UES Enterprise. Orbiting Galador V.
October 23rd 2151.
"Ma'am? Ma'am? Is everything alright?"
Commander Hernandez turned her head. Moshiri was standing nearby, a concerned look on her face. "Yes, Lieutenant, I'm fine. Why do you ask?"
"It's just that, well, you've been standing there for over an hour."
As soon as Moshiri said it Hernandez was hit by a dozen small aches telling her it was true. Nothing overwhelming, she'd spent enough time stood to attention in her military career and could easily cope, just the little twinges of muscles held in position for longer than comfortable. She grunted, and shifted position, rolling her shoulders and neck to get some life into them. "Got a lot on my mind." she said softly.
"Yes ma'am." said Moshiri. "That's understandable."
There was a moments silence.
Hernandez looked forward again. The huge bulk of Galador V dominated the view outside the observation dome. To allow the dorsal sensor arrays maximum coverage of the area around the gas giant itself, the Enterprise had orientated itself so that the world was almost directly 'above' them. It was a somewhat disquieting panorama. Normally at this time the obs. dome was full of off duty personnel, enjoying a drink or a light meal. There were noticeably fewer people here now. Though reason said otherwise, the sight of the planet looming over them triggered the conviction that it would fall and crush them at any moment. Those who did remain tended to face away.
It was not the planet itself that held Hernandez's interest, however. Silhouetted against it's lower quarter was the cylindrical shape of a Thor class destroyer. It was too far away to make out details with the naked eye, but long range scans had identified it as the D-11. Or rather, the remains of the D-11. Trip Tucker had studied the sensor readings and categorically forbidden any approach. It was too unsafe. Right now a couple of remotely operated drones were carrying out a close up inspection. Even at this distance she could see the strobing of their anti collision lights.
No sign, yet, of any other craft, human or Axanar.
"Well, if there's nothing else ma'am..." Moshiri started.
"Have you eaten?" Hernandez asked. "I'm about to, and you're welcome to join me."
Moshiri looked slightly startled by the question. Hernandez usually kept to herself off duty, and wasn't in the habit of dining with the crew. "Ah, no ma'am, not yet. Thank you."
They found an unoccupied table and sat. Hernandez beckoned the crewman behind the bar over. As he approached she asked Moshiri "Do you want anything sent up from the mess?" There was a dumb waiter system linking the obs. lounge to the galley, as well as a small meal preparation area in the room behind the bar.
"No, I'm just a bit peckish, it's not worth the trouble. Still, it's good to have a proper chef on board, isn't it?"
"Oh yes. It's amazing how he can get such good results, even when he's using the same raw materials that the fabricators do."
Moshiri leant closer. "Ah, but I've heard that he has a special stockpile of herbs and spices. Adds a bit of punch to his meals."
"That'd explain it." Hernandez said.
The crewman arrived. Moshiri ordered a light salad. She was on one of her semi-regular diets. After some deliberation Hernandez asked for a cheeseburger with fries. Comfort food, not her typical fare. She felt the need for a bit of comfort.
And then, as the crewman went to get their meals, she found herself telling Moshiri about her earlier visit to the Galador system...
Destroyer D-32. Entering Galador system.
August 19th 2143.
Ensign Maria Hernandez double, then triple checked the seals on her space suit. She'd been out of the academy for over a year now but the safety lessons still burned in her mind. Having sat through the standard, but distressingly graphic, films on the effects of catastrophic decompression she had no desire to experience the effects for herself. With the ship about to enter a potential combat zone she was not about to leave anything to chance.
There were some amongst the crew who had worn the space suits near permanently for the past five weeks. They claimed it was nothing to do with safety. That might be true. If anything happened at warp speed that threw a human off the ship, no space suit could save them. Crossing the warp bubble threshold would cause total molecular disintegration. Instead, they claimed, it was to keep out the mosquito whine of the ship's engine. Certainly the helmet did that job well enough, but Hernandez had been able to ignore it with just a pair of earplugs.
But then, it was the veterans who wore the suits all the time. Guys who had been on Thor class destroyers for years, often turning down postings to other, larger ships. Scuttlebutt said they were all a little odd.
For Hernandez, getting off this ship couldn't come soon enough. Straight out of the academy she'd been lucky enough to get a posting on the corvette UES Valiant. Not a bad posting, if a bit cramped. The six junior officers had one small room between them, though with bunks on the floor, walls and ceiling that wasn't too bad. The shift system meant that the room was never fully occupied either. Best of all, Diana and Nuyen, two of her classmates, were with her.
Those were exciting times. She'd quickly proved her worth, getting an official commendation after her first combat mission. Reassignment from secondary to main weapons array came not long after. Her friends also excelled in their fields, sensors and engineering. The Valiant gained a reputation in the fleet as a lucky ship, though those who crewed her said luck had nothing to do with it. Quality of the crew mattered.
Things were going well, until the day an Axanar torpedo decided to make it's home in the main impulse manifold. Somehow the engineers kept the ship space worthy long enough to limp back to the nearest outpost, but it's days as a combat vessel were over. And so Hernandez found herself re-assigned to Outpost Delta 14. Or more accurately the Thor class D-32, a destroyer based at the outpost. It was a bit of a shock after the Valiant. Thors were small, and the designers had apparently considered the crew to be an unfortunate necessity, grudgingly allowing the bare minimum of room that could be spared from engines or weapons. The good news was that Hernandez didn't have to share a room. The bad news was that her quarters were the size of a rather small elevator, and also doubled as her workstation.
