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"Please state your name, rank and position for the record," T'pret said.
"T'pala, Cadet, Acting commander of the mission in question."
"And what year of your coursework at Starfleet Academy are you currently in, Cadet," T'pala asked.
"I am a Junior," replied T'pala.
"For the record, Cadet, have you been briefed about your rights concerning this deposition," T'pret asked.
"Although I was already aware of them, I was, in fact, informed of my rights prior to this conversation," T'pala answered.
"If you have no objections, then, we shall proceed with the deposition," T'pret said, looking at her PADD.
"I have no objections, Councilor."
"Then the floor is yours, Cadet."
T'pala took a calming breath and collected her thoughts. She quickly summarized the safety briefing that the cadets had received and also the briefing she had given.
"Thank you Cadet. In your own words, describe what occurred once you and the other cadets arrived at the range," T'pret instructed.
The Nerevta dropped out of warp exactly where it was supposed to: 100 kilometers above the decommissioned USS Hektor, a Saladin-class destroyer. A split second later, the Zambezi dropped out of warp about 100 meters to the Nerevta's starboard side.
Both ships slowly descended toward the Hektor. According to the plan that the cadre had briefed the cadets on, the Nerevta would place their simulated charges first. After a simulated detonation (one of the cadets would say 'BOOM'), the Zambezi would take her turn. Once this was complete, the two teams would then rally and acts as boarders and "retake" the Hektor. All of this would be captured by sensor suites in the runabouts as well as in each of the cadets' suits.
A shadow flitted across the Hektor's saucer section, moving too fast to be identified with the naked eye. The sensors aboard each of the Danube class runabouts, however, were sharper than the eye. An alarm at the Tactical station caught T'pala's attention and she tapped her comms badge.
"Rress, are you receiving this alarm," T'pala asked.
"I am. There seems to be a small vessel moving down the length of the Hektor," Rress responded.
"Verela, begin hailing that vessel on every channel. Inform them this is a Starfleet live fire range and that, for their safety, they should evacuate," T'pala ordered.
Verela acknowledged the order and began broadcasting.
"Wait…there's…" was all that Rress had time to say before the Zambezi was rocked by disruptors. The line of bolts stitched across the ship's hull, striking it amidships and raking the nacelle on the starboard side of the craft. The small, attacking craft broke over hard and began a reversal of its course for a return shot at the Zambezi. The Zambezi's nacelle exploded in a shower of plasma that lit up space with its intensity.
Just as the crew of the Nerevta figured out what was happening, they too were rocked by a salvo of disrupter shots from another of the small, agile craft. This one, however, attacked from the port side of the Nerevta and then continued on, passing over the top of the runabout.
Before the words could form in T'pala's throat, Verela had put the Nerevta at Red Alert and was cycling down secondary systems in order to shunt that power to shields and weapons. Masterson saw the move and made sure that the power conduits connections were intact.
Stephax, at the helm, also took the initiative and put the Nerevta into a series of evasive manuevers designed to maximize the runabout's defensive capabilities.
T'pala quickly tapped the comms button on her console.
"Zambezi, this is Nerevta. Please respond," she said. She didn't wait for the return signal to start scanning for the attackers.
"I'm showing three life signs, Commander," Yamazaki reported from Science.
"Attackers at bearing 030, mark 45 and closing fast," Stephax chimed in.
"Commander, the Zambezi doesn't have shields and their life support is failing quickly," Masterson reported, using one of the external monitors for an eyeball of the situation.
He switched to an MSD of the Nerevta and reported their own woes.
"The hull took most of the damage; breaches are sealed and structural integrity is at 82 percent. We lost the forward shield generator and the quantum torpedo launcher has no EPS grid connection. Life support is at 78 percent and rising," Masterson rattled off as he read his displays.
"Stephax, put us between the attackers and the Zambezi; Verela, angle and extend our shields to cover the Zambezi once we're in position; Masterson, use the command override controls to slave the Zambezi's engineering controls to your station," T'pala ordered in rapid-fire fashion.
Noah turned to his console and his fingers flew over the touchscreen controls. He had Zambezi's Engineering controls up in less than 60 seconds.
"Oh, that's not good…" he mumbled under his breath and began punching in commands on the terminal. For some reason, the Zambezi wasn't responding to any of Noah's commands, regardless of their authority.
Stephax maneuvered the Nerevta in place as another volley of disruptor blasts impacted the shields.
