Bridge Tholian Destroyer Matrix
"Commander, the intruders are entering our patrol zone now. They are converging from two different vectors. Sensors indicate the first group is Romulan. The second group is coming from the direction of the Federation territories. The Triax patrol group is trailing them."
Commander Tikral of the THS Matrix puzzled over the sudden involvement of the Federation into Tholian affairs. The Klingons had been a flaw in the matrix ever since the Holdfast had been established. Likewise the Romulans had proven an occasional menace. With the exception of a few ships that strayed into Tholian territory though, the Federation had proven to be the safest neighbor so far. Now though, a Federation squadron had moved into the area patrolled by the Matrix's sister ship, Triax.
"Sensor technician, do we have a reading on what we are facing?"
"Yes, commander. The Romulan force consists of one Command Cruiser and three of the new Hawk Class light cruisers."
"I see. They've sent some of their new construction against us then. Check our records. Have we seen any of these ships before?"
"As you command." The sensor technician scanned the ship's records, "No, commander. So far the Romulans have deployed these ships only in their ongoing conflict with the Federation. Our forces have only engaged the older Eagle class ships and the ships sold to them by the Klingons."
"Thank you." Tikral worried over the situation. Between the two patrol groups he had at his disposal two of the Disruptor armed Destroyers, and six of the outdated, but well armed Patrol Cruisers. None of his ships were a match for the squadrons entering the Holdfast's territory. "What do we know about the Federation force?"
"Also a strong force, Commander. Triax reports that it is led by one of the new heavy battle cruisers followed by one of their heavy cruisers, a new build destroyer which may be a drone variant, and a pair of frigates, one of them an upgunned heavy frigate."
"Put whatever you can on the display."
Bridge Romulan Novahawk Taris:
Major Commander Valorian ran his slender fingers through his close cropped well manicured hair.
"Ante Tribune Tiral, what are your scanners showing? Are the Federation ships continuing into the Holdfast territory?"
"They are Major Commander."
Valorian was troubled. The aging fleet of KR class ships was showing extreme wear and tear as the war with the Gorn and their Federation allies wore on. As a result he was charged with slipping into Tholian space to rendezvous with a Klingon squadron to obtain much needed spares for the parts the Romulan ship yards could not produce on their own.
"It seems the Federation is aware of our mission. Perhaps our shipyards are penetrated worse than internal security feared. Communications, open me a line to Ante Commander F' Lar on the Livinesh."
"Yes, Major Commander."
Valorian withheld his smile as the enchanting face of Ante Commander F'lar appeared on his screen. He had enjoyed the period when she served as his second in command. He missed her in more than just a professional manner. Now she brushed her long, non regulation hair back over her shoulder.
"Major Commander. I assume you wish to plan our hunt?"
"I do, F'lar. We will maintain position behind the belt. Let the Federation come to us. They can't know our exact position."
"As you command. Will we celebrate our victory together when this is over?"
"Do not count a victory so easily," he admonished, "we have much work to do. Remember this is your crew's first engagement. I intend to hold you for the second wave of the attack. Let them watch and learn."
Bridge USS New Zealand:
"Admiral, we are coming up on the location of the reported meeting."
"Excellent. I want all weapons armed. Shields at full strength."
"Sir, general order 76.8 already required that once we crossed into Tholian territory."
"Don't remind me of my job, mister."
"Yes, sir," Captain Branscome Rodgers of the New Zealand bit his tongue to keep from landing in deeper trouble with Admiral Foster. Ever since the New Zealand had left Space Dock on her maiden voyage Foster had been riding the crew. Rodgers almost regretted the honor of commanding the Federation's newest BCH. Almost. His previous command, The USS Exeter trailed the New Zealand in the formation. Exeter had a competent, efficient crew. He missed that. His new crew, consisting of drafts from across the rest of Starfleet, was made up of all the "excess" personnel that other captains were willing to give up, along with the academy's newest crop of officer cadets. The rest of the squadron, Yukikaze (a DWD), Trout (FFG), and Leander (FFB) were all long time squadron mates with veteran crews. Rodger's reverie was interrupted by the Andorian sensor tech reporting.
"Captain. Sensors are showing faint heat spikes in the area behind the cluster of asteroids off the port bow."
"Very good, sensors. Admiral? What approach shall I order?"
Foster looked confused for a moment, as if the Romulans weren't exactly where they were supposed to be. "Close up tight, we'll go right at them and close to photon range."
"There may be more we don't see, sir."
"Of course, captain. That's why Trout and Leander will cover our tails."
"But if they close up with us..."
"Just send the order, Captain."
