by Matthew A. Fossa

The U.S.S. Kyushu, Wolf 359 System, Stardate 44001.9

Mitsuo Tanaka awoke with a start, hearing the sound of the klaxxon alarm. He sprang from his bunk, landed perfectly on the carpeted floor below, and made it to his uniform closet in two steps. He never actually remembered how he did these sorts of things, only that he could do them. The closet door slid into the wall and Tanaka pulled out a flightsuit. He kicked off his sweatpants and stepped into the black coveralls, zipped them up and pulled on a pair of heavy black boots. After making sure his footwear was properly laced, he peered at himself in the small mirror mounted next to the closet. Despite the dim lighting conditions, the gold and silver arrowhead pin on his left breast still sparkled. Tanaka grabbed his helmet and bolted for the door.

The klaxxon alarm had been turned off, but the red lights were still ablaze. Mitsuo had been in combat conditions before, but the people rushing about seemed to be carrying themselves differently. It was as though a feeling of dread had taken over the crew of the Kyushu. Tanaka only hoped that it would pass when things really began heating up. Going into battle believing you are about to die usually brings it to fruition.

Rounding a corner, Tanaka entered a nearby turbolift. He spoke, "Flight Deck" and the doors began to close. Suddenly, another figure wearing a black flightsuit streaked between the closing doors and slammed into the opposite wall. Tanaka chuckled slightly and turned to face the newcomer.

"You realize, sir, you could have shouted something and I could have held the door."

Marine Captain Christopher Maxfield shook his head and turned toward his subordinate. He spoke with a very heavy British accent.

"Yes, Officer Tanaka, I realize that. But I was more interested in spending the energy getting here, rather than shouting."

"Yes, sir." Tanaka sighed and rolled his eyes to the ceiling.

Within a matter of seconds, the turbolift carried the two Marines down twenty decks and deposited them in front of a large pressure door. At the touch of a button, the bulkhead slid aside, revealing the interior of Kyushu's main flight deck. The massive hangar bay was a bustle of activity. Deck crews prepped dozens of fighter craft for launch while pilots strapped on their rescue and survival gear.

Captain Maxfield and Tanaka made their way from the entrance toward a small briefing room at the far side of the cavernous bay. As they passed through, Maxfield stopped to greet a small group of fully-suited pilots. The group came to attention and saluted their superior. He returned the salute and spoke.

"So, you lucky blokes are in the first wave?"

A tall Andorian with almost phosphorescent hair responded, "That's correct, sir."

A young human pilot, sporting a tattoo on the left side of his neck, spoke up, "I've never flown against a Borg ship before, Major. What do you think it'll be like?"

Maxfield smiled at the younger man's enthusiasm, "Well, Skinner, that's what you're supposed to be telling us when you get back."

Skinner grinned and saluted sharply, "I'll make sure you get a full report, sir."

Captain Maxfield chuckled and returned the salute with the same enthusiasm. He then turned and addressed the group of pilots a last time, "Good luck, gents. I'll see you in the mess after debriefing!"

The pilots nodded their approval as the tall Andorian moved to the middle of the circle.

"Alright, Marines, lets' load up!" The group of eight pilots picked up their helmets and moved off toward a group of fully loaded fighters sitting in launch positions.

Tanaka jostled his companion's arm, "Excuse me, sir, but we have a briefing to attend."

Maxfield awakened from his trance, shook his head, and looked over at his wingman.

"What? Oh, yeah. Right. Well, lead on, Mitsu." The two Marines resumed their walk toward the briefing room.

They stepped through a sliding door and into a small room cluttered with chairs, ten of which were occupied by figures in black flightsuits. On the far wall was a large viewscreen. A lectern stood not more than two paces away from the screen.

Tanaka cleared his throat and bellowed, "Attention on deck!"

The ten pilots rose from their seats and stood rigid as the commander of Kyushu's Second Aero Squadron moved toward the lectern. Upon reaching his destination, Maxfield spoke, "as you were," and the pilots took their seats. Tanaka found a seat of his own near the door.

Maxfield ran his fingers through his short blond hair while he collected his thoughts. He stroked his mustache a couple of times, then pressed a key on a nearby touch panel. The screen lit up and displayed a three-dimensional image of a formation of forty starships. Beneath each ship image, one could make out a name and registry number. A clock in the lower right hand corner could be seen counting down to zero.

Having completed his first task, he stepped up to the lectern and began addressing his pilots.

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Well, as you all can see, the Federation fleet has moved into position on the outer limits of the Wolf 359 system," he gestured toward the display screen, "Our target is approaching at warp factor 9.9, so we will have contact in just under fifteen minutes."

