Episode 4: Whispers In the Dark
"Captain's Log, Supplemental. Nogura is at high warp in an effort to intercept the vessel suspected to be the Carpathia. Whilst the starship Thesis pursues the craft, if we can cut her off we have an even better chance of apprehending Nathan Hunter and rescuing the missing child..."
The bridge was silent as the Sovereign-class vessel hurtled through space at high warp, headed in the apparent direction of the Carpathia and her pursuer. No one dared speak as they watched, waited. Only the Vulcan at science seemed to be doing any real work as she tapped away at her console trying to make sense of the various bits of information that had been presented to her.
In the absence of Naddia Yole, Andy Carter was at the Operations station, but she was operating largely on auto pilot, barely taking in the information on her console before her metal-tipped fingers automatically tapped at the commands on the screen; it was nothing of consequence so far, just routine ship functions she didn't really need to thinking about, which was good because after punching in that section of bulkhead, Andy just felt numb.
Tara Neprem was not at her usual station at the rear of the Bridge; as Second Officer, she was now the acting XO, and as such she was standing between the command chairs and the Operations station to keep an eye on the moody Master Chief. Not that Tara blamed Andy for being in the state she was in; Tara had no children herself, but Neprem's first host, Kareel, had had several, and the thought of anything happening to those children made her blood run cold.
"Do you have something?" Tara spoke up when she noticed the Vulcan Science Officer tapping away at her console, and then she moved closer to see if it was anything noteworthy.
“Possibly,” the Vulcan remarked without ever taking her eyes off of her console. She had to be sure before she revealed her findings, it would only take a few seconds after all. “Thesis has come to a complete standstill and a vessel matching the Carpathia’s description is entering the Apizmic system,” she Vulcan revealed.
With a hand on the back of the Vulcan's chair, Tara leaned in to get a better look. "Let's be sure that this is the right vessel; keep a lock on the vessel and contact the Thesis to verify your readings, but in the meantime it won't hurt to alter course to intercept," Tara said in a pleased tone. Tara straightened up and gave the hem her uniform jacket a tug, then strode back to the command pit, casting a hopeful glance to Operations as she passed by. "Helm, adjust our heading to intercept with the unknown vessel in the Apizmic system."
Nilani watched in silence, letting the Commander run the show for now until she felt the need to intervene. Afterall, she wouldn't have done anything different to Tara so far anyway.
"Course adjusted," the Helmsman declared.
"Captain," the Vulcan called out, "we're receiving an incoming transmission from the Thesis," she declared as she tapped away at her science station. "Captain th'Zorati is holding position at the edge of the system and is awaiting orders."
Nilani looked towards Tara and raised an eyebrow. "Suggestions?"
"If this is our ship," said Thawn in a measured voice, "then let's assume we're up against someone smart enough to suspect they're being followed. It's possible they have a bead on the Thesis - not necessarily sure, but that's the trajectory they'll expect pursuit to come from. They're unlikely to expect backup, being us. We can calculate their likely escape trajectories, position ourselves in the way, and let the Thesis make the initial approach. Then the Carpathia either runs into us, or we can tighten the net. The Thesis is just a backstop then to let us close in on the target. Once we've stopped them from bolting comes the really hard part."
"Helm," the Captain called out, "keep us out of the sensor range of the Carpathia. We'll head in under impulse power and take her by surprise," Nilani instructed as she shuffled in her chair and grabbed both arms tightly. "Passive scans. I don't want them to detect us," she concluded.
Tara nodded. "If this is Hunter, he's clever. He may notice the passive scans," Tara mused aloud, wringing her hands slightly behind her back. "We could take a gamble, open communications with him; hearing me on the hail may give him cause to stop for a moment, and we could use that opportunity to swoop in quick to get a tractor beam on the Carpathia," she suggested to Nilani.
“Make it so,” the Captain nodded.
Tara took a moment to steel herself for this gambit; it was risky, she knew, but in her gut she also knew that this was Hunter and he would respond! In her brief time as XO of DS10, she had learned that there was a big different between the truth and wanting something to be true, and she was torn about what she wanted to believe; on the one hand, she didn't want to believe that Nathan would so something like this, but on the other hand, if this was Nathan then the chase would be over and she could finally start to understand why, why he had betrayed everything he stood for in his service to the Federation. Despite the inner conflict and doubt, Tara had to trust her gut on this one.
"Helm, prepare for a rapid intercept to put us in position for a tractor lock on the Carpathia. Ops, ready the tractor beam and then open a channel to the Carpathia," Tara ordered. Right away, she could see the Helmsman adjusting their heading, but she heard nothing from Ops. Tara turned to look at Chief Carter to find her in a daze.
"Chief, Are you with us?" Tara said firmly, which managed to snap Andy out of her thoughts.
