Rise (Alternate) - ApostropheN - Star Trek: Voyager [Archive of Our Own] (2024)

Chapter 1: Teaser

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Lieutenant Zandra Taitt worked the Science station on Voyager’s Bridge, feeding sensor information augmented by Voyager’s lateral and main sensor arrays to both Ensign Sahreen Lan at Ops and Lieutenant Scott Rollins at Tactical and Lieutenant Veronica Stadi at the Conn, trying to find a sweet spot where they could get within weapons range in time. She glanced up, seeing the two Nezu on the Bridge had taken up positions by the command railing, eyes on the viewscreen.

She couldn’t blame them. The Nezu Ambassador and his aide hadn’t taken so much as a ‘fresher break in the last two hours, and she had her whole Stellar Cartography team working to track their target, even waking up Hickman and Telfer, who’d normally have the night shift.

The Nezu reminded her a little bit of Klingons, with their cranial ridges, but they also had a bifurcation that divided their chin, and their ridges continued around their orbitals.

Also, so far? They seemed far less grumpy than most Klingons. Especially given the situation they were facing.

“Almost within range,” Stadi said. The vibration of Voyager at high-impulse sent a hum through Taitt’s boots.

“I’ve got the lock,” Rollins said.

“Good.” In the big chair, Captain Aaron Cavit turned to face the tactical officer and nodded, once. “Photon Torpedo, Scott. Fire.”

“Torpedo away,” Rollins said.

Taitt watched her readings, rather than the main viewscreen. A simple nickel-iron asteroid, it wouldn’t be at all interesting or worth their time—let alone one of their irreplaceable photon torpedoes—except for the vector of the asteroid, and a dozen more just like it.

The impact was bright, as explosive as imagined and…

Nowhere near as effective as it should have been.

“What happened?” Ro said, rising from her seat beside Cavit.

“I’m still tracking multiple large fragments,” Taitt said.

“That torpedo should have completely vaporized the asteroid,” Lan said.

“Scott,” Cavit said. “Phasers.”

“On it,” Rollins said, already working.

Taitt watched as fragment after fragment was struck, and she did her best to augment the tactical scanners to help Rollins lock target, but two fragments were already entering the upper atmosphere. There wouldn’t be time.

“Ambassador, I'm afraid I was right,” said the Ambassador’s aide. “This isn't going to work. The same thing happened to us yesterday. We tried to vaporize two incoming asteroids but they fragmented and struck the surface.”

“I can’t get a lock on the last two fragments,” Rollins said. “They’re going to strike the planet, Captain.”

Taitt looked down at her station, keeping the sensors on them right up until the moment they hit the planet.

Warping to the Nezu colony system, four hours of scans and trajectory work, Voyager running at full impulse to get within range in time, and all her efforts to give Rollins and Lan the target they need at quite literally the last few moments they’d have to save the Colony, and…

She’d failed.

Notes:

The teaser for this one is super-short in canon, too. I wanted to spend some time with Taitt for this one (and likely Abol, too), so I'm shifting the focus for at least half the story to her. Also, I've got an idea to adjust from the main plot pretty much right off the bad, and she's sitting at Conn. ;)

Chapter 2: Act I

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Impact location?” Cavit said, rising from his seat.

Taitt worked her console, trying to get a reading through the atmospheric interference. “The two largest fragments and some smaller debris struck the largest continent, about five hundred kilometres from the southernmost tip.” She turned to look at the Nezu Ambassador and his aide. They didn’t have a full map of the planet to work with.

“The central desert,” the Ambassador said. “Fortunately, that region isn’t heavily populated.”

“I’m picking up multiple impacts in that area,” Lan said. The Trill woman worked her station, frowning. “You’ll have some new craters, but the bigger problem is the atmospheric shockwaves, dust, not to mention the gallicite particulates from the other two strikes already reached the stratosphere…” Lan shook her head. “There will be long-term consequences, and the atmosphere is ionized thanks to the gallicite, but barring more strikes, we should be able to help you with the worst of it.”

“That’s kind of you,” the Ambassador’s aide said. Sklar, Taitt thought his name was. He regarded her with worried, almost frantic-eyes. She felt for him. “But how long before the next asteroid hits?”

“A little under six hours,” Taitt said.

“Can you give us an idea of its trajectory?” the Ambassador said.

“Taitt?” Cavit said.

She adjusted the sensors to the next closet asteroid. Do the next thing. And the next thing. Excel. Be accurate. Her failure with the first asteroid didn’t negate the danger still on the way to the planet.

“Same continent,” Taitt said. “But this time the impact will be alongside the eastern coast.”

“Our largest colonies are there,” the Ambassador said. “Over five thousand citizens.”

“Captain,” Sklar said, turning away from Taitt and letting out an audible breath. “We appreciate your efforts, but I think it's time we considered an evacuation. According to my analysis there are at least twelve more asteroids heading in our direction. How can we hope to destroy them all even with your help?”

Especially when we failed, Taitt thought darkly.

“Captain,” Stadi said, turning in her chair, and something in her voice caught Taitt’s attention. She eyed the Betazoid, and saw a look she’d seen on Stadi’s face before: composed and calm. “Could I speak to you for a moment—”

A chirp from Rollins’s station interrupted her.

“A hail from the surface,” Rollins said.

Cavit exchanged a glance with Stadi—and Taitt saw the small nod he gave her as well—before he turned to Rollins. “Put it through.”

A stocky, bald Nezu man bearing a short dark goatee appeared on the viewscreen, though the connection was full of static and seemed to be growing worse by the moment.

“Ambassador,” the man said hurriedly. “I’ve been analyzing the debris and I've discovered disturbing evidence that the asteroids are not what they seem. They are composed of artificial materials. I must meet with you immediately. I think—”

The screen blanked.

“Lost the signal,” Lan said. “Too much interference from particulates stirred up by the impacts.”

“Do we know where he was calling from?” Cavit said.

Lan shook her head. “I’m sorry, Captain. Too much interference to pin it down to less than a fifty kilometre area.”

The Ambassador spoke next. “That was Doctor Vatm, our most prominent astrophysicist. He mentioned the composition of the asteroids. Could he have found something important?”

Taitt opened her mouth to remind the man that a photon torpedo should have easily destroyed the rock, despite its size, but the aide, Sklar, spoke first.

“At this point Ambassador, I don't know what that discovery could be,” Sklar said, shaking his head.

“Yes you do,” Stadi said.

Taitt turned her head, frowning at the Conn officer, who’d turned in her seat and was facing the man.

“Stadi?” Ro said.

“I… I don’t know what you mean,” Sklar said.

“You’re lying,” Stadi said. “You were relieved when we lost the signal, just like you were relieved when some of the fragments struck the planet.”

“Because they hit somewhere unsettled…” Sklar said, but Taitt saw a flush rising up the man’s neck, and his eyes were flicking left and right. “Which was lucky. Now… Now we have time…”

“Sklar?” the Ambassador said.

“No, your relief was more specific than that. You were relieved you could still suggest evacuation,” Stadi said. “I don’t know why you want to evacuate, but that’s the thought you’re having over and over—you’re desperate to get the Ambassador to order a complete evacuation. Why?”

“What… what are you talking about?” Sklar shook his head.

“I don’t understand,” the Ambassador said.

“Lieutenant Stadi is a Betazoid, Ambassador,” Cavit said, speaking softly. “Betazoids are telepaths.”

“It’s the safest option for our people,” Sklar said forcefully, his face darkening. “That’s why I want to—”

“No. No it’s not about safety. You’re thinking about a deal you made with someone,” Stadi said, her dark Betazoid eyes locking with the Ambassador’s aide. “Who?”

“This is an outrage!” Sklar said, shaking his head.

Taitt watched the expressions of disbelief and then betrayal play out on the silver-haired Ambassador’s face. “You’ve been suggesting evacuation since the asteroids were first spotted, Sklar.” The man looked utterly betrayed, and shook his head. “I assumed it was an abundance of caution.”

Sklar’s expression shifted to something like rage, and he glared at Taitt, his hands clenching into fists. Behind him, the turbolift door opened, and two security officers—no doubt summoned by Rollins at his station—stepped out.

“Mister Sklar,” Rollins said genially enough, but Taitt could hear the iron behind the softness. “Ensign Gibson and Crewman Rosa here are going to escort your back to your quarters.” The two men stepped forward to flank Sklar, and Sklar jerked away from them.

“It’s that or the Brig, Mr. Sklar,” Cavit said.

Sklar swallowed, and seemed about to explode, but all at once the fight seemed to go out of him. He stared at the ground as Gibson and Rosa led him to the turbolift.

“They’ll keep an eye on him,” Cavit said to the Ambassador, once the turbolift doors had closed behind the man’s aide. “And we’ll try to figure out what he’s been up to, exactly.”

“You’re sure?” The Ambassador turned to face Stadi with his question. “You said he made a deal to evacuate the colony?”

“I’m sure,” Stadi said. “But I didn’t get the sense he knew who he was dealing with. I’m not sure he can give us any names, Captain—he was thinking about a contact procedure, not a face-to-face.”

“Maybe we can get his contact procedure out of him, then, and trace it. Frankly, even a motive would be nice,” Rollins said. “The Mikhal Travelers warned us about an species that stole ships—the Tarkan, I believe it was—could this be them, trying to steal a colony?”

“The Tarkan steal technology,” Ambassador Oppen said. “But I suppose we can’t rule anyone out.”

“Gallicite mines are rare enough, and valuable,” Rollins said, then frowned. “But if you pummel the planet, how do you enjoy your bounty?”

Cavit shook his head. “I don’t know. Unless they have superior technology to the Nezu.”

“And us,” Ro said. “We can’t offset some of this damage, like Sahreen said, but even we’d struggle to recover from these impacts and to operate under that kind of atmospheric contamination.”

Cavit nodded. “You’re right. But someone wants this planet emptied.”

“I can’t speak to motive, but when it comes to method those asteroids should have been almost completely destroyed,” Taitt said, and rose from her station. “That can’t be a coincidence if the aim was to force an evacuation. Whatever it is Doctor Vatm knows, we need to know it before the next asteroids get here. Preferably sooner. The more time passes, the less opportunity we have to change their course or deal with them.”

“You’re right,” Cavit said.

“Transporters?” Ro said, glancing at Lan. “You said there’s a fifty kilometre area, could we send down search teams for the doctor?”

“The ionization that cut off his communications would scatter the beam,” Lan said. “And it’s only getting worse as the particulates from this most recent strike spread—gallicite creates too much electrokinetic ionization.”

“Which means even if evacuation becomes the right option we could no longer do it,” the Ambassador said. “We don’t have enough time to get everyone off the surface, even if we used every orbital tether and every ship we have that was capable of flying through the fallout.” He shook his head. “I hate to ask for your help again, Captain, but I can’t give up now.”

“We’re not the sort to give up either, Ambassador,” Cavit said. “Options?” he turned to the Bridge at large.