This announcement produced several looks of surprise from members of the squadron. Maxfield continued, "As the U.S.S. Enterprise was unable to cause any appreciable damage to this beast, we can safely assume that we're engaging an unscathed target." The squadron commander paused to let this sink in. None of the pilots batted an eyelash and all of them wore taught, grim expressions. This sent a shiver up Maxfield's spine. Nevertheless, he resumed.

"Our best reports indicate that the Borg ship's weak points are the tractor and cutting beam emitters. If we can manage to take them out, this will buy the big ships enough time to land a massive phaser and photon torpedo barrage which should destroy the target."

One of the squadron members, a young Efrosian woman with sparkling pink eyes and flowing white hair, raised her hand. Maxfield nodded, "Officer Muteea?"

The woman spoke with a very soft, almost silken voice, "Sir, what about the reports of Captain Picard's abduction by the Borg?" This provoked some grunts from the rest of the squadron. All eyes turned to the lectern.

Maxfield looked at the floor and pondered the question for a moment, then returned her gaze, "Well, according to Admiral Hanson's official report, Jean-Luc Picard is listed as a 'casualty of war.' One thing is for certain, Officer, we're going to be hitting that Borg ship with everything we've got. Unfortunately, whether he's been completely possessed by the Borg or not, Captain Picard is still trapped with them. There's nothing we can do other than our duty. We must protect the lives of people that have not been assimilated by these machines."

Warrant Officer Muteea nodded, then spoke again, "There is still the question of the Borg learning everything Picard knew about the fleet meeting them here. Couldn't they have adapted their defenses enough to...?" Her voice trailed off. Maxfield waited patiently, but the woman stared at the floor and refused to finish her sentence. Beside her, a husky pig-faced Tellarite raised his hand. The squadron commander nodded at him, "Yes, Leftenant Grugaalugh?"

The lieutenant barked in a rasping voice, "Major, I believe she's asking about the odds of us actually taking this monster of a ship out. Do you think it can be done?"

Maxfield couldn't help but chuckle, "My God, not even the Packleds would be stupid enough to send a vessel into a fleet of forty Federation starships. I believe we have a definite advantage due to our sheer numbers. The Cheyenne and the Adirondack are scrambling all of their squadrons as well which means that that blighter coming at us will be facing forty full warships as well over two hundred fighters! Nothing short of a neutronium hull will be able to withstand an attack of this magnitude!" Maxfield saw several of the pilots quitely nod their approval. Behind him, the viewscreen image changed to show a picture of a large cube shape slowly making its way toward the fleet. He turned to look, then looked back at eleven brave Marine aviators.

"The attack begins in ten minutes. Our recon flights should be giving us a fix on the best points to attack in a few moments. I'll relay the information directly into your targetting computers. In the meantime, gear up and be ready for launch. Squadron dismissed!"

The group of pilots shot up out of their seats once again, their eyes locked straight forward. Maxfield returned the pose and gave a sharp salute which the pilots returned. Then, he spun on his heel and strode out of the room, preceeded by Tanaka. The rest of the pilots followed close behind.

* * * * *

To any Federation citizen, a fully-loaded Tornado-class figher/bomber is a formidable sight. The sleek lines of the craft give it the appearance of a ship capable of cutting through the very fabric of space itself. Most Federation ships were equipped with a flight of four fighters. The Kyushu, being designed for battle, normally carried two full squadrons, each consisting of twelve fighters. One entire squadron consisted entirely of these F-301s.

Maxfield, now dressed in his full aviation gear, admired his ship for a moment, his eyes caressing every angle and curve. The ship was carrying a full battle load: Eight miniature photon torpedoes were slung under the large delta wing and four small ports on the nose concealed high-intensity phaser cannons. Maxfield watched his comrades-in-arms board their own craft, then walked up to his own fighter.

A ladder provided access to the cockpit. Maxfield donned his helmet, then climbed up the eight steps and settled into the pilot's seat. Pulling a small metal handle on the inside wall closed the canopy. The brushing of fingers on a touch panel brought the engines to life. A deep hum rose from behind the pilot's seat. Maxfield strapped himself into the thickly-padded acceleration couch, making sure the security harness was locked tightly. He touched a few more keys on the control panel. Other lights sprang to life and the holographic heads-up display appeared, hovering in mid air before the transparent canopy. The noise of the engines rose in pitch to their familiar whine.

Maxfield opened the communications circuit, "Control, this is Black Hawk One, requesting clearance for departure."

A few moments of silence followed, then the crackle of static and a voice resonated through Maxfield's helmet, "Black Hawk One, this is Bird's Nest. Cobra, we have some targetting computer data for your squadron."

Maxfield grinned, "Excellent! Let's have it!"

