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"Things Are Never Easy"
Previous post "Ride of the Valkyries"
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The true test of a leader is whether his followers will adhere to his cause from their own volition, enduring the most arduous hardships without being forced to do so, and remaining steadfast in the moments of greatest peril.
- Xenophon

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Setting: VIPER 1, Cockpit
Stardate: 30148.0750

The further they pressed into the atmosphere of the small, inhospitable moon, the more the Native American had to concentrate on piloting the small craft. Unlike other small ships of the Federation which heavily relied on computer assistance, the VIPERs had been designed to mostly respond to the pilot's actions and thoughts. The readouts were all there to help the pilot make the right decision, but in the end it was him that needed to do what had been required to avoid a most unpleasant turn of events.

The three VIPERs had taken up a triangular formation around the SPHINX, using their short-range confinement beams to help the larger vessel remain on course as it descended towards the moon's surface. The Mobile Command Unite had been designed to accomplish such treks, but not while being tossed around by winds that would have given the ANUBIS itself a hard time.

In order for the confinement beam to work as intended, the VIPER needed to remain between 200 and 100 meters from the target. Under normal circumstances this would have required the complete attention of the most expert pilot, in their current situation though there had been absolutely no margin for error.  That the aCMO had suddenly decided to make herself busy by running tests and establishing a transporter lock on each of the pilots had been a demand on their time and attention that the Native American could not spare.

On a few occasions the Captain had thought about mentioning this to Ensign Mizore or even to Lieutenant Commander Maya, but each time a sudden jolt of the small interceptor reminded the Native American of where his attention had been most required.  Once on the moon's surface there would be ample time for the Captain to confront the Ensign and explain as to the ill timing of her efforts.  It was more than understandable that the newest member of the crew had wished to prove herself to everyone else, but there had been a time and place for such show of devotion; and there rocky descent had been neither.

--==(/\)==--

Setting: SPHINX, Command Deck
Stardate: 30148.0800

Roughly half way through their turbulent descent, the Officers manning the SPHINX's Command Deck had already received more than their fair share of bumps and bruised caused by the violent shaking of the craft. Of course no one dared saying anything about these as everyone knew that the journey so far could have been, and still held the possibility of, being far worse.

"Ensign Shar'El to VIPER 3," the ILO said, the communication channel having been left opened in case an emergency surfaced.  "Watch your distance. You came within 125 meters of the SPHINX."

=/\= I'm doing my best here, =/\= the OPS Officer replied, a clear tone of annoyance lacing his words.  =/\= Flying this ship is not as easy as it looks, and this blasted wind is not making things any easier.  Tell you what, next time you pilot a VIPER and I'll take the comfy seat on board the SPHINX. =/\=

The situation had been difficult for everyone, so it had made sense for the acting Executive Officer not to confront the Ensign about the tone of his words, so instead the Shillian opted to offer what she hoped would be a helpful hint as to the VIPER's unique interface.

"Ensign Stark, if I may," Lieutenant Commander Maya interjected.  "The VIPERs were designed not only to respond to a pilot's manual input through the control stick but also through the cerebral interface contained in your helmet.  In short the craft is designed to, in some ways, respond to your thoughts as well as your actions."

=/\ It's called a joystick Commander, =/\= the Zaldan pilot stated on the open channel. =/\= and that might explain why I am having such a hard time flying this thing, I don't have my helmet on. =/\=

::I know I am going to regret asking,:: Lieutenant Dalziel thought with a faint sigh.  "Where is your helm?"

=/\= On the floor of the VIPER Launch Bay,=/\= the imposing pilot answer. =/\= I took the headset out and left the rest behind. =/\=

"Ensign Stark," the acting Executive Officer continued with, recalling everyone back on the situation at hand. "Try to relax your mind and allow your thoughts to help guide the VIPER through the atmospheric disturbances."

A few seconds passed in silence as everyone waited to see what would happen before the ILO once again spoke.  "Now reading VIPER 3 at a steady 185 meters from us."

"What about VIPER 2?" the acting ExO inquired, surprised that nothing had been mentioned prior to now, especially given that the Ensign had not been benefiting from one of the most useful aspects of the VIPER's systems.

"Ttosk has maintained his craft between 195 and 175 meters from the SPHINX since the very beginning," the Intel Liaison Officer reported, a faint hint of admiration in her voice.

"At least that big lug has *one* useful skill," Sonja muttered under her breath as she recalled the earlier run-ins the CEO had with the FCO.

"SPHINX to all crafts," the ILO added as something appeared on her console. "Sensors are picking up multiple electrical discharges in the clouds ahead, we are likely heading straight into the middle of a thunderstorm."

"Be sure that all of the systems are secured and shielded," the Shillian stated not truly fearing for anything to happen given that all of the crafts had been designed to withstand electrical impacts far greater than anything any thunderstorm could produce.

--==(/\)==--

Setting: Moon of PI ALPHA III, Lower Atmosphere
Stardate: 30148.0810

Battered by apocalyptic-strength winds and torrential rains, the four crafts continued their hurried descent towards the surface, the VIPERs managing to stay, through whatever means available, in formation around the SPHINX.  Having come this far and gained both skills and knowledge to help them in the moments to come, it seemed that a successful conclusion to the first part of their training mission was well within reach.

--==(/\)==--

Setting: SPHINX, Command Deck
Stardate: 30148.0815

A gentle smile formed on the lips of the Chief Medical Officer as she noted a decrease in the heart rate of the VIPER pilots as well as the members of the SPHINX's crew.  Granted the change had been very small, but it had nonetheless been an indication that the team had begun to truly adapt to their current environment.

