March 2007

Star Fleet Fiction Continued

A Mission of Vital Importance Chapter 4

by Randy O. Green

"Tarkanss, have we got the beam down coordinatess yet?" Tarkanss looked up from his instruments.

"I jusst ssent them to the transsporter room, Captain."

"Good. How long do we have before the Warbird and Ssnipe reach uss?"

"Ten minutess Captain, no longer," Tarkanss replied. Rarxarth banged on the intercom switch. "Transsporter room, beam out Red Diamond Four. Tell them good luck!"

Down in the transporter room, the six heavily armed commandos of Red Diamond Four shimmered out, counting on the element of surprise from the sudden transporter assault to achieve their objective.

Bridge, Gorn cruiser First Strike, Arbollah System

Ssenior Captain Laer Dardiss was feeling very uneasy. He had expected the approaches to Arbollah Five to be one long battle. But after they had screamed by the first line of Romulan defenses at the border, it had been a cakewalk.

Now they were inbound on the planet and his communications officer, Senior Lieutenant Traxx Finolce, was just starting to pick up chatter about them on sub-space radio.

"No Romulan warsships nearby, Ssenior Captain," his science officer, Junior Commander Ress Trenma, informed.

"We musst have caught them in the middle of moving their forcess around. That’ss the only explanation I have, Ress."

"I concur, Captain. It jusst feelss like a trap." The science officer shrugged his massive shoulders eloquently.

"I know Ress. I have that feeling alsso, but it doessn't make ssensse to leave an entire planetary ssysstem defensseless. Perhapss there iss an internal power sstruggle that we are not aware of?" Dardiss postulated. He came to a decision. "We'll proceed asss planned. Continue at maximum sspeed. We'll make one pass around the planet to verify the location of the warp ressearch facility. Then we'll inssert Red Diamond Three on the next pass. We'll make one more pass after that to extract them, if they live that long. Then we are homeward bound. Any quesstionss?" As expected, his bridge crew had none.

He pushed hard on his intercom button and keyed Senior Lieutenant Mahgs Ssquartz on the Lieutenant's personal channel. "All sset Lieutenant?"

"Affirmative, Ssenior Captain. My team is tired of sstanding around and playing tourissts."

"Time to earn your keep then, Lieutenant. Beam-down in ten minutes. We're going to put you down within the perimeter so you won’t trip any alarms. Hopefully you won't, anyway. Good luck."

"Affirmative Captain. We plan on putting a lot of firepower on thiss place. Jusst don't forget to pick us back up when we’re through with our little jaunt," Ssquartz answered.

"We won't Ssquartz. Wouldn't want to wasste all that money we sspent training you ground pounderss." He grinned a toothy grin and cut the channel.

"Full ahead, Ss'Arnath," he ordered his helmsman, Junior Lieutenant Minn S'Arnath. The big Gihdahrian complied, the light reflecting off his dark green scales.

The First Strike accelerated hard, straight for the lush planet of Arbollah Five.

Romulan Research Facility, Arbollah System

Six Gorns coalesced outside the research facility, just inside the jungle edge. Their atoms had barely reintegrated from the matter stream when Ssquartz held up a balled fist and shook it. As one the team moved out, easing through the dense undergrowth. They were almost invisible, their green hides serving as natural camouflage.

The jungle was hot and humid and crawling with life. It reminded Ssquartz of the jungles of Gihdahr and smelled much the same, a riotous assault on the olfactory senses. There were some differences of course, but the similarities between the two worlds made him homesick.

Then something struck his armored foot. He looked down as an odd looking beast fastened itself grimly to his boot, all legs and claws and at least five rows of serrated teeth. It was trying to saw through his boot's armor plating. Luckily, his combat armor was tougher than the animal’s teeth. Reflexively he pointed his laser at the creature, and then realized that shooting the thing off of his foot probably wasn't a good idea. In addition to the damage it would cause him, it might set off Romulan sensor alarms as well. He shook his foot vigorously, but the creature stayed attached. Ssquartz was beginning to wonder if he would have to conduct the raid with the creature attached to him when Kadersson reached down, grabbed the thing with both hands and heaved it away from them. Then he grinned at Ssquartz. Ssquartz just shrugged helplessly at his team's silent laughter. He resumed the trek and his team fell in behind him.

