Chapter 7 <cont'd>
Commander Xerix stared at the assembly of Ferou ships with hooded eyes, leaning forward very slightly in his chair like a perched bird of prey. He hadn’t tasted combat since the end of the Dominion War, a conflict he’d been secretly ecstatic at entering when the star empire had finally joined the fray.
He was a soldier, bred to war and honed like a fine blade through decades of training to a razor’s edge. Never to employ such a specialized weapon would have been a waste of resources and talent, and in combat Xerix had at last found himself in his element. Where others experienced indecision or fear, Xerix saw the raging battles with a kind of hyper-acute clarity, and was able to divine the enemy’s plans even before they’d put them in motion.
The end of the war had left Xerix feeling somehow crippled, as though he was no longer whole without the furor of warfare raging around him. Days, weeks, and months crept past as though in slow motion, one day melting into another with nothing to differentiate them but an endless string of meetings and mind-numbing data-work.
The desperate mission to the Delta Quadrant to stem the tide of refugees was a new lease on life for Xerix. More than the accolades and medals awarded for his exploits, Xerix yearned for the adrenaline and action of combat, the opportunity to match his skills and intellect against that of alien commanders in a frantic winner-takes-all contest.
“Commander,” the ship’s sensor officer addressed him, starting him from his reverie. “There’s been a forty-seven percent increasing in the strength and duration of sensor sweeps on our location by the Federation starship. I’m also seeing an increase in sweeps in the vicinity of Tolovana
“They’ve seen us,” Xerix breathed. “Still, we are nearly in position.”
report that they’re approaching the other side of the fleet at one-eighth impulse. Distance, twenty-three million kilometers.”
“Understood,” Xerix said as he assessed their tactical situation. “Maintain distance to Europa
and have Tolovana
do the same. If they’re busy watching us, perhaps they’ll be less apt to see the others.”
Moments passed, and despite their being on the cusp of initiating hostilities with a well-armed opponent, Xerix’s crew maintained admirable discipline in the tense atmosphere.
“Now detecting sensor sweeps in our vicinity by multiple Ferou vessels, Commander,” reported the sensor officer, breaking the thick silence of the bridge.
Xerix’s jaw rippled with barely repressed outrage. He glanced at his first officer, murmuring in a low voice, “Our allies
have apparently given away our position to the Ferou.”
“Signal incoming from Vexam
“Put it through, audio only.”
Chalois’ spoke, the urgency in her tone unmistakable. “Commander Xerix, if we do not launch our attack quickly, the Federation diplomatic team will have transported aboard before our strike.”
“They’ve already betrayed our presence to the Ferou, Sub-Commander,” Xerix replied icily.
“We can’t know that for certain, sir,”
Chalois protested in vain. “If we attack and Federation lives are lost—“
“Enough!” he barked. “We will wait until the others are in position, and then we will strike. I will not sacrifice our tactical advantage for a handful of Starfleet lives.” He jabbed the comms control angrily, severing the link and ending the conversation abruptly.
are moving into flanking positions, Commander. Another five minutes until we’re all in place.”
Xerix let out a slow, deliberate breath, steadying himself for what was to come. “So shall it be.”
“I’m detecting a Federation transporter signal…”
The near weightlessness of the Ferou’s environment was disconcerting enough, but the electrical field by which their species moved and manipulated their surroundings caused significant static electricity throughout the ceremonial chamber that literally made the away team’s hair stand on end.
The Ferou themselves were beautiful, elegant creatures that moved like wraiths through the great chamber. Though they possessed a definite physical form, their tissues were sufficiently elastic that they undulated and drifted gently along not unlike a sheet blown free from a clothesline by the wind.
The cavernous compartment was ovoid in shape, and the rounded floors and walls only served to heighten the Starfleet contingent’s sense of disorientation. Try as they might in their first few minutes to control their bodies in low-g, the humanoids drifted awkwardly off the floor whenever they jostled into one another.
Taiee couldn’t suppress a fit of giggles as Shanthi lost his balance and grabbed frantically at Lar’ragos for support, sending the both of them spiraling into the air with their arms flailing helplessly.
“This,” Lar’ragos muttered sardonically, “is going to go down in the annals of diplomatic history as how not
to represent the Federation.”
Shanthi was unable to reply, struggling gallantly to keep from vomiting as his inner ear and visual cortex sent conflicting messages to one another.
Delicate carts moving along rails set into the walls began to slide into the great room, filling the chamber with the alien scents of various exotic foodstuffs.
