Manny Morrison sat on the floor, huddled up against the wall. He swore he could here explosions and the anguished cries of soldiers being hit by enemy weapon’s fire. One of the Starfleet Marines insisted that it was in his imagination since he was now on a Starfleet frigate in orbit of the planet, far away from all the combat. Even so, after all that the boy had experienced, watching the Cardassians massacre civilians, many of them children, those imagined sounds were all too real to him.
He was among five adolescent boys and girls who had been rescued by a team from the USS Rutledge and moved out of harm’s way. He and his peers were placed in one of the vacant crew quarters. Medics were tending to minor cuts and bruises. The room was cramped; each person in the cabin having barely enough room to move around. The two girls in the group were huddled together in the bottom bunk while a female medic attended to their wounds. One of the other boys had gone into shock and was curled up in a fetal position on the floor near Manny. Another female medic was covering him with blankets from the top bunk to keep him warm. The other boy was being escorted into the lavatory by the lone male medic as he began retching. The lavatory was not even a separate room, just an alcove in one corner of the cabin. How could the crewmembers on this ship live like that? Manny kept asking himself. At least the ship had separate bathing and showering facilities for the men and women, he overheard one person say, but that still afforded people very little privacy.
One of the Rutledge crewmembers, whom Manny recognized from the planet below, entered the cabin. He had a mane of long curly red hair tied up in a ponytail and was dressed in the red and beige jumpsuit of a Starfleet trainee. He was not that much older than Manny, but he seemed more emotionally disciplined even after having witnessed similarly traumatic events. Manny envied this young man who was but a few years older than him. If only he had been as fearless when he saw those women and children in that burning building.
The Starfleet crewman set down a carrying case on the floor and opened it, passing around field ration packs for the teenage survivors. “Starfleet field rations don’t offer much in the way of taste,” he told them, speaking in a very thick Irish accent that caught Manny’s attention. “but they meet most of the basic nutritional needs. I would imagine you all are awfully hungry after everything that happened down there.”
One of the girls nodded while the crewman handed two packs to her and her companion, whose face seemed locked in an expression fear.
“How are you holding up?” the crewman asked Manny while handing him a ration pack.
“I’m doing okay,” Manny said in hushed tone before biting into the food ration, which tasted almost like potting soil. The others also reacted in disgust, but they kept eating it, desperate for some kind of sustenance.
“I should have done more to help them,” Manny lamented. “But I was too afraid for my own life. Those poor kids are dead. I should have saved them.”
“You can’t blame yourself. The chances of saving them were slim. No one could have asked to put yourself on the line when you don’t having the training and the discipline we Starfleets have.”
“I want to learn,” Manny breathed, his eyes flowing with tears. “I owe it to those people I saw die.”
“Starfleet welcomes that kind of determination,” the crewman said with a wide smile. “Name’s O’Brien, Crewman third class. You can call me Miles, though. What’s your name?”
“Manny Morrison,” Manny replied as a lone tear escaped his eye.
“So, a fellow Irish lad, eh?” O’Brien retorted with a pat on Manny’s shoulder.
“Mister O’Brien,” came a voice on the comm. Manny recognized the slight southern American cadence as the voice of the Starfleet captain who came to his rescue on the planet. “Report to the transporter bay for away party duty."
“On my way, sir,” O’Brien said, tapping his combadge. “Good to meet you, Manny. Keep your spirits up, kid.”
Kid? Manny silently scoffed. He’s just a bit older than me, albeit far more fearless than I was down there.
As Mandel Morrison kept his attention on the tactical readouts on his station, he began recalling something Miles O’Brien had said about the horrors of war nearly twenty years after the two had crossed paths. By this time, Miles’s hair was a darker shade of red and cut a lot shorter than it was during his youth. His accent had faded somewhat during those years as well.
“We can hope we never get used to it,” Miles commented while he and Mandel reminisced over a pint of Irish lager. “Having to see suffering on that scale, I mean. You can’t help but feel empathy for the children, the mortally wounded, the untrained civilians suffering at the hands of butchers who don’t follow the same rules of war as we do. But at least people like you and I have the mental and emotional strength to put ourselves at risk and keep the innocent out of harm’s way.”
The USS Lambda Paz was tasked with protecting the mortally wounded from further harm during a lull in combat. Five Olympic-class hospital ships had to intercept the combat ships to move the dead and wounded off the field of battle. Because the standard medevac shuttles were filled to capacity and not fully equipped to deal with the casualties they were taking aboard, some of the hospital ships had to be present to assist in evacuations of the most critically wounded. As per protocol, each of the hospital ships were flanked by two Akiras even though the hospital ships were carrying full arsenals. That was what reminded Morrison that the Jem’Hadar did not hesitate to fire on hospital ships and medevac shuttles. The Jemmies and the Cardies deserved each other as far as he was concerned.
He took another look at his readout screen and saw another wave of Jem’Hadar ships headed towards the Seventh Fleet. By his calculations, the nearly fifty ships would be in weapons range in five minutes while the hospital ships nowhere close to moving out of the battle zone.
“USS Paracelsus,” said Morrison, while opening a communications channel to one of the hospital ships. “What is your status?”
“We’ll need at least five more minutes to bring aboard the wounded,” a feminine voice replied on the comm-line.
