‘Guardhouse, this is Vakkis; we’ve just had another landing party at Echo-7 –’
‘Jain here; I’ve got two officers down, need immediate backup…’
‘Oh, hell,’ Beckett breathed as the reports came echoing into the control centre in the Guardhouse. ‘We need, like, four extra teams at once.’
Rhade looked up at him, and knew he was going to have to sound far more confident and reassuring than he felt. ‘We’ve prepared for this,’ he said, and reached across the pool table console. ‘Directing Teams 5 and 6 to their fallback points. It gives us less leeway but they can better support each other.’
Hiran watched as the lights on the map shifted for the new deployment instructions. ‘If they’re overrun at the Crossroads, that gives the Klingons open access to one of our biggest habitation zones.’
‘Do we think the Klingons will just slaughter civilians?’ Beckett said nervously. ‘Why are they even here?’
‘It would be an embarrassment to Klingon honour for them to attack the defenceless,’ Rhade started.
But Hiran cut him off. ‘These are Romulans and Remans. Klingon honour doesn’t extend to us.’ He shouldered his rifle. ‘My commandos and I will deploy there. There’s nothing left to hold us back for.’
Rhade looked at the map, at the lights sparking up in other zones of the Husk with status updates. They had prepared for fighting Romulan soldiers, who would stick to disruptor rifles. They had built barricades and made tactical plans for a shooting match. They had not prepared for Klingons to charge with blades. And he was running out of anything more to give.
He looked up at Kowalski and Beckett. ‘Lieutenant, Chief – take the team and go with them. We have to hold the Crossroads.’
Kowalski nodded, but there was tension in his eyes. ‘And if somewhere else is threatened?’
‘Then I’ll go,’ Rhade said simply. ‘If somewhere else is threatened, we’re way past needing me in here.’
Everyone but Hiran looked dubious, but the Reman simply took a step back towards the door, flinty gaze on them. ‘We fight today not for uniforms or honour or oaths. There are people, helpless people, who need us. Today we are blessed with the best battle of all – to protect the innocent. It is simple. Fight. Win. Save them.’
‘Oh,’ breathed Beckett, even as he slung his own rifle over his shoulder. ‘That easy, huh?’
‘You’ve got this,’ Rhade told his officers as they left, but then they were gone and the Guardhouse was just him and Dathan and the chirruping of the pool table’s warning systems. At last he slumped, knowing that of all people, Dathan Tahla did not need him to put on a brave face.
‘If you go out there, you’re going to be a liability,’ she said coldly.
‘If I don’t go out there and need to, someone else will die.’
‘This isn’t about you. This is about winning. Fighting isn’t your job, not today.’ At last she met his gaze. ‘Today, you supervise, you wait.’
Rhade drew a slow, unhappy breath. ‘While others die.’
‘Self-sacrifice is easy for a man like you. This?’ She gestured at the tactical display. ‘This takes being a little more cold-blooded.’
‘Good news and bad news!’ called Kharth as a fresh spray of sparks arced across her head in the battle-wracked bridge of the Talon. ‘The Romulan strike force has been hit hard, they’re in total disarray.’
Relekor had to grip the command chair hard to not be thrown from it. ‘What’s the good news?’
‘That is the good news. And the bad news. It’s both at once.’
Kharth could hear Thawn’s disapproval as the Ops officer called out from her station. ‘The Idaro has been disabled; that last salvo from the bird-of-prey took out their engines.’
‘Move to protect them!’ Relekor called. ‘Tell them to abandon ship.’
‘No!’ Kharth felt bile rise in her throat. ‘That’s what the Klingons want; we won’t be able to maneouvre, they’ll pin us in.’
‘So we leave them to be picked off?’
Kharth didn’t answer for a heartbeat, fingers flying across her controls to plot a new attack pattern. ‘We hit the bird-of-prey head first. Be aggressive. That keeps their attention on us; we provide better sport for the Klingons.’
Relekor hesitated. ‘What’s the condition of the rest of the Guard?’
