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Authors: Diane Duane

Tags: #science fiction, #star trek

Star Trek: The Empty Chair (9 page)

BOOK: Star Trek: The Empty Chair
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Bloodwing
rolled again and threw herself up and to port, firing her phasers at the asteroid as she let it go. Behind her, as the asteroid struck them,
Gauntlet’
s shields flared and failed—and the asteroid, crackling with sudden surface fires and the violet glitter of destabilizing dilithium ore, plunged past where the shields had been and into
Gauntlet
itself, smashing into her starboard nacelle and shearing it away.

Shields down, bleeding silvery air and glowing plasma from the stump of the nacelle,
Gauntlet
plunged through the roil and tatter of dust from the asteroid impact. Out of the darkness, a swarm of the smallships came streaking in to surround her.
Gauntlet
fired at them, but with not much more effect than someone firing at a swarm of bees with a rifle. In the big screen, Jim stared at
Esemar,
still coming fast as
Bloodwing
swung back toward her and
Enterprise.
Without warning,
Chape
broke away, leaving only
Esemar
and
Llendan
in pursuit.

Uh-oh. Quick now, before they can figure it out. “Now,
Mr. Sulu!” Jim said.

As
Bloodwing
dove at her,
Enterprise
swung up and to port.
Bloodwing
dove starboard and down.
Esemar,
shooting along behind them, veered ever so slightly toward
Bloodwing,
and began to fire disruptors.

As the green fire lanced out from
Esemar,
Sulu’s and Chekov’s hands came hammering down on their respective boards simultaneously.
Enterprise’
s tractors flashed out, fastened onto another of the remaining wire-framed asteroids, gripped it and swung it around and back. The ship wallowed a little, decelerating, and her course skewed as the mass she was manipulating turned her briefly into a two-body system. Jim hung on to the arms of his seat, expecting to be thrown out of it at any moment. But
Esemar
had no time to shift her field of fire, which she found suddenly blocked away from
Bloodwing
by the swiftly swelling shape of yet another asteroid, swung at her from the other side. In a flash of empathy, Jim could imagine himself seeing what
Esemar’
s bridge crew now saw on her screens. More green fire, lancing out without effect at that sudden and horrible rock as it got closer and closer, and on her bridge, orders being shouted, but hopelessly, no time to see them enacted, and the desperate thought,
The shields held this long, against rocks nearly that size; maybe—maybe—

But these were not just any rocks. They caught
Esemar’
s forequarter shields solidly between them, crushing through them, crushing into the hull beneath; the ship’s kinetic energy combined with the asteroids’ combined velocities, the resultant energy discharging itself disastrously through the ship’s structure. And the asteroids kept on going, crashing into each other.

Things blew. Things blew beyond even what one might have expected in an explosion involving a failure of a big ship’s matter/antimatter drive. A little sun bloomed where
Esemar
had been, and scarlet-shot, violet-sparked clouds of dust and gas and half-vaporized dilithium ore blew outward
from the primary explosion, following the self-annihilating remnants of
Esemar
as it kept plunging along its original trajectory.
Llendan,
still close to
Esemar,
tried to veer off, but not fast enough, not far enough. The outward-boiling explosion caught it, battered it, and as the particulate, ionized dilithium hit its shields, it took them down. The explosion blew through where the screens had been, and shattered
Llendan
like an empty eggshell. Its own warp core failed, exploded, and in its turn, as it plunged past, the remnant ignited two more of the asteroids that Sulu had had wireframe-tagged in his last sample. More of that bright-shot smoke blasted outward.

Emphatic,
Jim thought. “Once again your choice of adjective is right on the button, Mr. Spock. Mr. Sulu, my thanks—that was the first thing on my wish list. Engagement command and control is gone.”

“They’ll have transferred it,” Uhura said.

“If they had time, they transferred C&C to
Gauntlet,”
Jim said. “Which is doing nothing.”

“Its comms are down too, Captain,” Uhura said. “Not silence anymore; carrier is absent.”

I don’t know what Courhig and his people are doing, but maybe I shouldn’t complain,
Jim thought.
I’d sooner have Grand Fleet think that we’re using some obscure secret weapon on them than have the word get back that all we did was run away and hit their ships with rocks.
“Where are
Arest
and
Berouinn?”
Jim said.

