About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Even as the order to raise shields left her mouth, Captain Gralev knew she'd given it too late. On the main bridge viewscreen of the USS Gagarin, the Klingon K'tinga-class battle cruiser had barely finished emerging from under cloak as her first pair of torpedoes spat forth.
The ship shuddered as the torpedoes tore into the Gagarin's hull. Gralev gripped the arms of her command chair as the bulkheads and floor plates protested the attack and artificial gravity wobbled momentarily.
"Break orbit, evasive starboard. Where are my shields?"
Commander Stephen Garrovick, the ship's first officer, said from behind her, "One torpedo impacted on the secondary hull. Engineering reports heavy damage to the shield generators and life-support. The second torpedo damaged the port nacelle." His eyes locked with hers. "Captain, we can't go to warp."
Gralev could see the Klingon ship veering away on the bridge's main viewscreen, a sliver of gleaming metal contrasting against the dark curtain of space. She knew only seconds remained until their attackers would be in position to launch another strike. With warp drive unavailable to them, her options were dwindling rapidly.
"Stand by weapons," she called out. "I want to smack him across the mouth this time." She glanced over her shoulder to the communications station. "Transmit a general distress call. We don't have a big enough stick to go up against them alone."
As her crew worked around her, Gralev ignored the alarm signals coming from nearly every station on the bridge. Her people knew their jobs, but it was up to her to provide the calm and control they would draw from to guide them through the next few minutes. Despite her anger at having been ambushed for reasons unknown, a display of her legendary Andorian ire wouldn't serve her crew too well just now.
At the forward tactical station, located just to the left of the main viewscreen, Lieutenant Commander Dorthan nodded in her direction. The Bolian, one of the first to graduate from the Academy, was also a proven tactical officer. He'd served previously on the Bozeman, his assignment there having ended only weeks before that vessel's mysterious disappearance near the Typhon Expanse the previous year. As a border patrol ship, the Bozeman had seen its fair share of scrapes, giving Dorthan plenty of opportunity to sharpen his skills. Gralev for one was grateful for his presence.
"And you told me survey duty was boring." His attempt at humor fell flat. "Where the hell did they come from?" It was a question Gralev was pondering herself.
One moment, the Gagarin had been orbiting Nuvidula IV, a barren and unexplored planet situated a mere three-hour cruise at warp two from the Klingon Neutral Zone. The region was only sporadically patrolled, but unmanned sensor probes of Nuvidula had detected trace amounts of dilithium near the planet's surface. It was the Gagarin's job to determine whether or not greater quantities of the valuable mineral were indigenous to the planet's makeup, thereby justifying the establishment of a mining operation as well as greater security. After all, one couldn't be too careful this close to Klingon space.
But the enemy cruiser's torpedoes had decimated the Gagarin's quiet, uneventful survey mission, and if Captain Gralev didn't take action her ship would soon suffer a similar fate.
The Klingons had been uncharacteristically quiet of late, without so much as hostile words exchanged over subspace. Monitoring stations along the Neutral Zone had reported only sporadic ship movement on the Klingon side of the border for months. Rumors had run rampant, theorizing everything from a virulent plague ravaging the Empire to an unknown alien race attacking them from the other side of Klingon space. Gralev, like many seasoned veterans, believed it to be something simpler. In all likelihood, the Klingons merely hadn't had a reason to be bothered with the Federation.
Dilithium was just as valuable to the Klingons as it was to the Federation. Unfortunately for the Empire, there were fewer planets rich in the ore within its borders than there were in the Federation. Inevitably the Klingons would have to branch out beyond their territory in search of additional resources. It made sense for them to target remote planets on the fringes of neighboring regions of space.
"They're coming around again," said Lieutenant Linda Parker from the helm, indicating the main viewer. She checked her small tactical display to confirm the Klingon ship's position relative to the Gagarin. "Port side forward."
Gralev studied the viewscreen where the Klingon ship had arced around in its flight path and was maneuvering for another pass. The viewer relayed every detail of the enemy ship's hull as it approached. Light glowed from various portholes, and Gralev briefly imagined she saw Klingons in some of those portals, all waiting in anticipation for the opportunity to storm aboard a Federation starship, lay waste to its crew, and plunder its contents.
For an odd instant, she wished that the sensor imaging systems weren't quite so refined.
At the communications console, Lieutenant Sinak turned in his seat. "Captain, we have received a response to our distress call. The Protector is the only vessel in any position to render assistance, but they are three hours away at maximum warp," the Vulcan said, maintaining his typical stoic expression.
Gralev grimaced at the news. She knew that her Oberth-class science vessel on its own stood no chance against the Klingons. In fact, Gralev had to wonder why they were still here as the enemy ship was capable of destroying them in a single attack run. Without warp drive, the Gagarin had no hope of outrunning their attacker, either.
Maybe she couldn't run, but she could still get her licks in before they took away her ability to fight back.
"Torpedoes locked," Dorthan called out from tactical.
"Fire!" Beneath her feet, Gralev felt the nearly imperceptible vibration in the deck plating as the torpedoes were fired.
Twin hellstorms of orange energy erupted from the Gagarin's forward torpedo launchers, followed almost immediately by a second pair. Everyone on the bridge watched as the first two torpedoes slammed into the Klingon cruiser's forward shields, energy clashing as irresistible force met immovable object.
As the third torpedo impacted, Gralev watched the defensive screens flicker, blinking while the Gagarin's fourth strike passed through the barrier and continued on until it found the cold metal of the cruiser's hull.
The rest of the bridge crew cheered when they saw the result of Dorthan's strike, though the Bolian himself didn't pause to admire his handiwork. His fingers were moving across his tactical console, already firing the ship's phasers and ordering up another spread of torpedoes.
"We're too close. Get me some room, Parker," Gralev ordered. On the screen, the Klingon ship was coming about, already recovering from whatever slight damage Dorthan's attack might have done. Then the stars shifted violently as the Gagarin clawed for maneuvering room, her hull plates groaning in objection to the abuse. The vessel simply wasn't constructed for combat. Compared to a battle cruiser, her vessel was a lethargic slug even when functioning at full efficiency.
Gralev saw the cruiser's forward torpedo launcher already glowing red as it prepared to fire in retaliation. Her eyes darted to the tactical status display on the helm console, realizing with horror that the upper section of the Gagarin's primary hull was facing the enemy. At this distance, the Klingons' next strike would be devastating.
"Stand by for impact!" Once again, Gralev knew it was too little too late.
Without shields to p