Federation Starbase 23 - Scottish Andy's Stories

Kusanagi 01: The Two-Day War

By Scottish Andy









Introduction


This was my first story, written after 'my' appearance in Jaeih's story New Worlds, New Adventures as the Second Officer of the Federation destroyer Jugurtha. I thought it was nice of Jaeih not to kill me, but ahhh! my arm! I'm quite attached to that, you know!

Anyway, Jaeih encouraged me to try my hand at the writing lark, so I decided to pick up where she left off and continue 'my' adventures in her Star Trek Universe. This story deals with the aftermath of the 'Jugurtha Incident', based on how I was feeling at the time I was writing it (I was kinda depressed with my life, but I'm much better now.) If it's a bit slow to start, sorry and all, just stick with it. It does get better.




Chapter One


16th October 2267
0600 hours
Stardate 3176.25
Mikasa-class frigate U.S.S. Kusanagi on shakedown cruise.

Once again I wake up screaming, trying to free myself from the unreasoning terror of my dream. My mind slowly clears of darkened corridors and bright green energy beams and I remember where I am. I roll over in my bed and look at the desk chronometer. The soft red light blinks 0600 at me.

Damnit! Every bloody night is the same. Since that day.

My right hand starts tightening its grip on my left shoulder before I realise I've moved at all. Feeling my nails dig into the flesh of my arm I relax, reassured by its presence, by its solidity.

Thus reassured, I think it a good idea to get ready for my duty shift, which begins at 0800. I start my morning routine, staring into the bathroom mirror and wishing away the bags under my eyes as I clean my teeth. Because of my nightmare I'm not getting enough sleep and my CO looks at me in that way. Her face neutral or occupied by some other expression, but I can always see a deep concern in her eyes.

She worries about me.

I'm touched by her concern, but also worried. If she is constantly thinking about my mental well-being then she is distracted from her own duties. I'm the first officer. I'm the one who is supposed to worry about the crew.

But… it's not like I didn't warn her. She literally had to bully me into taking this spot. Well, perhaps 'bully' is a little strong. 'Cajoled' and 'pestered' are more accurate. I feel myself smile faintly at the thought.

The smile fades in stages.

I walk from my quarters to the mess hall. A few crewmen acknowledge me with nods as I stride through the ship. I nod back, managing a weak smile for them.

I try to be approachable, but since my injury I've been reserved and somewhat abrupt. 'Cold and irritable' is how I've heard myself described recently. My CO again, trying to be helpful. The cajoling was evidently taking too long in bringing me 'back', so she is being a bit more… how shall I put it… blunt.

Oh, never horrible or malicious. The captain just isn't wired that way. Well, with the significant exception of the Klingons. Another result of our last 'adventure' together.

No, she just no longer spares my feelings. I can't say I blame her, either. I know I've been a colossal pain, but I just have no motivation left. No more dreaming of the stars for this young man. I would be quite content just to sit in some starbase office, an assistant to some overworked commodore or admiral, but my friend the captain is having none of it.

So, now I'm just drifting through this mission, doing my duties for her. I'm happily unhappy in this depression, having to be forced to show enthusiasm, but if she just stopped trying and wrote me off as a lost cause… well, I think it would finish me off.

So now I just putter along doing my duties shipboard to the best of my abilities. Not through any great enthusiasm, not because I'm gradually becoming my old self, but for her. To show I really do appreciate what she is trying to do for me. Even through all this fuzz, I still don't want to disappoint her.

And you know what? I'm actually hoping she can do it. Break me out of my self-imposed hell. Oh, not any of the hells our mythologies describe for us, but the much more tangible hell of not enjoying life anymore. I really hope she can, but if I am putting no effort into it I think she is doomed to failure.

Ah, such cheerful thoughts this morning!

These thoughts float disjointedly through my head as I mechanically munch my breakfast. It is still early, so I let my food settle before I head to the gym to at least get my blood moving. The usual work-out routine has the desired effect and it helps clear my mind. Exercise over, I shower and don my uniform, then look at the reports logged overnight as well as the latest fleet updates from Command.

I head for the bridge, still going over my electronic clipboard, signing off on some requisitions with my light pen.
I'm now ready to begin my shift, with everything except last minute updates from the night-shift bridge crew taken into account.

Stepping onto the bridge, I acknowledge the greetings offered to me and collect those final updates. The captain will be here shortly and I want to be ready for any question she asks. I walk over to the environmental engineering station on the left side of the main viewscreen, and literally just stare into space.

The thought amuses me, but distantly, and no smile reaches my face.

Then the captain arrives on the bridge. The other day-shift personnel had already arrived before me, and a new day begins on the good ship Kusanagi.

After looking over everything and seeing all is well, she approaches me with a electronic clipboard.

"Good morning, Lieutenant," she greets me pleasantly.

"Morning, Sir," I reply easily. Her presence affects a change on my mood. I want to be happy for her. She just has that appeal about her. I get the impulse to wrap her up in a bear hug and grin stupidly at her.

I was helluva slow to realise it, but at some point I developed feelings for my new CO. I know it isn't love – not yet at any rate – but we are becoming closer friends than ever before.

You know, just remembering that silly impulse of a few seconds ago makes be think that maybe she isn't doomed to failure after all.

Ah well. Time will tell.

Maybe the reason we are all so close here is that we've only been on this ship for five days and her crew is still dealing with the deaths of their previous senior staff. We've all made new friends, mainly in our own departments, but we haven't really had the chance to meet the rest of the crew with everyone tied up in last-minute repairs.

The captain goes over the details in the electronic clipboard, and I answer or discuss them on autopilot. I'm busy admiring her form in the back of my mind.

She is almost a full head shorter than I am, and I'm not especially tall. She is not drop-dead gorgeous nor possessing of a classical beauty, but I am drawn to her looks regardless. It is an odd feeling to know that you have seen more beautiful women, but never a more attractive one. Not that she cracks mirrors either, by the way. I think that she is so pretty! 'Cute', even, but I get the impression she'd hate being called that. A small-framed, petite woman, slim with long, dark brown, almost black hair; a heart-shaped face with small lips; a pale but clear complexion; smiling light-brown eyes; and the cutest button nose I have ever seen. As I said, cute as hell. Utterly adorable. And a force of will within that does no good to go against.

My back-alley musings are brought to a sudden halt when I get that look again.

"Andrew," she asks in a lowered voice, "is your nightmare still keeping you up?"

Damn these baggy eyes of mine. There's certainly nothing wrong with hers.

I shrug and nod. "Yes sir. I would have hoped that after a month and a half it would have gone away, or at least become less intense. All those psychologists said it should, but it seems they don't know their—" I pause for a quick word change. "—bum from their elbows."

The unmodified version is a favourite phrase from my Dad's love of archaic sayings, but only a flicker of a smile passed over her face, the concern still evident in her eyes. I could see that this might be a long day if she was going to press me for details, so I finally give in.

"Sir, I… I think I may finally be ready to talk to you about it. All of it. But as it will take some time could we discuss it after our shifts?"

"Of course, Andrew. I'm sorry to for always pushing it, but you need the release. Once the day is done, we'll talk it out."

"Yes sir. Might I suggest my quarters at 1900?"

I said that so I'd feel more comfortable telling her this surrounded my familiar possessions, but I felt my cheeks warming as I realised it could be taken another way. I watched her eyes widen a little, then she relaxed and smiled as she saw me blush. Choosing to ignore several obvious jokes, she just agrees.

Gratefully, I say, "If you don't need me for anything else, I'll leave the bridge and tend to the ship, Captain."

Acknowledging my desire to escape, she nods.

"Carry on, Mr. Brown."

"Aye, Sir."




Chapter Two


Date: 16th October 2267
Time: 1100 hours
Stardate: 3177.292
Location: U.S.S. Kusanagi on shakedown cruise.

A few hours later and I am back on the bridge, and so I hear 'straight from the horse's mouth' when our patrol route is altered.

Lieutenant Lathena becomes suddenly more alert. The captain and I notice, and we wait expectantly. Our Andorian communications officer is one of the original crew, and the most able of the communications department to survive. As such, she was given a field promotion to Lieutenant (junior grade) to give her rank over the other ensigns, and made Department Head.

"Captain, I am receiving a hail from the office of Rear Admiral Grakan on Starbase Twelve," she declares, her sibilant hiss barely noticeable because of her almost flawless Standard accent.

Grakan is a Tellarite master strategist, and it is he who is reorganising Fleet deployment on the Klingon border. Like most Tellarites, he is gruff, obnoxious and argumentative, but no one can doubt his abilities.

The captain orders the transmission onto the main screen. The admiral starts speaking immediately, not giving her a chance to offer a greeting, and gets straight to the point.

"Lieutenant Commander Karen McCafferty, you are to rendezvous with the frigates USS Pharris and USS Suvik for the purpose of forming the 207th Frigate Squadron. On arrival at the coordinates being transmitted to you as we speak, you will proceed to a new patrol station further out towards the border with Klingon space. Acknowledge and confirm."

"Your orders are acknowledged and confirmed, Admiral." Karen could say very little else.

"Good. I expect you to be underway when we are done speaking. Your ship is operating at peak efficiency?" the Tellarite asks. "You've had five days now to integrate your command staff and improve the ship's condition," he adds. "We cannot allow you any more time."

"Sir, we will be ready. We're having to replace some already repaired parts – fortunately, all of a minor nature – and they'll be completed en-route. We will be fully operational in a matter of hours."

The chief engineer, Karen, and I share some concern over certain replacement parts and this is her way of letting Command know she has those concerns outside of a formal report. I admire her brass. It isn't often a mere lieutenant commander snipes at a rear admiral.

"You had better be fully operational, Lieutenant Commander," the admiral warns, letting us know he would accept no other result or any excuses. "We need every ship we have. War with the Klingons is not only inevitable – it's imminent. Proceed as ordered. The coordinates for the rendezvous and patrol route, as well as the latest intelligence and Fleet movements are in the file already transmitted to you." He stops there and leans into his visual pickup. "You humans would say 'good luck'. Starbase Twelve, out."

At that, the porcine visage of the admiral vanishes off the viewscreen to be replaced with an image of the stars ahead. Karen sits back and I hear her murmur "Well…" before turning to face young Lieutenant JG Lathena, but our new communications officer is 'on the ball', as they used to say. Before the captain can speak she reports, "Rendezvous coordinates transferred to Navigation, Madam."

Karen nods and smiles encouragement at her. "Well done, Lieutenant. Now, please transfer all the data we just received to a wafer chip and give it to me."

"Aye-aye sir."

"Ensign Salok, plot a course for the rendezvous coordinates. Mr. Maknal, implement at standard cruise speed."

"Acknowledged, Captain."

"Aye-aye, sir."

Turning to face me, Karen says, "Mr. Brown, join me in the briefing room."

I nod my assent, quickly finishing my task on the bridge. I accompany her to the deck below. On our way there, I update her on the progress of our repairs.

*****

In the conference room, we go over the new data from our command base. It looks like we are getting put right onto the front line, but the most interesting data comes from the Fleet deployment hologram.

Defending three-dimensional, spherical space is very difficult and requires far more ships than defending a flat plane does. The Klingon border space is choked full of starships, but we both know that there are vast distances between the task forces. It is clear our top brass doesn't know if the Klingons will launch an all-out attack on every front or just heavily concentrated attacks on one or more selected points. In either case, Admiral Grakan has planned and positioned well. Or so I think, and Karen agrees.

There are three defensive 'spheres' – although our border with the Klingons is roughly concave, the principle still holds. The outer one – of which our newly formed squadron is part – is tasked to hold the border until the position becomes untenable or losses too great. If the Klingons break though, the surviving first-sphere ships are to fall back to the second sphere, positioned two light-years out from the sector command starbases. It was positioned so far back to allow the Klingon attack waves to spread out and become isolated from one another, and to allow specific Klingon targets and objectives to be discerned.

Once these targets are identified, the larger second-sphere battlegroups will move to intercept and engage, while the smaller task forces will head to reinforce the nearest targets' defence forces. These system defence forces comprised the third sphere of defence.

The whole plan is called 'defence-in-depth'. It allows the enemy to make significant advances in territory while bleeding their forces and denying them any real gains in valuable systems. Once the Klingon advance has been halted, the surviving defenders will organise themselves into hunter/killer groups. Some of these will pursue and destroy the retreating Klingons, while others race back to the original border to engage any Klingon reinforcements.

It was a brilliant plan. If the Klingons act as expected, we will be able to contain them. However, we can rarely expect our enemies to cooperate so helpfully. No battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy, so we are liable to be in for a desperate fight. We are spread out too much and our border with the Klingons is so big…

Also, we have to maintain our standard patrols in other areas, so that other enemies won't be tempted to attack while our attention is focused elsewhere.

Speaking of which, my attention wanders to the Romulan border on the holo-display. There are still second-sphere patrols and third-sphere defence forces, as well as anti-piracy patrolling, but they are all smaller, less-capable units as our best ships are arrayed against the Klingons. I see lots of our older Baton Rouge- and Mann-class cruisers, and Ambush-class destroyers on the display. It is deemed safe to do this as the Romulan fleet is in no condition for war. The latest intelligence indicates that they had recently developed a reliable warp drive and were now rushing refits on their sublight warships. Apparently, half their fleet is in the dry-docks and they have barely enough ships active to defend themselves. An attack is considered very unlikely.

I have my own thoughts on the matter, and my eyes stray to the L-647 system, which wasn't too far from the second-sphere patrols. The Romulans still hold that system – even though it is in Federation territory – as Starfleet can't spare the ships for a large enough battlegroup to retake it. Starfleet does not want to start a war with the Romulans, as a two-front war would not go well for the Federation. Although the Romulan fleet is weak, if we attacked what they saw as Rom space, they would fight back. This would tie up valuable units we can't spare.

And so now, over two months after the Jugurtha Betrayal, as it is now referred to, the damn Roms are still there, mining away.