"Shields extended and holding at 79 percent, Commander," Verela reported.
The Nerevta returned fire with phasers as the first attacker passed and then at the second one in its turn. Both ships felt another blast from each of the attackers.
"Zambezi's down to one nacelle, life support is on emergency and her EPS grid is stuck in a feedback loop, cycling between diagnostics and full function," Masterson reported as he worked. He knew that he needed to reboot the EPS grid quickly or the Zambezi would be in serious trouble. A stray thought shot across his mind about who was alive and who was dead, but he shook his head to clear the thought and kept working.
"Verela, contact Starbase One and report our situation. Request immediate backup and orders," T'pala said between phaser shots.
Masterson finally got the EPS grid rebooted and restored partial power to the Zambezi. He reported as much to T'pala, who nodded and tapped her comms badge to open a channel.
"T'pala to Zambezi, please respond."
Masterson paused in his tasks to listen for a response.
"T'pala to Zambezi, respond."
At first, all that could be heard was the life support systems cycling on and then someone starting coughing.
"sh'Vrina here, Commander. We lost Klaag, Chami and Rress when we were attacked," Eris reported shakily.
Noah's heart leaped for joy when her heard Eris's voice but then the pragmatic side of him kicked in and he continued to work at the console.
"Partial power restored; working on shields, Commander," Masterson reported and turned back to his work.
"Understood, Masterson. Sh'Vrina, as soon as Masterson has shields restored, I am ordering you to disengage and make best possible warp back to Starbase One. Acknowledge," T'pala said.
"Acknowledged, Commander," Eris responded. The duo of ships was rocked by another volley of disruptor bolts.
"Shields at 62 percent, Commander, and showing signs of failing," Verela reported.
Her comment caught Noah's ear and he looked to the Nerevta's display.
"I concur. I'm re-routing power from secondary EPS grid for the torpedo launcher to shields," he told Verela.
For her part Verela simply grunted and began shoring up the damaged shields as best she could. When he was finished with that, Noah turned back to the Zambezi's shields. Her EPS grid was partially fried; it would require a complete overhaul to get Zambezi's shields to 100 percent. But Noah knew he could cheat a bit.
"Zambezi, this is Masterson. I'm going to 'hotwire' your aft shield generator to pump the energy into the hull and frame substructure. It won't be the most stable of arrangements but it should last long enough for you to get away," Masterson reported over the comms.
"Thanks, Nerevta," Eris replied, her voice full of emotion.
Before he could complete his repair, though, another wave of blasts rocked the runabouts.
Nerevta's computer indicated a hull breach in the aft cargo section, which was configured as an airlock for the boarding part of the now-scrubbed training mission.
"Stay focused on those shields, Masterson," T'pala ordered, gritting her teeth as she concentrated on firing at the attackers.
"Starbase One reports USS Cromwell is en route and will arrive in 5 minutes, Commander" Verela reported.
Another brace of shots rocked the pair of ships. Despite best efforts, their combined shields fell to below 50 percent.
Masterson continued re-routing the grid into the superstructure of the Zambezi, overriding several safety warnings in the process. Finally the MSD of the Zambezi showed weak aft shields; despite everything, the best that Masterson could coax out of the generator was 31 percent.
"Losing too much in the transfer…." he mumbled to no one in particular.
"Zambezi's shields holding at 31 percent, Commander," he reported to T'pala.
"Acknowledged. Zambezi, this is T'pala. Make you escape now; we will provide covering fire and then retreat once you are away," T'pala ordered.
"Acknowledged, Nerevta. Zambezi is making for Starbase One at best possible speed," Eris responded.
"Helm, bring us about and put us in the path of intercept for the two attackers," T'pala ordered.
"Aye, Commander. Coming about to…bearing 151 mark 34, best possible speed," Stephax reported.
Masterson switched his focus to the Nerevta and her weapons. He knew there was no hope for the torpedo launcher but he wanted to make sure all phasers were sufficiently charged. He noticed Verela syphoning off small amounts of power, intermittently, from the force fields that held the hull breaches in check. He disagreed with this practice, but wasn't going to force the issue. Instead, he pulled power from the tertiary environmental lighting conduit and noticed a corresponding dimming of particular lights in the cabin. No one else noticed.
"Attackers moving to intercept Zambezi; helm, plot intercept course. Keep us in position to draw their attention, Mister Stephax," T'pala ordered.
