They called them Birds of Prey, but they appeared more like vultures as they circled their quarry. Plasma billowed, venting green from the USS Tulwar’s dorsal reactor housing. The vessel crawled at fractional impulse, every spare joule of energy engaged, putting as much distance as she could between her maimed spaceframe and the swooping ghouls that circled close.
Another disruptor burst pulsed. Vile and luminous, it raked across the Tulwar’s shields to the rear of her bridge module. There was a short fizz as what remained of the shield emitters struggled to repel the effects of the superheated particles, then flames. Ignited oxygen from the environmental systems spewed the ship’s firey lifeblood out in a wide arc above. Viewport lights flickered and the red bussard collector glow stuttered, gasping one last time for particulate energy before giving out.
“Their shields are down.” Chorr clenched his fist at the announcement from tactical.
A guttural growl seeped from his throat, “No…” He held himself back from giving the order to fire, observing the crippled Federation vessel positioned neatly within the Jat’lh’s targeting reticles. He stood in the centre of the dingy bridge, his eyes sweeping around like a lighthouse beam from the top of his massive frame. “Today we look into the eyes of these SPINELESS ghuy’cha’! We will watch the life drain from their faces as we IMPALE them on our blades. They will experience the pain of Gre’Thor in the living world, and we will drain their blood for Fek’lhr’s sacrifice.” His pointed teeth gnashed as he snarled, whipping the damned war party into their blood frenzy. He unsheathed his d’k tahg, brandishing it upwards. The bridge crew followed suit, unholstering their disruptor pistols, their long black hair whipped around as they tossed back their heads. Discordant noise found a rhythm in a few at first, but through the chaos a chant emerged.
“Chorr… Chorr… CHORR!”
His voice soared above them, “WARRIORS! PREPARE FOR BOARDING.”
Lieutenant Althaia Delfino’s pulse raced. The USS Orwell was close enough to see the macabre scene unfolding on long range sensors, but still too far to do anything about it. The Orion class runabout hurtled at warp 8, as fast as its engines would allow, but not fast enough. She tapped her finger nervously on the side of the runabout’s flight controls. Her thoughts escaped under her breath, “Come on… Come on…”
She was certain Lieutenant Nihl could hear her, and she was certain he could feel the exquisite sense of tension mixed with hopelessness that pervaded the Orwell’s cockpit every bit as acutely as she. Each second that elapsed between now and contact was further opportunity for the Tulwar’s brutalisation by the hands of D’Ghor, and more time for the convoy with only minimal protection. She flicked a strand of straight, black hair out of her eyes. The proximity alert sounded, and her ears pulled back. Her jaw clenched with apprehension, “Dropping out of warp in five… Four… Three… Two… One…”
Captain Thrix lay slumped over the arm of the USS Tulwar’s command chair. The low blare of the ship’s red alert klaxon was muffled by the hissing blast of the bridge’s fire suppression system. Carbon dioxide clouds mingled with the toxic smoke and vapours exuded from smouldering bio-neural circuitry. The air was thick, and his breathing was laboured. The fire burned hot against his face despite the choking gas. A blue hand flexed, open, closed, scrabbling for a grip on something. It found the corner of the chair and, latching on, Thrix heaved his body into a seated position. Blood streamed down the left side of his face and his vision was blurred. His eardrums, perforated by the blast, dulled the roar of the fire behind him. He spat out the blood that had pooled in his mouth, flecks of deep blue mingling with shards of debris that lay strewn about the deck. A deep, staggered breath, and he could taste more; a pulmonary haemorrhage from the shockwave convulsed his chest in searing pain.
He forced his eyes up, surveying what was left of the bridge. His bridge. The bodies of his crew lay where they had fallen. His First Officer lay partially buried under a sheet of duranium bulkhead, torn from the ship’s structure, twisted into a grotesque metallic contortion. What remained of Ensign Haines began to be consumed by the blaze that now occupied the bridge’s entire rear section. The fire had blackened the Ensign’s skin, and his gold uniform collar erupted in red as the insatiable flames continued to consume.
Why wasn’t he dead? A cough wracked him, and the smoke bit into his dried out throat. It was his damned orders that had got them into this. Why was he still breathing? Through the pain that bubbled up in his chest, he let out a groan. It grew into a choked growl, “Computer, damage report.”
“All propulsion systems offline. Deflector shields offline. Hull breaches on decks 2, 3, 5, 6…”
Thrix hauled himself up with a gargantuan effort just as the red glow of a Klingon transporter beam shimmered into view. Chorr’s hulking figure stepped forward, looking first at the ruined bridge, then down at Thrix with disdain. The Klingon towered over Thrix’s already tall build. Looking into his eyes and seeing nothing but rage, Chorr grinned. He exposed his jagged sharpened teeth and laughed, “A Bolian.” Contemptuously, he stressed the first syllable with widened eyes, “Run from us like a dog, die like a dog.”
