“Captain’s star log, July Eighteenth Twenty-One-Fifty-Five. This afternoon’s attack destroyed the power grid on B and C decks, rendering them inhabitable. Fortunately, we were able to gain further readings on the Carreon vessels. Our suspicions of them not being under the control of their Carreon crews have been confirmed. During the battle our own communications array was hacked, fortunately our computer safeguards were able to protect the ship. Ensign Hennessey is currently reviewing our logs, attempting to determine who our hackers are. In the meantime, we’ve been able to creep into a micro-nebula and are using it as a safe haven to make needed repairs.”
“How hell did all of this gas get in here?” Major Yu shouted over the in-built communicator in her EVA suit’s helmet. She was wading through the thick mauve gas that was covering almost the entire deck from ceiling to floor. Using the headlamps on her helmet she slowly made her way through, doing her best to avoid anything that she would bump into or trip over.
Shrugging his shoulders in response to his superior officer, Staff Sergeant Iyer was also wearing a similar MACO issued EVA suit as they made their way down B deck. Commander Stanton had requested for the Major to assemble small two-man teams to begin a survey of the damage sustained on the evacuated decks. Yu and Iyer were one of many teams crawling through B deck gaining the information their chief engineer would need before his teams attempted repairs. With the ship’s internal sensors down they had to do the work the old-fashioned way with their eyes and the use of portable hand scanners.
Eventually they reached the end of the corridor and approached the small computer workstation that was barely operational. Strapping a power source to the side of it, Yu began to access its log to reveal what it could tell her about the status of this section of the deck. “Emergency transverse bulkheads are in place.” She read aloud.
“Maybe it’s coming through the ventilation system? Commander Stanton did say life support and environmental controls were either offline or damaged on parts of this deck.” Iyer suggested.
Yu nodded in agreement with the sergeant’s assessment. Knowing some basic engineering knowledge, she accessed the deck’s environmental controls and was impressed to see what Iyer had said was in fact the reason for them having their own indoor nebula. “Okay I’m going to attempt to reverse the osmotic pressure.” She knelt down and pulled open the panel that sat underneath the computer controls. Thankfully the circuits hadn’t been corroded and appeared in a good state. Pulling a few parts out and re-installing them in their opposite order she put the panel back and pressed the activation sequence on the computer screen to complete her work. Eventually they could hear a high pitched whirring noise around them as the environmental controls finally kicked in and rejected the gas that had filled the deck.
Tapping the button on his chest plate, Iyer opened a channel. “Damage survey team alpha one to engineering.”
Commander Stanton’s voice came over the intercom in response. “Go ahead Sergeant.”
“Sir I’m happy to report that Major Yu has been successful in repelling the invasion of the gas monster on B deck!” He stated with a hint of humour in his voice.
Yu chuckled at her officer’s words, as did Stanton.
“Tell the Major I’ll put her in for a commendation for her bravery!” Stanton said.
“She heard you loud and clear, sir.” Iyer replied.
“Excellent, if you can meet up with beta three team in section four, they’ve found a damaged EPS conduit. I’m sending in two of my people to help repair it, but from the sounds of it they need some more muscle there to help move a fallen bulkhead.” Stanton ordered.
“We’re on our way Commander.” Yu answered through her microphone. “Alpha one team out.” She added before closing the channel. She looked at Iyer, “Ready to take on another monster Sergeant?”
“I hear the dreaded fallen bulkhead beast can be a killer ma’am, but as long as I’ve got you by my side, well I feel a lot safer!” He responded with his cheeky grin plastered across his face.
Both MACOs moved away from the computer console, laughing at their almost childish humour. If they didn’t laugh and find some humour in their current predicament then they would only be reminded of the constant depressing fighting they had been involved with.
Sitting aft of the main bridge in the situation room, Ensign Hennessey had been glaring at the images before him for some time now. Various windows on the main wall screen were actively open and were displaying the different readings of the attempted cyber-assault against Challenger’s computer systems only a few hours ago. He was trying to make sense of it all, find the hidden connection and then determine the source of it all. If he could decrypt this sophisticated frequency, then he may be able to create countermeasures to any future attacks. Also finding out who was responsible was high on his list although at the back of his mind his subconscious was telling him to blame the Romulans for this. The fact that over two weeks ago they had detected one of their ships nearby was all the evidence he needed to be convinced it was the Romulans. However, with the ship’s main computer processor severely damaged the job of uncovering the truth was taking longer than it normally would. Hennessey was going to call it an evening, he felt he needed to sleep on it and the constant noise of hearing the repair teams behind him fix some of the damaged bridge systems was starting to irritate him. He couldn’t focus and concentrate on what he needed to do. His attention was completely interrupted when the ship’s doctor entered the bridge via the aft door to his right.
