“That was the sorriest excuse for a seminar I have ever seen,” said Sarah Hartman as she brooded over a steaming mug of hot coffee.
The Doctor spoke of the burn treatment seminar on Nivalis II, a biannual event that seemed to grow increasingly mundane at each gathering. In Hartman’s opinion, the Federation’s ability to treat burns was at its apex. The technique of using dermal regenerators in concert with some of the newer analgesic creams could heal skin almost flawlessly. To Hartman, there was no point in meeting for one day to discuss burn treatment, let alone four. Then again, she couldn’t just tell Starfleet Medical to go to hell, so there was little point in complaining.
So she went—dragging Rachael Meyer along to endure it with her—and sat through countless hours of mindless drivel on topics ranging from the relatively interesting new skin grafting techniques, to the absolutely pointless discussion on the history of burn treatment. And now, four days later, she couldn’t be happier to leave Nivalis II behind.
“It wasn’t the most exciting seminar,” agreed Rachael Meyer. She sat across from Hartman in the mess hall of the U.S.S. Merrimac, the vessel transporting them, and several other medical officers stationed in the Kilka Sector, back to their respective ships.
“I think in two years,” said Hartman under her breath, “we should conveniently have a medical emergency on the Starlight that prevents us from leaving the ship. Maybe an outbreak of the Agrisarian Plague. We’d be quarantined for weeks.”
Meyer produced a faint smile. “That’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?”
Recalling the past four days, Hartman was able to respond with a definite, “No!”
Meyer was about to speak once more, but her voice quickly trailed off before even the first words could fall from her thin lips. Hartman noticed Meyer’s eyes tracking something across the mess hall, and the Doctor slowly turned around to see what it was. Almost immediately, her gaze fell upon Captain Ryan Landsberg.
He was an attractive, well-built man with short blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and a nose that Hartman defined as perfectly shaped. His smile was infectious, and only helped to exacerbate his already boyish charm. There was little wonder why Meyer was staring at him—and Hartman couldn’t help but notice that briefly, Landsberg was staring back.
“I think he likes you,” said Hartman as she turned back to Meyer.
She blushed. “Really?”
Hartman shrugged. “I don’t see why not. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re an attractive woman. Beyond that, you have more than half a brain. Landsberg would be quite an ass if he didn’t talk to you.”
The optimism in Meyer’s eyes was starting to sparkle. “Do you really think so?” she asked softly.
“Yes,” said Hartman sternly. “Now go talk to him!”
Meyer hesitated for only a moment before mustering the courage to rise from her seat and approach the Merrimac’s Captain. She looked back at Hartman only once while en route, her eyes conveying tense, but optimistic gaze. Hartman provided her friend with a warm smile, and then turned her attention back to the mug of black coffee before her.
After countless hours dealing with Kendall Johnson’s myriad problems with sharing ones emotions, Rachael Meyer thought she could consider herself an expert in the field. Oddly enough, as she approached Captain Landsberg, Rachael found her mind wandering, and a raw lump resting in her throat. She was nervous.
She stopped a few meters behind Landsberg to pull in a lungful of fresh air, hoping it would calm her fleeting emotions. To her chagrin, the action did little more than provide her with the necessary oxygen to continue living. Still, Rachael refused to relent, and resolved to approach Landsberg, nerves and all.
“Excuse me,” she said, casually closing the gap between herself and the Captain.
Landsberg immediately came about to see who had addressed him, the smile on his boyish face beaming. “Yes, Lieutenant?”
Though she managed to keep her exterior composed, on the inside, Meyer was practically bouncing off the walls. She smiled, and forced herself to meet his deep blue eyes. “Captain Landsberg,” she said softly, “I… just wanted to introduce myself.”
Landsberg’s smile widened. “Rachael Meyer,” he said evenly. “Counselor and nurse on the Starlight.”
Meyer certainly hoped the grin on her face was not as girly and sheepish as it felt. The fact that Landsberg had spoken to Rachael was enough to send her into shock; the fact that he knew her name was almost beyond comprehension to her. “How do you know?” she asked.
Landsberg’s eyes briefly darted to the floor. He grinned slightly, running his fingers through his blonde hair. “I keep tabs on all the good-looking women,” he admitted after a moment.
“Should I be flattered?”
Landsberg’s gaze crossed with Meyer’s once more. “You should,” he confirmed. “The list isn’t a very long one, you know.”
Suddenly, Meyer could feel the weights lifting from her shoulders. As she approached Landsberg, she ran a series of conversations through her mind—this one happened to be the best-case scenario. Pleased with the conversation thus far, Meyer opened her mouth to continue it, but to her chagrin, no words came out.
Instead, the deck plates beneath her feet started to vibrate, and a soft rumbling gently rocked the ship. In tandem with Landsberg, Meyer’s eyes darted to the large windows at the back of the mess hall just in time to see a small starship streak past them at an incredibly close range.
Landsberg’s jaw dropped. “What the hell?”
“That had to be within five meters of the ship!” Rachael exclaimed, watching the fighter craft come around for another pass. At first, she had not been able to recognize the vessel due to its incredible speed but now that there was some distance between them, it was clear to Meyer that it was an Elorg Fighter that had suddenly besieged them.
