Series and story by S.C.Mollmann
The atmosphere on the RecDeck was rather muted. Ships tended to be that way in times of war. And this was definitely war.
Over the past several weeks, the Rutledge had engaged in four skirmishes with Cardassian vessels. All four ended with the Cardassians fleeing under the Federation vessel’s tricobalt firepower and Lieutenant Raymond Boone’s expert marksmanship.
This somewhat stifled recreation, as all the crew subconsciously knew they had to be on standby, for another enemy destroyer could drop out of warp at any second.
Will Kayden had no intention of letting the RecDeck stay that way.
“Come on,” he shouted to his friend Miles O’Brien, pulling him out of the RecDeck toward the crew quarters.
“Will!” complained O’Brien. “Where are we going?”
“My quarters. We need to liven up the RecDeck.”
“How will your quarters liven up the RecDeck?” mumbled O’Brien.
When they arrived at his quarters, O’Brien was instructed to remain outside while Will went in to fetch his “pride and joy.” When Will emerged it was with a harp slung over his shoulder.
“Well, I’ll be!” exclaimed O’Brien. “A Celtic harp!”
“Yeah, and over two hundred years old.”
“We’ve got to get this to the RecDeck immediately.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling you.” The two ran back down to the RecDeck, where Will set the harp up on one of the small platforms. Most of the crew stared with mild interest.
“Now, let’s see,” muttered Will. “Let’s start things off with a bang. I’ll do my favorite tune.” He began strumming the harp and sang:
The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death you’ll find him.
His father’s sword he has girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him.
Toward the beginning of the song, Will’s foot had began to tap. By the end of the refrain, it was positively stomping, sending loud vibrations through the deck. When the refrain came around again, O’Brien jumped in, singing as loud and on-key as he could. Though he was definitely loud, on-key was not exactly the best description.
Going through the refrain a third time, O’Brien heard a light female voice behind him. Glancing over his shoulder, he discovered the ship’s third Irish senior officer, Angela Nolan. She gave him a wink and he returned to his singing.
The crewmen in the RecDeck were completely elated. Most were stomping along with Will and a few were attempting to sing. Even Sorsak, the ship’s Vulcan CMO himself, was signing along in a deep baritone, though he didn’t look enthused.
They went through the refrain one last time and suddenly, Will stopped.
Everybody looked at him questioningly. He shrugged. “That’s the end.”
The crew broke out cheering and applauding. “You!” called out Boone, the tactical chief. “Uh, Stompie kid, where’d you learn to play like that?” He had evidently forgotten Will’s name, not the best thing in a professional environment. But Boone himself wasn’t the best thing in a professional environment, either.
“My father,” Will called back. He frowned and mumbled “Stompie” under his breath, repeating it again and again. “I like that.”
O’Brien clapped him on the back. “It fits!”
“Indeed it does.” The crew fell silent as Captain Benjamin Maxwell entered the room. “Very good, Mr. Kayden. Or should I call you, ‘Stompie?'”
“Uh, whatever you want captain, sir.”
Maxwell shook his head and smiled. “Relax, Will. At ease.”
“Attention! All hands to battlestations! This is a Red Alert! Repeat, all hands to battlestations! This is not a drill.” The voice of the ship’s Pandronian executive officer, Yozika azgn Bem, echoed through the ship. All the assembled crewmembers shot out of the room for their posts. Will glanced at his harp longingly, clearly wishing to leave it somewhere safer, but hurried down to Engineering.
“Report,” ordered the captain as soon as he stepped onto the bridge. Boone, Nolan, O’Brien, and the other off-shift senior staff were right behind him.
“We have received a distress call from Listening Outpost C-6. Cardassian troops have landed on the planet,” answered azgn Bem. “We are currently en route at Warp 9.2; ETA twenty minutes.”
“Ensign L’frn’lt, relevant information on C-6?” asked Maxwell.
L’frn’lt, the frigate’s arachnid science officer, activated his library computer. “Small type-4 drone subspace array. Picks up data on Cardassian movements; FleetIntCom sends a vessel for a datadump every two weeks. Next scheduled dump was Stardate 32142 — tomorrow.”
“That’s two weeks’ worth of Intelligence data,” exclaimed Nolan. “FleetIntCom needs that.”
“Mr. Rendell, prep the dropships. How many squads do you think you need?”
