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The Star Sailors' Story
Chapter 8
Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won “ Duke of Wellington “ Earth (Human)

Corin checked the readouts on Delac's Tomcat again. Not for the first time he pitied the pilot, stuck inside the launch tube. At least the Thunderbolt pilots had a gunner aboard to talk to. Rejoining his team around the holo-display, he sat back down on his toolbox.

The Delos and her task force had dropped out of warp almost on top of the Gorn minefield and he could see the foggy space indicating the detected mines already beginning to clog up the display. Off to their left was the big Gorn battlestation and a lot of ships. This was not going to be an easy fight, that was for sure. His Team cheered at the loud whhhoooof of the fighter being launched. Minutes later, the com channels began to broadcast the usual chatter from the initial formations as the first orders were issued and acknowledged. The bridge's selection of battle music started out with an ancient Earth tune, slow and low, 'The Gael', matching the tempo of operations aboard ship. Corin thought again that whoever was the bard on the bridge needed some sort of award.

A volley of missiles streaked away from the fighter groups and Corin ordered “Right! Get the reloads up from ready storage now, make sure you're ready to re-arm and recharge as soon as they're back. We're still early on so take your time and do it right.” As was his long habit, he glanced down the long bay towards where Lt. Tam's Hornet was berthed. The new Team Leader there was male and seemed to have things well in hand. Corin always felt that Nollos was still there, somehow, and always half-expected to see her white-clad form smiling back at him. But now, he also spared a thought for Eletha, attending to the kits too young to have regular duties. The nursery was well protected and for that he was glad.

His thoughts were interrupted by a squad of armored Marines jogging up in full battle-gear. One Marine approached him in his mottled blue-grey and tan armor, plasma rifle, and helmet in hand. The one solid, one broken bronze stripe across his shoulders marking him as a Team Leader. “Team Leader Corin?”

“That's me.” he noticed one of the most junior warriors was Sooth and that she was trying very hard to look as hard as steel. He was quite sure Wilkes noticed her as well.

“Your Team will be needed to prepare a boarding pad for assault transport.” Different than standard transporters, the boarding pads were high-powered transporters and were send-only. They were designed for rapid evacuation of a ship, or to beam boarding parties through enemy jamming and were placed alongside some of the launch bays, each large enough to beam a standard team of ten and their leader at a single pass.

“Understood. What's the time-frame?”

“Third wave.”

“Got it.” he turned to his Team. “Crew Leader Wilkes, you will take charge of that duty. Can you get it done?”

“Yes, sir! I'll get them where they're going.”

“Right. Go get the Team Leader and his team situated and prepared for beaming, then get back here as fast as you can run. You're going to have to juggle both duties, but when the time comes, the Marines take priority, right?”

“Understood sir.” Wilkes said, gathered up his crew and jogged off, leading the Marines to the pads.

S'Thor cheered “They got one! A minesweeper just blew up!” and the other Dosadi joined in. Corin spoke quickly, “We're trying to keep casualties to a minimum, remember? This is more like the Challenge Ring “ we need to win without killing, to force them to give in, not to kill them.”

Ears and tails drooped throughout the team, “Yes, sir.” S'Thor answered back. Neither of his parents had survived the battle at Toulagai when the weapons pods they were stationed in aboard the heavy destroyer Dosin had been savaged by Gorn fire..
~~~~~

The human woman...”What was her name?” Jons wondered to himself, oh yes, “Rebecca” or some such, simply would not be quiet. She seemed compelled to maintain a steady stream of chatter about the most insignificant happenings across the Federation. Had it not been for his experience with the truly exceptional Ensign Yoshida aboard the Succession, he would discount the entire breed. She suddenly stopped her prattle when a group of half a dozen fully-armored Marines came trooping into the ballroom and took up 'honor guard' positions around Furball.

Jons stifled a grin. Someone had screwed up. Had they been in dress uniforms, they might have explained it away, but in combat gear? Were they afraid Furball was going to run? He looked mad enough to spit and the look he shot T'Skay was pure rage.

Realizing that the woman had asked him something about the Marines he answered “No, no, my dear, a guard of honor is not unusual at all for military men.” That was true as far as it went, but in true diplomateese, it left much unsaid. Smiling to reassure her, he was further distracted by a bright flash outside the ballroom's truly massive crystalline windows, a small white blossom of death slowly turning an angry red against the black of space.

He frowned. That was a ship dying out there somewhere. T'Skay's leaving the ballroom earlier, the guards, the flash, it could only mean one thing. They were coming for Furball. T'Skay had run out of time. In fact, T'Skay was hustling out of the ballroom again, no doubt to get to his command post. The Colonel wished that he could accompany him rather than being stuck here out of the loop, unable to contribute. His duty was here, unfortunately.
~~~~~

