"Commander, we've lost warp-drive. Shields are down to 34%, our aft Photon Torpedo's are gone. Decks 8 through 15 report casualties."
Sparks flew from console to console as the U.S.S. February came under heavy fire from a small fleet of Federation fighters. The bridge shook with the unforgiving roar of Red Alert sirens and Phaser-fire. The young Commander struggled to stay seated in the Captain's chair, anxiously holding on to his newly adopted ship, too angry to let go.
"Re-route auxiliary power to shields, target the flanking Peregrine's engines and prepare to fire...helmsman give me 4 seconds full impulse to these co-ordinates and bring us about on my mark..."
Being knocked out of his seat, Hastler hastily scrambled to the chair's console, tapping in commands to send to the helm. In turn the helmsman held on to his seat and set his orders into motion.
Waiting for the right moment, Hastler watched through his cracked viewscreen as the squad of Peregrine fighter's swarmed around the ship, phaser arrays going left to right, now doing more than just scratching the surface. He was running out of time....
The ship jutted forward on command, as Hastler has risen far beyond the edge of his seat, trying just as hard as the crew to maintain balance. Officers dropping to the floor and stumbling to get up again, running back and forth between sparking consoles and computer maintained fires, keeping the ship from falling through space. Just as the February was about to turn, Hastler beckoned a further command...
"Fire at the targeted ship! May, fire a concentrated spread of Phasers....NOW!"
The officers carried out the orders with an almost enthusiastically, reacting to their commanders shouts without hesitation. May grasped to the Ops console, tapping the screen as if he was missing the buttons he needed to hit. The aluminous orange beams reached out into the vast terrorised space, smashing through the hull of the flanking fighter, with the other beams barely missing the rest of the fighters. The squad scrambled at the sight of their comrade dragging aimlessly away from the February, plasma venting from its hull.
The Commander stared at the viewscreen at the defenceless fighter,
"Lieutenant, get a tractor beam onto that ship."
The Lieutenant at the helm clambered back into his chair, wiping his forehead as he sat down,
A large turquoise cone escaped from the ship, and latched on to the fighter, which by now was nearly upside down in the zero gravity lair of space.
James looked up at the ceiling, breathed deeply and exhaled. Wiping his forehead with his sleeve, he lightly pressed his combadge...
"Hastler to engineering..."
"Get that warp engine online, make sure that ship gets to Cargo bay 4...Security report to Cargo bay 4....Medical teams to the bridge....Hastler to sick bay..."
Sick bay wasted no time in replying to the message. The Doctor was eager to see what was going on,
"Commander we've had damage reports from all over the ship...what the hell were we fighting?"
"Yes" Hastler answered abruptly, "the Captain....make sure the wounded are seen to. Hastler out."
The line closed as medical teams rushed to the bridge and treated the wounded. As the Captain's body was brought into the ready room, the commander stared as the stretcher was lifted away, too fixated on what had just happened to feel remorse, to feel anything.
What had just happened?
Why would the Federation attack its own ship? Surely that couldn't be it?? Where did they come from? What bothered him more however; if it wasn't the Federation, who had managed to obtain 5 Federation fighter ships the way they did? What was worse was the damage dealt. Those Peregrine's surely could not be able to do that amount of damage without some sort of modification...
Doctor V'Tash charged through the turbo-lift doors, and straight to Hastler. She stared at him, trying to establish what he was thinking.
"The wounded are recovering in sick bay. No loss..."
"Except one..." Hastler interrupted, his eyes bulging with anger at V'Tash, pointing at what would now be his ready room.
He turned away from the Doctor, and walked towards the alcove shutter doors in the corner of the bridge.
"You have the bridge May. I do not want to be disturbed until that engine is fixed."
"Yes Sir..." he replied. May and V'Tash looked at each other. They knew they had to be there, not just for the crew, but for their new Captain.
Hastler turned around just as the doors to the ready room opened and looked once more at V'Tash...
What he wanted was obvious. V'Tash looked at May once more, raising an eyebrow, and hurried to follow her new Captain into the ready room.
Medical personnel were busy examining the dead Captain's body. 4 silver pips glistening in the low light with the blood of an honourable man. Hastler stared blankly at the wall, while V'Tash arranged the Captain's face to look peaceful, rather than the submissive perilous look sprawled upon his face without permission. The dark red carpeted walls of the room did nothing to warm the tone, as the remark on the faces of those present were far less than amused.
"You're going to have to look at some point..." V'Tash said quietly.
