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Career Officer
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 3,513
# 17 Porcelain Hammer
04-12-2013, 12:41 AM

You tried to spit at the sun
To put it out like a burning ember
She has a porcelain soul

As you crawl under the moon, make it heard
Make this bed and sleep forever
She has a porcelain soul

'Cause the life you live is less than alive

As they scream "let them burn"
You know she'll burn at the hands of your king
As they scream "let them burn"
You know you won't, you won't forgive them

She crawls through the dirt like a four-legged spider
He's there leading beside her
And the serpent's tongue is wrapped around her neck
Let them burn, let them burn

And he knows that she died inside
And he knows

Open hands hold porcelain souls
Into the eyes of a traitor
I still see a believer
The witness is here...


Mike Murphy, Stephen Keech, Devin and Brennan Chaulk of Haste the Day - "Porcelain"




PORCELAIN HAMMER



Starbase 51 - Beta Antares System - Stardate 88062.78


Cmdr. Ibear looked out the viewport and sighed. The Andorian operations chief suddenly could not understand why he had been an active participant in marring what was once a beautiful Khyzon-type strike escort. Of course he understood the advantages of integrating all of the reverse-engineered Borg technology - firepower and deflectors drastically upgraded, increased warp and sublight speeds, shield and hull resiliency improved by an order of magnitude. A few hours ago he had been almost giddy as he helped Domingo and the starbase engineers perform the final range-of-motion tests on the salvaged Borg cutting beam they had integrated into the ship. But then he stepped back and looked at the monster he had helped create. The blackish-green of the Borg superstructure showing beneath seams in the sleek hull. Ruptures in the hull surface around assimilation nodes like so many infected wounds. The nasty hump of the subtranswarp coil over the topside warp nacelle. The spines of the transceiver assembly sprouting around the deflector array like ugly blackened fangs.

As a young thei growing up on Andoria, Fozzter'Dayn th'Ibear had built models of the Khyzon, the Kumari, the Charal and other great historic ships of the Imperial Guard. The first time he and the Tiburon had gone into battle alongside their modern successors, he was nearly overcome with excitement. The Andorian ships may have earned their reputations for being "glass cannons," but they were amazingly effective in short-term engagements. Then a month ago, Starfleet Tactical Systems had approached Admiral LaRoca seeking to gain support for a program that promised to convert an Andorian strike escort into a pocket superweapon. Cmdr. Ibear had been the first to volunteer to join the program. Now, looking the finished product, he only hoped the performance gains would offset the aesthetic sacrifices.

"Hey Fozz!"

Ibear turned and saw his shipmate Rusty ambling over. "What?"

"Aren't you gonna join the party?"

Ibear tilted his head toward the station's mess and rec area. He could make out a few dozen voices talking and laughing, the clinking of cocktail glasses and ice cubes, and music. Earth Jazz, 20th Century - Thelonius Monk, if his ears and memory served him right. "In a while," he told the security chief. "I just want to look at her for a minute or two."

Cmdr. LaRoca Rusty joined him at the viewport. "Beautiful, isn't she?"

"Well, she used to be." Fozz glanced at his dromaeosaurid shipmate. "But then you would like her like this, all fangs and claws. Your people have no appreciation for true beauty."

"Not true," Rusty argued. "Deinons have great appreciation for art in all its myriad forms. We're just incapable of creating it ourselves."

Fozz was about to say something else when suddenly the lights went out. "What the-" Then the sounds of the party were replaced by sounds of weapons fire. Then alarms went off. Doors automatically sealed themselves. Red emergency lighting glowed along the floors and ceiling.

"C'mon!" Rusty said, taking off in a 75kph sprint.

"Where are you going?" Fozz called as he ran after him.

"Weapons locker!"

"Hang on! We need to figure out who's attacking us, and call for help. We need to go to the Ops center."

"If the station's under attack, they've probably already taken Ops," the security officer figured.

Fozz thought about it for a second. "Weapons locker first, then Ops."

They took the turbolift down to the station's armory, which for the time being was clear of intruders. Fozz grabbed a high-density beam rifle and a turret fabrication kit, while Rusty picked out a pair of phaser compression pistols and several stun grenades. The turbolift brought them up to the Ops level and they were immediately shot at. In the dim red light they were unable to make out their attackers. Rusty rolled a stun grenade down the corridor and provided covering fire with his pistols while Fozz set up a turret outside the door to the Ops center.

Rusty's security override opened the door. They gunned down more shadowy invaders to clear the Ops center and sealed the door behind them. Fozz went straight to the internal sensor grid. He swore under his breath. "Well, at least we know who's attacking us."

"Uh huh," Rusty replied as he stepped over one of their bodies to reach the comm station.

"This place is crawling with their lifesigns. Looks like most of our people are contained in the rec room, except... Oh damn, they're coming up, Rusty!"

Cmdr. LaRoca activated the comm panel. "Computer, open a priority one channel to STS Storm Station and the USS Tiburon!"

The door exploded inwards. Fozz took out the first two through the doorway before he literally froze up. An enemy science officer had put him in a stasis field.

Rusty started shooting blindly toward the door while giving the computer directions. "Computer, transmit standard protocol automated distress signal. Encrypt command functions and library access with fractal algorithm Barrrister Pi Twenty-two, authorization LaRoca-Romeo-Four-One-Lima-November-Seven."

While he was momentarily distracted with the computer he didn't notice the figure that rolled around the corner to his left, until he was shot by a phaser on maximum stun. Rusty's muscles spasmed and he dropped his pistols. He forced his body back under control and rushed his attacker, toe claws raised. He was hit again. This time he went down, twitching in agony. His attacker stood up, and shot him again to make sure he stayed down. Rusty stared at the man in the Starfleet uniform who'd shot him. Just before he blacked out he whispered "You son of a..."


USS Tiburon NCC-68636 Celes Sector - Same time

Deputy chief engineer Yumi watched the 1.2-meter-long spotted fish as it swam placidly beneath the Admiral's fingertips. "How much bigger do you expect your... shark to get? Sir."

V. Adm. LaRoca pulled his forearm out of the tank and shook the saltwater off onto the ultra-absorbent carpet. "I don't know. The largest male specimen of Triakis semifasciata on record was one-point-six meters in length. However, Rudyard here is only four years old and so far is growing much faster than normal for his species. Living in space might have something to do with it. So I think if we tack on a ten-centimeter margin of safety to that record size, we should be able design a tank that would be comfortable for Rudyard for the rest of his life."

"Alright, I have a few aesthetic options I've come up with." The dark-skinned Ferengi female pulled a plastic screenprint from the side of her oversized engineering PADD and laid it on the Admiral's ready-room desk. "Pick the one you like the best and I'll factor in the design parameters and have the fabrication staff get started first thing in the morning." Despite her job title designating her has the deputy chief engineer, LCdr. Yumi was usually the senior engineer on the Tiburon. In practice, chief engineer Cmdr. Hector Domingo was usually on some off-ship assignment, like this month when he was overseeing some sort of prototype assembly at the Beta Antares Shipyard.

Jesu leaned over his desk and thoughtfully examined the options displayed on the screen print.

"Bridge to Admiral LaRoca."

LaRoca looked up at the hidden overhead speakers. "Go 'head."

"Sir, we're receiving an encrypted call on priority one," reported Lt. Pakray, his tactical officer of the watch. "Omid and I can?t unlock with our command access codes. Shall I patch it through to your ready room?"

"Stand by." LaRoca looked at his desk again. "Umm... that one," he said, selecting a design that blended fluid curves with natural rock. "Thanks, Yumi."

"My pleasure, Admiral," the Ferengi replied as she gathered up her plans. "Good night."

LaRoca sat behind his desk and watched her leave before addressing the speakers again. "Okay, Pakray, put it through."

"Please provide command access code," the computer voice demanded.

LaRoca's jaw clenched. He recognized the distinctive voice of the AU26 computer interface, currently used by only one organization within Starfleet. "Authorization LaRoca-Two-Three-Three-Whiskey-Alpha-Charlie."

"This is a priority one distress call. Starbase 51 is under attack. Please coordinate response efforts with Starfleet Tactical Systems." That was it. The channel automatically closed.

Jesu LaRoca swore as he left his desk. He walked quickly out to the bridge, spotting his acting operations officer, Lt. Omid Enfanfar, directing Beta Shift. "Omid, wake up Marq and the rest of the senior- no, wait." LaRoca remembered where most of his senior staff was at that moment. "Marq, Maria, Hacksaw, K'Jetsk, you... and who's the senior security officer on board?"

"Ah, that would be Lt. Amraam, sir," the Persian officer replied. "He's the deputy chief of security."

