Elsa Lindgren had seen combat from a starship bridge before the D’Ghor came to Archanis. Even prior to the disaster at Thuecho that had changed Endeavour forever there had been encounters, however brief, however fewer than those where Captain MacCallister had talked down opponents. There she’d monitored communications, checked up on civilians, sometimes even helped engage enemies. Months ago, Endeavour had run down the Wild Hunt and its base and defences with the Odysseus and the Caliburn. That had added burdens of monitoring the other ships, ensuring the task group was kept updated; watching from afar, often helpless, as the fight developed and changed elsewhere so Endeavour knew the situation around them.
But she had never been in a battle of this scale. Not of a half-dozen Starfleet ships pitched across a whole system against an unknown number of enemies. Not with this many hundreds of thousands of lives on the line.
Commander Valance was on her feet as Captain Rourke entered the bridge from his ready room. A record on Lindgren’s console showed he’d just ended a subspace communication from the Archanis System. ‘All departments report ready and standing by, Captain,’ Valance reported briskly.
‘Good,’ said Rourke, somewhat gruff as he took the command chair. ‘Forces at Archanis, Legera, and Taldir are in-position. The D’Ghor could be hours out, still. Admiral Beckett has made it clear he expects us to press on for relief once we can be spared here. If we can be spared here.’
‘Might come soon,’ said Kharth at Tactical. ‘Dathan’s countdown’s run out.’
Rourke grunted, then looked at Lindgren. ‘How’s Task Force 17?’
She’d learnt a long time ago how to split her attention, how to listen to comm chatter and read data feeds and report back while still absorbing as much as she could. It was harder than anything in her training in xenolinguistics, encryption, or etiquette. So she kept a finger on her earpiece, words still spilling across the comm channel, as she replied. ‘Captain Bennet confirms his ships are in position at the Archanis Array. And I have points of contact at Ch’thek Post, Haydorian VIc, and Korthek Base standing by for direct updates.’
Kharth made a grumbling noise, and shrugged when looked at. ‘They should have evacuated.’
‘There are eight thousand people on Haydorian VIc,’ Rourke said, leaning back in the chair. ‘Korthek Base is down to a skeleton crew. Ch’thek Post…’ He hesitated, then shrugged. ‘We can’t force people.’
‘And now they’ve made our lives harder.’
‘They’re armed and ready to defend their homes,’ said Lindgren quietly. ‘They don’t -’ Then a fresh alert lit up on her console, and convincing Lieutenant Kharth of anything became irrelevant.
Rourke had caught her shift, and sat up. ‘Elsa?’
But she didn’t reply at first, and knew he would wait. Her heart was thudding when she spoke. ‘Reports from the Windchimes detection grid. They’re here.’ She swallowed. ‘That is, minutes out of the Haydorian System.’
Rourke swore. ‘We should have had more warning than that. Helm, take us into orbit of Haydorian II. Science, I want to know -’
‘The moment I know something, you’ll know something, sir,’ came Airex’s crisp interruption.
Endeavour had two pairs of eyes in any crisis. Most of the time, they relied on Airex and his control of the ship’s vast sensor array. But Lindgren knew she was the other pair, or rather, the veins that ran between Endeavour and all those other eyes out there; the other Starfleet ships, the outposts, the satellites, the people. Everyone else in the Haydorian System who had eyes and a voice could reach out to her, and shine their lights into the dark of the system.
Soon enough, her comms console was sparking up with all of those lights, and each of them was a warning beacon.
‘K’t’inga decloaking, Bird-of-Prey escort…’
‘Fighter squadrons one and seven break into sections and engage. All other squadrons form up around the Ni’Var.’
‘Discovery to Endeavour. Standby to engage at grid A-seventy-two. Shackleton and Tereshkova, fall back to mobile position one. Units assume positions and fire at will.’
She spoke as they did, as Airex did, a chorus of the gathering storm. Rourke sat still as a stone, somehow sterner and more tense even than Valance beside him. Then almost at the same time as Airex reported a Bird-of-Prey decloaking in orbit of Korthek Base, a panicked voice in her ear from the base’s command room reported the same.
Rourke’s gaze snapped to her. ‘Tell them we’re coming. Helm, set a course.’
Drake gave a wicked smile. ‘This’ll be fun,’ he said, and Endeavour lurched as he brought them to full impulse. ‘Hang on!’
