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

Part Two – The Impending Storm

Karna System
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Crumm Widdy never met an eatery he didn’t like. Any place where friends and family could come together and break bread was an ideal setting. His own home found the kitchen as its social focal point.  From the large picture window, he and his wife, along with their co-husband and co-wife and seven children, could view the splendor of the equatorial region of Bolarus IX.  Still, as he found himself in the confinement of the Corax mess hall, he couldn’t help but feel the walls of despair closing in.

“This place could use a splash of color,” Crumm said as he watched the stars at a standstill through the viewport. “Perhaps a plant or two.”

“If what I’m hearing is correct, you may want to hold off on those redecorating plans my blue friend.” Voracek’s low, gravelly voice rumbled as he swirled the drink in his hand. The Romulan propped himself against what served as the mess hall’s bar. He maintained a visage atypical of what one might expect from a Romulan. Having boarded the Corax as an advisor on a recently abandoned mission, he felt his adherence to dress and appearance codes was to also be abandoned. His hair was messy and his beard, while manicured, was showing signs of overgrowth. In an accent that Crumm recognized as being common to the working class of Peld’rath Peninsula, Voracek prophesied doom. With a glass in hand, he gestured to the depths of space and mouthed the word as if it were closely kept secret. “Dominion.”

Never one to let a dire situation get in the way of an opportunity to smile, Crumm, with neon white teeth radiating against his bright blue skin, pulled his glasses to the tip of his nose and said, “I’ve lived through one war with the Dominion, Mr. Voracek, and, if need be, intend to do so again.”

“Brave Bolians are a rare find, my friend.” Voracek, flirting with inebriation, carefully crafted his words. “To disparage your race is not my intent,” he started, while waving his empty hand in Crumm’s direction, “but there’s a reason your kind are more barbers than brawlers.”

From behind the bar, Crumm pulled out a cutting board and paring knife. He then produced an oraka root and lightly seasoned it. Voracek, intrigued (and hungry) pulled up a chair across the bar from Crumm. Crumm, in a display of prestidigitation, diced the root in an ornate pattern. His hand was a blur and Voracek could not help but be impressed at the man’s showmanship and presentation. As the board was moved in front of Voracek, he seemed confused as a shower of small hair follicles rained down upon his freshly prepared meal. Crumm smiled, but this time there was something dubious lurking behind his eyes. “I may be a just a chef to you Mr. Voracek, but cutlery cuts in the hands of cook and commando alike.”

Voracek’s eyes grew wide as the realization set in that the hairs belonged to him. He reached up and felt at his face, realizing that his beard at his chin was a good two centimeters shorter.

“And since you mentioned it, I am a barber as well if you’re ever in need of a more thorough trim.” Crumm was on the verge of laughter, but kept Voracek’s reaction in mind. His smile was now closed and tightlipped.

His eyes shifting from amazement to amusement, Voracek burst into a hearty round of laughter. He realized he had allowed his misconceptions to take root and underestimated a man who, in the blink of an eye, could have ended his life. Crumm followed suit and belly laughed with a jolt. “You are a wonder, Bolian.” Voracek gulped what remained of his drink and slammed the glass on the table. “One more, my new friend.” He shook his head in disbelief and his laughter subsided. “Cook? Barber? When we cross paths with the Jem’Hadar, make sure you prepare them your ‘special dish’”.

His laughter also dissipating, Crumm was forced to address the elephant in the room. “Do you really think we’ll encounter the Dominion?”

“I think the Dominion does nothing without a purpose.” If he was inebriated, he sobered quickly. “I remember a time, shortly after my people entered the conflict against the Dominion some years ago, when a civilian convoy I was attached to was attacked by a wing of Jem’Hadar fighters.” Voracek’s voice grumbled lower. “Wave after wave, we took loss after loss. Slowly, we were picked off one by one. You see, they could have wiped us out in one fell swoop, but they wanted to make us suffer. We were made to live in fear. Our spirits meant to be crushed. We were being punished for breaking our nonaggression treaty with the Dominion.”

