Part of USS Shepard: Arsenal of Democracy and Bravo Fleet: Blood Dilithium

Chapter 4

USS Shepard
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The Shepard’s bridge hung in stunned silence for a half-second before Zelenko snapped into action.

“T’Vrin, order all ships to drop out of warp and for escorts to take defensive pattern gamma-3 around the convoy. We’re not going to be able to properly defend them at FTL. Request available information detected by any and all ships about the attacker. Mack, get us back to the fleet at max warp and into defensive position with the other escorts. Travers, switch to tachyon-only active scanning, since plasma sure as hell didn’t pick up what jumped us. Tallera, make sure your phasers are set to auto-align with sensor signals. We may have to shoot from the hip, so be ready.”

A chorus of affirmations sounded across the bridge as the Shepard pivoted to return to the fleet, all bridge officers performing their ordered tasks to ready the ship for the conflict at hand.

“Response from convoy about the attackers, Commander,” T’Vrin stated as the Shepard dropped out of warp and took up a defensive stance near their designated third of the convoy perimeter. “The aggressors were cloaked, and the SS Kane acquired the clearest visual recording and sensor sweep of the attack. They have transmitted video and images.”

“Onscreen,” Zelenko responded, inwardly noting that T’Vrin had said aggressors plural.  A collection of still images flashed onto the viewscreen next to a quick recording of their new foe. The video opened with an empty starfield, before two shimmers of blue-green light seemed to appear from nowhere – plasma torpedoes. However, right as the torpedoes appeared, a quick distortion of space could be seen behind them, during which time the outline of the attacker’s ship could ever-so-slightly be made out. The telltale ripple of a cloaking device. 

Soon after the torpedoes impacted the SS Loran and destroyed her shields, a second pair was launched to finish her off.

“Computer’s working to create a complete image of the bandits from the cloak distortion,” Vic announced, tapping away at his console. “Looks like the ships are small enough that the ripple didn’t dissipate before it swept across the whole ship, so we’ll be able to formulate an image off it.”

“It didn’t de-cloak to shoot,” Tallera muttered, staring at the video on the viewscreen as it played on repeat. “It fired through its cloak, like a Scimitar.”

“Analysis, Tallera?” Zelenko replied to the tactica officer. “You’ve got more experience with cloaks than anyone else here.”

“These ships are using really high quality cloaking devices,” Tallera responded, turning to the Commander at the center of the bridge. “Like, better-than-almost-any-Republic-cloak high quality. That’s not something you can find on the black market, even after the Star Empire’s fall.”

“Imaging complete!” Vic announced. “Computer’s throwing ‘er onscreen now.”

The array of smaller images and videos was replaced by an orthographic display of a sharp, silver vessel with a conical main hull flanked by a pair of small nacelles. 

“What the hell is that?” Zelenko said softly, slowly inching closer to the viewscreen.

“Computer says the vessel is 190 meters long, if that helps at all,” Vic spoke up. “I have no idea what that is, either. Sure doesn’t look Romulan or Klingon.”

“That’s almost definitely not Romulan,” Tallera added.

Mack opened his eyes wide and snapped his fingers. “Hold up, I think I know that ship,” he announced somewhat quietly before hurriedly typing on his console.

“Elaboration, Ensign?” Zelenko inquired.

“Hang on, hang on… got it!” Mack smiled as he sent an image to the viewscreen. It was another orthographic diagram of a silver, conical vessel… exactly like the one formed from the computer. “It’s a Hazari raider. That imaging was captured by the Voyager during their fifth year in the Delta Quadrant, and it’s a dead ringer for our attackers. I knew I recognized them, I was a huge Voyager fanboy when I was a kid.”

“Excellent job, Mr. Mackenzie,” Zelenko stated, eyes shifting between the two near-identical images on the screen.

“I’m sorry, Delta Quadrant?” Vic asked incredulously. “How the hell did they get all the way out here?”

“Commander, we have received a communique from Ushaan,” T’Vrin interjected, cutting the discussion to a halt. “Their sensors have detected two tachyon signals bearing down on their defense sector. They have opened fire with proximity blasts.”

