Chapter 5 – Attaque par la gauche
As expected, even once they had settled on a Starfleet vessel as the appropriate venue, neither of the Parties would agree to negotiating anywhere near the home planet of the other. With tact, finesse, and an innate ability to play one side against the other - Tom would have called it Macchiavellian, but for his childhood determination to avoid using words he didn't quite know how to spell - Janeway managed to persuade both parties to meet orbiting the rogue planetoid.
Since part of the Starfleet vessels' task was to ensure that the conflict over Stellar Object XT-3476 - nicknamed "Midas" by some bright spark on Icheb's Astrometrics team - would not reignite, the proposal was both a defensible compromise and a handy way of killing two birds with one stone. Both Tom Paris and Bryn Gallagher approved readily.
Given the distances involved and the greater speed capability of the Federation's vessels, the Gettysburg had sent out shuttles to both systems to bring the dignitaries, while Voyager and her crew waited in orbit. Two same-model shuttles, same number of crew aboard, same level of Starfleet officer in charge. For Harry's ears only, Tom expressed the fervent hope that the interior décor would be an equally putrid shade of mustard yellow for both.
And even if it meant a few weeks of boredom, Tom made no secret – at least not to B'Elanna and the Kims - of the fact that he was glad that Admiral Janeway had chosen the Gettysburg to host the meetings between the Denarians and the Talari.
"You know, I don't think I could keep a straight face with these war criminals onboard," he said over dinner in his and B'Elanna's quarters. "I feel sorry for Gallagher. Not only does he have to make nice to the woman who gave the orders to melt down a whole continent of civilians, but also to a guy who ordered and oversaw the whole-sale cleansing of several Talari colonies, using up-close-and personal methods like torture, rape and amputations. The Cardassians have nothing on these people. Nothing."
B'Elanna picked up her wine glass, tipping it to her husband in silent agreement.
"Talith and Qorath. What a pair. May they rot in a hell of their own making." She swished the wine around in her mouth, as if to clear a particularly nasty taste, and swallowed.
Libby shook her head. "I don't understand how the Admiral agreed to having them on the delegations. Why not stick to civilians?"
"No choice," Harry said. "They send who they send. Besides, when there's been war for such a long time, the civilians aren't really in charge, no matter what they think. If their respective fleets don't agree with whatever deal gets hammered out, it won't happen. After twenty years of war, the military probably runs the place. Remember the Vaadwaur, guys?"
This last question was directed at Tom and B'Elanna, eliciting a slight frown from his wife.
B'Elanna nodded. "Wish I didn't," she said. She turned to Libby, who she knew was still catching up on the details of seven years of shared past between her husband and his friends, and occasionally admitted to feeling a bit left out.
"The Vaadwaur were these specially bred soldiers, who basically restarted a war within five minutes of being woken up from cryogenic stasis. And you couldn't talk to them. If there was any government that could have kept them in check, we didn't come across it. But I guess Harry's right. Janeway needs the military to buy into whatever she comes up with to get to peace, and they'll only accept a deal if they're at the table and see how it was arrived at."
Tom was frowning now, obviously thinking things through - an activity his wife still facetiously claimed gave her the willies when she saw him do it.
"Yep. Starfleet's been at the table in all major negotiations the Federation has carried out. The one time they got left in the dark about some of the relevant backroom dealings, we got ourselves the Cardassian treaty. My Dad once said Nacheyev is still not over that one, especially since Senior Command then also had to enforce it for years. One of the reasons they now send out Fleeters like the Captain on diplomatic missions involving armed conflict - Nacheyev squeezed the Federation for that concession."
The ensuing silence was interrupted – perhaps mercifully – by a beep in Harry's comm badge.
"Baby monitor," he said, to understanding nods around the table. "Look's like Tommy's awake. We better head back to our quarters."
Dishes were deposited in the recycler, and goodbyes quickly said. Tom followed Harry and Libby out into the corridor, heading towards the turbolift to make one of his late visits to the bridge. He had taken to dropping on late Beta or early Gamma shifts ever since their departure from McKinley; B'Elanna had initially laughed at his rather vague explanation – "just checking to make sure" - but had quickly gotten used to this latest quirk of her husband's.
