Read Star Trek: The Empty Chair Online

Authors: Diane Duane

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Star Trek: The Empty Chair (8 page)

BOOK: Star Trek: The Empty Chair
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“As we see. I am uneasy about them, Captain. It’s in my mind that they’ve been better equipped than usual, the better to make an example of us. Especially you.”

“We’re thinking alike,” Jim said, “which on this subject makes me uneasy. Any thoughts on what they might be carrying above and beyond the usual?”

“There have been no great breakthroughs in weapons technology that I have heard of,”
Ael said,
“at least, not in Grand Fleet. Such things take time to test and install, and by the time that has happened, whatever secrecy might have initially surrounded the project is normally long gone. Though it must be said that I am lacking some of my old sources of intelligence.”

“You couldn’t be blamed for that,” Jim said.

“For which I thank you.
Esemar
and
Gauntlet
are closing, Captain. We must continue this discussion later. But tell me quickly—why would we need not to tilt our hands?”

“‘Tip,’” Jim said. “Uhura is really going to have to do some more work on idiom in the translator. It’s a game, Commander. We’ll discuss it later.”

“May it be so. Here they come.”

“Out,” Jim said. He glanced at tactical, looked at the three ships closing on
Enterprise.
Two of them were the corvettes
Llendan
and
Chape.
The third…“Spock,” Jim said, “that big one—”

“It is very overpowered, Captain,” Spock said, looking down his viewer again. “
Esemar’
s version of our ‘skinfield’ and structural integrity field is much enhanced, with shields
at initial analysis approaching the power configurations of those on Artaleirh’s surface. But the shield implementation is otherwise standard. I see no indication of the waveform we have come to associate with the technology brought us via our ‘defectors.’ I would judge this to be merely a brute-force variant of earlier weapons technologies.”

“Bigger, tougher, but not new,” Jim said, watching the slow, steady approach of the big ship. It looked rather like
Bloodwing,
as an expression of the original “bird-of-prey” design, but the primary hull was twice as thick, arguing a much bigger crew complement, or much heavier weaponry.

“I would say so,” Spock said. But his own expression, as he looked up from his sensors, suggested to Jim that he was viewing his own assessment with some caution.

Jim felt the same way. He glanced at tactical, saw that
Gauntlet,
unescorted, was presently heading toward
Bloodwing. But it may not
keep
doing that—and I dislike the idea of having two ships like that ganging up on me when I have no warp drive.
“Mr. Sulu,” he said, “while I’m unwilling to restrain your display of expertise, maybe this is a time to pretend to be exercising the better part of valor.”

“‘Pretend’ to exercise it, Captain?” Sulu said, not turning his attention away from the viewscreen.

Jim grimaced at Sulu’s amused tone of voice. “God forbid we should ever run away from anything for
real,
Mr. Sulu.”

“Aye aye, sir,” Sulu said. Jim watched that big ship keep on bearing down on them.
It’s as big as
Enterprise, he thought.
A class of Romulan vessel that the Federation knows nothing about. Another reason to make sure we get out of this alive.
“Uhura,” he said, “prepare a squirt for Starfleet Command.”

“Done already, Captain,” she said. She had been watching the screen as carefully as any of them had. “But I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get it out. Subspace is full of jamming.”

“What’s the source?”

“Artaleirh, Captain.”

Whatthehell?
“Dump it to a microbuoy and prepare to get rid of it that way,” Jim said. “Dump my personal logs to it as well, and all Mr. Spock’s scans and other pertinent data. We’ll need to make sure that the news of what happened here has a chance to get out, even if we don’t.”

“Handling it, Captain.”


Esemar’
s weapons are going hot, Captain,” Spock said.

“Mr. Sulu,” Jim said, “a little more discretion, if you please!”

Sulu whipped the
Enterprise
around the back of a nearby asteroid just as
Esemar
fired her disruptors. The fire blasted the back of the asteroid into magma, tracking toward
Enterprise,
but missing her as she continued around the far side.
Llendan
and
Chape
came streaking around the asteroid to either side, firing as well, but Sulu had already gone diving steeply in z-axis, down through the plane of the asteroid belt. The two corvettes followed,
Esemar
coming after them.

