Part of USS Arcturus: Return to Farpoint and Bravo Fleet: The Lost Fleet

5. Androcles

USS Arcturus
Stardate 2401.3
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The Farpoint Cnidarian filled the viewscreen, the skylights, and the forward viewport on the main bridge, glinting of a hostility that Captain Lancaster had never expected to emanate from what every prior sighting had indicated was a peaceful and creative species. Arcturus and her sisters had the largest internal volume of any Federation starship ever built. Yet, this creature seemed to her as a leviathan of old staring down a wooden skiff. The shields were still crackling from the initial attack when the creature lashed out with another blast that again made the deck rock under Lancaster’s feet.

“Mr. Marshall, execute Evasive Pattern Lambda-Three. ,” the captain ordered. He knew that despite present impressions, a cnidarian would never attack them without being influenced to do so. Stopping the Ferengi from influencing the creature was the only way they could de-escalate the situation. “Tactical, target the Ferengi shuttle. We need to disable them.”

Arcturus banked left, and the stars began to appear on the screen instead of the creature-vessel, but that lasted for mere seconds before it was able to move back in front of them and match their maneuvers. It was the type of movement that one would expect from a much smaller vessel, seeming to defy the laws of physics.

“I’m unable to acquire a firing solution, sir. The cnidarian is maintaining position between us and the Ferengi,” Lieutenant Commander Ishida reported from the tactical station. “Perhaps if we use our phasers on the creature itself on a low setting, we may be able to deter it?”

“Absolutely not,” Commander Armstrong interjected with unexpected passion from the science station on the opposite side of the bridge. “Besides being a protected species, Farpoint Cnidarians consume energy. Our phasers would likely just make it stronger,” he said.

Lancaster thought about his options as the ship rocked again. Even if their weapons were effective, it seemed unlikely that they would be a one-to-one match for the creature—certainly not the way things were going, anyway. As large and impressive as they were, Odyssey-class ships were better equipped to fend off multiple smaller threats, not to stare down much larger ones.

“Captain, the Ferengi are hailing,” Lieutenant Commander Rivera at the communications station reported.

“On screen,” Lancaster ordered through gritted teeth.

The viewscreen switched to an interior view of the Ferengi vessel. It looked very crowded, with crates stacked up behind a particularly unpleasant seeming DaiMon. The Ferengi had clearly taken everything of value with them from the marauder when they left, leaving with little space for creature comforts.

“This is Captain Michael Lancaster of the Federation starship Arcturus. You have violated our space and are in violation of a half-dozen interstellar treaties and Federation laws. Stand down,” Lancaster ordered.

The DaiMon laughed. “Captain, I’m almost impressed that you are keeping up this bravado in the face of a far superior enemy—namely me. This creature belongs to me now, and I have no intention of giving it up. Not to you, anyway,” the Ferengi commander said. He grinned to show off his sharpened teeth. “In fact, your ship will make an excellent demonstration of my new capabilities. Do try to put up a good fight. Helps the resale value,” he said before the channel cut off.

A series of three blasts of energy lashed out from the creature, and Arcturus once again rocked. Lancaster watched the shield display between the helm and operations stations slowly tick down. They still had close to ninety percent shield strength, but a quick check of the math made it clear that they could only hold up to that creature for ten minutes at most. 

“Captain, the Ferengi vessel has stopped transmitting. The creature is also broadcasting a high-power communications dampening field,” the communications officer said.

“If we withdraw, we can call for help,” Alesser suggested. “I don’t think we’ll be able to solve this on our own.”

“We can’t withdraw and risk losing their trail,” Lancaster replied. “Continue evasive maneuvers.”

“We at least know one thing now that we didn’t a minute ago: they have a buyer for this creature,” Alesser noted. “They were originally on a course to Kzinti space.”

“Kzinti, Breen, Dominion… They have several market options in this sector,” the captain replied. He gripped the armrests of his chair when the ship shook again. “All the more reason that we have to end this here and now.”

Doctor Sheppard cleared his throat from the visitor’s chair. “We can’t target the Ferengi, so we can’t knock out the transmitter, but what about targeting the receivers they’ve shot into the creature?” he asked. “If we take the thorn out of the lion’s paw, maybe it will help us?”

“You’re full of good ideas today,” Lancaster replied, turning to grin at his husband. “Our main phasers do have precision targeting, but if we miss…,” he said, trailing off as he had a thought. The creature could easily twist itself out of their firing arcs, but maybe they could use that to its advantage. The Ferengi weren’t exactly strategic masterminds, after all. He tapped the blue alert control on his chair. “Prepare to separate the ship and launch all fighters and runabouts. We can’t beat them trying to out-lion them, so we need to maximize the number of targets on the field.”

