Part of Challenger: All For One & One For All

SIXTEEN

Starfleet Training Command Campus, San Francisco, United States of America, Earth
Thursday, December 20th, 2142
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Stressed, tired, frustrated were some of the words to describe how Cadet Michael Stanton currently felt in regard to his work. Taking a bachelor’s degree in engineering science as well as undertaking his officer training was tougher than making a Vulcan smile. They were all in the same boat; a majority of officers in training were doing the same thing and he knew he shouldn’t complain. He had always enjoyed a challenge; this certainly was one of those. What he found to be the most nuisance was the non-engineering elements of his education.  The constant physical drills as well as combat training just seemed overkill in his mind. As a result of this he knew he was struggling with that element. Fortunately for him he had help in the shape of his roommate. Alex had helped him through the physical elements, this included extra training, morning and evening jogs during the week, going to the gym together, etc. In return Michael was supporting Alex through the academics. Tutoring the pilot-wannabe hadn’t been too difficult of a task. It had kept Michael’s own wit sharp. In fact, this collaboration developed a strong friendship between them. 

Within most of their social circles (Michael still couldn’t believe he had a growing number of friends and this was all down to Alex’s influences) the two of them were inseparable. Their friends had even called them THE power couple at STC. The constant idea of them taking their relationship to the next level was constantly part of the regular banter issued out. However, it hadn’t bothered either of them, that said they had never spoken about it. After his first disastrous encounter with Alex when they moved into their STC accommodation, he had come to terms that Alex perhaps didn’t see him in that way compared to how Michael had first felt. Within the past year or so, Michael had pushed those thoughts and feelings to the back as he didn’t want to jeopardise the friendship he had with Alex. 

Hastily, he was making his way back to the ‘loft’ (the name they and their friends had named their accommodation as it was considered one of the best due to its views). The San Francisco rain was battling down hard against the evening sky with thunderclouds rumbling overhead. When Michael had left for his morning lectures it had been almost clear with some sunny spots through the day, consequently he hadn’t taken his hooded coat with him. He wore only a light jacket and his STC hoodie. Both were soaked through to his skin. In fact, his entire body, head to toe, was sopping wet. Holding his rucksack, that had his computer tablet in it, close to him he darted across the pedestrianised street towards. Approaching the main doors to his halls of residence, he reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and took out his key-card to let him in. The electronic lock bleeped and a small green light appeared to the pad where he had tapped his key-card against. Pulling the main door open, he quickly got inside and tried to shake the rain off from him. 

Seconds later he was squelching down the corridor towards the loft, he eventually reached his door. Again, he took out his key-card and just like routine he expected the door to automatically open. It didn’t. He tried it again and tried pushing against the door. It wasn’t allowing him in. Giving out a huge sigh, he tapped the door chime and was pleased to hear Alex’s footsteps (he presumed it was Alex who was inside) approaching the front door. Within a moment the door opened, Alex stood there with a smile on his face and in one hand he held a black towel. Instantly Alex offered the towel to his roommate and suppressed the sight before him. 

“Someone forget something today?” Alex mocked as Michael took the towel.

Michael smirked at Alex’s teasing and began drying himself. “Something like that.” He mumbled underneath it as he rubbed his face and hair. 

Almost like clockwork, Alex helped Michael by taking his bag and wet jacket. As Michael began to take his shoes off, he looked around the loft and realised it was darker than normal. He also heard faint music being played. Sniffing the air, he noticed that something was being cooked. Eventually he saw beyond the bedroom area that the dining table, that they had bought last year, was in the middle between the galley and living room. On it was a fully laid out table with plates, cutlery, glassware and candles…candles that were lit. 

Michael started to almost rip off his wet clothes as he looked at the scene before him. Still confused. “What’s that for? Have you got someone coming over? Shall I leave?” He quickly said. Part of him was now worrying about what he had just walked into. 

Alex, who had walked over to grab Michael some dry clothes from the tall wardrobe that was near to Michael’s bed, swiftly turned around. “Oh god, no, no, that’s not it.”

