Wednesday, July 31, 2019

"Protector"

Artwork by Eudarion. Text by Christina Moore.
_____



Captain’s Log, supplemental; 

Our last cargo escort had taken us to the edge of the Khymerian Frontier near the Cardassian border. So far, our time out here has been pretty uneventful. We have seen little Blas Maraug activity for nearly three and a half weeks and the restlessness of the crew is growing with each day. 

Although our primary mission is to defend Federation planets on the Frontier, I felt that it would be good for the crew to take a short break to conduct some scientific research. We've set course for the Lesk’Gor-Alya system where long-range sensors have detected rich deposits of dilithium in the unexplored system’s asteroid belt. 

****

“Captain, we are now approaching the system,” Nerrit Keral informed everyone from the helm console as the Aurora dropped out of warp. 

“Put the asteroid belt on the main screen,” Captain Scott Bishop called out, rising up out of his command chair and walked towards the viewscreen. The screen lit up to display the densely packed asteroid which circled around the star slowly. From their location, thousands of asteroids floated around in one apparent direction. 

“Captain,” Clifford Doyle reported from Ops, “I’m detecting large deposits of dilithium on several of the larger planetoids… And I’m also picking up debris from several starships. Their hull signatures read as Federation, Klingon, and Dominion.” 

Bishop was surprised. “How many ships?” 

“It’s difficult to tell, sir. There’s enough Federation debris scattered throughout the belt to constitute a task force of about five to ten starships, depending on their class.” 

“Let’s see some of the debris.” 

The screen changed views to display the thinly scattered debris field spread across the Lesk’Gor-Alya asteroid belt and all that remained to mark the history of the site and the hundreds who gave their lives that day. 

“Magnify,” Bishop instructed, hoping to discern something that looked like a starship. 

The screen magnified one of the small, slowly spinning specks, showing it to be a piece of the saucer section from a Miranda class starship. It was floated beside a piece of the burned out hull of another starship. There was a brief silence on the bridge as the crew gazed at the debris. Most of Aurora’s original crew regretted not being able to fight for the Federation during the Dominion War---now they realized how lucky they were that they had been posted far away, or that might have been their own ship floating out there, along with their bodies inside. 

“Doyle, are there any pieces of debris large enough to be salvaged?” Commander Christine Keller asked him, an idea popping in her head. 

The Ops officer looked at her oddly, and after a moment of examining the readouts on his console, he said, “I suppose so, Commander. Some of the vessels’ structures are intact enough to be salvaged. Why would you want to do that?” 

“Starfleet believes that the Blas Maraug are using sites like this one to salvage damaged starships and use them against us,” was her theory. 

“Like at the battle with the Nelson,” Bishop added. “We were attacked by a Klingon Bird of Prey. If that’s true, then they must only a limited number of their own vessels. Scan for any Blas Maraug ships in the system.” 

“None, Captain. Sensors aren’t detecting anything moving out there, but if they’ve detected us and cut power, then it’s going to be hard to discern them from their surroundings, sir.” 

“Is there any way that we can detect them?” 

“Not unless they come out of their hiding places,” Doyle said. “Otherwise, we’re going to have to scan all of this debris before we can find them.” 

“Should we continue on course for Erebus Dawn?” Nerrit asked 

“No,” replied the captain. “We came here to study the asteroids for possible dilithium mining and that’s what we’re going to do. If these asteroids do have a purer form of dilithium, then we can’t allow the Blas Maraug to have it. Our mission isn’t to avoid them. If they wind up showing themselves, then we may get to have our cake and eat it too.” 

“Sir,” Nerrit asked, a confused look on his face, “isn’t cake a Human food?” 

“Yes,” laughed Keller. “It’s an expression, meaning that we’d benefit twice as much as we expected to.” 

“Like killing two voles with one stone?” the Bajoran asked, hoping that he said it right. 

“Kind of…” 

“Humans sure have an odd way of saying things.” 

“All right,” Bishop said, sitting down in his chair. “Go to Yellow Alert. Mister Nerrit, take us into the asteroid belt at 300 kph.” 

“Aye, sir,” replied the Bajoran pilot. 

* * * *

There was an eerie silence on the bridge as Aurora moved slowly through the asteroid belt. They had been in the belt for ten minutes now. Officers at the science stations occasionally interrupted the silence with whispers as they coordinated their work. It was as if they were afraid that loud voices would summon the spirits of those whose bodies were buried in the wreckage after suffering their ultimate fate. 

“Captain, sensors are detecting a small energy reading originating from bearing zero-two-three, mark-three-six,” Doyle reported, happy that he had found a way to break the tension in the air. It had been building as the crew waited for the Blas Maraug to make their move. If they were even here at all. 