Zero gravity meant a bed wasn't needed. She slept in an elasticated webbing that also served as a safety restraint during battle manoeuvres. A large visual display unit took up most of the wall in front of her. The controls, inactive at the moment, were down by her side, where her hands were normally. At full throttle the G-force could be enough to stop her reaching ahead, hence the unconventional but more practical positioning. The only other furniture was a small wardrobe built directly into the bulkhead behind her. Lights were recessed into the walls, which were softly padded and an institutional green. There were no windows.
Despite the change for the worse after the Valiant, she'd coped. Delta 14 was pretty well outfitted for a frontier outpost, and the D-32 spent most of her time near the home port on rapid reaction duty. Mission duration was two, three weeks tops, followed by some downtime. That was the only time she saw her friends, and infrequently at that. They'd been assigned to the same outpost, but to the D-32's sister ship, the D-11. The different patrol rotas didn't always coincide.
And then came the Galador mission. Five weeks at warp. Five weeks of near total isolation. There were very few common areas on the destroyer, most of the crew worked from compartmentalized cabins like her own. Things were slightly better now. Almost half the stores that had been secured in the main corridor had been used up, so it was a lot easier to move around if she wanted. Everyday she spent an hour strapped to one of the exercise bikes in the tiny gym, staving off muscle atrophy. Every other day the medic came by with a syringe, vitamins to supplement the survival rations.
A series of chimes got her attention. They were dropping slower than light. An intense whine filled the ship which shook like a wet dog drying itself. It was unpleasant, but at least it meant that this part of the journey had come to an end.
Hernandez tapped the controls, activating her view screen and bringing her weapons online. A pair of fire linked turret mounted one hundred gigajoule plasma cannon. Even as the streaks of light coalesced into stars she was scanning the sky, ready for any potential threat.
The gas giant loomed ahead of them, uncomfortably close. A Jupiter type world, according to long range observations. In principle it's gravity would mask their arrival. The mission profile called upon them to establish a secure zone and watch covertly for enemy activity. If it was small scale, they would disrupt it to the best of their abilities. Otherwise they had orders to withdraw without contact. A larger force could be assembled based on the Intel they would provide.
That plan went out the window within the first seven minutes.
A chime heralded an announcement from the bridge. The task force were reporting in, all safe, but scattered after their long journey. The frigate Patton had spotted what looked like a partially constructed space station in orbit. The Patton itself had been detected. As secrecy was no longer an option they would engage and destroy the station before withdrawing.
As the CO's voice died away Hernandez felt herself breathing heavily, her heart thumping in her chest. She tried to tell herself that it was nerves, but she knew the truth. She was excited, even pleased by the idea of a fight. It was what she trained for, what she was good at. And after that journey she wanted to blow things up.
Information swam onto her screen as the D-32 changed course, data about the enemy contact. It was too far for the destroyer to make out much detail, but the Patton was sending information to the rest of the task force. The object had the look of an Axanar station, clearly unfinished, almost a third of it's superstructure nothing but a metal lattice awaiting it's coverings. Yet lights showed along it's flanks, and a sensor dish spun. Unfinished perhaps, but operational. Floating aside it lay the fat bulk of an Axanar freighter, and a handful of shuttles swarmed about it.
She frowned. The data from the Patton showed the frigate was heading straight towards the station at full throttle, not waiting for the rest of the task force to assemble. By it's very nature the target wasn't going anywhere, and this class of freighter was slow. No chance of escape, so
, she asked her self, why the rush?
In rapid succession six more contacts appeared on the screen, flashing yellow arrowheads departing the Patton at high speed. Her brow furrowed in confusion. Unlike the destroyers the two frigates were large enough to carry a few torpedoes, much fewer than normal, but hopefully enough to make a difference. The new Mark Fours had been fitted with tactical atomic warheads, the latest small size, high yield devices.
Standard doctrine said that limited resources should be husbanded carefully. It would be much more efficient for the task force to move as a group to the station and destroy it with conventional weaponry. There was simply no need, that Hernandez could see, to waste the torpedoes like this. She'd be the first to admit that the desire to get into the fight was strong, but surely the Patton's CO, Commander Howell, couldn't be so undisciplined. Wait, wait, Howell has a reputation as a glory hound. I bet he just wants his ship to get credit for the kill, and forget the rest of us.
One of the torpedoes hit the freighter amidships. On the sensor display it's image blurred and seemed to expand. For a moment the tracking systems registered it as two separate vessels before registering that it had broken apart.
The remaining torpedoes tore into the station. Hernandez shook her head ruefully. They were all concentrated in the same area. All that fire-power targeting one spot, even more wasteful. Unprofessional. She found herself composing the after action report, which had some very scathing things to say about the Patton's gunner. Leave it for now. The job's not over yet, and there'll be plenty of time on the way home.
Now the Patton had gotten within effective gunnery range and opened up with the three-fifty gigajoule plasma cannon. The smaller but faster D-19 swooped in to add it's weapons to the attack. The D-32 was the next closest ship, but it would be about two minutes before they were close enough to engage.
And then it was all over. The station seemed to bulge outwards before simply breaking apart. An anticlimactic end to the battle, and a frustrating one. It was over without Hernandez even getting the chance of a shot.
It took nearly six hours for the task force to prepare the engines for the return home. The various commanding officers considered going after the Axanar shuttles, which had rapidly scattered when the Earth ships turned up, but it was considered a waste of time to hunt them down. With the warp drives ready they turned and began powering out of the gas giant's gravity well, aiming for the point from which it would be safe to go faster than light.