Chapter 9 <cont'd>
Lar’ragos stepped off the turbolift onto the bridge with Liu in tow, both men assuming their seats in the command center as Juneau surrendered the captain’s chair and stepped over to seat herself at the XO’s post.
“What’s our situation, First?” Lar’ragos prompted.
“Sensor contact, Captain,” Juneau reported. “A minor gravitational flux that’s out of the ordinary for this class of gas giant. It may be indicative of a cloaked vessel proximate to the stasis capsule.”
“And here we go,” Lar’ragos murmured. “Engineering, bring the mains back online. Standby to reroute primary power from the structural integrity field to the shields. Bring phasers and torpedoes to hot standby.”
Shields had been deactivated and Europa’s
mains had been taken offline to suppress the ship’s energy signature. The vessel started to come alive around them.
From behind him at the Tactical arch, 2nd Lieutenant Tiedermeyer acknowledged the order, warming up the weapons systems.
At the XO’s chair, Juneau turned to cast a glance in Shanthi’s direction. “Science, stand ready to use our sensor array to blind them.”
Shanthi nodded grimly in response. “Aye, sir. Standing by on sensors.”
The visual feed from the mini-probes laced throughout the rings centered on the area where the gravimetric disturbance had been detected. There was a distortive shimmer and then the silhouette of a Defiant
-class escort took shape as the compact craft skirted just above the plane of the rings.
“They’re scanning the stasis tube,” Shanthi observed.
“Hull markings identify the ship as Masada
,” the petty officer at Ops announced.
Juneau turned to Lar’ragos, her expression wary. “A coincidence, or do you think they’re linked to the Baron? They could just be shadowing us,” she postulated.
Lar’ragos’ eyes narrowed as he sensed… something
… that seemed very wrong, very out of place here. “No. This is them.”
She knew better than to question his instincts, and instead sought to glean as much information as possible from the passive sensor readings being relayed from the probes.
“Nominal energy readings being emitted from their power systems, but I’m detecting a significant increase in chroniton radiation,” Juneau alerted.
From Science, Shanthi assessed, “Chronometric particles are a byproduct of most cloaking technology.”
“Agreed,” Juneau said, “but not at these levels.”
is changing course,” Ops noted.
Shanthi’s eyes bore into his sensor window. “Looks like they’re heading for the capsule.”
“Steady,” Lar’ragos said in a calming tone. “Make ready. As soon as the fight’s on, they’ll try and bloody our nose before jumping to warp. Mister Tiedermeyer, I want our first volley targeted on their engines and shields.”
Juneau leaned in to Lar’ragos to whisper, “Not their weapons, sir?”
Lar’ragos mirrored her gesture, replying in kind, “I don’t want them escaping again. If they’re still shooting at us, at least we know where they are.”
Ops gave a steady stream of updates on Masada’s
proximity to the cryogenic stasis capsule. “Half-a-million klicks and closing at one-fifth impulse.”
The tactical overlay on the main viewer showed Masada’s
approach to the capsule, the small warship scanning the stasis tube repeatedly. “Two-hundred thousand K and continuing to close.”
“As soon as we spring the trap, Z-plus-fifteen hundred meters. Once our sensor pod is free of the ice field, fry every sensor node on that ship,” Lar’ragos ordered.
inexorable advance continued, until the escort was a mere five kilometers from the capsule.
“They’ve dropped their shields and are engaging their transporter, sir,” Ops advised.
Lar’ragos toggled the detonator on his armrest console, sending the encrypted triggering code to the quantum warhead encased within the stasis capsule.
Miniature thrusters on the capsule activated, causing it to move into a proper firing position relative Masada
. The battery pack at the base of the capsule blasted free an instant before a quantum warhead ignited within and flashed downrange to slam home dead center of Masada’s
“Direct hit, sir!” Tiedermeyer crowed from the Tactical station.
“Execute,” Lar’ragos instructed, his controlled voice conveying an air of clinical detachment.
From the helm, Lightner called out, “Z-plus-fifteen hundred meters, aye.”
surfaced from out of the rings, her monstrously powerful sensor pod turned its full fury against Masada
, bombarding the smaller ship with overwhelming energies designed to deny its crew all referents to the outside universe.
“Open fire,” Lar’ragos ordered as the starship cleared the ice slurry. Photon torpedoes and scorching columns of phaser energy lashed Masada’s
shield emitters and her reinforced nacelles. The escort’s ablative armor buckled and fractured under the onslaught, but the tough little ship still managed to return fire towards Europa’s
last known coordinates.
shuddered in response to the photon impacts but her shields held firm as the cruiser unleashed a second barrage that darkened one of Masada’s
nacelles and sent her limping away on partial impulse power.
“Engage pursuit course,” Lar’ragos commanded, “and continue fire.”
“God damn it!” Liana Ramirez raged as consoles sizzled and sparked around her on Masada’s
compact bridge. “Shields! Give me shields!”
