Part of Challenger: All For One & One For All

SEVENTEEN

Discovery NX-04, in orbit of Gault Colony
Tuesday, October 8th, 2155
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The more time went by, the more Commander Alex Rodham’s concerns grew. Trying to keep himself pre-occupied and not worrying about the landing party, Alex had decided not to sit in the captain’s chair. Instead he had returned to the bridge, after seeing them off, and had taken his position at the helm. This had helped keep his nerves at bay, he knew he had to keep calm in front of the crew. He was now in command. 

The bridge was silent, silent because nobody had anything to report. This only added to Rodham’s anxiety. Taking a breath to calm himself, the pilot and first officer took a moment to adjust the ship’s heading slightly while it orbited the small farming colony. It had amazed him that when the original colonists had left Earth, they had picked this moon that orbited a gas giant to land on. There was a perfectly good Minshara class planet in the system, however reports state that the settlers felt the moon of the eighth planet in the Barnard’s Star system reminded them more of home. Sentimental fools Rodham thought. 

There was a beep, followed by another beep and as each one happened, they began to sound urgent. Looking up from his controls, Rodham worked out they were coming from the tactical station to his left. “What is it Nathan?” He asked the armoury officer. 

Lieutenant Commander Wallis rushed to get his response. “The proximity alarm has picked up six sub-light ships rapidly approaching us sir.” He paused as he looked further at the readouts. “They’re Romulan attack ships sir and they’re weapons are hot.”

“Sound battle-stations.” Rodham hastily ordered as he rose from his chair. It finally dawned on him that he knew he couldn’t command the ship during a fight from the helm. Looking at Captain Müller’s chair, he took a breath and sat in it. Since being made first officer he had rarely sat in it. He looked at his second helm officer, Ensign Jenson Hurst, who had stepped forward after standing behind them in the situation room. The young Canadian man got himself comfortable. “Jenson, bring us towards our target.”

“Aye sir.” Hurst replied and brought the ship around towards the incoming Romulan ships. 

Wallis spoke up, “Sir, those ships are only slightly bigger than a shuttlepod, I would say they’re more like fighters. Highly manoeuvrable and armed with plasma cannons. Their armour plating shouldn’t be an issue with our weapons.”

“Then taking them out shouldn’t be an issue then. Fire at will.” Rodham commanded. The Romulans had devastated too many allies that they didn’t deserve the compassion of the Earth fleet trying to prevent hostilities. He wasn’t going to give them the chance to open fire first. They would deal the first salvo and take it from there. 

Discovery began its attack run as it fired its phase cannons and unleashed a barrage of photonic torpedoes. The attack fighters dodged in-between the fire at high impulse and began spewing out their green plasma fire from their forward cannons. The rest of the Earth fleet joined in the battle. Wallis had set the ship’s torpedoes to detonate in proximity to the Romulans if they evaded them. The multiple shockwaves were causing havoc for the Romulans to keep their momentum going for long. Discovery took out two fighters while the Avon and Murray took out another one that was trying to evade them through a round of loop-the-loop manoeuvres. The remaining three fighters all peeled off and re-grouped as they began their final attack run. 

“Sir, they’re lining up to take on the Canberra.”  Lieutenant Nuñez announced from her science station.

Wallis soon followed her after he worked out what the Romulans were up to. “It’s a kamikaze attack sir!” 

“Jenson, quickly move us between the Romulans and the Canberra. Nathan, fire everything we’ve got!” Rodham ordered. 

Turning a full rotation to port, Discovery attempted to chase the Romulans as they began firing on the Canberra which was already attempting to move away the three ships. Avon, Murray and Pathfinder began opening fire as they followed Discovery. One Romulan ship exploded after a lucky hit from a phase cannon, followed by a second. The third one somehow increased power to its engines as it sped across space, passed the wreckage of its dead comrades and smacked into the side of the Canberra

“Report!” Rodham bellowed, wanting to know the status of the Sarajevo-class ship. 