"Amraam..." Jesu muttered a curse in Spanish. "Okay, him too. I want them all in the flag conference room in ten minutes. Except Hacksaw; I want him in my ready room in five."

"I'm on it, sir." Omid jumped toward the turbolift.

LaRoca turned to his conn officer. "Dusty, where's the nearest transwarp hub?"

Ens. Dustin Massimino scrolled through his navigation screens. "That would be... the Maro system, sir."

"Set a course. Maximum warp." LaRoca then addressed Lt. Pakray at the adjacent TacOps station. "Contact Maro Transwarp Control and request priority routing to Beta Antares. Then get a hold of Admiral Davis, Starfleet Tactical Systems. Put him through to my ready room. Then join us in the conference room."

"Alright-"

"You have the bridge, Dusty." Jesu LaRoca disappeared back inside his ready room.

The Tellarite tactical officer made the calls as ordered and looked at the Human seated to his right. "What was that all about?" he wondered.

"Don't ask me," Dusty replied. "I'm just the driver."

Hank "Hacksaw" Miller appeared in the starboard turbolift and walked straight to the Admiral's ready room, ignoring the bridge crew. He wore his typical shipboard attire of a black pullover shirt and black synth-cotton trousers, adorned with no rank insignia and only a flat black Starfleet combadge without any division markings. He found the Admiral engaged in conversation with someone on his wall monitor. LaRoca pointed him to a chair without interrupting what was clearly not a social chat.

"Derecho Station has one standard distress call to cover all emergencies, so 'attack' doesn't necessarily mean 'attack'," the man on the wall was saying. Miller recognized him as Admiral William Davis, director of Starfleet Tactical Systems. Davis was out of uniform and disheveled, and probably had just been pulled out of bed. "But the auto-distress call would only be activated if either someone didn't have time to talk, or if everyone in Ops was dead."

"So what's going on, Bill?" LaRoca demanded. "What sort of situation might we be looking at?"

"The only answers that come to mind are sabotage to the fusion core or a major attack. Sabotage seems the most likely to me; Starbase 51 is not supposed to exist, and you can't attack what doesn't exist. However, between your people and the ex-Borg drones we brought onsite there are a lot of unknown variables on the station."

LaRoca bristled. "My people are not unknown variables, and they're certainly not saboteurs."

"I'm sure you're more qualified to judge than I am," Admiral Davis offered. "But from my perspective, I am in no position to rule anything out. All I know is the twenty-three people I have there; every one of them I know personally and they all have weekly DNA screenings and monthly psych exams. So I'd start looking at those former drones."

"Our recovered personnel have been screened just as thoroughly," LaRoca argued, using and emphasizing the more politically-correct term for Liberated Borg Starfleet officers, "And besides, none of them have any idea where they are."

"You'll have to figure it out when you get there, Jesu," Davis said with a sigh. "I'll send you what backup I can but it will be at least a day, probably two, before I can find a ship with a qualified Captain and crew and get them briefed."

"Understood. I'll keep you informed. LaRoca out." He closed the channel and looked across the desk at Hacksaw Miller. "Starbase 51 has gone dark," he told him.

Miller nodded. "I guessed as much. Is anything else going on there besides Project PORCELAIN and the OMEGA research?"

"Davis says no, but I don't think I believe him. But if he is working on something else it will be small enough that he doesn't think we'd find it. What about on your end? Are there any special intelligence projects going on there that I ought to know about?"

Miller shook his head. "Just the usual reverse-engineering of recovered Borg and Undine technology, but that's all in the hands of STS under the OMEGA umbrella."

LaRoca nodded. Starfleet Tactical Systems was uniquely positioned at the intersection of Shipyard Operations, Advanced Technologies and Starfleet Intelligence. They were responsible for developing new weapons and defensive systems. Quantum warheads, tricobalt devices, resilient shields and the AEGIS defensive matrix had all been their products, not to mention virtually all of the equipment built specially for the MACOs and Task Force Omega. Starbase 51 was the ultra-secure facility where they integrated all of their newest devices onto testbed ships, or else developed new ships around their concepts. Project PROMETHEUS, Project PHALANX and Project PUSHOFF were all famous STS triumphs that originated from Starbase 51. But there were also many dark projects that never saw the light of day. Project PARAMOUNT. Project PRORATE. Project PREDATOR. And now, Project PORCELAIN would join one of those lists.

Miller went on "On a personal note, Jesu, I'd like to be on whatever away team you send over to check out the station. I want to make sure our people are okay."

LaRoca leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. He was trying not to think about the trouble his officers - and his brother - might be in. "I take it you're a little concerned about Traa'cee."

"More than a little."

LaRoca gazed for moment at his staff intelligence advisor. Hacksaw Miller was one of the very few Humans he knew with a history more interesting than his own. Born on a colony world near the Cardassian border, his family decided to relocate when the treaty placed their planet on the wrong side of the neutral zone. As a teenager he got into trouble quite often. As a young adult he hopped freighters from starbase to starbase looking for work. In 2381 he met Cmdr. Carlos LaRoca after saving him from a Dopterian assassin. He was encouraged to join Starfleet and did so, impressing recruiters with his natural skills at piloting small craft and eventually wound up serving alongside Carlos LaRoca's son, Jesu, as his wingman in their Peregrine fighter squadron. After the friendly-fire tragedy that nearly ended Jesu's career, Miller chose to resign rather than accept demotion to ensign as Jesu had done. He worked as a mercenary pilot-for-hire before being recruited by Section 31 to insert and extract agents for them. Admiral LaRoca had made contact with him a few years ago when they both wound up on the same assignment, and they'd worked together ever since. Physically, Miller was unremarkable; Anglo-Saxon of average height and built, closely trimmed blonde hair, and the sort of face you forgot the moment you looked away, apart from an old d'k tahg scar on his right cheek. But he had a very diverse and often deadly skill set and many contacts throughout the galactic underworld and the intelligence communities of not only the Federation but also the Klingons, Cardassians and even the Romulans. Since he came aboard, Hacksaw had kept his distance from most of the crew. He had developed a strong attraction to the Vulcan tactical officer, however.

"Have you told her how you feel about her?" LoRoca asked him.

"Yeah. Well, at least, I tried to. I'm not sure if I got through. I mean, it's hard to tell with Vulcans."

LaRoca nodded sympathetically. "Permission granted. Now back to business. Do you have any theories as to what might be going on?"

"Only speculation. It wouldn't be helpful to you."

"It might be."

"Okay, if I had to guess, I'd say an Undine infiltrator worked his way in there and he's trying to keep the technology of PORCELAIN out of Starfleet hands. Mind you, that's just a wild guess; I don't have enough facts to make it an educated one."

"I was thinking the same thing." LaRoca said. "Let's go break the news to the others." He stood and went out through the back door of his ready room into his flag conference room where the others were already seated. They started to rise but LaRoca waived them back. "As you were." Miller took a chair and LaRoca went to the replicator and ordered espresso. He turned around to face the table, took a sip of his coffee and said "Nothing I'm about to tell you leaves this room."

Marq nodded his large bald head. "Understood."

LaRoca finally sat down. "As you all know, several of our senior officers are at the Beta Antares shipyards working on a new prototype development. And as most of you know, about ten minutes ago I ordered a course change that would take us to Beta Antares at best possible speed. What you don't know is that your shipmates are not working at the shipyard itself, but actually at Starbase 51 - also known as STS Derecho Station - a highly classified dockyard facility in a remote part of the Beta Antares system. They are working on Project PORCELAIN - a reengineered Andorian escort derivative integrating Borg technology, including plasma torpedo weaponry, cutting beams, subtranswarp engines, graviton deflector dish, and regenerative shields. Essentially, the idea was to initiate the controlled assimilation of one of the most powerful tactical starships available to us, infusing it with Borg technology to make it even meaner, tougher, and faster. Preliminary simulations show combat effectiveness improved by almost a factor of ten."

Five officers stared at him slack-jawed. K'Jetsk, the Reman science officer, remained placidly unreadable. Miller fidgeted with his combadge.

LaRoca pushed away from the table and began pacing the room. "A short time ago, we received an encoded distress call indicating that Starbase 51 had suffered some sort of attack. Because of the highly classified nature of the facility, the distress call was not broadcast. So far we are the only ship en route to Beta Antares. Our mission is to approach Starbase 51, assess the situation, render whatever assistance or defensive effort is needed, recover our people if necessary, and above all to prevent Project PORCELAIN or any other classified Federation technology from falling into enemy hands."

"Why wouldn't they have contacted Starbase 47 for help?" Marq wondered.

"Because there is no one there who knows Starbase 51 even exists," Hacksaw answered

"But isn't there a flag officer assigned to the yards at Starbase 47?" Marq persisted.

