The thunderous roar from outside their tent stopped Sheridan and Lisley mid discussion. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as both of them dived from the entrance and looked on in mute horror as a cloud of mud, rock and dust collapsed down on the stranded hull of the Defender. Eventually the terrible sound subsided as the cloud of dust rolled off the fallen starship obscuring its fate along with that of James Dulmis and the Captain. As the dust enveloped her it stung Kate’s eyes and irritated her throat, causing her to cough repeatedly. She fought for control, overcoming the sudden need for water, and started to cover the small distance between the tent and where Lex and Dulmis stood, Lisley close behind. Everything, including Dulmis and Lex was now covered in a thin layer of dust.
“Are you alright Captain?” she called out to Lex.
“I’m fine,” the Captain responded, emerging from the cloud, brushing dust off his uniform.
“I’m fine too, Sir,” Dulmis coughed.
Sheridan looked to Lex for further confirmation, but he was looking in the direction of the ship and her gaze soon followed his. The dust cloud was now beginning to clear and she could now see only a mound of rock and earth where the hull of the Defiant-class starship had once been. It also revealed three figures standing only a short distance from them; Lieutenant Johnson, Crewman Rhodes and Ensign Conrad.
“Glad to see you made it out in one piece Lieutenant,” said Lex. “Do you know if the Shuttles got clear in time?”
“I don’t know,” replied Johnson. “They were still manoeuvring out from underneath when we executed the evacuation program and lost contact.”
Kate knew Lex was now weighing up whether the risk involved in extracting the three surviving shuttlecraft from the crippled Defender had been worth the lives of three of those under his command. She also knew in hindsight it never seemed like it was, even with the knowledge that those who had died had known the risks and still did their duty gladly.
One of the few memories Kate had of her mother was her cautioning her about the dangers of making snap statements based on such strong emotions. Her mother had used the example of a friend she had ordered on an away team, only for him to be brutally murdered by the natives. The way he’d died had led her to declare that the risks taken by Starfleet in the exploration of the universe weren’t worth it. It was a comment that over time she had come to regret, feeling that it sullied the memory of her dead friend. She had told Kate risk was a part of the job and every member of Starfleet knew that when they signed up. Risk was their business and benefits of exploring the universe far out weighed any of those risks. They were words that were still close to Kate’s heart and she moved to reassure Lex with them too.
Another low rumble stopped Kate before she could utter a word though and caused all of them to look towards the nearest section of the quarry wall, fearing that they were also about to be buried by rock. However it only lasted as moment as no rocks were falling and they began to look for other sources for the sound.
“Those are shuttle engines!” said Dulmis a moment before the realisation filtered thought to the rest of them. Immediately they looked skyward, just in time to see the White and one of the Type 18 shuttlepods clear the dust cloud and touch down. They approached to the rear of the shuttlecraft as the rear hatches opened to reveal Arkin Jora in the shuttle and Sarah McGregor in the shuttlepod.
“Are we glad to see you,” exclaimed Lisley. “We thought you’d been buried in the rock slide.”
“Where’s the other shuttlepod?” asked Lex. Sheridan could see he already feared the answer.
“It didn’t make it,” said McGregor, her eyes downcast and her voice quiet. “The struts couldn’t take the weight of the falling rock and they collapsed, bringing the ship down right behind me. I only just managed get out. I’m afraid Ensign Maxwell wasn’t so lucky.”
Silence fell over the group in a spontaneous show of respect for their fallen comrade and for every second they were silent, Jonozia Lex felt Maxwell’s loss as acutely as he had every life lost under his command. Already he’d lost over a quarter of the Defender’s crew since the ship had crashed and he quietly vowed that Raymond Maxwell would be the last.
After allowing a respectful amount of time to pass, Lex pushed Maxwell’s death to the back of his mind. If they were going to survive this there was still a lot work to be done.
“Get these shuttles under cover and back to full operation,” he ordered. “I also want their deflectors modified to prevent their detection by the technology of this era.”
“Aye Sir.” Johnson replied.
He watched as everyone moved with the efficiency he’d come to expect from his crew. Arkin disappeared back inside the White, while McGregor returned to the shuttlepod and after a moment the two ships lifted a small way off the ground and hovered the short distance to where they could be placed under cover. The rest of the group also dispersed with Johnson, Rhodes and Conrad heading in the same direction as the shuttles and Dulmis returning to monitor the civilian and military communications as before, leaving Lex, Sheridan and Lisley alone.
“Lieutenant Dulmis tells me you might have something of a temporal concern, Commander,” Lex said to Lisley. “What have you found?”
“We’ve discovered an air force base about 60 kilometres north west of us that’s receiving a high than expected amount of com-traffic.”
