August 2011

Burden of Duty, Debt of Revenge

     Lieutenant Kavesh charged through the rapidly emptying corridors toward his battle station. Toward the end of the required three-minute battle-readiness time, which was the time it took the ship to fully man its weapons and other systems, it was remarkably easier to move, as most individuals were already at their posts. The captain had ordered everyone to stations when the ship stopped, but Kavesh had been given permission to leave his post and inspect a power coupling to the number-four coolant pump. He ran the twenty meters after the last bend in the corridor flat out; no one was left in it to get in his way. Panting heavily; he keyed in the nine-digit combination and the door to the port- side phaser battery control swung open to admit him. By the time the door had completed opening, he had his breathing under control and had smoothed the wrinkles from his uniform.
     He strode the three steps toward the battery commander's seat, posture erect, hands at his sides; as if appearing straight from an Academy review. Make it look easy, he thought to himself, and they'll follow your lead anywhere. He tapped the senior gunner on the shoulder to let him know he was back in charge, and dropped into his chair.
     The senior gunner reported. "Full power in the capacitors, phasers are energized. All weapons show green all the way across the board."
     Kavesh grunted. The situation was the same as when he left. "Has the number-four coolant pump settled down?"
     "Yes, Sir, it's been running smooth since you fixed it."
     "Very well."
     The gunner checked a few readings, "Request to unlock the gyros on weapon four."
    "Request granted," Kavesh replied, then noted with satisfaction the prompt appearance of the fourth weapon icon on his screen, signifying it was ready. "Senior Technician, notify the weapons officer that we are manned for battle stations; all weapons are on-line."
    "Aye, Sir," the technician replied, relaying the information and the acknowledgement that followed. The Weapons Officer on the Bridge had probably seen the icon flick back on, but positive confirmation that the phaser was ready and that Kavesh was back at his post was required.
    Kavesh busied himself checking weapon status, not because he didn't trust the subordinate seated in this chair previously, but simply because it was his job. The phasers were armed, but the telltales that reported the connection to the power grid remained dark. If he fired the phasers, he would have no energy to recharge them. He noticed a lack of traffic on a com channel and asked the Weapons Officer when they would have power.
    His response was quick, "When the warp engines are back on line."
    "Acknowledged. Request permission to run a few simulations while we wait," he asked, assuming they would be here a while.
    "Denied," was the equally quick response. "Action is imminent."
    Action is imminent? he asked himself. Why are the warp engines still shut down? He tapped at his console, calling up data from other portions of the ship. Plotting estimated enemy arrival at two minutes. ETA two minutes!
    He felt the vibrations in the hull, thanking fate herself that the warp engines were back on-line. Power surged through the starship, light blinked on Kavesh's panel, indicating power was available to rearm his phasers. He rechecked the phasers that had not been fired in days. He heard the forward phaser battery report its status and followed suit. Several seconds later the starboard battery called in the information also. Good old Kelar, he thought, referring to the starboard battery commander, always a few seconds behind everybody else. He remembered all the times at the Academy when Kelar would come up with the perfect answer, only after the simulation had ended, or recalled the exactly correct answer, minutes after he had completed an exam. At least he came up with the correct answers; some didn't do that. The amusing part, he had to admit to himself, had been watching Kelar pound the walls in frustration about getting only 94% correct on a simulation or exam.
   He shook his head and dragged it away from memories of Kelar's perfectionist problems and back to his weapons. He tapped at his panel again, paging through the various screens, marking the sensor displays of the phaser weapons. He noticed that the temperature on the number four weapon was already creeping up above the other weapons. He cursed, knowing that they had gone over that weapon four times already, looking for something, anything that could cause that problem. Nothing had been found. If that weapon goes down on overheating, the weapons officer will have my ass. He started to tell the technician for number four to monitor it closely, when he noticed the technician had already created a chart to track its data points on a trending basis. Good, spontaneous work, he thought, have to remember to use that as an example in his next promotion review.
    He flipped through the rest of the monitoring screens rapidly, expecting no problems and seeing none. He switched into gunnery mode, and inspected what each of his gunners were seeing and doing. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, he put the panel back into command mode, prepared to receive and relay targeting orders. Each order would be transmitted automatically from his command panel to the others, and he would speak it verbally in the compartment. In case of confusion, the auto transmitter had precedence over his spoken word, assuming he was more likely to verbally stumble than the computer was. His verbal order was a backup, in case the computer link failed.