With Voyager stationary in space there wasn't much activity on the bridge. Coulthard, seated at the helm and tasked with nothing more than maintaining a stable orbit, seemed to be playing some kind of game on his console. He looked up at Tom's approach with a guilty expression on his face, blushed into the tips of his ears and quickly switched the display back to the ship's current coordinates.
"Stay sharp, Ensign," Tom said, mitigating the reprimand with a clap on the junior pilot's shoulder. "Believe me, I know that's not always easy when nothing's going on. But we're in a war zone here, and can't afford to let our guard down."
Tom turned to Rollins. A perpetual Lieutenant, the man was as reliable as he was unambitious, and happy to be Voyager's uncrowned King of Gamma Shift for an eighth year. As always, he came to full attention when he felt his Captain's eyes on him. If he remembered the days when a pipless Tom Paris first appeared on Voyager's bridge, uncertain where to stand and what to do with himself, he had never given any indication of it.
"Keep your eye on Coulthard and his console," Tom said in a low voice. "He's got too much of my own pre-Janeway self in him. Too sure of himself."
Rollins nodded, all business. "Aye, sir. Will do. We're continuing with the scans. No vessels in the vicinity, apart from the Gettysburg of course."
"Good. Let's hope it stays that way. We'll be expecting company tomorrow, when the delegations arrive. Should be small vessels, and they'll be headed straight for the G'burg. They're not due till sometime during Alpha shift but if they show up early, get me up."
Tom looked around the bridge one more time before heading back to the turbolift. His bridge. Funny, how suddenly he seemed to have developed such very … proprietary feelings about the place.
Of course, if he thought about it, he had always considered it his, even when his place was behind the helm and others were issuing the orders. And during the mission to the Snowflakes he had (slowly) gotten used to walking on the bridge and seeing crew and officers come to attention at his presence; certainly they seemed convinced it was his bridge.
But this … this feeling … this was different. And then it occurred to him: Kathryn Janeway was onboard again.
Onboard his ship.
He shook his head, more surprised than angry at himself. Was he turning into Neelix, bitten by the green-eyed devil of jealousy? Voyager was Kathryn's ship as much as his, probably more. He knew always known this. Respected her claim. So why did he suddenly feel as if he needed to stake one of his own?
Ghosts and shadows. Maybe the rivalries of the Denarian system – no, Denaros and Talar, he had to remember this – were getting to him, like some kind of poison gas creeping into his ship and thence into his head?
Rather than engaging the computer to operate the turbolift Tom punched in the manual command, perhaps a little harder than he needed to, and rolled his eyes at himself.
Get over yourself, Paris.
He stepped out into the corridor, and headed home.
Several days later, according to Janeway's nightly reports, the Parties were no closer to any agreement – on anything, as far as Tom could tell – than they had been before one of them had ever contacted the Federation. At least they were prepared to tolerate each other's presence in the same room now, an enormous step up from the "proximity talks" Janeway had to engage in during the first week.
Knowing that the negotiations would be proceeding at a snail's pace, Kathryn had decided that although – or rather because - they were taking place on the Gettysburg, her home base would remain on Voyager. Not only did the daily commute via transporter allow for a useful perception of distance between herself and the parties, but it also allowed her the occasional chance to kick off her shoes and vent her frustrations, without any danger of being overheard.
This was such a night, she had informed Tom, peremptorily requesting his presence in her quarters – preferably carrying some non-replicated … refreshment. No stranger to Janeway's voice and its setting for "not-tired-as-much-as-exasperated", he had brought one of his special South African reds – Nyere Vineyards, 2374 merlot - from his and B'Elanna's private stasis storage.
"These are without any doubt the most stubborn, opinionated people I have ever come across," she fumed, clutching her rapidly diminishing, deep-ruby prize in her quarters, like a drowning victim would at a plank in churning, blackened waters.
Tom, his long legs crossed in an effort to suppress the temptation to put them on the Admiral's coffee table, snorted a little and pushed the bottle in her direction. He privately thought that the warring parties' ability to see the grand prize through any observation windows was perhaps more impediment than incentive to any fruitful outcome, but was prepared to bow to the Federation's Chief Negotiator's wisdom on that score.
