Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Not a Hero

Aboard the U.S.S Tesla, a Nova-class science ship, heavily modified over the past two weeks to make it a fast attack ship, Lt. Commander Stanley Watkins completed his work on crew evaluations. As ship's executive officer, this was a task he took seriously. He was trained in administration and management and studiously performed the responsibilities he was given.
Watkins was what could be classified as a typical human. He wasn't too tall or too short to stand out in a crowd. His brown hair was cropped short, but not too short, eyes were green, but not spectacular green, nose was straight and ears didn't stick out. He had no special skills with languages or telepathy, wasn't stronger than average, though he did work out regularly.
He disliked running and swimming, wasn't into contact sports, couldn't play a musical instrument or do complex mathematical equations in his head. He had a nice smile, but wouldn't turn any heads with it as he was socially awkward around women, though he did have friends who were female. He wasn't married or currently involved in a relationship, nor did he have any children or siblings. His parents, who ran a bed and breakfast back on earth, loved him dearly and worried about him being on a starship, but they understood their little boy Stanley wanted to be "out there."
There was nothing notably special about him except he was the first person from Torch Lake, Michigan, population 1,201, to be commissioned and serve aboard a starship.
Watkins was one of the hundreds of lieutenant commanders in the fleet who had been promoted to positions vacated by more seasoned officers who had died in the war with the Dominion, or been promoted to fill slots of others who had sacrificed their lives for the Federation.
War brought quick promotions.
Also, the ship builders had increased the number of ships in the fleet three-fold since the beginning of open hostilities in the Alpha Quadrant. Through every rank, junior officers were being promoted months and years ahead of schedule to fill in the empty slots aboard ships. It was even more prevalent in the enlisted ranks where NCOs were replaced with soldiers so young and fresh, the responsibilities of officers were doubled and trebled to make up for the lack of experience. Ground troops were suffering losses at a rate that staggered the imagination.
His posting as XO aboard the U.S.S. Tesla, came after a nine month tour of duty as a company commander in a training battalion. That posting, as a lieutenant, had been mostly paperwork and management, which Watkins did well. The training NCOs had all been combat veterans, while Watkins and his lieutenant j.g. and ensign had not.
It was after speaking with a senior chief one evening that Watkins put in for another deep space assignment. "The war won't last forever," the senior chief, an Andorian, said. "Thank the gods. This war has cost us all too many good people and the sooner it ends, the sooner it is we can get back to peace and exploration." The senior chief was wearing his dress uniform, replete with four rows of medals for heroism and bravery. He'd stood inspection with his other NCOs, all of whom had at least two rows of decorations, even the Tellarite, Petty Officer 2nd class Rhahl.
That sparked in Watkins the realization that once the war was over, the fleet's officer corps would be culled of lesser performing officers. They would be ushered out of the fleet, or assigned posts less gratifying to officers who wanted to be serving in aboard ships exploring the boundaries of Federation space and beyond.
Stanley wanted to continue to be out here and not go back home. He didn't want to use his degree in business administration to run the bed and breakfast for tourists. He believed he was good first officer material and not a headquarters weenie. He also didn't want to be stuck on a starbase with all the politics and gossip that it entailed.
Watkins had served in Starfleet for more than seven years. He had always been a support officer. He'd served as a transportation platoon leader as an ensign, later moving to serve aboard a communication array, then as a junior officer aboard a supply ship and as the operations officer aboard the U.S.S. Rainier, a combat support ship, where he was promoted to lieutenant and third officer when the captain, Commander Val Al-en, was promoted to captain and took over the U.S.S. Crazy Horse, after the battle of Betazoid left that ship without its most senior officer.
After three months of serving as third officer he was transferred to one of the fleet's training battalions.
Being promoted quickly was both a blessing and a curse to Watkins. His parents were proud he'd been promoted again, but the curse was Watkins had to work harder to stay up on his responsibilities. There'd been little time for continuing education since the war started, so it was on-the-job training and courses offered via subspace.
Being first officer aboard the Nova-class ship, responsible for 80 officers and crew was a big job for Watkins, who had not attended Star Fleet Academy, rather earned his commission while attending college.
When serving as the company commander at the training battalion, 50 recruits depended on the NCOs while the NCOs depended on the officers to provide training environment and itinerary and oversight.
But on the Tesla, his responsibilities included the crew's welfare, monthly evaluations, morale, training in areas such as safety, firefighting, first aid, search and rescue, first contact procedures, and now that the ship had been refitted for combat operations, serve as liaison officer with other ships.
A science ship of the Nova size seldom, if ever, put away teams planet-side, but if the need arose, Watkins would lead the away team.
Starfleet had paid his college tuition while he served in the Ready Reserve. After two years of college, and two 60-day sessions of military training at the Cestus III installation, Watkins earned his ensign pips.
Now, a short seven years later, he'd be second in command of a ship going into combat and he hadn't reached his 29th birthday. Watkins had heard James Kirk was a full commander when he was 28, and more recently, Tryla Scott, who entered the academy three years older than Kirk, achieved her captaincy nearly 18 months quicker than the famed captain of the Enterprise.
But Watkins, who always worked hard and tried harder, had never gotten the breaks to be a hero. He had never done anything that would put his name on the same level as Picard, Calhoun, Batesman, Garrett or Sisko. His performance evaluations often referred to him as "solid" and "competent." He was a good and a dependable officer.
Hell, he'd never even been presented with a chance to do a heroic thing. He was always prompt, did a thorough job, followed regulations, stayed out of trouble and made good decisions.