The Stratosian security officer pondered. There were five squads trained in ground combat and five made of standard security personnel. “Six. In addition to the five elite, I’d like to take Boone’s.”
“Very well.” He tapped the comm button on the arm of his chair. “Engineering.”
“Engineering, Kayden here.”
“Mr. Kayden, prepare to launch six of the dropships.”
“Bridge out. Mr. O’Brien, please take over Tactical.” Maxwell turned to Boone and Rendell. “You two better get ready. “
Rendell traveled down the corridor at a clipped pace, followed by a frantic Boone.
“I don’t get it. Why me?”
“Why not? You are the chief tactical officer.” Ignoring the human, Rendell pulled out his communicator. “All elite squads and standard squad four, report to the dropbay.”
“But you don’t like me! I don’t even get why you made me a squad leader in the first place.”
The Stratosian stopped to face Rendell. “Mr. Rendell, whether I like you or not is not important. I decided that I could use a squad leader versed in tactics and picked you.”
“Well, OK,” mumbled the tactical chief.
They reached the end of the corridor and entered the dropbay. The dropbay consisted of ten pods, five on each side of the lower tricobalt torpedo launcher, on Deck 19. These disk-shaped landing craft blended in seamlessly with the ship from the bottom. Yellow-collared engineers and green-collared security personnel rushed around the dropships, fueling them up and preparing them for launch.
Commander azgn Bem’s voice rang over the comm system. “Attention all hands. Arrival at Listening Post C-6 in fifteen minutes. Prepare to engage the enemy.”
Rendell pointed out Boone’s dropship; it had a silver ‘4’ painted on one side. Boone hurried over to where his seven men were detaching the fuel pumps. They were a little behind the elite squads, but then, they weren’t exactly trained for this.
Boone assisted in the best way he could, running computer checks and making sure the landing system would deploy correctly. Wouldn’t do to have the pod smash all over the surface.
“Attention all hands. Arrival at Listening Post C-6 in ten minutes. Security squads to your dropships.”
Boone watched as the seven soldiers grabbed type-III phaser rifle off a nearby equipment rack and clambered into the pod. After counting off all seven men, Boone grabbed a type-II pistol — he wasn’t rated very well with the rifle, but was absolutely deadly with a pistol.
He clambered into the dropship and took the only empty seat, the one right next to the door. One of the men nodded toward a control panel at his elbow. “Sir,” was all he said.
The tactical chief examined the panel and saw a blue button marked Ready for launch.When he hit it, metal plates shot out of the wall and ceiling and clamped around his body. He yelped.
“Relax sir,” said the soldier who had helped him before. “It’s only body armor.”
“Attention all hands. Arrival at Listening Post C-6 in five minutes. Prepare to engage the enemy.”
azgn Bem’s announcement was followed by one of Rendell’s. “All squads, report in.”
“Meier, Elite Two, ready.”
“This is Elite Three. Tsao here.”
“Elite Four, Lind commanding, standing by.”
“Garcia of Elite Five; we’re clear.”
Boone found a green button marked comm. “Boone here. Standard Four is ready.”
Rendell listened as all the dropships reported in. Even Boone was ready — of course, he had expected nothing less. He was a competent officer when he wasn’t late.
Rendell punched a red communications button; his was the only pod with a channel to the ship. “Rendell here. All dropships are ready for launch.”
“Excellent,” came the voice of the captain. “And in just over fifteen minutes.”
Rendell took the praise in stride and punched the green comm button. “All pods, transmitting target data. Elite One, Elite Three, Standard Four, we’ll be coming in from the north. Elite Two, Elite Four, and Elite Five will come in from the south.” He closed the line and transmitted the data. He then hit a yellow button marked lock on co-ordinates. The computer indicated that all the other pods had done so as well.
“All hands, dropping from warp in fifteen…fourteen…dropships, prepare for launch…eleven…ten…nine…one enemy vessel sighted…five…four…prepare to engage…two…one…now.” The engines whirred as the ship decelerated under the expert guidance of Volodzhe and Kayden. “Drop…now!”
Rendell’s finger jabbed down on an orange button marked launch. With a clank the dropship detached from the Rutledge and dropped toward the planet.
azgn Bem looked up from her console. “All pods away.”
