THE QU'VAT MASSACRE: ACT ONE (T)
U.S.S. Europa (NCC-1648-E) - less than three minutes to Qu’Vat
As she arrived on the bridge, the scene shown to her on the screen made her pause for a moment beside Moq, clearly one of the first to have taken her station on the bridge, along with the first officer: on the main viewer, in fact, the sensors showed a gruesome image, with debris of various shapes and sizes floating freely in space around the completely destroyed carcass of a planet that the onboard computer had labelled Qu'Vat.
From what he remembered from his courses at the Academy, in Archer's time the planet had been occupied by a thriving Klingon colony of a few million individuals, placed on Qu'Vat because of the extraordinary hospitality of the place - and because they hoped to consolidate, unsuccessfully, their power in that region of space.
A century later, during the time of Kirk, the colony had been abandoned following a series of confrontations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, confrontations that had ended with a treaty that contemplated the Klingons' withdrawal from the area and the Federation's colonisation of the region. The planet, however, had remained almost uninhabited in the following decades: only in the more recent past had some settlers been thought of and, in collaboration with the Klingon Empire, a Klingon outpost had been installed on a nearby moon in support of the patrol vessels in the sector.
Recovering from the first moment of shock she experienced, Ferrari hurried with great strides towards her own station, from where she surveyed the officer operating the console in the afternoon shift. With an expert eye, she analysed the data displayed on the screen in front of her, while all around her other colleagues hastily entered the bridge and quickly replaced the other officers at their respective stations.
Suddenly, the Captain's voice resounded imperiously: "Report!"
"We have been contacted by the Klingon outpost located on one of the planet's moons, Captain," began Lieutenant Commander Christopher, who happened to be coordinating Beta shift activities that fateful day. He went on to talk, quickly and concisely, about the actions taken after being contacted by the Klingon outpost, not least of which was informing First Officer Leeda Sevek of the situation and, once in sensor range, displaying the extent of the crisis on the screen and making the necessary assessments for action.
The Bajoran hadn't had time to set foot on the bridge, when Christopher had found himself forced to raise the red alert and summon all the main shift officers on the bridge: the situation was far worse than expected.
"Time to intercept?"
Rebim, at the helm station, replied promptly, "Less than 120 seconds, Captain."
"I detect a small fleet of Cardassian and Jem'Hadar ships," Moq observed, "all heavily armed. As ungodly as it is to admit, Captain," he added, looking in T'Vok's direction, "I do not believe that Europe is capable of taking on the fight alone and coming out in one piece."
"Lieutenant," T'Vok ordered, without wasting too much time, turning to Ferrari, "send out a distress call on all frequency bands, priority one. Inform Starfleet Command of the situation and that Europe will make sure to buy as much time as possible, but that there is a need to send additional vessels as quickly as possible."
Without waiting for a reply from the officer she had addressed, T'Vok continued, taking a seat at her station and tapping the intercom, "All hands to battle stations. Lieutenant Rebim, take us in."
Captain R'Mau was seriously concerned, although he tried not to let his agitation show: the distress call had been transmitted via the highest priority channel available to Starfleet, and he knew from direct experience that if it had not been a truly emergency situation, Captain T'Vok of the U.S.S. Europa would never have given that kind of order.
Around him, the Leonidas' bridge was buzzing with controlled activity, giving the impression of a calm before the storm: its executive officer, a human of Saxon origin, was making a tour of the bridge, carefully checking the work and activities of the officers and non-commissioned officers present. The position he normally occupied, located on the starboard side and virtually closest to the captain's chair, had been momentarily uncovered when Friedman had risen to confer briefly with the Caitian and then begun supervising the activities of the subordinates.
«ETA in 35 minutes,» informed Lieutenant Ch'Vatross, from his station at the helm, without being asked, after a quick glance at the console, «maximum warp speed, sir.» The Andorian, aboard the Leonidas since the vessel had been commissioned and launched, had served, for a few years, at the Zefram Cochrane Flight Center primarily as a shuttle tester, but also devoting himself to testing higher tonnage vessels. It was at this juncture that the Andorian had met and struck up a close friendship with Eva Ferrari, currently serving as operations officer aboard Europa. He, like his own commanding officer, was particularly tense about the implications of the Sovereign-class vessel's distress call, but he could not conceal his emotions as well as the feline.
