d. William Roberts2285
How longs it been now? Murray Williams thought as he peered through the force field at one of his captors. Standing about fifty meters away was the now familiar, giant hydra form, of an invader none of them had been able to identify only a few weeks earlier. Williams had since talked to someone who had been in the comm center before the spherical and cylindrical ships had parked themselves in orbit above this world. He had said that Starfleet had identified them as Kelvan and that they had arrived here from the Andromedae galaxy as conquerors.
Well, his thoughts continued, the conqueror part of the description has been accurate. They took this world without so much as a struggle from the Federations mighty Starfleet. From what hed gathered from the comm tech, Starfleet had all but been wiped out at the first contact with these creatures, the remainder turning tail and running.
"It figures," he mumbled to himself. "We pay millions into it as our defense, and they cant do their job when we need them." He immediately regretted his words when the fact that both his wife and daughter were members of Starfleet reoccurred to him. For all he knew, they might be dead now, their bodies floating in a debris field somewhere. This set off a whole new set of thoughts churning as he beganas he had many times since that first dark dayworrying about the two loves of his life. I hope you, his minds eye pictured his wife Melinda, and Arlene are alright. In his dark thoughts, though, he doubted it. From what he heard, Starfleet had really taken a pasting.
This planet was called Free Market because it was set up to be the trading place of trading places for the Federation. Hed heard it described as the New York Stock Exchange of this century. His mission, if one could call it that, was to contact an Orion trader who had said he had a line on one of the most valuable items one could have in the Federation...the design specs for a Romulan cloaking device.
Of course, he had taken this with a grain of salt, it seeming to be an opportunity too good to be true. Yes, the price quoted was extravagantly high, but if he could get his hands on one, then have its design specs translated and reproduced by an engineering friend into Federation standard, he could easily make one hundred times that much in profit. He knew the old adage well enough, "If its too good to be true, it usually is," but there were plenty of other business to be had on Free Market and a trip here, when done so by as experienced a trader, was never a waste of time, or credits.
Hed only just gotten here when all hell had broken lose on the frontier. He arrived at the meeting place on time and found the Orion there as well. The trader was extremely nervous, and Williams felt it was because of the object being traded. They had made the initial agreements and had scheduled a second meeting to finalize the transaction when the invaders had arrived.
Free Market had boasted well over two million residents when hed arrived. He wasnt sure, but Williams felt that after what hed seen of the invaders appetite, there probably was only a fraction of that left. Hed watched in horror as he saw his dreams literally swallowed up when he witnessed the Orion being picked up by the strong tentacle of aKelvan did they call themand had his head taken off.
It had been odd the way that had happened. Not the mere fact that the Kelvan had bit it off, but that it had bit off only the head at first, completely disregarding the splash of green blood that accompanied the act. The body was left dangling by the tentacle for quite some time while the mouth section worried the head around inside. It was at least five minutes and long after the blood of the Orion had stopped pumping out, that the Kelvan had finally stuffed the rest of the bodyclothes and allinto its sharp toothed mouth. Then something really strange had happened. The Kelvan had gotten real excited, at least thats how Williams interpreted all the tentacle waving and the speed that it had departed the area. Who knew what that was about, but the population of Free Market was slowly, but surely, being decimated by the practice.
It was only a matter of time and bad fate that would determine when he would see the same end. He wondered what being eaten alive felt like.
Punching a separate button on the arm of his command chair, Kelsey opened a line to the engineering section. "Captain to engineering."
"Engineering, aye, sir."
Kelsey recognized the voice of his chief engineer. Foley had been an engineering yeoman when the war had started, but had been commissioned after surviving the destruction of the U.S.S. Samson and the capture of a Kelvan fighter. Kelsey remembered all this because hed been there himself, having been that doomed ships helmsman at the start of the conflict. Foley was still a bit shaky as an officer, having not had the extensive training the Academy gives to those of that rank, but the rough edges gave him character as an engineering officer. Kelsey knew that the day would come when Foley would be required to attend the academy to advance further. But as long as we continue doing mop ups, his thoughts turned, and continue to find Kelvan, that day will stay away. Now that hes more seasoned, Foley is a good chief engineer. "Are you ready to give us warp, Mister Foley?"
"Aye, sir, chomping at the bit."
"Good, captain out. Set a course for Free Market," Kelsey ordered.
"Hrrrr-Laid in, sssssir," Gar-risss hissed from his location at a console in front of the command chair. As a Gorn, his fine motor skills were slow, even under the best of conditions. Yet, Gar-risss was one of Starfleets best helmsmen. This was accomplished with the use of the sensor helmet he wore that displayed all the readouts normally found on the console onto a screen in front of the Gorns compound eyes. It then sensed where the compound eyes were focused and how that focus moved. The only real motion he actually did was to activate commands with a simple tap of a stubby, clawed finger on a button on the seats armrest.
"Mister Thirket," Kelsey directed this toward the comm station nearby.
The Andorians antennae swiveled toward him before the head did. "Aye, sir?"
Kelsey didnt need to ask if communications was ready as theyd just received their orders through that avenue. "Contact the Viper. Give her captain my compliments and ask if theyre ready to warp out."
"Aye, sir." Thirket turned toward the comm board, then immediately back. "They signal that they are secured for warp."
"Confirm course and tell them to stand by."
Kelsey only had one other to hear from before he knew the ship was ready. He punched the ships intercom up once again. "Auxiliary Control Center."
"Aux control, aye, sir."
Lieutenant Commander Luncker was another survivor of the Samsons demise. He used to be a security officer before the war had started, but had settled into the second in command slot of the Fer DLance quite easily. Actually, Kelsey thoughts traveled this route quickly, I only have two key officers on my staff that arent left over from the Samson. Gar-risss and Lieutenant Commander Puria Caitian female (the dominant gender of that species)at the science station. "We ready to go, Number One?"
"Aye, sir," Luncker responded, "armed and ready, sir."
"Well, lets hope the armed side wont be necessary, but its good to know Fergies" as his ship was affectionately called by its crew "teeth are sharpened."
"That they are, sir. That they are."
"Good." Kelsey punched off the intercom and faced the central view screen, which presently showed the edge of the starbase they were orbiting.
"Mister Thirket, give Starbase Twenty-Nine my compliments and inform them we are departing for Free Market," Kelsey said, knowing this was only a formality as headquarters already knew their intentions and when they should be leaving.
"Theyve responded with Good hunting, and God speed, sir"
"Good. Mister Gar-risss, take us out of orbit and onto the plotted course, ninety percent impulse."
"Ninety perrrcent impulsssse, rrraye."
This will give Captain KTora, and the Viper the opportunity to synchronize her ships movements with ours, Kelsey thought as he saw the star base leave the mainviewer. Just as a precaution though, "Commander Puri, whats the status of the Viper?"
"Shes on ourrrr starrrrrboard flank keeping pace at ninety perrrrcent impulse," came the purring voice of the Caitian.
"Good. Helm, take us to Warp Six."
"Warp Six, aye."
He could hear the engines whine upward in scale and volume as the corvette sped up exponentially. Then there was a slight shudder and the stars on the mainviewer began to smear. Yet the engines tone continued to climb upward. The tails of the star-smears grew longer. Then the engine noise leveled off and almost seemed to disappear.
"Engineering answering Warp Six." Gar-risss announced.
"Estimated time of arrival?"
"At ourrrr prrrressssent sssspeed," Gar-risss responded. He tapped his execute button a couple of times then finished his statement, "twenty-two hourrrrssss, thirrrrteen minutessss."
"And the Viper?"
"Matching ourrrr speed and heading, sirrrr," Puri answered, "still rrrright on ourrrr starrrrboarrrrd flank."
KTora is a fine officer to serve with, Kelsey thought. If I could have afforded to have brought her along on our little mission to protect the Genesis torpedo on its way to Rojans World, there never would have been a doubt and Fergie wouldnt have nearly been made part of the matrix that formed to make what is now called Rojans World.
Standing up and pretending to stretch, Kelsey walked away from the command chair. "Ill be in my quarters. Mister Puri, you have the conn, but dont leave your station. I need you to scan the Free Market system for any indications of trouble. Starfleet Intelligence says they havent heard anything on subspace from them since the Kelvan swept through here. Find out what you can."
"Aye, sir. I have the conn."
"Give Mister Luncker my compliments and ask him to report to my quarters." Kelsey wished his ship had the luxury of a captains ready room, but like so many other things, there just wasnt room.
