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“Fly, Hannah…fly!” Hudson muttered to his ship like a mantra as a new stream of phaser fire cut across their flank. He plied his fingers into the helm and the small attack fighter surged away from the deadly energy as it crackled against their shields.
“How you doing, Gilbert?” Hudson called to his wingman, the Katy, flitting just ahead of them. The two stolen Federation fighters had been rechristened after two of the first ships to serve in the American Revolution.
“Giving them the run of their life,” a voice crackled over the comms.
“Let’s string them along for a few more minutes,” Hudson said, ignoring the perspiration in his eyes.
Behind them, the U.S.S. Yeager, a Federation Sabre class, lumbered – almost pointlessly casting phaser beams after the agile ships. Like a monster Klingon Ray or a leering Romulan guppy-fish it hunted after them with its hungry mouth wide to receive them like krill.
The Hannah rocked as a phaser strike came close. Hudson cast his ship to starboard. Just a few more minutes, he thought. Boy, the day had turned out different from its tranquil beginning!
Was it really only an hour since they’d been serenely patrolling through Federation shipping lanes in the demilitarized zone? Maybe less. Hudson and his wingman had been prowling for unauthorized Cardassian intrusions and it didn’t take long to find them. Out past the Ruffini Nebula they ran across an unregistered Cardassian freighter cruising towards a Cardassian colony.
“I’m detecting twice the amount of antimatter on them that they need for engines,” Rolly reported from his initial scans. He sat at the co-pilot seat, manning the sensors and weapons, while tugging absently at his Bajoran earpiece.
“Photon torpedoes?” Hudson wondered aloud.
“Most likely!” Rolly agreed. Hudson nodded.
“Alright, let’s do this,” he said signaling to the Katy. “Charge the phasers.” The Hannah and Katy swooped down on the lone freighter.
“They’re sending out a distress call!” Rolly reported.
“Let them,” Hudson smiled. “We’ll be gone before any help will arrive.” He turned on the comms. “This is a Maquis patrol to the unregistered Cardassian freighter,” he reached out. “Prepare to be bordered!” In answer, the freighter cast a weak phaser beam wide of their position. It might as well have been a zebra flicking its tail at two lionesses. Cardassian freighters were not ships of war.
“Well, we tried,” Hudson sighed, bringing the Hannah into line for Rolly to hit its impulse engines. Suddenly, the proximity alert sounded.
“Objects approaching!” Rolly reported. Hudson saw them – small rectangular containers floating back in the freighters’ wake.
“Mines!” he hissed. He turned the Hannah into a steep barrel dive as a powerful explosion lit the space where they’d been. More brilliant flashed ripped at the fabric of space and the small fighter shuddered in the concussive ripples. Devious little devils! Hudson thought – he grudgingly acknowledged the Cardassian Captain’s ingenuity.
“Gilbert?” Hudson called out to the Katy, “You okay?”
“A little rattled, but we’re right behind you,” came the staticky report. Hudson set his jaw.
“Okay, our turn,” he growled, swooping up under the freighter’s underbelly. “Hit them!” he ordered. Rolly pounded his console and the beautiful sight of the pulsing phasers lit the space between them. They hit strong and the Cardassian shields shuddered. The Katy followed up with its own volley. The fighters swooped past the vessel and arched back around. It only took a few passes to completely shred the Cardassian shields.
“Take out their engines, Gilbert,” Hudson called.
“Will do!” the reply came and the Katy fell back, swooping around to get a good line on the freighter’s impulse engines. The concussive force of the subsequent phaser blasts physically tore several engine elements from the hull.
At the same moment, Rolly smiled as the Hannah’s sensors now saw clearly into the Freighter’s cargo bays.
“I’m registering 26 advanced photon torpedoes” he reported.
“No need to board them,” Hudson reflected. “Lock onto the weapons and transport as many as you can.” He added, as an afterthought, “and beam the contingency over while you’re at it.”
Rolly tapped his panel.
“The contingency is away,” he reported and then reengaged the transporter to recieve. Behind them, the whirring sound of materializing energy revealed a neat stacking of 7 Cardassian photon torpedoes in the small cargo space behind the cockpit. The Katy signaled its reception of torpedoes as well. They would make a nice addition to the Maquis munition stockpile.
“Okay, what is left?” Hudson asked.
“I count 12 torpedoes we can’t take on,” Rolly sighed.
“Apply the hack,” Hudson ordered. Rolly brought up a stolen Cardassian program and transmitted the signal. It only took a moment before he received full access to the torpedo programing.
“I’ve accessed the torpedo subroutines,” Rolly reported. Hudson nodded.
“Set them for maximum yield – to be detonated on our mark,” he said. Rolly tapped his console.
