March 2010

Shield of the Federation
by Randy O. Green
Part four of six

Jankae coughed hard, the fumes from the smoldering electronic consoles of half the bridge workstations burning his eyes. The last enveloping torpedo had taken the number two and three shields completely down and the other four shields were in tatters. The bridge had taken some damage also, but not enough to force him to relocate to auxiliary control.

"Captain, we have damage reports coming in from all over the ship."

Jankae glanced back at Smith, who was staring down at his console. "We received most of our damage through the number two and three shields. They have both failed completely. Warp engine output is down twelve percent, we have minor damage in the crew quarters, and we lost one tractor mount and the drone rack. Both defensive phasers and a forward phaser have been destroyed."

"Damn it. At least we didn't lose a photon, not that we've got any use out of them so far." He hated losing the drone rack and the heavy phaser, but at least he still had the scatterpack. Now if he could just get the Romulan to stay still long enough to employ his heavy weaponry.

"Captain, the Romulan is cloaking!" Klahish excitedly announced. Jankae sat up straighter in his chair and looked back at Smith, wonderingly. Why is the Romulan cloaking? Are the Sky Fathers granting my wishes?

"The Genghis has arrived, sir," Klahish sheepishly reported. "I was so focused on the Romulan we were fighting that I neglected to continually scan for incoming ships." Jankae started to reprimand the young Tellarite, but his XO beat him to the punch.

"Let that be a lesson, Lieutenant. Always continue scanning. You never know when someone playing for the other team will make a fashionable entrance." Jankae nodded in approval at Smith's words, even though he was unsure what the man meant by "fashionable entrance." As long as the Tellarite understood the underlying message, he didn't care how many colorful colloquialisms the human used.
"Do we still have a good lock on the Romulan ship Lieutenant?" Jankae asked.
"We do sir, wait, no, he just decreased speed again and we lost our lock-on." Jankae nodded. The cloaked yo-yo was an old Romulan tactic.
"Helm, circle the Romulan's position as close as possible. XO, open a channel to the Genghis. Let's get their report. Also, let's have the remaining tractor beam ready for the Romulan when he comes back up. We should be able to pound him to scrap metal before he fully uncloaks. Then we can drop the tractor, weasel and avoid his plasmas."
"Captain, the Genghis reports that the other two Romulans will arrive in two minutes," Smith informed him.
"Captain, scans indicate the Genghis is also missing a lot of shields." Klahish reported. Jankae nodded approvingly. The lesson on scanning had apparently been learned well. "No internal damage however."
"Good." He looked back at Smith again. "XO, get a damage control team on the warp engines. We'll need all the power they can provide shortly." Then he turned to his weapons officer. "Arnold, continue to hold the photons as overloads. At the first sign of the Romulan uncloaking, slap him with the tractor."
He settled back in his chair trying to collect his thoughts. Have I planned for every contingency? But he only had a moment's reprieve for his thoughts.
"Captain, the two Romulan ships are approaching tactical combat range," Klahish announced. "They're dropping out of strategic warp now. Range, two hundred seventy-seven thousand kilometers, speed warp three."
"Detecting a coded transmission from the cloaked ship Captain," Klahish spoke.
"Ready people." Jankae warned.
Abruptly, a red light starting blinking on Arnold's weapons console. Jankae saw it almost as soon as Arnold did.
"Sir! We've lost communications with the photon torpedo room! Computer and fire dontrol overrides aren't working either! We have no way to fire our torpedoes!"
Jankae's reaction was instantaneous. "XO, get the nearest available damage control team there, now! We need those photons ready to fire. Then take over Arnold's position. Arnold, head for the torpedo room. I want you there yesterday."
A chorus of ayes answered him. He leaned forward, intently watching the tactical display as Arnold rushed out and the turbolift doors closed behind him. Arnold had just finished a tour in the torpedo room and he knew the young lieutenant would be able to handle whatever was happening down there. Seconds later, Smith moved past him and assumed Arnold's station. As he walked past, he informed Jankae of the damage control team's findings.
"Sir, Damage Control is reporting that leaking coolant from the destroyed phaser seeped into the photon torpedo room. The fumes incapacitated the torpedo crew, and destroyed the override circuits from central fire control. They're sending the survivors to sickbay now."
"Get the backup torpedo crew in there as soon as possible. Arnold will need the help." Jankae knew that the backup crew, junior personnel who watched the station on the night shift and worked in damage control during battle, were not up to the standards of his regular crew. They will have to be good enough, he thought to himself.
Then Jankae froze, staring at the tactical display. The Sparrowhawk was uncloaking!
"XO! Tractor!" He managed to yell. He watched as the XO engaged the tractor controls.
"Unable to attach tractor, Captain." Smith informed him. Jankae's eyes went to the screen and he realized why. As soon as the Sparrowhawk had begun to uncloak, it had launched a wild weasel shuttlecraft.
"XO, target the number five and six phasers on the weasel. Fire!" Twin beams of destructive energy lashed out and destroyed the shuttle, but the damage had been done. He would not be able to tractor the Romulan before he fully uncloaked.
A sinking feeling bloomed in his stomach. The Romulan had fought beautifully, stymieing his best efforts at every turn. Now when it had seemed that it was about to be their turn to dish out some damage, the Romulan had again pulled the perfect counter. He could again feel the pressure of command upon his shoulders. The lives of his crew were his responsibility. The weight of it threatened to drown him.
He knew he had a choice. He could pop a weasel and ride out the storm of plasma torpedoes the Romulan was surely about to launch his way. But if he did that, the Romulan would be able to accelerate and attack. He would be facing the ballet again. With the arrival of the Genghis, they might fare better against the three Romulan ships than they had until now, but there was no certainty that they would do so. And then the wolves would be free to complete their mission.
He straightened his shoulders with a snarl. Best to let this end now. If being the shield of the Federation required the sacrifice of himself and his crew, then so be it.
"XO, as soon the residual effects of the wild weasel are gone, tractor the Romulan. I don't want him going anywhere until Arnold and Tasrt get their shot."

