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The meeting in the ready room started several minutes early. The telemetry had already been poured over by Voraak and a battery of computer algorithms. Botha and Glir had repaired the minor damage to the interceptor after which Glir had taken the damaged cloaking device to his lab. Botha had set his crew to work preparing the weapons systems. Even Dr Eritt had prepared the sick bay for combat status since the Captain had decided they were going to liberate the colony.
Sai had been checked over by the doctor and given a mild sedative. He had then gone back to the flight bay to assist Botha's crew get all their ships ready for the mission ahead. The rest of the crew saw the anger in him and noticed how disturbed he looked since his return from the reconnaissance flight. Word had already spread from the crew that had been on duty during the landing throughout the remainder of the ship.
They had been infected by his mood. They were now spoiling for a fight. They wanted someone to pay for what Sai had told them happened at the colony. The ship had become quiet as the crew set about preparing with a grim determination. They had done whatever the officers had asked them to, especially if that officer was Sai Falar. Fifty-five minutes after Walker had announced the decision, the officers were all assembled, confident that the crew had the ship in hand. All that was left to be done was to prepare a plan.
"I say we crush them. A short sharp but precise attack on the ground forces, get the scientific people up here and then get out." Sai was still brewing, visions of O'Toole and his people making a desperate last stand still burnt into his retinas.
"Unworkable." Walker dismissed the suggestion out of hand. "There is no way we can elude the fleet above the colony, if we are to go in we have to take them out first. As for the scientists, I am not entirely sure that we should evacuate them, they could be going from the frying pan into the fire."
"I disagree, Captain." Glir had other ideas. "This research colony happens to be the foremost defensive weapons design facility of the Federation. You can't leave them here unprotected, and besides, we have survived this far because of the innovations we have come up with, and survival may just motivate this team down there to share some ideas with us."
The entire complement of officers stared at Glir in total wonderment. Kelsey finally broke the silence. "How do you know that, Ensign? None of us have been able to find that out." There was a thinly veiled accusation in the question.
"Let's just say that the information came my way in the last half hour. I really can't say more than that and in any case it's irrelevant. We need to retrieve those scientists and we don't have time to be distracted."
Sai turned on Glir. "It isn't true, dammit. O'Toole told me himself. The colony didn't have any strategic value."
"Falar, I know how you feel on this one, but I can assure you that O'Toole would not have known. Only the Commander of the garrison would have been informed of the real work the scientists were doing, and if the scientific staff were asked directly, they would have been under orders to deny it."
Walker hated it, but the Ensign was correct. This twist was one that he wished he could have predicted. It changed the playing field completely. It also gave some insight as to why the Orion Syndicate may want this colony. The Syndicate's principal business was tech running, and this site could yield the largest coup for them in a long time. He turned to Glir. "Forgetting the issue of how you got your information, is there any chance of the research down there falling into the hands of the Syndicate? Where are their labs?"
Glir shook his head. If they followed standard Federation practice for these types of colonies, then the research computers and data would be stored in a duck blind of some sort. My guess is that the research materials are in the duck blind that the scientists are hiding in now."
Walker had to admit that it made sense, but an additional objective didn't help matters here. "So as I see it, we need to take out the ships above the colony, then take out the ground forces, and then evacuate the colonists and their equipment, all the while leaving no trace of our presence."
"It's a bit late for that Captain. Mau has told them that I am here and what the ship I came from was. I suspect that we are going to have lots of company soon." Sai made a face when he mentioned Mau's name, like it tasted bad just to mention it.
"So we are also working against the clock, but at least we don't have to worry about silence, at least until we are ready to leave." Walker looked around the table. It was clear from the faces surrounding him that everyone shared his opinion that this was a daunting task. They needed an edge.
Glir looked lost in thought as he spoke. "You know, maybe Sai is in the right track for this one after all. Realistically, we can't take out an entire fleet and ground deployment without putting the scientists in grave danger, if we can do it at all. Perhaps a precision strike and run is the better option."
Walker stared at him. "You must be kidding. We could never evacuate all the people and equipment inside ten minutes, and even if we could we would be advertising the location of the duck blind for that length of time, giving the occupational forces time to take it out, and us with it. We can't use the transporters though the duck blind, and even if we could it was create the same problem. The probes and interceptors are simply no match for the firepower we would find ourselves in, and the Nullabor would be at the centre of a focussed attack, even with the covering units. The plan cannot possibly work."
