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Walker had a last chance to check over his bridge before the Nullabor dropped out of warp. Sai held his hands over the helm console, ready to engage in tactical spins and turns. Voraak was at the ready, his weapons systems ready to engage. The seat beside him was vacant, Kelsey being in the lead interceptor, ready for launch.
Sai began the countdown. "Three... Two... One..." The Nullabor dropped back into normal space and the viewer was full of the images of several Warbirds. Time to fight.
"Launch fighters and probes. Engage weapons. Launch Cloak hunters. Sai, Evasive!" Walker barked the string of commands and they were acted on immediately. Sai's hands flew over the controls and the ship lurched just in time to dodge four disrupter beams that would have carved up the ship. The screen soon displayed a multitude of objects entering the battle theatre from the vicinity of the Nullabor. "Tactical." Walker's command brought the viewer out of real time imaging and displayed the theatre and the objects inside it as a three dimensional representation.
Sai used it in conjunction with the imaging screens built into his console to navigate and evade enemy fire. Walker needed the display to plan the combat with. Voraak used it to help with his firing solutions. The screen displayed a lot of objects, a lot of them hostile. There were fifty bright dots screaming around the theatre, The Nullabor represented in the centre of the field, three blue markers and fifteen cyan markers indicating the interceptors and probes, and then there were ten green markers - the visible Warbirds.
One of the bright markers flashed momentarily, and Walker glanced out the starboard window on the bridge at the flare which burned in space. The first Cloak hunter had worked. The first kill of the battle had been made. The Cloak hunters were the result of the theories put together by Botha and Glir. They were built into standard torpedo casings, which made them easy to deploy. The inner technologies were very different to a torpedo indeed.
The torpedoes were guided by a sophisticated cloak tracking system similar to the one Glir had installed on the Nullabor to detect the cloaked ships in the first place. Once they locked on to a cloak, the theory Glir had put together later came to the fore. The cloaking device employed by Romulans was similar to most Romulan technology in that it was based on Gravitons and gravitational theory in general. It used gravitons to warp light around the object being cloaked, and to hide the emissions of the ship in a virtual gravity well. Glir's module allowed the torpedo to fall into that gravity well despite it being dissipated within metres from the event horizon.
The original plan was a system capable of pinpointing cloaked ships in a way that would deliver a photon torpedo blast into the area of the ship responsible for the majority of the emissions, namely the engine room. That would have been good, but Botha's idea made for a much more devastating weapon. His module was activated at the heart of the artificial gravity well, modifying the resonance field to match perfectly the next nearest gravity well.
In a Federation ship, that would have caused next to no effect. When the first cloak hunter found a mark containing Romulan technology, the result was catastrophic. The next nearest gravity well was the engine core of the Warbird, and the proximity of the two artificial wells, now resonating together, brought both of them into total collapse.
Walker watched as the Warbird appeared in space, it's cloak and engine core both collapsing inside their containment fields, which could not be maintained with the abrupt loss of power. The two now unprotected anomalies caused a surge of graviton waves through the entire theatre for a fraction of a second, affecting everything and making the bridge of the Nullabor lurch uncomfortably before the two gravity wells annihilated each other, and the ship between them.
Walker had been shocked by the lurch of his ship. He was suddenly haunted with the echoes of Botha's warnings of possible black holes and the like, but none of that came to pass. One ship was destroyed, and all that was left behind was a compact debris field. Walker noticed that his Helm Officer seemed completely unphased by the sudden changes, and a quick look at the tactical display showed him why. Everything around them had been affected the same way. With the exception of the beams of energy flying around, there was no real change to the moves Sai had to make to keep the ship from being hit.
Another flash on the screen, and another ship burst apart within the battle theatre. Two Warbirds down. The technology worked. Walker glanced at the tactical display. There were still only ten ships uncloaked around them, they hadn't got the message yet. The ten ships were positioning for an assault on the transport. Walker turned to Voraak. "You may fire at will." Tapping his commbadge, he ordered the interceptors and probes to attack as well. They were committed now. This was the endgame.
A volley of phaser fire leapt from the Nullabor, reaching for the Romulan vessels. Most of it glanced off shields, causing little damage. The point was to scare the enemy into making stupid mistakes, as well as wear down the shields so that the quantum torpedoes could do their work later. The interceptors and probes had better success. All eighteen vessels targeted a single Warbird and focussed an attack on it's rear shield. It was destroyed in less than a minute. Three down... No, four down Walker thought as another cloak hunter found a mark, still over forty to go.
