McGilland watched in amazement as six plasma bolts flew toward their sister ship. The range was long, but two of them still crashed into the rear shield of Guderian. The shield flared a bright fluorescent blue, and he could see fingers of plasma seemingly corroding their way through the defenses of O'Donnell's ship. The shield died and the frigate was rocked by the remnants of the energy blasts.
  McGilland reacted instantly. "Jones, cease fire. Green, hold both torpedoes and begin an overload cycle. Pearce, slow the ship just enough to allow us to overload both torpedoes. Jolandae, let Guderian know that we will be making a run with overloads. Look sharp, people. We need to hit them hard before they can rearm their heavy weapons. We won't get another chance like this. Let's make it count."
        Rommel slowed drastically as the photon torpedoes demanded huge amounts of warp energy. The speed of the Romulans suddenly seemed to double, but a closer check showed that they had not increased their speed at all.
  The moments seemed to stretch into eternity as he waited for the torpedoes to finish arming. At last Green indicated that they were ready. He ordered a turn into the Romulan cruiser, which was still headed directly at them, not seeming to care that its forward shield had been severely degraded over the course of the battle. Its captain must be sensing an opportunity to put an end to this battle and is allowing his eagerness to override his training. Or he is so used to our firing standard and proximity torpedoes that he is not considering the possibility that we might change our tactics?
      Either way, it did not matter. All that mattered was that the Romulans were still attacking and that the range was spinning down rapidly. Guderian staggered along barely twenty-five thousand kilometers behind them. He had S'Loden call out the range in ten-thousand kilometer increments. As he stared at the prow of the sleek and deadly SparrowHawk, he became acutely aware of the fact that all three of his forward shields were basically gone, and that the only thing between himself and the vacuum of space was the thin, super-tough hull of Rommel itself. But they were committed to this course of action.
  As they closed to within sixty-thousand kilometers of the cruiser, he could stand it no longer. All they have to do to spoil this attack would be to turn to port 60 degrees or so. It will be best to take the shot while they still have a weak shield to us.
"Jonesy," he paused, checking to see that Guderian was within overload range also. It was. "Jonesy," he continued. "Give them both barrels."
    "With pleasure, Sir." He saw her fingers gently press the twin photon torpedo firing controls.
  On the main viewscreen, the two torpedoes rapidly grew smaller, yet they seemed to cross the space to the SparrowHawk with a slowness that defied description. Then he blinked and the SparrowHawk was covered in flames from end to end. The conflagration grew as an overloaded torpedo from Guderian crashed into what was left of the Adversary's forward hull. The return phaser fire was desultory and ineffective.
       "Lieutenant Yoaak, put two transporter bombs between them and us, ten-thousand kilometers apart. Pearce, hard to starboard and accelerate as hard as possible. Put the number four shield to them as soon as you can. Green, hold off on charging weapons until we get some distance from them." He swiveled to face his two science officers.
  "Callaway? S'Loden, report." The two were already conferring over their instruments.
    "That cruiser is hurt bad, Skipper, but she's not crippled," Callaway said. "She lost a couple of torpedoes, but not the heavy one. She's down four phasers, at least, but she's still a combat-capable fighting ship."
"Guderian has also laid two transporter bombs, Sir," S'Loden reported. The Romulans have turned away and are moving around the far side of them, just out of the bombs' detection range."
       He nodded. The transporter bombs were just a method to get them some running room, but with the SparrowHawk only damaged and not crippled, their chance of stopping the Romulans was nil.
       Hope drained out of him. Well, we gave it our best shot. I guess sometimes, that's just not good enough. His only chance now was for a miracle, for something out of his control to happen in his favor.

   Tacunin bent over Parthek's headless body, her eyes and lungs burning from the acrid smoke that filled the bridge. Her arm burned from where it had been brushed by a tongue of flame and shrapnel from her exploding console. The bodies of half the bridge crew lay where they had fallen as the other half struggled to continue the fight. Around her, a damage control team fought to restore functionality to as many of the bridge systems as they could. Starships had considerable redundancy, but the damage this ship had taken was serious.
        She lifted her gaze to the still-functioning tactical display. The frigates were drawing away again, as their impromptu minefield had forced the three pursuing ships to go around or risk even more damage.
    She looked down at Parthek's head, which had been placed beside his body by one of the damage control technicians. She shuddered as she pondered the macabre look of surprise and pain that were still etched into its features. A wave of weariness washed over her as she thought about the futility of it all.
