Soundtrack for this chapter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zScsG...eature=related
Cardassian Union Science Ship Marritza, the bridge
At first, the Talarians’ tactics left a lot to be desired, but they quickly learnt from their mistakes and switched to a more effective way of firing at the Marritza
“Sir!” Torpal shouted toward Zamarran, not taking his eyes from his console. “The Talarians stopped chaotically pounding our shields. They are now concentrated on one spot on the ventral side.”
The tactician glanced at the gul and was certain that Zamarran’s mind ran through all vulnerable and strategic places on the ventral side of the ship, including the engineering.
The gul hesitated for only a second. He punched the comm. “Kapoor!”
,” she answered from the engineering.
Torpal stopped listening and instead directed his attention on his console. The Talarian ships assumed some kind of formation. He knew little about their tactics but he had to admit that their ways seemed to be effective. This was a race of warriors and they knew exactly what they were doing, no doubt about that.
Three ships left the formation and moved to the opposite side of the Keldon. Torpal quickly guessed their intentions: they didn’t want the Cardassians to commit all their power to the ventral shields, so they would keep firing at other spots, forcing the Marritza
to spread the power and that way keep it thin everywhere. Or, perhaps, they hoped that with all power directed to the ventral shields, other parts of the Keldon would be vulnerable and easier to reach.
Zamarran barked another set of orders and Torpal knew that the gul had also guessed the rules of the game that the Talarians were playing. He told Kapoor to use some tricks; he told her where to get additional power from and he told her not to protest his orders, even though she didn’t even try. Torpal thought that Zamarran’s orders clearly showed that the gul was an engineer—he knew how to protect the ship to last as long as possible.
His, Torpal’s, job was to take the fighting back to the Talarians.
The glinn sent troops to every critical or vulnerable part of the ship with orders to guard it and protect it. He ordered all scientists with limited battle training to go to their quarters and not leave until told to. He calculated the amount of torpedoes, constantly reminding himself that this was not
a warship and that his resources were extremely limited, unless he wanted to fight throwing phials at the enemy.
The continuous pounding at the shields sent sparks from the tertiary engineering console. Kara Talis, who was manning it, seemed to barely register the rain of sparkles falling on her. Torpal thought that in a stressful situation the seemingly fragile young woman showed a lot of strength and concentration. There was nothing fragile about her now—she was as tough as any other Cardassian soldier. He was just discovering that they all were—this crew could become something great, if given a chance.
The ship shook again under another set of pounding and Torpal thought that it was starting to get on his nerves. But he was still under Zamarran’s orders—not to return fire...yet. Whatever the gul was planning, he had not shared it with the tactician.
Suddenly, an opening in the shields appeared—exactly in the spot that the Talarians kept firing at. Torpal opened his mouth to report it, but the opening closed as fast as it had appeared. The tactician look up surprised.
“What are the Talarians doing?” Zamarran asked Yassel.
She checked her readings. “Nothing. They’re just hanging there. They’re not firing. They’re doing...nothing.”
They are surprised
, Torpal thought. He was sure the opening had been created deliberately by Kapoor, or someone in the engineering, only to be closed a moment later. It had given the impression of a very quick and very effective shields replenishment. And that was something the Talarians hadn’t expected.
“Torpal.” The tactician raised his head to look at his gul. “Fire!”
“With pleasure.” The glinn’s fingers danced on his console, giving the Talarian’s their love back—and more. The formation quickly dispersed and their organised, planned attack was no more. Instead, they switched to chaotic firing at the Marritza
, circling around it like angry insects. Very soon Torpal understood that the chaos was merely another tactical move. With all Talarian ships in constant move without any predictable patterns, it proved to be very difficult to target them and most of Torpal’s phaser discharges missed their targets. “This is not good,” he muttered to himself, ignoring another rain of sparkles on the bridge.
“Sir, maybe we should retreat and return together with our fleet,” Yassel said in an uncertain voice.