Aware of this, the Caitian tried to instil confidence in his own voice, replying thunderously to his officer: «Very well, Lieutenant, let’s remain on our way. Let's be ready for every possible contingency, monitor communications traffic, and make sure we're not caught unprepared.» But, inwardly, security eluded him, and as Commander Friedman returned to his console, once he had finished his tour of the various stations on the bridge, R'Mau found himself deeply fearful of what he would find once he reached his destination.
"Captain," Lieutenant Commander Data's quiet voice drew the attention of his own commanding officer, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, from the hushed conversation he was having with Deanna Troi, Ship's Counselor, "we are receiving a distress call, priority one, from Europe."
A sense of alarm quickly spread within the bridge of the Enterprise, flagship of Starfleet and sixth vessel to bear the glorious name made famous, a century earlier, by Captain James T. Kirk and his crew.
"Elaborate, Mr. Data," ordered Commander Riker, Picard's loyal executive officer for almost fifteen years, peremptorily.
The android wasted no time and, with his usual phlegm, replied precisely and to the point: "The Klingon outpost of Qu'Vat is under attack by a large Cardassian-Jem'Hadar fleet, sir. Europe is intervening, but even with five Klingon sparrowhawks in support, it will never be able to block their advance."
Picard wasted no time - and, at times, Data was really talking too much - ordering, "Lieutenant Perim, plot a course to get us to the coordinates of Europa as quickly as possible. Maximum warp. Engage."
The Trill, petite and with short brown hair that left her face free, showing the spots typical of her species descending from her forehead all the way down her body, replied promptly, "Course set, maximum warp, activated sir. ETA in 35 minutes."
At the tactical console, Lieutenant Daniels, who had taken over as tactical and security officer after Worf's departure for Deep Space 9, had wasted no time, promptly putting all his security and assault teams on alert and putting the vessel on yellow alert; while Commander Riker, to his Captain's right, began to expertly coordinate the various departments so that the entire crew was ready to act when needed.
"I'm receiving telemetry from the Europa," Data reported, "but the signal is very disrupted, I'm not sure I can compensate."
"Give it a try, Commander," Picard ordered imperiously, and Data wasted no time in obeying his superior officer's command: in his years in Jean-Luc Picard's service, the android had learned to understand the different states of mind of his superior - and of the other living beings with whom he worked - and, at that juncture, Picard had assumed the dryness that characterised him at times of particular tension. Which advised him to waste as little time as possible in carrying out orders.
In Sickbay, Dr Beverly Crusher, Enterprise's Chief Medical Officer for more than a decade, was analysing the results of a series of tests conducted on some organic compound samples brought on board from their last mission. Unlike other vessels, the Enterprise was seldom deployed to the front, which allowed the crew to continue their mission of exploration and diplomacy, despite the fact that on a few occasions they were called upon to intervene more or less directly in the fighting.
She did not have time to put the slides on which the samples were stored back in place, when there was a sudden dimming of the lights due to the yellow alarm going off, with the associated ochre reverberation spreading through the room, intermittently.
At the same time, the alarm began to sound, as Commander William Riker's voice wafted through the air over the loudspeakers, strategically placed throughout the vessel's quarters: "Bridge to Sickbay: have medical response teams ready, we risk having a major medical emergency on our hands."
It took a few moments, but then Sickbay found itself to be the centre of fervent activity, with Dr Crusher and her second, Dr Martinez, coordinating the various medical teams that would intervene in the emergency which, relatively shortly afterwards, would see the direct intervention of the Enterprise.
In the midst of the pandemonium, the intercom sounded again, this time broadcasting Captain Picard's voice into the air: "Senior officers, report to the ready room."
Leaving a few recommendations for her colleague, Crusher hurried out of Sickbay: in the chaos that followed Riker's order, time had slipped out of her hands rather quickly, without her noticing, so caught up was she in the frenetic activity that always anticipated the more demanding rescue missions.
Once she arrived in Picard's ready room, rather crowded by the massive presence of the other senior officers, the blood chilled in her veins: the data, which the Enterprise's sensors displayed on the screen, showed a scene that bordered on the gruesome.
After the service, performed by Captain Benjamin Sisko, had ended, the celebrations moved to the quarters that Dax and Kahn had been sharing since Lenara had decided to remain aboard Deep Space 9, in defiance of all Trill laws. Apart from Worf, who had made a rather embarrassing spectacle of himself a few months earlier, everyone was present to share in the joy of the couple, who were finally crowning their dream of getting married, according to Federation custom - and Sisko had been only too happy to officiate at the ritual.