Corin and his team were hustling. All 18 fighters had recovered at high speed and they were re-charging and re-arming them as fast as they could. The music reflected the frenetic pace with a fast tempo driving tune; even the kits were moving as fast as their much shorter legs could carry them.

They quickly cycled through their tasks, the tugs pushing the fighters back into their launch tubes, the leaders connecting the various lines and making them ready to launch. Crewmen panted while the kits ran about with energy drinks and small snacks or cleaned up the work areas. Moments after the last fighter was loaded into its launch tube, the loud 'whoooooouf' of them launching echoed through the bay again.

Catching their breath and catching up on the battle outside, they saw a Gorn corvette begin making a wobbly turn away from the other ships towards the battlestation, obviously grievously wounded. The fighters again deployed into wings, and again weapons streaked across space.

The tension in the bays increased with the music as the fighter groups held their fire, accelerating to their maximum speed and closing with the Gorn cruisers. Corin ordered, “Get battle damage kits now and make sure the medical team's ready to go.”

His Crew Leaders jumped to carry out their orders as the tiny dots within the holo-display merged, and then split again. Counting the returning fighters, Corin was stunned to see them all on their way back while both the enemy battlecruiser and a frigate were staggering out of line. But...The entire team was shocked into silence. The huge Dosadi battleship Dorsai was clearly hit badly. Everyone aboard was friends with or knew someone serving on her and the fear everyone felt for their well-being was palpable.

But there was no time to worry about their friends as damaged fighters began streaming into both ends of the open deck, slamming into the retarder fields. Delac's Tomcat had taken a couple of light hits from enemy phasers, gouging melted tracks through her wing and hull plates, but nothing serious. Two of M'Ralin's crew began bonding patches and replacing damaged wiring and optical harnesses while Wilkes' crew struggled to reload the bird's weapons and re-charge her shield and phaser capacitors.