“If we’re quick, shuttles should be able to handle the edges of that chop,” Stadi said, turning her chair back around and tapping at her station. Taitt thought “chop” was putting it mildly, but then she wasn’t the pilot. “It wouldn’t be pleasant, but they could. The Aeroshuttle would handle it even better.”

“We’ve got six hours to figure out how to stop those rocks,” Cavit said. He turned to Lieutenant Commander Ro. “Take the Aeroshuttle, and once you’re down there, see if you can find Doctor Vatm and bring him back with whatever it is he knows. If you need it, we’ll risk shuttles to expand your search. Lieutenant Cing’ta and I will see what we can get from Sklar. Taitt, Lan, see if we can learn anything about these damn rocks from up here—Vatm seemed sure it had something to do with them, and like you said, it should have vaporized.” He paused at the door to the Turbolift. “Ambassador, if you’ll come with me. And Taitt? You have the Bridge.”

“Aye Captain,” Taitt said, with a small nod.

Ro nodded, rising. “Stadi, Rollins,” she said. The two left their stations, and relief crew took their places.

“Commander, if he was close to the impact site,” Taitt said. “It’s possible Doctor Vatm—or others—will be hurt.”

Ro lifted her chin. “Bridge to Sickbay.”

“Go ahead,” Crewman Kes Aren answered.

“Kes, put together an emergency medkit and meet us in the Aeroshuttle launch bay. We’re going down to the planet. There could be wounded.”

“Understood,” Kes said.

Taitt crossed to Lan’s station while the others left the Bridge, and leaned in. “I don’t suppose any of those fragments are within transporter range? Sensors told us they were nickel and iron, but they sure didn’t act like it.”

Lan smiled. “Let’s find out.”

*

“Entering the upper troposphere,” Stadi said, her hands smooth and steady on the controls of the Aeroshuttle, which was more than Rollins could say about the ride itself. At one of the two relief stations—set up for Tactical, out of habit—he tried not to grimace too much as the Aeroshuttle jerked and rocked under the murky, whipping winds starting to form. Lightning—or, he supposed, gallicite electrokinetic particulates—flashed from cloud to cloud.

“You were right,” Ro said, sitting at Ops. “This wouldn’t have been much fun in a shuttle.”

“Not sure it’s much fun here, either,” Rollins said.

“It’s just a little turbulence,” Stadi said, and he could hear the grin in her voice, even if she wasn’t looking in his direction. “Nothing to worry about. The Aeroshuttle was designed to fly in atmospheres as well as she cuts through space.”

The deck seemed to drop out from beneath them, and he just barely stopped himself from grunting. When he looked across the Bridge to Kes at the other station, she aimed a soft supportive smile from her chair, then pushed her long blond curls behind her ear again.

“Just a little turbulence?” Rollins said.

“There’s an electrodynamic layer forming,” Ro said, her voice rising with some alarm. “Stadi?”

“Give me what you can from the thrusters,” Stadi said. “But they might cut out.”

“No response.” Ro worked her station.

“See? I know my ship,” Stadi said, and to Rollins’s ear, she sounded near gleeful. “It’s the gallicite. Give me a second, I’m going to bounce us around a little, level our descent using some of the wind shear…”

“Sorry, what?” Rollins said, but Stadi didn’t explain, and instead the Aeroshuttle jolted like a smooth rock skipped across a pond, only the rock in question was also every bone in Rollins’s body, and the “skipping” was more like crashing into a wall. Repeatedly.

Some of the panels crackled and sparked, and he watched on his display as power levels slipped throughout the Aeroshuttle as the ship struggled to maintain it’s own structural integrity and inertial dampeners. He gripped his chair, and the Aeroshuttle went through another series of “skips.” This time, he did make a noise, as did Kes, and Ro, and even Stadi herself, but a moment later, the Aeroshuttle seemed to burst through the worst of the roiling clouds and visibility of the planet’s surface—though not great—was at least possible.

“Nicely done,” Ro said, working Ops. “We’ve got some damage to the thruster assembly, and impulse is running on less than a third power. No warp.” Ro sighed. “And we’ve lost comms.”

“I’m not going to get us back into orbit until we make some repairs,” Stadi said. “But at least I can find us a spot to land fairly central to where the signal might have come from. Any power you can spare me would be appreciated.”

“I’ll transfer everything from weapons,” Rollins said, doing just that.

“What is that?” Kes said, looking up through the viewscreen.

Rollins turned, and saw a tall tower that stretched from the surface of the colony planet all the way up into the dark clouds above. From here, it looked almost fragile and small.

“It’s an orbital tether,” Rollins said. “It goes all the way into space, and is one of the ways the Nezu miners get the mined gallicite up to the ships in orbit.”

“It’s incredible,” Kes said, her voice tinged with genuine appreciation.

“It’s a great way to avoid piloting a ship down to a planet’s surface,” Stadi said. “If you’re into avoiding that sort of thing.” Rollins could hear her grin again. “Final approach. I’m sorry if this gets a bit bumpy.”

“Oh, now it’s getting bumpy?” Rollins said, and Stadi laughed.

Outside the viewscreen, the tether grew larger and larger, then shifted off to port as Stadi circled around to land.

*

“Let’s assess the damage,” Ro said, rising from her chair. The four of them had barely risen and made it half-way out the two doors at the rear of the Bridge when they heard a series of thumps echo from further inside the Aeroshuttle.

“What was that?” Kes said.

“I think someone’s knocking,” Rollins said, and he exchanged a quick glance with Commander Ro, who nodded at him. He led the way to the hatch and, stepping back to give himself line-of-sight, tapped the control and lowered the entry ramp.

Two Nezu men stood outside in the whipping, gritty wind. One, a tall and dark-haired man Rollins didn’t recognize, but the other was the bald, stocky astrophysicist they’d been speaking to on Voyager before they’d lost his signal, Dr. Vatm. Both were grimy with dust and looked worse for wear, though they didn’t seem to be moving with any difficulty.

“Doctor Vatm,” Ro said, nodding. “We were sent to find you. Ambassador Oppen will be happy to learn you’re okay.”

“We heard what sounded like thunder, then saw you break through the clouds,” Vatm said, in a deep, rough voice. He climbed the steps, the other man walking beside him and looking around hesitantly, like he was unsure if he’d be welcome.

“Are either of you injured?” Kes said.

They shook their heads.

“This is Hanjuan,” Vatm said. “He’s a miner at the nearby gallicite excavation. We were sheltered together.”

“Have you seen anyone else?” Kes said.

“No, just you,” Vatm said.

“Most of the others evacuated,” Hanjuan said. “I stayed behind with the last vehicle to wait for the last people to come up from the mine, but then the asteroids hit…” He swallowed, then shook his head. “I drove as far as I could, but the power cells in the hauler weren’t up for driving in this…” He gestured behind him to the whipping, sandy wind.

“Doctor,” Ro said. “You said you had important information. What is it?”

Vatm’s face shut down, his dark brown eyes narrowing with distrust. “That data is classified. I can only speak to the Ambassador.”

“Ambassador Oppen sent us,” Ro said.

“No,” Vatm shook his head. “I prefer to wait.”

Ro took a deep breath, glancing at Stadi. Rollins stayed silent, letting the Commander take the lead. It wouldn’t help to further upset the already clearly agitated doctor. It also wasn’t lost of Rollins that Vatm was taller and wider than himself.

Not the usual presence one encountered among the academic types.

“Kes,” Stadi said. “Why don’t you take Doctor Vatm and Hanjuan to get cleaned up a bit. We’ll check out the Aeroshuttle and see how soon we can get back into orbit.”

“Of course, Lieutenant,” Kes said, and she turned her Ocampa smile in the direction of the two men. “This way. I’d like to take a look at you both once you’re cleaned up, just in case, if you don’t mind? I’m a resident, a fully trained medic.”

The three headed toward the quarters section of the Aeroshuttle, and Rollins glanced out into the sand-laden winds whipping outside the ramp. Dust was already accumulating on the ramp. “I’ll start with the comm array,” he said. “I’d rather get that information to Voyager sooner than later, if he’s willing to speak over comms.”

“He knows the Colony was infiltrated,” Stadi said. “I don’t think he’s going to be willing to speak to anyone but the Ambassador.”

“Do you know what he learned about the asteroids?” Ro said.

“He didn’t think about it,” Stadi shook her head. “He was too busy trying to decide if we were threats or not. I’d say he was acting a bit paranoid, but we already know he’s right—there’s an organized attempt to evacuate this planet.”

“Well,” Ro said. “Let’s start with the status of the Aeroshuttle, and we’ll go from there.”

“Ideally, we’ll go before the next asteroid is due to strike,” Stadi said, with a wry smile, and then she headed down the ramp and into the wind.

Rollins blinked, and glanced at Ro. Betazoid humour wasn’t always to his taste, but he couldn’t fault her logic on this one. They absolutely needed to be away from here before the next asteroid hit, or whatever Doctor Vatm knew, it wouldn’t matter to them anymore.

Notes:

Aeroshuttle. Tougher than a shuttle, built for the air.

Also, Betazoid on the Bridge meant the crew get a few steps ahead of the plot compared to canon, but maybe not all the way there right off the bat.

Aslo Dr. Vatm is hunky. I'd forgotten that.

Chapter 3: Act III

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Bridge to Engineering,” Taitt said.

“Go ahead,” Lieutenant Alexander Honigsberg said.

“Lieutenant, Ensign Lan and I are about to beam some of that asteroidal debris onto Voyager for analysis,” Taitt said. “Any chance you can give me a containment field, given how strangely those rocks reacted to our photon torpedo?”

“Absolutely,” Honigsberg’s voice was chipper. “I’ll prep some sample containers and let you know once we’re ready.”

“Thanks, Alex,” Taitt said.

When the channel closed though, Lan frowned. “I just lost comms with the Aeroshuttle.”

Taitt frowned. “What’s their status? What can you see?”

“Not a whole lot, but it’s still on course for the planet’s surface, and…” Lan worked her controls, tapping in a series of commands. Taitt watched, waiting, not wanting to rush her. Sahreen Lan knew her stuff, and asking questions while she worked wouldn’t be helpful. “It’s the fallout from the asteroid strikes,” Lan said. “I think that rough ride was rougher than they thought it might be, but they’ve gotten through the worst of it. I’ve got basic scans to work with, but the vector looks like they’re still on track to land safely.”

“Harper, try hailing them, would you?” Taitt said, turning to face the Tactical station. There, Rollins’s relief, Ensign Mary Harper, tapped in a series of commands, then shook her head.

“No response, Lieutenant.”

Taitt liked Harper. She was calm in a crisis, from what she’d seen of her. “Keep trying at regular intervals, would you?”

“Aye, Lieutenant.”

Taitt faced Ops again. “How are they doing?”

“They’ve landed,” Lan said. “I can’t tell you much more than that, but from what information I can get through the fallout, it was a safe, smooth landing.”

