November 2009

Portside Axial Corridor, Deck Six

Without time for a combat dressing, Rakarra tried to stop the flow of blood by pressing his left arm against the wound. The pain was unbelievable. Keeping his left arm in place, he let his left hand reach for a pull the tabs on his belt that released a pain killer into his system. His vision began to clear. From the firepower going past the end of the cross-corridor left-to-right, it was clear that the Demonslayer's crew had, at least for now, achieved complete suppression of his own team. Only a few sporadic shots went right-to-left, indicating men taking blind shots around corners.

The Dunkar came up beside Rakarra, kneeling as he kept his disruptor rifle at the ready, and placing a hand on the bear-ape's massive brow. Rakarra sat up, but did not try to stand.

"I can fight," Rakarra said. "We must do something before they trap the team and hunt us down."

"No retreat," the Dunkar said. It was a statement, not a question. The Dunkar could not have dragged Rakarra to one of the barracks hatches, not in time to escape, and doing so would have left the team trapped, each man in a separate compartment.

"Grenades," Rakarra said. "Bounce them off the walls." The Slirdarian released his grip on his massive firearm, laying it on the floor, and used his right hand to pull a grenade from his belt. He rolled to the left to get the best angle he could to throw the grenade around the corner. The Dunkar kept his rifle pointed at the junction, expecting the Klingons to appear around it at any moment. He stepped left, against the bulkhead wall to get a better angle, and pulled one of his own grenades with his left hand, arming it with his thumb. Rakarra pump-faked his arm twice, releasing the grenade on the third motion. The Dunkar threw his own grenade simultaneously, aiming high as he knew that Rakarra would aim low from his sitting position. It would be the height of irony for the two grenades to collide in mid-air.

Lieutenant Kovat led his team down the stairwell into Deck Seven, passing through the communications bay under the turbolift alley that ran down the centerline of Deck Six. Pausing for a moment, he turned around to organize his team, pointing to each man and motioning to convey his assignment. Two of them would throw grenades, one in each direction, after which Kovat and the engineering technician would burst up the stairwell and face in opposite directions, shooting anyone they could see. The explosion of the grenades would warn Kenyil to pull back out of the line of fire. The grenadiers and the last four members of the team would then come up the stairs and begin a search-and-destroy mission. The designated men holstered their pistols and pulled two grenades each, and moved for the stairs. The explosion of the anti-personnel weapons placed at the foot of the stairs by Rakarra's flank guard ripped into the team, killing Kovat and the grenadiers instantly, and wounding the others. The explosion of the four grenades they had been holding finished the job.

Kurs heard the turbolift behind him open, and the explosion of the satchel charge. He turned his head to look at the rifleman in the cross-corridor, who signaled that he was unhurt. The sounds of a major battle, and more explosions, echoed from the direction of Auxiliary Control. Kurs could see down the long passageway into the boom, and knew that no one was coming, but there was a staircase in the centerline wall, which led up into the Science Labs. That gave him an idea. He could leave his post, go up into the Science Labs, and come down on the far side of the turbolift shaft, then work his way aft down the starboard axial corridor. But no, he decided, this would be a foolhardy plan. It would leave his post unguarded, and an attack by a single man would be easily countered by a guard watching the starboard axial corridor. He considered using his communicator to ask Rakarra for permission, perhaps even support, but decided not to bother the team leader during the battle. If Rakarra wanted him, he would call.

Kenyil had stepped back around the corner to make sure that the Auxiliary Control squad was guarding the starboard axial corridor; he had never doubted that the Security squad would be ready to continue the attack. His plan was to let them lead the final assault, as they were better trained for this kind of work than the bridge officers of his own team, and their weapons were fully charged. He had been waiting for Kovat's attack to trigger the final phase. That attack would drive all of the raiders into hiding, and with control of the corridor he could hunt them one at a time.

His own Bridge squad would reload when the Security squad attacked through their position, and then follow them, while the Auxiliary Control squad guarded their backs. The explosion of the two grenades in the axial corridor cut down the Bridge squad, and left Kenyil furious with himself. His attack plan had been too complex, had taken just a few seconds too long to get organized. Kovat's failure to answer on the communicator left Kenyil angry and uncertain. Had the man failed, or was he simply late?

Turning to Sergeant Ervan, he signaled him to launch the attack, then turned to the squad from Auxiliary Control. "Leave two men to guard your corner," he said, "and follow me. Keep everyone single file down the right-hand side of the corridor, so any fire that comes this way will pass beside us. Your biggest man will lead, followed by myself, then you, then everyone else. The Security squad will be ahead of us; don't shoot them."