The computer screen set into the control panel lit up and displayed several images of the massive Borg vessel. After a few moments of pictures, the screen went dark again. The voice of Bird's Nest returned, "Download complete, you're cleared for takeoff."

Maxfield nodded, though no one could have seen him, and spoke again, "Black Hawk Squadron, this is Cobra. Scramble immediately and assemble attack formation five clicks out to starboard." A chorus of acknowledgements followed his order.

The squadron commander engaged his ship's anti-gravity engine. The Tornado-class fighter rose up off of the deck and hovered in the middle of the bay. Pressing another key retracted the landing gear. Once the landing legs had been stowed, Maxfield slid his finger forward along the throttle pad. A red glow became visible through the main exhaust port as the fighter surged forward. There was a slight jolt as the Tornado careened through the magnetic atmosphere shield, out of the hangar bay, and into open space.

* * * * *

The wall of Federation starships in its double-layered delta formation was an impressive spectacle. Maxfield's Black Hawk squadron maneuvered into position in front of their carrier, each pilot busily releasing the safety catches on all of their weapons.

The cube-shaped Borg ship was already visible on Maxfield's long-range scanner. It was apparently slowing down to meet the Federation fleet. The squadron commander watched as the monsterous vessel closed in. Suddenly, a small group of eight Federation fighters became visible on the scanner. Our recon wing's returning unscathed. I guess the Borg never considered them enough of a threat. Well, wait until they get a load of us!

Suddenly, the image on the long-range scanner went blank. Maxfield blinked in surprise, then instinctively smacked the screen with his gloved hand. Nothing happened and the squadron commander cursed himself for being so childish. The picture resolved itself into the image of a man. Or... at least, what used to be a man. The face was ghostly white and covered with all sorts of electronic gadgetry. Maxfield couldn't even begin to comprehend the surgical knowledge and skill needed to install all of those implants. The face turned slightly and he could see a red laser-light, apparently emitting from one of the man's eyes, bathe the picture in an unearthly glow.

Maxfield's helmet speakers crackled and he heard the voice of Admiral J.P. Hanson, "Attention Borg vessel. This is Admiral Hanson of Starfleet Command. You are in violation of Federation space and on a direct course for Earth. We demand that you lower your shields, disarm your weapon systems, and withdraw from Federation space."

The man spoke, though his voice sounded like a chorus of thousands, "I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. You will disarm your weapons and escort us to sector zero-zero-one. If you attempt to intervene, we will destroy you." His expression remained impassive throughout his declaration. To Maxfield, it seemed as though Locutus felt he was fully capable of carrying out his threat and that he was making this address merely as a courtesy.

"We are here to safeguard the lives of Federation citizens and we will not allow you to continue on your course without a fight." Admiral Hanson's response was chilling in its own right. Maxfield cracked his knuckles and rested one hand on the throttle pad, ready to launch his ship into battle. This is it. The moment of truth.

Agonizing seconds passed and not another word was exchanged. Suddenly, the communication circuit opened and the voice of Lieutenant Shianthar, the Andorian recon pilot spoke, "Recon flight to Kyushu, mission accomplished. Need landing clearance." Maxfield smiled. He was glad to see that all eight of them had made it back.

Before the Kyushu's flight coordinator could send his reply, a bright green bolt eminated from the Borg ship. It streaked across space like a brilliant shaft of lightning and struck Shianthar's fighter directly between the wings. The fighter erupted in a ball of gas and shattered into millions of glowing splinters. Maxfield gasped in astonishment.

The communications circuit switched open and the panicked voices of seven pilots could be heard, "Eagle! Where's Eagle!"

"He's gone! Break formation!"

"Greaser, hit your burst speed!"

"What the hell was that?"

"Wizard, get your guys outta here!"

Another explosion lit up space and Maxfield watched as another fighter was consumed by green lightning. The six remaining fighters finally broke formation and scattered off in various directions. The communications circuit was alive with various reports, orders, and panicked cries for help.

"Skinner, break left," this came from Payote, the second-in-command.

"Where's that coming from?" Skinner's voice had lost all of the enthusiasm that Maxfield heard in the hangar not more than an hour ago. Another two explosions followed.

"We just lost No-Doze and Greaser!" Wizard, the second flight commander fought to keep the terror out of his voice.

"Wizard, take what's left of your flight and..." The rest of Payote's transmission was cut off as another bolt from the Borg ship tore his fighter in half.

"That's it! Burst speed!" Skinner punctuated his announcement by activating his fighter's miniature warp engine. The tiny delta-shaped craft went speeding off into the distance.

Suddenly, the voice of Admiral Hanson boomed over the communication circuit, "Pilots, commence your attack, we're opening fire."