The red alert lights were underlaid with blue all around the bridge as the computer alerted the crew to prepare for the separation maneuver. Lancaster stood up, as Alesser made an announcement to summon everyone to their multi-vector flight stations.

“Small craft will target the receiver devices, while Arcturus will maintain phaser fire at 1% power as a distraction. I’ll be on the battle bridge. Captain Alesser, you have command of the saucer,” the captain said.

“Captain, I think I would be more effective on the escort. While you hold their attention, I can slip around and knock out the Ferengi,” Alesser suggested. It wasn’t protocol, as command of the escort fell to the senior officer of the watch, Commander Odea, in this case. It was also dangerous—the escort’s shields wouldn’t hold up to much fire from the creature if the Ferengi decided it was the bigger threat. “Please,” he said when he saw Lancaster’s hesitation.

Lancaster swallowed; he knew he couldn’t put his personal feelings ahead of the good of their mission, but he hated the idea of willingly putting Alesser into harm’s way for the second time in less than a day. He imagined all of the eyes of the bridge officers on him as he contemplated the options. Though their communications array could cut through nearly any dampening field at local ranges, they couldn’t rely on the automated control if there was any risk of that connection being severed.

“Very well. Commander Odea will take command of the saucer,” Lancaster relented.

“I’ll bring the Hokule’a back without a scratch. Marshall, you’re with me,” Alesser replied, patting Lancaster on the arm before leaving towards the deck one transporter room with the helmsman in tow. 

Odea moved towards the center seat from her place at the reserve tactical station, while Lancaster left with most of the remainder of the bridge crew into the emergency turbolift that connected the main and battle bridges directly. The journey took less than twenty seconds, and Lancaster felt the ship take at least two more hits during that time. Their shield power would be further reduced by separating, but he was confident that this tactic stood the best chance of excising the Ferengi threat.

“Stations,” Lancaster ordered once the doors opened and he entered the battle bridge.

Much smaller and less grand than the main bridge, it resembled the standard bridge module being deployed aboard most cruiser and explorer-type ships of the era, though with the captain’s chair elevated on a dais to make it even more throne-like, while the first officer’s chair and visitor’s chair were replaced by free-standing consoles on the command platform for the first officer and tactical officer. Lieutenant Commander Ishida took his place at tactical, while Commander Armstrong stood next to him as acting first officer. Meanwhile, Sheppard took the science station, having tagged along in silent support of his husband; Lancaster had much less to worry about by not having to imagine the fates of both of his partners, after all.

“Computer, initiate multi-vector flight protocols, authorization Lancaster Foxtrot-Two-Seven-Alpha-Two,” Lancaster ordered. “Set all sections for independent flight and tactical control.”

“Acknowledged. Initiating decoupling sequence. Auto-separation sequence in ten seconds,” the computer reported sounding the blue alert klaxons as it began a verbal count-down from ten. There was a low rumble throughout the ship as the magnetic latches connecting the saucer section to the stardrive section retracted and physical barriers slid over all of the corridor, turbolift, and umbilical pass-throughs. “Separation sequence in progress,” the computer announced at the end of the countdown.

In the midst of a corkscrew maneuver to evade the cnidarian’s weapons fire, Arcturus split into two, her massive primary hull detaching from the engineering hull to turn both sections into leaner, more maneuverable tactical platforms. Simultaneously, the escort Hokule’a exited the docking cradle on the stern of the secondary hull, shooting backward at full thruster power and twisting around in space to come up from under the secondary hull to remain hidden from the Ferengi.

“Launch small craft,” Lancaster ordered. “Mister Ishida, target the creature with phasers at minimal power settings. Keep their attention on us.”

“Sir, as acting first officer, I should remind you that if there is any sign that this is harming the creature, we’ll have to consider a different strategy,” Commander Armstrong noted, in his most diplomatic voice.

Lancaster nodded. “Agreed. Doctor Sheppard, monitor its health the best you can,” he said.

The ship’s eight Valkyrie-class fighters launched vertically from the rapid launch tubes facing upwards on the dorsal surface of the secondary hull, while the four Apsara-class bombers left the deck of the forward shuttle bay. Lancaster tapped a control on his chair to raise the tactical viewing pedestal between Ishida and Armstrong’s stations, which was quickly filling with blue Starfleet dots representing their fighters and runabouts. The captain had not initially been pleased about embarking a tactical group, but their utility in this particular situation was undeniable. 

The two halves of Arcturus began firing their main weapons at a setting low enough to be really just a harmless light show but which certainly looked like an impressive show of force. Lancaster hoped it was enough to convince the Ferengi that he had lost patience, and it seemed to be working. 

“Support Group, target the transmitters. Attack Pattern Double Alpha. Take them out as quickly as possible. Hokule’a, you’re go for disabling the Ferengi ship,” Lancaster ordered.

