November 2011

Burden of Duty, Debt of Revenge

     Captain Kinzek watched the Federation heavy cruiser recede and marveled at her aggressiveness. The Fed had taken a pounding in the first weapons exchange. Surely her captain already knew he was not facing a standard D7. If not, he knows it now. But the Federation captain had spun his ship as rapidly as possible, and had come right back toward the Kagan, managing to hit him without exposing themselves to the Kagan's disruptors. Even more aggressively, the Federation captain had sent several Marine raids.
     Audacity is its own reward, he mused to himself. He took a risk, a risk I had not anticipated he would take, and so it paid off for him. Not again. It has been a long time since I have been surprised.
     "Hostile shuttle launch, speed Warp 1.8. It's coming straight for us."
     Kinzek nodded slowly, comprehension dawning. "Most likely a scatter-pack." A close battle pass, hit-and-run raids on the phaser mounts, and now this? With the damage to our phasers and phaser controls, Kinzek mused, he might have left my ship vulnerable to those drones. Bah... his plan had too many "ifs" in it. He didn't kill enough of my phasers.
     He did rough mental calculations. No. I can't guarantee the destruction of the scatter-pack at this range.
     "Has the Federation ship begun a turn?"
     "No, Sir, wait! Yes, energy surge indicative of a turn."
     "Which way, damn you!" Kinzek snapped, leaning forward in his command chair, barely restraining himself from leaping to the sensor console. Every muscle in his body was tensed, ready to explode.
     "Turning to starboard, Sir!"
     "Helm, turn to starboard, come to heading 096. We'll try to stay between the scatter-pack and the enemy ship, with our forward end facing toward him. We'll move parallel to the enemy course." Sudden cold chill.
     "Sensors, is that shuttle still coming at us? Still in seeking mode?"
     "Y-Yes, Sir, it is. Unconfirmed if seeking or piloted."
     He needs more training before he should be on my Bridge. At least the shuttle is still acting like a scatter-pack. Hopefully there's not another one waiting.
     "We'll drive straight toward the scatter-pack, and place it behind us with a starboard turn when it bursts. Our rear phasers operating in aegis should deal with those drones. If it hasn't burst, we'll target the shuttle itself. We will have our forward phasers and disruptors to deal with the Federation cruiser. If we are quick, perhaps we can avoid his photons. Understood?"
     The Bridge crew acknowledged in chorus. Kinzek continued, "Reserve power to disruptors, overload two on each side. Bring ECM to 100%."
     "Negative," the engineering technician said, "you already used the reserve power overloading the disruptors and reinforcing the shields in that last pass. I told you that the couplings were off-line and we could not recharge the batteries.
     Kinzek snarled at the insolence of the Cromarg. No junior officer ever said "I told you so" to his captain. Later, Kinzek snarled to himself, I have a battle to fight, and he was right.
     If there are two scatter-packs, it doesn't matter, he can only control six drones at a time. Besides, we will be close enough to the second to kill it before it releases. If the first is a fake, and another scatter-pack emerges, that will reduce our phaser attack, but that is the only surprise he can have left.

     "Gunner Korek reporting, Sir," the Klingon said as he entered the compartment, followed by a Cromarg technician. Kavesh recognized Korek, knew he was one of the Marines who had been cross-trained to operate the ship's weapons. The Cromarg also had Marine insignia, and Kavesh assumed he was a heavy weapons specialist from the landing force.
     "Take that panel," Kavesh ordered, "and I'll call Auxiliary Control to release our phasers to us."

