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

Rise Like Lions – 24

The Husk, Agarath System
June 2400
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There’d been a scared face at the window. One block back, the pale cheeks and dark eyes of a Reman child peering out from behind a barricade for a moment, just a moment, before they were ushered away. Beckett shouldn’t have seen them; he shouldn’t have been looking that way, should have been focused on the barricade. But there had been a lull in the fighting and he’d glanced back.

It didn’t help. It only made him more aware of how worn and battered the defenders were of this crossroads in the Husk, how much of a beating they’d already taken. How much was at stake.

His attention was dragged back to the front by Kowalski sinking behind the barricade next to him, the chief’s chest heaving. ‘They’re coming,’ he warned.

Again?’

‘Listen.’ Kowalski’s jaw set, and he reached out for Beckett’s rifle. ‘Klingons in body armour are hard to take down. Their physiology’s tough. Their armour’s tough.’ He began adjusting the power settings.

‘Hey, Chief – I’m not about to tell the commandos what they can and can’t do, but we’ve got Stun settings -’

‘How many times did you see them get back up again after you shot them on this setting?’

Beckett hesitated. ‘Not every time.’

‘But sometimes.’ Kowalski met his gaze. ‘Sometimes they get back up and they keep fighting.’ His thumb hovered over the setting switch, eyes questioning.

Beckett had thought the metal taste in his mouth was from the air filtration system, the sweat and bulkheads around them, even the blood in the air. Now he realised it was his own body trying to resist the horrors before them. ‘I didn’t get into Starfleet to kill people.’ But still he reached out, and flicked the switch.

Kowalski let out a slow breath and nodded. ‘We’re here to protect people.’

‘Sure. But protecting my own feelings about killing while you, while other officers, while the commandos are dropping them and keeping them down is – is vanity.’

Before Kowalski could reply, there was a roar from the road ahead, and the two rose, rifles propped up over the barricade. There had been three waves, and they’d driven them all back. The Klingons had pulled to other areas, tried to breach other segments. But this was the best way for them to get through to the heart of the Husk, and here they came.

Hiran’s voice rose over the hum of Klingon chanting. ‘Stand fast,’ growled the old commando. ‘Stand for your people.’

Then they hit. It was a wave of roars and metal, of disruptor fire and shadows surging forth from the dim-lit streets into them. Beckett’s rifle came up and for some reason his most conscious thought was the most simple of his training – not that he had forgotten how to hold a rifle, how to aim, how to breathe, but the words running through his mind were even more basic than that. Squeeze the trigger, don’t pull.

The flash of the energy blasts. The roar of the oncoming Klingons. The clash of metal on metal as they surged into the front row of Reman commandos, braced and ready to take the warriors who longed to fight and kill up close. Then it was a roiling storm of shadows, and he had to aim up, over their heads, shoot at the flashes of light that were enemy gunmen. This time, more often than not, his blasts received no answer, the pinpricks of illumination darkening as he shot them.

But the storm surged anew, and then a shadow was in front of him, a hulking Klingon warrior swinging a bat’leth down. Beckett had to roll so the blade didn’t split his skull, and only then did he realise Kowalski wasn’t beside him.

He fumbled for his phaser pistol to fire at close range, but the Klingon kept coming – then a shadow took the warrior in the side. Darkness swirled as Hiran hit the Klingon, his knife flipped with blade down, and the flurry of blows between them couldn’t have lasted more than two heartbeats before the Reman’s weapon slashed across the Klingon’s throat.

The warrior fell even as the storm eased, even as this last wave of Klingons fell back again, and Beckett accepted Hiran’s help to stagger to his feet.

‘For our people, Lieutenant,’ the revolutionary leader said gruffly, firmly, but Beckett wasn’t looking at him – was looking, aghast, at the blade protruding from just below the centre of his ribcage, jutting out through the armour.

‘Governor…’

Hiran looked down – opened his mouth – then he fell, as if it took knowing of the injury to feel it. Beckett barely caught him as he collapsed, and still he wasn’t quite strong enough to bear the whole weight of the big Reman and his body armour.

Hiran twitched in his arms as Beckett tried to ease him down, grabbing his shoulder. ‘Don’t stop,’ he croaked. ‘I’m just one. There are so many of us…’ Then he went still.

