Author's Note: This short story will describe Intercept Group Four's battle with the Kothlis'Ka armada that is mentioned in the ongoing TFV story "Quality of Mercy".
NO WIN SCENARIO
As he retold the story, the battle replayed in Captain Kenji Tanaka’s mind. “Responding to the distress call from the Narcissus, we encountered a Kothlis’Ka attack cruiser,” he said, struggling not to be engulfed in memories of fire and blood.
“It-it looked like a flying bat’leth,” he recalled, “All curves and sharp edges…and there was nothing we could do to stop it.” He paused, unable to continue, the shriek of his deceased first officer ringing in his ears. Even though the other captains he was addressing hadn’t been there, they each bore looks of knowing horror. They had all rushed to meet the K’mpec at its warp sled, where the ship had limped back to for repairs after nearly being atomized by the Kothlis’Ka warship.
“So, the Narcissus was destroyed,” Commander Gilma Rhizzo, of the Saber-class USS Ariane, repeated, seemingly more to process in her own mind than to repeat what Tanaka had just told them. The Zakdorn woman eventually lowered her head, unable to accept the cold finality of the Narcissus’s demise. “Captain Landau sponsored my entrance into the Academy…I can’t believe that she’s gone.”
“She might not be,” Captain Ottah offered, his voice steeped in hope and compassion. The Edoan somehow maintained an optimistic disposition even in the midst of oncoming doom. The master of the Nebula-class Starship Shuttlesworth craned his elongated neck in the direction of the weeping Rhizzo. “Your sensors did detect Narcissus escape pod energy signatures.”
“Yes, but the infernal Kothlis’Ka prevented K’mpec from retrieving them,” the dour Captain Thelius said. The Andorian’s twin antenna writhed like serpents, as he added, “For all we know those pods were picked off by now, for sport.” Thelius commanded the Norway-class Baltimore.
Captain Tan Erasia, of the USS Empress, frowned at the pessimistic Andorian. The trim Efrosian had now become the leader of what remained of Intercept Group Four, with the destruction of Narcissus and the likely death of Captain Gretchen Landau. Empress was a Galaxy-class starship, just like Narcissus. Captain Landau had had far more years in command of starships than Tan, ergo her being placed in charge of the taskforce.
“Captain Tanaka, how many escape pods did your ship’s sensors detect?” Erasia asked, forgoing rejoining Thelius’s negative comments.
“We picked up fifteen, but there could’ve been more. The warship’s shields and weapons interfered with our sensors,” Tanaka answered.
“My gods, only fifteen,” Rhizzo shook her head.
“There could be more,” Ottah pointed out.
“Or none left at all,” Thelius just had to say.
“Well, we won’t know until we find out for certain,” Erasia said, “And that is why I am dispatching shuttles to retrieve any survivors.”
“That’s a good idea,” the Zakdorn said, perking up slightly. “I think we should all send shuttles.”
“I concur,” Ottah nodded.
“Of course,” Thelius didn’t attempt to hide the doubt in his voice.
Tan nodded, and offered everyone a reassuring smile. Tanaka thought that the woman was adapting to her new role as taskforce leader very well. “I’ll have my first officer coordinate with his counterparts.” The woman winced when she noticed Tanaka doing so. “I’m sorry,” she said to the man. “Commander Baird was an outstanding officer,” she added. Tanaka nodded in acceptance of her apology. His memory of Davin’s last, shuttered cry had robbed him of speech.
Erasia gave him a moment to collect himself. Then she said, “That was the easy part of this discussion,” she began. “Now, comes the tough sell,” the captain paused and gathered herself, “We’re going after the Kothlis’Ka armada.”
Erasia had barely signed off with her counterparts before her first officer was out of his seat. Leaning halfway over her desk, Commander Mark Sheppard asked, with his clipped English accent, “Are you serious?”
Tan sat back, and pondered his question for a moment. The dark-skinned human tensely waited her out, with his hands gripping the sides of her desk, and his brown eyes gazing into her pale blue ones with a forced attempt not to stare. “I wouldn’t have proposed this course of action if I wasn’t,” she reasoned. Sheppard was relatively new to the ship. Though she had served with humans for years, she still found them sometimes hard to discern. Her last XO had been Vulcan and far easier to comprehend.