Like a stray puppy in New York City, Michael was still unable to understand what was happening. “Then what is this?”

Handing him the dry clothes, Alex answered as he turned around to give Michael some privacy as he changed out of his wet clothes and into the ones that he had picked out for him. “It’s…” He stuttered (for the first time since he had met Michael), “It’s for us.”

“Us?” Michael repeated, not knowing what Alex meant by that. “Have I missed your birthday or something?”

Chuckling to himself at how Michael was when he didn’t understand what was going on, Alex spoke up. “No, it’s not my birthday. You know my birthday was back in August.”

“Then what’s it for?” Michael asked again as he finished pulling the navy-blue sweatshirt over his head. Once his arms and head were through the holes, he walked around to face Alex. “What’s going on Alex? You’re freaking me out and you never stutter.”

Rubbing his face with both hands, Alex took in a breath. Before he could answer, Michael jumped in again as he became nervous with how hesitant Alex was becoming. 

“Are you dying?” He almost shouted out.

“No!” Alex snapped back as he tried to stop himself from laughing. He took Michael’s hands and insisted that they sat down on Michael’s bed. Michael hadn’t flinched when his hands were taken by Alex’s and just complied in moving. “Michael, I need to tell you something and I feel if I don’t say it sooner then I may end up regretting not saying anything.”

“Okay?” Michael replied warily, waiting for Alex to shed light on what was happening.

“I was in the simulator today,” Alex started with, “My squad and I were taking the new no-win scenario, which by the way they need to change as we won it, but during it all I had this sudden urge of realisation.”

“Okay.” Michael remained cautious, still not sure where Alex was heading with this speech.

“I realised as one of my teammates dramatically fell to the ground that one day I could be on a ship and in a fight for my life. I don’t want to be alone if that happens.” He explained. “And before you say it, I know I will be part of a crew.”

“Well that’s the obvious there.” Michael sarcastically remarked and noticed suddenly that Alex didn’t appreciate that comment. “You were saying…”

Alex re-started, “I want someone with me, someone who I love being there for me and gets me, someone who makes me laugh and respects me. Someone who is caring and will drop everything to be with me.” He paused as he took in a deep breath. “Michael Zachary Stanton, I should have said this sooner, but you rock my world and I can’t stop thinking about you. I’m in love with you and I need you to know that.”

Gawping in shock at that realisation, Michael at first didn’t know what to say. No-one had ever told him that they loved him. That thought was soon overwhelmed by butterflies in his stomach. Smiling now at Alex he just leaned in and kissed him. He didn’t know what overtook him in that moment to do such a thing, but he just had the urge to do it. He was surprised when Alex kissed him back with so much passion. Michael returned it by pushing Alex backwards onto the bed with his body, still pressing his lips against his. 

The moment Alex fell backwards with his arms around Michael, he pulled away from their kiss. “I take it this is your way of saying you feel the same?”

“Bloody hell yeah.” Michael said between breaths. “So, I take it I’m your no-win scenario?”

“How’d you work that one out?”

“Well if I said no that I don’t feel the same you’re still stuck with me for another two years, but if I said yes I feel the same then you’re still stuck with me.” Michael answered.

Alex pulled him in for another kiss before talking further. “Then damn Cadet Stanton, I’ve definitely gotten lost with you!”

Michael sighed at the cheesiness of Alex’s statement. “Please don’t say that anymore.”

“Then the only way for it to end is for you to kiss me again and then join me for a great dinner I’ve prepared for you.” Alex countered back with.

“Deal.” Michael said as he leaned in to kiss Alex further.


Tuesday, October 8th, 2155

Discovery NX-04, en route to Gault Colony

 

Looking up at the man who stood next to him in the lift, Michael couldn’t help but smile. It was almost weird to be feeling so giddy, especially as they may just be going into battle. He hadn’t felt this since the day he and Alex had decided to become more than roommates and friends. Since that day he knew that this was it, even when they took a break from each other to concentrate on their assignments. They always ended up back together. Being on Discovery with him was the first time in ages that he felt that their relationship was normal. 

