This style of storytelling was inspired by The Guv, where a small segment of a scene or ongoing story was posted in the SFC Fan Fiction Forum with high frequency to build up a tale. The story itself I have no clue what I was thinking when I started it, no idea what inspired it.
I do recall wanting to use some characters I had been creating at the time, hence the chronologically-prior inclusion of Caitlin Harrington to her being captain of the Indefatigable. Also, I wanted a small-ship action, perhaps even specifically using the Starfleet Command/Klingon Academy-originated Akula-class light destroyer and the Relentless-class war cruiser.
This story itself as it was posted gained good reviews and several other authors expressed an interest in writing a segment, so I fully endorsed that and invited them and anyone to do so. Unfortunately no one actually did, with some merely expressing interest on seeing where I would take it.
Alas, it went nowhere further
until working on a later Harrington story titled 'MAYDAY', I merged that story with an earlier story scene. With that concept included I now had to write the story of that scene to explore and define the entity I was including in 'MAYDAY'.
That effort became this story. I combined three different story and scene ideas and then had tons of fun exploring and defining the entity and just how much would be discovered about it. Combined with 6.00am wake-ups, this new enthusiasm to finish a story after eight years instead of adding to or starting anew whatever drew my fancy brought this story to a very satisfying conclusion at the end of June '23.
I can only hope it matches my previous levels of storytelling before my extended Alan Wake-style slump into deep writer's block.
"Stop screaming in my ear like a frightened kit!" M'Rrowl snapped irritably as she deftly operated the shuttle's controls to neatly avoid the pinnacle of rock they'd been flying towards. As the Pup banked and weaved and neatly slotted though the annular rock formation fifty degrees port of their previous heading, she offered her nervous passenger a caustic glare. "Do you think I don't know what I'm doing?"
The white-faced Human looked as if he was about to lose his lunch and he clung white-knuckled and wide-eyed to his seat, unable to tear his gaze from the shuttle's clearsteel forward windows. "Watch where you're going!" he cried out, twisting away from their impending to him sudden fiery death against a canyon wall.
"If you do not shut the hell up, I am going to let them hit us!" she snarled back, furious. "This is the only thing keeping us alive so if you cannot watch, don't bloody watch! Get on the comms array and try to punch through to the ship."
"I can't" he started, but she cut him off.
"Do something to stop me from throwing you out the side!" she roared. "'Cause if you don't stop your whining, I swear I'll stun you! Sir!"
She flung that in to remind the snivelling heap that he was her senior officer and as such should be setting an example or at least swallowing his fear to the point where he wasn't endangering their lives with his totally unhelpful and alarmist exclamations.
It was as if he suddenly remembered this too, because his next words were almost predictable.
"Ensign, I order you to not take such risks with our lives!"
M'Rrowl's ears flicked flat back and her eyes slitted. "Can you fly this shuttle, Lieutenant?"
"Yes! I can get us into orbit"
"I did not ask if you could 'operate' it. I asked if you can fly. As in Space/Atmosphere Combat Manoeuvring?"
He managed a glare at her through his fear. "Then no, Ensign, I cannot 'fly' this shuttle."
She returned his glare with several centuries' worth of compound interest. "I can. Sir."
So saying, she yanked the shuttle around again to avoid another series of disruptor blasts that would have downed them had they hit. To do so, she barrelled down a twisting side canyon at Mach Two after executing a switchback turn to 120° starboard from their previous course.
And she had to endure his shrill, terrified scream from about zero-point-three seconds into the turn.
I wish he'd lose his grip and knock himself out on a panel or bulkhead, she snarled inwardly, noting a relatively clear and straight section coming up on the scanner. They'd be there in three seconds. Then I wouldn't have to do this...
Maintaining control with her left hand, she reached to her belt and pulled her Type I phaser off it, checked the power setting, aimed, and fired, all in one smooth action. The terrified Human slumped nervelessly in his chair.
She hurriedly tapped in a landing command, replaced her phaser on her belt, and threw herself out of her seat. At the rush, she hauled her now-peaceful superior into the back and secured him in the restraint webbing of the bench against the starboard bulkhead and returned to the cockpit to the blaring of the sensor alarm.
"Incoming!" she muttered to herself, jumping into the pilot seat and gunning the shuttle's anti-grav and impulse engines. The strident alarm of a weapons lock abruptly cut off to be replaced by the sound of explosions behind her as the disruptor salvo from the pursuing Klingons created a large crater in the canyon floor where her little craft had briefly sat mere seconds before.
"Useless Human!" she snarled her frustration to the now-empty pilot's section as she manually jinked their shuttle around a base course mere metres off the ground and from the left-side canyon wall. I needed him to try and contact the ship! I cannot keep flying around in circles until they give up! Why the hell is Starfleet not arming its shuttles as standard procedure, anyway?
Another flurry of emerald pulses flashed past the shuttle to pulverise some rock in front of her.
Okay, I have to do something instead of merely dodging. It's keeping us alive but getting us nowhere. With a half-decent crewmate, she mentally snarled at her forcibly-napping senior officer, I could have had them implement any ideas we came up with, but noooo. I have to get a mewling kit who managed to hide his fear of flying for eight years.
She rolled her eyes at this. I mean seriously! Has he never been on a wild shuttle ride in all this time?
Another salvo dodged, she set her mind back to the problem at hand. They're faster than me and they're armed, but I'm more manoeuvrable and have stronger shields. I need to down at least one of them without damaging myself. How? How do I do this with no weapons and only my piloting skill?
A predatory grin decorated her face as she reapplied herself to the shuttle controls.
"Any word from the shuttle?" Captain Harrington asked. Again.
"Ma'am, we would inform you instantly if there is," Jiao Shi Qi answered almost before her C.O. had finished speaking, trying not to sound snappish or exasperated. The slight Chief of Ship Operations turned to face her captain from the Auxiliary Systems bridge station to the immediate right of the main viewer and quickly elaborated. "The Klingon ship is still blanket-jamming our communications and our sensors cannot punch through or compensate for the ionisation of the planet's atmosphere caused by their torpedoes. So far, direct optical scanning has not located the shuttle, but if they are involved in a wide-ranging evasion within the canyons riddling the entire region, we're unlikely to see them. Not that we'll stop looking or trying to clear the interference. Captain."
A brief silence greeted this verbal explosion from their normally quiet Ops Chief, who had presumed upon her friendship with the captain and answered in place of their first officer to make a point.
"Well. That's me told off," Caitlin replied in a mildly sarcastic tone. "Have I really been that annoying, Bonnie?"
"Yes Ma'am, you have," Jiao agreed more affably, her tension relieved by her friend the captain's playful response.
"Get me the Klingon commander again, please," Kate then instructed Lamar, their Izarian comms officer.
"I have him, Ma'am. On audio now."
"What do you want?" her still unnamed opponent greeted her.
"I want you to lift your jamming so I can talk to my survey shuttle and get it back."
The channel abruptly closed even as Kate's mouth was opening to form new words. Her eyes flashed with a flare of anger before she closed her mouth thoughtfully.
"Mr. Danilov, perhaps I am being paranoid, but does it seem to you that this gentleman of our esteemed galactic neighbours is deliberately making fun of me?"
The X.O. blinked. "He has done that to you several times now. Maybe it's how he gets his jollies? It's not like we can make an issue of it. His Relentless outranks our Akula."
"Only in the size of his guns, Stephan," Kate spoke chidingly, though inwardly added, and his engines, hull, and power curve...
"Well, when we're left to using a comm laser to even talk to him through his jamming, I'd say it's obvious he's not interested in talking to us."
"Yet," Jiao interposed. "Perhaps he's doing something nasty to our shuttle and doesn't want us to see it?"
"Or he doesn't want our shuttle seeing something down there and surviving to tell us about it," Caitlin voiced, a sudden chill suffusing her.
"You think they're hiding something on an uninhabited planet in neutral space?" Stephan asked thoughtfully.
"It wouldn't be the first time," the slight Chinese answered promptly, though genuine worry started to colour her tone. "Captain, we need to see what's going on down there."
"Agreed," Harrington stated abruptly. "Ki'aron, launch a probe and have it get under the ionised atmosphere, scan the entire region for our shuttle's physical parameters, power signature, crew lifesigns, movement above fifteen metres-per-second, and weapons-fire. It has to record and return to the ship."
Science Officer Ki'aron Xa-Havereii was already programming his board with the first parameter before his captain had finished speaking.
Lieutenant Jarinex turned from the aft-facing Tactical station against the rear bulkhead of the bridge. "Captain, perhaps we should also program the probe for evasive manoeuvres? We don't want it being shot out of the sky before it can return within comm laser range."