It was his nature to do what was right.
He was not sure he wanted to be placed on the same level as those heroic officers, but he wanted, no needed, to know, if there was a hero inside himself.
"First Officer's log, Stardate 51001.1. Lieutenant Commander Stanley Watkins' daily report," he said, after switching on the recorder in his duty office. "Crew evaluations are complete and attached to this for transmission to Starfleet Command with the rest of the standard weekly updates.
"We have dispatched the shuttle carrying the last of the engineers from Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards who have completed the installation of the Type XI phaser array. Training drills have been satisfactory on the array and will continue." He clicked off the recorder before saying "I just wish they had time to outfit us with a few of those quantum torpedoes I've read so much about."
Just as Watkins was about to finish his daily log to Starfleet, he was interrupted by the ship's all-call.
"Yellow Alert," he heard his communications officer order. Lt. j.g. Ansfrida Møkjåland Evje, the tall Norwegian from Earth had a silky and sultry voice with the barest hint of the old country in her accent. It was said her voice could calm a raging storm. "Captain and first officer to the bridge, first responder teams to medical bay, primary damage control teams on stand by. That is all."
Watkins was out the door of his office before the pneumatics had a chance to open them completely. They would close automatically five seconds after he cleared the sensor's exterior range and secure the room, but Watkins was already six rungs up on the central hub's Jacob's Ladder. He didn't know why the ladder that went from deck one to deck eight was called such an odd name, or who Jacob was, but he took it because he could reach the command deck eight seconds faster this way than waiting for the turbolift which would have been prioritized by the captain.
If the ship was at yellow alert and Lieutenant Jenssen was calling for the captain and first officer, something important but not yet life threatening, must be happening. That in itself was out of the ordinary because the Tesla was still cruising at warp one in sector 001.
Jenssen was the ship's operations and tactical officer. He was the only senior officer with some combat experience in the command crew. The scars on his face and hands said all that was needed of the experience. Despite medical technology, some injuries still left scars, especially damage done by cellular disruption weapons.
Watkins arrived on the bridge just as the turbolift opened for Commander Courtney Anevay, captain of the Tesla. She was a descendant of Sioux Indians from the American southwest, but born and raised on Rousseau V. She was a highly-competent ship captain on the fast track to bigger ships and more demanding commands. She was also less than a year older than Watkins.
"Sit-rep, Jenssen," Watkins heard her ask as she acknowledged Watkins climbing in through the bridge's starboard-aft ladderway.
Jenssen was already vacating the captain's chair and walking over to the communications station where Evje had the message on one of her screens. "We received word from Starfleet that we are to rendezvous with the 21st Wing, Ninth Fleet and await further orders along with six other ships. All ships were ordered to yellow alert by Starfleet Command," Jenssen said, reading from the display panel.
"Something's up," Anevay said to no one in particular. There were only five people on the bridge now, but with the yellow alert condition, three more would arrive shortly to monitor the secondary sensor station, the engineering sub-station, and the life support/intruder control. These stations were usually set on automatic, but yellow alert required the station to be manned.
Watkins agreed with Anevay's assessment of the situation. He'd been her first officer for less than two months and while they worked well together, they had not become friends or even that close.
It was like that in war. People shifted around and it was hard to make friends when six months from now they might be dead or on another ship.
Taking his seat to the left of Anevay, he brought up the situational monitors for the energies Jenssen would be allocating from his operations station. He was also watching the other stations throughout the ship being manned and brought online.
Shield statuses, weapons, life support, medical bay, damage repair crews and the other necessities to make the ship ready for combat. Green lights clicked on down the screen until the last one lit up for the damage control team on deck 14. They were the newest team.
The monitor finally reported all stations manned and ready and Watkins reported it to Anevay. Evje reported that coordinates had been received for the rendezvous and Watkins had her transfer the coordinate to the helm. He then called engineering to make sure Lt. Stone had his engineering section square and the drives warmed up.
"Get us there, Mr. Watkins," the captain ordered.
"Aye, sir," he responded. "Course 22, Mark seven, pilot. Speed: warp six." The little ship, unlike the Nebula-class ship Watkins had once been aboard for a week of training, decisively leapt into warp drive. It was a fast and agile ship, mounted with the similar type warp core as the Defiant-class battle ships of the line. The ship's superior agility and upgraded phaser array would give the ship a longer life expectancy in the fire fight.
Ideally, a Federation combat wing would have been made up of Sovereign-, Nebula- or Galaxy-class ships, with their multiple phaser banks, photon and transphasic torpedoes, overlapping shield generators and primary, secondary and tertiary crews in every section. These, ideally, would be supported by six or eight Defiant- or Norway-class ships each, to add punch and flanking for the big ships, and several flights of smaller attack craft and maybe some four-man fighters.
But it wasn't an ideal universe and Starfleet was retrofitting as many ships as it could with heavier weapons and improved shielding. But there was only so much equipment to go around and only so many engineers to install the equipment and only so many starship frames available.
Science ships were now being retrofitted as quickly as possible and turned into warships.
"Mr. Watkins," the captain said, looking through the dispatches concerning the war coming up on her repeater screen, "I want you and Jenssen to begin emergency drills. Have Lieutenant Jenssen set up the scenario and you handle the deployments.
"If we're taking this ship into combat, I want everyone trained to where these green lights all come on within two minutes of going to red alert," she finished, pointing at her status board.
