The doorbell chimed. The woman sitting inside sighed. "Enter!" she said. The door opened to reveal two men in black leather jackets. She rose suddenly, shocked.
"Hello Ma'am, I am Captain Smith from Star Fleet Command, and this is my associate, Captain Jones. We're here to talk to you about your son. May we come in?" one of them said.
"Um....of course," she said. "Has he done something wrong?" she said, suddenly alarmed. The wolftaur cub she had adopted could be a bit of a troublemaker at some times, and she feared he had done something bad, or even worse, hurt himself.
"No, not at all Ma'am. Not at all. You see, we are here because we know that your son is a very gifted child."
"And you want...?" she said, puzzled.
"We are constantly looking for promising new people for the challenging job of being a Star Fleet officer," Smith said with his best salesman’s smile. "And we believe that your son is one of them."
"But he’s only seven" she said skeptically.
"Yes, but that will not be a problem. Now, if you’ll just look through this material, and then…"
10 years later. StarBase One, Docking bay 4C.
Shakahr walked down to the briefing room. On his black and grey uniform the well-polished rank insignia that told the people around him that this man wore the rank of Commander shined in the light coming from the ceiling. People he met all stared at the chief of security due to his young age, though most pretended not to. Everything was quiet now… almost too quiet he thought. But then again, it was quite early in the morning. The young wolftaur turned right to enter the briefing room. The other cadets all rose as he entered. "Officer on deck!" a crewman yelled. He was no more than Shakahr’s own age, a human. He yelled again, "Captain on deck". Shakahr turned to see Daniel Winters, his Captain and first officer, Lena Blacktip, as they entered the room together. He smiled to both of them, and they all took their seats on the front row.
"Atteeeeeeention!" someone yelled. Everyone rose. The Caitian Commodore S’takh and Captain Matthews entered the room. Matthews took a seat in the far corner, and S’takh went to the podium and started his speech.
"Gentlebeings, you have all been trained as Star Fleet personnel, and now the time has come to take you from the holodecks and out on a real ship. It will all be the way you’ve been trained for. You, ladies and gentlemen, will be the ones running the ship." The Commodore made a short break to make his words sink in. "You are the best, Star Fleet’s finest. From now on, your codename will be Raven Squad. You will be assigned to the Steamrunner class ship FSS Independence. We will be on the ship too as your examiners, to see how things are turning out. First, we’ll take a short shakedown cruise of two standard Terran weeks, and then you’ll be assigned to Admiral T’kuhr’s border patrol near the N.A.W. That would be all. You are all to report to the ship no later than 1400 hours tomorrow. Any questions?"
There were none. "Very well. One last thing then: All senior staff are to report to me in FSS Independence’s briefing room at 1800 hours today. It would be advisable to be settled in by then."
"Diiiiiiiiismiss’d!" Matthews shouted.
Lt. Commander Chakat Sparks entered some more command codes into the ship’s computer core. Hir brain raced, and so did hir fingers. McKeon couldn’t help but stare at the Chakat. The lieutenant commander was indeed a remarkable person. McKeon craned his neck to watch Sparks’ console, but the view did him little good. Images flashed so rapidly over the screen, that the young chief engineer had to blink several times in a futile attempt to grasp at least some of the information passed to the computer.
"What can I do for you, Chief?" said Sparks, hands still flashing over the console’s input devices. "Um… I am just studying… this is so amazing, sir" the young lieutenant tried.
"Well, I could use your assistance" Sparks continued. "Could you please hand me the kit I left by the warp core console. But please be careful – it is delicate machinery."
"Yes, sir" said McKeon, a little annoyed at not being able to hover over Sparks’ console. But still, an order was an order. McKeon left the Chakat.
"Take good care of them," Sparks mumbled.
McKeon turned. "Sir?"
"I said… could you bring me a tricorder too," Sparks said.
"Yes, sir," McKeon said and turned again. "Take good care of them? What did that mean?" McKeon thought as he went on.
FSS Independence flew at a leisurely warp 5, and Captain Winters stretched in his chair. It had been a good shakedown cruise, and he felt confident that they would be ready to join Admiral T’kuhr’s fleet when they arrived. That is, after they had delivered their "passengers" at Hades IV. Hades IV was a penal colony, and the so-called passengers, who at the moment resided in Independence’s brig, was a small group of terrorists. They were all Humans First fanatics, and used any means necessary to reach their goal. There was Reverend Hughes, a priest who thought that all morphs were the creations of Satan. He was very dangerous and utterly ruthless. Then there was Leon Wong, a business man. His dedication to the organization was questionable, as he’d seemed to support Humans First out of economical interests. And finally a woman named Yuki Kabayama. Kabayama was known to take a certain pleasure in doing harm in the most….
Winters brushed the thought aside. "This is supposed to be a pleasure ride", he thought with a smile. The smile of a Captain who knew he had a good ship and a good crew.
