Zira was excited. It was not often that the head of the Intelligence Department aboard the DNS was excited about his work. Usually his work meant weeks of examining captured shipping documents, of poring over reports from a multitude of foreign agents that often included members of Klingon subject races, or searching through battle reports seeking to project enemy supply needs. Anything that he could decipher or collate might help him discover a pattern that would allow Commodore Arrax to gain the upper hand in the next battle. Every battle had some bearing upon the survival of the Holdfast itself.
Now he thought he had something that might be useful. An Orion agent had overheard some "bar talk" from a pair of Hilidarians. He had passed on the information that the lone Seltorian FCR had left the resupply depot, and that in addition to its normal restocking of several different Seltorian carriers, it was also going to restock a fighter rally point hidden in an asteroid field. The agent passed on the name of the rally point, but he had no idea where the rally point was.
But Zira did.
Some time ago, another Orion agent had sold them the location of this particular rally point. The rally point existed primarily as a fallback point for fighter sweeps that had run afoul of pirates, been separated from their convoy, or had been left behind when their carrier could not wait to pick them up, as when fleeing the occasional Tholian deep raid. Until now, they had never had a use for the information, just as they never had a use for ninety-nine percent of the information their intelligence network ferreted away from their enemies. But it was all filed away, cross-indexed, and collated, just for the day when one tiny fact in the vast database would suddenly be needed.
He sped down the corridor, leaning forward to gain speed. Other Tholians, seeing his obvious hurry, moved out of his way as he neared them. He approached the half-pipe that connected Deck B to Deck A. He knew the Commodore would be on the bridge. As he half-slid, half-floated into the half-pipe, he began to feel a shift in orientation. His magnetic sense and his gravamagnetic organ were functioning to smoothly alter his perception of what was up and what was down. He came out of the half-pipe oriented upside down from where he had been, but right side up for where he was. This innate ability of all Tholians was a minor blessing he knew. It was another factor that enemy boarding parties had to deal with. It must be a nightmare for a Klingon to try to navigate from deck to deck in their bulky environmental suits, all the while taking fire.
Of course the obverse is true also. He had read several reports of boarding actions on Klingon and Seltorian ships, and the bulky environmental suits the Tholian raiders were forced to wear put them at a strong disadvantage.
He leaned more vertically as he neared the bridge. As he entered, he was moving at normal speed. Through the dark, heat-distorted atmosphere, he saw Commodore Arrax conferring with his prime officer. He paused and waited deferentially until they finished their conversation, trying hard to control the flaring of his eyes and the orange streaks of light that occasionally flashed through his semi-translucent body.
As he was waiting, he slowly turned around to view the bridge. Compared to his small working area, the bridge was spacious indeed. However, through his work over the years, he had learned that other races of the galaxy might consider it tiny and cramped. The Federation surely would.
His thoughts were interrupted as Commodore Arrax finished up with the prime officer and dismissed him. As the Commodore turned to face Zira, the intelligence officer's inner core shining softly, telling the admiral that he had discovered something, and was as excited as he was proud about it. Zira saluted and Arrax motioned for him to speak.
"Commodore, I have information that you might find usable." He waited for the commodore to give his assent to speak before continuing. "We know the Seltorians are a vengeful race. I believe it may be possible for us to take advantage of this racial trait by setting an ambush for the Seltorian FCR. This ambush might goad the Seltorians into a rash response that will not end as they think it will, simply because they do not know our true strength yet."
Quickly, he conveyed his findings and suppositions, noting with satisfaction the signs that the Commodore was also becoming excited. He had been worried that Arrax would think that he was trying to manufacture evidence. Evidence that would help make up for his failure to predict the fighter raid that had wrecked the convoy a few days earlier. But it was clear that the commander had no intention of holding blame in that matter.
A few moments later, he left the bridge, feeling very satisfied that his input today might have made a difference in their battle for survival, and that Commodore Arrax would come up with a way to take advantage of this information.
Arrax gazed thoughtfully after Major Zira. The commodore had been worried that the intelligence officer's failure to properly forecast the components of the force that had been sent against the convoy would have a detrimental effect upon Zira's career, not from the commodore, but from Zira himself. Arrax certainly knew the difficulties involved when trying to divine what the Klingons and the Seltorians were planning. But the intelligence officer was the type who would break himself into shards with overwork trying to make up for what he perceived as a mistake.
The four patrol ships slowly idled along, engines barely humming as they negotiated the asteroid field. Clearly Tholian in origin, they were deep behind the nominal front lines. But despite their similarity to the deadly Arachnid-class patrol boats, they were not normal patrol boats.
At first glance, they looked like the deadly, triangular-shaped patrol boats they were derived from, but a closer examination would show that all of them had their primary weapons removed and that two of them were little more than cargo variants of the Arachnid-class patrol boat.
The other two looked even odder. They, too, were missing their heavy weapons, but each one had four odd-looking triangular shapes attached to them. These shapes did not belong to them and were only attached to them by mechanical linkages oddly similar to what the patrol boats themselves used to attach to their mother ship. In short, the shapes were fighters and the two ships were fighter-conveyer variants of the patrol boats.
Orrna was not pleased. Even though her view of the universe was beautiful from her vantage point in the cockpit of one of the fighters, she did not like being a passenger. Having to relinquish control and relying on someone else to do all the navigating and flying was not something she did easily. But if everything went as planned, her discomfort would be worth it.
