The Gambit Solution

Written and Illustrated by
Terry Knight and Grant Preston


Part Three

Ranthe was tapping at her console keys, bring the Fury's armament on line. "What's the strategy, May?" she asked, as her arming board lit up green. MayFurr chewed his lip for a few seconds.

"We target them, and fire the missiles in groups, with differing warhead configurations," he replied. Ranthe looked at him, wondering if he was serious or not.

"Shouldn't we fire them all at once? Won't they adapt if we fire them off singly?" she asked. The fox-morph shook his head.

"They're more likely to adapt quickly to one single type of attack. And if that happens, we'll be deep in it. This way, we'll have some room for backup."

"Copy that," Lindgold's voice crackled over the comm. "Switching to missiles for initial atta- Ranthe!" His voice took on a new urgency. "I'm reading the signal as moving! Confirm!"

"Confirmed!" the vixen answered, consulting her own panel, then turned to MayFurr wearing a shocked expression. "If they get into space, and with the second wave being configured for ground assault..."

MayFurr didn't answer. What was best to do? The Borg obviously knew they were here now. Should he recall Blackwolf and all three of them take on the Borg in space? Then they would lose any advantage of keeping them in the atmosphere, something that Borg ships were completely unsuited for. Adaptability or not, more resources would be consumed fighting gravity and atmosphere. And the weapons that Fury and Delta One were carrying were even more effective when there was oxygen present. He gritted his teeth together.

"Maintain course!" he snapped. "Distance to target?"

"Seven hundred and thirty-five klicks - mark!" Ranthe replied. "Firing range in three minutes!" She glanced out of the forward window, the planet looming as the Fury dived at full power. "Looks like we're about to hit the upper ionosphere - here we go!"

"That's for sure..." she heard Lindgold mutter over the comm.

The cheetah-morph checked his seat harness once more, making sure it was firm. He was already well inside the point where he had previously taken Delta One - for that matter, any space-only rated starfighter - this close to a planet. On the rare occasions his former Imperial superiors had let him take the controls of a XG-1 Assault Gunboat, he had only landed them on planets four times. Including the time he had stolen one to get to FurrySpace. Gunboats were designed for planetary touchdown, but the transition from the vacuum of space to a thick sea of atmospheric gas was never smooth.

As the planet loomed closer, his normally smooth flight began to shake. A low, ominous rumble started to reverberate throughout the ship, as the sky outside began to lighten from black to a rich purple. An alarm sounded, and he quickly silenced it. The TIE's onboard computer was warning him he was exceeding low orbit tolerances. A quick glance at his port and starboard monitors revealed the solar panels were beginning to vibrate. Their angled leading surfaces were also carving a thin trail of white vapour from the thickening air.

He quickly reduced engine thrust, and activated the atmospheric flight mode. The vibration subsided slightly, but now the sky was a deep blue, and his thermal-adapted shields were beginning to heat up. He glimpsed at the stress monitors. They had moved out of green, were halfway through yellow, and still rising. Now the fun starts.

Aboard the Fury, MayFurr and Ranthe were sitting rigidly in their seats, riding out the re-entry. Usually they could do it much smoother than the bumpy ride they were getting now, but this was a combat insertion. Get through the envelope and adapt for atmospheric flight as quickly as possible. MayFurr was keeping a close eye on the airspeed - mach eight point four and falling. The scanners were revealing no rough air ahead, that should be good news for Lindgold.

He quickly glanced out the window towards Delta One. The fighter was shaking back and forth like a leaf in a hurricane, it's shields glowing with re-entry heat. He clicked at the comm. "Lindgold! What's your status?"

"Not good!" came the cheetah-morph's response. MayFurr gulped. Even through the comm, he could hear the rumbling and shaking as a craft never designed for atmospheric flight flew through a sea of gas. "She's as bumpy as hell and the stress levels are near max!" Lindgold shouted as he was thrown against his seat restraints, the rumble now loud enough to hurt his ears. "No choice, I've got to pull out and recalibrate! I can't stay with you!"

MayFurr scowled at this news. Now it was up to the Fury alone. "Get clear, Lindgold, you can't do any good like that!" he snapped into his mike.

"Sorry!" Lindgold replied, and the TIE Defender immediately angled upwards and arced back towards space.

"Damn!" MayFurr cursed. "We haven't even hit the stratosphere yet! Distance!"

