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Wagon Train to the Stars by Drew Z.


This story and more @ http://wagontrain.livejournal.com/

Lying in his darkened bunk, Kyle Jovi contemplated his most recent assignment.

The U.S.S. Armstrong, quite frankly, made him sick.

The ship was Saber-class, designed to fill the role of patrol ship for the Federation. Armstrong had fought with distinction throughout the Dominion War, claiming a respectable number of kills for a ship of its size. She had brought her crew back from the brink of death time and again, sometimes sacrificing parts of herself to ensure their safety.

To Jovi, the Armstrong was a personal insult.

She was a minuscule ship. She only stood eleven decks tall, less than a hundred and fifty meters long, and held fewer than a hundred crewmembers. Her mission was to do all of the (appropriately sized) miniscule tasks that Starfleet couldn’t be bothered to send a real ship out to do. She had no weapons to speak of. Two junior officers were stacked in each room and the rooms themselves didn’t even have personal replicators.

Jovi sat up, scowling as he managed to avoid hitting his head on the bunk above. He stretched as much as he could and paced back and forth across his quarters. Each lap didn’t take long. He had fought against the Borg. He had fought during the Dominion War in Operation: Return and the Battle of Getha, as well as countless other engagements. He had received medals—mounted carefully on the wall, his only touch of personalization in the room—and, by all rights, he should have had the pick of any ship in the fleet. Instead, he had been placed on a patrol ship, where his “talents in navigation and tactical acumen would be most useful,” as Admiral Nechayev had said before shipping him out.

Kyle checked the chronometer and decided it was time to make the short walk to the bridge. Irritated, he struggled to pull on his boots and uniform, and made for the door. He pushed his way through the tight halls, clogged with gamma shift officers returning from duty, and emerged onto the bridge. As Ensign Pojman turned over the helm, Kyle focused briefly on the other duty stations.

The first officer stood at her post at Ops, keeping an eye on the sensors. Always watching, that one. At the center of the bridge sat the captain with the chief engineer beside him. With the chief visiting, the already small bridge almost seemed cramped.

Captain Amos was looking over a status report with a suspicious eye. He angled his gaze up to Jamie Cordiou, the ship’s resident grease monkey. And, Kyle thought, she was one damn fine monkey.

“Summarize this for me, Chief,” the captain said. “Does everything on the ship work?”

Cordiou opened her mouth for a second, ready to tell him that the matter/anti-matter ratio in the warp core had finally been adjusted to within a fraction of a percent to the perfect ratio, that all six of the shield generators were calibrated to work together properly, that the hiccups in the environmental and gravity systems that had plagued the ship for the last seven months had been tracked down and fixed, and that she and her crew had managed to do all of this without the help of a repair yard or, for that matter, a real engineering team. Instead, she simply said, “Yes, sir. All damage sustained at the Battle of Getha has been fixed right up. The ship is back to spec.”

Jovi snorted to himself. The idea that it had taken her more than half a year to finish repairing the ship...

The captain seemed pleased, regardless. “Well done, Lieutenant.” He paused as if listening. “You know, you’re right. The pitch of the warp drive is back where it should be.” He smiled at Jamie, pleased with his connection to the ship.

“I remember it took two months to finish repairs after the Battle of Getha on the Venture. Galaxy-class,” Kyle said slyly. “I manned helm during the battle. We lead a squadron against one of those Jem’Hadar dreadnaughts. We took a lot of hits, but I managed to avoid most of it. We nailed the target, too.” One last check at his console, and he turned around. “Where was the Armstrong during the battle, Captain?”

Amos smiled faintly, remembering. “We were in a mixed squad with a couple Miranda-class destroyers and some Klingon Birds-of-Prey. We ran interference on the Jem’Hadar attack ships, taking ‘em out before they could get to the larger ships. One of them managed to ram us. Blew the hell out of the entire ship. We were lucky that the Klingons managed to cover us until we could retreat.”

Kyle grinned. “Didn’t have me at the helm,” he said. “Everybody who walked out of that one was a hero.”

>From the Ops station, they heard a quiet snort.

“Opinion, Commander?” the captain asked.

Rebecca Gangies looked up from her console. “Just what he said. About everyone who fought at Getha being a hero.”

“You disagree?” asked the captain.

Gangies shrugged. “Yes, I do.”

Kyle bit down on the impulsive rejoinder that threatened, instead taking his time to phrase his response. “Commander...the Battle of Getha was the one that ended the war. We fought against the biggest threat this side of the Borg and we saved the Alpha Quadrant from being enslaved by the Dominion. What’s more heroic than that?”

