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Part of Starbase Bravo: 2401: Mission 1

Agricultural Aid, Part 2: Something Wiggy This Way Comes…

The Paulson Nebula, aboard the Susquehanna
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Dawa’s face was illuminated in the flashing red light of her console, but her smile didn’t budge from her face. She calmly ran her fingers across the console to dismiss the alarm and let her hands continue the work as she glanced back at Joshua. “Not to worry, I set that alarm to go off when the dilithium hydroxyl concentration outside our subspace warp bubble reached 100 parts per cubic centimeter.”

“Oh, we certainly don’t want that… the dilithium… umm… concentration to get too high,” Joshua said, leaving the phrase more as a question than a statement. Dawa didn’t seem concerned, so he decided it wasn’t concerning.

Without looking, her left hand reached over and slid open a panel to reveal a series of tactile buttons and switches. “It means we’ve technically entered the nebula, so time to switch to manual sensors and slow to impulse.”

She cleared her throat and straightened her back. “We ask that all passengers remain seated for the remainder of the flight due to the increased likelihood of turbulence and/or giant rocks hurtling inexorably through space.”

Dawa chuckled at her joke and smiled at Joshua. “I can avoid those easily enough. It’s other ships we have to worry about, but I can think of few outside of Starfleet crazy enough to fly through here on purpose!”

Joshua chuckled and turned back to the science console. A standing objective was to get as many scans of the nebula as possible. He set the sensor’s grid to be as wide and precise as possible. A blip on the scans caught his eye. The subspace objects moved at variable speeds throughout the nebula, but this object was moving in conjunction with an asteroid. “Either it’s a conjoined asteroid or…” He said to himself, setting a secondary deeper scan of the object.

“I know you’re trying to keep us from being smashed into the side of an asteroid, which I’m incredibly grateful for, but I’ve picked up something on scanners.” He pushed a few buttons on his console to send the readings to hers. “I think there’s someone crazier than Starfleet in here.”

“Uck!” Dawa rolled her eyes and sounded downright disgusted. “Of all the nerve. Don’t they know some of us are trying to work in here?” she muttered as she flipped one of the switches and squinted at her console. “Mmm, with these scans I can’t determine anything further than ‘not Starfleet’, and in that case, I don’t want to get close enough for a visual.”

They felt the barest discernable movement through the inertial dampeners as the runabout changed direction. “I can’t alter course too much without risking getting us lost in this stellar soup, but I think we can sneak past their rear if we run quiet for the next few minutes. Switching to passive scans only.”

Joshua watched as the science sensors blink out. He moved from the science station to the seat next to Dawa. “Where are you…” He said, switching his glance from the nebula’s dark expanse to the console.

She cast an irritated glance in the direction of the asteroid and made a rapid shoo-ing motion at it. “Hurry up and get out of here, you’re interrupting Joshua’s science!”

Joshua chuckled, “I appreciate the enthusiasm, but let’s worry about our friend out here. The science we can save for later.”

Dawa huffed. “I know, I’m trying to deflect with humor here.” She gave him a cheesy grin. “My combat training in Starfighters was much more substantial than in runabouts. I feel a little out-of-sorts in such a big target. Cross all your fingers that we don’t have to engage them at all.”

Joshua held up his hands, comically contorted into multiple crossed fingers. “I’ve got that base covered. I’d cross my toes, but I’d have to take off my boots and, well… who’d give up this much luck?” He said with a smile.

As they drifted silently through the swirling eddies of the nebula, Dawa stretched her arms and rolled her neck, trying her best to stay loose and responsive to any of the countless scenarios that might play out in the next few minutes. Having a nervous death grip on the console would only stifle her reflexes.

She centered her focus with deep breaths in-and-out and felt a weight lift off her shoulders as she glanced down at her readouts. “Ten more seconds and we should be out of their estimated sensor range.”

As she watched the counter fall from 10, 9, 8… something flashed red in the corner of her eye. PROXIMITY ALERT. And the barest second after the warning flashed they could both see it through the forward windows: an asteroid twice the size of the Susquehanna hurtling towards them nearly dead-on.

