Captain's starlog, 1 May 2158. Commander Eisler reporting. Endeavour is at alert condition red. All departments report ready for combat action. Estimated time of arrival at target system is thirty-four minutes. Nothing follows. End log.
There was nothing remotely amusing about their current situation, but Trip Tucker was smirking anyway.
The Xindi-Primate troop courier was packed to capacity, with every individual present heavily armed and completely absorbed with their own thoughts. At least fifty Primates were secured in their acceleration seats, most having already donned helmets and all clinging to their weapons in a time-honored 'oh, God, I don't want to die' manner. The ten Roughnecks that Commander Eisler had insisted come along were even more impressive-looking than their Xindi counterparts, thanks to the coal-black combat armor and full face visors. Two of them – Hicks and Hudson – were actually asleep, their helmets wedged into place between the seats and the bulkhead so they would remain immobile. The entire hold stunk of adrenalin, fear, and terror.
But Trip barely noticed. His attention was riveted on T'Pol.
Just like him, she was wearing a scaled-down version of the heavier armor Fernandez and her team wore. The combat softsuit clung to T'Pol's curves like a second skin except where hardened plates like the cuirass, gauntlets and boots covered vital part of her anatomy. A single phase pistol was holstered at her side, but her focus was on the scanner currently in her hand. To Trip, she looked like an avenging angel, a bad-ass super commando straight out of an action movie.
He sincerely couldn't recall ever being this turned on.
The troop courier rocked and shook as her pilot dove into the outer atmosphere of the Reptilian drydock planet. So far, they hadn't been detected and, if things played out as planned – never a guarantee in this job – the arrival of the Arboreal and Primate battle group would cover their stealth insertion.
"Ninety seconds," the pilot announced over the internal comm-system, her words causing a flurry of activity as the Xindi not wearing their helmets donned them. Displaying no sign of worry or concern, T'Pol secured her scanner at her belt and reached for her helmet, glancing up to meet Trip's eyes as she did. She raised an eyebrow and he could feel her mental shields relax slightly at the taste of his thoughts. The look she gave him then was priceless – disbelief that he would even consider sex at this time, in this location; amused affection at what she considered blatant illogic; and of course, deeply buried fear that he would be injured. As always, she was utterly unconcerned about her own fate.
"Good to go, sir," CPO Fernandez announced, her voice breaking the moment. Trip gave the chief petty officer a quick look, noting without surprise that all ten Roughnecks were alert and ready for action. With a sigh, Tucker hefted his helmet.
"Here we go," he muttered as he pulled it on and secured it.
Bare seconds later, alarms began howling as the drydock auto-defenses finally noticed their approach and slewed around, tracking software immediately activating. The sky was suddenly crisscrossed with particle cannon fire and incoming missiles that streaked by the fast-moving troop courier and detonated with teeth-rattling force. One of the Roughnecks shouted something unintelligible – it sounded like a war whoop – and several of the others began laughing, which immediately prompted the Xindi to look in their direction. Though Trip couldn't see the expressions on the faces of the Primates, he strongly suspected that they were looking at the human security personnel as if they were insane.
Because that's exactly what he was doing.
"Ten seconds!" the pilot exclaimed.
Taking heavy fire, the courier ship hit the tarmac just below the Weapon heartbeats later, bouncing twice before skidding to a stop. With a hollow boom, the deployment ramp fell open and the Xindi-Primates swarmed out, their rifles already chattering. Fernandez's SEAL team was seconds behind them, Trip and T'Pol firmly in the middle of the Roughneck formation. PO3 Llosa had point and he darted toward an overturned armored ground vehicle, his heavy pulse cannon barking out a steady stream of phased energy packets. His own pistol in hand, Trip followed and skidded into cover behind the smoking car. He exchanged a wide-eyed look with T'Pol who crouched next to him.
The battle of Xindus Secundus had begun.
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The battle had barely begun and already, five allied ships were gone.
"Hard about," Rick Eisler ordered sharply, "two one two by seven five." On the main viewscreen, he could see the heavily damaged Aquatic cruiser beginning to break apart under the concentrated fire from the Reptilian defenders – it was not going down without a fight, though, as it had singlehandedly destroyed or crippled at least twelve Reptilian gunships and had scattered the remainder with its bold assault. Although he had no evidence, Rick suspected that the Aquatics knew that they would not survive this engagement and thus attacked without mercy, using their sacrifice to pave the way for their Arboreal and Primate brethren. Mentally, he saluted them.
But he did not grieve their passing.
Endeavour banked hard as Lieutenant Commander Mayweather manipulated the controls, and for a long, extended moment, the inertial dampeners which allowed such radical maneuvers struggled to compensate. Gravity pushed Rick back into the command chair, pinning him in place and making it difficult to even breathe.
"All batteries, fire!" Lieutenant Kornegay snapped into her headset from where she stood at the tactical position. Endeavour's internal lighting dimmed as the offensive suites sucked up power and a steady thrum thrum thrum of torpedoes launching echoed throughout the ship. On his command display, Rick could see the results – a trio of Mark VI's screamed from the tubes, followed almost instantly by another three, and all six flashed through the darkness to impact against the hull of a Reptilian destroyer. Explosions rocked the ship, even as Endeavour's phase cannons engaged. Lances of raw energy stabbed out, carving gruesome lines across the warship's bow. A second barrage of torpedoes corkscrewed through the void, detonating with fierce flashes of atomic fire that ripped apart armored plates and spilled fragile bodies into the remorseless vacuum. The Reptilian gunship tried to stagger away but the more lightly armed Primate ships pounced the instant they perceived weakness – particle cannons barked from almost a dozen ships.
