Stardate 72285.4; April 14, 2395
Written by Chris Adamek
Morning was not something Erin Keller enjoyed. And so, to help ease her into the daily routine that was her life, she found it helpful to start her day in the mess hall in front of a large mug of hot chocolate. It didn’t matter if it was the dead of winter or the middle of July—on a starship, the seasons never changed, so neither did her morning beverage.
But this morning was different. As Keller stumbled into the mess hall and acquired her mug of morning from the replicator, her weary eyes instantly focused on the body sitting in her spot.
Considering there were no new crewmembers, Keller did not know what to think. She made absolutely certain they knew where she sat every morning, and as a courtesy to her, the crew made absolutely certain they sat somewhere else—with the exception of Bator, who she often dined with during the morning.
As her eyes focused, Erin quickly realized she was not staring at the back of the Phobian’s head. But it was not difficult to see who she was looking at. His distinct blue skin was a dead giveaway, which Erin’s grogginess had occluded only moments earlier.
“Neelar,” she called out cheerfully, trying to perk herself up as she approached her table. “You’re in my spot!”
The Bolian looked up at her unsympathetically. “I know,” he said. “I figured I’d join you this morning. If that’s okay with you…”
Keller smiled. “Of course it is. We haven’t talked in well… weeks. When did you get back?”
The Bolian stared down at his half-eaten plate of a Bolian delicacy Erin didn’t quite recognize. He pondered his thoughts for several moments before looking back at her. “About a week ago,” he said. “It would have been sooner, had the officers investigating my mother’s death left the Dark Star behind.”
Erin closed her eyes. She had nearly forgotten the tragedy, and given recent events, was rather caught up in her own life to even give Drayge’s a second thought. But since his arrival, Erin had made it a point to be a friend to Neelar. That wouldn’t change now. “How are you doing?” she asked sympathetically.
He nodded. “As well as can be expected,” he admitted. “It was rather sudden, and definitely unexpected…”
“I know how that goes,” Erin said somberly, recalling the moment she heard of her own parents’ demise in the Phoenix’s destruction. “Has Starfleet determined what happened to her?”
“She was murdered,” Drayge said slowly. “But they don’t know much else. Already, the investigation has reached a dead end.”
“I wish there was something I could do,” Erin said quietly. “If you need anything, you obviously know where to find me,” she said warmly, patting him on the shoulder. It was the least she could do, knowing from first hand experience what it was like to go through such a traumatic event so early in life. And while she had her brother, Erin sincerely wished she had had someone else to lend her a shoulder when she felt she couldn’t turn to Brian. She didn’t, but was going to make sure that Neelar did…
“Thank you,” he murmured quietly.
They sat in silence for several moments and enjoyed their respective breakfasts until Lieutenant Bator’s stark figure loomed overhead. “Am I interrupting something?” he asked.
“Not a thing,” said Erin lightly, ready to discuss something of a bit less consequence. All this talk about death and destruction had been bogging down her already low morning spirits. Had it continued much longer, Erin felt as if she would capitulate. But Bator’s presence offered a comforting way out.
“So what’s new with you?” she inquired.
The Phobian grinned lazily. “Not a thing. Quite literally. While you and the Captain were off being at one with nature, we were running sensor sweeps of the Alteran Expanse. They, of course, didn’t reveal anything new, but they did make the time go by faster.”
“Glad to hear it,” said Keller. “Just think, in a few weeks, we could be up to our ears in chaos. Enjoy this tranquility while it lasts.”
Bator’s eyes slowly lit up. “Ah, yes, the Elorg and the fleet of doom. How could we forget that?”
“With ease, apparently,” said Drayge before taking a small bite of his breakfast. “Has anyone made any progress on stopping them?”
Keller frowned. “I talked to Lucas about it last night. He’s made some headway, but nothing that can be ready within a few weeks,” she said slowly. “Even so he said, ‘Starfleet seemed optimistic about one of their own plans.’”
“In other words, we’re doomed,” Drayge groaned.
Keller frowned at his newfound pessimism, but before she could speak up, her eyes were suddenly drawn to the red alert klaxon flashing on the wall. Was it a test or a drill? There weren’t any scheduled…
Her eyes quickly darted to the windows. The two galaxy-class starships in view were slowly backing off and taking up a defensive position nearby. It was no drill.
“Christopher to all senior officers: report to the bridge at once!” His voice wasn’t brimming with dire urgency, but clearly, the Captain meant business.
“It’s too early for an emergency,” Keller moaned. She took a few long sips of her hot chocolate before abandoning it on the table and heading toward the bridge with her companions.
