J’mall was reading when she noticed out the corner of her eye that Brady was carrying a drink coming to talk to her. It’s amazing. She thought as he walked towards her. All I have to do is pick up a book and he comes running. As he stepped up to her and took a breath she quickly turned her head and said. “I’m still on the same book.” She smiled then quickly pretended to start reading again.
Brady stood there, somewhat confused.
“How did you know I was going to ask you that?” J’mall stared at him a moment. Because you always ask me that she thought to herself. Instead she put on a cheeky smile and said,
“Sorry, I actually read your mind.” Brady smiled.
“Oh yeah. That’s okay. I don’t mind.”
“Yes, I know.” She said coyly. Brady looked even more confused. J’mall put her book down and looked at him sympathetically. “Perhaps you should just ask me.” Brady looked down at his drink and took a gulp of it before nodding. “Good idea. Do you want to go wind surfing?” J’mall got up out of her chair and took a hold of his arm and smiled.
“I knew you were going to say that.”
Captains Log, Stardate 51412.6: The Monet has been sent to the Wessersay Sector near the Dominion boarder to investigate the possible tampering of a Military communications buoy by the Dominion. Several messages have failed to reach….
Shearer’s log was interrupted by his commbadge. “Captain to the bridge!”
Came Kingston’s voice. Shearer looked up at the ceiling and sighed. He tapped his commbadge. “On my way.”
Shearer walked onto the bridge. Kingston turned towards him. “An urgent message from admiral Foster.” Shearer straightened his uniform.
“On screen.” Admiral Foster’s face appeared on the view-screen.
“Greetings captain. First things first, there may be little time. I’m ordering you to change your heading to one oh eight mark twelve, maximum warp.” Shearer saw Maverick waiting for the order almost before Foster had finished saying it.
“You heard the Admiral, one oh eight mark twelve. Engage.” Shearer turned his attention back to the screen. “What’s all this about Admiral?”
“Just over thirty minutes ago Starfleet lost contact with the U.S.S. Kindersley.” Shearer half smiled.
“Forgive me admiral. But thirty minutes isn’t that long. Isn’t it, possible, that this is just a communication disruption?”
“Ordinarily yes, however, the Kindersley was doing sensor sweeps inside the Illorus pulsar nebula. Within a few minutes of the final communication, the nebula’s radiation emissions increased by over three hundred percent. We’ve already calculated that the increase is consistent with a warp core breach.” Concern for his fellow captain and crew filled Shearer’s face.
“The ship’s been destroyed?” Foster grimaced.
“Perhaps. But it’s also possible that the Kindersley’s crew were able to eject their warp core before it breached.”
“Then they’d be without power and…”
“…And very close to the Dominion border. The U.S.S. Osbourne is closer and has also been sent, but the Osbourne is an oberth class vessel and has a maximum speed of warp eight. It probably won’t get there until an hour after you do. You’re to search the nebula and to recover *ANY* survivors. The Kindersley is a Nova class starhip. So it’s not that big and won’t be easy to find. Also… watch your back, the Dominion may be there too. Foster out.”
The Monet dropped out of warp outside the nebula. Shearer looked at the view-screen. The nebula was a creamy sort of light brown. The pulsar somewhere at its centre illuminated most of it and light from the nebula cast an eerie glow over the Monet. From his chair on the bridge Captain Shearer shook his head. “J’mall, what can you tell me?”
“The nebula’s radiation levels are still much higher than what they’re supposed to be. The radiation usually just makes seeing through the soup difficult. Right now I’d say it was just about impossible.”
“How much visibility can you give us?”
“It depends. The radiation fluctuates. Sometimes I get clear snapshots as far as four kilometers in. But normally…” Shearer nodded his head.
“Maverick, take us in, slowly. I don’t want to plow into the Kindersley.” He turned to his side console and muttered under his breath. “…or anyone else.”
The Monet drifted into the nebula. Kingston turned to Shearer. “If we drop a signal beacon at the edge we’ll be able to keep track of how far in we are.” Shearer cocked his head.
“Any ship in the area could see it. It’d be an attractive target.”
“Better it than us.” Kingston said wryly. Shearer smiled and nodded his head.