The turbolift ride was short, as were all trips on a corvette, his quarters were only one deck down from the bridge. There was a ladder access from his closet, just in case power to the turbos was cut before he could get to the ships control hub.
He had only just entered his quarters when he there was a chime from the door. He pushed the open button on the left side and headed for the small dining area which was the captains table. He often entertained his officers here. Right now it was covered by a semi-transparent star chart. "Come on in, Karl."
"Thank you, sir."
Kelsey would have preferred to be called Shaun by his first officer, but Luncker just wasnt comfortable with that familiarity. "Lets work on some contingencies."
The door shut, and two hours passed quickly. They were only about half-way through their planning when Kelseys comm panel whistled. He walked over and answered. "Yes, Mister Thirket?"
"Incoming subspace communication from New Saar, sir."
"Did they say who they are?" Kelsey knew quite a few of the R & D people stationed there.
"Captain Williams, sir."
Arlenes mother, his mother-in-law, he identified her. "Pipe it down here, please."
If she hadnt had such a full head of graying hair, Kelsey would have sworn that who he saw was Arlene. His wife hadnt gotten too many of her facial features from her dad. "Yes, Captain, what can we do for you?"
"Hopefully nothing, but, give your father-in-law a ride home," she answered matter-of-factly.
Transporting civilians was an unusual request. "Why, maam?"
"Murray went to Free Market on some sort of important trade mission for his company. That was two days before the conflict started. The Kelvan swept through there the next day and all contact was lost with the planet. Could you look him up for me and make sure he gets back okay?"
"I guess I can do that for him. We can only hope that the Kelvan only separated the system from contact and didnt occupy it. You know that planets that were occupied for only short periods of time didnt fair well under the Kelvan rule. They consume their captives."
Captain Williams grimaced, though Kelsey could tell she was trying to hide her concern. "Yes, I know all this. Please keep a special look-out for him though, would you?"
"Thank you, son. Williams, out."
Luncker whistled as the screen went back to the Federation crest. "Rather unorthodox request, sir."
"And unusual for her to be asking," Kelsey responded. "Well keep an eye out for..."
The comm center whistled again, interrupting him. "Captain, we have an incoming call from Lieutenant Commander Williams, U.S.S. Alliance."
That would be my wife, thought Kelsey. She keeps her maiden name as part of agreement not to let our relationship interfere with our careers. Well, her career, anyway. Im still way to conservative and chauvinistic to be comfortable with it. Kelseys thoughts continued in the split second it took for him to confirm the call. I am glad she was assigned to the Alliance. Though it had a rough time of it before becoming Admiral Kirks flagship in the conflict, it went relatively unscathed after that, and took only a few casualties.
"Pipe it down here, Mister Thirket."
His wifes face replaced the Federation emblem on the screen. The green eyes, as usual, grabbed Kelseys attention right off the bat. "Shaun?"
"Should I excuse myself, sir?" Luncker asked, sounding very uncomfortable.
"Just a minute, Arlene." He turned to his exec. "Yeah, maybe you should, but stay close by, this will probably only take a minute or so."
"Thank you, sir." Luncker got up and left the quarters, obviously relieved.
"Okay, were alone, dear. Whats up?"
"Youre going to Free Market, right?"
"Wow, word gets around fast. Howd you find out so quick?"
"I work on the flagship, word travels fast here, especially when its your turn in the TFCC."
Kelsey remembered that the Task Force Command Center was a very sophisticated spherical chamber that was riddled with holographic emitters, which during the Kelvan War, allowed Fleet Captain Kirk to basically be anywhere in the theater of action he wanted to be, just at the command of his voice. Nowadays, it was being used by Admiral Thrax K'al Kevaran to oversee the post-war operations in the Gorn theater "Ah, I see. To answer your question, yes, were on our way there now."
"That was daddys last known stop before he disappeared."
"So your mother told me."
"Mom has called you already?"
"Just a few minutes ago."
"Well, you can see how important it is for us."
"Yes, dear, I can and I would feel the same way if it was one of my parents in the same circumstances, but you do know that such a request is a bit outside the normal protocols."
"Protocols be hanged..."
Kelsey was a bit surprised with this outburst from his normally conservative wife.
"...you keep a special look out for him. Okay?"
"Okay, dear. Your wish is my command," he said, making the sign of obedience given by those from the North African/Middle East region of Earth, touching his forehead, then his lips, then his chest just above his heart, then bowing a bit.
"Stop that. Im not asking that much," she giggled.
"Only that I give up my command if caught showing such special treatment for a civilian," the captain shrugged and pulled down the corners of his mouth. "Thats all."
"Ill be most appreciative at our next meeting," she said suggestively, batting her eyes and turning a shoulder to the screen.
"Oh, boy," Kelsey said in response, rubbing his hands together. "Id go to the ends of the universe and do the impossible for that."
"Then its set?"
"Would have been without your call, but, yes."
"Shaun, you devil."
"I love you."
"I love you, too," Kelsey responded knowing that the communication was about to end, though he really didnt want it to. He didnt get much time to see her now that they were assigned to different ships, but it didnt lessen his love for her.
"Williams, out." The screen went back to the Federation emblem.
Kelsey shook his head and then went to the door to his quarters. He opened it and found Luncker waiting patiently leaning against the wall across from him. "Come on in." They went back to the table and looked at the star chart for the system. "Okay," Kelsey started to reiterate what they had already decided. "The system has a debris field at the far edge of the stars gravitational influence. Then there area couple of gas giants with numerous moons each. Finally, we have Free Market on the only rocky planet in the system. We will slow to impulse well outside the debris field and approach using its cover, hopping from one gas giant to the other, if we need to get a closer look."
"That sounds like the safest route, sir."
"Lets make it so, Number One." Kelsey said as he rolled up the chart and stashed it away in a cubby hole of his desk. "Im going to get some rest. I left Puri at the conn, but you have operational control for the next four hours. Have me awaken when thats over."
Luncker left and Kelsey laid down on his rack. He went sound asleep immediately, a trick he learned in the war.
The chime of someone at his door woke him. Just like he had gained the trick of instant sleep, so had he also picked up how to awaken, fully alert, at the drop of a hat. One look at the chronograph nearby told him why. "Four hours already?" Opening the door he wasnt surprised to find his first officer there. "Thank you, Number One. Have watch Number Two come on duty early and relieve Number One. Lets keep them all rested before possibly going into action. Then, go get some rest yourself."
Kelsey heard the announcement of the shift change over the ship-wide intercom as the doors to the turbolift closed for the short trip up one floor. When the doors opened, he heard the engineering officer at his station make the announcement, "Captains on the bridge!" and heard everyone snap to standing, or sitting attention, at their stations. "Carry on," he responded, putting them at ease in their work.
He looked around a saw that watch one was still here, though their replacements would be arriving soon.
"Sensor report, Mister Puri."
"This system has been put off-limits until it has been cleared by us, so there is no commercial traffic going in," she said in her purring Federation standard English. "On the other hand, there has been no indication of any traffic leaving either. This is odd since this was a thriving market world before the conflict, with hundreds, maybe thousands of trips coming and/or going each day."
"So its suspicious enough for us to not just waltz right in without at least our guard up I take it."
"To put it colorfully, sir. Yes. We are still too far out to be able to see what may be in orbit around the world, but, I am getting a heavier than usual return of titanium."
"So there are still a lot of ships in orbit."
"Most likely, sir."
"Thank you, Mister Puri. Mister Thirket, what are you hearing on subspace?"
"Nothing from Free Market, sir. I am getting some short range, empty carrier transmissions emanating from there now, but that maybe just someone outside the range of our receiver."
"Or, it could be Kelvan transmissions. Remember what their subspace transmissions sound like?"
"Aye, sir. This is very similar to that."
"Ladies and gentlemen, I believe this is not going to be just a routine reconnect of communications lines. Does the Viper know about this?"
"Yes, sir, I have talked to their comm officer, and their commander concurs with your conclusion."
"Get me Starfleet Intelligence on the Alliance," Kelsey ordered.
Thirket flipped a few buttons then pointed at the viewscreen. A lieutenant came on the screen with the insignia of Starfleet intelligence on his shoulder. "Yes, Commander?"
Kelsey passed on what theyd gathered so far.
"Thank you, Commander. I will pass this on to the appropriate levels. Keep us appraised."
You better believe it, thought Kelsey, because if whats there is what I think is there, I dont want to face it without a task force behind me.