“Stopping the war without fighting at all, Lieutenant,” Gangies said quietly.

An uncomfortable silence settled over the bridge. “Commander...” the captain said. “Against an enemy like the Dominion, I don’t think that simply talking out differences would have resolved anything. You’ve fought the Jem’Hadar; you know how ruthless they are.”

Gangies shook her head.

“I’m sorry?” asked Amos.

“I never fought the Jem’Hadar. Or anyone, for that matter. I spent the war working as a Starfleet liaison to the Federation Council in Paris.” Rebecca spoke quietly, as if she knew the effect her words were going to have.

Captain Amos was slowly turning different colors, none of them pleasant. Kyle snorted and went back to his console. Cordiou decided that there was someplace else that she desperately needed to be, but before she could escape, the captain spoke.

“We’ve spent the last three years in the bloodiest war in the history of the quadrant—possibly of the entire galaxy—and you spent it...hiding?”

Gangies cleared her throat. “Captain, with all due respect...I don’t believe in fighting of any kind. It’s wrong to intentionally hurt another being.”

Captain Amos slowly and deliberately turned his chair towards the front viewscreen. The rest of the shift was very quiet.

Back in Engineering, Jamie Cordiou felt much more at home than on the bridge. The warp core’s pleasant thrum was soothing to her. She perched on the main situation display, taking a moment to appreciate the marvel of construction that powered an entire starship. The tingle of power reached her toes and spread through her body.

Ensign Korma walked across the deck, equipment kit under his arm. He opened an access panel to a Jeffries tube and crawled in. Jamie felt another sort of tingle as she watched him go. Three months ago, Jamie and Aaron Korma had been deeply involved, but she had decided that he spent too much of his off-time on things other than her and broke it off. It wasn’t something that bothered her, really. Jamie blushed a little at the memories and smiled. With a sigh, she hopped off of the status board. Now that she had gotten the ship’s systems back up to spec, it was time to start improving them.

“Captain,” Rebecca Gangies said, breaking almost seven hours of silence. “We’re receiving a distress signal from the Cardassian colony on Orphi Prime.” She fidgeted with the communications earphone, trying to settle it in her ear better.

Amos shifted in his chair. “What’s the nature of the distress?”

“Unknown. The signal is automated.” Gangies cast an eye at her captain. “Captain Orsini on the Odyssey left orders to lend aid to any and all civili—”

“I know our orders, Commander,” Amos said shortly. “Lieutenant Jovi, set course for Orphi Prime and go to yellow alert. Gangies, apprise the Odyssey of our situation.”

That done, the three bridge officers sat in terse silence. When the stars returned to points of light and the planet pulled into view, Amos called to Gangies, “Commander, I want a deep scan of the colony. Find out what their problem is.”

There was a tone in his voice, an edge that hadn’t been there before the shift had begun. Rebecca shivered under it. “Sensors show...” She paused. “No life-signs. No artificial structures over two meters tall. Residual disrupter and phaser energy signatures.” Her eyes were wide. “Sir, the colony has been destroyed.”

Jovi turned in surprise. In the center chair, Amos leaned forward. “Commander...” he said, “take an away team down to the surface. Cordiou, Lukan, Leun and Tainvon. Search for evidence of the attackers. We’ll continue doing the same up here.”

Rebecca Gangies stalked into her quarters and collapsed onto her couch. She lay in the darkness for a moment, then brought her hands to her face and cried. After a few minutes, she picked herself up and wiped off her face. She pulled off her uniform jacket and stared sullenly at herself in the mirror. For a second she saw a flash of a blasted landscape, complete with decimated buildings and charred bodies, and she almost cried again.

The door chime went off and Rebecca nearly jumped out of her skin. She stared at the door before stuttering out a response.

“E-enter.”

The door slid open and Jamie peeked inside. “Can I…would you mind if I came in?” she asked, taking in her first officer clad in a red top and black trousers.

Rebecca nodded and motioned towards the couch. “Yeah...Yeah. I was just about to go to bed or...try to. It’s a lot to take in.”

Jamie sat and stared numbly at the wall. “Did it really happen, Commander? All of that...that...slaughter down there?”

“Yes,” whispered Rebecca. “Yes, it did. And I’m afraid that we’re going to have to find who did it and bring them to justice.”

“You sound sorry about it, Commander.”

Rebecca leaned against the wall and covered her eyes with a hand. “I don’t like fighting. War, killing—it’s wrong. And I’m afraid we’ve been put in a position where the captain will think it’s necessary.” She dropped her hand and let her gaze pierce Jamie’s. “Do you want to be responsible for something like what we saw down there, Jamie?”

