Part of Phoenix: Takin’ Care of Business

Takin’ Care of Business – 7

Ready Room, Enolian Guardship Starsaber
September 2156
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‘My orders,’ said Kovrad, his shoulders now slumped, his voice now a low rumble, ‘were to enter Commonwealth territory and to first evade detection and observe. The Romulan Navy dispatched a strike force to this sector two months ago, a light attack unit with instructions to destroy or seize your Vega Colony. It was deemed an under-defended weakness, far from the main lines of battle, and knowing the Romulans, they would consider it a significant psychological victory over the Commonwealth, regardless of the strategic insignificance of the region.’ His lip curled. ‘Or the loss of life. But you disrupted that plan, Captain.’

Lopez didn’t bother to hide her smirk. ‘I bet they didn’t expect an NX-class in the region, huh?’

‘Understand that the Romulans send brief instructions they expect us to follow without question. I do not know the expectations, theories, or discussions of the navy. But certainly your ship defeated the initial assault, and then the colony proceeded to be reinforced. This rendered Vega too powerful a target for the Romulan light attack unit, at which point the Enolian Guard was dispatched.’ Kovrad glanced between her and Black, eyes dark and cautious. ‘I will not betray my fellow Guardsmen, or reveal anything of their operations.’

‘Of course,’ said Black, at the exact same time Lopez said, ‘We’ll see.’

Kovrad sighed. ‘I will tell you my orders, Captain. And you’ll want to hear them. But in response, I ask that you let my crew go. If not with the ship, then let them take the shuttles and flee. You can keep me as a prisoner, interrogate me further, do as you wish, I -’

‘Let’s focus on the orders for now,’ said Lopez, ‘and just know I don’t have much interest in hauling about a hundred Enolians around the galaxy, no.’

His eyes flickered to Black, who tried to give him a reassuring nod. She wasn’t sure Lopez’s coldness was helping, but she couldn’t signal that safely. Still, Kovrad continued. ‘My orders were to harass Commonwealth infrastructure in proximity to Vega, but you were the goal, Captain. We were to draw the Phoenix away from the colony’s defences so the Romulan Navy could isolate and hunt you. And…’ He shifted his weight. ‘When we detected you on an intercept course for the Starsaber, I contacted them. I dare say they’re on their way right now.’

Lopez’s hands slammed on the ready room desk. ‘Are you kidding me? You’ve been screwing around trying to negotiate a deal for your people, acting all soul-searchingly agonised, when the Rommies are on their goddamn way?’ Her eyes snapped to Black. ‘He’s been wasting time.’

‘I have not,’ snarled Kovrad. ‘Do you think I want my disabled ship caught in the crossfire between you and the Romulans, who would have no compunctions against destroying my vessel if we were in the way, or if they detected your crew aboard? I don’t know their proximity, I don’t know how long it would take them to get here. They might be waiting for you en route to Vega, for all I know.’ He shook his head. ‘Still, you should run for Vega. They won’t want to engage you there, they don’t have the firepower.’

‘What is this strike force? Three light scouts, like they sent to Vega last time? More?’

‘You destroyed one scout at Vega. They sent reinforcements.’ Kovrad straightened. ‘A bird-of-prey. One of their cruisers, not their heavy warbirds.’

Lopez looked up at Black. ‘Not as big as the Decius. Still not something I’d want to fight if it’s brought its little friends with it.’

Black nodded, heart sinking. ‘We should return to the Phoenix, make a run for Vega.’ She cast a glance at Kovrad, and despite herself, she couldn’t hide her disappointment – that either he’d successfully stalled, or that he’d been weak enough to do the right thing in a way that still played into his masters’ hands. ‘What do we do with the Starsaber?’

Kovrad leaned forward, eyes locked on Lopez. ‘We are soldiers in a time of war,’ he insisted. ‘Not pirates that you can summarily execute. We announced ourselves as a ship of the Enolian Guard; we’ve not come under false pretense or flown under false colours…’

‘Yeah.’ Lopez clicked her tongue, and Black could see she was calmer as her mind had to race to deal with the crisis before them. ‘You’re right. That’s not how you guys roll. Men of honour, fight up-front, never back down, and all that. Probably think running away is weak.’ She looked up at Black, and despite the tension, something was sparking in her eyes. ‘But I’m definitely not a man of honour.’

