“USS Warden to Away Team 7, status report.”
T’Leia lowered her phaser rifle and tapped her combadge in one smooth motion. “This is Away Team 7. We have completed a sweep of the Sorekki settlement.” She reported, pausing to glance over her shoulder: her squad had managed to rescue over a dozen civilians, many of them injured and were huddled together in the emergency triage set up in the village hall. Predictably, the three Vulcans among them were stoic, while the humans and Trills were in obvious distress. “We have fourteen civilians with us, ten require medical attention.”
“Shuttlecraft 4 has just launched. ETA 18 minutes at your current location.”
“Understood,” T’Leia acknowledged. There was no need to ask about the transporter team’s progress of breaking through the Klingon’s jamming signals – there was little that could be done at the moment, but wait patiently for the shuttle’s arrival. In the meantime, she peered through the window and cautiously watched for klingon raiding parties that could still be out there; Sorekki was far from secured.
“Lieutenant,” A male voice announced from behind. T’Leia turned to see the old Vulcan, the gash on his right cheek hastily treated by Ensign McNabb. “I have a request to make.”
“What sort of request?” T’Leia turned to properly face the man.
“We have important geological and astrophysical research data still stored in the observatory. It is imperative that we retrieve that data before we evacuate.” He stated matter-of-factly.
“We are not going back to the observatory, councilman Lotok,” T’Leia’s tone was almost a reflection of his. “The Klingons still have control of that side of the settlement.”
“That data represents two decades worth of research,” Lotok countered sharply. “The physics of a close-proximity quadruple star system has never been well understood, and the Korvat quarternay has been a unique opportunity for study that may not be…”
“With all due respect, councilman,” T’Leia interrupted. “I understand the importance of your research, but it is illogical to put lives at risk, simply to retrieve research data.”
“You do not seem to comprehend or appreciate the time and effort required to accumulate this research, Lieutenant,” Lotok frowned. “While the theories can be recreated, it would take us at least ten years to regain sufficient data to substantiate them. We do not have…”
“And how many years would be wasted if one or more of my team dies, while trying to retrieve your research?” T’Leia shot back, her tone sharper than she intended. She passed a look at her team, some standing guard and others tending to the civilians. “I am in command of this Away Team and my objective is to rescue any survivors of this settlement. Retrieving possessions is outside of my mission parameter.”
Lotok pursed his lips; T’Leia gave the man a plain look and considered the case closed, when he spoke up again. “Then perhaps you will return to the observatory to retrieve my assistant.”
T’Leia couldn’t help but quirk a brow at this. “Your assistant?”
“Yes,” The elder Vulcan nodded simply. “He was tasked with gathering up the research data. That was his mission.”
Vulcans kept their emotions under tight control, but T’Leia felt a rise within herself at Lotok’s words — a rise she managed to suppress. “Why did you neglect to mention this person during the evacuation?”
Lotok shook his head and shrugged vaguely. “I was in a concussive state during the evacuation.” He pointed out and gestured at the treated gash. “Frankly, I assumed he did not survive in the initial klingon assault.”
T’Leia gritted her teeth but maintained her calm. “And now you believe he is still alive.”
“I believe there is a chance he still lives, yes.” Lotok sounded almost smug. “That does fall within your mission parameters, does it not, Lieutenant?”
The two vulcans stared at each other for a long, awkward moment, but as a Starfleet officer, T’Leia knew what she needed to do. “I will go look for your assistant, councilman. But this incident will go into my official report.” Without waiting for a reply from Lotok, T’Leia looked past him towards his team. “Ensign McNabb, you are with me. Ensign Carrington, you are now in charge of this location. Depart with the civilians when the shuttle arrives: do not wait for us. Request the shuttle to be on standby for emergency evacuation.”
“Aye sir,” Carrington acknowledged, and thus satisfied, T’Leia lifted her rifle to head for the door. The burly Ensign McNabb grumbled but followed dutifully, leaving behind Lotok to congratulate himself.
T’Leia privately reflected on how little Starfleet tactical training prepared her — or anyone, for that matter — for the brutality of a battlefield situation. After all, Starfleet wasn’t an army: its security personnel were trained to provide exactly that: security, not engaging in combat missions. Personal combat training and small unit tactics were taught at the academy, but the truth was the vast majority of Starfleet tactical officers had little field experience in actual combat situations.
In the eight months since graduation, T’Leia has served aboard the USS Warden as security and tactical officer on Captain Horner’s personal request, and in that time she had little chance to see combat. The recent tension with the klingons over the Hromi cluster has given her opportunities to serve on the bridge as gamma-shift tactical officer, but the Federation was still hoping to avoid any real fighting.
Yet within a month, T’Leia found herself fighting the klingons on the ground with a rifle. If actual combat frightened her, she overcame it with Vulcan logic, but the other young officers had little to fall back on to help them through these experiences.