Bishop ordered him to center the viewscreen on the origin of the power readings. The viewscreen magnified towards a dense section of debris, several hundred kilometers off Aurora’s starboard bow. The pieces were much larger than many of the other that they seemed so far away and the crew could tell what class of ship that some of the wreckage was from. 

“Captain, the energy signature is extremely faint,” the Ops officer reported while the main viewer zoomed in further to center on a piece of debris that resembled the aft section of an Intrepid class starship. The warp nacelles had been sheared off along with everything else except the Shuttle Bay, which was dented. “I believe it’s coming from inside the remnants of that ship.” 

“It looks like the Shuttle Bay has collapsed,” Keller observed. 

“Actually, only partially, ma’am,” Ensign Cal Zagora answered. He was seated at the science station, analyzing the debris. “Only the first level of the Shuttle Bay has collapsed. Structural integrity in the lower section is still intact.” 

“It looks pretty messy in there,” ch’Dalvis said from Tactical. 

“Maybe the Blas Maraug were attempting to salvage a shuttlecraft?” Nerrit suggested. 

“I’m still not picking up any other ships, Captain. I don’t see how they could be salvaging anything in that wreck without a ship.” 

“What’s inside that shuttle bay?” Keller asked, walking over towards Doyle’s station. 

“There’s too much debris to be certain, Commander, but I think the power reading could be coming from a runabout or a shuttlecraft.” 

“What?” Bishop exclaimed. “Are you telling me that an entire ship was blown to pieces but there’s a shuttle in the wreckage that hasn’t been drained of all of its power reserves?” 

“I know it sounds odd,” Doyle responded, feeling somewhat embarrassed, “but I don't see what else it could be.” 

“Well, we should take an away team over to the wreckage and find out what it is!” Nerrit said, getting up from his seat at the helm and walking towards the turbolift, anxious to do something instead of sitting around.

“No,” Bishop answered him. “It’s too risky. If that structure collapses, you’ll all be crushed underneath and for what? A shuttlecraft? We still have a full complement in our shuttle bay.” 

Nerrit looked somewhat dejected by his explanation as he returned to his seat at the helm. He always had an interest in small craft like shuttles and fighters. He found them the most enjoyable to pilot and he felt as though he shared a special connection with them. 

“Besides, if the Blas Maraug are out there, we want to be ready for them,” Bishop added. “I don’t want to get caught while exploring shipwrecks.” 

“Captain, I disagree,” Keller said, looking at him. “We don’t know what it is that’s in there, exactly. The fact that there’s still any power readings at all is miraculous. There could be something of great value in there and I don't think that we should pass up this opportunity. Have Doyle keep a constant transporter lock on us. As soon as you detect any changes in the structural integrity, you can beam us out.” 

Bishop appeared to be irritated by his First Officer’s remarks but eventually, he seemed convinced. It was odd that they were detecting a power signature and he was just as curious as his other officers were. Besides, he had just finished telling the crew that the Blas Maraug weren’t going to stop them from exploring the asteroid field. 

“Very well, Commander Keller,” she said. “Assemble your away team.” 

* * * *

“Keller to Aurora,” Nerrit heard the commander say over the communications system inside his EVA suit. “We’re inside the wreck, and about twenty meters from the energy source. There’s no sign that the Blas Maraug were ever here. We’re proceeding with caution towards the Shuttle Bay.” 

Understood, Commander. Keep an open communications link and we’ll continue to monitor you.” 

Studying her tricorder, Commander Keller pointed down the dented and compacted corridor. “The Shuttle Bay is down that way.” 

Following Keller, the away team moved slowly down the corridor. The only sound that they could hear was the noise of their gravity boots. There was also the swooshing sound of oxygen flowing through their helmets. The trip to the shuttle bay was slow and tiring. The small team had to go around and even climb over several bulkheads that had fallen and crashed in when the ship exploded. Not to mention that they had to push aside hundreds of pieces of floating debris out of their path. 

Holding his phaser rifle tightly in his covered blue hands, ch’Dalvis continually looked behind himself to make sure there weren’t any Blas Maraug soldiers lurking nearby. It had been eerie enough looking at the huge battlefield on the viewscreen, but now he was inside the debris. He felt much more agitated, though he wouldn’t admit that to the other away team members. 

After five minutes, they finally made their way to what was left of the shuttlebay. The doors were smashed, crushed down, and impenetrable. The walls of the corridor had been blown out, leaving a wide entrance into the bay and the three officers stepped through the wall, entering the shuttlebay. The ceiling had completely collapsed down on top of the upper deck as Zagora had reported, but the lower deck appeared to be stable. From where the away team was standing, they could see beams and conduits littered across the bay, making it difficult to tell what was exactly inside. Along the far wall, the shuttlebay had been ripped off, exposing the entire room to the icy vacuum of space. 