His engineer, McKeon, had told him that the ship was purring like a cat on a soft pillow. The tractor beam had given them some problems, but McKeon said that his XO, Lieutenant Whitesock, and her team had straightened them out. Then there were his first officer’s reports about the crew, that were even better than he’d hoped.
That brought his thoughts back to the Starbase, when they told him, that his former first officer had died in a transporter accident. "Fortunately, whatever arrived, didn’t last long," they’d said. They made it sound so easy. But Winters had to live with the fact that the man he’d known since boyhood as a friend where now nothing but a photon torpedo shell full of goo, that was launched into space.
"Now, now, let’s be positive," he thought and looked to his side at the young vixen. "At least his replacement had turned out to be somewhat of a pleasant surprise".
Winters smiled, and returned his thoughts to his bridge. The examiners had only had minor things to complain about, most of them not concerning him personally. He turned his head towards Saarg, the Voxxan Captain that had examiner watch at the moment. He seemed pleased, so that was one more reason for him to relax. He let his mind and gaze wander. The Caitian helmsman, M’raia Shrrraru, was good at her job, and also stunningly beautiful as she looked at the stars on the view screen. His sensor officer, Moondancer, fuzzed silently over hir console. The 16-year-old Chakat was also quite pretty. Had shi not been in his chain of command… well, shi was. Not that there were any rules against it, like in the ancient wet-navies, but he thought that it actually made sense to some degree, so he decided not to dwell with that thought more right now – that he could do later when….
"Captain, I’m picking up a distress call," Moondancer said, interrupting his musing.
"…krrr….shhhhfsst…..is the science ship Atlan..shhhh…………suffered heavy dama…..krrr…..request immediate evacuation….shhh…..black hole near a red giant…hsshsh….. lost propulsion….sucked in."
"This is the best I can give you, sir. It appears to be an automated message."
The sensor officer pressed a few keys, and told the captain the position of the unfortunate ship.
"Very well. Lay in a course. Warp 9.9"
Captain Saarg called for his fellow officers, and Captain Daniel Winters asked for an ETA and started to send a response.
Upon arrival, they saw the black hole that the science vessel had been studying. It was "eating" a nearby star, and now also the science ship. Winters ordered Moondancer to engage tractor beams, and asked Captain Saarg to assist hir. Not that he didn’t believe shi could handle it, but as this was a life and death situation, he wanted two people on the task.
Commodore S’takh stepped out of the turbo lift, informing Winters that Captain Matthews and Commander Chakat Silvermane – the other two people of his staff – were on their way too.
M’raia heard the Commodore informing the Captain that he and his staff were on their way in a turbo lift as she gently nudged the ship into a position that would make the job easier for Moondancer and Captain Saarg. She was ready to reverse thrusters on the Captain’s orders to assist them in pulling the Atlantis from the claws of the black hole, when the she heard Captain Saarg shout, "We have a feedback energy loop building up in the tract…." But it was already too late.
They watched the scenario as if in slow motion. What fractions of a second ago had been a huge starship was now a giant ball of fire as the Atlantis just demonstrated what enormous amounts of energy was stored in a warp core. The warp core failure had reduced the once proud starship to pieces that only measured on the sub atomic level. They watched in horror as the shockwave expanded towards them. The Captain boomed an all hands message: "Brace for impact!", and then it was Independence’s turn to feel the wrath of the explosion as the shockwave hit.
Independence heaved and buckled under the enormous stress, the inertial compensators cried out in agony as they made a futile attempt to keep up with forces way beyond those they were designed to withstand, and in several places the hull was ripped open. Emergency force fields and automatic doors screamed shut to protect the rest of the ship as it was tossed through space like the toy of an angry child. Matthews and Silvermane never reached the bridge, as the hull near their turbo lift capsule were ripped open. They tried to cry out in terror as they for a split second realized what had happened, but they didn’t have any air left in their lungs to scream with.
Had the ship’s sensors still worked, the crew would have screamed out in horror as Independence, now blind and deaf due to burned out sensors, spiraled towards the black hole like a dying bird as she bled atmosphere, water and even people into space.
It was as if they were being pulled apart by the gravitonic forces in the black hole. Consoles exploded, and debris was torn loose on all decks, turning the inside of many of the rooms into a bloody slaughterhouse, as pieces of metal, circuitry, glass and plastic flew through the air and tore through fur, flesh and bone.
A piece of metal that used to be part of Power Junction Control Alpha-five-two-niner on the bridge flew by ensign Ling as she was lucky enough to fall from her chair at Primary Environmental. The shrapnel continued it’s course through the bridge with the speed of a bullet, and tore it’s way through the Voxxan captain’s neck, instantly decapitating him and finally ending it’s flight as it buried itself in S’takh’s chest.