"A hundred and six klicks..." Ranthe paused. "Targeting range! Acquiring!" The vixen blinked as her targeting display lit up. "May! This Borg ship is spherical!"

The fox spared an instant for a glance at the console. She was right! A perfect sphere, diameter about three hundred metres. Not a full-sized ship then, a scoutship, but still just as dangerous. And he had heard of this type before.

"Then it's the same group of Borg who attacked Dreamstar!" he exclaimed. The station was still recovering from that savage attack, months ago. The fox and vixen exchanged a look, then turned to their tasks. Time for some payback.

The Fury dived through the roiling atmosphere of the planet towards the grounded Borg ship, gusts of turbulence buffeting the attack craft as it continued its descent. Steadily, the image of the damaged alien vessel grew larger and larger on Ranthe's tactical display as she engaged the Fury's electronic counter-measure systems, the powerful jammer pods guaranteed to wreak havoc with any enemy's targeting systems - even the Borg. At least, that was what the vixen fervently hoped and believed.

"Set torpedoes for maximum penetration, and lock onto any damaged areas there you can find," MayFurr ordered, concentrating on maintaining a steady flight path towards their objective. "Fire first salvo when ready, Ranthe!" Sudden winds tossed the Fury violently to starboard as the male vulpine struggled to correct, both foxes being restrained in their seats as they were flung from side to side.

The high altitude winds subsided, and they found themselves in relatively smooth air. One final shake, and they were through the clouds. Details began to form on the ground below them. Rolling hills, covered with dark green and brown vegetation. Random patches of trees, rivers trailing to an ocean far away to portside. And in the distance, barely coming visible - their target. It was slowly moving away from them, only a few hundred metres from the ground, as if evaluating it's re-acquired ability to fly.

"Almost there... almost there..." MayFurr muttered to himself. "Stand by..."

"Target locked!" Ranthe called out excitedly. "And firing!"

A lance of energy erupted from each of the Fury's wing-mounted weapon pods, the fighter shuddering as the first two missiles leapt away towards the Borg ship. The first torpedoes barely had time to clear the Fury's defence screen before the next two launched, followed by a third pair streaking towards the enemy. Six points of light swiftly and surely bore down on the metallic sphere as the Fury began to pull up of the dive. Suddenly a lance of light reached out from the Borg ship towards them, narrowly missing the ship. The Fury lurched from the blast, slipping sideways through the thin but turbulent air generated by the Borg energy weapon.

"Torpedoes away - all running hot on target..." the vixen muttered, her muzzle wrinkled with concentration as if by sheer willpower she could speed the missiles faster as she intently studied the tactical display. "Impact in five... four... three... two... one..."

A blinding flash erupted from the surface of the Borg ship as the first weapon struck home, the missile punching through the hull and exploding deep inside. Ranthe felt a thrill of elation as she watched the devastation unfold through the Fury's sensors, yipping excitedly as the second and third torpedoes impacted.

But as both Ranthe and MayFurr watched, the blasts from the detonation of the following missile strikes became less and less powerful as the Borg, even in their weakened state, adapted to the Fury's attack. By the time the sixth torpedo from the first wave hit its target, there was only a pinprick of energy released - and no noticeable damage made on the Borg ship. Ranthe wanted to howl in frustration as she realised that their attack had been effectively neutralised, only to be beaten to the punch by MayFurr swearing some very vulpine curses as he swung the Fiora's Fury away from the target.

The Borg lasers opened up in renewed strength as the Fury climbed away, multiple blasts impacting on the attack craft's rearward shields. The male fox flung the ship from side to side in evasive manoeuvring, the buffeting from each near-miss perversely adding enough randomness to the Fury's flight-path to confuse the Borg below.

"Where the hell's Lindgold?" MayFurr shouted above the noise in the cabin. "Lindgold! What's your status? Get your tail down here!"

The cheetah-morph's voice crackled through the comm-channel, his voice apologetic through the interference from the battle. "I'm still having problems with the aerofoil calibration May, every time I attempt atmosphere entry all control goes to hell! I'll be ready to attempt atmosphere in six minutes - "

"We don't have six minutes!" Ranthe yelled into the comm, her angry tone tinged with fear. "Any sign of the others yet? We can't hold them off by ourselves!"

