Author: Brendan Chris
Author’s Note: Although most of Crash Course has been quite light-hearted so far, this story turned out far darker and more violent than I had expected. Long-time Trek fans will probably figure out where things are going fairly quickly. For non-Trek fans, I’ll give some explanation at the end. But if you’re looking to keep things light, maybe skip this story and go on to the next.
“Spacedock, this is runabout Rideau. I have a scheduled drop-off for the USS Gagetown. Permission to dock?”
“Runabout Rideau, this is Spacedock Traffic Control. Permission granted, proceed to slip 3-Alpha. Stuck with another load of snot-nosed brats?”
“You know it, Control. Rideau out.”
As the small craft, close in size to a 20th-Century bus (but with warp nacelles), eased closer to the massive, mushroom-shaped space station, the cadets inside were too occupied to worry about what their pilot might be thinking of them. The runabout was filled with a mix of Academy cadets from different Sectors. Not all cadets from any given Sector were present as they’d been split up for their training missions, but there were still enough familiar faces around to keep everybody comfortable.
“Wooow,” Kumari breathed, staring out the window towards Earth. As always, her eyes were drawn by the shimmering blue oceans, the gleam of white clouds and the lattice of sparkling city lights just barely visible over the terminator.
“Wow is right,” Bizkit agreed. She was still looking at the tiny spot on the west coast of North America that they’d just departed. Starfleet Academy, their home for two years now, had vanished from view quickly as the runabout took off from one of the Academy landing fields and made it’s way into space. After another year of classes, physical training and studies, it was time for their summer training with the Fleet.
Even those cadets that didn’t call Earth home had to take a moment to admire the sheer beauty of the planet. It was, after all, very similar to their own homeworlds. Kodene’s planet was a close match, though the Valvattians had evolved in the ocean rather than on land. Gallium’s home on Bolarus was a close match for some of Earth’s more tropical areas and newly renamed Paria, the planet adopted by M’Kr’gr’s people, wasn’t far off either.
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” Veksai groaned, clutching his stomach.
“I can’t believe you joined Starfleet if you don’t like heights,” Igor said, seated next to him, “Do you know how much time you’re gonna spend orbiting planets?”
“A lot,” Veksai said, getting up and moving to the side of the runabout that didn’t face the planet, “But I’m pretty sure it’ll be a lot easier to stay away from the windows.” His eyes widened, “On second thought…
“What? What is it? What’s going on?” Gallium demanded, trying to lean over the annoyed-looking Veltran Sector cadet seated next to him.
“That’s more like it,” mid-classmen Dyrob grinned. The short cadet was the same canine race as Drain, but with lighter, nearly blond fur.
On their side of the runabout they could see the towering behemoth of Spacedock. Dozens upon dozens of levels of armoured hull plating, shining observation windows, gleaming sensor and weapons ports. Spacedock had undergone some changes during the Dominion War, but whatever might have been added it was still Earth’s gateway to the stars. As the runabout drew level with the dome-shaped main hanger at the top of the station, a set of runabout-sized doors eased open to allow access to the interior. A few degrees around the curved outer hull surface, a pair of starship-sized doors were capable of admitting anything up to a Sovereign-class vessel.
All of the cadets in the runabout had at least been in orbit before, and any of them that had come from off-world had passed through Spacedock on their way to the Academy. Few of them however had been in the main hanger, an area that was specifically reserved for Starfleet vessels.
“There’s the Enterprise,” Gallium said excitedly, pointing as they passed a sleek Sovereign-class ship, “Man, can you imagine if they let us do training missions on her?”
“Using the Enterprise as a training vessel?” Veksai smirked, “What a ridiculous idea,”
“Actually,” Dyrob said, “The Constitution-class Enterprise was used as a training ship until it was destroyed in…some crisis or other,”
“Oh,” was all Veksai could say. He’d met Dyrob the previous summer, during his training stint aboard Waystation. Dyrob and a handful of other cadets were a year behind in their summer training due to various injuries. In Dyrob’s case, his left arm had been merged with a bulkhead during a prank-gone-wrong near the Academy’s Experimental Teleportation Platform. Finding it a bit easier to identify with the older cadets, Veksai had become fairly good friends with Dyrob, Spyder, Frervil and the others. After returning to the Academy however, they’d all been running in too many different directions to see each other other than the occasional encounter at Scotty’s.
The cadets continued staring out the windows, passing by the USS Saratoga, the USS Titan and even the USS Aerostar.
“Oh wow,” Baxter said, “Lookit that! My cousin’s sister’s…um, my relative was Captain of the original USS Aerostar! This is the one with the fancy split-up thingy!”
“Multi-vector assault mode,” M’Kr’gr said, nearly drooling, “She can split into three independent craft, each capable of mounting a full assault on an enemy target.”
“Can you imagine trying to design something like that?” Veksai shook his head, eyes locked on the Prometheus-class Aerostar, “I mean, I’ve barely gotten past my classes in small-craft computer systems. Something like that…”
“You are a smart human,” M’Kr’gr said encouragingly, “One day, when I am a pilot and you are a design engineer, you will build me a ship that splits into at least ten pieces and can devastate entire worlds.”
“There’s home for the next two months,” Quarterman suddenly pointed out. Sure enough, the shuttle was approaching an Excelsior-class vessel. Approaching the shuttlebay they could see ‘GAGETOWN’ stencilled on the hull, just below the opening shuttlebay doors.
“Oh goody,” Bizkit’s lips tightened, “Two months of running around, getting screamed at and trying not go get blown up,”
“This is Starfleet, sweetie,” an older, female cadet called from up front, “Welcome to your new life,”
Veksai and Bizkit exchanged a glance, then giggled.
The runabout had barely touched down in the Gagetown’s shuttlebay when the hatch hissed open and a voice filtered through.
