“Do you need to move so close?” Ensign Athaka complained from the science controls. “You heard Lieutenant Thawn; we’re to make sure they don’t pick us up before it’s -”
“I heard the plan.” Drake rolled his eyes as he settled the King Arthur to a geosynchronous orbit with the gas giant, at the upper periphery of the exosphere. Somewhere, thousands kilometres below in the thermosphere, one of the largest pockets of D’Ghor their sensors had detected waited. “As deep as they are, on the sensors they’re lumping around, no way will they pick up anything in the system which isn’t a big ship. We’re nothing to them down there.”
“But is it really necessary?” Athaka wheedled. “The lieutenant -”
“Thawn isn’t calling the shots, Kharth is. And I know it’s Thawn you keep fawning over for approval, so it’s not her plan, you don’t have to suck up.” Drake lifted a hand. “When we get the signal to go, I want us to be quick. We won’t be quick if we have to sink an extra few thousand kilometres.”
Athaka fell silent at that, and the cockpit of the King Arthur settled into the quiet of the low hum of her systems, the rumble of her engines as they compensated for the upper edges of the gas giant’s atmosphere they were effectively bouncing on the top of. In the aft of the runabout was the security team, Crewman Mytrik on weapons control, the rest on standby in case they had to deploy an away team, but they were, to Drake’s eyes, a sorry-looking lot.
While the Security Department was the second-largest on Endeavour after Engineering, they were still feeling the brunt of the DGhor’s attacks and had taken the heaviest losses. This gave him an incredibly junior enlisted as his gunner, as more seasoned tactical officers had to be on the other flight teams or on the ship in case of trouble. He was supposed to be the experienced officer here.
Or they were expecting him to fail.
Athaka’s console blipped. “That’s the one minute warning. Everyone must be in position. I’m preparing a flight route through the thermosphere…”
“Don’t bother,” said Drake, kicking back in the pilot’s chair.
The lanky Rigellian stopped in his tracks. “Don’t – what?”
“We’re not going down there. I mean, not right away.”
“But -” Athaka sputtered. “The D’Ghor are down there.”
Drake side-eyed him. “This is why Thawn thinks you’re smart.”
“I don’t – she doesn’t – look, she asked me to make sure this goes well -”
He scowled. “Great display of trust,” he said, and thumbed the comms. “Mytrik, get ready to look alive. Watch the surface and weapons free if you get a bead on anything.”
“You got it, Lieutenant.”
“I don’t understand how we’re going to have anything to shoot if we don’t go down there,” said Athaka.
“Watch and learn,” said Drake, tapping in commands on the panel adjacent to the flight controls.
“That isn’t really how a co-pilot job is supposed to go; we’re meant to be a team, sir -” Athaka’s console bleeped at him, and his voice went up a pitch. “That’s the signal, sir!”
“Good,” said Drake, and fired the torpedoes.
Three steady pulses reverberated through the runabout as the torpedoes went out in a cluster, rocketing deeper into the atmosphere of the gas giant and quickly fading from view.
“We don’t have accurate enough sensor readings for you to hit -”
“I’m not trying to hit them.” Drake tapped another command on the panel, and while from up here there was nothing to be seen, both his weapons control and Athaka’s science console registered the detonation of all three torpedoes.
Athaka stared. “What was that supposed to -”
“Just shut up and wait.”
“I don’t -” Athaka stopped as his console blatted at him. “Picking up movement below; something’s rising.”
“Shields up, weapons charged,” Drake snapped. “Keep scanning the atmosphere, Athaka. Mytrik, get me a targeting solution on that bandit, and fire as soon as you can hit it.”
Athaka did as he was told, but still cast a look at Drake. “We’re not moving?”
“Wait for it.” The pilot lifted a hand and began counting up with his fingers. He reached four before there was another chirrup from their controls, another unidentified dot appearing on the sensors, racing through the atmosphere in the wake of the first. “There! Second D’Ghor ship!”
The inertial dampeners took half a heartbeat to kick in fully as Drake kicked the King Arthur to full impulse, rocking them back into their seats as the runabout soared through the thin clouds of the uppermost atmosphere of the gas giant. The sensors showed the two smaller shuttles moving fast as they rose, heading up and away from them, and before they had a visual on the first ship, the King Arthur’s main gun was opening fire as Mytrik had a bead on them.