"I suppose when you're in the habit of characterizing someone as the incarnation of evil, it's hard to look them in the eye and listen to what they have to say. Kahless knows, I wouldn't be able to make small talk with the Borg Queen."
Looking at Kathryn through slightly veiled eyes, he added cautiously, "Guess having those war criminals in the room can't help matters."
Kathryn sighed. "Actually, one of them is probablythe most sensible person in the room. At least the military knows exactly where they'll be if this fails, and have a personal stake. It's the politicians that insist on regurgitating past grievances until they foam at the mouth and I have to call a time-out. It's almost as if the feel they need to put on a show for the voters."
She drained her glass. "If something doesn't happen soon, I don't know what I can do it this. I'm good, but let's face it – I'm not a trained diplomat any more than you are, Tom. I've just been forced into doing this on the fly for seven years, and gotten lucky a few times."
Kathryn looked at her former helmsman, grateful at the ease between them that allowed her to confide in him now, as she once had been able to do with Chakotay.
She missed having her former XO by her side more than she could say at times, even if he had distanced himself from her somewhat during their last year in the Delta Quadrant. After the Equinox ...
"If I'm honest, my instinct is to take the lot of them and bang their heads together. What we need … is something to break the stalemate. A new idea. A game changer. Anything."
Tom winced, recalling the last time he himself had used that term.
"Be careful what you wish for, Admiral," he said. "But I take your point. If I come up with a bright idea, you'll be the first to know."
He took a sip of his wine, conscious of the time and the fact that he had promised Miral a bedtime story. The Wind in the Willows was her current favourite, and there was certainly something to be said for the idea of messing around in boats – even if you only got to do it inside your own head. But there were still a couple of questions he wanted to ask, since Janeway seemed to be in a confessing mood.
"How's Gallagher and his crew?"
"Holding up. I'm trying to keep them mostly out of things, except for lunches in the Captain's dining room, which the senior officers tend to get roped into. Alternating between the parties, and the officers."
The absence of a formal dining room on Voyager had been the major reason why Janeway was holding her 'talks' on the Gettysburg. Not for the first time, Tom raised a private toast to Neelix, who had dismantled the Captain's private dining room to create his – now Chell's – kitchen during Voyager's early days in the Delta Quadrant. You just never knew how long or how far the ripples of a given decision might reach …
He carefully schooled his features back from repressed gloating into professional interest mode.
"Any major issues with their … guests so far?"
Kathryn shrugged. "Just the usual. Quarters too hot or too cold, beds too hard or too soft, depending who's doing the complaining. They never seem to be able to get it just right … Luckily, the delegations are housed quite far apart from each other."
Kathryn failed to suppress a throaty chuckle now, and gripped Tom's arm with her hand. She had always been tactile, especially with her former helmsman and First Officer, and he found himself unexpectedly reveling in the familiar, but increasingly rare, touch.
"Imagine this, Tom. Joss, their security chief, actually had to work out a turbolift schedule, down to the microsecond, after one particularly nasty incident where Qorath and Talith almost ended up on the same one."
Tom snorted. Will Riker had told him a few war stories about the need to keep hostile delegations apart, lest bodies start littering the corridors. The jokes about disposing of the 'political fallout' had been rather black that day … he couldn't resist.
"The cutting edge of diplomacy: How to keep your guests from slitting each other's throat."
Kathryn gave him a mock-frown, and for a moment they held each others eyes, brimming with laughter at the ridiculous image conjured up by murderous ambassadors sneaking down ill-lit corridors, ceremonial daggers raised high above flowing robes.
Tom sobered first.
"I suppose for them, riding the turbolift with the other wouldn't be much different from asking B'Elanna to get into a shuttle with Crell Moset," he said softly.
Kathryn sighed. "Indeed. But every day, we're back to square one. Neither of them have the slightest interest in reconciling differences, except on their own terms. The new definition of compromise: get everything you want, give away nothing."
She set down her glass, the fatigue etched into her face becoming increasingly hard to conceal.
"Well, don't let me keep you any longer, Tom. I know Miral will want her story … Thanks for dropping by and letting me vent a bit. I needed that. And thanks for the wine."
Tom unfolded his legs and got up. "Anytime. It's not as if I have anything else useful to contribute to this mission."