The Reptilian destroyer didn't have a chance.
"Commander." Rick's head snapped around at Lieutenant Commander Ricker's tone of voice. She was leaning forward to study her holo-viewer, momentarily presenting him only a view of her back. "I'm detecting a Romulan power signature near orbital station Beta," she said. Eisler smiled coldly.
"Tag it and forward it to tactical," he ordered before turning to look at Kornegay. "I want that ship dead," he said.
"With pleasure, sir," the fire control officer said with a dark smile.
"Commander Sato," Rick called out. The communications officer looked up from her board and Eisler realized that her eyes were wider than they should be. It took him only moments to recall that she had been abducted by Reptilians off the bridge of Enterprisein the middle of a space battle during the previous Delphic Expanse mission and had been subsequently tortured by those Xindi. That she was holding it together as well as she was told him everything he needed to know about her strength of character. "Status on ground operation?" he asked.
"SEAL Team leader indicates they are meeting heavy resistance," Sato replied. "No casualties," she added. For the span of a single second, Rick wondered if Fernandez had meant that the entire assault force had lost no one or if she was referring to only the human contingent, but just as quickly recognized that the chief petty officer – who hailed from South America and had lost a number of family members and close associates in 2153 – definitely wouldn't care if even a single Xindi died.
"Helm, bring us around," Eisler said, dragging his full attention back to the tactical display in front of him. There was a Reptilian heavy cruiser in the middle of the defender's formation that looked to be a command ship of some sort and even as Rick noticed it, the defending fleet appeared to be regrouping. He tapped the sensor contact on his feed, and then tapped the HLM button to send a command request to Mayweather's console. "Get us in his aft."
The Romulan could wait.
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He could wait no longer.
Fury singing in his veins, L'haen i-Ramnau tr'Llweii abandoned his study of the tactical board and turned his head toward the two newly promoted subcenturions awaiting orders. Neither was worthy of their rank, but D'deridex had identified them both as probable agents for their mutual adversary, Chulak. Raising them to positions they were incapable of handling was part of the commander's ultimate plan to isolate the two and then suborn them.
L'haen would have simply killed them.
"All personnel to combat stations," he ordered sharply, well aware of the eyes on him. He knew full well that many of them expected him to use the unexpected attack by the human-led strike group as an opportunity to abandon the commander planetside where he had gone only hours before the first hostiles dropped out of war, but L'haen truthfully had no such plans. In the week since they had agreed to the secret alliance, he had discovered in D'deridex a Rihannsu after his own heart. The commander saw and loathed the dishonorable backstabbing that was such a requirement for higher rank. D'deridex even shared L'haen's distaste for the callous sacrifice of honorable soldiers by politicians who knew nothing of war.
Having an alliance with the commander did not mean that L'haen had not abandoned his attempts to defend against D'deridex's machinations, though. He was no fool.
"Scanning Chief," L'haen bellowed, his voice carrying across the oira, "I want confirmation of the Terran ship's identity!" L'haen did not wait for the acknowledgement from the sublieutenant responsible and instead shifted his attention to another junior officer. "Helm Officer," he snapped. "Cut us loose from this station! I want battle maneuvers at once!"
He dropped into the command chair and studied the display on the main viewer. The attackers had struck with complete surprise and had, in their opening moments, had already destroyed enough of the Reptilians to throw the rest into chaos. Even now, the Starfleet ship was engaging the sole remaining command ship of the defenders, using its far superior maneuverability to easily dance around the lumbering warship. Already, theVastagor's sensors could detect fires on all decks of the command cruiser, and it was only a matter of time before the humans destroyed it.
With a loud boom that echoed throughout the entire ship, the docking clamps connectingVastagor to the Reptilian orbital platform detached. Instantly, the helmsman fed power to the main drive and L'haen felt gravity press him back into the chair. He made a mental note to chastise the acting lead engineer – again; that fool had no business even lookingat an impulse drive, let alone be in charge of its maintenance – but set the thoughts aside for the moment.
"Engage at will," L'haen ordered. He watched with approval as Vastagor's weapon systems erupted, the heavy disruptor cannons unleashing lethal salvos that destroyed one of the Xindi-Primate craft outright. Two more rolled to engage them, but their particle beams could not penetrate the protective shields, and the gun crews retaliated without hesitation – blood-green streams of focused, coherent energy stabbed out and melted armored plating or burned through weakened superstructure. Desperate to evadeVastagor's dangerous lethality, the two Xindi craft went on pure defense.
But even that didn't save them.
As the two Xindi craft vanished in flashes of frozen fire and debris, L'haen drew in a deep breath and glanced toward his scanning chief. The sublieutenant was already watching him, waiting for permission to report his findings. L'haen nodded.
"Confirmed," the scanning chief announced. "Endeavour."
"How interesting," L'haen mused. He only briefly considered taking the fight to the human ship, but in the end, allowed caution to dictate his actions. Endeavour was undamaged and in full fighting form, whereas Vastagor was still recovering from sabotage and down to two-thirds effective combat crew. A battle now would only result in his destruction and L'haen had far too much left to do for that to happen. Even S'task had once said that choosing the time and place of an unavoidable battle was the first part in winning the engagement. "Maintain distance from the human ship," he instructed. "Scanning Chief, I want as much data as you can obtain on that vessel." Comprehension washed away the expressions of surprise and mild contempt on the COMMAND-BRIDGE, and L'haen fought down a smile. It was as he had always known: phrase an unpalatable command properly and even malcontents would follow it. "Helm!" he snapped. "Full impulse!"