“Mack, let’s move to help!” Zelenko ordered, and Mack pivoted the Shepard towards Ushaan and the attackers. “When those proximity blasts cause cloak distortions, light it up with conventional beams.”

“Weapons ready and synced with Ushaan’s sensors,” Tallera announced. “Preparing to fire.”

“Ah hell, I’m getting two tachyon blips in our sector!” Vic announced, staring down at his scanners. “Bearing 160-mark-048 at 132,000 klicks, closing fast.”

Damnit,” Zelenko muttered. “Mack, full stop, pitch nose up 060 then yaw roll to 180. Tallera, fire prox blasts as you bear.”

“With pleasure, Sir,” Tallera nearly growled, her brow furrowed and eyes glaring with determination at her console. The moment the Shepard pivoted up to allow the forward banks to target lock, she opened fire, sending a barrage of prox blasts towards the new targets. The prox blasts sailed deep into the void before exploding into a vibrant light show of yellow and orange hues.

She’d finally been given a chance to shoot at something.

“Detecting cloak distortions around the blasts,” Vic announced. “Not enough to get a beam target lock, though. Bandits are still closing.”

“Again, Tallera!”

She set forth another barrage, this one from the two arrays mounted on the torpedo pod’s rollbar. 

C’mon, you bastards, take one center-mass… Tallera thought, burning with desire to kill something that wanted to harm her Republic. Again, the shots could be seen bursting in the distance, hopefully near their targets.

“Cloaking distortion’s getting worse, prepare for target lock… ah, hang on, bandits might be changing course…” Vic announced, and the crew waited in silence for a moment. “Confirmed. Both signals are peeling off to space outside of sensor range.”

Ushaan claims the same for their signals,” T’Vrin relayed. “Their bandits have retreated as well.”

“So, there’s four of them…” Zelenko said as she sat back down in her Captain’s chair. “That means we can’t corral them into a killzone or act on any cloak distortions without leaving the convoy’s flanks exposed to their friends.” She sighed, then turned her gaze to Mack. “For now, back to our guests’ identities.”

“Yeah,” Vic interjected. “As I was saying, how the hell did they get out here?”

“That new wormhole to the Delta Quadrant, right? In the Barzan system?” Mack replied. “No way that it’s just a coincidence that they show up here like a month after the thing opens.”

“But the real question is why are they out here…” Zelenko pondered. “Do you have an article or archive up on those, Mack?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Then by all means, tell me what it says.”

“Well…” Mack began, looking back down at his screen. “Intel says that most Hazari that leave their homeworld are bounty hunters or mercenaries. They have a cultural devotion to complete their contracts or die trying, so they’re well-known for never being intimidated out of a job or bought out by their quarry.”

“Then how did they get through the wormhole without being flagged by Federation defenses?” Zelenko said. “There’s nearly a whole fleet guarding that wormhole, they’d pick up on four small warships trying to get through.”

“It gets crazier,” Mack continued. “The archive says they fight using tetryon weapons, not plasma. And nothing in here makes note of a cloaking device.”

“So they dumped their gear in the Delta Quadrant, passed through the wormhole in unarmed ships, then got re-armed by their benefactors,” Vic extrapolated, forming little circular motions with his pointer finger as he spoke. “Even if they got flagged for flying warships and being from a species known as bounty hunters, they might pass inspection if the ships had no weapons. I don’t see how Starfleet could legally prevent them from traveling to the Alpha Quadrant.”

“So, the Free State hired them,” Tallera said with a thoughtful nod, building on Vic’s analysis.

“That’s a bit presumptuous, Ensign,” Zelenko responded.

“With all due respect, sir, not really,” Tallera continued. “They’re armed with plasma weapons and cloaking devices, both of which are Romulan military standard. The devices allow for cloaked weapons fire, putting it probably only just below Scimitar cloaks in quality and almost definitely not something you could just buy or find. They’re attacking a Federation convoy delivering supplies to the Romulan Republic, which the Free State can’t do itself or risk open war with the Feds. And Hazari are known for dying before abandoning a contract, which means they get around Romulans’ normal aversion to mercenaries and their reliability. That also explains why someone would go to the trouble of hiring someone from the other side of the galaxy: they’re the only ones that the Free State’s Tal Shiar overlords would trust to do the job.”