"Negative on the others, Fury," Lindgold called back. High above the scene of the battle, he could see the explosions below on his scope, acutely conscious of the daunting task the Fiora's Fury was trying to do on her own. A single attack fighter against the Borg - it looked impossible. He ground his teeth together in frustration as he raced through resetting the aerofoil controls, praying silently to himself that he would arrive in time.

The Fury rocked with the blast from another near-miss, MayFurr wrestling with the ship to maintain control. "Reset the remaining torpedoes to a mix of maximum surface blast and delayed detonation - hopefully some of them will do some damage before the Borg adapt again," MayFurr ordered. The vixen bobbed her head in acknowledgement, her paws flying over the weapon controls as both of them were thrown about in their seats, only their harnesses preventing them from getting seriously injured.

Suddenly the entire ship jolted forward as a burst from the Borg ship struck square on the rear deflectors, the power generators struggling to cope with the impact. Stray energies sparked and flashed over the Fury's outer hull and into one the engine nacelles, causing a series of warning indicators to light up on MayFurr's control panel. "Port engine hit!" he gasped. "Twenty percent power drop!"

"I'm onto it, May!" Ranthe replied, a tremor in her voice as she felt the Fury lose speed, almost feeling like she was slipping back towards the dark nemesis below. "Altering power distribution to compensate - "

"Give it everything we've got!" MayFurr shouted, the whine of the damaged engine shrieking through the cabin. The Fury wobbled drunkenly through the air, managing to avoid most of the Borg weapons more by chance than anything else.

"I'm bringing us in for another pass - "

"Better make it good May, 'cause after this - " Another near-miss interrupted Ranthe as she frantically set up a firing solution on the targeting computer. She shook herself, brushing her head-fur out of her eyes, and tapped MayFurr on the shoulder. Her face was grim.

"We just lost autolock on the weapons pods!" she shouted. "I can work a solution myself, but it won't be as accurate..."

MayFurr nodded. "Do it, Ranthe, and fire when ready!"

The Fiora's Fury came around again in a great sweeping curve, again heading directly towards the Borg ship. Streaks of energy erupted towards them, some hitting the Fury's defence shields and barely shunted out of the way as MayFurr grimly wrestled with the flight controls. He had no idea where Lindgold was at this point, though he guessed that their comrade was having enough problems of his own.

Ranthe bit her lip with concentration, the vixen's ears folded back as she fed the firing solution from the computer into the weapons. With one last silent prayer, she pressed the firing control, and again missile after missile left each of the outboard launchers, the Fury shuddering as each torpedo streaked towards the deadly enemy. Within seconds, the Fury's entire remaining torpedo load was exhausted, the fighter now reduced to her light laser cannon and ECM jammers for continued offensive action as it swept over the barrage of explosions on the hull of the Borg ship.

The Fury arced away, twisting back and forth in the thin air, circling around again. Suddenly both vulpines were jerked forward against their restraints, with enough force to almost empty their lungs of air. MayFurr's gasp turned into a yelp as his head slammed back against his headrest. His chest heaved with exertion, pulling in more valuable air. He jerked at the controls, but they had locked up tight. He heard Ranthe coughing next to him.

"May!" she gasped. "They've tractored us!"

"Full ECM!" MayFurr wheezed, continuing to strain against the flight controls as the Fury began to shudder. Their velocity was dropping fast. He punched at the afterburner control. If they got below stall speed, they'd drop like a stone. The fox quickly glanced out of the side window at the Borg ship, now eerily bathed green as it continued to grasp at them. As the stall alarm began to sound, his hand moved towards the ejection control.

Then six points of bright blue light in three groups of two streaked down from above, slamming into the upper surface of the sphere and detonating, sending visible chunks of debris flying outwards. The tractor beam immediately ceased, and this time MayFurr and Ranthe were shoved back into their seats as the Fury surged forward under full afterburners. May pulled back on the controls, gaining much-needed height as their velocity climbed again.

"Delta One to Fiora's Fury!" came Lindgold's excited voice over the comm. "What's your status?"

"We got a little cooked, but we're okay!" MayFurr shouted back. "How 'bout you?"

"She's handling like a pig at the moment, but nothing I can't handle," Lindgold grinned for a moment, the look on his muzzle looking serious again a split-second later as the cheetah-morph pulled his ship out of its attack dive. "All my torpedoes are out!"