“EVERYBODY OFF! LET’S GO!”
“Here we go,” Kumari sighed, “Honestly, I’m a Princess. I should be giving orders, not taking them!”
“All in good time, Princess,” the voice called back, “But until you outrank me, button your lip and GET OUT HERE!”
“Ohhh!” Kumari fumed, grabbing her carry-on and rushing towards the hatch.
As she exited the craft, a stocky Tellarite pointed a scanner at her.
“Kumari, Beta-Shift. Over there.” He pointed at the far end of the shuttlebay, where another officer was waiting.
“Verone, Beta Shift,”
“Gallium, Alpha shift,”
“Bizkit, Beta Shift.”
As names were called and the newly-arrived cadets divided into three groups, Veksai muttered to Dyrob out of the corner of his mouth.
“Together again, huh?”
“Not just us,” Dyrob muttered back as Spyder was assigned to Alpha-Shift. Right behind him was Hopstrap, a male from Altair VI. Veksai and Hopstap had been sworn into the Fleet together at Waystation, and both had returned there for their first bout of summer training.
It was, Veksai mused, amazing how many new connections they were making. At the Academy during SNAP, it had been far too easy to forget that there was life outside of Brute Squad. After SNAP had ended, they’d started meeting other cadets in their own Sectors, along with their classmates from other Sectors. That first summer away from the Academy, aboard Waystation, the USS Richelieu or wherever had been a big reminder that they weren’t just cadets at the Academy, they were now members of the Fleet. If not for their time training aboard Waystation, Veksai wouldn’t have become friends with Dyrob or Spyder. Now, he’d probably be bumping into them for the rest of his career.
Oops, somebody was yelling at him.
“Welcome to the USS Gagetown,” the stocky Tellarite was shouting, “I am Lieutenant Commander Welbar. Over the next two standard months you will be completing your Core Requirement And Proficiency Course. Now, on CRAP-“
At least ten cadets broke out in guffaws, all of them human.
“Why do humans always laugh when I say that?” Kelbar shook his head, “Twenty push-ups, everybody!”
“OK,” Welbur continued, once the push-ups were finished, “On CRAP, you’re going to be learning standard starship duties. You did some of this last year on Initial Fleet Awareness Training, but now we’re building on what I-FAT taught you.
This time it was nearly two dozen cadets of various species that broke out laughing.
“Somebody needs to work on these acronyms,” Welbur fumed, after having the cadets complete another twenty push-ups. “Anyway. We’re dividing you into three shifts, Alpha, Beta and Gamma. Last year all you really had to do was sit back and follow orders. This time, you’re going to be learning the day-to-day operations of this starship. Your mid-classmen will be taking all the command appointments and each department has an officer to supervise. We’ve also got several lower-classmen coming in that will be completing their I-FAT aboard the Gagetown at the same time. Stay out of their way, and we’ll keep them out of yours. Now, your shift commanders will have your living assignments and your schedules for tomorrow. Mostly briefings. We’ve got three days to get you up to speed on daily duties and departure routines before the Gagetown leaves Spacedock. Shift commanders, carry on.”
“This could be interesting,” Gallium whispered, “We, like, actually get to run the ship!”
“No, mid-classmen are running the ship,” Dyrob whispered back, “we’re just the lowly peons.”
“Still, this could be fun!”
None of them had ever considered just how much work was involved in launching a starship. The recruiting videos had made it all seem so simple. A confident captain would give the order to depart, a cool and collected helmsmen would tap at a panel and several million tonns of starship would glide effortlessly out the open space doors. They’d even seen the USS Intrepid take off from the Academy grounds, looking like nothing more than a giant metal bird that had simply decided to fly away.
Now, the cadets found themselves buried in minutia.
“That’s a really big warp core,” Kumari said, staring through the transparent divider between her console in Main Engineering and the Gagetown’s pulsing warp core.
“At least you’re doing something interesting,” Verone’s voice came through Kumari’s comm-badge, “They put me in the geology labs for the first few days. BORING!”
“I thought you liked your exo-geology classes,” Kumari muttered, trying not to be overheard.
“I liked the classes,” Verone replied, “I don’t like scrubbing out soil sample bins,”
“HEY! CLOSE THAT COMM-LINE! Pay attention to your prep list,” snapped mid-classman Whetink. Kumari didn’t know Whetink very well. She just knew that he was going into his senior year at the Academy and that he was current the Acting Chief Engineer. Kumari didn’t know anything about the actual officer supervising Whetink, but then she really didn’t need to.
“Right, prep list,” she gulped, turning her attention back to her panel. Hmm. According to the computer she needed to verify the magnetic field variance in the core and adjust as needed. Tapping the appropriate panel, she saw that the variance was off by an unacceptable margin. Hmmm. That was just like one of her Warp Propulsion labs. But had she adjusted the field modulation up or down?
Guessing on down, Kumari started making the adjustment. She’d barely started when the core started emitting a loud, squealing sound. Something like a cat in a blender.
Eyes wide, she quickly adjusted the modulation in the other direction, overcompensating and causing the core to shut right down. The room was bathed in darkness for a split second before emergency power kicked in.
There was a collective exclamation from the cadets in the engineering room. Cadet Whetink looked like he was about to pop his top, but the officer in charge quickly came over.
“Next time,” he said, “Lower the adjustment multiplier. And good eye…if you hadn’t noticed you were going the wrong direction, you could have overloaded the core.”
He patted her on the shoulder, then moved on as Whetink started walking them through the core restart sequence. Next, it would be several hours spent running through emergency drills.
“I am so f**ked,” Kumari muttered to herself.
