Windstar: Yes, I know this took us a lot longer than expected, but thats entirely Sparkys fault. I blame her for everything. Yup, everything Okay, well, maybe not everything. It might have been a little itsy bitsy bit my fault. Just a little.
Sparky: Ok, I know we took a long time to get this out to everyone. I, Sparky, claim full and completely responsibility. See, I have ADD, which means that I can't concentrate on things. Reading, writing, Windstar's incessant nagging. So I have not been able to sit down and write. Now that I have a job, my stress level has dropped considerably, so we started writing again. All hate mail should be directed to me, Sparky at email@example.com
Windstar: Now wait a second. Thats not her real email. Shes just trying to get you to email me with hate mail. All of the REAL hate mail can go to Sparky
Admiral Erin Callejo stared unseeing at the depths of deep space as she sat in her quarters. What was left of the Fourth Fleet was limping its way back to Starbase 21. It had taken them five long days to journey to the largest Coalition outpost in this sector. Ordinarily, it was only a half-day trip at the most. On the way back, they had to drop out of NOVA several times to make emergency repairs to damaged ships.
Of the thirty-three ships that had set out from Starbase 21 to find the missing SAR ship Pegasus, only twenty were returning. And all of those had sustained some damaged in one form or another.
She leaned against the back of her couch, staring at the stars outside her view port. They would be docking at the Starbase within the hour, and then the process of trying to repair her ships would begin.
This time, however, it would be to patch them up for war.
A war, in which, the Coalition would probably be greatly disadvantaged if the Republic had many more of those stealth cruisers.
Damn it! Where the hell did they come from?
After the destruction of the Augusta and her crew, Erin had little choice but to order the Fleet to retreat. It had become the worst defeat a Coalition force had suffered since the Second Interstellar War. Now, there were reports of fighting erupting along the entire length of the neutral zone that separated the Coalition from the Republic.
Fleets on both sides were gearing for major action.
There had even been an attempted invasion of a Coalition-held planet. Repulsed of course, but barely.
Closing her eyes, she leaned her head back.
How the hell did things go so wrong so fast?
She knew part of the answer at least. Her fingers curled into fists as she thought about one particular captain.
Damn Quaril and his fucking inability to follow orders! Im going to have him court-martialed the second we dock.
With a disgusted snarl, the silver-haired woman looked back down at the data pad that lay on the couch next to her. Shed been working on the final report for well over five hours now, adding in any information she could think of that might help in defeating the Republics stealth ability.
She was just picking it back up when the on-duty Marine guard buzzed from his post outside her door.
"Commodore Guillermont here to see you, Admiral."
Commodore Guillermont entered the room with his usual precision. Only someone who had worked with him for as many years as she had could have read the strain in his posture, or the hardness in the tall slender mans eyes. The Admiral stiffened, her stomach tightening as she studied him.
Her friend braced to attention, a data pad of his own clenched in one fist.
"I have a priority one communiqué from Admiral Owens at Starbase 21, Admiral."
Silently, she held out her hand for the pad. He hesitating slightly, but she quickly took it from him and read the communiqué.
To: Admiral Erin Callejo, Fourth Fleet
From: Admiral Jack Owens, Sector Command, Coalition Senate
You are ordered to relinquish command of the Fourth Fleet to Senior Captain Quaril. You and your command team are to stand down and await transport to Starbase 21 aboard the Marine transport already en route to your position.
In disbelief, she looked up at the Commodore.
"Is this a joke?"
His jaw tightened then he forced a response.
"No, Maam. It just arrived. The transport is docking with us as I speak."
Numb with disbelief, she sat the missive aside, stunned.
This couldnt be happening. Why would the Coalition High Command be removing her from command just as a war was beginning? Swallowing against a sudden wave of nausea as what it might mean hit her, she nodded slowly.
"Very well. I want you to take this." She took up her own report and quickly added a few more sentences to the end of it.
"See to it that this is transmitted to Admirals Chen, Blanco, Yi, Mehiri, and Perha."
She could see the confusion in his eyes at the list of names. Those were the Admirals in charge of every Coalition fleet that was stationed near the neutral zone.
Nodding, she rose to her feet.
"If were going to have guests, I better make certain Im dressed for them, now shouldnt I?"
He forced a smile and made his way to use her communications port while she retreated into her bedroom. Quickly, she changed into her dress uniform. Casting a critical eye on her reflection in the mirror, she nodded and headed back out into her office. Guillermont looked up just as she came back into the room.
"The reports have been sent to each of the Admirals, Maam."
"Thank you, Commodore."
Shed only just started to cross towards her couch when the Marine guard buzzed again.
"Admiral, there is a Naval Intelligence officer here to see you. A Captain Vashen."
Trading a glance with Guillermont, Erin remained standing.
"Send him in."
A short, broad shouldered man entered, followed by a pair of Marines, looking more like a wrestler than a Captain. His hard blue eyes glanced over her quarters, and the Commodore, before coming to rest on her.
