Empires' End: Book 1

Into the Breach

“Our cloak is offline sir,” yelled Delanna at tactical as a console burst into sparks behind her.

“Damn,” said Sisko. They had managed to destroy the shipyard, but had taken heavy damage in the process. And two pursuit ships were almost in firing range.

“Five more ships on sensors,” said the Jel, the officer at ops. They really needed that cloak.

“Helmsman,” Sisko ordered, “set course for the Badlands. We’ll just have to hope we can reach before they catch us.” The Badlands should get the Dominion off their tail long enough to repair the cloaking device.

Damar watched the ship change course on his monocular display. “He’s heading into the Badlands. Predictable.”

“But effective,” said Kilana, the vorta woman standing next to him. “It will be difficult to track him in there.”

“Difficult, but not impossible,” said Damar. “His ship gives off a lot of power when not masked by its cloak. Even surrounded by anomalies, our sensors should still be able to get an idea of his location, at least if we have enough ships to triangulate the signature.”

“Hmm…” considered Kilana. “These ships need to return to blockading Bajor as soon as possible, but destroying the last Federation warship is a high enough priority.”

Damar grunted, “I’m glad we’re in agreement. Now order our ships into a wide pursuit pattern.” Officially she was here only to assist him, only Weyoun could pull his leash. But the vorta were used to commanding subjects of the Dominion, not partnering with them. He knew being the leader of Cardassia counted for nothing with her.

Kilana turned to the First, “Send the other ships into the plasma storm, but keep us at a safe distance.”

Damar frowned, “I said all our ships vorta. We go in too.”

Kilana laughed with false charm, “Why would we do that? I would get into trouble if I got the head of Cardassia killed during peacetime. Let the soldiers handle this themselves.”

“I am a soldier,” he replied. “And it’s been too long since I was inside a fight.” And he wanted to take down the killer of Dukat himself. But the vorta wouldn’t understand vengeance.

Kilana shrugged. “We can always get another figurehead.”

“Bridge to Engineering, do you have an estimate on that cloak?” said Sisko.

A voice replied over the comm., “Maybe four more hours? I’ve fixed the resonance coils, but now we’re having to adapt components from our aft phaser emitters to replace a fused plasma coupler. Hope you won’t need to shoot behind you for a while sir.”

“I guess we’ll manage,” Sisko grumbled. They weren’t going to shoot their why out of this one anyway. “Ops, can you get anything on the pursuit ships?”

“Sorry sir,” Jel replied. “Can’t penetrate this interference.”

“We’ll just have to hope that’s a good sign,” said Sisko. Dominion sensors did seem to have a few advantages over Federation technology, and his ship ran a lot hotter than it should, so just because he couldn’t see them, didn’t necessarily mean they couldn’t see him. His best bet was to find as much interference as possible. “What’s giving off the most static right now?”

“A pulsar wrapped in a nebula is emitting a lot of gamma radiation and igniting one hell of a plasma storm,” Jel suggested.

Maybe that would be too obvious. “And the second most?” he asked.

“A rogue gas giant with an abnormally intense magnetic field that’s fluctuating wildly,” she said.

Intriguing, in a better time he would have approached it just to learn its secrets. Now it was just a place to hide.

“I have them sir,” said one of the Jem’Hadar.

“Then all ships close in,” said the First, tightening the net. “Surrounded, outnumbered, and damaged. This will be an easy victory. Victory is life.”

“Yes,” said Kilana automatically.

Damar smiled sourly. “This is a good day.”

“Tell that to the shipyards,” snapped Kilana.

“Yes, that was unfortunate,” said Damar, diplomatically. “But in a few moments Sisko will be dead. And we’ll never lose a shipyard to him again.”

“Sir, we’ve lost the ship,” said the soldier handling the sensors.

“What was their last location?” demanded the First.

“Sector 357, grid Alpha,” replied the Jem’Hadar.

The First’s eyes momentarily went blank as he brought up some maps on his monocular display. He turned to the vorta, “the enemy must have flown closer to one of the radiating bodies. The primary candidates are a pulsar and an irregular gas giant.”

“Send 4 ships into the pulsar’s system, and have the remaining two ships rendezvous with us at the giant,” said Damar.

Kilana turned to him, “I take it you suspect he went for the Gas Giant?” She knew he wanted to do this himself. But just as a soldier seeking a fix like he’d intimated, or did she understand his true motives? Did it even matter? What would a vorta care about his interests?

Damar shrugged, “It gives him more options. If we find him, he can try flying into the planet. You can’t do that with a pulsar and live.”

In a few moments they approached the rogue giant. Its erratic magnetic field played havoc with their sensors, but at this range they could get a lock on the Defiant’s location, and Damar even got a static-filled visual of the ship on his monocular display. It had some scarring along its rear and port side, but looked far from crippled. This was going to be a satisfying battle.

