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Chapter 5

“I am picking up a distress call, Beta.”

Gan opened his eyes and sat up in the command chair. He wiped his mouth; in the hours since the Alpha left with his hunting party, there had been little activity in the Great Bloom. He was thankful the other hunters hadn’t found it opportune to slit his throat while he napped. “From who? One of ours?”

“No, Beta. The Starfleet ship.”

Gan looked quizzically at the hunter before turning his gaze to the viewscreen near the top of the wall in front of him. The small hull of the Starfleet frigate hung silently and unmoving in the Bloom. “Is it automated?”

“Yes, but it only just activated.” The hunter looked up from his console, an excited grin spreading across his face. “Perhaps the Alpha is hunting well?”

“There were no life signs on the ship before the hunting party beamed over.” The Beta sat back in his chair and closed his eyes again, one hand slowly moving to rest on the hilt of the knife on his belt. “It must have automatically started when they brought a system online over there.”

“Beta, one of our patrol ships is hailing!”

Gan opened his eyes and stepped down from the command throne. “What do they want?”

“Another ship has entered the Bloom.” The hunter looked up at the Beta again, fire igniting in his eyes. “It is another Starfleet ship, Akira-class.”

Gan couldn’t help but grin with the younger Hirogen. He had seen plenty of the Federation gun-ships in action; they were indeed worthy prey, more than capable of standing their ground against a numerous foe. It would take some cunning to catch this prey.

“Status of our cloak?”

“Active, Beta!”

Gan stepped back to the command throne and sat down with a flourish, pounding the armrest with his fist. “Bring the other ships back. We will strike when they find their comrade.”

“What of the hunting party, Beta?”

The Hirogen shook his head with a low growl. “We will pick them up when they signal to return. We will not drop cloak now to beam them back.”

“Yes, Beta.”

===


“Proceeding to next waypoint, three-quarters impulse.”

Jessica idly tapped the armrest of her chair, staring at the viewscreen with bored disinterest. They had been scouring the nebula for the better part of an hour now with no sign of the Warwick, and the thalaron radiation scans were being handled by Sano in the back of the bridge.

Is this what command is like? Just sit on your butt, bored to tears, until the shooting starts?

There was an alert from the science console, and Jessica slowly turned the command chair around to look at Nizeri, who was bent over one of her displays and frowning in confusion. “What is it, Nizeri?”

The Trill shook her head, forcefully tapping her console to acknowledge a report on the display. “Sensors are detecting…extremely faint anomalies in the rift.”

Happy for the distraction, Jessica stood and walked to the science station to help the other woman. “Can you pinpoint where?” She came up next to Sano and looked down over the smaller woman’s shoulder at her display.

Nizeri shook her head, her frustration growing. “No, the sensors are having a hard time keeping a fix on them. It’s like they’re there one minute, and then just…gone again.” She shrugged. “Fissures in subspace?”

“Could it be from the explosion of the Scimitar?” Asked Obruz as the first officer came behind the women.

“I doubt it,” Nizeri replied, shaking her head. “It was a standard Romulan ship as far as systems and weapons, aside from the thalaron generator. I don’t think we’ve seen cases before of the artificial singularities they use for warp drive doing this kind of damage. We’re reading multiple fissures around the rift, not just one in the middle of the wreckage.”

“Commander!”

St. Peter and Obruz both turned to face the officer seated behind them, who was suddenly a flurry of activity. Sonia paused long enough to glance over his shoulder at the Commander and her first officer and declare, “I’m picking up an automated distress signal, ma’am. It’s the Warwick.”

Dossu turned back to the Trill science officer. “Where is she?”

Sano shook her head. “I’m not sure, there’s too much interference in the rift.”

“I can get us a bearing off the signal, Commander.” Seymour input the commands to his console before turning towards the front of the bridge. “Wirstowx, I’m sending the heading to you now.”

“Received. Engaging, full impulse.”

Jessica blinked, unsure as to what had just transpired. For a moment, she felt like she had been on the bridge of the Rafale before Vega, and she had simply not heard the commands given to her officers. She frowned and shook her head, returning to the present.

Glad to know they can still work without guidance. Thank you, Mal’Kon.

Jessica slowly returned to the command chair and sat, watching the screen as the neon green gasses of the rift passed by the ship.

