Sleep was slowly seizing Commander Stanton. At oh-two-hundred hours in the morning he had yet to properly sleep, except for the hour power nap he took earlier in the afternoon in between helping repair the remains of the Andorian task force. Now he found himself fighting his body’s desire to close his eyelids and fall into a deep sleep. He had a job to do and one that he wasn’t actually enjoying at the moment. When he had been recalled back to Challenger, he had suspected that it was to deal with something in engineering, not to be involved in a tactical briefing with several others from the ship’s senior staff. Currently he along with Burton, Levesque, T’Plau and Yu were all in the command centre attempting to devise a plan of action which would lead to the removal of the joint Malurian-Nausicaan forces from Docana with the notion of trying to prevent the loss of a lot of life on both sides. How they would achieve that last objective he didn’t know. He was sitting at the funny T-shaped desk in the centre of the room, next to Levesque who also shared his similar appearance of looking (and most likely feeling) exhausted.
“I hate to say it sir, but I think we should call it a night and look at this with a fresh pair of eyes in the morning.” He suggested to the man who was standing staring at the large main computer screen.
“Michael’s got a point Lloyd.” Levesque said. “Let us sleep on it and you never know we may come up with something in our dreams!”
Major Yu, who like the other two Starfleet Commanders, had undid her uniform buttons ages ago and looked drained as well. She placed the computer tablet she held in her hands on the table before Stanton. “I tend to agree with them as well sir. We’ve been at this for a number of hours now and we still aren’t close to a feasible strategy.”
Burton rubbed the side of his face, still staring at the information before him. “Hmm, maybe you’re right.” He said in response, he didn’t want to give up though that was clear from his body language.
Stanton stood up and stretched out his body. “We need to think cleverly about getting past those mines! If they would blow up against the Malurians and Nausicaans then we would be laughing.”
Burton almost scrunched up his face as he thought about what Stanton just said and then looked at T’Plau. She rose her left eyebrow as their gazes met each other “Commodore?” She questioned, using his new title annoyingly.
“T’Plau are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Burton said with a new leash of energy surging through him as he tapped into the console before him.
“Highly unlikely sir, we are not telepathically linked.” T’Plau deadpanned in response. “Please elaborate.”
Burton turned to the others. “If we had the chance to capture just one of those mines and find how it ticks then we might be able to find a way to diffuse them or use them to our advantage.”
“How?” Levesque asked rubbing her eyes to stay awake. “We saw what happened when the Andorians approached those mines, they exploded. We wouldn’t be able to get close to them to do any work on them.”
Burton pointed to his first officer. “We make ourselves register as a Malurian or Nausicaan ship so we can get close enough to one of them.” He turned around to face the main screen again and loaded up some sensor logs from the Andorian task force. “The Andorian sensors detected that the mines were all interlinked with each other over a network of subspace communication and sensor relays. They will only go off by a proximity alarm. If we can fool just one to think we’re not an enemy ship then we’ll be able to grab it, isolate it from the rest of the network and find out how it ticks. We may even be able to tap into the network and either take control of it or disrupt it allowing for our ships to pass through undamaged.”
“That’s an ambitious plan sir.” Stanton said as he considered Burton’s points.
Yu placed her hands on her hips. “Even if you’re able to do all of that to the mine, how do you get close enough without being detected by the Malurians and Nausicaan ships? I’m pretty certain they’ll be prepared for us to try such a thing. We’ll need to move in there unnoticed.”
Burton considered the point carefully and then brought up a scan of the Docana system and highlighted a number of its spatial bodies; he was primarily focussing on the comets there. “We take a shuttlepod which would fly by one of these comets and use it as a shield. Then as it approaches the asteroid field it would be close enough not to be detected by the enemy ships. By the time it reaches the mines it would be registered as a friendly ship, forcing them not to explode near it. We do our business and then the shuttlepod flies out by which point the task force would have entered the system to protect it.”
“We may be able to upload a computer virus into the mine’s network which could either destroy them all in one go or give us control over them.” Stanton suggested as he looked up at the captain’s idea.
