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“The lead vessel is confirmed as a super-heavy. The formation also includes one additional heavy and two battle escorts,” Tenn reported from his tactical position, his voice loud enough to carry across the entirety of the large, busy, and noisy command bridge.

Lif turned toward one of the dedicated screens that surrounded the command chair. He had not yet felt comfortable enough to take the seat itself, which he felt was oddly positioned all by itself at the very front of the bridge, noticeably apart from the rest of the command center behind it.

He quickly brought up the sensor information on the six starship signatures on approach and immediately recognized the energy configurations to be consistent with Starfleet ships albeit not quite identical to what he would have expected from those in his universe. His face turned into a frown. “You have to be kidding me.”

“What is it?” said Garla who had remained close at his side.

Lif double-checked that Tenn and the rest of the bridge crew were sufficiently out of earshot before he addressed her. “That super-heavy is a Galaxy-class starship and those two escorts are Defiants. That’s some serious firepower coming our way. I’m not sure I like our chances.”

“You don’t know what these Star Navy ships can do.”

“Exactly. So I don’t know the first thing about taking them into battle,” he said shaking his head. “I suggest we follow the better part of valor and withdraw. Even if just temporarily.”

The scowl on her face was clear evidence that retreat was not a strategy Garla had favored in her career. “Better part of valor? You’ve spent far too much time among humans, nephew.”

“You can’t tell me you don’t appreciate the value of a tactical retreat. Not so long ago, when we faced each other on opposite sides, you knew that backing down was the right decision,” he said, referring to the less than pleasant encounter they’d had when she had caught up with his Starfleet away team attempting to escape from Piqus following a rather heated skirmish with her and her Eye operatives. It was not a moment he enjoyed reliving, and in truth, it felt as if it had taken place a lifetime ago.

Garla grimaced before shaking her head, evidently not enjoying this trip back memory lane either. “That was different. I had a very specific plan at the time.”

“Sneaking onto Eagle undetected,” he said under his breath.

She ignored him. “I know you have battle experience.”

“Yes, with a ship I am familiar with, not on a vessel I haven’t set foot on since I’ve been a child,” he shot back and had to catch himself to blurt out his frustration too loudly.

Tenn briefly glanced in their direction but then was quickly distracted once more by his instruments to pay them any further attention.

In truth, his battle experience was yet another chapter in his life he’d rather forget. It had involved going up against multiple Jem’Hadar ships during the height of the Dominion War. People he had cared about had been killed or come very close to it. Eagle had very nearly been lost under his command, something he had most certainly not been ready for.

“Lif, listen to me, a retreat, tactical or otherwise, is not an option,” Garla said, suppressing the volume of her voice but leaving no doubt to her resolve. “Whoever is on those ships, they are making a move for the subspace particle collider and since we know what it is capable of doing, we cannot allow them to gain access to it. No matter the cost.”

Lif swallowed as he realized the truth of her words, perhaps even feeling a bit ashamed. As a Starfleet officer, putting the good of the galaxy--in this case, an entire universe, perhaps--before any other considerations was supposed to be his job. He nodded slowly. “I’ll need your help.”

She grabbed his lower arm tightly. “Naturally.”

Lif tried to focus on what needed to be done first to oppose this incoming threat of Starfleet ships but his concentration was abruptly broken by a round of loud, blaring alert sirens.

Tenn promptly provided an update. “The fleet has accelerated and will now enter weapons range in less than five standard minutes.”

“Of course, they have,” Lif mumbled mostly to himself.

The already busy command bridge became more hectic as the turbolift deposited another group of officers onto the deck who promptly went to work while those already manning the various, long banks of computer stations increased the urgency of their tasks.

To Lif it all looked like a hive of bees swarming around their nest with compelling purpose. It was a little too much activity for his liking and compared to the much calmer and seemingly more focused approach one could expect on Eagle and other Starfleet ships when going into battle. He found it difficult to concentrate with this much noise and movement around him. Perhaps this was why on Krellonian ships the captain was sequestered away from his officers.

“Battle stations,” Garla quietly said as she stood beside him.

He shot her a puzzled look, not immediately understanding what she meant.

“Call for battle stations, Lif.”

