SNAP COUNT PART nine
"Keep after him," Williams said to the helmsman. "Strakhorn, are you ready?"
"Full overloads," Strakhorn said. "Let's do this."
"Kezlok, are you ready?" she asked. The Klingon was now her primary weapons officer.
"Yes," the attaché responded. "I have the drone rack and phasers ready in case of seeking weapons."
"Fighter squadron commander, are you in position?"
"Position in attack I am," came the voice of an Arcturian, reminding her too painfully of her dead navigator.
"Execute!" Williams commanded.
The second squadron of Arcturian fighters had maneuvered around in front of the Juggernaut, and began launching drones from 290,000 kilometers, their fighters spread out in a wide arc across the bow. Williams was surprised to see the first squadron flying along with them, launching more drones, and then realized that those must be short-ranged anti-fighter drones which could never hurt the Juggernaut, but might confuse it. She had argued against letting the fighters spread out, but the fighter leader was convinced that this was the best way to get hits.
"Juggernaut is turning to starboard, but is still very slow," Donaldson reported.
"Helm, bear to port and try to keep at shot at his tail," Williams ordered. Her eyes flicked to the tactical screen to see that Kearsarge was right behind Eagle, closing in for the kill.
The wave of missiles coming at his bow concerned Beta, but it was only a matter of timing. He wanted to let the smaller cruiser get as close as possible before turning to fire, and the incoming missiles put a definite limit on how long he could wait for this. The equations did not add up for the Juggernaut's plan, and he began to maneuver to starboard to string out the missiles, which lost their closing angle and began pursuing the slow-moving monster. The first of them hit the bow, which surprised Williams, but the Juggernaut was using its armor, and a few phasers, to buy time.
"Drone hits on the forward armor," Donaldson reported. "More on the left bow, left flank..."
"Move the shield, damn you," Williams said under her breath. But the shield never moved and the two ships roared closer and closer to the huge robot starship.
"Move the shield, damn you," Strakhorn said louder than he had intended to.
"Drone hits all down the left side of the Juggernaut," his Navigator reported. "The shield isn't moving. Several drones were killed by phasers."
"We don't have the power to punch that shield," the Weapons Officer said. "Not even if everything hits."
"Range passing thirty thousand," the Navigator said, "twenty nine, twenty eight..."
"What do I do?" the Weapons Officer asked. "I don't have an engine shot and I can't punch that shield."
"Helm, skid us to starboard. Give me a shot at his right flank armor, just ahead of the shields. Guns, fire at twenty and get me four hits. You can use all the phasers too. Everything at one spot. You've got to get through that armor. Go ahead and kick out a drone."
"Drone launched," the weapons officer said.
"...two, twenty one, ... twenty..." counted the Navigator.
"Firing!" the Weapons Officer announced.
"What the hell is he doing?" Williams asked. "That's not a stern shot!"
"Kearsarge has scored four photon hits on the flank armor, and four phasers," Donaldson reported. "Heavy damage inside the Juggernaut. I'm seeing explosive gasses venting through a dozen places. Jesus, he's doing a snap turn!"
The crew of Eagle watched in horror as the Juggernaut spun on its axis and came nose to nose with the Kearsarge. Four massive phasers blasted against the light cruiser's front shield ... and through it. Huge sections of the hull were blasted away and the ship tumbled end over end as the warp engines tore loose and exploded.
Beta knew he had been hurt again, and this time the damage was not simply his engines, but all over the ship. A quarter of his weapons had been melted, both of his redundant control centers had been destroyed, all of the armor on his left side was gone, and entire decks had been blasted into wreckage and opened to space. Worse, he had lost more power systems, more than he had been able to repair from the first volley of damage. His total available power was now significantly less than half of his designed output. The smaller cruiser was gone, but all Beta could do was stagger away from the planet at a quarter of his normal speed, away from the missile craft, away from the faster cruiser.
He decided to talk to the Federation officer again.
"You've been hurt, hurt bad," Crawford said.
"This battle is ended," the voice of Beta said. "I have destroyed or disabled several ships. The remaining champions are one cruiser that cannot hurt me and a large unknown ship which cannot catch me. In a few hours, my systems will be fully repaired. At that time, I will return to battle and triumph."
"Will you destroy the planet?" Crawford asked.
"I will have to cause considerable damage," Juggernaut said, "although only as a means to an end. The champions must know that I can and will cause horrendous damage if they do not destroy me. But no, I will not kill everyone there. Only enough of them to make the point clear."