“Or we use it to cause a distraction.” T’Plau countered with.
Now it was Burton’s turn to question his armoury officer’s thinking like she just did with him. “Sub Commander?”
“If we’re able to destroy several in one go in one area then they will think we’ve returned and have masked our approach into the system. They would most likely send their ships in to meet us. At which point we would be able to move in from another direction, opposite to theirs and surprise them from a better advantage point. We may be even able to use the minefield to disable them.” T’Plau explained.
“I like it.” Levesque said with a smile.
“As do I.” Burton agreed. “By the time they realise where we are then we could be in orbit of Docana sending down ground troops to retake the planet.”
“Indeed.” T’Plau said.
Yu cleared her throat. “I hate to put a downer on our plan, which I like by the way, but our sensors have registered the remnants of nuclear explosions in the planet’s atmosphere, do we even know if there are any survivors down there?”
“We won’t know until we are in orbit.” Levesque answered as she crossed her arms against her chest.
“Radiation sickness could be an issue we have to deal with too.” T’Plau said as she pulled up the current readings of Docana. “I would suggest we send troops down in EVA suits.”
“Definitely.” Burton replied. “After we’ve scanned the planet to determine its status.”
“So, who goes to kidnap a mine?” Yu asked next.
“I’ll go.” Burton said. “It’s my idea and I have the training to deal with mines, I won’t risk anyone else being injured from it.”
“That’s an illogical and reckless decision Commodore.” T’Plau bluntly said. “You are tasked in leading this fleet in to battle and the Andorians will only follow your orders. If something was to happen to you then they will not follow orders from anyone else. I should go as the next qualified individual on board.”
“Captain Ramirez can easily take over from me.” Burton countered, trying to dismiss her suggestion.
“T’Plau’s got a point sir.” Stanton interjected. “Also, I’ll go with her; if we encounter a sophisticated computer system then we may have seconds to deal with it. I’m the only one quick enough with computers to work out what to do.”
“Plus, if the plan doesn’t work then we need to prepare a backup plan.” Levesque added. “And with all due respect to Captain Ramirez sir, he isn’t half the tactician you are.”
Burton rubbed his chin, feeling the two days of stubble growth appearing. “Alright.” He finally said after mulling it over for a moment. “Both of you prepare Shuttlepod One for launch tomorrow at twelve-hundred hours. I want us to make our move then, the rest of you prepare the ship and crew to retake Docana.” He ordered his officers.
“Aye sir.” They all said in unison.
“Let’s get to it, dismissed.” Burton ordered and watched as they filed out of the room, already talking about how they would put their ideas into action. Burton turned back around and looked up the large wall monitor. At that moment, a single thought entered his head. He was making war against others; this was something he didn’t join Starfleet to do. He only hoped history would be kind to him when they wrote about his decision to help repel the Docana invaders.
“So, I was thinking about our backup plan,” Burton explained to Levesque in his office an hour later “we need to punch a massive hole in the minefield to get the entire fleet through, right?”
Levesque, who was standing next to the captain while he sat at his desk showing her his plan on his screen, nodded. “Yeah.” She said wanting him to continue sharing his ideas.
“We’re not going to get through the minefield and asteroids in one piece, so we need to clear a path.” He continued and tapped a button on the keyboard on his desk. The screen changed to show a section of the asteroid belt. “This part of the asteroid is far away from where Michael and T’Plau are entering from and is one of the least dense areas in the belt. We bring Challenger, Intrepid and Apollo just before it and launch multiple salvos of spatial torpedoes into the belt. The torpedoes will be programmed to detonate at certain points and the salvo pattern would need to be designed to cause the most damage in the area. The shockwaves from the detonating torpedoes should be enough to cause the mines in this area to explode.”
Levesque looked from the screen to Burton. “We don’t know how many mines there are until we get close enough. Would we be able to get them all?”
Wincing at the question as he knew his plan had a slight snag to it. “To be sure we get every single one, which would also result in most of the field in that region being destroyed too, we would have to empty all three ships of their compliments of spatial torpedoes.”