Zamarran shook his head. “No. They had attacked the planet once, they could do it again. We cannot leave the Rathosians. Not now.”
“We’ll help them little if we’re dead,” Torpal said.
The gul looked at him. “Do you really want to run, Torpal? Do you want to withdraw?” The tactician didn’t. He had never left a battlefield in his life and he didn’t intend to now. He was not a coward. Zamarran continued, “We must send the Talarians a clear message: we will rather die than abandon these people: we are serious about it and there is nothing you can do to make us withdraw.”
“Yes, sir,” the glinn replied, nodding, but he wasn’t sure his voice was heard in another explosion on the bridge and if the nod was clear, or it got distorted by his attempt not to lose balance on the shaking deck.
Zamarran turned to Yassel and started to issue his next order when Toral heard a noise right by his side and everything went black.
USS Petrona, the bridge
Captain Ram hated the view on her screen. The Marritza
was under fire from a fleet of Talarian ships and the captain was under orders not to interfere. It didn’t matter that the Talarian technology was behind Cardassian and that the Keldon was much bigger—the Cardassian vessel had no chances against so many warships, even if they were significantly smaller than herself.
The bridge of the Petrona
was silent. Every bridge officer’s eyes were on the viewer, watching the slow death of the science ship. Ram would never admit it to anyone, but she had opened her mind and was soaking in emotions from the Marritza
. They were scared. Angry. Terrified. Many in pain and probably dying. But she also felt and heard determination, bravery and...a lot of thoughts on that ship over there was directed to families of the crew. They were saying their goodbyes, even though no one could hear them.
Except for her.
The movement of the Keldon cruiser slowed to finally seize completely. Whatever had caused it, Ram knew that it meant the end.
Zogg shifted in his chair. “Captain, do something,” he whispered; his voice reflecting his emotional turmoil. Ram looked at her tactical officer. “Before it’s too late,” he added, returning her attentive gaze.
She didn’t hesitate. In fact, she cursed herself not to do it earlier, before lives were lost. “Zogg, shields up and arm weapons. We’re going in. Prepare an evacuation plan. We can’t save their ship, but we can try to save as many people as we can before she goes to hell.”
The silence on the bridge was gone and everyone made him- or herself busy. Ram didn’t hear anyone protesting or commenting her order. Even ch’Tef seemed glad that he could do something. The crew couldn’t watch Cardassians being slaughtered any more than she did.
Cardassian Union Warship Kasharok, the bridge
Gul Daro spun toward his aide. “How much longer?”
“Two more hours, sir,” Glinn Lassat answered.
“Readings?” The gul turned toward the tactician.
“Not good, my Gul. I am sure we won’t be there in time.”
“That is much worse than ‘not good,’” Daro muttered to himself. He stood up and stood behind the communication officer. “Put them on the screen.”
A moment later he wished he hadn’t given that order. The Marritza
was motionless and covered with scars—and getting more punches with each second. Another ship was moving toward it; a Federation starship. They appeared fully armed and ready to fight. Daro wondered why would the Federation attack the defenceless Cardassian ship and then quickly dismissed the thought. This didn’t sound like the Federation at all. Had they come to help, then?
And then another fleet appeared, a dozen or so ships. Daro squinted at the screen, trying to recognise who it was. “Magnify,” he said softly to his officer. A moment later he knew: the Gorgor.
Perfect! The last thing the Marritza
needed was that nosy race of people who considered themselves the judges of the universe.
For a moment Daro wondered if Gul Zamarran hadn’t done something to make them all angry with him. The Federation and the Gorgor sometimes worked together, so there was nothing surprising if they co-operated, but the Talarians? Daro didn’t know Zamarran; he had never heard of Zamarran before this mission, so he had no idea what kind of man the gul of the Marritza
was. Was he one of those old-type, arrogant guls who shot first, asked questions later? Or was he someone more reasonable? But would a reasonable man have been in such trouble? Would a reasonable man have been under attack from three different powers that usually didn’t work together?
