"Sir, some good news," the Security Commander announced. "Major Kenyil reports that the boom is clear of raiders. Five of them were caught in an ambush in the Emergency Bridge and killed, another was killed in the wardroom."
"Good!" Valgan said. "See? We can win this! We are winning this! Everyone else just needs to do their part."
"Tell Kenyil to reform his squads," the Executive Officer said to the Security Commander, "and take everyone, bridge crew, Emergency Bridge crew, security troops, that idiot supply clerk, anyone else he can round up, and move to the rear hull, and hunt down the raiders. He has ten minutes to kill them all."
Team One, Rear Hull, Deck Four
"Steady on, Kurs," Rakarra said, placing his hand on the ESS man's shoulder. "You're pulling the trigger but your pistol is discharged. Reload both of your weapons. We will need them."
Kurs turned to thank the Slirdarian Marine, and saw him pulling the limp bodies of Pirish and Wanekla into the barracks compartment they originally arrived in. A disruptor bolt missed him by centimeters, and Kurs jumped backwards around the corner. Someone from the destroyed engine room hatch was firing wildly down the corridor which Kurs and the team had used for their attack only moments earlier.
"Come on, Lieutenant," Rakarra said, pulling him into the barracks compartment and closing the hatch. "We're moving."
Kurs saw that most of Team Three was also in the barracks, and was moving toward the shower room. Two marines were lowering the wounded bodies of a comrade down the vertical access shaft that Wanekla had used to reach the fuel tanks. Someone began pounding on the inboard hatch to the compartment, and moments later, someone else was pounding on the hatch by the phaser compartment.
"Did we slow the ship?" Kurs asked.
"Yes," Rakarra said. "Can't you feel it?" Kurs shrugged.
"I am surprised we have not been contacted by the ESS agents on board," Kurs said. "I left word for them in the computers."
"I am not," Rakarra said. "Doubtless at least one was still at liberty as someone dropped the shields for us, but whoever did so was no doubt killed. The other agents may or may not be alive, or at liberty. They may have even joined Valgan. No matter."
Kurs and Rakarra waited in the barracks, their weapons trained on the doors, while the rest of Teams One and Three dropped into the restroom of the barracks on Deck Six.
"Where now?" Kurs asked.
"This way," Rakarra said. "We will leave the walking wounded to guard our rear and protect the wounded. Every able-bodied Marine will head for the centerline of the ship."
"Of course," Kurs said, "batteries, Auxiliary Control, rear security ... there are plenty of targets."
"The frigates will be here soon," Rakarra said. "We need to damage the ship, and help the frigates win."
"What first?" Kurs asked. "If you can get me into Auxiliary Control, and I can raise major havoc."
"We cannot get to anything vital," Rakarra said. "The weapons, command stations, and fire controls are all in armored compartments. It would take too long to blast our way into them. But we can find a soft spot, something not guarded."
"Batteries," Kurs said. "I was told that the batteries are always a valuable target."
"Concur," Rakarra said, "but if they are guarded, we will find something else to attack."
Emergency Bridge, Boom, Deck Six
"Lieutenant Korik," Kenyil said to the Chief Navigator, "take the bridge officers to that car," pointing to the portside turbolift, "and wait for me." The officers detailed from the bridge crew shuffled off. After the easy ambush, they felt like victorious combat veterans.
"Lieutenant Kovat," Kenyil said to the officer in charge of the Emergency Bridge, "leave two men here. You take the rest of your team to the starboard car. Count to five and take it to the aft station on this deck, the one by Auxiliary Control and the Mess Hall. My team will arrive first and turn right, to the ship's port side. You will turn left, to the starboard side. Go just to the corner and turn facing forward, assume a combat blocking position, and wait for orders. I will be only five meters behind you.
"Sergeant Ervan," Kenyil said to the Security squad leader, "as soon as my car leaves, send for another one. Take it to the same location, the aftermost station on this deck, by Auxiliary Control. You will emerge between my squad and Kovat's. By the time you arrive, I will have assessed the situation and will have orders. If we are attacked on arrival, you will be the reserve. If we are not, you will follow my attack up the portside, or lead the attack up the starboard side, as I order.
"Does everyone understand?" Kovat and Ervan saluted, and Kenyil noted that the seconds had nodded. "Then move!"
"Status?" Valgan asked.
"The Marine squad that was guarding the prisoners on Deck Four," the Executive Officer began, "was engaged in a firefight amidships at the time of the attack on the engine room. They followed those raiders into the portside barracks, and report that they disappeared down the access tubes."
"What about the raiders that attacked engineering?"
"They apparently linked up with the amidships force and went down the same access tubes," the Executive Officer said.
"I see," said Valgan. "They succeeded in slowing us, and are now moving elsewhere."