Corin spared a moment to glance into the next bay. Medics were hauling the pilot, Lt. Rrawl, out of her smoking cockpit. A replacement pilot was already standing by while the team struggled with replacing the Tomcat's canopy and bonding plates over the gaping hole in the hull. There was no time to worry about their friend. Others now had the responsibility for her. The bird needed to be ready to go again, immediately.
~~~~~

Colonel Jons could hardly be more disgusted. There was clearly a massive battle going on outside and he was stuck in a dress uniform at a dancing party. “Might as well be a dress.” he thought to himself. Young Rebecca was pestering him for his opinions on what might be happening, and displaying a bureaucrat’s usual knowledge about military matters: None whatsoever.

“My dear, starship combat is not quite what you've seen in the entertainment suites. There are no handsome, heroic pirates flying to the rescue in shuttlecraft, nor are things quite as clean as you see there. A ship is a team where everyone must play their part and believe me the casualties are very real, very bloody, and very personal.”

She seemed to not believe him, “What I don't understand is how there's any sort of fight at all. Whoever it is must know that Star Fleet doesn't allow this sort of banditry. Do they think there's something to steal? Do they think they can get away with disturbing the peace and causing all this damage? It's not right.”

Struggling to maintain his diplomatic composure, the Colonel tried to explain, “Madame, in the first place, we are a long way from Federation territory. In the second, Star Fleet allows, and in fact often encourages, a great deal of banditry in the name of maintaining the peace. Thirdly, if what I think is occurring is in fact occurring, they are not coming here to steal anything. No bandit possesses the firepower needed to seriously threaten this station, much less the Gorn fleet stationed here.”

“Why Colonel! You must not know very much about Star Fleet. They're the maintainers of peace throughout the galaxy! Why, they protect everyone “ they're a force for Justice.”

Staring at the woman, Jons made one more attempt. “And do you think the Romulons, or the Klingons, or the Orions would agree that Star Fleet protects everyone? Or do you think that they would even agree with your definition of Justice?”

She was clearly struggling with the concept, “Well, Justice is a universal, Colonel, everyone knows that. And yes, I think they would agree with me. The only times we've fought with them it was because they attacked US. Star Fleet is a defensive organization only.”

He smiled, “But of course. How silly of me.” Another very bright flash outside the window caught his attention. Looking back down, he saw the Dosadi ambassador offering a silent toast across the room to T'Skay, who got up and quickly left again. “Well, in any case, Star Fleet is not here, but it appears that the Dosadi ARE.”

“The Dosadi? They're so cute! I don't think they would attack the Gorn “ we're all allies, it would be silly for them to attack an ally. If they were attacking us do you think the Dosadi ambassador would still be here? Look! He's having a great time! And the guest of honor is a Dosadi besides.”

“My dear child, the Dosadi are not whatever you think they are. They are vicious, blood-thirsty and utterly without fear. Their entire lives are dedicated to fighting anyone and anything that gets in their way. The guest of honor there, is an outcast who has, to their twisted way of thinking, betrayed their society and they are very likely coming here to get him back,whatever the cost.”

“Well, I guess we'll see who's right, won't we, Colonel?” she smiled brightly, utterly certain that she was correct and Jons, as a Soldier was just too ignorant and hide-bound to really understand the world as it was.

Jons rubbed his temple and reminded himself again that his duty was to be diplomatic, to be patient, and to be calm. “Indeed, we shall! If you are right, I shall buy you a bottle of your favorite wine as a prize.” and he smiled at her.
~~~~~

The fighters had returned again, and again his team moved as quickly as they could, hauling 400 lb missiles, heavy cables, hull patches, parts, and tools up and down the birds. The exhaustion was starting to tell on his team. But the work needed to be done fast, and perfectly every time. Each time they returned, there was more battle damage to be repaired, more friends being hauled out of cockpits with burns, impact or shock injuries, and more parts to be replaced “ both living and mechanical.

They had damaged the enemy carrier though, with Delac leading White Wing in an assault that was followed by the destroyers and the heavy cruiser Thelet. Her fighters were airborne now though “ it was vital that the Delos' own birds be back up immediately or the Gorn fighters would do to them what they had just done to the Gorn. It seemed like an eternity before the fighters were finally back in their launchers and the familiar sound of their launching echoed throughout the bays.

Sitting on his tool box, panting and trying to down an energy drink, Corin watched the swirling combat outside his ship. The holo-display showed six Gorn Thunderbolts being annihilated by Delac's Tomcats before they could even get a shot off. Three of the Hornets from the heavy cruiser Dinen charged into six Stings from the Troy, and while the dogfight raged, six Gorn Tomcats launched their own missiles at the Delos moments before being obliterated by a plasma-torpedo shotgun fired by the Dinen.

Watching only a single Sting struggle away from the fight, Corin wondered about the Gorn. Three entire wings, destroyed. 24 pilots and gunners, gone just like that. The Gorn maintenance crews waiting for their birds to return, for their friends to jump out of cockpits with their tales to tell of valor and courage. But of course, they would never hear those stories. He knew one of the Team Leaders in Black Wing and wondered if one of the three lost Dosadi Hornets was his. They would have to tell the tales for those who no longer had a voice. The Gorn pilots were brave and fought hard. They deserved no less.

And again he found his thoughts returning to Nollos, her smile, the ferocity with which she did her job and drove her team, and how much he missed her. He hoped that Eletha was staying safe. But the empty fighters were returning again “ there was no time to waste on personal thoughts.