"Good point. Ki'aron, include randomly selected evasive patterns and have the probe start them if it is scanned by Klingon sensor systems."
"Captain, that may be a bit much for the probe to handle," Xa-Havereii warned, doing it anyway.
"Understood. Let's hope it doesn't come under fire then. Launch when ready."
"What reaction will we get from the Klingons?" Danilov asked. "They don't want us to see what's going on under the interference and they're not talking."
"We need to be prepared for them firing on the probe," Jarinex stated firmly.
"They may do nothing," Jiao opined from the opposite side of the bridge. "They may just be here to annoy us but nothing further. Maybe their captain is bored."
"If they destroy our probe, I'm taking the ship into the atmosphere to look ourselves," Harrington stated unequivocally. "Enough of that nonsense."
"Captain, that would put us at a tactical disadvantage if they decide to get rough" Danilov objected, but Kate overrode him.
"We'll be under their own ionic interference so they would be the ones with the disadvantage. If they want to fight, they come under it too"
"Where the odds would again be in their favour in a straight out fight of firepower," the X.O. countered, folding his arms across his chest and staring at has captain with narrowed eyes.
"Then we don't go for a straight fight, Stephan," Kate returned evenly. "Never fight on their terms or you're already half-way to losing."
"Probe's ready," Xa-Havereii announced, ignoring the byplay to follow his last orders. "Launching."
"No reaction wait, they're scanning it. Probe is on evasive." A tense second passed, then, "They're powering up their facing disruptor!"
"Lamar, hail them!"
"They're not answering, Captain."
"Miss! The evasive is working!"
"Five seconds until it's through the interference."
"Firing again, miss!"
"Damn their eyes! Take us in, Mr. Winchester. Z-minus twenty thousand kilometres and point our nose right at them all the way down."
Sweat suddenly popped out on Wyatt Winchester III's brow as he fought to remember how to program such a fiendishly complicated manoeuvre, but the captain obviously wanted to send a message to the Klingon and didn't want to hear from her helmsman that he couldn't do it.
"Makes me glad we didn't launch the Camel after all," Kate stated in a quiet aside to her X.O., who stepped in closer. "Though destroying a crewed shuttle is quite different from a probe, for all we know they've already done the same with no witnesses to the Pup.
"Captain, is this really necessary?" Danilov asked pointedly, though only for her ears. "That manoeuvre will put a lot of strain on the ship, require extra power to the S.I.F. to counter it, and we're not even armed yet."
"I'm setting us up to preclude from needing to arm ourselves, X.O.," Harrington shot back a little testily. "If all our main weapons arcs are pointed away from him he may feel emboldened to try something while we'd have to struggle around in complicated intra-atmospheric manoeuvres to return fire."
Danilov looked dubious but let it stand. He could hear that the captain was getting annoyed at being questioned so much. They now had to put away their usual Q&A style of command.
"Descent plotted and laid in, Captain," Wyatt announced.
The Bigglesworth dropped towards the planet.
"Commander! The enemy descends towards the planet's atmosphere!"
Kron could see that both from the visual on the main screen and the tactical repeater screen before his command throne. After a few seconds he also saw that the unwieldy-looking Starfleet ship remained pointed directly at him, keeping its photon tubes unmasked.
Kron smirked. This Harrington is a feisty one! So much the better.
"They're keeping us in the firing arc of their heavy weapons!" Gunner Qo'leth reported redundantly again.
"Helm! Place us between the Starfleet ship and the planet. Block their descent!" he ordered with a grin in his voice.
The cruiser pointed his head at a spot far below the Fed ship and gunned his engines. Kron grinned wolfishly as the Shredder leapt forward.
M'Rrowl weaved back and forth and up and down across her base course, slowing all the time to draw the two pursuing Klingon shuttles in closer to her.
She checked her Inertial Navigation System, watching the co-ordinates change rapidly.
Suddenly a series of hammer blows struck the shuttle's roof, their kinetic impact imparting a vicious 3-axis tumble. M'Rrowl couldn't even spare the time to curse; all her attention was required to prevent the shuttle from careening into the canyon wall or floor.
Her fingers flew over thruster, anti-grav, and micro-impulse propulsion controls as she tenaciously wrestled her small craft back under control. Precisely-timed and -directed bursts from the thrusters and anti-gravs eliminated her roll and allowed a steadier application of the latter to boost her altitude and keep her in the air. She was bringing her nose up and concentrating on halting her sideways skid when the upper aft port corner of the shuttle clipped the canyon wall, starting the whole process all over again and incidentally probably saved the lives of both shuttle occupants as the next disruptor barrage sailed through the space she would have been in otherwise.
More heart-stopping seconds passed as M'Rowl applied her superb piloting skills in a frenzied blur there was no time for her to think, she did it all purely on instinct. After literally scraping back into controlled flight, an incredibly shaken and frightened M'Rrowl spared a glance for the shuttle roof and her superior strapped in under it. On seeing it heavily-dented, she paled. If he'd been awake to scream and startle me, delayed any part of that recovery by even half a second
Shaking off the shadow of death flitting around her, out of bravado she snarled aloud, "Okay, that's it! I've had it! You slime-devils are just so much chunky salsa now!"
She gunned her anti-grav to shoot her straight up over the lip of the canyon walls and punched the impulse throttle to all stop. Her seat belt easily kept her in place, absorbing what motion her inertial dampeners failed to which made her heartily glad she'd taken the time to strap that idiot down and watched the two clunky, wedge-shaped Klingon shuttles blast past her. They quickly began curving back around to intercept her, but as soon as their noses pointed far enough away from her intended direction of flight, she punched the micro-impulse drive up to full atmospheric speed and shot over the flat surface at eighteen hundred metres-per-second towards the area where her weapon of choice lurked: the large annular rock formation.
The Klingons, caught out by the expectation of her tearing away in a different direction and reacting instinctively to that end, took long seconds to regroup and resume their tenacious pursuit. Their superior speed thanks to their more aerodynamic shape soon had them overhauling her and she watched her aft sensors closely, carefully timing her breakaway from her oblique approach to the rock doughnut.
M'Rrowl cut the impulse drive, spun right, and pitched the shuttle down to align her nose on the canyon leading to their final destination. Retarding the impulse throttle to produce a less insane 350 metres-per-second which was necessary so she didn't slam into a canyon wall at slightly more than five times the speed of sound at this altitude on Cait she dove down into the canyon. She could not let the Klingons see the rock formation too soon; they had to be concentrating on closing the distance to her and landing another disruptor barrage or two on her stressed and groaning shuttle.
The duranium that the shuttle's hull was made of was an incredibly strong metal alloy with some energy dissipation properties; you could fire a phaser rifle on full at a standard hull plate for half an hour continuously and only just break through. But targeting the shuttle's weaker structural points such as the hatches, viewports, engines, nacelles, and their pylons gave the opportunity for a critical hit not to mention that the weapons mounted on shuttles were an order of magnitude more powerful than their handheld counterparts.
Her nacelle pylons were what stopped her going faster than a Mach Five equivalent through the thick air of this planet's lower atmosphere: the air resistance from the minimally-streamlined nacelles themselves would eventually rip them off, if the buffeting didn't flip her out of control before that happened. Her shields were down, completely burned out from the overload of previous strikes. If the Klingons landed another salvo in the same spot, or hit a nacelle or impulse drive unit
M'Rrowl shook off the distracting thoughts and reapplied herself to ensuring her own survival. The distance was shrinking rapidly, and the Klingons were still hot on her tail. She hadn't wanted to shake them this time as it would have made them cautious and start to hang back. She weaved and dodged and jinked and varied her speed enough to stop the Klingons landing their debilitating strike. She hoped she was infuriating them with her evasive manoeuvres as much as they were infuriating her with their relentless and deadly pursuit.
A mad Klingon was an unthinking Klingon.
The kilometres flashed past until there it was! It was slightly hidden by the canyon walls and chances were the Klingons didn't even recognise where they were amongst the hundreds of kilometres of intersecting canyons cutting their way through the desert plateaus of this region. M'Rrowl only saw it because she was looking for it and recognised it. It would take a moderate turn to lead her assailants right up to it, hiding most of it until the last millisecond. In between piloting the shuttle and her constant random evasions, she spared a flick of her eyes for the I.N.S. co-ordinate readout from the windscreen, watching the readout tick ever closer to her destination
Grimtak roared in frustrated fury as he again watched his carefully judged and selected predicted aim point being blithely ignored and bypassed by the Fed shuttle and thus his latest salvo failed to connect and spent itself on the canyon wall ahead of it.
