Jessica leaned forward and gripped the engineer’s arm, helping to pull him up from where he had fallen in front of the command chair. The repair team member looked up at her in a daze and mumbled “thank you” as he struggled to his feet. The deck shook again underneath him, and he fell on top of the commander; there was a brief moment of panicked surprise as the two officers stared at each other, the engineer’s hands unfortunately pressing against St. Peter’s chest as he caught himself.
Jessica quickly pushed him off her, feeling the blood rise to her face in embarrassment. She shook her head at the dumbfounded engineer. “Go!” She ordered, pointing to the blown console where he had been working. The engineer blinked his eyes, still staring at Jessica’s chest before finally moving back to the station on the wall he was repairing. She turned her head to call behind her at M’Ral. “Status of shields?”
M’Ral was sitting at the operations station now - the bucking and shaking of the deck had become too much for even his feline grace and balance - where he rumbled deeply in annoyance, his ears flat against his head in frustration. “Aft shields back to sixty-percent effectiveness. Repair crews are still working on it.”
“Tactical, shield strength?”
“I can give you forty-five percent across the whole ship, ma’am!”
“What about just fore?”
The tactical officer turned from his display to stare at Jessica for a moment. “I can give you eighty to the forward shields.”
“Prepare to cycle power to the forward shields on my mark-“
“Commander, you can’t be serious! That Hirogen battleship will strip our shields down the moment we start hurtling towards them!”
St. Peter frowned in annoyance. Of course he was right; Rafale wouldn’t be much of a match in a jousting contest. They’d get some good shots in, but not before the larger and more powerful ship destroyed what little was left of their shields and then most of the forward hull in the process. “A frontal assault isn’t going to work,” she declared aloud, not addressing anyone in particular though still loud enough for the bridge crew to hear her.
M’Ral growled behind her as the ship rocked again. “Hirogen battleship is still pursuing us. I suggest we cease trying to close the final rift and focus our attention on them or attempt to flee.”
Jessica’s eyes widened and she snapped her fingers. “Helm, bring us to bearing zero-six-five and increase speed. Tactical, cease fire on the open rift but keep a lock on its location.” She jammed the comm button on her armrest. “Bridge to engineering!”
There was a brief moment of static before a voice answered between coughs. “Go ahead, Bridge!”
“Engine room, have Seurer and Ceram cease bombardment of the final rift!”
The voice coughed again. “I’ll pass the message along!”
Jessica closed the channel and looked forward. “Helm, get ready for some tricky flying.”
“They are increasing speed, Alpha!”
Gan pounded the chair with his fist, scrambling to his feet. The Starfleet ship had continued to evade his larger ship, virtually ignoring it and the Romulan reinforcements that had entered the Bloom. Instead, the Akira had targeted seemingly random points in the nebula, causing unseen anomalies to destabilize.
Gan knew well the power the Akira-class ship could unleash, especially since the Rafale had already driven his battleship limping out of the Great Bloom. Still, he had been looking forward to the rematch.
If it weren't for the fact that the Starfleet ship was continuing to run away from him, refusing to fight back. The perpetual snub was infuriating to the hunter.
"Increase our speed to overcome them! Prepare the tractor beam!" He climbed down the stairs to the main deck, roughly pushing the weapons officer out of his way. He called for more power to the forward weapons systems, pulling from the systems at the rear of the ship. They wouldn't be needed in the coming assault on the small Starfleet vessel. "Pilot, continue to increase speed until we are within two ketrics of that ship and then reduce speed to match them!"
"Beta! This is foolish!"
Gan snarled at the pilot, enraged by the use of his "beta" title. "You will do this or I will gut you myself!"
"We will be defenseless! They will be within our shield envelope, their weapons will shred our hull!"
The pilot flinched before returning to his controls. "Yes, Alpha." The younger hunter hunched over the helm, increasing the speed of the behemoth ship.
"Weapon's range," announced Gan's Beta. "Their shields are weakened!"
"Engage tractor beam!"
Rafale shuddered, and the officers on the bridge held on to stay in their seats as the inertial dampers were strained.
"They have us in a tractor beam," M'Ral confirmed at ops.
Ceram, back on the bridge after his work in engineering, called from his science station. "Countermeasures are ready!"
Jessica nodded. "Helm, now!" She smacked the control on her chair to open the ship-wide address system. "All hands, brace yourselves!"