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On impulse, she peeked over the grav-vehicle, but the angry whine of pulse weapons immediately caused T'Pol to duck back into cover.
They had not budged from the overturned armored personnel carrier that Petty Officer Third Class Llosa had led them to in the ten long minutes of the still ongoing firefight. Had it been an especially good vantage point, remaining in place for such an extended period of time would have been logical, but in truth, the position was vulnerable and exposed. If the Reptilians managed to flank the assaulting force as they had tried twice since the opening moments, it was unlikely that they would survive.
Despite initial success, the ground offensive had completely stalled. Reptilian defenders were tenacious and their prepared positions made taking ground extraordinarily difficult. All major elements of the assault were pinned down, including the Endeavour contingent. Retreat was cut off as well – the troop courier was now a smoking ruin, reduced to slag by the heavy weapon emplacements that were even now ravaging the ranks of the Xindi-Primates.
It was, in T'Pol's opinion, quite unacceptable.
"We can't stay here!" Fernandez snarled as another salvo of enemy fire kicked up ferrocrete debris.
"Taking suggestions!" one of the Roughnecks – T'Pol thought it was Hawkins, although he and Petty Officer Simons sounded strikingly similar, even when they were not wearing helmets – exclaimed.
"T'Pol!" Her head snapped around to meet Trip's eyes – he was at the very center of the vehicle, in the spot that was the most protected, and Chief Petty Officer Fernandez had twice been forced to physically pull him back into cover when he attempted something especially foolhardy. "The APC," her mate said sharply, gesturing toward the landcar they were all huddled behind. "Is it functional?" T'Pol blinked but comprehended the point of his query immediately. She extracted her scanner.
"No," she replied, frowning under the full-face helmet. "But I believe you might be capable of emergency repairs." Without another word, she offered him the scanner and Trip gave it a quick look, nodding as scanned the results.
"I need to get in there," he declared tightly.
"Not a chance, sir," Fernandez hissed. Trip gave the SEAL team leader a fierce look spoiled by the darkness of his visor, but T'Pol could feel the spike of anger rolling off her husband. He was on the verge of saying something to the CPO that T'Pol knew he would later regret.
"You have your orders, Chief Fernandez," she said quickly, before Trip could react. Fernandez looked in T'Pol's direction before shaking her head softly and muttering something under her breath in a language T'Pol did not recognize.
"Roughnecks," she called out, "let's give the captain some breathing room." She checked her rifle. "How long will you need, sir?"
"As long as I can get," Trip replied. He holstered his pistol.
"All right," Fernandez said. "On three. One. Two."
The security troopers moved before she could finish her count and, by the way Fernandez herself rose to bring her weapon to bear, it seemed as if that was the unstated intent. Springing into place around or over the grav-vehicle, the Roughnecks began shooting the instant their weapons came to bear, and the sheer volume of fire they unleashed was staggering. Petty Officer Llosa raked his heavy pulse cannon across the ranks of the defending Reptilians, screaming an inarticulate battle cry as he fired. Crouching on either side of him, Petty Officers Hawkins and Chao began rapid-fire with their EM-41s, seemingly more interested in number of shots than accuracy. At the same time, the rest of the SEAL team stepped around the rear of the grav-vehicle, unleashing a withering barrage to cover first Trip and then Petty Officer Moore as they both scrambled to the top of the groundcar. Moore did not follow Trip, however, instead opting to assume a prone position behind several protective protrusions on the vehicle. He began firing his own rifle a second later, but was far more judicious with his shots as befit his status as a sharpshooter.
"Fire in the hole!" PO2 Wakulich exclaimed as he crouched in front of Fernandez and leveled his weapon. It looked like nothing more than a tube with a large rotary magazine directly in front of the trigger housing. With a series of rapid thoop thoop thoop sounds, Wakulich's weapon fired, sending a trio of high-explosive rounds tumbling through the air to detonate against the Reptilian defenses, collapsing one entirely and causing a second to explode in flames. A ragged cheer erupted from the Primates currently huddled behind whatever cover they could find, but the humans ignored it as they continued to pour energy into the Xindi-Reptilians.
Hicks was the first to fall. Despite reeling from the unexpected ferocity of the Roughneck assault, the Reptilians began to sporadically return fire and one of those poorly aimed shots sliced through Hicks' armor. He collapsed without a sound and T'Pol reacted without thinking. Grabbing him by the back of his cuirass, she dragged him into cover where the corpsman, Petty Officer Simons, went to work. Instinctively, T'Pol reached for the fallen Roughneck's rifle and took his place without hesitation.
"Pour it on!" Fernandez roared and the SEAL team answered with even more weapons fire. T'Pol focused exclusively upon the feel of the rifle in her hand, the way it recoiled when she squeezed the trigger, the smell of its power cell heating up. It was a tactic to disassociate her mind from the violence she was causing, the death that she was likely handing out.
With a sputtering cough, the grav-vehicle's engine growled to life. It trembled and shook as Trip did whatever it was that he was doing, before the repulsor fans began whining to life. Moore rolled off the side of the assault vehicle, landing in a crouch alongside where T'Pol knelt. An instant later, the personnel carrier rolled upright.
"Get in!" Trip shouted as he slid the grav-vehicle around so the open hatch he'd wiggled through was away from the Reptilian fire.