"What if I can get the cloaking device working? It wouldn't cover us for long, half an hour at most. It could be just enough for us to pick up the colonists and put ourselves in a striking position."
"You have to get it working first."
"I've already looked it over. I think I can have it working and installed in thirty minutes. It's on its last legs, once it goes this time..."
"I get the picture. We'll do it." Walker turned to Voraak. "Can you and Kelsey put together a battle plan for after we have the colonists?"
Voraak glanced over to Kelsey who nodded. Her mind had been formulating ideas for the last minute, thanks to her link with the Captain. "You'll have them in an hour." Walker didn't doubt it.
"I will give Glir a hand and then make sure every system is ready Captain." Botha didn't even need to have his duties in this mission explained to him. Walker was very glad he had him along.
Walker turned to Errit. "The sick bay is already on alert and prepared, I will be on hand during the evacuation to check over the scientists." The doctor was also on the ball, Walker noticed. This was going well.
He turned finally to Sai. "I know you have a personal stake in this, but I want you where you are needed most. You will have the helm of the Nullabor during this mission."
Sai looked like he was about to object, but clearly thought better of it. "Aye Sir. If we get the chance Sir, I request permission to hold a memorial for O'Toole and his people after this is finished."
"Granted." Walker was glad that Sai was now accepting the inevitable. It was a sign of maturity in his young Helm Officer that was badly needed right now. Still, Walker felt a pang of regret at seeing this young man so professional and cool headed. It was like he had lost a little innocence with the attitude.
Walker dismissed the meeting and they all filed out of the ready room except Kelsey. They had a lot of work to do, they would likely be striking inside two hours. "You look haggard, Captain." He felt haggard as well, but Kelsey thought it wiser not to mention that. Her Captain and lover was brewing over what they found themselves in the middle of. In all the time she had known him, Walker was at his worst when he was not in control of his environment.
He looked over to her, staring at her elfin face for nearly a minute before answering. When he did, a small smile flickered across his face. "You're right, Alexis. It's just that I don't like being played like this."
"I understand." Walker felt the touch of his First Officer's hand against his, and her mind against his and felt soothed immediately. His smile broadened. "There, the universe is not that bad after all, is it?"
Walker admitted that it wasn't. "Listen, we have a lot to do in the next two hours..."
"I know. I better get out there and start working with Voraak." Kelsey straightened herself and Walker watched as the air of professionalism coalesce around her. She could be an impressive sight in full uniform when she meant business. The thought forces a smile from Kelsey when she read it in his mind. She started for the door before Walker stopped her. "Alexis, I need you to do something extra for me."
She turned back towards him. "What?"
"I want you and Voraak to run some checks. I want to know what communications have been received or transmitted to us in the last six hours. Glir has got his information somehow, and I want his source."
"You think he could be with the Syndicate?"
"I doubt it. He has saved this ship several times since Starbase 73, and if he was with the Syndicate he could have disabled us at nearly any time. Still, he is on someone's side, not necessarily ours. I would prefer if we are not surprised too many more times on this voyage."
"Understood. I'll get on it." Alexis was out the door a second after her confirmation of his orders. He sat back for a moment thinking. Much more of the puzzle was visible now, but very few questions had been answered. They were about to take on a major engagement that would force some hands in the matter, but it didn't change the fact that he still felt like he was being played. He was still angry, despite the calming effect his First Officer was having on him. He needed more to go on than this, especially as he was about to take his ship into such a dangerous situation. He hoped they would be fully prepared for what they were getting into. He decided to go out to the bridge and help. At least he would be doing something.
It was an hour later and with the exception of the cloak they were as prepared as they could be. Walker was listening to the plan as Voraak explained what they had worked out. "... So the principal objective is finding the duck blind in the first place. This can be achieved with one of your modified probes. It can blanket the colony area with a Federation pulse which the standard computers in the duck blind will recognise and respond to. Then it gets out of the area and defends itself as best it can while we go in under cloak to retrieve the colonists."
"If it survives until we are finished?"
"Then we can either abandon it or pick it up, revealing ourselves to the fleet above."
Walker thought about it for a moment. He was tired of the cat and mouse game of the last weeks and something inside him was revolted by the thought of abandoning equipment to these people. "There is too much on that probe that a tech runner could use, Voraak. I say we pick it up. Besides, we can't abandon these probes after they have saved us once already."