He pulled a face. "I mean, since we're into venting … Truth be told, yes I was looking for something a little … quieter after our adventure with the Orions, something routine, not that we have a lot of experience with that. But now, hanging here in space, doing nothing but staring at this rock and making sure nobody steals it … that's a tad sleepy even for my taste."
Kathryn patted him on the arm again. "You are making a contribution, Tom, you and Voyager. For one thing, you're keeping me sane. But more importantly, if Voyager wasn't there guarding the discussions on the Gettysburg and deterring people from breaking the ceasefire, who knows what might happen?"
"Yeah, I know," Tom sighed. "But you know what? It's hard to get any kind of job satisfaction when the outcome of what you're doing is basically a non-event. I mean, how do you measure shit that didn't happen? You can't."
"Unless you're Captain Braxton," Kathryn mumbled under her breath.
"Never mind. Old acquaintance. Just as well you don't remember him."
"Wait a minute. The name does ring a bell. Oh yeah, he was that guy with the time ship. Nice lines, that ship had. Borrowed some of 'em for the Flyer. Right." He frowned, replaying a memory in his mind.
"It's coming back. He thought we should blow ourselves up so something wouldn't happen in the future, and you told him to piss off. Politely, of course. So I guess you agreed with me then: prevention is a mug's game. Hard to assess. And yes, I know I shouldn't be looking for excitement. Anyway, good night."
Janeway chuckled, as he turned to leave.
"As you said yourself, Tom – be careful what you wish for."
Another day, another battle drill successfully completed. Tom wondered how long he could keep his crew sharp under the circumstances.
He stared at the view screen, where the Gettysburg's silvery form was just visible behind the small, innocent-looking circle that was Stellar Object XT-3476. This far out, the light of the binary suns barely reflected off the planetoid, and over the space of several otherwise empty days, the Ops team had meticulously reprogrammed and enhanced the screen to include the infrared, energy and mass spectrums.
With all those different sources of information merged into one coherent visual image, the screen provided a multi-hued vista that had Asil, Harry and Icheb practically blabbering with enthusiasm. Well, maybe just Harry. Good thing somebody found some excitement in this assignment …
All three of Voyager's chief 'science geeks,' as Tom privately considered them, were hunched over Asil's console again today. They had been there on and off for days, except when Tom dragged Icheb into the Astrometrics lab to play with the Gettysburg's data from the Antarean subspace rift, or when Harry had crew rosters and other administrivia to deal with. Asil's stamina was unflagging, in particular as there were some areas on the planetoid that seemed resistant to sensor penetration. The small body, she had declared, was "unquestionably worthy of close exploration".
Tom was about to turn away from the view screen when something on the planetoid's surface caught his attention. He looked at it through narrowed eyes, wondering whether he had been mistaken when he heard no comments from the Ops console.
"Harry? Asil?" he asked. "What was that?"
Harry looked up. "What was what?"
"That flash, on Midas just now. Eleven o'clock, about halfway between the centre and the outer rim. Actually, it wasn't a flash – more like the opposite. Something went dark for a second. Something was bright, and then … not. A shadow." He looked at the view screen again, but whatever he had seen, or imagined, was gone.
Harry moved over to the auxiliary console, almost shouldering aside the ensign who was working there now. He knew better than to question Tom's claim; experience had taught him that the former pilot's visual acuity was far above average. He had been the first to spot light when Voyager emerged from weeks of darkness, even ahead of their sensors, and could gauge distances and three-dimensional grids better than anyone he knew.
Asil's fingers were already flying on her own console, and the view screen zoomed in on the area Tom had described.
"You were correct, sir. Oval shape, vector eight-zero-nine, heading towards the Gettysburg. It is not presently visible because it is moving across an area in which the emissions we are tracking are in the dark spectrum."
"Oval shape? Can you be more specific as to type of object?" Tom asked. "Small space ship?"
"Unfortunately I cannot, sir. Our sensors are unable to obtain a positive reading. The phenomenon is noticeable only as a disruption in the mass spectrum emissions emanating from the surface. It is a most fortuitous result of the current integrated configuration of the view screen that you were able to detect it visually. I am unable, based on current available data, to determine its nature."
Tom and Harry stared at each other, silent for one split second, before saying, practically in unison, "Cloaked ship!"