“Okay, do it.” Kingston tapped some controls on her side console and deployed the beacon.
The Monet moved slowly through the nebula. J’mall’s console beeped. She looked carefully over her readouts. “I think I’m detecting something off the starboard bow.”
“Sometimes I can see it, mostly I can’t. It might be the edge of something big.” Shearer got up out of his chair and walked to J’mall’s station.
“Is it the Kindersley?” J’mall shook her head.
“I don’t think so. It doesn’t have ANY energy readings. It’s closer than I thought. No. Wait a minute. It’s moving towards us.”
“Maverick, adjust course thirty degrees port. What ever it is, I don’t want to hit it.”
“It’s too big. We’re still going to hit it.”
“All stop.” J’mall shook her head again.
“It’s still heading towards us. Collision in six seconds.”
“Helm, new heading, zero mark one eight zero.”
“Aye, sir.” Maverick replied.
“Three seconds!” J’mall read out from her panel. The Monet’s bow pitched quickly upwards as its thrusters fired.
“Engage.” J’mall was clenching and unclenching her fists watching her readings.
“We’re not going to clear the top of it.” Suddenly the floor bucked beneath them. J’mall managed to grip her station, but Shearer fell. The ship shook beneath them for a moment. Then it stopped and people started picking themselves off the floor. Kingston had managed to stay in her seat and was already pulling up data on her side console. Shearer got to his feat holding his head.
“All stop. Report.” Kingston read down the list.
“Ruptured secondary power relay on deck fifteen. Rear shields down to seventeen percent. Some minor stress fractures. No major hull damage.” Shearer turned back to J’mall.
“What was that?” J’mall straightened herself up and read through the data.
“It was an asteroid.” She said, somewhat confused. Kingston turned around incredulous.
“An asteroid inside a pulsar nebular? That’s impossible. The nebula gases cause too much drag to maintain a stable orbit so close to the pulsar.” Shearer shook his head.
“Unlikely, but not impossible. Bring up a chart of this sector.” J’mall pressed some controls and a star-chart appeared on the main viewer. The star-chart showed several stars and in one corner, the Illorus nebula. “Magnify grid fourteen.” Part of the map close to the nebula zoomed in to fill the screen. It showed a small belt of asteroids. “That’s where it came from. Something must have knocked it into the nebula. In a few weeks it will fall into the pulsar.” J’mall whistled as she looked over her readings.
“We dug a trench in that asteroid fifty meters long. It’s a good thing we were going slowly enough to avoid it.” Shearer was nodding when a disturbing thought struck him.
“The Kindersley wouldn’t have known the asteroid was in here.” He looked around at his crew silently. “I need to see that asteroid. Where is it now?” Kingston answered.
“Based on it’s heading just after we… ‘grazed’ it, it’s below and behind us. Bearing two-four-three, mark, three-three-two.” Shearer walked back to his chair and sat down.
“Bring us about to that heading.” The light brown nebula gasses swirled in front of the screen but it was impossible to know from looking at it, if they were moving. Maverick turned his head to signal they had reached their new heading.
Shearer continued to watch the swirling gases. “How far is it?”
“Bring us to within two kilometers and keep us there.” Maverick gave his console a worried look but didn’t share it with the rest of the bridge crew. The Monet edged slowly forward. Shearer looked on his side display to see the density of the nebula. “Ralph, load four torpedoes each with a fifty kilogram charge.” Brady looked puzzled.
“Did you say just fifty kilograms?” Kingston smiled. She’d figured out what he was going to do.
“Yes that’s what he said.” Shearer just smiled.
The first torpedo shot out from the Monet’s hull, its glow dimming as it passed further and further into the swirling gasses of the nebula. Just as it was becoming invisible, it ignited in a brilliant flash of light that swept away the fog that surrounded it. The next torpedo was already on its way. It passed uninhibited through the large empty space left by its predecessor before it itself plunged into the nebula’s depths. The third torpedo was also on its way. The second torpedo exploded clearing its way.
The third kept going until it was almost invisible and then made way for the fourth. The fourth and final torpedo travelled down the long but temporary tunnel before it exploded revealing the surface of the asteroid.
