Star Trek: Babylon
Andrew J. Talon
Captain Haru sipped his tea thoughtfully, as the enlisted men and a few officers of the Ral'nai'HAO danced to the ship's band. Above the wooden deck, the stars streaked by on the other side of the dome as the Imperial Cruiser traveled at warp.
"Forgive me for saying so, sir, but these orders make no sense." The grey-haired man turned and cocked an eyebrow at Lieutenant Kim, who was standing next to the captain on the poop deck at the stern of the Ral'nai'HAO. As with ancient sailing vessels, the Ral'nai'HAO's layout was arranged with higher decks forward and aft, with a long, flat deck in between. The poop deck here was usually reserved for officer's meetings in the habitation dome, away from the bustle of the enlisted men working around the deck, tending to the topside functions of the ship, such as navigation, command and control, communications, and intelligence. However, it was also the most spacious part of the ship, and thus the site of most of the recreation. The addition of numerous tu'raii trees, that served as both zero-point energy generators, and high-efficiency life support systems, made the top deck very important indeed.
"What do you mean, Mr. Kim?"
"Ten first-rate cruisers, just to cover a wrecked starship? All of the survivors being relocated to a specialized hospital ship? We could have handled that situation nicely ourselves. And yet, High Command has us off back on our patrol the moment they get the HS signal on the situation." The young human man shook his head with a sigh. "It makes no sense."
"I've never known the Admiralty to possess a great deal of sense, myself," the captain soothed. He finished his cup of tea, before holding it out for the steward to fill back up again. Haru nodded his thanks to the prim-looking steward girl, who blushed prettily and bowed, before turning and walking among the other officers, offering them more tea as well.
"Still badgers the mind though, no doubt," Haru continued. "The Zhukov is a mystery. Only a dozen guns to our sixty, yet still a match for us. A ship a century younger than Ral'nai'HAO, and yet considered aging. And where our vessel is made of enhanced fiber materials, organic compounds, and living wood… The Zhukov is built of metals, composites, and ceramics." Haru shook his head, and leaned back in his chair.
"Quite a conundrum." Kim nodded.
"Yes sir. Quite."
The ship's klaxon went off, as the band stopped in the middle of a spirited piece and the dancing crewmembers began moving to their stations. Haru stood up and strode for the center deck, where the actual commanding of the ship took place. Kim followed, and brought his holoscreen as the captain rounded on the midshipman who had had the watch.
"Report, Mr. Yun." The midshipman was a girl, with brown, bushy hair, an athletic figure beneath her uniform, and wide violet eyes. But naval tradition was naval tradition, and she didn't hesitate to respond.
"Ship on course two-eight-zero, speed warp factor 9.972. Its warp signature is similar to the readings we took from the Zhukov," Yun stated, drawing up the holoscreen that showed the waveform the warp fingerprint took. Haru scrutinized the readings, frowning heavily.
"The powerplant on this ship is very large… Far too large for the warp field being produced. As for the signature…"
"Captain! We are receiving an encoded message!" Yun indicated. Haru called up the holoscreen file in question, his teeth gritting. He showed it to Kim, who nodded and called for battle stations. Haru turned to the Ral'nai'HAO's bosun, Rei Higami.
"Mr. Higami, plot an intercept course, best speed. Gunner! Prepare all weapons and unlock main armament! Have the Marines stand by for boarding! We're going in!"
"Weird." Lee looked up from the navigational console, to cast a glance at Ensign Mackenzie Jenkins, working the helm in Twee's absence.
"Ensign?" Jenkins turned to the captain, a frown on her face.
"There's a faint warp signature behind us, but it matches no know records. I only managed to pick it out, but it's there."
Lee turned to Haro, resolutely working the still-malfunctioning Operations console, who bit her lip.
"Sorry sir… Most of our sensors are still w'nki from the passage through the anomaly."
"Tactical?" Wyn looked up from her console and shook her head.
"Aft tactical sensors can only give a basic readout of the vessel's speed and size. Warp 9.9… Roughly two-hundred meters tall, two hundred meters across."
