UES Enterprise. High orbit above Theta Iota 6.
17th May 2151.
Hernandez had always felt that the purpose of prayer was in it's name. Prayer. To praise God. To express one's gratitude and respect towards the Lord. It had always seemed selfish, for want of a better word, to pray for Him to do something. The Almighty had given her the gifts of life and His love, to ask for more could be seen as ungrateful. So she did not pray for intervention. Rather she reconfirmed her faith.
No. That wasn't quite true. There was something she did want, though it did not require any action on His part. On this ship there are people who do not follow your path. They are good people none the less. Please do not judge them to harshly when the time comes.
She opened her eyes. Her thoughts had taken just a few seconds, Hotel 6 was still ahead of them, though it's course would take it underneath in about half a minute. Approximately sixteen seconds after that...zap.
There's no up or down in space, but she lifted her eyes in what she considered a heavenward direction. I'll not ask for help, but if you could give me some sort of sign....sign...sign? No, no that would never work...would it?
Hitting the release on her safety straps, she bounded from the centre seat to get a better look at the navigation console.
"Moshiri, highlight the probable location of Hotel 6 at optimum firing range."
The navigator hit a few controls, bringing a glowing circle onto her display board. "Yes ma'am. There's a ninety percent chance it will be in this area."
Hernandez felt almost giddy with possibilities. She took a deep breath. "Alright. Access custom flight plan 'Archer Flyby One'. Specifically status at termination of stage one. Superimpose on the current display."
Moshiri was clearly perplexed, until she saw the results. "Whoa. That could work...but...Hotel 6 might detect what we are doing and change course."
"Hmm. Could we modify the plan? Give them less time?"
Checking her computer, Moshiri nodded. "I think so. But it raises another problem." She gestured to the display.
Hernandez rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "We're running out of time, running out of options. Send the appropriate data to the engineering console. We are doing this."
"Shaft delta, section nineteen. Shaft delta, section nineteen. Shaft delta, section nineteen." Polly muttered to herself. The trouble was, she'd not had much reason to visit this part of Enterprise before, and wasn't quite sure where she was heading. Still, all the corridors and doors were clearly labelled, so she should figure it out.
Even by Enterprise's standards, this area was cramped. She had to hunch herself up to make any headway. She also had her arms wrapped across her chest, though that was for different reasons. Didn't expect to have to do any running. I'll have to re-configure the material to give me a bit more support up there, otherwise I'm going to give myself a couple of black eyes.
"Ah! Section nineteen." She skidded to a halt in front of a heavy hatch, spun the locking wheel and hauled it open. On the other side was a small wall mounted cabinet, and a hatch on the deck. The cabinet held a couple of tool kits. She grabbed one, secured the main hatch, and opened the lower one. A ladder led down into the darkness.
"Good thing I'm not afraid of the dark. Or cramped spaces. Yet."
She descended, noting with interest that it was noticeably colder down here. I'm on the underside of the ship here, right next to the hull. Let's see, there'd be some decking, a grav plate, the hull metal and some armour between me and vacuum. I'll bet the military tried to save money by leaving proper insulation out of this area.
She reached the bottom, heels ringing against the metal, and shivered. In the red glow of the emergency lighting her breath condensed into mist, and she slapped her hands together for warmth.
"Ah, but I've got another trick up my sleeve...or rather, on it." She tapped a certain point on her left wrist, just above the pulse point. Diva Matrix might have designed the outfit, but it was to Polly's specifications, and the material was developed by the Professor herself. Within seconds the microscopic thermal regulators embed in the polymeric material had gone into effect.
"Aha! Toasty warm!" she grinned.
There were two access shafts, heavy hatches covering their entrances. The one to the fore of the ship was marked 'Alpha/Beta', the aft one 'Gamma/Delta'. She opened that hatch and looked, with some disquiet, within.
"Yeah. I'm not scared of cramped spaces." she told herself. "Really. I'm not."
She put the tool kit in first. There wasn't enough room to drag it at her side, she'd have to push it in front of her. Getting her head and shoulders in was easy enough, the next bit was rather a squeeze. Finally she managed to pull herself in, propelling herself onward with a slithering motion. When she'd got far enough from the hatch it's automatic sensors, as a safety measure, swung it shut with an ominous clang!!
that reverberated though her body.
She winced, slamming her hands to her ears to shut out that dreadful sound. "Relax, relax," she told herself. "every-thing's gong to be OK."
It was at that point that, distant but still audible, the collision alert sounded.
"Stage one completed." Adams reported from the engineering console. She double checked her safety straps. This was going to get rough.
Kaufman said "Hotel 6 has fully charged their particle weapon, and has passed beneath us. They'll be at their optimum firing point in...twelve.. eleven... ten..."
"They're still on course ma'am." Moshiri added. "Wait...they're changing course, may have spotted the cloud."
Hernandez raised her voice over the collision alert. "Ensign Gamelin, OPEN FIRE!"
