“Those would have had to have been Western submarines,” Makoto explained. “They have a huge net of ships around this area, some of them are specifically designed to detect submarines. To think not just one, but two of them would be able to slink past without anyone knowing... Well, that's just ludicrous.”
“I agree,” Ranma nodded.
“So, what we do? Pretend and be friends?” Shampoo asked.
“I think we need to be upfront with them and let them know that we know they lied to us,” Rei suggested. “After we showed them that we can also strike from orbit, they may be content on just leaving us alone, since we've already damaged the Eastern's ability to nuke them.”
“On that same note, we can't really be chummy with people who tried to kill us,” Minako added.
“They likely didn't think the bombs and those missiles could kill us,” Ranma countered.
“They're vastly overestimating our hull strength,” Makoto groaned.
Ranma leaned back in the conference room chair and tented his fingers. “On the bright side, it's only five more months before our rescue.”
The room laughed somewhat half-heartedly.
“Bridge to Captain Saotome,” operations called.
“I have a message for you from Admiral Larson.”
“About damn time,” Ranma snarled. “Put it in here.”
The screen chirped to life; however, everyone was a bit surprised when the logo that appeared was that of the Romulan Star Empire.
“Ranma,” Larson smiled. “Sorry for the delay since my last message. There have been some extremely complicated issues that arose, and I will explain all of those later.
“For now, please be advised that I have dispatched the U.S.S. Crossroads to your location. It was nearby – and when I say nearby, I mean, closer than me. As of now, she should be about three weeks from you.”
Minako and Makoto high-fived each other.
“As for now, I grant you leeway to do what you need to do to survive. Being a captain is about making difficult choices that affect not just you, but the people around you.”
Some crying is heard off in the distance.
“Oh, and your father says 'hello’,” Larson said, rolling his eyes. “It is imperative that you do not contact me back until I say that you can, as we have been forced to travel rather... Stealthily. Again, I'll explain later. Larson out.”
The group took a moment to take the message in.
“Wow, we're gone for a couple of months and the universe falls apart,” Rei joked.
Ranma laughed. “Indeed.”
Ranma then paused and turned to Shampoo. “If it becomes necessary, I want a plan put together to evacuate the Sisko to the Crossroads when she arrives.”
Ranma turned and looked out the window. “If it becomes necessary, we'll destroy her.”
Shampoo nodded. “Yes sir.”
The rest of the room looked to Ranma. They all knew that abandoning the ship was something they would have to consider, but they didn't think that it would be so close to a reality that they would start planning for it.
Ranma, sensing the sadness in the room, sat up.
“I guess it's time for some more... diplomacy,” he sighed.
Ranma stood, with everyone standing after him. Ranma tapped his communicator. “Operations, contact the Western government. Tell them I would like to speak to the Prime Minister.”
“Yes sir,” operations replied.
Ranma paced back and forth on the bridge. He wondered if this is how the Westerns felt when he kept them waiting. He of course understood that Mao was likely a busy man, especially during a time of war, and was probably not in his office.
Unlike Ranma, he had a lot of places to go.
It occurred to Ranma that he was beginning to get a bit of cabin fever. He wasn't sure why. He had been on spaceships all his adult life. There were not very many places you could go that didn't look the same as the place you just were.
Some of the ships looked different. Some were brightly lit; others, like the Sisko, were dark and intimidating. However, they were all the same. It was like flying around in a tin can.
Maybe it was because just outside of the ship was the pristine air, the beautiful forest – well most of it – and not too far away, a white sand beach and beautiful, blue ocean.
Of course, all of that could be replicated inside of the ship. The Sisko had four holodecks. Still, though, it was not the same. Regardless of how real the holodecks felt, you knew it was not.
“Captain, he's on,” Minako called out.
Ranma nodded and the channel came to life.
“Captain Saotome, I am sorry to keep you waiting,” Mao apologized.
“Not at all,” Ranma replied.
“What can I do for you.”
“Mr. Prime Minister, do you mind if I speak rather bluntly?” Ranma asked, the sternness obvious in his voice. A tone that many on the bridge had not heard him take since the lashing he had given them regarding Captain Walker before their mission.
Mao paused for a moment. “Not at all.”
Ranma looked to Rei who was nodding in encouragement. He bit his lip as Akane placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Sir, we've discovered evidence that your military was behind the attack on our ship two weeks ago.”
“That's absurd,” Mao countered.
“We also have reasonably concluded that the submarines that attempted to launch missiles at our ship yesterday were also under your command.”
“WHAT EVIDENCE?!” Mao yelled.
“Genetic evidence. We recovered the bodies of the pilots of those aircraft-”
“They all crashed into the sea,” Mao snapped.
“No, they all didn't,” Ranma replied. “We recovered bodies of some of the pilots and discovered that they were part of your Ban Kajsa covert operation.”
Mao stayed silent for a moment. Ranma looked to Jeff who nodded at him. Ranma quickly continued.
“Based on their DNA, DNA we got from an Eastern military soldier, and DNA we got from one of your soldiers-”
“You're the ones who attacked our soldiers patrolling the area near your ship?” Mao barked.
“You bombed us, and then tried to fire missiles at us,” Ranma replied, some anger creeping into his voice. “All things considered; the fact we left your soldiers unharmed was pretty nice of us.”
Mao did not reply.
“Regardless, despite all that you've done to try and drag us into your war, we will not retaliate against you.”
Mao could be heard speaking to someone, but it was inaudible. Ranma ignored this and continued.
“As of now, consider any cooperation between us split. Any aircraft, boat, or land vehicle that comes within fifty kilometers of my ship will be destroyed. Any surveillance satellite that passes overhead will be destroyed.”
Ranma inhaled. “There will be no more use of non-lethal means against your military. Any soldier found within the perimeter will be killed. I’ll give you five hours to move any assets within that perimeter out.”
Ranma shook his head, the distaste of issuing that ultimatum pushing his breakfast around in his stomach.
Ranma shook it off and concluded. “I will defend my ship and my crew by any means necessary.”
There were a few moments of silence. Ranma looked to Jeff, who just shrugged. It wasn't the reaction from the councilor that Ranma was hoping for.
However, before Ranma could attack Jeff, Mao began to speak again.
“Very well, Captain,” Mao said, slowly and deliberately. “Then this will be our last communication. It was nice meeting you.”
A chirp is heard.
