“Launching now.” Lieutenant Commander Grooves voice came over the all hands com channel. Our pilot threw power to the engines in response to the orders from his commander. We exploded out of the hangar bay just behind Grooves shuttle. Around us, every single assault shuttle available was launching as well, escorted by half the Peregrine fighters available to 6th fleet. Off in the distance the Challenger was launching its shuttles into the waiting arms of their escorts above San Francisco.
The Captain had returned to the Venture in time to give us a quick briefing on the plan. We knew time was of vital importance, but rushing into the situation without preparation was an invitation to disaster. We would only get one chance at this or the Federation could devolve into a civil war at the same time we were fighting for our lives against an external enemy. Not a good situation.
Sergeant Aisdottir and her squad had been assigned to watch over me and my away-team. Everyone seemed to accept that will or not, me and my team would be at the front to solve any problems that did not require the judicious application of violence.
In the privacy of my helmet my face was lit by the information flashing past on my display. Schematics of the target building, file images of known and suspected opposition, readouts showing me the status of my team. Our team was going to support Saber platoon as they headed for the Presidents office. What little information we had said that the President was being held there. My attention was however focused mainly on the image I had centered in my view.
The news services had gotten footage of the battle in space. It had been hard to miss for the hemisphere that had faced it. I had not had time to look at the footage myself, though Lieutenant Rooney had said it looked like hundreds of short lived stars flickering in the night sky. Now the news channel I had on my feed was centered on the region of the night sky we would be coming down through.
The image from the ground lit up with shooting stars too numerous to count as we punched through the outer portions of the atmosphere. The plasma sheaths that formed around our vessels only grew as the pilots threw more power to their engines and shields. Instead of slowing we actually speed up. We were fairly sure we had eliminated any possibility of being fired on from the ground. That did not mean we were going to spend any more time as targets than we had to. Specially since every attempt that had been made to get the people who had taken over the Council building and Starfleet HQ to surrender was meet with nothing but defiance and threats.
The small battlefield schematic I had on my display blinked with an update. I brought it up to replace the view of our shuttles hurtling towards the ground. The shuttles that had been used to insert the fake Marines had finally managed to scramble. Though they were of a newer type than what the Marines were using, with far better air and space weapons. They did not however stand a chance against the fighters that locked onto their signatures and broke formation to go hunting.
The conspirators shuttles went to full power in a desperate bid to avoid the fighters swooping down on them like the hawks they were named after. Calls for surrender went out. In most cases it was heeded.
In three it was not. Fireballs lit up the night sky over Europe as all three of them were blasted into very tiny pieces by fighters that did not even bother with a second pass over the descending fireballs.
While some of the fighters went hunting, we were nearing our deployment points. I shut down the extraneous images on my display and reactivated the image enhancers to let me see inside the darkened assault shuttle. We all sat quietly in our seats as we blasted down through the rapidly thickening atmosphere. I looked around the inside of the assault shuttle and muttered a quiet thanks to Corporal Smith and his idea. Every person in armor had white stripes painted down their arms and across their helmets. We hoped it would keep us from killing each other in the chaos and confusion that was about to come. A beep sounded in my ears as a counter ticked down past 30 seconds and Sergeant Aisdottir called over our internal channel.
“Stand up! Face out!” We all stood up, reaching above us to grab the bars installed for this specific purpose. I turned towards the right side exit and waited. The others in the shuttle, Starfleet and Marine alike did the same. Each turning to their door and prepared mentally for what would come next.
When the counter hit 10 the doors on the sides and back of the small craft opened. By now we had slowed down to less than 200 kilometers per hour and were still decelerating rapidly. With the shields still up the main difference was the light. The lights of Paris were shining below us and racing up to meet us. The assault shuttle suddenly flipped from nose down to presenting its belly to the ground. In the same instance its shield snapped off filling the shuttle with a surge of turbulence. Aisdottir came over the com channel again.
“Go go go!” They jumped out into the night, Clearing the door as fast as they could. I and Aisdottir were the only ones left in the end before we too jumped down to the ground, a meter below the hovering shuttle. I hit the ground and rolled away just as the night lit as if it were day.
They had been waiting for the shuttle to drop its shields. As soon as they were down someone had stepped out into the open and fired a heavy phaser straight into the cockpit of the shuttle. The beam had gone straight through the armored glass and killed the pilot instantly before blasting a hole in the back wall and out into the cargo compartment, passing through where the Sergeant had been only a few seconds earlier.
The blast in the cockpit showered the copilot with fragments from the windscreen and threw him into his restraints. Luckily he managed to stay conscious thanks to his now dented and cracked helmet. He turned on the shield and accelerated away from the council building and any possibility of giving us cover from the air.