       "Major-Tribune," she turned as she was accosted by the Ante-Centurion that was the ship's communications officer. "Auxiliary Control was also hit. There were no survivors. The Emergency Bridge has reported in, but most of them are fighting a fire near the atomic power reactor. In any case, there are none there that are senior to you." The Romulan glanced down at Parthek's body, then back up at her. He raised his arm to his chest in the traditional salute. "What are your orders?"
     Her eyes looked past him as she returned his salute. The tactical display was still locked onto the two frigates, rapidly drawing away now. How could their torpedo fire have been so accurate? Has the Federation discovered some new method of fire control? It is a possibility that cannot be ignored. I must ensure that we pass this information on to Fleet Command.
     Major-Tribune Tacunin reviewed her options. Her ships were badly damaged, and by the time they completed repairs, the two frigates would have fully repaired their shields. At that point, we're back to chasing a pair of angry hornets who have shown they can out-shoot us. We already know the result of that.
      She could not break away and attack Federation support units; the frigates would cut her off and hit her at high warp. If she split up her ships to raid the support units, the frigates could not cut off all three, but they could combine to destroy any one of them, including the cruiser she now commanded, and then split up to cut off the other two ships.
     Abandoning pursuit and returning to base was unthinkable; she would be cashiered and executed.
  That left only one choice, to continue the pursuit, but not engage, and drive the frigates before her squadron. The frigates would not be foolish enough to turn and charge into fully-armed plasma torpedoes, so it would be a running stand-off. Eventually, more ships would arrive, or they would get close enough to the Federation support ships to make an attack before the frigates could cut them off. She could be patient.
  "Continue repair operations. Signal Mace and Cutlass. We have forced the Federation task force to retreat, and we will drive them out of the sector, exposing the flanks of both Federation combat groups, and all of their logistics. Reduce speed slightly, and let the range open, then resume full speed. Keep the ships pointed at them. Signal Mace and Cutlass to spread out to double the current separation, so that the Federation ships cannot make another turn back toward us without being trapped.
       "Signals Officer, when I have my report prepared, you will send it to Fleet Command, and they will send other ships to take advantage of our victory."
  "It shall be done Major-Tribune. Glory to the Emperor." He turned to do his duty. She watched him walk away before repeating the words softly into the air behind him.
  "Glory to the Emperor."
       Rommel slowly eased up to the base station's docking port, a small tug helping to guide the ship into place. Somewhere, behind them, a light cruiser and a destroyer had forced the Adversary and her consorts to back off, but a convoy had been shot up by another Romulan ship, and Romulan Marines had landed on a colony only two hundred parsecs away.
    The base station was using one of its tractor beams to dock Guderian to another pod. The base station was an older design, and was part of a second line of defenses that stretched across this sector of space.
        Of course, if we are docking here, that means that all the battle stations that make up the first line of defense have probably been destroyed, or are under siege, Smith thought.
        He was only half-watching the complicated docking operation. The other half of his attention was reserved for the playback of the battle he was watching and listening to on his PADD.
  I can't understand this. I have an amazing story, and I am still alive when to all rights, I shouldn't be. Yet, I still have a feeling that the neighborhood bully took all my toys.
    Then he realized what was bothering him. During the trip back from the battle zone, the full extent of how badly Star Fleet was being beaten and how far they had already been forced back despite, what he was now convinced were their best efforts, had become clear.
        If the average citizen became aware of how badly the war was going for the Federation, he had no doubt that the UFP government would be suing for a separate peace on very unfavorable terms with the Romulans by the end of the month.
He had no illusions about what kind of overlords the Romulans would be either. The three ships had pursued them with a single-mindedness of purpose that he had found frightening. He had no doubt that they would be harsh and brutal masters.
There must be some way to help drum up public support for Star Fleet. He paused, deep in thought. An idea came to him. Perhaps if I talk to some of my contacts in the trivideo industry, I bet they can crank out a patriotic documentary-drama about this battle in no time. He grinned to himself as the plot outline sprang to life in his head. Now he had a story with a purpose, and a screenplay would net him ten times his salary as a reporter. Yes, he had a story.
A story about two men that are masters of maneuver. A story about their veteran crews and the ships that they drive. Two ships that were themselves named after military men of legend. Guderian, the father of panzer theory, and Rommel the Desert Fox!
       A story about... The Magnificent Panzers!