Part of Challenger: The Romulan War: A Shot In The Dark

SEVEN

Challenger NX-03
Sunday, November 2nd, 2155
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Fleet Captain’s star log, November second, twenty-one-fifty-five. Operation Stormbreaker is ready to proceed. Both ships are standing by and I’ve given the order to begin at oh six hundred hours. With any luck, my next log entry will be made after a great victory for Earth. But should our luck run out, I’d like to say for the record that the crews of Challenger and Discovery acted with distinction and valour.”

Casually walking down the corridor of D deck, Fleet Captain Burton and Commander Stanton made their way to the transporter bay. As they did, Stanton was zipping up his field jacket and adjusting his black backpack. Attached to his hip was a phase pistol and his scanner. Slung over his shoulder was his phase rifle too. 

“Packed enough?” Burton quipped towards his first officer after he realised how much the chief engineer had.

Nodding in acknowledgement, Stanton smirked at his boss. “Everything except the galley sink. Chef Lawson wouldn’t let me take it.”

Chuckling at the idea, Burton shook his head. “I heard she’s prepared meals for you all.”

“Oh you wouldn’t believe how much she’s done.” Stanton stated as they turned right and down the final corridor towards the transporter. “She told me she’s planning to create her own field rations as she hates the ones that Starfleet makes.”

“Well make sure you all are back in time to try them out!” Burton jokingly ordered. 

The corridor was pretty much bare so when they finally arrived at their destination, Stanton’s ensemble were all standing and ready to go. All of them were suited and booted like him.

Seeing Major Yu in all of her gear was an impressive sight. The MACO leader appeared like she was playing a character from an old twenty-first century action film with the amount of weaponry she had strapped to her. 

“Hasta la vista…Major!” Burton remarked with the same smirk he had held with Stanton.

Looking up after clipping her dual phase pistols to her hips, the Canadian military officer copied the captain’s grin. “I’ll be back…sir!” 

“You better be!” Burton said, still smiling at her. The major and he at the start of their time on Challenger had spent some time after one movie night debating the finer points of what humanity had considered what the future would be like. This had taken place when Chef Lawson had put on a trilogy of action films from the twentieth century about a cyborg sent back in time to terminate a woman from giving birth to a man who would lead the human resistance against computers trying to control the world. The iconic quotes from it had been repeated around the ship a few weeks after the movie marathon. 

Stanton had turned to his deputy, Lieutenant Masuko who was standing by the transporter controls. The Japanese engineer looked to her boss and spoke quietly just between them. “Anything you’d like done around here while you’re gone? Gravity plating recalibrated, carpets cleaned?”

“Surprise me Sakura.” Stanton said as he stepped up onto the transporter bay and indicated for the others from Challenger joining Captain Müller’s team to do the same. “Just make sure the ship is still in one piece when I get back.”

“You betcha!” Masuko said with a friendly grin. She tapped away on the controls and turned to Burton. “We’re ready sir.”

“Good luck,” He said to the team. “I expect to see you all back in one piece. Is that clear?”

Stanton, Yu, Habiba and Conrad all replied with confirmation of his orders.

“See you all soon.” Burton said and he looked at Masuko. “By all means Sakura, energise.”

Complying with her captain’s order, the engineer activated the controls and pushed the controls upwards to start the transporter cycle. The team all dematerialised and were sent on their way to join the captured drone ship. Burton turned to look at Masuko, “Thanks lieutenant and let me know when you’re planning to whip around with the vacuum cleaners!” Burton cheekily said before walking away from her. Masuko just chuckled to herself and made her way back to engineering while the captain made his way to the bridge.


After a fast trip on the lift to the bridge, Fleet Captain Burton stepped out of the cart and towards the centre of the room. Lieutenant Commander Walker, his acting first officer for this mission, rose from the captain’s chair. As he did, the Alpha Centauran reported to his commanding officer. “Commander Stanton’s team is safely on board the Prowler.”

Burton winced at the name that Müller had given to the captured drone ship and then to the whole operation. Neither were original, but it put their intentions across. They intended on removing from the Romulans their ability to use the micro-singularity to project their telepresence ability any further. “Thank you Cooper.” Burton said as he took over in his chair. Looking down at the helm, it was unusual to find Ensign Hathaway sat there. She was just as good as Lieutenant Conrad, but for now she would fly the ship while her superior participated in the attack. “Angela, are we ready to leave the Barrens?”