“They closed the channel,” Minako reported.
Everyone stood around silently for a moment before Shampoo finally decided to break the uneasy silence. “At least now we know who hate us. Everyone.”
Ranma snorted before laughing loudly.
“I guess that does make things easier.” Ranma nodded.
Akane patted Ranma on the shoulder and then looked at him. Ranma looked like he had aged ten years in the last three weeks. She was getting worried about the toll this current situation they were in was taking on her husband.
She knew there wasn't a whole lot she could do for him. Ranma deeply cared about every single person on this ship, and until they were out of harm’s way, Ranma was going to keep worrying about them.
“Hey,” She whispered.
“Mmm?” He asked.
“I think you need some sleep.”
Ranma looked at the clock. The days were a bit longer on this planet, so it had been messing with his sleep schedule a bit.
“I have a lot of stuff to do.”
Akane looked around at all the people on the bridge going about their business. She sighed, before moving her hand down Ranma's back.
Ranma snickered and turned to Shampoo. “You have the bridge.”
Shampoo nodded and watched the pair walk off and into a turbolift. Amanda watched as well before slowly meandering her way down to the command console and planting herself into the Captain's chair.
“So,” she whispered to Shampoo, who was trying to stifle a grin.
“Yes, Lieutenant?” she asked.
“How come they never let us sneak off for sex?”
Shampoo turned bright red, her head darting around, looking to see if anyone heard Amanda.
“Oh, come on. No one heard me.”
Jeff plopped down in the third seat on the command console.
This time Amanda turned bright red.
“Though as a Betazoid, even if you didn't say it, I would have known you were thinking it,” Jeff smiled.
“Isn't there some kind of rule, or professional ethic that keeps you people from reading other people's minds without their consent?” Amanda glared.
“Probably,” Jeff replied.
Shampoo snarled at Jeff.
“Hey, hey now. It's cool,” Jeff chuckled. “I'll tell you a secret if you want.”
Shampoo and Amanda nodded.
“I'm thinking about asking Lt. Kaii out.”
“How do you know?” Amanda asked.
Jeff pointed to his head. “Duh.”
“Maybe that's why he spends all his time with Lt. Devall?” Amanda pondered.
“Naaa,” Jeff replied. “Devall is married. They're just friends.”
“With benefit,” Shampoo chuckled.
Both Jeff and Amanda laughed, getting the attention of Minako.
“What's funny?” She asked.
“Just gossiping,” Jeff grinned.
Minako frowned. “Do it over here so I can hear.”
“Can't gossip about Ryouga in front of you!” Shampoo called out.
“Ryouga?” Minako asked.
Jeff stood. “I have a client soon. See you guys later!”
Amanda also stood. “I should go check on the phase cannon calibration.”
Both officers walked to the rear turbolift, smiling in Minako's direction the whole way.
“What about Ryouga?”
Shampoo just returned her attention to her terminal, trying her best to hide her snickering.
Ryouga lay quietly in the grass that completely obscured him. He was dressed head to toe in green and black Starfleet digital camouflage, like what the Land Defense Corps wore.
His phase rifle was also painted in black and green, as was his face.
Through the scope on his rifle, he could see some movement, but at this distance, he could not tell if it was friend or foe though. However, none of them were wearing Starfleet transponders.
Were they damaged? Or were these enemy soldiers?
As they started to get closer, Ryouga got his answer. Six of them, and one of them was carrying a projectile rifle.
Quickly, Ryouga lined up his shot and fired. Again. Fire. Again. Fire.
The three remaining soldiers began to fire randomly in the direction they thought the phaser blobs were coming from, but it was an exercise in futility as Ryouga was too well concealed.
His phaser blasts penetrated the soldier’s ballistic vests like they weren't even wearing them, knocking them back several meters.
Four more came running in, startled by the commotion. Ryouga again, in rapid succession, fire... fire... fire... fire...
One-shot, one kill.
Ryouga thanked God that this was the holodeck because he realized that he couldn't see the ship from where he was and that he would be lost forever otherwise. So, for now, he would just continue to shoot holographic soldiers until his training officer came and got him. He refused to be known as 'that guy who was lost on the holodeck.'
'That guy who got his you-know-what stuck' was enough.
“Computer, end program,” a voice called out.
“Oh, thank you,” Ryouga muttered.
Ryouga quickly stood at attention as the Starfleet Marine Corp training officer, Major Hiro Tanizaki, walked up.
“At ease, Lieutenant,” Tanizaki nodded. Ryouga slipped into a relaxed position. Tanizaki looked at his PADD and smiled.
“You’re showing great improvement here. Have you ever thought about transferring from helm to the Marines?”
Ryouga smiled. “Security and combat have always intrigued me. The Sisko was my first assignment, and I wasn’t trained for the helm. I was actually put there as sort of a sick joke by a very disturbed Admiral.”
“Well, you have a knack for it son. If you ever want off the ship and need a letter of recommendation, just ask.”
*Off the ship...* Ryouga pondered. “Thank you.” He said a little more softly.
“At any rate, I am going to recommend to Commander Kino-Gosnell that you get a provisional promotion to full Lieutenant and that you be placed in Assault Group One.”
Ryouga blinked. “Th-Thank you.”
The older man patted Ryouga on the back.
“Don’t thank me, son. It’s your skill and desire that are allowing this to happen.”
Ryouga nodded, stood at full attention, and saluted Tanizaki.
Tanizaki returned the salute, turned, and walked out of the holodeck, leaving Ryouga alone to think about his future.
The Prime Minister's limousine and security entourage pulled up outside of the main cathedral of the Western capital city. Once the military had shooed away the lookie-loos, Mao's civilian security staff opened the rear doors and escorted Mao inside.
Mao looked around the gigantic sanctuary. It was incredibly ironic that it was his first time here since he had taken office. Here he was, leader of a deeply religious nation, yet he had not been to church in almost two years.
But now he was in desperate need of some spiritual guidance.
His advisers had always been there for him. Handpicked, some of his closest friends and people he had worked with all his life.
But right now, he needed advice from someone who he believed hand-picked him for this job. And the only way to find out what his advice was, was to talk to one of his employees.
Mao walked up to one of the priests who immediately bowed. Mao returned the bow and smiled.
“Good day. Is the Ni-Hiala busy?”
“No,” the priest replied. “I will go let him know you are here, sir.”
