His training hadn’t covered this.
A grimace on his face, Ensign Travis Mayweather glanced quickly at the sensor feed upon his control console and fought back a curse at how close the attacking Klingon ship was. The flight stick was still vibrating wildly as he drove Enterprise through another series of wild evasive maneuvers, but Travis ignored the threatened systems malfunction. All that mattered was the safety of his ship and the crew.
Until the armed freighter had roared over the planetary horizon, weapons already charged and ready for action, there had been no indication that there were any other starships in the system. Only Enterprise’s superior capabilities to the outclassed Klingon ship had kept the Starfleet vessel from being destroyed by the opening salvo. Bracketed by hostile fire, Enterprise had held up surprisingly well, and her crew had responded even better. They were breaking orbit and conducting evasive maneuvers well before the Klingon ship could reorient for a second pass, and Travis found himself immeasurably proud of his fellow crewmates for how quickly they reacted.
He shouldn’t have been surprised though; experience was a hard teacher.
The hard vacuum around the starship was suddenly alive with sizzling disruptor beams, brilliant cascades of emerald fire that burned through the darkness and sliced into Enterprise’s already battered hull plating. A geyser of molten metal exploded outward, the superheated fragments freezing almost instantly. Ominous alarms began shrieking the briefest of seconds later.
“Hull breach on C Deck!” the recently promoted Petty Officer Rostov shouted from where he stood at the damage control station. “Pressure doors sealing!”
“I can’t get a lock!” the acting weapons officer exclaimed, stress and panic in her voice. A crewman first class, Stacey Marino had only been manning the station when the Klingons suddenly appeared because she’d drawn the short straw. Though he had seen no real signs of it firsthand, Travis had learned through the ship’s rumor mill that Malcolm Reed was rabidly territorial over the weapons console. In order to avoid getting chewed out for even looking askance at a button or a dial, the members of the security detachment routinely competed against one another in order to determine who had the misfortune to stand watch on the bridge. Only last night, Marino had come in last place during the weekly hand-to-hand training sessions.
“Calm down,” Travis ordered sharply. “Let the targeting computer do its job.” He feathered the maneuvering thrusters, rolling Enterprise slightly as he began feeding more acceleration. “Stand by for an L-4 maneuver,” he added, before shooting Marino a quick look. “We’re only going to get one shot at this,” he said grimly, “so I’d really prefer it if you don’t miss.”
Before she could reply, he gave Enterprise her head, redlining her powerful impulse engines while pulling back hard on the flight stick. The pursuing Klingon ship immediately tried to replicate the maneuver, but – weighed down by bulky deuterium tanks – moved like the slow, clunky freighter it had become. Brief seconds later, Travis leveled out, completing the inside loop to place Enterprise directly aft of the Klingon starship. Like an ungainly bird, the hostile craft tried to shake them.
“Fire!” Mayweather ordered, and a half-second later, every one of Enterprise’s phase cannons opened up, spearing the ponderous Klingon ship with lethal fire. Spatial torpedoes leapt from the launch bays and slammed home against the freighter’s hull, detonating with spectacular explosions that ripped into the starship’s superstructure and sent shattered metal spinning into the darkness. Leaking atmosphere and trailing debris, the Klingon ship abruptly banked, still desperately trying to dodge Marino’s phase cannon fire. A moment later, the freighter sprang away at superluminal speeds.
“They’re going to warp!” Ensign Ling nearly shouted from the Science board, her jubilant words causing the rest of the crewmen and junior officers on the bridge to cheer.
“Quiet!” Travis snapped, twisting in his seat to focus on Ling. “I want the sensors monitored at all times,” he ordered quickly. “If they show back up, I need to know at once.” Before she could reply, he turned again, this time directing his comments to Rostov standing at the damage control board. “Is the transporter working?” he asked.
“Uh … I think so,” the engineering petty officer prevaricated, but Mayweather cut him.
“Don’t think,” he said quickly. “Find out.” To Marino, Travis added, “I want an armed security team assembled. Make sure they have a medic. If the transporter is working, they’re to beam down and find the captain.”
“Brown-outs all over D Deck,” Rostov interjected off his board.
“Then the transporter is out,” Mayweather decided. “Have your team use Shuttlepod Three,” he told Marino, “but get them down there now!”
“Yes, sir!” she answered quickly. Travis was already turning toward the communications station.
“Anything?” he asked, but Crewman Baird shook his head.
“Still nothing, sir,” the acting comm.-officer answered, a defensive edge creeping into his words as if he thought that Travis was attacking his work. From what Hoshi had said off-the-record about Baird, the man’s work was normally exemplary, but he had a dangerous tendency to fold like a lawn chair under pressure. The more urgent the situation, the quicker the crewman choked.
“Keep working,” Travis instructed, climbing to his feet as he spoke. “Ramos!” he called out, and the gamma-shift helmsman trotted forward. “Take over,” Mayweather said with a gesture to the navigator’s station. He gave Rostov a quick look. “And get me a damage report!”
