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Old October 4 2012, 08:08 AM   #54
Gibraltar
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 3)

Chapter 3

USS Galaxy
Nebula NGC-7492, nicknamed ‘Scott’s Maelstrom’
Delta Quadrant


The first blast brought Captain Scott staggering onto the bridge from her ready room as she called out, “Report!”

Worf’s already ferocious mien was made all the more menacing by the blood-red emergency lighting bathing the bridge. “They’ve found us,” he stated in his deep voice. “One Voranti cruiser, bearing two-eight-seven, mark forty-three.”

The Ops officer reported, “We’ve taken additional damage to the ventral side of our saucer, multiple hull breaches. Short-range sensors have been compromised. Shields are holding, though just barely.”

Worf silently thanked whatever deities oversaw this tract of space that the nebula they’d been hiding in didn’t adversely effect their shield integration, though it had made a hash of their sensors.

Scott settled into her chair, glancing briefly at the damage report readouts on her command console. “Helm, initiate an evasive course of your choosing. Tactical, aft photon torpedoes, target their weapons emplacements and shield generators.”

Their flight of six torpedoes impacted and overwhelmed the attacking ship’s shields. The final two warheads detonated with devastating flashes that sent the cruiser spinning off course, its powerful impulse engines flickering weakly as power surged and waned throughout the vessel.

“Threat vessel neutralized, Captain,” the officer at the Tactical station assessed.

“Take us deeper into the nebula,” Scott ordered.

She had hoped that the Voranti would eventually give up on whatever vendetta they seemed to have against Galaxy. The expenditure of time, fuel, and other precious resources was enormous on their part, and Scott couldn’t fathom the source of their seeming obsession with her ship.

This had been their second contact with the Voranti since they’d taken to hiding in the nebula, and given the size of the gas cloud, it was nearly impossible that the contacts were random happenstance. They evidently had some way of detecting Galaxy at medium-to-close range, despite the sensor-scattering properties of the nebula.

Each confrontation resulted in more damage and casualties to her ship, and Scott understood all too well that the clock was quickly counting down for her and her crew.

*****

USS Europa

The senior officers were seated around the conference table, the mood appropriately serious as Europa struggled to maintain speed in order to make her rendezvous with the beleaguered Galaxy.

Many of those in the meeting had been surprised to see Lt. Commander Lar’ragos among their number, seated in the place usually reserved for the XO. The last time most of the senior staff had seen him, Lar’ragos had been drooling into the bridge’s tastefully understated carpeting.

T’Ser opened the gathering with, “In light of Commander Pell’s assignment to the In’Drahn relief mission, I have reluctantly selected Mister Lar’ragos as the most qualified candidate to temporarily replace her as first officer.”

If Lar’ragos was troubled by this less-than-enthusiastic endorsement, he gave no indication. The others appeared to accept this unexpected announcement with admirable composure.

T’Ser gestured off-handedly towards their young Science Officer. “To start us off, Lieutenant Shanthi has updates regarding the Amon and the Voranti.”

Shanthi tapped at the LCARS interface in the table top at his seat. A hologram of a warp-signature trail arced across the sector from near In’Drahn station to an unremarkable system some four light-years distant. “We’ve tracked the Amon cube to where they’ve apparently gone to ground in the rings of a gas giant. All the clutter of the ring debris has occluded our scans. We’ve launched a long-range probe, but it won’t arrive on station for another four days.”

Lar’ragos addressed Shanthi, his eyes still glued to the holographic image. “Have we projected an estimated repair time for them?”

The Zulu officer answered promptly. “Based on Captain Sandhurst’s debrief, if the Amon source of propulsive energy is as powerful as he believes, they could affect repairs in a relatively short span of time.”

“Especially if they have access to Borg drones as expendable repair crew,” Ashok added morosely.

Counselor Liu’s eyes widened. “They have those?”

Ashok looked to Liu, his expression even more dour than usual. “According to Sandhurst, they do.”

“As for the Voranti,” Shanthi said, shifting topics before Ashok could dominate the discussion. A wire-frame cross-section of a Voranti refugee carrier appeared in the air above the table. “Galaxy performed the standard pre-First Contact research into their culture, socio-economic systems, and technological capabilities, including in-depth scans of their vessels taken by one of our advance recon probes two weeks before they initiated communications with the species.”

The image of the ship enlarged, and the wire-frame construct was overlaid with sensor reading analysis.

“Part of their pre-contact survey would have been a technology assessment, to include a metallurgical analysis of the Voranti’s shipbuilding constituents.” A graphical representation expanded to occupy one half of the screen, with molecular models taking shape to denote various alloys comprising the alien vessel’s superstructure.

“As we are able to judge the age of their spacecraft as being somewhere in the vicinity of one-hundred sixty years old, it’s logical to presume that the Voranti have seen their share of conflict between here and their point of origin.”

Lar’ragos failed to see the point behind this presentation and cast a dubious look towards T’Ser before turning his attention back to Shanthi. He knew that his revelation that Europa's crew had missed the disappearance of the Amon probe in the system where they’d come to the Romulans’ rescue had embarrassed Shanthi deeply. The El Aurian’s specially attuned Listener’s senses told him the young man was now feeling a rush of vindication accompanying his upcoming revelation.

