Smoke billowed from a blown console, filling the bridge. Jessica coughed as she staggered forward to the helm. Another torpedo collided with the shields, rocking the Rafale and causing her to lose her balance. Jessica grabbed the back of the helmsman’s chair and held on tight, trying to keep herself upright. “Report!”
Wirstowx fired another volley from the phaser cannons before turning his head slightly to speak to the woman. “Shields down to thirty-nine percent!”
Lieutenant Sonia gave a shout from his ops console. “Hull integrity is now below seventy-five percent!”
Jessica shook her head. They had managed to cripple most of the Hirogen hunting vessels with ease, but the battleship was proving to be a much more dangerous adversary. “Wirstowx, evasive pattern Five, into attack pattern Beta!” Jessica heard Obruz shouting over the rumble of weapons fire at the helmsman. “Fire a full spread of phasers and follow it with another volley of torpedoes!”
Wirstowx barely nodded his head as he began inputting the commands. St. Peter felt as if the deck was dropping from under her as the Hirogen ship flew up and out of view on the viewscreen. She stumbled back to the safety of her chair in time to see the Bassen Rift spin on the viewscreen as Wirstowx flipped Rafale and pushed the bow back up. The underside of the Hirogen battleship briefly appeared on the screen before it was blocked by a barrage of phaser fire. As the phasers connected with the already weakened shields, a full spread of quantum torpedoes sped out from the Akira-class’s weapons pod and into view. The bright blue orbs of light slammed into the underbelly of the behemoth ship.
Instantly, the barrage from the enemy ship halted as she began to list and lights flickered across her hull.
“Direct hit; they’ve lost main power.”
Sano spoke up from the back of the bridge, her voice high in excitement. “I’m not showing any sign of reinforcements, Commander. All contacts disabled; that was the last of them.”
Jessica closed her eyes and breathed out a sigh of relief. She took another breath before tapping the communications control on her armrest. “Bridge to Engineering.”
Jessica couldn’t help but roll her eyes at the exasperated engineer. “Elaina, start coordinating repairs on the ship. I want shields back up to full as soon as possible.”
The woman on the other end of the channel cursed loudly before the channel closed with a small beep. Jessica turned to look to her right, where her first officer was still seated at his station. “Dossu, get over to the Warwick. I want to know if these bastards are responsible for the crew’s disappearance.”
Obruz nodded and stood. “Sano, Sonia, Wirstowx, with me.” As the officers moved to join the first officer at the turbolift he tapped his commbadge. “Obruz to S’Tel, meet in transporter room three for a combat away team; expect casualties.”
Jessica turned and watched the turbolift close behind Dossu, frowning a little. She shook her head and stood up, looking to the replacement operations officer. “Ensign M’Ral, you have the bridge. I’ll be in my ready room. Let me know if the Hirogen start shooting again.” She quickly walked to the adjacent office and inside, not waiting for the Caitian’s reply. Once the doors closed behind her she stumbled uneasily to the couch on the wall in front of her and dropped onto it, breathing heavily. The smell of smoke still hung in the air, stinging her eyes and her lungs with each breath she took. The red alert klaxon still blasted in her mind, and her ears were still ringing from the sounds of the battle.
Did we really make it?
She shuddered, thoughts of the first battle she had seen racing through her head. All the lives lost, all the damage that had been done . From where she had sat on the bridge, she couldn’t see a difference between the chaos of this most recent encounter and Vega.
She lifted her head to look at the chair behind her desk and shook her head. God, how did you do this Mal’Kon?
“Report!” Gan bellowed, limping back to the command chair. He had been thrown from the central chair and into the forward wall when the Starfleet ship finished their rout of his more numerous hunting party. Tajaln will be furious with me for this failure. “Report!”
He heard coughing next to him. Turning quickly, he saw a hunter slowly pushing himself off the floor and struggling to stand. Gan moved toward him and pulled the hunter to his feet. “Status report, now!”
“Yes…yes, Beta.” The hunter shook his head in an attempt to clear it and began to work his controls. “Main power is offline, and our weapons are disabled. Minimal sub-light speed available.”
Beta Gan growled in rage. “Move us away from them and take us out of the Bloom.” He leered at the image of the Starfleet ship. “We will need more hunters for this.”
“What of our ships still here? They are all disabled.”
“Leave them. Send them an encrypted message; we are leaving to exact repairs and to return with more hunters. When we return, we will strike again.” Gan slowly mounted the steps to his throne and sat down, quietly grateful to rest his injured leg. “We will be back, Starfleet.”
Ten minutes later the away team was stepping onto the transporter pad. Dossu snapped the power supply back into his phaser rifle and looked around as the rest of the team finished checking their weapons in similar fashion. Two Assault Squad officers had joined the party in the transporter room at Obruz’s summons; their subdued uniforms were adorned with lightweight armor plates and belts holding photon grenades and extra ammunition packs. Wirstowx hefted a large phaser auto-cannon, a newer weapon designed in the recent years since the Klingon-Federation war had started. With just the single weapon, Wirstowx could lay down bursts of covering fire or a massive salvo that could affect anyone within a few meters of the target. The intimidating warrior was a walking tank with the weapon.
Nizeri finished triple-checking her own hand phaser, nervously eyeing the Ozem’s monstrous cannon. “Do you really think this is necessary, Dossu?”
“We don’t know what we’re going to find over there, Nizeri. And if the Hirogen come back, I want to be ready.”
Sano shrugged, patting all the devices she had slung on her waist to make sure they were all still there. “If you think that’ll be a problem.”
“Even if they do not, would you rather be caught unprepared, Nizeri?” Wirstowx intoned, kneeling down in a defensive posture on the pad. The two assault officers and Obruz took up similar positions in a circle, their weapons facing outward.
