Part of Challenger: The Romulan War: Whatever The Cost May Be

Whatever The Cost May Be – EIGHT

Challenger NX-03, in orbit of Jupiter, Sol system
Monday, December 29th, 2155
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“So when do you think Poseidon will be leaving Jupiter Station?” Burton asked his guest as they continued on their tour of his ship.

“Later today, in fact,” Captain Paulsen answered as they turned a junction. Diane Paulsen was in her mid-forties and had long auburn hair. Known for her wicked sense of humour and dry wit, Paulsen was someone Burton had known for some time, thanks to his sister. Paulsen had been at Starfleet Training Command simultaneously, and they were good friends. Now in command of Poseidon, Paulsen had overseen its construction and knew the ship inside and out, just like Burton was familiar with his vessel. Poseidon was primarily a cruiser. Originally the design had been one of the plans submitted for the NX-class but had been unsuccessful. Instead, Starfleet had decided to pursue the ship as a vessel to help defend the home territories. The ship had been built and launched a decade ago with a warp-three engine, but with the declaration of war, it had been given recent upgrades to achieve speeds of warp four. 

“The more ships we have on patrol, the better our odds are,” Burton stated. 

Shaking her head, “Lloyd, for as long as I’ve known you, why are you always serious?” Paulsen teased. “Come on, the threat of the Romulan invasion force has not been seen for days now. All of this prep may be for nothing.”

“I’d prefer to be ready than not,” Burton countered. “What do you suggest we do then?”

“Honestly?” She asked, of which he gave her a silent nod as they turned down into another corridor, “Take the fight to them. They started this war, we shouldn’t be afraid to give them a bloody nose or two.”

“Defending the Home Territories of the Commonwealth is no bad tactic, Diane.” Burton reminded her. 

Raising her hands in defence, Paulsen smirked at him. “I know, I know, I’m no tactician, but just an exceptional engineer turned captain.”

 Chuckling at her humility, or lack thereof, Burton shook his head as they approached the docking port. “I’m sorry I couldn’t give you more of a tour of the ship,”

“Next time, Lloyd.” Paulsen replied, “Anyway, I need to get back as we need to head back to Earth to pick up the rest of my crew, including my first officer.”

“Talking about first officers,” Burton said as he noticed the arrival of his right-hand man approaching them from the other end of the corridor, “Alex, I want you to meet Captain Diane Paulsen. Diane, this is Commander Alex Rodham, my first officer.”

Rodham smiled as he extended his hand to meet the captain’s guest. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”

Shaking his head, Paulsen grinned back. “Likewise, commander.” She let go of his hand, “Wait, are you the same Alex Rodham, son of President Rodham?”

Rodham showed a bit of uneasiness at hearing the mention of his mother, the President of the United States of America. “I am,” He replied.

“The same Alex Rodham who beat my first officer at STC’s flight range for getting the quickest time on the Jovian Run?” Paulsen questioned further.

Not knowing who she was referring to, Rodham looked at Campbell for help and then back to Paulsen when he received none. “Who’s your first officer, ma’am?”

“Oliver Campbell,” She answered with a smirk.

Rodham copied her grin and nodded with some pride, “OC is your first officer?”

“Indeed, and you wouldn’t believe how many times in the past I have heard him go on about how he was cheated out of winning that race.” Paulsen chuckled.

“Well, I’m glad to hear that my reputation proceeds me,” Rodham said as he crossed his arms against his chest. “How is OC doing these days?”

“He’s well, in fact,” She turned to Burton, “did you know that he’s married to the brother of your MACO leader?”

“No?” Burton replied and looked to see if Rodham knew, but he shook his head. “Luis has never mentioned it.”

“Well, probably not, as his brother is some famous soccer player, and their father is the Health Secretary for the Commonwealth, so he’s probably keeping a low profile,” Paulsen said. “But, yeah, it would seem our two first officers go way back, Lloyd. Maybe we should let their rivalry resurface and see who can fly their ship the fastest around Jupiter and Saturn, for old time’s sake?”

