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Out of the Frying Pan...

Posted on Mon Aug 14th, 2023 @ 2:07pm by Lieutenant Commander Tenner
Edited on on Mon Aug 14th, 2023 @ 2:11pm

1,680 words; about a 8 minute read

Mission: The Kriresian Gambit
Location: Outpost Zeta, Chantier Sector
Timeline: MD 1

The USS Carpathia kept its distance from the debris field while the Tigris Danube-class runabout penetrated as far as it dared. More than debris cluttered the area. Antimatter residue made for intense radiation and played havoc with sensors. The Engineering team from the Steamrunner-class vessel already identified the location of the blackbox from the outpost's computer core. But guided probes weren't successful. The only thing the probes managed to do was detect life signs from escape pods clustered within the debris field. Due to the radiation, their shielding was bound to give out very soon.

CSAR-1 was activated. The unit had been attached to the Carpathia in the event that recovery efforts would take a dire turn. Now their time had come.

Lieutenant Commander Tenner stood behind the two officers at the helm of the Tigris. This manned operation was incredibly dangerous, but he had reviewed the mission parameters and determined they were acceptable. Their original objective, to retrieve the black box, became secondary. Lives were now at stake, and so the escape pods were primary.

Ensign Ula nodded up and down as he set to work at scanning the debris field. ā€œIā€™m detecting 5 minor cores and 3 main cores in the debris. Sending their coordinates to all HUD displays,ā€ he reported.

"And escape pods?" Tenner pointedly asked.

"Uploading them as well."

"Good." Tenner was curt. He shouldn't have had to ask and he wasn't afraid to let Ula know it. Turning back to the passenger compartment, Tenner assessed the unit already suited up in their EV suits just as he was. "I want everyone to conduct a LACES check. We move out in 5 minutes."

Lookout, Awareness, Communications, Escape routes, Safety zones. LACES checks were intended to prevent mission failure when the plan went wrong. They all knew the plan and they all knew the plan changed as soon as implemented. Tenner expected them to adapt readily and without mistakes.

In reply came a round of yes-sirs that ranged from the solemn to the rowdy. Tenner had trained a few of them from rookie status. Most of them were as experienced as him or more so. None of them matched his tenacity or his ability to pivot in an emergency. They would follow him through the event horizon of a black hole if he ordered it.

Turning back to helm, Tenner said, "Team is ready to deploy. Get us as close as possible to the primary pod cluster."

As Ula complied, Tenner shuffled through the airlock, followed by the others. The ship's sensors were routed through the HUD display of his EV suit, providing a general readout of his location but little else due to the local interference.

"90 meters away from nearest coordinate marker," Ula reported.

"I can see that for myself." Tenner lead a narrow arrowhead formation as CSAR-1 launched from the runabout. "Initiating manual scan."

While he let the sensors perform their broadband sweeps of everything from radiation to spectral analysis, he deactivated the boosters and switched to the gravimetric governor on his boots. Guided properly, they would allow him to "fall" in whichever direction he wished. Much better than the electromagnetic boots utilized in decades-old EV suits.

"80 meters," Ula chimed as the artificial gravity began to draw Tenner deeper into the debris field.

Tenner didn't respond, instead diverting his attention toward the sensor scans. Beyond the slowly coagulating disintegrated particles of what used to be the outpost were even bigger obstructions than the hunks of twisted metal, though they were easier to avoid.

"70 meters." Once again Tenner ignored Ula, though he did amplify the propulsion to allow for a faster "fall". It could potentially lead to a hard impact, but the radiation warning signaled the depleting ionized shielding on his EV suit faster than he liked.

"50 meters." Much better. Tenner used his feet to kick aside a particularly large chunk that was bigger than he was. The effort pushed him to the side as he continued his "downward" gravitational propulsion to his target. Apparently this new vector was more favorable to sensors.

"25 meters," Ula called out.

"Target identified," Tenner announced as his boots collided on the cracked underside escape pod casing with a thud. "Ensigns Hollandren and Elbara, fan out and link the other escape pods together, Configuration Sigma." It was a daisy-chain configuration that utilized overlapping interconnected tractor beams that would utilize each pod's inertia to strengthen the overall gravimetric connection as a whole. "Ula, prepare to engage tractor beam on my mark." He fixed his grav-belt to the large pod, anchoring him to the far side of the core so he would avoid any other debris it might collide with on the way back to the ship. "Engage."

