Part of USS Denver: Prologue

That Damned Ion Storm

Alpha Centauri System
November 5, 2356 @13:00
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Cadet Rebecca Sandoval returned to the cockpit waddling with her hand on her stomach. She and Cadet Michael Sanders had been on an extended training mission with Nova Squadron. The exercises around the Alpha Centauri system had been challenging, but rewarding. Now complete they were in open space returning home.

Semester finals were coming up and Rebecca tiredly dropped her PADD on the console. Her most recent notes on “Advanced Warp Theory” staring back at her in a taunting fashion. Dropping into the co-pilot’s seat she let out a heavy sigh. Slipping her her boots off she propped her feet on the console. It was a futile attempt at getting comfortable. At this point in the pregnancy comfort was a relative term.

“How are you feeling?” Michael asked.

“Been better,” Rebecca admitted. “I am not enjoying this space sickness, and I’m not ready for this semester’s finals. How about you?”

Michael grunted. He seemed distracted. “As I’ll ever be,” he replied.

“What is it?” Rebecca asked.

There was a long pause as Michael organized his thoughts. “Uh… oh it’s nothing.”

Rebecca frowned looking at him. “Michael Edward Sanders something is bothering you and I want to know about it.”

Michael sighed, “Not bothering me. Just something on my mind.”

“Which is?” Rebecca said with a frown.

He turned to her, “Well, this isn’t exactly how I saw this going down.. but the baby is going to be here before we know it.”

Rebecca nodded and picked up her PADD, “And not a moment too soon. I hate this.”

“Becca.. we are starting a family whether we like it or not. Will you marry me?”

“You’re right, this isn’t how I saw getting a proposal either,” she said with a grin. Pushing up to her feet she half tripped and half fell into his lap. Holding his face in both hands, “Michael Sanders, yes, I will marry you!” She kissed him and the two were in each other’s embrace enjoying the other person.

Suddenly the computer blared a warning. Separating from each other the two cadets settled back into their positions. “Sensors are picking up a Level-8 ion storm on an intercept course,” Rebecca announced reading the sensor data.

“I see it!” Michael said his fingers dancing over the control panel. “It’s on top of us.”

“How did we not see it until now?” Rebecca demanded.

“I don’t know,” Michael replied. He worked the controls of the shuttle as turbulence started to overtake them. The storm violently buffeted then setting off alarms all over the shuttle.

“Taking power from weapons and emergency reserves,” Rebecca announced. “I’ll try to reinforce shields and structural integrity.”

Michael glanced over at her, “Will that be enough?”

Rebecca shook her head. “It’s a class-8 storm. If we were in a starship maybe we’d have a chance.”

“We could try to land on Alpha Centauri,” Michael suggested.

“How long?”

“Not long enough,” Michael said as he fought the controls of the shuttle adjusting the heading.

An EPS conduit exploded. “Main power off-line.” The hull started to creak and groan as it pushed to its limits. A console in the back of the cockpit exploded showering them in sparks and debris. The lights flickered out bathing the two cadets in darkness. Rebecca’s fingers moved over the flickering controls. She was desperate to get something… anything working.

“I’ve lost impulse engines,” Michael shouted over the rumble. “We’re entering the atmosphere.”

“Well, at least we know we won’t suffocate,” Rebecca gave him a grim look. Returning her attention to the display she fought with the computer to keep it on one piece.

“Yeah, but burning up on reentry is still on the table.”

“Shields are online!” Rebecca exclaimed triumphantly. “You should have limited thrusters as well.”

Michael tapped out commands into his flight screen. “It won’t be a smooth landing, but I should be able to slow the descent.”

The whole windscreen glowed with the angry red and orange flames of re-entry. The roar was deafening, as the cabin began to heat up. Sweat dripped down the faces of the two cadets.

“Air’s getting stale,” Michael stated as he wiped his forehead.

“Yeah, I took life support offline to keep us alive,” Rebecca replied. Working the controls she tried to get every watt of power she could out of the damaged systems.

The damaged shuttle broke through the clouds. A sonic boom cracked the still afternoon air as it trailed thick black smoke behind it. The hull was blackened and charred from reentry but more or less still in one piece. Without full attitude control, the ground was coming fast.

“Thrusters aren’t responding,” Michael shouted over the noise.

Rebecca’s fingers danced over her console, “I think I can coax some more power out of the impulse engines. Now! Fire them now!”

Michael hit the full reverse on the engines but it was already too late as the shuttle slammed into the ground.

Rebecca woke up coughing. She was half lying on the console and the cabin was filling with toxic smoke. She coughed again as the smoke burned her lungs, “Michael?”

Pushing herself upright in her seat she let out a scream in pain. Her right arm was bent at an unnatural position above the wrist. She must have used it to brace herself against the console moments before the crash. She hadn’t flown head-first into the windshield, so a busted arm was a bargain.

“Michael?” She repeated and he still did not answer. He was lying over the console. Michael’s shoulders had become wedged between the console and transparent aluminum windshield. He stared back at her with lifeless eyes, his neck broken from the violence of the crash.

