Federation Starbase 23 - Jaeih's Stories

Renown TNG 01: The Zepht Debacle

By Jaeih t`Radaik


This story in its original form was one of the first I'd ever thought up. It came about after reading Joseph Manno's stories on his site Star Trek: Liberty, where his own captain from the Kirk era was propelled through time to the end of the TNG era/beginning of the DS9 one. After these few years to establish himself in this era, the hero of Joe's stories finds himself as a captain of one of the few great Sovereign-class ships in time for the Dominion War. Further to this, and existing beforehand, I had wanted my battle-hardened Captain Andrea Yushikara, a veteran of the more turbulent TOS era and survivor of the ISC War of Pacification (from the Star Fleet Battles/Starfleet Command timeline), to go and show the hopeless Starfleet of the late 24th Century what decades of experience leading to proper planning, strategies, and battle tactics could do to turn the tide in your favour.

The Zepht of the story title was originally a Galaxy-class ship called the Breedlove, itself taken from LA GRAF's brilliant DS9 novel 'Time's Enemy' from the 'Furies' 4-part crossover tale. However, the Galaxy class has a very limited production run and having too many of them unbalances the universe (in my eyes, at least), so I changed her to the very similar but more numerous Nebula class. The rest of this story proceeds pretty much as I envisioned it nearly a decade ago. The inter-personal side of the story has been modified by my own life experiences since then, however.

This is actually the second or perhaps third story in this story arc. In previous tales yet to be completed – or even properly planned out – I tell of how the Renown and her famous crew come to be in the late TNG era, and how they get to remain in Starfleet. Since they are not completed, and that I have in fact completed another story, I decided not to wait, and fill in the blanks later.

So, here she is. I hope you enjoy this little short in five parts.

Chapter One

5th February 2374, 0748 hours
Stardate 51096.78
Cygnet XIV Fleet Base, 40 light-years from the front lines

The Nebula-class U.S.S. Zepht hung over the planet like a small moon, the massive surface area of her dove-grey primary hull growing larger and spreading wider as they approached the main shuttlebay from directly above the bridge. The registry number ‘NCC-62071’ shone out at them, picked out from the darkness of her shadow by powerful spotlights, proudly proclaiming who she was to anyone who cared to look.

All Captain Andrea Yushikara saw was a massive, fat whale of a ship, sluggish in manoeuvrability; powerful and solid yes, but under-armed for the dreadnought her that power and size proclaimed her to be. These dark thoughts accompanied her as Renown’s shuttle swept aft over the massive sensor platform before curving around underneath it to access the poorly-positioned main shuttlebay. Obviously a design similarity from the Galaxy class – which she held in even greater contempt as luxury cruise liner – the superstructure supporting the sensor module obstructed a great deal of the main shuttlebay door and flight paths into it.

How hard would it have been to redesign that to face forward? she griped irrelevantly, trying to distract herself from what was really bothering her.

The shuttle Megumi precisely navigated the narrow avenue of approach and settled gently to the deck with nary a bump, so light was the touch of her pilot. “Thank you, M’Lady. Smooth as a newborn’s posterior, as always,” she told her Matokan friend.

“Indeed. And mayhaps it doth spoil ye, as many a bump t’would ne’er be noticed by captains wi’ less-skilled pilots are jestingly commented ‘pon,” the purple-skinned woman retorted good-naturedly, her oddly archaic-sounding speech evidence of a strong Matokan accent.

This well-meaning attempt to break her CO’s foul mood unfortunately had the opposite effect, reminding Yushikara of exactly why she was out of sorts. Such wasn’t any of her crew’s fault, but she barely managed to suppress a scowl as her command staff began disembarking. M’Lady’s features tightened in reflexive anger and she spun her chair around to face her consoles again, busying herself by running through the shutdown procedures.

As the Renown’s staff made their way to the main conference room aboard the Zepht, Andrea once again replayed the scene in her head that had led to her current ill-humour.

One hour ago…

“…so the Renown is now part of a task group assigned to perform a deep strike against a Ketracel White storage facility. There will be a full briefing aboard the Zepht at 96.8 but I wanted you to have the minimum data set you’ll need to prepare for it. The details are being transmitted to you as we speak. You will be replacing the Vo’beth. While your ship is less capable and older, your tactical experience will be a massive asset to the mission.”

Obviously meant as a compliment and delivered by the sector commander hirself, Andrea definitely felt appreciated and showed it. “Thank you, Admiral. I’m glad and relieved that I’m going to be put to good use. I do have one question, though, if I may?”

Vice Admiral Choitak looked wary but nodded for her to go ahead.

“Who has command of the mission?” she asked as neutrally as she could.

Choitak grimaced as if sh/he had been expecting that but had hoped to avoid it. Carefully, sh/he stated, “Captain Janatta of the Zepht is the mission commander.”

Just as carefully, knowing her own temper was sometimes her own worst enemy, Andrea protested. “Admiral, surely as the most senior and combat experienced captain, I should be given the lead role on this mission.”

Though sh/he obviously wanted to, the Axanari admiral showed commendable judgement in not cutting her off. Allowing Andrea to finish, sh/he firmly rebutted her. “As I said, Captain, your tactical acumen is why you are being included on this mission at all, especially at this late date. Your recent return from patrol is fortuitous, but I’m sure you can see that it would be inadvisable to have the mission commander replaced at the last minute with someone completely unfamiliar with the strike plan and totally uninvolved in its planning stages. Additionally, Captain Janatta has command of the most tactically capable vessel in the squadron and, point of fact, he does have seniority over you in the rank of captain.”

Even though sh/he was trying to be gentle in hir delivery, the reference to her seniority lit off Andrea’s ire at yet another unhealed wound.

“Command of the mission is his,” Choitak told her with finality.

It didn’t stop her from arguing back, even though – she hated to admit – every word Choitak said about the mission command structure made sense. She also knew that it was the wrong decision. Sh/he knew her record and the source of the experience of which she spoke, and no matter how experienced a captain this Janatta was, she was sure he had no experience as a squadron leader in a multi-ship engagement.

“Respectfully, Vice Admiral, Captain Janatta’s combat experience—” she began, using hir actual rank in a petty act to deny hir the assumption of a higher rank through contraction, but sh/he cut her off. Seeing where this was headed, Choitak laid down The Law.

“Captain Yushikara, I am perfectly aware of the service records of my respective captains, and, I dare say, a lot more comprehensively than you do. I have made my decision. You will be tactical advisor to Captain Janatta and second in command of the mission. That is an order.

“Report aboard the Zepht at 0800 hours with your senior officers for the final pre-mission briefing. Sector Command, out.”

After that solid – if, perhaps, deserved – slap-down, Andrea felt the need to bitch a blue streak to her closest friends in the safety of her own quarters aboard Renown. Hitting the intercom, she summoned her first and science officers and strode angrily through to her replicator to fix herself a drink.

“…so that’s the situation at present,” Andrea finished clueing them in after inviting them in and getting refreshments for them as desired. Andrea herself sat with a Vulcan mocha, a beverage T’Pris had just introduced her to last year. “I don’t believe this guy! Sh/he as good as told me sh/he doesn’t trust me in a fleet command position. ‘Advisory role’ my arse!” she complained bitterly.

T’Pris as always was the calming influence. “Andrea, you yourself described the admiral as trying to be gentle with educating you about the realities of the situation. It is apparent sh/he had no intention of antagonising you. You should not be taking this so personally.”

“Especially as Choitak cited good, solid reasoning for not giving you the lead spot,” Mai-Lin added.

“How can I not?” Andrea countered with a distressed sigh. “Sh/he did give good reasons, but as sh/he also stated sh/he knows the records of hir captains. While I was waiting for you I had a quick look over the data Choitak sent me and then the records of the other captains in this squadron. I see nothing to make me think any of them can lead the mission as well as I can. And Mai-Lin, this is not some horribly complex, coordinated time-on-target mission. We’re a group of seven ships going to sneak past the front line patrols and blast a pharmacy to dust. After fully briefing us, Janatta could easily hand over squadron command to me.”

“No one wants to show they’re not capable of handling a mission assigned to them, Andie,” Mai-Lin reminded her, “even if they know or believe that another is more capable, and especially if they think they’re perfectly capable of doing it themselves. Would you have given over command of the Ashanti mission to even James Kirk?”

Andrea glowered at her, and Mai-Lin knew she’d made her point. “It’s not all about you, much as you wish it always were, Andie.”

T’Pris apparently had had enough of her friend’s childish ranting. “Andrea, what is, is. You have to accept the situation as it stands and learn to work within it to your advantage. Stomping and screaming like a five year old who has not gotten her way ill becomes your position, and it will not improve your situation any. Doing so before your fellow captains will only prove the admiral’s decision as a wise one in their eyes.”

“Damnit T’Pris, I’m not kicking and screaming in front of them, or even the vice admiral! I’m doing it in front of my closest confidantes to let off steam, as well you know – and ladies, I am very steamed! Can’t you let me bitch in peace?” she added almost plaintively.

Mai-Lin Chan coughed into her fist to hide her smirk, then spoke up when that garnered the attention of the others. “T’Pris does know this, Andie. She’s not meaning this though,” she stated, spreading her arms to indicate the current scene. “She’s meaning the oh-so-obviously-controlled, visibly antagonistic, barely restrained hostility that you employ when trying to score points at someone else’s expense. The attitude you use when trying to prove you are right and that the rest of the galaxy had better start rotating in the other direction if it knows what’s good for it.”

She kept her tone matter-of-fact rather than light or mocking, as now wasn’t the time to tease her captain; not when she was in this mood and not when Chan was trying to make her own point and have it taken seriously.

“Oh thanks loads, Minshen,” Andrea retorted sarcastically, using her pet name for her X.O. which meant “voice of the people”. It often came into play when Mai-Lin started playing devil’s advocate.

“Mai-Lin is correct, Andrea,” T’Pris put in mildly.

“Well, that’s why I’m bitching now, Gods’-damnit!” Andrea cried, exasperated. “I’m trying to get it out of my system before it gets rammed down my throat at the briefing. Do you think all present will know the story of who we are and how we ended up here?”

“In all honesty, Andie, there’s a fair chance of most of them won’t actually know who you are, our ship’s name and motto notwithstanding,” Mai-Lin put in gently.