His pilot did not appreciate his outburst. "If I could spare my hand for but two seconds, I would smash your head in!" Qo'pEch snarled at him as he yanked the shuttle's nose around again to cut a few extra metres off the Fed shuttle's lead on them. "Can you not land a single blow? Your so-called skills from our so-called best gunnery specialist! have thus far been out-stripped by the smooth-browed whelp on Dag'thar's shuttle! Not only once, but three times!"
Anything Grimtak would have said in reply and he had many choice replies was overridden by Qo'pEch's triumphant shout. "We have him!" the pilot crowed and altered course to cut across the sweeping curve the enemy shuttle had started. "Shoot!"
It immediately seemed wrong to Grimtak. This Starfleet pilot was exceptionally good and smart. He had to be, to have survived this long against their two shuttles. He looked out of his gunnery scope and loosed off a snap-shot, but it was too hurried and his mind was elsewhere.
"You dolt! Buffoon! Numbskull! When we get back to the ship I will have your ears pinned over the door to my quarters!" Qo'pEch raved.
"He would not make such an elementary mistake after all this time! He's leading us somewhere!"
Then there it was, and it was too late.
Dag'thar looked on in horror as the impenetrable wall of rock suddenly appeared before them and Qo'pEch's shuttle ploughed into it without slowing.
Even as the first shuttle's tough duranium nose hit, Dag'thar immediately punched his impulse drive into full reverse while pulsing his anti-gravs to try and get them away from it. His instinctive response and his position behind Qo'pEch's shuttle were all that saved him and his gunner from the same fate as their shuttle bounced and scraped off the rock walls all around them before Dag'thar's frantic but purposeful control inputs finally stabilised the gouged and dented shuttle and put it down on the plateau above the canyon they'd been racing through.
A very shaken pair or Klingons exchanged glances before Dag'thar collected enough of his wits to ask, "Sensor readings. Where are the shuttles of Qo'pEch and the Earther?"
Krell poked at his controls, still shaking his head to clear it. "Nothing on the Earther. He must have escaped or gone to ground somewhere to hide," the Fusion sneered. "Qo'pEch is on the canyon floor. No movement. Two lifesigns, so they survive."
Dag'thar pondered that as Krell continued to poke at his board. The pilot ran his own system checks and was pleased by what he found: no damage that would impair further pursuit. His shuttle was still flight- and space-worthy.
"Khest it!" Krell exclaimed. "Starboard disruptor is offline."
"Replay the video of your gunnery scope. Last minute only."
They both watched as the pursuit neared its end. Then Qo'pEch's shuttle smashed into and through the rock wall, started a lateral spin into the side of the annular rock, then cartwheeled down towards the canyon floor. All that happened in the second and a half before Dag'thar's reactions saved their own lives. Probably. The scope immediately lost sight of the Starfleet shuttle.
"Treacherous Ha'DI'bagh," Krell growled. "He could not defeat us in battle so he tricked us."
Dag'thar regarded his gunner critically. "And how would an unarmed single shuttle manage to defeat two armed shuttles in a 'battle'?"
Krell kept his mouth shut on that topic and asked instead, "Where'd the Fed go?"
Dag'thar replayed his own sensor logs so he could see what he had no attention for at the time.
"There he goes. Straight for orbit."
"What will we tell the ship?"
Meaning, of course, Commander Kron. Who wasn't known for his leniency towards failure.
Dag'thar powered up the shuttle and took off. "They'll know before we can tell them through the atmospheric ionisation. We will rescue Qo'pEch and Grimtar, and monitor the sensors for any signs of the Fed returning. When we can talk to the ship, we'll tell them
He grinned suddenly.
" Mission accomplished."
"Captain! The Pup is entering orbit, coming through the ionised layer!"
"Warn the Klingons off! If they fire on our shuttle we will attack!"
Lamar's fingers few over his board but before he could send the message, Jarinex grated, "They're firing!"
On the main viewscreen, phase disruptors streamed orange beams from the Klingon war cruiser's wingtips to a point far below them as Harrington barked, "Red Alert! Arm all weapons and target their bridge!"
"They missed!" Bonnie crowed. "The Pup has ducked back below the ionised layer."
Xiaron added, "It seems their own ionisation effect threw off their scanners."
"Fifteen seconds for phasers, forty-five for torpedoes," Jarinex updated.
"Reinforce forward shield and prepare to engage," Harrington ground out, fire in her eyes.
"Captain, Federation ship is arming weapons and locking on!"
"Gunner Qo'leth, explain to me why I should let you live for firing without orders," Kron purred dangerously, fingering his bushy moustache.
No one mistook the commander's genteel mannerisms for comradely banter. Quite apart from his words, the molten lava in his hot yellow eyes gave an observer a totally accurate gauge of his bottled wrath.
Spinning to face his captain, Qo'leth began, "Sir! I reacted on inst"
Kron whipped out his disruptor pistol and pointed it directly at the hapless gunner's face. "No excuses! I demanded a reason!" he barked.
"Captain, they are reinforcing their forward shield and are locked onto our bridge!"
"Reinforce facing shield!" Kron snarled over his shoulder, eyes not leaving Qo'leth.
"Commander by by missing their shuttle, we have not yet killed any Earthers! We you can use this to prod them!"
Kron's beetling brows raised thoughtfully, the heat diminishing in his eyes. "You surprise me, Qo'leth. I had not thought you capable of such strategic thinking."
Qo'leth did not do anything so foolish as to relax, even when Kron re-holstered his sidearm and gave his attention to the main viewer.
Fool! Kron raged inwardly, not letting his fury at losing control of the situation show to his subordinates. If I cannot have that shuttle and its crew as my hostages, then I wanted it back on its khest'n ship!
"Comms," he growled forcefully, "drop our jamming field and hail the Starfleet ship. Get them on my screen before their torpedoes are armed!"
Only time would tell if Kron would truly let Qo'leth's blunder pass unpunished, or if this lull was merely a reprieve until his battle of wits with the Earthers was over.
M'Rrowl breathed a shaky sigh of relief when no other weapons-fire streaked past her and eased the Pup out of its screaming dive to the relative safely of the canyons below. Her scanners still showed no sign of the Klingon shuttles, but she steered away from where she'd led at least one of them into the wall.
No point trading one trouble for another. Well, not again, she reflected angrily. Now what? I cannot get to space to question the ship or even hail them from under here She almost groaned for not following that thought to its logical conclusion. so if I get out from under the effect, and out of weapons range, I should be able to make contact and not die.
She banked the shuttle around and headed in the opposite direction from where she'd run afoul of the Klingon warship and keyed the throttle up to full atmospheric speed. The Klingon ship had given her pause as she'd risen into orbit, almost instantly followed by a nasty scare as it blasted at her.
What the hell is it that the Klingons don't want us to see here? she pondered while intently monitoring her scanners for the possible appearance of a shuttle from below or a starship from above. I haven't scanned anything of interest or any installation of theirs on the planet. Are they trying to keep me from discovering something if I get too close?
In a few minutes M'Rrowl would be reaching the edge of the communication disruption effect.
We'll find out then if the Brains on the Bridge have answers for me.
"Oh, so now he wants to talk to me?" Kate observed sardonically. "No response, Comms."
Danilov reacted with concern, made sure his captain saw it, but said nothing.
"Torpedoes armed, Captain," Jarinex updated again.
"Tactical on main viewer," Harrington ordered next.
The orbital situation appeared, visible to all. The Klingon war cruiser was now 'below' the Bigglesworth with its neck and blocky head pointed up at them. Harrington's ship faced its adversary head-on in its lower orbit.
"They're still hailing us, Captain," Lamar reported.
"Put them on-screen now please."
Her opponent and current personal bane replaced the tactical view in all his close-up glory. As he opened his mouth to speak, Kate beat him to the punch.
"What do you want?" she snarled belligerently.
Hoping to give him a taste of his own medicine, Kate was intensely irritated when instead the Klingon commander broke into a wide grin.
Damnit, he's really gotten under my skin! And to think, he may have just been flirting with me! she despaired. Stephan may be right; I need to take it down a notch or two.
"Commander Harrington, disarm your torpedoes and I won't destroy your ship."
Kate stared at him. He seemed genuinely amused. She decided to roll with it.
"Am I making you nervous?" she asked with a provocative head-tilt, maintaining her aggressive tone.
His grin got wider.