“Bringing us in on the second ship’s tail; focus on them while we’re close, Weapons,” Drake instructed, the King Arthur drifting down into the atmosphere to come level with the latter of what his sensors now confirmed were shuttles of Klingon last-generation design. “Sensors, keep active scan so we don’t lose them in the atmosphere.”
“You got it,” said Athaka, now all business. “There’s a lightning storm closer to the equator; I think the first ship’s headed for -”
“The first ship’s still lit up like a Christmas Tree thanks to the viridium; it’s their buddy I want to worry about,” Drake snapped. “Bringing us in closer; they’re no match for our speed. Mytrik, target their engines.”
“Science has given me the scans. Got a lock; firing.”
The next blast from the main gun emplacement was textbook perfection, and Drake watched as the D’Ghor shuttle went into a wild spin. It soon began to sink as momentum of their engines and gravity from the gas giant enforced their twin wills.
“I can get them with a tractor beam,” Athaka said, turning to the controls in his chair.
“Are you kidding? We need to get that first shuttle.” Drake shook his head, bringing the King Arthur about and rising out of the atmosphere.
“These shuttles won’t stand up to the pressures if they sink too far -”
“No shuttles will if they sink far enough,” Drake pointed out philosophically. “And – oh, can it.” It wasn’t just irritation that made him cut the argument short, but the shift on his sensors and the sight through the canopy of the first D’Ghor shuttle coming around. “Guess they decided to not run. All power to forward shields.”
Athaka made a face. “What are they doing?” He studied the sensors and shook his head. “They’re just coming right at us – and opening fire!”
“Oh,” said Drake, watching as weapons fire splashed off his shields, his sensor feed fluctuating with every clash of energy. “I get it. Mytrik, I’m sending you a targeting plan. Athaka, just try to keep as solid a sensor feed to weapons as you can.”
“What are you doing?” said Athaka as the King Arthur was brought around to make this a head-to-head charge.
“Returning fire,” said Drake, the front phasers raking across the distance to thud harmlessly against D’Ghor shields. “Hold off with the main gun, Mytrik.”
“Oh no,” breathed Athaka, gripping his console. “They’re trying to ram us, aren’t they?”
“Are you trying to make it easier?”
“I’m trying,” said Drake, voice going more level the more agitated Athaka sounded, “to make it look like it’s going to be really easy for them.”
“Oh, damn,” muttered Athaka, and slammed his eyes shut as the D’Ghor shuttle roared closer towards them. There was another splash of energy, a proximity alert from the navigational controls – then the jolt not of impact, but of a sudden swerve.
“I’m also trying,” Drake continued, utterly casual, “to make them put everything to their forward shields. Go to town on their aft, Mytrik.”
Athaka opened his eyes to realise what had happened. A head-to-head charge. Weapons fire so both ships kept their shields protecting their prows. A last-second jink out of the way from the King Arthur under Drake’s command. And then the runabout using its considerably greater weapons array to send thudding phaser blasts into the unprotected aft of the D’Ghor shuttle that had rushed past them by metres.
His heart had stopped taking residence in his throat by the time Athaka leaned forward to look at his sensor feed, and he swallowed. “Both D’Ghor ships confirmed destroyed.” There was an unpleasantly bitter taste in his mouth.
“There it is,” said Drake with satisfaction. “Report target destruction back to the Aquarius, and tell them the beacon ship had company. Just in case others have paired up like that.”
Athaka nodded, getting his heartbeat under control as he patched through to the field command ship. Only once the message was dispatched, the King Arthur now rising up and away from the gas giant’s atmosphere, did he trust himself to speak levelly again. “Did you know there’d be two?”
“I thought it was possible, of course,” said Drake. “That’s why I waited. But no, the torpedoes was just trying to flush them out. Old trick from a smuggler I once met – not firing the torpedoes, but how you had to hold your nerve if you were hiding somewhere and they set off detonations near you. Because if they weren’t hitting you, they didn’t know where you were for sure.” He shrugged. “It takes discipline to not let that flush you out. I figured one thing the D’Ghor don’t have is that kind of patient discipline; that they’d try to run, and maybe fight. And I figured that was better than us going down there if they had company and were waiting for us to do exactly that.”
The young Rigellian let out a slow breath. “Yeah. Yeah, okay, Lieutenant. That makes sense.”
Drake rolled his eyes. “Don’t worry. You can tell Lieutenant Thawn you didn’t almost throw up. Get us our navdata for our next stage of the sweep.”