And here's your soundtrack for this section--the conclusion of Chapter 18.
Berat fumed at himself. He should have known—should have assumed the attack on Lessek would result in an acceleration of all Jem’Hadar patrols in the nearby sectors, not just the Lessek sector itself…for that matter, how did they all
manage to miss that now blindingly obvious conclusion? “Brace yourselves!” Berat called as he and Spirodopoulos scrambled for the turbolift. “That won’t be the last one!” The Jem’Hadar had no idea of their position; that had been a depth charge off their rightwing, not the more typical guided torpedo. “They do this on a regular basis,” he explained to the terhăn
between breaths as they ran, “sit there and fire depth charges into the nebula to see if they can shake anything out. They weren’t supposed to be here now
—we were supposed to have another three hours…”
A second shock hit just as they made the turbolift—though this one not quite as hard as before, as though the explosion had occurred at a greater distance from the ship than the last. “Goulke!
” Berat shouted. Bridge!
Shields still seemed to be holding…years of experience had taught him the difference between a direct structural hit and the concussive push
as the paired attractor and repulsor shield generators that lent shape and a set distance as well as power to the shields fought to restore balance between themselves and transmitted that force straight to the ship’s structure through the resistance of the repulsors. This had been that kind of hit.
The strong pushback was actually a positive sign to Gul Berat rather than a negative one—it meant that the generators were still sufficiently balanced in their respective power levels that they did not automatically pare back their output to remain matched…or shut down entirely if balance could not be achieved and the field ran a chance of collapsing to the point where it interacted with the skinfield used by the structural integrity and inertial dampening systems. In such cases, sound engineering principles deemed it better to risk the possibility
of being destroyed by enemy weapons versus the near certainty of a crippling cascade through the ship’s systems that might even destroy it without enemy action.
Spirodopoulos stuck out a hand, propping himself pre-emptively on the wall as the lift switched to horizontal motion, in case of another explosion. His eyes narrowed in thought, concentration, and urgency, creating a most intense image without the normal shading of the eye ridges to mute the contrast between the darkness surrounding the eye and the white of the eye itself. Suddenly the Starfleet officer came out with a question: “Why aren’t they calling you?”
“Your crew—why haven’t they called you to the bridge? Do you think something might be wrong up there?”
“I don’t,” Berat replied. Spirodopoulos blinked at this. “They know
I’m coming, and they’re doing their duty without distracting themselves.”
The turbolift halted and the doors slid open before the terhăn
could speak again. Dalin Rota’s voice rang across the bridge: “Third charge incoming—”
This time the impact nearly sent them sprawling. As soon as he was sure of his footing again, Berat made a dash for the command platform Glinn Yejain stood near but not upon. The glinn withdrew without the need of another word when he sensed Berat’s bioelectric field behind him.
Berat called out: “How are the charges coming in—randomized, or sequential?”
“Randomized, Gul,” Rota supplied as he keyed; Yejain silently drifted away from the command platform and Berat assumed his seat.
—they don’t want to make this easy,” Berat muttered, lip quirking up as he stated the obvious. They can’t see us for
sure or they would have locked on—but they don’t want to give us any way to predict where the next charge will be.
The tactical display popped up on the ovular center screen, revealing not just three detonations, but a dozen, some of them near the Thirteenth Order fleet, a few others far afield. And two trails revealed another pair of incoming charges, each at a different velocity and headed for different coordinates.
“Rebek to Berat!
” The transmission was staticky, garbled—tightbeam, most likely, which meant the nebular gas was interfering intermittently with the collimated beam’s line of sight.
,” Berat called at the ceiling, barely resisting the impulse to call her ‘Zejil.’ Speak, please
—the command given to one’s equal.
“There’s planetary debris still in the nebula…why don’t we go to silent running, let one of the charges detonate near us
“—and make it look like they hit a rock, and we’re the debris!” Berat burst out, eyes wide. “Yes! Copy the other ships in,” he ordered. Yejain was already typing away at a console—working through the logistics for silent running, no doubt, ready to implement as soon as the senior guls gave the word. “Commander, what do you say?”
