Captain’s log, stardate 77460.15. Long range sensors have picked up the Romulan Star Navy’s strike force less than an hour away, and we are standing by. Shy of our fight upon arrival, this is the first pitched battle of this new Endeavour, and yet my crew, many of my senior staff, are scattered about the system, posted where they’re needed most. From the ships of the Agarath Guard to the ground forces on the Husk, we are splintered in a way that troubles me greatly.
But that trouble is personal. They are my crew, my people, and I want them here beside me. Still, they are where they should be, where they have to be, and every one of them has my trust. Even scattered, they will do their duty and make me proud.
Descending the steps to the trio of central seats, Rourke cast his gaze about the bridge. ‘All stations, report in.’
Lieutenant Juarez snapped to attention at Tactical. ‘Weapons and shield systems are fully operational, sir.’
‘System-wide communications are clear; tactical data synchronisation is fleet-wide,’ reported Lindgren at Comms.
‘Sensors are connected to perimeter monitoring systems,’ said Lieutenant Veldman at Science. ‘Confirm ETA of strike force: fifty-three minutes.’
‘All engine and thruster diagnostics have been completed with zero faults found,’ confirmed Arys.
‘Computer system response time is in-line with combat readiness protocols,’ added the anxious figure of Lieutenant Athaka, beside him at Ops.
Last was Valance, stood with her hands clasped behind her back at the XO’s chair. Her gaze was level and steady as he moved to join her, adding to the comforting aura she exuded. None of his veterans were in their bridge posts, and even the senior staffers here were his more junior, his less-tested, or in less-critical posts such as even the excellent Lindgren. But having his first officer beside him, his rock, washed away those spiking anxieties.
‘Crew on all decks are at combat stations,’ she said levelly. ‘Commander Cortez confirms we are, as she puts it, running hot and ready.’ That helped, too, knowing that Endeavour’s beating heart was in the hands of her true master, the Chief Engineer.
Rourke nodded and sank into the command chair. ‘Now we wait.’
‘This is gonna suck,’ Beckett mused as he shouldered his rifle and walked with Chief Kowalski into the Guardhouse, the hub of all Starfleet activity on the Husk’s habitation dome.
‘Yes, sir,’ said Kowalski with a lopsided smirk and all the ease of a senior noncom in reassuring a junior officer while giving deference to their rank. ‘We’ll figure it out.’
‘You mean you’ll figure it out,’ said Beckett, because he was never going to ignore Kowalski’s two decades of experience. ‘I’m here to help, not lead.’
Kowalski stopped at the door and turned to face him. The air of Gentle Managing faded for something firmer, more sincere. ‘You have everything you need to make a difference here, Lieutenant. I’m glad you’re with us.’
Beckett couldn’t do more than grimace and nod at that, and headed deeper into the Guardhouse. Once, it had been the hub for Starfleet’s relief efforts in the dome; now it was the command centre for all ground defence. A field console had been brought down, one of the pool-table control panels showing not just the layout of their defences in the habitation dome but the status of all guarded locations across the system.
Lieutenant Rhade stood there, back in combat armour and looking ready for action despite his injury. Beckett idly wondered how he’d convinced Sadek to clear him for this, but suspected necessity had won out. If the Guardhouse were compromised, things were so bad Endeavour itself wouldn’t be much safer.
‘Lieutenant, Chief.’ Rhade gave them quick nods. ‘Thanks for joining me. I want you two on the rapid response team I’m keeping on standby here in case anywhere needs backup. You’re all I’ve got of the Hazard Team.’
Beckett shrugged and joined him at the table. ‘If you say so, sir. Are we really expecting the strike force to get far enough for landing parties?’
‘They have to know that an attack on the Husk could destroy the Agarath leadership,’ said Rhade. ‘A cloaked ship could theoretically slip through the defences and drop a strike team.’
‘Great.’ Beckett looked down at the control panel, and squinted. ‘Why have we got Starfleet defenders down in Gamma-Seven?’
Rhade glanced up at him. ‘What makes you ask?’
‘Well, it’s a complete warren of slums – we get some locals who know their way around and they’re going to have a huge advantage on any military team…’
He didn’t notice Rhade and Kowalski exchange looks, but the big Betazoid lieutenant smiled after a moment. ‘There’s your local knowledge paying off, Mr Beckett.’ Rhade glanced over his shoulder. ‘Can we arrange that, Governor?’
Beckett almost jumped as a Reman he’d thought was simply checking equipment by the wall turned to join them, and recognised Hiran himself. ‘We can swap in. And it’s not “Governor,” not today.’ The former commando shouldered a rifle. ‘I’m not ruling. I’m fighting.’
‘Aren’t you a bit… important?’ Beckett flapped.