“And if the Malurians and Nausicaans see what we’re doing and come after us?” She asked next.
“Then we would have the Andorian ships to watch our backs. Hopefully by the time they’ve realised what we’re doing we would have been able to fire the first few rounds of torpedoes into the field to cause some damage. They wouldn’t want to enter the asteroid field from that direction, which would force them to come around on either side of the targeted region, again giving us enough time to call in the cavalry.” Burton came back with. “On top of that, what we’ll do is have all three Starfleet ships reduce their energy signature outputs as we re-enter the Docana system. Then once the firework show starts the Andorians can join us by which time the Malurians and Nausicaans may start responding to our actions.”
“We could improve this plan if we knew the composition of the field in this area.” Levesque remarked. “If we launch a probe from where we are now then we could send it there to get a better look for us, the results will allow me to programme a more accurate pattern that would be more effective in hitting the mines.”
Burton liked his First Officer’s plan and smiled at her. “Make it so Nicole.” He said before rubbing his face to help him stay awake.
“Tired?” She asked as she stood up straighter where she had been leaning on the edge of Burton’s desk.
“Exhausted almost but don’t tell the good doctor.” He answered with a wink.
Levesque chuckled at that remark as she unfolded her arms against her chest. It had been two hours since their planning meeting with the others in the command centre and since then they had been preparing the crew and ship for their mission. “It is getting late though.” She said to him as she walked away to look at the pictures of the different ships named Challenger that were hanging in a wide glass frame along the longest wall in his office. “We should call it a night, so we are more with it when we start tomorrow.”
“You’re probably right.” Burton replied as he stretched out in his chair. At that moment the door chime went off and he sat back into his normal posture. Levesque had turned around to see who it was as Burton answered the call. “Enter.”
Ensigns Conrad and Hennessey both walked in, Conrad leading the pair through the threshold, both of them acknowledged their superior officers.
“Gentlemen, how can I help you, bearing in mind it is late and I’m about to retire for the evening.” Burton said, looking at them from his desk.
“Umm, sir we have a proposal for you.” Conrad said in a slightly nervous tone. “Well for you both actually.” He added looking at Levesque as well.
“Oh?” Burton said.
Hennessey cleared his throat. “We both feel that the mission Commander Stanton and Sub Commander T’Plau are going on would benefit if we both joined them.”
Levesque felt that was pretty presumptuous of them. “How so?” She inquired, stepping forward to stand behind Burton. She rested her hands on the back of his chair.
“Well we feel our expertise and skills would increase their chances of succeeding ma’am.” Conrad replied. “They need to fly a shuttlepod behind a comet, and I’m sure both of them are competent pilots, however neither of them have spent any recent time flying a craft let alone flying a shuttlepod using chemical engines while trailing a huge rock of ice is a difficult task itself. I’ve spent many times while on the Raven flying close to comets and flying various smaller crafts using chemical engines.”
Burton looked up at Levesque to catch her reaction to Conrad’s remarks. He was pleased she looked down at him and both of them shared a look that he recognised as her saying ‘fair enough’.
“Alright Mister Conrad I can see why your presence may help the mission.” He looked at his communication officer. “Let me guess Ned your reason is because they may not be able to translate the language the mines are in.”
“Exactly that sir.” Hennessey said honestly. “We’ve yet to determine if these mines are Malurian or Nausicaan in origin, or for that case some other race. As such my skills in exo-linguistics could mean the difference in them being able to diffuse these floating bombs before it becomes too late. Truth be told sir I don’t want to go but I know if I don’t go then we may regret it if they encounter problems that are based around a language barrier.”
“I’m sure either Commander Stanton or Sub Commander T’Plau will be able to overcome it.” Levesque stated.
“Most likely but I don’t think it’s worth the risk.” Hennessey countered.
Burton leant forward on his desk, his elbow supporting against the edge while he rested his chin against the palm of his right hand as he looked up at both men. “I think you both make valid arguments.”
“You do?” Levesque quizzed, trying not to show her surprise in his reaction to their suggestion.
