He had to restrain himself from pacing the length of the bridge as Eagle raced towards Krellonians space since the latest news from Amaya and long-range sensors were not painting a rosy picture.
At last count, eight Krellonian cruisers were hot on the heels of the Nebuchadrezzar which was making best speed out of Krellonian territory and to a rendezvous with Agamemnon within the Amargosa Diaspora.
Eagle, along with her sister ship from the local universe, was heading to the very same rendezvous from the opposite direction and all current estimates seemed to indicate that they would arrive almost concurrently with the runabout and her pursuers.
Michael understood that a conflict seemed near-inevitable and he would have preferred to try and level the playing field by arriving ahead of the Krellonians to get the lay of the land, as it were, and prepare their defenses. The uniquely challenging environment of the Diaspora, however, made it a physical impossibility to push their engines any faster, and even at their current speed, helmsman Srena noticeably required all her focus and concentration to keep them steady at warp nine point eight.
Edison’s Eagle either didn’t have a pilot quite as skilled as the young Andorian or had not received the same warp core overhaul his ship had recently been given and therefore remained a few minutes behind them. Michael was painfully cognizant that the other Eagle not being able to keep up would put them at a significant disadvantage should it come to a fight.
“We are sixty seconds out from Agamemnon,” said DeMara Deen from her station at operations, her body language much more tense than usual, clearly anticipating a confrontation as well.
Michael turned to look towards his second officer who recently had subbed more frequently as the ship’s de facto XO. “How about the runabout?”
Xylion glanced up from the aft science station. “The Nebuchadrezzar will arrive at the rendezvous point eight point seven seconds after we have dropped out of warp. The first Krellonian vessels are expected to arrive approximately twenty-two seconds thereafter.”
“What’s the count up to now?”
Leva took that one. “Eight vessels initially, all large-sized cruisers. A super-cruiser and additional support craft are less than two minutes behind.”
Michael nodded slowly, not letting his growing concern be mirrored on his face. According to what he had learned from Edison, Krellonian ships were mostly equal in tactical abilities to Starfleet vessels and while full-out conflicts had been rare in previous years, this universe’s Starfleet Intelligence did believe that they were building up their fleet for a possible incursion deeper into Amargosa and perhaps even into Federation-held territory. Those reports had been the primary reason for Agamemnon and the other Eagle’s presence in the sector and before they had stumbled across the unexpected, inter-dimensional arrival.
The latest numbers suggested that they were outnumbered at least three to one which were certainly not favorable odds.
Edison, Donners, and Michael didn’t have much time to hatch a plan which in the end had turned out to be rather simple: Recover the runabout and find a way to talk the Krellonians out of creating an incident which could very well lead to interstellar war. Michael could not help but be reminded about the oft-recited adage relating to well-laid plans. He wasn’t sure if there was a saying for hurriedly crafted plans but if so, he was positive it was even more discouraging.
“We’re approaching the Agamemnon, now,” said Deen, her steely gaze focused on her instruments.
“Dropping out of warp,” said Srena. Although she was Eagle’s number two helmsman behind Culsten, and younger than the Krellonian, she was every bit as good a pilot and didn’t need to be told what to do in a crisis situation.
On the viewscreen, the streaking starfield disappeared suddenly, to be replaced by the image of the Agamemnon. It was impossible to tell by sight but Michael got the sense that she was primed and ready for a fight.
Michael had long since learned that in outer space, where distances were vast, it was unusual for things to happened quickly and battles, in particular, were often slow-developing and long, drawn-out affairs. Fast, high energy confrontations between many different ships zooming around hither and thither were much more common in fictional accounts, like holo-novels, than something one came to expect in real-life situations.
There were expectations, of course, and on this occasion, things happened very quickly.
“The Nebuchadrezzar just jumped out of warp,” Deen said.
Michael could see the small runabout streaking onto the screen just between Eagle and Agamemnon. She immediately came about to head directly back towards her mothership.
“Three minutes to touchdown in the shuttle bay,” the Tenarian said.
That would take too long, Michael decided. “Expedite that any way you can. I don’t care if we violate a few safety protocols in the process. I’ll take it up with the air boss later.”
She offered a quick nod. “Srena, bring us about so that the shuttle bay doors are facing the runabout. Let’s give her the shortest possible approach.”
