“Were there any Survivors?”
Loianna looked down at the report in her hands and then back up at Tonisus, she shook her head briefly. “No sir, our satellites hadn’t detected any lifeforms after the crash. The entire mining settlement was obliterated with it as well.”
Tonisus sighed in despair and anguish. An entire mining settlement had been destroyed when a Carreon ship came crashing down on their world. They had no way of being able to protect their people from knowing the truth. “Is there anything else Loianna?” He asked his right-hand woman. They both stood in his private office, which looked out towards Stratos.
“There is.” She replied after sharing the devastating report. “We need to bring the Advisory Assembly together to discuss this matter. People may find out about this and we need to discuss how we will deal with the ramifications.”
“Ideas?” He asked her. Tonisus stood with his back to the Deputy High Advisor, staring out of the large bay window. (Deep down he was contemplating if his people were truly ready to be exposed to the existence of off-worlders.)
“Our Science and Military Advisors are telling us that the crater could be defined as a meteor crash. It’s a plausible story.” She replied.
“But a weak one Loianna.” He countered back as he turned to look at her. “Let’s keep working on it, but I want to see the Assembly by this evening.”
“There’s also the issue with the Humans.” Loianna included. “I think we should consider letting them go.”
Tonisus squinted his eyes at her. “Why would you say that Loianna?” He asked, perplexed at her suggestion.
She took a breath in and shared her thoughts. “We could be on the edge of our society discovering that there is life beyond our own world. As the Assembly knows, we don’t know what the reaction will be like on to our society. By setting the Humans free, then we shed ourselves of the responsibility of hiding them if it becomes public knowledge. Our search teams have yet to find the rest of their crew. Let Ensign Conrad and the others go, so they can explore the last three equatorial islands without us. Their shuttlepod has powerful sensors on it that will help them. Classifying our search as part of a botanic expedition isn’t holding up. Their cover will be blown if we try it again. If we let them go, we only ask in return that they don’t make contact with us. It will protect us and our people, Tonisus.”
The Ardanan leader didn’t respond straight away. Eventually he just nodded in agreement. “However, Loianna, make that last point clear to them. Tell them we will do whatever it takes to protect our people from off-worlders.”
“I understand sir.” She said before quickly exiting from his office.
Standing in front of Shuttlepod One, Corporal Jenkins was saying his last goodbye to their gracious host. “Loianna I can’t explain how much we appreciate your efforts.” He leant in and hugged her.
Returning the hug, the Deputy High Advisor shared the affection she had built with the Human man. “You’re welcome.” She said while she held him. After letting go she spoke up. “Just make sure you all remember what I said. Your people can’t get in contact with us again and must remain on that island to ensure your own safety.”
Ensign Conrad had joined the two of them after stepping out of the shuttlepod. “Don’t worry Loianna, we plan to stay there until we are rescued.”
She nodded in appreciation. “Thank you for understanding, but this Carreon crash has spooked my government. I do not know how the Advisory Assembly will react to this if it becomes public knowledge, so your people will be safe to stay out of the way.”
Conrad smirked at those words. “Those were the orders our Captain gave us before we abandoned our ship. We were to keep out of the way of others and to survive.”
“Then do it.” Loianna said smiling to both men. “And be safe my friends.”
Conrad and Jenkins returned the smile and said their final farewells to the Deputy High Advisor before getting back into their craft.
“Bring engines online.” Conrad ordered as the hatch sealed itself.
Metaxas tapped away at the console he was sitting at. “Engines online and ready.” He answered.
“Liam, do you have the coordinates of those last three islands?” Conrad asked.
“I have,” Jenkins replied. “I’m transferring them to you now.”
“Hey Jacky, I’ve been studying the topography of those islands and the southernmost island seems like the best place to set up a base camp. Knowing Major Yu, she would have made her way there.” Trommler stated.
“Sounds like a good place to start.” Conrad said as he brought their little ship alive and lifted it off the small hangar deck they were situated in. The doors opened for them and he flew the shuttlepod straight out and flew the ship down towards the planet to avoid anyone else witnessing their launch. Lioanna had organised everything so they could leave covertly, so there was no one else aware of their presence on Stratos.
“I have to admit, I may miss this place.” Metaxas remarked as they flew past the cloud city one more time.
“It surely was impressive.” Trommler agreed.
Conrad took one more look. “I’m sure one day we may return, if not us then I’m sure some other explorers will and hopefully they’ll have better chances at making first contact the right way.” He stated as pulled the shuttle’s nose up and onwards to their destination.
