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Federation Fleet Carrier U.S.S. Christopher M. Pike Strike Group: Nentari System, Federation Occupied Zone (Cardassian/Tholian Border)

Stardate: 53251.5

Things had been extremely awkward onboard the Pike the last few days. Phil had entered the regular patrol rotation, but with another Sizzo in the seat behind him. Katie had talked with him occasionally, but spent a lot of time wondering around the ship on her own. Their conversations with Dee had been limited to only the most necessary and polite exchange of one or two sentences around the mess hall or briefing room.

Today, Katie found herself sitting off to the side of the Pike’s Flight Control Center watching the every-day operations. Dee and Wildcard were flying a patrol with another T-Bat out in sector while Phil and his temporary Sizzo, Sledgehammer, were twiddling their thumbs on the hangar deck in ready status, a standard practice of keeping one fighter ready to launch in less than five minutes in the event of emergency.

“Mustang, this is Lancer 4-2,” Dee said over the comm system. “We’re cruising along the Tholian border. Negative Contact, nothing out of the ordinary. Recommend we turn around and head for home.”

Captain Miller was just about to acquiesce to her request, when a panicked distress call came across the net.

“Any ship in the area! Any ship in the area! This is the Cardassian Freighter: Star of Kunabod. We’re located along the Tholian Border just inside Cardassian Space. We have been attacked. Life support is failing, request immediate assistance.”

“Dee, you monitor?” Miller asked over hailing frequencies. Katie stood up from her seat and tried to get a look at their displays.

“Yeah, we’ve got them on sensors. Two minutes out at maximum warp. We’re moving to check it out.”

“Be careful, Dee, this wreaks of Kobayashi Maru.”

“Don’t get your panties in a twist, Sir,” she replied playfully. “I don’t believe in the ‘no win scenario.”

Miller scoffed before turning back to his staff.

“Hey, go ahead, follow protocol, and raise Saber and Sledge to Alert 1.”

“Yes Sir,” another lieutenant said making a call down to the hangar deck.

“What’s Alert 1?” Katie asked turning to Miller. He turned back to her as if he’d forgotten she was there.

“It’s just a precaution. Just means we raise him up to the flight deck so we can launch if anything goes wrong. Ready fighter goes to Alert 1 at least two or three times a week. Nothing ever comes of it.”

“Mustang, Lancer 4-2, I’ve got visual contact with the Cardassian freighter. They’re in rough shape. I think they’re gonna require evac until they can get back to a drydock. We’ll be on station providing overwatch.”

“Acknowledged, Lancer 4-2,” Miller replied. “Hey Ted,” Miller said turning to another officer. “Go ahead and get an engineering tug ready. Let them know they need to be prepared to tow…” A transmission over the comm system abruptly got Miller off.

“Federation Creatures, the Tholian Assembly claims the Nentari System as part of our sovereign territory. The Cardassian Freighter and its cargo are hereby claimed as our property. Immediately leave this system or you will be fired upon.”

“Mustang, Lancer 4-2 I’ve got visual contact with six Tholian long-range fighters. They’ve crossed the border and are in Cardassian Territory. They’re moving to intercept me and Lancer 4-4. You seem them, Crossbones?” she said to her wingman.

“Affirmative, Dee. I’m moving right off your wing.”

“Are we in visual range?” Miller asked.

“Negative, Sir,” the lieutenant replied. All we’re tracking is telemetry, but its confirmed. Six Tholian Firestars, they are definitely in Cardassian Space.

“Whoah!” Crossbones said over the net. “The lead Bogie just got torpedo lock on me!”

“Tholian fighters!” Dee said over hailing frequencies. “We are spacecraft of the United Federation of Planets involved in a rescue operation. We are in recognized Cardassian Space with no hostile intent! Do not engage! Say again, Do not engage!”

“He’s moving in behind me!” Crossbones screamed.

“I see him, Bones,” Dee said over the net. “Just stay calm, he’s trying to rattle your cage. Mustang, this is Lancer 4-2, Bogey is in prime firing position on Lancer 4-4: five hundred meters off his aft impulse engines.”

“4-2 this is Mustang, get out of there!” Miller said.

At that moment, the Firestar fired a plasma torpedo directly into Crossbones’ T-Bat. Its starboard impulse engine exploded into a fireball. Alarms echoed across the net.

“We’re hit! We’re hit!” Crossbones screamed over the comm. “We’re coming apart. Punching out!” Crossbones pulled his ejection handles. His canopy blew away and he and his Sizzo were thrown into open space.

