“Looking good over here, Captain. We’re ready to go.”
“Mr. Raal, one more scan. Long range; make sure we’re alone out here.”
Raal purred softly, and laid his ears back on his head in frustration. Brian couldn’t blame the first officer; the captain had had him scan the system and surrounding areas five times already. After the briefing six hours ago, Paul Mayweather had a private meeting with Harrison. Brian wasn’t sure what had been discussed, but the captain had come out of it looking very troubled. After a private chat with Abuela, he had returned the bridge, ordering sensor scans for any ships approaching the system. Mayfield had no doubt he had seen what Mayweather had been talking about - Orion pirates, abducting crew to be sold off as slaves. It had happened a century earlier, Brian knew, when the NX-01 had encountered them; nine crew members had been abducted. Captain Archer had to buy one to save his life, and then arranged a jail break to free the others. Since then, the Orions had stayed mostly to the shadows, never overtly conducting business as long as the Federation was watching them. They even enjoyed trade with Earth from time to time.
Brian frowned, focusing on his own control console. He knew what he was doing; trying to analyze his enemy, be ready to understand them to try and counter them. They’re not my enemy. There’s no way they would do something so...so… Any number of words sprung to mind. Heartless; cruel; merciless. To prey on the Vulcans, after they as a race had lost so much already. Logic be damned; he had seen the faces of some of the older children, the ones who knew what had happened. All of them were afraid; not just the children, but the parents, the elders, the priestess and her aide - all of them afraid of what would happen not to them, but to who they were. Even Talak had trouble keeping his composure; when Abuela had informed him that two elders were suffering from Bendii and wouldn’t live for much longer, he had staggered and his eyes had widened. In a fraction of a second, he had shown the turmoil under his façade to everyone around him.
To lose more would be devastating, to the race and to the Horizon community.
“Scans are still showing no other ships in the area. Sector control reports no unauthorized ships in the lane.” Raal turned around from his station. “We are alone, sir.”
Harrison nodded and tapped a control on the arm of his chair. “Hadley, proceed with the upgrade.”
The channel closed and Harrison stood up from his chair. “Raal, the ship is yours. I’ll be in my office; update me on Hadley’s progress, and continue to scan for pirates.” Brian watched as he walked to the back of the bridge and entered the corridor, his gait uncharacteristically rigid.
Raal sat down in the captain’s chair, shifting a bit to move his tail out of the way and get comfortable. He growled a little. “I refuse to ever be a captain until they make a chair for my people.” The rest of the bridge laughed a little, and Raal purred as the corners of his mouth raised slightly in his version of a smile.
“Eleven!” Brian gasped, letting the bar drop on the rests above him. He sat up from the bench, wiping the sweat off his brow with his sleeve. “Eat that!”
The rest of the security officers laughed, and Brian stood up. “Jim, go for it.” A tall man stepped forward and lay down on the bench. Brian walked over and grabbed a water bottle, taking a large swig.
Raal had excused him an hour into the upgrade to go work out with his security team. His duties as a bridge officer often excluded him from joining the grunts in the weekly workout, but he made it as often as he could.
Sh’Aleen caught his eye from where she was standing in front of the dumbbells. He smiled a little and walked over to her, tossing a glance back at the bench press in time to see Jim finish his reps. The man hopped off and invited another to take the bench.
“How goes it?” he asked as he came up behind her.
She looked at him in the mirror and grinned, continuing her curls. “As well as I can be. Thanks for guard duty.” Her smile held firm on her face, but her words cut deep like ice.
Brian winced a little. “I put everyone on the rotation, sh’Aleen.”
“I know.” She finished her curls and began a new motion, putting her arms out straight to her sides and lifting. “And I’ll do my job.”
Brian nodded. “Good. It’s only for a little while. They’ll be off the ship in no time.”
“Won’t be fast enough.”
“Lieutenant,” Brian warned. “You’re treading dangerously close to crossing the line.”
The Andorian dropped her weights on the rack. She bent down to grab a towel and bottle, wiping her face off. “I’m not allowed an opinion?”
“Sure you are. Just don’t voice it to me.” He frowned. “I’m still your boss.”
Sh’Aleen opened her mouth to snap back, but was interrupted as the lights in the gym turned blood red, and the alert klaxon screamed. Everyone in the gym paused in surprise for a moment, and then they were all up, heading for the exit to get to their stations. Sh’Aleen reached out and grabbed Brian’s hand for a moment, giving it a quick squeeze before she turned to make her way to her post.
Mayfield headed to the nearest door and punched a comm. panel on the wall. “Mayfield to bridge, what’s going on?!”
“Mr. Mayfield, get up here on the double. The Horizon’s EPS is fluctuating dangerously, and we’ve just located five unidentified ships on sensors.”
“On my way!” Brian punched off the comm. channel with a curse, then ran out the door and into the corridor towards the turbolift.
“Status of the Horizon?”
Mayfield stepped onto the bridge as Harrison barked his question. The command center was alive with activity, and Brian had to avoid bumping into a few technicians on his way to his post. He sat down and activated his controls, then turned to the viewscreen. A tactical display on the left side showed the Whiston and Horizon side by side in blue; five red dots were closing in fast, surrounding the two ships.
