"Is he really going to try?"
Nizeri took a bite out of her sandwich, chewing while she tried to maintain her innocent smile. She nodded a few times.
Jessica rolled her eyes. "I hope not...I don't think my ribs are healed enough for me to be nauseous."
The other women at the table laughed. Jess stuck her tongue out at the blonde woman directly across from her in the red security uniform. Next to her, a woman in a blue medical uniform giggled louder, leaning into the first woman as she did so.
"If Seymour asks me to dinner again, I'm going to break another rib. I swear!"
“Please don’t, Stormy,” Bridget Kinsley laughed, brushing a few stray hairs out of her face. She turned and kissed Justine on the forehead as the junior medical officer leaned into her. “We’ve already missed one volleyball game because of your acrobatics on the bridge. We don’t want to impede your progress again.”
The others laughed even more around the table. Jessica scooped up her food and took a large bite, her frown growing more severe.
Justine swallowed her drink. "I don't think I was on board five minutes before he asked if I needed help finding my way around the ship."
The women laughed before Nizeri coughed, catching their attention. She and Justine next to her straightened in their seats; Justine took a quick bite of food to wipe her smile away. Jessica closed her eyes, waiting for the inevitable.
"Good afternoon, ladies." She felt a hand come down on her shoulder in what would otherwise have been a friendly greeting. Instantly pain flared in her still-healing chest, and she crumpled a bit, letting out a shout.
"Oh, crap! I'm sorry, I forgot!" Seymour put a hand under Jessica's other arm to help keep her in her chair.
The blue woman shrugged him away with a grunt, turning her head to glare at him. "What is it, Seymour?"
"I, uh...I was just wondering if..."
Jessica shook her head. Before she could open her mouth to speak, she felt a smaller hand under her arm, holding her steady. "No, ok, no. She’s not interested. Bug off, Sonia. Before you hurt anyone more, please, just leave."
Seymour stammered for a moment. Jessica turned to see Bridget was behind her, holding her steady as she squared off against the operations officer. Seymour frowned then, leaning forward into the woman. “Now wait just a minute, Ensign Kinsley. I wasn’t speaking to you, and you won’t talk to me in that tone of-“
There was a loud smack, and Nizeri and Justine both gasped as Seymour staggered backwards, holding his cheek. He glared incredulously at Bridget, who only seemed to stand taller as she lifted her hand again. “Leave us alone, sir.”
Seymour stood in silence for a moment, glancing around at the other officers before, finally, he nodded, mumbling a little as he turned and walked away, back out the doors of the mess hall.
Bridget turned back to her friends to see shocked expressions on their faces. "What?” She walked back to her seat and sat down with a shrug. “I’m told I can be very persuasive." She stabbed her food with her fork and took another bite as the girls started laughing.
Lunch continued in relative peace, though the mood had shifted to a more subdued one. More than once Justine glanced nervously across the table at Bridget, then back to the door of the mess, as if waiting for a security detail to come in and haul her away.
"Crew, this is the Captain."
Jessica and her friends looked up as the voice interrupted the myriad of conversations in the mess hall.
"We're en route to Starbase 17 to meet the Khitomer and a small armada of ships to reinforce one of our interior colonies."
"A colony is under attack?" Bridget looked around. "How'd the Klingons get behind our lines?"
"We don't know who we're going to face there. I want everyone ready for the worst. Contact has been lost with Vega Colony, and the ships in orbit there. All hands: Battle stations."
Bridget stood, letting out the breath she had been holding. "I guess that's our cue." The red alert siren sounded as the rest of the table rose to their feet. "Bets on who it'll be?"
Nizeri shook her head and shrugged. "I couldn't begin to guess. Unless the Gorn or Nausicaans got sent on a suicide mission for the Klingons."
"I hope not." Justine moved around the table, throwing her arms around Bridget in a quick embrace and giving her a quick kiss. "Be safe. I don't want to see you in sickbay."