Kelsey noted that watch two was finally filtering in. "Okay, Watch One, brief up your reliefs and go get some rest." Because in sixteen hours we may all have our fats in the frying pan, he thought as he watched them leave.
* * * * *
"Position, Mister Gar-risss?" The first watch was back on after an uneventful trip.
"Jussst outsssside this starrrrssss Oorrrrt cloud, ssssirrrr," came the Gorns response.
"One AU to ourrrr sssstarrrboarrrd, in a ssssimilarrrr posssition."
"What are the sensors picking up, Mister Puri? Kelsey asked.
"Its hard to get a good visual confirmation," Puri responded, her purring voice softening the rough edges of Federation standard. "There are a lot of ships in orbit, one of which has a large return, big enough to be a Kelvan assault ship."
Not good, thought Kelsey, an assault ship and her accompanying fighters would be a problem for Fergie and the Viper.
Alarms went off at the sensor station. Puri put her snouted face to the visored readout, then reported. "Its the same beam they had at Rojans world before the Genesis torpedo destroyed the Kelvan encampment there.
Kelsey remembered that beam. It was much like a flashlight that allowed the user to see a cloaked ship if it caught it in its beam. Fortunately, it was limited in its width, or the cloak they even now had incorporated in their shield system and were using, would be of little use. As it was, they would have to be very careful not to be in its path when it focused this way.
Puri continued, "We should be all right here. The asteroid belt will deflect most of it."
"Just to be sure, maneuver us behind one of those large ones."
The corvette moved ever so slowly toward a large piece of rock. No use letting a motion detector catch the ripple of the activated cloak, though it did a pretty good job of keeping the ship hidden from almost all sensors.
"This will hamper our ability to visually confirm our suspicions," Puri responded.
"With that beam being out there, I dont think theres a whole lot of doubt there anymore."
"I dont know why I didnt see it before. Do you think they know were here?"
"Maybe...maybe not...its a powerful emitter, and its overuse would definitely have clued us a lot earlier than now of their presence here," Kelsey answered. "Thirket, get me the Viper. Make it a tight subspace beam. I dont want any side splash to give us away to the Kelvan."
"Aye, sir. He flipped a series of switches, then put where they knew the Viper should be near on the mainviewer. A set of crosshairs appeared on the screen. It was common protocol now that this method of communication, as well as simple Morse code with the running lights, could be used to insure stealth. All Federation ships, when approaching a Kelvan infestation, kept a low strength subspace transmitter trained on the command ship of their group so they could be located and communicated with. The crosshairs turned green when the Fer DLances receiver was centered on the beam. "Go ahead, sir."
"Kelsey to KTora. Put a chunk of rock between you and that spotlight."
The Vulcan female came up on the screen. "Moving now."
They had to take her word for it since the only indication that the Viper was moving was when the crosshairs went red again showing that direct line communication was down.
"The beams going to pass over her in a moment," Puri reported.
"Come on, KTora, get her under cover," Kelsey said under his breath. He knew the Vulcan was doing the right thing in not rushing it, but he was still a bit on edge over this new development. Then the Viper became visible, much like sunlight would look on an object under the thick cover of a maple tree on Earth. It was only brief as the beam moved on and the starship made it to the cover of a nearby asteroid. Everybody held their breath for a moment as they waited for some kind of Kelvan response to the brief exposure.
"Any sign that they were seen?" Kelsey said to the bridge in general.
Thirket was listening intently to his earpiece as Puri buried her face in the sensor hood.
"The asteroid masks anything from direst observation of Free Market, sir. So its hard to tell if theyre reacting," Puri reported.
"Im not receiving any larger amounts of communication on subspace, sir. Just the same volume we were hearing on the way in."
"Good," Kelsey said as he relaxed. "Weve got to see what exactly we have here," he continued. "Any suggestions?"
"Sensor probe?" Lieutenant Foley, the ships chief engineer, offered from his station.
Kelsey shook his head, "I think it would be too easy for their sensors to spot it and would give us away. Besides, those little babies need line of site communication and we dont have that here."
But it did give Kelsey an idea. "What if we found an asteroid that had a direct view of Free Market and put a sensor platform there? It would be masked by the mass of the asteroid behind it."
"But how would we communicate with it, sir?" Thirket queried.
"Maybe a series of tight beamed relay receiver/transmitters along the surface?"
Thirket snapped his fingers, a typical Human reaction showing that hed been around them awhile. "Why not this?" He paused, thinking it through further. "Same thought about finding an asteroid with a good view of Free Market, but instead find two. We put in sensor platforms on each; one by us and one by the Viper. Each will need to have line of sight with the others mother ship. We use each other as receiver/relays and thereby giving both ships access to all the data gathered. Yet, since the sensor platforms will have tight beam subspace transmitters, that are aimed out of the system, instead of into, it should keep the Kelvan from getting any wiser to our presence."
Kelsey loved it when a plan came together. "Get with the Vipers comm chief and make it so, Mister Thirket, and good work. We must have hard evidence what we now pretty heavily suspect."
The hard part of the plan was finding two asteroids that were big enough for a corvette to hide behind, yet would have a clear view of Free Market. Then, finding that, both the corvettes had to maneuver unseen to their new locations. The beam was not turned on consistently, but rather in a seemingly random pattern, not always starting at the same place it had left off before. But it was regular in its occurrence, which was good since if the pattern had increased, Kelsey would have known the users were suspicious.
Though he strongly suspected the Kelvan, he wanted to make sure before he called in the big boys. Who knew, maybe the enemy force below would be small enough for their two starships to take care of and they wouldnt need to bother Starfleet with anything other than a mission complete message.
"Send a message to our sensor platform, through the Viper down-link, to activate," ordered Kelsey. "Then activate theirs as well. Keep them passive. No use spending all this time trying to stay hidden just to advertise our positions with an active sensor ping."
"Aye, sir," came Puri and Thirkets acknowledgments
"Put the visual on the mainviewer."
For a moment there was only stars on the screen. Puri made some adjustments and the filtered view of Xi Andromedae centered itself briefly on the screen. Moving left a bit more, the sensor centered on a bright crescent shaped point of light. Zooming in, the crescent got bigger and bigger until it filled the screen. And there in tight orbit was an all too familiar shapethe large cylindrical one of a Kelvan assault ship. Floating around it in a halo of protection were twenty to thirty fighter spheres.
"That nails that down," Kelsey announced from his command chair. "Get Starfleet on the horn, Thirket, and transmit what were seeing to them. Use the low end subspace channel we found the Kelvan dont seem to use. So theyll use the same in response."
"What exactly are they up to?"
Puri answered. "There seems to be a steady stream of transporter energies to and from the planet by the assault ship."
What they were seeing was suddenly occluded by something very much closer and terribly out of focus.
"Whats this?" Kelsey asked.
Puris fingers flew on the board and the focal point retreated drastically. However, by the time shed done this, there was nothing to see.
"Search in a pattern along the evident course," Kelsey ordered.
"Already being done, sir. There is nothing to see, but..." she delayed her further answer a bit. "Its appearance did coincide with the passage of the beam. You dont think?" She asked an unthinkable question.
"That the Kelvan have somehow gotten hold of a cloaking device, or worse yet, developed one of their own?" Kelsey answered the question for everyone on the bridge. "Why not? They certainly have been exposed to it enough, and there were over two million resident business persons on that world before it was taken over. The Kelvan gain knowledge by ingesting their prey."
The Gorn helmsman growled in response to this.
Kelsey continued, "Whos to say how many of those were engineers and if one of them was from somewhere where they had intimate knowledge of that device? Pull back the focal point some more, and well watch the general area during the next pass.
"Here it comes, sir," Puri notified the bridge. "Five...four...three...two...one..." There was a spherical fighter right where a moment ago there hadnt been one. It really wasnt moving too fast, and was doing a security pattern. There was a definite green haze around the fighter.
Evidently there had been a Romulan in the mix of captives, and he knew how their cloak worked," Kelsey concluded. "We have to ascertain how many of those they have. Start monitoring the beam and see what pops up in its wake. In the meantime, Thirket, get me the Viper. Put KTora on the screen."
A moment later, the Vulcan commander was on the screen. "Did you just see what we saw?"
"If you mean the cloaked ship, yes, weve seen one so far."
"I imagine there are a few more dont you think?"
"I would not guess at how many they may have. It bears watching."
"That it does KTora."
"Did you also see the transport ship a visible fighter was escorting?" KTora pointed out.
"No, didnt see that one."