“Rotating now,” the Andorian ensign said as her fingers raced over the attitude controls.
While the ship twisted around its axis, thankfully somebody had remembered to keep the viewscreen focused in place, allowing a continued view of the approaching Nebuchadrezzar and the Agamemnon beyond.
“Hail her,” said Michael.
Moments later the main section of the viewer changed to show the cockpit of the runabout while the external view was relegated to a smaller inset in the upper left corner. On the runabout, Culsten sat at the helm and Star next to him. Michael could also spot Garla in one of the back seats. The fact that she was not restrained or under guard by any of the SMTs was encouraging and told him that she had likely returned with the away team voluntarily.
It wasn’t difficult to tell that Culsten seemed rather banged up, possibly even injured, considering the still bloody scratches on his face.
“Your mission was to return with Garla, Commander. We didn’t really plan for half the Krellonian fleet you’ve brought along for the ride,” he said with a deadpan.
She nodded to acknowledge the inconvenience. “Trust me, sir, these party crashers definitely didn’t get any invites from me. However, it seems they didn’t take too kindly to our little infiltration mission.”
“We’ll find a way to make do,” he said. “I take it you were otherwise successful.”
Star briefly glanced behind her and at Garla before she turned back. “I wouldn’t call it the smoothest operation I’ve ever executed but we got what we came for and besides a few scrapes and bruises we got out relatively unharmed.”
Leva interrupted the conversation. “Sir, we’ve got eight ships dropping out of warp.”
Michael could see it on the inset picture in the upper corner, the fleet quickly crowding the small image.
“Gotta cut this short, I’m afraid while I deal with those uninvited guests of yours,” Michael said. “Prepare for an expedited landing. It might get bumpy but I want you on board yesterday.”
Star offered a curt nod. “After this, a bumpy landing will be a walk in the park.”
“You may change your mind depending on how this plays out. Eagle out.”
As soon as the connection was terminated, the smaller screen expanded again to take up the entire viewer, fully revealing eight, menacing ships quickly approaching in a tight, combat formation.
Michael thought that they looked fairly similar to the Krellonina border vessels they had encountered in their universe, expect that these ships were far larger, each one almost the size of Agamemnon and just a bit smaller than Eagle herself. And while Starfleet ships in both universes had a white-gray finish, these vessels were gleaming in bright chrome colors which were even more impressive under the strong light of the many nearby stars within the Amargosa Diaspora. Similarly to the smaller ships he had encountered previously, these too were shaped like a double-u with nacelles arranged like upward swooping wings from the main body. Michael was sure he could see several visible weapon emplacements protruding forward form the main spaceframe, speaking to significant firepower.
“We’re being hailed,” Leva said from tactical.
Michael nodded to acknowledge. “As soon as the Nebuchadrezzar is onboard, stand-by to raise the transphasic shields, I fear we may need to finally put them to the test. Bring all weapons online as well.
“Understood,” the tactical officer said. “However, our weapons energy will be limited while the transphasic shield is active.”
Michael was well aware of this handicap but for the moment he decided that a strong defensive tactic was more valuable than offensive firepower. “Open the channel.”
The screen shifted again, once more using the inset feature to push the external view aside. On the main screen, the face of a man he had only seen just moments ago dominated the visual pick-up. This Lif Culsten seemed to be a little roughed up himself as if he too had been in a fight. The most noticeable difference between the two men who were otherwise mirror images of each other was the fact that this Culsten hardly seemed to be able to contain his seething anger playing out on his features. “Federation vessels, stand down at once and surrender to us the persons who have illegally entered Star Alliance territory and have assaulted and murdered Krellonian citizens or I promise you, none of you will survive the day.”
Michael had expected some hostility but this man felt more belligerent than a Klingon warrior on a bad day. “I am assuming you are Lif Culsten. My name is Michael Owens from the starship Eagle.”
“I have no interest in who you are,” he snapped.
“Fair enough. I deeply regret if any of your people were hurt but it was vital that we extracted Garla-our Garla-from your planet. She didn’t belong there and neither do any of us. We are not from this universe and are simply trying to find our way back home.”
