“Now that, Commander. Is what we in the Engineering department call, a problem.” I sighed and
shook my head slowly.
“Yeah.” I said with another sigh. “Can you fix it?” Matt glanced at me before looking back at the shattered device.
“Of course we can fix it. We can fix anything. I'm just not sure we can fix it in time to do anyone any good.” He lifted another piece of debris that had once been part of a rather complicated control system to get a better look. “We can replace most of the control components from stocks. Most of the primary systems are going to have to be fabricated. I mean will you look at this, Jer?” He pointed to something that might have been a computer once upon a time.
“I can see it, Matt. I just don't know what it is. Or used to be for that matter.” Cocking my head to the side did not improve matters. I still had no real idea what it was he was pointing at.
“That, Commander. Used to be the main controller for the graviton generator.” He pointed at another piece of shattered technology. “Over here we have what used to be the main aiming mechanism. You can see how the magnetic bearings failed in the generator. Somehow the failure avoided tripping the fail-safes and caused the entire assembly to come apart in something that had a pretty close approximation to a bomb.” Looking at the dents and scratches in the bulkheads around me certainly gave his explanation added weight. The compartment had been stripped clean in the explosion. Every surface was scratched, every display cracked and even the floor was scorched. The next time a tractor emitter suffers a catastrophic failure, I plan to be elsewhere.
“So you can't fix it?”
“If I have enough time. Thirty-six hours is probably not going to be enough. Not if you don't want it to do this again, at the worst possible time, at least.”
“So you can't fix it?” I asked again, with a slight smile on my lips.
“I'll let you know by the end of the watch if it's possible or not, Commander.” He reached through a jagged hole in an access panel and pulled out a handful of broken isolinear chips. He looked at them in disgust before tossing them over his shoulder.
“Any idea how it happened, Matt?”
“It looks like an installation issue, the yard boys getting it wrong, but I won't know for sure until I do a thorough analysis.”
“Understood. At the moment it is more important to get it back online, but I want a full report as soon as you can get it too me.”
“Don't worry about that, Commander. I'll get to the bottom of it.” I smiled my thanks and left him to his job. Passing a half dozen Engineering ratings, I headed for the nearest exit into the regular areas of the ship. I had never really liked jefferies tubes. The tight quarters reminded me a little too strongly of my time in a life pod. The jefferies tube exit was just next to a turbolift. As I waited for the turbolift to arrive I tapped my communicator pin.
“XO for the Captain.” I did not have to wait long before he answered.
“Captain here. Go ahead, XO.”
“I just finished up with Commander Sands, sir, and he is quite unsure if he can complete the repairs before we arrive at our destination, and I fully concur, sir. The compartment looks like a holodeck after the Marines have been through it.” I stepped into the turbolift and selected my destination.
“Understood, XO. We'll just have to hope we don't have to recover any shuttles in a hurry.” The annoyance in the Captains voice was obvious.
“I'm sure another ship could take them if the tractor goes down, sir.”
“I'm sure they can, XO. Let's just hope it doesn't come to that.”
“Yes, sir. XO out.” I stepped out of the turbolift into the cavernous main shuttlebay. Pausing just inside the bay I took a moment to look out the main entrance. Even without any aid I could see several of the starships that made up sixth fleet close behind us. The Gauntlet and the Myrmidon were flanking the Venture just outside the safety zone of our warp bubble. The Challenger with her Defiant escorts was a few kilometers away and all around there were more ships. Cruisers, Destroyers, Medical ships, Escorts, flying together in a way that had been extraordinarily rare over the past few years. Looking out at all those millions of tonnes of Starship I could not help but feel an odd mixture of pride and sadness. Pride in way all these people had come together to protect what they thought was important in the universe. Sadness in that it was needed at all.
