This was my first attempt at writing for anyone other than myself. This first chapter is setting the political and technological background for my story, as well as introducing a little of the immediate history of my main character. All dates and ranks are translated into Federation equivalents for clarity, except in actual speech. As an aside, I originally posted this on the GFL fleet website in December 2000, then again on the Taldren website in Mid 2001.
Thank you for your attention. This thread brought to you by the Rihannsu Tourist Board. *Grin*
Commander Jaeih i-Neihssian t`Radaik sat in her quarters on board her new command, looking over the duty roster and feeling uneasy at the lack of familiar names. The whole process had started all over againwho could she trust?
T`Radaik's strict adherence to the tradition of mnhei`sahethe Ruling Passionwas not shared by many Rihanha. Indeed, the whole concept of personal honour among Rihannsu was being perverted (she thought) into what the Klin thought Honour should bethe accumulation of personal glory by whatever means necessary. She hoped that most of those on this tour with her would be those who shared her ethic.
It would be too much to expect all to share it.
Her last tour aboard the Sunfall had been a nightmare. Five of her loyal personal guards had been killed and twelve others injured to some extent by protecting her over those eight years.
It is wearisome having to guard against your own people as well as the enemies you defended the Empire from, Jaeih thought glumly.
T`Radaik reflected on the course that had brought her here. Being noticed early on as having an aptitude for command, she had been given the CO's chair of the Snipe-class sublight frigate RIS Honour Guard while only a Senior Centurion in 2234. She had repaid the trust placed in her by her superiors by returning from the Gorn border alive and with her ship still in one piecealbeit just barely. With a promotion to subCommander in 2242and the justified self-confidence this brought onshe was set in command over the Hawk-class sublight destroyer RIS Sunfall in preparation for the war with the hated Federation. The Grand Fleet was in full mobilisation and just days away from a full-scale assault when the orders had come in to stand down. At almost the last minute the Praetor had learned of the Federation's invisibility screen for its ships, and the invasion had been called off until Rihannsu technology could match this startling development.*
The Second Federation War put off for the foreseeable future, the Fleet returned to normal alert status with every sensor extended across the Federation Neutral Zone for any clue about their invisibility screen, whichunsurprisinglywas never found. It seemed that the Praetor had been wrong but the cloaking theory proved so sound that research proceeded steadily, although it was all still hypothetical and theoretical seven years later.
Lots of '-ical' words she thought, amused.
T`Radaik's tour on the Federation border was eventfulhaving no contact at all with the Feds as ordered, but surviving numerous attempts at having her command taken by gloryseekers and their own 'interpretation' of the Praetor's wishes. Also, her squadron was often called to assist on the Gorn border in dealing with the overgrown lizards when they got noisy.
"Elements be Thanked that they still don't have any Type-R torpedoes as well as FTL speed," she muttered to herself.
Back to the here-and-now, with a promotion to Commander and set in authority over the Warbird-class cruiser RIS Aehallh ChR-319, posted to the Klingon border. Having served aboard one as a Centurion, she already knew every circuit path and structural join in the well-crafted ships by heart, and was looking forward to commanding one for a normal tour of eight Standard years.
The first Warbird had been built in the second year of the Federation War93 Standard years agoand those that had survived the war were still going strong. They had a life expectancy as long as that of their crews, and original Warbird cruisers would still be soaring through the Void another century from now. The Fleet Yards were maintaining a force of 500 cruisers, the huge number needed for the defense of an interstellar Empire with no reliable FTL drive. Cruiser, destroyer and frigate fleets were stationed in each system, as well as along the borders. They did not leave their stations.
The Yards were still producing replacements for those lost every year in battles with the Gorn and Klingons, although the Klingon border fleets were taking heavier losses since the accursed Klin had started fielding their new Raxor-class D6 battlecruisers four years ago. There aren't many on the Rihannsu bordermost were facing the Fedsbut there are enough.
The Klin D4 cruisers were, one-on-one, better than a Warbird although a good commander could kill one. The more powerful D4C could rip you up of you gave it an opening. Apparently it used dilithium to enhance it's power levels, though she had heard tell of more than one D4C that exploded because the power conduits couldn't handle constantly running at overload levels.
The D6, however, was a killer. Designed from scratch to be powered by a dilithium-focused matter/antimatter reactor at its heart, it was far more powerful than even the D4C. Besides, D6's were used on the Rihannsu border as cruiser squadron leaders, never without at least two D4's. T`Radaik recalled that killing that invading D6 and her escorts resulted in 5 dead Warbirds out of a Swarm of six. The Swarm tactics could hold it at bay by englobing it with six ships, but this had only succeeded in killing that one D6 so far as all it had to do was engage it's FTL drive before the Swarm ships blocked it's escape route.
Damn, another sore point, Jaeih grumbled to herself. FTL flight still confounded Rihannsu scientists, and more and more talent was being focused on making the Stutter-Drive work properly. It seemed that Rihannsu technology just was not yet advanced enough to keep a quantum singularity open all the time. After one FTL flightno matter what distance a ship travelled, long or shortit shut down and needed a shipyard or large base to supply the power to regenerate the singularity again.
The new Commander cursed softly. "Maybe in a few decades or perhaps one of the other races will ally with us and give us a working warp drive."
The thought angered her, that any Rihannsu should be dependant on the whim of another racefar less the entire Empire.
