27 Riding the Blade
Ensign Ujio Shir tapped the indicator. That was the final vector analysis input into navigational control. Now there was nothing left to do but check his work. He began to cycle through the dozen or so possible courses he'd lain into the helm configurations.
The conn shifted through graphics of various sectors – stars, planets, nebulae, radiation, supernova events - the ever-changing gravitational phenomena of the quadrant. That's every possible course the captain might ask for
, he told himself. Perseus drifted quietly in the vast desolation between galactic spiral arms. The vectors flashed on his screen and stretched through charted and uncharted space – to where they'd been and where they might be bound. They even included ports along Voyager's old heading.
All he could do was evaluate the possibilities. That is, second-guess the Captain, sequestered away in his ready room, strategizing against the impossible. He cycled through the interface, ferreting out stellar drift corrections and gravitational fluctuations; all constantly reconfiguring in the ebb and flow of a restless cosmos. Mapping out the vast distances of quantum slipstream, and dealing with its implications – its revolution
- of helm duty. Coordinating helm control calibration with engine and power system repairs. Toying with the interface, the way he used to toy with a survival blade before a tactical drill operation, in his teenage years in the Akkorat Military Preparatory Academy.
In fact, he didn't know why he should have that feeling now. Maybe it was getting the ship back to fighting weight. Maybe it was “antennae anxiety”, or just a pheromone the humans were currently giving off. It felt like the quiet before the avalanche - the one thing in this universe he genuinely feared. The disorder. The dyscontrol. Standing against the sheer chaos – and falling. But stand he would.
For the past few days the crew had busied themselves with repairs, in a kind of hurried purpose. One by one, ship systems came back online; red indicators transitioning to blue and beige, fewer random telltales and now, bridge stations humming in quiet unison. Just the plinking of his shifting interface punctuating the thrum of the bridge.
Commander Munich had informed the Captain of, and indeed Tom had met, a holographic Commander Barclay, with bad news from Alpha Quadrant. The captain had put the visitor to work on shift in engineering, assisting with the quantum entanglements of the PRAM Sensor. Busywork, sure, but – someone had to do it, and the ship needed its crew.
Ujio glanced at the main viewscreen. Two distant galactic spiral arms cut across open space. Somewhere out there, Voyager
headed for its ultimate destination; carrying a crew of incapacitated Starfleet officers, and the hopes of the United Federation of Planets.
track her? Or would they warp home to the Alpha Quadrant in defeat? And if so, how could they even try to rectify the mess back there? Everything was uncertain; yet Ujio knew, in the end Captain Paris would not make his peace with that System Killer roaming free in the galaxy. And when that time came, even if no one else would, Ujio would fight by the Captain's side. He shared an unspoken bond with Captain Paris. Both were pilots, both seat-of-the-pants kind of guys, and both loyal to their ideals. But unlike Paris' service record, Ujio preferred a clear chain of command. It made things...simpler. Maybe it was the comradeship. The due increase of rank status. Maybe it was the ability for a crew to take swift and powerful action; afforded by a clear differentiation of rank, unhindered by the arguments and power plays of civilian crews. Whatever it was, civilians just didn't get it.
And this crew. They would not give up. Not if there were the slightest chance of finding Voyager
Yet – there it was. Voyager
was gone. Gone
. There was
no chance of finding her. The alien had managed to stay one step ahead of them at all times. And now, she had won her prize. No way she would give up Voyager
's location again.
So now the Captain would face what was truly a command decision. And with respect to Captain Tuvok, Ujio knew that on this mission Captain Paris was the next best person Starfleet could hope to have in the command seat of Perseus
As for the rest of the bridge crew, in the hours and days after the Rogue Star incident, Lieutenant Vexa had spent her spare time working with her vector analysis of Voyager
; but by now so much time has passed, Voyager
could be literally anywhere in the galaxy.
Voyager had come a long way since it could be stopped by a few light years
, Ujio thought.
Lieutenant Commander Munich had been listening to subspace communications chatter across the quadrant. She seemed to take to the task with almost a voyeuristic passion. When she happened on a new language, her station would light up with a kaleidoscope of library computer activity. He would watch her work with amazement and not a little jealousy for her command of her interface – a command not even Lieutenant Vexa displayed. Maybe she's part android by now
, he thought.
Lieutenant Grifahni – Ujio couldn't say exactly what the Lieutenant worked on. And that probably suited them both. He didn't doubt the Lieutenant's ability. He just didn't share his casual manner, and frankly unorthodox tactics. Nor did Ujio particularly relish the thought of losing a future tactical argument to the Lieutenant's rank. But that, too, was all part of the chain of command. The Captain had needed both a tac officer and an able pilot. It would not be the first time Ujio's finely honed skills had cost him an opportunity for advancement – or subordination to a less-experienced officer. Still, he knew – the Andorian Ensign Ujio Shir that cooperated would far better serve this ship and crew than an Ujio Shir that didn't. He smirked, and resisted the empty captain's chair. For now.
Commander Munich removed her earpiece and powered down her relays. “Nothing. Voyager is either out of range, or -”
“Or her crew is otherwise unable to communicate,” Lieutenant Grifahni finished. “How about sensors, Vexa?”
“Negative. It would be easier to locate a neon-21 isotope in a silicon carbide stardust grain using an electrostatic electron spectrometer.”
Commander Munich rubbed her eyes. “Now I know
I'm tired. The one person on the bridge who still has a sense of humor is Vulcan.”
“She's out there,” Ujio studied the viewer. “And we'll find her.”
“Before she destroys another star system?” Munich asked.