Kron stared more intently at the Earther woman. He began to believe that she was someone he could actually deal with. Perhaps Starfleet puts all their hothead captains in their patrol vessels? he mused idly. Scare them with facing off against real enemies so they become those boring, stodgy creatures commanding their larger ships?
Addressing her again, he commented, "A ship with such pitiful weapons and defences as yours gives me nothing to be nervous about, Commander Harrington. I'm more concerned with becoming irritated at you, losing my temper, destroying you outright. This would deprive me of the pleasure of your company."
Kron then had the immediate pleasure of watching her face darken and redden noticeably. What am I saying to her? Kron wondered at himself, smothering an inappropriate grin.
"Commander, I suddenly find myself in a good mood. I will let you retrieve your shuttle with no further interference."
"What, you've gotten your jollies pushing us around, threatening the lives of a hundred people, so now we can go, is that it?" the feisty Earther shot back, still clearly outraged.
Kron grinned back but said nothing, and again his adversary's face darkened further.
He was really enjoying this exchange.
I wonder what would anger her more; being taken lightly, or having her words utterly ignored? Kron considered his options both from his own amusement factor, but also from the standpoint that he did want her to leave. I don't care of you go away mad, Human, as long as you go away.
He'd encountered Humans and other Federation types who, if you showed them the slightest respect or comradeship, would want "to open a dialogue at this historic opportunity to forge a stronger relationship with his species and the Empire", and would not take "no" for an answer until you slapped them or their ship with weapons-fire.
He'd similarly encountered Starfleeters who'd buzz around your face like a giant glob fly solely to prevent you from doing what you wanted to do if you antagonised them too much.
Judging by her reactions, Harrington would be one to fall into the latter category. With great regret, Kron decided to moderate his antagonism so that he could complete his mission.
Taking a more open tone and smoothing the smugness from his expression Kron began to exercise his diplomatic skills. "Commander, my offer is sincere. If you do not wish to take me up on it "
At his hanging sentence the Human's visible anger subsided into a glower that would have done a Klingon woman proud. "Your ionisation layer will not allow for communications for hours. You will not get in our way or attack my ship! at any point as we descend below this layer to recall our shuttle."
Kron's respect grew slightly; it was not a question, it was a threat. It was however not one he could let go unchallenged.
"We shall not interfere or attack," he replied and paused to let her react. She did, showing minor relaxation, at which he added, "But we shall accompany you."
That fleeting relaxation was instantly gone, replaced with more anger and suspicion.
"Fine. You've given me no word to keep or reason to trust you, so you'll not be offended if we keep our torpedoes trained on you at all times. Harrington out."
Immediately onscreen, the flimsy-looking Starfleet destroyer grew larger as it headed right at them in their lower orbit.
Kron grinned again. Feisty, indeed.
Danilov stepped in closer at his captain's summons to a private conference.
"I cannot figure this guy out. Hot one minute, cold the next. Shooting at us then escorting us. He doesn't want us seeing something on that planet, detonates a torp in the atmosphere and tries to shoot down our shuttle, but then 'allows' us to go beneath his barrier and recover the shuttle anyway. What's his game?"
Danilov puzzled it over briefly. "It could be a trap. Lure us into a low-speed, low-manoeuvrability fight where his heavier guns, shields, and hull will let him win a slugfest."
Kate glanced askew at him. His answer was entirely in line with their earlier argument and this time it did have more weight to it. Despite the Klingon's comments on her ship's capabilities, they both knew that the Bigglesworth was easily capable of inflicting significant damage to the Klingon ship; a trap or surprise attack was in his best interests.
"A distinct possibility. However hostilities have ceased for the time being, at least between the Federation and the Klingons, now that they have a real war to fight on their far borders. With the ongoing negotiations at Korvat, would this Klingon attack us in earnest?"
Even as she posed the question she already knew the answer. The Enterprise and Okrona at Nimbus III, the Sentinel and the two unidentified Birds of Prey near Alpha Herculae, and dozens of other provocations and exchanges of fire over the last two years, coming after four years of open warfare winding down, all pointed to the high probability that this Klingon might savage her ship if she pushed him too far. And his ship was a war cruiser against her light escort.
This fact of life galled her and it showed.
"I see I don't need to answer that one, then," Danilov commented soberly. "We have to be vigilant and extremely cautious, Captain. This is not over."
Kate nodded. Leaning back to indicate the end of their conference, she ordered, "Commander, rig the ship for battle. Shut down all non-essential systems and divert power to the S.I.F. Maintain full shields in all areas. I want a full sensor crew watching the Klingons, the planet, their shuttles, and ours. Maintain full charge and readiness of our weapons. Man all transporter rooms and prep damage control and medical teams."
Under his approval at the extensive measures being taken she could sense his belief that the action prompting it all was unnecessary and putting them in extreme peril.
Kate's eyes narrowed minutely. That's not your call to make, Stephan.
"Mister Winchester, slide us underneath him, keeping our tubes pointed at him all the way down. Miss him by ten metres as we go."
She watched Wyatt flinch and his belated "Aye Captain" was not confidence-inspiring. Again she felt Stephan's eyes on her from across the bridge but she didn't look at him.
She split her attention between the viewscreen showing the Klingon ship growing ever larger and Wyatt's jerky movements at the helm.
He was taking it carefully, approaching neither recklessly nor hesitantly. Harrington liked to think it was giving them a sense of deliberate, calculated weight. She found herself nodding approval and a brief, wintry smile flitted over her face at the realisation.
Then the manoeuvre came, and the viewscreen remained unwaveringly fixed ahead, keeping the Klingon ship centred without lock-on. Kate's eyes flicked between the attitude indicators and tactical display. The Klingon helmsman was clearly returning the favour, pivoting his ship almost in time with her own, keeping the Bigglesworth in the Klingon ship's primary weapons arcs.
Then it was done, and Bigglesworth was descending nacelles-first into the planet's lower atmosphere with the Klingon war cruiser still centred on their viewscreen but growing more distant than Kate's specified 'ten metres'.
"Nicely done, Mr. Winchester."
Wyatt's tense shoulders smoothed out and his hyper-sharp movements became more natural at his captain's praise. Kate turned her attention to more pressing matters. "Lieutenant Xa-Havereii, let me know the instant we are in the clear below the interference. Lieutenant Lamar, start trying to raise the shuttle. Commander Jarinex, start scanning for our shuttle and any traces of weapons-fire."
The aye-ayes echoed back and it wasn't long before Xa-Havereii called out, "We're entering the ionisation layer now, Captain."
"Okay. Keep that sensor watch on the Klingon and report the slightest change in his energy profile or flight aspect. Now, let's get to work and bring our shuttle crew home."
Dag'thar finished his assessment of Qo'pEch's shuttle and cursed. Krell looked over from setting Grimtar's broken arm, eyebrows raised interrogatively.
"This shuttle is only salvageable. It will not move again without extensive component replacement," he informed his gunner in disgust.
Both Qo'pEch and Grimtar were still unconscious. "We should take these two back to the ship"
Krell was interrupted by a loud alarm from within their own shuttle. Dag'thar bolted through the open hatch.
"The Starfleet shuttle is re-entering the atmosphere! Leave them, we must resume pursuit!"
Krell leapt up and sprinted inside, his tending to his fellows already complete.
"He's headed away from us at sixteen hundred kellicams per hour, bearing three-zero-three, range four-seven-five kellicams!" Dag'thar reported, punching up the anti-gravs to get them off the ground. "We'll have Feklhr's own time catching up to him again," he growled with great frustration.
"And then we have to scare him back up into orbit again? How in Gre'thor are we supposed to do that a second time? Why do we even need to?" Krell grumbled as their shuttle shot to maximum atmospheric speed even as he strapped in.
Dag'thar silently agreed. I bet that fool Qo'leth blasted away as soon as he saw it. As much as he wanted to share that dig at their third-rate gunner, he didn't want to share it with their second-rate gunner and inflate this whelp's head.
"We're at max velocity and should reacquire the Fed shortly. Prior orders still stand in the face of no comms with the ship: shoot to down him, or scare him back up into orbit. Whatever stops him from searching down here."
Krell nodded grimly and both started watching their scanners intently.
M'Rowl's sensors showed that she was about twenty seconds from escaping the worst part of the Klingons' layer of ionisation where she might be able to punch a signal through the weakening interference, when the threat warnings lit up again.
The Caitian's eyes flicked to her displays and she uttered a curse. "Holy Kolker, don't you know when to give up?!"
A single Klingon shuttle was rapidly overhauling her.
M'Rowl immediately started looking for cover. She knew she'd not have time to get a message through and get an answer or support before they started blasting at her again.
