Chapter 33- Into the Valley of Death
“Order attack wings two and three to move forward. Gul Marin is to take the invasion force to the Bajoran defense perimeter and to begin the assault on Terrok Nor. Make sure the troopships are well-defended.” Damar watched as almost a fifth of his fleet broke away and began to fly towards the Imperial fleet like a barbed arrow. Garak watched with silent glee as the ships proceeded. If he had been successful in drawing off enough of the Imperial ships, even if the main assault failed, Sisko would return to find Bajor in flames, crawling with three hundred thousand armed and trained Cardassian troops.
Damar glanced at his readouts. “The Vole Swarm has done its work, but it is down to twenty-three percent strength. Order Vole ships to fire one last volley along the invasion fleet’s vector, then bring them back to primary positions. If we have to retreat, we’re going to need a rearguard.”
“If I may, Legate.” Garak pressed a sequence of buttons and a number of Imperial ships began to flash on the display. “These ships are salvageable, if we act quickly. The Vole swarm has rendered many ships open to boarding. I recommend we rescind our reserve ground forces and put them on ship assault. The Cardassian people need every ship they can get.”
Boarding actions against the Imperium were often suicide, but Garak was right. “Agreed. Dispatch reserves for boarding. If capture of the vessel is unlikely, they are under orders to sabotage any critical systems available in order to destroy the ship.” Damar thought back to a history lesson from his school as a child. Terran military history was a subject he enjoyed, they were such a violent people. During one of the bloodier civil wars, one of the Terran factions had been forced to retreat back through his home region. Along the way, their General Sherman had destroyed everything useful to the enemy, from crops and farms to basic amenities. Leave the enemy no advantage. He would leave the Terrans no advantage, not after their atrocities.
Berserker flight was down to half-strength. Lafayette Sisko continued to destroy ship after ship with his flightmates at his wing, but there were always more. They looped around the superstructure of a Wraith, and then drew a line of fire across an exposed section of a Cardassian Sovereign. As they wheeled away, Berserker Nine came over the comm “Lead, looks like the cardies are trying for a breakthrough!”
“<I COUNT NUMEROUS CRUISERS AND DREADNAUGHTS AS WELL AS TROOP TRANSPORTS.>” A number of Hydran fighters, including Harkiag Leader had joined Lafayette’s flight. “<I HAVE ORDERS FROM THE ADMIRAL TO INTERCEPT THE CONVOY. ONLY LIMITED CAPITAL ASSETS CAN INTERCEPT.>”
Lafayette grinned. Fleet does the flying, fighters do the dying. “Well let’s ride, ladies and gentlemen... and others.” He added, eliciting a laugh from a few of his pilots. In combat, forced humor was a useful calming agent. The fighters streaked towards the convoy, joined by dozens of fighters and a wing of assault shuttles. The convoy was immense, almost two hundred larger ships and a thousand transports. The fighters evaded the sporadic fire as they dived towards the convoy. “Launch phalanx salvo!” Lafayette mashed the control panel and watched as over a hundred phalanx quantums reached out. “Prepare for active-“ And space around Lafayette exploded in golden light.
Maulers, everywhere, over a thousand blasts screening the convoy, and overwhelming the fighters and few capital ships. Over his comm, Lafayette heard screams get cut off one by one. A mauler flashed by less than three meters from his shields, the energy corona frying them. Golden lightning crawled up the fuselage of his fighter, shutting down his engines and weapon systems.
His control panel winked out and Lafayette was drifting at one-quarter impulse towards the Cardassian convoy. He tried a manual restart, but nothing happened. On his headset he couldn’t hear any of his flightmates. He was alone.
