An asteroid threatens to wipe out an entire civilization that has taken its first small steps into the greater galaxy, and the inhabitants plead with the Rafale
crew to save them. But when the asteroid threatens the safety of the starship and crew, will the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?
Expanded Universes Characters:
Adult Language, Adult Situations
Rafale - Star Trek Online
22 Jun 2014 Updated:
11 Jul 2014
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
"We're here today in tragedy."
Jessica took in a deep, steadying breath, fighting every nerve in her being that wanted nothing more than to scream and rage. It wasn't right; it wasn't enough. This wasn't enough; a joke, a drop of water compared to the ocean of travesties that had befallen them.
Practically the entire crew had been summoned, leaving behind a small contingent to keep watch on the ship. It was the least they could do for the lives that had been lost.
She struggled to maintain her composure, and her voice cracked. "We've witnessed the loss of great people. Young, full of hope. They were our friends."
She flexed her hand, balling it quickly into a fist with a pop of her knuckles. She was glad for the small podium in front of her that hid the motion from her crew.
In front of her were her most trusted officers. Obruz, dutifully in front of her, his severe expression matching Jessica's own emotions. Nizeri, pale faced and silently crying into the shoulder of Wirstowx, who had wrapped a massive and protective arm around the woman. Seurer, who surprised Jessica by being equally as emotional, had allowed herself to lean on Wirstowx's other shoulder and cry as well, holding onto Nizeri's hand. M'Ral stood at attention; even the Caitian's tail had stopped swishing back and forth.
Jessica swallowed hard, looking up at the rest of her crew. "I won't stand here and say something...cliche. This wasn't a freak accident; our loss, our pain, hurts even stronger because we all know that one of our own did this."
It didn't seem fair to say it, but then again Jessica's patience was worn thin. She was beyond being the good captain now. She was hurt. She was angry. If Obruz would have let her, she'd be out for blood. Because nothing she could say or do would bring back the ones they had lost, or heal the ones that had been hurt, and all because of one of their comrades, another friend.
She shuddered with fury, looking out at the gathered crew, before turning her eyes back down to her senior advisors.
Two of them were absent, and she shuddered again in rage as she looked at their empty seats. S'Tel, who had stayed on the ship, was doing her best to save the handful of injured crew who could still be saved.
"This is hardly fitting for the ones that have been lost. But it's all we can do." She shook her head, stifling a sob. "I'm so...so sorry."
She needed her, now more than ever. The mane of bright blue hair, recently dyed to match hers. Her deep, get-lost-inside eyes, her calming presence.
But Justine was also absent from the ceremony. Jessica shook in anger again, and finally the sobs came forth.
"I'm so sorry."
RAFALE - STAR TREK ONLINE
WHEN THE SKIES FELL
Five Days Ago...
With a frustrated groan, she laid her head on the desk, the console monitor now blank in front of her. All she wanted to do now was sleep. Go back to her quarters, get out of her uniform, brush her teeth, and snuggle up close to Justine.
Justine. She was probably asleep by now, given that it was well after two in the morning on the ship.
Jessica St. Peter groaned again, hitting her head lightly on the desk a few times. "I hate performance reports."
For the most part, her job was simple; department heads and supervisors did all the hard work, actually writing about the accomplishments and general worth of the people that worked for them. All she needed to do was review them and attach her signature at the bottom.
There was only a handful she herself was responsible for writing. She had divided the senior staff in half, letting her First Officer - Lieutenant Commander Obruz - rate half the officers while she rated on him directly and only a few others.
Most of the crew had gotten onto a similar cycle in the year following the attack on Vega Colony. There were still a few interspersed throughout though.
The one she had finally just finished was the most frustrating for her. She tapped her head on the table one more time before sitting back in her chair, looking over her work and frowning sadly.
She hated being in this position, to be the one to cast a spotlight on all the failings and dirt of one of her officers, especially on a performance report. This would be a death sentence to the man's career, and she knew it.
That is, if Starfleet wasn't already hurting for experienced officers. And Seymour Sonia was certainly experienced enough.
Maybe they'll just recycle him. Transfer him off my ship to one with a captain more able to keep him occupied doing something worthwhile. She shook her head. If only they'd do that.
Her commbadge chirped, and the music in her ready room immediately paused. "Captain to the bridge."
She frowned, glancing at a console off to her side. The screens all bore the familiar shades of blue; no yellow or red to alert her of any mishap. She tapped her badge to reply. "Go for St. Peter."
"Commander, we just detected a faint warp trail, probably from a shuttle craft. We have the craft on long range sensors."
Jessica rolled her eyes, about to return to the report. "Right. Thanks for the heads-up, M'Ral." M'Ral was slowly becoming her new Operations officer, showing a similar talent for the job as Sonia had shown. The ensign, however, was much easier to work with, and much more willing to learn. Fresh out of the Academy, the Caitian had been part of the replacement crew following Vega, and his inexperience as a bridge officer often caused him to report more up the chain than Jessica was used to with Seymour.
God, I can't believe I'm actually preferring Seymour. Jessica grinned wryly. "As long as there isn't a distress call, I think we can afford to let it go."
There was a pause. "Ma'am, the shuttle isn't Starfleet. Or Romulan. In fact, if we had to guess up here...it's more of a testbed than an actual shuttle. I think this is someone's first attempt at warp travel."
Jessica blinked a few times before leaning forward and tapping the control for her desk monitor. "M'Ral, connect me to Sierra Station, and have the senior officers report to the bridge."
Jessica bit the corner of her lip nervously. First contact. I'm actually getting a first contact...
Acoustic dampeners were a gift from heaven.
Seymour couldn't help but grin as he pulled away and sat back, still breathing heavily. He watched as the woman slowly slid forward, extending her body on the bed and further crumpling the tangle of sheets. She took a few deep breaths before rolling over, and blinked her eyes a few times as she caught her breath. She looked down at him with a small smile, reaching out to try and grab him, beckoning him closer.
Seymour slowly moved forward, letting a hand softly graze across her skin, feeling the muscles tense at the gentle caress as he neared her midsection. Finally, his hand found her throat, and he traced her jawline idly with his finger as he straightened out next to her, kicking a sheet up to cover their legs.
"That..." she breathed, still not fully caught up on oxygen, "was..."
"Incredible?" Seymour asked, leaning in and gently kissing her shoulder, sending another shiver through the woman's body.
She laughed tiredly and nudged him weakly in the chest with her elbow. "You're so full of yourself." She rolled onto her side, wrapping an arm around his body and putting a leg around his, kissing his neck. "Yes," she finally admitted, kissing him again.
Seymour gripped her tightly, wishing for a moment he could have just a little more stamina to be able to go another round. He decided he'd have to make do, letting one hand slip down beneath the sheets as the other held her close. He pressed his lips on hers, prolonging the kiss for a few extra moments as he felt blindly for her. They finally parted. "Trin," he breathed, slowly opening his eyes to look at her, "I think I'm in love with you."
The woman, Trinity, giggled a little, kissing him again. "Is that so?"
Seymour grunted in frustration, kissing her shoulders playfully again. "I say...I love you...and all you...can say back...is 'that so?' I'm hurt!"
Trinity laughed again, putting her hands on either side of Seymour's face and kissing him again. "We've talked about this already, Seymour."
Seymour nodded, not in the least put off. "Yeah, I know. Just figured it needed to be said." They began kissing again, and Seymour could feel her continue to tense and shudder as he fondled her.
Seymour and Trinity had had the conversation months ago, when they first began to see each other. Trinity was a civilian crewmember, an entertainment manager and bartender in Hurricane Hal's. At that time, she had jumped on board to get away from Deep Space Nine and an ex-lover.
"You're just a piece of meat right now," she'd told Seymour, and the admission hadn't offended him; if anything, it had made things convenient. That's all she had been that night, and the few nights after that.
The third "one-night stand" became a fourth, and finally Seymour had had enough. Trinity had been different, not just in the bedroom but outside as well. He began taking meals with her, taking her on proper dates on the holodeck when their schedules met. Their time in bed together slowly was dwarfed by time spent together chatting, or eating, or walking the corridors of the ship and stopping at a few of the observation decks and staring at the stars as the Rafale rode at warp.
He'd said he'd loved her once already and meant it. It had terrified Trinity, and the two didn't speak for almost a week after before Seymour finally broke into her quarters to talk to her. It had gotten him a night in the brig and another letter of reprimand in his file, but Trinity had finally talked to him. He agreed to go slower; she agreed to not push him away. Now it was said jokingly, but he knew he still meant it. Women came and went on the Rafale. Trinity made him want to stay onboard even more, made him want to do right by her. Even his work ethic had improved; he was never late for a shift, always doing what was asked of him. The last letter he had typed to command still lay on the desk in his quarters, unfinished and unsent, from the encounter they had had with the Wolf 359 and Franklin Drake three months earlier.
Trinity had begun moaning softly, pressing her small, nude body against his own as they worked faster, their movements more passionate.
"Senior officers to the bridge!"
Trinity and Seymour both groaned, holding each other tightly as they hovered just on the edge of climax. Seymour cursed silently.
"Dammit," Trinity muttered, still clinging to him. He tried kissing her neck again but she pushed him gently. "You...need to go..."
"Screw it," he replied, still trying to salvage the moment.
She pushed him away again, a little more forcefully this time, and he groaned, shaking his head. "Fine. You're right."
She smiled a little at him and shrugged. "I'll still be here when you're done." She kissed him, adding afterwards, "But you," she emphasized with a poke to his chest, "have a job to do. Besides, it'll be fun to get back into it."
He chuckled a little, rolling off the bed and searching for his clothes. "Well. For one of us at least." She threw a pillow at him then, causing him to laugh more. "I'll be back as soon as this is over."
"You had better, mister." She shook her head, grinning mischievously. "Things were just starting to get good."
Consciousness was fading quickly for her, but still she gripped the throttle control, keeping it pushed forward, begging the small craft to keep racing into the expanse of night.
Gods be merciful, let me find the Birds.
Weeks, months - dare she even think a year? - had blurred together as the small ship hurtled through space, just another of many similar missions in recent years. The search had started centuries ago, when the first of the Great Birds had been seen, flying high above in the heavens. Only in recent decades had they taken flight themselves, desperate to find their watchers.
She gasped, finding it harder to catch her breath. She blinked her large eyes, trying her best to stay awake. Strapped into their seats beside her, her colleagues sat hunched over their controls, their dull-brown faces resting on the control surfaces. She grimaced, shaking her head again to keep awake.
They had pressed further into space than any of her people's other ships. The journey had taken much longer than they had planned for, and she realized now why the scientists had spent such time planning their flight so meticulously.
They were weeks overdue. Food was almost completely gone. Fuel supplies were dwindling. But, even more harrowing, was the loss of breathable air. They would suffocate and die before they or the ship starved.
She blinked furiously again, the edges of her vision darkening. She took her hand off the navigation control to rub her long neck; it was starting to get sore, and her head was starting to feel heavier than she had known before.
I have...to stay...awake. We have to get back...we have to get as close as we can to home...
She shuddered, gasping for air again. Her hand had slipped off the throttle control, and the sudden jerk as the ship decelerated had startled her awake. She quickly pushed her hand forward, feeling the small craft rumble around her as it sped up again.
She blinked her eyes, catching a glimpse of her reflection in the viewport. Long, slender neck, topped with a narrow head, large black eyes set like black jewels in her iridescent skin, the long horn atop her head, sweeping back and connected to her neck by a sail of translucent skin. She was transfixed for a moment - she hadn't noticed her reflection or looked at herself in a mirror in the time they had been in space.
She was startled by the deceleration of the ship again, waking her from her thoughts. Red lights flashed at her, and the steady whine of the ship's engine faded. She slammed the throttle forward again from where she had slowly brought it backward, but nothing happened. The stars gradually stopped streaking past the windows; the hum of the ship's hull died.
All that was left was silence. Silence and darkness.
Gods be merciful.
She bowed her head forward. They'd failed in their mission and, in doing so, sealed the fate of their people. There wouldn't be any more time to search the heavens. The day was nearly upon her planet.
She shouted in surprise, blinking her eyes as a brilliant flash filled the forward viewports. As she continued to struggle for breath, she found herself transfixed with a giant, glowing blue circle, set like a gaping mouth beneath a sleek, silver saucer. Dark lines curved around it, and hundreds of viewports shone like stars from the metal body. Behind, two glowing red slits of light stared her down from long pylons, barely peeking out from behind the rest of the saucer.