I chided myself for that thought. The Romulans did save my life.

I can still hardly believe it. A Starfleet officer – and I am not the only one – owing his life to the same Romulans who now hold the system he was almost killed in.

The funny thing is that the whole incident has left me with a distinct respect and admiration for the Romulans. Oh, everyone knows their treacherous history, but these were the first Romulans I had seen and they accomplished their mission with such elan and panache…

If all Romulans were like that crew, I could easily see the Federation allying with them in a few decades. But for every honourable action I know of, there are at least ten other accounts of Romulan belligerence and treachery.

All these thoughts of the Jugurtha Betrayal – although exactly how we were betrayed and by whom I have yet to hear – bring back my memories of the events and once again I find myself clutching my left arm.

"It's on my mind too, Andrew."

Karen's voice startles me out of my reverie, and I look at her as I drop my hand.

"I know now isn't the time to discuss it, but I am holding you to your promise for tonight."

She knows I haven't promised her anything, but she isn't about to let me get out of it. Our planned arrival time at the border isn't until 1200 tomorrow, so barring an emergency she will be there.

Damn. Despite what I said to her on the bridge I am not ready to talk. I am still trying to nerve myself up to tell her… stuff.

Stifling a resigned sigh, I say, "Yes, Captain."

She frowns at me and scolds, "Andrew, I've told you before: you can call me 'Karen' when we are alone or off-duty. Even in appropriate on-duty moments. I want you as relaxed as you can be tonight. If you are going to call me 'Captain' or 'Sir' all night it's going to seem like an interrogation and you will never get the release you need."

This time I do sigh, but I say nothing of it. We have gone over everything necessary in this briefing so I ask, "If that is all, sir, could I return to my duties?"

Karen must have realised she pushed too hard again. Rather than exacerbate the situation with apologies, she just nods. "Of course, Lieutenant. I am returning to the bridge. Will you accompany me?"

"Not unless you need me for something else, sir. I finished what I needed to do. My next stop is Engineering," I reply.

"Very well."

We get up and leave the room, heading in our different directions. I am feeling yet more uncomfortable about tonight.


Chapter Three


Date: 16th October 2267
Time: 1910 hours
Stardate: 3178.99
Location: First Officer's quarters, USS Kusanagi en-route to patrol station.

The rendezvous came and went with little fanfare. My presence wasn't even necessary on the bridge. We are in my quarters and Karen is telling me about it.

She tells me, "The Centauran commanding the Pharris just made very brief introductions all round. The CO of the Suvik is a friendly-seeming Caitian male named N`Tarr – he has the most beautiful fur colourings! Anyway, that was about it and then we were off."

She shrugs her shoulders. "I suppose there really was no need to stand on ceremony and that the sooner we are protecting the border the better."

I nod non-committally and take another swig from my glass. I had 'liberated' my bottle of vodka from my quarters aboard the Jugurtha for this cruise and I am proceeding to give myself a little 'Dutch courage'. Since I am about to be on duty in what amounts to a war zone I am not about to get roaring drunk, but I do need a few shots to steady my nerves and just get myself to relax.

Karen had joined me in my quarters at 1900 and I had already polished off my first two, but I could finally feel the fiery liquid taking its desired effect. We had both already eaten – separately – so Karen accepted my offer of a drink and we settled into the two chairs that my rooms sported.

She is making small talk now, wanting me to start with all the gory details. If her intention is to give me the impression of control, it is not working. I am feeling pressured into this whole situation, but I decide to quit stalling and get up to turn the lights down low.

Bright lights and sharply focused surroundings do not lend themselves well to the telling of horror stories.

The sooner this is all over, the better I will feel – hopefully. My heart begins to race as I remember the battle, preparing to tell her all. I sit back down and touch her hand to still her words. We both settle back in our seats and Karen waits for me to speak.

I am silent for almost a minute more, nerving myself up. I find that Karen is right, and the prospect of telling this to a long-time friend – and one who had been in the same battle – is easier to deal with than telling some anonymous starbase psychologist who has never seen battle. I feel myself begin to relax of my own volition and finally settle down to tell my story.

"Karen, the reason I am the way I am now is that I am scared. No, more than that, terrified. Not of ordinary starship duty, or even of actual battle. I am terrified of being wounded again. I am scared stiff of having Klingons swarming aboard the ship and blasting me with those hellish disruptors again. I am almost certain that – if we are boarded – I will snap or just run away and hide. I am sure that I will break at a crucial point and endanger my crewmates and the ship – as well as disgracing myself – by being a coward."

I pause there to let her absorb this and gauge her reaction to it. I really don't know what she will think of this, as we have never talked about it even in the abstract. Will she be disgusted and repelled by these frank admissions of my future cowardice? Will she change her opinion of me but hide it and try to get rid of me – while offering meaningless reassurances? Will she stand by me no matter what?

As I had thought earlier, if she is worrying about me performing my duties then she is distracted from her own. Will she recommend that I be grounded so as not to endanger her or anyone else's crew?

I really hope she will stick by me…

Karen's face held an expression of concern, but she doesn't react otherwise. Instead of offering any kind of support or criticism she asks, "Andrew, I know what happened to you on the Jugurtha, but I don't know what it did to you inside. Why don't you tell me how you felt during the whole episode, from when the Klingons attacked until you started feeling the way you do now."

I shrink back from those words and Karen is instantly contrite, asking what is wrong.

"You sound just like that bloody mind-picker on the base," I say slowly.

My friend curses quietly to herself before saying, "I'm sorry, Andrew. I can see that the whole thing has unnerved you, but I asked to understand how it did this to you. I mean, I can see the obvious answer," she adds hastily, "but I need to hear it from your point of view to be able to help you past this."

Those words reassure me greatly, even though the base shrink said more or less the same thing. Her words worry me at the same time. Karen will keep me around and isn't judging me, but if she cannot help I am still going to be a liability.

Have I always been this… insecure? Hugely grateful for the slightest bit of praise or support?

The thought strikes me, rebounding off the walls of my skull, but I honestly can't remember.

I sincerely hope not.

Once again, I will myself to relax – the vodka helps to some extent – and I recount the battle as I saw it.

"Okay. When the Klingon's first salvo hit us, I was in the sensor maintenance room at the base of the saucer and knew what was happening instantly. I left the technician there to finish her task and rushed to Auxiliary Control, where my battle station is coordinating the damage control teams. I was seconds out of the Sensory when the Captain's all-call sounded through the ship so that when I reached Aux Con two minutes later – the turbolifts were all busy carrying marines and repair crews – everything was in-hand for the moment.

"The underside of the saucer had taken heavy damage, and although the phasers took a beating the sensor dish survived. After the Klingons flew under us, I dispatched repair teams to the phasers and the Sensory to keep it running – the systems were damaged but still operating. I also sent a repair team to the impulse reactor that got hit, but sent them elsewhere when the Captain's damage control priorities came in."

I pause there, remembering what happened next. Karen doesn't interrupt me.

"Then the Klingon hit us from behind. Everyone was thrown about and I had to crawl back to the Damage Control boards. When the photon torpedo exploded I thought we were in deep trouble. When I saw the readouts on the warp nacelle, I knew we were lost. I also heard something to make me feel far, far worse.

"Over the intercom I heard what must have been a marine reporting through a wall of noise that the Security squads sent to guard the photon banks and the bridge had been wiped out by the torpedo's explosion. It was this nameless soldier who first warned us about the radiation danger before the channel went ominously silent."

I look at Karen with haunted eyes. "That is something else I will never forget as long as I live. Instead of getting the hell out of the radiation zone, he reported in on the nearest working 'com panel. Maybe he was too badly wounded to live, maybe he was trying to save any others from moving through that area – I'll never know. But he stayed there and made that report with what was probably his last breath.

"It made me sick to my stomach that such a thing could happen. But he also reminded me of what it meant to be a member of the Starfleet, and it galvanised me into action. Another look at the Damage Control boards told me that most of the Medical section on deck six was gone. Apparently a power surge from the torpedo/engine explosions caused the port phasers to blow out, baring three entire decks below them to open space. That is where most of our crew died, but I hadn't realised it at the time.

"Leaving Third Officer Shrok in command of Aux Con, I rushed to Security and gathered all the remaining marines and headed to Medical – those parts that remained. Since they are all on deck six it took little time and I had the couple of nurses and several med techs give us all anti-radiation shots. We all tugged on anti-rad suits and rushed to where that marine had reported from. I trooped up there with about 20 people, well protected so that the guard's warning wasn't in vain, but by the time we got there it was too late. Everyone was ash from the hard radiation. The whole assembling-the-crew had taken four minutes, but to get there any quicker was death to the rescuers.

"Disheartened, we all returned to Security. To keep myself active, I got the surviving Med staff to stockpile all the salvageable medical equipment and supplies in Security. I had the Security men follow me to Engineering where we collected about ten engineers and some portable force-field generators and the like, had them suit up and we all headed back to the radiation zone. We managed to set them up very quickly and returned to Security. We had just managed to get back when I heard Captain Daniels try to reach us. At this point, the wounded were gathering and I had just been told that we had no surgical equipment to help the wounded, only drugs. Also, that Deborah Masterson and her second-in-command Jerry Wilson had been among the marines killed in the radiation zone."

I break off and look at my friend. I see that her colour had drained slightly at my vivid recount of the action below decks. I say to her:
"Karen, it all just crashed down on me at that point. I remember my tone of voice as I talked with the captain, and it summed up how I felt right then. Completely helpless. But when he told us he needed reinforcements to fight the Klingon boarding parties, it fired me up again. At last! The hated enemy and a chance to strike back, to do something, anything that could help. So, remembering that the Klingons might be listening in, I continued my tone and exaggerated the time it would take for me to get there. I armed all the remaining Security people with every phaser we could find – we were all double loaded and some even had three phasers – and we headed out to do battle."

An afterthought strikes me, and I add, "Oh yes. Before we all trouped out of there I ordered the Engineering staff to begin repairs as the captain had specified."

Again I stop, taking stock of what I had said, and look back at Karen. During my narrative my eyes had lost their focus as the events I described replayed themselves in front of me. When I refocus on her I note that I cannot see her eyes but it is clear to me that she was reliving some of the horrors she had undergone herself that day.

I take a few moments to remember the findings of the inquest into the loss of the Jugurtha – which is about to be decommissioned due to the damage she took – and the accounts from the bridge crew of the deaths of our first officer and the junior science officers.

The look on my friend's face, shadowed though it is, reminds me that I am not the only one who suffered that day. Also, that others had suffered and yet prevailed. But I was the most severely wounded one to live.

Those Klingon disruptors are fiendish devices.

I shake off that train of though before it leads me into places I don't want to be right now, and press on with my tale, now eager to see the end of it.

"Then came the battle next to the conference room on deck two."


Chapter Four


I saw Karen tense up, almost unnoticed in the reduced light of my quarters. My eyes wander over the comforting images of family and friends mounted on my desk and shelves, giving her some privacy to recover herself. Pretending I haven't noticed, as if I'm collecting myself. The moment over, I continue with my story.

"The turbolifts had been locked down from the bridge but I had one of the engineering ensigns override that for a single car, keeping the lockout to the bridge in place. We – the twelve guards and I – headed up to deck three, where I ordered six of them to attack from the stairwell up onto deck two. That way we could attack from two directions. I could see from my tricorder readout that the Klingons had left the conference room they had beamed into and were spread out along the corridor that lead to the turbolift alcove and to the bridge stairwell. Even as I prepared to attack I could see them re-organise, so they must have had their own tricorders running. They split into three squads – one at the stairwell, one at the lift and one in the middle of the corridor.

"I had my squad in the turbolift ready to attack as soon as the doors opened. Just as they did, and the Klingons started to react to it, one of my marines at the stairwell ran past the almost-melted door and flung three phasers set to overload into the corridor. The third phaser had just left his hand when three disruptor beams tore through his chest. I saw this with my own eyes along the curve of the corridor – and nearly lost my head as a result. My squad was already firing and a female ensign pulled me down just as a beam flashed through where I had been standing.

"Then the overloaded phasers went off. They had been expertly thrown into and between the nearest Klingon squads. That single marine – I later learned it was Petty Officer T'snl Krab'sh – accounted for a full squad's-worth of Klingons on his own. I saw four Klingons torn apart and two more killed by those makeshift grenades. With this concussion, whoever was in charge of my other squad decided to charge the Klingons. My own squad was firing along the corridor, pinning down the other enemy squads, so the five marines left burned through the top half of the stairwell doors and charged. The Klingons seemed to welcome this as they dropped their disruptors and met the charge with those wide blades of theirs – the two-handed one. One Klingon went down before the other three started hacking away. Two of our marines caught a blade in full swing in their chests. The blades almost went right through them and they were dead before they hit the deck."

I halt my narrative to rub my hand over my face. I find it wet.

"Bloody Andorians!" I murmur. "Almost as bad as the Klingons with their love of blades. They didn't get close enough to use their chaka's. The rest of that contingent wisely decided to blast away with their phasers while the Klingons charged them. They got all the Klingons but only two of our marines survived it, one with serious lacerations. It was horrific! The deck was literally awash with all the blood. It was then that Captain Daniels led the remaining bridge crew into the firefight.

"All this action at the other end of the corridor I caught in fragments, as my squad was fighting for our collective lives as well. We were all protected by the turbolift alcove – but also trapped by it. I was terrified that the Klingons would copy Krab'sh's idea and lob a grenade in at us. If they had we would all have been wiped out. I had already lost two men by then. One was killed, the other badly wounded and unable to fight.

"At the point when the captain joined in, there were still nine Klingons against our five. One of my men was lucky enough to kill a Klingon who was running up to attack our other squad. But at that point my squad and the Klingons were pinning each other down. The only reason I hadn't taken more casualties was that the Klingons had burned away most of the turbolift doors. As such, they couldn't open and we had the door fragments to hide behind. I was about to order one of my men to throw a 'grenade' – and thus have them killed whether they succeeded or not – when the captain arrived. At that, the Klingons broke and turned to face the new threat. We all jumped out into the corridor to take advantage of this, but at least two Klingons had anticipated us. I took the first hit – a glancing blow that still took off my left arm two inches from my shoulder."

