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* * *

The martial ballet developing in the Qo’noS system continued apace, with ships of differing allegiances jockeying for position against their rivals while the small Starfleet task force pushed in towards the homeworld with its ring of shattered moon fragments.

At the Tactical station, Lieutenant Jarrod observed, “Sir, I’m concerned with the Klingon’s planetary defense grid. We have no idea which faction is in control of their orbital weapons platforms, and they are quite formidable.”

Trujillo nodded, the gesture lost on Jarrod, whose attention remained fixed on the dynamic activity taking place throughout the system. “Understood, Weaps.” She used her chair’s console interface to activate an encrypted comms channel, a frequency provided her by Kang.

“General Kang, this is Trujillo. We will be in orbit shortly, and we have no wish to be blasted apart by your planetary defenses. If this task force is destroyed while trying to rescue our people, it will ignite another war between the Empire and the Federation. That would serve no one’s interests. If you and your allies are going to get into this fight, this would be the time.”

After a momentary pause, Kang’s sonorous voice answered, “I hear you, Starfleet. Your cloaked escorts stand ready to assist with anything your squadron cannot handle. My allies are working on seizing control of the orbital platforms now. They will be secured by the time you reach Qo’noS.”

“I will take that as your warrior’s oath, General,” Trujillo retorted, severing the comm-link.

“I’m seeing skirmishes breaking out among Klingon formations, Commodore,” Shukla offered from Operations. “Mainly strafing runs on shielded ships or outposts, with little damage to either side.”

Trujillo grunted in reply, then offered, “The Klingon version of counting coup, Lieutenant. Saber rattling just for show. When the real shooting starts, we’ll know it.”

Glal appeared at her side, speaking in hushed tones. “They’ll keep coming for us, sir. We’re endangering the rest of the task force with our presence.”

She nodded slowly, acknowledging the truth of his statement. “But where to go?” she said in an equally muted voice. “Once we break from the pack, we’ll be vulnerable. We can’t just flit around the system, hoping and waiting for their beaming shield to drop.”

Glal’s scruffy beard twitched, hinting at the smirk concealed within. “Might I suggest we go someplace they’d be reluctant to engage us, sir?”

“And where would that be?”

He directed a thick finger to the abbreviated navigation window on her laptop console.

She turned her head, her eyes widening fractionally. “You can’t mean…”

“They’ll hesitate. They’ll have to. Those few seconds might make all the difference.”

Trujillo sat in stony silence for a moment. Finally, she issued a reluctant, hissing sigh. “Given our dearth of better options, I will unenthusiastically accede to your plan, Commander.” She gave him an incredulous look that melted into a grudging smile. “I’m more disappointed I didn’t think of it myself.”

“Just earning my keep, sir,” Glal noted.

“Ensign Garrett,” Trujillo called, causing science officer’s head to snap up from her scopes. “You have fifteen minutes to become a subject matter expert on the Praxis Debris Disk. We’ll be pushing inside the shell of what remains of that moon.”

“Aye, sir,” the young woman replied. Her tone betrayed her surprise, but her voice remained steady.

Trujillo opened a coded comm-link to Exeter. “Captain Kiersonn, it’s likely the Klingon factions opposing us will continue to focus on Reykjavík. To prevent compromising our rescue mission, I’m taking Reykjavík straight into what’s left of Praxis and will do my best to lead them on a merry chase. I’m placing you in command of the task force. Your orders are to focus exclusively on getting our people safely away from here, using whatever level of force you deem necessary to achieve that goal.”

“Understood, sir,” was Kiersonn’s measured reply. “And what of our remaining personnel inside the shell of the moon?”

“We’ll get them out after we’ve lost, disabled or destroyed our pursuers. I’m sending you General Kang’s comms frequency and encryption so you can coordinate with him.”

“Acknowledged, Commodore.”

“Bring out people home, Captain,” she urged.

“We will, sir. Good hunting. Exeter, out.”

“Mister Naifeh, project a course that will diverge from the task force’s as we approach the planet. We’ll want to make a quick departure and then thread our way through the larger debris and into the interior of the largest moon fragment.”

Positioned behind him, Trujillo was unable to see Naifeh’s Adam’s apple bob involuntarily as he absorbed the responsibility tasked him. “Aye, sir.”

Trujillo cast a glance over at the Science station. “Mister Garrett, will the particle density of the micrometeoroids interfere with the Klingon’s cloaking fields as we approach Praxis?”

“Very likely, sir, dependent upon the age and sophistication of the individual units the ships are employing. Even if their cloaks remain active, we should be able to detect the particle wavefront the ships will create as they move through the debris, not unlike an ocean ship kicking up a bioluminescent wake.”

