ON A WING AND A PRAYER (short story)
Updated: Oct 24, 2019
By Nathan Warner
Lt. Reg and his friend Ben find themselves on the frontlines of the war to reclaim Betazed
Lt. Reg Pattiken sat with his legs crossed, rocking his phaser rifle in his arms near the edge of the cliff. The sky was overcast, which significantly dampened his mood, as it did the Betazoid ocean that stretched out in front of him. It was usually so effervescent, softened by colorful hues that shimmered in the waves like Aurora Borealis. Now it was only a mottled gray. He could hear the waves gently crashing and lapping at the rocky shore below him, perhaps some 30 meters down the rocky face. “Anything?” Lt. Ben Danvers asked, scooting next to him – he was still cradling his broken right arm in a makeshift sling and dragging his phaser along behind him. Reg sighed, wiped the soot from his chin and tried the communicator again. “This is Lt. Pattiken to any Federation or allied vessels, we need immediate assistance. Do you read us?” he called. Although he spoke down to the little metal emblem, his voice was carrying out into the heavens. Like the past 100 tries, there was no answer. Reg grunted in disgust and only barely prevailed against the urge to throw the communicator off the cliff and into the sea. He looked East. The loosely woven wall of black smoke perpendicular to them told where the ruined Beatzoid city of Meltroy stood – the front lines of the Federation troop detachment holding back a persistent Jem’Hadar assault that had been pressing its advantage for 24 hours now. Had it really only been 24 hours since Ben and Reg had arrived on the U.S.S. Redoubtable, a Nebula class starship acting as flagship of the marine operations. They’d beamed down with the 1,000-troop deployment – assigned to assist communications liaisons between the fleet and the marine activities. But just as they’d arrived, the Federation fleet broke orbit to engage incoming hostiles and that was the last Reg had heard from them. As soon as the fleet broke cover, the Jem’Hadar legion melted out of the homes and office buildings and attacked. Since that moment, the air had not been free from the unrelenting speech of pulsed energy weapons, phasers, photon grenades and subspace mines. About 18 hours in, the Federation casualties were mounting and the Jem’Hadar were pushing them towards the coast, driving them into the sea. That was about the time Reg and Ben started appealing to heaven for assistance – distress calls on all frequencies - and that is when they discovered the jamming signal. The Jem’Hadar were running a powerful subspace broadband jammer, which no signal in the galaxy was going to be able to punch through. “We have to get outside its range!” Ben called, his eyes quivering in the light of pulsed energy beams tearing through the air around them. Reg gently steadied Ben’s broken arm, held loosely in a crude cloth sling – the causality of having been thrown into a stone wall from the explosion of a subspace mine. “Right! How far?” Reg yelled above the noise. Ben consulted his Tricorder. “I’d say we have to get at least 12 kilometers from the source,” Ben answered, shrugging his shoulders at the ruins around them, “which is located somewhere here in Meltroy!” Reg nodded. “Okay, Let’s do it!” he cried. That was when a passing Federation Colonel informed them that all the shuttle craft had been downed and the Jem’Hadar jammers were repelling the transporters as well. “We’ll have to hoof it!” Reg declared. They set out immediately away from the city to the beach and then began following the contour as it curved west. They jogged for a while, occasionally seeking shelter behind coastal rocks from the discouragement of sniper-fire, which had singed a few of Ben’s hairs as they reached the first rocks. The sand and jagged rocks made their going slow, but gradually, the sounds of battle and explosions faded into the background and they could hear the ocean as they made progress. After four hours, they found a trail that led up a flight of stone stairs to the top of the sea cliffs, where Betazoid villas stood vacant now – their large once perfect yards overgrown a little. Can we help you? A voice broke into Reg’s mind. He looked at Ben and could see the same confusion in his face. Reg glanced around to the darkened houses. There must have been some Betazoids hiding out nearby. He concentrated through his scrambled thoughts. Please stay indoors. It is not safe. He