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Old October 14 2012, 06:16 AM   #58
Gibraltar
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 3 continued)

Chapter 3 <cont'd>

USS Giacobini
Delta Quadrant


The Nebula-class starship dropped out of warp close enough to her stricken sister to take detailed scans, but not so close as to expose the vessel to any unknown dangers that might be lurking in the vicinity.

The heavily armed and armored escort was adrift, surrounded by a cloud of debris, her running lights flickering weakly at random intervals.

Captain Lobanov maintained a vigilant watch on the main viewer as she called back to her Tactical Officer. “Commander Varro?”

The hulking Magna-Roman answered, “Gallant is operating on minimal auxiliary power, and they’ve nearly exhausted their battery reserves. Both warp and impulse systems are offline, and life support is failing.”

“Rutti’cha?” she said, inquiring with the ship’s insectoid Kaferian Science Officer.

Gallant is still broadcasting her automated disaster beacon, but at significantly reduced power. It’s a miracle we even managed to detect the signal at that distance.” The lieutenant’s antennae twitched with anticipation as she absorbed the returning scan results. “I’m detecting significant structural damage and power distribution disruptions onboard”

“Life signs?” the captain pressed.

“Indeterminate, sir,” Rutti’cha replied. “Their warp drive is giving off moderate levels of gamma radiation, but the radioactivity is infusing the layers of their ablative armor and making accurate life-readings impossible.”

“Any idea who or what did this?” Lobanov asked no one in particular.

“The weapons impact points on their hull conform to known parameters of Voranti weapons, sir,” Operations answered dutifully.

Lobanov repressed a sigh. “The Voranti again. First Galaxy, and now Gallant. I wish to hell we knew what set them off.” She cast a glance over her shoulder at what she jokingly referred to as her Wall-of-Centurion. “Varro, make the call.”

“No threats detected within a full light-year, Captain. No anomalous sensor contacts, no blind spots, nothing out of the ordinary except a battered Federation starship.”

“Okay, before we approach I want to launch a recon probe equipped with a transport module. Have it post up fifty clicks out from Gallant and beam over a remote sensor drone; I want eyes on the inside of that ship before we lower our shields to send over an away team.”

Her senior staff carried out their instructions, and within ten minutes they were watching only slightly garbled visual telemetry from inside Gallant. Bodies in Starfleet uniforms littered the narrow corridors as the drone drifted through the dimly lit passageways. Though her gestures were decidedly non-human, the Universal Translator did a passable job of conveying the bleak undercurrent in her tone as Rutti’cha announced, “Negative life signs, sir. All these people have expired.”

Lobanov shook her head sadly. “It must have been one hell of an ambush. Carolyn Kircheis doesn’t just blunder into situations blindly.”

“Your orders, Captain?” prompted her XO.

“Make ready to deploy recovery teams, Commander,” Lobanov instructed. “I want security, medical, and engineering personnel on each detachment. Move the contents of cargo bay three into the unused guest quarters on Decks three and four, and establish a morgue there for the recovered bodies.”

A flurry of activity followed as the crew made preparations for the unwelcome task of interring the remains of their comrades and effecting repairs to the still largely intact escort. Though her crew was dead, Gallant and her mission might still continue.

Lobanov was just about to order the shields lowered for transport when something on the viewer caught her eye. “Pan back,” she commanded. “That door tag…”

The image of the death-filled corridor paused and scanned back to a door-identifier tag.

“Zoom in,” Lobanov instructed as the first tingle of warning began sounding in the back of her skull.

The small lettering on the signage read 03>014 – Crew Mess.

“Move the probe inside,” Lobanov said as she stood from her command chair. A quizzical expression lit upon her features, as though she were playing a hunch.

The drone moved inside the compartment, only to find the darkened mess room being used as storage, littered with all manner of cargo containers, many of them obviously non-Starfleet.

“The ship’s standard,” Lobanov continued. “It should be on the interior bulkhead. Let’s see it.”

The drone slipped between stacks of crates to find a ship's crest emblazoned on the bulkhead. It read USS Masada - NCC-76750. Below the relief, which depicted the stalwart last stand against the Roman Empire, read the quote, ‘It is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom.’

Masada?” Varro asked in a confused voice. “What’s that doing aboard Gallant?”

“This isn’t Gallant,” Lobanov muttered. “I was aboard Gallant last month and met with Commander Kircheis in the mess. I thought I remembered the ship’s interior color scheme as being different.” She moved back to her seat as she barked, “Boost power to shields. Back us off, half-impulse, and ready weapons.”

As Giacobini drew back, the battered Defiant-class came to life and the holographic fašade disguising the ship’s true registry evaporated along with much of the ship’s exterior damage.

“Target her weapons and engines, I want that ship disabled.” Lobanov called out. “Fire!”

Giacobini’s powerful phasers impacted Masada before the escort’s shields were raised, but the compact battlewagon’s ablative armor absorbed the blasts. The crystalline infused monotanium matrix fractured under the assault, but it spared the vital systems beneath from damage.

Masada responded with a potent barrage of pulse-phaser fire that raked across Giacobini’s forward screens.

“Come to course zero-eight-seven, mark two-two-nine and increase to three-quarters impulse,” Lobanov ordered. “Keep them off balance. Hit them with everything we’ve got.”

Streamers of phaser energy as well as photon and quantum torpedoes savaged the escort’s shields as Giacobini sought to put distance between herself and her attacker.

Masada sent a final volley of torpedoes towards the larger ship before turning abruptly and retreating, her cloaking field seeming to erase the ship from space once the vessel was outside Giacobini’s weapons range.

“They’ve cloaked,” Varro growled, the centurion in him bristling as victory was denied him.

“Science, anything?” the captain asked.

“Negative,” Rutti’cha responded. “Would that we had Europa’s sensors.”

Lobanov looked to the Operations station. “Wasn’t Masada destroyed during the war?”

After a brief check of Starfleet records, the lieutenant replied, “Masada was listed as missing and presumed destroyed at the Battle of Tyra, early in the war.”

“Looks like she’s back with a vengeance,” Lobanov muttered. “Send a sensor log update to Starbase Bastion, and see if you can get me anyone above the rank of captain in one of our intercept groups available in real-time.” Presuming, she thought darkly to herself, there’s anyone of that rank left alive out here…

*****
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Last edited by Gibraltar; October 14 2012 at 10:48 AM.
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