Captain Christopher couldn’t sit still in a crisis. While many of his fellow Captains could easily remain seated in the command chair barking out orders as calm as day, Christopher found that was the single action that gnawed at him most. He felt highly inadequate as an officer, simply sitting still while everyone else was working away, with the exception of Commander Harrison, who rather enjoyed barking out orders.
But then that was his job: telling others what to do. And he liked to believe that he did it well, even though sometimes he found that he couldn’t help but to intervene here and there, Christopher tried to let the others do their work. As a result, Christopher often found himself pacing in front of the command chair, or quietly lurching over Ensign Drayge’s shoulder.
Today was no different.
Christopher stood in stark silence behind the Ensign at the helm and gazed at the controls. A small part of him (albeit, a very small part) longed to be sitting there, if only for a moment. But then, Christopher realized his specialty was piloting shuttles, not immense starships. Despite the Starlight’s alleged prowess and divine maneuverability, Christopher still preferred his shuttles.
As he heard the turbolift doors quietly parting at the back of the bridge, Christopher emerged from his nostalgia and turned to see the new arrivals, Bator, Drayge and Keller, marching toward their stations.
“What’s going on?” Keller asked as she took command of her station.
As he started to answer, Christopher noticed Commander Harrison suddenly standing beside him. Given the Commander’s relative ease in the big chair, Christopher often wondered why Harrison mimicked his actions. He finally decided the reason was just that: imitation—he didn’t have anything better to do.
And so, with Harrison going through all the trouble to make the journey from his chair to Christopher’s side, the Captain cast his gaze upon the first officer, and silently beckoned him to update the new arrivals on the situation.
Harrison managed to hide his bewilderment with the utmost sincerity, simply smiling politely at the Captain before delving into the situation. “Sensors have detected a transwarp energy signature moving in our general direction,” he said rather flatly.
Christopher found the report adequate, but not entirely complete. Instead of forcing the others to play Twenty-Questions with their Executive Officer, Christopher decided to go from there. “We don’t know who we’re dealing with, or why they’re here. For all we know, they’ve decided we all need new hairdos and a cup of Earl Gray.”
Keller giggled sheepishly upon hearing that, and in light of recent events, Christopher was rather humbled by the fact they could finally play off from one another, as he did with the rest of the crew. “I’ve got the ship on sensors,” she said. “It’s heading one-one-eight, mark two.”
“Directly behind us,” Harrison said quietly.
“Their conduit is breaking up,” Bator added. “They are entering normal space.”
Christopher turned his attention back toward the front of the bridge and slowly backed toward his chair, though unable to sit. “Bring us about, Ensign,” he called out to Drayge.
As the starfield swerved about, Christopher immediately saw the dying transwarp conduit hanging awkwardly in space, brimming with rapidly churning tendrils of fluorescent yellow energy.
“Distance?” Harrison demanded.
“Nine hundred thousand kilometers,” said Drayge.
Christopher briefly locked eyes with Harrison. “Back us off to three million,” he ordered as the green swirls of energy began to expand. Seeing that things might get bumpy, Christopher’s nerves finally allowed for him to be seated.
Without hesitation, he plopped down in the command chair and took hold of the arms, watching intently as the dying conduit expelled a mid-sized alien craft.
The craft was shaped much like a Federation starship. It had a saucer, connected to a stardrive section and two warp nacelles, however, the saucer was very round, and overall, very flat, as was the stardrive. Furthermore, it appeared to have no more than five or six decks. The warp nacelles were tucked very close to the ship, as their Bussard Collectors fit snugly under the saucer.
But in stark contrast to any Federation starship, this vessel was not a calm shade of gray. Instead, its hull was a very reflective crystalline color that shimmered in the twinkling starlight.
Now expelled from the conduit, the ship soared in large cartwheel like maneuvers through the void of space, clearly out of control.
“Life signs?” Harrison inquired.
“A few, but they’re growing unstable,” Keller shot back.
Growing unstable. In Christopher’s book, that meant, ‘not yet decrepit.’ There was still time to act. “Hail them, Bator.”
The view screen went blank for several moments before the bridge of the alien starship blinked onto the screen. The overall design of the command area kept with its exterior structure: streamlined, and effective, although the scorched panels, flickering lights and lingering fog indicated some sort of problem.
And then an alien appeared. One Christopher immediately recognized, but was very surprised to see…
“Shaka, when the walls fell,” called out the Tamarian before the control station in front of him exploded, effectively ending the transmission.
Christopher took in a deep breath and turned to Harrison, who was equally stunned. According to all Federation records, that was not a Tamarian ship… And even if it was, it wouldn’t for long.
Once more, the view of the wildly spinning ship was on the view screen, only now trailing plumes of warp plasma and flame. The flames hastily expanded outward, until they enveloped the entire vessel in a swirling maelstrom of yellows and reds.