One by one they passed out, either from being thrown around the bridge, or else from the heavy gravity forces that tried to break the ship as well as it’s crew. Even the light in the room seemed to be distorted by the fury of gravity released upon FSS Independence and her crew.
Shakahr woke up, laying on the floor on the bridge. His tongue felt like a desert. He didn’t know how long he’d been laying there. He checked on his fellow officers, and saw that they were about to wake up as well. "Thank God", he thought. "All hands, this is Commander Shakahr Marcktock. Report in".
Moondancer nearly fainted at the sight of Saarg’s headless body, and turned away to throw up. Shi was brought out of hir state of shock, horror and nausea by M’raia’s voice. "Sir! The Commodore!"
They all ran towards M’raia and the motionless figure on the floor.
Before them lay the twisted body of the Commodore.
"Beam him directly to sickbay!" the Captain snapped.
"No…..belay that order…," the Commodore whispered. "I’m going to die…" he paused to cough up blood. "… nothing can prevent that now. Listen Captain Winters…you are in full command now," the Commodore rasped and paused to cough up more blood. "Take them safely back to the Federation. I put my trust in you…. Computer, transfer all remaining command codes to Captain Daniel Winters".
The computer acknowledged the order in a quite distorted version of its usual calm voice, but no one really heard. They just stared at the Commodore’s limp body, at his eyes that stared emptily up at the ceiling.
Part Two: Counting One’s Losses
Captain Winters stared at the dead Caitian for a while, but was brought out of his trance by a hand on his shoulder. It was Commander Blacktip.
"Orders, sir?" she said gently.
He got up from where he had knelt beside the Commodore, and put a hand on top of hers. "Right. Thank you, Commander." He asked for reports from those of his department heads that were present, and slapped his combadge. "Captain Winters to engineering," he said. No answer. "Captain Winters to sickbay, please respond." Still no answer. He was about to make an all hands announcement when Moondancer interrupted him. "Captain, all internal communication has been disabled, including most data and control buses to the bridge consoles. Same thing for short and long range communications and sensors. We’re blind and deaf, sir" shi finished.
Winters cursed inside. "I see. Marcktock, I want you to assemble a team to get to engineering. First priority will be communications. Mr. Shrrraru, do we have any power to the engines?"
"No, sir," she answered. "But it seems that my console is mostly cut off from the rest of the ship, just as Moondancer said."
"Very well. Moondancer and Shrrraru, you two will head for the shuttle-bay. We need to see where we are, and we need to steady the ship with a tractor beam," the Captain ordered. ‘Good thing the shuttles at least are still in operation… I hope!’ he thought. Winters paused to look for one moment at the flickering computer terminals. "Commander Blacktip, check the situation in sickbay, and get things organized so we can save as many of our people as possible. Commander Marcktock, I’ll join you – there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do for now up here, given the damage reports from Ensign Moondancer and Lieutenant Shrrraru. Depending on whether the bridge is cut off or it’s something that can easily be repaired, I intend to set up a temporary bridge either in engineering or near the computer core, depending on the Chief’s reports and advice. Ensign Ling," he said and turned to the young Chinese woman who controlled environmental, "you’ll have the bridge… or what’s left of it."
The young officers nodded, and left the bridge to execute their given orders. On the way Winters told his wolftaur chief of security to try to help assess the damage when they got things on the way in engineering.
Lena Blacktip felt like she wanted to throw up when she entered sickbay. People of all kind were laying on the bio-beds and on the floor. Some were clutching broken arms or legs, some bleeding and yet others just lay there, dead or unconscious. Dr. Andromeda was hovering over a patient with hir nurse. "Ten ccs of anaprovaline," the black stellar foxtaur told hir chakat nurse.
"Status, Doctor?" Blacktip asked.
"Extremely busy," was all that shi answered.
The Commander knew that she probably wouldn’t get any more from the stellar foxtaur, so she decided to concentrate on helping hir.
"Okay, Doc. I’ll start organizing search parties for wounded, and anyone with the slightest medical knowledge, I’ll send to you."
"Very well," the doctor answered in hir usual gruff fashion that shi usually had when ‘extremely busy’. "Thanks," shi then added in a milder voice.
As the Commander left sickbay, she heard the doctor. "Dammit, we’re losing her. Cardiac stimulator – NOW!" She was tempted to linger in the doorway to know if the mangled young wolf-morph on the bio-bed that used to be ensign Riverpaw would survive, but she knew she had to move on. She started barking out orders, and the confused crewmen looked to her with faces that she would never forget. Those who were not in pain actually gave her a smile, and she noticed how they went from confused ants whose anthill had been kicked over, to people with hope and a purpose.
On the way to engineering, Shakahr had sent some of his people out to look for survivors as well as check up on key systems on the way. When he and the Captain arrived in engineering, they had to open the door manually. As soon as the door was open, the two officers entered. The normally tidy and very orderly engineering deck was now a chaotic mass of broken equipment, people franticly trying to repair things or tend to their wounded.