Truth is a three-edged blade, she mentally recited to herself. Our side, their side, and the truth. You can interpret the facts to favour your side, but so can the enemy and the truth remains.
T`Radaik's thoughts returned to the present, and her new assignment. The Stutter Drive was still working, and they would arrive at the Klin border in a few days to join her new fleetmates.
Well, she thought eagerly, the Klin are up against a new foe now. Let's see if I can make a difference
(* For a full explanation here, see 'The Final Frontier' by Diane Carey. A damn good book about the first mission of the first uncompleted Constitution-class ship under Captain Robert April and Security Commander George Samuel Kirk. Gotta read it!)
The Commanding Officer of Imperial Swarm 32, Commander-General Nniol tr`Khaell, looked up from his desk terminal as Commander t`Radaik entered his personal quarters. His eyes flicked briefly to the chronometer and noted with satisfaction that the commander of his replacement ship was exactly on time.
He indicated the chair in front of his desk and invited her to sit. She did, gracefully crossing her long legs but keeping her emerald green eyes locked onto his dark ones.
The Swarm Commander fixed her with an irritable glare. "Riov, I would bid you welcome but your presence leaves me with an undesirable situation to contend with. Such situations are not to be welcomed."
He paused to measure her reaction to his almost-insult, but she merely raised an eyebrow and made it clear that he should continue.
A good sign, he thought. She is not quick to anger, and I need people who can keep their heads. His posture relaxed a little and his next words were slightly warmer, though his manner still abrupt.
"As you are no doubt anticipating, you will be given command of the Second Wing. The seniority you earned with two tours as a ship commander entitles you to this, but you have still only just been given your commandership. The commander you will
so to speak, will not take kindly to being replaced by a newcomer. The fact that you are a junior officer will add insult to injury.
"Lyirru tr`Illialhae is not one to let even comments in jest go unavenged."
She asked softly, "Rekkhai, if I may ?"
Tr`Khaell said, "Go on, Riov."
"I did actually want to discuss this with you during this meeting as I have a few concerns myself, but you have pre-empted me. I know that I am entitled to lead a section of my own, but all my command experience has been in smaller, underpowered ships, dealing with the Gorn. I have been set in command over the Aehallh for a bare span of days now and although I know her inside and out, I have yet to learn how to manage her properly. Thiscoupled with my relative inexperience against the Klingonswould endanger my crew and Fleetmates. I was going toand now do sorequest that I be assigned as a wing so that I might learn from those more knowledgeable than I."
Her superior stared speechless at her before exploding, "You admit these shortcomings!?! You admit to others of having shortcomings? And you would willingly accept a lesser role in the Swarm?"
What kind of snivelling coward has Command sent me? was his unspoken next linebut it came across so clearly actually saying it would have been redundant.
T`Radaik's whole body tensed and her eyes hardened. The Commander-General rocked back slightly at the transformation and had the distinct impression that it was only t`Radaik's own sense of duty that had stopped her from coming right through his desk at him. He caught all that in the few seconds those eyes blazed at him, seeming to cut him in two. Even now, they bored right through his skull but when she spoke, her voice was under complete controland as cold and unforgiving as the Void.
"With all due respect, Rekkhai," she all but spat, "I would choose my next words very carefully indeed if I were you. I had thought you would appreciate some honesty rather than have me lie and possibly get us all slaughtered in our next engagement. If you have no wish for my presence here, say so and have me gone."
Jaeih leaned forward and lowered her voice, continuing, "But if you ever malign my integrity or honour again, I will have your head in a duel! You have insulted me, my name and my House for no reason other than your own misconceptions. It will be remembered."
She stood up and made to leave, saying, "This interview is terminated."
T`Radaik made it two steps before Commander-General tr`Khaell spoke again. "Remember where and who you are, Riov! I have not dismissed you!"
Jaeih cursed his fourth name most vilely within the confines of her mind, but her Oath would not let her leave. She pivoted and stood at rigid attention, eyes blazing and complexion flushed green, but spoke in a tightly controlled and neutral tone.
"Permission to return to my ship, Rekkhai."
"Denied. Sit down, Riov t`Radaik, I will have my say. You have certainly had yours."
Frustrated, her whole body radiating barely suppressed anger and hostility, Jaeih sat down at attention and held silent.
Tr`Khaell regarded her with a mixture of emotion. Anger at her humiliating him, yesbut he was also experiencing something seldom felt: shame, at reading her so badly. He was hurriedly re-assessing his new subordinate. She obviously had Fire within her that rivalled even Lyirru'sbut where his was burning with hate, greed and ambition, this woman's core was pure integrity. He wanted someone like this on his side.
"Riov, forgive me," he started. His voice and bearing were stiff, but the sincerity came through nonetheless. He continued, "I have become so used to dealing with Lyirru and his ilk that I find myself at a loss in dealing with you. In this area of Spacethe Klingon Outmarchesmost of those I see are greedily ambitious commanders seeking glory and a share of the prize, and minor Praetors wanting to use my Swarm for their own nefarious ends. It has influenced me more than I had realised, and I had forgotten that honourable Rihannsu could speak plainly."
Her superior's words startled Jaeih so much she immediately lost her anger, like a balloon deflating. She found herself revising her own opinions of Nniol upwards as he had obviously just done with her.
"Rekkhai, it pleases me to hear you say this," Jaeih returned cautiously. "I stand by my wordsas I always dobut I am quite willing to write this all off as a misunderstandingah, 'wiping the slate clean', so to speak. We can begin anew, each knowing what the other is truly about."