“Captain, we've reached the Shuttle Bay,” Keller reported over her suit communicator. “The structural integrity of the lower level seems to be intact, for the most part.”

“Commander,” Nerrit exclaimed, pointing to the huge pile of rubble, gathered at the center of the bay, “It’s… it’s a ship!” 

“Standby, Aurora,” Keller said as ch’Dalvis and Nerrit began moving through the debris piles and towards the enormous pile that partially covered the craft. “We’ve identified what looks like a shuttlecraft of some kind buried underneath the rubble.” 

“Ma’am, I think we may have found the source of those power emissions!” the Bajoran cried out, excitedly, examining the tricorder that he had produced from a belt holster. “They’re coming from the ship.” 

Keller made the exhausting trip through the gigantic rubble pile where ch’Dalvis and Nerrit were now standing, examining the ship for themselves. They could now see the ship more clearly. It was a large shuttlecraft and resembled one of the newly built Federation scout vessels. Despite the many titanium beams that had fallen on top of its hull, the ship appeared to be fairly intact. They could make out its warp nacelles that were encased in the main body of the ship, its rounded frame and the severely damaged hull plating that was burned and scratched in many places. 

“It looks like some kind of oversized scout,” ch’Dalvis described, walking up towards the hull of the ship. 

“I think it’s magnificent!” Nerrit cried out. He had always been fascinated with smaller crafts. “It looks much faster and more maneuverable than any runabout that I’ve seen before.” 

Are you saying that you’ve found an undamaged runabout in the wreckage?” Bishop asked, unsure about what he was hearing over the communications system. 

“I wouldn’t say ‘undamaged’,” ch’Dalvis said, responding to the captain’s question,” but she’s in a much better condition than anything else here. We aren’t really sure if it’s a runabout or a scout.” 

“Can we beam it out of the shuttlebay?” Keller asked. 

There was a brief silence before Ensign Zagora’s voice answered her. “We can’t get a positive lock on it with all of the debris in the way. That’s why we couldn’t beam you directly into the shuttlebay. We’d have to set up pattern enhancers first.” 

“Understood. Captain, do you plan on salvaging this ship?” 

Before Bishop could answer her, Nerrit interrupted her after climbing through the wreckage towards the aft section of the shuttle. His voice was filled with enthusiasm. “Ma’am, we’ve found the name and registry number! USS Protector, NX-75032.” 

Keller was shocked by what he said. This was no ordinary runabout. It bore the Starfleet registration of an experimental prototype ship. 

Did you say NX?” Bishop asked. He sounded as stunned as his First Officer felt. 

“Yes, sir,” Nerrit replied. “She’s the first of her kind.” 

* * * *

Lieutenant Jedani Vata walked excitedly through the wreckage and into the shuttlebay with two of her engineers following behind her, who carried the pattern enhancers. The Trill had been told that the runabout found in the debris was actually some sort of prototype scout/interceptor and it was going to be salvaged from the wreckage. She was intrigued by the thought of such a ship and she was anxious to study its construction and design. 

“Jedani?,” ch’Dalvis called out, waving her over towards the ship. “I think we’ve found an access port.” 

Vata and her engineers climbed over the debris and after a few minutes, they arrived at the Andorian’s location. Keller, ch’Dalvis, and Nerrit had cleared away some of the debris around the starboard side of the ship. They were attempting to open the hatch, using the small cracked control panel beside it. It wasn’t responding to their commands. 

“Maybe we should just blast it open?” ch’Dalvis’ thoughts were always on his phasers. 

“Here!” Vata exclaimed, walking towards the panel and removing the LCARS screen. She fiddled with it for a moment before there was a humming sound and the hatch swung open towards them like a regular shuttlecraft. Of course, Nerrit was the first to enter the craft, walking up the small platform to the main deck. The other away team members followed closely behind him, examining their tricorder readings. 

The interior of the ship was dark at first but as soon as Nerrit stepped aboard, the power systems engaged and the lights activated, revealing a small crowded chamber inside. There was another door directly in front of them that acted as an airlock and after accessing the LCARS panel on the right side of the door, Vata managed to open it as well. The away team entered a wider corridor as they passed through the airlock. The corridor resembled a four-way intersection with four doors all at the end of each corridor. They bore the standard Starfleet gray colors underneath the debris that covered the floor. 

“The energy source is coming from down there,” Keller said,” but my tricorder is picking up confusing data. What does your tricorder say, Nerrit?” 