Harry shouted to Baytart, "Red alert!" Tapping his comm badge, he added, "Kim to all hands. Battle stations. This is not a drill. Repeat. This is not a drill."
"Get me the Gettysburg online," Tom shouted to the ensign at comms.
"Channel open, sir."
"Voyager to Gettysburg. Paris here. Unidentified vessel on approach to your orbit. It's under cloak, presently travelling on vector eight-zero-nine. Repeat, vessel under cloak. Assume hostile intentions. Origin, size and weapons complement unknown. We're coming to back you up."
The comm crackled to life. "Gettysburg here. Acknowledged. Thanks, Voyager. All hands, red –" Gallagher's voice cut off in mid-sentence.
Tom turned to Baytart. "Course for the Gettysburg, full impulse."
Ten seconds should get us there.
"Phasers powering up, ablative armour activated, shields ready to come on line." Ayala. No need to tell him what was necessary. Shields would not be raised in order to enable emergency transport, one of the features of their repeat drills for protection of a sister ship.
Luck favours the prepared.
Under Baytart's capable hands Voyager peeled out of her orbit and headed for the Gettysburg.
"Asil, do you have something for us to lock onto?" Tom's voice was urgent, as the adrenaline pounded into his system.
Shit. I knew I should have kept my mouth shut about being bored.
"We are able to calculate the vessel's location based on the last vector and its likely target, but we have insufficient data as to its speed. It may also have adjusted course since we detected it."
In other words, no. Damn.
Tom strummed his fingers on the side of his chair impatiently, itching to be operating some kind of instrument, something, anything - helm, inertial dampeners, photon torpedo banks. To push a button, let phaser fire bloom in somebody's aft section. Was this what it was like, being a Captain in battle? Issuing orders, hoping they'd be carried out? Telling, not doing?
No wonder Janeway had always been so pithy with her instructions, always telling people to do the obvious. Control … need for control ...
"Gettysburg, anything? Power surges? They should be coming close."
"Nothing. Not yet. We can't find them. We can't fucking find them."
Gallagher – so, so tense.
"What the hell was that?"
The open comm line transmitted a loud noise, and an ominous clanking sound.
What the hell was that?
"Voyager to Gettysburg – have you been rammed? Status?"
"Not rammed, but something attached itself to our hull. There's something else. Vibrations."
Tom's eyes were drawn to the view screen, where the silvery hull of the Gettysburg now showed a distinct shadow, clinging to the aft section, near the warp core housing. The alien vessel's cloak had gone down, presumably in consequence to whatever action it was now preparing.
Vibrations? Not good.
"Mike? Do we have a shot?"
I have a bad feeling about this …
"Not without damaging the Gettysburg," Ayala said. "At least not from here. If we can get a different angle …"
Tom turned to Baytart to issue new instructions, but whatever he was about to say was stopped cold by Harry's next words.
"Tom. I'm reading a new power signature, coming from the hostile." Harry swallowed. "It's consistent with the readings the Flyer brought home from that continent on Denaros. They're … they're arming the Scourge."
Why wasn't Voyager being attacked? The thought struck Tom out of the blue, as did the answer. The peace talks. Everybody of value to those talks was on the Gettysburg.
"Gallagher – drop shields. It's a suicide attack. The Scourge. We'll try to get them off before they power it up fully. Mike - fire!" Tom shouted at Ayala. "Now!"
Whatever damage we cause to the Gettysburg, it will be as nothing compared to …
Ayala fired, three phaser blasts in rapid succession.
"Direct hit on the alien vessel. Propulsion is down."
Asil's voice stemmed any momentary elation.
"It remains attached, however, and there has been no effect on the weapon, sir. Its oscillation factor is increasing."
"No. Not now. Transporter room, evacuate the Gettysburg."
He turned to Ayala.
"Mike, keep firing. No shields until I say."
Immediate, unquestioning compliance. Control.
"Paris to Gallagher. We have to get your people off the ship. Send as many over as you can from your end, into the cargo bays. Do not transport onto our platforms. We need to double up."
"Paris to Zelis. Get out as many as you can! Disable safety protocols."
Mass transport had to bypass the platforms. It's how they had gotten two hundred Klingons off their ship once, before it self-destructed ….