"And what about the Tholians? We've been in negotiations to bring them in against the Klingons. They may be out there. Shouldn't we contact them?"
"Enough, Captain! Unless you want to be relieved you'll do as I order."
Rodgers sent the command to the rest of the fleet. He had a bad feeling something was about to go horribly wrong.
Bridge THS Matrix:
"The interlopers are about to engage one another, Commander."
"Excellent. Take us out of the asteroids into the rear of the Romulan formation. Request that Fortress, Palisade, and Steadfast follow us. We'll get in close and make best use of our phasers. Request that Triax and her squadron attack the Federation as soon as possible. The conclave wants us to make a point to them that they are no more welcome in the holdfast than the Klingons and Romulans."
With deft precision the Destroyer and its three patrol corvettes slid out of the asteroid field, lining up on the rear of the Romulan's projected path. Getting close to a cloaked ship was always iffy. Positional fixes were rarely precise.
Bridge RIS Livinesh:
"Ante Commander, the Major Commander is engaging the Federation force. He has relayed a position well back from Taris and Whitehawk."
F'lar chafed at being left out of the initial engagement, but it was important to keep a ready supply of plasma, or a squadron could be overwhelmed by the unexpected.
"The Major commander's division is uncloaking now."
F'lar watched as the images of a Novahawk and a Sparrowhawk like her own faded into view just as the nose of the Federation heavy battlecruiser rounded the end of the rocky field.
"Ante Commander! Another ship is emerging from the Asteroids. It's Tholian."
F'lar sat up straight in her command chair. She issued orders in a crisp command voice.
"Begin uncloaking procedures. They must think they are behind all of us. We'll take them unaware. That's why the Major Commander put us here."
Her calm voice took the edge off of her inexperienced crew as more Tholians followed the first...directly into the sights of the Livinesh and the Rath.
Major Commander Valorian's face filled the arm rest display of F'lar's chair. "Ante Commander, I see you are prepared to greet our new arrivals. You are free to use all available torpedoes to crush them quickly. The force disparity is against us now, but we must wait a few more minutes to see if the Klingons arrive as scheduled."
"For the Glory of the Emporer," F'lar said sternly as she brought her fist to her chest in the Imperial salute. Valorian's face disappeared as he began giving targeting data to the gunners of the Taris.
Bridge THS Matrix:
Tikral's soul froze as he saw the distinct images of two Romulan Sparrowhawk Light cruisers appear behind his squadron. The position estimate was off. They had managed to ambush two of the Romulan cruisers, but the others had set a countertrap. He glanced at the display. The Triax's squadron was in good position and had isolated one of the federation frigates. It was going to be a costly engagement. Hopefully the enemies would hurt one another enough. His crews were prepared to sell themselves dearly to protect the holdfast.
"Target the enemy command ship. Order Palisade and Steadfast to do the same. They have no defense against what is coming. Tell them I am sorry."
"I want everything on that Novahawk," Foster ordered as the squadron rounded the end of the Asteroids.
"Admiral, what about the Tholians?"
"Dammit, Rodgers. I'm not worried about the Fragging Tholians!"
"Sir, Leander reports that they are moving into attack position. There's a second squadron behind us."
Foster looked confused for a moment, looking more closely at the display, clearly unaware of the second Tholian squadron. Finally he looked up, uncertainty in his gaze, "well...if they want a piece of us we'll give them all they can handle. Order Leander to return fire if attacked, and tell Trout to be prepared to support Leander."
Tikral did his best not to flinch as space was crossed with the bright flashes of phasers, drones, and torpedoes. The Federation cruiser hit the Novahawk with a volley of photons that found all the weak points in the Romulan's shields. The followup from Matrix's Disruptors caused the ship to crumble into a mass of debris. When he looked down at his display Palisade and Steadfast were expanding balls of gas. A second later, Matrix rocked as the surge of the twin explosions shook her.
Bridge USS Leander
"Captain, the Tholians are closing rapidly!"
The USS Leander rocked as four Tholian ships emerged from the asteroid belt and speared her with phasers. The followup from the Destroyer's pair of disruptors sent the ship reeling as the helmsman was thrown from her seat.
"Turn into them! Get me whatever weapons we can. We need to keep them off the rest of the squadron so the Admiral can deal with those Romulans."
Captain Abigail Connors glanced at her screen. The odds were desperate, but Trout was already turning around to come to their aid. They just had to hold on a minute or two.
"Target the photons and both facing phasers on the lead ship. Order the Corpsmen to the bridge, we have wounded."
As the damage reports flooded in it became clear that Leander was crippled. Captain Connors slammed her fist in frustration as the Tholians ignored her crippled command in favor of more dangerous prey.
