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Quatal System: Federation Zone of Occupation, Cardassian Space

Stardate: 53307.2

Lieutenant Hawkins' fist slammed into Katie's jaw. She saw stars, but quickly shook it off. It was a good thing he was wearing sparring gloves, or else she probably would have gone to the canvas. Quickly, she braced her arms in front of her face and looked for another way to get inside his guard. He attempted another right jab, but she was able to duck his blow and land her own fist into the side of his head. The marines legs wobbled and Katie was about to charge in for the clinch when the bell rang.

The bloodied and bruised pair returned to their corners as the assembled crowd of crewmates and marines cheered from the stands.

Katie collapsed onto a waiting stool as Phil mopped sweat from her brow with a wet sponge. Alex ran over and quickly gave her a once over. The doctor was immediately concerned with the bloody cut under her left eye.

"How you holding up?" Alex said checking the dilation of her pupils with a small light.

"He's got a wicked right hook…for a marine," Katie said between deep breaths. Phil held up a bottle of water and squeezed a gulp into her mouth. She swished it around for a few seconds before spitting into a bucket her boyfriend held for the purpose. Alex winced when she saw how much blood came out with it.

"I'm getting nervous, Kid," Alex said.

"Calm down, Doc," Katie said with a huge grin. "I've had a lot worse than this."

"I find that hard to believe," Alex said quickly climbing to her feet.

"Don't worry, I'm done tap-dancing with him. It ends this round."

"It better…" Alex said flashing her a look. "…or I'm stopping this fight. I don't need two officers lying unconscious in my sickbay." Katie laughed as Alex ran over to the other side of the ring to check on Hawkins.

"Alex needs to lighten up," Katie said still grinning.

"She just cares about you, that's all," Phil said holding up Katie's mouthguard. She shoved it in her mouth just as the ready buzzer rang.

"Glad to see you don't care about me as much as she does," Katie said climbing to her feet.

"I care about you more than she does, I just understand why you have to do stuff like this," Phil said climbing back out of the ring. Tigranian and Annabeth patted him on the shoulder from their seats right behind the ropes.

Katie and Hawkins both stepped forward to the center of the ring. Sergeant First Class Schultz stood between them as referee.

"Ma'am, are you ready?" he asked pointing at Katie. She nodded. "Sir, are you ready?" he said turning to Hawkins. Another nod. "Alright, let's get in on!" he said clapping his hands and stepping out of the way as the bell sounded.

The two fighters touched gloves and then started to dance around the ring. Both were exhausted and covered in sweat, but neither was ready to concede defeat. This was a matter of pride. Katie was tired of always hearing the Pershing's marines brag about how they were the best hand-to-hand fighters in the fleet, so she finally challenged their platoon leader to a match. The marines happily obliged, turning their training bay into a mixed martial arts ring.

The grunts cheered their lieutenant on from the sidelines.

"C'mon, Sir! Take her down!"

"Get some! Semper Fi!"

"Show the fleeties what makes a marine!"

"HOORAH!"

Katie, of course, had her own cheering section. However, Tigranian and Annabeth made it clear they were neutral. The marines were as much a part of the Pershing's crew as anyone else.

Hawkins circled around the outside of the ring. He definitely didn't expect Katie Stone to be this much of a challenge. His legs felt like rubber and a lump on his forehead from one of her sidekicks was making it nearly impossible to see out of his right eye.

Katie held up her fists in front of her. She just had to wait for Hawkins to give her the right opportunity.

Suddenly, he lunged forward trying to land a tremendous punch. She let it glance off her right arm and charged forward inside his guard. With every ounce of her remaining energy, she managed to lock her arms behind his neck and pulled it downward, forcing his face directly into her knee. As he stood, stunned into submission, she grabbed his right wrist and flipped him down to the ground. Everyone gasped in shock at the ferocity of her take down.

Hawkins was doing his best to resist, but he was nearly helpless as she locked her legs across his chest, put his arm between her knees, and arched her back. The pain from the arm bar was instantaneous. Within a matter of seconds, Hawkins was tapping with his free hand to stop her before his arm broke in two.