Antonius Terralis smiled. The Federation Captain had not been expecting his shuttle. The smile lessened when the shuttle was destroyed. He knew the residual ECM of the electronics shuttle would offer some protection for a short time, but he would still be under the nose of the cruiser when the effects dissipated.
Four phasers hit the number two shield, but the shield held - barely. He waited for the hammer blows of the light cruiser's heavy torpedoes to fall, unconsciously hunching his shoulders. Seconds passed. No hammer blows fell. Slowly the smile returned to his face. Undoubtedly the cruiser was suffering a targeting malfunction that prevented them from firing their heavy weapons! With the thought came action.
"Vettia, accelerate to warp three as soon as possible. Damone, launch the pseudo heavy torpedo, and then the real one. Then launch the other port torpedo. I want to save the starboard torpedo for the destroyer." An odd thought struck him and he glanced again at the tactical display showing the damaged light cruiser now identified as the Groton, and the on-rushing destroyer.
"Rugelion, contact the Rapier and the Sling. See if they learned anything out of the ordinary about their target." He watched as his First Officer contacted the two ships and queried them. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the tactical display fill with plasma launches from his ship. He smiled to himself as the torpedoes, real and fake, sped toward the Federation ship. A moment later, Rugelion turned to face him.
"Major-Commander, as per your orders, they employed ballet tactics. They never approached close enough to ascertain the ship's name or to verify its weaponry."
Antonius Terralis nodded slowly. No matter. He didn't mean to approach close enough to the destroyer to suffer the fate of getting plastered with four overloaded photons.
Then the Furious shuddered. They slowed drastically as a tractor beam flickered out from the Groton and grabbed them. He was almost thrown from his command chair, but his Romulan strength saved him.
He sat there for a second, stunned. He had been outmaneuvered again! Unpleasant memories of the privateer raid abruptly forced their way to the surface of his consciousness. Shaking his head furiously, he tried to force the unwanted thoughts back down into the dark recesses of his mind, but they remained stubbornly. Long seconds passed as he wrestled with his inner demons. He heard his crew begin to stir restlessly around him but still he fought his mental battle. Finally, he cleared his thoughts and was able to act, but he instinctively knew that it was too late now to avoid the second Federation ship's attack, as the destroyer had closed to within eighty thousand araterreks. Within overload range of the photon torpedoes that he hated and feared so much.
"Rugelion, dump the batteries into negative tractor. If that is not enough, divert reactor and impulse power. Damone, launch the last torpedo. If necessary, we'll blow the tractor mount off. We've got to break free"
Then he looked back at the display screen, just in time to realize the truth of his words.
The Federation destroyer was launching plasmas.