Nerrit opened his tricorder again and after scanning the area to the left of him, he frowned. “My tricorder is picking up the energy source down there too,” he said, confirming the location, “but it has a Borg signature.” 

ch’Dalvis rushed forward, wielding his phaser rifle while the rest of the team unholstered their hand phasers from their belts. They wanted to be on the safe side of caution. 

“Why would a Federation runabout have a Borg power signature? That doesn’t make sense.” 

“We’ll know soon enough,” the Andorian said, marching slowly towards the doors as the Bajoran and the rest of the team followed closely behind him. 

The illumination shuddered as they passed through the small sliding doors into the ship’s engineering section. Inside, damaged conduits and computer terminals lay scattered across the floor and in the middle of the room was the warp core. It was much larger than the standard runabout warp core and it had two power transfer conduits running to the ship’s nacelles. The engineering section was only one deck high but it was still very spacious. 

“I think I like this place,” Vata remarked, amazed at how efficient the engine room had been designed. Her first host, a male Trill named Lorso, had been an architect and he would have approved of this room. 

“My tricorder is showing massive power emissions coming from inside the core,” Nerrit reported. “That’s the source of the Borg signature.” 

Vata walked over towards the warp core and examined it thoroughly. She was accompanied by ch’Dalvis, who still gripped his phaser rifle, half expecting some piece of Borg technology to jump out and try to assimilate them. 

“This Matter/Antimatter Reaction Assembly is covered with Borg technology,” she reported to the rest of the away team. “I haven’t the faintest clue what any of this stuff does! I can tell you one thing: it’s online and functioning.” She walked over to one of the main consoles and accessed the computer from there. For a while, she stood there, looking over the schematics and associated data while the rest of the away team further examined the engineering section. 

“Keller to Aurora,” Keller called out. 

Here, Commander,” Captain Bishop replied. “Have you found the source of the power emissions?” 

“The energy signature is coming from the vessel’s warp drive, Captain, which is apparently still online. Vata is trying to figure it out as we speak. The warp core is covered with Borg technology and yet, it’s definitely a Federation ship.” 

Did you say Borg?” the Captain asked. 

“Yes, sir.” 

“Captain, I believe I may have a partial explanation for you,” Vata said as the rest of the away team moved towards her console. “This ship is equipped with a transwarp drive.” 

There was silence from everyone before she continued. 

“This vessel’s warp core has been modified to use a Borg transwarp coil. At least, that’s what I think anyways. I remember reading a little bit about Borg systems, but I’m not an expert.” 

How is it possible for a Federation shuttle to have such technology?” 

“I don’t know,” said Vata. 

Well then… continue your examination of the vessel, Lieutenant,” Bishop told her. “Meanwhile, I’ll contact Starfleet Command and see what I can find out. When you’re ready, we’ll beam the ship just off our starboard bow and tow it along with us.” 

“Understood, Captain,” Commander Keller replied, heading towards the doors to engineering. “I’m going to see what the cockpit looks like.” 

* * * *

Nerrit sat in the runabout’s cockpit, in front of one of the side consoles. He had accessed the ship’s logs and he was reading over the ship’s technical schematics. He was thankful that Lieutenant Vata had restored environmental controls and since there weren’t any hull breaches, they were able to re-pressurize the hull, allowing him to take his helmet off. So far, he was impressed with how efficient the ship had been designed, and the Bajoran pilot hoped that Captain Bishop would keep the ship. At least, for a little while, rather than hand it over to Utopia Planitia. 

“How’s it coming, Nerrit?” Lieutenant Vata said as she walked into the cockpit holding her helmet. 

“Not bad, ma’am,” he replied. “I found out some interesting things about this ship.” 

The Trill lowered herself down into one of the seats further down the console beside Nerrit. 

“Apparently, this ship was launched on Stardate 52418.5 from the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards with a crew of eight. They conducted several experiments on the transwarp systems, but the last of them went wrong and they had trouble shutting down the drive. The engines were damaged and they ended up stuck deep inside Dominion territory. The sensor logs show that the Jem’Hadar attacked the vessel and they attempted to hide her on a Class-M moon where they were forced to remain for several months.” 

“How did it end up back in the shuttlebay of an Intrepid class starship?” Vata asked, intrigued by the story. 

“The ship was somehow recaptured and brought back to Federation space aboard her,” Nerrit replied. “That’s all of the records from the sensor logs. Dominion ships must have intercepted the fleet that rescued the Protector and a battle was fought here.” 

“I wonder whether we’ll ever be able to find out what happened here at Lesk’Gor-Alya...” 

Nerrit stared out the window at the debris piled all around the ship. He thought back to his childhood, sitting in an old abandoned hangar deep inside a cave on Bajor. It was similar to the shuttle bay that they were in now. He recalled the damaged cockpit of that fighter, remembering that day very vividly. It had been the day that the Cardassians had massacred his resistance cell. They had killed everyone, including the adoptive father who had been a prominent leader in the cell. He'd been easily missed, hiding out in the junk of the cave, and when he came out he found only the wreckage of an old Bajoran impulse fighter. That cowardly act had resulted in the death of his colleagues and closest friends. 

