Wing Commander Maxine Benton strode to the front of the large briefing room. As she took position at the lectern before the gathered collection of Starfleet Starfighter Corps pilots from the 101st Fighter Wing they quietened down. If they had not heard about recent events they realised something serious was afoot due to Benton’s hair style. Her usually loose, shoulder length black hair was tightly tied back into a tight bun. She had developed the habit of tying back her hair before she had to present something serious to others. She found that it helped centre herself and focus on the task at hand. She had served with the majority of those in the room long enough for them to recognise this sign.
“Some of you may have heard the rumours. Unfortunately they’re true. The Klingons have broken the ceasefire.”
That drew an immediate reaction from the crowd as they murmured amongst themselves. Benton gave them all a moment to get it out of their system. She had felt the same way when she had been informed. It had only been a few weeks since the ceasefire that had ended the recent conflict between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire had been signed. They had all hoped that it would last and lead back to a prolonged period of peace between the two powers.
The war had been a relatively short one, only just over three months, but it had been brutal. The Klingons attacked with a ferocity that the Federation had not been prepared for. Decades of peace between the two powers had seen the Federation slow to respond. Even with the growing tensions between the two powers over the last year it seemed few actually believed it would result in war. Benton counted herself was one of those.
Few saw that the Archanis sector would be where it would all come to a head. The Klingons had relinquished the sector to the Federation during the previous century. It therefore came as a surprise when the Klingons suddenly gave the Federation an ultimatum to abandon the sector as they were going to reclaim it. The Federation had hoped that even at that stage diplomacy would still win out. So when the Klingons did act on their threat and marched across Archanis Starfleet was forced to scramble to confront the Klingons. It was not the best way to start off a war.
It was something Benton and her pilots found out quickly. The Fourteenth Fleet, which their carrier was assigned to, was quickly thrown into the thick of things. For two months they faced several bitter defeats and retreats. It wasn’t until towards the end of the conflict that Starfleet started to enjoy significant victories. The gains made put Starfleet on a road that seemed like it would lead to victory. A ceasefire had occurred before that could happen, but they had all been pleased to have it. Now they were returning to war and again on the back foot. It felt like they were back at square one.
Using the controls on the lectern she brought up a map on the large screen that dominated the wall next to her. It was focused on the Archanis sector initially, but quickly zoomed out to show more of the border between the Federation and Klingon Empire.
“We have reports that at least four Klingon battle groups are on the move,” Benton explained as she looked to her side at the screen. On it four flashing icons of the Klingon Defence Force appeared. From one a large arrow extended into Federation territory.
Klingon battle groups were the equivalent to Federation fleets. Made up of hundreds of ships the news that even one of them was on the move would be of concern. To have four active showed that the breaking of the ceasefire was more than just a small flare up. This was a planned and concerted resumption of hostilities by the Klingon Empire.
“The KDF Fourth Battle Group managed to get around our defences and have attacked the colony on Belis IV. At the same time the Third Battle Group engaged our forces along the border. Though their main force looks like it is coordinating with the Fourth in trying to encircle a significant number of our forces in this area.” As she spoke she manipulated the map to show the recorded Klingon movements. Multiple arrows reached across the border like talons for various Federation positions.
She moved the focus away from these two fleet groups and to the remaining two. “More importantly the Second and Sixth Battle Groups have pushed our forces from the Archanis sector.”
Benton watched the briefing screen as it showed the two icons representing the Klingon fleets move into the Archanis sector. Several icons representing Starfleet assets retreated away from the Klingon advance.
“Entirely? How is that possible?”
Benton didn’t need to turn to know who had asked the question. The gruff voice and tone could only be that of the Tellarite leader of Forge Squadron, Lieutenant Commander Dorlang,
“It seems someone at Starfleet Command thought it would be a good idea to rotate the majority of our forces out of the sector. The Eleventh Fleet was covering the sector and much of the surrounding space. The attacks by the Fourth and Third Battle Groups forced it to deploy in response, weakening its presence in Archanis. When two fresh battle groups rolled into Archanis they smartly opted to fall back.”
A Human male partly raised his hand getting Benton’s attention. She nodded at him. “What’s been Starfleet’s response?” asked Lieutenant Commander Gortan, the commander of Roulette Squadron.
Benton brought up the answer on the map. Several new Starfleet symbols appeared on the briefing screen. “The Seventeenth Fleet has been dispatched to deal with the Fourth Battle Group and assist the Eleventh coreward of Archanis. The Fourteenth is to maintain border security rimward of Archanis. However, we’re also to dispatch whatever forces we can to link up with the Eleventh and start the counterattack in Archanis.”
“Given you’re telling us this I’m guessing we’re going to be joining the counterattack,” predicted Gortan.
“Sort of. While the USS Tecumseh leads the elements of our fleet to join up with elements of the Eleventh led by the USS Rutledge, we have been given a different mission.”
Benton focused the map on the Fourteenth Fleet. It split as a group headed towards Archanis. From this it branched out again with a smaller arrow leading to a star system. The map focused on the system.
“As you can see we are going to the Korvat system. The Klingons have popped over and invaded the colony on the third planet. Good news is that they haven’t taken it yet. We’re going over to make sure they don’t.”
“Why isn’t the fleet securing Korvat?” asked Gortan.
“Command has decided that taking the fight to the Klingons in Archanis is too critical to allow the fleet to be slowed down in taken and securing Korvat.”
“Then why should we bother?” Dorlang demanded more than asked.
“Korvat III provides important sensor coverage of the border. If we lose it to the Klingons, we’re going to have a significant blind spot. One that is in a position where it could allow the Klingons to flank our own push into Archanis.”
“It didn’t seem to help Korvat much,” muttered Dorlang.
“Well, they saw the Klingons coming and requested help. Unfortunately their defence fell under the purview of the Eleventh. By that time the Eleventh was either in retreat from Archanis or spread out on the other side of Archanis from Korvat. If not for the fact that a battalion of Starfleet Ground Forces is stationed there the planet probably would have fallen by now.”
