4 October 2641
D -10 Days
Robert and Angel woke up to the sound of the alarm chime they had set with the computer. Just as on any other morning. Mornings that would have seen them make pleasant morning talk before going off to shower and a breakfast to start their day.
But this wasn't any other morning.
They got ready with urgency. Shower, a quick breakfast without a word, and then into their uniforms before departing Robert's quarters.
As they moved down the deck, Julia joined them. Her hair was brushed and pulled back into a proper ponytail and her uniform was without a single crease. Her green eyes burned with the same intensity their own eyes had.
Jarod joined them next. Cat arrived alongside Leo, and then Meridina came up with Lucy. Scotty nodded in greeting as he moved into place with them.
They met Data, Worf, and Shepard coming up to the Transporter Station. Worf, as well as Data, were in their standard Starfleet uniforms; Shepard was in the blue uniform of the Systems Alliance Navy, complete with the striped shoulder boards.
The door slid open. Locarno was there and nodded. Commander King, not to be outdone, was already present with her crew. "So." Robert looked at them all. "This is it?"
"This is it," Julia agreed.
"Let's go, then." Robert nodded to the Egyptian man at the transporter station. "Are they ready?"
"We just received the clear signal from Command, sir. You are cleared for transport straight to Defense Command."
Robert didn't bother thinking about what had happened the last time they were in Defense Command. That was the past. This was about the future, their future, and stopping a terrible threat looming over everything they cared for. "Then let's go."
In the central structure of Defense Command, about ten stories down from the Defense Committee special room where they had been grilled just four months ago, Robert and his crew stepped into a large chamber illuminated by a giant holographic starmap. Lines were drawn through the space depicted and insignias were displayed in each partition; the torch of the United Systems, the emblem of the Phosako State, and the swastika of the Nazi Reich.
There were already several tables laid out, as well as lines of chairs. Robert, Julia, Jarod, and Caterina went to one table marked with the seal of the Alliance President. Cat was visibly nervous, prompting Robert to put a hand on her shoulder. "It'll be fine," he promised her in a low voice.
The reason for her nervousness was clear; there were more tables and even more chairs. And some were already taken up. Robert recognized various uniforms of Alliance member states, the Systems Alliance, Starfleet, several other allied states… and to his surprise there were even a number of Rangers from E5B1.
The others took up chairs in the seating area. That is, except for Worf, Data, and Shepard, who went to the tables for Starfleet and the Systems Alliance respectively. Robert watched her salute Captain Anderson and an older man with lighter skin and a scar on one cheek that went down to his mouth. She took a seat beside Anderson.
Worf and Data, meanwhile, joined a Starfleet table where Captain Picard was present, as was Admiral Nechayev. An older man wearing what Robert saw to be one star admiral rank was sitting beside Nechayev. The holographic name marker in front of him identified him as Rear Admiral E. Jellicoe, Starfleet.
The Alliance table was only occupied by one flag officer for the moment, Marshal Gulinev. The gruff Russian nodded in acknowledgement to Robert and the others standing at attention before him. They took seats marked for them.
Over the next several minutes, the seats filled in with more officers. The Citadel Council table was soon filled with Turians, primarily, save a small party of Asari led by a Matriarch named Aethyta. A couple of Salarians in the uniform of the Salarian Special Tasks Group sat at one end of the table.
The main doors opened and heads turned. Everyone watched as a large group of Klingons stomped in. Robert and the others recognized Councillor Kurn among them, but he seemed to defer to another Klingon with a large, medal-adorned overcoat. Said Klingon's wild eyes darted around the room. He looked to the Alliance table and Robert realized he was looking right at them. A smile came to the Klingon's face. They watched as he led the Klingon contingent up to the central platform and the Alliance table. "So, you are the captain they say caused the war," the Klingon in the overcoat said. He smiled a toothy grin. "I thought you would be older."
Robert smiled thinly. "I enjoy surprising people."
That prompted a chuckle from the Klingon leader. "Your ship looks impressive, Captain. I will enjoy seeing how it fares in the battle to come."
"And my crew and I will enjoy showing you how good we are in a fight."
That caused another chuckle. "I look forward to judging that for myself."
The Klingon led his contingent to their table. Robert swallowed at seeing the chair he took; adjacent to Klingon lettering was the English translation: Chancellor Gowron, Klingon High Council.
"You just faced down the leader of the Klingon Empire," Cat squeaked.
"He was testing us," Jarod observed. "That's all. Don't let it get to you, Cat."
"But… but look at all of these leaders…"
Cat stopped when the door opened again. This time it was President Morgan leading a group of figures. Admiral Maran, Admiral Davies, General Hatcher of Military Intelligence, and Defense Minister Hawthorne all walked in behind him and made their way to the Alliance table. Indeed, save for Davies' chief of staff, they took up all of the remaining seats.
The Aurora officers were thus the only other people sitting with them. It was intimidating as hell.
But there was one last surprise. The door swung open one last time and admitted a final contingent. They were mostly Minbari in white and yellow robes, a couple of Humans and Minbari in Ranger uniforms, and finally...
Vice President Delenn walked regally through the seating and to the steps leading to the middle platform and its giant holodisplay. She and her group took the last table.
"Ledosh has had a busy week, I guess," Julia murmured.
Robert nodded back. He looked back to the crowd of people attending. Officers and officials from all of the allied powers that were working with the Alliance. Phosako, Klingons, Gl'mulli, Dre'kari...
Admiral Maran stood. "Greetings, gentlebeings, and welcome to Alliance Defense Command. I am Admiral Maran of Drelin. And it is my honor to present to you the President of the Allied Systems, Henry Morgan."
There was polite applause from some as President Morgan stood and walked to a podium. "Thank you all for coming. This strategy summit has been called to address the main issue over which our states have allied against the Nazi Reich of Universe S4W8. We have been able to confirm that there is a Darglan Facility in said universe, and in range of the Reich's fleet. Indeed, we know that even now they are looking for it, although they may not know the extent of what they are looking for." Morgan's expression was stern. "If they discover this Facility, it is a certainty that they will discover the means to develop the interuniversal jump drive developed by the Darglan. And that is what we are gathered here to prevent."
That prompted nods.
And, much to Robert's consternation, Morgan looked directly at him. "I now call Captain Robert Dale of the Starship Aurora to the floor. Captain Dale and his crew will present the planned operation to secure the Facility."
"Tides of Fire"
D -11 Days
The fabric of space tore open with crackling green energy. The resulting vortex in space formed just long enough for a single vessel to fly through, surprisingly swift for her kilometer-long hull.
Such was Starship Aurora's arrival at Earth L2M1.
On the bridge of the ship, Robert and the others took in the sight of the plentiful starships arrayed in orbit. A Federation Excelsior-class ship, the Crazy Horse, was nearest to them, along with a couple of smaller Federation vessels of the Miranda-class. A massive Klingon battlecruiser that Robert had never seen before loomed ahead, joined by an even larger pair of warships; dreadnoughts from M4P2, the Systems Alliance Kilimanjaro and a Turian dreadnought.
And among them was a massive blue starship, taller than it was wide or long. "That's a new one," Locarno mused.
"I have it in the newest recognition charts," Jarod said. "It's a Minbari Warcruiser."
"The Minbari are attending the strategy conference?"
"According to her ID signal, she's called the Branmer. On special assignment to the Rangers."
"Quite a lot of people are here," Julia mused. "Isn't that the Negh'Var? Chancellor Gowron's flagship?"
"This is going to be one hell of a strategy summit." Robert stood up. "Already everyone. Let's get to Briefing Room 1. We need to go over our presentation."
In the Aurora's large Briefing Room, Data and Jarod had taken charge. A star system was now displayed over the central holoprojector. "This is System BB29938," Data stated. "Known on Federation starcharts in our home universe as Gamma Piratus. The system includes one Y-class planet, one O-class, three gas giants, and one M-class planet where the Darglan Facility is located. According to the data recovered from the Darglan computer banks, the Facility is located on the tertiary continent in the northern Hemisphere."
"Under a mound, I'd guess," Julia remarked. "Given our Facility was and the data center on 33LA."
"Likely so." Data tapped a key and zoomed in on the planet and the location. "The area is a river valley with several strategic peaks that could be utilized for ground-based defensive emplacements."
"Do we know what's inside of it?", asked Commander Shepard. The System Alliance Marine was seated in Alliance blues between Worf and Meridina.
"That data was not forthcoming in what we recovered," Data replied.
"If it's anything like our Facility, it'll have a utility ship and maybe an Emergency Ship," Julia pointed out. "I mean, one of our Kelley-class ships and a hullform for another ship like the Aurora."
"The tricky question's going to be if we can keep the place," Angel pointed out. "I mean, once the Nazis know it's there, how do we keep them out?"
"If we get there in time, we could shut down the surface transporter," Cat pointed out. "Our jump drives let us jump into the Facility itself, I mean. We don't need the surface access."
"It would buy us time at least," Shepard observed. "We could use it if we have to set demolition charges."
"Granted, we need to make sure the actual portal to get in and out works." Jarod drew attention to himself with that comment. "There's no data on how intact the place is, whether the local systems are functioning. I think we need to bring signal enhancers so we can beam right into the Facility if we need to. But that's not the real problem we're facing." Jarod pressed a key. The image of the system zoomed out until it was but a speck on a larger map of their section of the galaxy. Additional markers popped up. "The real problem is getting there." Jarod pointed to various red specks. "There are at least ten enemy warships in the area around Gamma Piratus. And the enemy fleet base at New Austria is within two days' travel at standard warp. The moment they see us coming, they'll react."
"What if we send a Discovery-class ship?", Cat suggested. "I mean, they're fast, and they can cloak. Maybe the Challenger, or I hear the Gagarin is ready to fly."
"The Reich has tachyon detection grids and other technology that can detect a cloaked vessel given time," Data noted. "The Klingon raids on their supply lines have determined this capability as in place. Even if such a vessel evaded initial detection, it would be incapable of resisting an enemy arrival at the site."
"And we may not have time either." Jarod pointed to the spots. With a keystroke the red dots began moving in a pattern. One easily recognizable. "They're getting closer than before. Whatever method they're using, they're fine-tuning it. It could be a couple weeks, if not sooner, before they actually find the Facility."
"So we can't sneak around without setting off an enemy fleet to come after us," Julia said. "And we don't have time to try something more subtle. That leaves us with the direct approach."
Robert nodded. "A direct assault."
D -10 Days
"I have shared our findings with Admiral Maran and Defense Command," Robert explained to the gathered. "The fact remains that given the location of enemy forces, the best way to secure the Facility at Gamma Piratus involves defeating the Reich fleet and eliminating their fleet base at New Austria."
"A difficult target." The uniformed military officer of the Phosako contingent wiggled his chin. "We have planned for such a strike for months, but currently our forces are insufficient for such a bold strike."
"Given the strategic situation on your front, I'm not sure you can afford such an attack." This was the Turian military commander beside Primarch Fedorian. The holographic display before him identified him as General Adrien Victus. "Although it would certainly be a bold move."
"The Klingon Empire is ready to dispatch ten more squadrons to the war," Gowron stated. "We would have the forces, together, to eliminate this base. But getting to it will be difficult."
"If I may?"
Robert looked to the new voice speaking up. Delenn stood from the ISA table. "I am still unfamiliar with some of the aspects of your interuniversal jump drive technology," she admitted. "Would it not be possible to simply jump to this New Austria system from one of the other universes?"
"Ships do not jump from one exact point to another, Madame Vice President," Robert explained. "There is a spatial aspect margin to each jump. And it can be random. Unless you lock one jump drive onto another, or to a receiving device designed to provide such an anchoring effect, any jump point you open would be to another point determined by various complicated circumstances. And if you did it with multiple ships, then each jump point opened would have a different arrival point over many light years of space. My ship could arrive two light years outside of this solar system while yours might arrive in orbit over Jupiter, or somewhere outside of Alpha Centauri. If a fleet attempted a large-scale jump without something to anchor their jump drives to the spatial location of New Austria, they'd be scattered across the better part of a sector. The Nazi fleet could engage and destroy them in detail."
"So they would see these points open from so far away?"
"Yes." Robert nodded. "Given the large reaches of space, it's very unlikely that a jump point would open close enough to a sufficient gravity source to hide the point from long-range sensors. They'd see enough of our fleet coming to know."
"I see." Delenn nodded. "Thank you, Captain Dale, for that explanation."
"You say the enemy is growing closer to the Facility?", Davies asked. "Are you sure we don't have another few months? Admiral Relini has rebuilt the 9th Fleet and should be able to win a decisive engagement by the end of November. By New Year's, we'll have two more fleets to send at New Austria."
"The pattern of their movements suggests that we have only three weeks before their search pattern moves into Gamma Piratus," Data stated from the Starfleet table. "Commander Jarod and I have run multiple strategic simulations. Four weeks was the absolute longest before discovery was unavoidable."
"And we probably only have two or so," Jarod added. "I'm sorry, sir, but we've run out of time."
Davies didn't respond with any hostility to that. He nodded with understanding. "So we need to launch the attack," he said. "But we don't have forces fast enough to blast their way to New Austria before the enemy fleet could intercept us. We would get overwhelmed and destroyed."
"You have said your jump drives can lock onto one another for jumps?", Delenn asked. "If you cannot get a fleet to the location, could you not send just enough ships that a fleet could lock onto them?"
"There is a hardware limitation to how many locks a jump drive can sustain," Jarod answered. "At best, maybe three different jump drives could lock onto one. To take out a fleet and the base? We'd need to get the better part of a fleet there, and the enemy would likely intercept…"
Robert noticed Jarod go quiet with thought. And he wasn't the only one. "Commander?", Admiral Maran asked.
Jarod blinked. And then he smiled, and it made Robert's heart lift to see that. Jarod had something in mind. "Commander Jarod?", he asked.
Jarod stood. "We can outfit probes to act as drive anchors," he said. "A lot of them. Enough that entire fleets could jump to a single location fast enough to engage the Reich forces at New Austria."
Picard was quick to act on the idea. "Commander, is what you are proposing technically feasible in such a short time?"
"A week, at most," Jarod proposed. "We just need to manufacture the same systems our jump drives use for anchoring other drives. It has been proposed before." Jarod looked to Cat, who blushed and smiled. "So I've been giving it some thought."
"What do you propose for our battle strategy?" The speaker was Admiral Hackett, the scar-faced man at the System Alliance table beside Prime Minister Shasti. "Once we come through a jump point we'll need time to form the fleet up for a general action."
"We can seed the anchor probes with probes configured to jam enemy targeting sensors," Cat proposed. She swallowed. The fact that she wasn't stuttering out of reaction to all the eyes on her was purely from her mind focusing enough on the technical issue at hand. "I mean, I've seen Nazi sensor systems in action before, I know their limitations."
"That would let us buy time to maneuver any intercepting enemy ships into an advantageous position," Robert added. "Then we send a launch signal on our IU bands and the fleet can jump in and engage."
Maran stood. "If this can be done, I would move that the Coalition commit to this operation. A committal of such force to destroying the Reich fleet base at New Austria would send ripples through their communications and logistics networks. It could cause a collapse across the entire front."
The Phosako leader - Turrellso - seemed to ponder the idea. The colors of his eyes seemed to shift, as they always did in the somewhat feline eyes of the Phosako, as if to go with the thoughts in the blue-furred being's head. "Such an accomplishment would have a severe effect upon the Reich's hold on star systems across several sectors. Many worlds in the region were settled by subordinated nations with little love of the Reich. Such a blow to the Reich's aura of military invincibility would have interesting socio-political ramifications. Ramifications to our immediate and long-term strategic advantage."
"In other words, Premier Turrellso, you believe that a victory by our fleets at New Austria could very well win the war," President Morgan stated.
"Indeed, Mister President. I will not say so with certainty, of course, the variables are simply too complicated to make a guaranteed calculation. But it would certainly do extreme damage to the Reich both materially and psychologically."
"We would shatter the Reich's aura of military invincibility." Robert nodded. The more he thought of this plan, the more he liked it.
Hackett nodded with approval. "The Fifth Fleet will be finished outfitting with IU drives and enhanced energy shielding by the end of the week," he said. "We can be in position to launch an attack in nine days."
"The Citadel Fleet will be prepared by that time," Victus added.
"If this works, I will commit eight squadrons to the battle." Gowron smiled his toothy smile again. "I will lead them myself from the Negh'Var."
"The InterStellar Alliance has not agreed to any military action on behalf of your coalition," Delenn stated. "But I am Entil'zha and I will commit the Rangers to fight against this evil. A week should be sufficient time to outfit enough of our ships to assist in this battle."
"I'll have an Alliance fleet ready as well." Maran nodded. "That leaves one matter. We need a ship that can penetrate their defense perimeter and deploy the anchor probes. The ship has to be fast enough to avoid interception and big enough to carry the anchor probes we'll need, not to mention tough enough to endure enemy fire to set up their fleet for the ambush."
Robert swallowed. He knew just which ship fit that criteria.
