- IV -
Over the years commanding his ship, Michael Owens had gotten to know it well enough to be able to read it by its feel, by the way the deck plates rattled under his feet and by the manner in which the bulkheads vibrated around him. He had learned to know how his ship was doing by the sounds it made, the hums and groans of the superstructure usually gave him a good idea of the status of the starship. And he knew it was hurting.
The flashing red alert beacons and the constant jolting as Eagle
dove deeper into the nebula were steady reminders but they didn’t tell the entire story. Something was out there to destroy the Starfleet vessel and with every kilometer, the ship was coming closer to that fate.
Owens had to force himself from grinding his teeth together as he felt another angry jolt through the cushion of his command seat. “How much longer?”
Stanmore at ops responded. “We are no longer detecting the signal but judging from its last transmission, we should be getting into visual range any moment now.”
“On screen,” said Commander Star who, perhaps slightly unwisely, remained on her feet between her chair next to Owens’ and the forward stations. So far she was doing an admirable job of keeping her balance.
The captain shook his head when all he could spot on the screen was the nebula itself.
“Is it just me or does this place look a lot more unwelcoming than it used to?” said Ensign Aliris who was currently in charge of piloting the ship.
Owens had to agree with the young Risian woman. What had not too long ago appeared like a marvelous natural phenomenon, dazzling with its wide variety of color and light had somehow become an angry, throbbing mass, apparently determined to put and end to his ship and crew. And yet the nebula hadn’t really changed in appearance, it just felt as if it had decided to put all its splendor to one single, destructive goal.
“I certainly vote to cut our little excursion short at our earliest convenience,” said Katanga. The doctor was hanging on tightly to his chair to the left of the captain. “This place seems to have lost a lot of its charm recently.”
“Wait, what is that,” Star said, took a step closer to the main screen and pointed at an area in the lower left quadrant. “Enhance grid gamma-six.”
Stanmore had the requested section highlighted with little delay and then expanded to fill the screen.
Owens smirked when he spotted the familiar hull configuration of a Starfleet Danube
The operations officer tapped a few more panels until the small vessel almost filled the screen. “It’s the Nebuchadrezzar
,” he said, sounding noticeably relieved.
“She appears to be in trouble,” said Star, noticing her unusual angle and apparent lack of proper forward momentum.
Stanmore confirmed. “She’s adrift.”
Lieutenant Trinik carried out the order. “No response, sir. The vessel appears to have taken significant damage consistent with an emergency landing.”
“A landing?” Katanga said, befuddled. “Where would it have landed?”
“Questions for later,” said Owens. “Helm, bring us in closer.”
“Aye, sir,” said Aliris.
“Scan for life signs,” said the first officer, beating the captain to the exact same order by less than a second.
“There are three life signs,” said Katanga who was using a console positioned within arm’s length of his chair. “One is very weak and will require immediate medical attention.”
“Already on my way,” the physician said before Owens could even complete the order and was on his feet, talking to his staff in sickbay before he had even reached the turbolift doors.
Under different circumstances Michael would have been annoyed by Katanga’s tendency to cut him off in mid-sentence but right now he appreciated the man’s dedication to his craft. He focused back on the image of the battered and bruised ship on the screen, unable to hide the concern for his crewmembers on board and fully aware that the away team had numbered four souls instead of the three they’d been able to detect. He couldn’t help but fear the worst.
Star had moved behind Stanmore, holding on to the back of his chair to keep her balance. “Lieutenant, can you attempt to send a comm. signal on the same frequency as the one on which they send their distress signal? That way, perhaps we can talk to them.”
The young officer needed a moment to understand and then nodded. “Theoretically that should be possible,” he said. “That frequency was not designed to handle audio-visual communications but if I boost the power to our transmitter it should be possible.”
“Do it,” she said.
In the meantime Owens turned to his tactical officer. “Can we beam the life-signs directly to sickbay?” he asked but already suspecting the answer was not going to be encouraging. As if to stress the complications of their situation, the ship jolted again from another attack, reminding him and the rest of the crew that the invisible assault which had intensified since they had pushed deeper into Aphrodite’s Cloud had no intentions to let up any time soon.
“We are not able to get a transporter lock through the interference generated by the nebula’s radiation. I would also not recommend to lower the shields at this time,” the Vulcan replied efficiently. “Severe damage to the outer hull would be a likely result.”
Stanmore turned from his station to glance at Star and then Owens. “Channel open, sir.”
, do you read?” the captain said.
There was no reply.
“Boost power to the receiver,” ordered the first officer.
Stanmore did as he was told. “Done. Any more and we blow it out.”
“This is Owens, Nebuchadrezzar
, please respond?”
The sound of static was all he got in return.
, say again.”
Another burst of static but this time there was something more. A voice buried deep within the electronic white noise was trying to push through. After a moment it took on a familiar and very pleasant female voice. “I see you got my … message.”
Owens smirked. He felt a sense of immense relief to hear DeMara’s voice and then immediately berated himself for his own feelings. His close friend was alive and well, it appeared, but clearly the same could not be said for all the members of the away team. “Admittedly we don’t get many communiqués in song format so it took us a moment to figure it out.”