“Exactly my point! Half of them’ll know nothing of me and judge me by their own prissy, ‘Golden-Age’ softened standards, not ours, and the other half will know our story and be wondering why I’m not in command, why I’m merely a captain instead of a commodore, and pestering me for answers. If I have to explain it one more time…”

“So we just call you ‘captain’, Captain,” Mai-Lin offered mischievously.

“So help me Minshen, if you weren’t my sister-by-choice, one of my closest friends and confidantes, and couldn’t knock me flat with one slap, I’d shoot you out of a photon tube!” Andrea yelled at her with only a little anger but a fair bit of frustration. “You’re not helping,” she added more calmly.

Mai-Lin swallowed her ever-ready grin and looked properly chastened. “Sorry,” she told her long-time friend apologetically.

“Andrea, part of the vow of the Service is to obey your superiors. If you are unable to do this without spreading dissention and ill-feeling, no matter the provocation, then maybe it was not wise to rejoin an organisation you seem to feel such contempt for.”

T’Pris’ words were like a cold, vicious slap to her face and Andrea struggled not to get angry at them. They were, after all, true; every one of them. And as usual T’Pris had cut to the heart of the problem. Forcing the anger from her voice, she tried to respond rationally.

“You’re right, T’Pris, of course. I had hoped to fit in here, but you know I no longer suffer stupidity, gladly or otherwise. My rank was bad enough – Gods’ know, I worked hard enough for it! To have it… ‘discontinued’… and then to make that choice… it was a massive slap in the face to me. I would have thought that all my years of dedicated service, and the losses I’ve suffered as a result of it, would entitle me to a little humane treatment,” she complained bitterly.

Her friends had nothing to say to that, each feeling her pain as their own, having helped their friend and C.O. over some very hard personal times.

“And this latest… decision, I suppose I should call it, though ‘insult’ feels far more appropriate. This decision to have someone with virtually no combat experience lead this mission when I have what it takes… its just plain stupid! The only reason I see for it is that Choitak doesn’t trust me with it. Tell me I’m wrong,” she demanded of her friends.

“I have to agree with you assessment, Andrea. It is not a logical decision, but some might say it does have a rational basis.”

“Well I’m not one of them!” Mai-Lin bolted out. “Andie’s passed her entrance exams for this Starfleet, otherwise they wouldn’t have given her a mobile command at all. Now, while it’s reasonable that some would still hold reservations on Starfleet’s wisdom in that instance, they have no basis for it after countless successful missions over the last nineteen months!

“We’ve all proven we can function and still excel as Federation representatives and Starfleet officers in this time. These aren’t just paper credentials!” Mai-Lin finished vehemently.

Andrea looked to her X.O. with gratitude. There was no false modesty there; as with T’Pris’ earlier damning words, these words of praise and support were not empty ones. They had solid, factual evidence to back them up.

“Which is exactly my problem, and exactly why I’m so pissed off,” Andrea confirmed. “Vice Admiral Choitak sees me as ‘the captain from the past’, and this is colouring hir opinions of my leadership capability… or perhaps ‘suitability’ is a better word. Sh/he’s dismissing everything I’ve managed to accomplish in the past two-and-a-half years. That sh/he’s willing to use me at all shows it’s not completely prejudiced against me—”

“Andie, that’s a bit strong and you know it,” Mai-Lin interrupted in a no-nonsense tone. “Sh/he’s wary of you and your purported skills and sh/he obviously feels you have to prove yourself to hir, but that’s a long way from prejudice or discrimination. Don’t dare settle into that mindset when thinking about hir,” she warned her friend seriously.

Andrea’s eyes flashed angrily at being called on the carpet by her friend, but Mai-Lin didn’t relent and she could feel T’Pris’ support for the X.O.’s position. The flash of anger died and she sighed her acceptance. “You’re right. That was the wrong word to use.”

“I’m glad you agree,” Chan stated, still deadly serious.

As was her habit, Yushikara ploughed on through the uncomfortable moment that had arisen without acknowledging that it existed. “And yes, you hit the nail on the head too. It galls me I still have to prove myself to my own people after all this time and with all that my record shows,” she vented her frustration. “And to know that this decision is going to cost lives drives me wild, because they are lives I could save by being in control!”

Mai-Lin resisted the reflexive ‘control freak’ jest that came into her head with that pronouncement and instead held her peace to let T’Pris make her point.

“Andrea, if any Starfleet personnel lose their lives on this mission, it will be in spite of whatever you tried to prevent it. This crew already knows that and while perhaps no one else does, they will learn that over the coming days,” the Vulcan woman who was Andrea’s closest being alive stated with utter conviction. It warmed Andrea to hear it and to know that both these women believed it absolutely. T’Pris continued, “No matter how many setbacks or losses we endure, you cannot give in to your demons as they will wreck you far more easily, quickly, and definitively than any short-sighted superior could. If you ‘cut loose’ and attack, even when you feel justified to do so, you will lose the respect, confidence, and support of your comrades.

“You are better equipped for this war than far too many of your peers, yet this is not their fault. Indeed, it may even be ours. These people have lived in peace and prosperity as a result of our actions and those like us. The Federation is strong, powerful, happy, and peaceful. Peaceful nations are always ill-equipped for war, in so many ways. Do not blame your peers for this lack, as this is the peaceful future we’d hoped for and strived to build for them.

“War has now come to them again, and they need you and those like you among their own ranks. We know you well enough that you will not abandon them and deny then their standard-bearer – but also do not let your own inner demons twist you inside until the standard that you hold is one that none want to rally to.”

T’Pris’ words struck deep, and both she and Mai-Lin could see that they pierced their C.O.’s armoured shell of anger, outrage, and hurt to touch the mind and heart inside. Andrea turned away from her friends and leaned against the sill of her viewport while she considered her t’hy’la’s words. They could both see the tension in her shoulders, the whiteness of her knuckles; but then she relaxed, second by second, inch by inch, before turning back to face them again.

“No matter how I rearrange my shields, you always find your way through them,” she murmured lightly, then looked back up to meet both their eyes with the hint of a smile on her lips.

They could both see that her deep blue eyes had cleared once again, but all three were under no illusions that T’Pris’ uplifting words had routed or destroyed Andrea’s demons. Mai-Lin despaired that her friend had been too badly scarred inside for that ever to happen.

They saw that the tension and anger had left their friend’s body, but neither were fooled into believing it had drained away to leave Andrea free of her demons. They both knew that they had, instead, been drawn back up into her mind and locked away again, holding her prisoner in the long term far more effectively than she was imprisoning them in the short term. This was underlined by their captain’s next words.

“Very well, we’ll do it their way. Then, when they realise they’ve got it wrong, we’ll get down to picking up the pieces and doing it the right way.

My way.”

Chapter Two

Briefing Room 3, U.S.S. Zepht
0802 hours

As the group of Renown officers approached their destination Andrea again called up the words of her friend and used them to erase the dark thoughts and frustration from her body language. She still felt the cynicism sharp in her mind, aided and abetted by some fatalistic acceptance that lessons may only be learned after mistakes had been made, but willed herself into a sharp and focussed frame of mind for the details of their raid.

The conference room they entered was much larger than the ordinary briefing rooms she was used to aboard ship – but this one had to be, with the senior staffs of seven ships present. There was time for several minutes of meet-and-greet before the briefing officially began, and while Andrea was glad of the opportunity to get a feel for the personalities and dynamics of the other ships’ crews, she also dreaded the same being applied to her.

She and her officers were introduced to Captain Ur’yal of the U.S.S. Tiger, an ebullient Bolian male who was apparently not letting the war diminish his zest for life and the fun of meeting new people. His officers were the usual spread of Federation species, but they seemed to be making up for their C.O.’s good cheer with a cloud of gloom to rival Andrea’s own, now carefully hidden, cloud.

The Tiger was an Excelsior-class starship built around the same time as the more famous Potemkin, and while she was commissioned almost a decade after the Renown, her continuous service over the past sixty years had left her far more worn down than her time-displaced older sister, and also the oldest ship in the squadron.

Next was Captain Grox of the fellow Excelsior-class U.S.S. Lor’Vela, built almost forty years ago just before the Cardassian Wars. Her Tellarite captain was typical of his species; argumentative, pugnacious, and opinionated. Andrea had never worked directly with a Tellarite captain before, but she’d heard stories. She was not looking forward to dealing with him. His officers, on the other hand, seemed quite happy with him and offered a more balanced spread of personalities.

Their next introduction was to the command staff of the Hokule’a-class cruiser U.S.S. Arcturus. It was too rushed an affair for Andrea to get a good impression, but Captain Marlene Finn seemed a bit stiff and her officers maintained proper military decorum. She reminded Andrea of the executive officer on her first posting from the Academy, and as such that worried her. Eileen Donally had been a capable officer but was at her best following orders and established procedures. She had not been overly imaginative and had often been hesitant in situations not covered by the Regs. Andrea hoped this would not be the case with Captain Finn.

The last two crews outside of their host vessel were Captain S’Ardala of the Shanni’Kahr and Captain Ah;Ghett of the Tau Ceti, both Zodiac-class cruisers. S’Ardela was a tall, spare Vulcan female whose officers were dominated by other Vulcans, and Ah;Ghett was an Axanari who commanded an entire crew of methane breathers. Andrea wondered if any of the crew were Hydrans, since the oft-conquered Hydran Kingdom was now a Federation Protectorate just like the Kendan Confederation was. Ah;Ghett and hir staff all wore compact breathing apparatus connected to tanks that held their particular brand of air so they wouldn’t suffocate while visiting the oxygen-breathers’ ships.

The officers all took their seats as indicated at the conference table, a large U-shaped affair with the Zepht’s staff at the ‘trough’. Once the assembled crews had quickly quietened, Captain Janatta stood and welcomed them all in a properly businesslike manner.

“Thank you all for coming. We all know what we’re here for, so let’s get down to it,” the slim Trill male began abruptly. A few glances were exchanged. He didn’t seem like a happy captain. “On the screen now is our target, a suspected Ketracel White production facility. The Cygnet intelligence analysts are 90% confident this is a White facility based on traffic patterns identified from long-range scans, but there has been no on-site confirmation of this. We have no information on static defences, mobile platforms, or reinforcements, but those same long-range scans indicate no more than ten warp fields in the area at any one time.”