“On your feet!” he roared, “Break time's over you lazy kits! Get the reloads up from ready storage NOW! You! Kit! Get that crap off the deck! Wilkes! You had better get those fucking tools where they belong or you're going to be eating them when Delac lands “ Secure that shit.”
~~~~~

Colonel Jons had just regained his seat after safely maneuvering his much taller partner around the dance floor to a dance that had been popular on Earth before they even discovered warp drive. He was glad that he didn't have to try to dance with a Gorn. As he reached for his wine, he noticed T'Skay drench several people sitting across from him. He wondered what it was the aide whispering in his ear had said. Whatever it was, it obviously wasn't good as T'Skay almost ran out of the ballroom.

He tried to think how many ships the Dosadi could have brought with them “ it couldn't have been very many. The Romulons would never let a large fleet through their territory, they hated the Dosadi more than anyone after the Razing of Romulus.. Would they? What would it take for them to do so...?

The flashes outside the big windows were getting closer. That clearly meant that things were not going well for the Gorn. The green lines of phaser blasts were visible now and the streaks of missiles and fighters racing between invisible starships glittered against the deep black of space. What size fleet had the cats brought with them? The Gorn fleet was massive, with fighter support from both a carrier and the station. He began to wish he had brought his own battle armor and weapon with him. The closest thing to a weapon he had available was a steak knife. Rebecca interrupted his thoughts again.

“I said, thank you for the dance, Colonel.”

“Huh, what? Oh, of course, I'm sorry, I was distracted. The pleasure was entirely mine, madame. The Gorn set an excellent table, do they not?”

“Yes, they do “ what is this wine?”

“Ah! It is actually a drink from my home-world. A fermentation of a vine-fruit that is close to your grapes but with a much crisper flavor, I think you'll agree.”

“Oh definitely.” She glanced up as a number of rapid-fire flashes light up the windows. Colonel Jons recognized them as exploding fighters and grimaced at the deaths that represented.

“Well, battle or not, it's quite pretty from here.” she said. “Like fireworks!”

The Colonel made no reply, saying a silent prayer for the souls of the dead “ of whichever side.
~~~~~

Wilkes, dripping sweat and splattered with lubricant and coolant got Corin's attention, “Corin, we're down to our last reloads in ready storage, we've used up about half our total missile reloads and if they don't start giving us more power for re-charges, it's going to take a lot longer to get the birds ready to go again. We're running low on hull patches and coolant. They're pushing the birds harder then they were ever designed to go and they're getting shot to shit.”

Corin studied the holo-display. The fleet was closing with the battlestation, and several more Gorn ships had been forced to disengage. The Delos staggered as several weapons struck home. Most of the ships had begun taking damage but so far Nolin was maneuvering his ships like a master, forcing the Gorn to continually engage different ships without the opportunity to concentrate their fire.

“Corin, they're on their way back again.”

Sighing heavily, his tail drooping Corin replied, “Get the last reloads up from ready storage I'll tell the bridge we need more made available. Figure out something on the power, we don't have it to spare. Use the coolant and the patches until they're gone, and then piss in the damn tanks and cut plates off the hull if you have to.” He turned to a comm-panel and began punching buttons.

As Corin finished his report to the bridge, the first fighters began to slam down the deck, the scream of displaced air matching the groaning of the retarding fields and the exhausted teams jumped to their tasks again.

The music was still playing throughout the bay, but the exhausted crews were too tired to sing. Pilots staggered out of their cockpits to lay flat on the deck while frightened, weary kits tried to give drinks and snacks to the sagging adults. Almost half of the pilots had become casualties to one degree or another and the Delos was out of replacements. Laying on his back next to his shattered helmet, his face bloody and trying to recover some sense of balance, Delac was still issuing orders through his com-set. “Tell the medical officer that he needs to start triaging the pilots. We're all beat up. We need to keep the birds manned and flying, that's all there is to it.”

