The ready room door chime went off like an unpleasant warning.
Lloyd Burton chucked the mini-rugby ball he had in his hands toward the wall that his desk sat up against. He also tossed the data-tablet he’d been reading toward the top of his desk. The ball had bounced off the wall, landing somewhere on the deck plating while the handheld computer device landed squarely on top of other similar tablets and books that lay scattered on his desk. It was just centimetres away from hitting the photo frame that held a picture of him with his siblings. Roman had sent it to him as a parting gift; it was an image of them all the night they had met up with their parents at the family home before Challenger’s launch.
“Enter.” He said after jabbing at the desktop intercom button beside his main computer interface. The door opened a second afterwards with a dim inflated hiss.
Commander Levesque stepped across the raised doorway; her hair now pulled back into a bun, an unusual look for her since Burton had known her. Normally she kept it in a ponytail on duty and on the odd occasions she allowed it to hang loose by her shoulders. Directly behind her was Sub Commander T’Plau, her Vulcan features as emotionless as normal, her hands grasped behind her back.
The door closed behind his visitors, and Burton swirled his chair around towards them without making a move to get up. “Nicole. T’Plau. What’s up?”
“We’re about five minutes away from having to part company with our hitchhikers.” Levesque reported, and then glanced towards T’Plau’s direction.
“The T’Paal is ready to proceed too. Radio silence remains in effect. Echo Seven intercepted a transmission from both Earth and Vulcan requesting an update from all ships; however no one has responded.” She added. “Our warp profiles are ready to be heightened too.”
“Excellent.” Burton looked between his two officers. He could see something was bothering Levesque but not T’Plau, she was still someone he needed to get to know or she was truly Vulcan and didn’t show her emotions at all. “Out with it.” He ordered, primarily towards his first officer.
“Sir?” Levesque said, trying to remain coy as possible.
He rolled his eyes and shook his head as he pushed the piles of paperwork he had collected on his desk into some tidy pile possible. “Commander in the past few weeks I’ve got to know you well and you’re forgetting I used to be in the same position both of you are in now: bringing something to the captain’s attention that they might not like. So as I said: out with it.”
Levesque sighed before speaking. “Permission to speak freely sir?” She asked and got a nod from the captain. “Commander Stanton, Sub Commander T’Plau and I have a few issues about our game plan.”
“And they are?” Burton asked he didn’t have time to play twenty questions with them. “Stop beating around the bush and just say them.”
“Primarily sir, are you fit to command this mission.” T’Plau said in a blunt manner.
Burton looked between the two of them. “Thank you for your candid answer Sub Commander. Why are you concerned about my fitness to command this mission?”
“In the past twenty four hours you’ve only slept for five hours, besides your exhaustion we are about to rescue your sister’s vessel from an extremely hostile race. On top of that I believe your youngest brother is serving on the Republic. Obviously you have a strong emotional attachment to ensure this mission is successful to avoid their deaths. These factors could compromise your judgement in making appropriate command decisions.” T’Plau explained. “On top of that you have assigned an untested pilot to fly your ship.”
Burton smirked at T’Plau’s concerns. “Thank you Sub Commander.” He looked to Levesque. “Nicole anything else to add?”
She shook her head. “No sir, she took the words out of my mouth.”
“Well I appreciate your concerns and if any of you want to object to my command decisions regarding this then I will note them in my log, if not here is my response to all of that.” Burton returned with a slight pause. “Before you came in I had just had a brief nap and I’ve had Ro-fa Ben-Ami give me a stimulant to keep me awake and I promise you all once this is over I am going to sleep for eight hours uninterrupted.” He turned to look at T’Plau. “On top of that not only do I have an untested pilot sat at the helm of my ship but an untested tactical officer sat at my armoury station. Should I relieve her of her duties too?”
T’Plau raised one of her eyebrows as she considered his response. “I believe sir I see your point, if not completely accurate.”
“Good.” Burton now rose from his chair. “Where do we stand with our…what did Michael call it?” He asked looking to Levesque.
“Grey mode.” She answered.
“Right, grey mode?” He asked as he straightened out his jacket.
“Mayflower, Haig and Raven are all in grey mode and will resume their separate courses into the Archer system under warp one.” Levesque stated. “That’s once they’ve cleared the warp bubbles of both Challenger and T’Paal.”