“The answer was here the whole time,” Shanthi continued, a hint of pride creeping into his tone, “but it’s so counter-intuitive that it would have been painfully easy to miss.” He touched a series of controls that highlighted various sections of the Voranti ship’s hull. “Look at the energy signatures and impact patterns of the most recent damage they incurred before their encounter with Galaxy.”

Lar’ragos sat forward with a sharp intake of breath as Verrik quirked an eyebrow, nearly the Vulcan equivalent of a gasp. The two officers shared a look before T’Ser prompted them, “What is it?”

The newly appointed pro-tem XO deferred to the Tactical officer, and Verrik answered, “Those blast patterns and energy signatures are indicative of Federation weaponry, Captain.”

T’Ser sat in silence for a moment as the implications of that statement sunk in. “Holy Hell,” she breathed.

“You mean… like Voyager, or another starship stranded farther out in the Delta Quadrant?” Lightner posited.

“The damage reads as being less than two months old,” Shanthi replied, dismissing the notion.

“Someone from the task force, then,” Liu offered. “An unreported hostile contact?”

“No such animal,” T’Ser answered dully. “Every contact, whether friendly or hostile is comprehensively documented. All sensor readings, intel briefs, and communications logs from that event are included in those contact reports.”

“Who then?” grumbled Ashok.

“That,” T’Ser said heavily, “is the question.” She directed a nod towards Shanthi. “I want you and your staff going back through all of Vanguard’s sensor telemetry. Everything from the Hubble Array, the long-range recon probes, and the task force vessels themselves. I want to know if there’s anyone out here who’s not supposed to be.”

Liu appeared genuinely curious. “You have a suspicion, Captain?”

There was a telling pause before T’Ser answered, “There are… known extra-governmental entities that sometimes work outside official channels, ostensibly to safeguard Federation interests.” She cleared her throat, allowing, “Or at least what they perceive to be our interests.”

Liu looked even more engrossed now, but T’Ser held his next question at bay with a raised hand in a gesture of patience. “That’s all I’m willing to say on the matter right now, Counselor.”

He obligingly fell silent.

“Captain,” Ashok said hesitantly, “have you had the opportunity to speak with Captain Sandhurst yet?”

She shook her head fractionally. “No, not yet.”

The large Bolian’s anxiety was visible in his posture, a physical manifestation of his growing concern for the state of the ship’s engines. “May I ask why not, sir?”

T’Ser locked eyes with Liu as she replied, “We’re still not entirely sure what the captain was subjected to while he was with the Amon. He himself admits that something he encountered there had a dramatic impact on his perceptions and emotional states. Under the circumstances, I’m not prepared to risk exposing myself to anything Sandhurst may be carrying or emitting that might compromise my decision making.”

“A reasonable precaution,” Verrik assessed approvingly.

“Captain,” Ashok pressed, clearly working in reign in his growing agitation. “I cannot repair the warp drive. I’m barely able to nurse it along as is, and I’m unsure how much longer it will remain operational. Sandhurst designed that engine, and he’s the only one I know of that can possibly make the necessary modifications to restore it.”

T’Ser inspected Ashok for a brief time. “You helped him build it,” she remarked.

“Yes,” the engineer agreed, “working from his schematics. That design has proven… faulty.”

“Do we still have the components aboard to recreate an Akira-class engine?”

“No, sir. Those were left behind on our warp sled.”

Looking to Liu, T’Ser inquired, “Can you give me any sort of guarantee that Captain Sandhurst is safe for me to converse with?”

The counselor shook his head. “I can’t, sir. Given the significant differences in his biometric readings since his return, literally anything is possible. If you do decide to speak with him, I’d recommend doing so via remote.”

“Very well,” T’Ser acknowledged, calling the meeting to a close. “Looks like it’s time we had a chat.”

*****

Five decks below them, Donald Sandhurst started awake, his eyes darting wildly as they tracked the pulsing infusions of matter and anti-matter that had haunted his dreaming state and were now fading from his visual cortex.

His mind was racing with equations and calculations, both those painstakingly mastered during his years as a Starfleet engineer, as well as those gifted him during his time among the Amon. The inspiration had been birthed from his new, expanded understanding of warp physics.

Even as he was caught in the moment, Sandhurst recognized the epiphany for what it was, a higher level of comprehension that had been denied him without the mental acuity afforded by exposure to Amon life-essence.

There, he thought. Right there. For just a moment Sandhurst could see it all clear as day. The delicate symmetry of Ra-Havreii’s engine design was suddenly so obvious. As he struggled to memorize the intricacies of the theory behind it, another part of his mind admired the elegant balance between propulsive force, the FTL transition boundary, and the subspace realms across whose surface the vessel slipped while at warp.

He was shocked and humbled by the realization that Ra-Havreii’s design had been so ingeniously unconventional that he had conceitedly failed to grasp its significance. With absolute certitude Sandhurst now understood that the fault had not been in the Efrosian shipwright’s underlying theory, but in its application.

Given sufficient time, Sandhurst was sure that Ra-Havreii would successfully troubleshoot the accident-plagued engine design, but that was not time that the starship Europa and her crew presently had to spare. And so, he would have to fix it himself.

He staggered to his feet, making his way clumsily across the darkened cabin to his desk. Granted, his present limbo status had severely restricted his computer access, but basic functions still responded to his command.

“Computer,” he ordered, “open a new file under my voiceprint authorization. The title is 'Sandhurst, Luna-class engine design, version two.'”

*****
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Last edited by Gibraltar; October 4 2012 at 10:17 PM.
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