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Captain McTavish was in his ready room and, although Kylie had the bridge, she wasn’t in the center seat. Instead she was at her own station at Tactical, reviewing the available data on the Argolis Cluster. The captain had told them they’d be picking up the rest of the Starfleet Intelligence team somewhere in this group of star systems. While it was possible it would be an uneventful encounter, she wasn’t prepared to place a wager on that, and she wanted to be ready for anything that might occur.
As they neared the first system in the cluster, Kylie signaled the captain and a moment later Captain McTavish and Captain Sovor emerged from the ready room. Kylie was not a Betazoid, but even she could sense the tension emanating from the two officers.
“Status?” Captain McTavish barked as he took the center seat. Captain Sovor began circling the bridge, hovering for a moment by each console, staring over the shoulders of the crew, as if making an inspection.
“We’ve just entered the Argolis Cluster,” Kylie responded, trying to ignore Sovor’s critical eye as he came to stand beside her. “The Tagra system is directly ahead. Our current speed is warp factor six. We’ll reach the outer edge of the system in just under ten minutes.”
McTavish glanced over his shoulder at Sovor. “There’s no need to detain you on the bridge, Doctor,” McTavish said. He didn’t address Sovor by his rank, perhaps because not everyone on the bridge was privy to Sovor’s real position and assignment; as far as the rest of the crew was aware, Sovor was a civilian scientist, not a Starfleet Intelligence officer. Accordingly, his attire was a plain, black outfit with a Vulcan emblem on the collar. “I’ll be sure to inform you when the science team is aboard,” McTavish said with a faint smile.
Sovor nodded slightly, but remained standing by the Tactical station. “Thank you, Captain. However, I will remain here.”
McTavish’s smile didn’t falter in the least but his jaw seemed to tighten. “As you wish,” he said in a level voice.
“Helm,” the captain said, turning back to face forward. “When we reach the outer edge of the system take us out of warp and establish a standard orbit around the fourth planet.”
“Aye, sir” Ensign Rajagopal responded.
Sovor spoke. “Approach the planet from the far side of the second moon and take up a stationary position there.”
Ensign Rajagopal almost moved to lay in the course before realizing the command had not come from her captain. She looked back at the captain, then to Sovor, and back to the captain.
McTavish didn’t keep her in suspense for long. “Standard orbit,” he repeated evenly.
“Aye, sir” the ensign responded again and entered the course Captain McTavish had ordered.
They were a week out of Bajor and Kylie had been pleased to see the young ensign relaxing into her new position. Although Kylie was the First Officer she felt a certain affinity with Rajagopal; they were both newcomers to the Symphony, and both replacing officers that had been killed in the Dominion war. It would take them both some time to fit in. But now the evident power struggle between McTavish and Sovor seemed to be telling on the ensign. She again seemed nervous and unsure of herself. It was unheard of for a civilian guest to give orders on the bridge of a Starfleet vessel, especially orders contradicting the captain. Perhaps it would have been easier if Rajagopal had understood who Sovor really was, but apparently Lieutenant Sadler had remembered his responsibility.
For the next ten minutes, no one on the bridge spoke. The only sound was the console indications and monitored comm traffic from other departments on the ship. Ensign Rajagopal finally broke the silence when she announced that they had reached the edge of the system and they were dropping to full impulse. Her voice sounded tense, her throat dry. It hadn’t improved a few minutes later when she announced that they were entering standard orbit around Tagra IV.
“Lieutenant Sadler,” McTavish said, “scan for other traffic.”
Sadler did so, and reported, “Two other ships in orbit, both are Tellarite freighters.”
Kylie had glanced at the shipping schedules for the system and remembered seeing a reference to Tellarite ships. She quickly rechecked the database. “Expected, sir,” she told the captain. “They have a routine run delivering maintenance supplies to Tagra IV.”
The captain nodded. “Then we wait.”