Nuñez answered first. “The attack ship rammed the Canberra’s cargo holds sir. They’ve lost main power; hull plating is gone but they’re safe.”

“Ensign Russo, send a message to Captain Vaughn that we’re sending over teams to help out with repairs and injuries.” Rodham told his communications officer. 

“Aye sir.” Russo replied as she began putting their message together.

“Any other Romulan ships?” Rodham asked Wallis.

Wallis shook his head. “I’m not seeing any more out there.”

“Commander, just before the Romulans attacked I detected an explosion near the central settlement of the colony.” Nuñez stated. She was reviewing the sensor logs. “Sir, I think they hit our shuttlepod.”

Rodham’s heart had stopped for a moment after he heard her say that. Determined to find out what was going on he looked at his helm officer. “Ensign Hurst, get us back into orbit of Gault.”

“Commander, you may not like this.” Russo spoke up. “Captain Hollander is sending a message from the Pathfinder to all ships. He’s stating he’s taking command of the task group. He’s ordering us to stand down our teams to Canberra as he’s crew will deal with it. He also wants us to know why we’ve lost contact with Captain Müller’s landing party.”

Almost huffing aloud, Rodham sat back down in the captain’s chair. “Tell Captain Hollander that we are about to investigate why.” He replied in an annoyed tone. “Nathan, prep shuttlepod two for launch and Maria, will you please get those probes and drones launched. I want to know what’s going on down there.”

He got a response of “aye sirs” from his crew. Not knowing what had happened was frustrating him, while he tried to contain it, he prayed that none of the landing party were dead, especially his husband.


Friday, May 14th, 2145

Starfleet Training Command Campus, San Francisco, United States of America, Earth

 

“And that should be the last one to go into storage.” Michael remarked as he sealed the lid of the box and then activated the lock on it. “The rest will come with me to the Miranda.”

Alex stood looking around the “loft”, wondering where the past few years had gone. No longer were him and Michael freshmen at Starfleet Training Command, but graduated officers both of whom were about to start their first assignments. 

“It’s funny how big it appears with all of our stuff gone.” Michael remarked when he noticed Alex staring. 

Nodding in agreement, the young pilot couldn’t believe this was it. “Can you believe it? It’s strange to think that by this time tomorrow we won’t be waking up here.”

Michael sighed; it was a bittersweet moment for them. “You’ll be on the Rhine, flying around on a brand-new Ganges-class while I’m keeping a recently new Intrepid-class from breaking down anymore.”

Smirking at the fact that he felt he got the better deal out of them; Alex walked up to Michael and placed his arms around his neck. “Don’t be jealous about being an engineer.”

“Urgh,” Michael said in disgust at the thought of him ever changing his career path, “Why the hell would I wanna be a flyboy? And what’s wrong being a comical, hard-working, genius, engineer who has got the best boyish grin in the fleet?”

Snorting at Michael’s humble description of himself, Alex pulled his boyfriend closer to him. “You missed something.” He threw back.

“What?”

“Handsome.” Alex flirted with and gave Michael a peck on his lips. 

Rolling his eyes at that comment, Michael didn’t mind the kiss. “Well, just make a promise. No foolin’ around with any alien eye candy out there, okay?”

“Right back at ya’!” Alex remarked. “Can you believe this is it?” He asked again.

“For the tenth time today, yes.” Michael answered back with. He took one more glance around the place they had come to know as home while they undertook their training. They had packed up their shared items and put them into long-term storage, while what they would need on their new ships had already been shipped off and would be waiting for them when they arrived. Smiling at the many great memories they had here, he really did not want to go. Leaning down he picked up the rucksack that was sitting on the floor and put it on his back and then picked up the other satchel bag that was next to it. “Ready to go?” He asked Alex. 

Alex took one more glance around as he picked up his belongings and nodded. “Yeah, let’s do this.” He took hold of Michael’s empty hand and the two of them walked out of the loft for the final time. 

