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Part of USS Higgs: Radio Silence

Radio Silence – 4

U.S.S. Higgs NCC-79830
February 2401
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Then you leave me with no choice. I’m sorry, Captain.”

Donaldson’s face disappeared from the screen, and within seconds the first disruptor blast impacted the Higgs’ shields. The deck beneath them lurched, causing Lieutenant Commander Pezara Barim to reach out and steady himself on his station.

“Mitchell, evasive manoeuvres.” Matheson barked from the centre of the bridge. “Fournier, target their weapons systems and return fire.”

Sweat beaded on Barim’s forehead as he watched the incoming sensor displays. His job was to scan the enemy ship in search of some weakness that Lieutenant Fournier could use to defeat their enemy while the Chief Tactical Officer focused on using the Higgs’ weapons and shields to best effect.

Fournier let loose a barrage of phaser fire from the dorsal arrays as the Higgs made a pass at the bird-of-prey’s ventral side, where their shields were weakest. The enemy fired off a spread of torpedoes from their aft launcher, which exploded against the Higgs’ shields. This sent everyone scrambling to stay upright while the ship around them shook violently.

Barim studied the sensor scans of the enemy ship as the ship continued to be buffeted by enemy weapons fire. There was nothing remarkable about the ship itself, it was a standard B’rel-class bird-of-prey, but it had been modified with two rotating disruptor cannons, providing it with 360-degree coverage. Both ships were evenly matched in terms of speed and manoeuvrability, so they were depending on Mitchell’s supposedly superior piloting skills. Barim sent up a silent prayer to the prophets that Mitchell was as good a pilot as he claimed.

“Shields down to seventy-nine percent,” Fournier announced after a particularly heavy volley of fire that caused sparks to fly from a conduit in the ceiling. “The bird-of-prey’s shields are at sixty-two percent.”

The battle was certainly going in the right direction for now, but the tide could turn very quickly so there was no resting on their laurels. The schematic informed by incoming sensor data was showing interesting readings coming from the bird-of-prey’s engineering section. It looked like a fluctuation in a secondary power coupling that fed into their shield generators.

Barim silently sent the data to Fournier’s console, who immediately picked up on what he was getting at. “Commander Mitchell, bring us to bear on the ventral side of their engineering section.” She ordered. Barim was surprised at the confidence with which she ordered the XO. To his credit, Mitchell knew that she had a plan and worked to position the Higgs according to Fournier’s order.

When she judged the moment to be right, Fournier let loose a barrage of phaser fire with a spread of torpedoes as a chaser. It was clear the weapons found their intended target when the bird-of-prey’s shields disappeared completely. Barim estimated it would take at least half an hour for them to restore power to the shields.

“Captain,” Ensign Edal broke the silence on the bridge, “the bird-of-prey has sent a message to the surface.”

Matheson stood and moved to the communications station. “What does it say?”

“You’re on your own,” Edal replied after several seconds. On the viewscreen, the bird-of-prey turned away from the Higgs and started moving away at full impulse.

From the helm, Commander Mitchell reported what they already knew, “Captain, the bird-of-prey is retreating. Should we pursue?”

“Let them go,” Matheson told him. “Our job is to recover the science team.”

Captain Matheson was probably right, Alex decided, but it stuck in his craw that a mercenary ship which had attacked civilian ships and would probably do so again was escaping justice. He smoothly piloted the Higgs back into her orbit above the planet. “Re-establishing standard orbit.”

Matheson acknowledged Mitchell’s report before turning to comms. “Edal, open a channel to Donaldson.” The familiar sound of a channel being opened rang across the bridge and Edal gave the Captain a silent nod.

“Mister Donaldson, it seems the cavalry has tucked tail and run,” Matheson announced. “You’re on your own, which leaves you with your original choice; surrender peacefully, or I’ll send down a team to take you by force.”

Seconds ticked by with no response from the surface. Just when Alex concluded they weren’t going to get one, Donaldson’s visage reappeared on the screen. He glowered menacingly at them. “You think our resolve is so weak that we will just give up so easily?”

“I think,” Matheson replied slowly, “that you would willingly lay down your life to remain on your homeworld.” Alex agreed with that assessment, given what they’d seen from Donaldson. “I also think that it will take more than a few Starfleet scientists to start to undo the damage done to this planet’s ecology by the Century Storm and that that process will take at least a generation, probably more.”