Again I stammer to a halt, noticing that my voice is faltering, shaking with the memory of the pain, and my whole body is trembling as my right hand once again grips my left arm. I could stop there and just tell her to leave, but despite the way I'm feeling I want to tell her the rest of it, to maybe, finally have this still-bleeding mental wound cauterized and healed over.

Karen is looking at me with moist eyes, trying to keep her face impassive. She makes not a sound, so I press on for the final time.

"I… I had perhaps a second of screaming pain before my mind shut down and I mercifully blacked out. The impact of the beam spun me around and as my eyes widened from the shock and pain, I saw the girl who was right behind me – the same female ensign who had saved my life minutes earlier – take a beam through the abdomen and start to scream. I didn't even know her name, at the time, but I made sure I found out afterwards. Ensign Susana Saiz Medinger of the Engineering Department had saved my life that day, but I couldn't repay the favour."

I keep my eyes open and focus on Karen to try to ward off that image, but to no avail. As the blackness had claimed me that day, the look on that pretty young Spanish girl's face as the disruptor beam passed through her had been emblazoned into my memory.

"I never heard the sound Susana made as I lost consciousness, but my mind supplied one nonetheless. I think I'd have preferred to hear her, but I'll never know. All I do know is that every damned time I 'escape' from the nightmare it is that exact sound I make as I scream myself to wakefulness."

I see Karen wince at my words, and the slow beginning of understanding dawning across her face as she starts to see my problem with sleeping. I don't want to disillusion her yet, but she still has no idea of what I go through three times a night, every night without fail. My tale of feelings told, I finish off the first part of my story.

"So, the next thing I remember is waking up to see a Vulcan tending to me. I thought, We must have been rescued, as none of our Vulcan Medical staff had survived. But as I looked around in my drugged state – I knew I was drugged as I felt incredibly woozy and my thoughts came so slowly – it finally dawned on me that I wasn't in a Federation sickbay, and when I noticed the 'Vulcan's' uniform my heart sank again. The woman acted exactly like a Vulcan, merely saying "Good" when she noticed I was awake, but I knew she must have been a Romulan. I did not believe what she told me next, but she was apparently completely truthful with me. She said:

"'I am Chief Surgeon t'Tei. You are safe and well and your ship is undergoing repairs while awaiting arrival of your own people. Your arm will require far more treatment than I am equipped to provide, so you shall be held in one of our medical bay's stasis tubes to preserve your damaged tissue. That way, your famed Federation doctors may still be able to attach a new arm.'

"She may have said more but that is all I caught before falling back to sleep. I woke up again at various intervals, usually when I was being transferred around. I remember being in a Federation sickbay where a Human doctor told me much the same as the Romulan one did. I remember a different doctor and some med techs in a similar sickbay after that, then waking in an operating room – and being put under again almost immediately.

"When I finally woke up to the real world again, my arm was back on – or rather a cloned one was grown and attached – and it was the 25th of August. Two weeks of intense physiotherapy mixed with psychology sessions followed, and I could use my new arm just as well as my old one, and now the whole incident just remains as a bad memory."

Karen spoke again for the first time in what seemed like hours.

"And as nightmares."

I nod, and slowly say, "Yes, and as nightmares."

I feel completely drained again. Retelling an experience as harrowing as that is almost like reliving it, as no matter how much time passes the memories are indelibly burned into your memory for all time, just as fresh as the day it actually happened.

So, that is my story. It is almost two months since I woke up with my new arm so I had found out all the details of what went on while I was out cold. But just to hear the voice of another while I recovered my wits, I ask Karen to fill in the blanks from her point of view.

She nods, clearing her throat and taking a sip of her untouched drink. Her voice shakes to start with, but soon firms up.

"Well, *ahem*, ah, after you were hurt we killed all the Klingons. No one else in the bridge party got killed, but Nigel took a nasty hit in the chest that still has him in hospital, four months later. Something to do with his lungs and spleen, I think – it's been a while since I went to see him. Only seven of your marines survived, including you and the two others who were wounded. The Romulans arrived and after some trust problems were worked through they sent medical teams to patch us up. The Romulan CO, a Commander t'Khellian, met with the captain and the Klingon CO, a Captain Meltakh, on the planet. Unfortunately, Captain Daniels… his mind snapped and he was killed attacking Meltakh. Ah, the Klingon ship was destroyed by our attack plan, although the boom survived. It was picked up a day before we were by another Klingon ship.

"The USS Vindicator arrived for us, also having orders to remove the Romulans from the system. They tried to force the Roms to leave, but apparently there were three Rom Birds of Prey, not just the one so the Vindicator had to back down and leave them be. No shots were fired, so we were able to transfer our wounded – including you – and leave unmolested. We were met part-way to Starbase 23 by the tug Eddington, where the Vindicator handed us off and returned to her patrol station. We only arrived back at the starbase on August 20th, were you were operated on immediately."

"And from then until five days ago we were on our 'cool-down' period as mandated by Starfleet when a crew loose their ship," I put in, just to say something when she had finished.

"Yeah, a six-month cool-down, supposed to be. Now we are being flung back into the flames because all the other command personnel are needed where they are and war is about to break out," Karen grumbles with no small amount of apprehension.

"Which brings me back to this, Karen. I don't think I'm reliable enough right now to be in a war zone. My nightmare—"

I break off sharply, and remain silent for a time.

Karen breaks the silence by asking, "What are your nightmares, Andrew? Tell me, please. I want to help you let this go."

I take a deep breath – several, in fact – to try and settle my thoughts and calm my racing heart.

"Okay, okay… Just… give me a few minutes, will you?"

Karen nods and takes another sip of her drink.

I finally manage to compose myself, and I set about describing my dream to her.


Chapter Five


"It is the same one. Every night without fail, exactly the same events take place at exactly the same pace and time. I get about two hours asleep before I wake up shouting. I then have to calm down and fall asleep again, after which the whole thing repeats. I have seen several doctors about sleeping pills, but I am never given more than one week's supply and no more were forthcoming. That is, a week of continuous use. Every night."

I shake my head wearily and say, "I am not getting more than six hours sleep a night, and as I said no more than two hours at a time. It is wearing me down, Karen! I can live and function on six hours sleep a night, but I am never at 100% any more. I am almost always tired and I now dread going to bed, but I still have to or I'll go mad from lack of REM sleep. I need to dream to stay sane, but the only thing I dream of anymore is driving me mad just the same!"

My voice has risen and I notice it is quite shrill. Karen makes placating motions with her hands.
"It's okay for now, Andrew. Calm down, please. Take another drink and relax."

I do as she says and she tells me, "I do have an idea as of how to help you sleep, but I want you to tell me what happens in your dream. You might feel better afterwards – not immediately, but this should help you let go of your fear."

I feel myself grimace as I look at my glass. I poured myself so much the damn thing is still only half empty, but I gulp down another sip of the vodka. I'm noticing that Karen keeps hammering her message home, and although I don't believe her I desperately hope that she is right. Waking up every two hours screaming and drenched in sweat…

I also know that all these little ruminations of mine are just more ways of stalling, dancing around the whole issue. I suppose Karen wanted to hear this too, but it is probably clear what the effects of my nightmare are.

"Okaaaaaaay…"

I draw the word out, my last act of stalling.
Karen is just sitting there, waiting as patiently as a mugato stalking it's prey.

"It starts with me back in Damage Control on the Jugurtha and everything is fine. After some length of time – the length of which I cannot judge but always seems to be the same – I hear the marine report from the radiation zone on deck two.

"We haven't been attacked yet, and everyone else doesn't seem to notice it. I react to it anyway, racing up to the torpedo room. Everything is okay for the first few moments but suddenly I'm in my anti-rad suit and I witness what must have happened to those Security squads. I see the whole group of them knocked over them blown to pieces against the walls – but for some reason it is Klingon blood. I see the effects of the pulse of radiation sweep through the bodies and survivors, and watch as the marine pulls himself along to the intercom panel.

"I try to help, try to talk to them, but they cannot see me – except him. He can see me. He reaches out to me but I cannot get to him. I cannot run fast enough, and there is too much debris in the way. All I can see is his eyes burning into me, begging me for help, condemning me for not giving any.

"Then suddenly I'm back in Damage Control and everything is normal again. I'm about to go down to the Sensory, it seems. I'm calmly discussing with the technician I spoke to about why the sensor dish has been blown off and how it could possibly have happened. We are talking over the 'com system and I tell her I am coming right down, but I end up in Medical just in time to see the explosion of the port phaser bank rip off the top three decks of the saucer.

"The explosion goes right through me but I'm untouched by both it and the subsequent decompression effects. I watch the Medical staff whirl off into space – which now occupies all I can see above me – and they call to me, screaming to me for help with their last lungfuls of air. Again, their eyes bore into me and I read the fear, pleading and anger in them.

"Then I'm safe and everything is normal again." I pause there for a few seconds and shake my head.

"It's like that all the way through. I'm safe, all is well and I feel fine then suddenly I'm thrust into a battle scene where I'm terrified and my heart is racing, just standing there watching or unable to help while scores of my crewmates die around me.

"The next scene has me in the Sensory helping Technician Yates run diagnostics on the equipment, and I finally see the Klingons attack. I distinctly remember saying to Yates: 'I'm terribly sorry but I have to go now. Otherwise I won't be on time to fight the Klingons and get shot'.

"I then calmly leave the Sensory, and in walking through the doors I'm suddenly in the turbolift alcove watching as the Klingons charge us. Our phaser beams are bouncing off of them, they are managing to dodge the overloaded ones we're all throwing at them – and all around me my men are falling like flies!

"The Klingons are plowing through them, disruptors punching bloody holes through people, huge blades tearing chunks out of bodies – and all in an attempt to get to me! My men are trying to hold them off, trying to protect me but they are all dying!"

Karen's eyes are wide and her face is expressing horror, and I can feel my heart pounding in my chest as if it wants out, my breath coming in gasps as I plunge on with all the gory details.

"Then comes the worst part. The ship is suddenly empty – except for the Klingon marines and me. They start chasing me through the now-darkened corridors and rooms. None of the turbolifts or doors seem to be working so I have to undog hatches to Jeffries tubes and new decks.

"Every time a Klingon catches up to me I get shot at, the beam striking closer with every shot fired. I hide in rooms, I run down corridors, I clamber up access-ways and slide down ladders – all to no avail. They close in on me and I always manage to get away, to run and hide just that little bit longer. When they finally do corner me, green disruptor beams are criss-crossing the corridors constantly pinning me into a narrower and narrower space.

"Then four disruptor beams hit me – one on each limb. They begin to flay me alive, drawing from my fingertips and toes all the way up my limbs to my torso. I'm shrieking my head off with the sheer agony of it all – and that is when I wake up, screaming myself hoarse."

I stop there, heart still racing, blood pounding, panting heavily as though I've just run a marathon with a starship on my back. I notice Karen again, even though I had been staring into her eyes all the way through my dream narration. She is busy rearranging her facial expression but I see the horror still in her eyes.

I am all at once painfully aware that maybe I had told her too much, been too descriptive. During all our time together since the Jugurtha I had never seen her to lose sleep over it, and she had never told me if she had her own nightmares. But what if she had them and just deals with them better than I do? Though on second thoughts, I'm not exactly dealing with my problem. I'm just living with it and hoping – in vain – that it'll go away on it's own.

However, by dumping all my emotional baggage it might just be more than she can deal with. In which case I've just turned my closest surviving friend and new CO into a basket case like myself.

Instantly I say, "Karen, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to—"

But she waves me off and says, "I asked for it. Don't worry about me, I'm fine. I was just, well, shocked at how much you remember and how accurate your recall is." She leans forward and asks, "You really remember the feeling of the disruptor hitting you? Even though it was only a fraction of a second later that you lost consciousness and the other times you woke up you were medicated?"

"Oh yes, far too clearly," I answer with a bitter laugh. "The nerves still attached to me remember it very well. It is only recently that these impressions have begun to fade. While I rested my nerves would have no new stimuli to transmit, so they would remember. That is why I keep grabbing and rubbing my arm – to keep the nerves busy, so to speak. The sensations have finally stopped but my reaction to it has developed into a nervous habit that I now have to break."

"Andrew, it really sounds like you blame yourself for all the deaths on the Jugurtha. The incidents in which you were part of, the dying crew all pleading for your help and cursing you for not giving it, the way your Security teams die—"

"Yes, that is also what the base psychologist said. I have to agree with the assessment, and I know that I wasn't responsible except for the Security teams directly under my command, but…"

I trail off, unsure of how to put this. The words just don't seem to be there as I do not understand it myself, so I shrug my shoulders helplessly and conclude, "I cannot seem to convince myself."

"Well, let me try," Karen says, staring into my eyes. "It wasn't your fault."

"Thanks, Karen," I reply. "It means a lot to hear you say that. It's just—"

"It wasn't your fault."

My eyes wander around my quarters, looking at the images of old friends and family. "Karen, I know but I just can't—"

"It wasn't your fault."

"Try telling it to my dreams, smart-arse!" I explode at her. "I KNOW that—"

"So why can't you sleep?"

"How the hell am I supposed to know?!!" I roar. "I've tried—"

"Andrew, you may have accepted it intellectually, but you haven't accepted it in your heart."

I try to interrupt to tell her she is wrong, but Karen is having none of it.

"Everyone who died in incidents you witnessed – whether by sensor or by your own eyes – you feel responsible for. Because you know it happened, you felt that it was your fault because you personally had not managed to prevent it or help them afterwards. You know from the facts that you could have done nothing more – and in the case of the Medical staff, nothing at all – but you still believe inside you that because it happened on your watch it was your fault.

"Let it go."

