“Whooo! Coming in hot. Fasten your seatbelts and don’t spill too much of your lunch on the decking.”
I hated Sanchez for one reason; despite the chaotic, nauseating rocking and speed of the dropship (for even modern technology could not eliminate the effects of wind gusts hitting a heavy ship flying at over two hundred miles per hour), she was calm as anything, and even worse, she was excited.
Excited! Of all the emotions. Then again, she was fairly new.
I patted the hull affectionately. So was the Avocet-class dropship. A rushed development program yielded the vessel during the last year or two of the Dominion War. It was two dozen meters long, with fairly stubby wings and a Defiant-like nose that had been gently rounded. Danube-like windows were affixed to it, while more Defiant lineage was evidences in the arched ‘shoulders’ that the wings sprouted from. A long tail paid tribute to the helicopters of the past, and held cargo and ECM equipment. The main body was also a stylized block, and contained the utilitarian passenger compartment.
I was in the front of that compartment, hanging onto an overhead rail, and, for now, the contents of my stomach. The Avocet turned sharply, narrowly avoiding a fiery blue disruptor blast.
“Cutting it a little close, there, ensign,” I admonished. I didn’t like my fate being in anyone’s hands but my own, least of all when they were inclined to take risks.
I’m a ‘big’ guy, broad-shouldered, rounded stomach, bulging arms. Six foot six, three thirty-four pounds, and, as I like to think, built like a tank. The term I hear most is ‘hulking’, and I suppose that’s pretty accurate. When your mom tells you to eat your vegetables, I suggest you do, because it yields some surprising results. Yet despite my sheer physical presence, I couldn’t handle a bit of airsickness.
Lashal prudently handed me a ‘barf bag’, which I promptly made use of. The Vulcan said nothing as the razor sharp turn caused me to eject the chef’s deliciously prepared salad and filet mignon all over the insides of the plastic sac.
“Thanks,” I said, after lifting my head wearily from the foul-smelling sac.
She nodded, and returned to staring blankly at the wall.
I guess we’re a storied lot.
When I say ‘we’, I mean the two-dozen of us crammed inside this tin can. During the thick of the Dominion War, when the Avocet was first introduced, then fancifully titled a “Tactical Deployment Shuttle” rather than a mere “dropship”, Starfleet put together assault teams, meant to shoot away from Federation craft, slip by Dominion defenses, and land groundside to root out the invaders. We took bad casualties, but the core group is still together. That made me feel warm inside, somehow.
I looked at them, jostled by Sanchez’ maneuvering and battered by experience, their resolve was unfailing. Their faces were bizarre mixtures of fear, excitement, determination, and happiness at the chance to do their jobs and save lives.
A stream of (to me) unintelligible Spanish cursing floating into the passenger compartment from the cockpit. The Avocet did a relatively slow barrel roll, managing to avoid three massive disruptor blasts that sparked off the shields and made the inside of the craft even hotter. I felt a cold sweat beak out on the back of my neck. Fighting on the ground, I could handle the stress of that, but this…this was different.
“Whoops,” she called. The ship rotated ninety degrees. Someone’s phaser rifle clattered to the decking, then tumbled around as Sanchez turned the ship like water sloshing around in a glass.
“If you want a smooth ride go buy a yacht!” she shot back, finally beginning to lose her cool. “The bastards won’t leave me alone!”
I staggered into the cockpit, nearly ramming face first into the walls several times. I managed to take the empty seat and strap in. Outside the canopy, the wind rushed by, and the flames that signaled re-entry were only barely licking at the nose of the craft. I called up the comm. display.
“Chicken Seven to Big Birds, we need some cover fire here!” A green disruptor blast crackled nearby, igniting the sky in sickly green lightning.
“We’re a little occupied, Chicken Six. We’ll get you whatever help we can ASAP.”
“That’s not good enough! We can’t dodge forever!” It would still be at least twelve seconds before the ship could begin full evasive maneuvers.
“We’ll reorient on the frigate above you,” the bomber pilot said with a sigh. He must have been close to a kill. “Big Bird Fourteen out.”
Eight seconds later, the disruptor fire stopped, though it still rained down from the heavens or hells, depending on your viewpoint, in far off areas. Four seconds after that, flaming bits of debris drifted down.
I flashed a grim smile and looked out the window. Out first target, a small Breen occupied city, glistened brightly, nestled between rolling green hills and sitting near the coast. It held an important planetary communications array, one of the few remaining ones in existence. The Breen had destroyed the easily replaced antennae, but all the high powered jamming and transmission equipment was nestled in those wonderful hills.
The flame was gone. The occasional puff of condensation or cloud drifted across the windscreen. I tried not to fight my breath. So close.
The Avocet continued to accelerate, diving for the city, two identically-marked twins beside her, with a few Kestrels providing escort. A small box appeared on the screen.
“There’s our target window, boys!”
“Last minute checks!” I called loudly into the back. They all withdrew their phaser rifles and checked their secondary armaments.
I did the same. Rifle, hand phaser, two small Type-I phasers, a small pack of photon grenades, and the typical compact survival gear in my thin pack.
“Rock and roll,” Golt, a strong Andorian male, said with a humorous smile, hoisting his rifle. His antennae curled in anticipation.
