Canopus Station
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The Bigger Stick

Posted on Thu Jul 25th, 2019 @ 12:06pm by The Narrator & Commander Wolfgang Ritter & Lieutenant Commander Mara Ricci & Lieutenant Commander Meilin Jiang

Mission: S1E3: Moments Of Consolidation
Location: The Mire, Open Space
Timeline: MD9 16.30PM

Oddly the voices did not return to entice or control the crew into rash action. Perhaps the graviton pulse that had rattled the aged cage at the heart of the Mire had shaken things up for all concerned, distracting the horrors that would have made demands of the crew's lives. Even the transit back through the exit portal seemed somewhat tame, the extradimensional nature of the space giving way to a more clearcut course that didn't bend so much as a single Newtonian rule.

All of this probably lead to the vessel ahead of them running into the mine.

The boxy freighter pulled along by a tractor unit of oddly fin-shaped impulse drives, way a hundred kilometre's ahead of them in open space when the mine's reaction drive lit up. It raced in on a fusion rocket plume and exploded in a greasy white nuclear fireball, swallowing the freighter for a moment before spitting it out the other side. For a moment the freighter seemed to come through unscathed, its hull glowing in places from the thermal shock of the explosion. Then secondary explosions rattled its frame, turning it into a debris cloud that littered the exit portal.

"Hostile ships detected," Meilin reported. "The Concordance may have called for reinforcements." She continued her scans from before, wanting to be certain before sharing what they suggested. "However, it appears that the tortured space is dissipating at a rapid rate. By this time next week, it may be difficult to distinguish the Mire from any other neutron star. That might expand our egress options, but not without risk."

Francie cursed as her console blinked and beeped at her. “Sizable debris incoming,” she said, fingers flying over the console. “Employing evasive maneuvers.” But even the best pilot in Starfleet couldn’t completely avoid something that close. There was a slight rumble as the piece grazed the very edge of the ship and Francie cursed again as she frantically made course corrections to miss the biggest pieces.

More of the metal rain was diverted by the ship's deflector dish, but the shields still illuminated with fading blue lightning strikes as they passed through the remains. But then they were clear, the blinding white portal into the heart of The Mire now behind them, the purple leathery skin containing tortured space...did not look at all healthy from the outside. What had once been a universal sour grape purple was now flecked here and there with patches of browns and rotting oranges, manifestations of the unravelling that was going on within its heart as the ancient Prior machine began to break down.

Other ships began to pass them by, burning their engines to glowing slag to make a break for the gravity well's edges and the temporary reprieve of superluminal travel.

“Detecting low levels of gamma radiation,” reported Mara. “Scrambling the engineers to compensate. Biomimetic gel packs could be affected. Also, I recommend advising medical to have... oh... that anti-radiation medication ready. I forget what it’s called.”

“Hyronalin,” supplies Francie from the helm, still on the lookout for debris, though it all seemed to be behind them.

“That’s the one;” agreed Mara. “Anybody near the hull may be affected.”

"Noted," said Ritter, jerking a finger at a bridge officer to forward that message, because he had other, more important things to say. Like, "Red alert." Though his tone was brisk, his hands gripped the armrests of the command chair tightly. This was a million light-years away from anything he'd envisioned before setting off on this rescue mission, and was grateful for the dimming of lights, the emergency crimson shrouding subtleties of his expression. "Shields to full. What hostile ships; I need numbers, nature, bearing. When that freighter went up, did we get any readings to help us evade any of those mines? If not, Helm, put us in the wake of other ships for the moment; don't get close, but fly where they've flown." Mines could drift, of course; stillness in space was a relative concept, but until he had sensor readings it would have to do. Unless evasive action became necessary, at least.

And none of this factored into what had just happened with the star, or if any other surprises were pending, but he had no doubt someone would start yelling if a fresh weirdness occurred.

Another freighter on the main viewer was swallowed by an artificial star, but this time the trick was revealed. In moments before the detotnation, the sensor's picked up the dirty exhaust plume of a fusion rocket motor as the mine caught the scent of the fleeing ship and jumped to intercept it. It was a smart move for the Concordance to play, as the only sure-fire way to achieve any lasting damage with a nuclear weapon in space was with a hard contact detonation. With no atmosphere to transmit thermal and shock damage, having the uncontrol fission event happen right on the hull was key.

Which was why the Resolutes enbergy shields protected them.

In the same instant, as the second freighter came apart, the viewscreen flickered out and the Norway class light cruiser was slammed by a fist. Radiation alarm's blinked to life suddenly, as even the thick ablative armour of the ship and its EM shields couldn't contend with all of the heavy particles sleeting through it. They didn't last long, and none stayed on representing a continued biological threat. But the Concordance was not playing by Queensbury Rules when it came to warfighting.