“Ensign L’frn’lt, do you have anything on the Cardassian vessel?” asked Maxwell.
“Yes, sir. Scanner lock acquired.” The Halmaki worked his console. “It is a Netel-class destroyer. C.D.S. Gallazakrat, CCC-6229.”
“Volodzhe, set an intercept course and engage. Mr. O’Brien, lock on all weapons. Commander azgn Bem, open a channel.”
“Channel open, sir.”
“Gallazakrat, this is Captain Benjamin Maxwell, commanding the U.S.S. Rutledge of the Eighth Fleet. Please surrender at once and move away from the planet. Order your teams on the surface to immediately surrender to Federation custody.”
“Rutledge, this is Gul Jhambar of the Fourth Order. We will not surrender and you shall be destroyed, Captain Maxwell. Gallazakrat out.”
“They’re moving toward us,” announced L’frn’lt.
“Sir, they’re no match for us,” said O’Brien. “They only have 363 on the Galactic Strength Indices compared to our 433.”
“Mr. O’Brien, you’re going to learn that there’s a lot more to combat than the GSI. It also takes skill…and luck. Hold your fire.”
On the screen, the Gallazakrat moved closer and closer. Maxwell repeated his order. “Mr. O’Brien, hold your fire.”
One of the Cardassian vessel’s torpedo ports began to glow. A barrage of photon torpedoes shot out. “Volodzhe, evasive maneuvers. Mr. O’Brien, return fire!”
The Rutledge dropped into a roll that took it precariously close to the planet’s atmosphere, dodging all the Cardassian torpedoes. Phaser fire lanced out from the frigate, striking the smaller Cardassian destroyer. “Direct hit!” announced a jubilant O’Brien.
“Their shields are at 96%,” added L’frn’lt.
The Gallazakrat turned away from the planet and shot into warp,
“Pursuit course,” ordered Maxwell. “They’re faster than us so don’t try to race them, just match them.”
“Surely they won’t abandon their troops?” asked azgn Bem.
“Probably not,” admitted Maxwell. “Let’s see what Gul Jhambar has in mind.”
Rendell glanced at his scanner display. All six dropships had successfully launched. Moments later, it indicated that the Rutledge had moved off, presumably in pursuit of the Cardassian vessel.
With a roar the dropship impacted the atmosphere. The navigational deflector prevented the disk-shaped craft from collapsing. It began to rattle and shake, but the body armor, still clamped firmly down, kept the security officers safe.
After the noise began to lessen, there was a hissing as the braking thrusters fired, slowing their descent toward the planet’s surface. The pod jerked slightly to one side as the guidance thrusters locked onto the landing co-ordinates.
The dropship landed with a gentle bump. Its systems began to power down, making a whirring noise.
Rendell hit a red button marked open. Helmets dropped from the ceiling onto the squad’s heads as the hatch opened. The security chief was the first one out. He looked around. Elite Three had already landed and was exiting their pod, while Standard Four was slowly touching down. He motioned to his team, who scrambled out of the cramped confines of the dropship onto the planet, which could be best described as a ‘barren lump of rock.’
“OK,” he shouted, “Elite One, Elite Three, set up a perimeter. Standard Four, set up the interior. I want the second-in-command of each squad to get together and reconnoiter the area. Squad leaders, you’re with me.”
His superbly trained squads immediately began carrying out their orders. A few moments later Tsao and Boone joined him. “Assuming we landed at the correct co-ordinates, we should be to the north of the listening post.” He pulled out a PADD with a map of the area. “Unfortunately, we don’t know where the Cardies are so we can’t form a decent strategy yet.” The view on his PADD shifted to a diagram of the listening outpost. “Considering we received the distress call only twenty-five minutes ago, there’s no way the Cardies could have broken through the outpost’s shields. It would take about an hour to do that with a hundred hand disruptors.”
“What about artillery?” asked Tsao.
Boone shook his head. “It would take them a half-hour at the least to assemble it and another fifteen minutes to burn through the shields.”
“That gives us twenty minutes to get to C-6,” said Rendell. He flipped open his communicator to contact the three squads to the south.
“Sir!” It was the three men sent to reconnoiter the area.
“What is it?” asked the security chief, closing the communicator.
Boone’s second-in-command answered. “There’s a Cardassian Ranal-class troop transport just over the next hill. About five guards and five crew.”