“Kefira, what brings you up to the bridge?” Hennessey asked her.
The Israeli woman smiled at seeing her friend whom she had shared many meals with. “The captain asked me to see me.”
Hennessey turned around to look towards the bridge, as he thought Burton wasn’t there and he was pretty certain he hadn’t returned. “I’m pretty certain that Captain Burton was called down to engineering about ten minutes ago by Commander Stanton.”
Ben-Ami sighed in frustration. “Do you know why?”
“Something about the port nacelle?” He recalled slowly; he wasn’t completely sure of the reason why the Chief Engineer wanted to see their Commanding Officer. “I’m sure he’ll be right back up if you care to wait?”
She mentally juggled with the idea for a few seconds and agreed to his idea. “It was early this morning over a cup of tea that he suggested we caught up with one another.” She took one of the high stools that were by the central computer display table. “How’s the hacker hunt going?” Ben-Ami enquired.
“Very slow.” He responded as he rubbed his forehead with his right hand and turned around to look at her. “How’s the crew holding up?”
Ben-Ami rocked her head slightly from side-to-side showing she couldn’t give him a definitive yes or no that they were okay. “It’s hard to completely explain.” She started with. “I was able to release the last of my patients only a few moments ago so the mess hall is back to being empty and sickbay is finally clear. However, I don’t think we’ve healed everyone’s mental scars.”
Hennessey grimaced at that fact. He wondered how many of them would suffer (or were suffering) from post-traumatic stress disorder. “Unfortunately, we’re in a profession that is susceptible to such things.”
“Indeed, and after all of this I certainly think Starfleet will be tightening up its mental health assessment of its new recruits.” She countered. “I don’t think many people were ever prepared to deal with such stress under fire.”
“As a race we’ve been fortunate to experience almost a century of peace since Zefram Cochrane’s warp flight. The notion of constantly fighting for survival is an abstract one for us to understand.” Hennessey said.
“That’s certainly true Ned.” Ben-Ami then rested her left elbow on the table and placed her chin in her palm. “I just hope we get back soon, so everyone can see some trained counsellors.”
“Perhaps Starfleet should consider posting trained counsellors on board their ships?” Hennessey proposed.
Ben-Ami considered his recommendation before speaking up. “It took Starfleet a few years to agree to put armoury officers on board their ships, my money is on them taking a good couple of centuries before they allow shrinks on board. The idea that a trained therapist could question the captain’s decision making may make some feel uneasy.”
“We can only hope my good Ro-fa that Starfleet Medical is able to convince them one day.” Hennessey said as the computer beeped behind him. He stopped and looked around at the information that was now displaying on the computer screen before him. “Now that is interesting!” He exclaimed.
Ben-Ami rose from where she sat and looked at the data the communication officer was reading too. “Ned didn’t you say you were trying to determine the hacker’s frequency?”
“Yup.” He answered, popping the ‘p’. He looked as astonished as she did.
“I’m no communications expert but that isn’t a typical communication frequency, in fact I would say it’s a…”
“…brain wave signal.” Ben-Ami finished.
Captain Burton, Commander Stanton and Sub Commander T’Plau all looked at the Chief Medical Officer and Communication Officer with similar surprised expressions on their faces. The senior officers were all currently standing around in the corner of main engineering where Commander Stanton kept his own desk. Hennessey and Ben-Ami had just shared their findings with the other three the moment they had finished their work on the bridge.
“Brain waves?” Burton repeated, completely unsure what he was hearing. “How? Who’s it?” He added.
“They are brain waves sir. They’re not your standard frequency you find in a computer connection.” Hennessey confirmed.
“We are unable to determine at the moment where they’re from as the medical database is inaccessible due to damage to the computer processor.” Ben-Ami added. “But the signal itself has several properties that are only unique to brain waves sir.”
“Okay,” Burton said as he crossed his arms against his chest. He was currently sat on the seat that was by Stanton’s desk. “Have we got any theories here on what this is?”
Both Ben-Ami and Hennessey shook their heads. Burton looked at the others and got a similar response from Stanton who looked just as puzzled as the others. Finally, he looked at T’Plau who was studying the data with great interest.
“Telepresence.” She simply said.
“Tele-what?” Stanton questioned back.
“Presence.” T’Plau stated again. “It’s a form of computer control which allows for telepathy to be used from long distance to regulate a ship.”
