Thursday, June 27, 2002

Principles (#937)

Captain April
Aboard the Runabout Kerulen
(After "Impressions")
[U.F.S. Caledonia]
    It went beyond red alert.  Translated: It was chaos.
    The bridge shook.  Consoles exploded.  Then the ship heaved against the inertial stabilizers trying to hold it steady, sending bodies flying through the room.  From somewhere there came a sickening crunch of what sounded like bones breaking, or it might have been the shattering of panel covers.  Tucker Creed could not tell.  The Sound that riveted his attention at that moment was the computer, calling out through the deafening din: *"Danger.  Structural integrity failing.  Danger..."*
    He shot a glance at the viewscreen—a habit; he knew it wasn't working.  But he didn't really need the viewscreen to know who was out there, attacking the Caledonia.  A stray thought strafed his mind—an echo of a conversation he'd had with April's engineer onboard Arcadia: "How the mighty have fallen... I believe it was you and your righteous principles that landed you there; ironic, no?"  He saw Jallez's smirking face for a fleeting instant.
    Creed would never admit that the half-Vulcan was now officially correct.  Creed's 'righteous principles', loyalty to Section 31, had landed him here.  After being beamed from Arcadia to the starship Kirk to be taken back to Earth—and, ostensibly, to detainment by factions working against 31—Creed wasted no time utilizing the 31 network of operatives aboard both Kirk and Caledonia.  Both ships were part of the task group sent to Grazellius to rebuild the crippled Arcadia.  After the three ships (Hood completing the trio) warped back towards the Federation, Creed got himself out of sealed quarters on the Kirk and over to Caledonia, a ship manned almost completely by Section 31, and indeed the ship Creed formerly commanded before taking the Arc assignment.  That was just before Hood and Kirk suddenly turned on Caledonia, and opened fire without a word of warning.  Sensors on the Cali [short for Caledonia, natch, though it looks like short for California] should have detected the sudden power-up in the other ships' weapons.  31 monitored everything, leaving nothing to chance, especially when traveling in the midst of two 'nonaligned' vessels [meaning neither was part of Section 31, nor its antithesis, Shado].  They should have seen it coming in time to erect a defense.
    They didn't.  Which meant there were probably insiders, Shado agents most likely, aboard Caledonia, who had sabotaged the ship's defensive warnings.  No one else had the gumption or stupidity to attack a purely Section 31 vessel... except, if those two other ships were 'nonaligned', why did they attack?  Had Shado won them over, or at least their captains, who perpetrated a hoax that the Caledonia was a threat?  Why wait until now to attack—why not before, in the few hours since leaving Grazellius?  Calihad quantum slipstream drive; the other two ships did not.  Even reenacting April's wormhole drive from the Questor, it was going to take them days to reach Federation space.  They were quite a ways out, though in a few hours they had crossed a considerable portion of the Alpha Quadrant, eating distance fast between the Federation and Grazellius.  Why not attack at the farthest-most point from home?  Creed's instincts told him something had changed between the time of leaving the Grazellius system and the time of the attack.  Some sort of signal set them off, and now here was Caledonia, one of the most powerful starships in existence, fighting for its life—a losing battle.  Despite the diversion that had been his Arc assignment, Creed never stopped thinking of this ship as his.  He took command when Captain Ng who had replaced him was killed.  But defending it was now futile.  The assault was merciless—a few more poundings and the computer would be warning of a warp-core breach just before it exploded.
    But Creed wanted to know who had done this; who had gotten the better of him and his ship, and why.  Whoever they were, they were mistaken if they thought there would be no retaliation from Section 31 because of this.  Every action had an equal and opposite reaction.  Consequences.  Every deed, good or bad, had a cost... and if he had to with his dying breath, he would make them pay.
    The deck pitched again and he slammed into the command chair; excruciating pain shot through him.  His arm was broken.  It might have been the sound of the breaking bone he heard before, but must have ignored in his detached determination.  He could not ignore it anymore.  He propped himself against the side of the command chair while his vision hazed from the pain, and shook his head, trying to clear it.
    "Any response... to our... distress signal?" he moaned.  There might have been no one else alive on the bridge.  He had nothing more to do than call out in case anyone was, and heard.  Caledonia was meant to go down fighting, and had tried.  If she could not fight, then he at least could defy the odds the universe had suddenly stacked up against it.  He'd go to his death acting according to his duty.  For an instant he imagined Jallez having something to do with this, a form of personal revenge for Creed stripping him of the chief engineer's spot on Arcadia.  He hadn't thought the Shado man (former Shado man, according to Jallez) capable of sinking that low, but then Jallez was always eccentric.  Yet Creed wouldn't have attributed that much influence to him.
    To his amazement, Creed got a reply: a croak of a voice, raspy, as if the vocal chords were burned.  He strained his neck to see through the dim haze that it was Tyler, holding himself on the sparking Tactical console, hands twitching in their grasp.  He might let go and fall at any second.