Well, nothing to do now but die for a reason. Lafayette opened the panel for emergency thrusters. He couldn’t stop himself, but he could steer. And without a power signature, he was significantly harder to hit. Looking at the convoy for a few seconds, he spotted his target. “Hellooooo reason.” A troopship, lumbering and slow, heading for Bajor. His mother, his four brothers, and his sister were on the planet and they weren’t going to be killed by any Cardassians. He checked his torpedoes. Five left. Enough to save some lives. Lafayette armed the warheads as he nudged his ship into an impact trajectory. Phasers sliced through space near him, but none hit. He ignored them, worrying wouldn’t help at this point. When the ship filled half his canopy, he pulled his ejector bar.
Explosive bolts thundered around him as his seat flew clear of the ship. “Emergency! Emergency! Berserker Lead is EVA. Requesting pickup.” He set his beacon to rebroadcast the message every thirty seconds. He looked down and saw his fighter plow into the side of the transport. It was completely enveloped in the ship before it exploded. That’ll do it. Lafayette nodded and smiled behind his enviro-suit to himself as he spun around to see how the battle was progressing. He turned just in time to see a large chunk of hull-plating spinning towards him. I did it, Dad.
Smoke wafted across the flag bridge of the Enterprise. A thud and a clank heralded Admiral Lore tossing pieces of deck plating away from the command console. “Status! All systems report!”
A bloodied lieutenant pulled a body off of the tactical console and checked the readouts. “Sir, the Enterprise has sustained heavy damage. We have hull breaches on decks nineteen through forty-two, and bulkheads aren’t responding on decks twenty and thirty-seven. Power is down to fifty-eight percent, and warp cores three and four have been ejected. Main computer, weapons, and communication are down.”
“Any word from the command bridge?” Lore’s fingers were flying over controls faster than any crewman could see as he attempted to initialize systems.
“Sir, the command bridge is in the depressurized section of deck thirty. Readings show no survivors.” The young girl looked like she was about to cry. Several other crewmen were staggering to their feet.
“All of you, listen!” Lore tried to sound compassionate and
authoritative at the same time. These humans were in a very fragile state right now, and he didn’t want to break their psyches. “I want damage control teams to restart systems in the following order: Main power, shields, weapons, computer, engines, communication. Impress every crewman needed regardless of rank.” He looked around at their stunned faces. “NOW.” They sprang into action.
Commissar Troi staggered to her feet, blisters dotting her face and right arm where sparks had burned through. “What is the status of the battle?”
Lore pointed to a sensor display. “Feel free to investigate for yourself, but until I can proactively participate in the battle, I see no need to observe it.” He continued to move debris from damaged systems and repair them.
Troi frowned at his back, and went to the panel. “There seems to be a large element penetrating the lines heading for Bajor.”
“That is likely their invasion force. They intend to get entrenched regardless of the outcome of this battle, to put the Imperium on the defensive.”
“How do you know that?” Troi sounded suspicious.
Lore shrugged as he hefted a four-hundred kilo beam. “Its what I would do.” For the next few minutes there was quiet as the crew attempted to reactivate the ship’s systems. Suddenly all the display consoles on the bridge flickered on.
“We have power, sir!” The young lieutenant was almost smiling. It was likely her first military engagement. “Sensors online...” She frowned. “I’m detecting a transpor-” a low whine filled the bridge, followed by a boom and hiss.
“Nerve agent!” Lore ran for the canister, looking to seal it, but there were too many aerosol jets for him to block. “Lock down environmental systems!” He ran across the bridge at blinding speed as crewmen began to drop.
“Can’t lock...” A blue-uniformed commander gasped in his seat. “power activated diagnostic cycle.” He looked at Lore, and then his head dropped.
Lore grabbed his neck. Still breathing, they want prisoners. He checked internal sensors, and found that three-hundred canisters had been beamed throughout the ship. And only main power had been restored. Without the computer, he couldn’t call for help, couldn’t-
A second whine began on the bridge, this time towering forms in metal began to materialize. “Computer, activate emergency tactical holograms.” Lore whispered as he knelt down.