Donaldson opened his mouth to counter but Matheson wasn’t done yet. “Finally, I think that you cannot kidnap people and hold them against their will, but more importantly, a man is dead; killed in cold blood.” Donaldson’s anger was extinguished instantly. Like someone poured cold water over the fire burning within him to be replaced by sadness and regret. “I think you must answer for your crimes.”

“I didn’t want to kill him,” Donaldson sounded genuinely remorseful. Little comfort to Lieutenant Commander Gorek’s family, Alex thought.

Matheson was similarly unmoved. “But you did, and now you have to answer for that.” Alex could see the fire reigniting in Donaldson’s eyes and Captain Matheson did too. “Look, neither one of us wants an armed conflict. Most of your people are innocent. But I can’t allow the killing of Lieutenant Commander Gorek to go unpunished and I will not allow you to continue holding those science officers. One way or another, we’re taking you into custody. It’s up to you how hard to make that and whether you’re going to put innocent people at risk.”

Alex was taken aback when the screen suddenly cut back to a view of the planet below them. “What happened?” Matheson asked.

“The transmission was cut at the source.” Ensign Edal scrambled to re-establish the connection but with no success.

Over his shoulder, Alex could hear Matheson take a deep breath through her nose and let it out sharply, a sign of her frustration. “Well, I guess we have our answer,” she decided. “Mitchell, take a security team with phaser rifles. Assemble them in transporter room one and prepare to beam down on my mark.”

With a sense of dread and trepidation, Mitchell secured his station and climbed the steps to the upper level of the bridge. “Fournier, you’re with me.”

“Captain, we’re being hailed,” Edal shouted louder than she really needed to. Alex and Fournier stopped at the open door that led to the rest of deck one and watched the viewscreen.

Donaldson appeared again, this time looking utterly defeated. He was slouched over his desk, his eyes downcast. “You win, Captain. We surrender.”

“The scattering field is being lowered,” Pezara reported from the science station.

Donaldson looked up, directly into the viewscreen. “What will happen to my people?”

“Those who were involved in the killing of Commander Gorek and the kidnapping of the science team will be arrested and handed over to the relevant authorities when we return to Starbase Bravo,” Matheson told him sternly. Her tone softened as she continued, “The rest of your people will be relocated.”

With a solemn nod, Donaldson accepted his fate. “I may not be able to join them, but my people will return here,” he paused, “someday. We will reclaim our home.” The comm channel was disconnected once more.

“No need for phaser rifles,” Matheson told him, sounding as relieved as he felt. “Take Donaldson and his accomplices into custody and prepare his people to beam up. Lieutenants Shepard, Armstrong and T’Nira will prepare a cargo bay to house them for the journey back to Bravo.”

Alex nodded before leading Fournier off the bridge.

Three hours later, Alex found himself walking into the observation lounge where the Captain was receiving an update from the rest of her senior officers.

“Are the colonists onboard?”

Alex nodded as he lowered himself in his chair to the captain’s right. “They’re being settled in. Donaldson and his team are settling into the Brig.”

“What’ll happen to them now?” The Yorkshire-born Chief Engineer asked in his broad accent. Armstrong had been the only other Challenger officer to transfer to the Higgs and Mitchell was grateful for the familiar face.

It was hard not to feel sympathy for the colonists. Seeing your home destroyed by an ion storm would’ve been traumatic enough but to now be ripped away from that home would only compound that trauma. “We’ll transfer them to Starbase Bravo once we arrive. Diplomatic and civilian affairs will take it from there.”

“Captain,” Alex glanced down the conference table at Shepard, “what about relocating them on Coltar? It’s not too far from here.”

It was a good idea but Matheson was already shaking her head. “I spent an hour begging and pleading with the Governor’s Office to take them, but she refused. Told me that Coltar cannot and will not accept any more refugees. They’re struggling with the ones they’ve already accepted.”

She as in the Governor?” Alex asked.

Matheson shook her head again. “I didn’t speak to Governor Wells. It was her Chief of Staff, Constance…something.”

“Forsyth.” Alex helpfully supplied.

The Captain was taken aback. “You know her?”

“We met last year when the Challenger assisted Coltar with the Century Storm,” he told her, a small smile on his lips. “Miss Forsyth is a force of nature.”

From the look on her face, the Captain agreed, “You can say that again. Do you have any tips for dealing with her?”

Alex chuckled. “I wish. I did my best to avoid her.” 

Matheson rolled her eyes. “That doesn’t help me,” the Captain complained.

“No,” he agreed, “but I know someone who has a direct line to the Governor.”