Gods...it's not a Bird. It's...
It's a Sword.
She flared her nostrils. Perhaps the gods were merciful after all.
"Sensor sweep, now," Jessica ordered, staring at the miniscule craft they had just dropped in on. It looked oddly reminiscent of the first warp ship of Earth, the Phoenix, that she had seen once as a girl and a few times on trips to the Smithsonian while she had been at the Academy. A long, tubular fuselage, two outboard pylons with nacelles at the end of each. The biggest difference between the two was that this craft had a cluster of three smaller, squatter nacelles at the tip of each pylon rather than the single, elongated pylons of Earth's first venture into the realm of faster-than-light.
Lieutenant Nizeri Sano quickly read off the report in front of her. "Power is fluctuating throughout the ship, and judging from the warp trail they decelerated gradually - more than likely they've run out of fuel. I am reading four biosigns, but I think only three are alive, and barely." She bit her lower lip nervously, continuing to search her report for important information. "Atmosphere in what is probably the main cabin is almost entirely carbon dioxide, though it looks to be because they've run out of breathable air; I'm not reading any gases being stored on the ship in any form."
Jessica frowned at the news before she shrugged, considering, "Carbon dioxide from respiration is a good sign."
"Oxygen breathers?" Obruz replied, to which Jessica nodded. He tapped the commbadge on his chest. "Transporter room two and Sickbay, prepare for emergency site-to-site transport of four biosigns to Sickbay. Standby for coordinates."
"Nizeri, send the lock-on information to the transporter room."
"Transporter room copies. Energizing."
Jessica grinned as the next voice chimed over the intercom, the young voice sweet music to her ears as the woman counted aloud. "One, two...three...and four. We have them all here," Justine Dubois confirmed. "We'll get to work stabilizing them down here. Sickbay out."
Jessica looked over her shoulder to where Seymour was seated, poring over the information at his own console. "Sonia, lock onto the ship and tow it into the shuttle bay."
Seymour nodded, quickly executing the commands without a word. The display of silent obedience surprised Jessica. She quickly shook her head, focusing again on the image in front of her.
He knows it's time for his evaluation. He'll obey, put on the good officer act, and then go right back to it once I'm done. She frowned, watching the small warp-ship disappear into the Rafale's shuttlebay, nestled comfortably next to the runabout Ronfaure. It won't work for him.
"Nizeri, let's go meet our visitors. Dossu, you have the bridge." She stood from her chair and followed the Trill into the turbolift as Obruz took her seat.
"I have the bridge, aye."
The early shift in Sickbay had been a blur of preparations since Justine had come on duty to replace S'Tel. It hadn't been a secret why the ship had changed course and increased speed; Jessica had been extremely excited the night before about the prospect of a possible "first contact" situation, talking for an hour before finally falling asleep midsentence.
Justine smiled, brushing a stray lock of brownish-purple hair out of her face. Ever since the two had become an item, she couldn't remember seeing Jessica ever being as happy as she had been in recent weeks. As she thought more about it, she couldn't remember being happier either, a thought that made her feel just slightly guilty in the pit of her stomach. The feeling never lasted for long - the benefit of her empathic ability to pick up on and even be influenced by Jessica's emotions - and she certainly did love Jessica.
A nurse brought her a PADD with the first of the aliens' readings, and the smile faded from Justine's face as she came crashing back to reality. The four aliens were unconscious, all of them hypoxic. It would be difficult to know just where to start stabilizing them all. "Thanks," she told the nurse as she took the PADD before looking around at the four biobeds. Heart monitors beeped slowly on all but one of the beds; a lone Vulcan nurse was busy checking his readings before finally pulling a sheet over the still body. He turned towards Justine and ever so slightly shook his head. Justine nodded, understanding the man's silent report before turning to the next bed.
She suddenly found herself remembering her clinical evaluations at Starfleet Medical, and how frustrating it had been to be the doctor on duty then with no guidance from her instructors. Now, she found herself in similar circumstances: S'Tel had left her alone to manage Sickbay while the Vulcan woman rested. She didn't mind; she knew she was more than capable of doing the job alone. The additional help, however, would have certainly been welcome in this instance.
"Doctor Dubois!" Justine was pulled from her thoughts suddenly as a nurse called for her. The woman looked frantic as she waved Justine and others of the medical staff over. The diagnostic displays were flashing red, and the beeping of the heart monitor was slowing steadily.
Justine checked her tricorder, waving the auxiliary sensor over the scrawny alien's body. It was wearing a uniform similar to the other three aliens, designed specifically for space travel. Patches were sewn on the chest with alien letters - probably the name of their dying guest, his home, his job. Justine frowned, snapping the tricorder shut and pressing her fingers at the base of the alien's long, thin neck. "C'mon," she muttered, moving to the base of its skull. Its dull brown skin and hard features gave Justine the impression that she was searching for the pulse of a piece of rock.
"We're losing him," she yelled, finally giving up and moving to the instrument tray a nurse had brought over. She picked up a hypospray and loaded it with a tri-ox ampoule. She plugged a smaller lectrazine ampoule into the secondary port and brought it to the alien's neck.
A hand clamped down over hers quickly, holding the hypospray millimeters from the visitor's neck. Justine looked up at the nurse - Nurse Bernacki, a fellow ex-Merveille medic. He looked panicked. "Are you even sure that's safe?"
Justine shook her head. "It's the best we can do right now without knowing anything else, Shelton!" She pushed her hand forward and triggered the device, injecting a mixture of lectrazine and concentrated oxygen into the alien's body. The heart monitors spiked for a moment, steadily sounding. "They're all oxygen deprived - get masks on the others for now."
The display flashed red again, just as a loud bellowing issued from an adjacent table. She looked over to see the other brown-skinned alien thrashing wildly, its black eyes open wide in panic as it stared and reached for the alien lying in front of Justine. It bellowed again, sounding in agony.
The Vulcan nurse moved quickly to the alien and after a moment's hesitation, quickly reached down to the base of the alien's neck and squeezed. The alien's eyes snapped shut, its bellow cut off in a gurgling noise as it fell back limp on the bed.
The team all paused for a moment, watching as the monitors continued to show a steady heartbeat for the alien. Bernacki let out a quick breath before turning back to the dying alien in front of him and Justine. Justine blinked a few times, looking back down to focus again on her patient. "Glad that worked," she said softly, checking the readings on her tricorder.
"Would not have been a conversation I'd have wanted with the Doctor or the Captain," Bernacki agreed. "Not exactly the best way for a First Contact to go...Vulcan death pinch." He frowned, activating the clamshell controls. "He's still not responding, ma'am. Recommend using the defibrillator..."
"That seems as equal of a risk, Nurse Bernacki, as we do not know how strong of an electric shock will be effective for this species." The Vulcan had come up next to the bed, opposite the Human nurse, glancing over at the readings. "I believe it is going into shock," he offered, looking back down at the alien.
"Well, would you like to be the one doing the rescue breathing then, Sovot?"
"Shut up, both of you," Justine interrupted. "Shelton, begin compressions; Sovot, assist." She turned around as Bernacki lowered the clamshell and clambered on top of the biobed to begin CPR, snapping her fingers at another nurse hurrying by. "I need another lectrazine ampoule, quickly!"
The monitors were flashing red now, and a steady hum made everyone turn to look. Bernacki and Sovot were still performing CPR, though Bernacki was starting to look weary from the exertion.
Justine finally shook her head, sighing sadly. She put a hand on Bernacki's arm. "There's nothing we can do."
Frustration fell off the man, crashing into Justine in waves as he finally stopped, staring down at the brown alien's lifeless body. Finally, gritting his teeth, he nodded, moving to get off the biobed.
A familiar push at the edge of Justine's thoughts caused her to turn around; an instant later, the doors to sickbay parted as Jessica and Nizeri entered the chaotic scene. Jessica covered her mouth with a gasp, looking at Justine wide-eyed; the doctor inclined her head towards the office, prompting the captain to meet her inside. Nizeri followed them in.
"Justine, what happened here?" Jessica asked without preamble.
Justine opted to sit on top of the desk in front of the two women, not wanting to sit in S'Tel's desk chair. The smaller woman shook her head, rubbing her eyes tiredly as the excitement of the previous few minutes finally wore off. "One was DOA...there was nothing we could do. The others were unconscious, so we worked to get them stabilized." She blinked her eyes a little as she felt them tearing up. "The one he...his heart..." She mumbled a bit more, looking down and closing her eyes. "Couldn't...I'm sorry Jess."
Justine felt Jessica's hands on her arms, pulling her forward. "It's alright, hon. You did your best." There was a light pressure on her forehead as Jessica kissed her and a wave of comfort washed over her.
Nizeri coughed a little. "I'm going to...um...see what we need to do to communicate with them." The Trill left, leaving the two alone.
Justine lifted her head to properly kiss Jessica. "I'm sorry, Jessiy. I don't know what I could have done, not knowing much else about them."
Jessica shook her head, doing her best to look reassuring. "It wasn't your fault, ma Soleil." She gave Justine another squeeze before releasing her from the embrace and straightening her jacket. "I'm going to see what I can do to help Nizeri. Keep monitoring our guests; as soon as they're awake, we need to make proper contact. I just hope the universal translator works..."
"We're still unable to communicate with the visitors. The Universal Translator is doing its best, and we've made a little progress: we know the leader's name is Yala, and the other one that accompanies him...her...whatever...everywhere is Gorem. At least...I hope that was what they were telling us." Nizeri frowned, lost in her thoughts for a moment.
S'Tel raised an eyebrow, the faintest twitch of a smile playing at the edges of her mouth. "I can assure you, Lieutenant, they are the same race. More than likely, they were stating their names. The logical starting point in finding a common language is how to address someone."
Nizeri returned from her thoughts, her cheeks flushed red. "Right, sorry. Of course." She tapped the controls on the conference table, dimming the lights of the conference room. A three-dimensional hologram appeared above the center of the table of a planet and its five moons. The image shifted to center on one of the moons. "We've managed to collect information from their ship's navigational computer, as well as a data cache they were carrying in the event of a first contact."
Obruz grinned and turned to Jessica. "I'd say they were intentionally looking for someone in space."
Nizeri winced. "Actually...it's not good. I mean, yes, they were intentionally looking for us. But that's only because they knew we would be here."
A flat projection appeared over the table as the hologram of the planet and moons faded. On the projection a recording played; dark green ships, unmistakably shaped like curving wings, flew across the image, as if they were being watched from below. Jessica frowned as the recording cut and the planet returned over the table. "Romulans."
Nizeri nodded. "Their planet is just on the other side of the old Neutral Zone border. While militarization and colonization were forbidden before the fall of the Romulan Empire, both sides sent covert missions into the Neutral Zone, whether it was for scientific study or for spying. From what we've been able to glean from their data cache, the Romulans have been flying over these people's planet for centuries."
Jessica shook her head. "Please, continue."
"Right." Nizeri tapped her PADD, calling up her briefing and allowing the holographic image to begin animating; the moon that was the center of the image began rotating. "This is their planet, or rather, moon. Allebin V, moon four. To these people, it's called 'Etam.' The major powers on their world have been involved in a space race for the better part of the last two centuries, thanks in no small part to the Romulans' presence in their skies. There have been at least four major, 'world' wars on Etam in the past two hundred years, the second of which was nuclear." Nizeri frowned sadly as images appeared superimposed over the holographic Etam; cities utterly annihilated, processions of missiles and marching soldiers, flashes and mushroom clouds. The conference room was eerily silent as the senior officers looked away from the images of the apocalyptic Etam.
Nizeri cleared her throat. "They included a basis for measuring time like them, and Yala was kind enough to help translate and count, so I've managed a rough estimation in our timing. It was about thirty years after the fourth world war that the - uh...Etamans? - launched their first warp-capable ship. Ten years later, they launched three more. Yala and Gorem's ship is the tenth warp mission in the past fifty years for these people."
Elaina leaned back in her chair quickly, confusion etched on her face. "Fifty years of successful warp travel, and all they've managed to push is warp two?" She shook her head. "How have they been unable to achieve at least a warp five engine by now, especially considering all they're flying is basically a warp sled like the Phoenix or the NX Project ships, and not an actual starship?"