And indeed, Maran looked to him. "Captain Dale, the Aurora is the only ship that can accomplish this mission effectively. We can deploy some of our fast ships to follow you in and distract their defenses but I'm not sure they can follow you all of the way in. Is the Aurora ready for an operation like this?"
It was a good question. Were they ready? This was everything they had been building up to, after all. All of the diplomatic work, all of the searching for answers… everything, really, since the strike on 33LA.
It all came down to this.
Robert looked to his crew. Julia's green eyes were on him. She nodded, almost imperceptibly. Angel, Jarod and Cat, Lucy and Meridina, Leo, Nick Locarno and Scotty, Laurent, they were all looking at him with the same thing on their faces.
"Admiral, sir," he said, turning to Maran. "We've been training for this for weeks now. Commander Shepard and Commander Worf have put us through our paces. So, yes, we are ready. As ready as we can ever be."
"Good to hear it, Captain," Maran said. "Now, General Victus, Admiral Hackett, let's start with you. Can you give us a complete rundown on…"
Robert went back to the table and set beside Julia. She smiled at him. "Here we go," she said. "Good reply."
"Thanks," he answered. "Hopefully the Nazis won't be as ready for this as we are."
"Don't think of it like that," Julia chided gently. She kept her voice low so as to not disturb General Victus as he listed the Turian warships being prepared for the war. "Think of it this way; it won't matter if they're ready or not, because we're going to kick their asses."
"I can get behind that." And as he said that, Robert found himself wondering. I wonder what they're up to on their end. What are they planning? Do they have anything in mind for the Facility as well?
And, of course, a question that had nagged him for months.
Are we ever going to run into Lamper again?
Over a world marked with towering spires and marble monuments to the glory of the founding regime, a spiraling set of structures dominated the orbital spaces. Various ships filled the spaces around it. Some were plain-looking private vessels, merchant transports and spaceliners and the like. But most were gunmetal gray with the blue ramscoops and red field emitters of the Reich's feared warships. All had the swastika of the Party and State emblazoned on them and a number had the twin lightning bolt-shaped “S” letters marking a ship in operation by the Schutzstaffel.
One ship completed its approach to a docking port. On the bridge of the cruiser Reich's Glory, Kapitän-des-Raumes Joachim Lamper noted their arrival in his log. "Frigattenkapitän, make sure all wounded are offloaded," he ordered his Executive Officer, Frigattenkapitän Hermann Falk.
The dark-haired Neusachsenische replied with a nod. "Jawohl, Kapitän."
"And do not let that little creature Geisser avoid giving us the replenishment we need," Lamper continued, moving toward the lift. "We need every torpedo and missile we can get from the fleet locker."
"You can rely on me, Kapitän Lamper," Falk swore.
A mere nod was Falk's reply from Lamper. The older man stepped into the lift and barked the proper command to head to Deck 7. From there he moved through the spartan halls of his ship, ducking compartment beams and accepting salutes from his loyal crew. He noted their devotion with pride, pride that he had brought them through so many battles. After the Nebula, as costly as it had been, it had seemed like victories would never end… but of course the Alliance had recovered. And more than recovered....
He moved beside one blackened area. Specks of blood were still visible. One of his crew had his skull smashed at this spot during the last battle near Grodni 3. Those Klingon beasts had torpedoed the Reich's Glory quite extensively in the action. That their "Birds-of-Prey" had succumbed to his tactics and disruptor fire did not erase the fact that his ship had taken damage and casualties. Fifty dead, Lamper contemplated bitterly. We are reaping a bitter harvest in death for this war. And it will not get any better.
A chief petty officer saluted him on his way off the ship and obediently logged his departure from the ship. Once through the airlock Lamper started walking down the wide terminal bay for the line of docks his ship had connected to. A passing anti-grav transported stopped. A young woman, a brunette with freckles, saluted him. He recognized her dark uniform; the womens' auxiliary for the Raumkriegsmarine. Women could not serve in combat capacities, obviously, but German women dedicated to serving their Fatherland were found places in the auxiliaries as clerks, secretaries, drivers, galley cooks in central bases… anywhere that combat was not a persistent possibility. "Kapitän", she called out. "Do you need a ride?"
"Ja." He nodded politely and accepted the seat beside her. This made the journey to the central areas of the New Austria Naval Base far faster than he had anticipated. So much the better; he wanted to report to Admiral von der Goltz as soon as he could.
The trip was still on the slow side. Other anti-grav vehicles were carrying stores and supplies to be transferred to ships, allowing power from transporter use to be conserved only for high priority cargo transport. And yet more vehicles carried personnel, bright-eyed young men being taken to ships as replacement crew. Lamper wondered how many were bound for his vessel to replace the men who had died in the past weeks.
Once they were out of the docking areas their journey became swifter. The Base had a commercial area full of civilians, young Germans and those of trusted nationalities who were permitted residence on German military outposts, all seeking better opportunities providing services to the fighting men of the Raumkriegsmarine. Their uniforms gave Lamper and his driver the right of way on their trip. Within minutes they had crossed this section of the commercial areas to arrive at the administrative sections. Here Lamper took leave of his young driver, who blushed with thanks at his praise of her ability. She drove off and he entered the nearest lift, taking him all the way to the peak of this section of the station. A tower jutting out of the toroid-shaped main body of the Base.
Every door on the level belonged to an admiral. Logistics staff admirals, planners, chiefs of staff to fleet commanders, it went on. And, alone among the most important, was the office marked as belonging to Admiral Georg von der Goltz, commander of 5. Raumkampfflotte. An older blonde greeted him, also in the uniform of the auxiliary, and waved Lamper in.
Admiral von der Goltz was looking over reports at his desk. The commander of the battle fleet to which Reich's Glory was assigned looked up as Lamper came to attention and raised his arm in salute. "Sieg Heil," he declared.
"Heil Sauckel," von der Goltz answered, hand raised at his desk. "Be seated, Kapitän."
Lamper did so. He knew better than to inquire; the Admiral would speak when he deigned to, not a moment earlier.
"Your performance at Grodni 3 has won the approval of Vizeadmiral Haus," von der Goltz stated finally. He looked up from his digital reader. "He has submitted your name for consideration for a Ritterkreuz."
"It was a simple action, sir. I do not consider my victory of sufficient weight or skill to warrant high praise."
"Well-spoken, Kapitän." The older man appraised Lamper with light blue eyes. Brown hair had long darkened to wolfish gray, now growing white at his brow. "Whether or not the commendation goes through, the promotion will."
"As of the first of the month, yes." Von der Goltz cracked a slight smile. "Congratulations, Flottenkapitän. You will take command of 12. Kreuzergeschwader, to be led by Reich's Glory. Effective at the end of the month."
Lamper remained quiet for a moment. He had not sought such a promotion, at least not yet, and had assumed that his past conflicts with the SS would poison the ability of the RKM to promote him. "I am honored, Herr Admiral. I will redouble my efforts to protect the Reich."
"I know you will." Von der Goltz put his hands together. "But before your promotion and new assignment come into effect, you and your vessel have another assignment to fulfill."
"You have been requested for special duty, Kapitän," the admiral explained. "I do not expect it will be pleasurable, however."
Lamper knew what that meant. "The Schutzstaffel."
The new voice came from the corner of the room. Lamper had not paid attention to the office, having seen it before, and so he had not noticed the extra occupant. The black-suited man turned.
"Sturmbannführer Fassbinder," Lamper said evenly. He noted the change in the rank insignia on his former SS detachment commander. "Or rather Obersturmbannführer. Congratulations, Fassbinder, I am sure the SS has been quite pleased with your performance."
"Of course," the SS man replied. His piercing blue eyes focused on Lamper, as if to emphasize his genetically-engineered Aryan appearance. "As the RKM has with your own. Your victory over the barbarian beasts the Alliance has drawn into the war will do much to pave our way to conquest."
Lamper felt bemusement at that. Conquest? Against a foe whose homeland was safely protected by the unbreachable barrier between universes? The Alliance's security measures to protect their IU drives from being salvaged from destroyed ships were quite effective, so the idea that the Reich could strike back for the moment was farfetched…
Or was it? There was something in Fassbinder's eyes, a glint of triumph that had to be more than typical SS arrogance.
Could he be wrong? Could the SS have found a way to unlock the enemy's technology? If so… Lamper reeled at the prospects before him. We may actually win the war.
"The SS will be commencing an operation soon," Fassbinder continued. "It will be led by Oberführer Eicke from the Eichmann. We will require your ship to provide additional escort for the Eichmann."
Lamper took that with surprise. "Truly? The SS, with all of its own ships, lacks sufficient cruisers to protect one of their dreadnoughts? You must come to the RKM for aid?"
"We have our own operations to consider, Kapitän. Our forces are spread thin in relation to these operations, many of them critical to our victory in this war." Fassbinder's smile was sharp with enjoyment. Lamper knew he was enjoying being able to drag Lamper and his crew around.
"The orders come straight from Oberst-Gruppenführer Lammers," von der Goltz informed Lamper.
Lamper nodded. Lammers was one of the highest ranking officers of the SS. Moreso, he was chief of staff for the Führer himself. If Lammers was directing this operation, it meant that this had the Führer's personal attention.
Which did nothing, admittedly, to make Lamper feel better about this.
"My ship is at your disposal, Obersturmbannführer," Lamper said. "We will require repairs and crew replacements, but it should not take us long to be ready for action."
"Take your time, Kapitän, we still have some time before departure." Fassbinder nodded. "In the meantime, I will be pleased to reacquaint myself with your ship and to check on Sturmbannführer Stammel's progress."
"Of course." Lamper looked to von der Goltz. "May I depart, Herr Admiral? My ship requires attention to ensure we are fully prepared for the coming mission."
"You are dismissed, Kapitän."
Lamper left immediately. He felt the need to, reeling as he was with everything being set into motion. I am promoted, I may get a Ritterkreuz... but first I must endure the SS and their schemes. Damn it all.
As a first step to beating Reich forces to the Darglan Facility in Universe S4W8, the Aurora crew must lead a dangerous assault on an enemy fleet base.
D -9 Days
Robert and Julia were quiet observers to the discussion going on in Science Lab 2. Jarod, Data, Scotty, Caterina, and Lucy were arrayed around a central table. And now they were joined by Commander La Forge. "You're going to need a stronger material to handle the power draw," La Forge observed, looking over the holographic design over the central table. "Otherwise the entire thing will melt down within a minute."
"We don't need it to be active for longer than a minute," Jarod reminded him. "Anything heavier and we'll have to bulk out the anchor probe. The jammers will have a harder time protecting them."
"What if you…"
As the engineers and science people continued to fuss over Jarod's concept of a deployable probe that could act as an IU drive anchor, Robert gave a side glance to Julia. "Are you following a word of this?"
"As much as I can," she answered. Louder, she asked, "Is this possible or not?"
The talking ceased. And everyone nodded. "It'll take some work," La Forge said, "but give us a few days and we can have dozens of these things replicated before you're scheduled to leave. We just have to work the kinks out."
"That's good enough for me."
D -8 Days
The skyline of the Minbari planet Tuzanor was a sight to see, full of fine crystalline spires. It made Meridina almost wish she was there.
"The negotiations continue to go well," Ledosh said. "A number of the Alliance species of this universe are ready to begin trade with us. President Sheridan has been most magnanimous…"
"I am pleased your mission continues so well, Mastrash."
"Was there anything else you wished to report?" He asked. In a very delicate tone of voice.
Meridina swallowed. "Captain Dale… has shown indications of further awakening of his swevyra."
Ledosh digested that news. "I see. What have you told him?"
"It is not fully awake yet. I informed him that it could, or that he could keep it asleep. He seemed inclined to the latter." Meridina found she could not keep the disappointment out of her voice. Her eyes went over to the open tome on her desk.
"I am not surprised. It is his choice, of course. Do not lose heart. The future has yet to be written. There is no telling what it might bring." Ledosh smiled thinly. "I have some happier news for you, though. I have taken a new student, one who has volunteered to join our Order." Ledosh looked offscreen and nodded.
A woman appeared in the image. Meridina recognized her immediately and smiled gently. "Gina Invieve," she said softly. "I am delighted, if surprised, to see you in those robes."
The Humaniform Cylon woman nodded. "I didn't want to tell you until it was certain," she said. "But it is. I have your gifts. And I wish to use them as you have, Meridina. I can protect life, as I believe God would truly intend for me."
Meridina nodded. "I understand. Mastrash Ledosh will help you achieve your full potential. Just as he did with me."
"You flatter your old teacher, Meridina, and do not reflect enough on the fact that you were a superb and talented student," Ledosh countered. "I wish you and the Aurora crew the best. Do not worry of the future, it will tend to itself. Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Meridina. May the Light illuminate your path."
"Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Mastrash, Gina." Meridina nodded. "I look forward to the day when you take your place as a swevyra'se, Gina. It will pave the way for your people to come to the Light."
The Cylon nodded, her smile still on her face. The two disappeared from the image.
Meridina went back to the security reports she was going through. She barely had time to finish the first page before the door chime sounded. At her call of "You may enter", the door slid open and Lucy entered. She was still in uniform instead of the training garb that she might have otherwise worn given the time. "You are finished with the others?", Meridina asked.
"We have a final design. Commander La Forge, Data, Scotty, and Jarod are overseeing the manufacturing so I can get on to other things." Lucy looked around Meridina's quarters. She spotted the book on the desk and went over to it. "This is beautiful writing," Lucy said. "What's the language?"
"An older dialect from Swenya's time." Meridina gently took the book and closed it. "It contains ancient wisdom of the Grand Foundress."
"I'd enjoy getting to read it some day." Lucy stood beside Meridina while she put the book away. "But that's not why I came here."
"And not for training either?"
"Actually, I was going to say I wanted to work on that issue Data found. The transmissions going out."
"We have yet to find an origin point on the ship," Meridina stated. "It would appear that whomever is sending the transmissions knows how our protocols work."
"I figured that. But there's more than one way to find out what's going on."
Meridina considered it. And her instincts, her swevyra, told her that Lucy joining the investigation would be of value. She nodded. "Very well. Let us return to my office, I will bring up the relevant logs for you."
Lucy nodded. "Great. I'll get right to work. I'd like to get this all sorted out before the week's up." That was, before they went off to rejoin the war.
D -7 Days
Leo sighed with contented relief at the inventory list before him. He had gone straight to the Stellar Navy Medical Command offices in Tacoma to ensure complete replenishment of his stocks, and this time he'd gotten it. Combined with what Dr. Hobbs had fabricated for him during the visit to B5, the medbay was now fully stocked and ready for prolonged operations.
About damn time, Leo pondered. He looked out at the medbay and its empty biobeds. Save for a couple cases from bruised bodies from a rugby match between their crew and one from the British Stellar Union cruiser Spartiate, the crew had not required his services since their return to L2M1 Earth. His medical staff was using the time for some much-needed rest and preparation for the trouble to come.
With nothing better to do Leo typed in commands in the ship medical system, preparing to give a call to New Liberty to see how his colleagues from the Facility days were doing. Before the call could go through he had one from the bridge. Jupap's voice chirped primly over the comm line. "Doctor Gillam, I have an active call from Commander Carrey, and you're the only one I can reach right now."
Leo smiled thinly. "Pipe him down here, Jupap. And remember, you're due for that blood test later."
"Of course, Doctor. I will be there by 1800 hours. Jupap out."
Leo sighed contentedly at that. Jupap, and most of his people, actually seemed to prefer getting medical checkups out of the way, a far cry from the Human (and Dorei) tendency to avoid them.
A moment later Zack popped up on the computer screen on his desk. "Hey, Leo, its been a while", Zack said cheerfully. "I guess you're the only one who can talk to me right now?"
"Just about." Leo smiled and nodded. "Rob's in planning sessions with the allied commanders. Julia's running around getting crew replacements trained and ready and doing all the other stuff people need done. Angel's running tactical simulations, Cat and Commander Data are going over the Darglan databanks are helping Jarod and the engineers… it’s pretty hectic here, honestly, unless you're in the medbay."
"Well, here we are then. I guess you're going back to the war?"
Zack visibly sighed. "Damn. There goes my sleep."
"I'm sure you've got your own things to worry about, Zack, don't worry about us," Leo urged him.
"Leo, everything out here is fine. The Cylons are still staying away and we're just a couple of jumps away from the Dorei frontier. You guys are heading off to fight the damn Nazis again. And I should…" Zack caught himself.
Leo nodded in understanding. He knew how that sentence would have ended. "We'll handle things on this end, Zack, alright?" Leo thought for a moment. Time to change the subject, I guess. "How have you been doing? Julia mentioned that Clara ended up out there?"
After the conversation was over, Zack looked away from his desktop computer screen and stared off into space for a moment. I got what I wanted, alright, he pondered to himself. He'd wanted to leave, to spread his wings, and he had. He'd worked closely with Adama, he and his crew had conducted multiple scouting missions on their own and trained with the Colonial forces, and now, on top of all that, he'd turned most of the children in the Fleet into baseball fans....