Not that we needed it quite yet as the heavy phaser gunner had exposed himself to fire at the shuttle and was tossed through the air by a couple of grenades lobed from one of our grenadiers, that detonated right next to him. Despite his armor he did not get back up.
That seemed to be the signal for the rest of the opposition to open up and a veritable wall of phaser fire came to meet us. It gave me a greater appreciation of the courage the Klingons had displayed as we all sought cover and started returning fire.
“Sword 6 to all Javelin units. You are cleared to open fire on opposition upon detection.” Shari's voice came over the command channel I was hooked into, removing the last hold on the heavy air to ground weapons of the Lieutenant Commander Grooves shuttles.
Around us more assault shuttles were landing to disgorge their cargo of Marines, and with the lesson of what had happened to my shuttle they were not taking any risks. The shuttles were coming in nose first and simply firing on any sensor target that presented itself. Large chunks of the building flew outward from antimatter cored detonations as any resistance was meet with micro-torps and phaser fire. The building was the center of a ring of light as fire was poured into its centuries old facade. Within seconds there was no more fire coming from the building. The exterior of the building had been known as one of the most beautiful in the Federation. It had been turned into a blackened, pulverized ruin with smoke billowing from dozens of places. The radiation detectors in my armor were highlighting several areas that were going to be decidedly unhealthy for unarmored individuals until they were thoroughly de-conned. Anti-matter made great bangs, but the hard gammas were decidedly unpleasant.
With most of the external resistance silenced we started advancing on the building. The point squads sprinted forward under the cover of the rest of the platoon and the hovering assault shuttles. Several short vicious firefights broke out as lone survivors tried to fight or someone deeper in the building fired at a Marine. We were not taking any chances. Any resistance was meet by overwhelming fire from the myriad of weapons available to us.
Once the outside of the building had been taken it was time for the rest of us to move. As soon as the 'go' order came down my away-team and I moved forward with our escorting Marines. We sprinted forward through courtyard surrounding the Council building. The scene around us was a confusion of flickering shadows and glaring lights from the fires burning in the building and the fighting just ahead of us. It was confusing enough to affect us even through the enhancers in our visors.
We had landed at the closest practical point to our target and expected to meet heavy resistance. So far it had been heavy enough that I passed several Marines on the ground. Dead or wounded I had no way to tell, nor did I have the time to stop and check. I stopped behind what was left of a marble pillar and peeked around it. A hole had been carved into the wall from some assault shuttles chin mounted phaser. It was a meter high and at least ten long, opening up a series of offices to the outside.
I checked that my entire team was present before I followed Sergeant Aisdottir through the wall and into the building. My foot caught on something as I was going through, causing me to fall down on my face. Annoyed I kicked at whatever had caught on my boots. It fell away from me and let me scramble to my feet. I was in a bit of a rush as just beyond the inner wall of the office I was in, the Marines were pushing their way forward down one of the buildings many corridors. I hunkered down next to the wall and waited as Saber platoon pushed the opposition back meter by bloody meter. I looked behind me to see what I had tripped on and realized it was the lower body of a human in armor. Whoever they had been must have been kneeling near a window when the shuttle opened fire. I could not find the rest of them anywhere.
Shaking my head to clear the sight I called over the com-net to Shari. “Sword 6, Venture 5. Over.”
“Sword 6 here. Go.”
“Sit Rep. Over.”
“On plan. High casualties. Low resistance. Ahead of schedule. Over.”
“Solid copy, Sword 6. Venture 5 out.” Her cryptic comments told me that despite the higher than expected casualties we had taken the plan was still in play and we did not have to go to one of the alternate plans that had been made. With the situation clearer I called up another channel.
“Venture 5 to Venture.”
“Venture here, XO. Go ahead.” The Captains calm voice came back to me from the Ventures bridge in orbit above us.
“Assault is going as planned. We have taken more casualties than expected though and I think we need to get those medivac shuttles here a little sooner than planned.” I looked at the minute display on the inside of my visor that showed me the clean, well lit interior of the bridge. An even smaller icon showed my face through my cleared visor as they were seeing it. The darkness, smoke and flickering lighting was distracting a few of the ratings from their jobs as they got a small glimpse of something I was becoming far too comfortable with.
“Understood, XO. We have every hospital within a thousand kilometers of there on stand-by. The first casualties from the shuttles that tried to run have already been brought in for treatment. Security personnel are reporting that they are fully prepared for any prisoners you can get. Is there anything else we can do?” I could see through the Captains cool demeanor that he was worried. Not just about the mission or me, but every one of his people who was down here, fighting and dying while he was safely on the ship.
“Not really, sir. Unless you can find us another couple companies of Marines.”
“Understood, XO. We'll get on that.”
