Cockpit, F-101C Heavy Fighter Never Again!
        First Lieutenant Oeteh Nesthep was a Ferkite, like most of the Arcturian military. Unlike most of his species, he was not a pacifist. He was willing to fight, and kill, to protect his homeworld and the Federation at large, although so far in this war he hadn't taken the life of another sentient being.
        He was off planet visiting Vulcan as part of a high school field trip when the Klingons had invaded in Y171. He'd joined the Arcturian Guard-in-Exile as soon as he was old enough in Y173, training as a fighter pilot. He'd spent the next five years flying from a fighter base on an Arcturian colony, then transferred to an auxiliary carrier on convoy escort duty, building up thousands of hours of flight time and even more simulator time. He'd never actually fired a weapon in anger; the fighting always seemed to miss his units. Even in the successful campaign to retake the homeworld, he hadn't had the chance to engage the enemy, although they'd shown up on his sensors a few times.
        "There goes Blood of my Brothers. Our turn next," said Sergeant Merek, the fighter's weapons operator sitting in the seat next to Nesthep. They weren't exactly friends, but they were both Ferkites and both were anxious to test their mettle in battle. A few seconds later, a light on Nesthep's head up display changed from red to green, and the tone that meant "launch" came through the audio feed on his helmet.
        Nesthep pushed the throttle forward, and Never Again! left the Galeron's launch bay, the brightness of the bay replaced by the darkness of space. To the starboard side of the fighter he could see the homeworld glistening with life in the distance. He banked to port, moving towards Buoy Nine in accordance with the preflight instructions.
        On the head up display, targeting information, linked from the Galeron and Rochefort, popped up next to the icons representing the enemy force; one D7W cruiser, one D7K, one D6 gunboat tender, a D5K, an F5W, an F5K, and an F5D. There were also six of the new gunboats, about which many rumors abounded. This struck Nesthep as a formidable force, but probably not enough to be a genuine invasion. They might well destroy all of the defenses, but they couldn't stay here, not with two Star Fleet battle groups, each more powerful than this squadron. The gunboats were leading the enemy formation, with the D7s and the D5 close behind. The tender was hanging back, and the frigates were covering the flank angled away from the planet towards the edge of the galaxy. Nesthep thought this was the direction that the Star Fleet squadrons were supposedly covering, towards Tholian space.
        "Galeron Squadrons One and Two, Planetary Bomber Squadron One," came the voice of the flight leader over the headset, "our orders from the admiral: we are to volley drones against the gunboats on my mark. You are then free to engage as necessary. Shielding Arcturia from any attack is our primary mission."
        "That doesn't sound so hard," commented Merek. Nesthep chuckled. "Select a target, Merek. Your choice of drone." Never Again! was carrying six type-1 drones, four on the wings and two in the internal bay. After quickly examining the data transmitted from the other fighters and the bombers, Merek painted the gunboat directly in front of them with the targeting icon. There was only one other drone from another fighter targeted on it.
        The gunboats were launching drones now. There was no warning tone; Never Again! wasn't a drone target, yet.
        "Prepare to launch on my mark," said the squadron leader. There was a two-second pause. "Launch!"
        One of the drones from the internal bay arched away, heading towards the target 80,000 kilometers distant. A split-second later, the gunboat in question fired a disruptor volley. One bolt passed by harmlessly, the second struck home. Never Again! rocked hard.
        "Skroje!" Nesthep swore. Strange thoughts flit through your mind in battle, he snarled silently. He banked hard to starboard to avoid further fire from the gunboat.
        "How bad were we hit, Merek?"
         "Not horrible, everything still works, but I thought those things were only supposed to have one disruptor!" said Merek.
        "Yes, that's what the briefing material said. They must have more than one model."
        A warning tone came over the audio. Drones inbound.
        Something changed in Nesthep's head. He was on instinct now; language ceased.

