Orchestrated Noise

By: Child, you are hell bent

Disclaimer: I, CYAHB claim no ownership to Star Trek, be it AOS or TOS. I'm just a would be writer, who is either too chicken or just too lazy to actually come up with characters of her own.

Entire ignorance is not so terrible or extreme an evil, and is far from being the greatest of all; too much cleverness, and too much learning… are far more fatal.

~Plato

The Kaen Nebula was little more than dead space.

Despite supporting 3 stars, two solar systems and 17 planets, the entire area might as well have been empty. None of the planets were capable of supporting life, as they were either gas giants or hunks of rocks with little to no atmosphere. There were few resources that could be used by Star fleet or any of the other civilized planets in the surrounding area. Anything even remotely useful could be found for much cheaper in other places. As a result the system was one of the most quiet in federation space.

Kirk had been barely able to contain his surprise when the Enterprise had been sent into the nebula to track down a Starfleet ship. According to the report that had appeared on Jim's desk, USS Actaeon had been traveling through the Nebula on route Cerian II. She had been carrying a large number of ambassadors in hopes of signing a trade agreement years in the making. It should have been a simple mission, the agreement wasn't a controversial one and all parties involved had been content with the terms. Starfleet's presence had been little more than a formality; a simplistic way to make sure all the delegates arrived on planet at the same time.

The Actaeon never made it to Cerian II.

It was unclear what had happened. When the Actaeon made her last check point, everything had been fine. She was a little behind schedule, but the Actaeon was an older ship so that had been expected. The entire purpose of the detour through the Kaen Nebula was to try and regain some lost time. But when Captain Juanhuix failed to make contact long after her ETA, red flags had been raised. And as the closest 'fleet ship in the system, the Enterprise had been called in to investigate.

Which was fine. Jim understood that a five year mission did not mean that they where completely free from Star Fleet's leash. He also understood the consequences of the Actaeon'sdisappearance. It didn't take much to turn allies into waring nations, and the sudden disappearance of a ship full of ambassadors was more than enough to cross that invisible line. However, even with all communication frequencies open and the hailing equipment tuned so finely they could pick up a pin drop on New Vulcan, two days of continuous search had turned up nothing.

Jim was going insane.

He sat slouched in his chair on the bridge, chin balanced on his palm as he leaned against the arm rest. Jim stared blankly out the view screen, watching as yet another quadrant of empty space floated pass the Enterprise's view port. Despite what certain chief communication officers might argue, Jim knew that Starfleet was not all about explosions and fights to the death. He didn't actually mind the slower days upon the Enterprise. At least then there was always something to do: reports to sign, duty rosters to approve, service reports, that kind of thing. If all else failed, Jim always got a kick out of performing surprise inspections in the engine room. Did Scotty honestly believe he didn't know about the jury-rigged distillery?

"Anything on screen Chekov?" Jim asked as he shifted once more in his seat, twisting around to kick a leg over the arm of the chair. Not the most dignified of position, but at least it was comfortable.

"No, Sir." The navigator chirped and Jim had to give the kid some credit. This had to be at least the third time he had asked in the last hour. He was beginning to annoy himself. Yet, Chekov never failed to answer, even if it was with far less enthusiasm than the yesterday. "But I vill keep trying."

From his self-designated spot behind Jim's chair, Bones crossed his arms across his chest, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. Even with his back turned, Jim could feel the man's scowl boring into the back of his skull. He had been trying to ignore it for the last 40 minutes, but Bones was not about to make that any easier. "Jim," he growled, "this is the last quadrant in the whole bloody Nebula."

"What's your point Bones?" Jim asked pointedly.

The good doctor had been in a foul mood for days now. Bones had been far from pleased that they had been forced to abandon their last mission in order to search for the Actaeon. The Enterprise had found been orbiting a planet called Rexelon III when Uhura had picked up 'Fleet's hail. The planet had been a veritable treasure trove of new medicinal herbs; quite probably the biggest medical discovery since the invention of penicillin. Needless to say Bones had been happier than Jim had seen him since their last Earth-side shore leave.

Jim's hands had been tied, however. It wasn't a secret that after Khan, he had regained his commission by the skin of his teeth. Even after his "meritorious show of humility" inside the warp core, there were many within Star fleet's admiralty who would have happily put an end to Jim's Starfleet career. When that had failed they had settled on tugging on Jim's unpleasantly short leash whenever possible. As much as Jim wanted to tell them to go screw themselves, he knew that now, more than ever he had to jump whenever 'Fleet called; medical breakthroughs be damned.

Jim knew Bones understood, but it did little to improve the man's mood when they were all fighting off Cabin Fever. "My point, Captain?" Bones said, putting emphasis on Jim's rank in a way that bordered on court-martial-able, "When are we going to give up on this damned Goose chase? If we haven't found the Actaeon yet, then she's not going to turn up."