“Will it just be the 24th Tactical Wing taking part in this operation?”
The 24th Tactical Wing was the tactical wing that they were part of. Starfleet fleets were made up of several tactical wings and the 24th was an element of the Fourteenth Fleet. Tactical wings typically ranged in size from fifteen to forty and were a potent force.
“No. In fact most of the 24th isn’t taking part. It will just be the 3rd Cruiser Wing.”
“Are you serious? Eight ships? If the Klingons come hard at us what chance do we have?” asked Tullanic squadron leader Lieutenant Commander Sh’Ayan.
The ships in a tactical wing were organised into individual wings of between four to ten starships. They were often grouped into either class wings, type wings of which the 3rd Cruiser Wing was, or mixed destroyer wings. These definitions weren’t absolute as shown by the fact that the lead vessel of the 3rd Cruiser Wing was their carrier. As the only dedicated carrier in the 24th Tactical Wing it had to be embedded in a type wing and the 3rd was the lucky one.
“Given the size of the Klingon force we think the attack is more opportunistic than planned. Starfleet Intelligence doesn’t believe that they have significant forces in the area at the moment.”
“Is this the same ‘Intelligence’ that missed four Klingon fleets rallying for war?” scoffed Sh’Ayan. Even if her scepticism wasn’t etched on her face the twitching of the Andorian’s antennae signalled her feelings about the situation.
“They’re due for a win then. As the case was put to me if the Klingons were serious about a push through Korvat they would have deployed more forces. With the Eleventh having to abandon its positions Intelligence thinks the Klingons just recognised the opportunity and took it.”
It appeared as if Sh’Ayan was going to add to her previous comments, but before she could the Vulcan commander of Banshee Squadron spoke up.
“How many Klingon vessels have been deployed at Korvat?” inquired Lieutenant Commander Tauryl.
“Ten,” she replied.
“How accurate is this information?” Tauryl continued.
“It’s up to the minute. Korvat III has been able to transmit updates on the Klingon forces to Starfleet. They are all warships. There are no troop transports in the attack, which you would expect for a planned assault on a world like Korvat III. The invasion is being overseen by a SuQ’jagh class assault cruiser that is believed to be the command vessel. It and two Predator-class vessels are currently besieging the planet while the rest have taken up patrols around the system.”
The mention of Predators brought back murmurs from the assembled pilots.
“Two Predators! Are the Klingons bombarding the settlements?” asked Gortan.
“They have used the Predators to assault a number of shielded locations, but they aren’t obliterating population centres from orbit thankfully. The Predators are however providing a very effective ground suppression role. The Ground Forces can’t move in the open or gather in significant strength outside area protected by deflector shields. They are also disrupting transporters and vehicles, which is hampering the movement of the defenders. These ships are obviously the priority targets of our counterattack.”
There was a certain level of relief from those gathered. The Predator had developed a fearsome reputation during the conflict. It was not primarily designed for combating other starships, but for assaulting planets. Several Federation worlds had experienced their aptitude for their role.
“So what part are we going to play?” asked Sh’Ayan.
“I’m glad you asked.” Benton couldn’t help but grin as she replied, “We get to do the fun stuff.”
Well within the Korvat system, but far enough from any of the planets so that they were nothing but bright specks of light, three Klingon ships cruised silently through space. The green hulled vessels were every much the predators they appeared. Two of the vessels were relatively small, but the sharp angles of the Raptor escort and the winged nature of the B’rel bird-of-prey betrayed them as vessels designed with combat in mind. Between them cruised a larger warship. The K’vort-class warship looked like the B’rel class only several times larger. Its large wings swept slightly up so that that disruptors on the tips of the wings were more or less in line with the main hull.
Above the Klingon vessels four very different vessels seemingly popped into existence. Two of them, larger than the K’vort, appeared to share a similar design philosophy. They had circular saucers with short necks that connected to cylindrical lower hulls. While both had a pair of nacelles mounted dorsally to the cylindrical hull, the slightly larger of the two had a third nacelle mounted ventrally along its centreline. The Klingon vessels quickly identified this pair as Niagara and Wambundu class vessels. They were Federation cruisers.
Flanking, but behind these two giants were a pair of much smaller vessels. Similar in size to the smaller Klingon ships the Sabre class was a very different design to the larger Starfleet cruisers. Instead of a separated primary and secondary hulls it appeared as if the wider primary hull section had been inserted half way down a thinner, but taller secondary hull. Nor were its nacelles projected away from the hull on pylons. Instead they were joined just behind the bussard collector directly to the side of the wide forward section of hull. This made the Sabre a very compact design.
The two larger ships opened fire almost immediately. Golden lances of light speared their way through space towards the Klingon vessels. They hammered into the shields of the K’vort with unrelenting fury. The shields of the Klingon ship flared brilliantly under the onslaught as it manoeuvred upwards to bring its primary weapons to bear.
The two smaller Klingon ships were more nimble and brought their weapons to bear on the intruders quicker. Bolts of green coloured energy erupted from their disruptors up towards the hostile vessels. The space between the two forces was crisscrossed with golden and green energy as the two forces exchanged fire.
The two Sabres moved clear of the larger vessels and engaged the Raptor. They pummelled the vessel with phaser fire and then torpedoes. Their combined firepower overwhelmed the Klingon vessel’s shields. Phaser blasts ripped into the hull, quickly followed by several torpedoes. The Raptor exploded, sending debris spinning off in all directions.
The B’rel targeted the Sabres. The three ships exchanged fire, but the speed of their approaches saw them rapidly pass each other. The Starfleet vessels took a course away from the battle and the B’rel manoeuvred to follow.
