Part of Challenger: The Romulan War: Calling The Shots

Calling The Shots – One

Challenger NX-03, Denobula Triaxa system, Beta Quadrant
Tuesday, February 8th, 2157
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“Continuing to emit distress calls on all frequencies, captain.” 

Fleet Captain Burton looked over at the newly promoted lieutenant junior grade who was sitting at the communications station. Tanisha Avery. She was concentrating on what they were sending out and who may respond. With one finger pressed against her earpiece and her eyes almost squinted, Avery was focussed and able to ignore everything else that was happening around her. Pushing a stray lock of her black hair out of her face, she was unfazed by her commanding officer continuing to check on their status. 

“Bridge to engineering, status?” Burton asked his chief engineer after tapping on the intercom built into his chair’s arms. Around him, his crew were moving at a fast pace, something they had come used to in the past two years. The war had changed them all. There were no more casual walks from one station to another. Everyone had to be quick on their feet. Ready to react at a moment’s notice. They were a well-oiled fighting machine. 

“Captain, we’re still venting plasma,” responded Lieutenant Masuko. “We should be lighting up someone’s sensors like a Christmas tree. Anyone within a few million kilometres should know where we are, and that we are stuck.”

“Understood, lieutenant,” Burton said before closing the channel. He turned to his armoury officer, “Rachele, where are we with weapons and defence?”

“Our entire weapons array is offline, and hull plating is at forty-seven per cent.” Cortez shared. 

The proximity alarm then went off, which caught Burton’s attention to turn his chair towards his science officer. Cooper was bent over, glaring into the scope behind his station. “Captain, we have company. The last three Romulan Birds-of-Prey we’ve been hunting. They’ll be in weapon’s range in seventeen seconds.”

“Tactical alert!” Burton ordered, and automatically the bridge darkened and changed the entire mood across the ship. Challenger, after almost a year from gaining its refit to the Columbia-class, was now preparing for a fight for its existence. “Number One, are we in position?”

Commander Rodham nodded. “We are, sir, however, the minerals in the nearest and largest asteroid are refracting our sensors.”

“Then you’ll need to use your own sensors, Number One,” Burton said with a smirk, “Begin evasive manoeuvres.”

 Slowly but surely, the Challenger began a sequence of movements to evade the incoming enemy; while still venting streams of plasma from both nacelles. 

“Here they come!” announced Cooper.

Hitting the intercom one more time, Burton spoke to his crew. “All hands, brace for impact!”

Like a flock of eager, hungry vultures, the three Romulan ships approached their target and opened fire. Bolts of plasma energy escaped their forward disruptors and hit several times on the Earth ship. Onboard the crew had belted themselves into their seats and held on tightly to whatever they could grip as Commander Rodham pushed the ship into a spin on its axis to avoid as much of the incoming fire and slowed the ship’s impulse engines down. 

“Hull plating is down to thirty-eight per cent!” shouted Cortez over the commotion. 

As the Romulan ships flew above them unexpectedly several ships appeared at high speeds out from behind the asteroid belt. Leading the pack was the NV-class starship, Voyager along with three other Daedalus-class ships, all opened fire with their phase cannons and multiple spreads of photonic torpedoes lit up the distance between them and the enemy vessels. 

“The calvary has arrived!” Rodham declared with a slight joy in his tone.

“And not a moment too soon,” Burton said smirking. “Full power to hull plating and impulse engines, bring the entire weapon’s array online and lock a target!”

“Target locked!” Cortez announced.

“Fire!” Burton commanded. 

Challenger’s nacelles stopped leaking plasma, just as its systems were fully restored to become the full fledge fighting machine it was. While the rest of the Earth vessels engaged two of the birds of prey, Challenger aimed its weapons at the one who was attempting to flank Voyager. After a salvo of torpedoes was fired and a barrage from the pulse phase cannons was unleashed, the enemy vessel was no more. Ripped into a ball of flame, the three ships were extinguished within a blink of an eye. None of them saw the trap that Burton had laid out. None of them saw the brutality that Starfleet would take to defend themselves and their allies. 

“Sir, we’re being hailed by Voyager,” reported Avery as she looked over her shoulder at her superior.

Standing up and walking to be behind his helm and navigator, Burton placed both hands on the back of their chairs. “Open a channel, Tanisha,” He ordered his communications officer. 

The viewscreen changed to show the image of a man sitting in the centre chair in the centre of Voyager’s bridge. He almost looked similar to Burton. Short dark brown hair, a short beard and an almost youthful appearance. Captain Austin Bishop grinned at his superior before speaking. “Nice plan, sir. I’m surprised the Romulans fell for it.”

