has been released from dry dock and declared mission ready. St. Peter, now a Lt Commander and in command of the ship, is given a cut and dry task to cut her teeth on - go to the Bassen Rift, the site of the battle between Shinzon's Scimitar
and the Enterprise
-E, to locate a lost survey vessel.
Expanded Universes Characters:
Action/Adventure, Drama, Horror, MysteryWarnings:
Adult Language, Violence
Rafale - Star Trek Online
15 Mar 2013 Updated:
18 Mar 2013
1. Chapter 1 by TemplarSora
2. Chapter 2 by TemplarSora
3. Chapter 3 by TemplarSora
4. Chapter 4 by TemplarSora
5. Chapter 5 by TemplarSora
6. Chapter 6 by TemplarSora
7. Chapter 7 by TemplarSora
8. Chapter 8 by TemplarSora
9. Chapter 9 by TemplarSora
10. Chapter 10 by TemplarSora
11. Chapter 11 by TemplarSora
12. Chapter 12 by TemplarSora
13. Chapter 13 by TemplarSora
14. Chapter 14 by TemplarSora
15. Chapter 15 by TemplarSora
‘Grim-grinning ghost, earth’s worm, what dost thou mean===
To stifle beauty and to steal his breath,
Who when he liv’d, his breath and beauty set
Gloss on the rose, smell to the violet?
- William Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis
The air tore again, causing pain. It was taking too much concentration, too much energy to keep the rift open and allow it to manifest. It had to return soon.
But it was just so hungry.
Nothing remained in this place. There was no life.
It was hungry as it returned back through the rift. There was a sick sound of something ripping as the air tore again behind it.
STAR TREK ONLINE
The prey wasn't moving.
Alpha Tajaln leaned forward, his breathing even and slow. Despite being thousands of ketrics away from his target, he felt his body preparing itself, as if he could leap from his throne, through the viewer suspended in front of and above him, cross the distance of vacuum, and wrestle with the pearl-white starship that hung motionless in the Great Bloom.
He turned his throne to the left, peering down at the other hunters as they worked at their stations. He addressed the closest one, whose helmet was adorned with the faintest remnants of blue paint. "Scans, Gamma."
"Nearing completion, Alpha."
He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. "What do you have now, Gamma?"
The junior officer paused before calling up the scan. "I am detecting low emissions from the Federation ship. Class is Miranda." He continued working his controls while reading his results.
Tajaln let out the breath he held in a quick rush, letting his impatience known. "That tells us nothing, Gamma. Beta!"
His second in command, a large Beta named Gan, stepped around the command-throne from his place to the right of the Alpha, taking the Gamma’s place and manipulating the controls with a skill the lesser Hunter was clearly lacking. He grunted in disgust. “The Bloom is disrupting many of our scans, but the ship is running on low power. I am not detecting any life signs on board.” He paused for a moment before turning around. “Weapons and shields are offline.” He bowed once his report was complete and walked back to his station.
Tajaln leaned to the left of his throne, casting his eyes downward at his Gamma. “That, Gamma, is why you will not be Alpha.”
“You must learn what is important about our prey. Yes, they are Starfleet - Humans, weak, unworthy prey - but they are capable of defending themselves. You must know to look for your prey’s weapons.”
“Yes, Alpha.” The dejected Hunter bowed his head low in shame.
“Beast or man, do not expect your prey to be unarmed and unable. When you have learned this, you may yet be Alpha.”
The Hunter nodded silently before turning back to his station in frustration. Tajaln nodded to himself as he sat straighter in his throne. It would take much time, but he was sure that under his tutelage, his cousin could yet make an excellent hunter and, Ancients willing, an Alpha of his people. But until that time came…
The large Hirogen hunter turned to his right. “What is it, Beta?”
“I am…” The Beta shook his head, rechecking his instruments. “This cannot be. I detected a spike in radiation on the Starfleet ship and it is…gone.”
“Thalaron?” Alpha Tajaln stepped down from his elevated throne, waving the Gamma to come look over his shoulder. “The Bloom is rife with it after Shinzon and Enterprise.”
Beta Gan shook his head, growing more frustrated. “It was not, of that I am sure. And if it was, we would be safe; our hull can block the particles, and our shields are raised.” He smacked the console with his fist. “I cannot get another reading on it. I am sorry, Alpha.”
Tajaln grumbled in the back of his throat before dropping a hand on the Beta’s shoulder and squeezing. “It is not to be apologized for, Beta; you have not failed. Continue scans of the Starfleet ship and the surrounding area.” The Alpha turned to face his Gamma. “Contact the rest of the pack; tell them to spread out in the Bloom and signal at the first sign of more Starfleet ships. And have them use the gifts we have received from Empress Sela.”
The Gamma bowed before turning around and returning to his station, relaying the message. Tajaln mounted the steps to his throne. Resting next to it was his weapon, a large silver tetryon rifle. He lifted it up, raising it so that it pointed above him at the ceiling. “I will be leading a hunting party. Gamma, you will join me. Gan, the ship is yours until we return.”
A chorus of “Yes, Alpha” echoed in the command room. There was a bustle of activity as seven of his hunters, Gamma included, stood from their stations to retrieve their own hunting rifles and gear. The few who had removed their helmets donned them now, while the rest fetched the paint to mark each other with. Tajaln stepped down to the nearest one and dipped three fingers in the red paint. He lifted his hand to his helmet and dragged the fingers from the brow of his helmet up and back. After the ritual, he placed his breathing mask over his face and lifted his rifle in the air again. “Bring us within transporter range,” he barked. “Today, we hunt!”
The woman sighed, her crystal blue eyes locked on the brown leather chair standing before her. They were separated by the smooth, glass-like surface of the ready room desk, but she still felt as if she were intruding on some holy shrine she was not allowed to see.
It had been months - nearly four, in fact - since the chair’s previous owner had been killed. Four months since the ship had been crippled and her command crew killed by the Borg. Four months since Vega Colony was attacked.
And now, almost four months since she had received an extra full pip on her chest to show her new rank. Without breaking her gaze on the chair, she idly lifted a blue-skinned hand to her chest to feel the two full pips and one outlined that were pinned to her uniform.
Jessica St. Peter shook her head, turning around and resting her butt on the desktop as she took in the rest of the ready room - her ready room. She looked down, frowning.
Three months ago she had worn the normal uniform for her position on the Rafale - the dark, navy blue pants and blouse, with lighter blue shoulders and stripes down the arms, and the gold communicator chevron with the sciences division emblem etched inside. She had been a scientist, and one of the newest crewmembers on the ship.
Now, what had once been standard science-blue was a bright mustard color. She still wore the science division badge, since that was (she felt) her true position in Starfleet, but she wore the command uniform out of necessity.
She was in command. And this was her office, the small ready room just off the back of her bridge of her ship. She let out the breath she realized she had been holding and turned back around to face the chair.
It felt all wrong to her. She had no business in this room, even if it was a rebuild of the previous ready room. The bridge had been destroyed by the Borg, necessitating a rebuild of the entire deck - to include the captain’s office. Even if it wasn’t the same room, it was wrong.
This is Mal’Kon’s.
Nothing remained of the late Captain Mal’Kon in the ready room. Jessica had been in his ready room only once before, when she had first come aboard the ship almost a year ago. She remembered there being old artifacts, ancient weapons of sorts, mixed with amateurish paintings and carvings he had claimed to have made himself while “learning” a new hobby.
The walls were bare now, save for a framed Starfleet Academy volleyball jersey with her last name on it and her number, “16,” which hung next to the small, triangle-shaped viewport. A gold model of the Rafale, in her original Akira configuration before her recent refit, sat on a shelf near the door. On one side of the desk sat her terminal: on the other, a volleyball with numerous signatures in black ink was proudly displayed. They were her trinkets, her attempt to make the office her own.
And yet, in the entire time since Rafale had left spacedock, Jessica had been unable to sit in the brown leather chair across the desk from her that was rightfully hers to sit in.
At least she was more comfortable here in this room. Mal’Kon’s presence wasn’t nearly as strong here as it was in her new quarters. The captain’s quarters were far better than the bunk area she was used to, but they were definitely still the late captain’s quarters. She had been forced to remove many of his personal effects herself. She still refused to sleep in the bed, favoring the seemingly unused sofa that sat in the common area of the room in front of a wall of windows. The view overlooked the bridge, nestled protectively between the hull pylons. It was a wonder the room hadn’t been destroyed along with the bridge.
Borg precision. Effectively, mercilessly brutal.
A chime behind her caused Jessica to jump, bringing her back from her thoughts. A voice from the ceiling helped to end the silence.
“Incoming message for you, Commander. It’s Admiral Zelle, from Sierra Station.”
Jessica reached for the computer terminal on her desk and spun it around to face her, pressing the button on the base to activate it. “I’ve got it in here, Obruz. Thank you.”
The black screen came alive, proudly displaying the Federation seal. That was soon replaced with the image of a dark skinned, bald Deltan woman in an admiral’s jacket. She smiled at Jessica. “Commander St. Peter. It’s good to see you again.”
Jessica smiled, feeling herself blush a little at the woman. “Admiral. What can I do for you?”
If Zelle noticed Jessica’s embarrassment, she didn’t let on. She leaned closer to the screen. “How would you like a mission to cut your teeth on, Commander?”
Lieutenant Wirstowx sat patiently in the briefing room, his arms crossed across his massive chest. The chair creaked under him, and for a moment he was afraid the thing would give out from under his weight.
Wirstowx was, by far, the most intimidating member of the Rafale crew, past and present. His arms tended to be larger than the heads of most of his crewmates, and he easily stood over two meters tall. He was the perfect representative of his people, a race of warriors from the Andromeda Galaxy known as the Oza. He had left his home over a decade ago when the Iconian gateway Starfleet had used to travel to his galaxy began to degrade. He chose to join Starfleet, a decision he never regretted despite the reality that he would never see his home planet - or his people - again.
He opened his mouth and took a deep breath, tasting the air. It no longer had the stale taste to it from years of recycled air; with the refit of the Rafale came upgraded environmental systems, and the air was fresh and crisp. It was a good change, along with many of the other upgrades she had received in her month-long stint of repairs. Additional armor to key areas of the ship, the new nacelles that gave her a sleeker profile, the upgraded cannons and torpedo launchers - yes, it was good to be the Chief Tactical officer and helmsman.
Chief Tactical Officer. Wirstowx sat a little straighter in his seat, eliciting another groan from the stressed chair. That does have a rather nice sound to it.
It was well earned, he knew. His supervisor, the previous chief, and even the Captain had commented on his performance reports that he was ready for a senior staff posting. His experience in Andromeda coupled with what he had learned in almost three years on the Rafale had shaped him to be one of the most dangerous tactical officers on the ship. Jessica’s decision to promote him to be her new Chief Tactical Officer was the easiest and fastest one she had made.
Commander St. Peter, he corrected himself. She was certainly no longer an equal as a junior officer - she was the captain now. And, if the chronometer on the table in front of him was correct, late for her own meeting.
As was the rest of her command staff. He frowned in annoyance: one thing his Starfleet comrades seemed to always be was tardy. It would have never been tolerated on a Vinrali battleship, where he started his career.
As if answering his unvoiced irritation, the doors to the briefing room opened with a swoosh, and he heard the voices of a few of the officers as they walked in.
Leading the entourage was the Bajoran security officer Jessica had recruited from the ill-fated Merveille, a hospital ship they had protected nearly four months ago over Vega that left the Rafale in shambles. His hair was cut short and spiked in the front, and his face still bore fresh scars from his own run-in with the Borg on his former posting. He was the tallest one in the group, and carried himself with a confidence Wirstowx had seldom seen in a young officer. It could have also been, he thought further, because of the new command-division uniform he was wearing, along with the lieutenant commander rank on his chest that identified him as the new first officer of the ship.
Lieutenant Commander Obruz Dossu took one of the seats across from the massive Ozem, giving the tactical officer a nod of his head in greeting. “Lieutenant.”
There was a light laugh before a small woman in a blue science uniform dropped into the seat next to Wirstowx. Her dark red hair was cut short, revealing more of the dark spots that framed her face. She leaned in towards Wirstowx and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, causing the warrior to smirk slightly in response. He opened his mouth, taking in a breath; there was a slight sting and a taste of fruit on his tongue. Despite the lack of nose, Wirstowx could tell the Trill woman had, once again, seemingly bathed herself in perfume, despite any previous objections he had raised with her. “This is exciting, isn’t it?” Nizeri Sano asked, turning to the newly minted first officer that sat across the table from her. “The first time we were all here was because we were leaving spacedock. Now, we have ‘orders.’” She made quotes in the air with her fingers, eliciting a laugh from Obruz. “Any idea what it is, Commander?”
The Bajoran shook his head. “St. Peter didn’t let anything on. She just called the meeting, I passed on the word. I’m sure it’s nothing too exciting, Nizeri.”
“Indeed.” A Vulcan woman in a blue uniform - brighter blue than that of Nizeri’s, signifying her status as a medical officer - sat at the table next to Obruz. Wirstowx nodded once to the doctor, who returned the gesture. S’Tel was one of two members of Mal’Kon’s original command staff, and St. Peter had requested S’Tel stay on board only days before the woman had been scheduled to transfer to a new assignment. He was sure it had to do with the fact that she was one of the old guard, someone who already knew their job well, as opposed to the rest of the very green staff that was assembled. “I believe it wise for this new crew to not…overextend ourselves in a foolish attempt to prove something.”
The Trill woman shrugged as she leaned back in her chair. “After three months sitting at home doing nothing, I’ll take gaseous anomalies in a heartbeat.”
“Well, you might get your chance, Nizeri.” St. Peter walked in quickly, setting a PADD down on the table before pulling the chair at the head of the table out. She glanced down at it for only a second, and Wirstowx could see the blue alien hesitate before finally looking back up at the assembled officers. She frowned. “Where’s Sonia and Seurer?”
“Sorry I’m late.” Everyone turned towards the door as it was closing again and the Operations officer walked in sullenly. He stole a quick glance around the table and chose a seat next to S’Tel, leaving an empty chair between him and the Vulcan doctor as he sat down with a huff. He kept his head bowed, refusing to look up at the assembled staff.
Wirstowx frowned at Lieutenant Sonia. It had been no secret that he was the least inclined to obey an officer who only weeks prior had been his junior. Or that there had been instant animosity towards the new first officer as an “interloper.” The three of them - St. Peter, Obruz, and Sonia - had butted heads on more than one occasion in the couple of weeks Rafale had been back in space. He cleared his throat in displeasure, causing the young human to look up at him and scowl. Regardless of the man’s personal opinions on his new captain and her XO, Seymour was a Starfleet officer. Wirstowx made a mental note to remind the Operations officer of that fact.
Jessica ran a hand through her hair and rolled her eyes in frustration. “Elaina?”
Seymour shrugged, slowly refocusing his eyes on the blue woman. “Dunno, sir. Probably down in her dungeon.”
Jessica’s face turned a shade of bright purple in frustration as she shook her head. Wirstowx’s frown grew more severe; Sonia, like the rest of the senior officers, knew very well that St. Peter hated to be referred to by the “sir” title. He crossed his arms over his massive chest and grunted.
St. Peter ignored the bait, instead reaching for the panel in front of her on the table and pressing one of the buttons. “St. Peter to Seurer.”
“Don’t bother, I’m here.” All of the assembled officers turned to face the entrance where the dark-skinned woman strolled in, a playful grin spread across her face. Her normally dark hair had been cut short and dyed bright red; it framed her face, barely covering the metal implant on her right temple.
Wirstowx noticed the Bajoran exec straighten in his chair, eyeing Seurer’s new hair style with disdain. Obruz bit his lower lip and looked away, clearly at odds with himself over how best to correct the woman.
Elaina walked around the table and took the seat next to Wirstowx. To his relief, the engineer hadn’t bathed herself in perfume like Sano had. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat as she settled in next to him - Lieutenant Commander Seurer was another of the “old guard,” and the actual ranking officer in the room. Her indecisiveness over Vega allowed St. Peter to step forward and assume command in desperation, and Starfleet had recognized the lieutenant for that. Seurer, meanwhile, still didn’t seem to recognize the woman’s new rank or position. She continually walked over the inexperienced commander, disobeying orders or proceeding with actions before having them approved by St. Peter.
St. Peter, for her part, seemed content to let the engineer do as she liked. Even now, she made no attempt to address the woman about her tardiness.
Wirstowx took in a deep breath and turned to face Jessica again as the woman began her briefing.
The display on the wall behind Jessica came to life, displaying what looked like a green nebula. “For almost thirty years, Starfleet has been studying an area in Romulan space known as the ‘Bassen Rift.’ In 2379, the Rift was the site of a battle between Romulan Praetor Shinzon and the U.S.S. Enterprise-E.”
Obruz and Sonia leaned forward in their seats in unison. “Wasn’t that where Captain Data was killed?” Obruz asked, to which Sonia nodded in reply.
“Yes. Captain Data - the original Data, that is - sacrificed himself to destroy the Praetor’s flagship. A large amount of thalaron radiation was released from the resulting explosion.”
S’Tel raised an eyebrow, her turn to be engrossed in the notorious battle. “Thalaron radiation is extremely dangerous. If even a small amount of radiation drifted towards an inhabited world, the damage would be catastrophic.”
St. Peter smiled a little as she turned back to the display. “The Romulans have agreed to joint missions with Starfleet to monitor the rate of the radiation’s spread from the battle site. It’s Starfleet’s turn.” She turned back to the gathered officers, and Wirstowx couldn’t help but feel excitement as she finished by saying, “Which means we’ve been tasked to get in there.”
Despite any feelings the officers had for each other, Wirstowx could see that, aside from the Vulcan S’Tel, the officers were all smiling.
“We’ve been ordered to the Rift, where we’re to take detailed scans of the gas formations there as well as measure the rate of spread of the thalaron radiation. There’s already a ship in the Rift that we’re supposed to be assisting for the few days we’ll be there.”
