‘You and I don’t really go on adventures together,’ said Carraway as they stepped out of Jonie Palmer’s house into the bright light. ‘I guess I don’t go on any adventures much. I was real happy when we both went to that conference. Thought we could spend more time together.’
Airex frowned. ‘We did.’
‘I meant going forward. And I thought we’d, I don’t know. Maybe start up a racquetball game.’
‘I don’t play racquetball.’
‘Cool, me neither. That’s just the kind of thing guys do together.’ Carraway’s voice had gone a slightly higher pitch. ‘But I didn’t think our next bonding exercise was going to be, well. Surrendering to maybe get shot in the head by pirates.’
Airex sighed as they walked the path, but he had half an eye out for any of the Wild Hunt. ‘They’re not going to shoot us in the head.’
‘They might. They want to make an example out of us, scare folks. That’s their whole MO. So while they might want to keep us alive as leverage, they really might want to show the people of Lockstowe, or Endeavour, that they can hurt Starfleet and get away with it.’
‘They’re not getting away with it.’
‘Yeah, so far, they are.’
‘It’s a waste to kill us both in front of some farmers they’ve already scared.’
‘Both, sure. One?’ Carraway gestured vaguely. ‘You’re okay, you’re the second officer and you’ve got this whole commanding presence thing going on. Me? I’ve got “spare” written all over me.’
‘We’ll be fine,’ said Airex, even though he couldn’t possibly know that. ‘Endeavour will be back soon. They have to be. And in the meantime, we’re not alone. We have backup.’
‘We have Lieutenant Kharth in a cellar with one phaser. I’m sure she’s real capable -’
‘Counsellor.’ Airex stopped and turned. ‘There is nobody I would prefer as our backup in this situation, you understand? In the whole galaxy.’
Carraway harrumphed as they kept walking. ‘I feel I should book you two in for some serious discussions. Once this is over.’
‘Once this is over and we’re all alive, you can psychoanalyse me all you like, Counsellor.’
They didn’t get much further before they were spotted. This was the plan, after all; to walk in the open and when a patrolling pair of pirates spotted them, to lift their hands and be ushered at gunpoint through the winding lanes and into the broad village green full of the settlers. Airex did his best to count and didn’t come up with more than twenty members of the Wild Hunt, which was a reassuring prospect for when Endeavour and her rescue party arrived, but less for the one-woman army of Saeihr t’Kharth.
He could hear the hushed murmurs of the townsfolk as they were marched to the small knot of Wild Hunt pirates at the edge of the huddled civilians. For all their expectations of the settlers had been low, they’d managed to compromise in their lying, admitting to the presence of only two officers. It took all of his effort to not make eye contact with Riekan or Jonie Palmer, and then suddenly no effort at all when they were brought to a halt in front of Erik Halvard.
He was a thoroughly unremarkable man in appearance. Slightly below average height, wiry, his narrow face lined, ordinary brown hair buzzed short. But when his pale eyes turned on Airex, all hubbub of Wild Hunt or people of Lockstowe came to an end.
Halvard had to crane his neck to look at Airex, and worse when he took a step forward. ‘Lieutenant Commander. Lieutenant. It’s not “doctor” for either of you, is it?’
‘Well, I’m a counselling psychologist,’ Carraway babbled. ‘But I usually just stick with “Counsellor” rather than “Doctor” because it’s a helluva lot more approachable and, uh…’ His voice trailed off and he flapped his jaw. ‘You don’t really care.’
‘I’m Lieutenant Commander Airex, Chief Science Officer and Second Officer, USS Endeavour,’ Airex butted in. ‘And we’re here as you asked. You don’t have to hurt these people.’
Halvard’s smile did not reach those cold eyes. ‘You’ve got no idea what I have to do. And you’re in no position to dictate anything.’
‘I wasn’t dictating; you made your threat and -’
‘And I can change the terms of this any time.’ Halvard gestured to the gathered. ‘We’ve got the guns and we’ve got the hostages.’
Airex scowled. ‘You’re a Starfleet officer. How can you even consider this sort of violence to get your goals?’
‘It’s working, isn’t it? You’re here.’
‘We are. And now what? Now you have a group of scared people and two Starfleet officers -’
‘Let’s be realistic,’ said Carraway, wincing, ‘there’s an overlap between those.’
‘To what end, Commander Halvard?’ Airex tilted his chin up. ‘What are you trying to achieve, marauding these people?’
‘Under your nose? With the USS Endeavour leaving orbit and abandoning the good people of Lockstowe, helpless to try and stop us?’ Halvard shrugged. ‘It sends every message we need it to send, Commander Airex.’