Not knowing what else to do, he had climbed into the fighter and taken off, hoping to be shot down or crash, but as he spent more time flying the fighter, he begun to realize that he belonged there. He remembered, at the time, wanting to die badly and not believing that he had the strength to carry on the torch for his friends. Yet, he talked himself out of suicide and landed the fighter near another Resistance cell deep in the mountains. After that day, he recommitted his life to ridding Bajor of all Cardassians. 

Vata noticed that he seemed distracted and tapped him on the shoulder. “Are you okay?” 

Nerrit snapped out of his brief flashback. “Yeah, I’m fine.” 

“You seemed a little far away there,” she said. “Daydreaming, I’ll bet, of heroic battles and glory.” 

“Not exactly.” 

“I bet you’re thinking about what it would be like to pilot this ship. The great battles that could be fought in a ship like this,” the chief engineer teased him. 

“No, not really.” 

“Oh, come on, Nerrit,” Vata joked. “We know you’re a war hero. I, myself, am dying to hear some of your heroic tales of bravery and adventure.”

Nerrit smiled for a moment before he shook his head, frowning. “No, Lieutenant. My stories aren’t glorious and they aren’t heroic. What you’re looking for can only be found in a holonovel.” 

Vata thought for a moment about what the Bajoran had said, wondering just how horrific his stories were. 

“So, how’s your research coming?” he asked her, breaking the silence in the room and changing the subject. 

“I’ve been reviewing the schematics, but I’m still too far behind on my knowledge of Borg technology to figure out how exactly the transwarp drive works.” 

Just then, Commander Keller entered the cockpit and stood just inside the door. “The transport enhancers have been set up. We’re ready to attempt transport,” she said. “Are you ready, Miss Vata?” 

“Yes, ma’am,” the Trill woman replied, getting up out of her seat and heading back towards the airlock. “I suggest that all of us stay outside the ship during transport, in case something happens.” 

The other two officers followed behind her as they made their way down the small corridor towards the airlock. As they approached the airlock and reattached their helmets, the doors directly opposite of them opened and Lieutenant ch’Dalvis walked out into the corridor. 




“That sickbay even has an EMH!” the Andorian said, impressed with the ship. “It’s as cramped as a type-two shuttle, but you don’t even need a doctor aboard. Not to mention the ablative hull armor, pulse phasers, and quantum torpedo tubes…” 

“Come on, Nala,” Keller interrupted him, “it’s time to go now. You can come back and see it later.” 

The away team laughed as the Adnorai attached his helmet and they stepped into the airlock. 

* * * *

Captain Bishop exited the Ready Room and headed for his chair. “I just send a subspace communique to Starfleet Command, advising them of our situation. I’ve requested all of the available information on the Protector, but it’ll take hours to receive a reply. Somehow, I have this feeling that it’s classified,” he said, looking over at the Ops position. “How is your search coming, Doyle?” 

“Well, sir,” he began, “I’ve searched through the ship’s library and I can’t find any information regarding a battle at Lesk’Gor-Alya, and our database is equipped with information on every recorded battle during the Dominion War.” 

“Hmm,” the captain though out loud, sitting down in his chair. “Then either all of the records of the battle were lost or classified. Or the battle took place unexpectedly and all of the ships involved were destroyed without any survivors.” 

“I did find something though,” the Ops officer continued with his report. “It’s just a theory but it’s possible. The records did show of one campaign going deep into Cardassian-Dominion space to attack a small shipyard on the edge of their lines. The task forces consisted of eight Federation starships and ten Klingon Birds of Prey which fits the quantity of debris here. The task force was lost and never heard from again. All of the ships were assumed to be destroyed.” 

“I see,” Bishop replied. “Then maybe the battle did go unrecorded with no survivors.” 

“We may never know,” sir,” Doyle replied, looking down at his console as it beeped. “Sir, sensors are detecting two alien ships on an intercept course.” 

“Where?” 

“Bearing three-one-nine, mark one-eight-five,” reported Ensign M’Sarr, the Caitian replacement helm officer. “Their ships must have been hiding inside one of the nearby asteroids.” 

“They match the ships that we faced near the Motaabi Nebula four and a half months ago, Captain,” Ensign Zagora spoke up from the science station. “Cruisers, heavily armed.” 

“Red Alert! Raise shields! All hands to battle stations,” the captain shouted. “Doyle, get the away team out of there!” 