Jaeih knew that she had dealt him a stinging blow to his own honour, and a lesser person could have decided upon trying to end her careeror her lifethere and then. But she sensed that this man really meant what he said and was not just double-blinding her. She hoped she was correct, and that she had found another person of honour.
Tr`Khaell relaxed again, and offered a slight smile. "Riov, that would be most acceptable. Now that we understand one another, maybe we can get on to discussing what role you will play in my little fleet?"
Jaeih returned the smile, and thought to herself, Elements be Praised! An ally
Commander Jaeih t`Radaik stepped onto the bridge to begin her morning watch. She looked around at her crew and saw that the night watch was being relieved by the more familiar faces of the experienced personnel. She also noted with satisfaction that the repairs on the starboard impulse engine were finally complete, having taken just over ten hours and requiring the personal supervision of a Command officer. Jaeih had left her second-in-command in charge and taken her much-needed rest, having went over the rest of her warbird already that day with engineering teams.
The Aehallh may indeed be beautiful, Jaeih thought, but she is sorely in need of a dry-docking. She looked over as subCommander Rhioa t`Khellian approached with her report.
"Fair morning, erei`Riov," Jaeih greeted her, taking in her slightly rumpled appearance and the green smudges under her eyes.
"Aye, Riov. More fair to some, I see," the first officer replied with weary humour.
"Can I now assume that my ship will not sputter to a halt when I ask for more than half speed?" t`Radaik inquired with a grin.
"Madam, we never actually 'sputtered to a halt'," Rhioa smiled, "but yes, the repairs are completed and partially tested. I was about to order combat drills to finalise them, but you may have the privilege of keeping me awake a little longer while you throw the ship around."
"Why thank you, erei`Riov. I am so glad I have your approval."
The two women grinned at each other again. Jaeih enjoyed the wordplay she and Rhioa now shared. She was reaping the rewards of a trustworthy and honourable crew as the bonds she had begun to forge with them right from the start were now setting well. However, although Jaeih knew she had earned their respect as a Rihanha over the past few months, she knew she still had to prove herself to them as a leader in battle.
"The defensive ion-bolt port on the repaired engine is also operational," t`Khellian added. "The blind spot is covered once more."
Jaeih nodded. "That is good to hear. So we are back up to full strength, all told?"
T`Radaik turned to the main screen and gazed at it before inquiring with a slight smile, "Will you continue to grace us with your presence during these manoeuvres? You could offer advice and alternatives. I once read somewhere that a first officer does these things "
T`Khellian also turned to look at the screen, hiding her smirk. "Madam, this lowly one knows her place. I would not dream of upstaging a Great Commander such as yourself."
That made t`Radaik crack up. She grinned hugely and started laughing, slapping Rhioa's back and shaking a fist at her. "Damn you anyway!" Jaeih said with a grin, her laughter subsiding but remaining in her eyes.
The bridge crew looked over at the source of the laughter, then exchanged smiles with one another as they allowed their commander's good mood to buoy their own.
At the helm, Senior Centurion Lyie t`AAnikh shared an unheard comment with Weapons/Navigation Officer Eriufve t`Aimne. They both grinned and stifled laughter of their own.
The sensor/science officer, Eviess t`Ehhelih, looked over at Master of Engineering Ameh tr`Keirianh, who was on the bridge monitoring the final tests of the repaired engine. He just looked back and shrugged his wide shoulders. Eviess nodded in silent understanding and resumed her duties.
Communications Officer Geillun tr`Khnialmnae glanced up at the hulking figure of Master of Enforcement Dhiemn tr`Raedheol. The humourless legionnaire merely returned the look as he re-ran security protocols through the sensitive areas of the main computer banks, looking for any unauthorised 'research' by the crew.
Commander t`Radaik turned back to her first officer. "Go and get some sleep, and I shall be as quick as prudence allows with these tests."
"Thank you, Riov, but I will wait until I know things are as they should be before I retire for the morning." Lowering her voice so that only her friend could hear, she confided, "Being on point duty this far from the rest of the Swarm with our power levels halved makes me nervous."
"As you wish. And I understand completely, erei`Riov," her commander returned, letting Rhioa know they were back in formal mode. Personally, Jaeih thought that being ten minutes from the rest of the Swarm was a formation that could cost them a ship and crew. It would take both groups heading directly towards each other at maximum speed five minutes to meet up, but if she had to turn and fight it could take the full ten.
By which time we would surely be dead, Jaeih thought grimly. But orders are orders, and Lyirru is still my immediate superior, curse the bloodthirsty fool. He is using us as bait!
"Riov, I am reading three Klingon ships approaching the border at Translight 27," Senior Centurion t`Eviess reported.
T`Radaik's eyes snapped over to the main screen and ordered, "Battlestations! Arm ion bolts, begin charging plasma torpedo! Geillun, hail the Cuirass and let khre`Riov tr`Khaell know our situation and request the Swarm intercept us at full sublight. Then hail the Klingons and demand that they respect our borders."
Centurion tr`Khnialmnae nodded and set about his task.
T`Ehhelih called out, "Klingon ships now penetrating the border, Riov. They are on an intercept course with us, spreading out to come in on three different attack vectors, slowing to sublight speeds. I read one D6-class and two D4-class ships. ID'ing as IKV's Suqlaw, Ehlit and Kennektai. Variants will have to wait untDrone launch!!"
