It had taken a week - eight days, technically - since their shakedown cruise had been cut short on the orders of Rear Admiral Franklin Glenn of Starbase 157. Eight days spent at high warp testing what scant few systems they could while putting those required for their sustained transit under real-world field stresses that they where not supposed to be exposed to yet. Something their tri-limbed Chief Engineer Ayala had reminded everyone whom would listen - most notably the ships newly minted (and still adjusting to the position) First Officer, Nathan Hawk. Never the less, the new Luna-Class Starship Republic had thus far performed above and beyond expectations.
As had her crew, eighty-seven percent of whom where new to the Republic legacy and had not served aboard the former Galaxy-Class ship to hold the name. Thus far, the blending of of 'old' and 'new' crew had provided a number of benefits. Most noteworthy of which was that they had been able to shave nearly twelve hours off of their journey thanks to their Medusan navigator Mahlanoy and their new Caitian Helmsman M'Roww. Both of whom had been able to skillfully plot and execute, respectively, a course that allowed them to skirt the fringe of an established shipping lane that had they been forced to transit within, would have required them to slow to warp five to traverse and add nearly two days to their trip.
As such, rather than adding transit time they had arrived at the Arcadia system well ahead of schedule. A system that they had all learned in the intervening time was the definition of deception and danger. Though visually appearing much like any other solar system with an abundance of planetary bodies and a higher-than-average concentration of particulate matter, on sensors the system read more like a junk yard for spatial anomalies and overlapping forms of interference. At least, when you could make some semblance of sense of the sensor results, that was. Which was infrequently at best, much to the chagrin of their Klingon-Vulcan science officer, T'Mer Graq.
Thus far, the exotic-looking hybrid junior lieutenant had utilized more expletives in response to her rebuffed attempts to scan the system than anyone else of the bridge crew had been willing to admit they even knew. Yet she had persisted in her duties and eventually devised a technique that more closely resembled ancient sonar or radar systems. With the high levels of interference caused by numerous factors - excessive solar activity, unexplained gravitational anomalies, electro-magnetic interference, and the scattering effects of a number of rare minerals and ores laced throughout the systems planets and asteroid belts - it was well beyond the age old axiom of a needle in a haystack.
“More like trying to find a single grain of sand amidst the forge,” Graq had mused through sharpened and gritted teeth.
Unfortunately, it wasn't only the science department that was having it's share of difficulties coping with their surroundings. Navigation and flight control where flying just about blind, resorting to the oldest and most basic technique of determining course and location - line of sight. Engineering wasn't much better off as the power usage needs for maneuvering thrusters, impulse engines, deflectors, and sensors had already required warp power to be shunted to them for the duration of their time here. All in all, it made the concept of actually mounting any type of organized search of the system seem insurmountable.
Something which Nathan Hawk had recognized after only a few hours of pouring over the limited information in the Federation database concerning the system. Despite that, he and a number of the department heads had spent the intervening days since receiving their orders agonizing over every and any possible method of doing so. Despite their best efforts though, his initial conclusion had been confirmed by every other individual he had sought input from. Not to mention one individual whom he had specifically not consulted with, namely Kostya's pet interloper, Chase Meridian. Having the condescending bitch concur with his conclusions did ease any potential ego-bruising from failing to devise a solid search and rescue plan though.
“'Fraid our best bet is ta pretty much just dive on in n'grope 'round in the dark 'til we find somethin',” Hawk had reported a little over a day before their arrival, once he was satisfied that every potential option had been explored to it's fullest. He had resisted his personal instinct to compare their scenario to an awkward high school date despite his opinion that the comment would provide some needed levity, instead remarking inwardly to himself once again how little fun it was to be first officer.