Nizeri shook her head. "We're still poring over the data to figure that out, but they aren't unified like other races have been when they began achieving warp speeds. There are large rifts between major nations on the planet, though we're not entirely sure why. Yala has tried explaining it but..."
"We're still not up to speed on the translator; right." Jessica sighed. "Still, multiple nations are sending up warp-capable ships, and they're obviously looking for the Romulans. Are they hoping the first ones to make contact with the aliens will be able to use them to back up their nation and win the planet?"
Nizeri shook her head. "Fortunately, the reasons for their ventures into space aren't that sinister. Unfortunately, that's where the good news ends." She tapped the PADD again.
Jessica's eyes widened, and she heard a gasp from Elaina. Obruz and Wirstowx both leaned forward in their chairs, equally alarmed. Even Seymour, who up until now had been paying what seemed like the least attention, turned his head to get a better look at the new hologram.
The new image was a misshapen rock, slowly rotating in the air above the conference table. Smaller rocks hovered around it, and a large tail of released gases trailed behind it.
"This is the comet 'Zed-three-three-Allebin-two-nine-five-six." Nizeri took a deep breath after that. "They call it 'Praxt a-loot.' If I had to guess, based on the way Yala and Gorem talk about it, it probably translates roughly to 'end of the world.'" Nizeri smirked sadly at her attempt for a little gallows humor.
"Where is this comet now?" Jessica felt compelled to ask, though she was sure she knew the answer already.
Nizeri swallowed the lump that had lodged itself in her throat. "Based on the data provided by the Etamans, and our own stellar cartography...Praxt is going to hit Etam within the week. More than likely, the planet is already being struck by meteorites dislodging from the comet as it passes; its projected path with take it around Allebin and then on a collision course with Etam on the return trip out."
"How...um...large...is this thing?" Seymour coughed uncomfortably as all the eyes in the room turned towards the normally silent officer. He did his best not to shrink under their stares, focusing as best he could on the image of the comet Praxt.
Nizeri looked surprised for a moment and paused before finally looking at the data on her PADD. "From what I can estimate from the Etaman's measurements and Starfleet's logs of the comet...it will be roughly twenty kilometers wide on its trip towards the Allebin star, and about fourteen kilometers when it comes back around to threaten Etam."
Wirstowx blinked as his chest rumbled. "It would take a considerable amount of firepower to destroy the comet. I would estimate it would exhaust our supplies of quantum torpedoes..."
"Mister Wirstowx, I do not believe you grasp the complexity of the situation." S'Tel sat forward in her chair to address the man. "We cannot interfere."
"Wait." Jessica leaned forward as well, looking aghast. "You can't be serious."
S'Tel raised her eyebrows, her mouth barely turning down in a frown as she explained. "The Prime Directive is very clear in this matter, Commander. We cannot change the natural course of this species."
Jessica shook her head. "We can't just let them die! A comet that large would wipe out their entire civilization and every living thing on the planet!" She looked around the table, hoping for support.
Wirstowx nodded. "While I was ready for a tactical option, the doctor is correct. We cannot be involved."
"We're already involved," Obruz countered with a frown. "We rescued their ship, we've made first contact. What are we supposed to do, drop them off at their planet, wish them the good graces of the Prophets and then watch from orbit while their planet burns?"
"They're a warp capable species, as well." Elaina added. "I realize it's a very arbitrary measuring stick, but it's one we've used multiple times before making first contact with other races."
"But you said yourself, it's an arbitrary measurement of a race," Nizeri answered, sitting down in her chair and turning off the holographic projection. "They haven't made it past warp two; it took Earth eighty years before they hit warp five, and that was with the Vulcans not sharing technology and advising extreme caution."
"But there was interference," Seymour spoke up, eliciting a few more surprised looks from the senior staff. "The very presence of the Vulcans on Earth was interference enough; them holding their technology over the heads of Humans and saying 'look at what you can have, but we won't tell you how to get here.'" He turned to S'Tel. "No offense, Doctor. These people, they've seen the Romulans and who knows how many other races flying overhead for years. They've known they weren't alone for most of their existence; the fact that they aren't revering the nearest Romulan Warbird - or even the Rafale and us - like a god should say how ready these people are for the galactic stage."
"The Lieutenant does raise a...valid argument," S'Tel admitted, which only further stunned the senior officers. "However, the Prime Directive also forbids changing the course of natural evolution of a planet and its species. This comet has not been interfered with by outside forces; it was set on its path millennia ago."
"We can't prove there hasn't been some kind of interference," Sonia countered.
"Regardless, we have done nothing to set these people on this path."
"But we can help get them off of it!"
"What do you suggest then, Mister Sonia?"
The room was dead silent as everyone stared in shock at Jessica. For her part, she did a good job ignoring the stare, instead leaning back in her chair at the head of the table and crossing her arms over her chest.
Seymour cleared his throat, finding his voice again. "Excuse me?"
Jessica shrugged, glancing out of the corner of her eye at Obruz. "You seem...pretty vocal about this. What do you think we should do?"
Obruz blinked a few times in shock. Nizeri looked from Seymour to Jessica and back a few times, her mouth hanging open. Even the normally stoic Wirstowx and S'Tel glanced at each other in restrained surprise.
Seymour considered the request with a nod. "I suggest...we intervene." He motioned towards Wirstowx. "The lieutenant had the right idea, but the execution needs some work." He leaned forward, pointing to the center of the table. "Lieutenant Sano, can you bring the comet back up?"
Nizeri blinked, wondering for a few moments what had happened in the room when she felt Obruz kick her chair. "Right, uh, sorry..." she stammered, finally bringing the projection back above the table.
Seymour stood up, leaning over the table to reach. "We concentrate our fire at a weak point. Say, for example, here," he pointed at a small crevice on the surface of the ball of ice and rock. "Suppose we scanned and found this to be a weak point of the comet? We focus our fire at this location, in an attempt to slice the comet into more manageable pieces. And, if the comet is rotating while it's traveling, we hit it so that when it breaks apart..."
"The pieces fly away from the planet," Nizeri finished, nodding. "That's not a terrible idea."
Jessica studied the image of the comet for a moment in silence. "It's the best we've got going into this." She stood. "Make the preparations. Sonia, work with Sano and Wirstowx to get a targeting pattern down. Sano, get your geologists on our sensor readings; I don't want any surprises when we start shooting into the rock." She smiled a little. "I'm going to go meet our guests. Obruz, lay in a course for Allebin, maximum warp."
Yala twisted her head towards the entrance as the chime rang again, her dark eyes narrowing in annoyance. The sound wasn't very pleasant, nothing like the gentle taps of the wooden knockers on her own world. This was a high-pitched noise, like tiny bells ringing far too fast to be pleasant.
Gorem looked over from where he was inspecting the alcove in the wall. The alien that had escorted them had used it to create a clear, tasteless liquid. He had slowly said the word a few times for their benefit - "water" - and Gorem had been hard at work seeing if the device would recognize any other commands.
He had succeeded, much to their shared surprise. It was soon followed by disgust; the device had created out of a thin air a rolled up, flat piece of bread that looked like it had been dropped in a hot bucket of grease to be cooked. Inside was whatever this alien culture's equivalent to cheese was, though not nearly as aromatic, along with some kind of soft grain, shredded meat that tasted oddly like nothing, and garnished with a thick green paste.
"What could it be now?" he huffed in annoyance. "They were just in here five minutes ago."
Yala dipped her head forward. "I don't know." She flared her nostrils in mild amusement at the man. "We are new to them. They're trying hard to communicate with us."
Gorem dipped his head before opening his mouth to bark the word the aliens had said - "Comb!" - and then moved to stand behind Yala, ready to protect her. "We are wasting too much time. Etam does not have much longer, and they're the only ones who can help us now!"
The door opened, allowing one of the aliens entrance. Yala and Gorem stopped talking immediately, staring in surprise at the new alien.
Its uniform had yellow accents, in stark contrast to her bright blue skin and hair. It moved the sides of its mouth upwards - something Yala saw most of these aliens do, and decided it was not as threatening as it was to her people - and stopped at the door, its hands nervously clasped behind its back.
The alien opened its mouth to speak, a higher pitched, melodious sound issuing forth. Yala decided the alien was female, like herself; there was something about the way this one carried herself and the sound of her voice that convinced her it was a female.
The words were still completely alien to them - rushed, short, harsh at times. The alien touched her chest, slowing down her speech. "Jessica Saint Peter."
Yala blinked her eyes in recognition of the gesture, and stood to her full height while pressing her hand on her own chest. "Yala," she replied in her own tongue, letting the word flow beautifully with a slight warble in her voice. She motioned to her companion, adding "Gorem."
The male inclined his head out of courtesy before leaning forward to Yala. "This is a waste of time," he hissed.
Jessica held her hands out in front of her and shook her head, starting to speak again, looking agitated, anxious even. Yala reared her head back out of curiosity, before turning to silence Gorem. "She's afraid, Gorem. That was rude!"
Gorem titled his head from side to side in annoyance. "What difference does it make, she cannot understand us! They won't know anything about Praxt -"
Jessica gasped, and Yala and Gorem both turned to stare at the blue-skinned alien. She pointed at Gorem, repeating the word "Praxt" before continuing in her own tongue.
Yala nodded her head, tapping Gorem on the arm. "See? They know about the comet."
Gorem folded his arms over his chest, letting out an annoyed breath. "But do they even know where Etam is?"
"I'm sure they can follow star charts, Gorem." Yala sat back down, nodding her approval at Jessica. "We did give enough to the one with the spots and red fur on her head a way to at least count like us."
"We're actually en-route to Etam now."
Gorem's head snapped around to face the alien again, his eyes wide in shock. Yala pulled her head backwards again, equally surprised.
Jessica brought the corners of her mouth upwards again, looking much more relaxed and relieved. Her voice had changed, taking on the more familiar warbling and breathiness that Yala was used to hearing. "I think you can understand me now." She tapped the gold pendant on her chest - the one that every alien on the ship wore - and spoke aloud to the air, "Sano, I think the Universal Translator is working now."
Yala stood back up, stepping towards the woman. "How remarkable; you can speak our language."
Jessica shook her head, tapping the brooch again. "It's called a 'universal translator;' it's a tool we use that helps us communicate with other races." She pointed to herself again. "Let's try this again; I'm Commander Jessica St. Peter. On behalf of the United Federation of Planets, welcome aboard my ship, the Rafale."
Yala dipped her head forward, flaring her nostrils with enthusiasm. "I am Yala of the Etamba, mission commander of WS-53; this is my navigator, Gorem," she added, again motioning to the male. "There is little time to spare; you know about the comet?"
Jessica nodded, the corners of her mouth dropping so that her face suddenly looked severe. "We do. Like I said, we're en-route to Etam now."
Gorem stepped forward. "And you can save our people, then?"
"Gorem," Yala chastised.
The male narrowed his eyes menacingly, moving the corners of his mouth upwards threateningly. "Etam will burn if they do not stop the comet! We've wasted enough time trying to learn to communicate." He faced Jessica then. "Will you help us or not, alien?"
"Gorem," Yala hissed, craning her neck to dip her head in front of his. "You will show the woman respect!"
"She is not Etamba!"
"She is the commander of this vessel, just the same," Yala hissed again, pushing her head towards his. Gorem finally blinked, looking away from her and taking a step back. She regarded him for a second more before turning her head to look at Jessica again. "I apologize for my navigator. He is understandably worried."
Jessica nodded her head forward - a sign of agreement, no doubt - before replying. "I understand; no offense taken. And..." She looked uncomfortable for a moment, struggling with her words. "We're going to see what we can do," she finally said, looking into Yala's eyes. "Please understand: I can't promise anything. But we're going to try to help."
Yala flared her nostrils. "That is the most hope our planet has had in decades, Commander. We thank you."
Captain's log, Stardate 84268.34.
Rafale has received confirmation orders from Seventh Fleet to do what we can to minimize the impact of the comet Praxt-a-loot. While I'm not sure I'm...comfortable...with the amount of "free reign" we're being given...
Dammit, this is just insane. We're in no position to mount an evacuation of a civilization, and Rafale is under-gunned compared to her true Akira sister ships. The nearest evacuation ship is still a few days away - as is the nearest Typhoon dreadnaught, for that matter - and the comet is scheduled to make planet-fall in less than a few days, now that it's picked up speed from slingshotting around the Allebin star.
