THE VERDICT OF HISTORY
CHARIOTS OF KORVAT
“No doubt you all have heard the rumours. Unfortunately they are true; the Klingons have broken the ceasefire.”
That drew an immediate reaction from the crowd. Wing Commander Maxine Benton waited a second for them to get it out of their system. It had only been weeks since the ceasefire between the two powers after three months of brutal fighting. The Klingons had thrown everything against the Federation and in true Federation style they had been slow to respond. The Federation Council had still hoped that they could talk the Klingons out of fighting, even after they destroyed half a dozen Federation facilities and bases in the Archanis sector. Starfleet had spent most of the time fighting on the back foot, however just before the ceasefire the fleet had managed to strike several crucial blows against the Klingon Defence Force, but the respite was still very welcomed. As such everyone had hoped for the best of the ceasefire.
“We have reports that at least four Klingon battle groups are on the move.” She brought up the map behind her. She was standing at the front of the main briefing room, a large space that could hold all the pilots on the USS Barton. “The Fourth managed to get around our defences and have attacked the colony at Belis IV. The Third is engaging our forces along the border, deploying forces on Federation worlds and outposts. More importantly the Second and Sixth have pushed our forces from the Archanis sector. The Fifth Fleet is busy rounding up the Fourth so the Twentieth has been given the task of bottling them in Archanis.”
“We’ll be outnumbered,” pointed out one of the pilots. “The Twentieth isn’t one of the biggest fleets.”
“The Twelfth has also been deployed to assist and will join the Twentieth as soon as they can, however that is not our main concern.”
“Then what is?” asked the same pilot.
“Why bother with the planet? They could flank the fleet without taking it,” pointed out another pilot.
“They could try, but we would know they were coming. Korvat III is responsible for much of the Federation’s surveillance of this section of the Klingon border. If it falls, we lose our eyes and ears.”
“How many tactical wings will be going in?”
“None. It will just be the 3rd Cruiser wing.”
“Eight ships! Is that all?” exclaimed a shocked pilot.
“We might be able to defeat that force but holding the system with just eight ships is going to be tough.”
Benton had to agree with her colleague. She did not like their odds. Even a small group of Klingon ships would be an issue as their cloaking devices gave them a distinctive tactical advantage. She had tried to argue with Captain Bindo of the Barton for the rest of the tactical wing to join them if the colony was that important, but it proved fruitless. The decision had been made and they were the ones that had to live by it.
“Good thing we’re as tough as they come,” she replied with false bravado. She moved the briefing along and brought up the attack plan. “The colony desperately needs our help, I know this isn’t the ideal situation to be going in but these are our orders and we will follow them.”
Benton checked her systems for the tenth time. She was waiting at the fore of the one of the Barton’s immense shuttlebays under the ship’s saucer section. The Canberra class was a large vessel, one of the largest Federation carriers in service. The Barton’s current complement was the 101st Fighter Wing, a modest size wing of six squadrons.
“We’ll be out of warp in 10 seconds. Prepare to launch on my signal,” said the fighter operations coordinator.
A few seconds later the large shuttlebay doors opened and before them all she could see was planetscape.
“You are go for launch, happy hunting!”
Benton throttled up her engines and left the bay into space. When she was clear of the Barton she adjusted to her planned course. They were in close orbit of Korvat III; the Barton had dropped out of warp close to the planet on the far side from the Klingon’s location. She checked her sensors but they were not giving her anything useful, which was a good sign. The attack on the Klingon’s position had already begun and the other cruisers were pumping out jamming and interference to help cover their arrival and to inhibit the Klingon’s sensors. The planet was also providing a natural shield from enemy sensors. Her wing would be on top of the Klingons before they detected them.
They flew on the edge of the planet’s atmosphere. As they rounded the planet they started to receive targeting data. The fighters had their active sensors offline to help keep them stealthy, so they were relying on a feed from the other ships on the location of the Klingon ships. Benton was pleased to see that the Klingons still did not seem to have noticed their presence and none of their ships were vectoring towards the fighters.
Her squadron’s target was one of the assault transports. These ships would be providing most of the transporter support for the ground forces, reinforcements and equipment. They were priority targets for the attack.
The fighters finally reached the point where hugging the atmosphere was no longer useful. Benton pulled up her fighter and made a beeline for the assault transports. The Klingons would definitely detect them now but only one ship, the De’nat class battle cruiser was in a position to defend the transports and it would not be enough.
Benton made sure her photon torpedoes were armed and ready to launch as she locked onto her target. Under the hull of her fighter was loaded four torpedoes, she selected two and released them. The rest of her flight was quick to follow. Eight torpedoes closed on their target and impacted. Explosions blossomed on the transport’s shields. Klingon assault transports were notorious for their strong shields and hull.