Clenching her fists, Jaeih said, "I need details, Enarrain! Transfer sensor readings to my screen and co-ordinate with Weapons to target ion bolts on incoming missiles."
Tr`Khnialmnae looked up after getting a response from the Klingons that obviously didn't agree with him. "Riov, the Klingons refused to answer our hail and are now jamming subspace frequencies!"
"We are in for a hard fight then. Launch a probe at each target. I want to see what we are up against," Jaeih ordered, then asked Geillun, "Did you get the message through to the Swarm?"
"Yes Ma'am, and the khre`Riov acknowledged personally. Their ETA at this location is ten minutes."
"Riov, the D6 is launching a probe at us and our last probe has just reached its target." Senior Centurion t`Ehhelih looked up from her board, her expression grim. "I have two D4D's at 323 mark 359 and 071 mark 322, both firing four slow-speed drones. Also, a D6D at 024 mark 340 firing six slow-speed drones. Sensors indicate all drones still locked on to us."
Jaeih watched her tiny screen as the sensor picture replay showed the Klingons pass the 22 light-minute mark from her ship and 14 drones appeared on her screen. All of which were still coming at the Aehallh.
Elements preserve us, Jaeih thought in dismay. Three drone cruisers!
T`Radaik immediately ordered the most direct course to the Swarm. "Helm, come about 172 degrees mark 353 port, full sublight!"
"172 mark 353 port, full sublight, aye," Helm Officer Lyie t`AAnikh returned.
"Geillun, contact the shuttlebay and have them prepare a decoy shuttlecraft. Also, tell Master of Enforcement tr`Raedheol to post two squads of legionnaires to defend the plasma launcher, and disperse the rest of his troops to defend the shuttlebay and ion-bolt control rooms."
A new thought suddenly struck her. "T`Aimne, alter plasma torpedo to defensive shotgun mode." A few surprised looks were thrown her way, but she ignored them and allowed a strategy to form in her mind
The turn completed, Jaeih asked Eviess for another update. T`Ehhelih looked up from her board. "Riov, I have two D4D's at 135 mark 020 and 243 mark 329, and the D6D at 196 mark 354. All closing at 12% lightspeed, range 15.2 light-minutes."
After hearing her report and looking at the sensor data on her screen, Jaeih could see that the Klingon ships were pacing their drones in, probably to launch another salvo once their drone racks had reloaded. After the second launch they would likely jump to a higher speed to avoid a possible plasma responseand reload again while 28 drones headed in to kill her ship.
The tactical situation was grim. In just under two minutes those drones would hit her ship, and in half that time the Klingons would launch another salvo. The Swarm was still four minutes distant and there was no way her ship could take out 28 drones by herself.
Captain Klemeth sutai-Sukath of the Klingon D6D-class heavy drone cruiser IKV Suqlaw allowed the points of his teeth to show as his squadron bore down on the lone Rom ship. He checked the display and saw that his support ships were in his desired formation and the first flight of drones were running true. He watched and laughed loudly as the Rom turned and fled at its maximum speeda paltry one percent of lightspeed.
"See, my Brothers? This Rom has some sense and is trying to return to his comrades, but we can be in and out leaving a shattered hull in our wake before they get even half way there. These lightning strikes work well for standard cruisers, so why not for drone cruisers too?"
His first officer and security chief agreed and laughed along with him. Commander Tageth entai-Morkal, the Suqlaw's first officer stated, "We know that the Rom Warbirds have only two shuttles. So, we provide an overwhelming reason to use one and then crack them open before they can prepare another. And all this still before their plasma is armed!"
"And for attacking the rest of their 'Swarm', as they call itwell, we shall show them a swarm of our own!" the security chief added, to the laughter of his brother officers.
The rest of the bridge crew remained tense and silent, concentrating on their orders. They daren't even exchange glances of contempt or express their disgust for their braggart captain, lest he pick up on it and make an example of them. His reputation as a 'hard taskmaster'bullywas one he was proud of and liked to show off, just as much he tried to hide his ineptitude from Command.
"It is time again," Klemeth said. To his weapons officer, he snarled, "Launch second flight!"
The weapons officer leapt to obey.
"Drone launch!" the weapons officer shouted, as T`Ehheli also called, "Klingons reducing velocity to 5% lightspeed!"
The picture of calm reassurance, Jaeih sat in her chair giving quiet ordersand sweating heavily. I cannot allow them to see how scared I am! I've never faced this before in reality, and in all my simulations of this my ship wasat bestheavily damaged! she fretted. It was one reason I was posted to the Gorn and Federation borders. Plasma torpesoes are faster and more powerfulbut I've never had this many shot at me in one go!
Keeping a lid on her fear lest it become contagious, she regarded the tactical display with hooded eyes.
The Klingons were almost upon them, and 28 drones were hurtling towards her ship. T`Radaik ordered all active systems shut down and the decoy shuttle launchedwhich the drones promptly homed in on and utterly destroyed.
As Aehallh was not at FTL speeds, she continued along her last course at her last speedjust as Jaeih intendedbuffeted by the subspace shockwaves of the drones' detonating mini-impulse engines.