“Right, yes, of course,” he said as the proverbial light bulb finally came on. “All hands to battle stations. Full power to weapons and shields.”

The order was instantly repeated by Tenn and then by various other officers and likely throughout the ship.

“The Yellow Rose is a Penumbra-class heavy cruiser,” Garla said quietly. “If starship designs in this universe are in line with ours, its capabilities should be comparable to your Starfleet’s Galaxy-class. She should pack quite a punch with her main, forward-facing canons but she has some weakness. She turns very slowly and her ventral and aft weapons are not overly effective.”

Lif nodded as he made quick mental notes of her rapid-fire explanations delivered sotto voce and wondering if he shouldn’t try and think of an excuse to let her take command of the ship during the battle. He quickly discarded the idea; they didn’t have time to convince the crew to take orders from a woman who in this universe had died months ago.

“Try to keep the enemy in front of you. As for our escorts. They barely have half the firepower of this ship and they are poorly armored, particularly at their flanks. You may have to consider utilizing them to slow down the enemy fleet.”

Lif frowned at her as he understood the deeper meaning of her words. “I am not planning on sacrificing these people to ensure our survival.”

“You will need to think tactically, Lif. More is at stake here than our survival.”

But for now, he was undeterred as he headed for the large touch screens that surrounded the command seat and provided him real-time sensor data.

“Take the chair.”

But he shook his head. He was too anxious to try and sit. He brought up the sensor data from the incoming fleet again and then marked a few ships. “The Galaxy, the super heavy, is the biggest threat and therefore the priority target,” he said, finding that he really needed to project his voice to ensure it carried over the noise of the bridge. “These two smaller Defiant escorts could mean a lot of trouble as well. They are fast, highly maneuverable, and pack a heavy punch. They are secondary and tertiary targets.”

Tenn acknowledged the order.

“Use the cyclic converter,” Garla said quietly. “It’s the main gun and Starfleet may not be prepared for it.”

Lif nodded. “Target the lead ship with the cyclic converter and fire as soon as she is in range,” Lif shouted.

“Powering up cyclic converter,” Tenn acknowledged.

He could feel the deck plates under his boots vibrate slightly as main power was being siphoned towards the ship’s most powerful offensive weapon.

The next couple of minutes passed with increasing tension and Lif struggled to keep the butterflies in his stomach settled down. There was something inherently wrong and unreal about going into battle against Starfleet. He may have been around his own people, working alongside the Star Navy very much as his family had always intended for him, but it was impossible not to feel out of place in this universe.

“Incoming torpedoes.”

Lif spotted them on the screens a second after Tenn had shouted the warning, a dozen or so tiny dots rapidly crossing the distance between the Starfleet ships and their small fleet. He glanced up at the windows ahead, spotting the familiar sight of bright red missiles hurtling through space, just before heavy safety shutters moved into place to obscure his view.

“Keep her steady,” Garla said quietly. “The converter needs some time to spool up. We can take the damage.”

He nodded slowly, hoping that her knowledge of these types of ships in her navy translated to this universe.

“Brace for impact.”

Lif didn’t immediately find anything to hold on to and cursed himself that he had decided against taking the command chair when the ship shook hard from the torpedo impacts, threatening to throw him to the deck. Garla steadied him before he could fall and he thanked her with a brief nod.

“Forward shields are holding. Cyclic converter ready to fire.”

“Do it, fire,” he said without delay.

The ship shuddered again but this time not due to taking fire, but while unleashing it. On the screens, he could see a massive energy beam blasting towards the enemy ships.

The lead Starfleet ship--the computer had since identified it as the USS Heracles--dodged the incoming fire just in time but the Excelsior taking up the rear of the formation was not so lucky.

Lif watched on with a mixture of dread and excitement as the beam shredded the ship’s shields and then incinerated nearly half of her saucer section, throwing her into an uncontrolled spin.

The bridge erupted with euphoria at seeing their success at disabling an enemy ship but it didn’t last very long. Just moments later, the Heracles and the remaining ships strafed the Yellow Rose hard, unleashing barrages of phaser fire that struck her less well-protected sides and caused the ship to tremble as if it had been caught in an ion storm.