...and he was with Clara. As many times as their schedules could manage, for dinner and a night of making love in one of the suites on Cloud 9. For the past several weeks, he'd been happier than he'd been in years.
But now it gnawed at him. His friends were going off into what would be the most harrowing battle of their lives. And he wouldn't be there to watch their back, to make sure they came out of this safely, to give them the backup they might need…
He let that thought linger for a moment. And then his thoughts turned into ideas. Ideas that grew more concrete as the minutes passed.
There was a tone over the intercom. "Commander, sir, they're ready to beam you over to Galactica for this week's meeting." Apley's voice barely seemed to reach him. "Commander?"
Finally Zack moved. "Tell them I'm going to be a couple minutes late. I need to discuss something with Tom and Karen." He hit a key on his desk to cut the line and hit a second to open another one. "Commander Carrey here. Lieutenant Derbely, Lieutenant Barnes, please report to my office immediately. I have something to discuss with you."
D -5 Days
Caterina had the last of her breakfast strudel in her mouth when she arrived at Science Lab 1 for the morning. Data was already present. Captain Picard and Commander La Forge were standing near him. All turned to face her. She stopped chewing and forced the mouthful down with a hard gulp. "Uh… good morning…?", she said, sheepish.
Picard smiled gently. "Good morning, Lieutenant."
"Um… did you need me to get Capt…"
"We're just here discussing this find with Mister Data," Picard assured her. He looked back to the data on the screen. It was from the Darglan databanks, showing imagery of the Darglan capitol world. The orange-complexioned, tall-skulled aliens were walking around in multitudes, clad in clothing of various colors amid buildings of brilliant azure sheen.
"Oh. Yes, we recently got that video file out. It's an old presentation of Darglan urban planning concepts," Cat answered.
"So it is." Picard let out a sigh. "Such a brilliant culture. I only wish there was more of them to examine."
"Yeah." Cat's voice betrayed her sadness. "What the Shadows did to their Homeworld, it wasn't…" She swallowed.
La Forge was looking over the same screen Data was. "Data, this is amazing. I'm surprised these databanks are working so well. The amount of raw computer information you're processing is a lot for using a tertiary computer system."
"Well, it might be the Darglan computer technology being designed to interface with itself at maximum efficiency," Cat proposed. "Not that Data hasn't been brilliant!" She took a seat beside Data and looked up at the Starfleet captain. "Captain Picard?"
Picard seemed to come out of his reverie for a moment. "One of my regrets was never getting to visit that remarkable Facility you and your friends operated out of, Lieutenant. I never had the chance to consult with the information it must have had on such a remarkable species, the potential it had for furthering exploration…" He looked at her with sad eyes. "...and to think we will likely end up destroying this Facility as well."
"Maybe we won't have to," Cat suggested. "Maybe we can secure it from invasion and use it."
"It would be nice."
"Yeah." Cat felt an old pain flare up inside of her and couldn't keep it out of her voice.
"Sorry." She shook her head. A tear was in her eye. "I was just thinking about Control. The Darglan AI that ran the Facility. He helped me go through their records and learn a lot about what they had found in the Multiverse. He was destroyed when we lost the Facility to the Daleks. He and Captain Farmer and al-Qiba and Simon and..." She stopped as the tears built in her eyes. She remembered seeing the Daleks kill her science team. The terror they had kept her in when they tried to make her free them from the Facility quarantine.
"You have my condolences, Lieutenant," Picard said gently. "I see these are painful memories for you."
It took Caterina a few more moments to regain her composure. "Thank you," she said. "Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"A team of scientists from the Coalition are coming tomorrow to remove the databanks to be studied elsewhere," Picard explained. "I'll be leading the examination team with Commander La Forge. I just wanted to see what progress you and Data have made so far."
Cat nodded at that. As much as she wished she could continue deciphering what was in the databanks, taking them into battle with the Nazis was too much risk. She understood that they had to be removed. "Well, we've managed to defragment or decrypt about fifteen percent of the data in the drive so far..."
A crowd had gathered in the gymnasium. And given what she was feeling, Lucy could figure out why.
It wasn't just the sensation she got whenever Meridina used her own extensive life force abilities. It was also that strange, distorted sense that rippled through her whenever Shepard's biotic powers were in use. Lucy was thus not too surprised to see that the two of them were in the boxing ring, Shepard in exercise wear - sports bra and gym shorts colored with System Alliance blue - and Meridina in a tight-fitting purple bodysuit.
Blue energy flared around Shepard and released itself in a wave of bolts that knocked Meridina back into the ropes. Shepard ran up into punching range and threw several expert punches, her form reminding Lucy of both Julia and Angel in their fighting styles, that were carefully blocked or avoided by Meridina. Shepard seemed to realize her opponent could see the blows coming before they were thrown, so she adjusted, going faster and throwing quicker strikes. Meridina's ability to sense where blows were coming still helped, but she had less time to react, and a couple of the jabs landed on her torso.
But Meridina wasn't just staying on defense. She had been biding her time, waiting for the right moment. It came when Shepard threw a punch toward her face. Meridina ducked the blow and extended her arm outward. An invisible blow from her energy threw Shepard all the way back to the opposite ropes. Meridina gathered her strength and reached out with her power again, lifting Shepard into the air and tossing her into the corner. And then the next corner. And then...
…and then Shepard's arm flailed out. Space twisted and a bolt of biotic dark matter flew out and slammed into Meridina. It didn't just knock her back, though, but instead propelled her into the air toward where Meridina was holding her up. Shepard orientated herself in mid-air toward Meridina and, in the moment as Meridina let go of her, shot forward like a thunderbolt on a wake of biotic energy. She crashed into Meridina and both went flying over the ropes and onto the mat outside the ropes.
Lucy rushed ahead of everyone, concerned for their well-being, and came up on the two exhausted combatants. Meridina and Shepard were sprawled out beside each other. Their chests heaved with the heavy, panting breaths they were taking. They looked at each other.
"Draw?", Shepard finally proposed between pants.
"A draw… yes," Meridina agreed.
Lucy sighed and knelt beside them. "Should I call Leo or…?"
"Nothing's broken," Shepard said. "We're fine."
"Well, once you're ready to pick yourselves back up from the ground…"
Julia was escorting the uniformed System Alliance officer from the Kilimanjaro when they arrived at the Lookout. "This is our crew lounge area," she explained. "And there…"
There was a table where Meridina, Lucy, and Commander Shepard were taking a lunch. Shepard looked their way first. A pleased smile came to her face and she stood from the chair. "Mom?"
Commander Hannah Shepard was returning the smile, waiting for her daughter to finish approaching and accept a hug. "Jen." The older woman was of a lighter complexion than Shepard's tanned bronze. Red hair as rich as her daughter's was kept in a regulation military bun. The resemblance between the two was easily noticeable, although Hannah's nose had a different shape, and her cheekbones were more visible.
"I'm glad you got to visit."
"Just for a while. I'm due back on the Kilimanjaro in three hours. We're jumping back home to meet up with the Fifth Fleet." The elder Shepard held her daughter's arms. "But I couldn't leave without checking up on my little girl."
"It's great to see you again." Shepard directed her mother over to the table. Albert was already stepping up with lunch - he had added a plate, Julia noticed, undoubtedly at Hargert's order - and waited patiently while introductions to Lucy and Meridina were offered.
With that task done, Julia went over to the bar and took a seat. She looked back and felt bittersweet feelings at the reunion of the Shepards.
It wasn't often she thought about her parents. It hurt so much when she did, that wasn't surprising.
"Ah, Commander." Hargert was standing opposite from her at the bar. "Guten Tag."
"Guten Tag," she answered amiably. "What's for lunch? I think I could use your sausage stew."
"Not today," he said. "I'm saving that for before we depart. A pre-battle meal to lift everyone's spirits. No, today we have pickled ham, some curry and rice…"
Julia let him finish listing out the prepared meal for the day before she asked, "So, you'll cook our final meal before you disembark?"
"Oh, no, not at all," he said. "I have no intention of leaving."
Julia shook her head. "You probably should, Hargert. The fighting in July was bad enough. We're going into what might be the biggest battle of the war so far."
"I know," the old German said. "And that is why I must remain. Albert and the others will be disembarking, yes, but I can run this place by myself for a short time. Long enough for us to win."
"Very sure, Commander." Hargert smiled thinly. "I have done much of what I wanted to do with life. I would rather spend what little time I have following my heart, not being a miser with what time I have left."
"I… understand, I think," Julia said. She gave him a smile. "At least we can look forward to good meals then."
"Always," Hargert promised.
D -4 Days
Locarno's morning took him to the Lookout for breakfast. He sat one table over from Scotty, Jarod, and Cat, who were still talking about the anchor probes they would be using at New Austria.
He was only part of the way through his breakfast when someone walked up. "Is this chair open?", Captain Picard asked.
Locarno looked at him intently for a moment. And then he nodded. Picard sat down with a breakfast plate of his own. "Mister Hargert is a fine cook," the older man noted before taking a bite and chewing on it.
"The best." Locarno waited for Picard to swallow before setting his fork down and looking at the man who had done so much to destroy his Starfleet prospects. "I'm surprised you're still aboard, Captain. We're departing for our jump out location this afternoon."
"I will be leaving in a couple of hours," Picard revealed. "I am simply awaiting your Miss Delgado's reports on the 33LA data." He nodded over to where Cat was laughing at something Jarod said. Scotty was shaking his head with a bemused smile. "You seem to have done well for yourself, Mister Locarno."
"I've survived." Locarno tried, and failed, to keep some of the anger from his voice.
Picard noticed that. "I find it hard to believe you are angry with me over the exposure of your own mistakes."
"No." Locarno shook his head. "No. I made those mistakes. And I've spent three years trying to atone for them. To try to… make right what happened to Joshua." He turned his head slightly to direct his eyes at Picard. "But that's not why I'm mad as hell at you, Captain."
Picard seemed to consider it for a moment. A pained look came over his face when he figured it out. "Ensign Sito," he sighed.
"You sent Jaxa to her death," Locarno charged.
"You know as well as I do what it means to be in Starfleet. The risks that we might take. She knew those risks. She volunteered."
"Did she volunteer because it had to be done? Or because she felt she had something to prove?" Locarno felt a deep sense of loss welling up within him.
"You have my condolences for what happened to her. She was a fine officer, she did Starfleet proud," Picard insisted. "If you think for a moment that I caused that to happen to her, that I wanted to see her harmed, you don't know me very well at all, Mister Locarno."
There was silence for several moments. The anger in Locarno's mind, his heart, was joined by a deep sense of grief and pain. "I sent her messages," he admitted. "I sent them to everyone. Inviting them to join me and the others. A new life for them. No judgements for what happened to Josh. Maybe if I'd been more persuasive…"
"Lieutenant." Picard kept his voice calm and level. "It's never easy to lose comrades. It's even harder to lose those you feel responsible for. I know how much you cared for the cadets in Nova Squadron. Regardless of the mistakes made, once the truth was brought out, your willingness to sacrifice your own future for their sake was admirable. And I think you have a fine future ahead of you here, in the Alliance. So, I would ask you to consider my words carefully. Sito Jaxa died doing something noble. She went into a difficult situation knowing what might happen and did so because, as a Starfleet officer, she felt it was her duty. Whatever happened, it was not because she was pushed into believing it was necessary for some form of atonement over Joshua Albert's death. Sito Jaxa died as a hero, Lieutenant. You don't do her any service by thinking her a mere victim of your old mistakes."
Locarno listened to those words. Picard had hit it right on mark; he had to fight that feeling of guilt, that Jaxa had gotten herself killed trying to make up for what Locarno had persuaded them all to do. "Alright," he said. His voice was hoarse with emotion. "I understand." He pushed his plate away; with the way he felt right now, his appetite was gone.
As he stood up, he looked to Picard. "And Wes?"
"Wesley is…" Picard sighed and smiled gently. "...he is pursuing another destiny."
"Right." Locarno nodded. "Good for him, then."
With nothing left to say, Locarno left the Lookout.
The completed probes were laid out in the shuttle bay "Ready for testing," La Forge said, looking over his console. "Firing thrusters."
The two probes shifted and lifted into the air on twin jets of blue energy. Under Commander La Forge's guidance the two black objects flew out the back of the secondary shuttle bay, built into the bottom of the drive hull.
"All thrusters check out normal," Jarod observed.
"Jump anchor is givin' an all clear," Scotty added. "Jammin' probes at full power… now."
For a moment there was nothing. A voice came over the intercom after the silence. "Delgado here," Caterina said from the bridge. "The jamming field is up. I can't get an accurate sensor fix on either probe."
"Scotty, I'm detecting a slight variance in the jamming field emissions," La Forge said.
"Aye. We'll have t' adjust th' model with more bandwidth."
"You should have enough spare power for that." La Forge looked to Jarod and Scotty with a grin. "It looks like we did it. Your probes are working."
"We need just one last test." Jarod hit a few keys. "Sending out the request. We're getting an answer…"
Behind the Aurora space split open. The ship that emerged was recognizable to Jarod and Scotty, eminently so. "Bridge to Secondary Shuttle Bay." Julia's voice came over the radio. "The Kirby gives its regards. The test worked."
"Thanks, Commander," Jarod answered. "We're wrapping things up here." He looked to the others. "We did it." Upon standing he offered his hand to La Forge. "Commander La Forge, we couldn't have done it without you."
Knowing full well they could have, La Forge nevertheless accepted the compliment. "Thanks. It was a pleasure to work with you both on the project." He smiled at them. "Take care of yourselves out there."
"Th' same t' ye, Geordi. After all…" Scotty's eye twinkled. "...there'll be another Enterprise soon enough, an' she'll be needin' a chief engineer."
La Forge's smile became an enthusiastic grin. "Here's hoping."
Picard had been about to enter the Transporter Station to depart when he heard Robert's voice. Robert was almost running when he approached. Given his youth and fitness, he didn't sound winded when he said, "Captain, I need to ask you something."
Robert nodded his head toward one side. They stepped into an adjoining corridor in the ship to be alone. "I wanted to ask for your input on something," Robert said. "It concerns our plans for what might happen at New Austria."
"You have my full attention."
Robert led him down the corridor fully until they arrived in a set of open state quarters. One of the handful of VIP quarters available on the ship, much as the Enterprise had contained. Once the door was locked behind them, Robert laid out some of the plans they'd been making. Picard nodded in quiet affirmation. "Given your likely tactical situation when you arrive in the system, you have accounted for everything that is possible."
"I think we can give the fleet an even better tactical situation, and a chance to eliminate any enemy force sent out to catch us. But that's why I've come to you."
"Oh?" Picard thought on that. "You…"
Robert asked him his intended questions. Picard's brow furrowed. "It will be risky. What you propose has not been attempted before."
"But will it work? I imagine that you, of all people…"
Picard nodded. "I would recommend having Mister Data take over your navigation. That would enhance your chances to an acceptable level."
"I thought so." Robert nodded and extended a hand. "Thank you, Captain Picard. Good luck with that Darglan database."
Picard accepted his offered hand. "Bon voyage, Captain. I'll see you again after the battle."
The familiar gunmetal gray halls of the Eichmann filled Obersturmbannführer Fassbinder with pride. He walked through the decks of the ship, surrounded by the finest Aryans in the Reich, and was reminded of his place in the vanguard of the Race. He could feel the power around him, an invigorating coolness that sharpened the senses and reminded him of purpose. His heart swelled with pleasing hatred for that which stood opposed to the glorious destiny of the Race, the Party, and the Reich. The alien, the untermensch, the foreigner, the traitor… the Schutzstaffel stood ready to deal with them all.
And the Alliance… provided an enjoyable merger of all those enemies into one body.
He entered the wardroom as directed. "Heil Sauckel!", he declared, arm raised ramrod straight.
"Heil Sauckel!", other voices declared. Like he, they were all model Aryans. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, well-muscled and fit, epitomies of the perfection of the Race.
Fassbinder walked into the room and took his place at the table. All eyes were on the Eichmann's commander, Oberführer Eicke. His countenance burned with ferocity. Even among the SS, his hatred for the enemies of the Reich was legendary for its fierceness. He had once provoked war with the Kameli species in his efforts to slaughter Remnants. His devotion to finally fulfilling the centuries-long pursuit of the Final Solution was the stuff that the Party made legends out of, even if his great count of annihilated Jews had been marred by his recent defeat and the escape of the last Jews to another universe.
At the hands of Dale and his crew, added Fassbinder mentally. If only Lamper had destroyed them in the Nebula…
"Obersturmbannführer." Eicke kept his hands together on the table. "Report."
"Stammel and his people have been informed of our plan," Fassbinder said.
"And…" Eicke scowled. "...Lamper?"
"He knows little. But he is not entirely foolish. I suspect the purpose of our mission will come to him before long."
"Of course." Eicke nodded. "All we await now is the necessary conditions."
"Will the enemy do as expected? Do they even suspect?"
