((Aboard shuttle 3))
Tia surveyed the ground swiftly passing beneath them as they skimmed over the surface of the planet. From the sky, Ryex looked to be very similar to earth in some aspects, boasting lush greenery and rolling hills with thick forests that occasionally broke into wide-open fields. The planet was a beautiful one from her position in the air, but she wondered what untold secrets were being hidden within its vast and unexplored plains. They had already spent most of the day traveling at a snail’s pace to make passes back and forth to provide cover for the ground crew before Tia decided to take the shuttle on ahead a little ways to check on the location of the life signs.
“Coming up on the grid reference for those life signs,” the master chief spoke up.
Tia heard the chair behind her creak and saw the doctor leaning forward to peer out the window with a searching gaze. Tia had initially been surprised at the Bajoran doctor’s appearance, but as she studied the medical professional she appreciated the woman’s confident bearing and well-built physical form for someone so slight. The doctor handled herself in a way that gave Tia the impression she would be able to handle herself well during high-stress situations and severe combat. Tia’s eyes turned back to the terrain beneath them as the shuttle broke the crest of a hill to look down on a sprawling village in the open plains of the valley below.
“Looks like we got natives,” Richardson observed.
“I’ll update the Captain,” Tia murmured as she leaned over the console. Pressing a button she hailed the bridge of the Tesla. “Come in Tesla, this is Shuttle Three.”
Franklin hadn’t been doing much when the call came through from the XO. He usually wouldn’t answer the transmission, but the Captain had wanted him to monitor for the XO. “This is the Tesla what do you need Commander?”
“Is the captain on the bridge?” Tia wanted to verify that the CO would hear the transmission.
Michael was sitting in the Captain’s chair observing the situation around them the ship was stuck and though he had been trying to discover a solution currently he was waiting for Savik to check in. He smirked as she asked for him. “I am here Commander report.”
“Captain Ryder, we have observed signs of an intelligent life form on the planet. There’s a village at grid reference 12SUF98600687, close to the river and approximately nine and a half clicks due east of the Tesla’s location.”
“You know the orders do not do anything that will not follow the Prime Directive. That being said maybe observe and see who they’re as we do not know this area.” Michael said sternly.
“Copy that,” Tia confirmed, cutting off the transmission with the Tesla.
Richardson was just circling back to take the shuttle down for a closer pass over the inhabited area when they heard the faint sound of a boom in the distance and felt an aftershock that shook the shuttle in the air.
“What was that?”
Almost immediately after, the comms crackled to life and Lieutenant Chung’s voice was heard shouting over the channel. “Shuttle 3! Shuttle 3! Ground team’s been hit! Taking heavy fire! Request immediate evac!”
“Ground team, confirm your position,” Tia requested over the comms as Richardson was already turning the shuttle about.
“Position is totally bullocks!” The response came back.
“No worries, mate.” Richardson pulled up the screen to display their beacon. “I got your location. Exfil inbound.”
Richardson seemed tense as he sped the shuttle back in the direction of the ground team, but he controlled his rising adrenaline well and maintained a steady hand on the controls of the aircraft. Tia glanced at the doctor to see how she was handling the stress of upcoming conflict and found the junior grade lieutenant leaned back in her seat, bag in hand, calmly waiting for the moment when her skills would be required.
“Prepare for a hot exfil,” Richardson warned them both.
As they neared the location of the ground team’s beacon, Tia could see the occasional streak of phaser fire through the foliage below, but much of the devastated ground beneath them was covered in billows of black smoke that rose from a tangled mass of fallen trees. The team must have run into a pretty serious set of explosions to cause that much damage. Tia searched for a place where they could land the shuttle in the chaos below to provide support to the ground team, but her uncertainty was short-lived. Suddenly the shuttle was rocked by a heavy blast. Richardson barely managed to maintain control of the aircraft, and immediately began switching the gears to prepare the ship for landing.
“We’ve been hit!” He informed them. “Going down hard!”
Tia pulled the seat harness over her shoulders and saw the doctor follow suit behind her, both of them quickly strapping themselves in. The landing was a whirlwind of blaring alarms and flashing lights as the shuttle protested Richardson’s actions the entire way down. Before Tia knew it, the master chief was flipping the switch to open the rear shuttle doors.
