Sabredance by Larry Stovall
The bridge of the IKV Hiv'laposh seemed eerily silent as the old cruiser raced through the void. Her command deck usually hummed with voices as her crew performed their duties. Now though, her officers were silent, and the ship's control center was bathed in the harsh red lighting of a battle alert.
Commander La'ra leaned forward in his command chair, eyes locked on the viewscreen. The distress call had come in two hours before, an urgent plea for assistance from a tiny mining outpost in the Gor'all system. It'd been staticy and indistinct, but the words 'under attack' had been clear enough. Now his ship raced along one full warp factor above her normal maximum speed, but he already knew they'd be too late. Two hours was more than enough time for a 30 man mining station to be blasted into oblivion. He could only hope to save whoever was left.
"Ten minutes to system edge." Lieutenant Ran'jar's voice was calm, even. La'ra hadn't asked for a single ETA during their two hour dash. His first officer had announced such regularly, usually just when La'ra was about to get up and begin pacing the bridge in frustration. La'ra gave him a quick nod, twisting in his chair a bit.
"Sensors?" The query came out harshly, impatiently.
"No contacts sir." Sensor Chief Leral never looked up from her scanners. "Still too far distant for a useful sweep of Gor'all II."
"Still no further contact from the outpost." Ran'jar had a habit of knowing exactly what his Commander was about to ask. La'ra nodded to him again, his foot tapping impatiently on the metal deck plates. The minutes crawled by, and soon La'ra was pacing despite himself, his massive frame stalking from one side of the bridge to the other like a caged lion. He glanced at the ordnance panel again. His vessel's weapons were as charged as they had been the last time he'd looked.
Ran'jar announced the ship's penetration into the Gor'all system, but a long stretch of time passed before La'ra ordered deceleration. He knew they were too late, could feel it, but if there was anything he and his crew could do, the sooner they got there the better.
"Drop to sublight." He growled the order to his helmsman, and he reacted immediately, the streaks of starlight on the viewer condensing to pinpricks as the old cruiser slowed to slower than the speed of light. "Bring us in toward the planet, battle speed, and divert auxiliary power to sensors. Find out what's left down there." He barely noticed his science officer confirm the order.
The mining outpost on Gor'all II was less than three weeks old. It was a small, barely manned station meant more for exploratory mining than earnest mineral extraction, though in it's short lifespan it had already discovered significant mineral resources, but raiding the place would've netted the attacker little more than samples of what the planet had to offer. There was but one reason to assault the place. If there was no Klingon presence on the planet, the planet did not belong to the Klingons. Kill the miners and destroy their equipment and anyone could waltz in and claim Gor'all II and it's mineral wealth as their own, for it was not within the proper Klingon borders.
It wasn't just anyone, though. Orions wouldn't have the resources to effectively mine the place. The Federation would only rarely use blatant force to remove the Klingon presence, and if they'd chose to, they'd probably given the miners the opportunity to evacuate first. That left Romulans. The 'loyal allies' of the Klingon Empire. La'ra growled, and took his next trip across the bridge a little bit faster.
"All surface facilities have been destroyed, Commander." Leral's voice was deep for a woman's, and inquisitive even when relaying grave news. "Most subsurface excavations are intact, but I'm not able to tell if any survivors have taken shelter there, the planet's crust is reflecting my scans."
La'ra gave her an assenting grunt. On the viewscreen the orange and black sphere of rock that was Gor'all II loomed, growing larger at a respectable speed. He'd seen the world before, it'd been one of the more promising places the Hiv'laposh had surveyed on her last patrol. He turned to Ran'jar.
"Open a channel. See if there's anyone down here who can hear us." The Lieutenant nodded, and a quick electronic chime pierced the relative quiet of the bridge as the hailing frequency was established.
"This is Commander La'ra of the Imperial Klingon battlecruiser Hiv'laposh. We have received your distress call, if you can hear my voice, please establish communications immediately." He spoke the words evenly despite his frustration. Long moments passed, and no answer came. He repeated the message, and still no answer came. Nor did one come the third, fourth, or fifth time, despite La'ra leaning as close to the voice pickup on his command chair as he could without looking foolish. Gor'all II grew ever closer.
"Cease transmission.", he muttered. Ran'jar complied wordlessly. "Sensors?"
Leral shook her head, mane of ebony curls swishing about her somewhat broad shoulders. "Indeterminate readings from the caverns. Could be life signs, could..not be."