     Captain Dunn watched as his scatter-pack, now slightly behind the Klingon and to his right, blossomed and the six tiny points of light streaked toward their target. He figured it out, got between us. Those Klingon cruisers are studded with phasers, so he'll have no problem letting his aft weapons engage the drones, while his forward weapons hit us.
    The Klingon continued his turn, angling toward them, and Dunn realized he needed to start turning too, if he was going to keep what remained of his photons in arc. "Helm, bring us to starboard. Continue the turn until we are on an oblique attack run toward the enemy." His XO stood beside him; Dunn could almost hear the man thinking. Turn to port, not starboard! Play for time. Let him deal with the drones, then come looking for us. Dunn snorted. "Weapons status."
    "One overload, two normal torps in the tubes. We've got four forward phasers left. The drone rack has been destroyed."
    "Reserve power?"
    "None left, Captain."
    "Damn. Energize both tractor beams. He'll probably launch some drones this time around. We'll catch two with tractors, burn the others down with phasers if we have to. ECCM to 33%. Coms, you haven't stopped broadcasting, right?"     "No, Sir. Everything we see is sent right back out again."
    "How long until help arrives."
    "Ten minutes, Sir."
    "All right. Anyone can survive for ten minutes, right?" There were a few nervous grins here and there around the Bridge at his attempt at humor. Probably just because some people felt they should laugh at any joke told by the CO.
    "Sir," came the quiet murmur of the executive officer, "break away, now. You cannot beat him. Stay out of overload range, stall for time, wait for help. You don't have to get us all killed to prove you loved her."
    "Shut up," Dunn snarled under his breath. I know he's right, he thought to himself, but the best way to keep the Klingon here is to stay engaged.
    He turned his attention back to the monitors again, sweat beading his brow in the tense atmosphere. His drones were closing rapidly with the enemy. They were moving faster and cutting across the corner created by his turn. Only a matter of seconds now, he thought. On the main screen, the points of light representing the drones closed with the target until they blurred with it. On an auxiliary monitor, set to a lower scale, the drones continued to close. Dunn turned his attention to the long-range visual; he could actually see the flare from the drones' tiny engines as they closed with the Klingon.
    Space seemed to flare brightly behind the Klingon; once, then twice, then the screen cleared and Dunn wasn't sure if all the drones had been destroyed, or if some of them had made it through. "Sensors?" he called.
    "None, Sir. He got them all."
    What did you expect? "Helm, hold your course, continue to adjust to try to stay out of reach of his offside wing phaser. No need to worry about the waist phasers now."
    They were still approaching at a high oblique, but that was flattening out by the second as the Klingon continued to turn toward them. "Guns, prepare to fire."
    "Weapons locked on target," the weapons officer responded, a dry edge of nervousness lining his voice. Like two freight trains on a collision course, Guns thought. Just a big game of chicken. Wonder who'll flinch first? Or blow up first?
    He glanced at his targeting monitors, wondering about the Klingon who commanded that ship, wondering at what level of tension would his flinch occur - if at all. He ran his gaze across the weapon panels he controlled. The weapons crews were keeping everything locked on target. He glanced over his shoulder at his Captain, hunched in his chair, uniform stained with sweat. He felt his own perspiration, when did the climate control fail? He saw a gleam of anger - no, hatred - in his Captain's eyes and face, knew that he wouldn't flinch, not from this one.