And right now, the only plan we have...is Seymour's plan. Everyone else is onboard with it - they seem to think it should work, which makes it even crazier.
This isn't how I expected my first First Contact mission to go.
The doors to her ready room parted, and Jessica glanced up from her desk monitor in time to see Obruz walk in, lips curved down and his brow furrowed in frustration. Jessica took in a breath; she'd been waiting for this conversation.
She waited for the doors to hiss shut before she spoke. "Let it rip."
"Sonia?" Obruz asked, his voice stern. "Are you out of your mind, Jessica?"
Jessica narrowed her eyes. "Obruz..." She sighed, shaking her head as she leaned back in her chair. "I probably am. Me and everyone else on the staff, for that matter. It's the best we've got right now, and worse, my senior staff actually thinks it could work." She raised her hands in surrender. "What am I supposed to do?"
"Find another solution!"
"So give me one!" Jessica put her hands in her lap and shook her head again. "If you can give me something - anything - else, I'd listen in a heartbeat. But I have nothing else! Besides..." She stopped for a moment, thinking about how to word her next sentence.
Obruz waited for a second before prompting her to continue.
"Sorry...it's just that..." She bit her lip. "Do you think we've...been too hard on him?"
Obruz blinked incredulously, sinking into the chair across the desk from her. "You're joking, right?" He squinted. "Who are you, and what have you done with my captain? This is Seymour Sonia we're talking about, Jessica! Insubordinate, misogynistic, general pain in the..."
"And we haven't exactly done anything to give him the benefit of the doubt, Dossu!" Jessica interrupted. "When he has a job to do, he does it. And he's damn good at his job, too."
"He routinely does just the minimum to get by!"
"And yet, here we are, with something that he actually took an interest in!" Jessica brought a hand up, squeezing the bridge of her nose. "He volunteered a viable plan that goes well outside his expertise. He's been working non-stop to get it right! Dossu, he wants to do this! How can I tell him no?!"
"Easily. 'Seymour, shut up and color.'" Obruz shook his head. "Jess, this is a whole frinxing race we just trusted him with, not a handful of people on an away team!"
"Then give me something, Dossu!" Jessica stood, smacking her hand on the desk. "Tell me anything, any alternative at all, and I will pull the plug on Sonia's mission!" She jabbed her finger into the air, pointing at the door. "Admit it; you had the same damn idea he did! Wirstowx did! I did! The only reason you're fighting this is because it was him!"
"You're absolutely right that's why!" Obruz stood as well, resting both of his hands on the glassy-black surface of the desk so that he could lean over it. "Everything he touches is poison; he's bad for this ship, and I'll be glad to be rid of him when we get back to Sierra Station. Jessica, please--don't let him run this mission."
Jessica shook her head. "I'm giving him the chance, Obruz." She looked at her first officer square in the eyes, straightening upright on her side of the desk. "That's my decision, Commander."
Obruz nodded. "Yes ma'am. I'm logging my objections."
Jessica nodded back. "Noted. Dismissed."
Seymour tossed the PADD onto the desk in front of him and leaned back in his chair, rubbing his eyes. He'd been staring at the data for hours it seemed, and his eyes were burning.
I don't think I've focused this much on a project since the Academy, he thought. Actually, scratch that. Never. I would be drinking if this were the Academy.
He took his hands away from his face, looking at the small couch in his quarters. Trinity was sitting on one side of it, bent over a PADD reading and looking bored. "Let's get something to drink."
Trinity glanced up, confused for a moment. She finally frowned and rolled her eyes. "I'm a bartender, Seymour. The last thing I want to do is drink on my time off."
Seymour laughed and shook his head. "That's a lie. C'mon."
Trinity shook her head, looking back at her PADD. "Don't you have to save the world or something?"
"I can't think." He stood from the desk, stretching for a moment. He walked over to the couch, standing above the woman. "C'mon, Trin."
"Synthale is going to help you think?" Trinity scoffed, putting the PADD in her lap and looking up at Seymour.
He shook his head. "No synthale on board, remember? Captain's allergic."
Trinity stared dumbfounded at him. "So alcohol then. Really, Seymour?"
Seymour bent down, interrupting her with a kiss. Trinity pushed half-heartedly against his chest, which made him lean in further, putting a hand under her chin. They held the kiss for a few minutes, slipping their tongues into one another's mouths and biting each other's lips. Seymour slowly moved onto the couch, straddling Trinity's body, pushing his hands underneath her shirt.
Their mouths parted for a moment, and Trinity whispered, breathless, "Don't you have a planet to save?"
Seymour kissed her quickly before replying. "Right now I have other responsibilities."
Seymour opened his eyes, wincing slightly as he tried to move and found his arm pinned underneath something. Groggily, he turned his head to the side to look at what was pinning him down; after a moment of recognition he smiled a little.
Trinity was laying next to him in the bed on top of his arm, her head resting on his shoulder. She was fast asleep, shifting slightly as he moved but otherwise oblivious that he was awake.
Carefully, he pulled his numb arm out from under her, guiding her head down to the pillow before sliding out of the chaotic tangle of sheets. He bent down to retrieve his boxer shorts and pants and strode unsteadily into the bathroom.
The holographic display on the mirror read 0434, causing Seymour to frown. He had slept for too long after fulfilling his "responsibilities" with Trinity. St. Peter would be expecting his plan in three hours, and he still didn't feel comfortable presenting what he had. He turned on the faucet, filling his hands with warm water before splashing it on his face.
Right now, it's the only plan we've got. Comfortable or not, we have to go with it. Seymour frowned, taking in a deep breath. He still wasn't sure why Jessica was trusting him with this; he was very confident in his knowledge that she did not like him as a person or as an officer. It was a sentiment shared by much of the senior staff, he knew.
He shook his head and filled his hands with more water to splash on his face. I don't know why I'm still here, he admitted quietly. I don't fit in with this group. They work well together, they trust each other. I'm the only one they don't completely trust. He looked at his reflection in the mirror. If I stay here, I'll kill my career.
Pull this off, and I might have a good leg to stand on when I go looking for a new job. He grinned a little, bending down to pull his shorts up. Comfortable or not, this is the plan they agreed to.
Now, I just have to sell it.
"This is insane!"
Seymour took in a deep breath, doing his best to appear calm and confident, despite Obruz's objections. "Sir, this is the best option short of firing wildly at the asteroid and praying it breaks apart."
Obruz shook his head. "That was your original idea, Sonia. Where did this plan come from?"
Seymour bit his tongue, not wanting to yell back at the First Officer. "Commander, Rafale doesn't have the fire power needed to blast the comet apart. From the analysis on record of Praxt, the kelbonite and magnesite deposits alone would be enough to dissipate our phasers, and torpedoes wouldn't be able to completely break apart a rock of that size." He motioned to the spinning hologram of the comet that floated above the conference table. "We have to bury explosives in this fault line. It will break the comet apart, hopefully into more manageable pieces that we can then destroy with the ship's weapons. Worst case scenario, it breaks into only two pieces that spin away from the planet. Either way, Etam should be safe."
Obruz shook his head. "I don't like that word, Sonia. Will the planet be safe, or not?"
Nizeri leaned forward, peeking out from behind Wirstowx. "Yes, Commander. Inertia will make this work. Even if the comet breaks into two parts, one will go off course away from Etam. The second will make a very close pass, but it will be pulled in by the gas giant Etam orbits; again, the planet will be safe." She looked over at Seymour, who nodded in thanks to her. "It seems a little farfetched, but I've gone over the results of the Lieutenant's simulations. It will work."
Jessica sat forward in her chair, pressing a control on the table to remove the hologram. "Captain Yala; what are your thoughts?"
Seymour looked over to where the tall alien sat, her long neck helping her look down the length of the table without her having to lean out of her chair. Her pitch black eyes were narrowed in thought, and the corners of her mouth were raised, an expression he had learned was meant to show frustration or anger, rather than happiness. He sat down, waiting for her to shoot his plan down as well.
In slow, warbling tones, Yala began to speak; the universal translator drowned her out for the most part, choosing a soft, melodic feminine voice for the alien. "I'm terrified, Commander St. Peter. Similar plans were made on my planet nearly a decade ago, when we first charted this course for Praxt-a-loot. It will be difficult to land; we lost three ships trying to get close to the comet."
Seymour leaned forward then, looking from Yala to Jessica. "We will need to make modifications to a runabout to be able to fly in the tail of the comet. I've already coordinated with Commander Seurer to start the modifications."
"Then you'll accomplish something my people could not, just landing on the comet." She shook her head, the sail behind her flapping. "I am still scared. The lives of my people are in your hands; we are no longer in control of our fate." She looked down at the table and let out a low, warbling cry that the translator couldn't recognize. "It was our hope, all along, to find the Romulans or you to save us; now that we are here, I am finding it is much more daunting an idea than I first imagined."
"If you aren't comfortable with this, we can find another option."
Seymour glared at Jessica in disbelief. Another option? These people don't have the time!
Jessica glanced at Seymour and shook her head at him, discouraging any objection from him. Yala, meanwhile, looked up from the table and out the viewports on the far wall. Finally, she turned her head to face Jessica again and dipped it forward. "No; as I said when we first spoke, this is the most hope my people have had in years. We will continue as planned."
Seymour smiled a little, still looking at Jessica and waiting for the final order.
The blue alien sat back in her chair and looked around the table. "Any other opinions, ideas, thoughts, now is the time to voice them."
Obruz shook his head, looking at Jessica. "I'm still not confident in this."
Jessica looked at the Bajoran and nodded silently in reply. After another moment, Obruz turned away from her and looked at Seymour. Frowning, he nodded. "Proceed, Lieutenant. We'll be within range of the comet in three hours."
The shuttle hanger was alive with activity when Seymour finally walked in. Personnel worked quickly to load crates of explosives into the rear of the runabout Guadalupe while engineers finished modifications to her systems. He smiled a little, feeling a sense of pride in the occasion. He was finally being allowed to lead a mission, on his own. He had picked his team - taking advice from his fellow senior staff officers - and come up with the plan that would save the world.
Already, Savannah Tompson - his engineer - was busy conducting pre-flight checks with the pilot, a bald Deltan man named Thoobor. Keith Rehrer and Terry Mosz, two demolition experts, oversaw the loading of the explosives.
The final three members of his crew were huddled together, double checking their own equipment and chatting while the rest of the equipment was loaded. Seymour grinned as he approached them. "Ladies; Tim. Good to see you."
Timothy Hausrath straightened a little, the young specialist visibly swelling with pride on his first away mission. He was a geologist, picked to make sure Seymour and his crew didn't drill or plant the bombs anywhere that was too hazardous. "Thank you, Lieutenant Sonia."
"Excited much, Timmy?" Alyssa Acuff crossed her arms with a small giggle. Seymour had picked the tactical officer to be his weapons officer on the runabout, partially because Wirstowx insisted she was a competent tactical officer, partially because she was easy on the eyes in her dark red uniform. Seymour blinked a few times to break his gaze, turning quickly to the final member of his team.
Justine bit her lip nervously, tugging on the strap to her medkit that ran across her chest. "Seymour."
Seymour nodded. "Justine. Thank you."
The petite doctor stepped forward, grabbing his arm and pulling him along while she talked in hushed tones. "What am I doing here, Seymour?"
"We're going to be making multiple spacewalks, Justine." Seymour stopped walking, tugging his uniform to straighten it out. "I need a medical officer to make sure my team is good to go, and in case anything goes wrong."
Justine shook her head, her newly dyed hair - bright blue, similar to Jessica's in color - flowing gently behind her. "But why did you pick me?"
"Honestly? S'Tel recommended you."
Justine looked surprised for a moment, before leaning in again. "That's it? S'Tel recommended me?"
Seymour nodded. "I promise, if I was just picking randomly, I would have asked her to come. You're not here because of...you know." Although, he had to admit, she was still extremely attractive to him, even knowing that she was romantically involved with the commander. "We have a job to do. If it'll be a problem for you..."
Justine shook her head again, quicker this time. "No, no problem." She smiled. "I just...wanted to make sure. Thank you."
Seymour nodded. "Get on board. I want to leave as soon as we're ready, Doc."