Sergeant Schultz dove in and separated the pair to end the match. Katie leapt to her feet, raised her arms over her head, and cheered in victory. Alex ran over and knelt down next to Hawkins, but luckily, the only thing that received any permanent damage was his ego.

The crowd was on their feet now as well. A few seemed disappointed, but most just cheered Katie's incredible win.

* * * *

In less than ten minutes, any lingering bad feelings about the fight had vanished. Katie, Hawkins, and just about everyone who wasn't pulling a duty shift had gathered in the mess hall around a cold keg of beer. The marines were relatively well-behaved, though the decibel level of the room was definitely much higher than normal.

"You fight pretty damn well, LT," Hawkins said throwing a sweaty arm around Katie. She winced a bit as the adrenaline started to wear off of her bruised ribs, but quickly shot a smile back at him.

"Any time you want a rematch, you know where to find me, Brett."

Suddenly, a crash echoed through the room. Everyone looked over to a corner just in time to see Private First Class Tolmeni fly three meters through the air. Another marine, more massive than a Vulcan Sehlat, threw his fist triumphantly into the air.

"What the hell is going on over there!?" Hawkins shouted over the roar of the crowd.

"Ah, it's just marines being marines, Sir," Sergeant First Class Schultz said strutting over with a beer in his hand. "Tolmeni got a little riled up watching the fight and decided it would be a great idea to challenge Mohnath to an arm wrestling match."

Hawkins rubbed his eyes.

"Tolmeni never was a smart one…"

Tigranian and the rest of senior staff walked over after the commotion had started to die down.

"I love marines, Brett, but you could you please help me keep my ship intact?" Tigranian asked Hawkins sarcastically.

"Now, you see why we don't let 'em out much, Sir," Schultz said with a laugh.

"When I was at the Academy," Annabeth said cutting in. "They told me that the marine corps was good for two things: killing stuff and breaking things."

"My professors told me the same thing, Ma'am," Hawkins replied. "Why do you think I wanted to join them?"

"Not exactly in line with Starfleet's mission of exploration," Alex blurted out. She immediately realized her comment wasn't very tactful, but before she could apologize, Hawkins replied.

"You'd be surprised, Ma'am. Exploration often requires a little more aggressiveness than most people think."

"Looks like the Pershing has more than one officer who thinks like a Klingon…" Phil muttered while taking a sip of beer.

Before he could chide Phil's sarcasm, Tigranian's communicator chimed to life.

"Sir, this is Ensign Gleeto on the bridge…"

Tigranian tapped his chest.

"Go ahead, Ensign."

"Sir, you might want to find the nearest monitor and turn to SFN News."

Everyone exchanged worried glances.

"Acknowledged," Tigranian said before crossing to the large screen on the mess hall's wall. "Computer, tune to SFN News."

The screen came to life and the sullen image of an anchor appeared.

"Again, if you're just joining us, we're receiving some very sad information out of Cardassian Space. Reports are still coming in, but at this hour, the Federation News Service has independently confirmed that the SS Zephyr has been destroyed by Cardassian criminal elements operating in the Trelka System near the border of the Romulan Occupation Zone…"

"Oh my God," Katie murmured. The rest of the room fell silent.

"That's less than ten light years from here," Laria said in shock.

"The SS Zephyr was a ship under the control of the Interstellar Red Cross and the Federation Diplomatic Corps carrying relief supplies and provincial reconstruction specialists from both the Federation and the Cardassian Provisional Government. At least 78 Federation Citizens and 23 Cardassian nationals were aboard according to the ship's manifest. Although the search is still underway, Cardassian patrol ships that are already on scene are not detecting any escape pods. All hands may be lost.

The motive for the attack remains unclear, but our analysts here on Earth suspect that the Zephyr may have stumbled on an active smuggling operation and was destroyed attempting to flee. Regardless of the cause, it is a very sad day for the Federation as over one hundred people, men and women who had dedicated their lives to helping the most destitute victims of the war, appear to be lost…"

"Annabeth," Tigranian said with a quiet anger in his voice. "Put the ship on Yellow Alert. I'm going to my ready room to get comms with Starfleet Command. Spin up anyone you need. We might have to move quickly."

"Yes Sir," Annabeth replied. Before she could even issue guidance to the rest of the staff, Tigranian was out the door.


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