She needed to maintain what advantages she had, and clear atmosphere with no cover was not her best option. Snarling, she hammered at her shuttle controls with angry precision, and then she was diving for those canyons again at breakneck speeds before the Klingons could catch her out in the open.
"At least there's only one of you slime devils now," she commented with angry satisfaction, but started wondering at the back of her mind if she'd killed the crew of the other shuttle. The sickened sensation starting to spread through her body had to be pushed aside, but M'Rowl's subconscious wouldn't let her instantly dismiss the possibility she'd been responsible for causing the deaths of one or more! living beings.
"CCan't think about that right now!" she scolded herself aloud through gritted teeth, eyes glued to the speed and altitude readouts. Her hundred-thousand metre height had almost been fully expended and the shadowed canyons raced up to meet her tiny vessel.
Her plummet had allowed the Klingons to close the distance even faster on an intercept vector, and the incessant warning pings of her sensors told her they were almost in weapons range again. Now without shields she could not allow herself to be hit even once.
Briefly she wondered if she should have just attained orbit and took her chances with the Klingon war cruiser until she could get aboard the Bigglesworth, but decided that relying on her own survival skills was the better option. Even if the Klingons shot her down in the canyons, her death was not assured and she'd have more options and time.
Setting her sensors for short-range terrain mapping and avoidance M'Rowl once again plunged into the deep canyons of this inexplicably-interesting husk of a world.
"We have him again," Dag'thar stated flatly.
"He's heading right back into the canyons. Probably trying to make us crash too."
"Then I will ensure I do not attach myself to his rear bulkhead and you will use the experience gained from our previous chase to predict his movements and hit him this time," Dag'thar growled threateningly.
Krell stifled a sigh and kept his eyes on his targeting scanners as Dag'thar started his pursuit of the Starfleet shuttle anew.
They both grunted at the high-G manoeuvres Dag'thar put them through to stay on its tail at a safe distance. "Slippier than a Denebian slime devil," the pilot forced out between gritted teeth. "This Earther is good," he allowed grudgingly.
"I can't get a lock," Krell gritted out. "Not wasting power until I get a good shot at him."
The view out of the front of their shuttle reminded Krell of the combat simulators he'd gone to as a child at the military fairs, where fighters performed incredibly tight manoeuvres through the ridiculously cramped confines of tunnels through asteroids almost as if they were in a choreographed fight sequence. He had never once thought he'd be doing that in real life, but this Earther was insane in their desire to make them crash. Krell's admiration for Dag'thar's piloting skills had increased measurably over the last few minutes alone.
Dag'thar had no time to check his guidance system for where they were or where the Earther was leading them. He was fully engaged at the ragged edge of his skills staying on their tail and a moment's distraction could be fatal. He did notice peripherally the canyon walls climbing higher around them as the ground continued dropping away from them. All he could do was follow the Earther down. He couldn't even curse at Krell for not taking any shots, as even he could tell nothing fired at this stage of the chase had any hope of connecting.
They fell into ever-deeper shadows and started pursuing through short tunnels that time and erosion had worn through the thicker rock formations.
M'Rowl had led the Klingon shuttle on a very merry chase and she had been frankly surprised that they'd managed to stay with her at all. Her respect for the Klingon pilot's abilities grudgingly rose, but admiration for a worthy adversary didn't get her out of her current predicament. Only the lack of weapons-fire directed at her mollified her at all; clearly, they knew they were unable to hit her as she dodged, jinked, spun, rolled, and zoomed her way through the growing gloom at the bottom of these deepening canyon walls.
Her terrain-mapping sensors found another tunnel to try leading them to their doom in, longer by far than the others encountered to this point, and she plunged into it as fast as she dared which was still markedly slower than she had been through the canyons.
"How deep is he going to take us?" Krell pushed out, somewhat fearfully to Dag'thar's ears. He could spare no mental effort to even speculate however as they followed the Starfleet shuttle into a tunnel that had no apparent exit.
Despite himself, Dag'thar slowed to regain his sense of control. There was nowhere else for the Earther to go here though, and he'd rather lose some ground than embed himself in it.
Deeper and deeper into the undulating tunnel she went, eyes glued to the terrain-following display to keep her speed as high as her reflexes could handle. M'Rowl couldn't even spare a glance for the sensor readout to show how much distance she was extending if any from the relentlessly pursuing Klingons.
This tunnel was extending so far under the canyon plateaus that she began to worry it wasn't a tunnel at all and would end in a cave at best, or a flat wall of rock, or worse yet simply narrow down to a fissure she could no longer manoeuvre her shuttle in.
Fortunately none of those came to pass, and her terrain-following display finally showed her the end of the tunnel. She shot out the other side with a big sigh of relief, and was very pleased to note that she'd left the Klingons behind. She immediately doubled back and shot up out of the valley, heading for orbit at maximum atmospheric speed, but her sensors alerted her to the presence of something else in that valley. Not altering her escape vector in any way, she flipped her scanners to the appropriate screens
and gaped in wonder.
After a harrowing tunnel chase that saw them completely lose their quarry, their shuttle shot through the other end and back into the open air, emerging into a valley unlike the previous canyons.
Krell's sudden exclamation clued him into the fact that they'd simultaneously completed their prior mission but failed their current one.
Nestled into the farthest opposite extent of the valley causing her to miss getting an immediate visual on it was a stunning sight: a massive, inverted, 4-sided pyramid made of some smooth, featureless, purple-obsidian material, hovering seemingly motionless several metres off a valley floor that was more pleasant and far less jagged-edged than the canyons she'd been chased through.
Shaking out of her moment of dazed awe, M'Rowl hit the comms channel and yelled into it. "Shuttle Pup to Bigglesworth! Pup to Bigglesworth! Am being pursued by a Klingon shuttle trying to shoot me down! Made a second one crash but"
An emerald pulse scorched past her port window, making her flinch and jerk the shuttle away from it.
"Biggles! I'm under attack! Do you copy?!"
"We're almost through the ionisation layer now, Captain. Starting to get more detailed readings of the surface," Xa-Havereii reported.
"The Klingon is still descending with us" Jarinex started to say but was cut short by Lamar breaking in with urgent news.
"Captain! The Pup is hailing us, audio only!"
"On speakers!" Harrington barked, and through a hash of interference the Bigglesworth's bridge crew finally heard their long-lost shuttle crew report in.
" pursued Kli shuttle shoot ade second crash "
"Compensate for that ionisation effect and open a channel!"
As Lamar worked his controls, the howl and crackle of static faded enough for M'Rowl's next message to come in loud and clear: "Biggles! I'm under attack! Do you copy?!"
"Captain, detecting weapons-fire one thousand seven hundred kilometres to planetary north-east!"
"Navigator, plot an intercept course and provide coordinates for in-atmosphere rendezvous to Comms! Helm, hold position for now but prepare to implement that course! Comms, get me the Klingon commander!"
The bridge crew fairly exploded into action obeying the rapid-fire orders.
"Channel open and stable to the Pup, Captain!" Lamar finally reported.
"Pup, Harrington here! We're under the ionisation layer and dealing with the Klingon ship! Rendezvous coordinates being calculated now!"
"Acknowledged, Biggles!" The relief in M'Rowl's voice was palpable.
"Commander Danilov, oversee recovering the shuttle."
"Aye Captain," he nodded and headed for the Mission Ops station.
"Channel open to the Klingon ship, Captain!"
"Klingon Commander! Order your shuttle to stand down immediately or you'll get a full salvo on your bridge! You have five seconds! If our shuttle is shot down you're getting our torps in your teeth!" Kate yelled, then gave the 'mute audio' signal to Lieutenant Lamar.
"Biggles, this is Pup! I may have found what the Klingons are looking for! Transmitting the data now!" The weird whine of disruptor pulses sounded clearly over the commlink as M'Rowl spoke.
"That's five seconds, Captain!" Bonnie called out.
"Lieutenant Jarinex, full power phaser strike to their bridge!"
"Aye Captain!" the Andorian responded, covering his surprise. With everything already locked and charged it was a second's work to recheck everything and press a single control. The bright orange twin beams reached out directly in front of them on the viewscreen to smack the stubby war cruiser on its bulbous nose.
"Put me on with the Klingon again," Kate growled.
"Klingon Commander, that was your last warning! Stand down your attacks or you've got a real fight on your hands!" Harrington snarled. "You have five more seconds!"
A thought struck her as she indicated to Lamar to mute the open channel again. "Comms, broadcast the data M'Rowl sent us to the Klingon ship and put it up on the main viewer, tactical display to my screen here."