Once the Defiant spotted them, it plunged for the planet, as predicted. The First ordered their two escort ships to pursue it, leaving them up here to pick Sisko off once they smoked him out.

“Fire,” said Sisko, staring confidently into the viewscreen as the second Dominion ship exploded under the barrage of his torpedoes. In the chaotic depths of this gas giant, with oppressive pressures preventing shields or phasers, and electric fluctuations interfering with navigation, the combat had largely been about luck: who stumbled onto each other first. With two ships against one, it should have have been the jem'hadar’s victory. But fortune favored the bold, and no man was bolder than The Sisko.

“So,” said the Captain, “when we dove in the Dominion left one ship behind holding in orbit to head us off if we fled. There were another four with the search party, which by now have probably joined with that ship, making a five member fleet blockading our escape. The cloak should be ready in another hour, but we’d have to leave the gas giant before we engaged it, and with Dominion sensors, at this range, with an initial fix on our position, I think they’ll be able to track us enough to get in a firing solution. And right now, our ship just can’t take a beating from five warships and hold together. So new plan: we’re going to wait.”

Moraine, the helmsman, spoke up, “Wait, sir? But won’t that just give them more time to prepare for our escape attempt?”

“They’re already as prepared as they need to be,” Sisko answered. “But if we hold out, eventually they’re going to get bored. Eventually, perhaps days from now, they’re going to try sending ships in here after us.” Ben smiled, “And that will give us a chance to give them a few more bloody noses before we fall.”

Now the helmsman turned his chair to him, “Days, sir? By then they’ll gather enough reinforcements to keep a blockade up there while sending a fleet in here. With all this interference, battle in here is just a numbers game. If I’m going to be outnumbered either way, I’d rather it be in open space, where I have a chance at winning through skill.”

“And you should be very proud of that skill, helmsman,” commended Sisko. “But don’t worry,” he said, staring into space with a contemplative expression, “I’m hoping we can find a way to tip the odds in our favor.”

Dumar paced on the bridge.

“Would you stop that,” said Kilana. “It’s distracting.”

“I’m tired of waiting,” snapped Dumar. “We should just go in after him.”

Kilana laughed, “Is the leader of Cardassia getting bored? Do you have a tactical reason for entering the giant now or should we fit our battle plans to your emotional needs?”

Dumar turned to her. “Fine, I’ll give you a tactical reason. Every moment we waist gives Sisko more time to plan something. Starfleet captains loved their last minute tricks, and Sisko was more devious than most.”

“Every moment we ‘waist’ is more time to build up reinforcements,” countered Kilana. “The more ships we send down there, the more likely they are to find and destroy the enemy. But we still have to leave enough ships up here to hold off their escape. By now their cloak’s surely fixed, and we need devastating firepower to destroy them right as they leave the gas giant, before they can engage it and slip away.”

“I thought you didn’t like diverting all these ships from the blockade,” tried Dumar. “Surely five Dominion warships are enough to take down one Federation remnant?”

Kilana sighed. “Fine, if we can deal with this sooner we can send the reinforcements back before they’ve been gone too long. But you will keep at least three ships in orbit to ensure we can cut off their escape.”

Dumar smiled. Oh sure she was still acting like his superior, but it was good to know he could win her over when he pushed.

Kilana turned to the First, “take us and another ship down into the gas giant.” She looked back to Dumar, “I assume correctly you want to go in there yourself this time?”

Dumar nodded.

“No,” whispered Dumar, as the lights went out around him. What trick had Sisko used on his ship? Did it even matter? He was dead, just like Dukat.

Seconds passed. He was still alive, no fiery blast to take advantage of their depowered ship. Perhaps Sisko still didn’t know where they were, like an area effect set off within this gas giant, disabling his ship, but still leaving him hidden in the clouds, with time to repair their systems before they were found. A flash of light brought vision to his eyes, as the First lit an emergency chemtorch. The First walked over to a console.

“Anything?” Dumar asked.

The Jem’Hadar shook his head, “Nothing. And with the coms down, if we want to find out what’s going on, we’ll have to pry open these doors and send someone down to engineering. Something down there must be working, otherwise the lack of containment in the antimatter pods would have destroyed us.”

Kilana turned to the First, “Do it immediately.”

The First looked to one of his subordinates, and the soldier went quickly to the door and began straining against the it, forcing the door open. Once open, the First sent one other soldier to join him with a chemtorch, and the two subordinates disappeared into the dark.

Hours passed, and they never returned. That left four Jem’Hadar to guard Dumar and Kilana on the bridge, against whatever force had kept the two soldiers from completing their mission. Sisko may know their position after all, but had chosen to send a boarding party rather than destroy them. The First placed Dumar and Kilana together at the front of the bridge, as far from the door as possible- keeping to the left, out of the hall’s line of sight- and set himself and the three other soldiers in front of them, guns ready.