She stole a glance at McNabb and wondered how he was coping. The big man was clearly tense and nervous, but evidently he was a born fighter with a penchant for violence. He would cope, she decided.
They had already crossed the courtyard of the observatory; the husks of two burnt-out trucks sat in silent testimony of the klingons’ visit. The front door to the observatory was broken down by explosives, shattered into metal chunks that littered the hallway beyond. As T’Leia and McNabb cautiously entered, they could hear shouts from deeper within the compound — klingon voices.
T’Leia signalled McNabb to cover her, as she took point and inched forward using each nook of the hallway. They scanned each room they passed, looking for the research assistant, and hoping against hope that they could find the man without alerting the klingons. The fact that the klingons were loud helped them; T’Leia could tell where the klingons were located while they searched in silence, but she soon came to the conclusion that the klingons must be in the main control center on the observation floor — and likely where the assistant was as well given that his orders were to retrieve the research data.
There was no way to avoid a confrontation.
The observatory was a large sphere atop a cylindrical structure, and the central planetarium was split into two levels: the main lobby, and a second level where the main control and research center resided, accessible via turbolifts or a long, curved ramp that ran up the side of the structure. Deciding that the turbolifts would no doubt alert the klingons, T’Leia opted for the ramp as a more viable approach. As she and McNabb ascended the ramp, the klingon voices became louder; fear was an emotion Vulcans learned to control long ago, but self-preservation was an instinct that couldn’t really be suppressed — for any species. The trick was merely how to properly channel that survival instinct into something constructive.
The control center finally came into view as they crested the top of the ramp; the glass walls had all been smashed, and within the dimly-lit control center, T’Leia could see two klingon warriors illuminated by the large view screens in the room. They were shouting — not at each other, T’Leia noted, and she inferred that they must be shouting at a prisoner, likely the man they came to rescue.
Two against two, and they had the advantage of stealth. Even as T’Leia crouched down to take aim with her rifle, she was surprised to hear a yell from behind, and a third klingon leapt out from the shadows to tackle McNabb. Instinctively she spun on her heels, aiming her rifle but unable to find a target as McNabb and the klingon grappled each other. The momentary hesitation was sufficient for the situation to turn completely, as one of the two klingons charged T’Leia and slammed his shoulder into her back, knocking her to the floor and her rifle flying over the edge of the railing.
T’Leia barely had time to clamber back to her feet, but her assailant was already upon her. The savage klingon was much larger than her, but her Vulcan strength gave her a chance of fighting back. Still, his powerful arms wrapped around her before she could steady herself, and he held firm in a crushing bear hug that cracked ribs. T’Leia grimaced in pain, but with her arms pinned, all she could do was to struggle and thrash in the hopes of breaking loose.
The last klingon, a vicious-looking female, pulled a d’k Tahg from her belt and rushed to join the melee with a battle-cry. Alerted by the shout, T’Leia desperately shoved backwards, forcing her assailant to back up a few steps as well. At a critical moment, the klingon lost his balance for a step, and T’Leia seized the opportunity to violently smash the back of her head into his face and breaking his nose. The shock and pain loosened his grip, allowing T’Leia to duck just in time to avoid the female klingon’s knife; the wicked d’k Tahg buried itself in the male klingon’s chest instead, dropping him to his knees.
The female klingon’s eyes widened at her mistake, but before she could withdraw the dagger from her comrade’s chest, she was body-slammed backwards by T’Leia. The two women slammed to the floor in a grapple, and T’Leia landed two open-handed punches against the klingon’s face that rattled her teeth, before she threw a punch in return, cutting T’Leia’s cheek open with the metal spikes of her glove. T’Leia stumbled back, and the klingon quickly rolled to her feet, reaching for the disruptor pistol on her belt.
“Now we finish this, Vulcan bitch!” The klingon snarled as the pistol is raised, but T’Leia swiftly lashed out and kicked it out of her hand. With an angry howl she launched herself at T’Leia, knocking the Vulcan back and pinning her down, hands clutching T’Leia’s slender throat to choke the very life out of her. Even with her Vulcan physiology, all T’Leia could do was to try and pry off those fingers, as her windpipe was gradually crushed.
For silent moments, the two women struggled, one eager to snuff out her opponent’s life, the other simply trying to live. T’Leia’s vision became blurred as her oxygen supply was cut off, and in desperation she reached out to push the klingon off, hands on her face. The klingon woman had seen this before, the final gasps of a dying enemy, and she grinned maliciously.
“So close,” She laughed as her fingers tightened even further. “So very close. Just a few seconds and you’re…”
Her gloat ended abruptly, her eyes wide in shock before she collapsed in a heap on top of the Vulcan. T’Leia pushed her off and gasped desperately for breath — saved at the last seconds by a Vulcan nerve pinch. Her throat was in burning pain; she had little doubt that she would bruise mightily, but this wasn’t the time to worry. She looked across the room and saw McNabb fighting for his life, barely holding off the d’k Tahg of the last klingon with both hands.