When Beckett looked up, Kowalski was back over him, the big man battered but still on his feet, rifle propped against his shoulder. ‘…the Klingons?’ Beckett managed to ask.

Kowalski’s jaw set. ‘Another wave coming in.’ He looked back at the rows of defenders, at the Remans and Romulans alike staring aghast at their fallen leader, at the Starfleet officers wavering with this loss.

‘We can’t…’ Beckett swallowed. ‘How much more can we hold this?’

Kowalski hesitated. ‘I don’t know.’

The pale face at the window was gone. But that didn’t mean there was nobody behind these doors. That didn’t mean the eyes of the Husk, of the thousands who lived here, were not upon them. Creakily Beckett got to his feet, chest heaving. ‘You don’t know if we have a chance,’ he said, and Kowalski merely winced, not wanting to lie, not wanting to confirm.

Beckett looked back at the dimming storm. He could see motion down the road. Though Klingons were strewn in the street, dead or dropped, many more had survived to pull back. And the more they met resistance elsewhere in the Husk, the more they would come here. He drew another deep breath and hefted his rifle. ‘I don’t know if we have a choice.’

Kowalski gave a stiff nod. ‘Alright, Lieutenant.’

They turned to face the road ahead and the shifting shadows, turned as the rest of the defenders rallied.

‘I feel,’ Beckett said in a lighter voice than he’d expected to use, ‘like I should have something terribly Shakespearean to say.’

‘Do you have anything Shakespearean to say?’

‘Maybe.’ He cleared his throat. ‘If I die here, Chief, make up something cool for me.’

‘Deal.’

* *

‘They can’t keep holding.’ Rhade’s fists clenched as he stared down at the map in the centre of the Guardhouse.

‘Everywhere else is barely holding on,’ pointed out Dathan. ‘The Klingons are pressng that section because it’s the hardest to defend, and they’ve been bouncing off everywhere else. But if we draw from somewhere else and they hit…’

She did not jump when his palm slammed on the console. But she did go stuff, watching him with his tight jaw, with his heaving chest, as he glared at the simple truth before him that they did not have enough, and there was little he could do.

‘If they’re overrun, a lot of people will die,’ growled Adamant Rhade, and reached for the phaser rifle propped up against the console.

She grabbed his forearm. ‘We have to keep monitoring from here. Because if things do ease off, we can send reinforcements. If they do break through, we can give instructions on the rallying point, the fallback point. That will save lives.’

‘Not enough lives.’

Some lives are better than no lives.’ She felt him tense under her, watched his dark eyes stare at her hand, and slowly she pulled back, drawing a deep breath. ‘I’ll go.’

That just made his jaw set in a different way. ‘I don’t -’

‘There is no argument you can make for why I shouldn’t go, if you were prepared to go.’

Their eyes met – and Dathan had rarely been happier to hear the click of the comm system as it came to life. This time from a different frequency, one they had not heard much from so far today.

Guardhouse, this is Zaviss. I’m bringing reinforcements to Hiran’s team.

They both stared at the console, and it took a moment before Rhade tapped the comms button. ‘Please confirm, Lady Zaviss; you reported insufficient numbers to leave the Upper District.’

did have insufficient numbers, containing all entrances and keeping dissident households under guard.’ There was a pause, though Zaviss sounded unconcerned, even as she added, ‘So I have executed the dissidents. I and my guards are on our way.

Dathan did not, for once, have to fake a reaction of surprise at someone’s cold-bloodedness. ‘Oh,’ she breathed.

Governor Hiran and I can discuss this when it is over. Inform the Crossroads team, Guardhouse. We’re two minutes out.

Rhade stared in silence as the map shifted with the new information, as the dots of moving teams made progress across the map. At length Dathan drew a fresh breath and said, ‘Does she have enough to help them hold?’

Rhade swallowed. ‘She has to.’

* *

‘Star Navy forces are engaging the bird-of-prey attack wing.’ Thawn had to raise her voice to be heard over the hum of the Talon in the midst of battle.

Kharth nodded, one hand running over the Talon’s deflector controls, the other bringing their tactical map to focus in on the section. ‘Have our second wing support them.’ A brief silence met her instructions, and her gaze snapped up. ‘The Romulans have engaged the Klingons and not us. Let’s work together to beat up some Klingons.’

Endeavour is still taking down these Vor’chas,’ Thawn warned.

