“Okay. So, what just happened?” Ranma asked his command staff, as well as JC and Kaii.
“Well, asides from once again proving that we have to have the most indestructible ship in Starfleet,” Makoto smirked, “I'd say we discovered a massive encampment of Jem'Hadar.”
“You wouldn't have been saying that had that dreadnaught managed to get a shot off,” JC replied.
“So why didn't it shoot?” Ranma asked as Makoto glared in JC's direction.
“It leads me to believe,” Minako suggested, “that the Jem'Hadar are as affected by their sensor and target jamming as we are.”
“So, he need to be closer?” Shampoo asked.
“Likely,” Jansen replied. “I couldn't target him, and our targeting sensors are far more precise than anything the Jem'Hadar have.”
“That we know of,” JC offered.
“Listen you...” Makoto started.
“Okay, okay,” Ranma interrupted.
“Speaking of sensor,” Shampoo asked, “why Nighthawk sensors work?”
“Oh, my sensors were as borked as yours were. But I have a nice big window in which to look out of,” JC answered.
“Glad you did,” Ranma replied.
“Should we set up cameras?” Kaii asked.
“That won't help us target,” Jansen answered. “We would need to find whatever is causing that distortion and destroy it.”
Ranma looked to Minako. “Do you have any theories?”
“I am fairly certain it's not a stationary platform,” she stated, pulling up a graphic on the viewscreen. “As you can see, we lost warp ability 3,000 kilometers from the perimeter of The Badlands, but didn't get it back till we were 7,000 kilometers from it.”
She looked to the rest of the group. “I think even the slowest of those ships could have traveled 4,000 kilometers.”
“It's an interesting concept,” Makoto pondered out loud. “It could potentially allow an entire fleet of uncloaked ships to move around, freely, without ever being seen.”
“It would explain a lot,” Ranma nodded. “There are not enough materials to build ships - at least not THAT many - inside of the Badlands.”
“Which ship would have the equipment installed?” Kaii asked.
“If Shampoo had to bet, money would be on dreadnaught. Hardest to kill,” Shampoo offered.
“Might explain why Amanda saw those two ships on scan as well,” Makoto said. “They are so much faster; they may have just zipped out of range momentarily.”
Ranma agreed with that theory. However, he was disliking the direction this whole string of events was taking. Jem'Hadar fleets warping around Federation space with impunity was not something anyone should be happy with.
“What about the Duran,” Ranma asked, turning back towards Minako. “Were you able to get anything from her wreckage?”
Minako shook her head. “Her computer core was blown to bits, and I couldn't locate the data recorders. I did confirm that she was destroyed by the Jem'Hadar though and based on the debris field and where her warp trail terminated, it appeared to be shortly after her arrival.”
“No data recorders?” Shampoo asked.
“Could have already been salvaged by the Jem'Hadar,” Kaii offered. “They destroyed enough Federation ships during the war to know where to look for them.”
Ranma sighed. “Okay. I am going to send a report to Starfleet. I don't need to hear back from them to assume that in one form or another we will likely be heading back there.”
The rest of the room nodded. “I can't imagine the Federation allowing the Jem'Hadar to maintain a presence in Federation space,” Makoto stated.
Ranma shook his head. “No. And I think it's safe to assume that they don't have that kind of fleet assembled to protect some kind of Jem'Hadar daycare.”
The room chuckled at the idea of a Jem'Hadar daycare.
“We'll maintain red alert for the time being, in case they get angry over the fact we got away and come looking for us,” Ranma added. “Dismissed.”
Genma and his assistant Yuji barely waited for the door to the war room to slide open before barreling in. Both quickly moved towards the large, oval-shaped table; Genma quickly seating himself while Yuji began to program some information into the computer next to the viewscreen.
Sitting at the table were far more people than Genma talked to before. Yuri was there, but so was Admiral Kevin James, Starfleet's Chief of Staff and only five-pip admiral, a couple of other four-pip admirals, and a couple of Starfleet Intelligence admirals. There was also a civilian there, who nodded a greeting to Genma.
“I'm not sure we've met,” he smiled, extending his hand to the elder Saotome. “I'm Adrien Laurent. I took Councilman Young's position as Chairman of the Federation Council's Defense Committee.”
Genma forced a smile and shook his hand. Adrien chuckled at the look Genma gave him.
“I understand your apprehension,” he said, leaning back. “If it provides any kind of reassurance, the former councilman did, at one point, try and have me removed for trying to block one of his resolutions.”
Genma allowed his forced grin to morph into a more natural smirk. “That guy was a power-hungry asshole.”
Adrien nodded as Yuji turned to Genma. “It's ready, Admiral.”
Genma nodded and began to speak as Yuji brought up the first slide on the viewer.
“Admirals, Councilman,” he began, “the Jem'Hadar have established a base inside of the Alpha Quadrant.”
Yuji changed slides, showing the wreckage of the Duran. “The U.S.S. Duran was sent to investigate what was believed to be a Jem'Hadar fighter that appeared on the sensors of the U.S.S. Sisko,” Yuji explained. “Shortly after her arrival, the Duran disappeared off long-range sensors.”
Genma turned to Yuri, then to the other admirals. “Because we did not see any other ships, we were at first operating under the assumption that they simply misunderstood our request not to enter The Badlands, or discovered something that required immediate action and went in anyway.”