     The targeting data downloaded to his panel again, Kavesh forwarded it to his Marine gunner. He watched in the monitor as the other ship turned toward them. He felt his hands drifting from his controls, felt his body begin to sag. He had lost a lot of bloodŠ it would feel so good to sleep, to rest. He jerked himself back to consciousness with a spasm of willpower, tightening his hands on the controls. He noticed the computer had let the weapon drift off target; angry, he switched the computer into manual, cursing the unstable gyro, and lined the phaser on the target himself.
     The technician next to him stared, clearly concerned. "Lieutenant, perhaps you should seek medical attention. The Bridge could send someone to replace you."
     His vision blurred again, he forced his eyes back into focus. Perhaps the technician was right, perhaps he shouldŠ No! Here is my duty, here I will stay! He shook his head fiercely, not trusting his voice to serve him.
     The technician tried again, "Your dedication is admirable, however, I submit to you that with medical help, perhaps even from the medkit in this compartment, your efficiency might improve dramatically."
     Kavesh's teeth ground together, in the ancient anger-frustration reflex. Would the fool never shut up? "We have a target. We have our orders. We have weapons. We will use them." The Dunkar opened his mouth as if to continue the debate. Kavesh cut him off, one hand resting on the disruptor sitting next to him. "Monitor your panel." He tapped a finger on the disruptor. "Shut your hole, or I'll put another hole in you," he finished, with far more vehemence than he had meant, but it worked. The technician's mouth shut in a thin line, his head snapped back toward his panel. Kavesh turned his own attention back toward his panel, fiddled with the controls, adjusting the scale and upping the magnification. He saw the long black scars on the other ship; he grinned at the thought that some of those had been added by his battery. They were within the light of the primary of some system, half of the ship was brilliantly lit, its ivory skin glowing. The other half of the ship was cast in deep shadow, blacker than black. On the dark side, a damaged section still sparked occasionally. She continued to turn, and what started as an oblique run steepened into a flat-out charge.
     More orders flickered down from above onto his panel. "We've got them now," he said, slurring slightly. "Power setting to full. The engineers are going to shunt power to our remaining weapons. All weapons prepare to fire. The Captain intends to pass them on our port side to protect the weaker starboard shields." The Marine gunner, acknowledged with a predatory smile which Kavesh returned. In the bowels of the ship, circuit breakers opened, others closed and power flowed. The grid tapped its well of power for his weapons and Kavesh smiled again. He couldn't wait to send that energy to impact on the Federation shields, preferably her hull.
     The weapons officer messaged down to confirm he had gotten the power. Yes, he had. He could feel the power singing in the circuits beneath his fingers. The Federation vessel swept closer, the Kagan pulled to starboard. Kavesh was amazed at the Federation commander's courage and tenacity. In such an unfair conflict, the weaker opponent should have disengaged long ago. He relayed more information to the other gunner. "Your two wing phasers will most likely fire with the forward phasers and disruptors. I will monitor your actions, then fire the remaining waist phaser when it comes into arc. Understood?" A silent nod came from the Marine.
     Range was down to five kilikams now, and dropping fast. Destruction leapt from the Federation cruiser, as much as she could bring to bear after the beating she had taken. It wasn't much, but the Kagan rocked nonetheless, red lights flared on the weapons board as a disruptor and two phasers were taken off line. A split second later the remaining operational gunnery panel exploded in a shower of sparks, the gunner jerked backwards in his chair, then flipped over to land with a dull thud. One glance told Kavesh there was nothing to be done. He was another victim of a random electrical discharge, which actually caused more damage and fatalities then the phaser beam itself.
     Kavesh frantically typed in the commands to transfer the wing phasers to his board, even as the Bridge ordered the weapons fired. He slaved the controls to his panel, only to find the gunner had them in manual and they had drifted. He fought to see through the red haze of pain as he lined the crosshairs up on the target. "Port phaser! What the hell are you doing? Fire, damn you!"
     His hands twitched and two phaser beams lashed out, firing in the characteristic swept arc of phaser fire. One arc swept across the target, managing to land about half the energy on the target. The other beam swept over, most of its arc crossing the target silhouette, and Kavesh grinned in savage delight as his weapons fire scorched across the enemy hull, leaving death and destruction in it wake. He felt something wet on his forehead, realized it was hot blood running into his eyes. A piece of something must have grazed my head. I didn't even notice it.
     A second later the order came down to fire the remaining waist phaser through the down shield now in front of it. He cursed himself for forgetting and fought the computer through the control change maneuver, praying that the automatic tracker on the waist weapon had kept it on target. It had. There was blood in his eyes now, he was having trouble seeing the board, he tried to wipe it away and somehow managed to smear it into his other eye; then all over the panel beneath him. The Bridge was screaming at him again, he was going to lose the shot, another shield was coming around.
     His fingers touched the keys, and again death leapt at his command. The white-hot knife of the phaser beam tore its way across the enemy hull, leaving melted, twisted, glowing, sparking hull metal behind it. None of the energy was wasted in space, all was deposited squarely in the hull of the Federation ship. He heard the weapons officer howl in triumph just before he blacked out.