"Normally, yes," LaRoca replied. "However, according to the last status report, Rear Admiral G'Dahn is inspecting Project PORCELAIN right now."

"Ah."

The constant hum of the warp engine dropped an octave in pitch and the stars streaking by out the viewports doppler-shifted and became pinpoints. "Admiral, sir, we've reached the Maro Transwarp Hub," Ens. Massimino reported over the intercom.

Jesu LaRoca looked at the ceiling and gripped the back of his chair. "Take us in."

"All hands, this is the bridge. Secure for transwarp. Initializing transwarp in thirty seconds."

LaRoca looked to his acting ops officer. "Omid, as soon as we arrive in-system, I want you to direct our sensor arrays to the vicinity of the outermost planet."

"Aye, sir."

"Ten seconds."

"Meeting adjourned. You may return to your posts, just as soon as... well, you know."

"Three... two... one... now."

The universe outside the viewports disappeared in a blue flash. Most of the crew members shut their eyes to block out some of the sensory overload induced by true infinite velocity. After a moment it was over. The universe returned to normal, as did the crew after a brief wave of dizziness and mild nausea. LaRoca led the way out to the bridge. "Hacksaw, take the helm."

Behind him, Lt. Enfanfar tapped his combadge. "Specialist Robinson, report to the bridge on the double."

"Robinson," Marq repeated. "Isn't that the girl from the late 20th Century that Temporal Investigations left with us?"

"Yeah," Omid admitted. "She's a bit eccentric, but she happens to be the best sensor analyst I've ever seen."

LaRoca took the command chair. "Hacksaw, set a course for Beta Antares Eleven, full impulse."

"On it," the former fighter pilot replied.

"Not warp?" Marq asked, taking his seat next to the Admiral.

"Not until we know what's waiting for us. Omid?"

"Aligning sensors now, sir." The Persian man hunched over the console, and was joined a moment later by a dark-haired Caucasian woman wearing her own casual interpretation of the Admiral's relaxed shipboard dress code. "What do you make of these readings, Robinson?"

"Hmm. Hard to see what's out there with background radiation being put out by the planet and the ionization field from the leading trojan cluster. Lemme try and compensate... Hmm... there's a few small power signatures... and what appears to be some concentrations of... tetryon particles?"

Omid nodded assent. "It looks like it's all clustered here around this small moon."

Specialist first class Rain Robinson examined her readings a moment longer. "That's no moon," she said slowly, dropping her voice in pitch and affecting a poor imitation of a British accent, "that's a space station!"

"Why are you talking like that?" Omid asked her.

"What, you've never seen Star Wars?"

Omid answered with a blank stare.

The temporally-displaced sensors officer looked around the bridge and caught a variety of confused looks. "The original Star Wars? None of you? Maaaan... for living in such a supposedly advanced society, you're all pretty culturally deprived..."

Jesu LaRoca knew what she was talking about but didn't make that known. Instead he asked her "Would you care to elaborate on your analysis, Miss Robinson?"

"Right, Admiral, sorry. Um, from what I can make out, the moon has been hollowed out part way in a series of geometric chambers, including two large caverns easily large enough to dock a starship. Most of the energy readings are coming from one of those caverns. There's also four tetryon sources spaced evenly around the moon's equator at altitude of a hundred and eighty kilometers."

"Anything else in the vicinity?"

"No... the other moons are all solid rock and ice. There's some interesting mineral signatures in some of the asteroids, but that's it."

"These aren't the asteroids you're looking for," LaRoca declared, prompting a snicker from Robinson. "Maintain continuous scans, concentrating on likely hiding spots. The planet's poles, trojan asteroid clusters, places like that. And keep an eye on Starbase 47 and the shipyards."

"Aye, sir," Enfanfar affirmed.

"Those tetryon traces could be coming from the warp cores of cloaked Romulan warbirds," K'Jetsk pointed out. "Even at idle, the forced quantum singularity they use as a power source emits a tetryon field."

"Hmm, good catch," LaRoca mused. "We know the Romulans like to play with Borg technology. If the Tal Shiar caught wind of Project PORCELAIN it would definitely pique their interest."

"Admiral, I'm detecting no sign of any ships, Federation or otherwise, in the vicinity of Beta Antares Eleven," Robinson announced. "Apart from the tetryon signatures, that is."

"Thank you, Miss Robinson." LaRoca stood up and addressed the ceiling, out of habit. "All hands, this is the Admiral speaking. We are approaching a highly-classified Starfleet weapons research and integration facility. Anything you see or hear while we are on this mission is to be considered Delta-top-secret and must not be discussed with anyone. That is all." He sat again and looked to his conn officer. "Hacksaw, I want to be within five hundred kilometers of Miss Robinson's moon-station as soon as possible. Warp power at your discretion."

"You got it." Hank Miller keyed his helm controls. "Warp nine-five to the designated coordinates."

Marq raised an eyebrow at that. Exceeding warp eight inside an ordinary solar system was tricky enough. Doing so in a binary system, even one as distanced as Antares, was considered ill-advised. Going beyond warp nine was technically possible with careful calculations but only ever done when someone was trying to either impress the brass, or scare the pants off them. Planets and asteroids zipped by for a second or two, then they came to rest with the hollowed-out moon that was Starbase 51 a few hundred kilometers away. "Well done," Marq grunted.

"Thanks, Marq," Hacksaw Miller replied, knowing his informality irritated the first officer.

The comm panel at the TacOps station began blinking, and Pakray spoke up. "Admiral, we are being hailed by the station. Shall I put it onscreen?"

"Please."

Admiral G'Dahn was standing in the Ops center. The red emergency lighting gave his face a demonic appearance. "Admiral LaRoca, greetings. May I ask what you are doing here? Checking up on your officers, perhaps?"

"No, I'm here to check up on your station. About half an hour ago we picked up a distress call that originated from here, and it looks like you've lost main power."

"Yes, one of the laser initiator subassemblies failed catastrophically. One of the operations technicians here panicked and sent the distress call. We cancelled the call after a few seconds. I'm honestly surprised that anyone heard it."

LaRoca looked into the room behind the Vulcan Rear Admiral. "G'Dahn, are you the only one in ops?"

"For the moment, yes. Most of the starbase staff and several of your officers are working on repairs to the power plant. The power failure could not have come at a worse time, Admiral. We were in the middle of a celebration. You see, we had just finished the final component test for Project PORCELAIN. Tomorrow we plan to take the ship out to the test range, assuming we get the power online."

"Do you require assistance?" LaRoca offered. "I can beam an engineering team over right away."

"That won't be necessary. The base staff here know these systems and your people do not."

"Well, alright then. If you're sure you don't need any help..."

"We don't. You may be on your way, Admiral."

LaRoca smiled. "Actually I don't have anywhere in particular I need to be. I thought I might wait here to see how PORCELAIN turned out."

G'Dahn's jaw clenched. "As you wish. Goodbye, Admiral." The transmission was terminated.

LaRoca pointed to the screen, now showing the hollow moon. "That Vulcan was lying to me."

"Are you sure?" Marq asked.

"Positive. He has no idea how the automated distress signal works. He would not be left as the watch officer in Ops without basic understanding of the comm system. And he was discussing Project PORCELAIN on an unsecured channel. Either he was not Rear Admiral G'Dahn, or he is trying to tell me he is under duress. Either way, there is something seriously wrong over there. And I think I know what it is." He turned back toward the sensor station. "Miss Robinson, can you scan for lifesigns?"

"Sorry, Admiral. I can't make out much detail through all the ionization and radiation out there."

"Can you at least tell me approximately how many lifesigns are on the station?"

"Maybe... Yeah... I'd say... between one hundred and a hundred and twenty."

"You're sure it's over a hundred?" LaRoca confirmed.

"Yup. Pretty sure."

LaRoca looked at Marq. "The station's normal complement is twenty-three. Adding G'Dahn and his entourage, thirty, tops. Four Liberated Borg. Rusty, Fozz, Ming, Traa'cee, Teena... Barrister, but he wouldn't show up. There should be less than forty people over there. So there's sixty-plus who don't belong." LaRoca glared at the screen. "Starbase 51 has been taken."


Starbase 51

"...*****, I'll kill you..." Rusty said groggily.

"Now, what did I do to deserve that?" LCdr. Yoann Teena wondered.

Rusty's eyes cracked open as he slowly regained full consciousness and he looked up at the science officer. "Sorry... I was talking to G'Dahn." He tried to sit up. "Ow."

"Lie still," Yoann ordered. "You took at least three hits from a phaser on heavy stun. I did what I could for you with the equipment here, but it's been a long time since my biochemistry classes at the Academy."

"I'm alright." Rusty rolled his tail out from under him, rose up into a sitting position and scratched his chest. He looked down at the holes burned through his undershirt over his singed scaly skin. "I guess my jacket's ruined."