“Whatcha’ thinking about?” Alex asked when he noticed Michael looking at him smiling like some lovesick fool.

“That for the first time in years this may actually work.” Michael answered, gesturing to the two of them. 

Alex grabbed Michael’s hand and intertwined his fingers with his as they felt the lift change direction as it headed upwards towards the bridge. “I know what you mean. It feels good, doesn’t it?”

Nodding a yes, Michael smiled more. “It does.” He clenched Alex’s hand a bit more. “You sure you’re okay with me being here?”

“Yeah, I’m over it. I’m sorry, I just didn’t want to…” Alex paused. “I just needed time to process the idea of you and I serving together.”

“It’s temporary, I promise.” Michael assured him. “Lloyd is going to kill me for doing this.”

“Not unless the Romulans get you first!” Alex joked back.

Elbowing his husband in the ribs, Michael just laughed off the idea. Although he would prefer to take on a Romulan bird-of-prey instead of explaining to Lloyd why he joined Discovery on his time off. Noticing they were almost on the bridge, Michael let go of Alex’s hand and composed himself to be a bit more professional. Captain Müller had called them and the rest of the senior crew to the bridge as the ship was finally approaching the Gault Colony. It had only just gone past midnight on the ship and both Alex and Michael had only been able to catch two or three hours of sleep. It was fortunate enough that Alex’s quarters had a bed that would pull out to be a double-bed, otherwise Michael would have ended either in a guest quarter or on a bunk bed sharing with some of the enlisted engineers. The guest quarters did sound nice, however unlike on Challenger where they had recently been upgraded to house Foreign Secretary Campbell and her staff, Discovery’s guest quarters were currently filled with MACO equipment. The idea of sharing a room with some phase rifles and stun grenades wasn’t appealing. 

The lift stopped and the doors opened. Michael let Alex step out first and watched for a second as he headed towards the helm. Again, Captain Müller had almost re-designed and re-shaped the bridge. It carried on using the same red and golden colours on the walls and doors while a greyish-purple carpet was present on the bridge. Along with this, the bridge layout was far different to the other NX-class ships. Besides the captain’s chair, the helm and the situation room, every other station was located. Whereas on Challenger the engineering station was located on the starboard side of the ship by the front, this was where the science station was located. Behind it was the communications post (this would have been the tactical station on Challenger). In fact, the communication officer sat with their back to the captain as there was no console facing in towards the middle of the bridge. Where Challenger’s science station was located, this was where the engineering station was, again there was no inwards facing console and the engineer had their back towards the captain. Finally, the tactical station was located where the communications console would have been on the other three NX-class ships. Michael had asked Alex why Müller had the bridge laid out differently to everyone else, but all he said was this was how the captain wanted his bridge laid out. 

When they had arrived on the bridge, Müller was standing in the centre of the bridge, one arm across his chest and the other raised to lips with a sincere expression of concern expression. As he heard the lift open, he instantly dropped his hands and smiled at the arrival of his first officer and temporary chief engineer. “Sorry for the early morning call gentlemen, but I didn’t want you to miss the show.”

Alex waved his captain off as he took over at the helm from the night shift officer and Michael raced over to the engineering station, which was currently unoccupied. He quickly took a glance over the monitors and was pleased to see the ship was running without any issues. 

There was a ding noise over at the communication station, a young ensign called Greta Russo responded and placed her earpiece in. A few seconds later the Italian communications officer turned around. “Sir, we’re being hailed by the colony. It’s Governor Luka Kharkov.”

Alex had turned around to listen in to the conversation and gave Müller a surprised and concerned look. Müller had also mirrored him with his own reaction. Earth had lost contact with Gault after it had received its standard distress call. It had not responded to any calls until now.

“Put him up Greta.” The captain ordered, it was apparent he was eager to find out the status of the colony and what they were just about to ride into. 