The Klingons had dropped back from their drones andhaving expected the decoywaited until the decoy effect had ceased before launching another salvo from behind the Rihannsu cruiser. All their forward phasers washing over the Aehallh's reinforced aft shields, they then flashed over her at fifteen times her maximum velocity,
"Weapons: drop a mine to destroy those drones behind us." t`Radaik ordered in a firm voice. "Have it activated as soon as the drones pass over it. I'd rather take damage from our own weapon than end up dead from all of theirs. Divert power to reinforce rear shield arcs."
"Aye, Riov," Eriufve answered.
Addressing her communications officer, she ordered, "Arrain, put me on intraship allcall."
Flipping a few toggles, the thin, hawkish-looking blonde nodded back at her. "You are on, Riov."
"All hands, this is the Riov. Brace for shockwave impact aft."T`Aimne wore a worried frown of concentration as she watched the 14 drones converge on their weakened aft shields would the Aehallh get far enough from the mine to activate it without taking damage herself?
"That Klingon commander must be tearing his hair out by now. A single Rihannsu cruisera sublight ship!defeating three waves of drone attacks!" Lyie crowed. "I rather doubt his crew will be 'Kai Kassai'-ing him now," the helmswoman added with a wicked grin.
Jaeih smiled, and the rest of the bridge crew did likewise as Lyie's words warmed them. To have survived so long alone against three drone cruisers was to be blessed by the Elements themselves!
On the command deck of the Suqlaw, Captain Klemeth was not doing quite what Lyie had envisioned. He was tearing out the hair of his weapons officer.
"FOOL!!! IMBICILE!!! You released that last drone salvo too earlythey were too far away! Now we have to wait another roundwith that cursed Rom's plasma daring us to close on him!"
The captain smashed the hapless lieutenant's head against the bulkhead. Klemeth thought of smashing him into the panel and having the exploding board rip this worm's face to shreds, but he needed that board!
Getting hold of his ragebarelyhe growled, "Last chance, targ! A single mistake and you die! Return to your post and prepare a scatterpack! Communications, inform the squadron to come round, standard englobement at Combat 25. Helm, Action as specified!"
"Affirm, acting!" came the responses.
Eviess leeched their warmth, reporting: "Riov, they are coming round again in an englobing formation, approaching at 25% lightspeed. D6-class IKV Suqlaw now bearing 174 mark 019. D4-class IKV Ehlit bearing 053 mark 351 and D4-class IKV Kennektai at 309 mark 005."
"erei`Riov, status of second decoy shuttle?"
"Riov, it will not be ready for an additional one minute, twenty seconds."
"Centurion t`Ehhelih, time until Klingons reload?"
"Twenty seconds, Riov."
"Twenty seconds until plasma torpedo is armed and ready, Riov," t`Aimne volunteered.
Damn, Jaeih thought. I have to beat one more attack before the Swarm arrives! Well, here we go
"My people, we will take hits this time. You can see that they are coming in on three widely different attack vectors so a mine will not work, and the decoy shuttle is not yet ready. We will flip over to face the Suqlaw and concentrate on destroying the bulk of the missiles on each front. T`Aimne, starboard ion bolts target the four missiles from the Kennektai, portside ions deal with the Ehlit's missiles. The plasma shotgun will destroy the D6's missiles. Helm, as soon as Suqlaw fires, flip us over. Engineering," she said to the young officer at the bridge Engineering station, "priority to the weapons. Reinforce forward shield with whatever remains. "
A chorus of "Aye aye's" met her ears, with t`Ehhelih adding, "Drone launch!"
Captain Klemeth watched his screen as his ship approached fast from almost directly aft of the Rom cruiser. At the 22 light-second mark, he ordered "Helm, prepare to HET so we stay out of his plasma arc." Klemeth then opened channels to all his ships and commanded: "Fire phasers at that weak rear shield as we pass! Launch drone flights!"
On seeing the next flight of drones leave the Klingon ships, the highly manoeuvrable Rihannsu cruiser performed a 180-degree HET and turned to face her main opponent, her weaponry lashing out at the incoming drones to either side of her.
The heavy ion beams that provided the Rihannsu ships with particle-beam weaponry were very efficienton the order of 97% power conversionbut were still only as powerful as the defensive phaser-3's mounted on the smaller Klingon ships.
T`Ehhelih's more sensitive science scanners directed the two heavy and one defensive ion beam ports on either side of the Warbird's hull, and each succeeded in destroying three of the four drones in their area. To kill the drones t`Aimne had to let them in very close indeed, and the subspace shockwave from the detonating mini-impulse engines rocked the warbird badly while the crew held on for dear life. The other twoone on each sidecame on with nothing but the shields themselves to stop them.
Directly ahead of the Rihannsu cruiser, the D6 launched six drones in unison with the D4s to either side. T`Radaik held the shotgunned plasma torpedo as long as she could to avoid possible counter-reactions from the Klingons, then released it. With the torpedo gone, the tube was shut down and all power diverted to the forward shield as the Klingon cruisers attacked with their powerful phaser-2's. T`Radaik rolled her ship to spread the fire from the two D4's over four different shields and reinforced the forward one to try and absorb the fire from the D6. The torpedo performed exactly as it shouldexactly as Jaeih had hoped it would, but it was by no means a sure thing. The Type-R torpedo was split into five Type-F's, each targeted on a separate drone andElements be Praised! Jaeih thoughteach Type-F destroyed one. The bridge crew cheered but Jaeih was still staring, grimly intent, at the screen before her. Three Klingon drones arced in and impacted on her warbird's shields.
Klemeth watched in growing horror as the Rom cruiser flipped over to face him and spewed several plasma torpedoes directly at his ship.