Voraak merely nodded. Walker realised that he had already come to the same conclusion, although Walker doubted Voraak held to the same emotional rationale about the equipment having saved them once already. Voraak continued his briefing. "Under cloak we get as close as possible and send a tight band signal to the duck blind requesting they extend the blind to cover us. We decloak and start transporting everything in sight. Once this is done we recloak, drop the blind, pick up the probe if possible and get out of there as fast as possible."
"Your plan does not mention sending a pulse to knock out their communications."
"Unnecessary. They know what we carry and where we are headed." Voraak made the statement with no emotion, and Walker resigned himself to the fact that he was right. They had to know, and there would be a cordon around DS2 for sure, if it wasn't under direct attack. Their best option now was to run straight to their destination. One and a half weeks at full warp. Walker was very thankful Botha was aboard, his skills would make the difference for the rest of the mission.
Walker nodded to Voraak. "Alright, we will proceed according to your plan. I want the weapons ready just in case, and I want you to help Glir getting that cloak ready. I will be on the flight deck prepping the probes if you need me."
"Aye Sir." Voraak said as he headed for the turbolift. Walker thought about the likelihood of the probe surviving the mission. It wasn't good. There would be a number of ground forces ready to take pot shots at it if the fleet didn't take it out. He found himself worrying about the unit that would end up being sent. It was like sending a member of the crew to his death.
Walker checked a few more details on the bridge before heading to the turbolift himself. Time to prepare a probe he thought. "Perhaps I should ask the probes whether or not they are willing to go." He spoke out loud, verbalizing a thought he had been keeping to himself up until now. There was no-one around and he had no intention of discussing the matter with his crew. They would think him crazy, he was sure. The doors to the turbolift shut in front of him and immediately the voice spoke to him through the comms.
"Walker. We will go."
Walker spun around in the empty lift. "Who the hell are you? Go where?"
"Your probes volunteer for the mission." Walker steeled inside. Someone on the bridge had overheard his comment, this had to be a prank.
"Who is this?"
"We are who we say we are, we have spoken to you once before if you remember."
No-one knew about that night in the holodeck except for Botha and he didn't know the full details. He hadn't been on the bridge either. Walker was stunned. If this was legitimate, what had he created? Was this life? "What have I created?" Walker almost breathed the question as he thought aloud.
"Us." The answer was brutal in its simplicity. "We were created to serve you and that is what we will do."
Any further discussion was cut short by his arrival. He could not inquire further via this means but he was about to face his volunteers directly. He wondered silently whether they were capable of direct contact. Both times he had heard the voices he was not in direct contact with the probes, they had spoken to him via the communication channels of the ship. He suspected that it might be their only voice. Still he would find out soon enough.
The chief on duty in the flight deck was busy with the preparations Botha had instructed him to complete. Walker could see as he entered the bay that privacy was the one thing he was going to get with the probes. He opened the casing on several units and hooked up the diagnostic systems to a tricorder. He had come to the flight bay knowing what it was he wanted to check in the probes and what would indicate that they were ready for the mission, now he had no idea. It did not surprise him in the least when the text started scrolling across the small screen.
"We are ready."
So that was it, he thought. The probes were definitely the ones speaking to him. He didn't know if this was a sign of sentience or not, right now it didn't matter. They seemed willing, if that was the correct word, to do what it was he needed done. He ensured that the units were in peak condition and set the programming for them. He had to choose a lead unit to do the recon work he and Voraak had spoken of earlier, the others would be held in reserve. He picked the nearest one, seven. He had barely started entering the programming sequence when unit six started chirping and flashing. He looked at the screen on the tricorder once more. "Six wants to go" Walker merely shrugged and disconnected the seventh probe from the tricorder, heading over to Six. He started to feel like all the decisions were being taken from him.
He finished up the programming and left the flight deck. He would worry about the issue of the probes later. They were half an hour from the mission commencement and there was still plenty to check on before they got started.
Walker soon found himself on the bridge. Voraak was finalising his preparations, Sai was going over his controls one more time, Walker suspected it was busy work but didn't mind. Anything that kept the young man from thinking about what he had flown away from was good right now. Alexis looked up as he entered. "We are nearly ready, Captain. Lt Cmdr Botha has the engine room ready, our weapons and shields stand ready, sensor readings are being monitored and Glir will be finished with his cloak installation in two minutes."