As she dropped her eyes, Jamie whispered, “We wouldn’t do anything like that.” She stood and stepped closer to Gangies. “Commander...Rebecca...I’d never seen anything that bad, not in all of the war...I was wondering if I could stay…maybe stay here for a night?”

Her breath was warm against Rebecca’s neck and Rebecca felt herself flush with it. In Jamie’s eyes she saw pain, fear and desperation, and she knew that each of those things was in her eyes too. She looked deeper and saw something else, something that scared her: longing.

“Not...not tonight, Jamie. I need to write my report for Captain Amos. And I need to...”

Jamie leaned forward and kissed her lightly on the cheek. “I know. It’s okay.” She turned to the door, but paused at its open threshold. “If you want to talk about it, you know how to find me.”

“Captain, there are four ships on long-range sensors. The warp trail from the Orphi Prime system leads directly to them.”

In his chair, Amos leaned forward in anticipation. “On screen.”

The viewscreen shifted to a view of four ships. They looked old, but Gangies thought that was deceptive.

“Gangies, hail the ships and tell them to stand down and prepare to be boarded.”

Rebecca sent the message and shook her head. “No response, Captain.”

Amos sat back in his chair. “Fine. Tactical, lock photon torpedoes. Disable their warp drives.”

On the screen, twin flares launched across space, blasting into the hindmost ship. The distinctive blue glow from its warp drives flickered and failed, and the ship dropped out of warp. The Armstrong blew past it, still in pursuit of the others.

“Target’s warp drive is disabled,” Gangies reported. “The other three ships are dropping out of warp and are coming around, weapons hot.”

“Helm, take us to impulse power and prepare to engage!” Amos ordered.

Jovi twisted the Armstrong toward the approaching ships. The fighters pulled into a loose formation and opened fire, splashing energy across Armstrong’s forward shields.

“Return fire!” yelled Amos.

The Armstrong’s phasers lashed out, disrupting the enemy’s shields before they pulled out of range. Jovi rolled the ship into a pursuit, but the fighters expertly stayed out of the weapons arcs.

“Captain, they’re out-maneuvering me,” Kyle said. “I can’t line up a sho—”

The ship shook hard once, then again. “Their attacks are draining our upper shields, Captain,” Gangies cried. “Holding at eighty-seven percent efficiency.”

The bridge rocked again and Amos grabbed the armrests of his chair for support. “Mr. Jovi, get us a shot and take them out!”

A panel along the bridge’s back wall exploded, showering sparks across the deck. “Dammit...” Kyle snarled, “stay...still!” The phasers fired again and struck one of the ships. The fighter rocked under the attack and quickly swung out of the line of fire.

“Captain!” Gangies yelled. “Ventral and aft shields failing! We’re taking damage!”

Amos stared down at his status board, grimacing. “We’re not going to win this. Jovi! Set a course, get u—”

The bridge flared white and a tremendous explosion sent everyone to the floor. Gangies pulled herself to her feet, staring at her status board in horror. Jovi wiped blood off of his brow and tried to look at his board without crossing his eyes.

“Engineering to bridge!” the intercom blared. “We’ve got hull breaches all along deck one! Micro fractures detected in the port nacelle, power fluctuations are tripping breakers all though out the plasma relay system!”

Gangies squinted through the smoke filling the bridge. “Captain!” she coughed. “Captain! Your orders?” Then she saw it.

Amos had been thrown clear of his chair before the girders that were supposed to line the ceiling had crushed it. Unfortunately, he had been thrown headfirst into the support for the helm console. Gangies realized that the artificial gravity was off-kilter by the way his blood pooled further up the deck.

“Jovi…” she said. “Jovi! The captain is dead. Get us out of here! Now!”

Kyle grunted, punching lit buttons on his board. “Course...one-eight-zero, mark one-seven-zero. Warp three.” Groans rose from deep in the ship’s hull and on the viewscreen the stars blurred before the screen itself gave out.

Staring at Amos’ still body, Gangies couldn’t help but remember why she hated killing.

“...twenty-three fatalities, not counting the sixteen missing in action. We presume that they were lost in the hull breaches,” Lukan told Gangies. She leaned against the turbolift wall, listening to the Bolian’s report as she watched lights pass the lift’s single window. “Forty crew members are injured, but able to report to duty.”

“God,” she whispered. “That’s a third of the crew dead.”

Lukan nodded. “Including the captain. How are you adjusting?”