"Kenyil is moving aft with all three of his squads," the Executive Officer said. "He's going to Auxiliary Control, and I have just told him to attack forward on the port side, where the raiders from Deck Four probably are."
"If they disappeared down the shafts on Deck Four portside..." Valgan mused. "You are correct. They must be headed for Deck Six. Nothing else is worth attacking."
"The mobile Marine squad pursued the engine room raiders to that same barracks," the Executive Officer said, "but that squad has broken off, cleared the power transformer and recycling compartments, moved up to the Handling Deck to attack the raiders in the drone locker. The Engineer squad originally sent there was wiped out by anti-personnel charges. That, and casualties to the engine room crew during the attack, have left them seriously short-handed."
"And my ship in trouble," Valgan sighed. "What else?"
"The Gunner squad is guarding the engine room," the Executive Officer concluded. "That is all the troops we have. I can form another squad from Auxiliary Control, which would leave only a half-crew on duty. Or I could pull more gunners and technicians, but that would put each fire control team at half-strength, less than one gunner per weapon, penalizing you in combat."
"We need a reserve," Valgan said. "We must always have a reserve, and these raiders must be wiped out with overwhelming force before those frigates can put more raiders into my ship. Is it really necessary to attack the raiders in the drone locker?"
"Reports say they took a drone warhead into the locker with them," the Security Commander said. "If they had time to organize a response, the ESS probably gave them the codes to detonate it. We need to eliminate that unit before they can figure out how to do that."
"An armed warhead, inside my ship. That's reassuring," Valgan said. "Just how many raiders are there on my ship?"
"At least four squads," the Security Commander said, "we have seen that many different units in simultaneous combat. Each squad would be five or six people. The transport only had time to place six squads, at the most, onto the ship. One of those squads was wiped out in the Emergency Bridge, and the drone locker only has room for one squad. The troops forward on Deck Four reported they were facing two squads, but security camera files cannot confirm more than one. Same for the attack on engineering. So I'm guessing two squads, at most three, minus some casualties, are on their way down to Deck Six. Unless there is another squad on board which hasn't done anything yet, that should be all there are."
"I do not concur," said the Executive Officer. "Someone got to the fuel tanks on in the port wing, and someone else got into the transformer room."
"Probably individuals from the two squads on Deck Four," the Security Commander said. "They beamed two squads, maybe three, into that barracks and attacked in two directions at once. A single member of one team could have gone down the access shaft to the fuel tanks. As for the transformer room, the Marine guard squad reporting meeting an ESS Lieutenant in that corridor, one they did not know and assumed was one of your guests. He told them he had checked that barracks, the one we now think the raiders transported into, and then walked aft, into the power transformer compartment."
"And the idiots did not stop him?" Valgan sneered.
"No, they did not," the Security Commander said. "Crewmen tend to follow orders and not look too closely when confronted by a Service officer."
"Very well," Valgan said. "Tell Auxiliary Control to form a combat team to guard the aft junction on Deck Six, and allow Kenyil to use all three of his squads to attack portside."
Team Four, Drone Storage Locker, Deck Two
The roar of the explosion echoed through the armored bulkheads of the compartment.
"Deck-breaker?" the Armorer asked.
"Probably," Zopic-tin replied. "Five minutes between charges, at least. Three more, maybe four, to break in here."
"Yeoman, scan the bulkheads and try to determine the point of attack." The man unslung his tricorder and scanned the walls.
"Here," he said, pointing at a spot a meter forward of the hatch. "They seem to have burned about three centimeters into the outer plate."
"Let's move," Zopic-tin said, moving to pick up the half-disassembled drone warhead. The Armorer helped him move back into the far corner of the compartment.
"Commo, go ahead and contact the frigates," Zopic-tin said. "Give them what information we have. The rest of you, start building us a bunker. Use your phasers to cut one of the steel racks apart and weld it back together."
Team One, Deck Six
Rakarra gave a curt wave to Sergeant Koff, who had assembled the wounded in one of the barracks compartments. Rakarra turned and moved down the corridor, Kurs on his right. As they approached the amidships intersection, Kurs was able to see little more than a blind corner turning forward. Rakarra, on his left, could see the door of the turbolift station. He stepped back and allowed a Dunkar to slide up the forward wall, slowly seeing more and more of the corridor leading aft. He signaled it was clear.
"Can you guard that corner?" Rakarra asked. Despite the ESS man's insistence that he be treated as any other soldier, Rakarra instinctively avoided giving him orders. What would he do, after all, if Kurs refused?
"My honor," Kurs said, dashing across the open space to take a post facing forward into the long corridor leading up the boom. He motioned with his left hand that the corridor was clear, but did not take his eyes off his assigned sector. Kurs knew that while this took him out of the assault, he had earned his medal already and would let the professionals attack the batteries and Auxiliary Control.
