The two teams started to head out, but Lieutenant Barnes interrupted. "Excuse me. By your leave, how will they let us know without communicators?" he asked.
       "Good point," Evans said. "If you see anything, wave both arms. If you see nothing, hold your arms out straight to the side until you see us wave back. Then I'll either split up the group or I will wave for one group to come back here and we'll all go the other direction."
       "It better not be far," someone said. "The Klingons took everything; they didn't even give us any food."
       "The Klingons put us somewhere we can find help soon enough," Evans said. "The rules of war require them to do that for prisoners abandoned on a planet. This is obviously some kind of colony, probably one of ours."
       "On the other hand," Crew Chief Andresson said, "we could just wait a minute see what that guy has to say." She gestured in one direction. A minor dust cloud marked the approach of someone riding some kind of power cycle. It took him only a minute to arrive. He was, clearly, human.
       "Welcome to Delta Pavonis," the stranger said. "I'm Bill. The Klingons said they were dropping you out here so it didn't cause a panic. I think they're afraid we would shoot you, thinking you're a Klingon landing force."
       "How far," Evans asked.
       "Just over that hill," Bill said. "Not even two kilometers. I can go back and get a truck if you want."
Evans quickly looked around at his command. "We can walk."
       "Are the Klingons here?" Ensign Stone asked.
       "Nah," Bill said. "We just got a call on subspace, reckon from the ship wha' dropped ya'll off. Some Klingon ship came by these parts three days back and hauled off all da' stuff from the mine. They said they'd come back every two months to get more, and that they Œspect we'd have it ready if we don' want no trouble. The feller who talked to the mayor was a civilian, if'n you can believe that. He worked for some Klingon mining company."
       "Ok, everyone," Evans said, "welcome to the rest of the war. But remember, you are all still in the military until I tell you otherwise. I expect that the local government is going to have to find us something to do to earn our keep."
       "Yeah, the Mayor is waiting to chat wi'd you," Bill said. "He said he don' want no trouble with them Klingon fellers. No go-riller warfare, none of that stuff."
       We'll see about that, Evans said to himself. I don't know enough yet to accept those terms. We have an obligation to resist, and if we can do so without endangering civilians, we will.
       The group started walking.

Bridge, DNL Star Cougar, at K1, 14 August Y171
       "Mission orders!" the communications officer said as he entered Fleet Captain Schoeller's office. "We have a target!"
       "What?" Schoeller asked, "Where?"
       "I decoded the file but only read the cover sheet," the communications officer said, handing it to him.
Schoeller took the file, and said, "Staff meeting in 30 minutes in the conference room. Dismissed." He began to read, then had to put the file down and take a deep breath.
       This is what they pay you for, he said to himself, taking up the file again and reading it.
       When he reached the Conference Room, he had gained control over his voice and emotions. They're not stupid, he said to himself. They'll know that this is a suicide mission. We are not going to come back.
       "Take your seats, everyone," Schoeller said. They had been given a warning order four hours earlier, and knew that they'd be on their first deep penetration strike mission before the day was over. The buzz around the table was electric.
       "We have been given a mission and a target," Schoeller said. "This mission is vital to the Federation. You'll all see why in a minute. Operation Red Dawn is a series of three strikes, by us, Wolverine, and Eagle, each at a separate target, and all of those targets are of vital importance. Every ship must succeed.
       "Our target is a Klingon convoy containing suicide freighters, troop transports, and munitions. That convoy is en route to Starbase 15, and if it gets there, Starbase 15 will be destroyed.
       "I don't have to tell you that this mission is dangerous," he continued. "In fact, I'll tell you straight up that we're not coming back. It's too far and too dangerous for that. This is a one-way trip, and anyone who wants to turn himself in to the base provost marshal as a coward can do so before we leave. Half of us are going to die, and the rest will spend the war in a prison camp. If any member of this crew is not ready to do his duty, I don't want him along on the mission.
       "This ship has less than a week to live, but if we don't do this, Starbase 15 will be destroyed, and with it, the whole Third Fleet will be destroyed and the Klingons will be attacking the inner ring of battle stations by this time next month. I would not ask you for your lives for anything less than this.
        "This is the war, in one battle," he said. "If we succeed, Starbase 15 holds and the Home Fleet arrives and the Klingons are sent back where they came from. If we fail, or if we refuse to try, Starbase 15 and the Third Fleet will be destroyed, and the home systems will be under bombardment.
       "Your families are going to miss you," he concluded, "but if we don't stop the Klingons, your families are going to die from Klingon nuclear bombs or spend their lives as Klingon slaves.
        "I am linking the mission order to your PADDs," he said. "If anyone has a question, wait until we all have finished reading."
       When the Star Cougar left on its first and final wartime mission eight hours later, Schoeller could only say to himself, and in his final letter to his wife and son, "I only hope the convoy is what we think it is. I hope this is all worth it."