Trujillo nodded slowly to herself. “That’s what I was hoping to hear, Ensign.”

The next twenty minutes were filled with hurried navigational and defense related planning between the senior officers, with the Zaranite Lt. Commander Kura-Ka from Engineering making a rare appearance on the bridge.

His vaguely digitized voice issued from his atmospheric mask as Kura-Ka handed her a data-slate. “I’ve prepared a few surprises for anyone determined enough to follow us in there, sir.”

Trujillo scrolled through the schematics contained on the device, her lips drawing into a tight smile. “Yes, I think these will do nicely, Commander. A less forceful argument than a photon torpedo, but also far less lethal.”

“Approaching separation point, sir,” Naifeh announced. “A course into the PDD has been plotted.”

“Very well.” She handed the slate back to Kura-Ka, who retreated to the Engineering station. “Ops, make sure the other ships are aware of our impending departure. Science, be ready to update navigation telemetry to the helm as the field density increases. Weaps, stand ready to modulate shield strength as we enter the field.”

Affirmations of her orders echoed around the bridge.

Trujillo toggled open the comm-link to the task force. “Scythe-Actual now ceding task force command to Exeter.”

“Confirmed,” Captain Kiersonn’s voice acknowledged. “Exeter now Scythe-Actual.”

She counted down the seconds silently in her head until prompted by her display. “And… separate, accelerating to one-half impulse.”

Reykjavík peeled away from the center of the starship formation and leaped ahead, leaving Task Force Scythe on their orbital approach.

“Contact with the leading edge of the PDD in two minutes… mark,” Garrett apprised.

Trujillo queried, “Klingon activity?”

“Nothing close, sir,” Shukla replied. “Some Birds-of-Prey uncloaking and cloaking in high orbit of Qo’noS but no sign of anyone pursuing us specifically.”

“Thank unspecified deities for small favors,” she murmured to herself.

An alarm tone trilled at the Tactical station, prompting Jarrod. “Now detecting a formation of three K’tinga’s that just decloaked behind the task force, sir. They’re being engaged by a squadron of five Birds-of-Prey that are running interference for our ships.”

“Tactical overlay, holographic,” Trujillo ordered.

Icons materialized in the air between Trujillo and the forward bridge stations, giving her a three-dimensional view of the developing engagement. She observed as Kiersonn reconfigured the task force for greater protection should the K’tinga’s overwhelm their opposition.

“Fighting the urge to micromanage?” Glal asked discretely, sidling up to her chair.

“I’m coping,” she confessed. “It’s his fight now. We’ll have our own soon enough.”

“Penetrating the outer accretion disk of the PDD, Commodore,” Naifeh called from the Helm station.

“Increasing power to the navigational deflector,” Kura-Ka announced. “Now at one-hundred fifteen percent of rated output.”

Trujillo deactivated the tactical hologram, fixing her attention on the navigational information routed to her laptop workstation from the helm.

“Sensor contact,” Shukla observed.

“Confirmed,” Garrett seconded. “Cloaked vessel kicking up a particle wave front at twenty-one, mark one-eight-nine. It’s matching our speed.”


Shukla scrutinized the sensor return. “Too big to be a Bird-of-Prey, too small to be a cruiser.”

Garrett looked up from her displays, her expression pinched. “Commodore, we’re quickly approaching the outer perimeter of the orbital interdiction graviton-web. The gravimetric generators and their anchored receiver-nodes will become more numerous the further we travel into the PDD. We’ll want to avoid crossing any of those graviton beams directly. Weakening or breaking those connections could cause a cascading collapse of the entire grid.”

“Let’s hope the Klingons share our sense of caution, Mister Garrett.”

On the viewer Trujillo caught a glimpse of a pair of robotic drones racing to catch an errant piece of debris that had been flung out of the PDD, returning the flotsam to the accreted disk that surrounded what remained of Praxis. The drones were part of the Federation’s multilayered defense of the planet’s orbital zone, acting as sheep dogs to the graviton-web’s corral.

Trujillo turned in her chair, looking to Kura-Ka at the Engineering station. “Commander, your micro-mines, are they potent enough to cause problems with the containment web?”

“They were designed not to, sir. I conferred with Commander Osaoi herself and we determined that if employed more than twenty kilometers away from a graviton generator, beam or anchor, they should prove benign.”

“Excellent news, and my compliments on your foresight. Please coordinate with Tactical to drop the mines on my command, should circumstances warrant it.”