He couldn’t watch it. He didn’t want to watch it. He didn’t want to look at hundreds of people being blown to pieces, but in a strange way he felt he owned them that. He was not there in time; he was not there to save them, so at least he could watch their end and bring the tale of it back home to their families—to tell them that their loves ones died as heroes, protecting innocent people form being destroyed by their own sun.
Daro was angry. He didn’t like to fail and he felt that he had done just that—failed.
He turned to his engineer. “Exceed safety protocols and get there as fast as possible.”
“Yes, my Gul.”
It didn’t make him feel any better.
Cardassian Union Science Ship Marritza, the bridge
Zamarran turned toward the thud and with panic and he realised that it was Torpal’s heavy body hitting the deck. He punched his wristcomm. “Kara Zaral to the bridge!” he shouted into it and then ran toward the glinn.
He had no idea about tactics. He had no idea how to fight a battle; as an engineer he knew how to survive a battle but not how to destroy an enemy. What was he going to do without his tactician?
Torpal’s armour and face were covered with blood—his own blood. Zamarran knelt next to him and touched the soft spot under the glinn’s chin to check for his pulse. He felt none, but he hoped that it was caused by his shaking hands. He felt relief when Medic Zaral entered the bridge. She ran toward Torpal and Zamarran rose and moved away to give her more space. Then he leaned over the main tactical console. He knew that the other senior tactician was in the engineering. He knew that he couldn’t recall her from there. The only person with tactical training present on the bridge was a young dja. Zamarran looked at him and saw a reflection of his own feelings on the young man’s face—panic. The dja was not ready for this and the gul feared that the inexperienced officer might be more of a threat than help.
“What would Jarol do? What would Jarol do?” he muttered to himself. He looked at the dja. “Take the secondary tactical console,” he ordered. And then added, “And tell me when I attempt to do something stupid. That’s an order.” The dja nodded; his eyes opening wide with surprise. Zamarran thought that the man wouldn’t find courage to follow that order. But it was not the time for worry, it was the time to fight.
The gul decided to concentrate the defence on two-three targets at once not to spread the fire too thinly. He noticed that Torpal had fired a few torpedoes, but most were still loaded and ready to be launched. He locked on targets and sent torpedoes their way—two for each target. He hoped that he hadn’t just wasted the ammunition.
A moment later five out of six torpedoes met with their destinations, destroying one Talarian ship and seriously crippling another one. The third one was manoeuvring so fast that Zamarran was unable to scan it to gather information on the damage done.
Additional dots on the screen drew his attention. “Reinforcements,” he whispered and all hope abandoned him. A moment later the computer recognised the dots as Gorgor ships. The hope did not return, though, as Zamarran knew that the only thing the Gorgor would want would be watching ‘evil Cardassians’ die. Just to confirm with their own eyes what their sensors were telling them.
He looked at Yassel. He felt sorry for her; for her wasted future. For all wasted futures of his crew. He felt sorry for Gul Brenok’s feelings after the long-haired man discovered what a grave mistake he had done, assigning Zamarran to this ship. The gul was certain that someone else, someone more skilled would have found a solution and get them out of this situation. His inability to command had practically killed all people on this ship. All these young scientists.
Yassel smiled to him. It was a gentle, sad smile. ‘For Cardassia,’ she mouthed soundlessly.
Zamarran thought that she was one very brave young woman and if only given a chance, she would do a lot of good and have a great career. If she only believed in herself.
He thought of his daughters. Of his sons. His wife, who called him ‘Trovik.’ His grandchildren. He would never see them again but what was worse—they would never see him again. His ‘never’ was much shorter than theirs and he hoped that theirs was counted in long years, not mere minutes.
He glanced at Zaral by his feet. She was still taking care of Torpal, so perhaps the glinn was not dead yet...but would be very soon.
Maybe he should order the crew to abandon ship...but would they listen?
And wouldn’t the Talarians destroy defenceless pods?
Suddenly, everything silenced. Zamarran had an impression that the time froze. Was this the end?