I shook my head to clear my thoughts from the same old rutted tracks I had worn in my mind since the start of this war. Sometimes I just could not help but wish that Sergeii was right. Finally managing to clear my head I looked around and spotted the reason I was in the shuttlebay. I walked over to Lieutenant Colonel Nakhoda and her assault shuttle commander, Lieutenant Commander Grooves. Of course it was Commander Grooves these days. The Marine Assault Shuttle Group had doubled in size during our stay in Sol and Grooves had gotten a promotion. The Marines now had enough assault shuttles to drop two platoons in one go. Shari had been delighted to have the extra shuttles. Grooves on the other hand had fallen in love with the new assault shuttle bays in the saucer section of the ship. We had lost a number of compartments to the alterations, but we could now launch eight Danube or Longbow class shuttles in less than fourteen seconds. A vast improvement over the earlier record of four shuttles in thirty-two seconds. As I approached the two officers they paused in their discussion to greet me.
“Colonel, Commander.” I said in greeting.
“Commander.” Shari said with a smile. “Ready for your class?”
“Almost Colonel. I just came from shuttlebay 4. I'm afraid the bays main tractor is offline at the moment. Commander Sands believes he can fix it, just not in time for the assault.” The two officers looked at each other and exchanged glances.
“We will just have to make do without, Commander.” Grooves responded before turning to Shari. “I'll go update our contingency plans, ma'am. We might have to shift to our alternate recovery options.” She braced to attention before turning on her heel and headed for the turbolift.
“Any idea what happened, Jer?” Shari asked once we were alone. We started walking to the turbolift as I answered.
“It looks like the yard put it in wrong. Matt is going to do a full check to find out though.” We stepped into the turbolift as I brought her up to date with what was going on on the ship.
“Deck eight, port.” I told the computer. Shari gave me a questioning look. “I need to get my equipment. I didn't feel like dragging it through a bunch of jefferies tubes if I can avoid it.” She chuckled at the thought.
“I agree. You should have seen me the first time I tried to go through a j-tube in armor. I got stuck halfway through a hatch. Now that was embarrassing. Of course the development team for the armor was even more embarrassed.” She said with a slight smile.
“I assume they fixed the problem?” I asked after I knew I had control over my voice. She probably would not have killed me if I had let anything stronger than a smile escape, but I decided against taking any chances.
“Yes, they fixed the problem. We still have to be a little careful down there though.” I could believe that. The Marines armor was not something I would refer to as 'slim'.
I shook my head at the mental image of Shari stuck in a hatch as I keyed the entry to my cabin. While I went to the bedroom to get my gear bag, Shari stayed in the main room and looked at the dagger I had mounted on the bulkhead next to my desk. I came out of the bed room and walked up behind her. I dropped the bag on the floor and put my hands on her hips. Pulling her close I looked at the mounted dagger myself. She leaned back against me and covered my hands with her own.
“How have the nightmares been?” She asked gently.
“Not to bad the last few nights. Not pleasant, but I've gotten enough sleep at least.”
“Good. I'm sorry I haven't been able to be there for you. It's just too much with the Company at the moment.”
“Don't worry about it Shari. It's not the first time I've had to deal with nightmares.” I could see her brow furrow, she had not like that argument the first time I had voiced it and she would not like it the last time either. “Come on, we should get going before Top wonders what's taking us so long.” She turned around and held my face in her warm hands.
“Jer, honey. She already knows about us. And so does the Bosun and at least a half-dozen others.” She laughed softly at the surprise I showed. “Of course they know Jer, and I can guarantee that Captain Pelatier knows too. They are just being polite. More than polite, they're our friends and they're covering for us.” I smiled bemusedly.
“I guess you and the Captain are right Shari. I do need to get better at this whole politics thing.”
“Yes, you do, but don't worry. You have some good teachers.” She kissed me quickly before heading to the door. I picked up my bag and followed her out.