Hastler breathed in deeply. He was rarely called by his first name, even in times of sorrow. Perhaps all the other time weren't as personal as this. Usually he would say something strict, something that would sweep nerves through the speakers body that would change their perception of what not to say around Commander James King Hastler.
The comm signal chimed through Hastler's combadge...
"May to Hastler.."
"Sir, Engineering says the warp engines won't be ready to come online for at least 2 hours. We're sitting ducks out here if we don't get somewhere.
"Maintain Yellow Alert and set a course for the nearest starbase, full impulse. Hastler out."
He tapped his combadge to end the conversation, sighed and looked at V'Tash. Hastler was upset, and doing his upmost to preserve his feelings. Sometimes this was harder than it looked.
"Well...?" Hastler raised an eyebrow at the Doctor, and showed his hand towards his dead Captain.
One of the medical staff handed V'Tash a tricorder, and she sullenly studied the results of the scans;
"His spine is broken in several places...the force of the first blasts must have knocked him quite hard before hitting the floor. That's what finished it."
V'Tash closed the tricorder and looked up at him. James' hands were clasped behind his back, staring down at the face of the man who made him his First Officer. Looking down still, he straightened his face, to look once more at the Doctor.
"Get down to sickbay, lock on his to his combadge and beam him there... I want you all out of here now." Turning to face the wall again, V'Tash nodded to the other medical personnel in the room and moved out immediately.
Hastler moved silently to the Captain's desk and sat down. Taking a few moments, he placed his face into his hands.
The computer chirped happily as it was given attention, rhyming off its usual activated response.
"What time is it...?" commanded Hastler, in his slumberous stupor.
"The current time is 0743 hours."
Hastler opened his eyes and puffed out a long breath of air. It was as if the man had just came home from a long day working in the mines; his job seemed a lot harder than that. Being a Starfleet Captain is not always the glitz and glamour it is made out to be.
And so the morning routine began, finishing with polished shoes, and polished rank pips nestled on collar. James checked himself in the mirror, as he did every morning, making sure his uniform was exemplary.
James tapped his combadge...
"Hastler to V'Tash..."
"Captain...you're up early!" She joked.
"I hope this doesn't concern you too much Doctor?" James chortled.
"Not at all! How can I help you?"
"Just checking in...I will see you on the bridge. Hastler out."
Raising his eyebrow in amusement he tapped his combadge in acknowledgement of the conversation. Those little conversations with V'Tash kept his mind at ease in the mornings.
Hastler left his quarters, and headed for the turbo lift. The lights still dimmed in the corridors of the ship. Alpha shift doesn't start until 0930, the lights would not raise until at least 0845, to signal the start of the working day.
Hastler liked to keep his ship running like a day would on Earth, like a day would back home.
Stepping into the turbolift, where the lighting was not so dimmed, he strained his eyes with the brightness, covering them with his arm.
"Bridge," he commanded sharply.
The lift softly and silently moved towards the bridge. In no time at all, his eyes adjusted to the light. Just as the door opened, he fixed his uniform one last time, and stepped onto the bridge.
It was not the largest bridge in the fleet, but it was not exactly the smallest either. Hastler was used to the small curvature of the February's bridge. Since moving to the U.S.S. Pharaoh, many of the old crew were reassigned, including V'Tash, and May, who became his first officer. The lift doors opened into a corridor, mouthed by the bridge itself. Two long, curved consoles, on either side of what seemed like a large circular crevice in the floor of the bridge. Two helm posts shaped into the front of the circle, with the three command seats shaped into the rear with a small ramp at either side. They looked up at the large rectangular view-screen at the fore of the room. Panels and consoles surrounded the walls of the bridge, with another turbolift at the very rear, in the middle of the wall. On the right side of the bridge, lay the door to the Captain's ready room, and beside that, the ship's plaque:
The officer on duty stood up to greet the Captain. Lieutenant Commander Imjim Rep'lon was a Bolian, who usually held the bridge during nights. His light blue skin brightened up the bridge somewhat, even when the lights were up as they were now.
"Good Morning Captain, I trust you slept well?" He held out his hand to shake Hastler's,
"Yes Commander, thank you," He shook his hand in kind, "how was the night?"
"Nothing too out of the ordinary Sir, a Class 3 meteor that just about missed the ship in its path."
"Good, nothing I should concern myself with then..."
"Except this," Imjim interrupted. "We picked up a some sort of signal from what we are assuming is a planet. We tried to decipher it, but haven't gotten far. It looks like a distress signal...it's fairly long ranged, we have no idea where it's come from."