Burton chuckled at that idea. “Maybe,” He answered, “however, we have a warp five engine, so it won’t be fair for you.”

“What a letdown, Fleet Captain Burton.” She replied with a smirk before making her way towards the docking port. “Once this war is over, we should at least pit them together to see who makes the finest first officer?”

“Maybe, but who’s to say that one of them, if not both, will be captains by the time this war is over?” Burton said as he made his way over to the controls for the docking port. 

“Well, I suppose you could be right; I mean, Starfleet did make you a fleet captain; things could only go down from there!” She teased as the door opened for her. Turning on her heels, she turned back to her host. “Next time I get to show you the Poseidon,”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Burton said, still smiling at her and then shook her hand. “All the best, Diane.”

Winking at him before the door closed, she replied. “Likewise, Lloyd. It’s nice to of met you, Alex.” The door then closed on her. 

Burton turned to Rodham, “Sorry if that was a bit uncomfortable, Alex.”

Shaking his head, Rodham replied with a simple no. “How do you know the captain, anyway?”

“Mainly through my sister; they were roommates at STC, and then when I was the deputy construction manager for Challenger, the Poseidon tested some of the systems we were planning to use,” Burton answered as they started to walk away from the docking port, side by side. “Diane is one of the finest captains in the fleet.”

“If she has Oliver Campbell at her helm too, then she’s pretty lucky too,” Rodham mentioned as they started to walk away. 

“Oh, how comes?” Burton asked. 

“He was a pilot before joining Starfleet.” Rodham explained, “He was in the British Royal Air Force and was on the fast track at STC. The guy was exceptional, he didn’t make many friends for only having to do the last year, but due to his skills, I got to admit it pushed me to better myself. Michael would wind me up saying that I had a secret crush on Oliver whenever I spent more time at the flight test centre.”

“Sounds like Michael, alright,” Burton commented on his former first officer and Rodham’s late husband. “That said, if we ever get into a competition with Poseidon, then I expect you to beat him again.”

“Don’t worry, sir, Challenger’s honour is in safe hands!” Rodham said with a smirk before realising why he had originally tracked the captain down. “I also got word from the San Francisco Orbital Complex about Endeavour.”

“And?” Burton asked, hoping to hear some good news on the sixth NX-class ship. 

“No good news, I’m afraid, sir,” Rodham shared. “They’re still experiencing technical difficulties with many secondary systems, plus the rumour is that Starfleet Operations has delayed some of her crew reporting to her for at least another week.”

“Are you kidding me?” Burton said in disbelief. “We’re meant to be trying to get as many ships out of dock and part of the defence force, not creating more problems. Do we know what’s holding them up?”

“The technical issues appear to be similar ones that Enterprise encountered before its launch, but it would seem that a good number of the crew are being delayed due to them finishing off their training on Mars,” Rodham answered. 

“Mars?”  Burton repeated.

“Yeah, apparently, they’re training at the new facilities at Utopia,” Rodham said.

Grumbling under his breath, Burton wondered if his recent experience on Mars was linked to this delay in some way. Instead of getting further angry over this, he ordered Rodham to break orbit from Jupiter and for them to head straight to Mars at once so he could resolve the issue in person. 


Utopia Planitia Construction and Research Base, Vastitas Borealis, Mars 

 

Reeling at the fact he was now returning to the one place in the universe he had hoped to never see again, Lloyd Burton looked around the massive hangar he now found himself in. Only two months, he had stood here after discovering the plot carried out by his former commanding officer and his father in building a secret fleet while also developing Starfleet’s research into a warp seven engine. After calling for help from Earth, Fleet Admiral Moira Hathaway arrived with a large contingent of Starfleet Security and MACO forces to find out what he and his siblings had found. A sense of Deja vu fell over him as he got out of the shuttlepod he had used to bring him down from Challenger; however, it was him and not the Starfleet Commander-in-Chief making his way across the hangar.

Looking above him, he could see that the many Daedalus-class ships that had been built were nearing being launched. There were only a few left now, compared to what he had uncovered months ago. Initially, he had come to Mars based on a lead while investigating his father’s mysterious death.