The transporter officer called out from his station behind a shielded wall. “I’m putting you in one of the cargo bays. No lifesigns and not a lot of clutter, either. It should be easy to clear.”
Obruz nodded. “Copy. Once we give the signal, beam the rest of the team down.”
The Bajoran looked over his shoulder at the rest of the assault team. “Ready?”
The other three officers nodded, fingers resting near the triggers of their weapons. Obruz turned his head back to stare down the barrel of his rifle. “Energize.”
There was a soft, melodic sound, like wind chimes, that gradually grew louder and louder. Dossu watched as a blue light filled his vision; the transporter room faded out of sight, so that all that he could see was the blue light and a swirling of stars. Then, a new room began to take shape around him. As the blue light faded, he saw that it was dark here, except for a few panels that were flashing bright red light across the cargo bay floor. Cargo containers were toppled, and there were scorch marks on the walls from weapons fire. As the transporter effect finished, he heard a few quick clicks followed by the accompanying hum as the assault team powered up their weapons. He quickly did the same, then let the rifle hang from its strap from his shoulder, trading it for his tricorder. Beside him, he heard one of the other officers do the same. He held the device in front of him, scanning the area.
The female assault officer, a woman named Guillary, snapped her tricorder shut. “Clear.”
Obruz nodded. “Same,” he confirmed, then tapped his commbadge. “Obruz to Rafale, we’re clear here. Send the other three over.”
The sound of chimes filled the air again as three pillars of swirling lights appeared in the middle of the circled team. The pillars took shape and, as the sound and light faded away, the rest of the away team finished materializing in the cargo hold.
Sonia glanced around nervously, muttering in Spanish under his breath. “Ay dios mio…”
“You can say that again.” Dossu shuddered, looking around the darkened compartment again. The ship, he decided, had an eerie feel about it. “This place is already giving me the creeps. The air is stale, and it’s freezing here. It feels as if a wraith were here…”
“Or a Shay’d,” Wirstowx chimed in.
The second assault officer, a man named Kunicki, looked over his shoulder at Wirstowx, confused. “A shade?”
Wirstowx only nodded in acknowledgement. Nizeri shook her head at the warrior before addressing the confused man. “He’ll have to tell you later. Bottom line? Bad news, and as scary as you can imagine.”
Kunicki shrugged and nodded before moving off to follow Sonia as he searched the cargo bay. Dossu followed behind Sano as she made her way to the far side of the bay. A large, dark blast mark was just visible in the low light of the hold, and the Trill began passing her tricorder over it.
“It looks like there’s more blast marks over here,” he said, pointing to a few more dark splotches on the wall near them. “What do you have?”
Nizeri frowned. “Phaser fire here. I’m picking up some faint traces of tetryon blasts, too.” She glanced up at the Bajoran. “From the looks of this mess, I’d say they were attacked not long before we arrived, maybe an hour or two?”
Obruz heard a grunt behind him, followed by Seymour’s voice. “That’s not possible. The Warwick didn’t have a scratch on her.”
“Just because she wasn’t damaged, doesn’t mean she wasn’t boarded.” Wirstowx bent down to examine a puddle of liquid on the floor. “They could have beamed aboard, killed the crew. They knew Starfleet would send another ship to investigate when Warwick failed to report in.” He dabbed a finger in the puddle and brought it to his mouth, taking in a deep breath. “They were using the Warwick as bait.”
“It really was a trap, all along.”
Obruz groaned. “Those anomalies you picked up, Sano; they could have been the cloaked ships.”
“I doubt it.” Sano closed her tricorder and turned around. “I was still picking up those anomalies even after the Hirogen decloaked. In fact,” she paused, pointing behind Dossu to the opposite wall. “I detected one here in the cargo bay. Now that we’re closer to it, I’m getting a better reading on it, but the tricorder can’t make heads or tails of what it is.”
“Not only that, the rate of decay for the weapon signatures don’t add up.” Sonia offered his tricorder to Obruz. “The phaser blasts are at least a week or two older than the Hirogen tetryon weapons.”
The Bajoran tilted his head to the side in confusion. “Then that means the crew weren’t fighting off the Hirogen?” He looked around the dark cargo bay again, another chill creeping down his neck. “Are you sure there were no life signs on the ship?”
Sonia shook his head. “Nothing, sir.”
Obruz tapped his commbadge. “Away team to Rafale.”
There was a small crackle of static before Dossu recognized the voice of Ensign M’Ral, the reserve Operations officer on duty. “Go ahead, Commander.”
“M’Ral, let the captain know there’s something…peculiar going on over here. It looks like the Warwick crew was fighting someone before the Hirogen could get to them. We’re not sure; we’ll keep you updated.”
“Rafale copies all, standing by for further words.”
Dossu tapped his chest again, closing the connection. He turned around, surveying the room. “Where’s the door? We need to get out of here and figure out-"
A terrified shriek interrupted Obruz, and the team crouched in unison, raising their weapons and taking up defensive postures. Dossu did a quick head count of the team, cursing as he came up short.
The away team fanned out, quickly searching the dark cargo bay for the Trill.
Wirstowx shouted from Obruz’s left, “Found her!” Obruz turned and hurried toward the Ozem’s voice, converging with the rest of the team. Wirstowx was holding a trembling Sano in his massive arms, glancing up only to meet Dossu’s gaze and nod towards the floor in front of them.
Guillary turned and covered her mouth, gasping.
Lying on his back, spread out like a rag doll, was a Vulcan in a blue science uniform. The man’s mouth was open as if he had been shouting, and his eyes were wide open in fear.
S’Tel pushed past Guillary and knelt down next to the man. She reached out and pressed her fingers on the Vulcan’s neck, then looked back at the rest of the team, her eyebrow arched.
“He is dead.”