“That’s a real shame. I always thought it be a much better universe if people broke out in song more often.”
Michael stood. “I’ll make sure to bring it up with the Dominion next time I get the chance. What’s your status, Lieutenant?”
“Ensign Srena has been injured and requires immediate medical attention. I don’t suppose you can lock on to her and beam her straight to sickbay?”
“Not an option while we’re in this nebula, I’m afraid.”
“Shuttle bay, then?”
Deen said. “But you need to bring us in, we’ve lost the ability to maneuver.”
The captain glanced at the tactical officer. “Can we lower shields long enough to bring in the runabout?”
“It is not a recommended procedure given our circumstances,” he said.
Michael frowned and just for a short moment had the urge to snap at the junior lieutenant and to let him know that he didn’t care about procedures while the life of one of his crew was in serious danger. He quickly remembered that the young man was simply doing his job, albeit a little too pragmatically. Even for a Vulcan.
said So’Dan Leva over the comlink. “It may be possible for you to create a second shield envelope around the runabout then drop the inner shields and bring us in.”
Owens nodded, immediately being reminded why the half-Romulan was the ship’s senior tactical officer. He glanced towards Star and she quickly headed towards the tactical station to assist the Vulcan officer there.
“That’s what we’ll do, Commander. Stand ready,” said the captain and then looked at the Risian at helm. “Ensign, bring us in range and then align us with the runabout.”
“Aye, sir,” she said quickly and went to work.
Owens took his seat again while the crew around him prepared the ship to take the runabout on board under less than optimal conditions. A quick glance at the status displays embedded in the armrests of his chair were not painting heartening picture. Shields were already below sixty percent power and the double envelope would only drain them even quicker. It was a risky move, he understood, but it was their only option. “Divert auxiliary power to structural integrity,” he said and then looked at Stanmore acknowledging the order and making it happen.
“We’re ready, sir,” said Star from the tactical board behind him. “We will be particularly vulnerable during the maneuver however and we are likely to take additional damage.”
He nodded and then activated a panel on his armrest console. “Bridge to all hands, brace yourselves,” he said and then looked up and toward Star, giving her the nod to proceed.
“Engaging secondary shield envelope,” said the tactical officer.
“Activating tractor beam,” this from Stanmore.
On the screen an azure energy beam took hold of the drifting runabout and began to pull her towards Eagle
“Lowering main shields,” said Star.
And as if on cue, the ship was immediately gripped by a shockwave and everyone on the bridge had to hold on for dear life as their unknown assailants had somehow detected their weakening prey and taken full advantage.
“Report” Owens said.
“Outer shields down to twelve percent. Hull damage to deck seven, eight and nine.”
“Evacuate the affected areas and initiate radiation protocols,” Owens said even as he typed commands into his armrest console. “Status of the Nebuchadrezzar
“The attack seems to have been focused on us, sir,” said Star. “Shuttle bay doors are opening.”
“Small miracles,” he said. “Reel her in.”
On the screen the runabout disappeared as it was being pulled passed the visual pickup angle of the sensors.
Another jolt followed the first, this one even more violent. The helm station erupted in sparks and Aliris went flying out of her chair with a grunt.
“The outer shield envelope has collapsed,” said Star urgently.
“Hull breach on deck seven, section nine. Emergency force-fields are in place,” the Vulcan added, keeping his voice much more neutral.
Owens’ first instinct was to check on the downed helmsman but as much as he wanted to, she simply wasn’t a priority at the moment. With no shields to protect the ship and crew, everybody was at grave risk now. Not to mention that by opening the main shuttle bay doors, the very innards of Eagle
now lay vulnerable and exposed. “Whatever it takes, bring main shields back online.”
Stanmore was shaking his head as his hands were furiously racing over his console. “We cannot keep the tractor beam and the shields running at the same time.”
Owens looked at the two officers behind him. “How much longer until we have the runabout?”
“About thirty seconds,” Star said.
In other words a lifetime under current conditions. All it took was a lucky shot to their vulnerable shuttle bay to cause catastrophic damage to the ship. “Cut the beam, bring them in under their own momentum and give me back my shields.”
“Tractor beam disabled,” said Stanmore.
“Shields coming up,” said Star.
That’s when Owens saw the mass of pulsating light on the corner of the main view screen. It looked just like those little specks of colorful light they had witnessed in this nebula ever since they had arrived except that this one was at least three to four times larger than anything he had seen before. And instead of shining in soothing colorful lights, this one was pulsating angrily in a glaring red. It was on a collision course with his ship.
“Brace for impact,” he said.
It did him little good.
The thing hit with a bright flash and for a moment Michael felt as if time itself had slowed. His first thought was that the artificial gravity had failed, as he suddenly felt weightless. It lasted for but a heartbeat before he was reminded that gravity was working all too well, slamming him onto the floor with unforgiving force.
* * *
“They’ve cut the tractor beam,” said Deen unable to keep a slight hint of concern out of her voice after their tether to Eagle
had been severed. “We’re moving on momentum only.”