“We knew communications might be rough through that interference,” Taitt said. “Keep an eye on the Aeroshuttle—I’m sure the Captain will want to know the moment they lift off again.”

Lan nodded, then her console trilled. “We’re ready to beam aboard the samples.”

“Energize,” Taitt said.

Lan tapped in the commands, and a moment later, Honigsberg’s voice called them.

“Engineering to Bridge,” Honigsberg said.

“Go ahead,” Taitt said. “Everything arrive okay?”

“It did, but I’d like you to take a look at these samples. They’re not what I was expecting. For one thing, they’re green, and pretty.”

Taitt exchanged a glance with Lan. Nickel-iron asteroids would be neither green, nor pretty. What had Doctor Vatm said? Something about the asteroids not being what they seemed to be? Something artificial.

“I’m on my way,” Taitt said, then aimed a quick smile at Ensign Lan. “You have the Bridge, Ensign.” Probably one of her shortest times Taitt had ever been in command of Voyager.

“Aye, Lieutenant,” Lan said, returning the grin. Taitt noticed she didn’t step away from her station—as was her habit, Taitt knew—but she saw the way Lan’s whole posture changed once she was in charge.

In the turbolift, Taitt said, “Engineering,” then tapped her combadge once the turbolift was in motion. “Taitt to Kyoto.”

“Yes, Lieutenant?” Ensign Ikuko Kyoto’s soft voice answered her call.

“Can you meet me in Engineering?” Taitt said. “I’d like your geologist opinion on some rocks.”

“On my way, Lieutenant.”

*

When Crewman Rosa unsealed the door and Cavit stepped through with Lieutenant Cing’ta beside him, the first glimpse of Sklar showed the man standing by the windows in his guest quarters, where it looked like he’d been pacing. Ensign Gibson was inside the room with Sklar, in position to the other side of the door. He gave Captain Cavit a brief nod, conveying an everything is under control here, sir, without words.

“You didn’t bring your mindreader?” Sklar said, crossing his arms. The man’s expression was defiant, though he eyed Cing’ta with obvious distrust. “Or can this blue one do that, too?”

“You’re afraid,” Cing’ta said. “And you don’t have a back-up plan.”

“Telepathy isn’t considered a valid form of evidence in Nezu court, Captain,” Sklar spat.

“It’s the same in the Federation,” Cavit said mildly, keeping his voice soft and borderline friendly. “But that wasn’t telepathy. That was a bluff.” He smiled. “Which you fell for.”

Sklar swallowed.

“Since you have no back-up, and—I’m guessing, but by all means feel free to enlighten me if I’m wrong—no exit plan and no way to tell whoever it is you’re working with that we showed up and stopped the evacuation you’re supposed to have put in to place for them, how about you start at the beginning and tell us what you do know, and maybe we can suggest to your Ambassador that you’re not tossed into the Gallicite mines for the next thirty years.” Cavit glanced at Cing’ta. “That was the punishment for treason, right?”

“The Ambassador said a minimum of thirty years, actually, Captain.” Cing’ta’s deep, rumbly voice almost made him sound pleased about it. Cavit had to work not to smile. Good-cop, Bad-cop wasn’t his usual play when interrogating a criminal, but seeing Sklar squirm, Cavit had to admit Cing’ta had made the right choice.

Also, the Bolian was huge and imposing all on his own.

“Well?” Cavit said.

Sklar trembled, but his lips tightened and he turned back to the window.

“Thirty years it is, then,” Cavit said, turning to go, Cing’ta beside him. He paused to add, “minimum,” at the door, and that did it. Sklar turned around.

“Wait,” he said. “If I tell you what you know, I don’t have to go to the mines?”

“I think that will depend on the Ambassador’s opinion of the quality of the information you provide,” Cing’ta said.

“But we’ll do our best. If we can stop those strikes, the damage will have been minimal so far, and we can help your colony recover,” Cavit said. “But if more asteroids impact…” He lifted his shoulder, as if to say you’re done for, traitor.

“They… They reached out to me,” Sklar said, and Cavit and Cing’ta returned to the centre of the room to listen to Sklar’s confession.

*

“Do you want the bad news, first?” Rollins said, coming back up the ramp, and closing it behind him. He was the last to return to the ship, by the looks of both Ro and Stadi, whose uniforms were also dust-covered, but they’d taken time to clean their faces. He coughed, even through the cloth he’d pulled over the lower half of his face to fight off some of the grit and dirt.

“Always,” Ro said, and as far as he could tell, she meant it. He supposed it was her usual method to handle the worst things first.

“The comm array is fried,” Rollins said. “I couldn’t get a signal to carry even half-way through the array, which means we’ll have to rebuild or replace it to punch through the fallout.” He rubbed some grit from his eyes. “On the plus side, I’m pretty sure we’ve got the parts here in the ship.”

“But it’ll take time,” Ro said.

“Time we might not have,” Rollins agreed. “Given…” He pointed up at the ceiling. He didn’t need to spell out what would happen if the Aeroshuttle was still here when the next asteroids hit. “Any chance we can just fly out of here and deliver the doctor to the ambassador to relay his information in person?”

Stadi’s expression telegraphed the answer even before she spoke. “We’ve got a bit of impulse power, but the thruster assembly took a big hit, warp is offline, and the gravs…” She shook her head. “I can’t get her into orbit, and I’m not sure trying to break past the interference long enough to get the signal through would work, either.”

“If we can get flying again, I’d rather we just move somewhere safer, outside of the next impact zones,” Ro said. “That would buy us the time we need to get the rest of the primary systems up and running.”

“Makes sense,” Rollins said. He looked down the short corridor to the crew quarters. “How are our guests?”

“Kes gave them some water and something to eat,” Ro said. “I wanted to hear about the comms before we tried Doctor Vatm again.” She took a breath. “We need to get his information to Voyager, but if he won’t share it with us willingly…” She faced Stadi.

“I can’t make him think about what he knows, Commander,” Stadi said. “But if he does, I’ll tell you. My mother might disagree, but I happen to think all the Nezu lives on the plant trump telepathic etiquette.”

Ro cracked a small smile at that. “Maybe we can lift his thoughts to the right level, then.”

“Lift,” Rollins said, blinking. Of course. That was another option, wasn’t it?

“Lieutenant?” Ro said.

“The orbital tether,” Rollins said. “It’s not too far from here.”

“Wouldn’t it take hours to get to the orbital station?” Stadi said. “Even if there is a lift ready?”

“But we don’t need to get to the station,” Rollins said. “We just need to get above the interference. Once we do that, Doctor Vatm can contact the Ambassador directly, which is what he says he wants, right?”

Ro took a breath. “First we’ll ask him for the information. Worst he can do is say no.”

*

“That is not a piece of a standard nickel-iron asteroid,” Ensign Kyoto said, tricorder humming as she scanned the debris. Taitt could tell as much from a glance herself, but she waited for Kyoto to finish her scans.

“No, it’s not,” Honigsberg said. Beside him, the Nezu Ambassador, Oppen, remained quiet, but his expression was grim.

Taitt eyed the array of rocks on the table, seeing the odd crystallization and the distinctly strange fracture patterns and trying to figure out how their sensors could have gotten the asteroid so incredibly wrong.

“Tryoxene, olivine—that explains the green,” Kyoto said, shaking her head. “This is some of the densest material I’ve seen in an asteroid, and—hold on.” She frowned.

“What is it?” Ambassador Oppen said.

“Triadium,” Kyoto said, and her dark eyes flicked up to meet Taitt’s.

“Triadium? Isn’t that an alloy?” Ambassador Oppen’s confusion was clear.

“Yes,” Honigsberg said. “Which means it shouldn’t be found anywhere in a space rock.”

“Which means this is no space rock,” Taitt said, eying the debris. “Doctor Vatm said there was something off about the composition. This must be what he meant.” She glanced at Kyoto. “Where’s the Triadium?”

“In here,” Kyoto said, gesturing to the largest piece of the rock on the table.

“Alex, do you have a drill we can get a core sample from this with?” Taitt said, glancing at Honigsberg.

“If not, I can go get a kit from planetary sciences,” Kyoto said.

“I’ve got just the thing,” Honigsberg said. “Don’t worry.” He left and came back with a laser drill a moment later, and had barely activated it when the large chunk of debris split in half, revealing a large hollow, and spilling out what looked to be technological components.

“It was hollow?” Taitt said, surprised.

“That didn’t show up on scans,” Kyoto said. “What is that?” She frowned at the components.

Honigsberg had lifted his own tricorder, and he looked at his readings for a long second, then glanced up. “This is a control node,” he said. “And if I had to guess, I’d say it was for a guidance system.”

“What?” Ambassador Oppen went pale, and the word was barely a whisper.

“These aren’t asteroids,” Taitt said, the dawning realization of just what they were looking at sinking in and settling in her stomach with a cold certainty. “They’re weapons.” She lifted her chin. “Taitt to Stellar Cartography.”

“Go ahead.” It was Abol, and just hearing the voice of the Ocampa man she loved helped to warm some of the dark chill rushing through her blood.

“Do you have sensor locks on the other asteroids on a collision course with the Nezu colony?”

“We do,” Abol said.

“I’ll be right there,” Taitt said. She turned to face the Ambassador. “I’m going to take a closer look at the rest of these asteroids.” She faced Honigsberg. “Alex, can you let the Captain know all this, once he’s done speaking with the Ambassador’s aide?”

“Of course.” He nodded. “I’ll see what I can learn from the control node, too—the tech doesn’t look like something we’ve encountered before, but I might be able to get something useful.”

“Ikuko,” Taitt said, turning to Kyoto. “If we wanted to destroy more asteroids like this, I need to know what we would need. Let’s assume for now the other asteroids are of similar composition, even if sensors say they’re nickel-iron. I don’t want to fragment them. I want to vaporize them. Can you give me our best options?”

“Understood,” Kyoto said, picking up one of the larger pieces of the debris. “I’ll head back to planetary sciences, and…” She raised her eyes and smiled. “Any chance I could borrow Crewman Dimitris from the physical sciences team?”

Taitt smiled. Crewman Evander Dimitris was a former Maquis with a penchant for demolitions. “By all means.”

She gave the Ambassador one more glance. “We’ll figure this out, sir.”

Ambassador Oppen was still staring at the fragments, but he nodded. “Thank you.”

Taitt left, heading for Stellar Cartography.

Notes:

The pieces are coming together, but the mystery itself remains. Unless you've seen the canon episode, in which case you know what's coming, but hey.

One thing I do really enjoy about fanfic is how I can have guest stars reappear over and over again. Need something exploded? Time for Dimitris! Need a geologist? Welcome back, Ensign Kyoto! While I do appreciate the canon characters were all experts in their field, it does make more sense to me that a ship of over 150 people would have specialists in their field who know more than our main characters do on a given topic.

