06/10 – “Et Tu, Brute?”
Because of unreliable communications and spotty sensor coverage within the Mutara Nebula, the plan had been for the four ships of the task force to reconvene at their original rendezvous location once the threat the Orion and the Bluefin had posed to their mission had been neutralized.
And yet, things had not gone according to plan and Sandhurst found only Intrepid had returned to their rallying point as Gibraltar approached. Eagle he knew of course was still dealing with Bluefin. He did not know the location of Sacajawea, Tazla Star’s seemingly elusive ship.
Jason Aubrey had asked to come aboard as soon as the two starships had been close enough and with transporters not a valid option, the two large ships had docked to each other instead, a maneuver which had become increasingly uncommon in the modern era but which both ships performed flawlessly in any case.
Sandhurst had met Aubrey outside Gibraltar’s starboard docking port.
“What happened out there?” he asked almost immediately.
But Aubrey shook his head. “All the wrong things. Is there somewhere we can talk in private?”
Sandhurst lead his fellow captain to his ready room adjacent to the bridge, where Aubrey took the proffered chair opposite the desk while Sandhurst sat behind it. “The Orion? Was there any alternative to destroying her?”
“Not if you ask Star,” he said without even having to consider the question. “I’m not so sure.” He shook his head. “I understand what is at stake here but damn it, this is not what we are about. These people are Starfleet officers, just like us. And we’re killing them because of what? Philosophical differences?”
“This thing has gotten way out of hand,” said Sandhurst. “It has been for a while. It’s becoming a full blown war.”
“Which is just what we need after the Borg and with the Nyberrites waiting in the wings, ready to pounce and swallow us up whole the first chance they get.”
“If you believe the politicians, that’s exactly what will happen if the Guardians are not kept in check.”
Aubrey shot him a despairing look. “Never put much stock into politicians.” He said and then switched gears. “What happened with Bluefin? I take it things went better than at our end?”
“If so, only marginally. But at least he ship was still in one piece and her crew alive when I left them.”
“Wait a minute, you are telling me you left Owens alone with her? The man clearly has an agenda.”
“Trust me it wasn’t my idea. But if I had to choose between Owens and Star, well it’s not much of a choice. Talking about Star, where is she? She’s not somebody I want to lose track of.”
He shook his head. “I wish I knew. We were heading back to the rendezvous point when we lost sensor contact with her.”
“That’s exactly what I wanted to avoid,” he said and then glanced towards the ceiling. “Sandhurst to bridge.”
“Ramirez here, sir.”
“Liana, I want you to keep an eye out for Sacajawea. Apparently she’s MIA. And see if you can get a burst transmission to Owens, making him aware that she might be coming after Bluefin next.”
“Yes, sir. Do you want us to engage the SMA again?”
“Not yet. Just keep it to conventional sensors for now. Sandhurst out.”
Aubrey was back on his feet, slowly pacing the room. “Without it you won’t find her.”
“I know. But there is still a chance that using it again might alert Bolarus. I don’t want to blow this mission now, not after the price we’ve already paid.”
Aubrey stopped and stepped closer to the desk. “We might not have a choice.”
“What do you mean?”
Aubrey placed a padd on Sandhurst’s desk which he had brought with him. “There’s another reason I needed to talk to you in private. Shortly after the Orion’s destruction, my operations officer picked something up from the Sacajawea which looked like a burst transmission. Except it wasn’t to any ships in the task force or to Starfleet Command.”
“Who then?” asked Sandhurst as he looked over the padd.
“No idea. In fact, I wouldn’t be able to tell you with one hundred percent certainty it was a transmission at all, not in this nebula. It might have been nothing more than background radiation brought on by high concentrations of ionized gasses but my ops manager, who by the way doesn’t miss much, thinks there is a good chance it might have been a transmission. So I had her do a little bit of digging.”
Sandhurst looked up with concern. “You hacked Sacajawea?”
“I told you, she’s good. She didn’t get much but what she found is troubling.”
He glanced back at the padd. “These looks like Nyberrite schematics.”
“You think she’s working for them?”
“Would you put it past her?”
“I guess not but you haven’t got much here. This is all circumstantial. A possible transmission which might be background radiation and some data on what could be Nyberrite designs.”
“Add to that her behavior and the way she pops up and disappears on a regular basis and I would call that enough evidence to at least be concerned. I know it wouldn’t hold up in a court martial but there is a way we can be certain.”
Sandhurst seemed to know where Aubrey was going and immediately shook his head. “I’m not going to use the SMA on Sacajawea.”
