Captain Steven White sat deep in thought in the ready room off the bridge of the Achilles-class attack cruiser as the ship barrelled through warp on course for an unusual region of space. Accompanied by one Defiant-class starship the Valiant and two Akira-class starships the Potemkin and Thunderchild, this task force was loaded for bear as anything that could make a sovereign class starship 'disappear' could be a problem. He couldn't get the mission he had to do out of his head. The dangers that came with this mission were readily apparent to him, especially as the region of space they were heading to straddled the whole of the Romulan Neutral Zone, the subspace anomalies extended several light years into both the Romulan Empire and the Federation.
At any time going into a region of space that could potentially take you into the Neutral Zone was dangerous, the Romulans had been known to violently react to any ship entering it, and knew to expect the same in return if their ships violated that ancient buffer zone. But it was especially dangerous at this point in time, while the government of Praetor Tal'aura had given them permission to enter the Neutral Zone if necessary White knew it was no guarantee of safe passage. The recent Shinzon Incident had dangerously destabilised the Romulan Empire, with only the intervention of Romulan Empress Talketh herself keeping it from descending into outright civil war. Many factions were vying for power in the new senate – replacing the one murdered by Shinzon – and White would not put it past one of those factions, especially one of the more violent ones, to have a go at engaging his ships in battle.
The possibility of bumping into some rogue Romulan warbirds had turned this ordinary search and rescue mission into one that was going to be very dangerous indeed. White was determined to prepare for those possible dangers, as well as find out what had happened to the last ship sent to the area to investigate the strange subspace readings that had been driving long range sensors crazy. The mission should not have taken the Sovereign-class Resolution very long to complete and she had been under orders to maintain regular contact with Starfleet Command, but a month had passed and there had not been a peep out of her and no attempts at communication were acknowledged. Even the Midas array – that had so successfully contacted Voyager – had been unable to get in touch with the Resolution, or even trigger a response from her automated subspace transponder.
Concerned that something had happened to Resolution, Starfleet had ordered Steven to take his task force to the area and find out what had happened to the ship and her crew. Privately Steven knew a number of the admirals at Starfleet Command were worried that the Resolution's untested captain had somehow led her to catastrophe. Steven personally knew that was not very likely, he had met Darien Parker on a few occasions during the last few mostly when he'd been Commander Parker of the Challenger during the war and knew him to be a very competent and gifted officer. If something bad had happened to the Resolution then Steven knew it would not be Darien's doing.
The thought of what fate could have befallen the Resolution was weighing heavily on Steven's mind, he could think of only two possibilities that could explain why she was overdue and why there had been no subspace transmissions from her. One that she had been attacked by rogue Romulan or Reman forces and been destroyed, which Steven personally believed was unlikely. The Resolution had been bristling with the most up to date weapons and defences available to Starfleet including a full magazine of the futuristic transphasic torpedoes and a copy of the ablative armour generation system Voyager had brought back from the Delta Quadrant. Between those weapons and her conventional weapons load out of sixteen type thirteen phaser arrays and over five hundred photon and quantum torpedoes combined with her advanced dual level regenerative multiphasic, multispatial shields he knew the Resolution was one of the strongest starships ever fielded by the Federation. It would be next to impossible for the Romulans or Remans to engage and destroy her except with overwhelming numbers.
The second option for what could have happened was by far the most likely in Steven's opinion. And that was that the subspace distortions had either trapped the Resolution somewhere, maybe inside a subspace sinkhole or had transported her somewhere else in the galaxy. Somewhere where she couldn't hail them from because she was out of range. Steven knew that possibility had occurred to Starfleet as well and Admiral Janeway had the Midas Array sweeping the distant sectors of the galaxy for any sign of her.
Like the other captains in the task force Steven hoped and prayed that the second option was what had happened to the Resolution as he didn't want to think what the consequences would be if she'd been destroyed by the Romulans. The Federation Council would not take that very well at all, especially if it had occurred on their side of the Neutral Zone. It could well lead to a new war with the Romulan Empire, a state of affairs that neither side particularly wanted, especially so soon after the ravages of the Dominion War.
The sudden sound of the intercom coming to life jolted Steven out of thoughts which had been starting to get increasingly dark.
"Bridge to captain," the voice of his first officer Commander Sanock said. "We're approaching the Resolution's last known co-ordinates."
"Very well drop to impulse and deploy the task force into standard search and recon formation," Steven ordered. "I'll be right out."
Steven sighed and stood up before coming around his desk and heading out of his Spartan ready room, like everything else on the Achilles it was optimised more for combat performance than anything else, as such it lacked some of the nicer comfort of other ships. Here we go, he thought as he stepped out onto the compact bridge of his ship, a bridge designed more along the lines of the wedge shape of a Defiant-class than the traditional circle. As he made his way to the command chair he looked at the view screen at the space they were approaching.
