The flotilla of gunboats had found their prey. A Seltorian frigate had taken up picket duty for the Seltorian area control ship and the Guardian's battle staff had decided that it needed to be destroyed or forced away from their line of approach. With it safely out of the way, they should have just enough time to sneak in and launch a massive strike against the carrier group before the Seltorians re-established their picket line.
     A picket's job was to screen against an enemy approach, and to warn the forces behind it of incoming strike forces. It was supposed to blunt the force of enemy thrusts if possible, and escape before being destroyed. It was not glamorous work. It was a dangerous and lonely duty that had seen the Tholians and Seltorians lose many ships and many lives in their internecine warfare. Today was no different for the Seltorian frigate. It fought bravely, but after taking heavy damage, its commander elected to leave the field of battle to the victorious Tholians, rather than suffer the inevitable loss of his ship and crew.

     The patrol boat settled into place to wait. Throughout the ship, Tholians bobbed up and down in the zero-gravity, restrained only by the web mesh of their acceleration harnesses and the instinctive use of their gravamagnetic organ. Despite their fatigue from the long mission in cramped quarters, all of them were poised for action. They knew that they were far behind enemy lines, and the slightest delay in their reaction time might have dire consequences for themselves and the fighters that they were here to support.
     Lieutenant Prime Asras Firnx checked his passive scanners for the tenth time. They still showed nothing but the nearest rocks in the asteroid field. He could see nothing of the fighters or the other patrol boats.
     He had placed himself at the bottom of the U, with several fighters spread out near him. He had placed the other Fi-Con near the top of the U close to the other set of fighters. If an overwhelming force of Klingons or Seltorians showed up, the two of them would attempt to pick up their fighters as quickly as possible before they had to leave. Of course, just about any force that shows up could be classed as overwhelming, he thought sarcastically. He was not sanguine about their chance of success.
     Firnx was still quite young by Tholian standards, but he had a promising naval career ahead of him. While the rest of the crew was mainly composed of technical officers and civilians doing their Turn service who would leave the military as soon as possible, he had already decided to build a career there. He had been assigned to Fi-Cons because he had a tendency to think outside of the box, something that was often needed in testing new systems. He was also something of a maverick and the other officers had sent him to the Fi-Con to get him out of the way until he matured.
     To Firnx, this assignment was just another stepping stone in his career progression, albeit one with a greater risk of his being killed in action than almost any other duty. The only duty he thought that might have a higher risk than flying in patrol boats would be piloting a fighter.
     All was quiet. He tried to make small talk with his Marine navigator, but the other Tholian was in no mood for conversation. Firnx gave up after a few, desultory attempts and turned his attention to his scanners. The other two Tholians, the weapons officer who guided the gunners for the ship's two phaser mounts, and the sensor technician, were busy with their tasks. He checked again to make sure that the fighters were still not showing up on his boards, and the other patrol boats were invisible also. The asteroid field was making hash of his passive scanners. If the Seltorian FCR was indeed making a supply run to the rally point, it should be having similar issues. It would have a rude awakening when they all activated their engines and electronics systems.
Even with the thought, a light began blinking on his passive scanners. We have a contact, but how many and how big are they? He twisted a few controls, and waited for the contact to get closer. The distance rapidly narrowed until he could tell that it was just one ship. It was too far away to tell how big it was, but if it continued to move to the rally point, they would soon be able to tell what class it was.
     He bobbed up and down in his harness with excitement as the ship drifted to a stop near the rally point. It was deep within their snare now! He waited long moments until the sensor technician reported that the enemy ship had launched a shuttle that was moving to the asteroid the rally point was located on. The technician also reported that he had detected transporter activity. With a high-pitched snarl, he activated ship to ship communications and ordered the trap sprung. Almost as one, the Tholian fighters and patrol boats came to life and began to accelerate toward their hapless target, weapons primed for combat, unlike the Seltorian. He was sure of that. While the bug might have his phasers charged in case he had to destroy a stray asteroid, he would not have taken any other actions that were a normal part of preparing for imminent action, such as preparing special mission shuttles.
     Firnx jammed his own throttles forward and moved to engage the Seltorian. The Seltorian commander was no coward however and the nose of the FCR swung straight at them. Evidently its commander had decided that this point in the U was the weakest and was going to attempt a breakout over the carcass of Firnx's boat. Firnx checked the range again and realized that the Seltorian was now close enough to discriminate that he was not the heavily armed patrol boat that they had hoped to portray. They have no fear of me.
     The range spun down. He considered his options. He would have to weather at least one Seltorian volley and hope the fighters could engage before the Seltorian left them hopelessly behind. But any phaser fire they expended on him would be less phaser fire directed at the fighters. He activated the intercom.
     "Brace for evasive maneuvering." He tightened his battle harness as he clicked the intercom off. He quickly programmed the battle computer to begin the random movements that would make his boat harder to hit. He knew that it was unlikely to make all of the Seltorian weapons completely miss, but it should certainly decrease the amount of damage they would take. All he needed was the damage to decrease enough to allow them to survive. As he programmed the computer, he reduced the ship's speed also. He would need the power to execute the trap. He felt the navigator beside him stir.
     "Should I save battery power to reinforce shields?"
     He considered his reply for just a second. Reinforcing shields was not part of his plan.
     "No, save it for tractor." He sensed the other Tholian's incredulity and noted the streaks of orange that flashed through the navigator's semi-translucent body. Firnx flicked the switch that told the computer to begin the erratic maneuvering he had programmed in. The boat jerked to the side. If it had not been for the webbing, he would have been slammed into the side of the cockpit. The abrupt movements continued as the battle computer interjected random movement vectors into the ship's base course. In his cockpit view window, the Seltorian FCR grew huge. Behind it, the other three patrol boats were closing fast.