“Heading sunward at warp six,” Chekov said. “On an interception course for
Sumpter.”

FOUR

The hair stood up on the back of Jim’s neck. “Uhura, get me
Bloodwing!”

“Hailing her, Captain. No immediate response. The other ships are maintaining silence.”

Jim began to sweat again.

Spock, looking down his scanner, suddenly looked more tense than he had. “Their screens are shifting frequency, Captain.”

Tuning!
“Engineering!”

“Bloodwing’
s on, Captain,” Uhura said.

“Scotty, one moment. Ael!”

“My apologies for the delay, Captain; we were busy.”

Jim had a look at the tactical display that Sulu had just refreshed for him.
Bloodwing
was arcing away from a trace that had been
Chape,
and was now an expanding cloud of air, cooling plasma, and debris. “You hit him with one of Sulu and Khiy’s little presents?”

“No, I fear that he dodged the wrong way, and into an asteroid that had nothing more special about it than mass.”

“Mass counts for a lot at even a hundredth of
c.”

“So we find. They are regrouping, Captain.”

“With intent,” Jim said, studying the tactical. “They don’t dare come after us: they saw what happened to
Esemar
and
Gauntlet.
They’re out for revenge now.”

“I see their shields tuning,”
Ael said.
“Khiy!”

“Following them,
khre’Riov.”

“One moment,
Bloodwing.
Scotty!”

Scotty’s voice sounded ragged, but relieved.
“Warp now, Captain!”

Finally!
Jim didn’t say. “Thank you, Mr. Scott. Sulu, go!”

Sulu went, kicking the ship into warp so suddenly that it almost felt as if someone had hit the ship’s screens with a spread of torpedoes. But Jim knew the difference in the feeling, and smiled a slight, grim smile.
“Captain,”
Scotty said from engineering,
“keep her under eight until the crystal settles in!”

Jim watched the three ships ahead of them hurling themselves at the star, with
Bloodwing
plunging after. “No promises, Mr. Scott,” Jim said. “Just deal with it, because we’re off to the races. Can we catch them, Mr. Sulu?”

“I’ll give it my best shot, Captain.”

“That’s Mr. Chekov’s job,” Jim said. “Sulu, do what you have to do. Uhura, that squirt—”

“I’ll refresh the buoy’s content, Captain.”

He nodded. “Mr. Spock?”


Sumpter,
Captain,” Spock said, “as we thought. Another set of power readings coming up.”

“She’s pulling away from the others, Captain,” Sulu said, suddenly alarmed. “Warp six. Warp seven.”

They’re going to seed that star and take their chances on killing a whole planetary population,
Jim thought.
If they can destroy us, someone can always come back later and reoccupy the system at their leisure, because they know Ael’s here, and they figure killing her will take the wind out of the rebellion’s sails. And as for all the people on Artaleirh, that’s just tough.

Indeed,
Arest
and
Berouinn
were approaching Artaleirh now, while
Sumpter
kept on pulling ahead. “Their weapons are going hot again, Captain,” Chekov said. “Preparing another barrage.”

“But they can’t do anything to the cities.”

“Approaches suggest they are heading for the polar caps, sir,” Chekov said.

Those sons of—
Jim swallowed hard.
Insurance. If something goes wrong with the seeding, they’ll make the planet uninhabitable another way. “Bloodwing.”

“It is the old aphorism about the
lleirh
and the hunters, Captain,”
Ael said.
“Either choice is deadly.”

Arest
dove in first, and Jim’s hands clenched on the arms of his center seat. “Sulu—” he started to say.

He was completely unprepared for the hot blue beam that came ravening up at
Arest
from the nearest city on the planet’s surface. Jim’s eyes went wide.
Arest
threw herself to one side, just barely avoiding the blast, and rather than falling into orbit, hurled herself onward and away from the planet in
Sumpter’
s wake.
Berouinn’
s course, too, changed in haste, following
Arest’
s.

“Augmented disruptor-type weapon,” Spock said, looking down his scanner, “with that hexicyclic also involved in its generation.”

“Ael!” Jim said.