They had lurked at the heart of the system for two reasons. The first was that it gave them the least ground to cover when they had to be rapid response anywhere, protect fringe civilian target against D’Ghor hungry for blood or to lure Starfleet off the defence of the array. The second was that Haydorian II was a large enough body that a gravity assist maneouvre was going to give them a hell of an accellerated launch at where they needed to be.
Inertial dampeners did their job, in that they stopped the bridge crew from being turned into paste. Anything else was a bonus, as Lindgren gripped her station hard to keep level, and she definitely heard Airex mutter something impolite about Drake as Endeavour surged through space to catapult across the Haydorian System towards Korthek Base, towards the D’Ghor.
And through it all, the words on her screen and the voices in her ear talked of the rain of fire that was falling on them all.
‘Task Force 17 has made contact with the enemy,’ she reported crisply.
‘Second Bird-of-Prey has arrived at Korthek,’ said Airex.
But Kharth’s voice broke over them all. ‘In weapons range in five.’
Rourke clenched his fist. ‘Fire when ready.’
‘Endeavour, there’s more of them,’ came the panicked voice in her ear. ‘Where are you?’
She put a finger to the earpiece. ‘We’re coming, Korthek. We’re coming.’ The deck hummed under her as Kharth opened fire. She could see the Birds-of-Prey round to face them, confront the coming threat rather than the research post they targeted. And the wave of chaos reached a fresh peak.
‘We’re taking fire! Shields holding -’
‘Evasive manoeuvres; Helm, try to stay at the periphery so Bravo can’t get a line of sight on us with Alpha in the way -’
‘Phaser lock on Alpha; their shields are down to sixty percent.’
‘Oh, ice – Endeavour, we’ve got reports of Klingons on our lower levels.’
A dozen voices, each of them bringing word of life and death, and somehow Lindgren found her words piercing through them all when her gaze snapped to Rourke. ‘Korthek Base reports a D’Ghor landing party.’
And somehow, though Endeavour herself spun and fought and took thudding blast after thudding blast, Rourke had ears for her. ‘Tell the King Arthur to launch.’ Then their connection was gone, the captain back on the here and now.
But she had to be everywhere. ‘Bridge to King Arthur; Korthek Base has been boarded, Hazard Team is to launch and intercept.’
‘Acknowledged, Bridge; Harkon’s getting us underway now.’
A flick of her controls signalled Thawn at Ops to get a data feed to the King Arthur, and then Lindgren was back in the main Starfleet channels. It was on her to listen to everything, hear everything; be the eye of the storm as Starfleet battled and struggled and died all around her, and know what to bring back.
So much was irrelevant. Relocation of the Archanis Array defence. New D’Ghor movement updates. Reports of losses as a deck was blown out, a shuttle lost. A crisis on one ship millions of kilometres away was nothing here and now, and the report of an impact which had to be ten dead Starfleet officers in the central thud of battle came from her lips as, ‘Task Force 17’s defence of the Array is holding, sir.’
‘It better, if we’re tying up two damn Birds-of-Prey,’ Rourke said through gritted teeth. And then he closed her off once more, banished the outside for the present.
‘Alpha’s cloaked again -’
‘I can trace that; they’re leaking coolant -’
‘This is the Hazard Team; we’ve made contact,’ Rhade’s voice rumbled over her earpiece.
‘Keep us posted, Lieutenant; good hunting.’ She flicked channel. ‘Korthek Base, reinforcements are with you.’
‘I can hear them – how many are out there, surely they can send more…’
‘We have the D’Ghor tied up in orbit. Sit tight, our Hazard Team will protect you.’ It was a skill to absorb everything while reporting only what she had to. It was a different skill to say the right thing at the right time in the right tone. And though Endeavour rocked and shook underneath her, that didn’t matter, couldn’t matter.
Hold tight. Stay safe. We’re here. We’re protecting you.
‘Direct hit! Alpha’s engines are gone, they’re drifting -’
‘Bravo’s decloaked at our rear! They’re opening fire!’
‘Bridge, that’s their landing party dealt with; command deck is secure.’
‘Understood, Hazard Team; any injuries or losses?’
‘Negative on us, but I’m checking on the civilians.’
Endeavour bucked as weapons fire raked across their aft shields, and still Lindgren had to look up and call out, ‘Hazard Team has secured the facility without injury,’ and be heard.
‘Tell them to get back aboard ASAP,’ Rourke snapped, and barely drew another breath to bark, ‘Bring us around, hard starboard!’
‘Locked onto their weapons array; launching torpedoes.’