The priest scurried off as Mao picked up what was essentially the Western Valerian Bible. He thumbed through it while he waited for the church's chief to arrive.
After a short wait, a man in a very extravagant and formal outfit came out, flanked by two of the church’s priests. Mao set down the bible and turned to him. He and the security officers with him bowed deeply.
The Ni-Hiala also began to bow, but Mao grabbed his shoulder and stopped him.
“I am but the representative of man. You are the speaker for God. You do not bow before me.”
The Ni-Hiala smiled and clasped Mao's hand. “It is nice to see you again. It has been a while.”
Mao nodded shamefully. “I have failed in my obligations.”
“Not coming here each week doesn't mean you have failed,” the Ni-Hiala smiled. “You have continued to work for God, and that is what is important.”
Mao nodded slowly.
“Now, you said you wanted to speak with me?”
Mao again nodded. “May we speak privately?”
“Of course,” the holy man replied as he motioned for Mao to follow him.
The pair walked in silence, both flanked by their entourage, back to the Ni-Hiala's office. Once there, Mao turned to the two priests.
“Would you excuse us?”
The Ni-Hiala nodded that it was okay for them to leave. Mao also silently instructed his security detail to leave the office as well. Mao then quickly shut the office door as the Ni-Hiala removed his exceptionally large hat.
“This thing weighs a ton!” he laughed.
Mao smiled as he sat down across from him.
“I need to know that everything we talk about will be in the strictest of confidence.”
The Ni-Hiala nodded. “Of course, my son.”
“I'm in kind of a spiritual bind here.”
Mao went on to explain the situation with the aliens. He went on to explain how they tried to trick them into thinking they were bombed by the East. Then he explained how he tried to trick them into thinking the subs that were about to attack them came from the East. He explained how they are refusing to help in the war, how he cannot believe that they have no morals, no souls. Then he explained how they got caught and the bind they are in now.
“Well,” the Ni-Hiala said after pondering the situation for a moment. “Space is excessively big. I'm no mathematician, but the odds of them crashing on our planet...”
The Ni-Hiala continued. “It had to be divine intervention.”
“So, God did put them here.”
The Ni-Hiala took a sip of his tea and nodded. “Takoa 4:23, 'As the evil apexes, God will protect his children with a mighty wall'.”
Mao nodded quickly. “Yes. Yes.”
“But, my son, you must also remember Yash 8:2; 'While the Father only protects the chosen, the chosen must prove their worth'.”
Mao continued to nod. “God wants to make getting that ship hard to make sure we truly are his chosen race.”
“And to assure you are our chosen leader,” The Ni-Hiala concluded.
Mao quickly stood and bowed. “Thank you, eminence.”
The Ni-Hiala also stood and smiled at Mao. “I hope I don’t have to wait two more years to see you.”
Mao shook his head. “I will make sure to be here again soon.”
“...And that's our current situation, Captain,” Ranma finished.
After the annoying eleven-second delay, Ami nodded. “Well, if we step up our speed, we can be there a few hours earlier. We're moving as fast as we can without having to power down.”
Ranma shook his head. “I think we'll be okay. They have seen we can hit them from orbit, that right there should be enough to dissuade them from trying anything too aggressive. Plus, we've destroyed the other side's ability to launch ICBMs at us... Though ironically, those would have been easier for us to knock down in flight than their bombers are.”
“Can you withstand a nuclear strike?” Ami asked.
“Yes,” Ranma replied. He looked to one of his PADDs. “From their low yield, tactical weapons, we could likely take five or six hits before the ablative armor gives and the hull becomes compromised.”
“So, you've sealed all your hull breaches?”
“Yes,” Ranma nodded.
Ami smiles and looks at her terminal for a moment. “Well, we're just over eighteen days away. Once there we'll start working on a plan to use equipment from our ship to better shield the Sisko until the recovery ships arrive.”
Ranma nods. “Sounds good, Captain. I look forward to your arrival.”
“Good luck. Crossroads out.”
The communication closes and Ranma turns his chair towards the window. He takes in the beautiful setting sun and leans back. Eighteen days does not seem like that long, and so far, both governments seem to be abiding by the demands Ranma had issued.
“Maybe things are going our way for once?” Ranma asked.
Akane, who was napping on Ranma's couch, gave Ranma a thumbs up.
This did not last for long though as the red alert klaxons began to sound.
Akane sits up as Shampoo's voice bellows out over the intercom.
“Captain to the bridge.”
“I had to open my big mouth,” Ranma half-joked as he quickly kissed Akane and sprinted onto the bridge.
“Status?” he demanded as he moved towards Shampoo.
“Aerial surveillance reports soldiers breaching the outer perimeter,” Shampoo replied.
“Yes,” Makoto answered. “And they're making no attempt to hide that fact this time. They're fully uniformed, with mobile artillery behind them.”
The view screen popped to life showing a blob of Western troops and several dozen, self-propelled artillery vehicles, moving up a small road in the forest.
“Numbers?” Ranma asked.
Makoto began to check the scans. “Couple of battalions. Uh, 1,692 to be exact. Thirty-four artillery units.”
“Range on the artillery?” Shampoo asked.
“I don't know,” Makoto bluntly responded.
Shampoo looked at her.
“I'm sorry, this stuff is so low tech, we really won't know till they stop and start aiming. There are no sensors on it. Right now, it's barely emitting any heat.”
“How they hit us then?” Shampoo angrily asked.
“We're huge!” Makoto replied. “And they likely have a laser range finder to help, but really it's just a matter of firing when they get into range.”
Ranma decided to intervene before the pair started to argue. “Once they stop, can we hit them from orbit?”
“Kaii?” Makoto asked.
“If I could hit those subs, I can surely hit those things,” Kaii replied.
“Get ready to fire on my command. Try and take out as many as you can with as few torpedoes as possible.”
“Yes sir,” Kaii replied.
Ranma turned to Makoto. “Get your teams ready. I want them to know we can fight on the ground too.”
“Yes sir,” Makoto nodded as she began to issue orders into her terminal.
The bridge crew continued to watch the Western forces advance, albeit slowly, towards the Sisko.
“Shampoo wonder why they no send planes?”
Ranma partially shrugged. “Likely because they know we can shoot them down easily.”
Shampoo had to agree with that logic. She had to think that maybe the Westerns did not believe that the Sisko could see the group advancing in what was now darkness.