Rafale stopped her forward movement, ensnared in the Hirogen ship's tractor beam. The larger ship bore down on the smaller ship, forward weapons beginning to blaze hot in preparation to fire.
In an instant, the Starfleet ship's nacelles flared to life, and the ship hurtled backward at full speed as her rear phaser arrays and cannons fired mercilessly at the Hirogen ship.
The pilot of the battleship panicked, pulling the ship's nose up and disregarding the order to match speed in favor of avoiding a collision with the Starfleet vessel. Tetryon weapons lashed out, trying to discourage the smaller ship from remaining close. Then, without warning, the Rafale disappeared.
On the battleship, Gan howled with unbridled rage. "Where did they go?!"
"Sensors are being jammed, Alpha!" The sensor operator frowned, working furiously to reacquire the enemy vessel. "I cannot confirm a positive lock!"
"Switch to visual!" Gan turned on his heel and looked up at the viewscreen, searching for the nuisance starship. He cursed when all he could see was static on the screen.
"They are jamming all our sensors, Alpha. I have a tentative lock, but I cannot confirm-"
"Fire!" Gan turned back to the weapons console and unleashed the full fury of his ship's weapons at the sensor operator's target.
The Hirogen battleship's powerful energy weapons fired in unison, hitting their target with brutal power.
"I am reading an increase of triolic energy!" The sensor operator turned toward Gan, doing nothing to contain his terror. "We've struck one of the anomalies!"
Gan slammed his hands into the weapons station, knocking the pedestal-like console out of the deck with an eruption of sparks, and roared as the static cleared on the viewscreen. The small hull of the Rafale was now easily visible, phasers and torpedoes racing out to strike the battleship.
Rafale's barrage slammed into the Hirogen ship, destroying what was left of the behemoth's shield systems and opening multiple decks to vacuum. As she flew past, the final Devidian portal imploded mere meters from the Hirogen ship's bow, releasing a lethal wave of triolic energy outward that slammed into the defenseless ship. In a matter of seconds, the Hirogen ship's warp core went critical, and the monstrous ship added its own explosion to the orchestra of destruction in the Rafale's wake.
A screen to Jessica’s left exploded, throwing the crewman seated there backwards over his chair. Sparks and shrapnel pelted her arm before she could turn her chair to protect herself. The ship shuddered violently as the Hirogen ship was torn apart from an explosion within.
“All hands, brace yourselves!” The woman held onto her chair with a death grip as the explosion ripped the dying ship on the screen apart, turning the brilliant green cloud of the Bassen Rift a bright orange for a moment. Rafale shook one final time as the shockwave passed her.
And then, silence.
A few coughs around the bridge prompted Jessica to open her eyes. She didn’t remember shutting them in preparation for the impact, and she hoped no one had seen her. A quick look around the small bridge showed that all eyes were glued to the viewscreen, and the empty expanse of green that was littered with more debris now than when they had first entered it the previous day. A few were smiling as the last remnants of the Hirogen ship spiraled in space.
Jessica blinked a few times, her adrenaline subsiding enough that she noticed the lingering smoke burning her eyes. She coughed as it filled her lungs, and barely managed an audible “Status report,” before she had to cough again.
M’Ral purred behind her at his station. “Shields are holding at twenty-seven percent. Minor hull breaches in three areas of the ship; repair crews have already been ordered to begin repairs. Sickbay is reporting injuries, but so far no casualties.” His purring grew more excited. “Remaining Romulan ships are moving off and powering down weapons. Full retreat.”
Jessica shook her head. God, we did it. She frowned then. “How many people were on that ship?”
Ceram cleared his throat behind her, and she turned to face the science officer. “It was hard to determine. Hirogen vessels tend to have dampening fields and thick hull plating that makes internal scans difficult. I would estimate no more than one hundred Hirogen would have been manning a vessel of that size, given their propensity to operate in very small cells. Although, it is very possible…”
“Thanks, Ceram.” Jessica turned to face forward again, her frown more severe. One hundred people.
I just killed one hundred people.
She shuddered at the thought, felt the lump in her throat begin to grow larger. She stood, intending to go to her ready room with her thoughts. “Stand down red alert. Lay in a course for the Warwick, let’s get our people back on board.”