“Nail 'em!” The command from Top rang in my ears and I reacted. My right hand dropped, seeking the now familiar grip of my pistol. My left hand flat against my stomach. Feeling the grip fill my hand as my fingers curled around it I pressed the lock on the holster, freeing my pistol. My left hand met it on the way up, pulling back gently even as my right hand pushed the pistol up and out. My right foot slid back just as my sights came into view. The front sight snapped into place on the target, the overlay from my HUD in perfect agreement. My right index finger slid inside the trigger guard at the same moment my left thumb snapped the safety down. The trigger broke, clean and true to the rear. The flash covered the target for a fraction of a second. I released the trigger, reset my sights and pulled the trigger again, and again. The pulses from the pistol slammed down range, one after another seeking the targets in front of me. After a moment it was all over. I flicked the safety back on as I lowered the weapon slightly and glanced both ways. Seeing no more targets I returned it to it's resting place.
“Not bad at all, Commander.” First Sergeant Lindkvist noted. “You got all you shots on target.” She pushed a control on her PADD causing my targets to come back to life. The Klingon warriors now had glowing marks on their bodies. “However. These shots here.” Three glowing marks started pulsing. “Are low and to the right. Your still slapping the trigger a bit, sir.” I looked at the targets and remembered the shots in question. Thinking back I could remember the rushed feeling I felt when time was running out and I still had targets standing.
“Your right Top, as usual.” I did not bother to apologize. I had done that the first time I had made a mistake and top had simply responded with the question: 'Does your sorry make the shots go to the right place? Sir.'. That was probably the biggest surprise I had in the early parts of my training with the Marines. They actually tried their best to make you fail, and they were not interested in if you were sorry. Only in how you were going to avoid making the same mistake again.
“Damn straight, and don't you forget it. Sir.” She winked at me before moving on to the Marine on my right. Sergeant Aisdottir was another Marine that had been promoted to fill a vacancy in the Company after the fighting on Tenean IV and Beta Sceptri. She was now a Squad Leader in Saber Platoon. Top checked her targets and simply grunted before moving on down the line. The Sergeant's targets had all been hit three times. Twice in the chest and once in the head. I looked over at her.
“How do you do that, Sergeant? I can barely hit the targets at all with so little time available.” She patted her holstered pistol.
“It's actually quite simple, sir. I've put about twenty-five thousand rounds through this weapon, Commander.” I shook my head.
“I really have to stop getting surprised at how hard you Marines train sometime, Sergeant.” She smiled at me before responding.
“Train hard, fight easy, sir. That's drilled into us from the moment we arrive at the basic course, sir.”
“Well it certainly shows Sergeant.” She smiled her thanks before turning back down range. Looking over to my left I saw that Sandra was still uncomfortable with the Marine issue phaser pistol, she was holding it in her hands as she studied it. She looked up at me with an embarrassed smile before holstering the pistol.
“Sorry, Commander. I'm still getting used to these things.”
“That's okay, Sandra.” I told her. “it took me quite a while to get comfortable with them myself.” She opened her mouth to say something, only to shut it as my com badge 'bleeped'.
“XO here. Go ahead.
“Lieutenant Swanson here, sir. We just got a report from one of the screening squadrons. They are under attack by a group of Klingon warships. We have no more information at the moment. Captain Pelatier sends his regards and requests your presence on the bridge.”
“Understood, Lieutenant. I'll be there shortly.” I relayed the news to the rest of the training group before packing my gear back in it's bag and heading out for the bridge with Lieutenant Commander Roland on my heals. The Marines went to get suited up. Just in case.
I stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge just in time to catch the end of a conference call with Vice Admiral ch'Anen, Captain Collins of the Challenger and Captain Plichta, the Fleet Ops officer. I walked over to my chair next to the Captain, acknowledging the bridge crew on my way. Sergeii, quite pointedly, did not acknowledge my arrival.
“...so I sent 3rd squadron to reinforce 8th squadron. We don't think there are any more enemy forces in the area at the moment, but just in case, I have ordered the fleet to yellow alert and to increase speed to warp nine point five. You should all have the revised schedule in your systems by now. The short version is that we are now about twenty-eight hours from our target instead of thirty-four. Captain Pelatier, Captain Collins, I am also detailing the rest of 12th squadron to watch over you until the battle is over. We need your Marines on the ground doing their job. Not spread out across the system by a lucky shot from a Klingon. Oh, and Captain Pelatier?”