They would be right if it were not for the excellent night vision image that the overhead shuttle was providing them.
“I think I have a satellite moving over you guys,” Kaii reported.
“Take it down,” Ranma ordered.
“Okie dokie,” Kaii replied, decloaking the shuttle and firing a phaser shot at the small satellite. The phaser missed, much to Kaii's disappointment.
“Nuts to this,” Kaii growled, as he powered up the engines. Pretty soon he was moving full speed towards the Western spy satellite. Moments later, the two objects collided, the shuttle totally unscathed. The satellite on the other hand found itself falling into the planet's atmosphere in about 500 different pieces.
“Satellite neutralized,” Kaii smiled.
The group waited a moment till Kaii had the ship's sensors refocused on the advancing army. They were apparently unphased or unaware of their eye in the sky's destruction, as they continued to march forward.
After another twenty minutes or so, the road that the Western military was on began to get narrower as it moved up a hill. The foot soldiers continued to their destination, however, the artillery started to move into the trees.
“Looks like fifteen kilometers is their range. They're breaking off,” Makoto reported.
“Are the assault teams in position?” Ranma asked.
“Yes sir,” Makoto replied.
“Looks like they're positioning the tubes to shoot between the trees,” Ranma noted.
Shampoo nodded. “Tactic good against foe who cannot see.”
Ranma smirked. “Kaii?”
“They're still knocking down trees to get into position. I can probably take the whole lot out with a couple of torps. Might be one or two left, but the concussion of the blast should mess up the operators pretty bad.”
Ranma ran his hand through his hair and flipped his pigtail off his shoulder. “Fire when ready.”
“Fire one,” Kaii reported.
A few seconds went by before a massive fireball filled the screen.
“Fire two,” Kaii stated.
After a few more seconds, a second fireball appeared on the other side of the road. Once the dust had settled, numerous trees lay burning in the rubble of all thirty-four artillery pieces.
“How 'bout that.” Kaii cheerfully said. “Got 'em all.”
“What about the foot soldiers?” Ranma asked.
The shot moved down to where the soldiers were. They were not, as everyone had hoped, turning back. They had sped up and were moving towards the ship at an accelerated rate. Some were scattering into the trees to avoid what they assumed was an aerial bombardment, but once the explosions stopped, most moved back into formation.
Ranma just shook his head.
“Tenacious little bastards, aren't they?”
Shampoo looked to Ranma.
“Minako...” Ranma ordered. “Record and send this message to the Western government.”
“Recording,” Minako replied.
“This is Captain Saotome. Unless you want your soldiers to meet certain death, order them to turn back before they reach the five-kilometer mark. They will be unharmed if they comply.”
Ranma turned and nodded to Minako. Minako acknowledged that she had sent the message, as Ranma turned to Makoto.
“The minute they hit 4,999 meters, shoot them all.”
“Aye,” Makoto acknowledged.
Ryouga was feeling a little less confident in himself right about now. Sure, he was in the same position he was just a day ago in the holodeck, but now this was real.
If he got shot out here, he would die.
Or worse, if he wandered away from his unit, he'd never see the ship again.
Plus, the odds against them were insane. Sixteen hundred against the Sisko's hundred fifty security officers and marines. Almost ten to one odds.
Then again, Ryouga did manage to kill a dozen in the holodeck by himself.
Of course, there was a huge difference between taking a real life and taking one that was just a computerized creation of lights and other technobabble that Ryouga didn't understand.
But this was justified. This was in defense of his ship. In defense of his crewmates. In defense of his friends. In defense of her.
Ryouga blinked. This was the first time he could think of that he finished that thought with a woman that was not Akane. Could it be that he had finally gotten over her? The woman that he had loved for so long – did he just replace her?
Ryouga acknowledged that it was probably easier having a crush on a woman who kinda-sorta liked him back. One that knew his P-Chan secret, and did not seem to care. One that liked him for who he was.
Then again it would help if he could figure out exactly who he was himself. He had devoted so much of his life trying to get revenge on Ranma, for reasons that even he did not understand anymore, that he had lost track of his own life.
Then there was the issue with the marine Major who thought he should leave the ship and become one of them. Of course, if Ryouga did join, he thought, there was no real reason that he would have to leave. The ship would need more Marines. He could stay with her.
Ryouga tried to shake off the thoughts for now. There was a time for soul searching and when you are about to be assaulted by almost two thousand enemy soldiers, that's not it.
“Enemy approaching five point five kilometers,” Makoto's voice reported.
The three security officers lying next to Ryouga twitched a little.
“I wish they'd hurry up,” one mused.
“I can see them,” another said, looking through his binoculars.
“Can't shoot till they reach five clicks,” the third groaned.
“Can they hit us from that far?” Ryouga asked.
“Beats me,” the first replied.
Ryouga rubbed his protective ballistic vest. “I guess we’ll find out.”
“Provide us with the schematics for your energy weapons, like the ones you used to shoot down our aircraft with, and to bombard us from orbit, as well as the details on how to use plasma as a power source and we will call off the attack,” Garone demanded over Minako's panel.
Ranma looked at Shampoo. “Plasma?”
“Don't play stupid with me, Saotome. The Guraff found what you left behind at one of their silos. When they broke open the power source on one of them, they suffered serious plasma burns.”
Ranma silently ordered Minako to mute the channel. “What is he talking about?”
Rei slammed her fist against one of the consoles. “The transport enhancers. Because the missile blew up in flight it didn't destroy the complex.”
“Ah, right,” Ranma sighed. “Well, whatever.”
He motioned for Minako to reopen the channel. “You know I cannot do that, General.”
“They have the technology. We want it.”
“They cannot do anything with those,” Ranma said, almost flailing his arms in exasperation. “Just developing the technology to reverse engineer those devices, which were supposed to have been destroyed - while helping you, I might add - will take decades.”
“Your ship is not invincible,” Garone growled. “Will you give us the technology or not.”
“No,” Ranma bluntly replied.
The channel chirped, indicating a closed transmission. Ranma sighed.
“I am beginning to think they don't like hearing 'no',” Minako observed.
Ranma nodded. He turned to Makoto. “Range?”
Ranma shook his head as he threw himself into his seat. “Engage the enemy.”