After the shift change, Kumari and her Beta-shift teammates retired to their communal quarters on Deck 10. As she fell into a nightmare-filled sleep, M’kr’gr was arriving on the bridge. He wasn’t sure what pleased him more, the fact that he had actually been chosen to man a bridge station during the training exercise or the simple fact that he was standing in the control center of a powerful warship. He watched from the turbolift alcove as mid-classmen (soon to be senior-classmen) tapped at their panels and exchanged routine information. They had the benefit of having already completed at least one training cruise, but here he was, about to take his very first step onto the bridge of a real, live starship.
“Cadet! Get your ass over to the Enviromental Control station and get to work!” snapped the cadet seated in the captain’s chair. Cadet Veni had been randomly selected from the mid-classmen to serve as Acting Captain…at least until the training cruise staff decided to replace her.
“Yes ma’am,” M’kr’gr replied, slightly abashed.
OK, so Enviromental Control wasn’t exactly his first choice of assignments, but still! He was on the bridge! Yes!
“OK people, let’s start going over some of our emergency procedures.”
When departure time finally arrived the Gagetown was almost humming with excitement. Beta and Gamma shift, while not needed at their stations, could be found crowding around viewports in the lounges and observation deck. Veksai was almost bouncing in his chair as he manned his station in Computer Core Control. Gallium was on station in one of the science departments, waiting to help analyze any incoming sensor readings. Dyrob and Spyder were both on-duty in the Security department; Dyrob as a targeter in the phaser control room and Spyder as a loader in the forward torpedo bay. Despite the low chance that they’d be needed on this cruise, everybody still had to learn how to work with the ship’s weapons. In fact, the plan for the cruise was to rotate everybody’s positions regularly to ensure that each cadet gained useful experience in all areas of starship operation.
Still, as Cadet Ross stood vigil over the waste tanks and fecal processor, he couldn’t help but think that some areas of starship operations needed to be scrapped from the curriculum.
“Helm, take us out, thrusters only,” Acting Captain Veni ordered.
“Shouldn’t you confirm that Traffic Control is ready to let you go, first?” mused Captain Eric Hartz, the officer responsible for watching over Veni’s shoulder.
“Oops. Yes, sir,” Veni cringed.
“And maybe we should wait until the Admiral is on the bridge first?”
“ADMIRAL ON THE BRIDGE!”
“At ease,” the voice was female, gravelly, and sounded amused. Not the fun ‘let’s be friends’ kind of amused, more like the ‘I-just-caught-you-screwing-up’ kind of amused.
Veni turned to see Admiral Kathryn Janeway stepping onto the bridge. After her failed bid for the Federation presidency, Janeway was apparently back in the fleet, ready to play the role of babysitter on this particular training cruise.
“Permission to depart, ma’am?” Veni asked.
“Don’t ask me, ask Traffic control,” Janeway said, “Ahh, this reminds me of the first time we took Voyager out from DS9. Little Harry Kim was practically still a cadet at that point…I thought he was going to wet himself…”
“Just go,” Captain Hartz muttered to Veni, “She’s going to go on like this for a while.”
“Mr. Palmet,” Veni said to her helmsan, “Take her out.”
Finally, the Gagetown eased out of Spacedock. The big Excelsior-class ship shot to full impulse as soon as it passed lunar orbit, cruised through Earth’s solar system and glided off into space.
Gallium turned away from his panel. After inspection the morning following the Gagetown’s departure, Lieutenant Witman had assigned him to Stellar Cartography for the day.
“I am so unbelievably bored,” Gallium said to Veksai as the older and slightly greenish cadet walked up, padd in hand.
“How’s that? You’ve got, like, a thirty-meter viewscreen here,” Veksai gestured at the holographic display that completely surrounded the central work-area of Stellar Cartography.
“Yeah, and all they let us put on it is star charts,” Gallium complained, “It’s just like my Stellar Cartography lab, y’know, where we did the galactic shift and gravitational fluctuation corrections? Except now we’re doing it over, and over, and over again!”
“Yeah, well, they’ve got me monitoring the performance levels of the computer core,” Veksai said, “I don’t actually do anything if they drop, I just tell whoever’s in charge and they deal with it. A computer could do my job!”
“Won’t it be nice next year when we actually focus on the jobs we’re going to be doing?” Gallium mused.
“Yup. By the way, I’m supposed to give you your damage-control team assignment,” Veksai handed him a padd.
“Ohh, I’m on Team 2. Goody.”
“I’ve got Team 2, too,” Veksai shrugged, “How many damage control drills do you think they’ll make us do?”
“Probably a lot,” Gallium shrugged.
Veksai was turning to head back to his station when Cadet Cuirass jogged in the door.
“Hey, you guys are smart, maybe you can answer this,” the gangly blond cadet said, “I was, like, totally monitoring communication lines on the subspace gizmo-thingy when a call came in for the Admiral.”
“I assume somebody told the Admiral,” Veksai said flatly, “Cuz if you’re asking us what to do about it-“
“No, dude,” Cuirass shook his head, “But have either of you heard of Carol Marcus?”
“Sounds familiar,” Gallium said as Veksai shook his head, “Can’t place it though. Why?”
“Cuz that’s who the call was from. I know I’ve heard that name somewhere though,”
Cuirass was cut off as the all-call sounded. Throughout the ship, Admiral’s Janeway’s voice crackled.
“All hands, this is the Admiral. As of now, at 0930 hours, I’m assuming command of this vessel. Duty officer, so note in the ship’s log. Plot a new course to space laboratory Regula 1.”
Cuirass and Veksai exchanged a worried look.
“This is just part of a scenario, right?” Veksai asked.
“I dunno,” Cuirass shrugged.
“I didn’t hear anything about any scenarios,” Gallium said, “I thought we were just going to a few different planets to practice routine stuff.”
