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Old December 17 2012, 08:07 AM   #120
Gibraltar
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 5 continued)

Chapter 5 <cont'd>

Commanding Officer's Quarters, USS Europa


Sandhurst looked up from his computer terminal as the doors parted at his summons to admit T’Ser to his quarters.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t be more comfortable back in your ready room, sir?” she asked.

He smiled patiently in response. “It’s your ship and your ready room until we rendezvous with Valiant, Captain.” Sandhurst leaned back in his chair and took a swig of lukewarm coffee as he gestured for T’Ser to take a seat across from him. “You have the status on the Voranti I requested?”

“Yes, sir,” T’ser confirmed, holding a padd aloft before accessing its contents. “Long range sensors indicate the Voranti fleet has reassembled outside the nebula and has resumed their original course. They’ll be limited to Warp 3 until they’re able to affect repairs to their most heavily damaged ships.”

“Threat assessment?”

“Their repeated skirmishes with Galaxy and our battle in the nebula destroyed nearly three-quarters of their dedicated warships, and seriously damaged many of the remaining ones. Their larger personnel carriers aren’t nearly as well armed. Lar’ragos and Verrik agree that at least for the time being, the Voranti have been defanged.”

Sandhurst nodded slowly, digesting that. “Make sure IG-5 is supplied with all pertinent information and assessments on Voranti capabilities. Captain Duparc will attempt another contact with them as they approach five's area of operations.”

T’Ser registered a skeptical look. “Do you think they’ll have any better luck?”

“I can only hope so. The tragedy here is that they’re not a malicious or expansionist people, they’ve just been provoked into being someone else’s pawns in a proxy war against Starfleet.”

She seemed to appraise his facial expression and body language. “And we still don’t have any idea who’s operating Masada?”

“None,” he sighed. “Realistically, it could be any one of a number of potential players. We now know thanks to the intel gathered by Gallant that the Romulans have an quasi-stable wormhole from their territory leading to very near our sector of operations. Size limitations on craft passing through it have restricted them to using smaller scout craft and their Valdore-class warbirds. A captured Defiant-class ship could easily pass through that fluctuating aperture.”

“To what end, sir? They’re our allies out here.”

“They’re not a monolithic power, T’Ser, no matter how much they might pretend to be. Hell, they’ve got more secret organizations than their own senate likely even knows about. It’s entirely conceivable that the Galae doesn’t even realize the Tal Shiar or someone else is operating Masada out here.”

“Could be the Dominion,” she offered. “Masada went missing in a battle with Dominion forces.”

Sandhurst shrugged in response. “The Klingons participated in that battle, too. Perhaps it’s the Klingon Sotaj. The point is it could be anyone. We didn’t exactly win a lot of hearts and minds by keeping our knowledge of the mass migration a secret for four months. More than a few governments would like to see the Federation bled dry in the process of thwarting the incursions.”

T’Ser inclined her head, silently conceding the point.

Her combadge chirped, and Ashok’s booming voice intruded into the conversation. “Engineering to Captain T’Ser. We’re ready to bring the new warp core online.”

Sandhurst and T’Ser stood in unison. “Let’s go check in on my little science project, shall we?” the commodore said as he made his way for the exit.

*****

The trio stood at the railing looking down on the new reactor core from Engineering’s second level. Where technicians had been swarming like ants just hours earlier was now an unconventional looking reaction chamber. It appeared like two squat cone-shaped chambers arranged point-to-point, contained within a largely transparent outer casing.

Ashok looked troubled, though Sandhurst had reassured him repeatedly that his team had executed the complex schematics flawlessly. The hulking Bolian’s voice carried throughout the entire compartment, though he’d only intended to address the captain and commodore. “Considering the drive utilizes standard dilithium crystals and fuel components, the projected maximum velocity factors would appear…” he struggled to find a polite descriptive, “…significantly over-enthusiastic.”

“Not at all, Lieutenant,” Sandhurst said with a confident smile. “In fact, I expect they’re actually rather conservative.” He reached down to touch a finger to the padd held in his other hand.

The LCARS displays throughout Engineering flickered for a brief second and the core hummed to life, the inverted cones beginning to glow as they spun in opposite directions. Each of them contained a carefully sculpted dilithium crystal whose harmonics had been predetermined through a painstaking crystallization-compression process.

