Part of USS Atlantis: Mission 10 : A Blast from the Past

A Blast from the Past – 5

Harpy Flight, USS Atlantis
September 2, 2400
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“Honestly ma’am,” Alexi Petrov’s voice came over the comm system as T’Val settled her fighter into orbit over the gas giant blandly labelled T-162Af, “I don’t know what horse trading the captain did to swap out those Type-8 shuttles for fighters again, but I’m glad she did.”

“Indeed,” was all she said in response to the younger man’s comment. “Though the fighters have presented their own issues.”

She however did find herself wondering how the captain had managed to negotiate a swap of 3 Type-8 shuttles for 3 Valkyrie-fighters, or why Captain Theodoras had decided she needed fighters over the multi-mission shuttles, but she didn’t let it occupy her for long. She simply lacked enough information to make any logical assumptions and any further thought on the matter would have been wasted.

She had been charged since the fighters had arrived aboard Atlantis to have the names of the now gone shuttles transferred over to the fighters, though they all flew under callsigns instead, as well as arrange them to be as ready for rapid launching as possible. Her efforts, in conjunction with the bay chiefs, had concluded that Sovereign-class starships were not meant to be rapid launch platforms. Shuttlebay 1 was cramped, the majority of its dedicated space below elevators and away from the launch bay itself. Shuttlebay 2 was slightly better, but its narrower aspect meant launches were one at a time.

So far the best solution was still avoiding them, even after consulting the Flight Operations departments of other ships of the class. Most had opted not to bother with fighters, preferring to let other ships handle such things if it ever needed to be done, or rely on their runabouts and heavier shuttles in an adhoc capacity.

“Ma’am, I’ve got a weird sensor return coming from that moon that’s just come over the horizon,” Petrov said nearly ten minutes later, breaking the silence that had settled over the two. For a human, he seemed quite apt at recognising that not every moment needed to be filled with speech and so when he spoke, she was more inclined to notice.

“Understood,” she replied and went to her own instruments to verify Petrov’s claim. Her fighter, Harpy 2, formally on the records as Kos, wasn’t a standard Valkyrie-A, or attack model. It was instead a Valkyrie-A/R, or Attack/Recon, and hence why Petrov was asking without directly asking for her to focus on the moon in question. She had exactly two micro-torpedoes aboard, already in the launchers, with no reloads unlike Harpy 1 and 3. Instead, the entire magazine space had been given over to a more sophisticated sensor suite and ECM hardware.

If an enemy’s sensor profiles were known and analysed prior to a mission, that very same ECM suite could mask the entire Harpy flight, assuming they maintained a close formation, up until just shy of a final attack run. Assuming they weren’t diligently looking for them that was, or distracted by something far larger like the fighter’s mothership. More importantly, it meant that recon flights like this could hopefully see but not be seen, then return back to the ship without giving away that they’d already spotted the enemy.

As for the more sophisticated sensors, they were very, very good in a narrow observational window forward of Harpy 2 and significantly better than the standard Valkyrie in all other directions, but for survey work, they paled in comparison to the standard sensor suite aboard most shuttles.

All in all, it meant that Harpy 2 was very, very good at spotting things, pretty good at masking it and other fighters within a handful of kilometres of itself but in a fight required a pilot who could deliver ‘gun kills’ versus relying on guided munitions to do the work. This ultimately also leads to the best pilot needing to become a decent capable science officer.

These two factors combined to land T’Val in the seat of Harpy 2 right now. And the list of pilots aboard ship she’d trust with the craft, able to get the most out of the craft in all aspects, was relatively small and something that needed to be addressed sooner rather than later.

“Lieutenant, please move your fighter behind mine. Your engines are disturbing the sensor return,” she finally said after adjusting the sensors for nearly a minute with no luck in refining Petrov’s ‘weird sensor return’ outside of it being an unusual magnetic return around the moon’s northern magnetic pole that hadn’t been noted by Atlantis when the ship entered the system.

“Aye ma’am,” Petrov’s reply was quick and to the point, as he dropped behind her in orbit, falling back nearly five kilometres, the edge of Harpy 2’s ECM bubble if it had been active.

With the interference of a fighter-sized impulse engine no longer in the way, she continued to adjust the sensors, attempting to determine if Petrov’s initial return was anything of concern or not. It took nearly two minutes before she calmly spoke out. “Contacts, two of them, bearing zero-zero-six mark zero-three-nine. Designate OB1 and OB2.”