She twisted uneasily in her harness. The mission had been a long one. They were near the end of the combat range of the small patrol ships, and at the extreme limit of her fighter's range. That was just one of the ideas behind the versatile fighter-conveyer ship system, to extend the range of fighters and enable them to hit targets that would otherwise be safe from harm. Reflexively, she ticked off several other reasons the Fi-Con system had came into use.
In addition to extending the range of fighters, they were often used to supplement an FCR, bringing fighters that were ready to fight to a carrier that was closer to the front. Sometimes they were used to ferry replacement fighters from an FCR when only a few were needed, keeping the valuable FCR farther from the fighting. They were also used to recover fighters or shuttles left in space when their ship went down. She had even heard of them being used to bring in ground attack shuttles to support ground combat operations by Commando patrol boats. As for the negatives...
She herself saw three drawbacks to the Fi-Con concept, even though there were probably many more. First, most of the weapons had to be stripped from the patrol ships making them essentially defenseless while they waited for their charges to return from the raid. The other races of the galaxy had been experimenting with the concept for a while. She had heard that more than one Fi-Con had been destroyed because it had been caught behind enemy lines while waiting for a fighter strike to finish its business. She shuddered. If her Fi-Con was destroyed, she wouldn't have a ride back to the friendly confines of her meditation chamber. She could, at best, head for a rally point where an environmental shelter stocked with supplies had been set up on an asteroid, and wait, perhaps for weeks, for a rescue. Ironically, it was a rally point much like the one they were seeking.
Second, the Fi-Con itself could not rearm the fighters it carried. While not problematical for Tholians, she knew that it was potentially a huge problem for the Kzintis. The Kzintis were a nominal ally that used a lot of drone-armed fighters. I feel sorry for any of their fighters that are caught at the pickup point after they have expended all of their drones in a raid, she mused. The resulting slaughter would be horrendous.
The third drawback was not really a drawback, but came down to her personal preference. Because they could not service the fighters they carried, she could not fly the heavy-hitting assault version of the Spider that she preferred. She was stuck flying the stripped-down Spider-III with the oversized canopy, a specialized dogfighter version that lacked the punch of her Spider-II. Sure, it could fly rings around her assault fighter, but maneuverability didn't matter a lot when you were trying to kill a ship in a fighter designed to kill other fighters. She preferred to kill ships.
And they were trying to kill a ship. She did not know what cracked-crystal brain had thought up this mission, but she didn't think much of it. The likelihood that they could destroy the Seltorian FCR at the rally point was in her opinion, remote. Then she grinned to herself. They do not pay me for my opinions.
Setting the strike up had also been complicated. Normally the patrol boat flotilla would have drawn this mission. But they were in the middle of another mission, one that by now might even be complete considering the amount of time her strike had been in-flight. So the Commodore had used the only other assets he had available.
The DNS group had four patrol boats attached to the escorts. Two of them were supply variants. They were primarily used for quick supply runs since carriers tended to run out of mission-critical items before they received their normal resupply. Only by sheer happenstance had they both been available for this strike.
The other two were the Fi-Cons that her fighters were attached to. They were variants of the standard Arachnid that had been attached to the DNS group because of their versatility.
There were other problems. Because no assault fighters could be carried by the Fi-Cons, they didn't initially have enough fighters to fill out all four positions on each Fi-Con either, but they still had plenty of spare fighters on the FCR that was supporting the DNS group. The Commodore had ordered three spare Spider-IIIs be taken out of storage from the FCR. Those three fighters and the EW fighter would fly from the second Fi-Con. Otherwise; they would have been flying Spider-IIs with empty disruptors.
The maintenance squadron had then been called upon to work miracles to prepare them for this mission, all the while under serious time constraints. The mission had to be pulled off quickly, but the maintenance squadron had accomplished the assignment without complaint.
Lastly, the assault fighter pilots had been called upon to volunteer for this mission. All of them had leaned forward for the mission, as she was sure the Commodore had known they would. The downside of volunteering was that it left her no room to complain, except about the fighter she was driving. She could always complain about that. At least this version of the Spider was as sturdy as her assault fighter.
A light flashed on her panel. The disembodied voice of the Fi-Con's launch control officer came screeching over her headset. It is time. They must have discovered that the rally point is indeed real. She had been half-expecting that the Intel-supplied information would be false and the mission a bust. She knew that if they had been unable to find the rally point, they would have aborted the mission and headed for home.
She felt the distinct chunks of the mech-links that held her fighter captive disengaging. She slid the throttle forward slowly and pulled back on her control stick. The fighter lifted smoothly and she rolled the craft to enable her to gain separation more easily. She keyed her comm-link.
"Okay, everyone, get into position on my wing and I'll lead each of you to your drop off point. There you will power your systems down to minimum and wait for my order to engage. We don't want to spook them before we can hit them."
She checked her tactical scanner and saw that the other seven fighters were forming up on her. As they arranged themselves around her, she watched the four patrol boats begin to move off to their own separate positions in what would be a U-shaped ambush with the rally point in the center of the U. She followed them; dropping off a fighter at set intervals until only her fighter was left. As she dropped each one, she made sure that they were a sufficient distance from the expected route of the FCR to avoid detection.
Her computer beeped, notifying her that she had reached her spot in the ambush. She flipped the switches that powered down most of her fighter's systems. Another moment later, she had only the warm, comforting hum of her life support system and her passive detection sensors to keep her company. That and the glorious pinwheel view of the stars through her oversized canopy.