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Part of Challenger: The Romulan War: Calling The Shots

Call The Shots – Six

Challenger NX-03
Monday, February 28th, 2157
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“You could have told me,” Lloyd stated as he picked up his glass of orange juice. 

“I apologise,” Roman said after finishing his mouthful of scrambled egg. 

The two brothers had met for breakfast after spending most of the day before in a long meeting with the Earth delegation led by President Littlejohn. It ended with Roman briefing his brother on his latest orders from Rear Admiral Fuller. Though Lloyd had no issues with the orders themself, it did cause him more of a headache. More than he really needed right now. 

“I know they weren’t good news, Lloyd, but you don’t need to shoot the messenger,” Roman added.

Lloyd placed his juice down. “I’m sorry; I’m not annoyed with you.”

“Just the war,” Roman stated. 

“Yeah,” Lloyd admitted. “And especially if this agreement with the Denobulans goes ahead. It will put us on the back foot for another two years while we hold the line.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Roman questioned. “It gives us time to rebuild and expand the coalition.”

“It also gives the Romulans time to rebuild,” Lloyd countered. 

“Which are the same arguments you shared with the president,” Roman reminded him. “And it’s another good reason for these orders to go ahead.”

Lloyd grumbled as he cut the bacon up on his plate. 

His brother chuckled. “Am I sensing a bit of jealousy here, Lloyd?”

“No,” was the snapped response from his older brother. “It’s just I’ve not been on the Challenger during a mission.”

Roman rolled his eyes. He knew his brother had become protective of his command in the last few years, but he never knew something like this would bruise his ego and pride. 

Lloyd had been ordered to join the diplomatic delegation in a bold attempt to ensure the Denobulan treaty went ahead. While he did that, Challenger (along with other ships) would launch a counter-offensive to a possible Romulan forward operation base in the Qualor system. 

“Have you packed your bags, and are they ready to head to the Tarawa?” Roman asked. 

Nodding once, Lloyd explained that Harris (his yeoman) had organised everything and had even offered to join him on his diplomatic adventure, which he had turned down. “I had to tell him that Alex would need him more than me,” Lloyd added. 

“So you really are flying solo,” Roman remarked as he cut up a hash brown. “Seriously though, Lloyd, do you honestly think the Challenger won’t return safely without you?”

“Oh, I have every faith and confidence in my crew to do well, but it’s just the not knowing who will return safely while I’m not here,” Lloyd said. “I feel like I am abandoning them.”

That had hit the spot right there and then. Roman understood that for his brother, he was not used to losing control and handing it over to someone else when it came to his crew and his ship. “Lloyd, you have spent over two years developing this crew. They know what to do. Alex is one hell of a leader. You don’t need to worry, plus he has Bishop and the others in the battle group to rely upon. They’ll be back before you know it.”

“I hope you’re right, Roman,” Lloyd said as he shoved some bacon into his mouth. 

Sitting alone in the command centre, Cortez was sipping on her second mug of coffee that morning while reviewing everything they had on the Qualor system and this apparent Romulan base they were going off to remove. They didn’t know much about it besides the multiple Romulan warp trails emanating from there; they would need to do reconnaissance to see where the base was and then build a plan of action. However, she wouldn’t allow the ship to go into battle without preparing a few things up her sleeve. The last two years, between her and Fleet Captain Burton, they always had something ready. After being told he wouldn’t lead them into battle, she knew it rested on her shoulders to devise their smart tactics. 

The doors to the command centre opened, and she looked over her right shoulder to see who was joining her. Holding a similar steaming mug of coffee, like the one she had, was Lieutenant Masuko. Smiling at the chief engineer, Cortez welcomed her friend into the small room. Over the last few years, like many on the Challenger’s senior staff, they had all grown close and trusted one another. They had been in the thick of it together on many occasions. 

“I heard through the grapevine you were here trying to come up with a plan of attack,” Masuko said as she pulled out one of the spinning chairs and popped herself into it. “Can I help?”

Cortez nodded with a sigh, “I’m trying to work out how we defeat this apparent base without knowing anything about it.”

“We’ve been here before,” Masuko reminded Cortez, “The liberation of Calder Two comes to mind.”

Cortez nodded in agreement. “Sure, but we knew more about the Calder system thanks to the Vulcans.”

“So, what do we know about the Qualor system?” Masuko asked before sipping on her mug.

Appreciating the fresh pair of eyes on her dilemma, Cortez described to her friend what she had (which wasn’t much). “It sits close to the Argelius Sector, which was mapped by Enterprise back in twenty-one-fifty-one. We’ve not had any probes near it or other ships since.”

Masuko turned to her friend. “Are you talking about official records?”

“Yeah?” Cortez answered with a confused frown etched across her face. “What do you mean by that?”

“Expand your search to include non-Starfleet and non-Coalition data. Who knows, a freighter or some dodgy black market trader may have passed by before the war started?” Masuko suggested. 