"We have indications of their interest in this region of space," Eicke answered simply. "They know what is here. They will move soon, that I am sure of. Every day our ships get closer to the discovery. They cannot allow this. So they will act." Eicke's lips curled into a snarl. "But that is not why I arranged your promotion, Fassbinder, nor why I assigned you to my command for this operation."
Fassbinder was already quite certain of that fact. "You believe the enemy will send the Aurora."
"It is clearly used for special missions. Its disappearance from the frontlines corresponded with the arrival of the Klingons and a surge in Alliance reinforcements. Now we have word of even more alien vessels appearing in Alliance space. A spying vessel was recently destroyed near Leuwewelt by patrols. The recovered bodies were of some sort of amphibian-like species. And our interception of Alliance civilian channels indicates that a species called the Turians are said to be deploying ships."
"They were sent to gain allies, then."
"And the Alliance will undoubtedly employ them to beat us to the prize." Eicke's blue eyes burned with hatred. "And I do so hope they do. I wish to see that ship burn for what they have done. Of the victory they robbed us of."
Fassbinder had his own thoughts. That feeling he had, that since meeting the Aurora his destiny had been laid out, and that the ship was the key to it. "Recovering the vessel intact may also be a boon."
"Perhaps. But their crew will burn." Eicke put his hands on the table. "Now, Obersturmbannführer, tell me everything you know, everything you may have overlooked in your report to the Reichsführer."
After the briefing Fassbinder retired to his quarters. They were spartan enough, barely furnished, with a hard cot to sleep on. Creature comforts would only soften the edges of an SS man, after all; power came from struggle, be it a fight or the struggle to endure in cramped living conditions.
His one luxury was the line of books. The Great Hitler's books, of course, written before his rise to power and later after he won the Second Great War with England and France and broke the Bolsheviks of Russia. Works from all of the greats, the founders of the Party, and those from great leaders since then.
Destiny. That is what they made him think of. The Destiny of the Race, of the Reich. Only now had it become so clear. They were special, after all. Alone, out of the infinite reaches of the Multiverse, they had conquered all before them. Their Germany alone had proven fit to fulfill the First Führer's vision and build the Thousand Year Reich.
Fassbinder's mind dwelled on that. He remembered that old gelding, that German man from the Aurora. "Hargert", they had called him. The smoldering disgust in his eyes, the way he had rejected Fassbinder, rejected everything he believed in, everything that was supposed to be. And that was how the Germans of the other universes felt. Wherever a German was taken in the Alliance service, it seemed there was nothing but cowards or traitors.
They are not Germans, Fassbinder insisted to himself. They are not! They are fakes! Unworthy of the name of our people, our Race!
That fury felt good. The thoughts of what he would do to people like Hargert. He retired to his bed with those thoughts.
Good thoughts to go into the dreams with. The dreams of power, of glory, of burning worlds and the hakenkreuz flying in glorious victory, of Robert Dale and his crew broken at Fassbinder's feet…
...the dreams of his destiny.
The nightmare was a new one.
It came to Robert in bits and flashes. The Aurora bridge filled with smoke, battle-damaged. Visions of the others in what looked like Facility Control, under fire from Reich troopers. He watched them rush around, trying to hold on, trying to buy time for… something...
He saw Meridina dead. Shepard unconscious. Data laid out against a console, a smoking, charred hole in his torso.
And the Aurora. The bridge roof and wall disappeared. He was holding onto a hand, a grip that was failing…
...and he saw Julia, pulled into space, screaming wordlessly as she was expelled to the horrible cold death in the vacuum.
Robert woke up screaming, "Julie!"
A hand pressed to his side. Angel sat up beside him. "Another one?"
For a moment he processed his thoughts, sleep-dulled as they were. Finally he nodded. "New one," he croaked.
Angel nodded wordlessly and leaned against him. "Settle down. Go back to sleep. It'll be fine. Don't worry, it'll all be okay."
He nodded stiffly. The images had been so real. And that realness to them was filling him with a sense of dread. Was something going to go wrong on the mission?
Was he going to make a bad call again?
As a first step to beating Reich forces to the Darglan Facility in Universe S4W8, the Aurora crew must lead a dangerous assault on an enemy fleet base.
D -3 Days
Lucy woke up extraordinarily early. This was not entirely by her desire; she'd had nightmares about Nazi armored troopers and Patrick Duffy's torture dungeon and a general sense of unease.
Realizing she wasn't getting back to sleep, Lucy got ready for the day and went to Science Lab 1. Why she went there and not to the gym for morning training or the Outlook for an early breakfast… well, that was something she was still contemplating.
The Lab would have been empty under other occasions. The civilian scientist contingent had been disembarked over the course of the week and all projects were currently on hold. And with the Darglan database removed to the Archer for Captain Picard's team to continue analyzing, there was nothing special left to do in here. Even more analysis of the 33LA data hadn't granted anything more than more known universal coordinates.
Yet there was someone present. Lucy recognized the Starfleet uniform immediately. "Commander Data?"
Data looked back at her. "Ah. Good morning, Lieutenant Lucero."
"Don't you ever sleep?"
Data's response was immediate. "Only if I desire to. How may I help you?"
"I just…" Lucy sighed. "I just… a thought, I guess. About the computer systems."
"Does this pertain to the secret messages that have been discovered?"
"No. I'm looking into that myself, actually, and making some progress on the how, if not the who." Lucy shook her head and took a nearby seat. "No, I just have this feeling of… missing something."
"What do you believe you are missing?", Data inquired.
"There's just something about this. About the computers." Lucy tapped keys and brought coding up. "I mean, is this Darglan technology doing things we didn't anticipate? First the Cylon virus that we defeated gets the digital equivalent of a gutting inside the auxiliary core. Then the core decodes the database and finds just what we need?"
Data considered that. "Do you suspect there is an issue with the auxiliary core? I can initiate a diagnostic or a complete core restore."
"No. No, that's too much work with just a couple of days left for us. I just want to look things over." And try to get this sensation out of my head...
The captain's stateroom on the Reich's Glory was barely any larger than the one Lamper had enjoyed as a Frigattenkapitän commanding the light cruiser Essen. Indeed, he knew it was barely smaller than the stateroom to be found on anything short of a dreadnought, and for good reason; every cubic meter devoted to personnel living quarters was a cubic meter not devoted to shield generators, armor support, weaponry, combat electronics… the things that made Reich warships so feared. This is why ships usually disgorged their crews into better living quarters on space stations or planetside bases when they were due in port for prolonged periods.
But Lamper had nixed that. This was wartime, after all, and he needed every hand on board and ready should an action be required. Including himself.
It was getting late in the local day when the call came, as he was finalizing commendation reports and new personnel reviews. He tapped a key on his personal computer and the screen flashed to show a cozy urban home. His family's home, back in Bremen on Earth.
The family home. How long had it been since he had actually been there...?
The woman on the screen was his age, with her brown hair pulled back into a ponytail on her head. "Guten Tag, brother," Gerda Lamper said.
"Guten Tag, sister," he answered. "How is everyone?"
"Little Joachim is doing well in school. Siegfried has just been promoted to officer of his troop in the Hitlerjugend."
That brought his sister a soft smile. "She had met a young man at the University, he has swept her right off of her feet."
After hearing about how his niece and nephews were doing, Lamper moved on. "Is little Hilda still trouble?"
Gerda sighed. "Our little sister may as well ask the Gestapo to pick her up. She has sent another series of letters. She is adamant that she should be permitted to serve."
"The auxiliaries are always looking for new recruits."
"But as you well know, Joachim, Hilda doesn't want to be an auxiliary, she wants to be an officer." Gerda shook her head. "And she refuses to take no for an answer. 'The enemy lets their women serve'."
Gerda's switch to a higher pitch voice to mock their baby sister caused Lamper to chuckle. "My poor, sad sister," he said. Even as he did, he thought back to the meeting with the Aurora. Commander Andreys, the Lieutenants Delgado, and Commander Meridina… they all served, and all served well.
But they are not us. Their service is not as brutal and strict as the Raumkriegsmarine. This work is not for women.
Another member of the family popped into his mind. It was an inquiry that he had to make and dreaded. "How is Mama?"
Gerda took in a breath. She looked distressed, confirming Lamper's worst fears. "There are still good days," she said, her voice full of false hope. "The doctors think that some time on the Riviera may do some good. Or perhaps America, if they clear the transporter use."
He nodded. "I can send more pay to cover for it."
"It may be our only hope left for Mama," Gerda said. "The way she is going, any day I expect to hear from the hospital that she had been listed for release."
The thought was like a dagger in Lamper's heart. His dear mother wasting away like she was, that was pain enough. But to have her listed? To lose her while he was out here during this war? He wondered if he could get the Admiral to pull strings back in Germany to arrange that she stay off the list. She was the mother of a war veteran, after all. That always conferred special rewards and benefits.
But what also hurt was the thought that it was probably for the best. His mother had lived a full and happy life. Instead of continuing to waste away, the State could show mercy by listing her. Ending her suffering before it grew. Before she could not even recognize her own grandchildren. Wasn't that how it had been done for Aunt Louisa?
Lamper forced the tears back before they could start. "Whatever happens, Gerda, I support your decision. You will do what is best for Mama."
"Thank you, Joachim."
He checked the time. "I must go now. I have run out of my time. I'll send you more news with my weekly packet."
"Of course. Auf Wiedersehen."
D -1 Day
Angel's hands flew furiously over her tactical console, finalizing targeting solutions and triggering the Aurora's weapons in rapid sequence. On her own displays she saw the indicators flash to indicate the damage she was inflicting on the Nazi battlecruiser. The Lutzow-class warship went red on the indicators under the barrage of the bow cannons.
Further markers showed the approaching Z-2500 type destroyers. Angel kept up targeting solutions on them, rapidly firing off the phaser strips along the bow and port side They fired torpedoes and the Aurora evaded, forcing Angel to shift her targeting on the fly. Her pace quickened; her head ached a little as she thought through her firing plan, shifting capacitor draws and changing the rate of fire. The phasers intercepted a couple of enemy torpedoes that would have hit. She triggered the phaser cannons next; bursts of amber fury that would rip the Reich destroyers to pieces.
Which they promptly did.
Her entire board soon went clear. All enemy contacts were gone.
And the female voice of the ship computer spoke. "Simulation complete. Resetting."
The bridge's running lights shifted to standby alert, the default beginning. All of the others moved slightly to what they had been at the start of the battle.
All save one.
"Your accuracy has improved by six percent," Worf rumbled, looking over a digital reader. "And this time, no torpedo strikes were landed. Your performance has improved satisfactorily."
"Well, so long as it's satisfactory, I guess that's good enough," Angel replied, grinning at her counterpart from the Enterprise crew. She stood up from her simulated tactical station.
"I do question one thing," Worf continued. "You intentionally lowered the power output of your lateral phaser arrays. By doing so, you reduced the likelihood of shield penetrations. Please explain."
"The Nazis use their Z-2500s like disposable cannon fodder in battles," Angel answered. "They race in to fire torpedoes and then race out, hoping that they don't get killed from the lack of strong shields or hull armor. I've found that their captains tend to be pretty aware of how easy it is for their ships to get killed. Throw enough fire at them and they'll focus more on evasive maneuvering than on targeting, and are more likely to fire their torpedoes early instead of getting in closer. So the important thing isn't power per shot but rate of fire."
Worf nodded with approval. "A fine tactical assessment. It is in line with my own."
Angel kept her grin up. "So, I guess this is it, then? We'll find out how well this training has done us tomorrow."
"Indeed." The Klingon nodded. A distant look came over his eyes. "It will be a glorious battle."
Angel's grin turned into a bit of a smirk. "It'll be a damn big one, at least."
Commander Kane had a routine he liked to keep. Regardless of the scheduled inspections, he paid a visit to the armory whenever the ship he was assigned to was preparing for a combat operation. It did good to jostle up the routine of the armorers in his unit and make sure they were on the ball.
The armory was on Deck 20, where the drive hull and primary hull sections of the ship met, in the interior sections behind reinforced bulkheads. Two decks high in height, it contained enough firearms to outfit the entire crew of the Aurora and several industrial replicators and fine machine tools used to maintain the weapons, fabricate more, and to create ammunition or charge clips.
He showed up at 1900 on the dot and was greeted at the door by Corporal Lanyin. The Gersallian woman ran the armory. She stood at attention. "Commander Kane. Sir."
"Corporal, at ease." He nodded. "Give me the tour."
Lanyin knew what he meant. She led him through the rows, all the racks of pulse rifles, and the containers for the heavy weapons. The rows of combat armor were checked next. Internal life support tanks were all topped off, systems readied, combat loads properly stored, everything was in order. The same was true for the heavy power armor.
They were finishing their inspection in the machine tools area when Kane noticed a newcomer seated on one of the stools. Commander Shepard was going over one rack set to the side. Unlike the others, this was loaded with firearms from her native galaxy. The curved body of an Avenger assault rifle was in her hands, the top removed and laid on the nearby table beside some of the internals of the weapon. "Commander." Kane looked over the guts of the rifle.
"Commander." Shepard didn't look up. She was working with something on the inside. A solid metal block was laid on her hip.
"Corporal Lanyin's work doesn't meet your approval?"
Shepard shook her head. She fit something into place and looked up. "Corporal Lanyin does fine work. It's just a habit of mine to go over my kit before an op."
"Unless things go sour, we won't be doing much at New Austria," Kane pointed out.
"Which is why you're here giving everything a check as well, huh?"
At that, Kane chuckled. He went over to the rack set aside for Shepard's kit. The mass effect weaponry had its own distinct aesthetic. He picked up one pistol with curved grips. "Have you tried out our weapons?"
"It's good stuff. But not mine."
Kane replaced the pistol and moved to a different weapon. Its gray exterior was marked with a white "N7" and a bar of red beside the 7. "Shotgun?"
"It's a new model they're testing out called the Crusader. It's a solid slug-firing shotgun." Shepard looked up and smirked. "It should put a hole through most armored targets when fired at short range. Even those Panzergrenadiers."
"Sounds like our S-14." Kane put it down. He looked at her dark gray combat hardsuit next. "So, you do the gear check. I'm guessing some crusty old sergeant pounded that kind of thing into you during an early assignment."
"My field deployment with the 2-1 before I went to officer school." Shepard took the metal block from her hip and pushed it into place. "Sergeant O'Brady."
Kane chuckled. "Sergeant McBride. My rifle stopped working during a fire exercise. He called me every horrible name in the book and made me field-strip the entire thing right there. While shooting above my head every ten seconds. Gunny Roland thought it was funny as hell."
Shepard reached for another piece to fit back into place. "It always helps to have a hardass sergeant kick your ass a little."
"You should see Sergeant Thanh sometimes. She switches between English and Vietnamese at will and I'm damn sure every word is so filthy that ten bars of soap couldn't wash it out."
At that Shepard laughed. "We'll have to get a drink some time. As Marines."
"A toast to hardass Irish sergeants? Count me in."
D -6 Hours
The nightmare came again. Robert watched the Facility fall to the Reich. The Aurora was battered and crippled in a battle.
He watched Julia get sucked out into space again.
Upon waking up, he was relieved to see that the chronometer was flashing 0550. He'd actually managed to sleep properly.
He slipped out of bed without waking Angel. She had rolled toward the other side, taking the sheets with her, and remained sound asleep. Good. She needs her sleep.
His mind went to things he had to do. But he realized he'd done it all already. The pre-action reports were filed and logged. The ship was ready for action. He'd done everything short of delivering a speech. And that he wasn't sure of; the crew knew the stakes, they knew the mission. He didn't want to dilute that with a bad speech.
Robert put on some morning clothes and sat at his desk. The letter he had sent to Beth was still visible, marking itself as sent already. He knew it would still hurt. She was worried about him. And for good reason.
Almost without orders, Robert's eye settled on the plastic case beside his computer. He opened it and reached inside.
The Consort Sha'ira had given the strange object to him. A gold frame enclosed an orange disc of some sort. Robert had thought it might be some form of data disc, but Caterina had scanned it thoroughly. The make was exotic and singular, but there wasn't a single bit of data.
As he laid his hand over it, a buzz came to his fingertips. There was something about this object. Something important, terribly important. He needed to find out.
First things first. I need to get ready for the day. We launch in six hours.
The morning was busy for Julia. She made a round of the ship to make sure everything was ready, meeting with department heads like Scotty and Meridina and Laurent. Once that was done it was off to the bridge for the watch and to be ready for their launch time.
It helped to give her something to do. It was like every part of her body buzzed with anticipation, a tension that she just wanted released by this point. This would be it. They were going off to a major battle, and it would only be part one of a larger operation to secure the Darglan Facility. The weight of the occasion was almost suffocating; this could literally decide the outcome of the war, their fates, the fate of the Alliance they'd helped to build…
They were still waiting for Robert when the turbolift opened. Worf and Data stepped out on the bridge. "Commander, we are reporting for duty."
Julia nodded and allowed herself a small smile despite the tension. "We're honored and pleased to have you both. Commander Worf, Secondary Tactical could use an experienced hand, it'll let Lieutenant Delgado focus on primary targets. Commander Data, if you can take Communications, we could use your quick thinking to direct our fighter wing and escorting ships. And you can use the backup features to access navigation control if we have to perform the discussed maneuvers."
