Chapter 30

U.S.S. Aldrin

Sector 015

13:32 Hours, February 9th, 2380

Stardate 57108.098594

 

Jensen felt a hand on her shoulder, stirring her out of unconsciousness. She opened her eyes, finding darkness. A spotlight landed on her face, causing her to squint. Kelley’s voice cut in, “Commander? Are you okay?” The commander groaned and attempted to roll over, but realized she wasn’t feeling the affects of the Aldrin’s artificial gravity. Her outstretched arm had upset her center of gravity, sending her floating body spinning. Kelley quickly grabbed onto both of Jensen’s shoulders, stopping the spin.

Jensen nodded slowly as her boots made contact with the deck, “I take it the grav plating is offline?”

Kelley pointed the flashlight on her wrist down at her feet, revealing bulky white magnetic gravity boots on her feet holding her firmly to the deck. “Everything’s offline.” She looked back up to Jensen, the reflected light of the wristlight casting eerily on her pale skin, “For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure I saw two attack ships get lit up by the antiproton burst before sensors cut out.”

“Have they fired since?” Jensen asked.

Kelley took a step back, pointing the wrist light into the empty space behind her. Amongst the hazy smoke and floating hunks of debris hung a pair of gravity boots. Reaching back to grab them, Kelley shook her head, “Nothing.” She pulled the boots in and handed them to Jensen.

A thump sounded to Jensen’s right, followed by R’Mor shouting in the darkness, “Seikkea kllhe!”

“What’d she say?” Kelley whispered, passing her a wristlight.

Jensen whispered back, “You don’t want to know.” She raised her voice and pointed the light towards the rear, “R’Mor?”

R’Mor’s hand carefully reached up from underneath the operations arc. She slowly pulled her upper body up, holding onto the console, “Ow.”

As Jensen put on and activated her boots, Kelley slowly worked her way back to R’Mor, her boots thumping against the deck and humming while stepping. “Are you hurt?”

R’Mor gingerly touched the left side of her hip, “Maybe.”

Jensen tapped her combadge, “Jensen to Vorik.”

After a few seconds, Vorik answered, “Vorik here.”

“Status report.”

“I do not currently have complete data,” Vorik said. “It appears that the feedback from the antiproton pulse overloaded the fusion generators and auxiliary batteries.”

“So we’re dead in the water?” Jensen asked.

“In the figurative sense,” Vorik confirmed. “We will begin installation of the spare fusion generators, but it will be several hours before we are able to complete the work.”

“Thank you, Commander. Jensen, out.” She pointed her wristlight at the dark viewscreen and sighed.

 

U.S.S. Ticonderoga

Sector 015

13:35 Hours, February 9th, 2380

Stardate 57108.104697

 

M’Reng tapped her claws anxiously on the control pad at the end of her armrest, “Time to the Aldrin?” The Ticonderoga shuddered for a second as it passed through a band of the residual subspace interference.

Cameron glanced down from the streaking stars on the viewscreen to the helm station, “Thirty seconds.”

“Red alert!” The Xindi-Arboreal first officer gruffly ordered. The bridge lights dimmed and turned red. “What’s waiting for us?”

The Vulcan operations officer calmly answered, “The U.S.S. Aldrin and two Jem’Hadar attack ships.”

“Where the hell did they come from?” M’Reng hissed. “Arm weapons, shields up.”

“Sensors are not reading any power emissions,” the Vulcan said.

“From whom?” M’Reng questioned.

“All three vessels.”

Cameron started counting down, “Intercept in five, four, three, two, one.” The Ticonderoga dropped out of warp, falling into a banking curve around the Aldrin and two attack ships. The slowly tumbling vessels were dark and barely illuminated by the light of distance stars. A flash of light heralded the arrival of the Bolton, followed a second later by the Brady, slipping into the same slow cautious circle as the Ticonderoga. Bright searchlights activated on each of the Galaxy-class starships, shining on the three smaller vessels inside the circle.

The operations officer reported, “Thirty lifesigns on each attack ship. No lifesigns on the Aldrin.”