"Yeah. Don't scratch. I couldn't get the dermal regenerator to work on you."

Rusty looked around the station's infirmary and spotted two Romulans guarding the door. "How many Rommies are here?"

"I don't know. When they beamed in to the rec center it seemed there was at least one of them for every one of us."

"Is he well enough to rejoin the others?" a Romulan soldier asked.

"I think so," Yoann answered. "I should take a hypo for his pain-"

"Treat him here," the Romulan ordered.

Yoann subtly unloaded the ambizine sedative from the hypo and replaced it with an analgesic combined with formazine stimulant, and injected the mix into Rusty's neck.

His eyes brightened and he flexed his long, clawed fingers. "Thanks. I feel much better."

"Let's go," the Romulan ordered, gesturing with his rifle.

The Starfleet officers let the Romulans walk them back to the rec room, where the others were being guarded in small groups. Rusty and Teena were seated with a few STS scientists and engineers who had been working on Project PORCELAIN. Rusty quickly scanned the room and took note of missing officers. "Fozz, Traa'cee, Ming and Captain Grimes aren't here."

"Keep your voice down," hissed Lt. Andrei Kurkov, an STS test engineer. "The Romulans took them away for questioning."

"What about G'Dahn?" Rusty whispered back.

"He went upstairs. A few minutes ago, the Romulans suddenly got real nervous and G'Dahn and their leaders went up to Ops."

Rusty's mouth curled into his version of a smile. "Maybe my distress signal got through."


Tiburon

"I believe there are between sixty and eighty Romulans on the station holding our people hostage," Admiral LaRoca stated, "and four warbirds surrounding the place. We need to make them leave. Suggestions?"

Pakray had an idea. "Sir, we could fire on the warbirds while they are cloaked. With their ships destroyed, the Romulans on the station would be forced to surrender."

LaRoca had thought of that. "If we attack one and engage at close range we would probably destroy it before it could decloak and raise shields, but then the other three would come after us and that would be a tough fight."

"And that still leaves us with a hostage situation," Marq pointed out. "The Romulans are at their most dangerous when they're backed into a corner."

"I could beam in a full assault force," Hacksaw Miller suggested. "We take the station while you take the warbirds."

LaRoca shook his head. "Way too risky. Luckily, Barrister isn't here to give us the actual odds of success, but I know I wouldn't put money on it."

Lt. Amraam had been silent so far, but he shared his thoughts now. "We have to negotiate. Talk to the Romulan commander, find out what he wants, and figure out a way to get our people out without giving it to him."

LaRoca regarded his Ferengi security officer with a thoughtful gaze. He generally liked the rest of the Ferengi as a species, and he generally liked troublemakers, but he didn't like Amraam. For some reason his personality just rubbed the wrong way. But Amraam got along well with Rusty and most of the rest of the security staff, so he let it be. LaRoca avoided being around Amraam as much as possible. Perhaps that was a mistake. It now seemed they thought alike. "You're right," he said. "When torpedoes fail you, it's time to use words." He turned to Miller at the conn. "I want to get a little closer without showing our hand. Do you think you can position us under the moon's south pole without looking like we're lining up for a shot on any of their cloaked ships?"

"I think so."

"Do it." LaRoca looked to his first officer. "Bring the diplomatic advisory board into the conference room. I'm going to need all the verbal firepower we can muster."


Starbase 51

Ming and Fozz were brought back to the rec room, visibly shaken. They made their way to Rusty and Yoann's group. "What did they do to you?" Yoann wondered.

"Ugh. Nothing permanent," Fozz answered, massaging his forehead at the roots of his antennae.

"They hooked us up to some sort of neural interface and forced us to relive our worst memories," Hector Domingo told her. "Some things from the Dominion War I thought I forgot... I tried to forget..."

"What did they want to know?" Rusty demanded. "Did you tell them anything?"

"They never asked any questions," Fozz said, still dazed. "But I felt them... in the back of my mind, somehow. I think they were accessing our memories directly, distracting us with some, while they searched for others." Fozz looked around the room. "They still have Traa'cee and Grimes."

* * *

Capt. Frank Grimes sat in the interrogation chair with a smile on his face.

"You are making things difficult for yourself, Captain," Commander Nivek declared. The Romulan adjusted the neural interface with his control PADD. "The more you try to resist, the more painful this will be."

"This isn't painful at all," Grimes lied. But his telepathic resistance training was paying off. He had placed all of his vital memories in an imaginary hiding place, and he kept moving it around in his mind to keep it away from the probing Romulan neural scanner. And he recalled the advice of his Cardassian instructor: The best way to resist torture is to torment your tormentors. A man may be able to endure great pain, but no man can stand to be laughed at.

"Let's see what we can do about that. Perhaps this episode from your childhood?"

Grimes was forced to remember the day before his seventh birthday. His family's pet German Shepherd had given birth to a litter of pups a few weeks before. One of them had wandered too close to the swimming pool, fallen in and drowned. Young Frankie had experienced the full horror of discovering the lifeless little animal. Frank Grimes looked Nivek in the eye and laughed out loud.

"You... you are a psychopath," Nivek stated.

"Not at all," Grimes answered, grinning maniacally. "I just laugh when I see dead puppies."

"Let's find something else."

Capt. Grimes found himself in sick bay on the USS Quasar, watching his first officer slowly die, and die horribly, of the mysterious virus that had infected half of his crew. He chuckled, stared at Nivek, transposed his face on his dead first officer's, and laughed until he was gasping for air.

"Stop that!" Nivek insisted. "You cannot possibly find this amusing!"

Grimes found a way to laugh harder still.

Nivek stormed out of the room. A moment later, two guards game in. Truncheons whirled in their hands.

Grimes stopped laughing.


Tiburon

The diplomatic advisory board was Admiral LaRoca's select team of FDC attaches. They travelled with the Admiral and engaged in any number of activities on his behalf; assessing political stability on one planet, promoting cross-cultural relations on another, attending embassy functions, repatriating refugees, and even occasionally instigating defections. They each had their own personal shuttle and a security officer assigned to be their personal bodyguard. They were LaRoca's eyes, ears and hands in whatever sector of space he visited.

The senior advisor on the board was Ennari, fifth host of the Dai symbiont. Though Ennari herself was in her early thirties, Dai could claim to be one of the few people alive who had met the legendary Starfleet Captain James Kirk. The Trill had become something of a legend in the Federation Diplomatic Corps. It was said she could calm a room full of bickering delegates just by aiming her intense gaze at each person in turn until they fell silent. LaRoca had once attended a party with her and he swore he could feel Ennari Dai's eyes from across the ballroom.

Stazratts was the oldest member of the board after the Dai symbiont. He was a Gorn, and like LaRoca's friend General Ssharki he had been hatched and raised on the joint Federation/Hegemony colony world of Cestus III. Unlike Ssharki however, Stazratts never left home for over a century until 2405, when the Hegemony annexed the entire planet with the Klingon Empire's backing. Stazratts evacuated with his Human friends, and since he was already a dual-citizen within the Federation he was welcomed into the Diplomatic Corps. Like all members of his species he was patient and pragmatic, and possessed an excellent memory for detail. These traits combined with a deep personal desire for peace made him a natural diplomat.

Ivan Sergei Jovanovich came from a family of farmers living outside of Volgograd in Russia. He joined Starfleet through the ROTC program at Moscow University. His old country wisdom and congenial spirit made him a valued asset on peacekeeping missions. He left Starfleet on a medical discharge after being blinded by a phaser stun to the face. Rather than accept regenerative surgery, he elected to be fitted for a VISOR. He applied to the FDC, where he quickly discovered that his ability to see in extravisual spectrums was extremely useful for negotiating with dishonest persons.

The newest member of the board was Kugid, an Orion who had been thrown out of the Syndicate when he negotiated an unauthorized prisoner exchange. He reached out to Starfleet Intelligence and exchanged his knowledge of Syndicate operations for asylum. LaRoca found his cunning and unscrupulous nature useful when he needed an envoy to reach out to another duplicitous species, such as the Ferengi, Karemma or Cardassians. Kugid quickly adopted the culture of Earth, specifically that of the American Ancient West, and liked to lounge around wearing cowboy boots, which was somewhat fitting for his practice of "cowboy diplomacy."

The fifth member of the board was a Bajoran woman named Nimosu Roor, who was presently attending a multicultural religious symposium on Rigel V.

LaRoca sat at the head of the conference table, with Marq, Stazratts and Ivan on one side, and Ennari, Kugid and Hank Miller on the other. After bringing the board up to speed on the situation, he hailed the starbase.

After almost a minute, Admiral G'Dahn responded. "Hello, Admiral," he said. "I'm afraid I have nothing further to report."