The plan to get the civilian ships in un-detected was for the three civilian ships to ride inside the warp bubbles of Challenger and T’Paal and when it was time they would all drop out of warp. The civilian ships would resume their courses, masking their energy signatures at lower warp speeds to enter the system from different trajectories heading to the second moon of Archer IV to hide in. Meanwhile, Challenger and T’Paal would jump back to high warp, coming out of their grey mode and displaying a high warp profile. The Romulans would see them and hopefully take the bait of investigating them, giving the other ships the time to enter the system without being seen by the enemy ships. Challenger had been able to contact the Republic and they would be doing a similar thing as they entered the system. Hopefully Voyager and Essex were still operational and would see them too.
“Then let’s get this show on the road.” Burton said with eagerness as he gestured for them to exit his ready room and return to the bridge.
Burton stood at the centre of his bridge, the apparent eye of calmness in the midst of a highly disciplined storm. Surrounded by the bustle of his crew, he watched the main viewer with a sense of awe of what they were hoping to achieve. Burton felt the deceleration through the soles of his boots. He looked down at the man sitting before him. Acting-Ensign John Conrad looked at ease at the helm. Their meeting earlier on had gone well; Burton had left himself a mental note to owe Captain Montague a bottle of whiskey for making his job at talking Conrad into taking the temporary reassignment an easy one.
“Good work Ensign Conrad.” Burton said gently, patting his right shoulder.
“Thanks sir.” Conrad said with a smile of appreciation.
Burton now sat down in his chair. He blinked a couple of times. Stanton’s grey mode had meant that nearly every system on the ship that didn’t need to be on was switched off and everything else was powered down to the lowest of levels, including the lighting. He tapped the intercom button in his chair. “Bridge to engineering, Commander Stanton are we ready to proceed to phase two?”
“We are sir.” Stanton replied confidently.
“Then please raise the lights and get us back to normal operating levels.” Burton ordered.
“With pleasure captain.” The chief engineer said before closing the channel.
Burton looked down at the helm. “Ensign set a course for the last known location of the Romulan task group, maximum warp!”
“Course plotted sir.” Conrad announced after a second.
“Sub Commander T’Plau, take us to tactical alert and Commander Levesque begin scanning for the Romulans and our own ships.” Burton commanded.
A round of acknowledgements from them were heard and Challenger moved out with the T’Paal hot on its heels and eventually catching up to be on its side.
“By now the Romulans should be picking us up, we’re lit up like a Christmas tree.” Levesque announced as she kept her focus on the readouts coming through from the sensors.
“Thirty seconds until we reach the coordinates sir.” Conrad said, still focussing on his console.
Burton’s stomach flipped over as he remained sat up in his chair, rubbing his chin with his left hand to remain calm while his right hand hugged him around his waist. Where were the Romulans? He pondered; he didn’t think they would leave the Archer system that easily. They attacked the colony convoy for a reason and his money was on the fact they were trying to stop humans from colonising the Archer system.
Imperial Bird-of-Prey ChR Dhivael, on the outskirts of the Archer system
“Commander, scanners have detected the Ch’lenjer incoming along with the T’Paal.” Morek spoke as he moved from the science station back to his posting at the communications station.
T’Voras had been circulating the Dhivael’s control centre, overseeing how they would support the four other ships in the task group with their task of destroying Gai’h’er-mne. The moment he heard Morek’s report he stopped what he had been doing and moved over to his chair and sat in it. “Location?”
“They will enter the Gai’h system in less than seha ihnerha.” Morek answered. “Commander T’Met is ordering the task force to intercept them.” He added.
“Proceed then. Let us finish what we started with the Hevams.” T’Voras said with some satisfaction. “Battle-stations!”
Voyager NV-03, in orbit of Archer IV-B
Taking a deep breath in to calm her nerves as well as her unborn son, Captain Madison Burton pushed her shoulders back as she stepped out onto her bridge from the lift. She had been taking a break from the current situation they were in. After almost three hours calling in for help from both her brothers’ ships neither Voyager nor Essex had heard anything; however they were currently running both ships in a silent mode. Both she and Captain Shumar had decided to keep themselves hidden after beaming up the teams from Archer IV. Once they knew it was safe to make a run for it they would leave the system at high warp, heading back to friendlier territory. In the last couple of hours another Romulan ship had joined the others, they were still circling the outer edges of the system like vultures.
“Report?” She asked, making her way over to her chair.
“The cavalry has just arrived.” Commander Doyle replied with a smile on her face.
“Who?” Madison said as she got comfortable in her chair. Obviously her unborn son didn’t want her to get comfortable in their current situation.
“Challenger with a Vulcan combat cruiser.” Doyle announced as she sat down at her science station. “They’re making quite a show about their entrance, their warp profiles are higher than normal.”
“Lloyd was always a show off, but knowing my little brother he is doing it for a reason.” Madison commented.
