author's note

Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama

Rated: PG … mild language, violence, and adult situations.

Summary: Two officers, believed killed in action, are stranded on a prewarp planet and must work together to survive while the rest of the NX-01 crew learn to carry on without them. Begins a very AU season 2.

This story is unrelated to my Endeavour series.

Disclaimer: The only thing I own are my hopes and dreams ... although I did pawn both a while back for rent money.

A/N: 655 Earth days have passed since chapter 1. It's February, 2154.

Obviously, this is my heavily revised "Zero Hour" (but without any space Nazis.) You'll note I skipped straight past "Countdown" which is still implied to have happened. Why did I skip that episode? Because I sincerely don't know how to improve it. "Countdown" remains my favorite episode of the entire series.

102: erika

She wasn't trained for this.

"Hard about!" Erika ordered, her hands clutching the armrests of the captain's chair so tightly that she was almost afraid that she was going to break them off. Petty Officer Ramos obeyed instantly and Enterprise banked sharply, dipping down and below the rapidly approaching Xindi warship seemingly materializing out of nowhere. Explosions wreathed the smaller ship as the Minnow streaked past them, its weapon systems scoring yet another kill, and not for the first time, Erika silently gave thanks for competent junior officers. In the unlikely event they survived this catastrophe, she fully intended to see that Lieutenant Mayweather, the corvette's acting commander, was so heavily decorated he would need a loadmaster to help him don his dress uniform.

"Enterprise Two engaging," Lieutenant Sato exclaimed and Erika almost grimaced as the other Starfleet vessel streaked by, the immense disruptor cannon in its hull lashing out and carving a crippling furrow across another Xindi vessel. She pushed the fear and anger down, and focused. They had a mission to complete, dammit. There would be time for her to panic and lose control later.

"Signal to Kumari," she snapped. "Move to engage. Punch us a hole to Sphere 41."

The Andorian vessel was already in motion, its heavier weapons tearing into the Xindi defenders with brutal force. It hadn't been that big a surprise to discover that Shran had been shadowing them – he was like a bad penny, turning up at the worst of times – but when Erika had laid out their plan to assault the central sphere of the entire network, the Andorian captain had been almost ecstatic at the notion of assisting. He'd been even more gleeful at the discovery of a younger, more emotional Soval and she suspected that was really the reason he wanted to help, but who was she to look a gift horse in the mouth? She wondered how she'd let Jon talk her into this, how he'd managed to convince her that her place was aboard Enterprise in this all-out offensive against Sphere 41 in a mad attempt to shut down the entire sphere network while he joined Reed and a team of MACOs in a last ditch attempt to destroy the Weapon from within. Dear God, but she was going to punch him in the damned face when she saw him again.

If she saw him again.

"Tactical assessment?" she demanded.

"There are still thirteen destroyer-analogues in defensive orbit around the sphere," Soval announced from the weapons board. That had also been something of a surprise – not only did he know what he was doing at tactical, he was a damned good shot too which led to all sorts of questions – but if she'd learned one thing from her time in the Expanse, it was how to roll with the punches. "A frontal assault is unlikely to succeed."

Which was probably why the Kumari was doing exactly that. Erika swallowed a groan as she watched the Andorian warship thunder toward the densest cluster of Xindi starships protecting the sphere, its guns booming nonstop. If they only had one or two of those Aquatic ships, this would be a helluva lot easier, but they'd all been lost during the first attempt to take out the Xindi weapon. At least they'd manage to retrieve Lieutenant Sato. Automatically, her eyes flickered to the communications officer – Sato was still pale, with livid bruises standing out upon her face and neck, but her expression was hard and unyielding. Phlox hadn't wanted her to leave sickbay, but she'd insisted and Erika just didn't have the heart to say no…

"Signal from Travis," Hoshi said. "Minnow requesting permission to engage from galactic north." Erika's eyes flickered up to the display on the viewscreen and then slid back to Soval. She was no tactician, dammit. Her training had never covered this.

He nodded ever so slightly, clearly recognizing whatever it was Travis and his acting tactical officer – Lieutenant Cole – had in mind.

"Recommend Enterprise and Enterprise Two proceed along the same vector," he said. "Assault deviation at … this point." He pressed a button and the tactical plot shifted.

"Make it so," Erika ordered. She stabbed the intra-ship comm. "Engineering, stand by for emergency burn."

"Engineering standing by," Kelby replied almost instantly.

They darted forward, the Xindi corvette that was Lieutenant Mayweather's unofficial first command in the lead with Captain Soval's Enterprise less than three kilometers behind it and half that ahead of Enterprise. Erika risked a quick glance to the situation display – the remaining Arboreal and Primate ships had broken off and were falling back, hotly pursued by a handful of Reptilian ships … ah. So that was what Cole and Soval had observed.

Alarms began pulsing a moment later and Erika watched as Mayweather abruptly rolled the Xindi corvette, narrowly evading a fast-developing sphere anomaly. Seconds later, he threw the captured ship directly down the throat of two larger destroyers, somehow spinning and banking in such a way that every one of their shots went wide even as the Minnow's own weapon systems tore brutal holes through their attackers' hulls. One of the destroyers suddenly vanished in a massive fireball – Enterprise Two had reached weapons' range and unleased that massive gun of theirs – and the shockwave sent the other defender tumbling. Somehow, some way, Mayweather radically altered the trajectory of the corvette and then, to Erika's stunned disbelief, skipped the damned thing off the rapidly expanding fireball to obtain even more speed.

How the … ?