"Big ship," Lee noted dryly. He turned to the science station.
"I'm reading bio-electrical energy coming from the vessel. Its construction looks primarily organic. Large concentrations of cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin, with equally large amounts of carbon-nanotubing, artificial diamond, and several other composites and materials I can't identify."
"A wooden starship?" Asked Haro in disbelief. A beep cut off Lee's response, as she looked down at her console. "It's entering visual range."
"On-" The deck rocked, and threw the captain to the deck, while the seated crewmembers held onto their stations. Lee got up, grumbling a moment, before snapping to Wyn: "Red alert, shields up! Haro, hail them."
The second barrage from the alien starship still knocked the Sojourner about, but less violently. Lee was able to maintain his balance, as Haro shook her head.
"No response! They're just shooting!"
"Allright. Lock onto their warp engine..." Lee blinked at the image of the attacking starship on the viewscreen, which someone had put up. A long, lean hull, cut and carved as though from a single, massive log, with a blue-tinged dome nestled within it. And arranged in a wing-like configuration around the vessel were several long, muscular masts. Locked into the masts were blue, brightly-glowing orbs and cylinders, with freely-moving plasma clearly visible in each, forming a complex plumbing system that seemed to be their warp drive. But alongside these plasma conduits were large, white sails, which sparkled like diamond cloth and waved like feathers on a bird's wing. Mounted on struts, held up and pulled taut with—he wasn't seeing things—some kind of rope, the sails shimmered constantly.
"Absorption sails!" Haro yelped. "They fill the same purpose as our deflector dish—They take the hits and stresses of warpdrive for the ship!" The next broadside from the bizarre starship made the ship shake again, as Lee stumbled over to the tactical console. Wyn looked up and indicated a point on a diagram of the pursuing vessel.
"I believe a full-powered burst of our phasers would be enough to disrupt their warp drive, here. Their sails are apparently plugged directly into their power distribution system, taking the kinetic energy of matter-impacts and adding it to their stores."
"Ingenious," Lee nodded. "We overload one of their key sails, and the whole system collapses?"
"It does not look that fragile, captain, but it should allow us to escape," Wyn responded, calmly as ever even when another barrage of weapons fire hit them. "Shields are at sixty percent." The captain nodded.
"Fire!" As Wyn usually did, she used the four saucer-section phaser arrays to attack the alien starship. They were the longest, and therefore could throw the most power out in a single blast. It may have been an Angosian trait, but for Wyn, it was second-nature to end a fight as quickly as possible.
The beams struck the alien ship in one of its smaller sails, nearest its connection to the port dorsal mast. The sudden burst of raw energy into the sail system was enough to overload several conduits, which blew out in discharges of fiery plasma along the mast. The sail itself was broken loose, and tumbled away into the ship's wake. Sojourner had not crippled the vessel, but she was gaining ground on it.
Until the alien ship's next barrage struck.
"Heavy damage to warp organs five through eleven!" Midshipman Yun reported loudly, over the battle stations klaxons. Through the swarm of red-tinged holoscreens, Captain Haru growled.
"We need to knock them out of warp! Gunner!"
"Target one of their nacelles, full charge! We're done being gentle."
Lieutenant Kim looked up from his own readings, and barked orders out to the gunnery crews on the lower decks. Four green screens popping in front of his face later, he nodded to his captain.
"All forward batteries report ready, sir!"
"Mark your target! Ship's starboard engine nacelle!"
"Marked, sir!" The gunner shouted. Haru scowled.
"Turn off that damn klaxon! AND FIRE!"
Thirty concentrated blasts of anti-graviton accelerated antimatter shells struck Sojourner's right nacelle as one, shattering the Intrepid-class cruiser's shields and ripping through the streamlined pod like a fist through wrapping paper. The Ral'nai'HAO's main guns, heavy-energy, superluminal particle cannons, blasted through and dealt the fatal blow. Warp coils and plasma exploded outwards, rendering the nacelle a tattered, burning mold of scrap, as the ship dropped violently out of warp. Burning plasma covered the after section of her hull, and with the exhaust flowing out of the ruptured conduits, the vessel looked all the world like a demon vessel carrying the damned.
