The Susan B. Anthony hung in space between the damaged Starfleet deep-space communications relay station and a Hirogen Venatic-class battleship. The Starfleet vessel was significantly larger than her opponent, but the Hirogen built their ships armed to the teeth, and the Venatic was essentially all armor, weapons, and engines. It would be a tough fight. On Captain Camarero’s orders, the Anthony opened up with a massive salvo of photon and quantum torpedoes from all of her forward launchers before pivoting forty-five degrees down and hitting full impulse. This maneuver saved her from the full brunt of the Hirogen attack, but she still caught a significant amount of searing blue tetryon blasts with her shields.
Lieutenant Silver Sharpe was a talented and experienced security officer, but their experience in live combat had been limited to the occasional skirmish with raiders on the seedier frontiers of Federation space. During the Archanis Campaign, the Anthony had even tangled with a few Klingon warships. A Hirogen warship was a novel and intimidating challenge. Impressive as she was, the Sovereign class, like almost all Federation starships, was a combination between cruise ship, conference center, and university at its core, not a warship.
“Shields down to 77%, Captain,” Lieutenant Commander Tabe reported from the operations station. “Not bad, considering.”
“That almost sounded like a compliment,” Lieutenant Arha quipped as she completed the turn to put the Anthony on a course away from the station to swing around for another strike.
“It almost was one,” Tabe retorted.
“Stow the chatter, please,” Camarero replied; while she was open to suggestions from her officers, she kept a professional, banter-free bridge, especially during a crisis. It was something Lieutenant Sharpe appreciated about her. “Sharpe, I want all phasers on maximum power and auto-targeting.”
“Aye,” Sharpe replied, keying in a sequence to keep a constant stream of phaser fire going from the Anthony to the enemy ship. The bridge rocked when they took another hit. This time, it was a spatial charge. The Hirogen were using Camarero’s initial gambit against them: hurling charges in the general direction of the Anthony to try to blind her sensors. “Shields holding.”
“Sensor performance is degrading. Recommend we increase our distance,” Tabe noted.
“Do your best, helm,” Camarero ordered.
A Sovereign-class ship was quite fast at impulse speeds, but their opponent was built precisely for knife-fight range engagements like the ones they were in. It excelled at maneuvering its heavy forward weapons into firing arcs in high-speed, close-quarters combat. If they got into a spiral together, the Anthony’s better firing arcs would let her weather down the enemy’s shields, but there was the very real risk of a point-blank alpha strike doing significant damage.
“Captain, if we could use our warp drive to increase the distance even further, we could eliminate the Hirogen’s maneuverability advantage,” Sharpe suggested. “There aren’t any gravity wells in the vicinity to hinder us.”
“You mean run away?” Lieutenant Arha asked.
“No, Lieutenant, I mean a tactical retreat to improve our chances of surviving this encounter,” Sharpe countered; they had become used to the Andorian’s hot-headedness, but they also wished that she could rein it in on the bridge.
“Helm, can you give me ten seconds at warp two?” Camarero asked. “Find a window.”
The Andorian grumbled. “I’ve got one,” she said, tapping away at the helm. “Engaging.”
“We’re not moving,” Goodman noted.
“I’ve engaged the engines,” Arha confirmed.
“Bridge to Engineering. Where’s our warp power?” Goodman asked over the comm while the ship rocked from another Hirogen volley.
“Engineering, bridge. There’s some sort of localized subspace interference present. It’s not enough to pull the impulse engines offline, but we won’t be able to establish a warp bubble until it’s gone,” Commander Donnog reported.
“Explains why the Hazari are fleeing at impulse,” Tabe observed. “Attempting to localize the interference.”
“Looks like we’re going to do this at close range, then,” Camarero replied. “Sharpe, are there any vulnerabilities we can exploit here?”
“This class of Hirogen vessel has a sensor and weapons blindspot aft of their main engines. Voyager used it to follow two ships of this class in the 2370s,” Sharpe noted. “If we can push the impulse engines past the redline and get them to chase us, we may be able slow to zero and slip into it.”
“We’ll also be presenting our weakest arc to their strongest arc,” Goodman reminded the captain. The ship rocked again, and consoles nearer to the EPS junctions at the edge of the room sparked alarmingly. “Shields down to 50%,” the first officer reported.
“It’s also our smallest target cross-section,” Camarero replied. “Engineering, I’m overriding the safety interlocks on the impulse engines. We’re going to push them to maximum,” she said.
“Any chance I could persuade you not to do that, Captain?” the Tellarite engineer asked.