    "Sensors... non-responsive," Tyler gasped, then saw something, and dared to steal a glance at Creed, his former-captain-cum-captain-once-again.  In the black smoke-filled shroud which had settled over the bridge, Creed saw it too, by the red light flashing on Tyler's face, highlighting the tactical officer's features.  A proximity detector—probably the only thing still working on the bridge.  Some new ship had entered the area... in response to the Caledonia's distress call...?
[Runabout Kerulen]
    Lily Kinarian's mouth hung open, agape.  She had done an affable job navigating the warp-imbalanced wormhole, and now sat awestruck at the sight in the forward viewport and on screens: the starships Hood and James T. Kirk, attacking the Caledonia... or what was left of it.  She closed her mouth and said to Captain April, turning her head slightly but unable to take her gaze from the conflagration:
    "What do you make of it, sir?"
    April wasn't quite sure what to make of it.  This was the last thing he'd expected to find: not just that the Caledonia's distress call that they were under attack wasn't fake, but that other Starfleet ships were attacking.  He wasn't quite sure what to do when both victim and aggressors were technically on the same side.  He had an inkling of how Captain Benjamin Sisko must have felt when forced to open fire on the starship Lakota from theDefiant...
    "We came in answer to a distress call," he said, finally.  "There's the ship in distress.  Let's aid it."  As the words came out of his mouth, he hesitated—knowing that Caledonia was a Section 31 ship, and because of who they were, what they stood for—direct contradiction to what he stood for and felt the Federation did as well—because of that, he felt an urge to let them get what was coming to them.  Poetic justice, in a way—probably what they deserved.  But there were still men and women on that ship; only a handful alive, now, according to Kerulen's readings, after all the beating, but alive.  He could not stand back and let them die.  Section 31 sometimes sacrificed lives.  He wasn't Section 31—this was one reason why.
    "How, sir?" Kinarian said.  "One runabout can't fight two starships."  She shuddered at the thought.
    "Hail them," April said.  When there was no immediate response, he raised the runabout's Red Alert—shields sprang into place—and said to Kinarian, "Put us between Caledonia and the other ships.  Stand by weapons..."
    Kinarian's head darted toward him in shock at what he was preparing to do, but she obliged.  The runabout took off for the center of the melee...
    "Weapons ready," said Bajan, a noncom seated behind April in the four-man cockpit.  The noncom was nervous.  April was too, as one might see peering closely into his eyes that moment.  He could imagine any number of possibilities for why the other two ships weren't responding to hails... alien infiltration, or some other such out-of-the-ordinary occurrence (though if one thought about it, such things were pretty ordinary in Starfleet)... and if they had turned hostile on another Federation craft, which the Caledonia was regardless of who staffed it, then they might just attack the Kerulen too.  They girded themselves to soon find out...
    ...when they got an incoming hail.
    =/\= "This is Captain Berkowitz on the Kirk," =/\= came a com-voice, a man's.
    April slammed the intercom open.  "This is Captain April of the Arcadia.  Captain Berkowitz, what the hell is the meaning of—"
    =/\= "We're under orders," =/\= Berkowitz's com-voice said.  In the viewport, a torpedo shot out of the Kirk and streaked into the Caledonia's port nacelle, exploding it.  =/\= "That's all I can say.  Trust me, I know how this looks.  It would be best if you stayed out of it and returned to your own ship." =/\=
    April's face twisted in astonishment.  He couldn't believe what he was hearing, much less seeing—one stunning revelation after another, this day.  Inclination to mark the date on the calendar and see if future days to come compared.  "I will do no such thing," April said, "until you stop your attack and explain, or I'll be forced to take offensive measures."  He knew how that sounded: plum loco.  Lily was right: the Kirk was a Sovereign-class starship; the Hood: Excelsior class.  The Danube-class Kerulen was outmatched by a long shot, despite its state-of-the-art equipment.  He just hoped it sounded crazy enough to dissuade or at least stall them, and give him and Caledonia time.
    The pause on the other end of the comm-line made April imagine what kind of reaction Berkowitz was having—one of incredulity, maybe wondering if April had the balls to back up his bluster… or consisting of Berkowitz laughing himself silly.  Either way, if he put April to the test, what would the Arc CO do when the cause was hopeless?  March in and get the runabout crew obliterated, captured maybe…?
    Captured.  Or obliterated.  By Starfleet.  It was insane.
    ...Or simply acknowledge that his bluff had been called and retreat, stay out of the way...
    ...Except April didn't bluff.  If he said he'd risk his life and the lives of those around him—assuming it was the only way and the cause was just—he’d do it.  They might not stand a chance, but it might save a few lives.  The attackers might, just might, desist, rather than intentionally murder a few more Starfleet personnel.  Yet, after seeing them attack another Federation starship, what was enough to make them desist?
    And Kerulen charged into the field of fire...

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