"Same here, Lindgold, we're down to light cannon and jammers," Ranthe added over the comm. Her eyes quickly swept over the tactical scans, and lit up with delight. "Those last hits sure did some damage though! Look!"

Surprised in spite of himself, Lindgold consulted his own battle sensors, and whooped with joy. The concentrated barrage from the missiles launched from both ships had carved a significant chunk out from the Borg ship, the damaged enemy trailing hull fragments and smoke as it drunkenly wobbled through the air below them, flashes of explosion still visible from inside the hull.

"YAAAHOOOOO!!" MayFurr sang out in exhilaration, Ranthe and Lindgold joining in. "She's going down!" They all watched as the smoking Borg sphere sank in a barely controlled descent towards the rolling green hills beneath it. It scraped against vegetation, and finally ploughed into the planet surface, sending huge clumps of dirt flying as it gouged deep into earth. It bounced as antigravity seemed to re-establish, but fell once again like some wounded metal ball, finally coming to rest. MayFurr wasted no time. "Strafing run!" he snapped. The two ships howled around and dove at the crippled sphere.

The Fury took the first pass. MayFurr still had to twist and dodge defensive fire, but Ranthe's aim was accurate, the twin lasers stitching a path of damage deep inside the massive hole ripped by their torpedoes. They veered away in time to watch Delta One make its pass, brilliant blue beams flashing from it's upper wingtips and striking the Borg ship. Blue and white sparks of electricity danced over the metallic sphere, and all defensive fire was immediately centred on the TIE Defender. The nimble fighter twisted and turned, several bolts slamming into shields, but Lindgold pressed his attack, causing as much damage as he could before breaking off, still being chased by return fire.

"May!" called Ranthe. "I don't know what Lind did, but the Borg power output has dropped twelve percent!"

"What? Only twelve?" crackled Lindgold's voice over the comm. "That was enough ion energy to disable an Interdictor Cruiser! WOAH!!" He suddenly cried out as several shots pummelled against his shields, and he frantically twisted and swerved to avoid more deadly beams. "I seem to have their attention!"

"Hang in there!" MayFurr replied as he brought the Fury around again, giving Ranthe another clear line of fire.

"Hold her steady, May..." she snarled, all attention on their foe. Her claw stabbed at the ECM control pad, bathing the Borg with a high-powered electromagnetic burst. Her other paw pressed the laser control, and the Fury's laser turret spewed two deadly lines of vivid red laser energy onto the crippled sphere. This time they were rewarded with an internal explosion, and pulled up from their dive without the hindrance of return fire.

"Good shooting, Fury," Lindgold praised as he brought his ship around again. He switched over to his laser cannons, and squeezed the trigger. Emerald green energy beams leapt from Delta One's wingtips in rapid succession, carving deep into their target, sending debris flying in every direction. Lindgold noted the damage as he flew overhead. Damnation! The trail in the Borg sphere his lasers had created got smaller and smaller as it got longer. They were already adapting to his fire. He quickly informed his compatriots.

"I'm actually surprised it took them this long," MayFurr replied as both ships rendezvoused out of range of the sphere.

"What can we do?" Lindgold asked. "After one more pass, all our weapons will be ineffective." He glanced at his starboard video screen. The smoke that had been pouring out of the sphere before had now all but ceased. And maybe it was his imagination, but did the huge hole in its side look smaller?

"We could keep shooting," MayFurr suggested. "They would still have to divert -"

"May! Subspace field generation!" Ranthe suddenly interrupted, paying close attention to her ELINT sensor readout. "They're beginning to move again!" MayFurr cursed to himself, then started to bring the Fury around again, heading into another attack pass.

"They'd still have to divert power to counter us!" he continued, bringing the engines up to full power once more as the sphere swung into forward view again. "Keep by our side, Lindgold. Maybe both of us firing at once will do more damage!"

"Gotcha!"

Both fighters closed on the Borg ship, the Fury on the left, Delta One on the right. Two targeting displays lit up green as they closed to effective range, and two fingers began to squeeze two separate firing triggers. Their sensors did not detect the slender, ominous-looking tube that slid from the side of the Borg sphere and began to track them.

Then a loud message over the chosen battle comm channel burst through. "This is Commander Chastity DeLameter of the CSA Destroyer Falcon. Fiora's Fury and Delta One, get clear! We have target acquisition and are ready to fire!"