It was certainly beautiful to look at. Space ahead was alight with strange glowing vortices and shimmering bands of energy and super energised gasses pulled in from the surrounding space by the gravitational influence of the glowing energy fissures at the centre of each vortex. The whole thing rippled as well with gravitational fluctuations given the region the appearance of being viewed through a sheet of running water.
"Status report," he ordered sitting down.
"The fleet has secured from warp sir and are deploying into formation as we speak," Sanock reported with typical Vulcan calm from the science station. As well as being first officer Sanock was the closest thing to a science officer that the Achilles had. "Forward scanners are trained on the phenomenon ahead of us and have commenced searching for any sign of the Resolution. However we are encountering severe gravimagnetic interference from the subspace anomalies."
"Launch probes," Steven ordered. "Program them to look for any sign of the Resolution, debris, impulse ion trails anything."
"Aye, sir. According to my analysis it will take us several hours to survey the area with the probes."
"Then we better get started," Steven said. "I don't want to take our ships in until we have some idea what we're going to find in there."
Steven turned his attention to the view screen again as three probes left the Achilles and streaked towards the beautiful and mysterious region ahead of them. Where are you Darien, he thought, are you and your ship trapped in there somehow? Wherever you are don't worry, we are coming.
Orbiting Tollana, That Same Time
Lieutenant Peter Buchannan carefully eased the modified runabout out of the Resolution's main shuttle bay into open space. With the information on hyperspace technology provided by the Asgard Lieutenant Barrett and her engineers along with Lieutenant Rakan had modified the warp coils and deflector array on the Yellowstone-class runabout to allow it to travel through hyperspace. They wanted to test bed the technology and principles involved before applying them to the Resolution herself.
Peter understood the caution and knew how much was riding on the shoulders of himself and his two crewmates on the runabout Rapier. Though they trusted the Asgard, they were still cautious about the hyperspace technology as it was a branch of subspace physics that was very new to them. Peter knew that the outcome of this test flight to the Tok'ra base on the planet Ravana would determine if they would embrace this new form of FTL propulsion over their existing warp technology.
"Tark what's the status of the modifications to the engines and deflector array," he asked the Yuridian engineer who had helped refit the Rapier for hyperspace.
"Hyperdrive modifications are online and diagnostics confirm they are functioning within anticipated parameters," Tark replied. "We're as ready as we will ever be."
"Shirr what's our weapons status," Peter asked looking at the Xindi Reptilian tactical officer on the opposite side of the control cabin to Tark. Given the fact that long range astrometric scans confirmed Goa'uld motherships prowling around planets in various surrounding sectors Peter wanted to be ready should they have a run in with the parasitic aliens.
"Phasers are fully functional," Shirr reported. "Micro quantum torpedo bank is loaded and ready to fire, shields are operational as our ablative armour generators. If we end up having to fight the Goa'uld we should be able to hold them off long enough to be able to get away."
"Good," he said. "Okay then lets do this. Shirr open a hailing frequency to the Resolution."
"Aye, sir." For a moment nothing happened then one of the screens next to Peter came to life with the face of Commander Urlet on the Resolution's bridge.
"Yes, lieutenant?" Commander Urlet said.
"Commander, we're ready to begin our hyperdrive test flight," Peter replied.
"Understood, good luck out there," Urlet answered. "And be careful, the last thing we want is for you to be captured by the Goa'uld. At the first sign of trouble contact us and return immediately."
"Aye, sir. We'll do that." Urlet smiled slightly and nodded, a moment before disappearing from the screen as the connection to the Resolution's bridge was broken. Okay let's do this, Peter thought bringing the hyperdrive online in place of the normal warp engines and laying in a course for Ravana. Taking a deep breath, and offering a silent prayer, Peter pressed the control to send them into hyperspace.
For a moment nothing happened, then a steadily up-scaling whine sounded through the runabout as the hyperdrive powered up. The runabouts deflector array glowed brightly, almost matching the brilliant whitish blue plasma glow coming from the engine nacelles. In the space ahead of the runabout a hyperspace window burst into existence, the nacelles flashed brightly just as they would for acceleration into warp speed and the runabout seemed to stretch taught then vanished into the hyperspace window with a blur of optical distortion.
The jump to hyperspace did not go unnoticed. A small black ship sitting in polar orbit of a neighbouring planet, where the electromagnetic interference would blind Federation and Tollan sensors, observed the runabout vanish into hyperspace. On the small command deck of the ship a young human woman turned to look at her commanding officer.