The interceptors targeted another vessel, this time a scout. Walker was amazed to notice that they were trying tractor beams on them. It made sense, but as usual they made no difference. The slippery shields made them ineffective and left the ships drained of energy for shields and offensive weapons. The probes made sure that the scout ship paid. It dissipated in a field of green energy, and new targets were acquired, punctuated by the gravitational lurch of another cloaked ship meeting a hunter.
Walker was focussed on the tactical display when he felt the ship jolt once more. Something was wrong this time. "That wasn't another imploding ship."
"No Sir. That was a glancing blow to our port shield, Glir's modulator bounced it off at another ship, but the shield took some damage." Voraak was adjusting the modulation once more as another disrupter shot came too close for comfort.
"I know, I'm on it Captain." Sai Falar interrupted his Captain so he could focus on throwing the ship around as much as possible. Walker could see he needed all his attention focussed for this, four ships were now closing on them and things were getting tight.
A quick glance over the tactical display told him that the Warbirds were starting to decloak and attempting to separate the Nullabor from the support fleet. So they were learning. A fast message to Cmdr Kelsey brought the supporting away team back into the proximity of the Nullabor and they started a concerted attack on one of the four closing ships.
By the time the Nullabor was out of the box, slipping through the gap created by the exploding Warbird, most of the ships that had not been destroyed by the cloak hunters were decloaked and attacking in earnest. Their element of surprise had been used up, and there was still a fleet of twelve ships left to deal with before the chasers arrived. Walker had been hoping for more, but secretly he knew they had done quite well out of their surprise attack. Now was the time to make it count.
"Turrets, fire at will. Full torpedo spread." Both sides of the Nullabor had ships closing. They were going for the weaker areas of the ship, and it was time for their last wildcard. The phaser beams lashed out at the enemy, softening shields for the torpedoes to do their work. The screen showed nearly a hundred new flashes hurtling towards the enemy, Walker noted with a shock that they were all quantum torpedoes. "What on Earth... We won't have any torpedoes left at that rate."
"Do not be concerned Captain." Walker was sure he could hear the slightest race of humour in Voraak's voice. "The scientists are taking care of that aspect of our battle resources. They are replicating new ones and moving them to the tubes as we speak."
Walker was impressed, but he wished he had known that ahead of time. Replicators took energy to use, and he knew that the outcome of this battle could easily be decided by attrition. Still, the sight of the two ships blossoming with their own destruction made the energy worthwhile, at least at the time.
They were down to five enemy targets when the pursuers entered the fight. Kelsey had lead the interceptors and the probes well, but all badly needed refueling. They had been in full combat for over an hour and there was only so much their power systems could take without a warp core feeding them.
Eighteen ships was a lot to take on without the distractions of the interceptor fleet. Even though they had taken out a huge amount of shipping already, most of that had been the result of tools and weapons that gave the Warbirds no opportunity for defence. Walker prayed that the fleet would come in cloaked. He turned to his helm officer. "Keep those five ships off us any way you can, we need to get the interceptors and probes aboard and refueled before the chasing fleet actually hits our space. I need five minutes, Sai."
"You've got 'em." Sai said nothing else on the subject, Walker could see he was completely focussed on the task at hand. Walker called in the fleet and they were aboard within twenty seconds.
"Botha, I need that equipment refueled as fast as you can handle it!"
"Aye Sir." Walker leaned back in his seat. The future of his ship was now in the hands of his crew. And the intelligence of the attacking captains.
Walker watched the tactical display intently. The five enemy ships were closing. He could see out the side windows that the Nullabor was dancing in space to avoid their fire, the green disrupter bolts were screaming past them, getting closer and closer. Sai was good, but these were terrible odds. Walker waited. Only another minute to go...
The two implosions off the port flank of the ship told Walker that the pursuing fleet had arrived. Walker could feel his heart sink, even though they were coming in cloaked. Some of the ships would make it past the cloak hunters, and Walker knew that they were running fresh by comparison to the Nullabor. This was a tight situation and for a fleeting instant Walker wondered why he had not listened to Admiral Parker. He had just picked a fight with two fleets of starships, and despite their gains he hoped he was not leading fifty good men and women to their deaths.