This time Lif managed to hold on in time. He thought he understood the tactic Starfleet was employing, in fact, it looked a lot like attack pattern omega-four. He knew how to counter omega-four. “Change heading two-three-one mark one,” he shouted. “I want both our escorts mirroring our course while staying at our starboard side. They are free to fire at all targets of opportunity.”

His orders were once again acknowledged quickly and he could feel the heavy Yellow Rose turning to meet the threat. As Garla had warned, she was doing so very slowly. Too slowly.

The two compact and overpowered Defiant escorts broke away from the rest of the task force and quickly managed to single out one of their own escorts.

The frigate didn’t stand a chance and Lif watched on helplessly as it was cut to shreds.

He felt as if somebody had suddenly turned the thermostat on the bridge to its highest setting and tried to ignore the sweat pearls forming on his brow. He could no longer bear wearing the heavy robes his counterpart seemed to favor. He shrugged them off and haphazardly threw them onto his chair. “How does anyone get anything done wearing all that?”

Garla glowered at him but he chose to ignore her displeasure at not playing the part, at the moment, he was sure everyone on the bridge was too busy trying to stay alive rather than to wonder about his behavior.

He could see the cyclic converter was ready to fire again and what was more, if they were quick enough, they just might manage to nab one of those devastating Defiants as it was coming dangerously close to their cone of fire within just a few seconds.

“Change course to thirty-five degrees on our x-axis. Thrusters full reverse.”

The order was acknowledged and followed and the large ship once more shuddered, this time as it attempted a turn far more sharply than what she had been designed for. The inertia dampeners worked overtime as the Yellow Rose shifted all her thrust backward at the same time, the superstructure groaning slightly in protest.

Garla seemed impressed. “That’s pretty clever,” she said, watching on the screen as one of the Starfleet ships was coming into their line of fire thanks to the radical course correction.

Lif couldn’t help himself but smirk. “Sometimes it helps to think like a pilot.”
He waited three more seconds until he was sure he would never get a better chance. “Fire.”

It wasn’t quite the direct hit Lif had hoped for but the cyclic converter’s super-powered beam still managed to clip the small and nimble ship and that was more than enough to destroy her starboard warp nacelle and expose much of her interior to the cold, dead vacuum of space. The ship was out for the count.

He felt Garla gently touch his shoulder and he turned her wat with a smile, thinking that she meant to congratulate him.

Her facial features were cold as stone. “You have to throw our second escort at the other Defiant to take her out. By any means.”

He shook his head. “We can still win.”

“Not like this.”

The next impact came so suddenly, Lif very nearly collided with the screens he had been monitoring so closely.

“We’re losing power to aft shields. Damage reported to main engines.”

Once Lif had found his balance again, he found the screen he had been using out of commission and had to move along to the next one. Heracles was back and along with one of the other cruisers was now pelting the Yellow Rose hard from behind, apparently having learned to stay away from the ship’s devastating forward weaponry.

“Hard to port, then immediately starboard,” he shouted. “Then new heading, three-three-one mark one-two. Thrusters full ahead.” But the ship was far too sluggish in following his course changes and for a brief moment, he was tempted to find whoever was in charge of piloting the ship and take the helm himself to make sure the course corrections were carried out faster.

The problem, he realized, of course, wasn’t implementing the orders, the problem was this ship was an unyielding monster about as maneuverable as a mile-long garbage hauler and most definitely not built for this type of dogfighting.

“New course, one-four mark three-one-eight, starboard thrusters full reverse,” he shouted but once again the ship was not moving as fast as he needed it to. “Turn, turn, turn, you goddamned overweight son of a bitch.”

She did just enough to shake loose the two heavies in her shadow.

“Fire all port ventral phasers.”

Although not nearly as powerful as the main gun, the close quarter phaser fire did disable the smaller of the two cruisers that just moments ago had made their life a living nightmare.

“Lif, check your starboard,” Garla said.

He noticed his mistake too late. Although the last maneuver had bought them some temporary breathing room, it had also allowed the remaining Defiant to take over the spot at their back vacated by the other, heavier enemy ships.

He didn’t want to consider a battle lost before it was concluded but knowing what he knew about those highly maneuverable ships, he had no idea how he’d be able to shake her loose, not with a ship that had a turning radius of a small moon.