While undertaking it, he and his siblings found out about the existence of a section within Starfleet that would do whatever it took to defend Earth and its commonwealth. His youngest brother, Seth, had given the group the designation of Section Thirty-One, based on the section of the Starfleet charter they were using to defend their actions. From what Burton had unveiled, his father had been recruited by Captain Karim, the original skipper of the Challenger, to help them. Karim had captured Burton and his siblings to prevent the truth about their group from becoming public knowledge; however, she had underestimated the Burtons and fled from the base they had built on Mars. Now it was under the joint control of Starfleet and a civilian company. Hathaway had moved many of its assets to other areas across Starfleet in an attempt to avoid any public backlash for the actions undertaken by this group.  The illegal construction of the base was one action she was able to deal with, thanks to the help she received from certain government officials. Still, to avoid it becoming a conspiracy, some truths were made public knowledge while others were kept quiet and classified to avoid word reaching the Romulans. Burton had wondered just how much he didn’t know about this group and what others things they had done for the greater good for the security of Earth. 

He was reminded of the argument he had with Karim when she tried to show off to him what they had built. Her point that if it was alien, then it was theirs rang through his ears. Reverse engineering technology to help Earth was not the only thing they were up to. He was all for doing what was needed to win the war, but losing their humanity was a price even he didn’t feel comfortable losing.

“Fleet Captain Burton,” A strong male voice said from across the hangar. “Welcome back to Mars.”

“Director Stark,” Burton said as he approached his welcoming party with a professional smile, “it’s good to see you again, sir.”

“Likewise, Lloyd,” The former Defence Secretary for Earth said as they shook hands. “I wasn’t expecting a visit or to see Challenger in such a close, direct orbit above Utopia.” 

“I want to see him,” Burton sternly said, emphasising his last word.

Stark knew exactly what Burton was implying and nodded before signalling him to follow him out of the hangar bay and into a nearby lift. 

Moments later, Burton was shown to a laboratory guarded by several armed officers. Entering the lab, Burton was confronted by the one man he had promised himself (and his sister and brothers) he didn’t want to see again.

“Dad,” He said, grabbing the older man’s attention after the door had closed firmly behind him.

Looking up from his work, wearing a typical white lab coat, Doctor Fraser Burton immediately sat up straight at seeing his eldest son before him. “Hello, Lloyd,” He said calmly. “I’m glad you got my message.”

“Your message of holding back vital personnel and technology for the war effort isn’t the type of message I expect to get from you,” Burton said as he threw a tablet along the desk his father was working on. “That’s the latest update on the Endeavour, the ship you’ve delayed from helping defend Earth.” 

Deciding not to pick it up, Doctor Burton stood up from his stool. “How else do you expect me to get your attention? You didn’t respond to my last one.”

“Sending my encrypted messages about an impending invasion force isn’t what I was expecting to hear from my dead father,” Burton snarled. He shoved his hands into his field jacket, “I’m here; what do you want?”

“I didn’t raise you to speak to me like that, Lloyd,” His father firmly replied. “I’m still your father; I deserve the same level of respect just like your mother.”

“That’s rich coming from the man who left his family and faked his own death so he could go and gallivant with some mystery organisation on some ‘greater than though’ quest to save humanity with his research.”  Burton snapped back. “I told you before I didn’t want to hear from you.”

“And if I hadn’t reached out, then Earth would be on the even of being overrun by the Romulan attack force,” The older Burton said. “I don’t expect you to understand my decisions, but I won’t have Earth fall if I can prevent it.”

After a brief lull of silence, Burton kept his hands still in his jacket pockets and repeated his earlier question. “So what do you want with me?”

“Here,” Doctor Burton pulled out a data chip from his pocket and pushed it down the same table his son had used to send the tablet to him earlier. “Thanks to your efforts in bringing those Kriosian engineers and scientists to us, we’ve finally developed a solid countermeasure against the Romulan telepresence-capturing device. The plans include how to defend your vessel from any takeover virus they try. I suggest you implement it across the fleet at the earliest convenience.”