‘No more than anyone else,’ Hiran said simply. ‘And they’ll come and try to kill me no matter where I am. Better to do it on my terms.’
‘This is the best place to defend from,’ Rhade explained, ‘and from here, Hiran and I can coordinate ground defences across the system while Mr Korsk runs protection of the shipyards.’
Beckett blinked. ‘Sure,’ he said, but then it was Rhade’s turn to look astonished as another figure in Starfleet combat armour marched through the front door.
Nothing in Dathan’s eyes acknowledged the unexpected nature of her arrival as she approached the control panel. ‘Where can I help?’
Rhade stared at her. ‘Lieutenant, shouldn’t you be on -’
‘Chief T’Kalla’s manning the CIC on Endeavour,’ Dathan said simply. ‘You shouldn’t be coordinating the ground defences system-wide solo, however. Besides.’ She looked him up and down. ‘You’ve been injured. If the Guardhouse is breached, you need protecting.’
‘Oh,’ said Beckett, provocative before he could stop himself. ‘You’re his bodyguard, huh.’
The look he got in response was withering, and Rhade rushed to fill the silence. ‘You’re welcome, of course,’ he said with only a hint of awkwardness. ‘I could use the assistance.’
‘Great,’ said Beckett after a moment. ‘Now what?’
Hiran scoffed. ‘Sit tight, Lieutenant. There’ll be trouble soon enough.’
‘Hold up a second.’ Just outside the doors to the Talon’s bridge, Kharth turned to Thawn. ‘We should talk.’
Thawn’s expression was guarded. ‘Must we, Lieutenant?’
She’d gotten bolder since they were of a rank, Kharth thought. ‘I gave you shit a year ago in the Archanis campaign, and that was wrong of me,’ she said bluntly. ‘We never made that right.’
‘I never made that right.’ They had never been friends. But deep in the pursuit of the Wild Hunt, Kharth had tried to help her, given her an outlet for all her loss and rage. Then she’d destroyed whatever fledgling rapport had come of this. ‘I was wrong. I’m sorry.’
That did take Thawn by surprise, but nobody had ever called the young Betazoid forgiving. She shifted her feet. ‘I’ll try to not disappoint you again.’
There was not an ounce of sincerity, and Kharth sighed. ‘I asked to have you here today. The Agarath Guard needs to punch above its weight, and there’s nobody who can help us do that more than you. You’re the best damn bridge officer I ever served with.’
Silence hung between them as uncertainty entered Thawn’s gaze, and at length she drew a slow breath. ‘I’m glad we’ve got you at Tactical, Lieutenant.’
‘Okay.’ Kharth gave a flicker of a smile. ‘That’s enough talking about our feelings. We gonna kick some ass?’
Thawn’s response was only a nervous hint of her own smile and an awkward nod, and the two women entered the bridge.
Commander Relekor stood at the central chair, hands on his hips, posed like a heroic figure from an old-fashioned holodeck programme. ‘Lieutenants!’ He turned with a wide grin. ‘On behalf of the Agarath Guard, welcome aboard.’
Ensign Harkon was already at the helm, and Kharth knew Lieutenant Adupon would be in engineering, marvelling at Romulan technology and probably having an anxiety attack. She moved to assume Tactical just as Thawn went to Operations.
‘How’s the rest of the fleet?’ Kharth asked.
‘Ready and waiting,’ Relekor said coolly. ‘The shining jewel of Agarath, here to save the system.’
‘And, ah, their operational status?’ Thawn prompted. ‘The Idaro didn’t have full engine capacity as-of 0900.’
Kharth smothered a smirk as Relekor paused, then pulled out a PADD. ‘Oh. Yes. They haven’t ironed that out,’ he said.
‘Then let’s position the Idaro,’ Kharth said gently, ‘at the centre of the formation, close behind us. They can act as a gunboat.’
Relekor snapped his fingers. ‘Good thinking, Lieutenant. That’s why you’re here.’
Kharth nodded, but couldn’t help but glance at Thawn. Their gazes met for just a heartbeat of shared wry amusement before they both shook their heads and got to work.
I remember the time
Of the collier and the candle –
‘What’s that song?’
Graelin looked up. Not only hadn’t he realised he wasn’t alone in the main control centre of the zenite facility, he hadn’t realised he’d been speaking out loud. Singing, even.
Before him stood the rangy Reman woman he’d charged with guiding the Starfleet team who had tried to refit, repair, and improve the filtration systems in the facility, but had barely had enough time. Torva? Was that her name?
He cleared his throat and looked back at the control systems. ‘It’s nothing.’
She moved around the panel in the dingy brown heart of this dingy brown place that gave Agarath a quarter of its wealth, and sat beside him. ‘It sounds like our work songs.’
