“You’ve got threat signatures closing in on your extraction point. Omega-Two’s LZ is already compromised and we had to pull out the shuttles before they were overrun. Mer’iab’s team is re-routing to your position as we speak. With Sh’fane and Meldin’s teams already wheels-up, yours is the only exfil we have left.”
Donners took Glover’s report in stride. Quite literally. Enemy approaching or not, she knew she couldn’t afford to slow down because no matter how many Xenarth had been sent to cut of their escape route, there was an even greater number on their heels, trying to surround them on all sites.
“How we doing on casualties?”
“I don’t think this is the best time to get sidetracked with—“
“Just tell me,” she said, cutting the other captain off.
She heard him sigh audibly. “We’ve got twelve confirmed KIAs and at least thirty wounded.”
Maya knew that casualties had been unavoidable but realizing how many people they had already lost on a single mission, her first as a captain no less, was not easy to swallow.
She stopped in the middle of an intersection, much to V’Ner’s displeasure; her only remaining bodyguard had stuck to her like glue and driven her hard, almost bordering on subordination, to keep moving towards the now questionable safety of the extraction point.
Maya paid the chief petty officer little mind and turned towards the rest of her team, especially the slow-moving strugglers. Most if not everyone was wounded somehow, the luckiest ones had come away with superficial scrapes and flesh wounds, the worst cases had either lost consciousness or entire limbs from the brutal close-quarter combat with the relentless Xenarth warriors.
She found Chief Holly taking up the rear, doing his best to have the more seriously wounded security personnel and Marines keep up with the rest of the team.
To Maya they were not moving fast enough. “Chief, let’s pick up the pace,” she shouted loud enough to make sure her firm voice was being heard by every last person still awake. “I’m not losing one more man on this damned rock.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the senior NCO hollered back loudly. “You’ve heard the lady. You rest when we get back to the ship, until then you haul ass.”
Maya could tell the message was received but for some it was simply physically impossible to move any faster, no matter how much Holly yelled at them.
“We will not make it out of here at this rate,” said Hugh who had stepped up to Maya after observing their progress in a cold, analytical, almost Borg-like manner.
She turned on him, anger flashing in her eyes. “I’m open to suggestions,” she said. “You and your people seemed to have no problem beaming in here, how about you get us all out the same way?”
Hugh shook his head. “The vessel we used is too small to carry more than my men,” he said. “I could get you out of here if you wish. Perhaps a few more of your men.”
“Captain, I urge you to take that offer,” V’Ner said.
“Not a chance, I’m not leaving anyone behind,” she said and then turned back towards Hugh with newly found appreciation. Not because he had offered her a way out of this but because he himself hadn’t yet followed his own advice. Apparently having decided to make good on his promise and stick with her on this no matter how bad it would get. She wasn’t sure how much this was simply because he wanted her to keep her side of the bargain and allow him to see Omega again.
She found Holly again. “Chief, find out who’s slowing us down the most,” she said and immediately hated herself for the way she had phrased that. “Whoever has the most critical injuries,” she corrected herself before she glanced back at Hugh. “How many can you take?”
“Ten, maybe fifteen, plus one of my people to pilot the vessel. It will be a tight fit.”
She nodded. “We’ll take it,” she said and then to Holly: “Fifteen souls, chief. Find them now, they’re getting a ride on Hugh’s shuttle.” She could see that nobody in her team was comfortable with that idea, some may have preferred being killed in combat than taking the chance of being beamed onto a Borg vessel, fears of brutal assimilation no doubt playing out in their heads. Maya would have none of that. “Do it now. No arguments, no hesitations, get it done.”
Holly understood and within moments those who couldn’t walk, those who had to be carried or were close to collapsing, disappeared in bright shimmers of emerald colored light along with one of the surviving former Borg drones.
“How long until they can get make it to one of our ships and then come back for a second pick-up?” Maya said.