“Sir, the Blas Maraug cruisers have entered firing range. I can’t beam the away team aboard with the shields--”

The first cruiser opened fire, shaking the ship and reminding everyone about how close the cruisers really were. The second ship fired afterward, giving them another shake. 

“Damage report!” 

“No significant damage,” Doyle reported. “Shields are down to eighty-four percent.” 

“Captain to away team,” Bishop said, activating his combadge. “We’re under attack by Blas Maraug cruisers and we can’t risk beaming you aboard right now. You’re going to have to stand by.” 

Understood, Captain,” Keller replied. 

Aurora was struck again with a second volley from the two cruisers, causing the tactical station to flicker. “Shields are down to seventy-three percent,” the replacement tactical officer, reported. “They’re firing plasma torpedoes, sir!” 

“Lieutenant Navarro,” Bishop said to the tactical officer, “show them what quantum torpedoes look like. 

“Aye, sir. Targeting the first vessel.” 

“Fire!” the captain shouted, happy that he would finally get a showdown with the Blas Maraug and another chance to avenge the deaths of eighteen Starfleet officers. 

* * * *

“I think I can reactivate the impulse engines!” Jedani Vata exclaimed, excited with the plan that the away team decided upon. “But there’s no chance that you’re going to get warp or transwarp drive.” 

“We’ll take whatever we can get, Miss Vata,” Keller said, following an even more enthusiastic Nerrit as he raced into the cockpit. 

The two other engineers followed Vata into engineering while ch’Dalvis followed Keller and Nerrit into the cockpit. As the doors slid open to allow him access, the Andorian found the Bajoran already seated at the helm controls, with the commander at Ops directly beside him. The security officer seated himself at the tactical console to the left of Nerrit and began analyzing their tactical situation.

“Hull integrity is holding at seventy percent,” Keller reported. “Environmental and crew support systems are functioning at minimal levels. The deflector is online and all sensors are at full power.” 

“Shields are at sixty-four percent. Forward micro torpedo tubes are inoperative and aft tube two isn’t online either. Pulse phaser cannons are online and functioning at full power,” ch’Dalvis added. 

“Engineering reports that impulse engines are online and functioning,” the commander announced, “along with maneuvering thrusters.” 

“Well, then, let’s get going!” Nerrit called out. After several commands into his console, the runabout began to power up. 

“There’s too much debris in the way,” Keller said. 

“I don’t think I'll be able to get us around it,” Nerrit added. 

“No problem,” ch’Dalvis answered him. “Just be prepared to get us out of here, quick, on my mark.” He touched several panels on his console before shouting, “Three… two… one… MARK!” 

The Protector fired its pulse phasers at the debris scattered across the ruined shuttle bay. The detritus was blown aside as Nerrit piloted the shuttle forward and out of the large breach in the shuttle bay door. As the ship flew out into space, the upper section of the shuttle bay, which was being supported by some of the debris destroyed by the phasers, crashed down on top of the ship’s former position. 

“That was close,” Nerrit said. “Next time, let me know what you’re going to do!” 

The Andorian really didn’t care. He was happy that his idea worked and he was more happy that he got the chance to use the pulse phasers. The Protector flew around a nearby asteroid and Nerrit set a course for Aurora’s location while he got used to the helm controls. 

“The Aurora’s under attack by two Blas Maraug cruisers,” Keller reported. “They’ve sustained heavy damage to the shields, but so have the other ships.” 

They saw a huge explosion out the window as Aurora’s phasers tore through the damaged cruiser, tearing it to pieces. No sooner had they cheered for their friends, the runabout shook with violence as it was hit by phaser fire. 

“We’ve got one on our tail!” Keller announced, her eyes on her readings. “It’s a refitted Khymerian Somolla-class transport.” 

“No problem,” ch’Dalvis said. “Load aft torpedo tube. Firing!” 

The Protector launched a quantum torpedo at the Khymerian transport, smashing into its shields as Nerrit maneuvered the ship towards the surface of an asteroid. Spotting a deep canyon running through it, he plunged the ship towards it, dodging yet another blast from the transport. As he entered the canyon, he spotted a series of tunnels up ahead and increased speed. 

“Hopefully those tunnels will provide us some cover,” he said as the transport fired a plasma torpedo, hitting the ship from above as it was flying relative to their position. “Stand by on those phasers, Lieutenant.” Nerrit slowed the runabout’s velocity as it entered the tunnels. The tunnels lasted for a few minutes before they were back out into open space and they were now behind the transport. 

Nerrit increased speed to catch up with the transport as ch’Dalvis fired volleys of pulse phaser fire, causing the transport to explode while they flew past it. 

“Two more ships have been deployed to engage Aurora,” Keller reported. “I don’t recognize their classes but they’re smaller than the cruisers. I guess they’re frigates.” 