 Considering the idea for a second, Cortez accessed the civilian database stored in the computer banks and was pleased to see that the engineer’s hunch was worth exploring. “Well, would you look at that? A Tellarite merchant has visited the system. The second planet is Minshara-class with at least one moon.”

“That’s a start; is there anything else we could use to cover our entrance?” Masuko asked.

“There are several asteroid belts,” Cortez replied. 

“Oh, maybe we could pull off that trick we used to liberate Docana?” Masuko proposed. “Take a shuttle in, pilot through the asteroids and then do some recon behind the larger rocks, perhaps land on one close enough to get enough data to see what the Romulans are up to.”

“That’s not a bad idea, Sakura,” Cortez said with a smirk. “You want to swap jobs?”

“You know how to keep a plasma injector from blowing up?” Masuko checked.

Cortez chuckled. “Yeah, fair point.” She looked over the data one more time. “It’s a starting point, but we still need some more tricks.”

“Sensor echo displacement beacons,” Masuko stated as she got out of her chair and typed something into one of the free consoles. “I read about something Starbase One has been testing as part of its defences,” She loaded up a few records on the main screen. “They’ve been deploying these modified probes to emit a false warp profile. On long-range sensors,  it looks like an enemy vessel, and it’s not until they reach them to use short-range scans do they realise it’s a decoy. It’s something they picked up from the Tellarites.”

“Can we replicate the technology with what we have on Challenger?” Cortez asked.

“I think so,” Masuko said. “One good thing about these beacons is that they can generate interference at a short range. If we can convince Commander Walker to let us modify enough of our probes, then it could blind the Romulans long enough for us to get in and do some damage.”

“That sounds like music to my ears,” Cortez said with a smirk. “Let me speak to the commander. Do you mind drawing up the specs for these beacons?”

“It will be my pleasure, Rachele!” Masuko stated, mirroring her grin as she watched the chief armoury officer leave the command centre with a slight bounce in her step.

The moment the shuttlepod was adequately engaged with the docking clamp and the rear hatch was opened, Kefira Ben-Ami was more than happy to be back home on Challenger. Stepping out of the launch bay with her deputy behind her, the two women went through the decon scanner to ensure they had not brought back any harmful microbes. After getting the all-clear, they headed straight to the locker room. Their MACO guards made their way down towards their barracks, leaving the two doctors to sort themselves out privately.

“Permission to say something that may be out of line, Ro-fa?” Payne asked her superior.

The senior doctor, who was now sitting on one of the benches in the middle of the locker room, nodded at Payne. “Sure, what’s on your mind Hillary?”

“Is it me, or are our relief efforts feeling pointless?” Payne asked. 

“With the Denobulans?” Ben-Ami checked.

Payne nodded as she changed her boots. “Since the Antarans arrived, do we really need to continue to offer our help?” 

 “People have died down there, Hillary. Are you really questioning who we give help to?” Ben-Ami asked. 

“I’m not giving up my Hippocratic Oath,” Payne assured the senior doctor, “and with us expected to be leaving to chase down this Romulan base, I just don’t understand why we’re continuing to help out?”

“I get what you’re saying,” Ben-Ami agreed. “However, our efforts may appear minimal compared to what the Antarans are providing, but our presence continues to prove that we take our relationship with the Denobulans seriously.”

“You’re starting to sound like President Littlejohn,” Payne remarked.

Ben-Ami chuckled at that. “Maybe, but a good doctor does not turn away a patient or those they know need their help. So, until we leave, we carry on.”

Payne nodded. “I understand,” She finished changing into her own civilian attire as she was finally off duty, just like Ben-Ami. “Do we go and check on Niall to make sure he isn’t burnt sickbay down?”

“Ben-Ami to sickbay,” The chief medical officer agreed with Payne’s idea, went to the nearby communication panel, and tapped it. 

“Go ahead, ma’am,” Stewart answered. “And welcome back!”

“Thanks, Niall,” Ben-Ami said. “Hillary wanted us to check in to ensure everything is ship-shape with sickbay. You haven’t broken anything, have you?”

“All is fine, and no, nothing is broken!” Stewart replied. “It’s been dead quiet while you both have been away. I’ve finished our inventory updates and restocked our supply cabinets.”

“Wow, you must have been bored,” Payne spoke up.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” He said. 

“Great, then why don’t you join us in the mess hall for a quick something to eat before we both hit the sack?” Ben-Ami proposed. She and Payne had been on Denobula for almost twelve hours now, and both were tired. With Stewart covering sickbay, both women would head home to their respective quarters to enjoy some well-deserved rest.

“Sounds like a plan to me, and I hear Chef Lawson has some freshly made chocolate eclairs!” Stewart said with excitement. 

“How do you know that?” Ben-Ami quizzed the nurse.

“Liam told me he reckons that Niall has bugged the galley,” Payne stated. 

