Bridge, CA Valiant, Fourth Fleet, Near Battle Station K8
        Captain Harmon K. Rankin left his quarters en route to the bridge, reaching the turbolift in only a few steps. An ensign already in the car quickly stepped out of it in a misguided effort to show respect.
        "Get back in here, Ensign," Captain Rankin said. "I don't bite."
        "Very well, Sir," the ensign said.
        The young woman remained silent and at attention until departing on the deck below the bridge. Rankin sighed. Many of his officers and all four of the new ensigns treated him with awe. It was a little awkward and a trifle annoying.
While every new ensign held the captain of his first regular ship in a little awe, in Rankin's case, it was far more than that. Captain Harmon K. Rankin held the Star Fleet Gold Star, the highest award for combat heroism that there was.
        And he had never known, from the day he woke up in the Starbase 15 hospital to find it pinned to his pillow, if he had actually earned it.
        Twenty years ago, the last time the Federation and Klingons had been at war, the old heavy cruiser Repulse had been patrolling this border. Attacked by a Klingon D7 and two frigates, the Repulse had fought a clever delaying action, escaping from the trap and shepherding two cargo ships out of danger. Rankin had been a spare ensign assigned to the portside phaser battery. The compartment had suffered heavy damage, but the phasers were still operable and, due to the damage the ship had sustained, could not be controlled from the bridge. The last thing that Ensign Rankin remembered was seeing half of the phaser crew dead, and himself sitting in the master gunner's seat next to the lieutenant, firing as fast as the phasers would cycle. Rankin was injured, his left arm broken and blood flowing from cuts, but he had declined the opportunity to go to sick bay.
        Records of the battle showed that someone had been operating both of the phasers as fires raged around, and inside, the compartment. When the battle was over, everyone in the compartment was dead except for the comatose Ensign Rankin and one petty officer, whose last words literally were, "The ensign."
The captain had recommended Ensign Rankin for the Silver Star and Star Fleet, perhaps needing a hero, upgraded it to the Gold Star. When Ensign Rankin woke up in the Starbase 15 hospital a week later, he had been promoted to lieutenant and given The Medal. The admiral commanding the Third Fleet had come by and assured him that the records were clear: Ensign Rankin had stayed at his post when everyone else was dead or wounded, and if those phasers had not remained in operation, the Repulse would have been destroyed.
        Lieutenant Rankin asked the doctors why he did not remember anything. He was told that the human brain often forgot everything in the few minutes before a major trauma. The events in short-term memory simply did not get recorded into long-term memory because of the shock and trauma. A staff officer from Third Fleet came by to assure him, again, that the records were very clear, and he was indeed the hero of the hour.
        He tried to access the records and found they were sealed. When he managed to gain access to those records a decade later, he found them far from convincing. It was not that they proved he was not a hero; it was that they proved nothing. The records were simply too damaged to show, one way or another, who had been the one who was firing those phasers, and how long that person had been at his post alone. For all Rankin knew, the lieutenant, or one of the petty officers, had been the real hero, or maybe it had been a team effort. Or maybe he had, in fact, earned the highest medal that Star Fleet had.
        The Medal meant that every time he faced a promotion board, he was no lower than the upper third of the list. To be sure, he was a competent officer, and had gone through all of the courses, schools, assignments, and duties. But then, The Medal meant that he always got (at least) a good assignment. He had been a gunnery officer, navigator, chief engineer, and XO before finally arriving at the Valiant with brand new captain's rings on his sleeves.
        He wasn't even supposed to be captain of the Valiant. Star Fleet normally assigned a prospective captain to a ship as XO for a year so that he could get used to the ship's quirks and customs, and the crew's culture and traditions. Rankin had been XO of the Agincourt, waiting patiently for the captain to finish out his command tour. He was comfortable in being a full 10 months away from taking command when the captain of the Valiant dropped dead from a stroke, one so massive that even the best of the sick bay's technology could not save him. The captain had been in command for only two months, and Valiant's XO had been on the ship for only a week. Protocol said that the command should go to the senior heavy cruiser XO in the fleet, as long as he had at least six months on the job, and that was Commander Harmon K. Rankin, XO of the Agincourt.
        For a few days, it had appeared that the Admiral of the Third Fleet would pull strings and give the Valiant to an officer on his staff, but The Medal had made that impossible. Rankin got the promotion and the command. Two months later, without any plausible reason, Valiant was sent to the Fourth Fleet in trade for the Hood. Rankin wondered if the Third Fleet commander was still upset about having to give the ship to Rankin. Perhaps that was the reason why, when Fourth Fleet had to move one of their heavy cruisers to the edge of their patrol area, they picked Valiant. Rankin imagined that the Fourth Fleet commander was trying to stick something in the eye of Admiral Connell, commander of the Third Fleet. Whatever, Rankin muttered to himself.
        "Captain on the bridge," Francine Pendrake, the XO, announced as Rankin entered the compartment.
        "Situation," Rankin said crisply.
       "Nothing new," Commander Pendrake said. "We're flying a racetrack pattern between Battle Station Z1 and the edge of the Fourth Fleet sector. Commo checks with Battle Station K8 are routine. The war warning remains in effect, and the Klingon battle stations across the border are broadcasting a lot of coded message traffic, along with the usual routine messages to our battle stations about traffic patterns."

