Phoenix rocked as weapons fire raked across the hull, and Lopez gripped the armrest tight to keep her seat. ‘Status!’
‘Hull polarisation is holding!’ Black reported. ‘Returning fire!’
‘They’re bigger and slower than us,’ Lopez noted, looking to Antar. ‘Keep us mobile and keep us on their aft.’
‘Yeah, I-’ Antar stopped what sounded likely an accusation she was being told the obvious. ‘On it.’
The deck shifted again, this time from the inertial dampers shifting to compensate as Antar brought the Phoenix around, clinging to the rear of the Starsaber where Lopez had already noted the Enolians had a narrower firing arc. But more pertinently, it left their large impulse engines exposed.
‘That starboard thruster; you see it, Helena?’ She glanced to her right. ‘Get the -’
‘Yes, Captain,’ Black said with just a hint of the impatience Antar had tempered.
‘Incoming fire,’ West barked. ‘Spatial torpedoes, looks like they have guidance systems.’
Antar gave a short nod. ‘Taking evasive -’
‘Negative; I’ve got them,’ Black called out. ‘They’re slow, I can shoot them down; don’t lose their tail.’
‘Keeping their tail’s no good if they blow a hole in us!’ Antar snapped.
‘Hey,’ butted in Lopez, ‘that wasn’t a suggestion, Ensign.’
‘Photonic torpedoes launched at their aft starboard thruster,’ Black relayed, voice mechanical, clearly paying more attention to what she was doing than what she was saying. ‘Deploying countermeasures for their missiles.’
‘That’ll still mean hull impacts, people; brace!’ Lopez called out.
‘One down,’ West confirmed, voice clipped. ‘Two down, three – negative, the warhead didn’t detonate -’
The one Enolian torpedo to make it past Black’s countermeasures thudded into the hull hard enough to rock the whole ship. The deck rumbled, and Lopez again had to fight to keep her seat, this impact considerably heavier. Overhead lights flickered, and Antar had to shout for her confirmation that she was keeping their course steady to be heard.
‘Okay.’ Black sounded a little bashful as Phoenix righted herself. ‘Maybe I can get most of them down.’
‘Hull plating on deck 4 is buckled, but not breached,’ West reported, hands racing over his controls.
‘Minor casualty reports on adjacent sections,’ added Takahashi.
Black looked up, gaze satisfied. ‘Solid hit on the Enolian ship; their engines are gone and they’re drifting.’
‘Tak, tell the MACOs to launch!’ called Lopez. ‘Helena, Antar, our job is now to protect the shuttle. This goes a lot easier if we don’t have to fight the whole ship to a standstill ourselves.’
‘Hold steady!’ Stavros called out to the MACOs in the rear of the shuttlepod.
‘Hangin’ on won’t make much of a difference,’ Ensign Corrigan muttered loud enough for her to hear as the shuttlepod burst out from the Phoenix and into the firefight. Pulsing cannon blasts lanced between the two ships, and at once he had to dip the pod down to avoid a soaring torpedo from the Starsaber that was seconds later consumed by Phoenix’s countermeasures. ‘Forcing our way into their shuttlebay’s gonna suck.’
‘So let’s not do that,’ said Stavros quickly. ‘We don’t want to fight our way from the shuttlebay, either. Scans say the bridge is near their dorsal hull on the front section. Clamp us on and we can make our own entrance.’
Corrigan gave a low scoff, but nodded. ‘Right on,’ he said, and plunged the shuttlepod down. Even as Phoenix raked the Starsaber with enough blasts to draw her fire and keep her drifting, wounded, the Enolians had clocked the shuttlepod, forcing Corrigan to weave them in and out of shots that felt a lot bigger from inside such a small vessel. Stavros tried to not shut her eyes. Even with Corrigan watching his controls and the rest of her MACOs behind her, it wouldn’t give the right impression. Someone would notice.
‘Hate this part, Boss!’ came the low voice of Staff Sergeant Banda from behind her. ‘Hey, bus driver, don’t get us killed before we get into a fight!’
‘Nah, mate, was gonna crash us until you said that,’ Corrigan called back.