I couldn't believe my ears. "'Let it go?' Just like that, all my problems are cured?" I yelled. "You have no idea—"

"YOU SELFISH BASTARD!!" Karen roared.

I immediately shut up, shocked speechless. What— Why did she— How could she—? My scrambled thoughts are interrupted by Karen continuing.

"You are actually holding on to your pain! You think it distinguishes you, makes you special. You think it entitles you to preferential treatment. I cannot believe this!" Karen exclaims.

I stand up and move on her, starting to refute that most loathsome statement she just made, but she jumps up also and rounds on me further.

"So you got hurt! So you almost died, and had several people die in front of you! Guess what? That happened to others as well! You dare to be wounded on behalf of all those you couldn't save? What the hell kind of coward are you?"

Karen adopts a whiny voice, taking my position. "Look at me, I got hurt, I lost people, I blame myself for it all, pity me!" She glares at me, pure fury blazing in her eyes. "What kind of sick pity party have I fallen into here? You make me sick, Brown! Either get over this and shape up, or I'll give you your dream posting, on a backwater planet shuffling papers for some joke of a Base CO!"

So saying, she storms out of my quarters, leaving me with my mouth hanging open.


Chapter Six


Date: 17th October 2267
Time: 0700 hours
Stardate: 3181.46
Location: First Officer's quarters, USS Kusanagi en-route to patrol station.

I woke the next morning to the stunning realisation that I had slept all the way through the night. By no stretch of the imagination had I a peaceful night, but I looked at my chronometer and was ecstatic to discover that I had been asleep continuously for ten whole hours.

Damn, but those pills are great!

The doctor had warned me that they were only effective for a few days, at most a week, but damn! I'm just sitting here feeling a curious stretching of tendons on my face. I walk to the mirror and have a look. I am yet more surprised to find I'm wearing a stupid grin. I go through my morning routine, still feeling happy in a slightly shell-shocked kind of way – until I remember the events of last night.

The grin falls off my face.

*****

After Karen had stormed out of my quarters I stood there, speechless, mind shut down in disbelief for many seconds. Once I had recovered my wits I set off after my captain but she had disappeared. I spent the next ten minutes tracking her down with rebuttals, explanations and reasoning working out in my head – but she would not speak with me further. I would not quit however, so she finally ordered me to cease & desist and report to sickbay to see the doctor.

I had to obey. However, not only was I blazing mad, I was feeling thoroughly insulted. I had bared my soul, my innermost feelings and frailties to her – and she had ripped into me. I felt betrayed and I was not being allowed to vent to her.

I stormed down to the Sickbay where the Beta-shift doctor – a Saurian Lieutenant JG named Gruental – greeted me warily. The captain had not told me why I was to report to Sickbay so I assumed Gruental did. I was not mad at him but I was royally worked up, so what he said came as a great surprise to me.

"Are you agitated at me, Lieutenant?"

I almost barked back, but managed a restrained, "No."

"Then cease your offensive displays and follow me," he returned in his curiously accented Federation Standard Anglish.

I felt like ramming my fist into one of his very large yellow eyes. I had just been dumped on from 'on high' so I was in no mood to be snapped at by an annoying doctor whom I ranked. I tore into him.

"Doctor, you may not have noticed, but I am your superior officer!" I yelled. "No matter how you may feel about me personally, you will treat me with the respect and courtesy due to my rank and position aboard this ship!"

The Saurian's large eyes blinked rapidly and his breath started rushing in and out of the narrow vertical slits that passed for his nostrils with a very slight whistling noise.

Now, while I do like their brandy – in small amounts – I have never served with a Saurian before. I am not familiar with their social and personal behaviour, so I did not know what he was feeling right then. However, I think I recognised embarrassment and humiliation on his features – although it may just be that has behaviour reminded me of a human child trying not to cry. Thinking on it now, I had just given him a dressing down in front of the evening-watch Sickbay staff so those reactions would have been perfectly at home on any human.

At the time though, I was still too mad to care. With a bitten-off "Yes Sir!" he turned and headed into his office. I followed and sat in front of his desk as he started to explain in very clipped language.

"Sir, I make apologies for my lack of respect. Captain was also here not long ago in very foul mood and failed to give proper respect to myself while explaining reason for your imminent presence. She left abruptly and I made no attempt to assert my position. When yourself also appeared in highly agitated state I reacted to prevent undermining of my authority. I have now made things worse."

His breathing had calmed, as had his eye motions. I realised that I had also overreacted and that I was not angry with him, really. My bad temper had just spilled out onto him. I made my own apology but it was perfunctory and did not sound overly sincere even to my own ears. I was still too angry with Karen.

So, one more name to add to the list of people I have offended.

Crap.

After my 'apology', the doctor's speech patterns returned to normal and we got down to business.
"Lieutenant, the captain informed me that you have been having trouble sleeping, and the cause is a specific recurring nightmare. She did not, " he added with emphasis, "tell me what the dream was. She told me this because I specifically requested of her that anyone who was suffering bad dreams to the extent of impacting on their duties should be brought to my attention for a new treatment."

My interest picked up dramatically at that point, and I asked, "Are you going to prescribe improved sleeping pills for me?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes," he replied, and went on to clarify. "People can have really bad recurring dreams based on traumatic events or future worries, and with the coming war with the Klingons there is ample grounds for both. Images of death and destruction that war brings forth can lead to horrific nightmares one cannot escape. Normally this would just have to be dealt with in therapy sessions and yield very slow results, as often the nightmare would undo most of the therapy on successive days. But just recently a new drug called Tridocane has been cleared for general use that helps you alter the course of your dreams!"

I sat bolt upright in my chair, exclaiming, "It has? Does it really work?"

Gruental nodded in the human fashion. "Indeed. It was developed to help mental patients calm their minds and has been used to great effect."

"This is tremendous news for me! How does it work?" I ask.

"It works on the basis of suggestion. Suggestive reinforcement of your own will. It makes your subconscious mind more open to internal suggestion and as such gives a small element of control within your own dreams. But do not worry about side effects. It has been extensively tested and definitively proven that it does not make you more vulnerable to external suggestion. There is absolutely no risk," he emphasised. At my nod, he continued.

"It works like this. If your dream is starting to feel threatening, you just think the word 'STOP' over and over until the path of the dream changes. You can do this at any level of REM sleep and any number of times during your sleep cycle. The dosage given is matched and measured against your own medical data and personal sleeping habits and lasts the entire period of your unconscious state. Once awake it is rendered inactive and does not affect your waking mind. It is completely safe."

My mind reeled at this and I was overjoyed, my anger at Karen completely forgotten. It seemed too good to be true, but I was not about to turn it down. I wanted nothing more than to get to sleep and try this out.
"Can you do these dosage work-ups now?" I asked eagerly.

"Yes, it is why you are here. It will not take too long to complete. However, there is a downside," the doctor added.

Inevitably. Clinging to my hopes, I tentatively asked, "That being?"

"The downside being that this medication is only effective for a span of days before the body builds an immunity to the drug compound, and no increase in dosage, change of sleeping habits or any other prolonging methods work. If it is merely a recurring bad dream, the pills themselves are usually enough. But for deep-seated trauma, therapy is almost always required."

"Very well doctor, I understand. But what duration of effectiveness can I expect?"

"The minimum effective time for a human was observed to be four days. The maximum was ten."

My heart sank a little at that, but the fact that this drug existed at all was a huge boost to my beleaguered mind. The doctor added, finally, "These pills were designed to be an aid, not a cure. Further development is underway for longer periods of effectiveness, but for the present it is only an aid for extended therapy sessions and/or as part of a recovery plan. A sentient's psyche still has to heal itself. Otherwise the sentient becomes a drug-dependent automaton."

"I see. Very well, let's give this a try, shall we?"

The work-up and battery of tests took barely half-an-hour, and I thanked the doctor and left. I also made a far more sincere apology to him in front of his staff. Well, I didn't exactly have them line up to hear it, but I made it in the open and not in his office. I returned to my quarters and turned in for the night.

*****

So happy was I that I might get some true sleep I had given no further thought to Karen or her remarks for the rest of the night. But remembering them now ripped away my good mood. Her words had really hurt me and I did not believe them for an instant. There was absolutely no way in hell I was holding on to my pain in a perverse attempt to feel special. I still could not believe she had actually said that! After opening myself up like that, uncovering a gaping mental wound, my supposed friend had not only rubbed salt in there, but flung in some acid as well.

These are my thoughts as I head up to the bridge. I have no way of knowing how Karen feels right now, but her final reaction in my quarters seems to indicate she felt furious and, well, betrayed. I can't figure that one out but really I am in no mood to take her feelings into account – unless her first words to me this morning are 'I'm sorry'.

I feel righteous in my anger, but I'm willing to let it go if it was been a heat-of-the-moment thing she is sorry for, or a tactic to get me out of my funk. However, because she refused to talk to me after that, I don't really see either as being likely.

This morning is shaping up to be the decider for our relations for the rest of our tour together – provided it isn't cut short by a war or – if we both survive – Karen transferring me off her ship.

I psych myself up for this battle and pace around the bridge like a caged tiger until she appears, which she duly does at exactly the start of her bridge shift.

Lieutenant Commander Karen McCafferty steps onto the bridge looking calm, alert, and every inch the Starship Captain.

She also ignores me completely.

That is, until I go up to speak to her. Before I can say a word, she blandly asks me about the ship's status. I answer all her questions, even though I can see the spark of anger burning in her eyes, and when I make to speak, my friend the Captain loudly dismisses me from the bridge.

Ever conscious of other people's opinions, I do not want to create a scene. So I simply fire off the most hardcore military salute I can manage and depart.

Karen has made it quite clear that we can no longer speak as friends, and it seems to me that had I not been her first officer we probably would not speak at all. Only matters pertaining to our duties will be discussed, no more personal talk. She obviously thinks and feels very strongly that her final assessment of me is correct and that I am in the wrong.

I feel just as strongly that her assessment is completely off-target and that she is in the wrong.

We are already in a war zone and we have yet to reach the border.


Chapter Seven


"First Officer's Personal Log, 20th October 2267, Stardate 3197.5

We have been on station for three days now and still Karen will not talk to me outside of ship-related issues. Our arrival in the danger zone four hours after my being dismissed from the bridge did nothing to reconcile the differences Karen and I now share. I had thought the need for a strong command structure and the danger we all now face would override our anger, but she is being incredibly stubborn and having none of it.

"Admittedly I have been trying to talk to her about our problems every chance I get and this might just be hardening her resolve, but I have to keep trying, to tell her she is wrong about me.
However, I cannot help but feel intense anger towards her, no matter what reason that she may have for ignoring me. I am at a complete loss to explain her behaviour."

"Computer, end log entry." I glare around my room, trying to control my temper.

So it has come to this. Keeping a personal list of grudges against my commanding officer to cover my own hide if Command comes calling, asking why the two senior officers of a Federation starship are acting like five-year-olds.

I shake my head in disgust and head to the bridge. The solitude of the turbolift helps calm me, and I feel confident about concealing my personal feelings while on duty.

I step from the turbolift into chaos. I look round in amazement for a second, completely unnoticed, as maintenance checks are quickly and professionally completed and various technicians run too and fro across the bridge. The relief comm. officer is speaking calmly over the ship's intercom system, but there was an excited edge to his voice. It is a measure of my amazement at the general mêlée that I can hear his voice but not what he is saying, but then the second is over and I make my presence felt.

"All stations, report!" I yell.

All activity halts instantly, except the comm. officer whom I am still ignoring. I pick out the senior officer present and advance on him. The rest of the bridge crew resume their duties and try to remain inconspicuous.

"Science Officer Enax, what the hell is going on here?" I demand in a normal tone of voice.

Before the Edoan can answer, Karen steps out of the bridge toilet facilities. She takes in everything with a glance before saying, "Mr. Brown, come with me. The rest of you, as you were. Finish up what you were doing and prepare the ship for maximum warp speed."

At Enax's look, she says, "Carry on, Lieutenant. You have the conn."

Without another word to me, she heads for the turbolift. I follow silently. She grabs a command handle and says, "Deck two."

"Captain—" I start, but she cuts me off with a wave.

Once safely concealed in the briefing room below the bridge, Karen rounds on me.
"What the hell was that?" she demands.

"What was what?"

"'What' is you coming in and acting like a martinet to people under orders!"

I decide to let the insult go, as it will obviously side-track me from finding out what I want to know. Besides, she has her opinion of me and my protestations to the contrary will not alter that.

"Captain, with all due respect I came onto a bridge that looked like it was getting put back together after being ripped apart, as well as a boatload of tech staff running around like headless chickens! You were nowhere to be seen and I had not been informed of any maintenance, scheduled or otherwise, that needed performed at that time! Now—"

"Then you obviously don't check the ship's log or bulletin boards as often as you should, Lieutenant."

Her words carry an undertone of hostility and I realise that I'd better reign in my own temper – yet again. The last thing I need right now is to be thrown in the brig for insubordination. I decide to say nothing and let her explain, which she does.

"An hour ago I posted a notice to all department heads that a damage control drill was to be performed as of 1155 hours today. This drill involved simulating a bridge hit that disabled most equipment and was to test how quickly they could all be pulled out and replaced or repaired. Why did you not receive this bulletin, Mr. Brown? Your duty schedule had you relaxing for that period. You should have had plenty of time to check with the ship's logs."

I stand there, eyes locked on the bulkhead behind her and curse myself for a fool. During that time I was indeed 'relaxing'. I had went down to the gym to work out all my rage and frustration and lost track of time. I had got deep into the savage pleasure of pounding the crap out of whatever boxing equipment I could use, and only just caught myself in time. I managed to catch a quick shower and make a personal log entry before heading to the bridge.

Karen was staring hard at me, obviously expecting an answer.

"Sir, I lost track of time while exercising in the gym. As a result, I did not have time to check the daily schedule before having to appear on the bridge."

