Part of USS Corax: Cover the Escape and Bravo Fleet: The Lost Fleet

Part One – The Weakest Link

Karna System
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“I know this one is going to hit close to home, son.” Captain Richards looked solemn on the view screen.  He knew that Lt. Commander Chris Rouse would be having a difficult time conducting this mission.

“The Dominion?” Chris asked incredulously, “how is this possible? There’s been a treaty in place for decades. No one has heard a word from them in almost as long.” Lt. Commander Chris Rouse had recently been diverted by Starfleet Command to support a compromised patrol group carrying evacuated Federation citizens to the safety of Farpoint Station.

“I don’t know. We…,“ Captain Richards wiped his brow in frustration, “we didn’t see it coming. There was no warning. No intel.” His frustration turning to anger, Richards slammed his fist down on the armrest of his captain’s chair. “This is bad, Chris.”

Commander Rouse felt Richards’ rage shoot through the screen like lightning. It galvanized his own white-hot fury.  Years ago, when Chris was still a young boy, his parents were killed by Jem’Hadar forces as they attempted to run a blockade of Betazed and provide aid during the Dominion War. It was a then-Lieutenant Richards who rescued Chris and took custody of the small boy, essentially raising him into the man he would become.

“Commodore Ekwueme has ordered a pursuit.  I’m taking the Redding and Yosemite to drive off the remaining Jem’Hadar ships.” Behind Richards, the damage sustained by the USS Redding was clear. “I’m having the remaining patrol ships rendezvous in the neighboring Karna system. There is a nebula there that should provide some temporary coverage and allow for time to affect a few repairs.” Richards stood and rearranged his uniform. There were scorch markings on the fabric, and it drew attention away from the cut protruding from his hairline. “Check with your Ops, you’ll find the Commodore’s updated orders.”

Chris pulled up his ship’s current heading and confirmed. “Aye, Captain. We should join the patrol in just under two hours.”

Richards offered what might pass for a smile under different circumstances. “I know this isn’t what you had in mind for a first command, but we play the hand we’re dealt.”  The viewscreen shook violently and the crash of polaron beams against failing shields could be heard. “Good luck, son. You and the Corax are all that stand between the patrol group and the Jem’Hadar. Save them.” A look fell upon Richards’ face. It was one Chris recognized all too well. Captain Richards believed this would be the last time they would speak. “Goodbye, Commander. Redding, out.”

Commander Richards took a deep breath. He never really considered himself to be much of a leader. He did, however, know that he didn’t want to let Captain Richards down. Adjusting his posture and composing himself, Chris exited the ready room and stepped onto the modest bridge of the USS Corax. The nervous eyes of the crew all met him in unison. No one had expected this situation and the ambivalence filled the air.

Chris led with his heart. If nothing else, he’d use his hatred of the Dominion to will his crew and ship to victory if needed. “Helm, increase speed. Maximum warp.”

“Aye, sir.” Ensign Sixto Márin, fueled by adrenaline, tapped his console furiously and the ship responded obediently.

“Yellow Alert!” The bridge darkened, and a dull yellow light pulsed. He was unsure as to what they would find upon arrival, but Chris had just over an hour to make sure the crew was prepared.

 

*****

 

Commander Rouse paced the bridge so feverishly a path was wearing into the deck plating.  The Corax lacked a formal conference room, but with a minimal crew the bridge was as good a place as any to meet. Tensions were high and all stations were standing by for Chris’ next command.  He turned to the Ops station and locked eyes with a stately young woman who had closely been monitoring her instruments. “Ensign Côte, are your scans complete?”

Manon Côte managed to disguise her anxieties behind a façade of stoicism. “Yes, sir. I have confirmed six distinct Federation warp signatures within the Karna system.  The nebula may be interfering with scans, but I’m fairly certain my scans are accurate.”

“Six ships?” Lt. Commander Gisso Rao, the ship’s assigned executive officer, did nothing to dispel her dismay. “How many were originally part of the patrol? Twenty? Twenty-five?”