She switched to phasers and opened fire. The other fighters in her flight did the same as they made their lightning pass. She pulled up and guided her flight over the top of the transport. She watched her sensors as the other three flights from her squadron made their runs. She kept an eye on her sensors and was pleased to see them register secondary explosions from the transport and then it breaking apart.
With her target down she checked on the others. All four transports were out of the fight. The De’nat that had remained near the transports was currently tied up with dealing with the two squadrons assigned to attacking her. She noticed that two Klingon ships had disengaged from the battle with the rest of the cruiser wing and were falling back to help the De’nat. Thankfully all seven Starfleet ships were still functioning.
She switched to the wing’s frequency. “Forge and Nullarbor squadrons, you are clear to enter the atmosphere and start ground support operations.”
Two squadrons vectored away from the battle towards the planet. Benton checked her sensors and saw that the USS Musashi was also vectoring in. The large and powerful Wambundu class heavy cruiser had easily punched through the Klingons, just as they had predicted in the briefing. The lighter Klingon force was having trouble holding back some of the larger Starfleet cruisers.
She again opened up a channel to her other squadrons. “Let’s see if we can take out that De’nat before the Musashi gets here. All fighters engage!”
Benton vectored in on the large Klingon battle cruiser. She selected the remaining two external torpedoes and targeted the ship. She got a positive lock and fired.
“What a sight, Lead.”
“Couldn’t agree more, Two,” replied Benton looking out towards the very distant Korvat III.
The wing had secured the space around the planet. The battle had seen all but one of the Klingon ships destroyed, the IKS N’Vark, a K’vort Cha class cruiser had retreated, no doubt to rally reinforcements for a counter-attack…or a counter-counter-attack as it would be. The small Starfleet wing now prepared for this inevitable attack.
She could not see Overcome Two, they were too far apart, but she could see him and the rest of the group on her sensors. The entire force of fighters and shuttles where strung out around the third planet forming a huge grid of interlocking tachyon transmitters. They had formed a very sizeable tachyon detection grid, a system which had proven itself useful in detecting cloaked vessels. The idea was that the grid would discourage lone Klingon ships from harassing the wing as it went about supporting the ground operations on Korvat III.
The Klingon assault forces were basically defeated but pockets of resistance still held out. The ground forces were dealing with that and the wing had landed a fair number of extra personnel to assist in repairing damage, securing the colony and dealing with casualties.
Being part of the grid was dangerous work. If a Klingon ship decloaked and attacked they did not have much time to respond. Shuttles were especially at risk as they did not have the defences or weaponry to fight back. So the shuttles were gradually been replaced by specially prepared probes. The six squadrons were spaced out so that four squadrons were that the compass points with a squadron above and below. If the Klingons tried to burst through an area they covered they could at least converge and deal out some damage. Several ships from the wing patrolled areas covered just by probes and shuttles, ready to fire at a moment’s notice.
“We have action in the grid.”
Benton checked her sensors. It was not near them, it was nearly at the other side of the planet from her location. All ships were sharing sensor information and she easily found the breach.
“Dangar Falls is moving to engage,” came a voice over the tactical channel.
Benton’s sensors showed the Niagara class fast cruiser moving towards the detected breach of the grid.
“Target locked. Firing now!”
Several torpedoes appeared on the sensors quickly followed by phaser fire. The torpedoes homed in on their target and exploded in what seemed to be empty space, though secondary explosions proved otherwise.
“Dangar Falls to wing. We have a confirmed kill. Most likely a Bird of Prey or fast attack ship,” reported a different voice Benton recognised as the ship’s captain over the wing’s tactical frequency.
“Expect a few more probes of the grid,” came the voice of Captain Bindo of the Barton. “Hurry and get those shuttles out of the grid. All fighters, be prepared for attack.”
“Squadron leaders report status,” Benton ordered. She got back a chorus of replies stating the fighter wing’s readiness. “Benton to Barton, all fighters are prepared.”
“Capricorn has a target,” came the report from the Zodiac class starship.
“Kingsford Smith has a bite!” called the captain of the Yeager class vessel.
“We have two contacts in our area of control!” Benton checked the sensors. That last call came from the Sabre class, USS Lu’ghara. The Klingons were definitely testing the grid.
“They’re firing on the probes!” reported the USS Kwaio. Benton watched her sensors as the Cheyenne class vessel quickly responded to the attack.