There was a noticeable sensation as the Gagetown shot into warp speed.
“I better get back to my station,” Veksai said, looking worried as he darted back into the corridor.
“Me too,” agreed Cuirass.
“There’s something really familiar about this,” Gallium frowned, turning back to his panel.
Kumari was on-duty down in Main Engineering. After nearly blowing the ship up the Lieutenant supervising Engineering, Lt. Davidson, had arranged for her to get a bit more practice working with warp core simulations before moving her on in the rotation. The Gagetown was cruising along at maximum warp when suddenly her panel indicated that the helm had called for an all-stop. Kumari watched as the computer automatically adjusted the core output and the nacelle timing sequence to slow the ship down. As soon as the core was idling, Cadet Whetink started walking them through a standard diagnostic.
“Bizkit to Kumari,”
“Kumari here,” she said quietly, tapping at her comm-badge and trying to be discreet. Bizkit was manning one of the secondary science stations up on the bridge.
“Something’s weird up here,” Bizkit whispered, “The Admiral’s up here now, and we’ve got another ship approaching.”
“Bad guys?” Kumari asked, trying to check the core temperature while she talked, “Probably just a scenario,”
“No, it’s a Starfleet ship. Looks like an Akira-class.”
“Y’know, one of those things that looks like somebody stepped on it,”
“Oops, just a sec,” Bizkit said quickly. Kumari could here tapping.
“Ummm, no, I don’t see anything wrong with their chamber’s coil,” Kumari heard her say.
“Me neither,” another voice, presumably Bizkit’s cadet supervisor over at the bridge’s main science station.
“Sorry,” Bizkit said, “Look, I better go-“
“-locking phasers-“ said another voice.
“HOLY SHIT!” Bizkit screamed.
“BIZKIT!” Kumari cried.
There was a deafening crash, then the sound of sizzling energy right before the wall behind Kumari blew out.
All over the Gagetown cadets were crying out in fear or surprise as the ship jolted, tilting to one side and shaking. The lights flickered, then switched over to emergency power. After the first series of jolts there was a moment of relative calm.
Up on the bridge, Bizkit was clinging to her panel.
“Engineering, damage report!” Veni called.
“Damage to the warp core!” Whetink’s voice came back, “The Lieutenant…he’s…he’s dead! A whole bulkhead…it just exploded! I’ve lost-“
“Get auxiliary power!’ Captain Hartz ordered. He closed the channel. “Cadet Veni, you’re now my first officer. I want damage and casualty reports-“
“INCOMING!” the cadet at Tactical shouted.
On the main screen, Bizkit could see a ball of light - a torpedo? - coming right at them. When the impact came, it was even bigger than the phaser hits. At his station in Stellar Cartography, in the lower deck of the saucer, Gallium was bounced a good meter out of his chair before crashing down to the deck.
“Bizkit to Kumari!” Bizkit cried, tapping her comm-badge frantically. “Kumari? Kumari?”
“Get on your emergency procedures!” Lieutenant Smith, on of the few officers on the ship ordered.
“If we don’t get this situation under control, she’s not going to be the only one we lose!”
Bizkit clung to her panel, trying to remember just what it was she was supposed to do. How could she do anything?
“Admiral,” somebody called from Operations, “The enemy commander is signalling! He wishes to discuss terms of our surrender…”
Janeway paused dramatically.
“Put him on screen,”
There was a flash of static on the main display, then the face and silvery hair of an older human male appeared.
“Zahn,” Janeway breathed.
“Team 2, let’s go!” snapped mid-classman Dyrob. He was in charge of the repair team for this shift, and it was just his bad luck that the attack had to come right now. He glanced as his padd, waiting for orders to come down from the bridge, “Everybody into your EV suits!”
“This has got to be a simulation, right?” Veksai said for about the fiftieth time, trying to get his legs into the flimsy-feeling fabric of his environmental suit. He didn’t even have time to wave as Verone ran by on her way to join her own repair team, nor did he notice her tapping her comm-badge and calling for Kumari in a voice of near panic.
“It sure doesn’t feel like a simulation to me!” Gallium cried.
As soon as they were suited up, Dyrob led them down the corridors, nearly sprinting.
“Team 1 has the hull breach on Deck 10,” Dryob read off the padd as they jumped into a turbolift, “2,3 &4 are headed for Main Engineering, 5 is-“
“Do we really need the rehash?” somebody asked.
“Um, I guess not-“
The doors opened and they were again running to engineering.
It was a shambles.
The emergency doors between the main engineering area and the warp core proper had been closed. On the other side, billowing green clouds of coolant gas were swirling like a maelstrom. The cadets that had made it out in time still had respirators strapped to their faces, which were streaked with soot and paled by shock. Whetink was still yelling orders, but he had a near-helpless expression on his face. Seeing the suited team, he pointed towards the core.
“Emergency access is over to the side. Get in there and be ready to follow instructions from…from whichever officer the Admiral can send down to help us.”
“We…we didn’t all make it out in time.”
Gallium didn’t immediately understand what he meant by that. But next to him, Dyrob was clenching his repair kit.
They eased through an access hatch and into a sort of mini-airlock just off the core chamber. Their suits would protect them from the corrosive gasses, for a while.
When the inner hatch opened, Veksai was sure they’d just stepped into Hell.
Red lights were flashing around the room, illuminating the clouds of coolant as they swirled. The warp core was still pulsing with blue energy, but the output indicators on the core panel were near zero. One side of the room had been reduced to a pile of sparking rubble and one of the plasma transfer conduits leading out of the core had ruptured.
Trying to get a closer look at the rubble, Gallium noticed something strange. Taking a closer look, he realised it was a hand protruding from the rubble. A dainty, brown hand.
A hand wearing Kumari’s ring…
The front of Gallium’s helmet abruptly changed colour as he vomited.