“Appreciate it, sir. Venture 5 out.” I closed the connection and returned fully to the world that was
The entire building had lost power at some point leaving the rooms and halls in a deep dark. Only the emergency lighting was constant as the remainder of the illumination came from exploding grenades and weapons fire. Our visors helped immensely, letting us see well enough to fight and navigate, though not well enough that the entire scene was not one of the most unnerving things I had ever experienced. The prospect of sudden violent death did not help calm my nerves either.
The conspirators may have gotten their hands on the same equipment the Marines had, but it was painfully obvious they had not spent the same amount of time training and learning how it changed the way you had to fight. Their first real attempt at a counterattack was crushed within seconds as they tried to fight the way the old security forces had been trained. With great individual skill and no real teamwork.
A group of them had burst out from behind cover, their weapons pointed vaguely forward and charged. They must have been using the built in targeting systems as their fire was surprisingly accurate, forcing many of my people to keep their heads down. Not that it really helped them in this case. Marines that were not pinned down took them down with pin-point phaser fire. Armor that could shrug off individual hits was quickly breached when you knew exactly where to aim. The helmet and chest plate could take a few hits. The throat could not.
Once the attack was reduced to smoking corpses on the ground the Mariens bounded forward under cover of grenades and fire from the machine gunners. Those armed with the new railguns took point and started putting their lethal little darts through any cover that was even slightly suspicious. It may not be enough to harm someone in armor after passing through a wall or pillar, but it was more than enough to knock them to the ground or just simply react. Revealing themselves and giving the grenadiers a target.
We ran into the first strong point as we approached our chosen way to the upper floors. It looked like they had actually built bunkers in the middle of the corridor. Maybe beamed them in before we activated the global transport denial system. However they had been installed they represented a serious obstacle that we would have to remove to be able to keep moving towards our primary target.
The first Marine who stepped around the corner a moment after the grenade he had thrown detonated, received a rude and terminal surprise as the light support phasers mounted in the armored pillboxes opened up on him. Private Schmidt was killed instantly as he was struck by a stream of fire that tracked across his body to pierce his armor in the throat and visor. The rest of his team bounded forward while pouring weapons fire into the structure. More teams fought their way into the wide corridor, taking cover behind pillars, decorative pieces of art and anything else they could find. Grenades were reaching out and impacting on and around the pillboxes to no effect, while phasers were doing everything they could to suppress the opposition behind the low armored boxes. We finally managed to take the bunkers down when a squad cut their way through walls and came up behind the strong point, clearing it out in short violent bursts from their weapons. In all that one strong point had caused three casualties for us, all of them dead.
We reached the large stairwell that led up to the upper floors and the Presidents offices. The fire from the upper levels was some of the fiercest we had meet yet. We were gaining ground but only at the cost of more lives lost. Grenades flew in both directions as the scene was lit by a storm of blue pulses flashing across the darkness to strike down anyone incautious or unlucky.
Private Holmberg stepped up to the wall I was hiding behind and leveled his massive phaser. “Sir, get out of the way.” I waved my team away and dove for the next available cover as the Private opened fire straight through the wall. He fired in short bursts of golden light that bored through the wall in an instant to strike whatever he was aiming at beyond it. Four quick bursts were all he fired before turning and jumping back behind the cover I was using, coming to a rest next to me.
“Gotta love it when your team tags the bad guys for you, sir.” His words were punctuated by a ripple of explosions from where he had just been standing. The 'bad guys' had just dropped several grenades where he had fired from, obviously displeased with the hulking Private. The fighting picked up at that as the opposition was pushed out of the stairwell. The rest of the Marines taking advantage of his distraction to assault the enemy positions, driving them out of their prepared defenses, and forcing them to surrender or die.
I soon found myself in a formerly opulent hallway that ended in a set of double doors. Those doors had been shown in the media on numerous occasions as the final stop before the office of the President. They were carved mahogany masterpieces showing the seal of the Federation. Though at the moment they were blackened and gouged from weapons fire.
The fighting in the corridor had been some of the fiercest we had faced yet. By the time I had stepped around the corner the resistance had been eliminated. Casualties lay where they had fallen, those still alive were being tended to by medics.
I walked down the smoking corridor to where the point team was placing explosives on the priceless doors to the Presidents office. In rooms to either side, other teams were doing the same to the walls. When we breached it would be with as much force as possible in as short time as possible. I stopped next to Lieutenant Gardner who was discussing the impending breach with his platoon Sergeant, Gunnery Sergeant Booth and his main Engineer, Corporal Smith.
“Charges will be in place in moments, sir. Second and third squads are ready to breach and enter. Still nothing about internal resistance.” The Gunny looked over at the Corporal.