But even as Endeavour tackled their last opponent, Lindgren’s eyes and ears were millions of kilometres away. ‘Odyssey has taken out the lead K’t’inga.’
Kharth gave her half a heartbeat to speak before she was back to updates from Tactical. ‘That’s their front torpedo launcher gone -’
‘Keep it up, don’t let them slip into cloak again -’
‘I’ve isolated readings of the viridium on their ship,’ piped up Airex, ‘I should have limited monitoring of them even if they do -’
‘I’ve got them –’
Somehow, Kharth and Airex could bicker even as they brought down a Bird-of-Prey. An iota of the tension in Lindgren’s chest loosened as the viewscreen brightened with the explosion of the second D’Ghor ship threatening Korthek, and the sensors showed their immediate surroundings clear.
‘Keep scanning in case they have backup,’ Rourke still warned. ‘And take a breather. Elsa?’
She was never the one to get a breather. ‘Task Force 17 are taking a beating, sir; the Nobel is keeping Birds-of-Prey off the array but the Discovery and Triton are under heavy fire.’
Rourke’s jaw was tight. ‘Better the D’Ghor are there than running around out here. Tactical, any sign of more skirmishers?’
‘Seems all quiet here, sir,’ Kharth confirmed.
Valance looked up from her XO’s chair’s console. ‘Engineering reports return to full power; deflector grid is in alignment and they’re restoring shields.’
‘Repairs are holding?’ said Rourke.
Valance nodded. ‘Cortez’s only concern is the patchwork done on the hull if we take heavy, direct damage that bypasses shields. It’s why she put more redundancies into the power array -’
‘Someone – Endeavour – please come in! We’ve got a Bird-of-Prey right on top of us!’
Lindgren’s heart was in her throat as she spun in her chair. ‘Captain! Ch’thek Post reports enemy contact!’
Airex’s lips thinned as he read his sensors. ‘Just one Bird-of-Prey; they look winged. They might have broken off from the main battle to try to draw someone away.’
Rourke nodded. ‘Tell them we’re coming. Helm, set a course and go to full impulse the moment the Hazard Team is aboard.’
Lindgren pressed a finger to her earpiece. ‘Easy, Ch’thek! We’re coming for you. Go to full lockdown, take cover, and we’re bringing a whole starship and elite landing party to come watch your backs.’
Drake sucked his teeth. ‘Ten minutes out at full impulse.’
‘They have to get through Ch’thek’s shields,’ Thawn reminded him, and a light on her console blatted. ‘King Arthur has docked, Captain.’
Rourke jabbed a finger forwards. ‘Go.’
‘Endeavour, two Birds-of-Prey have just uncloaked in orbit and are opening fire on our defensive shields,’ came a taut, but level voice through Lindgren’s earpiece, and for a moment she thought that was a second D’Ghor ship at Ch’thek. But her ear caught up with the different tone even before her eye registered that this was a whole new line of communication. Then her heart lunged into her throat enough to choke.
She’d perfected the art of sounding warm or professional even in the face of chaos. That wavered when she sat up and said, ‘Captain?’ and even as Endeavour’s bridge crew had been suffused in the plans for battle at Ch’thek, everyone fell silent. ‘Two Birds-of-Prey have just decloaked in orbit of Haydorian VIc.’
Rourke hesitated. ‘Status of Task Force 17?’
She knew the question, and even though she knew the answer, her gaze slid across the comms records. ‘A Vor’cha has just decloaked on top of the Odyssey, sir; there’s no way they can spare anyone from the Array.’
Kharth looked between them. ‘Dispatch the King Arthur to Ch’thek -’
‘I’m not sending a runabout up against a Bird-of-Prey,’ Rourke snapped.
‘They don’t have to win, they just have to delay them -’
‘Lieutenant Lindgren, inform Ch’thek to lock down their entire facility and that we will be with them when we can.’ Colour had faded from Rourke’s face, but his voice still forceful. ‘And tell Haydorian VIc we’re coming for them.’
Valance’s eyes flickered across her console. ‘We can’t get to Haydorian VIc, fight two Birds-of-Prey, and then get to Ch’thek before their shields have fallen and they’ve been bombarded or boarded -’
‘Tell them,’ Rourke said again, eyes on Lindgren, ‘that we’ll be there when we can.’