MayFurr whooped. "Acknowledged, Falcon! You copy that, Lindgold?"

"Copy! Disengaging!" came the cheetah-morph's reply. MayFurr pulled the Fury around in a tight arc, breaking off his attack run and heading upwards. An alarm suddenly shrieked in their ears, and a dangerous-looking series of white pulses flew by the window. May flicked the Fury away, but the streaks of white still angled closer. A powerful series of impacts slammed into the outer starboard wing, turning the wingtip into a shredded mess of metal. A frightening shudder filled the cockpit, bouncing the two vulpines against their seat restraints.

"May! They're shooting solid projectiles at us!" Ranthe almost screamed as MayFurr jerked the controls to port, a icy rush of terror passing through him. In an atmosphere, shields were configured only to stop energy, in order to allow air to pass under the wings and let them fly. Only the hull armour was there to stop solid matter from striking them. Having finally realised this, the Borg weren't going to let them get away that easily. He punched the afterburners once again.

"They're titanium pellets, pushed through some kind of accelerator cannon!" Ranthe exclaimed, reading from her sensors again as they were pressed into seats from the extra acceleration. "The shields are slowing them a fraction, but we can't stop them!"

MayFurr thanked whatever deity was watching over them. If they had continued on their attack run... "Ranthe! Give them another ECM burst!" he snapped, as yet another hit made the Fury buck and shake.

"I am!" the vixen shouted, making herself heard above the howl of engines and reverberating strikes. "Systems overloading...!"

"MayFurr! Ranthe! Punch the deck, I'll cover you!" the comm crackled. May looked up in time to see Delta One wheel around and dive at the Borg again, it's ion cannons blazing bright sapphire light.

There was no time to debate anything. May thrust the controls forward, diving below the Borg fire, flying an impossibly ground-hugging path and gaining much needed distance.

Delta One lurched from side to side, dodging the pulsating white streak from the Borg ship below as Lindgold pressed home his attack, his ion cannon firing continuously. So far he had managed to escape serious damage from the Borg - the Fury's jamming efforts, the turbulent atmosphere and being forced to fight in a gravity well obviously having an effect on their accuracy. But it was hard work nonetheless, taking every last ounce of the cheetah-morphs' strength and endurance. In all his time in the Imperial Navy, he had never come across so formidable opponent as this! Even Star Destroyers weren't this durable!

Then the white streak slammed into his ship, slicing into the portside solar panel and out the other side. His head jerked to the side as the ship nearly tumbled with the impact, but she straightened up as the thought of ejecting entered his mind. A panel shorted and sprayed him with sparks, making him cringe even though he was fully protected by his flight suit and helmet.

That was it, time to go! He quickly wheeled the starfighter around and dumped his cannon power into the shields. "Shit!" he snarled as several yellow lights suddenly turned red, the stabilising aerofoils starting to flutter and lose effectiveness. "Come on, come on..." the cheetah-morph growled, manoeuvring as much as he could. "Don't fail me now, girl don't fail me now!"

The Borg ship continued to fire, every projectile angling closer and closer towards the wavering TIE Defender as Lindgold struggled to retain control of his ship, but nothing he could do seemed to... "GET DOWN!" a voice suddenly yelled over his comm. Lindgold responded just in time to avoid the blue-white blast of fire that torched just over his ship to vapourise the source of the deadly missiles.

"Thanks -" he started to say as he got the ship back under control, then he realised that the voice hadn't been either MayFurr or Ranthe. An organic-looking ship dropped down from above, cutting into a tight curve around him that even the Fiora's Fury couldn't hope to match in this sea of gas. "- Artania?"

"The one and only!" The cheetah could hear a grin in her voice. "Can you make orbit?"

"Just." His aerofoils were hanging on by a thread and the portside solar panel was a mess, but he still had the raw engine power to just point the ship up and go.

"Then start running, the Fury is already on it's way out, and it's about to get real hot down here!" Artania soared away, heading for the distant Borg ship. Lindgold reset his cannon recharge rate to zero, and the TIE Defender leapt for the clouds, away towards the relative safety of space.

