This is the dramatic and suspenseful introduction of the USS Alabama crew. The reader discovers little by little a new crew faced with the presence of a Starfleet vessel where it shouldn’t be. It is the Alabama’s mission to save the day. As the crew does so, we discover who they are and how they cope with the fact that they must operate in absolute secrecy. An intense description of what it’s like to serve the fleet from the ‘dark side’. (post by Markus, spotlight nominated by Spiral)
The bridge was dark, the only light coming from the steady wink of the Red Alert notification on each and every terminal casting its dim glow about the bridge. Everyone was quiet, though they needn’t be, as their attention was focused on the viewport in front of them and the situation playing out before their eyes. The problem was, this was not what was supposed to be happening. This was not where these people were supposed to be and every second they lingered here it risked blowing their entire operation. One that would expose a dark, and unforgiving secret that Starfleet didn’t want to be known. That he’d been ordered to keep.
The bridge was eerily quiet, the latent thrum of the vessel beneath their feet and the occasional chirp of a terminal the only sound in the room. Every officer on the bridge stood in silence at their station, watching the viewport and what was playing out before their eyes. In front, the forward glass was alive with various displays and statistics, zoomed in to a blue orb of a planet in the far distance. A planet that should not have had any vessels in orbit let alone Starfleet vessels. This was not where they were supposed to be and every second that they lingered here it risked the lives of the crews on those ships and risked blowing their entire operation to boot. The risks of the latter were far more unforgiving. Something Starfleet certainly did not want to be known. Something he’d been sworn to keep secret.
Captain Carwyn Bowdler stood in the center of the bridge of the USS Alabama, arms folded, one hand rubbing the end of his chin anxiously, eyes darting about the forward glass and the engagement being displayed there while the rest of him remained stock still. His mind was on the various ways that this played out, desperately hoping that the true resolution was the one that kept their mission intact. Already he could feel himself being torn between his orders and his morality.
Bowdler wasn’t an overly tall or broad man. A lifetime’s obsession with running had kept his frame lean. He kept his dark brown hair shorn short on the sides and preferred a mustache over the more fashionable beard these days. Some said it gave him an air of being unapproachable, but he wasn’t concerned with what people thought. His actions spoke for themselves, and if that made him ‘unapproachable’ then so be it. Usually the sensitive sort didn’t do well around him anyway. Both he and his First Officer expected the best and if you couldn’t provide that because your feelings were hurt, then this wasn’t the command for you.
“What’s the play, Carwyn?” A soft feminine voice asked, fairly dripping with an Irish lilt, and resolved into the figure of a woman in his peripheral vision at his side a moment later. Carwyn wasn’t an overly tall man and the woman standing next to him was nearly the same height. Her dark brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun at the back of her head as it always was, which had never ceased to make Carwyn think that it had to hurt to have it back so tight. “Our orders were explicit,” she declared.
Carwyn gave a frustrated grunt.
His orders had been explicit, but also quite simple: observe. Nothing else. The problem was that the methods of observation were beyond questionable, and in truth, outright banned. But the desperation for intelligence had led command into the dark decision of breaking one of the Federation’s accords. And while they could not bear to lose one of the Fleet’s newest Odyssey class vessels, they knew it was one of the few that would survive the encounter should their mission be revealed. But to be certain, they’d sent Carwyn and the Alabama deep into what had been Romulan space to be refit for this special mission to avoid prying eyes and to allow their liaison the chance to board. All civilian crew and family had been left at Starbase Four and the remaining crew on board had been sworn to secrecy – secrecy that would cost them their careers should they falter. Their mission would stay under wraps forever, regardless of the outcome.
The plain and simple truth was that Starfleet was terrified that the next great threat to the Alpha Quadrant was the Pyrryx Imperium. What little information they had on the Imperium was not good, and the few interactions that they’d had with them had proven just how capable and dangerous these beings were. If they were as powerful, as numerous and as aggressive as all intelligence seemed to indicate, then they could be looking at another Dominion War, or worse.
Starfleet was already reeling from so much. The Fleet had only just begun to come back into shape after so many incidents and no one was willing to risk any more lives in a full scale war. Command wanted intelligence on the threat, and they wanted it so bad that they were willing to risk a senior Captain, a brand-new vessel, and the trouble that would follow being caught breaking one of the accords to get it. Secrecy was so paramount that Command had hidden their mission behind a labyrinth of obscure protocols to protect themselves, and Bowdler’s crew.
