“Very likely,” Gepba replied gravely, “I need to alert my crew to prepare for the worst.”
“I suggest you let my team complete their work first,” Sirol said, “We have made a lot of progress since we started our survey and we want to make this all count.”
“Looks like I got to make the call,” Gepba said. She finally went on the horn, “All hands stand by for possible tactical alert. Commander Fludicus and First Officer Mirra to the bridge.”
The Last Days of the USS Starlight Pony (Chap 8)
Within seven minutes Fludicus had come to the bridge while members of the survey team were leaving the bridge. The usual bridge officers took their places and started their shifts,
Mirra was already at the Captain’s Chair. She turned to see Fludicus and got out to let him take his place. She seemed to want to tell him something.
“Go ahead?” Fludicus asked.
“They found a ship seven minutes back,” Mirra explained, “Gepba had made the call to close the distance. We are about 30 kilometers from them.”
“What else do we know?”
“The mass of the ship is estimated to be less than half of ours. Likely an escort vessel,” Mirra’s reply was interrupted by a jolt that went through the ship, “We are masking our approach using the plasma storms. They interfere with our sensors though, and we run the risk of losing contact with them.”
“Is it possible to follow them without hiding?”
“Not without the risk of getting detected,” Mirra replied, another jolt rippled through the ship, “The plasma storms would interfere with their sensors as much as ours. It's a challenge even with echolocation.”
“Echolocation?” Fludicus asked, “passive scanning?”
Mirra nodded, “It's our best bet yet. Most ships use it in the Badlands due to the anomalies in the Badlands.”
“Have they detected us?”
“No sign of that so far,” Mirra replied, “It seems that either the crew aboard are more interested - or focused on getting through their journey.”
Fludicus looked around the bridge, and then issued his order, “Continue our approach, and ready shields and weapons just in case.”
Meanwhile, most of the survey team had already left their stations on the bridge, and the last of them were in the turbolift with its doors closing. Only Sirol Ri'vena the Romulan specialist remained on the bridge. That caught the attention of Mirra and Fludicus. Before the two could ask, Sirol gave her explanation.
“With all due respect Commander, I wish to offer my assistance in respect that I have a level of expertise concerning the Badlands,” Sirol explained, “These plasma storms interfere with the ship’s sensors. I could help in compensating the sensors facing the phenomena.”
“A vital tactical advantage,” Mirra agreed, “Her knowledge and skills has helped us keep our ship masked from the enemy. We would be served better with her continued presence.”
Fludicus saw the invaluable insight and nodded, “Specialist Sirol, please take the science station.”
“Thank you Commander,” Sirol give a nod and proceeded to her new place at the science station on the bridge.
“”Mirra, continue to track the ship,” Fludicus ordered, “Helm, close the distance.”
“Aye Commander,” Gepba began to bring the ship through the plasma storms as the pursuit continued.
The bridge fell silent as Fludicus sat into the Captain’s Seat, each to their own stask.. Gepba at the helm, Mirra at Tactical, and Sirol at the science station, each with the focus on their query.
The tension was felt throughout the ship. Dr Armaat was in sickbay reading a paper on Vulcan Neurology while waiting for incoming casualties. Thron meanwhile was running up and down Engineering, instructing his charges on engine and warp core adjustments throughout the rough ride through the Badlands.
The silence was broken when an ensign at the sensors station called out to inform that they are getting some more readings from their target.
“Continue pursuit,” Fludicus ordered, “Sirol, anything new you got?”
“Nothing so far,” Sirol replied, “One moment... I got a visual.”
“Onscreen,” Fludicus looked to the viewscreen to see a small light brownish shape moving across the Orange-brown space of the Badlands.
“Magnify,” the image was then enlarged to reveal the ship resembling that of an Earth Stingray. It had the front hull notch, bridge morphology and aft assembly resembling those of Defiant-class escorts.