Sovor moved down to the ops station and entered several commands at the console. Lieutenant Sadler seemed irritated, but otherwise didn’t react. Sitting beside him, Ensign Rajagopal was shocked and her expression — wide-eyed and opened mouthed — showed it.
“Monitor subspace communications traffic on this frequency,” Sovor ordered.
Captain McTavish fumed. “You didn’t tell me about the comm frequency.”
Sovor looked at him, expressionless, “It wasn’t required.” He turned back to the ops console.
“No signal on this frequency,” Sadler reported.
The captain leaned back in his chair. “Then, again, we wait.”
They waited for a full half-hour. Sovor didn’t move from beside the ops console and as before, everyone was quiet, speaking only when necessary. When the ops interface to the subspace communications system suddenly started beeping, Ensign Rajagopal almost jumped out of her seat.
“A signal, sir,” Lieutenant Sadler reported to the captain, apparently doing his best to ignore Sovor as the other all but pushed him out of his chair. “Coming from a –“
“A nebula on the far side of the cluster,” Sovor interrupted. “Helm,” he said to Rajagopal, “lay in a course and engage at maximum warp.”
The ensign again looked shocked. “Sir?” she addressed Captain McTavish.
The captain now stood and moved down to stand beside the ensign, his hand on her shoulder. “Scan for traffic in the area.”
The ensign’s hands flew across her console. “Nothing, Sir. It’s open. Wait, there’s a ship moving out near the third planet, but it’s well away from us.”
“Lay in a course for the nebula,” McTavish directed, “engage at full impulse.” Sovor started to say something but McTavish raised his other hand to silence him. “Once we’re two million kilometers from the planet, increase to maximum warp.”
The captain patted the ensign on her shoulder and returned to his seat. Sovor left the ops station and moved up to the captain’s chair.
“We are wasting time,” Sovor said.
McTavish remained seated but his hands gripped the arm rests of his chair. “We’ll make two million kilometers in less than three minutes. Another five minutes to the nebula.”
“I am aware of the navigation,” Sovor said.
“Then you should also be aware,” McTavish said slowly, “that going to warp while in the gravity well of a planet can be hazardous in the extreme.”
“An acceptable risk in these circumstances,” Sovor said.
“I determine what risks are acceptable when it involves my ship and my crew,” McTavish responded, emphasizing his pronouns.
It became a moot point a moment later when the ship jumped to warp nine.
Kylie had been so engrossed by the conversation between the two captains that she had not paid proper attention to her console and she chided herself when Lieutenant Sadler suddenly interrupted.
“I’m picking up weapons fire in the nebula,” Sadler reported.
“Source?” McTavish demanded. He got to his feet, stepped around Sovor, and moved forward to stand between the helm and ops stations.
Sadler’s hands flew across his console as he tried to resolve the sensor data. “We’re still too far,” he reported.
“Red alert,” McTavish said over his shoulder to Kylie and she hit the necessary controls. Immediately the lighting on the bridge shifted into the red end of the spectrum and a klaxon sounded.
“Time?” McTavish asked.
“Eighty seconds to the nebula,” Rajagopal responded.
“I’ve got a sensor image,” Sadler reported. “It’s …”
“Jem’Hadar.” Sadler looked up at the captain, aghast. “A Jem’Hadar attack ship.”
“I had hoped we had seen the last of them,” McTavish almost growled.
Sovor spoke again. “After the armistice was signed with the Dominion, it was discovered that seven Jem’Hadar ships and their crews were unaccounted for. The Founder being held by Starfleet was questioned but she insisted she knew nothing of their whereabouts. It was assumed that without a supply of ketracel-white they would die in a matter of weeks.”
“That was a month ago,” McTavish said, “and they seem very much alive.”
“Or someone has commandeered one of their vessels.” Sovor reasoned.
“In any case, they’re attacking someone. Matt, can you locate the source of the subspace signal?”
Sadler frowned. “I can’t get a positive fix. There’s too much background radiation from the nebula. But they’re definitely inside.”
“We’re coming out of warp,” Ensign Rajagopal announced.