"Yes, sir," Watkins replied, already thinking he needed to talk with Ensign Balaus, the section chief for the crewmen in life sciences, who were the final crew to check in.
Anevay tapped into the ship's address system.
"This is the captain," she began. There was an echo as every station throughout the ship transmitted her voice. "We have been ordered to make contact and rendezvous with the 21st Wing of the Ninth Fleet. We haven't been told why, but I believe this ship will become part of the war effort.
"We will be holding drills over the next 96 hours to prepare for various scenarios this ship may encounter. I know most of you are scientists and didn't sign aboard for this type of tour.
"But you are all Starfleet personnel and have been trained in shipboard combat operations. Our tactical officer will be setting up the exercises and Mr. Watkins will be assessing the drills, making corrections and changes as the need arises.
"I expect every one of you to treat these drills as real. Other crewmembers might one day depend on your abilities and reaction times in an emergency.
"Best of luck to us all. Anevay out."
No sooner had the last echo of her voice died when the red alert lights came on and the 80-decibel klaxon started warning of imminent danger. "'Red Alert. Red Alert.' The computer voice echoed throughout the ship. 'All hands to battle stations. Red Alert. Red Alert.'"
Watkins looked surprised momentarily until he caught a bit of a smile on Lt. Jenssen's face. "No time like the present, lieutenant?"
"None better, commander," the tactical office said.
"Red Alert. Red Alert. All hands to battle stations. Red Alert. Red Alert," the computer intoned again, but this time adding the addendum "This is a drill."
Nodding to the captain, he stood and told her "I think I'll start my job here on the bridge," he said, pulling a padd from beside his bridge chair.
"Lt. Lissa," he said addressing the pilot. "As soon as you hear the red alert announced, I want you to pull up the 10 best evasive patterns you have and have them ready to input straight from the helm display.
"If you don't have 10 patterns ready already, I want you working on them before you go off shift. Pass this on to your relief as well. Every pilot of this ship needs to be ready when the alert sounds.
"Be creative with your patterns. You don't know when crazy might save us.
"Also, there are four of you. Coordinate your shifts so at least one other pilot is always ready to take the helm. Two of you need to be awake and ready at all times."
Lissa nodded to the first officer while she loaded evasive programs into the active memory of the helm. She had already modeled six and Watkins was sure she'd have four more by the end of shift.
The primary tactical station was manned by Jenssen and Watkins could find no fault. The shield status station was manned by a Bolian officer from astrophysics and he appeared to have everything under control as well.
Walking around the small bridge, science stations three and four had been turned in to tactical stations. These were now being manned by science-turned part-time tactical officers.
Ensign Jurr Lekkek, the sole Andorian aboard occupied the third tactical station. He would monitor damage on this ship and the ship, or ships, with which the Tesla was engaged. Lekkek was an excellent statistician and a wizard at computer programming. He was also wet behind the ears, having come to Starfleet from the Andorian equivalent of reserve office training. He sometimes took too much initiative without checking with his superior and this created some problems.
Most recently he wrote a program to automatically catalog all the species an away team encountered on a planet directly from a tricorder uplink. What he didn't realize was the bandwidth and computer time the cataloging of tens of thousands of species, including grasses, flora, airborne bacteria, viruses and billions of other bits of information would entail.
Every department had complained about the slow computer responses to Watkins, who spoke with the chief engineer, asked the chief computer tech, who looked at the usage logs and saw 62 percent of the available bandwidth and 21 percent of the computer core's processing availability was being funneled to the tricorders...all tricorders…where ever they were on the ship.
"Mr. Lekkek," Watkins said, pointing to the monitor in front the young ensign, "you have your lateral sensor grid over lapping more than 20 percent of the forward and 35 percent of the aft grids. While it is nice to have overlapping fields, during combat maneuvers, we're going to be allocating power primarily to weapons and shields.
"See if you can cut back the overlapping to two or three percent."
"Aye, sir," the Andorian said, his antenna drooping in disappointment. Watkins could tell the Andorian was feeling rebuked so he added, "but since we have some time, could you do your magic with the computers to make sure we have secure links with the other ships we'll be joining? The communications officer will give you the frequencies and access protocols when we get them."
The antenna on Lekkek perked up. "I'll see what I can come up with, sir."
Nova-class ships allowed for just one communication's officer. That was Evje. She had three enlisted men who worked with her and each rotated bridge duty. Each was trained to handle the communications between ships of the wing and to the fleet itself. Evje would technically be on duty only during combat operations while the three enlisted men would be pulling eight-hour shifts. It wasn't the perfect solution, but Evje agreed that she needed to be available when the ship was at red alert status, so she re-arranged the schedule for her section.
Over the next 96 hours, Watkins endured 14 more Red Alert drills and slept three times. He made sure to double and triple check every station, spending most of his time focusing on engineering, weapons control and the medical bay.
In engineering, Lt. Stone babied his Type VIII mini-Cochrane warp drive, always making sure the power plant was as best he could make it. While it was the same model warp drive as the Defiant-class battleships, the energy needs of a Nova-class was four times higher. The Tesla would never be said to have been overpowered by any stretch of the imagination. Watkins recalled when researching this post that the biggest drawback reported aboard science ships, was the lack of sufficient power to operate all the external sensor arrays poking out through the skin of the ship.
Lt. Stone did what he could with what the ship had and Watkins never had reason to complain, except in those times Stone would get upset at some fool who failed to follow proper procedures and cause multiple shutdowns in various systems. Then Stone would begin swearing like it was doubtful a tomorrow would ever come and he wanted to make sure he used every curse word he knew before the end.