Rebecca looked up, studying the ceiling. “I’m all right. I’ll deal. Listen, I’m calling a senior staff meeting in four hours. And...if I’m promoted to captain, I think that makes you first officer, Lukan.”

The chief medical officer looked at her and didn’t see any satisfaction in her new position. “Have you requested aid from Starfleet or the fleet command on board the Odyssey?”

The lift reached deck five and the doors opened. “I’m told comms are down,” Gangies said. “We aren’t getting any help here.”

After he had gotten the Armstrong clear of the enemy ships, Kyle had gone back to his quarters and kicked the wall until his foot ached. He slumped down on the floor, muttering to himself angrily.

“They out maneuvered me. They managed to outfly me!” He raised his hands in front of his face, recreating the battle. The Armstrong’s weapons were concentrated in the forward arc; the other ships had merely followed behind and pounded away. “Stupid to underestimate them,” Jovi reprimanded himself. Their opponents were not the idiot pirates he had assumed; they were just as intelligent as the Jem’Hadar.

Jovi struggled to his feet and paced the short length of his room. “They had us,” he said aloud. “If they had just given chase they could have tracked us down and taken us out. Why? Why didn’t they?” He angrily sat at his computer console and brought up all of the recordings of the battle, determined to find some answers.

The situation room adjacent to the bridge had been destroyed, so the staff meeting was held in the mess hall. Lukan, Jovi and Patrick Hovin sat expectantly around one of the smaller tables; Gangies stood at the table’s head. She toyed with a piece of fruit that had rolled free of the centerpiece.

“Funeral services will be held tomorrow morning at eight hundred hours. With the captain dead, I have assumed command and Lieutenant Commander Lukan will replace me as first officer.” She sat with deliberate effort to maintain her posture. “Lieutenant Cordiou would be joining us, but the repairs are more important.”

Lukan spoke: “I’ve advised Lieutenants Hovin and Jovi of our casualties.”

“Good,” Gangies said. She closed her eyes, trying to frame what she had to say next. “Our long-range communications have been disabled. As such, we cannot call for help, either in repairing Armstrong or in arresting these raiders. I think you’ll all agree that they can’t be allowed to escape and I’m afraid that if we turn in for repairs now we’ll lose the trail. So, I’ve elected to follow them.” The men at the table shifted uncomfortably. “I know it that this isn’t the safest thing for us to do, but we’re not here to be safe ourselves. We make other people safe and we can’t ensure that if those raiders get away.”

“Agreed,” said Lukan. The others murmured affirmatives.

“Great,” Gangies said. “Anything to report?”

Jovi spoke up. “Yes, sir. After the battle, I sifted through the images we have and I think I have a plausible identity and motive for the attackers.” This got Gangies’ attention and Jovi took a moment to bask in it. “The vessels were Peregrine-class courier ships. They were phased out of public service in the Federation about fifteen or twenty years ago. Since then, a good number of them have been bought up and refitted as attack ships by the Maquis.”

Gangies sighed. “That would explain why they destroyed a Cardassian colony, wouldn’t it?”

>From the end of the table, Patrick Hovin very quietly said, “My understanding was that once the Cardassian Union joined the Dominion, the Maquis were destroyed. The Jem’Hadar wiped out entire populations suspected of harboring Maquis sympathizers, using such tactics as biogenic weapons and orbital bombardment.”

“Nobody said the Jem’Hadar were nice people,” Gangies said softly.

“No, they’re monsters. But they are thorough,” Lukan said. “Intelligence reports state that the Maquis were almost entirely annihilated. Where were these ones hiding?”

Jovi shrugged. “I don’t know. We do know of Maquis who survived and I guess it isn’t too big a stretch to believe that they managed to hide some ships.” He made a fist, then checked himself and thumped it carefully on the table. “I...watched how they flew. In the recordings. They’re good, but I don’t think they have any formal training; they’ve learned from experience. Commander...Captain, I think I can best them this time.”

Gangies nodded. “I hope so. All right, next subject: I’m not comfortable with the idea of charging off without notifying the other ships in the sector. Any ideas of how to get word to them without our subspace comms?”

“Shuttlecraft,” Jovi said immediately. “The bay was damaged, but we’ve still got two type-ten shuttles that can be prepped for launch inside of half an hour.”

“And who’s going to fly it?” Lukan asked. “We’ve lost a third of the crew, we don’t have anyone to spare.”

“I will,” Hovin said.

The room fell silent at his declaration. “Are you sure?” Gangies asked.

Hovin nodded.