"Sensors have reported that the small Federation vessel has already left our optimum sensor range," she reported. "Its hyperspace acceleration is phenomenal, it's travelling at a speed far greater than anything we have seen achieved by Goa'uld ships of similar size."
"Impressive lieutenant," the commander replied. "Can you make out there destination?"
"Projections indicate that they are heading for the Tok'ra base on Ravana, sir."
"Interesting, I wonder why they are going there. Communications?"
"Can we send a subspace message to command without the Federation ship detecting it?"
"I believe so sir. Given our lack of knowledge on Federation technology I cannot guarantee it. I believe the best bet would be to send a burst transmission to avoid a prolonged signal that they could detect and trace."
The commander nodded, it would be the best way. The last thing they wanted or needed was for the Resolution to detect there presence, it would raise too many questions. Questions that they were not prepared to answer yet. Even sending a burst transmission would be risky, but it was a risk they needed to take as command had ordered them to keep tabs on what exactly the powerful Federation warship was up to.
"Do it encode all observed information so far into the data burst," he ordered at last. "But wait until the Resolution's orbit takes her to the other side of Tollana that will further reduce our risks of detection."
A Few Minutes Later
Peter Buchannan felt like whooping for joy as the Rapier shot down a luminous blue tunnel through hyperspace at incredible, unheard of speed for a runabout, indeed for any Federation vessel. This hyperspace technology was something else, incredibly fast, incredibly smooth, far superior in his opinion to any other means of advanced FTL propulsion that the Federation had yet experimented with. He restrained himself, but only just, instead he focused on his duty.
"How's it looking Tark," he asked.
"Hyperdrive is holding steady," Tark replied. "All systems are normal. There is a minute increase in stress on the hull, our hull geometry was never intended to cope with a subspace field being used in this way, but it's well within acceptable tolerances."
"Still it's something we should bear in mind until we return to the ship," Peter said. "Maybe Lieutenant Barrett and Lieutenant Rakan can do something to rectify the problem. Increase power to the SIF to compensate. Do you think the stress would get worse if this technology were applied to the Resolution?"
"I believe so yes. It seems to be directly proportional to the strength of the subspace field, however I don't believe that it would produce any significant increase in strain on the Resolution's outer hull, certainly it wouldn't be strong enough to pose a threat to structural integrity. But your right we should still note it for investigation."
"It would make sense to do that," Shirr added. "I wonder why the Asgard never told us that the subspace field put out by a hyperdrive puts slightly more stress on a starships hull?"
"It probably never occurred to them," Peter reasoned. "Like everyone else around here they've had hyperspace technology for a very long time, they probably rectified the problem long ago and forgot about it. Its like we would probably forget to mention the sharp acceleration and deceleration forces that warp speed puts on a starships hull if we were teaching them how to build a warp drive."
"Possibly," Shirr replied not sounding entirely convinced. Before she could say anything else however the sensors on Peter's navigational panel bleeped for attention.
"We're coming up on Ravana," he said operating the controls.
With a soft humming sound the hyperdrive disengaged and the hyperspace tunnel dissolved into nothingness, depositing the runabout back into normal space. Ahead of them was the blue-green M-class planet where the Tok'ra had set up there latest base, replacing the one destroyed with Vorash, when they and SG-1 had blown up the sun to wipe out one of the largest Goa'uld fleets ever assembled.
"Shirr hail the Resolution," Peter said. "Let Captain Parker know that we have reached Ravana safely."
"Aye, sir," Shirr replied a moment before her sensors bleeped for attention. Turning her attention to them she recoiled at what she saw. "Ugh Peter we got company. Check your sensors."
Frowning Peter did so and went pale at what he saw. A hyperspace window had just opened four light minutes out from their position, emerging from it came three Goa'uld motherships. Two of them being the standard Ha'tak-class with the central mothership belong to the larger but otherwise identical Shalkra-class. All three were giving off similar sensor readings to the first Goa'uld ship the Resolution had encountered over Tollana, and were bearing down on Ravana. Even without being told Peter knew that they would be in the sights of the primitive Goa'uld phase modulated energy weapons.
"Oh hell," he said softly, then his training kicked in. "Red alert, raise shields and stand by weapons. Shirr be ready to keep them busy while I plot a course to get us out of here."
"Aye, sir," Shirr replied. "Tark I'm going to need all the power you can give me."
"You got it," Tark answered a moment before the communications system crackled to life with a message from the Goa'uld ships.
"Federation vessel I am the great god Zipacna," a booming, distorted voice said over an audio only link. "From now on you will serve me. Surrender your vessel and I shall be merciful, attempt to fight or flee and you will face my wrath."