Obruz cleared his throat, interrupting the captain. “The Rift is deep in Romulan space, and disrupts communications. If we encounter any…difficulty…out there-”
“We’ll be on our own,” Jessica finished, nodding. She looked around the table, smirking slightly. “Any questions?”
Wirstowx could see that, despite the revelation that the refit Rafale would be on her first mission virtually alone and cut off from reinforcements, the assembled officers were still excited. Even the stoic S’Tel seemed to be holding herself straighter in her chair, the faintest ghost of a smile flickering at the corners of her mouth. Wirstowx had to admit, the idea that this ship and her untested crew were being trusted with a mission capable of going so horribly wrong made him swell with pride.
Jessica smiled and nodded again. “Good. Wirst, lay in a course for the Bassen Rift and engage at warp five. Obruz, bring the ship to yellow alert once we cross into the old Neutral Zone.” She sized up her assembled officers one more time before she said, as authoritatively as Wirstowx had heard her manage since Vega, “Dismissed.”
The hunting party stood on the bridge of the stricken ship, looking on in silent disbelief. Starfleet officers lay slumped over their consoles or on the ground in broken heaps, not moving. Lifeless eyes stared out at the Hirogen in fear, causing the mighty aliens to shift uncomfortably in the dim red light.
Alpha Tajaln knelt in front of the woman who sat limp in the central command chair, gently lifting her chin to look at her better. He had never seen such hopeless fear before except in prey he had killed as a child.
“What happened here?”
Tajaln turned his head slightly to look over his shoulder. His cousin, the Gamma, was inspecting another of the Starfleet dead, and had voiced the question all eight of the Hirogen had been asking themselves. He turned back to the dead woman and let her small head fall back down on her chest. “I have never seen such death, Gamma.” He snapped his fingers at another hunter and waved him over. “Scans. Now.”
The summoned Hirogen pulled a Romulan scanner from a pocket on his belt and activated it, waving the device over the deceased woman’s head. He squinted at the display and tapped it. “This is strange, Alpha.” He handed the scanner to his superior to check his scans.
The lead Hirogen frowned in annoyance. “Neural activity ceased days ago.” He nearly flung the scanner back at the hunter as he stood and pounded his fist on the back of the dead woman’s chair. “We were beaten here.” He reached behind his back, removing a small weapon from its holster on the back of his belt and holding it out to show his hunters.
His Gamma’s eyes widened with recognition. “Neural disruptors? But Alpha, I thought we were the only pack in this region of space?”
“It appears others are hunting here.” He replaced the weapon, looking around the dead command center of the ship. “They took no trophies.”
“They weren’t worthy prey?”
Tajaln laughed. “What is more impressive: the prey, or the story you tell of your trophy?” He shook his head. “Surely one among these Federations provided a fight. Look here.” He lifted the dead woman’s hand for his cousin to see as the smaller hunter stepped forward. “She is unbound; no bruises; no blood. The same is true for them all.”
If it could, it would have salivated.
The energy was intense here, and bountiful. Whatever these creatures were, it was as if they were illuminating the darkness with a light like a hundred suns. Crashing cymbals in the otherwise silent void that it knew. It reached out to the light in the center of the gathering of stars.
Yes. This would do. They could all feed and be satisfied.
But, it couldn’t go back empty-handed. It needed proof, something that would draw the interest of the others. Traveling was difficult; there had to be a good reason to drive them to move.
It reached again.
They would not be hungry for long.
“There was no fight here,” his cousin declared, stepping towards his superior. Tajaln let the woman’s hand fall back to her lap as the younger hunter continued. “No, this was a slaughter. We are not this…clean.”
“That certainly is true, Gamma.” Tajaln smirked. Maybe there was hope for the young hunter after all. “Be on guard. Separate into hunting teams and sweep the ship. I want to know if there are any survivors and who -” Tajaln stopped. He quickly drew his knife and whirled around, expecting to stab whoever was so uncomfortably close behind him. The rest of the hunters stepped away, confused.
“Alpha?” Tajaln turned his head to his cousin, who looked at him with equal confusion. “What is it?”
“Something is here. I felt it breathing down my neck.” He was breathing heavily, his eyes wide and darting from side to side. “We are not alone.”
As if on cue, the lights on the bridge flickered, startling the Hirogen. There was a sound like tearing fabric, and the lights flashed blue again.
The Gamma raised his weapon, looking around the bridge. “What is this?”
He heard a startled shout and whirled around. He gasped, lowering his rifle as he watched Tajaln rise into the air, his eyes wide in terror. The Alpha kicked his legs futilely as he grasped at his neck, struggling to breathe. The lights flickered again, and he was sure he could see another figure holding the Hirogen aloft, before it disappeared as the lighting shifted again. There was another tearing noise, and Tajaln dropped to the floor of the bridge with a sickening thud.
No one moved, their eyes transfixed on the unmoving body of the Alpha. The young Gamma stepped forward and reached under the cuff of his cousin’s suit, checking his wrist for a pulse. He drew in a sharp breath before looking around the boarding party in disbelief.
“Elaina? Could I speak with you, please?”
Seurer paused for a moment before she finished inputting the series of commands on her PADD. “What is it, St. Peter?” She turned around from her station and crossed her arms over her chest.
Jessica frowned and tilted her head towards Elaina’s office. “In private?”
Elaina smirked and laughed a little. “Sure.” She led the blue alien into her office, stepping around to the chair on the other side of her desk and sitting down. She leaned back and kicked her feet onto the desk, tossing the PADD off to one side. “What can I do for you, Jess?”
Jessica waited for the door to close before she answered; she was already uncomfortable enough talking to her engineer without an audience. “You were pretty late for the meeting this morning.”
“As I understand it, so were you.”
“Hazard of the job; I was finishing my brief.”
“And what a fine brief it was, too.” Elaina tilted her head back to look at the ceiling. “If you’re checking on me down here, I can assure you every system on this ship is checked out and ready to go. I’m not expecting any trouble -“
“Would you just shut up?” Jessica pounded the desk with her open hands and leaned forward. “What the hell is your problem?”
“My problem?” Elaina brought her feet off the desk and leaned forward as well, resting her elbows on her desk. “I’m not sure, Lieutenant.”
“Lieutenant Commander, Elaina.”
Seurer scoffed and narrowed her eyes. “As I remember it, you went over my head at Vega. All of you disobeyed my orders and did what you could to get us all killed.” She leaned back in her chair again. “You should have been thrown out for that, Jessica.”
St. Peter narrowed her eyes. “I wouldn’t have gone over your head if you had acted.”
“I was acting.”
“You were turning tail and running away!” Jessica frowned more as she stood back from the desk. “And like it or not, Command left me in charge.”
“And that was a stupid mistake.”
Jessica took in a sharp breath. “I didn’t ask for your opinion, Elaina.”
“It’s ‘Lieutenant Commander’ to you.”
“You don’t outrank me, Seurer.”
Elaina laughed again and turned her chair around. “The hell I don’t.”
“Is that what all this is about? You can’t stand the fact that you have to take orders from me?” Jessica straightened up, to be as intimidating as she could manage, crossing her arms in front of her. “Why the hell did you stick around, then?”
Elaina shrugged. “It’s my ship. I had to make sure she was in good hands.”
St. Peter rolled her eyes. “I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s not your ship.”
The Braidan woman whirled her chair around and was on her feet in an instant. “Bullshit! You don’t know a damn thing about this ship, Lieutenant. I’ve been keeping her running for years; this is my ship.” She sized up the alien facing off with her and shook her head. “And with some luck, you won’t blow us all to kingdom come. Again.”
“You’re out of line.”
“Just like you were over Vega?”
Jessica glared daggers at the engineer, raising her voice to a shout. “You know damn well why we couldn’t turn tail and run away from that fight! Thousands of lives were at stake!”
“Don’t give me that crap.” Elaina put her hands on the desk to brace herself as she leaned further forward, raising her voice to match. “Everyone knows you did that to save your little friends! You didn’t think for one minute about the other thousands of lives, between their ship and ours! You were selfish and stupid and reckless.”
St. Peter stepped back like she had been slapped. “It doesn’t change what happened. We saved the Merveille and everyone aboard her!”
Elaina rolled her eyes again and turned to look out the window of her office. On the other side, engineers moved about the Engineering compartment, keeping the ship running smoothly. “You don’t have to remind me. Your friends brought plenty of their own friends with them from the Merveille. I don’t know half of my own department anymore.” She turned back around to face Jessica and leaned on the wall. “Are you done trying to play captain, so I can get back to work?”
Jessica opened her mouth, staring incredulously at the rebellious engineer. She was silent for a moment, searching for anything to say. She finally closed her mouth and nodded.
Elaina started to walk past when Jessica grabbed her roughly by the arm. “What do we need to do to at least be civil?”
Seurer scoffed, shrugging off the other woman’s hand. “Stay out of my way. I can do my job just fine without you sticking your nose around.”
“Fine. Anything else?”
Elaina shrugged. “You’re not Mal’Kon, Jessica. You won’t be, and you won’t be my captain until you can show me you can do this. But, while you don’t have my...devotion,” she paused, sizing up the other woman again. “Just know that I won’t do anything to put this ship in danger. You can at least count on that, Lieutenant.”
Jessica nodded. Elaina began to move past again when she spoke up, stopping her again. “Just to be clear, Lieutenant Commander, I am the same rank as you now. I don’t care if you like it or not. But you’ll address me as such. Clear?”
Elaina smirked and gave her a mock salute. “Aye aye, Lieutenant Commander, sir. Permission to be dismissed, sir?” She turned and walked out of the office without looking back.
Jessica grumbled in the back of her throat at the other woman’s disrespect. “Dismissed,” she hissed after the engineer.
“I think it’s going well, at least in Security.”
Dossu smiled and nodded at the blonde ensign next to him as he took his tray of food from the replicator. The ensign was also taking a tray out and, turning to face him, smiled up at him. His smile widened slightly as he tilted his head towards an empty table. “Oh?”
“Well, for one, the new people that followed you from the Merveille know their stuff. You meds aren’t as soft as they say.”
Dossu laughed, placing his tray on the table and sitting down in the chair. “We’ve had our share of crazy patients, I can tell you that. By the fires, I want to know who started that nasty rumor.”
“Well, it certainly wasn’t me.” Another security officer sat down next to Dossu with his own tray. He glanced across the table at the woman and nodded in greeting. “Kaitlyn.”
Ensign McMillan struggled to quickly swallow the bite of food she had taken before the newcomer addressed her. She smiled in embarrassment before managing a quick “Craig” in between chews.
Dossu laughed a little at McMillan and turned to the other officer. “And what do you think? How are the Merveille officers meshing with the Rafale’s?”
Craig Mcclaran shrugged, bringing a hand up to stroke his trimmed beard. “I’d say we’re doing ok. There aren’t that many of us, so it’s not like it’s a full invasion. Granted, Kurinka is probably enough of an invasion in this quiet, happy place.” He winked at Kaitlyn, who shuddered at the mention of the Klingon officer.
“I’m pretty sure she has it out for me.” McMillan took another bite, frowning a little. “Assault squad members usually don’t interact with us, sir.”
Dossu took a sip of water, swallowing his food quickly. “I don’t see why not. If we get boarded, they’ll wind up working shoulder to shoulder with you anyway. Besides, there’s nothing that says you can’t work up to that level.”
Kaitlyn laughed lightly, rolling her eyes. “I don’t mind the quiet, happy place, sir.”
“What the hell are you still doing in security anyway, Dossu. I mean…Commander.” Craig amended when the Bajoran looked sideways at him. He shrugged. “Old habits. Sorry.”
“Yeah, I know the feeling.” Obruz smirked a little and shook his head. “Anyway, it’s not like I have a comfy chair on the bridge, unless the captain isn’t sitting down. My specialty is security; I’m her security chief.”
“Kinda odd, don’t you think?” McMillan took a quick sip of her drink before she continued. “Jess…I mean…St. Peter would probably be better off having a full time first officer and a full time security chief, rather than one officer with two hats.” She shrugged. “You’d be able to do more for her, and a security chief would be able to focus more on us.”
Obruz nodded. “I agree completely. I just need a volunteer now.”
Mcclaran slowly raised a hand in the air, prompting the Bajoran to laugh and shake his head. “Craig, really? No way.”
The human scoffed, bringing a hand to his chest as if he had been stabbed. “I’m serious!” Craig straightened in his chair a little, doing his best to look dignified. “I think I would do an outstanding job at it.”
“And I’m serious when I say ‘no,’ Craig. Unless you think you can rein in Kurinka.”
The bearded man considered that for a moment before slowly lowering his hand. “I respectfully retract my nomination for security chief, and nominate McMillan instead. Sir.”
Kaitlyn giggled from her side of the table. “No, thank you. You couldn’t pay me enough.”
Obruz lifted his fork and pointed at the woman with it. “It’s a good thing I don’t pay you.”
McMillan grinned, bringing her own laden fork to her mouth. “Then it’s a good thing I’m not volunteering.” She quickly took the bite of food, still grinning as she chewed, watching Obruz.
There was a crash, accompanied by a few gasps. Craig glanced over and groaned before elbowing Dossu. “I think we’ve got trouble.”
The Commander rose from his chair, trying to see what had happened. Two officers were squared off with one another, both in red Operations uniforms. He recognized one of the officers, an Andorian woman who had come with him from the Merveille. Her antennae were curved forward in a sign of hostility to match the expression on her slowly darkening face. The other he didn’t recognize immediately, deciding he must have been a member of the original Rafale crew.
Dossu sighed. “Yeah, I’d say we do.”
“My money’s on Dassen,” Craig replied, slowly standing as well.
Obruz shook his head. “I’d agree, except I can’t legally let her kill him.” He stepped around the table as the two came closer together.
“Watch where you’re going, Mosz!”
The human man laughed and turned behind him to the small group of officers that had come with him. “Look at that, the Merv’s got nerves.” The posse laughed as the man turned back to the Andorian, shoving her hard. “Outta the way, blue, we need to eat too.”
Dossu bristled with anger, but decided to stall. He knew the Andorian assault squad officer well enough to trust she wouldn’t retaliate too far out of proportion.
Sure enough, Dassen staggered back from the shove just enough to swing her arm wide, catching the arrogant human on the side of his face and sending him spinning around into the arms of his friends.
Battle lines were quickly drawn as more people stood from their tables, Rafale officers and former Merveille officers coming up behind their respective fighters. Obruz quickly moved in between the two as Mosz came back around, wiping blood from a gash on his lip and fuming mad. Dossu put his arms out to stop them and shouted above the noise, “Enough! All of you!”
Dassen straightened immediately, bringing her fists down to her sides. She still watched her attacker, grinning as he slowly shook his head. The human looked indignantly at Obruz.
“You saw what she did, Commander!”
Obruz rolled his eyes. “Yeah, and everyone saw what you did, Crewman. Your point?”
Mosz threw his hands in the air in disgust. “You gotta be kidding me!” He turned to his snickering friends. “Even the First Officer is one of ‘em.” There was some laughter before he turned back to face the glaring visage of the Bajoran. That took some of the wind from his sails as he stammered a little. “You’re just taking her side because she came here with you from the Merv.”
“What’s your name, crewman?” Obruz asked, ignoring the bait.
“I don’t answer to you, wannabe.” He laughed, turning again to his friends. This time, however, they simply stared wide-eyed, no longer wanting to support the man. He turned back to find Dossu inches from his face.
“I won’t ask again. Name. Now.”
The man gulped loudly and blinked a few times, finally coming to his senses. “Crewman Mosz, Terry S.”
“I believe you owe Crewman Oltydyv an apology, Crewman Mosz.”
The human took in a deep breath before looking past Dossu at the Andorian, who was grinning like a Cheshire cat. “I’m sorry.”
Obruz lowered his voice, moving closer still. “Mean it, or I’ll make sure your life is so miserable for the rest of this trip…”
“The bug clocked me, you saw her! I don’t have to say a damn thing to her!”
“After you hit me, Mosz. After knocking my food down.” Dassen crossed her arms in front of her.
“Enough, both of you, or I’ll throw you both in the brig,” Obruz snapped, glaring over his shoulder at the Andorian. “We’re not Merveille, and we’re not ‘old guard’ Rafale officers anymore. We are Starfleet officers, got it? I want this stupidity to end. Here, and now. Copy?”
Dassen nodded obediently, frowning a little. “Aye, sir.”
Mosz rolled his eyes before turning and walking away. “Sure.” He waved his friends to him and together they left the chow hall.
An uncomfortable silence filled the air as the remaining officers stared at each other, former-Merveille and original Rafale, not sure what to do.
Mcclaran shrugged and walked to the replicator. “Cake, anyone?” Dossu looked over at the man, who smirked a little. “To celebrate us going through the ‘storming phase’ of team building. This is a big accomplishment.”
There were a few chuckles from the rest of the crew, who slowly took their seats again and returned to their meals and conversations. Obruz shook his head. “You’re insane, Craig.”
“Some things never change.” Dassen stepped next to Obruz and lowered her head, whispering to the first officer. “Thank you, sir.”
Obruz nodded. “Don’t mention it. I figured you needed that. Just don’t let it happen again.” He glanced around the mess hall as the noise slowly rose again from the many conversations. “Have a run in with him before?”
Dassen shook her head. “Not me personally, but a few of us have. He’s not the only one, either.” She looked around the room as well. “Not too many of them are keen on us coming aboard for some reason.”
“Just more ghosts to deal with. They lost a lot of people over Vega, too. Most to save us.” Dossu sighed. “We replaced friends, fallen comrades, that were lost to help our ship. We’re just another reminder of those who aren’t here.”
Dassen nodded. “Thank you, sir.” She moved back towards the replicator, and Dossu returned to his own seat. Kaitlyn smiled apologetically to him.
Obruz shrugged at the woman. “It happens. We’re a new crew. They all have growing pains. It’ll just take some time to…”
“Bridge to Commander Obruz.”