“They’re too egoistical in not being able to stand for us giving them a whooping here at Denobula,” Burton replied. “But thanks for having our backs.”

“Anytime,” Bishop stated with a nod. “We’re not detecting any more Romulans in the region. Do you think we’re done here?”

“Possibly,” Burton answered. “However, I don’t want to be too eager to leave. Let’s head back to Denobula and ensure Premier Nerlox is happy with our work.”

“Understood,” Bishop said. “First one there gets the first round in, yeah?”

“I’m certain you only challenge us to such things to get a rise from my first officer!” Burton said, looking at Rodham.

“I’m always trying to get a rise out of him,” Bishop said with a wink aimed at Rodham before closing the channel.

Noticing his first officer blushing at the captain’s remarks, Burton chuckled before turning to his navigator. “Rosa, please make sure we find a quicker course to Denobula than Voyager and the others.”

“Aye, sir,” Sandoval replied in her thick Mexican accent. In a few seconds, she plotted their course and shared it with Rodham. The ship then made its way towards the Denobulan homeworld.

Burton was still chuckling at the banter on his bridge; he returned to his chair and sat down before ordering them to get underway at their fastest sublight speeds. As soon as they were underway, Burton paused for a moment to look around the bridge. In the last two years since he took command of the vessel so much had changed. So many people had moved through in the first year, but now things felt more stable. Though the ship may have changed, including the layout of the bridge, Challenger had become home to him and so many others. The wider helm station, which included a separate navigation console, was part of the new upgrades that Starfleet had issued over a year ago. In response to further counter-measures against the Romulan telepresence capturing device, Starfleet had installed several independent systems to prevent total loss of control. One of them was separating the ship’s flight controls; someone had to plot the ship’s course while the helm piloted the vessel. Though it was confusing at first to get used to, somehow both Rodham and Sandoval had made it work. The two friends had proven too many times over the last year they were an impressive team together. That said, everyone had become an impressive team. 

Tapping the intercom button in the left arm of his chair, Burton called down to his doctor. “Bridge to sickbay, report doctor.”

“Seven injured, captain, none of them are serious, and I’m happy to say there are no fatalities this time,” Ben-Ami answered. 

Relieved to hear that, Burton confirmed acknowledgement with his third officer before closing the channel. “Cooper,” He said, grabbing the attention of his chief science officer and second officer. “Anything else out there?”

Walker had returned to looking at his scope, another thing that Starfleet had updated with its own independent subsystem. The ship’s sensors were enhanced to see further afield but were not linked to other systems. It meant that Walker spent more time peering into the scope and seeing what was out there. Looking up, he spun around in his chair and returned to the main station for one more final check from the sensor grid they had established on the outer edge of the system. “Nothing, captain. I think we may have finally removed the Romulan threat.”

“Does that mean we’ve successfully driven the Romulans from Denobulan space?” Cortez checked.

“I’d like to run further scans and do a few more patrols, but it may appear we have been successful,” Burton said with some confidence. He had known in the past not to declare victory so quickly, nevertheless, everything was looking like they had achieved their objectives. 

The Denobulan Campaign had been their hardest mission to date. The Romulans had overwhelmed the Denobulan military and had set up a blockade around their home system. Cutting the Denobulans out of reach and contact with everyone else, the Romulans attempted to force the Denobulans to surrender without invading them. Starfleet analysts had theorised that the Romulans did not have the manpower or resolve to occupy the Denobulans, but knew by removing them as a trading partner with the United Earth Commonwealth, they could prevent valuable materials and goods from being exchanged between both nation-states. It would impact the war effort. Setting up minefields, a large flotilla of ships patrolling the region and an extensive sensor net, the Romulans were thirsty to choke the Denobulans. However, after weeks of work, Starfleet had assembled a large fleet to take out the Romulans to free the Denobulans. Elements from that armada had remained behind to tackle the remaining enemy instalments and vessels. Only the day before had Challenger been able to destroy the last minefield. However, three enemy vessels had evaded them. Now that was all history. So they hoped. 

“Rosa, how long until we arrive in orbit of Denobula?” Burton asked.

His navigator looked down at her console and then over her right shoulder at Burton. “Just over an hour and a half.”

Standing up, Burton told Rodham that the bridge was his as he headed to his office to begin preparing his report for Starfleet Command. Entering his ready room, Burton unbuttoned the top button of his black undershirt before unzipping his jumpsuit uniform. The ready room had also changed since the ship’s refit. There was a door to the right of the room as you entered that led to a small personal bathroom. A long black sofa sat opposite the entrance with the long wide frame of images of every ship named Challenger hung above it. The window had also been stretched out, giving more natural light (when it was there) to enter the office. The corner desk had remained, and Burton hadn’t allowed his chair to be changed. He had become accustomed to the one he had since the ship had launched. Flopping down onto the sofa, he noticed a stack of computer tablets was sitting on top of the compact side table next to the settee. Behind them was a kettle, a teapot and a few mugs. His own touch, as he found drinking tea was a regular thing to help him get through the war. Yeoman Harris had always ensured it was kept full, as well as keeping all the extras needed to make the captain’s favourite beverage and many other hot drinks that he may offer guests. 