"I don't want to talk to you, G'Dahn," LaRoca announced. "I want to talk to the Romulan who put you up to this."

G'Dahn raised an eyebrow. "I beg your pardon, Admiral, but is this some sort of Human joke?"

"I wish. Our sensors have detected four cloaked warbirds in close proximity to the station, as well as dozens of lifesigns over there which do not belong. Now I don't know if you're being held hostage by the Romulans or if you actually are one, but I don't care. I just want you to step aside for whoever's in charge over there."

G'Dahn stared at his screen for a long while before responding. "Admiral, I am afraid you have allowed your imagination to run away from you. I suggest you recalibrate your sensor systems. Goodnight." With that, he closed the channel.

"Well, that didn't work," Miller observed.

"The Romulans want to avoid a confrontation," Ennari declared. "They think they can get what they're after and leave without giving us a target or even any proof that they were ever there."

Stazratts concurred. "I believe that right now, Tal Shiar operatives are interrogating our people and extracting information from the computer systems. They are most likely planning to take all the information they can on Project PORCELAIN and the OMEGA research, steal anything that's not welded down, and warp away, leaving us with nothing but sensor readings."

"And our people?" Marq asked. "And the evidence on the station?"

"Our people will be executed, and the station will be destroyed," Kugid figured. "We can suspect the Romulans were here, but the evidence will point to nothing more than a terrible accident."

Miller agreed. "Sounds like a textbook Tal Shiar operation to me."

"Okay," LaRoca summed up. "They don't want to talk to us because they have nothing further to gain. We can't fight them off or we will lose a lot of people. We can't do nothing or we will lose everyone and everything on the station. So what do we do?"
"I'm afraid I don't see any possible solution," Marq said, dejectedly.

Ivan spoke up. "In Russia we say: 'All things are possible except skiing through a revolving door.'"

Miller gave him an odd look. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It means every problem has a solution if you look hard enough," Stazratts said. "Even Ivan's revolving door. If you make the door large enough, and match its rotational velocity to the speed of the skiier, you can ski through just fine."

"I never thought of that," Ivan muttered.

LaRoca stood up. "Let's get out there are get our heads together. Somebody will have to have an idea that's crazy enough to work."


Starbase 51

Traa'cee gazed at the ceiling, trying to find patterns in the cracked and faded paint. She tried to distract herself from her fear. The Vulcan could feel her emotional control slipping away; cool logical rationality being replaced by anger, sorrow, and terror. Doubtless this was the intended effect of the drugs the Romulans had pumped her with. The fact that she knew the cause of her distress brought her no comfort.

The door opened. She recognized the Romulan who entered. He had introduced himself earlier as Commander Nivek. He looked frustrated and angry. Or perhaps she was projecting her own emotions. Useless garbage cluttering the mind... Nivek approached her and placed a device on her forehead, a little larger than a cortical stimulator.

"This is a neural interface," Nivek explained. "It will allow me to access your memories." He raised a PADD and activated the device.

Traa'cee could feel her mind being searched. It felt like a one-way mind-meld. She tried to block it, and hide her thoughts, but she couldn't. Her fear got in the way. Fear of what that thing would find...

"I have already gained all the knowledge I need from your friends," Nivek announced, with a cruel smile. "I'm only doing this because I want to hurt you."

The device locked on to a buried memory and dragged it to the surface of her mind. "Noooo..." It was a fairly recent memory - only just over two years old. "No." And it was horrible. "NO!" It was the discovery that her father, Ambassador Sokketh, had been murdered, "NO!" and that the man she and LCdr. Jesu LaRoca had just escorted to P'Jem was not her father, but an Undine infiltrator. "NO! NO! NO! NO!!" She screamed the word over and over again and nothing happened. The memory remained.

Nivek had lied. She did have information he wanted. He set the device to retrieve it while keeping the memory of her mission to P'Jem in the front of her mind. "I'm going to leave you alone with your thoughts now." He left the room, and sighed with satisfaction. After the difficulty with Captain Grimes, it felt good to have a subject cooperate so beautifully.


Tiburon

"I thought I was having trouble getting sensor readings because of the background particles," Spfc. Rain Robinson explained, "But it turns out the baddies are using some sorta scattering field. Once I realized that, I was able to find gaps I could get pulse readings through. The baddies are definitely Romulan. They're all over the station. And I've found all of our people, too. Most of them are here in this large central room, which looks like a dining commons or something, but there's a coupla isolated lifesigns here on the top level - one Human, one Vulcan, both faint."

"Nice work," LaRoca said.

Hacksaw's face tightened as he stared at the fading Vulcan lifesign on the monitor.

"If you have their lifesigns, can't we just beam them out?" Marq wondered.

"No," Omid told him. "The field is inhibiting beamout. The Romulans are probably using isolinear transponder tags on themselves and their gear to get through, but we can't transport anything out."

"However, we could beam things in," K'Jetsk announced. The Reman was a recent addition to the crew, a former member of Obisek's resistance cell. He was a skilled combat medic who enjoyed using his psionic powers along with exotic sciences to confound the enemy. "I recognize the configuration of their scattering field. It's a common Tal Shiar pattern. We can tag objects and beam them to the starbase."

"What sort of objects?" LaRoca asked.

"I was thinking canisters of anesthezine gas."

"I've got something better," LCdr. Dr. Maria Espinoza announced, "Triaxonol. Absorbs through the skin in less than a second, or through the mucous membranes within a few milliseconds. With the right concentration, it would knock everyone out before the Romulans knew what was happening. It would not, however, affect Barrister or the Borg, and it will have no adverse after-effects on our people."

"Then we could beam in communicators, transponder tags, and weapons to Barrister's position..."

LaRoca swore. "It's all in the hands of that damned android. How'd it come to this?"

"Do we know where Barrister is?" Marq asked Robinson.

"I have a positronic signature here, in the corner of that large room where it looks like they're holding almost everyone. There are four nearby lifesigns that are consistent with Borg drones."

"Perfect," Amraam spoke up. "Barrister and the Borg are together. That simplifies things."

"We could also beam in a strike team," Miller suggested. "How long does it take for triaxonol to dissipate?"

"After ninety seconds it should be safe to beam in," said Maria. "The effect wears off after about six minutes, however. Longer for species with lower metabolic rates, like Romulans and Vulcans."

"Perfect," LaRoca declared. "We have a plan. Let's figure out where we want to send our canisters. K'Jetsk, Maria and Amraam, if you could please go and prepare a surprise for our guests."


Starbase 51

Lt. Barrister the android was mentally simulating non-lethal option number forty-seven for disarming his Romulan guard, as well as calculating the probability of all Starfleet personnel leaving the starbase alive and free of Romulan custody, attempting to determine the etymological origin of the acronym "SNAFU" and working on his composition of a concerto for piano and strings. His thought process was suddenly interrupted by a cloud of light gray gas that filled the room, spouted by several canisters that had appeared from nowhere. The Romulan guard in front of him collapsed in an unconscious heap, as did everyone else in the room apart from the Liberated Borg and himself.

A small stack of crates also appeared before him and a voice addressed him from it. "Barrister! Come in!"

"Admiral? I'm here, sir. The Starbase was taken by Romulans, but I believe they-"

"I know."

"They are unconscious now, apparently anesthetized by-"

"I know! Dammit Barrister, if there was ever a time I needed you to not be Barrister, it's now."

"I cannot cease to be myself, sir. However, if you wish, I could imitate-"

"Shut up. Listen carefully. I'm talking to you from a combadge in the top crate. Put it on. In the crates you'll find more combadges, isolinear transponder tags, and weapons. You and the Borg work together. Disarm the Romulans in the room with you, tag them for transport to the brig, and distribute badges and weapons to our people. You have about five minutes before the gas wears off. Oh, and if you find Admiral G'Dahn, he's probably a traitor. Tag him for transport too."

"Understood, sir. And may I say I am most gratified that you have come to our rescue."

A heavy sigh could be heard from the combadge before it chirped off.

Barrister opened the crate and placed the active combadge on his chest. "Five of Seven, Five of Eight and Two of Three, please move throughout the starbase disarming every Romulan you find and applying transponder tags. Six of Eight, if you will please pick up the crate with weapons and accompany me, we'll see to our people."

"Acknowledged," the Borg said together, and they set about their assigned tasks.


Tiburon

Admiral LaRoca walked Hacksaw to the transporter room. "Omid is going to beam your team into the OMEGA lab. Your first priority is to secure the labs, then Ops, then our people."

"Jesu-" Miller started to protest.

"I know, you're worried about Traa'cee. I'm worried about Rusty. But information security comes first. Besides, there're three Vulcans on the station. That isolated lifesign could be G'Dahn just as easily as it could be Traa'cee, or it could just be an STS techie."