    Kinzek studied the indications on his board, all indicative of no warp power. He turned to the engineering systems Bridge monitor and demanded, "Where is my power?"
    "On the way, Captain," he replied quickly. "The emergency jump start is proceeding rapidly. They are preparing to activate the warp bubbleŠ"
    Kinzek snorted and thumbed the toggle for the chief engineer's com. "I hear a bunch of nonsense from my Bridge tech, but not what I want to hear. How long until I have my propulsion back?"
    "Forty-five seconds, Captain."
    "Good, Captain out."
    He scanned the plot once more, looking for any sign of hope. With what was certainly a Federation heavy cruiser only seconds away, and his warp engines equally seconds away, this engagement was already off to a bad start. Although he had no doubt that he could defeat a single enemy heavy cruiser, he was equally sure the cruiser would cause him damage, as well as report his position to every Federation vessel within light-years. Heavy damage would make it nearly impossible to escape them; significantly lowering his chances of making it back to friendly territory.
    He could run, however distasteful that might be; that would greatly increase his chances of making it to the border. Unfortunately, the cruiser's sensors were capable of tracking him for great distances once they knew what they were looking for. This would enable the Federation to send warships to block his path, requiring him to fight engagement after engagement.
    His only viable option was to fight, and fight quickly. A long battle would play directly into the Federation's hands, which was what he expected the enemy to do. Kinzek would not allow that. He would close, not take time for long-range disruptor duels. By closing the range, he could utilize his overloaded disruptors and powerful phaser suite to kill the enemy as quickly as possible, then leave the area before reinforcements arrived. With any luck at all, whatever organized resistance lay ahead of him might be dispatched to this location after he had left.
    "Warp power is restored, Captain."
    "Raise shields," Kinzek responded, rising and walking around the circular Bridge, tossing out orders as he passed each position. "Bring ECM to 33%. Helm, turn us into the enemy, set speed at Warp 2.3. Weapons, charge disruptors with standard loads," he paused hesitating, "correction, one overload on each side. Engineering, stand by to divert reserve power on my command. Communications, update the log and fire off a microburst to the best-known station." This last came with a grim tone of voice, as if pronouncing their doom, even though it was standard procedure before any engagement.
    His flow of orders ceased, and he let their acknowledgments wash over him as his orders were executed one by one. His ship would be ready. Another glance at the display and then a sensor technician said it all.
    "Here they come."

    The ship dropped out of high warp, into the more energy conservative velocities that allowed combat. The streaking of the stars faded to nothing visible to the naked eye as the USS Arbela loped toward her prey. The enemy was still minutes away, the ship had dropped down to arm its power-hungry weaponry.
    Dunn snapped out orders and the Bridge crew leaped to obey. Perhaps hunched to obey might be more appropriate, he thought with a wry smile. In reality, most of them are just relaying my orders, delegating authority to their subordinates as they see appropriate. "Mark time to intercept."
    "At current course and speed of both units, three minutes, forty-one seconds to battle range Š mark."
    A light blinked on his armrest, he accepted the call. "Captain, the scatter-pack is loaded, ready to launch on your command."
    "Very well," he acknowledged, "I plan to hold the drone rack for defense. Those X-ships carry advanced drones that our phasers have trouble stopping, but any drone will kill them head-on." More information flowed in; phaser capacitors charged, photon loading started, on and on. All orders he had given, responses he had to understand and act on. A lull came; the next report, he knew from experience, would be the "photons ready to fire" statement from Guns, the weapons officer. A curious ambiguity settled over him, something he had never before experienced just prior to combat, when he was normally keyed up and ready to roll. He checked his watch quickly, still time enough. He pulled a small earplug out of his seat, inserting it deftly into his right ear. Normally used for "Captain's ears only" messages, it would work just as well for this purpose. He rummaged through the computer's memory, selecting and then playing the file he sought on a small display built into his armrest.
    Her face filled the small screen as she reached one hand to the side to adjust the pickup. The hand was withdrawn, and her face receded to a more normal distance. Smoke drifted behind her, several panels lay open, whether blown open or opened by repair personnel he couldn't tell. At least one stretcher-bearer team was at work, one individual giving first aid to the being on the stretcher, the other guiding the anti-grav pallet through the confusion. The ship rocked as long-range fire struck a nearly down shield. All this registered in his subconscious, his attention was focused solely on her. She was wounded, he could see a bloodstain on her uniform, or was that someone else's blood?
    She backed away from the pickup, and sat down in her chair, wincing as another blast rocked the little ship, shoving her into one of the armrests. So she was wounded then, he realized.
    "This is Captain Kessler of the starship Hipper," she began, her voice of surprisingly good quality even through the little speaker. "I apologize for the poor quality of this transmission; my com officer has been wounded. As I reported before, we responded to a distress call from convoy BX146. Upon our arrival, we placed ourselves between the marauder and the convoy, hoping to buy them enough time to escape. The Klingon crippled us and killed the last of the freighters. A well-placed scatter-pack has bought us a little time, but he has dealt with the drones and is pursuing us now. The data I am transmitting now, I think, shows how the raids in this area were, in fact, committed by one ship, and may help predict future attacks. We will attempt to transmit our sensor data to the end. Kessler, out." And then she was gone, her image replaced by the blank screen. He checked his watch again, quickly played the next message. It was her again; the time-and-date stamp had only changed by a few minutes; there was a small fire behind her; someone was spraying a small extinguisher at it, the fire sputtered and died. She was openly bleeding now, blood matting her hair and dripping freely down one forearm. "This is the Hipper. This is our last transmission; I am ejecting the log buoy now. Klingon Marines are on all levels of the ship; over half my crew are casualties. Evacuation procedures are in process. Ejecting the log buoy now." The screen went blank
.     Gone was his previous ambiguity. In its place was pure and simple rage and anger, hopefully tempered by his intellect. His mind's eye still saw her torn and broken body, adrenaline poured into his body. He became aware of the weapons officer repeating his statement.
    "Guns, say again."
    Several members of the Bridge crew were looking at him curiously. You never had to say things to the Old Man more than once during combat. The weapons officer looked confused, no doubt wondering what his captain had been watching. "Photons fully overloaded, ready to fire."
    "Yes, thank you. Engineering, divert the excess power to helm. Helm, take us up to Warp 2.6. Straight at him."
    "Aye, Sir," the helm replied, not asking questions or pausing to look at the captain, but curiosity plainly evident in his voice and mannerisms.