“Doesn’t that raise the question of why the Free State would do this if they’d be so easily found out?”

“I don’t think so, because that doesn’t really matter. All that does matter is that Free State warbirds aren’t attacking Starfleet themselves. That’s enough plausible deniability to make any sanctions on them impossible. All they have to do is claim that they have no knowledge of Hazari in the region, and that they were clearly hired by Klingons and found Romulan gear on the black market or something. It’s nonsense, but it’s not 100% impossible, so the Federation can’t do anything to disprove it and act on what clearly really happened.” Tallera shrugged. “It’s certainly what I’d do if I were them.”

“It is what you would do?T’Vrin asked with a raised eyebrow and a good bit more venom in her voice than Tallera had ever heard from a Vulcan.

“Not the time, T’Vrin” Zelenko said as she held up a hand to the communications officer, then brought the hand to her chin in contemplation. “That does make a certain amount of sense. And it does have the trademark convoluted complexity of Romulan plots. Er, no offense.”

“None taken,” Tallera responded, genuinely confused as to why Zelenko felt the need to apologize.

“Well, if they’re known for never giving up a hunt, why haven’t these Hazari come back yet?” Vic spoke up, gesturing to the empty blackness of space on the viewscreen. “It doesn’t sound like a phaser barrage would scare them off, and we didn’t blow them up or we’d have seen debris.”

“They’re probably hoping for us feeling safe enough to go back to warp, where it’ll be harder to maneuver to target them and cover the convoy,” Zelenko replied. “So, we’re going to have to wait it out here. T’Vrin, send a subspace message to Starbase 23 and to Virinat, tell them we’ve come under attack and require assistance before we can continue.”

“Commander, it seems that our subspace communications are being jammed,” T’Vrin said after tapping at her console a moment. “Sending a message to Starfleet or the Romulans is currently impossible.”

Zelenko swore under her breath. “So, we can’t move until the Hazari are dealt with, and we can’t do any more but momentarily ward off the Hazari until we get enough ships to guard the convoy and chase them down.” She turned back to T’Vrin. “I want you to go down to the sensor labs and assemble a team of communications officers along with science, engineering, and operations officers that have experience working with sensors and comm suites. Figure out some way to get some kind of information through the jamming, or see if you can use the jamming to track the cloaked ships.”

“Yes Sir,” T’Vrin said with a polite nod, standing from comms station and hurrying off the bridge.

 “S’Geras, relieve the Ensign at communications,” Zelenko ordered the man sitting next to her, who nodded and took T’Vrin’s now-unoccupied seat.

“So I guess we just wait here until the Hazari blow us up, we get a lucky hit on one of them, or help comes,” Vic said with a sigh.

“More or less,” Zelenko said with a slightly weary smirk.

“Well, that sure sounds like fun. How about we… ah, wait, speak of the devil. Two tachyon blips again in our sector, bearing 003-mark-277 at 141,000 klicks.”

“They’re coming up from under us,” Zelenko stated, inwardly wondering what the Hazari were hoping to achieve from repeated bull-rushes of their defenses. “Tallera, fire when ready.”

Comments

  • Wow, now this is a really interesting turn of events that the Shepard is now faced with. What they thought was possibly a Romulan ship is now the Hazari. Now, I am curious as to why the Hazari is in the Alpha Quadrant. Is Tallera's predictions true that the Free State hired them? If so why? What is the end goal? I can't wait to see what happens next! Great work!

    November 14, 2022
  • Things are heating up on the USS Shepard. You're striking an effective balance between the space battle, the political intrigue, and the Starfleet ingenuity. There's enough pieces on the board, I can't really anticipate where it's going. You really got me with: it's neither Romulan or Klingons, oh actually it's a ship from the Delta Quadrant! Even with the nature of this campaign, you got me. But the highlight for me was “It is what you would do?” Ooof, deadlier than a ship with cloak!!

    November 18, 2022