"What's the status of the away team, M'Ral?" Jessica turned her chair to face the Caitian officer.
"Final preparations are underway, ma'am."
Jessica continued turning to face Nizeri in the back of the bridge. "How is the rock looking?"
Nizeri frowned. "I'm getting a lot of strange readings, Commander." She shook her head. "Regolith mostly, but there's a lot of interference. I can't make much out of it; if I had to guess, maybe magnesite. If we could get a little closer, I might have a better answer for you."
Jessica turned her chair to face forward again. "Wirstowx, see if you can't bring us in closer. At the very least, it'll be less distance the runabout has to go to their landing site."
Wirstowx nodded, and the image of the comet on the screen grew larger.
The ship shuddered. Jessica looked around in alarm, as did a few of the other officers at their posts. "What was that?"
"Ejecta; we're entering the tail of the comet," Nizeri replied. "Might get a little bumpy here, Wirst."
"Guadalupe is reporting ready for launch." M'Ral input commands to his console before turning towards Jessica. "Requesting permission to disembark."
Jessica nodded. "Make it happen."
M'Ral tapped his station again. "Guadalupe, you are cleared for launch, I repeat, you are cleared for launch. Safe journey."
"Acknowledged, Rafale, Guadalupe is away." The viewscreen changed, showing the large shuttle slip out of the hanger bay and turn, heading towards her target. "Estimate twenty minutes to landing site. We'll check in once there. Guadalupe out."
"M'Ral, monitor their flight path and make sure they touch down safely. Obruz, you..."
The ship jolted violently, sending most of the crew scrambling to steady themselves. Jessica frowned. "Wirst, I think we can back out of the tail now."
Wirstowx was working desperately at the helm, his breath becoming increasingly excited. "Standby..."
The ship shook again, and the alert lights immediately lit yellow around the bridge. Jessica looked around, feeling her heartbeat increase in panic. "What's going on?"
Nizeri called from her station at the rear of the bridge as the lights flickered around them. "I just picked up a massive gravity spike from the comet! We need to back off now!"
"Wirst, get us out of here, full impulse!"
The helmsman practically slammed his hands down on the console before him, struggling to give the ship commands fast enough to compensate for the gravity and the debris from the comet. Lights blinked off for a few seconds longer, and Jessica could hear systems around the bridge power down.
M'Ral cried in surprise, "Power drain! Massive power drain now! Whatever is under the ice is having an adverse effect on our power grid!"
The ship rocked and bucked as lights flashed erratically. Jessica felt the inertial dampers cut out in time for Rafale to lose control; the ship suddenly nosed down and back up, launching most of the crew from their seats.
Wirstowx grunted, straining to keep the ship from tumbling end over end in the wake of the comet. The bridge shuddered, lights flickering rapidly as power fluctuated throughout the Rafale.
M'Ral hissed and growled from his station. "Power is fluctuating too rapidly! Engineering, I need help up here, Commander!"
"Do what you can; I'll compensate down here Fuzzball!" was Elaina's shouted response over the comm speakers. Despite the gravity of the situation Jessica giggled a little as she held onto her chair. The last thing she wanted to do was become reacquainted with the helm station as she had prior to Vega.
There was a final shudder and buck of the ship, bringing Obruz down to his knees from where he stood behind Jessica. His chin connected with the back of the captain's chair with a sickening thwock, and he collapsed completely as the ship steadied out. Jessica turned to look back at him; he lay face down on the ground, not moving.
Jessica stood, shakily, tapping her commbadge. "Medics to the bridge," she ordered, bending down to check on Obruz. Satisfied that her first officer was still alive, she looked around the rest of the small, dark bridge. "Report!"
Nizeri coughed from her station, pulling herself to her feet. "We're caught in the tail of the comet," she replied, shaking the dizziness from her head. She scowled at her flickering console. "Sensors are still having trouble narrowing down the makeup of the rock under the ice, but the gravimetric field is hundreds of times more powerful than we first believed."
Jessica frowned, standing up to get a better view of Wirstowx. "Wirst?"
The massive alien barely turned his head to call over his shoulder. "I am maintaining a safe distance from the comet itself; however, at this rate of burn, we will have exhausted our chemical thrusters in approximately thirty minutes." He quickly moved his arm, his hands planted firmly on the controls to keep the ship from buffeting again. "I suggest another method of keeping our distance."
"Engineering is working on getting the impulse thrusters fired up again," M'Ral reported, his ears twitching anxiously. "Even if the Commander has to 'make the Chief walk out and scrape off the snow.'" He shrugged.
"What about the Guadalupe?"
Nizeri scanned the comet quickly. "They're near the comet; interference is making it hard to get a positive hit on them, but they're still there." She shook her head in disbelief. "It looks like Sonia's keeping to the plan."
I hope JD's alright, Jessica thought, slowly sinking back into her chair as a nurse exited the turbolift and moved to take over caring for Obruz.
"Commander." M'Ral brought Jessica out of her thoughts. "Seurer just reported in again..."
Jessica waited a moment for the young Caitian to continue before finally pressing him. "And?"
He shook his head, growling softly. "Main power is being drained, siphoned off. She thinks it's something in the asteroid doing it."
"How much time?"
M'Ral shook his head. "An hour, maybe two."
"How long will secondary systems last?"
M'Ral winced. "That's the other part of her report." He growled, "Whatever is draining main power is also depleting our backups and the battery backups. We're going to be without power in three hours time."
All activity on the bridge came to a halt as everyone turned from where they were - save for Wirstowx - to stare incredulously at the Operations officer. Nizeri stammered a little from her position. "L-life support?"
"We're going to run out of breathable air in five hours - assuming we don't freeze to death first," M'Ral finished grimly, his ears lying back flat on his head.
Jessica shook her head. "Tell Elaina to keep working on a solution. Wirstowx, keep us steady for now, switch out before you get too tired. Nizeri," she turned to her science officer. "I want a detailed analysis of that rock, now that we've been up close and personal with it. I want to know everything about it and how to get away from its damn gravity field."
Seymour wiped his eyes, wishing he could rub the exhaustion from them. "They got too damn close." He smacked the control panel in front of him, causing Thoobor to look over in surprise.
Timothy sighed from his station in the back. "Gravitational pull of the comet is much stronger than we anticipated. The damn rocks buried in it are going to wreak havoc on their systems."
"How so?" asked Alyssa from the tactical console.
"Massive power drain," Tompson replied, picking up for the geologist. "Systems are going to fail all over the ship, and at an alarming rate." She frowned. "They're going to be completely without power in a matter of hours. Life support will fail not long after that."
Justine whimpered, covering her mouth and looking away. Seymour frowned; it hadn't been a secret that she and St. Peter were together. For a moment, Trinity's small, naked frame entered his mind, and his frown deepened; she was in danger, too.
"We need to finish the mission," Seymour declared, looking down at the image on the console in front of him. It was a rear-view shot of the Rafale, and he watched as she struggled to stay on course behind the comet, trying desperately to pull away from the ball of ice and rock.
"Agreed," Mosz called from the doorway to the crew cabin. "The sooner we blow this rock, the sooner the ship and that planet are safe." He rubbed his hands together eagerly. "I'm ready for a space walk."
Justine turned and pushed past him into the crew cabin. As the door closed, Seymour could just hear the beginnings of her fearful sobs.
Jessica shivered in her seat, rubbing her arms furiously in the cold. Around the conference table, the rest of her senior staff were similarly engaged in keeping themselves warm, most of them bundled up in winter gear usually reserved for away missions.
"Th-th-the asteroid is n-now two hours f-from striking th-the planet," Jessica briefed, struggling to speak. "H-have we received word from the Guad...a...Guada...from the runabout?"
M'Ral shook his head, the only one in the room seemingly unaffected by the frigid atmosphere. "They landed on the asteroid at the preplanned coordinates and, from what we can tell, immediately began drilling into the rock. They should have avoided the main deposit of kelbonite in the area of the landing zone, but we have no way of knowing until they can cut through the interference."
Jessica nodded her head jerkily and turned towards Nizeri. "Wh-what else did y-you learn about the comet?"
Nizeri shivered in her seat. "The s-surface is ice, but most of that h-has already been ejected from the rock itself." She unfolded a piece of torn paper that sat in front of her, reading off her scribbled notes. "Uridium, kelbonite, magn-n-nesite..."
"A smorgasbord of s-sensor interference," Seurer quipped with a small chuckle and a sigh.
"That sounds v-very unappealing," came a reply from the door, and all the heads in the conference room turned to look.
Jessica stood, smiling warmly. "Dossu...what are y-you doing?"
Obruz shrugged a little, smiling slightly. "Can I j-just say that it is utter hell b-being cold and having ch-chattering teeth with a bruised j-jaw?"
Jessica shook her head. "Dossu, you're supposed to be in s-sickbay still..."
Obruz rolled his eyes and waved her off, pushing past her to his normal chair. "It won't m-make much difference," he said, sitting down. "Die of cold down th-there, die of cold up here. At least I can d-do something useful b-before I meet the P-prophets."
Jessica shook her head again, smiling a little more. "Thank you."
Obruz nodded. "It's probably already been said. Guadalupe?"
"On the asteroid..."
Jessica cut M'Ral off; she knew what Obruz had really been asking. "Sonia's s-still keeping to the plan. No deviations f-from what we could t-tell so far."
Obruz nodded. "Good to hear..."
"That's just it, it's not good!" Nizeri interrupted, shaking her head. "This asteroid is off course!"
Everyone around the table was quiet for a moment. Jessica blinked a few times. "What are you saying?"
"Wh-whatever happened on its trip around Allebin, this comet isn't on the c-course our and the Etamba's models predicted. They're not completely safe - it could still get caught in the gas giant's gr-gravity and veer into Etam - but the majority of the simulations we've run with this n-new data show the comet completely missing Etam." She shook her head. "That is, assuming we d-don't try blasting it apart."
Jessica's eyes went wide. "Don't blast it apart?" She swallowed the lump in her throat. "We need to get a hold of the Guadalupe. M'Ral," she turned to the Caitian, who was beginning to stand. "G-get the transceiver back online - take power from life support - and t-tell me when you've reached the runabout. Go!"
M'Ral nodded and left the room as Seurer shook her head. "We won't be able to get f-free unless we blow that rock to p-p-pieces. How long until it's s-safe to do that?"
Nizeri frowned sadly. "To ensure Etam d-doesn't get hit, a m-minimum of five more hours."
Seurer cursed, putting her head down on the table. "Might want to get c-comfortable then. Th-this ship is going to be a tomb in three."
"What is the absolute m-minimum amount of time to p-prevent a world-wide c-c-cataclysm?" Jessica asked.
Nizeri stared open-mouthed at her. "You can't be serious."
"I want to m-minimize the damage as m-much as possible..."
"So we wait the five hours, Commander!" Nizeri shook her head. "The Prime Directive got us in this mess at the start, and it'll keep us in it now. We can't risk any damage to these people just to save ourselves!" She looked around the table. "We knew what we were getting into on this mission. What is it that Vulcans say? 'The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?' We're the few here; we can't risk the lives on Etam just to save ourselves!"
Jessica deflated a little, sinking back in her chair as she looked around for any support. Seurer nodded. "She's right, Jess."
"I agree," Wirstowx rumbled with a shudder - the only shudder Jessica had seen from him since heating had been lost. "Our mission was to save these people. We cannot condemn them to death - even a handful of them - when we gave our word to protect them."
Jessica closed her eyes. "You're all signing your death certificates."
"We can't all live forever," quipped Obruz with a shrug.
Jessica looked around the table at her officers. They watched her quietly, waiting for her final decision. She shook her head, letting out a ragged breath. "You're right." She winced. "Elaina; how much time can you c-coax out of life support? If we can hold out till we're clear of Etam..."
Elaina looked up, trying to think of a quick answer before shaking her head. "I could...try...something?" She looked back at Jessica sadly and shook her head again. "I'm already out of options, Commander. I'll see what we can do, but I've exhausted everything keeping us going this long." She stood slowly, shivering in the cold air. "I'll come up with something."
Jessica nodded. "Thank you. Whatever you can do, just pass the word to M'Ral on the bridge and we'll work it." She looked back at the rest of the officers. "Nizeri, continue to monitor the asteroid's course. If there is a chance we can break free earlier without endangering the planet, let me know. Wirstowx, be ready to fly on a moment's notice. Dossu," she paused at her first officer and sighed, shaking her head. "Go back to sickbay and make sure S'Tel was done with you."