"It is on its way out to this asteroid belt."
"Find it and put it on the screen," Kelsey said to Puri then turned his attention back to KTora. "Did it look like it will expose our positions out here?"
"Highly unlikely," KTora answered. "Its distance is two point five AUs from here."
"Got it, sir," Puri piped in from her science station.
"Very good, Commander KTora. Once we see where theyre really going, we may want to sneak over there and see what theyre up to."
"Logical choice of action, Commander Kelsey."
"Fer DLance out."
"Actually, sir, its still maneuvering close to one of the larger asteroids."
"Any record of mining activity in this system?" Kelsey asked, not really knowing why.
Puri reported from her station, "Yes, sir. Dilithium and, according to our records, the central location of the mine is located where the transport is headed."
"That makes sense." Kelsey shifted his attention to the Gorn helmsman. "Gar-risss, plot a course to a hidden spot near the mine. Keep in mind the beams pattern."
"Rrraye, sssssirrrrr," the helmsman hissed.
"Message coming in from Starfleet HQ at Starbase Twenty-Nine. Its in burst form and on the same low frequency you used to apprize them of the situation here," Thirket reported as he concentrated on what he was hearing in his earpiece.
"Whats their pleasure, Mister Thirket?" Kelsey asked, relaxing a bit in his seat.
"Have received your data, Fer DLance. Admiral Davis is bringing together a task force of heavy cruisers to deal with the infestation. Will arrive Xi Andromedae in two days. Stay put and observe; do not become engaged with the Kelvan."
"Thats one warning they didnt need to tell me," Kelsey responded, then turned to face Thirket. "Acknowledge."
"Courrrsssse plotted and laid in, ssssirrrr," Gar-risss said as he put in place his last activation with a tap of his large finger.
I imagine theyre robbing the dilithium mines, but lets see what theyre up to and why they need a transport, Kelsey thought.
"Inform the Viper of what were doing and that well be out of contact for a bit."
"Done, sir," came Thirkets voice a moment later.
"Well, then, lets do it," Kelsey ordered. "Ease us on over there, Gar-risss. Ten percent impulse."
"Rrraye, sssirrr," Gar-risss answered and tapped the activate button on his chair a couple of times.
Hitting the intraship intercom, Kelsey made contact with his executive officer. "Bridge to Auxiliary control."
"Aux Control, Luncker here."
Kelsey laid out to his executive officer what they were doing. "You might want to consider who youd want on a shore party, Karl. Just in case."
"Aye, sir. Already working on that one."
"Get em ready, Number One. Were easing over that way, asteroid by asteroid, even as we speak."
"So I see," came Lunckers response.
"Bridge out," Kelsey concluded the conversation, then turned to the mainviewer to watch their progress. "Is the cloak on?"
"Aye, sir," came Foleys response from his post nearby.
"We might need to surprise these guys."
"Coursssse that issss plotted takessss theirrrr beamssss patterrrrn into account," the helmsman responded.
Slowly, but surely, the Fer DLance worked its way along the outer edge of the asteroid field, always having a large asteroid shadowing it from the beacon whenever the sensor alarm that warned the crew of its imminent arrival. It wasnt long, though it seemed forever to those inside the starship, when they started working their way toward a position within the asteroid belt.
"Full sssstop," Gar-risss announced as the Fer DLance slid in behind a large asteroid.
"The dilithium mine is on the other side of this asteroid, sir," Puri announced. "At least, thats what the database shows."
"Is there another asteroid the same size as this on the other side that we can hide behind so we can see whats going on?"
"Aye, sir," Puri answered. "Transferring coordinates to the helm."
Gar-risss answered, "Courrrrsssse plotted."
"Wait for the beacon to pass, then proceed."
A warning chime went off at the sensor station, and Puri acknowledged it and then waited. When the light went off on her console she passed the information on. "Its safe to move out into the open."
"Make it so. Ten percent impulse," Kelsey ordered, now sitting up and on the edge of his seat, hoping this would make seeing around the asteroid easier.
As they slid around the large rock, the transparent aluminum domes of the mine were easy to pick up. Just as easy to see was the personnel transport shuttle that was sitting at station keeping about twenty-five kilometers away, with the very familiar spherical shape of the Kelvan fighter nearby. Soon, the Fer DLance was neatly tucked in behind a nearby rock that was nearly as big as the one the mine was on.
"Now why do they need humanoids to mine crystals?" Kelsey asked, though to no one in particular.
Puri came up with a logical answer. "Maybe because the mine shafts are the wrong size? The Kelvans true form is huge and doesnt fit well in what we consider normal surroundings."
The captain nodded his head. "Ill buy that. So theyre using them as slave labor. That sounds like a Kelvan trait as well. Lets peek in on the activity under the dome and record some of it. Who knows, maybe well see something weve never seen before? Bring the magnification of the screen high enough to see details through the domes."
The screen shimmered out of focus, then refocused on objects under the shelter of the dome. It was easy to spot the Kelvan taskmaster. He was, even as they watched, distributing hexagons onto the ground and transmuting them into the beings they had been. This was a common practice used by Kelvan to subjugate and then transport subjects by transmuting them into their vital essence and putting them into one of those hexagonal cubes, to be re-transmuted back at their luxury. As the people below realized where they were, they instantly cowered before their "master."
"Do you see any more of them down there anyone?" Kelsey asked.
"There seems to be only the one," Puri answered, "but thats only by visual search. To use the sensors would be to give our positions away."
"Thank you, Mister Puri," Kelsey agreed, nodding his head. "I dont doubt thats the only one down there, and therell be another one in the fighter." They watched as those released from the hexagons immediately ran for the mine entrances. "By the looks of the residents, theyve got them pretty much cowed."
Then they saw why they had been running. With the transmuting of the next group, the Kelvan grabbed a Deltan female by the leg and swung her up over its maw. In the typical Kelvan fashion of taking the head of its prey off first, this one dispatched the body of the female a moment later.
"I guess that would motivate me to move quickly to the mine entrance if I knew that monster couldnt follow."
"But why do they come back out when theyre done?" Foley asked.
"Why, indeed?" Kelsey answered. "If I remember the report correctly, the Kelvan do have a device that when placed around the slaves neck motivates them to do what theyre told. Besides, the Kelvan are powerful telepaths. Im sure the Deltans mind was crushed by the force of the masters will instantly." Kelsey paused for only a moment. "Ive seen enough of this already. Im not going to let that one munch any more of our citizens. At least, not on our watch." He hit the ships intercom button. "Bridge to Mister Luncker."
"Luncker here, Bridge."
"Do you have a shore party formed?"
"Aye, and standing by in the transporter room."
"Im sending you over to take the fighter out," Kelsey ordered. "Standard deployment and drill." The method of boarding and taking control of a Kelvan fighter had become common knowledge since Kelsey and the surviving crew of the Samson had done it the first time. In fact, most of senior crew he now had came from that ship and had done this maneuver many times again.
"Aye, sir," Luncker said in response. "No problemo."
"Stand by, Number One." Kelsey turned off the intercom, then turned his attention to the science station. "Mister Puri, form up a second party immediately and get ready to beam down to the mine itself. Dispatch the Kelvan quickly so it doesnt have a chance to even think, let alone communicate an alarm to the assault ship. We have to do this quickly to make it work."
Puri locked out her station, "Aye, sir." Then left the bridge.
Hitting the intercom again, Kelsey called up her replacement. "Second watch science officer, please report to the bridge." He got an acknowledgment a moment later.
Puri announced her and her teams readiness about ten minutes later.
"Okay, Puri. Youre to transport right after Luncker and his team." Kelsey shifted his conversation. "Mister Luncker, you may depart and good luck."
Kelsey knew that even as he spoke, the team was beaming over to the fighter, each member dispersed to different locations within the single chamber in the center of the ship, where the only Kelvan crewmember was locatedthe pilot. He knew the fight would be over quickly and that even with the amount of time it took to think all this through, now saw the central chamber coated with the residue that used to be the Kelvan. Now Puri would be beaming out. In much the same dispersal pattern as Luncker, but in a circle around the Kelvan under the dome. This one he got to see on the mainviewer.
Six sparkles of blue light surrounded the Kelvan. The surprise was complete as could be told by the frantic waving of the tentacles. Red beams of coherent energy lanced out from all sides. This was a maneuver that was well practiced by any within Starfleet now. Soon, the only thing left of the Kelvan was a mass of organic goo and its equipment belt, which the shore party had been careful not to hit with weapons fire. Located in the center of the belt was the device that would transmute the rest of the hexagons in the nearby bag into its corresponding sentient being.