He wasn’t sure if Culsten was too angry to care or if none of this seemed to interest him in general but his expression was anything but encouraging. “You have committed acts of war against the Krellonian Star Empire. Your reasoning is irrelevant.”
Michael took a step forward to show his resolve. He knew that morally speaking he was in a difficult position. He wasn’t sure what had transpired on Piqus and couldn’t say with certainty that his people or Garla had not committed crimes against the locals there but he was also not willing to just surrender any member of his away team or possibly the only person who might be able to facilitate their return to their own universe. “I cannot surrender my people. But perhaps there is a middle ground here, a compromise we could both live with. I’m sure neither one of us wants to escalate the situation to a full-out interstellar conflict.”
Culsten glared at him for a moment, a frightful look on a man Michael had come to regard as one of the friendliest and most accommodating persons he had ever known. “You have brought this conflict on yourselves by the crimes you have committed. If you do not surrender your people, I will be satisfied with taking possession of their corpses as well as any of those who get into our way.”
The connection was cut off at his end.
“Boy, I like our Lif a lot better,” said Srena.
“Agamemnon is hailing, sir,” said Leva.
“Put her through.”
Amaya’s face appeared where Culsten’s had been a few moments ago. She was sitting in the center chair of her bridge, her body leaning forward slightly in anticipation of what was to come. “It was a good try, Michael but I had a feeling it wasn’t going to work. These guys have been spoiling for a fight for a long time. This is just the excuse they’ve been looking for.”
“I don’t want to drag your people into a war, Maya.”
She uttered a little, humorless laugh. “A bit too late for that, I think. Listen, war was coming one way or the other. We’ve known for years that they’ve ramped up starship production and the Federation is not entirely unprepared for this move. Now it seems the first battle will be fought right here,” she said and then considered her next words carefully. “Michael, if we don’t make it out of this I just want you to know that-“
He stopped her. “We’ll make it out.”
She grinned. “Oh, how I’ve missed that bravado,” she said and nodded. “All right, let’s slip the dogs of war, and all that.”
She ended the connection and Michael could see her ship starting to move towards the incoming Krellonian fleet.
“Where are we with the runabout?” he asked.
“Wheels down in thirty seconds,” Deen said.
“Bring weapons online now. Give me a targeting solution on their lead ship,” he said, hoping that the age-old tactic of going after the head of the snake would cripple the body. Perhaps if they could eliminate Culsten, the remaining Krellonians would reconsider his revenge-fueled quest and turn back.
“Lead ship targeted. All weapons on standby,” the half-Romulan at tactical confirmed.
Eagle shuddered slightly under Michael’s boots. Not enough to indicate incoming fire but more than he would have expected to bring in a runabout.
“Nebuchadrezzar is onboard and secured,” Deen said. “It wasn’t the prettiest landing in the books but we got her.”
“Seal the shuttle bay and raise shields. Srena, get us in there, I don’t want Agamemnon to take the full brunt of their attack.”
Michael’s orders were quickly acknowledged and executed.
“Additional contacts dropping out of warp,” said Deen.
A much larger ship, easily three times the size of the other Krellonian cruisers zoomed onto the screen just behind the main fleet, along with six smaller ships that seemed to be support vessels. The behemoth was much bulkier than the other ships and looked more like a massive, beached whale than the elegantly shaped cruisers. It did have the same chrome-like paint job.
“By the Infinite, what the blazes is that monstrosity?” said Srena as she starred at the ship dwarfing all the others with wide-open eyes and antennae fully erect.
“Sensors are detecting a high volume of smaller ships within the vessel,” said Xylion from the science station.
“It’s a carrier,” said Leva.
Michael didn’t like the sound of that. “Just what we needed.”
“The main fleet is opening fire on the Agamemnon,” said Deen even though once again the viewscreen already made this plain as day as the cruisers fired powerful, blue-tinted energy beams at the other Starfleet ship which immediately responded in kind with a barrage of phaser fire and quantum torpedoes. It was obvious, even without sensors, that in this standoff, Agamemnon had drawn the far shorter straw.
“She is taking heavy damage to her shields,” said Leva. “She won’t last long.”
“Dammit, don’t try to be the hero, Maya,” Michael mumbled under his breath. “Srena, get us there, now.”