Miller's professionalism took over. "I understand."

LaRoca slapped his friend's shoulder and returned to the bridge. "Have those warbirds out there moved yet?" he asked.

"Not yet," Rain Robinson reported. "It doesn't look like they know what's going on."

"If they're watching their sensors they'll figure it out when they see all of our transporter activity," Pakray said. "Unless they are much stupider than I give them credit for."

"You'd better call the tactical team up here," LaRoca told him, "in case they decide to make us fight them off."


Starbase 51

Hacksaw Miller, Lt. Amraam, K'Jetsk and two security officers beamed into the OMEGA research lab and found four unconscious Romulans on the floor. Miller holstered his wide-beam phased-polaron pistol and went straight to the active computer terminal. "Good, they didn't get past the encryption locks."

Amraam and the Human security officer removed Romulan transponder tags from the research materials and equipment in the lab while K'Jetsk and the other security officer checked out the Romulan officers. K'Jetsk stood watch with disruptor rifle at the ready while the Klingon tagged the Romulans and disabled their weapons. The Romulans dematerialized a moment later. "Are we secure here?" K'Jetsk asked.

"I think so," Miller answered. "Amraam?"

The Ferengi responded by dropping a handful of Romulan isolinear tags on the floor and crushing them under his boot.

They repeated the process in the other research lab and took the turbolift to Ops. Finding it empty, Amraam activated the internal security net while Hacksaw contacted the Tiburon to report their progress.

* * *

A Trill warp theorist was the first Starfleet officer to recover, followed by Fozz and an Andorian research scientist. Barrister and Six of Eight reached Fozz just as the chief operations officer staggered to his feet. "Whoa. What happened?"

"The Tiburon beamed over an advanced anesthetic aerosol compound, sir," Barrister reported. "Please take this combadge."

"And here is a weapon for you," Six of Eight added, offering a phaser pistol.

"Thanks." Fozz attached the badge to his uniform and activated it. "Ibear to Tiburon."

"Tib here," LaRoca replied. "It's good to hear from you, Fozz."

"Are you ready to beam us up?"

"It's not quite that simple, I'm afraid. There're four warbirds out here and I don't think they'll just walk away."

The others started to come to, and the last of the Romulans was transported away.

Rusty stood up with a sigh. "I'm getting real tired of getting knocked out." He looked around and noticed the situation. "Oh, I guess we won."

"Is that you, Rusty?" Jesu called out.

"Yeah, it's me."

"How're you doing, bro?"

"I'm alright." Rusty did a quick headcount. "Traa'cee and Grimes are missing."

"Hacksaw's team will find them. You need to get the starbase crew to man their stations. Have the engineering crew check the reactor for a bomb or some other sort of sabotage. We think the Rommies were going to blow the station when they left."

"Okay. What do you want the rest of us to do?"

"The rest of you get to test-fly Project PORCELAIN a little earlier than scheduled."

"I was hoping you'd say that," Ming said. "Give me five minutes to get her warmed up, and those Romulans out there will be dead before they can pray to all four Elements."

* * *

Miller's team advanced through the upper levels until he called a halt at a T-intersection. "Those two isolated lifesigns are up this corridor. They weren't anesthetized. They're probably our people."

"We'll hold the hallway while you check them out," Amraam said. "Careful, though - that Vulcan might be G'Dahn."

Miller overrode the lock on the first door and carefully peeked inside when it hissed open. "Frank."

"Hi, Hank," said the man strapped down to the chair. "It's about time you showed up."

K'Jetsk entered the room and grimaced. The Human was a mess of bruises and broken bones. He scanned him with his medical tricorder.

"I don't feel quite as bad as I probably look," Capt. Frank Grimes said.

"Your injuries, while not severe, are nonetheless extensive," K'Jetsk told him. He injected him with a painkiller hypo and tapped his combadge. "K'Jetsk to Tiburon, I'm tagging a human officer. Please beam him directly to sickbay."

"I'm sure the infirmary here can take care of me once it's up and running," Grimes started to argue, but then he disappeared in a transporter beam.

Hacksaw and K'Jetsk approached the next room with weapons drawn. The door opened, Hacksaw looked in and gasped in horror. "Traa'cee!"

She was in the grips of a seizure. Green blood seeped from her nostrils, ears and the corners of her eyes. Her mouth was continuing to form words in the Vulcan language long after her voice had given out.

Hacksaw threw down his pistol and rushed to her side. He frantically unstrapped her restraints and whispered "It's okay. I'm here. You'll be okay."

"Miller, that device on her forehead," K'Jetsk pointed. "That might be causing the seizure."

Miller removed the neural interface device. The seizure stopped, and Traa'cee's body became lifeless in his arms.

"No!" He screamed. "Dammit, Traa'cee, don't die on me!"

K'Jetsk calmly tapped his combadge. "Tiburon, lock on to Miller's transponder and beam two directly to sickbay. Medical emergency." He watched his shipmates beam out, then picked up Hacksaw's pistol and the neural interface device and jogged down the corridor where the security officers were waiting. "The Romulans will be recovering from the effects of the triaxonol now," he told them. "Let's proceed with caution."

The remaining Romulans were occupying the administration offices in the top level. The first group of didn't put up much resistance as they were just waking up. A few phaser bolts on heavy stun knocked them out again and they were secured for transport. The Romulans in the next room were better prepared; they had barricaded the door and taken cover behind desks inside the room. They were no match for Amraam's training. His men melted the door with a barrage of phaser fire, and he lobbed a stun grenade through. In the confined space of the office the one grenade was enough to deal with all four Romulans.

Once they had been transported away, K'Jetsk took a tricorder scan. "Two rooms, four life signs. Two Romulans and a Vulcan in the first one, one Romulan in the second."

"How do you want to play it?" Amraam asked. "The Vulcan could be a hostage, or he could be G'Dahn."

"Who could still be a hostage," K'Jetsk pointed out. "He may have been lying under duress."

"So, stun 'em all and sort it out after?"

The discussion was rendered moot when one of the Romulans rolled out into the hallway and shot one of the security officers in the chest with a disruptor pistol before anyone could react. The rest of the team quickly cut him down. The second Romulan leaned out the door to throw a plasma grenade. Amraam shot him in the shoulder, causing him to drop it. The grenade went off, burning the Romulans to death.

K'Jetsk ignored their gruesome immolation and tended to the downed Klingon. He applied a flexseal bandage to the wound and started to heal the internal injury with his portable vascular regenerator. "Check the Vulcan while I stabilize him for transport," he instructed Amraam.

"On it." The Ferengi and his Human colleage stepped over the smoldering remains of the two Romulans and entered the room with their rifles at the ready.

G'Dahn was cowering in the corner. "Please don't shoot me," he requested. "The Romulans took me hostage with the others. I was forced to lie to Admiral LaRoca."

Amraam tapped his combadge. "Commander LaRoca, this is Amraam, come in."

"What's up, 'Raam?" Rusty replied after a few seconds.

"Boss, we've secured Admiral G'Dahn. He claims he was a hostage. Can you confirm that?"

"I can confirm that asswipe shot me three times," Rusty answered. "Tell him he's a lying son of a *****, stun him, and beam him to the brig."

"You got it, Boss." Amraam aimed his phaser rifle at G'Dahn. "You, sir, are a lying son of a *****." And with that he shot him.

K'Jetsk joined the security officers as G'Dahn was beamed out. They entered the last room and found a Romulan behind a personal forcefield generator. K'Jetsk recognized the uniform of a Tal Shiar commander. "You are under arrest," he announced.

Commander Nivek grinned. "No, I don't think so. I will be leaving as soon as my ship closes to transporter range. However, I am willing to answer a few questions while I wait."

K'Jetsk lowered his weapon and opened his combadge channel to the Tiburon. "What did you do to Commander Traa'cee?"

"Ah, you would be referring to the effects of the neural interface. You have only yourselves to blame for that. I was on my way to remove it when you gassed me. If it is left engaged for too long it causes permanent neurological damage. Often fatal, in fact."

"Why did you come here?" Amraam demanded.

"I thought that should be obvious," Nivek replied, "even to an ignorant worm like you, or a deluded slave like your friend there. Curiosity. We wanted to see where your research of Borg technology had taken you. Your results are most impressive. Unfortunately your ship arrived before we could steal your prototype. But with the data we collected I'm sure our scientists will be able to improve upon our own Borg hybrid warbirds." A communicator on his wrist beeped. "Time's up. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to vaporize that ugly ship of yours." And with that Nivek was beamed away.

"Tib to away team," Admiral LaRoca called. "The Rommie warbirds just decloaked. Three of them are converging on our position. You've done your job. Stand by to beam up.