“We can't get a signal through the walls. The room is shielded from our tricorders.” The Corporal shrugged. “There is not really anything we can do without cutting a hole in the wall, Gunny.”
“Which we are ready to do anyway, just not in a way that will help you, Corporal.” Lieutenant Gardner responded. “Can't be helped. Gunny, As the President might be in there I want survivors from this one. No frags and the railers can only fire on armored enemies.” Gunny Booth nodded and turned away to give the Marines their final instructions. I had my away-team form up close by so they could follow the Marines through as quickly as possible.
Lieutenant Gardner gave the setup a quick glance before calling over the platoon channel. “Go, go, go!”
Responses of “Fire in the hole!” came from the Marines controlling the charges. All three charges
were blown near simultaneously. As soon as the holes had been cut, grenadiers tossed grenades through. Stun grenades would barely affect someone in armor, but often 'barely' is the difference between life and death.
The explosions and stun grenades pounded on my armor and focus as I lead my away-team forward, following the Marines that were throwing themselves through the holes as fast as they could. The new entrances to the Presidents office came alive with the reflected light of phaser fire as whoever was in the room tried to stop us from entering. The doors had been blasted off their hinges and scattered across the interior of the room, hopefully missing any hostages that might be inside.
By the time I could get through the hole, my own rifle up and scanning for enemies as I had been trained to do, the fighting was over.
Though there had been more of the opposition in this room than in any other single room we had yet encountered it had not mattered when they had been attacked from several sides at once. More than twenty people had been trying to hold this room and the hostages from us. They were all on the ground, unharmed, wounded or dead, being searched and stripped of weapons and armor.
I had seen the Presidents office on video several times before, but the scale of the room still took me by surprise, you could have landed a cargo shuttle in the room and had space to spare. Though the room was currently a scene of chaos as the last clears could be heard over the com-net it still managed to portray how much power and influence the person sitting in it wielded.
A group of hostages could be seen in the distance being checked over by a group of Marines. I started heading that way, mindful of the damage that had been done. Several small fires had broken out in the luxurious furnishings and the Presidents massive desk was turned over on its side to give some small measure of cover. It had not seemed to help much as it had been punctured in well over a hundred places, with spatters of blood coating the inside of it.
The sound of an explosion came to me from somewhere else in the building reminding me that no matter how calm this area seemed, elsewhere the fighting was obviously still heavy and unrelenting.
I passed one group of prisoners standing on their knees with their hands behind their heads and rifles aimed directly at them. They were all in regular uniforms and had probably been stunned by the plethora of stun and flash grenades thrown into the room. Everyone in armor had been wounded or killed in the assault. I paused and looked down at them, something had grabbed my attention.
“Felbardek. What the hell are you doing here?” The former Venture crew member was bruised and bloody, though without any real injuries. I cleared my visor so he could see who it was. I was uncertain whether my name could be seen through the soot and grime coating my armor. He looked up at me and recognized me. It was not something he had looked forward to or even expected if his expression was anything to go by.
“Serving the best interests of the Federation.” The statement had a feel of repetition to it, as if he was simply saying what he had been told to say. He had changed over the past few months. While he still looked at me with some of the same anger he had always felt against those who had, in his mind, undeserved power over him. There was something else there as well. Something had broken inside him, leaving him a defeated man. I looked down at him coldly for a while before responding.
“Bullshit, Lieutenant. But if you want to stick to it, I'm sure the courts will be more than happy to hear of it later. Not to mention the small fact that you should not even be in uniform after what happened on the Venture. I'm sure I will be seeing you around.” I reset my visor and turned away from the captives. My away-team was waiting at my back. Looking around I addressed them.
“Rooney, Asem, you're with me. The rest of you do what you can for the wounded.”
After a chorus of aye, aye's, my team got to work in the room, helping the many wounded on both sides, putting out the fires and whatever else they could do to help. I turned and walked over to the hostages with my two henchmen behind me.
Most of the hostages looked like they were in better shape than they could have been. They were all in fashionable civilian clothing and seemed younger on average than I would have expected. Looking them over more closely, with a little help from the images loaded into my armor, I realized they were all staff members of the President and her cabinet. Lieutenant Gardner was speaking with a young man that looked like he might have been very well groomed at the start of the day. Now he was disheveled and in serious need of a shower and a shave. Spending the day as a hostage did that to you.
“Then they separated out the staffers from the Council members and brought us here.”
“Where is the President, mister Lombardi?” The Lieutenant asked.
“I'm not sure, sir. The took her away just before you got here. I heard two of them saying that they never believed you could move so fast.” He paused and took a deep breath. Before he could finish though Lieutenant Gardner patched me into a message that took my complete attention.