In weapons operations, Lt. Vrall, one of only three Vulcans on board, was the section chief. He was also the primary weapons control officer and a former instructor of counter-culture and interspecies relations at the Vulcan Science Academy.
Wep-ops were responsible for maintaining all the weapons aboard the ship from the hand phasers most of the crew now wore, to the newest phaser array on the primary hull. The weapons were aimed and fired from the bridge, but everything that made that possible was Vrall's responsibility. The section consisted of Vrall, a lieutenant junior grade, three ensigns and 12 enlisted personnel.
Though the Tesla was a science vessel, it had a wide assortment of weaponry, allowing the ship to defend itself when needed. It was equipped with eight phaser emitters on the primary hull and three on the secondary, two forward-facing photon torpedo launchers on either side of the forward deflector dish, and one aft-facing launcher sidled up beside the single impulse engine baffle.
The only suggestions Watkins made to Vrall, because in all honesty, the 59-year-old Vulcan intimidated him a little even though he was just a lieutenant, was to break the ship's armory down into four secure rooms instead of one, and to have those rooms spaced around the ship in case they were boarded. This would allow the crew to access the heavier weapons aboard even if the armory section was over taken.
He also suggested having the attenuation of the phaser frequency made ready for both computer and manual input, in case the control panels lost contact with the core computers.
Vrall seemed to consider this for a moment then nodded. "Agreed" was all he said and Watkins took this as a supreme acknowledgement.
The medical bay was the most difficult to access and make ready. A crew of 80 didn't warrant a doctor aboard, instead there was an Emergency Medical Hologram Mark II. It was an efficient use of resources for a science ship in times of peace, but required a lot of power, something the ship needed for weapons and shields in a fire fight.
The EMH would also be useful only in the medical bay and Watkins had never heard of a crewman being injured in the bay itself. The ship's Chief Medical Officer was a registered nurse.
When Watkins first came aboard the Tesla, his predecessor had formed six first responder teams. These were made up of three crewmen each from specialties that dealt with biology and life sciences, the thinking being they already had a passing acquaintance with how a biological life form works.
Watkins liked this idea; however, these crewmen also had responsibilities when called to Red Alert stations. It took some finagling and coercion and finally a direct order to form just five two-person first responder teams, each made up of a crewman with engineering and/or computer background and one with at least some first aid training.
Now, no place on the ship would be further than one deck from a first responder medical team.
The mood aboard the Tesla was solemn but expectant. These were explorers mostly, and not prepared like Starfleet Academy graduates. They hadn't expected to be seeing combat, though they knew when they signed up, everyone is the service might be called on to fight. He heard the grumbling below decks about how the ship wasn't supposed to be a fighting ship, heard remarks about the futility of fighting the Dominion, little snippets about fear and longing for home, but overall, the people, no, the kids really, most of the crew being less than 23 standard years of age, were going to face what they had to face.
Watkins was the senior officer on the bridge when the communications officer informed him the 21st Wing was picking the Tesla up on sensors and asked that the captain and first officer beam over to the U.S.S. Denmark, a Miranda-class heavy frigate that was the flagship of Captain Rool m'Raat, the commander of the wing, once the Tesla arrived on station. The time and coordinates were also given. It seemed the wing commander had been waiting for them as it appeared the Tesla was the last ship to arrive.
Watkins nodded for the relief comm officer, Chief Jesus Gonzaga of life sciences, to acknowledge then contacted Anevay in her ready room. "Captain m'Raat is waiting for us captain. A meeting is schedule for 15 minutes from two minutes ago aboard his ship."
"Thank you, Mr. Watkins. I'll be on the bridge in a few minutes. Have the department heads prepare a status report for me." Watkins could tell Commander Anevay was nervous the way she spoke. The words were the same, but the inflections were more precise. Like she was thinking about how every word she said might be interpreted differently if she said it wrong.
"I'll make sure it's ready for you when you get here, Captain," he said, then clicked off the intercom.
Two days of meetings and coordination followed. Anevay and Watkins were both brought up to speed on the developments of the Dominion War and how the Federation wasn't doing as well as hoped. The two met and became familiar with the other captains and first officers in the wing and shared the information about the tactical and strategic abilities of the Tesla.
Dossiers were read on the rest of the command structure of the wing and how it would coordinate with the Ninth Fleet. There were briefings on the other ships that comprised the wing, their strengths and weaknesses, battle plans and fallback points. Everything that could be anticipated was discussed and planned.
The 21st Wing was comprised of the Tesla and another Nova-class ship, the Miranda-class U.S.S. Denmark, which would serve as flagship of the Wing, two Akira-class battleships and four Saber-class vessels. It wasn't the optimum make up of a combat wing, but it would be a formidable force when combined with the rest of the Ninth.
The Ninth Fleet was comprised of 26 Wings, more than 190 ships, and commanded by Rear Admiral Robert Wesley III, who was under the direct command of Admiral William Ross, commander of military operations out of Starbase 375. Ross had at his command four fleets of ships. It was his responsibility to deploy the ships and personnel to best serve the needs of the Federation. How and where Ross would deploy the ships was, as m'Raat said, "way above our station."
Some of the crews were shuffled around; the Tesla received an extra engineer, but lost two of its computer specialists. M'Raat was trying to balance the resources of the Wing as best he could.