Fludicus got up from his seat and took a few steps forward. Mirra also left her station and stood next to him. then whispered “Hideki-class.”
“The question is what do they pack Mirra,” Fludicus then turned to his seat, “Tactical analysis.”
“Aye Commander,” Mirra got to her station and began her task. Meanwhile, Sirol began to pick up something on the sensors at her station.
“I am picking up some readings from the enemy ship,” reported Sirol, “My spectroscopic analysis show some unusual compositions on its hull. I already have compensated for interference from the Badlands, so this is...”
“Transfer that to me,” Mirra offered. A few moments later, Mirra hand an answer, “These readings are consistent with ablative armour plating. Sir, that ship is an improvised ironclad.”
Fludicus shook his head. The True Way developing ship armour was clearly a disturbing development.
The ensign at the sensors station called Fludicus over, “I am detecting a massive energy output coming from their engines.”
“Are they going any faster than us?” Fludicus asked. The ensign shook his head, “Curious...”
“Hardly curious now we know that ship has been armoured,” Sirol suggested, “The engines must be compensating for the additional mass from the armour to maintain the same speed as a standard ship. Based on these readings, I estimate that the armour makes up 10% of the ship mass.”
“That explains the engines,” Fludicus said nodding, “but why so much armour for a ship so small?”
“I am also detecting some unusual energy fluctuations on the enemy ship’s hull,” Sirol continued, “This is so unusual. I have never seen this before.”
“Let me have a look,” Fludicus went over to Sirol’s station and then saw the findings with some bemusement, “Mirra, are you seeing this?”
“One moment,” Mirra replied as she downloaded the data from Sirol’s station, “Got it. Their amour must be accumulating ionic charges from the Badlands anomalies. This is common in most armour matrices used on ships in the Badlands.”
“Another thing is that there is so many concentrations of these charges throughout the ship’s hull,” Sirol remarked, “it does not make sense to me.”
“I may have an explanation,” Mirra interjected, “Today’s standard ship armour plating usually overlaps one another to improve ship protection. The Defiant was not so fortunate. Being a first-generation prototype, it had armour simply wielded on much like our target here.”
“So you mean that you found some chinks in the armour?” Fludicus asked.
“I already have a number,” Mirra replied, “We are only able to due to its improvised nature here. Normally, ships with ablative armour would have them tightly fit to minimise such risks.”
“How shall we exploit this advantage? Phasers? Photon torpedoes?”
“That would be hard. We have to precisely target the gaps in the armour, and even then we have to make sure the attack goes down deep. Ablative armour is designed to soak up damage so a strike between two plates is nothing if we cannot do any real damage within the ship itself.”
“Is there anything else you can find about them?” Fludicus asked, “What about weapons?”
“That’s another thing,” Mirra replied, “The same ionic fluctuations within the armour and the interference from the Badlands are making it hard for me to scan for weapons. However, a visual and UV scan of the vessel seems to reveal some faded markings not associated with the old Cardassian military.”
“A civilian craft?” Sirol asked, “That should not be bad odds given that they already improvised the armour.”
“That’s not the case here,” Fludicus replied, “This is likely a pre-Dominion War colonist vessel. supposedly given for their self-defence.”
“Supposedly?” Sirol asked amusingly, having already expecting Fludicus to explain the ulterior motive.
“Between the 2370 Cardassian-Federation Treaty and the Dominion War, Federation colonists beyond the then Cardassian-Federation borders fought the Cardassian Union due to the old regime’s oppressive policies. Cardassian colonists meanwhile were covertly backed by the Union itself through the provision of Hideki-class vessels like this here,” Fludicus pointed to the ship being tracked on the viewscreen, “The result was the Maquis.”
“I supposed these ships supplied by Cardassian Union were not as well armed,” Sirol said.
“The Cardassian colonists found so and had them modified with Galor-class phasers,” Fludicus replied, “Back then, those weapons were more powerful than any Federation civilian could hope to get their hands on.”