The main screen beeped and came to life with the image of a middle-aged man. He had short black hair that was swept to the right. He didn’t look like many politicians that Michael had seen before. Instead of wearing a suit, the man wore a black top and he looked like he had been dragged through hell and back. Exhaustion appeared over him too. The link between the ship and the colony wasn’t great as distortions kept on interfering with its quality.

“Governor Kharkov, it’s good to hear from you. I’m Captain Müller of the Discovery, we’re on our way and will be with you very soon.” Müller stated in an almost rushed tone. He wanted to let the governor know they were on their way before the link was lost again.

In a thick Russian accent, Kharkov spoke up after clearing his throat. “Captain, it is good to hear that. We’ve just been able to re-establish our short-range communication array.”

“What’s your status sir?” Müller asked with concern.

Kharkov looked off screen and nodded to someone. It must have been an aide as around him it looked like people were moving quickly. He looked like he was in a room, possibly his office, but the image wasn’t one-hundred percent clear. “We’ve got injured here. I don’t think the Romulans know we are just a simple farming colony that possesses barely any technology. Our orbital sensor relays and long-range communications array were destroyed by the Romulans. We were able to retrieve the logs from our sensors before we lost them. The relays detected one bird-of-prey in the system. They proceeded to launch six attack fighters that took out the colonies primary power generators as well as other key facilities. We’re running on emergency power; I have given the order to evacuate.”

Müller winced at the news. He had hoped that no one was seriously injured or worse dead. “Hold on sir, we are on our way.”

Captain Müller there is one more thing.” Kharkov said quickly before the channel was closed. “There’s two habitable worlds in the system. One small moon that orbits the eighth planet, but the fifth planet is Minshara class.” 

Nodding to confirm he knew this, Müller attempted to find out where the governor was going with this. “Yes sir, we are aware of it. I believe I read somewhere that the Serbian Collective had petitioned Starfleet last year to assist them in setting up a settlement on the fifth planet.”

They’ve bombed the planet.” Kharkov said and the channel abruptly closed. 

Müller turned to Russo, “Can you get him back, ensign?”

Russo worked hard to try her best, even Michael checked over the communication array and was relieved it wasn’t at that end the problem was coming from. 

“Negative sir.” Reported Russo. “The signal was cut off at the governor’s end.”

Sighing as he sat in his chair, Müller looked over to Lieutenant Commander Wallis who had been sat quietly at the tactical station. “Nathan, take us to tactical alert and Greta, inform the rest of the task group to do the same.”

Both officers replied in acknowledgement and Discovery went on its war footing as the lights dimmed and the flash scarlet alarm went off. 

Discovery soon dropped out of warp flanked by four other ships, two on each side. The five-ship task group was led by the NX-class ship with the Ganges-class ships Avon and Murray, the Daedalus-class vessel Pathfinder and the Sarajevo-class Canberra

“Entering the Barnard’s Star system.” Alex stated from the helm. His fingers were almost dancing across the flight controls of the ship as he eased the vessel out of warp and into sub-light speeds.

“Commander Rodham, full impulse to Gault.” Müller ordered. He looked over to his science vessel, a woman named Maria Nuñez who held the rank of lieutenant. She had recently joined Discovery after Müller had lost his previous first officer and chief science officer to gain their own captaincy. Lieutenant Nuñez had been the ship’s second science officer and appeared to be quite the capable officer to run such a department. “Maria, start scanning for our unwanted visitors as well as anything else.” Müller commanded.

The science officer just nodded as she worked on her controls before looking through the scope she had just activated. After a moment she spoke, “I’ve got them sir, they’re in orbit of the fifth planet and they appear to be firing on it.”

“Can we see them?” Müller asked her.

She turned away from her scope and then looked up at the main screen as she showed what the visual sensors were recording. A Romulan bird-of-prey sat over the top of the small habitable world and was firing at it. A mixture of fire was coming from its forward plasma cannon and it appeared to be launching missiles too. 