As the meetings were drawing to a close and the Wing was preparing to get underway to meet up with the Ninth, Watkins remembered the task he'd given to Ensign Lekkek and the solution he'd come up with. He shared it with Anevay and she agreed to let him propose it in the closing meeting. "One of our crew came up with the idea of keeping a tricorder locked open to a scrambled frequency on the bridge of each ship. The tricorders would all link with the other ships in the wing as an emergency communications system should main power go offline."
Watkins held out bi-neural chip to the other captains and first officers. "This chips has a rotating 1024-byte encryption code, changing every zero point one five seconds, that will link the tricorders. I think this might come in handy just in case."
The other officers agreed and m'Raat suggested the ensign be noted in the Wing Log. A citation would be issued and acknowledgment made of his contribution. Watkins handed over chips to the other first officers.
After that, m'Raat closed the meeting and released the officers to their ships.
An hour later, the nine ships of the newly-formed 21st Wing headed for rendezvous with the Ninth Fleet and then to the Battle of Cardassia.
"Helm! All-stop, Z-axis minus 500 meters!" Watkins heard Jenssen scream over the noise, countermanding his order to pursue the Jem'Hadar ship that had destroyed the two remaining Saber ships. Lissa pounded the input into the helm instinctively and Watkins watched the grav plating energy usage telltale edge into the yellow. The Jem'Hadar ship they'd been chasing exited the main view screen as it escaped and Watkins wondered why in hell his tactical officer had countermanded his attack posture and ordered them to break off.
"Firing phasers," he heard him say.
Just as he was about to ask at what the Tesla was firing at, another Jem'Hader ship came into view and the deadly beams from the ship intersected on single point of the enemy ship, overwhelmed its shielding and destroyed the craft.
Watkins was not a tactical officer and his experience and training was in management and administration. He kept a grip on his chair, no Anevay's chair he was just occupying until she returned.
"Fight your ship," Captain Anevay had told him. "Let your officers fight." She was now in the medical bay with severe burns to her face and hands she received when pulling Ensign Lekkek from the comm station. Lekkek was probably dead, but the captain, while alive, wouldn't be much longer if the Tesla didn't survive. "The crew can do their job, yours is to make it count."
Watching several screens at once, Watkins now saw how the first enemy was drawing the Tesla into a pincer with the second. In the few more moments it would have taken them to draw down on the first ship, the second would have been raking the ventral shields with plasma fire.
Were it not for Jenssen, the ship would be more seriously damaged or destroyed.
"Well, done Jenssen. Helm, get us clear of the debris before we run into anything too big for the deflectors to handle."
The ship pivoted on its port nacelle and increased speed.
The battle so far had not gone well.
The 21st had made the rendezvous with the Ninth fleet without problems. Admiral Wesley had assigned the Wing to a support position well outside the front line to act as a reserve force with the 19th and 20th Wings. The positioning would ensure the main force wasn't flanked by a Breen force that hadn't been accounted for in the past 72 hours.
The Tesla was the supporting wingman ship for the U.S.S. Heitarō Kimura, one of the Akira-class battleships in the wing. The four Saber-class surrounded the Denmark which was occupying the center of the spread out V formation.
Anevay allowed for the communications channels to be opened on the battle frequencies to keep the crew apprised of how Admiral Ross and Klingon General Martok were progressing. The Romulan Fleet Commander had kept radio silence so the information coming from that part of the overall battle was sparse.
Over the many voices, Watkins heard one of his friends from college and the reserve unit in which he'd served.
Lt. Commander Mark Dayton was serving as weapons officer aboard one of the hundreds of ships out there that Watkins couldn't see. But the voice was his, Watkins was sure. Dayton was informing the fleet that his ship had been badly damaged and pulling out of the battle if it could. "Captain and first officer and many others are dead. Our warp core is damaged and our weapons our down…." Then the voice was cut off. There was stress and fear in Dayton's voice.
The war was becoming more real to Watkins the more voices he heard.
The Tesla, along with the rest of the wing had been running under a relaxed state of red alert. All the emergency stations were manned, but crewmen were being rotated off duty for 20-minute breaks to get something to eat, take care of personal needs and a few minutes to stretch their limbs. They'd been at red alert for four hours and nine minutes when Watkins suggested to the captain relax the red alert.
Anevay, whose habit it seemed was walking calmly around the bridge during red alert, nodded agreement to her first officer. She wasn't micromanaging; she just liked looking over everyone's shoulder. Watkins found it disconcerting, but it was her style and he wasn't in a position to tell her to sit down.
As part of the reserve force, the ships of the 21st were well out of the battle area and maybe she was just walking off her nervousness. From the sounds of it, the battle wasn't going well and the reserve force might be called into action.
Again, Watkins thought to himself, others were being thrown into situations where they would be tested. Men and women were facing their fears. Some were facing their fears head on; some were relying on their training, and some were praying inside, just hoping to make it through the day. Some, and this was something Starfleet didn't advertise, crewmembers froze in fear. No matter how much training was given, how realistic holodecks were, how thorough the psychiatric examinations, when the time came to face actual battle, some people still were unable to function.
Hearing the reports from other ships on the number of dead or wounded, seeing the status of other ships on the front line that were in direct combat, Watkins felt the pit of his stomach grow solid. He was sure he would be one of the few who would freeze up and not know what to do. He wasn't sure he had the intestinal fortitude to command a crew to engage with another ship and kill the enemy. He was pretty sure he didn't have the courage to give the command to engage in a combat that could cost the lives of the crew here with him.