“Repeat, Athena secured, my location. Athena in need of medical. Over”
“Solid copy, 3-2. Dispatching medical now.” Lieutenant Gardner response came as I was looking at my map for Saber 3-2s location. The young aide kept talking, not realizing that were no longer listening to him as I switched over to my away-teams channel.
“We have the President, but she is hurt. Everyone on me now.” A quick glance at my map as I exited the room told me everyone in the team was either right behind me or catching up quickly. Sergeant Aisdottir's squad was spread out around us as we came to the corridor with the President.
She was laying face down on the floor with a Marine holding a bloody bandage to her lower back. Around them were the bodies of the people who had tried to get her away from us and three others watching for threats. Ensign Tian and Chief Jones skidded to a halt next to the President, their equipment already in their hands as they took over the care of President Graydon.
“Corporal Muir, report.”
“We were moving to secure the top of stairwell 4, Commander, when we caught up with this group of opposition.” He gestured to the bodies laying in the corridor. “Private Phelps reported a hostage as we engaged them with aimed fire from positions by the corner. The engagement lasted no more than a few seconds. Once they were all down we moved in to secure the hostage and any injured before continuing to the stairwell. We discovered the hostage was the President and that he had been injured. At that point Private Phelps had started first aid and I called it in. We finished securing the opposition, who had all been killed during the initial exchange of fire and moved to further secure this corridor against counter attacks. By the time that was done you arrived. We have deployed sensors in all adjacent rooms and corridors and 4-1 is en route to complete our initial tasking, Commander.”
“What's the Presidents condition, Corporal?”
“Contact phaser wound to the lower left back, sir. That's all we could find in the time available to us, sir.”
“Well done, Corporal. We'll take over from here.” The Corporal nodded, gathered up his fire-team and headed off down the corridor, their positions taken over by Aisdottirs squad. I stopped by Ensign Tian as he sprayed sealant into the wound. Chief Jones was across the President with her medical tricorder open.
“How is she, Chief?” She didn't look up from her work as she answered.
“As long as she gets to a hospital soon she should survive. The shot missed her spine and major arteries, that's the good news. The bad news is that she is going to need a rebuild on some significant parts of her internal organs. Her kidney, spleen and stomach are all effectively destroyed. Along with large portions of her large and small intestines. The only reason she is alive is that no major blood vessel ruptured. She has some significant thermal damage to the rest of her lower torso as well, including her spinal cord. A good medical facility should be able to put her back on her feet, assuming we can get her there in time, Commander.”
“Any chance she is going to wake up in time to tell us what the bad guys are planning?” She snapped her tricorder shut and returned it to her belt before reaching into the medical pack she had laid out on the ground and pulling out a stretcher.
“No, Commander. We could wake her up, but that would simply be excruciatingly painful for her, despite the drugs she is getting. Right now we need to get her to a medivac shuttle.”
Moments later President Graydon was strapped into the stretcher and back in her office. Lieutenant Gardner meet me as we entered the room.
“Commander, I have diverted a medivac shuttle to the Presidents personal shuttle pad. 2-1 has secured it and 2-2 are standing by to take President Graydon there.”
“Understood, Lieutenant.” I switched channels to my away-team, telling them where to take the unconscious President. Aisdottir and her squad stayed with me as my away-team carried her away.
I took a sip of water and checked the situation in the rest of the building. Despite the resistance we were making good progress toward securing all our objectives. The only thing left was the Council chamber and the rooms directly adjacent. We expected the rest of the hostages were being held in the main chambers. The room around me was emptying out as the Marines moved on to their secondary objectives.
Once my away-team returned it would be time to head down to meet up with Shari's command squad and finish this. Before they had time to return though a priority message from the Venture caused me to look up and frown.
“Venture 5 here. Go ahead Venture.”
“XO, we're sending you a feed that just started transmitting through the public address system in the Council chambers. It's going out to the entire planet.” Without waiting for my response the image of the Ventures bridge on my HUD was replaced by a view from inside the Council chambers a few hundred meters away from where I was standing.
The large round room was darker than I had ever seen it with most of the lighting turned off. The flags of the various member planets hanging around the walls were darker shadows where armored figures moved. The rows of seats that all faced the speakers dais at the front of the room were almost lost entirely from view. The only source of light were the spotlights lighting up the seal of the Federation behind the podium at the front of the room.
Sitting on the open floor in front of the speakers dais, huddling close to each other were the Council members from the Federations many member worlds. They all had their hands bound behind their backs. Around them were the armed and armored people who had taken them hostage almost 24 hours earlier. They were more than I could easily count, though I knew that quite a few people were doing just that.
