The attack came so swiftly that it caught everyone by surprise. It was the morning after the party on Mars. The day had begun with the ship’s normal routine. The attack had come early in the morning. Alpha shift had come on duty, but Will hadn’t reported in to duty, yet. He hadn’t been planning on reporting for another two hours. The night before hadn’t exactly been the highlight of his life. Dani was still on board, but she had already left his quarters. She’d risen early, gotten Kris dressed, and taken the girl to the ship’s school. They’d only left ten minutes ago, but Will knew that Dani would be back to pack her things.
“Bridge to Captain Riker.”
Riker groggily pushed himself up to a sitting position. “Riker here. What’s the problem?”
“Sir, sensors are picking up a fleet of Hirogen ships entering the system.”
At the mention of the Hirogen, Riker was wide awake. “What? How did they get past the perimeter defense?”
“I don’t know, sir. They just … appeared on the sensors.”
Riker was already out of bed when he said, “Put the ship on red alert. I’m on my way.”
Riker was on the bridge in fifteen minutes. He strode purposefully onto the deck. “Report!” he barked.
Shale was already in position, standing in front of the captain’s chair. She turned at the sound of Riker’s command. “They’ve crossed the asteroid belt, sir. They’re quickly advancing on Earth’s position.”
“ETA?” Riker requested.
“Damn close,” Shale replied.
Riker and Shale both looked at the view screen at the front of the bridge. The view displayed an image of an impressive Hirogen fleet.
“Where the hell did they come from?” Riker asked. The question wasn’t directed at anyone in particular, but it was a sure bet that he wanted an answer. The latest tactical scans had indicated that the nearest Hirogen ships were in the Beta quadrant.
“Captain, intruder alert! We’ve been boarded!” the ops officer exclaimed.
Riker crossed the bridge to the ops station in two giant steps. “What?”
The operations officer’s fingers flew across her station console. “There’s been an unauthorized transport to the ship,” the officer said. Her dark eyes raced over the readings on the console. “I’m reading three teams of four. On decks three, ten, and fifteen.” She looked up at her captain with pure dread in her eyes. “They’re Hirogen.”
“Security to decks three, ten, and fifteen,” Will ordered.
The red alert caught Dani by surprise in the turbolift. She dismissed it as a drill, initially. She couldn’t foresee a reason for needing to go to red alert in Earth’s orbit.
The turbolift arrived at deck fifteen, and Dani saw four Hirogen moving through the corridor. She shrunk back into the lift and quickly gave it a command for another deck.
Hirogen? What the hell … Dani realized that she didn’t have anywhere to go. She didn’t know what decks the Hirogen were on or where they were on those decks. “Computer, halt lift.” If she just stayed in the lift until she could find out what was happening, perhaps she would be safe.
But what about Kris?
The battle was over in an instant. The so-called battle wasn’t even a battle in the true sense of the word. A battle implied that there was more than one side fighting. In this case, it had all been one-sided. The Hirogen had been doing all the fighting, and no one had had any choice but to sit back and watch it happen. What was left in the wake was nothing pretty. Dozens of crew members lay dead in the corridors, victims of the hunt that the Hirogen so honored.
Dani finally emerged from the turbolift after the red alert ceased. The doors opened and she stepped onto deck six and stumbled over a body at her feet. She looked beyond him, down the corridor. Unfortunately, the poor soul at her feet wasn’t the only one.
Taking special care to step over the bodies that littered the path to the school, Dani finally reached her destination. She walked in and her stomach bottomed out. No one was in the main classroom. But there had to be someone … Dani prayed to the gods above that the children hadn’t been abducted. Maybe they were hiding.
The Hirogen didn’t usually take prisoners.
“Kristiana – it’s Mommy,” Dani called out. “Where are you, sweetie?”
Dani peered into the window of one of the secondary classrooms. There was someone there. She could see them, but she couldn’t see who it was. Something was blocking her line of sight. Dani stepped into the room and almost threw up on the spot. There wasn’t a live person in the room besides herself. Little bodies lay motionless on the floor, strewn about like rag dolls. The bodies of the two teachers lay closest to the door as if they’d made a final attempt to block the children from the attackers.
Dani felt herself beginning to panic, but she tried to force herself to remain calm, but it was hard. She didn’t want to see all those dead children. She didn’t want to see her own child among the dead. But she did. Lying face up near a small group of three or four other children. Dani managed to make it over to Kris, and her legs failed her. She dropped to her knees beside the body, saw the scorch from the phaser blast. She’d never had a chance, had she?
Dani picked up the lifeless shell and wept as she cradled it. She couldn’t do anything else at the moment, not even if she tried. But she didn’t want to try.
She tapped her comm badge. “Janeway to Riker,” she croaked tearfully.
Will was reeling from the attack, as was everyone else onboard. The Hirogen had boarded and executed a swift, brutal attack. Then, less than 20 minutes later, they’d were gone.
Will was still on the bridge when his badge chirped, and Dani’s voice came through. “I’m here, Dani,” he said. “What is it?” There was a long pause. “Dani, are you there?”
“She’s dead, Will,” Dani said weakly. And that was all she said.
Will practically ran to the school. He rushed inside, but he found the main room empty. He charged into the first room he came to and stopped cold at the sight that greeted him. “No … ” he said, walking over.
Dani looked up at him from her spot on the floor. “Will,” she sobbed.
“No.” Will fell at Dani’s side. He studied his dead daughter, stroked her hair. He looked at Dani with lost, distraught eyes and pulled her to him.