Also, I get a kick out of using the Star Trek Adventures TTRPG rules to flush out Support Crew (because, yes, I'm a giant nerd and I've been doing that since my alternate take of Caretaker.)

Chapter 4: Act III

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Zandra Taitt eyed the display in Stellar Cartography and frowned.

“Six asteroids, all on an intersecting course with the Nezu colony,” she said, crossing her arms. If there was anything she’d learned in her time with Starfleet, it was that anything was possible. She’d been flung half way across the galaxy, for example, by an alien trying to find a way to protect a species whose homeworld he’d and his partner had accidentally ruined. So, technically, it wasn’t impossible that these asteroids just happened to be on a collision course. Space was like that.

But…

The control nodes. The sheer precision of their path toward the Nezu colony.

No, she stood by her initial thought. These are weapons.

“They show as nickel-iron on long-range sensors,” Crewman William Telfer said. “But so did the most recent asteroid. And from what the Ambassador said, their attempt to destroy the first two asteroids didn’t work, even though it should have.”

“Right,” Taitt said. “Just like our attempt. Only the rocks aren’t nickel-iron, and there’s some sort of technological guidance component to them…” She lifted her gaze to where Crewman Abol Tay, joined Ocampa and the man she loved, sat at the main table, where he was running simulations. “Any luck on tracing their vector to a source?” This would be much easier if they could point at someone and demand an explanation for what they’d done.

“No,” he said. He lifted his gaze, and Taitt didn’t resist the urge to just enjoy the view for a second. Dark brown eyes, his handsome face, that gorgeous bronze skin of his… If one was going to be flung across the galaxy, one should be well rewarded, and she considered herself very well rewarded. He continued, a small smile curling the edges of his lips. As a telepath, Abol likely knew her thoughts had just dipped in the direction they’d gone. “Taking into account the vector, I can’t locate a point of origin for them, but I suppose it’s possible they’ve been traveling for centuries, and came from outside the system?”

He didn’t sound convinced. She wasn’t either. “I feel like we’re stretching for coincidences to explain these rocks,” she said, and he nodded. Then his gaze slipped past her to where Telfer was working, and he frowned.

“Are those the first visual scans?”

“They are,” Telfer said, nodding. Billy Telfer had a boyish face, and a genial nature, Taitt found, but didn’t always react well to the unexpected. “What’s wrong?”

Taitt looked at the rocks, but didn’t see anything amiss. She turned back to Abol, but he was still staring at the image.

“Zandra, I’ve seen these before,” Abol said, rising from his chair to get closer to the display. “At the Mikhal Traveler outpost.”

The penny dropped, and she realized what he meant. “You mean on one of Tay’s diversions?” Abol had one of the two symbiont offspring the Caretaker had created via Ensign Sahreen Lan’s symbiont. Abol’s symbiont, Tay, had developed a habit of using Abol’s psionic ability to “look around” when it felt understimulated in some way, and Abol had learned to indulge the tendency during quiet times.

It had happened on their shore leave on the Mikhal world—though Abol had been amused Tay was interested in simple, boring asteroids—and given the world had nearly been lost to a polaric explosion, it hadn’t exactly been “quiet times.”

“I think I’m missing something,” Telfer said, with an almost apologetic smile.

“Tay and I took a few mental trips when I was on the Traveler world,” Abol said.

“Oh, right, the…” Telfer waved his hand beside his head. “Projective, telepathic thing.”

Abol nodded. “And it was these rocks. They’re the same ones, I’m sure of it.” He frowned. “Even at the time I was surprised, because they were, well, boring.”

“Tay isn’t a fan of asteroids?” Telfer said.

“His symbiont usually wants to see exciting or beautiful things,” Taitt said, looking at the image on the scanner. “These are neither.”

“I thought it was because we were all being affected by the prescient awareness of the explosion,” Abol said. “We all had a strange urge to go away, to get off the planet, and for me that manifested the way my symbiont takes us on little trips, but…” He frowned again.

“But?” Taitt said.

“Now I’m not so sure,” Abol said. “We were aware of a natural disaster then. Our minds had subconsciously started to warn us, but…” He gestured at the rocks. “What if that frame of mind made me sensitive to this disaster?”

“Oh,” Taitt said, letting it sink in.

“You mean you were already turned to the ‘bad things’ frequency, and you picked up the next bad thing?” Telfer said, eyebrows rising. “That sounds awful.”

“You know,” Taitt said, turning her back to the asteroids and crossing her arms. “Alex didn’t like what happened on the Traveler homeworld. The mineral that sent their power system into a polaric ion cascade didn’t exist naturally anywhere else on the planet that we could scan.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” Telfer said.

But Abol did. Taitt saw the realization in his eyes, the way they widened, and the way his lips thinned like they always did when he was confronted by the worst in people. He liked to believe in the good, and reminders that not all were cut of that cloth always let him down. “You think maybe what happened on the Mikhal Traveler outpost wasn’t an accident,” he said. “Wasn’t a natural disaster.”

“Just like I don’t think this one is,” Taitt said, pointing at the asteroids. “But I think from the outside, that’s what they’re supposed to appear to be.”

“But who’s behind it?” Telfer said.

“That’s the question, isn’t it?” Taitt said. She tapped her combadge. “Taitt to Honigsberg.”

“Go ahead.”

“Alex, any chance you’ve figured out what those components are?”

“I’m afraid not. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle without the picture and most of the pieces are missing,” Honigsberg said. “But I can tell you my initial guess was right. This is definitely some sort of guidance control system. I managed to reconstruct a fragment of coding and there’s no mistaking it was programmed with the intention to maintain a course. I was just about to bring it to the Captain.”

“I’ll join you,” Taitt said. “We’ve got more information here, too, and none of it is good.”

*

Kes kept Hanjuan on the other side of the small crew Mess Hall and Lounge while Rollins, Ro, and Stadi sat with Doctor Vatm. Against the vertical windows that lined the aft wall of the Aeroshuttle, the wind and grit made an audible sound, along with the omnipresent pseudo-thunder the gallicite particulates were causing above.

They’d just explained their two options—the orbital tether and the Aeroshuttle—and Rollins had pointed out their success would be better ensured if they attempted both, and the data was in both locations.

“I've already considered the tether,” Vatm said, shaking his head. “The carriage was damaged on the last impact. The induction coils are offline.”

“We have tools and supplies here on the Aeroshuttle,” Rollins said. “I’m sure you, Kes, and I—and maybe Hanjuan—could get them going again.” He lifted one hand. “This is mining technology you’ve all used before, right?”

That gave Vatm pause, and he shifted in his seat, as though it was maybe too small for him. Which, in fairness, it probably was. Rollins found the chairs around the table in the rear of the Aeroshuttle just shy of comfortable himself, and Vatm had a couple of inches on him.

“The data is classified,” Vatm said, repeating his earlier stance. “I couldn’t give it to anyone but the Ambassador.”

“But right now you can’t give it to anyone at all,” Stadi said, leaning forward. “We can’t get the Aeroshuttle into orbit, and there’s no way to get a signal through from here.”

Ro picked up the thread. “If we manage to get the Aeroshuttle mobile and far enough away from the impact sites, it might be possible to cut through the interference.” She lifted one hand. “Or, if you get high enough on the orbital tether, same option. But if the data is only in one of those places, and it’s the wrong place…” She closed her palm. “The Ambassador learns nothing.”

Vatm let out a short breath, clearly torn. Rollins could feel for the man. It was never good to be in possession of important—and dangerous—information and feel like you had no one you could trust.

“Vatm,” Rollins said. “We’re here to help. We tried to destroy the latest asteroid, and it didn’t work. You said on the channel that you noticed something about those asteroids, and if that’s the information you have, it might be enough for Voyager to destroy the rest before they damage your colony further.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Rollins noticed Stadi’s head tilt slightly. She’d just picked up something. He forced himself not to react, and continued when Vatm didn’t reply.

“I know trusting strangers is difficult,” Rollins said. “But your Ambassador trusted us to try and help, and that’s what we’ll do.” He cracked a wan smile. “We’re not the type to give up when lives are in danger.”

“We just got here,” Stadi said. “We didn’t even know your colony existed until we met with the Mikhal travellers at their outpost, but we’ll do our best to help you.”

Rollins wasn’t sure why Stadi thought that was important, but he bet it had something to do with whatever was holding Vatm back.

Vatm exhaled, regarding the three officers. “The information I have isn’t about the asteroids, though I did study an impact fragment, and I did spot signs it had been tampered with, modified in some way.”

“Okay,” Ro said. “What is it you do have?”

“Information about the Etanian Order,” Vatm said, his voice dropping. “I procured documents about their starships.” Vatm glanced around, his gaze lingering on Hanjuan, but Kes was chatting with the miner and the man seemed completely engrossed in their conversation. “Someone on the colony is working with them, feeding them information and making some sort of deal. It could be more than one person, even, I had no way of knowing.” He took a shaky breath. “I thought I would have more time to gather intelligence and proof, but then I realized there was a timestamp encoded in one of the outgoing messages I’d intercepted—the traitor or traitors were using one of our geological scanning satelites to send their communications—and the first asteroid impact matched that timestamp. When I realized how many more timestamps were encoded, I tried to reach out to the ambassador, but communications were down. It wasn’t until the third impact when I got through to your ship.”

“Etanian Order,” Stadi said, frowning. “The Mikhal told me about them. Called them a bad luck species.”

“Hardly,” Vatm said, shaking his head. His dark eyes shone with anger. “Though I bet that’s a myth they’re perpetuating. They’ve arranged this so-called ‘natural’ disaster somehow, and it’s not the first time they’ve swooped in after something terrible has caused a young colony to evacuate.”

“So they get to pick up the pieces of a valuable colony,” Rollins said. “And it looks like they just moved in after someone else left.”

“Because of bad luck,” Ro said.

“But they’re making the bad luck,” Stadi said.

“Their ships are powerful, and large,” Vatm said. “I’m not sure your Voyager could stand up to them. But I’ve got a full scan of their vessel, and many of their operational details—including their shield modulation.”

“How?” Rollins said, frowning.

“It was part of the communications—whoever was working with the Etanian Order needed the information to make sure the ship wasn’t targeted by mistake.” Vatm held up one hand before Rollins could ask. “I’m not sure what that means, exactly, but they wanted to make sure our defensive weaponry wouldn’t affect their ship even accidentally.”

“You’ve got this information with you?” Ro said.

“No,” Stadi said, and Vatm’s eyes widened in surprise at her answer. “He hid it on the top of the orbital tether carriage when he considered using it.” Stadi offered a small smile. “I’m a telepath.”

Vatm stared at her for a long second, then looked at Ro. “She is correct.”

“We should be able to transmit it from there back here to the Aeroshuttle,” Rollins said, glancing at Ro and anticipating her next decision.

“You believe you and Kes can get the carriage operational?” Ro said. “If Stadi and I stay and work on the Aeroshuttle?”

