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Old February 10 2010, 12:37 PM   #32
Gibraltar
Rear Admiral
 
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Location: US Pacific Northwest
Embers of the Fire - Chapter 9

Chapter 9 <cont'd>

The blossoming explosion on his view screen heralded the end of the starship Phoenix, and although it had not been Gul Panor’s intent to destroy the vessel completely, he was far from disappointed. His attack force was taking more damage than anticipated. However, with the Nebula-class ship finished, the battle would soon be over. “Bring us about, 301-mark-187. Route auxiliary power to shields and wea…”

Vintar bucked violently as another broadside of four photon torpedoes hammered her aft and starboard shields, followed by a phaser beam that punched through the Galor’s failing starboard grid and scythed across her engine blade.

*****

Gibraltar had landed a solid blow on the enemy, but Sandhurst took no satisfaction from it. He had just witnessed Phoenix torn asunder with what appeared to be ridiculous ease.

From behind him, Plazzi remarked, “Registering dimensional rebound deflection, Captain. That cruiser’s equipped with a DST.” Admiral Salk’s classified data on the dimensional shift transporter had come complete with the techniques pioneered by Enterprise-D’s crew to track and pinpoint the use of the device.

“Keep up the fire, Mister Lar’ragos. I don’t want to give them opportunity to use it on us.”

“Aye, sir.”

*****

Vintar wheeled about to turn her wounded flank away from the oncoming starship and expose her most robust shield grid. Her Hideki-class escorts raced to her aid and battered Gibraltar’s defenses with a sustained fusillade of disruptor fire. This forced the Starfleet ship to break off its attack run and reposition for a follow-up assault.

As she withdrew, Gibraltar launched a salvo of torpedoes at the three corsairs from her aft torpedo tube, an advantageous addition of the recent overhaul. Two of the torpedoes struck their targets, destroying one Hideki and damaging the other.

Panor studied Vintar’s damage control board and noted that they would have to finish this battle quickly. The insurgency’s available resources for ship repair were minimal, and the damage accrued by the cruiser thus far would take weeks to fix. He read his tactical display and felt a vague sense of relief that the Hidekis had driven off Gibraltar for the moment. For a relic, the Constitution-class ship was proving surprisingly tenacious. He would have to do something about that.

“Charge the DST for another transport. I want you to put a torpedo onto their bridge with a five second delay.” He knew it was both petty and tactically unsound, but Panor wanted Gibraltar’s captain to have time to recognize his terrible fate before being consumed by the violent matter/anti-matter reaction.

*****

Ramirez had been thrown from the captain’s chair by the unexpectedly ferocious impact, only to crash head first into the base of the Operations console. Although still conscious, she was dazed, and didn’t immediately recognize the face that now appeared over her, its features distorted by her swimming vision.

“Sir, we’ve got to go.” Lieutenant Faltyne pulled her to her feet and allowed Ramirez to steady herself against him as she struggled to regain her equilibrium.

“Go? Where?” She was confused. The bridge was bathed in blood red emergency lighting, with intermittent strobe-like flashes from shattered, sparking consoles. The air was an acrid mix of smoke and the smell of charred flesh. Faltyne began directing her towards the emergency access hatch located behind a wall panel at the back of the bridge.

Ramirez struggled weakly against Faltyne’s grip. “I don’t understand. Why aren’t we returning fire?”

The lieutenant remained calm as he continued to assist her and guided her over the body of a fallen crewman whose features had been wrecked by an exploding console. “Sir, the ship is gone; we’re going to the escape pods.” He paused at a wall-mounted comms panel and activated the ship’s public address. “This is the XO. All hands, abandon ship. Report to designated evacuation areas and board the escape pods.”

The Andorian had lost a ship once before, in a doomed attempt to re-take Betazed from the Dominion’s clutches just hours after the Jem’Hadar had seized the planet. It wasn’t proving any easier the second time around. He took some small solace in the fact that most of Phoenix’s crew who had been struck down by the contagion days earlier were safely encapsulated within cryogenic stasis chambers aboard a the civilian relief ships. At least Sandhurst had possessed the forethought to remove the injured from the two starships, the most likely targets of further attacks.

