December 2011

Burden of Duty, Debt of Revenge

     Dunn braced his back against a panel and heaved himself up off the floor. His entire body ached; the parts of it that weren't numb anyway. Should have been strapped in my chair. He had been leaning over the weapons console when the exchange had occurred, the Bridge had been damaged. That didn't happen often, but perhaps half the panels he could see were visibly damaged, blinking, or off-line. Damn. He was still a little shaky, reached a hand out to steady himself. A young ensign, approached him.
     "Captain, are you all right?"
     "Yes, yes, I'm fine." The question itself seemed to waken him from his daze, and his eyes opened to the catastrophe before him. Wounded were everywhere, some in positions that implied more than mere injuries. A haze of smoke hung in the air, the sour smell of burning something. Someone was discharging a fire extinguisher on the other side of the Bridge. "I'm fine," he repeated, as the ensign reached out a hand to steady him. "Get a medical team with a stretcher up here."
     Dunn looked around again, trying to note stations that were unattended or inoperable. The junior engineer was still at his station, but weapons, helm, navigation, sensors, and communications were unmanned.
     "Engineering, work up a report. Ensign, tell Auxiliary Control to take command and move us away while reloading, then call the Emergency Bridge and have them get their people up here. That'll do for starters." He noticed his weapons officer lying on the floor near him, and bent down; good, still breathing. Damn fine officer. The ensign nodded and moved to the nearest station, began rattling off orders into the intercom. Good, she's doing something useful; gotta get everybody moving again.
     He noticed his XO helping one of the wounded. The XO was wounded also, holding a bloody scrap of something to his head. "XO," Dunn called, "Take the weapons panel. Ensign, when you're done with that, take the sensor station. I'll take the helm. See if your panels function. Let Auxiliary Control handle coms for now." The others jumped to their new assignments.
     Another blast rocked the ship, Dunn realized he was still moving in a daze, how else could he have forgotten combat? Blow to the head must have been harder than I thought. Maybe I should go get checked out. A glance at a monitor showing the unmistakable hull pattern of a Klingon heavy cruiser cleared that thought from his mind. Later, he growled to himself.
     "Damage report," he snapped, moving toward his chair, knowing he had lost precious seconds while he had contemplated the wounded.
     "They hurt us bad, Sir," the junior engineer reported. "Total power available is down to 35%; for weapons we have two torpedo tubes and three phasers. Shuttle deck is a wreck, and there's a fire raging in the Science Department. Long-range-sensor systems are degraded also."
     "Not much to work with. Sensors, any idea what we did to them?"
     The young ensign was trying to operate the unfamiliar panel; but she seemed to be doing a decent job of it. "Not so much. Only one torpedo hit; we just can't cut through his jamming. He's still got decent speed, and plenty of weapons left." The part left unspoken was that Arbela was losing this fight, and was getting farther behind with every battle pass.
     "Aux Con, this is the captain. Rearm weapons, maneuver away for now but be ready to turn back in. I may want to make a phaser pass while the photons reload."
     The junior engineer glanced upwards from his panel. "Captain, you might describe our status as 'burning wreck', if you were generous."
     "Weapons panel functional for tactical control, we don't need a navigator for now. Emergency Bridge crew is en route. You were going to check the helm," the XO reminded him.
     Dunn nodded, moved toward the helm himself, paused as he considered the Bridge around him. Half of the Bridge crew were walking wounded or already in sickbay. His ship was crippled, would require months of refit. Is this worth it? How many of my crew are dead? He reached the helm station, stared down at it. He wants to get away, why not let him?
     The list of Federation shipping destroyed began to play through his mind; one after another, a litany of disaster until - Hipper. The name rang through his mind like the slamming of a door. A surge of anger shook through his body.
     "Aux Con, this is the captain. We have helm and weapons control. Continue to monitor the battle and be ready to take over if we go off-line."
     He grasped the helm panel, putting the ship into a tight turn back towards her enemy. Damn the bastard.
     The Klingon was still pulling away, her stern to them. Rage surged afresh when he realized the Klingon didn't consider them enough of a threat to kill them. Not even worthy of an attack. He can safely ignore us. His lips slid back over his teeth in a soundless snarl. We'll just see about that.
     "Weapons, we're close enough. Fire."
     "Phasers firing, photons still arming," the XO reported.
     Dunn watched as three feeble phaser beams lashed out, impacting on an almost full strength shield, their energy quickly absorbed. Damn! If we could have fired on a down shield, if we had been able to approach behind the drones, if the other ships had gotten here sooner.
     "He's accelerating," the ensign at the sensor station called. "Energy signature indicative of an intended jump to high warp."
     The other ships, Dunn thought as he lurched over to the com panel. He hammered keys, bringing together an audio link to the nearest of the incoming frigates. "This is Dunn, captain of the Arbela. What's your ETA?"
     "Fifty-five seconds," the other captain replied, surveying the scene behind his counterpart on the Arbela. "Hang on for another minute, we'll be able to take some of the heat off you."
     Dunn looked at the monitors, saw the acceleration rate of the Klingon. "We don't have another minute!" he shouted. "He's disengaging! Get here now!"