"Residual radiation in the upper atmosphere and around the outpost site. Leftovers from phaser fire, most likely."
Romulan phaser fire, no doubt. Blast the outpost into debris, leave the area, come back two weeks later with a colony ship and an escort force to protect their settlement and claim the planet for the glory of the Rihansu. It would not be the first time. He nodded to Leral.
"Commander, we're receiving a transmission." Ran'jar was leaned over his console with interest now. "Simple radio, Klindat only."
La'ra narrowed his eyes. Klindat. Simple code often taught to Klingon youths interested in cryptography or puzzles, similar to the Earther's 'Morse'. Still useful if you lacked the capacity for more sophisticated types of communications.
"Translation?" Ran'jar spent his spare time decoding Federation transmissions for fun. He could read something like Klindat or Morse like script.
"Gives a set of coordinates including depth under surface." Ran'jar's eyes were slits. "Requests aid."
"Give any reason they're using simple radio?"
"No, but I doubt their communications array is in the best of shape."
A quick glance at Leral sent her to scanning once more. La'ra leaned against his command chair.
"The outpost's subspace array appears completely destroyed, at least from this distance." Her voice was confident, but she continued to stare at her board.
La'ra grumbled. There was an odd feeling gripping his stomach. Something wasn't quite right.
"Can you pinpoint the source of that transmission?" La'ra doubted it. Radio waves tended to scatter over distance and they were still five minutes from planetary orbit.
Ran'jar shook his head, and his Commander nodded. Paced some more. An obvious question came to mind after a moment.
"If we wanted to be within transporter range of those coordinates, where would we have to be?"
"Within five thousand Kellicams of the outpost station, sir." Leral still stared at her scanner. "We'd have to get close to beam through the rock."
"Are you detecting something else?" The woman sat, transfixed by her sensor screens.
She looked up, a bit cautiously. "No sir, I was looking out for anything unusual..."
La'ra nodded, smiled. "Carry on." She was new to the Hiv'laposh, and probably used to commanders who had little use for science officers. La'ra wasn't one of those commanders. They did tend to babble at times but it took a foolish warrior to enter battle without as much information as possible. He didn't believe she was simply staring at her sensors for caution's sake though. His own hunter's instinct was whispering foul things in his ear and her's was likely doing the same. His thick finger pushed one of his chair's many buttons, and the screen helpfully mounted on its arm changed to a tactical display. The outpost site was in the northern hemisphere, and five thousand kellicams was uncomfortably close.
Close enough that if we had to maneuver there'd be only one direction we could go....
His face contorted into a tight grin. Close in to the planet, his ship's excellent turning ability negated by a gigantic obstacle, the Hiv'laposh would make an easy target for a plasma torpedo. Especially once they dropped shields to send a rescue team down. Be a bit bold to attack a Klingon cruiser when the idea was to smash the outpost and remain undetected, but what kind of man would the Romulans send to kill thirty civilians? La'ra'd faced Romulans with a great deal of personal honor --mnhei-sahe they called it-- but always in direct battle, never stumbling onto something like this. If the Romulan Empire wanted the Gor'all outpost destroyed, they'd send someone with the tendencies of a criminal. A murderer, not a warrior. Murderers were opportunistic. Murderers were generally cowardly. Murderers also hated witnesses. Two hours might not have been enough time to ensure the deaths of every Klingon on that planet, and all it'd take was one survivor to tell the tale of Romulan treachery. Even with a witness it probably wouldn't amount to war or even a weakening of the two government's alliance. Neither side could afford to stand alone against the Federation both governments insisted on antagonizing, but that might not occur to a murderer. They liked to cover their tracks. If that meant destroying a Klingon ship that'd been too close for it's own good, so be it.
"Lieutenant, tell the shuttle bay to prep both shuttles. One as a sensor decoy, one as a scatter pack. Tell them to hurry."
Ran'jar looked up at him and nodded. The look in his eyes was not curious.
He feels it too.
Another glance at his tactical screen told La'ra he was bare minutes from planetary orbit. He couldn't afford to be there, but if he wanted to flush out his prey he'd have to make a show of it.
"Helm, slow to one-quarter impulse power, prepare for planetary orbit." The helmsman was nodding already, not expecting the second half of the order. "Program it so that we can turn two degrees port and boost our speed if necessary." The young ensign at the helm did as he was told, but he looked confused. Gravitational slingshot was a shuttle pilot's trick, not something a starship helmsman did very often.