"Move!" Fernandez shouted, and the Roughnecks retreated backwards toward the vehicle, still firing. T'Pol followed suit but somehow found that she was the first to enter. "Target that breach in their defenses, sir," Fernandez said as she climbed into the armored personnel carrier. "Full throttle."
"Right down their goddamned throats," Wakulich muttered darkly as he reloaded his grenade launcher. He seemed to be staring at the unmoving body of Petty Officer Second Class Hicks, now stretched out on the floor of the grav-vehicle.
"Hold on!" Trip shouted as he fed power to the engine.
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"Hold on!" Lina shouted as she fed power to the engine.
Endeavour's impulse drive whined in protest, but she ignored it and focused instead on the tight spiral that would carry the Starfleet ship away from the volley of torpedoes launched by the dying Xindi-Reptilian command cruiser. A low buzz trembled through the deckplates as the point-defense systems vomited a torrent of defensive fire. Utilizing a combination of x-ray lasers and actual, physical slugs composed of carefully formed depleted uranium, the P-Def ravaged the ordinance, causing many to explode harmlessly dozens of kilometers away from Endeavour. An equal number of torps were damaged enough that their guidance computers failed or the motors driving the ordinance couldn't maintain the necessary speed or maneuverability. Of the twenty torpedoes fired, only six escaped the rain of steel and lasers to home in on Endeavour.
Six was still far too many.
"Incoming!" Lieutenant Kornegay shrieked seconds before the torpedoes struck. Explosions rocked the ship, blowing out shield generators across all decks and causingEndeavour to tremble. Alarms howled as EPS junctions self-destructed, but Lina forced herself to ignore all distractions. Focus on the objective, she told herself. Stay alive. Everyone is relying on you.
You can do this, Lina, a voice whispered from her past. She couldn't tell if it was Travis or Rashid or her dad – it wasn't really there, the logical part of her brain whispered, but Lina ignored it – but the voice gave her courage, washed away her fear, and made her … extraordinary.
Her fingers flew across the helm console in a blur, feathering malfunctioning maneuvering thrusters, goosing the already laboring impulse drive for just a little more thrust, and then, in her masterpiece, using the warp field itself to leech the velocity out of their uncontrolled tumble. Endeavour twisted and spun and rolled, but climbed back into the fight. The phase cannons continued their unrelenting barrage, slicing into the Reptilian cruiser and burning through the superstructure.
"Tactical, I want a full torpedo barrage on that ship," Commander Eisler snapped from where he sat at Lina's back. He sounded angry, not terrified or worried, and she drew strength from it. "Helm, get in close, underneath their starboard weapons array."
Once again, Selina banked Endeavour hard, this time narrowly avoiding a nearly crippled Arboreal ship that sincerely looked like its entire hull was ablaze. The hollow echo of the torpedo tubes in action was unrelenting – Lieutenant Kimura's ruthless drilling of his team in the nine days it had taken them to reach this planet was paying off as it almost seemed that the torpedoes were being fired nonstop – and the brilliant explosions of frozen fire across the command cruiser's hull was paying dividends. Its lower quarters were glowing from internal fires and only one of the three drive exhaust nozzles was functioning.
But still, the damned thing was trying to fight on.
"Multiple hull breaches on D Deck!" Rostova exclaimed from the DCO station. "Shields have failed!"
"Scheisse!" Eisler snarled. "Kornegay! Schnell!"
Firing in rapid succession, all of Endeavour's phase cannons barked and every single one of the particle beams converged at virtually the same location on the Reptilian ship. Armored hull plates buckled and evaporated under the concentrated assault, and a second later, an immense explosion rocked the entire cruiser. Chunks of burning metal went spinning into the darkness as the section targeted abruptly blew outward. With the starboard quadrant of the ship completely exposed to vacuum, the cruiser shuddered. Secondary and tertiary explosions continued to rock the warship as the deuterium tanks ignited and tore the vessel apart.
"Damage report!" Eisler demanded.
"Emergency bulkheads have sealed on B Deck!" Rostova replied immediately. "Sickbay reporting numerous casualties incoming!"
"Ground team pressing assault," Hoshi said instantly. Out of the corner of her eye, Lina could see the operations officer look up at their acting-captain. "One KIA."
"Send acknowledge," the commander ordered. "Helm, orient on the Romulan bird of prey, maximum impulse."
"Aye, sir," Lina replied.
"Tactical," Eisler continued even as Mayweather spoke, "fire as soon as we're in range. And Kornegay?" Despite the still shrieking alarms, the commander's voice was low.
"I want it dead."
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He wanted them dead.
Ears ringing, D'deridex pushed himself to his feet and gave his surroundings a glance. The two marines that had accompanied him planetside were both dead thanks to the explosion that had destroyed the shuttle. When they had originally landed here, atop the observation gantry connected to the launching cradle that enclosed the Weapon and exposed only the upper half of it above ground, it had been simply because of location – from this point, one could simply walk to the nearest fueling arm and enter the weapon thus. Until now, D'deridex had only briefly considered how vulnerable the landing pad was to enemy fire. It was only sheer luck that saved his life and he bit back a furious curse. Rage coursed through his veins, churning inside his stomach and feeding his strength. The origin of the weapons-fire intended to claim his life was unmistakable.
Reptilian. They had betrayed him.
A low vibration rumbled through the ground and D'deridex recognized it immediately: the Xin'di was bringing the Weapon online. It was operational. So. They had lied about that as well. D'deridex swallowed another flash of fury.