“We are sir.” She spoke in her thick Scottish accent. The niece of the Starfleet Commander-in-Chief looked up from her controls. “Once we are clear sir we can enter warp at your command.”

“Thanks,” Burton said as he looked over to his armoury officer. “Are we ready Rachele?”

Nodding in response, Cortez answered him. “Commander Stanton’s modifications to our warp profiles are complete. If anyone sees us on long range scanners they will think that we and Discovery are two of drone ships alongside the Prowler. We’ve also powered down all non-essential systems and the extra power is now in our defence systems.”

“And our distraction is ready to go?” Burton asked his armoury officer.

Cortez nodded. “Yes sir, again give the signal and both Discovery and us can launch the probes modified by Commander Walker. They will look like a nice invasion force of combined Earth, Vulcan, Andorian and Tellarite on anyone’s long range sensors.”

Walker spoke up. “However sir, any ship near to them that can run short range scans will detect that they’re false warp signatures. We’ve even increased the energy output to catch the attention of the Romulans in thinking they are seeing a combined force of twenty-one ships’ warp profiles.”

“And if they don’t fall for all of the trickery?” Hennessey asked from his seat at the communications station.

“Then the team on the Prowler will be going in alone and without any of our nearby support as planned.” Burton remarked. “Let’s have some faith here Ned. This is the most detailed attack plan we’ve put together since…well I suppose when we liberated Docana.”

“And that went swimmingly well.” The linguist muttered as he turned back to his console. He cleared his throat as soon as he noticed the captain had ignored his comment. “I have established a low-level secured communication channel with the Prowler. The Romulans would have a lot of issues in breaking it and hopefully detecting it.”

“And if they do?” Hathaway challenged the older man with a playful grin.

“Have faith of the heart Miss Hathaway, just like the captain said.” Hennessey replied when he realised she was teasing him. His board then lit up and he looked over to Burton. “Sir, we’ve just received confirmation from Discovery and the Prowler. They are ready to go.”

Taking in a deep breath, Burton looked over to Cortez and ordered for her to take them to tactical alert. Once the lights had dropped and the red flashing lights started he ordered Hathaway to engage their engines and to take them on their way.


Prowler (Captured Romulan drone ship)

 

Six hours into their flight, Captain Müller had decided to take a break from being in the command pit. This is why they had decided to rebrand the name of the bridge. It didn’t appear like any Starfleet bridge he and his team had known, but the name pit seemed more appropriate. The circular shaped room dropped down to allow the large cylindrical subspace transceiver. Just off from the pit, a large room which may have been put aside for the ship’s commanding officer as an office in the original configuration, had been set up as a bunk room for the team. Temporary camp-beds had been put up to allow them the opportunity to rest. Along with that the engineers from both Discovery and Challenger had set up some portable showers, toilets and a place for them to heat up their food. It wasn’t luxury living but it was enough for them for this mission. 

Stepping into the bunkroom, Müller unzipped his field jacket. They had found that the environmental controls on the Prowler couldn’t be modified too much as it appeared the Romulans had originally configured them to keep the whole ship cool due to the amount of energy being pushed through to power its impressive weapons array and sub-light engines. Müller found himself not appearing the extra chill, so he had decided to grab a hoodie, Starfleet standard issue, to put on under his jacket. He knew he had packed one in his gear. As he made his way over to his bed, he noticed that Lieutenant Habiba, the science officer from Burton, was sat on her own bed reading from a data tablet.

“My apologies Martha.” He said to the young woman. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

Habiba looked up from her reading and shook her head. “No, please do not feel like you have sir.”

Smirking in polite gratitude, Müller went on to pull out the top he was looking for and pulled it over him before putting his jacket back on. The coldness in the room could be seen slightly from the fact that their breaths could be seen. Turning around to face the quiet science officer, the captain spoke up. “What are you reading, lieutenant, especially in the dark?”

Habiba put the tablet down in her lap. She was sitting with her legs crossed and what looked like a blanket over her shoulders. She leant down to the floor and picked up a mug of a hot beverage. “I’m just reading those papers that Commander Walker mentioned about micro-singularities.”

“Some last-minute cramming, hey?” Müller said, slightly amused.

Habiba nodded after she took a sip from her drink. “I’ve already read it, but I thought it would be useful to have another glance over it.” She stood up, keeping the blanket wrapped around her as she went over to where they were keeping their food and beverages. “Can I get you a mug of coffee sir?”

