“Two vessels have been detected approaching our location.”
“Has our presence been detected?”
“Analyzing situation now. Both vessels are traveling at high sub-light velocities. Sensor data indicates the lead ship–now designated Vulture One–is heavily damaged.”
“The secondary vessel–now Vulture Two–appears to be in pursuit.”
The four figures sat in a close circle but the room was too dark for them being able to see each other’s faces already hidden beneath the silver hoods they wore. They did not need their eyes to see. Each one connected to the others through ultra-high speed optical wires attached to the back of their necks and feeding directly into their cerebral cortexes. One to Four made up the entire crew of the ship. Nobody else was required as their orders were instantly translated into the organic main computer core by the same wires which linked them to each other. There were no control panels on the dimly lit deck and no hierarchy among the Cooperative. To a stranger the system would have seemed perplexing but the truth was it had worked flawlessly for centuries.
“Conclusion,” One said in a high and shrill sounding voice, “Vulture One and Vulture Two have not detected our presence in the anomaly.”
“They are involved in an internal struggle,” Three said.
One’s shoulders moved fractionally when he spoke. “We should initiate contact. Much could be learned from this unknown species.”
“We cannot risk becoming the target of their hostilities.”
“It is decided,” Three said. “We will remain hidden and observe before we engage them in any manner.”
There was no reply. As it had always been, the Cooperative was in agreement.
“Their shields are down to thirty percent, they have suffered multiple hull breaches and lost all warp capability.”
Captain Michael Owens of the USS Eagle watched the view screen intently, his eyes narrowed as he focused onto the fleeing vessel. He wasn’t sure what the outgunned and overwhelmed vessel was up to but he was fairly certain that they were beat, running, for a desperate attempt to buy just a little bit more time until the inevitable.
“He’s trying to get into the Poseidon Maelstrom,” Lieutenant Commander So’Dan Leva pointed out, sitting right next to the captain, filling in for the temporarily absent first officer. Leva, a tall, dark-haired half-Romulan was much more comfortable behind his tactical station, especially during battle but Captain Owens had insisted that he serve as acting XO for the time being. Experience, he figured, which could only benefit the tactical officer.
“Sensors and shields will be useless in there,” said the strikingly beautiful Lieutenant DeMara Deen from operations. “It’s a pretty smart move.”
Lif Culsten, the helmsman shook his head. “That ship is what–ninety years old? They don’t stand a chance.”
“He’d be better off surrendering,” Leva agreed and turned to the captain. “Have you ever met him? What’s he like?”
“Who Sandhurst?” Owens said and then slightly shook his head. “No, I’ve never met him but I’ve heard that he’s not much of a fighter or tactician. I believe he’s an engineer by trade.”
“Well he would have to be much more than a miracle worker if he hopes to repair his ship in there,” said Deen.
The aged Constitution-class ship had been on the run from the much bigger starship for nearly thirty minutes, ever since it had only barely survived their initial encounter. It had somehow managed to pump every last bit of power into its impulse engines and was now running for its life towards the Poseidon Malestrom, a Mutara like nebula which was notoriously difficult to navigate.
Owens knew that if they made it inside this chase could take them the better part of the day. Much more time than he was willing to spent chasing the troublesome little ship. He stood up and took a few steps towards the screen. “Mister Culsten, is there any chance that we can intercept them before they reach the threshold of the nebula?”
The silver-haired Krellonian shook his head. “None. They’re pushing their impulse engines way past design specifications. If they’re not careful they’re going to melt right off.”
“At least we maintain the upper hand,” said Leva.
Owens gave him a small smirk. “I don’t believe that is something we are at risk of losing, Commander.”
The half-Romulan nodded and directed his glance back towards the view screen. A large expanse of blue and red swirls had appeared at the edge of the screen. It was pulsating with intense anger as if trying to warn off the ships that were now racing towards it.
“The Gibraltar has crossed the threshold to the nebula,” said Lieutenant Trinik, the Vulcan tactical officer who was manning the station while Leva was carrying out different duties.
A small sigh escaped the captain’s lips. “He’s not going to make it easy for us, is he?” He said and sat down in his chair. “Well,” he added, gesturing towards the angry pulsating mass on the screen, “follow them in, Mister Culsten.”
“Vulture-One and Vulture-Two have entered the anomaly,” said Two, keeping his voice perfectly balanced.
Four’s voice showed some signs of irritation however. “Both vessels are of similar design and have similar markings displayed on their respective outer hulls.”
“A civil war, perhaps?” said Three.
“Further study of this species is recommended,” replied One. “We should establish contact.”
Two slightly turned his body towards One. It was an unusual gesture for the Cooperative. But One’s thoughts were not in line with the others. Something even more peculiar among them. “We will not reveal ourselves to a hostile species.”
One did not reply.
“It is agreed,” Three said. “Further observation is required.”
The organic starship acknowledged the orders instantly. The natural cloaking device remained in effect as the ship maintained a safe distance well outside visual range of the alien vessels.
