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Old October 30 2012, 05:02 AM   #78
Gibraltar
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 3 continued)

Chapter 3 <cont'd>

USS Europa


Verrik’s aim was true, and in less than fifteen seconds the Voranti ship was rendered toothless by a flurry of precision phaser strikes against their weapons emplacements and shield generators.

Believing their sensors were superior within the nebula to Starfleet’s, the Voranti had elected not to keep their shields raised. It was a mistake Captain T’Ser exploited to the fullest.

Europa went head-to-head with the cruiser to better illustrate Starfleet’s resolve as T’Ser opened a hailing frequency to the stricken warship.

“Voranti vessel, this is Captain T’Ser of the Federation starship Europa requesting a cessation of hostilities between our peoples. I regret that it was necessary to forcibly disarm you, but you have been firing at Federation craft on sight. We believe there may have been an extremely unfortunate misunderstanding between us, and we would like to halt the violence before more people are hurt. Please respond.”

T’Ser shared an impatient look with Shanthi as they awaited a reply from the aliens.

After a lengthy delay, a tone warbled at the Operations console, identifying an incoming transmission.

“Voranti are responding with a visual feed,” the ensign announced.

“On screen,” T’Ser instructed.

An aquatic being not terribly different from the Federation’s own Antedeans sat examining them with what appeared to be cold, calculating expressions. The Voranti had large, bulbous eyes that extended out from the sides of their flat, narrow heads. Pulsing air-bladders below and behind the eyes inflated regularly as some component of their species respiration.

Their command center was gracefully designed, all spherical workstations and monitors, with rounded doorways. A fine water mist could be seen descending from the ceiling, keeping the Voranti’s sensitive dermal surfaces well hydrated.

“An unfortunate misunderstanding?” the Voranti in the center of the image cried out angrily. “You approach us under a flag of peace and then slaughter our hatchlings and destroy our food supply, and you dare call this a misunderstanding?”

T’Ser stood, walking forward toward the viewscreen. “We think the attack upon your vessels may have come from one of our ships, a rogue vessel which was believed destroyed some years ago. I would like to send images and sensor information to you in order to confirm our suspicions. May we do so?”

“Your first attack on us was initiated by a computer virus transferred via info-packet! I will allow no such thing!” The Voranti commander was trembling with anger now, his fury evident even to those with no knowledge of his species’ non-verbal gestures.

T’Ser was calm in the face of the Voranti leader’s rage.“Please understand I mean this as an observation, not a threat. We have already disabled your weapons and shields. You are at our mercy. What benefit would there be to us infecting you with a cyber-virus now?”

“You are correct; we are at your mercy, Federation. Vaporize us if you will, but we will not be complicit in our own destruction!”

With that the comm-link was severed, leaving T’Ser staring at the Voranti ship adrift amidst the gently swirling tendrils of gas and energized plasma.

She settled back into her seat, feeling impossibly weary in the face of the aliens’ intransigence, understandable as it may have been.

T’Ser reluctantly keyed the comms to the transporter room.“Commander Lar’ragos, you and your team are a go.”

*****

Near In'Drahn Station

It was the sheer magnitude of the disaster that at first threatened to overwhelm Pell Ojana.

Growing up on Bajor during the Occupation and having most recently served on the relief mission to the war-ravaged world of Velkohn, Pell had naively believed that the evacuation of a ‘mere’ space station would be a relatively minor undertaking.

How wrong she had been.

In’Drahn station had been home to tens-of-thousands of former Husnock vassals from a dozen different species, all of them with highly divergent biology.

The Habertaem and other former slave races had long been inured to suffering. Despite their resilient natures, the horrific injuries the survivors had sustained during the Amon attack tested the resolve and medical capabilities the Starfleet rescue teams, as well as their emotional endurance.

Using the twenty-person capacity ASRV as a central hub, the Europa crewmembers had affixed their two dozen escape pods filled with emergency supplies to the larger craft’s multiple airlocks. The X-shaped formation was now referred to as ‘the MedHub’ and had become the nexus of the growing relief effort.

Dozens of local ships had arrived over the hours and days following the disaster at In’Drahn station, offering whatever help they could. Pell had utilized her experience with triage situations to determine how best each ship and crew could contribute to the overall effort, and little by little, Pell’s influence had grown until she had been accepted as being the unofficially recognized leader of the relief effort.

Transports, bulk freighters, tenders and craft of a many other types were now filled with injured refugees from the station. Thousands had been transported or shuttled down to the surface of the planet around which the station orbited, but the most seriously wounded were best treated in a zero-g environment where their severe burns were spared the agonies of gravity.

Thirty-six hour shifts in the MedHub had become routine, and although Dr. Multorlo needed very little sleep and the EMH required none, there were always more critical patients waiting than their tiny makeshift operating rooms could handle.

It was during one of the rare quiet moments that an exhausted Pell sat slumped in a corner, wedged between a crate of compression bandages and a robotic articulation frame they’d been using to reinforce the exoskeletons of the crustacean-like Oenan species while they underwent surgery.

Pell tore open a foil packet of survival rations, chewing absently on a protein bar as an equally spent Olivia Juneau staggered into the tiny compartment. The lieutenant shed the chest plate of an EVA suit as she bobbed her head towards her commanding officer in the only gesture of acknowledgement she could manage under the circumstances. “Hi, boss.”

Pell raised the half-eaten protein bar in a mock salute. “How went the recovery op?”

Juneau eased herself to the deck, leaning her head back against the wall and closing her eyes for a blissfully peaceful second. “Just what we’d feared. No survivors forward of bulkhead epsilon-six. Anyone left who hadn’t burned to death had asphyxiated.”

Pell thought about that for a long moment. “Prophets, is it horrible for me to think that given our workload, that might be for the best? I don’t think we could have handled another influx of casualties. Most of us haven’t slept in nearly two days.”

Juneau cracked an eyelid to observe her superior officer. “I’d be lying if I said the same thing hadn’t occurred to me, sir.”

“In that case, we’ll fall into the Fire Caves together,” Pell chuckled darkly, gallows humor buoying the last vestiges of her emotional strength.

“It feels like Europa’s been gone for months,” Juneau sighed.

“It’s been six days,” Pell clarified. “If the engines held out, they’d just be reaching the nebula by now.”

“Six days,” Juneau echoed. “Unbelievable.”

Pell sealed her ration pack back up, sparing a glance at her wrist chronometer. “I’ll set the alarm for three hours. They’ll have breached aft of bulkhead sierra-twelve by then.”

Juneau folded her arms across her chest. “Sounds like a plan, sir.” Within second she was asleep.

Pell watched her for a moment, considering the admirable effort the younger officer had put in this past week, and the many lives saved as a result. The Bajoran murmured a prayer for the dead and dying of In’Drahn station, then promptly followed Juneau into slumber.

*****
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