The assembled captains now understood Janatta’s sour mood. A single cruiser wing going up against at least two squadrons of enemy ships and unknown defensive platforms was slim margin indeed for victory – especially if enemy reinforcements were available in strength.

“Closer scans of the front lines have discerned a hole in the enemy’s patrol pattern and this is what we are attempting to exploit. Our group will slip past this rear-guard patrol, penetrate the lightly guarded rear area and eliminate the facility. These are the bare bones of the strike plan,” Janatta told his audience laconically, adding, “and there is not much meat to be added.

“Because we have so little information and no more will be forthcoming – any ship we try to get close will alert them of our knowledge of and interest in this target – we will be going in blind and improvising what we can with what we learn,” the Trill told them with calm and dry humour.

Andrea saw it and didn’t like it one bit. As a long-time observer of people she could tell from studying minute tells on his face and his utterly still body language that the calm and humour was a façade, and a brittle one at that. She stole a quick glance around the table and took in her fellow officers’ reactions. They didn’t seem to see it, or if they did, they were hiding it very well. Only one thing would make this mission palatable, but fortunately the man introduced it as his next item and she relaxed slightly.

“As such, I will welcome any suggestions any captain wishes to make as we approach. There will not be time to stop for a strategy and tactics session once we arrive and once battle has been joined it will be hard to coordinate. Leading up to that I will be happy to entertain your ideas.”

Most of the captains murmured their assent and approval, but Andrea’s momentary lightening of mood was once again quashed. He’s inexperienced at this and he knows it, which makes him willing to listen. However he does have some confidence in his own skills, which will make him resistant to implementing things he doesn’t immediately understand or agree with. The perfect person to have in a learning position, but as a leader… She ground her teeth slightly in frustration.

“As I said, that was the bare bones of the plan,” Janatta continued. “Now, here’s what meat we have…”


The cruiser wing departed Cygnet XIV on schedule and, once clear of the system’s gravity well, assumed Janatta’s desired formation: two columns of three on either side of his command ship, observing the five-kilometre minimum safe distance during peacetime.

As a transit formation Andrea couldn’t disapprove of it, but in her opinion Janatta had spent insufficient time devising offensive and defensive formation options. Also, what options there were had definitely not been practiced, nor had moving into those formations. This was usually hard enough when the only pressure was a review by the Brass, never mind while under fire on a vital mission.

To ‘Commodore’ Yushikara, veteran ship captain of the ISC War of Pacification, this lack of preparation was horribly sloppy and indicative of the wider problem of the ‘peacekeeper’ nature of the Star Fleet in the 24th century. When she got her command role – and she was 100% sure she would get one – she’d go about rectifying that. Until then, though, all she could do was bide her time, advise as best she could, and try to stop these people from getting into too much trouble as a result of that lack of a military mindset.


“So, that was the famous ‘Commodore’ Yushikara,” Grox snorted as he conversed with his X.O. in his ready room after departing the Fleet base. “I thought she’d be older.”

Commander Madeline Adcox grinned at her irascible C.O. and confirmed, “Yup, that’s her all right. But what your half-blind, beady little eyes couldn’t read was the age in her eyes. While she is still very striking for a 65-year-old Human woman, her eyes look every bit as old as the 124 years since the year of her birth,” she commented more soberly. “I take it that you’ve already looked her up in the Starfleet database? I have, and she makes for interesting reading.”

“On that I do agree, Commander,” Grox grunted. “What I don’t understand is why this brilliant tactician/war hero/junior flag officer isn’t in command of this mission and that nervous pup Janatta is.”

“From the way she reacted when you asked her, I’m quite sure she doesn’t either. It’s obviously a sore point with her, and you – the heart and soul of tact that you are – tried to press it even after she refused to answer you the first time,” she noted with a half-grin.

“Bah. Anyone who’s been around as long as she has should know that’s the normal Tellarite way of encouraging interest in oneself!” he griped back.

“I guess you got the message when she simply turned her back on us all and walked away, huh?” Adcox teased. “Boy, did she look mad!”

“Commander…” Grox growled at her warningly.

“Yes Sir. Sorry Sir,” she responded properly, but Grox knew that her smirk was still lurking in there somewhere.

“So, why isn’t she still a commodore and leading this war party?” he persisted.

More soberly, Madeline explained. “Now, I don’t know for sure, you understand, but she’s not a commodore in rank because Starfleet discontinued the rank early this century, in favour of Rear Admiral, Lower Half—”

“Yeah, and they call it ‘Lower Half’ because none of those self-important mukkups promoted to flag rank want to be called ‘Rear Admiral, Junior Grade’!” Grox chortled loudly.

“Yes, quite,” Madeline offered in her best faux-English accent, then grinned at her captain. “Anyway, she was offered the equivalent rank of junior grade rear admiral once she re-qualified for active duty, but was told that doing so would automatically disqualify her from a position of starship command.”

“Ah, I see,” Grox commented thoughtfully. “She wanted to remain in the captain’s role, so she was dropped to captain in rank too. Correct?”

“Correct, Sir. From what I heard, she was not happy at that loss of rank, but there was no way she was getting out of the centre seat and her time served as a commodore was included in her current seniority as a captain. It was her choice, and she made it, but I think it still rankles with her.”

“Especially now as Janatta has command. Why is that, anyway? Even just as a captain, anyone familiar with her record knows she has almost more combat experience than the rest of us put together.”

“One reason could be seniority. Even with her time as a commodore she still only has 24 years’ seniority.”

“Let me guess: Janatta has more?” Grox hazarded.

“You got it. He’s spent 27 years as a cruiser and explorer captain. Since this mission was put together by Sector Command hirself, I can only assume sh/he thinks Janatta is capable enough.”

Grox pondered that one. “I’ve looked Janatta up too – along with all our fellow captains – and he is good at what he does. Will that transfer over to combat deployments though?”

“We can only assume the admiral thinks so,” Madeline commented.

“But wait… didn’t I hear that other captain who came through time – Bateson of the Bozeman I think it was – didn’t he get his seniority measured continuously from his promotion date, including the ninety-odd years he jumped through?”

“Yes. Apparently Captain Picard of the Enterprise lobbied hard to get it for him, too. Part of the coping process, and it did help. However, many disagreed with that. Bateson had been a captain for barely ten years before his ship skipped through time. Suddenly he was the longest serving captain in the Fleet, even over many Vulcans and Axanari who’d actually had close on a century themselves on active duty in the centre seat.

“Picard’s decision was finally overturned after almost a year, but by then Bateson had proved himself anyway. The Starfleet Brass decided that it was just plain unfair to the beings actually serving the time to be usurped like that. The time-displaced would still get special consideration in choosing what they wanted to do because it also wasn’t fair to them, but Starfleet went for the greater good.”

The two pondered that for some more minutes before Grox spoke up again. “That’s quite interesting, but how do you know all this? You’ve hardly had the time to find out such in-depth data in between preparing us for this mission – unless you’ve been slacking off again?” he inquired belligerently.

Adcox gathered her injured dignity around her like a cloak as she responded to that. “I’m sure you meant to say ‘expertly delegating’ there Captain, so I accept your imminent apology,” she began with asperity, to which Grox burst into deep-throated chortling, and continued. “I found all this out years ago when the Renown first reappeared from the Typhon Expanse. I was stationed on one of the ships in dock for refitting when she arrived. I followed her story with interest – especially as the Renown was the third ship to come through the temporal anomaly in the Expanse within two years.”

“Hmph,” Grox responded eloquently. Madeline grinned again. “What do you think of this Yushikara then, Commander?”

“I think well enough of her to agree she should be in command here,” she stated firmly, then added seriously, “but I think there’s something dark about her.”

Grox nodded slowly, as if he’d been thinking the same thing. “Maybe that’s the reason Janatta’s leading the mission.”


“Two minutes until into the breach we step, Captain,” M’Lady reported from the helm as they approached the large but uninhabited system that marked the ‘front lines’, her archaic English providing words that were unusually appropriate on many levels.

“Anything on long-range passives, T’Pris?” Andrea asked her science officer.

“Negative, Captain. It would appear that our approach was indeed well timed… wait one… extreme long range has three contacts re-entering the area. They appear to be travelling at warp five on a port-to-starboard course bearing 300 mark 350. On the tactical display now.”

The Zepht’s sensors are pretty good, aren’t they Commander?” Andrea commented with a tight grin. “We wouldn’t have picked them up for a good ten minutes at this rate.”

“Indeed. Now we can take evasive manoeuvres to keep ourselves hidden. The Jem’Hadar attack ships have good sensors but they are even shorter-ranged than ours.”

“Orders coming in from the Zepht, Sir,” Karl Jaeger spoke up from the comm. station. “Slow to warp two and follow projected course through the system to avoid the enemy patrol.”

As he spoke, the tactical display sprouted a twisting, spiralling route through the seven planets and their star.

M’Lady was already slowing and adopting the course changes as ordered by the mission commander. Andrea had given her orders to do so some hours back, but she’d also ordered such orders read aloud so she could countermand if needed.

“Now doth the Ta’betha system welcome us across its threshold,” M’Lady announced.

“Good, good,” Andrea commented. “Mr. Shran, all tactical systems ready to come up at a moment’s notice?”

“Yes, Captain,” was the short reply from the Andorian thaan. Andrea allowed herself a smile, knowing their taciturn tactical officer didn’t feel the need to go into detail. She’d asked about “all”, he’d said “yes”. Why waste further time giving an individual report on each system beyond that?

Andrea watched the tactical view as their wing skirted the planets in their orbits to mask their power and subspace signatures in the signal artefact from the heavenly bodies. They were just passing an inner gas giant now, and a quick glance at the main viewer showed it to be a boring one; lots of dun, yellow, and brown bands. Sol was so much prettier—

“Captain! Sensor contacts among the planet’s satellites!” T’Pris reported urgently even as she highlighted them on the tactical display and shot the same data to the other ships of their wing.

They could only belong to the enemy. Andrea cursed their cleverness and asked, “How many and what type?”

“Jem’Hadar attack ships. Sixteen of them,” T’Pris reported as if commenting on the interesting configuration of the gas giant’s moons. “They have detected us,” she added.