La'ra felt the engines ebb, the subtle vibration in the deck plates becoming almost imperceptible. Time for the next act of his little drama.
"Leral, prepare a probe. Send it towards the outer system, and direct your active sensors that way too." He was grinning again. "Best to be cautious. In the meantime, watch your passives closely. You're looking for a sudden energy shift of some kind."
She looked at him like he was insane. She'd surmised how vulnerable they'd be in orbit too, no doubt. "Sir, I..."
"Mind your station, Lieutenant. And follow your orders." She did so, looking back to her station. A quick glance at Ran'jar showed him to be unsuccessfully battling a grin. The ship shuddered as a probe was expelled, the red flare of it's engine visible on the viewer for a moment before it peeled off toward the outer system.
"Probe telemetry being received, sir." Her voice was taut, nervous. "Long range sensors detecting nothing unusual. Shall I discontinue scan's and rely on the probe, sir?"
"Watch your passives, Lieutenant. Keep your sensors as they are." That's right, we're looking for you. We know you attacked our outpost and are coming to it's rescue, but being barbaric Klingons we're burning up space with our scanners so that we can chase you down and engage you in earnest combat. We're too dumb to think you're still here.
"Decoy and missile pack ready, sir." Ran'jar said it quietly. "One minute from planetary orbit."
La'ra nodded, easing back into his command chair. That one minute seemed like a very long time.
"Planetary orbit achieved, Commander." The helmsman was trying his best to keep cool. "Standing by to turn..."
"Understood." La'ra let out a growl. "Inform me when we're within transporter range of the outpost. Stand by maximum impulse, and be ready on that turn"
The helmsman let out a quick yes sir. Leral's voice was the next to be heard.
"Still no readings from the probe, sir." Her voice was urging. He tried not to chuckle.
"Watch those passives, Lieutenant."
"We're within transporter range." The helmsman's fingers were hovering over his controls. La'ra gave Ran'jar a quick glance. His first officer was as impassive as ever. Now or never he supposed. Ensign Grimbek was manning the primary weapons station. He looked to him.
"Gunner, lower our shields."
He heard Leral gasp. Felt the sudden edge of fear grip his bridge crew.
"Shields coming down, sir..."
"Commander!" Leral's voice was a husky shriek. She said more after that but he didn't hear her, he was already shouting orders.
"Maximum impulse, helm! Turn now!" The ship lurched forward as the impulse engines crashed back up to their highest output, and suddenly the planet filled the viewer entirely as the helmsman dived toward it. "Gunner, raise the shields! Leral, repeat that!"
"Two Romulan War Eagles, sir, decloak..." She paused, eyes widening as something on her screen caught her attention. "They're firing! Incoming plasma!"
Of course they're firing. His grin was a tight one and he glanced at his newly updated screen. The two ships were farther out from the planet in what would've been a perfect two ship pincher had the Hiv'laposh not dived toward the planet. Two innocent red dots represented the pair of plasma torpedo's that were chasing her. They were gaining swiftly.
"Full impulse achieved, sir!" The helmsman was yelling now. His calm hadn't lasted long.
"Swing us out!" He might be able to keep the planet between his ship and one of the torpedoes, but one would still hit at close to it's maximum yield. And he needed room to maneuver.
The Hiv'laposh swung away from the planet, shields flaring a bit as they scraped the upper atmosphere. Two angry, glowing fireballs followed her, covering the distance more slowly now that the vulture-like ship had slung herself up to her maximum sublight speed, but still gaining.
"Plasma will impact in 10 seconds!" Leral was coherent, but her voice sounded panicked. First time she'd been fired at, most likely, and she thought her commander was a lunatic. "Nine...Eight...."
"Gunner, target incoming at your discretion." Grimbek didn't bother to confirm the order. Hiv'laposh's aft phasers lashed out at the onrushing torpedoes, beams criss-crossing through their intangible forms. They shimmered, grew dimmer, but still they came.
"Brace for impact!" La'ra bellowed out, clutching the arms of his chair and gritting his fangs together.
The Hiv'laposh bucked suddenly, the white-hot plasma of the Romulan weapons enveloping her shields, the detonating inward. The second lurch was more severe than the first, but the bridge crew kept their stations.
"Shields holding..." Grimbek seemed amazed.