Obruz rolled his eyes and sighed heavily with a smirk. "Yes, ma'am."
"Incoming message, Lieutenant," Thoobor called over his shoulder. "Rafale is hailing us, but there is a lot of interference."
Seymour nodded, motioning towards the crew rest area. "I'll take it back here." He turned to Keith, who was still working with Alyssa and Timothy selecting the next drilling site. "Keep working, we have to finish this fast."
They nodded and went back to work as he stepped into the rear compartment of the ship and the door closed behind him. He moved to the large display on the wall and activated it, sitting on a crate of explosives. Behind him, Justine looked up from where she had been seated with her head on the table, red-faced and bleary-eyed.
The monitor came to life with static, eventually clearing enough to show the bridge of the Rafale. Jessica was standing in the middle, bundled up in cold weather gear and shivering every now and then.
"Seymour, can you hear me?"
Seymour cleared his throat and nodded, slightly annoyed. "Loud and clear, Commander. Why are you wasting power checking up on us?"
"Had to give..." The image went to static, cutting Jessica off mid-sentence.
Seymour sighed, waiting for the picture to return and the sound of static to die before continuing. "We'll have the last of the charges placed within the hour, and then we can blow this rock. Rafale should be able to break free then."
Jessica sighed in frustration, motioning to M'Ral behind her. The picture began to clear more as the Caitian boosted the signal. "Negative, Lieutenant. Do not destroy the asteroid!"
Seymour stood, and he heard Justine behind him push her chair out to stand as well. "What?"
"We think the asteroid's natural path around the sun, or Rafale's presence this close - whatever - caused Praxt's course to change. It's no longer a threat to Etam."
Seymour furrowed his brow. "You wouldn't be telling me to not blow the rock, then. What's the catch?"
"The catch is, you can't safely destroy the asteroid and free the ship for another three hours without putting Etam at risk from debris. You can't detonate it before then; the resulting fragments will make planet fall, and they will cause a cataclysm."
Justine was next to him then, and he felt her small hand clutch his arm fearfully. "So we wait three hours to blow it up. We can do that." She looked up at Seymour, who nodded. She looked back at Jessica. "Just sit tight and stay warm. Right?"
Seymour knew the answer that was coming before Jessica even needed to say it; the look on her face was telling enough. "Justine...we're doing everything we can."
"No." Justine shook her head. "Don't."
Jessica wiped her face, getting frustrated. "We're going to run out of air in an hour. We're all consolidated to the primary hull, and we're pumping air out of the engineering section and back to the primary hull as best we can. Most of the crew are in EVA suits, but those won't last very long, either."
"Escape pods?" Seymour asked, for Justine's benefit. He knew the answer to that question already, too.
"Useless. Same for the shuttles. Only the Guadalupe is equipped for energy drain and system interference like that from the asteroid. We'd have the crew in a bunch of coffins instead..."
Justine's clutch became a death grip, and she screamed at Jessica. "Just stop it! You're not going to die, not you too!"
Jessica shook her head. "We're doing everything we can. Once life support fails, we might have a bit more time to use up what's in the ship, but..." She trailed off, shaking her head. "We'll do what we can. But you cannot destroy the comet."
Justine let go of Seymour's arm and turned around, covering her face as she sobbed louder. Seymour swallowed the lump in his throat. "When is the absolute earliest we can free you, while minimizing damage to the planet?"
Jessica shook her head. "Under no circumstances are you to try that. Three hours. That's how long you wait."
"But we can't just sacrifice you if the asteroid isn't going to destroy this planet now!" Seymour rubbed his shaved head for a moment, thinking aloud. "We have plenty of explosives here; give us another hour and we can pack this rock so full it'll be completely obliterated. Whatever would be left would burn up in the atmosphere."
"The risk is too great. We can't do anything that would endanger the Etamba."
"But at the cost of the Rafale and your crew?"
"She's right," Justine interrupted, turning back around to show her tear-streaked face. "We can't interfere now; our interference could be what destroys the planet." She looked up at the monitor, locking eyes with Jessica for a silent moment. Finally, she nodded. "We have to wait."
Seymour frowned. "They're going to die, Justine!" He glared at Jessica. "You're going to make them all die for this?"
Jessica shook her head. "I asked the same thing you did. They told me what I'm telling you."
"So over-rule them! You're the commander!"
"No, Lieutenant. We can't do this." She straightened a little, doing her best to appear as authoritative as she tried to sound. "Do not destroy the asteroid until it is no longer a threat to Etam. That's an order." She looked down. "And once you do blow it...get back to Federation space. Take care of your crew, Lieutenant Sonia."
"Jess..." Justine stepped forward, reaching out.
If Jessica had appeared conflicted before, she was extremely emotional now. Tears came freely now as she took a small step forward as well. "Justine, I..."
"We'll do our best over here. But if..."
"...if we don't make it...Justine, I..."
"Don't say it..."
"I love you, Justine." Jessica coughed a little, struggling to keep her own sobs in check. "I love you. Please...please...take care of yourself..."
"Jessiy!" Justine ran for the viewscreen. "I love you too, but you are not leaving me alone again!"
The monitor went dead as Jessica turned away, and Justine beat her hand on the dark screen. "You are not going to die, dammit! You can't do this!" Justine began sobbing again, sinking to the floor.
Seymour clenched his hands into fists. She couldn't do that. It wasn't her decision to make, to sign the death sentence to the crew when there was a way to save them.
It was only a matter of time before she got them all killed. He shook his head. "Damn."
It wasn't fair. Certainly, Jessica had no way of knowing Justine would be with him for the call, but she had gotten the chance to say goodbye to Justine. What about him? Or Timothy, or Alyssa? Justine and Jessica weren't the only couple on the ship.
Justine continued to sob on the floor, hugging her knees to her chest and rocking slowly in time with her cries. Seymour narrowed his eyes; the woman had seen one lover die already. It wasn't right to see it again - and so soon. He knelt next to her, putting a hand on her back. "We'll rescue them, Justine. I swear."
Justine paused for a moment, looking up enough to recognize who was talking to her. "She told us not to do anything!"
"Well she can..." Seymour stopped, choosing his words carefully. "She can't have thought of everything. We're pretty resourceful over here."
Justine sat up, glaring at him. "Don't, Seymour. There are billions more people on the planet than there are on the ship." She wiped her nose with the back of her hand. "I love Jessica, but I couldn't forgive myself if we killed people on the planet."
Seymour motioned around him. "Look in this compartment, Justine. There's enough explosive material in here to level a few cities. We can destroy an asteroid."
"So wait three hours!"
"Justine, that ship is going to be a flying tomb in two!"
"She gave you an order!"
"Well her order was stupid!"
Justine's eyes went wide as saucers. "How dare you!"
"He's right, JD." Seymour and Justine both snapped their heads to the side to look as Mosz stepped into the compartment. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned on the frame of the hatch. "She's not thinking clearly. It's cold, and they're running out of air. We can come up with a better plan over here."
"Shut up, Terry. You're not helping things."
Seymour grabbed Justine's arms, shaking her a little. "Think about this for two seconds, Justine! We can plant the extra charges, wait for the rotation of the asteroid..."
"And then blow it apart so that the pieces won't go anywhere near the planet," Mosz continued with a grin. "Make for one hell of a fireworks show."
"And then save the ship," Seymour finished. "And Jessica."
Justine shook her head. "She ordered us to wait. We've already been rushing things here; what's to say the extra charges will do the trick? We could just blow off a chunk the size of the runabout and push this rock into the planet!"
"Leave the explosive science to the experts, Justine," Mosz replied, stepping forward. "We know what we're doing."
Justine shook her head. "I can't believe you two." She stood up quickly, pulling away from Seymour. "I'm going to the flight deck. If you won't tell them to back down, I will."
Seymour grabbed Justine's arm and spun her back around. "No you won't!"
"Let me go, Sonia!"
"I'm in command here. We blow this rock."
"Then I relieve you as your 'chief medical officer.' You're unfit for..."
"On what grounds? Wanting to save the lives of our shipmates?"
"At the cost of millions of innocent lives?!"
"No one will die!"
"You don't know that!" Justine pulled free again and bolted for the hatch. Mosz stepped in front of her, grabbing her arms. "Let me go!" She screamed, furiously trying to break free from the demolitionist's strong grasp.
Seymour came behind Justine with a hypospray and pressed it on her neck. The small woman immediately stopped fighting; she swayed dizzily before falling unconscious into Mosz's arms.
"Damn, Seymour," Mosz commented, slowly letting Justine down to the ground.
"She'll be ok." Seymour bent down and grabbed her legs, motioning for Mosz to lift her up again. "Get her into a pod; she's going to be out for hours now, and I don't want to trip on her."
Once they had secured Justine in an escape pod and closed the hatch, Mosz and Seymour stepped back onto the flight deck. When the hatch opened, all eyes were on the two men.
Alyssa looked slightly alarmed. "Is everything ok? What's wrong with Justine?"
Seymour shook his head. "She's sedated; she had to say goodbye to St. Peter."
"Goodbye?" Keith looked up from where he had been working. "What's going on?"
"Rafale is going to lose life support in an hour; she'll only last about another hour after that, but there will be a few casualties if we wait too long. The only way to get her back up and running is to free her from the gravitational pull of the asteroid." Seymour looked around. "We need to pack the last of our explosives into this rock. Tim, start working out a model of the asteroid's rotation. We need to blow it apart at the right time to ensure the largest of the debris won't hit the planet."
Timothy nodded, moving to the science station in the cramped compartment. "Right."
"Keith - you, Terry, and Alyssa get the bombs ready." Keith nodded his assent. "Tompson, Thoobor; I want us ready to run as soon as the last of the charges are set and the asteroid gets into alignment. We might need to help pull Rafale free, so make sure the tractor emitter is online and ready to go." Seymour nodded once, taking a deep breath. "Let's blow this rock."
Jessica stretched her neck, doing her best not to shiver at the same time. She had already had that happen once tonight, and she could swear she had whiplash from the resulting sudden movement while her neck had been locked up.
She sighed. Is this really what's it's like to die slowly? You go through thinking about everything you've done, move to everything you're going to miss and now...my discomfort right now?
I didn’t think dying would be this...boring.
There was a gentle knock on her ready room door. Jessica stood from the couch where she had been bundled up under a blanket and went to the door, pulling off her gloves. She gripped the seam between the doors and pulled. "You need to help me open these!"
With a grunt and much pulling, the doors finally parted. Jessica blinked a few times. "Yala! This is a surprise." No matter how many times she had talked with the Etamba, Yala always struck her as magnificently beautiful. Even now, despite the frigid cold that was discoloring her pale skin a deep purple and the heavy clothing she was wearing, the tall alien moved gracefully into the small office.
"I hope I am not disturbing you, St. Peter," she said, turning her head to look at the various objects in the ready room.
Jessica smiled, shaking her head. "Not at all, Yala. Please, have a seat," she offered, motioning to a chair near the couch.
The lanky alien looked down at the chair for a moment before looking back at Jessica. "I did not mean to intrude, Lieutenant Commander. I understand this is a very personal place for you, and an even more personal time as well." She slowly lowered herself into the chair.
Jessica nodded. "It's alright. I sort of got sidetracked." She rubbed her neck, grinning a little. "I'm not exactly used to this 'dying' thing. It's my first time."
Yala tilted her head to the side and flared her nostrils - a gesture Jessica had come to learn was something akin to being quietly pleased. "I am not, unfortunately. I have had the displeasure once this month." She shook her head, the sail behind her head flapping. "I know what you mean. It is easy to let your mind wander."
Jessica laughed a little. "What can I do for you, Yala?"
The Etamba leaned forward, pressing her hands together nervously. "I wanted to...express my thanks to you. I understand you gave the order to not jeopardize my world, but at the cost of the lives of your crew. That is...an incredible sacrifice." She closed her eyes. "I wish my people could know what you are doing for them."
Jessica shook her head. "There was no other choice. It wouldn't have been right." She sat back on the couch. "Besides, we're not dead yet. There's still time enough to get through this. And then you can go back to Etam and tell them, if you like."