Yawning, Burton went to pick up the first tablet but stopped himself in mid-action as out of the corner of his eye, a picture caught his attention. It sat on his desk and was recent. Walking over to his desk, he picked up the framed photo and instantly smiled. It was of his family. Sitting comfortably in their new home on the first day they moved in was his wife, four young children and him. He hated being so far away from them all. They had yet to be able to spend any quality time together as a family since buying their new home. That would change soon, he hoped. 

The door chime went off, and Burton told his visitor to come in as he placed the frame down. Rodham walked in. 

“Missing the family?” The first officer asked. 

Burton nodded. “What do you have?” He asked, motioning to the tablet in Rodham’s hands. 

Handing it over, Rodham explained its contents. “We’ve just heard from Luis. He and his company of MACOs were able to destroy the Romulan moon base. They’re on their way back to the ship in the shuttlepods.” 

“More good news,” Burton smirked as he read the summary from his MACO detachment commander. “Did they encounter any resistance?”

“None; he reports that the entire mission was a textbook operation,” Rodham replied. “So, are we declaring victory?”

Passing the device back to Rodham, Burton winced. “Let’s launch a series of probes to double-check, and when we reconvene in orbit of Denobula, I want patrols sent out. If within forty-eight hours we see no more Romulans, then I think we can say we’ve done our job.”

“A wise precaution,” Rodham agreed before stumbling through his next question. “Shall I liaise with Captain Bishop and the others to work out suitable patrol routes?”

Burton smirked. “Alex, for goodness sake, would you stop beating around the bush and ask the man out.”

Noticing the change in tone between them, no longer Captain and First Officer but just friends, Rodham dropped his shoulders. “I-I-I don’t feel comfortable being that forward with Bishop.”

“Why not? Isn’t he your type of guy?” Burton inquired. “Tall, smart, genuine, and slightly cheeky.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to date him, Lloyd?” 

Raising his left hand up, Burton pointed to the ring around his third finger. “Can’t, I’m happily married,” He replied. “And don’t give me any nonsense about him being a captain. You’ve been offered command of a ship of your own, so it’s not as if you two are not on the same page career-wise.”

Exhaling loudly, Rodham gave in. “Okay, I suppose you’re right.”

“And Michael would have wanted you to move on. He’d want you to be happy again. You’re not disrespecting his memory by exploring what may be.” Burton added. 

“Fine, fine,” Rodham said raising both hands to Burton. “I’ll work on it.”

“It’s time to make first contact,” Burton said with a wink.

Before Rodham could respond, the intercom went off, and it was Avery’s voice. “Bridge to the captain.”  

Tapping on the intercom panel built into his desk, Burton answered. “Go ahead, lieutenant.”

“Sir, Premier Nerlox is hailing us; he wants to speak with you at once.”

“Patch him in,” Burton responded as he sat up straight in his chair, pulled his zip back up and did his collar back together. The main screen on his desk switched from its standby mode to one showing the face of the Denobulan leader. “Premier Nerlox, thank you for calling us.”

“Fleet Captain Burton, I’ve just heard that your efforts have been fruitful, and once again, you and your crew are a hero to my people,” Nerlox said with an extremely long grin. 

“We’re happy to help our Denobulan brothers and sisters,” Burton said diplomatically. “We’re planning to undertake further checks, but once they are complete, I am sure we can say the Romulan threat has gone from your space.”

“I’m pleased to hear that, captain; we have a lot to rebuild,” Nerlox stated.

“Indeed, and we will be here to help you with that. In fact, I heard from our allies in the coalition before our last engagement. The Vulcan and Andorian governments are sending ships to further help bolster your defences while the Tellarites and Kreetassans are preparing relief convoys.” 

“Of which we appreciate so much,” Nerlox said with a respectful bow of his head. “Though our fleet may have been wiped out by the Romulans, we won’t stand by and allow their aggression to go untested.”

“Am I hearing what I think I am hearing, Premier?” Burton said, looking to Rodham and then back to the Denobulan man before him. 

Nerlox nodded. “You are, I know it’s been almost two years since Challenger visited my world to convince us to join the coalition, but I can tell you now my people are prepared to join and support Earth with its war effort.”

Leaning back into his chair, Burton smirked at hearing that news. Maybe victory was at hand.