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Part of Challenger: The Sky’s The Limit

THREE – DAY 11

Challenger NX-03
Thursday, June 19th, 2155
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Racing to where Conrad landed heavily on the bridge’s deck plating, Burton knelt down to make sure his pilot was still alive. “He needs medical attention!” He shouted over his shoulder before looking down at the injured man. “Stay with me Jack.” He said shaking the man’s shoulder to keep him conscious. Placing his hands behind his head to keep it raised, Burton wanted to avoid any more injuries to the pilot. The captain couldn’t determine if he had damaged his spine as he fell backwards after the conn almost exploded from the last exchange of fire between them and their attackers. 

Conrad, who had received burns to his face and chest just nodded and tried to croak out a reply but failed, instead he just coughed and rolled his eyes backwards. Eventually Corporal Jenkins and another MACO carried him off the bridge down to sickbay. Burton raced over to the helm, noticing his Chief Engineer had taken over the controls. Stanton was no Conrad when it came to fancy flying but he knew how to pilot the ship, even in its damaged state. 

“Hull plating at seventy percent. The Carreons are firing again.” T’Plau shouted as the ship shook again.

 “Evasive action Michael. Full axis rotation to port, fire all ventral cannons!” Burton commanded his engineer and armoury officer.

Stanton threw the ship into a spin to avoid the incoming fire for a few more seconds before they struck against the Earth ship’s hull plating. Four of its phase cannons lanced out their red beams of firepower against the enemy ship.

Hennessey then spoke up, tightly holding to his earpiece. “We’re being hailed.”

Burton looked up, surprised at the news. “About bloody time. Put them up.” He ordered as he stood up straight behind Stanton. The moment the image of the Carreon man appeared on the screen Burton almost screamed at him. “We’ve done nothing to provoke these attacks!”

“You’ve consorted with our enemy and your presence in this region is provocation enough!” This was all the reply Burton got from his counterpart.

Desperate to find a peaceful solution before it ended them, Burton sighed out in despair as he tried to put his diplomat face on. “We’ve tried to communicate with your vessels, but the only answer we get is weapons fire.”

The arrogant Carreon commander only sneered in return. “Who are you?”

“Captain Lloyd Burton of the Earth starship-” Burton couldn’t finish his sentence as the Carreon cut him off.

“And explain why you are here?”

Burton took a second to compose himself. He could feel everyone’s eyes on him, watching how he dealt with this obnoxious enemy. “We’re explorers. We are only trying to make peaceful contact with others-” Again he was stopped by the Carreon who instantly became angry.

“No, I will not accept that pathetic excuse.” He swung on his chair, looking extremely cocky as he attempted to show off that he believed he was in a better position than the Starfleet crew. “I would prefer to capture your ship with as little damage as possible. Surrender and I promise you that we will be merciful with your crew as subjects of Carreon rule!”

Burton looked down at Stanton who shared his infuriated expression before glaring back at his enemy. “I don’t respond well to threats!”

“Then prepare to be boarded.” The Carreon said before punching his chair’s armrest and obviously closing the channel.

Burton walked back to his chair, which had been scorched in a previous attack. He noticed as he slumped into it that it was losing its ability to be comfortable. “This is turning into the Week of Hell.” He said looking at Stanton before turning to T’Plau, “Sub Commander, target their engines.”

T’Plau didn’t say anything as she followed her orders and used the ship’s phase cannons to target the Carreon ship. The Carreons didn’t have time to open fire first, instead the Earth ship quickly shot out in anger. Seven shots at first as the impressive NX-class ship flew over them before circling around to take another attempt at the smaller craft. As they headed for each other the Carreon ship opened fire too but was no match for the bigger ship as it unleashed another salvo from all of its ventral phase cannons, scoring multiple hits that took out its engines just as Captain Burton wanted.

“Their engines are disabled.” T’Plau announced, satisfaction almost filling in her tone, she had quickly hidden it before completing her sentence.

“Then let’s not wait around for them to follow us. Get us out of here, warp three.” Burton commanded with determination.