‘Oh,’ said Carraway. ‘I guess you remember the lessons on ethical conflict from Professor Maridag at the Academy. Wrong conclusion, but…’
‘That was a long time ago. Don’t worry,’ Halvard interrupted. ‘You’ll have your part to play, both of you. I’ve no doubt Endeavour will be back, and they’ll love the idea of rescuing you. Unfortunately, I have all the hostages to keep them at bay. And every opportunity to keep them helpless as they, and all the people of Lockstowe, watch as over a live feed I execute two of their officers.’
Airex did his best to keep his expression implacable, but he heard Carraway make a small noise that was part objection, part fear. ‘I really,’ the counsellor sighed, ‘don’t like saying “I told you so,” it’s such a smug thing to say…’
The evac route out of engineering was a narrow corridor, designed to funnel staff away as quickly as possible in case of a disaster like a warp core breach. The developers had not anticipated much back-and-forth, and certainly not a running firefight. Which was why when Valance caught up with the nascent Hazard Team chasing down the Wild Hunt boarding party, she found them held at bay ahead of a junction allowing the pirates to take cover while the Starfleet officers would be forced into the open to advance.
‘How’s the Chief?’ asked Kowalski, back to a bulkhead around a corner as Valance took a knee beside him.
‘She’ll live.’ Valance didn’t want to spare more thought for Cortez. ‘Sitrep?’
‘Only two of ‘em,’ called out T’Kalla as she ducked back behind the corner, a phaser blast almost winging her. ‘But they’ve flanked the junction so they can both fire, but only one of us can stick our fool heads out. The rest could have pressed on.’
Valance’s lips thinned, and she hit her combadge. ‘Valance to bridge. We’ve driven the boarding party out of Engineering, no casualties. They’ve got us pinned down in pursuit and I expect some of them are heading for escape pods.’ She didn’t know what the Wild Hunt could possibly hope to achieve from inside an escape pod with no warp capability, but that was the bridge’s concern.
‘Understood,’ came Rourke’s voice. ‘We’ll lock them down.’
She didn’t point out that locking down escape pods could not be done quickly or easily; they were such a fundamental safety mechanism that the main computer would be excruciatingly demanding of Rourke’s command codes to deny pod launch. This would be made worse with Thawn, only a Lieutenant Junior Grade, as the next most senior officer on the bridge. But this wasn’t her problem. Her problem was two damned pirates keeping an elite team at bay.
She edged along the wall closer to T’Kalla. ‘They’ve still only got phaser pistols, correct?’
‘Yeah, they must have only raided a small arms locker.’ T’Kalla hissed as a phaser blast hit the bulkhead corner inches from her, though they were out of the line of fire. ‘They’re handy with them.’
‘There’s still a distance of twelve metres between this and the next junction,’ said Valance, ignoring the other woman’s look of confusion. Valance hadn’t yet had a look at the firefight, but she knew the layout of the ship and had refreshed herself for the rescue op. ‘That’s a significant range for phaser pistol accuracy. I assume they’re on either side of the t-junction?’
‘Very well.’ Valance stood and checked her rifle. ‘Take a knee, Chief. When I give the signal, spray that corridor.’
‘I won’t hit a thing.’
‘That’s not your job.’ Valance squared her shoulders and shifted her feet. ‘Do your utmost to not get hit, Chief. Go.’
T’Kalla looked less than impressed but, staying low, stuck her rifle more than her head around the corner. The phaser blasts towards her were immediate, and Valance knew she didn’t have more than a heartbeat before T’Kalla would get hit or have to withdraw.
So she went high as T’Kalla went low, jutting around the corner with her rifle with hardly any time to assess, aim, fire. Aim, fire. Two targets, two shots.
Two bodies hitting the deck.
T’Kalla looked up, eyes wide. ‘Damn. Good shooting, sir.’
Valance didn’t reply, turning to Kowalski and the others. ‘Go, see if you can catch the rest.’ Only when the rest of Kowalski’s team had advanced, pursuing the fleeing pirates, did Valance head down the corridor, T’Kalla in her wake, towards the two she’d shot.
‘Damn,’ T’Kalla said again. Because Valance’s rifle had certainly been set to stun, and even if it hadn’t, a person killed by a phaser rifle didn’t ooze black liquid from the corner of their mouths. ‘They really didn’t want to be taken alive.’
‘That’s why they stayed behind,’ said Valance, frowning down at the corpses of the Andorian and the Tellarite. ‘This was a sacrifice. Hold us off for as long as possible, and die doing it. I know the Wild Hunt had killed their own to escape, but choosing to die to help the others escape?’
‘It’s different,’ T’Kalla agreed, and looked up at the long evac corridor down which the Hazard Team had gone, and from which there were no sounds of any firefight. ‘They bought them time.’
‘Rourke to Valance. They were too fast; they’ve launched escape pods. Did you get any of them?’