“Disruptors on
Esemar
are running at approximately one hundred seventy-five percent the power of a standard Romulan Grand Fleet cruiser’s,” Spock said. “Higher even than
Bloodwing’
s, and she has had her gunnery conduits clandestinely augmented.”

“And in comparison to our own phaser banks, that would be?”

“About a hundred and forty percent,” Spock said. “The comparison, of course, cannot be exact, due to the differences between Federation phaser technology and—”

“I get your drift, Mr. Spock,” Jim said. “Mr. Sulu?”

“Running like hell, Captain,” Sulu said. And so he was. Jim swallowed as the view on the viewscreen began lurching and swooping in ever more creative and unlikely directions. Jim began to think it was true that some people never really learned to think in three dimensions, and that some people,
on the other side of the divide, were born to it. He thanked heaven one more time that Sulu appeared to fall into the second category. Jim’s stomach, though, continued to express its own opinions as Sulu found more and more interesting ways to use asteroids for broken-field maneuvers in vacuum.
Esemar
was dropping behind, which would have made Jim happier if its weaponry wasn’t so much on his mind, and if the smaller, nimbler corvettes weren’t beginning to gain on them.

“Mr. Spock,” Jim said. “An analysis of any weak spots in
Esemar’
s shields would be useful at this point.”

“Working on that, Captain,” Spock said. “Unfortunately the brute-force implementation makes it all too easy to cover such. Elegance of design was not…”

He trailed off.

Esemar
was firing at them, the initial disruptor bolts splashing off
Enterprise’
s screens without too much effect: but as she got closer, Jim knew this would no longer be the case. “Mr. Spock?”

No answer came back. Spock was peering down his viewer, though hardly lost in thought—Spock was less likely to get lost in his thoughts than anyone Jim knew. “Mr. Sulu,” Jim said, “buy us some time, would you?”

“I’ll dig down deep, Captain,” Sulu said, “but with something like that chasing us, not to mention its two little friends, my budget’s limited.”

Now we’re up against it,
Jim thought. But Spock was still gazing down his viewer, one hand working over the controls at his console, and Sulu was hammering away at the helm, corkscrewing among the asteroid field’s flotsam and jetsam, while
Esemar
and
Llendan
and
Chape
hunted them behind. Disruptor bolts jolted past them on the viewscreen, Sulu avoiding them by whatever synthesis of skill and instinct. For lack of anything else to do, Jim hit the comms button on the command chair. “Scotty?”

“Aye, Captain?”

“It’s heating up out there, Scotty. It’d be nice to have warp capacity sometime soon.”

If a voice could break out in a sweat, Scotty’s did so.
“Fifteen minutes, Captain.”

“Right,” Kirk said, and hit the button again.

Sulu flung
Enterprise
into a ninety-degree angle to the plane of the asteroid belt, and plunged along “upward,” into regions where there were fewer asteroids, smaller ones, easier to evade.
Esemar
came along after her, not even bothering to evade the smallest ones anymore, taking them on her shields, pulverizing them in passing.

“Mr. Sulu!”

“Working on it, Captain.”

Sulu flung
Enterprise
into what would have been a hairpin turn on Earth, if the hairpin was being bent in three dimensions instead of two. Jim wondered briefly how long it had been since anybody on Earth had used a hairpin, and watched the viewscreen hard, that being the best way to keep his stomach under control. The two smaller ships arced out wide and came along behind
Enterprise
again.
Esemar
matched the turn, much wider, rather slower, and came hard along behind again, blowing the smaller asteroidal chunks and fragments into glowing dust against her screens as she came.

Spock was still gazing down his viewer. “Indeed,” he said abruptly.

Sulu grinned. “As Mr. Spock said, the relative rarity of dilithium makes some kinds of testing difficult. Or impossible.”

Spock was working at his console again.
Don’t jog their elbows,
Jim thought,
let them get on with it.
But it was so hard!

This is what they always said was the hard part of command,
Jim thought, holding himself still, though it was torture
to stay that way.
The delegation. To command, and sit back, and let those who’ve been commanded get
on
with it.
He watched as
Esemar
came howling along behind them, firing again now, disruptors splashing against
Enterprise’
s shields, but for how much longer?
But it’s rarely been as hard as this to command, and do nothing else.
“Mr. Sulu!”