Hastler looked up to stare at the Lieutenant Commander dead in the face. Imjim could feel we was on the spot, almost stepping back from his Captain so take it in. It was hard to tell what Haslter was thinking on many occasions. The man exuded authority rarely seen in a Captain of his age.
"Let me show you," Imjim beckoned, and directed Hastler to the commanding officer's seats.
Imjim pulled up a record on the console beside the Captain's chair. The record showed an audio data file, with secure encryptions for every second of sound.
"There are around 24 encryptions, normally this shouldn't be too difficult, but it appears to be in languages that the computer just doesn't seem to have in the databanks."
James looked at the screen in disbelief. How could something that is usually so menial become so hard for a Federation ship's Computer? It was perplexing enough getting around the shear thought of it.
"Leave it with me, I will have it checked as thoroughly as possible...Dismissed Commander, have a good day."
"Thank you Sir."
Imjim walked towards the turbolift at the rear of the bridge. As the doors opened Imjim turned around once more,
"Captain, if you don't mind, keeping me posted?"
Haslter looked up from the screen to his officer, who had more concern on his face than Imjim was used to from him at this time of the morning, and nodded. Imjim got into the turbo lift, and whisked away.
Haslter continued to look at the computer screen, perplexed by what he was seeing. Too many questions rose through his head...no source? no trace of any kind? why so many encryptions? But more importantly, who sent it? why was it sent? Hastler needed to know what was going on.
"Lieutenant...come to a full stop."
The ship's engines slowed to a halt, whilst the other bridge officers looked at each other seemingly confused at what their Captain was thinking, as he continued to stare at the console screen. At that moment, V'Tash came through the turbo lift doors;
Noticing the look on the Captain's face, she rushed over quickly.
"James? What is this?"
"Imjim picked up this coded message during the night. It looks like some sort of distress signal, but the encryptions...there seems to be an encryption for every single second of audio...and these languages...pictograms combined with other phrases, our computers are having a hard time making even the slightest bit of sense."
Hastler looked about the room, peering at the staff that were still present,
"Ensign, take the message down to Cryptography, I need this analysed immediately.
"Yes sir, right away sir," the Ensign quickly replied. He downloaded the information onto a PADD, and went quickly to the turbo lift. At that point, Commander May strolled through the turbo lift with 8 other officers.
"Delta shift is over, you are all dismissed, Alpha shift now taking over." He looked over at James and V'Tash and smiled. May was much more of a morning person than his Captain.
As May walked over to Hastler and V'Tash, the bustle of officers swapping positions carried on. Some were starting their morning shift, while others were heading back to their quarters, hoping for some sleep, or at the very least some well earned rest.
"Good morning Captain, Doctor,"
He turned to V'Tash, hands clasped behind his back, smiled and nodded, turning back to the Captain,
"How are we?" He asked, happily.
"Perplexed, take a look at this..." Haslter pointed May to the computer he and V'Tash had been studying.
"I see...well, what can we do? I'm assuming Cryptology are all over this one?"
"Yes," still pondering what it was they were looking at. He sat back in his chair, and stared at the view screen, May sat beside him.
"I'll head back down to sickbay, I think some of our patients need some waking up!" V'Tash raised an eyebrow, and strolled back into the turbo lift. As the doors closed May turned to Haslter,
"What do you think?" He asked, curiously.
"All I know is that it must be some sort of distress signal, but I'm sure we'll get to the end of it soon...Helmsman what was our last course and heading?"
"Course was set for the Celes Sector sir, carrying on with study of anomalies in the Arucanis Arm."
"Very well, continue course, warp 5...engage."
The young Lieutenant at the helm pressed the necessary keys, and the ship set itself into formation. The ship stood to attention as the warp engines bellowed louder and louder, shooting the ship forward at a tremendous speed. Stars flirted with the view-screen, slipping past the ship as if they were scared of being caught in its wake.
James rose out of the captain's chair and glared at the helmsman, his voice risen and his tone sharp,
"Does it look like I have 4 pips on my uniform Lieutenant?" Hastler interrupted...
"No sir," the Lieutenant replied, now shaking nervously,
"Then you will address me by my given rank, understood?"
"Yes..sir," he replied, still terrified, the feeling seemed mutual around the room. The Lieutenant continued as Hastler sat back in the chair,
James nodded, anger still visible on his face. It was clear he wanted to dispense with Naval Tradition just for the moment.
"Commander we are receiving a communication from Starfleet Command. Sir..." The Lieutenant stopped mid-sentence, unsure of whether or not to say what was about to come out of his mouth. He gulped, slightly hesitant, he decided to take the bullet...