Yuji took over. “When the Sisko arrived seventeen hours after the Duran did, they found her wreckage outside of the perimeter of the plasma clouds.”
James sat up. “So, she was destroyed by a defense turret inside of The Badlands?”
Yuri shook his head. “Nothing inside of The Badlands could target anything outside with any accuracy.” The Russian admiral ran his hand through his hair and sighed sadly. “As well, that would assume that they were destroyed in one shot, which is nearly impossible to do to a Nova class ship.”
One of the SI admirals nodded. “They would have sent a distress call if they were under attack.”
Genma nodded. “They likely tried.”
“Oh?” James asked.
Genma nodded at Yuri, who switched slides. The room gasped as Yuri began to speak.
“When the Sisko arrived, they began to approach the perimeter of The Badlands. As they got to within around 5,000 kilometers, they began to experience sensor and communication problems.
“As they got closer, targeting scanner resolution dropped dramatically,” Yuji continued. “Finally, the issues peaked with the inability to establish a warp field.”
“Then,” Genma groaned, motioning towards the viewscreen, “that happened.”
The room continued to stare at the image of the Jem'Hadar armada exiting The Badlands.
“That image was taken from the Sisko's cloaked shuttle, which had come in to investigate why the Sisko suddenly disappeared off sensors,” Yuji explained. “The shuttle was no more than 10,000 kilometers from the Sisko when it lost her off sensors.”
“Dear God,” one of the SI admirals vocalized.
“How do they build that kind of fleet under our noses?!” Adrien asked as he turned towards the SI admirals.
“We believe,” Genma explained, “that the dreadnaught is projecting a massive dampening field around it that makes it, and any nearby ships, basically invisible.”
“Almost like an area-of-effect cloak,” Yuji finished.
“Basically, it gives them the ability to warp anywhere with impunity, including to who knows how many moons to gather supplies for what has to be a drydock and shipyard facility inside of The Badlands,” Genma finished.
“Well obviously we can't allow them to continue,” James said.
“We need big ships,” Genma explained. “If that dreadnaught is powering that counter-measure, it will have to be the primary target.”
James began looking at his terminal. “I have three Sovereign class, a Nebula, and two Galaxy class ships that can be in the area within two days.” He turned the Genma. “A number of Steamrunner, Nova, Akira, Defiant, and Intrepid class ships can be there in the same amount of time as well.”
“This is a pretty serious threat to the entire quadrant,” Adrien spoke up. “Perhaps we should also contact the Romulans, Klingons, and Cardassians?”
“Hmm,” James pondered. “The Cardassians have dismantled a number of their ships, so I wouldn't expect any help from them. As well, relationships between us and the Klingons have been going downhill quickly, so I wouldn't count on it.”
James turned to Adrien. “Give it a try, but I am going to plan on it just being us.”
“Do I look like a diplomat to you?” James asked, causing the other admirals to chuckle.
“I'll see what I can do,” Adrien glumly replied.
James turned to Genma. “You still have that big thing hiding somewhere?”
Genma grinned. “They aren't hiding. And yes, I already have them en route.”
James nodded and looked back up to the picture of the Jem'Hadar fleet. “So, what do we do once we take those ships out?”
Genma leaned back. “Send a scout in to figure out what they have, see what needs to be done and what assets will be needed to do it.”
James continued to look at the screen. “What do you think they are hiding in there that they have all of those ships?”
“I don't know,” Genma answered. “But whatever it is, we need to destroy it.”
James nodded as Adrien sighed.
“The Romulans state that they will only save the Federation once every thousand years.”
“The Klingons wouldn't even speak to me.”
James couldn't help but chuckle.
“The Vulcan High Command offered up some battle-cruisers, but they are six days away.”
“We can't wait that long,” An SI admiral stated.
“Agreed,” James replied. “Where is the Sisko?”
“She's parked about a light-year away,” Genma replied.
“Is that safe?” Yuri asked.
“We're pretty sure the Jem'Hadar are as affected by their counter-measure as we are,” Yuji explained. “The Sisko was only attacked by the ships that got fairly close to them.”
Genma looked at his hands. “It's a good thing they were able to outrun that dreadnaught, otherwise...”
“Well,” James offered, “When we go back, we'll have a bit more for them to deal with so your boy can do what he does best.”
Genma smiled and nodded.
James began to enter data into his PADD. “I am having the fleet assemble by the Sisko. Our first order of business, once we arrive at The Badlands will be to establish a 'beachhead' of sorts to allow a scout ship to go in and determine what they are hiding.”
“The Sisko would likely be the best choice for that,” one of the SI admirals suggested. Genma turned to him.
“She's better armed than any of the smaller ships, she's as heavily armored as most battleships, and she has both that special operations team as well as a Marine compliment in case there is a command-and-control facility that can be easily boarded and destroyed.”
The other SI admiral nodded, as did James.
“He's right,” James said.
Genma sighed. “I knew there would be a downside to this job.”
James offered a smile to Genma. “It seems to be Ranma's destiny to be the constant savior of our quadrant.”
Genma smiled. “He's getting a lot of practice at it.”
