After spending the last few hours reviewing the mission data, Kosev turned off the monitor on his desk and got up. He walked over to the window of his ready room, looking out at the nebula and thinking about the mission before him. It was incredibly risky, and all depended on the Dominion taking the bait because if they didn't, there would be no way to get the Pioneer past twelve of their attack ships. He crossed his arms and sighed, standing there a while before he heard the door chime.
“Enter.” He said without moving, still looking out into the nebula.
He didn't have to turn around to know who entered the room, he could hear her moving around the room and sitting at his desk. Kosev smiled and said, “You know, once you accept a command of your own, they'll give you your own desk so you don't have to keep stealing mine.”
Ginell smiled, leaning back in the chair and putting both her feet up on the desk, “I don't know, I rather like this one. Maybe we can find somewhere else for you to go when we get back."
“That'll be the day.” He laughed quietly to himself, “I found her first, you find your own.”
He both chuckled to themselves and then sat quietly for a few seconds before Ginell spoke up, “I'm sure you know why I'm here. Knowing you, you've probably gone over the data a hundred times already trying to find a better solution.”
“But there isn't one, at least none that I can find.” He said, still arms crossed and facing the window.
“Estimates project, even with the decoys, there will be two or three ships left behind in orbit while the rest go after the shuttles.” She said, taking her feet off the desk and putting her hands in her lap. She never liked serious conversations like this, but this is one that needed to be had, “Savar thinks the refractive shielding will get us most of the way to the planet undetected, but once he fires those torpedoes, we're going to light up on their sensors like a supernova.”
“And then we'll have two or three Jem'Hadar attack ships bearing down on us as we attempt to escape.” He said, looking down. “Not to mention having to rendezvous with the shuttles inside the nebula, bring them back on board and run like hell back to Federation territory.”
“Are you absolutely sure that there is no possibility for reinforcements from the Fourth Fleet?” Ginell said, optimistically.
“No.” He said, now turning around to face Ginell, “It was made clear in their transmission that the entire fleet is engaged elsewhere, and that this was up to us.”
Ginell sighed and paused for a moment, then got up and looked Kosev straight in the eyes, “Well, then let's do this thing. We're ready out there when you are, Captain.”
He managed a small grin and nodded, then motioned for her to lead the way to the bridge. Nodding, she obliged and headed out, taking her place at the helm. Walking out onto the bridge, he stood in front of his chair and looked around at everyone, then looked to Ginell and said, “Patch me through to the crew.”
Ginell hit a few commands on her console, then nodded and acknowledged the channel was open, the comm making the familiar whistle. He crossed his arms, and then began, “Attention all hands: as you know, we are about to make our bombing run on the facility. We are anticipating most of the enemy fleet to pursue the decoys, but there is no guarantee how many ships will fall for the deception and break orbit.”
He paused a few seconds, looking around the bridge at his officers, then continued, “We have a lot of people counting on us to take out that facility, and we're only going to have one shot at this, but I know from experience that when we put our minds together there is nothing the Federation cannot achieve. Let's go and remind the Dominion who they're dealing with, and who won the war. Red alert.”
“Thiren to Nakav, your clear to launch. Once you're on the other side of the system, communications will be cut off and you'll be in command of the mission. Take your wing in at 1830 hours, once you draw them away, we'll start our approach.”
Kyth nodded on the view screen, “Aye, sir.”
“No heroics, Ensign, I except all of you to come back in once piece. Meet at the designated rendezvous coordinates, we'll pick you up on our way out. Keep each other safe. Thiren out.” He walked over to his chair and took a seat, looking at Savar over his shoulder and then back to Ginell at the helm, “Nothing to do now but wait.”
“Alright everyone, you heard the Captain, let's go and get this done and all come back in one piece. That's an order.” Kyth said over the comm to his shuttle pilots.
As the channel closed, the last of the shuttles launched from the Pioneer, then they all started their journey to the far side of the system together. Kyth was both honored to have been chosen to lead this important part of this mission, especially since he is only an ensign, and also terrified. He didn't know why the captain decided to put him in charge of this mission and not a more senior officer, aside from his renowned piloting skills, but he was honored to have been chosen and trusted by Kosev.
An hour went by as quickly as Kyth had ever seen, and 1830 hours were nearly upon them. Over here on the far side of the system, they were cut off from communicating with the Pioneer due to the interference from the nebula, so if something went wrong, they were truly on their own. Not that there would be much that the Pioneer could do about it anyway, given the odds. It was up to them whether or not this mission succeeded or failed, and Kyth was not about to let his captain down on the first assignment trusted to him.
