Encircled by one of the largest, most dense asteroid belts ever recorded, the Un’gar system was nature at its very best. With a mixture of swirling clouds, beautiful worlds and a bright blue star, it was easy to see why the home of the Ungeat people would be a target for invaders even before other things came into the equation. From orbit you couldn’t see the bustling, highly industrialised areas that were booming, the Dilithium refineries churning out masses of the crystals every day, or even the legendary agriculture and aquaculture centres that had become synonymous with the natives. And, as Flyboy put it, “If you couldn’t see them, there wasn’t a cat in hells chance you would see The Sanctum”. Whatever the metaphor truly meant, the sentiment was right. The Sanctum was a classified Starfleet listening post that few knew about, and even fewer could hope to find. Luckily for Hathaway, Or’uil was on hand to try and help, as much as he possibly could anyway.
During the mission’s planning phase, the Starfleet crew had kept the true purpose of their mission a secret from their Cardassian allies. No one outside of the Fourth Fleet command structure, save for the crew of the uniquely qualified Hathaway, knew their true intentions. On the surface, it was a mission to retake or, if necessary, destroy the Dilithium refineries. But far beneath the surface (literally) their task was simple; locate, retake and hold The Sanctum. Less simple when the ‘at all costs’ caveat had been applied. Even less so when having to keep it a total secret from one’s allies in this grand venture.
With the Hathaway strike force inbound on their target, the bridge and her new senior staff in their unfamiliar territories were surprisingly calm. At the front of the bridge, Lieutenant Prida was getting used to being back at Ops, a place she hadn’t served since her days on the Santa Fe, which weren’t all that long ago in truth but felt like an age. Behind her, the blonde bombshell herself was adjusting to a new seat, and a new coloured uniform to boot. Like Prida, Noli had come a long way since their days under Captain Farrell on the Santa Fe, but never in her wildest dreams did she imagine serving as XO, even on a temporary basis. Then, of course, there was the resident Ungeat. Or’uil, accompanied by Mayr Bellurr, was growing accustomed to being at the tactical wall, rather than the forward Ops position. It gave him a greater perspective of what was happening in the command centre, and almost encouraged him to participate more in bridge conversations.
“Alright Mister Tuca,” Captain Kauhn looked to his left, “one more time, from the top.”
Sitting in the chair to the Captain’s right, the Alzek strategist nodded, tapping a command on his command chair and pulling up a moving diagram on the forward viewscreen. “Phase one of the invasion focuses on the strike group gaining space superiority. As we know, the Dominion forces are spreading themselves thin at present with major assaults elsewhere, so we are not expecting major resistance,” he told, then the screen changed, zooming in on the planets themselves. “Phase two is the liberation of the planets. Once space superiority is secured, Cardassian forces will land on Un’gar and seek to liberate the planet. Lieutenant Bellurr will lead a fifty-strong security force to retake the Federation embassy. Phase three sees the Hellhounds destroy air defences around the dilithium refineries on Uviri. I will then lead a fifty-strong force to secure the refineries and return them to friendly hands. If this is not possible, we will destroy the facilities and prevent the Dominion from having any further benefit from them.”
The briefing from the Alzek couldn’t help but make the young Ungeat feel even more appreciative of the efforts his adopted family were willing to go to for the liberation of his people. At least they cared. At least they worried about the fate of others.
“The final phase will be the securing of the Sanctum. This will involve a small away team, consisting of Or’uil, Henry, Teanne, Prida, Commander Noli and ten security officers,” the Alzek told, everyone in silence for the continued briefing, “You will take two runabouts, Kaedn and Kirsen, and navigate to the Sanctum. You will land, secure the facility and hold it until news of our victory is confirmed, or until reinforcements arrive.”
“Any questions?” Captain Kauhn asked, looking at each of the senior officers and their understudies in turn. Not a single hand was raised.
“Alright then,” Giarvar nodded, “Or’uil. Are you ready to go home?”