James nodded. “Let's plan for seventy-two hours for the launch time.” He turned to Adrian. “Please brief the council and the President.” James paused for a moment. “I have the unfortunate feeling that while we will be victorious, we are going to pay a heavy price.”
Adrian nodded, stood, and walked to the door. At the door, he paused and turned back to the group.
“It's times like this I almost feel ashamed for choosing a job where I get to stay here in relative safety while people like you risk your lives to protect us.”
The group blinked. Eventually one of the SI admirals started to laugh, causing everyone to turn towards him.
“I'd much rather risk my life in battle than have to have a 'diplomatic meeting' with certain people,” he smirked.
Adrian smiled, turned, and walked out of the room. Genma smiled as well. “Well, at least he gets it.”
The rest of the group nodded.
“Seventy-two hours,” James repeated.
The Sisko's main conference room had become quite crowded. Not only were there the normal department heads, but several of the captains of the early arriving ships had beamed over to hear Ranma's first briefing and see the playback from Nighthawk.
After repeating what Starfleet Command had decided on doing regarding the initial assault, Ranma turned to his crew.
“Once we establish this beachhead, we will be taking the Sisko into The Badlands to find out exactly what the Jem'Hadar are guarding.”
“Just the Sisko?” Shampoo asked.
“Okay,” Shampoo replied, not attempting to hide her disapproval of that idea.
“Combat inside of The Badlands is not very likely,” Ranma explained, unsure of whether he believed that himself. “The entire place is one huge plasma storm which stirs up literally hundreds of pockets of explosive gases.
“The Jem'Hadar know this which is why they engaged us outside of The Badlands instead of waiting for us to come in.”
Makoto nodded in agreement. “A misdetonated torpedo or a warp core breach could set off a chain reaction that could result in a massive detonation destroying everything within several thousand kilometers.”
“There is still the problem with being unable to communicate with anyone outside of The Badlands,” Kaii brought up.
Ranma nodded. “Is there any way to use Nighthawk to our advantage?”
JC shook his head. “The cloak will nearly be useless in there.”
“What about modifying probes to act as relay stations?” Jansen asked.
Ranma looked to Minako. She pondered this for a moment before looking to Kaii. “It's possible, but I don't know if we can guarantee success.”
“See what you guys can do,” Ranma ordered. He then turned to his wife. “Akane...”
She smiled at him. “Yo?”
“The Infinity is coming.”
Ranma smirked. “I am transferring you there.”
“They won't be destroyed, and we will likely have a number of wounded from the initial assault, so they will be the best choice to handle major injuries. I want you to oversee triage operations.”
Akane began to object but then suddenly froze. Ranma was giving her a de facto promotion.
“Really?” she asked.
Ranma nodded. “I think your management and delegation skills will be useful for this kind of operation.”
Akane blushed. “Thank you.”
Ranma nodded then turned back to the rest of the group. “I think we'll do the next briefing on the Infinity since she has more room.” His remark was met with a laugh. “Let's aim for t-minus twenty-four hours. Dismissed.”
The room began to clear out. Akane kissed Ranma before she left. Soon, the only two left in the conference room were Ranma and Shampoo, Ranma gathering up his PADDs, Shampoo, still sitting in her chair.
Ranma noticed her and moved in her direction.
Shampoo smiled. “Shampoo just wondering if I was your lover, Ranma transfer Shampoo.”
Ranma let out a long and exasperated sigh and sat down next to her. “Don't do this.”
“Akane has gotten good at what she does,” Ranma stated, a slight hit of defensiveness coming to his voice. “No, she's not a doctor and never will be. But she's a good department head. I'm giving her a chance to prove that she can handle a stressful management position.”
Ranma hesitated before continuing. “Then she might have a chance at a promotion to a Starbase.”
“Ranma want her off ship?” Shampoo asked, confused.
Ranma didn't answer.
Shampoo leaned towards Ranma. “No secrets,” she reminded him.
Ranma set down the PADDs and leaned towards Shampoo. “She wants a kid. To be honest, so do I. But not here.”
Shampoo leaned back. “Oh.”
“Well,” Shampoo mumbled, “if that the case, then good luck.”
Ranma looked at Shampoo for a moment. “Why are you angry?”
Shampoo shrugged. “Shampoo don't know. Guess there will always be that part that loves Ranma; that part that will be jealous when it becomes more and more obvious that Ranma will never become Shampoo's.”
Shampoo shook her head. “No reason to be sorry. It Shampoo's problem, not Ranma's. Shampoo moved on, just some parts trying not to.”
“Well, you know for as long as I am here, you will be invaluable to me as my first officer. I hope that counts for something,” Ranma said.
Shampoo nodded. “It does. Shampoo appreciate that.”
“Kaii to Saotome,” Ranma's communicator bellowed.
“Go ahead,” Ranma replied.
“The Infinity has arrived, and her captain is 'demanding' to come aboard.”
“This will be fun,” Ranma groaned. “Tell her 'permission granted' and send her to my ready room.”
Ranma turned to Shampoo. “Gotta go.”
Shampoo smiled. “Have fun.”
Ranma grumbled and nodded as he gathered up his PADDs and headed out of the conference room.
“Ranma!” Captain Ukyo Kuonji bellowed the second she burst through the sliding fiberglass doors into Ranma's ready room.
“Ucchan!” Ranma smiled back.