The image on the view-screen didn’t last more than a minute. The nebula gasses were already expanding to fill the new void created by the Monet’s string of torpedoes. But it only took a moment to reduce the bridge crew to silence. There on the screen, was the light brown asteroid. One entire side blackened by an enormous blast, a blast everyone knew, could only have been caused by the same warp-core breach that had brought them here. The core had still been in the Kindersley, because the Kindersley had been hit by the asteroid.
Kingston averted her eyes. A morbid sense of curiosity kept Maverick looking at it until the clouds of the nebula once again swallowed up the asteroid. Brady looked down at his control console. “Sir! A signal from the other side of the asteroid. It’s very weak but we managed to pick it up while the…” Brady struggled for the right word. “…’tunnel’ was open.”
“What sort of signal?”
“It’s a federation shuttle-craft.”
“From the Kindersley?” Kingston asked.
“I’m checking its registry now. Yes it is.” Shearer thought about this.
“They must have launched a shuttle just before the Kindersley hit the asteroid.” Brady shook his head.
“I don’t understand. Why didn’t they just fly out and send a message to Starfleet?”
“Because their impulse engines were destroyed by the blast of the
Kindersley’s warp core.” Kingston nodded.
“In that situation it could take weeks to get out of the nebula using thrusters. In that time any starship coming to rescue the Kindersley could pass the shuttle a dozen times without either noticing each other. Landing on the asteroid makes sure that when it’s found they’re found too.” Shearer turned to J’mall.
“How close do we need to be to transport?”
“In this?” J’mall did some calculations. “Twenty-five meters.” Kingston shook her head.
“There’s no way we can safely get that close. The asteroid is moving too fast.” J’mall spoke up.
“Ralph and I could take a shuttle down.” Shearer and Kingston shared a look. J’mall continued. “We can land nearby, beam over to the other shuttle, beam back, and return to the ship.” Shearer let out a long breath. He looked at J’mall, then at Brady, then back at J’mall. They appeared as they should. Ready for the mission. He nodded his head.
“All right. But be careful.” J’mall and Brady both nodded and walked to the turbolift. Shearer turned to Kingston. “Take tactical, I want to be ready in case any Dominion ships attack while they’re down there.”
The turbolift began to descend towards the shuttlebay. Brady looked over at J’mall. She was stony faced and silent. He sighed. “I wonder if there really is anyone alive on that rock.” J’mall turned to him, her face very serious.
“Believe me there are.” Brady understood.
“The one thing I don’t get is why didn’t you ask to take Maverick. He’s the better pilot.” J’mall smiled at him.
“I can pilot the shuttle myself Ralph. That’s not why I asked for you to come along.” Brady smiled.
“Really?” He smiled even more. J’mall rolled her eyes. “So then..” He asked. “Why *DID* you ask me to come along?” He was still smiling. The turbolift door opened and J’mall lead the way out along the corridor.
“Remember those people I was talking about.” She stopped at a locker. Brady watched in confusion as she opened it up.
“Yeah. I remember.” She grabbed a phaser rifle out of it’s holding and handed it to him. “They’re afraid of something.” J’mall continued on down the corridor to the shuttle bay, Brady held the rifle and blinked.
“Afraid of what?” J’mall stopped and turned around.
“I don’t know.” She smiled. “That’s why I’m bringing you.” She continued walking towards the shuttlebay. Brady thought about this for a moment. Then jogged to catch up.
The shuttle bay door to space began to open. J’mall was busy with the pre-flight sequence so Brady was the first to see it. His eyebrows went up but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to; J’mall sensed it and looked up. The force field held back a wall of light brown gas. J’mall tried to peer through the gas. “We should be able to see the nacelles,” she observed. Brady looked at her.
“Are you sure they didn’t get ripped off by that asteroid?”
“Quite sure. They’re out there. We don’t have visual contact but I can see them on sensors. We’re just going to have go very slowly.”
The shuttle lifted lightly off the shuttle bay floor and floated slowly to the door. As they passed through the force field into the nebula, Brady noted it was like being submerged. It was a very spooky feeling. “Shuttle Bonsoir to Monet. We’ve cleared the shuttlebay doors.” The shuttle cruised along for a minute or two. J’mall spoke up. “I’ve got the asteroid on sensors. It’s moving pretty quickly but I think I can land on it.”