“BEEE-uuuurrrrrt Unable to comply. Main computer is offline.” The precise voice irritated Lore. He counted twenty-two boarders on the bridge, all in armor and with disruptor rifles. They weren’t expecting a fight. Lore smiled. He looked over to his right, and saw that one of the security guards had been carrying a vibro-axe with him when the maulers hit. He inched his way over to it as he listened to the Cardassians. They were looking for the Captain, and weren’t happy about not finding one.
He gripped the axe in both hands, twisting the handle to activate the power-pack. He closed his eyes, and unlocked memory blocks long dormant. After all, he had been designed as a prototype assassin android. This was second nature to him.
Lore’s mind sped up to maximum processing, operating on friend-or-foe only. No higher functions. He stood and twirled the axe, and leapt. His powerful legs sent him almost eight meters across the bridge, towards the closest Cardassian. A shout from one of his comrades made him turn, but Lore’s axe split his rifle before it was even readied. Blood and sparks flew as he bisected the man’s torso.
Rolling and leaping, Lore spun the axe and swung again and again. The boarders tried to shoot him, but Lore dodged the disruptors with unnatural leaps and dodges. Fourteen had fallen dead before they shot his axe. For two point four seconds Lore calculated his alternatives, before his programming had an answer.
He rolled across the floor and stood with a pair of disruptors. He fired as he ran, cutting down more Cardassians as their fire traced behind him. One of them lobbed a pair of grenades at Lore. His enhanced aim tracked them, but one slipped by and detonated behind him. The concussion blast lifted him off his feet and threw him towards the two remaining Cardassians. He tumbled like a rag doll and landed in a limp pile of appendages.
The two armored figures walked towards him, weapons leveled. One prodded him with the barrel of his gun, rolling him onto his back. Two of his head panels were open, and they could see flashing lights. “I think the pale bastard is dead.” The leader said and looked at his partner.
“The pale bastard is not.” Lore’s eyes snapped open and he rolled up onto one arm. His legs swung out and connected solidly with the knee joints of the leaders, overpowering the mechanical servos with a crunch of metal and bone. He swatted the other Cardassian’s gun across the room and flipped backwards onto his feet. The Cardassian bellowed and swung a massive armored fist at Lore.
It stopped, four centimeters from Lore’s face. The android’s muscles strained against the machinery, but his strength was greater than even an enhanced humanoid. Lore let his mind return to normal speed as he stared into the faceplate of the Cardassian. He could hear the man’s pulse thundering and his breath straining. Lore shook his head. He grabbed an armored elbow and bodily flipped him over his head, onto his stomach. He planted his left foot on the Cardassian’s back as he tried to stand. A sharp kick in the head ended his struggling.
Lore turned back to the Cardassian he had crippled. He walked up to him and knelt down, taking off his helmet. The man was in pain, and looked in horror at Lore “Who... what are you?”
The android cocked his head, as if he was being asked for the first time. “I am Admiral Lore of the Terran Imperium. Who are you?”
His voice trembled. “I am Palim Oset, of the fifth batallion.”
“Well, Palim Oset of the fifth battalion.” A gleeful light gleamed in Lore’s eyes. “Would you like to know a secret?” Palim nodded, frightened. Lore leaned down and whispered in his ear. “I am death.” His hand flashed down and grabbed the cardassian’s throat. “Now die, Palim Oset.” He squeezed, and the blood came bubbling from his mouth.
Lore held on for a few more seconds, until his programming comprehended there was no longer a threat. He relaxed, and looked around. His crew was unconscious. He grabbed a tricorder and examined the nearest crewman. Anesthisine gas. Easily remedied. “Computer. Mix with air composition tricillium in a concentration of eighty parts per million.”
A less than satisfactory answer came. “BEEE-urrrt. Unable to comply. Atmospheric controls are down due to loss of main computer.”