Captain Winters found his Chief Engineer in the chaos. McKeon was giving out orders while working on a control terminal for the warp core. He told the Captain that main power was offline, and that both nacelles had their warp plasma control conduits fused. Winters ordered him to find someone to fix communications, and McKeon nodded and told his second in command to take care of it at once.
An ensign moved up to Shakahr. "Sir, we have a new problem. I just found crewman Sleshnjovitch in the brig. He’s dead, and the emergency power to the brig forcefields is burned out. The prisoners are gone, and they have his phaser!"
Shakahr cursed, and told Winters. "Marcktock, find those people. I want a deck by deck search for them. I don’t know what they might do, but we can’t afford to have them running around now," Winters said.
"Yes, sir." The Wolftaur started to assemble his people, and told them to search the decks. "…and you’ll go in teams of three. Jones, Redclaw, you’re with me."
Chakat Moondancer and M’raia reached the shuttle bay after having to climb through access tubes for three decks due to loss of pressure. Fortunately the shuttle bay was pressurized, so M’raia went in to start the pre-flight sequence, while Moondancer worked with the controls for the shuttle bay doors. Moondancer was trying to get the emergency power online, when shi heard something from inside the shuttle.
"What was that, M’raia?" shi said. When no answer came, shi sighed. "M’raia? Did you say something?" Shi padded towards the shuttle, and was about to enter when shi felt a sharp pain in the back of hir head. Shi staggered backwards, and saw hir attacker. It was the Japanese Humans First terrorist. In her hand, she held a pipe, and she smiled as she raised it once again.
"Wait, Yuki. We might need the little freak as a hostage," another voice said from within the shuttle.
Moondancer felt hir world spinning, but shi saw Hughes smiling at hir as shi sunk down on the deck, blood dripping from a gash in hir head. In his right hand he held a phaser, and his left dragged around M’raia, whom he held in an iron grip, left hand clamped over her mouth to keep her from screaming. She looked in horror as she saw her friend laying on the deck, hair and headfur smothered in blood.
She tried to scream again, but the phaser that pressed against her temple convinced her to stop. She whimpered and cried at the sight of the wounded chakat.
"Pick it up, Yuki. Leon, help her. Those things weigh a ton. If it can’t stand though, I’ll just shoot it," Hughes said with a triumphant smile.
Hughes enjoyed himself. Though there was nothing he’d rather do than firing his phaser and reduce to smoldering ash this abomination to God in front of him that people called a chakat, he knew the value of hostages. He wasn’t sure what had happened to the ship, but he knew that God had given him this opportunity to escape and once again do His work. And he wouldn’t let that chance go past him.
The two humans hauled Moondancer to hir feet. "Stand up, animal!" Yuki snarled, and hit the Chakat in hir upper belly. Moondancer groaned as the pipe hit hir, but shi managed to stand up. Shi felt like shi was on a small sailing boat in a storm, but shi also knew, that the priest would do exactly what he said if shi fell.
"Tie its hands and tail together" Hughes ordered. "And you, my little beast…I think you had a pre-flight sequence to finish," he continued as he pressed the phaser muzzle harder against M’raia’s head.
Lieutenant 2nd Class Tarina Whitesock smiled with satisfaction, as she entered the last commands into the still flickering console. "Chief! We got internal communications online now," she exclaimed. Chief McKeon gave his second in command the thumbs up sign from his console, and returned her smile. He then slapped his combadge. "Engineering to Captain Winters. We’ve got communications!"
"Good job, Chief. Keep up the good work!" Winters answered, and then started giving out orders.
Then McKeon motioned for the vixen to join him, and they both crawled into an access tube to fix the lower plasma injectors for the warp core.
Shakahr looked around the corner of the corridor, and gave his men a hand signal to continue. They’d searched two decks now, but progress was slow, even now that communications had just been restored. This was as much due to shortage of manpower, as the fact that they only had emergency lighting. The corridors and rooms looked eerie in the sparse emergency light and the pulsating lamps of Red Alert, that made him think of the heartbeat of a dying animal inside which he and his people crawled.
"Sir, we got a live one over here," Jones said. The wolf-morph had been shot in the back, he noticed. He cursed as he ordered Jones and Redclaw to move the unconscious ensign to safety. He had teamed up with team Gamma, and ordered them up front to cover Jones and Redclaw as they moved the wounded. "Marcktock to sickbay," he said.
"Go ahead," the doctor responded, trying to keep the strain out of hir voice.
"I’ve got another one for you. Phaser shot to the back."
"Dammit, Commander, this is a slaughterhouse. I can’t send anyone to help you, Blacktip and her people are trying to free some people who have been cut off, and they’re running out of air."