Walking across the campus, the two newly minted Starfleet officers smiled at the other cadets that were out and about undertaking training or heading off to their next lectures. Still hand-in-hand, they made their way past the gardens that were kept up by the groundskeeper, she was a fanatic gardener and often chased the cadets if they were stepping on areas they weren’t meant to. 

Eventually they reached the docking port, where a number of Starfleet transports were being boarded by various officers. The nearest one was heading to the Rhine, Alex’s ship. Approaching it, still holding each other’s hand, the two young ensigns stopped just before the small set of steps. Alex put his bag down and pulled Michael in for one more passionate kiss.

Once they let go of each other, the young engineer smiled. “I’m expecting it to be still that intense when we see each other in a few months’ time.”

Nodding in agreement, Alex pecked him one more time. “Remember the moment we go out of range to each other we will write to one another every day!”

Michael now nodded. “Yes, I promise.” He said. 

Picking up his bag, the pilot turned around and walked up the steps and got inside the transport. He looked over his shoulder, smiled at Michael and mouthed the words “I love you”. Michael returned the gesture and gave him a cheeky wink before making his way towards his transport to the Miranda. For the first time in years, since starting his training, a wave of nerves washed over him. Maybe it was because he was sad to leave Alex, STC and begin a new chapter in his life. He desperately wanted to know if he and Alex would survive this break from seeing each other. 

God, I hope so, he thought.


 

Tuesday, October 8th, 2155

Gault Colony

 

The tunnel they had found seemed to go on for a long time – well so Stanton thought. His hand was starting to hurt from holding the torch in his left hand while he held his phase pistol in the other. He took a mental note to consider designing a torch that would give him the ability to use both hands. Not keen on wearing a torch on his head, he wondered what it would take to make one that could wrap around his wrist. Distracted by his thoughts, he hadn’t noticed everyone else had stopped until he almost bumped into the captain. 

“Well, well,” Müller muttered, “what do we have here?”

Instantly, Stanton put his pistol back into his side pocket and took out his scanner. Before the group was a huge metallic circular object. It was obvious from sight that it was a hatch of some sort. “I would say sir from the way it is constructed this is a blast door. It’s similar to the type they used to use for underground bunkers in the Third World War. The door has a number of locks and safeguards to keep people out of it.” He indicated towards a nearby lectern that had a computer screen and a keyboard under it. “Wow, this is some retro gear here.” He remarked as he walked over and began looking over it.

Müller made his way over behind Stanton. “Can we use it to get in?”

Stanton began trying to activate the console and see what he could find. “There seems to be a lockout in place. The technology may be older sir, but the security behind it is impressive. I may be able to break the encryption if we can get in touch with Discovery and use its computer to do the work via an uplink with my scanner.”

Liking the engineer’s idea, Müller told him to do it. Michael placed his torch down beside the keyboard, took out his communicator and spoke into it. “Stanton to Discovery, anyone up there?”

The communicator only responded with static. He fiddled with its controls and tried to call them again. His efforts were met with the same response. Müller and the others took out theirs too and none of them were able to get through.

“Michael,” Müller started, “did you mention that you encountered a metallic ore that blocked Challenger’s sensors on that Andorian colony? Could that same source be interfering with our communicators?”

Stanton considered it for a moment. They had never tested the communicators in such a manner. “It’s a possibility sir.” He answered. 

Müller looked towards Major Danvers, “Leona, you and Private Gomez return to the entrance of the tunnel. Along the way keep trying to hail the ship. If you can’t get a signal, scout beyond the tunnel to see if it’s safe for us to return to the surface. If we can’t get past this lock, then we may need to attempt a new strategy of eluding the Romulans.”

Danvers nodded in acknowledgement and she left straight away with Gomez. 

Stanton continued to work on the problem, he was pretty good with maths and cracking a lockout would be a great challenge for him.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Reyburn offered to Stanton.

The engineer shook his head, “I’m good thanks doc.” He politely declined with. “Unless you know the password to unpick this lock?”

