It is time for our attack. Arrax abruptly sat upright on his meditation bed. He could still feel his regenerative hum reverberating through his body. His meditation period was over, and he felt more refreshed than he had in many meditation periods. It was as if once he had made the decision to attack, all of his worries had been lifted from him.
      He spun out of bed and floated to the floor. Once he was low enough to gain positive positional control, he leaned forward and sped through his silently opening door. He had one more strand of the web to weave; one more ploy that he hoped would further deceive the Seltorians and lure them into combat.
      Moments later, the bridge doors opened as he sped through them. He moved to his command chair, smoothly sliding in as his prime officer, Commander 1st Dal Xitrin, slid out of it. The officer was an old friend of Arrax's. They had served with each other for thirty years.
      Arrax listened as Xitrin gave him a standard briefing that confirmed that the FCR and the two supply patrol boats had left the fleet as ordered to resupply their cargo holds. The remaining Fi-Con had gone with them, to pick up spare fighters. Xitrin then verified that the DNS group was fully combat ready, and reported that Major Zira had confirmed the approximate position of the Seltorian area control ship group. All was set. Arrax flicked the switch that connected him to engineering.
      "Commander 2nd Tarann, we need to make the Seltorians believe we are someone we are not. Reduce warp generated so that our signature will match that of a CWV please."
      "Yes, Commodore. I will also balance power requirements throughout the ship. It will be a strain on environmental conditions for the crew, though."
      "It should not be for long, Tarann. As soon as the traitors get close enough, we'll bring full power back up and watch them try to run." Arrax flicked the intercom switch off and settled back to wait for the trap to spring.

      "Flight Admiral!"
      Sand among the Stars turned to look at the sensor officer. The lieutenant was practically buzzing with excitement.
      "Go ahead, Lieutenant."
      "I have found the target. Long range sensors show a group of four ships. The two largest warp signatures are consistent with that of a Tholian war cruiser class ship. The two smaller ones are corvette class."
      "So, do we have the Swarm Master and its escorts within our grasp? Or is it really the Guardian?" He shrugged his shoulders, antennae bobbing gently with the motion. "It does not matter. We will be victorious either way. Now is the time to rend and crush them. Helm, plot an intercept course. Communications, order the hangar bay to start launching the fighters, all of them. When we get to within strike range, I want to be able to destroy the Tholians with one quick and decisive blow before any possible reinforcements can arrive."
      Sand among the Stars pulled an antenna down and rubbed it gently. The time for planning was over. Now was the time for action.

      "Commodore, we are approaching the point where the Seltorian will be able to detect our true size, despite our lowered warp signature."
      Arrax bobbed up and down slightly in acknowledgement. Then he turned his attention back to the tactical situation. If it were not for their superior sensors, he thought, I would play this game a little longer, the better to draw them into the web. But let us see if we have played it long enough.
      "Tarann, bring the engines to full power." He switched the intercom off after the engineering officer had acknowledged his order, then turned to the rest of his bridge crew and began issuing a stream of orders. The approach phase of the battle had begun.
      "Communications, send an order to our escorts. Target the lead escort destroyer and begin firing phasers. Weapons, target the same ship and fire all phasers that are in range." He flicked his intercom switch to another preset position. "Launch Control, release two gunboats from their mech-links and have them take up station below us. Also launch two more fighters for patrol." No need to launch more than that at this time.
      He leaned back in his chair to wait, point firmly grounded. The next move is up to them.