Ensign Côte responded, not missing a beat. “There were twenty-three ships, Commander.”

Lt. Commander Rouse ran his hand across his beard. His eyes, darting with thought, reflected the pulsating yellow light giving him a slightly demonic appearance.  Slowly, he turned again to face Manon. “Ensign, are you able to raise the patrol on comms?”

“I’ve been trying, sir. There’s a lot of interference.” If she was frustrated, it didn’t show.

Lieutenant Rolan Decane, the ship’s Chief Engineer, chimed in with what might be a solution. “Sir, if I may,” Decane’s documented bravado was beginning to emanate, “I can reroute power from our defensive systems to boost output to our comms. If we won’t be expecting a fight any time soon the amended settings could cut through the interference.”

Chris observed as Ensign Côte gave an approving nod. “Agreed,” he said confidently. “I’d like to know what the hell it is we’re walking into if I can.” Chris prompted Ensign Márin for an update. “Helm, time to rendezvous?”

Sixto scanned his panel and looked over his shoulder at Chris. “Thirty-six minutes, sir.”

Chris nodded and stroked his chin again. “That’s not a lot of time.” He then gestured to his first officer. “Commander Rao, I’d like to see you in my ready room.” He then turned to Rolan. “Lt. Decane, you have the bridge.” With that Chris made his way to the ready room, Commander Rao in tow.

 

*****

 

Chris sat in the chair, hands steepled under his chin, staring at Gisso for what seemed an eternity. Finally, the silence war broken. “Commander Rao, I’ve read your objections to this posting. You made it clear you didn’t want this assignment when we were being deployed to aid in Romulan colonization efforts, so I can imagine you don’t want to be here now fighting the Dominion.” Chris observed closely, watching Rao’s every reaction.

Gisso did not seem fazed. Her posture unflinching, her gaze was lowered to meet Chris’. “May I speak freely, sir?” Her deference to his title bordered on sarcasm.

Chris paused, considered the alternative, then nodded.

“You’ve read my file,” she inhaled deeply, “and I’ve read yours. I cannot imagine a scenario in which Starfleet would deign it appropriate to place you in command of a vessel. Especially with my qualifications what they are. Yet here we are.” She resumed her original forward stare, breaking eye contact and peering ahead out the viewport.

“Since we’re being candid, Lt. Commander,” Chris started, he now accentuating rank, “you were demoted. In another life, you might have been a captain by now. But you angered all the wrong people and now here you are. We may share rank, but make no mistake, you are my first officer.” Chris rose from his chair and made his way towards the door before pointing towards the bridge. “I know you are more than thorough. You’ve read the jackets of everyone assigned to this ship. You are aware you’ve been assigned a crew of misfits. We’ve all made mistakes. We are expendable.” He took a deep breath and collected himself. “I also know that this is an opportunity for us all to prove we are more than what others assume we are. If there is ever a path for you to be captain, it goes through the Corax. You will do well to remember that.”

Gisso did not appreciate Chris’ tone, but she understood she invited it when she initiated this line of conversation. As much as she hated to admit it, she knew Chris was right. She had earner her demotion all on her own. Now, instead of being an arm’s reach from the captain’s chair, she found herself second-in-command of a glorified cargo ship. “Aye, Captain,” she said defiantly.

“Please,” Chris said while waving a dismissive hand, “I know the naval traditions, but ‘Commander’ is fine.”

It was almost so entirely imperceptible that even Commander Data would have been hard-pressed to notice, but Gisso rolled her eyes. “Aye, Commander.”

Chris relaxed some. He modified his posture so it was less defensive. “Look, Gisso. If we survive this mission, I’ll support your transfer off the Corax, but I need your best if we’re to make it out of this alive.”

Gisso nodded, her face resolute. “Rumors and accusations and demotions aside, sir, I’ve only ever given my best.” She extended her had and Chris took it, shaking it firmly.