    Captain Kinzek watched the parting shot from the Federation warship bleed itself out on his shields. Watching the shield power meters, he saw a slight power surge as they digested the hostile incoming energy, but nothing more. Such defiance. "Sensors, status status of incoming warships."
    "ETA on target two, a frigate, forty-five seconds, Captain. They are slowing to battle speed, and heading right for us. Target three, another frigate, is two minutes away."
    "Any other contacts?"
    "Five more targets, extreme long range, moving at high warp. Mix of sizes, coming from different directions. ETA, five minutes on the first one, six on the second. One of the targets is something very fast, either a fast raider or a new ship with advanced technology. I cannot tell from this range."
    That does it, Kinzek decided in his own mind. I would have stayed to cripple a pair of frigates, but with so many ships closing in, it's clear I have fallen into a Federation trap. Well, they will find out just how hard it is to hold this ship. The time has come to leave this place.
    "Helm, increase speed to maximum. Engineering, prepare to jump to high warp. Navigation, plot a course clear of the incoming ships, back toward home." All acknowledged, and he watched their expert hands move across their panels, always knowing what to adjust next to achieve the desired result.
    The Federation cruiser was still receding behind them now, failing in her feeble attempts to keep up.
    "Ready for jump to high warp," the engineer stated, having completed the manipulations necessary to channel most of the ship's massive power production through her warp engines.
    "Very well," he said, feeling regret at leaving the scene of a battle, "engage."
    The ship leaped forward in space, the steady hum that drove her deepening slowly to a slightly lower note as she accelerated rapidly to the almost magical speed of Warp Eight. Within minutes, the five contacts making up the third group of reinforcements rushing to the cruiser's aid had vanished, they were simply too far away to detect any of their warp signatures. Five minutes later, the two smaller signatures vanished at the engagement location, they were too far away and too small to be detected at this distance. But the cruiser came on, accelerating as hard as her damage allowed, striving to keep up. She would vanish soon, too, he knew. Her engines were larger than the frigates, and therefore more visible over distances.
    He watched the point of light marking the Federation cruiser's location for a moment, wondering: Were they trying to keep up to better relay his current position to their helpers; or was this captain, who had fought this engagement so aggressively against a more capable foe, still yearning for one last shot? What could drive one of these humans to such heights? Heights, he thought slowly, questioning his train of thought. Yes, heights. This human fought like I would like to fight if faced with poor odds, even with help on the way. He fought with a courage some humans would call recklessŠ some might call it Klingon.
    He nodded his head at the image on the screen in a silent salute to her captain, just seconds before the point of light blinked out, invisible in the distance, lost in the vastness of space.
    "Navigator, set a course toward our own lines.
    "XO, if nothing happens in an hour, I'm going to take the ship off battle stations. When that happens, get the primary staff fed and then into the conference room. You are relieved now, so you can coordinate this. I want full reports from every department. We're going home. See if you can find me a target of opportunity on the way back, and get a message to fleet command.

     Lieutenant Kavesh woke slowly to the sound of low voices conversing in the distance and a low rhythmic throbbing sound. He opened his eyes slowly, struggling to focus them on the wall opposite him. He regained his bearing slowly, analyzing objects as they came into focus. Sickbay, he thought, I'm in sickbay. A rush of adrenaline poured into his body as he remembered the battle.
     "Must get to my battery." he managed to gasp, struggling to sit up in the bed, before realizing the truth and suddenly calming himself. There were none of the normal signs of battle. No stench of smoke and burned flesh in the air, no alarms, no overflowing sickbay. Just him, with a few others he recognized in beds nearby, taking up space in the sickbay. He noticed his uniform hanging from a rack nearby and he struggled out of his bed and into his pants.
     The bed, unable to detect his heart rate, respiration, and other vital signs since he was no longer within range of its sensors, panicked and sounded the alarm. The soft tone bleated incessantly as Kavesh, uniform shirt half on and half off, struggled to turn it off. Forms in other beds began to stir as the noise penetrated whatever dreams they might be having.
     He had almost been reduced to the point of beating on the bed with his uniform boot when a burly Slirdarian rushed into the room. He seemed relieved to see Kavesh standing over the bed and not dead within it, and he motioned Kavesh furiously out of the way as he acknowledged the alarm and reset the bed for "no occupant".
     "Welcome back, Lieutenant," he rumbled, managing not to massacre the Klingon tongue. "It is noted that you are awake. I will notify the ship's doctor. Until he arrives, I must ask you to return to your bed."
     Kavesh had continued dressing during this speech, and now spoke only one word as he pulled on his boots. "Why?"
     "Until you are declared fit for duty, you must remain here. If you would be more comfortable, you can sit in a chair in the conference room while I send for some food."
     Kavesh growled low in his throat, and moved to step past the orderly. The orderly folded his arms and stepped in front of him, blocking his path with his nearly 200 kilograms of flesh. Kavesh looked up - and up - at the orderly. "Where do they find Slirdarians like you? Smart enough to work in the medical field, that is?"
     The Slirdarian gave his own species's version of a smile at the left handed compliment, said simply "Medical branch searches us out. We are in high demand to intimidate young lieutenants into staying in their beds until properly declared fit for duty."
    "I am not intimidated by you. I am declaring myself fit for duty. If you would like, I will demonstrate my fitness for duty on you, but then you might be brought up on charges of striking an officer." Kavesh took a step forward, the orderly's eyes narrowed; but he stepped back out of the way. Kavesh left sickbay congratulating himself on properly dealing with medical types and proceeded toward his weapons battery. Have to check on things. A glance at his watch showed the date. I've been out for almost six days?!