The rapid dull clang of metal rang in his ears as his heart pounded within his chest. Sweat fell from his forehead stinging his eyes while icy droplets ran down his neck and back like tiny cutting blades against his skin. Dexterous gloved hands grasped, clawed, and pulled against corrugated metal grates as fighter pilot Leon Athalla scrambled through a Jefferies tube utterly lost inside the maze of Charon’s kilometers of maintenance crawlspaces. Romulan soldiers were in hot pursuit only moments behind him though luckily his small size and agility were for the moment providing him with an advantage over the taller and more muscular Romulans who were unable to quickly traverse the networks of maintenance tunnels that ran throughout the ship.
He couldn’t allow himself to be captured. Not now. Behind him in hot pursuit were several, dozens perhaps, of armed soldiers seething with anger, rage, and murderous intent. They hungered to spill his human blood, break his bones, and tear the life from his body one torturous act at a time. He could not blame them for every atom of his own fiber lusted for the same. Romulans! Only they possessed the gall to execute a surprise sneak attack upon a Federation science ship that lacked any substantial defenses. They spoke of honor yet they hid behind cloaking screens, watched from the shadows, and crafted their plans in silence. Their inability to meet on the field of battle and fight had always infuriated him. They could learn a thing from the Klingons. At least with them you knew where you stood. Deceit, guile, cunning, and a smug superiority complex had done little over the years to impress Athalla.
He regarded them with a distasteful caution born out of experience. They couldn’t be trusted and they always bore watching. Starfleet to this day maintained an electronic wall of outposts and sensor nets along the Neutral Zone to monitor the secretive and reclusive Romulan military. Yet, despite their sometimes dishonorable and treacherous behavior Romulans were quite formidable and cunning warriors. Underestimating them was reckless if not fatal. Leon could respect them but that didn’t mean he had to like them.
At the moment he was positive they had no love for him either. Not after recent event…
## Earlier ##
Leon rubbed his face and ran a hand through his short hair. With a yawn he pushed his flight helmet into his locker. It had been hours since they had returned from their last mission flying against the giant space snake and its offspring or whatever they were. They’d been ingested and then transported in an odd series of events which still were not entirely clear even after debriefing.
Yet true to pilot tradition, he and his fellow pilots, having survived yet another mission both for the record books and bragging rights had had a few drinks. Those few turned into a few more, and a few more, and a few more.
He wasn’t even sure what day it was when he woke up from an alcoholic induced slumber in the pilot’s lounge. Several pilots littered the room like corpses all sleeping off the effects of a heavy night of drinking. Leon rubbed his head. He made a mental note not to mix Romulan Ale and Vodka again. Not exactly a great combo.
He needed to get out of his flight suit, locate a warm shower and some food. Then after a few hours or days of sleep he might be able to be productive again…he would just have to see. A 48 hour pass to relax after a long mission was certainly appreciated. He wondered if Commander Sakarra was going soft on them. In any event he was looking forward to the time off. Perhaps he might even look up that Romulan boy he had run into in the hangar. He wondered if Nveid could throw a football? If not then it was something he was honor bound to teach the boy.
Leon yawned and quietly exited the lounge and wound his way to the adjoining locker room where he located his locker and opened its door.
He sat down on a nearby bench to begin the laborious process of extracting his body from the flight suit which surrounded it like a fine crafted glove. Tailored to fit each pilot’s exact body specifications the flight suit was as much a work of art as it was a product of science. Integrated with computers it could sense injuries and apply medications, tighten and release areas of the body when a pilot experienced high G-Forces, and formed an airtight seal against the vacuum of space in the event a pilot was forced to eject. With so much complexity it was no wonder suiting up and then extracting oneself was a lengthy process.
About to release the seals about his neck, Leon’s gloved hands just grazed the controls on his arm when something shattered in the nearby lounge. Looking up, Leon paused for a moment unsure of his hearing when something else hit the floor with a dull thud. Several moments of silence passed. Standing, Leon slowly made his way back toward the lounge suspicious his fellow pilots were planning an ambush and had made the noise to draw his attention. Stepping through the lounge doors he suddenly froze as his eyes made contact with several Romulan soldiers holding his fellow pilots at gun point.
His heart nearly stopped, but not before his body flooded his veins with adrenaline as instinct surged through him.
The soldiers shouted for the pilot to stop, but Leon had no intentions of complying. Surrendering wasn’t in his DNA. Bolting backwards through the doors, Leon pivoted as several green beams tore at the walls behind him cascading his head and body with white hot embers. In a dead run, Leon returned to his locker, grabbed his sidearm and ran for the rear exit. He stopped only long enough to collect as many phasers as he could carry from the pilot’s weapons locker. Activating one, he slid its controls to maximum and engaged the weapons overload feature. He drew in a deep breath of air closed his eyes and waited.
Romulan shouts soon filled the air just as he exhaled his eyes snapping open. With the phaser seconds from detonation, Leon hurled it over several rows of lockers and toward the rear entrance before rushing out the nearby doors and into the corridor. The deck rumbled beneath his feet as the phaser exploded with a violent release of energy. Lockers were torn from the floor and hurled into the air while several Romulans were serious wounded or were vaporized on the spot.