“If nothing else, we need to get the information,” Rollins said. “If it’s over our heads, we’ll head back, but I think between the four of us…” He gestured to Vatm, including the Doctor in his group.

“I don’t know if we can trust Hanjuan,” Vatm said, his voice low. “I didn’t know the man before we took shelter together.”

“The only thoughts Hanjuan has about all this are for his fellow miners and his family,” Stadi said, her voice gentle and soft. “He’s hoping the others survived in the mine somehow, and genuinely worried about his wife and children, and what sort of future they might have if the asteroids keep hitting the colony.” She shook her head. “He’s no traitor.” She exchanged a glance with Ro, and Ro nodded. “Sklar was communicating with the Etanian Order, Doctor.”

“The Ambassador’s aide?” Vatm shook his head, stunned. “Why?”

“He seemed to believe he’d come out of all this with a much more comfortable life,” Stadi said.

Vatm let out a string of words Rollins would have bet translated to colourful euphemisms had the UT been up to the task. Vatm nodded. “He might not have worked alone, but at least I know I was right to keep it to myself—if someone that high in the colony government was involved…” He shook his head, and his large hands opened and closed.

“Let’s get moving,” Rollins said. He got the impression Vatm was the sort to overthink—and then blame himself—if he was idle.

Vatm nodded. “Yes.”

“Kes, Hanjuan?” Ro said, calling them over. They joined them at the table, and Ro outlined their plan—leaving out the specifics of the information stowed on the orbital tether carriage, Rollins noted—and though Hanjuan was skeptical about how much he might be able to help them with any repairs, Kes pointed out he would be more familiar with Nezu technology than either herself or Rollins, and that seemed to help calm him somewhat.

While Rollins gathered up engineering kits for their group, he noticed Stadi take Kes aside. They didn’t speak—likely Stadi was informing Kes telepathically of everything she’d missed—and when Kes joined Rollins, Vatm, and Hanjuan at the ramp, she gave Rollins a small nod.

She was up to date, then.

He lowered the ramp, and they set out.

*

Kes led Hanjuan inside the carriage the moment they arrived, asking him to take a quick look around with her, which afforded Rollins and Vatm the opportunity they needed to recover his data. The carriage launch facility—which seemed to have been carved into the solid rock of a cavern—had a retractable ceiling that opened around the tether, but the ceiling was closed.

At least it gave them shelter from the dust and wind.

Vatm climbed up the ladder along one side of the carriage with ease, and Rollins followed, feeling gritty and dirty from their walk across the wind-swept distance between the Aeroshuttle and the tether. A moment later, Vatm had a small module in hand, and he turned to Rollins, still standing on the roof of the carriage, then hesitated.

“I know it’s hard to trust someone with something this important,” Rollins said. If he was reading the man’s body language right, that was what he was seeing. “I get it, I promise. I’m Voyager’s security officer—it’s my job to keep everyone safe, and sometimes that means thinking the worst of everyone else, and it’s not a nice way to feel.”

“I never wanted to be in this position.” Vatm shook his head, and scoffed. “I’m a scientist. This isn’t my usual job. I’m usually looking for gallicite ore, not trying to stop a conspiracy.” He looked down at the data module, and then handed it to Rollins. “But you’re right. I don’t like feeling this way. Paranoid. Convinced there’s someone out to hurt everyone wherever I look.”

Rollins took the module, and flipped open his tricorder, happy to see the data stream was easily compatible and translatable. He downloaded the information, then tapped his combadge. “Rollins to Ro.”

“Go ahead.” There was a crackle on the channel, but it was clear enough to understand.

“I’m sending the data now,” he said, and initiated the transfer through his tricorder.

After a moment, Ro said, “Got it. Doctor Vatm wasn’t kidding,” she added, a few seconds later. “That’s a big ship. Let us know if you’re going to be able to get yourselves up and running. Ro out.”

Vatm exhaled, and Rollins looked at him.

“Relieved?” Rollins guessed.

Vatm nodded. “It’s not just up to me now.”

“Well,” Rollins said, cracking a smile and gesturing to the ladder. “Let’s still try to be the ones to deliver the data, shall we?”

Vatm’s dark eyes locked on his. “You have a penchant for being the hero, don’t you, Lieutenant?”

“I just like making sure people don’t get hurt,” Rollins said. “And call me Scott.”

Doctor Vatm swallowed, then started for the ladder.

Which was when they heard a woman’s scream from below, inside the orbital tether carriage.

*

The Briefing Room always felt wrong to Taitt when the Senior Staff wasn’t fully gathered. With Ro, Rollins, and Stadi on the planet’s surface, it was just herself, Lan, Honigsberg, Doctor Fitzgerald, and the Captain in the room, and the empty chairs seemed to add weight to everything they said.

“Sklar claims he was acting alone,” Cavit said, finishing filling them all in on what he’d learned from the Ambassador’s aide. “And seems genuine. He’s afraid. He knows he’s blown his career and his freedom on this, but that doesn’t solve our immediate problem. His communications were through a satellite system, but the ground-based control centre for those satellites were destroyed after the first orbital hit three weeks ago. He’s been scrambling ever since to try to keep up his end of the bargain—evacuation—ever since.”

“Selling out his whole colony, and causing widespread destruction, injuries, and deaths, for his own profit.” Fitzgerald shook his head, disgusted. “Whoever he’s working with, they’re willing to cause a lot of damage to get their hands on this colony if they’ve somehow set this disaster in motion.”

“I have a theory about that,” Taitt said. “I don’t think this is the first disaster these people might be responsible for.”

“What do you mean?” Cavit said.

“On the Mikhal outpost,” Taitt said. “The mineral that led to the near meltdown. It shouldn’t have been there, either. Also, while we were there, Abol had a psychic connection to these very asteroids we’re tracking now.”

“I never liked how the Mikhal situation played out,” Honigsberg said. “The odds of it all seemed off to me, but the minerals could have been the result of an impact ages ago, and that’s what it looked like.” He sighed. “But why did the cascade reaction take so long to start? We removed the mineral, and told them to keep an eye on their power system, but honestly, if Taitt’s right, they might want to be more vigilant against tampering.”

“Should we be warning the Mikhal?” Lan said.

“The Zahir-Gara is still within range,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ll make sure we let Gara know, and she’ll pass it along the Mikhal network. It’ll get back to their outpost.”

Cavit nodded at the doctor, then turned back to Taitt. “Our more immediate threat are these asteroids.”

“I think we need to take a much closer look, Captain,” Taitt said. “I know that means leaving orbit, but our longer range scans still show them to be nickel-iron, and I doubt that’s true.”

“No word from the Aeroshuttle?” Cavit said to Lan.

Lan shook her head. “Not through the interference. Sensors show she landed and is intact, but that’s all I can tell you. Given how rough her trip seemed to be, I wouldn’t suggest a shuttle.”

Cavit eyed the group, and Taitt imagined he was weighing the odds. Finally, he lifted his chin. “We’ll set up an intercept course for the next asteroid. If nothing else, the earlier we try to destroy it the more time we have to deal with fragmentation if it happens.”

“About that, Captain,” Taitt said. “I’m thinking we might be going about this the wrong way.”

“How so?”

“Well, we’ve been treating this like Tennis. Try to stop the asteroids from landing.” She lifted her shoulders. “Maybe we should be playing dom-jot instead. If we can’t destroy them—”

“We change their course,” Cavit said, smiling.

She nodded.

“That’s assuming whoever is controlling them doesn’t change their course back again,” Honigsberg said. “Those control nodes I found are definitely part of a guidance system—if all the asteroids have those, whoever is behind this has built in a way to redirect them.”

“Actually,” Taitt said with a smile. “That’s what I’m hoping for.”

Notes:

The people on the ground have more of the puzzle pieces, but Voyager's smart cookie is figuring most of it out. Also, turns out last episode might not have been a random event after all... dun-dun-DUN.

A little late with this today, but I've been prepping for my next Bag of Giving game tonight, so I fell a bit behind. If you're up for superhero gaming and have free time tonight, you can watch me put some awesome author-types through a (weird and silly) adventure, and raise some cash for charity.

Chapter 5: Act IV

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“How long until intercept?” Cavit said, once he’d decided it had been long enough since the last update. He didn’t want to pester his crew, but at the same time, sometimes being the person sitting in the big chair was an excruciating game of “hurry up and wait.”

“Another fifteen minutes, Captain,” Ensign Renlay Sharr said from the Conn. The brown-haired pilot worked her station while she spoke, and he felt the thrum of Voyager’s engines rise just enough to notice. “Make that ten.”

“I told you not to tell Ensign Sharr you want best speed,” Lan said from Ops. “She’ll always take it as a personal challenge.” The Trill woman aimed a glance Cavit’s way that could pass for respect or alarm.

Maybe both.

Cavit saw Sharr’s shoulders twitch in response, but she didn’t give any other reaction.

“Why do you think I asked her to take the Conn?” Cavit said, and Sharr’s shoulders twitched a second time, though this time he’d have wagered it was relief.

Lan chuckled, turning back to her scans. “Short range scanners are starting to get detail. I’ll feed it to you, Murphy.”

Ensign Michael Murphy—Fun Murphy—gave Lan a small wave from the Science Station. “I’ll download this to Stellar Cartography…” He sighed. “For what it’s worth.”

“Let me guess,” Cavit said. “Nickel-iron?”

“That’s what they show up as,” Murphy said, voice leaden with doubt. “And they’re moving fast—nearly half-impulse.”

“Sharr, I’d like a relative match on their course and speed once we get there,” Cavit said.

“Aye, Captain,” Sharr said.

Cavit rose from the big chair and crossed to Lan. “I’m trying to imagine what could cause asteroids to move at that good a clip, naturally.”

“Naturally?” Lan shook her head. “I’ve never heard of anything beyond planetary explosions capable of ejecting something at that sort of velocity, but Taitt’s group tracked the vectors backwards and…” She lifted one shoulder.

“Right,” Cavit said. He turned to face the Tactical station, where Ensign Harper was already looking at the two of them.

“I’ll have shields ready, Captain,” Harper said, anticipating his request. “Just in case.”

He smiled, glancing around the rest of the Bridge. It struck him that at the rear of the Bridge, Ensign Adele Simmons and Ensign John Nesterowicz monitored rear stations, standing ready to relieve anyone if necessary, and Ensign Simon Stotler had the Engineering station.

“Maybe I should fill the Bridge with ensigns more often,” Cavit said. “Seems to run smoother when I do.” Smiles and chuckles greeted the remark, as intended.

“Thank you, sir,” Sharr said from the Conn, turning in her chair. “But I believe I speak for everyone where when I say none of us would turn down another pip.”

Cavit laughed. “Let’s keep things smooth then, shall we?”

*

“Scans are still showing nickel-iron,” Taitt said, arms crossed, staring down the Stellar Cartography display like it was purposefully trying to lie to her.

Which, in a way she supposed it was.