‘That’s everyone.’ Stavros sealed the hatch of the shuttle behind the last MACO boarding the shuttlepod departing the Starsaber. She swung around to buckle herself into the aft seating, eschewing joining Corrigan in the cockpit on the return journey, and found herself strapped in opposite Black. ‘Armoury officers underway?’ she asked, briskly courteous.

Black nodded, frowning. ‘Accounted for and departed. We’re the last.’

Stavros considered saying more, but felt the eyes of her MACOs and other officers on her. Nothing moved through the gossip network faster than an argument, even when occupying an enemy ship, and after the fight with Lopez on the Starsaber’s bridge, she wouldn’t risk giving loose tongues more to wag about.

So she waited through the bumpy ride back to the Phoenix, waited as Corrigan set down the shuttlepod and began his post-flight check while the crew alighted, and made sure she and Black were last to swing onto the shuttlebay deck before she spoke. ‘Commander. I don’t want to lecture you…’

Black had been checking things off on her PADD, and turned back to Stavros with a guarded expression. ‘Respectfully, Major, that’s what people say before a lecture.’

Stavros gave a small snort. ‘Fair enough. I feel like we keep getting off on the wrong foot. But we’re the two responsible for giving the captain her tactical and strategic operations, so that’s no good.’

‘Is this because you think you can argue with me, but you can’t argue with Lopez?’ But Black sighed and stopped herself. ‘I didn’t think you were suggesting the execution of the Enolians, Major.’

Stavros raised her eyebrows. ‘I think you did. Or you wanted to argue so much against even the idea of it that I made a great punching bag. Without listening to me.’

‘We’re in uncharted territory, Major. The rules of interstellar warfare against an enemy we can barely negotiate with and know nothing about are unwritten. What we say and do here will set precedents for humanity, and how humanity’s viewed by the interstellar community -’

Commander.’ Stavros raised a hand. ‘I know. You keep assuming I’ll only follow orders blindly, or jump to the most brutal option. Hell, yeah, I brought it up because I’m military. But in my line of work, we have to look at each option, however horrific, to make a decision.’

‘I don’t accept that.’ Black put her hands on her hips. ‘Some choices are untenable.’

‘That’s in your line of work. In mine, sometimes we have to look at an objective and decide how many people it’s okay to send to die to achieve it. You bet the MACOs will discuss and hammer out those possibilities, because pretending they don’t exist makes it worse. These possibilities aren’t monsters under the bed who’ll go away if we ignore them. If we want to avoid it, we have to look it in the eye and weigh and measure it, so we know how much strength it takes to say, “No.”’

Black hesitated at that. Then she looked away and sighed. ‘I’ll make sure you get a better chance to say your piece to the captain in future, Major.’

‘That’s all I want,’ said Stavros with a hint of fading frustration. ‘When I say we’re on the same side, Commander, I don’t mean humanity’s. But I think the captain is a fan of the third way, and I think that might hamper her vision sometimes, and I think it’ll be you and me who have to face these bad choices. All respect to the captain.’

Black snorted. ‘If you want to tell her she’s blinded, just skip the “respectfully.” She’ll listen better.’ But she stepped back and jerked a thumb to the walkway out of the shuttlebay. ‘If we’re going to be ready for this latest third way, we should be about it, though, Major. Please pass on my praise to your MACOs; your assault on the Starsaber was outstanding.’

Stavros nodded, letting the armoury officer head off, and granted herself the first breather in hours within the shuttlebay. Crew were leaving, Corrigan’s shuttlepod was refuelling for its return journey, and in the looming situation, there was nothing more to face. Just to sit tight, and stand ready for action that would, for her and her unit, probably never come.

Being a MACO in a war against a faceless foe was more of a nightmare than she’d ever expected.

