“All I’m saying is, why do two Romulans need to take over the entire lower deck and relegate all of us up here for the return to Bravo?” Katlyn kept her voice low and quiet while she aimed her question at Nia, the two of them at the controls of the New Atlantis-class runabout USS Fantail. Not because she was afraid of their rather unexpected guests hearing them, but because of their supervisors for the aborted survival training exercise they had been in the form of Lieutenant Callahan and Ensign Connolly. “And isn’t it odd we got sent on a survival exercise so far from the station, then redirected to intercept a courier and bring Romulans, actual Star Empire Romulans back to the station?”
Her mind was in two places, conversing with her fellow cadet but also on flying the Fantail. There was nothing at all wrong with how she’d handled the runabout when she’d been required to, her flying precise and technical to a fault, but while the craft was just lopping along at warp, there was no need for her to continually check and recheck, but she did it anyway. Mistakes she couldn’t tolerate or accept in front of others. The slightest deviation was corrected well before any alert would have raised a query with the two cadets at the controls.
Walking into the cockpit with a tray of hot drinks, including a mug of hot chocolate for himself, Tate stifled a yawn. Though she was trying to be quiet, Tate could hear from the edge of the cockpit. “Katlyn, are you still trying to convince Nia that there’s some conspiracy going on here?” He went over and handed them their drinks before he took a seat at the port station. Bringing up the latest readings of the runabout’s status as well as the recent sensor sweeps, he could see that there was nothing of interest.
“No,” Katlyn answered back. “Maybe,” she corrected herself immediately. “Just, it’s odd. Normally we’d be closer to base or just use a shuttle. Not sent so far out, or in this,” she waved a hand to indicate the whole runabout. “And now we’re all stuck up here while they get the whole lower deck.”
“I just think if you think too much into it then you’ll find yourself looking for answers that either you don’t need to know or answers that aren’t true or helpful,” Tate remarked as he took a sip from his drink. “Obviously, we were the nearest vessel to help and there’s a reason why our guests need their privacy.”
“I’m trying to stay away from this line of thinking,” Nia grumbled. “Parze’s got me wondering if anything and everything is a test or a secret drill or something. For all we know, those Romulans could be holograms or impostors or something, and all of this is about how well we behave in a mysterious situation with nobody explaining orders.” For the umpteenth time, she double-checked their navigational feed. “Or we’re supposed to demonstrate our independent thinking and give the officers a hard time.” This last was said with far too-sweet innocence.
Settled at the starboard-side console, behind the others, Cadet Lyrakkiton Parze had been content to pretend she couldn’t hear the whispering. The Saurian’s claws clicked on the control panel, tabbing through menus containing the subtle vagaries of the runabout’s environmental systems. However, at the mention of holograms and imposters, Parze chimed in to say, “Nah, the production values feel too real to me. This time. I can’t explain the long division of it, but I don’t think they would risk Romulans on mind games and double-bluffs? Especially when it’s not the Romulans the Federation likes.”
A sudden series of beeps, of the angry sort, emanated from Katlyn’s panel and she brought up the report straight away. “Starboard warp power coupling fluctuation?” she asked out loud, before bringing up the computer’s recommended actions list to read out. “Reduce speed to warp four or lower to conduct automated diagnostic.” Easy enough to start with, her hands going to the throttle controls, which beeped at her angrily in response to her command. “Uh…no response to throttle. Nia, can you try?”
“Uh…” Nia jabbed impatiently at her controls as she tried to wrest command of the disobedient thrusters. “I can adjust our heading but otherwise, I got nothing. Guys?” She raised her voice as she only glanced over her shoulder at the other two. “What’s going on with our systems? Nav control’s intact but I’m getting no response from the warp core. Is this a connection issue?”
Moving his fingers across the console at almost transwarp speeds, Horin checked his readings swiftly. “No, there’s an issue with the-” He didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence when the next emergency arrived.
Barely were the stabs at explanation out before the next klaxon came on, and this was from overhead rather than one console. “Warning,” said the computer in its somehow inadequately urgent tone, “Warp field stability failing. Recalibrate antimatter flow or disperse field.“
“Oh,” Nia muttered, jaw tight. “That’s gonna bring the officers running.”
Horin, who had been at the engineering controls, had pulled up the holographic interface to see what was going on. “I’m attempting to pull up the recalibration subroutine, but it’s not responding. I’m diverting emergency power to the containment system; it should give us a bit more time.” The runabout started to shake and Horin’s temper at the system not responding to him increased. “Damn it, the calibration controls aren’t working. We may have to eject the core!”
Swiveling her chair to face the others, Parze enthused, “If you have to do it, do it. We don’t want a repeat of the Exeter.” Gone was Parze’s typical sing-song of perfectionism and pondering. The words came out clipped with no second-guessing. No hesitation. As far as Parze’s vote was concerned, she said, “If you can’t fix it, eject the damn warp core.”
It was perhaps a mixed blessing that this was the point Callahan and Connolly appeared in the cockpit, summoned by either the alert klaxon or the screaming. Neither looked like it left the two young officers with much idea of what was going on, despite Callahan’s somewhat shaky bark of, “Report!” as he burst in.
Nia made the executive decision at that point. “Report is that we’re ditching the core.” And gave no more time to argue before her hand shot out to hammer the control.
The Fantail went spinning out of warp speed as its beating heart was burst from its chest. But though the rollercoaster would slow, though the spinning would halt, though the battered and bruised and startled crew aboard could bring the runabout back in-rein, it was all about to get a lot worse.