Rourke’s wrist throbbed as he picked himself up off the deck of the bridge. Lights were dim, the best illumination coming from the weak pulse of an emergency strip at the rear of the room. Smoke billowed from the slagged mess of the operations console, and it took him a moment of squinting to tell what was obscuring his vision, and what was just his head spinning after the blast. Even as he crawled up there was little movement about him; it looked like Drake was the only officer who’d kept or recovered his post, the young helmsman shouting a report that Rourke’s ringing ears couldn’t hear.
When the lights changed as he hauled himself up by the command chair’s armrest, he thought he must have hit his head. Then the pockets of gleaming red scattered across the bridge faded to leave hulking shadows in their place – shadows that lunged.
Once, a long time ago, Matt Rourke had fought Jem’hadar who shimmered out of nothingness with plasma weapons blazing and gave no quarter. It was only that embittered, quarter-century-old experience that had him react before one of the Klingon warriors who’d boarded his bridge impaled him on a mek’leth.
He twisted aside and grabbed the first thing which came to hand, which turned out to be the first-aid kit nestled in a compartment of his command chair. Unwieldy and heavy, it was still good enough to be slammed into the Klingon’s wrist, knocking the strike away. And all concerns of his bridge crew, his ship, his mission, faded away for his world to become one of narrow, vicious survival. Somewhere, someone screamed, and though they could have only been metres away, it could have been light-years for all Rourke could know or care in that instant.
The Klingon was bigger than him, and gleaming lights showed a vicious snarl and streaks of silver in hair and beard. His lunge had been opportunistic, but at Rourke’s fast reaction, at the challenge, the warrior grinned and struck again.
Rourke was beaten on reach and limited in space, so at once broke his own rule when fighting a Klingon, and got close. A duck under the swing brought him inside the warrior’s reach, and he slammed the medkit into his enemy’s chin. As the warrior reeled, Rourke grabbed the d’k tahg knife sheathed at his hip, and brought it up in a vicious jab.
The first blow glanced off heavy body armour, then the warrior dropped his mek’leth to grab Rourke’s wrist with both hands. And now he remembered why he didn’t get up close in a fight with Klingons, as the burly warrior’s superior strength, iota by iota, twisted Rourke’s arm aside. He would not win a contest of pure force.
So he jabbed his fingers in the warrior’s face instead, gripping and clawing as he found nostrils, eyes, twisting his thumb away from teeth. The warrior howled and released him, falling back a step with blood now pouring from an eye, and Rourke let himself draw half an easy breath again. Now he had the knife and his enemy had no weapon.
But before he could push his advantage, or before he could take stock of the site of battle his bridge had become, a second warrior came barrelling out of the smoky darkness at him. And the odds were back to terrible.
‘Get me information,’ Valance said, voice flat yet ringing loud in the control room over the blazing sound of the D’Ghor trying to slag the door’s seal with their disruptors.
‘I can’t see anything from here, and this is ore processing, Commander,’ Thawn said in a panic as she hunkered behind a console, hammering her tricorder’s interface. ‘I’m trying to get through to Harkon, see if the King Arthur’s sensors have picked up anything.’
‘If your ship just got blown up,’ said Foreman Compton in a rather matter-of-fact way, ‘we’re pretty screwed, aren’t we.’
‘There’s no reason to think that explosion took out Endeavour!’ Thawn called back, voice shaky.
‘Sure as hell wouldn’t have done it any good,’ Compton pointed out.
‘If it was that big a blast,’ she countered, ‘then it would have taken out the Kut’luch too, surely.’
Thunk. There was a hiss at the door as one of the locking servos went, and Valance’s gaze was ripped from the smoldering sight of where the asteroid belt had ignited on top of both ships, and torn back to the present. ‘Forget my last. Focus on here and now.’
‘Stand by for contact!’ came Rhade’s clear, level voice. ‘Pick your targets, shoot ‘til they’re down. Remember how hardy Klingons are. Expect them to rush for melee.’