Rakarra signaled for one man to stay in the cross-corridor and watch the turbolift door, and led the rest of the team down the axial corridor headed aft. He passed an equipment locker on the left, and the man behind him entered it to make sure it was unoccupied. Next came a stairway down, also to the left, and a man was left on the second step to guard it. Rakarra continued to move, as quickly as he could without making noise, past the hatch to the battery compartment. He heard, rather than saw, the man behind him tap in the ESS code and the hatch slide open. He knew, rather than heard, that the man had entered the hatch to set explosive charges.
Rakarra continued to move aft, coming to the next cross-corridor, which turned away from the ship's centerline and passed in front of the main computer array. Rakarra heard a man dash behind him down this corridor and tap the pass codes into the lock, but heard nothing. Glancing to his right, Rakarra saw the man hold up a fist, signaling that the hatch was locked, or more likely welded shut.
It was only that one split second, looking to his right instead of along the sights of his massive hand weapon, that nearly cost Rakarra his life. Kenyil's disruptor bolt blazed across the bear-ape's side, burning through his fur and his skin to the very bones of his rib cage. Rakarra, reacting to more pain than he had ever felt in his life, collapsed more than moved to his right, down the cross-corridor and out of the line of fire. As he struggled to clear his head, a firefight erupted in the axial corridor.
Major Kenyil's Platoon, Deck Six, Aft
Coming out of the turbolift, Kenyil had moved at once to the aft bulkhead, giving him the maximum view around the corner. A bridge officer stood back-to-back with him, facing toward the starboard side, watching in that direction until Lieutenant Kovat arrived to block that direction. Moving step by step to his left, facing forward, Kenyil bobbed his head to the left for a split second to scan another slice of the axial corridor, then took another half-step sideways. He had repeated the process four times when one of his quick looks spotted a weapon held at shoulder level. Warning his team with a hand signal, Kenyil did a second quick look to his left, firing his weapon left-handed as he did so, and was pleased to see a man ... well, something ... fall into the cross-corridor.
By this time, Kenyil's team of bridge officers had assembled and Kovat's team was watching the other direction. The hatch from Auxiliary Control opened and yet another team of armed Klingons were at hand. The security squad would arrive within seconds.
Within a heartbeat of firing his disruptor at Rakarra, Kenyil stepped fully into the axial corridor, firing as he did so. The Navigator fired from the corner at shoulder height, and a systems technician dropped to one knee in a firing position covering the left side of the axial corridor. A communications technician dove onto the deck and went into a firing position. All four of their weapons screamed down the corridor, hitting two of Rakarra's men and driving the rest into cover. The man in the battery compartment began firing at the Bridge squad at shoulder height, while the man in the stairway began firing from a prone position.
"Flank them!" Kenyil yelled over his shoulder, and Kovat's squad stampeded forward down the starboard axial corridor, reaching the staircase down to Deck Seven. In seconds, they would burst up into the middle of Rakarra's squad. Kenyil heard Sergeant Ervan talking into his communicator, and knew he was ordering the squad on Deck Four to fight their way down the access tubes. Ervan opened the turbolift car, tossed in a satchel charge with a five-second time delay, and programmed it to go to the station that Kurs and the other rifleman were guarding.
Team Four, Drone Storage Locker, Deck Two
The roar of the second explosion rang through the armored bulkhead. The Yeoman swore he could see the inside of the armored wall shimmer, but it was probably just particles of dust or patina being driven off of the plate by the shockwaves of the deck-breaker charge.
"That's two," the Armorer said. "Two more, maybe three."
"Get back to work," Zopic-tin snapped. "Hand me those pliers. No, the small ones."
"Bring the ship about," Valgan said. "If I must fight, I shall do so on my terms, not let those three dogs nip at my heels."
"Sergeant Ervan reports that Kenyil is in contact with the raiders," the Security Commander said. "Axial corridor, Deck Six, portside."
"Right where you said they would be," Valgan cheered.
"Enemy frigates entering range!" the Weapons Officer announced. "Drone away. Disruptors locked."
"Weapons hold!" Valgan said. "Wait for my order."
Bridge, F5L Frigate Dragon King
"Stay in formation," the Squadron Commander said calmly. "Weapons hold. Continue speed." The three small ships continued to close head-to-head with the Demonslayer, which had turned to face them.
"Range eighty thousand," the Weapons Officer called.
"Demonslayer speed is dropping to warp two point four," the Executive Officer called. "Reinforcement to the facing shield. His weapons are hot. Drone inbound. Two drones."