"EVASIVE ACTION!!!!! ALL POWER TO FORWARD SHIELDS!!!" he roared. The D6 shot over the Warbird close enough to scrape paint as the big ship nosed down and headed out directly behind its target.
The weapons officer kept his wits about him and blasted the weak rear shields as ordered with the four rear-firing phaser-2's. Lieutenant Malaik had the satisfaction of watching all three shields collapse and the Warbird's armoured hull take damage and start venting atmosphere and plasma. He must have damaged their engines! He turned to report this to his captain, but his words died unspoken on his lips when he saw Klemeth join the sensor officer.
Captain Klemeth was quite surprised to find his ship undamaged, and had Lt. Cdr. Kardak divert his sensors aft to find out why as his helmsman started swinging the ship back round to the battle.
The two drones from the D4's were what t`Radaik had expected, and the facing shields absorbed all the punishmentthen collapsed. The drone from the D6 blew her out of her chair, and several other bridge crew went flying also, even with their Rihannsu strength.
Chief Enginner Ameh tr`Keirianh's voice came over the intercom, reporting, "Riov, All shields are completely down and our armour is destroyed! We have heavy damage to the forward hull and moderate damage to the rear hull, forward shield generator, starboard impulse engine and the plasma launcher!"
SubCommander t`Khellian was heard to grumble, "I was up all damn night fixing that cursed engine!"
Jaeih spared her a kindly glance as she drew in a ragged breath. "That D6 must be carrying large warheads!" she gasped.
Privately, she offered up a quick reverence. Oh Fire, Earth and Air, thank all the Powers that only one got through!
Captain Klemeth's rage was now out of control. The weapons officer died by Klemeth's disruptor as soon as he saw the Rom ship apparently undamaged and sailing backwards down the same course.
"WHAT IN DURGATH'S LAYER IS GOING ON!?!? THAT LITTLE TINPOT SHOULD BE DUST BY NOW!!! Helm! Move in and tractor it! Weapons! AAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!! I'll do it myself! I'll shred that treacherous little pointy-eared freak myself! GET OUT OF MY WAY!!! FOOLS!!! IMBICILES!!!"
"Captain!" Commander Tageth shouted, "The Swarm is upon us! They are firing!"
Looking at his tactical screen, Klemeth cursed againsilently, this time. It was his fault. His sensors were at battle range and focused on the lone Rom cruiser, and now the other Roms had gotten close enough to be picked up. "Helm, new course, bearing 118 mark 347, full impulse! When the turn is completed, go to warp six! Kardak, resume sweep scanning and increase sensor range to standard!" he ordered.
On the viewscrew, the Aehallh cruised through the expanding cloud of debris that was their last drone salvo, her delicate internal systems taking more damage as the debris impacted at almost relativistic speeds. Flicking another glance at his reconfigured tactical display, Klemeth could see that the other five warbirds were close enough to offer support to the lone Rom's beleaguered cruiser and the warbird flipped over once more to head for them.
t`Radaik watched with satisfaction as the captain of the Suqlaw realisedtoo latethat he had become fixated on her cruiser, and that his course had taken him within torpedo range off the Swarm.
He did notice, however, when five enveloping Type-R plasma torpedoes started chasing his ship. The big D6 swung round again and accelerated to maximum sublight speed in preparation for a jump to FTL speeds.
It did him little good as the torpedoes struck him while still at half strength, killing the forming warp field and sending him tumbling. Jaeih and her crew watched as his shields first became visible, then shone brightly with the energy they were trying to ward off, then finally wink out as they collapsed. The valiant but ultimately futile battle waged by his shields managed to absorb well over half the raging energies directed at them, but there was still an entire Type-R's worth of plasma energy that tore through the martyred shields to crash against the bare hull and begin the battle anew.
The viewscreen rendered in loving detail the electrical storm engulfing the hapless enemy battlecruiser. Huge static discharges arced between his nacelles, burning and blackening the pristine Klingon Navy Grey paint scheme. Several phaser emitters overloaded and blew out, and the glow of his impulse engines flickered and died.
Jaeih breathed a hugesilentsigh of relief at the spectacle and the knowledge that she was no longer aloneor even the primary target. Hard on the heels of that, though, came the realisation that this was not over yet and there were still two more undamaged Klingons out there.
"What's left?" Tageth shouted down the intercom to Engineering.
Through the snarling interference on the 'com channel, their Chief Engineer replied, "Warp power is down to 66% and the coils have been knocked out of alignment, we have no impulse power, and structural integrity is down to 60%! All the shield generators are completely burnt out, and only one starboard-aft and two forward phaser batteries are functional! I've lost 30 crewonly 12 dead but the rest aren't getting up anytime soon."
"Do you have any good news for me?" Marketh asked, almost desperately.
"Well, all the drone launchers are still functional, and warp capabilty will only take a few minutes to restore."
"We need warp speed now, so make it your priority. Everything else can wait. Bridge, out."
The first officer felt a rage build within him as he turned to Klemeth to find his captain glaring at the tactical screen as if it had betrayed him. He gestured to Tageth, who took in the extreme danger it showed them. The lone ship had rejoined the Swarm, and though he was battered and shieldless, there were still six fully functional Warbirds in a defensive formation, all headed right at them.