Dossu tapped the communicator on his chest. “Obruz here. Go ahead, Lieutenant.”
“Sir, we’re approaching the Bassen Rift. ETA fifteen minutes.”
Obruz stood and picked up his tray, walking towards the recycler as he continued talking. “Understood, I’m on my way. Bring us to Yellow Alert, Sonia.”
“Aye, sir.” The channel closed as Obruz exited the mess hall. Lighting stripes on the wall glowed steady amber as the ship prepared for her first mission.
Prophets, I’m not worried about this ship. But, please keep this crew together. At this rate, if whatever is out there doesn’t get us first, we’ll be our own death.
“Approaching the Bassen Rift now, Commander.”
Jessica sat forward in the command chair, anxiously watching the bright green nebula grow larger on the viewscreen. She took a deep breath: she’d seen this plenty of times on the bridge. Now if she could just repeat the litany without looking like an idiot, she’d be golden. Quietly clearing her throat, she began.
“Full stop, Wirstowx.” Without a break, she turned her chair around to where her Trill science officer was manning her station. “Lieutenant Sano, preliminary scan of the rift. I don’t want to fly into a pocket of thalaron radiation.” She continued her spin so that she could see Sonia at the operations station near the turbolift. Her first officer was just stepping off the lift as she said to the operations officer, “Lieutenant Sonia, hail the Warwick and let them know we’ve arrived.”
As the chair spun back to face the front of the bridge, the three officers replied in a chorus of “aye ayes.” She caught Obruz glancing at her as he walked past her to a station at the front of the bridge, doing his best to keep from grinning at her. She rolled her eyes at him.
Well, so far so good. I hope.
“Reading all stop, Commander.”
Seymour spoke next, sounding slightly frustrated. “I’m getting an earful of static on the comms, I can’t tell if I’m getting through to them.” He turned his head to look at the viewscreen and grunted. “We’d have to be right on top of them to transmit clearly and get a reply we can make sense of.”
“Alright. Once we get them on sensors, try again Seymour.” St. Peter turned her chair around again, certain she heard a stifled chuckle from her first officer as she did so, and addressed her science officer. “Nizeri?”
“I’m reading…stunning amounts of thalaron radiation in the area. A few concentrated pockets that we can avoid, but from what I’m seeing, the rift is full of it.” She glanced up from her displays, her expression horrified. “Why would anyone even think to build a weapon that used this?”
“Revenge is a hell of a motivator,” Dossu replied, walking past Jessica and standing next to the Trill woman, looking over her shoulder at her readings. “As long as we avoid the heavy concentrations, we should be alright with our shields raised. Still,” he looked up at Jessica and shook his head. “We shouldn’t stay in here for longer than we have to.”
St. Peter nodded before turning around to face the viewscreen again. “Understood. Wirstowx, raise shields.”
Nizeri called to the helmsman from her place at the back of the bridge. “Wirst, I’m sending you the search pattern Command gave us for our survey of the rift. It should give us a good idea of the rate of spread of thalaron radiation without putting us in too much danger.”
The warrior tapped his console for a moment before nodding his head. “Received. Course laid in for the first waypoint.”
Jessica took in a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment, centering herself. “Wirstowx, ahead one-half impulse.” She opened her eyes to watch the bright green gasses grow larger on the screen as they welcomed the Rafale inside.
“I am picking up a distress call, Beta.”
Gan opened his eyes and sat up in the command chair. He wiped his mouth; in the hours since the Alpha left with his hunting party, there had been little activity in the Great Bloom. He was thankful the other hunters hadn’t found it opportune to slit his throat while he napped. “From who? One of ours?”
“No, Beta. The Starfleet ship.”
Gan looked quizzically at the hunter before turning his gaze to the viewscreen near the top of the wall in front of him. The small hull of the Starfleet frigate hung silently and unmoving in the Bloom. “Is it automated?”
“Yes, but it only just activated.” The hunter looked up from his console, an excited grin spreading across his face. “Perhaps the Alpha is hunting well?”
“There were no life signs on the ship before the hunting party beamed over.” The Beta sat back in his chair and closed his eyes again, one hand slowly moving to rest on the hilt of the knife on his belt. “It must have automatically started when they brought a system online over there.”
“Beta, one of our patrol ships is hailing!”
Gan opened his eyes and stepped down from the command throne. “What do they want?”
“Another ship has entered the Bloom.” The hunter looked up at the Beta again, fire igniting in his eyes. “It is another Starfleet ship, Akira-class.”
Gan couldn’t help but grin with the younger Hirogen. He had seen plenty of the Federation gun-ships in action; they were indeed worthy prey, more than capable of standing their ground against a numerous foe. It would take some cunning to catch this prey.
“Status of our cloak?”
Gan stepped back to the command throne and sat down with a flourish, pounding the armrest with his fist. “Bring the other ships back. We will strike when they find their comrade.”
“What of the hunting party, Beta?”
The Hirogen shook his head with a low growl. “We will pick them up when they signal to return. We will not drop cloak now to beam them back.”
“Proceeding to next waypoint, three-quarters impulse.”
Jessica idly tapped the armrest of her chair, staring at the viewscreen with bored disinterest. They had been scouring the nebula for the better part of an hour now with no sign of the Warwick, and the thalaron radiation scans were being handled by Sano in the back of the bridge.
Is this what command is like? Just sit on your butt, bored to tears, until the shooting starts?
There was an alert from the science console, and Jessica slowly turned the command chair around to look at Nizeri, who was bent over one of her displays and frowning in confusion. “What is it, Nizeri?”
The Trill shook her head, forcefully tapping her console to acknowledge a report on the display. “Sensors are detecting…extremely faint anomalies in the rift.”
Happy for the distraction, Jessica stood and walked to the science station to help the other woman. “Can you pinpoint where?” She came up next to Sano and looked down over the smaller woman’s shoulder at her display.
Nizeri shook her head, her frustration growing. “No, the sensors are having a hard time keeping a fix on them. It’s like they’re there one minute, and then just…gone again.” She shrugged. “Fissures in subspace?”
“Could it be from the explosion of the Scimitar?” Asked Obruz as the first officer came behind the women.
“I doubt it,” Nizeri replied, shaking her head. “It was a standard Romulan ship as far as systems and weapons, aside from the thalaron generator. I don’t think we’ve seen cases before of the artificial singularities they use for warp drive doing this kind of damage. We’re reading multiple fissures around the rift, not just one in the middle of the wreckage.”
St. Peter and Obruz both turned to face the officer seated behind them, who was suddenly a flurry of activity. Sonia paused long enough to glance over his shoulder at the Commander and her first officer and declare, “I’m picking up an automated distress signal, ma’am. It’s the Warwick.”
Dossu turned back to the Trill science officer. “Where is she?”
Sano shook her head. “I’m not sure, there’s too much interference in the rift.”
“I can get us a bearing off the signal, Commander.” Seymour input the commands to his console before turning towards the front of the bridge. “Wirstowx, I’m sending the heading to you now.”
“Received. Engaging, full impulse.”
Jessica blinked, unsure as to what had just transpired. For a moment, she felt like she had been on the bridge of the Rafale before Vega, and she had simply not heard the commands given to her officers. She frowned and shook her head, returning to the present.
Glad to know they can still work without guidance. Thank you, Mal’Kon.
Jessica slowly returned to the command chair and sat, watching the screen as the neon green gasses of the rift passed by the ship.
“There she is,” Nizeri called from her post. Jessica watched as a targeting box appeared on the screen and hovered over what looked like a piece of debris hanging in the jade cloud. The object was highlighted in red on the viewscreen, making its shape easier to see. “Miranda-class, refit.”
“Engines and primary systems are offline. Life support is minimal. No signs of weapons fire or damage.” Nizeri gasped and paused before continuing, soberly. “I’m not…I’m not reading life signs, Jess.”
Jessica stood immediately, looking at the small red ship as it gradually became clearer on the screen. “What?”
“There were over two-hundred people on that ship.” Obruz was standing as well, and had moved to stand next to Jessica. “Shields dropped?”
“Her hull’s been reinforced specifically for this mission - thick enough to absorb any stray thalaron particles she’d encounter here.”
Jessica was silent, absorbing the information. Eventually, she felt a nudge on her elbow. She turned to see Dossu staring intently at her. “Hmm?”
Dossu smirked a little at the new captain and lowered his voice, trying to prompt her. “An away team.”
“What about it?”
He sighed before raising his voice so the rest of the bridge could hear him again. “I’d like permission to take an away team over and investigate, Captain.”
Jessica frowned, blushing in embarrassment. Of course he wanted to lead an away team to investigate. Wouldn’t Mal’Kon have given that order immediately? “Nizeri, is it safe?”
“As far as I can tell. I’m not detecting any thalaron radiation in the vicinity.” She huffed. “Detected another anomaly near us. This one’s different.”
Sonia interrupted before Jessica could respond to Dossu. “Commander, we’re being hailed by an…unknown ship. Very close proximity.”
Jessica looked back at the screen and narrowed her eyes; she hadn’t seen another ship. Cloaked Romulans? So much for mutual cooperation. “On screen.”
The view of the Bassen Rift was suddenly replaced by the imposing visage of a pale, almost reptilian face. The alien was grinning excitedly as he looked around the bridge at the surprised Starfleet crew. “The trap is sprung. You and your ship will make fine trophies!” He laughed as the channel closed, and the viewscreen shifted to show the rift again.
The image of green clouds began to distort and ripple as, slowly, a large alien ship materialized into sight. Red alert sirens began to blare as Nizeri shouted, “Hirogen ships, decloaking around us! We’re surrounded!”
Jessica dropped back to her chair as the Hirogen battleship finished decloaking in front of the Rafale, her nose pointed directly at the Starfleet ship. There was only a second before a blue bolt of energy lanced out from the monstrous ship and raced towards the Akira-class starship. A scream of metal reverberated throughout the ship as the bolt collided with the Rafale’s shields, and the ship rocked as her shields absorbed more strikes from around her.
“Wirstowx, status of weapons?”
The Ozem’s hands flew over his controls, and Jessica could feel the faint shift in the deck plating below her feet as the ship began evasive maneuvers. “Weapons charged, awaiting your command!”
So now the action begins again. Jessica took a deep breath and quickly stole a glance around the bridge at her crew. We’re deep in Romulan space, with no back-up and no way of calling for help. Let’s see how ready we were for this.
“Wirstowx, open fire. And keep us between them and the Warwick.”
The Hirogen ships surrounded the new Starfleet ship, circling her like a pack of wolves. They took turns darting in and firing at her as Rafale started to pull away, gracefully dodging the brunt of their attacks. Still they chased her, the smaller hunting ships pulling ahead of the larger, clumsier battleship to harass her.
It wasn’t until she had pulled outside the weapons envelope of the powerful ship that Rafale nosed up and over herself, flying straight towards her attackers on her back. She let loose a volley of destructive quantum torpedoes and filled the space between her and the Hirogen hunters with bursts from her phaser cannons.
The lead Hirogen ship was engulfed in a firestorm as the combined assault of phaser cannons and torpedoes slammed into its shields and overloaded them instantly. A few strikes from her phaser banks and Rafale finished the job; the Hirogen scout ship hung dead in space, its hull blackened and venting atmosphere, and lights flickering as power began to fail on the small ship.
The remaining ships scattered, trying to rally and change their strategy. The hunters realized they were no longer in full control of the situation, and that the Starfleet ship would more than live up to the precedent of her sister ships. She opened fire again, disabling a second scout ship with another rain of terrifying cannon blasts and torpedoes.
The hunters were now the prey.
Smoke billowed from a blown console, filling the bridge. Jessica coughed as she staggered forward to the helm. Another torpedo collided with the shields, rocking the Rafale and causing her to lose her balance. Jessica grabbed the back of the helmsman’s chair and held on tight, trying to keep herself upright. “Report!”
Wirstowx fired another volley from the phaser cannons before turning his head slightly to speak to the woman. “Shields down to thirty-nine percent!”
Lieutenant Sonia gave a shout from his ops console. “Hull integrity is now below seventy-five percent!”
Jessica shook her head. They had managed to cripple most of the Hirogen hunting vessels with ease, but the battleship was proving to be a much more dangerous adversary. “Wirstowx, evasive pattern Five, into attack pattern Beta!” Jessica heard Obruz shouting over the rumble of weapons fire at the helmsman. “Fire a full spread of phasers and follow it with another volley of torpedoes!”
Wirstowx barely nodded his head as he began inputting the commands. St. Peter felt as if the deck was dropping from under her as the Hirogen ship flew up and out of view on the viewscreen. She stumbled back to the safety of her chair in time to see the Bassen Rift spin on the viewscreen as Wirstowx flipped Rafale and pushed the bow back up. The underside of the Hirogen battleship briefly appeared on the screen before it was blocked by a barrage of phaser fire. As the phasers connected with the already weakened shields, a full spread of quantum torpedoes sped out from the Akira-class’s weapons pod and into view. The bright blue orbs of light slammed into the underbelly of the behemoth ship.
Instantly, the barrage from the enemy ship halted as she began to list and lights flickered across her hull.
“Direct hit; they’ve lost main power.”
Sano spoke up from the back of the bridge, her voice high in excitement. “I’m not showing any sign of reinforcements, Commander. All contacts disabled; that was the last of them.”
Jessica closed her eyes and breathed out a sigh of relief. She took another breath before tapping the communications control on her armrest. “Bridge to Engineering.”
Jessica couldn’t help but roll her eyes at the exasperated engineer. “Elaina, start coordinating repairs on the ship. I want shields back up to full as soon as possible.”
The woman on the other end of the channel cursed loudly before the channel closed with a small beep. Jessica turned to look to her right, where her first officer was still seated at his station. “Dossu, get over to the Warwick. I want to know if these bastards are responsible for the crew’s disappearance.”
Obruz nodded and stood. “Sano, Sonia, Wirstowx, with me.” As the officers moved to join the first officer at the turbolift he tapped his commbadge. “Obruz to S’Tel, meet in transporter room three for a combat away team; expect casualties.”
Jessica turned and watched the turbolift close behind Dossu, frowning a little. She shook her head and stood up, looking to the replacement operations officer. “Ensign M’Ral, you have the bridge. I’ll be in my ready room. Let me know if the Hirogen start shooting again.” She quickly walked to the adjacent office and inside, not waiting for the Caitian’s reply. Once the doors closed behind her she stumbled uneasily to the couch on the wall in front of her and dropped onto it, breathing heavily. The smell of smoke still hung in the air, stinging her eyes and her lungs with each breath she took. The red alert klaxon still blasted in her mind, and her ears were still ringing from the sounds of the battle.
Did we really make it?
She shuddered, thoughts of the first battle she had seen racing through her head. All the lives lost, all the damage that had been done . From where she had sat on the bridge, she couldn’t see a difference between the chaos of this most recent encounter and Vega.
She lifted her head to look at the chair behind her desk and shook her head. God, how did you do this Mal’Kon?
“Report!” Gan bellowed, limping back to the command chair. He had been thrown from the central chair and into the forward wall when the Starfleet ship finished their rout of his more numerous hunting party. Tajaln will be furious with me for this failure. “Report!”
He heard coughing next to him. Turning quickly, he saw a hunter slowly pushing himself off the floor and struggling to stand. Gan moved toward him and pulled the hunter to his feet. “Status report, now!”
“Yes…yes, Beta.” The hunter shook his head in an attempt to clear it and began to work his controls. “Main power is offline, and our weapons are disabled. Minimal sub-light speed available.”
Beta Gan growled in rage. “Move us away from them and take us out of the Bloom.” He leered at the image of the Starfleet ship. “We will need more hunters for this.”
“What of our ships still here? They are all disabled.”
“Leave them. Send them an encrypted message; we are leaving to exact repairs and to return with more hunters. When we return, we will strike again.” Gan slowly mounted the steps to his throne and sat down, quietly grateful to rest his injured leg. “We will be back, Starfleet.”
Ten minutes later the away team was stepping onto the transporter pad. Dossu snapped the power supply back into his phaser rifle and looked around as the rest of the team finished checking their weapons in similar fashion. Two Assault Squad officers had joined the party in the transporter room at Obruz’s summons; their subdued uniforms were adorned with lightweight armor plates and belts holding photon grenades and extra ammunition packs. Wirstowx hefted a large phaser auto-cannon, a newer weapon designed in the recent years since the Klingon-Federation war had started. With just the single weapon, Wirstowx could lay down bursts of covering fire or a massive salvo that could affect anyone within a few meters of the target. The intimidating warrior was a walking tank with the weapon.
Nizeri finished triple-checking her own hand phaser, nervously eyeing the Ozem’s monstrous cannon. “Do you really think this is necessary, Dossu?”
“We don’t know what we’re going to find over there, Nizeri. And if the Hirogen come back, I want to be ready.”
Sano shrugged, patting all the devices she had slung on her waist to make sure they were all still there. “If you think that’ll be a problem.”
“Even if they do not, would you rather be caught unprepared, Nizeri?” Wirstowx intoned, kneeling down in a defensive posture on the pad. The two assault officers and Obruz took up similar positions in a circle, their weapons facing outward.
The transporter officer called out from his station behind a shielded wall. “I’m putting you in one of the cargo bays. No lifesigns and not a lot of clutter, either. It should be easy to clear.”
Obruz nodded. “Copy. Once we give the signal, beam the rest of the team down.”
The Bajoran looked over his shoulder at the rest of the assault team. “Ready?”
The other three officers nodded, fingers resting near the triggers of their weapons. Obruz turned his head back to stare down the barrel of his rifle. “Energize.”