Thrix staggered forward towards Chorr with another groan, “Have my life!” He swung at the Klingon, who easily blocked his effort, “You’ve killed my crew,” he swung again, “destroyed my ship,” Chorr was bemused, “only thing you- gahhh…” Thrix strained against Chorr’s blocking arm, “…worthless thugs are good for!” The Bolian panted and more blood ran from his mouth. Chorr shoved him back, and he nearly collapsed back into the chair, “We were saving lives. Cleaning up your Klingon mess again!”
Chorr paused, observing for a moment as Thrix caught his breath. He still smiled, deeply amused by the Bolian’s protestations, and laughed again in a deep boom, “You… You have some honour. Fight me, Bolian.” He flipped a d’k tahg out from its sheath on his upper thigh and the secondary blades flicked open. He threw it at Thrix’s feet, who strained as he bent down, grasping the thick handle of the blade built for Klingon hands. Chorr brought out a second, grinning at the deliciousness of a knife duel with a Starfleet captain. He tossed the knife back and forth between each hand, goading Thrix, crouching down, circling him.
It was Thrix’s turn to smile. Deliriously, he looked through the hulking Klingon to the bodies of his crew. The two captains circled each other for one full rotation. The fire burned with an ever more furious heat. Behind Thrix what remained of an EPS conduit, overloaded for a final time, shot a million tiny sparks across the Tulwar’s disfigured bridge. They danced like stars, bouncing through the flames and across matte grey duranium smeared with combusted soot. Chorr was instantly dazzled by their acetylene intensity. Thrix felt the quick searing sting of electroplasma on the back of his neck as he launched forwards, d’k tahg thrust out. Chorr moved in close, Thrix’s blade nicking the shoulder of his knife arm before being deflected up. With his own thrust, Chorr sunk the d’k tahg deep into Thrix’s side. The Bolian’s ribs gave way as it slid between them and he sank to the deck.
Without pause, Chorr sheathed his dagger, unclipping the bat’leth slung on his back. He twirled it with an elaborate motion before bringing the scythe-like end to Thrix’s throat. The dying Bolian could only moan as Chorr leaned in close, eyes inches from his face, “Today, you die with honour.” The bat’leth whipped through the carbon smoke and clanged down on the deck. It severed Thrix’s head from his body in a single blow.
“Why aren’t they finishing her off?” Althaia squinted as Tulwar came into view, “Unless…” She thought for a moment then, “I think I can get us in closer.” Ice ran down her spine as the USS Orwell banked right in a flash, avoiding another pulse of disruptor fire, “There’s too much distortion, they’re using that damn polaron field again, I can’t make anything out.” The runabout rocked as the inertial dampeners absorbed a direct hit.
“Returning fire.” Chief Olren stated robotically. Three neon orange streaks blasted towards the bird of prey that was now rounding on the Orwell, “Klingons got smart, huh?” He added.
“Don’t underestimate them.” Althaia scolded through gritted teeth, “They’re butchering that ship’s crew right now.” Eyes still forward, she called out to the rear compartment, “How’s he doing?”
“Concussion,” came the reply from Crewman Jalt, medical tricorder in hand, “won’t be the worst of it if we take another hit like that.”
Althaia’s eyes flicked down briefly, a pang of guilt shot through her for a second before the stricken Saber Class starship came into view. “Signal the Bonaventure, see if they can cover us. If we can’t scan them, we’re gonna have to go and take a look around.” More disruptor fire streaked past the Orwell as it darted about, shrinking the distance between it and the Tulwar. “OK, we’re in transporter range. The Tulwar’s shields are down. Valera, Dol’ak, you stay here with Nihl and keep those birds of prey busy. Jalt, Olren, you’re with me.”
She input a code into the arms locker, which slid open to reveal a row of neatly racked type-III phaser rifles. Jalt and Olren grabbed their own as Althaia adjusted the settings on her weapon’s small LCARS display. In a few quick steps, they were on the transporter pad. She set coordinates, “I’m going to drop the shields for transport. Dol’ak, evasive pattern delta six. Make sure there’s somewhere left for us to transport back to.”
“Aye.” Dol’ak grunted. Eyes forward, the emotionless pilot guided the Orwell in a smooth barrel roll as it passed below the Tulwar’s burning spaceframe.
Althaia inhaled, “Energise.”
The runabout’s crew compartment dissolved away, replaced by a section of corridor barely lit by the Tulwar’s slowly failing emergency power. The deck heaved beneath them, “Warning. Structural integrity compromised,” the computer, polite as ever, informed the three newcomers, “all personnel to emergency escape pods.” No time to adjust their eyes to the gloom, they flicked on their barrel-mounted flashlights. A groan rose up from the scorched duranium wall in front of them. They angled their beams down, provoking another strangled croak as the wretched figure before them struggled to shield his eyes.