M’Reng stared at the upside-down armor-covered Aldrin, “None?”

“Zero lifesigns.”

 

Primary Command Center, Starfleet Headquarters

Sausalito, California

Earth, Sol System, Sector 001

13:36 Hours, February 9th, 2380

Stardate 57108.10681668681

 

Bolton and Brady confirm, no lifesigns detected on Aldrin,” a commander towards the front of the command center announced. The already subdued din of the hundred officers died to next to nothing.

Ross put a hand on Clark’s injured left shoulder, prompting an involuntary wince. The admiral slumped slightly, “I’m sorry, Captain.”

“Have them scan for bio-neural gel packs,” Clark ordered.

After a few seconds, the same commander turned around in his chair, “Ticonderoga reports no indicators from the gel packs.”

Clark smiled broadly, “Check for inter-personnel communicator activity.” The commander turned back to his station.

Ross stepped back from Clark, “Captain, nobody alive is onboard that ship.”

With a yelp, the commander jumped up from his seat, “Detecting a low-level ad-hoc communicator network! Three hundred sixty eight distinct signals.”

Clark exhaled loudly and took several steps back, looking up at the ceiling and grinning widely. Ross’s posture instantly straightened and he turned back towards the tiers of the command center, “Have the Ticonderoga prepare rescue and recovery teams. Bolton and Brady secure the crews of the attack ships.” The hubbub in the command center quickly ramped up as orders were rapidly dispatched. Ross looked to Clark, “You’re going to have to explain something to me. There’s no way the sensors on the Ticonderoga, Brady, and Bolton are all malfunctioning.”

Clark laughed lightly, “My chief engineer theorized that by tying the armor generators directly into the EPS system we inadvertently created a residual bio-dampening field. It makes sense; the nanites carry a biaxial field modifier to stabilize the matrix assembly during replication of the laminated tritanium stratum. In the quantities needed to–”

Ross cut him off, “I get it, Captain.”

“You do?” Clark asked, surprised.

“No, I don’t.” Ross laughed, “I just want you to stop making me feel like I know nothing.”

An announcement came from inside the command center, “Attack ships secured, crews under guard in brigs on the Bolton and Brady.”

“Have them scan the Jem’Hadar for implanted separated binary explosives,” Clark warned. Noting the puzzled look from Ross, he said, “It’s going to be a long debrief.”

The commander communicating with the Ticonderoga announced, “Survivors found on the Aldrin. They appear to be in good shape.”

“How many?” Clark asked.

After a few seconds, the commander replied, “Three hundred sixty eight.” Clark sighed again, his face showing both pain and relief.

Ross stepped in front of Clark, “That’s two hundred fewer than you left with.”

Clark swallowed hard. “Admiral, things are not good out there.”

“Hail from the Ticonderoga,” the commander said. “Requesting Admiral Ross.”

Ross turned to face the screen, “Put them on.”

The center half of the viewscreen switched to display the Ticonderoga’s spacious bridge, with M’Reng and Jensen standing in the center. Jensen smiled, “Starfleet, it’s good to see you. And not have you firing at us.”

M’Reng’s large triangular ears tilted back, “I already apologized for that…”

Clark returned the grin, “Loy.”

Jensen’s smiled weakened a bit, seeing Clark’s burned uniform and limp and bloody arm, “David…”

M’Reng looked to Ross, “Admiral, we’ve secured the Jem’Hadar vessels and the Aldrin. Medical crews are preparing to remove the explosives implanted in the Jem’Hadar – how did you know to look for that?”

“Long story,” Clark answered.

M’Reng held her hands behind her back, “Alright… we’re transporting the Aldrin’s crew onto the Ticonderoga; transfer should be complete within the next fifteen minutes. It’s a little slow-going without lifesigns to lock on to.”

Ross nodded slowly, “I can imagine.”

“Sir, do you have orders?” M’Reng asked.

“Give the Aldrin’s crew whatever they need or want,” Ross said. “Tow all three ships back to Sol.”