"Agreed," Worf rumbled. He nodded to Angel as he went to Secondary Tactical, getting a nod in reply. Data took up the seat beside him.
"We don't have a bridge station for Shepard," Locarno said quietly. "Or did she even train for one?"
"Commander Shepard is with Kane's Marines to prepare for any boarding actions," Julia answered. "Everyone is in their proper place now."
And so they were. Leo was in the medbay preparing for casualties. Jarod, Locarno, Cat and Angel, they were all at their stations. Lucy was at the Engineering station beside Cat. Scotty would be in Main Engineering and Meridina and Commander Kane were getting their security personnel and Marines, respectively, geared up and split into reaction squads.
That left just one person.
Julia glanced at the time. They were just a few minutes from launch. Any time…
The lift doors opened again. Robert stepped out. She could tell he was just as tense as her, if not more so. He looked over everything and nodded. "No speeches," he said. "We know what's at stake. Let's get this done."
Julia nodded. She moved over to her first officer chair and brought up the status displays she might have to use.
Robert settled into the center chair. "What about our escorts? Who did Maran send?"
"We've got a group of Klingon Birds-of-Prey," Julia answered. "Two more Trigger-class ships like the Sladen."
"Oh, which ones?"
"Wahoo and Troughton."
Robert nodded at that. "Good. We can use them. Isn't Wahoo the ship they assigned that redhead from…"
"Commander Jerricks, yes," Julia finished for him.
"Two of the new Predator-class destroyers are in formation with a division of Sol Republic destroyers. The Gersallian attack carrier Mentam and two light Dorei starbirds, Kamara-class. And finally, two Systems Alliance frigates refitted with warp drive, the Bastogne and the Agincourt."
Robert cracked a grin at that. "That works for me. Not much, but enough that we should get the opening we need. Is Commander King ready for her part in the plan?"
Julia nodded in response to that. "We'll combat launch the Sladen once we jump. They signal they're ready."
"Alright." Robert drew in a breath. We can't put this off any longer. Time to go. "Signal to all ships, we're ready to jump. Wahoo and Troughton and the Systems Alliance frigates will form up on us and use our point. All other ships will jump in their own combat groups. If we can form back up on the other side before we arrive, that's fine. If not… we'll see everyone at New Austria."
"Orders sent," Data stated. "Orders are confirmed."
"Setting jump to S4W8. No anchoring points." Jarod held his hand over the console. "Ready."
And that was it. There was nothing left to it. Robert tried to force his nervousness down.
And he gave the order.
Jarod's hand went back to his console.
Space ahead of them split open with a swirling vortex of green energy. Locarno fired the impulse drives; beside them, the two Trigger-class ships and the dart-like Systems Alliance frigates powered their own sublight drives to full acceleration.
Around them, more jump points opened. Their attack force began to move.
On the viewscreen the vortex grew larger until the moment they passed through. As always the screen went blank for a moment, the moment they were between universes, and came back to show open space.
"We're clear of the jump point," Jarod reported. "Opening dock door."
"The Sladen is detaching from the airlock." Julia looked at her own screens. "Launch in five, four, three…"
Right on Julia's count, the Sladen slipped out of the dock set into the back of the Aurora's primary drive. King's vessel shimmered out of view seconds later.
"We're roughly three light years off our mark," Locarno informed everyone. "Setting course for New Austria system."
"Maximum warp for our escorts," Robert said. He looked to Data while Locarno put in the speed and activated the warp drive. "Commander Data, do we have anything from the others?"
"The Klingons have jumped to a point nearly two light years away. They are moving toward New Austria under cloak. Alliance destroyer group jumped into positions near the enemy system. Mentam and her escorts are approximately six light years off-target."
"They'll be coming in late," Robert observed. "Damn. I was hoping to have that carrier with us."
"We'll just have to make do," Julia said. "Lieutenant, ETA?"
"We'll be inside the New Austria system in thirty minutes at present speed."
"Code Red. All hands to battlestations."
Thirty minutes, Robert thought as the klaxons went off around them. Let's see what they're going to do.
Lamper stepped onto his bridge and bellowed, "Report, Frigattenkapitän!"
Falk looked away from where he was standing over Leutnant Rabe's sensors station. He started to lift his arm in salute. "Sieg…"
Lamper scowled and broke off the traditional greeting by barking, "I said report!"
"Long range sensors have detected multiple gravitational anomalies, Herr Kapitän," Falk replied immediately. "They match the profiles of the enemy's interuniversal jump point systems."
"An enemy force has jumped into nearby space?" Lamper took to his chair and checked his harness.
"Ja," Rabe replied. "I have multiple warp signatures. Klingon, Alliance…" Rabe blinked in surprise. "Herr Kapitän, one of the warp signatures, I recognize this one. It is the Aurora."
Lamper nodded. He had yet to fulfill his prediction to Captain Dale in their last meeting. The damage his vessel had taken at Krellan Nebula had kept him out of the further early battles where Aurora had shown up, and by the time they returned to the front the Aurora had stopped appearing. If they are back on the front, it is clear that the enemy is launching a major operation. And to jump here means they will be coming to New Austria.
A part of him pondered the timing. Just as the SS is preparing some "war-winning" operation, the Alliance launches a bold attack on New Austria? With the Aurora returning to the front?
That was no coincidence.
He thought of the young Alliance captain. He was a good man, with an intelligent and innovative crew that he cared for as much as Lamper cared for his own. And so, at last, we meet on the field of battle, Captain Dale.
And just as he had told Captain Dale before, the thought gave him no pleasure.
"Action Stations!", Lamper bellowed. "All hands to Action Stations!"
As a first step to beating Reich forces to the Darglan Facility in Universe S4W8, the Aurora crew must lead a dangerous assault on an enemy fleet base.
"We're almost to the heliopause of the New Austria system," Locarno reported.
It hadn't been necessary. Robert and Julia were intent upon the holographic starmap hovering over the station beside Julia.
"Klingon Birds-of-Prey are now in formation," Data reported.
"Distance for the Mentam?"
"They're still about an hour behind us," Caterina answered.
"We've got weapons fire ahead of us," Angel added. "It looks like those forward destroyers are engaged. I've got several Z-2500s on tactical sensors now."
The screen flashed to show the battle. One of the dagger-like Z-2500s was pouring disruptor bursts into a Sol Republic destroyer, recognizable from its own large torpedo launcher emplacements built along the centerline of the ship and the warp systems integral to the ship's rear section. Blue particle fire retorted from the small emplacements on the destroyer, scoring several hits. The Sol ship deftly evaded the torpedo fired at it by a second Z-2500. Several bursts of disruptor fire hit their shields and started to send flames gouting from the hull.
A rapid series of amber beams intercepted the second Z-2500. Robert watched one of the new Predator-class ships move into range. Much like Aurora her drive and primary hulls had no neck between them. However, unlike his ship, their ventral decks were nearly the same, with only an additional deck coming out below the drive hull. The navigational deflector of the Predator was built into the front of the primary hull like on a Federation Akira or Norway. Her warp nacelles were arrayed at the upper corners of the drive hull, nearly built directly into the drive hull in fact.
Powered and equipped by Darglan tech gleaned from the Facility, the Predator-class ships were more resilient than the Sol ships. The enemy's shots that were damaging them were failing to penetrate the two Predator-class ships' shields. The nimble destroyers with their rapid fire phaser cannon turrets and strips poured amber fury into the dagger-shapes milling about them, fighting hard to protect their less-advanced comrades.
"They're going to be in trouble soon," Angel noted. "I'm picking up two Reich cruisers approaching them. Looks like Nazi light cruisers, Dresden-class."
"They'll make short work of our destroyers," Julia said. "Can we get there in time?"
"Only if we accelerate."
"That means leaving the other ships behind. Damn." Julia looked over at Robert. "Rob… if we…"
"I know," he answered. If they raced ahead, they would be exposing themselves further for several seconds.
The Alliance destroyers knew it too. They continued evasive maneuvers as the cruisers came in, disruptors blazing. Blast after emerald blast missed the twisting, turning destroyers.
And then one of the enemy cruisers managed a direct hit. One of the Sol Republic ships was blown in half.
Robert swallowed. Did I do the right thing?, he thought. He feared he hadn't. But they had to maintain their current formation for the plan to work and to prevent…
"Subspace ripples!", Cat shouted. "We've got stealth ships coming up!"
"Relaying data. Our escorts are engaging," Data added.
Julia gave Robert a meaningful look as the System Alliance frigates flanking them shifted away. Solar torpedoes erupted from the two frigates, bright bursts of blue-white light that flew ahead at high warp velocity. One kept going until it went out.
The other disappeared in a large explosion. A Reich attack ship rippled into view. The Bastogne had crippled her. Phaser fire erupted from the two strips on the frigate's starboard, raking the crippled vessel until it exploded in a white fireball.
A heavy shield-busting torpedo erupted out of nowhere, bound for Aurora. The other attack ship had survived. But it had not fired at optimum range. A phaser beam lashed out and destroyed the torpedo while Aurora's own solar torpedoes were firing. Another Reich attack ship was blown to pieces.
"Enemy torpedo destroyed," Worf reported.
"Enemy ship destroyed too," Angel added.
Julia grinned slightly and nodded at him. Robert sighed. If he had ordered acceleration, their escorts would have fallen behind them, and those enemy attack ships would have had open shots on his sides. "Data, relay my gratitude to the captains of those frigates, please."
"Doing so, Captain."
"We're entering range of the fight in three… two… one…"
Locarno brought the Aurora out of warp almost on top of the continuing fight. A crippled Sol Republic destroyer immediately sought cover behind Aurora. The two Predator-class ships were showing signs of damage, no surprise given the enemy Dresden-class cruisers were raking them with disruptor fire. The Nazi light cruisers were slant-hulled like their bigger counterparts, providing more surface area for the disruptor emplacements that made them murder to light warships.
Of course, Robert and the others knew - from experience - that the enemy light cruisers lacked the heavy weapons to be a threat to the Aurora. The same could not be said of the threat the Aurora posed to them.
Angel fired the bow cannons. Bursts of sapphire energy crashed into one of the enemy cruisers. Its shields resisted initially, but the enemy ship was not supposed to fight a vessel of Aurora's power. The barrage inevitably broke through the shields and sent debris and flame spewing from the deep wounds the pulse particle cannons caused in the cruiser. Disruptor fire stabbed at Aurora. "Shields holding at ninety-eight percent," Jarod reported.
Angel was already moving onto the other target, leaving the first for Worf to finish off with the lighter phaser emplacements along the port side. Multiple streams of pulse fire joined the beams from the Aurora's phaser banks and strips. The damaged Reich ship was trying to maneuver away. A futile gesture under Worf's aim; multiple shots continued to strike the enemy ship until it was left dead in space.
The surviving enemy destroyers might have posed an irritation. But between Wahoo and Troughton, they were quickly dealt with. This left the last surviving cruiser and its desperate attempts to get away from Aurora's guns. Its desperate maneuvering made Angel's job hard. Her hits were all glancing blows, degrading shield efficiency and hull armor, but she had yet to land a direct hit.
That was when Agincourt and Bastogne swept in. The two System Alliance frigates were blazing away with their mass effect cannons initially, causing some slight shield strain on the enemy cruiser, but it was their disruptor torpedoes that were the threat. The bursts of white energy that marked the mass effect fields supporting the torpedoes appeared as the frigates went into the final kilometers of their attack run. The weapons struck the cruiser's shields directly. "The disruptor torpedoes are destabilizing the enemy shields," Caterina said.
"Good for us," Angel said, continuing her own fire. As the Aurora overtook them, she and Worf combined their skills to devastate the enemy cruiser. It erupted into a ball of white fire when one of the capital pulse phaser cannon turrets found the anti-matter storage bunker.
"All enemy forces accounted for," Jarod said.
"Status on our side?", Robert asked.
"The Sol Republic destroyer Hosch has been destroyed. The destroyer Nguyen is operating on emergency power and cannot continue combat." Data looked over from the console he'd taken. "All other vessels report readiness to continue."
Robert nodded and looked to the tactical display Julia had brought up beside her chair. "Let's move further in system and start dropping anchor probes."
Lamper was waiting nervously for the order to move into combat. His crew were alert and at their combat stations, every man ready for this unexpected fight without a hint of fear over it. Just as it should be.
The picket forces for the system were gone; the Aurora and her ships had destroyed them. "Two of their destroyers are out of action. Probably destroyed." Rabe's voice was even. "They are moving in-system now. They will be in combat range shortly."
"What is he up to…", Lamper wondered aloud. Seeing Falk's expression, he clarified, "For the enemy to have sent Aurora, Frigattenkapitän, it means there is more to this attack than a simple raid. The enemy has launched a major operation. But what could…" Lamper's mind went back to their meeting. To everything Dale and his crew had done.
"The Alliance ships are slowing, sir." Rabe looked up. "And I'm having some issues with long-range sensors. Some sort of jamming."
Jamming? What could…
And then Lamper thought to the fight in the nebula. The Aurora's attached vessel, Koenig had literally jumped right on top of them. From inside a nebula. Could they have the ability to bring ships to their location through their interuniversal drives?
The more Lamper thought about it, the more he was certain this was true. "Signal to Admiral von der Goltz, now! The enemy may be bringing a fleet in!"
Robert looked at the relative distance to the enemy base and their fleet. "Several enemy ships are coming our way now," Caterina said. "I'm picking up several cruisers and a couple of battlecruisers, plus at least a dozen Z-2500s. And a whole bunch of fighters."
"Laurent's people can deal with them." Robert noticed the odds. They couldn't beat that force. But they could delay them. "What about our jamming probes?"
"They've finished deploying," Jarod confirmed. "Ready for the anchor probes on your signal."
"Begin launching the anchor probes."
From the rear of the Aurora, the probe dispenser went into operation. It was effectively a smaller, less protected torpedo launcher, and it was now firing like a rapid fire weapon. The probes they fired were joining the prior probes sent out, providing them a blanket of electronic jamming to protect them.
"Uh." Cat's voice betrayed some nervousness. "Remember how I said several before? Try 'several dozen' now. I've got at least eighty enemy ships now moving toward us, fast." She swallowed. "Including an entire division of dreadnoughts."
"Do you think they realize what we're up to?", Julia asked, rhetorically at least.
"Have they seen us do any combat jumps bef…" Robert cut himself off. "Dammit. Krellan Nebula. Our first meeting, we had Zack jump in." He looked to Jarod. "Jarod, are those anchor probes ready?"
"They are." Jarod looked back at him. "But we can't bring any fleets in like this. They won't have time to get into formation before those ships are in firing range. We should have Commander King start…"
"Not while there are still so many enemy ships by the base," Robert said, interrupting. He swallowed. "Send the signal. Call in the fleet. And Nick… I'm sorry." He nodded his head. "But for this, I need you to relay navigation control to Data."
Locarno nodded. He didn't like it. But he could understand that, with everything at stake, having Data do the delicate piloting to come was necessary. He released helm control for Data to relay to his station at Communications.
"Standing by, Captain," Data reported.
"Jump points forming!", Jarod declared.
Around and behind the Aurora, interuniversal jump points began to form in space. The vortexes numbered in the dozens.
From each ships emerged. Sometimes just one. Sometimes more, especially with smaller ships. Robert recognized designs from across the Alliance emerging from the points.
Including, much to his surprise and delight, the Kentan.
"Admiral Maran is hailing," Data said.
"Data, full impulse, bring us toward the approaching Reich fleet," Robert ordered. "Put him on."
"Captain." Maran's voice betrayed a hint of bewilderment. "You've called us in awfully close to the enemy fleet. I don't know if the fleet can move into battle position in time."
"Don't worry, Admiral. I'm about to buy you a few extra minutes." Robert keyed the intercom. "Scotty, are you ready?"
"We are, Cap'n. I just hope th' lass can take th' strain of this plan of yer's."
"She can. After all, you helped build her."
"That I did, sir. That I did. Standing by."
"God I hope this works," Julia said to him.
"We'll find out really quickly if it doesn't," he answered. I was hoping we wouldn't have to do this, that we'd have time to deploy the probes after we drew some of their fleet out. Was this a mistake?
If it was, it was too damn late to change anything.
"Enemy ships are starting to lock on," Jarod warned them. "They'll start firing any moment."
"Standby, everyone. Standby…" He eyed the Aurora on the tactical display, moving ever closer to the spheres representing the enemy's likely engagement range. "As soon as they fire…"
The Aurora continued onward, in seeming suicidal defiance of the odds arrayed against her.
On the bridge of the Reich's Glory, Lamper wondered just what Dale was doing. He seemed suicidally mad… but that couldn't be the end of it. No.
What are you doing, Herr Captain?
He got his answer a moment later.
Jarod called out that the enemy was firing.
Data was already acting.
Power surged into the warp drive of the Aurora. With a flash of light from her powerful warp engines, she jumped forward… and stopped.