‘Lieutenant!’ It probably wasn’t the first time Harkon had tried to get her attention. ‘K’Vort class coming around on our aft.’

‘Okay, we’re going to have to get this done right.’ Kharth lifted a hand. ‘We’re running low on torpedoes from our aft launcher, so, Harkon, I want you to slow down and let them get right up close.’

‘Up close,’ Thawn echoed dubiously.

‘We’ll eat it on our shields. When I give the signal…’ The tap of a button sent her plan over to Thawn’s console, and the Betazoid quirked another suspicious eyebrow – but nodded.

‘They’re here,’ Harkon warned, and again the Talon bucked under weapons fire. It took all of Kharth’s skill to keep dancing deflector strength to where she anticipated the Klingons would shoot, watching the percentage dip down, watching the proximity metre for the K’Vort tick down and down –

‘Now!’

Thawn swore as she hit the controls. But a heartbeat later Kharth saw the change on her display as the Talon vented a stream of plasma from its aft, ebbing through the space they’d left for the K’Vort to fly right into it.

And erupt into an inferno when one blast from the Talon’s energy weapons ignited it. The K’Vort spun as it tried to surge through the blaze, twisting away – and into a position where Kharth could bring the Talon’s other weapons to bear, torpedoes thudding into the unprotected hull to hit, crack – and burst it open.

Harkon whooped as the Talon pulled away from the detonating K’Vort. ‘Scratch one more!’

Kharth drew a slow breath and felt strength come with it. ‘How’s the fleet?’ she asked Thawn.

Thawn sucked her teeth. ‘First and third wing are struggling; they’ve got birds-of-prey all over them, and there’s a K’t’inga they can’t quite get on top of…’

Damn last-generation Agarath fleet. ‘Put me through to the nearest lead Star Navy ship.’ Thawn’s nod confirmed that their connection was audio only, and Kharth drew another breath. ‘Galae Command, this is the Agarath Guardship Talon, requesting you form up on us so we can take out that last wing.’

As she watched, the tactical map shifted – the Star Navy ships beginning to pull back now the pressure was off them. But the voice that replied was lighter, more uncertain. ‘This is the Imperial Navy ship Eskalion. We don’t answer to you; we’ve softened them plenty and are awaiting further instructions from –

‘You clearly had orders to help, or you wouldn’t have stopped taking chunks out of us to focus on the Klingons. You’re battered, I see that. Join my formation and we can finish this. Your commander signalled that we can leave the politics for later.’ Her throat tightened, and she had to fight to swallow through it. ‘My name is Lieutenant Saeihr t’Kharth of the Federation starship Endeavour, but my mother was Commander Saylaha t’Kharth of the Star Navy, betrayed by deserters during the Romulus Crisis. We all want the same thing right now – to protect the lives of our people. Work with me to do that.’

A pause – then the comm line went dead, and Kharth smacked her fist on the control. ‘Son of -’

‘They’re – ah, actually, they’re coming about and forming up,’ said Thawn, blinking. ‘On our wing.’

Harkon twisted back in her chair, beaming. ‘Imagine that, talking a whole bunch of enemies into fighting by our side. Shall we take them in, Skipper?’

Dangerous words, thought Kharth. ‘They had their orders. I just reminded them of that.’

Thawn glanced up again. ‘There’s a communication going out from Facility Petrarch – no, it’s Starfleet, it’s from the captain’s yacht. All frequencies – they want everyone to hear this.’

The viewscreen came to life to show what Kharth recognised at the cockpit of the Prydwen and the armoured, battered, bloodied face of Captain Rourke. His voice grated as he spoke.

Warriors of the House of K’Var. My name is Matthew Rourke, captain of the starship Endeavour, sworn brother to Torkath, son of K’Var. You have breached Romulan territory and attacked Starfleet ships. I understand you came here on a quest for glory against the wishes of K’Var himself, against the wishes of the High Council, at the behest of Dakor, son of K’Var.

‘Dakor is dead. I killed him. For my oaths to Torkath, I urge you all to run.’

Kharth looked at Thawn. ‘What’re the Klingons doing?’

Thawn winced. ‘Forming up. I don’t know if they’re going to run or rally.’

‘Or maybe they don’t know.’ Kharth winced and nodded. ‘Perhaps we should give them a push. Let’s finish this.’