Sorry for the lateness of this continuation but as I must hold down a job for various reasons...reality intrudes.
I hope it was worth the wait.
Throughout the quiet warp tug, red lights began to flash as the warbling Red Alert siren began its wail. The voice that carried over the Persepheron’s
intercom sounded scared. “Red Alert! Red Alert! All hands to stations. Secure all interior doors. This is not a drill, I repeat, this is not a drill. Um, it’s the Borg.”
Already in motion before the announcement was completed, Commander Ryan Ridgeway decided as he ran that he was going to take charge of this one. His ship or not, he was the ranking officer onboard. Time to step up to the plate.
Behind him Ridgeway heard Chief Prak yell at the three engineers who were standing with the Tellarite. “Get back to engineering, move it.” Clamoring up a ladder, Ridgeway had to turn sideways to allow two running crewmen, still pulling on their coveralls, to pass him.
Ridgeway ran around a corner, dodged two additional crewmen, and went up another ladder before he stepped through the door into the bridge with Chief Prak close behind him. “Status?” He said in his best command voice. Luckily, no one seemed to have a problem with his taking charge, not even Chief Prak.
Aft Overflow Berthing
When the Red Alert siren began wailing, between the first verbal Red Alert and the second, a pair of feet hit the deck. They belonged to Federation Marine Captain and Doctor Shelly O’Connell. Somehow, she had managed to combine the actions of getting out of bed and putting on her black uniform pants into one smooth motion. She had pulled on her boots and grabbed her pullover uniform top before any of the three other occupants had even begun to stir.
Striding towards the compartment door, she realized her companions might need some encouragement. Stopping she stepped over to the nearest double bunk and finished the rousting the Red Alert siren had failed to do. “Come on Starfleet, assholes and elbows!” Moving from bunk to bunk, alternately pulling the blankets off or shaking the occupant physically, she got two of the three Lieutenant JGs moving. “I know it’s zero-dark-thirty, but there’s something going on, MOVE IT PEOPLE!”
T’Noor, Vulcan science officer, and a lighter sleeper than the other two junior officers, roused first and hopped gracefully to the deck from one of the top bunks. Lieutenant JG Tara rolled out of her bottom rack a second later, pulling her pants and top on from where she had hung them from hooks. She briefly noted that T’Noor had neatly folded her clothes before getting into bed and was having a bit of trouble dressing quickly. I’ll have to talk to her about that,
Tara thought to herself as she pulled her boots on.
Arjal Brak, the Trill Ops officer, and the only male in the compartment, proved the most difficult to awaken. Finally, with both other females up and dressing, Captain O’Connell resorted to the only thing she could think of with the alert klaxon blaring. Already holding his blanket in hand, and realizing that sound wasn’t proving to be a big motivator for the Trill, she dropped his blanket, reached up and pulled the barely two-inch-thick mattress out from under him. It was a reasonably good impersonation of a stage magician pulling the cloth out from under a fancy table setting, and Brak fell to the hard metal bunk with a thud, finally waking up.
Still groggy, despite the noise and buffeting, Brak sat up on his bunk. “What’s going on?”
O’Connell shook her head and looked at Tara and T’Noor. “You two get to the bridge, I’ll bring ‘Sleepy’ here as soon as I can.”
With that she grabbed Brak’s pants and shirt and threw them at him. The two pieces of clothing hit the Trill squarely in the chest. “Come on Mister, my grandmother doesn’t sleep as deep as you, and she’s been dead for twenty years! God rest her soul.”
Brak finally got the hint and jumped to the deck and dressed quickly, asking again, “What’s happening?”
Taking a second to pull on her top as Brak dressed, O’Connell said quickly, “It’s the Borg!” She hoped silently that this was another prank, but couldn’t shake the feeling that their situation was all too real.
Seeing that the news had shocked the young Trill somewhat, O’Connell took the initiative. “Follow me, we’re going to the bridge.” With that she grabbed his arm and pulling him out of the compartment.