The Andorian nodded and operated her console accordingly.
Michael turned to tactical. “Open fire as soon as we are in range. I want to extend our transphasic shields around Agamemnon.”
“It will lessen their effectiveness.”
“So be it.”
The doors to the turbolift opened to disgorge Tazla Star, closely followed by Culsten and Garla.
“Nice of you to join us,” he said to his Trill first officer, her face and civilian attire still dirty and bloodied from her recent away mission, as were the other two.
“Wouldn’t miss this for the world,” she said and made a beeline for her chair, quickly using the computer console to catch herself up.
Culsten took one of the aft stations for now, allowing Srena to remain at the helm since it was too risky to replace the ship’s pilot in the middle of combat operations.
Garla just stood in the middle of the bridge, glaring at what she was seeing on the screen.
“We’re now in secondary weapons range,” said Leva. “Firing quantum torpedoes at the lead vessel.”
Not a second later half a dozen bright white missiles shot across the screen and towards their target, flying passed the Agamemnon and striking the Krellonian ship dead-on which didn’t even attempt to evade the incoming projectiles.
“Direct hit,” said Leva. “Their forward shields are seemingly reinforced. Shield strength remains at seventy percent, only minor hull damage.”
The response was quick and relentless as all eight ships now concentrated their fire on Eagle, causing the ship to tremble hard under the impact and Michael who was standing behind the flight control station had to grab hold of the back of Srena’s chair to remain upright.
A moment later the eight ships, which apparently had never slowed down, raced passed both Eagle and Agamemnon, still in their original formation.
“Shields holding at eighty-two percent but we won’t be able to absorb many more of those hits,” said the tactical officer. “The Krellonians are utilizing a tight attack formation that concentrates their firepower and will eventually overwhelm us.”
Garla nodded. “Those tactics aren’t all that different to our own,” she said. “They can be devastating.”
Star stood from her chair to consider the other woman. “If you have any suggestions as to how to fight them, now would be a good time to share.”
“I agreed to help you getting back to our universe but I have no intention of assisting you killing my own people,” she shot back.
“That’s funny,” said Culsten from where he stood at the raised back of the bridge. “You seemed to have fewer compunctions when you assassinated your counterpart.”
Garla glared at him. “That was different. She tried to kill me.”
The ship shuddered again.
“In case you hadn’t noticed,” said Michael, once more holding on to the chair in front of him. “These guys are very much operating along similar lines.”
“Sir, the carrier is engaging its attack crafts,” Leva said.
Michael turned back towards the screen to see dozens of tiny little ships come shooting out of the massive carrier like bullets fired from a gun. They were too small to make out details at this distance but they quickly clustered together in groups before commencing their own run.
“Phasers,” Michael said. “Fire at will.”
The void of space lit up like a fireworks display on Federation Day with crisscrossing phaser blasts from both Eagle and Agamemnon, only very few of which seemed to strike the quick and agile attack ships and permanently removing them from the battlefield. Michael didn’t need to be told that this wasn’t going to be a viable defensive strategy.
Leva shook his head. “Phaser fire is having limited effect.”
Eagle shook again, this time it felt as if they were being struck from all sides at once as if they had been caught right in the middle of an angry swarm of bees. To Michael, it felt like death by a thousand cuts.
Star was moving towards the horseshoe-shaped tactical station to support Leva. “Switch to burst firing mode and relax the targeting computer’s tethering that might give us a bit more leeway against fast-moving objects.”
Leva nodded and adjusted the weapons as instructed with Star’s help. Michael could see the effects immediately. Instead of firing sustained, single burst of phased energy at their targets, the phaser arrays now fired in quick staccato burst, spreading out the blasts to fire in front, behind and right through the cluster of enemy attack ships. It didn’t take long for Agamemnon to apply the same modification to her phasers and the results were encouraging as more and more craft were disabled or destroyed. It still didn’t quite feel like enough.
“The main fleet is coming around for another pass,” Leva said.
The main viewscreen shifted to show the eight cruisers bearing down on them again.
“Continue to concentrate torpedoes on the lead vessel. Fire at your discretion.”
The Krellonian ships were once again greeted by a quantum barrage along with phaser fire, even if the burst mode proved less effective against the bigger targets. And once more, the Krellonians responded in kind, firing their weapons at both Starfleet ships as they completed another strafing run.