“Would you please have Colonel Nakhoda join us on this call.”
“Of course, sir.” The Captain looked over at me with a very communicative expression. I mouthed the words 'yes, sir.' and turned to my panel. I did a quick check as to where she was. Seeing she was in a room with a pickup I sent a call straight there. The Marine officers locker room was not a particularly large room, and the five people in the room were in various stages of undress. Shari quickly sealed the front of her skinsuit and waved the other officers out of the com's field of view.
“Sorry, Jer. What's up?” She said in my ear. I had cut the sound and had her audio transferred to my new implants instead.
“Admiral ch'Anen wants to talk to you Shari.” I subvocalized. Captain Plichta on the main viewscreen gave me an odd look as I stared at my panel. Captain Collins simply raised an eyebrow, she had obviously been introduced to the Marines more covert systems.
“I'll be on the bridge in three minutes.”
“Don't bother. I'll transfer this call to the conference.” She quickly ran her hands through her hair and made sure she was as presentable as possible in a uniform that might as well have been painted on. She also zoomed in with the com's camera so that she was only visible from the shoulders up. I tapped in a command and Shari's image came to life just below Captain Collins.
“Ah, Colonel. Good of you to join us. Might I ask why you are out of uniform?” The Admiral did not seem upset, simply curious.
“I was just getting into my armor, sir. This is the mechanical counter pressure suit that protects us from death pressure environments, sir.” She responded crisply.
“Ah, I see, Colonel. There has been a slight change in plans. We are attacking earlier and in slightly lesser strength than originally planned. So I want you to detach a unit for boarding parties. As well as two of your shuttles.” I knew Shari couldn't have liked that, her forces on the ground would be small enough as it was. Her response on the other hand was simply an 'aye aye, sir', with no indication that she disliked the order. I wished more of my people would react like that when they got orders they did not like. The Admiral simply nodded in satisfaction. “Are there any questions?” He paused briefly. “Very well. Final pre-assault conference will be held at sixteen hundred tomorrow. Admiral ch'Anen out.”
The images on the viewscreen blanked out one by one until only Shari's remained.
“Ops, bring us to yellow alert. Colonel, finish suiting up, then come to the conference lounge. Bring your XO.” Captain Pelatier said as soon as Shari was the only person left in the call.
“Understood sir. We will be there in a few minutes.” She cut the com feed just as the yellow alert signal came over the ship wide intercom. Every screen on the ship was displaying the alert and my panel showed the the various departments reporting their readiness. After a few minutes Lieutenant Swanson spoke up behind us.
“Sir, all deflector systems are at full ready status. Phaser systems are at full ready as well. Torpedo tubes are warm but empty.”
“Understood, Lieutenant.” He responded before turning to me. “How's our reaction time, XO?”
“Not bad, sir.” I continued studying the reports coming up on my screen even as I answered. “I think we need to run a few more drills in engineering and medical. Security and the Marines report that they are at their stations.”
“Good enough for now XO.” He stood up as Shari and her XO stepped out of the turbolift. “XO, you have the bridge. Commander Roland, Commander Grigorii, Colonel, Lieutenant, if you would accompany me please.”
“Aye, sir. I have the bridge.” Surprise at the Captain excluding me from the meeting was short lived. It was one of the Executive Officers duties to to have the bridge when the Captain was absent, so I simply took the Captains chair as Sandra's replacement, Lieutenant Giolias sat down at ops. Leaning back in the chair I hoped to have as my own one day I gazed at the main viewscreen. It was currently showing a schematic of 6th Fleet. 128 ships spread out over millions of kilometers of empty space. I could see the battle going on between 3rd and 8th squadrons and the Klingons trying to stop us from reaching our targets. The engagement seemed to be going very well. They had fallen behind the main body of the fleet, and I could see very little casualties among the Federation ships. The Klingons had on the other hand lost three ships so far. And the final two seemed to be trying to run away. Both Federation squadrons broke of the fight and returned to the main fleet. The Klingon ships were no longer a threat. They might be able to overhaul us given enough time, if they felt like committing suicide.
