The grey bullet streaked through the field of planetary debris, rolling to port and pulling upwards T’sal allowed momentum to toss the small shuttle’s frame between two large fragments. Narrowly avoiding the two giant chunks of rock as they crashed into one-another the beaten impulse engines flared once more as T’sal plotted his next course deeper into the broken exo-planet. The following purple streak was forced to break its relentless pursuit as a wall of shattered rock, once full of possibilities, served as a life-saving defender of the Vulcan pilot, forcing the Dominion vessel to make a wide arc around the barrier.
“New Contact. Bearing 181, Mark 46,” came the frustratingly calm voice of the shuttle’s computer.
“Excellent,” T’sal muttered. “Another hunter.” He could probably dodge one frustrating bug but a second would likely overwhelm even T’sal piloting skills “Computer, Status.”
“Shield status, 23%. Hull integrity, 78%. Minor damage to starboard warp nacelle. Port phaser emitter…”
“Warp?” T’sal interjected.
Unbothered by the terse interruption the computer responded in its perpetually calm tone. “Warp drive is available but inadvisable within the debris field.”
Inputting another course correction into the console as the second purple dot entered the extreme weapons range. T’sal took the risk to glance out the forward windows of the shuttle Thronia. He would have to navigate out of the cluster of planetary debris to be able safely engage his small warp drive, the risk of throwing his small boat close to the speed of light with so many unpredictable objects around was far to high. The moment he left the cover of the swirling maelstrom of rocks, however, he would be an easy target by the Jem’Hadar who pursued him.
“Especially now there is more than one.” T’sal sighed. As the first hunter completed its arc and formed up with its colleague he noticed a trap in the making. “Pincer. Interesting.” His nimble fingers danced across the console, quicker than T’sal could think he began entering a new course, instinct would serve where logic was too slow. Before he could engage the new command the shuttle rocked as a bright blue glow rippled across the hull, the impacting silver beam fading from sight as the Dominion vessels continued to close. Quickly followed by 2 further beams of devilish rays, T’sal completed the new course and with a tight roll, the shuttle nimbly skipped away form the incoming fire.
“Too close for comfort.” Had T’sal been a Sehlat, he would have lost his tail. He was too slow, despite all his years of experience and his various mechanical upgrades he was still simply not fast enough.
“Shields have collapsed. Hull integrity at 52%. Major damage to Starboard Nacelle. We are venting plasma.”
Glancing to his right as the shuttle made its next turn he could see the small blue nebula that followed Thronia as he banked round a small chunk of debris. He had been lucky the Jem’Hadar had tried to hit him from so far away, a direct hit at close range would had sliced the small craft in two.
“Computer, prepare emergency buoy. Full sensor records.” Escape might no longer be an option but Nestus must know about the base located in the heart of the cluster. From his hidden lookout amongst the shattered exo-planet T’sal had managed to witness a small space station, locked in orbit between two stars and bathed in solar radiation it was only through luck that he had noticed its presence. As a third star passed behind the station he had noticed the small shadow on his long range scans, it was his choice to move to a better vantage point and take more intrusive scans that had given him away. The metal content at the edge of the cluster was thinner and a patrol had noticed his spy-craft, thus the hunt had begun.
A breath that lasted an eternity stretched out in the tiny cockpit. The underscore of straining metal, punctuated by the staccato percussion of tiny debris battering the hull, rolled beneath the frantically fast tones of T’sal’s console.
“Prepared.” The voice announced. “Incoming hail. U.S.S. Nestus.”
The voice of Maine filled the shuttle’s interior, the man’s fearful face appearing in the corner of the Vulcan’s vision, he did not move to acknowledge the link. The Jem’Hadar were closing and the slightest slip in concentration would spell disaster. “T’sal, we’re en route to retrieve you. Hold On. Nestus is crossing the border.”
“Negative sir.” T’sal called out, within the confines of the shuttle the whining of engines and screaming of twisting hull panels was almost deafening as he cancelled entered course corrections with one hand and removed safety overrides with the other. “I will make it to you. Computer, prepare warp engines.”
“Warp Travel is not recommended within…” The disembodied co-pilot began.
“Override T’sal-Oscar-Two-Rho.” The two Dominion craft were closing, another pair of silver beams. white hot with energy and hate, stretched out across the void, missing by a breath. T’sal could feel the heat of the weapons fire on his neck, scorching his short hair.
“Warning starboard nacelle is compromised, extended warp travel is not possible.”
“A sprint it is then.” T’sal muttered. If he could make it across the border to Nestus the Dominion would think twice about pursuing them further into Federation territory and the massing forces of the Fourth Fleet. “Standby to engage.”
Swinging the shuttle craft in a tight turn T’sal feinted to port whilst he rolled to starboard, hoping to cause his tails to swing wide as he settled the shuttle’s slim nose on his window out of the debris field. The stellar cluster to port bathed the area in brilliant light, as he darted from his shelter amongst the broken planetary core he could see more clearly now, the grandeur of the cluster.
T’sal’s heartbeat hung in the air, once more he was soaring amongst the clouds of Vulcan, the bright orange sun beating down with warmth against his skin; the vast rocky deserts of red rock creating warm updrafts as he was propelled forward. His hand hovered over the large yellow button on his console as his mind flew over his homeword. His finger dropped. The engines screamed. T’sal smiled.
“New contact. Bearing 003, Mark…” the computer began.
The holographic recording froze in the centre of the briefing table. The tall Vulcan pilot held perpetually at the moment of engaging the warp drive, a warning that came too late, forever unheard. Reaching forward and pressing a small key nestled into the desk’s surface Maine struggled to hold back the tears that threatened at the dams of his eyes. Across the room from the wall screen a grim-faced Denobulan stared out at the room, his red shouldered service uniform pulled open to the side causing his four gold pips to loll at the side.
“I’m sorry Jacob. I know you were close.” the captain acknowledged. Maine’s silence responding in the affirmative. After a pause the Denobulan continued, “We’re lucky that you were able to retrieve the black box, that sensor data is vital in confirming the presence of the base, from the looks of it Breen designed. It must be the research base we’re looking for, why else is it so hidden in the cluster.” Silence. Still no response from Maine who stared at the small box that housed the last moments of the shuttle, the last moments of his friend. “We’re en-route to you now. We’ll rendezvous in a few hours.”
A cold silence hovered over the briefing room.
“I’m sorry Maine. Tanek out.” The Denobulan disappeared, replaced by the familiar Starfleet Delta.
Reaching forward Maine pressed the desk control again, the Vulcan appeared hovering over the table once again.
“Personal Log – Lieutenant T’sal. I have been tasked by Maine with a vital mission…”