“Commander,” the ensign at the sensors station called, “The target vessel is about to enter an ion storm.”
“Let’s follow them in,” Fludicus ordered.
“That course of action is unwise,” Sirol suggested, “Ion storms of this kind over here are documented to cause extensive damage to ships of our size.”
“We can’t let them escape,” Mirra objected, “why not we attack them now?”
“Sir,” the ensign at the sensors station reported, “this ion storm looks a little weird,” He did a bit more calculations and scans, “ It's possible to go around it. Curious that target would just go straight into the storm.”
“How long would it take to go around it?”
“Half an hour at our present speed,” the ensign replied, “maybe less.”
“Let’s do this,” Fludicus replied, “Ensign, Mirra, calculate the target’s course based on its current trajectory and plot an intercept course. Helm, take us around the storm. Full impulse.”
The Starlight Pony took of and began its course to go around the ion storm. Meanwhile, Sirol continued to work at the science station with some interest on the ion storm.
“This phenomena within the Badlands has not been seen documented for the last twenty years,” Sirol reported, “We should have a science team looking at this.”
“We can arrange for that,” Fludicus replied, “ Eyes on the prize for now, we got a True Way ship to catch.”
“I have estimated the course of our target and the exit point from the ion storm,” Mirra said, “We should be arriving just as they leave the ion storm.”
“Helm, can we go any faster?” Fludicus asked.
“Not without giving our position away,” Gepba replied, “That ion trail that we leave behind would let others track us down in turn.”
“If there is anyone who would be tracking us, it would be the True Way,” Fludicus said, in the manner that Mirra recognized that he was in a mood for a fight, “and we hunt the True Way. Full speed ahead.”
As the Starlight Pony picked up its pace to bypass the ion storm, Fludicus turned to Mirra and Sirol for any new intelligence in their query.
“These scans we got on the vessel are not up to standard,” Sirol said, “I’m sorry, but that’s all we got.”
“Keep looking,” Fludicus encouraged, “We got to find something...” he then turned to Mirra at the tactical station, “Something we can work on?”
“Just as Sirol said, we got nothing from the scans,” Mirra replied, “However, I do have something we can take note.”
Mirra pulled out some schematics and noted on Hideki-class vessels, “I have noticed that these ships have been observed before and during the Dominion War. They note of some weaknesses that could be exploited...”
The more that Fludicus saw and read, the more confident he became. Mirra’s study of the Hideki-class vessels was proving to be invaluable on determining what could be protected in armour and what had to be left unprotect despite the improvements.
“Based in this observation, the first thing we need to do is to target their engines...” Fludicus observed, “A well-aimed photon torpedo should do them in.”
“Once we take the engines out, all we need to to is to simply.attack them in the rear,” Mirra elaborated, “They are armoured on the front so if we can make them a sitting duck...”
Before Mirra could continue, Gepba called out to Fludicus, “We are one minute from the exit point.”
“Mirra, ready shields and phasers,” Fludicus ordered, “Specialist Sirol, I want updates on any movement.”
Mirra just nodded and headed back to her station. Sirol was deep in her reading of the scans, merely mentally acknowledged his order. Fludicus simply took up his place at the Captain's Chair.
“Helm, slow us down to to one quarter impulse,” Gepba nodded as her hands on the console slowed the ship to a crawl, “Status.”
“We are 50 kilometres from the estimated exit point.” Gepba reported, “One quarter impulse and orbiting the exit point. Much like a predator, just too patient. ”
“Just like how we want it,” Fludicus replied, “Put us in a corkscrew orbit. Lets cover some ground.”
“Roger that commander.”
“One minute from estimated exit,” reported Mirra, “Weapons and shields are ready.”
“The ion storm continues to challenge us,” Sirol commented, “I would like to ask if you would allow me to calibrate the sensors in order to compensate for the interference.”
“Please proceed,” Fludicus said, “We could use every edge we got.”
“Thirty seconds to estimated exit,” Mirra called out.