By the flickering light of the dim torch, Dumar found himself in an almost trance like state as he waited. The shadows leaped and dashed, soldiers dancing in assault and retreat. He felt the tides of fortune that governed men of war. The tides had elevated him from cargo officer to leader worlds, but at heart he was still a common soldier, and secretly waited for those tides to ebb. The darkness began to howl at him, in strange, animal noises. They grew louder and louder. He closed his eyes, shutting out the shadows-

“Dumar!” Kilana was pulling him into a crouch. The noises were real, the wild yellings of guerrilla men, shooting at them from the dark. Their guards fought back, weaving and dodging while firing blindly into the hallway. Dumar caught a glimpse of something arching through the air, and then the room was filling with acrid smoke. Dumar coughed repeatedly, and heard the phaser fire intensify, under the deranged screams, and the heavy sound of his and the others’ broken breathing.

As the smoke begin to clear, he looked up to see several masked figures pointing guns at him in the flickering light, his guards dead. One of them pulled off his gas mask, revealing the manic eyes of Sisko, a demonic grin showing gleaming white teeth, almost predatory in the wild light.

“Oh well,” said Kilana. She reached her hand up to jawbone and snapped something, collapsing in death throes from her killswitch.

“Huh,” said Sisko, momentarily amused. “I didn’t think a Vorta would ever go through with that.” He held his gun closer to Dumar’s face, “But you don’t have a killswitch, do you Dumar? And we are going to have a lot of fun together.”

Picard crouched in a service hatch holding a phaser, with Dr. Crusher behind him. There were seven Jem’Hadar on this ship. The vulcan officers were all unarmed, so that left Picard, Crusher, Riker, Geordi, and Diana with their smuggled weapons, so they were slightly outnumbered. And the Jem’Hadar were extremely effective soldiers, so Picard was grateful they would also have the element of surprise. It was nearly time. Picard opened the hatch, and they quietly crawled out into the hallway. Around the corner would be the transporter room, where two Jem’Hadar stood guard. Their man in engineering unfortunately could not deactivate the alarm system, so they couldn’t gang up on the guards two or three at a time with all five officers. Any phaser fire would alert the rest of the ship. Instead it would be a coordinated effort killing as many as possible, while the engineer cut the power so the remaining Jem’Hadar wouldn’t be able to alert the Dominion of this ship’s mutiny. He nodded to Beverly, and they crept forward.

Leaning against the wall before the sharp turn, they counted down. With expert timing, Picard and Dr. Crusher swung around the corner, aimed down the 10 meter long hallway at the two guards standing by the transporter room doors, and fired just as the lights went out. The failing lights served as enough of a distraction to let them get in the first shots. It also hurt their aim, but their Starfleet training won out, and the battle was done before the Jem’Hadar had fired a shot. With Geordi, Riker and Diana hopefully taking out the other three in engineering, that just left the two on the bridge. Picard and Dr. Crusher headed up there.

Without a working turbolift, they had to climb through another Jefferies tube. When they were near the bridge, they waited for the others so they would have the advantage. Once they arrived, Picard nodded to Riker and they opened the hatch into a turbolift shaft. Directly above them was a turbolift, patiently waiting on deck one as default (they were lucky no one had been using it when they cut the power). Through an access panel each of them, with a little stilted acrobatics, entered the lift. They were now one permanently shut door away from the bridge, and two Jem’Hadar soldiers.

Picard looked to Riker, and he and Diana set their phasers to maximum and vaporized the door, with the others holding up their phasers ready to find and shoot the soldiers inside. But when the red glow of the vanished door faded, there was only a single vulcan man inside. He walked up to them.

“Captain Picard,” he said. “The soldiers are in the captain’s office,” he nodded towards a door to the side of the bridge that had been forced partway open and then barricaded with a desk. “They are holding my captain and two officers hostage, and told me to tell you their demands.”

“Which are?” asked Picard.

“Does it matter?” asked the vulcan. “You won’t meet them. The logical path is clear: we fight them, and hope they don’t manage to kill the hostages before we’ve stopped them. To attempt anything else would most likely result in our deaths, and would certainly result in the failure of your mission, which I assume is of vital importance to freeing the Federation.”

Picard nodded grimly, and they slowly, from multiple angles, approached the barricaded door. The vulcan, unarmed, walked into the turbolift to best avoid getting caught in the impending firefight. Once they were backed against the wall on either side of the wall, Picard had Geordi vaporize the desk and door, and they stormed in, phasers firing. The two Jem’Hadar each raised their weapons with one hand, and snapped the neck of a hostage with the other.

They were gunned down before any of Picard’s crew was hit, but that still left the captain and an officer dead. The last hostage was on the ground, injured in the crossfire. Dr. Crusher knelt down and scanned him while Riker left to ask the vulcan officer returning from the turbolift where the medkits were. Beverly closed her tricorder, “she has multiple fractures and a burnt lung, but I should be able to save her.”