Protector headed towards Aurora which was now fleeing the asteroid belt at low impulse. Their junior Caitian helm officer tried her best to navigate around the dense rocks. Moving much faster than the retreating Aurora, the Protector had much greater maneuverability and she would be in range of the Blas Maraug ships soon. There were now three ships firing on the Nova-class starship. Two of them were frigates and the other ship was what remained of one of the cruisers. 

“Target that cruiser!” Keller exclaimed as the Protector closed in on Aurora’s position. “It’s shields are very weak!” 

As they entered range, two plasma torpedoes from the frigates welcomed them as they crashed into Protector’s shields. 

“Direct hit! Shields are at forty-three percent!” ch’Dalvis cried out from Tactical. 

Ignoring the frigates, Nerrit flew the Protector towards the damaged cruiser. Once they entered firing range, they were hit by another torpedo from one of the frigates which caused the ship to shake violently and shower Commander Keller with sparks from her console. 

“I’m okay,” she said, reassuming her station as the runabout was struck again by a phaser blast from the frigate that was riding their tail closely. 

Nice to see you rushing to our rescue,” Bishop laughed over their combadges. The image of him sitting in his chair on a damaged bridge was soon displayed on the console between Nerrit and Keller as the latter transferred the signal to the shuttle's systems. “Target the cruiser. We’ll cover the frigates.” 

Aurora launched a spread of quantum torpedoes at the lead frigate, which smashed into its forward section penetrating its shields. ch’Dalvis quickly loaded the aft launcher again and fired, destroyed the frigate completely. 

“Yes!” the blue-skinned security officer exclaimed, happily before he locked the pulse phasers on the cruiser and fired, causing it to explode as well. 

The Protector sailed gracefully through the fire cloud of exploding debris and banked hard to port, coming around to face the last frigate. 

* * * *

“Captain, we’re clearing the asteroid belt,” Ensign M’Sarr reported as another station to her left exploded. 

“Shields are down to twenty-four percent. We have moderate damage to Decks One through Eight and casualty reports are coming it from all decks,” Doyle reported, the power to his console fluctuating. 

“Come about to bearing one-eight-four, mark three-zero-one,” Bishop said, feeding navigational information from his console to the helm. “Equalize those shields, Mister Navarro. Target phasers on the last ship and fire!” 

As the Aurora came about, the Protector attempted to draw the frigate’s weapons fire, maneuvering towards its forward phaser array. The frigate took the bait and fired several shots straight at the Protector’s weakening shields. Nerrit tried to avoid the incoming volley but he wasn’t successful. 

“Captain, Protector’s shields are down,” Doyle reported from Ops. “They’ll only be able to survive a few more hits with the ablative armor.” 

The Aurora came around and fired its forward phasers and quantum torpedoes at the frigate as the Protector fired off the last of its available torpedoes. A plasma torpedo struck the runabout again as the frigate tried to retreat and head back into the asteroid field where it was less vulnerable. The Aurora fired another shot which destroyed the last frigate. 

“Protector to Aurora!” came the voice of Commander Keller over the active communications system. “We have a warp core breach over here!” 

“Doyle, get them out of there!” Bishop ordered. 

The destruction of the USS Protector lit up the viewscreen. The ship was rocked when the shockwave from the explosion impacted with the shields. Captain Bishop looked fearfully at the Ops officer, his expression asking the question for him. 

“Do we have them?” 

Yes, sir,” Keller replied over the bridge intercom from the transporter room. 

Perfect timing there, Cliff,” Vata complimented him. 

“Good work, Mister Doyle,” Bishop praised him, letting out a sigh of relief. “Are your sensors detecting any more Blas Maraug ships?” 

The Operations officer glanced down at his displays. “No, sir. No energy signatures of any kind. There could be more ships, but if there are, they haven’t tried to flee or move at all.” 

“Discontinue Red Alert and organize damage control teams,” the Captain instructed heading towards his Ready Room. “I’ll be in here if you need me.” 

* * * *

Nerrit sat slouched at the table, his feet resting on the empty seat across from him. He had positioned himself so that he could watch the view of the battlefield while the Aurora headed back into Federation space. They had finally finished destroying the site’s larger wrecks, leaving behind only small shards of debris. Captain Bishop was satisfied that no other pieces of debris were salvageable. The other departments had also nearly completed repairs to the ship and finished studying the dilithium in the asteroid belt. As far as he knew, there had been no more signs of any remaining Blas Maraug ships. 

His thoughts were interrupted by the voice of Jedani Vata. turning his head from the window, the Bajoran saw the Trill chief engineer standing beside him, holding a PADD and a bowl of what smelled like oatmeal in her hands. 