Delac watched the holo-display while he tried to catch his breath. Another Gorn ship exploded. As thick, green lines raced across the display from the battlestation to their sister-ship the Eleth, he exclaimed “By all the gods!” as the phaser-IV's slammed into the carrier along with a cloud of weapons from the Gorn fleet. In return, the Eleth's fighter groups were shooting the hell out of anything that moved.
~~~~~

“What on EARTH?!” Rebecca exclaimed as the lights in the ballroom dimmed and the entire room flashed bright green for a moment.

Furball spun around in his seat and looked out the big crystal windows, finally realizing what had been happening behind him.

Colonel Jons picked up his wine glass and admired the crystalline sapphire color of the drink. “That, my dear, is a Federation designed heavy fusion-powered Phaser Cannon Mark IV, with an impact energy of about 20 megatons. The fact that the station is firing them means that the Dosadi have managed, somehow, to burn through a rather large minefield, shoot through T'Skay's massive battle fleet and get close enough to the station to be in range of those weapons. I believe your phrase for it is 'Guess who's coming to dinner?'” and he smiled.

The young woman looked up, her mouth hanging open. “It just can't be. There must be some other reason. Come, dance with me! It's still a party, right?” The Colonel was stunned. Did this woman inhabit some other universe? He allowed himself to be urged onto the dance floor. They were still dancing when the lights dimmed to a battle-red and a full squad of twelve armed and armored Marines began to take up defensive stations in the ballroom. There was light applause from the bewildered diplomatic guests as six Thunderbolt fighters launched past the windows, angling up into space.

~~~~~

Corin was still watching the holo-display as he argued with the Manpower officer on the bridge. The Delos was still taking hits although it sounded like her shields were holding most of the time and the damage was minimal. The ISS Dinen in an act of valor beyond anything he had ever seen had undertaken a nearly single-handed attack on the battlestation, absorbing a constant pounding by the phaser cannon and managing to down the station's number-six shield in the process. She was now racing up and away from the station, her shields utterly collapsed and damage scattered across the entire vessel. Corin simply could not understand how the ship had not been destroyed.

But while they were shooting the heavy cruiser, they were NOT shooting anyone else. The Gorn fleet was essentially combat-ineffective with only one vessel still actively maneuvering against them. They had closed to within transporter range and the fighters were sitting in their launch tubes waiting for the next strike assuming their pilots didn't collapse from exhaustion while sitting in their cockpits.

“Wilkes! Take your crew down to the boarding pad. It’s time.”

Clearly exhausted, Wilkes got to his feet, gathered up his four crewmen and made their way down to the boarding pad. He approached the Team Leader, a big male named T'Awn. “Team Leader, if you wanted to get your team ready, we're within range now. The order could come at any time.”

“Understood Crew Leader. We've got a few minutes “ one of my crews is on a damage control call right now, but I'll signal them to return.” He began to speak into his com-set as Wilkes caught Sooth's eye. They made their way a short bit apart from the rest of the Marines.

“Are you ready? Are you OK?” he asked her.

Her blue eyes were wide and she was trembling slightly. “I think so. I can't decide if I'm more excited or terrified.” she chuckled. “I think terrified.”

He studied her for a moment. She looked supremely dangerous in her camouflaged armor, with a heavy plasma rifle in her hands, her armor festooned with ammunition, knives, and explosives and a combat helmet tucked under her arm. But what he saw was a beautiful young being, someone who had become more dear to him than anyone or anything in the universe. The fact that she looked like a large cat had nothing to do with what his heart felt. He wrapped her in his arms in a powerful hug “ not a gesture the Dosadi used but one Sooth was well familiar with by now and returned with gusto. A few of the other Marines chuckled at this odd display and exchanged knowing looks.