Michael could feel and hear his ship groaning painfully under the assault and was sure that the hull had taken damage, even through their newly enhanced, albeit overstretched shields. Agamemnon looked in even worse shape and he could see one of her warp nacelles starting to leak plasma.
“Shields down to sixty percent. Hull damage on deck eight, twelve, and seventeen. We’re starting to get causality reports,” Leva said.
“Agamemnon’s structural integrity is beginning to buckle,” Deen added to the already bad news.
“What is the status of the Krellonian ships?” Michael said.
Star had the report while Leva was busy targeting and firing his weapons. “Not great but better than us. The lead ship’s shields are showing some fluctuation damage but nothing that’s really slowing her down yet,” she said and then looked up at him. “At this pace, we’re done for long before they are.”
Michael turned to Srena. “Can we get out of here? We got what we came for.”
“I wish we could,” she said, shaking her head. “But not while we are being swarmed by those attack fighters. They are sticking to us like glue and we can’t maintain a stable warp field while they’re on top of us.”
“Wouldn’t matter anyway. I’m getting the distinct feeling that he’ll chase us down before we can get anywhere near reinforcements,” said Garla.
Michael frowned at her. “Well, then perhaps it is time that you take a more proactive approach in keeping us from being blown to bits, don’t you think?”
She nodded slowly. “Hail them. Let me speak to him.”
“Sir, the other Eagle just dropped out of warp,” said Leva. “She’s joining the battle.”
“About time,” said Srena.
But Leva’s face quickly turned into a frown. “She is being intercepted by the support ships that arrived with the carrier. She’s not going to be much help in dealing with the cruisers for a while.”
Michael uttered a heavy sigh. “Of course not,” he said and then glanced back at Garla who seemed to be chomping at the bit to speak to the other Culsten. Michael was out of options and nodded. “Hail the lead vessel.”
Deen had taken over handling communications while Leva was busy working on their defensive strategy. “She’s not responding but they can hear you now.”
Garla took a few steps closer to the viewscreen as if this would make her sound more determined. “Lif, this is Garla. Listen to me.”
To Michael’s surprise, he did. Or at least he opened the channel, appearing once more on the viewscreen and pushing the ongoing battle aside for now, prove that it hadn’t been suspended came via the continued impacts against Eagle’s shields which Michael could feel with increased concern.
“This is pointless,” she said. “Let’s end all this now before any of us does things we truly regret.”
Culsten’s anger had not abated, if anything it was further fueled by seeing Garla. “You’re the imposter who killed the Instigator and caused a deadly riot in our detention center. I will enjoy seeing you pay for what you’ve done.”
“Stop acting like a child throwing a temper tantrum,” she shot back. “I’m assuming with my counterpart no longer with us, you are in charge. Which means you have to start making strategic decisions and committing your entire fleet to attack the Federation here and now isn’t a smart tactical move, surely you can see that.”
“How dare you presume to lecture me, Imposter,” he cried with rage causing spittle to fly from his mouth.
“Start thinking rationally. Yes, bad things happened and we’ll have to take responsibility for them but this mindless war footing you are engaging in is disproportionate to the injury you have sustained. I don’t want to see any more Krellonians die needlessly, even if they are not from my universe. Stop this now.”
Culsten leaned closer towards the screen until it was filled almost entirely by his face. “I won’t destroy your ship. Not completely. I want to make sure that I capture you and the other imposter alive. I want to hear your screams while I slowly torture you to death.”
Michael had tapped Deen on the shoulder even before he had finished his last sentence to cut off the transmission and his face once again disappeared.
“That didn’t go well,” said the other Lif Culsten once his alter ego was gone.
“It doesn’t help that your counterpart is a recalcitrant child having no business leading men,” said Garla.
“In which case insulting him was probably not the way to go,” said Michael, shooting Garla a brief scowl before refocusing on the battle which, as it stood, was nowhere close to coming to an early conclusion. “We need to find a way to get some distance to those attack craft in order to go to warp.”
“That will have to wait,” Star said and indicated towards the screen. “Here he comes again.”