He helped Ramirez through the hatch and into the lifeboat access compartment. The lieutenant urged her towards the closest pod and then sealed her inside the tiny craft. Faltyne quickly input commands into the touch-pad beside the hatch and set the escape capsule for atmospheric entry and landing. The way this battle was going, a Federation lifeboat drifting helplessly in orbit might soon become a tempting target for victorious insurgent ships. Phoenix’s survivors would have better luck on the surface.

He pulled on the manual release lever which caused the explosive bolts holding the escape pod in place to discharge. This initiated the thrusters on the pod and launched the lifeboat away from the wreckage of the doomed ship. His task complete, Faltyne turned back towards the bridge. There were still others there too injured to reach the pods themselves, and he would be damned if anyone was going to be left behind.

*****

Gibraltar continued to spar with the more nimble Hidekis, exchanging fire with the corsairs as she turned to make another run at the Vintar.

Sandhurst gripped the armrests of his seat as the ship was buffeted by disruptor impacts. They were outnumbered, outgunned, and the momentum of the fight was shifting in the Cardassians’ favor. He stole a glance over his shoulder at Lar’ragos, who was working his Tactical console like a concert pianist, targeting and firing weapons, modulating shield strength, and generally giving a better account of the old ship than anyone had a right to expect. The captain noted that Pava was smiling to himself. The silly bastard’s actually enjoying this, he thought with grim amusement. Sandhurst envied the El Aurian’s ability to lose himself in his duties despite the direness of their predicament.

He turned back to the viewer and forced himself to concentrate on their plight. Sandhurst crunched the numbers in his head, but repeatedly drew the same conclusion. Not enough time, not enough firepower, not enough speed. There were no easy answers here. If we had another ship. If only Sojourner hadn’t been…

The idea occurred to him like a lightening strike, a blazing white-hot kernel of inspiration. Sandhurst stood. “Helm, initiate evasive maneuvers. Tactical, keep up the fire on those pursuit ships.” The captain staggered across the trembling deck plates and seated himself at an unoccupied auxiliary console. He accessed Sojourner’s command codes and linked to the wounded starship’s main computer. He called up a quick diagnostic on the vessel’s operational systems which caused his heart jump in his chest as the screen indicated that the Nova-class ship could still move under partial impulse power. Sandhurst silently thanked the engineering teams from Phoenix who had restored some of Sojourner’s key systems.

Sandhurst started a slow power buildup in Sojourner’s impulse engines and hoped that the Cardassians would be too fixated on his ship to notice. He tied in the smaller ship’s reaction control thrusters, planning to squeeze every ounce of propulsion that he could out of the craft. He looked to Helm. “Mister Lightner, bring us within one kilometer of Sojourner’s bow, then hard turn to 42-mark-320 and reduce speed to one-sixth impulse. I want them in tight behind us.” After he routed the other starship’s helm control to the interface on his command chair, Sandhurst resumed the center seat. “Lieutenant Lar’ragos, I want a full spread of torpedoes in the aft launcher. We’re going to employ Tanner’s gambit.”

“Aye, sir. Programming torpedoes now.” Lar’ragos didn’t bother to look up from his console. He set the warheads so that their detonation would translate mostly into electro-magnetic shockwaves, rather than kinetic force. This technique had first been used by a United Earth starship captain in the late 22nd century, Irene Tanner, in order to blind a pursuing Romulan warbird. The lieutenant deduced that it was the captain’s intent to confuse the Galor’s sensors for a few seconds, though he couldn’t guess why. “You’ve got a plan?” Lar’ragos asked. He sensed a surge of confidence in the captain’s tone and demeanor.

A grim smile took shape on Sandhurst’s lips. “Indeed I do.”

****

Gul Panor watched Gibraltar flee before him. He surmised that her captain must have finally realized the seriousness of his position. The starship could still escape, of course, but what ship’s commander would be allowed to retain his rank after leaving helpless civilians behind to be slaughtered? No, Panor thought, this one would stay until his defenses had been whittled down and his options exhausted. The Cardassian had seen it before, during the war. Starfleet captains who, in their final moments, succumbed to panic and fear after running out of clever ideas.