Nodding in thanks, Müller walked over to her. “That would be great, danke.” He said with his German accent coming out strong as he used his native expression of saying thank you.

Topping up her mug that had a lid on it to keep the warmth in, the science officer proceeded to take out a clean flask from the small storage unit they had and filled it up with the hot liquid. Handing it over to Müller, “Gern geschehen sir.” She said in a strong German accent.

Impressed at what he heard; Müller smiled. “Your German pronunciation is almost perfect, lieutenant.”

“Thank you sir, my father would be pleased to hear that.” Habiba said. “He teaches German in a London secondary school. He insisted that my brother, sister and I all learnt a language each. Whereas my brother went for French and my sister picked Romanian, I found the German language more appealing.”

“Ausgezeichnet.” Müller praised her by saying excellent. “Have you had any more thoughts on our plan A using the anti-thoron burst?”

Shaking her head in almost disappointment. “Nothing more than beyond what Commander Walker came up with. I still think we should follow his suggestion in using the drone’s particle weapons to weaken any shielding they have to avoid them disrupting or preventing the burst from getting to the singularity.”

“I’m sure Nathan is itching to fire the Prowler’s weapons back at the Romulans.” The captain commented.

“He’s not the only one sir.” Habiba remarked.

Looking at her between sips, Müller posed a question. “I take it you have personal beef against the Romulans as well?”

“Not as much as some others, but I know that Lieutenant Conrad is eager to get back at them for the destruction of the E.C.S. Raven. I’m hoping this mission will give him some peace that he has somehow avenged their loss.” Habiba remarked. 

“I am certain that will take place Martha.” Müller said with confidence as he leant against a nearby bulkhead. “So tell me why is it that Lloyd’s top biologist is on this mission? And the real reason is Miss Habiba, not the one you used in that meeting the other day to cover up why you appeared almost desperate to be here.”

Habiba drank more of her coffee and decided to sit back on the edge of her bunk bed. “To be perfectly honest sir, even though Fleet Captain Burton has given me a second chance on Challenger after I mucked up hugely during our last mission, I don’t feel it’s enough to completely redeem myself. If I can complete the mission then it will go a long way in helping me out.”

“Why?” Müller enquired. “Why not ask for a simple transfer? What’s the point of carrying on if you need to dig yourself out of a huge pit to be back in the crew’s best books?”

Considering the captain’s question carefully, Martha took a taste of her coffee before answering. “Because that’s the easy way out sir and I took the easy way out before and the only good I got out of it was my career from Starfleet. I lost good friends and upset my own parents from that choice. And my single reason for doing it was to get away from the man that I loved. I won’t do that again to the crew of Challenger, so if I have to work a bit harder to prove myself and if that means keeping my distance for a bit to allow others to let go of the mistake I made then I’ll do it.”

“Well Lieutenant Habiba, I applaud your conviction.” Müller responded. “But remember that it may take less time to wipe out a Romulan base with an anti-thoron burst compared to rebuilding lost relationships.”

“I appreciate the counsel sir, but I won’t give up on Challenger.” She remarked.

“Not even to serve on another ship? Discovery is just as good as Challenger.” Müller stated.

 “I was pre-warned that you like to pinch people and things that belong to Fleet Captain Burton.” Habiba said with a grin. “Thank you for the suggestion, but I’ll be remaining with Challenger for some time.”


Discovery NX-04

 

“Sir, I’ve got that update you requested?” 

Commander Alex Rodham looked up from where he was sitting in the captain’s chair of Discovery’s bridge. To his left was his own acting first officer, Commander Roman Burton. “Thanks Roman.” Rodham said as he took hold of the data tablet that was in the engineer’s hands and started to go through its contents.

After passing it to the current acting captain of Discovery, Roman took a moment to breathe before he spoke up. “Do you fancy taking a break sir?”

Looking up from what he was reading, Rodham realised what the engineer was doing and smiled in appreciation. “Sounds like a good idea.” He looked over to the science station. “Maria, take over here for me.” He ordered the science officer, who in return simply nodded. 

Moments later the two commanders were sitting in the private confines of the captain’s dining room. Their chef had brought in some lunch for them, a simple meal of a jacket potato for each of them covered with an assortment of fillings with a side salad. After almost eating it all, they were now sipping on the mugs of coffee that they had been given. 

“You think this mission will succeed?” Rodham asked as he placed his mug down on the table.

Hesitating at first to answer straight out, Burton considered his response before giving it in almost a glum tone. “I’m not sure it will succeed in the way we want it to.” 

