Chapter 6: Light ‘em Up
The Bajor is at yellow alert and I’ve given a vacsuit to Dal Kanril. All sections are ready, so there’s nothing to do but wait.
“Koranak to Bajor,” Morag’s voice comes over the comms.
“Koren’s scouts just reported in. The Terrans are on high alert. They likely know we’re coming. More of their damnable Defiant-class ships, one supposes.”
“Any sign of reinforcements?”
General K’Bor breaks into the conversation. “No. I suggest that this base is so far behind Cardassian lines there is no fast way to reinforce it. But the defenses present are formidable. Of seven birds-of-prey deployed, only Koren and Ba’wov returned.”
“We’ve been calling in every ship in the sector,” Morag adds. “We’ll drop out at the heliopause to form up and proceed directly to the target. Cardassia-class world in the habitable zone, no native intelligent life known—”
“Yes, I was at the briefing, remember?”
“Of course. The point is, we don’t want to cause any permanent damage to the planet; we may have a use for it later.”
“I’m assigning seven Galor-class destroyers and fourteen birds-of-prey to escort the Bajor and issuing an update to the attack plan. Your primary target is the ships in the orbital drydocks.”
“Catch them with their pants down?” Tess remarks.
“One hopes. The docks are expendable—while it would be nice to repurpose them, this is not currently a strategically significant area. Central Command says to avoid causing too much damage if possible—”
“—but they’ll understand if it isn’t,” I finish. Morag nods, sends the update to Tess, and closes the channel.
Ten minutes to target and there’s nothing I hate worse than the waiting. I head into the wardroom—the view of space and the silence helps me get perspective.
Gaarra joins me a minute later. “You keep pacing, you’re going to wear a hole in the floor, Captain.”
I stop and stretch my arms over my head and he chooses that moment to step in and grab me around the midsection. I’m strong for a woman, but even if I’d wanted to fight him, that extra third of a g from growing up on New Bajor tips the balance in his favor. He pulls me tight to his chest, crushing my breasts against his body as he wraps his arms around mine. “It’s worse this time, isn’t it?” he says into my ear.
“Last time we fought the Terrans we were working with Starfleet, people we knew were on our side.”
“Come on, El. The Alliance has as much to gain as we do. Enemy of my enemy—”
“—is my enemy’s enemy. No more, no less.”
He pulls back from me with an eyebrow raised. “Who told you that one?”
“Read it in a book once.”
He shakes his head and pulls me into a chair with him, pressing his cheek against mine. “You’re too suspicious, El. Seriously, what would they have to gain by turning on us?”
“Well, think about what they could learn from the Bajor. Even if we wiped the computers, there’s still the X-227 warp core, the Mark XIV quantum torpedoes, and so on.” I look out the window at the streaming stars and sigh. “I don’t know. But I’ll tell you this. Dal Kanril may look and act like me but in her head she’s a Cardassian, and that means she’s a patriot. She and Morag and the rest are going to do what they think is best for Cardassia.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll blow up that bridge when we come to it. Come to that, you’d blow the ship yourself before you’d let them take her.” He lets out a breath and kisses my cheek. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just know that I trust you as my captain, and that I love you.”
I twist in the chair and face him. “Thank you.”
“Captain, where were you?” Tess asks innocently as I take my seat in The Chair.
“In the wardroom, talking with Gaarra.” I pick up my PADD.
“Yes, Tess, just talking.”
“Couldn’t do your talking on the bridge?”
“Sure it wasn’t personal matters?”
I drop the PADD and twist to face her, exasperated. “You want to say something, Tess? Say it.”
“No, ma’am. It’s not my business unless it negatively affects the ship.”
“You’re right, it isn’t.” I hear a noise from Biri’s direction but decline to dignify it with a response. “Time to target?”
“Sound battle stations.” Klaxons howl outside, a four-tone pulse, repeated four times, and the ship status indicators flick from yellow to red. “Wiggin?”