“You think they’ve detected us?”
“Possibly. It’s certainly a cause for concern. Whatever was going on at the base was pretty sensitive,” she said. “Almost everything was classified Top Secret to all but the highest echelons of the Optimum. I did discover the name of the project they were working on though. It was called Impetus.”
Lex immediately recognised the name. Project: Impetus was well known to him thanks to Saren Lex’s research. She had discovered several references to it along with several accompanying theories as to its purpose, but that was where the problems began. There had been no conclusive evidence to back any one theory though and none of them had revealed the project’s location, so she’d placed it to one side and continued her work. The historian in him that was once Saren could see the opportunity to clear up one of history’s great mysteries, but this was also tempered with caution thanks to the knowledge about where and when he was. He looked questioningly at Lisley.
“Project: Impetus?” he said. “Are you sure?”
“Definitely,” said Lisley. “I compared the requisition orders from the base with those in the Project’s surviving records and found several matches.”
That explained to Lex how Saren had missed the connection; matching the base’s records to projects would create a better match than the other way around.
“Do the requisition orders give any indication as to the projects purpose?” Lex asked, his interest growing.
“Unfortunately not. Most of the orders are for components and materials that have a wide range of uses and with the files on the Project being stored in the MI5 building when it was destroyed with most of the rest of London, we can’t tell which items were requisitioned for the project and which were destined for something else,” said Lisley. “What little information there is does indicate that that the project was due to be activated shortly following an Optimum’s victory. It doesn’t give an indication of a time frame, but given that the Optimum were expecting the launch of their nuclear arsenal to provide that it would stand to reason it was somewhere in the near future. However there’s no evidence that it ever happened.”
“That could have something to do with the fact that the Optimum didn’t win,” suggested Sheridan, “or maybe the ECON raid on the base has something to do with it.”
“The ECON are going to raid the base?” asked Lex in surprise. As far as he knew there was no evidence that the ECON ever managed to land any troops on the British mainland. Lisley gave a look to Sheridan that said she hadn’t thought there was any either and that the data hadn’t been considered important enough to bring to the Captain’s attention. It also suggested that Sheridan already knew that.
Lex was pleased that Kate wanted him to have all the available information but was unhappy about how she’d conveyed it. Going over the head of a senior officer was never a good move.
“That’s under debate,” Lisley said, her voice low suggesting that it hadn’t been until just now. She swiftly turned back to Lex and her voice lightened, “According to the surviving records from the base it was attacked by an ECON special ops team two days from now. The reports say that the ECON held a section of the base from the Optimum for at least two further days before re-enforcements where called up from London. However, after that there’s no record of what happened to the ECON team or any reference to such an attack or the base in any of the surviving ECON files. It’s as if it came out of nowhere with no planning and no preparation and then disappeared with no trace.”
“Those files could have been lost too,” said Sheridan, still pressing the point that she’d obviously given the first officer earlier.
Lisley shook her head, reiterating her own argument. “Unlikely. Even with something as top secret as Project: Impetus I was still able to find something. There’s no evidence at all that this raid was even planned, let alone implemented, and there are far more plausible possibilities.”
“Such as?” Lex asked.
“The re-enforcements were ordered up from London by Adrik Thorsen,” said Lisley, “and after the war he used them gain control of the remaining Optimum forces and establish his dictatorship over Britain. The most likely scenario is that he had planned for possible ECON retaliation by stockpiling materials, equipment and personnel. He fabricated the attack to ensure he would have a large enough force for his own rise to power after the strikes.”
Adrik Thorsen was a name well known to Lex as well. A strong ally of Colonel Green, he had been a Colonel in the British Republic Army during the war. He’d been the highest ranking survivor of the Optimum in Britain, taking control of the country by force in the aftermath of the nuclear attacks and ruled with an iron fist for fifteen years until his apparent death after a run in with Zefram Cochrane. It didn’t surprise Lex to hear his name connected to something like Impetus.
“That doesn’t add up with the importance of Project: Impetus,” responded Sheridan.
“It does if Impetus was Thorsen’s pet project, and there’s a fair amount of evidence that it was,” said Lisley. “The simplest explanation for the project’s goal is that it was to ensure the survival of those troops and provide Thorsen with the resources to seize power.”
Lex decided to interject between his two officers, before the discussion got any further out of hand. “Either way I think it’s best we learn as much about this base as possible, just in case they’ve noticed us,” he said. “Elizabeth, assemble a recon team and gather as much intelligence as possible without interfering with the timeline,” finished Lex. “You’ll leave as soon as the shuttlepod is ready and I want you report back within 12 hours.”
“Aye Sir,” she replied.
“You’re both dismissed.”
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