I heard the door leading to the conference lounge open behind me and turned slightly to see who it was. Sergeii froze before entering the bridge. He look straight at me. The man was furious about something and seeing me did nothing to improve his mood. The corner of his mouth drew up in a snarl as he tore his eyes away from me and stormed across the bridge to the turbolift. I looked at Lieutenant Swanson, who just shrugged, it was quite clear that she had no more idea than me what was going on. I considered contacting the Captain or Shari to see what had happened. My curiosity lost in the end to professionalism. I was sure Shari would tell me what had happened later, so I simply returned my attention to the main viewscreen. I noted that one of the ships in 8th Squadron was showing as damaged. The Klingons must have gotten a few hits of their own in during the short engagement. I made a note in the system to have Sandra check with her opposite on the damaged ship, to see if there was anything we could do to help. Having done all that I could, I leaned back in the Captain's chair and listened to the rest of the bridge at work.
“...and then he stood up, asked the Captain's permission to leave, I thought was quite impressive, and stormed out of the room. It's not like we told him anything he hadn't heard before. I know he was involved in at least some of the planning. Wasn't he?” I shrugged at Shari's question, and sunk further down into the couch.
“I didn't hear much about him during our stay in Sol. Except for in the cafe, I can't remember even seeing him. Of course I was mostly on the Venture, making sure the yard techs did what we needed. Well, helping Matt make sure we got what we needed.” She smiled at that. My longstanding aversion to all things engineering showing itself again.
“I guess he missed them then. His arguments that we should call on them and negotiate a surrender certainly suggests he was unfamiliar with our plans. I think what upset him the most was how many Klingons are going to get killed if they don't heed our warnings when the fleet destroys the planet side industries. When I pointed out that we would give them several hours to evacuate he gave me a disgusted look before responding, 'We are still going to kill civilians, Colonel, and you know it'. Not even Sandra's comment about rescuing the Ambassador seemed to change his mind.”
“I know, Shari, and this operation is far more important than simply recovering Ambassador Worf and any other survivors we might find. We have to knock their industrial base back if we are going to have any chance of winning this war. And we have to do it fast, before the post Dominion generation of Klingons reach military age. We are winning now, but not by much. It would not take a lot to tip the balance to their side.”
“We still have at least two years left, Jer. More like three or four before they can go into service properly. And starships are expensive in every form of the word.” She took a sip from her cup, frowned at the lack of coffee and turned to the coffee maker my mother had given me to get more.
“Yes they are, Shari. The problem is that they're industrial capacity remains unharmed after the Dominion War. While ours took a real beating, and is still not fully up to pre-war levels. We need to take out as much of their capacity to wage war as we can, while we still can. If they can get this new generation of warriors to the front. Even if they only put them in K'Vorts they can overrun us with sheer numbers.”
“Not on the ground they can't.” Her smile was confident and aggressive when she turned back to me, holding up the coffee pot.
“I guess not.” I smiled and held out my cup. She refilled it from the pot before returning it to the coffee maker. “The problem is, they have shown they are a lot more likely to use orbital bombardment than we are. You and your people are good Colonel, but you can't stand up to that kind of fire for long.”
“It is so very nice to have a starship on call for fire.” She said with a blissful look and a sip from her cup. She sat down next to me on the couch and stared out of the windows. Her expression serious once more. “He worries me, Jer. I'm afraid his conscience is going to get him to do something stupid eventually. Or that one of his friends back at HQ are going to do something stupid.”
I sat up a bit and turned towards her. “What have you heard, Shari?”
“Well, you know the Captain we saw him meet back on Earth?”
“You mean Admiral Djokovic's aide?”
“That's the one. I did a little checking with some old friends, and it seems that the Captain and the Admiral have been asking quite a few questions about the Marines lately. She seems to be trying to have the responsibility of training new Marines transferred to her department.”
