Part of Phoenix: Bad Moon Rising

Bad Moon Rising – 8

Bridge, Phoenix
March 2157
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‘This better work,’ Lopez heard West mumble as she passed his station on her way to the command chair four hours later.

‘It’ll work,’ said keen-eared Takahashi, with all the confidence she knew he couldn’t be feeling.

‘Tharan wouldn’t have agreed otherwise,’ chipped in Black from across the bridge, and Lopez glanced between them a moment. She’d not been oblivious to the tension in the meeting, but then they’d come to her together, and while she didn’t think the problem was fixed, they’d put the issue aside for the moment. That suited her to the ground. She could babysit her crew’s feelings once they’d won.

‘How’s our sensor feed from Tharan’s ship coming?’ said Lopez, easing onto her chair and gripping the armrests.

‘It’s good and clear,’ said Takahashi. ‘The transmission’s smooth and there’s very little lag.’

‘Let’s just hope,’ said West, ‘that him transmitting to us so openly doesn’t make the Romulans pick him up.’

‘They’ll know he’s talking to someone, but that’s part of the point,’ said Takahashi. ‘Theo’s confident that this will only make the plan more convincing.’

Lopez tilted in her chair to give her XO a toothy grin. ‘We’re being supportive, remember?’ The good-natured eye-roll she received in response as West settled down was, she thought, progress.

‘Tharan’s in position,’ Black reported as her console blatted at her. ‘Expect him to power-up fully in the next minute, but we’ll be relying on his sensor feed to tell us if this is working.’

Lopez nodded, hands curling for a tight grip around the armrest. It had taken a few hours for Hawthorne and his engineers to help Tharan do some quick modifications to his ship’s systems. Anything to maximise power output, alter the deflector profile, the engine emissions. None of it would be long-term sustainable, and none of it would survive a serious and up-close inspection. But they didn’t need it to.

All they needed was for Tharan’s ship, under the fog of war of Gliese-47 and the interference of its powerful magnetic field, to look on Romulan sensors like an Andorian warship four times it size.

She leaned forward an inch, and felt the blood hum in her veins as she said, ‘Tactical alert.’

The lights shifted, the low alert klaxon sounded, and all officers on the bridge shifted like sprinters ready to race, settling the dirt underfoot for the surest footing. What felt like only moments later, but could have been minutes, Black finally said, ‘Tharan’s powered up fully, and he’s getting deeper into the system.’

He was only at the periphery, on the far side of 47-IV to the Phoenix and her hiding spot behind the sixth planet. There was a lot of ground to cover on his approach, and that was the point.

‘What are the Romulans doing?’ Lopez asked after thudding beats of silence.

‘They’ve noticed him,’ West confirmed. ‘The three scouts are coming together.’

‘Come on,’ Takahashi murmured. ‘Send two at him, send two, you don’t want him getting away and spreading the intel…’

Lopez barely dared breathe in the next bout of silence. But West’s announcement came like a whip-crack of victory as he punched the air and said, ‘They’re going! Captain, two scouts are peeling away and heading for Tharan’s ship!’

Her hand snapped up. ‘Easy does it! We let them get too far out to come back in time before we go in. Then it’s all guns blazing to mess up that depot before we have scouts crawling all over us.’

‘I’ve plotted our course and best time to move,’ said Antar. ‘This way we’ll be spotted only when they’re more than halfway to Tharan.’

This was another wait, which was theoretically good, because the longer it took the scouts to cross the system, the longer it would take them to get back when they realised that Tharan was a trick and the real danger was chewing up their insides. Lopez got to her feet, restless, and moved to watch the dots on West’s display travel across the system, the green blips of the enemy scouts closing on the tiny blue blip of Tharan’s ship. ‘Go, you bastards,’ she hissed. ‘Run.’

‘Ready to go,’ came Antar’s eventual report, and Lopez fair flew back to the command chair.

She jerked her finger forward. ‘Let’s roll.’

Moving at top speed through the gravitic field was enough to make the Phoenix shudder, but they were ready for that. They were ready for the way their sensor feeds blipped and shifted, unreliable even with Tharan’s transmissions, more data streaming in on the approach as if they were parting curtains to peer through bright, blinding sunshine – the view clear before them, but still hard to see. They were ready for the wait, they were ready for the journey, and they were ready for the end.

‘The last scout’s seen us,’ barked Black. ‘It’s coming around to face us.’

‘Don’t get distracted. I want us hitting that base with torpedoes the moment we’re in range; worry about the scout only once it’s in our face, and then I want us going right through it.’

‘The two scouts chasing Tharan have come about,’ said West. ‘They’ve realised they’re being duped.’

‘Huh,’ said Takahashi, pressing a finger to his earpiece. ‘It sounds like Tharan is… heading for them?’