“He’s not your only brother making a show too.” Doyle remarked after her sensors beeped something else at her. “Sensors have just picked up the Republic too – doing the same thing with their warp profile.”
Madison considered what was happening and soon put the dots together. “Lloyd is making it clear to the Romulans of their arrival. Hopefully he has worked out we’ve been in hiding and now he is giving us time to come out to join them.”
“Are you certain?” Doyle asked apprehensively.
“Oh for sure.” Madison said as she looked down at her pilot. “Ensign Hu, plot a course to join Challenger and our Vulcan friends. Commander Doyle, inform Captain Shumar to follow our lead. Tactical alert!” She commanded.
Republic NV-02, en route to Archer IV
Lieutenant Seth Burton looked down at his controls, he felt a bit of sweat appear on his forehead. He truly hoped Lloyd knew what he was doing. They were about to go up against the Romulans. He had kept his eyes on his sensor readings, he had noticed the trajectory Challenger and T’Paal were coming in from and was slowly nudging the Republic to join them. Another beep and he saw the Romulans. His heart skipped another beat when another beeped went off.
“Captain.” He said grabbing his superior officer’s attention. “Voyager and Essex have just appeared on sensors sir.” Seth announced, pleased his sister’s ship was still intact.
Burton sat in his chair with the biggest grin on his face. “Ensign Hennessey, open a channel to the Romulan fleet.”
Hennessey responded with a nod before whispering, “Channel open, sir.”
“Romulan ships, this is Captain Burton of the Earth starship Challenger.” He said as he rose from his chair and stared at the image of the five Romulan ships before him, one of them being the one they had engaged earlier. In only a few seconds, the entire allied group would be within simultaneous weapons fire. “This system has been claimed by the United Earth Commonwealth. You have violated our space and I formally request you remove your presence from here at once. To refuse my request will be considered an act of aggression against the United Earth Commonwealth and its allies.”
A beep at Levesque station caught Burton’s attention as well as his first officer. He signalled to mute the channel to Hennessey. Levesque smiled after reading the sensors. “Sir long range sensors are detecting four ships coming in hot, two Denobulan cruisers, a Vulcan battleship and an Andorian warship.”
Burton copied her grin as he nodded to his communications officer to re-open the channel. “By now your long range sensors should be detecting more ships incoming; those are ships belonging to our allies. Now do you want me to tell them to come in firing or will you leave?” Burton asked and then used another hand gesture to Hennessey to cut the channel. “Get a weapons lock T’Plau.” He ordered.
“Yes sir.” The Vulcan armoury officer said.
“Sir I’m picking up movement from the Romulan ships.” Conrad reported.
“They’re leaving?” Hennessey asked first.
“No, it could be worse. Looks like they’re launching smaller attack craft in all directions. Heading for us and the other ships.” Conrad said.
“Ensign, evasive manoeuvres.” Burton commanded as he sat back down in his chair. The ship shuddered under the minor pressure of the small attackers, opening fire on them.
“Those fighters are no bigger than shuttlepods sir, but are armed with plasma cannons under each of their wings.” T’Plau announced. “Shall I return fire?”
“Please do, Sub Commander!” Burton said with a sense of urgency in his voice. “Jack, move us around and push our way past them. We need to show their carriers we aren’t afraid of taking them on.”
“Understood sir.” Conrad said as he moved the ship into a better posture.
“Ned, tell Voyager, Republic and Essex to engage the fighters. Then tell the T’Paal to join us in taking on their carriers.” Burton ordered.
“Do you have authority to take command of a fleet, sir?” Conrad asked.
Burton stared at his pilot and was about to reply to that when Levesque did. “Starfleet regulation one-nine-one allows the captain with the tactical superiority to assume command in a combat situation involving more than one ship when there isn’t a higher ranking officer.”
“Oh!” Conrad replied, realising that Challenger filled that category. “Well let’s show those Romulans some of our tactical superiority.” He said and pushed the ship forward to take on the enemy ships.
Challenger rumbled under pressure as the Romulans hit it from several angles.
Levesque frowned at her console as she worked at it. “Sir I’m detecting high amounts of nuclear radiation coming from one of the Romulan ships.”
“Nuclear?” Burton asked as he rose from his chair to look at her readings.
“Its energy signature is consistent with an atomic warhead.” Levesque added before looking up at him. “You don’t think they’re going too.” She stopped as she looked back at the captain, the two of them almost sharing the same dreadful thought.
“The Romulans are highly aggressive in their tactics.” T’Plau said as she continued to fire the ship’s weapons at the Romulans. “There’s no way they could place a beachhead here at Archer Four with only five ships this far from their territory. I can only predict they plan to prevent Earth from gaining the planet by destroying it with nuclear warheads.”