“There she is,” Nizeri called from her post. Jessica watched as a targeting box appeared on the screen and hovered over what looked like a piece of debris hanging in the jade cloud. The object was highlighted in red on the viewscreen, making its shape easier to see. “Miranda-class, refit.”

“Status?”

“Engines and primary systems are offline. Life support is minimal. No signs of weapons fire or damage.” Nizeri gasped and paused before continuing, soberly. “I’m not…I’m not reading life signs, Jess.”

Jessica stood immediately, looking at the small red ship as it gradually became clearer on the screen. “What?”

“There were over two-hundred people on that ship.” Obruz was standing as well, and had moved to stand next to Jessica. “Shields dropped?”

“Her hull’s been reinforced specifically for this mission - thick enough to absorb any stray thalaron particles she’d encounter here.”

Jessica was silent, absorbing the information. Eventually, she felt a nudge on her elbow. She turned to see Dossu staring intently at her. “Hmm?”

Dossu smirked a little at the new captain and lowered his voice, trying to prompt her. “An away team.”

“What about it?”

He sighed before raising his voice so the rest of the bridge could hear him again. “I’d like permission to take an away team over and investigate, Captain.”

Jessica frowned, blushing in embarrassment. Of course he wanted to lead an away team to investigate. Wouldn’t Mal’Kon have given that order immediately? “Nizeri, is it safe?”

“As far as I can tell. I’m not detecting any thalaron radiation in the vicinity.” She huffed. “Detected another anomaly near us. This one’s different.”

Sonia interrupted before Jessica could respond to Dossu. “Commander, we’re being hailed by an…unknown ship. Very close proximity.”

Jessica looked back at the screen and narrowed her eyes; she hadn’t seen another ship. Cloaked Romulans? So much for mutual cooperation. “On screen.”

The view of the Bassen Rift was suddenly replaced by the imposing visage of a pale, almost reptilian face. The alien was grinning excitedly as he looked around the bridge at the surprised Starfleet crew. “The trap is sprung. You and your ship will make fine trophies!” He laughed as the channel closed, and the viewscreen shifted to show the rift again.

The image of green clouds began to distort and ripple as, slowly, a large alien ship materialized into sight. Red alert sirens began to blare as Nizeri shouted, “Hirogen ships, decloaking around us! We’re surrounded!”

Jessica dropped back to her chair as the Hirogen battleship finished decloaking in front of the Rafale, her nose pointed directly at the Starfleet ship. There was only a second before a blue bolt of energy lanced out from the monstrous ship and raced towards the Akira-class starship. A scream of metal reverberated throughout the ship as the bolt collided with the Rafale’s shields, and the ship rocked as her shields absorbed more strikes from around her.

“Wirstowx, status of weapons?”

The Ozem’s hands flew over his controls, and Jessica could feel the faint shift in the deck plating below her feet as the ship began evasive maneuvers. “Weapons charged, awaiting your command!”

So now the action begins again. Jessica took a deep breath and quickly stole a glance around the bridge at her crew. We’re deep in Romulan space, with no back-up and no way of calling for help. Let’s see how ready we were for this.

“Wirstowx, open fire. And keep us between them and the Warwick.”

===


The Hirogen ships surrounded the new Starfleet ship, circling her like a pack of wolves. They took turns darting in and firing at her as Rafale started to pull away, gracefully dodging the brunt of their attacks. Still they chased her, the smaller hunting ships pulling ahead of the larger, clumsier battleship to harass her.

It wasn’t until she had pulled outside the weapons envelope of the powerful ship that Rafale nosed up and over herself, flying straight towards her attackers on her back. She let loose a volley of destructive quantum torpedoes and filled the space between her and the Hirogen hunters with bursts from her phaser cannons.

The lead Hirogen ship was engulfed in a firestorm as the combined assault of phaser cannons and torpedoes slammed into its shields and overloaded them instantly. A few strikes from her phaser banks and Rafale finished the job; the Hirogen scout ship hung dead in space, its hull blackened and venting atmosphere, and lights flickering as power began to fail on the small ship.

The remaining ships scattered, trying to rally and change their strategy. The hunters realized they were no longer in full control of the situation, and that the Starfleet ship would more than live up to the precedent of her sister ships. She opened fire again, disabling a second scout ship with another rain of terrifying cannon blasts and torpedoes.

The hunters were now the prey.

===


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