"Any hint of a distress call get out, Mister Thirket?" Kelsey turned his attention to the comm station.
"I was jamming them, sir, but none was attempted."
"Fine, give my respects to Mister Luncker and ask for a status report."
A moment later his executive officer voice came over the comm station. "All secure, Commander. Scratch one Kelvan and only a scratch on our side."
"Yes. One of the security guys tripped in his excitement and bumped himself, otherwise, the mission was flawless. We now have control of a Kelvan fighter. What do you want to do with it?"
This had become a common question toward the end of the war. So many fighter craft had been captured intact that the Federation only used them for scrap anymore since there was no new technology on board. It had gained a few individuals lucrative contracts in the salvage business though, since much of the materials could be recycled.
"Leave it right where it is," Kelsey ordered. "No use giving the mother ship any kind of visual clue that somethings amiss." But Kelsey knew it was only a matter of time now that the Kelvan would discover that something was truly not right. No one had been able to mimic their telepathic communication over subspace and when the mother ship finally got around to asking for a status report from this pair, they would get nothing.
How can I turn this into an advantage? Kelsey thought. How can I insure everything stays the same until the Federation task force can get here? Then theres also the problem of taking care of the liberated prisoners. I doubt that we have enough room on either of the corvettes to accommodate them. The transport ship wouldnt stand a chance of escaping the system before being caught by Kelvan.
The cloaked Kelvan ships, Kelseys thoughts changed to another tack. Maybe this could be used to expose and take them out. That might be worth the loss of surprise to our presence. I know the Viper and I can take out anything the Kelvan can dish out, except the attention of the assault ship, but maybe... his thoughts drifted off at that moment as a signal came in from the asteroids surface. It was Puris group.
"Commander," she reported. "I have thirty very happy business people here. What should I do with them?"
A plan was forming in Kelseys mind even as she was speaking, it just needed the answer to a couple questions. "Is the mine habitable? Is there enough provisions for them to last a couple days at best."
"Well, yes, sir, but I think theyd rather not stay," Puri answered.
"I understand, but it may not be avoidable."
"Ill check on the provisions and let you know, sir."
"Thanks, Kelsey out." Turning his attention to Thirket, he continued. "Get me Mister Luncker."
A moment later, he had voice communication with his first officer. "Mister Luncker, have you made the modifications necessary for you to pilot that ship yet?"
"Nearly there, sir. We have helm and weapons. Why?"
"That should be enough. Beam back over, and Ill go over the plan with you."
Kelsey brought Puri back as well, leaving one of the security officers in charge of the mines shore party. It took only a moment to line out what he had in mind to his two senior officers. "Any questions?"
"Nope," came Lunckers typical answer.
"No, sir," came Puris.
"Lets do it," Kelsey responded as he headed for the door of the conference room.
"Shes breaking away, sir." reported the second watch science officer.
"What about the fighter?" Kelsey queried.
"Powering up impulse now, sir. Taking up a chase position behind the transport. It shouldnt be long till the fighters caught up to the transport since its not rated at more than Warp Five."
"Thirket, get me the Viper," Kelsey ordered.
"I have Commander KTora, sir."
"Put her on the screen," Kelsey said then waited until the Vulcans visage came on. "Do you see what I see?" Kelsey had already briefed KTora so this should be no surprise to her.
"Yes, I do. Taking up position now. Viper out."
"Follow them out, Mister Gar-risss. Keep close to the fighter. I want to be able to intervene at a moments notice."
"Mister Luncker reports that the assault ship is trying to contact the fighter," Thirket announced. "Should I jam the signal?"
"No. We dont want them to know were here just yet. Maybe we can do this without giving away our positions," Kelsey answered. He noted the red light at the engineering console and knew the cloaking device was working to make his ship invisible. Looking at the mainviewer, he knew the Viper was out there, invisible to normal visual and most sensory devices as well, taking up a station on the port flank of the escaping transport ship.
"Come on, baby. Make it a little further out."
There was a flash of energy as the fighter lashed out at the transport. The energy impacted on the transports shields giving them a yellow hue as they tried to dissipate the destructive energy.
"She cant take too many more of them." the science officer announced. "Shes just not designed to take punishment."
Where are they? Kelsey asked himself. "How far till were outside of sensor range of the Free Market system, specifically, the assault ship?"
"As long as we continue along this course and keep the asteroid field between us and them, in about five more minutes, sir."
Where are they? Kelsey asked himself again. The transports not that fast.
"Mister Luncker reports that attempts to communicate with the fighter has ended, but there is a lot more communication going on, on the other Kelvan bands," Thirket reported, then continued. "Im picking up the usual carrier patterns on the Kelvan command channels."
Good, theyre reacting, "Kelsey thought. "Okay, people, this is where the rubber meets the road. Well know in a moment."
Then it happened. Two Kelvan fighters became visible in front of the transport, firing their weapons a moment later, obviously aimed at the transports engines.
Kelsey had one more thing to do before everything was put into place. "Doctor Phoran," he punched up Sickbay on the intercom.
"Sickbay is ready, sir," the doctor responded, evidently anticipating what was about to happen.
"Thank you, Doctor."
Another set of weapons fire from the intercepting fighters punched through the transports shields, ripping into the engine compartment. It immediately dropped from warp and began to lose headway.
A signal from the comm station began making itself known to the rest of the bridge. "Thatll be Mister Puri, I believe," Kelsey interpreted.
"Aye, that it is, sir."
Punching up the transporter room, Kelsey activated that part of his plan. "Beam Mister Puri on board...quickly."
"Aye, sir," came the reply and a moment later, "Mister Puri is back on board."
"Have her report to the bridge."
The pursuing fighter caught up and took up a holding pattern not far away.
"Increased comm activity sir. I dont think they understand whats wrong with the third fighter."
"Good," Kelsey responded. "Just a moment longer. Signal the Viper."
A burst of static on the standard combat frequency was all that was heard. There was a corresponding burst a moment later. Mister Puri came onto the bridge with only a smudge on her uniform to show shed been otherwise employed not too long ago.
"Glad to have you back, Mister Puri. Everything ready there?"
"As per your orders, sir," came her purring reply.
"Lets do it. Signal the Viper to execute and then set off the charge."
Two bursts of static went over subspace then the transport transformed itself into a quickly expanding ball of dissipating energy, dust and debris. Two corvettes crossed each others courses as they passed through the center and erupted out the other side.
"Make this quick, people. We dont want them telling their mom of our whereabouts," Kelsey ordered, trying to stay calm in his command chair.
Photon tubes spewed forth promised death as each Kelvan fighter was assigned three HEAT weapons. The brilliant blue engine energies traced their paths as they closed on the enemy.
"Three, two, one..." Chief Hrisherisch counted down from his station as the weapons quickly closed the gap. "...impact."
The Fer DLances first torpedo struck the shields of the fighter. The second one struck a moment later. The shaped anti-matter charge in each created super-heated jet streams of energy that quickly bored through the shields with the judicious os m-rays and struck the ships hull. The third torpedo slipped through the hole in the shield created by the first two and struck the fighter without any dampening of its energies. All life went out in the fighter as a huge gaping hole was blown into the single compartment where the pilot sat.
The Viper met with similar success, though she insured the death of the fighter with a burst of brilliant red phaser energy. A geyser of condensing gases signaled the end of that fight.
"Im picking up comm transmissions from very close by, sir," Thirket announced from Communications.
"Damn!" Kelsey spouted, striking the arm of his chair as he turned his chair. "Can you triangulate on it?"
"Working it now," Thirket responded. "Its right by..."
"Sir!" Puri announced right then as she peered intensely into the viewing hood at her sensor station. "Tachyon burst right by the fighter we captured. Im picking up weapons being charged."
"Thirket, warn Mister Luncker hes got company."
"Puri, put the other Kelvan ship on the mainviewer."
The screen shifted, but there was only the far away haze that was the Free Market asteroid belt to be seen.
"Damn, its cloaked. Theyve got a third cloaked fighter. Jam their comm channels, Mister Thirket."
"Theyll know were here, sir."
"I think its already too late for that. Get me Mister Luncker."
The first officers voice came over the subspace channel. "Aye, sir."
"Are the scuttling charges ready?"
"Set them for remote detonation and get your people ready to be transported. Weve got a chase on our hands, and well be picking you up as we go by."