“On me,” Tia called as she pulled her phaser from her belt to hold it up. The master chief grabbed his type 3 phaser from its place by his seat and quickly took up position across from her, his phaser raised and covering the opening door. The doctor unstrapped herself and knelt behind them, her pack in her hands, ready to assist where needed.
The shuttle doors opened to chaos. The screams of wounded men filled the air and the smell of smoke and burning flesh invaded Tia’s nostrils. They immediately began to take phaser fire from multiple directions. Tia returned fire and the flashes to her right signified that the master chief was doing the same. Tia searched the ground before her to find suitable cover, prepared to press forward to push the enemy back so they could gain enough ground to recover their wounded, but it was Richardson who moved first.
“Moving!” he shouted out and Tia quickly switched her phaser to a multiple beam spread to provide cover.
The master chief charged down the ramp to slide behind a fallen tree, taking up position and quickly resuming his steady suppressive fire on the enemy.
“Wait here till the ground is secure,” Tia shouted over her shoulder at the crouched doctor, before yelling out to the master chief. “Moving!” she informed him. Richardson kept the enemy combatants pinned down with steady cover fire as Tia ran out to his position to leap over the fallen tree he had stationed himself behind and press forward to advance on their enemy. Once she had taken up position behind an outcropping rock, she then resumed firing.
“Covering! Push! Push!” she updated the master chief on her position and she heard him shout out from behind her.
In this manner they slowly advanced on the enemy, cutting down several of their foes as they pressed forward to push the attackers back. A few soldiers who had not taken significant damage during the attack rallied behind them and began to assist in the effort to defend their position.
Tia could barely make out their attackers in the thick underbrush, only catching the occasional glimpse of a quickly moving form before they disappeared. Every once in a while she would hear a yell as a Starfleet phaser beam made contact with the enemy, but the wounded opponent was then protected as a rain of fire hailed down upon the Starfleet officers, and Tia was forced to take cover before being able to advance on the injured foe’s position. She had hoped to take one alive to determine their adversary’s identity and motive but their rival’s current tactics thwarted her plans. Once she saw that the tide was turning and they seemed to have their enemy on the run, she made plans to pull back.
“We need a hostage!” she shouted over to Richardson who had remained close to her throughout the firefight. “I’m going to assist the doc!”
He pulled his lips back in a face that clearly stated he would rather give every one of their antagonists a quick phaser beam to the head, but his mouth professed submission. “Copy that, boss!”
Tia waited for Richardson to lead the team past her location and then she turned back to make her way down the hillside to where the doctor was currently assisting those wounded by the blast. The doc and a few of the soldiers who had not been badly injured by the blast had managed to move the more severely injured men beneath a rough outcropping of rocks hanging from the side of a cliff that provided some sort of rough cover. Tia counted two wounded soldiers who were assisting the doctor and four men who lay incapacitated on the ground. With six of their men down that was half the team she had brought.
“Report,” she requested an update from one of the officers who was assisting in moving the injured men.
The soldier quickly came to attention. “One KIA, three immobilized, two out of action, the remaining six suffered minor injuries. One of the immobilized is Lieutenant Chung.”
Tia scanned the disabled soldiers to find the Lieutenant laying with his back propped up against a rock, tightly holding his belt as a tourniquet around the upper thigh of his right leg. He sucked in a deep breath and straightened as the XO approached him. She admired his resolve to maintain a professional attitude despite his current situation, and her features softened as she crouched down to speak with him at his eye level.
“How you doing, Lieutenant?” she asked in a gentle tone that was not compliant with her usual sharp cadence.
“Having a bloody good time,” he responded with a light tone and a forced laugh. “One of the men tripped an explosive device. Took him out immediately and wounded a few others. We began taking fire from multiple xrays. Barely held ’em off till you came.”
“Master Chief Richardson and a few men are pushing the enemy back. We’re gonna get you and your team out of here,” Tia didn’t believe the words as she spoke them, but she forced the confidence into her tone. However, the Junior Grade Lieutenant was not one to be propped up by false hope. Glancing over to the downed shuttle he called her bluff.
“Doesn’t look like the bird will be going anywhere anytime soon,” he recognized. “If this planet houses a hostile life force, it’s your duty first and foremost to warn the rest of the crew, regardless of who you may have to leave behind.”
“We leave no one behind.” This time Tia was not bluffing, and the Lieutenant knew better than to question it.
When Richardson returned with his group, Tia was inspecting the damage to the shuttle. The Master Chief set his crew of six up around the doctor’s location, and after checking in on Lieutenant Chung he approached the busy XO.