You will all perish in lakes of blood, he promised as he rolled one of the marinesover and seized the disruptor rifle clenched in the corpse's fingers. A bitter, acrid stench filled his nostrils then – the tiny computer in the marine'sarmor had finally registered that its inhabitant was dead and had triggered the acid compound contained within the bodyglove worn under the warsuit. There would be nothing left of the marine in seconds.
And barely a second later, D'deridex realized that he should be incapable of smellinganything with his helmet on.
A flashing light appeared in his field of view as his suit alerted him of a critical breach. He cursed at the rapidly descending numbers that then flickered into view and began stripping off the warsuit as quickly as possible. The cuirass resisted his efforts at first but the growing heat against his bare skin gave him extra strength and he tore it free. Even as it hit the ground, he was working on the bodyglove – acid hissed and bubbled where it struck, but D'deridex ignored the pain, ignored the fear, ignored the sounds of combat drawing ever closer. All that mattered was that he get out of the suicide shell…
His still healing leg ached as he threw the last piece of the body glove aside and hugged his burned hand to his chest. The acid did its work well – the undergarment was gone in seconds, leaving only a foul stench and a puddle of unidentifiable goo in its wake. Grimacing, D'deridex knelt and quickly redonned his battlesuit, this time without the benefit of the insulated material underneath. It was simple logic on his part – going into battle naked was the province of savages, although with how the armor was already pinching his skin, he knew that he would wear the armor only as long as necessary.
The ground trembled – an explosion of some sort, and closer than he liked – so D'deridex hefted the marine's rifle and darted toward the Weapon, hugging cover and keeping an eye out for enemies. He had barely covered six steps when he heard the sound of an approaching flitter.
There were three Reptilians aboard the grav-vehicle and none of them even saw him before he began firing. The first of them – the driver – died instantly as the disruptor beam, dialed up to its highest setting, excited the atoms within his body and shattered the electromagnetic field that held him together. By the time his two cohorts realized that they were under attack, D'deridex had shifted aim and fired twice more.
It took him only seconds to familiarize himself with the controls of the flitter and he slewed it around aggressively, pointing its nose toward the slowly powering up Weapon. He would not be denied – this Weapon was his.
The engine roared and sprang forward.
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The APC sprang forward, its engine sputtering and misfiring, but somehow, someway still functioning.
Trip didn't bother pondering small miracles. Instead, he concentrated on the absolutely bizarre steering mechanism and the overriding need to get closer now. In the seconds after he'd managed to jury-rig the grav-vehicle into working, he'd noticed a subsonic vibration that was slowly gaining in intensity. He knew what that meant.
The Reptilians were powering up the Weapon.
Defensive fire continued to pepper the APC from the fortified bunkers surrounding the mammoth construction, slamming into its armor and knocking the whole thing sideways. For a single, terrifying moment, Trip completely lost control of the grav-vehicle – he was certain that he heard one of the Roughnecks snarl something in Spanish or maybe Italian – but he recovered and slewed the APC around once more. It fishtailed wildly, which had both advantages and disadvantages, and he fought the controls. This was worse than trying to drive a sports car on a hockey rink! Again, the engine moaned piteously in protest as he demanded more power, and with a barking cough, it leaped forward again.
They hit the breach in the prepared defenses long seconds later, and Trip felt his stomach drop down into his feet as the vehicle momentary went airborne. It landed hardand with a shower of sparks and metal as the maneuvering fans collapsed under the APC's weight. The engine's moan turned into a grinding squeal and then simply died.
"Go, go, go!" Fernandez shouted, and the SEALs obeyed without hesitation, kicking the hatch open and diving out. Llosa was the first one to hit the ground, the man-portable pulse cannon he carried roaring its distinctive cry. Hudson was immediately behind him – she dropped to one knee and opened up with her rifle – and together, the two created a secure pocket large enough for the rest of the team to clamber out in relative safety. Trip didn't see it, though.
His eyes were locked on the unmoving corpse in the back of the APC.
T'Pol must have sensed his sudden trepidation – who the hell was he, to be leading these soldiers? He was just a regular guy who happened to be good at building things! – because she subtly reached and touched his arm. He glanced up and could just make out her understanding eyes underneath the polarized visor she wore.
"Sir!" Fernandez hissed from where she was crouching just beyond the hatch. "We've got to move!" Trip nodded.
"Lead the way, Chief," he ordered as he jumped down to the ferrocrete. T'Pol was a half-step behind him. To his surprise, the SEAL team leader then pulled a thermite grenade from her belt. She armed it and tossed it into the APC where it rolled to a stop next to Hicks' body.
"Hasta luego, mi amigo," she then murmured as she pushed the hatch shut. "Get your ass moving, sir," Fernandez hissed when she caught Trip watching her.
From the smoking wreck, they assaulted forward, moving through the trench-like structure in a rapid, bounding pace with only half of them moving at any single time. Reptilian defenders were everywhere, some hunkered down behind cover, others simply crouching in the open, and they yielded territory grudgingly. Two more of the Roughnecks fell during the insane, chaotic assault – Hawkins and Wakulich – but the SEALs pressed forward aggressively, barely pausing long enough to secure the weapons of the fallen and leaving behind armed ordinance meant to immolate the bodies before resuming their attack.
"Where the hell are the Primates?" PO3 Llosa bellowed. He had discarded his pulse cannon the instant it ran dry and was now carrying both Wakulich's grenade launcher and Hawkins' EM-41. Trip gave him a sidelong glance from where he crouched in the shadow of what looked to be a non-operational industrial transporter.
