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RETURN OF THE BRAVE (sketch)

By Nathan Warner


With a plasma fire and on the clock, Chakotay pilots the Val Jean through the maze of the Badlands, evading a Cardassian attack force, trying to make it home to the Maquis base of operation.


"We've still got a plasma leak!" B'Elanna cried. Chakotay glanced out the window at his port wing to see the fire raging from the impact point of Cardassian phaser fire. Adding to that, the wing was obviously damaged and bent slightly upward.


"Just keep it from burning out the impulse engine!" he barked. "We're almost home." He threaded the Val Jean, a retrofitted Maquis Raider, under a bank of noxious gasses and pitched up to avoid a turbulent energy wave to starboard as he punched the vessel through the infamous Badlands. It hadn't taken long to lose the Cardassian detachment in the plasma fields - even if they'd chased them across half the sector.


Earlier that day, they'd infiltrated a Cardassian weapon's depot hidden in an energy facility on the second moon of Repiro 5. His detachment of 30 commandos did as much damage as they could before the call came in that Cardassian forces had been alerted. Spending a few precious minutes more, Chakotay had several antimatter reserves carried into the facility and set for containment field collapse.


"One minute should suffice," he muttered, setting the timer and then retreated back to his ship. Punching out hotter than a solar flare, the Val Jean pulled up right into a Cardassian reaction force in orbit.


"And...now," Chakotay motioned back to the planet. A massive explosion lit the planet's surface and served enough of a distraction for them to warp out under the Cardassian noses. But soon, they were hard on the Val Jean's tail.


The next few hours were dodging phaser fire and torpedoes, threading back towards the "safety" of the Badlands. They managed to take down a couple Cardassian Hideki ships in the process with the forward facing quad-phaser cannons.


Chakotay wiped sweat from his eyes just remembering the battle as he focused now on finding their way through the Badlands. Another hour of white-knuckling the helm and they punched into a stellar pocket. The solar wind of the star kept the plasma at bay and lit the region in the most glorious "sunset" colors.


It reminded Chakotay of the sunsets in the southwest Mesa of his tribes second homeland - a Federation colony in the Demilitarized Zone. And of course, that was where all this had started - the Cardassians had taken it - like many invaders had done so before.


Up ahead, he could see Spirum II approaching - a small moon, and the current Maquis base of operation.


"Radio in - tell them we're coming in hot!" he ordered. The Vulcan, Tuvok nodded. "They have received us," he replied evenly. Chakotay envied his calm.


He punched into the thin atmosphere of the moon, approaching a massive crater in the southern hemisphere. There, just below the rim of the ridge, lay a slit in the crust - a large cave opening.

"We have too much velocity!" B'Elanna barked.


"Fire the retro-thrusters!" Chakotay ordered. The vessel shuddered. He thought for sure the wing would rip off, but it held.


"Amazing things these cargo planes," he muttered with admiration, putting down the landing gear. They passed the edge of the cavern and passed through a holographic shield into a large landing bay with a dozen or so Maquis ships receiving repairs or taking on armaments for the next mission.


With as much grace as he could muster, Chakotay set the Val Jean down on an allotted pad.

"Alright!" he ordered. "Let's get to work on the repairs - we leave at 0100 hours.


He walked back from the cockpit into the large cargo area in the behind where the 30 or so Commandos tended to their wounded. He helped carry the injured out for the medics to take point and turned back to take in the damage to his ship.


He nodded to each scorch-mark and fused panel - not the worst he'd ever seen.

"That's not going to buff out," a voice said behind him.


Chakotay turned and smiled as he saw Michael Eddington coming up. The Commander shook his head through a grimace.


"Blazes, Chakotay," he sighed, "Can't I let you out anywhere without showing up with my ship like a target drone!"


"Oh, this is nothing, Sir," Chakotay smiled roguishly. "You should see the other guys."


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