"Technically Doctor." Spock said looking up for the first time in several hours from the science station computer he was religiously studying. "Our odds of finding the Actaeon are far greater now than at the beginning of our search. To stop looking now would be illogical at best."

The ever present scowl on Leonard's face deepened into crevasses as he turned to face the first officer. "Thank you for the math lesson, Spock." He snapped, glaring at Spock with a look so cold that Jim felt a chill run down his own spine.

"While I comprehend the human need for sarcasm." Spock said" I am uncertain of it's purpose in this situation." As he spoke, the half vulcan's eyebrow rose high into his hair at the sharpness in McCoy's tone. It was an expression Jim knew could be the Vulcan equivalent to a number of different irrational human emotions: Surprise, amusement, confusion, intrigue, the list went on and on. Sometimes it could be difficult to tell, and not by lack of trying on Jim's part. But this time there was no mistaking the contempt in his gaze, no matter how calm and logical his words were. Jim's and Uhura's eyes meet across the bridge with equal looks of concern, a silent conversation about whether they should prevent the argument that was brewing.

An alarm blared from both Uhura's and Chekov's stations, and the bridge was bathed in red light of the proximity alert. Jim instantly snapped to attention, his leg swinging back to the ground as he straightened. Spock and Bones moved to the chair, argument forgotten as they stood near shoulder to shoulder behind their captain. "Report." Jim said.

"Radar picking something up on Starboard side!" Chekov cried, hands flying across his station pushing buttons and twisting knobs. "I am not sure what it is, but it's large enough to be the Actaeon."

"Put a visual on screen." Jim said, before twisting to look over at Uhura. "Are you picking anything up?"

Uhura frowned, one perfectly manicured hand pressing into the metallic communications device in her ear. "I'm not sure, Captain." She said, concentration twisting her features. "There's definitely something, but the signal's too weak; my computer is having problems picking it up."

All eyes on the bridge flashed in her direction, confusion permeating the room. If Chekov was able to register the presence of another ship on his display, then Uhura should have easily been able to pick up on the ship's signature. Even if the crew of the Actaeon was not actively trying to send a message, it was near impossible for a starship to be dead in space. Engines, life-support, medical, even the replicators, they all made individual noises that Uhura should have been able to pick up with ease.

"Visual incoming, Captain." Sulu said "On the main screen in five."

The large view port at the front of the bridge erupted in snow as the screen calibrated. But as the image solidified into the inky darkness of space, Uhura's hands flew to her mouth with a stifled gasp. "Oh God." She gasped, a breathy echo of what everyone was thinking.

The USS Actaeon was no more. The once proud ambassador class starship was an unrecognizable warped mess of metal and glass. Shards of the ship, some small and some devastatingly large floated in deadly shrapnel around her. Even from this distance, Jim could see the burn scars that streaked over the majority of the hull, and twisted remains of the engines. A deliberate attack.

Jim swore, his fist coming to slam against the arm of his chair with enough force to jar bone. Only one weapon could leave marks like that, Starfleet had taught them all how to recognize a blast from a photon phaser. The thought caused a knot to coil like a venomous snake in the base of his throat. "Any life signs?" He bit out from between clenched teeth, breaking the silence that had broken over the bridge like a shroud.

At the sound of their Captain's voice, the bridge slowly started to return to life as everyone tore their eyes from the screen back to their stations; they had a job to be doing.

"I'm not picking up anything" Uhura said "If theres anyone left aboard the Actaeon, I can't hear them..."

The words cut off as Uhura froze, her dark eyes wide. A single hand drifted along the bottom of the sleeve, the distinct sleeve of Starfleet red barely visible. Spock glided silently to Uhura's side, stooping to check her computer. Jim allowed them the privacy of ignoring the comforting hand that came to rest on Uhura's knee. A ghost of a smile flickered across Uhura's features, but said nothing at the contact as she turned back to her station.

There was no point. The Actaeon was dead, the engines blown to bits and gaping holes ripped open in more places than not. It was barely recognizable as a ship. Even if there had been anyone had survived the initial attack, they would have been sucked into the vacuum of space, or slowly suffocated within the ship itself. This was little more than mass murder. There was no mercy here, no other purpose besides destruction and killing. On a ship full of innocent delegates; merchants and ambassadors.

Jim took a deep breath, hands gripping the side of his chair so tightly that the plastic was beginning to protest. Somewhere in the distance he dimly he felt Leonard's hand slid down the back of his chair coming to rest as a subtle, but comforting weight against his shoulder. Jim appreciated the gesture, but it did little to clear the red haze that was beginning to build in front of his eyes. This had been no accident, someone had quite deliberately tried to destroy the Actaeon. The ship had been disabled, probably by the first shots to her engines. Unable to warp, the Actaeonwould have been a sitting duck.