Karen's eyes narrowed at me. She had obviously heard about what I was doing in the gym and easily made the connection as to why I was doing it.

"Lieutenant Brown, you are the First Officer of a Class One Federation Starship. If your recreational activities are interfering with your duties, I can make sure that you are transferred somewhere that you have all the off-duty time you require."

I say, very tightly, "That will not be necessary, Captain."

"See that it isn't, Mr. Brown. If you are distracted from your duties then you are a danger to my ship and crew and I will have you relieved and replaced."

Fighting to maintain an expressionless face – and failing, I think – I gritted out, "Understood."

Karen went to the conference table and used the intercom. "Mr. Enax, is the bridge fully operational again?"

"Almost, Captain. I was about to inform you that it was done."

"Okay. Instruct Ensign Al-Mahaid to inform Commander Matel on the Pharris that we are now ready for departure. Implement any course and speed instructions he orders."

"Aye sir. Bridge out."

I remained silent, even though I desperately wanted to know what was happening and why our squadron was about to leave our patrol station. Karen turned back to face me, a fine eyebrow arched. "Not curious to know what is going on, Lieutenant?"

"Sir, I was assuming that you would tell me anything I need to know."

"Assumptions can be dangerous, and lack of curiosity is not what is looked for in those who aspire to starship duty in Starfleet, Mr. Brown."

I held myself stock-still, not wanting to respond – or even to give the satisfaction of a reaction – to the barbs she was digging into me. It seemed I could no longer do anything right for her. I got the distinct impression that had I asked what was up, Karen would have berated me for being too quick to question or otherwise found fault. I was whipcord tense, so I willed myself to relax, finally succeeding just before she spoke again.

"It seems that even while on the bridge, your little performance took up so much of your attention that the comm. officer's all-call throughout the ship didn't register on you. Therefore I will now inform you that as of 1200 hours today, the 20th of October 2267, the United Federation of Planets is at war with the Klingon Empire."

My animosity for my CO fell away momentarily as I try to accept this horrible news. Oh, I knew that 'war is imminent' and all that, but I had been expecting the diplomats to sort it out. That was their job after all. I honestly thought that the redeployment of the Fleet was going to make the Klingons back down, reconsider.
Did the Klingons really believe that they could beat us? my mind stammered at me. But – but we're the Federation!

All this passes through my mind in a second, but I have to keep paying attention as Karen continues.

"…Command has ordered full mobilisation of auxiliary and planetary defence fleets. Long-range border sensors have indicated movements all over the place and major Klingon fleet elements on course for strategic border systems. Our nearest border early warning sensors detected two squadrons of small Klingon ships before being destroyed. The data that was received is being analysed and we'll be updated en-route. Now that the bridge is back together, we can set out to the area where the sensors were destroyed. That intercept vector will be refined once the Klingons are detected again."

Pausing for breath, Karen is interrupted by the intercom.

"Bridge to Captain McCafferty," came the voice of Ensign Al-Mahaid.

"Captain here. Go ahead."

"Sir, we are now on an intercept vector at maximum warp speed, heading for the Klingon ships. Starfleet Command at Starbase Twelve has been informed, but no reinforcements are immediately available due to heavy engagement. Other task forces are inbound for our general area, however, with ETA's beginning from six hours onwards."

"Understood. Have we a clearer picture of what we are up against?" Karen asks.

Lt. Enax came on the 'com then. "Captain, we believe we are facing six Klingon E4-class escorts. Klingon fleet tactics do not cover the use of so many escorts as a single fighting unit, so we are unsure of what tactics they might employ. It is my estimate that they will break into two squadrons and attack from different vectors, attempting to separate us and split our fire."

"I see. Okay, forward this information to Commander Matel on the Pharris and coordinate with both our sister ships to come up with defensive and offensive tactics."

"Aye, sir. Any further orders?" came the reply.

"No, Mr. Brown and I will be on the bridge momentarily. What is our intercept ETA?"

"Two hours, 17 minutes, present speed sir."

"Thank you, Mr. Enax. Captain, out." Karen looks over to me and, with no trace of our previous animosity evident, asks, "Care to accompany me to the bridge, Lieutenant?"

I take note of the excitement and nervousness in her voice, only hearing it because I've known her so long. I only feel scared, and determined not to lose my nerve as I often fear I might.

I nod meaningfully, and with a confidence I don't feel reply, "Yes sir. Let's make these Klingon animals regret ever crossing the Federation!"

Karen nods, and with that we both head to the bridge, and to war.


Chapter Eight


First Officer's Log, 20th October 2267, Stardate 3198.1

The Kusanagi, along with her sister ships Suvik and Pharris, are en-route to engage two squadrons of Klingon E4-class escorts. We are outnumbered and I believe that this will tip the odds in their favour, despite their ships being inferior to ours in both durability and firepower. I can only hope that our tactics will prove to be better than those of the Klingons.

*****

I remember the words of my log, entered as I manned a spare seat at the Environmental Control bridge station barely 30 minutes ago, as the Klingon formations appear on our sensors.

"Captain, six enemy vessels entering sensor range." A few seconds' pause. "They're going sublight!" Urrih Maknal reports.

"Lt. Lathena, put me on ship-wide broadcast. Helm and Nav, take your lead from the Pharris."

"Aye-aye, sir."

"You are on, Captain."

"All hands, this is the Captain. We have intercepted the Klingon squadrons. Stand by to engage, prepare to repel boarders at any moment, and may our Gods protect us all. Good luck."

Signalling the comm. officer to close the all-call, Karen asks for tactical data. Our Edoan science officer briefs the bridge crew.

"Sir, we have six standard-configuration Klingon E4-class escorts in two three-ship squadrons. Squadron leaders are designated targets K1 and K4, their portside wings designated K2 and K5, and starboard wings designated K3 and K6. All enemy vessels approaching at three-quarters impulse, level two ECM, shields up, weapons armed and ready. Targets K1 to K3 bearing 010 mark 358, targets K4 to K6 bearing 043 mark 001. Both enemy squadrons seem to be angling for the Pharris, range now 250,000km and closing fast."

"Very well. Squadron status?" Karen inquires.

"The squadron leader has us in a right echelon, 5,000km separation between us but so that all our ships are equally distant from the enemy squadrons. We are closing at an angle to spread fire from both enemy squadrons on two shield fronts. We are looking to engage all our firepower on one shield of one ship, at optimum proximity torpedo range, between 90 and 129,000km. It seems—"

Our Andorian comm. officer breaks in. "Captain, Pharris designates target K2 for our initial barrage. Proximity photons and phasers to be used once K2 is inside 130,000km. We are to wait until it presents a weaker rear shield."

"Acknowledge and confirm receipt of targeting orders, Lieutenant," I tell Lathena. "Helm and Navigation, continue to execute course, speed and weapons targeting in accordance with the Pharris's cues until countermanded by the Captain."

A chorus of "Aye-aye, sir's" come back to me and I turn to Karen for approval.

To my surprise I get it with no enmity behind it. She returns to her conversation with Enax, and I take a moment to reflect upon my surprise. I have known Karen for four years and enjoyed a good, friendly working relationship with her up until our little incident. But because of that incident – only four days ago! – I have come to expect only animosity and dressing-downs from her. I can't believe how quickly one anticipation has replaced the other. Now that danger – immediate, actually bearing-down-on-us danger – has appeared, our feud has been forgotten.

Apparently.

I am taking this as a good sign and I'm not about to bring it back to mind. I decide right now to forget the whole bad affair and consign it to the depths if Karen lets it go as well. I mentally cross my fingers and hope for the best.

The bridge goes quiet once again, only to be broken by Enax reporting.

"Range 200,000km. Enemy switching from level two ECM to level two ECCM."

Lathena adds, "Captain, Pharris orders level three ECM and level one ECCM, and set speed to three-quarters impulse."

"Helm and Weapons, comply. Communications, acknowledge and confirm," Karen says calmly.

The "Aye-aye's" echo back again. A few more seconds pass with everyone remaining remarkably calm, considering that the odds are two-to-one. Then:

"Klingons firing, range 150,000km! All enemy ships targeting Pharris, disruptors only."

"Both squadrons are breaking away: K1-3 turning left, K4-6 going right. Looks like they are not wasting phaser power, keeping speed up, EW changing back to two ECM…"

The running commentary from Enax is interrupted by Lieutenant Commander Matel's voice coming into the bridge over the 'com speakers:
"All ships, level two ECCM, come starboard eight degrees and FIRE!"

Our target had presented its aft-port shield to us and looked to be holding that course, so as soon as we had closed the distance to 120,000km our squadron leader told us to turn so that all our phaser banks came to bear.

The viewscreen shows our squadron's weaponry being unleashed at a single enemy vessel. Six photon torpedoes and nine phaser beams make for a very impressive sight against the inky blackness of space.
As soon as we fire, Matel signals for us to put some distance between the Klingons and ourselves to allow our torpedoes to reload. Karen is occupied with her tactical screen, so I order status readouts.

"Condition of the Pharris?" I ask.

Enax tells me, "Undamaged sir, but both her forward and forward-port shields are reduced to 33% and holding."

Ouch! I mentally wince. If we are to survive against six escorts we have to do better than that. "Condition of K2?"

"Sir, a probe fired at him shows he has lost two-thirds of his port warp nacelle, his shuttlebay, auxiliary reactor, port disruptor, port impulse engine and various hull areas breached to space. Heavy damage, and we can destroy him easily with another full salvo." Enax looks more closely at his readings then states, "He has come to a full halt and has set level six ECM. He seems to be attempting repair and is maximising his self-protection. Distance to target is 153,296km. Remaining E4's curving back round on a pursuit course, range 143,000km and closing!"

I look over to our own tactical situation screen. We are in line abreast, heading away from the Klingons at two-fifths impulse, with level two ECM while all our weapons recharge.

The Klingons are heading right for us at three-quarters impulse, level two ECCM – although target K4 seems to be pulling ahead slightly at full impulse with no EW.

Enax calls out again. "Klingons firing on Pharris! Disruptors only". He pauses for a moment then adds, "Pharris' aft and aft-port shields are both down to 40% and holding."

So far, our tactics seem to be working as we have crippled an enemy ship already while they had yet to break our shields.

That all changed in the next minute.

Our phasers have recharged and our torpedoes are halfway when target K4 catches up with us. He targets the Suvik and we are expecting a point-blank barrage, but the Klingon ship slaps a tractor beam on the Suvik, performs a 180 degree HET and starts to drag our sister ship back to his pack. All three of our ships fire point-blank into him, but his well-timed High Energy Turn spreads our firepower over four shields and it is diluted too much.

We watch the Suvik even fire her two defensive phasers, trying to break the weak rear shield of the tractoring E4. As we and the Pharris turn back into the battle to rescue our sister ship, the E4's shield goes down and we detect transporter activity. Captain N'Tarr is attempting a marine raid to try and destroy the tractor holding him.

I feel a surge of hope. That's quick thinking! Lets hope it works…

It does not save him.

The other four Klingons swoop in to join K4 and they release a swarm of drones right at the Suvik's down shield.

Now, the E4 only has one drone launcher and somehow we had discounted them as being a low threat. But when there are six E4's you have a far greater danger.

We and the Pharris try firing at the drones, but we can't hit any. With the Suvik effectively halted in space and us in a large arc, we were already 60,000km away. I watched two drones get snagged in defensive tractor beams, but the other three drones smash home. The E4's fire all their phasers as well, doing maximum damage. The defensive tractors cut out and the last two drones impact on our wounded sister ship.

She explodes in a small nova, taking all hands with her.

I didn't even have the minute satisfaction of her death damaging her captor, as K4 released its tractor as the first drones hit and fled to a safe distance.

I stare in pure shock at the viewscreen, at the conflagration that had been a fine Starfleet vessel with a crew of 160.

Shaking myself out of it, I turn to Karen. She is already out of her seat and snapping out orders. I am lucky enough that I just tune in to catch my own.

"Andrew, hail Commander Matel and ask if we can retreat. We are in over our heads and preserving our vessels should be our foremost concern. Suggest falling back to our nearest reinforcements and regrouping there."

"Aye-aye, sir!" I reply, and head over to the comm. station. I talk with Lathena about the captain's request, phrasing it a shade more diplomatically. Lathena had been off-duty but Karen had recalled all our most able and experienced bridge crew to duty for the battle. This is our front-line team. Our second-line people are in the Auxiliary Bridge handling damage control, and ready to take over at a moment's notice.

Lathena hands me a hardcopy of the squadron leader's response, looking distinctly ill-at-ease. I can't blame her. Turning back to face my captain, she can read the bad news in my face. She asks, "Well?"

I just hand her the printout. She reads aloud:

"'Retreat not an option. Stand your ground and prepare to attack again. This is no time for cowardice.'"

Karen's hands crush the printout as she barks out more orders. Orders that she hasn't read aloud but that are laid down on the hardcopy nonetheless.

"Reconfigure torpedo B for proximity fuse! Designate target K4! Fire through its down rear shield with torpedo A and all main phasers! Await firing order from the Pharris!"

She looks back up at me, fire in her eyes. "That fool is going to get us all killed!" she snarls in a voice for my ears only.

Again, I can't help but agree. I suggest, "Captain, it may be a good idea to both prep a shuttle as a sensor decoy and set tractor repel level two."

Before she can reply, Matel's voice orders, "FIRE!"

Our phasers and two full-strength photon torpedoes lash out at the weakened enemy ship. Our torpedo misses! The other hits, as do all our phasers, and another E4 is crippled. However, it is still going faster than we are and as it edges into proximity rage, we fire again. This time, both explode close enough to do extensive damage.

"Ensign Salok, why did out first torpedo miss?" Karen asks angrily of our Vulcan navigator/weapons officer.

"Captain, a last second alteration of the target vessel's electronic warfare levels confused the torpedo's guidance software and caused it to pursue a ghost image." The Vulcan turns from his task for a moment to face the captain. "I apologise for my inability to correct the torpedo's flight-path, sir."