"Admiral Erin Callejo. By order of the Coalition High Council, I am placing you under arrest."
It was all she could do to remain standing. She would not give this man the pleasure of seeing her distress. Instead, she squared her shoulders and glared back at him defiantly.
The Commodore spoke up. His voice chocked with disbelief and anger, "On what charges?"
Giving them both a sharp smile, Captain Vashen held up a data pad and read the charges.
"Failure to obey a general order, noncompliance with procedural rules, misbehavior before the enemy, aiding the enemy, improper hazarding of several vessels, murder of crewmembers resulting from an illegal action, conduct unbecoming an officer, and general article 134."
Murder showing in his eyes, Guillermont took a step towards the ONI Captain.
"Thats insane!" He shouted. "Are you out of your mind?"
Taking a deep breath, Erin held up her hand to stop Guillermont from saying something he might regret.
"Commodore. I am certain we can have this misunderstanding cleared up soon."
By the small grin on Captain Vashens face, she knew that wasnt going to happen, but she forced herself to ignore it. She understood what was going on now, the Coalition needed a scapegoat, and she was being served up on a silver platter. The Captain gestured towards the doorway, both Marines stiffly at attention behind him.
"Shall we, Admiral?"
Keeping her head up, shoulders squared, she swept past him and out into the corridor.
The shadow waited along the passageway, the captains door just in sight. The bitch was smarter than he thought, uniting the crew through their love of sports, but he'd fix that real quick.
I was sure the crew would have mutinied by now.
Shifting further back into the shadows, he held his breath as a group of crewmembers staggered past him. Almost all of both crews were partying tonight. It infuriated him to see them drinking together.
Its a pity that Witmore was such a sorry excuse for an officer. I should have known he wouldn't be able to kill her and the other traitors. What a waste of an officers uniform, but at least he was loyal to the Coalition.
The man pressed back further into the recessed access panel as he heard the Captain approaching. The bitch was actually whistling! His hands trembled with suppressed rage.
Svetlana approached her door feeling quite pleased with herself and life in general. Her XO had come up with a wonderful plan and both crews were starting to reap the benefits of it. Not to mention, she got to kick the little Spaniards ass.
Im impressed she managed to catch my first shot. Body checking her was sure fun though.
For the first time in days, she smiled as she remembered the game. She was determined to enjoy her good mood for as long as she could and pointedly ignored the other feelings trying to pull her back into her depression.
She was still lost in those pleasurable memories when she passed the darkened alcove as something in it moved.
Svetlana was tossing the winning puck up and down with her right hand, holding her gear with her left when she heard a soft scrape behind her. Starting to turn, she felt the sting of a hypo at the base of her neck. The tall woman lashed out with her right elbow, catching her attacker in the face causing the hypo to drop before finishing the injection.
The Captain felt the deck plates underneath her start to move and her vision started tunneling as the contents of the hypo flooded her bloodstream. Staggering down the corridor as quickly as she could, she made her way to the entryway to her quarters hoping she could call for help before she blacked out.
She slapped the doorplate at her quarters for entry when she heard footsteps rapidly approaching. The last thing she saw before blackness was the nice carpeting that the Coalition had provided for its captain's quarters.
Her mouth felt like she'd been licking deck plating all night long. Blearily, with one eye slit open, Maria blindly fumbled for the annoying buzzing sound. With a curse, she grabbed the alarm clock and tossed the offending object. The resounding crash only made her headache worse, but she felt perversely better because of it.
Why the fuck did I have to take Bear up on that stupid drinking game of his? God, Vodka is horrible stuff.
If her raging hangover was any indication, the first batch of Vodka from Bears still left a lot to be desired.
Bear had sworn, repeatedly, that good vodka left no hangover after- affects. That was part of the reason Maria had gotten suckered into drinking with the big man.
I hope he feels like crap this morning, too.
A fresh cup of coffee from the dispenser, a hot shower, and clean clothes left her feeling, if not normal, then at least human, again. Now that she didn't feel like she was in any immediate threat of dying, Maria left her cabin. She knew she should immediately head to the bridge to check on their status, but she had a detour she needed to make first.
If they were going to be meeting aliens in the next day, she wanted all departments to have their best personnel on shift. That meant she had to pay a visit to a certain chief engineer.
Her head was still pounding, but she kept on going right past the med bay.
It's just not worth the grief I'd get from Carl over getting drunk last night. I'd rather suffer with a headache then go through that.
If she walked a bit more gingerly this morning than usual, she wasn't the only one. It seemed as if every crewmember that she passed in the corridors was squinting slightly and doing their best not to make too much noise.
Carl's going to be busy today, I bet.
It was worth it, though. Damn, but it was worth it. I think we might even have a chance of making it home without killing each other now.
Her hand still hurt from the catch she'd made the night before, even though Carl had insisted on making certain it wasn't broken before he allowed her to leave the rink. Wincing a bit, she made herself use the injured hand to touch the admittance chime on Sparky's door.