Zepht has them too, Captain,” Jaeger reported. “New deployment orders coming in, on the mission ops display. Zepht instructs, ‘Arm all weapons, full power to shields, assume formation’.”

M’Lady hesitated slightly, but no countermand came from her own captain so she implemented Janatta’s orders, as did Shran.

“Get me Janatta, Karl,” the captain ordered, and a channel chimed open.

“Janatta here. Suggestions, Captain?” he asked, voice tight.

“Withdrawal, Sir,” Andrea spoke quickly, clearly. “We’re heavily outnumbered and slightly outgunned. Having been detected here, the area patrols will be called in as reinforcements as well. The mission’s a bust, Captain. We should save ourselves a battle.”

While she’d been speaking she watched the Jem’Hadar light up their weapons and sensors and began closing, and her own wing formed a ‘fire sack’ formation with the Zepht at the bottom and the other cruisers forming a tunnel to her some ten kilometres deep and across. Andrea didn’t like this formation. It left the outermost ships too exposed to direct attack.

“You’re saying we should run? But we can defeat them.”

His tone of voice said it all. Andrea closed her eyes at the futility of saying more. She couldn’t persuade him in the time remaining before the shooting started, but of course she had to try.

“Yes, Captain, we can, but the losses we will take will make it a Pyrrhic Victory at best.”

“I agree about the strike mission, but we can defeat this force, Captain. We can take a victory home to Command and we can try again later.”

“Captain, at least change to a tighter formation—” she began, but it was too late. The Jem’Hadar had started firing.

“Engage to destroy. Pick your targets as they bear. Open fire!” Captain Janatta ordered his wing, and the channel closed.

Captain, nee Commodore, Andrea Jane Yushikara mercilessly crushed the rising wave of futility and despair at the coming tragedy that threatened her emotional stability and started snapping out orders as the sixteen Dominion Fast Patrol ships screamed in to meet their wing.

Chapter Three

“First! Sensor contact aft of our position!”

As usual, their Vorta overseer interrupted this report and demanded answers. “Enemy ships? How many and how far?”

The Jem’Hadar Fourth answered swiftly. “Six Federation cruisers and a battleship, two hundred thousand kilometres distant. Speed: Warp two.”

First Ram’Iraklan bared his teeth, but the Vorta wasn’t happy. After the First had finished barking interception orders, Gemulon asked, “How did they get so close?”

Ram’Iraklan again wished the Founders had seen fit to bless them with an overseer with at least some tactical knowledge, and again dismissed it as impractical thinking. Besides, all the experienced Vorta were needed elsewhere, not in this rearguard area.

“They hid among the planets, as we did,” he answered.

Even as he spoke, he watched the enemy formation rearrange itself and several opportunities immediately suggested themselves to him. “Second! Instruct Squadron Three to perform manoeuvre O2-AM-23473 and target the front rank high centre ship. Squadrons One and Two are to split into two-ship elements and target front rank-low and second rank-high vessels. Execute!”

At least Gemulon was intelligent enough to know he knew nothing and let Ram’Iraklan deploy and fight his wing, though he couldn’t stop from asking questions. “This is a powerful force, First, but you seem to have things under control. What are your plans?”

Unable to ignore an order from the Vorta, Ram’Iraklan nonetheless deeply grudged the distraction and time it would take to explain. He did so as his fighters began firing. With the order to attack already given, a second order to fire was superfluous.

“They expect us to disregard losses and attack their command ship. We shall not. Their outermost ships are vulnerable and exposed. We will destroy one ship quickly and harass their others to prevent a coordinated response and break their formation. Their strength lies in supporting fire. We fly to deny them that.”

The First’s ship rocked as phaser fire reached out to remind the occupants how dangerous it was out here, then bucked hard as if a grenade had gone off underneath an AFV. As the deck stopped heaving, the Fourth reported, “Squadron Three target destroyed.”

With this result at less than a minute into the battle, the Vorta was mightily impressed and regarding the First with considerable respect. Ram’Iraklan felt pride and snapped out. “Repeat attack pattern on the front rank until they redeploy.”


On the bridge of her Zodiac-class cruiser, Captain S’ardala watched the oncoming Dominion hordes dispassionately. A tactical analysis showed the enemy wing was staggered in three attack waves, though the nearest two were further subdivided into two elements of two. It appeared as if the first two waves were to soften up their defences for the double-strength third wave to finish the job.

The photon torpedoes she’d had launched a second ago soared out towards the enemy formation, ignoring the first two waves to damage and break up the main force. With both sides surprised by the other within only double the weapons range of the Dominion fighters, the range advantage the Starfleet ships usually enjoyed was already gone, and short blasts of polaron fire peppered the shields of all three ships in the front rank even as phasers and photons answered them. Torpedoes set to proximity fuses detonated as they got close enough to the relatively tightly-packed attack ships, and the Vulcan captain could see their shields flaring already.

Blue and orange beams crisscrossed space between the opposing forces as they drew near to each other, into the knife-fighting range the Jem’Hadar excelled at ship-to-ship combat in.

Tactical Officer Sotak’s modulated voice spoke up, even and quiet in the stillness of the Vulcan bridge. “Targets are becoming clear. First and second waves are harassing forces for our second and front ranks respectively. The third wave is targeting the Arcturus.”

“Disregard our assailants and continue to target the main body,” S’ardala ordered in kind.

“Acknowledged,” Sotak responded and distributed some more photons amongst the main group. They were now close enough for direct-fire active homing mode for their torpedoes. “Targeting lead fighter. Torpedo dispersal pattern Sierra,” he noted slightly more loudly as polaron fire again lashed at their shields and caused the ship to rock. The surge suppressors held, but water vapour blasted out from a ruptured ventilation duct and impaired her tactical officer’s efficiency. The bridge engineer on her double-staffed bridge locked that down while the ship continued to jolt and bounce, but the four photons just launched from their forward tube homed unerringly on the lead Jem’Hadar ship and almost wiped out its forward shield. A quick follow-up phaser strike ensured the shield went down, but the ship broke off and a second torpedo salvo was wasted against its fresh port and ventral shields.

A minute narrowing of her eyes betrayed S’ardala’s quickly suppressed annoyance and she exerted ten percent more grip to keep herself in her chair as the two fighters harassing her ship made their presence felt again.

“Mr. Sotak, aft torpedoes when applicable to dissuade our attendants,” she ordered, the slight but deliberate edge to her voice conveying her disapproval that she’d had to issue the order.

“Implemented,” Satok replied, as inflectionless as ever.

A quick glance at the tactical display showed the other Starfleet vessels striking at their nearest adversaries and only the Arcturus likewise firing into the approaching mass of fighters – then the Renown broke formation to pursue her closest enemy.

The combined fire from Arcturus and Shanni’Kahr succeeded in knocking another two fighters out of the line-up, but others looped back to take their place and were themselves replaced in the harassing role. Then the main Jem’Hadar formation was on the Hokule’a-clas cruiser, unleashing a constant stream of steady blue fire at point-blank range. Under those eight beams Captain Finn’s shields flared and then died. Those beams kept firing and chewed through hull to find her warp core—

—and as suddenly as that, three hundred and fifty fellow servicebeings were no more. A blinding flash momentarily overloaded the viewscreen dampeners and inner eyelids slammed shut to protect delicate retinas even as the intense buffeting from an exploding starship forced everyone to hang on.

S’ardala and her bridge crew silently mourned their loss even as they stabilised their own vessel and tried to avenge their deaths.

“Main body is selecting us as their next target,” Sotak stated quietly.

Communications Officer T’Mala spoke up. “Captain Janatta orders defensive formation Bravo Two.”

“Complying,” Conn Officer Stenn responded immediately and entered the new course into his console.

“Retarget to force our attendants back while we redeploy, Mr Sotak,” S’ardala ordered.

“Understood, Captain,” the tactical officer returned as he too worked his board. “Enemy fighters are moving to cut off our redeployment.”

S’ardala’s eyes narrowed again. “Signal the squadron that we may require assistance.”


“Here they come!” Commander Madeline Adcox called out as the Jem’Hadar fighters swarmed at their ships like beetles from an overturned stone.

“Enemy formation splitting up,” Tactical Officer Roopa Singh reported, her usually cheery voice flat and strained. “One group of eight making a run at the Arcturus, others attacking in pairs… two ships targeting us!”

“Knock them off course!” Grox ordered sternly. “Photons target left, phasers target right.”

“Aye, Captain,” she responded, quickly working her controls. On screen, blue and orange beams crisscrossed and shields flared into the visible spectrum as they tried to ward off the energy directed at them. A spread of six photons bracketed one fighter and demolished its front shields but it survived and veered off. Similar damage was done to the second fighter with the more accurate phasers, and the Lor’Vela was out of immediate danger. Her lateral phasers dealt further blows to the regrouping enemy fighters, but again new shield arcs took the brunt of the hits as they were supposed to.

Renown has broken formation!” Science Officer Thershar reported urgently. “She’s pursuing the Tiger’s attackers!”

Damnit, I knew she’d cause trouble— Grox cursed inwardly but was interrupted by a brilliant fireball on the viewscreen. That was too large to have been a fighter, he thought with sick certainty.

His fears were confirmed a moment later Singh reported in a subdued tone, “The Arcturus has been destroyed.”

Renown has destroyed her target and is now going after one of the Tau Ceti’s attackers,” Thershar reported.

“The main body of the Dominion wing has regrouped and is targeting the Shanni’Kahr,” Roopa reported next.

“They’re going for the kill while the rest distract us,” Madeline intuited. “We have to break up their formation!”

“Tactical, covering fire! Photon barrage to disrupt that formation!” Grox ordered instantly.

“New orders from the Zepht, Captain!” Comm Officer Nkana interrupted. “Defensive formation Bravo Two!”

“Helm, comply. Tactical, fire as ordered,” Grox bellowed. We need to start knocking these ships out of space or things are going to go very badly!


Captain Yushikara waited tensely in formation and intensely examined the tactical picture. She too saw the Jem’Hadar dispersal pattern and knew exactly what they’d do, if not quite who would be harassed.