Eight thousand people in Rimus, the surface habitat at Haydorian VIc. Less than two hundred on Ch’thek. Lindgren didn’t envy Captain Rourke the decision, but she still struggled to swallow the knot in her throat as she studied her board of comm lines while he gave Drake instructions. For him, Ch’thek was already gone, pushed away as the endangered moon habitat became everything.
For her, Ch’thek was as close as everything else burning in Haydorian.
‘Control Station Rimus; this is Endeavour. We’re heading for you now. Keep your people on lockdown and pipe all power to your shields. We’ll be a few minutes.’
‘Minutes?’ came the incredulous voice from Haydorian VIc. ‘It better not be too many.’
‘We’re one of the fastest ships in the system, Rimus. We’ll be there.’
‘If not, nobody’s here to be saved.’
She wanted to scream at them. Yell that at least someone’s coming for you, that they wouldn’t be alone, that even if Endeavour was too late for some, they would save the rest. But she had to switch comm channels to Ch’thek.
‘Ch’thek; this is Lieutenant Lindgren. Lock everything down. Hang tight. Put all energy reserves you have into your shields, even life support if you have to.’
‘Sensors show you’re, what, six minutes out, Lieutenant? We’ll hold down the fort until then. Good hunting.’
For a moment, she considered lying. ‘Sorry, Ch’thek. It’s getting hot around Rimus. We’ll come for you when we can.’
‘Hot at –’ It was like she could hear the Andorian on the other end of the line silently calculating. His voice went empty. ‘…Understood, Lieutenant.’
She cut the line before her next breath caught. And braced as the storm kept rumbling.
Endeavour shot like an arrow through the vacuum, nowhere when she needed to be everywhere. The battle at the Archanis Array continued, and Lindgren gave each update in a calm and level tone, even as Endeavour’s bridge crew barked updates and shared date as they made ready for a second bout of contact.
‘Endeavour; Rimus, where are you?’
Here. That was the answer, Endeavour falling on the ships in the moon’s orbit, Starfleet’s hammer swinging down.
‘Tell Rhade to stay on standby for another launch!’ Rourke shouted as the habitat shield shuddered under the onslaught of D’Ghor weapons fire. ‘Kharth, get that -’
And with one phaser blast, the Bird-of-Prey that had turned to face them became a blazing inferno.
Everyone on the bridge stared, and Kharth sputtered before she spoke. ‘Looks like – their engines overloaded, we must have hit their power grid and they were already damaged -’
‘Just one Bird-of-Prey left,’ Rourke said through gritted teeth. ‘We can do this. Bring them down, and we can get to Ch’thek.’
Lindgren’s heart soared, and her hands raced over her station. ‘Ch’thek; Lieutenant Lindgren, what’s your status?’
A wry laugh answered. ‘It’s kind of you to ask, Lieutenant. Our shields are down to twenty percent. Stay in your fight.’
She hesitated. Hope was a bitter pill. ‘This fight will take care of itself. I’m not leaving you.’
‘…appreciate that, Lieutenant. Family first. This system is our family. You save who you can save. But – ten percent, and one torpedo already breached the upper levels, we lost some people there…’
‘We’re going to get to you, Ch’thek, do you hear me?’
‘Also appreciate your optimism. Could do with a touch of that down here.’
‘Damn the – the Bird-of-Prey’s cloaking…’
‘I’m picking up their trail, Tactical; they’ve taken a hammering, they can’t hide -’
‘Wait, is that a…’
Lindgren let the fight in front of her wash by, seeing but not seeing as she spoke to Ch’thek. ‘Your facility’s underground. They can’t bombard it to dust from orbit. They’ll have to send warriors -’
‘You know how to be reassuring, huh, Lieutenant?’
‘That takes time, we’re bringing our landing party to you…’
‘And I see you’re still in orbit of Rimus. It’s okay.’
‘It’s not -’
‘…that’s two signals.’ Airex’s voice was like granite. ‘They’ve got friends.’
Lindgren watched as two Birds-of-Prey decloaked where a moment ago there had been only one. And the shields on Ch’thek and Haydorian VIc fell simultaneously.
The control staff at Rimus went ballistic in her ear at once. Desperate, panicked, demanding. ‘You have to get landing parties now, Endeavour, or this will be on your hands –’
Ch’thek’s comms officer just sighed. ‘Yup. Looks like the first team’s beaming in. I don’t think it’ll take them twenty minutes to get through two hundred metres of rock…’
‘Elsa!’ It took her a second to realise Rourke had, for the first time ever, had to repeat himself to get her attention. ‘Tell Rhade to get his people on the surface!’