"Well… Looks like we made them mad," observed Lee mildly, once again lying across the deck. He spat out a tooth knock loose from the impact, and grimaced at the acrid taste of blood flooding his mouth. He spat it out, and got to his feet… Then wished he hadn't, as he coughed into the smoke. In a rush, sounds bombarded his ears: The scream of the alert klaxons, the sparking of a shattered console, the groans of Lessing, shakily staring at the shards of metal lodged in his arm. The captain was by him in an instant, taking the medkit he'd had installed under his chair. He had emergency field medic training, and there were never enough med kits when he'd served aboard the Sojourner before making captain.
"Lie still. Damage report!" Lee demanded. Wyn, a bloody gash above her left eye, gave her report as calmly as ever, while emergency medics and DC personnel scrambled around the stifling bridge.
"Starboard nacelle… Has been destroyed. Warp drive is down. Aft shield generator is offline. Hull breaches on decks twelve and eleven, sections ten, eleven, and fourteen. Emergency force fields are not responding, so I have sealed off the areas with bulkheads."
"Gilmore to bridge! Captain, we're going to have to shut down the warp core. The feedback from the nacelle explosion has caused the plasma injection system to jam!" A few moments later, the bridge emergency lights switched on as the red-alert lights shut down. Most of the consoles went dark as well, save tactical, flight control, and ops. Lee cursed under his breath.
"Six crewmembers were killed in the hull breaches," Wyn dutifully reported. "Sickbay reports twenty cases of decompression injuries, eight plasma burn victims, and eleven injuries of other forms." Lee winced, before surveying the rest of the bridge quickly.
Two medics were taking Lessing to the turbolift, run by the emergency generators. Haro was looking shaken, but thankfully uninjured. Jenkins had a medic running a dermal regenerator over her forehead, and looked slightly dazed. Lee walked up to the medic tending Jenkins, took his medkit, and told him to get down to sickbay and help with the real injuries.
"Real?" Jenkins mumbled in an affronted tone, as the captain finished healing her head injury, before taking a medical tricorder and running it over her. The captain sighed.
"You have a concussion. The sickbay's full right now, but I know how to treat it. Lay down on the deck," he instructed the blonde pilot. Jenkins laughed tipsily, slowly (with Lee's help) getting down to the floor.
"Heard that one before," she muttered, which Lee resolutely ignored.
"I take it, since we're not dead, that the alien ship has moved on?"
"Looks like that impact actually knocked the sensors back into operation though it knocked out primary life support," Haro noted ironically. Lee sighed.
"Maybe Gilmore has something to that cursed thing… What can you tell me?"
"That ship that maimed us has a transponder that identifies herself as the HMS Ral'nai'HAO, a Raii Imperial Heavy Cruiser. And, it looks like she's escorting the Delta Flyer." Haro shook her head morbidly.
"Great day, huh sir?"
"Yeah, a real blast…" Lee growled. He tapped a few buttons on the navigational console, before nodding. "I'm setting a course for an M-class planet in this system. With our one good engine, we should be able to make it in only a few hours. Once there, we can start making repairs. Gilmore?"
"Kind of busy right now, sir," the engineer reported breathlessly over the comm. Lee nodded.
"Aren't we all? Listen, how do we land Sojourner in her condition?" There was a pause.
"… How hard did you hit your head, captain?"
"Gilmore, life support's been shot, we're short a warp engine, and about a fourth of the crew is either dead or injured. At the moment, our options are down to staying in space and freezing to death, staying in space and dying from lack of air, abandoning ship (which I'm not about to do unless it's absolutely necessary), or landing and making repairs. So, Marla, tell me: How do we land?" There was the sound of furious muttering in the background, before Marla came back on the comm.
"We can restart the warp core, long enough to activate and deploy the armor. We should then be able to land without much trouble. The problem is, captain, we don't have any space warp coils lying around."
"Can we still use the slipstream?"