“They’re firing nuclear missiles sir.” Nuńez reported as she checked over her readings.

“Again?” Michael whispered as he watched the Romulans continue with their barrage.

Müller looked at the engineer. “What do you mean Commander Stanton?”

Stanton looked from the screen to the captain. “Sir, I’ve seen the Romulans employ this tactic before. The use of nuclear warheads is their cheap way of removing worlds from being used by us.”

“Or them.” Alex added. “Why attack an uninhabited world? Why not destroy Gault?”

“Maybe they don’t have the resources to capture it and as the Governor said, it’s a small farming colony on a moon. That’s a larger planet that we could eventually colonise.” Stanton suggested. “We need to stop them sir.”

Supporting his temporary chief engineer’s thinking, Müller stood up and pulled on his jacket. “I couldn’t agree anymore with you Michael. Ensign Russo, inform the Pathfinder and Canberra to take orbit over Gault while the Avon and Murray join us. Commander Rodham, take us within weapon’s range.”

Discovery lurched forward and was followed closely by the two smaller ships. 

Michael quickly tapped away at the engineering station, he started to bring up the program he had been working on to defend Challenger when the Romulans attempted to take her overusing the telepresence unit. He had been able to create some firewalls but had yet to test them. If the Romulans tried to pull such a stunt with them then he would be ready for them. He activated the software and kept the status of it on one of his monitors. 

Nathans soon spoke up from the tactical station, “We’re in weapon’s range sir.”

“Photonic torpedoes, full spread.” Müller commanded.

Eight bolts of golden light flashed from the ventral side of Discovery’s saucer section while the Avon and Murray began opening fire with their forward phase cannons. 

The Romulan ship broke orbit, flew into high speed and began returning fire on the three Starfleet ships as it took a battering from the firepower it was now under. It was highly manoeuvrable. As soon as it was far enough it launched a number of its nuclear warheads at the three ships before going to warp. As it bolted away the missiles all detonated behind it. The multiple shockwaves grazed the hulls of the fleet but hardly did any damage. 

“Status?” Müller asked his team.

Stanton pulled out the damage report, “They barely scratched us sir. No major damage from what I can see to any of our ships.”

“They were hiding their tracks.” Wallis reported from the tactical station. “The detonation of those warheads scattered our sensors. We don’t know which way they’ve gone sir.”

Müller shook his head. “It doesn’t matter Nathan; we’ve scared them off.” He looked down at his pilot and first officer. “Commander Rodham, take us back to Gault. Let’s go see what’s happening down there.”

 

Müller had insisted on taking his new chief engineer with him along with their MACO Detachment Commander, the Chief Medical Officer and two more MACOs. Alex had protested about being left behind to command the ship, insisting that the captain should remain on the bridge while he led the landing party. Overruling his first officer, Müller had said he needed to see what the Romulans had done to the planet and speak with Kharkov directly about this evacuation. 

Stepping out of the locker-room with his field jacket zipped up, a phase pistol strapped to his right thigh and a scanner in his pocket, Michael was trying to work out how many planets he had been on now when his train of thought was interrupted by a cough. He looked up and saw Alex standing there.

“Come to wave me off?” He asked his husband.

Alex smirked and walked by Michael’s side as he headed to the launch bay. “Well yes, but also I thought you may need these.” He handed Michael a neck gaiter, a pair of gloves and a trapper hat. All Starfleet issued with Discovery’s insignia on it. “The temperature down there is pretty cold; I’m surprised you guys aren’t going down in your artic gear.”

“It’s not that bad,” Michael retorted as they turned the corridor and approached the launch bays doors.

Alex pressed the button to open and the door and went in first. “It’s cold, please don’t be heroic, just wrap up!”

“You love me so much!” Michael cheekily said.