“Mind if I join you?” she asked, sitting down into the seat beside him, placing the bowl on the table and the PADD beside it. 

“Go ahead,” he said, sitting up straighter. “What’s on your mind?” 

Vata plunged her spoon deep into the bowl. “Oh… I just got… off-duty.... Figured I’d have… something to eat,” she replied between spoonfuls. 

“Are those engineering reports?” Nerrit asked him, pointing to the PADD that she had between them. He turned it around to read the title to see if he was correct. “‘The Battle of Gettysburg’?” 

“It was a famous… battle during the American Civil War… an ancient Earth conflict. Doyle and I wound up… buying a holoprogram… from Quark when we were on Deep Space Nine,” the engineer explained. 

“Oh, I see.” 

“Cliff’s been after me to start playing this thing with him for days now, and I decided to read up on it little first,” she said as she stopped eating for a moment. “You know, if you want, you can come too.” 

“No thanks,” Nerrit answered, politely. “I’ve seen my share of war.” 

“I understand,” Vata said and resumed eating out of her almost empty bowl. 

“What’s that?”Nerrit asked her, somewhat disgusted. 

“This is porridge,” she answered with her best fake Scottish accent. “Would you care to try some? It’s quite good.” 

The Bajoran shook his head, chuckling at her accent as the Trill engineer spooned another load into her mouth. 

“My mother always made it herself on our old stove in the kitchen. She was a fan of Earth foods and I always remember waking up early and smelling the stuff, boiling downstairs. The replicator just can’t do it any justice.” 

“I know what you mean. For nine years, I was used to having my adoptive father’s hasperat every night for evening meal, since that was the only thing that he knew how to make. I remember the first time I tried it. I hated it, but after a while, it began to grow on me and after he died, I really missed  him not being there to make that at evening meal. To this day, I can't eat the stuff. Even when it’s professionally made. I only like it the way that he made it.” 

“How old were you when he died?” 

“I was seventeen,” he said, his eyes staring out towards the window, “but that’s another story. A story that you really don’t want to hear and that I really don’t want to tell. Besides, I’ve got duty in a few minutes.” 

Nerrit got up from where he was seated and headed out of the mess hall, leaving Vata alone to finish her porridge.

* * * *

“Come,” Bishop called out, hearing the familiar door chime ring. 

The door opened and Commander Keller walked inside, carrying a PADD that she put on his desk. 

“Here’s my report, sir. We’ve destroyed twenty other wrecks that we believe could have been salvageable. If the Blas Maraug are still here, then we haven’t left them much. Except the mining rights to this belt which Mister Zagora tells me is rich in dilithium.” 

“I don’t think the Blas Maraug will care much to mine the rocks,” Bishop said. “Perhaps soon, when the threat of raids and attacks are eliminated, the Federation will consider this site. Until then, I suppose it’ll remain a graveyard. I’ve read Ensign Nerrit’s report on the information that he was able to retrieve from the Protector’s memory core. With the knowledge that Commander Doyle was able to find in our library database, we’ve managed to put together a good picture of what happened. Admiral Thrikkan managed to fill me in on a few more of the details over subspace.” 

“I’ve heard. The wreckage here is believed to be the task force that was sent to find and recover the Protector experiment. I’m just curious about one thing. Did Admiral Thrikkan tell you where Starfleet got the Borg transwarp coil?” 

“Salvage crews found the undamaged coil in the wreckage of the Borg cube after their last attack on Earth. The Starfleet Corps of Engineers attempted to put the coil to use and constructed a transwarp shuttle.” 

“And that transwarp shuttle managed to get an entire task force massacred,” she noted. 

“Only one ship survived to tell us the story,” Bishop said. “The very ship that both fleets were fighting over. It’s ironic, isn’t it?” 

“It’s a shame that we had to lose the Protector over all of this. Her technology was state of the art. What did you tell Starfleet?” 

“I told them what we knew about the Battle of Lesk’Gor-Alya and I told them that all of the people in the task force sacrificed their lives to preserve the Protector so that we could survive.” 

The captain got up from his chair behind his desk and headed out onto the bridge. Commander Keller followed behind him. All of their officers were at their stations and the repair crews had managed to repair most of the damage to the bridge. 

“I suppose it’s time that we moved along,” Bishop said as he and Keller took their places in their command chairs. 

“Goodbye, Protector,” Nerrit called out as if he were saying goodbye to a loved one. “You were a good little ship!” 

“Don’t worry, Nerrit,” Doyle said in a sarcastic voice. “You’ll meet other ships.” 

“Ensign Nerrit, set a course for the Motaabi Nebula, warp six.” 

“Aye, sir,” he replied. “Course and speed laid in.” 

“Engage!” 






The End.

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