Border Dispute, Part 3

Main Bridge, USS Nightingale
Romulan Neutral Zone
Stardate 66478.12

The turbolift doors swooshed open to reveal a dimly lit main bridge of the Nightingale. Aylen raised her wrist to bring her light beacon to eye level as it passed by several of the ship’s crew and a few scorch marks along the walls of the bridge. “Looks like the whole ship is on emergency power,” she commented rhetorically, something everyone else already could see for themselves. As the Valiant’s captain and first officer stepped off the turbolift, Commander Branson raised her voice to get over the bustle, “We’re here from the Valiant to render assistance. Who’s in charge here?”

The blonde woman from the distress call came forward, looking bruised with a deep cut across the left of her brow, her uniform in tatters, though her confidence shone through her voice, “That would be me, commander. Comman-,” she caught herself, “I guess, it’s acting Captain now, Alison Lewis,”

Tannen looked around the bridge. Crewmen worked to help injured others and trying their best to get the ship up and running again. There was a thick layer of fear in the air. 

“How many injured are there?” he asked as his gaze returned to the Commander.

“We took a few heavy hits and somehow managed to give a few good shots back. Sickbay is struggling to cope. We have around 40 casualties – dead or injured. I guess we can take some comfort in the fact there was only one fatality,” Lewis’s expression became vacant. She couldn’t quite bring herself to accept that her Captain had been killed in the attack.

“T’Lar, make your way to sickbay. Do what you can there. Bring aboard more medical staff if you have to,” instructed Tannen. The Vulcan doctor nodded and made her way towards the turbolift.

Lewis continued, “Captain Blake was found in her quarters. She had managed to activate the Romulan Protocol before it was too late for her.”

The away team were familiar with the Romulan Protocol, though thankfully never found themselves in a situation to enact it. Even though relations with the Romulans had changed in recent years, there were still elements of the Romulan Star Empire to be wary of that meant the protocol was still part of Starfleet emergency procedures. Tannen believed Mheven to be one such woman.

“She was in her quarters?” Tannen asked.

Lewis straightened her uniform as best she could. “Aye, sir. We believe when the attack began Captain Blake was making her way back to the bridge before she got injured but didn’t manage to make it out of her quarters before giving the command to the ship’s computer. So right now, the computer is locked out and has encrypted all data. We still have manual systems and life support.”

“Understood. Chief, can you work with the computer down? Let’s not make it too easy for our friends to obtain information they shouldn’t be.”

“I’ll do what I can, sir. Though I don’t know how bad the damage is for sure without getting down to Engineering myself. We’re on auxiliary power as it is and a few folks down,” Brighton’s expression looked exasperated, “but, Captain, I’m not happy about repairing her to be given to the Romulans.”

Tannen looked to his first officer. They had known each other just long enough to be able to read each other’s body language. Branson knew that Tannen wasn’t going to let that happen.

“Chief, get yourself down to Engineering. There are wounded and the core is offline. Find out what state we’re in and what’s going to need to be done. Captain Tannen and I will worry about the Romulans.”

As Brighton left, she turned back to Lewis. “Talk us through what happened. The distress call mentioned something about a navigational error?”

“I was on duty, Captain Blake was in her quarters. We were en route to our next survey assignment along the Federation side of the Neutral Zone. Everything was green. Dallon ran a routine course check and that’s when we realised the Nightingale was off course,” Lewis recalled.

“You were off course and it took a navigation check to realise?” Tannen’s tone was one of surprise. In his experience, there would be a warning that the ship was off course the second it was a degree out.

Lewis continued, “That’s just it. Nav systems reported we were on course. Dallon spotted that the detailed star charts didn’t match up to what the computer was telling him. Then before we could change course, a Warbird was on top of us, decloaking and opening fire with no warning. We managed a return volley but the next salvo from the Romulans took out our shields and scored a direct hit on engineering, disabling engines. 

We knew we were outmatched so I’m surprised we did as much damage to them as we did. They demanded our surrender and I complied provided we could tell Starfleet what had happened to minimise diplomatic repercussions. That’s when I sent the distress call.”

Something didn’t add up. Navigational systems very rarely ever have issues unless there’s external interference from anomalies, none of which the Valiant detected in the area or, worse, sabotage.The Romulans themselves were on the scene incredibly fast. 

Branson sighed lightly before verbalizing what she and the captain were both thinking, “Sabotage?” Tannen simply added an agreeing nod.

“I’m not sure how,” Lewis responded.

“That might be up to us to find out. This all seems too coincidental. And when the Romulans are involved…” Branson trailed off slightly. She finally turned to Lewis, “Check for anything out of the ordinary in the ships navigation system or logs; deletions, modifications, strange programs. Something will be there, I’m sure of it.”

She turned to the Captain Tannen, “Orders, captain? Do you want me to assist in engineering?” 

“No, Commander, I think you and I had better take a look at the navigational array itself. Something doesn’t seem right. When was the last time you went for a walk?” Tannen said, stroking his chin in thought.