The data packet was on its way.
Her face tight, Commander Annike Lundmark studied the data stream that was crossing her console for a long moment. Fear twisted her stomach into knots, but she swallowed the urge to scream. Revealing how worried she was would affect the crew. After all, there was nothing more contagious than fear.
Glancing around the bridge, she noted with grudging approval that her command crew appeared to be completely alert and ready. This was no surprise, though; they had served together for nearly five years now and were among the finest that Annike had commanded in her ten years as the captain of the Iceland-class ship. Under her, they had evolved into a finely honed team that seemed capable of practically anything.
A smaller ship than the newer Enterprise-class or even the outdated Neptune-class, the UES Stockholm had a storied history, and had already been a legend when Lundmark received command of the venerable ship. A native of the city for which the ship was named, she had joined UESPA Starfleet at seventeen, intent on someday commanding the ship. Her entire career had been oriented toward that goal, and once she was named Stockholm's commanding officer, she had gone out of her way to avoid relinquishing the job. Accepting the rank of captain would take her off the bridge of her beloved ship, and Starfleet had finally given up trying to promote her.
Annike pushed down the guilt that threatened to swamp her; she had put the crew in this position when she volunteered for this mission. It had been, in her opinion, one more opportunity to prove that the Iceland was still a good design. Despite its inability to break the warp four barrier, the reliable ship was still sturdier than the newer Neptunes.
"Data stream sent, ma'am," Lieutenant Aaron Hermanns stated from the communication station, and Annike gave him a sharp nod in response. Instead of a realtime site-to-site transmission, she had decided to inform Starfleet Command of their arrival in-system with an encrypted data burst. Their likelihood of detection with the data burst was much smaller.
"Confirm scan," she ordered Lieutenant Margaret Jhabvala, her tone brisk. The science officer acknowledged the instruction with a curt nod and bent over her viewer. A tense moment passed.
They had spent the last two weeks creeping into the Zeta Reticuli system at impulse to confirm the reports that the Romulans were indeed in-system. It had been a difficult fourteen days during which the crew of the Stockholm had been required to maintain silent running almost twenty-four seven. Per Lundmark's order, the communication system had been taken offline to prevent any accidental transmission bursts, and re-initialization required her command codes. Active sensor sweeps were forbidden, and anything that could be even potentiallydetected by Romulan scans had to be cleared by Annike herself.
As they drew closer to their target, the stress level aboard the Iceland-class light cruiser had skyrocketed. Tempers were frayed as the forty members of the crew dealt with the agonizing realization that they were deep in enemy territory now and detection would lead to their destruction. Despite the pride that the crew had in their old ship, no one held any delusions that the thirty-year old ship could outrun a Romulan attack craft.
"Scan confirmed," Jhabvala announced, almost whispering as she did. The lieutenant looked up from her board. "Multiple encroachments in geosynchronous orbit over Acheron colony."
"On screen," Annike demanded. Instantly, the main viewer snapped alive and displayed the partially constructed drydock. The image was of poor resolution, but Lundmark didn't want to risk detection by asking for an active scan.
"Six birds of prey," her tactical officer commented. "And one warbird."
"Where are the rest?" Annike asked softly. She exchanged a look with Lieutenant Walt Nkrumah, and her tactical officer frowned.
"Energy spike!" Lieutenant Jhabvala shouted before he could respond. "Multiple mass signatures on rapid approach!"
"Tactical alert!" Lundmark ordered sharply as she began inputting commands into the pilot's station; it was one of the complaints among some officers about the Iceland design that the commanding officer was also the ship's pilot, but Annike had always preferred having control. Stockholm's impulse engine whined as she began applying thrust; glancing at the sensor feed installed at the nav station, she cursed softly at the sudden appearance of the trio of ships. Judging by their mass signatures, they were drones. Where the hell did they come from?
The artificial gravity pushed her back into her seat as Annike sent Stockholm into a steep dive. Their only chance for survival was to reach the system's Oort Cloud and use one of the comets within as cover. Capable of barely warp three point seven, the old Iceland-class probably couldn't outrun any of the ships in the system.
"Weapons charged," Nkrumah declared, "and hull plating polarized."
"Three Romulan drones on combat assault!" Jhabvala's fear was growing by the second, but Lundmark couldn't spare the time to calm her down. Leveling out from the dive, she sent the Stockholm into a tight spin even as the trio of drones opened fire. Flashes of disruptor fire lanced out from the pursuing ships, narrowly missing the Iceland-class.
"Hermanns!" Annike growled as she sent Stockholm into a twisting climb to escape from the lethal barrage. "Realtime transmission authorized!" The hollow thrum of torpedoes being fired from the ship's launchers vibrated through the deck of the old ship. "Warn Starfleet Command!"
A pair of photonic torpedoes spiraled toward the fast-moving drone ships. At the last moment, the targeted drone altered direction in a radical maneuver that would have been impossible if it had been manned. It was a common tactic that had earned the drones a deadly reputation as difficult foes to defeat.
"Incoming!" the tactical officer warned a half second before an explosion sent the Stockholm tumbling. Alarms shrieked as the hull was breached on C Deck. Debris erupted outward, ripping into the starboard nacelle and sending a stream of warp plasma into space. Annike cursed at the mass signature surging toward them out of the Oort Cloud.
It was a Romulan Warbird.
Fire erupted from the warbird's main guns, punching through the hull plating of Stockholm as if it weren't online. Disruptor beams seared through the starboard nacelle, igniting the leaking plasma with a horrific flash that ripped the nacelle free and sent it spinning into the void. A second photonic torpedo detonated as the Iceland-class ship tumbled out of control, punching through the hull and spilling frail human bodies into the hard vacuum.
Her ship's controls no longer responding, Lundmark looked up at the cracked vidscreen with horror in her eyes. Looming toward them, the warbird spat a pair of torpedoes at Stockholm before banking away, and Annike's breath caught: there was no way the battered ship could avoid them.
She closed her eyes.
The End of STAR TREK: Endeavour: "Pandora"
The story will be concluded in STAR TREK: Endeavour: "Acheron"