“Warp three, aye sir.” Stanton said as he danced over the flight controls and took the ship away from their enemy. “No signs of pursuit or any other enemy ships.” He looked over his shoulder and spoke. “I suggest we drop out of warp to make some needed repairs.”

Burton nodded in agreement. “We have been taxing the warp drive a lot these last few days, let’s give them a rest. How bad is it?”

Stanton got up and made his way over to the engineering station. “It’s pretty bad in fact. That last round of fire took out the main power on B and C decks; we’ll have to switch to emergency power.  Some of the main computer processor is damaged too; we’ll probably have to deal with some malfunctions until repairs are complete. We’ve got hull breaches on E deck too, but emergency bulkheads are in place and holding. The long-range sub-space communication array is also destroyed.”

Deflating at the news of how badly damaged his ship was, Burton scratched his growing beard and considered his options.

“Sir, sickbay reports fifteen injured, no fatalities.” Hennessey stated from his station after spinning around in his chair. “Ensign Conrad is reported to be in stable condition too.”

Burton just nodded at the news; grateful to hear they still hadn’t lost anyone. He moved his chair around to look at T’Plau. “Sub Commander, place the ship on twenty-four-hour tactical alert.”

“Yes Captain.” The Vulcan replied.

“And keep an eye out for any more Carreon ships.” Burton ordered. “In the meantime, Michael, use whoever you need to make repairs.” Burton watched as his crew got on with their work, knowing it was going to be tough on all of them. Stanton quickly left to head down to engineering. Burton’s eyes dropped on to the view of the empty chair to his left. The science station had no one currently sitting at it. Exactly five days ago, Levesque and the group she had taken down to Delta had been unable to return after the ship was attacked and forced to leave them behind to avoid being destroyed by the Carreon invasion. Burton had decided to take the ship to a Minshara class world they had picked up on long-range sensors in an attempt to avoid the conflict. The planet was far away from the Deltans and Carreons, but not too far away for them to be unable to return in a decent amount of time. His plan had been to make orbit and attempt repairs before regrouping and heading back to rescue their missing crew. Now that idea seemed a million light years away. 

Feeling the need to get off of his bridge, Captain Burton stood up. “I’ll be in my office. T’Plau you have the bridge,” He rose from his chair and started to make his way towards the door that had been behind his right shoulder. “Well what’s left of it.” He commented as he kicked a broken piece of hardware out of his way.


In her medical career, Kefira Ben-Ami had never enjoyed the experience that came from emergency triage. For that fact she didn’t know any sane medical doctor that got a kick from it all. She found herself in the centre of chaos as more injured crew filled sickbay. Her medical team was overtaxed with those that needed them and to top it all she was missing her right-hand man. She felt almost at a loss without Ensign Stewart. She had come accustomed to his presence and the two of them had almost been in sync with each other’s actions that allowed them to react to each other during a crisis. Instead Ben-Ami found she was working closely with her lost comrade’s other half: Corporal Jenkins.  Jenkins was an adequate field medic and had picked up a lot of Ben-Ami’s tricks to deal with the injuries in the last couple of days. He was becoming a valuable replacement and she appreciated his conviction to help her out to the best of his abilities. 

 “Ro-fa,” The young MACO said gaining her attention as he approached her. “I’ve reset Ensign Metaxas’ shoulder and given him some pain relief.”

“Good, discharge him and tell him not to overdo it when he returns to duty.” She ordered. Her attention was on healing Ensign Conrad’s burns as she prepared him to go into the imaging chamber. 

“Are you sure he should return to duty ma’am?” Jenkins checked.

“One of the rules of medical triage when out in the field Liam, if the patient is no longer in any pain or from certain death then patch them back up and get them out of here. We could end up with more injured in here and I’m pretty certain that Commander Stanton would want one of his top engineers back helping with repairs.”

“Understood ma’am.” Jenkins politely replied before heading away from her.

She took one more look over her hand scanner and what it was telling her about Conrad. “Jack how are you feeling?” She asked.

“My breathing feels a lot better, thanks.” The pilot answered before coughing a bit.