Thank Kahless for all those drills. But time … need more time….
Tom's voice nearly broke with the urgency of the moment, his fingers racing on his chair console as he tried to locate life signs in what he knew would soon be a blackened mass of molten metal.
"Transporters offline," came Gallagher's voice. Calm and collected now, cool even.
"Oscillations from the weapons are also interfering with the engines; we can't get her away from you. Hull integrity already down to twenty percent. Do what you can for my people, Paris, then get the hell away from me. Godspeed."
Voices on the bridge, through the comm lines, all at once.
"We can beam out a maximum of twelve at a time." Asil.
Of course. He knew that. Had a Vulcan voice ever carried the sound of desperation, like this one, when stating the obvious?
"Transport priority?" Zelis.
All of them All of them. All…
"Weapon pulse at maximum frequency. Estimated time to G-burg hull disintegration twelve seconds. Expected impact on Voyager fifteen seconds after that." Harry.
Three-hundred and sixty-eight lives.
Where to point the transporters?
She would be the last to ask for priority, this he knew with a certainty he recognized as his own.
Ashmore and Parsons. They had stood shoulder to shoulder with him against the Kazon, the Hirogen and the Borg. Both serving on the Gettysburg now. They'd come over for dinner three nights ago …
What would Janeway do?
Janeway. The conference. Two worlds will go back to war if their leaders are killed.
No time to think what someone else would do.
Do. Just … do.
"Lock on Admiral Janeway's comm badge and transport her and everyone in her vicinity. Then scatter-beam the nursery. Get the children."
Whom next? Who appointed him arbiter of life and death?
Mess hall. Random selection, a cross section of the crew at any given time, many people in the same place.
"Then the mess hall. After that …" Bridge? Engineering? Shuttle maintenance …?
"Bridge next. Baytart – get us out of here, on my mark."
"Transport links are down, sir." Asil.
"How many? How many? Report!"
Calm down, Thomas. It is done.
"Sixty-five, sir. Twelve from Admiral Janeway's group, two separate transports to clear the nursery…" Asil stopped in her recitation.
Sixty-five. Out of three hundred and sixty-eight …
"Shields, Mike. Now." Harry.
The flash coming from the Gettysburg would have blinded every officer on the bridge but for the automatic filter in the screen. Still, when it came – brighter than a thousand suns – all hands flew up instinctively to shield vulnerable eyes. Tom was the first to open his, and saw the distortion seemingly warp the light of the surrounding stars, just before it hit.
"Brace for impact!" he screamed into the ship's comm system as the subspace compression wave caused by the Talari weapon propelled Voyager almost onto her side. Baytart's hands were flying on the helm as he tried to steady her.
Water stopped the molecular modification effect of the Scourge. Did the vacuum of space? Was that why the suicide ship had attached itself directly to the Gettysburg's hull?
Now's not the time to find out. Besides, there could be more of … them.
"Baytart, engage warp! Move, move, move!"
"I can't get a stable warp field, sir. She's being bounced around too much."
Not what he needed to hear. Tom was at the conn in three strides.
"Cut engines, now. Engineering, drop inertial dampeners by fifty percent and route power to external hull stabilizers, now!" He reached over Baytart's shoulders, tapping out a series of commands. The ship shuddered, and sat perfectly still.
Unquestioningly, Baytart entered the necessary command. The ship lurched and the officers on the bridge hung on to their stations as best they could. Who knew what was happening on the lower decks, where people had had no warning when the dampeners went?
With a groan that Tom could feel in his knees as he picked himself off the floor, the ship stretched into warp.
"I didn't know Voyager could go to warp from a standing start," Baytart said, his voice not concealing his wonder.
"Neither did I," Tom answered in a low voice. "I'd hoped, though. I've done it in the Enterprise's Flyer. Hard on the hull. Has to be a real emergency."
"Like imminent destruction?"
"Something like that."
Tom clapped the pilot on the shoulder and looked around the bridge, wiping the blood from the gash on his forehead off with his sleeve before it could run into his eye. There were a few loose plates on the floor, one or two consoles were fizzing and sparking from the overload, and Icheb was massaging his shoulder. He looked around furtively, hoping no one would notice, and stopped when he felt Tom's eyes on him.