“That’s what Enterprise encountered with the Romulan drone ships about eight months ago.” Burton explained. “Their drone ships were equipped with telepresence units and were controlled by Aenar pilots.” The captain paused as he considered all the facts before them. “So, could it be the Romulans have further developed this technology to be able to gain access to non-Romulan ships?”
“The evidence would seem to fit that hypothesis sir.” T’Plau responded. “However, I would be reluctant to jump to that conclusion until we have further evidence that does not contradict it.”
“From what I can tell of the information we’ve gathered so far this telepresence system does need to be adjusted to interface with the computer systems they’re hacking.” Hennessey stated. “If it is the Romulans then they need to know how our computer systems operate to be able to successfully take over.”
“So, it’s a possibility the Romulans have captured a Carreon ship?” Stanton asked aloud, apparently, he was jumping ahead of everyone else and attempting to form connections to explain everything that had been happening. It was clear for him to see the bigger picture. However, the chief engineer could see most of his colleagues were perplexed with his train of thought. “Think about it, if they’ve had access to a Carreon ship then they know how to compromise the Carreons’ systems before unleashing their telepresence units on them to control their ships.”
“They’ve probably orchestrated the whole thing.” Ben-Ami said, hinting that she was starting to understand what Stanton was getting at.
“What do you mean Kefira?” Stanton asked as leant against the wall.
“Think about it, the Carreons and Deltans have a tense history. By taking over the Carreon fleet they’ve been able to ignite a conflict in this region of space that would eventually weaken both sides.” Ben-Ami described.
“Which would allow the Romulans to easily conquer them.” T’Plau said. “Both sides are evenly matched as well. They would not be able to put up a proper resistance against a Romulan invasion if they had already fought each other and spent valuable resources.”
“And with the Carreon fleet under Romulan control then they can easily wipe out the defences of both sides through mutual destruction.” Burton summarised. “It’s an interesting and ambitious stratagem.”
“If it’s the truth.” Stanton quickly said.
“And if it is then it would also mean cutting away any chance for the Coalition in formalising any relations with the Deltan Union.” Hennessey mentioned.
Stanton shook his head as they all started to realise why they were finally going through hell. “We need to tell the Deltans and try and make contact with the Carreons. We need to de-escalate the situation. Both sides need to stand down somehow.”
“Easier said than done Michael.” Burton said before standing up. “Okay, the first thing we need to do is to increase security for our own computer systems. Michael and Ned, I want you to work on some sort of encryption lockout for the main computer. I know it’s badly damaged but having something in place is better than nothing. The rest of you carry on with repairs, we will need to consider our options on how we deal with this possible Romulan threat.”
They all nodded and soon walked away from their little corner. Burton looked over to T’Plau who had yet to walk away. He signalled to her to follow him out, she complied and walked alongside him.
Once they had left main engineering, they made their way down the corridor towards the access ladders they would climb to return to the bridge. Burton spoke to her in a low voice to avoid anyone passing them catching on to what they were discussing. “Your thoughts, Sub Commander on this?”
The Vulcan woman only raised her left eyebrow to begin with as she pondered how to respond. “The evidence accumulated would appear to match the theory the crew have created.”
“I hear a ‘but’ coming.” Burton instantly said.
“There is no ‘but coming’ sir,” She replied as they approached the hatch, they would have to manually open to begin their ascent. “Previous Romulan strategies have evolved around them attempting to destabilise peace between races. The drone ship incident from last year and the Docana invasion are recent examples of that. What is happening between the Deltans and Carreons does fit the profile.”
“I can still sense a ‘but’.” Burton remarked as he began climbing the ladder first with T’Plau behind him.
“Unfortunately, sir we are not in a position to be able to tell someone what we believe and show them our evidence. I am unsure on how to advise you on what course of action to take.” She concluded.
Burton deflated as he rushed up the steps. “For a moment there T’Plau I thought you were going to say something to inspire me or at least give me an idea that would help us.”
“My apologies for making you optimistic sir.” She apologised.
The captain chuckled as they continued their lengthy climb. “Vulcan optimism would be a treat about right now, Sub Commander.”
“I will remember that for future reference sir.” T’Plau countered as she looked up at him, only seeing the base of Burton’s boots.
Burton only chuckled at that as he pulled himself up on the last few steps before heading through the open exit at the end of their crawl-way. After putting both hands either side of the hatch the captain pushed himself out before extending his hand out to help pull his Vulcan armoury officer through. She took his hand in gratitude and came through the exit too. The two senior officers soon walked around the very small corridor that existed on the top deck that would take them to the bridge. Entering via the rear doors via the situation room, both of them stepped into the command pit. Ensign Conrad had been sitting in the captain’s chair and when he heard the two senior officers entering the room he soon rose from the chair and looked at them both.
