For nearly six hours, Pompeii and Enterprise traversed the Betreka Nebula in single file without incident. At rendezvous plus 5:52, however, the Enterprise detected three Orion raiders in formation, 2,500 kilometers ahead and plus 10 degrees on the Z axis. Kirk quickly apprised Decker of the situation.
“Matt, the third ship is carrying 95 Klingons and 55 other non-Orions,” Kirk explained over the Close-In Ship-to-Ship Communicator (CISCO) unit. “The other two ships are manned only by Orions. Suggest you disable them while we take care of the escorts. Be careful, though: they carry myotronic beams, which have a stunning effect on all weapons that lasts 30 or 40 seconds.”
“Roger that, Jim. You take the ends, we’ll take the meat in the middle.”
“OK Matt. I’ll order a torpedo strike of both vessels simultaneously. We’ll knock out their weapons with the fast salvo, and then target their engines. How are you going to handle your target?”
“I’ll wait until the Enterprise is in position, Jim. Then we’ll hit them with full phasers at point blank range.”
“Good. I haven’t got enough crew to spare for boarding parties, Matt, so I’m afraid I’ll have to rely on your ship to pick up our missing crewmen.”
“Just leave it to me, Jim. Let’s get in position. Decker out.”
“Kirk,” KadRiQ announced, “I want to take one of your shuttle craft to lead a group of Klingon warriors over to the Orion ship. My men are eager to fight, and the Klingons being held prisoner over there might not be too cooperate with Federation officers.”
Kirk nodded. “You’re right, KadRiQ. Besides, I can hardly wait to see the look on the kidnappers’ faces when they’re confronted with a band angry, hatchet-wielding Klingons.”
KadRiQ leaned closer. “It’s called a batleth, Kirk.” He clapped Kirk on the shoulder. “Qap’la!”
“Excuse me,” Kirk responded, bewildered.
“Success,” KadRiQ explained. “Qap’la!”
“Ahhhh,” Kirk replied. “Kah-plaaaa,” he spat, sounding more like an irate water buffalo than a determined Klingon warrior.
KadRiQ smiled and turned away, wondering if all Earthers had as much trouble with languages as Kirk and Chekov apparently did.
Four minutes later, Pompeii signaled its readiness, and Kirk gave the go-ahead. Four photon torpedoes spat from the forward launcher, striking the first and third Orion ships midships. The first ship stopped dead in space, while the third went careering out of control.
Meanwhile, multiple phaser beams from Decker’s ship licked out, illuminating the hull of the second pirate vessel in bright crimson for several seconds. The ship returned fire, briefly stunning the weapons on board the Pompeii, but it was too little, too late to afford them an escape. Enterprise immediately followed up with a brief phaser barrage, rendering the middle ship harmless.
Kirk turned to Uhura. “Get the captains of the first and third ships.”
“Hailing frequencies open, sir. I have Captains Rallo-Var and Jell-Dor, onscreen.”
“This is Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise. I am joined by Commander Koloth, who speaks for the crew of the IKS Slasher. You have committed acts of aggression against the Federation and the Klingon Empire. You will surrender immediately or I will destroy both your ships.”
“Bah,” Rallo-Var scoffed. “We are not scared of you, puny Earther. You haven’t got the nerve to carry out your threat!”
Koloth walked over beside Kirk. “Maybe not, my dear and smelly pirate captain,” the Klingon replied menacingly, “but I have.” Koloth approached Chekov’s station. “I’ve got my finger on the trigger, and let me tell you, it’s all I can do not to press the switch!”
“A Klingon on a Federation ship? This isn’t right,” Jell-Dor exploded. “Kirk, you’re a Federation officer. Get a handle on that crazy Klingon on your Bridge!”
“Who, me,” Kirk responded, palms upturned. “I can’t stop him. I’m just a puny Earther, remember?” Kirk nodded imperceptibly, and Koloth unleashed a salvo of pulse phaser packets that missed each Orion ship by only a handful of meters.
“All right, all right! We’ll surrender, Kirk. Just–” Jell-Dor suddenly issue an unearthly howl of pain and collapsed.
Koloth rushed over to the science station. “Scanning, my dear Captain. At the moment, either something is very wrong over there, or you’re more telepathic than you let on.”
Kirk continued staring at the split images on the viewscreen, where the Bridge officers aboard both pirate vessels were on the floor, writhing in pain and screaming their heads off. “Uhura, get me Captain Decker.”
“Aye, sir. I have Captain Decker on the viewscreen.”
The split-screen image of the Orion was replaced by Decker’s stern countenance. “Decker, here. What’s up, Jim? Our shuttles have just finished launching, and we should have our boarding parties deployed and the second pirate ship under our control in about eight minutes.”
“Take a look at this, Matt.” Kirk turned to Uhura. “Lieutenant?”
“Patching in pirate vessels one and three now, Captain.”
Decker’s eyebrows shot up when he saw what was happening. “What the hell,” he asked.
“Have you ever seen anything like that, Matt?”
“Not in all my years in the fleet,” he replied. He swiveled to face someone off screen. “Masada, what’s going on over on those pirate ships?”
Koloth concluded his readings. “Captains, I’m going to ask Science Officer Masada to confirm my readings, but I am detecting extremely high rates of neural activity among the pirate crew,” the Klingon reported. “I am unable to determine the source, however.”
A moment later, Decker reported Masada’s confirmation of Koloth’s report.
Suddenly, the third Orion ship exploded in a gigantic fireball. The viewscreen switched to the Bridge of the first Orion vessel, where its captain was trying to regain his footing. “Must…destroy…the…ship…” he rasped as he staggered towards the control panel.
“Wait,” Kirk cried. “You don’t have to surrender. We won’t fire on you.”
The Orion captain’s grimace softened, and he was able to regain control. “What do you want, Kirk?”
“We just want to talk with you. Afterwards, we’ll leave you in peace.”
“What do you want to know?
“What have you done with our crewmen, and why did you take them?”
“No, I…. arrrrrgh,” the Orion cried out, lurching towards the captain’s station, where he brought his open palm down hard against the display. At once the Orion vessel detonated, rocking both Enterprise and Pompeii.
“Matt,” Kirk said, “if these pirates are so desperate to protect their information–”
“Chances are, they’ll also blow up the ship with your crewmen and my boarding parties,” Decker interrupted. “I’ll contact the commander of the mission, and–”
“Buck to Pompeii,” a filtered voice squawked over the loudspeaker on Decker’s ship. “We’ve got control of the Bridge, sir, but the Orions have initiated a warp core breach.!”
To be continued….