Turning in his seat, the Ungeat looked at the Captain with a cocked head. Nodding, he gave a silent indication that he was ready to commence the liberation of his homeworld.
“Lieutenant Prida, inform the Cardassians that we’re going in, and we’re going in full throttle. No one stops until we reach Un’gar,” the Captain instructed.
The Un’gar system was a blaze with weapons fire in the hour that followed. The joint Starfleet-Cardassian strike group encountered heavier resistance than anticipated, with two Dominion fighter wings defending the system ferociously, and to the end. Although it was the lone Starfleet vessel in the group, Hathaway acquitted herself well, as always, destroying two of the fighters and crippling a third before the Cardassians declared themselves able to deal with the threat above Un’gar. That was the opening she needed. Fighting her way through the crowd, the Sagan-class starship dropped into a low orbit above Uviri’s northern continent, home to the target for the Hellhounds part of the mission.
Within a matter of minutes, every single starfighter aboard Hathaway began to descend to the planet’s surface, in two attack wings of 6, each with their designated targets. This allowed them to distract the enemy from Hathaway’s main mission. From the lower shuttle bay, two of the largest auxiliary craft in service, but also some of the more manoeuvrable, deployed from their berths. The Arrow-class runabouts hurtled through the mid-morning haze, descending through the clouds towards the misty Eerie Mountain range. Once the clouds encompassing the rock faces came into range, sensors became distorted, consoles went on the fritz and tension levels rose significantly.
“Slow to thrusters,” Noli ordered both vessels over an open comm channel. “We’re line of sight from here on out.”
“Not going to lie,” Ensign Udraa groaned as the ship began to feel sluggish, “I’m sure the fighters would have been better suited to this flying by the seat of their pants business…”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Henry chimed in over the comm, “They may be good in a single person fighter, but it takes a different breed of person to pilot a starship through a crisis.”
“Amen to that brother,” Teanne laughed, mere seconds before collision alarms sounded. Out of the mist, a steep rock face loomed large dead ahead, causing screams and shouts as the Ensign swung her ship hard to starboard, upping the speed to give her additional momentum to get out of the danger zone.
“That escalated quickly,” she breathed a sigh of relief, referencing the sudden shift in cloud cover.
Similar moves were required dozens of times in the next ten minutes or so, each time more deadly and last second than the last. Until the cloud cover seemed to fade in one particular spot; a spot that was surely why the mountain pass had the name that it did.
On the nearest rock face, it was clear that dozens of ships had met their end here, on this particular part of the course. Littered with debris and scorch marks, it was clear for all to see that many a ship had crashed there, their crews dying a horrible death. No wonder it was called the Eerie Mountains.
“I’m detecting dozens of different ships,” Or’uil told from the copilot’s seat, analysing the readings on the display before him. “At least three of them are recent, and Jem’Hadar.”
“They know about the listening post,” Noli surmised, her years of experience in the tactical field proving to be more than useful again. “That can be the only explanation for their presence here,” the XO remarked, sharing a concerned glance with the new tactical chief.
“Let’s hope this is the closest they got,” Or’uil remarked, shooting a glance back at the XO.
As it turned out, it wasn’t.
It took almost an hour of painstaking course corrections, high-speed manoeuvres and praying to the prophets (for which everyone was thankful to Noli) before the sensors registered anything close to a sign of life anywhere within their range. As soon as they did, everyone knew they had located the Sanctum – it was the only reason anyone would be in such a secluded area.
As the cloud cover began to dissipate, the sight they had all dreaded came into view – a Dominion dropship, indicating that the Dominion had, at the very least, located the small outpost and landed their forces.
“We’ll beam down to the surface and ascertain the situation, and whether the Dominion have captured the listening post,” Noli instructed, looking around the cockpit, eliciting nods from those supporting her. “Runabouts stay mobile and ready for emergency beam outs. If needs be, we destroy the whole damn valley.”
“We cannot leave the Sanctum in the hands of the Jem’Hadar…”