“Don't 'Ucchan' me!” she screamed. “What's this I hear about Akane taking over my sickbay?”
“She's not taking over your sickbay,” Ranma explained. “She's managing fleet-wide triage operations.”
“In my sickbay.”
“Yes. The Infinity has the largest sickbay and triage facility, so obviously your ship will be set up to be C-and-C for medical operations.”
“Why can't my CMO do it?”
“Because hopefully, he will be treating patients.”
“He can do-”
“Look,” Ranma interrupted. “If I had a medical ship, I would use it. I don't. Starfleet put me in command of this fleet. If you don't like it, call them. Otherwise just, please, do what I ask.”
Ukyo stood at Ranma's desk pouting for a moment before speaking again.
“What is she going to need?”
“Just an office and access to a comm channel. Probably borrow an engineer to set up a feed so she can see which ships are being overwhelmed with injured so they can start rerouting the critically injured to the Infinity and the less injured elsewhere.”
Ukyo turned and began to walk to the door. “I'll see to it.”
She stopped just short of the door opening. Ranma ran around his desk to where she was.
“Can we also borrow a room for the next briefing?”
Ukyo sighed. “Of course, sir.”
“Thank-” Ranma was cut off by the doors opening and Ukyo walking out. Shampoo looked in at Ranma as the doors closed on him.
TWENTY-FOUR HOURS FROM THE ATTACK
“I want one of these.” One of the fleet captains states as he walks into the massive conference room onboard the Infinity. Several of the others agree with him as Ranma moves to the front.
“Okay, nearly everyone is here and those who aren't are with us via secured subspace,” He explains.
“The overall gist of our assault plan is pretty simple. We arrive, they come out, we kill them all,” Ranma explained. “Once that is done, the Sisko will move into the Badlands to scout and from there we will determine our next course of action, depending on what we find out.”
Ranma nodded to Makoto, who came to the front.
“For those who don't know me, I'm Commander Makoto Gosnell, the Sisko's Chief Tactical Officer and head of security. We're going to have to split up our fire here. For the larger ships, our primary target will be the Jem'Hadar dreadnaught; codenamed 'Blackout'. We believe it's the source of their jamming and dampening signal.”
Makoto showed a picture of the massive dreadnaught on the viewscreen. “Because of that technology, we're going to have to get within about 5,000 kilometers to get a solid lock on it. The only plus side to that is that they must get that close to lock on to us as well.
“The smaller ships will be attacking the fighters and warships. They will likely be coming out faster and father, negating the dampening and jamming effects of Blackout. Larger ships, by all means, if you're not in range of Blackout and you have a target of opportunity, please take it.”
Makoto went to sit down and Akane went to the front.
“Hello, I am Commander Akane Saotome, CMO on the Sisko. I will be managing fleet medical operations. All ships will be provided with each other’s shield frequencies so that shield-up transport is possible. The Infinity will have a critical care triage set up and will be handling the most seriously injured patients. Other patients may be moved from ship to ship, depending on how overloaded their sickbays become.”
Ukyo, who was leaning up against a back wall, watched Akane walk down from the front. She then eyed Ranma walk back up and begin to take questions.
Once he was done, the room cleared out. Only Ukyo and her senior staff remained.
“You look kind of angry, boss,” her first officer commented.
“I just always thought Starfleet was above nepotism,” she grumbled. “Guess not.”
Ukyo walked off. One of the other officers walked up to the first officer. “Amazing how things can change in forty-eight hours. Two days ago, she couldn't wait to see him.”
The first officer shrugged. “It'll pass.”
“What does the Doc think of this?”
“Ask me, not him,” a man standing behind them said.
The pair turned around and saw a man bearing a commander’s rank standing there.
“Hey Doc,” the first officer smiled.
“Well?” the second man prodded.
“Doesn't bother me at all, quite frankly,” he explained. “Takes a lot of the burden off of me by allowing me to treat the patients and not have to worry about the logistics of it all.”
“Someone should explain that to the Captain,” The second man suggested.
“Not even if you paid me in bars of latinum,” Doc replied.
The first officer agreed. “Let it go.”
The second officer shrugged, and the trio wandered off to their respective departments.
FOUR HOURS TO ASSAULT
Ranma swatted at the alarm. He was never quite sure why he did that every morning considering that he did not actually have an alarm clock.
“Silence alarm,” he mumbled.
The alarm stopped beeping. Ranma yawned and rolled over slightly. He hated sleeping alone. The bed just felt so empty. Nothing but him, his covers, and this squishy, breast-like mass that he was snuggled up against.
“Squishy breast-like mass?” Ranma asked himself.
Ranma opened his eyes to see was clearly half-exposed breasts in front of him.
'Akane should be on the Infinity,' his brain thought. 'Uh oh.'
Ranma quickly sat up. He looked at the woman lying next to him.
“Akane,” he sighed in relief.
'Well, that's only half better,' his brain told him.
Ranma shook Akane, who mumbled some profanities at the person who was trying to wake her. Ranma shook harder, having to dodge a couple of sleep punches in the process. Finally, he got Akane to wake up.
“Good morning,” Ranma nodded. “I'm not actually complaining, but why are you here?”
Akane slowly sat up and rubbed her eyes. “They said they didn't have any spare quarters.”