So it was that the Starship Republic was so engaged in the most disorganized and half-assed search and rescue mission that anyone of the crew aboard her had ever participated in. With a veritable inability to chart or maintain a steady course, no ability to verify the accuracy of such should they attempt such, and a sensor resolution lower than hand-held tricorder… finding anything beyond their own asses with both hands would be a miracle. Something else which Hawk had wanted to note audibly yet had restrained from doing with an inward sigh of resignation that the days when he could voice such opinions openly may be behind him.
As hours became the duration of duty shifts, and duty shifts became whole days gone by, their would-be rescue mission gradually began to turn the corner towards a more than likely recovery operation, as the likelihood of the Excelsior-class vessels ability to survive the taxing demands placed upon it by this system grew slimmer. A grim reality that dampened morale and slowly but surely began to fray nerves - especially for those amongst the crew for whom this was only their first or second tour of deep space duty. Despite being trained professionals, the younger and less experienced of the crew hadn't faced death on any scale beyond that of the academy simulators.
For most of the, the Remnant attacks where the greatest example of adversity faced. And even then, to most of them It was only a news story that they had no personal connection to beyond that of any other Federation citizen or even Starfleet Officer. Here and now, tasked with locating and assisting a fellow starship and her crew, the dangers and realities of the careers they had chosen became unflinchingly real. The most evident indicator of this newfound realization was the autonomous twitching of Caitian Ensign M'Roww's felinoid tail, which much like that of the domesticated earth house cat, was swishing anxiously back and forth.
So when that anxious twitch stopped suddenly mid-movement, Hawk had caught it's meaning - that something had changed from the Ensign's point of view - just a split second before the proximity alarm blared to life all around them.
“Scat!” shouted M'Roww from the helm as she deftly clacked her clawed finger-tips upon her console surface.
The reason for her concern and the alert siren both became readily apparent to the rest of the bridge as the intermittent static that plagued the view screen cleared just in time to show the main deflector, and indeed the entire secondary hull of an Excelsior-class starship seemingly rushing 'up' towards them at an unnatural angle and high rate of speed from the port side.
A flurry of orders and reports flew back and forth, overlapping in the span of a few seconds.
“Evasive, hard to starboard!” demanded Hawk, rising to his feet and making his way the few steps across the bridge to the Helm in an instant, perching over the Ensign.
“Impulse engines aren't responding!” answered M'Roww as she worked furiously to try and coax the engines into cooperation, her claws scratching the surface of her touch-screen interface.
“Tractor beam!” ordered the Captain, her knuckles going white as her hands clenched the arms of her command chair fiercely in anticipation.
“Negative lock with all this interference!” reported Lieutenant Ragnar from the the security and tactical console directly behind her.
“Attitude control! Narrow our profile, minimize the impact!” Hawk ordered as he crouched down to hover ever closer over M'Roww's shoulder.
“Shield status?” questioned Dorian over her shoulder back to the Angosian security chief.
“Operational at seventy-two percent!” answered Ragnar as his bulky hands took purchase on the edges of his station.
With a second glance up at the view screen, Hawk's blood ran cold as years of piloting told him what few if any of the rest on the bridge would come to accept for another few seconds. It was already too late. The other ship's momentum was too great, their own inertia continuing them forward despite their failed engines.
“All hands, brace for impact!” shouted Nathan Hawk in a booming voice he didn't know he had, his hands taking a firm grip of the back of M'Roww's chair.
“Contact!” shouted Cail Jarin from the Ops console.
On the main view screen, the static-laced image flared a blinding white as the hulking Excelsior-class ship's bare hull slammed into their shield envelope, making such visible as the energy barrier fought against the physical object attempting to penetrate It. The lights on the bridge dimmed to half and turned crimson red as the deck heaved up towards them, the inertial dampeners and artificial gravity mixing in a manner never intended as the shields protested. Everyone seated was thrown back against such with a sudden influx of g-forces. Everyone not seated was slammed to the hard traction-carpeting of the deck with bone-jarring force.