And in that second, Llosa's head simply disintegrated.
Even as the petty officer's corpse was collapsing, Chao and Hudson were surging forward, their rifles, the former scooping up the grenade launcher and firing it at the latest Reptilian counterattack in a single, fluid motion. Simons and Fernandez followed, their rifles chattering nonstop. Before he realized what he was doing, Trip found himself at Llosa's side, kneeling to seize the fallen Roughneck's EM-41. T'Pol was at his side, her own rifle at the ready, and the sharpshooter, Petty Officer Moore, trailed the squad, his carefully placed shots ringing out loudly. Trip glanced back at the corpse only once, noticing instantly that Moore had already armed and rolled a grenade at the body.
Fire erupted behind them.
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Fire was everywhere.
Alarms shrieked incessantly and hollow booms echoed through the engineering deck, but Anna forced herself to ignore them as she struggled with the growing list of battle damage. With the shields still down and the close-in weapon system barely functional,Endeavour's hull plating was the Starfleet's vessel primary line of defense as the Reptilian defenders rallied. Hull breaches were being reported on all decks, with at least four in critical locations.
"Riggs!" Anna shouted as another alarm flashed on her screen. "Fire on B-Deck!" He nodded but continued to issue orders through his comm. For a second, Hess felt a wave of fury thunder through her – now was not the time for him to be ignoring her! – but it vanished the instant she recalled his previous assignment. An unexploded Xindi torpedo had penetrated the lower hull shortly after the shields first failed and was currently lodged somewhere on D-Deck, dangerously close to the antimatter storage pods. Three Roughnecks were already en route with one of her engineers to see what they could do about it and they were relying on Riggs to direct them around sealed bulkheads and dangerous locations.
Which left her with precious few options.
"Lewis, give me good news," she snapped into her headset the instant she had tapped the icon representing the closest damage controlman on B-Deck. He was little more than a crewman but had shown enough potential and drive that she'd spontaneously decided to give him his own team.
"It's bad!" Lewis shouted over the commline. "We've got ruptured EPS – Ling! Get back!" The line popped and crackled. "I need more bodies here!" Lewis exclaimed a long second later.
"There are no more bodies," Anna retorted harshly. She fought the urge to abandon her post and storm to the turbolift to join Lewis – right now, though, she knew that she was where she had to be, controlling and directing the DC crews to where they were most needed. Phlox had once compared her job to that of a triage surgeon and she'd grimly had to agree. "I need you to get your ass in there and get that damned fire under control!"
"Aye, ma'am!" the crewman replied, his voice breaking. Anna was about to change the frequency – she needed to get Rostova back on the bridge after having pulled the junior lieutenant for an especially dangerous ruptured coolant line job – when the commline came alive once more. "You heard the ChEng!" Lewis roared, sounding twenty years older than he was and at least two meters taller. "Come on, you apes! You wanna live forever?"
"D-Deck secured," Riggs announced. "Hoffman is down, but alive." Anna blinked.
"Who the hell is Hoffman?" she demanded before recognition of the Roughneck dawned. "Right," she said, shaking the moment off. "Fire on B…"
Endeavour shook hard, knocking her to the deck in mid-sentence, and a new alert tone began shrieking, joining the others still sounding to create a cacophony of noise that lost all meaning. Anna scrambled to her feet and gave the sparking panel in front of her the briefest of looks before moving to Riggs'.
"B-Deck," he said grimly. "Rupture in the port tank." He looked up to meet her eyes. "Thirty seconds." Anna wanted to scream, wanted to look for another solution, but knew they had run out of time. Thirty seconds until the fire reached the deuterium tank and then …
"Vent it," she ordered without hesitation. She reached for the nearest comm-panel. "Stand by for emergency vent, B-Deck," she said harshly. Riggs finished tapping his commands and the screen changed to display twin boxes. He placed his hand in the left one, allowing Anna to follow suit in the other one. They spoke at the same time.
On B-Deck, emergency bulkheads slammed down, sealing off the entire section, even as the emergency vents slid open. Thousands of liters of deuterium erupted from the tank, freezing almost instantly in the hard vacuum of space. Anna knew it had to be an amazing sight, but her attention was focused on the flashing lights indicating the locator beacons of Crewman Lewis and his team. They flickered.
And went dark.
= /\ = = /\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
Her console was dark.
Cursing furiously in her native Japanese, Hoshi slammed her hand down on the unresponsive system and then slid out of her chair to wiggle under the console. She strained to reach the source of the problem – one of the numerous notes Lieutenant Devereux had left her was about a persistent design fault with this station whenEndeavour's polarization system was badly stressed; according to Hoshi's predecessor, Engineering had never been able to replicate the feedback problem so they hadn't really believed that it existed – and a long moment later, felt a spark dance across her fingers. Grinding her teeth together, she contorted her arm into an even more unnatural position and pressed against the loose piece of electronics. It resisted for a second before finally seating in its proper place. Instantly, the comm panel lit back alive and Hoshi scrambled back into her chair.
On the main viewer, the entire screen was alive with sensor contacts, each bracketed by a digital outline identifying it as friendly or hostile, and far, far too many were Reptilian. Of the attacking Arboreal and Primate forces, barely a quarter of the original number remained, and all of them were damaged in some fashion. Both of the Arboreal destroyers were still in the fight and had accounted for dozens of Xindi-Reptilian warships, but from the look of them, neither of the warships would last much longer.