NCO Crew Quarters
When the red alert sounded, the newly minted Starfleet Officer and Cardassian, Ensign Dulak had been in the midst of an unfamiliar card game with several occupants of the NCO Quarters onboard Persepheron
. Several meaning three, out of six total bunks, the other two permanently assigned Crewmembers on watch elsewhere.
The plan had been for Dulak to share Chief’s quarters with Marconi, but due to their recent altercation Dulak, having talked briefly to one of the Petty Officers assigned to the Persepheron
, and finding him personable, volunteered to stay in the Petty Officers’ berthing.
Ridgeway had wanted to lock Marconi in a fan room until he could figure out what to do with the Chief, but Dulak had insisted on sleeping in the alternate berthing, or as close to insisting
as a new Ensign dared with his new CO. Ridgeway had relented.
As the klaxon sounded and “Um, it’s the Borg.” came over the speakers, cards went flying as the Petty Officers scrambled to be the first to exit the berthing and get to Red Alert stations. One of them had the presence of mind to remember Dulak, “Hey Ensign, you’re an engineer right? Come with me.”
It was all the prompting that Dulak needed and he ran out of the compartment following the PO.
Petty Officer Davis punched up a closer view of something on the central main view screen. Ridgeway ignored the data-flow on the lower screen, mostly because he was totally unaware of what it all meant. He also ignored it because of what appeared on the main screen.
During Ridgeway’s run to the bridge he’d had a good number of flashbacks from Wolf 359. Although the deadly encounter with the Borg cube had been only nine years ago, the intervening and ultimately more costly war with the Dominion had superceded most of his painful memories of that incident.
However, the mention of the Borg upon going to red alert had brought many memories back to the forefront. Ridgeway saw in his memory what seemed like countless ships being sliced apart and blown up by the Borg weapons, ships containing the greater part of his academy class, and some of his closest friends.
Although sweaty from running, he felt a chill run through his body as he remembered drifting in an escape pod following the destruction of the Henderson
. He re-lived the terror of seeing other escape pods in his group being tractored or beamed into the Borg cube so that the surviving crew and equipment could be assimilated.
In the most painful flashback, he saw the disbelief in the eyes of the three others in his escape pod as he stunned them with his phaser. He had stunned them and then adjusted the life support controls, manually evacuating most of the pods oxygen and setting the temperature controls to just above freezing. It had all been in a desperate attempt to make the Borg overlook their pod and give them at least a slim chance of surviving. He hadn’t thought there was time to discuss the option and in any case knew there was little enough time, if any, to implement it.
Before stunning himself as well in order to make the accelerated hypothermia less painful, Ridgeway had several seconds to contemplate the irony that he was killing four people to give them a chance to survive. The irony was lost on Ensign Takahara, the bright-eyed academy graduate who was the only one of the four not to survive.
Everyone told Ridgeway that he had done the best he could, that he had saved three people out of the thousands who died or were assimilated by the Borg. Despite those reassurances, it took a long time after the awards ceremony for the medal they gave him until he stopped seeing those bright eyes stare at him in disbelief just before he closed them, for the last time, with his phaser.
Blinking, Ridgeway struggled to match what he saw on the view screen to his memory of the gargantuan Borg cube. The object clearly out-sized the Persepheron
by several multiples, but it was not a cube.
Studying the object closely, Ridgeway noticed that it did have one symmetrical corner, as if something had torn a chunk from what might have been a Borg cube.
There was also the irritating green laser which played over the outer hull of the Persepheron
, and occasionally shone directly into the forward camera that fed the view screen.
When Davis spoke, answering Ridgeway’s ‘Status’ query, it actually startled him. “Sir, we only have a Mark II sensor suite, with a few enhancements to give us detailed structural analysis of damaged vessels prior to towing them, but the readings I get from that object are consistent with Borg technology. I think this is for real.”
Another crewman, still pulling the sleeves of her coveralls on over a non-standard green undershirt slipped past Ridgeway and into a vacant bridge station. Ridgeway took another step into the bridge, realizing that Chief Prak seemed perfectly happy monitoring the engineering status board to the right of the entrance.