"All right, I’ll send two men down with him, Shakahr out."
Shakahr cursed again as he sent Jones and Redclaw on their way, and then he called the captain.
"I’ll be right with you!" Winters said when the commander had given him his report. The captain had decided to help his chief of security until the terrorists were found and stopped.
Shakahr sighed in relief as he moved on. It was good to have the captain and his people along, as he himself was stretched too thin as it was.
"Hell!" Yuki snarled and kicked the console in the shuttle bay. Though the Caitian bitch had been forced to enter her command codes to start the shuttle, they still needed to open the doors to the shuttle bay. Unfortunately, they couldn’t just blast their way out, as the explosive decompression might throw the shuttle against the shuttle bay walls. "You, animal! How do I start the damn power?!?!" she snarled at the chakat. Shi looked up at hir captor. "You can’t – the power couplings to the emergency power have been damaged. You can’t do it until main power is restored."
"You’d better not be lying, animal, or I’ll personally space both you and the other cat!" she spat.
Moondancer glared back at her with an almost equal amount of hate. Shi felt like telling that bitch that shi and M’raia were no more cats than she herself was an ape, but decided against it. They’d tied hir hands and tail together as well as put a rope between hir handpaws. Also – and Moondancer suspected they did that to humiliate hir – they’d tied hir with a rope to a cargo container like a dog.
"Sir, I read five life forms in the shuttle bay, three humans, a Caitian and a chakat" ensign Graytail said. Winters and Marcktock both nodded. "I can’t get their precise location inside, so I’m afraid we’ll have to go in, if not blind, then at least not fully knowing what we’ll find," shi continued.
"Very well, Marcktock, this is your area of expertise. I’ll let you handle the attack – I’ll override the door, and get in behind you," Winters said.
"Agreed, sir" Shakahr said.
Yuki heard the tricorder they’d jury-rigged to keep an eye on the door chirp. "Hughes! We got company!" she yelled as she jumped behind the shuttle bay console.
Seconds later, the door opened, and Shakahr and his security people entered. They stunned Wong immediately, and tried to hit Kabayama behind her cover when a voice broke through the sound of phaser fire.
"Hold it right there, or the little kitty-cat gets it!" Hughes snapped.
Shakahr ordered his men to cease firing. Winters looked up from his cover behind the door. "Let the ensign go, Reverend!" he snapped.
Hughes just laughed. "Please, Captain, don’t insult me by thinking I’ll be that stupid."
"You know you can’t get out of here, so why not surrender?" Winters tried. He didn’t know much of negotiating with terrorists, except that Star Fleet didn’t negotiate. But he wouldn’t risk M’raia’s life. He’d lost enough people this day.
"Oh, but I can. All I need is to open the shuttle bay doors, and I’m outta here. You see, I… convinced… your little pet here to enter its command codes into the shuttle computer." He paused and then continued with a smile. "Oh, and by the way… Yuki, dear, show them the little trick you’ve made."
Kabayama stood up, holding Moondancer’s combadge in her hand. "I’ve rigged this to the shuttle’s self-destruct mechanism. It’s a dead man’s switch, so now that I’ve pressed the button on it, the shuttle will explode if I let go."
"If you did that, you’d die too" Winters said.
Kabayama laughed. "True, but I am prepared to die. Are you?"
Winters and Marcktock both cursed.
"Very well… give me my people, and I’ll give you a shuttle," he tried. They had two more shuttles, so they could send them out to disable the other one.
"Once we’re on our way, we’ll drop them off… in a space suit of course," Hughes said.
"How do I know you won’t just kill them?" Winters said angrily.
"You don’t, but I’m sure Ms Kabayama’s hand is getting tired, and I feel a cramp in my trigger finger coming up," Hughes said with an evil smile. "But, I’m a man of compassion. I’ll show my good faith by letting you have that one," he nodded in the direction of Moondancer. "It’s… damaged. Personally I’d put it down, but it’s your cat, Captain," he said with a laugh.
"Very well," Winters said and sighed. "But know this: if M’raia is harmed in any way, I promise you, that I’ll space you, and regulations be damned!"
"I won’t kill it, I promise," Hughes said, and looked as if it was all one big show made to entertain him alone.
Eric McKeon and Tarina Whitesock gave each other a high-five as they finally managed to restart the warp core. It only ran on twenty-four percent, but it ran. The engineering team all cheered, as computer screens came back to life, and the well-known hum of a starship warp core was heard once again.
In the shuttle bay, the lights suddenly brightened. Though Winters wanted his ship’s power back, his Chief Engineer and old friend couldn’t have timed it worse. He needed more time to think!
"Well-well-well…I think that was our signal to depart," Hughes said with a smile. "Sorry, Captain, I’d like to have stayed longer to chat, but…I’m afraid I have a shuttle to catch. Au revoir."