Meanwhile the heavy hitters were pounding each other as the K’vort finally got into position to bring its primary weapons into play. Unfortunately for the Klingons it was never an even fight. Outnumbered and outgunned the K’vort’s shields failed first. The weapons fire started to strike its unprotected hull. Phaser fire tore into its wings, cutting one in half before a brace of torpedoes slammed into the bulbous forward section of the ship containing the bridge. The head of the vessel was obliterating. The two larger ships pounded it with their phasers several more times as they moved passed it. They left behind the remains of the K’vort drifting and slowly spinning in space.
The two Sabres split up forcing the B’rel to choose which one to chase. This allowed the second Sabre to get behind it. The chase and evasion continued for a bit, but the eminent arrival of the two larger ships made it pointless. The B’rel broke off from its pursuit and headed deeper in system.
The four Starfleet ships regrouped and pursued the B’rel. If there was any question about whether Starfleet would send additional forces to Korvat they had had just been answered.
Wing Commander Benton watched the lines of light zip past the ship through the open doors of one of the USS Andrew Fisher’s massive shuttlebays as the vessel travelled at warp speed. The Fisher had two such bays, which were the signature of the class, located in the bulging underside of the saucer. The lines of light snapped to pinpricks as a giant blue, green orb flashed into existence eclipsing her forward view.
“All fighters are go for launch,” came the command from the starfighter coordinator on the Andrew Fisher.
Benton pushed her throttle forward as her fighter lifted off the deck. She sped out of the shuttlebay and into the orbit of Korvat III. As she cleared the ship she pushed her fighter’s nose down so that she was heading away and perpendicular to the Fisher. She quickly took in the information from her sensors.
Things looked to be progressing as they had planned. The nearest ship to her was the Andrew Fisher and on the far side of that was the SuQ’jagh. The large dorsal profile of the Fisher was facing the Klingon vessel. It made the carrier an easy target, but it provided the launching fighters cover from disruptor fire from the Klingon vessel.
The SuQ’jagh class was another design that wasn’t primarily designed for starship combat. It was an assault ship, which was designed to deliver Klingon troops to attack planets, space stations and even other starships. It also could serve as a carrier. Its role was quite similar to that of Starfleet’s Curry class, though as it was a Klingon design they made sure it was quite well armed. For that reason two of her squadrons would join the Fisher in tackling it.
“Overcome Leader, your wing is clear to proceed with the attack.”
“Copy that, Fisher.” She switched to her wing’s communication frequency. “All squadron leaders we are a go. You know your assignments. Happy hunting.” Benton switched to her squadron’s frequency. “Overcome, split into flights and follow me.”
Benton received a chorus of affirmatives over the communication channel.
Benton steered her craft towards her target. In a much lower orbit was the Predator-class vessel that was their target. It had made no moves since they had arrived, but it would soon realise that it had attack fighters inbound.
“Okay people, attack pattern theta. Make sure when your bugging out to leave clear lanes for Roulette.”
“We’ll be hot on your tail, Overcome Leader,” came the response from Gortan.
Benton noted on her sensors as her squadron, along with Roulette who was closely following them, started to split up. They split into flights of four fighters each. Flights could vary in size from three to five or more fighters depending on the mission parameters and the size of the squadron. However, for a standard twelve fighter squadron four was the typical flight size.
As they rapidly closed on the Klingon vessel Benton started to get a clearer view of it. The Predator-class cruiser was of the winged-shaft design used by the Klingons for a number of their starships. It looked quite similar to the K’t’inga class, enough so that it suggested that it was from a similar era. Compared to the K’t’inga the Predator had a wider wing span relative to its body. It gave the ship a somewhat lumbering appearance, but Benton could imagine that looking up at it from the planet it was attacking that the vessel would appear terrifying.
As they closed in on the Predator it opened fire. The Peregrine fighter was a small ship and as such compared to a capital ship it had limited shields. However, its small size, speed, manoeuvrability and countermeasures against targeting sensors meant they were difficult to hit. This was their main defence against more powerful capital ship weaponry.
Benton made measured evasive manoeuvres, cautious of the three fighters that were behind her in close formation. The disruptor fire sailed past her, but she knew the closer she got the more difficult it became to avoid the fire. This was where pilots needed to have nerves of steel as they barrelled towards their targets. It was also why some considered Starfighter Corps pilots to be a little bit crazy.
As they approached optimal weapons range Benton armed her photon torpedoes. The Peregrine carried a limited number of full sized torpedoes. However, it didn’t have a traditional torpedo launcher, apart from the micro-torpedo launchers in the wings. Instead the ship launched the torpedoes out of the bottom of the craft. The torpedoes were given some momentum to move them clear of the bottom of the fighter before their own engines activated and powered them towards their target.
“Flight 1, launch torpedoes on my mark,” Benton paused as she waited for the indicator on her helmet’s display to reach that magic number. When it did she pressed the launch control and said, “Fire!”
A moment later two red glowing streaks shot into view from under her. They were quickly followed by two on the left and four on the right. With the torpedoes clear of them Benton pulled her fighter up and tracked away from the Predator. Benton kept a close eye on her sensors to make sure she didn’t lead her group into the path of another flight.
“The Predator is on the move,” reported Gortan.
Benton’s sensors confirmed Gortan’s statement. The Predator was leaving its position and starting to move away from the planet. This required some slight changes from the other flights attacking it, but not enough to disrupt their runs. Roulette Squadron, which was following them had to readjust their approach, delaying their attack.
“Go to phase two, Roulette Leader. We’ll take the Predator.”
Instead of pursing the Predator the fighters of Roulette Squadron regrouped and started to descend into the planet’s atmosphere. Their mission was now to assault the Klingon ground forces, which now lacked the support of the orbiting Predator. Benton signalled her squadron to continue their attack on the Predator.
The Klingon vessel’s shields were severely weakened and had even been temporarily breached resulting in some damage to its hull. This is why their fighters were dangerous. Individually they couldn’t trouble the Predator but their massed torpedo attack meant they could hope to bring down the larger ship’s shield and even destroy it.