There was no time to mourn. The cockpit was filling with smoke and breathing was getting harder. She pushed herself to her feet and she screamed. Her stomach was on fire and her left ankle was either broken or badly sprained.

With tears running down her cheeks she ignored the pain and pushed to the back of the shuttle. After several failed attempts she activated the emergency hatch. She crawled through the hatch and fell a little over a meter to the ground below. The last thing she saw was the underside of the shuttle as the darkness enveloped her.

She woke again, this time she was in a room with bright lights. Someone was talking, “The placenta has detached. We’re losing the baby.”

“We’re losing the mother too,” another voice said. “She’s got massive internal bleeding. We’re on five liters of transfused blood, and I still can’t find the hemorrhage!”

The darkness closed around her vision and once again she fell into the darkness. She was dying, and Rebecca was at peace with that.

Rebecca’s eyes opened and she was in a quiet room. It was dark, and to her, right was a window overlooking a city she didn’t recognize. The sun or suns had fallen below the horizon long ago bathing the area in darkness. A single moon hung silvery white over the tops of the buildings.

For a moment she lay there unmoving with the steady beeping of the heart monitor being the only sound. She was alive. As her hand fell to her stomach the bulge was no longer there, and she screamed out in anguish.

A nurse rushed into the room her eyes wide in concern, “Ms. Sandoval?”

“My baby! Where’s my baby?” Rebecca demanded in desperation.

“Shhh,” the nurse said trying to calm her. “Tonight is not the time to worry about that right now okay?” She hovered over Rebecca taking her vitals. “You’ve been through hell, now heal.”

“I don’t care about me!” Rebecca snarled. “Where’s my baby? Where’s my daughter?”

The nurse hesitated. Taking a deep breath, “I’m sorry… by the time you got here it was too late. Your daughter… she was too young. She wasn’t ready to be born, and with a detached…”

Rebecca burst into sobs. She had already known the answer, but to have it confirmed was almost as bad as not knowing. Feeling sorry for her the nurse administered a mild sedative, “Get some rest. Tomorrow will be a new day.”

 

Outside…

As soon as Nick got word of the shuttle accident he made his way to the hospital she was being treated. Granted, he was in the middle of his own Cadet mission, but Becca Sandoval was one of his best friends. She had been one of the few who’d stood by his side after his own mission had gone wrong. She and Michael and Nick and Julie Lei had been two of several couples at the Academy. There was a pool going around amongst the cadets betting on who would propose first.

Nick took verbal tongue lashings from both his Lieutenant in charge and girlfriend. They were right he was abandoning his duties, and he didn’t give a damn. He changed out of his Cadet’s uniform before walking into the hospital two days later. He had sensed Becca would rather see her friend than the uniform.

“I’m here to see Rebecca Sandoval. I’m her brother.” Nick lied, but he knew nurses usually only admitted family. The pair had been often confused for siblings. With strawberry blonde hair Rebecca even looked like Nick’s little sister Natalia.

”Can I get your name?” the nurse asked to which Nick handed over an ID card to the somewhat skeptical nurse.

”Nick Sandoval. Now… which room is she in?” Nick said with a worried look only a brother would have.”3083. Down the hall four doors past the reading room.” she replied as she handed his card back.

“Mr. Sandoval… I’m sorry but… she’s been in quite a state of shock, But she should be awake for lunch.”

As Nick walked down the corridor of the hospital, he thought back to his childhood. He had spent countless hours and days in more hospitals and clinics than he could count. There was even an eleven month deployment aboard the USS Hope, his mother’s hospital ship. Why he didn’t go into medicine? Nick already knew the answer. Engineering was where his passion lay, but Julie was making the case for Intelligence. That said, he figured, they needed engineers too. After all, his favorite character in the old James Bond movies besides Bond himself was Q.

Of course, Becca hated hospitals and sickbays. That’s how they became such good friends, he was her personal medic. Knocking on her door he poked his head inside. ”Hey Becca… it’s me. Are you decent? Not that I haven’t seen it before…” Nick said with a slight chuckle.

Rebecca turned her head with eyes swollen and red from crying. “Nick,” she replied in an airy hoarse tone. She fought the urge to cry, failed, and burst into a round of sobs, but there were no tears.

Nick walked over and embraced her in a warm bear hug and held her as she sobbed. “We’ll get through Becca. You know I’m always in your corner.” he looked down and touched her hand. “And I’m sorry about Mike… hell of a guy. When you get out of here, we’re having a proper memorial. Two of you were there for me.”

She swallowed, “I lost the baby. What do I do now?”

“We grieve and then… we live,” Nick said and looked into her eyes. “I can’t even fathom what you’re going through right now, but you an’ me… we’re family.” he glanced at the door. “And as far as anyone’s concerned I’m your brother. That’s what I told the nurses. Some of Julie’s little spy tricks combined with living on a hospital ship most of my life has come in handy.” he walked over and looked at her chart. “When you’re ready… I’ll take you wherever you want. Academy can kiss my hairy white butt. We’re legacies, what’s the worst they can do? Graduate us as Ensigns on a lower deck?”