The Klingons finally started to attack the grid. As they destroyed the probes it created a hole in the field. However due to the number of transmitters in the grid the loss of a few would not seriously compromise the grid. The Klingon ships utilised hit and fade tactics, briefly decloaking to attacking a probe and then recloaking, most of the time before a Starfleet ship could respond. It was a slow assault designed to wear down the grid to the point where it would be sufficiently weakened to make it unfeasible.
“Contacts! Breaking formation!” came a desperate call.
Benton checked her sensors and saw one of the fighter squadron’s formation splintered. A number of other contacts appeared; Klingon attack fighters. Now decloaked, they headed towards Korvat III.
“Moving to pursue.”
“Negative, Banshee. Reform and hold position. I repeat, reform and hold position. I’m moving up the Musashi and Morisot to intercept,” ordered Bindo.
The USS Musashi and its much smaller Sabre class brethren had remained close to the planet with the Barton. The two ships quickly moved to intercept the Klingon fighters. It appeared to be a squadron, which would not be easy for the two ships to deal with. She watched her sensors and saw Banshee slowly reform into the grid.
So far the Klingon’s tactics pointed towards a small group, probably not much bigger than the 3rd Cruiser wing. They did not seem confident that a direct attack would be met with success so they were focused on destroying the grid so that their cloaks could be used to full effect.
Benton kept an eagle eye on her sensors. Her hands were ready to immediately send her fighter into evasive manoeuvres if the Klingons decided to attack her area. She was on edge and hated it. She wished the Klingons would just attack and get it over with.
Then as if someone was reading her mind a ship decloaked near the Barton and opened fire. It was a Vor’cha class attack cruiser.
“What the hell? How did it get so close?” asked her wingmate.
Benton was not exactly sure but if she had to make one guess she would have said it was when the Klingon fighters had buzzed Banshee squadron and broken its formation. The time between that and when they reformed into the grid might have been long enough for the Vor’cha to sneak in.
“I don’t think the other ships can help her!”
Benton checked this comment and found the pilot was right. Most of the other ships were concerned with the probing of the grid and two of the ships were currently engaged against a number of fighters. The Barton was on its own. “Barton we are inbound!”
“Negative, hold your position. Keep the grid intact.”
“Say again, Barton,” she requested.
“Hold formation, Wing Commander Benton. That’s an order,” said Captain Bindo clearly.
“Lead, the Barton is getting hammered. We have to do something.”
Benton had been given an order to hold her position; however that order went against what she believed she should do. The ship she was assigned to was under attack and it was outmatched. She was conflicted with what she should do. Though she was not one to be indecisive she knew she had to make a decision, so she made one.
“I’m getting an emergency beacon. Five is EV.”
Benton breathed a sigh of relief as she received the status on one of her pilots whose fighter had been destroyed. The battle had deteriorated since she had made the decision to ignore Captain Bindo and move to help the Barton. With the hole in the grid left by her squadron several Klingon ships had snuck in and had flanked the other ships in the wing. With the grid compromised Bindo had ordered the other fighters to abandon their position and join the fray.
So far the Klingons had kept the Starfleet wing disorganised. With their hit and fade tactics they had kept the wing spread out, not allowing them to gather together to fight as a larger unit. She was not sure how many Klingons were attacking, it was hard to keep track of when they kept cloaking and decloaking, but she knew that there were at least six Klingon ships in play.
Benton fired her phasers at a Suv’tIS class fighter she was pursuing. The Suv’tIS was the main Klingon attack fighter. It was larger than a Danube class runabout and had twice the firepower of the Peregrine she flew. The fighter avoided most of her fire and replied with its aft disruptor. The Suv’tIS’ rear facing disruptor was annoying; it made it difficult to destroy the fighter from behind. She kept at the fighter with her phasers, dodging the return fire when she could. She managed to beat down the rear shields and immediately fired her micro-torpedoes. A brace of these small projectiles ripped into the rear of the fighter, shredding it apart.
She swung her fighter around and made her way back towards the Vor’cha that had started it all. It was still functioning and was still harassing the Barton despite the fighter attention it was receiving, partly thanks to the arrival of additional Klingon ships and a number of fighters. The Barton’s shields were weakening and Benton was not sure how much more it could take.
She checked her weapons’ store. She was down to her last two photon torpedoes; once she used those her ability to damage the larger Klingon ships would be severely hampered. She fired her last torpedoes and saw them impact the cruiser’s shields, doing no significant damage. She pulled away and started a large loop to line up for a phaser run.
Suddenly several torpedoes flashed into view and impacted the Vor’cha followed by several large phaser blasts. The Vor’cha’s shields gave way and the phaser blasts sliced into the hull. The attack continued with another brace of torpedoes and phaser fire resulting in the Vor’cha separating amidships.