"Possibly, but I wouldn't recommend it with all the hull damage we've taken. We'll need to repair the breaches and shields before we attempt it." Lee sighed.
"It'll have to do." Lee looked down and cursed that he'd begun multi-tasking without even thinking again. While it was good he'd repaired the concussion Jenkins had suffered, it was a little annoying how easily he could do those kinds of things without much thought. As though he were programmed to it.
Programmed… Not now.
"Jenkins, we're going to have to cut the impulse engines and use them to maintain emergency life support until we get to that M-class planet," the captain began. Jenkins blinked woozily, but nodded in understanding.
"You're going to take any shuttle pilots you have, and start towing us towards that planet, allright? While doing so, I want you guys to start scanning for warp coil materials. Once we've landed, safely, we're going to need you to head out and try to gather as much as you can."
"And, if we can't find any?" Jenkins asked. Lee sighed.
"Then tell the flight department to get ready to start pulling apart every shuttle we have. I'd rather try to find some raw materials first before cannibalizing our support wing, but have the crews ready just in case."
"The spare sail is being replaced as we speak, captain," the sailing master of the Ral'nai'HAO reported over the comm channel. "Our current best speed is only Warp 7, but it is enough to keep up with the Flyer." Captain Haru nodded, pleased.
"Excellent, Mr. Niao. Keep me informed." The holoscreen winked out of existence, as the captain turned to Lieutenant Kim. "Final count, Mr. Kim?"
"Twenty-six crewmen were wounded in the action, sir. The surgeon reports that they will all make full recoveries," Kim reported. "Other than what has already been secured, no further damage was sustained."
"And yet, their energy readings indicated that they were more than a match for us," Haru mused. "What was their armament?"
"Sensors indicated that they had a magazine of fifty warp-capable antimatter projectiles, each with a yield in excess of one-hundred fifty megatons," Kim began. "And thirteen high-output, variable modulation nadion reaction emitters, each with an estimated yield of 12 terrawatts." Haru concealed his shock at such a heavy weapons load, on such a small ship, only through years of practice.
"Damn… Perhaps they wished to board us?" Kim shook his head.
"If they had, they wouldn't have kept running at full speed." Haru frowned, his steel gray eyes narrowed in thought. He then turned to his loyal lieutenant.
"Mr. Kim… Inform Lady Hansen, aboard her Flyer, that we have sent word ahead to other Imperial starships to escort her into home space. We have a ship to hunt down." The first officer nodded.
Sojourner was one of the first batch of Intrepid-class starships to be launched, third only after Intrepid herself, and the now-famous Voyager. With her advanced technology, speed, agility, and relatively heavy armament, she had become the flagship of Admiral Nechayev in her operations with the Cardassian Union. She had been Adam Lee's second posting, and thereafter, his only posting. His only explanations for passing on transfers to such prize postings as the Enterprise or Deep Space Nine, was that "this is where I should be."
He'd intended to become her captain when he turned forty—He'd started out as her operations manager—but the Dominion War saw him becoming the only experienced officer Sojourner had left after the disastrous Tyra battle with the Seventh Fleet. With personnel shortages being what they were, he was given a captain's commission at the age of twenty-six, skipping three whole ranks, for the simple reason that no one else was available.
In the eyes of the admirals who gave him the extreme jump to command, he saw pity, despair, and regret at shoving this burden on a young lieutenant, whom they were sure would last no more than a week with the way things were going. Sojourner was a ship full of children, from all corners of the Federation, fresh out of training. Her officers were just out of the academy. And her captain had barely finished command school. There were a hundred ships like her—And a hundred ships like her already destroyed.
Lee had taken the dedication plaque off the bridge, and nailed it, in full view of the crew before their first mission, in the mess hall. Afterwards, he had pointed to the motto emblazoned on the bottom, and led the crew in reciting it.
"'I have just taken on a great responsibility. I will do my utmost to meet it,'" they had said, before Lee had smiled and pointed at the name of the man who said it. Haro, only a year out of the academy, and acting first-officer, never forgot what her captain followed up with.