Jalt crouched down, reaching out to the slumped man, “Damn.” He set his rifle down and swung the field medic’s kit off his back. In an instant the medical tricorder was once again in his hand as he moved the scanner over the gaping wound. A huge laceration ran down the officers front from his left collarbone, winding under his arm to finish at the top of his hip. His uniform had a single long gore where the blade had ripped through. The black material hung loose, sliced into two flaps which hung, soaked in blood and parted to reveal the cleaved flesh beneath. Jalt rummaged briefly for a hypospray, and a quiet hiss sounded as he pressed it against the side of the man’s neck. “They cut him up good. If I can control the bleeding I can stabilise him. Pressure there.” Jalt directed Althaia to a point above the hip, “More.” He unclipped a dermal regenerator, ripped the shredded uniform apart further and hovered it inches from the exposed skin down the length of the wound. Blood seeped through Althaia’s fingers, and she could feel the rise and fall of the downed officer’s laboured breathing. He was an Ensign, human, in his twenties. His face was ghostly white and his blonde hair was matted with sweat across his forehead. Jalt’s black, Tiburonian eyes narrowed as, head bowed, he concentrated on his medical tricorder’s ECG readout. The dermal regenerator continued along its path, and the Ensign’s heart rate began to stabilise.
A disruptor bolt slammed into the bulkhead above Althaia and Jalt, sending hot fragments raining down. “Company!” Olren yelled, loosing three shots of his own in quick succession.
“Go.” Jalt looked up to Althaia, furrowed brow dragging down his cranial ridge, “I’ve stopped the worst of the bleeding.”
Hands still damp with blood, Althaia brought her rifle to bear. Olren’s phaser bolts had not found their target, and vapourised metallic smoke began to diffuse back along the corridor. Both crouched, lights extinguished, Althaia gave a hand signal and they both inched forward. In a flash of red alert light, she caught the unmistakable silhouette against a glossy wall panel metres ahead. She knew it was too late. Olren, positioned on the outer edge of the corridor’s curve, disappeared in a green shimmer. He could barely utter a scream before his body was disassembled at the atomic level. Molecular bonds were severed and cells homogenised into invisible vapour. His rifle flew back, clattering along the corridor from the force of the blast.
“Soj Qunpu’!” Althaia heard a triumphant shout from up ahead. She pressed herself back against the inner wall, training her rifle dead ahead, ready. She froze. Her heart thumped in her chest like the boots of the approaching Klingons, pounding out the same rhythm. She stared ahead, unable to blink even if she had wanted to. Summoning all her willpower, she refused even the quickest of glances towards where Olren had stood, his presence now marked only by a small scorch mark on the deckplate.
The first Klingon came into view, charging through the gloom. One shot from Althaia and he was down, sprawled lifeless on the deck. The second shouldered his disruptor too late, and her two pale yellow phaser bursts threw him back off his feet. He tumbled into the extremely tall Klingon behind, who pushed the corpse angrily out of his way before howling in rage. Althaia shot again and missed, firing wide and above the Klingon’s left shoulder. The flash of the impact behind him obscured the glint of the d’k tahg that spun towards her.
The blade had twisted horizontally in midair and sank deep into the muscle beneath her clavicle. Thrown with incredible strength, it severed tendons and connective tissue, lodging itself so deep in her shoulder that the knife’s two flared hilt blades grazed against her skin. The subtlety of the knife’s design was lost on Althaia as she gasped, winded, hands instinctively grabbing at the hilt of the embedded weapon still warm from its owner’s grasp. Lightning fire exploded through her torso. Her arm seized up, severed nerves sending it into a clenching spasm. In a few quick steps, he was upon her, and the phaser rifle was wrenched from her good hand. He tossed it aside like a targ bone stripped of meat. Looming above her, his cleft lip curled upwards into a sneer.
“You fought well.” His baritone dripped with condescension.
She grimaced, deep brown eyes locked defiantly on his, “D’Ghor p’taq.” She took a swipe towards him, then doubled over from the full force of a punch to her stomach. The Klingon followed up, crashing his reinforced boot heel into the side of her face. More pain clawed its way into the side of her head as it thudded down on metal. Her jaw rattled. Three of her teeth lay in front of her as she wretched in a collapsed heap.
He looked down. A deep, resounding laugh swelled up within him, “You have spirit, sending two of my warriors to Gre’thor. Perhaps now we have slaughtered enough Starfleet cattle to appease Fek’lhr. A worthy soul like yours would please him greatly.” He paused. At that moment Jalt rounded the corridor, phaser rifle at the ready. There was a split second as, eyes wide, the Tiburonian medic absorbed the scene in front of him. It was all the Klingon needed to unholster his disruptor pistol, discharging a quick green flash straight into Jalt’s chest.
The nonchalant giant turned his attention back to Althaia. She writhed on her back, one hand scrabbling around in vain for grip. Calmly, he stepped on it. The bones made a sickening crunch as they were crushed, “Yet still you struggle in defeat. You choose to fight to the end.” Nodding slowly, he smiled with a grudging respect. It was almost as if a sense of relief had crept into his voice “At last, here on this pathetic ship, I have found a warrior.” He considered his next words, “Yes, you are worthy of Sto’vo’kor.”