“For obvious reasons,” said GentleFriendSeeker-(Diplomatic-caste), “our physical limitations make it awkward and painful for us to visit higher gravity environments. We understand that it is equally unsettling for you to suffer the indignities of low gravity in order to be among us, and we are grateful you have been willing to do so in the name of friendship and peace.”
“Our Federation is comprised of hundreds of diverse species,” Lar’ragos answered as casually as possible as he drifted slowly towards the floor head first. “So we are experienced at meeting others in a variety of environments. We are honored that you have allowed us to stand among you so that—“ he pushed off the floor with his arms, tucked, and rolled upright, “—we could explore one another’s cultures.”
StarGuideFarSeer-(Navigator-caste) asked, “Do these Romulans you spoke of not feel similarly? Is that why they have chosen not to contact us?”
Counselor Liu, the only one of the team who’d insisted on wearing gravity boots, stood fixed in place as the others fought to stay upright. He replied, “The Romulans are our allies, but they do not always share our willingness to extend the possibility of friendship at first meeting. They are a cautious people who likely wish to project strength through silence.”
“So they mean us no harm?” FleetGuardianStalwartDefender-(Protector-caste) inquired pointedly.
“It is typically not their way to strike without provocation,” Lar’ragos answered. “But I cannot speak for them with absolute certainty. At present your fleet’s projected course does not take you into Romulan territory, and as we’re enjoying this friendly get-together as they watch, I can’t see any reason they’d have to harbor you ill will.”
The tight-beam encrypted signals flashed between Vexam
and her sister ship, Yowaen
“Are we really going to allow this to happen?”
Chalois wrote to Commander Ejiul tr'Aimne. “Europa has already spotted us. If we attack with their crew aboard the Ferou ship, they’ll have no choice but to engage us to safeguard their diplomatic party.”
“I, too, regret that it has come to this,”
Ejiul replied, likewise by text. “However, Xerix is carrying out the explicit orders of the Galae. We must set our personal objections aside and do our duty. As has been often said, ‘obedience is our portion.’”
“And if the starship opposes us by force of arms?”
“That would be most unfortunate,”
Ejiul answered, “for them.”
All six Norexan
-class warbirds decloaked simultaneously, raising their shields an instant before disgorging a withering volley of torpedoes that swarmed downrange among a brilliant wash of green disruptor bolts.
The lead Ferou vessel was savaged, and despite the strength of their hull composition, the ship’s superstructure blistered and ruptured in the face of such sustained aggression. Gouts of flame and escaping atmosphere jetted from the stricken ship as the lights from its many large viewports flickered spasmodically.
“Six Romulans warbirds,” 2nd Lieutenant Tiedermeyer announced from Tactical. “Their weapons and defenses are active.”
The ensign manning the Ops console blurted, “They’re firing on the Ferou!”
Juneau stood abruptly, her jaw dropping open at the sheer absurdity of what she was witnessing. “Get a transporter lock on our people and get them out of there!”
An agonizing few seconds groaned past as they watched the great cylindrical Ferou ship mauled by the Romulans’ opening salvo.
“We can’t get a lock,” Ashok growled from Engineering. “The interior portions of the ship that aren’t burning are rife with EM interference, and all the weapons discharges are creating a—“
Juneau shouted in reply, cutting off Ashok mid-thought, “I don’t care why
. Just find me a goddamn alternative!” She blinked, clearly overwhelmed by the dynamic pace of events. “Raise— raise shields… sound red alert.”
“Incoming signal from the Romulans, Lieutenant. They’re ordering us to stand down and withdraw.”
“It would seem their First Contact mission has taken an unfortunate turn,” Parlan observed coolly as he and Ramirez watched the pyrotechnics on Masada’s
“Oh, but it’s about to get so
much worse,” Liana Ramirez chuckled darkly. “Set course to three-two-nine, mark zero-four-zero. Bring us right in on top of the lead warbird and prepare to decloak. Warm up the quantum torpedoes and phasers, gentlemen, we’re going to draw some green blood today.”
Parlan looked askance at her, his expression troubled. “What of the events we’ve set in motion aboard Europa?
“The timing couldn’t be more perfect, my mechanical friend. First we start a war with the Romulans, and then we’ll bring Sandhurst and his crew to their knees.” She made a show of glancing all around. “I think we need some new digs, don’t you? This little ship really is rather claustrophobic.”
Parlan actually looked impressed for a fleeting moment. “For a biological,” he noted, “you never cease to surprise me, Ramirez.”