Grifahni called up a graphic of the original red dwarf system. “Vexa, would you say the red star had a typical arrangement of planets?”
“Affirmative - if by typical you mean statistical probability of a uniform scatter of planetary types throughout the galaxy. However the range
of planetary bodies in this system was uniquely variant, especially in light of the star's constant flaring. In fact, prior to this I had not known of any star system containing such a wide continuum of constituent orbiting bodies, with atmospheres surviving the continual flare activity. No doubt a longterm study of the Rogue Star system would have yielded a great quantity of geophysical data for Federation science.”
“Exactly,” Grif replied. “Perfect conditions for a range
of planetary factors. This was a test
. She wanted to see the results of the event on a scale of planetary atmospheres and orbits, to generalize it more effectively.”
“For what?” Munich asked.
“For a weapon
,” said Ujio.
“The question is, for what purpose,” Vexa added.
Ujio shrugged. “Take your pick. To fight a war. To auction off to the highest bidder. To take over a star system, or build an empire.” He shared a glance with Grifahni. “Or maybe just to wipe out a race from existence.”
Grifahni considered the alternatives. “If she intended to sell the weapon or auction it off, she could have done that on theory alone. She would not have risked her own life for a demonstration. No – the red star was a test
because she intends to use
“Which is why we have to stop her,” Ujio countered. “I hope your infiltration plan is ready, Lieutenant,” he suggested. “Because when
we find her we'll have to move quickly.”
Lieutenant Grifahni was not amused. “You just get us in weapons range, Ensign. I'll take care of the rest.”
“Lieutenant,” Vexa said. “Allowing for the extreme improbability of ever locating the ship again, would you intend for us to engage Voyager in battle with heavy weapons?”
“Well, Vexa _”
“Starfleet ships do not destroy other Starfleet ships,” Ujio urged. “I'm sure the Lieutenant would only use that as a final measure, Lieutenant Vexa -”
Grif cut him off: “At this point I'm not ruling out any
tactic. The alien has already demonstrated her ability to throw us to the wolves. She won't get that chance again, if I have anything to say about it.”
“Right,” added Munich; “After
we rescue the crew.” She returned to her scans. “I just hope Commander Seven of Nine can convince the Captain to take that chance.”
“Your concerns are noted, Commander Munich.” Commander Seven of Nine stepped out of the turbolift.
Ujio's antennae straightened, and he turned back to his station.
Seven of Nine sat in the command chair and engaged the interface. “However, as Admiral Janeway would tell you, the “weapon” came from Starfleet. Therefore it remains our duty to not only recover the weapon, but to stop the alien at any cost; failing that we may have to place our lives between Voyager and its intended target. I am certain Admiral Janeway would rather we destroyed Voyager, and ourselves if necessary, than allow the alien to use it as a weapon on a living planetary system. Furthermore, while the technology may be new, the threat is not; the Starfleet Charter clearly delineates our available responses in this matter. Having witnessed the destruction we are directly responsible for, we are required to intervene. However I'm sure Lieutenant Vexa can report the probability of our locating Voyager again.”
Vexa didn't bother looking up: “Probability zero as X approaches infinity.”
Seven added, “The Captain already knows this. All stations report.”
“But Commander -”
Lieutenant Vexa turned to the First Officer. “All engineering systems check ready, Commander.”
“All weapons systems and departments ready,” Grifahni confirmed.
“Quantum speed at your command, sir.”
“Seven of Nine to the Captain. Report to the bridge.” She hesitated. “Please.”
Captain Paris seated himself in the command chair and surveyed the crew. He moved to speak, then hesitated. “All hands. Prepare for quantum travel.” He deactivated the com in frustration. ”Mr Shir. Set a course for the Alpha -”
“Sir, I've got something,” Lieutenant Munich interrupted.
“What is it, Commander?”
“Sir, I've been running Ensign Shir's vector analyses through the com, and listening to local subspace traffic along those headings.”
“Did you find her, Commander?”
“No sir. But you've got to hear this.”
The signal broke through on the overhead com:
“External scans - through the entire system! On every planet! Killing everybody! I can't outrun them! The entire wing – destroyed! Turn back! Turn back! Those ships – or whatever they are - cutting through the entire fleet! They'll destroy us all! Evacuate the system! Evacuate the -
“Vexa, long range scans!” the Captain ordered.
“Detecting several fleets of ships in movement around an inhabited system seven point one light years from here, sir. Massive weapons discharges. Large amounts of radiation and debris scattering long range scans.” She studied another analysis readout. “Captain. I estimate a civilization of thirty-one point six billion people inhabiting several planets, colonies and orbital stations in the solar system. The planets seem to be under attack.”
Grif punched at his controls. “Numerous vessels, Captain! Ship engine signatures match at least four different warp energy configurations. I've...never seen anything like them, Captain! But it looks like an interstellar war!”
The subspace transceiver crackled:
Cities...bombarded! What...happening to...crew! The technology...somehow merging...them! They're turning...machines...are thousands of them...weapons failure! Infiltrating the bridge! Emergency! Help! Oh my God! Help us! Please! He -....
Hissing static filled the bridge.
Antennae twisted, Ujio turned to Captain Paris, who exchanged a knowing look with the First Officer. It wasn't the first time Ujio appreciated chain of command, with a more experienced officer in the big chair. What would the Captain do? What kind of commander – what kind of man
was he? Ujio had a feeling they were about to find out.
“Bring the quantum drive online. Auxiliary power to main systems. Helm – prepare for quantum speed. Light 'em up, Ujio.”
“Course, sir?” Ujio asked.
Captain Paris hit the shipwide com. “All hands. Battle stations.”
Ensign Shir laid in a new vector.