The Enterprise’s computer was down, and unless Lore could bring it up soon, his crew would start to die from overexposure. Unfortunately, the main computer core was eighteen levels and two kilometers of corridor away, in a section of the vessel currently blocked by heavily reinforced bulkheads. Lore turned to look around, a human gesture of frustration. As he did, a metal beam caught at his secondary cranial access plate, tearing it off completely.
He put a hand to his head, and then stopped. There was another computer right here capable of controlling all of the Enterprise’s primary functions. Lore went to a nearby terminal and tore it from the deck, exposing the main data line connected to it. He smiled. “If you want something done right...”
An exploding panel showered the main bridge of the Saratoga with sparks. Kira leapt up and grabbed a fire extinguisher from under her throne, smothering the fire in extinguishing foam. “Return Fire, all weapons!” She watched through her viewscreen as a quartet of wraiths and their accompanying vessels blossomed into fire.
“Captain!” Her sensors officer, a Bajoran, looked panicked. “The Cardassian advance has broken through the lines! I count over a hundred tactical ships, minesweepers, and troop ships.”
Hell. Kira threw the fire extinguisher across the bridge, causing two crewmen to duck. “What do we have to stop them with?”
Her officer checked the scanners. “The convoy was under heavy fighter assault, but they managed to clear them. Only the remnants of the second wing are standing in their way, and that’s not for long.”
Its up to us, then. Kira hit her comm, activating the holo-communicator. Sisko’s holographic form sat in midair next to her. “Admiral, the Cardassians have broken through the line. I would respectfully request that we withdraw to the defense perimeter.”
“Hold your position, Captain. We need every ship we’ve got here. “Even at one-fifth size, Kira could see the grim look on Sisko’s face.
“And why the hell is that, Sir?” Very few people could talk to Vice Admiral Benjamin Sisko like that without fear of execution.
“Because, Kira, we’ve got bigger problems.” Sisko deactivated the link.
On the main display, Kira saw over ten thousand new ship signatures appear from the subspace corridor. It was a huge fleet, outnumbering both Imperial and Cardassian fleets combined. “This is Fleet Commander Ardiion of the Galactic Unity. We are here to bring you peace and happiness...
Admiral Thomas Riker leaned back on his command throne and smiled. Seated in a warm, dark bridge, he was the new master of the Centurion; a new wraith-class upgraded battleship, right down to the cloned leather seat. He looked at the status reports his aide gave him and frowned. The battle wasn’t going well in the Denorios belt. An item on the list caught his eye. “Dammit. Dammit to hell.” The Enterprise was down, and had taken boarders. Lore had been a good captain.
“Something wrong, Admiral?” Commissar Bashir was seated next to him. Sisko had ostensibly left Bashir behind as a watchdog. Why couldn’t the Saratoga have been damaged, get Sisko out of his hair.
“No, nothing wrong.” Riker tossed the datapad on the floor. “Just wondering why the good ones always die first.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that.” Julian leaned back in his seat. “The bad ones catch up on their own.”
Riker was about to say something when a priority message came through to his station. He read it and frowned. “A Cardassian force has broken through the line and is on its way here. Apparently the appearance of a Unity fleet in the Denorios belt has pinned down all reinforcements, so we’re on our own.” He looked a little bit worried.
“Cheer up, Admiral!” Julian smiled. “We’re defending a tiny outpost of the Empire against a superior force, and there’s no retreat. If we win, we’re heroes, and if we loose in six hundred years they’ll still be saying ‘Remember Bajor!’” He could barely hold in his laughter.
Unfortunately, Riker didn’t share the joke. “Red alert.” Sirens blared and red lights flashed. “Activate all weapons platforms, scan all regions for subspace signatures, and ready the fleet.” He tapped a comm switch. “Chief O’Brien, is the Vengeance ready for deployment?”
“Aye sir. Remote operation codes are being sent to you now.” O’Brien’s gruff voice sounded tired. He and his crews were working nonstop on the defenses, and now they would have to scramble to make repairs during battle.