“Good,” said Picard. The entered the room with a medkit and handed it to Crusher. “I’m sorry,” Picard said to him. It was his crew’s plan that got these people killed, his responsibility.

Senator Cretak watched the engineers put the finishing touches on their creation: a meter long brass egg covered in blinking lights they’d hooked into a large receptacle built into the floor to receive it. This egg was the prototype brain they’d designed from partially dissecting and probing Vreenak’s pet android. It was larger than the original, they still hadn’t reverse engineered all the necessary technology, but it was functional and had passed its combat tests in simulation with flying colors. Now it was time for a real test. The lead engineer nodded that they were done, and Cretak signaled for transport off the ship. She had wanted to see it’s installation before the demonstration, now that she was part of this project.

A flash of green and she was on the bridge of the warbird Numitor, with Vreenak standing off to the side of its captain, watching his prototype ship on the viewscreen. It looked just like any other warbird, and aside from some key modifications it was. The designs for the roomless ships, that would take full advantage of its lack of crew, were almost complete but wouldn’t be prototyped until they got the approval of the Senate. Actually most of the Senate still didn’t know about this project. Records of this demonstration, if successful, would be shown to them along with Vreenak’s proposal, but for now this show was just for the two Senators.

Two warbirds, both equally armed, prepared for combat. The weapons were blanks of course, but the ships were rigged to create real damage to inflicted systems, to test the positronic brain’s ability to coordinate repair drones, as well as fly the ship and control its systems. The captain frowned, I still don’t like these wargames. Usually we just shut down damaged systems for set amounts of time, instead of breaking perfectly fine warships. You do realize mid combat repair work is just a band aid to get through the fight? After an intensive battle it takes weeks or even months of work in spacedock to get them shipshape again. It just seems like a waist to put two ships out of commission for that long when the Dominion is breathing down our necks.”

Vreenak smiled, “Not to discredit your ship, it’s crew, or your abilities captain, but if the Dominion invades you’re one warbird won’t be what keeps them at bay. But this experiment just might. And we need to convince the Senate with as realistic a battle as possible. You wouldn’t want to use half measures, would you?” Besides at least the hulls wouldn’t be damaged. That was often took the most resources to replace and couldn’t be fixed mid battle anyway.

“And we need to convince ourselves,” added Cretak. She wasn’t going to support placing the Romulus’ defense in these robots’ hands without proof of their effectiveness.

The positronic warbird set on a strafing run at their ship, opening a volley of glowing orbs and low-intensity lasers once it had a firing solution. The captain ordered evasive maneuvers, and began the complicated task of leaving the enemy ship’s main firing arc while putting it in theirs. But the positronic ship weaved and dodged better than the romulans could keep up with, and the helmsman could not escape its fire, nor provide the tactical officer with opportunities for effective shots. Another false torpedo to the failing aft shields and the ship shook from preset demolition charges.

“Engineering to bridge,” came a voice over the com. “We have a coolant leak! Impulse is down until we can repair it.” The captain banged his console in frustration. With only thrusters, this positronic ship would fly circles around them, more so.

“Estimated time to repair?” he demanded.

“15 minutes if I can bypass this plasma junction,” said engineering.

“You have 10,” the captain turned to his helmsman, “Jump to warp 4. The enemy will pursue us, but at warp we won’t be at a disadvantage from the lack of impulse.” And the ships wouldn’t be able to use as many fancy maneuvers, but the captain probably didn’t want to admit yet that the computer was out flying his men.

As the prototype pursued them, they exchanged more and more fire. The positronic ship suffered serious damage to its forward phasers, a devastating blow, but they suffered damage to their warp drive and had to come down to sublight. By now their impulse drive was almost repaired, but the positronic ship still had a few minutes of advantage which it used to get its starboard phasers some good firing solutions while slipping out of their weapons locks. By the time they could go to impulse again and take advantage of the ship’s lack of forward phasers, they had already suffered new damages to their aft phasers, which prevented them from firing at the ship while keeping it behind them to actually take that advantage.

After thirty more minute of this, eventually their ship was dead in the water, completely at the mercy of the positronic ship, which still had thrusters, warp, and port phasers. A smug Vreenak ordered the prototype to stand down. For just a moment, Cretak caught a big grin on his face, beaming at his victorious baby. But then he cooled his pride into more of a controlled low broil, and turned to the captain. “Well, I think that was a successful demonstration. I appreciate that you didn’t pull your punches, captain. Your tactics did you credit. But ultimately the machine proved the better soldier. I think this should prove my point effectively to the Senate.”

Cretak spoke up, “And if it could beat you, a pride of the Romulan fleet, just imagine what it will make of the Dominion’s army of drugged beasts.”
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