Part of USS Endeavour: Rise Like Lions and Bravo Fleet: Sundered Wings

Rise Like Lions – 23

Facility Petrarch, Agarath System
June 2400
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Rourke hunkered down beside the doors to the docking bay where he’d left the Prydwen, and consulted his tricorder. ‘Still eight life signs,’ he said in a hushed tone, though there was no way his voice would travel through the bulkhead. ‘Two human, six Klingon.’

‘They haven’t killed your people at least,’ mused Lotharn. ‘That’s not a good sign.’

‘What do you mean?’

The Romulan shrugged. ‘It means they want something. That’s when Klingons get unpredictable. I think they know we’re the fleet commanders and we’re here. If they were cloaked and watching our engagement, they saw two flagships launch shuttles to come here during a cease fire.’

‘And if this is the House of K’Var, and it is Dakor leading them, then they know Endeavour. They know me.’ Rourke straightened, jaw tight. ‘There’s a chance I can talk them down.’

‘Talk down Klingons with hostages -’

‘I’m a sworn blood-brother of a son of their House. Even if Dakor is renegade, that doesn’t mean all of those of K’Var following him will disregard my bond to Torkath.’

‘That’s an idea,’ Lotharn allowed, and drew a deep breath. ‘Here’s another one.’

Then he drove his disruptor pistol into Rourke’s back and grabbed him by the shoulder. Lip curling, he leaned in. ‘I told you this would take Romulan trickery. They sent more warriors to your shuttle for a reason.’

‘You -’ But Rourke barely had time to marshal his shock as Lotharn hammered the door control to the shuttlebay and shoved them both inside.

Dim lighting cast jagged shadows about the landing bay. The hulking mass of the Prydwen stood silhouetted against the stars, but the landing ramp was down and light spilled from the inside with a brightness that was more blinding than illuminating. Five broad-shouldered Klingons stood on the deck, the crumpled, battered, but still-breathing form of Petty Officer Tarran in a bundle before them, barely conscious.

There was no sign of a sixth Klingon or Sophia Hale.

‘Klingons of K’Var!’ Lotharn roared as they stepped in. ‘You’ve ambushed us to kill my people and to kill Starfleet. True deception almost worthy of a Romulan. You have my attention. Let us talk.’

Rourke’s jaw tensed as the Klingons turned to them, and he had to growl, ‘You slippery piece of shit -’

But the lead warrior simply opened his hands, shoulders straight. ‘Why shouldn’t we cut you both down here, Romulan?’

‘For whatever reason you haven’t slaughtered that guard or the dignitary aboard,’ Lotharn retorted. ‘For whatever reason you’re lying in wait for us at the Starfleet docking port. I don’t think I’m the one you want. And I think you want more than blood here.’

The Klingon shrugged. ‘That doesn’t mean we need to spare you.’

Rourke could feel Lotharn bristle and grow. ‘I am Commander Tavalok tr’Lotharn, commanding officer of this strike force, and ranking member of Galae Command. There is a reason your warriors have targeted the Velorum Sector: fine terrain for battle without fighting an entire armed forces. However bold your venture to here in Agarath is.’

But Rourke drew a quick breath. ‘Listen to me, all of you. I don’t know why Dakor, son of K’Var, has sent you here. My name is Matthew Rourke, sworn brother to Torkath, son of K’Var. I am a friend and ally of your House, and Dakor would have you breach your oaths to the family for whatever reason he -’

‘Does that make us brothers?’ Footsteps rang out from the deck of the Prydwen, and Rourke’s blood went cold as the broad silhouette of Dakor himself appeared at the top of the ramp. ‘I don’t think so, Rourke. You can try to twist the loyalty of my warriors with talk of Torkath all you wish. But they have not followed Torkath here. They’ve followed me.’

Rourke swallowed hard. ‘This entire venture will do nothing but bring the might of Starfleet down on you -’

‘I see the might of Starfleet. I’m unimpressed.’ Dakor wasn’t especially tall, but he was particularly broad, and had the presence still to fill the landing bay as he descended the ramp.

‘For now. You think that you can take and hold Agarath?’

‘Hold? No.’ Dakor tilted his head. ‘Make off with its arcybite? Enough to dictate the shipbuilding and refits of the House of K’Var for a year or more? Certainly.’

‘I see,’ said Rourke, and looked across at the other warriors. ‘He’d make raiders of you. Plunderers and thieves, targeting those already in a fight, or the helpless civilians -’

Romulans,’ Dakor sneered, and Rourke felt Lotharn tense next to him – but only for a moment. ‘You can’t dishonour the dishonourable. No, Rourke, I came to Agarath to get what I need to stop my father, my siblings, from remaining weak and listing and refusing to take a side. But I came here because…’ He gave a smile that was all teeth. ‘Because my brother insulted our house when he made oaths to you.’