“Not this time. Give me every ounce of power you have,” Camarero demurred. “Sharpe, prepare an aft salvo and fire at your discretion.”
Sharpe watched on her display as the blue dot representing the Anthony pulled past the red dot representing the Hirogen, thanks to a boost of extra power to the impulse engines. They were immediately hit with more tetryon blasts, as Sharpe retaliated with a volley of photon torpedoes to bring their shields down by just as much. At the same time, the tactical officer prepared their forward weapons.
“I feel like I should tell you all that if this doesn’t work, we could collide with the Hirogen ship,” Arha said from the helm. “But we’re ahead of them and have enough distance to attempt an insertion maneuver.”
“Can we just outrun them?” Lieutenant Elrun at the communications station asked. “They’re pretty intent on killing us if the disruptor fire didn’t give it away.”
“Tetryon fire, and, no, we can sprint for a few minutes, but they’ve got the superior sublight speed,” Commander Tabe quickly interjected. “We have to get behind them or stand and fight.”
“If we turn around now, we’re back where we started. All hands, brace for deceleration. Lieutenant Arha, you can do this: get us behind the Hirogen ship,” Captain Camarero ordered. “At your discretion.”
“Aye. Three, two, one… mark,” the Andorian replied.
Instantly, the Anthony slowed to a near stop, and Arha fired the dorsal thrusters to give the ship less than a hundred meters of clearance to slip under and behind the Hirogen battleship. The bridge crew had to hold on for dear life with their consoles, and poor Midshipman Blair was thrown to the ground from his place near the Master Situation Display aft of Sharpe. The tactical officer kept their position, waiting for the moment when the targeting reticle on their console would turn blue to indicate a lock.
“We have a firing solution!” they reported with uncharacteristic excitement.
“Take it,” the captain ordered.
Sharpe opened up with all of the Anthony’s forward firepower while Arha kept right on the enemy ship to keep them from turning or banking away. Quantum torpedoes slammed in between the Hirogens’ impulse engines, which in turn sent other explosions throughout the ship. Their strike had crippled the Hirogen. Sharpe let out of a sigh of relief that they shared with the rest of the bridge crew when they saw plasma fires erupting from the alien ship on the viewscreen.
“Hirogen ship is listing,” Tabe reported from ops.
“Back us off and keep us right behind them at a safe distance,” the first officer ordered. “Any update on that subspace interference?”
Tabe nodded, and Sharpe could see that he was confused as he looked at his readings because they saw the ship’s lateral sensor arrays re-focus to take another pass at something. Sharpe pulled the readings up themselves and was also confused. While not a scientist, they knew how to read a subspace flow diagram. Something about it was familiar, too.
“The interference is centered on the relay station itself,” Tabe reported.
“I’ve never heard of a communication station being able to keep a starship from going to warp,” Lieutenant Arha said.
“That’s because it’s not possible. Not with standard equipment, anyway,” Tabe said. “I swear I’ve seen this wave pattern before, too.”
Sharpe flicked through a few of their briefing notes until they found the material on blood dilithium, which was the last new phenomenon Starfleet had sent them. Overlaying the scans from the station and the prototypical subspace distortion associated with blood dilithium, they found a substantial correlation and immediately tossed it up onto the main viewer.
“There’s an underlying subspace inversion designed to disable our warp engines, but this wave pattern matches phenomena found near blood dilithium deposits,” Sharpe said.
“But I’m not detecting any dilithium of any kind on the station,” Tabe replied, running more scans. He turned around to look directly at Captain Camarero. “We need to get out of here. If my instincts are right, whatever is causing this distortion is intended to attract blood dilithium out of subspace to our position.”
As the operations officer reported that, Sharpe saw that the three dots representing the Hazari had now altered course. Their retreat was either a feint, or they realized that they wouldn’t get paid unless they finished the job the Hirogen couldn’t do themselves.
“Not to add fuel to the fire here, Captain, but I’m also detecting that the Hazari are on the edge of the system and have plotted a return course for our position,” Sharpe reported. “ETA at their present speed: 47 minutes.”
“They’re definitely not in a hurry, then,” Goodman noted.
“They probably saw what we just did to the Hirogen and are considering their chances,” Camarero said, drumming her fingers on the armrest of her chair. “Number One, take a team to the station and see if you can shut down this interference. I’ll try to stall the Hazari.”
“How do you plan on doing that?” Goodman asked.
“The same way you deal with any capitalist: make them a better offer.”