“No honour in slaughter, coward.” She hissed.
He leaned in, reaching down and placing his hand on the dagger that jutted out from her. He pressed down, drawing his face close to hers. She screamed in agony. The veins in his neck throbbed. She could smell his pungent breath.
“When you find yourself before the great gates, you will tell them of the one who has sent you.” Althaia could see the whites of his imploring eyes, “You will tell them of me, Chorr, son of Miq’vegh. I will have deliverance from Gre’thor and from the jaws of Fek’lhr.”
Chorr looked down, puzzled. He brought a hand up to his face. Rubbing his thumb and forefinger together, he found the slippery blood that coated them curious. It seemed strange to him that the bat’leth blade protruding from his stomach pointed up towards his face. He gazed at the razor edge for a second, growing even more perplexed as it moved higher, towards him. The Klingon behind him, who held the blade, heaved with all his strength. Chorr’s legs gave way, bringing his full weight to bear on the upward cutting edge that ran him through. He slid down further, shuddering once, then again, until the bat’leth wielder was satisfied.
“Warning. Structural integrity compromised.” The computer continued its regular updates, “Hull failure imminent. All personnel to emergency escape pods.”
“D’blok.” The second Klingon grunted. He stood shorter than Chorr and more portly of build. His hair was a lighter tone than the vanquished captain’s thick, black mane. He kicked Chorr’s corpse in the small of the back, pushing him off the bat’leth. Silently, he crouched down over Althaia. His fingers felt rough and calloused against her neck as he checked her pulse. Placing his arm under her unwounded shoulder, he began to drag her along the corridor. She drifted in and out of mental presence, aware only of the excruciation brought on by the Klingon’s irregular movements. He laid her down. She saw another body from the corner of her eye. The wounded Ensign she had first seen after beaming in was propped up against the corridor wall. Jalt’s field medic kit lay wide open beside him.
A red hot lance of fire tore through her upper body as her muscles closed around where the blade had been. She couldn’t tear her eyes away, willing the Klingon to move faster; further damage to her mangled rotator cuff be damned. He fumbled with the dermal regenerator, aware that time was ticking. The blade had been millimetres from her subclavian artery. When he was confident she wasn’t going to bleed out, he heaved her up onto his shoulder. The Ensign was next, offering up no resistance, merely staring ahead with a blank expression. The Klingon muttered an order and a beam of red light descended on the trio. Their forms briefly shimmered in the dark before fading from sight in the soft, wavering energy stream.
The overwhelming explosive decompression began in the ship’s engineering section. Exposed to the vacuum of space, the matter/antimatter reaction assembly was immediately torn from its housing. Breaching their containment, the highly volatile materials combined, unlimited and uncontrolled. The disintegration was violent. Chunks of duranium alloy, roughly matching the shape of the components painstakingly pieced together at the Calder Prime Shipyard, were blown apart. Secondary explosions fragmented the pieces further and dazzling tongues of flame leapt from the spinning wreck. Soon all that remained of the USS Tulwar were scraps of this twisted metal, destined to forever drift and scatter across the distant, unplumbed depths of space.
The Klingon biobed was a crude, blocky thing. Barely used, it was of course preferable to leave wounded warriors to their deaths. On the cusp of the 25th Century, Klingon medicine still left much to be desired. Those deemed too weak to make it through the painful, needlessly damaging surgeries were simply written off. Those with disabilities were simply ignored, ostracised and condemned as weak for having chosen such a life over a glorious death in battle. Having no interest in death or glory, Althaia Delfino was at first confused when she awoke in the Jat’lh’s infirmary, then relieved, then horrified. Her uniform jacket had been replaced by a Klingon military undershirt. The material was thick and several sizes too big, hanging down off her narrow shoulders in a shapeless blob. Coarse fibres scratched her skin when she rolled the sleeves up past her elbows, and her chest ached as she swung her legs off the bed. She looked around for a blade, a hypospray, anything she could use as a weapon. That was when the infirmary doors whirred and the blonde haired Ensign walked in.
“Lieutenant, you’re awake.” He stopped still as her eyes continued darting around the room, trying to make sense of the situation, “We’re on the Jat’lh. It was Chorr’s ship. Before G’Vir killed him, that is.”
“What?” Her head was spinning. She recognised the Ensign from the Tulwar. Right now he was her only anchor to the vaguely familiar. The strange machinery clicked and hummed. She steadied herself on the side of the bed, gripping it, running a hand through her hair. It felt real. She looked again at the Ensign, still unsure if this was all some strange hallucination.
“G’Vir said that huge Klingon nearly killed you. He was the captain of this ship,” he continued, slowly. He took a step forward. Althaia froze. He tried to reassure her, “It’s OK.”