“Understood, commodore,” Alesser replied over the comm; while that was the correct form of address for an officer in command of more than one ship, he could still hear the other man’s smirk in the way he drug that word out. 

Paired up together, the runabouts and fighters hugged close to the surface of the cnidarian, which was clearly not meant to fend off swarms of smaller vessels. Its large weapon array on the ventral surface was focusing solely on the Arcturus, because the Ferengi misunderstood their objective. The goal wasn’t to harm the creature, it was to free it, and that’s something that Lancaster knew they would never have thought of on their own.

“We’ve taken out two of the receivers. Six more to go,” Armstrong reported.

“Any changes to the creature’s behavior or health?” Lancaster asked.

“Not yet,” Sheppard said. “Wait, the cnidarian is changing its shape. I’m detecting what looks like turrets emerging on the hull. They’re going to try to shoot our ships down.”

“All craft, be advised that the creature is adapting. Avoid its fire,” Lancaster ordered.

On the viewscreen, Lancaster could see smaller bolts of energy lashing out from the creature’s “hull” against the fighters he’d just deployed. The creature’s attacks on the mothership remained intense, and he had to wonder how much energy the cnidarian had to expend before it would wear itself out.

“Two fighters have been hit, but we’ve taken out another receiver,” Armstrong reported. “The pilots have ejected, and I’m having one of the runabouts pick them up. Hokule’a has entered a targeting envelope with the Ferengi yacht,” he added.

While Arcturus and the small craft engaged the cnidarian directly, Hokule’a had swung around to get the Ferengi within her sights. Bursts of pulse phaser fire came for the Ferengi, some making contact but not enough before the creature itself managed to impose itself between the Aquarius-class escort vessel and the Ferengi, protecting its captors just in time. Odea in the saucer section managed to come around from the other side to get just one shot off before the situation changed drastically.

“Captain—err, Commodore—I am picking up a combined Breen-Dominion battlegroup dropping out of warp!” Ishida announced. “They are behind us on a direct intercept course and will be in weapons range in two minutes.”

Lancaster’s blood ran cold; they were about to be outnumbered and out-gunned in a situation that was already dire. Retreat seemed more and more like the most logical course of action, but he knew that his duty required him to protect this creature even at the cost of his own vessel and crew.

“Support Group, continue targeting the receivers,” Lancaster ordered. “Tactical, reconfigure our phasers for maximum firepower and range. Ready full salvos from the forward torpedo launchers. Helm, come about out to heading 180 mark 0,” he said, intending to put the stardrive section between the newcomers and the battle already in progress.

On the tactical plot, the captain could see a single Dominion battle cruiser flanked by two Breen cruisers and half a dozen assault craft, a mix of Breen and Dominion units. It was the Breen that worried Lancaster the most, as their energy-dampening weapons continued to test the limits of Federation shield technology. He knew that they would also be particularly lethal against an energy-based creature like the Farpoint Cnidarian.

“Weapons ready, sir,” Ishida reported. “Should I hail them?”

“We’re already past that,” Lancaster replied. “Prepare to fire as soon as they are in range.”

With enemies behind them and in front of them, the bridge crew were quiet—focused on their duty, surely, but Lancaster also knew that they were nervous. Arcturus had been involved in multiple conflicts, but nothing on this scale. She wasn’t a warship, but she had her duty—they all had their duty. They could only hope that their comrades managed to complete their mission of liberating the creature before it was too late to retreat.

Comments

  • From start to finish, this post just kept moving! But beyond movement, I found the narrative comprehensible, relatable and realistic. The way you describe the Cnidarian helped me empathize with the trapped creature, the exchange between the Arcturus and the Ferengi hit all the right notes, and the way you laid out the disposition of forces was something I could see in my head. But now, in the dramatic conclusion, all we can do is get amped for what comes next! Throughout, I also particularly appreciated how you painted the Starfleet officers, the clear lines they draw, their desire to not harm the creature, and their dedication to their duty. The descriptions of the Odyssey class's strengths and weakness also helped set up the apprehension we should feel for the crew. And, if you've seen any of my writing, you know I am a straight sucker for lines like this: "She wasn’t a warship, but she had her duty—they all had their duty." Let's f'n go Arcturus!

    May 30, 2023
  • I think you've achieved the very, very difficult: keeping the Ferengi menacing, non-comedic, while still very recognisably Ferengi. It helps that the DaiMon isn't the main antagonist, but still, he's not a comedy side part, either. The fight itself is pleasantly NOT drawn-out - you set up the emotional stakes with Lancaster and Alesser, demonstrate the mighty capacity of the Arcturus, and establish the specific challenges of trying to defeat the cnidarian - not just difficult, but also, Starfleet's gotta Starfleet and prioritise saving it!

    May 31, 2023