Lenara wore an elegant dress for the occasion, very reminiscent of the one she had worn the first time she had set foot on the base, at the welcome buffet in honour of her and her colleagues, who had come to conduct field studies on the creation of stable artificial tunnels.
Dax, on the other hand, wore the high uniform reserved for special occasions - such as a meeting with prestigious delegates or, indeed, an occasion similar to their wedding - beaming alongside the woman who had just become his wife.
Although the celebrations were still in progress on the Promenade, the two women had preferred to retire relatively early to their quarters, accompanied by a smaller number of people: their 'acquired' family on Deep Space 9, with the exception of Worf, who had preferred to co-ordinate the Operations Centre in the absence of the other senior officers; Jadzia's father, who had come from Trillius Prime on the pretext of spending a few days on Bajor; Bejal Otner, Lenara's brother and her (former) colleague at the Academy of Sciences on Trillius Prime.
His presence had surprised everyone, especially Kahn and Dax, who certainly had not expected it on the occasion of an event that went against everything the man fervently believed, as he had demonstrated repeatedly the first time he set foot on the station.
At the surprised look Lenara had given him, when she had seen him present himself at the entrance to her quarters a couple of days before the service, she had simply remarked, "Could I ever miss one of my little sister's most important days?" With those words, the long months of silence that had followed their separation and the forced estrangement from Trillius Prime of the two women had vanished into thin air, as if they had never been present.
Captain Benjamin Sisko, Starfleet-appointed base commanding officer, was speaking softly with Major Kira, his second in command, about the latest reports from the front, noting that Lieutenant Ferrari was absent for unavoidable reasons, when the communicator pinned to the human's chest activated: "Worf to Sisko."
Accepting Lieutenant Commander Worf's communication, the human made sure he was not overheard by anyone but himself and Kira: "This is Sisko. Go ahead, Mr Worf."
"Sir, we are receiving a high priority distress call from Europa..." Worf reported unceremoniously to his superior, who cast a concerned glance at Kira, "...they have engaged hostile forces near the planet Qu'Vat."
Sisko did not delay any longer in asking for further details: if a Sovereign-class ship was calling for help, the situation must be extremely serious. Firmly he ordered, "Prepare the Defiant, Commander. We'll be right there."
Communication interrupted, Sisko and Kira cast a dismayed glance at each other, before going, side by side, to break up the festivities.
"What's the latest, Bill?" asked Admiral Alynna Nechayev imperiously, staring with her ice-coloured eyes at the screen where Vice Admiral William Ross, commanding officer of Starbase 375 and coordinator of federal forces in the Bajoran sector, was standing from his office.
In the large conference room on the tenth floor of the building containing the central offices of Starfleet Command, based in San Francisco, in addition to Nechayev there were other senior officers present, including Starfleet Commander-in-Chief, Fleet Admiral Taela Shanthi, who had been in charge of the organisation for almost a decade.
The meeting had been called as a matter of urgency, also drawing the highest and most important figures within the Starfleet hierarchy, such as the Commander-in-Chief and Chief of Staff, Fleet Admiral Gene Roddenberry.
For a moment, Ross's gaze seemed to incinerate the woman on the spot, but it was an instant so brief it was probably just imagination: "Captain T'Vok has sent out a distress call on a priority one channel. I've received reports from the Leonidas, the Enterprise and the Defiant, the three ships closest to the system where the Europa is currently located: all are on an intercept course, maximum warp speed."
As he continued to speak, the images on the screen switched from the Admiral to a star map framing the Qu'Vat system, with a small delta to indicate Europa and other allied ships converging on its position, "I've directed another half dozen vessels to intervene, despite their ETA being no less than an hour and a half. The Klingons are also sending their warships, but they are unlikely to arrive in time."
The screen now showed the real-time movement of the Federation and Klingon forces as they hurried to converge on Europa and her attackers: three blue deltas, spotting the Leonidas, the Enterprise and the Defiant, were closest to the target, while the others - some of them bearing the symbol of the Klingon Empire - were painfully further away, despite the willingness of their commanders to push their vessels to their maximum to avoid catastrophe.
A grim silence had descended upon the Admirals present after Ross's report, which no one dared interrupt: if the Europa did not get support soon, its crew would pay the high price.