This was a goldmine of information for Shari and her officers. I checked a secondary display to make sure they had this as well. The picture zoomed in and brought my attention firmly back to my primary view. It zoomed in on a group of people standing next to the speakers box at the front of the room. Most of them were clad in armor, hiding their faces, with two exceptions. One in armor sans the helmet and the other in a regular Starfleet duty uniform. My eyes went wide as I recognized the unarmored person as Sergei and the other as Admiral Angotti, the vice chief of staff for Starfleet. An audio feed started up suddenly in my ears, startling me.
“You can't do this, Admiral. It would invalidate everything that we have done here today. If you murder these people in cold blood there will be nothing to save what people have fought and died for.” Sergei and the Admiral were standing face to face and apparently arguing. Their body language certainly said as much. Though Sergei was looking more and more desperate.
“No one will know, Counselor. And if we don't get out of here those fucking Marines are going to blast down the doors and kill us all. Not even they would dare to do that if they knew we are willing to kill every person they are trying to 'save'. The only hope we have left is if we can get away and convince people who the real traitors are. And if these weak willed sycophants have to die to restore the Federation to itself, then that is exactly what I am going to do.” He waved at the Councilors and aides that huddled below the raised dais they both stood on.
“Please, Admiral. Don't you have enough blood on your hands? Nothing good can come from killing these people.” The Admiral leaned forward and jabbed a finger into Sergei's chest.
“I'll tell you what good can come from this, Counselor. We can replace these things with Councilors who understand the values of the Federation and are not afraid to uphold them. Despite any doomsayers that only want to return us to the dark ages for their own personal gain. The Federation was built on certain principles, and if I have to sacrifice my own to save it then so be it. Commander Driscol, select a Councilor.”
Sergei continued to argue with the Admiral while an armored female stepped off the dais and walked up to the hostages. She grabbed on of them, a Vulcan who did not resist in the least and guided him back up onto the dais next to the speakers podium. The Council member was placed on his knees as another anonymous individual stepped up in front of him and started entering commands into their armor. A secondary feed came up in my armor as they transmitted the helmet camera view of the person standing in front of him. Behind him the one identified as Commander Driscol leveled a phaser at the back of his head.
At this Shari's voice came over the company wide channel. “Sword 6 to all Sword units. Shiva. I repeat, Shiva. Platoon leaders coordinate. Sword 6 out.” The short cryptic message had a special meaning to those who had been briefed on our plans for the assault. It meant that all other priorities had been pushed back and that the only thing that mattered was getting to the Council chambers as fast as possible.
While it was only one of a half dozen different contingencies that had been planned for. It was expected to be the hardest to implement. The one room in the building that was sure to be the most well defended was now to be rushed as fast as possible. The very speed that now meant life or death for the Councilors, also meant that there would not be enough time for the careful room to room advance of the assault up to this point. Leaving us vulnerable to counterattacks and casualties from directions that would otherwise have been secured.
With my away-team reformed I took off towards the Council chambers at a run. Hoping against hope that we would make it in time. I pushed the view from inside to a corner of my view, letting me half watch it and half watch my feet. Trusting my away-team and Aisdottir's squad to watch out for any bad guys who might still be around.
Back by the speakers podium Admiral Angotti waved for someone to block Sergei while he himself stepped over so that he was in the view they were transmitting themselves.
“Marines. You will leave this building immediately or we will execute the Council members.” The Admiral waited for a moment before he looked over his shoulder and received a head shake from an armored individual. “As you do not seem to believe us. This is just one more death you have caused among all the innocent people slaughtered by your actions today.” He nodded to Commander Driscol who pulled the trigger.
The Councilor fell on his face as a blue light flashed behind his head and a cloud of steam rose from his shattered skull. A series of gasps could be heard from around the large room.
I watched from two angles as they dragged the body away and brought up another Councilor, this one a Tellerite. The short woman was dragged up onto the dais. Having seen what happened to her colleague she was well motivated to resist them. Despite her spirited resistance however, she was pushed to her knees and shot without any hesitation. Her body removed and yet a third Councilor brought up.
With two people holding him back, Sergei could do nothing more that plead for the Admiral to stop. His desperation was clear, as was his determination to do anything he could, no matter how insignificant.
After the third Councilor was executed the Admiral, ignoring Sergei's pleas, spoke again. “Marines. You will cease your assault and fall back before more blood is spilled on your hands today.” He looked coldly into the helmet camera they were transmitting from for a moment before turning away. A fourth Councilor was carried, kicking and screaming, onto the dais and placed in front of Commander Driscol.
She was given a stay of execution however by a shout from someone in engineering marked armor who came running up to the Admiral. The commotion stayed the executioners hand as she waited for further information.
The Admiral was standing next to the speakers podium as the engineer rushed to his side, placing them and their conversation within range of the audio recording equipment contained within it.