“I...Hovin, no one is saying that you can’t do this, but after the Sarajevo, do you really want to spend more time alone?” Concern was written on Lukan’s face.

“The circumstances are hardly the same. I will be helping, rather than helpless.” Hovin looked pleadingly at Gangies. “Besides, a science officer is useless in the coming engagement. I can best help by alerting the other ships.”

“All right. It’s decided. Jovi, help Hovin get prepped. You’re to leave as soon as possible. Find the Odyssey, Tetsuo, Marco Polo or any of the other ships, and zero them in on our position. Everyone else, get your sections as close to combat ready as possible. Dismissed.”

Hovin and Lukan filed out. Jovi held Gangies in her seat with a questioning gaze. The door closed behind the other two and Gangies spoke.

“Something else to say, Kyle?”

Jovi stood up and paced in front of the large windows looking out to space. “What are you planning on doing when we catch them, Commander? Captain, sorry.”

“I don’t know,” Rebecca said. “I’ve read about the Maquis tactics; they’ve never destroyed a Starfleet ship before, even those pursuing them. They crippled the Defiant and Maliche when pressed, but they never killed Starfleet officers on this scale before.” She walked to the window and stared out of it. “It’s like they’re angrier, more violent.”

“Their comrades are dead,” Jovi said. “I’d be angry too. I am angry. But what are you going to do about them? They aren’t going to surrender if you ask them nicely. They’ve killed thirty-nine of our people al ready and I don’t think they’ll mind another eighty or so. This isn’t the war, where you’ve got some job behind the lines. We’re going to have to fight here, now. Are you ready to deal with that?”

Gangies closed her eyes and rested her head against the window. They stood in silence for a minute, before Rebecca wordlessly turned and walked out of the room.

Jovi sighed. “That’s what I was afraid of.”

Engineering had been demolished.

Gangies stepped over a piece of blasted piping, jumping as electricity sparked from it. Someone swore and the power cut out. Jamie Cordiou peeked out over the status table and sighed. “Commander. Hi.” She stood and gestured grandly at the wrecked engine room. “I guess you’re here for the damage report. You couldn’t call, of course”—she gave a harsh laugh—“because the intercoms are out.”

“How bad is it, Chief?” Gangies asked.

Jamie opened one of the access conduits lining the wall, eyeing the innards warily. Her voice came back to Gangies muffled. “The last time the ship was hurt this badly, I was made chief engineer by default. We’ve got hull breaches across multiple decks. Atmospheric force fields are holding, but we’re going to need time to patch them and make the sections livable again. Thanks to the damage to the port nacelle, warp efficiency is down to seventy-two percent and that won’t last over a long haul. Ventral and aft shield generators are damaged, but I’ve got Ensign Korma working on them. All weapons are functional.” She sighed. “Oh, and my quarters got blown to hell.”

Rebecca heard the edge in her voice and posed her next question carefully. “Do you think Armstrong is up to intercepting the raiders?”

Jamie pulled herself out of the panel and stared at her commander. “Rebecca, tell me you’re kidding.”

“Long-range comms are out, so we can’t call for help. By the time we run to find back up and return, we’ll have lost the raiders’ warp signature and we won’t be able to track them. We’re launching a shuttle to find one of our friendly ships while the Armstrong moves to capture the pirates.”

“I think you’re insane,” Jamie said.

Rebecca shrugged. “I know.”

Jamie looked uncomfortably at her feet. “Duly noted.”

“I want to know if you think we can pull this off.”

Jamie glanced around the engine room, her gaze lingering on the unlit warp core. “All right. Yeah. I can get tactical systems back up to spec. But if we go in to combat outnumbered and outgunned like that again”—she kicked the scorched piping—“we’re gonna get killed.”

Gangies nodded solemnly. “Thanks, Chief.”

“Rebecca...” Jamie’s voice was quiet. “Ah, like I said, my room was in one of the destroyed sections. I was wondering if I could...”

“Bunk with me?” Gangies asked.

Jamie bit her lip and nodded.

“I’ll leave some sheets on the couch for you,” Rebecca said. “Mr. Jovi is anticipating between seven and fifteen hours until we catch up with the raiders again. I want all combat systems on-line by then.”

“Yes, sir,” Cordiou said, straightening her back unconsciously. “I promise we’ll be ready for them this time.” Gangies turned and walked off, leaving Cordiou to her work. Standing amid the blasted remains of her engineering section, Jamie couldn’t help think over the conversation and smile, just a little.