“Good news?” He asked them, knowing they had come from main engineering, to talk about what Hennessey and Ben-Ami had discovered.
“Depends how you define good news Jack.” Burton stated as he took his chair. “Report?”
“Nothing to report sir.” The pilot answered as he took his post at the helm.
“Can you be more specific, ensign?” Burton pushed for.
“There’s nothing new to report sir. Sensors haven’t detected any ships beyond the nebula and repairs continue to go well.” Conrad said, re-phrasing his answer as requested.
Burton rubbed his temple. The nebula was meant to become a safe haven while they carried out repairs and not become a permanent home for them. They needed to get back out in open space, find their missing crew and tell the Deltans and Carreons about what was going on.
“Captain I’m picking up a faint energy signal off the port bow.” T’Plau announced. She had been looking at the sensor readings at her station since they had returned.
“I’m not detecting anything sir?” Conrad reported, puzzled at T’Plau’s words.
Sighing at the pilot’s comments, T’Plau spoke up. “The energy signature is ever so faint; it is barely registering on our scanners.”
Burton listened to her before making his way over to her to see for himself. “The sensors are still damaged and with the interference from the nebula I’m surprised you’ve picked it up. But what is it?”
She shook her head. “I cannot say.
“Most of our probes are still intact. Perhaps we should launch one to get a better look?” Conrad offered.
“That’s a good idea however the probe launchers are offline.” Burton stated grimly.
The ship then shuddered harshly as if something had slammed into it face on.
“What the hell was that?” Burton demanded.
“The energy signature has grown.” T’Plau answered.
“Whatever it was we’re moving sir!” Conrad declared. “Something is pulling us out of the nebula.”
“With the limited answers all I can summarise is that a tractor beam has been attached to the ship.” T’Plau offered.
“Damn it.” Burton cursed as he strode over back to his chair. He slammed his chair’s arm to open a channel to engineering. “Bridge to engineering, Michael I need a clearer picture on what is happening out there.”
Stanton soon answered. “We’re putting a bit more juice into the sensors sir.”
“I have something.” T’Plau said once the energy transfer was complete.
“Onscreen then Sub Commander.” Burton commanded as he placed his attention on the main viewer.
The screen flickered to show a distorted image of beams of dark emerald green covering most of the ship’s forward hull. The beams originated from a vessel of a similar shade of green. The shape of its hull was recognisable straight away. It’s almost eagle-like silhouette gave it away as Challenger was pulled closer to it.
“T’Plau fire everything we have at them!” Burton screamed, as he realised the Romulans had finally caught them. He wasn’t going to give up without a fight.
T’Plau struggled to give what her commanding officer wanted from her. “The tractor beam is scattering our targeting scanners and affecting some of our primary systems, I cannot even fire our phase cannons manually until we take out their tractor beam.”
Burton thought for a few seconds as he considered his options. “Is the tractor beam affecting our transporters?”
T’Plau checked the computer readings and then shook her head. “No, they are unaffected sir.”
“Do the Romulans have anything that is blocking our transporters from beaming over to their ship?” He asked next.
She ran a scan and when the answers appeared T’Plau reported. “They do not appear to sir however I must advise sending over an armed detail sir. I don’t think the transporters are safe in their current condition to use for the crew.”
Burton looked at her, showing his confusion at her comments. “Who said anything about sending anyone over there?” He paused for a moment as she realised she had wrongly assessed what the captain was thinking of doing. “Have Ensign Cortez and a team of your armoury guys bring up a photonic torpedo to the transporter.” Burton then flicked his communicator on his chair’s arm, re-opening the channel to main engineering. “Michael meet me at the transporter right away!”
“Aye sir!” The Chief Engineer replied.
Burton stood up from his chair. “Jack the moment we are free from the tractor beam move us away and T’Plau hit them with everything we’ve got once you’ve got a clean shot.”
Both officers acknowledged his orders as he escaped from the bridge and went back down the main shaft, rushing to get himself to the transporter on D deck.
Ensign Cortez had never run so fast in her life while pulling a torpedo through the ship. After receiving her orders from Sub Commander T’Plau she had grabbed the nearest people available to her in the main armoury room. They then pulled one of the photonic torpedoes from storage, placed it on a trolley before heading to the cargo bay lifts with it to take it up to D deck. They had then rushed through the damaged corridors to make it to where Captain Burton would meet them. As they barged through everywhere, they screamed at anyone who would be in their way to stand clear. Crewmembers instantly pulled themselves against the corridor walls to let the armoury team through. Everyone now knew they were close to their demise, again, if they didn’t act and if Cortez had worked out what the captain had in mind, she hoped it would work.