Alex rolled his eyes as they approached the place where the rest of the landing party were gearing up. Major Leona Danvers, the MACO Detachment Commander, was zipping up her field jacket. Danvers had a pixie hairstyle that was mostly platinum blonde. She had a serious demeanour about herself. She had attended Michael and Alex’s wedding; she hadn’t said much but Alex had assured Michael that she was an impressive woman and MACO. The two of them had become sparring partners in recent weeks.

Next to her was Doctor Melanie Reyburn. Originally from South-East London, Michael had found out from Alex that the lieutenant had grown-up from a strict West Indies background – one that she was truly proud of. Her hair was braided close to her skull, with it all swept to the left side of her head. She had green eyes that were complimented by her almost cheeky, friendly personality. Reyburn had gone out of her way to speak to Michael at their wedding reception and kept him company for a bit of it. 

Working behind the major and doctor were the two MACOs who would be supporting the landing party with security and protection. Michael didn’t recognise them but got a glimpse of their ranks and name labels attached to their uniforms. The woman nearest to Major Danvers had the name of A. Salah and the rank of corporal – she appeared to be of Afghan descent. She was checking over a phase rifle before she gave it to Danvers. The man next to Salah was a private with the name of M. Gomez. He was speaking to Salah in a quiet Mexican accent and whatever they were discussing she was nodding along to. 

“Okay everyone, are we ready?” spoke Captain Müller as he entered the launch bay via the same door that Michael and Alex had come through. He was answered by a round of ‘aye sirs’. He looked to Alex, “The ship is yours Commander. Wait for our word and once we know what’s happening, we can work out what to do from there.”

“Aye captain.” Alex said, still showing his unhappiness with the captain’s decision to go. “I’ll make sure the fleet is ready to assist with an evacuation if needs be.”

“Excellent, see you shortly.” Müller said and he gestured for everyone to climb down the extended metal staircase to get into their shuttlepod. 

Once they were in, they had all taken their seats and had strapped themselves in. Michael had been given the privilege of flying the shuttlepod, so he was at the front with the captain and doctor behind either of his shoulders. The MACOs had taken their seats on the benches in the back. 

“All systems are good to go sir.” Stanton had announced after he brought their small craft to life. 

Pressing the button on the keyboard in front of him, Müller requested permission from the bridge to leave. It was Lieutenant Commander Wallis, who was currently sitting in the centre chair while Rodham watched them leave, who replied and gave them clearance to go. 

Opening the launch bay doors, Michael lowered the shuttlepod down and once it was detached from its umbilical tower, he activated the thrusters and took them down towards the planet.


Shuttlepod One

 

“What should we expect of the colonists once we land?” Doctor Reyburn asked aloud to the group as they entered the atmosphere.

“I would imagine there’s a lot of frayed nerves down there.” Müller replied. “A majority of them are farmers, they reject most technologies.”

“The colony is one of Earth’s oldest too. Didn’t they leave Earth before the turn of the twenty-second century?” Major Danvers remarked from where she sat. 

Müller nodded, “The settlers called themselves at the time the Serbian Collective, they wanted to return to an agrarian way of life in the wake of the third world war. I’d imagine many of them are scattered across the north eastern continent.”

“So, if we have to assist them in getting off this planet, it’s not going to be easy is it?” Reyburn asked – already knowing the answer to that question.

“And it looks like it’s going to get a bit harder.” Stanton announced from his controls. “Sensors are picking up a large weather front over …” He paused as he wasn’t sure what to call the place they were heading towards, “their capital settlement.”

Pulling up the same telemetry, Müller sighed in frustration. “That may be the reason why we lost contact with the governor. I’m detecting torrential rain, high winds, thunder and lightning over their capital settlement. Commander Stanton, place us close to the governor’s residence.”

Stanton nodded in acknowledgement. “I’m glad Alex gave me those little extras to keep me warm.” He muttered to himself. 

It was obvious Reyburn had heard him, “Isn’t that what a good spouse does? They look after you?” She asked him. 

Smirking at her comment, “Yeah, I just think he wanted to look like the good guy in front of you all.”