Leva’s fingers tapped the surface of his armrest impatiently. Most Romulans, he figured, were patient people. Cunningness after all required a certain serenity to be effective. But he did not share many of his kinsman’s attributes. While that usually filled him with pride he did wish for some more composure now. They had been in the nebula for nearly half an hour without any sign of Gibraltar.
He wanted that ship destroyed and he wanted to be the one to deliver the finishing blow. That that feelings was more Romulan than human, escaped him at that moment.
“Dee, anything on sensors?” asked the equally frustrated captain who managed to keep his agitation hidden much more successfully.
“We have tried to boost power to the sensor grid with little success,” she said. “Visual sensors are partially available.”
Owens nodded. “Very well, we’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way then and use our eyes.”
Within moments the main view screen switched on to show a blur of intense blue and red colors, interspersed with pockets of blackness. A throbbing white pulse and sporadic static made it difficult to look at the screen for long without getting irritated.
“I wouldn’t be able to spot a Borg armada in this,” said Leva with increasing frustration.
“Keep your eyes open,” Owens said. “Dee, keep the visual rotating, give us a full picture of our surroundings.”
The Tenarian officer nodded and complied.
All eyes on the bridge were glued onto the main viewer in front as they carefully scanned the fuzzy image for any signs of objects which did not belong inside the Poseidon Maelstrom.
Twenty minutes passed before their search finally bore some fruit. Leva nearly jumped out of his seat, pointing at the far corner of the screen. “There! Stop the image and magnify sector six.”
Within seconds the screen shifted as it focused on whatever the tactical officer had found. Moments later the others spotted it as well. It was without doubt a man-made entity and the design easily hinted towards some form of spacecraft.
“That might be her,” Deen said. “Sensors are detecting a presence but an analysis is still not possible.”
“Considering it’s all we got I think we take. Set course to incept, ready weapons,” Owens ordered and watched as they closed in on the blurry object.
“We are now entering weapons range,” Trinik said from tactical.
“Ready phasers. Quantum torpedoes, full spread. Let’s finish her off,” Leva said and shot a look at his captain.
He signaled his approval with a short nod.
There was a moment of silence on the bridge as the USS Eagleunleashed its awesome firepower in order to tear apart a fellow Federation starship. Nobody seemed particularly bothered by that fact.
“What happened?” Leva wanted to know as the fuzzy image on the view screen failed to either deny or confirm a successful kill.
“I am not certain,” the Tenarian at ops said. “But I’m getting more information on the target.”
“Is it destroyed?”
But Deen didn’t reply right away as she tried to focus on the information being fed into her console. “Yes,” she finally confirmed.
Leva allowed himself a wide smile and sat down next to the captain.
“But I just verified markings on the target’s hull. ‘NCC-1859’.”
Leva nodded. “We got ‘em. That’s their registry.”
“There is more,” said Deen. “’Heyerdahl’.” And then with much surprise: “’Gibraltar Ambulance Service’.”
“What?” Leva asked, not fully comprehending.
But Lif Culsten, the helmsman, understood. “We just took out one of their shuttle craft.”
“Sir, sensors are detecting an energy build-up,” Trinik said, his report being emphasized by warning chimes coming from the tactical station.
“I thought the sensors were useless?” Leva asked.
“The energy build up is taking place in extreme proximity. Less than two-hundred meters, bearing two-four-seven mark one-seven-one.”
The lieutenant at ops quickly rotated the visual feed to focus on those coordinates. Through the blue and red mist something large and gray stood out. It seemed to fill the entire screen.
“De-magnify,” Owens said.
And then it became perfectly obvious what they were looking at.
Gibraltar was immediately below them, riding in the shadows of the larger Nebula-class starship, so close in fact, Owens could make out the ship’s name written across its saucer section.
“They are opening fire.”
There was no more time for orders. Eagle shook hard and Captain Michael Owens knew that at this distance his starship was doomed. With shields non-operational in the nebula, their enemy’s weapons would easily pierce Eagle’s hull at its most vulnerable spots, ripping right into the anti-matter storage and destroying the warp core. Eagle didn’t have a prayer.
“Sensors confirm Vulture-Two has suffered a catastrophic matter/anti-matter system failure,” Three reported calmly.
“It has been destroyed by Vulture-One,” added Two somewhat unnecessarily.
“Nothing further can be learned from these aliens,” the third member of the Cooperative stated dryly. “We will depart to our next destination.”
There was a momentary pause in verbal communications. An irregularity had been detected by the main computer core and was being quickly forwarded to the four individuals on the command deck.
There was no agreement.
“We can still learn the reasons for the internal conflict among the aliens,” One said, his voice slightly higher pitched than usual. He wasn’t used to having an opinion not shared by the others.
“They are obviously an immature and hostile species,” Three protested.
“We could endanger our own existence by attempting contact,” added Four.