There was a soft, melodic sound, like wind chimes, that gradually grew louder and louder. Dossu watched as a blue light filled his vision; the transporter room faded out of sight, so that all that he could see was the blue light and a swirling of stars. Then, a new room began to take shape around him. As the blue light faded, he saw that it was dark here, except for a few panels that were flashing bright red light across the cargo bay floor. Cargo containers were toppled, and there were scorch marks on the walls from weapons fire. As the transporter effect finished, he heard a few quick clicks followed by the accompanying hum as the assault team powered up their weapons. He quickly did the same, then let the rifle hang from its strap from his shoulder, trading it for his tricorder. Beside him, he heard one of the other officers do the same. He held the device in front of him, scanning the area.
The female assault officer, a woman named Guillary, snapped her tricorder shut. “Clear.”
Obruz nodded. “Same,” he confirmed, then tapped his commbadge. “Obruz to Rafale, we’re clear here. Send the other three over.”
The sound of chimes filled the air again as three pillars of swirling lights appeared in the middle of the circled team. The pillars took shape and, as the sound and light faded away, the rest of the away team finished materializing in the cargo hold.
Sonia glanced around nervously, muttering in Spanish under his breath. “Ay dios mio…”
“You can say that again.” Dossu shuddered, looking around the darkened compartment again. The ship, he decided, had an eerie feel about it. “This place is already giving me the creeps. The air is stale, and it’s freezing here. It feels as if a wraith were here…”
“Or a Shay’d,” Wirstowx chimed in.
The second assault officer, a man named Kunicki, looked over his shoulder at Wirstowx, confused. “A shade?”
Wirstowx only nodded in acknowledgement. Nizeri shook her head at the warrior before addressing the confused man. “He’ll have to tell you later. Bottom line? Bad news, and as scary as you can imagine.”
Kunicki shrugged and nodded before moving off to follow Sonia as he searched the cargo bay. Dossu followed behind Sano as she made her way to the far side of the bay. A large, dark blast mark was just visible in the low light of the hold, and the Trill began passing her tricorder over it.
“It looks like there’s more blast marks over here,” he said, pointing to a few more dark splotches on the wall near them. “What do you have?”
Nizeri frowned. “Phaser fire here. I’m picking up some faint traces of tetryon blasts, too.” She glanced up at the Bajoran. “From the looks of this mess, I’d say they were attacked not long before we arrived, maybe an hour or two?”
Obruz heard a grunt behind him, followed by Seymour’s voice. “That’s not possible. The Warwick didn’t have a scratch on her.”
“Just because she wasn’t damaged, doesn’t mean she wasn’t boarded.” Wirstowx bent down to examine a puddle of liquid on the floor. “They could have beamed aboard, killed the crew. They knew Starfleet would send another ship to investigate when Warwick failed to report in.” He dabbed a finger in the puddle and brought it to his mouth, taking in a deep breath. “They were using the Warwick as bait.”
“It really was a trap, all along.”
Obruz groaned. “Those anomalies you picked up, Sano; they could have been the cloaked ships.”
“I doubt it.” Sano closed her tricorder and turned around. “I was still picking up those anomalies even after the Hirogen decloaked. In fact,” she paused, pointing behind Dossu to the opposite wall. “I detected one here in the cargo bay. Now that we’re closer to it, I’m getting a better reading on it, but the tricorder can’t make heads or tails of what it is.”
“Not only that, the rate of decay for the weapon signatures don’t add up.” Sonia offered his tricorder to Obruz. “The phaser blasts are at least a week or two older than the Hirogen tetryon weapons.”
The Bajoran tilted his head to the side in confusion. “Then that means the crew weren’t fighting off the Hirogen?” He looked around the dark cargo bay again, another chill creeping down his neck. “Are you sure there were no life signs on the ship?”
Sonia shook his head. “Nothing, sir.”
Obruz tapped his commbadge. “Away team to Rafale.”
There was a small crackle of static before Dossu recognized the voice of Ensign M’Ral, the reserve Operations officer on duty. “Go ahead, Commander.”
“M’Ral, let the captain know there’s something…peculiar going on over here. It looks like the Warwick crew was fighting someone before the Hirogen could get to them. We’re not sure; we’ll keep you updated.”
“Rafale copies all, standing by for further words.”
Dossu tapped his chest again, closing the connection. He turned around, surveying the room. “Where’s the door? We need to get out of here and figure out-"
A terrified shriek interrupted Obruz, and the team crouched in unison, raising their weapons and taking up defensive postures. Dossu did a quick head count of the team, cursing as he came up short.
The away team fanned out, quickly searching the dark cargo bay for the Trill.
Wirstowx shouted from Obruz’s left, “Found her!” Obruz turned and hurried toward the Ozem’s voice, converging with the rest of the team. Wirstowx was holding a trembling Sano in his massive arms, glancing up only to meet Dossu’s gaze and nod towards the floor in front of them.
Guillary turned and covered her mouth, gasping.
Lying on his back, spread out like a rag doll, was a Vulcan in a blue science uniform. The man’s mouth was open as if he had been shouting, and his eyes were wide open in fear.
S’Tel pushed past Guillary and knelt down next to the man. She reached out and pressed her fingers on the Vulcan’s neck, then looked back at the rest of the team, her eyebrow arched.
“He is dead.”
“Any idea what might have killed him, Doctor?”
S’Tel shook her head, closing her tricorder. She gently pressed her hand on the man’s face, placing her fingers on the katric points. She closed her eyes; she hoped her colleagues would mistake it for concentration, but in truth it was out of despair. There was nothing; no nudge, no gentle push of the dead man’s katra on her own. “He was not killed by a tetryon weapon, or a phaser, if that is what you are inquiring.” She removed her hand and opened her eyes, continuing to move about her duties as a doctor with as much emotional detachment as she could manage. The sight of the dead man - a Vulcan - in so much terror was disconcerting to her. She replaced her tricorder in the pouch on her hip. “He died when all neural activity in his brain ceased.” Her already almost non-existent frown grew only slightly more severe in frustration.
“His brain shut down?” Obruz knelt down next to S’Tel, staring intently at the dead man, as if willing him to wake up and explain what had happened. “What could do that?”
“I am not sure. I detected a complete lack of neurogenic energy in this man’s body.”
Obruz lifted his head, staring at the doctor with a blank look on his face. Wirstowx and Guillary also exchanged confused looks. Sano, still gripping tightly to Wirstowx, offered her help. “It’s energy contained in almost every lifeform’s nervous system. Just about every living being has it or is made up of it.” She slowly pulled away from the tactical officer’s large arms, looking up at and nodding reassuringly to him. Wirstowx helped her to her feet before standing up himself. “Hirogen do use neural disruptors; it’s possible he met his end that way.”
S’Tel shook her head; she had already considered that option. “That would not fit with the rate of decay of the weapons blasts you found. If my scans are correct, this man was dead long before the Hirogen would have boarded and fired their weapons. Even if it were possible, neural disruptors, as their name suggests, disrupt neural energy, usually ending with the death of the target; they don’t drain neural energy.”
Nizeri frowned and pulled out her own tricorder, verifying what the doctor already knew. “There’s no way the neural energy could have dissipated this quickly from a natural death. It’s like…something sucked the life right of him.”
“Precisely.” S’Tel stood, glancing down at her fallen kinsman one final time. She regretted it immediately; the man’s terrified face would haunt her during her meditations later that night, she was sure.
“So the Hirogen definitely didn’t kill him, or the crew. That matches with the rates of decay on the weapons blasts and his time of death.” Obruz shook his head, pondering the situation quietly.
Sonia spoke up, asking the question on the Bajoran’s mind. “Then what did kill the crew?”
Sano’s tricorder rang in alarm, and she glanced down at it, confused. “What in…” She looked up at Obruz. “My tricorder just picked up a spike in triolic energy, coming from the anomaly in the back of the cargo bay.” She blinked a few times and tapped the device, then closed it with a shrug. “That was odd. It’s gone now, whatever it was.”
Sonia suddenly brought his hand up and swatted the back of his neck, looking around anxiously.
“Something wrong, Lieutenant?” Obruz asked, looking around cautiously as well.
Sonia shivered, finally looking back at the first officer and shaking his head. “Nothing, sir…just felt like something brushed against my neck.” He shuddered again. “We should get going. We should be able to restore main power in engineering.”
Dossu nodded. “Right, let’s get to it.” He lifted his rifle, prompting the rest of the team to bring up their weapons. “But, keep an eye out for more Warwick crew members. I don’t want to start shooting survivors if there are any.”
S’Tel raised an eyebrow in typical Vulcan curiosity, eyeing Sano for a moment. Something about what the Trill woman had said sounded vaguely familiar to her. “Commander, we’ll need to take more samples from dead crewmen.” S’Tel put her hands behind her back, doing her best to keep stoic and calm in front of her shipmates. “If we analyze them, we may gain better insight into what killed the crew.”
“Understood.” Dossu turned to Sonia and motioned forward with his head. “Mr. Sonia, find the door panel. Let’s get out of here.”
Sonia grumbled. “I picked a terrible day to wear red.”
There were more!
Fortune was smiling down on it and its brethren, it seemed.
The others were not going to believe it. Where there had been only one ship in this area, now there were dozens, all of them filled with sustenance. They could feast for weeks and never be hungry.
It had to tell them. It had to tell them now. They wouldn’t believe their good fortune, but they would come.
They wouldn’t resist.
“Commander St. Peter to the bridge.”
Jessica startled, quickly opening her eyes. She looked around the small ready room for a moment in dazed confusion. When did I fall asleep, she wondered, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and pushing herself up with her other arm.
“Err…Commander St. Peter?”
Jessica shook her head quickly, doing her best to not sound like she had just been woken up, before tapping her commpin. “Go for it, Ensign.”
“Ma’am, we’re picking up some strange readings. We’d like you to take a look.”
Jessica sighed and slowly pulled herself back to her feet, taking a moment to stretch out before she tapped her badge again and walked out the door and back onto the small bridge of the Rafale. M’Ral was standing next to the science station in the back of the bridge, looking over the shoulder of the on-duty science officer, a Benzite man who was hunched over the console studying his readouts intently.
“What have you got?”
The Benzite sprang up to attention as Jessica approached, while M’Ral turned around to face her in a more relaxed manner. He purred softly, his tail twitching slightly and his ears lowered back in what Jessica could imagine was annoyance. He motioned to the science officer. “Specialist Ceram wants a third opinion on his sensor findings.”
St. Peter smirked, taking a free console on the opposite side of the table-like station and bringing up Ceram’s readings.
The other blue alien cleared his throat as Jessica worked her controls. “About twenty minutes ago I detected multiple energy spikes around the Bassen Rift, to include close proximity of the Rafale.”
Jessica was finally looking at a display of the Benzite’s mysterious energy spikes. “Twenty minutes ago? Why so long to ask me for my opinion?”
Ceram straightened more, so that he seemed to stand even taller as he proudly answered, “I had to be sure the readings were correct. I double checked my own findings, and then alerted my direct superior to my findings, and then proceeded to report to the officer of the watch, who then contacted you immediately.” He frowned somewhat as he said that, as if the fact that the Ensign not taking his time to notify the commander offended him.
Jessica glanced up quickly at M’Ral, whose purring had grown louder as the Caitian turned to look away from the Benzite. She shook her head and went back to the scans. “Thanks for keeping me in the loop, M’Ral.” She studied the scans for a moment, then looked up at the Benzite. “Triolic energy? In the Rift?”
Ceram nodded. “My scans were correct all three times, I made certain of it.”
Jessica shook her head. “That doesn’t make sense. Why would you be picking up triolic energy?”
“What is it?” M’Ral practically growled, eyeing Ceram as if he had asked the question multiple times before.
Jessica shook her head. “Harmful to humanoids, for one. Most people stay away from it because it’s known to cause deterioration of living tissue.” She refined the scan results, isolating on the locations of the energy spikes while she talked. “I’m not an expert, so I don’t know much else beyond that. Ceram?”
The Benzite cleared his throat again, preparing to impart his knowledge on the two officers. “Triolic energy waves are a result of a process called ‘selective molecular polarization.’ This process modifies a substance at a fundamental level to convert matter into energy.”
Jessica shrugged. “What he said. But that doesn’t explain why we’re detecting it in the Bassen Rift.” She paused, then looked across at Ceram again. “The Hirogen…?”
Ceram shook his head. “No, they do not use triolic energy. I would imagine even they are smart enough not to knowingly use it.” He paused, opening his mouth for a second before closing it again.
“What is it, Ceram?”
The Benzite shook his head, offering the commander a small smile. “Nothing, ma’am.”
St. Peter shrugged, clearing the sensor results and stepping to the center of the bridge. “Keep me posted on those spikes. Let me know as soon as you detect another one.”
Jessica stopped, slowly turning around to see the Benzite hunched over his console again. “What?”
Ceram turned his head to address the woman. “I’ve detected another energy spike. Main Engineering.”
Jessica tapped her commbadge, the color in her face draining. “Bridge to Engineering.”
“Seurer here, go ahead Lieutenant Commander.”
“Commander, what’s your status down there?”
There was a pause, and Jessica was sure she could hear the other woman let out a sigh of annoyance. “All fine down here, ‘sir.’ We had a slight hiccup with our lighting, but my technicians isolated and fixed the problem.”
M’Ral turned from his console at operations to look at St. Peter, confused. “I didn’t detect any problems.”
“Well, don’t worry too much, Ensign. It’s been taken care of. Just waiting for Decoste to get out of the Jeffries tube now.” In the background of the channel there was a barely audible gasp of surprise, and then raised voices. Elaina cursed suddenly, shouting at the other voices. “What happened? Where was he?” More confused voices and shouting ensued, until the engineer came back on the comm. “Medical emergency in main engineering, I’ve got a man down!”
The team had exited the cargo bay, only to find the halls of the stricken ship pitch black. Even with their palm-torches lighting the way, navigating had been difficult; it seemed crewmembers were lying on the ground almost everywhere, all of them having died in the same manner, all of their faces frozen in eternal terror.
Seymour Sonia had glanced down at the map on his tricorder for only a second when a hand grabbed his ankle. He screamed, dropping his tricorder as he fell onto his attacker, struggling to get free.
Sonia struggled, punching and kicking wildly. “Help!” He yelled as more limbs wrapped around him. He desperately thrashed on the ground, finally managing to free himself and roll away. He hit the wall of the corridor hard, fumbling for his phaser. He quickly sat up and fired.
“Seymour, what the hell is going on?!”
Seymour steadied himself, his back pressed against the wall and his phaser aimed at the unmoving body that moments earlier tried to eat him.
“Are you alright, Lieutenant?”
There was a small, firm hand gripping under his arm, and he startled, dropping his phaser and turning his head quickly to see who had grabbed him now. With a quick tug, the young officer was back on his feet, five flashlights all pointing at him or on the ground where he had fired only a few chaotic minutes ago.
“Well, that’s one way to find dead crew,” one of the assault officers commented.
Seymour bristled, clenching his hands into fists. “Not funny, jackass.”
“Aw, don’t worry, ‘El-Tee.’ Once we get power back, we can replicate a new set of pants for you…”
“That’s enough, Kunicki.” Dossu knelt next to the body, shining the light from his palm-torch on the face of the dead human. He shook his head before looking up at the doctor. “S’Tel?”
The hand let go of Seymour’s arm, and he realized then it had been the Vulcan who had helped him up. She knelt next to the Bajoran, taking out her own tricorder. Sonia shivered again; the air seemed to be a lot colder now, though if it was because he was coming off his adrenaline high he couldn’t tell. The pitch-black corridor littered with dead bodies certainly didn’t help the mood.
S’Tel closed her tricorder and leaned in closer to the body, checking the dead woman’s eyes. “It is the same, Commander.” She stood after a moment, and Seymour was certain he saw her wipe her hands on her trousers, a reaction he didn’t expect from the Vulcan physician. “No neural energy present in her nervous system.” She turned to look at Seymour again, causing him to look away, embarrassed. “Lieutenant Sonia, how are you?”
“Fine, Doctor. I’m fine.” He took a deep breath, forcing himself to look back up at her and nod. “Let’s not do that again.”
“Agreed.” Obruz was next to Sonia, the lieutenant’s dropped phaser in his hand. He thrust the phaser at the man’s chest, lowering his voice. “Don’t drop that again.”
“Alright, let’s move out. Wirstowx, take point for now. Seymour, keep us on the right track.”
The away team continued on in the darkness, the lights from their flashlights playing over the walls and the ground at their feet. Sonia made sure to pay more attention to where he was going, nearly missing a few turns on the map displayed on his tricorder.
After a few detours into the Jeffries tubes and climbing up a deck and a half in the turboshaft, the team found themselves at the thick blast doors of Engineering.
Nizeri frowned, passing her tricorder over the doors. “Of course, they’re sealed tight.” She turned to face the rest of the team and shrugged. “So, ring the doorbell?”
“Maybe one of Sonia’s zombies will answer it…”
“Shut it.” Seymour glared at where he thought Kunicki was in the inky blackness before looking at his own tricorder. He brought his palm-torch up, illuminating the wall first on one side, then the other side of the blast doors, stopping on a square section that stood out from the rest of the wall. “Access panel; there should be a manual release lever in there.”
Wirstowx pulled the panel off the wall with ease, letting it clatter to the ground behind him, and stepped aside to let Seymour inspect it better. Sonia reached in, grabbing a black handle. He pulled hard, and was rewarded with a hiss of atmosphere escaping from the doors as the seal broke. The massive engineering doors parted a few inches as the hydraulics released. Wirstowx and the two assault officers grabbed the doors and pulled hard, separating them enough for the team to slip in.
Engineering was just as cold and dark as the rest of the ship, and Seymour felt as if the darkness itself was pushing on him, making it harder to breathe. The odd sensation of breath on the back of his neck met him again as he entered the room behind the tactical officers, causing him to shudder in discomfort.
The male assault officer spoke up behind Sonia. “I think this place is creepier than the corridors, Commander.”
Sonia smiled; he was happy to hear the assault officers complaining for once, rather than giving him a hard time. The smile didn’t last long, however; the other man had spoken the truth. Main engineering definitely had a much worse vibe than the rest of the darkened hallways.