T’Leia rose unsteadily to her feet and picked up the discarded pistol, aiming it at McNabb’s assailant. “Put down the dagger or I will shoot…” She called out hoarsely, every word uttered like fire in her throat. The klingon warrior turned his head in surprise, but instead of surrendering, he yelled and charged T’Leia with his raised knife. Grimly, she pulled the trigger twice, unleashing two bolts of disruptors and disintegrating the klingon.
“Are you alright, Ensign?” She managed to ask, her newly-acquired disruptor still raised.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” McNabb was breathing hard — and sweating. This was probably his first real close encounter with the klingons. “You look like a mess, Lieutenant.” He gestured at her face and neck. “Want me to have a look at it?”
“Afterwards, Ensign.” T’Leia shook her head. “We should ensure the area is secured, and…”
Before she could finish her sentence, a loud groan from further inside the control center had both of them spinning to face that direction. T’Leia signalled McNabb to provide her with cover, before cautiously approaching the source of the noise. She was not entirely surprised to find an injured man on the floor, with blood flowing from his forehead — a Vulcan. Surely he was the one the klingons were shouting at and interrogating, and likely Lotok’s assistant.
She crouched down next to him and scanned him with her tricorder; even as the equipment beeped, he stirred and opened his eyes, glancing up at T’Leia uncertainly. Noticing this, T’Leia studied him briefly. “You are suffering from multiple head trauma, and your vitals are below nominal.” She slipped the tricorder back on to her belt. “I need you to stay awake.” Looking up, she beckoned McNabb. “Ensign, I require your assistance. Keep his head elevated while I administer a microsuture.”
McNabb nodded and crouched on the opposite side of the man, carefully lifting his head with both hands, thus freeing T’Leia to treat him. While she did so, T’Leia continued to speak. “I need you to remain conscious and talk to me. What is your name?”
“Zefu.” He replied softly, his eyes fluttering close again.
“Zefu.” T’Leia repeated, and as she injected him with antibiotic agents with a hypospray, she noticed the trail of spots on the sides of his head. “You are Trill?”
“Half-Trill,” Zefu coughed. “Half-Vulcan.”
“An unusual combination,” T’Leia observed while she worked on closing the cuts on his forehead. “Were you born here on Korvat?”
“My mother… and I came here when I was little…” He said. “…they don’t… people don’t much like mongrels here…”
“A sentiment that is still unfortunately prevalent on many worlds,” T’Leia noted. “You are a research assistant? What is your specialty?”
T’Leia didn’t respond for a moment, as she focused on finishing up the laser suture. “There, I have closed the wounds and stemmed the bleeding. But you will require full medical attention to assess any potential brain damage you may have suffered.”
“The… research data…” Zefu lifted a hand and pointed at a nearby terminal. “…we need to… retrieve it for Doctor Lotok.”
T’Leia looked up at the terminal. “Ensign, download whatever data you can.” McNabb nodded and moved to do just that, after letting Zefu lay back on the floor. “Do not concern yourself with it, Zefu. Our immediate concern is to evacuate these premises. Klingon roaming patrols are still a significant threat, and Korvat is currently being contested.”
“You don’t… don’t understand…” Zefu reached up a hand, and T’Leia took it in hers. “…Doctor Lotok… he would relieve me… if I can’t save the data…”
T’Leia frowned. “You risked your life for this data. I expect Doctor Lotok will be appreciative of your efforts.”
Despite his obvious discomfort, Zefu chuckled dryly. “As I said, I am a mongrel. They don’t… appreciate mongrels here. My work… my work with Doctor Lotok, it’s all I have…”
T’Leia pursed her lips and studied Zefu some more. Sympathy was not an alien concept to Vulcans; they simply saw it in a logical fashion. Right now, T’Leia felt sympathy for Zefu: clearly he faced discrimination in his youth because of his mixed parentage, and it reminded her of the discrimination she experienced because of her father’s failure. It was a long, difficult road to walk alone, but she knew there was a light at the end of that dark tunnel.
“There are always other options, Zefu,” T’Leia gave his hand a reassuring squeeze, a gesture that made Zefu open his eyes and look up at her. “Always. I can assist you in exploring those options, but right now I need you to focus on staying alive. Can you stand and walk?”
Zefu stared at T’Leia hopefully, and nodded weakly before trying to climb to his feet. “I believe I can.”
T’Leia provided support and soon Zefu was standing, using her as his crutch. “We need to move southwest of here for at least three kilometers. It is the minimum distance from suspected klingon positions, for a shuttlecraft to safely land.” She turned back to McNabb. “Ensign?”
“Got it.” The burly Ensign waved his PADD then pocketed it, then swung up his rifle.
And with that, the trio made their way out of the observatory towards the rendezvous point. It was all in a day’s work for Starfleet security, and T’Leia had learned first hand what to expect in a combat situation.