They made another pass against the Predator. The ship’s shields held against her flight’s pass, but with the attack of the next two flights the ship’s entire shields grid started to show increasing instability. Despite this they did not get off unscathed as a disruptor blast from the Predator struck one of the fighters in her squadron.
“I’ve taken a hit,” reported the pilot. “Losing power to my port impulse engine.”
“Move clear of the engagement, Seven,” she ordered. “Eight, stick with him in case he needs to abandon his fighter.”
“Copy, Lead,” replied Overcome Eight.
The flight element broke off from flight 2 and headed away from the battle. While their fighters had systems for when the pilot needed to evacuate their craft it was always better to send another fighter along to help. Rather than just beaming the pilot into space, which is why their flight suits were designed for extravehicular activity, they could beam into the other fighter. It was why she had sent Overcome Eight to accompany his wingmate.
Benton launched her torpedoes on their next pass. They impacted and the Predator’s shields collapsed. Benton continued the assault. She fired her phaser at the Klingon ship, damaging its hull. She pulled her fighter up towards the bridge. She locked on and launched another torpedo. It slammed into the bridge, followed by another torpedo from one of her flight, destroying it. She pulled away as the rest of her fighters bombarded the ship, reducing it to wreckage.
She regrouped her squadron and checked her sensors. The battle was progressing well. The second Predator was heavily damaged and retreating as Tullanic Squadron harassed it. Banshee Squadron had joined Roulette in providing aerial support to the Ground Forces defending Korvat III. The Andrew Fisher along with Forge and Galloping Greens squadrons were in good shape and battering the SuQ’jagh. So far the operation was proceeding as they had planned.
Benton hailed her squadron. “Okay, Overcome. Let’s see if we can get in on the action around the Fisher.”
Benton piloted her fighter towards the carrier. The rest of her squadron arrayed next to her as they moved to get back into the fight.
Benton looked up at the distant star that Korvat III orbited. They were quite some distance from it, but still within the bounds of the system. While fairly small it was still easily the brightest object she could see. She held up her thumb and blocked it out from her view. She moved her thumb making it reappear before moving her thumb back into the way. She did this multiple times and chuckled.
“You say something, Lead?” asked her wingmate, Overcome Two.
“Just admiring the view,” she replied dropping her hand back down to her fighter’s controls.
The battle against the Klingon forces in space had gone very much as they had hoped. In the end only one Klingon ship survived, a Raptor that had fled towards the end of the space battle. The remaining vessels had fought until they had been destroyed. Offers for them to surrender were made, but they were ignored.
The Raptor would have gone to get help, not that it wouldn’t be coming anyway. The Klingons would have called for help quickly after the 3rd Cruiser Wing arrived. What happened next depended on how much the Klingons wanted Korvat III and if Intelligence had been right about their limited forces close to the system. Regardless they were preparing for the Klingons to return.
Once the Klingon fleet was routed the Starfleet cruisers had beamed down security personnel to help the defenders on the ground. Much like their forces in space the Klingons on the ground refused to surrender. Apparently it was dishonourable and where the Federation forces could they were incapacitating the Klingons. Where they couldn’t the Klingons were fighting to the death. It was a grisly business, though at times like this Benton found her sympathy for the Klingons to be lacking. They had started the conflict and now they reaped the consequences.
If the Klingon fleet did respond it most likely would do so by utilising its cloaking devices to their advantage. Korvat III did have sensors, including a gravitic sensor net that could detect cloaked ships, but it had been one of the first targets when the Klingons attacked. To make up for this loss they had deployed modified probes to form a tachyon detection grid. The grid would hopefully give them warning of the Klingons’ arrival before they decloaked and opened fire on them.
While the grid gave them the ability to detect a cloaked ship that moved through it, once it was beyond the grid there was an only a short period of time before they would lose contact with the vessel again. To counter that the forces of the 3rd Cruiser Wing were spread out across the grid.
Benton’s fighter wing was part of this with small groups of fighters patrolling sections of the grid. Cloaked ships lacked shields and made them very vulnerable, so even a few fighters could deal critical damage to a large cloaked ship trying to sneak through. The larger cruisers were also poised and ready to respond to any detection. Any cloaked ship trying to reach Korvat III would have to run a very dangerous gauntlet.
“We have a contact in the grid,” came a report over the wing’s communications channel.
Benton quickly checked the shared sensor data between all the Federation forces. There was a disruption moving through the grid that appeared to be a cloaked vessel. It was at a location far from her position. Fighters from Forge Squadron were the nearest of her fighter wing to the contact.
“Musashi, move to engage. Everyone else maintain position,” came the order from Captain Onasi, commander of the USS Andrew Fisher and the entire cruiser wing.
The Wambundu class vessel moved towards the area. The large heavy cruiser opened fire with a spread of torpedoes. The torpedoes travelled towards what was seemingly empty space where the disruption was located. The torpedoes suddenly exploded as they hit something invisible. There were secondary explosions and the disruption disappeared from their sensors.
“This is the Musashi. Looks like we destroyed a small vessel. Either a scout or a bird-of-prey.”
“All ships be ready. I doubt that’ll be the last test of the grid,” warned Onasi.
Benton was sure that it wouldn’t be. To even test the grid suggested that the Klingons would be coming back to fight for Korvat III. It was now only a matter if they were already here or not.
“We’ve got a contact!” reported the USS Roche answering Benton’s question.
The Renaissance class vessel had barely responded when there was another alert.
A Klingon K’t’inga decloaked near a position where a flight from Galloping Greens Squadron was patrolling.
“It’s preparing to fire! Emergency evasive!” responded the same pilot from the Galloping Greens.
Benton watched as the sensors showed the Klingon vessel launch a number of torpedoes towards the fighters. Her heart was in her mouth as she watched the sensor contacts of the fighter start to evade. The torpedoes however exploded within the grid, blinding her sensors for a moment. When it cleared she noticed that one of the probes maintaining the grid was gone.