The bridge contained no command chair, so Ridgeway settled for what appeared to be the next best thing. A metal bar between two stanchions protruded from the overhead, below the ubiquitous cable runs and just above head-level. Ridgeway grabbed the bar with one hand, wondering how effective it would be in any real challenge to the inertial dampeners.
He didn’t have to wait long to find out. Lancing out from the cube fragment, a single tractor beam collided with the Persepheron
and locked on. Ridgeway was buffeted as the tug struggled against the tractor beam, and the handgrip proved its worth.
Ridgeway looked back to the Tellarite at the engineering board, “Chief, reverse engines, get us out of here! Davis, or whomever is on coms, get a distress call out, NOW!”
Chief Prak rapidly punched buttons on his console, but his only response to Ridgeway was a mumbled, “Better idea.” Before Ridgeway could question the response a much more powerful looking white beam from the Persepheron
paralleled the beam emanating from the cube fragment back to its source, impacting just below the Borg’s tractor beam emitter. The smaller green tractor beam from the obviously weakened Borg ‘vessel’ flickered and cut off.
As the tractor beam locked on to the cube fragment a second beam, followed by a third, pulsed out from the Persepheron
towards different sections of the cube fragment, locking on to it as well.
Chief Prak practically growled at the viewscreen, “Lock on to my tug? I don’t think so.”
The female crewman seated next to Davis spoke for the first time, “Sir, distress call activated, I’m monitoring for a response.”
“Very Well.” Was all Ridgeway could think to say. The sound of footsteps behind him on the deck plates, followed by a distinctive “Crikey!” let him know that Lt. Beverly Townsend had arrived.
Several seconds went by with Chief Prak adjusting settings and calling engineering, “Thompson, can we hold those beams?”
Instead of Petty Officer Thompson’s voice over the speaker, Master Chief Arthrun answered. “Chief, Thompson is occupied keeping those tractor beams going. They’re pulling a lot of power and he said something about not being able to run a calibration routine on them before you activated them.”
There was a pause on the intercom as the Master Chief chose his next words. Not coming up with any careful way to word his question he asked “Chief, are we holding a Borg vessel in our tractor beams?”
Ridgeway thought it would be best if he fielded that question, as Chief Prak seemed somewhat distracted by the constant adjustments the tractor beams were requiring. He stepped over to the com panel and spoke into it. “Master Chief, Commander Ridgeway here. We are holding what appears to be a damaged fragment of a Borg cube. It attempted to get a hold of us and Chief Prak overloaded its tractor beam by using ours.”
Ridgeway added, “Just keep those beams up while we figure out what to do next.”
For some reason Ridgeway was highly reassured by the simple “Aye Sir,” that came through the speaker.
“Well so much for our low threat level mission protocol.” Ridgeway turned at hearing his XO’s voice and shrugged. Lieutenant Townsend continued, “Any idea when the cavalry is going to show up?”
Behind her, T’Noor and Tara stepped into the now crowded rear of the bridge. Ridgeway held up his index finger to the two new arrivals, signaling them to wait. He walked over to the female Petty Officer whose name he still didn’t know and asked, “Petty Officer… What is your name?”
Intent on her console, the crewman did not look up but answered both his questions, asked, and unasked. “Shelton Sir, and no one has responded to our distress call yet. I’m not sure if it’s even getting out.”
Ridgeway nodded, “Keep working on it.” Then he looked back at the two newly arrived junior Liutenants, “T’Noor, see if you can coax something out of these sensors.” He pointed at a console where a crewmember was generating an annoying series of error buzzes and out-of-system-parameter alerts. T’Noor walked quickly over and relieved the overwhelmed crewman.
“Tara, get back to the cargo area in case we have any unexpected visitors. If you can find a small arms locker along the way, all the better.” The Orion nodded and turned to leave when Davis spoke up from his station, “Here Lieutenant, they probably don’t have the locker open yet.” He tossed her an old-style type II Phaser pistol which appeared in his hand from somewhere underneath his console.
Tara caught the Phaser deftly, checked the power level and turned the setting to a higher level. “Quaint,” She said, grinning, as she stepped out of the bridge and headed off towards the cargo area.