There was an alert behind her, and she turned to look at the Benzite science officer again. He frowned, bent over his console in concentration as he no doubt triple checked the sensor scan he had just received. Her patience already wearing thin, Jessica barked, “What is it, Ceram?”
“Commander, I have detected a strange reading near the Warwick.” He looked up at her, the confusion clear on his face. “There is something very large over there.”
Jessica sank back into her chair. “On viewer,” she ordered, leaning forward.
The screen shifted to show a different area of the rift, the small Miranda-class starship still unmoving where they had left it.
The image zoomed in on the ship, and there was a collective gasp on the bridge as breaths caught in each of the bridge crew’s throats.
Slowly moving alongside the Warwick was a large, pastel-green ship. The forward edge was curved like a giant beak of a great bird, and it was connected by two thin necks to two large wing-like sections that connected at the tips to two green-glowing nacelles.
The helmsman stammered, breaking the silence. “D-D’deridex-class.”
Jessica sunk lower in her chair. “You have to be kidding me. Where the hell do they keep coming from?” She shook her head and cursed. “Stay at red alert, then. Status of that ship?”
“I’m not…sure, ma’am.” Ceram’s confusion was mounting, and the frustration was growing in his voice. “I’m only detecting a massive energy reading where the Romulan is. I can’t tell shield strength, weapons status - nothing.” He pounded the console with his fingers harder. “Just a massive energy buildup.”
“That’s peculiar.” M’Ral growled, his ears flattened back against his head.
Jessica raised an eyebrow in tired curiosity. If it weren’t for the fact that they were staring down one of the largest and most powerful of the Romulan’s ships, she’d have been at the science station in a heartbeat to try and solve the mystery. Unfortunately, she was too tired and too angry at the events of the day to care.
“Power up cannons, prepare for a full volley. Lay in a pursuit course and open fire once we’re within weapons range. Disable them only.” She swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the lump that was still planted there. “I don’t want another ship destroyed today.”
The helmsman glanced nervously at the tactical officer to his right, who looked back silently and nodded before turning to his console to prepare the weapons.
Jessica nodded, watching the ship on the viewscreen as it circled the smaller Warwick like a vulture. “Engage.”
Rafale slipped forward, ready to pounce upon the newest intruder. The Romulan ship showed no sign it had even detected the Akira-class ship, despite the speed with which she was approaching the larger ship.
“Weapons engagement zone…mark!”
Jessica shook her head; the Warbird had still made no move towards them. She hesitated, then reached a hand out as if to try and hold her helmsman back. “Target their main disruptor and fire a single volley.”
The tactical officer quickly reset his targeting pattern, looking a bit relieved at the change in orders. “Targeting main disruptor. Firing.” The sound of the powerful phaser cannons firing coursed through the hull as the viewer showed twin streaks of energy flash forward, impacting the giant Romulan ship.
And then, nothing was there. The Warwick still hung dead in space, now completely alone.
“What the-?” Jessica was on her feet, as a round of equally confused remarks made its way around the bridge. She turned to the Benzite science officer. “Ceram?”
At his wit’s end, Ceram threw his hands in the air. “The ship is…gone. I’m not reading anything.”
St. Peter turned back to the viewscreen. It hadn’t been a trick; the Romulan ship was no long filling the viewer. No remnants of an explosion, no faint ripple of a cloak; nothing. “Nothing?”
“No residuals from a cloak, no debris, no explosion, no escape pods, not even a speck of dust.” Ceram let out a perturbed grunt and crossed his arms. “Sensors indicate that whatever energy reading we were seeing there has completely dissipated. It’s as if it was never there.”
M’Ral growled a little in the back of his throat. “Could that ship…have been Devidian?”
St. Peter shook her head and shrugged. “I don’t know. Continue scans and log it.” She started walking to the back of the bridge towards the turbolift. “M’Ral, come alongside the Warwick and beam the away team back over. Then, set a course for Starbase 39.” The doors to lift opened ahead of her and she stepped in. “We’re done with this place.”
The doors closed behind her. In a moment, she found herself stepping off and walking through a deserted corridor till she was in front of her quarters. The door opened and she walked in. Without taking the time to even take her shoes off, Jessica lay down on the bed and closed her eyes, drifting off into a deep, dreamless sleep as the exhaustion of the past day finally crashed down on her.