His green eyes looked down in remorse. Deep lines formed in his brow despite the officer’s youth. The grey shoulders of his uniform were frayed and tattered, and his soul was in no better shape. His voice trembled, “The crewmen you were with? Gone.” He raised his hands, “Wait!”
Althaia’s memory broke over her in a crashing wave. She heaved, pushing past him, stumbling out of the infirmary door. A Klingon corpse lay face down on the deck. More death. She stopped in her tracks, wretched twice and vomited. The Ensign approached slowly as she leant over, wanting to help but afraid, “It’s probably the Klingon meds,” he attempted to reassure her. “They’re pretty strong. Double the organs and all that…”
“What… Happened here?” Althaia spoke between heavy breaths.
“G’Vir killed them all. Well, not exactly.” His voice dropped low, “He said Chorr was dishonourable. Waited til they beamed over to the Tulwar then overrode the lock on his cell. This guy,” he pointed to the dead Klingon on the floor, “was one of the guys they left on the ship.” He began shaking his head slowly, “He was stalking Chorr the whole time. You were the one that finally gave him his opportunity. Said he owed you for that and figured I was with you, so he brought us back here.”
She stared at the floor for a while longer, absorbing what had been said before pulling herself upright. She looked towards the Ensign. He was skinny and a little red faced. It looked like he’d spent more time in science labs than anywhere else. His exhaustion was clear from the deep dark patches under his eyes, smudging in contrast to his pale complexion. For the first time in 48 hours, Althaia smiled.
“What’s your name?”
“Ensign Edward Steldon. Yourself?”
“Lieutenant Athaia Delfino.” The protocol was stuffy, but for both officers it signalled the smallest of steps towards normality, “OK Ensign Steldon, how do I meet this G’Vir?”
“Uhhh, follow me, sir.” He fumbled awkwardly, stepping around the dead Klingon and what remained of Althaia’s breakfast. Steldon led the way along the grimy central walkway that connected the bird of prey’s bridge to the rest of the ship.
Flanked by a small group of Starfleet runabouts, the Jat’lh soared at warp on the galactic winds. It altered course, increasing speed, matching the heading of another group of vessels lightyears away. Althaia Delfino was going home.
After resting as well as he might have expected, Captain Felrak Vordenna walked onto the bridge. Argosians did not undergo what humans would generally recognise as ‘sleep’. Instead, the organisms that grew on their bodies required contact with the vines of an orbosh tree. Fortunately, the trees were hardy, able to grow well under artificial ultraviolet light. Felrak kept one in his quarters among a host of other plants, flowers and leaves of all shapes and sizes. It grew up and along the curved corner of the room, stooping over at the top where it could reach no further. The vines hung down like a thick curtain. Microfibrils lining their surface would cling to his skin when he stepped under them. Psychotropic phosphate compounds crossed over, through the lichens and mosses, into his bloodstream. The result was a deep and usually restful period of cell regeneration and memory processing. These were not usual circumstances, however, and Felrak had awoken with a prickly, irritable mood.
“What’s our ETA at Legera?” He barked as he strode around the tactical station. It was mounted on a faux wooden beam that rose from the deck not unlike those found on larger Galaxy class vessels.
Tursk knew that tone of voice well and did not beat about the bush with his response, “Two hours, sir.”
“Any news from the runabouts?” Felrak knew full well he would have been informed already, had there been any.
“Keep me posted, Commander.” He grumbled. The previous evening had seen reports fly in about an inbound D’Ghor assault across multiple systems. Now they were down one ship and three runabouts, the last thing they needed was to get caught up in a pitched battle. “Continue monitoring coms,” he added, declining to sit, “if anything comes in from Legera I want to know about it. Who’s going where, alert levels, what they’re having for breakfast. Understood?”
“Aye, sir.” Tursk had seen Felrak like this a few times before. The lack of empathy in his eyes. The short, snappy sentences. It was never the precursor of anything good.
Felrak paced away, “Send it all through to my ready room.” He continued pacing once inside. He activated the wall display, a screen large enough to show a tactical overlay of the Archanis sector. Current fleet positions based on the the most recent updates from command were overlaid on the star systems that peppered the chart. He brought a hand up to touch the Legera system, enlarging it and the surrounding area on the screen. Starfleet had ships deployed to each populated world in the system. The ships were mainly from Task Group 27, previous home of the Tulwar and Stavanger. Felrak couldn’t help but wonder if those ships would have been better off simply staying put. He controlled his regrets, expunging them from his mind. He couldn’t afford them. Not now.
The ready room door chimed. “Enter.” The word came out tinged with consternation. His interrupted thoughts left him baffled by the unexpected intrusion. His face softened when the solemn form of Sreyler Theb stepped quietly in. “Commander Theb, is there anything I can do for you?”