“Perhaps we can buy you a beer later commander and you can share some old stories about our first officer?” Danvers propositioned in a friendly manner. 

Her offer came as a bit of a shock to the engineer. He had yet to see Danvers in such a calm, friendly way. Maybe she and Alex were closer than he had given credit. “That sounds like a deal major.” He answered with. 

The shuttlepod started to shudder under the pressure of the adverse weather that was battering it now. Michael told everyone to hold on as he tried his best to get them through it. Concentrating hard, Michael couldn’t remember the last time he had flown a shuttlepod through bad conditions. In the back of his head he could hear Alex telling him to breathe and focus on what was ahead of him, while keeping one eye on the readouts. 

Eventually they came through the other side and soon approached the main settlement. It was quite dark and the shuttlepod’s landing lights all came on. The captain had even activated its searchlight. 

“I’m not detecting any life-signs captain.” Reyburn announced as she looked over the sensor readings. “I’m switching to thermal imaging, but I don’t think it will be much help in this weather.”

“Where did they all go?” Danvers asked aloud. “There’s no way they’ve left the colony.”

“Perhaps they haven’t left.” Stanton said. “When we dealt with the Malurian-Nausicaan invasion of an Andorian colony, a good number of colonists took refuge in nearby caves and mountain sides.” He tapped a few buttons on his keyboard and brought up the topography. This settlement sits in the middle of a large valley, the nearby cliff edges have caverns they could have gone to.”

“I see it.” Reyburn said as she started to direct the shuttle’s scanners towards the cliff edges. “My scanners are being blocked.”

“Docana,” Stanton mumbled to himself as he looked at the same readings that the doctor had been trying to work on.

“Pardon commander?” Müller asked. 

Stanton looked to the captain over his right shoulder, “The Andorian colony I spoke about was called Docana. What I said on the bridge earlier with how the Romulans are trying to remove planets from our control, this situation is just like Docana. They did it there as well as at Coridan.”

“You may be right Commander Stanton, but what’s that got to do with my sensors being blocked?” The doctor wondered.

Stanton answered, “The colonists on Docana did the same when they were attacked. They hid in caves that were enriched with an unknown metallic ore that could block sensors. Maybe the Gault colonists have done the same.”

“Great, so where do we start?” Müller asked. 

“We don’t head to the nearest one.” Michael said, “If the colonists are smart enough, they wouldn’t go to the nearest place to hide. That would be too obvious.”

“I’m picking up a small cavern entrance at the end of the valley, near a large waterfall. There’s plenty of space for us to land too.” Reyburn reported.

“What if they’re not there? Are we really going to be searching every cave?” Danvers questioned. “Could we not launch a series of probes and hover drones to help?”

Müller considered their options. “Let’s do that first, but I want to return to the main settlement. See if there’s any clues as to where they’ve gone.” He said and then he tapped another button that opened a channel between them and their crewmates. “Shuttlepod One to Discovery.” 

The familiar voice from Rodham filled the internal speakers. “Go ahead captain.”

“Commander, we can’t find the colonists and we think Governor Kharkov’s comments about evacuating meant they’ve left the main settlement.” Müller stated. “I want you and the other ships to launch a number of probes and hover drones to determine where they’ve gone as the weather down here is causing havoc to our sensors.”

Understood sir.”

“In the meantime, we are going to land and search the capital settlement. Müller out.” He closed the channel and looked over to Stanton. “Commander, find us a nice landing site so we can hunt for clues.”

Stanton nodded in acknowledgement and moved their small craft towards the centre of the settlement. Landing it near a column that had a tall column and a flame flickering on top of it. The pillar had writing around the side which was hard to make out against the rain. As everyone got themselves ready to leave the shuttlepod, Stanton shutdown the craft and locked out the computer controls. Pulling on the extra clothing that Alex had given him, Michael made a mental note to himself that he would show his gratitude towards his husband at a later stage. He yanked the hood from his long field jacket over his hat and saw that everyone else had done the same thing.