Getting the distinct feeling that there was entirely too much personnel traffic on the bridge, Ridgeway made a mental promise that if they lived through this particular encounter, he would make sure to get his people assigned Red Alert stations throughout the tug until they disembarked, hopefully onto the Shepard
In a somewhat apropos entrance, Captain O’Connell, with Arjal Brak in tow stepped onto the bridge as well. Despite the tractor beams surrounding the Borg vessel at an all to-close-for-comfort range, Ridgeway managed a chuckle.
Chief Prak, still working the tractor beams from his engineering panel brought Ridgeway back to the reality of the situation. “Commander, I hate to break up your touching reunion here on my bridge, but someone has got to come up with a plan. That thing out there is starting to test these beams, bucking and sending energy pulses through them.”
Prak continued, having fully captured everyone’s attention. “I don’t think it’s adapting
as fast as the Borg are supposed to, but why take chances.”
Ridgeway nodded, his face serious again. “You’re right Chief. Any ideas? Anyone? Shelton, anything on that distress call yet?”
Shelton shook her head, “No sir, nothing.”
“Fine, we’ve got to assume we’re on our own with this one. Lieutenant Townsend, do you have any experience with the Borg?”
“No, just on the holodeck, and some training scenarios at Starfleet academy.”
Ridgeway stopped talking and stared at the viewscreen for several seconds.
T’Noor broke his contemplation. “Commander, the Borg vessel appears to be using energy from our tractor beams to accelerate its regeneration. Sensors detect an overall power level increase as well as structural reinforcement at critical junctures. I predict that it will be able to cause significant disruption of our tractor beams in ten minutes fifteen seconds.”
Just as T’Noor finished speaking a visible energy spike traveled back along one of the Persepheron’s
tractor beams and caused the tug to lurch, lights blinking for a second before stabilizing.
T’Noor, still deadpan, spoke again. “It seems that my calculation was incorrect. However, that surge drained the power levels onboard the Borg vessel noticeably. It should not be able to repeat another such pulse for... A while.”
Ridgeway punched up the com to engineering. “Master Chief, two questions. One, can you keep those tractor beams locked on? And two, do we have warp capability?”
The first thing Ridgeway heard when the circuit opened was cursing, in a language he didn’t recognize but felt reasonable sure was Andorian. Then a voice he did recognize, but was not expecting to hear, Chief Marconi. “Sir, one of the tractor beams, I think number three, lost a secondary coupler in that surge. It’s running on the primary, but another surge and it’ll go down for sure.”
The cursing in the background subsided and Chief Marconi continued. “Master Chief Arthrun and Ensign Dulak are trying to bypass the primary on the fly and install a replacement. I’m working with Thompson on the deflector, but it’s still down, so we can’t go to warp.”
Ridgeway slowed his voice just a bit as he spoke next. “Chief, I think you misunderstood me. I didn’t ask if the deflector was up, I asked if we could go to warp. Are the engines online?”
Marconi sounded a bit confused as he answered. “Yes sir, but without the deflector, the smallest impact could be devastating.”
On the bridge, Ridgeway was starting to loose patience. “I am aware of that Chief, but don’t worry, I’ve got a temporary replacement in mind, Ridgeway out.”
Several people, Prak and Townsend included, stopped what they were doing and looked at Ridgeway. Prak asked first, “A replacement for the deflector, what are you talking about?”
Ridgeway merely pointed to the view screen. “It out-masses us by a factor of five. We push it in front of us, go to warp and presto, instant deflector.”
“But Commander,” T’Noor piped up from her station, apparently paying attention to the conversation around her, “without being enclosed in our subspace bubble, the Borg vessel would be exposed to significant stresses.”
Prak chimed in, “She’s right, without setting up the portable subspace generators at various locations around its hull, the Borg ship might…”
Ridgeway cut him off, “That’s what I’m hoping for people.” Silence followed for a brief moment. “Besides, I’ve always wanted to see just how adaptable the Borg are. I’m betting they won’t just let a little warp stress rip apart their ship.”