“I’ve got an idea,” Jovi said as Gangies walked on to the bridge. “If we try to take them all on at once, there’s no way we can win. What we need to do is draw them out one at a time.” He motioned to the main viewscreen. “We sent a class-nine surveillance probe ahead and it got us some pretty good information.” The image on the screen was of a planet circled by two moons. Four dotted trails indicated the course of the raiders. Three of them had fallen into a patrolling orbit around the planet and moons, while the damaged fourth had landed on the innermost satellite.

Rebecca slowly walked around the bridge. “Kyle...” she said. “I want these Maquis captured alive.”

Jovi sighed and turned in his chair to face her. “I can’t promise that. And I know they won’t bother trying to keep us alive. Gangies, you’ve got to face it: if we’re going to arrest these people, then we’re going to have to fight and we’re probably going to end up killing somebody.” He looked at her. “You know that, and if you disagreed you would have turned us around already.”

Gangies stood at the center of the room. The captain’s chair had been replaced and slowly, uncertainly, she sat in it. “Take us in, Mr. Jovi.”

Cordiou knew that they were going into action when the warp core’s throbbing slowed its frantic beat and the ship slowed to impulse speed. She looked over the status board and her engineering crew. “All right, assignments. Last time the raiders focused on our upper and aft shields; we’re diverting power from life-support in the breached sections to those shields and I want Korma and Neuavak on-hand at the generators in case they begin to take damage again. Yaysi, monitor the electro-plasma systems for possible overloads. If anything goes, reroute. Happy and I will stay here in main engineering and trouble-shoot as trouble comes. Everybody got it? Good. Go.”

The officers filed off and Cordiou and the Vulcan called Happy studied the status board. “Do we have any tasks before we engage in combat?” he asked.

Jamie shrugged. “Nope. Nothing to do now except wait—”

Over the repaired intercom, Gangies’ voice echoed through the room. “Red alert. All hands to battle stations.”

Jamie smiled grimly. “Not so much waiting any more.”

Jovi piloted the Armstrong into the system from the “north,” dropping the ship down over the central planet. He pulled the ship in close to the atmosphere, using the magnetic interference from the pole to jam the Maquis’ sensors.

“You know,” he said, “if this were the Venture, this wouldn’t be a problem. We’d just walk in and tell them that they’re arrested, and they’d give up just like that.”

>From the Ops station, Lukan spoke. “You’re not on the Venture, Jovi. You’re on Armstrong. Deal with it.”

The planet rotated silently below them for a few minutes before Jovi said, “There. There’s the first one.”

The viewscreen shifted to show a single Maquis raider in orbit. “Lieutenant,” Gangies said, “take us in and deal with them quickly.”

The ship angled downward and Jovi murmured to himself, “You think you’re big time? You’re going to die, big time.” He bared his teeth. “Here comes the pain.”

To the raider, it must have seemed that the Armstrong appeared out of nowhere. The fighter tried to break orbit but Jovi lashed out with the ship’s weapons, pinning the smaller craft with phasers and torpedoes. It staggered under the blows, venting gas from its aft section.

“Target’s communications are out,” Lukan reported. “Sublight and warp engines have been disabled. Power output is minimal.” He checked his board. “Estimate two minutes before the next raider’s orbit brings it into range of the ship.”

“Excellent,” Gangies said. “Bridge to transporter room: lock on to all life-forms on board that raider and beam them directly to the brig. Mr. Jovi, as soon as our guests are aboard take us back into the planet’s magnetic pole.”

They waited a few tense moments before Lukan said, “Second raider sighted. They’ve spotted the wreckage and are altering course to head toward the moon.”

“Jovi, bring them down.” Gangies said tightly.

Kyle grinned and the Armstrong leapt eagerly after the Maquis. He fired, but the shots were absorbed by the shields.

“They got a message off to the other raider!” Lukan announced.

Jovi grunted and throttled the ship up. Again, phaser blasts probed the raider’s shields and this time sparks flew as they hit hull plating. The glow in the impulse engines disappeared and the fighter tumbled towards the moon. “Too bad they won’t be around to get the response,” smirked Kyle.

“Last fighter zeroing in on us,” reported Lukan. “They’ve locked weapons—!”

The bridge rolled and bucked. Gangies wrapped her legs around the support of the chair and looked warily at the girders bracing the ceiling. “What’s the status of the second ship?” she yelled as another explosion shook the Armstrong.

The explosion died down and Lukan looked at her, his blue face smudged with black soot. “The raider’s engines have been disabled, though they have managed to control their descent. They will land safely, if roughly, on the moon.”