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Rodham said as he started to fiddle with his wedding ring. “Don’t get me wrong, I can see why Starfleet thinks so highly of your brother. He is an impressive tactician, but there’s something in the back of my mind that is saying the Romulans won’t make it easy for us.”

“I know what you’re saying.” Burton said, “And in Lloyd’s defence – he wouldn’t have planned so many backups to ensure we succeed. Knowing him as well as I do, it’s his way of trying to reduce as many variables he knows he can’t control. The distraction with the use of the probes, even though it was his new science officer’s idea, I can smell Lloyd all over it. I can just see it now that he stood in Challenger’s situation room and said that the distraction needed to fool the Romulans into thinking they were about to take on an allied force and he wanted to know what was the best way of doing it without compromising any of our ships from being picked up.”

“You’re right, Walker is good but your brother definitely has an edge.” Rodham remarked. “Michael is always going on about how great he is.”

Rolling his eyes at hearing how wonderful his older brother was, “I’m not surprised. Becoming the skipper of Challenger has brought out the best in Lloyd. My older sister, Madison, won’t admit it but she’s jealous of him.”

Chuckling at that, Rodham picked up his mug to take another sip. “And what about you and your younger brother, Seth?”

“No way.” Burton said as he shook his head. “I love Lloyd, in fact Seth probably idolises him a bit but there’s no way either of us can be jealous of Lloyd. He might be one of the best tacticians in the fleet but he isn’t one of the best engineers in the fleet.”

“That’s true,” Rodham stated, “I mean THE best engineer is on the Prowler right now!” He added as he mocked Burton.

Clutching his chest, pretending as if he had been shot in the heart, Burton laughed the comment off. “That is truly hurtful Alex.”

“Well I gotta keep my chief engineer on his feet.” Rodham replied.

Silence then filled the room.

“You worried about him as much as I am about Nathan?” Burton asked.

Nodding to confirm, Rodham answered the question honestly. “Absolutely. It’s weird when we were dating before, I never once worried this much.”

“Marriage changes people, from what I hear.” Burton said. “If it helps, I tried to convince Nathan that he should stay or I would hide his favourite guitar somewhere on the ship. I may still do it for a laugh.”

The two men chuckled just as the intercom then went off. Nuñez’s voice followed. “Bridge to Commander Rodham.” 

Getting up from the table and pushing the nearby intercom pad on the wall. “Go ahead Maria.”

Sir, I thought you would like to know that we’ve just crossed into Romulan territory. Fleet Captain Burton has ordered the launch of the probe network.”

“Make it so.” Rodham ordered. “Commander Burton and I will be up there shortly.”

The two of them put their napkins down on the table and left the room, heading back to the bridge to see the next stage of the mission go ahead.


Challenger NX-03

 

Stood at the main station in the armoury, Lieutenant Cortez continued to play with her simulation. The new chief armoury officer for Challenger was trying to find as many different ways to develop tactics against the Romulans. It was something she had been doing since they had returned to Challenger and had gone off after the missing Starfleet ships. Now she had access to the tactical data around the Romulan drone ship, which from what Hennessey had told her the Romulans had classed as a T’Liss warbird, her simulations took up most of her time when she wasn’t on the bridge or doing another assignment. She wanted to be ready when Challenger engaged them so she wanted as many surprises up her sleeve.

Concentrating on her work at hand, she hadn’t heard the doors to the armoury open and close along with the footsteps that approached from behind her. 

“Rachele, what are you up to?” A familiar and friendly voice spoke, breaking the armoury officer’s attention. 

Taking a deep inhale as she paused the simulation and looked over her right shoulder to see her friend, Lieutenant Masuko climbing up onto the raised platform that she was on. “Just working on a few tricks to use against the Romulans.”

“What back up plan is this? Plan E?” Masuko teased as she looked at the paused display before looking back at her friend and colleague. “The captain wants to launch those probes.”

Nodding at the update, Cortez closed the programme she had set up and looked over at the probes that were stacked up and ready to be launched from Challenger. A similar amount was located in Discovery’s armoury too. “How confident that they’re going to do what we want?”

“Commander Walker seems confident with it.” Masuko said as she started to help Cortez program the targeting scanners as the probes that were now inside the casing of photonic torpedoes were lowered into their launchers. “Lieutenant Hennessey agrees that the dropping of a subspace amplifier will only enhance the probes’ network ability to project the warp signatures.”