The escape pod he was on began to move back toward the direction of the runabout and the edge of the debris field. Tenner took a moment to hail the escape pods. "This is Lieutenant Commander Tenner of CSAR-1. We are removing your escape pods from the debris field. Stay calm and do not interfere. The USS Carpathia is standing by to render medical aid for all who require it. Tenner out."

His hardsuit HUD lit up with incoming hails from the life pods, but Tenner ignored them. It was easier not seeing faces or knowing names. Let the Carpathia handle all that.

"Commander Tenner, the removal of the escape pods have disturbed the debris field," Ula reported. "The outpost computer core is drifting away from your location."

Tenner permitted himself a lone, frustrated sigh before he disengaged from the lead escape pod that was being tractored to safety and propelled himself toward what appeared to be certain death. His shielding was below half power. This maneuever was cutting it close and he knew it.

The computer core was in sight, though, tangled among twisted metal and mineralized composite clusters that likely used to be furnishings and fixtures within the outpost. The organic composition was undoubtedly high, but Tenner put such thoughts out of his mind. This was not the first graveyard into which he'd plunged.

With just a little trajectory correction, Tenner landed on the cracked computer core with a resounding thud. The grav-boots merged his inertia with the computer core instantaneously, sending a shockwave through his suit and up his spine from the collision. It also halted the drift of the massive computer core a bit, leaving it stranded and himself along with it.

Looking back to the daisy chain of escape pods, Tenner quickly assessed the lead one was well out of range of grappling. The worst part was a large piece of debris had drifted between him and the nearest escape pod which was still over a hundred meters away.

Tenner retrieved the Type-II phaser off his back, a modified model that packed a heavier punch than the standard Type-I handheld model but featured a shorter bullpup configuration that was far more manageable for his diminutive size than the Type-III phaser rifle. He thumbed the switch near the trigger and depressed the firing mechanism to charge the shot into a widebeam blast.

It released, shooting a phased nadion pulse the length of a football field that sheered the obstructive debris in half, each piece veering off at new angles. Tenner didn't like the narrow opening, but a hole was a hole. He stowed his phaser and fired the grapple cable embedded near the wrist of his off-hand.

The cable flew through the gap and connected to the nearest escape pod, which happened to be the last one in the daisy chain. At once, the cable pulled taut and Tenner wondered if his suit would hold out. Not only were his ionized shield dangerously low--near 30%--but now he was the connecting link between the computer core and the daisy chain of escape pods.

"Ease up on the tractor beam," Tenner ordered. "The tow cable is at max tensile strength as it is."

"Yes, sir..." Ula's reply came over the comm. Too slow and they lost everyone. Even so, Ula would be damned if he were the one to get his CO killed.

By the time the lead escape pod was tractored away from the debris field, the seals on Tenner's EV suit were hissing under threat of decompression. His shields were already below 10% with red lights flashing.

"We have a transporter lock," Ula said. "Disengage your grav-lock so we can beam you aboard."

"Done!" Tenner disengaged his grav boots and felt the computer core pull away ever so slightly away from his feet. He was the only thing tethering it to the escape pod daisy chain. Left to itself, the computer core could potentially be reclaimed by the debris field. But that was out of Tenner's hands. "Energize!"

The familiar hum and tingle of transporter energies deposited Tenner back aboard the Tigris. Only then did he heave a sigh of relief and removed his helmet. The grill of the implant where his mouth should have been tremored ever so slightly with the vibration of his voice. "Get a tractor lock on the computer core!" he ordered without missing a beat.

"Already done, sir," Ula reported with a tinge of pride.

"And the escape pods?" Tenner pressed, his vibrato increasing.

"Carpathia is already tractoring them directly into the shuttle bay," Ula said.

Another sigh of relief. If Tenner still had lips, he may have smiled, but it wouldn't have touched his eyes. Those indigo pools still burned hot.

"That's it for us then," Tenner said. The mission was complete and they weren't sticking around any longer than needed. "Tenner to CSAR-1: return to the runabout. Mission accomplished. I repeat: mission accomplished."

The helm chirped. "Sir..." Ula hesitantly interjected. "We've received a priority message from Starbase 234. It's from sector command."

Tenner bristled under the unexpected communication. Couldn't they wait for a debriefing? Sliding his helmet back onto his suit, he said, "Patch it through to my HUD."

Whatever this was, Tenner had the notion he wanted it to be private.


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