“Sir,” Willis Huckaby called from Ops. “I’m picking up another squadron of ships is on the outer reaches of our short-range sensors; traveling at Warp Two. Estimated time to intercept: three minutes, thirty-six seconds.”
Logan was assisting an officer at the port engineering station when he heard that report. “Tactical display on main viewer,” he ordered while heading for the command chairs.
Morrison inputted the data on his tactical display allowing the graphic readout to appear on the main viewscreen. Huckaby then inputted his data adding more blips to the display on the viewscreen. The graphic representations of ships that Morrison was monitoring filled the top right-hand portion of the main viewscreen. On a center right portion of the viewer were a dozen Cardassian and Dominion logos indicating the newest group of approaching vessels.
“Instruct the medevac shuttles to move out now,” Logan snapped. He then accessed the status of the five hospital ships on a control panel to the left of the first officer’s chair. “The Charcot and the Senva are ready to get underway. Clear them a path to our fallback position. Mister Huckaby, have Akira and Saber wings four through seven take up a position flanking the Pa’Trell, the Babinski, and the Paracelsus. They’re going to need to fight their way out of here. Captain to the bridge.”
Three Galor-class Cardassian destroyers lead the way out of an asteroid field with high levels of electromagnetic interference that impaired long-range sensors. Bringing up the rear was a combination of Jem’Hadar fighters, attack cruisers, and battleships, with Keldon and Hideki-class Cardassian cruisers along the outer reaches of the elliptical formation.
The Galors swerved in on the Lambda Paz and five other Lunas in a horizontal formation in the hope of making the enemy’s access to the evacuation ships more difficult. The Cardassian ships then spread further apart and fired disruptors at the Starfleet vessels. Those Luna-class ships targeted phasers at the port and starboard maneuvering jets while quantum torpedoes plowed through the hulls of the three attacking vessels. Two of the ships were heavily damaged, while the third broke through and fired on the two medical ships moving out. Those ships returned fire with phasers while trying to move out of weapons range. Fortunately, the Cardassian ship was focusing on the Akiras and Sabers up ahead. Three squads of three Jem’Hadar fighters moved in on the Lunas while the outlying attack cruisers and battle ships provided support with swarms of plasma torpedoes. The three Lunas at the center of the formation took on those three sets of fighters while the two on the outer formation moved off to lend support to the ships confronting the larger Jem’Hadar ships.
“Here they come!” Morrison reported upon seeing that the larger wave of fifty Jem’Hadar fighters he had been tracking.
Those ships broke into squads of three and four and fired indiscriminately at any Starfleet vessels in their paths, even hitting the three hospital ships trying to move out. The Lambda Paz fired bursts of phasers and torpedoes at each fighter that passed by in a single file formation.
“Let’s pull out our ace in the hole,” Kozar said with a nod in Huckaby’s direction.
Huckaby obligingly inputted two commands on his console, activating a series of mines and sending a message to the rest of the fleet that read, “Blow their houses down.”
Within a matter of a few seconds, Jem’Hadar and Cardassian vessels were exploding throughout the battle zone. Of course, surviving ships kept pressing on trying to inflict as much damage as possible on their enemies before meeting their destruction, courtesy of their own subspace mines dubbed “Houdinis.”
The bridge officers on the Lambda Paz all passed along triumphant grins watching those dreaded “Houdinis”, which claimed so many lives on their side so suddenly and so randomly, now dropping enemy vessels in the same fashion. “They’re spreading further apart,” Morrison said. “And moving in a little slower this time.”
“Never thought the Jem’Hadar would be scared of anything,” Kozar remarked. “But don’t expect them to let up.”
“I hear you, sir,” Morrison replied, entering commands to keep firing at any ships that came their way.
The battle would continue with back and forth exchanges of phaser fire. Ships on both sides were destroyed a few at a time. The remaining Jem’Hadar and Cardassian fighters were laying down cover against the Starfleet ships allowing the larger vessels to gather together and move away.
“The rest of the ships are moving off, sir,” Huckaby said with pleasant surprise.
“Open a channel to all ships, Mister Morrison,” Kozar instructed taking in one last look at one of the most unusual sights on the viewscreen. As a rule, the Jem’Hadar did not retreat unless ordered by a Vorta or a Changeling, as was certainly the case when Starfleet took back control of Deep Space Nine. With their own subspace weapons being against them, the Dominion was on more a defensive posture. “Nice job, everyone,” the commander continued. “I never thought I’d say this, but we have the Jemmies on edge.”
The fruits of their victory were short-lived when one of the hospital ships was suddenly destroyed.
“What the hell?” Logan gasped rising from his seat. His display screen indicated one of the Starfleet insignia disintegrated.
“The Paracelsus has been destroyed, sir,” Huckaby somberly noted.
“It hit a Houdini,” Morrison huffed. “One we missed.” He then left his station and stormed off the bridge through the starboard turbolift doors.
“Morrison,” Logan futilely called to the senior tactical officer.
“Let him go,” Kozar insisted, sensing equally sour moods from everyone else on the bridge. All that had been accomplished seemed to be purged from everyone’s memory the second the second a medical ship tasked with moving the dead and critically wounded out of the battle zone exploded. As much as they all had hoped to prevent tragedies like this, they still happened. Even knowing that difficult truth, the euphoria of victory had quickly disappeared.