She waited on coordinated firing orders coming in from Janatta, but he seemed quite happy not to micro-manage. Normally a good thing, it could prove self-defeating in a fleet battle.

She watched Arcturus and Shanni’Kahr concentrate on the main group and the others swat almost ineffectually against the first two waves as they drew fire from the main group, before they broke formation and attacked independently. Ships that were split from the main group were cleverly replaced with fresher ships rotated from the harassers.

Finally having enough, she ordered, “Shran, target Juliet Three, engagement pattern Yankee One. M’Lady, pursuit course, point-blank range. C.P.O. Ronka, energy priority: impulse, weapons, shields, S.I.F. Karl, get me Janatta.”

The “aye-ayes” rolled back and the feeling of apprehension that had permeated the bridge instantly transformed into a sense of purpose.

“Captain Janatta online,” Jaeger reported, then opened the comm. channel at her nod.

“Captain Yushikara, what the blazes do you think you’re doing?!” the Trill demanded, sounding quite put out.

“Prosecuting to kill enemy ships, Captain,” Andrea responded firmly. “They have a distraction element covering their main force, I thought I’d respond in kind.”

“Resume your station, Captain! That’s an order! Your ship is not a fighter!” Janatta barked.

“This is true, Sir,” she replied, gripping her armrests as the Jem’Hadar finally noticed her, “but she’s no sluggard either.”

Just then the Arcturus blew and any levity in Andrea died with its crew. “Captain Janatta,” she said with forced calm, “as your tactical advisor, I advise you to assume defensive formation Bravo Two for greater supporting fire to the weaker ships. Yushikara out.”

Not having taken her eyes from the screen during her brief chat with the squadron commander, she signed off just as Shran lobbed six photorps at one of the Tiger’s tormentors at spitting distance and followed it up with all of Renown’s forward-arc saucer phasers. The six beams gutted the bug-like fighter after demolishing what was left of its facing shield. The ship didn’t explode, but spun off as an inert, lifeless hulk.

Not as satisfying as it blowing up but every one counts. Probably a good job it didn’t blow, too, she pondered guiltily after a moment’s thought. I let us get too close there; the explosion would have ate into our shields.

“Shran, for the next one—”

Andrea had to break off suddenly to push her stomach back down where it belonged as M’Lady simultaneously boosted the S.I.F. to 125%, snap-rolled the Renown to starboard and hauled her “nose” back down to line up with the Shanni’Kahr’s assailants. This brought the great ship down in a screaming dive back into the formation after her less strenuous climb through it to assist the Tiger.

“—you should double the distance to target for the killing stroke,” Andrea continued as if she hadn’t nearly shared her breakfast with everyone.

“Understood, Captain,” he responded with a smile in his voice.

“Thanks for the warning, M’Lady,” she griped next.

The purple-skinned woman’s folded wings fluttered slightly, indicating her amusement, and Andrea could imagine the smirk on the Matokan’s all too Human face.

“They’re making a run on the Shanni’Kahr, same pattern as before,” Shran updated as he blasted a second Dominion fighter out of the fight with Yankee One.

Andrea spared a revealing glance for the Fleet/Mission Ops display beside the main viewscreen and saw that their squadron had this data too. Fortuitous targeting by M’Lady already had them on their way to her defence but then Janatta gave in to the inevitable.

“New orders for all ships,” Jaeger announced with emphasis on the ”all” that prompted a wintry smile from Yushikara. “Assume defensive formation Bravo-Two.”

Almost immediately the four smaller cruisers halved their speed and manoeuvred into their new positions while the Zepht accelerated into their midst, and Andrea watched as a tightly-spaced cube formed around the centred Nebula-class ship.

This suited Andrea well as it allowed her to orbit the formation and attack targets of opportunity or join the formation at a predetermined spot for support if she ended up being pursued by too many opponents.

The Dominion fighters still went after the Shanni’Kahr but this time with all their ships, attacking from forward port high in an attempt to cut the Zepht’s phasers out of the equation by using S’ardala’s ship as a shield. With the tighter formation and greater covering fire from the other Starfleet ships they still paid for it.

Even so, the sheer weight of fire that threatened the Vulcan-crewed ship dictated the pattern of response and photons detonated in front of and among the enemy wing, trying to break up their attack formation.

The Renown circled like a shark off to starboard of the engagement zone so as not to block fire and the unbeatable combination of M’Lady and Shran had Yushikara’s graceful cruiser pouncing on and gutting or destroying with precise barrages ships that fell out of the enemy formation.

The attack wave passed but less three of their number, and the Shanni’Kahr, though bleeding and battered, survived the conflagration.

“Status of the enemy wing?” the captain demanded.

T’Pris, who had been monitoring this while Shran concentrated on actual fighting, reported, “Six fighters destroyed, ten remaining. Eight fighters damaged, three heavily. They are regrouping at 090 mark 350.”

“Status of the Shanni’Kahr?”

“Her shields are completely down and structural integrity is down to 31%,” T’Pris answered smoothly. “She has hull breaches across multiple decks, however emergency forcefields are holding. She is warp-capable, but barely so and definitely not above warp two.”

“M’Lady, fun time is over. Prepare for close formation station-keeping and shield extension. Karl, inform Captain S’ardala that we’re on our way to cover her.”

“Aye-aye,” M’Lady sighed.

“Yes Captain,” Jaeger responded, then updated, “Captain S’ardala acknowledges.”

“Tractor beams to secure her, Captain?” Mai-Lin enquired.

“I was thinking of slaving their helm to ours,” Andrea responded. “With her hull integrity so low I don’t want any shocks transferred to her from us.”

“That would be negligible, Sir, and if they’re targeting her, won’t it be better to have our tractor beams as cushioning or a brace?”

Andrea looked at her X.O. with the barest hint of a smile, and said, “No.”

Chan rolled her eyes in a ‘why do I bother?’ and stepped back. “Fine, we’ll do it your way. As always.” She muttered the last just loud enough for Andrea alone to hear.

It made her smile.

“Jem’Hadar on the attack again, Captain,” Shran spoke up. “Three heavily damaged fighters targeting the Shanni’Kahr again, the others are pulling that same attack pattern but vectoring in on the Zepht. Coming up at her from below to cut out the upper ships!”

“Make sure Janatta knows to redeploy! Suggest defensive Theta Seven,” Yushikara snapped. “We’ll stay to protect Vulcans. M’Lady, report!”

“In position, Captain,” was the short reply.

“Chief Ronka, extend shields to cover them. Energy allocation: shields, weapons, S.I.F. Jaeger, get me S’ardala!”

“Here they come!” Shran stated again. “Out of photon arc, broad on the port beam.”

“Phasers only then. Target the weakest one until it is knocked out of the fight, and so on.”


“Captain S’ardela on audio for you, Sir.”

“Captain S’ardela, would you slave your helm to ours? I want our shields at minimum extension.”

“We will attach a tractor beam, Captain Yushikara. It is the only help we can you in our current condition,” the calm, even voice came back.

Andrea specifically did not look at Mai-Lin then but could still feel her gleeful smugness from across the bridge. She suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. “Very well. Hold on tightly and prepare to beam out if we detect a warp core breach.”

Her last words were punctuated by the deck quaking and the channel was unceremoniously shut off. Polaron beams raked up the port shield as the enemy fighters let loose with continuous streams of fire on their ascent into Renown’s blocked phaser arcs.

This is going to be hard, Yushikara noted silently.


Observing the Jem’Hadar completing their pass on one of his Zodiac-class cruisers and seeing her still there, Janatta thought with heartfelt relief, Thank the Makers they didn’t get the Shanni’Kahr as well.

Aloud, he barked, “Status of our squadron?”

“Heavy shield depletion on all ships except the Renown,” his tactical officer reported, and Janatta clenched his teeth at the mention of that ship. “Shanni’Kahr is crippled and stripped of shields but Fleet Ops shows the Renown forming up with her. All ships are reporting medium internal damage but most of it is secondary systems – again, except for Renown.”

Janatta seriously began to wonder if Lieutenant Commander Nakamura was saying “Renown” again and again on purpose just to needle him, but the man had never done anything like it before. I’m just getting too sensitive to any mention of her. Yes, she was right about Bravo Two, but does she have to be so condescending and superior about it? She’s made it clear to everyone that she thinks I’m incompetent or unqualified to lead this mission, and disobeying my direct orders… Again, Janatta ground his teeth together as he cursed out his own personal demon/loose cannon.

“Enemy wing reformed bearing 200 mark 347,” Nakamura warned. “They have split into three- and seven-ship formations. Larger group targeting us!” He broke off to report, “Message from Renown suggesting redeploying in defensive formation Theta Seven to guard against ventral attack run.”

Janatta didn’t waste time trying to find a better way of his own. “Send that to all ships!”

“Aye, Captain,” Kenji responded and sent the directive out while he continued to give status updates. “Three enemy ships heading for the Shanni’Kahr, but Renown has extended her shields and locked on a tractor beam.”

“Enemy ships firing!” Conn Officer Jamieson called out, though by the second word the warning was superfluous as they felt the impact of those shots. The squadron hadn’t finished redeploying yet and the Zepht’s underbelly was vulnerable.

“All ships fire with whatever bears! Disrupt their formation!” Janatta ordered urgently over the com channel. “Mr. Jamieson, roll the ship, 180 degrees x-axis!” he shouted over the sound of his ship’s systems straining under the onslaught.

“Returning fire,” Nakamura reported firmly, and added, “All seven enemy ships are targeting our ventral shield, aiming for penetration over the warp core ejection port!”

“Tactical, don’t worry about destroying ships,” Janatta forced himself to speak calmly. “Knock out as many of their forward weapons arrays as possible,” he ordered over the intership channel; his first co-ordinated fire plan of the battle.

Phaser beams and some photons lashed out at the enemy as the upper ships of their formation dived down to the defence of their command ship, which rolled ponderously to one side in an attempt to deny the enemy their target.

The Jem’Hadar, never a bunch to waste a tactical opportunity as it presented itself, altered their ascending trajectory to fly past the Zepht on the side she was rolling from, giving them some extra firing time, but then they were past and the Nebula-class’ shield held. The three ships that had been smashed out of formation vectored around and rejoined their wingmates as they reformed above the Zepht’s starboard bow.