“Danger to our existence is an acceptable risk and is part of the nature of exploration.”
“Disagreed,” countered Two. “Obvious risks must be avoided at all costs.”
“Agreed,” said Four. “Our continued existence is paramount.”
“Agreed,” added Three. “We cannot explore if we do not exist.”
One remained silent and for the first time in a few centuries the eyes of three-quarters of the Cooperative were focused on one of their own.
It took a full minute before Two spoke again. “An agreement has not been reached. The Cooperative can no longer function. We must return to our place of departure and re-evaluate the mission.”
“Agreed,” said Three and Four in unison.
One still did not speak. He would remain silent for the rest of their one hundred year journey to the galaxy they called home.
Captain Donald Sandhurst sat comfortably in his lone chair at the center of the bridge. He had a small, self-satisfying smile on his face and his eyes were sparkling as if he still couldn’t quite fathom their unlikely victory over his imposing opponent. He had never been a man to wallow in his triumphs but he could not deny that it felt good to know that his crew and his near-obsolete vessel could still hold their weight amongst the bigger and stronger competition.
“Congratulations on your victory, Captain Sandhurst,” Owens said, standing in the middle of his own, yet brighter and more spacious command center. His voice failed somewhat to match the sentiment of his words. Nobody liked to lose, especially not to an opponent who had been so obviously inferior. But he had. Fair and square.
“Thank you, Captain. But my tactical officer, Lieutenant Lar’ragos, is the one who really deserves all the credit here. It is thanks to his ingenuity that we were able to pull off that last maneuver.”
“You do realize, of course,” Leva said, probably even more upset about the stunning defeat than his captain, “that you clearly violated the rules of this exercise when you left the rest of the fleet.”
The Romulan was correct. Part of the parameters of the fleet exercise which had pitted a total of twelve starships against each other was to remain within the neighboring solar system. A stipulation which Gibraltar had not adhered to after taking heavy simulated damage in the first rounds of the battle.
“Is that how you justify your defeat, Commander?” asked Liana Ramirez, Gibraltar’s fiery first officer, not even trying to keep her tone non-confrontational. She stood firmly next to her captain and ignored his worried glance intended on curbing her taunting attitude.
Leva gave her an exaggerated smile. “I’m not justifying anything – ma’am,” he said defensively. “Simply stating facts.”
“Captain,” Owens said, taking a small step towards the screen before Ramirez could counter. “I’m not disputing the results of this encounter and I suggest we leave the official ruling to the referees.”
Sandhurst nodded. “That suits me fine.”
“Good. How about I invite you and your officers onboard Eagle for dinner once we have left this infernal place behind. Something tells me that a meeting under different circumstances might be a much more pleasant occasion,” Michael Owens said, offering a warm smile.
Gibraltar’s captain exchanged a quick look with his first officer before he replied. “We accept your peace offer, Captain,” he said with a growing grin.
“I’m looking forward to meeting you in person. Owens out.”
With that Sandhurst and his bridge disappeared from the view screen.
“Mister Culsten set a course out of this nebula, half impulse. Mister Trinik, deactivate the simulated weapons and all mock sensor data output,” he said and then looked at his acting first officer who seemed visibly disappointed with the outcome of this encounter. “Cheer up, Commander. Believe it or not I thought this defeat was refreshing.”
Leva looked puzzled. “How so?”
“Perhaps next time we will not underestimate our enemy again. It’s not something we have done much recently,” he said, thinking back of the gruesome war years with the Dominion fresh in his memory. “Just because we’re not facing Jem’Hadar anymore does not mean that we can afford to let our guard down.”
The Romulan nodded slowly. “I still believe–and I say that with respect to Lieutenant Trinik–that if I had been at tactical we would have won.”
The Vulcan officer did not seem offended by the statement but couldn’t keep himself from cocking an eyebrow in response.
Owens noticed and smirked. “Who knows? But you can’t stay at tactical forever, Commander,” he said and stood. “And I assure you, as a command officer you will have more responsibilities than leading a ship into battle. One is to be able to be graceful in defeat. The other,” he said and looked at the view screen which now showed the blurry but unmistakable form of a Constitution-class ship traveling alongside Eagle. “Is to be diplomatic even to those who have only just recently been an enemy. Polish up the silverware, Commander. We’re expecting guests,” he added and then looked at the half-Romulan one more time. “You have the bridge,” he said and tugged slightly at his uniform jacket before heading straight for his ready room.
DeMara Deen glanced at the deflated Romulan who now stood all by himself at the center of the bridge. Her purple colored eyes sparkled with her usual radiance. She turned back around to her station. “War games,” she said under her breath, slightly shaking her head. “Is there anything more senseless?”
The characters Donald Sandhurst, Liana Ramirez and Lieutenant Lar’ragos as well as the starship Gibraltar used courtesy of Samuel Redfeather and are part of his Star Trek: Gibraltar fan-fiction series. For more information on this series visit UnitedTrek.org.