Hi all, This is a little vignette I posted on Ad Astra for the current challenge over there. Since it fills in a little bit of what is going on between Volumes I and II, I thought I would post it here as well for all those who don't visit Ad Astra, so as to keep you all interested while you wait for Volume II to begin! Also, it contains a cameo from a minor character in one of the earlier chapters. Hope you enjoy it! Joel Broken Dreams and Nightmares Sirens and smoke. “We’re approaching the coordinates, Commander.” N’Vek tore his eyes away from the holographic report, glancing out of the window. They were approaching the debris field. He saw other runabouts, tugs, shuttles and even a Defiance-class starship trawling the ruins, searching for survivors. Or salvage. Or answers. Blood and fire. The runabout rose above the field of debris, flying to its farthest point. It spread through space over a fifteen kilometer radius. N’Vek knew that over the next few weeks, the debris would fall closer and closer to Romulus’ gravitational field. When it began to fall through the atmosphere, the planet below would be treated to a fireworks display unlike any they had seen before. Screams and pain. “What do you hope to find out there?” Counseller N’pren had asked him that morning. Even now, he didn’t really know how to answer that question. All he knew was that he owed him this, at least. “Begin scanning,” he ordered. The Terginian pilot brought the runabout around and the sun blinded N’Vek for a moment, refracted and intensified by a myriad myriad pieces of broken metal. He looked away, caught sight of his reflection in the side panel. His striking Romulan features stared back, but it was his eyes that caught his attention. Sunken. Haunted. Dead. Broken dreams and nightmares. As the runabout moved through the debris field that had once been the finest starbase in the Quadrant, all of it came flooding back to him. In a flurry of scattered images and half-remembered recollections, he relived the last moments of Starbase 2. “Admiral, another direct hit.” Everything shook around him, while the fire suppression system hissed as it attempted to dampen the flames. “How the hell are they getting through our shields?” N’Vek looked desperately at the holographic console that hung in the air before him, hoping against hope for an answer. Another torpedo struck the core, shaking the starbase. “I… I don’t know.” “Try recalibrating the shields.” He shook his head. “Their first shot took out the shield control unit.” “Fire phasers at will.” N’Vek glanced at the young female ensign who had replaced Lieutenant J’sad at Tactical – her human features were stricken with fear. He tried to remember exactly when J’sad had been rushed down to sickbay, but found that he couldn’t. Everything had happened too fast. The starbase shook again. “Another direct hit, deck 7 is venting atmosphere.” “Admiral, we can’t take much more of this,” the human ensign shouted over the deafening cacophony. Looking over at the Admiral, N’Vek took in the starbase’s command centre. A circular module, it had been designed to reflect the best design ethics of the old Romulan Navy – green walls and dark grey consoles, a large circular table in the centre of the room serving as a meeting point and a vast tactical holoprojector. On the other side of the table, Admiral Tarlek gripped the metal edge, his eyes fixed on the tactical display. “Where are those reinforcements?” “Admiral, please.” N’Vek added his voice to the tactical officer’s. Tarlek looked up at him. His normally well-groomed hair was a mess, green blood dripping from a wound on his cheek. N’Vek followed a single drop as it fell onto the tactical table, breaking the holographic illusion for a moment. When he looked back, Tarlek’s eyes were calm. “I will not give up on this station,” he said quietly. “But Admiral…” “Order the evacuation, Commander. But I am remaining.” N’Vek imagined making a courageous stand, ordering his officers to stay at the Admiral’s side, standing tall and returning fire as the starbase exploded around them. The romantic notion lasted for a few moments, then it fled as another explosion shook him back to reality. He had a responsibility to the men and women serving aboard this station. Besides, he knew didn’t have that kind of courage. He brought up the evacuation protocol on his console, then tapped his comm. badge. “All hands, this is the XO. Evacuate your positions and get to the nearest airlock. Repeat, evacuate your positions and get to the nearest airlock.” Once the evacuation alarm began to sound, N’Vek turned to the rest of the command crew. “You heard me, people. Get moving.” Everyone hesitated for a moment, eyes flickering between N’Vek and Admiral Tarlek. Finally, they jumped into gear, scrambling from their stations and heading to the turbolifts. N’Vek