Equatorial Islands, Ardana (New Mars)
Understanding sensor logs (unless they were of bio-scans) was not Ben-Ami’s specialism. She was relying on Ensign Cortez to explain it to her in simple terms. They were sitting in the makeshift command post/tent that Yu had setup since the discovery of the cloud-base almost a week ago. The engineers had set up a few monitors and rigged up a few computers to allow the armoury officers to monitor the large airborne structure. They were now going through their morning briefing and Cortez was sharing some startling revelations.
“The drone flew over the crater at a low altitude and took these images.” The armoury officer reported and pressed a button to bring up the data on the largest screen in the tent.
Ben-Ami stood with Major Yu, Lieutenant Masuko, First Lieutenant al-Fayyad with Ensigns Hennessey and Hathaway. All of them in the tent were made up of Ben-Ami’s senior staff. All of them brought different expertise and experience to the table. She preferred listening to them all before she made a decision.
“That looks like a good ten or twelve kilometres in diameter?” al-Fayyad stated. She looked at the pictures closer in depth. “The blast radius isn’t consistent with a meteor or anything natural falling from the sky.”
“I’ve gotta agree with Khawla, those burn marks look like an antimatter explosion. Plus if that’s debris that is scattered around then they look like duranium signatures.” Masuko stated as she pointed at the screen.
“So, what is it then?” Hennessey asked the group.
Hathaway squinted her eyes at the pictures a bit more. “The debris makes it look like a Carreon ship, the hull configuration here and here.” She said as she approached the screen and tapped out what she was looking at.
“My thoughts too.” Cortez responded glumly as she crossed her arms against her chest.
A shocked silence filled the tent between them all.
“Do you think they came for us?” Yu questioned aloud.
Ben-Ami placed her hands on her hips. “It’s a possibility, but don’t forget before we left Challenger, we were working on that theory of the Romulan telepresence computer capturing.” The doctor said, trying to justify why the Carreons had come here. She was hoping that somehow this had something to do with the Romulans trying to take control of the Carreon ship, but it’s crew had crashed their craft to prevent being completely controlled by the Romulans. “Rachelle were there any survivors?”
“The drone didn’t detect any, however that’s not the only news from this morning’s scan.” She stated before pressing a few more buttons. “Angela I’m really sorry.” She added as the computer screen changed to show a higher resolution of the landscape as to where the crash site was.
Hathaway breathed in with shock and placed her left hand on her mouth. “Oh no.” She said.
Everyone else was looking at Hathaway and Cortez for the answer as to what was bad now. Cortez replied for the pilot. “As you know, Angela and Rupesh have been trying to work out where Edro and Roburn are from. Based on the caves where we found them, plus what they told us about what they remembered of the landscape from where their village was located, we determined that their settlement was in this area.” She said drawing an imaginary circle around the map. “We moved one of our drones in to take a look at one of the range of mountains that Edro had described to us this morning. Before it registered the large explosion at the crash site it had detected a small settlement with life signs. Sadly the settlement is no longer there.”
That news only increased the sadness in the room.
“Then let’s hope that wasn’t their village.” Ben-Ami remarked.
Cortez winced at the doctor’s words. “Ma’am, the drone has searched the surrounding area of where we found you and there are no other settlements nearby. We also detected the highest amount of one particular ore. I think this was where their home was.”
No one said anything for a few seconds, but that was interrupted by the sudden arrival of Ensign Larsen. “Sorry to disturb you all,” He said as he panted to get his breath, “But you all need to get down on to the beach now.”
“Why Erik?” Hennessey asked his deputy.
“Shuttlepod One,” He replied in between breaths. “Has just landed!”
“What?” Yu said in shock and quickly followed Ben-Ami as she rushed out of the tent and down the trail they had created towards the beach.
“And that’s how we ended up here.” Conrad finished recounting their tale of how they got caught by these Ardanans.
“To quote our distant Chief Armoury Officer: ‘Fascinating’.” Hennessey said in delight, which had a few others chuckle at his impression of Sub Commander T’Plau. “It’s good to see all four of you alive.” He added.
“Indeed.” Ben-Ami was joyful at the return of their crew. “All of you, from the sounds of it, have done us proud. Well done.”
The four men all looked at each other, their pride showing through their current grins at finally being back with their own kind. They were all sat in the marquee, where everyone else had assembled to see them and hear what had happened to them.