And through the static hash, as the atomic blast bled away into the vacuum of space, a thermal signature began to descend from above them, curving across the rotting surface of The Mire. The Concordance battleship Lament Of Sorrows was rolling slowly clockwise as it powered across the surface of the Mire. And in doing so brought all three of its faceted sides to bear on the Federation ship. The paired rail gun turrets, their magnetic accelerator barrels raised in salute, began to sparkle with an electrical discharge. Another freighter began to die alongside the Resolute, but this time it simply shattered under the kinetic impact of titanium ingots cruising just below the speed light that the battleship was spitting out.

And with the third salvo, the atomic warheads were shot down amidst several rapid bursts of phaser fire. The fingers of Theylan moving upon his console having finally managed, with certain lack of sufficient speed he thought, to figure out the firing patterns. The very last thing he had expected were “dirty warheads”, apparently Starfleet (even though its predecessor had used the very same things) apparently did not account for nuclear armaments at least something of a contemporary threat to their vessels. Thus, targeting them had proven a difficulty.

Until now of course. He took a moment to appraise his foe, a vertible brute of a ship three times the length of the Resolute and far heavier in mass than any Federation counterpart. But it reminded him of a Naussican, big, brutish and utterly incompetent against someone whom knew what they were doing. Once, it might have been considered something impressive, now it was more akin to the freighters they protected. A lumbering bully.

He consigned the firing setting macro to main memory, switching to ship-to-ship.

With a satisfying glow of orange darting along the phaser array of the Resolute, spewing forth its wrath as it reached the emitters as a lance of hot orange-red tore through the void and struck at the Lament of Sorrows.

The phaser blasts stitched a path of destruction along the flank of the unshielded battle wagon. Armour shattered under the heating, and sudden gouts of atmosphere and other gases vented out into space. One of the rail gun turrets was torn in half, cracked open like a lobster shell to reveal internal mechanisms. But the steadily increasing rotation that was the hallmark of the ships flight plan saved it from more, spreading the damage out across all three facets of its hull so not one single salvo dug too deeply.

In return, a trio of torpedoes were ejected from the bow of the battleship, each one as big as a runabout. But instead of arrowing in as a kill shot right at the Resolute, the torpedoes fanned out ahead of the battleship and detonated between the two combatants. The space between them was suddenly filled with a sparkling opaque cloud of white dust, Small holes appeared in the cloud, like fingers poking through foam, as more rail gun rounds were sent their way.

The phaser blasts began having minimal effect. Meilin turned the sensors on the expanding clouds that were enveloping the Resolute.

"The detonations have deployed a foam phase hydrogen substrate," she read off from the sensor readout. "Its highly reflective nano-particles are diffusing the nadion charge of the phasers. I suggest a volley of quantum torpedoes, full yield."

Depending on the viscoelasticity and density of the anti-beam foam, even that might prove ineffective.

“Respectfully, that would be wasteful. Photons would be better, simpler.” Without a pause, Theylan’s fingers set to work. Setting the firing solution to the classic “Sierra” firing pattern for one simple, obvious reason… and that would become slowly apparent as the torpedoes were loaded deep within the bowels of the Resolute, each one loaded in single file within the port-side torpedo launcher off of the main deflector of the ship.

When the fire button illuminated in an angry, vengeful red as though the Resolute like a wounded beast was screaming in bloody crimson for the slight of this trash-heap against her, Theylan simply pressed down without order.

The targets were set, and the angry bursts of blood red were fired together all at once, to the sensors of the target they would seem but one as their pierced through the substrate. Were the void of space able to transmit sound they would be like shrieking valkyries set upon bloody retribution.

And no sooner had the torpedoes found their mark in the Lament of Sorrows did the eight torpedoes scatter. The singular point of blood-red having blossomed forth like a flower… or perhaps a great maw as they curled about on their attack vector.

Striking deftly into the hull of the craft and biting deeply, tearing and rending as great pyres to the damned souls within bloomed into vicious life, incinerating flesh and fusing it to steel before vapourising and to those less lucky they were thrown into the frozen embrace of space. Some, perhaps blissfully claimed by the pyres of plasma as matter and antimatter collided in a vicious, almost carnal symphony against the hull of the Sorrows.

The Concordance battleship's drive plume faltered, stuttered and then died utterly as the massive vessel suddenly began to bend. One of its sides was crimping, hull plates grinding against one another as inertia and momentum worked their magic. Somewhere near its rear, the hull plates rippled as an internal explosion tore through its innards. in the span of seconds the gargantuan vessel had gone from terrible weapon to embarrassing wreck coasting along on its last thrust vector.

A vector directly into the bruised fruit skin of The Mire.