If he was honest with himself, Carwyn expected it would come crashing down at some point, but hopefully after they’d acquired a generations worth of data on the Pyrryx. Already they knew so much, having been on this mission for the last six months, with more information coming in every day. They had covertly setup listening stations, intercepted Pyrryx communicates far and wide, and for the coups de gras, Lieutenant Assam had done what the Federation hadn’t been able to do since discovering the Pyrryx. He translated their language, and in doing so uncovered far more than they could have expected in that alone. Information that Starfleet was going to be simultaneously ecstatic and terrified about in equal measure.
“Carwyn?” Commander O’Damhain pressed him quietly.
He drew a deep breath and let it out. “It depends on them,” he said waving at the screen.
On the forward glass was a glowing orb of a planet, an ocean type that was inhabited by a native species that had been very close to achieving powered space flight when they were noticed by the Pyrryx and quickly subjugated under the yoke of the Imperium. They’d known about this planet for some time now as it was one of the more reliable sources the Imperium used to source Kelbonite, but they were under strict orders to observe and nothing more. The Prime Directive was null and void for this world, and it challenged his morality to stand there and watch these beings be subjugated when he could have helped. But his orders had been explicit. His final reports back to Starfleet would include his suggestion that this world be put under the protection of the Federation immediately.
The problem was that they were not alone here. In orbit of the planet were two Starfleet vessels, ships that should not have been this far past Federation sector space and firmly in Pyrryx territory. On the one hand, he knew that Starfleet had no real idea of the borders of Imperium space, but on the other they knew they were dealing with the Pyrryx and still hadn’t turned and run. That would have been the logical thing to do.
It was lucky that they’d stumbled upon them at all. The Alabama was on strict subspace silence but for a bi-weekly compressed data stream that they sent back through the relay network to Sol. By sheer happenstance, they had been in the middle of that transmission when the signal was hijacked by a wide-band subspace comm of Starfleet origin. Since all the Starfleet systems were hardwired to act as relays when activated, it picked up the signal and attempted to retransmit it. If not for Lieutenant Assam’s quick thinking, they might well have broadcast their location to the whole of Starfleet and anyone else listening.
Assam had saved their mission being exposed but at the same time, he’d prevented the message that the Starfleet ships had been sending from going out. Meaning that the help they hoped they might be getting wasn’t even aware they were in trouble. He felt genuinely bad about that, but their mission was more important than some hurt feelings. It had been his intention to let it lie, to leave these Starfleet vessels risking their lives in Pyrryx space to their own devices and continue on with his mission.
It was Lieutenant Assam that pointed it out, once more proving why Carwyn’s heavy recruiting campaign for the man was worth every minute. He had discovered that the Pyrryx relay network was down one station – the station on the water planet that the Starfleet vessels were currently calling for assistance from. They knew enough of the Pyrryx and their protocols to know that a patrol would be sent to investigate the outage. Fearful of an escalation, Bowdler had ordered the Alabama to the system at max warp. As the Imperium’s vessels moved much slower, they had arrived well before them.
“Captain,” Lieutenant Ellis called out from the tactical arch, “The Pyrryx patrol is coming out of subspace,” he declared. The brown-haired Lieutenant was one of the youngest of all the bridge staff, but was likely the most confident of them all, save the skipper. He knew he was good at what he did, and that that was why the skipper had sought him for this post. Until the Captain told him otherwise, he was going to continue assuming he was the best.
“On v-,” Carwyn started to say, but Ellis had already displayed it on the forward glass on the right side, zoomed in with the Starfleet vessels on the left.
“Two Lean’dor Class escorts, the Breh’eth and the Loos’on and Krayth’an Class utility ship four-seven-two,” Ellis offered, now showing lines off from the images with the names of the vessels.
“Get me comm’s,” Bowlder ordered. “Best you can manage without giving away our position, Mahmoud,” he called back, not bothering to look back at the Operations officer.
The relative silence of the bridge was now broken by the comm chatter from the two Starfleet vessels, now aware that they weren’t alone and reacting at least with as much fear as they should have. At least they had that in their favor.
“What do you know of these commanders?” O’Damhain asked quietly.
Carwyn harrumphed and shook his head, “A rookie and a blunt instrument,” he answered. The first thing he’d done after intercepting the message was to look up the two commanders in question and try to understand who they were exactly. Neither were skipper’s he’d ever heard of, but then they were on the ass end of nowhere when typically they were in the thick of it. Commanders like this weren’t likely to be on any of his reports.
“Can they get out of this?” She pressed. Carwyn was the tactical mind, and while she could hold her own with some of the best in the Fleet, he saw things in ways she never would.