The Suqlaw had come to rest 12 light-seconds from the Swarm, so they still had a chance to escape if their engineer could bring the warp drive back on linebut it was a race. He had 20 minutes before the Warbirds' ion beams began cutting them up, but only three until the next volley of plasma torpedoes were launched.
"Graknai!" Klemeth growled at his communications officer. "Tell the other ships to attack the Roms and buy us repair time! Contact the shuttlebay and have them prepare a sensor decoy, and to disassemble the scatterpack and configure that as a decoy also."
"Aye, Captain!" he acknowledged, and bent to his task.
"Commander, assume Weapons Control. Weapons free on our drones. Coordinate with our ships and bombard them from all sides. Take them down!" Klemeth commanded.
"Aye, Sir," the first officer acknowledged with a low growl, as he launched an initial salvo and used his special sensor channnels to take control of as many Klingon missiles in flight as he could. He looked around at the shattered bridge, and the various corpses that littered it. Tageth was only half attending his new duty, as he was busy replaying everything his captain had said and done since convincing the Base Commander to let him try this new scheme, to find the flaw in this whole scenario.
I had thought that Commodore Kian resisted the idea well. Maybe he was just playing a role, and that this was the only way he could be rid of an incompetent ship commander without additional losses in a battle that actually mattered. How can it be that a fool and his money are soon parted, but a fool with a command never is? Tageth lamented.
The thought was a bitter one, that this fine ship and her crew had to be sacrificed on the altar of Klingon House politics. Once that thought occurred, though, Tageth began to see the whole sequence of events in a far different light. Kian just had to have known that even with three drone cruisers, Swarm tacticshells, the very concept of the Swarm itselfwould defeat all but the most concentrated of drone attacks. He played his part magnificently and I waseven until nowcompletely taken in, Tageth realised with admiration. Just enough anger and fear at the power of Klemeth's House to override his concerns. Truly masterful.
While Tageth was having his quiet epiphany, the surviving bridge crew watched the tactical display as the Ehlit and Kennektai came in and strafed the Swarm with phasers, dropped scatterpack shuttles behind them and launched drones in front of them. Their heavy phasers savaged the damaged warbird, carving great holes into the wings and upper hull but failing to knock out the all-important plasma launcher. The drones did little good, as the D4's only carried small warheads for their drones and the defensive ion beams could take them out one-on-one if they were let in close enough. The massed heavy ion beams of four warbirds destroyed the heavy drones from the Suqlaw with the other two targeted the D4 drones as the Swarm crept closer at 3,000 kilometers per second, their noses begining to glow red with building plasma energy.
Klemeth roared into the intercom, "Engineer! I need warp speed NOW!!"
The noise of dread and cowardice from his CO brought Tageth back to the here-and-now, and the realisation that he was staring into the lifeless eyes of the Security Chief. It seemed to be an omen. Armed with his new 'knowledge', and the idea that they might still get out of this situation alive, he knew what he had to do. He knew he was right to do it. With a total lack of enthusiasm or caution, he carelessly drew his disruptor and blasted Klemeth just as the captain was turning to face him.
"You are relieved of command for gross negligence, Captain," Tageth said, almost spitting the last word out.
The silence that followed was broken by the Kardak shouting, "CapCommander! Rom ship firing! One enveloping Type-R torpedo inbound!"
Commander Tageth leaped back to the weapons console and saw that the late Lieutenant Malaik had done as ordered and had their two shuttles prepared as decoys. The shuttle that had been a scatterpack was still not ready, but the other one was.
It was their only chance. He released it.
The Swarm flagship Cuirass fired first. If the Klingon was going to launch a decoy shuttle, the Swarm would still have five real enveloping torpedoes to fire at him, and he only had one more shuttleif it hadn't already been destroyed in the shuttlebay. But if he didn't launch a decoy, he was dead anyway from a direct hit on his unshielded ship.
Sure enough, a decoy popped out and sucked in the first torpedo. Then khre`Riov tr`Khaell hailed the Swarm from the Cuirass on an open channel, but directed his words to Jaeih.
"Our main enemy is powerless to escape usbut only very briefly. So, to the one who made this victory possible, I give the honour of the second blow. Riov t`Radaik, you may fire when ready."
Jaeih, who had rocketed to her feet at the Commander-General's words, speechless at his generous gesture, swore she could hear Lyirru cursing over the comm channels at being denied the kill. But before she could respond Centurion t`Ehhelih called out once more.
"Riov, the Klingon ship is powering up!"
As the Rom Commodore's voice echoed around the Suqlaw's bridge, the Klingons all stared at the screen.
"Commander, from that fleet all-call they must be about to fire! We must do something!!" the communications officer demanded.
"What would you have me do, Graknai? Beg this Commander t`Radaik for mercy? For our lives?" Tageth roared back. "Would we taste Rom mercy!?!"
"Captain Klemeth!" the intercom blared, "Warp drive is online! Warp two available now, repairs continuing!"
Tageth didn't bother acknowledging the engineer. Still glaring at his comm. officer, he immediately ordered, "Helm, warp two now! Come round 038 degrees starboard! Navigator, plot a course for the nearest repair yards from our expected crossover point at the border!"
"Affirm, acting!" came the responses.
Snapping open a channel to the other ships, Tageth commanded, "Ehlit and Kennektai, form up and protect us any way you can!"
Before he could get an acknowledgement, Kardak reported, "Commander! Roms firing again! One enveloping Type-R torpedo inbound, closing fast!"