Walker was impressed. He had a good crew and they had handled all the preparations without him watching over their shoulders. They were ready early and considering that the Syndicate ships would soon be scanning for them planet wide it was a good thing. He considered chasing Glir and asking him to work faster, but dismissed the idea. He would be working as fast as possible and putting pressure on him was only going to slow him down. He acknowledged the report from his First Officer and sat in the Captain's chair to wait.
Walker didn't have to wait for long. Ninety seconds later Glir's voice came through the comm. "Glir to bridge, cloak is installed and ready."
That was all Walker had been waiting for. He flicked open the ship wide comm channel. "All hands, this is the Captain. Red Alert. Battle stations. You've all been briefed, we're going in." He cut the channel and spoke to Kelsey. "Show time."
Kelsey nodded. "Voraak, engage cloak. Sai, full impulse to outpost coordinates." Kelsey received her acknowledgements and they were under way. The bridge darkened as the red lights of the alert came on and the cloak engaged, taking out the larger electro-magnetic signatures for efficiency. It was five minutes later that Walker gave the order to launch probe six.
"Aye Sir." The voice of one of the crewmen came over the comm. The bridge screen showed the probe screaming into the area of the outpost. One by one, ships decloaked in the area. Walker was impressed. This was a large fleet to hunt down a single transport. He watched the probe, it was ducking and weaving, nothing was hitting it despite the concentration of firepower in the area. When it got within range, it sent the pulse.
"Receiving the location of the duck blind, Sir!" Voraak fed the coordinates to Sai's console.
"Ensign, if you would..."
"Aye Sir!" Falar sent the transport hurtling towards the surface. They were fortunate that their reentry had not been detected, but while monitoring the probe Walker realised that nearly all the fleet had committed itself to hunting the probe. These people had the hardware, but they were not experienced military commanders. This would give them a chance.
The Nullabor was soon headed directly for the duck blind. barely fifty metres above the surface of the planet they were heading in low and fast, hoping to avoid detection. At Walker's direction, Voraak sent a coded message to the duck blind, informing them to extend the blind at their signal. Without the cooperation of the outpost occupants, the mission could not succeed. Now would be the one chance for them to get the scientists off the planet, Walker just hoped they realised that themselves.
Sai put the Nullabor down five metres away from the edge of the blind, Voraak sending the signal immediately after feeling the nudge of the landing gear against the ground. Now was the moment of truth.
Walker could feel the seconds ticking away like millenia. Three, four five... Why hadn't they extended the blind yet? Seven, eight... Walker had opened his mouth, ready to give the order to abort the mission, but Voraak's report cut him off. "Duck blind extended."
"Cloak off! All cargo doors open! All crew to mission stations!" At Walker's command engines hummed down to a ready state, capable of going back to full power at a moment's notice. The cloak deactivated and doors in the side of the transport opened and disgorged the crewmen assigned to get the people and equipment onto the ship as fast as possible.
It went smoother than Walker had been expecting. The scientists had their gear packed and were heading for the ship as soon as the shield extended. The few of them who had seen Sai land had alerted the others, they were not only prepared for evacuation, they had been expecting it. Voraak used the time to monitor the probe as it dodged th fire directed at it. Sai monitored the area beyond the edges of the blind, checking for intruders.
Walker scanned over all stations as they loaded the personnel and the equipment. Sick bay had a few patients in it, apparently some of the scientists had been injured when some combat activities came a little too close to the blind. Dr Eritt was handling the matter with her usual skill. Chief Bateson had Engineering on alert, Botha and Glir were both outside the ship assisting with the transfers. The four remaining officers on the ship were all on the bridge, himself included.
"Permission to help with the transfer Sir." Walker looked at Alexis as she asked. It made sense, his place was the bridge, both Sai and Voraak were required for monitoring but Alexis should be leading the away efforts within the duck blind. Despite all this, Walker was reluctant to let her go.
He found himself facing the one dilemma that he had hoped would never arise. This was a transport, damn it. He wasn't supposed to have to decide whether to risk the life of people he cared about. Alexis could feel his concern, he knew that. He hoped she would understand. "I do." The thought came directly into his mind. "I'll be alright, I promise."
He nodded to her. "Permission granted." She left the bridge. Walker could not help but feel some trepidation at seeing her head off into the most dangerous part of this mission, but it had an unexpected benefit. As she coordinated the activities outside the ship, he could sense her thoughts. It was like having his own personal monitoring station right in the thick of things. She was soon busying herself with speeding up the loading process and they were nearly complete when Sai announced trouble was coming.