"Head us toward the asteroids. We'll get some cover and help where we can."
Bridge RIS Levinesh
F'lar tried desperately to control her face as her patron's ship went through its death throes. Her section had destroyed two of the Tholian Patrol Cruisers, but the Destroyer had put the killing shot into the Taris. Valorien was gone. For a change she envied her Vulcan ancestors for their ability to suppress emotion.
"Ante Commander, the Tholians are fleeing back into the asteroid field. Shall we pursue?"
"No. Order the White Hawk to hide among the asteroids and cloak. We'll reload and attack again. It seems the Tholians want to fight us as well as the Federation. Let them kill one another. How much damage did the Taris and White hawk do?"
"They targeted most of their plasma on the heavy battlecruiser. It doesn't seem to be terribly impaired. They managed to defend themselves adequately. They are definitely not crippled."
"Damn. That was not worth the life of the Major Commander. Where are those damn Klingons?"
Bridge USS New Zealand
Captain Rodgers looked around the bridge. Everyone seemed to be alright though shaken. He had fought Romulans before with the Exeter, but those were mostly the older Eagle class ships with their one or two large torpedoes. The amount of plasma he had seen coming at them on the ship's display was bone chilling. Fortunately the New Zealand was an impressive ship with an incredible array of phasers. She was made to survive the crash of battle lines, and she did so admirably. The verdict was still out on the Admiral himself.
"Admiral Foster, what are your orders? Sir?"
Foster stared ahead at the fireball that was the death of the enemy flagship. He was momentarily frozen.
"Admiral, that Tholian squadron is coming up from behind. What do you want us to do?"
Foster shook his head like a punch drunk fighter.
"Let the escorts deal with them. I want Yukikaze to support Trout. The Romulans are cloaking, she'll be useless in a moment. Pull Exeter back. Don't let the Tholians lock them in the belt. Hit the two closest Tholians with whatever we have armed."
Rodgers relayed Foster's commands. As the Yukikaze swung about the Romulan Sparrowhawk disappeared from view. The Trout valiantly engaged the four Tholian ships. Supported by fire from the two cruiser's rear phasers the federation squadron destroyed one of the PCs. The captain watched in horror though as several Tholian phasers found holes in the Trout's shields. The frigate managed to defend itself from a wave of suicide shuttles, but it was too little. With an bright white flash the little ship, never meant to fight such odds, exploded.
"We need to fall back. Have Exeter cover us."
Rodgers couldn't believe what he was hearing. They needed to beat one of these opponents before they fought the other. The Romulans were hiding, but they'd be back. Turning on the Tholians right now would have been Rodger's move. Worse, Foster was sending his old command into the teeth of three enemy cruisers.
Bridge THS Matrix
Tikral's body flushed the shade of crimson that was the Tholian color of grief. He watched as the Keeper exploded with all aboard. The Federation frigate followed moments later.
"We have them on the wrong foot for the moment. The Romulans will be rejoining us. We will remain here. I want the other squadron to begin attacking the Federation Destroyer. Send that to Triax."
Tikral watched as the Federation flagship pulled back from the asteroids. As it did so, its sister moved up to the edge of the field. Two of the Romulan cruisers uncloaked within the field, nearly nose to nose with the great white ship.
Again, the space around Matrix flared with the glow of high speed plasma racing through the dust of the asteroid field. The Exeter's phasers took out a couple of the warheads, but many more went through. Triax and her consort added their phaser and disruptor fire to the heavy cruisers fusillade, and one of the Sparrowhawks reeled as it momentarily wavered, crippled. The little destroyer shook again as the Exeter's warp field collapsed and the ship exploded.
Bridge USS New Zealand
Branscome Rodgers was a veteran captain. As the Exeter exploded with few escape pods noticeable he went calm. At his heart though an inferno raged. He had spent five years in command of her and she and her people were like family. On his display linked to the flag bridge Admiral Foster stared vacantly into space.
"Ensign, order Yukikaze to do what she can to get Leander's people off of her. Hopefully the Tholians will back off. We'll make one pass at the two effective Romulans and then get out of here."
"Captain, what about the admiral?"
Rodgers looked down at his display once again. "I don't think the Admiral is going to object for a while."
Bridge USS Leander
"Captain, Yukikaze is headed in to help us."
"Tell them to watch their backs, ensign. The Tholians aren't backing down. Now they've started fighting evasively. It's not like they need much speed to keep up with us."
Abigail watched as the Drone destroyer swung into the rear arc of a Tholian patrol Corvette. Yukikaze launched a wave of drones into the corvette, but between the asteroids and the little ship's evasive maneuvers none of the drones hit home. The destroyer's phasers did some damage, but the strong shields on the Tholian kept it in the fight. The Tholians squadron mates fired into Yukikaze taking down most of her shields.