Ervan's men stepped into the corridor and began suppressive fire, and two of them threw grenades into the cross-corridor. By that time, Rakarra and the Dunkar had broken into the barracks compartment.

Bridge, F5L Frigate Dragon King

"Phaser capacitors charged," the frigate's Bridge Engineer reported. "No power in the disruptors. Drone racks reloaded. Scatter pack is ready. It will take another half-hour to break out the spare shuttle."

"Demonslayer remains steady on current course at warp two point nine," the Tactical Intelligence Officer reported. "He has not made another try to get back on his original base course."

"Marines are on standby for boarding," the XO said.

"Very well," the Squadron Commander said. "Open a channel to both ships. This is Dragon King. Ships will close with the Demonslayer at maximum speed. Tactical intelligence scans are to check his disruptor arming. All ships will stay on his port side, using their #2 shields.

"If his disruptors are armed, Dragon King and Dragon Thrower will close, tractor, fire phasers, and launch drones. Dragon Fire will engage with phasers, and arm disruptors if we slow him down. If he turns to fight us, or fires his disruptors, so much the better. If any shield goes down, send in your Marines.

"If his disruptors are not armed, he will have too much power for a tractor to work. We will engage with phasers using point-blank oblique attacks, then fire drones in his face as we pass. He will have to use his phasers on the drones, so don't worry about him firing at us. If Valgan does a snap turn to avoid the drones, he will be going the wrong direction, blocked from turning back on course by the drones, and he may even break down. We will pull ahead of him. Expect new orders at that time. Questions?"
Neither frigate captain had questions. All three bridge crews shouted their intention to attack. The ships increased speed and angled toward the Demonslayer.

Team Four, Drone Storage Locker, Deck Two

The roar of the fourth explosion was accompanied by blast and smoke as the flame dart of the deck-breaker blew a hole six centimeters across into the compartment. The Yeoman, prepared for such an eventuality, leapt from behind the barricade he had built and rammed a durasteel strut cut from the drone cradles into the hole. He heard the satisfying crump of a grenade exploding on the other side of the wall, and a scream. Someone had tried to shove the grenade through the hole, but the Yeoman had been faster. He felt hands grab the strut and try to pull it through the hole, but the cross-bars prevented that. Pristak came to help him, and they used phasers to weld the strut to the bulkhead. That would, at least, prevent another grenade attack, and the people in the Handling Deck would have to phaser the durasteel bar out of the way before they could place another deck-breaker. But even that would buy only a minute or two.

"We have armed the warhead," the Yeoman shouted in the general direction of the incompletely-jammed hole. "Back off or you will force us to detonate it!"

"They'll have to ask for instructions," the Yeoman said.

"Maybe we'll have it armed by then," Zopic-tin replied.

Portside Axial Corridor, Deck Six

Sergeant Ervan slid to his right a step at a time, bobbing his head at each half-step to check for the presence of an enemy soldier. The man beside him had a grenade at the ready. The other members of the Security squad were on the left side of the corridor, their weapons trained forward, keeping the raiders pinned in their compartments.

Ervan knew that whatever was waiting would be on the left, aft, side of the cross-corridor, where it would be hardest to see. Glancing back, he saw Kenyil motioning for him to move faster. Ervan dashed forward, firing down the cross-corridor, but found it empty. Moving onward, Ervan reached the hatch to the battery compartment and tossed in a flash-bang grenade, then dove into the compartment with a phaser set on stun. Narrowly dodging the fire of the raider in the compartment, Ervan took him down with a stun bolt and then slit his throat with his dagger. The batteries were now safe and undamaged, but there were clearly explosives wedged between some of the cells. Ervan moved back to the hatch and signaled one of his men to enter the compartment and remove the charges.

Ervan paused for a moment in the battery compartment hatchway, looking into the open hatch of the barracks compartment across the axial corridor. No doubt, the raider who had been in the cross-corridor was now in there. Ervan pulled another flash-bang grenade, threw across the axial corridor into the barracks, and charged in after it.

Rakarra had been pressed against the bulkhead, inside the barracks and just aft of the open hatch. The Dunkar, now hiding in the restroom, his weapon covering the hatch, had placed a battle dressing on the wound, freeing Rakarra's left hand. The Slirdarian was waiting for the Demonslayer's next move, with a grenade in his right hand and his weapon in his left. The flash bang sailed a good three meters past him before exploding. The flash blinded Rakarra, and the bang deafened him. Pumped full of pain killers, that was the only effect.