“I do.” He nodded to her before looking back at them. “But,” He now pointed at them both, “If you join them then I expect all four of you to return with not even a scratch on any of you!”
The two ensigns smiled at this. “That’s a deal sir.” Conrad said, extending his hand towards his captain to shake his hand.
Burton stood up and shook his hand before offering Hennessey to shake his. “I take it your deputies are prepared to take over your duties?” He asked while shaking his communications officer’s hand.
“Ensign Larsen has been briefed sir.” Hennessey said after letting go of his captain’s hand.
“And Angela is ready too.” Conrad added.
“Then I suggest you both report to the launch bay and get yourself ready for your little trip.” Burton recommended. “Dismissed gentlemen.”
The two of them smiled at Burton and Levesque before leaving them. Burton turned to look at Levesque. “I really do hope they come back in one piece.”
“You and me both.” She returned before they left the office to call it a night.
Ensign Martha Habiba was walking down the corridors of E Deck towards the mess hall to grab a drink of hot chocolate before heading off to bed. She had come off duty only two hours ago. In that time, she had showered, changed into some comfortable civilian clothing and had replied to a message from her sister. Her sister, Keisha, was one of Earth’s leading news anchors for the British Broadcasting Cooperation and was the lead anchor for the flagship news service that happened at eighteen hundred hours. Keisha had mentioned in her message to Martha about some of the news coming from across the Commonwealth but had also spoken about their mother’s recent birthday celebrations. Martha had felt guilty about not being there with the rest of the family to celebrate the occasion, even her brother Reggie had attended which surprised Keisha.
“Hey Martha!” A familiar voice masculine said from behind her.
She stopped where she was walking and turned around to see Ensign Stewart approaching her. They had not seen each other since their run-in this morning outside his quarters and Ensign Conrad’s. “Oh, hi Niall.” She returned as he joined her. Instantly she linked her left arm into his right arm as he approached her.
“Heading to the mess hall?” He asked as they carried on walking.
“Yup.” She said back, popping the ‘p’ sound at the end. “A hot chocolate and then I’m off to bed, you?”
“I was heading back to my quarters but a hot chocolate sounds good.” He said. Like her, Ensign Stewart was also out of his uniform and was wearing a baggy grey hoodie with navy blue sweatpants.
“No Liam tonight?” She inquired as they turned right down the intersection and passed the galley.
Stewart shook his head. “No, he got called back to do another round of training with Sergeant Iyer for the mission.” He looked down at her; she was less than an inch shorter than him. “What about you and Jack?” He asked in a lower volume.
She smiled at the mention of their chief pilot. “No, I won’t be see-” She stopped talking as the man himself walked down towards them from the other end of the corridor.
“Hey.” Ensign Conrad said towards Habiba as the three ensigns all stopped in the middle of the corridor as they met up.
“Hi.” She said to him, holding on to Stewart’s arm a bit tighter than before.
Conrad noticed her holding on to Stewart but didn’t say anything as he knew that Stewart wouldn’t be interested in her as he was with Private Jenkins. “Look I’ve been assigned to the shuttlepod mission now, so I just wanted to say…umm…well.” He nervously uttered trying to search for the right words.
Stewart cleared his throat before speaking up. “I’ll leave you both to it.” He looked to Habiba, “Martha I’ll see you in the mess hall in a moment.”
She smiled and nodded in appreciation for her friend noticing the awkwardness that was occurring and leaving them to deal with it without an audience. She noticed that the senior nurse had put up his thumbs towards her and winked at her in a cheeky manner while Conrad had his back to him. She held back her laugh and looked back at the pilot. “Sorry about that Jack.” She whispered, not wanting anyone else to hear their conversation.
He smiled and rubbed the back of his neck. “Look Martha, what we’ve been doing…it’s just I don’t normally…what I’m trying to say is…” He stammered out before pausing and taking a breath. “I’m trying to tell you I don’t normally carry on with someone more than once, if that makes sense?”
“Oh.” Habiba responded with, she was a bit confused to what he was saying.