Black winced. ‘If they haven’t realised he’s faking it, he might be able to tie them up for… minutes?’

‘I’ll take minutes,’ said Lopez. ‘I’ll take seconds. It’s his call.’

Antar sucked on her teeth. ‘This scout is coming right at our face.’

‘It’s going to try to intercept our torpedoes,’ said Black. ‘If I open fire with phase cannons from this distance it won’t hurt much, but it’ll either force them to evade or the impact on their deflectors might blunt their sensors.’

‘Go for it.’ Lopez watched through the viewscreen as phase cannon fire streamed towards the distant streaking dot of the lone scout left to defend its base, and nodded with satisfaction as it juked away from Black’s fire. ‘Take out that station, Helena.’

‘It’ll take more than one salvo, but I’m on it,’ said Black. ‘Opening fire.’

As Lopez watched, the torpedoes streaked away from the Phoenix and then past the scout, bearing down on the Frankenstein’s monster of a supply depot. But then her gaze flickered back to the scout. ‘Okay, that’s one salvo on the station. Let’s swat this bug so we can do the rest.’

‘On it,’ said Antar. ‘They don’t want to play chicken now we’ve got shots off, but I’ll get right in their face whether they like it or not.’

‘Excellent,’ said Lopez. ‘Helena, go to mess with their sensors or their engines; we don’t have to do a lot to make them irrelevant to this -’

‘What the…’ Black didn’t speak very loudly. But the confusion in her voice was enough to cut Lopez off, and she had a bewildered expression when Lopez looked over. ‘Something took out our torpedoes before they hit the station.’

West leaned forward. ‘Do they have point defences?’

‘No, it wasn’t from the…’ Black stopped, eyes widening as she read her display. ‘Oh, shit. Evasive action!’

Even when she didn’t know what was coming, Antar was a quick-witted enough pilot to send the Phoenix into a wild spin, breaking off the attack run on the scout and pirouetting through space. Which was why only some of the first salvo of torpedoes from the Romulan warbird hit them.

The impact rocked the ship, and Lopez had to grip her armrest hard to keep her seat. ‘Report! What the hell is going on?’

‘There’s another Romulan ship!’ yelled West, also clutching the Science console. ‘It was behind one of the moons where our sensors couldn’t see it, it took out our torpedoes and now it’s coming for us!’

‘Captain.’ Black’s taut, horrified tone remained. ‘We know that ship. That’s the Decius.’

The Decius, that had pinned them in place so they couldn’t get to Vega, that had almost killed them when they were merely weeks out of spacedock. The Decius, that was bigger than them and a serious challenge in a head-to-head match, only this time it wasn’t alone. The Decius, that had clearly been lying in wait for them.

Lopez’s stomach dropped out. ‘Get that scout,’ she decided without thinking. ‘We need that thing gone before we can worry about a warbird.’ And the defences of the depot, which we’re almost in range of.

Behind her, West swore. ‘Tharan’s ship is coming about – Captain, he’s bugging out and those scouts are returning for us.’

I can’t blame him, she thought, but shook her head. ‘They’re still minutes out.’

‘Captain, we should consider -’

‘Pulling back while that scout’s there to race up our tails and slow us down isn’t possible. Kill it first, then we see where we are.’ But as Lopez watched, the scout continued to pirouette as wildly as Antar had, clearly knowing that all it had to do was to buy time and stay out of their weapons fire. The Decius was streaming towards them, not close enough to be its fullest threat, but every second they weren’t killing the scout was a second they were begging to get pinned.

Lopez was on her feet, moving to Antar’s shoulder. ‘This guy thinks he’s at a party, so step on his damn toes some time this century, Antar.’

‘Gee, Captain, I didn’t think of that!’ the Helm Officer hissed. ‘I’m trying, but -’

‘Helena, shoot the damn scout!’

Black’s hands thudded into her controls, and Phoenix shifted at the fresh burst of weapons fire that careened outward – hit the scout – and sent it spinning, not taken out fully but seriously limping after a direct hit. Black looked almost surprised at herself. ‘Huh. Will that do?’

West gave a low laugh. ‘Nice shooting -’

Then the next salvo from the Decius hit them, and everything went wrong.

Lopez felt the Phoenix shriek around them as the impact thudded past their defences, into their hull – through the hull. Like a wounded animal reeling in pain, the Phoenix lurched, and she was sent flying to the deck. Alarm klaxons went off, there was the sparking hiss of consoles overloading and exploding, and her head hit metal.

Stars exploded in front of her eyes, and for a moment, everything slowed. The lights flickered, and around her were cries of pain, the hissing of damaged metal, of overloading systems. If this was not a mortal blow, they were still bleeding badly.

