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“Damage Report!” S’Tonn’s voice, clear and strong penetrated the fog in N’Vel’s head she pulled herself off the deck. The small bridge was heavy with smoke, and she felt a stab of sorrow at the sight of the gunner sprawled on the deck beneath his ruined console.

“Our shields have been overwhelmed, sir,” a sub-centurion reported. Through the smoke, N’Vel could see his face, smudged with soot. He looked improbably young. “They used something…some kind of phased energy weapon. We have hull breeches on decks seven and eight. Those areas are open to space.”

N’Vel and S’Tonn shared a look. “Engineering,” she said.

“Damage control crews are attempting repairs, but major systems--weapons, propulsion--are offline.”

“Casualties?” N’Vel asked.

“No word from MED yet, Admiral.”

N’Vel pursed her lips as a wave of fury broke upon on her heart. This enemy had bloodied her, damaged her ship, killed members of her crew, and they had done so with a casual ease after sustaining blows from two of their most advanced weapons. They made not simply to best the Empire, but to humiliate it as well.

“S’Tonn, launch those warheads.”

“Admiral, weapons crews report the launchers have been destroyed,” the young sub-centurion reported tentatively.

N’Vel braced herself against a bulkhead, as fury gave way to exhaustion. “We can’t even throw stones at them,” she sighed.

“No,” S’Tonn said, “but they are not moving to attack or withdraw. As a matter of fact that ship hasn’t appreciably moved under its own power since the plasma cannon hit it. There was no power signature when they positioned themselves to fire upon us--that appears to have been facilitated by maneuvering thrusters alone.”

“She may be more damaged than we considered,” N’Vel thought aloud. “And her fire was merely the last throes of a dying animal.”

“We should not be overconfident,” S’Tonn said, “but we should also press our advantage.”

N’Vel nodded, and then spoke to the young centurion. “Tell damage control that their priority should be weapons systems and tell them to rig a detonator to that warhead we have loaded in the tube.”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“Do we have communications?”

“Only short-range ship-to-ship.”

“I would caution you, Admiral,” S’Tonn admonished. “No one has had contact with humans in generations. We do not know how they will interpret an attempt to communicate. They may well see it as a sign of weakness.”

N’Vel shook her head. “I don't believe so. The historical records of commanders and diplomats who communicated with humans during the war all agreed that they were refreshingly free of such pretense. Most preferable to the Klingons. No need to parse every word for signs of dishonor or offense or the like." She turned back to the bridge crew. "Comms, put out a hail on all ship-to-ship frequencies.”

The young comms officer looked at her over his console with shell-shocked eyes, and N’Vel felt a pang of sympathy. The poor thing had all heard of starship combat--had probably looked forward to it in his naval academy days when it all seemed so romantic and fraught with opportunities for heroism and glory--and now was face-to-face with the ugly reality of it. “Yes, Admiral,” he said in a kind of bleat. Hopefully his voice would be stronger when he made contact. She turned to S’Tonn.

“I hope you’re right about that ship,” he said.

“Negotiations will surely be brief if I am not.”

“Admiral, the Federation ship is answering our hail!” the comms officer reported, sounding like he had just witnessed a miracle.

“Open a channel. Audio only,” N’Vel ordered. She didn’t want to tip her hand by showing the human her damaged bridge. Under her breath she muttered, “Let’s see where this goes…”



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