Rakarra felt, rather than saw or heard, Ervan dive into the compartment, and tossed the grenade back-handed through the hatch into the axial corridor. The Dunkar, almost unaffected by the flash-bank, had a clean shot at Ervan and took him down with a disruptor bolt. The fragmentation grenade, which Rakarra had fuzed for impact detonation, took out most of the Security squad.
"Now!" Rakarra screamed with the full power of his considerable lungs.

Kurs and the rifleman appeared from opposite sides of the axial corridor and began firing their weapons down its length. The flank guard in the stairwell tossed a grenade as far aft as he could. When Kurs and his partner pulled back, members of the team in the barracks and storage locker jumped out and opened fire, cutting down Kenyil's team.

Bridge, F5L Frigate Dragon King

"Disruptors are not armed!" the Tactical Intelligence Officer announced.

"Proceed with overrun and phaser attack," the Commander said. "No tractor attempt."

The ships roared forward sliding in on the Demonslayer's left flank. Tension mounted as the ships continued to close. Finally, at a mere eight thousand kilometers, the three frigates fired all of their phasers in one combined volley, smashing the Demonslayer's port-flank shield.

Bridge, Demonslayer

"Minor damage through the shields," the Executive Officer announced. "We lost a flank phaser and a disruptor, plus minor hull and systems damage."

"The frigates are passing us," the Tactical Intelligence Officer said. "They're launching drones. Five, eight, no ... ten!"

"Engage drones with phasers. Fire anti-drones," Valgan ordered. "Tractor one of those drones."

The phaser-1s in the nose and wings each killed a drone, although Valgan could not have known that one of them was a tiny warp-seeker launched from Dragon Fire's anti-drone rack. The phaser-2s on the starboard flank fired, one of them killing a drone, but the other scored only partial damage, and the nuclear warhead nearly destroyed the #2 shield which had been damaged in the first pass.

"Tractor! Now!" Valgan ordered, and a beam of energy lashed out to grab the Dragon Thrower. The frigate, not expecting a tractor beam, was powerless to stop it.

"Drop to warp two," Valgan ordered. "Divert power to the disruptors. Full overloads. Fire when ready. Don't blow him up, just wreck him."

Portside Axial Corridor, Deck Six

Rakarra, his eyes clearing before his ears, stepped into the corridor and walked down its length, kicking bodies to check for signs of life. He identified the rank tabs of Major Kenyil, and noticed that the man was still alive. He dragged him back into the barracks, and told Sergeant Kleed to destroy the battery compartment and organize the troops for all-around defense and send two men to destroy the second battery compartment. It would take time for Valgan to scrape up more troops, and there was little more that Rakarra could do anyway. A Hilidarian and a Klingon had worked their way down the corridor and shot the two men guarding Auxiliary Control. Breaking into that armored compartment, however, would take more time and explosives than they had left. Anti-personnel charges had discouraged the team on Deck Four from attacking down the access shafts.

The Dunkar helped Rakarra get Kenyil onto a bunk.

"Pain killers and stimulants," Rakarra said. "And see if you can stop the bleeding. I need him alive." The man moved to obey and in moments, Kenyil was awake.

"You lose, Major," Rakarra said. "Your troops are dead, and the frigates have the ship trapped. The only decision you have left is how you are going to die."

"Just kill me," Kenyil said, "and be done with it."

"Your first choice is to die a young man in a torture chamber," Rakarra said. "You can spend the time contemplating your father being removed from his command in disgrace and sent to a labor colony."

"He did nothing," Kenyil said.

"But you know what his fate will be," Rakarra said. "You have dishonored his name. No one will serve under him.

"You have a second choice."

"Which is?"

"Help me take the ship," Rakarra said. "Tell Valgan that all of us have been eliminated. Tell Auxiliary Control to open up and let you in. Tell your troops on the handling deck to stop trying to break into the drone locker. Do all of that, and my report will say that you secretly helped us ambush your troops, that you died of wounds after giving me the ship. You will be given a medal, posthumously of course, and your father will keep his command, and the memory of his son. Your own son will follow you to the Academy. Your daughter will marry well."

"You ask much," Kenyil said. "And your men in the drone locker are already dead."

"Help me or not," Rakarra said. "We will take the ship in any case. It is a matter of time."

"If you did not need me," Kenyil said, "you would not be offering me this ... other choice."