They eventually came to the jungle’s edge, having quietly killed two other alien creatures en route. As in their training, two Romulans were walking guard duty, their expressions every bit as bored as the Gorns they had stunned at the training facility.

Ssquartz signaled Ensign Danress Jermiss and Senior Sergeant Rackss to take them out. He had just enough time to wonder how their intelligence for the mission could have been so accurate when the two Romulans died from laser shots to the head. Ssquartz stepped out into the open and hurried across to the entrance. The other five members of the team followed him closely. As they reached the door, Ssquartz heard a whirring noise and looked up, straight into a video camera. He halted, frozen for a second. Rackss came up beside him, reached up and snatched the device off the wall. Ssquartz snapped out of his momentary hesitation and watched Rackss place the explosive packet on the door. An alarm started to wail as the team scrambled around the building's corner.

They had barely made it when the explosive detonated and the door was destroyed. Quickly they retraced their steps and entered the building.

The first Romulan they saw was lying dead inside the doorway, but the second one ducked back inside a room. As they neared the open door, the Romulan got off a hasty shot with his pistol that seared the wall near Sstantss's head. Sstantss instinctively ducked as Rackss pulled a fragmentation grenade off his belt and tossed it into the room. They could hear the Romulan diving for cover but it was too late. The grenade detonated and the walls seemed to shake. Pempcoco Jagg stepped in and silenced the moaning Romulan with a short laser burst.

The team hurried down the hall, with Ssquartz holding his tricorder up, scanning each room as they came to it. Three times they tossed grenades into a room and the two Ensigns swept the room after the blast. Twice they fought quick, sharp battles in the corridor, smoke from the Romulan weapons and their own grenades stinging their eyes.

They reached their objective. Sstantss and Jermiss kicked the double doors open and rushed in with all the subtlety of bull elephants. Trained to a fever pitch over the last two months, they took out three guards who were using a counter as partial concealment with precisely aimed headshots. The guards managed to get off a couple of wildly inaccurate bursts with semiautomatic weapons but missed both ensigns in the seconds they had to respond. Next to die was a senior scientist who, for whatever reason, was still in the room. Jermiss and Sstantss took up firing positions covering both entrances, the lessons they had learned on the first day of mission training not being lost.

Kadersson trundled in and Ssquartz helped him get the bomb off of his back. A tactical nuke, it would be sufficient to destroy the whole facility. Hopefully that would be enough to destroy any data that had been backed up on-site. After it detonated, the ship would launch a second nuclear weapon to air burst above the target.

Rackss and Ssquartz watched Kadersson arm the bomb dispassionately. Neither one had any desire to be here when it detonated. Their eyes met as Kadersson pressed the final switch and a large red digital readout began ticking down ominously. There was no way to defuse the bomb, and any attempt to tamper with it would set it off.

While they were involved in this, Pempcoco Jagg was tapping into the main research workstation with his tricorder. It took a few minutes but he managed to bypass the computer safeguards, downloading data. Next he uploaded a virus that would seek out any of a dozen key words over planetary network links that Intelligence had deciphered as being a reference to warp research and delete that data. It was a nasty little virus. Similar, and not so similar, viruses were being implanted into Romulan networks on other planets, some by Diamond teams, some by ships, some by spies.

The transporter alarm on Ssquartz’s belt went off and instinctively the team began to assume beam-up stances. As they did, two Romulans burst through what was left of the double doors, automatic weapons firing as they did so. Jermiss crumpled under the impact of the armor-piercing Romulan bullets. Sstantss and Rackss returned fire, killing the two Romulans.

The team shimmered out in a green de-materialization pattern. Ssquartz's vision blurred, then sight returned as he reintegrated among familiar surroundings. A medical team stationed in the First Strike's transporter room started forward to help them. Ssquartz turned around to help Jermiss, but as he saw the ruined face of his newest Ensign, he knew it was too late. The young Gorn was already dead. With a heavy heart, he walked over to the intercom switch behind the transporter control console to report mission success to Senior Captain Dardiss.

Below him, on the surface of Arbollah Five, a small sun was born. A second followed, just above the surface, a minute later.