"Sir, it's for the Captain." He turned around and looked at Hastler with a straight face.
James stared straight ahead at the view-screen. He knew, by default, he was Captain now, he just didn't want to admit it. The Captain lay dead in sick bay; he had not even paid his respects, and had not allowed any other personnel to do so until they reached Starbase 39. The ship was still not able to go to warp.
"Put it through to the ready room."
"Aye sir." The officer turned back to his post, while James stood up, and looked at May,
"You have the bridge Commander..."
May nodded as James walked quietly into the ready room.
James stood in the office as the doors closed silently behind him. Momentarily, he let out one of his usual sighs. Looking around the red room, he counted his Captain's heirlooms, model ships, gifts and books among other things. Hastler walked around, slowly brushing his hand lightly over the walls and the various ornaments that filled the room.
Slowly, he brought himself to the black leather, high backed chair behind the desk, and slipped into it. In front of him, a flat black console arose, blaring the renowned Federation logo, and 'STARFLEET COMMAND - ALPHA COMMUNICATION' emblazoned underneath. Reluctantly, Hastler accepted the transmission.
Vice Admiral Fardi appeared on the screen.
"Oh, Commander... I..."
"Admiral," acknowledging the man on his screen, James continued, "how can I help?"
Looking at James quite perplexed, the Admiral continued, Hastler now leaning back in his chair with his right elbow on the armrest, his fingertip touching his lips;
"An outpost in the sector's long-range sensors picked up your distress signal, they transmitted it to Starbase 39."
"I'll be frank then Sir. We were attacked by five Federation Peregrine-class fighter ships, we disabled one of them before they fled the fight. It was a surprise attack, 32 injured, 1 dead."
James stared boldly into the screen, waiting for the Admiral's reply,
"The Captain..." the Admiral gasped, whilst leaning back in his chair, slightly swivelling from left to right, he clasped his hands together and turned back to look at James, who was now trembling with anger.
" What is the status of the February Commander?"
"We have no warp drive, only impulse engines. We can defend ourselves but getting to Starbase 39 will be slow. Sir, we managed to capture the Fighter that we disabled. It is in our Cargo bay, we are waiting to dock before opening her up."
"The pilot is dead."
"Very well. The closest ship is the U.S.S. Kingdom, I am re-routing her to escort you to SB-39."
"Thank you Admiral."
Fardi leaned forward on the table, with his left eyebrow risen and looked straight at Hastler...
"We will talk more when you get here...I am sorry Commander...Fardi out."
The screen returned to show the United Federation of Planets logo. James stood up, folded his arms and looked out the window into dark, infinite space. He felt a lot calmer now somehow. With this, he turned and entered the bridge.
"Sir," May rose from the Captain's chair, making way for James to sit at his leisure. "Engineering report they can give us Warp 2, but I suggest we don't go to warp anytime soon..."
"The Kingdom is coming to escort us to Starbase 39 so we have plenty of time to get things running. Continue on course. I am going to see the Captain."
May nodded as James turned towards the turbolift.
"Deck 7," James commanded. The doors shut in front of him. Just as the lift came to a halt, and the doors opened, V'tash was there to meet him.
"Commander" the doctor interrupted.
James nodded, and brushed past his friend towards sick bay. V'tash paused for a moment as she watched him walk away, surprised by his attitude but more worried by it. James had never acted like this before. Officers die here and there, and he mourned the way any good Starfleet Officer should, but never this hard, never this much. It was any wonder he wasn't in fits of tears, or punching the walls in anguish.
It was late in the evening now and the lights were beginning to dim. The Captain had always had the lighting in the corridors set like this at nights, to represent the end of the working day on Earth, like the end of the day at home. Walking through the doors to sickbay, right in front of him was the Captain, covered by a long azure sheet.
From the other room Ensign Ross appeared. She had been treating the other casualties of the attack.
"Oh, Commander...sorry, I..."
James stood nearly speechless, looking at her solemnly, he softly spoke,
"Carry on Ensign."
Ross smiled shortly, and brushed past the beds into the office, returning with tri-corders to move back into the patient's room.
Hastler waited until the doors slid shut behind her, and leaned with both hands on the bed his Captain lay upon, looking the covered figure slowly up and down.
Pulling back the sheet, there he lay. He was silent, expressionless, everything a dead man should be...except dead.
Looking into his shut eyes, James hung his head, and let out a long, cold breath.
This, would only be the beginning...