"What would you demand?" Rakarra asked. "For your help in taking the ship." Rakarra did not want Kenyil to think the question through, or he would realize that the ESS would question the survivors and learn the truth.

"My life," Kenyil said. "I have no desire to die."

"You know you must die," Rakarra said. "You cannot stand up to the questions of the Security Service. They will use a mind sifter on you, and will have the truth of it. You must take your treason to the Black Fleet, where you will doubtless be forgiven - if you help me recover the ship. But refuse me, and I will not only kill you, I will report that you denounced your father as part of the conspiracy. He will not only be relieved in disgrace, he will be tortured and executed as a traitor. Your family will be sent to a labor colony. I will make it my mission to destroy everyone near you. And I will keep you alive, so that you can die slowly under the torturer's knife. Very slowly."

"Give me a communicator," Kenyil said. "I will do as you say."

Bridge, Demonslayer

"Kenyil reports all raiders eliminated," the Executive Officer announced.

"Engineering reports that repairs are complete," the Helmsman said. "Full power in one minute. I still don't have good navigation charts, but I can handle Warp Six at least. That's enough to meet the Tigerman cruiser before our own cruisers catch us."

"Excellent!" Valgan said. "We have won. I will eliminate this frigate and we will be on our way."

"Disruptors ready!" the Weapons Officer announced.

"Lock target and fire!" Valgan said.

"Disruptors have ... fired," the Weapons Officer said with astonishment. "I did not have target lock. They missed. I did not fire them. What is happening?"

"Tractor beam has been released," the Executive Officer announced. "Who did it?"

"Never mind!" Valgan said. "Helm, take us to warp three, prepare for high warp evasion!" The bridge crew felt the change in inertia as Demonslayer suddenly veered to port.

"What are you doing?" Valgan asked the Helmsman.

"Nothing!" the Helmsman said.

"Who released the prisoners?" the Executive Officer asked. "The barracks compartments are standing open. The prisoners are loose on Deck Four and running amok in the rear hull. What is going on?"

"Auxiliary Control!" screamed the Security Commander. "They fired the disruptors, and have fired some of the phasers. They released the tractor and opened the doors to the prisoner barracks."

"Raiders!" Valgan said.

"Kenyil said he had them all," the Executive Officer said. "I talked with him directly."

"Someone in Auxiliary Control is compromising systems," the Security Commander said. "They are wasting power, tractoring space debris, launching drones without releasing the warhead safeties, dropping shields."

"Block them!" Valgan said. "Cut them out of the circuits!"

"I can't," the Security Commander said. "The computers are too corrupted. Viruses have destroyed the hierarchy. The computer does not know which command station is senior. We can fight them for control of any system, several systems at once, but we cannot watch all of the systems simultaneously. If we hold control over the phasers, they'll take control over the shields and drop them. If we control the shields, they'll take over the helm. If we control the tractors, they'll discharge the batteries into the food replicators. We're fighting a losing battle."

"Actually," Rakarra said, stepping out of the turbolift onto the bridge, "the battle is over." His first phaser stun shot knocked Valgan to the deck; his second struck the Security Commander. The Hilidarian Marines to either side of him each shot a crewmen with their disruptor rifles, blowing their bodies nearly in half, to make the point clear. One or two of them tried to dive for cover, and one managed to draw a weapon before being killed, but the battle on the bridge lasted only a few seconds.

"Rakarra to Kurs," the Slirdarian Lieutenant said, "the bridge is clear. You are in command. What are your orders, Sir?"

Auxiliary Control, Aft, Deck 6

"Secure the prisoners," Kurs replied over the communicator. It was his first order as the commander of a starship. Motioning to the crewmen who had arrived, under escort, Kurs told them to take stations.

"Turn the ship 180°," came his second order. "Make warp factor three. Drop shields. Put all weapons on safe. Get me the frigate Squadron Commander."

"This is Commander Korl, commanding Dragon King," came the voice over the speaker. "Do you surrender?"

"This is Lieutenant Kurs of the Empire Security Service," Kurs said, taking a deep breath, "commanding Demonslayer. I have taken the ship in the name of the Empire. Our shields are down; we are reversing course. Report to me in Auxiliary Control at your convenience. Bring a navigator, and an officer qualified to command a cruiser. I shall hand over command to him."

"I shall come myself," Commander Korl said. "My first officer will assume command of Dragon King. Well done, Kurs! Well done!"

"I command," Kurs said, "but others did what was done. To them goes the glory. We did our duty because our honor required it, and our Empire expected it."