M’Reng nodded curtly, “We’ll get it done, Admiral.”

Ross returned the nod, “Command, out.” The feed from the Ticonderoga bridge was replaced with that ship’s visual sensors, displaying the illuminated forms of the Aldrin and the two disabled attack ships. Ross looked over Clark, noting that he was again cradling his left arm. The Admiral called over a nearby Selarian officer, “Lieutenant, please get Captain Clark to Medical and ensure he’s taken care of.”

The reptilian lieutenant silently stepped up to Clark and led him out the closest door at the rear of the command center. As the door closed behind them, Ross clapped his hands together and ordered, “I want a thorough five light-year radius sweep of the area around the Aldrin. Arrange for Utopia Planitia to be ready to receive the recovered vessels, have Starfleet Intelligence ready to take custody of the prisoners. And contact the Romulan ambassador to arrange for a meeting; I’m sure she’ll find these cloaked attack ships of interest.”

 

1321 Trail Ave, Muscatine, Iowa, United States of America

Earth, Sol System, Sector 001

14:52 Hours (16:52 local time), February 11th, 2380

Stardate 57113.715499

 

Light flakes of brilliant white snow swirled around Clark as he trudged up the plowed gravel driveway. The sky over this part of country Iowa, some six kilometers from the nearest settlement, was a bright cloudless blue. A half a meter of snow blanketed the countryside, though the persistent wind had driven the powdery fluff into drifts four times that high. Several meters behind Clark sat a small Starfleet shuttlecraft, parked across the cracked gray asphalt road near a leafless tree. Ahead of him was a centuries-old yellow two-story farmhouse, framed by a pair of red barns and tall steel grain siloes.

Clark wore a heavy Starfleet issue winter overcoat; the bottom edge of the quilted gray coat fluttered and flapped against his legs in the frigid wind. Under the overcoat he wore the classic Starfleet dress uniform, a double-breasted red jacket over a white turtleneck, with a thick leather belt around the waist and the rank pinned onto white bands around the sleeve cuffs and a strap over the right shoulder. The uniform had changed little over the past century. He flinched and then shivered briefly as a burst of snow slapped against his exposed face, sticking into his hair and eyebrows. Clark wiped the snow away as he continued forward, leaving treaded boot prints behind in the drifting snow.

He slowly walked up the three steps to the wooden porch at the front of the house and opened the creaky screen door. As he raised his hand to knock on the stained glass window in the center of the wooden front door, the door swung open into the house, revealing a short light-skinned Human woman with graying black hair. Clark slowly lowered his hand as she said, puzzlement in her voice, “Can I help you?”

“Hello, Ma’am,” Clark swallowed hard, “I’m Capta–”

She cut him off, throwing a hand up to her side, “Forgive my manners. I’m sorry, please, come in. It’s freezing out there!” She took a few steps back, pulling the door further open.

Clark hesitated, and then stepped through the open doorway. As the screen door clattered shut behind him, he felt a blast of heat on his boots. He looked down, finding a pair of heating panels on either side of the entryway, quickly melting and evaporating the snow off his boots. The stained glass door slowly swung closed behind him.

“Can I get you a coffee, or a cup of tea?” the woman offered. She stood at the base of a narrow wooden staircase with a hallway on the side that led back to a brightly-lit kitchen and dining room.

“Are you Mrs. Holmes?” Clark asked.

She nodded, “Please, call me Jill. Can I take your coat?”

“My name is Captain David Clark,” he said. “I’m the–”

The deep voice of a Human man came from back in the kitchen, “Jill, honey, who’s there?” A tall dark-skinned bald Human man dressed in a set of gray pants with bulging cargo pockets and a rumpled gray shirt walked into the hallway. He noticed the four gold pips on Clark’s collar and instinctively straightened, “What can we do for you, Captain?”

“Mark Holmes?” Clark asked. Getting a confirming nod, Clark glumly reintroduced himself, “I’m Captain David Clark, captain of the U.S.S Aldrin. Your son, John, was assigned under my command.”