Just then, Chris’ combadge chirped. “Côte to Commander Rouse. I’ve got a Commander Tonkin on subspace. He says taken command of the remaining patrol ships and that they’re awaiting our arrival.”

Chris tapped his communicator. “Understood. Keep him on the line. I’m on my way. Rouse, out.” With that Chris and Gisso exchanged a glance and a nod. He couldn’t say for sure, but Chris hoped they had reached some sort of understanding.

 

*****

 

Commander Tonkin filled the bridge’s main viewscreen. The Andorian’s blue skin was muted and his left antennae seemed damaged. Ensign Côte and Lt. Decane had managed to cut through the static created by the Karna’s resident nebula, so the remaining comms issues were emanating from Tonkin’s ship.

Chris was still processing the information relayed by Tonkin. Not only were there just six remaining ships, none had weapons online and one was only capable of warp three. “Listen, Commander,” Chris starter, “we’ll be there in sixteen minutes. Once we arrive, I’ll dispatch a team to the and we’ll assist in the repairs. This now-caravan of crippled vessels is only as fast as its slowest ship. We need to get that barge moving.”

Commander Tonkin agreed. “We’ve not had any success thus far. We’ve been trying to get weapons online as well, but it’s probably best at this point to abandon our attempts and focus on getting us to Farpoint as quickly as possible.

Commander Rouse smiled sheepishly. “It’s been a long day, Commander, and it’s bound to get longer. Let’s see if we can’t get through this together. I look forward to meeting you shortly. Corax, out.” With that, the viewscreen reverted to its default sight of passing stars.

Chris knew time would be at a premium once they arrived. “Lt. Decane, you’ll be point once we arrive. Take who you need to assess the state of the Barstow. I don’t know what experience you have with California-class vessels, but I have every confidence you’ll be able to help what’s left of their engineering team.”

Rolan smiled. He always seemed to be smiling. “Aye, Commander. I apprenticed on a Parliament-class. They’re virtually identical.” He scanned the bridge. It had been very quiet. The newly formed crew seemed mostly apprehensive as relied on their training. He knew Manon was more than competent. He also knew a science officer would likely be of use. “I’d like to take Ensigns Côte and Talan with me.”

Talan looked up from his station. He’d been quietly observing and running routine sensor sweeps. He gave a half wave to Rolan. “Happy to be here,” he said with feigned enthusiasm.

Manon, for her part, remained statuesque at Ops. “I’ll be ready, sir”, she said confidently.

Chris tilted his head towards the turbolift. “All right, Lieutenant, assemble your team and head to the transporter room. I’ll want and assessment and recommendations within an hour of arrival.”

“Aye, sir.” Rolan snapped to and motioned for Talan and Manon to join him. Talan clapped his hands on his knees and slowly rose from his chair. He grabbed his kit and slung it over his shoulder as made his way to Rolan and Manon.

As the trio disappeared behind the closing turbolift doors, Chris turned to the remaining bridge crew. “The rest of you, once we arrive, I’ll need all of you on task.” He addressed each individually and dished out assignments. “Commander Rao, you’ll be setting up command and control aboard the Corax. It’ll be tight, but we’re the only ship at a hundred percent. Ensign Márin, I’ll need multiple vectors to Farpoint Station. Let’s plan for the most direct route, but I’ll want alternatives in case the Barstow remains hobbled. We may have to get creative along the way.” Both affirmed with their glances. Chris turned to Lt. Zendell Zane who had been following the situation closely from the tactical station. She had been itching to put a Jem’Hadar ship in its place and had been tweaking the ship’s settings to maximize their tactical abilities. “Lt. Zane,” Chris said trying not to focus on the tattoo that seemed to be vibrating angrily on her chin, “I’m hoping we can avoid a tactical engagement, but I want to be prepared. We left Bravo Station with more colonization supplies than armament. I want you to see what we can pilfer from the other ships as they’re clearly not in fighting shape. You have my permission to take what we need and dump what we don’t.”