“You think that’s what’s happening now,” asked Crumm. “That they’ll be back to finish the job?” Crumm filled Voracek’s glass again, replacing the missing Saurian brandy.

Voracek huffed a brief, sarcastic laugh. “We’re the prey, the Jem’Hadar the predator. Like a Mogai playing with its food before it finally gulps it whole, I guarantee they’ll be back to finish what they started.”

Pouring himself a drink now, Crumm tried to avoid letting Voracek’s premonition get the best of him. “Well, I know we’re in good hands. Commander Rouse and I go back many years. If anyone can get us out of this jam, I know it’s him.

Voracek raised his glass. “To the Commander. May he not get us all killed.” Crumm raised his glass and the two men clinked their libations before summarily dispatching them down their gullets.

 

*****

 

“I hope I don’t get everyone killed.” Commander Rouse pressed his fist on his desk as he read the updated projections Lt. Zane had submitted. In just under three hours, the Jem’Hadar battleship will have descended on their location.

Commander Rao, not known for her sense of humor, tried to bring a little levity to the ready room. “Well, when the Jem’Hadar arrive, they’ll make sure no one is left to point out any mistakes you might have made.”

Chris feigned a smile. He appreciated Gisso’s attempt lighten the mood. It was stark departure from the tension of their earlier discussion. Still, he was in no mood to avoid the impending storm that was the Jem’Hadar. “Yes, Commander, I’m sure that will be true.” He picked up his PADD and scrolled through Lt. Decane’s notes on the repair efforts aboard the Barstow. “It seems like Decane and the others will pull through. They’ll get the Barstow up to warp four under the deadline.”

Gisso nodded and pulled her own PADD up to view. “With your permission, I’d like to assemble our bridge crew and formulate a plan. Even if we clear the system before the Jem’Hadar arrive, at warp four they’ll catch up to us rather quickly.”

“Leave Decane to finish up with the Barstow’s engineering team, but recall the rest of the away team.” Chris considered what the Corax crew would be facing and realized he’d need all the help he could get.  “And get Dr. Onya up here as well. She may have some insights. We’ll have to be smart about this if we’re to survive.”

Gisso continued to scroll through her PADD, reviewing the crew manifest. “What about Mr. Voracek? He’s here to advise.” She scanned his file briefly. “Granted, this isn’t the mission for which he was assigned to advise, he’s bound to have some ideas.”

Chris agreed quickly. “I’ve met with him briefly. He’s a terse man, but it’s clear he’s a wealth of knowledge.”

“Aye, sir,” Gisso said as she made her way to the door.

“Oh, and Commander Rao, have Crumm Widdy join us as well.”

Gisso did nothing to hide her confusion. “The cook, sir?”

Chris smiled. Clearly, he knew something Gisso did not. “Yes, Commander. The…cook.”

 

*****

 

The bridge of the Corax was full once again. The entirety of the senior staff, except for Lt. Decane whose face filled the main viewscreen, was seated at their respective stations. Voracek and Crumm Widdy, along with Dr. Onya, had also made their way from the mess hall and sickbay. Standing behind his chair, Chris was able to pivot and rotate to face each of the crew as they addressed the looming threat.

“All right,” Chris started, “I’ve reviewed your various recommendations and, along with Commander Rao, made some edits.” He looked at everyone aboard and smiled in awe of the talent surrounding him. Everyone on the bridge had made a mistake along the way, angered some flag officer or failed to react in a critical moment, but here aboard the Corax they seemed to be coming into their own at just the right time. “You may all be aware of another small vessel that went toe-to-toe with a Jem’Hadar battleship. The USS Valiant. The ship was lost and all aboard killed, save two.” He looked around the room. “So, how do we fare any differently?”