 Taking the chip and looking at it, Burton wondered if what his father had just shared with him was a way for his group to gain access to Starfleet ships; it wouldn’t have surprised him if that was the case. “Why not share it with Director Stark? Why all the drama of getting my attention?”

“Because Lloyd, even though you may never understand my decisions understand that they come from a deep place of love for you, your brothers, sister and mother. I don’t want to see any of you hurt,” Doctor Burton answered. “Plus, I’m leaving Mars, and this may be the last time we see each other.”

“For how long?” Challenger’s captain asked. 

Doctor Burton shrugged before answering, “I can’t say, but for a long time. I won’t be coming back.”

Lloyd didn’t know what to say. His father had lied to him too much recently for him to honestly believe him. 

“If anyone asks, the Cochrane Institute on Alpha Centauri team developed the countermeasure. I will also ensure the necessary personnel and equipment will reach the Endeavour tomorrow.” Doctor Burton said before calling for one of the guards to join them. “Would you escort Fleet Captain Burton back to his shuttlepod? I believe his trip to Mars is over.”

Glaring at his father, Fleet Captain Burton shook his head in utter disbelief before placing the chip into his pocket. Following the guard out of the lab, Burton returned to the hangar and got into his shuttlepod.

“Shuttlepod One to Challenger,” He said after lifting off and heading back to his ship.

“Go ahead, sir,” responded Ensign Avery over the channel. 

“Tanisha, I want you and Sakura to meet me in the command centre after I dock.” He ordered as he pulled out the chip his father had given him moments ago. “Make sure you set up a separate computer system, independent from the ship’s network.”

“Aye, sir,” Avery replied.  


Challenger NX-03, in orbit of Mars, Sol system

“Well?” Burton asked from the chair he was sitting in as he looked at his chief engineer and chief communications officer. “Is it legit?”

Lieutenant Masuko looked up from the station she was using and nodded at her superior. “Based on what I know about the telepresence-capturing virus from our various encounters, I would say without a doubt this new coding and the adaptions to our computer systems would protect us from how the Romulans have been trying to take control of our ships. I would even go as far as to say it could be used on the Vulcan, Andorian and Tellarite fleets too.”

“I concur with the lieutenant’s assessment, sir,” Avery said. “Though I thought the Starfleet counter-measures were almost not needed? Especially after we destroyed their base in the Bassen Rift.”

“If this brings the Vulcans, Andorians and Tellarites back into the fight, then I’m all for it,” Burton stated. “And would the coding cause any other issues for us? Would it allow anyone else the ability  to try to take control of the ship?”

Masuko shook her head, “Absolutely not, sir, but the hardware we would need to create would ensure that most of our systems almost become independent and would give us significant redundancy.”

“How long would it take to implement the changes?” Burton asked.

“The coding would be an easy upload, but it would require us to change our operating systems. That would be the best part of a day, if not two. For the additional hardware to work, we would need access to a dry dock to help with the installation. We would need to be connected to their systems to avoid total computer failure. I’d say a week at least.”

“Damn, that means our fleet would still be vulnerable,” Burton muttered.

“For a while, sir, but once our engineers know what to do, then it wouldn’t take as long,” Masuko assured him. “You said that the egg-heads at the Cochrane Institute developed this?”

Burton nodded, remaining silent that he was lying to her. 

“They’ve done a great job then; it will save many lives,” Masuko said with a hopeful smile. 

He was about to say something, but Burton was interrupted by the intercom going off. Getting up from his chair, the captain headed over to the communication panel and answered it.

“Sorry to interrupt you, sir; however, we’ve just lost contact with the Charon Monitoring Station and the Pandora,” announced Commander Rodham. “Before the station went down, it relayed one message.”

“What was that, commander?” Burton asked, fearing the answer.

There was a longer than usual-pause from Rodham’s end before he spoke. “The Romulans have arrived, sir.”

Burton cursed under his breath. 

Their enemy was finally here.