Mark slowly walked forward, setting a heavily scratched hyperspanner on a wooden console table in the hall. Jill’s shoulders slumped, “What happened?”

Clark clasped his hands in front of him, “This isn’t yet public. The Aldrin was attacked by a rogue sect of the Dominion. We suffered heavy casualties; your son, he–” Clark looked down at the worn wooden floor. Despite having done this a dozen times already this day alone it still hadn’t gotten any easier. He slowly raised his head, seeing tears welling in Jill’s eyes, “John was killed. I’m sorry.”

“J-Johnny’s dead?” Mark stuttered. Jill stifled a sob, holding both of her hands to her face to cover her mouth and nose.

Clark slowly nodded, uncomfortably wringing his hands, “I know there’s nothing I can say that will make this any easier. I want you to know that Starfleet, and I personally, are available to you for whatever you need.”

Mark wrapped his arm around Jill’s shoulder; she rolled in rested her head against his chest, tears beginning to stream down her face. He slowly ran his hand over his hairless head, “How did he… how did he die?”

“I’m afraid the details are classified,” Clark said. “I can tell you that he died in combat with Jem’Hadar soldiers. He died trying to save his crewmates.”

Jill lifted her head, “Did he?”

“I’m sorry?” Clark asked.

“Did he save them?” Jill asked, wiping away tears.

“He did,” Clark said, lying; witnesses that had survived the Jem’Hadar executions said that Holmes was one of the first killed, gunned down before they’d even had a chance to start fighting back. “John died a hero.”

Mark looked down at the floor, and then back up at Clark, “Do you have his body? I want my boy to have a proper burial.”

“He is at Starfleet Medical in San Francisco, awaiting a formal autopsy,” Clark said. He took a deep breath, “I know this is going to be a very difficult time for your family, but I must ask you to please try to avoid any public statements until we’ve finished notifying all of the next of kin.”

“I’ve been out of Starfleet for ten years,” Mark said, slightly defensive. “You can’t tell us not to talk.”

Clark nodded, “You’re right. I’m asking that you give us time to complete our notifications. News of this isn’t public yet; we don’t want families to be wondering if we’re going to show up with bad news.”

Jill stepped back from Mark and looked up at Clark, “So you’re just going to leave them in the dark?”

“I don’t like it any more than you do, Ma’am,” Clark wrung his hands. “But I’m afraid this is the best way. It should only be a few days.”

“How many notifications are we talking about?” Jill asked.

Clark sighed, “We’ve completed several already, but more than two hundred. I think you can understand why we need some time.”

Mark solemnly nodded, “You’ll have it.”

“Somebody from Starfleet Command should be contacting you tomorrow to help with the arrangements,” Clark said, hating to cold terminology. “I want you to know that whatever you need, Starfleet will be ready and willing to assist.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Jill muttered, slipping her hand into Mark’s. She sniffled, struggling to fight back more tears.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Clark said, trying not to sound forced. While getting over the breaking of bad news hadn’t gotten an easier, past that point he kept going numb. He dropped his head and turned around, placing a hand on the door handle behind him.

“Stop!” Jill said, straightening up.

Clark paused for a second before turning back to face her, “Ma’am?”

Jill asked him pointedly, “How well did you know our Johnny?”

He released the door handle, slowly dropping his hand to his side, “Not very well; I’m afraid I only met him once, rather briefly.”

“Can I tell you about him? Since we can’t talk to…” Jill trailed off as she looked straight into Clark’s eyes.

Clark stammered, “I, I’m not sure that I, uh–”

“I insist,” she said gently. “You didn’t get a chance to get to know him.”

Mark smiled a bit, “Captain, you’ve been at this all day, haven’t you?”

“It’s something that needs to be done,” Clark said glumly.

“You need a break,” Mark said as he stepped behind Clark and grabbed the shoulders of his overcoat. “Come in, have a cup of coffee, let us brag about our son.”

Clark rolled his shoulders back, facilitating Mark’s removal of the coat. He looked up at the tall father and then to the mother, “It would be my honor.”