Up in the saucer, M’kr’gr was in the phaser control room. He was off-shift, but of course during an attack he was required to report to an emergency station. His current station, a life-support monitoring system on Deck-10, had unfortunately been vented to space before he could get there. He’d arrived to find himself facing an emergency forcefield with nothing on the other side but stars. Deciding he could probably find something better to do, he reported to Phaser Control. For whatever reason, the cadets who were supposed to report there in an emergency hadn’t arrived yet, so M’kr’gr quickly found himself seated in front of a big, wrap-around screen, ready to co-ordinate the various phaser arrays under his control in order to carry out orders from the bridge.
So far, nothing. The enemy ship hadn’t fired again and no orders to fire back were coming down. Just as well, his phaser banks had zero power; he couldn’t fire if he wanted to.
Down in engineering Dyron, Veksai and another cadet were frantically adjusting plugs, cables and conduits, straining to remember the configurations they’d studied in class. Gallium had been pulled out to change his helmet, after warning everybody else to stay the hell away from that part of engineering.
“NO, Veksai, connect that line to the control input for conduit 3-B!” Dyron snapped.
“Hurry up people!” Whetink called, “I need that online-“
“There!” Veksai said, snapping the connector into place. There was a hum as power surged through the collection of cables.
“Whetink to bridge, you’ve got battery power!”
M’Kr’gr nearly jumped out of his seat as the phaser power indicator shot up. He had a target indicator hovering just over the enemy ship’s aft section, near the warp core. He was just waiting for the bridge to order him to fire.
Why wasn’t the bridge giving the order to fire?
Surely they weren’t surrendering? M’kr’gr wondered. Sure, the other ship still had full shields, according to his panel, but if the Gagetown could fire off a few phaser shots, maybe a torpedo or two, they could at least try to do some damage on the way out!
On the other hand, the Gagetown was almost entirely manned by cadets. Human cadets, for the large part, who wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice their lives if it meant going out in a blaze of glory. Stupid cultural differences.
M’Kr’gr flexed his claws, seriously considering opening fire without authorization from the bridge. Even if they tried to override him, which he doubted they’d be able to do in time, he could probably get a few shots off.
So why not? He reached forward, claw-tip mere millimetres from the button.
“Hold it,” Cadet Dril, a soon-to-be senior from Antares Sector and the cadet currently in command of Phaser Control, “If they’re waiting, they have a reason. Your job right now is to follow orders, nothing more.”
“Why are they not firing now?” M’Kr’gr demanded.
“They’re probably talking,”
“It doesn’t matter,” Dril said, “One day, when you are in command on the bridge, you will expect your people to obey your orders without question. For now, it is what everybody on the bridge is expecting of you,”
M’Kr’gr was about to object again when his console beeped. Somebody on the bridge had just established a phaser lock on the enemy ship. He quickly confirmed it, sent his targeting recommendation back up to the bridge and watched as the phaser lock was adjusted to take his analysis into account. He quickly balanced the power output available to the phaser banks in position to make the shot, then waited for the firing order.
Suddenly, the enemy’s shields dropped.
“FIRE!” Admiral Janeway snapped.
From the back of the bridge Bizkit watched as, on the main viewscreen, beams of red energy lashed out at the other ship, hitting it dead on. There was an explosion from the rear of the Akira-class ship’s roll-bar, then her warp nacelles went dark. Her impulse engines flared to life as the ship banked around the Gagetown and out of sight.
“Ma’am, you did it!” Cadet Veni breathed.
“I did nothing!” Janeway croaked, trying to rub soot out of her uniform, “Except get caught with my bra undone. Somebody quote me some regulations, then we can find out how badly we’ve been hurt,”
The bridge turbolift hissed open. Bizkit and the rest of the bridge crew turned to see Gallium standing there in an environmental suit, a puke-filled helmet in his hands.
“Oops,” he said weakly, “Wrong deck,”
The activity on the Gagetown was frantic.
Captain Hartz and the few officers that were onboard were running from deck to deck, from station to station, trying first to calm down the panicking cadets, then to organize the repair efforts. The mid-classmen, having already completed one training cruise, were at least more familiar with the drills and the procedures that had to be followed, but none of them could remember having encountered anything like the current situation outside of a holodeck.
“We did attack drills as part of our Tactical Procedures class this past year,” Dyrob said to Veksai as the two of them carried a piece of rubble away from the warp core, “But those were all in a holodeck. I thought it was pretty realistic, but this…this really doesn’t feel like a simulation, if it is one,”
“I honestly don’t know,” Veksai said, “I mean, I can’t believe that anything like this would happen to bunch of cadets like us, right? But yeah, this feels way too real to be a scenario,”
“Bizkit to Veksai,”
“Have you seen Kumari?” Bizkit demanded.
“Uh, not since before the..attack…” Veksai trailed off.
“I was on the comm with her when we got hit,” Bizkit said frantically, “And now I can’t get a hold of her!”
“Where are you?” Veksai demanded.
“I’m doing first-aid on Deck 7, but I’m done.”
“Meet me in Sickbay,” Veksai said, helping Dyrob drop the bulkhead chunk they were carrying into a waste reclamator.
“Be quick,” Dyron said firmly, “We have a lot of work to do,”
When Veksai arrived at Sickbay, Gallium, Igor, M’Kr’gr, Verone and Bizkit were already there.
“I’m glad you guys are OK,” Bizkit said, “Have you seen Kodene?”
“It’s in the aft torpedo bay,” Igor said, “I was just there, double-checking the torpedoes,”
“I don’t see Kumari in here anywhere,” Veksai said, checking each of the beds.
“Out of my way!” snapped a dark-haired woman, “We’ve got people dying here, I can’t have you kids getting in my way! Out!”