The ground continued to rush up to meet the dropship. The hills flew by in green blurs so fast I had no clue how Sanchez managed to avoid plastering us on one of them. The city glistened now, its details more visible. It was a collection of mostly twenty-fourth and twenty third century crystalline towers, with numerous gleaming modern homes mixed in with some decidedly older, historical ones.
Completely out of first were the ugly conglomerations of metal smashing through the city, destroying anything that moved in an effort to race for the hills. Damn, I hadn’t expected them to localize the comm. station so quickly.
She threw more power into the engines. Flame erupted from the back of the craft as the four small scramjet engines came online, supplementing the impulse drive with their primitive fury.
“Ten!” she yelled to the back. The ground tensed.
We were over the suburbs now. The roar of the small Starfleet craft no doubt reverberated throughout the city, rattling windows and smashing the pavement with noise and sonic booms. The Kestrels zoomed forward and began strafing runs. Sanchez overshot the main column of tanks, then cut power to low levels, jerking the controls. The ship performed a flat one hundred eighty degree spin, her technology defying gravity and inertia. The tank gunners didn’t have time to respond as the Avocet’s main gunner, a deadly efficient Vulcan, opened fire.
Brehm-brehm-brehm! The dropship rattled as pulse phaser blasts showed the ships, slicing into them as if they were being hit by knives. Molten-colored micro photon torpedoes sailed through the air, homing in on their targets and smashing them with deadly precision. Smoke curled up in the sky, buffeted by the passing aircraft and the backwash of their engines. Sanchez set the ship down three hundred meters from the entrance to the mountain complex, right on top of the target coordinates. She gave me a casual salute.
“We’ve gotcha covered, sir.”
I nodded and saluted, then unbuckled and stood up. After the dizzying flight, I felt like throwing up again. Thankfully, my stomach restrained the remainder of its cargo. “All right!” I said, after managing to steady my queasiness and nerves. “Move out!”
* * *
Half of us had yet to leave the craft when we suffered the first casualty.
Morris was cut down by Breen sniper fire as he rushed out, a burning hole cleaved into his back. I exited the ship, thankfully to have my boots finally resting on solid ground, and crouched under the wing. Three Breen were on top of a nearby roof, and, their subtlety gone, were showering the area with disruptor fire. Sanchez was powerless as she waited for the rest of the troops to file out.
A silver dart suddenly appeared behind the Breen, no more than ten meters in length. They turned, hearing the whine of the engines.
I winced as pulse phaser fire ripped them to shreds and gouged great furrows in the roof. The Kestrel shot off.
I did a quick survey of the empty street, and, temporarily satisfied, performed a head count. “Where’s M’tok?”
A nearby trooper pointed to a burnt corpse.
I rapped my knuckle on the cockpit and gave Sanchez a halfhearted thumbs up. All off.
She nodded and waved me away. The Avocet took off, buffeting us with the power of her Impulse drives.
I watched it go for a few seconds before ducking behind cover in a narrow alley. I took out my padd and did a unit survey, then tapped my comm. badge. “Team One.”
“Here,” they said in unison. They crouched down around equipment deeper in the alley.
“We’re under fi-“
A huge boom split the still air. I wheeled about as a Breen tank smashed through a flimsy boutique in pursuit of two troopers. It cut them down with its huge disruptor cannon.
The trooper stepped out of a nearby building, a gleaming isomagnetic disintegrator braced on his shoulder. He fired a single, white-hot blob and ducked back inside.
The sphere slammed into the tank, exploding. Its shields absorbed the blow. The pudgy main turret swiveled and blasted away half the building Martinez had been hiding in.
His icon winked off the padd’s display.
I waved Golt over. He hurried over with two blocky cases. I opened one and he the other. Inside were two new RPPG launchers (Rocket Propelled Photon Grenade). I was rather fond of the new weapon. Unlike micro torpedoes, the RPPGs were ‘dumbfire’, and were shot in a straight line. They, however, had varying yields, from a bright, stunning flash to a heavy explosive yield.
Can you guess which I picked?
“Maximum demolition,” I ordered him tersely, practically shoving rounds into the firing chamber. I locked it and hit the safety off. A small targeting screen appeared and several lights winked on.
I edged around the corner. The tank, unable to find the other teams, wandered through the streets. I could still hear the roar of the Avocets and Kestrels, but they were more distant. The Breen must have allocated far more ground assets to the area than expected.
I stepped out from the corner and held the bulky launcher steady. Golt rushed past me and crouched.
“Fire!” The barrel was already tracking toward us.
An orange projectile sizzled through the air, followed quickly by one of Golt’s. The orange projectiles detonated on the shields, collapsing them. A heavy thunk told me another round was in place. I fired again, bracing my feet against the massive kickback of the launcher.
The rocket skimmed low and pitched up the earth under the tank, tossing its front-end half a meter into the air. Golt’s follow-up shot slammed into the vulnerable underside.
An isomagnetic disintegrator round from somewhere slammed into the turret and detonated in a golden ball of flame. I tried to duck behind the alley, but shrapnel sliced into my arm and knocked the launcher from my grasp.
I winced, nursing the injured arm, and turned.
A large disruptor bolt smashed into the adjacent building. An avalanche of rubble fell. Startled yelled filled the air, along with the screech of phaser fire and the hollow poosh of the isomagnetic disintegrators.