The diminutive Gormarian at the Tactical station called out, “All available power has been diverted to the impulse drive! Shields and cloak are offline.”
The heavily scaled Prelanite at the Engineering board added its gravelly voice to the chorus of bad news. “The chronometric canon and primary navigational deflector have taken catastrophic damage, sir.”
“All sensors are offline,” someone else announced. “We’ve lost target lock and our situational awareness is compromised.”
“Evasive pattern Ramirez Three,” Ramirez barked from the command chair. “Fire aft torpedoes in a blind suppression pattern, and modulate our SIF to refract as much of their sensor energy as possible.”
“I was correct,” Parlan upbraided Ramirez from where he stood beside the captain’s chair. “The Baron was not in the capsule. Obviously, they used a sensor ruse to falsify the readings.”
“How very helpful,” Ramirez snarled. “Perhaps you could employ your obviously superior intellect to finding a way out of our predicament?”
“The temporal torpedo,” he replied without hesitation. “The chronometric sheath will circumvent their shields and its warhead will be more than sufficient to destroy their ship.”
Ramirez spun in her chair to face him. “I don’t want them obliterated outright! That’s the whole point!
The Baron wanted Sandhurst to know the intent behind this, to savor the agony of my being the avenue of his destruction.” She shook her head with frustration. “The torpedo is still a prototype, anyway, untested in combat conditions.”
“I lack your creativity in such matters, Liana,” Parlan answered truthfully.
Though the Baron’s neural reprogramming of Ramirez had dulled certain aspects of her personality, her ingenious knack for tactical creativity under duress had been unaffected. Her eyes widened ever so slightly as inspiration struck her. In a brief moment of clarity, Ramirez saw through the fog of battle to glimpse a potential course of action.
“Send the final signal,” Ramirez ordered the tentacled alien manning the Ops console.
“It is not yet time,” Parlan countered as the ship bucked again from another weapon’s impact.
“Time enough,” she answered in a cadence reminiscent of the Baron. “He could have no better ending than one that cements his final vengeance.” Her eyes cleared and focused back on Parlan once again. “And you, my cybernetic friend, are going for a ride.”
“They’re coming about, Captain. Looks like they’re heading for the planetary rings.”
Lar’ragos marveled at the punishment the Defiant
-class ship was absorbing. Layers of ablative armor trailed behind the little ship as it swooped and jinked madly in an attempt to spoil Europa’s
target lock. A storm of inaccurate torpedo fire lashed out in a brilliant but ineffective display of pyrotechnics.
"Talk about swinging in the dark," Lar'ragos muttered to himself. “Increase speed by one-eighth,” he ordered. “We can’t let them get to the rings or we’ll lose them.”
broadcasting, sir,” noted the petty officer at Ops. “Some kind of encrypted transmission on a low-band carrier frequency.”
“They calling for backup?” Juneau asked from the XO’s spot.
“The signal appears to be directed…” the Ops chief spared a glance over his shoulder at Lar’ragos. “…directly at us.”
Sickbay, USS Europa
Given the discovery of whatever bizarre metabolic processes were going on within the Baron’s body, Lar’ragos had ordered that all possible measures be taken to safeguard the ship and crew from any tampering from within the man’s stasis capsule. The cryogenic unit had been moved to its own secured compartment in Sickbay and placed within a Level-Ten containment field.
That precaution is what kept all of Decks 4, 5, and 6 along Europa’s
starboard/aft section from being completely destroyed when the Baron’s body erupted in an inexplicable surge of roaring energy. Instead, the violent energies unleashed were funneled first through the stasis capsule and its containment field, both of which yielded almost instantly to the inferno. The shielded ward was awash in flame for a fraction of a second, before it spilled down the adjoining access corridor when the compartment’s sealed door vaporized under the onslaught.
Taiee was treating an environmental systems technician who had been thrown off his feet during the first exchange with Masada
moments before, causing him to dislocate his shoulder. She was passing a Feinberger sensor wand over the man’s upper arm when the deck beneath her feet trembled. Taiee glanced up just in time to witness a wall of fire surging up the corridor and into the main Sickbay ward.
She gained an extra few seconds as a forcefield snapped to life to try and bar access to the river of superheated gasses and molten metal, but it was overwhelmed and began to fail almost as quickly. Her last conscious act was to pull her startled patient off the biobed and shove him through the main Sickbay doors into the corridor. Taiee heard the forcefield collapse behind her as she finished locking the doors from the inside and triggering Sickbay’s fire-suppression systems and another Level-Ten containment field over the door.
Though inadequate to save the lives of those still within Sickbay, in conjunction with the sealed bulkhead doors and the containment field, the conflagration was stopped there and limited to the Sickbay complex.
Taiee and four other medical personnel were consumed by fire, but thanks to her actions, dozens, perhaps hundreds more were spared a similar fate.