“The escorts have pulled in. Reading Terran ships coming to meet us.”
“Yep, look at that, they’re rolling out the red carpet,” Biri comments. “And I’ve absolutely nothing to wear.”
“Vacsuit doesn’t count as formal wear?” Gaarra says from the ops console.
“You know the uniform code. We wear dress whites for—” I can’t help it, I start laughing. Dal Kanril joins in, giggling like a schoolgirl and struggling to stop it, and soon the whole bridge is cracking up.
Park reports, “Forty-five seconds to target.”
Thirty seconds later, Wiggin breaks in. “What the—Captain, I’m tracking what looks like a freighter or fleet tender. It just swept across our trajectory and now it’s moving much faster. Holy—Sir, get us out of warp, now!”
“Esplin, warn the fleet!” I bark. “Probable enemy minefield dead ahead! Park!”
“Crash-translating!” he confirms. The Bajor faintly groans around us as the warp field abruptly collapses and deposits us in realspace. Four Galors and twelve birds-of-prey arrive a fraction of a second later, scattered across hundreds of kilometers, with much of the fleet in the same region.
But too many ships end up inside the minefield.
“tera’nganpu’ quvbe’!” K’Bor howls as his carrier tumbles end-over end. The sensors register a dozen separate mine detonations and a wing shears off, followed by a single actinic flash as his warp core is punctured and blows.
“That’s a lot of blips,” Wiggin says. He’s right. We’ve lost much of the fleet’s lead elements, roughly a quarter of our original count, and the enemy now has the edge in tonnage and hulls. A new swarm of blips comes up on the plot. “Fighters, coming in!”
“There’s too many of them!” a Cardassian voice cries.
“Wiggin, where the hell is the Koranak?”
“Getting a signal,” Esplin answers.
Gul Morag appears on the viewscreen, his bridge filled with smoke. “We’re hit, but not bad, Captain.”
I grit my teeth. “How bad, my Gul?” the other me asks from the back of the bridge.
“One impulse engine down, number three starboard disruptor down, starboard torpedo tube a wreck. We’re blasting our way out of the minefield but we’ll be a few minutes. Also, Gul Marritza is dead. You have command of your section, Captain Kanril.”
“Understood. Bajor to all units! Form up as best you can and overlap your shields! Cardies, go to rapid fire on all batteries! Klingons, switch your cannons to scatter shot!” I let go of the key. “Tess?”
“Forward batteries online.”
“Conn, head for our primary objective and don’t stop for anything.”
“Conn, aye,” Park confirms in a worried tone, pulling his pendant of Saint Joseph of Cupertino out of his shirt and kissing it. “Locking onto target alpha.”
“Escort elements, get with the program!” I bark as the fleet struggles to form up. The other ships’ fire starts to blunt the fighter attack and they begin to break off, never coming close to my baby, and as we barrel towards the drydocks the ships assigned to escort us struggle to form up.
“Four Defiant-class, one Excalibur-class, trying to block us.”
“I have them. Locked and firing!” Phaser fire lances out from the dorsal and ventral phaser strips and smashes into the lead Defiant, setting its shields flickering. A spread of torpedoes belch from the forward tube. One goes wide, but the next three hammer into the target and a momentary star lights up the sky. Tess and a Cardassian destroyer lay into the others. A Defiant blows and the Excalibur runs for cover as two birds-of-prey streak past.
“Chong’pogh and Jib’lalDan, get back on my wing!” I order.
“Hah! Cowardly Federation petaQ!”
“Tess, lock a torpedo on him, please.” She snorts and drops a reticle on him on the plot.
“You would fire on your own side?” the Klingon overly-dramatically roars at me.
“Just getting your attention. Your orders are to provide cover for me, not go gallivanting off on a personal glory trip. Got that, yIntagh?”
“QanrIl ghay’cha’ baQa’!”
“penga’chuq’egh, verengan puqloD tlhIv quvbe’!” I scream back, spittle flying from my mouth. Out of the corner of my eye I see Biri’s head whip around at that one.