Kabayama pressed the buttons to open the shuttle bay doors, and with M’raia as a living shield, they boarded the shuttle and took off.
As soon as they left, the Captain and Shakahr boarded another shuttle to follow them, while Shakahr’s people took care of the wounded chakat.
When the shuttle hatch had closed, Hughes threw M’raia on the floor. "Get that spacesuit on. When we clear the ship, you’ll be beamed out, spacesuit or not!" he snarled at the frightened Caitian. She did so as fast as she could, while Wong and Kabayama started the engines. She’d only just finished when the shuttle left the Independence, and Hughes walked up to her. In his hands he held a knife and the phaser. "And now, we say goodbye… ooops" he said, and stabbed her arm as he hit the transporter controls, "I guess I lied to your captain".
M’raia screamed in horror as she was beamed into space.
Winters and Marcktock cursed as they found out that the shuttle had been sabotaged. They ran to the other, and found that it too had been damaged. The damage was crude and had been done with a few bashes to the controls with a blunt object, but it had been enough to render one shuttle useless. Winters finally got the other one working, and they left the shuttle bay. The long range communications and transporter were off line, but otherwise everything seemed to work. "Prepare for warp, Mr. Marcktock. And let’s warm up the phasers…."
"Sir!" The wolftaur interrupted. He pointed to the small figure drifting through space. They both sighed in relief as they saw that the figure was suited. But their relief quickly dissipated when their sensors told them that she was leaking air at an alarming rate…
Winters jumped up from the controls, and grappled one of the emergency space suits. "Mine is easier to put on, so help me don it," he said. Shakahr did so without a word, and quickly operated the airlock controls.
M’raia was terrified as she materialized in space, and though she tried to seal off the suit with one of the emergency patches, the hole was too big. Air escaped with alarming speed, and she could hear the whistling of the air leaving the suit. Her arm hurt from the knife, which Hughes had left in the wound. She didn’t dare remove it out of fear of causing more damage to herself or the suit, but the pain was horrible. She couldn’t see the ship, all she could see was the stars as she floated in space. She knew she was going to die, as she saw the oxygen indicator rapidly move towards the red area. She didn’t know if it was blood loss or oxygen deprivation, but staying awake seemed increasingly harder. Her vision became blurry, and the stars seemed smaller and smaller until she finally lost consciousness.
Winters had activated the thruster harness he’d put on, and drifted towards M’raia. "M’raia, this is the Captain. Please respond. I’m on my way to you now. Can you hear me?" he tried, but no response came. He feared that Hughes had changed his mind at the last second, and simply executed her. ‘If she’s dead, I’m gonna KILL you, Hughes!’ he thought. The seconds felt like years as he finally reached her. He noticed the knife in her arm, and the threads of the space suit that was still moving a little from the escaping air. ‘Maybe it’s not too late’ he thought with renewed hope. He slapped on another patch, and connected his oxygen supply to hers. She didn’t wake up, so he started to move back towards the shuttle as fast as he could.
Once inside, he ordered Shakahr to get them back to Independence as soon as possible. He quickly removed his own helmet and hers, and started checking her vitals. She didn’t breathe. He tried to provide CPR, and prayed she’d live. "Don’t die now, you hear. You can do it." He said as he desperately tried to make her heart start beating again.
Shakahr ordered for a medteam as they returned to the ship, and then swung the shuttle back in the shuttle bay. The shuttle hatch opened, but Winters didn’t notice. "Live, dammit live!" he said as he worked on her. Winters was relieved when he heard her take a huge breath and started coughing.
She looked up at him and smiled. "Thank you…" she whispered, as the field medic from the security team rushed to take care of her. Winters grappled her hand one last time before he let the medic and his helper take her away. "Hang in there, okay?" he said.
"Yes, sir…" she managed with a whisper and a weak smile.
Winters sighed, and turned to Shakahr. "Let’s go after them again" the Wolftaur said. His eyes blazed with the fire of revenge. "No, my friend. We’re in no shape to fight. We got M’raia back. That was the most important thing. We’ll have to focus on getting our people and our ship back in shape," Winters said, and put his hand on Shakahr’s shoulder. The Wolftaur nodded, and sighed. He knew the Captain was right, but he really wanted to get his hands on Hughes, the man who’d maimed three of his friends and almost killed one of them.
The department heads of Independence was assembled in M’raia’s cabin. Her living room served as a makeshift briefing room until they could repair and pressurize more room. The ship had been steadied, and put into orbit around a nearby white dwarf star with a little help from their two remaining shuttles.
"So, tell me, what’s our situation so far? Ensign Moondancer, why don’t you and Lt. Shrrraru start," Winters said.
"There’s good news and bad news, Captain. Which do you want first, Sir?" Moondancer said.
"Let’s take the bad news first," Winters said.