I looked at her with a raised eyebrow. When the Marines had been formed, they had been given full autonomy to train their own personnel. The reasoning had been simple, there had been no qualified Marine trainers in Starfleet. General LeMay and Sergeant Major Wyatt had essentially created the entire training program from scratch. Now that there were qualified instructors on the other hand I could see how the Marines training was to be integrated with the rest of Starfleet. “I was under the impression you were going to start accepting Academy graduates straight into the Marines soon.”
“We are. As soon as Admiral Djokovic accepts the training and education requirements from General LeMay. I happen to know she has sent the entire curriculum back to the General several times for 'revisions'.”
“That doesn't sound unreasonable Shari.” She gave me a look before answering.
“It is when she wants to remove high stress psychology and unarmed combat from the training schedule. Not to mention a number of other courses that she doesn't like.” Her face twisted in disgust. “I just wish they could leave us alone to our job.” I nodded in understanding sympathy as I starred out the windows and thought about my fights with the Counselor. We were both silent for a while as our thoughts raced.
“Well, if they can't leave you alone, at least you get to play with fun toys.” I said with a bit of forced cheer and waved at the suit of armor resting in it's carrying case. She looked up at me for a moment before looking back out the window. Her mood still dark.
Before either of us thought of something more to say a quiet alarm went off in our implants.
“Two hours until arrival at the Fa'Rov system, Commander.” I had never really like the standard voice settings for the computers on Starfleet's vessels. I always got the impression it was nagging me about something.
“Well, Shari. I guess it's time to go to work.” I noted, unnecessarily and with a great deal of reluctance. She rested her head on my shoulder for long enough to take a deep breath. We both stood up and I followed her to the door.
“I'll see you on the bridge soon. I have to get some things ready before we arrive.” She nodded gently before looking back at me with a smile.
“Go get your armor on Jer. I know it still makes you a bit uncomfortable wearing it around the ship, but I think it looks good on you.” Before I could think of a suitable response, she had kissed me and walked out the door.
I stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge and looked around. Several of the people present looked at me in surprise. I couldn't really blame them. As I had noted several times before, the armor I was wearing had not been designed to be subtle in any casual setting. I was not the only one on the bridge wearing it though. Sandra Roland looked even more uncomfortable than I was where she sat in the Captain's chair. Her hair pulled up tight, and her helmet strapped to the side of her armor. I crossed to the bridge to her, relieving Sandra of the bridge watch, before settling down as I waited for the Captain to arrive. I did not have to wait for long.
“XO, I have the bridge.” I stood up and braced to attention as the Captain stepped out of his ready room. He paused for a moment while he took in mine and Sandra's armor.
“Aye aye, sir. You have the bridge.” I sat down in my chair at the Captains right hand. The Captain sat down in his chair, glancing at the readouts on his console. Satisfied, he looked up at Sandra.
“Ops, contact the flag ship. Inform them of our readiness.”
“Aye, sir.” Lieutenant Commander Roland busied herself with her console as the Captain turned slightly to Lieutenant Swanson.
“Tactical. Take us to Red Alert.” The Lieutenant responded with a 'Yes, sir.'. Mere moments later the alarm sounded through out the ship, main lights dimming while flashing red ones replaced them.
“Captain, Admiral ch'Anen is setting up an all ships broadcast.”
“Put it on the main viewscreen, Ops.”
“Yes, sir.” Sandra tapped a control and Admiral ch'Anen came to life in front of us.
“To all ships of 6th Fleet. The enemy has fallen for our deception plan and redeployed a significant amount of ships to the wrong sector of space. As a result of this, it appears that we only face six squadrons worth of mobile opposition. Based on that I am implementing operations plan Echo 3. You all know you jobs. You all know the plan. All that is left, is to do it and then go home. Good luck and good hunting. Admiral ch'Anen out.” The viewscreen returned to a schematic of the fleet as it started slowly splitting up.
“Captain, all stations report manned and ready.” Sandra reported. The Captain nodded briskly before turning slightly to Lieutenant Sierra at the helm.
“Very well. Helm, take us in.”