Ryouga was a little upset by the 'hold your fire' order that had come down, but he assumed there was a good reason for it. Hopefully, the group of soldiers was about to be convinced to turn around and go home, but their steady march onward more than certainly told him that scenario wasn't the case.
“What do these yahoos think they are going to do? Just kick in the front door?” one of the security officers with Ryouga joked.
“I guess since they know we've been out and about, there has to be a way in somehow,” Ryouga replied.
“I thought you showed them how we got in and out,” another officer smirked.
Ryouga glared at him. “That was an emergency.”
“Chillax bro, I didn't mean anything by it,” the officer replied.
Ryouga squinted, trying his hardest to see the officers rank insignia in the dimly lit night. He prayed for it to be lower than lieutenant.
Once he could finally see that the officer was also a lieutenant, he groaned. Nothing made him happier than being able to yell at someone for disrespecting the chain of command. Especially when it was the result of him being the butt of a joke.
“Congrats on the promotion, by the way,” the officer added, as he returned his attention to the advancing forces.
Ryouga beamed. “Thank you.”
“All units, you are weapons-free,” Makoto's voice announced.
“About time,” The first officer smiled, as he lined up a soldier in his phaser rifle's scope.
Ryouga and the others did the same. The group seemed to fire in unison with several others who were on the front.
The line of ten Western soldiers in the front of the tightly formed column dropped. From that point, it was a race to try and shoot as many as possible before they managed to take positions behind trees.
Ryouga growled at his rifle for taking, what seemed to him, forever to recharge after each shot. In reality, it was probably less than a second, but it wasn't taking very long for the Western forces to scatter.
Most of the forces that ended up being picked off were forces that were so surprised by the ambush, that they did not go anywhere.
“I think the lack of return fire would tell us that we're out of their range,” the first officer noted.
“Or they have good discipline, and they don't fire blindly,” Ryouga countered.
“Squads One through Six, begin moving forward,” the field commander ordered.
Ryouga's group, being Squad Three, started to stand but quickly dove back to the ground as machine-gun fire whizzed past them.
“Yeah, we're in range,” Ryouga pointed out.
Ryouga pushed aside some shrubbery and looked through his scope. Asides from the trees and brush, the land was flat. Ryouga noticed several soldiers moving through the tree line.
“Eleven O’clock,” he whispered.
The squad all looked and began to fire. As gunshots rang out, phaser blasts also fired towards the Western forces. Ryouga's group quickly took down the Western soldiers in view, then stood partially up and began to move forward, trying to stay as concealed as possible.
However, every few dozen meters, they would start to come under more accurate gunfire. The Western's military, while not as technologically advanced as Starfleet's, was not inept. Their night vision and thermal vision ability were allowing them to see their enemy; especially as they got closer.
As well, the closer the Starfleet forces got, the more accurate the Western shots got.
“Man down!” one person yelled over the COMM link. A blue glow could be seen in the trees as he was transported back to the Sisko.
Ryouga's squad got into another firefight, this time with about thirty Western forces. The groups were getting remarkably close to each other, only about a kilometer separating them.
During the fight, Ryouga felt a sudden pain in his chest and is knocked backward, his rifle thrown from his hand.
“Lieutenant!” one officer called.
Ryouga waved off any assistance and crawled back to his knees, grabbing his rifle along the way.
“Shit!” Ryouga swore.
He looked through his scope as the two remaining of the thirty attempted to move towards another group. Ryouga growled as he shot one, and then the other dead center in the back.
Once he was sure they were both on the ground, he set his rifle down and looked at his chest. Embedded in the dead center of his ballistic vest was what was left of a silver slug that had come from one of the Western rifles.
“He's a good shot, I'll give him that,” Ryouga smirked.
“Was,” another countered.
Ryouga nodded, pulled the slug out of his vest, and tossed it aside. He then picked up his rifle and motioned for his group to get going to find some more Westerns.
Ranma paced as he watched the battle summary on the main viewer. Even though it showed one KIA on the causality report, he was so far pleased with the result. Only four Sisko personal had been injured, including the one killed, with a best guess of five hundred of the Western military killed.
He was really wishing they would retreat. Ranma was a pacifist at heart, but he was willing to kill if necessary, to defend those in his charge.
Right now, he was concerned. The Westerns seemed to be moving east, almost like they were trying to flank the Sisko forces. However, they weren't necessarily moving inwards.
“What the hell are they doing?” Ranma finally asked out loud.
Minako gasped causing everyone to turn to her.
“There is less vegetation the closer you get to the ocean. That's why we skidded so far inland.”
Makoto snarled. “Of course. With less brush to hide in, their superior numbers will give them more of an advantage.”
“What can we do?” Ranma asked.
“Well, they think we're chasing them. Let's put some of our forces in front of them,” Makoto suggested. “Catch them off guard and then pin them in.
Ranma nodded. “Make it so.”
“Squads One to Ten, prepare for transportation to a new location.”
Ryouga looked to his partners and shrugged as the transporter beam grabbed them.
Once they rematerialized, they found themselves in a far more vulnerable position. However, their commander quickly informed them of the plan, which they were quite fond of.
“Beats running,” one of Ryouga’s partners said as he crouched behind a tree.
It wasn’t long before the Western military began to arrive. As expected, they were mostly marching with soldiers walking backward, watching their rear.
It was a deadly mistake for a lot of them as the Starfleet officers began to lay waste to the ill-prepared soldiers.
With the lack of shrubbery in the area, most of the ones that were able to get away from the initial ambush were simply forced to take cover behind trees, randomly firing by sticking their guns around the tree and squeezing the trigger.
It soon got worse for the Western forces as the second group of Starfleet arrived. The Western forces were quite preoccupied with the forces in front of them and had made a poor assumption that all the Starfleet forces were in front of them.
Their flank was decimated by a group a fifth their size.
It was finally to the point where the Western forces had decided enough was enough and began to pull back.
On the bridge, Ranma smiled.
“They retreating,” Shampoo smiled as well.
Ranma looked at the casualty count. It still stood at four. The estimated remaining Western army forces stood at 419.
“Wow,” Ranma could only say.
“They're passing the five-kilometer mark,” Makoto reported.
Ranma quietly walked up to Minako.
“Can we lock on to the deceased Western soldiers?”
Minako thought about this for a second. “Yeah, probably. Though the ones around the artillery...”
Ranma nodded, not needing Minako to finish. “Locate a position outside of the fifty-kilometer perimeter. Then have the deceased transported there. Inform me when it's complete.”