"Kornegay," Commander Eisler growled from the where he sat, but surprisingly, made no attempt to take over from the lieutenant manning the tactical board. Instead, he continued to use the sensor feed installed beside the captain's chair to pick out targets for both the weapons and the helm. The source of his ire – Lieutenant Kornegay – gave him a foul look.
"We can't get a lock on him!" she snapped before turning her eyes back to the board in front of her.
'Him' was the Romulan ship. They had been trying to destroy the bird of prey for the last ten minutes, but somehow, he stayed one step ahead of them. Twice in the last five minutes alone, the Romulan ship had dove through a Xindi-Reptilian formation when Kornegay managed a successful target lock and launched a salvo of torpedoes at him. He had even fired on a damaged Reptilian ship himself once and used the resulting explosion like countermeasures.
"Bridge to Hess," Eisler said abruptly. Hoshi risked a quick glance away from her board and noticed that the commander's expression was even bleaker than before.
"Hess." Anna sounded alternately furious and on the verge of tears. "Port deuterium tank vented," the engineer said darkly. "Rostova is taking over damage control teams on C-Deck."
"Acknowledged." Eisler grunted. "You just pulled the transporter crewman." Hoshi inhaled sharply as revised casualty reports from the Roughneck team crawled across her screen. Four dead already … Hoshi hated that she was relieved that neither Trip nor T'Pol were among those lost – it made her feel like she wasn't as good a person as she wanted to be. The dead were people too – they deserved to be grieved, didn't they?
"I need him – Goddammit, Riggs, get that fucking fire under control!" Hess severed the connection without bothering to ask permission, and in that instant, Sato could literallyfeel terror and worry roll off Eisler. She snapped her head around to look at him, certain that she'd find him on the very cusp of a panic attack.
But she didn't. If anything, he looked grimmer than before.
"Got you!" Kornegay snarled. Endeavour shuddered – it was a minute vibration, but Hoshi had become attuned to the sounds the starship made in the months since she'd been aboard – and a barrage of torpedoes shrieked through the darkness. The Romulan bird of prey twisted and rolled once more, curving around a damaged Reptilian warship and banking hard around another. Two of the six torpedoes smashed into the first Xindi ship, exploding with some force that it sent the craft into an uncontrolled tumble. Another of the torpedoes struck something that didn't show on the sensors – some piece of unseen detritus that the navigation deflectors would normally repel – and wobbled twice its motor simply sputtered and died. The remaining three torps clung to the bird of prey's aft as it dove toward another cluster of Reptilian ships, its disruptors barking. Engines bright, the Romulan momentarily vanished into the Xindi formation at the very instantEndeavour's torpedoes detonated. A brilliant flash momentarily dazzled the sensors and when it faded, the Romulan was gone.
"Ricker!" Commander Eisler turned his attention to the acting science officer. "Verify destruction!"
"I'm trying," the lieutenant commander said immediately. She shook her head. "There's too much interference … I'm reading debris but … I can't confirm."
"I got that sonuvabitch!" Kornegay insisted. Eisler gave her a sharp, quelling look, and once more, Hoshi realized that she could actually sense his frustration. It coiled around him like a living thing, fierce and angry and sad and resigned, all at once. He both hated and envied Kornegay for some reason Hoshi couldn't fathom, but none of his emotions seemed personal. If anything, he seemed … distant and muted.
"Presume he's using their holo-cloak," the commander ordered. "Maintain fields of fire," he added when she nodded. "We're still in this."
= /\ = = /\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
They were still in the fight.
Rage beat time with her pulse, but Chief Petty Officer Maria Fernandez pushed it down and focused on the mission. Nearly five minutes had passed since Llosa fell and in that time, they had pressed the Reptilians hard. To her continuing surprise, both Captain Tucker and Commander T'Pol hadn't just kept up; they'd more than carried their weight. The first officer especially was frighteningly competent with the pulse rifle – she was consistently as good a shot as Moore and, if they hadn't just lost four of her troopers, she'd harass the sharpshooter about that – but the skipper was barely breathing hard and hadn't hesitated once when it mattered. Maria knew she shouldn't have been surprised, what with both officers being veterans from the first Expanse mission, but she was.
The loss of good soldiers was something she thought she'd been prepared for, but the reality was something else entirely. All four had been solid and dependable – Llosa had been the first to fully accept her into the Roughnecks when Commander Eisler pulled her from Telemachus, and she was usually grateful to Hawkins for convincing her to give that smartass armoury specialist back on Endeavour a chance – and she'd known that this mission was going to be a difficult one when she recruited them, but their deaths … no, she hadn't been ready for this at all. All that mattered now was finishing the op, destroying the Weapon and getting back to Endeavour with the captain and his first mate.
And when she did, she promised herself that she'd finally tell Antonio exactly what she felt.
A steady hum echoed around them, vibrating the very ferrocrete and making it difficult to keep their balance. On the bright side, it was loud enough to cover their approach, which had been lethal for several of the Reptilian defenders. According to the captain, it was the Weapon powering up, and T'Pol theorized that they had less than ten minutes before it launched. Which meant they were running out of time.
"Down!" Chao hissed from his position on point. He gestured rapidly for Moore to join him, and the sharpshooter darted forward without hesitation. At Maria's hand signal, Hudson and Simons went to a knee, the former automatically turning to cover their rear. T'Pol followed suit a moment later, with Tucker following her lead.
"Chief, we've got an open hatch into the Weapon about three hundred meters from this point," Moore announced over their comm-line. He was on his stomach, inching forward to get a better look with his specialized scope. "There's something wrong, though," he added.