Bridge, Gorn Cruiser First Strike

"Heading 21, Mark 12 Ss'Arnath. Maximum cruissing sspeed, pleasse. The Tussk iss the nearesst sship to uss. Let'ss ssee if we can cover their withdrawal." It was not a gesture of magnanimity, but a part of the plan. Seven of the eight of the ships that had penetrated the Romulan frontier were pairing up, in one case tripling up. The Romulans were now alert and furious and likely to try and block the escaping Gorns. Four other ships were making a determined attack on Romulan patrol units, blasting a hole through the frontier that some of the raiders could use to escape.

The First Strike increased speed, and angled for the designated retreat route for its smaller brethren, its bridge crew worriedly considering fuel reserves and possible Romulan fleet responses. Ssenior Captain Laer Dardiss sat back in his command chair and tried to relax. It looked like it was going to be a long mission.

Research Facility, Coration-III-Moon

Pertinax Ruvellus was a proud warrior. That he was also the cousin of Emperor Ruvellus was inconsequential in his mind. Also, he had not made Major-Centurion in an inordinately short time on the strength of his pride and family relationships alone. He was a warrior of quick mind and cunning and as soon as he had received notice from Ante-Commander Casifax that a Gorn raid was inbound, he had decided that the research facility was the primary target.

He had quickly placed his squad of seasoned soldiers to work fashioning barricades out of whatever benches and furniture they could, anything that would slow a Gorn Commando team down. Then he had placed the warriors behind them, and stationed some as a reaction force. With his men supplementing the House Antreidies security team, he thought they would be able to hold off anything but an assault by a full battalion of Marines. Of course, if the Gorns simply bombarded the facility from orbit, even its lowest levels were not beyond the reach of Gorn nuclear warheads. Preparing for a ground assault kept his mind away from thoughts of a plummeting nuclear bomb.

He had placed himself in the research lab with the House Antreidies head warp researcher himself, a scientist named Fale Vilenus. Vilenus had gone into a funk when he had notified him of the possible Gorn attack. Now as Vilenus quavered behind his workstation, Ruvellus reflected on what the scientist had said to him a few minutes before the attack warning.

Vilenus had hinted at a vital new discovery earlier that morning. He was researching methods to more securely stabilize warp engines. This would give them the ability to fight at warp speeds, the secret of which, despite the best minds of the Empire working on the problem, had managed to elude them. And Vilenus was intimating that he had uncovered that secret. Ruvellus was not sure whether to believe him or not, but he knew if the man's claims were true, he would have to be protected at all costs. Given an hour's warning, he would have tried to evacuate the scientists and their data; as it was, the best he could do was transmit the files to a mining station on the same moon and prepare to defend the scientists.

Ruvellus also wondered at the timing of the attack, coming as it did on the heels of the discovery. That smacked of the possibility of a Gorn spy, but he dismissed the thought immediately. He knew no self-respecting Romulan would conspire with the repellant reptiles, and any military operation as large as the Gorn attack would have taken weeks to prepare. It was just bad luck, but at least the fates had placed him and his squad of marines precisely where they needed to be to influence history. His Uncle would have to take him seriously then. A flicker of the face of a young lady he wanted to marry, but was unworthy of, crossed his mind, but he forced himself to focus on the business at hand.

He checked his weapon and his armor. Then he said a little prayer and settled to wait and see if any enemy soldiers made it past his men. He sincerely doubted that any would, but a good warrior never gave up hope.

Surface, Moon of Coration-III

Red Diamond Four materialized a few hundred yards from the domes of the research station. Senior Lieutenant Tranxkss checked the heads-up display on the inside of his vacuum suit for any alarms. Next, he looked around to verify that the rest of Red Diamond Four had made the beam-down in one piece. Five vaccsuited figures with their names emblazoned on the front of the suits gave him a fist-up gesture to show him that everything was ok. Senior Sergeant Jherm moved over to a bulky object festooned with carrying straps that had beamed down with them. Reaching down in the light gravity, he carefully, but effortlessly, picked up the object and strapped it to his back.

Tranxkss checked to make sure the package was on securely, and then motioned for the team to follow him. It was tricky in the light gravity, but the Gorn Vanguard team moved swiftly and surely. They had trained extensively in lo-gee conditions for this mission. Tranxkss wondered, not for the first time, how their intelligence for this mission could have been so good.