This announcement galvanized Maxfield into action, he switched on his helmet mic, "Black Hawks, break and attack!" He slammed the throttle forward and felt his fighter surge ahead...

* * * * *

"Vixen, take your flight and strafe the upper forward quadrant. Aim for the tractor beam emitter," Maxfield spoke as he pulled back on his control stick. His fighter barely managed to avoid the sweeping lance of the Borg ship's cutting beam. Thank God they can't adapt to human unpredictability, he thought.

"Understood, sir," the silken voice of Warrant Officer Muteea resonated through Maxfield's helmet, briefly relaxing him. I should have her talk to me more often!

A crackle in the comm system jarred him back to the battle, "Cobra, we've lost over half our squadron already! We gotta pull out!" The panicked tone in Lieutenant Grugaalugh's gruff voice grated on Maxfield's nerves. Nevertheless, he remained calm and responded.

"We're not going anywhere, Desperado! We've got a job to do!"

"Major, we can't withstand another bombing run and you know it!"

"Leftenant, I've heard quite enough! The Kyushu's still stuck in that damned tractor beam! Try doing something about that!" Maxfield pushed his control stick forward, successfully dodging another sweep of the lethal cutting beam. I don't know how long I can keep this up! Maybe Grug's right! He cleared his throat and spoke again, "Wizard, this is Cobra. I'm going to make another pass. Will you cover me?" Maxfield was surprised at his own politeness in this situation.

There was silence, then Wizard replied, "Whatever you say, sir. You're in charge now."

Maxfield felt almost put upon, "Oh, bloody hell! Just form on my wing."

Wizard maneuvered his craft into position as Maxfield swung his fighter around in a tight arc and bore down on the Borg cube. It was an immense craft, thousands of meters on a side, and capable of reducing entire civilizations to slag. It seemed to be making short work of the Federation fleet. It would engage its tractor beam to capture the closest target, then use its cutting beam to tear enormous holes in the helpless ship's hull. The result was either a lifeless hulk, which would then be left to drift, or a gigantic fireball which would be left to burn itself out. Already, the Tolstoy, Adirondak, and Hood met their demise in this fashion. It appeared that the Kyushu was to be the next victim. Maxfield was desperate to find a way to save his ship and his friends. However, in spite of the battle raging around him, he needed to keep his mind focussed and not give in to nerves. In Maxfield's experience, impulsiveness invariably gave way to disaster.

He turned his attention to his holographic heads-up display, used it to select a target, and steered toward it. He armed two of the mini torpedoes that his fighter carried, and waited for the computer to indicate a positive lock.

"Let's close the distance a bit. Increase speed to five hundred," Maxfield spoke into his helmet pickup and pushed slightly forward on his throttle lever. There was an increase in engine noise as the impulse engine power was boosted a couple of extra notches.

"Gotcha, boss. Goin' to fifty percent," Wizard replied.

With himself and his new wingman surging forward at more than five hundred meters per second, Maxfield watched the range indicator as it counted down. Looking out at the ship ahead of him made him uneasy. Despite the fact that the Borg vessel was over twenty kilometers away, he felt like he was heading into a giant wall.

The computer chirped and the green box enclosing Maxfield's target on the display flashed red. He gritted his teeth and squeezed the torpedo firing trigger. There was a jolt as a pair of miniature photon torpedoes detached from his wing and accelerated toward their target, their tiny engines lit up like little red lamps. Maxfield watched them as they streaked away.

Suddenly, a bolt of green lightning erupted from the gray wall ahead and Maxfield reflexively wrenched the control stick. The bolt sizzled past his rolling fighter and struck Wizard's craft. Maxfield turned his head and watched as the small attack fighter went spinning out of control, its impulse engines aglow like twin suns. The sound of Wizard's blood-curdling scream resounded over the comm channel as his fighter plowed into the side of the Borg ship.

Suddenly, the space around Maxfield was lit up like night becoming day. A brilliant ball of flame billowed from the surface of the Borg cube. Realizing what was happening, Maxfield attempted to roll his fighter away, but to no avail. A shockwave slammed into the Tornado, picking up the tiny ship as though it were nothing more than a child's toy and sending it careening away into the void.

Inside the cockpit, small fires broke out from beneath the control consoles. The holographic heads up display switched off and most of the indicators and gauges went dark. Maxfield also felt a strange sensation in his right leg. Desperately, the squadron commander grabbed the small fire extinguisher set above the panel on his right. He primed the cylinder, aimed it at the burning control consoles, and let fly with a white cloud of supercooled carbon dioxide. The fire died down in a matter of seconds, allowing the atmosphere scrubbers to clear away the smoke. Maxfield, having great difficulty taking in clean air, saw his vision fading away. He weakly tugged at the open faceplate of his helmet. It refused to close and he cursed as darkness engulfed him.