      A sudden burst of clicks and taps pulled Sand among the Stars out of his reverie.
      "Confirm your report." He waited while the Sage consulted the panel that controlled his sensors. The Sage turned to his commander, antenna trembling with excitement.
      "It is true, Flight Admiral. The enemy warship has just increased power! The ship is indeed the space control ship as you suspected! It has just released two gunboats."
      Sand among the Stars forced himself to remain calm, despite the feeling of unease - and excitement - that suddenly gripped him. It is easier to think about harvesting the sandspider than actually harvesting it.
His years of experience prevailed and he pushed the uneasiness away. They were facing one of the pygmy dreadnoughts that were the biggest ships the Tholians of this galaxy could manufacture. While formidable, they were not nearly as fearsome as the dreadnoughts the Tholians had brought against his race in the Home Galaxy. Those were "real" dreadnoughts and those dreadnoughts were defeated by our might.
      He began to issue orders. Even though his ACS was no match for the enemy dreadnought, his total force actually outgunned the opposing fleet at this range. He also did not need his special sensors at this range, so he was free to fire the heavy phasers of his flagship without fear of blinding them. But once they got closer, he would need the sensors to help control drones as his fighters and Zerhaks tried to overwhelm the enemy defenses. Undoubtedly, he would have to launch his multi-role shuttle to help control drones also. That would also enable each of his ships to launch shuttles configured as drone launch platforms. Orders to prepare those had been given hours ago.
      A few seconds later, he saw the enemy ships open fire, milliseconds before his group did. As expected, because of the distance, most of the weapons missed, but enough of his fleet's weapons hit the enemy corvette that he could see the forward shield sparkle with the results of their fire.
      It is going to be a glorious day.

      Arrax brightened in anticipation. The Seltorians had taken the bait, as he suspected they would. They are so predictable. Their hate, no doubt driven by the shame of their treason, made them predictable.
      He paused in thought. The Seltorians had more offensive phasers at this range. It would be best to close the range so his gunboats and the heavier armaments of his ships could contribute to the battle.
      "Helm, continue to close at the best speed we can make. Commander Prime," he said, turning to his old friend. "Prepare to launch the other gunboats and the rest of the fighters. We have the enemy within our grasp. Execute our plan and make them pay for the atrocities they have visited upon us."
Xitrin saluted him, chest glowing hotly with anticipation. Arrax watched as the other Tholian leaned over his console, staring at the tactical displays. He would be able to control the flow of the fighters and gunboats from the console, while Arrax focused on the ship-to-ship battle. It was a method they had used often as they came up through the ranks. It was a method that brought results.
      Arrax twisted back and forced himself to relax. He had arranged this battle to his advantage. Now he would have to trust in the ability of others if they were to survive this fight.

      Xitrin focused on the range. If he ordered the gunboats to launch too early, they would be vulnerable to damage during the approach phase. If he waited too long, they might not be able to accelerate to attack speed in time to make a difference. But he had done this before. Finally, he judged the range was correct. He opened his intercom.
      "All fighters and gunboats, launch and take up drone defense positions!"

      The hangar bay was a hive of activity. Oceans of the Moon could not help but be amazed at how smoothly everything was running. The combat patrol had already been beefed up from two fighters to four, and now the rest of the strike fighters were launching from one end of the hangar. It was the first time he had observed an all-out effort by the carrier, at least that he remembered. He smiled to himself. It had probably happened while he was a Ram, and his mind had been on other things at the time. He looked around again, marveling at how so many things could be going on at one time without an accident happening.
      Normally, the strike force was gone for several hours. The deck crew would use that time for training and safety evaluations while they reloaded the drone ready racks and the disruptor capacitor systems at their convenience.
      Now they were doing everything at battle speed. They knew that they would have returning fighters within moments, fighters that they would have to repair, rearm, refuel, and turn around as fast as possible. It was an amazing sight to see everyone doing their job, in exactly the right order, like cogs in a machine.
      Workers were just starting the process of reloading ready racks for the Z-YCs. The lieutenant was in charge of those Workers. Ensign Oceans of the Moon was supervising the charging of the heavy Zerhak's disruptor capacitors. The Workers under the ensign's control were efficiently filling the capacitors with power from the ship's engines, but it was a tedious and dangerous job. He had learned that job last week, much to the surprise of the Workers that were assigned to that position.
      Two deck crews were in the final stages of preparing two ordinary administrative shuttles as drone launch vehicles. Ensign Oceans of the Moon marveled at this Klingon idea, something they jokingly called a scatter-pack. Once the electronic systems on board the unmanned shuttle detected that programmed conditions for weapons-release had been met, the shuttle would come to a stop and all the drones attached to special racks on the outside of the shuttle would be launched, hopefully overloading the defenses of the enemy.
      Thinking of the Klingons made him think of the Klingon pilot leader, Ghunterian. Oceans of the Moon briefly wondered how he was doing. He had taken a liking to him, despite their obvious differences. The Klingon cared for the members of his squadron and had treated Oceans of the Moon with respect as befitted a brother officer. I hope he makes it through the battle, Oceans of the Moon thought. The craft he flies is so fragile, compared to a starship. I wonder if he finds it difficult to place his life in the care of a machine such as that.
      Abruptly, he turned back to work. Enough nonsense. As a Seltorian Sage, he had no time to waste on compassion. He had only a job to perform, and his crew was having a problem with the last capacitor. He moved to help.