He watched the time changed to 1830 hours, then activated their secure channel, “Nakav to all ships, engage!”
Four shuttles and a runabout streaked out of the nebula cloud heading for the planet, all of them rigged to emit warp signatures and subspace signals of Sovereign class vessels. It only took thirty seven seconds for the Dominion to respond and divert their forces to intercept them. Kyth opened their secure channel again, “You know the drill, once they get within ten thousand meters, turn and run like hell back to the nebula. Slow to one quarter impulse power, let's give the Pioneer as much time as possible.”
“1830 hours, Captain.” Savar said, continuing to press commands on his console as the red alert klaxon blared behind him.
“Full impulse.” Kosev said, and Ginell acknowledged. Pressing a few controls, the Pioneer emerged from the nebula cloud and rushed toward the planet. Once out of the cloud, the sensors started to function properly again, and Savar conducted a scan of the system. “Two ships remain in orbit of the planet, the other ten vessels are en route to intercept the shuttles."
Kosev nodded, and looked to Ginell, “Well, better odds than we were initially expecting.”
“Every little bit helps.” She said, refocusing on the view screen with a smile.
“Savar, once we are within optimal firing range, don't wait for my order, launch torpedoes. Make sure it's enough to incinerate the entire facility, we won't have the ability to make another pass. Once we fire, it's going to take everything we have to make it back to Federation territory in one piece.” Kosev said, moving to his chair and taking a seat.
Savar acknowledged his orders, and Kosev sat and watched the planet grow so much larger by each passing second, until they were nearly in orbit. He heard Savar announce he was firing the torpedoes, and Kosev watched as ten photon torpedoes, rigged to their highest possible explosive capacity, streaked to the planet below. Ginell also didn't wait for the order, and immediately reversed course at full impulse power and headed straight back towards the nebula cloud.
Kosev watched on the view screen as the torpedoes hit their designated targets and exploded, the yield of the explosion surprising him as he didn't realize just how powerful those torpedoes could be rigged to detonate. As the explosion continued to grow on the surface, he looked at Savar who nodded his head, “Scans confirm, the facility has been totally destroyed captain.”
Kosev smiled, “Great wo-” Before he could finish, several shots from the Jem'Hadar vessels in pursuit impacted the shields, violently rocking the bridge and knocking down an ensign who was standing at the aft science station. Kosev looked to Savar and said, “Phasers!” Savar obliged, and with a few controls, sent several shots with the port and starboard phaser arrays to the Jem'Hadar ships that were along either side of them.
More shots from the Dominion vessels continued to impact the shields, sending sparks flying from the conduits in the ceiling. The next shot saw the engineering console explode, sending the young lieutenant to the ground screaming in agony. Kosev screamed over all the noise, “Time to the nebula perimeter?”
More explosions rocked the ship as Ginell said, “Two minutes, Captain!”
“Shields are down to fifty five percent.” Savar said, continuing to work furiously at his console.
“Savar, attack pattern Thiren four! Target the flanking attack ship! Fire!”
Savar pressed his commands and redirected all phaser fire to the flanking ship, with all beams targeting the nacelle strut on the starboard side. As the continued phaser fire weakened their shields, two aft quantum torpedoes launched and impacted the Jem'Hadar vessel, completely tearing the nacelle off the ship. More shots from the surviving attack vessel came in, prompting Savar to announce, “Captain, shields are at thirty nine percent.”
“Only one target now, Savar. Quantum torpedoes, get them off our tail.” Kosev said, staring at the view screen.
The aft torpedo launched fired torpedo after torpedo until there were four separate streaks of blue flying towards the Jem'Hadar ship. Kosev watched as the torpedoes impacted and the small attack vessel exploded. Cheers erupted around the bridge, Kosev included, as the Pioneer continued forward at maximum impulse towards the outer nebula cloud. Kosev looked to Alia, “Full scan, are you able to pick anything up from the shuttles?”
Alia worked her damaged console, attempting to circumvent the areas that were shorted out, and then pulled up the requested information, “Sensors confirm… debris, Captain, near the outer edge of the system just before the nebula cloud.” She did her best to finish her report, but was completely deflated at the prospect that one or more of the shuttles didn't make it. Kosev stood from his chair, looking to Alia, “Can you confirm the density of the debris? How many shuttles didn't make it?”
A few moments went by as Alia worked on the console, then she shook her head, “Unable to determine from this distance Captain, but if I had to make an educated guess, I would say between two and three of the shuttles didn't make it, sir.”