When he came to, the smoke had completely faded away. Feeling as though he'd been in a week-long wrestling tournament, Maxfield peered through the cockpit canopy. In the distance, he saw the gigantic Borg cube, looking like an oversized 3-D jigsaw puzzle. The huge vessel was busy slicing chunks out of another Federation starship, either the Melbourne or the New Orleans, Maxfield couldn't tell from this far away. He also saw the vague shape of a starship floating nearby. He gave a brief burst from the Tornado's maneuvering jets and coasted over to the wreckage. The lifeless hulk was surrounded by a field of debris. The field was so dense that he had to reverse engines before too long in order to keep his fighter from suffering even more damage. It wasn't long until he found a piece of tritanium hull, scarred by fire but still bearing legible insignia. It read:

...S. KYU HU N C-149...

Captain Maxfield heaved a heavy sigh. He found himself wishing that his carrier suffered a warp core breach. Matter/Antimatter reactions are swift and extremely violent. Instant vaporization would have been much less painful than boiling to death and exploding in hard vacuum. Maxfield was quite certain of what his shipmates had experienced and felt a wave of grief sweep over him. For a moment, he thought he could hear the screams of over seven hundred Federation crew members, men and women he served with for months, many with families back home.

Hoping that he was not the sole survivor of this catastrophe, the squadron commander wiped his eyes and opened the communications link. The computer indicated the channel open, but nothing could be heard through the helmet speakers, not even the crackle of static. Saying a quick prayer to whatever gods he could think of, he keyed into the fighter's auto repair unit. There was a long pause before the unit's display screen lit up, showing its progress report. Maxfield breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the repair unit was still functioning at full capacity. He reset its work priority to the damaged subspace radio. The unit indicated that it would take fifteen minutes to complete repairs.

Accomplishing this, Maxfield finally allowed himself a glance at his leg. He saw a large red stain on the right thigh of his flight suit. He also saw a fragment from a shattered display screen sticking out of the stain. He gently gripped the sharp piece of debris. Doing so sent a wave of pain surging through him. He gasped and yanked on the offending shard. It slid out of the wound easily, almost gracefully, and Maxfield placed it behind his seat, where it could cause no more harm. He placed one hand gingerly on the wound and, with his other hand, reached beneath the forward control console. He pulled out a small white box bearing a large red cross and a Starfleet Medical Corps caduceus.

Another brilliant flash of light caused him to look up. He watched as the next victim of the massacre was engulfed in a bright ball of expanding superheated gases. He also saw three more ships attempting to close in and release spectacular volleys of phasers and photon torpedoes. All of this was to no avail and the Marine pilot winced as he saw the Borg ship engage independent tractor beams on all three of the assailing Federation craft. Moments later, the space between cube and its targets was crossed by three bright yellow cutting beams. Not being able to watch the wanton slaughter of his comrades, Maxfield focused his attention back to his wounded leg.

He opened the first aid kit and used its medical tricorder to scan the injury. What he knew of medical readouts told him that the wound was not as bad as it felt. He used a small cutting tool to rip open the leg of his coveralls and peeled the blood-soaked fabric away. The piece of debris had left a large puncture in his leg. Blood was still seeping out of the gash. Maxfield pulled out a knitter and a pair of bandages. He turned on the small cylindrical tool and a small light, almost like a laser pointer, appeared at the opposite end of the tube. He held the knitter over his injury and watched as the bleeding finally stopped and the puncture pulled itself closed. Maxfield flinched briefly as another wave of pain washed through his leg, but he kept the knitter focused on its target. When all that remained of the wound was a large scar, he applied the two large bandages to it. The fibrous squares automatically adhered to the scar tissue, cleansing and disinfecting the wound. To overcome the pain, Maxfield pulled out a small hypo spray and injected himself with a syrupy purple-colored liquid.

Moments later, he began to feel his mind going numb. When space around his ship was lit up once again, he didn't even bother to look up. Instead, he leaned back in the pilot's seat and closed his eyes. As long as I sit here and do nothing, those bastards won't come back and turn me into Swiss cheese... I sure wish I was home right now... Yorkshire's such a lovely place this time of year... The pastoral landscapes... The rolling green hills... Beautiful fields and forests with tall trees... And... Carolyn...

* * * * *

It was a beautiful autumn day in the Shire. Out in the wide green countryside was a long field of tall grasses. Most of the open fields in this part of England were used for growing crops of some sort, whether they be barley, wheat, rye, or various fruits and vegetables. A person standing in the middle of this field could see a forest of tall trees to the north and fields containing harvested crops in every other direction. However, this particular field, surrounded on all sides by a meter-high stone wall, appeared to serve no useful purpose at all. The only thing which grew in this field, apart from the waist-high grasses, was a single oak tree. The small tree, standing by itself like a child separated from its family, provided the only spot of shade available to the overgrown plot of land.