Heavy weapons fire was exchanged once more and Michael was reminded of old-fashioned jousting matches where heavily armored knights would ride up on each other until one of them was unhorsed. Unfortunately, in this particular matchup, it was Eagle’s armor which was crumbling first.
This became indisputably clear when they took another brunt of incoming fire which Srena was not able to fully dodge. Michael immediately knew that the hit had been bad. Further proof of this came when one of the aft stations exploded in a shower of sparks and the same feedback surge struck the flight control station not a moment later, flinging Srena out of her chair and onto the deck.
Culsten reached her body first, checking her over with noticeable concern.
“They managed to get us right in-between the ribs this time,” said Star. “Damned lucky shot too. We’ve lost all starboard phaser control and the shield grid on that side if threatening to collapse.”
Culsten had called in the medical emergency after finding that Srena was apparently still alive, although unconscious for now, and then promptly climbed into her chair to try and take control of the ship by using the damaged console. “I’m attempting to keep our starboard side away from them.”
“Not sure if it’s going to be enough,” Leva said grimly from tactical. “Their lead vessel has taken damage to their engines but it has only slowed them down. They are preparing for another run.”
Star said what Michael was already thinking. “We’re not going to survive another hit.”
It was the moment every ship captain from the earliest days of naval warfare had dreaded more than anything else. Being faced with the very likely possibility of imminent defeat. Knowing that the ship which they had entrusted their very lives to was no longer able to sustain them and instead would take them all down with it. The remaining options were miserable and only one of them seemed even remotely feasible at this point. It was a call no starship captain ever wanted to make.
But before he could give the order to abandon ship, Deen spoke up again. “The Eagle-the other one-is breaking through the Krellonian blockade and heading straight for us.”
“Onscreen,” Michael said, hoping that this could signify the desperately needed turning point in this battle.
But Deen crushed those hopes as soon as she had raised them. “She’s in a poor state. Worse than us. Not sure she’s even going to reach us.”
“She’s not trying to get to us,” said Star which caused Michael to look back at the screen and realize that the other ship was not heading for them but for the Krellonian cruisers which had just executed another turn to finish them off.
“What is he doing?” Culsten said, clearly not understanding why he was running right at them in what seemed like an ill-conceived tactical move.
Michael could see the telltale sign of an evacuation in process as Edison had apparently had the same thought he’d had, except that he was also determined, it seemed, to ride it out all the way to the bitter end.
“They’re abandoning ship and launching escape pods,” said Deen and shook her head. “They’re going to be easy pickings for those attack craft.”
“Lif, change our heading, get us in range to recover the escape pods,” Michael said as his rising adrenaline forced him to move closer to the screen.
“That’ll get us right into the cruisers’ line of fire,” he said but to his credit, didn’t hesitate to carry out the order.
“Something tells me they’re going to have their hands full.”
And then Gene Edison appeared on the screen, looking haggard and bleeding from his forehead. He wasn’t sitting in the captain’s chair, instead, he was at the helm, steering his ship himself. Michael could see two other people with him on the bridge, everyone else was either dead or had already evacuated.
“What are you doing, Gene?”
The other captain smiled and for a brief moment, Michael was almost convinced he was looking into the eyes of the man who had once been his first officer and friend. “I thought that much was obvious. I’m giving you the chance you need to get out of this alive.”
He could only imagine how he must have felt about sacrificing his ship and possibly a large percentage of his crew in this last desperate effort. Michael was no stranger to sacrificing a starship in an attempt to save lives, he had felt that terrible anguish when he had helplessly watched his former command, the Columbia, destroyed by a weaponized meteor after he had given the order to use the ship to prevent it from annihilating an entire colony. Of course, he’d had the fortunate opportunity to watch that drama unfold from the safety of a nearby shuttle, secure in the knowledge that Columbia’s entire crew, save for one soul, had evacuated the ship before it found its doom.
Edison was still onboard and much of his crew wasn’t going to get off his ship in time.
“Gene, get to a lifeboat.”
He hesitated for a moment, looking over his navigation board, and when he looked back up he wore that same smile again. “You know, I don’t think I was ever cut out to sit in the captain’s chair. That was your job, Michael and I should have made sure that you were able to keep it.”
He took a step closer to the screen, shaking his head. “Don’t do this, Gene. Get out of there.”