Jaeih had waited no longer. "Enarrain t`Aimne, fire when ready! Blacklight, you must fire also!"
Two massive balls of plasma hellfire erupted from the launch tubes of the Aehallh and the Blacklight. The Suqlaw swung around on thrusters to align with their homespacehaving tumbled to face the Swarmand his engines glowed with an increase in power, but it was too late. The Swarm would never catch him again, but it didn't matter. The plasma torpedoes quickly closed at 32% lightspeed, gaining on the still-motionless battlecruiser.
Suddenly, a D4 swept in from a strafe on the warbirds and intersected with the Blacklight's torpedo. The plasma energies swallowed the smaller cruiser whole, but the undamaged Ehlit weathered it with nothing more than a few leaked internal hits and his shields stripped to minimum levels.
Suqlaw was gearing up for a flash to lightspeed when Aehallh's torpedo caught him. The depleted but still horribly potent ball of star-matter engulfed the fleeing Klingon, wreaking havoc and destruction across the hull and internal systems of the unshielded ship.
Tageth glared at the corpse of his captain as the Suqlaw disintegrated around him. "You FOOL!!" he shouted over the howl of decompression. "Your overconfidence and rage cost us our lives! I will kill you a thousand times, laughing, undefeated, in the Black Fleet! Kai Kassai the Rom commander!"
The Suqlaw exploded as his reactor lost containment through systems failure. The antimatter came into contact with normal matter in an uncontrollable chain reaction, and the ship novaed spectacularly while still 5 light-minutes inside Rihannsu space. The Ehlit curved round and fled for the safety of the border with no further damage, but Kennektaiwho was pacing the Suqlawwas knocked out of warp by the explosion. He quickly regained his equilibrium and left for his homespace, chased by a plasma torpedo. It did not hit, but the Klingons did not return for more.
"Riov t`Radaik, for exemplary conduct in the performance of your duties, I hereby award you and your crew a unit commendation. May the Elements and Powers preserve you from harm. Congratulations to you and the crew of the RIS Aehallh!"
It was almost a month later, after the Aehallh had flown to the nearest spacedock for repairs to her hull and systems and returned to the Swarm. The phaser-fire and drone debris impacting on the bare hull had breached it in many places, and scores of her 200 crew had been killed. At the spacedock, they were replaced with new recruits whom t`Radaik immediately took under her wing.
She wanted to teach them the Old Way, where personal honour and mnhei`sahenot glorymeant everything. She wanted to teach them how to be true Rihanha before they were turned into more Lyirrus. It pleased her that they seemed to embrace it well, taking it not only into their heads, but their hearts.
Returning to the present, she became aware of tr`Khaellalong with the assembled officers from the other ships of the Swarmapplauding her. Some with a notable lack of enthusiasm, she noticed, her eyes lingering briefly on Lyirru.
Jaeih held her head high and allowed no expression to cross her face until the ceremony aboard the Cuirass was officially over and was no longer being broadcast to the other ships of the Swarm. After this, she smiled warmly indeed at the khre`Riov when he came over to grip her arm in salute.
"khre`Riov, I thank you for agreeing to my request. I feel that medals for just a few of my officers would have been unfair to my crew," Jaeih spoke quietly so as not to be overheard. "They all did spectacularly well."
"Riov, it was no trouble. I'm glad you see it that way, as it made the whole ceremony shorter!" he joked. "But in all seriousness, Riov. What you accomplished there should surely convince you to take the Second Wing. I will leave tr`Illialhao in command if you wish, but I would much rather have someone more level-headed, shall we say?"
"A moment to consider, khre`Riov?" she asked.
"By all means." He nodded to her and left to speak to Commander t`Liun of the Warbird Blacklight, who's plasma had also tasted Klingon blood that day.
Jaeih smiled, and turned it over in her mind. She need prove nothing nowexcept to myself, she thought, so that I know this wasn't a once-only 'star turn'. Her crew didn't think so, and apparently neither did tr`Khaell, nor her fellow Commanders. However, she did realise just how fortunate she had been.
Had that Klingon captain not been so eager for a quick, easy killand so easily rattledit would have been a completely different outcome. Elements, she admitted to herself, even as it was, one more pass and my ship would have been dust, Swarm or not. Jaeih allowed herself to feel pride at this, and contempt for the Klingon captain. He really had been a fool. He should have taken the damage to his ship from her single torpedo, grabbed her ship in a tractor beam and droned her to death. From his fear of being hit at all, he had doomed himself. But for the situation as it was, she had fought well.
She caught tr`Khaell's eye and he returned, arching an eyebrow and asking, "Your decision, Riov?"
"Rekkhai, I have realised that you are correct. I now feel I am ready to lead, and not just be content to follow."
The Field Primus smiled and said, "I am glad that you see it my way. Effective immediately, you are Second Wing Leader. Congratulationsagain. May you live up to your ship's name, and give the Klingons many more aehallh to come."
Jaeih had to think about that one. Aehallh meant 'monster-ghost'. Ah yes She remembered after a few second's thought that it also meant 'illusory creature' or 'nightmare'. The look on her face must have given her thoughts away, as tr`Khaell smiled again. Jaeih joined in and laughed.
"Yes inded, Rekkhai. Let us hope that I do."
Maybe it was time to let go those last doubts, to have full confidence in herself and her abilities, and enjoy the role she was born to fulfill that of a Starship Commander.
Never the end!
Riov Jaeih t`Radaik will return