* * *

Cmdr. Hector "Ming" Domingo monitored the power levels of the semi-assimilated warp core and the temperature levels of its two-stage coolant system. The core put out way too many zetawatts of power. He could only hope that the reinforced magnetic field modulators he'd installed in the EPS grid would be able to handle it. If not, Project PORCELAIN would rip itself apart, like the Defiant prototype almost had. One of the Project PRORATE test ships actually had blown itself up, Ming recalled. That was in the years just after the Dominion war, when he started working for STS with Admiral Sander.

Project PORCELAIN he thought. What a name. As far as he knew, PORCELAIN didn't even stand for anything. Admiral Sander may have come up with some wildly reckless designs, but at least the names he gave his projects made for some poetic acronyms. Like Project PREDATOR - Prototype Ready for Experimental Deployment, Advanced Tactical Offensive Response. The program had been cancelled when the Starfleet Procurement Committee in the Federation Council realized that this "offensive response" could blow a hole through a planet. That kind of firepower may be useful now...

He snapped out of his musings. The core had finished warming up and was operating at peak efficiency. "Engineering to bridge," he reported. "We're ready to go."

* * *

Cmdr. Ibear didn't care for the PORCELAIN moniker either. He much preferred the name the ship would receive if and when she was commissioned into service. She had a dedication plaque all made up and ready, wrapped in plastic and stashed in a drawer in the desk in the ready room. She was to be called USS Hammerhead.

The Hammerhead boasted massive firepower for such a small ship. Six forward-firing advanced Andorian heavy phaser cannons were upgrades over the original equipment, as was the aft phaser turret. The main armament was the wing cannons, which had been modified to fire either massive bolts of shield-draining tachyon particles or overcharged blasts of phaser energy. Additionally, the Hammerhead had been fitted with a cutting beam - a weapon normally found on a Borg Cube. And then there was the torpedo launcher, modified to fire adapted Borg weapons referred to by the team as "Omega torpedoes" that really were not torpedoes at all, but were actually bolts of high-energy plasma. But they behaved enough like torpedoes that the name fit.

He took a final look around the small bridge to see that everyone had settled into their stations. Rusty had the most piloting experience of the group so he took the conn. Barrister had run numerous tactical simulations and was most familiar with the Hammerhead's offensive capabilities, so he was at TacOps with the weapon systems hot-linked to his console. LCdr. Yoann manned the joint shield distribution and automated damage control station. Lt. Andrei Kurkov, the STS test engineer, would monitor the regenerative structure as well as the performance of the weapon systems.

He took his seat in the command chair and acknowledged Ming's report. "Alright, Ming. Let's see what this little monster can do." He nodded to the conn. "Take us out, Rusty."


Tiburon

Lt. Stikvaa followed the rest of the Alpha shift tactical team out of the turbolift. He was yawning almost uncontrollably. "Admiral, sir. Wha-ha-a-ah-uh. Why'd you wake me up three hours before my shift's s'posed to start?"

Marq frowned at the junior officer's insubordination, but LaRoca instantly forgave his best helmsman. Everyone who knew a Gorn knew better than to disturb his sleep. A bit of grumpiness was to be expected and accepted. That was actually showing restraint - Stikvaa could have completely destroyed his cabin and the security officer sent to rouse him, if he hadn't exercised self-control.

"Three Romulan D'deridex warbirds on an intercept course. Dusty's already got us pointed at one of them. I'm hoping we'll take it out before the other two join up."

"Well, yah-haaw. That sounds like fun." Stikvaa took over the conn station and adjusted the seat.

"Do you need coffee or a hypostim?" Ens. "Dusty" Massimino quipped as he moved to the stand-by jumpseat.

"Both," Stikvaa grunted.

"Time to intercept, Sticks?" LaRoca asked.

Stikvaa checked the nav display. "Ninety-eight seconds, sir."

"The Peregrines are deployed and standing by for orders, sir," Pakray reported.

"Set Pescaditos flight to defensive intercept to shoot down incoming torpedoes," LaRoca instructed. "Have the Pajaritos fan out and engage the enemy with harassing fire."

"Acknowledged." Pakray keyed in the commands and glanced at the Gorn seated to his right. "Try not to run over any of our little friends, wouldja, ya big suitcase?"

"Don't worry about me," Stikvaa growled back to the Tellarite. "Worry about Numbers and his tendency to fry everything in a forty-five-degree cone with one of his scatter volleys."

"I only have one target at the moment, Sticks," Lt. Erick "Numbers" Marsolek responded. "But it wouldn't hurt to remind the little friends to stay out of my direct line of fire."

"And mine," added Lt. jg. Mitiani Zain at the projectile weapons station.

"Miss Zain, please prepare a high yield quantum pattern to fire as soon as the enemy's shield's drop," LaRoca ordered the Cardassian.

"Aye, sir."

The Admiral turned his seat to face the sensors station. "Has PORCELAIN cleared spacedock yet?"

"Yep," Robinson replied. "The fourth warbird is moving to intercept."

"I hope that little boat's as mean and tough as it's supposed to be," Marq said.

"Fifteen seconds to weapons range, sir," Sticks reported.

"Alright. Let's hit 'em with attack pattern Delta-one. Rapid-fire from the cannons as we make our head-on pass." Admiral LaRoca sat back in his seat and interlaced his fingers. The D'deridex-class ships were tough, but by now he'd faced and defeated enough of them to know their every weakness.


Hammerhead

"Holy dammit, this thing's fast," Rusty muttered. They were speeding toward the approaching warbird at full impulse, and according to Rusty's speed gauge that equated to over 100,000 kph.

"Commander," Barrister said, "at this velocity we will enter the enemy's weapons range in forty-two seconds and leave it three seconds later."

Fozz keyed the intercom. "Ming, can you divert power from the engines to shields and weapons?"

"I'll see what I can do," the veteran engineer replied.

Barrister shared his attack plan. "I plan to hit the enemy with a tachyon burst from the main wing cannons, followed by a rapid-fire salvo from the fuselage cannons and a high-yield Omega torpedo."

"At this closing speed we'll run over our own torpedo," Rusty observed.

"Then perhaps you should slow down?"

Fozz had a better idea. "No, Rusty, I want you to fly us right through them at full speed - slip in between their fore superstructure and their port warp nacelle. Barrister, here's a chance to prove how quick you are. I want you to slice off their nacelle with our cutting beam, then grab it with the tractor beam and hit them with it."

Barrister imitated a humanoid expression of surprise. "That should be within the realm of my abilities, but having never simulated the proposed tactic, I can't guarantee success."

"If you miss, Rusty can always spin us around and you can hit them with your Omega," Fozz told him.

Rusty focused on his target. At this range, it looked like the eye of a needle. "Yoann, you'll need to constrict our shield envelope so we can slip through."

"Got it," the science officer replied.

"Entering weapons range... now," Barrister announced, simultaneously firing his weapons. The D'deridex-class returned fire but had difficulty drawing a bead on the small, high-speed target. The Hammerhead's tachyon pulses slammed into the warbird's shields. An instant later, the high-powered burst of phaser fire from the Andorian cannons ripped through the shields and cut into the upper wing surface.

Rusty yawed and twisted the strike escort to slide through the warbird at a diagonal vector.

Barrister's fingertips were a blur as he sliced through the warbirds wings with the cutting beam. He latched on to its port nacelle with the tractor beam and yanked it along behind them, letting it plough through the Romulan ship's engineering section.

The results were apocalyptic. The artificial quantum singularity the Romulans used for a warp power source suddenly found itself unrestrained and underwent a zero-point energy inversion, detonating like a colossal quantum torpedo warhead. The warbird was simply annihilated.

"Nice!" Rusty exclaimed.

"I am simultaneously surprised and gratified that worked," Barrister stated.

Fozz just said "Next!"


Tiburon

Admiral LaRoca watched his target explode in a similar fashion. Between Zain's torpedo barrage, Marsolek's withering phaser fire and the concentrated firepower of a half-dozen Type-16 Peregrine fighters, the D'deridex was peeled apart like a banana until its warp core was breached. "That was lovely, thank you."

"My pleasure," said Zain.

"Damage report?" Marq called.

K'Jetsk responded from the science station. "Plasma fires on deck three, sections ten, eleven and twelve. Empty crew quarters. Contained by suppression emitters. No casualties there. Sick bay reports four injuries from engineering, no fatalities."

"Excellent. Sticks, bring us about to face the other two."

"They're on converging vectors with one hundred degrees of separation," Pakray observed. "Too spread out for us to hit them both at the same time with our main weapons."

"They're gonna try to bounce us back and forth between them," Jesu realized.

"They'll play us like a ping-pong ball," Ens. Boris Erebia piped up from the shield distribution station.

