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May 8, 2006
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Chapter IV: Decisions

U.S.S. Paladin


The Galaxy class refit wasn’t having as much luck avoiding enemy fire as her smaller counterpart. With every extra hit that she took, the entire vessel shook and threatened to break apart despite the frantic workings of her skeleton crew.
“Shields down to eighteen percent! Main cannon offline and we’ve only got four functioning phaser banks!”
The bridge shuddered again as a pursuing cube closed from above and targeted the main power grid in the saucer section. A chorus of terrible explosions chased each other around the bridge and culminated in a frenzied fire at the flight ops station. Gabriel Jax was thrown backwards by the force of the blast and lay, unmoving on the floor in the centre of the bridge.
“Commander! Take tactical.” Running towards the flight ops station, he noted with relief that the Paladin’s impulse engines were still functioning. Warp drive was gone however.
“Stand by to eject the core.”
“We’ll be stuck here without it!”
“Not for long. Let the cube catch up and then let her go.”
As the immense Borg vessel closed on the damaged target, The Collective noted a small object shoot outwards from its ventral section. Unable to slow in time, the cube was helpless as the Paladin’s last phaser blast ignited the core and immersed the cube with a destructive shockwave more powerful than any of the weapons left on the vessel.

On the bridge, the two remaining officers felt the shockwave hit and noted the destruction of the cube but no sense of joy was felt. They knew what had to follow.
“Computer, initiate auto-destruct sequence. Authorisation Anderson-Kappa-Four-Delta-Two.”

U.S.S. Sparrow
9 minutes till evacuation
6 minutes till contact


Williams watched the incoming torpedoes with a hateful dread. Even the power of the Defiant had been unable to break the Borg’s hold and though the fighters were turning, they wouldn’t get a firing solution in time.
As she watched the display however, a larger, battle-scarred shape entered her field of vision. The Paladin had moved into the path of the torpedoes and the Sparrow could do nothing but watch as the larger vessel bore the brunt of the attack.

The first two torpedoes crashed through the port nacelle, completely obliterating it in an explosion that was double the size of the Sparrow. The following pair impacted on the primary hull whilst the final shot punched clean through the saucer section of the Paladin.
But the Big P wasn’t done yet. Using what little maneuvering ability was left to her, she turned towards the vessel that held onto the Sparrow and moved in front of the tractor beam meaning both that her hull was placed under extreme pressure and the Sparrow was shaken loose.

“Sir, I’m reading a build up in the Paladin’s self destruct grid – they’re going to blow.”
“Get us out of here, helmsman. Full impulse.”
No one on the bridge watched as the blast from the Paladin encompassed the two nearest Cubes. After over a decade of fighting the enemy, she had sacrificed herself for the safety of others, living up to the named bestowed upon her by Starfleet. With the three nearest cubes destroyed, contact was set back another four minutes. The evacuation had a chance. But they weren’t out yet.

Task Force Command Centre

“Status of the evac?” asked Hunter.
“We’re almost done. The Hospital’s still got some folks left though.”
“Are they going to make it?”
“It’ll get cut a little close but I think we’re gonna be okay this time.”
“Good. Make sure that…”
Mahoney interrupted with a sense of urgency in his voice. “I’ve got something on sensors – transwarp readings coming from directly above the planet!”
“Recall the fighters! Get them to cover that hospital until everyone’s out. If need be they’ll watch the shuttles as well.” Despite his professional demeanour, for the first time in a long while, Hunter was scared. The vessel exiting the conduit was cuboid in shape but different from the vessels engaged near the edge of the system. It was a Borg tactical cube and he had seen them in action many times. The equation had just changed substantially and unwittingly, his mind turned to a certain pilot in the medical wing.

Immediately, four jade bolts flew towards the shuttlecraft convoy and destroyed four Danube runabouts as they headed towards the surface. The other craft around them scattered in a panic as the fire continued to chase them. Meanwhile, the enemy began transports.

“They’re landing drones on the surface,” scowled Laudrup.
“Where the hell are those fighters?”
“Heading towards the fleet.” Hunter guessed quickly who the voice behind him belonged to. “They’re standing down and we’re getting out of here.”
“And the people on the surface?”
“The shuttles are retrieving them now.” Nash didn’t smile but Hunter mistakenly recognised smugness in his face.
“The shuttles are getting destroyed now!”
“Major, I will not have this argument with you again!”
“Damn straight you won’t.” Grabbing the mike from Laudrup’s console, he spoke to what remained of the fighter force.”
“This is Major Hunter. Do not land. We’ve still got people on the surface and we are not going to leave them behind. Get into the atmosphere and blow those drones to Hell. I repeat, we still have people down there!”
Nash grabbed the mike. “Major Hunter has been relieved of his command. Ignore those orders, return to capitals.
‘Major, you will be facing a court martial.”
Hunter ignored his superior and tried to take back the mike but as he did, the familiar yet almost forgotten sensation of being transported took over. As the sheen cleared, he found himself standing in a starship’s transporter room – the markings on the wall making it out to be the Ark Royal.
As transporter officers moved people off the pads, Hunter pushed past the crowd and headed for the bridge. He had no idea how many drones were on the surface or how many of the pilots, if any had decided that people in the hospital were worth risking their lives for. And he didn’t know where his friend was.

Hunter moved onto the bridge and found it to be much less damaged than he expected. Moving to the tactical station, he pushed aside the officer manning it and scanned the surface. What he saw broke his heart.
Every fighter still capable of combat had followed his orders and though they had proved effective against the drones, there were now hundreds of the enemy on the surface and their combined firepower had crippled all but one of the fighters. As he watched though, a collection of green bursts shot up from the surface and chased the fighter through a series of twists and turns. But try as the pilot might, he could n ot shake the missiles that homed in on his engines and as they impacted, Hunter closed his eyes, unable to watch the truth in front of him.
Every pilot under his command had died that day. And it was his fault.
Unable to speak to the officer next to him, he brought up the evacuation details. It was believed the hospital was completely empty but there were a number of personnel unaccounted for. As the fleet jumped to warp, he checked the list of confirmed transports and sunk to the floor as the realisation of what he had done and what it had failed to achieve, sunk in.

Three minutes later, the structures on the planet and the orbital repair yard erupted in a cataclysmic explosion which reached out towards the approaching Borg vessels. But they didn’t care. Though they had won the sector, they felt no sense of accomplishment. They merely adjusted their scanners to focus on the next objective. The Federation had just become a much smaller place.


Epilogue

U.S.S. Ark Royal CO’s log (excerpt)
Rear Admiral William Mendoza

…Though the sector was lost, the evacuation went as well as could be expected. The destruction of the Paladin is a grevious blow and the phenomenal damage inflicted upon the Bocelli and Sparrow will take a long time to heal.
The loss of the base’s entire fighter compliment is also hurtful to our cause as is the loss of its commander. Though I am sympathetic with Major Hunter’s wish to aid the persons still on the surface and take note of his excellent service record, his judgement was flawed today and his wilful ignorance to the chain of command is unacceptable. I have relieved him of his duties and he will stand court martial facing charges of Conduct unbecoming a Marine. Though I am sure other charges will be brought forward, it is not my wish to further punish an officer who has often sacrificed personal objectiveness for the good of his comrades.

/end log
Concluding part of [link]
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