She smiled at his optimism. They all needed some of that. “Good, give the pain relief I’ve injected you with some time to enter your system properly. In the meantime, I need you to relax so you can go into the imaging chamber.”

Conrad just nodded and closed his eyes so he could undertake his next round of treatment. The surgical bed almost flew backwards as it took him into the chamber and its door rolled downwards, locking him into place. Ben-Ami set the computer to watch his vitals as she moved on to the next person who needed her attention.

Jenkins moved through the crowd of his fellow injured crewmates and made his way over to Metaxas who sat on the edge of a put-up bunk with Ensign Cortez next to him. She was holding some dressing over her forehead just above her left eye.  “Teddy you’re free to go.” Jenkins said, using the engineer’s nickname that Niall had given him.

“Thanks Liam.” Metaxas replied in satisfaction to be getting out of there. “Hope you’re feeling better Rachele.” He said to the woman he had been sat next to. 

Jenkins looked down at Cortez who had just wished the engineer farewell after thanking him. “Let me guess you had a brief encounter with a bulkhead?” He said to the armoury officer.

She snickered at his lame attempt at humour. “Actually, I was knocked off by my feet in the armoury when the inertial dampeners didn’t compensate in time when the ship took a sudden roll.”

“Well you can blame our good chief engineer for that move.” Jenkins replied as he took out his medical scanner and began to check over Cortez’s injury.

“So, it wasn’t Jack?” She asked, peering over Jenkins’ shoulder to see the Doctor put the pilot into the imaging chamber.

Jenkins switched off his scanner and put it on the floor as he bent down to take a proper examination of how bad her injury was. “I was on the bridge when the helm blew up in his face. Commander Stanton took over while I helped the Captain get Jack to safety.” He paused as he looked at her bruise and cut under the bandage she was holding tightly in place. “It doesn’t look too bad Rachele, just keep the cut clean but I’ll give you some pain relief for the headache.”

“Thanks.” She replied as she blinked a few times with a dazed expression.

“Feeling dizzy?” Jenkins asked as she reached for his medical kit to dig out his hypo-spray.

“Sort of.” She answered.

Nodding at the information she told him, he adjusted what was giving her in the spray before placing it close to her neck on the left-hand side. “This should help with the pain and dizziness. You need to go rest in your quarters for a good couple of hours.”

“Yes Doc!” She said after he injected her. Once he was finished, she looked back at him. “How are you doing anyway?”

“I’m fine.” He said, avoiding her questioning gaze.

She placed her left hand on his shoulder. “We’ll find him I promise.” Mentioning Jenkins’ missing partner.

Jenkins smiled at the assurance she offered and raised his left hand to grip her hand that was on his shoulder. “Thanks.”

Cortez squinted as she looked at Jenkins’ hand when she noticed a small silver band on his third finger. “Liam what the hell is that?”

Instantly he retracted and hid his hand. “It’s nothing.” He said dismissing her.

She instantly stretched out to take his left hand again and looked closer. “Liam that’s an engagement ring.” She looked up at him as she stood up and looked at the MACO. “Liam are you and Niall…”

“Engaged?” He finished her sentence before looking around at everyone else before looking back at her. He just nodded in answer with a beaming grin spread across his face.

 Cortez almost screamed in excitement at the news and attacked him with a giant hug. “Oh, that’s great news Liam! When were you going to tell everyone?”

Blushing at the revelation, Jenkins shrugged his shoulders. “We were going to keep it low key at the moment as we didn’t want everyone telling us it was too sudden.” He looked down at the ring. “At first, we decided not to wear them, we were planning to wait a few more months before we wore them. We wanted to see if anyone noticed, but then with Niall going missing I couldn’t bare it anymore, so I put it on this morning.”

Cortez bobbed her head, understanding why he was wearing it. It was obvious her friend needed a source of hope and the ring was it. “I’m so pleased for you.” She said before placing a friendly kiss on his cheek. “We will get him back and then have the biggest wedding here on the ship!”

“That’s if there’s a ship left to do it on!” Jenkins remarked in an almost defeated tone.

“Nonsense Liam, there will be. Have some faith!” Cortez said, assuring him once more that day.