Ranma turned and looked out the window. In the distance he could see the Infinity; a ship that almost looked like it could fit a nearby Sovereign class in its shuttle bay.
“I see,” Ranma scowled.
“It's no big deal,” Akane explained, starting to fully wake up. “I got everything set up last night.”
Ranma turned to Akane. “What time did you go to bed?”
“02:00 or so.”
Ranma looked at the clock. 06:30. He sighed.
“Damn it, Ukyo,” he quietly glowered as Akane crawled out of bed to get dressed.
ASSAULT TIME. 10:30
Ranma took his place in the Captain's chair on the bridge of the Sisko. He turned to each station as he spoke.
“Sensors refined as much as possible,” Minako replied.
“Links established with the fleet; secure channel established with Starfleet Command, though I can't assure we will be able to maintain anything once we get near Blackout,” Kaii answered.
“Security and Marine teams on standby, all weapons charged and loaded; defensive systems fully functional,” Makoto replied.
“Targeting systems refined, free-fire protocols programmed,” Amanda added.
“Impulse and warp drive nominal,” Usagi smiled.
“Damage control teams on standby,” JC answered over the communication system.
Ranma turned to Shampoo. “Let's go.”
Shampoo stood and walked behind Ikuhara. “Helm, all ships. Set course 172 mark 221. Maximum warp.”
“Course laid in,” Ikuhara responded.
“Engage,” Ranma ordered.
Within a few minutes, the Starfleet counter-armada began to appear near the edge of The Badlands. Once out of warp the ships began to push in towards the perimeter of the massive yellow and orange clouds in front of them.
“Anything?” Ranma asked Minako.
The tension in the recycled air on the bridge for the next several minutes could have been cut with the dullest of knives it was so thick. Finally, activity.
“Contact!” Both Minako and Makoto called out.
Jem'Hadar fighters began to emerge from the Badlands and started to stream towards the Starfleet ships.
“All ships, fire at will,” Ranma ordered.
Space lit up with an exchange of purple and orange phaser blasts as the smaller Jem'Hadar ships tried in vain to stop the advancing ships but were easily outgunned.
“More,” Makoto reported.
Larger Jem'Hadar ships began to emerge, as well as more fighters.
“We're starting to lose resolution,” Minako reported.
“Blackout,” Shampoo acknowledged.
“Lost my link to Starfleet,” Kaii stated.
Ranma nodded but did not verbally respond as the ship shook; several Jem'Hadar fighters choosing to focus their attention on the Sisko.
“Dammit all,” Amanda scowled. “Lock is going in and out.”
“They are really close though,” Makoto complained.
“Warp drive offline!” Usagi cried.
“I think they can focus it too!” Minako deduced.
“Well, that's annoying,” Ranma acknowledged.
“Is Blackout out of The Badlands?” Shampoo asked.
“No clue,” Minako groaned.
“All our communications are down,” Kaii sighed. “I'll go look out the window and let you know.” Kaii scampered off towards the forward observation room. In a few seconds, he came back.
“Oh yeah,” he nodded. “Looks like we've lost a few ships too.”
Ranma sighed, stood, and walked to Ikuhara. “As soon as one of those warships comes back into range, I want you right up its tailpipe.”
“Aye,” he nodded.
One suddenly appeared on the sensors and began to fire at the Sisko.
“On him,” Ikuhara stated.
“Don't destroy it!” Ranma ordered.
“Aww,” both Makoto and Amanda complained.
The Jem'Hadar warship began to turn away from the Sisko. Ikuhara kept on him though, expertly dodging debris that suddenly appeared on sensors at the last moment.
“Blackout on scan now,” Minako reported.
“Helm!” Ranma yelled.
“You can kill him now,” Ranma informed the pouting girls at the tactical station.
Makoto and Amanda grinned as they unleashed the full fury of the Sisko on the Jem'Hadar warship, obliterating it.
The massive dreadnaught suddenly appeared on the viewscreen; her shields glowing brightly from the apparent shellacking she was taking from the other Federation ships.
“Target lock?” Ranma asked.
“Yes!” Makoto reported.
“Fire at will.”
“Can you find what power that jammer?” Shampoo asked Minako, walking over to her station.
“BRACE!!!” Makoto yelled.
The dreadnaught unleashed a massive phaser blast that knocked everyone on board the Sisko to the ground. The lights flickered and areas on the master situation display shifted to yellow.
“DAMAGE REPORT!” Ranma yelled as he stood.
“Shields at 37 percent!” Usagi reported.
“It's not working right now anyway,” JC called out over the intercom, “so I am rerouting power from the warp drive to our shields.”
“God damn that was a massive hit,” Amanda complained.
“The dreadnaught is below 50 percent, but some of the larger ships have pulled back because of damage,” Makoto reported. “Their support fleet is mostly gone, but the dreadnaught seems to be able to pick off our ships one by one because we're not taking it down fast enough.”
Ranma turned to Shampoo and Minako. “Anything?”
“There appears to be a sensor array that is generating a large amount of power,” Minako noted. “However, we can't touch it while its shields are up.”
“They're powering up for another shot!” Makoto reported.
“Not going to hit us this time,” Ikuhara stated, turning the ship into a dive bomber.
“BRACE!” Makoto screamed.