“All systems report ready, Admiral.” A commander who’s name escaped Riker was manning the fleet comm. “The Cardassians have reached the minefield.”
Out in space, at the threshold of Riker’s vision, small white flares began to flash. The cloaked field of subspace mines was no doubt ravaging the Cardassian fleet. “Get me live feed from one of our sensor drones, I want to see them.” A flicker on the screen and then the Cardassian fleet was in full view. Riker jumped up. “Dammit to HELL!”
On the screen he could see the fleet, plain as day. It was in four wedge segments, each built around the troop ships and each segment led by twelve galor-class cruisers. The cruisers were saturating space around their elements with tetrion beams, which lit up the mines like glowing jewels for a second before being destroyed. The fleet was already two-thirds of the way through the minefield, and had taken no casualties serious.
Julian laughed out loud, causing Riker to turn and glare at him. “You think this is funny?” The commissar tried to contain himself with mock serious. “No Sir, Admiral Lennigan. Its not funny at all.” He glanced at the advancing fleet. “I suppose someone should send Fleet Engineering a report about those minesweepers. Rather more efficient than ours, don’t you think?”
Just as Riker was about to let the pompous young man taste his fist, the comm officer waved. “Sir, hail from the Cardassian force. They say the Imperial fleet will not survive and we are to surrender Bajor to them. All officers below the rank of Captain will be free to return to the surface of Bajor after being disarmed. All senior officers will be held as war criminals.” He looked at the Admiral, appearing for all the world as the mouse who had been asked to bell the cat.
“Send no response.” Riker sat down on his throne. “Activate defense platforms, and signal the fleet to move to echo point.”
Out in space, the Cardassian fleet and cleared the minefield and was now under fire from the automated defense platforms. Each ADP was able to fire one of the new upgraded torpedoes every eight seconds, and thanks to their extended range over sixty-five batteries were able to fire on the fleet. Fireballs erupted in space on and around the Cardassian ships. One by one, the ADP’s were targeted and fired upon, slowly reducing their number.
“All ships, attack pattern Kirk Theta.” Riker tented his fingers and watched the enemy ships grow on the screen. It was enormous, outnumbering his fleet three to one, but he had Bajor’s defenses. The two fleets met, and began delivering massive broadsides against each other. From the planet’s surface swarmed almost two thousand Laraks, Bajoran-made variants of the Imperial Cobra, with a double-bank of photon torpedo launchers and a pair of MK VII phasers for armaments.
Though the Imperials fought bravely and the defenses hammered away at the Cardassians, they just couldn’t stop them. When the fleet was down almost eight percent, Riker tapped on his controls. The Vengeance soared into the fleet formation, with its functioning weapons firing. “Signal Imperial assets to fall back, and have the Bajoran defense ships screen the Vengeance until we’re clear.”
The Imperial wraiths and sovereigns slid back, still firing, while the Vengeance charged like an angry bull into the Cardassian formation. Riker smiled and opened a panel in his armrest with a set of switches. “Admiral!” Julian grabbed his hand. “Aren’t you going to withdraw the Bajoran ships before proceding?”
A genuinely puzzled frown crossed Riker’s face for a moment. “Why?” He flipped a trio of switches and a miniature nova filled the viewscreen with white light as 90,000 tons of antimatter and antimatter waste was detonated onboard the Vengeance. Her holographic crew had done its job, bringing it to the center of the formation where it could hit the most troop transports.
He looked at Julian. “We would have lost our element of surprise.” Riker closed the panel and stood up. On the viewscreen less than a fourth of the Cardassian ships were remaining, and those were now retreating back towards the main Cardassian force. “I’ll be in my ready room. I want a damage report and final crew performance numbers for review.”
In the ready room, Riker sat down on a plush couch and poured himself a glass of whiskey. Long live the Empire, he toasted himself. He might even get a commendation for today. A chime at the door brought him out of his own self-congratulation. “Enter.”