Müller gave the order for them to depart, the MACOs went first and Müller followed with Reyburn and Stanton behind him. All of them had their weapons out while Müller led them towards the main central building. 

With only a few metres away from the structure there was a loud noise coming from above them. The sound of engines got louder as it got nearer. Stanton looked around and saw several green dots getting closer and closer towards him and the landing party.

“Move!” He shouted to everyone as he realised it was the Romulan attack fighters that the governor had spoken about. 

Instantly the team sprinted heading for cover, as they darted through the rain the fighters began opening fire. First targeting the shuttlepod which erupted into flames and then they attempted to take out the landing party. Stanton heard the plasma cannons from the fighters and noticed that the captain was in the firing range and quickly pushed him over and out of the way. As he hit the ground with the captain in an almost rugby tackle, an explosion went off from around them. Both men were covered head to toe in soaking mud. 

“Thanks.” Müller said after he took a breath and they watched the fighters fly over. “Let’s move people!” He shouted as they got up and carried on heading towards the central building. 

Once inside they got away from the main doors. Eventually the building started to shudder under the stress of fire from outside.

“We can’t stay here.” Danvers stated as she led the team to a safe place away from the main doors. 

“I can’t get through to Discovery.” Salah spoke after closing her communicator down. The MACO soldier placed it in her pocket and raised the phase rifle she had hanging from her left shoulder up. 

Müller, who had his scanner out, was searching for an alternative option they could take. His scanner beeped, “This way.” He ordered.

“Where are we going?” Doctor Reyburn asked as they headed down a corridor.

“There seems to be a basement level, we might be safe down there.” Müller said. 

More explosions, more shudders filled the structure. From what Stanton could work out, this not only was the main government building in the settlement, but it also doubled up as a farmers’ market due to the large hall in the main entrance. There were locations for stalls to be setup all around it. 

As they reached the bottom of the stairs, they came across something they were not expecting to see. There was a large section of a wall missing, with the debris from what must have been an explosion to create it all on the floor. Almost automatically, the entire team took out their scanners and began trying to work out what had happened. 

“I’m detecting a tunnel behind this mess.” Stanton remarked as he played with his scanner to see if he could see any further with it. 

Reyburn closed her scanner after a second, “I’m still not picking up any life signs, but my scanner doesn’t seem to be able to see anything beyond two metres.”

“Why would there be rubble here?” Müller asked aloud. “There’s no way the Romulans have attacked this far down.”

Major Danvers was still scanning and spoke up as she kept her concentration on what her readings were telling her. “I may have to disagree sir. This was a huge door or maybe an airlock of some sort. There’s multiple inter-locks and joints that have been blasted to bits here.”

“So, we’ve got a huge doorway, but heading to where?” Reyburn wondered.

Playing with her scanner further, the major eventually looked back at the others. “I think it’s safe for us to remove this debris with some well-placed charges.” 

“I agree.” Stanton said. “If we want to know what’s beyond this then we need to get rid of this.” He gestured towards the rubble that sat next to them. “The structure of the frame is made out of an extremely thick metallic ore. I would say the colonists refined it from the planet as it doesn’t appear to be anything that our scanners recognise.”

Müller pondered for a moment and then the building jerked suddenly after the Romulans bombarded it again. Debris from the ceilings and walls started to crumble over them. The building was about to become a large set of rubble. “Okay, let’s do it as there’s no other way we are getting out of here alive. Major, set your charges.”

Danvers, with her fellow MACO soldiers, strategically placed their explosives around the debris while Stanton double checked the calculations to ensure the entire building didn’t collapse from what they were about to do. Satisfied that it was safe to proceed, the landing party moved away from the debris and back around the corner. The major shouted out a warning and pressed her detonator. A second later and an explosion erupted. 

Once the dust had partially settled, the Starfleet team moved to examine the wreckage they had just caused. Fortunately for them, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. They now had a clear path to explore what was ahead of them. Reaching for the handheld torches, Müller led his officers into a long dark corridor.