“Sir, the public address system is transmitting. It's all over the planet by now and probably on its way to the rest of the Federation beyond as well.” The engineer was in full armor with his visor mirrored, but his body language was loudly proclaiming how nervous he was as he held out a PADD for the Admiral.
Admiral Angotti's face on the other hand was clearly visible. The naked fury that he displayed worried me. Someone as angry as he was made rash decisions. Decisions that were regretted for lifetimes. He snatched the PADD and stared at it for a few moments before throwing it back.
“Who did this?” He snarled in response.
“Tracking it down now, sir. Hold one.” A few tense seconds followed as the engineer tapped on the PADD, searching for the information the Admiral wanted.
During those few seconds I came to a stop just around the corner from the final corridor before the Council Chambers. A quick peek told me that Shari's Marines had control over it and was preparing to blow the door. The tactical schematic told me that they would have to wait a few moments longer for the last teams to get ready. I moved my away-team up behind the Marines stacking up by the door, with myself in the lead and waited for the 'go' command.
”Found it, sir. Whoever set this up had to use their personal access codes. Lieutenant Commander Sergei Grigorii, sir.” The Admiral spun on his heel to look at Sergei. The people with him seized his arms to stop him from escaping as the Admiral walked over to him.
“What have you done, Sergei? Those weak willed sheep out there will never understand why this was all necessary. You have handed the Federation over to those who would destroy it from the inside, you fucking traitor!” Sergei began to respond, a look of determination on his face. The Admiral was however not interested. He pulled out his phaser and shot Sergei in the chest at point blank range.
On the screen I saw him clutch his hands to his chest, his face a mask of pain and confusion. He stayed on his feet until the Admiral fired again, and again. By the time the Marines blew their charges and stormed into the room, the Admiral was standing over Sergei, firing his phaser into him as rapidly as he could pull the trigger.
I saw this with my own eyes as I came into the large Council chambers following the leading Marines far too closely for their comfort. All around me the room was in chaos. Explosions and weapons fire was doing its best to destroy the very air itself as everyone in the room opened up on anything they perceived as a threat. The darkness in the room was obliterated by thousands of flashing lights from the weapons and explosions.
Phaser blasts passed close by me, striking someone. I could hear their gasp of pain over my communications gear. I paid it no mind. I was totally focused on the front of the room and Admiral Angotti. Other Marines were forcing their way forward along side me, laying down as much fire they could to protect the hostages who had thrown themselves flat on the floor with the first explosions. The people who had been clustered around the hostages and Admiral were all flat on their bellies, trying to survive and returning fire as best they could. Only the Admiral was still on his feet. It was nothing short of a miracle that he had not been hit yet. Despite the standing orders to take him alive he should have been hit by something by now.
My railgun was against my shoulder as I placed the aiming point over the Admirals chest. At this point I had very little interest in standing orders. The Admiral had turned toward the front of the room and was firing his phaser at anything he could see. What little he added to the chaos of the room mattered little more to me than an excuse to pull the trigger. It broke cleanly under my finger, sending a tiny dart of metal snapping across the room to hit the Admiral in the middle of his chest. I let my finger relax, resetting the trigger. As soon as I felt it click into place I pulled it back again. The aiming point seemingly painted on the outside of his armor as I sent dart after dart snapping across the room between us.
By the third round the armor was pushed beyond its designed limits. Shattering to dust and letting the fourth dart through. It punched through the impact absorbing underlayers and the skinsuit worn under that, penetrating his sternum to pierce his heart. Following close behind were three more darts, whose combined energy sufficed to rip the organ to shreds. They continued on to exit his back plate. While elsewhere the pressures built up by their passing through his body caused blood to be forced out the entrance hole as well as the Admirals mouth.
I watched as he dropped to the ground in a spray of blood, my sights never leaving the torn remnants of his chest. He barely had time to hit the ground before I was brought down myself. A Private slammed into me bringing me to the floor. The space I had been standing in was filled with the golden beam of a heavy phaser. The massive private must have seen that I was being targeted when he brought me to the ground. My helmet prevented me from being killed as my head slammed through a desk that happened to be in the way. It was however not good enough to prevent me from loosing consciousness from the impact. I had a few moments of confusion to how I had ended up looking up at the ceiling before I faded into unconsciousness.
“Commander Sorenson?” The voice sounded concerned about something. My response was an unintelligible groan. Perhaps they were right to feel concern. I cracked open my eyes and looked up at Lieutenant Rooney. A wave of nausea came over me and I turned over onto my side as I emptied my stomach onto the floor. The feeling subsided enough after that to let me know I had one of the worst headaches I had ever experienced. I felt her place a hand on my shoulder to stop me from rolling off the stretcher I was laying on as I wiped my mouth and fell back to look up at the ceiling. She pulled a hypospray out of a medical kit and pressed it against my neck. The world immediately started slowing down and my headache subsided.