"The bad news is that according to what M’raia and I can calculate – and believe me, we’ve checked and re-checked – we must have gone through some sort of wormhole, because we’re nowhere near Federation space. Actually, we seem to be close to the edge of the galaxy, but in the opposite end from where the Federation is placed. I’m afraid that unless we can find a similar means of transportation, we’re going to be out here a very long time." Shi paused for the other’s reaction. There were gasps of shock from all around the table. The Captain sighed, and motioned for Moondancer to continue.
"The good news is that we’ve found a planet within a few light-years that seems to be inhabited. We’ve picked up some transmissions, and they’re ready to be run through the computers, once they come back online," shi finished.
"Very well. Doctor?"
"We got things under control now. Unfortunately, doctor Beckman was among the people we lost, and so were the other three nurses. But Morningsun and I have saved those we could." Shi paused and looked at the Commander, who continued. "We’ve lost 34 crewmen and officers, 41 more are wounded. But those who’re left are all going to live, right Doctor?"
"True. It helped with an influx of those of Commander Marcktock’s people trained as a field medic. That saved at least a dozen lives."
Winters nodded, and motioned for his Chief Engineer to take over.
"We got the warp core online running at 24%, and we have 40% impulse. You can forget about warp – I’ll need a starbase or similar to fix the nacelles, if they can be fixed at all. The easiest might just be to start building new ones from scratch. The computer core is still offline. I’ve bypassed it mostly, so we’ll have helm, one phaser bank, impulse engines, shields and very simple navigation. Since we don’t have the computer core online, we’re going to have to do most things manually. This will be labor intensive, but that’s the best I can do. I hope to be able to pressurize two more decks tomorrow or the day after, and also have at least one turbo lift shaft working."
"What about the computer core, Chief, when will that be online?" Winters asked.
"See, that’s the tricky part. This is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I know the Commodore told you and me, that it was ‘a new design’, and that we would learn all about it once we reached Voxxa and this Chakat Lightningbolt who designed it, but I don’t think that ‘a new design’ quite covers it. Hell, I don’t know what half of it does, not to mention the programming. I can’t find heads or tails in it. But I’ll keep trying. Luckily, the ship’s library seems to be standard components though, and it doesn’t seem to have suffered any serious damage."
"I see. Commander?" Winters said, nodding at his chief of security.
"I’ve worked with Moondancer to see if we could trace the terrorists, but they masked their warp trail. Also, I’ve had my people sweep the ship as you suggested, but fortunately, the terrorists didn’t leave behind any bombs or other small ‘surprises’."
"Good. Blacktip, I want you, Shrrraru and Moondancer to work with McKeon and his people. See if there’s any way the two shuttles can have their warp field extended to pull the Independence with them. Otherwise, we’ll have to send one of them out to that inhabited planet. Marcktock, you and I will work on that scenario. Doctor, I take it you can keep yourself busy?"
"Damn straight I can. Just because I’ve patched everyone together, doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. Besides, McKeon keeps sending me people who’s knocked themselves over the fingers with a hammer or similar" shi said with a wry smile.
"Very well, let’s get back to work, people. Also, Andromeda, since our councilor is among those we lost, I’d like your help as well as Morningsun’s with those most affected by the recent events. Also, I want to know if there are any specific burial rituals I should be aware of. I intend to hold a small ceremony in honor of our fallen tomorrow. Now, however, I intend to inform the crew of our situation and our current position."
He then asked if there were any questions. When that wasn’t the case, he dismissed his people.
The stellar foxtaur doctor stayed behind, mumbling something about helping hir captain with his speech.
"So, how are you, Skipper?" shi asked. Though the Starwalker breed stellar foxtaur usually seemed a bit tough, everyone knew shi was a very kind person under hir gruff exterior. To Daniel Winters, shi was also a very close friend. The two of them had been friends since they first met at the academy, and shi was the one he turned to when he needed to talk. His former first officer had been that way too, but he had died in that transporter accident, so now he only really had Andromeda.
Daniel sighed. "As well as can be expected, I suppose. We’re getting repairs underway, and…"
"No, I didn’t ask about your ship, I can see that for myself. I asked how you were."
"I manage," Daniel lied.
"Bullshit," shi said simply. "I know you too well."
Daniels shoulders sagged. He didn’t want to cry, not even in front of Andromeda. Starship captains didn’t cry. It was a law of nature, just like gravity. They were always tough; they always knew what to do…
His thoughts were interrupted by the stellar foxtaur, who gently wrapped him in hir arms. None of them said a thing as he finally cried his heart out. Shi also started crying, as shi remembered the faces of those shi couldn’t save. Shi had screened hirself from Morningsun, and shi had comforted hir when shi were about to crack like any good commanding officer should.
Daniel relaxed in hir arms for a while, enjoying the feel of hir warm body, hir familiar smell and soft black fur. Then he looked hir in the eyes. "Thanks. I needed that old friend," he said.