“All ships resume Bravo Two and keep firing at the enemy! Don’t give them a chance to rest or regroup!” Janatta ordered over the com, then checked his shield status. He was very concerned to find that the ventral shield had dropped to 60% under the onslaught – which illustrated just how much stronger his shields were than those of the 60-year-old Arcturus.

The phasers and rear photons of his squadron kept the enemy shields raw this time and didn’t allow them to regenerate much, but this kind of continuous fire was an acknowledged mark of desperation. The Type VIII phasers of his Excelsiors, Type IXs of his Zodiacs and his own Type Xs intersected again and again with the fast moving but very close Dominion fightercraft, but even his Type Xs were barely a match for the full power of their enemies’ single short-ranged polaron beam. The short range was deliberate too, to allow a stronger burst to be fired.

“Here they come again!” Nakamura called out. “Targeting our ventral shield again.”

“Keep rolling the ship away from them, fire all weapons as they unmask, and start shooting to kill!” Janatta ordered stridently, finally realising that if an enemy ship survived it could return to attack again. “We need to reduce their numbers!”

Chapter Four

As the three damaged Jem’Hadar fighters streaked almost vertically past their tractor-linked ships, Andrea Yushikara squared her shoulders and shoved herself firmly into her command chair. The second pass rattled her ship hard again, but Starfleet’s indulgence towards her crew and the loving attention lavished on the Renown as a result stood her in good stead. Though her shields gave ground, they stayed up.

Which is more than can be said if we’d just plugged in the standard 24th century Excelsior parts! the time-displaced ship commander thought in no small relief. “Shran, tighten the spread of our torpedoes. The bugs are flying past so close I can feel the wind in my hair!”

“Captain, I’m having to slow launch the torpedoes and curve them around from fore and aft to hit targets that are deliberately avoiding our direct-fire arcs!” Shran reminded her with restraint as he concentrated on continuing his job. “Respectfully, you should be grateful I’m hitting them with any torpedoes, Sir!

His eyed never left his console displays.

“You are right, of course, Shran. Do it anyway,” she shot back at him with a little malicious glee at torturing her normally unflappable tactical officer.

Phasers and the odd photon continued to pummel their attackers until one finally exploded, all shields having been worn down completely at last.

“See? I knew you could do better,” she told him helpfully.

The Andorian gritted his teeth.

Suppressing a smirk, she asked next, “Chief Ronka, shield status?”

“Holding, but barely,” the burly Tellarite engineer told her. “We’ve tightened the shield function curvature equation up as much as possible, but it doesn’t help that a Zodiac is almost twice as wide as we are! The disparity in our ship dimensions is creating a lot of shielded empty space, but I can’t change the laws of physics to form-fit them to both ships!” he snarled, obviously angry and just as obviously biting back the words “for you!”

Had it been anyone other than her own long-standing and highly-cherished crew saying something like that and in that tone, she’d have kicked them off the bridge. But since it was she merely grinned like the over-indulgent parent they regarded her as.

The grin promptly vanished as the next salvo battered at them. With her own manoeuvrability now nil, Renown could no longer chase a target until it presented the best shot for their weapons. Instead, she had to hit whatever shield the Jem’Hadar saw fit to present to her. They took full advantage of this and twisted like eels under her phasers, their lightning-quick reorientations diluting her fire across multiple shield fronts.

Even though these were the most badly damaged of the enemy fighters it had still taken an unconscionable amount of landed firepower to finally destroy the first of her besiegers. For their part, the Jem’Hadar continued to target the crippled Shanni’Kahr, knowing that all they need do is rupture her antimatter bottles or warp core to annihilate both Starfleet ships.

They were getting perilously close to accomplishing that objective.

“Shields down to 15%!” Ronka growled desperately after the next set of blasts rocked the ship. “Ship’s batteries now completely drained, warp reactor and all aux power sources redlined!”

“Damnit people, it’s just two gunboats! Take them out!” Yushikara demanded.

Seconds later a tractor beam lanced out and snagged one of the enemy ships. It didn’t hold, but it violently slewed the enemy fighter into the forward torpedo arc – no doubt happening entirely as intended – as well as robbing it of precious speed for a second. The ever-watchful Shran, who hadn’t so much as twitched an antenna at his C.O.’s “inspirational” words, nailed it dead on with the four reloaded torpedoes he had available, and ripped it apart with a follow-up pinpoint phaser strike. Then he cast a pointed glance at Mai-Lin Chan before resuming his task.

“Captain, the remaining ship is breaking off to rejoin its wing,” he reported dryly. “We appear to have won this round.”

Andrea blinked, slightly stunned by the surprise kill, and swept her chair around to rake her bridge crew with a stare half admiring, half thoughtful – but with a hint of malicious enjoyment too.

“Maybe I should yell at you more often?” she inquired sweetly.

“Captain, as Executive Officer and as such responsible for the morale of the crew, I would most strenuously advise against that,” Commander Chan put in quickly, tongue firmly in cheek.

“Oh you would, would you?” Andrea retorted, not trying very hard to stop a grin breaking out across her face as she felt the mood of the bridge crew lighten considerably.

Mai-Lin returned the look with wide-eyed, patently false earnestness and a puppy-dog nod.

Andrea’s grin was replaced with a repressed sigh. She hated to spoil their moment of levity but knew she needed to. They’d bought themselves some breathing room and used it well, but the battle raged on.

“Status report on the squadron, please,” she asked evenly.

T’Pris spoke up. “They have broken up two passes by the Jem’Hadar but the fighters have been concentrating fire on the Zepht’s ventral shield, which is now down to 20%. The Jem’Hadar appear to be aiming for the Zepht’s antimatter bottles or warp core.”

Andrea’s mood soured. “Quickest way to take out a starship, if not necessarily the easiest,” she muttered.

“Sir, a message from Captain S’ardala,” Karl Jaeger reported.

“Let’s hear it,” Yushikara ordered.

“On screen,” Jaeger acknowledged, and Andrea turned to face the viewscreen.

“Captain, I regret to inform you that we cannot save my ship,” the Vulcan began bluntly. “My engineer has noted the signs of an impending warp core breach. His staff are doing all they can to slow it, but I am reliably informed that it will most certainly breach.”

Andrea scowled mightily. All that effort! “Would additional engineering teams alter that outcome?” she asked.

“No. We require immediate evacuation,” S’ardala stated in no uncertain terms.

“Very well. Release your tractor beam and we will reorient ourselves to make things easier on our transporter techs. Continue to have your engineers try to eject the core.”

“Tractor beam disengaged. You misunderstand me, Captain Yushikara,” S’ardala corrected her bluntly. “If we could eject the core we could save my ship. There has been too much damage to systems and components. The ejection system is offline, there is heavy damage to the surrounding area and systems, and the ejection port is warped and will not jettison.”

Andrea was annoyed at the Vulcan’s litany of woes but she had invited it, sort of, and the situation was reasonable given the pounding the Shanni’Kahr had taken, what with this bunch of Jem’Hadar’s fascination with warp cores.

A quick glance at an auxiliary screen showed the two ships were aligned with each other, so Yushikara said, “Very well. Prepare for evacuation. Use whatever power you have left to beam your crew over to our aft shuttlebay, and we’ll beam the rest to our main shuttlebay. My ops officer will coordinate with yours.”

“Acknowledged. S’ardala, out.”

Andrea spared a glance to ensure that Lieutenant Hawke was actually doing so before returning to the tactical situation. “Chief Ronka, the instant we get confirmation of completed beam outs reconfigure our shields for combat. What is the shield and battery recharge status?”

“Shields back up to 23% and they’ll recharge faster after reconfiguring,” Ronka reported quickly. “Batteries are at 10% again.”

“Very good. Keep concentrating on shield recharge. Shran,” she enquired next, “why aren’t we offering supporting fire to the squadron?”

An indignant look graced the commander’s face. “We are, Captain,” was the short reply.

Just then, Andrea noticed the screeeeeee of the phasers. She’d gotten so used to hearing them that she’d unconsciously tuned them out. “My apologies, Mr. Shran, I stand corrected.” She bore her slight embarrassment playfully. “Are we… hitting anything?” she delicately enquired next.

The narrowed-eye glare she got from him told her she’d pay for that remark during their next sparring session. With great dignity and austerity, the much put-upon tactical officer replied loudly and distinctly, “Yes.”

He then proceeded to ignore his annoying captain, speaking not another word to her.

Andrea spun on the rest of her bridge crew as most of them snorted laughter. “Evacuation status!” she barked, but everyone could hear the annoyed amusement in her voice.

“Forty more seconds at most, Captain,” Lieutenant Jonathan Hawke reported. “We’re beaming the engineers out last and they’re next.”

“Very good. As soon as we’re done, lock on to the strongest remaining fighter and pursue to destroy, pattern Yankee One again.”

Her crew acknowledged her orders and M’Lady and Shran once again started coordinating their activities.

“We have then, Sir!” Hawke piped up.


“In progress… Done!” the chief anticipated her.

M’Lady reported, “Pursuit course engaged—” but was interrupted by T’Pris.

“Captain, the Jem’Hadar have breached the Zepht’s ventral shield. She has taken very heavy damage to her engineering section.”


Andrea fought the anger and despair that rose within her at the news. “Get us in there NOW!” she barked at M’Lady. “Shran, use Yankee Two. I want dead bugs and I want them quickly, people! Ronka: weapons, shields, impulse, S.I.F. Karl, get me Janatta. T’Pris, will they recover or will she blow?”

“Uncertain, Sir. The remaining Jem’Hadar are pressing their attack.”

“We should be grateful none of them have resorted to suicide runs. They must have thought they could take us out,” Andrea muttered darkly.

“They may yet do so,” Commander Chan put in. “That they haven’t may indicate they’re expecting reinforcements shortly.”

“That’s a damn good point,” Andrea agreed worriedly. “T’Pris, anything on long-range?”

“Engaging target,” Shran announced, as if to an uncaring universe.

Andrea spared him a grimace before returning her attention to her science officer.

“I am getting sporadic readings of warp fields, but with all the planetary and battle-related interference I cannot be sure.” She brought up a tactical chart as an explosion lit the bridge from the viewscreen.

“Target destroyed, selecting another,” was Shran’s laconic update.