“What happened?” I managed to say once the spinning stopped.
“You were almost shot, sir. You have a concussion from when Private Meskil hit you a little too hard. Just lie still for a while and rest.” That sounded like a very good idea. Too bad I had responsibilities.
“Did we win?” She nodded as she responded.
“Yes, sir. We lost far too many people, including Ensign Tian, but we managed to get almost all of them in the end.”
“Almost?” I said with my eyes closed as the news about the Ensign hit me.
“Colonel Nakhoda thinks a few may have gotten away in the confusion. No more than ten or so, and no one on the 'important' list. We did it, sir.” I rubbed my face before looking back up at her.
“It will just have to be good enough. Do you have any water?” I asked after trying the reservoir in my armor. With some help I sat up and gratefully accepted a bottle of water. Using it to first clear the taste out of my mouth before drinking the rest of it. I looked around the council chambers, now fully lit. The room bustled with activity. All around were Marines performing their post battle duties. Securing prisoners, helping the wounded, counting the cost. More Starfleet personnel had shown up. Some wearing security uniforms escorting away the prisoners. Others wearing medical uniforms who worked on the wounded.
My stretcher was one of many that had been placed near where the main entrance to the room had been. Quite a few were still occupied, though the people in them seemed to have fairly minor injuries.
Further down in the room I spotted Shari with a few of her officers talking to what I assumed was the head of the security personnel that had arrived while I was unconscious. In the clearest sign that everything was over, all the Marines had removed their helmets. I threw the empty bottle away and stood up with a little help from the Lieutenant. Catching the end of their conversation as I approached.
“My platoon leaders just reported in that their final sweep is complete, Commander. They report that the building is clear. No remaining opposition or traps.”
“Thank you, Colonel. My people will take it from here. Tell your people they did good work here this morning.”
“Thank you, Commander, I will. We are going to hang around a bit until our shuttles have finished their runs. So we will be here if you need us.” They shook hands and turned away to their separate duties. Shari gave a few quick orders to her officers before turning to me. “How are you feeling, Jer?”
“Like I was hit by a runaway shuttle. But I'll be fine. How is everything else?”
“Better than I had expected when we landed. Just about everyone on our list has been accounted for, and the ones we haven't are all fairly low level people.”
“And our people?” I asked with trepidation, remembering the fallen I had passed getting to this room.
“Thirty six casualties. Sixteen of them fatal. Among them Lieutenant Martins and Gunny Harris. I'm afraid Sandra was injured as well. She is at the hospital now.”
“Is she going to be okay?”
“Too early to tell, I'm afraid. I'm going to head over there as soon as I can. Though I expect we are going to be busy with debriefings for the foreseeable future.” I sighed at the thought of more debriefings, knowing that it would be far worse this time than it had been after the Fa'Rov raid. Any response I might have given was interrupted by First Sergeant Lindkvist.
“Colonel, Javelin 6 just reported that she has dropped off her last load of injured and is on her way back for pickup.” Top tapped her ear for emphasis as she spoke. Shari nodded and turned to her officers to ensure everything really was ready for our departure. In the mean time I spotted something deeper in the large room that sparked a cloudy memory. The drugs I had gotten obviously only helped with the nausea and pain of a concussion, not the fuzzy thinking and unreliable memory. I shook my head at forgetting that particular moment.
“Shari, you go on ahead. I'll catch up.” She followed my gaze and saw what had sparked my memory. Her smile was gentle as she rested a hand on my arm.
“Take your time. We'll be waiting.” I nodded distractedly and started down the steps toward the dais. The walk down was unsettling as I had to navigate my way through the debris and damages caused by the intense fighting. While my attention was focused on the dais I could not help but think about how the room had looked only the previous day. There would not have been deep gashes in the polished marble from the heavy phasers. Small but deep holes in the walls and furnishings from the railguns. Whole sections of luxurious seating that had burned to ash from missed shots.
I walked up the steps to the dais and looked down at the two bodies remaining. They had been covered with white sheets that were now soaked through with blood. I paused and looked down at the nearest one. Remembering how the trigger broke under my finger, the crack of the dart going down range and the blood that sprayed from the impacts. A drying pattern of red drops was visible on the wall behind where he had stood, along with the minute holes my darts had made after passing through their target.
I turned away from him and stopped next to Sergei. I pulled the sheet away from his face and looked down at him. My emotions were a confusing mix of sadness and delight. He had been a friend and a traitor in life. At one point I would have killed him with as much hesitation I had shown with the Admiral under the sheet behind me. I knew it would take me a long time to come to grips with what had passed between us these past few months. The one thing I would not forget though, was that he had given his life in pursuit of his principles.