Her ice blue eyes looked up at him. Facing him was difficult. She held her head at a slight angle, as if contemplating whether to walk straight back out the way she had come. She stood still. Her thick silver hair was hastily knotted in a bun, rather than tied back in its usual, neat plait. Strands of it poked in every which way, and Felrak could tell that whatever she had to say had struck her in the moment. He knew his Chief Engineer, the impulsive, brilliant mind introduced to him by his dear old friend Xin Ra-Havreii back when Felrak had himself run the engineering department on the USS Luna. She had been just fifteen years old then, growing up on the harsh frozen plains of Efrosia.
“A nimble mind, this one.” Xin had enthused, showing Felrak the teen’s miniaturised Heisenburg compensator. Each part had been separately replicated, the model constructed with specially programmed nanobots for the annual Zhaman’ti Engineering Festival in the domed Efrosian capital. Felrak’s friend had encouraged her to apply to Starfleet Academy when she came of age, and would no doubt have poached her for his own command if Felrak had not got there first. It was still a bone of contention whenever they met.
The face that had smiled bashfully when Felrak had complimented her designs now appeared stony and sombre. She attempted to speak and her bottom lip quivered. She drew in a short, sharp breath before, almost involuntarily, she whispered, “They’re not coming back, are they?”
“They still have time.” Felrak spoke and realised it wasn’t only Sreyler he was trying to convince.
Her eyes widened and her fists clenched, “What time? I know we’re getting closer to Legera. If they made it they would have caught up with us by now.”
“That’s not for you to say,” Felrak cautioned, “and in any case, we must be prepared for all eventualities.”
Sreyler’s gaze fell to the floor on hearing him admit the unthinkable. Her voice dropped to a murmur, “I should have never OK’d those repairs. They went down too quick. It can only have been the EPS flux control,” her speech quickened, “I could have said something. The quality… It was all such a rush…”
Felrak took a step towards the forlorn officer in front of him, “You know I’m the one who ordered the departure. I made the decision.”
“I was supposed to help them get the ship back online. I didn’t do a good enough job. Now they’re all dead, or worse.”
She had conjured gruesome imagery that flashed through Felrak’s mind. He looked up to the ceiling, suddenly envious of Vulcan emotional detachment, “Let it go, Sreyler. I have final responsibility and I need you in engineering.”
“No need to humour me, sir. I know what I’ve done.” She looked up again, “You chose the wrong person for the job way back then.”
Felrak’s stoic facade caved in, “LISTEN to me, Sreyler. This is NOT your fault. It’s not anybody’s fault. Those things that call themselves Klingons come streaming over our border and we react! That’s all we’re doing here. We make our choices and we live with them. You must live with them.” He composed himself, immediately regretting the outburst. Sreyler snapped upright as if she was on a parade ground. It pained him to see her like this, the child he had once known confronting the dark realities of conflict, “There’s a good chance we’re not getting through to Legera without another fight. If that happens, I need someone in engineering who can move this ship. There aren’t many people out there who can do that. You’ve always been one of them.” He let his words sink in for a fleeting moment, “Is that still the case?”
Sreyler relaxed after a barely perceptible nod, “Yes, sir.” She bit her lip.
Tursk’s voice came over the intercom, “Bridge to Captain Vordenna.”
“Sir, we’re reading significant Klingon movement approaching the Legera system. Task Group 27 has identified them as D’Ghor and is moving to intercept.”
“On my way.” Red alert sounded throughout the ship. Felrak looked to Sreyler, whose expression now reflected a steely determination. There was no need for words, and he followed her out of the ready room. Before entering the bridge turbolift, she glanced over to Alex Lupulo. He stood manning the tactical station, behind the centre chair the Captain now made for. Catching her eye with a deadpan look, he gave her a stealthy thumbs up. She smiled, and as the turbolift doors swung shut, he could just about make out the beginnings of a little grin. It was all he needed.
Tursk’s voice announced again, “We’re in communications range.”
“Let’s hear it. Starfleet frequency one eight three eight,” Felrak ordered.
Tursk punched it into his arm controls. The voices were garbled at first, simultaneous transmissions overlapping each other as ship to ship messages were also broadcast on the common frequency. It took a while for Felrak’s ears to attune, and as the Ahwahnee closed in the subspace interference lessened.
“Arcadia, Ephyra, Oppenheimer returning from subspace picket line form up with-“
“We have them in visual range on course three three zero, mark one.”
“Persephone reports ready at grid C-12-”
“-ships, B’rel class, approaching on vector tango. Two K’t’inga class inbound-”
“All ships open fire.”
“-shields down to 35%-”
“-hold them back, more ships incoming, hold!”
“USS Sturek reports 53 wounded, requesting reinforcements-”
“Ventral shields failing, security teams repel boarding parties, decks three through eight.”
Felrak’s grip tightened on the arm rest as the damage reports, casualties and tactical updates from the Task Group spewed in. It was almost as if the energy had been sucked out of the bridge. They grew cold with anticipation as the Ahwahnee hurtled towards the Federation lines at Legera.