"Not a chance, Cadeau." Bridget winked, kissing her back. She reached out and gently patted Jessica's shoulder. "You be safe too, Stormy."
Jessica nodded, smirking. "You know me."
Justine and Nizeri snickered, and Bridget rolled her eyes. "That's what scares me. Make sure you buckle her up, Sano."
Jessica lifted her head up, coughing as her lungs burned from the smoke that hung thick in the air. She put her hands under her and pushed up, lifting herself off the deck.
There was a faint cough, and movement near her. "Yeah. I'm ok." She saw the petite Trill sit up, rubbing her shoulder. "You?"
Jessica shook her head. "I'm fine." She finished standing up, her knees shaking a little from the shock. She coughed again. "That was a close hit."
It had been a harrowing few minutes since Rafale had entered the Vega system. Jessica and Nizeri both knew the cause of the sudden attack that had thrown them both to the ground in the cramped sensor control room; they had been the ones to take the sensor readings of the Borg cubes as they intercepted the Starfleet reinforcements.
The doors to the lab opened, and a security officer stepped in. She coughed before calling out in a panicked voice, "Nizeri! Jessiy!" She stepped around the console bank and spotted the two women. She knelt next to Jessica, and in the smoky haze she could just make out the mane of gold hair as it fell around her face.
"Bridget, what...what are you doing down here?" Jessica wrapped her arms around her friend, relieved to see her below decks and in one piece.
"Captain Mal'kon assigned me to come down and protect you in case we were boarded." She kissed Jessica’s forehead before helping her to her feet. "I think I got here just in time: that was a pretty bad hit."
Jessica nodded, brushing a few stray hairs out of her face and behind her ear. "I'll say. It sounded like it was just a deck up from us."
Bridget paused, then turned away from the other two women and nodded. "It was."
Nizeri covered her mouth, her eyes growing wide. "That means..."
There was a crackle overhead, and then some static as the damaged speakers came on. "All remaining senior officers, report to engineering! I repeat, all remaining senior officers, report to engineering: the bridge has been destroyed.
"We need to save the ship."
"What do we do now?"
The question broke the uncomfortable silence that had fallen in Engineering. The gathered officers looked around nervously at one another.
As the remaining bridge and senior officers who weren't occupied keeping the ship together trickled into engineering, more information about the battle had come to light. The bridge had taken a direct hit, leaving behind an empty, burnt-out shell. Other areas had been targeted around the ship, precision strikes to take out the most important systems and centers of activity.
"It's as if they're intentionally targeting leadership."
Kinsley nodded in agreement. "It makes sense tactically. Cut off the head and leave the body unable to defend itself or mount a counter attack. They must be after something if they couldn’t stop to finish us off or assimilate us."
Jessica shuddered at the thought. "I think I'd rather be killed here."
"Indeed,” rumbled Wirstowx. “I can see why Starfleet fought so hard against the Shay'd in Andromeda. The resemblance in method is uncanny."
Seurer stepped forward, interrupting the exchange. "All of the areas targeted would have been weak points on an original Akira. Thanks to the design changes implemented in the Rafale, the only truly critical area they hit was the bridge." She brought up a display of the damage reports that had started pouring into Engineering now that internal communications had been reestablished with the entire ship. As she continued to speak, Jessica’s attention faltered, her thoughts turning to the few friends who still hadn’t reported in. She looked over at Bridget, who was listening intently to the exchange.
Bridget must have known Jessica was looking at her; the security officer glanced over awkwardly at her friend before offering a small smile. She reached out and took Jessica’s hand, giving it a few reassuring squeezes.
Jessica lowered her voice, pulling Bridget closer to hear her. “Where is Justine?”
Bridget shook her head, wincing in pain. “I…I don’t know, Jess. Sickbay still hasn’t checked in. That’s the last place I remember her being before all this.”