Minako nodded once. “Aye, sir.”
Ranma turned to Makoto before walking into his ready room. “Good job, Commander.”
“Thank you,” she replied.
“WHAT?” Garone screamed, not really caring that he was scaring the wits out of a poor private who was just sent to relay a message.
“All of them?” Minister Klasn asked, slightly more calmly.
The young private nodded at the Defense Minister while trying to ignore Garone's rampage against several vases and paintings that happened to be in his office.
“As well sir, the alien ship sent a message saying that they have moved the bodies of our fallen soldiers to these coordinates and that we can pick them up for burial at any time,” the private continued.
Mao, who was standing in the doorway, smirked.
“Saotome is an honorable man.”
Garone halted his rampage against the decorations long enough to be concerned with Mao's remarks.
“Sir, he killed almost all of both of those battalions!” Garone protested.
Mao nodded. “I know. But to be fair, we did attack him.”
Garone raised an eyebrow.
“Don't give me that look, General,” Mao said, surveying the damage to Garone's office. “God put that ship on our continent for us. But of course, he wants to make sure we deserve it, that's why he makes it difficult for us to obtain.”
Garone bowed his head. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean-”
Mao laughed, as he picked up a picture of himself that got tossed during Garone's tantrum.
“Una, if I didn't think you were a loyal friend, I would have tossed you on the street years ago. Loyal friends are not afraid to question other friend’s motives and directions.”
Garone looked at the painting as Mao attempted to hang it back on the wall.
“I really wasn't paying attention to what I was throwing.”
Mao grinned as he tried to make his likeness hang straight. “So, what do we do now?”
“We need to soften them up,” Klasn replied.
“They've shot down every single plane we've bombed them with,” Garone sighed. “They took out half our damn submarine fleet from orbit and we don't have any artillery that can get within range of that thing.”
Klasn continued to smirk, inadvertently, as he was unable to tell whether Mao was paying more attention to his top General or to the painting he was still trying to right on the wall.
“We can't even rely on those monsters...” Garone growled, chucking his thumb towards a news report of an anti-Western rally in the Eastern capital. “...to nail them with an ICBM since we got the aliens to blow up all of theirs.”
Klasn watched Mao finish up, then turned to a computer monitor. “Una, I was reviewing our attack on them a few weeks ago and I noticed that one of our bombs was able to get through.”
Mao raised an eyebrow. “You said they were undamaged.”
Garone nodded. “Both statements are true.” Garone changed the computer monitor to show an aerial photograph of the Sisko. He pointed out a spot just forward of the bridge.
“Right here is where the bomb impacted.”
“That's a before shot?” Mao asked.
“No, that's right afterward,” Garone responded.
“It's not even scratched.”
Klasn shook his head. “No, it isn't...”
Mao interrupted. “That was a Kau-2 right?”
Both Garone and Klasn nodded.
“I've seen those takedown reinforced buildings.”
Again, both Garone and Klasn nodded.
“Sir,” Garone started. “This ship was built to fight other spaceships with weapons built to blow up other spaceships with armor like this one has. A two-ton conventional explosion is probably like what they bump into flying through an asteroid belt.”
Mao sighed. If God was putting him and his people through a test, this one was one hell of a doosey.
“You were saying, Minister?” Garone asked.
“Yes...” Klasn continued. “Why do you think one of the bombs got through?”
Garone pulled up another image showing one of the dorsal phase cannons deployed.
“This is what was shooting down the bombs. They have two of them, one starboard, one port.” Garon shrugged. “I guess they just missed.”
Klasn bit his lip.
“Do you think there were just too many of them?”
Garone pondered this for a minute.
“Maybe. I guess if we swarm them, we might be able to get several bombs past their defenses. If we are able to take out those cannons, we can then claim air superiority and bomb at will.”
Klasn nodded. He turned to the Prime Minister.
Mao scratched his head. “What can we use to hurt them though?”
Garone shrugged. “We're going to have to use tactical nukes.”
Klasn nodded. “I agree. We don't have the range to hit the Eastern forces anyway, so we might as well use them to our advantage somehow.”
“Civilian casualties will be light. We've moved almost everyone outside of a 200-kilometer zone of that ship,” Garone added.
Mao nodded and turned to his attaché. “Bring me the nuclear authorization keys.”
21 HOURS LATER – 701 KM NORTH OF U.S.S. BENJAMIN SISKO
At Kiaspals Air Defense Base, two by two, Western Air Force bombers began to take off. They were lined up on the taxiways like hordes of overweight fan fiction writers waiting to get into an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Fifty bombers in all, representing two-thirds of the Western’s bomber force. Each pilot, co-pilot, and bombardier were told that they would likely not return from this mission. However, they understood and did not mind, for they knew if they succeeded, they were doing not only the will of God but protecting their people and their homeland from the evil that lay just across the ocean.
But across the ocean, that ‘evil’ did not like to be left out of the loop, nor did they have much interest in allowing whatever was inside of the alien ship to fall into the hands of the marked beasts.
There was a reason why God gave them the marks of shame, the marks of Satan.
They also knew that the people in the ship must also be evil, otherwise they would not have helped the Westerns in the way they did.
Sure, they were not friends now, but that wasn’t surprising. How could you remain friends with people so despicable? But the evil aliens did destroy their entire offensive nuclear arsenal in under 15 seconds, and the attempts to reverse engineer their technology had managed to kill two and maim one.
Whatever was in that ship could not fall into enemy hands.
That’s why, undetected, an Eastern carrier group sat a few hundred kilometers off the coast between the Western naval blockade and the airbase where the… unescorted… bombers were circling; waiting for the order to move.
Aboard the Sisko, things were quiet. It was just past 22:00 and the third shift duty crew was settling in for a long night of, hopefully, peace and quiet.
Minako, Rei, Usagi, and Makoto were in Gosnell's lounge, gossiping about this and that, while Gosnell chatted with Ryouga about his new job as Gosnell cleaned up.
Shampoo and Amanda were doing... Well, they were doing the usual things that Shampoo and Amanda do around 22:00... which is pretty much the same thing they are doing anytime they are not forced to be in public.
Ranma had decided that he would take a few kilometer run in before his nightly swim. Akane, who seemed to be able to run again now that she was almost four weeks without a cigarette, decided to join him for once.
All in all, it was a peaceful night.