Kingston was at tactical. “Uh oh. The signal beacon must be losing power its frequency is fluctuating. No wait a minute.” There was a look of surprise on her face. “There’s an encrypted transmission hidden in the signal.” Shearer smiled.
“It’s about time the Osbourne got here. On speakers.” A mans voice came out through the comm-system.
“Captain Shearer, this is Captain Fordall of the U.S.S. Osbourne, I hope you’re getting this message. I was going to send a hail but just as we entered the nebular we detected four approaching Dominion warp signatures and I guessed this would be the safest way to communicate. We’re here if you need us. Fordall out.” Shearer wasn’t happy.
“Use the beacon to warn them about the asteroid. Apart from that I want a communications blackout. With any luck the Bonsoir won’t try a high intensity communication until they have the survivors.”
The shuttle was keeping pace with the asteroid as it moved through the nebula. The Bonsoir had gotten close enough to detect the “Handis” on sensors and was getting close. “I see it.” J’mall turned her head in the direction Brady indicated. She adjusted their heading to bring them alongside. As they got closer they could see the shuttle more clearly. Its port nacelle had been torn off and impaled by a sharp outcropping a few meters behind. They’d obviously had a lot of trouble with their ailing ship, which had more crashed than landed. J’mall piloted the Bonsoir around the Kindersley’s shuttle scanning for a flat place to land but she wasn’t having much luck finding one. It did give Brady a chance to look at the damage to the Handis. He couldn’t see very clearly through the light brown clouds, but what he did see worried him. Another sharp shard of rock jutted up from the asteroids surface beneath the damaged shuttle’s starboard side. J’mall finally found somewhere she was happy to land and the floor jostled slightly as the Bonsoir touched down.
J’mall accessed the shuttles comm-system. “I don’t sense anyone on that shuttle. But I’m going to try anyway. Shuttle Handis, this is the Bonsoir, do you read us?” J’mall and Brady sat waiting for a response for a minute. Nothing happened. J’mall tried again. “Shuttle Handis, do you read us? This is the Bonsoir.” Again they waited. Brady started scanning the Handis’ interior. As the results displayed on his console his face screwed up in confusion. “I’m not detecting anyone. Not even any bodies.” He tapped some more controls on his panel. “There’s no atmosphere in there either. But I don’t think that shard punctured the interior hull.” J’mall looked at the shuttle for a moment before getting up and walking to the back. She pulled up the seat.
“Only one way to find out for sure.” She said, handing an environmental suit to Brady.
J’mall and Brady materialised inside the Handis. For a second Brady thought they’d been beamed back to their own shuttle again. The seats at the back of the shuttle were up and the suits were gone. But when he turned around he noticed the damage to the inside of the shuttle. The starboard navigational control panel had been melted away and there was an open med-kit that was now discarded on the floor. The shard of rock hadn’t punctured the floor. “They must have abandoned the shuttle. Depressurised it and opened the door.” J’mall said, a bit confused. Brady went to the port console. There was a PADD on the seat. He put it to one side and tried to call up the environmental controls. Main power was still functional but operating at a reduced capacity, not enough for transporters. The oxygen generator had been destroyed by the rock shard sticking up into the small ship. “The environmental system is damaged. It can’t make oxygen.” Brady reported, shaking his head. “Still their environmental suits won’t last that long. Where could they hope to go?” J’mall picked up the PADD that Brady had put aside. She smirked and casually put the PADD down.
“Scan for gas vents, perhaps they’re looking for frozen oxygen trapped inside the asteroid.” Brady shook his head as he was operating the controls.
“The sensors don’t work. Even if they did, our chances of finding…” A beeping on the console interrupted Brady. He looked surprised and a bit embarrassed. “The sensors are able to scan through the asteroid better than through the nebula. And… there’s a gas vent a hundred and sixty meters from here.” Brady turned around slowly and looked at J’mall in awe. “How did you know to scan for that?” J’mall shrugged her shoulders. A gesture that was mostly lost because of the environmental suit she was still wearing.
“I read a lot.” Brady had a confused look and went back to his readings.
“I’m not detecting any life-forms though.”