Townsend interjected, “If you’re wrong, and that thing breaks apart at warp…”
Ridgeway was not deterred in the least. Turning to Arjal Brak, he said, “Lieutenant Brak, I hope you remember your high velocity precision piloting.”
As Brak nodded, Ridgeway swore he heard a male voice say “Aw shucks,” from the helm console. Brak walked over and patted the crewman Davis on the shoulder, “It’s alright, I’ll give her back to you in one, well at most two, pieces.” The two switched places and Brak adjusted his seat slightly and quickly familiarized himself with the controls.
“Chief Prak, if you would keep that Borg ship at relative bearing 000 mark 0 please.”
Almost an afterthought Ridgeway grabbed the support handle again as he ordered, “Mr. Brak, ahead warp factor one.”
“Aye Commander, engaging warp one” Arjal Brak replied as he punched some keys and the stars lengthened in the viewscreen briefly before the display compensated for the change in velocity. Ridgway and the other Shepard
cremembers noticed that the warp engines on the Persepheron
had a distinctly deeper hum than most Starfleet vessels.
Ridgeway looked at Chief Prak briefly as if to make sure the Tellarite was attentive to his duties on the tractor beam controls then asked, “Lt. T’Noor, course and distance to the nearest stellar mass.”
T’Noor only took three seconds to gather the information Ridgeway requested, “Sir, nearest star bearing 165 mark 17, distance .773 light years.”
“Negative sir, at least these sensors don’t show any. I may have a correction as we approach.”
“Excellent, Lt. Brak, set course 165 mark 17.”
Brak manipulated more controls, “bearing 165 mark 17 layed in sir.”
He may not have been on the Shepard
but as he said “Engage,” something clicked inside Ridgeway and he felt, for the first time, like the captain of a Starfleet vessel.
The starfield shifted slightly in the viewscreen as the tug turned slowly. Ridgeway noted to his satisfaction that the Borg were indeed generating some sort of protective field. It was not perfect, and occasionally at the edges pieces of protruding structure would glow slightly before the Borg adjusted the field to compensate.
Ridgeway grinned slightly. “T’Noor, what’s the status of the Borg vessel?”
T’Noor’s fingers brushed quickly across the sensor panel, then she replied. “It seems the Borg are quite occupied with generating that subspace field. I am not reading any additional structural repairs, and they are not attempting to tamper with the tractor beams further.”
Ridgeway took in a deep breath and blew it out. “We’re not done yet, but I think we’ve got some breathing room. T’Noor, keep me posted the second anything unusual happens. Shelton, any replies on our distress call yet?”
“Negative sir, but I think the signal is at least getting out now.”
Ridgeway nodded, “Put any response over the speaker. Lt. Brak, I don’t think we want to spend the next month enroute to that star, lets see if we can manage warp three.”
The ship accelerated again, and Lt. Brak announced, “Warp three sir. ETA 45 minutes.”
T’Noor gave a monotone status report, “Commander, energy output on the Borg vessel is up by thirty percent, and I’m detecting significant structural stress along the dorsal and ventral sides.”
Lieutenant Townsend tapped Ridgeway on the shoulder, then leaned in and spoke quietly. “Warp physics is not my strong point, but please tell me you’re not planning what I think you’re planning.”
Without missing a beat, Ridgeway matched his XO’s quiet tone. “If you hope I’m not planning to warp dangerously close to that star, cut the tractor beams, drop out of warp and see how well that Borg ship can adapt to five thousand degree hydrogen plasma, then I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
Beverly Townsend coughed in surprise, and then shook her head, smiling. “Well, that’s not what I thought you had planned, but I can’t say your real plan sounds any better than the one I hoped you weren’t thinking.”
Ridgeway didn’t ask what Townsend had hoped he wasn’t planning because T’Noor interrupted him. “Commander, I’m reading a transporter signal emanating from the Borg vessel.”
“Destination?” Ridgeway asked.
T’Noor didn’t look up from the sensor panel as she replied, “Engineering. Wait, there is a second transport initiating now.”
A shimmering energy column, followed by the appearance of a single Borg drone three feet to the left of Ridgeway answered his unasked question.