As the power demands from the shields over-burdened other systems, safety control systems regulating how much power went where collapsed, causing various light fixtures and consoles to overload in a shower of feedback sparks. As the g-forces pinning everyone to their chairs or the decking subsided, the artificial gravity systems over-compensated and threw anyone not holding on to something bolted down a half-a-meter upwards into the air before equalizing, sending them slamming back down upon the deck. The entire incident lasted only two or maybe three seconds, but it had felt far longer and the repercussions of it where yet unknown.
“Damage report!” called out Kim Dorian, sounding winded as she pushed herself up straight in her command chair and shook a lock of hair away from in front of her eyes.
Tasting a hint of blood, Nathan Hawk pushed his body up off the rough fabric of the bridge's gray carpet. As he got to his knees, he winced as his weight put pressure on his right, which he had hit on hard when the impact had first happened. Ignoring such, he clamored to his feet and moved to the helm on instinct. There he found ensign M'Roww still in her seat and slumped over the console, her left hand held to her forehead where she must have hit it against the console. Next to her, Cail Jarin was restoring power to his own station looking relatively unscathed as the damage reports began to feed in from around the ship.
“The shields held,” he reported with some relief as he struggled to categorize the critical information from the more mundane. “Barely, though. They're down to thirteen percent.”
“Lucky thirteen,” Hawk remarked as he glanced around the bridge to take stock, noting that none of the bridge crew seemed to be seriously injured and all had returned to their posts in spite of any injuries.
“We've lost propulsion completely,” reported M'Roww with an aubile sigh. “Impulse, thrusters, warp… everything's gone. And we've lost attitude control as well.” To emphasize her frustration, she sat back in her seat for a moment feeling useless as her console continued to flicker.
“Hull status?” questioned Kim Dorian as she stood from her command chair and stepped to join her first officer in the center of the bridge.
“No breeches,” responded Cail from Ops, adding “though we've got some micro-fractures and stressing we'll need to shore up.”
As every one of the bridge crew seemed unmarred save for minor bumps and bruises, and the injury reports coming in from sickbay followed suit, Hawk surmised his opinion in a hushed tone to his captain. “It coulda bin a helluva lot worse.”
Nodding her head in agreement, she patted him on the shoulder as she stepped past him to move closer to the science station where junior lieutenant Graq was dutifully analyzing her sensor readings despite a trickle of dark green blood emanating from her lip. Anticipating the captain's query, she focused the view screen on the hulk of the Excelsior-class ship retreating from them rapidly in response to it's collision with Republic's shields. “Our shields gave it quite a charge,” reported Graq, “with sensors as they are, I don't know how long I'll be able to keep track of it.”
Looking upon the tumbling form of the once proud Federation starship as it retreated from them, it was evident to all that the Fearless had suffered a terrible fate. Her hull was battered and broken, strewn with multiple breeches and blackened scorch marks. Her port holes darkened of any internal light, her engines dulled gray and lifeless sans any power. The most prominent injury though was to her saucer section, the entire forward half of which was completely shorn off and absent, exposing the grid work of decks there to the vacuum of space like a great literal cutaway model. Despite appearances though, Kim Dorian asked the question on everyone's mind. “Life-signs?”
Graq said nothing for nearly a minute as she worked to manipulate the sensors in every form she could to compensate for the excessive interference. She was almost hesitant to offer her final conclusion. Not because she knew every ear and eye on the bridge was directed at her, but rather because it meant providing one more nail into the coffin that contained any hope the crew of Republic had left for their assignment ending in any way positive. “Negative, ma'am.” she finally reported. “Though I can't be one-hundred percent with these readings, it appears life support systems have been off-line for some time and I'm reading only residual battery power emanations inconsistently throughout the secondary hull which seems to have taken less catastrophic damage. Additionally, all intact escape pods appear to be present.”