It was toward this particular spot that a young couple made their way. Hand in hand, they stepped through the tall green and yellow shoots. They made slow progress and talked all the while they were walking. The overgrown weeds hindered their movements, but neither of them seemed to mind.

They stepped into the shade of the oak tree, stopped, and stood there. The woman kept her gaze affixed to her lover. Her eyes traversed the black and gray Starfleet Marine Corps jumpsuit with its gold and silver arrowhead pin. Christopher Maxfield returned her gaze, his eyes taking in the beauty of her slim figure and large, sparkling green eyes. A great gust of wind blew across the field. It picked up the woman's long red hair and waved it in the air like a great silken streamer. The spectacle lasted for a brief moment, but it was one that Maxfield would never forget.

He looked around at the field and at the nearby forest, remembering many years of peaceful living, "You know, there was a time when I thought I'd never leave this place."

Carolyn Maynard stepped next to him, wrapped one arm around his waist and leaned against him, "What do you think now?"

He sighed and said, "I'm not sure. I just know that I've been waiting for this for a long time." He looked down at the woman he loved and slid his arm around her back and onto her hip. She looked back up at him, then stepped away and sat down near the oak tree. A moment later, Maxfield followed suit, sitting down behind her. The woman fell back against him, resting her head on his chest as he propped himself up against the trunk of the tree. He spent a long moment taking in the scenery as he wrapped his arms around Carolyn's waist, pulling her even closer. He leaned forward, gently kissed her cheek and whispered, "What do you think now?"

Carolyn tipped her head back and stared up into her lover's face. Suddenly, her smile melted away. She found it difficult to meet his gaze and returned her attention to the field of tall grass, her expression subdued. It was a long moment before she spoke again, "Do you really think we can keep it going? I mean, you're going away and I don't know when I'll see you again," she fought to keep her voice steady.

Maxfield had heard the stories about Marines in the field receiving "Dear John" letters from girlfriends who couldn't stand the waiting and the lack of communication. One of his roommates at the Academy received such a letter no more than a week after arriving at Sandhurst. Maxfield remembered that long night listening to David Hacker's story and watching the Cadet burst into tears in what Maxfield thought to be a most un-Marine-like display. He learned alot about Hacker and his family during that first year at Sandhurst. Hacker's unfortunate experience taught Maxfield that he was extremely lucky to be attending school so near his home in York.

He realized that this was probably the only reason his relationship with Carolyn lasted this long. Now, sitting in the shade with the only woman he ever cared for, Maxfield was at a loss for words. He had known this moment was fast approaching, but he still felt unprepared. His heart began to pound and he thought he felt the blood drain from his face. He stared into the field for a long moment, searching for the right words before replying,

"I'd like to give it a chance. I've got access to communications gear wherever I go. I can always send you a message when I'm able. I'll also be able to let you know when I'm coming home."

Carolyn sighed. Her eyes darted about, scanning the field, then returned to Maxfield's face, "I don't know if I can wait forever."

Maxfield began running the fingers of his right hand through her hair, "I won't be gone forever," he leaned forward and kissed her cheek again, "First tour's only a year, anyway."

Carolyn blinked a couple of times, reached up and took his other hand. Tears welled up in her eyes began streaming down her cheeks. When she spoke, her voice quivered, "Chris, I love you so much," she clutched his hand tighter and began to sob.

Maxfield thought he could feel his own emotions welling up, but fought them back. He slipped his other arm around Carolyn and held her tightly for a long moment, giving her the chance to release her anxiety. After a few minutes, a calmness settled between the two lovers and Maxfield resumed running the fingers of his free hand through her hair. She tipped her head back to stare up into his face.

Maxfield smiled weakly and wiped Carolyn's tears away. His voice helped to relax her, "You know you won't be losing me. A year goes by like that," he snapped his fingers in the air as Carolyn sniffed once, "And when I get back, we'll have an entire month together, just you and I. We'll have the greatest holiday you've ever been on! I'll book us passage to any place you want to go!"

Carolyn smiled sheepishly back at him. The tears were still flowing, but she humored her love and responded, "Anywhere I want?"

"Absolutely. Wherever you want: One of the Rigel Colonies, Andor, Vulcan, even Risa. Remember how much you wanted to see Risa? Well, when I get back, we can get ourselves on the first available transport and spend a couple weeks there. Just think, we can climb the Northern Peaks, go on one of those big expeditions into the caves, or just stay at one of the resorts and catch a few rays," he chuckled. Though Carolyn managed to tan herself on occasion, Maxfield's pale skin never responded well to sun exposure. He recalled many instances in which Carolyn would have to apply burn care cream to his back.