Bridge, CF Wolverine, at K2, 14 August Y171
       "Mission orders!" the communications officer said as he entered the conference room.
       "Get Kopenski and Chiles back here," Captain Matthews said. Since receiving the warning order a few hours earlier, the entire staff had hovered in the conference room, going over status reports. Most stayed, but some had to leave briefly to check on something or to perform some duty. "I am linking the file to everyone's PADD. Start reading, but wait until we all finish."
       The war was nearly two weeks old, and Wolverine had only fought one battle, driving a Klingon raider out of the Third Fleet's rear area. They were ready for another mission.
       "Operation Red Dawn," Commander Sandrine said as she opened the file. Matthews made shushing noises at her. Wolverine was assigned to destroy a Klingon D6S, a cruiser-sized electronic warfare platform that was controlling the movements of the entire Eastern Fleet as it closed in on Starbase 15.
       "We can do this," Matthews said. "We will do this."

Emergency Bridge, CA Agincourt, 21 August Y171
       "Sir, the captain is dead," came the voice of the medical technician from the bridge.
       "Acknowledged," Commander McClair said. "File a report and have the chief surgeon sign off on it when he can."
       "Yes, Sir," the medical technician responded.
       "You were saying?" McClair said, turning back to the deputy chief, now chief, engineer.
       "The ship is a wreck," Lieutenant Kiligaties responded. "I have one working phaser, and that's it for weapons. The photon tubes cannot be repaired because they are not even there. Give me a week and I can get a couple more phasers working. Warp power is down to 35%, but maybe in a week I can get it back to 50%. Short of a major repair facility, that's the end of what I can do. That last battle did us in."
       Agincourt had been in five battles since the Klingons invaded: their first one, two scrapes with raiders, and an inconclusive fight with both sides losing a frigate. The last battle had been a death duel with a Klingon D7, and while the Klingon ship was destroyed, Agincourt wasn't going to fight again ‹ not anytime soon.
       "Do the best you can," McClair said. "Focus on the engines. If we cannot get back to the Admiral's main squadron, we're dead meat for the next raider that stumbles across us.
       "Or the next armed freighter," Lieutenant Kiligaties said.

Bridge, CA Hornet, 23 August, Y171
       "You're good to go," the engineer said. "My teams have fixed everything they can. You're good for warp, at least one phaser in each battery works, and two of the photons. The drone rack doesn't, but fleet supply is short of drones anyway."
       "Go where?" Captain Thellessan asked. "A shipyard?"
       "No, sorry," the engineer said. "From what I have been told, you're part of the reserve squadron, at least for now. The admiral will keep you with the cargo ships, guarding them against raiders, or so I heard. I expect that someone from the command staff will be on to you about orders as soon as I report in."
       "He expects us to fight?" Thellessan said with astonishment.
       "Son, there's a war on," the engineer said. "Your ship may be half broken but it's a lot better than no ship at all. Until Home Fleet gets here, your ship is one part of the Third Fleet, and the Third Fleet is missing half of its parts. They cannot spare you. If you were going home, I wouldn't have fixed your weapons, and you knew that."

Bridge, DN Star League, 3 September, Y171
       "Does the admiral know about those Klingons?" Captain Assoud asked as the battle stations alarm sounded.
         "Of course, Sir," the scanner officer replied. "They see the same thing we do, and I pinged their panel and got a confirmation back that they saw the ships. Two cruisers and a frigate."
       The intercom chirped. "Captain Assoud here," he answered.
       "Captain, I see the ship has already reported at battle stations. That's a good time. You already know what's happening, so I won't bore you with details. Take the ship out at best speed to intercept the approaching vessels. You will engage them there, hoping to buy enough time for the convoy to escape. We are contacting the Arbela, and she'll be here shortly. Questions?
       "One, Sir. How long for the Arbela? Without her here, this will be one stiff fight."
       "Unknown. Assume 20 minutes, worst case."
       "Aye, Sir," Captain Assoud said.
        "I'm taking my flag to the Archibald Cox. Good luck and God speed, Captain. Connell out," the admiral's voice said.
       "You heard the man," Assoud said. "Point the bow at the Klingons and prepare for maximum speed as soon as the admiral is away." Assoud wondered if perhaps this would be the last battle of the opening phase of the war. By the time this was done, perhaps Home Fleet would be within range.