Ben-Ami looked around at her people, eyes fell on Edro and Roburn who were sitting with Iyer and Hathaway on a nearby bench made out of a tree trunk. The sense of having to tell them that their home and their family were possibly dead was pulling on the strings of her heart. She quickly looked back at the four prodigal crewmen. “Gentlemen, we will find you a tent and somewhere to rest and I’m sure there are many here who want to speak to you in person.” She looked at everyone else. “Let us all celebrate this evening with a special dinner for the return of our friends.” The marquee roared with a round of cheers and applause at that idea.
Soon after Ben-Ami found herself walking out of the marquee with the four men along with Major Yu and Hennessey. Conrad had asked to speak to them in private. She led them out and across the field towards the medical tent that was empty. “What is it gentlemen?” she asked once the door went down and gave them the chance to have some privacy.
The four men looked at each other before gazing back at her. “Ma’am,” Conrad started. “As we shared with you in there, we had help leaving Stratos, but it came with a price.”
Yu sighed. “I knew there was a catch. What happened?”
“Earlier this morning when we left the Ardanans, they detected a Carreon ship entering the system before it crashed and landed on top of one of their mining settlements.” Conrad explained.
“We picked up the same thing.” Ben-Ami revealed.
“It’s more than that ma’am.” Jenkins stated.
“Yeah, I’m afraid ma’am that the Ardanan government has dealt with aliens before, but their people are not aware of extraterrestrial life. The Ardanan High Advisor believes their society will fall apart from outside influence. They had planned to find you all and bring you in to prevent anyone else from finding out about off-worlders.” Conrad told them and got a response of confusion from his last word.
“That’s what they call aliens.” Trommler added to clarify what an off-worlder was.
“Why the change of heart?” Ben-Ami enquired.
“Liam, you want to answer that?” Conrad said.
Jenkins nodded before speaking. “They want to deny us four ever being there. We had to agree not to make contact with them ever again and for us to ensure we stay here on the island.”
“That almost sounds like a threat.” Hennessey said.
“They didn’t say it in a threatening manner sir.” Jenkins countered back. “I can understand if it becomes public knowledge that their government knew about off-worlders, it could tear their society apart. Their government would lose confidence from the general public. Plus, we would cause mass panic and hysteria across their world and on their other cloud cities. Their beliefs and values would come into question. A similar thing happened on Earth when Vulcans made first contact, but our people were preparing themselves for deep space exploration when Zefram Cochrane flew the Phoenix at warp for the first time. They don’t even have that aspiration of journeying to the stars.”
“So, we’ve literally met a people who place a lid on their people’s views on the universe outside of their world?” Hennessey stated. “What a ridiculous policy.”
“But it’s worked,” Conrad said. “Ma’am we need to ensure we don’t have any contact with any other Ardanans. We don’t know what the consequences would be.”
Ben-Ami winced at him. “That may be difficult.” She returned. “We rescued two boys when we first got here. They had been trapped in a cave and had lost contact with their family. But it would seem that recent evidence points to the fact that the Carreon crash landed where they came from.”
Conrad cringed at the predicament they were now in. “And if the Ardanan government doesn’t want us to get in contact with them then we have no way of being able to return them to their people.”
“On top of that the boys were pretty much slaves in those mining settlements.” Yu stated.
Once again Ben-Ami was in a tent that had fallen silent from everyone being speechless, not knowing what to say in response. She finally spoke up, “Okay everyone, give me some time and space to think about this. Dismissed.”
They all filled out, with Yu mouthing to Ben-Ami if she was okay. She just nodded with her answer to the major. She needed time to think about their next move. Once she had given it a few minutes after her staff had left, she decided to leave the tent herself and made her way down towards the beach to take a peaceful walk alone with her thoughts.
“He’s coming around.” A familiar male voice said close by.
One eye opened, followed by the other and the sudden dawn of pain hit Captain Burton at light speed as he tried to wake his entire body up. Every muscle and joint was screaming out to him not to do it, but his mind was telling him otherwise. “What…where…am I?” He muffled out as he tried to sit up but was overwhelmed with a dizzy spell that forced himself back down.
“Easy sir.” Spoke the familiar voice again.
Burton looked to his right and saw Ensign Stewart looking down at him. Challenger’s senior nurse smiled in assurance towards his captain. “Niall, what happened? Where am I?” He asked again, and this time slowly rose up from the bed he was on.
“You’re on the Avenkerev.” Stewart said. “Don’t push yourself sir, but you’ve been in a coma for almost a week now.”