A large grey starship cruised into view; it was an Ambassador class starship. Benton spotted the ship’s registry, NCC-46664, and a smile came to her face, the cavalry was here.
She hailed the ship. “Good to see you, Mandela!”
“Looks like we arrived just in time for the party. Let’s see how the Klingons enjoy facing the entire 24th Tactical Wing.”
Benton could not help but smile as the other ships from the tactical wing entered the fray led by the wing’s lead vessel, the USS Mandela. She resisted the urge to do a victory roll and moved into formation behind the Mandela as it moved to engage another Klingon warship.
“Reporting as ordered, Captain,” said Benton as she stood at attention in front of Captain Joseph Bindo’s desk in his ready room.
The Battle of Korvat was over. The arrival of the rest of the tactical wing had quickly and decisively resulted in a Federation victory. Several Klingon vessels were destroyed before they decided to retreat and now the tactical wing was holding station in the system. The 24th had only been allowed to return to assist the 3rd Cruiser Wing thanks to gains made by other Federation forces along the border.
“At ease, Wing Commander. Do you know why you are here?”
“Yes, sir. I disobeyed a direct order from you during the battle.”
“Yes you did. I ordered you to hold your positions in the grid.”
“Sir, the Barton wouldn’t have survived if Overcome didn’t fall back.”
“Damn it, Maxine! I gave you an order to hold your position and you ignored it! You put the entire operation at risk by breaking formation and allowing the Klingons to sneak through and flank our positions. The rest of the 24th was inbound to reinforce our position.”
“Sir, I didn’t know that. I also doubt the Barton would have lasted that long if my squadron hadn’t arrived to draw the Vor’cha’s fire.”
Benton saw Bindo’s stern expression soften slightly. “I agree. This crew owe you their lives, but that doesn’t excuse your actions.”
By the look on Bindo’s face she knew that he was going to punish her for her actions, she might as well get straight to it. “What is going to happen, sir?” she asked.
Bindo passed over a padd to Benton. She looked at it and saw it was transfer orders.
“The 99th will be joining the 11th and 42nd squadrons at Starbase Mariner back at Mars,” he said.
“The 99th is Overcome squadron. That’s my squadron, sir,” she said confused.
Bindo nodded. “I’ve been sitting on a request from the Starfighter Command to have one of my squadrons reassigned. I was leaning towards sending Forge squadron but this recent incident has forced my hand.”
“Sir?” said Benton still confused.
“That would ruin my career!”
“I know, this way you’ll keep your rank but take a small backwards step in your career, but at least it isn’t a fatal one. This incident will be a minor footnote in your career and not a glaring black mark.”
Benton let the news wash over her. The Sol system was the major hub in the Federation and many careers benefited greatly from been assigned to the system; however a fighter pilot was not one of them.
“This will stall my career. The opportunities for promotion in this type of assignment are low.”
“Exactly, that why this is a form of punishment,” said Bindo sternly. He immediately softened. “However, squadrons assigned to Mariner also have a high rate of transfer onto starships. This small wing you’ll command would be perfect for a newly built Steamrunner or El Dorado from the fleet yards. Hopefully within a few months you’ll be shifted back onto a starship.”
It then dawned on Benton how much the Captain was still trying to help her. The assignment was not one that she wanted but it had a high chance of them getting back into the action on a starship. Her time on the Barton was definitely over but at least her career was still afloat.
“I understand. Thank you, sir,” she said meaning it.
“It is the least I can do. You’ve been one of the finest officers under my command, Maxine. I’m not thrilled to be letting you go but I don’t want to see your career in ruins over a choice that I and I’d bet many other commanders would have made under those circumstances.”
Benton looked back at her transfer orders. The 11th and 42nd or Oasis and Puma squadrons were basically now her new command. They were not squadrons she was familiar with but that just meant they would make names for themselves under her command. It was a new challenge; one that she had to admit was a tad exciting.
“So when do I leave?” she asked.
“The Barton will be returning to the Utopia Planitia yards for repairs. That means you don’t official transfer until we enter the system. Luckily that gives you plenty of time to say your goodbyes.”
Benton smiled. “It does, sir.”
She had made a lot of friends on the Barton and it was sad to have to move on but it was done. She would have to break the news to her squadron as well; she knew that they would not be overly pleased with the news but a squadron was like a family. Squadron loyalty was normally above all else. They stuck together and all of them knew that despite ignoring Bindo’s orders they had done the right thing in saving the Barton. In the end that was what really mattered to Benton, that she had done the right thing.