But she knew everything had not slowed; that this was a seductive pull of injury, and she dug deep to harness that coursing adrenaline. Lopez pushed herself onto her hands and knees, and the world swam back in time to bring Black’s voice racing to the forefront as she ran through damage reports: hull breaches, weapons failures, massive loss of hull polarisation. But it all lurched together, words blending as Lopez grabbed the armrest and hauled herself upright, gaze sweeping across the darkened, devastated bridge.

Antar was only just back in her seat, blood running down the side of her head. Takahashi had pushed away from his console which now smoked before him, his uniform charred, and he was leaning over another display to reroute his controls. West was –

Not at his post, the Science console empty, and she thought she saw the big man stirring on the deck. Lopez grimaced towards the aft of the bridge, and waved a hand at the figure there. ‘Shepherd! Help the Commander!’

Then she sat again, head fizzing with the mix of pain and adrenaline. ‘Where’s that damn warbird?’

‘Getting closer all the time,’ said Antar. ‘One of our port manoeuvring thrusters is out; we do not want to let them get on top of us.’

‘I’ve lost a torpedo launcher,’ said Black through gritted teeth.

‘Captain…’

But Shepherd’s voice was low and meek and Lopez missed it as her head spun. ‘What about those other two scouts?’

‘Still making for us as best as I can tell,’ said Black.

‘Captain.’

‘Can we get another shot at the depot?’ said Lopez with a wince.

Black shook her head. ‘Not with the state of my launchers.’

‘Captain!’ Now Shepherd’s voice was heard, loud but with an edge of hysteria, and Lopez turned with some impatience to see the young officer leaning against the Science console, hair wild, expression crumpled. ‘Commander West is dead.’

If someone had told Lopez that they’d just been hit again and lost oxygen, she would have believed them. It took a moment before she swallowed the rising bile, and when she spoke it was still like she didn’t have enough air. ‘Lieutenant Shepherd.’ Her voice came out faint. ‘Take your post at Science. Where are those two scouts?’

‘On – on the approach,’ Shepherd faltered, wiping her face as she sank into the seat, then she managed to press on. ‘Four minutes out.’

Lopez looked over at Black, who wore an unreadable expression, then at Takahashi. His jaw was tight, and he gave the slightest shake of the head.

She swallowed again and looked to Antar. ‘Ensign, get us the hell out of here.’

Phoenix lurched as Antar obeyed, and Black clicked her tongue with disapproval as her readings came in. ‘The Decius is pursuing us.’

‘Cap.’ Takahashi’s voice sounded thick. ‘Cap, he’s hailing us.’

Lopez’s lip curled. ‘Put him through.’

Hello again, Phoenix,’ came the voice she recognised, the voice of Commander Sekarth of the warbird Decius. ‘My people have a saying: learn from those who fooled you. Your distraction was clever, but when I spotted your probe… I’m sorry, but you’ve become predictable. I waited, and then here you were.

Lopez jerked a finger agitatedly at Antar to convey acceleration, and leaned on the armrest. ‘Commander, great to hear from you again,’ she said, the irreverent tone coming easily to smother the rising panic. ‘But that’s maybe the rudest thing you could possibly say to me -’

‘My ship is on your aft and my allies will be on you in minutes. Out of respect for your achievements, if you surrender now, I will make sure you and your crew are spared for internment.

She swallowed. ‘Listen, that’s a tempting offer, but I’m going to have to ask what exactly you mean by “internment”…’

It means a slave camp, and this isn’t a negotiation – or, rather, this isn’t an opportunity for you to stall and try to get some distance. Do I have your surrender? Yes or no will do.

Lopez looked around the bridge again, at the grim faces, at the tear-stained cheeks of Shepherd and the bloodied temple of Antar, and her fingers curled around the armrest as her heart tried to beat so hard it might rise into her throat and choke her. She swallowed again. ‘Commander Sekarth, with all of the authority imbued in me by Starfleet Command and the United Earth Commonwealth: get fucked.’ She swept her hand through the air to make Takahashi cut the comms, and looked to her Helm Officer. ‘Let’s run.’

Takahashi let out a shaking breath as the Phoenix shuddered on the acceleration, limping badly even without the interference and strains of the star Gliese-47. ‘We really better not die here,’ he said, voice quaking. ‘Your final transmission can’t be something that painfully unoriginal.’

Comments

  • Dead??? Lopez isn't the only one feeling like a victim to explosive decompression. Even as a newer reader to Phoenix, that hurts. That really hurts. In previous chapters, you did such a masterful job of making West likeable and sympathetic, and he seems like such a NECESSARY counter-balance to the command triumvirate. (And his relationships with Lopez and Black are left unresolved! Why???) This was such an exciting chapter, following the situation getting worse and worse. I'm fascinated by how Lopez's irreverence is unshaken, even as the other bridge crew start to crack, and their circumstances slide into hopeless. Now, I'm dying to see what West's death will do to Lopez.

    April 17, 2022