There was a short, but uncomfortable silence before Ensign Talan chimed in. “We don’t die?” The bridge broke out in laughter. Talan was confused as he was offering up what he felt was a serious solution.

“Agreed, Mr. Talan” Chris said with a smirk. “Now, let’s figure out exactly how we accomplish this.” Chris reviewed the notes he made on his PADD. “Ok, Ensign Côte, you’re up. Walk us through the first phase of our escape.”

Manon, stiff as ever at her station, spoke confidently with her chin elevated slightly. She gestured favorably towards Rolan on the viewscreen. “Thanks to Lt. Decane and the team, it looks like we’ll be underway an hour ahead of schedule. However, at warp four, the Jem’Hadar will close the gap long before we reach Farpoint.” She looked over to Commander Rouse who nodded approvingly. “Before we depart the system, we will launch a probe I’ve been modifying into the Karna system’s nebula. It will then broadcast a fake Federation warp signature making the Jem’Hadar think we’re hiding.”

Talan held his finger up before interjecting. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but won’t they be able to tell almost immediately that it’s a ruse and move on to intercept us?”

Manon, almost dismissing Talan outright, responded with a hint of frustration. “The amount of gravimetric radiation emanating from the nebula will have a significant distortive effect on sensors, even at close range.” She began to seem slightly more animated, almost excited. “They’ll have to enter the nebula to confirm their initial readings. Yes, they will very quickly learn of our deception, but they’ll be precisely where we want them.”

Lt. Zane jumped up eagerly. “Is it my turn?” Commander Rao half smiled and gave a look as if to say, go ahead. “So, I was able to borrow a quantum torpedo from the Stratus. We’re not equipped to fire quantums, but,” she paused for dramatic effect, “I’ve wired the warhead into the probe’s systems and jerry-rigged a proximity sensor into the chassis.” She then lowered her voice, as if telling a ghost story around a campfire. “Once they get close enough and run their sensor sweep, the warhead will detonate and ignite the dense metreon gas pockets. The Jem’Hadar ship will be consumed!”

Ensign Márin raised his head quickly, surprised. “So, we win? We’ll blow them up?”

Zendell crinkled her nose knowing she was about to burst Sixto’s bubble. “Well, no. Not exactly. I don’t suspect we’ll do any significant damage. However, it should be enough to disrupt their systems enough to buy us some time to extend our gap while they make repairs.”

Commander Rouse tapped a few buttons on his chair’s armrest. The main viewscreen changed, Lt. Decane’s image minimizing into the corner while a map with a charted course appeared. Chris pointed to a dot on the map which was slightly off their plotted course. “Our destination is the Aletha Cluster. With Ensign Côte’s diversion, we’ll prevent the Jem’Hadar from catching us unprepared, but we won’t make it to Farpoint Station. They will catch us, but it will be on our terms.” He drove his finger in the air, pointing at the map. “We make our stand there.”

Ensign Talan, the voice of what he considered to be reason, again chimed in. “Apologies, sir, but what chance do we have against a battleship?”

Chris smiled coyly. “You tell me, Mr. Talan.” He had reviewed all the staff’s files, but Talan’s had caught his eye in many ways. “Think back to your fourth-year thesis on shield harmonics.”

Talan raised an eyebrow in a way that would make the most curious Vulcan proud, if they could feel pride. He pulled himself up to his console and called up information on the Aletha Cluster. His eyes grew large. “A protostar!” He looked up at Commander Rouse excitedly. “A graviton pulse?”

Commander Rouse clapped his hands. “My thoughts exactly! If we can bring their shields down, we might have a fighting chance.”

Ever the engineer, Lt. Decane’s voice filled the bridge from his small corner of the main viewscreen to ask the obvious question. “Pardon me, but even with the shields down, what can we hope to accomplish against a battleship with ten torpedoes?”

“Eighteen!”, Lt. Zane corrected excitedly. She noticed all eyes had turned to her and uncharacteristically retreated into herself some. “I was able to pilfer a few from the other ships.”