“Who the hell designs a warship like this?” he fumed in desperation.

The Defiant made her presence known painfully and unleashed her rapid-firing pulse phasers at the massive ship in her crosshairs.

“Aft shields critical.”

“Maintain speed and course,” he said then left the forward command area of the bridge to join the Kridrip by the computer banks. “Tenn, I want all the power we can muster to the forward starboard and aft port thrusters only. I don’t care if they fuse shut after this and never work again. Just channel everything we’ve got until they are redlined.”

The justicar considered him for a moment and then his eyes flashed signs of recognition. “You mean to flip the ship on its own axis?”

“Will it work?”

“It might,” he said and went over to the helm controls to oversee the maneuver closely.

“I don’t think it’ll be enough, Lif,” said Garla who had followed him.

“It will have to be because I’ve got nothing else.”

Even as he spoke the Yellow Rose began to change her orientation while forward momentum kept her on her original course. Lif could see the problem immediately. It was the same old handicap. And it was going to get them all killed. “Too slow.”

The pursuing Starfleet escort had little trouble staying with their unusual maneuver and unimpressed by the sideways moving ship, continued to liberate her arsenal with extreme prejudice.

Several computer stations all around the bridge exploded, some in chain reactions of destruction and slinging the unfortunate crewmembers operating the workstations to the deck. Thick smoke and the smell of burned and melted plastics, blood, and flesh were beginning to fill the bridge.

Lif looked up at the many screens attached overhead and found most of them destroyed, inoperative, or otherwise indecipherable. One of the few that still offered usable sensor readings refused to give him any good news.

He sighed heavily as he considered his only remaining option. “Tenn, order our escort to take out the Defiant. Even if they have to ram her,” he said and avoided eye contact with Garla.

He could barely see the slender Kridrip through the increasing smoke on the bridge but he appeared to be shaking his head. “She’s unable to comply.”

Another glance at the screen revealed why. Heracles had now singled out the much smaller ship and Lif just caught the tail end of that encounter. The escort didn’t survive it.

Another hard strike rocked the ship, causing yet more explosive eruptions on the bridge.

“Aft shields are gone. I don’t think--“

Tenn didn’t get a chance to finish what he was trying to report.

Lif quickly found him lying flat on the floor and rushed over to his side. Garla got to him a split second quicker and together they turned him on his back only to discover that a large metallic shard had lodged itself deep within his sternum, the front of his tunic rapidly soaking with his yellowish blood. His eyes were barely open.

“Hang in there, I’ll get you a medic,” Lif said but before he could try to do so, the injured man grabbed his hand with a surprisingly tight grip, holding him in place.

“No need. Just tell me. The Star Alliance in your universe? Is it worth fighting for?”

Lif was so startled by the question, words escaped him. For a moment he wondered if he had meant to address Garla instead but there was no doubt that his wide-open and intense eyes were squarely focused on him. “Yes, I want to believe that it is,” he said, surprised by his own sentiment.

“I’ve observed you since you’ve come aboard. How you’ve handled yourself. In combat as well,” he said but had to stop himself as he coughed up blood. “I am convinced there is hope for any Star Alliance that has your resolve.”

“Tenn, stop trying to talk, we’ll get you some help,” said Garla who was kneeling by his other side.

The Outlander took her hand as well and smiled at her. “He’ll need your guidance. And I think you’ll succeed where your … other version failed.”

Those were the last words coming over his lips.

Garla closed his dead eyes.

Lif still felt disoriented by his words and didn’t immediately register that they were still very much at risk of following his example.

It was Garla who shook him out of it, grabbing him by his shoulder and pulling him back onto his feet. “We need to abandon ship.”

Lif looked up at the only workable screen he could find. Four enemy ships remained, all of which with a single focus now. Their shields, weapons, engines, and most of their armor were gone. He wasn’t quite sure if there was going to be enough time to abandon the ship.

“More Starfleet ships incoming,” Lif heard some distant voice say, with the bridge resembling a haze-covered battlefield, he couldn’t even tell where it had come from.

He shook his head. “Don’t think we’re going to make it.”

“Always the optimist,” she said and found a widening smile on her lips that confused him to no end.

Until he could see the world around him begin to dissolve in shimmering blue light.


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