Carolyn also recollected these events, as well as other distinct memories associated with taking care of Maxfield's sunburns. Her tears stopped and she wiped her eyes. "It better be at least two weeks," she said with a small smile and placed the palm of her hand against Maxfield's cheek. Maxfield smiled warmly, then gently slid his hand under her chin.

"I promise," he whispered softly as he leaned forward and gently pressed his lips to hers.

* * * * *

"...Report in, sir. Repeat, Major Maxfield, please report in," a familiar, though exasperated-sounding voice resounded through Maxfield's helmet speakers. The squadron commander opened his eyes, blinked once and took in a deep breath of cool fresh air. The atmosphere scrubbers had finally returned the cockpit environment to a more livable condition. Most of the gauges and readouts had come back to life. The radar display showed a small craft floating only a few meters off his starboard wing. Maxfield turned his head and saw a single F-301 Tornado class fighter/bomber. He squinted as he gazed into the ship's canopy and saw the familiar face of Warrant Officer Tanaka behind the heads-up display. Tanaka grinned and waved to his commander. Maxfield returned the gesture as his helmet speakers crackled to life once again.

"That sure was one hell of a battle, sir!" Maxfield was so overjoyed to hear his friend's voice that he almost wept. Instead, he cleared his throat and spoke into his microphone.

"You certainly have a way of understating things, Officer." He looked back at his radar display, then back at Tanaka's fighter, "My radar scope shows nothing. Does this mean that we're the only ones left?"

Tanaka's reply was hesitant, "I'm not sure, sir. I did a sweep of the debris field after the Borg ship warped out and I found you floating here next to the wreckage of the ship." Tanaka directed his gaze past his own starboard wing. The great starship Kyushu could be seen floating about two klicks away. She was tumbling slowly through the flotsam like a giant misshapen pinwheel. Even from this distance, the enormous gouges cut out of her were as visible as coffee stains on a white tablecloth.

Maxfield looked also, this time studying the hulk intently, noting where most of the damage had been dealt. He tried very hard to keep from thinking about the friends he had aboard and their likely fates. Instead, he swallowed once and said, "She was a good ship."

Tanaka replied, "Yes, sir. She shouldn't have gone that way."

Maxfield nodded, "That's no way for any ship to go," He cleared his throat again and returned to a more businesslike attitude, "Well, shall we attempt to search for more survivors? Or do you think everyone else has had it?"

"Sir, it's your call. My ship's in good shape, yours seems pretty banged up, but still in one piece, and no rescue ships have arrived yet."

Maxfield was sure of what his duty was, "Right, we're staying until help arrives or until we are absolutely certain that there are no survivors left to pick up."

Tanaka grinned and let out a small sigh, "I thought so, sir."

"Form on my wing and let's start a search pattern," Maxfield pressed a few keys on his control console. All right then, let's see what this thing can still do, he thought as he pressed his hand down on the throttle pad. There was a brief spurt of red flame from the impulse vents and the fighter lurched ahead. Then, the small ship's impulse engine resumed its steady glow and the Tornado plowed forward. Tanaka's ship immediately took up a flanking position off of Maxfield's starboard wing.

* * * * *

"For outstanding performance in combat with the enemy, I am proud to present you with the Bronze Palm of Gallantry and confer upon you the rank of Marine Major," The commander of Starbase 12, Brigadier General James Gardner, pinned the sparkling palm leaf upon Maxfield's black and gray dress uniform. Behind Maxfield stood Warrant Officer Mitsuo Tanaka, now promoted to Chief Warrant Officer and wearing a Starfleet Medal of Commendation. Beside Tanaka were the remaining members of the Kyushu's fighter group: First Lieutenant Torag Grugaalugh, Warrant Officer 1st Class Jesaro Muteea, and Warrant Officer 2nd Class William Copenhagen. Grugaalugh and Muteea wore Bronze Palms and young William sported a Starfleet Medal of Commendation. Aside from the decorations for bravery, all of the Kyushu pilots were awarded a brand new decoration: the six-pointed Wolf 359 Battle Star.

Maxfield was proud of all of them. Soon after the search for survivors began, Tanaka and Maxfield picked up signals from Grugaalugh's transponder. Despite being unnerved by the battle, Desperado managed to come through for his squadron commander. Under his direction, the tractor beam holding the Kyushu was eliminated by a precise hit from a mini-torpedo. His wingman, or rather winglady, "Vixen" Muteea managed to score the kill after dodging three separate barrages of the Borg's green lightning bolts. Unfortunately, the Borg cutting beam had already done its horrifying work and all that the two of them could do was watch as the Kyushu's precious atmosphere vented into open space. After avoiding several more near-misses by the Borg cutting beams and green lightning bolts, Desperado and Vixen moved their fighters away from the thick of the battle, knowing that any further attempts to strafe the Borg ship would end in disaster.