"Position of Romulan vessels?" La'ra fought a grin. He shouldn't have any pleasure from being right, not in this situation, but he did. Was like a drug, almost.
Leral shook her head, as if coming out of a daze. She probably was.
"They're...they're pursuing. Distant one hundred and sixty thousand kellicams and opening." La'ra let out a satisfied snarl. The maneuver had seized more distance than he'd hoped for. Disengagement would be easy now, if he so desired.
He eyed the Romulan vessels on his tactical screen, and his face twisted into his hyenaish grin.
There would be no disengaging.
The old starship roared through the void, her engines pushing her as fast as she could go without shaping space around her and accelerating past the speed of light. Engaging the warp engines would probably end the vulture-ish ship's dilemma, for neither of the winged menaces that chased her could match her in a trans-light sprint. But it was not the time for running.
"Reduce speed to two thirds..." La'ra gave the order calmly, but his mind raced. There were two Romulan War Eagles nipping at his bootheels, two well-made vessels armed with the most powerful weapon one could cram onboard a starship. "Bring her around, one hundred and eighty degree's starboard."
The helmsman complied, and the IKV Hiv'laposh banked sideways in a long, arcing turn back toward her pursuers. Refitted or not, she was still an ancient vessel, but whereas some empires preferred their ships strong and well armed, Klingon ships were made for grace and speed. The half-century old battlecruiser pirouetted like a ballet dancer, bow coming around to face her pursuers. She slowed as she heeled, but now she rocketed toward her assailants.
"Disengage overload suppressors and power your weapons to full." La'ra's grin showed his pronounced fangs. Young Ensign Grimbek was at the gunnery station. He complied without a word. Even at her reduced speed, the Hiv'laposh ate up the distance between her and her pursuers. His ship's primary weapons might not be charged fully by the time he raced past them, and worse his shields had already been pummeled by the Romulan's plasma, but he had to attack. Plasma torpedoes took time to arm, and he had to give at least one of his oh-so-clever ambushers a bloody nose before they could send more after him.
"Confirmed now as two Romulan War Eagles, no refits." Lieutenant Leral was calmer now having regained her composure after what she had surely thought was a suicidal move by her commander. Even the vague specter of insubordination she'd exhibited would be severely punished by some Klingon superiors, but such was foolish. She'd learn to trust his instincts soon enough, or so he hoped. Besides, the look on her face when he'd ordered the shields dropped had been worth an Orion's treasure trove. "Identity unknown."
He nodded to her. War Eagles. Warp-power conversions of the same sublight hulks that'd almost a century's worth of Klingons had battled. Hulks that'd then been modernized with Klingon technology. He suppressed a growl, glanced towards the communications station.
The stocky Klingon there nodded and set to work decrypting the enemy transponder codes. He'd known Lieutenant Ran'jar since both were old enough to hold a dk'tagh. Words had become superfluous years ago.
"Range fifty thousand kellicams, closing rapidly." Leral's voice was getting eager. "Enemy vessels are reducing speed."
Trying to get their torpedoes armed, no doubt. Thought we were an old. unrefitted D6, thought your flaming balls had hit us harder than they did, didn't you Romulan?
"Hard to port." La'ra was conscious of the grin on his face as the old cruiser veered to the left. The blips on his tactical screen turned to follow, but they didn't have the maneuverability of the sprightly Klingon ship. Now... "Reverse turn, hard to starboard!"
The helmsman obeyed, the old battlecruiser reversing it's turn swiftly, once again hurtling directly toward it's enemy's, but now one of the enemies was closer than it's companion.
"Twenty thousand kellicams, closing!"
La'ra was suddenly at the gunnery station, giant hand squeezing Grimbek's shoulder. "Hold your missiles, but be ready on them." The young Klingon nodded, eyes never leaving his console.
The Commander was back at his chair now, leaning against it and peering at his display. The farther War Eagle had turned the intercept, but she wouldn't make it to optimum range before...
"They're firing!" Grimbek shouted even as the ship suddenly lurched about underneath them, the nearer War Eagle lashing at her so-called prey with narrow beams of energy. The Hiv'laposh's forward shield flared, weakened.
Might've hurt me if you'd waited, my pointy-eared friend.
