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Archanis Sector: Federation/Klingon Border

246th Day of the Year of Kahless, 998

The war with Federation was raging into its third month. Captain Torlek sat alone in his ready room on the Sk'oh. The promise of battle on this side of the quadrant had degraded into a series of commerce raids and border skirmishes. The real fighting was still in Cardassian Space. Along the defunct Neutral Zone, the Empire and the Federation now vied for power and influence as if the 23rd century never ended. The Khitomer Accords were only a memory. Now, Gowron was more determined than ever to return the border system of Archanis to Klingon control. The Federation was just as determined to hold it. It was a strategic planet that provided them a base to invade the entire Klingon Empire at will.

Torlek was reduced to sneaking through enemy space like a kah'plakt searching out random starships or merchantmen supporting the buildup of Federation troops. He hated it. He hated the fact that his brother was gone even more. Their human companion was gone forever in a senseless and xenophobic return to aggression.

The Sk'oh seemed emptier now. It was as if a chill had fallen in the air that locked the once proud warriors aboard in a perpetual winter. Of course, no one could express their true feelings out loud. It would be treasonous. Torlek had long since resigned himself to the fact the only way he would see his brother again would be as an enemy across a battlefield.

Suddenly, the monitor on Torlek's desk chirped. It was a flash message from Ty'Gokor on the secure channel. As he read it, the old Klingon's eyes grew wide.

On the bridge, Commander Kentok was monitoring regular operations when Torlek burst out from his ready room.

"Set Defense Condition One. Cloak the ship," the captain said.

"Cloak the ship, Aye Sir," Lieutenant Karn replied as alarms echoed through the vessel. The young officer was Daniel's replacement at the weapons station. Though he met the standard as a competent officer, he had yet to make many friends aboard. He lacked both Tigranian's enthusiasm and motivation. Torlek wouldn't have thought it possible five years ago, but he greatly preferred a human on his bridge than this whelp.

"Commander Kentok, put me on shipwide intercom," Torlek commanded.

"Channel open, Sir," his first officer replied.

"Attention, this is the captain. IKS Grapnar has spotted a large Federation convoy attempting to traverse Fek'lhr's Needle towards Archanis. We have been ordered to rendezvous with four other birds of prey and form a wolfpack to engage. Expect contact at 1930 hours. That is all."

A cheer erupted across deck as the prospect of action immediately lifted the spirits of the crew.

"Lieutenant K'vresh set course for Sector 8743, Warp 7. Engage when ready," Torlek ordered.

"Aye Sir!" the helmsman responded.

"Commander Kentok, Cholmek, Karn," Torlek ordered, "with me. K'vresh, you have the bridge." The three designated officers proceeded with Torlek to the planning board on the wall of the captain's ready room. Torlek bought up a digital map of the entire sector. In the center, was a million kilometer wide gap between a Class II ion nebula and a large asteroid belt that covered more than half the sector. This gap was called "Fek'lhr's Needle" by the Klingons and it was the most direct route between the rest of the Federation and the enemy outpost on Archanis. Traversing it was extremely risky while at warp speed and most convoys chose to take the much longer route around the nebula. However, every once and awhile, a convoy would risk threading the needle to save precious time.

"Over twenty freighters," Torlek said indicating the convoy's last known position reported by the Grapnar. "They're moving at warp 4 and should hit the needle in twelve hours."

"Escorts?" Kentok asked.

"None in the contact report, but you can bet there will be when we arrive," Torlek replied. "We've been ordered to assume command of the wolfpack when it assembles. The convoy will have to drop to warp 3 as they approached the needle. That's when we'll strike," he pointed out the location on the map. Understood?"

"jIyaj, HoD!" they replied in unison.

"Return to your stations," Torlek commanded. "Except for you Karn. I wish to speak to you."

Kentok flashed Torlek a look who growled for him to leave. The commander nodded as he followed Cholmek back to the bridge.

"Sir!" Karn said snapping to attention once the doors have closed.

"Stand at ease, Lieutenant," Torlek said.

"Sir, if I have disrespected you in anyway or brought dishonor…"

Torlek raised his hand to silence Karn.

"You haven't done anything yet," the captain said calmly. "That is the problem. You have never been in battle before, have you?"

"No, Sir."

"Then your greatest test is directly in front you. A convoy raid requires quick firing and accurate engagement. We will have precious little time to score as many hits as possible before their escorts engage and we are forced to break off. It is only a gunner's skill that separates a victorious raid from a disaster. Do you understand?"

"Yes Sir!" Karn shouted.

"See that you do. Dismissed."

"Yes Sir!" Karn exclaimed as he ran back towards the bridge.