Ambhat City, Delta IV

 

The cold night air hit Levesque as a gentle breeze past her. She considered for a moment going back indoors to get her field jacket to keep her warm but decided against it once the breeze had died down. She exhaled slowly in frustration of her current predicament. She and her colleagues were stuck here on the Deltan homeworld with no foreseeable means of escaping and meeting with Challenger. The First Officer was standing leaning against the balcony of the penthouse suite that the Deltan government had put them up in. She was itching to get out there and find out what happened. All they had been told was that Challenger had fled from orbit after the Carreon had attacked the Deltans. The ship had apparently been heavily damaged. That was all they had been told five days ago. 

“You best be out there alive Lloyd.” She whispered up to the night skyline, focussing on a few of the stars wondering if he and the rest of them were out there still.

“Commander,” said Ensign Stewart from behind her.

Levesque looked over at her shoulder at the nurse. “Yeah Niall?”

“Prime Minister An’die is here to see us.” He said with a slight sense of optimism in his tone.

Levesque nodded at the news and followed him off from the balcony, through the large bay windows and the white satin nets that draped over them to enter the living area of their suite. “Mister Prime Minister.” She greeted the politician. As Challenger’s ranking officer, it was her job now to be the diplomat in Burton’s place.

“Commander Levesque.” An’die said as he stepped forward to greet the woman with a Human handshake. 

Levesque shook his hand, noticing that the rest of her crewmates had assembled with the arrival of the Prime Minister and his entourage of advisors. She gestured for him to sit on one of the sofas near to them. At the corner of her eye she noticed that the board game that Ensign Stewart had been playing with Crewmember Harris was still out on the small coffee table that sat between the sofa and the one opposite to it. The game resembled a form of three-dimensional chess and the two of them had been playing it since they were stuck here. “Do you have any news on Challenger or what is going on with the Carreons?” She asked as she perched on the edge of the settee. 

An’die was almost mirroring her posture. “Some news but none of it good I’m afraid.”

“Oh.” Levesque responded with, feeling defeated at hearing that.

“From what the Star Guard Intelligence has been able to find out the Carreon attack is part of a much larger issue. It would seem a number of military officers in the Carreon fleet have gone rogue, causing political upheaval on their homeworld. Apparently, a number of their ships have gone quiet and aren’t responding to any orders at all. We suspect their captains are preparing to strike several worlds that we own. They believe these worlds are sacred and that we are trespassing.” An’die explained. “It would seem that they’ve been planning this for some time now and we fear they have more planned. The Deltan Star Guard is assembling a task force of ships to defend our worlds. I’m putting up blockades in these systems to stop them from trying to take any.”

Levesque looked at the others; she picked up their expressions of feeling useless as much as she felt. “Have you been able to contact Earth or any other Coalition world or ship?” She asked.

An’die shook his head. “I’m afraid not.” He answered. “A relay network has been set up on the far edges of our space that is purposely blocking all outgoing long-range transmission from Delta. I’ve assigned two ships to hunt it down and disable the network by whatever means necessary.”

Levesque noticed that subconsciously her shoulders had dropped at that information. She sat back up straight. “And any news on Challenger?”

With an even more solemn expression, the bald leader nodded. “Again, I’m afraid so.” He took a breath before he recounted what they knew. “Earlier on today one of our long-range explorers was travelling back to Delta in response to the attack. They picked up Challenger fighting off a Carreon ship. By the time they moved in to help, their sensors detected a large antimatter explosion from the scene of the battle. They planned to investigate however were forced to move away as three Carreon ships entered sensor range and were moving in to most likely do the same thing.”

“So, they could be destroyed.” Levesque stated, she could feel tears appearing, so she took in a breath and pushed them back. 

An’die nodded, “Yes, it is a possibility, but I don’t think you should give up hope yet.”

“Are you able to send any other ships out to find them?” Ensign Stewart asked. He was sat on the opposite sofa next to Harris while Habiba and the others who had been left stood behind them.

Wincing at the question, Prime Minister An’die answered the nurse. “Unfortunately, I don’t have any ships to spare. They are either on defence duties or escorting our civilian ships.” 