“Done,” he reported. Hudson glanced up and out the Hannah’s front window. He gestured to the space around the Cardassian vessel.
“Beam them into a constellation around the freighter – equidistant – enough for full overlap when detonated.” It was an old Bajoran trick he’d learned from his days fighting Cardassians – back when he was in Starfleet – a booby-trap for the inevitable Cardassian warship that would follow up on the distress call. Warping in, they’d rarely see the torpedoes before they were among them and then a proximity fuse would set off the make-shift minefield in a terrific burst of exothermic energy. While it would certainly knock them about, it was more of a psychological thing, but it was quite effective at that.
If Hudson squinted, he thought he could just make out a few of the torpedoes materializing in space around them as Rolly played the Transporter expertly. It took a few seconds, but the young Bajoran soon reported all was set and sound.
“Good,” Hudson replied, “well, I think we’re done here so…”
At that moment, the proximity alert went off again.
“Incoming starship!” Rolly yelled.
Before Hudson could respond, a massive ship popped out of warp, almost on top of them. The shape was unmistakable.
“Saber class!” Hudson hissed, punching the Hannah into a steep dive, following the Katy down and away from the adrift freighter. He hadn’t expected the Feds to be on them so quickly.
“Light it!” he bellowed to Rolly.
The young Bajoran tapped his console. A mesmerizing burst of matter/antimatter annihilation lit a perfect sphere of light and energy into the perpetual night of the heavens behind them – like turning on an ancient incandescent lightbulb when your eyes are accustomed to the dark. The improvised minefield had been detonated. Its radiative wave cut across the Federation starship, which still had its snout across one side of the perimeter – and for a moment the ship was obscured in the burst.
When the radiation cleared, Hudson could see on his reverse screen that the Starfleet light-cruiser hovered in bewilderment at what had just happened. If nothing else, Hudson’s tactic was a slight of hand, giving the Hannah and the Katy time to gain some distance and choose their terms for what followed next. The Saber class still hung stunned over the scene for a few moments longer, taking in its surrounds, before coming to its senses and slowly banking down after the fighters, kicking in its impulse engines for pursuit. The Comm system chirped and a clean-shaven Federation officer popped onto the screen.
“This is Captain Beatty Warren of the Federation starship U.S.S. Yeager,” he said authoritatively with a disapproving frown. Despite his age, his posture showed his inexperience and the greenness of his temper. “You are illegal combatants,” he continued, “lower your shields, cut your engines, and prepare to surrender or…” Hudson cut the transmission off before he’d finished and patched into the Katy.
“Things are about to heat up, Gilbert!” he called. And as if to illustrate the sentiment, a bright phaser beam lit between the fighters as the Yeager surged into their midst on the sheer power of its massive impulse engines.
“Take it starboard!” Hudson bellowed over the comms and in response the Katy cut across the Hannah’s nose leading up and away from the ungainly Saber, which lurchingly tried recovering from overshooting the fighters. Hudson followed close behind the Katy, drawing up the rear. He hesitated a moment, offering a tempting target to the Yeager’s tactical officer – and then he pushed the Hannah forward on a sudden surge of impulse. The timing was perfect as a phaser beam lanced out from the Federation ship and scored the place where Hudson had been half a second before.
“That was close,” Rolly chuckled, tapping his console alive in preparation for countermeasures. He was still awed by Hudson’s knowledge of the Starfleet mentality and how he used Federation “by-the-book” tactics to his advantage. In this case, Rolly realized Hudson had drained the Saber’s dorsal phasers for a moment to risk a straight-line impulse push, gaining some distance between them while the Yeager repositioned itself to follow up with ventral phasers.
And just as the Federation ship prepared to lay down said fire, the two fighters spit formation and flitted back towards the Ruffini Nebula like leaves wildly tossed in a sudden updraft. By comparison, the Yeager lumbered after them, sluggish on the uptake.
Hudson kept an eye on the Saber’s posturing behind them, heading the Hannah off the Yeager’s best phaser arcs and just ahead of their torpedo tracking – even while consciously keeping the Nebula ahead – if all else failed, they could always lose the Feds in the dense gases of the stellar cloud. A glancing phaser strike on his port quarter brought him back to the moment.
“We need a few more minutes!” he muttered to himself, taking in the situation with renewed vigor. He turned to Rolly. “I’m lowering the shields – launch the countermeasures!”
At Rolly’s touch, the Hannah transported out two micro-torpedoes into their wake. They’d barely dent the Yeager’s shields, but Hudson knew Captain Warren’s type – he wouldn’t want to admit “rebel scum” had so much as counted coup against his shiny new ship. And on perfect cue, the Saber arched up and away as it adjusted its heading to avoid the torpedoes. It was just the lead the fighters needed – they punched warp and left the Yeager in the dust. But the lead they gained would be short-lived. While the Peregrine fighter was unmatched for speed and maneuverability at sub-light speeds, it was not known for its stamina or speed at warp. They gained a couple minutes before the Sabre class roared into their wake again, overtaking them with its powerful warp engines. It positioned itself to lay down phaser fire, and in the confined corridors of warp trajectories, maneuverability was not an option – the little fighters would surely be mauled.
