Pain knocks on the door and walks right in, the visitor that leaves in their own time. All we can do is learn from it, grow in our empathy for others in pain, and do what we can to recover and regain good health.
Assaulted by the words hurled at her upon reappearing on the bridge, Nazir was momentarily stunned. Reaching out, she grabbed the headrest of her chair as if to keep balance and stop herself from making a new acquaintance of the deck plating beneath her feet. On the surface, she looked unsteady, but deep inside she was like a tempest, a violent commotion of wind and rain whipping up a frenzy and threatening to swallow her whole. In a daze, the Captain looked around the bridge, able to make out only shapes at first, then faces. Silent faces that were mouthing words she was unable to decipher until a hand on her shoulder caused her to wince and bring herself back to the harsh reality of the moment.
“Captain?” Giarvar’s head was bowed slightly as he tried to look into the commanding officer’s eyes and get through to her at last. “Are you ok?” He asked of her when she showed signs of stirring.
“Yes… yes,” Nazir eventually let out a smile and shrugged off his touch, slipping past him and into the comfort (and safety) of her command chair. “Report!” She beckoned, looking towards the strategist who had been in command during their brief absence from the bridge.
“We received an automated distress call from the Nogura a short while ago,” the Alzek, nervous and concerned for his Captain, reported from near the tactical station. “We don’t have her exact location, but her last known position put her at maximum warp, headed for the Black Cluster,” he concluded.
Using her feet to spin the chair to starboard, the Captain looked confused. “The Black Cluster? She was supposed to be headed for Starbase 514 to reinforce the local defence unit,” she then planted her feet and spun back to her original position. “Keep trying to make contact,” she instructed of her team, “and get me an accurate read from sensors.”
“Captain,” Giarvar leaned towards his fellow Trill, “I know our orders but we can’t just sit by and let them get destroyed.”
“I may have a solution to our problem,” Ensign Udraa called out from the CONN, “according to sensors, the plasma trail we’re following would take us to within a lightyear of the Nogura’s location,” she glanced back at the Captain, a raised eyebrow and a grin indicating exactly what she thought of the plan.
“I would point out we have no definite confirmation the Breen vessels that attacked the Cardassians, or maybe attacking here, are the ones we’re looking for,” Akaria chimed in from the science station, “but there is only one way to find out.” A knowing twitch of her eyebrows in the Captain’s direction, accompanied by a slight shrug of her shoulders, gave the Captain the impetus she needed.
Taking a deep breath, the Trill gave her answer. “Set an intercept course, maximum warp.”
As the stars on the screen began to streak past at even faster speeds, the Captain seemed to be staring far beyond, into the void of space itself. What she was feeling, even thinking, was a secret to everyone. But her eyes, the window to the soul, showed everything. There was a coldness to her in that moment, a coldness that would rival the wastes of Breen itself; almost as if she had stopped feeling anything.
The pathway into evil begins as small acts of cold-heartedness, and grows further still as the dissent into darkness deepens.
“We’re no longer receiving the distress signal Captain,” Lieutenant Bellurr revealed at a whisper, almost hoping that the captain would not hear her words, that they wouldn’t be the words to distract her from the trance-like state the Trill had been in for the last twenty-minutes or so. They were, of course, because why wouldn’t the Captain listen for any update on the ship that had ferried her to Hathaway itself?
“Are you detecting any comm traffic of any kind?” Giarvar inquired, glancing at the tactician, only to receive a shake of the head in response. He let out a sigh loud enough to reverberate around the ship and wake those locked in their private quarters. It was a sigh that betrayed not only his feelings but also his lack of faith.
“Approaching the Nogura’s last known position,” the helm officer sheepishly called out. She, too, could sense the inevitable.
Rising to her feet, the Captain took a few steps down to the flight deck and placed a hand atop the headrest of the Ops chief’s chair. “Or’uil…”
Even for a being that found understanding the emotion of humanoids to be quite difficult, even the Ungeat operations chief could sense from the captain’s tone that the next few minutes were likely to unfold differently from what they had hoped a short while ago.
“On screen now,” he confirmed, hands dancing on the display before him.
The air of inevitability that had filled the bridge in the moments before the holographic screen changed turned stale as the reality of the situation dawned on them. Nogura had been reduced to a burning debris field that put the Cardassian graveyard into a new perspective. Affectionately referred to as a ‘pocket battleship’, Nogura had been among one of Starfleet’s most powerful vessels in its size bracket. But she had not only been defeated here among the battlefields of Deneb; she had been decimated. Dispatching of their enemy hadn’t been enough for the Breen. They needed to reduce her to smouldering ashes.
“Life signs?” Nazir asked, far quieter than she perhaps meant to, and with a slight crack in her voice.
It took Akaria a moment to respond, glancing across at Mayr to ensure her findings were correct. “No life signs Captain,” the Risian answered.
“Escape pods?” Giarvar questioned, looking hopefully at the scientist, and then the tactician. Neither could give him the answer he wanted.
“Frak me…” the XO whispered, rising to his feet and standing in front of his chair, “…no one?” he sought additional assurances, and got the same stonewalled responses he had before.