Not trying to dismiss Zendell’s accomplishments, Rolan again spouted facts. “Ten torpedoes? Eighteen? We’d need a lot more than this ship can carry if we’re hoping to do any more than leave a few dents.”

Commander Rouse knew the bridge was filled with cautious optimism. He wanted to leverage the crew’s desire to come out of this unscathed. “Look, we are up against it here. We’re going to have to succeed where many others have failed.” He looked around the bridge, slowly making direct eye contact with everyone. “This crew was assembled for what many would consider a throwaway mission. We were supposed to support an essentially completed colonization effort for our Romulan friends.” He nodded at Voracek who stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Now we will have to prove to ourselves that we are all much more than the Starfleet afterthoughts we’ve been labeled. I don’t have all the answers, but we have an initial plan and some time bought to figure out our next step on route to the Aletha Cluster.” He held his hands out as if receiving a gift. “All suggestions are welcome.”

Voracek came to life. His deep, surly voice carried. “These Jem’Hadar seem no different than any I’ve encountered in the past. They are dangerous, relentless. But they are also predictable.” He sniffed angrily. “They will want to make an example of our little collection of ships. To show all that there is no running from the Dominion. Their hubris is a weakness we can exploit.”

Now the cook, Crumm Widdy, offered his bit of advice. “This doesn’t seem to be a fight we can win, but it can certainly be one we survive.” He looked upward, accessing the recesses of his memory. “’Live to fight another day’ I believe is the line?”

Commander Rouse smiled. He could always count on Crumm to offer simple, yet sage words. “I know all too well what it means to have lost everything at the hands of the Dominion,” he started solemnly. “At a darker point of my life, I’d gladly fly this ship right down that battleship’s throat.” He cleared the lump forming in his throat. “But one enemy ship hobbled at the cost of my life does no good in the larger effort to thwart the Dominion. We all have a greater purpose and I’m glad we get to face this threat together.” He grabbed the headrest of his chair tightly. “We have learned to trust each other with our ideas and skills, but now we learn to trust each other with our lives.”

Chris took his seat in the captain’s chair and the rest of the crew followed suit and staffed their stations. He gave Command Rao a look as if to say you’re up now.

Gisso, falling into a role that was more than comfortable for her, took charge. “Ensign Márin, transmit our updated flight plan to the rest of the ships and move us into position at the head of the column.”

Sixto’s fingers were a blur on his console, “Aye, Commander,” he said as the Corax lurched forward.

“Lt. Decane, say your goodbyes to the Barstow team and beam back. We’re leaving.”

“Aye, sir,” Rolan said before his image disappeared from the screen.

Lastly, Gisso turned to face Manon. “Ensign Côte, send word to the other ships that we leave in fifteen minutes. Max speed is warp four, no exceptions. I want as much distance between us and Jem’Hadar as possible, but we stick together no matter what.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Manon replied.

“And please, fire your probe.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Ensign Côte made a series of taps on her console and the main viewscreen, which had returned to its default outward view, showed the Corax’s probe flee into the distance before disappearing in the adjacent nebula.

Commander Rouse knew the odds were stacked against the crew of the Corax, but he couldn’t help but feel a healthy dose of optimism. He checked the status display on his armrest console. Lt. Decane was back aboard and all ships had reported in as ready.

“Ok everyone,” Chris said with a poorly hidden smirk, “Let’s roll!”

Comments

  • There was a lot happening in this story, I enjoyed the little heart-to-heart between Crumm and the Romulan advisor and how it took him a moment to realize that he trimmed his beard. I enjoyed the look on his face as if I was seeing it actually happen. I love the detail in that section of the story. I really liked how everyone has come together to create a plan against a battleship, I just hope they can pull it off and come out intact able to finish their mission. Great job at setting the scene for what is to come and can't wait to see how things play out!

    May 12, 2023