It seemed to take a long time for her friend and Chief Engineer to unlock the hatch. When the door finally opened, Sparky looked like she had slept in her uniform and her hair was definitely disheveled.
"We've got to talk. I want you to get back to Engineering..." Maria's voice trailed off after she pushed past her best friend and realized Sparky wasn't alone. When she saw the blonde woman sitting on the couch in a matching state of disarray, Marias tenuous hold on her temper slipped.
Whirling around, she threw up her hands and yelled at Sparky. "Are you out of your mind! What the HELL did we talk about in med bay?"
"Hey, you told me to stay away from Alyona. You didn't say anything about her staying away from me!" defended Sparky hotly.
Maria opened her mouth, looked from one woman to the other, and groaned. She really wanted to scream at both of them, but her head hurt too much and she seriously doubted it would do any good. Instead, she flopped down on the nearest chair and groaned again.
"I need another drink, and it's not even ten in the morning."
Squeezing her eyes shut, Maria tried to calm the pounding behind her temples.
Maybe I should have put up with Carl's lecturing.
"Please tell me you just talked all night?"
Sparky tried to look innocent and scratched her neck, revealing a tell- tale mark.
"We just talked." assured Kuzmin.
Maria gritted her teeth and shot a look at the weapons officer. "Really? Did talking give Sparky that hickey?" Maria's tone was scathing.
Kuzmin had the grace to blush, while Sparky glared at her friend. "What business of it is yours? I've seen how you've looked at the bitch. At least when you are not shooting her death rays with your eyes."
Maria's eyes flashed as her temper once more threatened to explode. "Careful, Sparky."
Taking a deep breath, she let it out slowly, forcing herself to stay calm. "We are going to reach the alien signal in under ten hours. I want you back in Engineering. We need our best on duty in case this turns ugly. Bear will be taking over damage control duty for now." She pinned both of them with a dark look. "I swear to god, if either of you rip these two crews apart again, I'll toss you out the nearest air lock myself."
Sparky glared at her friend. "Fine. We'll be there. Now if you'll excuse us...."
Maria's eyes narrowed dangerously. Gritting her teeth she got up and gave both of them a warning look. She headed for the door, well aware, that her attempt to patch things up with her best friend had failed miserably.
Fuck it; I'm going to see Carl. Maybe he can give me some happy drugs while he's at it.
Sparky waited until the skipper had a good head start before she kissed Alyona on the lips gently. Grinning she stood up and grabbed her jacket, giving the weapons officer a wink. "I better get down to engineering and see how things are going."
Leaving the tall blonde in her quarters Sparky hurried down towards her domain. She'd been the chief of Engineering for Pegasus for as long as Maria had been her captain. The grin on her lips died as she entered the place she considered a home as she spotted something that did not belong. Bear was seated in her office, leaning back in her chair, and talking to a group of her staff. They were even joking with him!
What the fuck? Isnt anybody upset hes in MY chair?
"Don't you all have something you should be doing right now?"
That got their attention, and at least a few of them had the good grace to look a bit ashamed as they filed past her. Standing in the doorway to her office, she waited until the last of them had left before entering.
"You look comfy."
Bear shrugged and gave her a lazy grin. "I've been more comfortable, but this chair works just fine." He leaned back in his chair and propped his feet on the desk.
"Can I help you with something?" He inquired blandly.
"Yes. You can get your feet off my desk, and get out of my chair."
The good mood of minutes before banished, Sparky stalked around the desk towards where he was sitting. "I've been reinstated."
The big man swung his feet easily off the desk and stood up. He gestured grandly towards the chair. "By all means. I was just keeping it warm for you."
The jovial smile never left his face. Sparky scanned his face closely for a hint of facetiousness, and finding none, flopped down in her seat.
" Now that I'm back, is there anything I should know about or fix?"
Sparky reset her computer panel to the way she liked it and wiped a scuff off the top of her desk.
"Not at all. Your department runs like a well-oiled machine." Bear beamed at her. "Our times in Damage Control have been cut in half from the times you first posted with the drills. Your people are quick on the uptake."
She allowed herself a small grin of pride at that. They were indeed. She'd considered them among the best engineering crew in the entire Search and Rescue fleet. "Thanks." Then, grudgingly, "Skipper said she wants you to take over Damage Control."
The man beamed as if Sparky had handed him the best present he had ever received. "I would be honored to."
Damn it, he isn't even angry about being demoted again!
Sparky eyed him oddly; infuriated that she couldnt get a rise out of him.
"Just don't get in my way."
Then all hell broke loose.
Maria's headache had only gotten worse by the time she made it to sickbay. With a grimaced smile to the nurses, she took a seat in one of the examining rooms and waited. It didn't take long for Carl to show up.
"Good morning, Skipper."
Maria winced at the happy tone in the doctors voice.
"And what seems to be the problem this morning?" inquired the chief medical officer jovially, knowing exactly why his commander was sitting in sickbay.