Karen sighs loudly. "No, Salok, it is okay. I know how these things happen. So, status of target K4?"

"Dead in space, Captain. I still have life-form readings, but sensors indicate a loss of antimatter containment within five minutes from its damaged starboard nacelle," Enax reported.

"New target designation from Pharris, Captain: K1. Load standard torpedoes and be ready to close for a killing salvo. Prepare to defend each other from a drone salvo. Set ECM level one, ECCM level one, speed two-fifths impulse."

"Acknowledge and confirm, Lieutenant. People, you heard the orders. Stay on Pharris's wing, distance 5,000km," Karen orders briskly.

The "Aye-aye's" snap back, and we follow Pharris as she curves around in a wide arc to keep us at a reasonable distance from the Klingons until our torpedoes are charged.

The Klingons do not stay away, though. I watch as on screen they form a V formation with their four active ships and barrel in right at us.

We watch their approach with concern, and Matel tries to tighten our turn to face them with our powerful main phasers, but the Klingon escorts are more manoeuvreable than our frigates and they are moving faster.

"Mr. Enax, readout on the Klingon ships!" I bark.

"Sir… they have no EW active, speed is two-thirds impulse, they are closing to 50,000km… Sir! I am reading overload-level energy in their disruptors! They are targeting the Pharris and vectoring in on the damaged rear shields!"

I spun round. "Lathena! Warn Matel, tell them to HET, reinforce shields, increase ECM!"

I turn back to Karen, but my next words die unspoken on my lips as I see the terrible knowledge in her eyes.

"Helm, do whatever you can to face the enemy. Weapons, target the nearest E4 and fire whatever weapons that bear, coordinate with Helm. Also, prepare defensive tractors and hold our defensive phasers in reserve."

Her voice is so quiet. She's just sitting there, expressionless.

She is still expressionless when a brief reply to my urgent message comes back, unheard as our weaponry lashes out at the strong forward shield of our closest enemy.

I watch her eyes close in grief as the Klingons get to within 40,000km of the Pharris and unload all their weaponry. The pretty, graceful little Starfleet frigate explodes, literally torn apart by the Klingon disruptors. Karen's head stays bowed for a brief span of seconds, then she snaps upright, pronouncing:

"I'm not staying here to die."

It was a sentiment all of us on the bridge were in hearty agreement with. None of us are afraid to die if it means something. But to die uselessly out here, completely overmatched by sheer weight of numbers if nothing else – well, we don't want it to happen.

We will escape and return to fight another day. However, I can see that even with this prevalent sentiment, the crew is still reluctant to leave. It would confirm for all that the Klingons had beaten us. But even the reluctant ones could see that four against one are not good odds with which to carry on the fight.

So, barely a second after her pronouncement, Karen is barking orders again.

"Lathena, inform Starfleet that our position has been overrun and we are withdrawing."

"Yes, Sir."

"Salok, plot a course to our nearest reinforcements or second-line task force. Urrih, go to Yellow Alert, disengage all weapons systems and engage on Salok's course at emergency warp speed. We'll reduce to maximum sustainable warp when we're out of danger. "

"Yes, Captain."

"Aye-aye, sir."

"Enax, leave a probe behind to monitor the activities of the Klingons. Try to make it as sensor-see-through as possible, but do not take too much time to do it."

"Aye-aye, Captain."

"Lathena, get me Engineering."

Toggling switches, Lathena halts her message to Starfleet Command and gets our chief engineer on the 'com.

"Trey`gar here, Captain."

"Engineer, I need full warp speed right now, plus shield power."

"You have it, Captain. Warp speed is available now and I can monitor shield reinforcement on an as-needed basis."

"Very good, Lieutenant. Bridge, out."

"Course laid in, Captain."

"Max warp now, Mr Maknal."

"Warp speed, sir."

Warp speed comes none too soon. We are heading out from the Klingon ships at full sublight speed and maintaining level three ECM. But the Klingons are trying to englobe us and as we have to curve back round to face our own territory again they are closing the distance rapidly.

They are just entering optimum disruptor range – 150,000km – when we finally flash into warp speed.
The Klingons looked like they would follow, but they broke off. Probably to consolidate their position, repair their wounded ships and crew – and call in their victory.

Their victory.

That really hurt.

As we sped – fled – into the depths of Federation space, I privately vowed I will be back. This is not over, not by a long shot.


Chapter Nine


I look out of the porthole in my quarters, watching the strange starbow effect of warp speed. It isn't what is actually out there, but since few people other than Vulcans and Medusans can look at pure, unfiltered subspace without feeling ill, the computer projects a less unnerving representation. It helps calm my frenzied thoughts.

We had been en-route for six hours to Starbase 22 to be made part of a hunter-killer task force when Admiral Grakan had replied to our last transmission. He understood what had happened and agreed with Karen's decision to escape, but he didn't want a Starfleet ship running from the action. We have been re-routed to meet with a heavy cruiser and a destroyer with all three of us coming from different border sections and thus having different ETA's. That was three hours ago. We are still only half-way to the rendezvous point, maintaining our distance from the border.

All this helps explain why I'm looking out of the porthole of my cabin at just after midnight in the middle of a supposed sleep cycle. There are other Klingon units out there, singly or in groups, and we could come across them at any time. A lone frigate will not do well against a cruiser.

I can't sleep. Before, it was because I couldn't escape my own private war. Now it was because a far bigger war could jump out and gobble us up before we could do anything about it. I would feel better once we had a companion, and probably not before it.

It's just about the only good thing to come out of this situation, but I'm finally putting the Jugurtha Incident 'to bed', as it were. Every day I would patch up that wound as best I could, and every night – hell, several times every night – my dreams would rip it open again. With the weight of everything else pressing down on me and with the aid of the Doc's wonder drug, my beleaguered mind is finally gaining some distance from my injury. I'm no longer reliving it, and indeed spend many hours not even thinking about it. I'm beginning to think that my blazing anger at Karen cauterized the wound, and since the Doc's drug is allowing me to keep it closed the damn thing might finally be healing.

I can only hope.

These thoughts have been circling uselessly around in my head for hours, just as I uselessly circle my abandoned bed. I had donned my gold Command uniform again, reasoning that if I wasn't sleeping I might as well be ready for duty.

Despite all these thoughts and 'being prepared'-style actions, I nonetheless nearly jump out of my skin when the Red Alert siren begins whooping. I am very glad I remained in my quarters instead of being somewhere public. Not exactly confidence-inspiring when the ship's second-in-command is seen to have a panic attack when the bell dings as the meal tray arrives…

Taking just enough time to recollect my wits, I charge out of my room and head to the bridge.

Arriving there, I see the night-shift staff updating Karen. I come in to hear the Officer of the Watch, Lieutenant JG M`Gora, saying, "…then it showed up on our screens. I altered course to remain outside his sensor range but keep him in ours, as per your orders."

She pauses there, looking for her captain's approval. Karen nods and gestures for her to continue.

"Sensors show it to be a Klingon F5-class frigate. We are too far away to determine what variant it is, but it seems to be alone. I have drawn up a plan of attack, ready to implement subject to your approval, Captain."

I can hear the eagerness in her voice, and it worries me. I know that practically the entire crew is eager to get into the war again and repay the Klingons for the loss of Kusanagi's two sisters, but we are under orders to meet up with the other ships.

I turn to her to say as much, but she is already considering M`Gora's proposal. My words die unspoken as she says, "Let me see your plan, Lieutenant."

M`Gora's eyes gleam as she hands a electronic clipboard to Karen. "Here it is, sir. If you will just look at…"

The Gamma shift navigator's words fade as I consider my position. As first officer, it is my duty to provide the captain with a competent crew, a functional ship and options or alternatives to plans or proposals made. I also think, however, that reminding the captain of data she already has is pointless and could be taken badly. I am likely to be labelled a coward or rule-quoter for trying to dissuade her from attacking, or cause a resurgence of the animosity between us that has – for the moment – abated.

It takes a few seconds, but I suddenly realise: This is not how I should be doing my duty.

I examine my thoughts of a few seconds ago and become utterly horrified. Am I going to allow the ship and mission to become endangered and direct orders from an admiral go ignored? Just to stay on my captain's good side? If that is the case, then I might as well resign and Karen can replace me with a trained parrot!

M`Gora is still going over her plan of attack, but I'm barely paying attention. I am far too busy being completely and utterly furious with myself. What was up with me that I let this happen? And why the hell have I been avoiding her since the battle in the hope that if she doesn't see me she won't get mad at me?!?!

I tune back in to hear M`Gora wrapping up her plan. I've decided. I am not going to let Karen or M`Gora – or anyone else on this damned ship – screw up our admiral's counter-strike by getting us blown to hell.
My fear at the repercussions is still very real and very large, but my anger is so powerful that I no longer care. Not about what people think of me, not if I'll remain on this ship after this mission – and I don't give a rat's arse about the feelings and opinions of my friend the Captain. Since that night in my quarters when she threw my trust back in my face, I've been trying to explain to her why she is wrong to think that way, and feeling hurt by what she did.

No more.

Karen is about to comment on M`Gora's plan. I speak first.

"Captain, we are needed elsewhere. If we take the time to engage this Klingon we could be damaged or even destroyed. The Androcus and Kublai will be left to face the enemy alone."

Karen's gaze switches to me and her eyes harden. "Mr. Brown, step up-deck with me a moment." Facing M`Gora, she orders, "Maintain distance for now, Lieutenant."

"Aye-aye, sir." The Andorian gives me a disparaging look before turning to her task.

I step onto the upper bridge walkway next to the turbolift alcove, with Karen on my heels. Not giving me a chance to speak further, she quietly rails at me.

"Mr. Brown, we are at war and we have located an enemy vessel we can handle one-on-one. I am confident that this ship and crew can take them out and still make the rendezvous. We could even signal the other ships to meet us here. I know we are under orders, but the delay is minimal and we could easily make the rendezvous inside the Kublai's ETA."

"Captain, I know that our ETA is flexible, but that is not the point. The point," I stressed angrily, "is that we are to be part of a task force that is part of a plan to halt the Klingon advance. This is no time to indulge in some reckless glory-seeking!"

"Glory-seeking? Is that what you think this is about?"

Our argument is threatening to become a shouting match on the bridge. I decide to end it with an ultimatum, but Karen speaks up first.

"Do you think I care the slightest bit about so-called 'glory'?"

"So what is it about? Revenge? I know you hate the Klingons, Captain, but it is not the time to exact your revenge for the Jugurtha Incident, or for the loss of our sister ships. It is never the time for revenge, however much we may want it."

"Don't you hate them too? They took your arm, gave you three months' worth of sleepless nights—"

"Don't you DARE!" I hissed. It took a supreme effort of willpower not to scream the words. Karen actually leans back, away from the fury in my eyes.

"Captain, sir, with all due respect, you have lost the right to delve into my personal pain for your own gain. You lost it when you threw my trust back in my face and wouldn't give me the chance to defend myself against you. That topic is now closed." I pause there, breathing heavily, but push one last thought out.

"So I congratulate you, Captain. Thanks to you, I have managed 'get over it' and 'let it go' as you suggested. But it will be up to you to determine the cost, if it was worth it. Your personal opinions of and reasons for that night no longer hold any interest for me."

"Mr. Brown, that is enough!" Karen's eyes are alight with an anger to match my own. "Carry on like that again, and I will have you relieved of duty!"

I'm thinking, If she wants a knock-down, drag-out shouting match, she's got it!
But I reign myself in. I cannot win my point if I am locked up in the loony bin awaiting 'psychiatric assessment'.

"Yes sir! I… apologise… for my unprofessional conduct in this matter. It will not happen again."

"Very well, Lieutenant," she says, but I sense she doesn't believe me. Trying to get us back on track, she asks, "What of the matter at hand? Will you support me in attacking the enemy?"

"Sir, I will stand against you on this matter, for the record. If we are damaged too badly to join the task force – and all it takes is one good hit from that F5 – you will have disobeyed direct orders and delayed or aborted a vital counter-strike. I will not let you do that, unless you wish to place me in the brig."

There. My ultimatum finally made it out, but will she call me? I'd like to think I'm not bluffing.

"That will not be necessary, Lieutenant Brown. Your comments – however they were phrased – have their own merit and are… reluctantly… accepted."

That did it. I have my personal victory, but this may just be the second battle of a long war of wills between us. McCafferty's eyes hold a fury surpassing my own at her will – and possibly her revenge – being thwarted. She turns her back on me and issues orders to the bridge crew. This action is both symbolic and probably indicative of our future relations.

"Stand down from Red Alert, go to Yellow. Navigator, plot a course from our current position to the rendezvous coordinates and update me on our ETA. Helm, pull us away from the Klingon and make sure he doesn't notice us, then engage on the new course at cruise velocity."

The "Aye-aye's" echo back, and without turning McCafferty addresses me.

"Mr. Brown, there is no need for you to be up at this hour any longer. You should go below and try to get some sleep, you are looking tired."

Her voice carries a tone of brittle politeness, feigned interest in my well being. It is almost as much of a dismissal as when she did it the morning after our little 'incident'. Even the bridge crew seems to notice as several of them shift uncomfortably in their seats, although no one looks around.

I reply in the same tone. "Thank you for your concern, Captain. It is the middle of the night for me, after all. I think I will go back to bed."

I turn to Petty Officer Atar at the communications station and say, "Log me back off-duty please, P.O."

"Yes sir," is his sole response.

"Good night, all," I say to the bridge at large in a genial voice as I step into the turbolift. The doors close on a silent bridge and any pretence at a good mood instantly drops away. I finally make it back into my quarters and sit on my bed, although I couldn't feel less like sleeping if I tried.

The anger that finally drove me to stand up for my beliefs and myself has not abated. I thought I was angry before, but I sense that it is nothing compared to what I feel building within me now. I am still reviling myself for being such a spineless weakling, but not just for this incident, oh no. My whole sorry life is flashing before me.