"Transmitting now, and on-screen."
Kate spared a second to look at the hugely bizarre object nestled into the valley before launching into a new verbal gambit with another nod to Lamar to unmute her. "Is this what you've been trying to stop us from discovering, Klingon Commander? Well, we know about it now. Respond to me here and now or we're done talking."
Kate again gave the 'mute audio' signal to Lamar and got an acknowledgement before issuing another slew of orders. "Lieutenant Lamar, set Level One ECM. Lieutenant Shi Qi, shut down non-essential systems; Engineer Harvey, reroute power to forward shield reinforcement."
After getting their acknowledgements, Harrington queried her First Officer. "Commander Danilov, is their shuttle still firing at ours?"
"Pup just dodged another salvo two seconds ago," he stated grimly.
Kate's eyes hardened as she stared at her tactical repeater, then at the object on the viewer.
"Commander, the Federation ship is hailing us, audio only."
Kron grinned in anticipation of more verbal jousting with the fiery Earther woman and instructed, "Put her through."
"Klingon Commander! Order your shuttle to stand down immediately or you'll get a full salvo on your bridge! You have five seconds! If our shuttle is shot down you're getting our torps in your teeth!"
Kron looked to his tactical display in honest surprise. "What is she talking about?" he growled in growing anger at possibly being caught unprepared. "Full sensor sweep!"
Having finally cleared the interference layer deliberately created by their own torpedo to stymie the Starfleet crew, the answers were not long in coming.
"Commander, our shuttle is pursuing theirs approximately eight hundred fifty kellicams planetary north-east, both ascending to upper atmosphere; our shuttle is firing."
"Raise our shuttle and get a report!"
With no further warning the Starfleet destroyer unleashed twin phaser beams at them from their forward paired emitter, rocking the ship dramatically.
Kron stared in disbelief. She fired on us? He shook off his split second of amazement, feeling his anger growing and building upon itself. "Damage report!" he roared.
"Forward shield down to thirty percent! Minor systems overloads in affected areas, no major damage, no casualties reported."
"Klingon Commander, that was your last warning! Stand down your attacks or you've got a real fight on your hands! You have five more seconds!"
His comms officer spoke up eagerly. "I have our shuttle, Commander!"
"Put them through!"
"Shuttle toQ reporting, Commander! The Starfleet shuttle caused the Mek'leth to crash but we successfully chased into it orbit as ordered. After we secured the Mek'leth and treated its crew, the Starfleet shuttle returned to the surface." Kron spared a sour glare for the back of Qo'leth's head at that, and he saw the gunner twitch. "We resumed pursuit but couldn't shoot it down or force it back up. Then"
"Is this what you've been trying to stop us from discovering, Klingon Commander?" The infuriating Earther woman's voice crashed in over the shuttle crew's report, and the image he'd been hoping to see from his own shuttles' exploratory efforts was suddenly on-screen. "Well, we know about it now. Respond to me here and now or we're done talking."
Too much had happened in too short a time. Kron's quarry was suddenly revealed, but he was seconds away from all-out battle with an enemy ship that could significantly impact his ability to destroy or track the alien object. He needed time to reassess and come up with a new plan.
Kron spoke directly to his shuttle crew. "Shuttle toQ, cease fire immediately! I repeat: cease fire! Break off your attack!"
"Complying," was the brief and flat-toned response from the shuttle crew. "What are our new orders?"
"toQ, you will return to the Obelisk and prevent Starfleet from approaching it," Kron instructed them. "Supply us with coordinates for the Obelisk and the Mek'leth."
"Commander, the Starfleet ship is demanding two-way communications."
"Ignore them, but warn them off approaching the Obelisk or we'll give them the battle they seem so eager for! Let the Earthers recover their own g'day't shuttle," he groused. "Helm, assume position over the Obelisk. First Officer, beam down a repair crew for the second shuttle then join me in my Security Office."
Kron left the bridge to the sound of Shredder's engines thrumming to push them through the thick lower atmosphere to their destination. Moments later he was joined in the electronically-shielded private room for the ship's commander.
"Well, they found it," he grumbled.
"We should destroy it before the Earthers figure out that we want to, and figure out a way of their own to stop us."
"A plan with great merit, but for one thing. All previous attacks from our other ships have done no noticeable damage to the Obelisk. Who's to say this attack will go any differently?"
Kol mulled that one over but Kron found himself answering his own question.
"Perhaps it is merely hiding its damage, the same way it's hiding all the other data on itself from us. Ours could be the attack that breaks through its sensor shielding. Or perhaps we've exhausted its energy levels from our pursuit and now it's vulnerable to our attacks."
Kol nodded thoughtfully. "Good points, Sir. But what of the Starfleet ship's reaction? Will it attack us if we attack or destroy the Obelisk?"
"They will not attack us," Kron stated confidently. "They have no context for why we're attacking it. They'll defend their own this one more than most, it seems but won't attack us if we ignore them."
"They may have found what we're looking for but they don't know why we're looking for it or what it is," Kol recapped slowly. "They will do nothing, or perhaps even help us, if we say that it's one of our own malfunctioning robotic probes, or just claim it was rampaging through our space attacking and destroying our installations."
"These are Earthers, Kol. They will demand proof, and gnaw at that desiccated bone until they get it."
Kol balked. "Then why do we even need to justify ourselves at all? We can handily disable them or send them fleeing with a real attack in earnest. And we need not do even that! We just attack the Obelisk and they do nothing lest they invoke our wrath!"
Kron shook his head "An appealingly simplistic notion, Kol. However, I get the feeling that these g'day't Feds will interfere to the point of physically shielding the object with their vessel forcing us into the choice of disengaging or continuing the attack through their shattered hull. No," he opined, "these arrogant, interfering do-gooders will obstruct us and we need to have a plan that does not end up with us causing an incident that High Command must address."
"Very well, Commander. What would you have us do?"
"Captain!" Danilov exclaimed. "Pup reports the Klingon shuttle has stopped firing but is still in pursuit."
"E.T.A. to rendezvous?" Harrington snapped out.
"Three-point-seven minutes if we move to intercept now, Captain," Ensign Tenok replied evenly. The dark-skinned Vulcan had been constantly updating that point as their shuttle streaked closer.
"What's the Klingon ship doing?" she demanded next of her science officer.
"Nothing yet," Xi'aron replied. "Maintaining altitude and distance from us wait, they're under way! Moving towards the Pup!"
"Helm, track their ship around! Alter attitude to keep them in our torpedo arc!" Harrington barked.
"Captain, M'Rowl reports the Klingon shuttle has broken off pursuit and is returning to the object she discovered," Lamar updated, then added, "Message from the Klingon ship, Sir! Audio only!"
"Let's hear it."
"Starfleet vessel, recover your shuttle. Do not approach the Obelisk! Stay away!"
"Helm, implement our rendevous course, maxium safe atmospheric speed!"
"Tactical, maintain weapons lock on the Klingon ship. Target their impulse engines," Harrington ordered more calmly, feeling the situation begin to come under control. She no longer thought anything would happen, but it didn't pay to take chances with the Klingons.
Tense moments passed as their adversary closed the distance to their shuttle.
"Captain, the Klingon ship has passed the Pup without attacking it, and looks to be taking up a position over the valley where the object is," Xa-Havereii reported finally, relief evident in his voice.
"Have we just bought ourselves some breathing room?" Bonnie asked over her shoulder.
Caitlin observed the Klingon war cruiser rumble past their shuttle, now ignoring it and them completely, but didn't answer; she didn't want to jinx the unexpected lull in the action. Inwardly though she thought, It does look that way, Bonnie. They've even turned their backs on us, in deep atmosphere. We'll see any move they make against us long before they're able to complete it.
"Sir, it looks like the immediate crisis is over," Danilov opined. "We may want to reassess our posture."
Caitlin thought about that for some moments. "I disagree. The immediate crisis may have been averted but this is not over, not by a long shot. Cancel Red Alert but maintain battle stations. Resume power to all systems but keep shields up and weapons armed."
Stephan looked like he disagreed but he passed on her orders without comment or complaint. "Captain, the Pup is now in range and requesting docking clearance and vector."
"Clearance granted. Helm, hold position here until they're aboard then ascend to orbit and approach the object's valley slowly so as not to antagonise the Klingons."
"Status of the Klingon ship?" she asked next.
"They're in the lower atmosphere, at only a few hundred metres' altitude over the object, taking no other action at present," Xa-Havereii reported.
"They are expending a significant amount of power to hold that altitude, Captain," Jarinex spoke up.