“Photon torpedo inbound!” Shukla blurted an instant before Reykjavík slewed to port courtesy of Ensign Naifeh’s excellent reflexes.

The torpedo flashed past along their starboard side, nearly grazing the perimeter of their shield bubble before detonating in an aggregate of heavy mineral debris.

“Why didn’t we see them decloaking to fire?” Trujillo asked accusingly.

“I… I don’t know, sir,” Shukla stammered, his cheeks coloring.

“Commodore,” Garrett replied in an even tone, “it appears the accretion of ionized particles at the apex of the Klingon ship’s wavefront as it passes through the micrometeorite debris is clouding our sensors. They were able to decloak briefly, loose a torpedo, and recloak without us seeing it.”

Trujillo grunted at that, commenting, “It appears they do not share our reticence to damage the graviton-web.”

“Well,” Glal observed dryly, “they’ll be the ones cleaning up the mess… and evacuating their homeworld.”

“Helm, decrease speed to one-quarter impulse. Weaps, firm up the forward shields. We’re pushing in, Klingon objections be damned.”

* * *

“Steady,” Glal coaxed gently as a brief thruster burst nudged the shuttle forward. He needn’t have coached the pilot so, as it was he who occupied the small-craft’s pilot seat.

Ahead, through the shuttle’s cockpit viewports, was the great glowing exhaust port of a Klingon warship’s idling impulse engine.

Ensign Garrett, seated in the copilot’s chair, touched the control interface delicately, though such subtlety wasn’t necessary. At the behest of her inputs, a low-powered repulsor beam deposited an explosive charge on the Klingon’s hull, a meter from the engine’s exhaust port.

“I can’t believe this is working,” she murmured as she remotely activated the transponder on the device.

“Don’t jinx it,” Glal grumbled, secretly pleased at his mastery of Human idioms. “And wasn’t this your idea in the first place? Why are you shocked at our success?”

“I’m not, sir… not really. I’m mostly surprised the Klingon navy is throwing nearly century-old ships at us.”

Glal gave a short, barking laugh. “Thank the Great Herd that’s the case, or this plan never would have had a chance.”

Before them was a D-4 class cruiser, a relic of the Federation/Klingon war nearly seventy-five years earlier. Parked within the fragmented remains of Praxis, the cruiser had been lying in wait, hoping to ambush the elusive warship Reykjavík.

Despite the aged vessel they commanded, the warship’s captain seemed a wily old warrior who’d elected to place his or her ship very nearby a graviton node that served to anchor a dozen others. They doubtless knew full well that Starfleet would hesitate to attack the ship so close to a critical component of the graviton web gluing together Praxis’ largest shards.

However, its proximity to the node also degraded the warship’s sensor acuity, a situation that Garrett had determined to exploit. With Kura-Ka’s help, she’d designed a stealth-probe equipped with a sensor scrambling emitter that Reykjavík had sent to sneak up behind the already partially blinded D-4. Once in position, the probe sent errant sensor returns to the warship’s aft scanning array, allowing one of Reykjavík’s shuttles to approach undetected.

The shuttle Siglufjörður, piloted by Lt. Commander Glal, had gamely approached the somnolent warship and attached mines near her impulse engines and aft disruptor bank.

Their mission complete, Glal began to back the shuttle slowly away from their now mined target. Eyes on the controls, he offered, “You know it wasn’t necessary for you to come out here, Ensign.”

“Nor you, sir,” she rejoined, dropping a small comms-relay in their wake that would amplify Reykjavík’s detonation commands if and when they were issued. “We’ve plenty of shuttle pilots aboard, Commander. I seem to remember you volunteering to be here.”

He smiled grimly within his beard. “True enough, but we hardly needed to send our chief science officer out here on this errand.”

“My plan and my probe, sir. Respectfully, I couldn’t just sit back and let someone else risk their life for an idea I hatched.”

“Commendable, but that kind of thinking may hold you back, Mister Garrett.”

Garrett adjusted the fictitious sensor inputs from their probe to compensate for the newly deployed comms-relay. “Please elaborate, sir.”

“Having skin in the game is all well and good for a junior officer, but if you have any ambitions of advancement to senior officer rank, let alone command, it’s important to make peace with the fact that you’ll have to send others into harms way, regardless of whether or not it was your idea.”

“I will keep that in mind, sir, and I do appreciate the advice.”

He spared a quick glance over at her. “I am glad to have you along, Ensign. Just between you and me, the commodore sees advancement potential in you, as do I.”