"Fire!" A flurry of emerald bolts burst from the wings of the vulture-like Klingon vessel, the barrage pummeling the defenses of her smaller target. The Romulan's shields flared, then collapsed as a trio of azure phaser beams lanced in toward the avian vessel. The birdlike warship veered away, toward its companion, but the Hiv'laposh had already began her retreat, her aft section whipping about to face the War Eagle's downed shields. The Klingon vessel's rear weapons spoke, her secondary phasers tearing into the bare hull of her quarry.
"Missile's now!" La'ra barked out the order despite the howls of vengeful laughter he was bellowing. Grimbek complied, and the ship shuddered as two deadly warheads fell form her belly, their drives activating almost instantly and driving the fusion devices in toward the desperately maneuvering Romulan.
La'ra watched his tactical display, expecting at least one of the green dots that'd represented his missiles to be swatted from the sky or brought to a halt a Romulan tractor beam, but neither did. The blips disappeared, the representation of the Rihansu vessel suddenly accompanied by lists of estimated damage.
"Target's forward and aft starboard shields are down! Minor internal damage..." La'ra silenced Leral with an upraised hand and a gruff 'Later.' Another order was barked and the D6 turned again, her bow coming around to face her wounded quarry. The undamaged Romulan moved closer on the tactical screen, swooping in to defend his companion, but he wouldn't get there in time to stop one more phaser volley. The Hiv'laposh would be vulnerable for a few moments afterward though, and though the unmarred ship couldn't have brought that dreaded torpedo to full power it's phasers could easily slice throughout his ship's battered shields. If the Romulan got close enough.
"Take disruptors off-line, maximum speed, and divert battery power to shields. Favor our aft." He thought he heard Ran'jar confirm the order, begin relaying it to engineering, but he wasn't sure. He only stared at his display, watching the distance between his ship and her prey decrease to almost nothing.
"Fire." He gave the order more calmly this time, but Grimbek was no less accurate. The primary phasers tore into the target, blackening her hull. Oxygen fled from the Eagle, rushing out of compartments that were now open to space, and the Romulan ship veered again, trying to put it's undamaged port shields to her assailant even as her sister ship overran her, swooping in on the Hiv'laposh like a predatory bird.
"Hard to starboard!" La'ra shouted, and the ship heaved to the side even as the Romulan vessel opened fire. He felt his ship buck under him, knew that the Rihanna's phasers had chewed into the hull somewhere. Still he stared at his screen, until his aft lay directly towards the Romulan vessel. "Halt turn!" Taking evasive action would just slow him down. Better to put more distance between himself and the Romulan before his adversaries torpedo came on line.
"Plasma in the air!" Leral's voice wasn't nervous, as it had been during the initial attack. It was enraged. La'ra hoped her rage was for the Romulans.
"Time to impact?"
"Twenty seconds." She was sweating as well, teeth clenched in a snarl as she stared at her scanners "Torpedo is not at full power, Commander."
La'ra grinned. Clever Romulan. Waiting for his torpedo to charge fully wouldn't have allowed him a shot. He’d chosen a little damage that hit over a lot that stood useless in the tube.
La'ra glanced at his display. His aft shields were firming. The power being put into the impulse engines was keeping his after phasers from recharging, however. There'd be no point defense this time. Leral gave the five-second warning, and he ordered the crew the brace.
The Hiv'laposh slammed forward as the plasma detonated against her aft screens. A variety of cries echoed through the bridge crew as they struggled to keep their stations. It took a second for the chaos to die.
"Damage report!" He barked it out more harshly than he intended.
"Minor structural damage in aft areas." Ran'jar read off the reports being fed to him through his ear mike and continued to make adjustments on his console. Even the bucking and twisting of the very deck his chair was on hadn't stopped his decryption efforts. "Minor electrical system damage, no casualties."
La'ra shook his head at his exec, nodded. He'd tore into one of the Romulans rather effectively, but the other was undamaged. His shields were battered, and if he turned back now there would be at least one of the massive plasma torpedoes waiting for him.
"Romulan ships are cloaking, Commander." Leral sounded as if that displeased her. "Their shields are up, I can track them but we've lost targeting lock."
"Understood." Licking their wounds, waiting to see what the foolhardy Klingon does next. Well, he's got some wounds of his own to lick. "Helm, hard to starboard. Take us in toward our Romulan friends but get no closer than one hundred thousand kellicams. Gunner, bring disruptors one and four back online and fire at any opportunity."
Grimbek looked puzzled. "Sir, cloaked and at that distance..."