“Roger, OB1 and OB2,” came the reply. Petrov would only be seeing them on his equipment right now thanks to the networking between the fighters, but she could pass on certain tasks to him to accomplish while she continued to refine the information she had.

Two returns, large ones too, hiding in the noise of magnetic poles. Better yet, magnetic poles that were further charged with radiation and electrical charge due to the flux tubes connecting the moon and the gas giant’s magnetic fields. They were too far out for direct imaging just yet, at least for what the Valkyries had aboard, but it wouldn’t be more than fifteen minutes before they were close enough if they maintained their orbit.

“No evidence that they’ve seen us yet,” she said for the record, her sensors showing no changes in the unknowns since she’d started observing them. “We’ll maintain orbit and once we’ve circled around the planet with a bearing for Atlantis we’ll break and return to the ship.”

“So, we’re just going to pretend we haven’t seen whomever these folks are?” Petrov asked.

“That would be the plan. We should be able to get close enough to directly image whatever we’re seeing on sensors. And the odds that they’ve seen us would be minuscule,” she answered.

“No Vulcan precise value?” Petrov asked and she could hear the teasing nature in his voice.

“I am more concerned with maintaining a difficult sensor lock on unknown ships than doing calculations in my head that would simply give a number to minuscule odds that I’m sure neither of us needs right now,” she answered.

And so nearly forty minutes later both Harpy 1 and 2 broke orbit as if nothing was amiss, heading for Atlantis with only a perfunctory communication to inform the ship they had completed their initial survey of the gas giant and its moons, finding nothing of concern at all.

“Nothing ma’am?” Petrov asked shortly after updating the ship.

“Not on long-range comms,” she answered his question and his reply was to fly along and offer a salute to acknowledge he understood. A glaring gap in the communications had been discovered and she could see a need to work on a series of code words that the Harpies could use with the ship. But right now, that wasn’t the concern. “Let’s get back to the ship.”

“Roger that,” Petrov answered.

An hour and a half later, still bedecked in her flight suit, T’Val stepped into the changing room opposite Transporter Room Four where she had been informed Commander MacIntyre was to be found. He was in the process of donning an EV suit, which she mentally filed as curious, before moving past such matters. “Commander, we have a problem.”

“No, no we don’t,” MacIntrye said in response. “A problem would mean I have to stay aboard ship instead of beaming down to what I’ve been reassured is a completely safe recovery site for a bit of sightseeing.” He stood, having secured his boots and started on his gloves. “A problem means that your report of absolutely nothing interesting at all wasn’t true.” He got one glove on, then looked up and sighed.

“The report was intentionally lacking in details in case our transmissions were being monitored,” she defended herself.

“Can you wait five minutes to deliver your report to Gantzmann when she beams up instead?” he asked, then deflated when she refused to give his question the response it most certainly didn’t merit. “Out with it.”

“Lieutenant Petrov and I were able to positively identify three Tholian craft hiding in the magnetic eddies of one of the larger moons of T-162Af.” She dutifully raised a hand, a padd with the sensor readings taken directly from Harpy 2 already loaded on it. Sensor readings, the calibrations used to spot them and visual images of all three craft were ready for his perusal.

“What the hell are Tholians doing out here?” MacIntyre asked after a moment as he handed the padd back and started to reverse progress with his EV suit. “We’re ages from their space. Heck, there’s an entire Cardassian Union between here and there.”

“And the Talarian Republic,” she added for completion.

“Yes yes, and chunks of the Federation, half a dozen pocket polities and I’m sure a gorgamander pod or three as well.” He sat down and started unfastening the buckles on his boots. “Tell Chief Michaels I won’t be beaming down after all then tell Commander Gantzmann as well. Then I want you to get some rest after your survey run. If Tholians are here then something is up and if something is up, I want our best pilot rested and ready, understood?”

“Yes Commander,” she answered before heading for the door, stopping just as it opened. “Sir, I feel I would be failing in my duties if I didn’t suggest we take the ship to yellow alert as well.”

“Not yet,” MacIntyre said. “Let’s play it cool for now. Heck, they might be off doing something completely different and just following some protocol about hiding suspiciously while doing…whatever it is that Tholians do.” The second boot came off and he stood once more. “That’ll be all Lieutenant. As I said, I want you rested in case something does come up.”

“Aye sir,” she replied, stepping out to carry out her orders finally.