“EPS is critical!”
“Whiston, this is Hadley! You need to break off from the Horizon now! The problem is in the computer itself, I think there was a dormant virus that was just remotely activated!”
“Shipman, execute undocking procedures! Crusher, get us away from the freighter and prepare a defensive flight path!”
Harrison turned his chair to face Brian. “Can you get a clear reading on the incoming ships?”
Brian had been working his tactical sensors with no success. He shook his head, not turning from his console. “Not yet, sir. They’re using some kind of mask to block our scans. They’re not cloaked, so probably not Klingon. Can’t get a clear reading; when they get closer I might have more luck.”
Harrison turned to the other side of the bridge. “Raal?”
The Caitian was bent over his reader. “Inconclusive as well. I concur with the lieutenant; they are employing some type of jamming technology to mask their signatures.”
Harrison turned back to face the viewscreen. “Shipman, status?”
“We’re clear of the Horizon, sir!”
“Already started to take up a protective posture, sir, but with those ships closing in from all around-”
“Do your best, Rick.” Harrison leaned forward in his chair, staring at the screen.
Brian continued his tactical scanning, doing his best to cut through the jamming. Nothing about it was recognizable to the computer. He tried his targeting scanners. An error flashed on his screen, telling him that the contacts were still too far away for a successful lock. He breathed a sigh of relief; the jammers weren’t targeting his weapons. Distance wasn’t an issue, for now.
“Captain! The Horizon’s EPS just went offline! Secondary power is online, but-“
“Whiston, Hadley! The transport inhibitors are down, I repeat, the inhibitors are down over here! I’m doing what I can to get the power back up, but I can’t get the system back online before those ships get here!”
“Hadley, can the Horizon go to warp?”
“Are you kidding me?! There’s no chance in hell she’d outrun them at full power!”
“Do it, Becca! We’ll hold them off!”
“I’ll do my best, Captain.” Hadley started shouting orders before the channel closed to get the engines running on the freighter. Brian had to admit, Horizon was lucky she was stranded with them; she’d do everything short of getting out and pushing to get the old freighter moving.
He checked his tactical displays. That can’t be right. He repeated his scan, then turned his chair around and shouted above the noise, “Captain! Now reading warp signatures in system!”
“What?!” Harrison was on his feet, staring at the viewer. “We should still have ten minutes-“ He was cut short as two bright flashes of light appeared suddenly in front of him; next to the outside view, the tactical display showed all five dots now surrounding the two ships.
“Negative comms with all ships, sir!”
“Not reading weapons, captain,” Brian reported. “They’re circling us.” He began targeting the ships, preparing to defend the crippled freighter as it limped forward. “They’re moving in!”
“Defensive fire! Disable them, Mayfield!”
“Opening fire!” Brian fired phasers. Red bolts of energy sprayed out from the saucer, filling the viewer with flack. The unidentified ships flew through it, returning fire with green bolts of disruptor fire. Whiston shook as the shields absorbed the strike.
Raal called from his station, “Mayfield, target the smaller ships; their shields are down, and I’m detecting transporter activity!”
Brian switched his targeting to the smaller two ships. They were going straight for the Horizon. “Crusher, nose us down!”
“You got it!”
Brian waited a second, and then fired. Two torpedoes flew out from the weapons pod slung between the nacelles of the ship. The blue bolts of light appeared on the viewer as they flew from behind and over the bridge. One struck its target with deadly accuracy; the ship blew apart in a fireball as its core overloaded. The second ship evaded, and Brian watched as the second torpedo continued past, slamming into one of the Horizon’s nacelles; there was an explosion, and the nacelle was blown apart, tossing the crippled freighter into a spin.
“Watch your fire, Mayfield,” Harrison roared.
“Transporter engaged!” Raal stood up, looking at the screen. “The ship just relayed a transporter signal to one of the larger ships!”
“Whiston, Horizon! Who the hell are you shooting out there?!” Mayweather’s voice came across the bridge’s speakers. “We just got word from the refugees! The Orions just abducted a handful of them!”
“Raal, which ship?” Brian worked his targeting scanners, continuing to fire his phasers at the larger three ships.
“Sending you target information!”
Brian linked his targeting sensors with Raal’s. The ship was moving off, while the remaining three were closing in to block it from view. “Got you!” Brian fired another volley of torpedoes, aiming to disable the ship before it could escape.
The second smaller ship maneuvered again, this time right in front of the torpedoes. The small raider met the same fate as its partner, just as the three larger ships jumped to warp, disappearing from the main viewer.
“Shit! They’re gone.” Brian smacked his hand on his console. “Commander, do you have a lock on them still?”
“Affirmative. The smaller ships must have been the ones jamming; I can trace three distinct warp signatures, all Orion.”
“Whiston, Horizon. Twenty-three Vulcans are gone! We’re unable to go to warp now, thanks to your shooting.” Harrison shot Mayfield a glare as Mayweather said that; Brian sank in his chair. “We’re going to continue on at our best speed. You need to go after those ships!”