"Are the transmissions still coming from near the captured fighter?"
"No, sir, theyve discontinued."
"Damn! Damn it all to hell!" Kelsey hated to swear in public, but this was one of those moments he felt he could let it all hang out and not hurt his reputation with the crew. "Get me the Viper."
KTora came onto the mainviewer. "Yes, Commander?"
"We have a hidden watcher," Kelsey started, "or at least I think hes still there, but I suspect they have a third cloaked fighter, and hes near the one weve captured. Since its a foregone conclusion that mom knows about us now, my priority is to insure the cloaked ship is destroyed and hope they dont have any more."
"A logical move, Commander."
"Load a full spread of proximity-fused torpedoes and aim them for the starboard side of the captured ship, and Ill target the port. Were about to transport back my exec and the small crew he has on board and then scuttle it. The scuttling blast might expose the cloaked ship just long enough for us to get a bead on it. If not, maybe the full spread might get lucky. Either way, be prepared for it to appear long enough to get a shot."
"A sound plan, Commander. Is that all?"
"For the moment, Fer DLance out." Kelsey shifted gears in his thought process. "Send a message to Starfleet." He waited till he got a nod from Thirket. "Have made contact with Kelvan forces on Free Market. They have cloaking technology, and I have already taken out two fighters so equipped and am about to engage a third. Our presence here is known by assault ship, request task force move up time table for arrival, if possible. Kelsey, commanding the Fer DLance, out."
Shifting gears again, Kelsey got his ship moving. "Lets get this show on the road. Mister Gar-risss, head for the port side of the captured fighter, just close enough to put us within transporter range. Mister Hrisherisch, give me a full ten torpedo spread of proximity-fused, standard Mark Twos in the tubes. Target the area of space to the port side of the captured ship and stand by. Give me three HEATs in the racks on standby just in case my action really works, and we get a target."
"Execute! Full impulse."
The Fer DLance moved out quickly, closing the gap between it and the captured fighter, but aimed at a point to its left side. Nearby, the Viper did the same, only on the other side.
"Transporter, beam them back aboard as soon as you have a lock, then let me know."
"Aye, sir," came the response from the transporter chief, "almost there now."
"Come on, come on," Kelsey whispered as he watched the fighter get closer.
"Ive got them, sir."
"Good," Kelsey said, slapping the arm of the chair and turning to Thirket. "Detonate scuttling charges." Kelsey didnt worry about warning KTora and her crew as they were already appraised of the plan. With a brief moment of brilliant white light, the spherical shaped fighter transformed itself into a debris field. The shock wave of the blast moved away omni-directionally at near the speed of light, carrying microscopic particles of debris with it. For a moment, a spherical shape became visible on the Vipers side of the event. Even in the brief moment it was visible, the commanders of both ships could tell it was moving out and in what direction because of the trail of superheated particles it was leaving behind.
Ten torpedoes streaked away from the Viper, the pattern centered on where the Kelvan fighter seemed to be heading. Two torpedoes detonated in the general vicinity, but not where the fighter should have been.
"Hes using an evasive pattern," Kelsey said as he noted he had green lights on the weapons board of his ship. "Compensate, Mister Hrisherisch and fire."
Ten torpedoes streaked away from the Fer DLance their pattern centered on the new course. Three of the weapons detonated, two in proximity to and one dead center on the fighter. For a long moment it was visible as the shields spent the energy needed to cloak on defeating the destructive energies of the weapon.
Two HEATs sped away from the Viper.
Good, Kelsey thought, they had a couple tubes re-loaded for the killer torps.
Just as the Kelvan re-cloaked, one of the HEATs struck, exposing him again. However, the Kelvan had jinked as it had disappeared and the second weapon went flying by. This time, though, his shield was penetrated and a hole appeared in the outer hull near where the shield generators were located. The Kelvan didnt re-cloak right away.
"We ready with our HEATs, Mister Hrisherisch?"
"Locked and loaded, sir. We have a tracking lock."
Kelsey felt the launch shudder through the floor plating on the bridge. He watched as three blue tracers streaked away in front of his ship on a collision path for the targeted fighter. Then the fighter cloaked. "Get three more ready, Mister Hrish. I suspect hes jinking even as we speak."
Sure enough, only one torpedo found its mark and took another chunk out of the fighters hide, this time close to the engine compartment. Right away the collateral damage of the hit could be seen as plasma began to leak along the fighters trail. This of course couldnt be cloaked, and the Kelvan would have to shut down his engines to stop the leak, which would in turn deprive the ship of its cloak. The Kelvan ship maintained its speed and course back for Free Market, but this time more direct, or as much so as threading its way through the asteroid field would let it.
There must not be another one, Kelsey deduced, or it would have come to this ones rescue by now.
The two corvettes stuck right on the Kelvans tail, threading their way through the field as well and emerging on the far side of it nearly within phaser range. "One more ought to do it, Mister Hrisherisch."
"Aye, sir. Im targeting his shield generators and putting two standard Mark twos in it for good measure."
"You know your own work, Mister Hrisherisch," Kelsey answered. "Fire when ready."
It was evident that the crews of the Fer DLance and Viper had been through much the same things together. When the Fed DLance fired its next volley, so did the Viper as two more torpedoes departed her tubes. The two from the Viper were both HEATs and struck the faltering fighter at about the same time. The shields went down for good, and two more gaping holes were blown into the ship. It lost headway and then the coup dgrace hit in the form of the two standard mark twos. One actually flew right into the still glowing hole created by a HEAT and detonated inside. The whole ship blossomed into a fiery ball of consuming energy.
"All stop," Kelsey ordered. "Tell the Viper to maintain position with us. Wheres the assault ship?"
"Still in orbit around Free Market, but transporter energies are off the board," Puri reported.
"Put it on the mainviewer."
The screen shifted from seeing just the back ground stars of their present position to one with the bright crescent of a planet centered on it.
"Increase magnification until the assault ship is discernable."
The screen went out then back in focus, and there the Kelvan assault ship was, surrounded by the spheres of fighters.
"The fighters are maintaining a closer pattern around her now than before," Kelsey noted. "Well, if they didnt know we were here before, they certainly do now," Kelsey quipped. "Can we tell if theyre getting ready to attack us?"
"Sensors arent receiving any indication that theyre getting ready to do anything. Transporter energies are almost constant between the assault ship and the ground though," Puri reported.
"Hmm," Kelsey hummed as he put his chin in his hand, which was in turn propped up by the arm of his command chair. "Well, we cant take that on by ourselves and since it doesnt look like its going anywhere any time soon, lets return to the mine and talk to the survivors we liberated."
"Mister Lomar was the CEO of one of the trading companies here, sir," Luncker reported as he walked over from the group of survivors. "He says hes been elected to speak for the rest."
Kelsey noted that the group was now about forty strong, but hadnt gotten any bigger of late. They must have found all the hexes, he thought as the businessman came forward. "Is this all there was in this work party, Mister Luncker?" he still needed confirmation of that fact though.
"As far as I can tell, we found them all, sir."
"Good," Kelsey turned his attention to Mister Lomar.
"We all want to thank you for our freedom, Captain." Lomar bowed slightly at the waist as he said this.
"Youre welcome. In a short time, we should see the liberation of your entire world. How many did you start off with there?"
"Over two million business people and traders of all sorts could be found on our little home at any given time."
"And how many are left do you suppose?"
"Not over two hundred thousand, but its hard to tell when the only time youre aware of life is when youre not a hex. Its hard to say how many they have stored away in some warehouse."
"Hmm," Kelsey hummed as he thought about this information. It certainly does not bode well for my father-in-law. It would be the biggest fluke that hes made it to this point. There was no way around it, if he wanted to get this specific information, he had to ask. "Can you ask your group if theyve had contact with a Human named Williams?"
"Murray Williams? Wholesaler?"
"Yes, thats him."
"No need," Lomar said, obviously a bit proud of the fact.
"Yeah? You know about him?"
"He was supposed to come to my office with some fantastic offer when this whole thing blew up. I know him and have seen him since. Obviously, the deal fell through. I guess his contact was eaten toward the beginning of the occupation, but, we have talked quite a bit since. Well, at least, when we have both been reconstituted at the same time."
"Hows he doing?"
"As well as can be expected. Hes a bit thin, but I suspect thats intentional. Hes purposely making himself unappetizing I suppose. Its worked for him so far, but they also have worked us pretty hard here in the mines and gaining other natural resources necessary for their operation."