The door opened, and she turned, smiling to see all four of the people she’d called arriving together. Ensign Ikuko Kyoto led the way, Crewman Evander Dimitris beside her, and making for an odd pair: the tiny Kyoto beside the burly, bearded bear of a man. Behind them, Lieutenant Cing’ta had arrived with Ensign Tom Moore—another odd pair, if she thought about it. The big blue Bolian was an intimidatingly large man, whereas Tom Moore only intimidated via being one of the single most attractive men she’d ever seen.

“Thanks for coming,” she said. She gestured to the scans of the six large asteroids, though the closest rock dominated the screen. “Meet Asteroid Delta through Iota. Scans say they’re nickel-iron, but we’re operating under two assumptions.”

“The first being they’re not nickel-iron,” Kyoto said.

“Right,” Taitt said. “And the second being that they’re not just asteroids. Someone is maneuvering them.”

“Weaponizing them against the Nezu colony,” Cing’ta said.

“Precisely,” Taitt said.

“What do you need from us, Lieutenant?” Moore said. The blond’s dark brown eyes flicked to the display and back to her, as though he hadn’t quite put his finger on what he and Cing’ta could offer, exactly.

“You two are our communications experts,” Taitt said.

That made Moore nod, though the ensign didn’t seem to grasp exactly how that was relevant.

But Cing’ta blew out a breath, and she realized he’d caught on to her thought process. “If they’re being directed, someone is getting some sort of control signal to those rocks.”

“Exactly,” Taitt said. “We’ll be arriving at the first asteroid in about five minutes. I want you two to figure out if there’s any sort of active signal involved.”

“There might only be a signal during course corrections,” Cing’ta said. “Alex didn’t have enough to work with to give us a full idea of the guidance system, but if I was going to do something like this, that’s how I’d design it. As stealthy as possible.”

“We’ll just have to make sure a course correction is needed,” Taitt said, smiling, and turning to Dimitris. “How’s that plan coming?”

Crewman Evander Dimitris grinned, showing teeth behind his beard. “Ikuko and I don’t think we can destroy one of those rocks outright, Lieutenant, but if you want to give it a really big kick, I think we can handle that.” He eyed the smaller woman. “But we’ll need two torpedoes and access to the chemistry lab.”

“And a good chunk of our gallicite stores,” Kyoto said. “If Lieutenant Honigsberg will part with them.”

“I’ll ask politely.” Taitt tapped her combadge. “Taitt to Cavit,” she said. “If you’ve got a moment, I believe we have those options ready for you.”

*

Rollins stepped through the door to the orbital tether’s mag-lev carriage with his phaser in hand, wanting to be ready for whatever situation he was about to encounter, and then pausing at the sight before him. Vatm came in after him, but stayed a good step or two behind.

Wise man.

“Kes?” he said.

The Ocampa woman had her own phaser out, aimed at a dark-haired Nezu woman who was standing with her fists clenched, glaring back at her. Beside Kes, the Nezu miner, Hanjuan, was looking wide-eyed and more than a little surprised, but the look was aimed at Kes, not the unknown Nezu woman.

“This woman tried to take Hanjuan hostage with a knife,” Kes said.

“This is my shelter, and these are my supplies,” the woman said, her voice shaking a bit, but otherwise strong. Rollins noticed a small pile of packages in one corner, and a half-eaten meal. He imagined the woman had taken shelter in the carriage as one of the few places with a decent chance of surviving another impact, what with being both underground and quite sturdy on its own merit. She could have been here as along as three weeks at this point, if she’d taken shelter during the initial impacts.

Most likely, their arrival had scared her, which could explain the knife…

Wait.

Rollins glanced at the woman’s hands. “Where’s the knife?” he said.

“It’s over there,” Hanjuan said, pointing, and Rollins glanced over long enough to see a knife lying on the floor at the other side of the maglev car. “It just… flew there.”

“She did it,” the woman said, pointing at Kes.

Rollins took a breath, realizing exactly why Hanjuan and this woman were so jumpy. “Well, now you know not to draw a knife on an Ocampa,” he said, keeping his voice pitched friendly and mild. “They’ve got psychokinetic abilities.” He lowered his phaser. “We’re not here for your supplies. We’re here to get the carriage above the interference so we can get a signal to our Starship and get out of here.”

“The carriage is offline,” the woman said.

“We’re going to fix it, if we can,” Kes said. “You’re welcome to come with us. Once we’re high enough, our starship can beam us off the carriage.”

“Beam?” the woman frowned.

“It’s a matter-transmission technology,” Rollins said. “Teleportation, if you will.”

The woman blinked, frowning at him and Kes, then glancing at Hanjuan and Vatm. “Are they telling the truth?”

“They are,” Vatm said. “It’s vital we get this mag-lev up and running. I’m Doctor Vatm. I’m part of the colony council.”

The woman took a slow breath. “Lillias,” she said. “I work—worked—in the foundry.”

“I’m sorry if I scared you,” Kes said, lowering her phaser and tucking it back into its holster. “We didn’t know anyone was here.”

Lillias swallowed. “When I tried to activate the carriage, it said main power wasn’t available, and that the oxygen regulators were damaged. There was more,” she said, pointing at the rear of the carriage, where more controls lined the wall. “But I figured that was more than enough reason not to launch.”

“I know a little about oxygen filters,” Hanjuan said. “We use regulators in the lower levels of the mine.”

“Take a look,” Rollins said. “Kes and I will try to run a diagnostic and see what we’re working with.” He nodded at Doctor Vatm. “How are your engineering skills, doctor?”

The burly astrophysicist lifted one shoulder. “I’m good with computers.”

“That’ll do,” Rollins said, with his best confidence-inspiring voice. “See what you can get from those system displays, would you? Kes?” He nodded his head to the rear of the cabin, and Kes joined him there.

Once they were a few steps away from the others, all of whom seemed to be gathering at the various controls, he lowered his voice. “I didn’t know your psychokinesis worked without the rest of the Chorus,” he said.

“I’d only practiced with a mug in the Mess Hall,” Kes said, her soft blue eyes meeting his briefly. “But a knife is smaller, and I was afraid she’d hurt Hanjuan.” Kes bit her lip, then let out a small breath. “Honestly, Scott, it happened mostly by reflex.”

“Well, colour me impressed, Kes,” he said, flipping open his tricorder and translating the interfaces on the main mag-lev controls. “If you ever want to swap your blues for security gold, I’ll sign the orders.”

That made Kes laugh. “I’ll keep that in mind, Lieutenant.” She tapped in a few commands of her own, tricorder in hand. “It’s not just the oxygen and the main power,” she said. “The tether couplings are damaged, which means the tether base isn’t fully secure.” She glanced at him. “Do you think we can get it running?”

“I’m not Alex,” Rollins said. “But the Nezu built a rugged tether. There are bypasses and back-ups, and we’ve got tools and enough know-how between us, I think.” He glanced at her. “Not the kind of surgery you’re used to, though, is it?”

“Paz and I compare notes,” Kes said. “I try to pay attention.”

“And I know Ocampa memories,” Rollins said. “I’ll bet on that.”

Kes smiled.

“Scott?”

Rollins turned, and saw Vatm working at the status console. He crossed over to the man. “What’s the news?” he said.

“It’s just like it was when I first considered using the carriage myself, after the first impacts,” Vatm said. “But I think I’ve got the computer to tell us everything that’s wrong.” He took a breath. “It’s not a short list.”

“We’ll be fine,” Rollins said, eying the list and letting his tricorder translate. “Many hands make light work.”

Vatm regarded him. “You’re an odd species.”

“Are we?” Rollins said.

“I’ve not met many people who’d race to help strangers the way your people have,” Vatm said. “The Tarken steal our ships and strand our people on hospitable worlds, and they’re some of the friendlier aliens I’ve met.”

“The Tarken. Right. The Mikhal Travelers warned us about them, and aimed us your way. The Mikhal are a nice people. Maybe keep an eye out for them,” Rollins said, reaching out to tap the console. “This should give us a priority order, and let us know what counts as a minimum requirement for getting us moving…” The list re-organized itself. “There. We can start with the power couplings.” He glanced at the Nezu scientist again, and found the man’s dark eyes were regarding him with frank appraisal.

“You okay?” Rollins said, lowering his voice. If Vatm was worried or anxious, he didn’t want that to affect the rest of their less-than-ideal group.

“I believe I will be,” Vatm said. He seemed to shake himself. “I’ll get started on the bypass systems. I think I can operate those.” He nodded at Rollins, and stepped away.

“Hanjuan,” Rollins said. “You good with the oxygenators?”

“I think so,” the man replied from across the carriage. “But I’ll need a hand.”

“Lillias, can you help him?” Rollins said.

“I’ll do my best,” the woman said.

“Kes,” Rollins said. “You and I will step outside and see if we can sort out the couplings.”

Kes nodded, and followed him outside.

“They seem willing,” Rollins said, once they were by the first of the fractured couplings. He opened his engineering kit and pulled out a sealer. “I think we can get this done.”

“Vatm agrees,” Kes said, not looking up from where she’d started checking the seals with her own hyper spanner. “When you were talking with him just now was the first time I felt his anxiety lessen since we found him.”

“Nice to have someone’s confidence,” Rollins said, smiling.

“You have more than his confidence, Scott,” Kes said, with a wry little smile.

Oh. Well then.

Rollins cleared his throat, and got back to work, trying not to read too much into Kes’s amusem*nt.

It took them the better part of two hours, but the systems that were flashing a dark amber of warning were now either the pale blue of a good status or no longer flashing, which meant they were running on their back-ups or within enough of a safety margin to be alarming but not too alarming.

“Here we go,” Rollins said, tapping in the command to retract the doors that closed above them around the tether. They slid open, and dust, dirt, and more than a few larger rocks rained down on them from above, detritus from the impacts having gathered on the protective covering. The sound of the whipping, dusty winds filled the space outside the mag-lev carriage, and Rollins did his best to keep his composure as confident as he could and activated the lift.

It rose.

He tapped his combadge. “Rollins to Ro.”

“Go ahead,” Ro’s voice was even more crackly that it had been before. The interference was only growing worse as the effect of the most recent impact spread.

“We’re on our way up. How are you two doing?”

“We’re be on our way within the next fifteen minutes or so, though we won’t be reaching orbit. As soon as you’ve got a clear channel to Voyager, use it.”

“Understood. Good luck, Commander.”

“You too.”

Vatm stood at the main display. “We’re rising at fifty kilometres per hour. Internal atmospheric pressure, seven hundred millibars. Altitude, nine hundred metres, and climbing.” He glanced up. “We should be able to increase speed shortly.”

“Everyone keep an eye on your systems,” Rollins said. “Just in case. But I think we’re on our way.”

*

Taitt stood at the command railing, and waited for Voyager to be in position. It wouldn’t be long now.

“I’ve matched course and speed with Asteroid Delta, Captain,” Sharr said, tapping on the Conn.