      Karlos Ghunterian watched as the rest of his squadron popped out of the bowels of the Seltorian carrier. He had been on combat patrol with three other Z-YCs when the launch order had been issued. Now it seemed to take an interminable amount of time for the rest of his squadron to launch. Finally they all were out and began forming up on his wing. As they finished forming up, the last Zerhak popped out of the ACS and the Z-HBs formed up behind his squadron of fighters.
      The escort ships moved to take up position ahead of the carrier. Along with Ghunterian's Z-YCs, it was their job to disrupt any incoming fighter and gunboat strikes.
      He turned on his targeting systems and activated his drones. He checked to make sure that he was receiving a target acquisition feed from the ACS and verified that the computer had received from the ACS an electronic identification for each of the ships they were facing. As the computer began assigning numbers to the opposing force, he checked the range and was surprised to see how close the enemy task force was. They must have been charging at them as fast as tactical warp combat speeds would allow.
      They are as eager for battle as the Seltorians are. Let us hope this makes them vulnerable to mistakes.

      The four Seltorians worked at a frenetic pace. Two of them were Sages, and each Sage was assisted by an Expert. They worked directly for the ship's weapons officer, and were stationed in the weapons compartment. They would be some of the busiest Seltorians in this battle, and spent their duty days in constant combat drills to hone their speed and accuracy. Their clicks and chirps filled the air of the compartment as they did their duty.
       It was their job to verify that there were adequate control channels available for control of each drone on each fighter or heavy fighter prior to the launch of that drone. They also verified that the target of each drone had been specified in the General Attack Plan. The plan could withstand minor variations, and indeed, such variations were expected, but they were expected to ensure that three fighters, for example did not target the same admin shuttle and ignore the opposing fighters.
      It had already been a busy shift for them, and it was about to get even busier. It would take their best efforts to coordinate the launches of the multitude of drones that the Wind's twelve fighters and six heavy fighters were carrying into the battle.
      It was a challenge they were looking forward to.

      Firnx was tense. The flotilla had lost their commander in the raid against the picket. Because Firnx was an experienced commander, he had been promoted from his Fi-Con to command the flotilla. They had been ordered to keep themselves between Guardian and the enemy, the better to help defend it from the massive swarm of drones the Seltorians were sure to launch.
      This was not his idea of how a flotilla should be used in a battle. As attrition units, they should be in the forefront of the battle, taking the brunt of the enemy's firepower no matter the cost to them or their crew.
      He saw a squadron of Seltorian fighters deploying from the ACS. At any other time, he would have ordered an immediate attack, as they would be good targets for his hunters, but his orders were clear. For now he was to avoid direct combat and defend the DNS.
      He tried to relax in his web harness as he pushed the throttles forward, but he couldn't. He understood his orders. He would obey them, but he didn't have to like them.