Noah watched his MSD as T'pala fired several shots at the two attackers' aft quarters. The pair split, breaking to each side. The port vessel broke high and to the port side, leaving the other to go low on the Nerevta's starboard side.
Stephax followed the attacker on the port side but took care to slew the aft end of the Nerevta about, so that T'pala could target each ship with phasers. She saw the move and targeted each with a bank, firing on each.
Masterson switched over to the Zambezi's controls, knowing that when she went to he would lose all contact. He confirmed that his rigged aft shield plating was holding when Stephax spoke up.
"I've got a third attacker coming fast from the starboard, low quarter," Yamakazi shouted.
Noah whipped his head around to see the tactical display. Sure enough, a third vessel had appeared from somewhere and was taking the opportunity to engage Zambezi. Stephax tried to heel around and head toward Zambezi but the other two cut him off. He twisted and reversed course, T'pala firing as the ship moved, but as he lined up again, one of the others fired and then forced Stephax to veer off.
"Zambezi, you've got a fast mover on your six! Warp out, now." T'pala barked.
There was no verbal response from Eris or Nerex but the Zambezi weaved erractically and then dove in an escape. The attacker merely altered his pursuit and pushed on more speed.
"Eris, honey, you have to get out of there," Masterson said, his voice quivering.
"I can't, Noah. My warp core is offline," Eris responded, her voice frail and unsure.
Noah looked at his console. Indeed, the core was offline. He began punching in commands to try and bring it back online.
"Please, baby, for Eris," Noah pleaded with the console. He continued to cycle through commands, never looking up. As soon as one was confirmed, Noah began punching in another until finally, the damaged ship's LCARS reported the warp core back online.
"You did it," came a gleeful exclamation from the Zambezi.
"Baby, you've got to fly out now," Masterson pleaded.
Any further communications were cut short as the attacker finally caught up to the Zambezi and raked her from the stern cargo area to the forward crew section. The beleaguered ship couldn't withstand the punishing and simply exploded. The attacker pulled up sharply to avoid the debris field and came about, heading straight in for the Nerevta. However, she didn't make 2 kilometers before she was vaporised by a shot from almost directly overhead.
"Nerevta, this is Cromwell. Sorry we got here so late," said a masculine voice over the comms.
Noah stared numbly at the LCARS screen that had only a moment ago shown the Zambezi's slaved controls. He couldn't focus on what he was doing. Time dilated to an almost impercetible crawl. He knew his shipmates were working on keeping their vessel together but not Noah. He didn't care. Eris was gone…wasn't she?
Noah punched in a command and the Engineering console gave way for a Science oriented version of itself. Noah began scanning the debris field. After all, the Zambezi's crew had been wearing EVA suits just like he was. At first, something was returned on one of the sweeps. Noah felt a glimmer of hope and tightened the search…
"Noah, don't. It's pre-animate protein structures from the replicators," Yamakazi said, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder. Noah turned to regard her through tear-filled eyes.
"I saw the same thing. They're gone…" she said, gesturing helplessly to her console that displayed similar results.
"Nerevta, Cromwell. We've scared off the other two attackers. Stand-by to be taken aboard by tow," came the masculine voice again.
Noah didn't know what to do. He looked from his console to Yamakazi's, not realizing the tears that were flowing freely. All he could do was stare at his hands and the decking beneath in helpless sorrow.
"…and that was when I had to help…relocate Cadet Masterson to the Cromwell's Sick Bay," T'pala finished.
"And why was that," T'pret gently inquired.
"Because two Security officers, a Klingon female and a large Bolian male, could not physically remove him from his station. I used a Vulcan nerve manipulation to incapacitate Masterson and the Security officers then moved him to Sick Bay," T'pala responded.
T'pret nodded her understanding and reached up to turn off the recording device.
"Thank you for your testimony, Cadet T'pala. You may return to your cadre now. I believe they are preparing to return you to the Academy.
Not knowing what else to do, T'pala stood and offered the Vulcan salute.
"Live long and prosper, T'pret," she said.
T'pret stood, returned the salute and offered her own return salutation.
T'pala turned and left the room. In the corridor outside, she found a waiting Security officer who escorted her to another holding area, this one containing her crew and several cadre members.
She saw the wreck that Masterson and for the first time in a great many years, felt sorrow.
To Be Continued...