"Yeah," Andy said shakily, looking at her console for a moment like she finally realized where she was. "Uh, yes, yes ma'am, I'm here," she continued as she regained control of her wits and refocused.
"Ready the tractor beam and open a channel to the Carpathia," Tara repeated.
Andy nodded as she got to work, then they could hear the chirp of the hailing frequency opening. "Channel open," Andy reported.
"Carpathia, this is the USS Nogura-" Tara started, ready to go into an official request, but then quickly decided against it, choosing instead a more personal plea. "Nathan, are you there? Nathan, it's me, Tara. Please, I just want to talk; I'm sorry I left like I did, I didn't mean to abandon you, but I wasn't well, I couldn't help you... But I'm here now and I just want to understand. Please Nathan, talk to me..."
Captain Azulas watched, listened and waited to see if the speech by the Commander would have any effect. After what felt like an age, a voice filled the bridge; a voice that sent chills down the Captain’s spine.
“Well Tara... they’ve convinced you to turn your back on me have they? On some foolish idealistic crusade to bring me to justice... or could it be...” he took a pause before speaking with a hint of laughter in his voice, “or could it be that you have a former Borg aboard who’s missing something and you came to help her?” the voice trailed off.
"Oi, you son of a bi-" Andy started to say, but she was cut off from doing more damage when Tara maneuvered around the Ops console to slap her hand over Andy's mouth.
"Nathan, I haven't turned my back on you, I just want to understand," Tara implored, still holding Andy's mouth shut and glaring daggers at the ex-Borg woman. "All the things they say you did, it's terrible, I don't want to believe it's true."
“Oh Tara. You always were naive. Everything they’ve probably told you is true,” the former Captain of the starships Venture and Nogura, not to mention DS10, confirmed. “I’ve used people, I’ve hurt people and I’ve killed people. I have done unspeakable things for one reason only,” the man scoffed over the air waves. “The oppression of the Federation, and people like you, must end,” he scathed.
"No, you are the one that's naive!" Tara called back, finally releasing her hold on Chief Carter. Tara then muted the comm-line and looked to the helmsman. "Engage to intercept," she said, then reactivated the line to Nathan. "All I wanted was to understand, and now I do: you're a fool to think that killing innocents will solve anything! Release the boy."
“I will release the boy...” The former commander of the Nogura revealed, initially to the surprise of everyone on the bridge, until he spoke again. “I will only release him once I have spoken to Admiral Hanson. If anyone tries to take him, I’ll destroy the Carpathia and take little JP with me,” he informed sternly.
At that point, Azulas rose from her chair and stepped forth, standing between the conn and Ops stations at the fore of the bridge. “Mister Hunter, his is Captain Azulas,” she called out, “I speak on behalf of Admiral Hanson, with his complete authority. I’d like to meet with you, one on one, to discuss our options and your demands,” she looked down at Chief Carter, “our only goal is the safe return of the child.”
There was silence on the end of the line for what seemed like an age as Hunter considered his options. “You’ll receive some coordinates. Tara is to come, alone. Bring a Runabout,” he instructed before the line went dead.
Tara stood frozen for a moment before finally releasing a hard, ragged breath, then she looked to Chief Carter, who wasn't doing much better than herself.
"Helm, fullstop," Tara said; they couldn't continue their advance on the Carpathia with the knowledge that they could pressure Hunter to blow up the Carpathia. But somehow, even that that knowledge didn't track... Hunter wasn't suicidal! "Are we going to give in to his demands?" Tara asked Nilani, fixing her with a tense gaze.
"Of course you are, or he's gonna-" Andy started to say, but Tara was quick to cut her off.
"Chief, that is enough!" Tara said sternly. "I know this is hard for you, but we have to consider our options carefully; we could give him exactly what he wants and he could decide to kill your son anyway," she reminded her fellow Engineer.
"Right..." Andy said, shuffling her feet uncomfortably. "Sorry..."
With a sigh, Tara rubbed at the bridge of her nose to try to relieve the headache building between her eyes. "So, our options?" Tara asked Nilani. "The Federation doesn't negotiate with terrorists, but he does have our hands tied," she pointed out.
"Lieutenant Seyla, Chief Carter. Please join Commander Neprem and I in the turbo lift," Nilani requested as she glanced at Tara briefly and then turned, heading past T'Prynn at Science. "You are in command until I return. Stand by for further orders Commander," the Captain instructed. A single nod from the Vulcan indicated her acknowledgement as the Captain led the quartet to the aft turbolift.
Andy handed her station off to a relief officer, then followed Tara and Nilani to the lift.
"You have a plan," Andy stated as she stepped into the lift. "Not a question, an observation, and now I need to know what this plan is," she added in no uncertain terms.
"Patience Chief. Patience..." the Captain smiled. All would soon become clear.