An alert behind him startled him, and he heard the tactical officers all raise their weapons and spin around in similar surprise. A palm-light came up to illuminate the source.
Nizeri was tapping her tricorder, looking perplexed as she took a scan of the area near the door. “Triolic energy waves, again.” She shook her head and pointed. “This can’t be good; the source is right in front of me, right here.”
Sonia pointed his own light to where the Trill had pointed. “There’s nothing there, Sano.”
“Thus, why this can’t be good.”
“Commander!” Guillary shouted from behind them. “We’ve got more bodies over here. I think this was the chief engineer.”
“S’Tel, Sonia.” Dossu called, moving towards the woman. Sonia followed, carefully watching his step as he moved closer. Obruz and S’Tel bent down over the body of a large, dark-skinned man, his face contorted in agony. Obruz looked back up to Sonia. “See if you can get power back up, Lieutenant.”
Sonia nodded and walked to the nearest console. He used his tricorder to remotely access the main computer; in no time, he was tied in, and the warp core began to slowly pulse red and blue in the dark room. Consoles and lights flickered as power was restored, and the team quickly shielded their eyes from the bright lights.
“Emergency power restored,” he announced, switching from his tricorder to the console. “I don’t see any damage to the warp core. Ah.” Sonia tapped the controls in front of him, bringing up some of the ill-fated engineer’s final reports. “They were rerouting all their power for something; propulsion, weapons, sensors. Whatever it was, they were throwing a lot of energy at something.”
Dossu moved next to Seymour to read over his shoulder. “But what is it?”
Sonia shrugged. “I’ll see if I can get into his log.” He called up the engineering logs, choosing the latest one to replay on the display in front of them.
The dead man’s face appeared on the small screen, looking tired and fearful. He was squeezing the bridge of his nose as the playback began.
“Chief Engineer's Log, Supplemental:
“We have been unable to block the triolic waves bombarding the ship or determine their source. The effect, though, is deadly. There have been twenty casualties already, and the sickbay can't keep up with newly reported cases.
“Captain Hawes has ordered us to reroute all remaining power to the communications arrays. We have to try to get a distress signal out...”
“A distress signal in the Rift?”
Sonia shook his head at the first officer. “They must have been very desperate. Or, hoping enough power in the comm-relay would have punched through the interference and to the nearest starbase.” He searched the computer for a record of the modifications the ill-fated engineer had attempted. “It doesn’t look like they managed much,” he said, skimming over the short list of work that had been finished. His eyes widened in shock. “They were about to adjust the relay to handle the extra power when the engineer and over half of his crew died.” He looked up, visibly shaken. “That was six days ago.”
Dossu shook his head in disbelief, looking around the small engine room. Seymour looked as well; the floor was littered with bodies, all of them looking like discarded rag dolls.
Discarded, terrified rag dolls, that even with the illumination restored looked no less horrific to him.
Gamma Tunarj sat silently, perched in the upper platforms of the engine room, watching the small boarding party below him. He had been watching them since they entered the closed space, hidden away in shadow and protected from view by his personal cloaking device. Next to him, similarly cloaked, he knew there were two other hunters. They were the only three survivors of the hunting party.
Tunarj reflexively turned his head toward the voice before remembering it had been piped into the speaker in his helmet. He whispered back. “Wait for them to show the weapon.”
“You saw the surprise on their faces. They are just as puzzled by the death of their people as we are.”
“Maybe they don’t know what happened.”
“They know what happened.” He narrowed his eyes, watching as the two more-heavily armed officers continued to pace around near the entrance of the engine room.
“Gamma, this is a waste of our time. We can take the information from them by force.”
“It would be better than waiting for them to mention it accidentally.”
“Or waiting for it to kill us, too!”
Tunarj took in a deep breath; his hunters were right. The longer they waited, the better the chances were that they would be the prey for whatever monstrosity was prowling the ship. He gripped his invisible weapon. “Very well. The two by the main door; they are armed to the teeth. Remove them first. Then the large alien. I will move to take their commander.” He looked down at the one wearing the dirty-yellow-colored uniform; since the group had entered the engine room, he had been issuing orders, and seemed to be the most important.
The two hunters responded in unison, “Yes, Gamma.”
Tunarj closed his eyes, hoping he had learned enough from his cousin Tajaln not to make the situation worse. Ancients, help us. “Begin the hunt!”
“Carlson, boost the flow, the mix still isn’t balancing out.”
“Sir, if we do that we risk rupturing-“
Lieutenant Commander Elaina Seurer pounded her hand on the console. “Don’t give me that, Chief. I’m not stupid.” She glared at him before turning back to the table-like computer interface that they were bent over. “I’m manually regulating the anti-matter flow, so just boost the matter flow normally and we’ll get this worked out.”
The non-com made an annoyed sound in the back of his throat before tapping a few controls. On the display, Seurer saw the matter injectors had opened, but only fifty percent. She looked up again, catching his eyes. He shook his head, sighing, then tapped a few more controls. “Matter injectors opened to full. Your show, Commander.”
“Thank you.” Seurer watched the flow carefully, tapping her own controls at precise moments to make sure the matter/anti-matter mix that was forming ten feet to her left didn’t turn into a warp core breach. “Chief, begin rotating the crystal matrix.”
“Aye sir.” There was an alert, and the Chief looked up quickly. “Matter flow is exceeding that of the anti-matter, Commander. Loss of containment-“
“Keep rotating the matrix.” Seurer frowned, working the console quicker now. But, she had planned on this happening; she had at least half a minute before she’d even consider shutting it all down again. “Alright, start easing off the matter flow injectors, we should be reaching stabilization in a few seconds.” She didn’t bother looking up; she could practically feel the man’s gaze on the top of her head, disbelieving. It didn’t bother her though; she knew what she was doing.
Ten seconds later, the warp core was thrumming with life again, the powerful heartbeat of the Akira-class starship. Elaina afforded herself a small smile as she looked over at the Chief. “You were saying?” Chief Carlson just shook his head and walked off to a wall console in silence.
Since the fight for their lives only hours ago, Seurer and her engineers had been working quickly to repair the ship in case she was ambushed again. They were finally able to take the core offline long enough to repair the few damaged injector assemblies, and had finally been able to stabilize the core and bring it back up to full power.
Elaina sighed, running a hand through her unkempt hair. It wasn’t the first time she had had to put the stubborn ship in its place in the years she had been aboard. The problem hadn’t even surprised her; she had expected it, prompting her to make it one of the final repairs she had done to the ship.
There had been one strange event, however, that she hadn’t expected. For a brief period, the illumination in the engine room had gone dark, and then flickered bright blue for a few disorienting seconds before finally returning to normal. After the second time, she had sent one of her technicians, a young technician named Decoste, into the Jeffries tubes to find the problem and fix it. She hoped it was only an issue with the lighting; she could spare one technician to fix a problem that small. Anything larger and she’d need to reassign a team that was needed for damage control.
Still, that had been almost thirty minutes ago now. The crewman should have at least checked in and reported his findings, no matter how insignificant they were.
“Bridge to Engineering.”
Elaina rolled her eyes; it was St. Peter calling. “This should be good.” She tapped her commpin and replied tersely, “Seurer here, go ahead Lieutenant Commander.”
“Commander, what’s your status down there?”
Elaina paused, taking in a deep breath. Regardless of her personal opinion of the woman and their “relationship,” it would have been suicidal for her to blatantly disrespect the woman in front of her own engineers and whatever crewmembers were on the bridge in earshot. She sighed, doing her best to hide the annoyance in her voice for being “checked up” on. “All fine down here, ‘sir.’ We had a slight hiccup with our lighting, but my technicians isolated and fixed the problem.”
She could hear a gravelly voice in the background talking to Jessica in confusion. “I didn’t detect any problems.”
Seurer smiled and shook her head. She recognized the voice; Ensign M’Ral, an operations officer and one of the few new recruits to the ship that she liked. “Well, don’t worry too much, Ensign. It’s been taken care of. Just waiting for Decoste to get out of the Jeffries tube now.”
There was a gasp behind her, and then more commotion as a few engineers began raising their voices to each other. Elaina turned around to see what was going on.
Two technicians were struggling to drag a man out of a Jeffries tube. She recognized the man; it was the crewman she had sent to fix the lighting. His head rolled from side to side, uncontrolled, as the other technicians finally freed him from the access hatch and laid him on the ground. “Shit - what happened? Where was he?” She was only met with more confusion and shouting as she hurried next to the man. His eyes were open wide, as if he had seen a ghost, and his mouth looked as if he was shouting for help. She tapped her badge, forgetting for a moment that she was already using it. “Medical emergency in main engineering, I’ve got a man down!”
Ten minutes later, Seurer was in the Chief Medical Officer’s office with St. Peter and the on-duty doctor. The three women stood silently around the desk.
Jessica swallowed the lump in her throat. “What happened, Elaina?”
Seurer shook her head. “We were bringing the core back online when the lighting went on the fritz. Just started flashing blue everywhere. It happened a second time, so I sent Decoste to try and fix it while we kept on with the core. We didn’t have the problem again, so I figured he had taken care of it. It wasn’t until you had called down that two of my other technicians found him and pulled him out.”
Jessica looked distant for a moment, then shook her head to try and clear it. “Doctor?”
The human doctor picked up a PADD from the desk and activated it. “Crewman Decoste had been dead for about ten minutes when he finally arrived. There was nothing I could do to resuscitate him. His neural energy was completely drained.” The woman shook her head. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
Seurer frowned. “There’s nothing on board that could do that, not even accidentally.”
The doctor nodded. “I know.” She shook her head. “I just don’t know what to tell you. It shouldn’t be possible.”
Elaina shook her head and huffed in frustration. “My man didn’t just up and die randomly, Doc. Something killed him.”
“Ceram detected a spike in triolic energy just before I called down to you.” Jessica crossed her arms over her chest. “It was located in main engineering.”
Seurer looked confused. “Triolic? There is nothing on the Rafale that would emit any amount of triolic energy. It’s too dangerous.”
Jessica nodded. “Something else is going on here.” She looked up at Elaina. “Work with Ceram and his team, try to isolate the source of the energy. I want to know how it got on the ship and how to get rid of it, preferably before the Hirogen come back.”
“Still no luck?”
The large, nose-less alien shook his head. “No, Commander. I am still unable to raise the Rafale and alert them of our situation.”
Gamma Tunarj stepped silently through the engine room, until he was right behind the man wearing the earring and the yellow uniform. He was hunched over what looked like a large table, where a top-down depiction of the small Starfleet ship was displayed.
“I might know why.” The young human with the shaved head and line of hair on his lip popped his head out from a hatch in the wall, causing Tunarj to jump slightly in alarm. He hadn’t seen the younger man disappear; who else was missing from the group of Starfleeters? “Whatever they were doing to the communication relay, it’s rigged like a Christmas tree in here. I think, if they even did manage to get power to the relay, they would have burned the whole thing out in a heartbeat.” He pulled himself out of the maintenance hatch and stood, brushing off his pants. “We won’t be able to call for help.”
The officer wearing the gold uniform cursed, shaking his head. “What about the distress call?”
“Gamma, I am behind the male guarding the entrance.”
“Automated, and it uses an emergency transmitter that is hard to tap into. I might be able to make it work if I had a few days to play with it.” The young human looked around and shook his head. “This ship is older than my abuelita. I wouldn’t even begin to know where to start.”
“I have the female in my sights. Give us the signal, Gamma.”
Tunarj frowned, took two deep breaths, then tapped a device on his belt that would send the signal to his hunters to strike. Then, he watched his target, waiting for the chaos to begin.
Dossu shook his head. “Do your best, Sonia. We need to -"
There was a bright flash of blue energy on the other side of the warp core, where the entrance to engineering was, followed closely by the telltale whine of an energy weapon discharging. He heard a shout from the assault officers, and phasers firing back. One of the assault officers’ voices sprang from his communicator, sounding as if he was in close quarters combat. “Hirogen hunter! Guillary’s down! They’ve got cloaks!” There was a sickening thock sound, and the channel went silent; Obruz could still hear the commotion faintly as the two fought out of sight.
Wirstowx raised the business end of his cannon to the ceiling and peppered the upper landings with phaser blasts as Nizeri and S’Tel rushed to get behind the three men. Next to him, Obruz saw Sonia raise his hand phaser and fire as well.
There was a sharp pressure in his back, and Dossu suddenly felt as if an arm had clamped around his neck and pulled him back, threatening to strangle him. He felt his feet lift up off the deck and kicked wildly as the invisible limb slowly took form. He felt himself carried backwards.
“Hold your fire, or your commander dies!”
Sano screamed behind him, and Wirstowx and Sonia both turned, their weapons pointing at the hunter that had taken him hostage. Wirstowx stared calmly at Obruz and the Hirogen holding him, his heavy-weapon held steady in front of him. Seymour, in contrast, was wide-eyed in shock; he held his phaser out at arm’s length like it was going to burn him, and Dossu nervously noted the young officer’s hand was shaking wildly. Whether out of adrenaline or fear, he wasn’t sure.
“Drop the weapons,” he heard the Hirogen hiss behind him, and he felt the arm tighten around his neck. Obruz gasped and kicked more wildly as his vision darkened around the edges.
Sonia’s hand jerked again before he powered off his phaser and tossed it to the ground. Next to him, Nizeri and S’Tel did likewise with their own small weapons. Wirstowx stood unfazed, continuing to stare the hunter down.
The alien’s grip around his neck tightened more. “I won’t repeat myself,” he warned. Obruz struggled for breath, unable to break free from the strong arm that held him in place. It was getting harder to focus, but he found it odd the Hirogen had even warned his away team off.
He didn’t kill me; he wanted to use me for leverage. Dossu tried to open his mouth to speak, but could only manage a small, frustrated hiss of air. He doesn’t want me dead; he needs me for something. Or, he’s a coward. He laughed a little inside, despite himself.
Wirstowx unexpectedly relaxed, standing straight and letting his cannon point away from the Hirogen. He nodded. “Mr. Kunicki, you may fire.”
“What?-!” The Hirogen stumbled forward suddenly, releasing Obruz to let him stagger forward, gasping for air. A second energy blast sounded in the room, sending the large alien spinning into the deck.
He slowly lifted himself off the floor and rolled over, blinking rapidly from the feeling of two successive stun blasts. He shook his head and put his hand down to try and push himself up to standing when he finally raised his head.
Wirstowx was standing over him, his phaser cannon’s emitter centimeters from the Hirogen’s facemask. The Oza shook his head once. “Do not move, Hirogen,” he threatened.
The Hunter sat back down, staring nervously at the weapon hovering close to his face.
Obruz coughed one final time as he caught his breath and slowly stood back up. He grabbed the hand Kunicki offered him as he found his footing. “Thanks Allen,” Obruz said, nodding at the man. He did a quick glance to make sure the away team was all accounted for, coming up one short. He had also counted one extra Hirogen; the massive alien was lying flat on his face a meter or so in front of him, spread eagle as if he had fallen from the ceiling. Either Wirstowx or Seymour had managed to fell the hunter in their wild firing, he decided as he stretched his neck side to side. “Guillary?”
Kunicki shook his head. “They sniped her first; I don’t think she made it.”
Dossu turned in time to see S’Tel turn and hurry to the opposite side of the warp core to check on the second assault officer. He closed his eyes and offered a silent plea to the Prophets; Guillary had been one of his officers that followed him from the Merveille, and a friend. Please let her be alright, Prophets.
He opened his eyes and stepped forward to stand next to Wirstowx’s aimed weapon, glaring down at the Hirogen hunter. “I’m Lieutenant Commander Obruz Dossu, of the starship Rafale. Who are you, and what are you doing on this ship?”
The Hunter shifted his gaze from the cannon to the Bajoran, doing his best to remain defiant. “I am Gamma Tunarj. We came aboard to investigate this ship in the Great Bloom.”
“What did you do with the crew?”
Tunarj rolled his eyes and did his best to laugh derisively. “You should know. It is a weapon you were creating that this crew unwittingly released. Or, perhaps they were your test subjects, hmm?”
Dossu narrowed his eyes and leaned forward, doing his best to intimidate the alien. “What weapon?”
“Phantoms of light. They would be formidable prey for even the best hunter. They killed this crew, and most of my hunting party, including my Alpha.” The Gamma shifted forward in his seated position, lowering his voice. “I can imagine what the Romulans will think when they hear of this new invisible army, these living weapons, that your ‘peaceful’ Federation created.”
“’Phantoms of light?’” Nizeri asked, stepping next to Wirstowx. “What exactly did you see?”
“They were not there, and then suddenly the command center of this ship was filled with them.” The Hirogen looked off to the side, remembering the scene. “They lifted the mightiest hunters I have known - including my Alpha - in the air as if they weighed nothing until they stopped struggling. And then, the…monsters…disappeared again, letting my kin drop to the floor, dead.” He looked back at the three officers. “What have you done? What madness did you create?”
Obruz shook his head. “We didn’t create anything.” He looked at his fellow officers, immediately concerned. “But I think it’s safe to assume that we’re all in danger.”
Chapter 10 by TemplarSora
“It’s not possible, S’Tel.” Nizeri quickly snapped her tricorder shut, silencing the device as she holstered it again. She shook her head in frustration.
The Vulcan doctor inspected her own tricorder for another moment longer before calmly closing the instrument and looking up at the Trill woman with her typically emotionless eyes. “Lieutenant Sano, I can assure you the readings were not falsified.”
Nizeri shook her head again and stood up, eyeing the dead Hirogen they had been studying. So far, the mission had been putting her through more stress than she had thought possible, not the least of it resulting from stumbling upon the dead Vulcan in the cargo bay. Since then, she had been terrified out of her mind on the derelict ship: even restoring power had done nothing to calm her nerves.
Even the light movement of air from the environmental systems was conspiring against her; she shuddered as she felt another light breeze blow on the back of her neck, as if a light hand was brushing against it.