"The man who said this was Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, a naval commander in Earth's Second World War. As he did so many centuries ago, we face an enemy that overpowers us at every turn. A fanatical enemy, whose only desire is to kill for their gods, who lie to and manipulate their people, who care nothing for the rights of other beings. War is never a pretty thing. All our worlds, all the peoples of the Federation joined together to try and end war, to live in peace and harmony with each other, as a family. And right now, that family is being threatened, with murder, slavery, and devastation. Far too long, have we let petty differences, and prejudices, and stereotypes divide and weaken us. The Rigellians say that humans are too judgmental, the humans say the Rigellians are too passionate. The Bolians and the Betazoids feud over ancient land rights, the Vulcans and Andorians still squabble over a war long done. As in any family, there are disagreements, grudges, arguments. And yet… When push comes to shove, our disorganized family has stood up and survived cataclysm after cataclysm, defeated tyrant after murderous tyrant. It is no small task, defending the freedom of our little Federation. It is, indeed, a great responsibility. But one we will meet. Let go of your fears, your doubts, and your preconceived notions. Don't look around and see aliens, any of you! See your brothers, sisters, and other family members. See your home. That is what we are fighting for, everyone. This is our responsibility, to make sure that there are still people willing to go boldly where no one has gone before, or people just willing to live in peace and security." He'd tapped his hammer idly against his palm, silent, looking down at the crowd before him.
"We have just taken on a great responsibility. And we will do our utmost to meet it."
And they had. They'd fought in every major battle of the Dominion War afterwards, surviving bloodied and bruised, but triumphant. They'd undertaken and succeeded in a dozen dangerous covert operations. They had fought tooth and nail, and were there at the end, flanking the Defiant in their final push to Cardassia.
And Mitena Haro never doubted, not once, that they would continue to fulfill that vow made years ago.
Even when it felt like Sojourner was about to shake apart at the seams under her hands.
"Damnit! Shuttlecraft Xhosa, decrease your speed!" Lee growled over the comm. link, furiously tapping at the operations controls. The captain had not renewed his pilot's qualification, so he had taken over the ops station, in order to better manage the ship as they descended into the atmosphere of the M-class planet. Haro herself, as she was an excellent pilot, took ops and was busy keeping the Sojourner stable in an already rocky landing.
"Thrusters are at half strength, captain! Can you get me any more?" She shouted over the rumbling and ominous screeching. The captain didn't respond, but a few moments later the RCS thrusters went up to 75.
"Thank you!" She grinned, feeling exhaustion nip away at her sanity. Oh well, if you're going to crash and explode into a gigantic crater, why not do it smiling?
"Armor is holding captain, though I should point out that should we make planetfall too harshly, the resulting shock will crush the ship within the armor," Wyn reported flatly. Lee nodded.
"Thank you, Miss Wyn," he said impatiently, slamming a hand against the control panel. "C'mon, little one, just a bit further…"
Haro informed the shuttles trying to guide the Sojourner into a landing with their tractor beams that she was going to simply take remote control of them all, in order to make things easier. Quickly integrating the shuttle's controls into the Sojourner's RCS thruster network, she maneuvered the little ships about the starship in a layout similar to the RCS thrusters themselves. This would give her a little more control in where they ended up.
Their entry into the atmosphere of the planet was purposely slow, and shallow, to the point that it took ten minutes to actually get close to the ground. But, the less energy Sojourner pumped out, the better—No need to attract more attention than needed.
Finally, with a shuddering groan, Sojourner landed on her four landing struts—Completely un-crushed. Haro noted in slight amusement that the armor had deployed exactly as it would have if their starboard nacelle was still intact.
"Hard on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside," she murmured, shaking her head. Maybe she was spending too much time around Wyn, if she was becoming this cynical.
"Good work, people," Lee announced, affectionately patting the ops console with a shy smile he only gave his ship. Or the doctor, but she wasn't here. He stretched, before yawning loudly.
"Now then… Let's get to work, shall we? Jenkins! Find us some warp coils!"
To be continued…