“But, we’re looking for-“ Bizkit started.
“If they’re not on duty and they’re not in here, you’d best stop looking,” the woman said. She paused, then gave them a sympathetic look, “I’m sorry. You kids shouldn’t be getting exposed to this…not so soon. Get back to your stations. You can look for your friend after this is all over.
Exchanging a worried look, they left.
“This is just cruel,” Akavarti Kumari said, standing in Holodeck 1 along with nearly two dozen other cadets. The Gagetown’s entire compliment of lower-classmen were in Holodeck 2, convinced they were doing Away Team training on Vulcan.
“It’s part of the scenario,” Captain Hartz said, “You were all killed in the battle. We can’t have you running around after your dead bodies have already been found. This is a serious simulation, not the Zombie Wars.”
“But did you have to put that holographic body in the rubble pile?” Kumari insisted, “Poor Gallium, he puked right into his helmet!”
“Yes, that was disgusting. But once this is over, he’ll have plenty of time for a hot shower and grief counseling.” Hartz shrugged, “OK, ladies and gentlemen, I have to get back out there and keep things going. You just sit tight, relax and enjoy the show. He tapped a button and the holodeck abruptly changed into a comfortable lounge filled with comfortable sofas and armchairs, along with dozens of viewscreens displaying different portions of the ship, “I’m locking you in here and cutting off your communications, but somebody will be by to check on you now and then. Have fun!”
He took a deep breath, forced a grim expression onto his face, then marched out of the holodeck.
Kumari slumped into a chair next to Cadet Fortuna, a girl of Italian descent that had recently started dating Bahred.
“This sucks,” she muttered.
“Yeah, I know,” Fortuna said, “I sorta wish I was still in there, y’know?”
“Why?” Kumari was surprised.
“They’re living it,” Fortuna said, pointing at a screen that showed a pair of cadets trying to weld a piece of metal over a hull breach, “This is as bad as it gets, and they don’t even know that it’s not real. Don’t you want to know how you’d handle it?”
Verone and Gallium were working in Impulse Engineering alongside over a dozen other cadets, trying to get auxiliary power up and running before the enemy ship, the USS Valcartier, could return to finish off the Gagetown.
“Cadets, I need you to finish hooking up those anodyne relays!” called out Lt. Cmdr. Welbar, “Not next week, NOW!”
Gallium was frantically ripping the new relays out of their wrappings (why replicate a part in packaging?) and checking their settings as Verone plugged them into the impulse reactor output grid. Nearby, Quarterman was wrapped around a damaged power conduit as s/he tried to gamma-weld a patch into place.
“Last one,” Verone said, clicking the relay into place with a <snick>.
“We’re good,” Gallium reported, trying to give Welbar a thumbs-up. (Unfortunately, the Bolian boy got a bit confused and nearly jammed his thumb up his nose.)
“Impulse engineering to bridge,” Welbar called, “We’ve restored auxiliary power and impulse drive,”
“Good work, cadets,” Welbar said, “now-“
There was a flickering of blue light, then a squeal of surprise from Quarterman as the impulse reactors kicked in with a rumble. Everybody spun, only to see Quarterman’s body dissolve as a jet of plasma burst out from the conduit s/he’d been repairing.
Verone screamed while Gallium puked again. Welbar stood there with an expression of shock, then started snapping orders to re-route the plasma flow.
Nobody was moving.
“MOVE IT, OR WE’RE ALL NEXT!” he snarled, slamming a spanner down against a metal support with enough force to create a ringing CLAAANNNGGGG.
Another cadet quickly re-routed power and the jet of plasma dissipated.
“Oh my God!” Verone gasped, “S/he’s…s/he’s…”
Gallium puked again.
“Report to Deck 10,” Welbar ordered, “They’re still having trouble with that hull breach,”
The cadets just stared back at him.
“Listen up,” Welbar snapped, his snout twitching, “We’re in a life-or-death situation here. We’ve being fired upon, and if we don’t get this ship back up and running, FAST, we’re all going to be joining Quarterman. Stay busy now, survive the situation, grieve later. GO!”
Slowly, they started moving.
“What the f-“
Kumari was somewhat surprised as Quarterman materialized on the holodeck. Cadets had been popping up here and there, ‘killed’ in a hull breach, or by ‘injuries sustained’. Still, she wasn’t expected Quarterman to simply appear in mid-air and drop a good meter to the deck.
“Hi,” Kumari gave a little wave.
“KUMARI!!!! You’re alive!” Quarterman cried out, rushing forward to give Kumari a hug, “Wait…conduit…power surge… aww SHIT, I’m dead! Is this the Divine Brothel, or are we on our way to the Plateau of Eternal Chastity?”
“We’re not dead,” Kumari said, dropping back into her chair. On the display in front of her, Admiral Janeway was ordering the cadet at the helm to proceed to Regula 1 at full impulse.
“Hey, what’s going on here?” Quarterman demanded, looking around.
“It’s all fake,”
“Here, have a beer and relax,” said Cuirass, carrying over a tray of mugs, “Wanna count how many people cry when they hear you’re dead? So far, Kumari’s winning. I think it’s cuz she’s a girl,”
“That’s NOT FUNNY!” Kumari snapped, punching Cuirass in the arm.
Kumari pointed at a display showing main engineering. In it, Cadet Spyder had just been ordered to re-align the dilithium crystals in the warp core, despite the fact that the radiation levels were lethal. As they watched, a holographic image suddenly appeared between Spyder and Cadet Whetink. To Whetink, it looked like Spyder was trying to open the core access hatch. Kumari and crew, however, could see as Spyder disappeared in a transporter beam.
He rematerialized right behind them, looking around in confusion.
“I KNEW IT!” he loudly declared.
