Ten Days Earlier
It hadn't been Chakotay's week.
"The Cardassian vessel is closing," said Tuvok. The Maquis raider shook under another phaser volley. Something important behind the captain's chair failed with a shower of sparks; they rained on the back of his neck, each one stinging like a mote of fire.
"B'Elana!" shouted Chakotay over the open microphone to Val Jean's engine room..
"I know, God damn it!" Down below, the engineer yanked a panel off the wall and tore into the mess of jerry-rigged machinery that kept Val Jean alive, cursing in Klingon and English.
Val Jean banked hard, faster than the inertial dampers could compensate. A'shadieeyah Mohommad, Chakotay's crackerjack pilot, was doing her best, trying to dodge the Galor-class cruiser's weapons fire. Mohommad had gotten them out of more than her share of impossible jams, but this time the Cardies were hanging tight.
"Weapons?" said Chakotay. It was more of a prayer than an order.
"Yes, some weapons would be nice," said Seska. His Bajoran executive officer had been a good luck charm for so long, he'd started to think they were invincible as long as she was around. So much for that.
"I'm really not in the mood for jokes," said Chakotay.
"Weapons inoperative," said Tuvok.
"B'Elana, is there anything--"
"How about I stick a broom up my ass and sweep the floor while I'm at it?" said Torres.
"B'Eleana, I need my fucking phasers!"
"How much do you need a warp core breach?"
"The Cardassians are going to give me one anyway if you don't get those phasers online."
"They won't need to bother in a minute!"
"They don't need to wait that long!"
Seska leapt out of her seat and dove into an open access hatch and started working on the weapons herself. Mohommad turned the ship again, but not in time to avoid a phaser hit amidships. Every alarm on the bridge wailed to life at once.
"Shields collapsed," said Tuvok.
"One more hit and we're done!" said B'Elana.
"Can you give me warp speed?"
"Are you crazy?" said B'Elana.
"I can give you one second. Maybe."
"Do it. Mohommad, how far are we from the Badlands?"
"Ten light years from the outer boundary."
"The Cardassians will be anticipating such a move," said Tuvok.
"I can't get us ten light years on a one-second burst," said B'Elana.
"There's another ship out there between us and the Badlands," said Seska. "We have to lure it here before we go to warp."
"Good idea," said Chakotay. "Tuvok, signal our surrender. Mohommad, straight ahead, one-quarter impulse. Keep us out of tractor range."
"What?!" said Mohommad and B'Elana together.
"You heard me! Just do it; I have a plan. You don't think we're actually surrendering to the Cardassians, do you?"
"I hope they think we're actually surrendering," said B'Elana.
"They are acknowledging," said Tuvok. "They have ordered us to heave to and prepare to be boarded."
"Maintain course and speed. Mohommad, B'Elana, prepare for warp. Set course for the Badlands; maximum possible speed on my order. Seska, how are the phasers coming?"
"You've got one shot, maybe two."
"Tuvok, target the Cardie. Manual aiming only. Hit them as close to their bridge as possible."
Seska returned to her seat, smeared with grease and grime, sheened with sweat, and bleeding from a cut on her forehead. With a motion so subtle nobody else on the bridge could have possibly seen it, she placed a hand on his. "This had better work," he said.
"The Cardassian ship is repeating its order to heave to," said Tuvok. "They are threatening to fire if we do not stop."
"Maintain course and speed." Come on, you ugly yellow bitch. Where are you?
"The Cardies are closing in on us," said Mohommad.
"Full impulse on my mark."
"Tractor range in five seconds," said Tuvok.
Where are you?
"Three seconds. Two. One."
"Full impulse now!"
Val Jean leaped forward like a spurred thoroughbred. A Cardassian phaser blast missed them by meters.
"Standby for warp on my mark!" said Chakotay.
"Galor-class cruiser dropping out of warp at 227 mark 85, range sixty thousand kilometers!" said Tuvok, the slightest hint of a waver in his emotional control creeping into his voice.
"Fire phasers! Helm, engage!"
Val Jean fired two quick blasts at the first Galor, striking its shields just forward of its bridge. Then she leaped into warp and disappeared.
B'Elana had done better than she'd promised. They stayed at warp for five seconds, and momentarily hit warp six before the warp drive gave out.
"Viewscreen," said Chakotay.
The brilliant yellow and red gas clouds of the Badlands filled the entire forward view.
"Brilliant, B'Elana," said Chakotay.
"We don't have much time," said Seska. "We need to get the warp drive back in working order before the Cardassians figure out where we went."