Rourke swallowed hard. ‘If that’s the case, if you came here for me, then… what have you done with Sophia Hale?’

Dakor shrugged. ‘That’s hardly your concern.’

‘If Lotharn here’s to sell me so he can get him and his forces away,’ Rourke pressed on desperately, ‘then leave her here. Or leave her with him.’ He half-twisted as if he might glare at Lotharn, though he couldn’t. ‘You at least can bloody well negotiate to send her back to the Federation, you -’

Lotharn shoved him. ‘I’ve no interest in her,’ he said, and Rourke went still as he felt the pressure and weight in his back. The Romulan’s eyes went up to Dakor. ‘But the captain speaks truth,’ he continued. ‘Take him. I’ll withdraw my forces. You can slaughter these traitors to Rator, plunder their resources, and go.’

Dakor narrowed his eyes at him. ‘What do you get out of this, Romulan? Apart from slinking away with your tail between your legs?’

Lotharn shrugged. ‘I wasn’t winning this fight. It’s not ideal for you to wreck Agarath, but they will come whimpering back to the Star Empire after the ravages of your warriors.’

Dakor spat on the deck – but then he laughed. ‘As slippery as I would expect from a snake like you.’

‘You seem like a man with vision,’ Lotharn said. ‘You’re not just here to fight. You want enough ships left which are intact enough to make off with Agarath’s resources. This way you get a fight, you get to win, you get the prize of this man, this wound to your honour – and you get the cargo you’re after.’

Dakor snorted. ‘Then we have an accord. Give me Rourke, and I’ll give the word to my warriors.’

‘An accord,’ Lotharn said bluntly, and again shoved Rourke in the back.

He stumbled but kept his feet, fought to keep his back straight, as if defiance was enough to keep him upright and alive. His gaze fell on the Klingons as he advanced – Dakor with his bat’leth in-hand, three others with blades ready, two with disruptors levelled at him and Lotharn.

One warrior with a mek’leth approached, blade hung low by their side, other hand extended. He was almost upon Rourke, almost about to grab him by the arm, when Rourke moved.

And drew from behind his back the phaser pistol Lotharn had shoved into his belt to ram it into the Klingon’s gut and fire.

Hell broke out at once. Rourke had to step in and grab the falling warrior, and yanked him in the line of fire as one warrior with a disruptor opened fire. The blast thudded into the unconscious warrior, but that was only one gunman, the other lining up a more precise aim –

– only to fall as Lotharn brought up his own disruptor and dropped him with one shot.

Then it was only four against two, and the two of them had energy weapons. Lotharn shot the other gunman as the last two Klingon swordsmen surged forward, and Rourke had to again seize the mek’leth of a fallen enemy to defend himself. He kicked the Klingon in his arms at one to slow them down and pivoted back, parrying the oncoming bat’leth swing of another. But this was a rolling melee now, and in the gloom and chaos he didn’t know how effective Lotharn could be with a disruptor.

So his heart sung with relief when the Romulan commander slid into the fight with his sword drawn, and the odds were much more in their favour.

Rourke was not a fencer and he was not much of a swordsman. He knew knives and fists, which meant he knew his best choice was to keep close to his opponent, force them to fight on his terms, deny them the graceful and quick moves of a bat’leth fighter in a duel and turn this into his preferred fight: a brawl. So he ducked one swing, stepped in, raked his mek’leth across the warrior’s flank and felt it bite through the armour to draw blood.

Beside him, Lotharn was everything he was not. The Romulan wielded the long, thin, single-edged blade of his people with grace and speed, and had his enemy outmatched. A bat’leth could have let the Klingon overwhelm him with strength, but Lotharn was quick enough to simply twist away the enemy’s blows with a parry, and then lunge in for counter-strike landing short but painful blows. In so far as Rourke could see, he wondered if this was going to be a death by a thousand cuts.

But it ended almost at once. Rourke drove his mek’leth into his enemy’s thigh, and as he fell to one knee, howling, slammed him in the face with the pommel, dropping him. Either Lotharn had been gauging his opponent or simply playing, for it took little more than a flourish, the hiss of a blade slicing air, and the Klingon fell.

The two men came to a halt, chests heaving, and Rourke felt the blood sing in his ears as he glanced at Lotharn. ‘Remind me to not go up against you in fencing or poker,’ he growled.

‘I needed you to be convinced,’ Lotharn said indifferently.

But there was little time to rally, as Rourke straightened to regard the Prydwen, and his heart went tight and dark. ‘So much for honour,’ he growled as he saw Dakor, one arm wrapped around Hale’s throat to pin her in front of him, the other pressing his knife to the side of her neck. ‘Your family would be ashamed of this.’

‘I don’t take lectures on honour from humans,’ Dakor sneered. ‘And you’ve already reneged on one deal. Don’t think I can trust anything you say.’

Rourke swallowed hard, and looked down at Hale. ‘Are you alright?’