"Engaging," Soval announced, and a rumble vibrated through the deck as phase cannons went active. A steady thrum thrum thrum echoed through the Starfleet vessel as photonic torpedoes roared from their tubes and streaked across the void to detonate against their targets. "Helm, come about to zero nine zero mark zero," the Vulcan ordered calmly, "maximum impulse." PO3 Ramos obeyed without bothering to double-check with Erika, though if he had, she would have very likely shouted at him to just do it. Her hands were trembling nonstop – dear God, why had she ever wanted to command her own ship?

Focus, she told herself angrily.

"Lieutenant Ling," she said in as cool a voice as she could manage, "status on anomaly field?"

"Growing rapidly, ma'am," came the quick but frankly less than useful answer. "Sensors are having difficulty-"

Enterprise shook hard – alarms howled, drowning out the rest of the lieutenant's comments, and Erika's breath caught slightly in recognition. Hull breach. She flicked a switch on the left armrest of the command chair and the main viewer transformed to an internal cutaway. F Deck. That was the Atmospheric Studies Lab – no one should be there during a tactical alert. She switched the viewer back to tactical plot the instant she noted Engineering reported blast doors had sealed.

"Helm to one eight zero mark zero four zero," Soval said.

"Enterprise Two reporting fires on all decks," Hoshi announced. Erika glowered. Dammit. She'd lost track of that ship in the chaos. How the hell did Jon do this?

"Order them to pull back," she snapped. On the tac-plot, she could see Minnow lurking in Kumari's impulse wake– what were they doing? – and was about to issue instructions to Mayweather when the Andorian ship suddenly banked hard. The captured Xindi corvette shot forward like a bullet from a gun, twisting around another salvo of enemy fire as it angled sharply toward the sphere. Erika heard Hoshi draw in a sharp breath…

And then, the Minnow was past the sphere, wreathed in flame as its well-placed ordnance tore free great chunks of the massive satellite's hull. Instantly, a quartet of Reptilian destroyers gave pursuit.

"Commander," Soval began, but Erika was already triggering the intra-com.

"Engineering, go for full burn now!"

"Full burn, aye!"

Enterprise shuddered as Kelby radically altered the intermix ratio – it was, according to what Erika had been told, akin to using afterburners on an old supersonic jet and was just as bad for the engines to use. Thrust was doubled, maybe trebled, and they shot toward the gap. The Xindi defenders were already recognizing their error – the ships pursuing Mayweather and the Minnow sharply banked in a clear attempt to get back into position even as other vessels were shifting to cover the gaps – and Erika realized it would be tight. They would have one shot at this…

And then, Enterprise Two changed the equation.

Escape pods were steadily streaming away from the other savaged Starfleet vessel, but its impulse engines flared brilliantly, hurling the starship at the sphere with even greater speed than Enterprise could manage. Erika recognized Captain Soval's intent immediately – his ship was mostly combat ineffective so he was taking the most logical course of action available at the moment; were she in that situation, with a dead or dying ship and lives relying on her, she'd like to think that she would do the same. The mammoth disruptor cannon fired – once, twice, then again – and the emerald blast stabbed through one of the destroyers with explosive results. Defensive fire tore into the other Enterprise, punching great gaping holes in its hull plating. One of the nacelles suddenly blew, spraying warp plasma everywhere.

"Commander!" Erika's head snapped to Lieutenant Ling. "Their warp core is going critical!"

"Hard about!" Erika ordered without hesitation. "Helm, plot an intercept course for their pods. Let's put us between them and the explosion." She hit the transmit button. "All hands, brace for impact." She glanced to Hoshi. "Signal Minnow and Kumari," she instructed.

With a flash, the second Enterprise struck home, vanishing instantly as it collided with the sphere at hundreds of thousands of meters per second. The warp core breached in that very instant – there seemed to be no way for that to have not been entirely intentional, which Erika immediately realized meant someone had to have remained aboard to trigger it at the very last moment – and the sudden explosion simply vaporized the nearest Xindi destroyer. Two others were smashed into scrap and, based on the rapidly expanding debris field, most of the others were crippled at the very least. Erika swallowed.

"Status report," she demanded.

"Sphere 41 is breaking apart," Lieutenant Ling announced.

"And Kumari is engaging," Soval said in that wry, borderline disgusted tone of his he used whenever he spoke about Andorians. Erika glanced at the tactical plot and bit back a tight smile at the sight of Shran's warship conducting an attack run on the sphere.

"Keep an eye on them," she ordered. Soval lifted an eyebrow that Erika translated as 'of course I'm going to be doing that' before returning his attention to his displays.

"Scanning for sphere network," Ling said the moment Erika glanced in her direction. "I'm not detecting … wait." Her board pinged and she frowned. "The thermobaric clouds are changing, ma'am," she said. "I don't have the specifics but …" She trailed off.

"Keep an eye on them too," Erika said. "Status of the hostiles?"

"Combat ineffective," Soval announced.

"Good." Erika forced herself to stand. "Let's start conducting rescue ops," she said. "Hoshi, find out Minnow's status. If they're still fully operational, instruct Captain Mayweather to stay on combat footing in case there are still some surprises ahead of us."

"Aye, ma'am." Erika paused for another moment.

"And get me a damage report as soon as possible." She jammed her hands together at the small of her back. "I'll be in the ready room. You have the conn, Lieutenant Sato." With her head held high, Erika walked leisurely away from the command chair. The moment she was in the ready room, she slid to the floor and tried very, very hard to stop her damned hands from shaking.

It took a long time.


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