D’Ghor raiding parties in Rimus. Two Birds-of-Prey in orbit to defeat. The battle at the Archanis Array still an entrenched slugging match between the larger ships. And, in a quiet corner of the Haydorian System, one small facility shutting the doors and waiting for the D’Ghor to break them down. With nobody coming to save them.
‘Endeavour; Rimus! Landing party at District 4 –’
‘Blast it – Delta’s cloaked again -’
‘Shields are down to twenty percent on our port side!’
‘This is Rhade; we’ve launched and once we’re out of the immediate line of battle we’ll beam directly to the surface –’
‘I can’t stay on his damn tail -’
‘Direct hit! Their shields are holding…’
‘They’re through four levels, Lieutenant Lindgren.’ She could hear the comms officer at Ch’thek swallow. ‘Thanks for staying on the line with me.’
Somehow she breathed through it. Somehow – because she was a Starfleet officer, the Communications Officer, Endeavour’s voice, and that was a responsibility at which she would not, could not fail. ‘I’m not cutting this channel, Ch’thek.’
‘Vor’then. That’s my name.’
‘Vor’then – I’m staying on this line, Vor’then, I’m not going anywhere.’
‘ – Echo’s trying to make a run for the surface; they might be going for a bombardment, or the King Arthur -’
‘Hazard Team has beamed down; King Arthur is taking evasive action -’
‘Get on Echo’s tail, Helm; Delta will have to follow…’
‘I think you should cut the line, Lieutenant Lindgren. You don’t want to hear how this is gonna go when they break those doors.’
‘I can’t leave you alone, Vor’then.’ Ch’thek was both too close and too far, but Rimus could have melted to oblivion for all she knew in that heartbeat.
‘Then I’ll cut the line. You save that moon, Lieutenant.’ And the line went dead.
‘Vor’then – Ch’thek -’
When Endeavour shuddered under her anew, she thought it was her heart pounding in her chest. Then she wondered if they’d taken too heavy a blow and failed their mission, left hundreds to die to try to save thousands and failed. But it was just the thin upper atmosphere of Haydorian VIc as Endeavour tore after the Bird-of-Prey, and then she had Rimus Control screeching in her ear again.
‘Got two hunting parties down here,’ Rhade was reporting. ‘Splitting the Hazard Team; we’re defending a central point and going after them -’
‘Launching aft torpedoes; Delta seems like they’ve forgotten we can do that -’
‘Elsa! Update on Task Force 17!’
She opened her mouth to speak, and her first attempt was a croak. That hadn’t happened since the end of her first year as an Ensign. ‘The Vor’cha has been destroyed; Array’s shields are holding at over ninety percent; orbital platforms are all accounted for…’
‘Good, tell Odyssey if they haven’t already separated to send a section to Ch’thek -’ But Rourke’s voice cut off, and she didn’t know why until she found his gaze locked on her, eyes startled. At some point, she’d started to cry.
Furious with herself, Lindgren wiped a hand across her face. ‘Ch’thek’s gone, sir. Landing parties have got through to the habitat levels. Even if reinforcements set off now, they’re too far away. Everyone’s dead, or will be dead.’
‘Are you -’
‘Present, sir.’ It was hard to not make it an admonishment.
‘Echo’s breaking off their attack!’ That dragged Rourke from her, away from her link to the eyes of the system, away from her reach across the whole of the battle, back to his present.
‘Endeavour, are you getting this -’
‘Rimus Control, we have diverted one D’Ghor attack run and have this fight in hand.’ Somehow, her voice was still all polite courtesies. ‘Our Hazard Team has engaged D’Ghor landing parties. Hang tight. We’ve got you.’
Have half as much grace under pressure as those who’ve just died so we could save you.
But she was the voice of Starfleet, the voice of Endeavour, and such pettiness was beneath her. She had to soothe the dying, bring hope to the hopeless, and light the brightest of beacons with her words.
So her heart finally lightened, finally stopped trying to choke her, at the latest notification flickering onto her station’s display, the latest message coming in. And even as Endeavour disabled one of the Birds-of-Prey trying to rain down hell upon Rimus and the bridge crew gave a jubilant cheer, when Elsa Lindgren spoke up, everyone fell silent.
At least this time, she could bring a beacon with her words. ‘Message coming in from outside the system, Captain. Imperial Guard ships are inbound on Haydorian. Andoria sent reinforcements.’