Sulu was twisting and corkscrewing among the asteroids, bigger ones now, and bigger ones yet. Once again the tactical array was outlining one or another of the asteroids visible on the viewscreen, showing masses, compositions. They were in “friendly” territory again, getting closer to the dilithium processing facility, and
Llendan
and
Chape
were soaring in from port and starboard, hounds in front of the hunter. In the distance, on tactical,
Bloodwing
could be seen executing the same kind of desperate evasive maneuvers in the van of the two other Grand Fleet heavy cruisers.
But how desperate are they?
Jim thought.


Bloodwing!”
Sulu said suddenly, as in the now triply split screen view
Esemar
could be seen getting closer and closer behind
Enterprise,
holding its fire as if waiting for one really good shot.

“Enterprise,” came the reply, and it was Antecenturion Khiy, not Ael,
“are you seeing the annihilation spectra I am?—4551 angstroms and better.”

“Confirmed,” Spock said. “If rocks are to be thrown, this would be the time to start. But not those originally planned. Vectors will naturally add, and large masses will not propagate the effect correctly, so you are enjoined from using anything bigger than 1.4 to the third kilograms at this point.”

“You’re a spoilsport, Mr. Spock,” Sulu said, but he glanced at Chekov. “Twenty seconds,” he said, and threw
Enterprise
into a new set of maneuvers.

The screen subdivided again, bringing up a map of wire-framed asteroids no more than a few tens of thousands of miles from the dilithium processing facility. “No chance you
could get
Gauntlet
to follow you in there, is there, Khiy?” he said.

Half the asteroids in the display flickered dark, losing their computer overlays. Then another half. Then half those again. “Best solution,” Chekov said. “Take it or leave it.”

“We can only try,”
Khiy’s voice came from
Bloodwing.

“Go for it,” Sulu said.

Bloodwing
came arcing up out of the plane of the asteroid field in a long, lazy curve that displayed her belly to the pursuing
Gauntlet
as if she were a big fat cat with legs splayed, waiting to have her tummy scratched. “Oh, Lord,” Jim said, half in terror that an ally should so expose herself; half in admiration, for no attacker worth his, her, or its salt could possibly refrain from such a target, so insolently displayed.
And what is Ael thinking about this?
he wondered. It was an issue better left alone at the moment.

Gauntlet
dived after her. “This is even better than the fastball option,” Sulu said. “And it leaves us the option for slow-pitch afterward. Got your target, Khiy?”

“Three of them.”

“Choose your best one, and let’s jump together—so they don’t have a chance to warn each other.”

“Counting back,”
said Khiy’s voice. On
Enterprise’
s tactical display, one asteroid’s wire-frame outline came alive, blazing red—picking it out from all the others but two, which pulsed darker, slower.
Enterprise
raced toward that asteroid, seemingly a small one, only a little bigger than many that
Esemar
had pulverized without noticing.

“Angstroms four five five one point three six two eight nine eight, at this mass,” Spock said, glancing at Sulu. “Angle to the shields, along the longitudinal axis, fourteen degrees six minutes for
Esemar.”

Sulu didn’t speak, just nodded. From
Bloodwing,
Khiy said,
“Close approximation for
Gauntlet,
sixteen degrees twelve point one minutes.”

Jim held on hard to the arms of his command seat.

Esemar
was swelling in the rear view that Sulu had running on the main screen. She filled nearly all of that view window, and the sweat broke out on the back of Jim’s neck. He could just hear disruptor conduits going hot.

In tactical,
Bloodwing
rolled once more, exposing her ventral side, and without warning let off a full spread of photon torpedoes at
Gauntlet
while also reaching out with a tractor beam for another of the wire-framed rocks ahead. Whether anyone on board
Gauntlet
realized what was happening with that tractor, there was no time and no way to tell, for she put on a burst of speed, trying to angle up and away from the torpedo spread, firing as she went—and so went exactly where Khiy had plainly intended her to go. The tractor arced up over
Bloodwing’
s belly, swinging the asteroid up against
Gauntlet’
s shields at that sixteen-degree angle as she passed—

BOOK: Star Trek: The Empty Chair
8.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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