“Crossbones is hit!” Dee screamed. “I’ve got confirmation of two beacons. He and Darkhorse are alive but they’re floating in vacuum. Launch the recovery shuttles immediately!”

“Lancer 4-2, Mustang, Negative we cannot launch rescue shuttles until space is clear. Can you provide cover?”

“Are you shitting me!?!” Dee replied. “Confirm BANDIT! Tholians are moving to lock up on me. I am decisively engaged with six. I say again, SIX!”

“Send the escort frigates!” Katie shouted at the others on the bridge. “With their heavy weapons they can end this now!”

Miller shot a look back at her.

“We’re a floating metal tube in space, Lieutenant! Those escort frigates and their Aegis Defense Network are the only thing preventing an enemy long range hunter probe from blowing us out of the stars. Even one of them gone puts a hole in the safety net. I will not put the lives of five thousand Starfleet personnel at risk for four pilots, are you tracking?”

“This is Saber and Sledge up on Alert 1!” Phil’s voice came over the speakers. “Punch us out of this thing now!”

Miller turned to his other officers.

“Launch Saber on Alert 1!”

On the flight deck, Phil flashed a thumbs up and salute to the yellow suit next to his T-Bat. A second later, he was shooting forward at seven hundred kilometers per hour. He jumped to warp before he even cleared the defensive perimeter.

“This is Saber. Just broke the warp barrier. Three minutes till intercept.”

“Dammit, Saber! Get here now! I’ve got Bandits all over me!”

“Keep calm, Dee! Do some of that pilot shit and try to stay alive until I get there.”

“What do you think I’m trying to do, Jackass!?”

Katie put her hands over her mouth and held her breath. Her best friend was now screaming toward six Tholians who wanted to kill him and there was nothing she could do to help except stand there and pray.

Out in space, Dee was indeed struggling to stay alive. The Tholians had broken into pairs and were trying to trap her inside a web maneuver. Every time she flew to get out of the line of one pair, another pair was waiting to engage. Disruptor beams sliced less than a meter from her wings.

“Mustang! Lancer 4-2! They’re everywhere! These guys want blood!” Miller held his breath. Dee was starting to panic, and it took a lot of pressure for that to happen.

“Hang in there, Dee,” he said trying to keep him calm. “Saber is one minute out. We’ve got four more T-Bats moving to the flight deck. We’ll have the cavalry there in in less than fifteen minutes.”

“That’s great news, Mustang!” she said sarcastically. “They’ll be able to recover the frozen chunks of my cold corpse!”

Two Firestars moved in directly behind her. No matter how hard she maneuvered she couldn’t shake them off her tail. Wildcard was looking back through the canopy.

“They’re closing to two hundred meters!”

An alarm echoed through their cockpit indicating that the Tholians had torpedo lock. Dee looked forward and braced herself for the impact.

“Fox 3!”

Suddenly, two micro photons streaked through space and slammed into the Tholian fighter. It exploded into debris.

“Splash One!” Phil screamed across the net. He opened fire on the second Tholian with long bursts from his pulse phaser cannons. After a stream of direct hits to its port shields, it ripped apart in flames. “Splash Two!”

“Bout time you showed up!” Dee said with a noticeably sound of relief in her voice.

“Alright, Dee, I’m coming up on your starboard aft impulse. I’ve got you covered. These crystalline bastards wanna dance, we’ll give them a fight they won’t believe.”

Dee and Phil’s T-Bats began maneuvering as a pair. However, there were still four Tholians out there and they did not want to quit. Both pairs broke in opposite directions to engage them from the sides.

“I’ve got lead, Saber. Follow me, break left. We’re heading for the closer pair!”

“Right behind you!”

They turned left and moved to engage the first pair of Firestars head on. Their pointed hulls made the Tholians extremely maneuverable, but Dee and Phil could almost read each other’s minds.

“I’ve got the one on the left!” Dee said. “Lock up, baby! Lock up!” She maneuvered her targeting reticle onto the enemy spacecraft. “I’ve got tone! Fox 3!” Dee fired two torpedoes that slammed into the Tholian’s forward shields. Flames burst out of its hull plating and it exploded. “Splash Three!”

“Good Kill! Good Kill, Dee!” Phil shouted in excitement. He almost sounded like he was enjoying himself.

“They’re back!” Miller said banging his fist on the console in front of him. “God, those two are lethal!” Katie remained tense as she still stood by helplessly. It was a feeling that made her sick.