Fludicus opened up a comlink to Thron, “Engineering, what’s your status?”
“All systems at optimal performance,” Thron replied, “Warp plasma is ready. Damage control teams at standby.”
“Ten seconds...” Mirra’s words began to silence the bridge as the mental countdown began, “five seconds...” Everyone held their breath as the moment arrived... and then left.
For a few moments, there was nothing. No movement, no changes, nothing. Everyone quietly and nervously yet quietly returned to their consoles.
Except for Fludicus, who kept looking at the viewscreen.
“Commander,” Sirol finally said, “Movement detected. 7.5 km from our starboard. Half impulse.”
“Visual,” Fludicus ordered. The viewscreen then showed the Hideki-class vessel which had just emerged from the ion storm approaching at the Starlight Pony.
Fludicus realised the time to stalk was over.
“Shields up!” Fludicus cried out, “Red Alert! Let’s face them!”
As the lights across the ship dimmed with the red lights on and the klaxon rang out throughout the vessel, the Starlight Pony turned to face its smaller opponent. The Hideki-class vessel was the first to fire. A barrage of phaser fire struck the shields of the Starlight Pony.
Several small jolts rocked the ship as Fludicus held onto the Captain's seat.
“Galor-class phasers,” Mirra called out, “Shields are holding.”
“Looks like they shown what they got,” Fludicus remarked, “Helm, set a collision course.”
The Hideki-class vessel (clearly a True Way vessel by now) continued its assault on the Starlight Pony. However, the True Way’s captain must had realised that he may had made a costly mistake of fighting a Federation cruiser, for the True Way ship then turned away to flee just as the Starlight Pony lunged forward towards its opponent.
The split-second decision was the decisive moment that exposed its rear.
This was the opportunity that Fludicus could not pass up.
“That’s it: fire phasers and target their shields.” Fludicus said, “Standby torpedoes.”
At last the Starlight Pony fired. The first shot missed, but the second struck the aft shields.
In the exchange of phaser fire it was quickly shown who was on the losing side. The barrage of Galor-class phaser fire from the Hideki-class vessel was quickly replied by singular, powerful bursts from the Starlight Pony. It soon became less of a game of numbers and more of a game of marksmanship, as every miss the Starlight Pony made was a few more seconds of life to the True Way vessel.
While the Galor-class phasers could prick the shields of a Starfleet vessel, the Mark VI phasers from the Starlight Pony simply punched at the True Way’s ships shields with brutal effect. The Hideki-class aft shields were simply overwhelmed after a half a dozen hits.
The agile Hideki-class ship then tried to evade further fire, but Mirra was used to targeting Klingon fighters with phaser arrays. It was no match: after several phaser bursts began hitting the hull, Mirra let lose several photon torpedoes that went for the engine exhaust vents of the True Way ship.
The explosions rocked the small vessel and sent it drifting towards the ion storm on a slow spin. Several more phaser bursts struck the ship’s shields or its unshielded aft, either harmlessly striking the armour plate or punching into its exposed parts.
“Cease fire,” Fludicus ordered, “Status.”
“Seems like we took out their engines,” Mirra reported, “and we have overpowered their shields. Hull and armour seem to be intact though.”
“Still cannot determine that,” Mirra replied, running several scans, “Sir, they are drifting into the ion storm. Without shields or engines, they would be destroyed.”
“Engage tractor beam,” Fludicus said, “Once we have them, let’s get us both clear of the ion storm.”
Several moments later, the Starlight Pony was tugging the True Way Hideki to relative safety. With Red Alert still in effect, it was a tense calm as more intense scans were made on the True Way ship.
“It’s so amazing that their armour is still intact after all this bombardment,” Mirra remarked, “Curiously, so have their weapons.”
“I am detecting twelve Cardassian signatures,” Sirol reported, “several of them are weak.”
“Typical crew for a Hideki-class vessel is three to five,” Mirra explained, “It can hold up to thirty others.”