It was not until Walker heard Botha's voice telling him that the fleet had launched again that he realised he had been holding his breath. He stifled the gasp that was about to come and issued a string of commands to his officers. "Kelsey, I need the heat taken off the Nullabor for a while. Sai, focus on keeping the ship in a good firing position for the nearest enemy ship at the time. Voraak, shoot those bastards out of our space."
No more ships imploded due to the cloak hunters, they all came in decloaked and ready for battle. Twenty-one ships. They had already taken out more than that, but they had lost their most powerful weapon and the element of surprise. Walker stared at the tactical display, almost wishing the enemy blips away. In the meantime, his crew were taking the actions he had ordered and it was working. The small fleet of fighters and probes had the Warbirds in confusion, unable to settle on one target to concentrate their efforts. The fleet had no similar problems however, and were performing well coordinated attacks on the ships in sequence. By the time Voraak registered another kill from the Nullabor's weapons, the fleet had already taken out three. Seventeen left.
That was the end of their run against the odds. The interceptors and the probes were out of torpedoes and the phasers were good, but the small fleet really needed the torpedoes to finish off their target quickly after the shields had collapsed. The death blows were taking too long, and by the time they were ready to strike other ships were providing defensive cover and they were forced to retreat. The Syndicate ships were now split into two battle groups, seven ships against the Nullabor and ten taking on the fighters and probes, which were being kept separated from their mother ship. The Syndicate Captains had finally learned some things about starship warfare. For the first time in his life, Walker was afraid.
There was fear in Ensign Sai's voice also as he reported to his Captain. "Sir, I don't know how much longer I can keep this many ships off us."
Walker tapped his commbadge. "Walker to Kelsey, I need you to punch a hole through your attackers and get back here, we are running out of steam."
"Aye Sir." Walker could hear the strain of battle in her voice as well as her mind. He hoped she would get through this. It struck him as suddenly obvious why so many command officers didn't strike up relationships. There was so much at risk.
Walker watched the tactical screen as Kelsey coordinated an inspired move, and all the interceptors and probes punched through the hole created by an exploding Warbird. Sixteen left. He hoped that they could change that a little more. They had technology and experience on their side, Walker suspected that they had destroyed the most efficient and experienced Captains in this ragtag fleet long before this battle ever started, but the enemy had raw numbers and firepower on their side.
An explosion on the ridge brought Walker back to the present, and sharply at that. "Report!"
"Glancing blow to the port shield Captain. Minor damage to the port nacelle, manoeuvrability is affected, and the shield is on the verge of collapse. Another hit and we are done for."
Voraak had made the report, Walker watched the fierce concentration on the face of his helmsman and knew why he had not responded. He was doing everything possible to keep a starboard profile to as many of the ships as possible. "Emergency power to port shield array!"
"Aye Sir!" Voraak transferred the power just in time for it to be used up deflecting another blow to that shield. "Well, that's it Captain. No more power available for that shield."
The bridge was flooded with an artificial voice. Walker knew it, and glanced at the tactical screen. The probes were tapped into the same information as well as the ship's systems, but he had never expected the response the probes gave him. Probe six was the nearest to the Nullabor, and it's voice rang out "For the Master!" Walker watched the blip flare on the screen, and realised that it had set it's reactor to critical before hurtling straight for the Warbird which had fired the offending blast. Another voice soon rang out, and probe seven followed six in. Walker watched in horror as two of his creations slammed into the engineering section of the Warbird in rapid succession, the first opening gaping holes in the hull and the second careening directly into the ship's warp core...
Walker had to shield his eyes as the Warbird ripped itself apart nearby. He was awash with emotions. e had created these semi-sentient probes, and they had now sacrificed themselves for him. Was that not a sign of full sentience? Was not self-sacrifice one of the definitions used by the Federation to define sentience in the first place? Instantly Alexis' calming thoughts entered his mind. "This is war. They did this for you, be proud of what they were and celebrate them, don't mourn."
Alexis was right, but it did nothing to prepare him for the next minute of combat. The probes peeled off, two by two, until only probe one was left. Two by two, they targeted a Warbird each and followed the example of the first two probes, destroying a target for each pair. By the time they were done, There were only nine enemy ships remaining, the single probe had used the distraction to land on the Nullabor and the enemy was confused once more.
