Friday, October 14, 2388
Powell, Coalhill Crown Colony
Vega Sector Crown Colonies
United Federation of Planets
In some sectors of the galaxy, the War of Corporate Occupation ended with Largo's fall at the Second Battle of Zeta Cygni. The management team who took over control of GENOM Corporation in the wake of that august event called a halt to hostilities immediately thereafter. Much of the company followed those instructions without question.
Much, but not all. In the Vega sector, for example, the Military Arm forces were under the command of a cadre of hardline officers, Largo loyalists to the end, and they weren't about to throw in the towel just because the Wedgies had somehow managed to eliminate the Master. Some of them weren't even convinced it was true. And so, there and in a few other places, the war went on, in some cases for several wearying weeks; while the new Wedge Defense Force picked itself up from the rubble of Second Zeta, dusted itself off, and reconfigured itself to undertake the task of prying the loyalist remnants out of their places.
On most of the Crown Colony worlds, the GENOM occupation continued relatively peacefully, with local forces either eliminated outright during the takeovers preceding Second Zeta or deep in hiding, too weak or cowed or both to fight back without outside help that was not yet forthcoming. Coalhill, on the other hand, had never quite been fully pacified to begin with. The local Crown Colony Commonwealth Defence Force garrison had never surrendered, but instead vanised underground to commence Werwolf operations. With news filtering in that GENOM was on the ropes elsewhere and the WDF risen again, the planet's constant low-level resistance shifted back into high gear... but too soon, too haphazardly, and at a terrible cost. Coalhill, already battered by the invasion, spiraled into the particular hell of urban warfare within 48 hours of the reopening of hostilities.
Standing at the situation table in her makeshift headquarters on the outskirts of Powell, the 3CDF officer in nominal command of the resistance knew the cause was lost. It was right there in front of her in blue and red; what few forces she had left were concentrated here, hemmed in on three sides by the enemy and the fourth by the sea. Had she been able to conduct her counterattack against the occupiers as planned, and indeed as she had been doing so throughout the occupation, this would've been the ultimate failure case scenario, reached only after months of canny hit-and-run fighting and only with the worst possible luck. With the plan thrown out the window by an overeager glory hound of a local "militia" leader, it had been virtually the start condition.
"Damn it all to hell," she muttered through her teeth. "If Kapsten were still alive, I'd be tempted to kill him myself."
Her adjutant hurried in from another room, looking dismayed, and barely remembered to salute before blurting, "Tenth Legion have taken the ADC, Colonel. We've lost all contact with Lt. Trevor's detachment."
The colonel looked up from the map, her face almost expressionless. "Well, that's that, then," she said calmly. "We've done as much as we can do, Ponsonby." She turned to another of her subordinates. "How long can we hold this position, Quentin?"
"Assuming they don't commence an orbital bombardment?" Quentin replied wryly, raking a hand back through his sandy hair. "Maybe an hour. Two if we plan to go out Martian Legion style."
The colonel didn't respond to her intel officer's strained attempt at gallows humor; she took the information on board without comment, thought about it for a moment, then nodded. "Fall back to the inner perimeter. Redistribute what supplies are left accordingly and prepare for... well, prepare yourselves." She sighed, shaking her head. She was a tall, slim woman in her late sixties, her long, curly red hair only slightly dimmed as yet by the onset of middle age, but right now she showed every one of those years in the weariness on her face. Ponsonby wondered when she had last slept. Probably around the same time he had, he reasoned. They'd all been maintaining for a month and more of near-constant action, surviving on catnaps and stims. The colonel was tough, as tough as any of the hard lads and lasses in her command (many of them a third or less her age), but no one could sustain a regimen like that forever.
"I'll go and tell the doctor," she said at last. "Won't be but a minute. Carry on, gentlemen."
Turning, she went through the door at her back and on into what passed for her private quarters. In the building's previous life, it had been an executive's office, selected by Quartermaster Davidson for the colonel's lodgings because it had its own bathroom. That was the sort of soldier Davidson had been, always solicitous of the civilians, even in a time and place like this.
The doctor, a petite woman with short, subtly greying blonde hair, looked up from inventorying her much-depleted supplies at the table along one side of the room that served for a desk. She was as worn and tired as anyone else in the command post, because though not technically a member of the 3CDF, she was the only physician they had after the initial assault.
"Is it time?" she asked.
The colonel nodded. "They have the Aerospace Defence Centre," she said. "There's nothing stopping them from bringing in as many reinforcements as they like now." She unsnapped the flap of the holster she wore at her belt and drew her sidearm, then placed it on the table next to the doctor's bag. "You may need this," she said, but the doctor pushed it gingerly aside.
"I have better ways," she said cryptically. The colonel regarded her thoughtfully for a moment, then picked up the blaster and put it back in its holster.
"I'm sorry I got you into this," said the colonel, her voice hushed.
The doctor finished repacking her bag, stood up, closed it, and then turned and took both the colonel's hands in hers, looking her in the eye.
"I got me into this," she said, then added with a faint, wry smile, "as always. I didn't have to come with you on your two-week temporary posting to Coalhill, but I figured, what could possibly go wrong?"