Yala flared her nostrils again and dipped her head forward. "I would very much like that, but I am not a fool. I do not believe I will survive this mission. What was it Nizeri called it? A 'hunch?' I have felt it since I left Etam." She glanced out the small porthole behind Jessica's desk; the large gas giant Allebin V filled the view, and set in front was the moon Etam. "Still, I did not expect to see my world again, and here we are..."
Jessica smiled a little. "We'll survive; everyone."
Yala nodded again, still staring out at her world. "It is strange. My entire mission, for the last year, was finding you. I was so engrossed, I never looked at my planet the way I am now."
Jessica craned her head to look out the small window as well, smiling a little. "It is a beautiful sight. Even growing up on space stations, I always loved 'planet rises.'"
There was a pounding on the door then, and Jessica and Yala both turned to look as Obruz shoved the doors apart to step in. "Captain, you need to get out here now!"
Jessica was on her feet in a hurry, tossing aside the blanket she had been keeping warm under. "What's wrong now?"
Obruz glowered, practically spitting the name. "Sonia. His team is on the surface of the asteroid."
Jessica shook her head. "I don't understand."
"They're planting more explosives."
Jessica took in a sharp breath. "I told them to wait. Maybe they're preparing for when they do free us?"
Obruz shook his head. "I don't like it. The placement of the extra charges is too close to what's already been put in place. And they're hurrying around; they're on the clock."
Jessica's eyes widened and she hurried onto the bridge, Obruz and Yala close behind. She nodded to M'Ral. "Get me a visual on the away team, now!"
The screen came alive with static for a moment, slowly clearing enough that Jessica could see three figures in EVA suits scurrying about, carrying explosives crates and using phasers to drill into the rock. She shook her head. "Nizeri; bring up a display of the asteroid's rotation."
"Aye." There was a long moment before the Trill brought up the requested information. "Increasing speed of the model."
"M'Ral, overlay the placement of all the charges now."
A wire-frame covered the asteroid as green points of light appeared, showing where the away team had planted the explosives. The model continued to rotate, until Jessica finally ordered, "Nizeri, halt it."
The model stopped its movement, and the bridge went silent.
Jessica gulped loudly. "Nizeri, if they blow it when it's in this position..."
Nizeri bent over her console, working as fast as her cold hands and the power-drained computer would allow her. "There is a high probability the asteroid will break apart completely. Any pieces that do get caught in Etam's gravity will do little damage, if they don't burn up first."
"78-percent." The science officer grumbled a little. "The alternatives are not good."
Obruz leaned close to Jessica to whisper in her ear. "If this works, he'll never let you hear the end of it."
Jessica shook her head; Sonia's cockiness was the least of her worries now. "If this doesn't work..."
There was a flash on the viewscreen, and everyone on the bridge gasped in shock.
"Prophets..." was all Obruz - or any of them - managed to say in response.
Mosz stumbled on the rocky terrain, barely catching himself in time before his helmet could hit the ground. He breathed heavily as he pushed himself back up. "God, that was close."
"Are you ok?" he heard Alyssa ask over his helmet communicator. Mosz gave a quick thumbs up as he clambered back to his feet. The woman breathed out in relief. "That was close."
Mosz grabbed the handle to the crate he had released and lifted it again, following Alyssa and Timothy, who was leading the way with his tricorder, looking for a suitable spot for the last of the explosives. He stopped, fiddling with his tricorder for a moment. Mosz frowned. "What is it, Merv?"
Timothy stopped, turning around and glaring at the other man. "Would you drop the insult already, Mosz? We've been on the same crew now for over a year. Grow up."
Mosz shrugged, chuckling a little. "Whatever. What did you find?"
Timothy finished his scans and pointed to an area on the ground. "That should be a safe spot. Just, be careful; there's a patch of uridium a few meters ahead."
Mosz and Alyssa set the crate down and opened it. Mosz quickly got to work on the explosives inside, working to assemble the detonators and hook them to the bombs while Alyssa pulled her phaser rifle off her back and approached the spot Timothy had scouted out. She adjusted her beam and aimed. "Tricorder reading?"
Timothy checked to make sure the woman's aim was on target before nodding. "You're good; fire."
A beam of phaser fire bore into the rock, annihilating it with ease. Alyssa continued drilling while the geologist next to her monitored the depth of the hole.
Mosz finished assembling the last of the charges and sighed. "Alright, I'm good to go here. This should be the last we need to do. How's the drilling?"
Over his helmet speaker, Mosz heard Timothy curse as his tricorder alerted him. "This can't be right..."
"What?" Alyssa asked, continuing to fire her phaser.
"Under the regolith...I'm starting to get a clear reading...this can't be right though. It's impossible."
"Does she need to stop drilling?" Mosz looked up.
Timothy snapped his tricorder shut. "Hold your fire! Neutronium!"
The order came too late. The three watched as the ground below their feet fractured. Phaser energy erupted from under them, lancing Timothy in the foot. The man screamed as the phaser beam drilled up his leg and into his chest, before blasting out of his shoulder and the suit. He crumpled to the ground as more phaser energy sliced out at odd angles, the energy reflecting off the dense mineral.
Mosz fell backward as a lance of energy flew out in front of his face. "Get back to the runabout, now!"
Alyssa turned to flee as a final bolt of energy spewed out of the ground a few meters ahead of them near the patch of uridium.
It was close enough.
The uridium exploded, sending shrapnel flying everywhere. Alyssa and Mosz were pushed forward from the blast. Alarms blared in their helmets as their suits reported multiple punctures from shrapnel. Mosz felt a small piece bury deep into his side. He slowly picked himself up and grabbed Alyssa, pulling her forward. "Come on!" He tugged again before looking down.
The back of her suit had been shredded, exposing her slashed back to space. He dropped her arm and hurried forward; she was already dead.
Another alarm went off in his helmet as he called out, "Mosz to Guadalupe! We've got a situation!!"
"Mosz, what happened?! We just registered an explosion near your location!"
"Neutronium deposit, buried in the asteroid!"
The crate of explosives he had abandoned detonated. Mosz flew forward from the blast, watching in horror as the gleaming hull of the runabout filled his view. He slammed into the side of the ship, felt bones break. He was in agony when his faceplate finally shattered.
Seymour watched out the porthole as the second explosion occurred, and heard banging on the side of the runabout from the debris. "Mosz! Terry, dammit, answer me!"
"Neutronium?" Keith was bent over the tactical console, reading the data on the explosions. "That wasn't in any of our scans. Dammit," he hit the console with his hand. "If we'd known that I would have recommended waiting until we were a little more clear of Etam!"
The explosives expert glared at Seymour. "Tim's models are flawed; we won't be able to blast the neutronium. And if it's a large enough deposit under there, it'll survive and hit the planet!"
The runabout shook as more explosions rocked the asteroid. "What's going on?" Seymour asked.
"The rest of the explosives are detonating!" Keith shook his head. "Mosz had them rigged to explode in a preset pattern; the last explosive they were planting was the primary charge. They're following their sequence!"
Seymour sat down at the station next to the pilot's. "Thoobor, get us off the asteroid, now!"
The ship rocked as the asteroid violently broke apart. Tompson screamed, pointing out the main viewports. Seymour looked up just in time to see a large rock fly through the window next to him; his eardrums exploded as the viewports shattered and the cabin decompressed in an instant. The emergency shutters slammed shut as the ship spun. It landed back on the asteroid hard, and Seymour's head slammed into the console in front of him.
"The asteroid is tearing apart!"
"There's a massive amount of neutronium at the heart of the asteroid!"
Jessica sat down in her chair as the activity on the bridge increased. "Why didn't we discover that sooner?"
"The magnesite was interfering with our scans!"
"Projected path of the objects?!"
The viewscreen shifted to show a tactical display of the obliterated asteroid. Three distinct pieces floated among the rest of the ejected debris. The pieces sped up to show their paths; the smaller of the objects was going away from the planet. One of the larger pieces was traveling in a way that it would eventually hit the planet; the second was aiming right for Etam.
Jessica slammed her fist on her chair. "Engineering, I need the last of our power to weapons now!"
"Standby on that, bridge! We're not sure what's going on, but the power drain just subsided; we're bringing the core back online now! Expect main power in thirty seconds!"
Jessica shook her head. "The asteroid's been destroyed; I need weapons now!"
"Commander," Wirstowx called from his station as the main lighting flickered back on. Consoles that had been in a lower-powered state also came to life, and more of the officers on the bridge jumped to action to bring the ship back online. "The piece heading towards Etam is a large mass of neutronium; our weapons will be unable to destroy it."
"Damn." Jessica turned to M'Ral. "Tractor beam!"
M'Ral worked furiously, even as Nizeri called out behind him, "The asteroids have increased in speed. Estimate planet fall in five minutes!"
"Wirstowx, prepare for ramming speed!" Jessica pulled at her hair in frustration. "If we can cause another explosion to redirect it..."
"Engines aren't responding. The warp core is still not able to take us to warp speed." Wirstowx looked over his shoulder. "The most I can do is three-quarters impulse; full impulse in twelve minutes."
M'Ral hissed from his station. "The tractor emitter is frozen due to ejecta from the comet!" He turned to Jessica, his ears pressed back against his head. "We can't do it!"
"Speed increasing still!"
"Launch the Ronfaure!" Jessica looked at Obruz, who was standing from his station and moving to the turbolift as he spoke. "The runabouts have powerful tractor beams on them; we can at least try that, or maybe even the ramming option."
"Ramming won't work now, it's too entrenched in Etam's gas giant's gravity." Nizeri looked up in despair.
Jessica nodded to Obruz. "Get the tractor going, now!"
Everyone turned as Yala screamed. The alien pointed shakily at the viewscreen. The asteroid was beginning to flare as it entered the atmosphere of Etam. It streaked away from Rafale, curving with the planet to a point on the far side.
There was a long moment of silence. Then, the bridge crew watched in horror as a dust cloud sped back across the planet, followed by scorched earth and fires.
Yala let out a low moan, crumpling a little as she watched her planet burn. She covered her face and fled the bridge, moaning loudly in grief.
Jessica sat back in her chair in shocked silence. Nobody moved around her; everyone watched in silent disbelief as the planet below them died.
Jessica gritted her teeth in anger, glaring down at the man sleeping peacefully on the bed in front of her.
It had been a day now since the memorial service on Etam. Three days since the planet had burned.
She looked up at S'Tel, who was standing on the other side of the bed. "Wake him."
S'Tel raised an eyebrow in typical Vulcan fashion. "I advise against that course of action, Commander, until I am able to ascertain the extent of his neural damage."
"I don't give two shits about his neural damage, S'Tel," Jessica snapped back. "Get him up. Now."
S'Tel looked away and nodded. "Very well. This will be noted in my log."
Jessica didn't care. She was beyond being worried about what her chief medical officer logged anymore. There was only one thing on her mind now, and it involved the unconscious, injured Lieutenant sleeping before her. The sight of him made her stomach twist with nauseating rage.
The Vulcan pressed a hypospray to Seymour's neck, then moved to the clamshell that was over his chest and began the protocols to bring his body functions back. The man's eyes twitched, then his eyelids fluttered. He coughed, finally opening his eyes enough to see and recognize Jessica.
"C-Commander," he gasped, before erupting into a coughing fit. "What...what happened?"
Jessica sneered, her lip curling. "What happened? What happened?! I'll tell you what happened, you pathetic little excuse for a man." She stepped aside and pushed his head so that he could see the beds next to him while she pointed. "Tompson, Rehrer, and Dubois, all in comas because of you." She stepped around so that she was talking to the back of his head, unable to look at his face anymore for fear that she'd start pummeling him. "Acuff, Mosz, Hausrath, and Thoobor are all dead; the only one we could recover was Thoobor, or at least what was left after a rock crushed his upper body." She twisted his head so that he staring up again. She bent down until their noses touched and she could smell his foul breath. "You disobeyed orders - my orders - to do what? Prove you're better than me?"
Seymour swallowed hard, slowly shaking his head. "N-no...that's not what it..."
"Then what in hell was the point, Lieutenant?" Before Seymour could answer she held up her hand. "Shut up. You don't talk. I don't want to know. I do not want to know. Why not?" She jabbed her finger onto the clamshell's controls; immediately, the diagnostic tool retracted into the biobed. Jessica pulled Seymour up so that he was sitting and pointed at the massive display on the wall of Sickbay. "Absolutely nothing you say can change that!"