Dashing down the corridor, Leon circled back to the entrance to the lounge and entered without a second thought. Two Romulans guarding the door quickly turned, but were gunned down by the pilot before they could bring their weapons to bear. Leon quickly tossed phasers to the two remaining pilots left alive. The others had not escaped the Romulan’s wrath and though unarmed had been executed in cold blood.
There wasn’t time to grieve the dead. More Romulans appeared in response to the commotion and decended upon the lounge like locusts. The three pilots quickly formed a defensive three sided posture to fend off the attacks with the Romulans closing in from both front and rear entries to the lounge.
“What the hell is going on”, Leon shouted as he took aim and fired his phaser ripping a satisfying hole in the arm of a Romulan soldier. His accurate fire was only returned by plentiful disruptor beams which were crisscrossing the room like some sort of demented obstacle course.
“Bastards bushwhacked us”, Lt. Casey shouted back. “They just crashed through the doors only a few seconds before you walked in. I don’t know where they came from or how they managed to get aboard!”
“We have to find a way out of here”, Leon shouted taking several shots at the door to keep the Romulan hordes at bay. “Suits me! If we ask nicely do you think they’ll let us leave?”
“Not likely. You think we could slip out through a maintenance crawlway?”
“Doesn’t look like we have a choice. There’s a hatch in the corner. We can get out that way if we are quick about it.”
“Agreed. On the count of three lay down covering fire and we’ll make a run for it. One…two…THREE!”
Leon fired off several shots but when more were not forthcoming he turned to see Lt. Casey gripping his stomach. Beyond the man’s hand was nothing. Nothing at all. A gaping hole in his torso, its edges still glowing with traces of green, sat in place of skin, flesh, muscle, and bone. Casey looked up at Leon unable to speak his eyes wide with surprise. Leon reached out, but Casey simply toppled over into a lump of flesh and moved no more. Leon quickly turned toward the other pilot. She too was dead her lifeless eyes wide open staring at Athalla as if to ask why this had happened to her.
The entire room had become a tomb for his fellow pilots and closest friends. The Romulans had killed them all without even so much as a reason. Unarmed they were no threat and yet they had spilled the first blood and for that they would pay. His gut burned hotter than the Charon’s warp core with fury, anger, and hatred for the cowards who had slaughtered his comrades.
Grabbing their weapons, Leon rolled along the floor of the lounge toward the rear maintenance hatch as the couch behind him exploded into a plume of stuffing and burning fabric. Emerald disruptor beams sliced through the air and bulkheads around him as he hit the deck and rolled narrowly missing crisscrossing beams. His body came to rest against the wall just beneath the hatch.
Setting his comrade’s phasers to over load yet again, Leon hurled them into the room as the telltale whine quickly reached his ears. The sound was not lost on the Romulans who quickly ended their fire and retreated. Grabbing the hatch, Leon wrestled it open and climbed inside, but not before taking one final look at the dead.
Their lives would not be in vain. Someone would answer for this. He swore to avenge their lives.
Slamming the hatch closed, Leon scrambled down the tube to escape – destination unknown.
## Present ##
Leon had been dodging Romulans for the better part of an hour. They seemed to appear like demons inhabiting the dark corners of every turn and passage. He had hit one or two but that only seemed to strengthen their resolve to catch him. Leon was aware he was they prey and in this sort of game if he didn’t escape soon, he never would.
Sliding down a ladder his boots clanked against the metal grates beneath them. Damn! Why did they make these ship’s innards so complicated! Shouting from above spurred the pilot onward down the narrow access tunnel filled with pipes, equipment, and all manner of dangerous protruding objects waiting to strike at a person attempting to move past them at speed. Leon dashed past a cluster of large tubes which were marked prominently with red warning labels. Before he could investigate further a green beam struck the wall less than a meter from his arm spraying him with a shower of burning embers. Cursing, Leon dashed down the tunnel, but not before turning and taking aim at the unknown pipes he had briefly seen. Two well placed shots had an encouraging effect as alarms instantly sounded in the tunnel. He didn’t wait around scrambling down the tunnel as quickly as possible. Seconds later a stream of energetic plasma spewed into the tunnel filling the area with white hot gaseous material capable of melting any objects in its path.
Leon ventured a quick look over his shoulder. An EPS conduit? How convenient. That would slow the Romulans down for a time before the ship’s automatic safety systems engaged assuming they were still online.
## Some Minutes Later ##
Emerging from a crawlspace, Leon took a moment to catch his breath. He attempted to get his bearings and for the first time since entering the ship’s infernal labyrinth he felt as if he had some idea where he was. Taking a few steps forward he ducked under one of the massive skeletal support beams that made up the ship’s internal structure before taking a left and then a right. To his surprise he did know the route.
Emerging into a small chamber his eyes fell upon the Charon’s still and the contraband equipment used to manufacture grain alcohol for particular connoisseurs. The operation had been expanded as of late and the still had produced several large drums of product. However, before Leon could think of where to go next he heard Romulans behind him yet again. Damn! Didn’t these bastards ever quit?