Every embarrassing moment, every time I have let other people run roughshod over me and my feelings, every time I have folded instead of standing up for myself, my actions, others I have thought were right. All these and more are detailed in the perfectly clear memories always reserved, not for our most treasured and tender moments, but the most personally demeaning ones.

It is truly sickening.

It repulses me to the point of throwing up, but I'm just holding on.

It is also something of a revelation.

NO MORE!!!

The words echo around inside my head. It's so loud I'm surprised the crew of the departing Klingon ship doesn't hear it, never mind the people I share this vessel with.

This is not to say that I am suffused with a sudden feeling of empowerment that enables me to throw off my emotional straightjacket.

Oh no.

It has just made me really, royally pissed off at everyone who has ever put me in such a situation – and at myself for letting them put me there.

I make a personal vow right here, right now: No more! No more will my true feelings go unheard. No more will my whiny voice be heard alone in my quarters, moaning about what I could have or should have done.

From this day on, a new, improved Andrew Brown will make his presence felt wherever he is, instead of choosing the path of least resistance.

McCafferty had better watch out.


Chapter Ten


First Officer's Log, 21st October 2267, Stardate 3200.83

Our ETA at the rendezvous was 30 minutes later thanks to our unscheduled 'diversion', but we still managed to arrive before the other ships so no harm came because of it. The Constitution-class heavy cruiser USS Androcus arrived a bare ten minutes later, and the Saladin-class destroyer USS Kublai 35 minutes after that. Greetings were perfunctory and we got underway less than an hour after our arrival. Apparently, speed is of the utmost priority here, bearing out my own position.

However, Captain Tareel on the Androcus has since informed us that due to changing situations and priorities, we are now going back the way we came to engage the same E4 squadrons that we fought earlier. They are penetrating deeper into Federation space and may have been reinforced, so we are updating the other two ships on their tactics and skill at performing them.

I am far more confident this time that we will win. Even if the Klingons have been brought back up to strength we now have firepower equivalent to five frigates mounted on stronger ships with more power. Having the Androcus with us should surely bring us victory.


Personal Log, supplemental

Good news on the home front, in that McCafferty has ceased her attacks on my character and performance since our last confrontation on the bridge. She has been civil to me, but I can still sense her hostility. Maybe she thinks I now hold some threat over her head, having been proven correct that any delay was unacceptable. Whatever the reason, I am feeling better about my position here for the moment. How long that feeling lasts remains to be seen.

We are expecting to intercept the Klingons within the hour. I am getting nervous about facing the same Klingons who beat us so decisively earlier on, but I am sure I can handle the stress.

*****

"Captain, six Klingon ships are now entering sensor range," Lieutenant Enax calls out.

A ripple of nervousness goes around the bridge crew at the similarity of his words to those he uttered less than 24 hours ago. Enax seems unaffected by it, however.

"Can we tell what they are yet?" McCafferty asks.

"Force composition seems to be four E4-class escorts and two F5-class frigates, sir."

At this, McCafferty's head snaps round to face me and I am impaled by a look of pure venom. I had opened my mouth to exclaim, but I decide against it. I close my mouth, having said nothing.

McCafferty seems to take this as some kind of victory, as she almost sneers at me before returning her attention to the screen.

"Salok, you are our resident probability generator. Can you tell me the odds that one of those F5's is the one we let go?" McCafferty asks our Vulcan navigator.

Salok does not even turn round but replies, "Based on current information, on the order of 79%. The Klingon frigate we encountered was heading back to Klingon lines when we intercepted it, and could easily have been diverted to this group. However, without knowing what other ships were in the area during our time here, that number could be incorrect. Reinforcements from behind—"

"Really." McCafferty interrupts, her voice a flat monotone. "Thank you, Salok," she adds, having got what she wanted from him.

Not wanting the bridge crew to ponder the ramifications of McCafferty's insinuations, I order, "Status report on the Klingon vessels, Lieutenant Maknal."

The Centauran helmsman begins his brief, not taking his eyes from his controls. "Sir, the F5's are being used as squadron leaders for each three-ship formation. They are executing the same approach pattern we saw in our last battle.
"Captain Tareel designates portside F5 target K1, starboard F5 designated target K4, the portside E4s as targets K2 and K5, starboard E4s as targets K3 and K6. Bearing 344 mark 003 to first enemy squadron. Bearing 357 mark 359 to the second enemy squadron. Distance to targets: approximately 200,000km, all closing at three-quarter impulse, with level two ECM."

"Very good. Current squadron status?" I ask.

"We are running at one-fifth impulse to allow the Kublai to charge all weapons. Squadron is operating level two ECM and we all have one decoy shuttle prepared. Androcus is charging a second one as we speak," Ensign Salok replies.

"Captain, orders coming in from the Androcus," Lathena reported.

"On speakers, Lieutenant."

"Speakers, aye, sir."

"This is Captain Tareel on the Androcus. Once Kublai has charged photons, set speed to one-third impulse, maintain level two ECM. Our first target is K2. We will wait until he presents a weaker rear shield, alter our EW to two ECCM and engage with proximity photons and main phasers. Kublai, you will hold standard torpedoes, both to give us manoeuvring speed and as a deterrent to a straight-in run from the Klingons. Be prepared to dump EW and activate tractors for drone defense."

This does not increase my confidence any, hearing almost exactly the same orders and enemy tactics as in our first battle. It didn't work for us then, why should it work now?

"Range, 170,000km. Enemy switching from two ECM to two ECCM."

I can't believe this. History is repeating itself, almost word-for-word! I feel oddly detached from it all, as if I know how it will end and so I'm not as interested in it this time round.

"Klingons opening fire! Range 150,000km. All enemy vessels targeting the Androcus, disruptors only. Exactly like last time!" Urrih Maknal blurts. So, I'm not the only one who notices.

"Belay that, Mister!" McCafferty growls at him.

"Aye, sir," a chastised Urrih replies. "Both Klingon squadrons breaking again. K1 squadron going left, K4 squadron going right, trying to split our fire. EW changing back to two ECM."

"Distance closing to 133,000km."

"Prepare to open fire on Captain Tareel's command…" McCafferty warns.

"Fire as specified!" Tareel's voice shouts over the speakers.

The viewscreen really lights up as fifteen phasers and six photons reach out towards the enemy. The effect is instantly visible, as the small Klingon ship bucks violently and starts to fall behind its companions. Lots of plasma- and atmosphere-venting confuse the sensor picture momentarily, and when it clears we are confronted by six drones heading for us. The crippled E4 must have launched a scatter-pack shuttle.

Well, headed for the Androcus, actually, but we are now on drone defense duty.

The drones close quickly, and both our defensive phasers hit out, killing a drone each. Then our tractors activate, as do those of the Androcus, snagging two drones apiece. The Androcus begins to rotate the drones behind her, but a call of "Shuttle launch from target K4!" prompts a decision change.

"Kusanagi, prepare to drop your tractors. All ships, slow to one-sixth impulse. I'm going to launch a decoy," Tareel announces.

"Just give the word, Captain. Slowing to one-sixth," McCafferty responds.

The Deltan captain has guts, I can definitely give him that. He waits until the last moment, possibly trying to get the Klingons to sucker-launch more drones, but no more appear. The modified shuttlecraft silently leaves the cruiser's hanger bay, at the same time her tractors cut out. Seeing this, we release our own. Ten drones sail past our strongest ship and utterly destroy a seven-meter-long shuttle.

"Alright!" someone whoops. I'm not sure on whose bridge they are, because of the three-way open comm. link, but the sentiment is shared by all. Maybe we will prevail!

I want to know more. My main fault, I suppose. "Status of Androcus?" I ask quietly of Enax.

"The disruptor attack reduced the cruiser's forward shield to 77% and holding. No other damage, as she used reserve power to boost her ECM to level three. This reduction in speed has allowed level six ECM and more forward shield reinforcement. The Klingons shouldn't be able to touch her at all this round."

I grin at him and ask, "Status of K2?"

"Dead in space, Sir, and tumbling in the z-axis. Warp and impulse engines destroyed, all weapons dead. It's a crippled hulk and sensors show it is loosing antimatter containment." Enax looks up from his scope and added, "I'm only surprised that it did not explode straight away."

I clap his shoulder lightly and nod at him. "Very good, Enax. Thank you."

He smiles and returns to his scanners.

"Captain, the Klingons are making another run at us." The voice came from the speakers, but it was joined by Maknal's.

"Confirmed, sir. Still coming in on separate vectors, no attempt to help K2." He sounded outraged at this, even after direct Klingon experience during the Jugurtha Incident.

"Captain Tareel, Klingons are approaching. 165,000km distance, targeting us."

"Kublai, I want you to hold your fire. I don't want to go wasting shuttles as the numbers say the Klingons will outlast us. If the Klingons launch a second salvo this time, you are to knock them out. Kusanagi and I will do the tractor dance with the first salvo. Understood?"

"Understood, Captain Tareel," replies Commander O'Neill on the Kublai.

"Understood, Sir," our own Lieutenant Commander McCafferty answers.

"Our target for this turn is K1. I want to bring his forward starboard shield down, which should make him more circumspect about frontal attacks. Kusanagi, target his number two shield and await my command."

"Aye-aye, Sir," McCafferty replies again.

"Klingons firing, Captain! Range 148,000km." A pause. "No damage! The shield reinforcement absorbed it all."

"Excellent." I am beginning to recognise Tareel's voice. "Open fire!"

Kusanagi and Androcus spit out nine brilliant blue phaser beams that smash into the number two shield of one F5 before it turns away from us, then a cloud of drones appear on our sensors.

"Five drones, inbound on Androcus at half impulse," Ensign Salok reports.

"Defensive tractors, Kusanagi!" Tareel reminds us, as if we'd forget.

Our defensive phasers impale two drones as the tractors of both our ships grab the other three, just as another scatter-pack shuttle is launched.

"How many of these bloody things do they have?" I all but snarl. "It's like fighting the Mirak, from what I've heard!"

No one replies.

Six more drones bloom from a shuttle now melted to scrag in their fusion exhaust and the Kublai takes up the challenge, destroying each drone with pinpoint accuracy and in plenty of time. The Klingons circle round again, but our torpedoes are almost ready. Then it's payback time.

But something is wrong…

"Range, 150,000km. Klingons holding their fire, attack vectors unchanged!"

Now, we all knew what that meant. Because of the superb fire-control systems the Klingons had for their disruptors, they could do the same amount of damage at 150,000km as they could at 40,000km. Therefore, the Klingons had an 'attack barrier' of 150,000km distance from their target. If they were still coming in past that barrier it meant they had changed tactics and were intending to get in really close. This could get very bad for us if it wasn't handled properly.

"All ships, switch torpedoes to normal fuses!" Tareel orders. "Kublai, I want you to attack and if possible destroy target K3. I want it completely out of the fight. Kusanagi, we will do the same for target K4. I want a dead F5 and E4 after this run, people."

"Aye-aye, Captain," replies O'Neill.

"Acknowledged with pleasure, Sir." McCafferty's voice is very cold.

"Belay that talk, Commander McCafferty!" Tareel's voice is sharp. "This is no time for personal vendettas!"

McCafferty's face is a mask of stone as she answers, "Aye-aye, Captain Tareel, Sir!"

Choosing to ignore her obvious sarcasm, the Deltan instructs, "If they are closing to inside 40,000km, then we shall fire when they get inside 50,000km. Just in case they don't do as we expect, be prepared to fire on my order at any moment. Also, stand ready to assist in drone defense or launch decoy shuttles."

"Drone launch! Klingon ships dropping to half impulse, apparently pacing their drones in." Enax calls out. "Range now 100,000km."

"Confirmed, also note that all drones seem to be targeted on Kusanagi," the Androcus' science officer adds. The heavy cruiser's superior lab facilities determined this faster than our own.

"We can take care of them with a little help from Androcus, Captain, " Lieutenant Maknal speaks up. "We shouldn't complicate Kublai's power curve more than it already is."

"Agreed, Kusanagi." Tareel replies.

"Klingons passing 80,000km and closing, half impulse, no EW, no shield reinforcement."

Urrih is certainly on the ball today. That he reports this extra data means he is troubled by something. Come to think of it, it's bothering me too. What is it…?

"Reading overload-level disruptor energy on all ships! They're making a run on the Androcus!" Maknal's voice is filled with horror at what damage that amount of firepower can do.

"Captain Tareel, you—"

"I know, we can see it too. After we fire, I'm shutting everything down and pouring all our energy into the facing shield. May Kolkar protect us all. Be prepared for emergency rescue operations on my ship. I'm beaming some off now. Lower your facing rear shield. Save as many of my crew as possible, Commanders."

"Aye Sir," McCafferty all but whispers. O'Neill acknowledges too.

"Transporter room, lock onto coordinates Lt. Lathena will be sending you and prepare to beam crew off the Androcus," I order. Lathena relays the data given to her by the cruiser's comm. officer.

"Klingons passing 50,000km, setting level two ECCM, slowing to two-sevenths' impulse." The Androcus' weapons officer is subdued.

"You know your targets. Open fire!!" Tareel commands.


Chapter Eleven


All our weaponry lashes out, trying to lower the odds facing the certainly doomed heavy cruiser, as simultaneously 30 Androcus crewmembers are transported to the Kusanagi and 40 are transported to the Kublai.

Our bridge crew cheer as two enemy ships break apart spectacularly, with nacelles, booms and various hull pieces spinning off into the freezing Void, propelled by the force of exploding warp reactors. This causes the viewscreen filters to automatically dampen down the glare, and we can see that the Klingon formations are shredded, their remaining ships damaged by the destruction of their companions – but still they come on.

The Androcus comes to a complete halt and sets level six ECM. The Kusanagi's defences come alive, snaring and killing four enemy drones, the Kublai snags the fifth and we take no damage.
Tareel's tactics are good and they've diminished the Klingon firepower by perhaps a third, but is it enough to save his ship? We see the forward shield firm up to 200% of its normal strength with the full power of the warp engines behind it, and find hope in the action. But we cannot celebrate. Not yet.