Walker wasted no time taking advantage of the fact. He recalled the interceptors and had them refueled while the Nullabor went on the offensive once more. Two of the enemy ships even tried to cloak to escape the probes, and were destroyed by the prowling cloak hunters. Seven left. Still not good odds, but Walker could smell a fighting chance once more. He ordered several manoeuvres in rapid succession and was rewarded with the destruction of a scout ship. Sai was getting his second wind now that the odds were better, and Botha even managed to patch the port shield a little. The two blows had put three of his people in the sick bay for critical injuries, Eritt was doing her best to keep up with the demand down there. The doors to the turbolift opened and Kelsey strode onto the bridge, assuming her position. Good, thought Walker. She had clearly picked up on his intention to keep his crew together for the remainder of the battle, they would win or lose together.
One glance at the tactical display and Kelsey barked a series of commands. "Helm, set course 115 mark 16. Voraak, arm all forward batteries. Prepare for Picard manoeuvre."
Walker was impressed. His first officer knew how to handle herself in a fight. She had just been out shooting down starships in a glorified space scooter and now here she was, ordering some pretty tricky tactics against an enemy that had them outnumbered. I always knew I liked for some reason, thought Walker. He heard her little chuckle in his head. You haven't seen anything yet, lover. She stared at the screen intently, and as soon as Sai had the ship in position she gave the command.
The Nullabor went into high warp in the middle of the battlefield, coming back out right in front of the targeted Warbird. Because of a trick of relativity, there were two Nullabors visible to the enemy fleet for a moment. Most of their opponents were already committed to their attacks on the first one, so they kept going. Their disrupters flew through the image, but by then it was too late. The Nullabor had opened up with everything it had as the Warbird in front if it hesitated, and the ship was blown apart. A third Nullabor appeared in front of the next nearest ship. A double-Picard. The enemy fleet was down to three.
Maybe it was an underestimation of the enemy, maybe it was a lucky shot, Walker would never know. What happened next certainly changed the outcome of the battle, and for that reason Walker suspected the second possibility. Regardless, he remembered his first officer winking at him as she ordered the third warp jump, and they dropped back into normal space right in the path of a disrupter shot at point blank range.
The viewer exploded, showering the bridge with debris. Sai was the first hit and let out a yell as he slumped forward at his console. Walker hid his face, feeling the shrapnel sting his back and head. When he looked up again, the bridge was a very different place. All three officers were down, Walker had no idea how badly. Most of the consoles had exploded as well, the only one left was the one beside him and Walker was sure that was the only reason he was still conscious. Audio communication was the only type left up, and a quick status check through the ship told him that things were bad. The blast had completely overwhelmed the forward shield and done considerable damage to the ship's internal systems, including life support. The hull had not been breached, but all weapons were down and Dr Eriit had a sick bay that was filling up fast. Shields were down, they could not manoeuvre and the three remaining ships had now encircled them, ready to deliver the final blow.
A quick check of his officers revealed that all three were alive, but barely. They needed medical attention and fast. He knew better than to try and get Eritt to the bridge, she had her hands full already. Five more crew members were dead, and three of the scientists. Unable to give up, he went to the consoles around him to see if there was anything he could do up here to keep the ship alive.
A chime went off behind him. He turned and saw that there was an incoming transmission from the lead Warbird. Curious, he went back to his own console and answered the message. "This is Captain Walker of the Federation Transport Nullabor. To whom am I speaking?"
The only reply he received at first was laughter. "This is Captain Nitrell of the mercenary ship Silver. Captain Walker, I'll say this much about you - you've got balls. Big ones, too. We have you all but destroyed, and there you are, on what's left of your bridge, demanding to know who I am."
Walker shrugged. He knew the gesture was useless, Nitrell couldn't see it. It was an instinctive reaction on his part. There was no practical reason for Nitrell to request communications under the circumstances, he hardly believed the man would be giving him the opportunity to surrender. Still, the avenue was worth exploring. "Captain Nitrell, if you are calling to give me your terms..."
"Bah! You have destroyed too many of our ships to get any mercy from us and you know it. I am no more interested in your surrender than you are in fact a Transport ship. Your ship and crew have fought bravely, but this is business."