The reports started to come in from all over the ship like a tidal wave. None offered comfort.
"Hull breach on Decks Thirteen and Fourteen. Structural integrity down by forty-two percent, but the ablative armour absorbed most of the impact of the shock wave."
So much for the question about whether the Scourge's impact can cross a vacuum. Obviously it's effectiveness is considerably reduced, but …
"Good thing we got her to warp when we did," Harry interrupted Tom's musings, obviously having had the same train of thought. "Who knows how hard we'd have been hit if we hadn't."
"Casualties in Engineering, the mess hall, Transporter Room Two ... Make that from all over the ship, sir. Two dead, twenty-seven injured and counting."
Two dead. Who? Which deck?
"We have warp, sir, but I can't hold it."
"Quarter impulse then, let's fix things up. Engineering. Status report."
He was beyond relief when B'Elanna's voice came on.
"Engines sustained minor damage; we'll have warp up and running again in an hour or so. Nicoletti is out with what looks like a skull fracture but okay. Repair detail to the breached decks is down a few hands due to injuries. We can use any additional personnel you can spare."
Harry made the ship-wide call for free hands to assist engineering without missing a beat. Then he looked up briefly from his console. Another report had come in.
"Nursery is undamaged, no injuries apart from a few bumps."
Thank Kahless. Miral … Selfish, selfish. What about the Gettysburg's children?
"Sickbay to bridge. Mr. Paris … Captain, I could use an extra pair of hands here. We have dozens of casualties here, more coming in."
"Acknowledged. I'll be there as soon as I can. Transporter room. Status?"
If her voice was anything to go by, Crewman Cor Zelis was hanging on to her equilibrium with every fibre of her being.
"Admiral Janeway and the delegates are bruised and shaken up but mostly okay. We have…" she suppressed a sob. "We have seventeen children here, and three teachers. About three dozen from the mess hall. And then … transporters cut out."
Zelis had done miracles, he realized. Sixty-five, in under twelve seconds. He would have to remember to enter a commendation on her file for what she had achieved.
And get her counseling for what she had not.
Another sob, a resolute clearing of the young Bajoran's throat. She was a Starfleet officer, and there was work to be done.
"The children are … traumatized, sir. What should we do?"
Seventeen. Likely all orphans now.
Deanna Troi, where are you …?
Tom turned to Ayala, whose uniform was scorched by the smoke emanating from the Tactical station, but who seemed otherwise okay.
"Mike, have your guys take the Denarians and the Talari to quarters. On separate decks. Twenty-four-seven guard detail outside. Don't let any of them out unless I say so. They are permitted to make one transmission each to their home worlds, to tell people there they're still alive. After that, shut down all comm links to their quarters."
Someone from one of those benighted worlds had taken their war to Starfleet. And the main proponents of that war were on his ship now. The hell with protocol and diplomatic niceties – for all Tom knew, one of those delegates had given the order himself.
All bets are off, when people are into dying for whatever passes as their cause …
Ayala nodded and headed for the turbolift, barking orders into his comm badge as he went.
Harry was on a comm line to his wife.
"Libby, can you and Emily go and take the children from the transporter room into the nursery for now, with their teachers? Take down names and details as best you can. The Starfleet personnel database will have …" his voice cracked a little. "Starfleet will have next of kin information. Get it. Headquarters will make the initial contact, but we'll need to be able to link the kids to their relatives when we can."
He headed over to the Captain's chair, his heart and his head pounding in unison. Breathing as evenly and as deeply as the adrenaline surging through his body would permit, but gasping occasionally as if he had just come out of a marathon run, Tom tried his damndest to quiet the voices that were hammering away at his mind - again and again and again.
Three hundred and three on the Gettysburg.
Two on Voyager.
Three hundred and three on the Gettysburg.
Two on Voyager.
Three hundred and …
AN: To justify awarding a hit, the fencing judge routinely announces the exact sequence of actions that took place before he called a "halt". It seems rather unnecessary when the action was obvious, but comes in handy when it wasn't. "Attaque par la gauche" means, literally, "attack from the left".
Right and left in this context are simple statements of fact, without political implications. But that said, some attacks, even in fencing, do seem to come from left field. And those tend to result in a hit.