Seymour watched in horror as the screen showed the playback of the first asteroid hitting Etam. The image paused for a moment, before the time jumped forward to show the second rock hitting the planet. He felt sick when the image repeated on a loop.
Jessica let go of Seymour, walking around until she was in front of him. "You make me sick, Lieutenant Sonia. I have put up with a lot from you, and I've tried. I've tried to give you the benefit of the doubt." She waved her arms around her. "I even gave you this assignment - trusted you to do the right thing!" She shook her head. "I'm done. You're done." She turned to S'Tel. "Sedate him again if you need to. As soon as you see him fit to leave, transport him to the brig."
Seymour shook his head. "I was just...trying..."
Jessica glared at him, clenching her fists into tight balls. "Shut up. You're under arrest for the negligent genocide of the people of Etam, among other charges. We're dropping you off and leaving you at Sierra Station to wait for your court martial."
"I didn't mean to!" Seymour shouted, covering his face. "It wasn't supposed to happen like this!"
"S'Tel, sedate him before I do." Jessica turned on her heel and stormed out of Sickbay as Seymour sobbed behind her, tears streaming down her own face.
She entered the turbolift and let the doors close behind her before she started sobbing, her entire body shaking from the rush of adrenaline.
Her commbadge chirped, and she slapped it hard. "What?!"
"Captain," came Obruz's somber voice. "You'd...better get down to the guest quarters."
Yala. Jessica's eyes went wide. "Deck four," she called, before replying to Obruz, "On my way. St. Peter out."
She suddenly felt very numb, her previous rage a distant afterthought as the turbolift sped to deck four. She tried to prepare herself for the scene awaiting her. How much blood would there be? What would it smell like, besides more death? She wanted to scold herself for immediately fearing the worst...
The low cry Yala had made on the bridge when the first asteroid hit her planet echoed in Jessica's mind. The pain, suffering, despair, heartache - there was no other way it would end.
Jessica blinked, stopping before she walked into the closed door of the guest quarters. She shook her head, trying to clear it, pushing the confusion of how she had arrived here out of her mind. She knew she'd find their guests dead. She just didn't know how gruesome the scene would be.
Jessica took in a deep breath and tapped the door control. The doors parted, and she stepped inside, biting her bottom lip nervously.
The air smelled thick with blood, but the bodies were already laying on stretchers, covered with grey sheets. Security and medical techs moved about the quarters, taking scans and measurements for their report. Obruz was kneeling next to the larger of the bodies; he looked up as Jessica walked in and stood, frowning sadly.
Obruz shook his head. "They replicated a knife." He covered his mouth briefly, looking like he was going to be sick. "Yala...she slit Gorem's throat. Then she..." He raised his hands, starting to mime when Jessica lifted her hand to stop him.
Kneeling down, Jessica slowly pulled Yala's sheet off the alien's face. Her expression was pained, but her eyes were thankfully closed. "She trusted us." Jessica pulled the sheet back to cover Yala's face, her earlier detachment giving way to more grief. "She trusted us, and we destroyed her."
"No, we didn't. If Seymour-"
"If I hadn't put him in charge of the mission!" Jessica snapped her head up to glare at Obruz. "We're just as responsible for this, if not more so!" She fell backwards, sitting on her rump as she broke down in tears. "I should have listened to you. To my gut. I never should have put us in this position from the beginning; should have requested more support."
"There was nothing you could have done, Jessica."
She shook her head, taking in a ragged breath. "I could have said no."
The young woman's steady breathing was interrupted with a small groan. She winced; her muscles ached in a familiar way, like she hadn't moved for days. There was a bright light above her, and she struggled to open her eyes as the light blinded her momentarily.
She was confused, unsure of her surroundings. Nothing looked familiar, beyond the clamshell that was extended over her, keeping her on the medical bed. The colors seemed different, or maybe it was just her eyes getting used to seeing again.
I was on the runabout...Seymour drugged me...
"Where?" She was cut off by a fit of coughing. Her mouth felt dry and raw. Her stomach ached, too.
The word eased her confusion, and immediately she recognized the gentle push on her mind. She smiled weakly, turning her head to the side. In an instant, her vision seemed clearer, and she recognized the Rafale's medical bay. More importantly, she recognized the exhausted looking woman sitting only a few inches from her. "Jessiy," she croaked weakly, trying to pull a hand out from under her sheet. "You're alive."
Jessica nodded, smiling back. "I could say the same for you," she replied, and Justine could feel the underlying sadness that invaded the woman's relief. "You've been asleep for a few days."
Justine nodded, doing her best not to focus on Jessica's emotions. This soon from waking up, she could get lost in them, and then she'd be in even more pain. "I feel like I got hit by a shuttle." She coughed again when she tried to laugh. "You're alive though. It worked. Everything is ok now." She tried smiling again, tried to shrug Jessica's emotions off of her.
Jessica paused for a moment, then slowly shook her head; a wave of guilt and grief crashed over Justine. "Seymour...disobeyed my order, Justine. He went through with the plan."
Justine's smile faltered slightly. "Still, you're alive. It must have worked. Right?"
Jessica winced, and the grief felt like a slap to Justine. "The asteroid...it hit the planet, Justine."
Justine blinked, her mouth hanging open in shock. Jessica stood and reached for the clamshell controls; the medical device slowly retracted into the bed. She sat down on the bed next to Justine, reaching to embrace her. Justine finally sat up and wrapped her arms around Jessica, giving the woman a tight squeeze. "I'm sorry, Jessiy."
Jessica shook her head, holding tightly onto her lover. "I missed you. Thank God you're alright."
Justine buried her face into Jessica's shoulder, feeling the tears start to fall. It was an odd feeling, and she wasn't quite sure it was completely her own. She knew she felt sadness, guilt even, for the turn of events she had no control over. She felt terrible for leaving Jessica to face it all alone.
But, despite that, she was relieved, and it almost made her feel worse. Almost.
"I don't know what I would have done if I lost you," she whispered, kissing Jessica's shoulder. She looked up and leaned forward, kissing Jessica lightly. "Don't ever do that to me again."
Jessica laughed sadly, shaking her head before kissing Justine again. "I'll try. I love you, ma Soleil."
"I love you, ma Saphir."
Seymour sat on the edge of the pullout shelf that constituted a bed in the small brig. He was hunched over, reading the latest news off a PADD that had been allowed to him. He'd already deleted a handful of letters from friends, demanding to know what he had done to earn him a court martial. They had to have known by now; if his reading was any indication, the Federation News Service and a number of other agencies were reporting the grand failure of the Rafale's former Operations officer. It was little consolation that Jessica was going to be investigated as well; he was getting the brunt of the blame.
Rightfully, too, he admitted, leaning backwards until his back was resting on the wall behind him. He closed his eyes.
Trinity's letter had been the hardest to read. He had to convince himself to hold off on an immediate reply to the distraught woman; the last thing he wanted to do was continue the behavior that had ultimately brought him here. The bartender was furious with Jessica, and had left the Rafale once it docked at Sierra Station, presumably to stay at the small lounge on the space station. He hadn't seen her since they had disembarked the ship.
The heavy doors to the detainment area rumbled open. Seymour opened an eye to see who had entered. Whoever it was had his back to him at the guards' desk; Seymour closed his eye, uninterested.
Someone cleared their throat outside his cell, and Seymour opened his eyes again. The stranger was standing on the other side of the forcefield to his cell, dressed in a black, glossy uniform that was devoid of rank or insignia. His hair was freshly cut short, buzzed nearly down to the scalp, and his green eyes regarded him with an almost sick pride.
But the one distinguishing feature of this man's face caused Seymour's stomach to turn; his face was marred by a single deep, vicious-looking scar. Seymour scowled at his visitor. "What do you want?"
Franklin Drake grinned - which further infuriated the lieutenant - before bringing a PADD up to read. "You've been busy the past few months, Lieutenant Sonia. I'm impressed."
Seymour rolled his eyes and lay down on the bed, turning to face the wall. "Go away."
Drake shook his head, continuing to read the PADD. "Put the lives of your runabout crew in danger to save the lives of your shipmates. It was definitely one helluva plan. An unfortunate side effect, I'll admit, but you saved your ship."
Seymour's lip curled in rage, but he didn't turn around. "A 'side effect?' Is that all Etam was?"
"Like it or not, Lieutenant, we are at war." Drake brought the PADD down and crossed his arms. "Whatever overtures of peace from the Klingons and this new Romulan Republic, whatever cooperative endeavors to stop the Borg, we are still facing enemies with greater power than most of the little people running around this corner of the galaxy are aware of."
"Like what? The Undine?"
"Exactly like the Undine."
"You didn't exactly convince me the last time we met."
Drake scoffed. "That's a lie. You were buying everything I sold you, Lieutenant Sonia. You were all too eager to brand your captain an Undine." He shook his head. "It was very well done."
Seymour closed his eyes with a sigh. "What do you want?"
"I came to ask you the same question."
"I want you to leave me alone, then."
Drake grinned. "I'm pretty sure that's not what you want. I'm pretty sure you want this."
Seymour waited for the man to continue talking, and was surprised when he heard the forcefield to his cell shut off. He quickly sat up and turned around, watching as Drake stepped back in front of the unguarded entrance to his cell, still grinning his damnable frustrating grin.
"I'm pretty sure you want a way out."
Seymour narrowed his eyes. "Why?"
"Because you are willing to do what it takes to safeguard the Federation. I may have been lying to you, fabricating evidence for you to use, but you immediately recognized a threat in your captain and tried to neutralize that threat as best you could. I need someone willing to do that."
Seymour shook his head; he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You're recruiting me?"
Drake nodded. "There is an Undine threat in the Seventh Fleet. They've been manipulating the Seventh for years now. It's why St. Peter and a whole slew of her generation were allowed to command ships for so long now. It's why many ships - the Rafale included - have seen random, harmless missions suddenly go ten-ways wrong. An infiltrator has been intentionally sowing chaos in this sector."
"For what purpose?"
Drake shook his head. "We're still not completely sure. But there's been...a lull of activity, aside from this last debacle. We think it's going to do something big. It might even be aware that we're onto it. Which means we have to strike now and root it out, before more people die and the Seventh Fleet gets gutted worse than it was at Vega."
Seymour scowled. "How could the Undine have possibly been responsible for what I did?"
Drake tapped his fingers on the PADD he held for a moment, before finally shrugging. "There was no back-up for the Rafale; the nearest heavy dreadnaughts were days away."
Seymour nodded. "We were alone."
Drake shook his head. "The nearest Typhoon-class dreadnaught was only hours away when you intercepted that warp ship; it would have been more than capable of stepping in and aiding you. St. Peter's request for assistance was never received by this station or the leadership of the Seventh Fleet. Someone intercepted it and relayed bogus information - and orders - to the Rafale." He frowned. "You were set up for failure, Lieutenant."
Seymour scowled incredulously. "That sounds like something you'd do, Drake."
"As much as I wish I could take the credit for that...it wasn't me." Drake smirked. "Devious, yes, but not me or my organization." He stepped into the cell, approaching Seymour. "There was no way you, St. Peter, or the Rafale could have known or stopped that comet. The deck was stacked against you from the start. And now, because of an Undine's direct meddling, an entire planet is dead." He held out a hand to Seymour. "That's why I'm recruiting you. I think I know you well enough to know...you want some payback. Help me find this Undine, Lieutenant." He waved his other hand around him. "Or you can rot in prison for the rest of your life."
Seymour looked down at Drake's hand, the knot in his stomach tightening along with his fist, a combination of anger and frustration and disgust and despair and confusion that made him pause. Finally, he extended a hand and shook Drake's.
Drake grinned as he shook Seymour's hand, then released it and turned around. Seymour blinked in surprise, looking around him. The brig had suddenly been replaced by a small transporter room; a woman in a black uniform similar to Drake's was standing behind the control console. "Welcome aboard the Pelican. Agent Celeste here will take you to your quarters."
Seymour frowned and shook his head. "Why do I feel like I just sold my soul to the devil?"
"Because you did." Drake replied, stepping off the pad and walking to the exit. "But tell me; between me or the Undine, which devil would you rather deal with?" The door opened and he stepped through, pausing in the corridor for a moment before he turned around to poke his head back in the transporter room. "Welcome to Section 31, Agent Sonia."
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