Right in the middle of the enemy formation.
Enemy sensors were already registering this fact. But for just that moment, their human operators, unable to think at the same speeds, had not realized their quarry had moved so suddenly and so far, making their first shots futile.
"Fire!", Robert shouted.
Angel and Worf responded immediately. The space around Aurora lit up with sapphire and amber fury as every joule of power that could be coaxed from the ship's power systems was expelled through the ship's weapon batteries. Several Z-2500s died in formation, unable to even evade in time. The Aurora's main battery in the bow savaged an enemy Sedan-class cruiser with a full barrage. Torpedoes erupted from every launcher and found targets. The cruisers adjacent to them took their share of the barrage, if doing so more capably than their comrade trapped in Angel's bow gunsights.
After a couple of seconds, the enemy responded. They opened fire, in such volume that the Aurora's shields would be overwhelmed shortly.
But as fast as the Reich gunnery officers were… Data was faster.
Again the engines of the Aurora pulsed with light. Again she was no longer where she had been when the enemy had opened fire.
Instead, the emerald beams and the missiles and the torpedoes kept going. In many cases, they kept going into each other.
Two cruisers, another Sedan and a Dresden, exploded in white fireballs from overpowering hits to their anti-matter fuel bunkers. The warp nacelle of one of the enemy battlecruisers exploded from an errant torpedo.
The second jump brought the Aurora clear of the enemy formation, but still within weapons range. Data fired the impulsors and the Aurora began to turn. The Reich ships were in sudden disarray. Rapid warp maneuvers like that were impossible, after all; anyone desperate enough to try would plow into another ship or burn out their warp systems from the repeated jumps.
"Systems are showing strain on the upper starboard and lower port warp nacelle plasma feeds," Lucy warned. "Damage control teams are standing by."
"Some of their ships are breaking away from formation to pursue us."
"I see, that, Cat." Robert looked to Data. "Data…"
"Preparing to recommence Picard Maneuver," Data replied.
Just as the pursuing enemies opened fire, Data triggered the warp drive again. Space warped slightly and Aurora was suddenly in the middle of the enemy fleet again. Again Angel and Worf opened fire with everything they could. Four more destroyers disappeared. The enemy return fire commenced. The ship shuddered for a moment before the screen flashed with a warp effect yet again. Once more they were clear.
And there were further explosions from within the Nazi formation. Once more, the enemy did themselves more damage than Aurora had.
"Shields holding at eighty-four percent," Jarod reported.
"All warp nacelle plasma feeds are giving strain warnings." Lucy looked back. "We can't keep this up."
"We just need another couple of jumps…" The ship shook once more. They were in enemy firing range. "Two more, Data. Make the second one long enough to clear us from the enemy fleet."
"Acknowledged." Data entered the necessary commands.
"Shields down to seventy-eight percent."
Jarod's warning coincided with Angel and Worf returning fire with the ship's weapons. The enemy cruisers moving up to engage them took repeated hits from the larger phaser weapons while Worf's aim filled the approach vectors of enemy destroyers with amber energy. A Reich destroyer exploded from a direct hit to its drive assembly. The others fired their torpedoes at Aurora; one of these ships died a moment later from a direct hit from one of the larger phaser strips on Aurora's port side.
The torpedoes came in. And they found nothing. The Aurora had warped back into the enemy formation.
"Plasma feed emergency shutdown in upper starboard nacelle!", Lucy cried. "Nacelle is offline!"
By the time she was finishing the second sentence, enemy fire was already incoming. But this time, it wasn't coming from all angles. The Reich tactical officers were adjusting. They had realized that they couldn't get reliable targeting until it was clear Aurora couldn't warp jump again. And given the state of the drive, that was a dicey proposition for them. A short stab of self-doubt went through Robert's heart. Had he gone one jump too far? Had he overtaxed the Aurora's warp drive? Sometimes it was easy to forget just how complicated a system it was, how easily it could be overwhelmed if used improperly.
The ship shook hard beneath them. "One of the battlecruisers is firing on us," Jarod said.
"Lucky damned guess," Robert mumbled as the ship rocked hard from missile impacts.
"Shields down to sixty-nine percent!"
He hadn't planned to take so long for this warp jump. But undoubtedly Data had to adjust for the loss of a warp nacelle. The other Nazi ships would open fire any moment, convinced their warp drive had finally gone down…
Just as several more ships opened up with their disruptors, there was another burst of warp speed. Data brought them clear.
As soon as it was done, Lucy was quick to give them the news. "Plasma rupture in lower starboard nacelle! Our warp drive is offline!"
"That was cutting it close," Julia said, sighing and, despite everything, grinning. Data's last warp jump had carried them free of the enemy's accurate firing range. Some shots would still come their way, but at this range they could easily evade at sublight.
"They're really unhappy with us," Cat said. "Several more ships are breaking from their formation to pursue us."
"They don't know if we can do this again, but they're not taking chances." Julia swallowed. "Rob, they're sending a dreadnought after us. And two battlecruisers. And a number of cruisers… we can't fight this. We have to break off."
"We can't fight this, no," Robert agreed. "Data, get us clear, full impulse, and then please return helm control to Nick."
His orders were implemented with no difficulty. The Nazis now had other problems, as it proved.
The Alliance fleet entered optimum firing range.
Lamper had to admit he was impressed. Tactical warp jumps. Madness. Could his savant officer, that man Jarod, have managed such precision? As far as Lamper was concerned, no human could. And using computers would be unreliable… Not to mention that warp drives would fail with such rapid use.
But Aurora had done it regardless.
"It is a wonder they did not cripple themselves," Falk observed. "Their drive must be very robust."
"Indeed." Lamper looked to communications. Leutnant Jensen was seated there. "Do we have engagement orders?"
That made Lamper frown. The SS squadron that he had been assigned to… why was it not being sent into the battle? What is Eicke up to?
Even as he pondered this, he watched as Admiral von der Goltz reacted to what was happening.
The rest of the Reich war fleet at New Austria began to move.
With Locarno back at the helm, the Aurora was maneuvering clear of the enemy for the moment. The ship shook lightly as enemy fire struck their shields. "Shields still holding at about seventy percent."
"At my mark, bring us around." Robert checked the display. Most of the enemy pursuit had turned back once their comrades were engaged. Maran's ships had used their chance to get organized and were exploiting the disorder of the enemy's forward units for everything it was worth. Markers representing enemy ships were disappearing rapidly.
Now the rest of the enemy fleet was moving up to engage Maran. The odds were close. An entire enemy fleet unit was present. A thought crossed Robert's mind. "Cat, Jarod, would any of these ships happen to be from the attack at Krellan Nebula?"
Cat was the one who checked. "Going by the survivors' sensor records… yeah. A lot."
"Uh huh." Robert felt a grin tug at his mouth. It made what was about to happen even more fitting.
Maran had arranged the Alliance fleet and its disparate members by their strengths. The ships from C5O2 and D3R1 were arrayed in a "battle wall" formation: ranks of dreadnought starships and accompanying cruisers ready to turn and present broadside firepower against the foe. Their light escorts were in a looser formation to assist in screening away enemy light ships or conducting their own dashes at the enemy capital warships to engage weakened enemy shields with heavy torpedoes.
These walls, busy plowing through the forward enemy force, were joined by the other fleets operating by their own tactical paradigms, working hand-in-hand under Maran's direction. Dorei starbirds and Gersallian cruisers and frigates flew in with weapons blazing, clearing the way for hundreds of starfighters from the Gersallian and Dorei carriers to engage with their torpedoes. The Kentan remained in the center of their heavy formations, directing firepower toward the enemy. Their firepower combined with an Earth Confederacy dreadnought - the Cicero - to utterly wreck one of the enemy Aryans.
The heavy warships from the Federated Stars and the Sirian League of L2M1 made their own swift attacks, flanked by cruisers, gravitic drives burning bright blue as they poured phaser and particle fire into the Reich. A wing of Alakin heavy warbirds and Dorei starbirds came burning in after them, pouring plasma and particle fire into the outnumbered ships.
One engagement near the end of the enemy's forward units was particularly poignant; a Colonial Confederation cruiser came to the aid of Sol Republic destroyers under attack from a Sedan. The two erstwhile rivals cooperated with precision against their common enemy. The reward was the flowering explosions from the Reich cruiser. A nacelle blew up from a torpedo hit by one of the Sol destroyers as its companions helped a stricken comrade fly free of the fight.
Seeing this brief part of the battle unfold gave Robert a warm feeling. This was everything the Alliance was meant to be; disparate peoples from all nations and species working together for a common goal, in this case that goal being the defeat of a terrible enemy that had murdered thousands of helpless beings.
Another jolt brought Robert out of his reverie. "Shields now at sixty-six percent."
He nodded to acknowledge Jarod's report. "Locarno… now!"
The Aurora swung around and met her pursuer directly. A Sedan class ship; an appreciable foe, but lacking the raw power to overcome the Aurora alone. Which explained the division of Z-2500s following.
Angel opened fire the moment she had target lock. Thick sapphire pulses lashed out and slammed into the enemy ship, accompanied by two spreads of solar torpedoes. The blue-white sparks of light flowered into brilliant explosions when they slammed into the enemy's shields, accompanied by another barrage of the forward pulse plasma cannons. The enemy cruiser began to maneuver to present strong side shields instead of the weakened bow shields. Angel redoubled her fire on the enemy ship in response to this maneuver. Green, blue, and amber fire filled the space between Aurora and her foes. Worf's expert aim finished off two of the enemy destroyers. His shooting was brilliant and the only reason they hadn't taken a full torpedo barrage from said enemy ships yet.
The barrage on the enemy's shields continued. Angel was targeting every point she could that was supposed to be vulnerable. Their ship shook repeatedly as the cruiser's missiles, taking attrition from the point-defense weapons, crashed into Aurora's bow shields.
"Forward shield generators are taking a lot of strain," Lucy warned.
Jarod was quick to react. "Re-distributing shields to compensate."
"I'm picking up fluctuations in their power systems, I think we're overloading them."
Cat's finding spurred her sister on. Locarno maneuvered the ship to prevent the enemy from escaping Aurora's bow cannons. Angel made full use of his work to continue battering the enemy cruiser. Torpedoes followed the plasma and phaser fire to give the enemy cruiser a battering.
Finally an amber beam from one of the bow-directed phaser strips played across hull. This was followed by a burst from a pulse phaser cannon, then another. Flame and debris erupted from the new wounds in the enemy ship.
And like a shark smelling blood, Angel went for the kill. The next barrage savaged the Nazi cruiser's drive hull. A torpedo blew the blood-red port nacelle to pieces. The lights on the enemy ship's hull began to die out.
"They've lost main power!", was Cat's enthusiastic report.
The last enemy shots before their weapons lost potency finished playing over their shields. "Shields holding at sixty percent." Jarod drew in a breath. "Primary Shield Generator 1 is showing increased strain, we may have to take it offline."
"We'll let Scotty's people deal with it first. But shut it down if you feel the need." Robert looked back to the battle.
Maran's forces had overrun the initial eighty-something enemy warships and left behind a thin cloud of burning hulks and debris fields. Now they were approaching the main enemy fleet. The odds were fairly equal.
It was time to tip them toward their side.
"Is the Sladen in position?", Robert asked.
"They are," was the reply.
"Then prepare to send the second all-clear signal on my mark. Tell King to begin."
On the bridge of the Sladen Commander King and her crew had been watching with a mix of admiration and disbelief. At the helm, the ship's XO Lieutenant Caldwell had given voice to their surprise. "Six rapid warp jumps? Dale must be mad, he's lucky he didn't blow out his entire warp system."
King nodded slowly. Borderline reckless indeed…! But tactically necessary at that point in time. Aurora had few other options once the anchor probes were being deployed. I would have deployed them further out. It would have cost more casualties, undoubtedly, without the enemy fleet intentionally weakening themselves with that first wave. But to take such a risk…
Skarsgard was ready when a tone came from her board. The Norwegian officer turned and faced King. "Commander, we're receiving the signal from the Aurora."
"Confirm that. And start launching the probes," King ordered.
Sladen wavered into view.
Behind the enemy.
They were roughly sixty degrees "above" the enemy as well as being to their rear, a necessary position for what came next. Lieutenant Trymi began firing the torpedo launchers. But there were no torpedoes loaded; rather, combinations of the jamming probes and anchor probes.
"Field is twenty percent complete," the Dorei man reported.
"Enemy vessels on combat approach," Skarsgard added.
King looked at the approaching foes. Similar dagger-shapes to the Z-2500s, but bigger. Reich gunships, A-1700-class, loaded with large disruptor armaments for their size. The vessels sacrificed range to maximize combat power for their size and such were not unlike the Sladen herself. As such they were something of a threat, especially with Sladen having to focus on deploying its probes.
"Limited evasive maneuvers, Lieutenant. We cannot jeopardize the deployment of the probes."
Caldwell was doing what he could. But his range of maneuver was limited. The ship shook as several disruptor shots struck their shields.
"Shields down to ninety percent."
King nodded. "Maintain current bearing. Continue the deployment."
No one questioned her openly. They kept doing their jobs, just as she expected, even as another hit came down on them. King eyed the range on her own display. Any moment. Any moment…
There was a ripple in space. Several more ships appeared above Sladen.
The Reich warships started to break off as the Klingons soared in for the attack. The lead gunship took the brunt of the Klingon ambush. Multiple green bolts slammed into its shields followed by a swarm of photon torpedoes. The last two went through the gunship's armor and caused it to burst in a white fireball.
"The Pagh and her squadron are engaging."
"Inform Captain Klag of my thanks," was King's laconic response to that. "Status of probe deployment?"
"Firing final probes… now. All anchor probes deployed, Commander!"
"Send the go signal, Ensign Skarsgard. Lieutenant Caldwell, bring us into formation with the Klingons. We have targets to neutralize."
"Sending go signal, sir!"
"Taking up formation!"
Sladen slipped into place with the Klingon Birds-of-Prey. Her bow phasers opened up, battering an enemy gunship. The Reich vessel turned toward them and opened up with its own disruptor cannons. King's ship shuddered beneath her; she ignored that and kept her eye on the tactical situation. Trymi's gunnery skills were letting him batter the enemy ship and, as things went, won its attention to the extent that it didn't notice the Klingon ship coming up on its stern until it was too late. Disruptor and phaser bolts struck the vessel on both ends and overloaded its shields. Torpedoes turned the ship into a burning wreck.
Their ship shook again. "Enemy vessel to aft. Wait… the Klingons are engaging them."
"Then let us return the favor," King declared. "Focus your targeting on any enemy ship flanking one of the Klingons."
And as she said that, the first jump points opened.
Robert felt like cheering as, for the second time today, space lit up with the opening of a mass of interuniversal jump points.
This time the vessels exiting were primarily not Alliance. The sleek shapes of Turian warships and the blockier Systems Alliance ships emerged from many of the jump points. Smaller, more stealthy ships came out with them - Salarians, presumably. And a smattering of Asari ships rounded out the Citadel contribution.
Other jump points disgorged many dozens of Klingon ships. Birds-of-Prey, cruisers, attack cruisers, and among them all, one big warship - the Negh'Var.
Toward the center of the fleet a large number of smaller ships came racing out of the jump points, accompanied by even smaller blue shapes - space fighters. The White Stars were here in force. More than Robert had expected from what Delenn had said before. And central among them were several of the tall, finned Minbari Warcruisers.
And that wasn't all. Several Slavian dreadnoughts and accompanying warships came from one point; Gl'mulli orb ships emerged from another. A number of Alliance ships joined them. Robert recognized the Discovery among them. We need ships enough that even the Discovery and her sisters have been called in. He recognized the Gagarin and the Atlantis, but not the Challenger. Presumably Madeleine was still in charge of the excavation of the Darglan Homeworld.
And there were other ships. Itagaki Union, Archenar Federation, Gy'toran star-sailers and Kerbal spacecraft carriers. Every nation and species that the Aurora had visited in the past few months was represented in the arriving fleet.
And they had all come to end the threat of the Nazi Reich.
"Admiral Hackett to all ships. Move forward and engage."
At that command, the allied forces formed up. Some took longer than others; it was, not surprisingly, the Rangers who were ready for action first. They were used to launching fleet actions coming through jump points and had come through in combat formation already. Emerald beams came from the massive Warcruisers and the smaller, nimble White Stars. The Minbari weapons cut away at the shields of the nearest Reich warships. A couple of direct hits on the smaller cruisers led to localized shield failures and, after that, the powerful beams from the Minbari cruisers started to carve them into pieces.
Now the rest of the ships were swooping in. The Citadel Council-aligned forces engaged with their hypervelocity mass driver cannons, battering away at the Reich warfleet. Robert was amazed at, and admittedly enjoyed, the sight of a Turian dreadnought and the SSV Kilimanjaro unleashing withering firepower upon a Reich dreadnought. The colossal ship was turning about to engage while its shields flickered and faltered under withering firepower. A squadron of F-61 Trident fighters from the SSV Hawking raced in under the cover of their fire on an attack run. The lighter disruptors on the Aryan-class dreadnought opened up on them. One fighter took a glancing hit and spun off, damaged. Another two took direct hits and disappeared in plumes of flame.