“Sir!” Lupulo’s called out above the subspace chatter, “We’ve got a Klingon ship coming in, matching our course.” Felrak’s heart skipped a beat, “They’ve got runabouts flanking them sir, transponders identify them as…” the relief was evident in his voice as he reeled off the names, “USS Orwell, USS Locksley, USS Bonaventure, USS Arrow…”
“Tulwar?” Felrak now felt a pit forming in his stomach.
“Negative, sir. The Klingon ship is using an invalid identifier, no longer used by the Imperial Fleet. It’s showing as IKS Jat’lh. They’re hailing us now.”
Felrak had no time to waste, “On screen.”
A stocky Klingon filled the command chair on the Jat’lh’s bridge. He lacked the warrior’s poise that Felrak had come to expect from his dealings with Klingon captains. Slouching in the chair, he beamed a wide and toothy smile as soon as the comlink was established. In his hand, bits of meat still dangling from the gnawed on bone, was a roasted leg of targ.
“Captain Felrak Vordenna,” He chortled heartily, “I am G’Vir, son of K’metch, ship’s cook of the Jat’lh!” He emphasised his title with a twinkle in his eye.
“Forgive me, G’Vir, but it looks to me like you’re in command.” Felrak replied quizzically.
“No,” G’Vir shook his head slowly, growing serious, “I am no commander. Our captain was an honourless, mangy P’taQ! I merely took from him what he did not deserve, and gave him the death he most certainly did. I will gladly return this vessel once we reach port.”
Felrak raised an eyebrow, another human expression he had picked up over the years, “Understood. Then how is it that a ship’s cook, commandeering a bird of prey, has come to know my name?”
“Ha ha haaa,” a drawn out belly laugh was followed by G’Vir beckoning behind him. The bedraggled form of Lieutenant Althaia Delfino stepped forward into view. The sight of her bruised, purpled cheek and torn uniform made the lichen on Felrak’s skin crawl with alarm. She braced herself against the back of G’Vir’s chair.
Felrak stared in disbelief, “Althaia? You’re…” He launched to her defence, “G’Vir, know that mistreatment of prisoners is expressly forbidden under article-”
Althaia winced in pain as she inhaled, “-It’s OK, Captain, I’m not his prisoner.”
“Indeed, she has fought with considerable honour.” G’Vir added.
“So you helped G’Vir take the ship?” Felrak grew more incredulous.
“I hardly helped, sir. The D’Ghor were interfering with our sensors. We beamed over to the Tulwar to look for survivors. The Klingons had already boarded, but they left G’Vir behind. He took the opportunity to take control of the Jat’lh, then beamed over himself to settle his grudge with the captain.” Althaia looked sideways at G’Vir, “Our team got taken out by the D’Ghor. We would have been too if it wasn’t for him.”
Felrak paused, reassessing the Klingon who still lounged in his chair, “It seems I have been too quick to judge. You have my gratitude for rescuing my officer.” He had one further question, “Lieutenant Delfino referred to the D’Ghor as if you are not one of them. It seems strange to me that one would be serving on a D’Ghor ship, without also being a member of that house. Where exactly do your loyalties lie, G’Vir?”
Angered, the Klingon rose to his feet, “Loyalties?” he spat, “I have no loyalties now, Captain! I was cast out with the rest of those pathetic Ql’YaH, and now they want my blood. They are vicious fools who know nothing of honourable battle. They have lost their way, exacting pain and suffering on weaker enemies, inflicting torture worse than any Romulan or a Cardassian would. Gre’thor is where they claim to be welcomed, but in their hearts they yearn for Sto’vo’kor.” He threw the targ bone aside, jabbing his finger towards Felrak before clenching into a fist, “Do you understand, Captain? They do not face death, they cower. They are afraid. These are not warriors! They are not Klingons! They are insects, barely even slime, and they will be exterminated.”
The bridge fell silent, then a series of warnings rang out from the tactical station.
“Captain,” Lupulo spoke up, “A bird of prey squadron has broken away from the main D’Ghor fleet. Five ships heading our way. Ten minutes to intercept.”
Tursk whirled around, “How long until we reach Task Group 27 lines?”
“At our present speed and heading, approximately thirty minutes.” Lupulo could not hold back his grim undertone.
“G’Vir,” Felrak stood, facing the Klingon through subspace, “I disagree with your imagery. Nevertheless, if you want to exterminate D’Ghor, now’s the time. Lieutenant Delfino, you are to assist. Signal the convoy.”
“Aye, sir.” Tursk opened a channel.
“Vordenna to all ships, we are about to face an assault from D’Ghor approaching roughly on heading zero seven four, mark three five. All runabouts will deploy to the convoy’s starboard flank. USS Ahwahnee, USS Stavanger and the Jat’lh will position immediately behind. Keep yourselves between the D’Ghor and the medical ships, and protect them at all costs. We have fifteen minutes before we reach Task Group 27, until then it’s just us and the D’Ghor. We’ve made it this far, just a little further and it’s only a matter of time until we get that aid planetside. It’s the only thing standing between those colonists and shelter, freedom from disease, and feeding their children. We have to give them a fighting chance. Hold them off, and let’s see this through.”