He raced to the other end of the room to escape, but not before running headfirst into two soldiers who came out of nowhere. Ambush!
With a loud thud Leon had the wind knocked out of him as he sailed across the small room and slid across the floor. Had he not been wearing his protective flight suit it was likely the attack would have shattered several of his ribs. Struggling for air he suddenly had a pair of hands hoist him upwards and slam him into a wall. A fist landed in his gut. Then another. Then another. Several hit his face and jaw. The room became a blur of faces and shouting overshadowed by biting pain.
Thrown up against the wall again the pilot spat blood through a split lip as his broken nose oozed blood. His bruised face had begun to swell and discolor giving him the look of a boxer who had just completed a protracted fight.
“This runt is the one who has given you men so much trouble”, a loud voice boomed in the small room. “You should be ashamed for letting one so small and fragile inflict such heavy casualties.”
The Romulan officer approached and grabbed Leon harshly by the face gazing into his eyes. “A pilot?” The officer laughed. “Your eyes burn with hatred pilot. I can see it. So tell me, how does it feel to know that you have lost? Perhaps those eyes will change knowing that death is only moments away for you? Will they show fear as so many of your species do?” Leon coughed as the officer drove his fist into his abdomen.
“I will make you pay for the honorable lives you have taken today pilot. But I will give you a choice. Give me your computer access codes and I will ensure your death is quick. Refuse and…” The officer produced a sinister blade which he pressed against Leon’s cheek its edge almost piercing his swollen, blood stained skin. “Give me your codes and this will end quickly.”
Leon’s right eye which was nearly swollen shut was still working despite the punishment that had been inflicted. “Go to hell”, Leon replied spitting a glob of blood laced spittle into the Romulan’s face as his lips curled into a tiny smile.
His insolence was quickly rewarded as the officer yanked the blade downward its razor edge slicing into Leon’s face and chin. A hand suddenly gripped his throat and with a growl the pilot was flung across the room and into the metallic components of the still which clattered and snapped under the strain. Pipes under pressure burst as steam and other liquids burst forth showering the wall and Leon with their contents. Alcohol now bubbled forth pooling on the floor and beneath the boots of the half dozen Romulans present.
Leon’s entire body shook with pain. His face screamed as the raw alcohol splashed against his wounds. He tried to move but only succeeded in falling forward into the expanding pool of alchohol running freely across the floor. It was funny how in his last few moments all he could think about was the exceptional hand crafted alcohol running beneath him going to absolute waste. He moved his head and sipped some of the liquid as it burned his throat. One last drink? So be it.
“Pick that thing up”, an angry voice shouted. “Rip that rubber suit off his body. I intend to cut out his heart and feed it to him, but not before I remove several other parts this pilot holds dear.”
Leon felt hands grip his arms and back and yank him upright. Again he was slammed against the wall. Hands tugged at suit, but they were inexperienced and removing his bulky suit’s various seals and parts would not be easy. Cutting through it would be equally difficult given its durable materials and construction. Limp and unmoving, Leon waited and just as the soldiers were about to release the seals at his neck he reacted channeling every last bit of energy into his right leg.
A groan of pain echoed throughout the room as did the snapping of a Romulan kneecap as Leon drove his boot as hard as possible against the soldier’s leg. His arm instantly went for the soldier’s exposed sidearm as his fingers closed around its cool metallic frame. Drawing the weapon, Leon slid from the wall as the soldier tumbled backwards in agony as a green beam cut through the other soldier who had been pinning him so effectively. With the trigger depressed, Leon had no intentions of letting go as green energy poured out into the room catching everyone by surprise.
Hitting the floor the beam danced wildly upwards before the pilot brought it back to bear on the Romulan officer however Leon never got the chance. Fumes from the gushing alcohol suddenly ignited within the room as fire suddenly burst into existence from hell itself.
Leon scrambled to his feet as the flames engulfed the room. Dashing for the closest exit he dove forward just as the fire reached the broken still. A wall of fire erupted as if a giant dragon had directed its fiery breath into the room. Leon could hear the screams of men as fire consumed them. He turned and could see the Romulans running around like spooked animals unable to escape their cage. The screams were horrific, but quickly ended as the dark outlines of bodies were consumed by the roaring fires within. An explosion sent a wall of heat and flame toward Leon as its deadly tentacles searches for more victims to consume. Crawling down the hall, Leon barely managed to escape the fire’s wrath as fire suppression systems activated driving the inferno back and away from him and his battered body.
Coughing and unable to see out one eye, Leon somehow mustered energy to stand his legs screaming to be permitted to rest. Willing himself upright the pilot still gripping the Romulan disruptor pistol limped down the access shaft.
Half a dozen or more Romulan soldiers had just met a gruesome end. The lives of the pilots they had slaughtered had been answered for – any additional soldiers he could catch in his weapon’s sights were merely extra bonuses. There were few things a pilot loved more than scoring extra points…
Lt. Leon Athalla
Fighter Pilot, USS Charon