At the five hour mark of the Red Alert, Watkins excused himself and used the bridge head to throw up. He then washed his face, dried his hands and straightened his uniform. Looking in the mirror he wondered out loud if then-Commander Sisko had puked up his guts prior to the Battle of Wolfe 359. No answer was forthcoming so he returned to the bridge.
Anevay was speaking with Evje, the communication specialist when Watkins returned. She nodded to him and gave him a small smile. He wondered if she suspected what he'd done.
Taking his chair, he noticed the status monitor, the one which kept a running total of ships in the combat area, changed the status of the U.S.S. Berlin from green to red. Usually a ship's color would change from green to yellow as it was damaged and wasn't shaded red unless it was out of action or destroyed.
The Nebula-class Berlin had a crew of more than 700 people who most were probably dead now. He hoped some made it to escape pods.
Watkins shuddered and was glad Anevay was in charge. He knew once the war was over, he probably wouldn't stay with Starfleet. He wasn't a hero. He wasn't a soldier. He wouldn't show it to the captain or allow the crew to see, but Watkins was afraid. He suspected Anevay knew. She had that look like she knew he'd gone to the head to be sick.
Maybe when the war was over he'd sign on with a private exploration firm. Thinking about what life would be like if he survived the war gave Watkins comfort. It kept him from thinking about the people in battle who right now might be in an escape pod in the middle of a God knows where, not knowing when or if they'd be rescued.
With the loss of the Berlin, there was a weakened hole on the leftmost of the battle line. Unlike surface conflicts, space battles were fought in three-dimensions, more like submarine warfare of the past. When a hole was created, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of cubic kilometers would be open for an incursion by the enemy.
The order came from the Ninth Fleet for the 21st to move into the area that had been held by the Berlin and its accompanying ships. M'Raat ordered his ships into a globe with overlapping fields of fire as the wing moved onto the front line at warp three. The wing was augmented with several Scorpion-class two-man attack fighters from one of the Romulan ships that had been held in reserve and docked in the hanger bay of the Denmark.
The Berlin had been destroyed by a pair of medium Jem'Hadar warships and a dozen of the smaller attack ships. Her wing had sold itslef dear, destroying one of the warships and four of the attack ships. The remaining warship was leaking plasma, but still capable of fighting. It was being harassed by the remaining ships in the Berlin wing, four Klingon D-series Birds-of Prey, but they were unable to push the offensive and were being picked off as they attacked.
There was just not enough fire power in the Klingon ships to do serious damage to the Jem'Hadar.
The 21st dropped out of warp 250,000 kilometers from the Berlin's wreckage and gathered the remaining Starfleet ships into its formation: an older Excelsior ship, though damaged, still had aft phasers and a photo launcher in operation and two Centaur-class ships that showed multiple hits. These were sent to the rear of the formation giving them a few minutes to affect damage repair. The Klingons continued to harass their enemy and m'Raat knew calling them off the line was a useless gesture.
m'Raat ordered his Akira ships, the U.S.S. Rabin supported by Tesla, and the U.S.S. Divodas given cover fire by the other Nova ship, U.S.S. Heitarō Kimura, to engage and destroy the remaining Jem'Hadar warship. The ships, following the senior captain of the four, Commander Hauasa aboard the Rabin, put the four into a high-low diamond wedge, a standard four-ship attack formation.
Wing Leader m'Raat used the remaining force to distract and destroy the eight remaining attack ships, while protecting the Excelsior ship and the remaining Centaurs.
The Tesla and three other ships attacked from below the warship that was twice their combined size. The Heitarō Kimura and Tesla provided covering fire to repel the two attack ships which stayed with the warship while the two Akiras concentrated their fire on the larger ship. Watkins looked up from his monitor in time to see one of the remaining Klingon vessels and 40 Klingon warriors ram the Jem'Hadar amidship. The resulting damage was minimal, but significant as the polaron beam emitter on the warship's port aft was destroyed which also weakened that area of the ship's shielding.
It gave the Akiras they were supporting an opening in which to close in and fire its weapons without being hit by direct fire.
Anevay was standing with her hands on the rail which circled the elevated rear deck of the bridge, commanding the ship. She remained calm as blasts rocked the Tesla, but since the Tesla was just a supporting ship, she was more concerned with defending the U.S.S. Rabin. The Akira-class battleship had more than twice the Tesla's firepower and crew, and could do serious damage to the Jem'Hadar when it could maneuver close enough.
Watkins was following the battle, giving supplemental instructions to the crew as the captain ordered. He was the first officer and his sole job in this combat situation was to make sure the captain's orders were being carried out by the crew. When she called for increasing the shield to the aft quarter, Jenssen would make it happen, but it was Watkins who made sure the power was allocated by engineering, also that it wouldn't be take from the structural integrity fields or life support.
When the captain wanted an update on the situation, Watkins gave it to her so the crew didn't have to interrupt what they were doing.
Watkins was the liaison between the crew and the captain.
It was a team effort keeping the Tesla in the firefight.
Already one of the first responder teams had been dispatched by Watkins to the engineering deck when one of the coolant lines cracked, leaking isoformic gas and injuring six crewmen, but the ship's efficiency remained high as Watkins directed the repairs from the bridge so the captain could continue focusing on the fight.
Then things went bad. Very bad.
Anevay was calling for increased power to the dorsal shielding, which had just taken two beam hits, when a third blow in the same area caused the ODN conduit behind Lt. Lekkek's station to explode. The LCARS station short circuited and the live energy was electrocuting Lekkek.