"Me too. And you’re welcome." Shi sniffled, and they let go of each other. They started talking about the next day’s ceremony, and he started to make a small speech. He would also run it past Blacktip, partly because she was his first officer, but also because he’d learned in the few months they’d worked together, that she had a knack for those things.
The crew of FSS Independence was silent as the pipers played Amazing Grace in the shuttle bay. Some were crying a little, some trying to comfort those who cried and others looked lost in thought as they gazed at the way too many torpedo shell coffins.
When they finished, the Captain stepped up on a small podium. "Gentlebeings, friends and fellow crewmen. We’re gathered here to honor those of our friends who gave their life serving their star nation. We’ve all lost colleagues, friends or even lovers the last two days. But we must rest in the comfort that they are now in a better place; be it Heaven, the Afterlife or something entirely different. And we must go on with the knowledge, that as long as we live, so shall they live in our hearts." He paused to swallow, and then continued. "The coming time will be hard for us, yes, but I promise you all, that we will prevail. Not because of some crap about being Star Fleet officers as they say in the recruitment commercials, but because we’re friends. We’re family." He paused again to let his gaze wander over each of them. Though some were still crying, they all looked at him with hope, and with purpose and a strength he didn’t know they all – including himself – possessed. "So if we continue working hard, and if we continue being there for one another, I know we will get home. That, my friends, is a promise!!!"
The crew stood there for a few seconds, looking at each other, and then a few started clapping. Soon, the rest of the crew joined them, and where he’d only seen sorrow and despair, he now saw people who – albeit still with a tear in their eye – smiled back at him.
When the clapping had died down, he continued. "Then let us commit their bodies to space," he finished. He heard the sound of the boatswain's pipe, and then the torpedo shells were jettisoned into space.
While they floated into space, he felt Lena’s hand taking and squeezing his. "Well done, Daniel" she whispered. He squeezed back and turned to give her a smile. "Thank you, Lena" he whispered back. It was only after the ceremony, that they realized that they actually used each other’s first names for the first time.
When the ceremony had ended, they all gathered in cargo bay two for a small funeral feast, and everybody seemed to relax a little more.
Lena was glad to see that her captain relaxed too, as she stood in quiet conversation with McKeon and Whitesock. The Chief Engineer left the two vixens, and they sat at one of the small improvised tables, that were really cargo crates.
Lena found the company of the other vixen relaxing, and they even shared a laugh or two.
‘The Captain is right I guess,’ she thought, ‘we will come through this!’
Winters was very proud of his crew. They’d managed the impossible, and in just under four days of work, they’d actually managed to get the Independence close to space worthy again. They had to seal off some parts still, but at least they had impulse. The warp nacelles were done for as McKeon had informed him earlier, and the main computer core was still offline. But they had power, propulsion and they had enough working replicators to feed the crew. They would have to ration a little due to lack of fuel, but Winters was confident that they could find a way to acquire more deuterium in the nearby star system. His first officer had sat down with McKeon and Moondancer (who also doubled as science officer), and they’d found a way to make the two shuttles they still had work their warp drives in tandem, and thus being able to extend their combined warp bubble around themselves and the Independence. When the initial plans seemed promising, he and Marcktock had joined them. They’d used nearly all their waking hours achieving this, and McKeon had had to leave command of the engineering teams to Lieutenant Whitesock. But they’d done it!
M’raia and Moondancer worked closely together, as they directed the two shuttles. Without the main computer core, the procedure required constant manual supervision. Ensign Quickfox – the foxtaur tod who was M’raia’s replacement on the night shift – had volunteered to fly one of the shuttles, and Sergeant Ronald Longstride flew the other. The Quange was one of Marcktock’s men, and was quite skilled in a shuttle. Whenever they’d trained for boarding or ground assault, he’d been the one flying the security team to their positions.
"Captain, I’m picking up a ship on sensors. Approximate size is four hundred meters in length, weight approximately two point three million tonnes," Moondancer said.
Winters gave hir his acknowledge. ‘That’s about four times our ship. I sincerely hope they’re friendly!´ he thought.
A few moments passed, and then shi continued. "Captain, we’re being scanned – can’t tell if they’re just gathering information, or if they’re targeting us because the sensors aren’t fully calibrated. But they’re also hailing us."
Winters looked for a second to his first officer. ‘I’m with you,’ her eyes said.
"On Screen, Ensign Moondancer" Winters said, and braced himself.
To be continued in Part Three: The Kataran Encounter.
Chakats and the Chakat universe are Copyright © Bernard Doove, as is Chakat Sparks who cameos in part one. These are used with permission. The rest of the characters belong to Lars V. Jensen. I’ll try to add references to owners of other characters in the following parts. Should I forget some, please tell me, and I’ll correct it.
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