Below, the Borg were recovering with frightening speed, the massive support structures untwisting themselves. But they were never going to get the chance to finish. Artania was doing over Mach One in the thin air when she crossed the crater, streaking through at low altitude, her hull still glowing reddish-orange from the searing heat of high-speed atmospheric entry. As she dodged the still-firing energy beam positions below, small bullet-shaped objects detached from her hull and hurtled towards the Borg, penetrating deeply. Seconds later Artania climbed away from the target site, accelerating to orbital velocity, her mission completed as the marking penetrators immediately radiated a homing signal towards the waiting attack fleet above. Far above the capital ships of the second wave opened fire with their heavy weapons, powerful blasts of magnetic energy spewing forth from huge mass-drivers as they launched their deadly loads towards the surface.

The first warheads impacted on either side of the crippled Borg ship, shockwaves rippling through its structure even as the megaton-level airblasts punched through the hull. Inside, Borg units that weren't immediately vapourised or flattened by the first series of blasts frantically struggled to repair the damage, desperately pouring resources from defence towards rebuilding the primary sphere structure. But as more warheads impacted with greater accuracy from the continued orbital bombardment, even the legendary adaptability of Borg regeneration lost pace, faltered, and finally fell. Round after round from the Falcon and the other capital ships of the attack force continued to tear into the now defenceless Borg ship, each striking true and wrecking extensive damage through sheer kinetic force. Again and again, the remaining Borg units struggled to cope, to form a defence, to repair the damage, but the relentless hammering from orbit tearing through their ship obliterated more and more of them. Three blows hit the main power generator together - the crater, and its contents, vanished in a hellish blaze of fire as the remainder of the Borg ship exploded. A dark evil-looking cloud of fire and smoke marked the funeral pyre of the Borg's demise as shockwave blasts rippled outward across the ground. Dust kicked up from the massive explosion rose high into the air, falling back to the surface, light from the sun behind it causing the thick plume to glow bright red with the fallout.

As Artania rode the outer edge of the shockwave towards orbit, her sensors looked through the massive dust cloud kicked up by the bombardment and the explosion into the crater, but there was nothing to see. The Borg had been vapourised, and any solid fragments were buried deep underground from the orbital hammering.

A single phrase headed for the waiting ships, "Target Destroyed."

It was over.

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The Dreamstar docking bay was filled with noises of celebration as the battered Fiora's Fury and Delta One came in to land, crowds of furs running up to the returning ships. Cheers rang out as first Lindgold, then MayFurr and Ranthe emerged, the roar of the crowd actually echoing in the huge enclosure as the weary but triumphant furs gratefully climbed out of their ships.

"Lindgold!" MayFurr called out, and strode over to him, embracing the cheetah and slapping his back. "You were great out there! We sure kicked some Borg tail, eh?"

"You can say that again!" Lindgold answered excitedly, slapping MayFurr's back in return. Ranthe pulled them all into a three-way hug, holding the two males tightly to her.

"Gods, I though we were gone for a while there until Chastity showed up -"

"We couldn't have done it without you two holding them in the atmosphere, it was all thanks to you!" a voice called out. The crowd parted somewhat as a tall, white-haired grey vixen wearing the blue uniform of the Cygnus Sector Alliance strode towards them. MayFurr smiled as he recognised Chastity DeLameter. "Well done, people, very well done!" Chastity complimented as she shook each morph's paw in turn.

Sundown pushed hir way through the celebrating crowd towards the weary trio, the very excited chakat hugging each one in turn. "You're safe - all of you! I'm so glad you made it back! When I heard -"

MayFurr wrapped his arms around Sundown in a fierce hug. "It's okay Sundown, we're fine, we really are!" MayFurr yipped happily. "Hey, careful, love! You'll break me if you're not careful!"

The crowd jostled them as the fox, vixen and cheetah exchanged a high-five with each other, slapping each other's paws in exhilaration at their achievement. It seemed that everyone on board Dreamstar had turned out to welcome them back as the trio were lifted up and carried through the docking bay. Blackwolf, Chastity, Tasha... in the distance, even the normally taciturn Artania was caught up in the air of celebration, noisily lending their cheers and acclaim to what was rapidly developing into a party-like atmosphere.

"Lindgold! MayFurr!" MayFurr and Lindgold looked around to see Administrator Snortenheimer arrive, the furred dragon's grin running from ear to ear. "Congratulations to you both!" he rumbled happily, pumping both the fox's paw then the cheetah's. "You did a fine job, both of you - if I hadn't seen the battle reports I wouldn't have believed that you had managed to pin the Borg down with just your small attack craft - but you did, and that's worthy of all the commendation I can give you!" Snorty beamed. "Is there anything either of you need?"