“It would give us the answers we need and we’d know for sure what she is up to.”
“Yes. It might also give away our position. Besides she would know that they had been probed. That will not be easy to explain if we find nothing.”
“Worth the risk, Captain. Better than allowing a potential traitor to undermine the entire mission. I say we—“
“Bridge to Sandhurst.”
“Go ahead, Commander.”
“The Sacajawea is hailing us. She just reappeared on sensors a few seconds ago. Captain Star wants to talk to you straight away.”
The two captains exchanged looks.
“Understood, Commander. We’re on our way, Sandhurst out.” He stood and headed straight for the doors leading the bridge, Aubrey following close behind.
Liana Ramirez was back at the tactical board by the time the two captains entered the bridge.
Sandhurst nodded to her. “Put her on screen.”
Not a moment later the Trill woman’s face appeared on the viewer, clearly agitated once more. “Captain Sandhurst, you mind telling me where Eagle is?”
Sandhurst pulled at the hem of his uniform jacket. “She suffered some minor damage to her impulse engines when engaging the Bluefin. Nothing serious. She should be joining us shortly.”
Star smirked with zero evidence of any kind of amusement. “Is that so? Because as it turns out she is no longer at her last reported position. As a matter of fact, neither is Bluefin.”
“As I said it was minor. She might be on her way back here as we speak.”
“I’m not sure I believe that.”
“That, Captain, is entirely your concern, not mine.”
The two starship commanders stared at each other for a moment, neither willing to add to their sharp words.
It was Aubrey who broke the silence. “This ship is equipped with a Sub-Quantum Mass Array, as you already know. I suggest we make use of it. We’ll locate both ships and if we keep the scan intensity low enough, the energy surge shouldn’t register beyond the nebula.”
Star and Sandhurst continued to stare daggers at each other a moment longer until the Trill began to massage her forehead in apparent frustration. “I suppose we don’t have a choice. Just make it quick and ensure the setting is low enough to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Star out.”
Her face disappeared from the screen to be replaced by her ship positioned nearby.
Aubrey shot Sandhurst a sidelong look. “Never gonna get a better chance.”
He nodded slowly and both men moved to join Ramirez at her station. “Liana, configure the SMA for a wide area scan at fifty percent energy yield. And I want a separate, narrow-band beam focused on the Sacajawea.”
The petite Hispanic woman gave her captain a surprised glance. “Sir?”
“Just make it happen.”
“Aye, sir,” she said and worked her console, setting up the powerful sensor array to the specifications given. It took her just a few seconds to set it up. “Ready on your mark.”
“Engaging the array.”
The sensor pulse activated with an audible low rumble and the viewscreen showed a dark blue energy wave penetrating into the nebula.
“Getting the data now,” said Ramirez.
Aubrey looked at Sandhurst. “With your permission, I’ll see what we got from Sacajawea.”
Sandhurst nodded. “Liana, focus on the wide area scan.”
Aubrey went to work beside her while Ramirez gave her report. “I cannot locate the Eagle but I have the Bluefin. She is traveling on a course of one-zero mark eight-seven,” she said and looked at her captain. “That’s straight towards the Bolarus system.”
“Son of a bitch,” said Sandhurst.
“I’ve got her transmission logs,” said Aubrey. “No doubt about it, she sent an encrypted message two point six hours ago to an unidentified relay station outside Federation space.” He looked up as well. “And her databanks are full of encrypted files which appear to be Nyberrite in origin.”
“We’re being hailed again by—“
But Ramirez wasn’t able to finish her sentence before Star forced herself back onto Gibraltar’s main view screen. “What do you think you are doing?”
Aubrey took that one. “Trying to find out whose side you’re really on, Captain. And from what I can see, there are some serious question marks relating to your loyalty.”
“I am done with this, and I’m done with you,” she said through gritted teeth. “There is a reason I work alone. You are compromising the mission and Owens is either an incompetent fool or in league with the enemy. You are both to stand down. I will finish this on my own.” She didn’t bother signing off this time. On the view screen Sacajawea quickly turned and pulled away at high impulse.
“She is following Bluefin’s course,” said Ramirez.
Aubrey turned to face his fellow captain. “We let her go, there’ll only be more death and bloodshed, I can practically guarantee it. We do nothing and this mission will end up being one massive, unmitigated disaster for all sides involved.”
Sandhurst needed a moment to fully appreciate the changed circumstances but ultimately he began to nod. “Return to your ship. We’ll go after her.”
Aubrey turned and headed towards the turbolift.
He stopped short to look back at Sandhurst.
“This mission already is a disaster.”