“On screen,” Cavit said.

The image on the viewscreen flickered, and there it was. A massive hunk of rock, hurtling through space toward the Nezu homeworld. They were ahead of its path and looking back behind, where she could see the next asteroid, Asteroid Epsilon, as a small grey dot.

“Lan?” Cavit said.

“Now that we’re right on top of it, the nickel-iron composition shows as suspiciously uniform, Captain,” Lan said. “It’s a great con-job, but it’s definitely a con-job.”

“Let’s see if we can take a peek behind the curtain,” Cavit said, rising from his chair and glancing at Taitt. “You ready?”

She nodded, tapping on the command rail’s operations interface to co-ordinate the information from the Stellar Cartography lab to Tactical and Ops. “These are the transport co-ordinates on Delta’s surface,” she said, glancing at Lan.

“Got it,” Lan said. “Initiating transport.”

“All that quality gallicite,” Honigsberg said. He’d come to the Bridge and had relieved Stotler at the Engineering station.

“It’s for a good cause, Alex,” Taitt said, but putting some apology into her tone.

“Transport is complete,” Lan said.

Taitt looked at the main viewscreen, but there was no visible sign of what they’d just done, even this close.

“Harper,” Cavit said. “Raise the shields.”

“Shields up,” Harper said.

“All set, Cing’ta?” Taitt said, glancing at the Bolian. He’d taken her usual position, the Science station, which had the best access to the ship’s sensors.

“Ready,” the big Bolian said.

“All right,” Cavit said. “Everyone, keep your eyes on the sensors. Harper, lock on to both co-ordinates and fire torpedoes.”

“Co-ordinates locked,” Harper said. “Firing.”

The twin torpedoes streaked out at the asteroid and struck in quick succession, exploding with their usual destructive effect, but also setting off an electrokinetic effect that flared all across the surface of the asteroid like bolts of lightning. The asteroid itself remained mostly intact, though it was now cratered with two depressions from the torpedoes, but most importantly, Taitt saw their effort had had its intended effect.

“The vector drift is better than we’d hoped for,” Taitt said. “It’s no longer on an intercept course with the colony’s orbit.”

“I’ve got a signal,” Cing’ta said, the Bolian’s deep voice rising. “Oh, that’s clever, it’s modulated to look like background microwave radiation…” He shook his head, working the station. “Recording for analysis.”

“Can we track the source?” Cavit said, glancing at Lan.

Lan was already working her station, Taitt said. “I’m tracing it back to…” She frowned. “Captain. The next asteroid…”

Taitt looked back at the viewscreen, looking for the grey dot, but instead she saw something more like a lateral oval, with spines, and the colour had changed to something more like an orange or ochre.

“What is that?” Cavit said.

“Captain,” Harper said, her voice rising. “I’m reading over two thousand lifesigns, and a power signature…” She glanced up. “It’s a starship. A big one. Heavily armed.”

“The sensor profile of the asteroid dropped five seconds after we fired,” Lan said. “Some sort of masking circuitry or a false projection.”

“They used their shields,” Taitt said, scrolling back through the sensor readings. “It’s a highly specific remodulation. I bet that’s how they cloaked the asteroid make-up from our sensors, too.”

“Captain, we’re being hailed,” Harper said.

“On screen,” Cavit said.

The alien that appeared on the screen had a sharp, almost predatory look to it, at Taitt’s first impression. Mottled red facial ridges formed a sharp V over the being’s eyes, as well as bifurcating it’s otherwise lighter pink skin, and the uniform it wore was a deep green and black, and struck her as particularly militaristic.

Never a good sign.

“The Etanian Order claims this territory. You will withdraw.”

“This is a Nezu system,” Cavit said, speaking calmly. “They have five colonies on the fourth planet.”

“You are not Nezu,” the alien said.

“No,” Cavit said. “We’re not. I’m Captain Aaron Cavit of the Federation Starship Voyager. We’ve been helping them protect their colony from these asteroids.” He raised one hand, palm up. “Perhaps you could give us a hand adjusting their course so they don’t kill thousands of innocent people?”

“No,” the alien said. “You will withdraw.”

“See, I’m not going to do that,” Cavit said.

“You are willing to die for them?”

Cavit crossed his arms. “Is that a threat?”

The transmission cut off.

“Pretty sure that was a threat,” Honigsberg said.

Taitt had to agree. “I’d say so.” She exchanged a glance with Captain Cavit.

“They'll be in weapon’s range in under ten minutes, Captain,” Harper said.

“Red Alert,” Cavit said. “Battle stations.” He crossed up behind the command rail and joined Taitt. “Got that cue handy?”

“Working on it,” Taitt said.

Notes:

That's no asteroid...

I wanted to illustrate how Kes is "ahead" of where she was in Canon, from the point of view of her psychokinetic and telepathic abilities, thanks to her symbiont, her training with the Chorus, and having the ability to be more focused on her own personal growth, hence the off-screen knife toss and her sense of Vatm's emotional state.

Chapter 6: Act V

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The whirling dust outside the mag-lev carriage made for a boring view, but Rollins noticed Lillias hadn’t moved from one of the chairs that faced the glass along the outer edge of the carriage. Across the carriage, Hanjuan and Doctor Vatm were both standing by the tether readouts, watching the numbers climb as the carriage got closer and closer to breaking through the interference and occasionally chatting, but Lillias hadn’t so much as moved in quite a while. Glancing at Kes, who’d joined him at the master display and was helping him keeping an eye on the carriage’s systems—most notably they were having to adjust the air pressure manually—he leaned in to the Ocampa and said, quietly, “I’m just going to check on Lillias.”

“All right,” Kes said, smiling. “I’ve got this under control.”

“I’ll have to tell Li-Paz you’re coming for his job.” Rollins winked.

Kes laughed, and he left her at the panel, stepping up to the empty chair beside Lillias.

“May I sit for a moment?”

She blinked, and pushed some of her dark hair behind her ear. “Of course.” The smile that came with the words was fleeting at best.

“Not the greatest view,” he noted, nodding at the smears outside the window. A flicker of electrokinetic effect in the distance punctuated his critique.

“I’m not actually looking,” she said.

“I figured as much,” Rollins said. “Is there anything I can do?”

She sighed. “I have a sister. Halla.” She looked back out the window, as though facing him made it harder to speak. “Three weeks ago—after the first impact—our home was destroyed and we were separated.”

“I’m sorry,” Rollins said.

“It’s just… I don't even know if she's alive.” Lillias shook her head. “When I was down there, on the colony, trying to make it through to the next moment, and the next, I managed to keep myself going. Even when I got into this carriage, I had to be careful with what little I had—how long would my water last? My food?” She took a deep breath. “But now all I’m doing is sitting here and wondering if she’s alive or not. She got on the last ground transport, but that second impact came so soon after the first and…”

“When we get to Voyager, we can ask the Ambassador. I know they were co-ordinating information about survivors through his office,” Rollins said.

“Thank you,” Lillias said. “I think I’d given up, honestly. It was easier, in a strange way, that if I didn’t make it and my sister was already gone, then it wasn’t like I was leaving anyone behind. But now…” She eyed him, and her lips curled up in a small smile. “Now I’m almost off the colony, and I have to start thinking about what comes after.”

“Well, I can promise you one thing for sure,” Rollins said. “We will have access to sonic showers and good food.”

That made Lillias laugh, and then she regarded him oddly, as though she’d just realized something. “We should eat what I brought with me. If we’ll be on your ship soon enough, we might as well not be thirsty and hungry when we get there.”

Rollins smiled at her, and if a small part of him didn’t want to decimate her supplies before they were completely in the clear, he decided not to act on it—besides, he and Kes had rations in their kits. Lillias, Vatm, and Hanjuan needed hope, too.

“That’s very kind of you,” he said.

“It’s the least I can do,” she said, rising. “Hey, everyone? Let’s have something to eat. I have water, too.” She moved over to where her supplies had been stacked. “Hanjuan, could you help me with this?”

The man crossed over to her, and she pulled out flasks of water and some packages.

Rollins rose, heading back toward the master display, but Doctor Vatm stopped him with a touch to his forearm.

“You’re very kind,” he said quietly.

“I’ve been in enough rough spots to know you sometimes get caught up in you own head,” Rollins said.

“In your own head?” The Nezu man shook his head slightly, like he didn’t quite understand. It took some of the edge of his more severe expression, softening the lines around his eyes and turning his goatee up at one side.

“It means…” Rollins said, trying to come up with another way of putting it. “Thinking about the same thing over and over, or thinking of worst case scenarios, or just thinking too much when there’s nothing you can actively do to change a situation. Especially when it’s time to wait.”

“Ah,” Vatm said, nodding. “Like watching this distance tracker and telling myself I should have transmitted the information to the Ambassador the second I had it?”

“Just like that,” Rollins said, nodding. “And no, you shouldn’t have. You were right, don’t forget. Sklar was compromised, and he would have intercepted the information.”

“Very kind.” Vatm regarded him for another moment. “Again.”

“Water?” Hanjuan held out a flask. Rollins hadn’t noticed his approach, and was a little embarrassed to admit he’d been to busy noticing other details about the many ways Vatm’s expression changed.

“Thank you,” Rollins said, taking it and having a swig before passing it to Vatm. Hanjuan moved on to join Kes, taking a second flask to share with her.

Vatm was still looking at him, and Rollins swallowed, looking back at the windows, where the dust churned up by the impacts was finally starting to thin out. They must be close to breaking past the interference now. “At least the view will improve soon,” he said.

“I was thinking the view was just fine,” Vatm said, and Rollins glanced back to see Vatm hadn’t turned away, and definitely wasn’t looking out the windows.

*

Taitt was back at the science station, Lieutenant Cing’ta standing over her shoulder and pointing. “There, there, and there,” he said, pointing out the signals the alien ship had sent out.

“I see it,” she said, working as fast as she could to isolate the bands, and then taking the sensor readings they’d gotten after changing the asteroids course, collating that information with the signals from the ship, and trying to interpret exactly what signal translated to what effect…

“They’re within range,” Ensign Harper said. “And bringing their weapons online.”

“Shields at maximum,” Cavit said, returning to his seat and tapping a comm channel open. “Alex, I’m going to need whatever power you can give me. They’re bigger than us.”

“Understood.”

“Sharr, we likely have the edge on maneuverability,” Cavit said. “Give them as narrow a profile as you can.”

“Aye, sir,” Ensign Sharr said, tapping at the Conn. Out of the corner of her eye, Taitt noted the large ship and the asteroid slid to the left on the viewscreen as Sharr began to turn Voyager.

“Ready phasers,” Cavit said. “Taitt?”

“Almost there, Captain,” Taitt said, not letting her focus drift for a moment from the data on her screen. Come on, come on… It looked like the asteroid maneuvered thanks to cleverly hidden ion-drive thrusters, hidden in what appeared on the surface to be a simple vent.