thought strongly. There was no reply. Hopefully they had gotten the message – last thing we need is civilians spilling into the open, he thought and then realized the Betazoids probably heard that thought as well. It was always extremely unsettling to know that your thoughts were open to others with all your insecurities. Reg and Ben continued along the cliff edge for a while until they came to a sharp rise that would have required some climbing. “How about now?” Reg wheezed, bent over for breath and running his hands through his sweaty black hair. Ben swept his Tricorder around them. “Yes, I think the jammer is weak enough now,” Ben reported. “we should be able to punch through!” Reg tapped his Communicator and cleared his parched throat. “Come in Redoubtable,” he called hopefully, but the returning silence slowly drowned his optimism. “Keep trying!” Ben insisted. They kept at it for a couple of hours, sending out variations on the same theme, but always the same dead space answered them. Ben ran diagnostic after diagnostic on the Communicators, worried they’d been damaged, but the Tricorder kept patiently explaining that they were perfectly functional. “Its useless!” Reg grunted, standing up from his seat on the hard, rocky ledge of stone. He certainly felt useless, sitting safe out here away from the fight. The guilt was seeping into his mind. He turned to Ben. “I think we should head back and do what we can to help because no one is coming for…” “Shush!” Ben hissed. A strange light was in his eyes and he grinned for the first time in a day. “Do you hear that?” he asked. “Hear what?” Reg asked impatiently, but his friend was climbing to his feet and tapping away at his Tricorder. Ben looked up and then down the coast to the west. Then Reg heard thunder high up in the sky. “Here they come!” Ben cried, pointing low in the sky past the clouds. “Here who comes?” Reg asked confusedly, but his eyes fixed suddenly on two small specks moving with incredible speed towards them. He squinted. “What does the Tricorder say?” he asked. “They’re Peregrines!” Ben replied. And at that moment, Reg’s Communicator crackled and a voice broke through. “Lt. Pattiken?” it called, “Please respond.” Reg frantically tapped his Communicator. “This is Lt. Pattiken!” he called. “Lt. Pattiken, this is Lt. Guillin, we have received your distress call and are prepping our attack run. What can you tell us about the situation – sensors are being jammed.” Reg nodded to Ben and set his jaw. “Put everything down east of the fire line!” he growled. “You got it,” Guillin replied. “Coming in hot!” Reg and Ben stepped up to the edge of the cliff and watched in awe as the Federation attack craft took shape, approaching their position – soundlessly – moving many times faster than the speed of sound. And then in almost a blur, the majestic Peregrine fighters banked over them out across the sea and lit towards the burning city of Meltroy. And then the sky shattered with the thunder of trailing sonic booms trying in vain to catch up to the attack craft. It physically pushed Reg and Ben back from the cliff bank. But before they could recover, a flash of light drew their attention east. Streams of pulsed phaser fire rained down on the Dominion positions. Massive explosions ripped through the half of the city. The Peregrines split formation and roared away as Dominion anti-air torpedoes leapt up after them. The torpedoes found home, splashing against the powerful shields of the attack fighters. Rather than scare them away, the Peregrines banked back around and flared their engines, raking the Dominion positions with unrelenting phaser pulses before laying in precise phaser beams against the Dominion artillery positions. This time, there was no reply to their attack. But the Peregrine’s weren’t content with their work and returned twice to settle the conversation in favor of the Federation. Meltroy lay in complete ruins. A cheer went up from the Federation lines. Banking in reply, the Peregrines thundered up into the atmosphere and then arched away from the city west back over the sea – on their way to other Dominion targets on the highly contested front-lines of the Federation world. Reg and Ben stood in awe, watching after the ships, which appeared to them as if they were angels of deliverance. Reg gripped Ben’s shoulder and they shared a hopeful smile before turning their faces back to the frontlines of Meltroy. The battle for Betazed was far from over.