“What the hell is she doing?!” Carwyn answered her query, waving at the viewport. “Why… why the hell would she…” he shook his head at the display. “No… no, don’t you dare,” he followed that up, watching it unfold in utter shock.
Carwyn put his hands to the side of his head in disbelief as he watched it unfold. The two Starfleet vessels were a match for the small Pyrryx patrol. The Lean’dor class escorts sure packed a punch but the larger of the two Starfleet vessels was a Prometheus class, it was more than capable of handling them with support. The small vessel, a Nova class, wasn’t going to stand toe to toe, but she packed a punch. Properly screened from the escorts by the bigger Prometheus, they had a good chance. A really good chance. At least they would have if they stuck together.
“Why the hell is she taking that ship into the atmosphere?” He asked the bridge at large. It was a rhetorical question but Lieutenant Assam answered.
“Their last away team on the surface has not returned. They are going after them,” Assam offered, pressing his finger to the piece in his ear, deftly maneuvering multiple audio feeds better than the rest of the bridge, trying to parse the general chaos.
“In a hurricane big enough to take up a whole side of the planet?” O’Damhain exclaimed.
Bowdler shook his head and resumed watching, only making it a moment in his former pose before burying his head into his hand as he watched the Prometheus rush the Pyrryx and immediately break apart into multi-vector mode.
“F****ng amateurs,” he groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose.
It wasn’t pretty and the inexperience in a fire fight this size was clearly showing in the skipper of the Prometheus class vessel. His ship could have easily handled the three vessels with support, but without it he would have had trouble being overwhelmed with firepower. Thankfully for him, the Pyrryx had a pretty strong flaw. One that you wouldn’t expect.
They weren’t accustomed to resistance.
Every race that they had subjugated had been so far beneath their own technological advances that they had easily overpowered them. That wasn’t the case with the Federation and it showed in each and every engagement with them. They were like children with overpowered guns. They had no finesse or strategy to them.
“The Loos’on is following the Nova into atmo,” Ellis called out.
Carwyn had been so focused on the segments of the Prometheus that he hadn’t even noticed that the spare escort had broken away from the engagement.
“Loos’on’s commanded by Sub-Imperator Korkiix,” Assam offered. “Database shows that his 3rd brother commands this colony,” he offered to the bridge at large. Having been the one to decode the Pyrryx language he was the one who had delved the deepest into the databases that they’d acquired during their time. Plus, as the ships Operations officer he’d effectively hacked the Imperium’s comm’s networks so he was able to gather quite a bit of extra detail.
“Hopefully that means he’s not after the Nova,” O’Damhain offered.
“Let’s hope,” Bowdler agreed.
Breaking up the Prometheus on the first run was a stupid move, it showed his hand too soon. The Pyrryx didn’t know Starfleet ships, nor did they care to. It wasn’t in their nature to ‘learn’ their enemy. They just overwhelmed them with force, but deploying right out the gate had given them a clear objective, and had the utility trawler been more maneuverable they might have had a chance. Thankfully it wasn’t and the three components were proving to be enough of a pain in the ass for them that the Prometheus was still in the fight and taking some hefty shots.
The question was would it buy the Nova enough time to get the away team they were so desperate to find. If the Prometheus wasn’t there when they came out, there was no way they were going to survive a fight against three. They’d be lucky to jump to warp.
“The Loos’on is following Pathfinder,” Ellis offered matter-of-factly. “They’re firing,” he added.
Carwyn sighed deeply, folding his arms across his chest once more and resuming his stroking of his chin. He cast a brief look to his right to his XO, conveying his thoughts as effectively in that simple gaze as he could have in one-thousand words.
Róisín paused a beat after the expression and then turned away to return to her station. Ellis looked down from his post as she returned to hers, and he rolled his neck in answer, moving over half a step on his station to manipulate other terminals. Such was the rapport that this crew had with one another that they knew what was expected of them even though no orders had been actually given.
Captain Bowdler edged took a slow step forward and Lieutenant Eme shifted in her seat to look back at her Captain. The dark-haired, Japanese woman wore a stern, stoic expression which often was mistook for a logical and unemotional approach to anything. It couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Daigo was a creative, and expressional individual but nowhere was that passion seen more than behind the controls of a vessel, be it starship or work bee.
“Bring us a little closer to the engagement, but out of their most likely escape vector,” he ordered quietly. He spoke softly not because he didn’t want to be heard but because he himself wasn’t fully certain of his orders. A lot was in the air, but it was better managed a little closer to the engagement. In case they had no choice.
“Aye, Captain,” Eme nodded, turning her attention to her station and effecting the orders carefully. Their perspective began to shift as they moved but Carwyn kept his eyes glued to the main glass.