There’s silence for a moment, then the bird-of-prey breaks off and heads back towards us.
“Nicely handled, Captain,” Dal Kanril says admiringly.
I snort. “Klingons. What can you do?”
“Cuss at them, apparently,” Biri comments. “Whew!”
“I need you handling the escorts. I can’t fight the ship and direct them at the same time, especially if the Klingons are—”
“—being Klingons,” she finishes with a snort. “Give me a console. I’ll get those sons of voles in line.” I point at an unoccupied chair.
More Terran ships move in on us but the Cardies and Klinks assigned to me gradually form up. Tess lays into another Excalibur with the phasers, striking it amidships. The enemy captain frantically separates his saucer before a blinding flash from the warp core knocks him tumbling, dead in space. Another Defiant swings past with a bird-of-prey in hot pursuit, then we’re fully engaged in the melee. “Conn, plow us right up the middle.”
“Here goes nothing.”
Tess fires and fires and fires. An enemy Typhoon comes at us but we concentrate our fire and it falls out, lights flickering. Off to the right two birds-of-prey are hit by torpedoes and detonate. A flight of fighters swarms in and enemy phaser fire hisses into our shields to little effect. A Nova-class blasting out ECM is next, tries to cover the Typhoon and starts spitting blue-white bolts at us that skitter across our forward shields, but Tess and two Galors hit it several times at point-blank range and it snaps in half amidships and goes dark; the aft section explodes against our nav deflector.
“We’ve broken through!” Wiggin calls out. “Target alpha, dead ahead! Range, fifty thou and closing!”
“Onscreen! Magnify!” I order. The main viewscreen flicks to a view of a large space station, kilometers across. A central sphere, with six spindly arms. Scaffolding surrounds several ships, but on one arm, some are lighting up.
“Escorts, cover our rear!” Dal Kanril orders.
“Wait,” I counter. “Klingons want to go crazy? Let them. Have two of the birds make a close range pass, try and reveal their point-defense emplacements.”
“Captain,” Gaarra asks, “just so I’m sure, we’re not trying to duplicate Brokosh’s thing, right?”
“No, I looked it up earlier. We dumped too much velocity coming out of warp for it to be effective. Tess?”
“What the—I don’t believe this, they’re not even shielded! Wait, I got a Typhoon-class powering up, trying to detach!”
“Do not let him get mobile. Full spread of quantum torpedoes.”
“Firing!” Two birds-of-prey sweep past, charging the dockyard and spraying sickly green packets of particles as a stream of glowing blue projectiles shriek from our forward tube.
The enemy gunners open up, and spits and streams of orange particles reach out for the Klingons from the drydock. “Tess! Cardies!”
“Locked and firing!” Lances of energy in orange and yellow snap across the void and fireballs erupt from the spindly, star-shaped dockyard, silencing the defensive fire. Then the torpedoes scream in and a staccato series of detonations rips deep into the structure.
“Conn! Right, two-four-zero, ten degree down!” Park acknowledges and the ship veers to starboard and pitches forward, sweeping underneath the dockyard. “Wiggin, give me a target!”
“That Typhoon! Fusion plant is coming online! Recommend aiming for the antimatter storage!”
“Transmitting coordinates to the fleet!” Esplin adds.
“Locked! Firing!” Tess hammers her key again, sending an overcharge to the dorsal phaser, and five streams of particles from across the flotilla lance out and burn into a patch of hull probably less than a meter across. The viewscreen washes out seconds later as the antimatter mixes with the surrounding matter, and in one actinic pulse of radiation half the dockyard tears apart, with a chain of detonations running up the arm.
As the bridge erupts in cheers, Biri signals me. “El, I’ve got a lock on the Orb! There’s a Terran surface base.”
“Conn, get us there! Esplin, open a channel to the fleet.”
“Kanril to Morag, care to join the party?”