Beside Valance, Thawn snapped away her tricorder and wriggled up to pop over the control bank they were taking cover behind. She hefted her phaser pistol unhappily. ‘I didn’t think I wanted a rifle,’ she admitted.
‘You’re best using what you’re confident with,’ Valance replied, voice low. ‘That’s how you’ll be most effective.’
Thawn shifted her weight. ‘I didn’t think I wanted to be effective in a fight. It suddenly seems a lot more important.’
Then the doors blew in, and anything Valance could have said was lost in the haze of smoke and shooting.
The D’Ghor weren’t completely foolhardy. Just as the Hazard Team opened with phaser fire, so did the D’Ghor with their disruptors. But where Starfleet held position behind the makeshift shelter of the ore processing centre’s control banks, the Hunters charged after the opening salvo.
It was madness by any definition of tactics Valance knew. A breach like this was tough work for the attacker, Starfleet in a relatively entrenched position, the D’Ghor funnelled through a narrow access point. The answer still wasn’t, by her training, to brute-force the breach. The heavy fire from the Hazard Team showed why, as warrior after warrior charged, shooting wildly, trying to close the distance – and fell, one after another, to precise phaser blasts.
But not all. Even with their advantage, their steady shooting, there were still so many Klingons. One grabbed the warrior before him as he was hit, dragging him forward as a living shield, taking blast after blast as he advanced. Valance hefted her rifle, tried to aim for the head, but her shot went wide.
The warrior hurled his fallen foe over the makeshift barricade then lunged, flying into Shikar with full force, mek’leth gleaming. Both went down in a rolling scrap, and Valance’s only relief was that Shikar was next to T’Kalla, the Hazard Team’s best melee fighter. A flourish had T’Kalla’s extendable lirpa in hand, the edge swinging up to catch the Klingon in the neck, giving Shikar the heartbeat he needed to drive his energy baton into the enemy’s gut and blast him.
But it was a chink in the Hazard Team’s armour, however brief, and the D’Ghor kept coming. Two more warriors followed, and even as T’Kalla and Shikar recovered, they were in melee now, a roiling ruck nobody dared shoot into. Valance watched as Rhade made quick gestures, and Otero left his side to race towards the melee, combat baton drawn.
‘They’re being overrun,’ came Thawn’s strangled assessment beside her.
Valance’s initial reaction was to dismiss the young Betazoid’s assessment as inexperienced. Then two Klingons barrelled into Seeley and Kowalski, and now she didn’t have as many clear targets as she’d have liked. With gritted teeth, she slung her rifle and drew her mek’leth. ‘Cover me.’
The smoke billowing from the breached doors didn’t help visibility, and as Valance tore forward she found herself hoping Compton and his staff didn’t keep firing, now the front line was a mess of Starfleet and D’Ghor. She lunged over a control bank as a stray disruptor blast caught Otero and he fell, armour smoldering at the breaching energy. He did not rise again.
A swing of her mek’leth struck true, slicing into a gap in the armour of a warrior facing off against Seeley. The D’Ghor staggered, and Seeley’s hand-phaser came up, the high energy shot slagging half the armour. Valance grabbed the warrior’s pauldron to slice again, then twisted the body, kicking it at the next warrior, who was dropped by a snap-shot from Seeley as he reeled. The two women barely had time to make eye contact, Seeley barely having time to nod, before Valance whirled to face the fight.
Shikar and T’Kalla were back to back, the big Caitian and the tall half-Vulcan holding their own. Seeley had back-pedalled to take cover beside the fallen Otero, Nurse Voothe bent over him as she watched over them both. Baranel and Kowalski still had their rifles out, both of them adept at close-quarters shooting, propped up by the windows even as warriors bore down on them.
Which left Lieutenant Rhade holding the centre with Petty Officer Palacio. Rhade had his combat baton out, locked as Valance watched in a contest of wills against a bat’leth, before the Betazoid twisted his grip, disarmed his opponent, and then rammed the stun baton in the warrior’s face. But Palacio looked like he’d been jumped with his rifle still out, desperately using the barrel and handguard to parry strikes.