Torlek sighed and looked down at the deck plating. If experience was any teacher, a convoy the size of this one would have between three and four starships travelling with it. Each one of those would outgun a bird of prey 5 to 1 and probably be commanded by a Federation captain eager to kill Klingons. Even under ideal circumstances this fight would be difficult. Now, he was facing an uphill fight with an untested gunner in control of his torpedoes.

"I hope wherever you are, my brother," Torlek prayed under his breath, "that you are fighting with honor. However, I wish that you were standing here with us…"

****

That evening, the Sk'oh silently waited at the wolfpack rendezvous point.

"Who else is here?" Torlek said stroking his beard from the captain's chair.

"Pings from the ultra-low frequency transceiver from the IKS Grapnar, Ko'vak, L'ram, and Terclaw," Cholmek replied. "They have acknowledged our presence as pack leader and await instructions." Ultra-low frequency radio transmissions were very difficult to distinguish from normal background radiation and outside the usual scanning range of Federation starships. As a result, they were an ideal way for cloaked ships to communicate at close range.

"The pack is assembled," Kentok said to his captain. "Now, will the convoy pass into the trap?"

They didn't have to wait long to find out.

"Contact! Bearing 285 Mark 427!" Cholmek shouted. "It's the convoy. Four deuterium fuel tankers, eighteen heavy freighters, and four Federation starships. They are approaching the entrance to the needle. Speed Warp 4."

"Composition of the escort vessels?" Torlek asked.

"An Excelsior, two Mirandas, and a Defiant class gunboat."

Torlek and Kentok exchanged telling glances. That was even more firepower than they were expecting.

"Archanis must be even more important to them than we thought," Kentok said. "It will not be easy to evade pursuit."

"We don't have a choice, my old friend," Torlek said. "We cannot allow those supplies to get to the outpost unopposed."

"We're now in visual range of the convoy," Cholmek said.

"On screen," Torlek commanded. The massive Federation fleet appeared in front of them. The ships were laid out in perfect formation. They had already consolidated into the tight rows necessary to traverse the Needle. The two Miranda class ships hovered on the flanks while the Defiant class rapidly circled overhead like a hawk. The larger and slower Excelsior class starship secured their rear.

"How long until they must reduce speed?" Torlek asked Cholmek.

"Less than ten minutes, Sir," the operations officer responded.

"What do you want to do, Sir?" Kentok asked. "The pack is awaiting our orders."

"Signal the other ships," Torlek ordered. "Assemble in wedge formation to our flanks. Set course 286 Mark 430. Commence attack run!"

The five birds of prey circled around behind the Federation convoy like a flock of predators. Their cloaks still made them invisible to their opponents.

"Increase Speed to Warp 4.3," Torlek ordered. "Overtake them and close to 4000 kellicams. Helmsman, prepare to match speed when they slow to Warp 3."

"Aye Sir!"

The twin nacelles of the Excelsior class ships loomed large in their viewscreen directly ahead.

"Sir," Karn warned, "At this range we have a greater than 30 percent chance of being detected."

"If we were approaching from the front or the sides you would be absolutely correct, Lieutenant," Torlek said calmly. "However, approach through his impulse wash and he's completely blind."

"Yes Sir…" Karn said humbly. Kentok muffled a laugh.

"HoD, other ships are holding in formation behind us. Ready to engage at your command," Cholmek said.

"We have passive target acquisition," Karn said. Torlek didn't take his eyes off the starship directly ahead. "Targeting computer has a shooting solution."

"Inform the wolfpack," Torlek command. "Gain active torpedo lock as soon as order is given to decloak. Initial two torpedo forward spread, at my command. Priority of targets: fuel tankers, freighters, then starships. Target their warp engines and force them to drop to impulse.

After the initial spread, Ko'vak, L'ram, and Terclaw will drop out of warp and destroy the disabled ships. The Federation escorts should remain with the undamaged ships and attempt to get them through the Needle. We and the Grapnar will maintain pursuit and attempt to hit as many as possible before we must break off."

"Message sent, Sir," Cholmek replied. "The wolfpack acknowledges."

"Do you ever wonder if the Son of Tigranian is on one of those starships?" K'vresh pondered out loud from his station.

"No," Torlek interjected quickly. "Instead I think about the thousands of Federation Soldiers massing on Archanis to attack our homes and families. I suggest you do the same, Helmsman."

"jIyaj HoD," K'vresh replied humbly.

The massive stern of the Excelsior class ship loomed larger and larger. They couldn't risk getting in front of it. It would be far too easy for the Federation captain to pick them off one by one with his entire forward weapons array. Instead, they would have to risk stern shots from his aft torpedo banks.

"Karn, ensure you get those shields up as soon as possible after we decloak," Torlek commanded.