Ikuhara turned the Sisko to the left at the last second, spinning it. The massive beam of energy flew right past the ship and into open space. The crew was once again knocked to the ground due to Ikuhara's stunt flying, but the ship remained intact.
“Wheee!” Ikuhara chuckled.
Ranma climbed into his chair. “I both want to kick you and kiss you.”
“Sisko, are you alright?” Ukyo's voice came over the comms.
“Yes!” Ranma called back. “You guys managed to break through their jamming?”
“The communication side of it at least,” she replied. “We're continuing to fire at that damn thing, but it doesn't seem to be doing much good.”
“We need more damage applied against it,” Makoto grumbled.
Minako nodded pointlessly. “We've located a sensor array that we believe is Blackout's source, but we can't hit it till we get the shields down.”
Ukyo paused for a moment. “That things weapons are ripping the battleships apart. We've lost our Nebula and one Sovereign class ship already and both Galaxy class ships are heavily damaged.”
“BRACE!” Makoto yelled.
Ikuhara again sent everyone flying with his skirmish maneuvers that managed to dodge the dreadnaught's phaser blast.
“Well, we're not even making a dent in this thing,” Amanda snapped.
“Can your fighters get under its shields?” Ranma asked.
“We lost a large percentage of them in the initial assault,” Ukyo replied softly. “Even if they could breach its shields, I don't think we have enough to apply enough damage.”
Ranma began to pull on his hair as Ikuhara again spun the ship to avoid the dreadnaught's phaser attack. His concern for this assault being all for nothing crossing his mind.
“Ranma...” Shampoo turned to him.
Ranma turned to his purple-haired first officer. When their eyes met, their unspoken bond that had developed throughout the last two years commanding this ship and her predecessor allowed them both to know what the other was thinking.
They were both realizing there was quickly becoming only one option.
“Withdraw our forces to the staging point,” Ranma dryly ordered.
“Captain-” Makoto began to object.
“The support fleet is mostly gone,” Ranma explained. “In another few days, we will have more ships and will have repaired our damaged battleships allowing us to focus on Blackout.”
Makoto sighed. She did not like it, but the captain was right.
“Relaying orders,” Kaii said, turning to his terminal.
“Belay that!” Shampoo exclaimed, tugging on Ranma's sleeve, and pointing towards the main viewer.
Ranma turned to it and began to laugh wildly.
“We're being hailed.” Kaii smiled.
Ranma nodded. A Romulan appeared on the screen and smiled. Well, more of a smirk than a smile since Romulans don't really 'smile'.
“Captain. I am Commander Torah of the Imperial Flagship Bahran,” he introduced himself. “We are here to render assistance in the destruction of the Jem'Hadar dreadnaught.”
“Very nice of you,” Ranma acknowledged. “I was under the impression that the Romulan government denied our request for assistance.”
“They did,” Torah stated bluntly, allowing the displeasure for his civilian commanders to be apparent to the Sisko's bridge crew. “That said,” he continued in a more formal tone, “the security of the Empire is not up to the decision of politicians and bureaucrats.”
“Thank goodness,” Shampoo replied.
“You will forgive me though, Captain as I must decline in placing my fleet under Starfleet's command,” Torah added.
“Commander,” Ranma smiled, “just helping us kill that damned thing is good enough for me.”
Torah again grinned, nodded, and closed the communication. Ranma looked at the ten Valdore class battlecruisers that began to open fire on the dreadnaught and again started to chuckle.
“Resume firing,” he ordered. Ranma turned slightly doing his best to look towards Shampoo, Amanda, and Makoto. “Keep those Romulan ships alive.”
The three women nodded and began to focus on picking off the few remaining Jem'Hadar support craft that attempted to attack the Bahran and her fleet. Ranma gritted his teeth worriedly though when he and the rest of the crew saw that it only took a single shot from Blackout to obliterate one of the Romulan warships.
“Damn,” Shampoo hissed.
“WHAT THE HELL?!” Minako screamed as Ikuhara drove the Sisko straight at what looked to be the last remaining Jem'Hadar cruiser.
Amanda laughed gleefully as she opened up every forward-facing weapon, nearly destroying the smaller ship.
“Now,” Makoto ordered. Ikuhara, who had gone over this tactic earlier with the tactical officers banked the Sisko down and to the left at the last moment. Meanwhile, Makoto fired off the tractor beam, with the polarity reversed, sending the derelict ship towards Blackout.
“Wait...” Makoto instructed Amanda, whose finger was twitching above her console. Makoto watched her display, then tapped Amanda. The blonde nearly broke her finger she hit the fire button so hard, sending a full volley of quantum torpedoes towards the ship.
Ranma and Shampoo watched the viewer as Makoto and Amanda watched their tactical display. The Jem'Hadar ship floated towards Blackout on a direct trajectory towards what they thought was generating the 'Blackout' field. The torpedoes screeched in behind it.
“Blackout's shields have failed!” Kaii and Minako exclaimed as a volley of disruptor fire from the Romulans smashed into the dreadnaught.
Ranma smirked at the ingenuity of his tactical officers. Blackout began to turn as if it was trying to escape back into the Badlands. However, the fact that it had to slow down to make such a heavy, cumbersome turn was going to be its undoing.