There was some grumbling coming from the Starfleet officers. Levesque hushed them so she could carry on talking with the Deltan leader. “Is there anything we can do to help?”

“For the moment please just let us sort out this situation, once it is safe, I assure you I will assign some ships to begin searching for them.” An’die guaranteed them. “I know this is frustrating, but I hope you can understand.”

“What about the Avenkerev?” Harris asked out of the blue.

“The what?” An’die asked, confused.

“It was the Andorian ship that we’ve been working with these last few weeks. We went our separate ways when we were ordered to make contact with you.” Levesque clarified. 

“Will they help you?” An’die enquired.

“Possibly.” Levesque considered. “That’s if they are within range.”

“If you have a way for us to look out for them then I will see what I can do.” An’die offered.

“We should have their warp profile saved in Shuttlepod Two.” Habiba stated from behind Stewart.

“That should suffice.” An’die said. “If you can get it to us, I’ll have our ships keep an eye out for them.”

Pleased with the news, Levesque nodded to Habiba to undertake the task. “Thank you, Mister Prime Minister. I appreciate the gesture.”

“It’s the least we can do to repay you for being dragged into our conflict.” He said as he bowed his head. 

Levesque smiled back at him, realising all of their hopes now depended on either the Andorians flying close enough to a Deltan ship or the Deltans defeating the Carreons. Neither option sounded good, but it was better than nothing.

 

Several hours later, Levesque found herself unable to sleep and decided to leave her bedroom and make her way back out onto the balcony she had been standing on when the Prime Minister had visited them. She had placed a gown over the bed-clothing that the Deltans had given them to wear. She had found the chemise they had given her to be a bit too revealing for her liking however from what their Deltan hosts had told them it was the least revelling version they could acquire. Slowly she walked through the lounge that connected to all of their bedrooms and towards the large bay windows that went out onto the balcony. She pushed the bay door slowly to the side and made her way out. She had turned around to slowly close it but was startled when she saw Ensign Niall Stewart sat there with a glass of liquor in one hand and in the other, he was playing with what looked like a silver ring. He was wearing a grey zipped up hoodie over his undershirt and a pair of loose bottoms. 

When he heard her, he quickly shoved the ring into his hoodie’s pocket. He then smiled at her trying to act normal. “I didn’t think anyone else was up ma’am.”

“Likewise.” She returned as she joined him on the hammock he was in. “I take it you can’t sleep like me?”

He nodded. “My bed isn’t very comfortable to sleep in. I know this is going to sound extremely mushy and it’s probably all the Deltan pheromones affecting me, but it’s not the same without having Liam next to me.”

“I understand.” Levesque said smiling and placed her arm around him to comfort him. The gesture felt normal and both of them needed close contact to deal with the nightmare they were currently in.

“I feel like I’ve got nothing at the moment.” He said after taking a sip from the liquor and scowling at the effect it had on his taste buds. He offered it to Levesque. “I thought a nightcap may help, but this does taste worse than Andorian ale.”

She took it from him and smelt it. It had a sweet potent aroma; it reminded her of amaretto, a drink she knew that Burton was fond of. She took a sip and nodded in agreement as she coughed at how strong it was as it travelled down her throat. “Powerful stuff.” She corresponded with in between her coughs. Once her throat was clear she looked back at him. “I know how you feel Niall, I’m feeling a bit lost myself. I just need to know for sure if the Captain and the rest of them are alive or not. The uncertainty is killing me.”

“As I said I feel like I’ve got nothing at the moment.” He replied, at that point a strong Irish twang came through his tone. 

Levesque had kept her spare arm around him, and she instantly pulled him closer to her again. “We do need to keep everyone’s spirits up as best as we can.”

“That’s going to be very difficult ma’am.” Stewart said in a solemn manner.

Levesque slowly released him from her embrace and closed her eyes for a second. What would Burton do here?  She pondered to herself.  Inspiration struck her. “Niall, we need to carry on with our mission.”

Confused at what she was saying, Stewart looked at her in a perplexed manner as if she was talking Klingon or Vulcan. “Sorry Commander?”

