The sound of a shattering PADD echoed through the underground offices. Vrosik hardly paid any mind now; she’d become used to the outbursts, the manic intensity, the slumps of dejection, and the heat of anger that cycled quickly through her co-worker. She waited for the string of invectives to die down, then picked up a fresh PADD from a neatly-stacked pile at the corner of her desk, pulled her goggles down over her light-sensitive eyes, and strode into the workspace next door. She extended the PADD silently.
Callius, standing in front of his desk, moped silently for a few moments, then snatched the PADD from her hand. He looked down at it and tapped at it a few times, loading in his latest designs from the network and setting it up for use. Finally he mumbled, “Thank you.”
Vrosik started to turn and head back to her workspace, then stopped. She wasn’t sure why she did. Callius’ outbursts slowed down her work and simply underscored his petulant Romulan instability. She preferred to stay in her workspace, keep the lights low, and power through problems quietly and efficiently. Instead she found herself crossing her arms and then saying in her gravelly voice, “What is it this time?”
Callius sighed and said, “I’ve told you about the time that I spent as a fighter pilot in the Imperial Navy, back before…”
Vrosik nodded. “Yes.”
Callius continued, “About the attack on Rhi III, after the formation of the Republic, where we fought against the terrible Elachi walkers in our fighters.”
Vrosik nodded again. “Yes.”
Callius said wistfully, “Ah, glorious times, even if they cost me my natural legs. Shot down, crashed into the ocean… but that intense feeling of having done something worthwhile, it buoyed me even as I was sinking into the water. Strange, isn’t it? I should’ve been panicking, crushed in the cockpit, bleeding my green blood out into the waves, consciousness fading, but I didn’t. All I could think of was how I was glad. Glad that if the end finally caught up with me, it was while I was doing something worthwhile. Something that would save people’s lives.”
Vrosik thought for a moment that she would greatly regret following Callius along his chain of thought. Her grating voice was not really made for taking a conciliatory or warm tone, and she was used to abruptly excusing herself. Nevertheless, she had to admit that she was morbidly curious. The man had just lost his legs and he was happy? It didn’t make any sense. Her investigative mind, the area that teased apart puzzles and demanded answers, wondered if there was some way to keep Callius on track. His Romulan moods were so fickle and so extreme that they were a frequent source of annoyance for her. Even so, they often precipitated moments of brilliance. She regularly wished that she could do away with the outbursts and just keep the genius. Maybe the Vulcans were on to something.
Somewhat against her better judgement, she said, “How does this relate to your current predicament?”
Callius’ indulgent smile of memory twisted down and he replied, “Ah, just thinking… I can’t sit down here in this cave all day! If you want to know how to make something fly, you need to fly.”
Vrosik let the implied slight about the Reman part of the city pass and shrugged. “Won’t figure out how to make something out of our completely nonfunctional impulse manifold designs.”
Callius suddenly grabbed her, quite uninvited, and intently said, “Let’s go. Come on, let’s go up and fly. You’ll see what I mean.” Vrosik briefly considered grabbing his face and putting some pressure on his mind in response to his invasive maneuver, but thought better of it when she decided it would probably just make him more unstable. He spun on his artificial legs and moved toward the exit.
Only a few minutes later they were disembarking from orbital facilities aboard the RRW Reuvhnen. As a veteran and ship designer, Callius had certain privileges, and one of them was the ability to take this particular pilot escort out for maneuver testing any time he wanted.
Callius handled the manual piloting controls smoothly as the ship crested past the facilities and out into space traffic. In contrast to his demeanor in the office, he was completely calm and controlled. Any turmoil was gone, replaced by total focus on the pilot yoke. The barest hint of a smirk crossed his face as he gently tapped the boosters and the ship launched forward, past startled freighter traffic and out away from New Romulus.
Vrosik’s spotted hands dug into the back of the seat from behind Callius, and then she quickly moved to one of the other seats. The small enlisted crew of the ship said nothing, simply keeping their eyes on their stations.
Callius eased the ship into a slow roll followed by a flat spin to turn and look back at New Romulus while flying away from it. “This is what I mean,” he said eagerly to Vrosik. “Flying is freedom. Ah, the raptor’s wings are our wings.”
Vrosik simply nodded and waited for her vertigo to subside. Callius re-asserted the engines. The ship slowed, then soared forward once more. He banked gracefully and passed over a D’ridthau-class warbird still in the slips as he headed toward one of the planet’s moons. Nearby, the black-and-white form of an Obelisk-class ship lurked.
Vrosik had never liked the Obelisk. The design was bulky and tremendous, filled with automation that was all driven by the whims of long-missing aliens. Since it had been brought back from the Dyson sphere it had been a subject of constant research, both anthropological and technical. She’d been aboard the ship herself several times, and even though its ambient lighting suited her Reman eyes, she was put off by the vessel’s strange curves, its matter/anti-matter warp core, and the squirming robotic fighters that it carried and manufactured independently.
Callius continued his meandering chat as he brought the Reuvhnen around the Obelisk. “Now this,” he said, “is a simultaneously sad and breathtaking example of shipbuilding. Left untended for centuries and it still comes to power and flies without a hitch under the hands of a crew who’ve never seen anything like it before… but it’s built for alien hands, or claws, and it doesn’t even have the advantage of homing guidance systems for torpedoes, which are the only thing that keep the D’deridex-class and its descendants usable given their general lack of maneuverability.”