Arlene will be glad to hear this, Kelsey thought as he tried to figure out when he might get a chance to talk to her again. Then again, he couldnt be too sure that Williams was still alive since this Lomar guy really couldnt be sure how long it had been since he was last transmuted and what may have happened since. But it was good news, nonetheless.
"Tell them," Kelsey swept his hand in front of him, "that theyll all be back to business as usual in about a day, or so. We are just a patrol group; theres a task force coming to take care of the assault ship itself. Tell them that as much as were going to try and rescue all that are left, we must neutralize the Kelvan threat here."
The communicator on his belt chirped. Kelsey pulled it free and flipped it open, opening a subspace channel at the same time. "Yes, Mister Thirket?"
"Mister Puri says the assault ship appears to be getting ready to leave orbit. All transporter activity has halted, and theres a build up of energies in the engine area."
Not good news, Kelsey thought. He turned to Mister Lomar. "Unfortunately, that was not what I wanted to hear. Sir, Im afraid you and the rest will have to stay here and wait for the task force to pick you up." He saw the beginning of a protest and held his hand up. "Im sorry, were a small ship, and there isnt enough room on board. Besides, I think this is about to turn into a running battle, and I dont want to endanger any of you to what that entails."
Lomar surrendered to the logic. "All right, Ill explain. How soon till the task force arrives?"
"A day," Kelsey answered. "Two, at best. Weve insured theres enough supplies for that." Kelsey felt a sense of urgency now as he finalized this unpleasantry.
"All right, Captain, and thank you again."
"Just doing our jobs, sir," Kelsey said, holding his hand up.
"Oh, yeah, and one more thing, Captain?"
"Give em hell for us?"
"Ill give em hell for everyone. Hows that?"
"It will do."
"Whats their heading?"
"Forty-eight mark twenty-one," Puri answered.
"Speed," Kelsey asked as he sat down in his command chair.
"Just jumping to warp now. The cloud of fighters is forming a screen, front and back."
"Update Starfleet on this and that we have an assault ship, with escort, loose in this sector. Also let them know that there are forty survivors at the mine complex"
"Transmitting now, sir."
"Is the Viper with us?"
"Right on our port side, sir."
"Helm, match the Kelvan groups direction and bring us to a distance just outside the screens weapons range."
"Aye, sssirrr. Matching ssspeed and dirrrectsssion."
"Passssing Warp Sssseven."
Kelsey could hear the whine of his ships engines as they climbed to match that of the Kelvan assault ship. It all of a sudden occurred to him that they might not be able to keep up. Hed never seen a Kelvan ship in full flight.
"Whats along their present course? Are there any Starfleet units? Kelsey asked.
"Nothing till that area where the Tholian and Romulan empires meet," Puri answered. "Starfleets still too decimated to have a unit big enough to stop that ship out this way."
"So we cant count on anyone being able to intercept them."
"Warrrp Nine and ssstablizsssed."
Thats Gar-rissss way of saying theyve stopped accelerating, thought Kelsey. "Good, we can still catch up if we need to."
"Four fighters just broke formation and are heading back at us," Puri announced over the engine noise.
We cant let ourselves waste too much time on these, or well lose the real prize, Kelsey thought as he put together a quick plan. " Tell Viper that she has the two on the left." Then to his bridge crew, "Well take the others. Mister Hrisherisch, prepare four HEATs; target two for each fighter. Lock phasers on them, but I dont want to drop to impulse to use them if I can help it, so make the torpedoes count.
"Torpedoes armed and ready, sir."
Im glad hes not using Tellarite polite speech right now. I dont need to have to work through the "friendly" insults, thought Kelsey. "Wait till theyre right on us. I dont want them dodging at the last minute."
"We want to use the HEATs judiciously, sir. We only have so many. If we can mix standard mark twos in there, it would help."
"Ill keep that in mind, Mister Hrisherisch."
The gap between the fighters and the corvettes shrank quickly.
"Fire!" Kelsey ordered, knowing that KTora was doing the same next door.
Four blue tracers streaked away, crossing the gap between ships so quickly that the fighters couldnt dodge fast enough. The Fer DLances targets both blossomed into energy clouds soon thereafter.
"Good shooting, Mister Hrisherisch." Kelsey said triumphantly.
"Assault ship has gone to Warp Nine, sir," Puri announced.
"Whats the status of the Viper?"
"Still has one stubborn fighter to finish off," the science officer reported.
"She can handle it," Kelsey said. "Return to the chase, Mister Gar-risss. Warp Nine. Get me KTora." The Vulcan came up on the screen, the bridge shaking a bit as her corvette absorbed a hit. "Take out his warp and catch up, Commander. Im not letting the assault ship get out of sight." KTora nodded, and the screen went back to the scene of long star contrails as the Fer DLance climbed back up to her initial speed, then surpassed it by half a warp factor.
"The Viper reports that theyve dispatched their last target and are following up at Warp Ten," Thirket announced.
Were beyond the suggested maximum speed for our engines, thought Kelsey as he watched the stars stream by.
"Four more fighters just left formation in front of us, sir."
I could try to bypass them, but then theyd be at my rear waiting for us to become disabled for some reason, Kelsey thought as he worked the problem out. Nope, got to take care of the garbage as it presents itself. This time were going to max out the weapons capabilities of the Lance Im afraid. "Same as before, Mister Hrisherisch, but this time one HEAT per fighter, followed closely by a standard warhead. Target their engines. I want their warp capabilities gone, but dont care if theyre still intact.
"Let the Viper know that were engaging four more fighters and to get up here as soon as possible." I can think of some stronger language to use, thought Kelsey, but it just wouldnt be professional in front of the crew. Now, if I was talking to Mister Hrisherisch, that would be different. He chuckled as four bright lights appeared dead ahead on the mainviewer. "Wait till theyre right on us again."
That happened very quickly. "Fire!" Eight blue tracers streaked away forward of the corvette. Six found their marks and their targets fell quickly behind as they dropped from warp. The fourth one, though, dodged effectively and the HEAT missed. The standard warhead impacted but had little effect.
"Do we still have two tubes loaded, Mister Hrisherisch?"
"Standby to fire them aft. Im not going to let this thing slow us down. Mister Gar-risss, get us back on the assault ships tail."
The Fer DLance only just barely hesitated as it streaked past the fighter that would try to block its progress. Taken a bit off guard by the tactic, it took the fighter a moment to get on a pursuit track itself.
"Turn off the tracer element on these two shots, Mister Hrisherisch. Well know we missed when the fighter doesnt fall from warp."
"Well still see its drive gases, sir."
"We will, but the Kelvan pilot wont and maybe itll miss the initial firing action."
"Aye, sir. Ready to fire when you are. Locked and loaded."
The only obvious result of the firing was a slight shudder in the deck plate and a brief notice of orange engine plasma as the two weapons worked their way back to their target.
"Three...two...one...impact torpedo one," Mister Hrisherisch announced.
Flash, right on time, the first torpedo impacted and bored a hole through the shields, then flash, the second torpedo hit, stripping away the fighters port side warp nacelle.
"It still has warp capability, sir," Puri announced, "but only up to Warp Four."
"Thatll do. Mister Puri, how far back are we now?"
"They put another one hundred thousand kilometers between us, sir. Theyre going Warp Ten."
I wonder where theyre max speed is, pondered Kelsey. Thats pretty close to ours. "Match it Mister Gar-risss."
There was a shudder in the frame of the corvette as its muscles answered the order for Warp Ten.
"I have the Viper on the comm, sir"
Where is she? Kelsey asked himself. "Put her on the screen." The Vulcan commander appeared, the lights in the background dimmed slightly. "Where are you, Commander?"
"My apologies, Commander, but we burned out all but one of our dilithium crystals trying to catch up and taking care of the three fighters you left in your wake. They were still trying to keep up with you at impulse."
"What speed can you maintain, KTora?"
"Warp Two, maybe, if we coddle her."
"Stand by." Kelsey muted the pick up. "Speed and course?" he said to the bridge in general.
"Warrrrrp Eleven," Gar-risss answered, "sssame heading assss beforrrre."
"Sensor report shows that their engines are not showing any stress at this speed."
And thats a huge ship to boot, Kelsey thought. He brought the audio pick up back up to KTora. "Follow us up. Were doing Warp Ten and on the same heading. It looks like theyre heading for the Tholian/Romulan no-mans-land."
"Logical," KTora answered.