Men and women who had made perfectly competent explorers and diplomats had been reduced to flailing like wounded animals because in the end they had not known when to cut and run. The gul could now see the telltale shimmering of Gibraltar’s weakening shields as a Cardassian torpedo punched into the retreating starship’s aft grid. “Status of DST?”

“Almost there, sir. Eight seconds remaining on the recharge cycle.”

*****

“Elisto, focus all sensor jamming capacity we have back at the Galor, every watt you can give me.”

“Aye, Captain.” Plazzi routed all available sensor power to the aft arrays and prayed quietly that the new captain knew what he was doing. The battle hardened Cardassians they were facing didn’t seem the type to show leniency to an inexperienced captain and crew.

Sandhurst watched the hulk of Sojourner grow larger on the main viewer. “Pava, aft torpedoes on my order…”

*****

“Gul, recharge cycle complete. Standing by to initiate transport!”

“Do it.” Panor felt the accumulated tension in his body ebb, and he settled back into his chair to watch the fruition of his efforts. He only wished he could see the Starfleet captain’s facial expression when their surprise package arrived.

“Transport complete.” A pulsing alarm at the weapons officer’s station caused Panor to look askance at the man. The younger officer’s face was a mix of disappointment and disbelief. “Sir… it looks like our transport has somehow been refracted away from the starship's hull!”

The combat information officer announced, “They’re trying to jam our tactical scans.”

Panor’s neck ridges tightened as his face contorted into a mask of dark rage. Not a miscalculation, he seethed. They have a defense against our most potent weapon. This ends now. “Weapons, all batteries forward." He leaned forward and raised a clenched fist. "Fire!”

*****

With surprisingly little force behind the words, Captain Sandhurst uttered, “Fire aft torpedoes.”

Lar’ragos gladly compensated for his friend’s lack of enthusiasm. He grinned wickedly as he announced, “Torpedoes away.”

Lightner tapped the conn control pad which initiated a nearly ninety degree turn, “Coming to 42-mark-320, decelerating to…” His sentence terminated abruptly as Brett was thrown forward against his console in an impact that drove his breath from him. The deck lurched and bridge lighting flickered as a cacophony of thunderous impacts shredded what remained of their aft shielding. Crew went sprawling across the bridge, consoles sparked and died, and a clamor of panicked voices filled the compartment.

Somehow, Sandhurst managed to stay upright in his seat, his eyes fused to the abbreviated helm controls and sensor window displayed on his armrest console. Oblivious to the frenetic activity surrounding him, he watched the three torpedoes flare dazzlingly as they radiated interference across the electromagnetic spectrum. Sandhurst counted to five; the seconds ground past in an excruciating torpor. Finally, he depressed forward thrust tab and sent the starship Sojourner on her final mission, in valiant defense of her older sister.

*****

Gul Panor braced himself as Gibraltar launched three torpedoes aft towards the Vintar, an instant before the Cardassian cruiser’s salvo bludgeoned the old starship and sent her careening off course in a lateral spin. To his surprise, the missiles did not impact their forward grid, but instead erupted some hundreds of meters ahead to wash out the view screen and tactical sensors in a storm of electrons.

“Direct hit, sir. Their aft shields have failed.” The weapons officer shielded his eyes against the glare before the screen automatically adjusted to compensate. “We’ve lost sensor contact. Reading partial depolarization of the main sensor array.”

Panor leaned further forward in his seat as his taut muscles unconsciously yearned for some kind of physical release. This was it. The Starfleet captain’s final ruse. It was an old trick, one practiced by every star-faring species bred to war. Blind your opponent, then run like hell.

Gibraltar intended to confuse their sensors, cut behind the drifting hulk of the Nova-class ship, and accelerate away. Apparently, he hadn’t given the human commander enough credit; the man did know when to quit. Panor hoped Vintar’s last strike would delay the starship’s escape until his sensors cleared. “Conn, maintain course and speed.” He looked to the combat information officer. “Shut down the primary array and begin immediate restart cycle on the sensors. Uncover the auxiliary sensor node and power it up.”

A gasp from somewhere in the command center sent an unexpected chill through him. Gul Panor turned to the crackling, static filled view screen. A shadow loomed there, taking shape with frightening speed. Just as his mind identified the specter for what it was, a starship on a direct collision course, he was thrown off his feet by an impact that washed away all consciousness.

*****
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