"Consider it a challenge, Ensign." La'ra grinned at his gunner toothily. The chances of any appreciable hits were slim, but he had to keep them worried. Off balance.
The ship was turning again, her bow once again swinging toward the Romulans. La'ra stared at the viewscreen, and snarled.
"I've cracked their transponder codes."
Ran'jar's voice pulled his commander's attention from the viewer.
"Well done." La'ra had known his executive officer would batter through the enemy's encryption's eventually, but that didn't make the difficult task less worthy of praise. "Who are we facing?"
"The Llaekh-ae'rl and the Hlal." A duo of low shrieks echoed through the hull as two of the main disruptors discharged. "Last reported as unrefitted War Eagles. Both operate out of the Seyana sector command base."
The deck seemed to shift a bit under La'ra's feet. His ship was turning sharply, the internal gravity fields adjusting a millisecond too slow. "Anything about their commanders?" Ran'jar nodded his assent.
"The Hlal is under the command of Commander Mathia t'Liean. Profile describes him as meticulous, conservative, and patient, somewhat vain, with political ambitions. The Llaekh-ae'rl belongs to Sub-Commander Aexil i'Stonn. Aggressive, young, decorated several times but the Ae'rl is his first command. He was formerly t'Liean's first officer." Ran'jar paused a moment, still studying his screen. "We damaged the Hlal."
That odd shifting of the deck came again as La'ra nodded. He spoke Romulan fairly well, enough to know that he'd just pummeled a ship named after some gawky flightless bird. The other name translated as 'Laughing Murder'. Two more mournful screams resonated through the hull. All his disruptors were in use now that his shields had firmed up, their arming cycles staggered so that the target was subjected to a constant, if inaccurate, bombardment. He felt his ship turn away. The Romulan commander was living up to his profile. He was patient. His pair of ships were between La'ra and the planet. Between the Hiv'laposh and any survivors of the Romulan's treachery. They moved little, maintaining enough speed to accelerate and intercept should La'ra attempt to slip around toward Gor'all II. Neither vessel had decloaked and much distance stood between La'ra and their vessels. His disruptor bombardment had scored few hits.
Enough to keep Commander t'Liean happy where he is. Meticulous and patient. Maybe he could turn those qualities against him. He looked at his tactical display. His shields were hardening, but not enough yet to chance a plasma torpedo. He sprung up from his chair, stalked toward the sensor console.
"How badly did we hurt them?" He leaned over Leral's console. This close to her it was hard not to detect her scent, difficult to ignore the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. He shoved such thoughts from his brain, for the moment.
She pressed a button, spent a spare moment looking over a readout of their prey. "Moderate damage to her spaceframe, caused some mild disruption to their weapon and power systems." Leral gave the report quickly, her eyes hard and her nostrils flaring slightly.
La'ra nodded. Appreciable damage. They could repair their weapon systems, bring their power systems back up to speed, but the structural damage would take a long time to shore up, and they couldn't really do it in combat. He'd have to press his advantage soon, though. The deck shifted as the Hiv'laposh turned in for another run. Leral's eyes blazed.
He glanced at her. Whatever was bothering her wasn't affecting her duties, but it might if she sat stewing long enough.
"Having difficulties of some kind, Lieutenant?"
Her eyes flicked about the bridge. His voice had been low. No one had heard.
"No, sir." She looked down at her console.
"Do not lie to me, Lieutenant."
She let out an almost inaudible snarl. Still she hesitated. He waited. The disruptors let out another shrieking howl. When she spoke, it was hushed.
"Our ship is in battle, and I'm doing nothing, Commander."
"You're doing your duty, Lieutenant."
Her mouth clenched, eyes still ablaze. "My duties are nothing. I am more than qualified to do something more important than watch these frak'nath sensors, and yet I'm stuck here." Science officer wasn't the most respected position in the Klingon navy.
"Lieutenant, I know all about your gunnery aptitude." With the fleet's attitude toward it's female officers, the fact that she'd competed there at all said something for her persistence. "Your scores were excellent. However, you are not my gunner, you are my science officer." The deck moved once more.
"I do my duties, Commander."
"I have not implied otherwise." He paused for a moment, brown eyes locking with her own. "But listen well, Lieutenant. You give this ship her eyes, and they're sharp ones. I want them to stay that way."
Her eyes stayed locked with his for a moment, then turned away. "Yes, sir."
