September 2011

Burden of Duty, Debt of Revenge

     Captain Kinzek watched the speed of his ship climb, a sight he always enjoyed. Especially in this ship, he thought. This ship accelerates faster than anything I've ever seen. He knew the additional power and maneuvering capability of his vessel had been hard earned, and had taken years of research. A full scale redesign of the old engines had been necessary. But what a return on that investment!
     "Helm, maintain our turn as tight as possible as our speed increases."
     His helmsmen acknowledged, and he momentarily felt an increase in the ship's turn rate, a minor fluctuation in the ship's gravitational compensation system. It steadied itself out again within a few seconds, and the deck seemed flat once more.
     "Engineering, status report."
     The Bridge engineering technician responded instantly, having anticipated this order. "Warp power at max, parameters acceptable, new couplers are stable, batteries at 100%."
     "Excellent. Weapons, report status."
     "Phaser capacitors are full, disruptors armed as you specified; one overload each side, the rest are standard shots. Drone racks report empty."
     "Very well," Kinzek replied. He knew all too well that his stockpile of drones had been exhausted a week ago.
     "Captain, we have a problem," the engineering technician reported.
     "What is it?" Kinzek asked.
     "The batteries are fully charged, but the power couplings to recharge them are off-line. We had to disconnect them while replacing the flux couplers. It will take time to fix this."
     "Very well," Kinzek said, "tell the chief engineer that I want that fixed in five minutes." No point in calling him myself, but this will be explained to me after we are done here.
     Kinzek studied the plot for a moment, noting the Federation heavy cruiser still boring straight in. He should turn off any minute. All he wants to do is maintain contact. If he stretches the battle out long enough, he'll win. The Federation ship continued to close, Kinzek's brow furrowed in thought. What am I missing? Why does he continue to close?
    "Signals," he snapped, "what enemy communications have you detected?"
     "Broad spectrum, omni-directional," was the quick reply. "He's reporting our position continuously."
     "No surprises there," said the executive officer. Such a contact report would be standard doctrine for every fleet in the galaxy.
     The technician continued with a puzzled note in his voice. "Oddity! He's continuously broadcasting sensor data."
     That was odd. A ship in combat would normally broadcast a contact report, followed by periodic updates as the battle progressed, but a continuous feed was rare. It consumed power and clouded scanners, and most of the data would be duplicated continually, instead of just sending changes or new data. This was odd. Maybe he's just scared, Kinzek thought, afraid he'll be destroyed before one more fact can get sent. Or maybe his admiral is scared and ordered this. No matter.
     "Target is confirmed as a heavy cruiser of the sixteen hundred series," the weapons officer reported. "One of the oldest heavy cruisers, probably stuck on rear-area security. We can take him."
     "Of course we can," Kinzek replied, "but even the sixteen hundreds were updated to the seventeen hundred standard before the war. If he gets lucky with his photons, and scores four hits, he can hurt us."
     "No one would call you a coward for breaking contact," the executive officer said. "We need to get out of here before more ships show up. This has got to be the heaviest ship around here, and that means he's the flag for a whole squadron, probably the middle of their search line. The rest are, no doubt, closing in on our flanks."
     "No one will say I was burnishing my sword if I destroy this ship before we leave," Kinzek said. He already knew the situation. The Federation now knew where he was, and whether he was being hunted by random patrols or a concerted effort by an entire fleet, the Federation task was now easier. This cruiser was not a real threat. Kagan could easily outrun a conventional cruiser, leaving it to follow in his wake. He wouldn't have to fight this ship in a later battle unless something went very wrong. But Star Fleet's efforts to track his ship would not get any easier if Kagan stayed here just long enough to destroy this cruiser, and a kill was a kill.
     "Accelerate to Warp 2.45. Engineering, reserve power to weapons and electronic warfare. Weapons, overload two more disruptors, one port, one starboard. ECM to 66%. We must assume the arrival of Federation reinforcements at any moment. We must destroy this enemy as quickly as possible and disengage before we are tied down in a multiple-ship engagement." An X-ship was more than capable of winning against a ship of the same size, but several conventional ships could be a problem.
     The weapons officer frowned sharply at this, an unending series of engagements sounded like Valhalla to him. The Captain was sure the gesture was an unconscious one, but attempted to explain anyway. "A never-ending series of engagements that will no doubt have one end, the loss of this ship for the Empire. This ship is the future, and is worth far more than a few victories. Her successful conclusion of this mission will undoubtedly mean more deep raids, while her loss might make the admiral reluctant to use other X-ships on such raids. Those raids are vital to keeping Star Fleet from massing its strength against the border defenses." This seemed to mollify the weapons officer; he had seen first hand what this ship was capable of, knew that enough like her could win the war. He also knew there were those who felt so much money expended on one cruiser, no matter how powerful, was still a bad bargain. He knew now they were wrong, and, setting his lips in a grim line, turned back toward his panel, determined to prove this ship was better than her price tag suggested.
     Good, the Captain thought, one potential problem solved. He noticed the Federation ship was still coming straight at them, understood now that the enemy's confidence stemmed from other forces en route.
     Still, he is behaving almost recklessly for a human. Perhaps he is an Andorian? That would explain much.