The K’t’inga started to cloak. Its path took it through the area it had bombarded. It was trying to take advantage of the loss of the probe in that section. However, it was in for a surprise.
The fighters from Galloping Greens squadron had reformed and were heading to where the K’t’inga had cloaked. The fighters launched torpedoes. Their torpedoes suddenly exploded as they impacted something and out of nowhere debris appeared on Benton’s sensors. Unfortunately for the Klingon ship the grid was robust enough that despite it destroying the probe near it the grid was still able to maintain full coverage. The K’t’inga’s cloaked entry had been far from stealthy.
The USS Kingsford Smith joined the fighters on the scene. The Yeager-class vessel opened fire with its phasers. They struck the invisible Klingon starship. It fired several torpedoes as well that exploded in empty space. That space suddenly was a lot less empty as the K’t’inga reappeared. Its hull was heavily damaged and fire poured out of breaches as atmosphere escaped into space. The Kingsford Smith pounded the vessel with its phasers before several explosions with within the Klingon vessel torn it apart.
With that excitement over Benton checked on the Roche’s contact. It had managed to successfully intercept a small cloaked Klingon vessel and destroy it before the destruction of the K’t’inga.
“They are definitely testing the grid,” commented Overcome Two.
“What is concerning is they are willing to waste three ships. Makes me worried what else is out there,” she pondered.
Time seemed to be passing painfully slow as Benton watched her sensors and waited for the Klingons’ next move. She briefly wondered if they had decided that it was too much effort and had left when another sensor contact appeared, in fact it was several contacts. As if the Klingons were tired of this game four ships decloaked around the system and started to attack the probes making up the grid. While the grid was robust there was a limit to how many probes it could lose before there started to be significant gaps in coverage.
In response the Starfleet defenders vectored in an equal number of ships. The USS Kingsford Smith, USS Musashi, USS Roche and the Sabre-class USS Lu’ghara all moved to engage the individual Klingon vessels.
As these Starfleet ships engaged the Klingons attacking the grid, elsewhere a small group of Klingon ships decloaked just beyond the grid. Benton thought they were also going to attack the grid. However, instead they simply flew through it. Their arrival was far from where the other ships were engaging each other, but was within the zone covered by the USS Vinnufossen. The Niagara-class vessel was given the largest area to cover due to it being a fast cruiser. While it was a large and fast vessel, it was outnumbered.
“Fisher, we have a group of ships coming through the grid,” reported the Vinnufossen.
“Fisher, Banshee Squadron is close to the Vinnufossen. I’m sending them in now,” Benton responded as she prepared to send out the order to the fighters near to the Vinnufossen.
“Negative, Overcome Leader. All fighters are to maintain position. You’re the only responders if they try to sneak through the grid,” came the reply from the fighter coordinator on the Fisher.
The starfighter coordinator was correct. All the mobile cruisers assigned to the grid were currently engaging Klingon vessels. Her fighters were really the only ones that were not only monitoring the grid, but could quickly respond to any disturbances.
“They’re just charging in! The grid is pointless if they’re not bothering to cloak,” she argued.
“Orders stay the same. The Kwaio and Morisot are being dispatched to assist,” replied the Fisher.
Captain Onasi had kept the two light cruisers in orbit with the Andrew Fisher to guard the planet and support the forces on the ground. Now the Cheyenne class USS Kwaio and the smaller Sabre class USS Morisot were pressed to join the battle to keep the Klingon ships from reaching the planet. If they did they could land more troops or even bombard the planet.
On her sensors Benton watched as the Vinnufossen, now supported by two other vessels, engaged the Klingons some distances from Korvat III. As the cruisers battled the Klingons her fighters were stuck watching the grid. It prickled Benton to be doing nothing when she and her fighters could be doing what they did best: supporting larger Starfleet vessels.
Suddenly there was a new contact on Benton’s sensors. This ship was in orbit of Korvat III and on top of the Fisher. Her panic rose as it was identified as a Vor’cha-class warship. She had no idea how it managed to get through the grid, but it had and it was attacking her carrier.
The Andrew Fisher was larger and more massive than the Vor’cha, but the Vor’cha was more than a match for it. Like most Klingon vessels the Vor’cha was built for combat and priorities were given to combat systems over everything else, even crew comforts. The Fisher was a carrier and a significant amount of its bulk was dedicated to housing and maintaining the craft embarked on it. In a one-on-one battle the Vor’cha was the clear favourite.
“Fisher, we are inbound,” she reported.
“Negative, Overcome Leader. Hold your position,” ordered the fighter controller on the Fisher.
“That Vor’cha will tear you apart. You need support.”
“Hold. Your. Position,” came the unequivocal reply of Captain Onasi.
Having the commanding officer of the Fisher repeat her orders sent a clear message. There was to be no arguing with the order.
“Lead, we can’t just sit here,” commented Overcome Five. “The Fisher needs our help.”
“I agree, Lead,” added Overcome Nine. “The other cruisers are all tied up. They can’t help the Fisher.”
Benton watched the sensor reports of the battle across the system. The other cruisers were fully engaged with the Klingons. It would be difficult for any of them to disengage, but if Captain Onasi ordered one or two to fall back they could possibly do so. However, nothing happened. The cruisers remained engaged in their separate battles. It appeared as if the Starfleet forces would prevail in those engagements, but she wasn’t sure they could do so before the Fisher lost its battle.
Benton had her orders. She knew what she had to do.
“I’m getting an emergency transponder. Five is EV and clear,” reported Overcome Six.
Benton breathed a sigh of relief as she received the status on Overcome Five whose fighter had been destroyed. The battle had deteriorated since she had made the decision to ignore Captain Onasi and move her squadron to help the Andrew Fisher. Without her squadron covering a section several Klingon ships had run through the grid cloaked. With no one near enough to engage them they quickly lost track of the Klingon vessels. The ships then reappeared and engaged the other Starfleet cruisers. With the grid now compromised Onasi pulled all the fighters off it to support the other cruisers. The Klingons’ hit and fade attacks had resulted in keeping the Starfleet forces disorganised and tied up.