McTavish returned to his seat, again stepping around Sovor. “Commander,” he said to Kylie, “stand by on phasers and torpedoes. Doctor, either get out of my way or get off my bridge.”
Sovor said nothing but his raised eyebrow spoke volumes as he moved to the far side of the captain’s chair. Kylie had to work to suppress a smirk.
“Open a channel to that ship,” McTavish ordered.
“Hailing frequencies open.” Kylie reported.
“Jem’Hadar vessel,” McTavish said in a reassuringly authoritative voice, “By order of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets, in accord with the agreements signed by Dominion representatives on stardate 52879.3, you are ordered to stand down and prepare to be boarded.”
There was not the slightest likelihood that the Jem’Hadar would surrender. Kylie knew this and she was sure Captain McTavish did too. But he was obligated to follow protocol. A moment after the Symphony dropped out of warp, the Jem’Hadar ship answered with a polaron burst to the port nacelle.
“Return fire,” McTavish ordered. “Target their weapons.”
Kylie had done this hundreds of times during the war, as tactical officer on the Corte’z. She had studied and memorized schematics obtained from captured Jem’Hadar ships. She had reviewed hours of sensor logs obtained during previous battles. In short, she knew just where to hit them. She pressed the firing controls and the Symphony’s phaser emitters spewed forth a coherent barrage of high-energy particles.
“Direct hit,” Kylie reported. “Minimal damage. Their shields are holding.”
“Continue firing,” McTavish ordered. “We’re not just flirting with them. Helm, evasive pattern delta. Keep us moving. Don’t give them an easy target.”
Kylie would have liked to have observed how Ensign Rajagopal was handling this. Seven days into her first assignment since graduating from Starfleet Academy and she was maneuvering a starship through combat. The poor girl must be terrified. As First Officer, it was Kylie’s responsibility to keep tabs on the crew’s well-being. Unfortunately she was a little busy at the moment. For five minutes — a long time as far as battles like this went — the Symphony traded shots with the Jem’Hadar attack ship. Their recent shield upgrades helped, protecting them from the polaron beams that would otherwise have ripped through their hull. And the impulse and thruster modifications gave them a little more to work with. Still, the attack ship was faster, more maneuverable, and possessed greater firepower.
They were in trouble.
“Shields down to thirty-percent!” Kylie shouted as she continued firing.
“Warp drive is off-line!” Lieutenant Sadler reported. “Hull breech on deck six!”
“Tell me about them,” McTavish demanded.
Sadler responded. “Shields appear to be holding. But they’ve taken some engine damage. They seem to have lost maneuverability.”
Kylie could have confirmed that; the enemy ship had suddenly become easier to hit. She activated the forward torpedo launcher, took aim, and fired. Instantly, a blazing comet-like missile raced toward the attack ship. Their remaining shields were insufficient to completely protect them from the cataclysmic forces unleashed when the warhead detonated. There was a blinding burst of light — the forward view screen dimmed automatically to protect the eyesight of those on the bridge — and when it cleared they saw the front portion of the ship, specifically the weapons array, dissolving in a shower of superheated fragments.
“Their weapons are down!” Kylie reported triumphantly.
“Their engines aren’t,” Sadler added.
McTavish rose to his feet prepared, no doubt, for the worst. It was typical that the Jem’Hadar, when all else failed, resorted to ramming their enemies in a Kamikaze-style last act. During the war with the Dominion, the Federation and its allies had lost as many ships to these suicide runs as they had to conventional weapons fire. Kylie checked her readouts and knew the Symphony’s shields were too weakened to withstand such an assault.
“Evasive,” the captain ordered. “Evasive!”
Rajagopal scrambled to comply but it was too late. On the view screen the Jem’Hadar ship accelerated toward them, but not directly toward them. They must have come within a few meters.
Everyone was silent for a moment. Then McTavish asked, “Matt?”
Lieutenant Sadler checked his console. “They’ve gone to warp,” he said, releasing a long sigh. “They’re heading out of the system.”