The other fighters made it to optimum range and fired their disruptor torpedoes. One after another the torpedoes lit up and flew forward. Again the enemy light disruptors engaged, and a number of the torpedoes were shot down. The rest slammed into the faltering local shields of the Reich dreadnought. The handful that managed to get through said shields hit armored hull, where intense and unstable mass-effect fields from their warheads began tearing the hull apart.
The dreadnought's starboard super-disruptors were lashing out in reply. Green beams stabbed repeatedly at the two attacking dreadnoughts. Kinetic barriers would not have done much to withstand disruptors, but now both ships were employing UAS shield technology and their shields held against the onslaught.
And this was not the only battle going on. The Gl'mulli orb ships zipped around the battlefield, lashing out with the plasma beam cannons affixed to multiple points of their sphere-shaped hulls. As they tore their way through a Nazi cruiser squadron, attack bombers from the Kerbal fleet raced in at breakneck accelerations. Showing an almost suicidal disdain for enemy counter-fire, the Kerbals deployed their gravitic bombs against the cruisers. With the Gl'mulli orbs having drained away their shields, their armored hulls were left to endure the powerful Kerbal weapons and their hull-shattering gravitic warheads.
Enemy Z-2500s raced in to engage the allied carriers. Kerbal and Systems Alliance fighters moved to engage, and they were not alone. The Starship Atlantis moved into position and engaged with her own light batteries. While the Atlantis covered the carriers, the Discovery and the Gagarin joined the sleek FedStar cruisers in battering a burning Lutzow-class ship into ruin.
On the bridge of the Aurora, Robert noted the distances. "Status on that generator?", he asked.
Jarod checked his board. "It looks like the damage control teams finished their work. The generator's ready to resume its share of our shield coverage."
"Great news. Bring us about, Nick," Robert said. His heart was pounding with excitement. "Bring us in toward the allied fleet and the Sladen."
"Aye sir!", Locarno agreed.
The Aurora turned in space. The bow raised to face the allied forces. Her engines fired to full and she flew toward her allies.
They'd accomplished their mission. Now it was time to use that to win the battle.
Explosions continued to flower in the distance while Patrice Laurent maneuvered his Mongoose starfighter behind the Nazi fighters launched by the base. The craft were wider than his Mongoose, with tapering ends that made them look like arrowheads with engines on the back.
The Reich fighters were currently pursuing the Kerbal bombers that were reducing one of the dreadnought divisions for the benefit of Allied dreadnoughts and couldn't break off safely. Laurent shifted his fighter left and right and then corkscrewed it to avoid incoming fire. He waited the key second before his targeting system flashed a lock and fired. Thick pulses of amber energy lashed out from the Mongoose's chin and the base of the small payload and engine wings. The first shots were still slightly off. Laurent carefully maneuvered his fighter until the stream of pulses started tearing into the rear of the Nazi fighter. The enemy fighter's shields held for the first half second. The pilot was already maneuvering to get out of Laurent's firing line.
But he couldn't. Just as he nearly cleared the stream of bolts, they ripped into his engine assembly. The Reich warship exploded into a few hundred pieces.
A warning tone forced Laurent to maneuver hard to his right and "upward". This let him evade, barely, the stream of emerald disruptor bolts coming from the Nazi fighter moving to engage him. Soon the enemy was on his back and staying on. "Bogey on my six low," Laurent stated.
"I'm on it!" The voice had enough of a strange pitch to it to confirm the speaker was not human or full-sized humanoid. Another Mongoose twisted around Laurent at an acceleration that did more to say it was his wingman than the voice itself.
Lt. Jebediah Kerman's Mongoose slipped by Laurent's own and went directly at the Nazi fighter attacking him. Phasers blazed and the enemy pilot broke off, but not before taking damage.
"Able 2, thank you for that."
"You're welcome, Able Leader!" And with that the Kerbal pilot's Mongoose twisted back into the same angle of attack and roared into position. Ahead of them some of the heavier Reich fighters were starting to fire on the Kerbal bombers approaching the dreadnoughts. Kerman opened fire at the same time Laurent and others did. Missiles streaked through space and hit the enemy fighters before they could evade. Several exploded entirely. Some only took damage and continued their attacks on the Kerbal bombers. A couple of the Kerbal craft exploded from the fire coming in behind them. But instead of breaking off or ruining their attack runs with evasion, the Kerbals seemed to be more interested in accelerating even more, pushing their overpowered spacecraft to and seemingly beyond their limits to ensure their attack run succeeded.
Laurent spit his crosshairs on another Nazi fighter and let loose with his phasers. The enemy fighter, damaged from a missile impact, disintegrated under the attack. "We've got to cover those bombers!" Seeing he didn't have the numbers to keep the enemy fighters from successfully savaging the Kerbal bomber run, Laurent started giving his orders. "Bravo, Charlie, form up on Able! Delta Squadron…"
"Sir!" Ensign Xui, his sensor operator, called out. "More friendly contacts!"
"Above" Laurent, more fighters raced in on mass effect drives pushing to maximum acceleration. The curved, sharp frame looked almost like a fang with wings; Turian fighters. "This is Dedalic Wing to Alliance fighters. Joining your attack vector."
Another Human voice heralded the arrival of F-61s. "Hammer Squadron here, we're on course!" Laurent thought he recognized the voice, a pilot from the Hawking. Lieutenant… Cortez, yes.
With the Turian and Systems Alliance fighters backing his squadron from the Aurora, the Nazi fighters ahead of them began exploding with greater frequency. The explosions from the Kerbal bombers going down ceased.
The lead dreadnought's super-disruptors fired again and there was an explosion at the periphery of Laurent's vision. But he could do nothing about that; he was focused on finishing off the enemy fighters ahead of them.
The Turian dreadnought took three super-disruptor beams into its now-unshielded prow and exploded violently. Behind it a second dreadnought and an adjacent Asari cruiser were pelted by debris.
The Aurora moved up and intercepted another super-disruptor blast on its fresh shield face, saving the Asari ship at the cost of a major shield blow. As the bridge stopped rocking Robert called out, "Damage report!"
"Shields down to forty-six percent," Jarod answered.
"We've got a primary shield generator failing, switching back to secondaries!"
Robert breathed harshly. He was tired of getting smacked around by enemy dreadnoughts. And there were four Nazi dreadnoughts bearing down on him and the Citadel dreadnoughts.
But a moment later, those enemy ships had other problems. Their shields were also starting to go down from sheer attrition. Now there were Kerbal bombers racing across the hull, deploying their gravitic bombs at trajectories the Reich dreadnoughts couldn't hope to intercept at. So close that the pilots were lucky to escape themselves.
Suddenly the lead dreadnought, killer of that Turian ship, suffered several massive detonations across its dorsal hull and bow. The super-disruptor assembly exploded and spewed debris and atmosphere across the bow of the enemy Aryan-class ship.
Angel didn't have to be told. Aurora's bow weapons opened up and vented their fury on the enemy ship. Mass driver slugs accelerated to cee-fractional velocities joined them; the fire from the other Turian dreadnought and the Kilimanjaro. Hit after hit ripped away hull armor from the enemy dreadnought until its entire front third was ablaze, spreading a cloud of lost atmospheric gas and debris as it passed. Solar torpedoes from the Aurora went deep into the opened bow of the ship.
One found the ship's missile magazine. Exposed, now, by the prior damage.
There was a great white flash that their viewscreen barely adjusted in time to keep from blinding them. When it was over, the enemy dreadnought was gone.
The ones behind it were still fighting. Another wing of Kerbal bombers had already severely damaged the third in line. Now it had a new problem as the great, blocky shape of one of the Slavic Union dreadnoughts moved across its bow. The ship - giving off the ID of being the Stanislav Bush - opened up with a barrage of ruby energy. Heavy x-ray laser assembles ripped into the Aryan-class dreadnoughts to either side, causing their shields to flare bright red. The one to its starboard, damaged by the Kerbals, couldn't resist the firepower of a dreadnought on its bow. Said bow disappeared in a series of explosions.
The last dreadnought in the force faced the approach of Gy'toran star-sailers. The sleek and elegant shapes of the ships, propelled by a complicated sublight drive assembly that included both solar sails and subspace carrier-wave sails that gave them a look of being an old sailing ship with sails both above and below, turned and directed orange bursts of energy fire into the dreadnought. It retorted with disruptor fire. The Gy'torans were not getting the better of the exchange - Robert was sad to see one of the elegant ships blasted apart by a super-disruptor hit - but it gave an opening for the White Stars of Delenn's Rangers to get in and start hammering the Reich dreadnought. Both groups of ships pulled away as a wing of heavy Klingon Birds-of-Prey, K'Vort-class, moved in with disruptors blazing. Three attack cruisers of the newer Vor'cha-class came in behind them and let loose a series of disruptor barrages backed by photon torpedoes.
The Aryan-class ship simply couldn't endure the punishment. Its shields failed and stayed down. Its hull took repeated hits. And soon it was a lifeless husk of a ship, all lights extinguished, drifting helplessly in the vacuum of space.
Four enemy dreadnoughts, dead. Robert had never imagined to see such a sight.
And still the battle raged on.
Lamper was clenching his fists in frustration. The fleet was caught between two fires. The Alliance and the allies it had gained had used their drive technology to devastating effect. Before, the Reich had numerical parity. Indeed, if you counted the SS squadron Lamper was now attached to and the damaged ships and close patrols guarding the Base, they had superior numbers to the initial Alliance fleet even after the annihilation of the fleet vanguard. But with this new alien reinforcement, they were now outnumbered and in a tactically inferior position.
Indeed, the sight of so many different ship types filled Lamper with deep foreboding. This is what we face. Not one foe, but many. How can the Reich survive against such force?
"Admiral von der Goltz is ordering all ships to try and break out of the enemy trap," Leutnant Jensen said. "And he is ordering Oberführer Eicke to commit us to the engagement. All ships will be employed to attempt a breakout."
"Get me targeting solutions, then."
"Jawohl, Herr Kapitän."
"Herr Kapitän, we are receiving orders from Eichmann." Jensen's voice seemed to falter. "Oberführer Eicke is ordering us to prepare to withdraw from the system."
Lamper exploded with an angry "Was?!" After a moment to regain his cool, he barked, "I want to speak to Eicke, now."
A moment later the bridge of the SS dreadnought appeared on the screen. Oberführer Eicke was in his command chair. Fassbinder was standing nearby. "You heard my orders, Kapitän Lamper. We are withdrawing."
"You are fleeing?" Lamper looked at him and called upon every iota of control he could. Decades of experience with discipline came to bear in keeping his anger in check. "The enemy has the fleet hard-pressed! If we lose both the base and the fleet, our victories will have been for nothing. We will lose this entire ubersektor, Oberführer. God help us, it could cost us the war!"
"This battle is lost, and we have more important duties, Lamper, than saving a handful of ships. Not with the prize that is within our grasp."
Lamper felt his hairs stand up on his neck. "What prize could be worth the worst defeat the Reich has ever endured?"
"A man of your purported intelligence should know. Now, I expect you to warp out with the rest of us. Any further refusal or argument on your part and I will personally see to it that you are denounced as a traitor to our Fatherland."
"What about our orders to engage?"
Eicke smirked. "Admiral von der Goltz is simply a man. I obey the dictates of the Führer himself. Now, we must withdraw, while the enemy is occupied."
Lamper couldn't get the scowl off of his face. His brave comrades, so many thousands of his peers in the officer corps, of brave German crews, were fighting and dying for their Fatherland… and he was being ordered to leave them behind. With not even a shot fired for the sake of honor.
But he knew full well that Eicke would follow through on that threat. He would be disgraced and executed. His sisters, his nephews and niece, his mother… all would suffer for that.
Everything about it filled Lamper with disgust. But he knew the costs of defiance. And they were too high.
So he choked out a, "Jawohl, Herr Oberführer. For the Führer. For the Reich."
"Heil Sauckel." Eicke saluted and the line cut.
Lamper settled back into his chair. He could see the dissatisfaction on the faces of his subordinates. But they knew full well that there was no choice here. "Warp drive standing by, Herr Kapitän," his helmsman said.
"Follow the course laid out by the Eichmann," he answered, dejected. "Match their warp speed."
The Reich's Glory turned away from the raging battle along with the dark-hulled SS ships. Lamper watched the battle continue up until the shudder of the warp drive initiating came up through the decks.
Damn the SS.
The allied forces were arranged to be behind and "above" the enemy, creating a crossfire where the risk of friendly fire was minimized and, more importantly, the enemy could not easily break away from the battle by going above or below either fleet.
It was a beautiful, deadly sight. The two fleets had the enemy trapped, and the Nazi forces were starting to disintegrate. They were still dangerous, as the burning hulks of friendly ships could attest to, but the battle was against them. Outnumbered, caught between two fires…
Robert thought on it. This was essentially what the Nazis had done to Lithgon at the Krellan Nebula, wasn't it? Now the Alliance and its allies were returning the favor, with interest.
Aurora shook underneath him. A burning Nazi battlecruiser was firing its last defiant shots as Angel finished gutting it with the bow cannons. Several Reich gunships and destroyers moving up on their flank were facing fire not just from Aurora's smaller batteries, aimed brilliantly by Worf, but from their accompanying ships. The Wahoo and Troughton had linked up with them again, as had the Agincourt and Bastogne from the Systems Alliance fleet, and those four ships were battering down the enemy gunships approaching their flank. The Sladen and her Klingon escorts were moving their way as well.
"We've got several more ships coming in," Cat warned. "It looks like they're launching everything they have left from the base… wait, that's odd."
"What?", Julia asked. "What's odd?"
"Several enemy ships just jumped to warp. They're leaving the system." Cat blinked. "If I'm reading… one of those ships was the Eichmann. And the Reich's Glory too."
Robert and Julia exchanged looks. What could they be up to?
It didn't matter for the moment. They had a battle to finish.
"The enemy reinforcements are going after the Negh'Var. The Klingons are already fighting off a battlecruiser."
"Does Gowron have any escorting support?"
Jarod shook his head. "Not anymore."
"Then let's get over there. It won't look good if we let an allied head-of-state get killed, will it?"
Aurora moved away from her current position. At full impulse she rushed across the allied fleet. Robert felt immense satisfaction at the sight of one of the feared Aryan-class dreadnoughts reduced to a burning wreck. Another such dreadnought was trailing debris and atmosphere from colossal wounds in her hull, courtesy of the SSV Kilimanjaro. Angel gave the dying Aryan-class ship a few shots en passant.
A check on the rest of the battle gave Robert a satisfying and reassuring sight. The Kentan was beside the expanding debris cloud of what had to have been an Aryan-class dreadnought… while a second Nazi dreadnought was on her other side, clearly getting the worst of Kentan's particle cannon broadsides. Admiral Maran's flagship was also facing a Lutzow-class battlecruiser on their bow. But that vessel died a moment later, under fire from two accompanying dreadnoughts from the Earth Confederacy, the Cicero and the Epaminondas.
Another hit struck the Aurora. "Shields still at fifty-four percent," Jarod reported. "Just stray enemy fire. Some of the enemy ships are just shooting everything that's not Nazi."
"It looks like they've lost all cohesion," Julia observed. "We're really doing it. We're winning."
"Coming up on the Negh'Var."
At Locarno's remark Robert and the others directed their attention back to the battle. The Klingon flagship was under fire from several enemy cruisers, including another of the Lutzow-class battlecruisers. Their disruptor bolts were starting to strike the Klingon ship's bare hull. "Take out that battlecruiser," Robert ordered. It posed the most thread to the damaged Klingon ship, while the one beside it was still engaging what was left of a Klingon attack cruiser.
Under Angel's direction the bow cannons blazed yet again. Torpedoes raced forward from their launchers and followed the sapphire and amber fire of the Aurora's bow weapons into the decaying shields of the lead Nazi battlecruiser. Their escorting ships raced forward to engage the lighter enemy ships bedeviling Chancellor Gowron's big, ponderous flagship
The enemy ship seemed to notice them finally. Super-disruptors lashed out at them. "Bow shields are taking a beating," Jarod warned. "Overall shield coherency down to thirty-seven percent." Another hit struck them. "Make that thirty-three."
"Take whatever evasive action you can, Nick, but make sure Angel has clear shots."
"I'll do what I can," Locarno said, his voice thick with bemusement at the contradictory order. Nevertheless, Robert and Julia knew that Locarno was more than up to the task. Under his control Aurora corkscrewed relative to the enemy battlecruiser while Angel continued to punish the ship. More disruptor shots came their way.
Of course, the Nazis weren't the only ones with disruptors. The Negh'Var completed a turn and the big Klingon ship fired with her own disruptor cannons. Thick bolts of green energy slammed repeatedly into the failing shields of the Nazi battlecruiser. Photon torpedoes, red sparks against the black of space, came in next. One got through the shields and impacted on one of the enemy cruiser's super-disruptors, turning it into blazing wreckage.