“Aye, sir. I’ll get us ready to scrap if needed.” Zendell was no stranger to a fight. Rarely did she seek out an altercation, but often, they found her. One could not tell by looking at her, but she was a formidable warrior.

“Commander,” Ensign Márin interjected, “We’re entering the Karna system in five…four…three…two…one…”

 

*****

 

Lt. Decane scratched his head out of frustration and disbelief.  The Corax had contacted the wayward patrol group and he boarded the Barstow just under an hour ago with Ensigns Talan and Côte. The Jem’Hadar attack was brief but effective. Before they had managed to be chased off by Captain Richards and the USS Redding, they unleashed a series of surgical strikes. None of the surviving ships had operational weaponry. It had appeared it was intended that they be left defenseless for when an eventual second wave arrived. The Barstow had received the lion’s share of the damage. In addition to a weapons platform that was damaged beyond repair, the phase inducers and intermix chamber has sustained critical wounds. Rolan was told that the ship was capable of no more than warp three, however that seemed to be an overestimation. Now came the time to deliver the bad news to Commander Rouse.

Rolan activated his combadge. “Decane to Corax.”

“Go ahead, Lieutenant.” It was Commander Rao’s voice coming through the conn.

“I’m here with what’s left of the Barstow’s engineering team. Talan and Côte have been working with the Ops team as well. I’m afraid the situation here is dire.” He paused and waited for an interjection, but when it didn’t come, he continued. “I might be able to borrow some parts from other ships, but without effectively crippling them as well, the best we can do for the Barstow is warp four…conservatively.”

Now Commander Rouse could be heard. “Lieutenant, you have six hours to do what you can. I’m having Commander Tonkin coordinate with you directly. After six hours, I want you all back aboard the Corax so we can get under way. We’re about to have company and I want to put as much distance between us and the Jem’Hadar as possible.”

“Yes, sir,” Rolan managed to say, “we’ll do all we can.”

Commander Rouse didn’t mince words. “The Barstow is the weakest link in our chain. I hope it’s not so weak we break.” He made sure to emphasize again the ticking clock. “Six hours, Lieutenant. Six hours and not one minute more.”

Rolan had already been stripping of parts in his mind. He knew exactly where he wanted to start. “Aye, sir, I’ll get this tub moving. Decane, out.” The Jem’Hadar were on their way. Could this day get any worse? Then a dark realization came to Rolan. Yes, it most certainly could.

 

*****

 

Commander Rouse sat in the captain’s chair. He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees and chin resting on his clenched fist. It had been some time since Lt. Decane had checked in and his allotted hour was nearly up. Chris new the team was hard and work and checking in now would only slow them down. Still, all this waiting made him incredibly uncomfortable.

At the tactical station, Lt. Zendell Zane had been working on transferring munitions on and supplies off the Corax. She was just about to report her status to Commander Rouse when a text alert came across her screen. She had to read it three time to make sure she was seeing the information correctly. Had she been any less a scrapper, she might have slumped in her chair dejected. Still, she did not look forward to delivering the news to the crew.

Zendell cleared her throat loud enough to draw attention. “Commanders,” she started as Rouse and Rao turned and looked up from their respective command chairs, “I’ve just received word from the USS Stratus. They’ve picked up the Jem’Hadar on long range sensors.”

Chris stood abruptly. The Ops station was empty with Ensign Côte aboard the Barstow. He didn’t like to be caught off guard and wondered if sending Côte away had been a mistake. “How could we have missed this, Lieutenant?”

Zendell put her hand up defensively, attempting to calm Commander Rouse to some degree. “We didn’t, sir. Our sensor range is far shorter than that of the Stratus. She’s a Pathfinder-class. She’s taken quite a beating and her ship-to-ship comms are down, but her sensor array appears fully operational.”

Commander Rao wasted no time attempting to assess the situation. “The Jem’Hadar? How much time do we have? What are we up against?” Her voice began to quiver, but she composed herself quickly.