They worked toward the moon base slowly, only the sound of their labored breathing keeping each one company inside his vacc suit. Tranxkss glanced up at the world of Coration Three suspended to the right of the moon base. He was suddenly struck by a strange thought as he realized how insignificant in the scheme of things he actually was. He looked up, trying to locate the Tusk, even though logically he knew that to do so would be impossible. He pushed the strange thought aside, along with the feeling that he would never see his home world of Geydar again, and returned his attention to trekking across the surface of the alien moon.

Twice they avoided alarms that were detected by the tricorder his second-in-command, Junior Lieutenant Ulina Skathss was waving around, and once they crouched low as a Romulan shuttle flew by on a lonely patrol. They continued to scramble across the rocky surface toward the research station.

They reached the station's airlock without incident. The rest of the team took cover behind a rock outcropping as Tranxkss bounced forward and landed beside the entrance. He slapped an explosives packet on the door, armed it, and then beat a hasty, bounding retreat, joining the team behind the outcropping. He knew that Ensign Ylanh had a second explosive packet ready to place on the airlock’s inner doors. He also knew that in a vacuum, any rocks kicked up by the blast would be as lethal as armor piercing bullets.

Then something unexpected happened. Mere seconds before the door blew, a light turned green above the doorway, and the door slid aside noiselessly. A vacc-suited Romulan, evidently a repair technician with the worst luck in the galaxy, stepped out.

The explosive packet went off silently, but they could feel the ground reverberate with the explosion. The Romulan was shredded instantly, his body spiraling off in the low gravity, shedding blood and vacc suit parts. Multiple fragments pierced the inner door in a dozen places. The outer door was destroyed.

Ylanh bounded over the rock wall and raced for the inner door, ignoring the blood and body fragments peppering the inside of the airlock. He could see wisps of atmosphere bleeding through holes in the door. He slapped the packet on the surface of the inner door, activated it, and turned to retreat all in one motion.

There was another explosion. The remains of the inner door were blown inward, then a second later sucked outward as the moon-base underwent explosive decompression. Red Diamond Four waited a few seconds as the atmosphere roared out, then they moved as fast as possible for the entrance. One by one, they filed in, weapons at the ready. Junior Lieutenant Skathss had his tricorder out and was scanning for life signs. He could find none in the compartment they were entering.

They moved quickly once they got inside. The moon base had artificial gravity, and the explosion hadn’t damaged the machinery that powered it. The team entered a small corridor lit by strobe-like emergency lights, and ran into the first obstacle. An emergency bulkhead had closed when the decompression alarm had gone off, and sealed off the section they were in.

Tranxkss, still sticking to mission protocol and refusing to break radio silence, motioned to Junior Sergeant Foedd to run a bypass that would open the bulkhead. Foedd moved forward to comply, a flickering shadow in the emergency lighting. Tranx knew Foedd was well trained, and it would only take seconds, but the feeling he had pushed away outside was coming back. He tried to force it away again, but he couldn’t help but wonder. Would his life end here?

Bridge, Gorn Destroyer Tusk

"Warbird and Ssnipe one hundred kkilometerss and clossing, Captain," Tarkanss reported. The Science Officer looked over at Rarxarth. "They will reach firing range ssoon."

Rarxarth studied the tactical view screen for a moment, watching the two enemy warships close at a snail-like pace.

"Progernsst, bring uss up to warp one. I want to sstay ahead of them by sseventy thousand kilometerss. We'll draw them away from the planet and give the team time to accomplissh their mission."

"Freighter alsso clossing, Captain, It'ss almosst at the moon basse." This was curious. Why would a freighter, really nothing more than a target during a space battle, continue to move toward the enemy?

"Noted, Tarkanss. If we get an opportunity to desstroy it, we will. Any ssign of other warsshipss?"

"Romulan ssubsspace frequenciess are alive with traffic Captain. I cannot guess how long we have before we ssee reinforcementss."

Rarxarth nodded. He knew that they could not stay here much longer before the Romulan noose closed around them. But he had to give the team a chance to complete the job.

"Continue on coursse, Progernsst. Let'ss ssee how far we can bait them."

"Yess, ssir," Progernsst replied. Rarxarth heard the helmsman mutter under his breath.

"What wass that, Progernsst?"

"I jusst want to feed them some lasserss, sir."

"I'm sure we'll get another opportunity, S'slith," Rarxarth grinned, despite the seriousness of the situation.

The Tusk began to move, the moon of Coration-III receding slowly behind it.

***To Be Continued***