glanced at the tactical display – the shields were about to fail completely. He hoped they would have enough time. Looking over at the Admiral, he made a decision. He tapped his comm. badge again. “N’Vek to Herod.” The runabout had been loading up supplies before making the return trip to Earth. When the Klingons had attacked, her pilot had joined the small force of shuttles and runabouts trying to fight the ‘cruiser off. There was a moment of silence, then the Terginian’s mechanical voice came over the comm. line. N’Vek could hear the low whine of phasers in the background. “Herod here.” “Lieutenant, I need you to lock on to Admiral Tarlek and myself, and beam us out.” “No! Belay that order, Lieutenant. Lock on to Commander N’Vek and energise.” “Admiral, please you have to...” “Energise, Herod.” Before N’Vek could say anything more, he felt the transporter beam surround him, infuse him with light and heat, and then whisk him away. The memory faded. N’Vek stared at the debris field blindly. Moments after his beam out, the starbase had exploded. Even now, three days later, the moment he closed his eyes he saw the imprint of that brilliant light on his iris. Of a crew complement of 150,000, only 1746 had managed to get far enough away to escape. The Federation had not suffered such a catastrophe since the last days of the Occupation. And it all started so well. He could remember the day he first stepped aboard Starbase 2. Admiral Tarlek had been there to greet him off the transport. Everything had smelled fresh, clean, new. Everyone had been smiling. We were so hopeful. So full of dreams. They were all broken now. “Commander, I’ve got something.” He turned his attention to the holoconsole before him. A small light flashed on and off a few klicks away from their position. “Take us in.” The Terginian hesitated. “Commander, the shields may not be able to hold against…” “Take us in, Lieutenant.” “Yes, sir.” The multi-limbed alien manipulated his control console, bringing the runabout around and heading deeper into the debris field. They passed pieces of hull plating and chunks of corridor, most two or even three times the size of the runabout. N’Vek felt a hollow sensation in the pit of his stomach at the sight of a spinning piece of hull plating on which he could still make out the last two digits of Starbase 2’s registration number. He closed his eyes until they were past, his mind’s eye flickering with the starbase’s dying light. “Approaching the signal, Commander.” He opened his eyes and searched the debris field. He couldn’t make anything out in the mess of scrap metal. “Can you get a lock?” Again, the pilot hesitated. “I’m not sure what we’ll be bringing back, Commander.” “If you can get a lock, beam it aboard.” He stood, eyeing the Terginian to make certain he was going to obey his orders. Once he was sure, he turned and headed to the back of the runabout. Moments later, the shrill whine of the transporter filled the room. The blue light intensified, turned white, then began to dissipate. When N’Vek saw what it left in its wake, his stomach clenched and he turned, vomiting all over the floor. Admiral Tarlek had been victim of the conflagration that had destroyed his beloved starbase. His body had been torn apart. When the Terginian had locked on to the comm. badge, he had also beamed aboard a torso, with half one arm still attached. There was no sign of his head, nor the rest of his limbs. His skin had been burned to a crisp, rendered a dull grey shade of green. N’Vek wiped his mouth on the arm of his uniform. He glanced away from the pool of sick, ashamed that he had been unable to control himself. The Terginian pilot was staring at him, his eyes unblinking. N’Vek’s mind snagged on the fact that Terginians had no eyelids. It seemed safer than venturing into the wild maelstrom of his own thoughts. Taking a deep, shaky breath, N’Vek stood. “Computer, erect a bio stasis field around the transporter pad.” With a beep and a hum, the field appeared around the pad. It had the added bonus of obscuring the remains. At least the body would not undergo any sudden changes due to the difference in temperature. And we’ll be protected from the stench. “What now, Commander?” the Terginian waved. “I… I’ve done what I came to do. Let’s take him home, Lieutenant.” The Terginian didn’t bother to answer. Turning the runabout around, he began to chart a course out of the debris field, back towards Romulus. N’Vek watched the viewscreen until the planet appeared in front of them, then he turned and headed aft for a cleaning kit. We’ll bring you home, Admiral, N’Vek thought. We’ll give you the burial a hero deserves. And then we’ll make sure someone pays for what happened to you. His thoughts full of broken dreams and nightmares, he stepped into the aft section and let the door close behind him.