Garrett’s cheeks colored as she studiously fixed her attention on her displays. “Thank you for saying so, sir.” She cleared her throat, announcing, “I’ve picked up Reykjavík’s nav-laser. Locking on and setting a course for home.”

* * *

“The last mine is in place, Commodore,” Shukla noted from his Ops console. “Siggy is signaling they’re returning.”

Jarrod glanced up from the Tactical board to add, “The mines on the D-4 and D-7 are confirmed as armed and awaiting triggering signals. Only the Bird-of-Prey remains unaccounted for.”

Trujillo nodded fractionally, eyes appearing to probe the enhanced view of the debris-strewn pocket of the moon where Reykjavík had been holed up for the past six hours. “Thank you, gentlemen. Maintain zero-emission status and continue silent running.” She added an uncharacteristically wry, “If anyone here possesses extra-sensory abilities, please be so good as to deduce the coordinates of that Klingon scout.”

Jarrod let a frustrated sigh slip out. “If it were anyone other than the Klingons, crippling those other ships would likely draw out the Bird-of-Prey.”

“And yet it is the Klingons, Lieutenant,” Trujillo affirmed with equal vexation. “So, they will sit idly by as we sunder their fellows and wait for us to show ourselves. More honor in not sharing a prize kill.”

She called, “Computer, location of Sogh K’mpec?”

‘Sogh K’mpec is located in the primary crew lounge, deck seven, port-ventral compartment.’

Trujillo rose from the command chair. “Mister Shukla, you have the conn. I’m going to inquire with our guest what gambit might lure out that pesky scout.”

* * *

It was dark within the rubble-cluttered interior of Praxis, and only a dim haze of light illuminated the congested asteroid mass as viewed through Reykjavík’s viewports.

“Every hour they continue to scramble the planet’s transporter frequencies will increase the public’s outrage and strain the High Council’s tolerance,” K’mpec noted with satisfaction as he stood gazing through the lounge’s large bay windows. “The chancellor’s little expansionist war has resulted in more death and loss than our military anticipated.”

Trujillo sat behind him, her chair pushed out and away from the nearest table. “Public outrage? Is that the wedge you’ll try to use to split the High Council?” she asked.

“One of them,” he conceded.

“How do you stop a war that’s proved so expensive in lives and materiel without dishonoring the sacrifices of all the warriors already lost?”

K’mpec pondered that for a long moment, finally answering. “Even if we pursue this current offensive to a successful conclusion, we’ll have lost. We have neither the ships, soldiers, nor the economic power to maintain control of those conquered border territories. We’ll end up mired in endless struggles against multiple insurgent movements, costing us more lives, more ships, and all the while those powers opposed to the empire will funnel materiel to those groups, weakening the empire by proxy.”

He glanced back at Trujillo. “I must convince the Council that victory now will lead to a slow, painful defeat over time. We must marshal our strength, expand our industrial base, and come to grips with the Praxis Crisis. We’ve permitted the Federation to cope with the worst of the disaster’s fallout for decades, an indolent disregard that has allowed your government to wield far more influence with our leaders than should have been acceptable.”

She smiled grimly. “I won’t dispute your assessment. It has, however, kept the peace for thirty years.” She rose from her chair, moving to join K’mpec at the viewport.

“We’ve identified and taken steps to incapacitate two cruisers that followed us in here, but there’s a troublesome scout that won’t show itself. I would appreciate any advice you might offer on how to draw them out.”

“How many other pursuing navy ships did you immobilize on our run in to the debris disk?” K’mpec asked, sidestepping the question.

“Three that we know of,” Trujillo replied.

“You’ve embarrassed the navy. As such, you’ve made Reykjavík the kind of prize that could make a ship commander’s career. Whoever’s out there waiting for you, they won’t move until you do. Provide them the irresistible target of your ship, and they’ll attack.”

“Nothing else will suffice?”

“No,” K’mpec said emphatically. “They are Klingons.” He looked askance at his Human companion. “You would do well to come to grips with your own liabilities before battle is joined, Commodore.”

She gave him an appraising look. “How so?”

“You care about the fate of Qo’noS, and you will take steps to avoid damaging the systems that keep Praxis’ remains intact. The Klingon commander of that ship out there will use that to their advantage, if they can.”

Trujillo reflected somberly on the ramifications of that insight. “The homeworld means nothing to them?” she asked finally.

“It surely does, but no self-respecting Klingon captain would put the welfare of our home planet before their personal honor and the pursuit of glory. They have their priorities, after all.”

"They are Klingons, after all," Trujillo parroted, voice tinged with irony.

This elicited an approving grunt of assent from K'mpec.

* * *

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