“What’ve we got, ladies?” Sano glanced over to see Obruz come up behind S’Tel, looking concerned. Behind him, Sonia was still busy working on the communications relay, while Wirstowx and Kunicki stood watch over the captured Hirogen.
S’Tel stood and stared at Nizeri, prompting her to give the first officer her report; the Trill mentally cursed at the Vulcan for making her speak. “Whatever happened on the ship before we got here is still going on.” She pointed at the dead Hirogen on the ground, the one who had sniped and killed their female assault officer only a few minutes earlier. “The fall didn’t kill him.”
Obruz looked from Nizeri to S’Tel for a moment and back, waiting. “I’m going to guess that Wirstowx didn’t, either.”
S’Tel raised an eyebrow. “Actually, no. Wirstowx didn’t shoot him; Mister Sonia managed to land a hit on him, which caused this man to fall from his perch.” She tilted her head to the side. “Still, the phaser did not kill him, nor did the fall.”
“We determined he was in pretty bad shape, but he would have been alive and could have survived.” Nizeri took in a deep breath. “He died when our…friend…decided to take you hostage. All our attention was on him, so none of us saw anything strange.”
“What killed him, then?” Obruz crossed his arms over his chest, frowning.
Sano shot one final glare towards S’Tel before addressing the commander. “The Doctor and I have conflicting theories about the crew’s and his death.”
S’Tel raised an eyebrow as she calmly put her hands behind her, clasping them together. “I would disagree with your assessment. We are, in fact, in agreement on the cause of death.”
“It’s not possible, S’Tel.” Nizeri repeated, shaking her head again.
The Vulcan turned her attention to Obruz, effectively silencing the Trill science officer. “We’ve seen injuries like this before.”
Obruz glanced questioningly between the two. “We have?”
Sano rolled her eyes. “No, we have not. Starfleet has records of similar injuries. From about forty years ago,” she added, crossing her arms in front of her.
“When you have eliminated all other explanations, whatever remains, however unlikely…”
“Is the logical explanation,” Nizeri finished for S’Tel, sighing. Vulcan logic could be so frustrating sometimes.
Dossu huffed. “If you two are finished…what is going on?”
S’Tel addressed the first officer, for which Nizeri was thankful. “We’re certain the Warwick was attacked by an alien race first encountered by the Enterprise-D. They exist slightly out of phase with ‘normal’ matter, and utilize triolic energy to interact with beings out of phase from them.”
“These beings…you think they’re responsible for this,” Obruz waved his arms around the compartment, “this slaughter?”
“It’s not a matter of simple mindless killing, Commander.” Sano bit her lip anxiously. “These creatures - Devidians - feed on the neural energies of other organic life, especially humanoids.”
Obruz’s eyes went wide, and he made a loud gulping noise as he looked fearfully behind him. “I think I want to go back to the ship now.” He shook his head, turning back to face Nizeri. “So, the triolic energy readings from the cargo bay and just inside the door here?”
Sano nodded slowly. “If we’re right about this-“
“We are.” S’Tel interjected.
Nizeri took in a sharp breath and continued, glaring at the doctor. “It means the Devidians are still on the ship.” She motioned around them. “They could be surrounding us right now and we wouldn't even know.”
Obruz looked at Sano in alarm. “Which means we could be in danger.” He took in a deep breath, thinking for a moment. “We need to get back to the Rafale.”
Doctor S’Tel shook her head. “Commander, nothing is to say they aren’t already on the Rafale.”
Nizeri looked anxiously at Obruz. “We need to contact the ship and warn them. Now.”
“Captain to the bridge!”
Jessica looked up from the computer screen on her desk just as the lighting turned crimson and an alarm sounded, bringing the ship to red alert. She glanced out her ready room viewport, where the dark shape of the derelict Warwick hung in the green gasses of the Bassen Rift. She stood and exited her office quickly, making her way to the center of the bustling bridge. “Report!”
Ensign M’Ral stood from the center chair and offered it to the Commander as he stepped sideways. “Sensors just picked up the Hirogen battleship from earlier. They just entered our limited sensor range again, and it looks like they brought friends.” He motioned to the viewscreen.
Jessica turned her head and gasped, sinking into the command chair. On the screen was the massive form of the Hirogen battleship, flanked on either side by the slender, curved hulls of two Romulan Birds-of-Prey. She looked up at the Caitian, doing her best to mask her anxiety. “Have they attempted communications?”
If M’Ral sensed her fear, he didn’t let on; the feline shook his head. “Not yet, though from the attack posture they’ve assumed, I doubt they’re here to talk.”
St. Peter nodded, looking back at the viewscreen and trying to decide what to do. Despite her best efforts, she was only managing to come up with nothing, which caused her more distress.
Back at his operations console, M’Ral called out, “Now they’re hailing us.” He turned his head to look over his shoulder at Jessica. “It’s one of the Romulan ships.”
“On screen,” Jessica replied with a nervous squeak. She coughed, clearing her throat before the image of the five ships was replaced with the large, scowling face of a Romulan officer, the chain resting on her shoulders and hanging down the front of her tunic showing her station as the commander of the vessel.
She quietly regarded the Federation crew before finally locking her eyes on Jessica in the center chair. “This is the warbird Trinil. We have received reports of a Federation starship trespassing within a restricted area of Romulan space!”
Jessica stood indignantly, forgetting that she still hadn’t introduced herself. “Restricted area? We were ordered here as part of the joint mission between the Federation and the Empire to investigate thalaron levels in the rift! We’re supposed to be here!”
“We also have several subspace communications linking you to the disappearance of Hirogen squadrons conducting peaceful research in this vicinity.” The Romulan leaned forward, grinning viciously. “Prepare to pay for your crimes.”
“Peaceful research?! They attacked us!” Jessica shouted, but the channel had already closed. Fuming, she dropped back into her seat as the ships on the screen broke formation, preparing to encircle and attack the starship. “Helm, keep us near the Warwick, and don’t let them get a shot at the ship. Power up phasers and load torpedo bays.”
“Commander, we’re being hailed again.” M’Ral sounded excited. “It’s from the Warwick!”
Jessica frowned. “Put it through.”
There was a soft crackle, and then a few voices talking over one another before Obruz’s voice rose to quiet them. “Away team to Rafale, come in Rafale.”
“We read you, Obruz. What’s your status?”
“Commander, we’ve found no survivors of the crew, and only one survivor of a Hirogen hunting party that came over after the crew died.” There was more static, interrupting the Bajoran’s report. “…still on board, and on the Rafale, too. We have a plan to drive the remaining creatures off the ship, but we’re going to lose contact with you for a time.”
Jessica looked around the bridge, then back at the screen in time to see the battleship fire. Rafale rocked from the impact to her shields, and Jessica pointed furiously at the helmsman to get him to start maneuvering the ship. “Whatever you need to do, Dossu, do it! That Hirogen battleship came back with some Romulan friends; we’ve got our hands full. We’ll do our best to protect you.”
Obruz paused for a moment. “Confirm, Romulans?”
The ship shook as the Hirogen’s energy weapons collided with the Rafale’s shields again. Jessica grumbled in frustration. “Yes, Romulans! Now hurry up!” She pressed a control on her armrest to close the communications and turned her attention back to the replacement helmsman. “Helm, evasive maneuvers! Do I really need to order that with them shooting at us?”
The ship shook again, and a few consoles around the bridge flickered as the ship’s shields began to falter. Jessica gritted her teeth and turned around to the science console, where Ceram was still posted, bent over the station and hard at work. “Ceram, figure out what Obruz meant about ‘creatures’ being on the Rafale.”
The Benzite paused for a moment in confusion. “Who, exactly, should I be looking for on board?”
Jessica threw her hands in the air as she turned her chair back around to face the front of the bridge. “Hell if I know!” The ship bucked from another volley of weapons fire, causing those standing at the front of the bridge to drop to their knees suddenly. “Fire at will! I’m tired of playing with this bastard!”
Chaos was suddenly all around it.
It had found another target, one that would suffice to sate its appetite, when the blaring noise started. It was an awful noise, and loud, and caused it great discomfort to hear. Then, the ship began to quake as sounds of a new battle reverberated throughout the hull.
It was dangerous, too dangerous to be here. And the firing of the energy weapons was causing its portal to grow unstable. It would be impossible to open a new portal on its own; it would be trapped on the ship, able to see its prey, but unable to hunt any of it without the portal channeling the energy required to come into phase with the beings.
All around it would be food, but not a bite to eat. A hellish existence.
So it raced back to its portal and moved through, sealing the rift behind it. Even if it had left the portal on the ship, the battle would have either destabilized the portal enough to collapse it entirely, or the ship would be destroyed, leaving nothing for it to go back to.
It would wait for the scouts to return later, when they confirmed there was food again.
Chapter 11 by TemplarSora
“Tell me again what we’re doing?”
Seymour rolled his eyes, shutting off the hyperspanner in his hand. “Sir, this is already difficult enough without you interrupting me. Please,” he motioned for the first officer to take a step back, before returning to the piece of equipment in his hands.
Obruz blinked a few times in surprise, then shrugged. “Understood. So what are we doing?”
“The Devidians are out of phase with us and ‘normal’ space.” Sonia shut off the hyperspanner again and offered the electronic he was working on to the Bajoran. “The Warwick was loaded with sensitive scanning equipment for her survey mission here. We’re using the components to create a contained subspace field -"
“That will bring us into phase with them.” Dossu finished, nodding. “If they’re still here.”
“Assuming we’re right about this, they’re definitely still here, Commander.” Sano appeared next to the first officer, looking past him at Sonia as he finished his work. “How is the phase discriminator coming?”
Sonia dropped the hyperspanner and snapped a panel shut on the device, then handed it to the Trill. “Done. Just need you to input the phase variance.” He motioned with his head to the warp core, where a small circle of transporter enhancers had been set up already. “The enhancers will help create the field; once we’re phased, we’ll be able to move outside of the field. We’ll have to be back inside the ring - and with the discriminator - to phase back.” He lowered his voice and shook his head. “Assuming this even works.”
Dossu glanced behind him, past the enhancers where Wirstowx and Kunicki were still standing over the Hirogen. He frowned. “How many of us can phase?”
“We’ve got it plugged in directly to the core, sir.” Seymour shrugged. “We could take the entire crew of the Rafale with us if we wanted to…and if we could all, you know…fit in the engine room.”
Obruz nodded. “Put the finishing touches on it.” He walked to where his two guards were and came up between them, looking down at their prisoner.
The Hirogen Tunarj looked up and sneered. “What do you want, Bajora?”
Dossu frowned at the Hirogen. “We have a plan to drive your ‘phantoms’ off this ship.” He tapped Wirstowx on his elbow and motioned for the Hirogen’s rifle, which the equally massive Ozem was holding. The warrior surrendered the rifle to him; Dossu strained a little under the weight of the weapon, but managed to keep his composure. “I’m offering you a choice, Hirogen. Come with us and help us clean up.”
Wirstowx and Kunicki looked incredulously at one another, then back to Obruz, neither saying a word. Tunarj looked equally confused, shifting his gaze from the Bajoran’s face to the emitter of his rifle, which the Starfleet officer held a few precarious inches from his chest. “What is my alternative?”
“We leave you behind.” Obruz shrugged. “We’ll take a short hike to the brig and toss you in. I can’t have you running amok on the ship, especially with our escape route unguarded. Of course,” he finished, a slight smirk forming on his lips. “Locked away in the brig, with no way to defend yourself? If these Devidians are still on board, you’d be a pretty easy snack for them.”
“I see your point.” Tunarj sighed and nodded. “Very well. I will assist you. It is the least I can do for my comrades…and my Alpha.”
Obruz turned the rifle around, ignoring the protests of Kunicki as the human tried to put a hand on the weapon and stop it. He offered the butt of the rifle to the Hirogen, who hesitantly took it and stood.
Dossu turned his back to Tunarj. “Sano, are we ready to try this?”
“We’ve got everything we need, sir.”
“Alright team. Form up around Sano.” The away team moved to stand in the ring of pattern enhancers, weapons out and charged. The small Trill woman held the phase discriminator tightly in her hands in the center of the small ring. Dossu nodded to her. “Start it up.”
Nizeri tapped a button on the device, and it began to whine as it powered on. Sano opened her tricorder and began manipulating the controls. “Beginning shift. Point-zero-zero-one. Zero-zero-two.”
There was a bright blue flash as the team began to phase shift. They all brought their weapons up, looking around in alarm. “Is this supposed to be happening?” Kunicki asked.
Tunarj’s voice rumbled next to the assault officer. “This looks like what happened when the creatures attacked my hunting party. We thought it was a problem with this ship’s lighting.”
“I think the ship’s crew thought the same thing,” replied Sonia as he glanced around nervously.
“Point-zero-zero-four,” Nizeri announced, closing her tricorder. The flashing light had stopped, and now the away team found themselves in a cerulean world. Sano blinked her eyes a few times, the flood of blue light disorienting her.
Obruz was also blinking his eyes as he fought off a wave of nausea. “Everyone feel ok?” There were a few affirmative replies around him as he stepped forward, searching the room. Nothing had changed, except for the wash of blue everywhere. He turned around to face his team again and stopped, surprised. Everyone looked as if they were disappearing in blue, except for their heads; bright, almost-white light shone around the away team member’s heads, illuminating them like ghostly halos.
He pointed to his head when he saw S’Tel lift her head to look at him. “What’s this?”
S’Tel raised an eyebrow, doing a quick glance around at the rest of the team. “Fascinating. I believe we are seeing physical manifestations of our neural energies.” She pulled out her tricorder and began recording. “This is most intriguing.”
Something was very wrong. Very, very wrong.
The beings had been there - their presence had been so easily felt, seven beacons of life in an otherwise dead space - and now, they were…
Still here. Changed, but still here.
It reached out with its senses and could “taste” the energy in the air. It was so much closer, so much easier to find. It was as if the barrier that separated them from each other had been destroyed.
No longer separated. If it knew how to laugh, it would have cackled in glee.
Nothing was wrong. Everything was perfect.
Its brethren felt the change, too. They converged on the central part of the ship, where the energy was greatest. Like wolves on the hunt, they followed the sensation of the energy - the food, sustenance, their way of life - and found that their prey had made things that much easier for them.
The Devidians would not need to expend more energy to feast. This time, dinner had come to them.
The away team cautiously stepped outside the ring of pattern enhancers, weapons held at the ready.
“Lieutenant Sano, you’re sure the weapons will work while we’re…phased?” Crewman Kunicki checked the power reading on his rifle, then looked up anxiously at the science officer.
Nizeri nodded slowly, doing her best to look confident. “Absolutely.”
“She has no idea,” chimed Wirstowx, checking the power on his cannon.
Kunicki went wide-eyed for a moment, then glared at Nizeri. She, in turn, glared at Wirstowx. “Wirst! They’ll work just fine.” She shrugged and looked back at the assault officer with a sheepish expression. “I just don’t know what effect they’ll have on the Devidians.”
“Now she tells us.”
Dossu raised his rifle so he could look down the sights. “Don’t worry, Kunicki. You’re about to get a test run.”
There was a tear in the air like a massive, purple wound. Floating around it were six ghostly figures. They were tall, taller even than the massive Hirogen standing with the away team. Their skin was wrinkled, and their heads were devoid of any features save for a large, gaping orifice on their foreheads.
Nizeri swallowed hard. “Devidians.”
As Nizeri said this, one of them turned its head towards the team. The hair on the back of Obruz’s neck prickled, and he steadied his weapon. “I think they see us.” The one that had turned its head followed with the rest of its body, moving quickly towards the small team, arms outstretched. Its partners followed close behind. “Open fire!”
Phasers lashed out blood red beams of energy, hitting three of the beings square in the chest. They tumbled backwards, dazed, before lifting up off the floor and moving forward again. Nizeri let out a startled cry and fired again, as did the rest of the away team.
“I thought our weapons would be effective!” Tunarj shouted over at Sano.
“They are effective, or they wouldn’t be affected!” Sano fired her phaser again. “We need to find a power setting that’ll actually do more than just annoy them!”
Seymour yelled then, and Obruz turned to see a Devidian pounce on top of the human, its hands wrapped around his neck. “Help!” He shouted, trying to kick the alien off of him. Dossu could see the glow around Sonia’s head brighten for a moment before it started to reach out, like a tentacle, away from his head, moving slowly toward the Devidian’s mouth. Sonia’s struggles started to falter.
“It’s killing him! Quick!” Tunarj turned and lunged at the alien, kicking it square in the side and smacking it in the head with the butt of his rifle. The alien was thrown off Sonia and rolled away on the ground before lifting off again and lunging at the Hirogen. Its outstretched hands wrapped around his arms and it put its head close to his; instantly his movement to fight off the alien became sluggish.
A blood red streak flew out of the corner of his eye from behind him, and Obruz watched as the Devidian was thrown backward off the hunter. Another blast flew past him, striking the alien again. This time, it fell to the ground and didn’t get back up.
“Modulate your weapons to kill setting, five-one-mark-zero-two.” S’Tel called above the noise, firing her hand phaser again at another Devidian before it attacked her.
After a brief pause to set their weapons, the away team began shooting again, this time with lethal results. After another twenty seconds, engineering was silent again.
“Are you alright?” Dossu bent down and grabbed the Hirogen’s arm, lifting him up. He gasped for breath and nodded. “Sonia, are you doing ok?” He turned to see the Operations officer sitting up, and he gave him a weak nod in reply. “Ok, S’Tel, watch them. Wirstowx, Kunicki, with me.” Dossu turned and raised his rifle, aiming at the rift near the entrance to engineering. “Fire!”
The three of them squeezed the triggers of their weapons, sending a concentrated barrage of phaser fire at the open rift. A sound of tearing fabric filled the room, and then the rift disappeared.
“We’re…going to have to do the same thing…around the ship.” Seymour coughed, struggling to stand with help from Sano. “Either that or we destroy the whole damn ship.”