‘I can see,’ West said when they discussed the plan in Lopez’s ready room, ‘about a dozen different points of failure.’

Around her hung the latest set of mobiles, tiny makeshift models of the ships in-play in this particular stratagem giving her the three-dimensional perspective she needed to think clearly. ‘Don’t do this, West. Don’t be that guy who just pokes holes in the plans with no good suggestions. Do you have any better ideas?’

‘I don’t,’ he allowed. ‘If we run, they’ll just chase us. No, we have to make our stand and use what we have, however limited our resources. That doesn’t make my criticisms irrelevant.’

‘Okay, Sun Tzu. I’m all ears. Because I see the different points of failure, but this plan, of all the ones I’ve figured out, has the fewest. So if you don’t want to swipe at me, be productive.’

He folded his arms across his chest, brow furrowing, and for a moment Lopez assumed she’d sent her XO into a manful sulk. But then he drew a slow breath. ‘If I tell you what I really think, then I definitely won’t be on your bridge for this fight.’

She raised her eyebrows. ‘You’re going to be that audacious, huh?’

‘You haven’t heard what I think, yet.’

Hours later she sat on the bridge with Lieutenant Shepherd at Science, drenched in the dull drudgery of waiting until there came the call from Black at Tactical.

‘Contact! Romulan ships, two scouts and a cruiser, on an intercept course. ETA… fifteen minutes.’

Lopez gritted her teeth and sat back in the command chair on her bridge. ‘Like Kovrad said. Turning tail would make this a running firefight, and I bet those scouts are faster than us anyway.’ She nodded to herself. ‘Okay. Tactical alert; Helm, move to keep the Starsaber between us and them for as long a possible, diminish their chances of pelting us from a distance.’ She reached for the comms controls on her armrest. ‘Bridge to Engineering. Are we ready for another fight?’

Do we have a choice? came Hawthorne’s drawl. ‘Systems are as fighting fit as they can be, but under no circumstances can I recommend two metal boxes trying to punch holes in each other within the vacuum of space.’

‘Sound expert advice, that I wilfully choose to ignore. Stand by.’ She closed the link and sat up, looking about the bridge. ‘Stay sharp, folks. This one’s going to be tough. They’ve got us outnumbered and out-gunned and if we don’t kill those scouts, running isn’t an option.’

Black clicked her tongue. ‘Tak’s not here, so I’ll say it for him: great pep-talk, Cap. Inspiring in the face of death.’

Lopez leaned back in her chair. ‘Just wanted to give us food for thought while we waited.’

And wait they did, the bridge a low hum of activity of double-checking systems and monitoring the Romulans’ approach. Both ships hung in space; the bristling, quivering firepower of the Phoenix and the drifting hulk of the now dead and crippled Starsaber. It came like clockwork when Shepherd piped up from Science. ‘Romulan ships have dropped out of warp. Bird-of-prey on a direct course; looks like they’re also using the wreck of the Starsaber as a shield. The scouts are fanning out, likely to try to encircle us.’

Antar glanced over her shoulder. ‘I’d normally say we should let them split up and hunt down one of those scouts when they’re more isolated…’

‘Not yet,’ said Lopez. ‘Hold position. Helena, pick a scout and fire at-will.’

‘I’ll try,’ said Black, ‘but they’re keeping their distance, they’ll easily evade.’

‘Then we wait, and keep our cool.’

‘Bird-of-prey is passing the Starsaber!’ Shepherd called several thudding heartbeats later.

‘Not in the slightest bit cool, Lieutenant,’ said Lopez.

‘Do I move to intercept?’ Antar asked.

‘Not yet, but get ready to evade. Helena, open fire; do not hit the Starsaber.’

‘Incoming fire,’ Shepherd reported.

Antar’s hands danced over the controls. ‘Taking evasive action!’

‘Then make it a lot of phase cannon fire in return, Helena; let’s soak up all of their attention,’ said Lopez, tilting in her chair as the Phoenix spun away from the bird-of-prey’s first blast. There was a shudder at a glancing blow, but nothing disrupted the smoothness of Antar’s manoeuvre.