The three aft cannon fired as one. None of them were aimed any where near the Neptune, but they didn't have to be. Each super heated plasma bolt tore into the cloud of fuel ejected from Enterprise just seconds previously. The fuel, a synthetic compound used in the ships impulse drive, contained it's own oxidant, allowing it to burn in a perfect vacuum.
And burn it did. Hotel 6 had detected the cloud and attempted to escape, but was still close enough to the centre to be engulfed. Perhaps it could of survived, if in perfect condition. But with it's armour shattered, it's hull broken, it's fuel leaking, it was doomed.
To ensure Hotel 6 had no time to detect and avoid the trap, Hernandez had taken a risky decision. The fuel had been ejected and ignited at the last possible second. Enterprise was on the periphery of the inferno, and did not escape unscathed. The rapidly expanding cloud was thick enough to have a significant kinetic force, knocking the ship hard and sending it tumbling.
And on the underside, noticed by no one, a few square meters of armour plating, held in place by a faulty batch of adhesive, worked loose, drifting off into the void.
"Mayweather, can you stabilise us?" Hernandez asked, as soon as it was quiet enough. The explosion had been loud."
"I'm trying ma'am, but I still got no response from the helm!"
"Damn it. Kaufman, status of Hotel 6?"
"Ah, it's difficult reading anything through that mess ma'am. But it looks like they're in a bad way."
Hernandez sat back in the chair. Part of her felt proud at coming up with such an unorthodox strategy. Part of her was ashamed. She'd taken Captain Archer's fireworks display, and turned it into a weapon.
Moshiri looked round. "The fireball's burned out now Commander."
"Thank you. Put Hotel six on the main screen please."
It was a sickening site. The once pristine craft was now twisted and blackened. Jets of burning fuel poured from an open wound.
"Magnify. Isolate the area around the escape pods, and magnify further." she ordered.
The screen now showed several rows of hatches. One was blasted open, allowing a look inside.
Hernandez felt sick. "Well, now we know why no one escaped from Hotel four. They have no life pods. Comms, open a channel. Tell them we are going to attempt a rescue."
Kaufman's console squealed for attention. "Hotel five has launched two torpedoes! Eighty seconds until impact!"
Hernandez swore. "Comms, tell them we're going to rescue their comrades! Get them to abort!"
The main lights flickered on. "We're getting power back, but it's slow." Adams said.
Mayweather checked his controls. "Helm is still non-responsive. We're still tumbling."
Gamelin added "Ma'am, I could launch countermeasures, but they only go fore or aft. These torpedoes are coming from the side."
"Launch them anyway. If we get really lucky, they may prove tempting enough to those torpedoes."
"No response from Hotel five." The comms officer announced.
Hernandez picked up her handset, typed in a number. "Professor Partridge, how are you doing?"
"Well, apart from being shaken around like the inside of a maraca, and deafened, and generally---
"Have you made any progress?" Hernandez interrupted, trying to keep the impatience from her voice.
"Ah, I've found the problem, one of the linkages burned out. EMP I'd say, probably from that first explosion, you'd think a military component would be better shielded, but there you go. I'll have it replaced in a couple of minutes
"We don't HAVE a couple of minutes! We need it NOW!" Hernandez snapped. On screen, as if to reflect her mood, Hotel six shook from an internal explosion. Glowing white hot, molten metal chunks sprayed forth.
." Polly said softly after a moment. "Then I shall attempt to do it faster. Partridge out
Hernandez put the handset down and turned to Adams. "We damn well better have enough power for point defence." she growled.
Shaft Delta was quite deep in the bowels of the ship. Polly had crawled about ten meters along Gamma before reaching a second hatch. This lead to Delta. The tracking sensor was located behind a panel another five or so meters on. It was on the ceiling, so she'd had to twist over onto her back to get to it.
The panel had come free easily enough, revealing a network of wires and components. Despite having her nerves frazzled by whatever it was that had shook the ship and roared like thunder, it hadn't taken her long to find the fault. After her brief conversation with Hernandez she fished a small box out of the tool kit. Spare parts. Shouldn't take her long, providing she had no more distract---
BANG!! She yelped and convulsed in fright as what sounded like a gunshot echoed through the shaft.
"What the hell was that?" she demanded of the universe at large. Lifting herself on her elbows and craning her head right back she could see something new further along the shaft. It was a metal rod, glowing white hot. Even at this distance she could feel the heat it radiated on her face.
"Hello, how did you get here?"she wondered. It looked to be poking into the shaft from below. That was odd, as there wasn't really anything of the ship below here...
And then it was gone, shooting back down out of sight with an audible pop!
"Oh, don't go. Was it something I said?" she chuckled. And then she noticed another popping noise, this time in her ears. The skin on her face began to tingle. A piece of paper, some sort of requisition form from the tool kit, flew past her before disappearing down the hole the rod had left behind.
She blinked, calculations dancing through her head in an instant. If she moved now, right
now, she could get through the hatch to the safety of Gamma shaft. But that would mean abandoning her work.
And Maria had sure sounded insistent...