As Valance charged, the warrior knocked Palacio’s rifle aside and ran him through with a mek’leth. And then it wasn’t just the smoke that narrowed her vision.
Her shoulder hit the warrior, and they went down together. The butt of her mek’leth smashed into his face, and she felt a knife scrape across the left flank of her body armour. She ignored it to flip her weapon and bring the blade down into the D’Ghor’s chest, ending him.
She was back up as another D’Ghor bore down on Rhade and drove a knife at his shoulder. Though the strike was blunted by armour, the warrior’s blade came away bloody and the lieutenant fell to one knee. Valance’s mek’leth sliced into the D’Ghor’s thigh, bringing the Klingon down with a howl of pain. That was cut short with an upward swipe.
Valance whirled as a shape emerged from the smoke. Behind him, Kowalski was a moving shadow wrestling a Klingon as Baranel tried to shoot from his back, hands covered in blood. The edge of this warrior’s mek’leth dripped.
‘Our war-bands will sail to Gre’thor together, half-breed!’
A decade ago, Valance had looked at her every instinct that brought fire and strength, and banished it to somewhere far away where it could never cloud her judgement or muddy her reason. No more would she be the officer whose decisions were driven by guts and glory. No more would she risk anyone calling her ‘the Klingon officer.’
It took only two exchanges of parried blows for her twin hearts to pound hard enough to banish all that good judgement, all those walls of ice. Perhaps it was the surge of battle. Perhaps her people’s blood spraying from the warrior’s mek’leth onto her face. Perhaps the spots still in front of her eyes of the explosion in the asteroid belt that had consumed her ship.
He swung, she evaded, and then she was upon him despite his greater size. Her blows caught his arm, his chest, raking across armour. The haft of his blade was driven into her flank, something bursting with pain in her side. Their blades locked for a moment –
– then his legs swept hers out from under her. Only by an iron grip did she drag him down, too, and they became a rolling mass of muscle and blood. Valance was sure two more blows hit her side, but she barely felt them, by sheer will forcing the warrior onto his back. Her knee planted on his sword-arm, and before he could lash out, her mek’leth came down on his neck.
The smell of blood as he twitched and gurgled filled her nostrils, heady and iron. The world around faded as she leaned down and hissed, ‘I’ll see you there. But not today.’ And brought her blade down again. And again. And again.
While Dathan didn’t know exactly what had happened when the ship rocked and went dead, she knew what would happen next. Which was why she had the CIC doors only half-open, the chamber shrouded in darkness behind her, and went completely unnoticed by the trio of Klingon warriors who stormed down the corridor.
Her first shot blasted a smoldering hole through one’s chest. Starfleet by default kept their phasers at the lowest reasonable energy settings to take an enemy out of a fight, hoping to stun them without killing them. Dathan had no such hopes, and was rewarded with an enemy falling to never rise again.
The others spun, one hefting a bat’leth, the other a rifle, and Dathan had to duck back as a disruptor blast splashed against the half-open CIC doors. That was on a low setting, and for a moment she squinted, confused.
Oh. They’d rather knock me down so they can fight me hand-to-hand. How barbaric.
She heard the thudding footsteps of a charge, and slammed her hand on the door controls to slide them open. Another snap-shot from her phaser downed the rifleman, while the charging warrior with the bat’leth, expecting to need to shoulder-barge the now-open doors, staggered into the darkness. She took a moment more to aim before she shot this one, not because targeting him even in the dark was hard – he was big and loud, after all – but she really didn’t want to hit a control panel. That would be an inconvenience.
Once the were down, Dathan kicked the bat’leth further into the darkness and searched them all, hoping for something useful like a mek’leth. Knives were all she found, and with a scowl, Dathan tucked two into her belt beside her holster. ‘A double blade doesn’t make you tougher,’ she sneered at the one who’d brought a bat’leth.