Maria winced again, wishing he would tone down the obnoxiously, cheerful routine. "Do you have to sound so damn loud and perky?"
"Why Skipper, I have no idea what you are talking about," he boomed.
She gave him her best glare at that. "Sure you don't. Why don't you just do your little exam and give me something for this party that's going on inside my head?"
"Well, Skip, those that play hard, pay hard." He chuckled and gave her an injection with the hypospray. "Seems that quite a few folks around here are visiting me this morning for headaches."
He put the spray down and finished checking over the commander. Her hand was still sore from the bruising it had taken the night before and he gave it a local shot for the swelling. "You had some nice saves in the game there, Skipper."
The first officer shrugged slightly while she put up with his examination. "We didn't win, but it was a good match. Next time we'll get them." The pounding in her skull had already started to dull down and she was beginning to feel a bit more like herself. "Any word on the investigation into Witworth's death?"
The medical officer frowned. "No, but that's not for lack of harassment of my staff by that bully of a Marine."
Maria raised an eyebrow at that, watching as he returned his equipment to where it had been. "Has Major Dononova been causing problems?"
"If you call incessantly questioning my staff, cordoning off a med bay, and taking samples of everything in sight, problematic. Well, yes." The medical officer seemed almost petulant about the disruption of his medical facilities.
"Sorry, Carl, she's just doing her job. I want her to find out who killed him before they have a chance to..."
Her words were cut short as the entire ship lurched sideways. Immediately, emergency klaxons began to sound throughout the ship as Pathfinder once more violently shook sideways.
"CAPTAIN TO THE BRIDGE! DC TEAMS 4 AND 6 TO ENGINEERING!" blared loudspeakers over the horns screaming on every deck.
Maria was up and moving before the announcement had even finished. She raced through sickbay, dodging around fallen equipment as she raced for the bridge. The ship wasn't bucking like a wild stallion anymore, so that was a good sign, so was the fact that she could still breath.
Life support and artificial gravity are all working, thank god.
The Spaniard jumped into the nearest lift, yelling "Bridge!" as she did so. Immediately the doors slid closed and the lift began to move.
With a whispered prayer of thanks for the working lift, she slid out before the doors had even managed to finish opening. A third shock threw the ship sideways, sending her crashing into the science station, grunting a curse as she got back up onto her feet.
Davie never even looked up from his station. "One of the sails went down, Ma'am. Engineering is scrambling to fix it."
Maria swallowed back another curse and slid into her station, casting a glance at the empty captains chair.
"Where the hell is the Captain?"
No one had time to answer her.
A glance at her own damage control board made her wince. Sail number 4 was completely gone. Without the massive crystal mast and gossamer thin sail it supported, the ship couldn't maintain its position among the energy and gravity waves that populated NOVA space. Even as she watched, another wave slammed into the already spinning Pathfinder, pushing the ship over onto its side.
Fresh damage indicators sprouted to life on her board.
"Damage control teams to deck three, burst plasma conduit." Bear's voice had taken over on the ship wide announcements from the damage control station in engineering; behind him she could hear Sparky shouting orders.
Maria hit her intercom switch. "Bridge to the Captain." Nothing but silence answered her call.
"Shit" she muttered. "I bet she is still passed out in her quarters."
The petite, auburn-haired woman studied her readouts, making certain her ship wasnt going to fly to pieces anytime in the next few minutes, and then made her decision.
Knowing that it would take too much time to have security break into the Captains quarters, Maria hoped that Svetlana never got around to changing the override code on her door. "Kuzmin, you have the bridge," she snapped to the blonde that had just stumbled onto the bridge during the last wild bucking of the ship. She couldn't do much anyway until Sparky and Bear got things settled in Engineering.
Mercifully, the Captains quarters were close to the Bridge and Maria managed to make her way down the corridor without being tossed into the bulkhead too many times. The XO slammed her hand against the admittance chime once, giving Svetlana only a second or two to answer before she started entering the override code to what had been her quarters only a few weeks ago.
Fortunately, the code still worked.
So the Captain is smart enough to leave it open for me to have emergency admittance. Or, she just forgot to change it.
Maria shrugged. Either way, she could now drag the smug bitch out of bed and into the worse hangover nightmare ever. The doors slid open and Maria charged into the room bellowing,
"Captain, your ass is UMPH!"
The commander fell over something just inside the doorway.
Whatever it was, it was soft. With a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach, Maria called out for the computer to turn on the lights. Her mouth went dry as she spotted the body she had tripped over.
"Medical emergency in the Captains quarters!" She didn't realize she had said anything until the computer chimed its understanding and relayed the message to sick bay. She bent down to the prostrated woman.
"Damn it, don't you dare be dead. You stubborn bitch, you better be breathing." Slightly trembling fingers brushed aside long dark hair and searched for a pulse.
The commander let out a relieved breath when she found a thready pulse. Her fingertips lightly touched the strange mark that she found during her search for a pulse on the side of the Captains neck. And, she knew what sort of instrument could have made that nick. This was even worse than shed feared.