“Second Firestar is passing between us!” Wildcard said as the Tholian fighter streaked between them accelerating to full impulse.

“U-Turn, Dee!” Phil said throwing his stick hard left. She responded in kind and they crossed paths as they turned one-hundred eighty degrees laterally.

“He’s not getting away from us that easy! Full-Afterburner, Saber!” The pair began dropping raw deuterium into their exhaust to accelerate forward exponentially.

The Tholians might have been more maneuverable, but the T-Bat’s Rolls-Royce turbo-impulse drives made them faster. In a matter of seconds, they were right on the Bandit’s tail.

“Phasers out, hammer down!” Dee said as she squeezed the trigger on her pulse phasers. The Tholian could only absorb two or three hits on his aft shields before he became a fireball. “Splash 4!”

“We’re two on two!” Phil reported back to the Flight Direction Center.

“Mustang acknowledges,” the young lieutenant transmitted back.

“Launch the rescue shuttle and the engineering tug!” Miller said not forgetting about Crossbones, Darkhorse, and the Cardassian Freighter.

Back in the fight, the remaining two Firestars were totally on the defensive.

“They’re still in Cardassian Space, Saber, we’re not gonna let them get home!”

“Still on your wing, Dee!”

The two Firestars started making a mad break for the border, maneuvering wildly in an utterly futile attempt to protect themselves.

“I got the one on the right!” Phil shouted to his wingman.

“Moving left!” Dee replied.

“Good tone! Good tone!” Phil exclaimed.

“Tone on left!” Dee said.

“Simo! Simo! Fox 3!”

“Fox 3!”

Each T-Bat fired a pair of torpedoes at their respective Firestar. All four torpedoes found their marks. In less than five minutes, the threat was eliminated.

“Splash Five!” Phil said.

“Splash Six!” Dee echoed.

“Mustang, this is Lancer 4-3. Bandits are all space junk. Commence Rescue operations.”

A cheer erupted across the Flight Control Center. Katie collapsed into a nearby chair.

* * * *

Thirty minutes later, four ships dropped out of warp to the aft of the Pike. The rescue shuttle carrying the very cold, slightly shaken, but otherwise unharmed Crossbones and Darkhorse immediately headed for the landing deck of the carrier. The engineering tug with the Cardassian freighter in a tractor beam pulled alongside one of the escort frigates. Dee and Phil’s T-Bat’s continued at full after-burner towards the Pike.

They screamed alongside, and simultaneously barrel-rolled. As they passed the bow of the ship, each of them dropped three flares to signify their kills. Live visual sensor feed streamed the images to every monitor in the strike group. The entire crew cheered almost as much as the day the war ended.

Dee and Phil landed and elevators dropped them back down to the hangar deck. Every colored flight suit on the Pike gathered around to cheer them on. Dee and Phil slid down their ladder and were immediately surrounded by crewmembers slapping them on the shoulders and cheering their call signs. Then, as they caught sight of each other, they both shouted and ran into each other’s arms.

Without warning, Dee planted a kiss right on Phil’s lips. It was a beautiful reminder of what he once had, but as he caught a glimpse of the Starfleet uniform topped with blonde hair pushing her way towards him in the crowd, he tensed and pulled back.

Dee appeared confused at first, but when she caught site of Katie, she flashed him an understanding look.

“I’m sorry, Dee, I’m a busdriver now.”

“I know,” she said back to him softly. “But you still make a decent impression of being a fighter pilot from time to time.” They both smiled and hugged again. “I think Blondie wants to say something to you,” she nodded towards Katie who finally had fought her way through the crowd to get to them.

She ran up to Dee first. The two women looked at each other for a brief moment before they hugged as well.

“That was pretty impressive, fighter jockey,” Katie said.

“I’ll take that as a compliment, Fleetie.”

Katie then turned to Phil.

“And you!” she said with a grin as tears started forming in her eyes. “Never do that to me again!” she ran into him so hard he nearly fell into the deck. She wrapped her arms around his chest and squeezed the breath out of him.

“I’ll try not to, Katie,” he managed to wheeze.

Suddenly, as if remembering herself, she let go and cleared her throat.

“Good job,” she said extending her hand. Phil laughed as he shook it.

* * * *

That evening, when she was finally alone in her quarters, Katie pulled a worn photograph from her pocket. She stared down at Paul’s smiling face and smiled as she remembered their time together. Finally she was able to whisper.

“I will always love you, but I think I’m finally ready.”

She placed a gentle kiss on the picture of his face before quietly packing the photograph into her suitcase.

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