Travis spent the next several minutes circling the situation table at the back of the bridge in an attempt to hide from the bridge crew how abjectly terrified he was and instead project an air of casual confidence. Lurking around the table was something Mayweather had seen the captain do on a couple of occasions, and the ex-Boomer quickly latched onto the older man’s example, knowing that he was fundamentally incapable of sitting in the command chair with an expression of disinterest like T’Pol had always done. Pacing back and forth behind the helmsman was always an option, but Travis knew how much that disconcerted him and didn’t want to distract Ramos. Travis was finishing his fifth circle around the table when Rostov joined him. The petty officer transferred his report to the table screen without needing to be asked.
“Ensign Taylor is running damage control from Engineering,” Rostov announced as he pointed to several danger zones, “and we’ve got four teams containing the fires on C Deck.” Travis nodded.
“The pressure doors sealed in time,” Rostov said. “No casualties reported, but there are at least three crewmen trapped in their quarters until we can unseal them.” He frowned. “That gives us about four hours until their oxygen runs out.”
“Plenty of time,” Mayweather remarked with a smile. “Trip trained you guys well.” Rostov grinned broadly, but sobered.
“With your permission, sir,” he said, “I’d like to join the teams-”
“Go,” Travis interrupted, jerking his head toward the turbolift. “Just send me updated status reports every ten minutes.”
“Yes, sir.” Rostov hesitated before dropping a hand onto Mayweather’s arm. When he spoke, his words were pitched low so no one else could hear him. “You’re doing fine, Ensign,” he said softly. Travis gave him a thankful smile and turned back to the table.
“I’ve got something!” Baird shouted seconds after Rostov vanished into the lift. Forcing himself to keep an air of calm, Mayweather walked quickly to the communications console, his stomach dropping at the worried expression on the crewman’s face. “It’s really garbled,” Baird reported, “but I think Ensign Sato said something about injuries.”
“Redirect Pod Three to their location,” Travis said more calmly than he felt. The sudden relief he felt knowing that Hoshi was still alive nearly caused his knees to buckle. “And let Doctor Phlox know we may have casualties.”
The next three hours crawled by with agonizing slowness. Shuttlepod Three returned with the landing party mere minutes after Baird made contact with them, but no one thought to inform Travis of their condition or the number of injuries. Unable to leave the bridge until he was properly relieved by a superior officer (all of whom might be dead or incapacitated) or a duty officer (all of whom were busy with repairs), Mayweather spent the entire time pacing or coordinating damage control teams from the situation table, haunted by worry but unwilling to contact Sickbay to assuage his fears. When Lieutenant Commander Reed exited the lift, a dark expression on his face and the stench of smoke and blood on his uniform, Travis nearly gasped with relief.
“I need to speak to Starfleet Command at once,” Reed told Baird flatly. “Have them wake up Admiral Forrest if they need to.” He blinked in surprise when he noticed Mayweather. “You’re still on duty?” the armoury officer asked.
“Nobody to relieve me, sir,” Travis replied, “or tell me what happened. We had casualties?”
“Crewman Cutler was killed,” Reed announced softly, his face bleak and stony. Mayweather felt a stab of despair – like everyone else aboard, he’d liked Elizabeth Cutler a lot. “Captain Archer is recovering from surgery, and Commander Hess is … I don’t know what’s wrong with her. Phlox does, but he won’t tell me right now.”
“And Hoshi?” The armoury officer nearly smirked at that.
“She’s fine,” he said. “Her knuckles are bruised, and I think she pulled a hamstring throwing some Klingons around, but other than that…” Reed frowned as he glanced around, prompting Travis to suspect he was just now noticing the relative youth and inexperience of the acting bridge crew. “What’s our status?” he asked. Mayweather straightened, assuming a posture of attention.
“Fully operational, sir,” he replied. “We’ve taken some minor structural damage on C Deck, but Ensign Taylor is on it. There’s no sign of the Klingon ship returning, but we’re still on battle alert in case he does.” Reed nodded in approval, and Travis felt the tension in his shoulders ease slightly. “Why did they attack, sir?” he asked.
“They’re Klingons,” the lieutenant commander replied, his face twisting in a bitter scowl. “Do they need a reason?” Reed made a visible effort to smooth away his anger, but it was still there in his voice when he spoke. “Let me know once Admiral Forrest is online,” he said. “I just can’t wait to tell him that this bloody planet isn’t as friendly as Command told us it was,” Reed growled sarcastically. “You have the bridge, Ensign.” Pausing before the entrance to the ready room, the lieutenant commander offered a final comment. “And damned good job. To all of you.”
From anyone else, it would have seemed like faint praise, but coming from Malcolm Reed, it was the equivalent of a glowing commendation, a promotion, and a pay raise all at the same time. It was almost enough to make Travis forget for a moment that they had lost another crewmember.
Almost, but not quite.