Turning left down the corridor she saw Captain Burton and Commander Stanton working on the transporter as they waited for them. Burton had heard them coming through, he looked up from the main controls that he was operating at while Stanton had his head in an open panel in front of the main controls.
“Well done Rachele.” Burton congratulated her. “Now place it on the transporter pad and then open its shell so we can gain access to its arming sequence.”
“Aye sir.” She answered back with and turned to her team to carry out their commanding officer’s orders. The five of them instantly picked up the weapon and carried it over to the pad and carefully put it down. Cortez knelt down to her knees and tapped a few buttons on the torpedo’s casing that automatically released the panels to give her access to its on-board guidance and arming systems. “I’m in, sir!” She said.
Burton had finished his work the moment she had spoken and joined her by her side. He quickly pressed a few buttons and the small digital counter that sat within came to life. The number seven came up on it.
“You’re setting its self-detonation for seven seconds sir, is that enough time?” Cortez questioned.
“It has to be.” He replied as he looked over to Stanton. “Commander have you got your target?”
Stanton had taken over from Burton at the main controls. “I’ve got the location of their main power reactors. I’m just hoping their tractor beam is tied into those systems.”
“If not, we’re going to make a massive explosion.” Burton returned. “Rachele, stand clear.” He ordered. As she got off the pad she watched as Burton pressed the button that activated the torpedo’s arming sequence.
“Energise!” He ordered.
Stanton had already started the transporter cycle the moment Burton had got off the pad. The high pitch whine of the transporter coming to life filled the area and the torpedo disappeared. Like the torpedo, Captain Burton made his exit with Commander Stanton hot on his tracks.
“Four…three…two…one!” T’Plau finished saying and on cue she looked up at the screen to see the captain’s plan come to life as the armed torpedo detonated causing a massive explosion to tear across the Romulan vessel. “Full reverse Ensign Conrad!” She ordered from her station at the pilot.
“Yes ma’am!” He answered as Challenger rocked from the exploding torpedo’s shock wave.
At the same time, she loaded the manual targeting display on her main screen and found the Romulan ship automatically. Straight away she opened fire, using whatever weapons were available in that firing arc. Several shots came from the phase cannons that were operational and with the forward photonic torpedo launchers offline she loaded a spread of spatial torpedoes instead. The Romulan ship was spinning out of control after Challenger’s sneak attack. The torpedoes swiftly flew across space, like deadly angels of mercy on a kamikaze mission bringing destruction to the enemy craft. T’Plau fired several more shots from the phase cannons. She wasn’t targeting any specific systems; she was just trying to score as many direct hits she could. Her trained eye was successful with every attempt as Challenger’s weapons pounded the Romulan craft. She took a quick glance over the sensor readings and they told her how badly damaged the ship was. Continuing the attack with just phase cannon fire she decided to aim for the ship’s engines. If they could stop them from running, then maybe they would be able to capture them. If they could find out more information about the Romulans, especially their telepresence systems, then it could be used to stop the Deltan and Carreon conflict and possibly save the Coalition too.
T’Plau’s heightened sense of hearing soon picked up the heavy panting of Captain Burton and Commander Stanton as they rushed on to the bridge. She looked over at them, both men showing exhaustion from quickly climbing up the access ladders.
“Captain,” She said, “The Romulan ship is almost disabled.”
“Excellent.” He said in between breaths and coughs as he took a seat in his chair.
Stanton had moved to take over at the science station. “Looks like we scored a direct hit with that torpedo. I’m sure Starfleet will nickname it the Burton manoeuvre in years to come!”
Burton chuckled at his chief engineer’s remark. “How badly damaged are they?” He asked.
“Main power is offline, heavy hull damage and T’Plau’s shots at their engines have completely stranded them, sir. They’re adrift, but salvageable.” Stanton reported, almost pre-empting what the captain would ask of him.
Burton smiled at that as he turned to look at his armoury officer. “I want you and Major Yu to take over armed landing parties to take that ship-”
He didn’t get a chance to complete his orders as the Romulan ship exploded which caused a shockwave to hit Challenger hard like a powerful hurricane. The Earth ship rolled backwards towards the nebula it had been using to hide in. As it did this more systems became damaged on-board causing ultimate darkness to fill the ship as the crew were dragged into oblivion.