“Oh, sh– hang on!” They immediately dived, though it felt more like a drop as they plunged straight down the z-axis and missed the asteroid by meters.

9, 8… Joshua mentally counted in his mind before his stomach lurched with the Susquehanna’s sudden movement, partly from the view out the window and partly from the inertial dampener’s attempts to keep up with the dive.

He glanced over at the sensor read-out. “Uh… probably not the best time to mention,” Joshua said, his voice lurching with a bump. “I think our friends spotted us. About 1000 meters and closing fast. It looks like they’re taking advantage of our situation!”

There was a red flash on their starboard and the craft shuddered, but they remained true on their heading.

“Oh no no no no no, uuh uh,” Dawa muttered, bent low over her console. Her brow furrowed and her jaw clicked, and her next words seemed to be directed into the ether as her fingers flew across the buttons. “We pretend not to notice you, give you plenty of room to go on your merry way, and the second shit hits our fan you turn around and start throwing heat at us?? We’re the big dog in this fight! Joshua!”

She locked eyes with the man next to her. “I’m gonna bring us around on their six, and when we’re in position I need you to fire phasers at them. Only 50% full power because I’m feeling generous. Can you do that for me?”

Joshua felt the craft lurch again, the dampers still having a hard time keeping up. “Is this a bad time to bring up that I’m, uh, not bridge trained?” He yelled over the alarms. “But it’s fine, it’s like riding a bike right?.” He pulled up the tactical display, “A bike with 6 phaser strips, being chased by a spaceship… through an unpredictable nebula” he said to himself.

He turned his attention to the display. Lots of buttons. “Don’t worry about going to the Academy Josh, you’ll be much better off with an ETC…” he said to himself in a mocking tone. He pulled up the phaser gauge and set it to 50% power.

The Susquehanna moved around an asteroid, and the ship came into view. It was small, about half the size of the runabout. “Well, isn’t he a cute little fella? Kinda small for a smuggling ship though.” The console beeped, “It’s coming about! Its weapons… are hot!”

“Could be a fighter that got separated from a bigger ship, in which case we’d better hope we can keep clear of the pack leader too.” Dawa’s face was blank as she considered the possibility. Suddenly she turned to grin at Joshua and give him a thumbs-up as if all he had to do was make a penalty shot and not a directed energy weapon shot. “You got this, Josh! Just… hold onto the console.”

They sped towards the ship at full impulse as if setting the stage for a game of chicken. Their opponent fired off two shots. The Susquehanna rattled a bit, but shields held, and well before it could become a contest in earnest the other ship wisely veered off.

“Wait… we’re going to ram it?!” Joshua said with exasperation. He held on to the console as Dawa instructed.

Immediately Dawa killed the impulse engines and fired the starboard lateral thrusters, spinning them 180 degrees. One more hit on the thrusters had them staring down the ship’s aft. “Now, Josh!”

Joshua’s stomach dropped with the sudden stop and spin. He barely had time to process her words before pushing the firing button almost instinctually. A burst was unleashed from two of the phaser strips. “Direct hit to,” he checked the console’s results, “to, uh… a phaser bank and the hull.” Joshua took a breath and chuckled, “You sure know how to leave a guy breathless.” A beep turned his attention to the sensors. “It’s coming about for another pass.”

“Well, you did a pretty good job considering I just put you through the spin cycle!” Dawa smiled at him as she moved tactical controls to her station. “Now that we’re stationary I can focus on getting another shot in with a bit more juice this time.” She increased power to the phasers while muttering, “What’s it gonna take to convince this guy it’s not worth the trouble without us getting a face full of phaser or accidentally blowing him out of the sky?” It sounded like a genuine question, even if it was directed at no one in particular.

The shuttle shuddered as the Susquehanna took hits from the fighter. “Shields still holding at 73%.”  

“Good…” Dawa aimed and fired. The ship shuddered again. There was a flash of light and the smell of smoke. “Status?”

Joshua looked over the displays, “Direct hits to our warp nacelle and lower hull. Shields at… 42%?!” Joshua said incredulously. “Our friend has made some modifications to his ship; there’s no way he should be packing that much firepower.” Warning beep on the console, “He’s loading quantums. Dawa, we gotta get out of here.” The worry began to creep into his voice, “I don’t think we can take much more of this.”