“They’re firing,” Lan said.

The ship rocked, and Taitt gripped the side of the science station, keeping her attention on the readouts. Those signals created a cascade of thruster activity that put the asteroid back on track after four adjustments. Four signals. She just needed to figure out which command linked to which thruster, then do some major physics and navigational math on the fly…

Voyager rocked again.

“Shields at seventy percent,” Harper said.

“Lock phasers and return fire,” Cavit said. “Target their weapon arrays.”

“Firing,” Harper said, then, after a beat. “No effect. Their shields are stronger than ours, Captain.”

*

To Rollins’s surprise, Hanjuan let out a little cheer when the cloud of dust vanished from the windows. He glanced at the miner, who shrugged.

“I’ve seen nothing but dirt and dust for three weeks, Lieutenant,” he said.

“Fair enough,” Rollins said, smiling. He tapped his combadge. “Rollins to Voyager. Do you read me?”

“Cavit here.” The Captain’s voice sounded tight, tense, even through the interference. “Are you all okay down there, Scott?”

“We had to split the Away Team,” Rollins said. “But I’ve got Vatm’s information, and it’s important.”

“We’re in the middle of a firefight up here,” Cavit said. “We bumped into a bully among the asteroids. Your information may have to wait.”

Rollins exchanged an alarmed glance with Kes, and then turned to Vatm, who was already pulling the data module from his pocket.

“Actually, Captain,” Rollins said, accessing the data module. “I think we’ve got some useful information on your bully. I’m uploading it now.”

*

A flare of light from the viewscreen told Taitt Sharr had managed to twist away from the next volley of weapons fire from the alien ship, but their luck wasn’t going to hold. She’d isolated two of the signals and was ninety percent sure she had them right, but the other two had come rapid-fire, and she wasn’t convinced she could suss them out.

Beside Taitt, Cing’ta pointed again. “That one starts the sequence, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, but I need to get the others in order. I don’t imagine they’ll give us a second chance.”

Behind her, she heard Cavit, Lan, and Harper co-ordinating whatever information it was that Lieutenant Rollins had found on the surface, but she let their words drift by, slowing down the scan results to milliseconds to see if she could just isolate the exact order of the last two signal bursts and…

“There!” she pointed, seeing the order at last. “Captain, I’m ready,” she said. “I’m sending the sequence to Ensign Lan.”

“Captain, Scott’s data has that ship’s shield modulation,” Lan said.

“Perfect timing all around,” Cavit said, rising from his chair. “Harper, adjust the phasers to match the modulation, and target their engines.” He glanced at Lan. “Ready?”

Lan nodded. “Ready.”

“Go,” Cavit said.

Taitt watched on the viewscreen as three things happened at once. First, the twin volleys of Voyager’s phasers slid right through the shield modulation on the large vessel and struck its nacelles, port then starboard, and then, in the background, puffs of light on the damaged asteroid denoted the firing of the hidden engines, and the asteroid’s path changed abruptly.

On a direct intercept with the alien vessel.

“Make sure you block any course correction signals coming from that ship,” Cavit said to Lan.

“Aye, sir,” Lan said, sounding borderline chipper. She glanced up. “Enemy vessel is hailing us.”

“Huh,” Cavit said. “How about that. On screen.”

The alien’s face returned, and this time, but this time when he spoke, the arrogance in his tone was gone. “The asteroid will impact our ship in less than four minutes,” the alien said. “We cannot evade. What are your terms?”

Taitt smiled.

“Dom-jot,” she said, quietly to herself. “Game over.”

*

Nearly two hours later, Lieutenant Zandra Taitt stepped into the Mess Hall, PADD in hand, looking for the Nezu group they’d beamed up along with Kes and Rollins, and spotted two of them sitting at one of the tables with Kes, all three seeming to mostly be watching the next table, where some off-duty crew were dangling a string for Marble. The black and white kitten was chasing and batting at it.

She joined them, and Kes smiled her usual, open and friendly smile as Taitt sat.

“This is Lieutenant Zandra Taitt,” Kes said. “Voyager’s Science Officer. Zandra, this is Lillias Kaminir and Hanjuan Prysirr. They were on board the orbital tether with us, and helped us get it moving.”

“Nice to meet you,” Taitt said, and both of the Nezu regarded her with pleasant enough expressions, if a bit hesitant. “I’ve been co-ordinating the alteration of the asteroid paths with your colony control, and Lieutenant Rollins—Scott—asked me to look into something for you when I had a moment to access the colony records, and I just got the data.” She handed the PADD to the woman, Lillias. “He said you were looking for a woman from near the original impact site, Halla?”

“That’s right,” Lillias said, and she paused, as though she couldn’t bring herself to look at the PADD. “My sister.”

“She got out with the first wave of evacuees from the impact site,” Taitt said. “But their communication equipment couldn’t pierce the interference. She’s fine, and she was very glad to hear you’re okay.”

Lillias exhaled in relief, smiling at Taitt, Kes, and Hanjuan in turn. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“Is there anyone I can look up for you?” Taitt asked Hanjuan.

The Nezu man shook his head. “I came to the colony on my own from Nezuan, and less than a month before the impact,” he said. “I don’t really have anyone special. No family, not even friends yet.”

“That’s not true,” Lillias said, putting a hand on his forearm. “You absolutely have a friend. Two, I’ll bet.” She smiled at him. “Assuming I ever have a home again, my sister and I will have both you and Doctor Vatm over.”

Hanjuan smiled at her. “Thank you. I’d love that.” He eyed Taitt. “Do we know why these people attacked us?”

Taitt took a breath. “They’re called the Etanian Order, and it looks like they engineer what appear to be natural disasters, then swoop in with one of those large colonizing ships and take over. With the Nezu, they miscalculated your leaders and the initial colony attempts to deflect the asteroids, thinking you’d all evacuate the moment you picked up the rocks on sensors.” She shook her head. “They believed Sklar could make that happen.”

“We’ve reached out to some friends in the area,” Kes added. “The Mikhal Travelers have an outpost on this side of the Nekrit Expanse. Word will spread.”

“And it doesn’t hurt your leaders have the commanding officers of the Etanian Order ship in their custody now,” Taitt said. “Ambassador Oppen thinks the technology they used to control the asteroids can be adapted for early warning systems and deflection grids, too.”

“What will happen to the Etanians?” Lillias said.

“A trial for their leaders,” Taitt said. “But most of the people on that ship were colonists, and while they’re complicit, I think Ambassador Oppen plans to strip the ship of offensive capabilities and send them home as a message.”

“Good,” Hanjuan said, nodding.

Taitt turned to Kes. “I had some information for Doctor Vatm, too—do you know where he is?”

“He and Scott are having dinner,” Kes said, and when Taitt glanced around the room, wondering how she could have missed Rollins’s presence, Kes shook her head. “In his quarters.”

“Oh,” Taitt said, and when she saw the sparkle in Kes’s eyes, she fought off a sparkle of her own. Aha. It was like that, was it? “Well, it was just some updates on the atmospheric recovery modules engineering is planning to help the Nezu build, but it’s late. It can wait until morning—we won’t be sending down any teams or components until Commander Ro and Lieutenant Stadi bring the Aeroshuttle back.”

The door to the Mess Hall opened, and she saw Abol arrive. She watched him looked for her, and the moment he saw her, his smile lit up his whole face.

“I’ve leave you three to get some rest,” Taitt said. “We’ll have you back on your colony as soon as we can, but in the meanwhile, Captain Cavit arranged for quarters for you.”

“Thank you, again,” Lillias said.

Taitt rose and met Abol half-way. He slid his arms around her and pressed his forehead to hers. “Long day,” he said.

“Long day,” she agreed.

“Dinner, ice cream, and cuddle time with Onyx?” Abol said. “He’s been pining away for you.”

“Our cat doesn’t pine,” Taitt said, laughing at the thought of the little black cat making his annoyance at her lack of presence known. “He’s a little despot.”

“All the more reason to head back to our quarters, then,” Abol said, giving her waist a little tug. She went with him, looking forward to taking off her boots, some good food, the company of the man she loved, and a demanding little furball.

*

“That was delicious,” Vatm said, smiling across the small table and dabbing some gravy off his chin with a napkin. “What did you say it was called again?”

“Poutine,” Rollins said. “It’s a staple where my grandfather lives. In a place called Quebec, on Earth. It’s comfort food, for me.”

Vatm’s dark brown eyes didn’t look away, and Rollins allowed himself to enjoy the way the man was looking at him. Though he’d consider himself notoriously bad at picking up on romantic attraction, he was pretty sure between Kes’s comment back on the planet and the way the stocky scientist was smiling right now, he wasn’t misreading this moment.

“For the record,” Vatm said. “I asked Ambassador Oppen if he’d consider granting you a place as the colony security supervisor, given we clearly need to replace the man currently holding that position.”

“Doctor Vatm,” Rollins started, but Vatm held up his hand.

“Please, Scott,” Vatm said. “It’s Towl.”

“Towl,” Rollins started again. “I can’t stay. I think you know that.”

Vatm’s smile displayed some chagrin and something like a playful slyness, and he took a big breath, letting it out in a sigh. “I had to try, though, and thought a position might add to the temptation. I also set up a meeting for you to offer advice and guidelines, if you’d be willing?”

“Of course,” Rollins said, taking a swallow of water before putting down his glass. “And you didn’t need to up the temptation, by the way.” He couldn’t quite bring himself to meet Vatm’s gaze when he said it, and he imagined he had what his kid brother Emmett would have called his “face set on stunned” face going on, but at least his managed to get the words out nice and even. He decided now was a good time to recycle the plates back into the replicator—otherwise Jewel would probably hop up on the table from where she’d been patiently waiting on the couch, watching for either of them to turn their attention away from their food long enough to make the leap—and rose, doing so.

Vatm rose, too, but he didn’t reply. When Rollins finally did look up, Vatm was only a step away, and the man’s dark brown eyes had managed to gain even more intensity. The number of men Scott Rollins had had to look up at in his life was very few, but he was finding it not at all an unpleasant experience.

“I arranged space on a tether car for us,” Vatm said. “For the meeting.”

“Did you?” Rollins said, amused at his presumption. And, okay, also a little charmed. “Good thing I agreed, then, isn’t it?”

“Well,” Vatm said. “The carriage doesn’t descend until morning. If you weren’t amenable, I’d planned for time to convince you.”

“Ah. And how—?” Rollins said, and got no further before Vatm leaned in and met him with a soft, testing kiss. He didn’t pull back very far after, placing one palm against the centre of Rollins’s chest, and tilting his head in an unspoken question.

Rollins leaned back in, and answered in kind.

The humanoids well and truly distracted, Jewel leapt for the table.

Notes:

And there we go. A little dom-jot, some signal hacking, and a timely bit of information and Voyager nudges ahead for the win.

Rise (Alternate) - ApostropheN - Star Trek: Voyager [Archive of Our Own] (2024)
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