The fact was apparent to Landsberg as well, who had already started for the bridge. Rachael very much wanted to follow, but this was not the Starlight, and her place was certainly not the bridge. And so she stood, and watched as the Elorg Fighter made another bold pass on the Merrimac.
“Red alert,” were the first words that fell from Ryan Landsberg’s lips as he emerged from the turbolift onto the Merrimac’s sleek, newly upgraded bridge.
In recent months, the Merrimac had seen more than it’s fair share of action. Numerous skirmishes with the Elorg, a chance encounter with a gravimetric distortion, and countless other incidents had started to take their toll on the Nebula-class starship; consequently, Starfleet decided to upgrade the ship from stem to stern, and as a result, the Merrimac’s bridge was very similar to that of a Sovereign-class vessel—and Landsberg loved it.
As the harsh standard bridge illumination faded to red, Landsberg pulled in a nervous lungful of air and carefully seated himself on the edge of the command chair. “Status report?” he inquired.
“Elorg Fighter is currently holding position eighty meters aft,” said Lieutenant Matalini at the helm.
“They are running a series of sensor sweeps on the Merrimac and surrounding vicinity,” added Korin from tactical.
Landsberg slowly arched his back and started tapping his fingers on the arms of the command chair. “What the hell are they doing?” he inquired of nobody in particular.
“Moving,” Matalini immediately replied. “They’re on a direct intercept course.”
Landsberg’s head snapped back to Korin. “Lieutenant,” he said, “disable that ship at once! I don’t know what they’re doing, and I don’t really want to find out!”
Korin nodded. “Aye sir,” she said.
Moments later, Landsberg watched as a yellow-orange streak of light lashed out from the Merrimac’s phaser array—and missed entirely. Crestfallen, Landsberg sighed as he watched the fighter streak past his ship, again coming within a few meters. “Pursuit course,” he barked to Matalini. “Korin, I want that ship out of commission!”
“Sir,” said Matalini quietly, her hands hovering over the controls, “it should be noted that the fighter has just crossed the Elorg border. If we follow…”
Landsberg gazed down at his personal workstation to see the data for himself. From what he could tell, the fighter would charge at the Merrimac, perform a few scans, and then quickly retreat to the Elorg side of the border. “We’ve got a long trip ahead of us. I don’t want this damn fighter chasing us the entire way. We’ll just disable it and leave; any violation of the border will be nominal.”
Seeing that there was no objection from the crew, Landsberg nodded, and made himself a bit more comfortable in his chair. “Engage engines and fire at will!”
His eyes locked on the viewscreen, Landsberg held on tight as the ship thrust into motion. Within moments, the annoying little fighter was back in sight, sitting helplessly as it prepared for its next foray into Federation space—it never got the chance. This time, Korin’s aim was dead on, and the tiny fighter burst into flames as the blazing orange phaser beam lashed into its hull.
As the flames died down, the fighter was left adrift—not destroyed, but certainly in no position to pester the Merrimac. Its hull was pocked and scorched, and its warp nacelles were venting clouds of purple drive plasma.
“Mission accomplished,” said Landsberg, pleased with their apparent outcome. “Resume our previous course and heading, maximum wa—”
A deafening, thunderous roar suddenly cut off Landsberg mid-sentence as an incredible jolt of energy literally ripped the Captain from his chair and threw him to the floor. Waves of rampant pain charged through Landsberg’s body as he smashed into the deck, rolling over the shards of fiery debris that had fallen to the floor in the few seconds after the initial jolt.
Ignoring the pain tingling in his back, Landsberg forced himself to sit upright, an action that elicited far much more pain than it should have. He knew something was definitely wrong with his back—but that was the least of his concerns.
The bridge was darkened by the sudden power failure; the remaining alert lights provided minimal, intermittent light that seemed to hang eerily in the thick haze that had gathered in the aftermath of this disaster. During those brief moments of illumination, Landsberg could make out the faint outlines of fallen bulkheads—and comrades.
But not everyone was dead. The faint bleeps and blips of operational computer terminals still frequented the bridge. “Report,” Landsberg called out to whomever was left.
To his relief, it was Korin at tactical that responded. “Heavy damage to all decks,” she reported, her voice raspy. “We have wide scale hull breeches on decks twenty-four through thirty. Forcefields are not in place.”
Landsberg’s heart sunk. “How many people were on those decks?”
There was a brief moment of eerie silence. “One hundred forty-seven,” said Korin. “All dead.”
Losing one person was enough to ruin the entire day for Ryan Landsberg; losing 147 was practically inconceivable. He sat in shock for several moments—almost forgetting the wrenching pain in his back—and then felt the ship rumbling yet again. “Do you know what happened?”
“It looks like we were rammed by an Elorg Fighter,” said Korin.
“Damn it!” cursed Landsberg. “I thought we disabled the ship!”
“We did,” said Korin. “Apparently a second ship had been performing shadow maneuvers behind us. When we crossed the border, they made their move.”
Landsberg turned his gaze to the helm—or what was left of it. “It looks like we’re stuck on the wrong side of the border…”
“And with the wrong company,” added Korin as the ship continued to rumble. “An Elorg Destroyer is apparently on a direct intercept course…”
“It was a trap!” said Landsberg, his voice cracking. But the realization came far too late…