"Well, the Fury took a lot of hammering in the attack..." MayFurr started. He noticed Lindgold looking at him with a slightly quizzical expression on his muzzle, but continued anyway. "...and there's quite a number of repairs to do-"

"Consider it done," Snorty interrupted, brushing off the fox's explanations. Turning to the cheetah-morph he added, "And the same for any repairs needed of your ship, Lindgold - the facilities of Dreamstar are open to you both for anything you need, all expenses covered by us. It's the least we can do in appreciation of your bravery."

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The view through the plexiglass window in the restaurant was quite spectacular, Lindgold had to admit. Bright pin-points of light from distant stars against the black backdrop of deep space is rather a beautiful sight. Even though he'd seen the same sort of view many times from the cockpit of Delta One, looking at it through a window of this size while seated in comfortable surroundings had an extra appeal to it. Soft music from hidden speakers added to the ambience of the place, the most sophisticated restaurant on Dreamstar. Ranthe sat opposite him at the table, sipping from a wine glass before placing it next to her meal. Instead of being dressed in her orangey-red flight coveralls, the vixen was wearing a sophisticated flowing strapless dress, the sheer black material and accompanying gold necklace contrasting elegantly with her reddish-orange and white fur. It had been her idea for Lindgold to join her for dinner, but he had never expected this, especially in light of their previous history. And why only him? Luckily he'd had the foresight to dress a little more formally for the occasion.

"So I take it Sundown was able to leave okay in the end?" Lindgold asked, nodding to the waiter as his meal was served before him. Ranthe nodded.

"Yes, shi got away fine. The shuttle to Furry Prime left earlier this afternoon, so I'd guess that Sundown'll get there by the end of the week at the latest." The vixen paused to eat some of her meal. "Shi'll be fine, if shi was able to deal with us here at Dreamstar shi'll have no problem on Furry. That chakat can be quite adaptable, despite hir appearance."

"So I've noticed," Lindgold smiled. The cheetah-morph was feeling very relaxed, the battle against the Borg of several days ago already fading into memory. He took a sip from his own wine glass, tall and very thin to cater for 'morph-type mouths. "Y'know, Ranthe, this is very good wine."

"Chateau de la Dragionne, 2356 by Terran dating. I got it off one of the Asimov's crew before they left," Ranthe replied. "Apparently it's a Chakonan wine." She took another sip, and sighed a little. "Mmmmm... you're right, it is good."

Lindgold poured Ranthe some more wine from the bottle, and topped up his own glass. "You didn't need to go to all this trouble just for me, Ranthe," Lindgold said, shifting a little in his seat. "Don't get me wrong - I like all this, I really do, and you look very nice tonight - but I was wondering... why me? Especially after how we first met?"

Ranthe nodded slowly, and leant forward a little towards Lindgold, resting her elbows on the table and looking into the cheetah's eyes. "I want to make up for that Lindgold," she admitted. "Thinking back on what happened, and especially after more recent events, I realised that what I did and said about your was unfair and uncalled for." The vixen fingered the stem of her wine-glass, her claws tapping on the table as she did so. "Especially after what we all went through attacking the Borg. We all had to trust each other, and place ourselves in each others paws... and you came through when we needed you." She waved expansively at the table. "So... this is my way of saying 'sorry' for what I've done to you, Lindgold. I hope you'll forgive me." Lindgold smiled.

"Well, this has to be the nicest thing that I've received since I arrived in FurrySpace, Ranthe, and I thank you very much for your kindness! I accept your apology wholeheartedly." A look of relief crossed the vixen's face, her muzzle breaking into a soft smile again. "Actually," Lindgold started, suddenly looking a little embarrassed, "I should really apologise to you, too."

"Hmm?"

"Back when we met - I know that those arm locks can be painful. I didn't hurt you, did I?" Ranthe took a moment to consider, and gave her shoulder a token rub. It had hurt, but if she hadn't seen so stupid and grabbed him like that in the first place, she wouldn't have ended up muzzle-first on the floor. And she knew that she would have reacted similarly to anyone grabbing her.

"No - that was all my fault," she answered, swallowing her pride along with some more wine. "But thank you for offering... that means a lot to me." Ranthe looked at the cheetah-morph across the table from her, a speculative look in her eyes. "You know, you're not so bad really... for a cat."