“Until we know otherwise, we need to consider that Challenger is still out there and will either come back for us or send someone for us. In the meantime, we carry out our original orders. Establish good relations with the Deltans. Those that are here can use the time to get to know the Deltan culture, their history, everything that Starfleet and the United Earth Parliament will need to present to the Coalition Council. We’ll provide them with the most detailed report ever created in Starfleet history about a new race.” She clarified with a renewed excitement at the prospect of really getting to explore something. 

“That’s not a bad idea.” Stewart remarked, considering her idea. “We could even continue to work with their doctors to perfect the pheromone inhibitor.”

“That’s the spirit Niall!” She said becoming excited about the idea. “It’s going to be tough Niall but I’m confident we’ll be able to do this.”

“I’m sure Jamie would be happy to be the one to coordinate everyone’s report.” He added.

“Definitely.” She liked where they were going with this. “We may not have a ship, but we are still a crew.”

“With a new captain.” Stewart smirked.

“If I’m the captain then that makes you my first officer.” She returned. “You are the senior most officer after me.”

“Damn I didn’t think of that!” Stewart said, still smiling. “That’s if you have me Captain Levesque?”

“Without a doubt,” She returned, “Commander Stewart!” She joked back.

He chuckled at that and then rested backwards on the hammock, placing his left arm behind his head. “Let’s just hope the Deltans don’t mind us doing it.”

“I’m sure Prime Minister An’die would appreciate us doing something which isn’t bugging him about the conflict with the Carreons.” Levesque replied. 

Stewart took his hand out of his hoodie pocket and played one more time with the ring in his hand. Levesque noticed it again. “What’s that?” She probed him.

He slipped it on to his left hand on to his third finger. “My engagement ring.” He responded. 

“Your what?” She said, confused at his comeback. She wasn’t expecting that.  

“I asked Liam to marry me and he said yes.” He clarified. “I bought us matching rings here a few days ago. We decided not to wear them just yet as we knew everyone would go on about us rushing into things. Now I don’t care what anyone says as this is all I have of him with me here.”

Levesque nodded, understanding what he was saying and sympathising with his issue. “I promise you Niall we will return to Challenger and you’ll marry Liam. Just keep holding on to that hope and stay strong.”

Stewart just nodded. “I will and ma’am if you don’t mind me talking freely?”

Levesque said yes, if he was going to be her right-hand man for this, she needed him to be honest and talk freely to her just like how she was with Captain Burton.

“Promise me you’ll hold on to hope as well and that you’ll see the Captain soon enough.” Stewart said with a friendly smile.

Levesque blushed at his words. What did he mean by that? “Thank you, Niall.” She said slowly, unsure of how to take his comment.

“Don’t worry ma’am I haven’t spoken to anyone else about it, well except Liam. We both think you make an adorable couple.” Stewart added and then stopped himself from talking any more. He realised what he just said. “Oh my God ma’am I hope I didn’t offend you or talk out of line!”

She chuckled at how quickly he changed his emotions from one of benevolence to one of complete dread. “Well between us Niall I appreciate the support, but I can assure you there is nothing going on between Captain Burton and I.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to imply there was it’s just…” Stewart stopped himself and rapidly stood up. “I should go, I’m sorry.”

Levesque reached out to him and stopped him. “What do you mean with ‘it’s just’?”

Stewart grimaced at how much trouble he had got himself into now. He attempted to find the courage to tell her, so he closed his eyes as he spoke. “It’s just ma’am the way Captain Burton looks at you is the same way I look at Liam.”

She let her hand drop from him. “Good night Niall.” She said, indicating that she had heard enough. Levesque wasn’t annoyed at him, but knew they needed to stop their conversation before anything more was said about her relationship with Burton. 

He nodded and apologised again before leaving her alone on the balcony. Levesque waited for him to leave before leaning against the edge, looking out against the Deltan capital city. How had she been so blind not to see what Stewart saw from Burton?  Did Burton truly look at her in that way or was it a young officer seeing too much into a close professional relationship between two senior officers? She rubbed her temple, deciding she was now becoming tired enough to attempt to sleep again.