Burton winced his eyes as he began to remember what happened after they ejected Challenger’s warp core. The core breach had caused a shockwave that had pummelled at their ship. A flash of memory swept through his mind of him being at the helm when it exploded and sent him flying backwards and crash landing on the deck plate with a heavy thud. He remembered Levesque calling for him, but that was it. “A coma?” He repeated for clarification.
“You hit your head pretty hard sir, I had to put you in a medically induced coma to protect you. Thankfully Commander Anthi arrived a few hours later to help out.” Stewart shared.
“The crew and ship?” Burton asked next as Sutton placed another pillow under Burton’s neck and head, so he could sit up slightly.
“All fine. Challenger is being towed by the Avenkerev.” Stewart answered.
“How is he Niall?” Commander Levesque spoke as she approached them with Commander Stanton, Sub Commander T’Plau and Commander Anthi.
Stewart and Burton looked at the approaching party. “He’s awake and full of questions, but he still needs to rest.”
“We’ll keep our visit brief Niall.” Stanton said.
“Make sure you do.” Stewart replied before leaving the group.
Anthi spoke up, “He’ll make an excellent chirurgeon one day.” The Andorian woman looked at her Human counterpart. “How are you feeling?”
“A bit groggy.” Burton responded. “But thank you for saving us again.”
Smiling at the sentiment, Anthi bowed her head slightly. Her antennae copied her movement. “It’s an honour to be your ally Captain Burton.”
Burton appreciated her comment and smiled at them. “So how bad is she?” He turned to ask his officers, referring to their ship.
“We’ve got repair teams over there right now working around the clock to fix as much as they can, we’re trying to secure her for warp travel back home.” Levesque said.
“We’ve only got impulse engines and a few thrusters left, sir.” Stanton added.
“And no available tactical systems.” T’Plau included.
“However, we are now two days away from the Minshara world that we sent the rest of the crew too.” Levesque reported, trying to bring some positivity to their conversation.
Burton accepted the latter news more than the former. “What happened to the Carreons? Did we hear any more from the Deltans?”
Anthi cleared her throat, “Would you three mind me speaking with Captain Burton alone, one commanding officer to another please?”
Burton wasn’t sure what Anthi was playing at but respected the fact that this was her ship and they were her guests. He gestured for them to leave them be.
The Andorian commander watched as they left the infirmary before speaking. “Lloyd,” She said as she pulled up a nearby stool. “After we destroyed the Carreon communication network which was blocking our long-range subspace links we quickly headed back to Delta. Prime Minister An’die got in touch and told us to avoid coming to your help as you planned to take the Challenger and detonate your warp core to take out as much of the Carreon fleet as possible. I decided to ignore his plea and chased after you. When we detected your core breach, we thought you had gone, but when we noticed it was not near the Carreon fleet we investigated. We found you adrift and soon sent over rescue parties to help you. However, we witnessed on long range scans the fight between the Deltans and Carreons.”
“What happened?” Burton asked again.
“They fought for a long time until they destroyed each other, however the Carreons were able to launch a few nuclear warheads at Delta. One of them hit the capital city and destroyed it.” She said.
Burton closed his eyes and shook his head in disbelief at the news. “Was An’die killed?”
“We believe so. We intercepted some communication traffic between Delta and its colonies in the system. The entire capital city was destroyed and the warheads took out a number of government buildings, we think it included where Prime Minister An’die was stationed. But the devastation doesn’t end there.” Anthi remarked before taking a breath. “The Deltans had sent a small task force into the Carreon home system to attack their ship construction facilities. They were successful with their mission, but only one ship made it back home. My tactical officer believes that it will take both sides at least five if not ten years to fully recover their losses.”
“Damn it.” Burton cursed.
“We’ve also investigated what happened on board Challenger.” Anthi continued. “The Deltans had planted a programme that would mean they could detonate your warp core. I suspect it was a last-ditch effort by An’die to use you if all else failed. I suspect if the Carreon armada hadn’t invaded them then he would have encouraged you to open negotiations with the Carreons on their behalf. He probably would have used you to take out either their leadership or some worthwhile target, but we’ll never know what they had planned.”
“Have you made contact with the Deltans at all since then?” Burton wondered.
“No.” Anthi replied. “And I don’t think we should. It’s clear they’re not the allies we want right now and what’s happened to their world is a burden the Coalition couldn’t take on, especially now.”
“What makes you say that Anthi?” Burton quizzed.
“I’m afraid Lloyd that once we re-established contact with the nearest communications relay, we found out that we are at war.” Anthi answered.
“With who?” Burton asked as he tried to sit up on his elbows.