The atmosphere on the bridge was tense as the Higgs limped out of the Daylos star’s corona. Waiting for them was the last remaining Jem’Hadar fighter preparing to strike and finish the job it started with its fallen comrades. The crew of the Higgs wasn’t about to go down without a fight. They primed the phasers and loaded the torpedoes; they would throw everything they could at the Dominion ship.
“One minute ‘till weapons range,” Commander Mitchell announced from the helm.
Ensign Jora Edal took a deep breath at communications before placing the earpiece in her left ear. She had been in combat several times since arriving on the Higgs but it had never felt like this before, never this tense. Those were fights against pirates and mercenaries, little more than skirmishes. This was different, this was a war against an enemy who wanted to destroy not just them but their way of life.
In her left ear, Jora was receiving readiness reports from every corner of the ship. “All decks report ready, Captain.”
“Very good,” Matheson replied, her voice firm but calm. “Fournier, fire everything we have the instant we’re in range.”
Jora glanced over her shoulder at the Captain. The normally light and bubbly woman that occupied the centre chair was gone. She looked calm and determined. Sensing the eyes on her, Matheson met Jora’s gaze and offered a reassuring smile.
She wanted to be reassured, but Jora couldn’t get rid of the knot in her stomach. The closer they got to their encounter with the Jem’Hadar fighter, the tighter that knot became. No matter how much she tried to focus on her work, that sense of dread continued to gnaw away at her. Even twenty-five years out of date, the Jem’Hadar fighter still posed a grave threat to the already wounded Higgs.
Some part of her hoped for a miracle, that the Challenger would swoop in at the last minute and destroy their Dominion hunters. But that only happened in fiction. If the Challenger were on her way, she would arrive too late to help them, perhaps just in time to watch the Higgs being blown to bits. Jora shook her head to banish that thought and wiped her sweaty palms on her pants leg.
“Twenty seconds,” Mitchell reported.
In her head, Jora started counting back from twenty, gripping the handrail along the bottom of her console tightly in anticipation. She shut her eyes as her count neared zero. The familiar whine of phasers firing and the thud of torpedoes being fired reverberated through the hull when she reached ‘two’, indicating her count was slightly off.
The Higgs shuddered violently a second later as the shields weakened under the intense barrage the Jem’Hadar fighter unleashed on them. Shouted reports rang out from the other senior officers around the bridge, but her focus was on the voices coming from her earpiece reporting the damage and casualties they’d sustained, reports that she promptly passed onto the Captain. The only bridge officer’s voice she heard, other than the Captain’s, was Fournier’s French accent announcing, “Shields down to twenty-one percent.”
“Helm, bring us round for another pass,” Matheson barked. “Fournier, prepare another spread of torpedoes.”
The Higgs shuddered again, even more violently this time, causing Jora to reach for the handrail to keep herself upright. More reports came in; casualty reports from every corner of the ship, and damage reports from all decks. One, in particular, caused Jora’s heart to leap into her throat. It contained the two words that struck terror into her: hull breach.
It was only once she was at the Academy that the possibility of a breach opening in the skin of a ship and someone being blown into the vast emptiness of space occurred to her. Jora’s experience of space flight before her journey to the Academy was limited and she’d never even heard of a hull breach. She’d had nightmares for weeks.
As more reports flooded in, her mind raced. Had there been anyone working right beside this hull breach? Did she know them? Did they survive in the vacuum long enough to realise what was happening to them? The casualty reports might answer some of those questions, but did she really want to know? Jora decided she didn’t, instead forcing the thought from her mind; she needed to focus on her work.
The bridge shuddered again. Fournier’s panicked voice struggled to be heard over the din on the bridge, “Shields down to ten percent!”
“What about the Jem’Hadar?” Matheson asked.
The whine of the phasers firing had blended into the background for much of the past few minutes but Jora heard it loud and clear again now. “Their shields are down,” Fournier reported seconds later.
“Helm, bring us about” Matheson ordered. “Tactical, fire a full spread on my mark.”