“Too long,” said Hugh. “Even our transporters are affected by the 010 radiation. The shuttle has to get fairly close to the surface to get a transporter lock.”
She nodded. “Alright, folks, that means no more free rides, we’re on our own, keep moving.”
But even lightening their ranks by fifteen injured crewmen made a big difference and where their progress had previously been handicapped by a couple of men on stretchers and a few others who could only remain on their feet by being carried by others, the pace now picked up significantly, allowing the rest of the team to proceed in a steady trot.
Maya felt a sense of relief when she spotted the vertical tunnel which had been dug earlier and which currently functioned as [i]Nelson Mandela[/]i’s improvised landing bay.
Star-Wanderer and a couple of Marines were waiting for them by the opening which had been blown into the facility and led to their extraction point.
“Let’s pack in tight,” she said to her people as she watched them head for the runabout, “We’re giving Omega-Two a lift as well so it won’t be a comfortable ride.” She shot a glance at the Xelatian pilot. “Any trouble taking off with the extra weight?”
The face-plated officer offered a nod. “It will be rough but we’ll make it.”
Donners hit her combadge. “Glover, we’ve reached our exfil point. Where the hell is Omega-Two?”
“Couple of minutes out. Maya …”
“What is it?” she said when he uncharacteristically stopped himself in mid-sentence.
“The Xenarth will be on top of you much sooner than that. You need to go now.”
“I’m not leaving them behind.”
“Maya, listen to me,”
he said, keeping his voice free of the arrogance and haughtiness that people often attributed to him. “If you don’t get out now, you won’t get out at all.”
Holly’s cry came less than a second before the shooting started. Xenarth troops were converging on the extraction point from both ends of the corridor and they had opened fire the moment they had their targets in sight.
One unlucky security man was cut down instantly. Another shot slammed in Holly’s side, causing him to stumble and fall hard. Maya watched in amazement as the man defied his years and picked himself back up, his face a grimace of pain, he nevertheless helped a Marine to pick up the fallen man and drag him towards the opening leading to the runabout.
He briefly made eye contact with her but instead of communicating the agony he surely felt, what his intense eyes made clear to her beyond a shadow of a doubt was that they could not survive this latest onslaught.
V’Ner ignored rank and protocol and harshly pushed the starship captain out of the corridor before she, along with the Borg and others returned fire. It was an effort to slow down the latest Xenarth advance and it achieved little.
Maya hit her combadge. “Donners to Mer’iab, what’s your status.”
“We’re coming across heavy resistance, Captain,”
he said and apparently had to stop himself as he had to shout orders to his men to take cover and return fire.
“Lieutenant, I need you to make exfil now.”
There was a short delay. “Unable to comply,”
he said and sounded pained to having to admit this. No matter how much he willed it, no matter how much he wanted to follow her orders, this was one he wasn’t able to.
Accepting this turned out to difficult. Mer’iab’s team consisted out of nearly fifty men and women which she would leave behind to certain death if she ordered their retreat now. Intellectually she understood that the alternative was to possibly lose close to a hundred men by trying to stay behind and fight against seemingly impossible odds.
She heard Vej’s words he had spoken to her fairly recently in the back of her mind: “I want to make you aware of the responsibility which now rests solely on your shoulders. I want you to be able to deal with a difficult situation when it sneaks up on you from seemingly out of the blue without it leaving you paralyzed.”
all over again but this time for real. The ultimate no-win scenario and it was threatening to do to her exactly what Vej had warned her about. Don’t let fear of your decision paralyze you.
She slapped her combadge again so hard it hurt. “Lieutenant, you have new orders. Stay alive. No matter what it takes, keep your team alive. We’ll be back for you.”
“Understood, sir, Mer’iab out,”
he said before he closed the channel almost as if to spare her from having to cut him loose herself. His voice had been firm and had not allowed any indication that he had doubted her words. She wasn’t sure if she didn’t doubt them herself.
Maya turned to the rest of her people. “Pull back, pull back, we’re getting out of here now.”