“Captain, I tell you, that came as a surprise to me as well,”
Ael said, and her surprise did sound genuine.
“Plainly Courhig forgot to tell
me
something.”

The tone of her voice was unusually rueful.
He didn’t forget,
Jim thought.
They don’t quite trust you, either, do they? Something else you’re going to have to deal with in due course.
“He’s been a busy man,” Jim said, as offhandedly as he could. “Meanwhile we have other problems. Mr. Sulu?”

“Helm’s still sluggish to respond, Captain,” Sulu said. “I’ve got warp six, but no better.”

It wasn’t going to be good enough.
“Bloodwing,”
Jim said, “this one’s going to have to be yours.”

“Which one?”
Ael’s voice came back, somewhat desperately, as the three ships suddenly became four.

“There is the new reading we were expecting, Captain,” Spock said. “Same velocity and trajectory as
Sumpter
for the moment. Now accelerating away. Warp eight point two—eight point three—”

Arest
and
Berouinn
broke to port and starboard, but both of them were still heading generally sunward.
Any one of them could seed the star,
Jim thought,
but that little splinter off
Sumpter,
that’s the best candidate for my money.

Though could it be a decoy?

He threw his doubts aside. “The new reading. We’ll take
Arest
for the moment and cover your back—then take
Berouinn
if there’s time, after you’ve handled what just jumped off
Sumpter.
Mr. Sulu?”

“Aye, Captain,” Sulu said, and
Enterprise
veered after
Arest,
but still too slowly.

“New reading,” Spock said. “Coming uncloaked.”

Oh,
now
what?
Jim thought, and tried to swallow, but his mouth was just too dry. He watched
Bloodwing
arrowing after the reading that had separated itself from
Sumpter.
She was making a little headway, catching up to it, but too slowly. Artaleirh’s star was getting close.

“Free Rihannsu ID,” Spock said. “One of their captured ships, a cruiser. Closing on the new reading.”

A bloom of fire erupted abruptly in front of them. Chekov said something fierce and satisfied in Russian. Sulu looked up with a feral grin as he threw the ship after
Arest,
which had begun veering toward the sun again. “Oh no you don’t,” he said.

Chekov fired a spread of photon torpedoes ahead.
Arest
veered again, away from the star, and Sulu followed her, closer now. “Warp seven,” he said. “Seven point five.”

“Mr. Sulu!”

“It’s all right, Mr. Scott,” Sulu said to the voice on the comm, almost absently. “We’re not redlining. She’s settled in now. Seven point nine.”

“Enterprise,” Courhig’s voice said, “
this is
Sithesh.” He sounded shaken.
“Tactical detection imaging has been down for some minutes, secondary to jamming artifact, but we’ve just recovered it, and we have new traces inbound. Six—”

“Six
what,
Courhig?” Jim said.

“Indeterminate. The readings could be
K’tinga-
class, but whether Imperial or—”

In streaks of blue fire fading to red, the uncertainty was resolved. Spock glanced up from his scanner. “Klingon, Captain,” he said, and even his controlled tone managed to communicate a sense of alarm. “IDs show six vessels. KL776
Kartadza,
KL6044
Tevekh,
KL908
Melikaphkaz—”

Six,
Jim thought.
Oh my God. And here I was thinking that we’d gotten off lucky this time.
“I don’t care who they are, they can’t leave the system.
Bloodwing!”

“I see them, Captain,”
Ael’s voice said.
“System jamming is holding, but we must engage them and not let them leave!”

Jim shook his head.
Us.
Bloodwing.
Two, maybe three of the Free Rihannsu vessels capable of taking them. Against
six
of them?
The odds were uncomfortably long. “Sulu!” he said.


Arest
is breaking off, Captain,” Sulu said. “
Berouinn
is following. Heading out of system fast, along the ecliptic.
Melikaphkaz
is following—”

Enterprise
shook violently, and Jim clenched his hands on the arms of the center seat again as the
K’tinga-
class vessel fired at them en passant. “Number three shield down to fifty percent,” Spock said. “Other shields are holding. Compensating for three.”

The ship shook again, and again. “Mr. Sulu, abandon pursuit of
Arest,
form up on
Bloodwing.”

BOOK: Star Trek: The Empty Chair
11.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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