“They can carry fifty passengers and five crew,” said Rendell. “So far, that’s a maximum of fifty-five Cardies on planet.”
“I recommend that we come in from all sides, get rid of the Cardies, and blow up the transport,” said the tactical chief.
Rendell nodded. “All troops, back here! Pay attention, because here’s what we’re going to do.”
“The Gallazakrat is dropping out of warp,” announced Volodzhe.
“They appear to be entering the system’s asteroid belt,” added L’frn’lt.
“Follow them in,” ordered Maxwell. “Mr. O’Brien, what’s their combat maneuverability compared to ours?”
“We both have a 15,000 on the GSI, sir.”
“Good. No chance of them trying any tricks then.”
Volodzhe was visibly sweating as she plotted the course to follow the Cardassians. It would require some tricky flying to avoid hitting any rocks.
The Rutledge bobbed and weaved past the asteroids, with the Gallazakrat barely in sight.
“Mr. O’Brien, if you can get a lock, fire a spread of tricobalt torpedoes,” ordered the captain.
“I’ll try, sir, but there’s just too many asteroids in the way.”
For several tense moments, the Rutledge evaded the various asteroids, almost skimming the surface of several with her shields. Volodzhe realized that one was coming up — and that there was no way to avoid it. There were asteroids on all sides. She would have to hope that the deflectors could handle it.
Moments before impact, two phaser beams lanced out and impacted the asteroid, shattering it. The frigate flew through the debris field left behind.
“Good shooting, Mr. O’Brien,” complemented azgn Bem.
O’Brien visibly beamed at that, but then his console lit up and chirped. “Sir, while the sensors were obscured by the explosion we lost the Gallazakrat.”
“A cloak?” asked Maxwell.
“I don’t think so sir. There were none of the usual emissions. Just gone.”
“Science confirms,” said L’frn’lt. “There were, however, several large asteroids in the area. They could be hiding in a crater, with most of their systems offline.”
“Volodzhe, find me an asteroid,” ordered the captain. “Two can play his game.”
Gri Raffahan was bored. He had been assigned to guard the troop transport while the other men got to go off and have all the fun knocking out the Federation outpost. He stifled a yawn. Nevertheless, discipline must be maintained, he thought.
A few rocks rolled down the hillside in front of him. Curious, he looked up but saw no animals.
Instead, he saw a Federation soldier bearing a phaser rifle. Before he could bring his disruptor to bear, a bolt shot out and hit him in the chest, knocking him off-balance.
A second shot knocked him out.
Rendell watched as his soldier raced down the hill at all sides towards the Cardassian transport. The five guards were easily dispatched by about fifty phaser bolts at once.
Elite Three advanced inside, where the transport crew was playing cards. They had heard the phaser shots outside but had assumed the guards were playing target practice. They were hit on heavy stun and dragged out.
Elite One then proceeded to download the transport’s databanks while Standard Four rigged the engine core to explode.
Rendell evacuated the men to where the dropships still lay and pressed the button on a tricorder handed to him by Boone.
The transport went up in an absolutely beautiful fireball. “That should get their attention,” remarked the Stratosian. He turned to his second-in-command. “The team find anything out?”
He handed him a PADD. “Fifty troops came down, that leaves forty-five at C-6 itself. They have no artillery of any sort.”
“Excellent. That gives us thirty minutes. Form up the troops; we’re marching on C-6. Contact the other squads, give them the same orders.”
Boone hated marching in formation. It left no room for exploration or rest or anything fun. He was not cut out to be a soldier. Military precision was his antithesis, for God’s sake!
He shifted his weight a little to the right and was promptly rewarded with a bump into Rendell. The security chief glared, but said nothing. Boone decided to push his luck and shifted some more. Rendell’s eyes were darts. When Boone did not move back, Rendell called out, “Company halt!”
The security men promptly stopped; Boone did a second later.
“Mr. Boone, you’re out of formation. Twenty pushups!”
The tactical chief whirled around to face him. “You can’t make me do that! I outrank you.”
“Actually, as long as you’re on a security squad, I outrank you. I would outrank even Commander azgn Bem if she was on one.”
“That’s forty pushups. Company march!”
The security men moved onward, leaving Boone in the dust, attempting to get past the second pushup.