"Major Dononova, report to the Captains quarters immediately."
Two emergency medical technicians burst through the still open doors taking in the scene at a glance. Maria recognized them and moved out of the way as they got to work.
"She has a hypospray mark on her neck, I think she's been injected with something."
The lead EMT nodded in understanding as he examined Svetlana with a portable medical scanner. "Shes been given a potentially lethal dose of anesthetic. We need to get her to the medical bay."
Just as the EMTs started to load up the Captain, Dononova and three Marines arrived on the scene. The Major arrived just in time to hear what the EMTs intended to do.
"Nyet!" bellowed the Major. She shoved the two corpsmen aside. She pulled out a device and started to record the scene. "Misha, Ivan, call up the Master of Arms and secure this scene." The Marine Major finally finished recording to her satisfaction. "Now you may take the Captain."
A stronger gravity wave slammed into the Pegasus, shaking the ship violently. The two EMTs had to grab the Captains body to keep Svetlana from being flung into a wall. "Captain and XO to the bridge!" Davie's voice was sounding just a little panicky.
"Stay with her, Major."
Maria left the Captain in capable hands and ran back to the bridge, cursing under her breath with every stride. She was furious. Someone had tried to murder the Captain, and even if she didn't like the woman, it still made her livid with rage. Even worse, that same person or persons had probably sabotaged Pathfinder! Someone, she vowed, was going to pay for this. No one attacks her ship and gets away with it!
She refused to consider any other reasons on why she was so angry.
"Suit up people!"
Julia LeClare hit one of the SAR tech rooms at a dead run. She was halfway done with a sketch; her hands still black from the charcoal, when the explosion had wrenched Pathfinder sideways. The rest of her team members were only a few steps behind her as she pelted into what they jokingly called the morgue.
Each SAR ship had one, and it was easy to see why it had gotten such a name. Rows and rows of spacesuits hung from racks, interspersed with all the myriad of equipment that was needed on Search and Rescue missions. A SAR team was a half medical, half damage control team. Julia had never expected to be leading a SAR team into NOVA space to work on her own ship though.
The team quickly suited up, each person with an assigned buddy to help with the bulky suits and to double and triple check all the fittings. The hulking suits were designed to be tough enough to survive anything a SAR tech could put it through, including taking it through the shattered remains of a starship.
Red sleeves on the suits identified the med techs, while engineering techs had blue sleeves. This was established so if there was an emergency, the right person could be grabbed quickly. Julie, as the head of the crew, wore a bright orange suit with "Flash" written in bright red across her helmet making her particularly easy to find.
Not that she was hard to spot. Although Flash was the shortest person on the team by at least 4 inches, it didn't stop her crew from respecting and treating her with a deference that shocked the uninformed outsiders. The teams quickly forgot that Flash, 5'1 in her stocking feet and maybe 100lbs-soaking wet, was fearless, had a fiery temper and demanded perfection from each of them. In fact, most of the crew tried to keep on her good side since Flash, in a bad mood, scared the shit out of them.
Flash barked out instructions while suiting up. "Ok, Alpha team, you head out to the sail number 4. That's what causing our bumpy ride. Bravo and Charlie teams, you need to inspect the rest of the hull for damage. Report in to your squad leaders and we'll assign tasks from there. I don't think I have to remind you people to be careful. We are still in Nova Space. It's going to be wild out there."
That was a bit of an understatement. No one in his or her right mind ever wanted to take a walk outside of a ships hull in the middle of NOVA space. Strong gravity waves have been known to rip people from the hull even with them anchored by mag boots and safety lines.
Skimming her trousers down over narrow hips, she tossed the dark pants aside with her uniform shirt quickly following. With quick, precise movements, she tied back her long black hair. Last, her undergarments joined the clothes on the floor.
Depending on the situation, SAR techs could expect to spend hours in airless conditions. Therefore, each suit was outfitted with facilities. The "plumbing", as everyone called it, wasnt very comfortable, but it got the job done. Without pausing from dropping her bra, she began hooking herself up to the system. Modesty was something SAR techs never had time for. With a quick nod to Allie, her suit-up buddy, she climbed into her space suit. They double-checked each others seals and both gave the thumbs up sign.
"Radio check. Sound off, people."
A chorus of voices came back to her as she mentally checked off every member of her three-squad party.
"Okay, we do this by the book. Everyone knows what to do. Let's go."
The suit was no means as heavy as it looked, but it still weighed a lot. Grunting as she took a step forward, the head of SAR led the way towards the air locks.
The locks weren't big enough for everyone to fit inside so they cycled through four at a time. As always, her breathing sounded abnormally loud to her during those first few minutes when the air was evacuated from around her. Then the outer door slid open and she was gazing out into the twisting scarlet horror that was NOVA space.
"Maria to Flash, what's your situation?"
"Approaching the sail now. Bravo and Charlie teams are checking the rest of the hull."