‘As you say,’ came Black’s steady confirmation. ‘Returning fire; direct hit, but they’ve taken it on their deflectors.’

‘Scout ships are starting their approach,’ Shepherd reported. ‘They’ve got us pincered.’

‘I guess this is it, then.’ Lopez drew a deep breath through her nostrils, and gave a curt nod to Martel at Comms. ‘Send the signal.’

And on the viewscreen before her the Starsaber burst to life, all weapons bristling and arming to target the bird-of-prey.

‘Glad you volunteered for this mission over Black, yet, Commander?’ came Takahashi’s wry question in the dark.

‘Just shut up,’ said Commander West quietly, ‘and wait.’

On the black bridge of the Starsaber, the only light came from the one console retaining power, the one point to which the limited systems still alive were piping information. All four of them had clustered around it, Dynevor keeping the seat with Corrigan, Takahashi, and West leaning over him.

‘If the Rommies figure we’re in the way,’ breathed Corrigan, ‘then what’s to say they won’t blast us?’

‘They might be merciless,’ said West, ‘but they have to detect the lifesigns aboard and they’ve been press-ganging the Enolians into their war. It would be wasteful to destroy even a crippled and drifting allied ship.’

‘And if you’re wrong,’ said Takahashi, ‘then there’s nothing to do. So, try a little hope, Jack.’

‘We’re fine,’ said Dynevor, voice low and level. ‘The scouts are trying to block the Phoenix’s escape before tightening the net, while the bird-of-prey tangles her up for a slugging match. We’re nothing but space wreckage right now.’

‘Better hope we don’t stay that way,’ grumbled Corrigan. ‘Look, the bird-of-prey’s heading right for us…’

‘And if they were taking a closer look, they’d have been more cautious on the approach as they scanned,’ said West, moving away from the tactical console to take the command chair on the gloomy Starsaber bridge, positioned at the rear in Enolian designs. ‘Their flight pattern suggests they know we’re not a threat. Our power systems are right down. To your posts.’

Corrigan muttered all the way as he moved through darkness to helm. ‘We should get ‘em -’

‘When Phoenix sends the word,’ West admonished. ‘Stay steady, Ensign.’

‘Bird-of-prey is opening fire,’ Dynevor reported. ‘Phoenix is returning fire and manoeuvring.’

‘Steady,’ West reiterated.

‘Scouts are coming in.’

Takahashi’s communicator chirruped in his hand, and he flicked it open for the gleam of the display to light up his broad, toothy grin. ‘That’s curtains up.’

West clenched his fist. ‘Full power! Polarise the hull, arm weapons, and open fire on the rear of that bird-of-prey as soon as you can, Mister Dynevor!’

The lights around them gleamed to life, the Enolians favouring an orange glow to their lighting in a combat. Like it was clearing its throat, the Starsaber groaned around them as systems burst into action, the deck humming underneath with the power now flowing between bulkheads and the polarisation of the hull.

A heartbeat later, Dynevor fired. ‘Direct hit! They’d shunted power to their forward shields; they’re venting plasma and their manoeuvres are sluggish!’

Takahashi bent over the science console he was manning, scowling. ‘Those scouts are shifting course and coming for us, I think.’

‘Yeah, no way am I gonna make this thing dance after the paggering we gave the engines,’ Corrigan reminded them.

‘That’s not our job,’ West said. ‘Keep firing on the bird-of-prey, let the Phoenix protect us.’

‘Bringing us closer to the bird-of-prey, then,’ said Corrigan, rolling his eyes. ‘Reckon the scouts will have a harder time hitting us if we’re rammed right up the arse of the mothership.’

‘Vivid imagery,’ drawled Takahashi. ‘Phoenix is breaking off to focus fire on Scout Alpha, but that’s three torpedoes heading for the bird-of-prey. Who’s coming around to face us.’

‘Toe to toe it is,’ mused West. ‘This is going to be an ugly slugging match; maintain rate of fire, Tactical.’

‘Keeping us on their arse,’ Corrigan said.