“These contacts here could be a single large vessel like a Dominion U-class battlecruiser, or it could also be several smaller contacts in close formation, like a fighter squadron. Their speed is uncertain, but to be detected as such it would appear to be greater than warp six in either case.”

“So, more likely to be a Cardassian Galor squadron,” Yushikara noted grimly.

“Captain Janatta is finally responding, Sir!” Jaeger called out.

Andrea had almost forgotten she’d asked for that, so focused on the possible new threat she had become. “On your screen,” she instructed the German, and instantly the Trill’s soot-smeared, sweating face glared at her from an aux monitor at Karl’s station.

“What’s your status, Sir?” she asked immediately.

Breathing heavily, he answered, “Those damn bugs kept slipping around our defensive manoeuvring and all our firepower! Kept hitting our underside until the shield was gone and ripped into our engineering spaces!”

Andrea knew that much already but trying to hurry him along would only have had the opposite effect. She let him continue while thinking Just get on with it! Her impatience was softened by the explosion of another Dominion fighter on the main viewer.

“We’ve managed to jettison all our damaged antimatter pods – took two of them out when we did, too!” he snarled fiercely, proud of that at least. “The warp core is holding out so far and the rest of my ship is practically undamaged – all my other shields are still up!” he growled angrily. “But they’re down to two ships now and—”

On the screen, his head snapped around at a call from one of his own crew even as Shran called out to her. “Suicide runs on the Zepht and Tau Ceti!”

“Intensify ventral firepower!” Janatta screamed.

Shran!” Andrea pleaded before she could stop herself.

The Andorian tactical officer was already blasting the bug ships with all the weapons at his disposal, but Renown had been caught out. Just swinging back to the squadron after destroying another fighter, she was “above” the Zepht and broadside on, cutting out her torpedoes and well over half her phasers.

Likewise the other members of the squadron were above the plane of the Jem’Hadar’s attack, as Janatta’s constant rotating of his ship to reduce the enemy’s chances of a clear shot ruined Theta Seven, which called for the supporting ships to be deployed low. They concentrated on the ship they could immediately hit and succeeded in atomising the fighter aiming for the Tau Ceti. The comparatively nimble Zodiac managed to twist its’ way out of the path of the onrushing fireball.

Fortunately, the combined assault of the Nebula’s Type X phasers and Renown’s available Type IXs was enough to reduce the last fighter to a ball of superheated plasma.

Unfortunately, that ball of superheated plasma then smashed into the stationary Zepht at three-quarters impulse. Andrea didn’t even have time to catch Janatta’s horrified look before the massive Nebula-class starship blew apart.

Her face immediately went ashen. She’d heard of the tactic, even seen it in a recording of the Odyssey’s death, but this was the first time it had happened right before her eyes, in her presence. All her actions in the three months of the war so far had been single-ship encounters, if anything.

“Murdering bastards…” she choked out, horrified, gripping the bridge rail for support. It was even worse than watching the three hundred and fifty crewmembers of the Arcturus die as their ship was atomised in an all-out attack. She’d now just watched eight hundred fellow servicebeings murdered by a beaten enemy aggressor who’d wanted to kill as many of their opponents as possible at any cost.

“Scan for survivors… escape pods, expelled crew, E.V.A. suits… anything,” she ordered hoarsely. The cheerful pings and chimes of their computers were like shards of diamond in her soul, all the more so because T’Pris replied with the dreaded but expected answer.

“None detected, Captain,” she reported quietly. The softness of her voice indicated to those who knew her well enough of her own personal grief.

Andrea’s colour and upright bearing returned in a rush of fury that no longer had an outlet. Stuffing it into a room in her head and slamming the door, she barked, “Jaeger, open a channel to the other ships.”

A quick nod later and the familiar chiming announced she was on. Forcing calm into her voice, she declared, “This is Captain Yushikara of the Renown. As senior surviving officer, I hereby take command of this squadron.” Or what’s left of it, a distraught voice in her head commented crushingly.

“All ships, form up on Renown in Theta-Three and prepare to warp out. Set course for Cygnet. We depart in no more than five minutes unless any of you have problems. Signal your readiness and/or issues to Renown. Yushikara, out.”

“T’Pris, full power deep scan of the area. Make sure we’re not leaving anybody behind. I mean that literally,” she added sombrely. “Jaeger, reopen that channel.”

“Aye Sir. You’re on again.”

“All ships additional: perform a full power deep scan of the area. Search for any survivors we may have missed and… any bodies you can find.” Her firm voice faltered slightly and she added more gently, “We’re not leaving anyone behind.”

“Mr. Shran, if the Shanni’Kahr has not exploded yet, target her with a torpedo. We can’t leave her behind for the enemy,” Andrea ordered solemnly.

“She’s gone already, Captain,” Shran reported wearily. At his C.O.’s enquiring look, he elaborated, “The subspace shockwave from the Zepht pushed her own core over the edge. She blew right after.”

“Thank you, Commander,” she responded softly. The Andorian thaan tilted his head respectfully at her, and she caught the pain in his eyes then. It matched her own.

“T’Pris?” she asked next.

“Nothing, Sir,” was the Vulcan’s short answer. Detail or embellishment was anathema to the situation, the tragedy of which blanketed the bridge like a shroud of ash.

“Sir, sensor readings clearing on approaching contacts. They appear to be another wing of attack fighters. Seven ships, E.T.A. twenty minutes,” Shran spoke up again.

Andrea felt yet another flare of pointless, almost irrational fury. They can’t even leave us alone long enough for us to mourn our current losses, eagerly scurrying along to cause more! she railed at them.

Suppressing it yet again, and yet again blessing T’Pris and the Vulcan mind disciplines she’d been able to teach her friend and C.O., Andrea pinched the bridge of her nose and ordered, “Karl, if you would, signal all ships that they’ve got five minutes to complete their scan. Then we’re leaving.”

Her comms officer nodded and turned to his task. Five minutes later, the ships slowly assumed formation around Renown and Karl reported stoically, “All ships report no one else recovered, Captain.”

“Understood,” she acknowledged softly, closing her eyes for a moment. Straightening up, she ordered, “All ships, warp eight to Cygnet. Let’s go home.”


The voyage home was a quiet one. Very little repair work had to be done as the Jem’Hadar had concentrated on one ship after another. Damage to the surviving ships consisted of burnt out circuits from electrical overloads. It was all fixed within the first three hours, but the damage to the morale and spirits of their crews was far worse as they returned to base missing half their number.

Though Andrea’s heart was most definitely not in it, she spent the entire return trip composing her after-action report. She uncompromisingly took full blame for the loss of the Zepht, sparing herself nothing in a report that was almost an exercise in self-flagellation. She’d been second in command of a squadron that had lost nearly 1,200 lives on three ships – and one of them was the strongest Cygnet had so far been able to field. Her first order in command had been to retreat.

If I’d been in command this wouldn’t have happened! I cannot let it happen again, she railed at herself. I’ve got to be the squadron leader next time…

The thought trailed off and she examined her report again, viewing it in a different light. If I hand this to Choitak he’ll never give me command of more than my own vessel. She grimaced at the tone and content of it, her words sour to her own eyes. Taking it in the spirit she’d obviously intended it, the only thing she could have done worse was to transmit her squadron’s prefix codes to the enemy, and joined in with them when they attacked.

“You know, you really can be a gods’-damned idiot at times,” she muttered to herself, and dumped the entire report. With six hours’ worth of glorifying in ripping herself apart suddenly gone, she felt herself come out of her self-destructive funk and began to view things more objectively. She got up to compose new thoughts, and to figure out how to word her new report so as still to take responsibility but not make the admiral want to drum her out of the Fleet.


Hails having been exchanged about an hour ago, what remained of Strike Force Zepht entered standard orbit Cygnet with little fanfare. Yushikara had ordered radio silence until within short-range communications distance, rather than broadcast across interstellar space that their mission had failed and they’d lost half their ships.

Vice Admiral Choitak had given her blunt, succinct orders upon establishing contact: “Report to me immediately upon arrival at Cygnet for debriefing.”

Orbit having been established, Andrea announced, “You have the conn, Commander Chan. See to our repair, reprovisioning, and liberty for the crew. I don’t know how long we’ll be in port this time.”

“Aye Sir,” Mai-Lin responded crisply but didn’t take the centre seat as her captain entered the turbolift.

As the lift made its way to the transporter room, Andrea went over her options, strategies, and tactics for manoeuvring the admiral into giving her what she wanted. She’d had this concept ready for immediate implementation within the first week of the war, but had been unable to get her superiors to give it the attention she wanted. With her first deployment as part of a squadron she’d hoped to get command of it and show them just how effective such a concept could be, but someone else got the ‘flag’ spot and this debacle was the all-too-predictable – predictable to her, at least – result.

A brief nod to her transporter chief as she stepped onto the disk, and seconds later she was down on the planet. Another short turbolift ride later and she announced herself to the Axanari admiral’s adjutant. She was immediately cleared to go in and it distantly pleased her that Choitak wasn’t playing power games with her, demanding her immediate presence then making her wait once she got there.

She’d known officers and officials like that, and she loathed their type.

“Captain Yushikara reporting as ordered, Sir,” she stated formally as she halted before hir desk.

“Captain, welcome back,” sh/he replied brusquely, as if annoyed at having to honour social custom and good manners. “You have your report?”

She handed it over without a word. Sh/he accepted it and gestured for her to sit. Sh/he returned her silence and took several minutes to review her report.

After finishing it, Choitak slumped slightly and gently placed the PADD on his desk. The androgynous being looked infinitely careworn and tired, and Andrea felt a definite pang of sympathy for hir.

“Janatta was a good man and a fine captain,” sh/he finally said. “He will be missed.”

Andrea didn’t know the man from Adam but thought it politic not to say as much given Choitak’s obvious ties to the deceased. “I regret that I did not get the chance to know him, Sir,” she offered honestly.

Sh/he nodded hir grateful acceptance of her condolences, then visibly changed gears. “It’s unfortunate that you didn’t get the chance to strike at your objective. By not even crossing the border it is possible that you didn’t alert the Dominion to what that objective was, but they may strengthen their patrols and defensive garrisons in the region as a direct result of this battle. A strike at this ketracel white facility is still a priority, but we need more intelligence before we try again. Add to that our need to take a longer route around their sensor nets and patrols, and that is a significant investment in time and resources that we may no longer be willing or capable of making.”