Benton fired her phasers at a Grendoq-class or as the Starfleet pilots preferred to call it, the Dagger-class fighter she was pursuing. The Dagger looked like a mini bird-of-prey with is rounded forward section and two downward sweeping wings that ended with disruptors. It was the main Klingon attack fighter and was comparable in size to her Peregrine fighter. It did lack the heavy weapons of the Peregrine making it less of a threat to larger capital ships, but its powerful disruptors made it very dangerous to smaller ships.
The Dagger attempted to dodge her fire, but was only partially successful. Her phasers battered down its rear shields. Benton quickly switched to her micro-torpedoes and sent a pair into the aft of the Klingon fighter. It exploded sending the wings flying off in two different directions.
She swung her fighter around and made her way back towards the Vor’cha that was still assaulting the Fisher. Her squadron’s arrival had taken the pressure off the Fisher as she had hoped. However, the arrival of Klingon fighters were hampering her squadron’s ability to drive the Klingon warship away. At best they had delayed what was looking to be the Fisher’s inevitable defeat by the Klingons. The Fisher’s shields were weakening and Benton was not sure how much more it could take.
She checked her weapons’ status. She was out of photon torpedoes. From the shared information between the fighters in her squadron she saw that few had heavy weapons left. This meant her squadron was limited in their ability to damage the Vor’cha. That was further hampered by the Klingon fighters, which made coordinating an effective strike extremely difficult.
“What do we do, Lead?” asked her wingmate.
“We’ll just have to keep hammering at the Vor’cha’s shields with our phasers and hope that might mean something,” she replied to Overcome Two.
They just had to do whatever damage they could do and hope it would give the Fisher a chance. Her flight element, which was just her and her wingmate, closed on the Vor’cha and fired their phasers. Their phaser blasts pinged against the Klingon ship’s shields doing no significant damage. They looped around to make another pass with their phasers.
As they looped around a warning appeared on her sensors. The Fisher’s shields were dangerously low. She had no doubt in the next attack the Vor’cha would bring them down and it would start to chew through the hull. She didn’t want to think about the friends and colleagues who were likely about to die.
Benton watched as the Vor’cha fired its main forward disruptor and saw the Fisher’s shields facing the Vor’cha hold and then fail. The carrier started to turn to bring part of its active shields back between it and the Klingon vessel. The Vor’cha launched a brace of photon torpedoes at the now exposed hull. They were going to hit the ship before it could turn enough to bring its remaining shields to take the brunt of the attack.
Suddenly a starship flashed into view. It hit the Klingon torpedoes just as much as they hit it. They exploded against the ship’s shields, encompassing it in a large ball of flame. The starship shot through the expanding plume of fire undamaged.
Benton could only see its dorsal profile as it manoeuvred. It was a much smaller vessel than the two current combatants. Its round saucer showed it to be a Federation vessel, though the design harkened back to the late 23rd century. She couldn’t see a secondary hull, but extending back past the saucer were a pair of warp nacelles that were connected to the ventral side. As it manoeuvred she confirmed the lack of a secondary hull with just a neck from the saucer to what looked like a pod that held torpedo launchers. From under the pod two slightly downward angled pylons to the side connected to the warp nacelles. The design reminded Benton of the Centaur class.
The Klingon vessel fired its main forward disruptor at the Fisher, but the interference of the other Starfleet vessel had allowed it to move an active shield arc back into the path of the Klingon’s weapons fire. The new arrival had successfully bought the Fisher more time.
The new arrival, which Benton’s computer had identified as the Ukora-class USS Ardent, opened fire on the Klingon vessel. As the light frigate curved around the larger Klingon warship the phaser banks on its saucer section pounded against the Klingon vessel’s shields.
“Overcome Squadron, this is Commander Masters of the Ardent. What’s your status?”
“Ardent this is Overcome Leader. We’re down a few and we’re just about all out of heavy weapons.”
“Understood.” There was a slight pause before Commander Masters continued, “Can you form your squadron up on our ship? We’re going to hit it as a group. It should give your fighters the best chance of making an impact.”
“Half of my pilots are engaged with Klingon fighters.”
“Can they hold on their own? I don’t want to be callous about their lives, but there are hundreds on the Andrew Fisher.”
Benton wasn’t about to argue. The commander of the Ardent was right. If her remaining fighters worked with the Ardent they could all at least hit a concentrated area on the Vor’cha. This would give them the best chance of breaching its shields. At the very least they could continue to serve as a distraction and help the Fisher that way.
Benton sent out the order to her squadron. “Overcome, if you are not engaged form up on the Ardent.”
Benton’s call saw three other fighters form into a formation with her flight element. They moved into a position aft of the Ardent.
“Overcome Leader, how many torpedoes do you have left?”
“I have one fighter with a pair of photons and another with three torpedoes. Our other weapons really need to have the shields down to do anything significant.”
“Understood. I’m sharing our targeting information. A combined strike by the Ardent with the rest of your torpedoes could bring down their shields for a moment. You’re not going to have much time to get in some hits when that happens.”
“Copy, Ardent. We’ll be ready.”
Benton ordered the two fighters with torpedoes to move to positions where they could easily move clear of the Ardent and fire their torpedoes. She shared that information back with their Ardent so that they wouldn’t accidentally block her fighters when they launched their torpedoes.
“Overcome fighters, fire on my mark,” Masters prepared them as the group closed on the Vor’cha. “Mark!”
The two fighters moved out from behind the light frigate and launched their torpedoes. A moment after those weapons started their journey the Ardent fired its own spread of photon torpedoes. The torpedoes crashed into the Vor’cha’s shields with barely any pause between them. As they did the Ardent hit it with its phasers. The Vor’cha’s shields held under the onslaught as the smaller Starfleet vessels rapidly closed on it. It looked like their strike wouldn’t breach the shields, then at almost the last moment before the Ardent had to pull out of its attack run one of the Ardent’s phaser blasts struck the hull of the Vor’cha.