On the screen, Cadet Whetink watched in horror as ‘Spyder’ collapsed to the deck and stopped moving.
Veksai and Dyrob had lost track of time. The initial attack now felt like it had occurred weeks ago. They simply moved from place to place, completing repair task after repair task as the mid-classmen and officers running the ship tried to keep things together. Veksai recognized the strategy…if they were too busy to think about what was happening, they’d be less likely to freak out, right? Whatever. If that’s what they wanted to try, he was happy to follow along. The ranks of the repair teams had thinned as orders started coming down to get more people back at battle-stations. Clearly, somebody upstairs was planning something.
Up on the bridge, M’kr’gr had been assigned to assist at the tactical panel.
“They can still outrun us, and outgun us,” the science officer was saying, “But there is the Mutara Nebula at 153 mark 4,”
“Mr. Whetinck, can we make it inside?” Janeway demanded, tapping her comm-badge.
“How the f**k should I know?” Whetinck replied, “The real chief engineer is dead! So’s half my team!”
“Work on it, Janeway out,”
“Receiving report from Stellar Cartography,” M’kr’gr said. He felt a small amount of relief when he saw Gallium’s name attached to the readout, “The Mutara Nebula is a standard nebula, but the static discharges will prevent us from using shields or sensors,”
“Works both ways,” Janeway said, not even looking back at M’kr’gr.
In the ‘neck’ connecting the Gagetown’s disc-like saucer section to her engineering section, Veksai and Dyrob were trying to fix part of the port torpedo launcher. It was a simple repair, part of the structure had simply collapsed in the pounding the ship had taken earlier and needed to be reinforced. Veksai felt a faint rumble and looked out a nearby window just in time to see a glowing red torpedo flash by, its engine wake making the ship shudder.
“HOLY SHIT!” Veksai shouted, stumbling back and falling.
“That was close,” Dyrob said, turning pale.
“Nice choice of words,”
“We’re entering the nebula in, well, right now,”
The Gagetown shuddered, then the lights dimmed. M’kr’gr’s sensor boards flickered out and the main viewscreen broke into static.
“Now what?” Cadet Veni asked.
“Now, we wait,” replied Janeway.
“Will you stop staring out that window and help me here?” Dyrob demanded.
“Hold on, I think I see something,” Veksai said, squinting, “When did we fly into a giant dust-cloud, by the way?”
“Look, whoever’s running things has this planned out. I hope. We just need to…hey, what’s that?”
In the distance, obscured by nebular dust, they could just make out the shape of an Akira-class starship.
And it was coming right at them.
“Uh-oh,” Veksai said softly.
“EVASIVE STARBOARD!” Janeway screamed, the image of the Valcartier barely visible on the main screen. Her phaser banks came to life, slamming into the Gagetown’s port side. M’kr’gr clung to his station as the Acting Tactical Officer, Cadet Penter, was thrown against the aft wall of the bridge.
“FIRE!” Janeway shouted.
Penter was still scrambling back to his panel, so M’kr’gr slammed his claw down on the fire control panel. The Gagetown’s phasers, this time powered by her impulse reactors instead of batteriess, speared out and impacted the Valcartier, right behind her bridge. Both ships broke off, disappearing into the nebular clouds.
“What the-“ Veksai exclaimed, materializing in mid-air and falling into a comfortable armchair. The last thing he remembered was the port torpedo bay was exploding around him, the outer wall blowing out in a surge of energy and flames erupting from all sides.
“You’re not dead, it’s all a simulation, and well, you’re technically dead now, but not really,” Kumari said, tired of explaining the same thing over and over again. “If you want, there’s-URK!”
Veksai had jumped to his feet and engulfed Kumari in a massive bear hug.
“Thanks,” Quarterman muttered, looking annoyed.
“Um, ahem,” Veksai released Kumari, looking embarrassed, “I just…we…”
There was another shower of transporter sparks and Gallium appeared next to them.
“Hey Kumari,” he said calmly, giving her a wave.
“Hey, what?” Veksai was looking at Gallium in a combination of confusion and horror, “Why are you so calm? Did you know-“
“Oh, I didn’t know it was fake until right before I ‘died’,” Gallium said, “The computer reported the Mutara Nebula as being a standard nebula, but I studied it for my Stellar Cartography essay last term. It’s actually a proto-matter nebula…some kind of weird technology went haywire a century ago, or something. Anyway, I was trying to say something about it when the officer in charge tapped on something and my console exploded. I guess they suspected one of us might catch on,”
“I hate smart people,” Quarterman grumbled, sipping more beer.
Veksai was already asleep.
“His pattern suggests…two dimensional thinking,” the science officer was saying to Admiral Janeway.
M’kr’gr was still working at the tactical panel. Nearby, Bizkit was trying to see something, anything, in the static-filled sensor displays on her panel. He glanced at the casualty list on one of his displays, dismayed to see that Kodene, Veksai and Verone were all listed as having been killed in the last attack. Gallium had died mere seconds after sending his report on the nebula due to a freak plasma surge in his console. He and Bizkit were the only members of the old Brute Squad still alive on the Gagetown. What would Bahred, Malespere and the others say when they learned that so many of their classmates had been killed on what was supposed to be a harmless training cruise?
Bizkit was saying something to the science officer.
“Some sort of energy readings to the port aft,” he reported to Janeway, “Could be impulse drive.”
“Z-minutes ten thousand meters. Standby photon torpedoes,” Janeway ordered.
Next to him, Penter verified that the starboard torpedo launcher was ready to go. At the helm, mid-classman T’Henkie had relieved the former helmsman and was in the process of dropping the ship straight down.
They waited, carefully trying to track whatever the faint reading was.
“Ease us back up.”
M’kr’gr stared as the main screen.