"Steady!" the commander said. "Use anti-drones at optimal range. We will fire our main volley at twenty-thousand kilikams." The range was carefully calculated as just beyond the point that the full firepower of the command cruiser could blow up one of the frigates. That would be bad, as the explosion would wipe out their seeking weapons. Demonslayer would have to keep his phasers in reserve to stop the frigates' drones, unless he gambled on using them to blow up a ship and solve his drone defense problem that way.
"Range forty thousand," the Weapons Officer called.
"Steady!" the commander said.
"Range thirty thousand," the Weapons Officer called.
"Steady ... Steady ... Drones launch!" the commander ordered as his ships passed inside the most effective range of Demonslayer's anti-drone systems.
The Dragon King launched two type-IV heavy drones, and the Dragon Fire launched one. The Dragon Thrower launched no less than five. It was a desperate gamble, using up all of the heavy drones on board the frigates in the first volley. But the heavy drones were harder to kill, and would use up more of the Demonslayer's firepower, and do more damage to its hull.
"Mine release!" the commander ordered, and a mine dropped out of the shuttle hatch of the leader. As programmed, the other ships would drop their mines a moment or two later. With any luck, Demonslayer would not detect them, and the frigates could work around the impromptu minefield on the next pass, maybe lead the cruiser into them.
"Range twenty thousand!" the Weapons Officer called. "Volley fire as programmed!"
Four overloaded disruptors ripped forward from the Dragon King and Dragon Fire, tearing into the forward shield of the Demonslayer. Six phasers followed, savaging the facing shield and, just barely, penetrating it.
Demonslayer retaliated with its own disruptors, firing four of them at the Dragon King. Thanks to the computer viruses Kurs had implanted, only two of them hit, along with a phaser from the forward battery, but even that was enough to flatten the leader's forward shield. Other phasers ripped into the Dragon Fire's shield, all but penetrating it.
"Hard to port!" the Commander called. "Launch shuttles! Rear phasers and anti-drones ... weapons free!"
The frigates sailed beyond and to one side of the cruiser. By pre-planned assignments, each frigate kept one phaser for drone defense and fired the other two into the cruiser. While the damage they did to the flank shield was not nearly enough to penetrate it, they did score enough damage for the weakened shield to become a tactical factor. Three shuttlecraft, each loaded with an anti-matter-boosted nuclear bomb, closed in on the Demonslayer, forcing it to make a high energy turn to avoid impact.
"All ships, 120° right turn!" the Commander ordered. "Keep our #2 shield toward him, and stay on his flank. Don't let him come left to get back on course."
The command cruiser's flank phasers and anti-drones went to work against the eight heavy drones; Valgan had paid the price in maneuver to avoid having to deal with the suicidal shuttlecraft. Even at his lower combat speed, the drones were closing all too slowly, giving his anti-drone systems multiple chances to target each one. Demonslayer still had half a dozen kinetic rounds in its magazines when a phaser killed the last of the drones. By then, both of Demonslayer's drones had been shot down. Reloading commenced immediately.
"I should have gone for the overrun," the Commander said. "Laid everything right on top of him, shuttles, drones, the lot of it. I should have left him no time to evade them."
"And if you had gone for the overrun," the XO said, "he would have blown up one of us and killed everyone aboard. We did well for the first pass. His front shield is down and we knocked out a phaser. He has used most of his anti-drones. He had to make a high energy turn, and the strain to his bulkheads will make him think twice before he tries that again."
"And we used up our heavy drones, our shuttles, and our front shields," the Commander said. "I should have gone for the overrun. I thought Valgan would be rash. I thought he would charge ahead, or get into a turning dogfight with us."
"He should have gone for the overrun," the Executive Officer said.
"Yes," Valgan agreed. "I divided my fire to limit their maneuver, disable two ships instead of killing one. He could have survived an overrun attack against my divided fire."
"Fortune favors us," the Security Commander said. "Your gamble paid off."
"Fortune had nothing to do with it," Valgan sneered, "and it was no gamble. He commands a frigate squadron, while I command a division of the fleet. That's because I'm better at this job than he is. Smarter, braver, stronger. I have the man's measure. I know him, have met him, even though he was never under my command. I would not have him in my division. He lacks the will to drive the dagger home to the hilt.
"Now, maneuver us away from the point of the exchange, whatever speed you can make. He probably dropped mines, and I want nothing to do with them. When we are clear, turn back on course. We'll see if he has the stomach to try again.
"And get me a report from the engineers."
Team Four, Drone Storage Locker, Deck Two
The roar of the third explosion rang through the armored bulkhead. This time, the inside surface of the armored bulkhead was notably warm to the touch.
"Hurry," Zopic-tin said. "Get that tricorder connected to the diagnostic panels. Input the codes."
"I'm working as fast as I can," the Armorer said, "but they didn't design this to be easy. The leads won't connect. I'm going to have to scrape them down by hand and by eye."
"Get it done," Zopic-tin said.