‘Try the suppository, boys,’ Takahashi chirped up.

‘I’m -’ Dynevor hesitated. ‘…firing spatial torpedoes at their aft.’

West lifted a finger to Takahashi. ‘Do not make this worse, Lieutenant.’

Ignoring him, Takahashi pressed on. ‘Detecting an overload of their power grid and their deflectors are collapsing – good work, you must have got it right up there -’

Then the ship surged under them, and West was sent flying from his chair. He caught himself on the deck, nothing more than rattled, but the heavy impact of weapons fire on their port side was unmistakable. ‘Lucky interruption,’ he breathed, then yanked himself upright. ‘Report!’

Takahashi had kept his seat. ‘Scout Bravo’s given us a hammering and took offence to how we treated the mothership. Phoenix has got Alpha pinned and the bird-of-prey is drifting, but these guys are pissed at us.’

‘I wonder if they think the Enolians double-crossed them,’ mused Dynevor.

‘Instead, today we’re just pirates or spies.’ West dragged himself back into the seat. ‘Change target to that scout.’

‘Going to try to orbit the bird-of-prey and cut their line of sight,’ reported Corrigan.

West looked up at the drifting cruiser, and his throat tightened. ‘Negative; get some distance between us and the bird-of-prey.’

‘We need them for cover -’


‘Scout Alpha’s being a nippy little shit,’ complained Takahashi. ‘Phoenix is struggling to clip her wings.’

West hopped to his feet and moved to stand over Dynevor, watching as Scout Bravo approached the drifting bird-of-prey. ‘Lock onto the cruiser’s drive core and open fire.’ He glanced at the distance between the Romulans and the Starsaber. ‘And everyone brace.’

Takahashi clutched his console as Dynevor launched two more torpedoes. ‘Can the hull on this tin can really take an overloading Romulan drive core after the hammering we gave -’

The Enolian torpedoes lanced through space, thudding through the cracked and breaking hull of the Romulan bird-of-prey they’d so effectively pincered, and found their target. Like treasure hunters holding their prize aloft, the cascade of gold erupted first, the blossoming explosion of the ship’s systems overloading.

Starfleet still wasn’t sure of the exact nature of Romulan power and propulsion systems. There was a nuclear element but perhaps something else, and either way, it made their detonations powerful. The Starsaber shuddered, both at the initial explosion and the sudden drag of the faint implosion that followed, and alert klaxons went off all around as the lighting systems flickered and struggled to stay active. But as suddenly as it had started, it stopped, leaving almost nothing behind on the viewscreen of the bird-of-prey.

Dynevor took a raking breath. ‘Hull polarisation is offline, cannons are down; I’ve got torpedoes only…’

‘Helm is unresponsive…’

‘And we’re basically blind,’ Takahashi finished. ‘That scout was coming right for us, and we’re in no condition to defend ourselves.’

‘The Phoenix?’ West asked.

‘I don’t know; I can’t see.’

‘Get me power, Mister Dynevor, if we don’t want to be sitting ducks.’

Corrigan sucked his teeth. ‘We’ve got something on sensors coming right at us.’

‘Hull polarisation,’ West snapped. ‘Now.’

‘It’s the Phoenix.’ Takahashi’s relief was nearly palpable. ‘Looks like they got that scout. They’re hailing us.’

West slumped back in the chair and scrubbed his face with his hands, giving himself a moment before he straightened. ‘On-screen.’ The smirking face of Nat Lopez filled the view, and he couldn’t help but match her energy.  ‘Captain West of the Starsaber here. I hope you had a good view of us taking out an entire bird-of-prey while you took forever with one scout?’

There would be time later to reflect on what had happened. On the Enolian officers still being detained, and their hammered ship whose future was still in question. Of the lives lost, Romulan and potentially human alike. Of what this meant for the Vega System, and the Romulan military’s plans for trying to seize or at least harry it. Of themselves, and what tactics it had taken to counter even this modest assault force.

But for now, he could make a dig at his captain, and get her jubilant grin in return, and enjoy the heady feeling of, for today at least, total victory.