‘Easy!’ Stavros gripped her seat tight. ‘We’ve got this.’ She tried to not listen to Corrigan swearing under his breath as the shuttlepod swooped in low, close up against the Starsaber’s hull, nearly dancing along the surface. ‘Do you need to be this near?’ she hissed.
‘They can piss off trying to target me from this close,’ he said, before reaching to throw another control. ‘There we are; got an emergency airlock we’ll clamp onto. Hope you’re ready to bust the hatch.’
Stavros glanced back. ‘McCabe?’
‘Standing by, Major!’ the young lieutenant called back.
‘Yeah, but now you really should hang on,’ said Corrigan, about a heartbeat before he brought the shuttlepod to a near-halt and slammed Stavros against her chair’s safety webbing. ‘This is the bumpy bit.’
This time Stavros shut her eyes. ‘Oh, because I thought it was all easy so far,’ she managed through gritted teeth, and felt the shuttlepod lurch again – then there was a thunk of contact against the hull that made her heart lunge into her throat as the pod came to what felt like a complete halt.
But Corrigan sounded jubilant. ‘We’re on! Seal is good. Now, go take the buggers out before they try to peel me off.’
Stavros swung out of seat, moving to the rear of the shuttlepod where Lieutenant McCabe already had their hatch open and the hull of the Starsaber exposed. ‘You got this, Lieutenant?’
‘Yes, ma’am.’ McCabe was tapping commands at the shuttlepod’s hatch controls. ‘Charge is set to frag the mechanism; adjusting pressure here and ready on your mark.’
Stavros nodded, looking back at her MACO unit. ‘Captain Lopez wants this bloodless. Keep weapons to stun and stick to non-lethal in melee.’ She made sure her gaze was stern at this, giving no indication of anything other than Lopez’s orders being her orders. Then she nodded at McCabe. ‘Go.’
No matter how good McCabe was, blowing a hatch like this forbade any element of surprise. Nor was it the safest technique. But it was better than using transporters, in Stavros’s book, even if she was the first in the breach, bursting through the hatch onto the Enolian ship with rifle raised, her MACOs behind her.
This had to go like clockwork. Or Captain Lopez would never let her hear the end of it.
Corrigan was correct; they’d boarded at an emergency hatch very near the bridge, and Stavros made a mental note to speak well of the young pilot in her report. But only for a moment, as this revelation came with the black-armoured members of the Enolian Guard rushing down the corridor to meet her and her MACOs.
Her first shot brought down one, while Banda ducked behind the nearby bulkhead as they returned fire, before his snapshot felled the second. Stavros made a quick gesture to urge her unit forwards, towards the heavy double doors at the end of the corridor. ‘Double time; before they seal up or get entrenched. On me.’
They’d trained for this. Lopez wasn’t wrong; MACO deployments against the Romulans were few and far between. But the last three years of MACOs serving aboard Starfleet ships had embedded the organisation with enough experience that she’d drilled protocols like this into her unit for the last few weeks. Boarding actions. Combat actions on starships.
Taking a bridge.
The Enolians were disciplined, she noted as her MACOs ploughed through their defence on the bridge. Officers were armed at their post, ready for personal combat in a way she suspected Starfleet was not. They were still not ready for the MACOs.
The man she suspected was Captain Kovrad stood his ground even as his officers went down under fire, snatching a pistol from his holster. Stavros made sure her stun shot took him in the leg, incapacitating him without rendering him unconscious, and by the time she was stood over him, the weapons fire all around had stopped.
‘The bridge is ours!’ McCabe reported from behind her, and made sure the MACOs went to each downed Enolian and manned the door.
Stavros looked down at the startled, staggered Enolian captain, her rifle still levelled on him. ‘You heard him, Captain. The bridge is ours. Recommend you give us the surrender of you and the whole ship.’
Lopez could smell the singed metal from weapons fire as she stepped onto the Enolian bridge, and silently thanked whatever power was responsible for her not smelling blood or death. No Enolians were in sight, only the MACOs, and despite their weary and battle-torn look, Stavros still snapped to attention at her arrival.
‘Boarding action successful, Captain!’