“Damnit. Damnitdamnitdamnit…” Dawa pulled a PADD from below the console, cleared its screen, and started furiously scribbling illegible equations on the surface using her finger as a stylus. “We can’t just jet, we have to make sure we can get back on our original heading if we don’t want to become irretrievably lost in this stupid pink monster cloud.”

The console’s beeping became more rapid and urgent as their opponent entered firing range. With a swipe of her hand, Dawa synced the information on her PADD with her station. There was a hum and a slight jolt as she reactivated the impulse engines.

The console’s tone became shrill as the fighter fired its quantums, and in the same instant, the runabout bolted up, up out of the line of fire, back towards their original heading.

“You have GOT to be kidding me! Why would he possibly have–?” Dawa’s eyes were wide and panicked as she brought them up to full speed. “Let’s just hope he put all his upgrades into weaponry and we can still outrun him. Josh, while we run screaming, see if you can get any data on our friend with the manual sensors. If we make it to the colony and back in one piece, I’m sure Starfleet would appreciate it if we had something besides scorch marks and a busted nacelle to show for this encounter.”

“Already on it!” Joshua’s fingers flew across the console, reactivating full sensors. There was no use hiding scans from their attacker now. He turned their full attention to the opposing ship. His eyes went wide as the initial scans came in, “There’s no way we would’ve stood up against them in a firefight, that’s for sure. I would say they’re armed to the teeth, but it’s more like their armed teeth are armed.” A few more beeps, “A bit of good news though, it looks like it’s not built for speed. Well,” Joshua looked at the scans, “it is, but it won’t be able to keep up with us for very long.”

He watched the ship on the scanners, “Ship is following us, but keeping distance.” A few tense moments passed and he breathed a sigh of relief. “It looks like it’s breaking off and heading further out of the nebula.” Joshua pushed a few buttons to place a location marker on their maps. “I don’t think it was guarding something, but it might be a drop point for smugglers.”

Dawa shook her head and sighed. “Lovely place to have a drop point, so close to the colony. And if any of the other smugglers are armed even half as well as the ship we just encountered then I’m definitely curious about their contraband.”

The beeping of her console interrupted her musings. “Well there’s some good news at least: we didn’t get hopelessly lost when we went off course during our little scuffle. The colony’s just ahead. Should be entering orbit in just a few minutes.”

Joshua looked at the scan results, “I don’t think they started here. If the computer’s trajectory estimates are correct, they moved to the asteroid to hide. Ah well,” he said, closing the results, “that’s above my expertise.”

As she keyed in the landing coordinates, the console beeped again, this time in a more urgent tone. “Oh… ooooh. Uh oh.”

Dawa’s eyes didn’t leave her console as she started pulling up the status of every internal system she could think of. “I thought I smelled smoke earlier… our fuel cells were damaged in the engagement. Looks like we’re running on emergency power right now, which means no transporters. And landing might be a little bumpier than usual.”

“I can’t say I’m enjoying this rollercoaster of good news, bad news,” Joshua chuckled. He pressed the commands to activate their distress beacon. “At least they know we’re coming.”

The Susquehanna lurched forward abruptly. Joshua looked over at Dawa, “Tell me that was you.” An urgent beeping from his console drew his attention. “Ah no, it wasn’t…” He turned to Dawa, “So, more good news: We’re caught in a gravity well of the planet.”

More lurching as the ground rapidly came closer. “Gravity pull increasing by a factor of four!” Joshua yelled over the urgent beeping. “I hope you got one last magic trick left!”

“I just might,” Dawa yelled back, “But, uh, brace yourself anyway.” Her hands flew across the console, authorizing pilot override after pilot override, and then… nothing. She watched their altitude and waited. Waited. Waited.

At 2500 meters every system in the runabout went dark and silent, and several seconds (and several hundreds of meters) later it all came back to life, and after a breath, the thrusters roared. The ground was approaching at a much more forgiving speed, and they met it with a jolt and another jolt, and then spun and skidded for what certainly felt like more than two seconds.

And finally they stopped, and it all went dark again.