Ashok clearly hadn’t expected that, and appeared alarmed. “What was that?”

“The engine is calibrating itself,” Sandhurst announced.

“Did Ra-Havreii intended for it to do tha—“

“No,” Sandhurst said, cutting him off mid-sentence. “Ra-Havreii designed the engine. I designed the control architecture and operating systems.”

“While under the influence of a mind-altering alien energy source,” Ashok added helpfully, somehow managing to keep his voice free of sarcasm.

Sandhurst beamed. “Yes indeed, Lieutenant.”

Ashok’s disconsolate grumble seemed to vibrate in time with the new core as T’Ser looked on, thinking wryly that now might not be the worst time to take command of another vessel.

*****

Galaxy’s saucer section was ringed with proximity mines and surrounded by a squadron of armed shuttlecraft for protection as Europa departed the nebula to conduct speed trials of her new engine. T’Ser remained behind to oversee the final repairs to the saucer in Europa’s absence, awaiting the arrival of Valiant, whose sled had just decelerated from high-warp some twelve light-years distant.

*****

“Warp nine, nine-point-two, nine-point-four,” Lightner called out as Europa raced up the acceleration curve.

“We’re on course for Valiant, correct?” Sandhurst inquired from the captain’s chair.

“Yes, Commodore,” Shanthi confirmed from the Science station. “They are, however, twelve light-years out. Even at maximum warp, it will take—“

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Sandhurst said, extinguishing the rest of the young scientist’s assessment.

“…nine-point-nine, nine-point-nine-two…”

“Lieutenant Lascomb,” Sandhurst said, addressing the petite blond woman staffing the Engineering console. “Execute the new deflector protocols I uploaded on my mark.”

“Aye, sir,” she replied obediently, sparing a nervous look towards the Flight Control station as Lightner continued his unbroken cadence.

“…nine-point-nine-seven-five, nine-point-nine-eight…”

Sandhurst dropped his gaze to the padd in his lap, idly toggling various interfaces as he monitored the activity of the warp core. A crewman stepped onto the bridge from the fore turbolift, an object cradled in his hands as he approached the captain’s chair.

From behind him, Verrik had his phaser halfway out of its holster before he realized the enlisted rating was carrying what appeared to be a bottle of Champaign. Sandhurst looked up with a smile. “Ah, that’s the ’52 Dom Perignon from stores?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Excellent,” Sandhurst reached out to take the bottle in hand. “I thought it would be a lovely way to welcome Valiant’s crew to the Delta Quadrant.”

“…nine-point-nine-nine-one.” Lightner cast a disbelieving look back at Sandhurst. “Sir, we’ve now exceeded the maximum speed of the warp-sled that brought us out here!” He knew that a Sovereign-class starship would be tearing itself apart by now, yet there wasn’t even a noticeable vibration in the deck plates yet.

Rather than respond to the excited helmsman, Sandhurst gestured toward Lascomb at Engineering. “Execute.”

She touched a single interface at her console and the ship lurched unexpectedly.

There was a collective gasp from many of the bridge crew, most of who were already on a razor's-edge of tension at the astounding acceleration Europa had demonstrated. However, after an anxious second devoid of any further turbulence, all appeared calm.

Lightner let loose the most unexpectedly random string of creative profanity as he stared at the main viewer. There, rather than the streaking starscape he had long ago become accustomed to, was a swirling tunnel of light closing to a bright point some indeterminate distance ahead. He glanced down, checking his readings, “We’re showing as holding at Warp nine-point-nine-nine-three.”

“Yes,” Sandhurst affirmed, his tone devoid of surprise. “That would be our velocity in normal space.”

“Normal sp—“ Shanthi sputtered. “Where are we?”

Sandhurst’s reply was that of an Academy professor reciting dry facts by rote, “We’re tunneling through subspace, approximately point-four millicochranes beneath our dimensional plane.” He frowned, taking exception to his phrasing. “Or… beside. Above maybe?” He shrugged. “Past… whatever.”

“Son of a bitch,” Shanthi breathed in astonishment. “It’s transwarp!”

“For want of a better term,” Sandhurst allowed, “sure.”

*****
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Last edited by Gibraltar; December 17 2012 at 05:57 PM.
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