“They might still be on their way or stuck somewhere along the way where the shuttle’s sensors can’t see them.” J’mall went to the door and activated the release.
“Let’s go. With the terrain so rough, that hundred and sixty meters is going to take us a while to hike.”
It was very slow going. Both J’mall and Brady, carrying the phaser rifle on his back- had to step very carefully. The gravity was very low but if one of them tripped they could still rip their suit or smash their face plate and they wouldn’t have very long to beam back to the shuttle, assuming they even could while on the surface. The nebula gasses made it even more difficult with the officers not only straining to see the surface but also each other. Brady gripped a large outcropping of rock and used it to steady himself. “Shouldn’t they be on their way back now?” J’mall stopped.
“Yes I thought we’d see them before now. They took a hand phaser with them. All they had to do was cut out a few blocks of frozen oxygen and put them in their sample containers.” She climbed up onto a larger rock. “It doesn’t really matter. We’ll be able to beam back to our shuttle from inside the vent.”
Kingston’s station began to beep. “Sir, I’m detecting weapons fire. Its from Jem’Hadar fighters.”
“Near the signal beacon.” Kingston sighed. “The beacon has been destroyed.” Shearer nodded gravely. Kingston’s station began beeping again. She looked over the display. “Sir, I’m detecting a new federation signal beacon in the same area. And another one, and another.” Shearer smiled.
“Well done Fordall, where-ever you are. That should keep them busy for a while.”
J’mall was inside the vent. Brady was further behind her. A crack opened up in front of her and liquid nitrogen and oxygen sprayed out for a second before stopping. “That was lucky.” She said. “Another meter forward and I would have been snap frozen.” She swung her light around the inside of the dark vent and gasped. “Ralph! Get down here quick! And bring that phaser rifle with you!”
Brady, J’mall and two large blocks of ice materialised inside the Bonsoir.
J’mall struggled to take her helmet off in a hurry and rushed to the front of the shuttle.
On the Monet’s bridge the tactical console beeped. “Sir, we’re getting a message from the Bonsoir.”
“On speakers.” J’mall’s voice came through.
“Bonsoir to Monet, we have the survivors but they’re frozen and we need to get them to sickbay.” Kingston interrupted.
“Sir those dominion ships would have detected their transmission and can trace it back to its source.” Shearer started nodding quickly but then had an idea.
“Kingston send an encrypted response, equally loud, so that those dominion ships can trace us instead. Tell J’mall to get off that asteroid immediately, and to head for the edge of the nebula.”
“Yes sir.” Shearer turned to Maverick.
“Do we know where that asteroid is now?”
“Yes sir. Based on its momentum, the slowing effect of the nebula and the pulsars gravity, it will be here.” Maverick indicated a display on his console. Shearer nodded. “Good. Head straight for it.”
“Straight for it, three quarter impulse. Kingston, are the shields still up?”
“Good. Keep transmitting. I don’t care what, as long as we’re the loudest thing in this nebula. And let me know when those dominion ships are chasing us.”
“Sir, the sensors don’t work how will I know when…” Suddenly the ship shook from weapons fire. Kingston recovered quickly.
“Dominion ships in pursuit.”
“Good work Commander. Lieutenant, how long until impact?”
“Twenty six seconds.” Maverick replied.
“Increase speed to full impulse.” The bridge rocked again.
“We’re still transmitting and they’re still following.”
“Cut transmission and pull up.” The Monet sailed up and over the huge asteroid. The four Jem’Hadar ships that had been following held their course and plowed straight into it at full impulse causing a massive explosion. Shearer sat down in his chair as the bridge shook around him holding the sides to steady himself. He was smiling. “Signal the Osbourne and tell them to get out of the nebula. Get us out of here as well. This radiation is only going to get worse.”
Captains Log, Stardate 51413.2: Lieutenant Birsk and ensign Foley have been thawed out and are slowly recovering in sickbay, the only survivors from the Kindersley accident. We are on our way to starbase one-one-two to drop them off while the U.S.S. Osbourne completes our original mission of investigating the military communications buoy. Words cannot express the tragedy of the loss of the Kindersley’s crew. While any crew can be expected to give their lives for the protection of their friends and family back home, the Kindersley’s crew died for no purpose, and that is the worse fate.