"Well, then if I may ask why are we speaking at all? You clearly think you have us at a disadvantage." Walker was thinking fast. Maybe the ship's self-destruct could be used to take out the remaining three vessels. It would be better than going down without a fight. Still, he would need Alexis (at least) to be awake to trigger the system...
"A good point, Captain. You know something, I may be a mercenary, but I still have some self respect left. You put up an honourable fight, and I wanted to speak with you personally before blowing you out of space is all." There was a pause, Walker thought he was finished and was about to speak again when Nitrell spoke again, seemingly with an afterthought. "Oh, there was one other detail of course. Your Doctor. We will take her with us if you don't mind."
Walker didn't think. He didn't have to. He diverted the last of the ship's energy into a force field surrounding the sick bay. There was no way they could beam her off the ship. That was the final piece of the puzzle. The admiralty had known that an Angellian was going to run, and they knew that Angel One was somehow connected with the Orion Syndicate. Glir had assigned her to the ship, and Dekker had assigned him the crew capable of actually protecting her. The trip to DS2 was a ruse to flush out the Syndicate after all, only the bait was not the cargo, it was the passenger! He replied to the enemy Captain in a cold voice. "You can take her off the empty shell of this ship burning in space without a single living crewman. She stays with us."
Walker was sure he could sense a shrug in the voice coming over the connection. "That is unfortunate, Captain. I see that you have already reinforced the fields protecting her, so the chances of us beaming her off have not improved. Oh well. I will have to accept one of the other options available to me then. I can either beam an assault team on board your ship and kill everyone, hopefully finding a way to release the fields and take her alive, or I can destroy you all now. As much as I would like to take her alive, I know that your engineers have probably booby trapped the fields and the ruckus would be sufficient warning for her to take her own life before we got to her anyway. Don't take this personally Captain, I know you would have liked another round of our battle, to die with a phaser in your hand, so to speak. I'm afraid I simply don't have the time or resources for that, I'm a business man like I have already mentioned. Farewell, Captain."
The channel went dead. Walker stared out the forward windows for a moment, and then watched as the final deciding shots of the battle were fired.
The first sign the Warbirds had that the Sixth Fleet had arrived was the phaser bolts collapsing their shields. Walker didn't wait to find out how they would react, he reached behind Sai's station and retrieved the remote padd for the helm. Tapping a few keys brought the ship out of the original line of fire the Warbirds had set, and they never had time to get a new fix on the Nullabor. The quantum torpedoes were in flight within seconds of the Federation fleet appearing, and Walker caught the illumination of the three ships afire in space through the bridge windows.
"Brannagh to Walker. It looks like we're even, Captain." Walker smiled at the voice of the Captain of the Lexington. He must have really shifted to connect with the Sixth Fleet and get here for the end of the battle. Walker realised he must have known about the whole plan from the start. "Can you get your ship docked at DS2 or do you need a tow?"
The tone of Brannagh's voice was genuine, but Walker knew it would never do for the Nullabor to be towed home. "I can handle it, Captain. I have a lot of casualties though. Do you think the fleet could take my crew aboard for emergency medical attention?" As he asked he deactivated the fields around the sick bay. It was time for everyone to receive attention. Almost instantly dozens of transporter signals registered throughout the ship. The fleet was already prepared for the request, several more inquiries revealed that they had been monitoring the situation as they came in. They were quite impressed, albeit confused by some of what appeared on their tactical displays, but Walker knew better than to discuss it over open channels. The answers could wait for now. The chief priority was to get the ship docked and his crew seen to.
Walker flew the ship via the remote padd, and he saw that the Lexington was flying beside him. No more escort positions, both ships were flying together, as equals. The Nullabor only had impulse power left, but that was sufficient. Less than half an hour later, both ships were docked at DS2. The fleet remained in orbit for now, ready to counter any late comers that might appear Walker sat back and let out a sigh of relief. They were at DS2. They had made it.
The next few hours were a blur to the Captain. There was the ship to inspect, the damage was extensive. He checked in on Dr Eritt. Botha had set up the initial field to protect her as the ship was taking the major hits. All the captain had done was reinforce it. They had never had a chance of getting a good lock on her, and Walker was now very thankful that she had struck up a relationship with Botha. That was the only reason they were all still alive now.