No sooner had she said that than an alarm went off at Tuvok's station. "Cardassian Galor-class cruiser warping in sixty astronomical units from our position."
"How long until they spot us?"
"Three minutes on the outside to perform a sky scan," said Seska. "B'Elana, move."
"You don't need to tell me twice." She started banging and cursing on machinery. Seska and Tuvok joined her.
Two minutes later, the Galor went to warp. It was on top of them before Chakotay could even shout the alarm.
"We have warp!" said B'Elana.
They had to drop out of warp at the edge of the Badlands, not even Mohommad daring to run through the dangerous patch of disturbed space faster than light until she got her bearings. The Maquis had mapped the whole area (at no small cost in blood) and a skilled navigator like Mohommad could warp through safely, but not quickly.
And the Cardassians were starting to map the place, too.
"Let's move," said Chakotay. "I don't want to hang around here all day."
"I'm working as fast as I can, boss," said Mohommad.
And then the Cardies were on top of them again.
"Go!" shouted Chakotay, watching the two cruisers approach on the viewscreen like orcas bearing down on a wounded seal. Val Jean leapt to warp again, with the Cardassians baying at their heels. One followed at a distance while the other closed in--so when Mohommad dropped Val Jean out of warp to turn, one would overshoot, but the other wouldn't.
"They're going to wait until we're in open space and then they're going to attack," said Chakotay.
"This isn't right," said Seska. "They weren't supposed to follow us in here."
"Maybe you should tell them that," said Chakotay.
The ship dropped out of warp, turned with thrusters, then leapt into warp again. Mohommad had free reign with the ship, taking them through the twisting warren of safe passages through the Badlands without asking Chakotay or anyone else for instructions.
"They are still pursuing," said Tuvok.
"I'm taking us into the Rat's Nest," said Mohommad. "If the Cardies have charted that, I'll eat my scarf."
They turned again, and then Mohommad opened up the warp drive to full power. Something went bang and caught fire; B'Elana cursed and screamed and hammered on machinery with a wrench (B'Elana referred to such outbursts as an ancient Klingon mechanics' ritual).
Ahead of them was a vortex of raging plasma storms. The Rat's Nest was a network of passages interlaced through one of the most violent regions of the Badlands; the storms had been particularly bad that whole year. From a distance of a few light years, the tendrils of hot gas seemed motionless; Chakotay knew that was only because they were so enormous and so far away. The tips were flailing at half the speed of light and could boil away entire planets. Mohommad and the Cardassians could avoid those, but the smaller bursts that popped up at random outside the safe areas could smash a passing starship with ease. Sometimes they popped up inside the safe areas, too. Especially in the Rat's Nest.
Val Jean began rattling. "What the hell is that?" said Chakotay.
"Subspace is very disturbed around here, boss," said Mohommad. Val Jean started vibrating more violently, occasionally getting buffeted hard.
"We're going to have to drop out of warp if this keeps up," said Torres. "The engines don't like this at all."
"I see a spot," said Mohommad. "Dropping out of warp."
They fell below superluminal speed in the middle of a calm patch a few million kilometers across, surrounded by vast clouds of hot gas.
"The Cardassians overshot us. They are in the middle of a cloud."
The two Galors were being buffeted by plasma and repeatedly slashed by energy discharges. One took a shot right across the bow that penetrated the shields and tore away part of the hull.
"Let's move," said Chakotay. Val Jean warped away, leaving the Cardassians behind. A few minutes later, when Mohommad had to turn again, Tuvok checked their long range scan.
"Are they following us?" said Chakotay.
"Negative. They are leaving the Badlands."
"They had enough for one day," said Seska.
Chakotay leaned back in his chair and smiled for the first time all day. The adrenaline of combat was draining away, leaving him in a euphoric haze that was practically post-orgasmic.
"Mohommad, you have the conn. Take us through the Rat's Nest and out the other side of the Badlands. Make sure there aren't any Cardassians on the other side waiting for us."
"That's Federation territory, sir."
"Cardies, Starfleet, what's the difference? Keep us out of trouble."
"Will do, boss."
Chakotay went back to his cabin. Seska followed, a discreet amount of time late. Afterwards, they were both dozing when some tremendous force like a collision shook the whole ship, tossing them both out of Chakotay's bunk onto the cabin deck.
Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves…We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.--Ada Louise Huxtable, "Farewell to Penn Station", New York Times editorial, 30 October 1963X-Ray Blues
Last edited by RedImperator on 2008-01-25 04:31am, edited 1 time in total.