It had taken a bit of fancy flying, but Volodzhe had done it. “We are secured in the crater,” she announced.
“Very good.” Maxwell hit the comm. “Engineering.”
“Stompie here, captain.”
“Power down all nonessential systems, even weapons and shields, but be ready to reactivate at a moment’s notice.”
“Oh, and Mr. Kayden. I see you’ve taken the name Stompie.”
“Well, sir, I didn’t exactly have a choice. The technical crew would have clobbered me otherwise.”
“Carry on, Stompie. Maxwell out.”
Within moments the lights cut out to a dim glow; several panels shut down.
“Efficient,” remarked azgn Bem. “We are on temporary standby mode.”
“Commander, mark commendations in the log for Mr. O’Brien and Volodzhe. Now, let’s see how long Gul Jhambar wants to keep this up.”
Boone managed to get to forty pushups through a combination of sheer effort and creative counting. He got up and scrambled after the departed troops in a most unmilitary fashion.
After several minutes, he found the security men crouched in a dried-up riverbed. The riverbed, he recalled, wound around the north, west, and south sides of the listening post. He presumed that the other three squads were in the southern portion of the riverbed.
He located Rendell, who was conferring with Tsao and Boone’s own second-in-command. “Hello.”
Rendell looked up from his PADD. “Greetings, Lieutenant Boone. We were just discussing possible tactics here. The Cardassians have managed to use the unshielded facilities around C-6 to form a defensive perimeter. It will be very tough to beat.” He handed Boone the PADD.
The tactical chief examined it. “Well, tactics is my area of expertise. It seems that the east side is the least defended.”
“That’s because there’s a steep mountain slope. Anybody who came down would be extremely vulnerable to enemy fire.”
“Do they know we’re here?”
“I don’t believe so. But after we blew up their transport, they will be expecting us.”
“Well, send two squads from east to distract them. Then have our three come in from the north as the main thrust. Several minutes into the battle, call the remaining squad from the south as a surprise.”
“I don’t know,” said Rendell. “It seems a little extravagant.”
“Well, the basic idea was used by Colonel Veers-Nadine against the Klingons at the Battle of Signi Omicron during the Great Klingon War. There were a few differences however…”
As Boone began to explain them, Rendell held up a hand. “Enough. I don’t need to know the specifics.”
“Well, the Jameson Strategy would also apply here, albeit in a slightly different manner, given that Jameson was severely outnumbered, unlike us, and the enemy — Gorn, I believe — had a rather weak defensive perimeter.” He began to sketch out the plan on the PADD as Rendell watched.
After twenty minutes of waiting, Maxwell came to a decision. “Ensign L’frn’lt, I want you to risk a low-level sensor sweep of the planet. I want to know what’s going on.”
“Aye, aye.” The Halmaki reactivated his console and tapped in a few commands. “Damn!” he cried out and shut it off almost immediately.
“What is it?” asked azgn Bem, walking over to his console.
“A reflective asteroidal grouping directly in our line-of-sight. The sensor beams were bounced toward the area where the Gallazakrat disappeared.”
“Any danger?” Maxwell was understandably concerned.
“No, sir. It wasn’t on long enough for them to triangulate; they’ll probably think it came from C-6 considering it is in that direction.”
“Is it, ensign?”
“Any reason we couldn’t reflect a transmission off those asteroids and make it appear as if it came from C-6?” asked the captain.
“What are you thinking, sir?” asked azgn Bem.
“If Gul Jhambar thought that we had taken C-6, he would have no reason to remain in the system.”
“But how do we make them think that we’ve taken the post?”
O’Brien piped up. “Encode it in a way we’ve know they’ve broken, but not too long ago.”
“With all due respect, sir,” said Nolan, “that one is so old Jhambar is bound to suspect it. If we encode so they can’t break it but modify the root pattern to emulate C-6’s, they’ll ‘know’ it came from C-6 and that our team ‘sent’ it.”
“But you can’t modify the root pattern,” protested O’Brien. “Its impossible.”
“That’s what they’d like you to think.” Nolan smiled. “I am in Intelligence, after all.”
Boone found Rendell sitting at the bottom of a hill on the other side of the ditch. “Whaddaya doing?”
“What tactic to use. I’ve never been in this position before. All my career I’ve been in Ground Forces. The highest I’ve ever been was squad leader; there were no tactical decisions there.”