Botha had been injured badly, but had never made it to the sick bay. He and most of the other officers were now on DS2 in their state of the art medical facility. Nearly twenty doctors had beamed aboard the station to assist with the care of the Nullabor crew, they were in good hands. Walker was relieved to find out that Kelsey and the rest of his bridge crew were out of danger. They would all be very weak for a few weeks, but they would all make it.
Not all the crew was that lucky. Chief Bateson had been blown out into space as the port turret ruptured during the damaging shot the nacelle had taken. There had been a replication accident due to a power fluctuation in the materialisation phase which had killed the scientists creating another load of torpedoes. Several crewmen had been killed in the flight bay as a disrupter shot had made a glancing blow to the force field on the door during the second launch of the fleet. The shot had fried most of the systems in the bay along with the crewmen assigned there. The windows in Three Forward were blown out and the room was sealed pending repair. Glir had assumed the engineering responsibilities after Botha fell and Walker found him directing efforts in Engineering as he made his tour.
Glir came up to him to report, completely unaware of the rage building inside him. Kelsey's gift had it's benefits, and Walker unleashed the full power of his anger as he started speaking. "Why the hell didn't you tell me, Lieutenant?"
Walker was only partially satisfied the recoil of the Tactical Ops scientist. It was clear that the recoil was double edged, he didn't expect the sudden burst of anger from Walker any more than he expected the man to know of his complicity in the mission so recently completed. To his credit in Walker's eyes, he stood his ground. "Why do you think. Captain? I was under orders and you know it. Do you seriously think I had any choice in the matter?"
"Who cares about your choices? Look around you, Lieutenant! A lot of good men and women have either died or been seriously injured here today, and if you had told me what was going on..."
"Then we would not have destroyed most of the Orion Syndicate's fleet!" Walker was stunned by the ferocity of the interruption. "Captain, you are a good and honourable man, but this is not about you or the lives lost here today. It's about Lucifrelle Eritt, at least it was originally. Now it's about the Syndicate. My original mission was to keep her safe during transport to somewhere we could trust to hold her securely from operatives of Angel One. That was the sole objective. The stuff in your hold was merely meant to keep you alive and keep them thinking that even our transports were dangerous. Only trouble is, you got cocky as you usually do. You actually thought you could take them on personally."
"I can't believe that, Glir. We were bait and you know it."
"When the Syndicate got involved, I suspected we were a bait for them, sure. I didn't know any more than you, though. You had every means at your disposal to bring their fleet here, where the Sixth fleet was meant to take them out. That much is obvious but I haven't lied to you."
"So what? You think if I had known everything I would have done anything differently?"
"Of course you would have. You would have headed deep under cover with Dr Eritt as you were supposed to. As it was we managed to distract you so well you ended up parading her presence all over the sector, and that worked out even better for us."
"I still ended up breaking your precious orders."
"Yes, you did. And for that I will always be grateful." Glir held out his hand. "Thank you Captain. You saved a lot of my friends at the research colony. We were not expecting the Syndicate to know about it."
Walker hesitated for a moment, fighting the rage inside him. Finally he accepted the offered hand. "You're welcome, Lieutenant. I may not agree with the stance you took, but I can understand it. It must have been tough as a Starfleet Officer working undercover among your own kind."
Glir sighed. "More than you'll ever know, Captain."
Walker believed him. He could see that the man was a fine officer, despite what had happened. It was a thankless task to hide information from fellow officers, he had been asked to do it in the past and never enjoyed it. Glir, despite everything had performed admirably aboard the Nullabor and Walker was glad he had been along for the ride. It was time to make his peace with the man. "I understand, Timonis. I don't blame you, if anything you saved our arses on more than one occasion. You had your duty, but thank you for doing all you did for us along the way."
"You're welcome, Captain Walker. Do you want me to continue dealing with this?"
Walker nodded. "I need a reliable officer to handle things here while Botha is out of action, and something tells me that Admiral Parker is going to keep me busy as soon as I leave the ship." Glir could not help but agree as Walker continued. "I have only one more question. Where does Sai Falar fit into all this?"
The question caught Glir off guard. "Sir?"