Tanaka managed to score several hits on the Borg cube with his arsenal of mini-torpedoes. Unfortunately, the Borg had managed to adapt to the weapons he was using and threw up deflector shields to avoid further damage. Tanaka also left the battle area as soon as his last torpedo exploded harmlessly against the invisible barrier.

William "Skinner" Copenhagen, after making a successful reconnaissance sweep of the Borg ship, lost the rest of his squadron before returning to the Kyushu. He engaged his warp jump in order to evade a barrage of green lightning bolts. He never returned to the battle area until after the Borg ship had left. He watched as the giant vessel broke through the formation of Federation ships, destroying all but one, and continued on its course toward Earth.

The Earth was the cradle of humanity, seat of the Federation, and home to billions of innocent citizens. The Borg would be arriving soon and the fate of the blue-green world would be sealed. However, Maxfield knew that it would be a cold day in hell before the Federation would give up, even after losing their capital planet and most of their defense fleet. If the citizens of the Federation had one thing in common, it was the will to survive. They would find a way to rid themselves of the Borg scourge once and for all, or die trying.

Maxfield gritted his teeth as a thought struck him. He saw himself leading the surviving wing of fighters on a last desperate stand against the great cube ship. He saw in his mind the image of the transformed Captain Picard speaking to him through the communications link. Resistance is futile, Major Maxfield. You will disarm your weapons and prepare to become one with the Borg. He thought of what he might say to Locutus of Borg. No speeches, I'm not very up on them, and no ultimatum's either. My father said never to make threats I can't make good on. What would I say? Probably something like, "Resist this, you Borg bastard!" Yes, I'm pretty sure that's what I'd say...

* * * * *

"Sir? Major Maxfield? Wake up, sir!" The soft silken voice was accompanied by a gentle nudging of his right elbow. Maxfield opened his eyes, blinked once, and found himself staring up into the sparkling pink eyes of Warrant Officer Muteea. Her long white hair was matted and she appeared very deshevled, though dressed her black and gray Marine duty uniform. She regarded her commander with an urgent look. My God, it's time isn't it? The second attack is starting. He sat up quickly and winced as his spine cracked. Damn these visiting Marine quarters! These bunks wouldn't be comfortable even by Klingon standards! Muteea stepped back, her eyes still focussed on the Major, almost as if she were trying to will him away from his bunk. Maxfield could never get over her intense stares. However, he always knew that something serious was happening whenever she looked at him that way.

"Do you hear it?" Muteea had her head cocked slightly toward the door. Maxfield pushed himself off the bunk and stood next to her, listening intently.

The sound was very faint, at first sounding like a dull rumble, barely perceptable. He listened very carefully and could make out what sounded like thousands of voices crying out. Muteea also stood there, listening.

"What is that?" Maxfield could feel the floor vibrating very slightly. Whatever it was, the sound sent up harmonics that shook metal. He glanced over at his Efrosian squadron mate.

She looked back at him, smiled broadly, and spoke, "It's over. The Enterprise managed to stop the Borg ship just before it went into Earth orbit." Maxfield suddenly realized that the sound he was hearing was the din of over three thousand Starfleet crewmen letting up a great cheer. He imagined that if he were to open the door to the small billet room, he would probably be blown backward by a terrible sonic shockwave. Better to stay here where it's quiet, he mused.

He glanced back at Officer Muteea who was still regarding him and smiling. In all the months that Maxfield had served with her, he never saw her with such a warm expression. He was suddenly reminded of an image held in the back of his mind. He saw a young woman, wearing the same expression and standing beneath a small oak tree. The tree stood at the edge of a green field left behind many years ago. I'm going back there, he thought. The image remained in his head for a very long moment. Muteea saw the light in his eyes but didn't know what to make of it. It made her slightly nervous, but she didn't feel the need to leave the room. Instead, she stepped closer to her commander who instinctively took her into his arms. She did not resist as Major Maxfield pulled her into a warm embrace. Tears welled up in her eyes as she whispered, "It's over. It's finally over..." and began to sob. Under normal circumstances, Maxfield would have considered this to be another un-Marine-like display, but something deep within him stirred and he found his own eyes tearing up. Together, they listened to the sounds of distant merry-making as they mourned the loss of the Kyushu, their friends in Starfleet who died on that fateful day, and the nine deceased members of the Black Hawk Squadron.


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