“One more lap!” Ranma smiled as Akane struggled a bit to keep up with him.
“Try and stop me!” Akane called back, smiling as well.
Ranma nodded to a security officer as he ran past, his and Akane's footsteps almost hitting the deck plating in unison. Ranma slowed his pace just a little bit so that Akane would be beside him. He turned to her as they ran.
“So, what do you want to do when we're off the planet?”
“Hrm?” Akane asked.
Ranma nimbly dodged another security guard, then turned back to Akane. “When we get back to Earth. I think we have earned some leave. What do you want to do?”
Akane hadn't really thought that far ahead yet. She was still questioning whether they were actually going to get off the planet. She grinned and pinched Ranma.
“It's nice to see that in just a few months you've returned to your optimistic self.”
Ranma shrugged as the pair slowed to a stop in front of a pair of large gray doors that were labeled 'POOL.'
The couple walked in and found the place deserted. Ranma smiled as this is the way he preferred it. Especially considering he had some changing to do.
The two of them walked into changing stalls. Ranma turned the shower on cold, shrieked a little bit, and after a bit, walked out wetter, shorter, bustier, and female.
“With everything I've been through...” she smiled, “...if I wasn't an optimist, I'd throw myself out an airlock.”
“Wouldn't matter here,” Akane reminded her.
Ranma laughed, turned, and ran, diving into the pool. Once she surfaced, she looked to Akane.
“Race ya!” she called out.
Akane slowly got into a shallow area of the pool and leaned against the wall.
“You know I can't swim.”
Ranma scoffed. “Still?”
Akane stuck her tongue out at Ranma, before watching the redhead begin to swim laps.
Akane watched for a while, almost hypnotized in Ranma's form and motions before becoming lost in thought. What could they do when they got back to Earth? It is not like it was something they had to decide right away, as even if they were rescued, there would be a very long ride back.
Akane shook the wrong word out of her head.
'Not if.' She corrected herself. 'When.'
Akane didn't know why she was so concerned. They knew there was a ship coming that at least could get them off the planet. That one was only about a week and a half away.
And they knew that another one was coming to get the Sisko. That one was a month away.
But she kept thinking about the attack on the ship, and whether they would try again.
Akane opened her eyes and looked for Ranma. She couldn't see her.
Suddenly the water right in front of her splashed and Ranma emerged, standing nose to nose with her, causing Akane to gasp.
“Whatcha thinking about?” Ranma asked.
Akane could never lie when Ranma peered into her with his or her deep, but bright, blue eyes.
“Of?” Ranma asked.
“Of what might happen before we can leave.”
Ranma continued to stand no more than an inch from Akane, their bodies actually touching. Ranma lost eye contact and sighed.
“I thought I've made this clear, but I guess I haven't...” Ranma said softly.
“Ran...” Akane started.
Ranma turned back to Akane. “I will kill God himself before I let anyone harm you.”
Ranma pushed in and kissed Akane softly. Akane lost herself in the moment for a minute, but then pulled away.
“Ranma, someone might see...”
Ranma rolled her eyes and turned to the door.
“Computer, security override, authorization Saotome, Gamma Sierra 7-9-2, seal pool doors.”
“Doors sealed,” the computer replied.
Ranma smiled, then resumed kissing her wife.
This lasted about a minute before the red alert klaxons went off.
“Red alert. Captain to the bridge, expedite,” The third shift supervisor called out, the panic in his voice obvious.
“No fuckin' way,” Ranma growled as she pulled herself out of the pool. She quickly helped Akane out, changed into the running shorts and Starfleet t-shirt she was planning on wearing back to her quarters, unsealed the door, and began to run towards the turbolift with Akane in tow.
“Akane, go to our quarters. Stay away from the windows,” Ranma ordered.
“But I...” Akane protested.
“Please,” Ranma asked.
Akane nodded and reluctantly headed off in the direction of a different turbolift.
After a couple of minutes of turbolift travel, Ranma came out onto the bridge. She looked around and saw that she was the first senior officer to arrive. She turned to the third shift supervisor.
“Uh hi, Captain,” he replied, obviously noticing her attire.
“You said 'expedite'.”
“Yeah, sorry. We have multiple inbound aircraft,” he replied as the rear turbolift slid open and Makoto, Minako, Rei, and Usagi walked onto the bridge.
“Multiple inbound aircraft,” Ranma repeated for Makoto.
Minako began to run scans.
“Yup, they're headed for us.”
“Can you scan their payload?” Ranma asked.
“Yup. It's nuclear,” Minako replied.
“Commander?” Ranma asked.
Makoto slammed her terminal. “Goddamned hydrogen-powered jets. They’re not putting out any heat.”
“How's the phaser array?” Ranma asked.
Usagi looked to Ranma. “Uh... Maybe.”
“Based on the last once we dealt with, they will be able to release their payload in six minutes,” Minako reported.
The rear turbolift opened and Amanda and Shampoo walked onto the bridge. The third shift supervisor looked relieved as now he could wander off and no longer risk staring at Ranma's chest or thighs.
“Clarify 'maybe', Usagi,” Makoto demanded.
“All the rerouting we had to do,” Usagi whimpered. “We could blow a lot of jury-rigged EPS manifolds, knocking everything offline.”
“How long before you can start-” Ranma began to ask before Minako cut her off.
“I HAVE MULTIPLE CONTACTS COMING FROM THE OCEAN!” she yelled.
“At us?” Shampoo asked.
Minako shook her head. “No, they're intercepting the bombers.”
At the Western Continental Air Defense Center (WCADC), Major Yah Nadas began screaming frantically.
“SIR!!! MULTIPLE CONTACTS, BEARING 0-7-6!!! HEADING RIGHT TOWARDS OUR STRIKE FORCE!!!!”
The commander, Vice General Hak Nam grabbed his red phone and began barking orders.
“Scramble the 20th through the 33rd. Turn the strike force inland. We cannot lose those planes!”
Ranma paced as J.C. and Usagi scoured over-engineering diagrams, occasionally running back and forth from the engineering station to the master situation display.
Minako's terminal began to chirp, causing Shampoo, Ranma, and Makoto to look in her direction.
“The bombers are turning west, trying to get away from the contacts coming inland.”
“Those have to be Eastern aircraft,” Makoto guessed.
“Why they help us?” Shampoo asked.