Leva nodded, almost as if he had expected this. “They are having trouble keeping the shields up. And whatever is going after the ship has apparently noticed the weakness. Transfer all power we’ve got left to thrusters and inertial dampers, including life support.”
The Tenarian went to work but a grimace gave proof that she wasn’t having much success. “There isn’t much.”
Leva looked up to see the wide-open shuttle bay doors. But they were coming in much too fast with little to no control. At this speed there was a good chance the already weakened runabout hull would split open upon impact like an egg, most likely killing everybody on board. “We don’t need much. Just a couple of thruster burst to slow us down.”
“I can give you one.”
“I’ll take it. Dump the warp core, all anti-matter and fuel,” said the half-Romulan and then looked back up from his controls to the viewport. The shuttle bay had been cleared of all equipment and personnel as a preventive measure but with all power diverted to protecting the ship from an external attack, the systems usually designed to prevent a hard landing and safeguard the runabout did not appear fully functioning.
“Oh, this is not good.”
It took him a moment to realize that Deen wasn’t talking about their imminent crash landing but about events taking place outside in the nebula. Leva had only a few seconds to register that some sort of energy was building up just a few short kilometers from their position, preparing for a devastating strike against Eagle
. And that it was coming right for them.
He had planned to use what little he had left for the thrusters to slow their approach enough to not break up the runabout on impact. Things had changed in a heartbeat as a seemingly much more urgent threat had emerged. Without giving it more thought than necessary he engaged the thrusters to carry out an emergency evasive maneuver.
The runabout swerved sharply to avoid the incoming energy discharge.
Leva’s fingers turned white as he pushed down hard on the control panels, trying to force the runabout back towards the waiting shuttle bay.
“Brace!” he shouted when he realized that they were coming in on an entirely wrong angle, now moving sideways towards their landing coordinates.
Deen and Leva lowered their heads and covered them with their arms just before they made contact.
The impact was bone jarring and both went flying out of their seats. The screech of metal against metal was nearly unbearable as the runabout appeared to try and drive itself into the shuttle bay deck.
“Hold on!” Leva cried as he realized that their momentum would not only push the ship across the entire length of the bay, it would not remain upright for long.
A hard jolt and the screaming sound of metal rendered into scrap was the first sign that the hull had been compromised. The second was Nebuchadrezzar’s
starboard warp nacelle hitting the viewports, cracking them thoroughly, before it bounced off the frame and went flying out towards space.
Then the runabout flipped to its side and both Leva and Deen hung on for dear life when the artificial gravity net was unable to compensate for the ship flipping over and rolling across the bay, shedding hull plates and other equipment as it went.
It flipped back right side up just in time for its nose to smash into the rear bulkhead, causing both officers to collide painfully with the forward control console of the cockpit.
An eerie quite settled across the shuttle bay.
“We need to stop landing this way,” said Deen in-between coughs.
Leva couldn’t help but laugh, even though his entire body punished him for this sudden onset of humor.
Then the door to the cockpit opened and a team of medical personnel streamed inside, Elijah Katanga leading the charge.
The African doctor had quickly determined that Leva had been injured more severely and knelt at his side in an instant. “You have a broken arm and multiple fractured ribs but overall I’d say you got lucky.”
Nurse Leeta was tending to Deen. “Mostly bruises as far as I can tell, Lieutenant,” she said and smiled at the Tenarian.
But Deen shook her head. “It’s not me,” she said and tried to stand even though the nurse was doing her best to discourage her from moving at all. Deen managed to get on her feet regardless and began to head towards the exit.
“Where are you going?” Leeta said.
“Ensign Srena,” she said over her shoulder. “Quickly, she needs urgent medical attention.”
Katanga left his medics to care for Leva and followed Deen and Leeta towards the back.
The Tenarian was glad that they’d had the foresight of strapping the injured ensign tightly to her bunk where she had remained securely when they arrived in the aft compartment.
Leeta referred to her medical tricorder. “Reading multiple internal injuries as well as a subdural hematoma. Her heart-rate is dangerously unstable.”
Katanga had already tapped his combadge. “Sickbay, prep an immediate surgical bay for high priority patient with a subdural hematoma. Prepare for emergency transport.”
“Yes, Doctor, right away.”
That’s when Srena’s blue eyelids fluttered opened. “Dee?”
“Doctor, she’s coming out of the coma,” Leeta said urgently.
Deen was at her side in an instance. “It’s alright, Srena, you’re back on Eagle
. You’re going to be fine now, just rest.”
“Dee … the nebula…”
“Don’t try to talk, you’re going to be alright.”
Leeta pushed Deen away gently to get closer to the patient and inject her with a hypospray, causing the Andorian’s eyelids to slowly close again. “She’s ready for transport, Doctor.”
Katanga nodded. “Transporter room, three to beam directly to sickbay.”
responded the voice of the transporter operator.
“Alive,” Srena mumbled just before she, along with Leeta and Katanga dematerialized in a stream of azure light.