"You can be a relay of sorts for the task force that should be following us up shortly. If you can get more speed later, do so and follow. Well stay in contact."
"Will comply," KTora acknowledged then her visage left the screen.
Kelsey swiveled around to see Lieutenant Foley at his engineering station. If Viper just blew out most of her dilithium array, what about Fergies? "Mister Foley, hows our dilithium doing?"
The chief engineer looked up from his read outs, "So far, so good, but theyre running hot now. It wouldnt take much more for them to over-heat in a bad way, sir."
"Are they still maintaining Warp Eleven, Mister Puri?"
"Aye, sir, maybe hedging down to Warp Ten now."
Kelsey shook his head. There just wasnt anything to be done about it, not without ripping his ship apart in the process. And for what. As long as they leave our space for good, Kelsey thought, and dont come back.
The Viper headed over toward Starbase 29 nearly twenty-eight hours ago, in need of repairs to her dilithium array, Kelsey reviewed the more important aspects so far.
"Sir," Thirket said from his comm station. Hed been relieved twice since this whole thing had started, theyd gone through six different watches.
"Yes, Mister Thirket."
"Incoming message from the commander of the task force sent to Free Market."
"Put him on the screen," Kelsey ordered. "Yes, Admiral Davis?"
"Are you still trailing the Kelvan?" asked Lystra Davis.
"Weve lost a bit of ground, sir. They are maintaining Warp Ten."
"How far back are you?"
"A half hour, sir. Theyre just inside our long range sensors. Why?" Kelsey had a bad feeling beginning to creep into his thoughts.
"Bad news. They evidently took all the remaining surviving residents of Free Market with them. When we got here, there were only the thirty or so you left at the mine."
"Can you catch them and try to slow down, if not disable, the assault ship?"
"I will give it my best try, sir," Kelsey responded.
"If you dont think your ship can handle it...."
"No, sir, well push the limits. Ive got a good reason for doing so."
"Besides the fact that these are Federation citizens were talking about, what else could you be motivated by?"
"One of them is family."
The admiral nodded, her eyes flashing darkly. "I see. Good hunting, Commander Kelsey, and good luck. Commander Task Force out."
"Super charge the engines, Mister Foley, give me Emergency Warp. Make it so we can do so for as long as we can, but it has to be faster than what the Kelvan are doing now."
"Lets try Warp Eleven first, sir and see how she handles that," Foley answered from his station.
"Bring her to Warp Eleven Mister Gar-risss."
"Aye sssirrr. Anssswerrring Warrrp Eleven"
The Fer DLances frame shuddered for a moment, but then steadied. Despite the steadying of the ships bones, Kelsey knew the engines were wound up by the steady low whine coming from somewhere behind and all around the bridge.
"Are we catching them?"
"Aye, sir," Puri answered. "A little bit now."
"Can we get a little more out of them, Mister Foley?"
"Were already over specs, but why not? The mission seems worth a dilithium array."
Anyone else would not have been able to tell the difference between whether the engineer was being sarcastic, or just stating a fact. Kelsey knew Foley was sincere. "Bring her to Warp Twelve." Only heavy cruisers could usually manage such speeds, and everyone knew that. But the lives of the inhabitants of Free Market depending on their stopping the Kelvans.
"Warrrrp Twelve, aye," Gar-risss responded.
The whine grew louder with the slight increase of speed. Now there was a permanent shudder in the ships bones.
"I think thats about it, sir," Foley reported after checking his read outs. "As it is, this is going to be a short sprint, so when we get in range, I recommend we slow the assault ship down any way we can, or were going to be pretty much defenseless when the arrays melt down."
"Recommendation noted, Mister Foley," Kelsey answered. "And I agree. Mister Hrisherisch, have a full spread of HEATs ready for launch. Target only their engines."
"I dont have a lock, son of a sow, but when I do, youll have it."
Kelsey ignored the slip into Tellarite "polite" language and attributed it to the excitement of the moment.
"Were still gaining on them, sir," Puri announced from the science station. "Either theyre at their maximum speed, or they havent noticed us creeping up on them yet."
"I hope its the first, Lieutenant." Swiveling his chair toward engineering, Kelsey had a question. "Can we cloak?"
Foley shook his head, "Not without immediately cooking the dilithium. The power drain would be just too much. If we slow down, then we could, but that wouldnt do us much good."
"How bout some more speed then?"
"I dont know sir, maybe Warp Thirteen. Though I think the loss off the array is acceptable, if I see one inkling that the engines themselves are about to blow, I will cut power immediately and drop us from warp, sir."
"Make it so, Mister Foley."
The low whine became a high whine, and the floor rumbled constantly. The Fer DLance was doing more than it was ever designed to do, but it wasnt doing it happily. The chop of the deck made standing virtually impossible.
"Warp Thirteen, sir, but I cant guarantee how long were going to be able to do it," Foley reported.
"Push her for everything shes got, Mister Foley."
"Were approaching the torpedos maximum range sir," Puri announced. "Five more minutes at the rate were catching them and..." She began fine tuning something in her sensor hood. "Damn!"
That got Kelseys attention since it wasnt too often he heard a Caitian using a Human expletive. "Dont tell me."
"It appears theyve noted our approach and have increased their speed as well. Theyre matching us right now."
Kelsey looked first to Mister Hrisherisch. The Tellarite shook his head negatively after doing a quick check of his read outs. "Damn, is right. Mister Foley, were going to need everything and the kitchen sink right now if were going to get a shot at this."
"Give me everything, Mister Foley. Now!"
"Aye, sir. Maximum emergency power. Pedals to the metal, Commander."
Where did Foley hear that one? wondered Kelsey as he sat on the edge of his seat, staring at the mainviewer.
"Warp Fourteen, and thats it. She cant give us anymore."
The whine that surrounded the bridge was wavering high to low to high to low, and the rumble was profound.
"I have a tentative lock on the targets sir," Hrisherisch reported excitedly, "but at this range there wont be much left of the anti-matter warhead to do much damage."
"Are all the tubes loaded?"
"As per your orders."
Kelsey raised his hand in preparation to give the signal to fire. Just one more second girl, just get us a little bit closer, Kelsey thought as sweat began to bead up on his forehead.
The wavering whine began to climb all of a sudden to an almost painful level.
"Sir!" Foley screamed over the racket. "She cant hold it. Its either now or never."
Let it be enough, Kelsey silently prayed. "FIRE!!"
The forward edge of the stanchion over the bridge erupted in brilliant blue tracers as a full ten torpedo spread left the tubes, all slightly converging on one point far ahead. Then all the lights went out, and the Fer DLance dropped from warp. On the bridge, only the red emergency lights lit the enclosure.
"Thats it sir. Weve blown the entire array. I can give you impulse, but the warp drive is shot."
A moment later, the standard white lights came back on as engineers began replacing super circuits throughout the ship.
"Did we hit them?" Kelsey asked as he noted Puri was staring intently into the sensor hood again.
"Standing by, sir, they havent completed their run." Puri watched intently.
Hrisherisch counted down. "Four...three...two...one...impact, impact, impact!"
The main viewer showed some flashes way in the distance, but by now the Kelvan would be so far away that the brilliance of them wouldnt be too indicative of what was really happening.
"Theyre not slowing down, sir. I saw some hits, but there must not have been enough damage to take out their engines."
"Mister Thirket. Contact Starfleet and let them know our status and tell them we were not able to stop the assault ship from escaping. At their present rate of speed and course, they will enter the no-mans-land between Tholian and Romulan space in one days time.
"Also, let them know were going to be heading toward the nearest starbase at full impulse and would appreciate a new dilithium array if one can be found."
"Aye, sir." Thirket responded. "Starfleet acknowledges our report." Then a moment later he piped up again, "Viper wants to know our location."
"Send it to her. Maybe she can help us out."
"Theyre coming from Starbase Twenty-Nine and will have the new array. She says to Stay out of trouble in the meantime sir."
"What kind of trouble can I get into out here in the middle of no where, with an engine that can only give me sublight speed?" Kelsey wondered aloud as he relaxed back into the back of his command chair.
"Thats the easy part," Kelsey said to himself in his quarters, now comes the real hard part." He punched up the bridge on the intercom. "Contact the Alliance and set up communication with Lieutenant Commander Arlene Williams, then pipe it down to me here."
Shaun Kelsey made his way to the viewport on the bulkhead behind his bed. He looked out at the stars and saw the distant stars of the Beta Quadrant. "This isnt over between us," he promised. "Not by a long shot."
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