“We’ve broken through and we’re on our way.”
As we make orbit Wiggin reports on what we’re up against. “I’m reading some serious troop formations and anti-aircraft. And—Damn. Transporter scramblers just came online.”
“Jamming’s too good for me to get a lock with the phasers,” Tess adds.
“I’ve got a way in, Captain,” Dal Kanril says, “but you may not like it. Get your away team ready for a hot LZ and get them to the transporter room. We’re heading to one of the Galors.”
“Tess, you have the bridge.”
“I have the bridge.”
“Kanril, with me.” She sweeps in behind me and we step into the turbolift. “Armory.” As the car travels I hit my combadge. “Dul’krah, Gardner, get your units ready to rumble.”
As we shuck our vacsuits and grab up our battle armor, I notice her tucking a necklace under her shirt. Probably the enjoinment pendant Warragul mentioned. I gesture at it. “Who is he?”
“Who? Oh, this.” She pulls it back out. Teardrop-shaped green stone, same color as our eyes and about a centimeter wide, set into a black metal mounting on a gold chain. “His name’s Derlin Velor.”
She nods and her eyes go a little misty. “File clerk at the Seventh Order’s headquarters, rank of dalin.”
“What’s he like?”
“He’s a very sweet man, loves to tell jokes. Reminds me a bit of my father, actually.”
“And he doesn’t have a problem with you staying on active duty?”
She raises an eyebrow. “Does Reshek?”
“Gaarra isn’t Cardassian, and how the hell—”
“I didn’t know, but thanks for confirming it. I figured there was something going on between you two from the moment you walked into the Koranak’s conference room. You’re terrible at hiding your emotions, Captain.”
“So I keep hearing. But if you suspected, and you’re in a relationship anyway, how come you were eyeing him up?”
She scoffs. “I’m betrothed. I’m not blind.” I grunt noncommittally. Suppose that should have been the obvious answer. “Anyway, in answer to your question, I may mostly live like a Cardassian but I still maintain a few of the old customs and there’s no actual law that says I have to quit when I get married. Besides, killing people’s about the only real skill I have. A shore post’d drive me crazy and he knows it.”
I finish buckling my gauntlets and listen to the hum of the servos, then grab a pair of phaser rifles and toss one to her. “You sure you want to come with us?”
“Are you?” Off my look, she explains, “In the Guard, the captain stays with the ship, but the XO drops with the troops.” With the heel of her hand she smacks the safety on her rifle off, then on, and gives me an eager, vicious grin. “Let’s kick some Terran ass, Captain.”
We beam across to a Galor-class destroyer, CDS Tavracet, and Kanril leads us through the corridors to what looks like a cargo bay. Several man-sized canisters are set into the floor, upright. “What’s the deal?” Gardner asks.
“Never been in a drop pod before?” Kanril asks.
Senior Chief Athezra stares at her. “Are you phekk’ta kidding me?”
A Cardassian platoon walks in to the room and a chubby-cheeked, boyish-looking dal at the lead speaks up. “We’re smaller targets for their ack-ack than if we tried to land the ship or go in with assault shuttles. More targets means more of us get through.”
“And it’s safe?”
“What’s the matter, you scared?” Kanril asks, snickering. “Living isn’t safe. If I wanted safe, I’d’ve taken a shore post at HQ.”
“Fine,” I say. “Let’s get this over with.”
As Kanril gives us a quick run-down of the drop-pod systems. I pull my blast helmet on and buckle it and the HUD flickers to life. It’s a command suit, so life-sign indicators for my assault unit and the MACOs ignite.
“FOR CARDASSIA!” the Cardies all howl at once, and break for the drop pods.
Kanril directs me to one in particular. “This one’s a command pod.” I step inside and lean back against the cushioning and the door slides shut. Straps and crash webbing wrap themselves around me.
A screen lights up and a countdown begins in Cardassian glyphs. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. I hear a metallic noise above me, a jolt in my bones, and the pod falls into the void.