"You report to Admiral Dekker, and you brought Dr Eritt on board deliberately. The remainder of my officers were personally approved by Dekker, with the sole exception of Ensign Sai. How does he fit into the mission?"
Glir shrugged. He didn't know. To his knowledge there was no connection between Admirals Dekker and Connelly, how Connelly knew that the Nullabor would need a helmsman at all was a surprise to him. "That one might just have been a lucky break, Captain. I have no idea why he was assigned to your ship. Maybe it was just part of the luck that rightfully belongs to the Wizard of Oz."
Walker laughed. "You don't seriously believe any of that do you?"
Glir shook his head and watched as Walker turned away, smiling. His Captain never saw him make the sign of protection as he left. He had been close to the Wizard, and he prayed to the Rings that his sanity would stay intact.
Walker had been right about one thing - Parker was really pissed at him. He had actually met the Captain at the hatchway with a detail of security officers, and for a moment Walker suspected he was going to face a court-martial. He nearly did as it turned out. Several minutes before Walker had emerged from his battered ship Dekker had called the station and effectively ordered all hands off Walker. He wasn't out of the woods, though. He was informed by a smiling Admiral Parker that he would be in debriefing for a long time, maybe even months. He groaned inwardly, but was not really surprised. He had just gone off playing by his own rules in the middle of a delicate under cover operation, it was unlikely that the flag brass were going to let him get away without picking his brains for all they were worth on every aspect of the mission flight.
He was not the only one that would be roped into debriefing. He found out later that the Admiral had plans for his senior officers when they were recovered. The good news was that they were all expected to be ready in weeks, the bad news was that the debriefing meant they would not have as much time to repair the ship. Walker was offered accommodation aboard the station for his stay, but declined. He wanted to spend as much time as possible overseeing the repairs to his ship.
"I wouldn't worry too much about that if I were you, Captain." Parker had a smug look about him that Walker knew meant trouble.
"Why is that, Admiral?"
"I'm not even sure that the ship will be repaired. I suspect that she will be decommissioned and your crew disbanded. You've all served your purpose, time for things to get back to normal."
Walker waited until he was relieved that day and headed over to the docking bay berthing the Lexington, a bottle of fine bourbon in his hand. Brannagh was pleased to see him and welcomed him warmly. They sat in the Captain's quarters, drinking the bourbon quietly, sharing experiences from the last couple of months. Walker scanned the spacious interior of the cabin, attracting Brannagh's attention.
"It's a little more roomy than what I expect you're used to from the Nullabor, I'll bet." Thomas merely nodded in response, and Brannagh pursued the subject. "You know, the rumours are that you can have quarters just like these if you want them. You're hot property right now."
"You mean leave the Nullabor?"
Brannagh chuckled. "Alright, Thomas. I have to agree, what you did aboard that ship was magical. I have never seen a crew band together with that much ship's spirit before, but..." Brannagh paused a moment, collecting his thoughts. "You know, the ship is pretty banged up. There haven't been any moves to start repairs as yet. The crew are now all bunking down on station, so will you be although I bet you haven't been told yet. There is a cordon around the ship at the moment. No one is allowed on board."
"Please, Captain. There is nothing you can do, and to be honest right now you have bigger fish to fry."
Brannagh paused once more. Walker was beginning to understand that this was the Captain's way of signalling that he was about to deliver bad news. "There is a court of investigation being held tomorrow morning to decide the future of Lucifrelle Eritt. I have to tell you that it looks like they want to send her back to Angel One."
Walker exploded. "They want to do what? They use her as bait in their little games and then they want to hand her back once they're done! Don't they understand that they would be pronouncing a death sentence?"
"It's not that simple, Thomas. They want to send Angel One a message. Deal with the Syndicate, and you get failure, Cooperate with the Federation and you will be rewarded."
"Well, it's not right! It's damn well not moral. I won't see them hand her back to the bloody wolves, not after all we did to keep her safe."
"Well, you can count on my support there, but I have to say there is not a lot you can do. What, will you turn up at the hearing and start trying to teach them a lesson in Federation morals?" One look at Walker's face and Brannagh realised that it was exactly what the Captain was planning. He chuckled. "Well, I will wish you the best of luck, and I will support you any way I can. For now though, how about we drink the rest of this bottle tonight and get very, very drunk indeed together?"
Walker smiled. It sounded like a fine idea.
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