Kosev, without skipping a beat, looked to Ginell, “Continue on course for the rendezvous coordinates, there still may be survivors. We will wait there as long as we can, then we'll run like hell back to Federation space.” Ginell nodded, turning around in her chair and facing the console once more while Kosev tapped his comm badge, “Bridge to Engineering, work on reassembling the shields, first priority is to get the refractive algorithm back online, otherwise it will be a short trip out of the nebula.”
“Aye, Captain, we're already working on it. We estimate that shields will be online and available as soon as we reach the outer perimeter of the nebula.” Beya said, her entire team running frantically around attempting to patch the damaged systems back together.
“Sir, we're coming up on the rendezvous point.” Ginell said. Kosev crossed his arms, still standing in the middle of the bridge, “Full stop, continue scans for the shuttles.” Several minutes went by, Kosev now taking a seat in his chair. He rubbed his chin, continuing to look out at the view screen, but still there was nothing. Savar felt obligated to point out, “Captain, if they had survived, they should have arrived to the rendezvous point well ahead of us.”
“I'm aware of that, Commander, but I want to give them a little more time.”
“Captain,” Ginell said, looking down, then back up to Kosev, “we can't stay here much longer, the Dominion are actively patrolling the nebula, it's only a matter of time before we're discovered. We… we have to go, sir.”
Kosev was prepared to fight and stand his ground, refusing to give up on his officers, but he knew that she was correct. The longer they lingered there, the greater the chance that they would be discovered, and then they would have the full force of ten attack vessels bearing down on them, something their Intrepid class ship just couldn't handle on its own. He looked around the room, his eyes finally landing on Alia who reluctantly was nodding her head, then Kosev relented and sighed, “Take us back to Federation territory, full impulse until we're clear of the nebula, then punch it up to maximum warp.”
Ginell nodded, and as she was entering the commands, Savar called out, “Belay those orders, Commander.” Kosev stood, looking over at Savar who finally looked up from his console and motioned to the view screen, “Starfleet shuttlecraft approaching aft, on screen Captain.”
Kosev turned and watched on the view screen the shuttle approaching the bay, and noticed by the markings that it was the same craft that Ensign Nakav took out. He then asked out loud, “Lifesigns?”
Savar raised an eyebrow, and almost gave a small smile from the corner of his mouth for a microsecond before saying, “Sensors confirm, four lifesigns, Captain. All shuttle pilots are accounted for.”
Cheers again erupted from around the bridge, Ginell standing to hug Kosev, who was smiling from antenna to antenna. After letting her go, she sat back down, and said, “Shuttle is aboard, Captain. Executing original orders.”
Several minutes went by as the Pioneer neared the outer nebula perimeter, and the turbolift doors opened to reveal Ensign Nakav. Applause, started by the Captain with the rest of the officers following suite, broke out as the young Orion made his way to where the Captain was standing. Kosev put his hand on Kyth's shoulder, “Excellent work, Ensign. Well done.”
“Thank you, Captain.” Kyth said, smiling.
“How did you-?” Ginell started, but Kyth cut her off, “The Jem'Hadar ships were faster than we expected and we couldn't out run them, so I programed the other three shuttles to continue on autopilot and begin firing phasers as soon as they were in range, then beamed the pilots to my shuttle. Had to do a bit of evasive maneuvers, but we managed to make it back in one piece."
Patting him again on the shoulder, smiling and nodding, Kosev motioned Kyth to the helm, “Take your station, Ensign.” He happily obliged with a yes sir, then relieved Commander Daan, who then got up and called down to engineering.
“Engineering here Commander, refractive shielding is back online and operational. Now that the Dominion knows about it, they will no doubt work to counter the technology, but it should still get us most of the way home.” Beya said.
“Excellent work Commander.” Ginell said, who then looked to Kosev who appeared to be reflecting in his thoughts. She walked over to him and put her hand on his shoulder, “What is it?”
“I just wish we were able to bring them all home, but we're going home two short.” He said through a smile. She grabbed his arm and said, “None of them would be going back home if it wasn't for you.”
“For us, you mean.” He smiled.
“And don't forget it.” She laughed.
“You have the bridge Commander, I'll be in my ready room working on the report to Starfleet, and the messages to our officer's families.” He was on his way to the ready room, then stopped in front of the dedication plaque on the wall, and touched it, then turned to the crew, “Yet another engagement for the Pioneer, and she didn't let us down.”