     The senior technician nudged his elbow, gesturing toward his panel when he had Kavesh's attention. The temperature of the #4 weapon had continued its climb, was now hovering slightly below problem levels. Kavesh whispered an oath, and mentally shouted a string of them. The technician spread his hands, as if to say, what can we do about it? "Keep an eye on it."
     "Aye, Sir," was the technician's reply.
     Kavesh thought for a moment, "Try cutting in the backup coolant pump."
     The technician shook his head. "We've tried that. Doesn't matter which pump is in service, we still get this problem occasionally."
     "No. Try putting both pumps in service at the same time."
     "We haven't tried that ... it's not designed for that, but maybe" the technician trailed off, leaning over his panel as he made the appropriate adjustments. As the man had said, the system wasn't designed for this, and running both pumps required manually programming out the interlock that turned one off when the other came on.
     The senior technician nudged Kavesh, who had to thumbprint an authorization for the change to the computer program.
     Kavesh turned his attention back to his screen when he saw a red blinking light on top of his panel, the signal for incoming orders. The targeting data flickered onto his screen, and he mused at the formality of it. There was only one other ship, who else would he fire on? Nevertheless, it did contain relevant information. He read off the verbal backup to his crew as his computer relayed the information to their panels. "First pass. Port weapons four, five, and nine, fire at enemy vessel on command if you have it in arc. Weapon eight, hold fire, repeat, hold fire. You have the privilege of being the point-defense reserve."
     The gunners acknowledged their targeting orders one by one, and tossed a few good-natured barbs toward their defensive comrade. More data flickered down. Kavesh interrupted their horseplay, "The enemy is closing, still on an oblique run, estimated weapons exchange in fifteen seconds. Focus on our orders."
     That quieted them down as they triple-checked weapon settings, slipping quickly into their professional combat mode. "Weapon four, target in sight. Range; eleven kilikams."
     "Weapon five also holds target."
     "Hold fire until ordered," Kavesh reminded them.
     "Hold until ordered," they both repeated simultaneously. Weapon nine was still unable to bear on the enemy. He would have to react quickly, as his order to fire would probably come as soon as the enemy crossed into his field. Kavesh toggled through his screens, good, the senior gunner was monitoring the overall tactical situation. Gunner nine was maintaining his weapon at the most likely point of entry of the enemy into his arc. Gunner eight was scanning for targets in case a fighter or another ship was approaching.
     Time seemed to slow as the two ships closed; the seconds ticking by on the chronometer seemed to drag themselves onto its digital display. His fingers were working madly as he flipped through the different screens, monitoring his gunners' targeting, the weapon data, and the overall tactical situation. A small red light flickered on the top of his panel. His eyes flashed toward the orders screen as he spoke, "Attention to orders! Weapons one and two, fire!"
     The two gunners repeated back his orders even though they had already pressed their fire keys when the red lights on their own panels flashed. Kavesh's visual screen glared out for a fraction of a second, showing nothing but bright light as both ships exchanged fire at what amounted to melee range in starship combat. The Kagan shook as the Federation weapons rocked her, several red icons began blinking on his panel. The screen cleared and showed the target again, this time with long black scars running down one side of her where his phaser fire had struck. My phaser fire, he thought proudly, my battery did that, at least some of that.
     He pushed his pride into the back of his mind, concentrating on the damage done to his weapons by the Federation fire. Paradoxically, the number-four weapon, that historical thorn in his side, was now running near optimum temperature, while another weapon was rapidly overheating.
     "I recommend shutting down weapon five," his senior technician stated, analyzing the same weapon.
     "I concur," Kavesh replied. He notified the weapons officer of his decision, showing him the problematic data. "We may get another shot out of it. May. Or it might just overheat, causing more damage, while we recharge it."
     "I don't like it," the weapons officer growled back over the audio-only line, "but I understand the necessity. Remove port battery, weapon number five from service. That weapon must have priority on repair!" he finished. Kavesh could almost feel the finger jab in the chest that would have accompanied that order had it been relayed in person.
     "Yes, Sir," was his quick response as he motioned the now defunct weapon's technician, who had been briefed by the senior technician, to start running diagnostics while waiting for a repair team from engineering to reach it. He cut the connection to the weapons officer and called to the crewman's back, "Work faster than that!"