It was slow going, they moved slowly along the hull, their mag boots keeping them firmly attached to the metal below them. Every ten meters they had to stop to laboriously attach themselves to safety lines as well.
"Understood. Any larger grav waves and the hull is going to start taking damage. Do you need Sparky out there?"
Flash rolled her eyes, knowing she was unseen by the Commander. "Negative. We are fine out here. We know what we are doing, Skipper," she replied sarcastically. Julie wondered if she was really offering help or was she pissed off at Sparky again?
Maria bit back her first answer to the retort and forced herself to answer calmly. "Very well. Be careful, Flash. We'll try to provide you a heads-up before any grav waves hit, but you know how inaccurate the sensors can be in NOVA."
"Acknowledged, Skipper." Go teach your Grandma to suck eggs, why don't you? Flash rolled her eyes and started on the job at hand.
Working with the Alpha team and moving along the hull, she made her way towards the stern of the ship. The changes to Pathfinder were obvious from out here. Her team was constantly making their way around missile tubes and energy weapons that now marred the outside of the SAR ship. She had mixed feelings about the presence of those weapons. Because of the nature of their job, SAR techs knew what carnage such weapons could produce.
Finally, they made their way to Sail 4.
To be more precise, they made their way to where Sail 4 used to be. The giant crystal mast was completely gone, its base a ruined crater of melted alloy and hull armor.
Sebastian, her second in charge, let out a low whistle as he followed her to the destruction area.
"Jesus H. Christ. What the hell happened here?"
Flash shook her head even though she knew the rest of her team couldnt see the motion through her helmet.
"Doesnt matter. Its broken. We fix it. Were going to have to replace the mast, the sail, and the mast coupling."
She spared a moment to mentally swear at whatever had caused such damage to their ship. This is going to be such a bitch.
"Josie, get a spare mast out of stores. Sebastian, get a team to start rigging a mast coupling. Allie, youre with me. Were going to go get a spare sail and start getting it ready to rig. The second Bravo and Charlie teams are done checking the hull for any further damage theyll help us knock the mast into place and hoist the sail. Move your asses!"
Maria forced herself not to keep bugging Flash. The head SAR tech knew what she was doing and constantly demanding an update would only slow her down. Instead, she focused her attention on the rest of the bridge crew.
"Theodore, keep an eye out for any grav waves. Theyll need any warnings you can give them out there."
The scientist nodded absently from where he was hunched over his display panels, studying every scan. Even loaded with the some of the best sensors in the Coalition fleet, Pathfinder would be hard pressed to spot any grav wave before it was almost on top of the ship. Making the job of the SAR teams even more dangerous than normal.
"Davie, any word on Captain Molovs condition?"
Her deliberate mispronunciation of the Captains name earned her a grin from the nervous young man and eased the tension on the bridge a little.
"The chief medical officer sent a message saying the Captain was stable and that he should be able to wake her up shortly. He also says that ten people were injured, but no one critically."
Maria nodded, turning back to study the damage readouts that continued to flash crimson on her control panel.
At least Captain Montastyrskaya would be all right. The last thing the XO needed was for Svetlana to have been killed and cause an all-out riot between the two crews. It was dicey enough before.
"Davie, I want you to ask Major Dononova to have her Marines secure all vital areas of the ship."
That got her surprised glances from most of the bridge staff since she had been the one to argue vehemently against any such posting of guards originally. Ignoring the looks, Maria opened a channel to the damage control center, smiling as Bears face filled the screen.
"We going to blow up, Bear?"
The bearded man grinned.
"Maybe someday, Commander, but not today." He cocked his head to listen to the DC parties reporting in. "Most of the damage is superficial, with the exception of the sail."
Sparky could be heard cursing in the background.
"Everything is under control." His expression darkened. "You need to worry about what happened to the Captain. We'll take care of the ship."
She let him get back to coordinating the damage control parties. With nothing else to do until she heard back from the Doctor, Maria settled down and waited. She forced herself to appear calmer than she was.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Her multicolored hair as much a status symbol as the chief engineer's uniform she wore once more, Sparky stomped towards the large man in charge of damage control. Engineering teams labored behind her to seal off a coolant pipe that had ruptured when the last grav wave had hit the ship. At least theyd managed to stop the flow of the toxic coolant.
Bear looked up from his display. "I am running the Damage Control Teams. What are you doing?"
"About to kill you, that's what I'm doing. You just diverted power from one of the secondary containment fields for the fusion bottles. If the primary fails, well be at the center of a new star!"
Sparky stepped aside as a pair of engineers hurried past them, carting a replacement pipe for the coolant system. Grudgingly, she had to admit that without the constant drilling during the past few days, the mixed crew Damage Control Teams probably wouldn't be reacting as well as they were now.
Bear turned back to his display. "I temporarily needed the power of the secondary containment elsewhere. That means it is there only in case the primary fails. We need the power for life support in Med Bay." He punched some buttons savagely. "Unless you think it is okay for the Med Bay to suck vacuum for 20 or 30 minutes."