Wilkes turned away from her and began preparing the transport pad, opening sensor arrays and looking for weak points in the Gorn jamming fields designed to scatter transporter beams.
~~~~~

Rebecca was becoming irritated. The dim lighting was acceptable, but when the heavy fiber-coil window shields slid into place, cutting off the view of the stars and the Marines stationed in the ballroom began to flip tables over, it was simply too much. The gas-tight doors had come down, effectively trapping them all in here and was this really necessary?

Still dancing with Colonel Jons she whined, “I say, I don't see why they have to dirty up OUR party! Why, these Dosadi won't bother us! We're civilians! See? Even the Dosadi ambassador is still enjoying his dinner!”

Disgusted, Jons glanced at the ambassador. He was digging into his steak with a huge, fang-baring smile on his face, chuckling every now and again. The Colonel would have sworn that the man was purring. Returning his attention to the empty headed Federation bureaucrat he said, “Madame, the Dosadi consider civilians to be a particular delicacy. If this station cannot fight them off, you may find yourself being served at THEIR next party.”

“Eek!” she said, dumfounded. Sheltered her entire life by the power of the Federation Star Fleet, she had almost certainly never been in any physical danger in her entire life. The concepts she had been exposed to tonight had shaken her to her very core.

Moments later the station began to shake and ring as though the entire structure were being slammed by a giant hammer. Her eyes wide, she tried to grasp what was happening. Colonel Jons said “I'm sure that Star Fleet won't allow anything to happen. Shall we continue our dance? We should set the example, after all!” and he urged her back into motion.

They continued to dance as the sound of distant explosions began to be heard over the music. The Colonel felt that things were getting a bit surreal. He could hear the sounds of infantry combat through the hull plates and knew that Marines were fighting it out. He hoped that the Gorn defenses were as strong as they looked. But, he noted, there were ragged gaps in the Phaser Cannon fire coming from the station and he was not hearing much, if any, anti-fighter fire from Gatling phasers. That did not bode well.
~~~~~

Wilkes held up two fingers to the Team Leader “TWO minutes! TWO!”

The big cat signaled his team and they crouched into assault formations, each crew of four and their leader ready to clear their side of whatever space they materialized in. An assault transport was the riskiest possible military operation. Defenders would have a fraction of a second to see where they were going to appear, and another fraction of a second before the Dosadi could react. Training “ both quality and quantity - meant the difference between life and death.

Sooth tried to stop her hands from trembling as she knelt, looking through her close-quarter optics and covering what would be her sector as soon as they materialized.

“SIXTY SECONDS!”

Her mouth was dry and she desperately wanted to pee. Her heart was hammering in her chest. She could hear her teammates breathing in her ear-piece.

“FIVE SECONDS!”

She reminded herself of her training, deep breaths to calm herself and steady her heartbeat. Scan your sector. Engage any targets. Her crew would move to the Crew Leader's right and clear that half of the room, then sweep around clockwise and meet up with the other crew. Easy.

“ENERGIZING!!!!” She felt the world turn inside out. Wilkes shamelessly stole power from any system he could find, working the slides on the console to find a weak-point in the timing of the Gorn jamming fields. There was a large open-space on the sensors with what looked like a low population density. He aimed for the center of that spot and slammed the beam down as quickly as the system could manage it, praying to a God he had long forgotten that this would give Sooth that extra fraction of a second and keep her team intact...and then everything was obscured by a new wave of jamming. Breathing hard and with a sick knot of fear in his gut, he stepped back from the controls and headed back towards the fighter bay.

Colonel Jons opened his mouth to suggest that the two of them return to their seats when he heard the loud hum of a transporter beam. The music would mask the sound from anyone not within a few feet, but to him it was like an alarm horn. Shoving the empty-headed young woman down and away, he dropped into a fighting crouch as a blue-grey and tan mottled Dosadi Marine appeared directly in front of him, the muzzle of a plasma rifle inches from his face.

With the lighting speed of the highly-experienced combat-veteran that he was, he grabbed the barrel of the Marine's weapon and dragged them towards him. In a gun fight when you had no gun, the safest place was right on top of your enemy.