     "Fire our phasers," he ordered the weapons officer. The boat's maneuvering would degrade their fire considerably, but he hoped to goad the Seltorian commander into firing before they got to point-blank range. He heard the two phasers fire, and two beams of energy rushed out from his craft to brush against the forward shield of the FCR. The shield flared as it absorbed the energy of the phasers. In response, no less than seven phasers struck back at them as the Seltorian fired everything it had.
     The forward shield flared and died as the violent energy streams crashed through them. Again, he was tossed hard against his webbing as the Fi-Con rocked from the violent impact of the phaser beams. But even as he was flung, he knew that the Seltorian had not done enough damage to destroy them or to escape the trap he had set.
     "Severe hull damage, both phasers destroyed, one fighter mech link blown off, Sir," the sensor officer reported. Firnx reached up and cut off the switch that governed the evasive maneuvers. The random movements stopped completely.
     "Activate tractor. Put half of our power into it, and if you need to, use all reserve power to maintain the link."
     "Affirmative. Activating tractor," the sensor officer replied.
     A fuzzy blue line of magnetic energy sprang into being between the two spacecraft. Firnx felt a slight shudder as the inertial dampeners managed to keep his boat from coming apart at the seams. Both his boat and the FCR slowed significantly. His eyes flared and his heart leapt. The trap is sprung! Now I must see if we can hold the beast long enough for it to be cut down. He turned the boat to face his down shield away from the FCR, simultaneously decreasing speed. He would maintain just enough headway for tactical warp maneuvering, put half of his power into reinforcing the facing shield, and use what was left to hold the tractor as long as they could before the Seltorian broke it.
     "Feeding you power. Keep the tractor link for as long we can." He tightened his web strapping some more. "I'll keep a strong shield to them, but I don't know how many more hits we can take before we lose both tractor mounts.
     I hope the fighters hurry, Firnx thought. This is going to get cold.

     If Orrna hadn't been so busy, she would have gasped in amazement when the patrol boat tractored the frigate, but she was busy accelerating as hard as she could. Behind her, the other pilots followed suit. He won't be able to hold the bug for long, Orrna knew. We have got to make our shots count.
     They were almost there when the FCR fired again. Evidently the bug had decided that he stood a better chance of blowing the tractor mounts off the Fi-Con then he did of breaking the tractor beam with negative tractor energy. The bug captain knew that to be caught at low speed in this kind of battle was certain death.
     The Arachnid's tractor beam winked out. Orrna saw that it wasn't because of damage to the tractor mounts, even though damage over the rest of the ship was extensive. More than likely, it was due to a lack of power. The Fi-Con floated dead in space; both engines were wrecked. She grimaced. There went my ride home. The FCR accelerated and tried to turn away. Too late, vile traitors.
     The supply boats arrived along with the other Fi-Con. The Fi-Con hung back a little, but both supply boats made a pass across the front of the FCR firing their two phasers as they went. Every little bit counts.
     Orrna knew that there was no possible way the phasers on the FCR could have recycled yet, so she took her flight right across the nose of the enemy frigate. She watched for the tell-tale sign of a transporter bomb materializing ahead of them but detected none. She had the other fighters spread out a little bit just in case. As they crossed the nose of the FCR, she turned back hard into the ship and the other fighters followed her in sequence. She pressed the twin firing studs of her phasers as the ship filled her view. She saw a slight flare as the weakened front shield collapsed. Then her phasers played across the hull of the enemy ship. Behind her, the other seven fighters opened fire also. Even the electronic warfare fighter joined in.
     The frigate seemed to stagger as the phaser fire from the fighters trashed it from stem to stern. Atmosphere poured out in a steadily crystallizing stream of gas from dozens of holes as fires raged unchecked throughout the ship. Debris, including the bodies and pieces of dead and dying Seltorians spewed out also. Orrna could see that the engines had holes in them bigger than her Spider, but they were still generating energy, and the ship continued to struggle on. She hauled back on her controls.           The fighters had a higher speed now, and there was no way the Seltorian could keep them off of the downed shield.
     As she pulled around back in front of the wounded ship, she saw the surviving Fi-Con pull up beside the drifting Fi-Con and begin docking procedures. She knew that they would have to scuttle that one, because there was no way it was going to make the long trip back. Which means four of my pilots will be stuffed in there too.
     They made one more pass across the nose of the frigate, phasers spraying the sides of the ship. The ship's last phaser spit fire at them as they did so, and she heard a second section pilot report that he had taken damage. Sounds like we have a volunteer to ride inside the Fi-Con on the way back.
     The FCR was drifting. Orrna ordered her pilots away from the ship, fearing that they would be caught in an explosion if they were too close. By now, the Fi-Con had evacuated all the survivors from the damaged patrol boat. It turned and began to fly toward them, ordering her and three of the other pilots, including the EW fighter, to prepare for the landing procedure. A streak of guilty pleasure flashed across her. At least she could tell the other pilots that she had been ordered to land. This was standard doctrine. As the most experienced pilot, she would be of the most use if the Fi-Con had to launch the fighters during an ambush on the way home.
     The two supply boats made two more firing passes at a respectable distance from the hulk of the FCR. As she felt the gentle tug of the Fi-Con's tractor beam as it grabbed her, she had to avert her eyes from the wreck as it blew up, its commander deciding that he did not want to take the chance of becoming a Tholian prisoner. We don't have the environmental chambers for prisoners anyway.
     They scuttled the damaged Fi-Con. By the time they were finished, four fighters had been landed and the other four pilots had performed an emergency EVA and were safely inside the overcrowded Fi-Con. As Orrna felt the Fi-Con begin the acceleration to strategic warp under her, she gave one last glance around her and fervently hoped that she would not have to see this part of space again.