“Get me a closer view on Pathfinder,” he ordered, pointing to the left side of the glass. A moment later the sensor feed zoomed into that ship. Ellis presumed right that he wanted to see the Theseus on the right and so he didn’t have to order it.
They watched as the ship dived into the atmosphere, trying to distance itself from the Pyrryx vessel following. A brief firefight ensued while on the right, the Theseus was clearly battering the other remaining vessels but taking almost as good as it was giving. They were in the fight, but all it was going to take was one rookie mistake by this blunt instrument of a Captain to cost him a section of his ship and they were all well and truly screwed.
“Captain,” Asaam called out, continuing without waiting for acknowledgement. “Breh’eth is broadcasting its emergency beacon. It’s alive on all Pyrryx frequencies,” he declared solemnly.
“Can you jam the beacon?” O’Damhain asked quickly.
“Not without shining a light on us here,” Asaam shook his head.
“What’s the nearest ship?” Carwyn asked, turning away from the screen this time to walk towards him and his chair at the same time.
Asaam didn’t answer, instead leaned onto his terminal. Carwyn had turned his eyes back to the main glass but when the operations officer didn’t respond, he spun back towards him. “Mahmoud?” He asked.
“The Klo’x’in is the closest vessel,” he answered. “On patrol outside the Bixxly foundries.”
Carwyn stared at him quietly for a moment and then let out a long, slow breath. Unlike Starfleet the Pyrryx did not have a huge variety to their Fleet, they simply had no need to. They didn’t operate in science and discovery, they were a purely militaristic civilization. Their fleet was fast moving for the most part but they had several of what Carwyn could only describe as true battlecruisers meant solely for the purpose of providing overwhelming firepower and naught else. The Klo’x’in was one of five Orl’tha class vessels that they were aware of the Pyrryx having in active service, aware of three more in their orbital foundries on Vill VI. Asaam had uncovered information that there might be another pair under construction in orbit of the Pyrryx homeworld. But of all the information that they’d uncovered, the location of that homeworld was one bit of trivia that they had yet to discover. They had a solid suspicion where it was, but even with their subterfuge intact, they hadn’t dared that deep into Pyrryx space for fear of being unable to leave in one piece.
He turned towards his chair and Commander O’Damhain who had sat up rigidly in her seat.
“Do they have a chance in hell?” She asked.
“Three beaten down pieces of a Prometheus and a Science tub,” Carwyn shook his head. “If the Klo’x’in gets here before they’re gone…” he shook his head. “Checkmate.”
“Two Lean’dor vessels have answered the call,” Asaam offered to the bridge. “ETA… twenty minutes,” he continued. “Nothing from the Klo’x’in.”
They listened now to the chatter on the comm’s from the ships and their crews, of the Theseus fighting to keep the other two vessels trained on them and the Pathfinder’s desperate fight against the storm and the vessel tailing them. Everyone was invested in the fight now, worried for their compatriots, despite their situation and there was a current of excited energy when the Demophon emerged from the clouds, distracting the Loos’on enough that it got lost in the hurricane.
The chaos of chatter on the comm’s was all over, making it hard to extract any coherent threads for a moment and then they heard a clear, British accent speaking. “…extras we found, a castaway, and one dead Pyrryx.”
Carwyn snapped his head over to Asaam who himself had reacted with shock and was pressing his finger to his ear again, replaying the feed.
“Did he say a dead Pyrryx? They have a dead Pyrryx?” Captain Bowdler pressed urgently.
Asaam nodded finally, looking up. “They have a dead Pyrryx.”
It was the one thing command wanted, but knew they were unlikely to get. An actual physical specimen of a Pyrryx. No one actually knew what they looked like beyond their face, what their anatomy was like, or even if they were truly humanoid. They had seen a few grainy images, and supposedly the Marines at Falkirk had seen one’s face within its war armor. But, for all that they really knew, they could be a mass of tentacles crammed into war armor. They knew next to nothing as to the biological aspects of the Pyrryx. Carwyn would have thought that breaking into the Pyrryx network as Asaam had would have yielded that information, but they were so militaristic in nature that nothing went through the network of that nature. How they managed their medical and scientific needs, he didn’t know, but considering how they treated their subjugates he was theorizing that they simply didn’t. Or didn’t manage much. The opportunity to get their hands on a physical specimen was a chance unlike any other.
“How do we relieve them of it without showing them we’re here?” O’Damhain asked.
Carwyn shook his head, “I don’t know that we do.”
