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Part of USS Higgs: Radio Silence

Radio Silence – 3

U.S.S. Higgs NCC-79830
February 2401
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The journey from Orinal to Falor had not been a smooth one. The Paulson Nebula had thrown up its fair share of navigational hazards, including a level three ion storm, which meant it took ten hours for the Higgs to travel the relatively short distance. It was a challenge for Lieutenant Commander Alexander Mitchell, and he thoroughly enjoyed it.

During the journey, Lieutenant Shepard had managed to identify the leader of the kidnappers as Frank Donaldson, a miner who’d worked on Falor’s dilithium mine until it ran dry five years ago. Since then he’d had a number of jobs but hadn’t managed to hold one down for longer than a year.

“Captain, we’re approaching Falor III,” Alex reported. He already plotted the course that would establish the Higgs in standard orbit above the planet. All he needed was the order.

Matheson pushed herself to her feet. “Take us into standard orbit, Commander.” She turned to her chief science officer. “Mister Pezara. Scan the surface for life signs.”

“Scanning now,” The Bajoran science officer replied. 

With bated breath, they waited for Pezara to study the sensor scans and report his findings. Was there anyone left down there? Did they come all this way for nothing? Had the hostages been taken somewhere else? Why had they been kidnapped? They looked to Pezara to provide answers to at least some of their questions.

“I’m not picking up any life signs on the surface,” Alex’s shoulders sagged at Pezara’s report. He was already plotting a course and calculating the journey time to the other class-M planets when Pezara said, “However, there’s some kind of scattering field around the old dilithium mine that I can’t penetrate, which suggests there’s someone down there. Given how deep the mine is, I believe those who chose to remain behind could have survived the ion storm by taking shelter down there.”

At the helm, Alex started running his own scan, searching for any sign of the shuttle that carried the hostages away. Much of the planet’s infrastructure had been destroyed by the ion storm, buildings were little more than shells filled with rubble. About a kilometre from the mine was the remnant of a shuttle landing pad where Alex found precisely what he was looking for. “Captain, I’ve located a type four shuttle roughly a klick from the mine. Looks like our kidnappers’ shuttle.”

“Edal, open a channel,” Matheson ordered. When the young communications officer confirmed the channel was open, Matheson continued. “This is Captain Anastasia Matheson of the Federation Starship Higgs. We believe you’re currently holding a Starfleet science team, taken from Orinal Two. You will return them immediately and present yourselves for arrest.”

Matheson’s hail was met by silence, not that Alex expected anything else. He was sure that Matheson wasn’t expecting it to be that easy either. “No response.” Ensign Edal confirmed.

“Are you sure they’re receiving us?” Matheson asked.

Edal nodded. “Yes, ma’am. They can hear you.”

“If you don’t comply, I’ll beam down with a security detachment and recover our people by force. Neither of us wants that.”

The viewscreen changed from an image of the planet with its nebula backdrop to Frank Donaldson sitting behind a desk, his fingers laced. His salt and pepper hair and grey and scraggly beard were familiar from the outpost’s visual log. His anger was evident from the tension of his jaw, the tightness of his lips and his furrowed brow. “The Federation has no jurisdiction here. If you beam onto sovereign Faloran territory, you will be trespassing and treated accordingly.

“This is a Federation world, we-”

“Former Federation world,” he shot back, his gravelly voice so cold that Alex swore he could feel a chill. “Your Federation abandoned it. Decided it wasn’t worth saving.” He’d unlaced his fingers but was now holding one fist inside another. “You forfeit any claim you have to this planet. We are a sovereign world now, no longer under Federation control.

This isn’t getting us anywhere, Alex thought. 

“The Federation didn’t abandon your planet,” Matheson shot back calmly. “It was evacuated in the face of a level ten ion storm.”

Donaldson’s nostrils flared. “And then you forgot about us.” He thundered, banging his fist loudly on the table. “Too busy helping the Romulans again, instead of taking care of your own people.

That was a difficult charge to refute. The crisis in the Velorum Sector the previous summer had drawn Starfleet resources away from the Paulson Nebula in the aftermath of the Century Storm and Falor III had fallen through the cracks.

Withdraw from this system immediately or we’ll be forced to take action,” Donaldson warned them, looking distinctly uncomfortable. It looked to Alex like Donaldson was out of his depth. “This is your only warning.” Looking offscreen, Donaldson nodded to someone and the connection was cut.

Everyone on the bridge sat in momentarily stunned silence. Take action? What does he think is going to happen? 

“Lieutenant Fournier, prepare a security team. We’ll have to recover our people by force.” Matheson ordered. This was the first time he’d seen her like this. The normally force-averse scientist was replaced by something altogether different. A result, he supposed, of spending the past few years as an Executive Officer.

The sound of an alarm coming from the science station drew everyone’s attention. “Captain,” the urgency in Pezara’s voice caused Alex’s stomach to clench, “there’s a ship appearing from behind the planet’s second moon.”

“Can you identify it?” Matheson demanded.

Pezara studied the sensor readout for a few seconds before reporting, “It’s a Klingon Bird-of-Prey. The hull markings match a ship that’s been responsible for attacks on merchant shipping in the Paulson nebula over the past six months.”

“Captain,” Fournier’s tone was more panicked than Pezara’s, “they’re powering weapons.”

Matheson retook her seat and began barking orders, “Red alert. Helm, bring us around. Fournier, prepare to return fire.”

From the other side of the bridge, Ensign Edal spoke up. “We’re receiving a transmission from the surface.”

I told you to withdraw, Captain,” Donaldson told Matheson when he reappeared on the screen. “Now, I’m a merciful man so I’ll give you one last chance before I instruct my friend,” he faltered momentarily, to open fire.

Alex turned to look at the captain. Their eyes met and he saw a fire there he’d never seen before. Her jaw was set and she was gripping the armrests of her chair so tightly that her knuckles were turning white. She gave her XO a small nod.

Matheson’s defiant tone took Donaldson by surprise. “We’re not going anywhere without our people.”

Then you leave me with no choice,” Donaldson told them with a sad sigh. “I’m sorry, Captain.”