The Type 11 shuttle eased slowly along the cusp of the expanse, the energy barrier roiling, with fingers of plasma fire reaching out greedily for the sleek silvered vessel. Commander Tai Donar knew it was killing Lieutenant French to pilot the shuttle on anything less than full throttle, but he took their assignment seriously.
It was doubtful that any ship would be foolish, or unfortunate enough, to venture through the Caldera Expanse, but a spatial flexure had long since been found within its searing embrace.
The Calderans, the namesakes for the expanse, had long ago discovered that the flexure provided an unstable gateway to the Delta Quadrant. But this sector of space was blessed, or cursed, with another entrance, the slightly more stable subspace corridor left by a race lost to time, an eon ago. The usually hermetic Calderans had been surprisingly forthcoming about their discoveries.
As news of the massive influx of refugees from the Delta Quadrant was becoming more widespread, Tai had to wonder if the sudden chattiness, relatively speaking, of the Calderans was due in part because they didn’t want to deal with the throng and were trying to push them off on to the Federation as quickly as possible.
The Federation was happy to oblige them, just one more reason the Angosian was glad he had left his homeworld to join Starfleet Special Missions which then had turned into a career with the Exploratory Division.
The Erickson had taken up position near the mouth of the corridor, also known as the Calderan Corridor, which struck Tai a bit oddly. For an avowedly reclusive people they had a curious habit of naming things after themselves. Captain Redfeather had ordered two shuttles to patrol the nearest exit for the expanse.
Tai had thought one shuttle could handle the task, but Security Chief Shashlik had quickly informed him that in addition to the natural dangers of space travel in this sector, pirates often used the expanse to strike out at passing ships, and then escape by going back into it. Only the most skilled or insane pilot and one with an extremely well shielded ship would dare to follow them. The captain hoped that the sight of two Starfleet shuttles would dissuade any buccaneers lying in wait on the other side of the expanse.
Tai had mixed feelings about encountering pirates or other trouble. Frankly he wouldn’t mind a disruption of the monotony. And there was a part of him eager to test his mettle against some of the adversarial Delta Quadrant species that they had learned about courtesy of Project Pathfinder.
The endeavor had been set up to facilitate communication with Starship Voyager, which had been lost in the Delta Quadrant for several years. Miraculously the ship had survived and now Starfleet had managed semi-regular contact with the brave souls aboard.
Captain Janeway’s crew had provided a wealth of information about the other side of the galaxy, including potential threats. Races like the Devore, Vaadwaur, Vidiians, Species 8472, and one that he took special note of: the Hirogen.
He had faced one of their hunters years ago, while he still wore the colors of his native Unomia state on Angosia III. The alien had somehow made it to Angosia before his ship crashed in the Iturri Jungle, and true to their predatory nature it seemed, the Hirogen began hunting his training cohort. Tai barely made it out alive, but he had triumphed, but for years he had wondered where the hunter came from, and now, courtesy of the Pathfinder data, he knew that he been spawned from a race of predators.
His own predatory nature thrilled at the chance to face more Hirogen or something even more dangerous, though his concern for his new crew help stanch his persistent blood lust.
“Not the welcome you expected eh, Commander?” The jovial voice issued through the intercom, breaking up his blood clotted thoughts.
Tai blinked, surprised at how deep in thought he had been. On the small viewer set between the cockpit seats, Chief Engineer A’nurd smiled at him, his deep-seated, golden eyes shining with merriment.
How the Munzalan stayed so cheerful was something Tai doubted he would ever understand. A’nurd piloted the Type 10 shuttle Carruthers.
The man had volunteered, but if he hadn’t, he was sure the captain would’ve sent him anyway, at the behest of the crew no less. From Tai’s take, A’nurd was a good officer, but a little too taxing.
“Nothing like staring into a cauldron to get the old blood stirred huh?” A’nurd asked. “Being so close to the expanse is really keeping me on my toes, and tail,” he said, the black furred tip of it rising behind him, and wagging over his shoulder as if in greeting. The lemur-like Munzalan laughed at his own joke.
Donar didn’t know what to say, so he kept his lips drawn in a tight line. “Anything new to report?” He eventually mumbled unable to stand the engineer’s expected look and wide smile.
“No sir,” A’nurd said, bringing his shuttle to Crosthwait’s starboard. “How about you?”
“No, nothing here,” Donar said, not able to completely squelch his disappointment. He knew that the captain didn’t expect them to make any encounters, but he still felt like he had something to prove. Being a first officer was a new experience for him, one that he didn’t know if he was cut out for. As a security or tactical officer, he knew what to do, but being Erickson’s second, was totally new territory.
Sometimes he regretted making the move. He could’ve stayed with Juanita…the thought of what he gave up for this opportunity was a book chapter he didn’t wish to read at the moment.
“If I might be so bold sir, I think it is past time for us to hand over the reins to the next team,” A’nurd suggested. Tai thought about telling the Munzalan to go on ahead and he would stay back, but he took a sidelong look at Lt. French. The younger man’s eyes were drooping despite his best efforts. Perhaps he wanted to zip through this so badly because he needed the rack time, Donar wondered.
Tai had been genetically and chemically altered during the Tarsian War and he had the endurance of five humans at least, hardy humans at that. “I concur,” he replied to the engineer. He turned to the junior officer, and the man barely hid his relief. “Mr. French, set a course back to the Erickson.”
The Angosian took one last look back at the riled, coursing plasma ocean, and felt a profound sense of foreboding. The expanse seemed more disturbed than usual and he could only wonder, or worry, about what might arise from it. But that would have to wait for another time, he thought. “Full impulse Lieutenant.”
I just couldn't help jumping into this thing. I'm putting the other stories I was working on on hiatus until I finish this one, and maybe other Refugee Crisis story percolating in my head. I hope everyone enjoys.