Jessica’s heart fell; while it hadn’t taken direct damage, the medical bay had been cut off from the rest of the ship by hull breaches and the communications black-out. There was no way of knowing if anyone had survived. Swallowing the lump in her throat, Jessica managed a small nod, giving her friend’s hand another tight squeeze.
"Setting a course for Vega, three-quarters impulse." Seurer called out as she walked to the main engineer’s console.
"What do we do now?" Bridget asked louder, glancing around at the assembly.
"For now?" The engineer turned around, sizing up the other officers. "Dammit, I don't know. Sensors? Shields?"
Bridget nodded. "Weapons?"
Elaina shook her head, surprising a few of the other officers. "Not important; we're trying to stay alive, not jump back in the fight." She turned back to the console in front of her, frowning.
Bridget furrowed her brow in frustration, releasing Jessica’s hand and stepping towards the senior officer. "We’re running away?"
"Yes, Ensign. I'm under enough pressure to keep us in one piece; my first concern isn't rushing back into the fight."
"There are a number of ships out there with hundreds, even thousands more survivors than we have here. Surely, there’s something we can be doing!”
"So go get the shields back.”
"For what purpose? Who are we looking out for except ourselves?"
"Kinsley, get to that console with Wirstowx and bring our shields back." Elaina snapped back, glaring at the other woman. "Give me time to think."
"We don't have time to think, Commander!” Bridget hit the top of the console as she raised her voice to a shout; Jessica jumped a little at her friend’s outburst. "The Borg are out there picking off other, more damaged ships! They're still attacking the colony! We have to help them!"
Seurer opened her mouth to scream back at Bridget, but she quickly held her tongue and walked to where Wirstowx was standing. "What?"
"Ship in distress."
Elaina rolled her eyes. "Of course there is." She stretched out her arms, motioning around her. "Look around, Ensign. We're in distress."
"It's a medical ship, with wounded from the other vessels."
Jessica perked up and walked over quickly. "Which one?"
Wirstowx frowned as he replied, "Merveille."
Seurer shook her head. "How many people on board?"
“Olympic-class medical ship, standard compliment of nearly four hundred. They are saying they have already taken extensive damage, and have transported approximately five hundred extra souls from other critically damaged ships." Wirstowx read off the message. "Three cubes are headed towards them at this moment." He looked back at Elaina. "One is a tactical cube, breaking off and on an intercept course for the medical ship."
Elaina shook her head, taking in a ragged breath. She walked back to her console and put her hands on either side of it.
"Commander?" Sano asked cautiously. "What are your orders?"
"I have a visual."
The officers all turned towards the engineer who had called from behind them, bringing up a visual of the Merveille. Her spherical primary hull was scarred and blackened from multiple attacks and hull breaches, and her starboard nacelle was flashing unsteadily from damage, the occasional plume of plasma escaping from a destroyed injector. She limped away desperately as a large, dark, cube-shaped ship barreled towards her, extra hull-plating on the exterior distinguishing itself as a more powerful Tactical-type Borg cube.
Jessica covered her mouth, nausea gripping her. “This can’t be happening.” She turned to look at Bridget, who was next to her, gripping her arm tightly to keep the blue alien on her feet.
“Dammit, Commander, we can’t let them be destroyed!” Bridget shouted, guiding her friend down to the deck and leaning her against the bulkhead. “Stay here, I’ll be right back.” She whispered as she stood back up to approach the huddle of officers around the viewscreen.
Jessica glanced around the engine room. All eyes were either on the chief engineer or on the image of the Merveille running for its life. Green torpedoes fired from the cube, and the small medical ship evaded successfully, but she knew it was only a matter of time...
Bridget hit the panel behind her with her open palm, causing everyone except Wirstowx to startle. "Weapons status?"
Wirstowx raised an eyebrow, then brought up the necessary information. "Eighty-two percent. We have forward cannons and torpedoes, and one dorsal phaser array, saucer section."
She turned to Nizeri. "Sano, what’s the status of the cube?"