The sparking Jem'Hadar ship was impacted by the Sisko's torpedoes. Its warp core breached. The explosion occurred within a few kilometers of Blackout, and more importantly, nearly right on top of the Blackout field generator.
Amanda and Makoto high-fived as their screen was suddenly filled with multiple other ships, both friend and foe.
“Communications reestablished!” Kaii beamed.
“All sensors online!” Minako confirmed.
“Warp systems returning online,” Usagi mentioned, slightly more subdued since she realized they were not going to be going anywhere.
Ranma looked to the main viewer. Phasers were coming from every direction and hitting Blackout, as well as hundreds of torpedoes. There was no question, Blackout was not going to make it the few hundred kilometers back to the Badlands.
“Back us off!” Shampoo ordered. Ikuhara complied and whipped the Sisko away from the imminent explosion. Plasma fires began to jet from Blackout's multiple hull breaches as more and more torpedoes and the never-ending stream of phaser fire struck the ship. Her superstructure was resilient, refusing to completely buckle; the ship making a vain attempt to coast back into the relative safety of the plasma clouds.
Finally, though it was too much for her. The Jem'Hadar ship broke in half first, the front-end venting even more plasma and what looked like an endless stream of Jem'Hadar as its momentum continued to move it towards the perimeter of the gas clouds. The back end began to spin-off on its own, being the focus of most of the incoming fire.
The reality of spaceflight set in though when her warp-core breached causing a massive explosion that shook the Sisko, despite the distance they had moved. Ranma was barely able to stop himself from jumping up and cheering when the explosion engulfed the front half of the dreadnaught, leaving behind nothing but some sparking debris, smoke, and the mangled remains of her crew that was not fortunate enough to be incinerated instantly.
“Fleet status?” Ranma asked as he turned to Makoto. She began to check her terminals as Amanda brought up a grid on the main viewer.
“Captain,” Amanda pointed, “a few of the smaller ships are currently pursuing a few remaining Jem'Hadar fighters back towards the Badlands.”
Ranma looked to the grid. He shook his head as he noted that they would not catch the ships before they got back into the gas clouds. “Order them to halt their pursuit,” he instructed. Amanda nodded as Ranma continued. “I don't want any ships being picked off. We need to regroup, then plan for our insertion into The Badlands.”
“Captain, the fleet reports nine ships destroyed, including two heavy ships, as well as twenty that are no longer battle capable,” Makoto informed Ranma. The pig-tailed man bit his lip. He was not sure whether that was an acceptable loss ratio-
Ranma shook his head. 'You're already thinking like an Admiral' his mind scolded him. Ranma agreed with himself and continued his questioning.
“What about casualties?”
Makoto frowned as she read her display. “The Jem'Hadar were doing what they could to destroy lifeboats,” she sighed. “Most of the crews from the destroyed ships are M-I-A, though there is a planet not far from here they could have gone to.”
Shampoo turned to Minako. “Dispatch ship to look.”
Minako nodded as Kaii looked at Ranma.
“We're being hailed.”
“Romulans?” Ranma asked.
Kaii nodded. “On screen,” Ranma ordered. Torah, a bit more – frazzled – than the last time he spoke with Ranma appeared on the viewer.
“Captain,” he smirked.
“Commander, we appreciate your help,” Ranma bowed slightly. Torah nodded and leaned back, allowing his legs to cross and his fingers to tent in traditional Romulan captain style.
“As I said, the elimination of this facility is in as much the Romulan Empire's interests as it is the Federation's.” He looked to a console that was attached to his chair, then back to Ranma. “I trust we can leave this in your hands?”
Ranma nodded. “Assuming they don't have another one of those things on the way here from the Gamma Quadrant,” Ranma mused. “Do you need any assistance? We have repair ships en route and a triage-”
Torah interrupted him. “Our presence here isn't authorized by either of our governments, so the sooner we return to our side of the Neutral Zone, the better it will be for my career, I believe.”
Ranma nodded understandingly. “Well, for what it's worth, I don't think the Federation will be filing any letters of protest over your incursion.”
“That's most generous,” Torah smirked. “We'll monitor, but don't expect us.”
Ranma nodded. “Safe journey.”
“And good luck to you, Captain,” Torah nodded slightly before closing the channel. Shampoo leaned towards Ranma as the nine remaining Romulan warships cloaked and presumably warped towards home.
“When Ranma decide to join Starfleet, did you ever think Romulans end up being best friends?” she asked.
Ranma could not help but laugh. Ranma had indeed been saved or assisted by the Romulans far more than he would have ever imagined in the Academy, and in an ironic twist, seemed to have made more enemies within the Federation than outside of it.
Shampoo went to the helm to have Ikuhara guide the Sisko back to the fleet while Ranma went to the engineering area. He looked at the master situation display, which did not really look all that bad. He was hoping his engineers would confirm that.
“So,” he smiled as he stood over Usagi's shoulder, “how are things?”
Usagi paused for a second. “Well, not bad. I went with Minako the other day to play volleyball and tripped. Commander Saotome told me I twisted my ankle, but it would be alright, and I should just walk it off. Other than that-”
“WITH THE SHIP!” Ranma barked.
“Oh,” Usagi blinked. JC, who had made his way up to the bridge to assist Usagi, had to bite his lip hard to keep from laughing at her. This did not go unnoticed by Usagi, who gave him an awkward look before returning her focus to the engineering terminal.