Valance scowled as she looked down at the two dead. ‘Sorry, sir,’ she said, voice heavy. ‘Not alive.’
‘You’re a farmer,’ Kharth muttered as she ripped open every cupboard in Jonie Palmer’s house. ‘Where’s your other fucking gun?’
She found the rifle in a secure lockbox in Jonie Palmer’s bedroom, which was very conscientious of the woman but slowed Kharth down a mere minute as she broke in. It was at least fifty years old, but well-maintained. The power-pack, on the other hand, didn’t look like it’d give her more than a dozen shots.
But if she needed more than that, she was probably dead anyway. So she stopped to rifle through Palmer’s closet and found a drab jacket to pull on, covering the bright, indiscreet gold of her shoulders.
She had to take the back door out. The low wall around the yard provided more cover, and there was a high chance the Wild Hunt would be checking the house if they realised where Airex and Carraway had been hiding. She shifted her combadge up to her collar and tuned the volume down to a whisper, a trick that had scandalised her instructors at the Academy but was the sort of thing that had just been common sense in the old Neutral Zone.
Fewer patrols of Wild Hunt. They had to be satisfied they’d rounded everyone up. Kharth was surprised; she expected very little of the people of Lockstowe after Palmer’s story, and that they’d been able to offer a half-truth without breaking was a display of more fortitude than she’d anticipated.
So she could move from building to building, duck along fences and walls, freeze and crawl under an abandoned plant-hauler when any of the pairs of pirates were in sight. She didn’t see more than six out, and she supposed by now they wanted the bulk of their people watching the prisoners. So long as they had hostages, anyone coming for them was in a difficult position. They’d already shown themselves willing to use them as bargaining chips.
But her approach to the village green was easy, because she remembered a window had been left open at the rear of the town hall. Nobody was in there, which meant nobody could stop her from heading to the scaffolding that Cortez and her engineers hadn’t had time to disassemble when they’d returned to Endeavour. Which meant nobody spotted her getting onto the roof.
She could shimmy along the tiles to the clocktower at the front, and with her shoulder to that could reasonably brace the rifle. It wasn’t sighted, which meant she had to squint to look down at the gathering of farmers and Wild Hunt. This time she was grateful for the brightness of Starfleet uniforms; her own had to be concealed, but from here it was easy to make out the blue shoulders of Airex and Carraway, at the periphery, flanked by two Wild Hunt as another faced them.
‘You damn fool, Dav,’ she breathed to herself. ‘What the hell am I supposed to do about this?’
For now, of course, the answer was to wait and to not get spotted. Every second nobody was being shot was a second Endeavour got closer to returning to Lockstowe – she hoped. And from there someone would form a plan with more resources than her old rifle and a good vantage point.
She just didn’t know how anyone was going to put together a plan that didn’t result in a lot of civilians getting gunned down. As well as two Starfleet officers.
‘Damn it.’ Rourke’s fist thumped the armrest. ‘Get a tractor beam lock on that escape -’
‘Sorry, sir; we’re still on emergency power, we’ll have to re-route power to the tractor beam.’
He swore again at Thawn’s words. ‘Fine, yes. Do it.’
‘Sir!’ That was Drake as his console lit up. ‘The Starlit Sunrise is moving towards the escape pods.’
‘Of course they are. Hail them, Lieutenant Thawn!’
It took a moment before the viewscreen popped up with that view of amiable, aged Rosie Atrikin. ‘Is there something I can help you with, dearie?’
Rourke ground his teeth. ‘Starlit Sunrise; change course and move away from that escape pod.’
‘Oh. I thought it was someone who might need -’ The old woman paused, then rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, fuck it. Make me, Starfleet.’
Rourke thought he heard Thawn gasp as the Sunrise cut the comms, and had to resist the urge to roll his eyes himself. ‘Of bloody course. Thawn, can we transport them off the pod -’
‘Again, sir, emergency power – I’m getting a transporter lock but -’ Thawn shook her hands as more lights lit up on her console. ‘Sir, the Starlit Sunrise has transported them off!’
Rourke again punched the armrest. ‘Tactical! Get me a weapons lock on the Sunrise -’
‘Emergency power -’
‘Oh, for – Bridge to Engineering! Lieutenant Cortez, I know it’s been rough down there but we need full power!’
‘Starlit Sunrise is backing off, moving to full impulse,’ Drake reported tensely.
It took a moment before Cortez’s voice crackled through, groggy. ‘No can do, Boss. I need to reroute the plasma injectors with their damage to the EPS manifolds – don’t worry, it’s a five minute job, max -’
‘You don’t have five minutes; in less than one that boarding party is getting away -’
‘Sir, I just can’t patch the warp core back into our main systems and go to full power safely -’
‘Can we at least go to warp?’ They could, Rourke thought desperately, pursue the Starlit Sunrise until they were in a position for Endeavour to use more than one major system at once.
