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“Sir, three Romulan Dhael class warbirds are de-cloaking off of the port quarter; lead vessel holding steady at 5000 kilometers,” the tactical officer said. 

“Very well. On screen,” Noah responded. He’d already had the Helios brought to Red Alert at the XO’s recommendation when the Science officer detected a singularity signature in the area. The main viewer showed three of the droop-winged ships, their outlines slightly obscured as their cloaking fields dropped. Noah had never faced this class of ship before. He’d been briefed on the class’s capabilities but that was a far cry from facing one. 

“Sensors indicate that all three vessels have powered up their weapons,” the tactical officer said. Noah knew that the Dhael class’s Singularity Inverter, the very same one whose unique radiation signature alerted the Helios to the Romulan presence, could absorb serious amounts of weapons damage. He was beginning to think that he was seriously outmatched. 

“Open a frequency,” Noah ordered the Bolian communications officer. 

“Hailing frequency open, sir” the officer responded. 

“This is Captain Noah Masterson of the USS Helios. You have entered Federation space and in doing so, you have violated a treaty that exists between the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire. Return to Romulan space immediately or face the consequences,” Noah said. 

“No response, sir,” the communications officer said. Noah was about to issue another ultimatum when the communications officer preempted him. 

“Sir, the Romulans have dropped the channel,” the officer informed Noah. 

“Understood. Send an updated sitrep to Starfleet Command before they get the idea to jam our comms,” Noah ordered. The communications officer acknowledged and set to the task. 

Noah watched the main viewer as the middle ship continued on its intercept course but noticed that the other two ships broke off and began to attempt to encircle the Helios. 

“Tactical: focus on the vessel dead ahead but don’t lose tabs on the others,” Noah instructed. He barely heard the acknowledgment; he was focusing on his next move. 

“I don’t like this, Captain,” his XO said, standing at one of the auxiliary consoles along the port bulkhead. 

“Neither do I, XO,” Noah confirmed. 

“Helm: when the time comes, I want you to get us in behind the lead ship and keep us there. Tactical: make sure to target weapons then engines, in that order,” Noah ordered.  

“All due respect, Captain, but shouldn’t we try to shut down their engines first and cut power to the Singularity Inverters,” the young Ensign at Tactical asked. 

“The Singularity Inverter is purpose-built to absorb damage.  Long before we could hope to knock them out completely, the warbirds would pick us apart at their leisure,” Noah calmly explained. 

“What we want to accomplish is to knock their teeth out and then blow out their knees, metaphorically speaking,“ Noah continued. The XO and the Ops officer smiled at the Captain’s choice of metaphor. 

He pushed a control on the command chair’s console and spoke into the air. “Engineering: how’s the fix on our shield hiccup coming?” 

The gruff guttural tones of the reply came back almost instantly. 

“Forward shields are holding at 98% but I can’t get any more than 89% out of the aft shields, Captain, ” the Tellarite engineer explained. 

Before Noah could respond, the lead warbird leaped forward, surging toward the Helios. The Tactical Plot display indicated a similar jump from each of the other warbirds as well. In an instant, a blinding green lance of disruptor fire shot out and struck the Helios’ shields. It was followed by three more from the lead ship. 

“Helm: evasive maneuvers! Come to…” Noah consulted the Tactical Plot, “bearing 030, mark 310. Bring me up under her belly.”  

“Aye, sir” came the reply. 

As a reflex to the opening salvo, the XO had begun directing the Tactical officers to return fire. The Helios carried pulse phaser cannons, phasers and both quantum and photon torpedoes. The XO was methodically working on the warbird’s shields with the torpedoes, hoping to overload the shield generators and then use the phasers and phaser cannons to disable the vessel and her weapons. 

Noah heard the Tactical officer call out the lead warbird’s shield status as 68%. Noah smiled inwardly; the XO was definitely taking the Captain’s metaphor to heart. The Helios came up under the lead ship and was circling back to the port side when a giant fist reached out and smacked into the Helios from behind. Noah glanced at the Tactical Plot; the other two ships were jockeying for position behind the Helios. The quicker of the two had fired two torpedoes at them, knocking the already weakened shields down another 17%. 

“Helm: come about to bearing 160, mark 210, and then roll us to “upright”. Tactical: target all weapons on the lead vessel and hit them with full spread, all weapons,” Noah ordered. He glanced at his XO and a look of skepticism flare on the XO’s face for a heartbeat. To the XO’s credit, he never lost his bearing. He simply shook off the doubt and complied with the orders. 

The Helios shot up behind the lead Dhael, firing its dorsal weapons, and then rolled “upright” to then fire the ventral spread. The maneuver dropped the Romulan’s shields to 14% and caused it to disengage and peel off. The other two, sensing the vulnerability of the lead ship, charged at Helios. Noah saw their mistake and intended to capitalize. 

“Helm: let’s take the other two ships port and starboard. Come to bearing 180, mark 155. Tactical: split your weapons spreads. I want port weapons to engage the port target and starboard weapons to engage the starboard target,” Noah ordered confidently. The XO glanced over and thought he saw a slight smile form at the corners of the Captain’s lips. 