“Shields are at 56 percent but are recharging. Ablative armor is fine as most other defensive systems.” She looked towards a blinking red light and tapped the screen as she pointed at it. “We blew out a few EPS manifolds as the grav plating and inertial dampeners were working overtime during that fancy flying Ensign Ikuhara was doing...”
The Ensign smirked at his EPS manifold damaging flying skills.
“...but that's an easy fix.”
Ranma nodded and smiled, pleased that the Sisko was seemingly unscathed. “So, what do you guys think is the E-T-A before we can start scouting in there?”
Usagi looked to JC. He looked to Ranma. “Two hours?”
Ranma surprised it was that low, nodded. “Sounds good.”
As Ranma walked back to his seat, JC looked at Usagi. “What was that look for?”
She didn't look at him as she responded. “I really wish you wouldn't make fun of me in front of the Captain.”
“Make fun of you?”
“By laughing at me.”
JC sighed. “I wasn't making fun of you,” he paused, thinking for a second. “It was just... Something so you.”
“See,” Usagi quietly said, sniffling slightly. “You're doing now.”
“CALLING ME STUPID!” she yelled.
The entire bridge looked over towards engineering. JC's eyes darted around as Usagi began to cry. JC chuckled nervously before grabbing Usagi's arm and dragging her towards the turbolift.
“Excuse us,” he smiled. “Warp core stuff,” he continued to chuckle nervously till the turbolift doors closed. Kaii's eyes were drawn away from the commotion by his communication terminal.
“Captain, I have both your wife and your father on the line for you.”
Ranma sighed. “Great timing,” he acknowledged. “Would you kindly inform Akane I will get back to her?”
Kaii whimpered. “Do I have to?”
Ranma nodded as he walked towards his ready room.
Minako laughed as she could hear angry growling coming from Kaii's speaker.
“Computer, hold,” JC ordered. The lift slid to a stop halfway between decks seven and eight. JC glared at Usagi, essentially pushing her back against the back of the lift with his eyes. “Okay, seriously, what the HELL is your problem?” he growled.
“I'm not stupid,” Usagi whimpered.
“I never said you were,” JC countered.
“When you say, 'something is so me', I know what you're implying.”
JC sighed. “No, that is not what I am implying.”
Usagi looked at him for further explanation. “Look,” he continued, “your mannerisms are cute, sometimes silly and yes on occasion you can say things that are a little dumb-”
“SEE!” Usagi yelled.
“Would you shut up and let me finish?” JC snapped. Usagi glowered at him, not particularly happy about being told to 'shut up'. However, she did as he asked and allowed him to finish.
“Just because you say something that's a little dumb occasionally doesn't make you stupid. Even smart people say dumb things.” JC looked at her a little sadly. “What is bringing this on anyway? Is it because I rejected you? If we make love really quick, will you go back to normal?”
Usagi just looked at him with a look of astonishment on her face. “You were right,” she quietly gasped. “Smart people can say dumb things.”
JC rolled his eyes. “Okay well, then what is it?”
Usagi slid to the floor. “Well, it's been a lot of things, and been growing since I joined the ship, obviously, but ever since I admitted that I have been holding you back to cover my own butt I have realized how stupid I must be.”
JC slid down next to her. “Two things,” he said, tugging on her sleeve so that she would look towards him. When she finally did, he wiped the tears from her face with a tissue and smiled. “First, if I thought you were too stupid to be in the position you are in, I would do everything in my power to have you removed.”
He ran his eyes up and down Usagi and smirked. “I don't care how good-looking my boss is, if she's going to get us killed, I have to insist she needs to get the hell out.”
Usagi blushed a bit as JC took her hand. “Secondly, you can't be that stupid as you came on board with no engineering skills whatsoever, and yet while I think we can both admit you're no me,” Usagi laughed and rolled her eyes, “you have developed an amazing skill set and know more than a lot of people who actually went to school for this stuff.”
“Most of that is because of you,” Usagi whimpered.
JC shrugged. “A stupid person can't learn.”
Usagi smiled. “You're pretty good at this.” JC grinned and nodded as Usagi leaned back against the wall of the lift. “Maybe we should get you transferred to help Lt. Fuchs.”
“You wouldn't dare,” JC gasped.
Usagi shook her head, sitting up. “No, I guess I wouldn't.” She looked at JC's hand, which she was still holding. His left hand. She poked his wedding ring with her fingernails and giggled. “If I get this thing off, is your previous offer still open?”
“Um-uh-Well, I don't think-” JC began to stammer as he tried to get his hand back from Usagi. Her grip was surprisingly tight, however. After a couple of moments, Usagi laughed and let him go. “Resume,” she ordered the lift as she stood. She offered to help JC up, however not wanting to risk Usagi's death grip again, he politely refused and hopped up on his own.
“She's very lucky,” Usagi stated as she turned towards the front of the lift.
“Mmm,” JC mumbled. “I'm luckier.”
“Where is she?”
“Earth,” JC answered. “She's a veterinarian.”
“Maybe I can meet her someday?”
JC nodded. “I think both her and my daughter would love you.”
Usagi blinked as the lift stopped and the doors opened allowing the pair to access main engineering.