Watkins leaped from his chair, but Anevay, who was just three steps away, reactively grabbed for the lieutenant. She stiffened as she grabbed for the young Andorian and it was only Watkins leaping at her, knocking her free that saved her. Jenssen was shutting down power to that ODN even as Watkins was looking at the damage to Anevay. Her face and hands were burnt and she was going into shock. Her hair was smoking and there was blood coming from one ear.
Watkins tapped his communicator calling for the first responders one deck below. He tried to lift the captain, when Anevay's good eye looked right into him. "No," she mumbled through blistering lips. "You're captain now. Fight the ship. Let your officers fight the ship," she managed to say.
It was all Watkins could do to put the captain's head back down and await the medical team. He wanted to help her, but she'd given him an order before she slipped into unconsciousness.
Watkins was scared. He knew he wasn't ready to take command. He was just a lieutenant commander with no experience in combat.
He was a support officer.
He wasn't a hero.
He looked around the bridge.
The automatic fire suppression system had already put out the fire. The junior officer at the engineering substation was re-routing power for the life support on the bridge. Jenssen was relaying tactical information to the Rabin and firing phasers and torpedoes when the attack ships got too close.
Lt. Evje reported the Denmark had been lost when rammed and m'Raat was dead. Three of the four Sabers were destroyed or otherwise out of action and the fourth was chasing down the remaining attack ship. The Excelsior-class ship, which Watkins learned was named the U.S.S. Wolverine, was now picking up escape pods from the Denmark and other ships. Her board then went dead.
Lissa, at the helm, was finishing the last maneuver Anevay had ordered, bringing the Tesla back into formation with the Rabin.
Lt. Evje was clearing and rerouting the communications channels throughout the ship and re-establishing connection with the other ships.
Watkins was shaking inside. He hoped no one knew he just threw up minutes before in the head.
One or more of the crew, his crew, was probably dead.
The Jem'Hadar wanted everyone on this ship dead.
Watkins didn't want to die.
"Helm," he ordered after what seemed like a year of contemplation, but in reality was seconds. "Snuggle us up closer to the Rabin. We'll help defend them, but they're going to have to help us too.
"Lt. Evje, use the tricorder link to tell them we've taken bridge damage but are still able to fight. Tell them what we're going to do." She acknowledged, but Watkins could hear the tremble in her voice.
Aboard a Klingon ship there would be cheers at the order to continue the fight. Here there was fear and concern in the faces of the crew who were now looking to Watkins to lead them.
Here, there seemed to be a momentary silence on the bridge. There was a realization that this ship, hurt though she was, was going to continue the fight and no one was happy about it. The captain was out of the fight for the duration. The most senior officer was a support officer, and there was damage to the ship and possibly some of the crew.
No one would say they were wrong if they told the Rabin they needed to leave the line and re-group. They had duty to perform and it was Watkins who, though he was wishing to be anywhere but on the bridge of this ship, was giving commands.
The medical team had arrived, stabilized Anevay and transported her directly to sickbay. The body of Lekkek was transported along with her, but Ensign Lier shook her head to Watkins when he looked to her in unspoken askance about Lekkek's condition. The EMH II would put the Andorian into stasis, but he probably wouldn't make it.
The battle continued.
All four of the remaining Federation ships on the battle area were taking a pounding, but making some progress. The captain of the Rabin was talented and fearless as the ships made attack runs repeatedly in the cone of least resistance on the warship.
The ships, working in pairs were just turning again for another run when one of the smaller Jem'Hadar attack ships, starboard nacelle nearly destroyed from multiple photon hits from the Heitarō Kimura, rammed the Rabin.
The attack ship the Tesla was firing on just peeled out of the area again.
Watkins physically ducked in his chair as the insect-looking ship angled across the bow of the Tesla, taking multiple hits from the Heitarō Kimura and hitting the Rabin aft of the bridge module after penetrating its weakened ventral shielding, obliterating both ships.
The second Akira ship, the U.S.S. Divodas, under the command of Commander Oroff, a Bolian, who Watkins found to be quite engaging, took damage from the two ships destroying each other when it flew through the expanding debris.
The Divodas had been just aft and starboard of the Rabin when it was destroyed. The Divodas' Bussard collectors were heavily damaged and the hull of the primary disk was opened to space when the forward shields collapsed. Debris tore into the duranium plates, holing the ship. Watkins, heard over the tricorder link that had been Lekkek's idea, that the ship had also suffered plasma ruptures on three decks, including communications and weapons control, and life support was operating at 30 percent. A coolant leak in the impulse manifold had shut down that engine until the Divodas' could repair thedamage. More than a quarter of the crew was dead and the ship was unable to continue the fight. The two Scorpions guarded the weakened ship as it maneuvered out of the battle area on thrusters and hope.
With just no ships to protect now, Tesla, with minor damage, and the Heitarō Kimura took another run at the Jem'Hadar attack ships while the remaining Klingon ship attacked the warship.
He had Evje try contact Wesley to release another wing for support when she reported the she'd re-established connectivity to the communications array.
The Heitarō Kimura and Tesla were attempting to finish off the last two attack ships and got separated from each other when the Jem'Hadar attempted a scissoring attack.
The Heitarō Kimura was hit hard and was forced out of the battle. It would need to be salvaged at a later time as the warp core had to be ejected.
Watkins ordered a full impulse turn to starboard and Jenssen saw his opportunity to take care of the two remaining attack ships in a single run, albeit by countermanding Watkins' order. The Tesla dispatched one of the Jem'Hadar by overwhelming the little ship's shields. It gave up everything in its weapon's stores and pummeled the first ship until the impulse drive darkened and the ship drifted dead in space.