Commander De Vries responded, “USS Stavanger reports ready. Runabouts are formed up, standing by to engage.”
To Felrak’s surprise, G’Vir also took advantage of the open com link, “Well met, Captain! Your warriors do not pursue glory, and yet they rally to their cause with honour. Today, most certainly, will be a good day to die!”
“I still want my pilot back, G’Vir.” Felrak sounded stern, but not without appreciation for the Klingon’s rallying cry.
“There is no cause for alarm, Captain. We will have victory. Jat’lh, out!”
Felrak, wishing he could share G’Vir’s sense of assuredness, returned to the centre seat, “Mr. Lupulo, tell me you’ve found the solution to our targeting issues.”
“Yes, sir,” Alex confirmed, “If we alter our sensor resonance frequency to isolate the polaron dispersal pattern-”
Felrak cut him off, “-Just make sure all ships are aware of the new configurations.”
“Already done, sir.” There was a hint of smugness, but he didn’t push it.
Tursk eyed his controls, “One minute til contact.”
Torpedoes fell in a rain of deadly, flared green. Briefly, they formed ripples of sparkling force before exploding against strained deflector shields. At warp, the ships had only limited maneuverability and their positions were key. Absorbing most of the Klingon barrage, they returned fire with their own lethal swarm of light. Runabouts launched micro-torpedoes that splashed against the strafing predators with little discernible impact. The Ahwahnee spat red that shook through the Klingon spaceframes bearing down upon them. A quick stream of blue shot from the Stavanger at far greater speed, smashing through the Klingon shields into the wounded hawk. A finishing blow came in green, the Jat’lh turning Klingon firepower back upon the House of D’Ghor with vengeance. The bird of prey erupted in flame, disintegrating along with its collapsing warp bubble. Parts of its structure instantly disappeared into the invisible depths behind as they exited the bubble, decelerating below the speed of light. The dismantling continued for a few seconds before the speeding wreck imploded in a violent fireball. It too fell away into a destruction stretched across spacetime.
Tursk held on as the ship rocked, “Damage report.”
“Shields holding.” said Alex, “Minor EPS failures on deck eleven.” He eyed the tactical display, “They’re coming around for another pass.”
Torpedoes flew again. This time, more sporadic. A runabout, already venting plasma, took two direct hits. She flew apart, swept back out of warp, remains of her hull ricocheting off the Stavanger’s shields.
“We’ve lost the Locksley.” Tursk yelled over the impact rumbles, punctuated by the electrical sizzle of overloading conduits.
Another bird of prey went down as two quantum torpedoes from the Stavanger slammed straight into its ventral hull. Klingon torpedoes slipped through the cracks, antimatter igniting against the USS Galen’s shields. The Olympic class starship trembled, pressing on.
“Shields at 35%, casualties on decks six and eight.” The notifications from across the ship appearing as fast as Alex could read them.
“How long ‘till we reach the line?” Felrak asked, holding on tighter.
“Five minutes, sir!” Replied flight control.
“Damn, De Vries is doing fine work.” Tursk marvelled as another bird of prey vanished from sensors.
“One more group of D’Ghor, two B’rel class, one K’t’inga.” Lupulo fired off more photons, “Arrow’s gone!”
Another tremor rattled through the Ahwahnee, knocking the personnel at the rear auxiliary stations across the bridge in a shower of sparks. Alex checked their vitals, “Emergency medical teams to the bridge.”
“That last hit knocked out our aft and ventral shields. We’re sitting ducks, sir.” Tursk’s voice rose above the building chaos.
“Eyes on that K’t’inga!” Felrak ordered.
The Jat’lh exchanged fire with the two remaining birds of prey from the original attack squadron. It was soon a one on one firefight, with more miniature torpedoes whizzing in from the remaining runabouts. The Stavanger altered trajectory, banking towards the three fresh D’Ghor ships that rapidly closed. Another electric blue volley from the Norway class ship incinerated a bird of prey. One more remained, flying alongside the K’t’inga on a charging run.
“They’re coming straight for us…” Tursk croaked.
“They think this will take them to Sto’vo’kor.” Felrak said with acceptance, “We may meet them there. All hands, brace for impact.”
The two D’Ghor ships disappeared in a cloud of blue, then flames, then nothing.
Two white streaks shot past at high warp in the opposite direction.
Collective confusion followed as some bridge crew still held onto their stations for dear life. Others simply breathed sighs of relief, having resigned themselves to their fate.
“We’re being hailed sir.” Alex said, shakily.
After a good few seconds, Felrak finally exhaled, “On screen.”
“Ahwahnee, this is captain B’resh Thronn, USS Byxx. We’ll keep them off your back until you’re through to Legera.”
Felrak took some time to collect himself, “Thank you, Captain.” was all he could muster. He realised that he was perched at the very end of his seat, “Thank you.”