Sooth blinked to clear her vision from the fastest transport she had ever been through and felt someone grab her rifle. As she pulled back, dragging the tiny violet-skinned humanoid towards her, she heard her team opening fire. The two of them tumbled, with the little man kicking into her belly and launching her up and away. Maintaining her hold on her weapon, she landed on her back and swung the barrel “ and the man, still clinging tightly to her weapon but seemingly crawling up it “ back down, firing several rounds towards what could only be Gorn Marines as she did so. She had no idea if she hit anything or not and the sounds of plasma rifles and rail guns were drowned out by her own cursing and by that of the strange little man in the black and silver uniform. As they struggled they rolled across a young human female who was screaming and crying in terror. Flat on her back, Sooth was finally able to slam the butt of her rifle up and under the man's chin and then followed with a smashing blow to his face, knocking him off of her. As she rolled onto her stomach and began engaging the Gorn on her side of the room she felt a searing pain go up her back as her armor slammed up into the back of her helmet.

It was an agony like nothing she had ever felt before. There was more noise, and screaming and it was getting hard to see. Probably the smoke, she decided. She continued to fire at the knot of Gorns across from her, unsure how many were still returning her fire. There was an explosion near her, people swearing in Dosadi, and she realized her helmet was gone and with it her com-set.

Struggling to reload her plasma rifle, she noticed the floor was covered in blood. That was going to be a serious mess for some kit to clean up. She finally got the magazine into the weapon, and decided that she should start to sweep clockwise. Her team was supposed to go clockwise. Raising to her knee, she shot several Gorn troopers who had been firing in a direction that made no sense to her. She felt good about her marksmanship; she saw them fall. The plasma rifle was a devastating weapon and she was quite good with it.

She tried to turn more to her right. It was getting very quiet in the room, perhaps they had got them all. Even the lights had been shot out, she thought. She felt another impact in her left shoulder but it didn't really matter. She had armor. She could barely see another pair of Gorn troopers in the dim light and engaged them both, wrestling with the heavy rifle since her left arm didn't seem to want to work any more. Probably because Wilkes was laying on it. Whenever he did that it always fell asleep like this. And sleeping with him was always so nice. He was warm, and she was so very cold for some reason.

~~~~~

Wilkes was trying to hurry back to the fighter bay. He had heard them launch again and knew he and his crew would be needed there within minutes. He saw Corin and M'Ralin manhandling a Countach missile out of the ready locker and then a Gorn phaser sliced through the hull and into the bay, splitting the 20' missile in half and throwing both men into the bulkhead like rag dolls. Firefighting gas was discharging into the bay as burning coolant, lubricants and propellant sprayed in all directions.

It was the nightmare all over again, except now, Corin wasn't there “ Corin was hurt, his head a bloody mess. It was all Wilkes. He was the only Leader left. Everyone in the bay was down and the fire was spreading fast. And finally, Wilkes understood. He understood the Dosadi philosophy, he understood his own life, and everything made sense in one blinding shock of clarity. Our lives are a story, a story that always ends for everyone. What mattered was when you came to the end of your tale, how you wrapped it up.

Yelling over his shoulder as he ran, “FOLLOW ME!!” he led his crew into the burning bay against the smoke, the flames and the venting atmosphere. “Get them out of here! MOVE!” The ready-locker was open, its ballistic door blown off by the phaser blast, a half-dozen missiles exposed to the flames. If those went off inside the bay, there wouldn't be anything left of anyone. He grabbed a fire-fighting kit and began blasting the flames away from the locker, his back to the warheads.

But he was running the Red Queen's Race “ having to run twice as fast just to stay in one place. If he could just hold the fire off long enough for his crew to get the wounded out of the bay, they could blow a hull-plate and vent the fire into space or something. But there was no time “ the door was closing to isolate the bay and it was getting so hot. His uniform was beginning to scorch and blister and he could feel his face burning. God it was hot. The fire-fighting kit wouldn't last forever and it felt like the flames were getting closer. If only he could see if they had gotten everyone out, he could leave and they could let the door close. But it was too hot, he couldn't even keep his eyes open and god it was hurting so bad. He hoped Sooth was OK. He coughed as he inhaled a lung-full of toxic smoke and that was the last thing Wilkes knew.


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