The cheetah-morph chuckled. "Oh really?" he smirked. "I've heard a lot about the vixens in this part of space... now you wouldn't be wanting to make a move or something on me about now, right?"

"Hey, spottycat, we're not all like that!" Ranthe spluttered, her fur prickling a little. She was about to stand up indignantly before she saw Lindgold laughing before her, belatedly realising she'd only been teased. Giving him a mock glance of wounded dignity, she relaxed back into her seat, giggling a bit to herself, a warm glow of satisfaction and companionship flowing through her.[Ranthe and Lindgold... and MayFurr]

He raised his glass towards her. "Friends?"

She raised her wine-glass to his, the two glasses clinking together. "Friends." They each took a sip, and smiled across the table at each other. A thought strayed through Lindgold's mind at something he'd been wondering about before.

"Hey, Ranthe," he asked, "Where's MayFurr...?"

MayFurr slowly walked around the Fiora's Fury, his eyes taking in the once again battered shape of the attack craft as his mind was compiling a mental catalogue of the work that needed to be done. The ship sat in its now-accustomed place in the Dreamstar hangar bay, this particular corner relatively deserted at this hour. Beyond, he could see Lindgold's TIE Defender sitting in its launch cradle, looking similarly worse for wear. The aft section of the Fury's port engine unit was a tangled mess, several panels and fittings were buckled, and burn marks were everywhere. Almost half a metre of the starboard wingtip had been cut to shreds. Still, he thought, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. After all, he and Lindgold had actually survived an encounter with the Borg enough to be able to compile damage reports. A lot hadn't, and had perished along with their ships. He and the others had been very lucky, considering. They had all spent some time in the med-bay, as they were bruised to all hell from being flung against their seat harnesses, but that was really nothing.

The fox ducked under one of the missile pods on the outer wing, finding his way over the support cables and hoses that linked the Fury's systems to the station, finally reaching the nose of the ship. He pressed a series of controls behind a panel on the ship's hull, watched the main entry hatch smoothly swinging open, and climbed inside.

MayFurr flopped into the pilot's seat, and surveyed the cockpit, the interior of the ship dimly lit by the lights from various panels. Again, damage from the battering the ship had got from the Borg was apparent, with many panels opened up to replace burnt-out systems beneath. The inside of the ship still smelled of sweat, fear-scent, and the tang of ozone from electrical fires that had broken out during the Fury's return trip to Dreamstar, one of which had disabled the main warp-drive system. He, Ranthe, and the Fiora's Fury had to be taken back to Dreamstar aboard the Falcon, only separating and coming back the rest of the way under their own power once in Frontier space. That, at least was comforting. But there was a lot of work to do to get the ship fully operational again, especially as both the SR-146 and the TIE Defender were now official units of Dreamstar's defences. MayFurr felt a quiet sense of pride at that - yes, he and the Fiora's Fury had been through a lot together. She had always protected him, and so he would do the same for her.

But as MayFurr's eyes travelled around the inside of the Fury, they came across the empty mission specialist position behind him. For a moment a sharp pain of longing stabbed through his heart. That chair had been heavily modified on the return journey from Chakona many months ago, changed to seat a 'taur-form, and one 'taur in particular. Chakat Sundown.

The fox gazed at the empty space for a long time. his mind's eye picturing his friend - and lover - sitting before him, hir tail curled over hir paw-hands, smiling warmly at him. His lips moved silently, as if speaking to hir, before eventually realising he was alone. Shaking himself, MayFurr turned towards the cockpit window, peering out towards the transparent force-shielded entranceway to the docking bay to gaze wistfully into the depths of space beyond.

"I'll see you again Sundown," he whispered to himself. "I promise."

THE END


Credits

MayFurr, Ranthe, Sundown, and the Fiora's Fury © Terry Knight
Lindgold and Delta One © Grant Preston
The Chakat Race © Bernard Doove
Snortenhiemer, Artania and Dreamstar Station © Brett Tamahori
Chastity DeLameter and the CSA Falcon © Jonathan McDermott
Tasha and the Zemyorka © her player
USS Nighthawk © Jeff J. Schulze
All named characters and vessels used with permission

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"The Gambit Solution" Copyright 1997, 1998 Terry Knight and Grant Preston.
Last Updated October 1998
For more information contact: mayfurr@ibm.net