpy as the ship’s systems sometimes struggled under the extreme speeds the propulsion systems generated, but the shaking that came shortly after their jump to warp this time was worrying.
Captain Italia Ruas gripped the arms of her chair tightly whilst the ship rumbled beneath her feet, a look of sheer concern on her face as she looked around the command center. “Report!”
”Structural integrity systems failing,” Lieutenant Mora declared as the Inquiry-class ship lurched to one side.
”Somethings wrong with the warp drive. Activating failsafe to drop us out,” Ensign th’Zorati reported from the conn. “Failsafe is not engaging. I can’t take us out.”
Smashing the controls on her armrest, the Captain called down to Engineering. “Engineering! We need to shut down warp drive before we disappear into the unknown!”
From the bowels of the ship, an equally agitated voice filled the bridge. “Engineering here. We blew an EPS conduit. We should be ok but I’ll take us out of…” an explosion came over the comm system and then silence as the com failed. The lights flickered and the ship bumped in time with the explosion.
“Engineering?” the Captain called down to the lower decks again. When there was silence she tapped the arm of her chair again. “Engineering, please respond!” Nothing. If engineering couldn’t rip the ship out of warp, then there was no telling where they might end up.
”Warp drive controls are not functioning, and I can not engage the failsafe. Attempting to manually collapse the warp field,” th’Zorati reported, her heart was pounding as she tried to regain some control over the ship. “The helm is no longer responding ma’am. we do not have control…”
“Computer!” the Captain called over the dinn, “Transmit a distress call to the last confirmed location of the Santa Fe. Relay our position and status…” the Trill commander of the ship ordered. Hopefully, Santa Fe would reach them before they crossed into dangerous territory.
The Briar Patch was not a place they wanted to crash out of warp…