‘The Klingons focused on the Star Navy first; they were closer,’ Thawn confirmed. ‘We’ve been able to take them in the side; I think they’d been fooled by us falling back, too, thought we were weaker. But the Klingons are rallying, and we’re just no match for their bigger ships.’
‘Has got its own battles, as does the lead Star Navy ship. Two Vor’chas and other smaller ships over Petrarch.’ Thawn clicked her tongue. ‘They’re not coming to save us.’
Relekor paused, then pushed to his feet. ‘So we save ourselves. As you say, Lieutenant Kharth. Let’s hit the Klingons head-on.’
Kharth drew a deep breath. ‘You heard him, Ensign Harkon. Bring us about, follow my flight route. They’re going to try to break away, so we want to sink in our claws.’
Relekor chuckled. ‘Our talons.’
The deck lurched as inertial dampeners struggled to fully compensate when Harkon brought the Talon around. They’d been pinwheeling while they tried to figure out just what the hell was going on, but now it was time to act.
‘They’re opening fire on us; modulating our shields to compensate,’ Kharth called out. ‘Thawn, give me more power to deflector management.’
‘On it,’ Thawn called. Kharth knew they had precious little to spare, and yet still Thawn shaved inches off other systems, and adjusting their defences while the Klingons raked weapons fire over them became as easy as breathing.
‘I’m on their tail,’ Harkon confirmed. ‘Speeding up to get close.’
‘I’ve got targeting locks, do not lose them.’
The Talon swept through the roiling firefight like a racer who’d heard the starting shot, a hunter falling upon its foe. The Klingon bird-of-prey that had gone for the Idaro was forced to break off, but it was too slow to evade this deadly attack. In heartbeats the Talon was on it. The bird-of-prey’s shields held for only moments, and when they collapsed Kharth’s hand lashed out to drop a pair of torpedoes into their engines.
Through the blossoming explosion of the destroyed ship the Talon swept, and only then did Thawn give a more thorough assessment of their own damage.
‘An EPS conduit’s failed on Deck 4,’ she called. ‘Energy reallocation is going to get harder.’
‘Shields down to sixty percent,’ Kharth added. ‘Recommend we back up another ship and act as gunboat while we recharge.’
But Relekor, still on his feet, scowled at the tactical map. ‘The Hortens and the Priar are taking a hammering.’
‘We don’t -’
‘We’re the biggest ship in the Agarath Guard. We have to protect them.’
Kharth watched him for a moment. It struck her in particular for him to speak out to defend the Priar; the frigate was crewed by some of the more ship-trained of Korsk’s Remans. She exchanged a glance with Thawn, who sucked her teeth.
‘One more sprint in us, maybe,’ said the Betazoid. ‘But emergency power is limited.’
‘We can sprint or they can die,’ said Relekor. ‘Bring us in.’
As they raced through the periphery of the asteroid belt towards the hotspot, Kharth cast her eye to the wider tactical map. Endeavour was still locked in a rolling firefight, but as she watched, two Star Navy frigates disengaged from the Klingons to set upon one of the smaller ships of the Agarath Guard. ‘We can’t win this as a three-way fight. This only benefits the Klingons.’
‘Once the Klingons ease off, the Star Navy will come for us,’ Relekor pointed out.
‘The Priar has lost power and is drifting,’ Thawn called out, and the wider battle became irrelevant.
‘We need to engage from here,’ Relekor said. ‘Draw their fire.’
Kharth hesitated, but knew there was only so much arguing she could get away with on the bridge. Quick taps of the controls later, and the Talon was firing long-range at the Klingon ships besetting their allies.
As expected, it mostly bounced off their shields. As expected, it still caught the Klingons’ attention, and they rounded on the barrelling form of the Talon, opening fire –
And the first salvo crashed through their shields as the emergency power reserves failed.
The deck surged up and Kharth lost her footing. Explosions racked the bridge, and everything spun in shadow for a moment. She could only have been down for seconds, and by the time she was pulling herself back up again, Harkon was shouting.
‘I’m breaking off! They’re not following!’