Everyone held their breaths, waiting for Commander Mitchell to bring the torpedoes to bear on the Jem’Hadar fighter. Matheson leaned forward in her chair, waiting for her moment before finally hissing, “Fire.”
Another series of thuds sounded through the hull as more torpedoes were angrily hurled at the Jem’Hadar fighter. Jora glanced around at the viewscreen just in time to watch as the torpedoes find their target. There was no flare of shields, the torpedoes impacted directly on the Jem’Hadar’s hull in violent eruptions of flame.
They were too close. The shockwave from the Jem’Hadar’s warp core breaching would knock into the Higgs like a rugby player taking a particularly ugly tackle.
“Brace for impact,” Matheson shouted urgently.
All hell broke loose. The bridge was thrown into darkness as the Higgs lurched violently to port and consoles exploded as the conduits behind them overloaded. Jora was thrown from her chair, reaching for the handrail too late. She didn’t have time to consider if the inertial dampers responded too slowly or not at all as she fell towards the deck. Looking back she would swear she heard the sickening crunch of bone when her hand connected with the deck, but the pain shooting through her left wrist was enough to tell her that she’d broken something.
Jora kept still while the chaos raged around her. It was only when it had passed and silence fell over the bridge that she looked up. The hum of the engines was gone and the only illumination provided by LCARS displays flickering like the flame of a candle being blown by the wind. The silence was eerie.
With her good hand, Jora pushed herself to a sitting position and looked around the bridge. Everyone was picking themselves up, looking around them as their eyes adjusted to the diminished lighting. Everyone except the Captain. She remained still, lying on her back with her face towards the ceiling.
Has she injured herself worse than everyone else?
Mitchell was first by Matheson’s side. Jora’s blood ran cold when the XO reached out and placed two fingers on her neck; he was checking for a pulse. She was certain her heart stopped beating while she waited for Mitchell to tell them he’d found a pulse, but he didn’t. He looked up at Lieutenant Commander Pezara and shook his head solemnly.
Tears welled in Jora’s eyes. When she came on board, she’d expected the Captain to be aloof, detached from the rest of the crew. Captain Matheson was anything but. She’d been warm, funny, occasionally goofy and loved to hear the crew’s gossip. Matheson never liked to eat alone and most nights would have had dinner in the mess hall with her crew.
Tears rolled down Jora’s cheeks as she awkwardly climbed to her feet, careful not to jostle her injured wrist. She wiped the tears away with her good hand and sat down at her console. Her earpiece was gone, somewhere on the floor but she’d make do without it.
“How bad is it?” Mitchell asked.
Shepard’s trembling voice betrayed his own sadness. He’d been on the Higgs for longer and knew the Captain from when she was the Chief Science Officer. “Engines are offline,” he reported, “so are weapons, shields, sensors and communications. We also have hull breaches on decks two and five.”
“Alright,” Mitchell sighed, “anyone who has any kind of engineering skill and can hold a hyperspanner is to be assigned to repair efforts. Lieutenant Armstrong can coordinate from Engineering.” He turned his attention to Jora next. “Casualties?”
She spun her chair to face the XO. He’s the Captain now I suppose, she thought. “Seven dead and twenty-one seriously wounded at last report.” Her eyes flicked briefly to where Captain Matheson’s lifeless body still lay, her face covered by Lieutenant Commander Mitchell’s uniform jacket. “Eight dead, I guess.” She whispered.
Jora looked down at where Mitchell was pointing at her left wrist sitting limply in her lap. “Oh, it’s nothing,” she told him. “Probably just a sprain.”
“Get yourself down to sickbay and get it checked out,” Mitchell told her.
As much as Jora wanted to protest, and tell him that she was fine, the pain in her wrist told her otherwise. “Aye, sir.” Cradling her left wrist with her right hand, Jora left the bridge. Even though the three Jem’Hadar ships had been destroyed, at a terrible cost, they weren’t out of the woods yet. There could be more out there, about to strike them down but without sensors they couldn’t see them coming.
The knot in her stomach tightened further.