Watching the derelict hulk spiral away - a visualization amplified by the fact that they, too, where rolling end-over-end - the decision that rested on the shoulders of Captain Kimberly Roth Dorian was far from an easy one. Her own ship and crew had spent the last five-and-a-half days clawing their way through this hellish star-system only to have gotten the wind knocked out of them in the exact same instant that they had located their query. They had been sent out here to locate and assist the seven-hundred-fifty officers and crew of the Fearless, a task that now seemed beyond hope. Should the newly minted Republic cut her losses now, or risk life-and-limb in the pursuit of the answers that the friends and family of those seven-hundred-fifty crewmen would seek: what had become of them and why?
Crossing her arms across her chest, Kim Dorian stepped back over to her first officer as she kept her eyes on the devastated ship rapidly shrinking in size on the viewer. “Options?” she asked flatly, her voice quiet, the question coded captain-speak for the closest a commander ever got to asking for a vote on what to do next. Nathan Hawk knew this despite his novice status as XO due to his early Starfleet career, when he had served as second-in-command of the 85th squadron during the Dominion war. Taking a quick glance around the bridge, he took the emotional pulse of the officers around him as best he could. Finally, he offered his opinion to his captain. “We've come this far.”
Looking up at him, Dorian nodded her head in agreement.
Turning her focus to Attos Ragnar at the aft of the bridge, she raised her voice as she asked, “Mister Ragnar, start working on a way to establish a tractor lock on that ship. I don't care how you do it, just get it done.”
“Aye aye, ma'am,” replied the Angosian without protest, despite the difficulty of the task presented to him.
“Dorian to Engineering,” called out the captain to the comm-system, “Lieutenant Ayala, I need impulse engines back on-line and I need them now. What's your status?”
“We're picking up the pieces down here, ma'am,” replied the faintly accented tripedal Edosian's voice from below decks, “We didn't take much damage, but what little we did was in all the wrong places. It's going to take the better part of forty-eight hours to restore warp drive, at least half that for impulse.”
“What about thrusters?” asked the captain, the slightest hint of irritation having crept into her voice at the unsatisfactory news as she suppressed the desire to sigh.
“Attitude control should be back in the next few minutes, but maneuvering thrusters are going to take at least two hours.” answered Ayala, clearly unhappy at having to deliver such news to her captain on this, the first serious incident the ship had faced. Engineers tended to take a great personal pride in their equipment, especially the engines themselves. When those systems broke down or failed in any way, it was usually a bit ego bruising.
“Captain,” prompted T'Mer Graq from the main science station on the right side of the upper-most 'horse-shoe' level of the bridge, across from the helm. Once Dorian had turned to acknowledge her, she continued, “we've got maybe twenty-minutes at maximum before I've lost track of the Fearless.”
Turning her gaze back to the diminishing image of the Excelsior-class ship on the forward view screen, Kim Dorian knew they where running low on options. If they where going to find the answers as to the fate of the Fearless and her crew, they where going to have to take action now. As their options had narrowed though, those left where the most dangerous. The last thing she wanted to do was risk lives on the dead, even if they where colleagues who had deserved a far better fate. If they where going to bring home anything more than bad news though, she didn't have a choice.
“Permission ta lead 'n away team, cap'n?” Nathan Hawk suddenly asked her.
For a moment, the captain said nothing as she simply continued to stare at the static-laden image ahead of her.
“Permission granted,” Dorian said finally.
With a quick nod, Hawk turned on his heal and moved to the aft turbolift at the starboard side of the bridge. “Ragnar, Cail, yer with me,” he ordered as he stood to the side of the lift doors and let the the large tan-skinned Angosian and the modestly built dark-skinned Bajoran enter before him. “Hawk ta Sickbay,” he called out as he stepped in and turned about to face the doors as they closed.
“Sickbay, Cromwell here.” came the familiar voice of the ship's surgeon through the comm-circuits.
“Leon, report ta the shuttle bay fer away team duty. Dunno what we're gonna find over there, but if there are any survivors, they're gonna need the best doc we've got.”
“On my way.”
To be continued