“I don’t think Starfleet would appreciate that.” Obruz tilted his head to the side, stretching his neck until it popped. “Nizeri, where’s the next portal?”
Pain. Agony. Hunger.
They were fighting back. Their weapons worked.
Another searing pain like fire. The portal had been closed.
There were only two more on the small ship. They would be found. They would be closed off.
They couldn’t let the remaining portals close. If the ones in the rift were destabilized, there would be no way back.
And so the Devidians passed through the remaining portals, as fast as they could, before they were trapped on the wrong side. A handful were left to guard each portal, but they needed to bring most of them back. They couldn’t stay, not any longer. It was too dangerous.
The largest of the phantoms lifted his scepter above his head - a writhing, snake-like creature that snapped and spat in his hand. The loss of their kin would not go unpunished.
Chapter 12 by TemplarSora
Rafale shuddered as the Romulan ship off her bow managed to fire one more salvo before main power was lost. The Starfleet ship soared over the disabled enemy as more weapons collided with her shields, making them flare behind her.
“That’s three of them,” the helmsman reported, his hands flying over the controls as the young ensign kept the ship moving.
Jessica looked up from the science station long enough to verify the ensign’s report before turning her attention back to the library file in front of her. “Keep up evasive patterns!” The ship deck rocked under her feet, and she scrambled to grab onto the station before she was thrown from it a second time. She shook her head and addressed the science officer across from her. “You’re sure of this?”
Ceram nodded, holding onto the console in similar fashion. “After Commander Obruz made mention of ‘them,’ along with the readings of triolic energy, and the death of crewman Decoste in engineering, I have no doubt. We are dealing with Devidians in the Rift.”
Jessica frowned. “The triolic energy waves…They utilize triolic energy to come into phase with us to feed?”
“That is correct.” He staggered as the ship bucked again. “They also utilize it to create ‘portals’ that allow them to travel in time. It is entirely possible the aliens we are seeing here are from the past or some future date where…”
“The portals.” Jessica manipulated her own console, bringing up the sensor scans Lieutenant Sano had taken prior to the initial attack and forced them to display at the Benzite’s screen. “Is it possible Sano found them when we first got here?”
Ceram studied the scans quietly, manipulating his controls to extract as much information as he could from the data.
Another blast echoed through the hull. “That battleship is hitting weapons range, Commander!” The helmsman quickly executed a hard bank, and Jessica turned her head in time to see a torpedo pass over the ship and continue forward, missing its mark.
“Return fire and keep us moving!” She turned back towards the science officer as he continued puzzling over the data. “Ceram! We don’t have time for this! Are these the portals?”
The Benzite startled, looking up in surprise. “Oh! Yes, I believe they could be the portals. The size of them is remarkable. I wonder if the Devidians do employ some method of star travel seeing as these rifts are rather massive in…”
“How do we close them?”
Jessica nodded. “We need to close them!”
Ceram still looked perplexed. “Lieutenant Commander, our interaction with this race is severely limited. Think of all that we could learn from them. As a xenobiologist, I assumed you would be excited for the opportunity to -"
“The Devidians feed on neural energy, Ceram.” Jessica shook her head. “Trying to ‘talk’ peace with them would be like your dinner trying to talk with you before you ate it. I know that we try to have peaceful interactions with other species but the Devidians used the Warwick's crew as food, and at least one of our crewmembers.” The two scientists grabbed the console as the ship shook around them again. “We have to close their portals.”
Jessica and Ceram stared at each other for a moment before the crewman lowered his head, his hands flying over his station. “In order to make the portals visible, I will need to bombard them with ionizing radiation.”
St. Peter left the science station to take the captain’s chair again, watching on the screen. “That takes care of one problem - finding the portals. What about closing them?”
“Judging from the rate of decay, the portals are already very unstable. I would surmise this is due to the battle we are currently engaged in.” There was a pause behind her before Ceram called out again, “Ma’am, the Enterprise-D was able to modify their weapons to close a similar portal during our first contact with the Devidians. It will not be difficult to make the modifications.”
Jessica watched on the screen as another Romulan Bird-of-Prey swung into view and then quickly maneuvered, firing its disruptors at the Rafale as she fired her phasers back. “Do it; get to Engineering and work with Seurer on the modifications. Once you’re ready, begin the bombardment.”
Ceram left his post and jumped into the turbolift as Jessica tapped the controls on her chair. “Bridge to Engineering!”
“Lock down the injectors this time, I don’t want to have to replace them again today!” Elaina rushed from one side of the engine room to the other, quickly assessing her engineers as they hurried with their duties keeping the Rafale fighting. “Shields status?!”
“The Romulans are targeting our shield emitters; shields down to sixty-five percent!”
“Get repair crews to the affected areas to start combat repairs!”
“Bridge to Engineering!”
Elaina cursed; she didn’t have time for Jessica to be checking on her now or repeating the orders she had already issued to her engineers. She tapped her communicator as she moved next to a Betazoid engineer monitoring the warp core. “Go ahead!”
“Elaina, Specialist Ceram is on his way down to you. We need to bombard a few anomalies with ionizing radiation to make them visible, as well as modify our weapons to close the rifts.”
Dammit, what anomalies? What rifts? Elaina shook her head in frustration. “This is an awful time to do anything beyond keeping the ship together, Commander!”
“We’re almost finished up here. Work with him to get it done and begin bombardment once you’re ready. I can explain all of this later!”
The channel closed before Elaina could protest. She paused for a moment in surprise; Jessica had given her an order with confidence, rather than the desperation she had been expecting. She smirked. “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this.”
Obruz and Kunicki peered through the door cautiously, then quickly pulled back on either side. “That is a very large group of them,” Obruz commented. “This is the last portal, correct?”
Nizeri nodded. “The one in engineering, and the one in the mess hall on our way back here.” She pointed to the open doorway to the cargo bay. “This is the last one on the ship, and right now it’s the strongest source of triolic energy.”
The Warwick shuddered around them then, the noise of the weapons impact echoing oddly in their phased state. Dossu glanced around, waiting for an errant strike to blast a hole in the hull of the ship, or worse, completely destroy the Warwick with them still on it. “We need to hurry this up.”
Wirstowx stepped forward with his large phaser cannon; next to him, the Hirogen Tunarj raised his rifle, waiting to attack. The two large aliens quickly glanced at one another and nodded; Wirstowx turned back to Dossu. “Ready.”
The last of the evacuees had returned safely through the open portal. Now the rest of the Devidians, the stronger ones tasked to protect the exit at all costs, would return home.
The largest of the remaining aliens, his status among the others shown by the crown of horns that topped his head, turned suddenly. In its hand, a snake-like creature writhed and hissed. It, too, sensed what the phantom had.
The intruders were upon them.
The phantom shrieked a warning as phaser beams lashed out, hitting two of the defenders square in the chest and sending them reeling backwards. It shrieked again, causing the attackers to stop in confusion. Pathetic humans.
It raised the snake it held into the air above its head, channeling the triolic energy waves that were radiating out from the open portal behind it.
“STOP!” it screamed, surprising them even more as it reached towards them with its free hand. It made a fist, lifting it high as if it had taken hold of one of the creatures by the neck. Instantly, the attackers found themselves floating in the air, struggling as some unseen force lifted them and held them bound. The snake in the phantom’s hand opened its mouth, beginning to drain the energy of the helpless creatures that had dared to attack the Devidians.
“Bridge, engineering; we’re ready to go down here! Initiating bombardment now!”
Jessica looked up at the viewscreen as another Romulan ship passed in front of the Rafale. Just behind it, a small patch of the rift began to shimmer faintly. She pointed at the screen. “Tactical, target that rift and fire phasers!”
The tactical officer began his firing pattern, looking over his right shoulder at the blue alien. “What about the Romulans?”
Jessica frowned, thinking for a moment. “Shields status?”
M’Ral called from behind her, “Seventy-five percent!” The bridge shook, punctuating the report as the Romulan attack connected with the shields. “Continuing to rotate power around the grid as the Romulans circle us, but they’re starting to punch through.”
Jessica shrugged; for once, something seemed to click and make sense. “Focus on those rifts; the sooner we get them closed, the safer we’ll all be. When our shields drop below fifty percent, return to firing at the Romulans.”
“And the Hirogen battleship?”
Jessica shook her head. “Keep running. We can’t take them with the Romulans still pestering us.”
Rafale turned her nose quickly, acquiring her new target. A flurry of phaser fire erupted from her forward cannons, hurtling towards an area of the Bassen Rift that was shimmering as radiation continued to bombard it. As the phaser fire collided with the triolic energy, the open portal became even more visible, causing the Romulan Birds-of-Prey that were harrying the Starfleet vessel to momentarily stop their attack in confusion.
The portal - little more than a tear in the fabric of space, no larger than the ship firing at it - grew larger as a wave of triolic energy erupted from it, bathing the ships in the Bassen Rift for a moment. The Romulan ships veered away quickly, taking a few shots of their own at the mysterious rift as they sped out of range.
Rafale continued firing her phasers, closing with the portal until, with another violent eruption of triolic energy, the portal destabilized and collapsed in a brilliant explosion that rocked the ships close to it. The Starfleet vessel maneuvered, firing a few warning shots at the Romulan ships as she bombarded another open portal and began to fire at it in similar fashion.
Only one ship dared get close to the Akira-class ship. Despite the warnings she was issued from her allied ships, the Hirogen ship closed in on the Rafale, her only goal to finish the hunt and collect her trophies.
Chapter 13 by TemplarSora
“They are targeting another anomaly, Alpha!”
Gan sat forward in his chair, eyeing the Starfleet vessel on the viewer as it fired at a seemingly empty area of the Great Bloom. He narrowed his eyes, eventually seeing the slight shimmer of the anomaly as the ship continued to throw ionizing radiation towards it. “What are they doing?”
The Hirogen to his left, newly appointed to the position of Beta on the ship, worked his controls furiously. He lacked the skill Gan had acquired from years of tutelage under the previous Alpha.
He glanced around for a moment, taking in the view of the command center. It wasn’t unusual for Hirogen Betas to promote themselves to the position of Alpha on a ship, especially when the first Alpha was missing or had been killed in a hunt. The problem was that Tajaln’s status was still unknown. Gan respected his Alpha and followed him without a thought of taking leadership from the man by force. Somehow taking his title now seemed wrong, hasty even.
Once we destroy this Starfleet nuisance and collect our prize, Tajaln can have his ship and his hunters back. “What is that ship doing, Beta?”
“They are firing all of their weapons at that anomaly; they are completely ignoring the Romulans and us.” There was a pause, and the new Beta furrowed his brow. “I am reading a strange energy source from the anomaly, one that is not commonly seen. I am accessing the Romulan library to identify it.”
“Quickly.” Gan turned his chair to the right to address the weapons controller at his station. “How long until we are within range?”
The young Hirogen looked up from his console. “We are entering range now, Alpha.”
“Alpha, the energy is being identified as ‘triolic’ energy.” The new Beta looked up, his face masked with confusion. “I am unfamiliar with this energy type. It is very dangerous to organic matter.”
Gan shook his head. “I do not care about it. Continue our approach.” He pointed to the weaponeer below him. “Wait until that anomaly collapses, and then fire on the Starfleet vessel. We will destroy them now!”
“Another triolic eruption!”
“Strengthening forward shields!”
Jessica gritted her teeth as the ship rocked around her. “Keep on it…”
“Captain!” M’Ral roared behind her as the ship was violently tossed by the anomaly’s demise. “Hirogen battleship is within weapons range. They’re firing!”
Jessica’s eyes widened as she gripped the armrests of her chair before she was tossed forward as the ship rocked again. Consoles exploded around the bridge, showering the officers with shrapnel and flooding the small bridge with black smoke. She coughed, struggling to keep her eyes open in the stinging haze. “Focus shield strength to our aft and increase our speed to get out of their weapons envelope!”
“Shields are at thirty-five percent!” The tactical officer coughed as he spoke. “They disabled half our rear shield grid with that attack!”
M’Ral growled behind her in reply. “Reroute it where? The grid is heavily damaged, Commander! Repair teams are having trouble getting to the generators; getting reports of hull breaches and fires all throughout the rear of the ship.”
Jessica cursed loudly; the order to reroute emergency power always seemed to work for Mal’kon. “I’m open to suggestions!”
The helmsman’s hands were a blur across his panel as Rafale increased speed and shot forward, evading more attacks from the large ship pursuing them. “I liked your first idea to run, ma’am!”
St. Peter giggled softly despite herself. She waved at the screen, settling uncomfortably into the chair. “Then run, dammit!” She lowered her voice, speaking aloud to herself. “I hope the away team is having better luck than we are.”
What is…going on?
It was a difficult question to answer. Wirstowx was finding it harder to concentrate, but it also didn’t seem possible. He struggled, flailing his arms and kicking wildly to try and break free, but it was getting more and more difficult to continue fighting. He turned his head to see Nizeri next to him suspended in the air as well. Her mouth and eyes were wide open, and her arms hung limp at her sides, her body jerking every so often as she managed to regain control of her senses, only to have them ripped from her again. A quick jerk of his neck let him see Commander Obruz near him, the Bajoran’s body convulsing in similar fashion.
A string of white light seemed to float out from each of the away team members towards the largest Devidian, connecting them all to him. Wirstowx struggled more, though he knew his own strength and willpower was faltering considerably with each passing moment.
Any longer…and we won’t…be able…to fight…
A blast of energy screamed past Wirstowx’s head, the light blinding him for a dizzying moment. In the few seconds of blindness he heard one of the aliens scream. As if a cord that was holding him aloft had been cut, he felt gravity suddenly take hold of him again and pull him forcefully back to the ground. He groaned as his vision slowly came back, struggling to find the weapon he had dropped when he hit the deck plating.
A large, gloved hand gripped his upper arm and pulled the Ozem warrior to his feet as he felt the butt of his weapon thrust into his stomach. “Get up!”
Wirstowx blinked, the dark blob in front of him slowly becoming clearer. He shook his head, clearing out the last of his disorientation, before gripping the handle of his weapon and nodding his thanks to the Hirogen. Together, the hulking aliens turned and fired their weapons at the largest of the Devidians, peppering its slender body with phaser and tetryon blasts.
A third weapon began firing from behind them, and Wirstowx was pleased to see that Obruz was back on his feet quicker than the team’s remaining assault squad member. Perhaps the new exec would be worth his weight on the ship after all.
The large Devidian screamed in rage again as it hurried backward from the away team’s continued barrage. A lucky shot hit the alien in the hand, and it dropped the snake it had been holding onto the ground.
Wirstowx brought his emitter down and aimed it at the ground for a second before bringing the weapon back up again, his finger never releasing the trigger. Phaser bolts blasted the snake into oblivion before coming back to bear on the Devidian.
With a final indignant shriek, the slender alien turned and dove through the open portal behind it.
The Hirogen howled and ran forward, ignoring the order from Obruz. Still firing his weapon at it, the Hirogen ran full speed into the open rift, which flashed brightly as he passed through.
“The hell is that idiot doing!?”
Wirstowx shook his head. “Collecting his trophies.”
Behind him, he could hear S’Tel cough before replying, her voice straining to remain impassive. “He will be dead in a matter of minutes. There is nothing we can do for him.”
“Then he’s another casualty.” Kunicki stepped up next to Wirstowx, staring at the gaping rift. “We can’t go in after him; there’s no guarantee we’ll get back out, sir.”
“Agreed,” Obruz declared, aiming his weapon. “Close the rift; we’re done here.”
The Starfleet team raised their weapons and fired in unison. A minute later, the final rift on the Warwick closed.
Gamma Tunarj turned his head quickly from side to side, looking around him. He was in a spacious cavern now, and all around were the same thin, faceless aliens as had been on the Starfleet ship. They were gathered around him, their heads all pointed towards him as they sensed the intruder in their realm.
Ancients, the hunter thought in despair as the horde of Devidians lunged at him.
The humanoid was hardly filling for the gathered Devidians. The leader of the group lifted the dead Hirogen by his neck, squeezing the last fleeting moments of life from the corpse before viciously hurling the alien at the cavern’s far wall.
They had been discovered. They had been stopped. More anger and fury built up inside the phantom. The area of space - the Great Bloom, the Romulan-aliens called it - had been a wonderful trap for them. Killings under the guise of extreme radiation poisoning. Accidental deaths from equipment failure. All were common aboard the Romulan ships in that area of space.
They had gotten greedy with their good fortune in this hunting ground. Soon, its coven had tripled in size, all of them desperately hungry. The Human ship had been a boon, and had drawn more ships into the area to hunt.
The lead Devidian closed its hand into a fist. The meddling Human ship that had arrived after was destroying their only ways into the Bloom. Soon, the last of the rifts would be closed. It shrieked, calling the rest of the Devidians to listen. Something else needed to be done to protect them.
Chapter 14 by TemplarSora
Jessica leaned forward and gripped the engineer’s arm, helping to pull him up from where he had fallen in front of the command chair. The repair team member looked up at her in a daze and mumbled “thank you” as he struggled to his feet. The deck shook again underneath him, and he fell on top of the commander; there was a brief moment of panicked surprise as the two officers stared at each other, the engineer’s hands unfortunately pressing against St. Peter’s chest as he caught himself.
Jessica quickly pushed him off her, feeling the blood rise to her face in embarrassment. She shook her head at the dumbfounded engineer. “Go!” She ordered, pointing to the blown console where he had been working. The engineer blinked his eyes, still staring at Jessica’s chest before finally moving back to the station on the wall he was repairing. She turned her head to call behind her at M’Ral. “Status of shields?”
M’Ral was sitting at the operations station now - the bucking and shaking of the deck had become too much for even his feline grace and balance - where he rumbled deeply in annoyance, his ears flat against his head in frustration. “Aft shields back to sixty-percent effectiveness. Repair crews are still working on it.”
“Tactical, shield strength?”
“I can give you forty-five percent across the whole ship, ma’am!”