“No, wait that didn’t come out right.” Conrad said extended his hands outwards to take hers. “What I meant to say is I’ve never been in a situation like us,” He paused. “I’m still babbling!” He groaned inwards, looked up at the corridor’s ceiling for some divine intervention before looking back at her. “What I’m really trying to say is…I like seeing you.” He smiled and she smiled at that.
“I like seeing you too.” She returned.
“Cool.” Conrad replied. “I was thinking that we could do more.”
“More?” She repeated back, still unsure what he meant.
Shaking his head in desperation, “No, no, I don’t mean more of what we’ve been doing.” He quietly said, articulating every word so she understood what he meant. “I mean the things we’ve been doing have been great! Don’t get me wrong!”
She chuckled. “You mean the sex has been good!”
“Without a doubt!” Conrad quickly answered back. “What I want to say is…” He took a breath in to gain some courage. “Once I’m back do you want to have dinner with me?”
Her smile got bigger. “Are you asking me out on a date?”
“Yes, am I being charming enough to succeed?” He asked back.
“You are and yes dinner sounds lovely.” She replied.
Conrad’s huge boyish grin appeared on his face as a sign of his personal victory. “Cool!” He said at first.
“Just don’t get yourself killed on this mission.” She said before leaning in and placing a light kiss on his cheek, she didn’t want to succumb completely to his charm and to make him think he easily had her but on the other side she wanted to show him she liked what he had said to her.
“I promise not to!” He answered after she leant back and released her hands from his. “I’ve got to get to the launch bay.”
“Hurry back.” She whispered into his ear before walking pass him and making her way down the corridor leaving him standing alone for a moment in the centre of the corridor.
A minute or so later she entered the mess hall to see it wasn’t completely busy but had a few people there. She soon saw Ensign Stewart sat on one of the tables with two mugs before him. He caught her eye and indicated for her to join him and that one of the mugs was for her.
“Well?” He asked as she sat down next to him and picked up the mug she left for him.
“Let’s just say, you and Liam have competition now!” She replied in between sips.
“Unlikely,” Stewart fired back in defence of his relationship with his boyfriend. “So, I take it you and our top flyboy are taking it to the next level?”
“We sure are. When he returns, we’re having dinner together.” She reported as she placed her mug down.
“And who knows he may even take you to movie night next week!” He excitedly said.
“Don’t get jealous Niall; we all know that Jack and I will outdo you and Liam in the cute couple competition!” She countered back.
“Oh, the competition is on!” Stewart said back and lifted his mug to hers to toast to their relationships.
“You betcha!” She said as she tapped her mug with his, her smile from earlier returning. She now had something to reply with when she wrote back to her sister.
“You’re dropping your right elbow Liam!” Iyer shouted at the younger soldier as they continued their sparring practice in the training gymnasium on C Deck.
Jenkins sighed as lifted his elbow back up and quickly duct to the side to avoid receiving a blow from Iyer. “Yes sir!” He sternly replied with. The younger man dodged another punch and returned the favour with his own being able to make contact with Iyer’s head protection gear.
“Better!” Iyer said after shaking the blow off.
Jenkins smiled at the compliment as they moved around the room, avoiding each other’s attacks against each other. “I’m learning from the best.”
“Praising me isn’t going to get you far, Private!” Iyer stated as he was able to knock Jenkins down with a swing to his legs. He held him down on the floor for a moment and watched the surrender appear in the man’s face. He realised he was unfocussed while speaking and didn’t anticipate the Staff Sergeant’s quick assault against him. “Let’s call it a night Liam.” Iyer said in a hoarse tone, showing his exhaustion and extended his hand out to help him up.
Jenkins took the help and pulled himself up. “Yeah it’s getting late and I haven’t seen Niall since this morning.”
Iyer laughed as he pulled his protection gear off from around his head after taking his gloves off. “How are things going with Ensign Stewart since you moved in together?”
Liam was wiping the sweat off his face with a white towel when he answered. “Really good thanks.” He was smiling at the thought of seeing his boyfriend shortly before looking up at his superior. “What about you sir, are you seeing anyone if you don’t mind me asking?”