‘That’s the last thing we can do, Boss -’
‘Starlit Sunrise has gone to warp,’ said Drake, throwing his hands in the air and spinning on the helm seat. ‘They’re gone, Skipper.’
Rourke did not punch the armrest again. Just closed his eyes and sat back on the captain’s chair. ‘Lieutenant Cortez,’ he said at length. ‘Conduct repairs on the warp core as fast as possible. I appreciate you’ve just been through an ordeal, but we have people still on Lockstowe. We will be heading back for them as soon as you have us fighting fit.’
‘Understood, sir.’ Cortez’s groggy voice did sound, at least, serious. ‘I’m not kidding about five minutes. We’ll be ready. Engineering out.’
He rubbed his brow, letting out a deep breath. ‘Stand us down, Mister Drake. Lieutenant Thawn, do what you can to support Engineering.’ He tapped the comms panel on his armrest. ‘Rourke to Valance. Report.’
‘Confirmed two Wild Hunt deaths, sir. Potentially a false tooth, we’d need sickbay to examine them. No casualties from the Hazard Team. Superficial injuries only in Engineering staff; Lieutenant Cortez reports they were taken by surprise enough that only one of her people was stunned.’
‘Acknowledged. Get yourself and Kowalski back up here. Let Chief T’Kalla do the mopping up. Bridge out.’ And only then, the integral running of the ship dealt with, did Rourke open one last comm line. ‘Rourke to Lindgren.’ He swallowed, and willed his voice to stay steady. ‘Status of Doctor Sadek?’
‘Lindgren here; she’s alright, sir. Arys found Nurse Voothe on this deck. He’s patching her up properly and giving a blood transfusion. Doctor Awan’s on her way up, too.’
Rourke bit the inside of his mouth hard enough to make it bleed. ‘Understood. If Nurse Voothe and Ensign Arys have it in hand, report back to the bridge.’
‘Will you stop,’ hissed Thawn at Drake, ‘trying to route power back to astrometrics while we’re still on emergency reserves?’
‘What? We don’t need shields no more, the most useful thing we can do is keep long-range sensors up so we know if someone’s heading for us or Lockstowe -’
‘I will deal with the power allocation prioritisations, Lieutenant; you just read what we have on our sensors for now and I’ll say when it’s good for us to open up more -’
‘Yeah, that’s useful – shields when nobody’s near us, but no eyes to see if anyone’s coming closer -’
‘It is protocol for us to see to the ship’s security first and foremost and this is my judgement as the Operations Officer – sir!’ Thawn at last turned on her chair to fix Rourke with a plaintive look.
He stared at them both. ‘Are you kidding me?’ But the expressions didn’t move, and he tossed his hands in the air. ‘Lieutenant Drake, listen to Lieutenant Thawn.’ But her smug look was short-lived as he added, ‘Lieutenant Thawn, don’t be a snitch.’
Mercifully, the turbolift doors slid open for the return of Valance and Kowalski. He went for tactical, while Valance, looking more rumpled than he’d ever seen her and still in body armour, approached the command chair. ‘Engineering secure, sir. I’m sorry we couldn’t get them.’
‘You did better than we did up here,’ said Rourke, and wondered how he was going to explain the Starlit Sunrise in his report in a way that didn’t make him look like an idiot for not opening fire on the elderly. ‘If Doctor Sadek is going to be fine and the worst anyone else suffered is bumps and scrapes, I’ll take it even if they did get away.’ Not that he had much of a choice.
‘Yes, sir,’ said Valance, expression flat. He didn’t know if she was angry with him or herself, or not angry at all. ‘But if -’
She was cut off by the lights roaring to full, every console on the bridge blaring back to life, and the faint hum of the warp core through the deck plating was now enough for Rourke to feel through his feet. ‘Cortez to bridge. We’re back in business, sir!’
Rourke grinned. ‘Lieutenant Drake, what do we have on long-range sensors?’
‘Two Blackbird-class escorts in orbit of Lockstowe. No sign if the second is the one that attacked the Lady Luck. The Starlit Sunrise is only a light-year away now, moving at Warp 6; we can catch them easily -’
‘Heading? Will it take us out of our way to Lockstowe?’
‘It will, sir.’
He scowled. ‘Then set a course to Lockstowe, maximum warp. Lieutenant Thawn, are all systems operational?’
Rourke leaned back on his command chair, and Valance sat beside him. He glanced at her, found those cold eyes, and didn’t know what to think before he returned his gaze to the rest of the bridge. ‘Let’s go get our people.’