Sticking her head into the corridor again, there was no sign of movement. A display on the far wall told her to get to the lockdown point, and while Dathan didn’t have much faith in Starfleet to keep her safe, if a large boarding party found her she’d only keep the element of surprise for so long. Especially if bodies kept piling up outside the CIC. Phaser in hand, she set off at a jog, and when she rounded the corner at the next junction she heard the fighting.
Security had barricaded a section of corridor, crew from a few sections sheltering in the rooms guarded. Already they were set upon by charging Klingons, and Dathan realised the trio she’d intercepted had likely been trying to flank the barricade. Without thinking she broke into a sprint, joining the throng of Starfleet lining up to guard their crew. While disgust wound in her gut that some of this Starfleet were so weak they needed their comrades to die for them, the bulk of her venom still turned on the Klingons. Why would scientists, even those trained to defend themselves, be ready to take up arms against this savagery?
The security officer she recognised as Eli Juarez, Kharth’s deputy, clocked her as she reached the crowds. ‘Lieutenant! Get to shelter or grab a rifle!’ he called.
She grabbed his shoulder before he could turn back. ‘A few figured their way around and were coming to flank us. I took them out but there might be more.’
‘Took them -’ Juarez blinked at her. ‘Okay, grab Mytrik and – and two more, and watch our backs!’
Someone handed her a rifle, she wasn’t sure who, and already Crewman Mytrik and a couple of other security officers were detaching to take up position watching the way she’d come. But then a figure in a blue uniform, phaser in hand, staggered out of the doors to the shelter point and Dathan stared. ‘Counsellor, what are you doing?’
Carraway’s skin was obviously pale even in the emergency lighting. ‘Lieutenant, if you’re going to fight, too, I can’t -’
She slung her rifle and grabbed him by the front of his uniform. ‘This is going to get messy. Either you’re with me and we fight, or you go back inside. I can’t fight them and worry about you. You’re just a counsellor.’
He blinked. ‘You’re just an analyst.’ Carraway looked down at the knives in her belt, the phasers she’d grabbed. ‘It’s not your job, either, you’re not rated for this -’
A small part of Dathan considered keeping him here. Maybe the D’Ghor would get him, or she could give him a helping push, and the the realisation an officer who on-paper was barely combat-rated was saddling up for a fight without batting an eyelid could die with him. But she hadn’t been lying when she said she didn’t want to fight and watch his back. The Hunters of D’Ghor made it very easy to divide the universe into an ‘us’ and ‘them’ which made this entire ship of weak degenerates part of her ‘us.’
‘How about this?’ She pushed him gently but firmly back to the doors. ‘You go back inside and I promise we’ll have a session when it’s all over.’
Then a fresh cry came from the way she’d arrived. Dathan turned, unslinging her rifle, to see the D’Ghor coming. And without thinking she took position by the makeshift barricades with the Starfleet officers she’d come here to figure out how to manipulate and destroy.
Someone on the bridge was screaming by the time Kharth was back on her feet.
The problem with defending a bridge against potential boarders who, if shields dropped, could beam right among them was space. Too many security in place, and the bridge became roiling chaos with no chance of telling friend from foe or bringing a phaser to bear on the enemy. For an enemy who craved battle up close and personal, it was a godsend. In the blink of an eye they were in the thick of it, blades slashing as Starfleet reeled to regain control.
A quick glance at Tactical showed both Endeavour and the Kut’luch were drifting. Despite the D’Ghor’s ignition of the uridium being intentional, their ship had not ridden the explosion out well. Already, Endeavour’s systems were springing back to life, and Kharth desperately hoped the boarders wouldn’t get to Engineering.