Boone nodded in understanding. “What tactics did your division commander use?”
“I don’t know. I never really cared. I just led my men and fought my enemies as best I could.”
“Well, may I suggest the–“
“No! I’ve had enough of your damned tactics.” He paused, thinking. “You know…shipboard security training is very basic in the strategy department. Just charge them head-on.” He flipped open his communicator. “Meier.”
“Get in touch with Lind and Garcia; you three bring your men up north through the riverbed to us. We’re going to attack.”
“Aye, sir. Meier out.”
Boone scrambled after Rendell as he stood up and walked off. “What are you doing?”
Rendell grinned. “I’m going to charge them.”
“But that’s suicide,” the human protested. “Its like the worst tactic in the book!”
“I’m not tactical. I’m security, and I’m going to secure C-6, like it or not.”
Nolan looked up from the tactical console she had torn to pieces rewriting the root pattern. “I think I’ve got it.”
“You think, Lieutenant?” asked Maxwell.
She shrugged. “I’m reasonably sure it will work. There’s no way to tell.”
Maxwell glanced at azgn Bem, who rolled her eyes. ‘Cocky graduates,’ she mouthed.
“Very well,” said the captain. He glanced to the security console that had been rewired to fire weapons. “Mr. O’Brien, prepare to fire a spread of tricobalt torpedoes. As soon as you see them, do it.”
“Lieutenant Nolan, transmit.”
Nolan pushed two wires together. With a snap and a crackle, the lights inside the tactical console winked out.
“Did it work?” asked azgn Bem.
“Probably,” said Nolan. “I had to remove the confirmation/reception package, so we won’t know until–” She was cut off when the ship shuddered.
“What was that?” asked Maxwell.
“The Gallazakrat has reappeared,” reported L’frn’lt. “They are blasting asteroids in a effort to get out.”
The Rutledge suddenly powered up and shot out of the crater’s shadow. The ship looped between asteroids, attempting to catch up with the Netel-class destroyer.
“Mr. O’Brien, target their nacelles,” ordered azgn Bem. “If they go to warp, we’ll never catch them.”
With the sound of several small rocks shattering off the shields, the frigate cleared the asteroid field. The destroyer floated ahead, its nacelles glowing as power transferred to the warp drive.
Three tricobalt torpedoes shot out from the Rutledge just as the Gallazakrat began to slide into warp. The Cardassian ship span out of control, veering toward the asteroids.
“Captain,” announced a frantic L’frn’lt. “Their shields are offline. If they hit those asteroids…” He left his sentence hanging.
“Tractor beam,” ordered the captain.
It was too late. Just as the beam sliced out, the Gallazakrat was hit head-on by an asteroid. All the tractor beam caught was debris.
Maxwell sighed. “Set a course for the planet. Let’s see how Mr. Rendell and Mr. Boone are doing.”
Rendell was the first out of the ditch, with his men right behind him. He squeezed the trigger of his phaser rifle and pulses shot out, exploding on the Cardassian disruptor emplacements.
A disruptor beam lanced out, catching him in the chest. It merely burnt a hole in his armor — which was only good for one direct hit. Several men fell around him; none of them looked dead. He prayed to his god that they weren’t.
Cardassians fell under his careful aiming. Of course, none of them were dead. The phaser rifles were set on heavy stun/light disrupt, as was Starfleet policy.
Beside Rendell was Boone, holding his phaser pistol. Rather than pulses, this shot out beams, meaning Boone had to aim better to conserve energy. Rendell had never liked the phaser pistol. He preferred brute force.
Within a matter of moments Rendell was leaping over the fence that surrounded the listening post. A few Cardassians were hiding behind a shed and Rendell quickly stunned them. The battle was over.
As his men surveyed the damage to themselves and the compound, Rendell pulled out a tricorder and began scanning for any more Cardassians. He frowned when it indicated there was one in his general area and tried to pinpoint it.
The tricorder was confirmed when a disruptor beam struck the ground beneath his feet, sending him flying. A Cardassian glinn stood over him, grinning evilly. “Not exactly the strategy I would have expected,” he said. “You lost many men.”
“But I’m not a tactician,” said Rendell.
“I’m a security chief.” He raised his rifle and fired. The Cardassian crumpled to the ground.