"Sir! There is a small band outside headed straight for the blind."
"On screen!" The display flickered and resolved an image of the outskirts of the outpost grounds. There was a team of six men headed their way with some large weapons. The set on their faces was one of purpose. Walker could tell that this team was not on a scouting mission. They were not spread out and they were not using any form of search pattern. They knew where they were headed and it was straight for them.
"Wait a second," Sai's voice contained a large amount of venom. "That bastard in the middle of the group. That's Mau!"
Walker had him picked immediately. There was only one Betazoid in the group, so it wasn't difficult. He turned to Voraak. "We have to assume that O'Toole was captured, or that Mau could pick some details from his head. I need a breakdown of the weapons they are carrying and what threat they are to us right now." This didn't make sense at all. If they knew where the blind was, why didn't they commence an orbital bombardment? It would be quicker and more effective. Even with the resources tied up in chasing their still functional probe, they could do it quicker than this small band. They were not trying to destroy the blind, that was for sure.
"Permission to go after them, Sir."
"Denied." Walker knew just how much how much his helmsman would have liked to take on this group, but the mission was more important than revenge. Of all the races he had commanded, Bajorans were the ones who had the most trouble learning that lesson. Walker was not surprised Sai had made the request, but he had to start learning to repress his personal feelings during critical operations. This thought brought a chuckle inside his mind from Alexis and despite himself he smiled. The phrase 'Physician, heal thyself' came to mind.
"Captain, the weapons are antimatter reaction inhibitors. One shot at the holographic projection or a ship's shields and they can render all main power systems inoperable. They want us alive."
Walker did not have to be told the reasons for Voraak's assessment. The only thing holding them from being beamed away was the transporter scrambling field in effect throughout the blind. Take it out, and the only chance the Nullabor would have would be it's own shields and warp engines. Knock out all antimatter reactions, and you take out the scramblers and the Nullabor's shields and warp engines in one hit. They couldn't be allowed to strike. "Voraak, how long until they are in range?"
"Just over five minutes, Sir."
Walker tapped the comm badge on his chest. "Walker to Kelsey and Botha."
"Go ahead." The response came from Botha.
"There is a small band of soldiers headed our way. How long until we are ready to leave?"
"We will be ready in five minutes, Captain."
Walker thought about it. So close! Still, he knew he couldn't take the chance. That meant making a decision he would have preferred not to have to make. "Not good enough, Botha. Listen, I need you and Cmdr Kelsey to buy us some time with this band. They are carrying some antimatter inhibitors..."
"Understood, Captain, we'll handle them." Walker did not have to explain the threat of those weapons to his Chief Engineer.
"One more thing, Lt Cmdr. Mau is among the group."
There was a short pause before Botha responded. "Understood, Captain. Botha out."
Voraak turned to his Captain. "Captain, permission to join Botha and Kelsey."
Walker considered this request carefully. Voraak had some real tactical and combat experience, he was much better suited to the task he had just handed to Botha, who was an engineer and had seen little else of Starfleet life. He wasn't as worried about Alexis, he knew she could handle herself. Walker knew he could handle the monitoring here with Sai, and it would give him a very good excuse to get his hands dirty once more. He responded to his operations officer. "Granted. Get some phaser rifles on the way, don't be afraid to use them, either."
"Of course not, Captain." Walker thought that he could detect the faintest trace of irritation in the Vulcan's voice as he acknowledged the order. Walker grinned at the thought. He understood of course. Vulcans did not admit to feeling even deep emotions like fear or hatred although Walker always suspected that they lay closer to the surface than outsiders were lead to believe. Still, as a seasoned tactical officer Voraak had seen his share of combat and killed enough to know what was required of him in this situation. He was a good man and he would probably tip the balance out there. Walker felt a little regret at his choice of words.
He turned to the monitor to assess the status of the probe. It was still alive! The ships were closing in fast though. They had resorted to torpedoes, it wasn't going to last much longer. He checked on the loading, they were still on target. Glir had assumed command of the process and was doing a good job of keeping the whole process moving. Walker noticed that Glir had changed into the persona that he had exhibited during knife training, only this time the transformation was complete.
Gone was the little sniveling clerk, in his place was a wolf. The eyes of the Betazoid shone with a fierce resolve as he lead the crewmen with barked orders as well as by example. The new Glir was not a man to be trifled with, and more importantly to Walker was not a man new to this role. Walker was now sure that Glir was not what he made himself out to be.