“Can you get her back up and running?” he asked as he stepped onto the ramp. The addition of his weight on the ramp caused the entire shuttle to shift with an echoing moan that left both Richardson and Tia standing on uncertain feet.
“Oh, I doubt she’ll be running anytime soon,” Tia informed him, holding up a halting palm that warned him not to make any further sudden movements. “But if I can just get the comms up I’ll be happy with that.”
“Call the Tesla for backup?”
“And warn them of a potential attack,” Tia added. “If there’s a hostile force on this planet, home base needs to know of it.”
The familiar phrase brought back Tia’s memory of her previous orders. “Did you get me a hostage?” she asked.
A quick intake of breath sucked from between tightly compressed teeth betrayed the answer before he spoke it. “Couldn’t quite manage that, boss. They’re wily this bunch.”
“Understood.” Tia couldn’t help but convey her disappointment. She had hoped to be able to provide some sort of tangible intel for the Tesla concerning the enemy they now faced. She continued to pull wires from the control panel which had taken a direct hit from a phaser beam and attempted to sort through the tangled mess to determine what materials could be used to repair the damaged comms. Their short-range personal comms would work among their group, but without the comms aboard the shuttle, they would not have the range to reach the Tesla.
She heard the Master Chief let out a sigh and glanced over to see him turn away to scan the skyline. “You got a plan for the team?” he asked her frankly. He knew all too well what they both realized. The top priority was to warn the Tesla of imminent danger, but beyond that, getting the wounded soldiers back to the home base would likely prove difficult.
“Working on it,” Tia informed him as she mulled over the problem in the back of her mind.
“You realize that village we spotted earlier is far closer than the Tesla,” he stated the obvious.
“And they could also be responsible for the attack we just repelled,” she countered.
He shrugged and chewed on his lower lip before shaking his head slowly. “I don’t think so.” He sounded far from certain but they needed some sort of plan. “They didn’t seem to be coming from the direction of the village and they didn’t head that way when they cleared out,” he surmised.
Tia nodded her head as she processed this information. Rising from where she had been laying on her back beneath the flight deck, she brushed her hands off on her pants. “Well I’m afraid I don’t have the necessary materials to fix these comms,” she stated. “So we are on our own till we get word back to the Tesla.”
The Chief nodded, realizing how that changed their position.
“If the doc says she can patch up the wounded enough to move, then we’ll give her as much time as we can before heading back to home base. I’d prefer that we stay together in case of another attack. But if the doc says we can’t move them before nightfall, then we’ll have to send a small force ahead to warn the Tesla while the rest of us remain back to protect the wounded.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Richardson accepted, hopping off the shuttle ramp to head for some rocks he had spotted which provided a good vantage point over the area.
Moments later, Tia was receiving not so pleasurable news from the medical professional.
“We may be able to move a few of them before sundown, but certainly not those two.” The doctor nodded her head in the direction of two soldiers who remained unconscious on the ground. “If we try moving them that much of a distance without at least giving them till sunup tomorrow then they won’t make it.”
“XO, we got inbound,” Richardson called to her from his perch in the rocks above them.
The doctor’s visage was grim as her eyes met Tia’s. Were their attackers coming back for another round?
Tia quickly made her way to meet with the Master Chief who was crawling to a better vantage point and the other unwounded crewmen moved to follow suit. Crouching down, she slid through the rocks to his position behind a fallen tree. The Master Chief pulled up his TR-116 and resting the barrel against the tree he peered down the scope to determine the identity of the group. Tia pulled her binoculars from a pocket in her vest to do the same. Tia’s heart sank as the approaching forms came into focus.
The figure that moved towards them through the underbrush, had his arms raised to signify that he was unarmed and meant no harm as he steadily advanced on their position, but it was the features of his face that instantly killed the XO’s hopes for assistance. The creased and ribbed features of the skin flowing in unique designs across the face made the newcomer’s identity unmistakable.
She heard John swear under his breath.
“They’re damn Hirogen,” he spit out.
“I can see that, Richardson. But they’re signifying that they’re unarmed, so I think we should hear them out.” The XO’s neck was strained as she stated this opinion, realizing that regardless of the race’s penchant for homicide, they had little choice but to parlay with the approaching group.
The Master Chief swore again but realized the same as her. With the wounded ground crew unable to move and their current position being indefensible, they were out of options.