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She braced herself for yet another combat insertion onto a likely unfriendly vessel, but this time executed with far less planning or high-tech gadgetry that had benefited their previous boarding action.

Having taken a knee to present the smallest possible target, with her finger close to the trigger of her type-3 phaser rifle, heartbeat accelerated from adrenaline, she materialized next to the rest of her team on board the Erebus.

They didn’t receive the welcome she had expected. In fact, there wasn’t much of a welcome at all.

The ship appeared to have fared poorly from Eagle’s attack that must have caught the Erebus entirely unprepared. The darkened corridor the away team found itself in was lit primarily by the strobes of red alert lights running along the bulkheads. Several conduits had ruptured, exposing parts of the ship’s innards and venting thick smoke into the corridor.

“Clear,” Sensy said just moments after they had boarded the ship.

Owens’ voice was the next one Tazla heard, however, it was heavily distorted, close to unrecognizable. “Commander, what’s your status?”

“We’ve arrived without incident,” she said while touching her neck where the subdermal communicator had been inserted. “She’s in bad shape but so far we’ve seen no signs of the crew.”

“Commander, we have another problem. The ship appears to have suffered significant damage to its cloaking device. It has caused high levels of chronition radiations to leak throughout the vessel.”

That explained the poor connection, Tazla realized.

“We weren’t able to detect it before you beamed onboard but the telemetry we are getting from you is unmistakable,” the captain continued. “We won’t be able to get a reliable lock on the away team, meaning you’ll have to find another way off that ship.”

“Understood, sir.”

“You don’t have much time. The vessel is heading straight towards Telron XI and seems to be out of control. The chronition radiation is also preventing us from getting a hold of her with a tractor beam. You have perhaps twenty minutes, maybe less until the ship will be caught in Telron’s gravity well.”

“It’s all good news then,” she said with dark humor.

Owens hesitated for a moment and Tazla guessed that he was beginning to regret having sent her onto that ship. “Commander, get Captain Owens if you can. But your new priority is to get you and your team off that ship before it’s too late.”

She nodded. “We’ll be expedient.”

“Our previous scans showed that the ship is likely manned by a skeleton crew only, so you shouldn’t encounter a great amount of resistance.”

“Copy, sir. We’re on the move. Star out,” she said and closed the channel before glancing over at Sensy. “First week on the job, is it living up to all your expectations yet?”

“Oh, we’re having a blast, Commander,” he said with a smirk.

She offered him a grin in response.

“Sensors are useless,” said Violet as she referred to her integrated tricorder wrapped around her forearm. “The radiation is throwing off all my readings.”

“Well, we wouldn’t want to make things too easy now, would we?” Tazla said, getting the distinct feeling that not much was going to work out in their favor on this away mission.

“We gonna gibble-gabble all day or we planning on getting things done anytime soon?” said Charm, the Tellarite operative, as he brought up his heavily-modified, black phaser carbine.

Star looked back towards the team leader. “Sensy, want to take point? Let’s head for the bridge.”

“Copy that.” He set out with his phaser rifle raised to eye-level, its bright white beacon lighting the way in the surrounding gloom.

Tazla followed close behind with the other two operatives taking up the rear.

Owens had been right, the Erebus didn’t appear to have much of a crew, or otherwise, they were in hiding, as the boarding team crossed two corridors without spotting another soul.

It wasn’t until they came to their third bend that Sensy slowed down suddenly and held up his fist before indicating a likely contact ahead.

He pressed his broad back against the bulkhead and the rest of the team stacked up next to him as they slowly approached the adjacent corridor.

Sensy was the first to spy around the corner and then gave the signal to move.

The Niner team leader whipped around the corner with his rifle held ready and Tazla and the others followed suit a beat after.

The beacons of their rifles revealed a corridor littered with bodies.

“Looks like we missed all the fun,” said Charm.

Tazla slowly approached the bodies, counting at least twenty, some lying on the deck, others sitting up against the bulkhead. It appeared these crewmembers were a mixture of the ship’s crew and a hostile boarding party, likely from the other Eagle.

She knelt next to a Benzite crewman, wearing the same style of body armor as the security troopers they had faced on Eagle and check his pulse. It was weak and thready.

A moaning sound from further down the corridor caused her to spin that way just in time to see an Erebuscrewmember vainly attempting to raise a hand phaser in her direction. He hadn’t even extended his arm halfway before he was struck by a perfectly aimed phaser blast coming courtesy of Violet.

Tazla gave the Niner a grateful nod before she stood again and scanned over the many of the other bodies. “A lot of these people are still alive.”

“Our man among them?” Sensy said.

It took her a moment to look over all of the wounded or dead crewmembers before she was certain that none of them was Captain Owens. She shook her head. “No. But we have to try and get these people off this ship.”

“Not our mission,” Charm grunted. “We’re here to extract one package and get the hells off this doomed tub.”

Tazla shot the operative a dark glare. She knew, of course, of the infamous Tellarite tetchiness but didn’t appreciate his callous manner on this occasion. “If they stay here, they’re all going to die and I’m not willing to let that happen,” she said without a hint of uncertainty in her tone. Perhaps once upon a time, back when her moral compass had been far cloudier, she may have thought twice about such a course of action. But that wasn’t who she was anymore, she had long since decided.

Before she could give any other orders, however, something else caught her attention. There was movement further down the darkened corridor where it intersected with another one. Something or somebody had across the junction, she was sure of it but by the time she had raised her phaser beacon in that direction, she found nothing but empty space.

She felt an inexplicably cold shudder run up her spine. “Anyone else catch that?”

Sensy stepped up to her, following her glance. “No. What was it?”

She shook her head. “Not sure. I think it may have been a person.”

“Our target, perhaps?” said Violet. “Sensors are still giving me nothing.”

“Perhaps,” Tazla said. She had to steady herself against the bulkhead suddenly when the entire ship shuddered hard.

“I think our time here is quickly coming to an end,” Charm said.

Tazla agreed. “We’re getting closer to the planet. We need to move now,” she said and turned to the Niners. “Sensy, I want you and your people to get these crewmembers into escape pods now. Then do the same and contact Eagle to bring you all back on board.”

But the SMT team leader shook his head. “You’re not going to go after him by yourself, Commander.”

Tazla was already on the move. “We’re out of time and you’ve got your orders. I expect you to follow them,” she said without gracing him with another look as she rushed towards the corridor into which she thought she had seen the mystery person disappear.

“Always figured she’s a hothead. Gotta be all that red hair,” she heard Charm grumble behind her but she was already too focus on going after her man to pay him any more attention.

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