“Good,” she muttered. “Kyle, the last ship! Disable it!”

On the viewscreen the stars shifted and the Maquis raider pulled in to view. “I am so on it,” Jovi said, more to himself than anyone else. There was an exchange of fire and the fighter pulled up and over the Armstrong. “Not this time, suckers,” snarled Jovi. He pulled the ship into a dive, showing the surprised Maquis the ship’s armed face rather than its undefended rear. Torpedoes lashed out and exploded first against the raider’s diminished shields and then against its undefended hull, blasting one of its wings off. The ship spiraled off of the screen.

“Damn right!” Jovi yelled. “This isn’t a place for pissed-off colonists! We’re Starfleet!”

“Status of the enemy ship?” Gangies asked.

“Crippled,” Lukan answered. “Transporter room reports ready to take on the crew. Engineering reports minimal strain to the shield generators.”

Gangies stood a little more proudly than before the battle had begun. “Beam the prisoners in and collect the crew of the other ship and the moon base. After that, I want you to set a course back toward Federation space. Commander Lukan, you have the bridge.”

The Armstrong was a small ship and little of its space was devoted to detention cells. The Maquis had been stacked almost four to a cell and none seemed pleased about it. They stared sullenly at Gangies as she walked in and stood before their cells. She looked at all of them and waited until one spoke.

“These cells are intolerable,” a man said.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Aikart,” she replied dryly. “I’m sure that you’ll each get individual cells when we transfer you to the stockades on Jaros II.”

The Maquis laughed at her. “You’re sending us to jail. Of course, the judgmental, condescending Starfleet. You must always be right. When you were being nice to those monstrous Cardassians, you condemned us for trying to defend our homes. When they went to war against the entire quadrant with the Dominion at their side, you took us in, sheltered us and gave us weapons. Now the Cardassians are supposed to be sweet and cuddly again, and once again we’re the enemy for trying to win back our homes. Because Starfleet must always be right.”

Gangies voice was quiet. “Our war with the Cardassians is done. They aren’t a threat to anyone anymore.”

Aikart stepped right up to the force field, his temple throbbing. “Our war won’t be done until Starfleet realizes that we were right all along and the last Cardassian is dead.”

“You killed innocent civilians.”

“They were Cardassian. There are no innocent Cardassians.”

His gaze burned into Rebecca and she found that she couldn’t bear it. She turned her back and walked out.

“It must be easy for you, living in such a black and white world!” he yelled after her. She didn’t even slow down to consider the irony that.

There was an impromptu celebration in the mess hall and Kyle Jovi was living it up. The tables were littered with snacks, synthahol and unconscious officers. Kyle was delighting in telling them all about the action.

“So, I realized that they weren’t outflying me. It was just that with the three of them, I couldn’t keep track of all of them at once. I got the idea to break them up so I could take them out one at a time.” He took a swig of synthahol and grinned at Ensign Pojman, the helm officer from the graveyard shift as she stared at him with stars in her eyes. “I wish I coulda seen the looks on their faces when they saw this Saber-class starship come roaring out of the magnetic field, bearing down on them.”

A crowd had gathered around him and even the drunks were paying a bleary sort of attention. “Actually, I should be honest,” he said grandly. “I didn’t think up that stunt with the interference pole. I saw the Dominion do it during the war. See, the Venture was on patrol through the Kalandra sector with the Himalaya and, just as we’re passing this type-L planet, half a dozen Jem’Hadar show up out of the interference. Scared the hell out of me, but...” He noticed the helm officer’s gaze again and lost his train of thought. “I was saying...What was your name again?”

“Our performance in the second engagement was significantly superior to that in the first,” Storik the Happy Vulcan said, “when one considers the amount of damage sustained.”

Engineering was empty except for Storik and Cordiou, who were killing time before the next shift came on. Jamie studied the status table carefully, tracing the flow of power from the warp core out to the nacelles, watching for any sort of drop off that would indicate damage. “We got beaten badly enough the first time. Armstrong is going to need a month or even two at a starbase to get those breaches patched.” She straightened and played with the strands of hair that had pulled loose of their pins. “Yeah. I guess we did all right.”

“You are an excellent engineer, Lieutenant,” Storik said simply. “You must have trained very carefully at the Academy.”

“I learned a lot of things at the Academy, Happy.” Jamie smiled and began to fix her hair. “I didn’t start off in Engineering. I trained in Science, specifically astrophysics. I was going to explore space and find new phenomena. I was pretty good at it, too.”

Storik raised an eyebrow at her casual use of her nickname for him. “Why did you transfer to Engineering?” he inquired.