DAY ONE, 2 August Y171
        Given the realities of geography, no one was really in a position to see the entire event in real time. Given the differences in distance, and the differences in reaction to the first signs of trouble, reports from other locations arrived in a confusing cacophony of partial reports, amended reports, corrected reports, and (hardest to detect but most important of all) reports that were never sent because the transmitters were no longer functioning.

Bridge, FedEx Courier Bronco, Klingon Space
        "What did the Klingon message say?" the captain asked as he entered the bridge.
        "Stop in place and await instructions," the communications technician said. "They were firm and abrupt, but then, the Klingons always are."
        "How far to the border?" the captain asked.
        "Less than an hour," the officer of the deck answered.
        "Keep going," the captain said. "Do not reply to their transmission, and wait for them to notice we didn't stop and tell us again. Do not talk to the Klingons at all without my permission. What do we have around us?"
        "Nothing friendly," the officer of the deck said. "All of Star Fleet's ships have left the Neutral Zone. All of the police patrol ships have pulled into the border stations. The nearest Klingon is a police ship a half an hour to our left, second closest is something, maybe a frigate or a corvette an hour to our right. Neither of them can catch us, not with us going at Warp 9.3 anyway. There is a pretty big concentration of signatures at the edge of our passive detection range on our right. Must be a whole fleet; I doubt I could even see an individual ship that far away. We're safe, even if we're still an hour from the border. They don't have anything in place to intercept us."
        "Another signal from the Klingons," the communications technician said. "A copy of the first one, a standard repeat of an unanswered message. Nothing frantic yet."
        "Engineer, this is the captain. Prepare for emergency speed, as much as you can give me, on my command."
        "We'll be ready," the engineer said.
        "Any reason we don't just get out of here?" the officer of the deck asked the captain.
        "I don't want to spook anyone," the captain said.
         "Captain!" the sensor technician said. "I am picking up a target on our port quarter, closing fast at Warp 9.5, must be a raider of some kind, probably a battlecruiser."
       "Full speed," the captain said, then followed with, "Emergency speed, everything we can pile on."
        A chorus of voices responded.
        "Comms, get a message to company HQ," the captain said, "copies to battle stations K5 and K6. We're coming home, and we're coming home like a cat with his tail on fire."

Bridge, CA Hood, Orbiting Tanga Colony
        "Captain on the bridge!" a voice called out as Captain T'Lara stormed out of the turbolift.
        "What have you got?" she demanded.
        "Three Klingon cruisers just came into the system," Commander Muncie reported. "We didn't see them until they came over the horizon. They're at full speed and coming straight at us. They're way the heck into Federation territory."
        "Red alert!" Captain T'Lara ordered. "Head directly for the Klingon ships!"
        "Torpedoes?" Commander Wellington asked.
        "Negative," Captain T'Lara ordered. "Maximum speed, and put the rest of the power into the forward shield. If they don't fire until we get up to speed, we'll get out of here."
        "One's a D7, Captain," called Commander Muncie. "The other pair are D6s. Range is 200,000 klicks and closing."
        "Is this for real," someone said, "or are they just harassing us?" Before anyone could answer, one of the D6s fired four disruptors into the Hood's forward shield. Green waves of energy washed over the screen; the shield held.
        "You have your answer," Captain T'Lara said.
        The battle continued, but everyone on board Hood knew that their ship was doomed. They had been caught at low speed by superior numbers, and they were not going to get away. The Klingons came onward in a hail of phaser and disruptor fire, and behind a wave of drones. One of the Klingon ships tractored the Hood, which could not break free. In desperation, the ship separated its saucer, leaving the warp engines, the rear hull, and a third of the crew to die in a nuclear firestorm of drone warheads. The Klingons, their scanners temporarily blinded by the explosion, did not notice the saucer diving into the planet's oceans.
         The fight was over, and the mighty Hood had gone down.