Andrea nodded seriously. “That was my conclusion as well, Admiral. It seems to me that with the resources we have we’d be hard pressed to defend Cygnet alone if the Dominion made a grab for it, and sending off a sizable percentage of our ships on a deep strike mission would be… inadvisable. We just don’t have the resources to conduct that kind of campaign, Sir.”

Choitak looked at her with the stirrings of disapproval. “You didn’t agree with the mission, Captain?” sh/he asked her slowly.

“I did, Sir,” she refuted him. “Strategically speaking it is a valid and desirable target but the mission was a large risk. We just experienced what happens when taking a risk goes against us. It was the best time to make such an attempt as the losses we’re sure to take later may end our capability to make any offensive, but neither can we sit back and fight a purely defensive war. We will always need to take the fight to the enemy, or they will bring it to us.”

Andrea hoped she wasn’t insulting the sector commander by reiterating basic rules of warfare, but neither could she risk hir being under any illusions about what had to be done in order to survive, let alone win. She had stated her position as boldly as she dared for the present circumstances.

Choitak’s mouth flattened into a hard line, and Andrea could see the grain of distaste solidify in hir eyes. She wondered if it was for the task before them or her personally. It may have been the task, as the vice admiral refrained from further discussion about hir strategic goals and returned to her report.

“Reading over the details of your report, I commend you on your results,” he began, and Andrea began to hope for a positive association with her C.O. “While it is debatable that your tactics were more or less effective overall than remaining in formation and adding your firepower to their efforts for the destruction of the enemy, there is no denying the results of a mobile unit aiding a formation in this instance.”

Andrea sorted through that and concluded that sh/he grudgingly condoned her actions. I wish sh/he could just come out and say that, though, she thought wistfully.

“That your squadron destroyed sixteen enemy ships for only three of ours in return is better than most have managed to do so far in the war. Congratulations on surviving, Captain.”

Choitak’s approval quickly turned to ashes in Yushikara’s mouth. Hir admiring and congratulatory tone so casually accepting these kinds of losses as a good thing was too much for her to bear. “Admiral, those ‘sixteen ships’ were gunboats with crews of forty, all of which can be replaced by the Dominion in a matter of months! We lost two full-sized cruisers and an ‘explorer’, and nearly twelve hundred crew, which will take us at least three years to replace!” she bolted out, sickened and outraged by her C.O.’s attitude. ”It may be better than most do, but we have to do a hell of a lot better if we’re even to survive, let alone win!”

Sit down, Captain,” Choitak grated at her, after surprisingly letting her finish her rant. Maybe sh/he thought she needed the release. “Starfleet may not be a true military organisation, but you will offer the proper courtesy and respect to all its members! If you disrespect a senior officer like that again you will regret it.”

Andrea quickly brought herself back under control, cursing herself for being so antagonistic. You’d think I’d have learned how to control my tongue after all this time, she thought sourly. I refuse to consider myself an ‘old dog’! She had a proposal she wanted to put to the admiral, and having just shot off her mouth about his attitude he was undoubtedly going to be less receptive to it now.

Of course, she had to put it to him, but first, some fence-mending was required. “Sir, I apologise for my outburst. It’s just that I am horrified by our losses and shocked at your… easy acceptance of those losses as ‘better than we usually do’.”

Choitak’s face hardened further with more anger. “Don’t you dare presume to know my feelings on this matter!! Just who in the Deep do you think you are?!” sh/he roared at her, completely incensed.

“Sir, I… apologise again,” Yushikara responded quietly, casting her eyes down to hide her own anger at herself and guilt at riling hir so badly, only now remembering the admiral’s apparent sadness at the loss of Captain Janatta. When will I tezha’n learn? she again cursed herself for her big mouth. Attempting to mitigate the damage, she continued in a quiet, respectful tone. “I am used to speaking bluntly and this is the impression you gave me. I ask forgiveness,” she finished, looking back up to meet hir hot, angry glare.

Choitak noted the sincerity of her apology and tried to calm hirself. Grudgingly, sh/he moved on. “I accept your apology, Captain Yushikara. The war is already taking a heavy toll on us all. It will do no good for us to be set against each other.”

Andrea’s relief was carefully controlled, but visible. “Thank you, Admiral. It has at that,” she responded in the same quiet, sombre tone.

“And for the record, I am every bit as horrified at our losses as you say you are,” sh/he told her with a stern edge to hir voice, “but I have a duty to the living and our attempts to keep them that way – and very little else with the way things are going right now.”

Andrea pounced on the opening this offered. “Sir, this is an area I have a great deal of experience in, and I have an operational proposal I want you to look at for maximising our offensive potential and reducing our losses that I want to implement on our next patrol.”

“Captain Yushikara, I have at least twenty other captains who have made identical requests—” sh/he began tiredly, but Andrea interrupted, pressing her luck.

“Sir, please hear me out. You know my background, and I know this will work with some trial runs. I just need the opportunity to prove these tactics to my superiors, and actually verify my credentials in this Fleet so they can see that they can trust my judgement,” she all but pleaded with hir.

Sh/he gave her another hard, measuring stare, but the eagerness and desperation held in equal measure in her voice finally swayed hir. Leaning back in hir chair, sh/he gestured expansively for her to proceed. “Very well, Captain,” sh/he said evenly. “You’re here now. Show me what you have in mind.”

Andrea shot the admiral a look of pure gratitude as she began her overview, which seemed to distantly amuse hir, which in turn allowed hir to relax somewhat. “Admiral, if you will look at my PADD again, the full details are in there after the report. I would appreciate the opportunity to go through it with your strategic and tactical staff, but for the broad sweeps it boils down to this:

“I wish to put a stop to the single-ship patrolling of the danger zones. I know that this is dictated by our available resources, but in too many instances all it has achieved is to offer up one of our ships as an easy target for a small squadron of enemy ships to overpower and destroy. Usually, the attack is just for that sole purpose and has no goal other than the attrition of our units, which we cannot replace as easily or as quickly as the Dominion can.”

“My operational plan calls for the deployment of our older, less combat-capable ships as powered-down, static, passive sensor posts for early warning, reducing the need for border patrols for detecting enemy attack forces, and freeing up more powerful units for operations of an actively offensive nature.”

Choitak looked intrigued and thoughtful at her opening, and Andrea pushed on with enthusiasm charged by hope that her plans had a chance for a fair hearing.

“These additional units would be concentrated into squadrons of ‘hunter-killer’ attack groups that would actively seek out and provoke battles on terms favourable to us. As I was stating earlier, we don’t really have the capacity for the big, flashy, war-ending deep strikes at important strategic targets behind enemy lines. I admit that we do have the capability, but the loss of one of our ships hurts us far more proportionately speaking than the loss of a Cardassian Galor or even six Jem’Hadar gunboats does the Dominion. We cannot risk our ships in that way when we have barely sixty ships of our own to defend Cygnet with little hope of reinforcement, and they can produce one gunboat per shipyard in only three months.

“By deploying our ships to engage in a war of attrition and picking our battles, we maximise the damage to the enemy fleet while minimising our own losses. These hunter-killer squadrons would be far less likely to be surprised and wiped out by an enemy patrol, and a far larger raiding force would have to be used by the enemy to successfully engage our squadron and defeat it.

“Plus, if we detect them massing a fleet for a big attack, we can pull all our ships back if the decision to defend their target is made.”

That last made the Axanari blink. Hers was a very cold-blooded attitude to take and he knew immediately and for a fact that most of her fellow officers would have a problem with it.

She caught hir pensive demeanour at those words and added evenly, “Of course, that decision would be yours to make, Sir, and frankly I don’t envy you that choice.”

Choitak gave her a wintry smile and asked, “Is that all, Captain?”

A slight shake of the head accompanied Andrea’s continuation. “Sir, I would like to lead a six-ship patrol group centred on Renown to trial run this operational concept, over a period of at least two months, maybe as long as six – depending on the number of engagements we have – to determine just how well it will actually work. One victory does not mean that this is the case, nor would one defeat imply that it is not.

“Our bigger ships are individually stronger than theirs, and with co-ordinated firepower and dynamic, adaptive formation tactics, I believe we can engage larger groups of enemy fighters or similar numbers of capital ships and defeat them. Admiral, I am asking for five other ships, not necessarily new ones but definitely big ones. All one type if possible, and Excelsiors are my preferred choice. The Renown has been upgraded as a cruiser squadron leader, and I wish to use her in that capacity.”

Choitak pondered this in silence for several minutes, having picked up her PADD and paged through it. The admiral’s eyes lost their focus as sh/he thought things through, before coming to a decision and addressing Yushikara once again.

“Definitely an interesting proposal, Captain Yushikara. I’ll hand this over immediately to my strategic and tactical staffs and get their analyses, and direct them to bring you in for any questions they may have. Make yourself available for this,” he instructed her briskly. “I have other demands on my attention, but I will make this a priority.”

Andrea felt her heart and her hope soar, and again the relief and total lack of a ‘personal ambition’ vibe from her helped convince Choitak further that he was doing the right thing in listening to her.

“The disposition of forces over the next four days will actually allow us to assign a full Excelsior squadron if we agree to trial run your concept, Captain.”

At her raised eyebrows, sh/he added, “The Excelsior-class ships Indefatigable and Sirius are arriving from the Betelgeuse Sector in one and three days respectively, and we can hold the Tiger and Lor’Vela until a decision is made. We can also have this proposed squadron assigned to the Kongo’s current patrol area or have it rendezvous with your squadron on its way to whatever area of operations is decided on.

“Of course, this is all dependent on the StratTac staff’s final analysis, but unless hey come up with major irresolvable flaws, I think this will be allowed to proceed.”

“Thank you, Admiral. That would be perfect,” Andrea gratefully acknowledged hir efforts on her behalf. “I can promise that you won’t regret this.”

The Axanari’s eyes remained guarded on this one and Andrea couldn’t fault hir for that, but at the moment she didn’t really care.

It’s going to happen! she thought with unalloyed relief and gratitude. And I can finally show these genetically bred “ultimate warriors” how things get done, Starfleet style!

The End