The other attacker was destroyed with a neat bit of piloting by Lissa, skewing the ship to port and precision weapon's fire by Jenssen as the two ships passed within 500 meters and Jenssen fired en passant without waiting for computer lock.
The destruction of the last Jem'Hadar attack ship came just seconds after the last Klingon ship was mortally wounded and left the Tesla and the Jem'Hadar warship as the only two fighting ships in the area. The Tesla was out-gunned and out-sized by the warship, even though the latter was damaged.
The support ships might not arrive in time to keep the Jem'Hadar from exploiting the weakness in the line. A hole on the flank of the Federation coalition would allow the Dominion clear access to the weakened supply lines and rear echelon.
A hole here might mean the loss of the war. At best, the war would continue until the Federation coalition could regroup for another offensive move.
The Klingon ships had shown how much damage a single ship could do. Standing toe-to-toe would gain the Tesla nothing. They would lose and the Jem'Hadar would own the day and the area of space. But ramming the Jem'Hadar at full impulse with full forward shields could destroy the ship leaving the space empty for whoever got here first.
Ramming another ship was the last act of a desperate captain. It was also usually the last act a captain ever made. In the recorded history of the Federation, there had been just five instances of ships intentionally ramming another in combat. Watkins and the crew had witnessed the fifth just minutes before.
Watkins didn't know if he could order his own death and the death of his crew. He had been ordered to destroy the Jem'Hadar, but his ship could no longer accomplish that mission with the armament on board. He couldn't leave the enemy ship to its own devices; he had to press the attack to keep the Jem'Hadar from repairing their damage and getting a foothold in this area.
Watkins was seated in the first officer's chair…his chair…the one he was comfortable sitting in. Here he didn't have to make the big decisions. Here he could leave the big decisions to the heroes.
But now, even though he was in his chair, he was responsible for commanding the Tesla. He was responsible to his crew, the wing, the Ninth Fleet commander, and the Federation. He had to make the decisions.
To solidify his thoughts, he stood and moved to the captain's chair.
Jenssen fired off the last of the Tesla's torpedoes and reported as much.
Lissa pulled the ship off an attack run when the torpedoes left the tubes.
Evje reported that the re-enforcements were delayed by the missing Breen fleet that intercepted the supporting ships Wesley had sent.
The realization hit Watkins that the Tesla was on its own for at least another 20 minutes just as the enemy's polaron beam hit the ship again.
The ship's number four and five shields collapsed and part of the intruder control circuitry and housing fell from the ceiling, destroying the navigational sub-station and an environmental station. Two more crewmembers were injured, but not seriously and the medical team was taking care of them even as the ship was being destroyed around them.
Watkins was still considering if he had the courage to give the order to rig for ramming when the Jem'Hadar ship pirouetted and jumped to warp back toward Cardassian space. He looked at Jenssen in surprise.
Jenssen shrugged and reported that the sensors reported no enemy combatants.
Over the battle frequency he heard that the Cardassians had started firing on the Breen and Jem'Hadar. The Cardassians had changed sides and the battle had turned in favor of the Federation coalition.
The war was coming to an end in this area of space.
The mission they'd been given had cost the 21st its commander and his ship, one Akira, with another moderately damaged and all four Saber ships.
The Heitarō Kimura was damaged, but salvageable. Fully one-third of its crew was injured or killed in the engagement that lasted only 27 minutes.
The Berlin, six Klingon fast attack ships and two Romulan fighters were lost in the battle. The Excelsior-class ship survived but was without propulsion and both Centaur ships had to be abandoned. The survivors were transported off the ships or used escape pods.
The Tesla had received damage; six crewmen were dead and 28 injured. Warp power was offline, but Stone said this was temporary. The ship was maneuverable at impulse.
It wasn't heroism that saved the day, it was pure chance.
"Commander," Jenssen said over the din of the repair crews working around the bridge. "We made it, sir." Watkins nodded.
Anevay, according the EMH II, would be unable to return to duty for several months. There was a limit to the facilities aboard the Tesla and Anevay needed a starbase as soon as possible, but she was out of immediate danger. Before being put into medical paralysis, she turned over command to Watkins.
Several hours later, the bridge had been repaired as best the crew could do while on station. "Communication coming in from the Sovereign, sir," Evje said. "It's Admiral Wesley."
"Let's hear it, lieutenant," Watkins said from the captain's chair.
The communications officer put the Admiral on speaker. "Well done, Commander Anevay," everyone heard the admiral announce. "You and your ship deserve a lot of credit for holding the line. You can secure from red alert, but remain at a heightened state of readiness. Your relief should reach you within 48 hours. Wesley out."
"I guess he didn't get the reports," Jenssen quipped quietly.
"Yea," replied Watkins, "the first officer really needs to be on top of that kind of thing. I hope he doesn't catch hell from the captain when she returns.
"Take us to Yellow Alert, Lt. Jenssen. Secure from battle stations," he ordered.
"Aye, captain."
Watkins didn't need to be a hero like Sisko or Picard or Ross…or Anevay.
It was enough for him that he didn't throw up in front of the crew.
He'd leave that part out of the official report.

Hell Happened

My most recent novel was written in 250 hours over three weeks. It took the editor 15 days to edit out my errors.

It is now at the publisher.

It will be on the streets Nov. 1, 2012.

Be ready for it!