Tiffany walked onto the bridge looking like posterchild for Starfleet. Every button, every pip, every seam was perfectly in place on her uniform. Her hair was up in a tight bun on the back of her head, the only unfettered bits being a lock on each side of her face, framing it in crimson. She walked with her head held high to the center chair, “Sitrep.” She called.
“Ten minutes out from Sevury, Captain,” Vlex replied from the helm.
“Good,” Tiffany replied, sitting down and crossing her legs, and straightening her duty jacket. She tapped the shipboard channel and the familiar bosun’s whistle chimed out.
“Attention all hands, this is the Captain speaking,” She said. Tiffany always spoke with a calm, confident tone, but right now she was using what Frankie had dubbed her “Captain Voice”. It was a touch deeper, and she spoke slower, with just a bit more enunciation than she would normally. She only used it when things were dire, and she needed people to listen.
“We are ten minutes from dropping into the upper atmosphere of Sevury. Dropping out of warp will be dangerous, and the ship will experience an impressive amount of turbulence. After we get out of that, we’ll be engaging the Dominion in ship to ship combat while our away team beams down and attempts to liberate the surface,” She said, laying out the mission in brief. “This will be a harrowing time for everyone involved. The risks are high and the stakes are even higher. Each of us has a role in this mission, whether you’re Starfleet or civilian.”
She turned her tone lighter, more empathetic, “We must remember that we have each other and that we’ll persevere if we work together. We will get through this, we will win this fight, we will liberate Sevury, and we will send the Dominion home with their tails between their legs. Good luck, to all of us.”
She cut the feed and took a deep breath, “Commander Richards, now would be a good time to get that transporter room.” Tiffany said over her shoulder.
“Yes, ma’am. En route,” Melody said, turning and heading toward the turbolift, Blake and French falling in behind her.
Tiffany snatched her XO’s wrist as she stood to go with Melody, “You better bring your ass back, Commander. I put way too much time into training you to not annoy me for you to let some twenty-five-year-stale Jem’hadar burn you,” She said, narrowing her eyes at the other woman.
“You kidding me, mija? You wish. You can’t get rid of me that easy,” Juarez replied, with a lopsided grin.
“Be careful down there,” Tiffany said, more seriously.
“You too,” Frankie replied, squeezing the CO’s shoulder, before heading on to the turbolift.
Tiffany watched as Melody and her team disappeared behind the doors of the turbolift, trying to ignore the errant ‘you might never see them again’ that flitted through her thoughts. She looked back to the viewscreen and spoke to her helmsman again. “Vlex? How we lookin’?”
“One minute to destination,” Vlex answered.
Tiffany nodded as she pushed back into her chair. Her heart was pounding in her chest, her palms were sweating, and she felt like her eyeballs were vibrating in her head. She stared down the viewscreen as the stars zipped by at high warp. In less than a minute, they’d be there. There would be no dread, no second guessing or concern, just adrenaline and gut instinct.
“Thirty seconds,” Vlex called.
Tiffany tapped her commbadge, “Black to Richards. In position?”
“In position,” Melody replied, quickly.
“Good luck, and godspeed,” Tiffany said, leaving the channel open. Tiffany set her jaw, still staring out the viewport as if she could see the enemy in the distance. Her knee bounced slightly as she white-knuckled the arms of her chair… this was going to be rough.
“Ten seconds.” Vlex called.
Tiffany started counting down in her head, ticking off seconds before the drop. She knew she’d never dropped out of warp like this before, and hopefully never would again. She had a mild idea in her brain what the drop out was going to be like and she wasn’t quite sure she was ready for it.
She put both feet on the floor in front of her chair, bracing herself.
Tiffany gritted her teeth unconsciously.
She took a deep breath and held it.
Tiffany gripped the arm rests on her chair so hard, she was certain she left dents in it.
Suddenly, the ship lurked and the planet was right there, so close that Tiffany gasped suddenly, instinctively jamming her feet on the deck plating in front of her chair and pushing herself back into. A half second later, her brain turned back on and she yelled into the open comm channel, “Energize!”
The ship rattled and lurched, deck plating and structural supports groaned under the strain of staying in flight when gravity really wanted them not to. A plasma conduit ruptured behind Tiffany but she stared straight ahead. They were slowing, the planet was just approaching now, instead of rushing up. Alarm klaxons were firing and somewhere over the din she heard herself yelling, “Red alert!”
As the shields rippled to life around the ship, the re-entry turbulence lessened. She could feel the ship shifting back toward the stars. They were so close to the surface that she could make out the various colonies and towns dotting the surface.
“Lieutenant Kint! Did the Dominion forces on the surface detect our team beaming down?” She asked the young Bajoran at the science station.