“Anything my husband tells you about my intelligence network on the ship should be taken as hearsay! I’ll see you both in ten minutes!” Stewart protested before he closed the channel. 

Both women chuckled some more as they finished putting their items away in their lockers. Ben-Ami paused as she considered Payne’s earlier thoughts. Were the Antarans truly providing more than they were, and would that be an issue for the captain’s upcoming negotiations? Or was it purely their attempt at helping where they could? Either way, she knew she would brief him. 

Commander Cooper Walker strode into the gymnasium of the Challenger NX-03 and spotted Commander Alex Rodham lifting weights. “Hey, Alex!” he called out with a friendly wave. “How’s it going?”

Rodham was in the midst of a strenuous workout, his muscles bulging with effort as he lifted the weights. He responded to Walker’s greeting, his voice slightly strained but still friendly, indicating that he was in top physical condition and working hard to maintain it. “It’s going well,” he replied with a slight grunt. “Just trying to remain in top physical condition.”

Walker ambled over to Rodham and started to inquire about his latest romantic relationship with Captain Austin Bishop. “So, how’s it going with Bishop?” he asked with a grin, eager to hear the latest news.

Rodham rolled his eyes, sensing the playful nature of his friend’s question. “It’s going fine,” he replied, his tone neutral. “We’re taking things slow.”

Walker chuckled. “Taking things slow, huh? That’s not what I heard.”

Rodham gave Walker a sidelong glance, his expression quizzical. “What did you hear?”

Walker leaned in, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. “I heard you two were making out in the supply closet.”

Rodham shook his head, his eyes twinkling with amusement. “You’re full of it, Cooper.”

Walker laughed. “I’m just messing with you, man. But seriously, how are things going?”

Rodham sighed, his shoulders slumping slightly. “They’re going well. We’re still getting to know each other.”

Walker nodded. “That’s cool. I’m happy for you.”

“Thanks, it’s just weird; you know, ever since Michael’s death, I never thought I would see anyone.” Rodham shared.

“That’s understandable; you and Michael were joined at the hip. Just enjoy what Bishop can offer you.” Walker said with a wink and an even wider grin. 

They both took a brief respite from their conversation to discuss their upcoming mission to attack the Romulan base in the Qualor system. Both men spoke about how strange it would be not having Fleet Captain Burton in command of the Challenger and how it would fall to Rodham to lead the ship during the operation.

“I don’t know if I’m ready for this,” Rodham admitted, his voice tinged with uncertainty as he picked up a weight again and lifted it.

Walker offered a reassuring pat on his friend’s back. “You’ll do great, man. Just remember to trust your instincts and your crew. Plus, you’ll have a fantastic acting first officer by your side!”

Rodham paused, lifting the waits as he smiled. “Thanks, Cooper. I appreciate it.”

They resumed lifting weights, discussing their mission and how they could ensure its success. As they continued their conversation, Commander Walker brought up the upcoming battle against the Romulans. “So, what’s our plan for the battle?” he asked.

“I’ve already had a request from Sakura about creating some decoy beacons.”

Commander Rodham took a deep breath before responding. “Well, that’s one more trick to have up our sleeve.” He paused his workout. “I’ve been studying the battle strategy of the Romulans for the last few days now, and I’ve got a general idea of what to expect. However, we must ensure our approach is flexible enough to adapt to unexpected developments. I just think they will have something we’re not prepared for.”

Walker nodded in agreement. “That’s a good point. I know Rachele wants to do some recon of the system. But, with all of the skirmishes we’ve had lately, we also need to ensure our weapons and hull plating are in top shape. We don’t want any surprises in the middle of trying to take out a Romulan Bird-of-Prey.”

Rodham added, “We also need to work closely with our allies, with Commander T’Paul joining us; her support will be crucial in our success.”

The two men continued brainstorming and discussing their battle plan while carrying on with their workout. They knew that the stakes were high and that the battle against the Romulans would be a defining moment in their careers. They planned to use the element of surprise to gain the upper hand, but they also knew that the Romulans were a formidable enemy who wouldn’t be easily defeated. 

“If you do well here, then who knows, Starfleet may promote you to captain,” Walker suggested as he gestured for them to head to the punching bag nearby. 

Rodham agreed with the change in their workout; he picked up his water bottle and took a few large sips. “I’ve told you before I am not interested in the centre chair.”

“You may not have a choice in the matter, Alex,” Cooper stated

And for the first time, Rodham considered the words of the chief science officer for a moment. He hadn’t genuinely thought Starfleet would slap that fourth pip onto him without his consent. They had given Bishop a battlefield promotion after almost the entire crew of Voyager had been lost during the Battle of Sol. Many officers had been promoted sooner in their careers due to the war effort. “We’ll see,” Rodham remarked before picking up the boxing gloves off the nearby shelf and getting himself ready to punch some more of his frustration into the bag before him. This would probably be the last time he had a chance to use the gym before Burton left, and he temporarily took command of Challenger