The Sladen and Wahoo raced in next. The two ships jinked and spun in space to avoid incoming fire with the kind of skill Zack would nod in appreciation at. Their powerful pulse phaser cannons erupted in amber fury and drew yet more power from the failing enemy shields. Solar torpedoes slammed into the enemy's dorsal hull. Another super-disruptor exploded, as did a missile launcher.
The remaining weapons now fully focused on Aurora. The ship rocked violently as another super-disruptor barrage hit their shields. "The forward shield generators are going offline again, swapping to secondaries!", Lucy shouted.
"We've got bleedthrough damage to all forward sections, Decks 6 through 14," Jarod added.
"They're targeting us again!", Cat shouted. "The second ship is locking on!"
Angel was pouring fire into the enemy battlecruisers as they poured fire into Aurora. Against one Lutzow-class ship, they had the technology to fight on almost even terms; facing the firepower from two, even if one had lost weapons, was not going to go well for them. Not with the shields already reduced from the earlier fighting.
"I've got more ships coming out of warp," Caterina said as the ship shook again. "It's the Mentam and her escorts!"
The Gersallian attack carrier appeared within firing range of the far battlecruiser. It began to launch fighters while the two light Dorei starbirds flanking it accelerated to begin their strafing runs. Powerful particle cannons built into the carrier's bow lashed out. The Gersallians had made the Mentam and ships like her to fight directly as well as bring fighters into combat, even if they could only do the former at reduced capability for their size.
But that didn't mean their weapons wouldn't hurt.
The new arrivals exploited the damaged battle cruiser's shifting of shields toward Aurora and Negh'Var to pour fire into her rear. Her starboard warp nacelle exploded from a direct hit. The ship began to turn, to cycle shields, but that left them vulnerable to fire from the Aurora.
"Finish them!", Julia urged Angel.
She didn't need to ask twice. Angel let loose with the pulse plasma cannons, making the fire as powerful and as rapid as she dared. Repeated bursts of sapphire energy struck the battlecruiser's failing shields. They utterly collapsed. Flame and debris and atmosphere trailed from the side of the enemy ship as the Aurora's bow weapons carved their way through the thinner hull armor of the battlecruiser. Solar torpedoes with nothing to stop them went right through the resulting breach of the enemy hull. They detonated within the ship.
Suddenly the entire enemy ship disappeared in a white fireball.
"I got their magazine!", Angel crowed.
Robert nodded. For a moment, just a moment, he thought of that. One shot, and thousands dead. It was a reminder that for all the cost and time and effort it took to construct these massive starships, just one (un)lucky shot could wipe all of that away in a second.
The remaining battlecruiser was already turning away. They were seeking to disengage, as were their surviving escort. One Z-2500, flames streaking from its hull, nevertheless successfully jumped to warp. A burning Dresden-class cruiser attempted the same but succumbed to the disruptors of an arriving heavy Bird-of-Prey.
The Negh'Var was not about to let its quarry escape. The Klingon flagship fired all of its bow weapons in conjunction with another barrage of the Aurora's forward battery.
After a series of explosions, what was left of the Nazi ship was dead in space.
Data looked over at Robert. "Captain, Chancellor Gowron is hailing. Audio only."
"Put him on," Robert said.
The Klingon leader's voice crackled over the speaker. "I thank you for coming to my aid, Captain. Come, let us rejoin the battle! Qapla'!"
"That will be an interesting marker to call in one day," Jarod mused. "Saving the Chancellor of the Klingon High Council."
"Do not expect Gowron's gratitude to be as forthcoming as you might expect," Worf rumbled. "I speak from experience."
"That's for later," Robert said. "Let's get back into the fight."
And as it turned out, there wasn't much of a fight left.
The battle was over.
It had, arguably, not been in doubt after the allied forces had made the second jump on a second attack vector. But that made little difference to the beings who had still died winning it.
Robert had felt post-battle exhaustion before. From when it was all over and you could relax, just to find your body had been running off of the adrenaline and had nothing like that now. He urgently wanted a bowl of sausage stew from Hargert, maybe a chocolate bar, and then to go to bed.
But there was more work. Always more work. Every department had to report battle casualties, damage, specifics on what had happened. Those reports had to be read and signed off on. Orders made for repairs and the like.
And, in this case, admirals to answer to.
Robert had beamed over to the Kentan for the post-battle meeting. It was surprising to see that while the ship had come out of the battle intact, it hadn't avoided major damage to some systems. Nazi super-disruptors had taken out half of the ship's retrofitted phaser arrays and nearly a quarter of the particle cannons. The ship's primary shield generators were out of action. And there were still dozens, hundreds, of combat casualties. Injuries as minor as contusions from falling over while moving in the battle to near-fatal injuries from torpedo or weapon impacts on nearby hull. Robert passed a damage control party, wearing Gersallian blue work suits, on his way to the Fleet Command Chamber.
Admiral Maran was at the central table. Admiral Hackett, General Victus, and a Klingon commander - a General Martok, Robert recalled - were present as well, as were the commanders of the allied contingents sent into the battle.
But they weren't alone. On the viewscreen was a middle-aged man in a dark suit with a thin goatee and beard. "On behalf of the citizens of New Austria, I, Planetary Gauleiter Hans Lippold, wish to declare that our planet has been declared open by Admiral von der Goltz. The people of New Austria will offer no resistance to your forces."
"I am pleased to hear that," Maran said. "Occupation troops are being prepared as we speak. We will signal you with the identity of the occupation authority shortly. Until then, we require that your planetary militia forces and other units on your planet disarm themselves."
"We understand, Admiral Maran. I await further instructions."
Once the man disappeared Robert stepped up to the table. He stood at attention until Maran nodded. "Captain." He put his hands on the table. "That was quite the scare you gave us."
"I know, sir." Robert nodded. "I thought it best to deploy the fleet closer. Had I set up outside the system we might not have gotten the same tactical opportunity."
"Captain Dale's plan was bold and innovative. And it gave us the edge we needed to win." Victus nodded to Robert. "Well done."
"Thank you, General." Robert looked to Maran. "Admiral, my engineering crews are finishing repairs to our warp drive as we speak. We should be ready to depart within three hours for the Facility location. Can you give me an idea of how many allied ships can join me?"
Maran gave Robert an intent look. He didn't like that. After looking over a list Maran shook his head. "None, Captain."
Robert blinked. "Sir?"
"We will deploy forces to engage their patrols in the area. That should give you a clear shot. But aside from the Sladen I cannot deploy any ships to join you on this mission."
"Were our losses that bad?"
"They were heavier than I would have preferred given our tactical position," Maran admitted. "The Reich fleet fought with the courage of the desperate, and they inflicted losses on us. We'll need everything we can spare just to tie up the enemy patrols near the Facility and to hold on to New Austria. We might have managed something for you, if not for…" Maran looked to Hackett.
"The Citadel has informed the Systems Alliance that one of their Spectre agents has detected a buildup in Batarian forces near the Traverse," Hackett explained. "Considering the losses the Fifth Fleet took, I can't keep us here. I'll leave some cruisers and frigates to support base defense, but most of our fleet will be jumping back home for repairs and re-deployment to face the Batarians."
"And with our M4P2 colonies endangered, the Allied Systems need the Systems Alliance and the Turians to ensure the Batarians don't raid our worlds again."
With that explanation Robert could only nod. "I understand. Then we'll do it alone. Hopefully we won't need any backup."
"You're dismissed, Captain. Good luck."
"Thank you, sir." Robert nodded. He turned and began to walk away. As he took the first step down he looked back. "Sir, have we learned anything about those SS ships that fled instead of joining the fight?"
"They were on a course toward the Reich's interior space," Maran replied. "Beyond that, we have no indication of what they were doing. Admiral von der Goltz wiped his computers before he surrendered."
"Right." Robert felt uncomfortable about that. "Thank you, sir."
Julia and Angel had opted for a post-battle dinner. Hargert had worked overtime to prepare a heartening meal for everyone, warm vegetable soup and beef cuts and potatoes. Now they sat at the window table and ate in exhausted silence. Occasionally they glimpsed out the window.
The Nazi base over New Austria was mostly intact. The Turians, Klingons, and Alliance Marines - both Alliances - had each boarded at specific points and taken over after a couple of hours of resistance. The resistance had given the enemy sufficient time to wreck most of the space docks, to destroy their supply stores, and wipe their computers. The station was intact as a habitat, but as a fleet base it would have limited use until it was sufficiently repaired.
This was the better view, at least. Further away was the graveyard of the Reich fleet. Allied ships that had been crippled and destroyed had been cleared first, towed out of the way and either finished off or jumped back to the repair yards. A reinforcement fleet from the Colonial Confederation and the Alakin had arrived to bolster the defending fleet.
"I wonder how this will change the war," Angel finally said. She finished slurping at a spoonful of soup. "I mean, this was about twice as worse as Krellan Nebula was for us, right? There must have been five hundred Nazi warships here."
"Supposedly five hundred and six," Julia replied. "We know at least twenty managed to break away. It might have been more, but not much more."
"That's… damn." She smirked. "We paid those bastards back for the Nebula, didn't we?"
"That we did." Julia took another bite. After she was done she took a moment before talking. "I never thought we'd see anything like that. Back when we started out."
"It was insane. Ships everywhere. More targets than I knew what to do with." There was a flicker of enjoyment in Angel's eyes. "That was a big damned rush."
"Yeah…" Julia put her spoon down. "Of course, that's just the first part."
"Next stop, the Facility."
At that, Julia nodded. "We have to succeed there. Otherwise…" She looked back out the window. "...all of this may have been for nothing."
Everyone was exhausted and ready for an off-shift, but they nevertheless returned to the bridge when Robert called. He informed them candidly of what Maran had said. "We're in this alone" is how he summed it up.
"Damn," Julia muttered. "We could have used some extra help."
"I know. But there's nothing I could do."
Everyone took the time to digest that. It was Jarod who clapped a hand on his console. "Well, it's just us then. Whatever happens, we'll deal with it, right?"
"Right," Locarno agreed.
"Right!", Cat shouted.
Angel nodded from the tactical station. "For the Light, we will prevail," Meridina remarked from beside her. That got a nod of support from Lucy.
"My Marines are ready for whatever the Nazis throw at us," Kane promised from where he and Shepard were observing from the port side of the bridge.
"We have won a glorious battle." Worf grinned. "Another awaits."
"Time may be of the essence," Data reminded them. "I would recommend we do not delay."
"I'm with Data. It's time to go," Julia said.
Robert keyed the intercom. "Bridge to Engineering. Scotty, how are the drives? Are your repairs complete?"
"My bairns are ready an' waitin' for yer command, Cap'n. Ye'll have full warp power."
"You heard the man." Robert grinned at Locarno. "Set a course for Gamma Piratus, best speed."
"Aye, Captain," Locarno cheerfully answered. His hands moved over his board. "Breaking from orbit."
The Aurora moved away from the planet and the fleet over it. It took a couple of minutes for the ship to start to clear the area and be ready for warp.
"We are receiving several signals from the allied fleet," Data informed them. "While all have their own wording, I believe I can sum up their meanings as 'good luck'."
"Signal our thanks for their well-wishes, Data," Robert replied. "Nick, are we ready?"
"We're clear. Warp power at your command."
Robert swallowed and nodded. "Engage."
There was a flash of light from the Aurora's warp nacelles. A moment later they were gone, leaving behind their greatest battle yet for the even more important battle to come.
That night, Robert had the nightmare again.
He could see in the Facility. Shepard unconscious. Data laid out with smoke rising from his damaged torso. Worf and Kane shot dead, Meridina sprawled out with the back of her head missing. Cat in one corner, weeping in terror as a shadowy figure lifted a gun to her head.
"No!", Robert cried out.
It did nothing. There was a gunshot. Cat fell over with a hole in her forehead.
And suddenly he was back on the Aurora bridge. Smoke filled the air. The ship was rocking violently below him. And then there was an explosion, the roof was gone…
...and he tried, and failed, to save Julia, who screamed his name as she was sucked out into space.
And through it all, he could hear their voices. Worf's deep timbre, Meridina's almost melodic, soothing voice, Cat's high shriek of terror…
And he just about made it out, too.
We needed you! You weren't there and we needed you!
For a brief moment, an object appeared in his mind. Just the object, like a picture being shown to him...
He was jolted awake a moment later. He sat up and looked around. Angel was laid beside him, tired enough that he hadn't woken her up. He swallowed and looked to a chronometer. 0200.
Just a little over a day. We're arriving at 0900 tomorrow. I've got until then to figure this out.
He got out of his bed and went to his desk. For a moment he just spent time signing the final after-action reports from the departments. Then he checked the update on enemy ship positions. Multiple ships were already heading out to engage the enemy ships in the region. They would have their opening.
As he thought on the dream, his eyes fell again on the orange disk in the gold frame. He reached over toward it. His fingers trembled; it was like he could feel energy within it.
It had been in his dream. Why? What was this mysterious object, this thing that the Consort thought he should have? She said it would provide him help in the near and far futures. How?
He went to grasp it.
But the ship's intercom interrupted him. "Lucero to Dale."
For a moment he didn't react. It was only when Lucy's voice came over again - "Lucero to Dale, please respond. This is important." - that he reacted. "Dale here," he said after pressing a receive key on his desk.
"Commander Data and I need to see you and the Command Staff. Now."
"In the middle of the… alright. Okay. Call everyone, we'll meet in the Main Conference Room."
There were many displeased looks in the Conference Room. The Aurora and Sladen command crews were present, taking up every chair. "Commander, Lieutenant," Robert said to them. "You may begin."
Lucy looked to Data. "You should start, sir."
Data gave a slight nod in reply. "Some time ago, I discovered that there was a discrepancy in the logged communications activities through the ship's interuniversal communications system. The bandwidth through the system was being used in ways not being logged in the computers."
"Someone's spying on us, then?", Leo asked.
"Just what we need," Angel moaned. "Another Changeling problem."
"It does not appear to be a Founder," Data remarked. "Lieutenant?"
Lucy noticed her cue and spoke up. "I looked over the data with Commander Meridina's blessing. It took a few days of checking our active communications and attempting data recovery on the systems. I was able to find traces of the unauthorized communications in the system. Whoever was sending them was bypassing our command protocols. I couldn't figure out how they could do so without setting off any alarms in the system. The only way I could determine was that they could turn them off and keep it from getting logged."
"Woh." Cat blinked. "But… that would mean…"
"According to the security regulations in use by the Alliance, this authority is limited solely to command officers," Data explained. "Or officers one post removed from command authority."
"Which basically means everyone in this room."
"So… one of us is the spy?", Angel asked. She was clearly incredulous.
Lucy nodded. "I couldn't believe it. I triple-checked everything. But… it was the only explanation. So I did some checking into the access times, to see if I could find a clue."
"And did you?", King asked.
"Yes, Commander." Lucy nodded at her. She reached over and hit a key. An empty log appeared. "I tried to see if I could match command authority uses to the proper times. But I was coming up with nothing. And then I remembered that I had another ship to look over. I finished that this evening while I was winding down from the battle."
The realization dawned on everyone over the next few seconds. Uncomfortable glances started to move toward King and her officers.
"I found indications of a command override code being used on…"
"Enough of this." King stood. "Lieutenant, you needn't go on."
Lucy looked at her with arms crossed. "I don't?"
"No. There's no point in letting you draw this out." King put her hands on the table. "The transmissions were sent by me."
Even her own officers glanced at her. "Commander/", Caldwell asked. "What do you mean?"
"I have been working for a superior officer," King stated. "A covert evaluation of your behavior and activities."
Robert frowned. So did Julia, and she was the one who immediately seized upon that. "You mean Davies," Julia said, her tone harsh. "You've been spying on us for Admiral Davies."
King nodded. "That is correct."
There was stunned silence in the room. It lasted several seconds. It only ended when Robert managed to force the question out. "Why? Why are you spying on us?"
"It is necessary for the safety and security of the Alliance." King eyed Meridina intently. "There are forces at work that would undermine our new Alliance and subjugate us. Admiral Davies is trying to root them out."
"You refer to my people, do you not?", Meridina asked.
"That's bullcrap," Leo declared. "This is just another damned witch hunt!"
"No, Doctor Gillam, it is not," King declared. "It is an attempt to protect the minds and wills of our people." She looked over them. "You… have no idea of what has been going on, have you?"
"Not of whatever it is you're alluding to, no," Robert growled.
"I see." King nodded. "Then, before you judge me further, perhaps I should tell you. And let you judge for yourselves."
The Aurora officers looked at each other again. It was clear Angel had no interest in what King had to say. Leo didn't look entirely caring either. But Cat's curiosity had clearly taken hold of her, and there was an intent look on Scotty's face.
"Well, this is going to be interesting," Jarod sighed.
After making sure everyone had a chance to respond, Robert exchanged a final curious look with Julia before returning his eyes to his perfidious escort commander. "Alright, Commander King. You have our attention." He leaned forward. "Tell us what's going on."