Star Trek Hunter
Episode 18: World on Fire
Scene 1: Operation Hermit Crab
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18.1
Operation Hermit Crab
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"If I weren't frightened out of my wits, I would have to say this is exactly why I signed up," said Ensign Geoffrey Horatio Alstars in his bristly Oxford accent. He lifted a tool that looked like a cross between an oversize phaser rifle and a fire hose. It had a homespun look to it of a newly invented gadget made from parts that were never designed to be assembled in that way or actually put together into the same contraption at all. Alstars was in a full EVA suit, standing in the rear hatch of the wagon.

A bulkhead sealed the flight booth of the wagon, allowing the rear compartment to be evacuated of air and opened to space. Alstars was harnessed inside the back compartment as he aimed the hose end toward an asteroid. A broad matter stream flowed from the asteroid into the open end of the hose. The hose curled in a broad loop and snaked back out the aft port of the wagon up over the rear hatch door onto the top of the wagon where Lt. Napoleon Boles stood - also clad in an EVA suit, his magnetized boots clamped firmly to the top of the wagon. Boles was holding the other end of the hose, a particle stream spewing out of an appliance that looked similar but not identical to the one Alstars was using.

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"I like this thing," Boles replied, using his end of the hose to sculpt a large structure onto the asteroid. "So in addition to being a math whiz, looks like you're quite the tinker."

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The wagon was slowly pulling away from the asteroid and rotating slowly on its longitudinal axis as Alstars continued dematerializing rock and sucking it into his homemade device and Boles, standing atop the wagon, spewed rematerialized rock out the other end and used it to construct a large, open structure, reinforcing various segments with a variety of struts and buttresses. The structure was already quite large.

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"Okay, Tauk," said Boles, "it should be big enough - can you confirm with your readings?"

"Confirmed," came the voice of the U.S.S. Hunter's director of ground operations. "But it looks a little smooth on the outside."

"Let's get you in there first, then I'll pretty up the outside. We'll pick up some rock from the other end," Boles responded.

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Lt. Tauk was standing at the tactical/communications station at the back of the bridge of the Hunter. "Going to be a tight fit."

"Just what the doctor ordered," replied Commander David Pepper, seated in the captain's chair. "Wayne, get out of there. Kenny, get us parked."

"Aye sir," came the voice of Chief Flight Specialist Dewayne Guth from the flight booth on the wagon.

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On the viewscreen on the Hunter's bridge, the bridge crew watched as the wagon, with Lt. Napoleon Boles still standing atop it, came out of the large structure and flew off to the other end of one of the larger asteroids in the system. The opening could be seen on the viewscreen along with a portion of the back end of the Hunter's main nacelle. Lt. Commander Kenny Dolphin, at the pilot's station, pulled the control stick out from under the panel, rotated it 90 degrees into the upright operating position and used the stick to carefully back the Hunter into the structure that Boles and Alstars had built.

Once the Hunter was parked inside this hastily constructed hangar, the two interceptors pulled in and instead of trying to re-enter their bays, clamped carefully to the top of the front of the nacelle just below the saucer section. The wagon followed them in. Boles used the tool Alstars had created to partially close the opening, leaving clear lines of fire open for the Hunter's forward phaser cannons and torpedo tubes but concealing the majority of the front of the small, Prowler class starship.

Guth carefully landed the wagon upside down on the bottom of the saucer section, anchoring the large, uparmored shuttlecraft magnetically to the underside of the Hunter's primary hull. Alstars untethered himself from the inside of the wagon and using magnetized boots, stepped out of the open rear hatch of the wagon onto the Hunter's hull, carrying his end of the firehose-like tool. Boles, carrying the other end, walked along the top of the wagon, then down the side of it and onto the Hunter's hull. They slowly made their way toward the port hatch, the long hose-like tool stretched out between them.

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The Hunter lurked in dark mode.

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"One hour, 27 minutes to complete Operation Hermit Crab. If there had been a ship in this system, we wouldn't have had a chance," said Pep.

Napoleon Boles and Geoff Alstars were on the bridge.

"As it is, it may be just enough time," said Dolphin. "That thing was big - and fast."

"Warp 9.97," Tauk said. "But we don't know whether they were running flat out after us or just cruising."

"What are the chances they saw us?" Pep asked.

"We should operate under the assumption they did," said Tauk. "And if so, they should be able to sniff us out here if they go looking for thruster emissions. Given the capabilities and staffing of a ship that large, they might sniff those emissions out even if they're not looking for us."

"Can they trace us to this asteroid?" asked Pep.

"We jetted around several asteroids while Geoff and Napoleon were building this structure and I don't think they will be looking for a structure like this. Unless they hover just outside our door here, they shouldn't be able to read us as long as we stay in dark mode," Tauk replied.

"I think I can reconfigure the reconfigurator to handle about four times the flow," said Alstars. "But handling the other end - this is a manual process - Napoleon, could you manage that kind of an increase in volume?"

"Bring it on," Boles responded.

"With that kind of modification, how quickly could we replicate Operation Hermit Crab?" asked Pep.

Alstars ran his fingers through his thick mane of grey hair, causing it to fluff out, making him look somewhat like a lanky, elderly lion. He looked over at Boles. "Depending on the composition of the asteroid, 20-40 minutes?"

Boles ran a blue hand over his hairless, blue scalp, squeezed the back of his neck. "You have to take practice into account. Now that I've built one of these, with the improvement Geoff is talking about, I could have built this garage in 15 minutes."

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"That romulan battlegod is entering the system now," said Tauk. "It has diverted to the asteroid belt."

"On screen," said Pep.

The viewscreen changed to display an image of the new romulan ship moving slowly in relation to an asteroid that was about 1/3 the size of the battlegod.

"That asteroid is just a little smaller than the U.S.S. Milky Way," said Tauk.

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Everyone on the bridge just looked silently at the ship the romulans were calling a battlegod. It was similar in design to the romulan warbird, with the beak pointed more forward than downward and a much larger wing structure supporting enormous twin nacelles on either side.

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"That thing is a monster," Dolphin observed. "The warbird is bigger than the Galaxy class, but that thing is much, much bigger than the Milky Way. The romulans just have to do everything bigger."

"Wait till they see the U.S.S. Ark," said Pep. He turned toward Ensign Alstars and Lt. Boles, who were staring, slack-jawed, watching the romulan behemoth on the viewscreen. "What are you two doing on the bridge? Get down to engineering and reconfigure that - whatever you called it. We may need it soon if Goliath here sniffs us out."

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Boles and Alstars exchanged glances, then hurried off the bridge.

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