"Yes Sir," Karn said double checking his instruments.

The maw of Fek'lhr's Needle loomed less than a hundred million kellicams in front of them. The massive amounts of static discharging gas from the reddish nebula cast an eerie glow across space. The light illuminated the craggy pieces of ice and jagged rock in the asteroid belt to their starboard.

"Commander Kentok," Torlek said. "Manually time the torpedoes in case the computer loses guidance lock. I don't want to miss a shot."

"Aye Sir," Kentok said pulling a PADD from his belt. He set it to stopwatch mode.

"Range to targets?" the captain asked again.

"Holding at 3800 kellicams. Bearing dead ahead 000 Mark 010," Karn said.

"Sir!" Cholmek exclaimed with excitement. "The convoy is slowing. Warp 3.9, 3.8, 3.7…"

"Standby to decloak for firing," Torlek said with a final deep breath.

"Warp 3.4, 3.3, 3.2, 3.1….Warp 3!" Cholmek shouted.

"Disengage cloaking devices!" Torlek shouted. "Arm Tube 1!"

The wolfpack simultaneously shimmered back into the visible. Five Klingons birds of prey bore straight down at the aft of the convoy.

"Tube 1 Armed!" Karn shouted.

"baH!" Torlek screamed.

"Torpedo away!" Karn shouted. The wolfpack simultaneously fired five glowing red spheres. The entire ship lurched as the weapons cleared the forward tubes. Kentok clicked his stopwatch.

"Arm Tube 2. Adjust torpedo lock to match course and speed of targets," Torlek said.

"Tube 2 Armed! Shooting solution adjusted!" Karn replied.

"baH!" Torlek repeated. Five more spheres flew off into space.

"Torpedoes away! Forward tubes empty" Karn shouted.

"Reengage cloak! Order the wolfpack to scatter as they reload."

"Aye Sir!" Cholmek replied.

Just as the birds of prey disappeared from view again, the Excelsior class ship fired four photons from its rear tubes. The Sk'oh and the Grapnar barely had enough time to turn to avoid a fatal impact. The Federation weapons passed between their wingtips only a kellicam away.

Torlek looked to his first officer staring at his stopwatch.

"First spread impact in 3…2…1…" Kentok muttered.

They felt the impact of their warheads exploding against the Federation vessels. Another cheer echoed through the ship.

"Second spread impact in 3…2…1…"

Another shockwave rocked the ship. More cheering.

"Enemy damage report?" Kentok asked. Cholmek checked his instruments.

"Eight Federation merchant vessels dropping to impulse with disabled engines," the operations officer replied. "The Ko'vak, L'ram, and Terclaw are pursuing. The remaining fourteen along with the escort starships are accelerating to Warp 3.5 and passing through the Needle."

"Order the Grapnar to take a position off our port wing," Torlek said. "We will follow them through and engage with a second run."

The two birds of prey were less than ten seconds behind the convoy and fast approaching the narrowest point between the asteroid belt and the nebula.

"Sir!" Cholmek shouted as his eyes grew wide. "The Excelsior class is coming about!"

Torlek jumped out of his chair just in time to see the massive Federation starship turn 180 degrees a fire a blind spread of torpedoes in their direction. Two found their mark and slammed into the unprotected hull of the cloaked Grapnar. It exploded in a massive fireball. The shockwave slammed into the Sk'oh showering the bridge with sparks.

"Helm! Set course 095 Mark 234!" Torlek screamed. "Full impulse!"

"Sir that will take us right towards the asteroid belt!" K'vresh replied.

"I know!" Torlek replied. "The asteroids will help mask our signature. They won't be able to distinguish between our cloaked signature and the sensor interference from the objects."

The Sk'oh headed straight for a large asteroid. As soon as they were close enough to start feeling the effects of its gravity, Torlek commanded all stop.

"Remain absolutely still, K'vresh," Torlek said firmly. "Any movement might generate a subspace wake they will detect."

"Yes Sir," the helmsman replied.

The bridge crew held their breaths as they saw the Federation starship circle the area at full impulse searching for them.

"Steady yourselves, Men," Torlek said easing himself back into his chair. "They know they destroyed one of our brothers. They don't know how many are still out here."

Cholmek's control panel pinged loudly.

"Active tachyon scanning, Sir," he explained. "They're searching for cloaked vessels."

Another ping. This one was even louder as the enemy grew closer and closer on their viewscreen. They were trapped with an asteroid belt behind them, a nebula to their front, and a prowling Federation starship less than a thousand kellicams away.

"Qu'vatlh," Torlek cursed under his breath.

Another ping. They were still getting closer.