‘I’m not hurt,’ she managed, her voice somewhat strangled, her grip on Dakor’s forearms not strong enough to let her fight back. ‘You need to get out of here, get to the battle…’

‘Not yet.’ Slowly Rourke let the mek’leth drop, but he brought up his phaser pistol in a two-handed grip, and his gaze locked back on Dakor. ‘You’re going to let her go,’ he said in a slow, level voice. ‘And I’ll deliver you to your family, not the High Council, not a Federation cell, not to Agarath or the Star Navy. You’re not making a deal with Commander Lotharn. You’re not even making a deal with me. You’re trusting Torkath.’

‘Torkath has nothing to -’

‘Torkath trusted me enough to swear a blood-oath fifteen years ago.’ Rourke continued to keep his voice level, though his heartbeat thundered in his ears, his mouth remained bone-dry. ‘I owe him delivering you to your family. And to let them decide what to do with you.’ He saw Dakor hesitate. Beside him, Lotharn remained stock-still, but Rourke could feel the tension radiating off him. He was poised and ready, though Rourke had no idea what the Romulan could possibly contribute at this point.

But then Dakor’s lip curled. ‘Then all you’ve said, Rourke, is that you won’t kill me. Or that will break your oath to Torkath.’

Rourke swallowed bile. ‘I don’t have to kill you. I just have to stop you from getting away -’

‘Let me take this ship, and the woman, and leave,’ Dakor snapped. ‘Try to stop the ship, she dies. Try to shoot me here, and you think I can’t so much as twitch and drive a blade through her neck?’ He gave a short jab at that, and Hale flinched, biting her lip tight.

‘Take her,’ Lotharn said at last, straightening. ‘Take her and run. You get your safety and we lose only one more.’

‘That’s not how this is going to work,’ Rourke found himself snapping before he could even begin to guess if Lotharn had a plan or if he was just cutting his losses. ‘You’re going to let her go and surrender -’

But Dakor took a sharp step back up the ramp, Hale pinned against him. Short as the Klingon was, she was enough to provide him good cover, and all Rourke could make out was the narrowest target of his head. ‘I think not. Listen to the Romulan again, Rourke. Maybe I’ll toss her to my family when we’re gone, maybe I won’t -’

Rourke found his thumb tapping the back of his phaser. ‘Don’t be an idiot, Dakor; this is your last chance -’

‘I will not go home empty-handed -’

Rourke’s phaser blast hit him in the forehead. Dakor might have twitched, he might have stumbled, he might have consciously or unconsciously managed to get one last lethal jerk of the knife. But he couldn’t, because a phaser blast on the right setting was enough to disintegrate him on impact.

Hale gave a noise that would have been undignified under other, far less reasonable circumstances, staggering and almost falling. Rourke went to rush forward but it was Lotharn who stopped him short, the Romulan’s expression aghast.

‘That was – what’s wrong with you?’ Lotharn snapped. ‘You could have hit her!’

Rourke jerked his arm free and strode across the landing bay to Hale, reaching for her shoulders. ‘Are you hurt?’

Her face was pale as she looked up at him, and he could see the tremble in her gaze as both sense and instinct suggested panic. But as he watched she dug deep and grew steadier, drawing a wavering breath. ‘I’m not. But Tarran…’

Lotharn had gone to the fallen petty officer, checking his vitals. ‘He’s alive. Looks like a weapon stun after they beat him.’ He straightened and turned to Rourke, jaw tight. ‘You’ve killed their commander. Will that break them or make them fight to the death?’

‘They’ll fight – but they won’t have staying power. Weather their anger and they’ll break,’ said Rourke, still keeping a hand on Hale’s arm. 

‘I see,’ said Lotharn, and it was only as they stood there, regarding each other, that Rourke truly remembered they had come to this station as enemies. Then he reached for the communicator from his belt, flipping it open and keying the activation. ‘Galae Command, this is Commander Lotharn. Focus all your fire on the Klingons. Form up with the defenders of Agarath. We will drive the invaders from imperial space, we will preserve the lives of the people, and we will worry about factions later.’

‘That’s all we can do here,’ said Hale at last, some colour returning to her cheeks. ‘Give orders and wait for it to be over. And – and help Tarran. He fought to keep me safe, they could have killed him but he didn’t stop…’

‘There’s a medical station on the Prydwen,’ Rourke agreed, and advanced to the fallen crewman. He glanced to Lotharn as he got there. ‘Help me carry him?’

Lotharn rolled his eyes, but he did reach down to help with Tarran – only to drop his voice. ‘One of these days, Rourke, you and me will finish our conversations. Know that nothing you have done here – not least of all your reckless disregard for the safety of your own – has fundamentally changed anything.’

‘It looks like,’ said Rourke, hefting up the young crewman with a grunt, ‘it’s changed things for today.’

Lotharn hesitated, then nodded. ‘For today.’