But her attackers had kept shooting.

He needed to calm down. Anger was a useful tool, but only if he didn't let it overwhelm everything. He was the Captain, he had to stay in control; If only to keep his crew in control. "All systems to red-alert." Jim said, forcing the anger deep down and using only enough to keep his voice strong and clear. "I want all stations on stand-by until we are out of this system. We don't know who or what's responsible for this, so I don't want any surprises."

"Yes Sir." Sulu said without hesitation, and the alarm instantly blared as Jim's order was spread ship wide. There was a reason why his crew was the best in Starfleet, they knew how to put even in the worse disasters behind them to get the job done.

"Spock, I need you and Lieutenant Uhura to get into contact with Starfleet." Jim ordered, mind reeling as a plan slowly began to form in his mind. In the distance he heard the turbo-lift doors open with a loud mechanical swish, and knew that Bones had left the Bridge to go back down to medical; on stand-by should anything happen. "I don't care who you talk to, but tell them what's happened here, and that I'll be in contact later with a full report."

Spock nodded solemnly, arms clasped in their usual position behind his back, but Uhura showed no signs that she had heard Jim and her gaze never moved from the monitor. "Lieutenant?" Jim repeated, his tone more forceful this time as he tried to get her attention. But Uhura frowned, and pressed her fingers to her lips. She cocked her head to the side, listening to something only she could hear.

"The signal, it's back." She said finally and confusion laced her tone. "It's so weak, but I don't know where it's coming from…"

"Are you sure?"

"No" Uhura said finally, confusion lacing her tone "But it feels like the same presence as before, and it's stronger now."

"The Actaeon?" Jim asked.

Uhura shook her head. "It's not 'fleet" she said pressing her communications device so hard against her ear that it looked as if she was trying to jam it into her skull. "But I can't place the origin. It's getting closer though, whatever it is. And fast".

Jim frowned, leaning back in his chair as Spock came solemnly up behind him. "Mr. Spock" Jim mused, staring out into the void. "What are the chance that this is just some random trade ship"

The half Vulcan didn't even pause to calculate. "Given the unpopulated nature of the Kaen nebula, approximately 19.345%"

Nodding, Jim turned to face the centre screen. He had figured as much, although with far less decimals. Jim leaned forward in his chair, staring out the view screen with a new fever. If he squinted Jim could just see the rough outline of a ship just beyond the wreckage of the Actaeon. It wasn't moving at warp, but it was moving quick enough to get Jim's attention.

"It's a good thing I don't believe in coincidences then." He said with a smirk, "Uhura hail the ship, all communications channels open. Let's meet our new friends."

"Done, Captain."

The Comms crackled and hissed as the Enterprise connected to the mysterious ship. Jim frowned as the static settled into silence, the other vessel making no effort to initiate communication. That itself was enough to raise about a thousand red flags. All ships were required to respond to a hail, especially one from Starfleet.

"This is Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise." Jim said, sitting up a little straighter in his chair. "Identify your ship, and your purpose for being in this quadrant."

Still no response as the ship finally came close enough to get a good look at her. It was huge, almost twice again the size of Enterprise. The long and rectangular hull was rusted and ancient looking. Sheets of metal had been haphazardly slapped together in a macabre version of a patchwork quilt. Even from this distance Jim could see the thick, ropey welding scars that snaked across the entire ship. The Engines -giant beasts of a thing that looked as if they should have been retired when Jim was in elementary school- where not in much better shape. Jim's blood ran cold

It was a scuttle ship.

It was no wonder that Uhura couldn't tell it's origin. Built using rag-tag parts of other vessels, there was only one group was brave enough to use them.

"Is that what I think it is?" Sulu said horsely, the colour draining from his face as the sulking ship began to slow

"Ravager." Jim finished grimly. "I think we know what attacked the Actaeon, Ladies and Gentlemen."

A Ravager was never a friendly sight to see in any part of space. Little more than over glorified pirates, the people aboard those ships seemed to have two purposes in life; to pillage and blow up any ship that they came upon. It didn't matter who the mark was or how strong, Ravagers attacked indiscriminately. They stole everything of value, killed everyone on board., and returned later to salvage the remains for their own ships.

"Captain!" Uhura cried, "there weapons are charging!"

"Damn it." Jim swore. A ship that big could blow them out the sky with very little effort. It didn't matter how out of date those cannons were, if the Enterprise took a direct hit… "All hands, battle stations!" Jim barked as a fiery red glow rapidly began build as Ravager's canons charged. "Sulu, shields!"

"I'm trying captain!' Sulu cried. But it was too late.

The Ravager fired.