Several blue flashes shot out from the starship's port torpedo tube. They flew towards the asteroid belt and exploded. The shockwave from their blasts rattled the entire bird of prey.

"Proximity charges!" Cholmek shouted. K'vresh began muttering a prayer to Kahless under his breath from the helm. More blue flashes and more explosions. This time they were so close, the power across the entire Sk'oh fluctuated off and then on again.

"The is the captain! All available power to cloak and structural integrity fields!" Torlek shouted into the shipwide intercom. "All hands brace for shockwave!"

The starship passed a mere four hundred kellicams in front of them. A series of blue flashes shot straight towards them. There was no gap between the visual acquisition and the explosions. The shockwave ripped through the ship. A massive blast echoed across the bridge and the entire compartment went dark. A few seconds later, emergency lighting activated, bathing the survivors in a demonic red light. Torlek choked on the smell of ozone, smoke, and burning plasma conduit.

"Our cloak held!" Cholmek shouted pulling himself back towards his console. "The starship is moving away at one half impulse!"

"Casualties?" the captain said wiping the acrid fumes away from his eyes.

"Yes Sir…" he heard K'vresh's voice say solemnly from the helm.

As soon as his vision cleared, Torlek saw two bodies lying on the deck beside him. Kentok's massive corpse was bleeding from a gaping hole in his skull. Karn, the young weapons officer, had a piece of metal impaled straight through his neck. Torlek held back his shock at the realization that if Daniel had been standing at that station, he would be the one sailing to the Black Fleet.

After a brief second to compose himself, the captain grabbed the lifeless corpse of Karn and dragged it alongside Kentok, the man who had always been at his side for so many battles across so many turns.

"Karn is young but worthy, my old friend. Guide him like you helped guide Daniel. Lead him to the table of Kahless," Torlek whispered into Kentok's lifeless face. The captain leaned down, pried open both men's eyes, and allowed a deep, agonized growl to build in his throat. Cholmek and K'vresh slowly rose to their feet and joined in the dirge-like sound. Finally, the captain reared his head back and the three men howled towards Sto'Vo'Kor. Klingon warriors were coming…

****

Torlek snapped away in the darkness of his bedchamber. Lady Elessa stirred on the stone slab beside him, but didn't awaken. He was grateful for that. It was his first night back on the homeworld in months. He didn't want to spend it explaining why a seasoned warrior was dreaming of past comrades long since departed to paradise. Even he couldn't explain it.

Torlek pushed himself to his feet and wrapped a thick piece of fur around his muscular frame. The old warrior walked towards the doors on the far end of the room and stepped out onto the balcony of his ancestral manor perched high on a cliff. The autumn night was clear and cold. He could see his breath in the dim moonlight cast off by the remains of Praxis hovering high above in the heavens. The great Qam Chee river flowed through the valley hundreds of meters below. He took in a deep breath of the crisp, country air. He thought leaving the replicated air of Ty'Gokor station for his home, a refuge of quiet tranquility since his childhood, would help clear his mind. However, he remained on edge. The Romulan threat grew worse every week. He knew that if the Federation went to war, the Empire would go with it.

Despite his personal assertion that warriors should always rejoice for impending battle, he knew how fragile the Empire was at this moment. It was cautiously making democratic reforms he helped initiate. The fleet was still only at 75% strength, unemployment was dangerously high, and the treasury was still depleted by wars with the Cardassians, Federation, and Dominion. He wasn't sure if his nation could handle another serious conflict.

"What good is being the Governor of Ty'Gokor if I preside over the death of the country it serves?" Torlek spoke out loud. Then, he shook his head. "By Kahless, I'm worried about the future. I've been around humans too long…" he added with a tinge of disgust.

As he stared at the white moonlight reflecting off the water below, he could see the first lamps being lit in the farms across the valley below. The sun would be rising in an hour. His tenant farmers, many of which had worked on his family's estate for hundreds of turns didn't care about politics, the Romulans, or the Federation. All they wanted was to get their farms through the winter to another planting season. All they cared about was their crops, their animals, and their families. Sometimes, he envied them. For a brief moment, he imagined what life would have been like if he had been born the son of a serf rather than the son of the lord. He smiled at the thought that somewhere, down there, one of his farmers was staring up at the castle on the cliff wondering the opposite.

He took great relief that Daniel would be arriving in only a few days. He just wanted to see his brother again and pretend for a few hours that they weren't military leaders poised on the edge of a galactic abyss. Instead, they would embrace on another, drink wine, and laugh like they had no other cares in the galaxy. He also knew that the Daughter of Geist and Alexandra would be arriving as well. The time for the birth of the child was getting close. He was anxious to see if the mothers had warmed up at all to the House of Torlek's offer. If they hadn't, he had a plan for that as well…


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