Graelin paused, his fingers on the panels still. At length he said, ‘It’s from my homeworld. My father was a miner. My people have historically not valued that work.’
She watched him. ‘You got out. Joined Starfleet.’
‘He got out,’ Graelin said before he could stop himself, and his jaw tightened. He shook his head. ‘He was a foreman. Was offered a management role that would get him out of the pits. But he went back anyway.’ His gaze went distant. ‘Said it was where he belonged.’
Silence met his words as the young Reman nodded. ‘I don’t think I’d leave. I’d want things better. But it’s good work now it’s for our people. Our own good.’
It is back-breaking and dangerous no matter what protocols you put in place; it is the demeaning labour to power the light by which intellectuals and artists read –
But she was speaking still, before he could summon more palatable words for the public. ‘Have you lowered the rad shielding yet?’
‘Not yet,’ he assured her, settling now he could focus on work. ‘I want those radiation levels as low as possible for as long as possible. When the strike force is ten minutes out, I’ll adjust the shielding, and the radiation levels will hide our life signs.’
‘This could be a long fight,’ she observed. ‘A siege.’
‘I will ensure,’ Graelin said crisply, ‘that exposure is as limited as possible. And radiation medication after the fact is better than being blown up by a strike force during, Torva.’
She made a face. ‘Tulva.’
Whatever. ‘I would have an easier time,’ he said instead, ‘of focusing on this without distraction.’
‘You need someone to monitor radiation levels in the facility itself if you’re trying to gauge how strong or weak to make our life-signs depending on the battle,’ Tulva pointed out. ‘I’ve been training with these for two weeks.’
Two whole weeks. Graelin sighed. ‘If you insist.’
‘Incoming ships.’ Lieutenant Veldman’s cool gaze lifted. ‘Sixteen in total. Eight frigates, five cruisers…’ Now she hesitated. ‘Three Valdore-class warbirds.’
‘Three?’ Athaka repeated, voicing the upset incredulity everyone else felt.
‘We can handle three,’ Rourke said, marshalling every inch of control to sound calmly confident. ‘We have one of our own, remember.’ But the Talon was hardly operating at maximum efficiency, and while he was sure Endeavour could take one, it would be bloody. Still the bridge settled down at their captain’s reassuring words, because confidence was sometimes worth more than torpedoes.
Valance leaned over, dropping her voice. ‘The one in the lead is the same one we slipped away from at Tagrador.’
‘Of course it is,’ murmured Rourke, still masking his feelings. ‘It’s Lotharn’s.’
‘They’re hailing us, sir. Open channel to anyone who’ll listen,’ reported Lindgren, and with his nod the face of the Romulan commander himself appeared on the viewscreen.
‘Defenders of Agarath, this is Commander Lotharn of Galae Command. By the authority of the government of Rator of the Romulan Star Empire, you are ordered to stand down. If you surrender now to the rightful leadership of the Velorum Sector, you will be shown leniency.’
Rourke stood and looked to Lindgren. ‘Patch me through so everyone can -’
But the viewscreen split with a new message before he could even finish talking, the bright-eyed figure of Commander Relekor appearing. On the bridge of the Talon behind him, Rourke could see the cautious shapes of Kharth and Thawn.
‘Commander Lotharn, this is Commander Relekor – head of the Agarath Guard. I don’t answer to you.’ His words echoed with rather youthful defiance. ‘I answer to the people of Agarath. And they’ve told you to leave. If you don’t, I’m going to have to assume the duty of telling you again.’
Rourke swallowed, hand half-raised to Lindgren still. This was not, he realised, his moment to be defiant.
But Lotharn rolled his eyes. ‘Traitors and dissidents. You’ve dishonoured your uniform, Relekor. You’ll be among those shot first.’ His gaze flickered. ‘Starfleet officers, you are committing an act of war by being here. Leave now and I will make nothing of your presence to my superiors.’
Now Rourke finished gesturing to Lindgren to patch him in, and he scoffed. ‘Your superiors are in no bloody position to threaten the Federation. You can barely keep yourselves together. You’re an illegitimate government and I don’t give a damn what you think or warn – to get to these people, you have to go through us.’
‘This must be a good day for you, Rourke,’ Lotharn mused. ‘You get to kill Romulans again. I’ve given you enough chances. Taking you out will be a pleasure.’ He straightened, dark eyes setting hard. ‘The Empire will prevail.’
The viewscreen went dead, and at once Veldman’s hands flew over the controls. ‘They’re coming in.’
‘They can do that,’ Rourke said, sinking back onto the command chair. He drew a deep breath. ‘You know the plan, you know your orders. We hold.’