“If they did, ma’am, they haven’t mobilized anything. Between the re-entry burn out and the initial energy burst of us dropping out of warp, I could barely detect the transport, so the likelihood that they picked it up from the surface is almost none,” He explained.
Tiffany brushed one of her free locks of red hair from her face, “Good. Then, Lieutenant Vlex, bring as about and get us into that firefight,” She called. “Lieutenant Hamlin, load all forward torpedo launchers and ready phasers. We’ve got some bullies to handle,” She said, grinning broadly. She watched as the view of the planet drifted quickly away and the space battle between the Dominion ships and her fellow Fourth Fleet allies came into view.
“Send a message on all Starfleet channels. The Alita is here to help, form up on us and let’s take these Dominion bastards down,” She called to the communications officer.
She smiled as the ship shot forward, the Dominion fighters in her sights and bullets in her gun. There was no way another Dominion war was happening. Not on Tiffany’s watch.
The phasers fired, the torpedos spread out in front of them, and they were in the thick of it.
Melody laid on a rock outcropping, scanning the tree line silently. The beam in had been good, right where they’d needed to be. So long as the Alita didn’t crash into the surface somewhere, things were going according to plan. Part one was done, now for the real hard part. She looked back down at her crew hiding in the rocky terrain below: Juarez, Blake, French, and eight of her best security officers. Twelve people against an army. What could possibly go wrong?
“I’m not picking up anything, Commander,” Blake whispered from his position next to Melody. “No life signs, no nothing. See anything?”
Melody turned her attention back to the tree line for a moment longer before finally shaking her head, “Nothing so far. I think we made it down safe,” She replied.
The two of them scuttled back down from the rock outcropping they’d been using for cover and found their way back to the crew. Melody was proud of these men and women with her, their eyes were wary, but the held themselves with confidence and determination. Melody could work with that. She knew they were all trained, but she also knew that she had much more understanding of battlefield tactics than any of them.
“How we looking, Mel?” Juarez asked, stepping over to the other woman.
“Clear, so far. I think we can make it to the tree line without being spotted. After that, it’s hide and seek through the trees,” Melody reported.
“Bien,” Juarez responded. She turned back and looked at the other people standing there, “I want to make something perfectly clear. I’m ranking officer on this mission. Any hard decisions come, it’s my call. But everything else is Lt. Commander Richards’ game. You listen to her like a CO. Follow her lead, follow her orders. That’s what I’m going to be doing. Got it?”
Everyone confirmed and Melody smiled at the XO, “Thanks, ma’am.”
“Mija, you’ve got the experience here. I can sling phasers with the best of them, but that ain’t this,” Frankie replied with a laugh. “I’m counting on you to keep my head on my shoulders.”
“No pressure,” Melody teased.
“Nah, just that the Cap will probably kill you if I don’t come back alive,” Frankie said with a wink.
Melody rolled her eyes playfully and raised a hand in the air for a moment to get everyone’s attention, “Okay, listen up. I’m hoping you all read up the Jem’hadar and Vorta before we saddled up this morning. Since we’re out in the field, we’ll most likely be dealing with Jem’hadar. I wouldn’t expect to see Vorta until we get inside the compound, and maybe not even then,” She explained.
“The Jem’hadar have the ability to cloak themselves, and it makes them almost impossible to see unless they’re moving. Even then, in the thick of the forest it’s going to be tough to make them out,” She said, looking around to make sure that everyone was paying attention.
“How are we going to avoid them if we can’t see them?” French asked.
“That’s what’s going to make this two-klick hike feel like a marathon,” Melody replied. “We’re going to have to go slow and take our time. All eyes and ears present and listening. If we run across a patrol, take them out, and disintegrate the bodies. We don’t want to leave any evidence. If we do, the likelihood of us getting inside drops dramatically,” She explained.
“What about ambient ground temperature?” Blake asked, suddenly.
Melody looked over at him and cocked her head to the side, “Sorry?”
“So, if the shroud hides them from sensors and stuff, does it keep them from transferring heat into the ground they’re standing on?” Blake asked.
Melody shrugged, “I’m not sure, but have you got an idea on how to make that useful?”
“Maybe… My tricorder is equipped to detect micro changes in temperature for when I’m working in the computer core. I could modify it a bit to look for changes in ground temp. Use it as a confirmation if we think we’ve spotted something?” He offered.
Melody thought about that for a moment, then nodded, “Do it.”
Blake smiled and set to work as Melody looked up to the rest of her team, “Alright, form up. We’re rushing down the mountains, and then low and slow through the woods. Hand signals only as much as possible,” She said.