That was when a bright explosion of light filled the stormy skies beyond the walls of the SPHINX.  The blast had been so powerful that it reached deep inside the craft through the four small windows causing several members of the crew to be momentarily blinded.

"REPORT!" Maya demanded as she quickly surveyed her instruments and the Officers around her to make sure that everyone was alright.

"Give me a second," Sonja announced as she blinked repeatedly in an effort to ward off the effect of the flash. "I can't see anything right now."

"Not reading anything wrong with our instruments," the Cardassian born Counselor added, her eyes not having been affected as much by the bright explosion of light.

"What about the VIPERs?" the Shillian continued as she turned her attention to the ILO who had been manning the Tactical and Sensor station.

"All three VIPERs are there and on course," Shar'El confirmed with relief.

"Whatever that was seems to not have caused any damage," the CEO added as she surveyed her console with what she had been able to regain of her vision.

"Commander!" Doctor Doyanne stated in a panic. "I am not getting *any* life readings from VIPER 1."

Maya turned to look at the ILO once again and received a non-verbal confirmation that the interceptor in question had still been where it should have been.  "SPHINX to VIPER 1... Captain Morningstar please respond."

Lillie noted a sharp rise in the heart rates of everyone as the call to the ANUBIS' CO was met with nothing but silence.

"VIPER 1 is now 170 meters from us and closing," Shar'El announced, not at all liking this unexpected turn of events.

"SPHINX to VIPER 1," Maya repeated as she leaned forward in her seat as far as her restraints permitted. "Captain Morningstar, *please* respond."

Maya turned her attention back to the CMO in the hopes that Lillie would be able to offer some sort of explanation, but instead the acting ExO only received a faint shake of the woman's head confirming that no life signs had been received from the lead VIPER.

"SPHINX to VIPER 1, Captain Morningstar, can you hear me?" The Shililan's voice had been on the edge of panic but the posture of the woman remained calm.

"VIPER 1 now at 150 meters and closing," the ILO reported. "Collision in 18 seconds."

"Helm!" the Shillian began as she looked down at the small console on the armrest of her chair, "Try to keep us on a parallel course to VIPER 1.  VIPER 2 and 3 can either one of you see what happened?"

=/\= Negative, =/\= came the simultaneous reply from the other two pilots.

"VIPER 1 now at 120 meters and closing," Shar'El stated in a trembling voice.

"The SPHINX does not have the needed maneuvering capabilities to pull away," Sonja reported as she worked frantically to try and resolve the problem they were now faced with. "We have to rely on the VIPERs to help guide us and in this storm even they are having problems."

"SPHINX to VIPER 1," Maya tried once again. "Captain Morningstar, please respond."

"Still no reply and no life signs," the CMO reported unsure as to what to offer next.

"VIPER 1 now at 85 meters from us, collision in 10 seconds," the Intel Liaison Officer reported, unsure as to what to offer as well.

"SPHINX to VIPERs 2 and 3, fall back 200 meters and arm weapons. Destroy VIPER 1 on my mark," the Shillian ordered.

=/\= What?!? =/\=

=/\= You can't be serious? =/\=

"DO IT!," Maya forcefully confirmed as she looked down at her instruments to test the mathematical probabilities of her theory which was about to be turned into reality.  "Ensign Shar'El, lock transporter on the coordinates acquired by the earlier tests on VIPER 1 and beam the Captain directly to the Infirmary.  Doctor Seska, stand by to receive a wounded."

=/\= Standing by, =/\= the aCMO replied having been listening in on the entire matter since the very beginning.

"VIPER 1 is at 50 meters," Eve reported having taken over the task of tracking the interceptor's rapid approach while the ILO worked on getting a transporter lock.

"Locked established," Shar'El announced, not waiting a single second to initiate the transport. "Energizing."

"VIPERs 2 and 3... FIRE!"

Seconds later the sound of an explosion was immediately followed by the SPHINX being shook to one side hard. Although everyone had been more than concerned about the fate of their CO, the crew had more immediate issues to deal with.

"SPHINX to VIPERs, take up position on either side of the SPHINX and do your best to keep us from losing attitude control," the Shillian ordered as she tried her best to not think about their Captain, not knowing if the man had been brought back dead, alive or even if the procedure had actually been successful at all. "Lieutenant Paquette and Dalziel, divert all available power to the thrusters, we still have a fair deal of distance between us and the surface.

--==(/\)==--

Setting: SPHINX, Infirmary
Stardate: 30148.0825

The body of the ANUBIS' Commanding Officer had indeed materialized on the one and only bio bed, and to the aCMO's relief the Native American had been alive, but his vital signs had not been conducive to that staying for long.  After having identified the cause of the fluctuating readings, Doctor Mizore selected a specific hypospray and applied it to the Captain's neck.

The results were almost immediate.

Seska allowed a deep sigh of relief to fill the still the open channel. "The Captain is alive and will make a full recovery, although I recommend that he rest for a while."  After closing the communications' frequency to give herself and the CO a little bit of privacy, the aCMO leaned in closer to the man who laid on the examination table. "Welcome to the SPHINX Captain Morningstar."

Still rather disoriented by all that had just happened, the Native American offered nothing more than a smile knowing all too well that he had been most fortunate to having been where he was in the state that he had been. Beyond that, Erik knew that the talk he had expected to have with the aCMO would be a completely different one from that he had initially expected to have with the Ensign.  Before then though, the Captain found the strength within him to give the Doctor by his side two simple words.

"Thank you."

--==(/\)==--

Francois Charette

Captain Erik Morningstar
Commanding Officer
USS ANUBIS, NCC 18501

AND

Lt. Commander Elan Fairborn
Robotics Engineering Officer
NEW ALEXANDRIA