"Theories on what they are doing?" Harrington asked the bridge at large.
"Attempting communications with damaged comms gear on either side," Lamar offered.
"Scanning it through heavy interference," Xa-Havereii spoke up.
"Attempting to board via transporters through interference," Jarinex suggested.
"Attempting to attach tractor beams without a computer lock-on, to pull it into orbit," Bonnie put forth.
"All good speculation," Harrington commented. "How's the Pup?"
Danilov, nominally in charge of recovering the shuttle as per his captain's order, delegated this update to the Chief of Ship Operations with a nod.
"Entering the shuttlebay now Captain, just a few moments more " Bonnie reported. They all waited patiently until finally she told them, "Down and secured, Captain."
"Mr. Winchester, get us back into orbit."
"Lamar, have the shuttle crew debriefed immediately and get me a report."
Kate beckoned Stephan in for a consult. "I don't believe Ensign M'Rowl can shed any more light on this situation since she found what the Klingons were after only at the end of her unfortunately wild shuttle ride, but you never know."
Danilov nodded. "Agreed. What's now to be done about this object? It's a unique find, but the Klingons want us nowhere near it."
"True, but it doesn't mean we can't look it over from here." So saying she ordered, "Mr. Xa-Havereii, full power deep scan of that object, and show us the data that M'Rowl transmitted to us from her brief look at it."
Their chief science officer worked his board for a moment. "Data on auxiliary science screens now, Captain, and the scan is under way."
Kate and Stephan moved over to the Science station and had just started to look over the data when their science officer let out a puzzled exclamation.
"Captain, I'm getting no data back from the object."
"Scanner malfunction?" Danilov immediately asked.
"No Sir. The realspace sensors are registering its physical presence and dimensions; it's five hundred metres long on every edge. I'm also getting data back on the surrounding valley and the Klingon ship. But where the object is it's just a void, a null reading. A blank in the realspace and subspace sensor readout."
"Okay, now it's not only intriguing, it's also puzzling." Kate managed a real smile, her first since arriving in this star system and the building aggravation and stress of dealing with the Klingons right afterwards. "Can you tell us how it's blocking or absorbing our scans?"
Xa-Havereii tapped more of his controls, trying to find that out, but after several minutes of poking he let out a frustrated sigh. "I'm sorry Captain, but I'm getting nothing at all. It's like"
With all three of them staring at the sensor readouts and visuals they saw it at the same time, but Ki'aron said it for the bridge at large.
"Captain! The Klingon is firing on the object!"
Kron watched as the mountain valley finally opened up to their sensor angle and revealed their elusive quarry once again. He felt grim satisfaction at being the one to finally corner and destroy this alien spy.
"Sensor readings?" he demanded.
"It is blocking our scans, as before. We are detecting the Obelisk itself and receiving sensor data from all surrounding environmental elements, but we're getting no data about its nature," Science Officer Toron reported.
Kron hadn't expected any other reply, but was then struck with a further thought. "Are you getting data on the terrain directly behind the object, terrain blocked by the object itself?"
Toron double-checked before replying. "Yes Commander. The object doesn't block sensor beams in its direction, only its own structure and internal workings remain opaque to us."
Kron dismissed the errant thought. It only makes sense, after all. Multiple sensors scanning from multiple directions would eventually glimpse inside.
"Very well. If it will not give up its secrets, then we will crack its shell and scoop them out ourselves. Remove overload suppressors on our facing disruptor banks. Full power to phasers. Set level one ECCM. Maintain relative position out of feedback damage range. Signal when ready."
"Complying!" his bridge crew echoed back as multiple stations began discharging their duties.
"Weapons fully charged and ready, overload suppressors disengaged."
"Ascending to geosynchronous orbit, to hold position at ten thousand kellicams."
"Counter-jamming active at level one, but no jamming detected."
"Once in position, lock target and fire," Kron ordered casually. "Maintain fire until it is destroyed."
Mere moments were all it took for the small cruiser to haul itself up out of the planet's gravity well, at which the helmsman reported, "Geosynchronous orbit established."
"Firing!" Qo'leth announced eagerly as he mashed his controls.
On the viewscreen, twin emerald pulses and five orange beams reached out towards the planet below.
"Centre display on target and magnify to show the assault."
The viewscreen instantly changed as directed and the bridge crew of the Shredder had the satisfaction of watching their weapons reach out to their target
but to no apparent effect.
No direct hits on its hull, no explosions, no shield impacts, no kinetic shock.
Again, as expected. His comrades had attacked this thing twice before and chased it from three star systems, but it was only because it had reappeared in multiple Klingon-held systems that they'd gotten more than a single attack on it.
Curiously though, Kron noted no collateral damage to the environment around their target, either. His ship was releasing enough energy to boil that lake and shatter the surrounding mountains, but there was nothing. His ship might have been shooting beams and pulses of multi-coloured laser-light at the object for all the effect his weapons were having on it.
"Science Officer, can you explain its method of absorbing our attack? Clearly it is not being merely deflected or the surrounding valley would be Fek'lhr's own garden already."
Seemingly surprised by the question, Toron bolted out, "I will investigate this at once, Sir!"
Kron's demand for instant information thwarted, he subsided with a glower and grumbled, "Very well."
"Commander! The Starfleet ship hails us again! Captain Harrington wants to know"
"I do not care. Ignore her."
Comms Officer Korgath burst out into a brief chortle at his commander's words and his tone in saying them, before realising he may gave overstepped and earned a disruptor in the face. His glance at Kron, however, showed this time that his commander shared in his humour as a fierce grin briefly decorated his features.
This lightening of Kron's mood, together with them having located their quarry and freely attacking it eased the tension on the bridge considerably, and once again comradely looks were shared between the bridge crew.
Kron himself noted it and was pleased. Don't want them wound up too tight. Loose and alert is better than ready to snap.
He stared at the viewscreen, deep in thought again. We can do this all day, especially with that thing not shooting back. Question is, can they?
"Red Alert! Hail them!" Harrington snapped out to Lamar, then ordered, "Xa-Havereii, display object on the main viewer. Is it still in one piece?"
The red alert sirens whooped yet again on this mission, but nobody moved; everyone was already maintaining battle stations from the previous brush with their as-yet unidentified opponent.
With all ship's scanners already focussed on the object, the Efrosian's answer was immediate. "It's not only still in once piece, Captain, it seems completely unaffected by the Klingons' barrage."
Kate's eyebrows rose and she shared a look with Stephan. They both looked over the sensor data streaming in over several monitors at the science station, able to interpret the relatively basic information on display.
"The object doesn't seem to have any active defences like shields or deflectors in play," Kate commented.
"The surrounding environment isn't being destroyed by thermal backwash or radiation effects either," Stephan noted.
"Lieutenant Lamar, anything from the Klingons?"
"No Captain," Lamar sighed. "They're not even accepting our hails this time."
"Great. Back to being ignored," Harrington commented in a hard tone.
Danilov didn't respond.
Kate moved on. "Xa-Havereii, any reaction at all from the object?"
"Absolutely none, Captain. It's not moving a micrometre and it's not emitting anything our sensors can detect." The Efrosian shook his maned head in frustration.
"Hmm. We can't see in and it's not giving anything out," Kate recapped. "We don't know why the Klingons are attacking it and they're also not telling us anything but we assume they did pursue it here. Makes me wonder if they even tried talking to it at all."
Danilov looked thoughtful. "If it encroached on their space or one of their installations they may have warned it off only, or perhaps just opened fire."
"Lieutenant Lamar," Kate called across the bridge. "Hail the object with standard First Contact linguacode messages. Let's see if it will talk with us. The Klingons aren't interested in being friends, but we are."
"Aye Sir," the dark-haired young Izarian replied, working his board to call up the requested communications protocols. "Transmitting now."
They all waited, observing the apparently ineffective Klingon barrage as they hoped to elicit a response from the mysterious and secretive alien object.
However, seconds stretched to minutes and still Lamar offered no update. The linguacodes were language broken down into the most basic components and related to universal constants. This was to enable a never-before-encountered intelligence to have the most effective means of reverse-engineering Federation language constants to allow them to build a cross-reference and rudimentary translation matrix. The Starfleet ship's own Universal Translator circuits could then complete the process and begin to render the alien intelligence's efforts into coherent speech.
It was never expected that a newly-encountered alien species could start talking to them in understandable Federation Standard, but there was always the hope of a reciprocal exchange of language basics, or at least an acknowledgement. It looked like this object would remain reticent when it came to talking to others, however.