“What about just fore?”
The tactical officer turned from his display to stare at Jessica for a moment. “I can give you eighty to the forward shields.”
“Prepare to cycle power to the forward shields on my mark-“
“Commander, you can’t be serious! That Hirogen battleship will strip our shields down the moment we start hurtling towards them!”
St. Peter frowned in annoyance. Of course he was right; Rafale wouldn’t be much of a match in a jousting contest. They’d get some good shots in, but not before the larger and more powerful ship destroyed what little was left of their shields and then most of the forward hull in the process. “A frontal assault isn’t going to work,” she declared aloud, not addressing anyone in particular though still loud enough for the bridge crew to hear her.
M’Ral growled behind her as the ship rocked again. “Hirogen battleship is still pursuing us. I suggest we cease trying to close the final rift and focus our attention on them or attempt to flee.”
Jessica’s eyes widened and she snapped her fingers. “Helm, bring us to bearing zero-six-five and increase speed. Tactical, cease fire on the open rift but keep a lock on its location.” She jammed the comm button on her armrest. “Bridge to engineering!”
There was a brief moment of static before a voice answered between coughs. “Go ahead, Bridge!”
“Engine room, have Seurer and Ceram cease bombardment of the final rift!”
The voice coughed again. “I’ll pass the message along!”
Jessica closed the channel and looked forward. “Helm, get ready for some tricky flying.”
“They are increasing speed, Alpha!”
Gan pounded the chair with his fist, scrambling to his feet. The Starfleet ship had continued to evade his larger ship, virtually ignoring it and the Romulan reinforcements that had entered the Bloom. Instead, the Akira had targeted seemingly random points in the nebula, causing unseen anomalies to destabilize.
Gan knew well the power the Akira-class ship could unleash, especially since the Rafale had already driven his battleship limping out of the Great Bloom. Still, he had been looking forward to the rematch.
If it weren't for the fact that the Starfleet ship was continuing to run away from him, refusing to fight back. The perpetual snub was infuriating to the hunter.
"Increase our speed to overcome them! Prepare the tractor beam!" He climbed down the stairs to the main deck, roughly pushing the weapons officer out of his way. He called for more power to the forward weapons systems, pulling from the systems at the rear of the ship. They wouldn't be needed in the coming assault on the small Starfleet vessel. "Pilot, continue to increase speed until we are within two ketrics of that ship and then reduce speed to match them!"
"Beta! This is foolish!"
Gan snarled at the pilot, enraged by the use of his "beta" title. "You will do this or I will gut you myself!"
"We will be defenseless! They will be within our shield envelope, their weapons will shred our hull!"
The pilot flinched before returning to his controls. "Yes, Alpha." The younger hunter hunched over the helm, increasing the speed of the behemoth ship.
"Weapon's range," announced Gan's Beta. "Their shields are weakened!"
"Engage tractor beam!"
Rafale shuddered, and the officers on the bridge held on to stay in their seats as the inertial dampers were strained.
"They have us in a tractor beam," M'Ral confirmed at ops.
Ceram, back on the bridge after his work in engineering, called from his science station. "Countermeasures are ready!"
Jessica nodded. "Helm, now!" She smacked the control on her chair to open the ship-wide address system. "All hands, brace yourselves!"
Rafale stopped her forward movement, ensnared in the Hirogen ship's tractor beam. The larger ship bore down on the smaller ship, forward weapons beginning to blaze hot in preparation to fire.
In an instant, the Starfleet ship's nacelles flared to life, and the ship hurtled backward at full speed as her rear phaser arrays and cannons fired mercilessly at the Hirogen ship.
The pilot of the battleship panicked, pulling the ship's nose up and disregarding the order to match speed in favor of avoiding a collision with the Starfleet vessel. Tetryon weapons lashed out, trying to discourage the smaller ship from remaining close. Then, without warning, the Rafale disappeared.
On the battleship, Gan howled with unbridled rage. "Where did they go?!"
"Sensors are being jammed, Alpha!" The sensor operator frowned, working furiously to reacquire the enemy vessel. "I cannot confirm a positive lock!"
"Switch to visual!" Gan turned on his heel and looked up at the viewscreen, searching for the nuisance starship. He cursed when all he could see was static on the screen.
"They are jamming all our sensors, Alpha. I have a tentative lock, but I cannot confirm-"
"Fire!" Gan turned back to the weapons console and unleashed the full fury of his ship's weapons at the sensor operator's target.
The Hirogen battleship's powerful energy weapons fired in unison, hitting their target with brutal power.
"I am reading an increase of triolic energy!" The sensor operator turned toward Gan, doing nothing to contain his terror. "We've struck one of the anomalies!"
Gan slammed his hands into the weapons station, knocking the pedestal-like console out of the deck with an eruption of sparks, and roared as the static cleared on the viewscreen. The small hull of the Rafale was now easily visible, phasers and torpedoes racing out to strike the battleship.
Rafale's barrage slammed into the Hirogen ship, destroying what was left of the behemoth's shield systems and opening multiple decks to vacuum. As she flew past, the final Devidian portal imploded mere meters from the Hirogen ship's bow, releasing a lethal wave of triolic energy outward that slammed into the defenseless ship. In a matter of seconds, the Hirogen ship's warp core went critical, and the monstrous ship added its own explosion to the orchestra of destruction in the Rafale's wake.
A screen to Jessica’s left exploded, throwing the crewman seated there backwards over his chair. Sparks and shrapnel pelted her arm before she could turn her chair to protect herself. The ship shuddered violently as the Hirogen ship was torn apart from an explosion within.
“All hands, brace yourselves!” The woman held onto her chair with a death grip as the explosion ripped the dying ship on the screen apart, turning the brilliant green cloud of the Bassen Rift a bright orange for a moment. Rafale shook one final time as the shockwave passed her.
And then, silence.
A few coughs around the bridge prompted Jessica to open her eyes. She didn’t remember shutting them in preparation for the impact, and she hoped no one had seen her. A quick look around the small bridge showed that all eyes were glued to the viewscreen, and the empty expanse of green that was littered with more debris now than when they had first entered it the previous day. A few were smiling as the last remnants of the Hirogen ship spiraled in space.
Jessica blinked a few times, her adrenaline subsiding enough that she noticed the lingering smoke burning her eyes. She coughed as it filled her lungs, and barely managed an audible “Status report,” before she had to cough again.
M’Ral purred behind her at his station. “Shields are holding at twenty-seven percent. Minor hull breaches in three areas of the ship; repair crews have already been ordered to begin repairs. Sickbay is reporting injuries, but so far no casualties.” His purring grew more excited. “Remaining Romulan ships are moving off and powering down weapons. Full retreat.”
Jessica shook her head. God, we did it. She frowned then. “How many people were on that ship?”
Ceram cleared his throat behind her, and she turned to face the science officer. “It was hard to determine. Hirogen vessels tend to have dampening fields and thick hull plating that makes internal scans difficult. I would estimate no more than one hundred Hirogen would have been manning a vessel of that size, given their propensity to operate in very small cells. Although, it is very possible…”
“Thanks, Ceram.” Jessica turned to face forward again, her frown more severe. One hundred people.
I just killed one hundred people.
She shuddered at the thought, felt the lump in her throat begin to grow larger. She stood, intending to go to her ready room with her thoughts. “Stand down red alert. Lay in a course for the Warwick, let’s get our people back on board.”
There was an alert behind her, and she turned to look at the Benzite science officer again. He frowned, bent over his console in concentration as he no doubt triple checked the sensor scan he had just received. Her patience already wearing thin, Jessica barked, “What is it, Ceram?”
“Commander, I have detected a strange reading near the Warwick.” He looked up at her, the confusion clear on his face. “There is something very large over there.”
Jessica sank back into her chair. “On viewer,” she ordered, leaning forward.
The screen shifted to show a different area of the rift, the small Miranda-class starship still unmoving where they had left it.
The image zoomed in on the ship, and there was a collective gasp on the bridge as breaths caught in each of the bridge crew’s throats.
Slowly moving alongside the Warwick was a large, pastel-green ship. The forward edge was curved like a giant beak of a great bird, and it was connected by two thin necks to two large wing-like sections that connected at the tips to two green-glowing nacelles.
The helmsman stammered, breaking the silence. “D-D’deridex-class.”
Jessica sunk lower in her chair. “You have to be kidding me. Where the hell do they keep coming from?” She shook her head and cursed. “Stay at red alert, then. Status of that ship?”
“I’m not…sure, ma’am.” Ceram’s confusion was mounting, and the frustration was growing in his voice. “I’m only detecting a massive energy reading where the Romulan is. I can’t tell shield strength, weapons status - nothing.” He pounded the console with his fingers harder. “Just a massive energy buildup.”
“That’s peculiar.” M’Ral growled, his ears flattened back against his head.
Jessica raised an eyebrow in tired curiosity. If it weren’t for the fact that they were staring down one of the largest and most powerful of the Romulan’s ships, she’d have been at the science station in a heartbeat to try and solve the mystery. Unfortunately, she was too tired and too angry at the events of the day to care.
“Power up cannons, prepare for a full volley. Lay in a pursuit course and open fire once we’re within weapons range. Disable them only.” She swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the lump that was still planted there. “I don’t want another ship destroyed today.”
The helmsman glanced nervously at the tactical officer to his right, who looked back silently and nodded before turning to his console to prepare the weapons.
Jessica nodded, watching the ship on the viewscreen as it circled the smaller Warwick like a vulture. “Engage.”
Rafale slipped forward, ready to pounce upon the newest intruder. The Romulan ship showed no sign it had even detected the Akira-class ship, despite the speed with which she was approaching the larger ship.
“Weapons engagement zone…mark!”
Jessica shook her head; the Warbird had still made no move towards them. She hesitated, then reached a hand out as if to try and hold her helmsman back. “Target their main disruptor and fire a single volley.”
The tactical officer quickly reset his targeting pattern, looking a bit relieved at the change in orders. “Targeting main disruptor. Firing.” The sound of the powerful phaser cannons firing coursed through the hull as the viewer showed twin streaks of energy flash forward, impacting the giant Romulan ship.
And then, nothing was there. The Warwick still hung dead in space, now completely alone.
“What the-?” Jessica was on her feet, as a round of equally confused remarks made its way around the bridge. She turned to the Benzite science officer. “Ceram?”
At his wit’s end, Ceram threw his hands in the air. “The ship is…gone. I’m not reading anything.”
St. Peter turned back to the viewscreen. It hadn’t been a trick; the Romulan ship was no long filling the viewer. No remnants of an explosion, no faint ripple of a cloak; nothing. “Nothing?”
“No residuals from a cloak, no debris, no explosion, no escape pods, not even a speck of dust.” Ceram let out a perturbed grunt and crossed his arms. “Sensors indicate that whatever energy reading we were seeing there has completely dissipated. It’s as if it was never there.”
M’Ral growled a little in the back of his throat. “Could that ship…have been Devidian?”
St. Peter shook her head and shrugged. “I don’t know. Continue scans and log it.” She started walking to the back of the bridge towards the turbolift. “M’Ral, come alongside the Warwick and beam the away team back over. Then, set a course for Starbase 39.” The doors to lift opened ahead of her and she stepped in. “We’re done with this place.”
The doors closed behind her. In a moment, she found herself stepping off and walking through a deserted corridor till she was in front of her quarters. The door opened and she walked in. Without taking the time to even take her shoes off, Jessica lay down on the bed and closed her eyes, drifting off into a deep, dreamless sleep as the exhaustion of the past day finally crashed down on her.
Chapter 15 by TemplarSora
“An interesting turn of events, Lieutenant Commander.”
Jessica nodded once as she stood at attention in the Admiral’s office, doing her best to control herself despite the heavy scent of the Deltan’s pheromones that hung in the air. “Yes, sir.”
Admiral Zelle placed her elbows on the desk in front of her and leaned forward, steeping her fingers as she regarded the young commander. “It is unfortunate what happened. However, your actions were justifiable. The Devidians are still very much a mystery, but every encounter we have had with them has been treacherous. Removing their presence from the Rift and Romulan space helps to protect the already devastated Romulan people.”
Jessica nodded again in reply, nervously biting her lip. “It’s terrible what happened to the crew of the Warwick, Admiral.”
Zelle tilted her head to the side. “Yes, it is.”
“Just such a…pointless, stupid way to die.” Jessica’s composure broke as she ran a hand through her hair.
“I have found that, many times, we’re not offered the chance to die in a ‘blaze of glory,’ as many of our colleagues would prefer, Jessica.” Zelle leaned back in her chair, looking down at the desk that stood between them. “They will be remembered for their sacrifice as explorers, rather than warriors. I would find that to be a much more…honorable way to be remembered.”
Jessica noticed the change in the air and immediately relaxed, putting her hands behind her back to keep from fidgeting. “Please tell me it gets easier.”
Jessica could see just the faintest hint of a smirk in the Deltan admiral’s eyes as she looked up at the blue alien. Zelle shook her head. “I’m afraid I can’t, Jess. It doesn’t.”
The two women were silent for a moment before Zelle stood, causing Jessica to snap back to attention. “If you will excuse me, Commander, I have some matters to attend to with regards to your debrief.” She smiled and turned towards the door. “You should get some rest, Jessica. I’ll have another assignment for you once repairs are complete on the Rafale.” The dark-skinned Deltan smiled again and winked before leaving the office.
Jessica nodded, a tight knot forming in the pit of her stomach. “Aye, Admiral.”
“Just a few more taps and…there. That should do it.” Dossu dropped the hammer to the ground and stepped back from the wall, admiring his handiwork.
Behind him, Jessica rubbed her eyes sleepily. She yawned. “It’s three in the morning, Dossu, and it’s been a long few days. Why am I here?”
Obruz turned around and grinned proudly. “Because this would be my first official act as First Officer.”
“You’ve already had a few official acts.”
“On your orders. This was all me.”
Jessica yawned again and stood, stretching a little. As she had begrudgingly pointed out, it was three in the morning on the ship, so that even Hurricane Hal’s, the crew lounge, was deserted save for the two commanding officers. “And what exactly is ‘this?’”
Obruz waved Jessica to him and stepped aside, nodding to the bulkhead where he had been working. The bulkhead was bare, with no paint or trim; it was as if the ship-builders had forgotten to finish the wall, leaving the super structure exposed. Mounted high on the wall, near the ceiling, was a wooden sign with the phrase “Fair Winds and Following Seas” carved into it. Below the sign, neatly lined up in rows, were silver plaques with names etched into them. A few names were etched right into the bulkhead itself, to include a new name in the center of the wall.
Jessica turned to Dossu in surprise, tears threatening to well up in her eyes. “You…added to the wall.”
Obruz nodded somberly. “I felt it was appropriate.” He pointed to a few newer plaques that he had added, a few of them with the names of the command crew that had perished with the late captain.
Jessica squinted, reading a few more of the plaques in confusion. “I hadn’t even heard of half of these people.” She frowned, shaking her head. “That feels so wrong, not knowing who these people are.”
“Well, don’t be too hard on yourself.” He pointed to one plaque in particular, drawing Jessica’s attention to it. “I added a few…other names.”
Jessica gasped and turned away, a few tears dropping uncontrolled from her eyes. “Why?”
Dossu put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. I just…thought…” He sighed. “We’re a combined crew. We all lost people we cared about.” He stepped forward and put a hand out, touching the plaques on the wall reverently. “There are a lot of ghosts here.”
Jessica wiped her face, laughing a little. “It’s tragically hysterical, how hard we work to immortalize them after they’re gone. That a name on a wall could do them justice.”
Dossu shrugged. “I wouldn’t call it tragic, or hysterical. I think it’s a nice tradition to keep. We continue to remember them and their sacrifices. We continue to take them with us on our journeys. We keep them close to us, to remind us not of what we lost, but what we continue to fight for.”
Jessica nodded a little, running her fingers over the plaque Dossu had pointed out to her. “The Rafale crew aren’t going to like this.”
Obruz shook his head, rolling his eyes. “I’m the First Officer. I don’t give a vole’s tail what the old-Rafale crew will think. We’re a single crew now. No Rafale, no Merveille. This is your crew, your Rafale now.” He rapped the wall with his knuckle. “I’m unveiling it tomorrow afternoon.”
Jessica nodded. “Good. It’ll be good for the crew.” She shook her head. “I’ve heard of some of the…problems that have been happening lately, between the two old crews. I think you’re right.” She nodded, staring at the names on the bulkhead. “We’re one crew now, and we’ve all lost too much for us to start fighting turf wars on our own ship. I don’t mind have a few extra ghosts on the ship, if it means we don’t have extra skeletons in our closet.”
Obruz grinned. He turned to leave when he noticed Jessica still staring at the plaque he had shown her, her hand still caressing it as tears fell silently down her cheeks. He frowned sadly, wondering if it had been a good idea after all to show her. “Ma’am?”
Jessica blinked, coming out of her daze, and turned to look at Dossu. “Yes?”
“Were you planning on staying here?”
Jessica smiled softly and shook her head. “No. Just…give us a moment. Please?”
Obruz nodded, turning around and heading for the door. “Goodnight, Jessica.”
Once the door had closed again, Jessica fell to her knees, her slow tears suddenly a flood down her face. It was a simple gesture, one that was supposed to help bridge the gap between the old-guard Rafale crew and their new, former-Merveille shipmates. Many of the names she didn’t and would probably never recognize, because she had never met them before this night; they had fallen in the battle over Vega, but on the medical ship. And now they were neatly engraved on plaques next to the names of the Rafale’s fallen, the ones lost in the same battle, many of them gone in the desperate gambit to save the Merveille.
And there, in the same alphabetized rank and file as the rest of them, and now tenderly caressed by blue fingers, was one name Jessica hadn’t expected to see. She laughed bitterly at her first officer’s kindness.
“Hi, Bridget,” she whispered, wiping her eyes with her free hand. “Welcome aboard the Rafale.”
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