Reyburn smiled and countered back with a quip, “I’ve got a hairclip if that helps?!”

Smirking at the doctor’s joke, Stanton returned to his work while she and the captain with Corporal Salah guarded his position. The tunnel was almost pitch black, which made attempting to by-pass the lock with just his scanner testing for the engineer. The old fashion keyboard, with its individual letters, numbers and various punctuation marks, was almost alien to Michael. The computer screen appeared ancient too. It was a flat screen and the operating system had a black background and a basic image requesting for a twelve alphanumeric password. To add insult to injury, the image itself was flashing and was becoming a nuisance. 

Danvers to Müller,” came the voice of their MACO leader over their communicators. 

Instantly Müller took out his device, “Go ahead major.”

Danvers spoke up, her voice having a sense of urgency and concern within it. “Sir, I don’t know how we missed it, but Private Gomez and I have discovered a body halfway up the tunnel. It’s not human and our scanners can’t register it. But my gut instinct is saying it’s a Romulan.” 

The news of a dead Romulan wasn’t something any of them were expecting to hear. In fact, since the war had started no-one in Starfleet knew what a Romulan looked like. Müller looked up at Reyburn as he spoke back to Danvers. “Hold your position, the doctor and I are going to join you.”

Aye sir, Danvers out.” 

Looking towards the engineer, “Michael,” Müller said, “I’m leaving you and Private Salah here to get this door open.”

Stanton nodded in acknowledgement. “No worries sir.”

The captain and doctor soon jogged off to join the major. Stanton could only wonder what they would find, he shuddered the thought of seeing an alien corpse and returned to working on the lock


Discovery NX-04, in orbit of Gault Colony

 

“So, as you can see,” said Nuñez, “our scanners and probes confirm that the Romulans did destroy Shuttlepod One.” She was pointing to the live scans that were currently being sent back to Discovery

Rodham, along with Wallis and Russo, were all listening to the science officer as she briefed them on what they knew so far. The commander, who was at the head of the large rectangular table, crossed his arms as he heard the news. “Any life signs?” He asked her. 

“No sir,” Nuñez reported. “That said sir, we’re picking traces of a metallic alloy that is interfering with our scanners. From what I can tell, it is natural to the planetoid and the colonists have used it to construct their buildings.” 

“Sir,” said Wallis, “Let me take a heavily armed team down there to see if we can find them.”

“I appreciate the offer Nathan, but right now I don’t want to send anyone down until we know more.” Rodham replied. “I can’t risk any more lives.” It felt wrong adding that remark at the end, but he knew he had to. He couldn’t be sure they would get the answers they wanted or if it was safe. 

Wallis, who sounded frustrated, had unfolded his arms and gestured towards the screen before them. “Sir, I think the colony is safe for us to carry on investigating. Looking at the attack patterns, I think the Romulans were attacking the central settlement’s government building. That’s where we should start.”

Russo cleared her throat, “Along with that sir, how else are we to know how the captain’s landing party is? They’re not responding to our hails. We need to send people down, plus I would recommend we send them down with radio amplifiers so we can establish a stronger signal with them.”

“Sitting up here isn’t helping anyone, plus we need to find the colonists.” Nuñez added her own two cents in. 

Rubbing his chin, Rodham gave in to the pressure. “Okay, but I want two teams to go down. One in Shuttlepod Two and let’s bring Shuttlepods Three and Four online. We’ll take Three down and keep Four up here.” They all seemed to appreciate the commander’s orders. “I’ll lead one team who will determine where the captain has gone while Maria leads the other to find the colonists. Nathan, you’ll remain here in command. Any questions?”

Wallis cleared his throat. “Sir, with all due respect, I don’t think you should be leaving the ship.”

Looking at his armoury officer, Rodham asked him: “Why?”

“Commander, it’s inappropriate for you to lead the team. We’re at war and with the captain gone along with other senior members of staff, your place is here on the bridge. If the ship has to engage the Romulans again, you should be commanding the ship.” Wallis took a breath after speaking. 