“There was this woman I was seeing back on Earth, however with my assignment to Challenger we called it a day.” Iyer explained solemnly as he thought about her. He shook his head, trying to knock the bitter memories out of his mind. “She didn’t want to be a widow.” He said looking back at Jenkins.
Jenkins was somewhat surprised at Iyer’s story, particularly as the man came across as a calm, peaceful and friendly individual. He had an excellent sense of humour and wondered why no one would want to wait for him back at home. “Niall said to me that things happen for a reason, so sir if it was meant to be then it was meant to be for a reason.”
“Wise words there.” Iyer acknowledged. “So, will you both be Challenger’s first married couple?”
The young soldier’s eyes just opened wider at the mention of marriage as he put on his black hoodie. “I…ummm…well…”
Iyer laughed at the discomfort he had caused for Jenkins. “I’m joking Liam, chill out.” He said as he put on a baggy jumper over his vest. “But I’m pretty certain you both would enter the record books for being the first couple married on a NX-class ship.”
“Great, that’s exactly how I want to be remembered!” Jenkins sarcastically said as he whipped his black gym bag over his shoulder. “See you tomorrow morning for the briefing?”
Laughing to himself, Iyer just waved his friend off. “Yeah, oh-nine hundred hours. Enjoy the lay-in.”
Jenkins, who had started to walk towards the exit, looked over his shoulder and smiled at the last comment before making his way out and back to his home.
Imperial Bird-of-Prey ChR Dhivael
Commander T’Voras stood quietly in the dark confines of his quarters on level three of the Dhivael. He was staring out of the large oval shaped window at the star his ship currently orbited. The blazing orange ball of gas caused an amazing hue against the ship’s hull, almost making it look like the bird-shaped body was in flames. An almost smug expression sat on his face as he considered the current victory that he had obtained for the Romulan Star Empire. The plan to use the Nausicaans and Malurians to attack the Andorsu colony had gone well. The barrier that surrounded the planet, filled with mines, had kept the blue-antennae devils at bay. However, he had a new matter to deal with and was waiting to hear what to do.
“Morek to T’Voras.” Spoke the familiar voice of his operations officer.
“Go ahead.” T’Voras spoke after responding by tapping on one of the buttons on his desk that sat close to the oval-shaped window.
“Incoming secured call for you Commander from Romulus.” He stated.
“Patch it through to my quarters at once.” T’Voras ordered as he straightened out his uniform and sat down at his desk. His computer terminal came to life as the Decurion carried out his orders. The face of Admiral Valdore appeared after the emblem of the Empire vanished. “Jolan’tru Admiral Valdore. I am grateful you are able to return my call.”
“Jolan’tru Commander, what do you have to report for me?” The flag officer asked from his own office back on the homeworld.
“I am pleased to say our allies’ occupation of the Andorsu world has gone to plan. They even tried to send a defence force that was easily overwhelmed by the mines laid out.” T’Voras stated.
“Excellent, this blow to them will help with our grander scheme of crushing the Coalition of Planets.” Valdore said with an almost sadistic tone.
“Talking of which sir, the Hevam have sent three ships alongside their Andorha allies.” T’Voras mentioned. “The lead ship is Ch’lenjer, the ship we engaged at Gai’h’er-mne. I believe her commanding officer will strike back again in defence of his allies.”
Valdore considered this for the moment. “Then tell our dear friends that they ensure the Hevam captain does not succeed.”
“The minefield is strong sir; I am confident they will not be able to get past it without suffering heavy damage and casualties which will make them an easy target.”
“Don’t become overconfident, Commander. Ensure you deal with this threat quickly; we need to ensure the disruption we’ve caused will keep the Andorsu busy for some time while we engage on our other fronts.” Valdore stated.
“Jolan’tru Commander.” Valdore said and punched his console to close the channel.T’Voras watched his superior officer disappear before relaxing in his chair. He was certain enough that there was nothing the Hevam or Andorsu would be able to stop them, well in particular their Nausicaan and Malurian allies.