‘I – that hit us straight-on and I didn’t have the reserve power,’ Thawn was panting. ‘Commander, what do we…’ Both Thawn and Kharth looked up to the command chair at the same time, and realised at the same time that Relekor had gone down and had not risen.
‘Harkon, pull us back!’ Kharth called, staggering around the tactical console towards the crumpled bundle of Commander Relekor. She did not need to be very close to realise that the overloading of the conduit overhead had hit him straight in the face. Still she bent down to check, still she put a finger to feel for a pulse, still she came away with nothing but a hand stained with green blood. She straightened and looked to the wide-eyed Thawn. ‘He’s dead.’
Thawn drew a quaking breath. ‘The Star Navy strike force is pulling back in disarray. The Klingons are focusing on the Guard.’
‘Endeavour?’ Thawn just shook her head, and Kharth turned back to the tactical map on the main display and the total chaos reigning there. She swallowed hard. ‘Lieutenant Thawn, signal the Agarath Guard. Inform them I’m assuming command of our forces. We need to pull back and rally; deeper into the asteroid belt.’
And still she had to move back to Tactical, because the only thing worse for Kharth than being forced into responsibility for hundreds of Romulan and Reman lives, was not being responsible for her firepower while she was about it.
Moving through the Husk under invasion was like surging through a forest fire. Shuttered and barricaded buildings lined their way, and Beckett knew behind every door and window was an innocent life that had already seen too much hardship for them to possibly afford to fail. In the distance hummed the warning signs of battle, the Klingons whose ships had slid cloaked through the defences of the asteroid belt already revelling in getting boots on the ground. But they could not afford to be diverted by any of it – the distant screams, the war cries roaring, the clash of metal on metal and gunfire, the tang on the tip of the tongue of blood and death. They had their heading.
Beckett hadn’t realised how hard he was breathing until Hiran slowed from the lead of their column and fell back to join him.
‘You’re the one who’s been talking to anyone and everyone,’ the Reman governor said, voice a low rumble.
‘I’ve not…’ Beckett hesitated. ‘I’m not in a position to report to you on what anyone’s been saying; that’s not the point of my research.’
Hiran scoffed. ‘Not what I want. If I want people’s opinions, I’ll ask them. You’re looking tense, Lieutenant. First battle?’ He tilted his head. ‘Not fight. Battle.’ Beckett could only give an awkward nod, and the Reman reached up to clasp his shoulder. ‘Think of the people you’ve been talking to. Think of their stories. You’re doing it for them.’
Beckett swallowed. ‘I’ve trained for this, sir.’
‘No doubt you can move and shoot and do it well. From this point it’s not about training, it’s about heart. Do you think it takes hate in your heart to fight? That can work.’
‘If I think of the people here, the people I’ve heard the stories of – the people I want to see survive and thrive now I know what’s on the line…’ Beckett hesitated. ‘That’ll just distract me.’
‘Fury distracts. Fear distracts. It’s not about what feeling does or doesn’t distract you. It’s about what feeling makes you fight harder.’ Hiran gave him a stern nod. ‘You know these people now. Fight for them.’
‘Governor!’ Kowalski had taken the lead, and called out as Beckett realised they were almost at the Crossroads, where two teams had fallen back to one last set of barricades. If they were overrun, this entire residential section was going to be at the mercy of Klingons.
Beyond Kowalski, Beckett could see the narrow streets, the solid cover, the mixture of Starfleet and Remans standing ready. And they could not have been more perfectly timed, as down the long narrow road under the perpetual night sky of the habitation dome, shadows stretched across the silhouetted form of the oncoming Klingons.
Beckett drew a shaky breath as Hiran moved to the front, and cast one last look at the blocked doors and windows of the housing block they passed. He’d been here days ago, spoken to one survivor of the uprising who’d lost an arm and was trying to keep the water lines maintained so everyone in the building could drink, listened to their hopes and aspirations of what lay in Agarath’s future. But none of it could happen yet.
He tightened his grip on his rifle and moved forward. Fight for them.