“I am detecting something,” the Ops chief beside the Captain told, tapping his console, “it seems to be an active Breen sensor buoy.”
“Can you determine its transmission?”
“I can,” Or’uil confirmed. “It’s transmitting a single line of text in the Breen language.” With a flick of his wrists and a wiggle of his fingers, the short message appeared on the viewscreen, first in Breen…
…and then the translation into Federation Standard courtesy of the universal translator.
‘For the Hunter…’
“It’s a message,” Nazir spoke, her tone cold and to the point. “He knows we are on his trail, and he wants me to know,” she spun on her heels, as deadpan an expression on her spotted face as ever there had been. “He’s letting me know… this is personal.”
Tuca watched the Captain marching up the steps to her command area, troubled at the look on her face. “Captain,” he whispered to her, “everyone will understand if you need to take a minute…” he tried to assure her, only to receive short shrift.
“I’ll take a moment when this bastard’s cold, dead corpse is in my sickbay or burning in the heavens of Deneb,” the Trill growled at him. She then turned her attention to the wider populace of the bridge. “I want Rodyn found,” she spat furiously, “not tomorrow, not a week from now, but today. I don’t want excuses, I want results. Find him,” she barked and then disappeared into the observation lounge at the back of the bridge.
It took a few moments for the crew to take stock of what they had seen and heard. So far, they had only seen the calm, amenable version of their new captain, but this? This was something else. This was the burden of responsibility weighing heavy on her shoulders.
Giarvar looked around the command centre, at the faces of his people. If ever he was going to earn his pips, it was now. “Alright people,” he called out, “we’ve got the most sophisticated sensor suite in the fleet. We know where they have been, and that they’ve been in two battles recently. Nogura would have given as good as she got, so they’re going to need to go somewhere to lick their wounds. Let’s find them,” he tried his best to rally his troops, but the response was less than resounding.
“I’m sorry?” a voice barked from the starboard turbo lift. “I thought we were on a Starfleet vessel, not the Barge of the Dead. Our Captain needs you. Starfleet needs you! Let’s show those walking refrigerator units what it means to declare war on Starfleet,” Commander Noli urged the team, strolling from the turbo lift and joining the XO in the command area. Accompanying her, Flyboy looked slightly worse for wear after his ordeal, but more than a little relieved to be back on the bridge.
Their presence drew a smile from the first officer and galvanised him somewhat. He felt relieved to not only have the cocky pilot back at the helm, but the Blonde Bombshell was back to share the burden of command in the absence of their captain. Their real captain.
Strolling to his station at the front of the bridge, Henry placed a gentle hand on Teanne’s shoulder as she tried to surrender the station to her department head. “You have the CONN,” Flyboy smiled. “Let’s see what we can find for the Captain,” he nodded to his subordinate. As much as she would hate it later, she was happy to have the Chief back.
“Tuca,” the Bajoran tactical chief, back in her rightful domain, waved the Alzek male towards the tactical station, “we’ve got some strategising to do.”
Rubbing his hands in glee, the Alzek practically danced to the tactical wall to join his yellow-shirted comrades in arms.
Revenge is not a dish to serve cold, but the use of one’s own technology against them.
Strategising was one of Commander Noli’s favourite pursuits, and now that she had been given the freedom to serve once again, there was nowhere she would have rather been than with her colleagues at that moment. Even though they had spent the last thirty minutes going over the same old ground, she was loving every minute of being back in the proverbial saddle. Between the three of them, they had ascertained that the best way to locate the Breen commander would be to try and draw him out into the open with a tempting target. Analysis of the sector showed very little happening in the region close to where they suspected Rodyn to be holed up. They were going to have to make something happen themselves.
“The problem we are facing is that Rodyn has shown he is not afraid to target anything,” the Alzek Lieutenant paced the small flight of steps behind the tactical wall on the bridge. “He’ll literally target anything,” he mused, one arm across his chest and the other rubbing his chin.
“Surely that’s a good thing?” Mayr asked, perching on the edge of the chair and watching the pacing red shirt. “That gives us a plethora of options, right?” She enquired with Noli.
“Yeah, but we have to narrow it down to something tempting enough to draw him out.” Standing, leaning on the rail separating steps from wall, the Bajoran tactical chief was nodding along slowly as she theorised out loud. “He knows we are hunting him, and he knows we know he knows,” she began, “he likely knows our previous manoeuvres, so is even less likely to come after us directly,” she surmised.
“So that rules out a cat and mouse like before,” Tuca nodded.
“Right,” Noli agreed, and it was then that the epiphany they needed came out of the blue, much to her pleasure. “Mayr, stay here. Tuca and I need to pay someone a visit,” the Bajoran ordered off her yellow-shirted counterpart before swiftly grabbing Tuca by the hand and leading him to the port turbo lift.
“Where are they off?” The XO asked from the command chair.
Mayr shrugged. “How am I supposed to know? I only work here…” she smirked, then turned back to her station.