“Pathfinder is making a run for it. No sign yet of the Loos’on,” Ellis called out, though they’d heard a chunk of that in the audible comm’s feed. They all turned their attention back to the viewer, watching the image of the Pathfinder breaking orbit and turning out towards Federation space, oblivious to their location in the void. “Picking up Loos’on… she’s on the farther side of the planet. Pathfinder is clear,” Ellis added, a note of happiness in his voice.
They turned their attention instead to the Theseus and collectively jumped in surprise as the utility ship attempting to support the faster, more aggressive escort, exploded in a brilliant display of light and energy. The debris knocked the Breh’eth aside in space, and it listed hard to starboard, seemingly out of the fight. Theseus took the chance to turn and run, all three pieces flashing away from the engagement and making a b-line for the Pathfinder’s course.
“Status on the escorts?” Carwyn asked quickly.
“Loos’on is turning to follow. Breh’eth is…” he trailed off, consulting his readings.
“Heat bloom in the Breh’eth’s aft quarter,” Asaam offered. “They’re not out of it.”
“Confirmed,” Ellis nodded from his station. “They’re still in this fight.”
“Damn,” Carwyn growled, shaking his head. He had to admit he was surprised that Theseus had managed to take down the utility ship, they were very well armored even if they weren’t all that well armed. It was possible he’d misjudged the capacity of their skipper, but it was more likely that he’d just gotten lucky. Having read his file, he knew that to be about the measure of his career. He didn’t believe in higher powers, fate, or anything like that but even he had to admit luck like that seemed to follow certain beings around like a rain cloud overhead that struck out with lightning every so often.
The Loos’on put on every bit of speed it could muster as it swept past the debris of the trawler and the listing Bret’eth, hellbent on the retreating Starfleet vessels.
“It’s a foot race now,” Carwyn said, leaning forward onto his knees, staring at the viewport. “They’ve got to get some distance, so Theseus can reform. They can’t jump separated.”
“But who’s the Loos’on going to go after?” O’Damhain asked.
“My money’s on the Pathfinder,” Asaam offered. “They embarrassed Sub-Imperator Korkiix losing him in that storm. He’s not going to let that offense go.
“Could be an advantage,” Bowdler said, sitting up a bit, clearly contemplating the angles. “If Pathfinder can survive just a bit, Theseus can reform and they can make the jump together. But they have to form up before the Bret’eth rejoins the fight. It’s a tall order…” he frowned.
They watched intently as it all unfolded on the viewer. Both Starfleet vessels were running, separated by a wide swath of open space. The three components of the Theseus were racing to catch up to one another and get ready to reform while the Pathfinder was trying to get to open space. The Loos’on attempted to fire on them, and then fired a volley of glowing purple torpedoes.
“No!” Carwyn shot up from his seat.
“Kor’s’or class warheads,” Ellis declared solemnly, leaning heavily onto his panel.
This was his worst nightmare rendered manifest – the worst that the Pyrryx had to offer, flung at the Pathfinder as if this were commonplace. Statistically speaking, a single torpedo of this variety had only a minimal chance of creating complications in the surrounding area. Namely interfering with the nature of subspace, as the devices were heavily laden with isolytic radiation. Something that had been banned by the second Khitomer accords specifically because of its unstable and unpredictable nature. But firing four of them. Four was almost a guarantee. All they could hope for now was that they detonated without issue or missed their target and went out into open space a bit before falling inert.
Bowdler watched in horror as the Pathfinder’s phaser array hit the leading torpedo in the volley and detonated the lot of them simultaneously.
“Hell of a shot,” Ellis remarked quietly. Admiring his fellow Tactical officer’s skill in lining that up, but still shaken by the ramifications he knew accompanied it. If his contemporary had known what was up, he wouldn’t have made that shot at all.
“A subspace tear is beginning to form,” Lieutenant Commander Kovalenko offered calmly from the Engineering station. They’d all known that this was likely to happen, and after an explosion that detonated all the warheads, it was all but a guarantee. She watched it form on her panel, shaking her head. This one was big, and already she could see the catastrophe that would follow it.
On the glass, they could see the spot where the torpedoes had exploded but even though they were long gone there was still a cloud of glowing purple radiation with jagged energy ribbons moved rapidly from the site of the explosion in all directions, the longest stretching towards the planet. Valeria was already performing the calculations to support what her immediate postulation was. She looked up at Captain Bowlder, watching the unfolding calamity with his hands on his hips.
“Sir,” the Chief Engineer called out. “This will destroy the planet,” she declared matter-of-factly. “When it does, it will destroy everything in this system. Us included,” she added. “Whatever it is we’re doing, Captain. We have to do it now.”