Considering who was in Med Bay right now, she fleetingly thought that it could have solved a few of her problems. Shoving that notion aside, she glared at the large man.
"Look, you can't just do things like that without telling me. You aren't the Chief Engineer here."
Bear turned to her and gone was the jovial, good-natured man. In his place stood a very formidable officer, ready to chew some ass.
"If you hadn't neglected certain responsibilities, your Commander would not have confined you to your quarters and asked me to take over down here. I have yet to see any of the qualities of the Chief of Engineering title that you hold. I also graduated top of my class with an Engineering degree. I have been the Chief of engineering on two ships myself before I was put in the command track. I do know what I am doing. Now back off and do your assigned tasks or I will have the Marines escort you back to your quarters and you can explain to your Commander why."
Bear never yelled, but the dead silence in the engineering space caused his words to echo as everyone stopped working in astonishment. No one ever expected an outburst from the gentle giant, nor did they expect anyone to upbraid Sparky in her own shop.
Sparky's eyes widened in complete surprise at the verbal lashing by a person she'd come to regard as a placid, oversized teddy bear of a man. Her shock stopped the violent retort she normally would have flung back to such a dressing down. Instead, she stared at Bear, opened her mouth once, closed it, then spun on her heels and stalk away. She'd taken two steps when Theodores voice urgently called out across the ships intercoms.
Then the world went mad.
Flashs teammates had worked together for over a year now, and everyone knew what they had to do. They were good people and they worked well together. The new crewmembers that had invaded the rest of Pathfinder were absent out here.
It took them a half hour to get the new crystal mast and new sail out of Pathfinders prodigious storage bay. Since damage to sails and masts was one of the more common reasons a ship could be kept from using its NOVA drive, every SAR ship carried several replacements to aid damaged ships. Even though they worked as quickly as possible, the turbulence was significantly worse by the time they were able to hoist it.
In response to the chorus of yeses, she made certain everyone was wearing their safety line and firmly anchored to the hull.
"Lets move this bitch."
Repulsor lifts didnt work in NOVA space. Which meant that the sail had to be raised the old fashion way, with block and tackle and a lot of sweat. Swearing and grunting, the SAR team shoved, pulled and cursed the heavy bulky mast towards the makeshift mast coupling. The mast may have been weightless outside of the ships artificially generated gravity, but that didnt mean it didnt have any mass. Inertia still had to be overcome with every shift of the massive crystal and keeping it from floating off into NOVA space was like herding cats.
Theodores urgent warning came at the worst possible moment. They had almost just fitted the mast into the coupling, but it was still free at the base.
The senior scientists warning crackled over each of their suit intercoms an instant before the actual gravity wave swept over Pathfinder.
Three members of Charlie team were immediately ripped off the hull. The safety line between them and the hull snapped under the intense stress of the wave. Fortunately, the safety lines holding them to the rest of their team held. The rest of Charlie Team started reeling in their teammates when another, much stronger wave, hit. The last safety line snapped and the rest of the SAR team could hear their crewmembers screams as the wave took the three off the ship and into NOVA space.
Flash stared after the brightly colored space suits, watching in disbelief as the grav wave bore them away from the ship. The screams seemed to last forever, until finally, the grav waves crushed the suits and cut off the intercom. Forcing down bile, she swallowed and looked around. Alpha and Beta teams were still intact. By some miracle, the mast was still tethered to the hull, although half of the guidelines had snapped.
"Andrew, get your people on those lines before another wave hits us." When everyone remained motionless, she shoved Allie, the nearest person to her, towards the lines. "Move it! We have to get this done or we're all dead out here!"
Her lip was bleeding from where she'd bit it.
Absently Maria wiped at the cut, wincing at the bruising she'd have soon caused by the safety harness. The same harness that kept her from being flung across the bridge like a doll. Davie hadn't been quite as lucky, and she forced herself to avoid stare at his unconscious form.
"Medical team to the bridge", she snapped as she automatically checked the ships status.
The medics showed up in time to be slammed into the bulkheads themselves as a second gravity wave hit. They both picked themselves up, but the taller male looked a little unsteady on his feet. Maria wondered fleetingly if she would have to call another medical team for the first team.
"Everyone else okay?"
Theodore grunted in response his attention still focused on his precious scanners. The pilot looked shaken, but he said he was fine. The other bridge personnel were in one piece for now.
Just then, Flash came through the com.
"Skipper, we've lost three members of Charlie team. Thompson, Rodriguez and Martin." There was a pause and they could hear Flashs harsh breathing. "The mast is still intact and we will have it in place in 30 minutes. Flash out." The bridge crew looked stunned at the news.
Maria felt a little taken aback herself. Search and Rescue was a dangerous mission, but this was the first time they'd lost three members of a SAR team at the same time. Those teams were a tight knit group and she hoped Flash could concentrate on getting the mast and sail up before the ship was torn apart.