‘Aw, hell.’ Lopez ignored her a moment, and waggled her finger at two of her companions. ‘Tak, Hawthorne, figure out how this ship ticks and how to bust into her systems. I want to know what’s going on.’ But Black caught her eye rather pointedly and she sighed, turning back to the centre of the bridge. ‘Good work, Major. To you and all your MACOs.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
‘Oh… at ease, the lot of you. You’ve had a hell of a day without ramming more sticks up your asses.’ Lopez watched as the MACOs shifted to a relatively more relaxed stance she wasn’t convinced was more comfortable. ‘Where are the crew?’
Stavros advanced with a little more of what Lopez would consider humanity, rather than robotic militarism. ‘Bridge crew have been put in a conference room. Staff Sergeant Banda has Captain Kovrad in his office.’ She gestured accordingly. ‘Lieutenant McCabe is securing the rest of the ship.’
Black nodded and looked to Lopez. ‘Do you want me to head up the Armoury officers on that?’
Lopez shook her head. ‘Nah, I want to talk to Kovrad and I want you there. I need to know why the Enolians are kicking off.’ She gestured to Stavros. ‘Major, take over from your lieutenant, and use the Armoury officers to help.’
Black kept her expression diplomatic as Stavros headed off and the two of them approached the captain’s office. ‘You’re letting a MACO secure the ship you want taken bloodlessly?’
‘Don’t you get territorial -’
‘I’m not. Stavros did a good job. I’m surprised you’re letting her.’
Lopez grunted. ‘Like you said. She did a good job. Let’s worry about the bigger picture here and let the knuckle-draggers do the knuckle-headed stuff, alright?’
‘Alright.’ Black tugged up the zip of her jumpsuit another centimetre and straightened. ‘I expect I’m bad cop?’
‘Can’t help it, I’m afraid, Helena. Everyone loves me,’ Lopez drawled, and stepped into the office.
If her ready room was a small tin can, the office of the Starsaber’s captain was only a medium one. Even in an alien culture, Lopez could feel the sharp-cornered air of militarism in the metal design of everything from the furniture to the fixtures. It went beyond the stark utilitarianism of Starfleet and into something more: a deliberately ordered framework to force minds into a deliberately ordered shape.
The tall dark figure of Staff Sergeant Banda looked tense in a way she could at least appreciate as professional, rather than posturing, and gave her a polite nod as she entered without jumping about in a way that demanded her attention.
Her attention was on the man sat next to his desk, hands on his lap where the MACO could see them, in the black uniform of the Enolian Guard. Dark eyes set into square features under silver-streaked hair were locked on her, cold and tense, but still he stood slowly. ‘Captain Lopez. My ship is yours.’ He glanced from her to Banda and back. ‘I would offer you my sidearm had I been allowed to keep it.’
‘Oh,’ said Lopez, then, ‘I don’t care. Yeah, we got your ship. You don’t get the pomp and circumstance of a surrender with military honours and all that. After all, you’re a pirate.’
Kovrad glared, and Lopez could almost feel Black’s side-eye at this gambit from the supposed ‘good cop.’ He straightened. ‘I am flying under the colours of the Enolian Guard, acting under orders -’
‘To attack a civilian ship, steal its cargo, and then run for the borders? Do those sound like the actions of an honourable soldier?’ She put her hands on her hips. ‘Interstellar law’s still a bit of a broad… guess… but human naval traditions take a real dim view of piracy.’ She cocked her head. ‘So if you want me to treat you like an enemy combatant, maybe you should explain this better. Because last I heard there’d been no declaration of war from your people, no reason for you to target us.’
Kovrad’s jaw was tight, a muscle twitching, nostrils narrowing. At last, he said, ‘The Enolian Hierarchy is at war with the Commonwealth of Earth by the terms of our treaty with the Romulan Star Empire.’
Lopez stared. ‘Come again?’
Despite her surprise, she still noted Kovrad’s discomfort at more than his current predicament. ‘The treaty of 2154 has established the Hierarchy as a vassal-state of the Star Empire, and thus adheres to its interstellar policy. I attacked your cargo ship because I was ordered to by my superiors in the Enolian Guard. The Enolian Guard was directed to open hostilities with your Commonwealth by directives from the Romulan Star Navy.’ His chin tilted up a defiant half-inch. ‘We are enemies at war, Captain Lopez.’