She pushed herself up ignoring the sharp pains that washed over her body. Somehow she felt like she deserved every bit of the physical pain. As a sort of penance for her arrogance. Not that that would bring her baby or Michael back. ”I don’t care about the Academy or Starfleet anymore, but you do. I’ll not be responsible for your fall from grace too.”

She stared through the window and out across the city. Never before had she ever felt like such a failure. Until now everything had come easy. High School had been a breeze. She made friends with ease. Even graduating at sixteen had been no real challenge. When earning her Bachelor’s degree from the Colorado School of Mines she didn’t even study for her finals. Every thing always seemed to fall into her lap.

The doctorates from the Academy were her first real challenge in life. Not that they were nothing she couldn’t handle. But, here she was in a hospital having failed her main job as a mother: keep the child alive.

Fighting back tears she gave Nick a weak smile. “Tomorrow is a school day. I bet you have a mountain of homework from Professor Getz.”

“I don’t care about that right now. Besides, we get bereavement leave. Michael was a close friend too,” Nick said holding her hand. “Right now my main concern is you. When I was… struggling after my disaster mission, you and Mike were there for me. I’m doing the same thing for you. You just woke up after a hell of a bad thing. Lost your man and your baby… that is not going to heal overnight or ever. Do you remember my disaster mission and what you said to me? ‘You can’t sit in a room by yourself and be stuck in your head.’ I’m not goin’ to push you… but I’m not going to let you slide either. Alright? Like I said, what’s the worst they can do if we miss time? Delay our graduation. We are graduating. Might take longer but, it’s going to happen. You’ve got way too much of your life ahead of you.”

She clutched him ignoring the soreness in her broken arm. Nick was a lifeline to her. The one bit of sanity in a world that was increasingly making less sense. After a very long silence, she spoke , “Where am I?”

“Podunk. Or at least it may as well be. I never even heard of this place, but you crashed not far from here. This was the closest Federation hospital.” Nick replied. “Police ship picked up the crash and had you taken here. You were one of about seven other ships that got hit in that storm, but one of the few that actually had a survivor. I saw the wreckage. An Oberth class got shredded. No big loss on that ship, but the crew was lost with all hands.” Nick let out a heavy sigh. “In my structural engineering classes next semester, with Commodore Drexler, I have some ideas on that matter… “

“An Oberth should have survived that,” Rebecca said thankful for the distraction. “I guess they aren’t the most glamorous postings. Starfleet is going to be scraping the bottom of the barrel for engineers on those ships. They would have to take whoever they can get. Still, if I can hold a shuttle together, you’d think someone could keep a damn starship in one piece. No matter how incompetent they are.”

“Well, a shuttle is a smaller target for a storm. Like they taught us in Professor Sternbach’s ‘what to do when everything goes wrong’ class. Just beef up shields, SI, any thing you can do to maintain internal structural integrity. Then get out of the storm, even if it means crashing.” Nick replied and smiled and added, “Lot more things that can go boom on an Oberth versus a shuttle. There IS something to be said for narrower profiles and tighter configurations.”

“He proposed,” she said suddenly, “Michael he just blurted… no, that’s not true. I dragged it put of him. You men always have to be difficult don’t you?”

“Sometimes.” Nick chuckled. “Or we think you’ll say no but you we’re carrying his kid, he’d have had to face that sooner or later.” he rubbed his neck. “Julie’s dad told me if I got his daughter pregnant before graduation, he’d cut off my nads. I kind of believe him. He doesn’t like me. Mike and your dad seemed to get along alright.”

“My dad gets along with everyone… at least publicly. It doesn’t mean hea liked everyone I dated. To be honest he most likely didn’t like any of them. He also knew I needed to make my own mistakes. Otherwise it would push us together, and I wouldn’t realize until it’s too late.”

Nick chuckled, “Yeah, sounds like your dad alright. Sounds like you too if we’re being honest.”

Rebecca shrugged, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If you think my dad and I are pragmatic you should have met my grandma. She was in Starfleet well past her century mark. Grandma was just as likely to give you a ‘get over it’ as she was to use a dermal regenerator. I guess when you make it to her age you have heard all the stories and all the excuses and you don’t have time for either.”

Nick chuckled at that, “I never met your grandma. I wish I had.”

“She raised me after my mom had died. Dad was an amazing dad, but he didn’t have maternal bone in his body. Hell, I’m not sure he even wanted kids.”

The door to the room cracked open and a nurse walked in. “Mr. Sandoval, it’s time for your sister to get some rest. You can come and visit tomorrow.”

Nick hesitated and then separated himself from Rebecca. For her part she felt naked and pulled the covers over herself. Nick looked back, “Sleep well. Tomorrow will be a better day. It has to be. You’ve hit rock bottom, now it’s time to rise to the surface.”

“Thanks Nick,” she said. Her voice was soft and filled with barely contained emotion. What had bee forgotten only moments ago came flooding back.

Nick nodded, turned, and walked out the door. For a brief moment light flooded in from the outside hallway as the door opened and closed. Rebecca was now alone.