“And what about our acting chief engineer?” Cortez enquired as she finished tapping away at the launch sequencer. 

Smirking at hearing that title, Masuko nodded to show her confidence in the plan too. “It will work but the question is for how long. Let’s just hope long enough to fool the Romulans enough.”

“And if not?” Cortez pondered.

“Then you better make sure Plan E is ready to go!” Masuko said as she tapped the intercom panel. “Masuko to bridge.”

Burton’s voice then echoed throughout the armoury chamber. “Go ahead lieutenant.”

“We’re ready sir. If you can tell Angela and Discovery to drop from warp we can launch the probes under your orders.” The acting chief engineer stated.

Let’s do it.” Burton commanded.

Challenger and Discovery slowed to sub-light speed while the Prowler remained at warp speed. The whole plan had been for them to go ahead of them. Once the two Earth ships were clear and safely away from the captured ship they launched their probes. It didn’t take long for them to move away from the two ships.

Satisfied that the probe network was ready, Cortez spoke to her captain. “Sir, the probes are all in position. We can set our one-hour delay for them to come to life and appear on long range sensors as our lovely Coalition task force.”

Proceed Rachele, once you’ve activated the timer we are heading back to warp. I want you back up here on the bridge.” Burton ordered.

“Understood sir.” She said as she tapped away at her console and within a second the network activated and the timer started. In one hour the Romulans would see an invasion force on the doorstep. Hopefully it would make them take a peek and remove their ships away from their base that Challenger and Discovery were hoping to get removed.


Voyager NV-03
Close to Deneva (Kappa Fornacis) System

 

Noticing her first officer appearing to be frustrated by something as she kept looking up from her scope to her main screen and then back again, Captain Madison Burton placed the data tablet she had in her hands down into her lap and called after her right hand. “Sian, what’s the problem?”

Commander Doyle stopped what she was doing and with her puzzled expression across her face looked at her commanding officer. “I think I’ve found them?”

“Really?” Burton said with a surprise and happy tone, but then she stopped herself. Over the last few years she got quite good at reading Doyle’s expression and straight away she knew something was wrong, standing up she approached the science station. “What is it, Sian?”

“Well, both ships are moving at speeds just below the light-speed threshold entering Romulan space but they’re not alone.” Doyle said and she transferred what she was seeing on her screen to the main viewer. The readings showed a small flotilla of ships, moving just below warp one with warp profiles that made them stick out like a sore thumb. Tapping at her controls she highlighted some of the readings, cycling through each one at a reasonable pace, “Those two warp signatures are Challenger and Discovery.” On to the next ones she explained what they were, “those ones are Vulcan, then Andorians followed by Tellarite. However these last three are Starfleet ones, but what confuses the hell out of me is this last one.”

“Why?” Burton asked and as she turned to study the power utilisation curve she realised what she was seeing. “Oh my god, how is that possible?”

“I don’t know ma’am, but those readings are telling us that Voyager is there.” Doyle reported. “How can that be when we are here?”

Madison looked at the readings one more time and understood why her Australian first officer was confused. How could their ship be in two places at once? Each warp signature was different and unique. Then it hit her. She knew exactly what was going on. After being ordered by the Starfleet Commander-in-Chief to take her ship out to find out what happened to her brothers’ ships, she now knew what was happening. Smirking and shaking her head, she knew what her brothers and their crews had done. “They’re not our ships.”

“Ma’am?” Doyle asked, still confused. “What do you mean?”

Sitting back in her command chair, Captain Madison Burton’s grin got wider. “I’ve got a feeling that those are decoys. It has Lloyd Burton written all over it and knowing my kid brother Roman, I reckon he programmed whatever is sending out those signals to emit our warp signature to look realistic.”

“But why?” Doyle enquired. “What could they be up to?”

Taking a breath, she knew what they were up to. “Whatever it is, my brothers need the Romulans to think that the Coalition of Planets is attacking them. I’d imagine they’re trying to pull Romulan forces from another target. If that’s the case then we need to mask our warp signature to avoid the Romulans seeing two of them the same. Tell Alessandro to begin at once.”

“Aye captain.” Doyle said and she called down to Voyager’s chief engineer.

Burton looked at the readings one more time. She hoped that her brothers were safe and that they would make contact soon. “Mister Hu, cut all engines and bring us to a full stop.” She ordered her pilot. Whatever they were up to she wouldn’t spoil it by having Voyager being picked up.