Just then, the bridge shook.
“The True Way vessel fired on us,” the ensign at the sensors station reported, “They knocked out our tractor beam.”
Another shock rippled through the ship, “They are still firing at us despite the fact we just save their hides.”
“They are just too blind to see their folly,” Fludicus remarked as a third strike shook the bridge, “Get ready to return fire.”
“Shields are down to 72 percent,” Mirra reported, with yet another hit from the True Way vessel shook the Starlight Pony, “EPS conduit ruptures on two decks.”
“Turn us about to them,” Fludicus ordered, “Helm, make a pass by them.”
The Starlight Pony approached the True Way vessel as the latter furtilly attacked the former.
“Fire at will,” Fludicus’ order was carried out with devastating results. The Starlight Pony’s phaser fire simply raked the True Way Hideki vessel, hitting the weapons and the shields squarely. A few moments later, several photon torpedoes struck the Hideki’s hull. As the Starlight Pony passed over the Hideki, the two ships exchanged fire, with the shields of the Starlight Pony lit up by the Galor-class phasers while the Hideki’s hull seemed to hold under the pounding of the Starlight Pony’s phasers.
Mirra’s and Sirol’s scans were telling a different story.
“It seems like their armour is beginning to fail,” Sirol reported, “I am detecting multiple fractures across their hull.”
“If we make another pass at them, a volley of photon torpedoes should do the trick,” Mirra suggested.
A few consoles on the bridge suddenly sparked and crackle. Those nearly instinctively avoided then for fear of burns and injury.
“Shields holding at 69 percent,” Mirra reported, “More ruptures and leaks across the ship.”
“Order Engineering to divert auxiliary power to the shields,” Fludicus responded, “Helm, let’s make another pass at our target. Full impulse.”
The Starlight Pony turned around to face the Hideki-class, making another attack. While the True Way vessel made its last stand with its Galor-class phasers, it was a meaningless gesture as the the Starlight Pony’s photon torpedoes struck the ship directly, followed by bursts of phaser fire penetrating the port hull fin of the Hideki-class ship. As the Starlight Pony pulled away, the True Way ship was rocked by series of explosions. Plates of ablative armour broke off the True Way vessel.
“Cease fire,” Fludicus ordered, “What’s their status?”
“Multiple hull breaches,” Mirra replied, “Their port blade is is uninhabitable, and their armour has failed. Pretty much confirms that it’s improvised.”
“Raptured conduits and plasma leaks all across the ship,” the ensign at the sensors station reported, “Our tractor beam is still offline.”
“Engines are still operational,” Gepba reported, “We are in position to make another run at them.”
“Belay that,” Fludicus ordered, “All stop.”
“All stop, sir,” Acknowledged Gepba, “Holding position at 5 kilometres from target.”
“Maintain position,” Fludicus ordered. He got off his seat and then headed for Mirra, “Mirra, do they still have weapons?”
“Looks like they got no more weapons,” Mirra replied, “We did so much damage to their conduits that all they have is life support and little else.”
“I can account for eight lifeforms,” Sirol reported, “we seemed to have...”
“We will determine how many are there when we get aboard,” Fludicus declared. “Mirra, assemble the assault team. I am coming along.”
Mirra nodded and left for the turbolift. Everyone else just went on with their work.
No one bothered telling Fludicus Starfleet Code Section 12, Paragraph 4. Fludicus chose to ignore it in following a long line of captains who prefered going on away missions. After all, he felt that his place was where his hands can get dirty, not on some clean seat on a starship.
Besides, there was the chief engineer Thron.
“Thron, Fludicus here. Status report,” Fludicus called via the comlink.
“Damage control teams are returning to their posts.” Thron replied, “Most of the damage is contained, repairs will be underway shortly.”
“I trust that you would attend to the issues as you have before,” Fludicus headed for the Ready Room, “Assume command. Mirra and I are going a-hunting.”