“I’ve confirmed it twice with the Stratus’ tactical officer,” Zendell said, not trying to hide her dismay. “If we remain at our current position, we’ll have six hours and forty-nine minutes until we are host to a Jem’Hadar battleship.”

“A battleship?” Helmsman Ensign Márin was shaken. “Against six crippled ships and us?”

Commander Rouse walked over the helm and placed his hand on Sixto’s shoulder. “We must all remain calm. We have time. We will get through this if we stick together.” Chris then turned to what remained of his bridge crew. “We’ve only been together a short while, days in most cases. I’ve read your files. I know what you are all capable of individually, but now it’s time to show what we can do as a crew.”

Commander Rao nodded aggressively in the affirm. “You heard the Commander, let’s get to work!”

Just then, Rolan’s voice came over the comm system. “Decane to Corax.” His voice sounded less than enthusiastic. For someone who always seem to find the light in the darkest of situations, his lack of pep was telling.

“Great,” Ensign Márin said sarcastically, “more good news.”

Ignoring Sixto, Commander Rao tapped her combadge. “Go ahead, Lieutenant.”

Comments

  • This was a great intro to the characters, their past, and their involvement in this plot. Loved this a lot. It was a good ready with steady pacing. I don't know why, but the line "Chris paused, considered the alternative, then nodded." absolutely cracked me up. There was such great snark to it. Great post!

    May 5, 2023
  • What a read! Its awesome to see the Corax make a return to the action so quickly. You really accentuated the tension running through the crew of all involved. The Raven is often looked down on but much like the Defiant, she is a tough little ship and this will be a chance to show her resourcefulness. I really enjoyed the brief interlude between Rouse and Rao in the ready room. This was a fantastic introduction to the mission and I can't wait to get to know the characters more as they evolve. Awesome first entry!

    May 5, 2023
  • I really enjoyed this start to the FA, well done! I loved the guttural feeling of dread from the get-go, perfectly capturing how no one even dreamed of such a scenario unfolding. That sense of dread only spread throughout the rest of the crew, which is lovely to see. I will confess, I haven't read any of the Corax missions to date, but I will now. The stakes are high for this one, and for such a little ship, but she'll be tough and resolute I'm sure! Oh, and I love the snark and sarcasm from multiple characters, keeping it real even in the face of such danger. A great coping mechanism. Well done. Corax into the fight!

    May 5, 2023
  • This is my introduction to the Corax, and it made me look forward to seeing more! I like the concept of staffing a Raven-class with officers who’ve messed up in their careers and might be looking to atone. It’s definitely distressing that Rouse assumes this is the reason they landed such an assignment, being seen as “expendable”. I look forward to seeing the start of redemption here for some of them. I also hope this isn’t the last Rouse has seen of Richards, but I’m sure it will be good emotional fallout if that is indeed the case.

    May 5, 2023
  • Synchronicity! With the Dominion returning in the Lost Fleet, you're presented with a prime storytelling opportunity to mine Rouse's Dominion War backstory. I can read you took every opportunity to enrich Rouse's personality with direct characterization about how the loss of his parents impacted him. It's coming across as dangerous path his walking, hoping to patch over his inexperience as a leader with hatred for the Dominion. That's some exciting storytelling potential right there. I wonder what mistakes he's going to make as a result?? You've certainly thrown him in the deep end against a Jem'Hadar battleship!

    May 5, 2023
  • I got to say it's nice to see the Corax has a new Captain and crew, and excited to see what this mission has in store. I love the feeling of dread at what they are facing and the anticipation to get moving before the Jem'Hadar shows up again. Let's hope that the crew of the Corax can get the patrol ships moving toward Farpoint station soon. You have me on the edge of my seat wondering how this is all going to play out! Great job!

    May 6, 2023
  • A crew of misfits and their Raven, trying to fix up a bunch of battered ships while a Dominion battleship bears down on them? What could go wrong! I enjoyed the way you weaved personal stories in amongst the action, but still kept the pace moving at a good clip, and I look forward to seeing how they pull together to dig themselves out.

    May 9, 2023