The Klingons fire at the Androcus from 11,000km.

Their overloaded disruptors and weaker main phasers smash through the shield and its reinforcement, and start chewing at the bare duranium hull. It's horrible to watch, but none of us can look away – or do anything about it.

The beautiful ivory hull is scored by phaser-fire, blackened by disruptors pounding into – and through! – it. A torrent of green fire washes over the entire ship, ruining everything it touches.

And then it is over.

The Klingons drop their ECCM, pick up speed and fly past us, off to starboard, while we wait helplessly as our weapons recharge.

The heavy cruiser is still there. Barely.

But she is dead.

Lifeless.

No energy runs through her.

No lights adorn her.

The comm. station suddenly starts bleeping as the dead cruiser's automatic disaster beacon activates and screams it's tale of woe through the cold, unfeeling Void.

It seems everybody on the bridge jumps when McCafferty booms, "Snap out of it! We are still in danger and there is nothing we can do for them."

The words stick in my throat, but I push them out. "S-Sir, request permission to—"

"Denied. You're not going over there. We will continue to beam over any survivors, but not if it endangers my ship, Lieutenant."

I heard the steel in her voice and want to object, but I know she is right. We have to make sure we survive, or the cruiser's crew will just be beaming from one coffin to another.

"Aye, Sir." I look over at our status boards and update the Captain, "Phasers recharged in 30 seconds, photons in one minute 30, and it looks similar for the Kublai." I turn back to her and say, "Captain, I suggest we both move to 25,000km from the Androcus. The Klingons may try to damage us by finishing her off, but we will still be in transporter range for rescue ops."

"Agreed. Lathena," she addresses the Andorian, "hail the destroyer and advise them we are moving off and suggest they join us."

"Yes, Captain."

"Helm, move us away, follow the Klingons."

"Aye, Sir."

"Captain, I have Commander O'Neill on the channel. He wants to coordinate our next response," Lathena informs her.

"Put him on, audio only. I want to keep track of the Klingons."

"Aye, Sir." To O'Neill, "You are on, Commander."

"Lt. Cdr. McCafferty, with no response from the Androcus, I hereby take command of this mission. That said, due to your experience in this area I am open to any suggestions you may make. As it is, what do you think they will do next?"

McCafferty's mouth had set into a hard line at O'Neill's first words, but opened in surprise as he continued. Taking a few moments to collect her thoughts, she replies.

"Sir, with the Androcus out of the fight, both of us moving out of her explosion radius and taking into account your ship's poorer power curve, I think they will stay close and keep their speed high. They can dance around us and avoid our heavy weapons arcs while keeping us in theirs."

"Yes, that matches our analysis. Only makes sense, I suppose. What do you think we should do about it?"

McCafferty shrugs her shoulders – which O'Neill cannot see – and says, "You could always shut down two or all of your photon tubes and increase speed. They will probably match it, but it will put a strain on their resources and make us more manoeuvrable."

O'Neill stays silent for a few seconds before replying, "I don't like the idea of ignoring our heavy weapons," he says slowly, "but they really are of no use to us if we cannot get the enemy in arc so we can fire the damn things. Very well, that's what we'll do."

The timbre of his voice alters, and he is speaking to his own bridge crew. "Weapons, shut down tubes C and D, charge A and B at standard yield. Sensors, set level two ECM. Navigator, predict where the Klingons will begin another attack run and plot an intercept course to that point. Helm, engage on that course at two-sevenths' impulse. Kusanagi," he addressed us, "stay on our wing against the main threat axis and be ready to defend us from drone attack."

"Acknowledged, Commander. What will our target be?" McCafferty asks.

"We need to even the odds, so I want another enemy ship crippled and out of the fight. That means an E4. What enemy ships still have shuttles aboard, Lieutenant?" O'Neill asks of his science officer.

"Sir, targets K2, K4 and K6 have all launched scatter-pack shuttles, and targets K2, K3 and K4 have been destroyed. That leaves K1 and K5 with shuttles."

"Very well. Commander McCafferty, I designate target K5. We will rely on our decoy shuttles to protect us for this round."

"Aye-aye, Sir," McCafferty replies. "Suggest setting level one tractor repel, Sir, so that we can still launch shuttles if the need arises."

"Good idea. Engage level one tractor repel, Ensign," O'Neill orders his weapons officer.

"Klingons coming round again, Sir! Lining up an attack run bearing 051 mark 006. They are out of torpedo arc, Captain."

"Irrelevant, our torpedoes are only half armed. Turn to face them head on. I want all our phasers in arc."

"Klingons closing to 55,000km sir. We will not be able to make the turn in time," our own Lieutenant Maknal warns. "Weapons back online… now!"

"Fire all weapons that bear!" Commander O'Neill orders.

Again, six bright blue beams lash out at our tormentors, just as they unleash vivid green and blue fire of their own. I watch as the targeted E4's number six shield flares, then collapses. Atmosphere, debris, and engine plasma vent from it.

Over the inter-ship channel to Kublai I hear, "Captain, our number two shield is down and we've sustained minor internal damage."

"Specify," came a voice I hadn't heard yet, possibly the destroyer's first officer. The reply was drowned out by an Intruder Alert klaxon grating to life.

"We're being boarded!" came an urgent shout. From the security station, maybe?

"Trace their location! Give me that damage report!" O'Neill's voice snapped out.

"Extensive damage to crew quarters, one impulse reactor and phaser port six offline, Captain," the destroyer's comm. officer stated. Then, more urgently, "Sir, shuttlebay reports four Klingon Marine squads are attacking them and they need reinforcements!"

The realisation struck several of us at once. "They're going to swarm the Kublai!" I blurted out in horror, while my mind screamed at me not AGAIN!!

McCafferty's voice cuts through the babble, icy calm and in total control. "Belay that, Mister Brown. We need level heads here, not alarmist exclamations!"

I turn and shoot her a look that should have dented a bulkhead, but she is already speaking down the intercom.

"Security, this is the Captain. Prepare teams to board the Kublai and help them fight off four Klingon boarding parties. Do it now."

"Aye-aye, Captain," came the reply. I also hear what must be our defensive phasers swatting the drones our tractors are still holding from the last attack. The shrill scream of our phasers is unmistakable.

"Captain O'Neill, I've lost contact with our crew in the shuttlebay. They no longer respond."

A rather nasty oath in the Orion Trader's Tongue escapes from the destroyer captain's lips at that. A worse one emerges following his engineer's report.

"Sir, shuttlebay control systems just went offline. We cannot launch shuttles until they are repaired."

Lieutenant Maknal calls out, "Shuttle launch! Targets K1 and K5 both launching a shuttle each, inbound at one quarter impulse."

"Scatterpacks! Kublai's a goner!" I blurt, again. "Twelve more drones! We can deal with two of them, the destroyer can take another two, but that still leaves eight to impact on them unless we can unmask our port phasers."

"Damnit, Mr. Brown, that is enough! Any more defeatist talk like that and you will be relieved of duty! If you have nothing positive to contribute then stay silent!"

My ears burn and I feel my face flush red at her rebuke, but I cannot call her on it. She is actually right, and the less experienced staff don't need to hear the kind of morose crap I'm spouting.

Hell, both contingents of this ship's crew have been through defeat at the hands of the Klingons, separately and together. The command staff's Jugurtha Betrayal. The Kusanagi crew's loss of their own command staff. And our last battle with these very same E4 squadrons.

And here I am, the unceasing voice of depression. The Town Crier of Doom.

Idiot. The word in my head is all the more cruel and vicious for it's quiet, contemptuous tone.

I shake myself out of my reverie, and snap back into useful action. "Sir, I suggest that if the Klingons are beginning boarding actions, we post security squads at vital systems."

"Very good, Lieutenant." McCafferty's voice is almost as cruel as my own personal critic. "Do so!" She snaps.

I head over to the unmanned Engineering Sub-Systems Monitor Station as Ensign Salok – apparently oblivious to my dressing-down – calmly states, "Scatter-pack release. Twelve Type-IS drones targeted on the Kublai. Inbound at half impulse, impact in 30 seconds."

"Kublai has released a mine, but I don't think it will activate in time to destroy the drones," Urrih Maknal adds.

Lathena breaks in to the conversation with, "Captain, comm. link with the Kublai has been temporarily lost! Attempting to regain." I work at my secondary board, patching in a 'com channel to Security and ordering them to assign squads to our weapons and power systems.

"Main phasers coming back online in 30 seconds. Drone impact in 25 seconds. Portside phaser coming into arc now, Captain," Salok reports.

"Excellent! Target those drones and make sure you kill one. Fire!" McCafferty orders.

My job done, I turn and watch Salok's long fingers work his controls, but as he presses the firing toggle, he draws back suddenly and rapidly vacates his chair.

I stare at him and I'm about to ask what the hell he thinks he's doing – but the words don't make it past my lips. My eyes feel like they are trying to escape my head as I notice everyone working at a console practically launching themselves away from their stations, yelling in pain and fright.

Even McCafferty has done so.

"What the…?" I mutter, unheard in the general mêlée. I'm standing absolutely still on the upper bridge walkway as everyone around me dances away from their post.

"Captain, what's wrong?" I ask urgently, too shocked to be angry with her.

"My seat… the control panels on my seat… they… they just went instantly white hot!" She looks at me, straight in the eye.

"I don't understand," she says in a bewildered tone.


Epilogue


"Salok, explain!" I demand of our Vulcan navigator.

"Sir, I fear that I cannot," his level tones come back. "I too experienced extreme heat, and I can still feel it now. The weapons console seems to be radiating at a heat of approximately 176 degrees Celsius, and yet it does not melt. I am at a loss to explain it."

"Enax?"

"I'm sorry, Lieutenant. I can no more explain it than Ensign Salok can. However, my science scanner is unaffected, even while the EW controls radiate at a high temperature."

"Scanners! What is the status of the Kublai and the Klingon ships?" McCafferty suddenly interjects, just as all power fades.

"Get me a damage report! Enax, what's out there?"

Enax tentatively bends to his instruments and reports, "Sir, she's still there! Kublai hasn't been destroyed!"

The bridge crew cheer, but Enax continues. "All other ships have come to a complete halt; us, the Kublai, all the Klingon ships. Even the drones!"

"What?" I blurt.

"Sir, I cannot explain it. The drones are still out there, I'd say about ten seconds' time from hitting the Kublai, but they are dead, inert. No power readings from anything out there, except life support. No weapons, no movement, no shields."

Lieutenant Lathena speaks up. "Damage reports coming in, Sir." She pauses. "Engineering reports no damage, just a total loss of power to offensive systems. The engineering staff cannot go near their warp or impulse control boards because they are too hot. Phaser control, the photon deck and shield control all report likewise sir. Kublai reports they have similar conditions there and ask if we know anything about what's happened."

"Tell them we know as much as they do, which is apparently nothing," McCafferty replies. She looks around, completely at a loss.

"What in Tellar's Seven Hells is going on?" she demands.

*****

"Sir! Message coming in from Starfleet Command – on Earth!"

McCafferty whirls to face Lathena. "Earth? Not Starbase Twelve?"

"It's from Earth, Captain. A Fleet-wide message to all ships and outposts, highest priority."

"Put it on screen then, Lieutenant," McCafferty orders.

The ageless Oriental features of Commanding Admiral Nogura came on to the viewscreen then, and he began to speak.

"This is Admiral of the Fleet Nogura to the brave men and women of the Star Fleet. The war between the Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets is over. All hostilities between our two armed forces have been effectively halted, by means you have probably all experienced to some degree or another. Rest assured that the Federation Council and Starfleet Command know exactly what has happened, and why it has happened.

"You will no doubt be wondering how your commands have been neutralised, be they planetside or spaceborne, in the last half hour. This is what I am here to explain.

"A highly advanced race of beings, known as the Organians, have imposed a peace on both us and the Klingons. These beings are totally non-corporeal and have vast mental powers, which they have used to neutralise all the armed forces of both the Klingons and the Federation, wherever they may be. They did this by generating extreme heat at the point of contact between combatants, or crews and their offensive weapons systems so that they could not be used. Anything that could have been used as a weapon has been neutralised in this way.

"The Organians became involved in this way as a Starfleet mission to their planet became caught up in a confrontation with a Klingon fleet intending to subdue the planet and use it as a base of operations for their war effort. The Organians abhor violence in any form, and so acted to prevent anyone else being harmed.

"So, we find ourselves in this current situation. I am assured that your commands will now regain power and you will be allowed to return to your regional command bases and home ports, until the details of this new peace can be worked out.

"Keep your spirits high, and hold on to your hope. I repeat, the war is over.

"This is Admiral Nogura, CinC Starfleet, signing off."

The bridge crew, all of whom had been caught in rapt attention at our Supreme Commander's words, suddenly broke into cheers of delight and sighs of relief – or calm appraisal of the facts – as befitted their race and upbringing.

I… I whoop myself hoarse, grinning my head off.

Looking around the bridge, I think for a moment I catch McCafferty shivering with relief, but the moment passes and I am not sure if I imagined it or not. Then she smiles to herself, unseen by all except me in the pandemonium of the celebrations. Even through our recent personal conflicts and my own anger at her, I see in the expression that the smile brings to her face the Karen I used to know and trust.

My heart aches suddenly at the lost chance, and I almost break right then. I want so much to go over to her and hug her, apologise for whatever it is that I have done to anger or offend her, have it back to the way it was, barely five days ago.

And then I catch her eye.

She has caught me intruding into her private moment.

The smile disappears, to be replaced by a look so cold my body should have shattered at the temperature change.

She hates me.

I cannot bear it.

Then my own anger returns, and my own look of cold hatred stabs out at her. Alone amongst all the heartfelt expressions of relief and joy at surviving a war, we are two adversaries, squared off, ready to begin another.


The End





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