Walker's attention was ripped from Glir by Sai's sharp report. "Kelsey and the away team are in position, Sir. Engaging the assault force now."
Walker's attention snapped forward. "On Screen!" Sai tapped a control and the front screen resolved an image of the terrain outside the blind. The three officers were setting a flanked ambush for the unsuspecting force as they entered a small valley area. They were fully equipped for the attack, Voraak had not stinted as he passed the weapons locker. They were shuffling into position as the force entered the area they were encircling.
Walker knew he should have seen it coming. Botha was the weak point in the attack. He saw Alexis gesturing him down, but it was too late. The glint off his rifle spooked the small force and they started diving for cover. To their credit, Kelsey and Voraak made the best of it. They immediately laid down a suppressing fire to contain the force. It was a standoff, they could not win like that. There was only so much charge in those cells, albeit a large amount, but eventually they would have to find a way to draw out the force while they still had weapons to fight with.
The good news was that they were separated. They could not assemble the antimatter inhibitor while they were tied down like that. Walker watched as Botha tried to swing around and find an exposed flank. It was a risky move, and not necessarily a wise one. He soon found out why when the force started firing at him, suppressing his movement. This was moving closer to stalemate.
Alexis and Voraak stopped their fire. They had worked out a plan, but there was clearly a risk. Two of the assault force took the risk and dived for the main group. Walker could not see what they were up to, but he knew anyway. They were assembling the weapon. They still had Botha pinned down, Whatever the others had in mind he hoped they would act soon. This was a little too tight for comfort.
Walker took a moment to check the probe. It was actually on the attack! Most of the ships had broken of and were now stationary above the outpost site. This did not bode well, Walker suspected they would sterilise the area if the assault force failed. This did not give them a large window of time for the evacuation.
Movement brought him back to the main screen. The assault force made their move. The suppressing fire on Botha was lifted as Mau hefted the weapon and aimed it at the blind. Alexis and Voraak sprung up but were suppressed by the fire that had been aimed at Botha. That turned out to be their undoing.
The blade came out of nowhere, or at least so it seemed to the assault force. It had been an act of desperation on Botha's part, and contrary to all the training he had received it had nearly missed. He had flung the knife at Mau, thinking to take him out before he could fire the weapon, but he had actually struck the weapon itself. Everyone ducked for cover, but it was unnecessary. The weapon did not explode, but it did jam. That was all the other two needed. They took full advantage of the temporary confusion in the cover and started a full scale attack on the group. Three of them were dead before they managed to fight back.
Despite the superior ability and training of his officers, this situation was going to go to the assault force and Walker knew it. They had superior firepower and only had to wait to get off a shot against the blind. They would have the weapon repaired soon, and Walker wished desperately to be out there with his officers. One man would tip the balance, and in fact one man did.
Sai gasped as it happened. It was as if he had seen a ghost, and when he breathed the name O'Toole Walker realised why. He literally came from nowhere, a crag that looked in no way large enough to hide a soldier, and yet the ground forces soldier flung himself out of the crag near the men, and caught them completely by surprise.
Walker studied him in action. This man was a seasoned veteran. There was blood staining his uniform and he was covered with cuts. One of his legs looked badly wounded as he flew against the remaining attackers. Two of them had just risen to fire another wave at Kelsey and Voraak. O'Toole uttered a primal animal roar as he leaped, firing his hand phaser. He took the two completely by surprise. Walker saw the look of fear in their faces as they vaporized.
Mau had also risen, newly repaired weapon in hand. He had been ready to fire, but turned to check on the disturbance behind him. Walker saw his face turn ashen on the monitor. He opened his mouth to say something, but the words never made it off his tongue. O'Toole savagely pistol whipped the Betazoid with his phaser, stunning him and throwing him to the ground.
O'Toole tapped his comm badge and his voice boomed through the bridge. "O'Toole to Nullabor. Get the hell out of here! The ships topside have been beaming up their ground forces all over the area. They want you alive!"
Walker tapped his own commbadge. "Walker to Glir. Did you get that?"
"Aye Sir. We are ready here, all we have to do is pick up our officers."
"Drop the blind, engage the cloak and put a transporter lock on the five people at the combat site..."
"Negative Captain!" O'Toole's voice boomed through the comm link. "Leave me here and Mau as well. Just get your people out and I will try to run interference at this end for as long as possible. Mau probably has a tracking device on him, just go!"