“They're not,” Amanda replied. “They just don't want them to get us first.”
Ranma nodded. He turned to Minako. “Can you scan them yet?”
Minako shook her head. “But neither side, as far as my research has been able to determine, has aircraft that can fly intercontinental, insofar as to bomb the other – that's why the Easterns rely on ICBMs, and why the Westerns never retaliated.”
“So, if my 20th-century history is correct...” Ranma pondered. “There must be an aircraft carrier out there.”
“With that many contacts, I'd say at least three,” Amanda added.
Everyone watched the tactical display for a while before Minako's panel began to chirp again.
“I have contacts in the west heading east now at a high rate of speed. As well, the Eastern contacts are beginning to cross the coastline. Looks like they've lost a few too.”
“Air defenses,” Amanda pointed out.
“I think, the Eastern aircraft will be able to engage the bombers before the Western aircraft reach them,” Minako reported.
“Captain...” J.C. called out.
Ranma turned to J.C.
“We've isolated defensive systems, life support, and the transporters. Hopefully, we won't destroy anything else, but... Well...”
“Good enough,” Ranma replied. She turned to Makoto. “What do you think? Can you knock down a bunch of them?”
Makoto grit her teeth. “Yeah?”
Ranma smiled. “When you think you have a shot, take it.”
Makoto looked at her panel intently. Amanda looked over her shoulder for a moment, then patted her on the back reassuringly.
“Boss,” she whispered. “They're all lined up for you.”
Makoto looked at the formation the bombers were flying in then grinned.
A red arc flashed across the bow of the grounded warship from each side of her, meeting in the middle of the phaser array. Once the two energy pulses met, they lashed out, into the dark, cloudy sky.
The pilots didn't even see their doom coming as the blast of energy ripped through their aluminum aircraft, then the one next to it, then the next, then the next.
Makoto, slid the phaser beam to the right, taking out as many ships as she could before the lights on the bridge began to flicker, her console began to buzz, and the phaser beam died out.
The bridge switched to emergency lighting for a moment before quickly going back to normal lighting. Ranma quickly spun to J.C.
“Everything seems to be okay,” J.C. reported. “We just don't have enough power to do that again.”
Shampoo spun towards Minako. “And?”
Minako smiled. “Fifteen contacts gone.”
Ranma turned to Makoto. “Nice shooting.”
Makoto smiled. “Thanks.”
Back at WCADC, the same Major started screaming again.
“THE ALIEN SHIP JUST SPLASHED FIFTEEN OF OUR BOMBERS!”
The Vice-General picked up his phone. “ETA on our fighters?” He paused while he was told the information he requested.
“Good. Have them intercept and kill the Eastern fighters. Have the bombers resume their course.”
The Vice-General then hung up that phone and picked up another.
“Flight one, once in range, immediately deploy payload. Flight two, target any weapons on the alien ship that attempt to destroy Flight one's payload. Flight three, I don't fucking care what you bomb. Just try and kill 'em.”
“Back at us?” Shampoo asked.
Ranma walked up to Minako's terminal and looked at her display, before turning to J.C. and Usagi.
“Is there any way we can get dorsal shields up?”
Both J.C. and Usagi shook their heads. “Until we can convert some more torpedoes, we barely have enough power to run the turbolifts.”
Ranma quickly walked over to Makoto and Amanda's station.
“I guess it's up to you guys.”
“Three minutes,” Minako called out. “On the bright side, though...” she continued, “there are still Eastern aircraft pursuing and they are moving faster than the bombers.”
“Yeah, but those Western aircraft are moving faster than the Eastern aircraft,” Amanda said, pointing to the scrambled Western fighters.
“I may have to ask you to see Lt. Fuchs regarding your outlook on life, Lieutenant,” Ranma joked.
The group waited.
Everyone turned to Makoto.
“HOLY SHIT I CAN GET A LOCK!” Makoto exclaimed.
Before Ranma could even order her to, Makoto had both dorsal cannons out, and firing at the incoming aircraft.
“How?!” Shampoo asked as the first nine planes disappeared from the tactical overview.
“When they opened their bay doors. I guess the sensors were able to lock the bombs?”
“SIR! FLIGHT ONE HAS BEEN COMPLETELY DESTROYED! BEFORE THEY GOT INTO RANGE EVEN!”
The Vice-General growled. “I can see that.” He quickly picked up his phone.
“Flight two, change of plans. Bomb the ship, but do not open doors till you are ready to deploy. Flight three, target those guns.”
“Thirteen to go.” Shampoo smiled.
“They're in range,” Minako reported.
“They must realize why we hit them so accurately,” Amanda theorized.
“Well, they have to open the doors to bomb us,” Ranma said. “Don't they?”
Amanda nodded, understanding Ranma's concern of a suicide 'kamikaze' run. “The bombs won't go off just from impact, in case the plane accidentally crashes, you don't want a nuclear explosion.”
“Three down!” Minako reported.
“Easterns?” Ranma asked.
“The Westerns have engaged them though, and the bombers are moving away from the Eastern fleet,” Minako sighed.
Ranma snapped her fingers. “So much for getting them to do our dirty work for us.”
Makoto began shooting.
“CRAP!” Amanda called out.
“WHAT?” Ranma and Shampoo yelled in unison.
“Numerous ordinance incoming, both dorsal cannons have been targeted.”
“Switching to the bombs,” Makoto said, her hands beginning to sweat.
“Twenty seconds to impact,” Amanda stated.
“Makoto?” Ranma asked.
“STOW!” Ranma ordered.”
“ALL HANDS BRACE!”
Everyone on the bridge dove to the floor as six of the Western's nuclear bombs detonated on the hull of the Sisko, sending bright flashes through the windows, and enormous fireballs into the skies.
The ship shook in a way it had not since it had crashed nearly two months earlier. Anything and everything that was not attached to the wall or the deck was thrown there, including any people who could not heed the Captain's 'brace' warning in time.
Outside, six mushroom clouds rose from the hull of the Sisko, the prevailing winds causing the clouds to arc towards the ocean. For about a kilometer around the Sisko, what trees remained after her crash were vaporized. A few others around the edges caught fire.
Where fallout rained onto the Sisko and the nearby forest, nearby, fire rained from the sky, where hydrogen-powered aircraft were exploding left and right as the Eastern forces and Western forces continued to battle over ownership of the crippled alien spacecraft.