Nizeri looked between Bridget and Seurer nervously. Not seeing any objection from the lieutenant commander, the Trill accessed the ship's sensors. "Sensors are spotty, but the cube's power grid is fluctuating wildly. The forward hull plating has been extensively diminished, and the cube isn't making any attempt to either repair the damage or rotate the forward face to a less damaged side."
Bridget moved across the room to Seurer. "We need engines, Commander. And to transfer all weapons' power to the forward-facing batteries.” When Seurer opened her mouth to object, Bridget held up a hand, cutting her off. “We can’t just let a thousand people die while we run for our lives! Do it!"
Seurer blinked a few times, then nodded. "Aye." She went to work immediately, back in her comfort zone as an engineer.
"Weapons are ready, Kinsley."
"I have coordinates for a weak spot, Wirst. Concentrate your fire there."
"Received. Targeting." He turned to Bridget for confirmation. "Kinsley?"
Jessica watched the exchange silently, proud of her friend and yet not one bit surprised at the display of confidence. Bridget was a natural leader; she was more than comfortable in this situation, despite the circumstances. Her ill feeling began to diminish as the scene unfolded before her.
"All available power has been rerouted. We might blow a conduit or two, so keep away from the walls, but this should..."
"The cube is attacking again!"
Everyone in the compartment turned to see the cube lash out with twin beams of disruptor fire. The Merveille dodged to port, evading one of the beams, but the maneuver had put her in the line of fire for the second, staggered beam. It drilled through the secondary hull, bursting out through the bottom with an eruption of orange fire. The ship continued listing to port, and the pinpoints of light that showed windows flickered along with her nacelles and deflector.
"Direct hit! Her shields are down!"
Jessica's breath caught in her throat. She watched as Bridget grabbed Elaina's shoulder, shouting, "Now!"
The ship lunged forward, causing the survivors to scramble to stay on their feet. The hull reverberated with a dull thumping as her phaser cannons and torpedo launchers let loose a barrage of fire on the Borg cube. Torpedoes slammed into the injured cube and phaser bolts peppered the outer hull as the enormous ship barreled down on the wounded medical ship.
The display of defiance had the intended effect; the cube fired once more on the Merveille as it slowed, then reversed course, gaining quickly on the Rafale as the Starfleet ship continued its assault.
"It's coming around!"
"Merveille is away!"
"Turn us around, let's get the hell out of here!" Bridget shouted, struggling to stay on her feet as the ship shuddered from the Borg assault. Consoles exploded, belching thick black smoke into the air, and fires burned unchallenged as power failed.
Jessica heard a sizzle behind her. She tried to stand and get clear, but couldn't find her footing in time. Searing hot shrapnel dug into her back as the power conduit behind her exploded, and she screamed in pain as she fell to the deck. Her senses overloaded, she slipped into unconsciousness just as she felt a hand on her arm and heard Bridget screaming her name from across a great chasm.
"Jessiy...Jessiy, please wake up."
Jessica felt a pinch on her neck, and then a wave of euphoric dizziness as her eyes fluttered open. She tried to move, only to find that her body wasn’t listening to her. She couldn’t feel anything beyond the dull throbbing in her temples.
“Jess, hon, it’s ok…shhh…just stay still. Please, don’t try to move…”
Jessica’s eyes searched the dimly lit room, barely making out shapes hovering near her. She could hear a faint beeping noise near her, growing slower as the dizziness subsided and she felt herself falling and her vision darkened.
“No no no, don’t give up on me now.” Bridget. Jessica struggled against her fatigue and opened her eyes again, trying to focus on the figure who was now inches from her face. The scene above her spun suddenly, and she found that she was now looking off to the side at another shadow.
“Kinsley! Don’t hit her, she's unstable enough!” A gentle push and Jessica was staring up again, her sight clearing just enough to make out the face of her friend.
Bridget shook her head. “I can’t lose her, too!” She brought her head down, and Jessica watched as the blonde-haired woman kissed her forehead.
Her eyes slowly drifted closed again.