The Ardent pulled out of its attack clearing the Peregrines’ field of fire. Benton didn’t need to tell her pilots anything else. The five fighters opened fire with their phasers, which started to tear away at the dorsal side of the starboard wing and aft hull of the Vor’cha.
Benton kept hammering at the exposed hull with her phasers as long as she could. Her final action before she had to pull out of the attack or risk ramming the Klingon vessel was to launch a full spread of micro-torpedoes. Six of the small torpedoes launched out of the two sets of tubes located half way down her wings. She barely caught sight of them impacting as she turned her craft away and opened up the throttle of her fighter.
Once her fighter were clear she quickly checked her sensors to make sure the others members of the attack had made it to. Thankfully they had and were starting to reform on her. Her sensors also showed that their attack had done some damage to the Klingon warship’s aft section.
She searched out the Ardent and found it was making another pass on the Vor’cha. This time the Vor’cha turned after the smaller vessel as it pulled away from the Klingon vessel. Several of its disruptors were firing on the Ardent as it seemed the Vor’cha had now decided that it was enough of a nuisance to have to deal with. While this was happening the Fisher was making its move to disengage from the battle with the Vor’cha.
“Ardent, we’re coming to help,” Benton offered.
“Not necessary, Overcome Leader. Our support is already on its way.”
Benton adjusted her sensors to a wider view and saw that another Starfleet vessel was incoming: the USS Mandela. She had thought that the Vor’cha had been manoeuvring to battle with the Ardent, but now it was clear it was moving to face the fresh Ambassador-class heavy cruiser that was rapidly closing.
“Ardent and Overcome Squadron. We’ll deal with the Vor’cha. You protect the Andrew Fisher,” came the order from the Mandela.
Benton acknowledged the order and turned her attention back to the rest of her squadron. It seemed the remaining Klingon fighters were retreating, or at the very least repositioning. She ordered her remaining fighters to let the fighters go and move into a protective formation around the Andrew Fisher.
As she led her group back to the Fisher the Ardent also followed them. She hailed the vessel.
“Ardent, this is Overcome Leader.”
“I’m guessing you’re with the Mandela and the rest of the ships I’m seeing on my sensors. It looks like an entire tactical wing!”
“It is. 137th Tactical Wing, Twentieth Fleet. We were dispatched to take over the defence of Korvat III and allow your wing to rejoin your tactical wing.”
“I guess we’re lucky you were. Same goes for the people of Korvat III. There was a very high chance that we wouldn’t have been able to hold out without help. Thanks for coming to aid the Fisher.”
“You’re welcome. We thought it was worth the risk to engage.”
“Vor’chas are scary beasts,” Benton agreed.
“They are, but it wasn’t what I really meant. I meant warping through the battle to buy time for the Mandela to get here at sublight. Not exactly Starfleet battle protocol.”
Benton now understood what he meant. She had assumed that she just missed the ship’s approach due to jamming, but she had missed it because it had warped in close to the Fisher and Vor’cha battle. They had taken a big risk in warping to help the Fisher.
Standard Starfleet battle protocol for any ships joining a battle involving combatants utilising cloaking tactics was for arriving ships to exit warp clear of the battle. This was due to the risk of accidental collision between the ship at warp and a cloaked vessel. It was safer for reinforcements to drop out of warp further away from the battle and then approach at sublight.
When they first attacked the Klingons in orbit of Korvat III the Andrew Fisher had warped through the system to exit in orbit of the planet. However, they had been receiving constant information about the Klingon vessels deployed in the system. They had all been accounted for and their positions known when the Fisher warped in. If that had not been the case Captain Onasi would not have risked the Fisher with such a manoeuvre.
In the current battle the Klingons were using their cloaking devices to move and attack. While the battle was over a large area of space it was still risky to warp through the system. All it would take was for a cloaked Klingon ship to have been moving to help the Vor’cha and the Ardent’s attempt to help could have resulted in the sudden destruction of both vessels.
“I’m glad you took that risk. The Fisher…the Fisher was…it was touch and go.” Benton struggled to keep the emotion out of her voice. “Sorry, never caught your name. I’m Wing Commander Maxine Benton.”
“Commander Jonathan Masters. Happy to help. We all are. Captain Califae sends his regards.”
“You’re not the CO?” she asked surprised.
“No. Just the first officer.”
Benton had assumed that Masters was the commanding officer. For a ship the size and type of the Ukora having an officer below the rank of captain in command wasn’t unheard of. She guessed that the captain of the Ardent was probably dealing with the Fisher and Mandela while their first officer wrangled her squadron.
“Well, send everyone thanks from myself and my squadron for your help. We won’t forget this. So jot down a future favour from us in your logs. SFC pilots always pay their debts.”
“Reporting as ordered, Captain,” said Benton as she stood at attention in front of Captain Bindo Onasi’s desk in his ready room on the Andrew Fisher.
The resumption of hostilities between the Federation and Klingons was over. The ceasefire had been reinstated and both sides had moved their forces back to their positions before the brief, but violent outbreak of renewed hostilities. However, Federation forces remained on high alert just in case.
The arrival of the 137th Tactical Wing had quickly and decisively resulted in a Federation victory in the Battle of Korvat. Several Klingon vessels were destroyed, including the Vor’cha that had attacked the Fisher, before the Klingons decided to retreat. The 137th had taken control of the situation in system and it allowed the Fisher’s cruiser wing to rejoin with their own tactical wing, the 24th, for the reminder of hostilities.
Benton had checked on what had happened at Korvat after they left. The Klingon ground forces had been defeated not long after they had left. With peace returning the Klingon warriors that had been captured were sent back to the Empire.
“At ease, Wing Commander,” ordered the Efrosian Starfleet captain. “Do you know why you’re here?”