“If you see something,” Penter said softly, “Take the shot. Don’t wait for me,”
“Understood,” M’kr’gr muttered back.
Slowly, the display cleared, showing them a clear view of the aft end of the Valcartier.
Penter stabbed down on the torpedo control button, launching a shining ball of light right at the other ship.
M’kr’gr hit the phaser controls, pouring destructive energy into the other ship’s port nacelle, shattering the nacelle grill and sending a cloud of plasma into space. Penter launched another torpedo, this one severing the nacelle completely and sending it spinning away from the main body of the ship.
“They’re dead in space,” the science officer reported.
“Signal the Valcartier,” Janeway ordered, “Surrender and prepare to be boarded,”
There was a flickering from one of science displays.
“What the hell is that?” Bizkit muttered, staring at the strange energy wave-form forming in front of her. The computer was trying to identify it. Just before it could spit back a solution, Janeway glanced over.
“Oops! Computer, end program!” she called, “You guys don’t have the security clearance for that part!”
All over the Gagetown there was a holographic shimmer. Damaged panels vanished, piles of debris disappeared, corpses dissolved and damage read-outs were replaced with reports of normal functioning. Throughout the ship, tired, battle-weary cadets jolted in surprise and wondered: What the f**k?
On the bridge, Bizkit, M’kr’gr and the other cadets looked around in shock. The bridge looked exactly the way it had before the first attack, right down to their position. The Gagetown was still puttering along at impulse power, less than a light year from the Sol system.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” Janeway smiled, “We fitted the entire ship with a new holo-emitter system, specifically designed to simulate battle conditions and damage with a degree of realism never before possible.”
“This…this was all a test?” Cadet Veni asked, eyebrows nearly reaching her hairline.
“Yes. One you all did very well on,”
“OH THANK GOD!” Veni collapsed into the First Officer’s chair.
“Then,” M’kr’gr looked over to Penter, “we did not just slaughter our enemies in honourable combat?”
“I guess not,”
“That…what is the term? That sucks,”
“Yeah well. At least our friends are still alive, right?”
“Hmmm. Good point.”
With the simulation ended, the skeleton crew of commissioned officers and crewmen took over operation of the ship and sent the exhausted cadets to their quarters for mandatory rest.
Lying in his bunk, Veksai found himself unable to sleep. He kept expecting the Gagetown to rock again, the air to fill with the stench of burnt circuitry, or the screams of terrified cadets. In the bunk across from him, Igor was watching a holo-chip on his padd. Dyrob was reading, and Gallium had locked himself in the head for what everybody suspected was a ‘personal moment’. Only M’kr’gr had fallen asleep so far.
“Hey,” It was Kumari and Verone, “Thought we’d see if you guys were up,”
“Most of us,” Kodene said, it’s tentacles twined around the bed-rack it typically used.
“Long day, huh?” Verone asked.
“Tell me about it,” Veksai said, “That felt like the longest day of my life,”
“Two days, actually. But who’s counting?” said Kumari.
“It was a good day,” M’kr’gr grunted.
“We thought you were sleeping,” Veksai said.
“I was. Until the human whining began,”
“Hey, I’m not totally human here, bud!” Veksai objected. Kodene gave an odd gurgling noise.
“It was a good day,” M’kr’gr repeated. “We learned today that in a battle, we will conduct ourselves with honour,”
“Yeah, we were also convinced that most of our friends had died,” Verone shot back, “That’s just…that’s just cruel! They could have at least told us it was a test!”
“That would defeat the purpose,” M’kr’gr said.
“I don’t know about you guys, but it’s going to be weeks before I feel comfortable on this ship again,” Kumari said, “And my parents are going to be furious!”
“This is Starfleet,” Veksai said, “I mean, we’re supposed to be exploring new places and doing all that diplomatic and science stuff. Why the huge focus on battle?”
“The galaxy is a dangerous place,” M’kr’gr said, “Have you forgotten the Borg? The Dominion?”
“Besides,” M’kr’gr went on, “We have only completed a few days of the course. We have the rest of the summer to train on the boring, weakling aspects of life aboard a starship.”
They were quiet for a moment.
“That stuff they said about the Valcartier simulation being a prototype…do you think that means that Malespere, Bahred and them didn’t have to do this?” Veksai wondered.
“During the debriefing, the Admiral said that the Gagetown was the only ship to try this test,” Igor said.
“Sorry,” Veksai shrugged, “I was too busy hating her guts to pay attention.”
“They can’t do this every year,” Verone said, “I mean, people are gonna talk. It won’t be a surprise anymore.”
“Maybe that’s a good thing,” Igor said.
“Yeah, how many people do you think ended up traumatized after that little encounter?”
“ME!” Kumari said, raising her hand.
“Welcome to the club,”
They sat in silence again.
“I’m going to bed,” Veksai said, “Wake me up when it’s time to go back to the Academy.”
“Doesn’t work that way,” Igor said.
“Can’t I just pretend? For like five minutes?”
“I don’t care,” Igor said, “I’m just ready for this day to end.”
Author’s Other Note: Since I promised the non-Trek fans some explanation, here it is. The plot of this story is largely based around Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The Enterprise is on a training cruise, an emergency that only the Enterprise can respond to breaks out (as usual), and it turns out a bad-guy named Khan has stolen another ship and is trying to kill Kirk. Unlike that movie, this story focuses on the cadets and changes names/ships to account for this series taking place a hundred years after Kirk’s time. Fun idea, got dark fast. Had to use the holodeck simulation thing as an ending, otherwise most of my characters would be dead. You can debate the ethics of this sort of training…personally, I think these kids are traumatized after this. But even with the darker tones, this turned out to be a very interesting story to write, and I couldn’t bring myself to lighten it up.