Bridge, Federation Large Auxiliary Carrier Galeron

        "Signal from the Star League, Sir. They have defeated a Klingon battle squadron and are heading here at maximum warp! The Yamamoto group is still under heavy pressure and remains engaged with a Klingon fleet. We also received a message from the fast light cruiser San Martin, it has been detached from sector reserve and is heading in this direction. Their ETA is ten minutes."
        "Did the Star League squadron give an ETA?"
        "No, Sir."
        "Well, ask for one!" she snarled, "and get me a direct link with Admiral Singh!"
        Seething with anger and, though she wouldn't admit it to herself, fear, Aphena turned her attention back to the tactical display. The Morkaln and Then'kkah were wrecks; the other ships were damaged, and about half of the fighters had already been destroyed. Galeron herself had taken shield damage from disruptor fire from the cruisers; another volley would penetrate the thin energy veneer that remained. In exchange, they'd destroyed two gunboats, damaged one, and had hurt the D5, but the rest of the Klingons looked to be in good condition. The frigates and the tender remained distant from the main fighting, although it looked to her like they were flanking around to hit the planet from the other side.
        "All units, fall back towards the space station and Arcturia," she ordered. "And by Fere's Sword, get me Admiral Singh!"
        "I am on the way, Guard Admiral Aphena," Singh said when he came on the circuit. "I see your force has been shot up pretty bad. Can you stop one more Klingon battle run?"
        "Will fight if try they will," Aphena answered, "but stop from bombarding planet the Klingons I cannot. Punish them can do I for battle run they if make." My civilians would not be in peril if you had done your job, she added silently.

Cockpit, F-101C Heavy Fighter Never Again!
        Sweat. I shouldn't be sweating. It's a constant 70 degrees with the flight suit. Why am I sweating?
        Bank left. Tone. ADD rattles. Drone destroyed. There's Blood of my Brothers. . .is that fire? No, plasma leakingŠhe's hit again, explosion, damnable Klingons, any POIS? Can't tell.
        Phasers. We're hit again. Still flying, thank Fer. Gunboat to port. Bank again. Fire phasers, Hit. His shield is still up.
        He's turning. I can out-turn him, stay on his tail. What is that F-16 doing??? He's coming directly at him, the Gatling spits, disruptors, explosion. . .no POIS.

        Phaser ready. Fire, Merek! Got through his shield that time.
        Tone again? From where?
        We're hit! But I still hear the drone tone! Sparks fly. . . fire. . Merek? What got us?. . .oh, a phaser from that cruiser.
        Computer is shot. Engines whine down, we're drifting. Display going dark ... where's that drone? It won't be long. No computer, no automatic ejection.
         "Merek, can you. . ." he turned to see why his copilot wasn't answering, but Merek was obviously dead. His chin was slumped to his chest, and most of the back of his head was gone.
        Time to go, he thought to himself as he pulled the ejection lever and felt the energy charge shove him clear.
Bridge, Federation Large Auxiliary Carrier Galeron

        "San Martin warping down to tactical velocity, Admiral, will be in weapons range in one minute. Star League reports their ETA is five minutes."
        Aphena grunted. The Klingons had the same data she had, and were gathering their forces to withdraw. Most of her force was smashed; the Galeron and Keob had moderate damage, but the Rochefort and both smaller auxiliary cruisers were destroyed. The space station was still there, although damaged, and most of the fighter and bomber force had been wiped out, but Arcturia itself had been spared; thank the Twin Deities.
        "Admiral Singh on the line, Sir."
        "Put him on," she practically spat.
        The human's face filled the main viewer. "Guard Admiral Aphena," he said. "Our ETA is less than five minutes. What is your situation?"
        You damn well know the situation, she thought. "Arcturian National Guard, most of destroyed," she replied much more calmly than she expected. "But planet, spared it is. Significant damage to Klingon task force, in exchange caused we have."
"I've ordered Captain Reynolds of the San Martin to provide all necessary medical support for your casualties, Admiral. I see from your data that the Klingons just jumped to high warp velocity. We will maintain our own velocity in pursuit of them."
        Aphena wondered if Singh was heading into a trap, or if there were more Klingons out there who could strike her homeworld. Better for Singh to let the Klingons go and stay here. Before she could express her doubts, Singh continued.
        "The Cannae and her squadron will be here within an hour, Admiral. They will provide protection for Arcturia until we are sure that the current threat has abated."
        She merely nodded in response.

POIS, near Arcturia
         The blue orb of Arcturia filled-half of Nesthep's vision. His POIS  was damaged, his HUD wasn't working, and he didn't know if he was in anything close to a stable orbit. He did know that the weapons flashes had stopped, and he could see an F-16 and two shuttles milling about. He decided it was time to activate the beacon. He pressed the correct button, and one of the comm panels lit up. At least that still works.
        It did not take long. "Arcturian pilot," he heard a voice over the audio comm system, "this is the Federation starship San Martin. We see your beacon and will beam you aboard in twenty seconds. Stand by."
        "Acknowledged," he said quietly.
        So, this was combat, he thought to himself. He briefly wondered how many Klingons his weapons had killed today. The pounding rush of battle was gone now, replaced with. . .what? Numbness? He wasn't sure. He did know that he did not feel the same as he did before the battle; something had broken loose inside of him. He wondered if he ever would feel the same again.
        He felt the energy of a transporter beam wash over him, and left his old self behind.