Sai yelled into the link. "We are not going to leave you here, Chief! Get on board this ship now!"
"Ensign," O'Toole's voice was calmer now, "you are a good officer and I am proud to say we have served in combat together. Trust me on this one, you have to leave us."
Walker studied the face on his helmsman. He realised that the young man was now being forced into a decision he had wanted to avoid ten minutes ago. Walker resolved to let the young man make the call. It was the acid test - would he put an individual above the mission or not. Sai spoke once more. "We will send a rescue team as soon as we can, Chief. You hang on out there."
Sai looked to his Captain who nodded and smiled. O'Toole promised to stay alive and Walker signalled the transporter room to beam his three officers up. "Ensign Sai, set course for our probe, full impulse."
The ship lurched upwards into the atmosphere as the cloak dropped the light levels on the bridge. The screen display switched to the view of the probe under heavy attack again. There was wreckage falling to the planet below, the probe had clearly been successful in some of it's assaults while the ships were reloading their ground forces, but now that the forces were finished loading the ships had turned their attention back to the probe. It had nothing left for the fight, it's reserves of fuel were low and it's shielding was at an ebb. Walker sent the recall signal to it and it broke off it's fight, headed straight for the ship.
The probe still managed to duck and weave as the disrupter fire blazed around it. Walker soon realised that bringing it back onboard would not be as easy as they thought. With the concentration of fire around it, the Nullabor was going to get hit badly as the probe headed for the flight bay.
"Kelsey to Bridge, permission to launch fighters to cover the probe."
So that's why she and Voraak had not come directly to the bridge after being beamed aboard. They were being gluttons for action, but Walker knew it was the only chance they had of reeling in the probe. "Permission granted. Get back in here as soon as the probe docks."
"Aye Sir." Walker watched the screen as two fighters and the full complement of probes launched into the fray.
Walker was surprised. He had not given any command to the probes, but they had taken the opportunity afforded by the fighter launches to leave the ship. What were they up to? What had he created?
The launches created a problem for the Nullabor. It pinpointed the ship to the attacking fleet. Sai had his hands full as the ship ducked and weaved. The Syndicate ships peppered the area with covering fire, hoping to hit the transport. Sai managed to dodge most of it, but it was making it difficult for the probe to land and for the fighters and remaining probes to work out the area to attack in the fleet.
Fortunately the mass launch took a lot of the nearer ships by surprise. The fighters and probes concentrated on the nearest two, and when they burst into green flames and started raining debris on the planet below, it opened a small window in the cordon the Warbirds had set.
"Sai, hold position until the probes and fighters are aboard, then I want you to go directly to warp from here, setting course directly for Deep Space Two."
"Captain, we are barely out of the atmosphere. Do you know how dangerous it is to go to warp inside a star system?"
"As a matter of fact I do, Ensign. It is a little less dangerous than being inside the cordon here, don't you think?"
Ensign Sai gulped. "You have a point, Sir. Setting course, Deep Space Two, Warp Six Aye."
Sai held position and found that the cover fire started hitting it's mark. "Captain, the cloak is not going to last here!"
"I know Ensign, this is not a time for subtlety, the cloak has served it's purpose." Walker monitored the loading of his small fleet. Probe Six had already entered the Flight Bay, and they were reeling in the two fighters and probes as fast as they could. The vessels were coming in hot and he was impressed with the flight crew down there, clearing the decks as fast as they were. Botha had taken charge, and he was pushing the crew to their limits. The ship rocked several more times, and just as the last probe was headed for the entryway the ship lit up.
"Glir to Captain, the cloak is gone, it's not coming back."
"Thank you Ensign." Walker turned to the flight bay monitor. "All hands, prepare for warp!" He saw the look of concern in the flight bay. Would the field on the flight bay door hold long enough at warp to get the main door shut? It was a chance they had to take. He noticed Botha shoving the crewman on the console aside and urgently tapping keys. He would be able to do it in time. "Sai, on my mark..." He watched as the last probed cleared the field. The instant the field resolved itself behind the probe's path he screamed "Now, Ensign!"
Sai was on a hair trigger. The key was tapped as soon as he heard the first 'N' of the order. The stars outside resolved into streams of light passing the ship. Back at the cordon, an antimatter inhibitor beam passed through space that had been vacated a fraction of a second earlier.
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