The Helios’s nose dropped and it rocketed between the aggressors. In that instant, Noah wished the designers had incorporated a pair of aft phaser emitters into the Helios. All of the Valiant class’s weapons were forward facing, with the ability to track across firing arcs that covered most of the ship. However, much like the Defiant class, whose design was a predecessor to the Valiant class, the aft third lacked any weapons. In his mind, Noah liked the idea of hitting an opponent coming and going. Another shot to the shields brought him out of his reverie. The lead Dhael had re-engaged from the starboard quarter when the Helios had split the other two warbirds. The Helmsman had rolled the Helios so that the dorsal ablative armor took the brunt of the attack and then tracked the Helios’s nose aft somewhat. This gave Tactical the chance to answer with a quick volley of quantum torpedoes. The warheads punched through the Dhael’s shields and destroyed the port nacelle. The starboard nacelle continued to glow but then flickered and faded, the vessel adrift. 

“Helm, bring us about to bear on the other two…” was all Noah could get out before another giant fist slammed into the rear of the Helios. 

“Captain: that last shot penetrated our shields. We’ve lost half our aft sensors and both aft tractor beams but hull integrity is at 99%,” the Operations officer informed Noah. 

“How long to restore the damaged aft sensors, Lieutenant” Noah barked. 

“Ten minutes,” the officer responded. 

“Nothing takes ten minutes, son. Get it done in five. Helm: bring us about and keep these other two jokers where we can see them,” Noah ordered. 

The Tactical Plot updated itself to show the change of course and it also updated the position of the two operational Dhaels as well as the position of the disabled one. Before Noah could issue his next set of orders, however, the Tactical officer bellowed out. 

“Sir: Valdore class Heavy Warbird de-cloaking off the starboard quarter, 50,000 kilometers and closing rapidly!” 

Noah was dumbstruck. A Valdore showing up in this location was not good; he had figured that some form of reinforcement would show up eventually. But having one of the Empire’s most formidable ships drop into this engagement? Noah didn’t think he could have ever prepared for that eventuality. 

“Ops: what’s the status of the aft sensors,” Noah asked tersely. 

“Coming on-line now, sir,” the Ops officer said. 

“Helm: get us out of here, best possible course and speed back to Starbase 254. Tactical: get tabs on that Valdore,” Noah ordered. 

Before any of the officers could reply, a smooth, almost melodic voice cut in. 

“Computer, pause simulation and remove the crew” the voice ordered. 

The ubiquitous female computer voice announced its compliance and Captain Benjamin Sisko appeared on the Bridge of the Helios. He walked from the turbolift over Noah’s right shoulder to the Conn station in front of the Command Chair. Sisko rotated the chair, seated himself and looked expectantly at Noah. Despite knowing that this wasn’t the real Benjamin Sisko but rather a holographic representation of Sisko that the Helios simulator was equipped with didn’t change the fact that Noah felt nervous. The programmers at Starfleet had picked Sisko because of his influence on the design of the Defiant class. At the moment, Noah felt it was a bad choice to have made but that was only because he had always admired Sisko’s career. No one ever liked having their heroes chew them out and point out their mistakes. 

“What went wrong, Mister Masterson,” Sisko asked. 

“I’m not sure, sir. I judged this to be a really bad tactical situation and chose to get my ship and her crew out of an unwinnable fight,” Noah explained. 

“And when did this fight become unwinnable,” Sisko asked.  

“When the Valdore popped up on the Tactical Plot, sir” Noah responded. Unwittingly, Noah transformed a confident statement into an unsteady question. 

“Are you asking me or telling me, Mister Masterson” the hologram responded. In a very Sisko-esque gesture, the hologram steepled his fingertips together and gently tapped them together as Noah composed his reply. 

Noah took a deep breath and blew it out. 

“Telling you, sir” Noah responded with a regained measure of confidence. It turned out to be misplaced.  

“No, Lieutenant. The fight became unwinnable when you, as Captain of this vessel, lost your situational awareness,” Sisko said.  

Noah was confused: he thought he’d had situational awareness throughout the entire confrontation. He was about to argue his point when the hologram stopped him with the Sisko finger: an index finger, pointed up but used to punctuate his statement, almost like an orchestral conductor’s wand. 

“You went into this fight without complete situational awareness. A simple scan of the area would have revealed the Valdore’s presence, albeit very much removed. You would have then been able to alert Starfleet to a much larger Romulan presence here. As it stands, you have a 2.631% chance of survival by evading and a less than 1% chance of survival by engaging,” the hologram explained. 

Noah felt a flare of shame. He should have known better; as an Operations officer, it was part of his responsibility to scan any space and ascertain what was out there, especially so when the Tactical officer was busy fighting three opponents.  

“But,” the hologram went on, “your performance in the fight itself leads me to believe that I can safely check you out on the Helios. Congratulations, Lieutenant.” 

“Thank you, sir,” Noah said quietly. He watched the holographic instructor fade and sat in the chair for a moment. The program, though still paused, showed the Valdore on an intercept course for the Helios. Noah let the image burn into his mind; he’d make sure to not repeat this lesson again. 

“Computer, end simulation,” Noah said simply. The construct dissolved into the familiar grid pattern of a holodeck. Noah located the exit and moved to it. He had some time before his shift in Operations but he thought it wouldn’t hurt to be early. 

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