“Cut your warp engines!” Hudson barked across the comms to the Katy, even as he tapped his own engines off and kicked in the impulse engines. The Yeager overshot them, but Hudson knew they’d shortly be back.
“I’d say, we’ve covered the distance,” Hudson nodded to Rolly. “Time for the contingency.” At the same moment, he reached out to Captain Warren on the comms.
“This is Calvin Hudson,” he said simply. The image of a severely irked Captain Warren flashed onto screen.
“Well, Mr. Hudson, is it?” he asked conceitedly. “You’ve nowhere to go and we’ve nowhere to be – surrender now or we will be forced to destroy you!” Hudson smiled. The Yeager was coming up now into visual range again – looking confident as ever.
“Oh, I think you have an appointment elsewhere, Captain,” he said motioning to Rolly, who tapped his screen dramatically. Almost immediately, a subspace disturbance registered on sensors, and Captain Warren looked off screen as he received reports.
“What have you done?” he asked, turning back to Hudson.
“Hypothetically?” Hudson asked with a contemptuous smirk of his own. “Hypothetically, someone may have placed a micro-torpedo in that Cardassian freighter’s hull as a contingency,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “And, hypothetically that someone may have just detonated it – but don’t panic! If you hurry, you may be able to rescue survivors.” Hudson could see the hesitation playing out in Captain Warren’s face, but he interrupted Warren’s luxury of deliberation by landed his punch: “I’d hate for your personal record to show you decided to play tag with some harmless vigilantes instead of saving innocent Cardassian lives,” he said evenly. Captain Warren set his jaw. He’d been out-maneuvered and he knew it.
“Very well,” he grumbled, turning to his bridge crew. “Helm, set a course back to that freighter.” He returned his sour expression on Hudson. “This isn’t over,” he said. “We’ll be seeing each other soon.” Hudson smiled.
“Oh, I’m counting on it,” he said. “It has been fun.” He shut the screen off as the Yeager, banked away from them and warped off back the way they’d come. Hudson hit up the Katy.
“You all okay over there?” he called.
“Fine and dandy!” Gilbert replied.
“Very well,” Hudson nodded. “We’ve bought ourselves enough time to bounce our trail off half a dozen anomalies and still make it back to base in time for dinner.”
“We’ll follow you!” Gilbert replied.
The two Maquis fighters banked towards the Ruffini nebula and leapt to warp, blinking towards the freedom of their frontier – and the danger.
The Hannah and Katy soared serenely through the falling rain of stars around them – a sight more healing by the year.
Just as Hudson began easing the tension from his shoulders, the comms lit up again. The screen blipped and one of their Federation informants appeared. “Mr. Eddington?” Hudson greeted – a little bewildered at the unscheduled communication. Eddington nodded.
“Calvin, I just heard some news,” he said. “Federation intelligence is reporting a small fleet of Galors is carrying out a covert operation to ambush the shipment of medical supplies to our colony on Solosos III.” Hudson set his jaw.
“When?” he asked.
“They’re on their way now,” Eddington replied. Hudson took a long slow breath.
“Very well,” he answered. “Thanks for the heads up, Michael. Keep us apprised of any developments, won’t you?”
“Will do,” Eddington saluted and switched of his screen.
In the silence that followed Hudson turned to Rolly.
“It seems fate has not finished drafting us for destiny,” he said. “Shall we answer its call?”
“It is our moral imperative,” Rolly answered. “How can we not?”
“That is the only right answer,” Hudson smiled, pulling himself up in his seat and reaching out to the Katy with the news.
A few moments later, the Hannah and the Katy adjusted their heading and warped away for Solosos III.
Now each passing star represented the urgency of falling second. Calvin leaned back in his seat and mentally prepared himself for the looming contest against goliaths. He pondered for a moment the state of the Maquis cause. Were they going to make it – poised so dangerously between two powerful resource-rich states that wanted them out of the picture? He opened his eyes and stared ahead at the beautiful shades of green, blue, red, and orange that softly shimmered in the nebula. He nodded to himself. As long as nothing changed, he felt the Maquis cause was sure to pull through in the end, but it would take every fiber of their mental acuity, ingenuity, and resolve to see it through. Did they have the stamina? He glanced at Rolly, catching the young man wiping the sleep from his eyes as if it was merely a drop of sweat. Hudson smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “Yes, we’ll make it,” he said aloud.