“I failed you, Captain,” he said, his expression having grown more dejected now. “And I failed Laas. Tell her that I’m sorry. Tell her that I didn’t do enough to save her.”
“Will you tell her that, Captain?”
He nodded. “Yes, yes, I will.”
“Thank you, sir,” he said. “And save as many of my people as you can.”
“I will, I promise.”
On the inset screen, Michael could see the cruisers beginning to tear into Eagle as she raced towards them on a collision course. Escape pods continued to shake free of the battered spaceframe but her hull was breaking up even faster, destroying many pods before they had a chance to launch.
The image of Edison on his bridge was starting to tear and shake, growing static making it difficult to see or hear him clearly. “I know this is a terrible cliché,” he said, his distorted face looking back at him. “But I mean it when I say that it was an honor to have served with you, Captain. Perhaps this makes up for all the-“
The connection terminated suddenly and the viewscreen was once again filled with Eagle’s final flight.
“The honor was mine, Gene,” Michael said quietly, feeling his heartbreaking at seeing what was essentially his ship, being torn apart by the Krellonian cruisers, and her crew losing their lives in the process.
The bridge around him fell into dead silence as everyone watched the tragedy unfold.
It felt like an eternity was passing even while in truth the entire episode lasted less than thirty seconds.
The cruisers failed to obliterate Eagle entirely before she was upon them. Michael had no idea how but Edison had managed to avoid striking the lead vessel head-on and instead she smashed into the other ship at an angle, causing a terrible rendering of metal on metal as the Starfleet ship tore through the other vessel, shedding hull plates by the dozens in the process and losing her portside nacelle.
There was a momentary and almost eerie serenity to the scene after Eagle had cleared the lead vessel and she just hung there, surrounded by the Krellonian ships and her own debris, deformed to such a degree it was difficult to even tell she had been a proud starship once.
Then the warp core exploded with a blinding flash.
The force of the matter/anti-matter explosion set off a chain reaction and the lead vessel, as damaged as it was, didn’t stand a chance, blowing itself to pieces in a spectacular display of destruction which was quickly followed by the obliteration of the closest ship to it and then continued one-by-one in a span of just a few seconds.
The brightness of the resulting explosions forced Michael and most others on the bridge to shield their eyes before the screen dimmed automatically but by the time Michael had lowered his hand, nothing but debris remained of the Krellonian attack fleet.
Their dangerous and devastatingly close-combat formation had also spelled their undoing.
“Infallible Creator,” Garla said quietly as the sight of the destruction and massive loss of life.
Michael didn’t allow himself too much time to morn the loss of the other Eagle, knowing that the battle was not necessarily over just yet. After all, they were still surrounded by a number of other enemy ships, including the carrier and its many attack crafts. “Recover every Starfleet escape pod you can. Do it now.”
He could now see that Agamemnon was also moving towards what had become a starship graveyard surrounded by a dense field of debris. She was too far out to secure escape pods but she did everything she could to keep the remaining Krellonians at bay.
“The attack crafts are beginning to back off,” said Leva. “We might have a window to retreat.”
“How many pods did we get?”
Deen checked her instruments. “We’ve recovered twenty-two so far,” she said, her voice sounding much more strained than usual. “I am detecting about forty additional pods but the majority of which are structurally compromised.”
“Any more life signs?” Michael asked.
She didn’t respond. Instead, she looked at him and simply shook her head.
“The Krellonian ships are regrouping,” said Star. “I think they’re going to try for a final push. This might be our only chance to get out of here.”
Michael allowed himself another look at the screen and the sight of destruction spread out ahead. Dee had confirmed there was nothing left alive out there. He resolved that it wasn’t worth two more starship crews to collect the remains of those who had given their lives so that they could carry on.
“Signal the Agamemnon. We’ll make best speed back towards the subspace threshold,” he said.
“Agamemnon confirms. She’ll be limited to warp seven due to damage sustained to her engines,” Leva said.
Michael nodded. “It’ll have to do. Lif, get us out of here.”
He kept his eyes on what remained of Edison’s starship for as long as he could, it was the least he could do and even that felt far too little for their sacrifice. That final tribute lasted a couple of seconds before the floating tomb disappeared amidst a field of streaking stars.