A short while later, Noli and Tuca had stopped by main engineering to grab their Bajassian counterpart and had dragged her along for the ride to the main flight deck. Voluntarily spending time on the hangar deck, surrounded by fighter pilots, was not something the Bajoran tactical officer had anticipated ever wanting to do, but on this occasion she would make an exception. The emergence of the three senior officers soon caught the attention of the fighter jocks, and their squadron leader in particular.
“Well, what do we have here?” Commander Ch’tosrik smiled, his antennae bobbing as he folded his arms across his chest, failing to hide the displeasure he had for seeing the Bajoran on his turf.
“We need somewhere to talk,” Noli requested, sliding to a halt in front of the Andorian.
Glaring at her, the Andorian finally relented and turned, leading them towards his private office at the end of the hangar.
“Have you been following recent developments?” Noli asked once the door to the room was shut, and the four officers were alone.
“Of course,” Ch’tosrik nodded.
“Then we’ve got something we want to run past you…” Noli smirked, perching on the edge of his desk.
Emerging through the archway between the bridge and the observation lounge, Commander Noli lead her entourage into the briefing room and slid to a halt near to where the ship’s mistress was sat. “I think we have a plan,” the Bajoran smiled, stepping aside.
“We want to use the fighters to lull the Breen out of hiding,” Ch’tosrik took over, tapping on the screen to show a schematic of their idea. “Each one of our fighters is still equipped with the sensor decoys that were equipped during the Aquorat mission. We want to reconfigure the decoys to emit the signatures of a Federation evacuation convoy fleeing Cait and heading for Deneb,” the Andorian advised her, looking over his shoulder to make sure the Captain was following. “With the ships flying in close formation, we could easily register as six larger civilian freighters.”
“Are we even sure that Rodyn would go for such a target?” Nazir questioned, looking at her strategists for an answer.
At that point, it was actually Lieutenant Prida who would step up and take over the briefing of their proposed plan. “Captain, my team and I have been analysing the sensor buoy left behind by Rodyn. It is far more powerful than the sensor decoys that are on the fighters. We think we can use that to our advantage,” with that, she stepped up to the display. “The Breen may be many things, but they are not Starfleet engineers,” she told proudly, “we plan to hack into the device and reconfigure it to display the signature of an even more tempting target…”
“Something like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a Galaxy-class starship?” Noli smirked, folding her arms across her chest. “Whatever we set it to, the presence of a Federation starship leading this convoy of survivors is going to be too hard for them to resist. Especially with us safely out of harm’s way.”
“Which raises my next question,” the trill began, only for Tuca to step up, more animated than ever.
“We’re going to send another decoy, this time aboard one of our runabouts posing as Hathaway, on a direct course for the Black Cluster,” the Alzek told, “and then the real magic is over to Lieutenant Prida.”
Once again, the grey-skinned Bajoran/Cardassian hybrid took over the briefing. She tapped at the screen and brought up a new schematic. A display of the ship appeared, and then slowly seemed to fade out of existence. “It’s called the Multi Adaptive Refractive Shielding system, or MARS for short,” she began her introduction. “Developed by scientists and engineers at the Sathea IV Science Station prior to the Century Storm, the MARS system is a combination of technologies and research obtained from the logs of the starship Voyager upon its return from the Delta Quadrant in the late seventies. We first encountered it on the Temeraire last year, but the project was shelved because of sensor glitches,” the youngster told, a smile growing on her face. “I’ve been playing with it on the side ever since, and I believe that Hathaway’s Borg-enhanced sensors might just solve the problems we had before. If we can get the system working, we’ll be able to hide the ship long enough to lull the Breen in and pounce when the time is right.”
“Fascinating…” Nazir’s voice trailed off as she rose from her seat and watched the display change several times. “What’s the catch?” She asked upon seeing an alert on the schematic.
“The drawback is the system requires us to shut down all but the most important systems to reduce our power readout,” the engineer revealed, a little less confident than she had been before. “For it to work, we’ll have to shut down virtually everything except engines, short-range sensors and life support,” she advised the Captain, looking to Noli for backup now.
“We’d be defenceless if detected,” Noli preempted the Captain’s likely next question, “but if we can stay hidden long enough, we can initiate an almost instantaneous start-up sequence that would see all the key systems come back online within seconds of us deactivating the system.”
It was a bold plan, something with many elements to it that could go wrong, but as someone particularly adept at dealing with the Breen once said, ‘Fortune Favours the Bold’, and today she was in no mood to mess around. “Alright, you have my approval. Make it happen. Keep me updated on all the modifications and a likely launch time. Tuca, I’d like you to brief the XO and the rest of the senior staff,” the Captain smiled, gently slapping the engineer on the back as a sign of approval.
As the team began to disband, the Captain caught Noli’s eye, and gestured for her to remain behind for a minute. Once the coast was clear, the Captain was about to speak until the Bajoran held up her hands.
“I know what you are about to say Captain,” Noli countered, “and you have nothing to apologise for. You did the right thing for the safety of this crew, even if I couldn’t see it at the time.”
A look of relief flooded over the Captain’s face. “Good,” she smiled, “because now I need to ask something of you that I probably have no right to ask…”