This was one of the times Benton wished that she had inherited some of her father’s Betazoid mental aptitudes. She could have done with a bit of an insight into what Captain Onasi was thinking or feeling right now. Though she was sure that what was coming was not going to be pleasant.
“Yes, sir. I disobeyed a direct order from you during the battle at Korvat.”
“Yes you did. I ordered you to keep your squadron in their positions on the grid.”
“Sir, the Fisher was in serious danger and I made the decision that the best use of my squadron was to assist you.”
“Damn it, Maxine!” Onasi’s outburst caught Benton by surprise. She did her best to maintain at attention as he continued, “I gave you an order to hold your position and you ignored it! You put the entire operation at risk by breaking formation and allowing the Klingons to sneak through and flank our forces. The 137th was inbound to reinforce our position.”
“Sir, I didn’t know that. If you had explained that –”
“I don’t need to explain every single order I give to you, Wing Commander. Even if I had would you have stayed put?”
Benton opened her mouth to answer, but then closed it as she wrestled with her answer.
“Exactly what I thought. I gave you an order and you disobeyed it,” Onasi repeated more calmly than before.
“If my squadron hadn’t fallen back to assist with the Vor’cha I doubt the Fisher would have lasted long enough to be rescued by our reinforcements.”
Onasi leaned back in his chair and stroked the braided ends of his white flowing moustache as he let out a sigh. “I may agree with you on that point, Maxine. This crew, I, most likely do owe our lives as much to you as we do to the crew of the Ardent and Mandela.”
Onasi ordered her to stand at ease. Benton relaxed slightly. She might not be able to read Onasi’s mind, but she doubted this was over.
“How did the Vor’cha even get into orbit? The grid never detected it,” she asked.
“We think it came through when the K’t’inga bombarded the grid. The detonation of the torpedoes in the grid created enough interference that a ship could have passed through that area undetected.”
“That’s risky passing such a large ship through exploding warheads.”
“If any ship can take a battering without shields the Vor’cha could.” Onasi paused and looked down at his desk for a moment before looking back up at Benton and continuing, “I can’t overlook your actions, Maxine.”
By the look on Onasi’s face she knew that he was going to punish her for her actions. She had expected that this was coming. There was little point in stalling what was about to happen.
“I understand, sir,” she said genuinely. She could imagine how he was feeling. If it was one of her pilots that disobeyed her there would be repercussions. “I accept whatever punishment you deem is necessary.”
“You may regret that,” stated Onasi as he picked up a padd from his desk and passed it over to Benton. “The 99th will be joining the 11th and 42nd squadrons at SFC Station Hellas back at Mars,” Onasi explained.
“The 99th is Overcome Squadron. That’s my squadron, sir,” she said confused.
Benton looked down at the padd quickly scanned the document. It confirmed what the Captain had told her. She held transfer orders for Overcome Squadron off the Andrew Fisher.
Onasi nodded. “I’ve been sitting on a request from Starfighter Command to have one of my squadrons reassigned. I was leaning towards sending Forge squadron, but this recent incident has forced my hand.”
Benton was still confused by what she was hearing. All she could do was say, “Sir?”
“That’s the best I can do,” Onasi said with a sigh. “I’ll have to put in a formal report on your actions today and if you stay under my command I can’t gloss over your insubordination. You’d probably be looking at losing your command and a demotion.”
“That would ruin my career!”
“I know. This way you’ll keep your rank and take a small backwards step in your career, but at least it isn’t a fatal one. This incident will be a minor footnote in your career and not a glaring black mark.”
Benton let the news wash over her. The Sol system was a major hub in the Federation and many careers benefited greatly from been assigned to the heart of the Federation. However, a fighter pilot was not one of them.
“A RBF in orbit of Mars,” she commented using the acronym that was a popular nickname for the type of station the Starfleet Starfighter Corps used. She let out a sigh before she continued, “This will stall my career. My pilots’ careers. The opportunities for promotion in this type of assignment are low.”
“Exactly, that why this is a form of punishment,” said Onasi sternly. He immediately softened. “However, squadrons assigned to Mars also have a decent rate of transfer onto starships. This small wing you’ll command would be perfect for a newly built Steamrunner or El Dorado from the fleet yards. Hopefully within a few months you’ll be shifted back onto a starship.”
It then dawned on Benton how much Captain Onasi was still trying to help her. The assignment was not one that she wanted, however it had a high chance of them getting back into the action on a starship. Her time on the Andrew Fisher was definitely over, but at least her career was still afloat.
On the positive side since her mother was Human and from Earth she had spent a good deal of time in the Sol system. Having a static posting near somewhere she had fond feelings for and in close proximity to family had some appeal. There were worst places she could be sent to.
“I understand. Thank you, sir,” she said genuinely.
“It is the least I can do. You’ve been one of the finest officers under my command, Maxine. I’m not thrilled to be letting you go, but I don’t want to see your career in ruins over a choice that I, and I’d bet many other commanders would have made under those circumstances.”
Benton looked back at her transfer orders. The 11th and 42nd or Haven and Puma squadrons were now her new command, the 260th Fighter Wing. They were not squadrons she was familiar with but that just meant they would make names for themselves under her command. It was a new challenge; one that she had to admit was a tad exciting.
“So when do I leave?” she asked.
“The Fisher will be returning to the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards for maintenance and repairs. That means you don’t officially transfer until we enter the system. Luckily that gives you plenty of time to say your goodbyes.”
Benton smiled. “It does, sir.”
She had made a lot of friends on the Fisher and it was sad to have to move on, but it was done. She would have to break the news to her squadron as well. She knew that they wouldn’t be overly pleased with the news, but a squadron was like a family. Squadron loyalty was normally above all else. They stuck together and all of them knew that despite ignoring Onasi’s orders they had done so to save the Andrew Fisher. To save their friends. In the end that was what really mattered to Benton. She had done the right thing.