But that assessment took a heartbeat, and she didn’t have many of those to spare before someone died. Eight Klingons were fighting on the bridge, several already down, though Kharth could see fallen shapes of her colleagues as well in the gloom. Security guards fought three by the door to the conference room. At Comms, Arys wrestled another, and Kharth’s gut twisted as she saw the slumped shape of Lindgren across her console. Drake was still at Helm, flying as best he could with systems springing back to life while turning to take potshots with his phaser at a warrior with a disruptor. One was bearing down on Airex at Science, and the phaser in Kharth’s hand almost swung towards him when she realised Rourke had two Klingons on him.
This took a second heartbeat, which was, really, too many for a Chief of Security to waste. Kharth lifted her phaser and shot one of the Klingons fighting Rourke. But the warrior staggered, reeled – and while Rourke used that moment to stab at the other, the phaser blast wasn’t enough, and both warriors redoubled their efforts.
Standard phaser settings tried to keep a blast at a low enough strength to incapacitate without killing. It was rare that this wasn’t enough to take someone out of a fight. But not impossible when the target was a large, healthy, blood-raging Klingon. Kharth swore as she vaulted over Tactical and bore down on the warrior who’d taken a shot on the highest non-lethal setting, and kept fighting. ‘Captain!’
Rourke had just kicked the half-stunned one back, and Kharth arrived as the other lunged for him. She drove a boot into the back of his knee, then wrapped her arm around his chest from behind as he staggered, pinning him in place. The captain didn’t need telling twice, the d’k’tagh he’d stolen driven once, twice, thrice into the D’Ghor’s torso, and Kharth felt the warrior twitch before he went still.
She grabbed his knife as she kicked the body away, and she and Rourke both rounded on the staggered, but still fighting Klingon. For half a heartbeat the two Starfleet officers made eye contact, and Rourke had to barely give a nod before they launched as one. This time he drove the Klingon down, deflecting a stab with his forearm before he took the warrior’s legs out, and Kharth pounced. Klingon armour was very good, she reflected as her blade slid into the places where it was not.
Rourke helped her on her feet the moment this warrior stopped moving. Then she heard a gurgled cry from behind, and turned in time to see a D’Ghor drive his d’k’tagh into Airex’s gut.
She flew over the command chair and to the Science console. Kharth was not one to go toe-to-toe with a Klingon if she could help it, but this warrior hadn’t seen her coming. Her blade sank into his thigh, and as the warrior went down on one knee with a howl of pain, she cut it short with not one but two blasts of that wretched phaser into his chest in quick succession.
Probably enough to kill. But after she’d resorted to knives, it didn’t make much of a difference. And Kharth didn’t care much any more.
Airex had collapsed on his back, clutching his wounds, and she was on him in a moment. Around her she registered the boarders were being repelled, but that seemed very far away. Her hands came to his, trying to staunch the flow of blood that spilt through her fingers, and his wide, desperate eyes locked on her.
‘Dav, come on,’ she hissed, breathing shaky. ‘Stay with me.’
He croaked something inaudible, hands weakening, then tried again. ‘Airex…’
For one ridiculous second she thought he was correcting her. Then she realised, and looked back at the locations of the wounds. Something in her heart pinched. ‘No, Dav – he’s okay, the wound’s too high up, they didn’t get him – forget about the damn worm for a moment, okay? Focus on me, focus on my voice…’
Rourke was shouting orders, and Kharth realised they’d restored control of the bridge. Medics were pushing through, a nurse she didn’t recognise reaching her, flipping their medkit open and gently pushing her hands away from Airex’s wound to bring out a dermal regenerator.
‘I’ve got him, Lieutenant, you can let go…’
‘Kut’luch is turning tail, Captain!’ Drake called from Helm. ‘They’re running!’
Blood ringing in her ears, Kharth shakily got to her feet and staggered to Tactical. Ensign Athaka had moved to the Engineering section, shouting reports of Endeavour’s condition she wasn’t properly hearing. Arys moved to Science, another medic on the shape of Lindgren that Kharth didn’t dare look at.
Only when she set blood-soaked hands onto the Tactical controls to assess Endeavour’s situation inside and out did she realise this was what winning against the D’Ghor looked like.