“It wasn’t even the armada, just one ship destroyed Narcissus and nearly vaporized the K’mpec,” Sheppard said, “and now you want us to go after their entire armada?” Now, the man’s incredulity was quite clear.
Sheppard’s sudden spate of trepidation was curious. Tan was well aware of his Dominion War record and his actions during the Talarian Incursion. Mark Sheppard wasn’t a man who shied away from battle. In fact, it appeared that he to some extent thrived on it, allowing it to keep other demons at bay.
It was something he had never shared with her; Tan could read it sometimes on his face. It was the same look that often greeted her in the mirror. “Well, perhaps our combined strength might at least force the Kothlis’Ka to talk with us, and if that happens, perhaps we can avoid further bloodshed.” One of the eeriest things about the Kothlis’Ka was their silence. Either they didn’t understand Federation Standard, were mute, or simply saw no point in talking. The last possibility chilled Tan, and that was hard to do to an Efrosian. Both Narcissus and K’mpec had not been able to establish contact with the armada to convince them to change course.
Captain Landau had been forced to begin laying a quantum minefield to get them to do so. The Kothlis’Ka had interpreted that as an act of aggression and had mercilessly responded.
Sheppard shook his head. “I don’t think these guys are big into talking.” Erasia shuddered inwardly, spooked that the man’s summation dovetailed so easily with her own thoughts.
“What would you propose we do then Commander?” Erasia asked.
“I think we should wait until Starfleet can send a larger force,” Sheppard answered.
“It will be too late by then,” the captain said. “At their current speed the armada will skirt Tholian Assembly space within weeks and if they encounter little to no resistance their path will lead them into Romulan space.”
“The Hobus system,” Sheppard nodded, “If I recall what Science Officer K’Baara said correctly.”
Tan nodded, “You did. And from Hobus, Romulus would easily be within reach.”
“And we should be concerned, why?” Sheppard asked, drawing a stern glare from the captain. The collapse of Romulan forces at Draken IV to the Jem’Hadar had resulted in massive casualties, including the loss of his pregnant wife, and hadn’t left him too fond of their erstwhile wartime allies. “Perhaps they can do a better job defending their homes than mine.”
“I am sympathetic to what you have endured,” Erasia said, doing her best to hide her own chastened feelings.
Similar to the Romulan retreat at Draken IV, Empress had been part of Tango Fleet, which had failed to hold off Dominion forces from Betazed. She could sympathize with Sheppard and certainly empathize with many of the Romulans at Draken IV. Continuing, she said, “While I don’t understand fully the depth of your loss, I advise you not to express any prejudicial view on the bridge or among subordinate officers. In here or with the ship’s counselor is fine if you must, but out there, I want your mind clear and strictly on the job.”
Sheppard shot up and stood at attention, the consternation on his face evaporating completely. “Aye sir,” he said tightly.
“Oh at ease Commander,” the captain waved. Sheppard relaxed, but only a bit. Erasia continued, “We have a duty, not just to the citizens of the Federation, but to the galactic community to do our part to stop or impede that armada. Millions, maybe billions, of lives might be at stake.”
“Something tells me that our sacrifice won’t be remembered as gloriously by the Romulans as the Klingons revere Garrett’s stand at Narendra III,” the first officer rejoined.
“Perhaps so,” Erasia conceded, “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to save lives if possible.”
“Even at the expense of our own?” Sheppard asked, not completely convinced.
“Certainly at the expense of our own,” Erasia concluded. With that, she dismissed the commander after he had no additional questions. Once she was alone, Tan sank into her comfortable leather seat.
Mentally she climbed down from her self-righteous peak. She couldn’t help but wonder if the ghosts of Betazed were still haunting her, if her survivor’s guilt over escaping that charnel house with her ship and life were compelling her to throw both of them away on the Kothlis’Ka.
“Only time will tell,” she whispered to her ship. Empress didn’t respond.