Inside stepped Julian Bashir, with a datapad in his hand and a smile on his face. He sat down in a chair across from him and handed him the pad. “What’s this? Performance numbers?”
“No Admiral, its your sentence.” Julian pulled a phaser from his hip and shot Riker in the stomach. A low-powered bolt, it caused all of Riker’s nerves to fire, sending the glass flying and him tumbling to the floor, twitching, but awake.
Julian stood over his twitching body. “Admiral Riker, for the willful destruction of the ISS Vengeance and the Bajoran defense fleet including thirty-seven thousand nine hundred eighty-five Imperial citizens, Section 31 finds you guilty of Treason against the empire and of committing Attempted Genocide against the populace of Bajor. The penalty for these crimes is immediate death, and no appeal is to be given.” He thumbed the power settings to maximum. “Do you understand the charges against you?”
Riker struggled to move. “Sisko...” He gurgled.
“Admiral Sisko has no say in this matter, but after your blatant disregard for the lives of I have no doubt he agrees with me.” Julian smiled. “Since you clearly understand the charges...” He fired at Riker’s chest, turning the man into vapor instantly. He holstered his weapon and sat at the desk, bringing up the post-battle reports from the various captains. Long live the Empire
The battlefield was now total chaos with the arrival of the Unity fleet. In the last five minutes Sisko had lost an additional four percent of his fleet. “Regroup! Signal all ships to fall back around the first fleet group in a Legionary formation. That Unity fleet is cutting us to pieces!”
Out the viewscreen Sisko could see the fleet of the Galactic Unity, wave after wave of massive ships all ringing a command ship which could destroy a Bastion without too much trouble. The Cardassians were having a worse time of it, though. The Unity fleet had come in behind them, out of the subspace corridors, and had caught them with their pants down. Now Damar was fighting on two fronts.
Sisko started to call for his comm officer, then halted, in deep thought while his fleet drew around him. He seemed to make up his mind and stood and strode toward the viewscreen. “Get me Damar, now! Emergency priority, I don’t care.” Within seconds, Legate Damar was in front of him. The bridge of his ship was now smoke-filled, and the transmission had lines of static.
“If you want me to surrender, Admiral, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait your turn.” Damar was dispatching orders from his console while Cardassians behind him ran to and fro.
“Nothing like that, Legate.” Sisko smiled. “I’m offering a cease-fire.” The flag bridge of the Saratoga was now completely silent. No Imperial officer had made such an agreement since the days of the Hydran incursion.
“You what?” There was distrust in Damar’s voice.
“I am offering a cease fire. Neither of us wants to fall to the Unity, and we’re not going to defeat each other here.” Sisko bent and checked the display of a nearby crewman. “Together we have a fleet almost eighty percent of the Unity’s.” Damar still stared in silence. Sisko let out an angry sigh of disgust. “Come on, man! Your invasion force has been routed before it even got CLOSE to Bajor. You’re not going to win, why not go home alive?”
The Cardassian in black leaned over and whispered to Damar, who nodded. “Granted, but what assurances do I have that if we drive off the Unity fleet you won’t wipe us out?”
Sisko clenched his fists. “Do you have children, Legate?”
“Yes, I have seven.”
“Well I have five.” Sisko stepped closer to the screen. “And right now my second-oldest son is drifting somewhere in the middle of all of this, and I want to find him. You will not be harmed, not until my son is safe.”
For what seemed like an eternity the bridge crews of both ships held their breaths. “Agreed.” Damar nodded. “We are sending you our telemetry to recognize our ships and friends, and we are awaiting your codes.” On the display a large swath of red dots suddenly glowed green and golden. “Now then, Admiral, I have more important things to do. My ops officers will handle the rest.” And the channel flicked off.
“You heard the man!” Sisko strode back to his throne and sat down. “We have some important things to do. The Terran Imperial Fleet, led by the ISS Saratoga, moved to support the Cardassian positions and pour heavy fire into the Unity lines.