"Elaborate," Maria demanded. She kept an eye on the captain – he'd shown a staggering lack of common sense a couple of times already and Commander Eisler had quietly briefed her before they arrived in-system on Tucker's heroic idiocy. Though he had no proof, the tactical officer had theorized it was due to Tucker's long history with Admiral Archer and the example the older man had set.
"There are twenty or thirty dead Reptilians up there," Moore said. His frown could be heard through the comm-line. "I think the Primates made it through here."
"T'Pol." Captain Tucker's voice was hard and, before Maria could speak, the first officer had sprinted forward to join Chao and Moore. She kept low, for which Fernandez was grateful, and seemed uninterested in exposing any part of her anatomy.
"Confirmed," the Vulcan announced. "I am detecting numerous Xindi-Primate life signs."
"Great," Chao muttered. "We do the heavy lifting, they get the glory."
"Move up," Maria ordered, "but stay alert."
Chao was the first to reach the landing leading up to the open hatch. At Fernandez's nod, he scrambled forward and scaled the ladder three rungs at a time. Moore was on overwatch, sweeping the kill zone with his scope for any sign of hostiles.
"Xindi!" he said as Chao reached the gantry that lead to the hatch. Maria's breath caught when she saw him freeze in place at the appearance of a figure in the hatch, but she relaxed fractionally when she recognized the woman. For reasons that hadn't quite made sense, Councilor Naara had insisted that she needed to accompany them on this op, but since her presence made the other Primates more likely to fight harder, they hadn't questioned her motives too deeply.
"Hi," Chao said, his greeting broadcast over the open comm channel. The response came instantly.
"Goodbye." Naara's arm came up as she backed into the Weapon. The distinctive flash of a weapon discharge accompanied Chao's slow-motion fall backwards off the gantry. He hit the ferrocrete three meters below with a sickening crunch.
Moore was already firing, but from the angry curses he was spewing, Maria knew that he hadn't hit anything. The hatch hissed as it sealed, leaving Naara and her Primates inside.
A moment later, the Weapon began to rise.
"The bitch betrayed us!" Simons roared. Maria looked instantly at T'Pol – the Vulcan was touching the side of her helmet and Fernandez could hear the first officer urgently trying to make contact with Endeavour – and then to the captain. Tucker was still and silent for a long eternity.
And then, without a word, he wheeled around and sprinted back the way they came. T'Pol didn't hesitate – she instantly threw herself after the captain – and Maria bit back a surprised yelp. She glanced briefly at the remaining three Roughnecks before shrugging and pursuing their commanding officer. Still cursing, Simons followed, with Hudson and Moore mere steps behind them.
Behind them, the Weapon continued to climb into the sky.
= /\ = = /\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
The Weapon was rising from the planetary surface.
His heart suddenly pounding hard in his chest, Rick Eisler gave his command display another quick look, knowing that he'd find the same thing. Their offensive capability was reduced to barely thirty percent and the hull plating was almost as ineffective. Under no circumstances would they be able to stop this monstrosity.
"Oh, God," Lieutenant Commander Sato murmured, her eyes wide with terror that Rick suspected was only half due to their present dire circumstances. She had lost contact with the entire ground team minutes earlier and when Sato had reported this fact, Eisler had noticed the tears in her eyes.
"Tactical," Rick said darkly, "lock onto the Weapon and fire as soon as it comes into range."
"Aye, sir." Kornegay sounded sick.
"Commander," Ricker said suddenly, a frown on her face, "I'm detecting dozens of shield generators on that thing." She inhaled sharply. "Energy spike!"
A lance of raw energy flashed down from the Weapon, stabbing into the surface of the planet. Massive fault lines appeared immediately and Rick gasped at the sheer destructive force he was witnessing as pressure built and built and …
The planet – Xindus Secundus – exploded.
"Brace for impact!" Mayweather shouted instants before the shockwave slammed into them. Endeavour rocked and Rick felt the gravity plating fail as the Starfleet vessel tumbled uncontrollably, still buffeted by debris and pure energy from the shattered world. More alarms began screaming.
"Damage report!" Rick shouted as he pulled himself back into the command chair. The gravity flickered on and off, which made it difficult to stay seated, but he persevered. Eislers always persevered.
"Brownouts all across the ship!" the crewman manning the damage control station exclaimed. "Impulse and warp are down!"
"I've got no weapons!" Kornegay declared at the same time. She slapped her console, as if that would bring the systems back online.
"Incoming message!" Sato announced abruptly. "Open channel, video and audio!" She manipulated something on her console and the viewscreen suddenly came alive.
"To all hostile vessels," the Xindi-Primate said, her eyes bright with what must have been madness, "I have seized this Weapon in the name of those who have been slain by murderers who claim to call themselves Xindi." Naara smiled, a cruel and bloodless expression that held no trace of sanity. "Vengeance shall be meted out to those responsible for these deaths. As you have destroyed our world, so too shall we destroy yours."
The transmission abruptly ended, returning to the image of the Weapon and the spacescape now littered with broken ships and fragments of a dead world. Its internal superstructure continued to spin and swirl underneath the outer hull as the Weapon accelerated away from the ruins of Xindus Secundus. The emerald power emitters across the massive construction glowed brightly.
And then, with a flash, it sprang away at warp speed.
The End of STAR TREK: Endeavour: "Amaterasu"
The story is continued in STAR TREK: Endeavour: "Xolotl."