Spirodopoulos had that narrow-eyed expression again—phaser-focused on the tactical readout. “Could be a tricky balance considering how long we’ve been in the nebula…” Another charge detonated, this one almost dead ahead of the Sherouk
. “We’re already pushing the limit on that. But if we cut power to too
many systems—the particle flux’ll get us before the Jem’Hadar ever do. We’ll fry, just like that
“Just blasting out of here on impulse won’t help either,” Yejain reminded them without accusation. “Your people’s sensors would be completely blind here, but ours—and theirs—will not be to the same degree, not to that. We might be able to get away with a short burn, and maneuvering thrusters until we clear the nebula and go to true
silent running…but that’s it.”
Berat nodded towards the terhăn
. “Spirodopoulos…do your people have procedures for silent running? I realize they come from many different vessels, but what is Starfleet’s overall level of readiness in that regard?”
The first instant passed expressionless. Come on
, Berat willed, we don’t have time for mistrust anymore! We are about to show you
need this information!
Then Spirodopoulos nodded with a sharpness that emitted finality. “We do. They aren’t employed often in battle, but we do incorporate it in our regular combat drills, throughout the fleet. They may not know your ships, but they’ll understand the principles.”
“We go for it
,” Speros cut in over the uplink. “We’re not doing ourselves any favors just
,” Macet concurred. “We draw ourselves together near the far edge, then wait for the next impact
. Mendral is transmitting the coordinates and timing now.
Berat nodded at Yejain; the glinn opened the intercom. “Attention, Thirteenth Order personnel—this is Gul Berat. Hear my orders and obey: rig for silent running—all energy dampening and abatement procedures are in effect immediately save for Engineering until impulse burn is completed. Silent running remains in effect until further notice. Berat out!”
There would be no more tightbeam from this point forward. “Mirok,” Berat instructed the chief investigative officer, “coordinate your station with Cronath’s. We’re drawing to a position near the edge—I need you to set up an algorithm that will take that into account and plot a convincing trajectory for us…and avoid collisions once we lower shields. Cronath—you’ll have maneuvering thrusters while we drift, nothing else. You’ll have Mirok’s program, but be ready to intervene manually.”
“Hokrol me gorhoç edek
,” Cronath replied as he tapped in his adjustments. I understand and obey
“Bring us into ready position,” Berat ordered. “Then initiate sequence at discretion.”
The thirty-two ships of the Thirteenth Order pulled into a tight formation with a single, simultaneous impulse burn much like what the first Hebitians to break free of the homeworld’s orbit might have employed in their tiny, fragile craft. The fleet had kind of closeness now that was ordinarily seen only in slow-moving freight or settlement convoys on their staid and steady courses—not in a formation about to undertake drastic maneuvers in the vicinity of an explosion
“New series of charges,” Dalin
Rota called. “One headed almost straight for us, may pass at the fleet’s summersun—” directly above them “—time until detonation unknown.”
There would be no second chances. The Jem’Hadar didn’t ordinarily use this much ammunition on a single patrol; they had to suspect something
. It would be an extraordinary gamble; Cardassian experiments on the upgraded Gă’ălour
suggested that Jem’Hadar energy sensors were so powerful they could read through a Romulan cloaking device. That said, the fact that the Jem’Hadar found themselves unable to use guided charges in the nebula suggested that what their sensors keyed in on the most was energy
rather than chemical composition or shape—and that that energy detecting ability was clouded by the nebula just as it had been by the interference on and around the Lessek system.
Either the Thirteenth Order turned this coming explosion to their benefit or they would be left with no choice but flee the nebula in a far more obvious fashion as the particle flux ate away what little time they had left. They might be able to fight the Jem’Hadar and win, with their numbers, but their enemies would almost certainly get a distress call out and blast descriptions of their fleet throughout the quadrant. A mobile force—a force whose numbers and strength remained unknown for as long as possible…that was the only way to inflict any meaningful
wounds on the Dominion.
to get away. They had
to make sure the Jem’Hadar, in the wake of Lessek, couldn’t know whether the ‘rebel threat’ truly was out there or not, or all their sacrifices could be for naught.
“Initiating burn, one-eighth impulse,” called the helmsman.
The ships’ movements on the viewscreen were slow, deliberate, like a Hebitian submersible. Though he knew it not to be true, it was still easy to imagine that without the inertial dampening field he would feel
Then the charge impact slammed into the Sherouk
and the other vessels of the Thirteenth Order, thrusting them hard towards the edge of the nebula.
“They’re too close!” Rota burst out, staring at the tactical display. “The Turrel
—they’re out of control, coming right our way!”