In light of the unending barrage of disruptor and phaser fire from the Klingons, perhaps talking to others was not high on the aliens' list of priorities right now.
Kate said as much to Danilov and added, "If we could just get the Klingons to stop attacking it, maybe it would respond to us?"
Danilov looked doubtful. "Maybe, Captain, but with neither of them currently talking to us how do you intend to stop the Klingon assault?"
"By getting in their way," Harrington responded seriously.
"Captain " Danilov began, but paused.
Harrington didn't interject.
Danilov sighed. "Aye, Captain."
Harrington was pleased. You're learning. I'm glad to see you realise that I understand the risks I'm taking with all our lives.
"Mister Lamar, hail the Klingons. Tell them we cannot allow them to attack this object without justification. We want an explanation and we will protect that object until we get a satisfactory one. Tell them that if we don't get an acknowledgement from them agreeing to talk, we will start shielding the object from their fire. Give them two minutes to respond."
"Aye, Captain," the dark-haired Izarian responded, his voice revealing nothing of what he thought of those orders.
"What now?" Danilov commented.
"Now we wait. But not for long," Harrington replied.
As expected, two minutes passed without a response and with no slackening of the Klingon assault.
Kate didn't do anything so expressive as fetching a sigh as the timer ran out, but she wanted to. "Mister Winchester, drop into a lower orbit and place us between the Klingons and the object. Do so slowly and deliberately. Bonnie, shut down non-essential and auxillary systems. Mister Jarinex, zero out the phaser capacitor recharge rate and reinforce dorsal shield to two hundred percent."
Harrington opened a 'com channel. "Bridge to Main Engineering."
Moments later the voice of their chief engineer came back. "Engineering, Zathras here."
Kate had to grin this time. If ever a being had the voice of a martyr, it was their own chief engineer. And a very resigned martyr at that, Kate thought, amused. Especially after he hears what's going to happen now.
"Commander Zathras, we're going to need all available power channelled into our dorsal shield. We're shutting down all non-essential systems and diverting power from weapons; we won't be needing them this time," Caitlin told him briskly, then changed her tone to apologetic. "The reason for all this is that we will be shielding an object on the planet's surface from the Klingons, who are currently shooting at it. We'll need you to maintain that shield power and be on top of any overloads, burn-outs, or other damage that may result."
There was a noticiable though not significant pause enough to pass comment but not judgement before the Tellarite answered. "Zathras understands. Zathras has his own opinions, but no one ever asks Zathras. Zathras just left to pick up the pieces. Zathras will get your shield power for you, Captain. Zathras out."
The bridge was all smiles after that pronouncement from their beloved chief engineer. Even Helmsman Wyatt seemed more relaxed as he eased their smaller ship between the Klingons and their target.
Here we go he thought as the saucer section began to eclipse the object on the planet's surface. Now we see who is right the Captain or the X.O.
"Are they actually going to do it?" Kol bolted out.
Kron looked at his X.O. askance. "Calm yourself, Commander. What part of the last few hours of this, our own personal Earther nemesis, did you sleep through? Of course this is something she'd do. I even predicted it, if you recall."
"That you did," Kol grimaced, "but I did not believe you."
Kron was already issuing instructions to his conn officer. "Adjust our orbit to not hit the Starfleet ship."
"Shall we cease fire so we don't hit them as we reposition?" Qo'leth asked.
"Why, our gunner is attempting to use his brain again, Kol," Kron mocked the hapless young Klingon. "No. Cease fire only when I order it."
Qo'leth flushed dark at the mockery but as no one else laughed openly he swallowed it and only uttered an "Aye, Sir" in response.
"Let them get a taste of what it means to get between a Klingon warship and its target," Kron elaborated. "Perhaps they will not be so eager next time."
Qo'leth actually managed to let go some of his anger at Kron's uncharacteristic explanation. "Line of sight re-established, Commander, but they're already moving to occlude us again."
"We may actually have to damage them to force them to back down or it will be us who backs down at the end," Kol stated sotto voce.
Kron rested his chin on his fist as he stared at the viewscreen pondering his X.O.'s words, wondering which predicted outcome would prevail.
The entire ship shuddered as the first Klingon disruptor pulses slammed into the saucer section from above, but with double shields no damage got through from this first barrage.
"Shields down to eighty percent!" Jar called in alarm. "He's firing fully overloaded disruptors and not pulling his punches! Shield reinforcement recharging!"
"They're altering their orbit to get line-of-sight to the object again!"
"Helm, move to intercept their fire again," Harrington ordered calmly.
Danilov stepped in again to speak quietly but urgently. "Captain, if he doesn't stop and you don't give, even without taking internal damage he will batter our shields down with four more salvoes per shield facing. If you intend to use more than one shield we could end up with no shields right before he switches back to attacking us!"
Caitlin's eyes narrowed as Danilov's warning all but ended in a hiss. She let him have a good two seconds of her cold glare but saw that it wasn't making an impression on him.
Matching his lowered volume she fired back, "I am not going to strip all our shields to the bone, Commander. I am aiming for a specific effect to engineer a specific result, and if it ends up not working we'll try something else." She glared at him again. "I'm not going to unnecessarily or frivolously endanger our lives or ship."
"With respect, Captain, we're a light escort ship and he's a state-of-the-Klingon-art war cruiser."
He clearly wanted to say more but did not want to become insubordinate. However, Harrington heard him loud and clear: "You're already frivolously endangering our lives."
Her face hardened at him as another disruptor barrage slammed into them.
"Dorsal shield down to sixty percent! Shield reinforcement recharging!" Jar updated from Tactical.
"Your objections are noted Commander, and you've made your position quite clear. Both will be taken into consideration for my future orders." She turned away from him to address her comms officer. "Mister Lamar, hail the Klingons again and repeat our demand for a dialogue."
"Captain, the Klingons are repositioning again," Wyatt noted from the helm.
"Keep getting in their way, Ensign."
"Mister Lamar, try hailing the object gain with all linguacode greetings on all subspace and realspace frequencies. Perhaps we've made an impression already."
"Aye-aye, Captain, coding n Captain, the Klingon is responding with an open channel!" Lamar's surprise was evident at this development.
Harrington felt surprise from Danilov buffet her as well and had the good graces to feel disappointed at herself for the flash of petty satisfaction it gave her.
"On screen, Lieutenant Lamar," she managed to say without anything unprofessional leaking out.
"Captain Harrington, I am not going to stop firing. Kindly stop getting in my way," Kron told her airily.
Caitlin offered him a head tilt and an arched eyebrow. "Commander Kron, all I ask for is an explanation."
"No, it is not," he snapped back, suddenly angry. "If any explanation I offer fails to satisfy the moralistic Starfleet's sensibilities you will demand more."
Caitlin felt that one and had no rebuttal; Kron was entirely correct. Resisting the urge to shift uncomfortably in her chair, she tried another tack: "Commander, you act like this object is some significant threat to your whole empire, yet it has done nothing more than sit there and let you shoot at it."
"That may be all that you have seen," Kron seemed to agree, but offered nothing more.
The Klingon ship's next barrage took that moment to hammer their shields. The deck shuddered noticeably and some feedback damage shorted out some circuitry at the science console, sending a spray of sparks and ending in a light cloud of smoke the ventilators soon cleared.
"Captain. Move your ship away," Kron growled.
"Are you willing to cause a diplomatic incident over this?" Harrington shot back.
"Captain, you are the one causing the incident. My ship's logs and yours will show me exercising considerable restraint and repeatedly shifting my position to not hit you, and you doing what you're doing. I think the diplomatic fallout will be entirely on your side."
Harrington was definitely feeling the lack of options tightening in a noose around her situation. "But you're not even damaging it! All your fire is being nullified. Do you know how it is doing that? Do you know anything about its capabilities or defences? Its intentions or motivations? Anything?"
Kron stroked his beard, then leaned into the visual pickup. "Do you?"
"No! And we want to know more! But you're giving us no opportunity to study it and learn its secrets! Would it not be better for you and your Empire to know what this thing is and where it came from?"
Kron stroked his beard some more, then conferred with his X.O.
"Instead of attacking it completely ineffectually, how about we investigate it! Together, a joint science mission to the valley below!"
"Gunner, cease fire."
Harrington felt relief flood through her and tried not to let any of that leak out either.
"Very well. But I will tolerate no delays," he warned. "Meet us at these coordinates with your science team."
"I am impressed with your reasonableness, Commander," Harrington offered as a fairly sincere compliment.
"Make no mistake, Captain Harrington," Kron growled back menacingly. "If we experience no further success than we have from orbit, I will simply continue my attack. Kron out."