The Reuvhnen slowed to a glacial pace as Callius brought it into a circle around the Obelisk. “Reuvhnen to Obelisk,” said Callius as he thumbed open a comm channel. “Mind giving us something to shoot at for a test run?”
After a few moments the carefully-modulated tone of an exasperated maintenance technician replied, “Acknowledged. Prepare for swarmers.”
The small launch bays on the sides of the Obelisk opened and the tentacled machines belched forth. Crew at their stations called out tactical directions and acknowledged simulation mode as Callius rolled the agile ship to one side and spun it to provide a firing solution for the ship’s cannons.
Vrosik closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. This was a waste of time.
The Reuvhnen shuddered as the antimatter beams from the swarmers glanced off its shields.
“They’re live firing!” shouted one of the crew. Callius’ face went from a look of enthusiasm to a momentary frown of consternation, then smoothed into an impassive mask of concentration.
“Reuvhnen to New Romulus control. We have an incident up here,” he barked over his comm channel. “Swarmers from the Obelisk aren’t responding to simulation mode. We’re going to clean them up.” He glanced over at Vrosik. “Weapons free. Cancel simulation training mode.”
Surprised and taken aback, Vrosik quickly worked the controls to bring the gunship’s weapons hot. Callius pulled and struggled with the pilot yoke as the ship twisted and corkscrewed through evasive maneuvers, then pushed down the cycle regulators for the cannons to bring them into a rapid-fire solution. Bright tears of plasma erupted from the ship, and swarmers turned into hot, expanding vapor. Vrosik spared a glance at Callius, and was surprised to see that his glacial demeanor remained. His trigger finger on the pilot yoke was completely still, just tapping the activator for the barest moments to erase the swarmers as their ship brought them into the line of fire. She realized that he wasn’t just piloting to target the swarmers, but to avoid accidentally sending fire toward any of the other system traffic. The concentration level was intense.
The Obelisk itself moved, in its lumbering fashion, slowly breaking away from the engagement. “Obelisk, why aren’t you firing?” asked Callius.
“Our targeting systems won’t fire on our own fighters,” came the reply.
Callius’ cheeks flexed as he gritted his teeth in response. The ship rocked again, this time sending a loose PADD skittering across the deck.
Vrosik changed her console configuration and brought up the schematics and history on the swarmers. She’d read it before, cursorily, but now she looked for anything that might give them an edge against the numerous flailing foes. Suddenly she turned to Callius and urgently said, “I have to take the main engine offline. Just give me… twenty seconds.”
Callius glanced sideways at her with a look that implied she’d gone mad, but he simply nodded. He pushed the throttle down to zero, and the swarmers rapidly clustered around the ship, cutting away at it with their antiproton beams. The internal lights flickered, then died; dim emergency lights came up. Crewmembers called out fearfully as systems took damage. Their unmoving ship, sitting in space, lost its great mobility advantage.
“Hold together,” whispered Callius. “Just hold together.”
The singularity core spiked as its power output suddenly ramped up to enormous levels. Vrosik shoved all of it into wave-particle generation, a tremendous burst that flooded outward and caught the swarmers in a field of excited, barely-modulated frenetic energy. As one, they suddenly stopped, dead in space.
After a moment’s breath, Callius turned in his chair to regard Vrosik. “What did you do?” he asked. “Some kind of charged particle burst? Normally those just overwhelm shields.”
“I changed it,” says Vrosik. “The swarmers were working under some kind of automation protocol… the same automation that the Obelisk uses, all built originally by the lost builders who once served the Iconians. So I thought, what if they thought we were Iconians? We don’t have the gear aboard to make a gateway… but a singularity engine is a hypermass. And hypermasses can serve as wormhole conduits to other spaces. I just had to turn our engine into something that looked enough like an Iconian gate to make the swarmers think that they were attacking an Iconian ship.”
Callius nodded. “Brilliant work. And…” he snapped his fingers suddenly. “That gives me an idea.” His eyes twinkled in the darkness. Vrosik removed her glare goggles, comfortable in the dimness, and regarded him coolly.
“The problem we were working on?” he prompted. “We’ve been completely married to Romulan designs. They’ve served us so well, why change them? But sometimes risk is what you need. Let’s take a risk. Your singularity core trick worked; it was able to convincingly pass as Iconian technology. Going a step further, we have all kinds of Dewan technology from the remnants scattered about New Romulus. Let’s see what we can do with it when it thinks that it’s the old boss telling it what to do.”
Vrosik started to object, then shut her mouth. Her idea had seemed a terrible one at the time, but it worked. Maybe there was room for another terrible idea that might work. “I suppose… we could try. The Dewans didn’t build things like we do. Maybe we’ll find something interesting.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” said Callius. “The Obelisk is not a ship I’d want to fly, but it’s a tough beast. If the Dewans follow similar designs—if their technology was guided partly by exposure to the Iconian way of doing things—perhaps we can leverage that into something that will give us a tougher ship.”
Vrosik nodded slowly. “It’s possible. No Dewan automation though,” she said pointedly.
Callius chuckled. “Agreed. And it better handle well. I can’t stand the thought of making something I wouldn’t want to fly.”
Looking around the darkened bridge where the crew now worked to restore power, Vrosik said wryly, “I doubt you’ll be flying us anywhere for at least half an hour.” She pushed herself up out of her seat and said, “I might as well head down to engineering and see if I can help with the engine. The chief engineer is probably ready to tear my head off, anyway.”
With a nod, Callius said, “Go, go. I need a PADD. I have ideas.”
Staff Game Designer
Star Trek Online