The colonel managed a wan little smile of her own for that. She leaned nearer, seeming as if she might reply, but before she could, a new and unfamiliar sound broke through the subliminal rattle of combat outside - the roar of what sounded like powerful thrusters, approaching fast at very low level. A moment later came the distinctive hissing cry of burst-firing naval phasers, then the crash of exploding concrete.
Ponsonby knocked, then flung open the door without waiting for a reply. So agitated was he that he didn't even react to having just barged into an intimate, personal moment; he merely saluted hastily again and blurted, "Colonel, you'd better come and see this."
The two women shared a speculative look, and then both of them followed Ponsonby out, the doctor pausing only long enough to grab her bag.
Outside, in the rubble-strewn remains of what had been the office park's decorative courtyard, the white-armored troops of GENOM's Tenth Legion had just begun their assault, only to find themselves confronted by more resistance than they bargained for. Not only were the few remaining 3CDF personnel concentrated into their most effective possible formation, with carefully sited automatic blaster emplacements and dug-in infantry positions, they had just unexpectedly received air support of a kind. Roughly half of what had been the GENOM force's line of attack was now a field of broken, flaming slag, impassable except by armored vehicles.
As the colonel, the doctor, and Ponsonby crouched in the cover of a transparisteel blast shield erected by the entrance, an aircraft none of them recognized swooped in from the east and strafed the far end of the courtyard again. Angular and sleek, with smooth and lethal-looking lines, the unknown ship was painted a brilliant scarlet with discreet touches of gold, more like a racing craft or particularly flamboyant luxury yacht than a combat vessel, but its weapons were real enough; its second strafing run closed off the attackers' approach entirely. Only their vanguard, thirty or so strong, had penetrated the courtyard proper by the time the red ship completed its work.
These stormtroopers - the colonel had to admire their discipline - immediately regrouped into what, to avoid using the word "wedge", the White Legion's official tactics handbook referred to as a "spike formation". Seeing that, the colonel realized at once what their orders were. They weren't interested in taking the position, or even necessarily in surviving. Their only goal was to break through to the inside...
... and eliminate her.
"You should run," she said to the doctor.
"When it's just getting interesting?" the doctor replied sardonically.
The colonel's force did what they could, their fire peeling away the outermost layer of legionaries, but the GENOM stormtroopers' armor was strong and their formation mutually supportive. The 3CDF wouldn't be able to bring enough of them down to break their assault before they reached the inner perimeter.
The mysterious scarlet aerospacecraft had completed its turn and was coming back across the courtyard again. By this time, the GENOM vanguard was too close to the building for another strafing run to be feasible; instead, to the colonel's surprise, it appeared to drop something, a dark speck falling from its partially open belly ramp to plummet toward the stormtroopers' formation. Shouting a warning to her own troops, the colonel pressed herself lower behind the blast shield, covering as much of the doctor as she could with her own body.
Although the object dropped by the scarlet ship was not a bomb, it hit the legionaries rather like one, plunging into the middle of their formation and scattering them on impact with a concussive blast of bright blue flame.
"What - " the colonel blurted. She glanced in astonishment at the doctor, who looked back at her with an identical expression, and then both of them turned to watch the show.
For the remainder of the immediate crisis, the 3CDF soldiers were too surprised and awestruck to contribute anything of note. They just crouched there behind their cover, slack-jawed, and watched as the person who had just jumped from that aircraft rose to her feet and began systematically, relentlessly, and elegantly murdering the crap out of two dozen startled and disorganized GENOM stormtroopers. It took less time to do than to describe: a lone woman, clad in black and red leather, challenging two dozen armed and armored soldiers with her bare hands... and winning.
Most of the stormtroopers' rattled, hasty blasterfire missed her; the few rounds that were on target, she intercepted with bolts of blue fire launched, evidently, from nowhere, or somehow blocked and dissipated with circular motions of her slim hands. Her counterblasts, as well as blows and kicks from fists and feet swathed in the same cerulean flame, left behind charred and melted armor, shattered weapons, broken men. Those who recognized that their weapons were useless and tried to employ their close-combat training as well fared no better than the others; they only perished slightly more tired.
And then it was over, and the woman in black and red was walking with measured, poised, very faintly provocative tread through the 3CDF soldiers' silent arcs of fire to stand before the colonel and the doctor, her face touched with an ironic little smile. She was, a stunned Ponsonby could see now, their rough contemporary, her raven-black hair just starting to go a little bit silver at the temples, but she was still the most beautiful woman he thought he had ever seen, with piercing amber eyes and near-perfect skin.
Behind her, with perfect timing, her red ship returned from dealing with GENOM's outlying forces. Maneuvering in a rather less hectic fashion now, it landed behind her, its thrusters and repulsors still audibly powered up, waiting.
"Colonel and Doctor Lewis-Porter," she said, nodding first to one woman, then the other. "Captain Sarah Inazuma, H/V Phoenix Queen. Vice Admiral James T. Kirk of the Wedge Defense Force extends his compliments and begs to inform you that relief has arrived. He awaits you aboard his flagship Enterprise at your earliest convenience." Then, her official message delivered, she smiled more fully and personally, opening her hands in greeting, and declared, "Mairwen. Rhian. Llanfair am byth, ladies. It's been a while."
While Rhian darted around the blast shield and seized their old, long-lost friend in a joyful embrace, Mairwen stared at her in complete disbelief for a couple of seconds. Then, cracking a smile of her own, she said,