He squeezed her shoulder, stalked back to his chair.
"Ensign Grimbek, report."
"We've completed eight runs on the target, Commander. At least four hits, possibly five." Grimbek sounded pleased with himself. He deserved to be, at this range. La'ra nodded.
"Excellent. Conduct your next run." The ship heeled back toward the Romulans even as the order left his mouth. "Divert excess power to sensors, I want their shield strength."
He heard an engineer give assent. They'd scored more hits than he'd hoped. Maybe it'd been enough to keep the Hlal's shields raw. He was about to get closer, and he wanted to cripple that ship. Destroying it would be better, but if merely crippling his adversary would allow him to put a rescue team on Gor'all II, so be it. Still if there were survivors, they were underground and hidden from his sensors. Finding them would require his men to have plenty of time to search unmolested, and for that the Romulans would have to be gone from the system in one way or the other.
"Target's forward and aft starboard shields are holding at fifty percent." Leral's voice was considerably more even now. The disruptors let out their wicked cry. "One more hit sir, starboard side aft."
"Steady, helm." He said the order quickly, before the turn. "Sensors to normal output. Accelerate to best speed as soon as disruptors two and four complete their charge." He eased himself into his chair, grinning now, but tightly. He was closer to the Hlal, charging straight toward her now. The Romulan's companion was off to one side, the better to cut him off if he should attempt to slip past them on that side, but he'd be changing course to intercept soon.
Still, the speed advantage belonged to him. If Grimbek could keep their shields weak from one hundred thousand kellicams, he could knock them down at fifty thousand, and they could dance away from Romulan counterattack at least enough to mitigate the damage.
"Distance ninety thousand kellicams, Commander, closing rapidly."
"All weapons charged and ready to fire." Grimbek sounded as eager as ever. The helm officer added his report; the Hiv'laposh was accelerating. La'ra leaned over, watching his display. The Llaekh-ae'rl was speeding up, but her course remained constant.
Waiting to make sure I go for his commander. I'm about to disappoint him.
"Helm, turn twenty degrees port." The helm office gave confirmation, and the ship turned lazily to the left. Away from the Hlal. Away from both Romulan ships.
Let's see how important me not having witnesses is to you, t'Liean.
The indefinite contact images on his tactical display solidified even as Leral announced the Romulan ships were decloaking. The Llaekh-ae'rl was turning and accelerating, coming to a course meant to cut him of long before he reached Gor'all II. She was moving too fast to have her torpedo armed fully, though it was undoubtedly armed and even a small plasma torpedo could devastate his shields. The Hlal was turning too, moving to cut off his escape route should he try and veer away from the Ae'rl. She was moving much slower than her companion...
Something in La'ra's head clicked. Clever plan, t'Liean, using yourself as bait. You wanted me to close, come after you. You'd strip my shields with your big red fireball and let your subordinate swoop in and cripple me. Had he rushed the Hlal, intent on her destruction, it might've worked. With his shields battered by an enveloping torpedo the Llaekh-ae'rl could've tore him to pieces even with just her phasers. But now t'Liean's subordinate was out of position. He tossed his head back and let out a laugh. As if I need witnesses to kill you!
He watched his tactical display. The Ae'rl loomed closer, still on an intercept course. The Hlal moved slowly to her cut off position. There was much distance between the two ships....
"Helm, emergency turn, one hundred and eighty degrees!" He had to wait a full three seconds before the ship slammed herself into a dangerously sharp turn, her bulbous command pod snapping about to face the opposite direction. He heard shouts from his officers, curses as they clung to their stations, and he laughed again even as the turn threatened to hurl him out of his chair.
"Divert battery power to disruptors and disengage the suppressors!" His grin was malicious.
"Tractor beam is powered at minimum and shuttlebay is ready to release missile pack." Ran'jar's voice was as calm as ever, and a tight grin creased the first officer's face.
"Distance to Hlal fifty thousand kellicams, closing rapidly...incoming plasma!" Leral was shouting. La'ra looked up at the viewscreen, saw the blazing torpedo coming in to smash his shields. Still he grinned.
"Helm, hard to starboard! Brace for impact!" He grabbed onto his chair arms and held. Leral and Grimbek and others clutched anything within reach. Ran'jar sat icily.