Burton hated what he heard. “Jack lay in a course for that ship; I don’t want to give them the opportunity.”
“I’m regretting meeting you now Mister Hennessey.” Conrad remarked towards the communications officer. “Course plotted sir.”
Hennessey just gave him a wry smile as he held on for dear life as the ship rocked more.
“Engage!” Burton ordered quickly and took a seat back in his chair, watching events unfold in front of his very own eyes.
Challenger lurched forward, dodging in and out of the Romulan fighters, heading towards its target.
Firstmoon, Fesoan Lor’veln Year 463
Saturday, March 1st, 2155
I.G.S Kemaree, entering the Archer system
The perks of being a retired/honouree General of the Imperial Guard Margerit thought as she sat comfortably in the centre chair of the Kemaree. The ship had left Denobula ages ago and she changed her mind; she wanted to lead the search for Challenger and the other allied ships. Her staff had pleaded with her not to do such a thing but she felt that even now the Kemaree’s crew needed her expertise, especially as a majority of their command staff had been severely brutalised by the Orions and were still recovering in the medical wards.
“General!” spoke Lieutenant Thalas from the tactical post. “It would appear our Human and Vulcan allies have engaged the Romulans!”
Margerit rose to stand in the centre of the command deck. “Take us to Condition One.” She ordered before hitting the nearest intercom device. “Command deck to all hands, battle stations!”
The lights on the command deck dimmed and a darker blue hue filled the room followed by the normal battle alarm alerting the crew of the current status the ship was in.
“Lieutenant, coordinate our attack with the Denobulan and Tal’kit tactical officers.” Margerit commanded as she sat back down in her chair. “Lieutenant Benjis move us into protect the flank of Challenger. All weapons fire at will!”
The Kemaree swiftly and elegantly moved in on their targets and began to shoot at the Romulan fighters as they passed. The three other Denobulan ships followed suit and the allied force of ships began to reduce the number of enemy ships.
“It’s the Andorians, Vulcan and Denobulans sir!” Levesque announced over the commotion filling the Challenger’s bridge. “They’ve disabled eight Romulan fighters and are giving us and the T’Paal protection from incoming fire.”
Burton grinned at the change of luck in their fight. “Excellent.” He responded before looking over at T’Plau. “Sub Commander, open fire on that Romulan ship with the atomic warhead, disable their launching mechanism.”
Challenger’s weapons streaked across space, hitting against the shielding Romulan Bird-of-Prey that housed the atomic warhead. Every shot slammed into the energy barrier.
“We are running out of time sir, I do not believe we will be able to stop the Romulans from firing their warhead.” T’Plau said as an explosion erupted from the aft section of the bridge.
“Then let’s wait for them to launch the atomic warhead and we destroy that!” Conrad suggested. “Captain if we put enough power into the impulse engines I’ll be able to get us out of the way of the nuclear shockwave …well away from most of the damage we can sustain.”
Burton considered his options. The Romulan Bird-of-Prey was elusive and avoided their attacks well. Their shields were also better supported then the rest of the fleet. “Do it.” He ordered and then looked to Hennessey. “Ensign, inform all allied ships to prepare to fall back in a moment’s notice.”
“They’re launching!” T’Plau announced with urgency.
“Do it, now, now, NOW!” Burton screamed.
Challenger suddenly jerked forward as more power was given to its impulse engines as it chased down the missile that had been fired towards the planet. Seconds later the Earth ship sent a barrage of photonic torpedoes and phase cannon fire in its direction. Multiple hits struck against the partially shielding rocket, however they soon failed as the last torpedo struck home. The allied fleet quickly fled, jumping to high speeds as the explosion erupted and blasted out in all directions in a massive shockwave.
Jack Conrad quickly pushed the button from the helm of Challenger and as he was ready for it the ship bolted away from it, riding the edge of the shockwave like a trained surfer skimming the edges of a huge current.
After the ship rocked from side to side several more times Captain Burton spoke up. “Report?”
“The atomic warhead was destroyed!” T’Plau said with a slight sense of pride in their accomplishment.
Levesque then followed up with more information. “The Romulans have taken heavy damage and are plotting a rapid retreat course.”
“I won’t be able to chase after them sir. Warp drive is down.” Conrad said, anticipating his captain’s command. “And we’re not the only allied ship in a bad position.”
Burton got out of his chair and walked down to the side of his pilot. “Don’t worry Ensign, for now let us lick our wounds. I’m sure the Romulans got our message that we mean business.” He said after patting Conrad’s back to congratulate him with his efforts.