It passed through like a ship entering a dense dust cloud and vanished just as quickly. A wash of soft X-rays painted the hull of the Resolute at the passing of the Concordance vessel, and the sensors would detect that a shell of irradiated particles had blossomed from The Mire the moment its boundary had been crossed. The science teams would begin to excitedly discuss just how much power it had taken to generate a field like that. Words like 'colossal' and 'unimaginable'.

But they were lost on the crew of the Resolute, who had taken on the Concordance and come out ahead of the game all things told.

"It would seem you were correct, Mister th'Zohan," Meilin said graciously. "Quantum torpedoes would have been a waste." She pressed the back of her hand against her chest and then pushed it toward in main viewscreen in the ardhapataka mudra in dismissal of the Concordance, the Sleepers Bazaar, and the entire collapsing Mire itself.

The viewscreen shifted its perspective, and from the opening to The Mire, the Myriad thorn ship appeared, its barbed bow proceeding it as its drive spines glowed. And behind it, a colossal ship that looked faintly insectile. Gripping claws, massive carapace like habitation domes, and a drive system that would have done well at slowing down the rotation of a moon. Life sign readings coming from it were staggering, and its size alone gave it only one possible title: The Sleepers Bazaar was on the move.

"Click Honoured Sentients. The grace and hospitality of the Harbour Master is not without its limits, but his grace will pass along the location of his next bazaar to your spatial coordinates when it is known." The lifeless, oddly accented voice came from the bridges comm system. "Click Until that time, he wishes you good fortune. And welcomes you fully to the interstellar community of Messier 4. May your time with us be profitable, and well spent."

And then the line went silent.

"I vote we go," Calhoon said after a moment. "I'm just a lowly shuttle jockey from the motor pool, but I think I see the exit cue light flashing in the wings."

"Seconded!" replied Mara quickly. She wanted to put as much space between her and this god-forsaken place as possible.

Meilin was silent at first, then turned her head to Ritter. "What are your orders, Commander?"

"Er, Sir?" said a voice from the back of the bridge. Hailing from the Comm's section, the operations technician had kept pretty much quiet as a church mouse. After all the form of recent communication had been phaser fire, not spoken a word or comm laser. But now they stood, a slight tremor to their voice. "I...mean Commander. We just received a data burst from Canopus Station. Highly compressed data slug, Alpha level priority header message reads 'Case Zulu'."

Case Zulu: Imminent or ongoing invasion by hostile forces. Every Starfleet officer knew that code phrase, had it drilled into them until even the barest mention of it brought a cold sweat to the skin. It had only ever been declared three times in the history of the United Federation of Planets. The arrival of V'ygr in Earth orbit, the Battle of Earth at the height of the Dominion War...

And the Battle Of Sector 001 against the Borg.

"The computers decrypting the rest of the data packet..." the comm's tech said a little weakly, the colour draining from their face. "What are your orders?"

Ritter had been enjoying the view. After the carnival of horrors that had been this whole away mission, an introduction to the region he would not forget in a hurry, there was no small satisfaction from being able to stop and bloody the noses of those who challenged them. For a heartbeat, he allowed himself to wonder if Ingram was, in fact, being dramatic by issuing such a message; he could not consider what possible disaster could befall Canopus that could be on such a stage.

But it gained him nothing to voice this doubt; gave him nothing to react in any way other than with the model of Starfleet professionalism. "Keep decrypting that package. But in the meantime - helm, set a course for Canopus Station. Maximum warp." He got to his feet, straightened his uniform, and swept his imperious gaze about the bridge. He wasn't under any illusions he could fully command their attention with just a gesture yet, but rank still had some perks, and Wolfgang Ritter had ever been a fan of the perk 'posture at will.'

"We've done good work today. Rescued our people. Shown our enemies that maybe they should think twice. Stay sharp, and whatever's waiting for us will again be nothing we can't handle." He nodded sharply helm. "Take us home."

Not that Canopus was home; not to him. It was still new enough, shiny and with that tang enough of fresh metal he suspected it wasn't quite home to anyone else, either. But he had to accept that, out here, it was the closest thing they had.

Francie’ fingers flew over her console. “Course laid in, sir,” she said, and without waiting for the final order- as he’d already said to execute it- she punched one last button. “We’re off,” she added, almost dispassionately.

Ritter nodded, leaning back in the command chair. "ETA?"

The viewscreen flickered as stars glowed blue for a moment and then began to stretch, the ship's inertial compensators making the jump to warp speed as smooth as silk. And on it, a navigational window opened in the far corner. Unlike the hunting jog that the Resolute had taken coming out after their stolen crew, this time it was a dead run for home.

31 hours and 25 minutes.

A day and a half would decide the fate of the Messier 4 Expedition.


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