Her hair arranged, Jamie looked up with a crooked grin. “I met this guy. He was...he was a great guy. Convinced me to change my major. I actually lived with him for most of my junior year.” Her eyes unfocused. “I was going to marry him.”

The Vulcan looked at her in surprise. “You allowed emotional attachment to separate you from your intended profession.” As Vulcans usually went, he looked very surprised. “How...illogical.”

“You should talk, Happy,” Cordiou jabbed back.

Storik conceded the point and turned away.

“Anyway, I’m only Chief by default. I was on Armstrong during the first battle for the Chin’toka system during the war. We took some hits and, before I knew it, I was the only in a yellow uniform left down here.”

Across the room, the doors slid back and Rebecca Gangies walked in. She saw Jamie and smiled. “Lieutenant,” she said, “we just received word from Hovin; he found the Odyssey and they’re en route to pick us up. We’ll be back to a starbase in no time.”

Jamie grinned and even Storik seemed pleased. Jamie stepped forward with her hands behind her back and did her best to glow at her commander.

“And,” Gangies said more quietly, “I realized that you didn’t have a way to get into my quarters tonight.”

“Thank you very much,” Jamie said. “Hey, Happy! Finish covering the shift for me, eh? I’ll see you tomorrow.” For his part, Storik watched the two women walking out and couldn’t help but notice that they both seemed to be smiling and touching more than usual. Perhaps they weren’t that different from him.

“Why do you call him Happy?” Rebecca asked once they were in the corridor.

Jamie made some vague gesture in the air. “Oh, that’s just the first part. His full name is Happy the Gay Vulcan.”

Rebecca frowned. “He doesn’t seem any more cheerful than your usual type of Vulcan.”

Jamie’s eyes danced with amusement. “That’s not what I meant.”

Through the window, Gangies watched the Armstrong pull along side one of Deep Space Nine’s upper docking pylons and power down. From her vantage point, she could see the substantial damage that the ship had taken. Its hull plates were blackened and buckling, and despite the best efforts of the atmospheric force fields, she could see puffs of frozen gas leaking from the savaged hull.

“Colonel Kira tells me that the Armstrong will be first on the repair list,” Jace Orsini said behind her. Rebecca turned away from the window and smiled at the other captain. She thought the distance between them was ridiculous; the captain’s ready room on this Armstrong. Odyssey was certainly an impressive ship.

“We’ll be back on patrol soon enough, Captain. Armstrong is a good ship with a good crew.” A very good crew, she thought to herself with a smile. “My only concern is that we’re still very short-handed. Thirty-nine crew members dead. With me taking the position of captain, I need a first officer who can cover Ops.”

Orsini nodded and stood to wander over to a painting on his ready-room wall. It was done in oil, a pale woman dressed all in black, smiling against a dark background. He reached as if to touch it, but stopped himself short. “I’ve relayed your personnel requests to Starfleet Command. Most of your new crew should reach DS9 before Armstrong is ready to push off, but getting a new first officer could take some time. The fleet is still short of good officers. I’m afraid you’ll have to do without for a while.” He turned to her and, with the painting framing him, said, “I’m more worried about you, Captain.”

Gangies held her ground and said, “May I ask why, sir?”

“Starfleet officers with civilian murder records worry me, Gangies,” he replied evenly. “Especially when they are in command of starships.”

“There isn’t a captain in Starfleet who hasn’t killed in the last three years,” Gangies said, biting off each word.

“True,” Orsini said, “but they never killed in cold blood.”

“Neither,” whispered Gangies in restrained fury, “did I.”

Silence stretched uncomfortably as each waited for the other to say something else. Finally, Orsini said, “When repairs on the Armstrong are finished, you’ll begin assisting Odyssey and Marco Polo in ferrying supplies to the Cardassian worlds. I’ll expect weekly reports.” Gangies nodded, still not quite trusting herself to speak. “Dismissed, Commander.”

Gangies left the ready-room and stalked across a bridge large enough to play soccer on to the turbolift. Once inside, she directed it to the airlock leading to DS9’s docking pylon and sagged against the wall. When the lift let her out she walked along the pylon until she found a window facing the Armstrong. Hovering around the ship’s mangled hull she could see repair crews from DS9 and Armstrong moving in like moths drawn to the flame of work to be done. One of them, she knew, was Jamie. Jamie, who hadn’t requested any living quarters on Deep Space Nine.

Rebecca Gangies thought of her and of the ship, and smiled.

 

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Last modified: 06 Feb 2017 
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