Rodham considered his words. “Very well Nathan.” He replied with a sense of frustration in his tone. “You’ll command the landing party that goes for the captain. Are we all happy with that?”

No-one said a thing. 

“Good, dismissed.” Rodham ordered. He was annoyed that he wouldn’t be leading the team to find his husband. But then that was probably the real reason Nathan made his opening remark. It was inappropriate for him to leave the ship due to his emotional attachment with Michael. Would he’s judgement be slightly biased or even impaired by the notion that he was worried for Michael’s safety and wellbeing. Deciding not to think anymore into it, Rodham watched both Nuñez and Wallis leave the bridge while Russo returned to her station. 

Following in his communication officer’s footsteps, he made his way over to the captain’s chair and sat in it. Earlier on, during the battle, he had found himself actually getting comfortable in it. However now, he couldn’t sit in and relax without knowing if Michael was okay. While at the back of his mind, something was telling him that he and Michael needed to talk about this. Both of them serving together was not working for him. He felt horrible for feeling it, nevertheless he knew he couldn’t go on like this.


Gault Colony

 

Unfortunately, for Stanton his prayer not to see the dead alien had not been answered. Only a few moments after the captain left him, he had called the engineer down to assist Doctor Reyburn. Once he and Salah had arrived, they found Reyburn on knees hovering her scanner over a body that was partially covered in rocks (hence why they hadn’t seen it earlier). 

“You called for an engineer?” Stanton said as he moved to be near the captain. 

Müller turned to look at Stanton just as Major Danvers was cracking some UV sticks to light up where they were standing. “The doctor has come stuck in identifying our friend.” He gestured towards the body on the floor. 

“Oh?” Stanton said as he looked over to where the captain was pointing. He flashed his torch in Reyburn’s direction.

The good doctor clarified her problem from where she sat. “I’m detecting high levels of a poison in the body that is quickly decomposing it from the inside out.”

“That sounds disgusting.” Stanton remarked. 

Reyburn nodded in agreement. “I’ve got a feeling, from the chemical make-up I can detect, it could be the Romulan’s version of a cyanide pill.” She then moved her scanner to where the head was, but as Stanton looked closer, he noticed it wasn’t a head but a helmet. “However, this helmet seems to be infused with the uniform. There’s a release button here on the side, however I am also detecting a small explosive device linked to it.” She stood up. “If we open it then I am sure it will go off.”

“Do you think you could deactivate it?” Müller asked Stanton.

Stanton scrunched up his face as he considered what he could do as he took out his own scanner. “I’m not sure sir.” He answered as he detected the explosive device on his device. It was connected to the release mechanism and was definitely active. He could detect the power cell. 

“Do we really want to see what’s underneath the helmet?” Major Danvers asked as she had set the last of her cracked UV sticks.

“Wouldn’t it be helpful if we knew who we were fighting?” Reyburn countered back with. “Do we even know that this was a Romulan?”

“Well, I’m assuming that a small farming colony rarely has alien visitors to it. Along with that the poor guy, if it’s a guy, was shot dead by a MK-thirty-four. Those are weapons that the original colonists had brought with them.” Müller announced as he pointed to the bullet wounds in the suit’s shell. 

“Sir, I think I can create a low level EMP shockwave that would deactivate the power cell in the helmet. The helmet is heavily damaged, so it shouldn’t be a problem.” Stanton said, disturbing the discussion that had been taking place. “I can match the cell’s power frequency and disrupt it long enough for us to open the helmet and complete the removal of the explosive device.”

The captain gave the all clear to do it with a simple nod. As Stanton reconfigured his scanner, the group all stood back (just in case). Activating his scanner, a small wave left it and struck the helmet. A small discharge of smoke came out of the helmet and its release button hissed which was followed by the helmet’s front section splitting apart in half. It may have been Stanton, but he was certain they all took a breath as he peered to see who was behind the mask.