"Get me Captain Sevak," she ordered. "Sevak, this is Connors on Leander. The tholians aren't letting up. They've got you outnumbered. Get out of here."
The screen filled with the image of the Vulcan captain.
"Captain Connors, we are ordered to extricate you and your crew before Leander is lost. Please get them to the transporters and we will get as many out as we can. It is Captain Rodgers order and was non discretionary."
"Don't be a fool, Sevak. We'll prep for evac but there isn't time." She turned to the replacement helmsman, "begin evasive maneuvers. We'll hold on as long as possible. Order the abandon ship drill."
Bridge IRS Livinesh
F'lar watched as the heavy battlecruiser swept around the edge of the asteroid field. The Tholians had added their firepower to the heavy cruiser in the last round of fire. She decided it was time to do something about that. "Order the White Hawk to target one of those corvettes and get rid of it. We will target the Fed with our phasers."
The Livinesh rocked as the Battlecruiser fired its photons and phasers in her direction. Several struck home, and caused significant damage. The Whitehawk fired its full volley of plasma into the patrol corvette facing it. The evasive pattern thwarted the sparrowhawk's targeting computer though and none of the torpedoes hit the mark. The fire from the other sparrowhawks caused further damage to the battlecruiser, but the repaired shields from the earlier exchange held strong.
"Damn! What does it take to kill that fescrat ship?"
Bridge THS Matrix
"That's enough. Helm get us out of here. The Fed is leaving. Take us to support Triax' group. Order Fortress to evade on her own best course and join us as soon as they can."
Tikral watched the monitor and wished the federation captain well. Two of the sparrowhawks were crippled so there was a good chance they'd escape. As he pondered the situation a report came through his terminal.
To Commander THS Matrix
Commander, we have intercepted communications from listening post Granite 2. A Federation task force intercepted a Klingon convoy heading for your location. Intelligence believes they were attempting to rendezvous with the Romulans your patrol engaged. The federation drove them back with heavy losses. Drive the Romulans from local space, eliminate any Federation ships that will not leave and pick up and Federation survivors for return to the federation.
Tikral prepared to engage the remaining federation ships.
Bridge USS New Zealand
"We are spooling up to high warp captain. Ready for warp six in fifteen seconds."
"Acknowledged, helm. Guns, we've got one last shot at that crippled hawk. I want her lined up at our six o clock. Hit her with all bearing phasers as we accelerate."
"Aye, sir," answered him from the helm and weapon officers.
Rodgers focused on his display as the phaser capacitors discharged. The eight beams lanced into the crippled sparrowhawk and it crumbled into a wreck. A small measure of relief filled him at avenging his slain former command. He looked one last time at the tactical display as Leander and Yukikaze engaged a swarm of Tholians. "Good luck, Abby." His tac display froze as New Zealand translated into high warp, returning to federation space.
Bridge RIS Livinesh
F'Lar watched as the Rath exploded. In the distant asteroid cluster the Federation Battle Frigate broke up. The Federation battlecruiser immediately disappeared into high warp. Shame filled the Ante Commander. The mission was a failure, though for their part, the Romulan force had fulfilled its mission. The Klingons just never arrived. Clearly there was a leak somewhere. When they returned to Romulan space there would be a reckoning. For now she had to shepherd home the crippled White Hawk.
"Begin cloaking procedures. We're going home."
Bridge THS Matrix
"Good shooting, weapons officer. Begin the roundup of the escape pods. Make sure they are treated with respect, the conclave wishes them returned to the Federation."
Minutes later Tikral was in the Matrix' shuttle bay. A makeshift enviro chamber was set up for the largely human occupants of the Federation ships. The Tholian squadrons picked up a few survivors from each ship. Most though were from the Leander. The senior survivor was the ship's captain. He now looked at her through the thick glass of the chamber.
"Captain Connors, welcome aboard the Matrix."
"I hope you'll forgive me if I don't feel very welcome, Commander."
"Understandable. It is regrettable that your fleet commanders sent you into our territory. I am afraid the conclave wished to be adamant that the holdfast is sacrosanct. Please bear this message back to your leaders. You and your crews will be returned as quickly as possible. The Romulans fled at the same time as your flagship disengaged. They disappeared into cloak. We believe their mission was a failure."
"Thank you for that information, Commander. It does help. If you don't mind though, I will tend to my crew. I will, of course, bear any communication your government wishes to my government."
"Thank you, captain. Rest now, your duty is done, as is ours. Perhaps one day we shall be real allies."
Thanks to Eric Drumm for the photos.