The Hiv'laposh bucked as if a giant had swatted her across the sky, and the bridge deck came up to meet La'ra. A shower of sparks exploded from the ceiling, tiny glass shards raining onto his back as the command center went dark. He was rising already, shouting for a hard turn to port. He felt the ship turn, almost fell again as the force of the maneuver misaligned already confused gravity generators. His command chair saved him from another spill as he wrapped his massive arm around its back and hung on for dear life as his ship shook yet again, gentler this time. He knew the feel of phasers striking his ship's hull, but his last turn had at least put a functional shield in front of the deadly beams.
"Within tractor range!" Ran'jar, crimson light from his panel casting him in a demonic light.
"Engage beam, release missile pack!"
There was no sound, no force as a shimmering blue tractor field leapt out and ensnared the Hlal, but there the Klingon ship shuddered when the shuttlebay opened, decompressing instantly and blowing an innocent looking shuttle out into the vacuum. The Klingon vessel and her snared catch raced away from the small auxiliary craft for long seconds. Then the shuttle seemed to explode, melted from existence as the six fusion missiles on board activated their drives and accelerated away. They dove in on the helplessly pinned Hlal, atomic warheads slamming into her protective fields. The Romulan’s shields collapsed, portions of her hull crumpled like paper. The tractor field winked out suddenly, the battered Hlal veering away from her tormentor on an erratic, wobbling course. The Hiv'laposh turned to follow, her bow coming around to face the fleeing vessel with practiced ease.
"Disruptors fully charged, target distance ten thousand kellicams." Grimbek's fingers were poised on the fire buttons. La'ra's fang's were bared.
"Fire." The disruptors howled, and the Romulan ship on his viewscreen rocked under the impact of a flurry of emerald beams. Phasers followed, two azure beams tearing across the bird-like vessel's hull. The Hiv'laposh heeled to the right, then the left, lashing at her prey with her aft mounted phasers like a vulture harrying a dying animal.
La'ra watched the viewscreen, snarled. A glance at his tactical display told him the Llaekh-ae'rl was racing toward him at maximum speed. A brave Romulan, that one, but he'd be too late. His main phasers lashed at the Hlal once more. Then the disruptors were back online. At a normal charge this time, but it'd do. He barked the order to fire, and the green bolts once again pummeled the fleeing Romulan.
"Internal explosion on the Romulan vessel, sir." He looked to Leral. She seemed satisfied.
On his viewer the birdlike Rihansu warship began to bank sharply. The action turned into a slow spin. Small detonations announced the launching of escape pods. It was several seconds before an explosion ripped through her superstructure, her entire port side blasting itself into fragments, and a cheer erupted on his bridge as the Hlal spun away trailing plasma and debris. He grinned his hyenaish grin, letting the deep satisfaction in his belly wash through him. The bridge crew were still cheering raucously when Leral shouted for his attention.
"Llaekh-ae'rl is one hundred thousand kellicams distant and closing fast." The din died quickly. I detect four lifepods in our immediate area." He nodded.
"Same as before. Take disruptors off-line and go to maximum speed." He didn't intend to meet the 'Laughing Murder' with his shields almost nonexistent. "Helm, take us away from her."
One War Eagle with a brave but inexperienced Captain. It was a fight he could win. He glanced over the damage report, which scrolled across his screen. His ship was damaged but not badly. Nothing irreparable. He'd lost four men. But the fight would take time, and he'd spent too much of that fighting Romulans already. He looked to Ran'jar. The first officer nodded.
"Channel open." He said simply.
La'ra stood, looking at the onrushing Romulan ship on his viewscreen. A pretty ship, really.
"This is Commander La'ra of the Imperial Klingon Battlecruiser Hiv'laposh. Your friend is gone Sub-Commander. Care to dance blades alone?"
Long moments passed, and La'ra pushed a hope that the Romulan was too incensed to be logical back down into his belly. The fight would be glorious, but he had no more time to waste. The speakers remained silent.
"Romulan vessel has lowered her screens and disarmed her weapons, Commander." Leral's voice sounded ecstatic. Trembling with victory almost. La'ra couldn't help but smile. "She's decelerating and turning toward the lifepods."
"Shall we make preparations to escort her back to her territory, Commander?" Ran'jar's fangs were bared in a rare smile. La'ra shook his head.
"No, Lieutenant." Gor'all II was visible on his viewscreen, a distant globe of orange and black. The survivors had waited long enough. "I think we've got more important things to do."
- The End -
|Last modified: 02 Jan 2023