"Acknowledged. Get it in place as soon as you can, Flash. We took a beating from that one." The damage control board in front of her was flashing a lot of crimson.
The first thing she felt was pain. Her face hurt. Actually, most of her body hurt. The next thing she noticed was the smell. Med Bays always had the same smell.
At least maybe I can get something for the pain.
Beyond the trauma room she'd been put in, the Medical Bay was in organized chaos. Crewmembers who'd been injured from the latest wave to hit Pathfinder were being helped into the med bay. The SAR vessel was designed to handle casualties from injured vessels and had a complete sickbay facility. Carl and his fellow doctors were quite able to keep up with the flow of injured.
Svetlana frowned. What the hell had been going on while she was out? She frowned harder. And what had happened to her? The last thing she remembered was winning that Zero G hockey game. The Captain sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She waited there for a moment for the room to stop swimming when she was knocked off the bed by something crashing into her ship.
A nurse literally went flying past her, slamming into a bulkhead with sickening force. Medical equipment tumbled about, and screams could be heard from outside in the corridor as a stronger gravity wave hit Pathfinder. One of the doctors immediately ran towards the nurse, giving her something for the excruciating pain of multiple compound fractures.
Svetlana picked herself up off the deck. "What the fucking hell is going on around here?" She was glad that her bellow sounded close to her normal volume. The snap of a command voice cut through the din of the busy Med Bay. Two Marines came running over trailed by a beleaguered- looking chief medical officer.
Ignoring the Marines, especially Major Dononova, Carl immediately began scanning the Captain with a hand-held medical scanner. "How are you feeling? Are you dizzy?"
"I feel like Ive been thrown and trampled by a fucking horse. What the fuck is going on?"
"All I know is something happened to one of the NOVA sails," Carl answered, still continuing his scan until he was certain that she wasn't in immediate danger of collapsing.
"Stay off your feet if you can," he called back to her as he jogged towards where one of the trauma nurses was calling for help.
Major Dononova helped Svetlana back to bed. Even though the Captain would have rather been anywhere other than Med Bay, she felt so bad there was no way she was going to argue with the Doctor. It took all her effort to keep the room from spinning around her.
"Okay, that answered part of my question. Now, why am I in Med Bay?" She grunted in pain as she hit a sore spot while trying to find a comfortable position on the bed.
The Major shifted to her at-rest stance, still keeping an eye on the Captain in case she needed help.
"You were found unconscious in your cabin by Commander Exposito." The Major's tone was clipped and precise, belying the anger beneath it at the cowardly attack on the Captain. "You were injected with an anesthetic."
"Have you checked out where that multi-colored freak was?" Svetlana grumbled.
The Major hadn't had time to check on anyone's alibis yet, but she would. "Nyet, but I will as soon as possible." She paused. "I have not told anyone else, but DNA samples of your attacker were found on the right elbow of your uniform."
"Huh?" Svetlana hoped she sounded articulate to the Major. The drugs still in her system seemed to have a muddling affect on her.
"You managed to hurt your attacker, Captain." There was a bit of wry humor in the Marine Major's voice.
"Oh good. I would hate to think all that time you spent throwing me around the gym was a waste of time." Svetlana rubbed the back of her neck, remembering the sparring sessions with her Marine Major.
"Just trying to keep you prepared for occasions like this, Captain." A slight quirk of Dononovas lips was her version of a grin.
The com panel in the trauma room chimed for attention, indicating a priority call from the bridge. Being the ever so helpful Marine, Dononova turned on the unit.
Maria, her lower lip swollen and still bleeding a little, glared out of the screen. "Since Carl tells me you aren't in danger of dying anytime soon, would Captain Montoroski care to indulge us and come to the bridge?"
"Are you feeling a little over your head, Commander?" retorted Svetlana as she eased herself out of bed. "I'm on my way up. Try not to blow up the ship until I get there."
"That had better not have been a short joke, Captain." Maria shot back, ignoring the relief that she felt in seeing Svetlana up and moving. "I just figured it would be good to have you up here so your crewmembers didn't get any strange ideas about your absence."
"Why? Are you saying as a SAR Commander, you might be just a bit incompetent in controlling damage to your own ship?" snapped Svetlana, frustrated that she was having problems standing up, had woken up to an unknown disaster and mostly because she wasnt giving the orders.
Any warmth in those green eyes disappeared at the verbal attack, and Maria's face stiffened into a stoic mask. "We've handled it this far, Captain, I'm certain we can do without your presence for as long as necessary. Take your time." Abruptly, the channel went dark as Maria cut it from the bridge.
The Major couldn't suppress another grin. "You two fight like an old married couple."
Svetlana bristled, "Major, I suggest you stow that comment, especially if you don't want to become lieutenant again. In fact, I don't even want you to say or think any thing like that again. Do you understand me?"
The Major seemed completely unrepentant as she answered smartly. "Aye, aye, Captain."
Shes got it so baaad.
To be continued
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