"Well," Crawford said, "that would be better than killing them all. But is there no other solution? Cannot some accommodation, some agreement, be made?"
"No," the Juggernaut said. "I must continue to battle until I am destroyed. Why would it be any other way?"
"Well," Crawford said, "I thought you were able to learn."
"What's left?" Strakhorn said as he entered the bridge.
"Emergency life support," said the Lieutenant on duty, "about a hundred crewmen, sick bay, artificial gravity in parts of the ship, and ... not much else. The frame held together, so they can rebuild her ... in a year or two ... but most of the decks are open to space."
"Where's the Juggernaut?" Strakhorn asked.
"No idea," the Lieutenant said, "but he's not shooting at us and we have nothing to shoot at him."
"Do we have commo?"
"Short range, non-encrypted, and probably full of static."
"Send my regrets to Eagle, and ask the Arcturans to send a tug out here."
"General, the Juggernaut is not dead," Williams insisted. "He is hurt, but he can repair himself very quickly according to the reports of previous battles. Certainly in a day, maybe only a few hours."
"Ships will be more here tomorrow," General Argelian said. "Star Fleet kill it then can."
"They'll have to kill it all over again," Williams said, "after it's fully repaired. Why not claim the glory of the kill now. Why not be known as the general who destroyed the Juggernaut?"
"Blood not uselessly to be spilled," Argelian responded.
"The Juggernaut is badly damaged," Williams said, "but is quickly repairing itself. If we attack now, casualties will be minimal. Later, casualties will be higher. Much higher."
"Personally say you casualties minimal?" Argelian asked.
"Yes," Williams responded.
"Need what you ships?" Argelian asked.
"Everything," Williams said. "Send everything."
"Done," Argelian said. "Glory all to have. Flag to Frigate Arcturian transfer I."
"Thank you," Williams said, closing the channel.
"What's Beta doing?" Williams asked of her Navigator.
"Continuing in a straight line," Donaldson reported, "moving at warp two. Range is two hundred eighty thousand. I'm picking up a lot of 'sizzle' on his portside armor and it looks like major blocks of it are rebuilding. The shield is still covering his engines."
"Just great," Williams said.
"Permission to try a shot," Kezlok asked.
"No," Williams replied. "I can't risk a relay failure, not until other ships get here."
"I meant a drone," Kezlok said.
"Soon," Williams said. "You can take a drone shot when I say so, when more ships get here. The target still has weapons and we need to overwhelm them."
"Police cutter Osterhout is closing on us," Kirkpatrick said. "So are the armed transport Garza, which has drones. Dien Bien Phu and the Q-ship Nystel are catching up but still a half million kilometers back. The Artcturian and that Orion destroyer will join with us in a moment. That gaggle of police boats is almost in position on the Juggernaut's left. The fighters are already on the Juggernaut's right flank, but they only have phasers and short-range drones left. They seem game for a battle run, but they'll be cut to pieces if that thing still has its phasers. That's the party."
"Very well," Williams said. "Open a channel to all ships.
"This is Captain Williams. We will commence our attack on the Juggernaut on my command. Expect that in three minutes.
"All drone launchers are to launch a double-salvo from a short attack run, then turn parallel outside two hundred thousand and just keep pouring them on. Fighters are not to attack until ordered, but can launch their remaining drones when the general attack begins.
"Photon armed ships form on me. We will close to eighty thousand and fire overloads at whatever bearing we can get. Given how fast he can turn, do not save phasers for a second volley; fire them with the photons."
"Captain, permission to arm photons and phasers," Kezlok said. "If he turns on us, it won't matter if we might suffer a power failure, and any damage we score may reduce his firepower."
"Arm them," she said, "but do not fire until my command."
Eagle continued to keep station on the Juggernaut as the other ships closed in. The monitor pushed out in front. The Osterhout and the Arcturian formed on the Eagle's left; the Q-ship Nystel and the Orion destroyer Dorado were on the right.
"All ships accelerate as per plan," Captain Williams ordered. "Drone ships begin launch. Photon ships, we all have to fire together to penetrate his armor, so all ships will fire when I give the command." Eagle pushed forward. Williams had no intention of firing her ship's own torpedoes, but was not going to send other ships into close range without leading them. If the Juggernaut turned, Eagle might well absorb damage that another ship could not survive. "Kezlok, you can launch drones at your discretion."
"Drone away!" the Klingon answered.