"Divert power to shields," the Admiral ordered. "We'll have to outlast them."

"Not for long, we won't," Robinson announced. "PORCELAIN just took out its warbird and its heading our way!"

Hammerhead

Ming had diverted power back to the engines and the Hammerhead was closing on the battle at a rate approaching thirty kilometers a second. Fozz watched on the viewscreen as the Tiburon fought off the warbirds that had it caught in a pincer. Peregrines were dashing around, avoiding the crossfire while keeping both Romulan ships engaged. The Tiburon was taking a beating though. She was trailing warp plasma from her starboard nacelle and force fields were flickering over a few visible hull breaches. "Hail the Tib on audio."

"Channel open," said Barrister.

"Hammerhead to Tiburon, we're moving in to assist."

"Tib here," Admiral LaRoca replied. "We see you, Fozz. Sticks is timing your approach so we swing around to engage the one on your right as soon as you enter weapons range."

"We'll put on a show for you, sir. Hammerhead out." Fozz looked over his shoulder to Lt. Kurkov. "Deploy the cannon platform drones."

"Oh very good. I was hoping we'd get to use these."

A pair of pods dethatched from the massive cannons on the Hammerhead's wingtips. They deployed into drones armed with an equally powerful version of the wing cannons, effectively doubling the firepower of the Hammerhead's main weapon.

"Barrister, let's not disappoint the Admiral."

"I think I can guarantee we won't, sir, assuming the phaser dispersal array works as intended."

The two Starfleet vessels opened up on the warbird together, their cannons quickly shredding the Romulans' shields. Then the Hammerhead's main guns and the platform drones each fired a massive ball of phaser energy that converged on the target. The resulting blast was, apart from a bluish tinge, almost indistinguishable from the quantum singularity implosion that followed.


Tiburon

Jesu LaRoca couldn't help himself. He started laughing hysterically at the savage destruction the Hammerhead had wrought.

"Sir," Pakray cut in, "the last warbird has gone to warp."

"Our warp engines are offline," Stikvaa reported.

LaRoca settled down, but he was still grinning like a little boy who'd just received the present he'd always wanted. "Hail the Hammerhead."

Fozz appeared onscreen almost instantly. "Shall I pursue, sir?"

LaRoca nodded. "Get 'em, Fozz."

Rusty leaned into frame and waved goodbye before engaging the warp drive, and the lethal little ship was gone in a blinding flash.


Hammerhead

The Borg subtranswarp coil instantly accelerated the ship to speeds beyond the theoretical maximum for conventional warp drive. The Hammerhead quickly caught up with the Romulan D'deridex-class. Rusty slowed them down to match the velocity of the enemy vessel.

Fozz called back to engineering. "Ming, can you sync our warp fields so we can hit them with torpedoes?"

"Already on it," was the answer.

Apparently the Romulans were working on the same thing. They fired a spread of plasma torpedoes out their aft launcher. Rusty was able to juke around most of them, but one caught the Hammerhead on her dorsal shield array.

"Damage?" Fozz asked.

"Negligible," Yoann replied.

Fozz nodded and turned to Barrister. "Let's see what those Omega torpedoes can do."

"Excellent idea." Barrister fired off five plasma bolts in quick succession, the last one overcharged with energy and dwarfing the others. When it found its target, the warbird was simply incinerated.

Rusty dropped the ship to warp two and plotted a course back to Starbase 51. "I'd say we can call this test successful."


Tiburon - one hour later

Admiral LaRoca walked through the corridors of his ship. His disdain for formality was by now well-known among his crew. The repair teams either greeted him with only a nod or ignored him and kept working as he inspected their progress. The damage to the starboard warp nacelle was not as serious as it appeared, according to LCdr. Yumi. The destroyed plasma coils would be replaced from ship's stores by 1200 hours, he was promised. Most of the hull breaches had already been patched. Barrister had beamed back over and was assisting repairs.

He took the turbolift to deck five and walked toward sickbay. LCdr. Dr. Espinoza had already given him the butchers bill: two dead; seventeen injured, and it was doubtful if two of them would survive. One of the two lives in doubt was Cmdr. Traa'cee.

He paused at the door to sickbay. He loved the thrill of battle. He loved orchestrating the chaos. He loved to exploit the enemy's weakness. He loved to watch things explode. But then there was the aftermath. The messy cleanup. The final reckoning that was counted in the lives of the men and women under his command. There were the dead to be buried. And there were the injured who would never truly heal. And there were those wounded by the loss of their shipmates. They would never truly heal either.

He entered the room. He tried to ignore the smell of burnt meat that filled the air. There were a lot of plasma burns. They were all bandaged by now. He looked around and saw bandages covering arms, torsos, faces...

Maria approached him, holding something in her right hand. She held it out to him. "Chory didn't make it," she said. Jesu took the Bajoran earring from her and felt a little piece of him die inside. He remembered the name Avyd Chory from the initial casualty report. She had been running to catch up with the rest of her damage control party when she tripped and fell in a Jefferies tube, right over an EPS junction, just as it ruptured. She was nineteen years old.

"Who were the other two, again?" he asked, his voice heavy.

She handed him a PADD.

Crewman Bowdi Brell. Bolian. Male. Age 24. Warp core engineer. Working in the starboard nacelle when enemy disruptor fire penetrated the shields and impacted near his work station. Initially presumed KIA. Confirmed when traces of organic residue were discovered that matched his DNA.

Senior Warrant Officer M'iu. Caitian. Female. Age 17. Flight officer. Copilot/systems officer of fightercraft Pajarito 3, which was destroyed by an enemy plasma torpedo. KIA before emergency transport system could beam her to safety. Body recovered.

"How's Lieutenant Cordero?" he asked, handing the PADD back.

"Burned and shaken up, but he'll make a full recovery."

"Does he know about M'iu?"

She nodded.

Jesu asked the question he'd been dreading. "What about Traa'cee?"

Maria Espinoza led him back to the ICU. Traa'cee was in a biobed, unconscious. Hank Miller had drawn up a chair next to her, and was holding her right hand with both of his. His back was to the doorway where LaRoca and Espinoza were standing.

"I didn't know they were seeing each other," the doctor whispered.

"They weren't," LaRoca replied in a low voice. "Not yet, at least. He was hoping to..."

"I see." Espinoza called up the patient's active chart on her PADD. "She's in a coma. Her vitals are stable for now, but neural activity is practically nil. I've seen Vulcans recover from some pretty extensive neurological damage, but, I don't know exactly what they did to her. K'Jetsk brought back the device they used, and he's analyzing it now. Hopefully that will provide some answers. I also found traces of psychoactive drugs in her system. I think they used that to break down her mental resistance. Right now, I don't know enough to give a prognosis. Brains are weird. Either she'll wake up and be fine, or she won't. I don't know."

LaRoca stepped over to his intelligence advisor and placed a hand on his shoulder.

Miller looked up. He wasn't crying, but he had been. His eyes were red and puffy. "Did we get 'em all?" he asked.

"The Romulans? Yeah. We got them."

"Good." He looked back to Traa'cee. "Maria doesn't know if she'll recover."

"She's a Vulcan," Jesu reminded him. "The Vulcan mind has incredible regenerative abilities."

"That's what Maria said. But she still doesn't know."

LaRoca squeezed the shoulder. "Whenever you're ready, we'll need to interrogate G'Dahn."

"Yeah, I'll uh, I'll need a day or so."

"Take your time."


Tiburon, Antares Sector - 1520 hours, the next day

The Tiburon was underway again, after having undergone more permanent repairs at Starbase 47. The Hammerhead had returned to Starbase 51 to undergo further testing. Fozz, Ming, Yoann and Barrister remained there, along with Captain Grimes, who was recovering from his injuries at the starbase infirmary.

The Tiburon had rendezvoused with the USS Ray Bradbury to transfer most of their prisoners out of her overflowing brig. The Sovereign-class USS Ark Royal and the Defiant-class USS Punisher had arrived on scene as well to provide defensive support for Starbase 51.

Cmdr. Traa'cee's condition remained unchanged.

Hank Miller joined Adm. Jesu LaRoca and Cmdr. LaRoca Rusty in the interrogation room, adjacent to the brig on deck 13. Two security officers frogmarched G'Dahn into the room, placed him in a chair across the table from the Admiral, and left.

"So, G'Dahn," Jesu began. "How long have you been a Romulan?"

"I think what you meant to ask me," G'Dahn replied, "is 'Romulan pretending to be G'Dahn, how long have you been a Vulcan?'"

The Admiral sighed. "Before you try to be clever again, You should be aware that the man seated to my right is very emotionally unstable right now, seeing as how your associate, Commander Nivek, left the woman he loves in a coma from which she may never recover. And he's not a Starfleet officer, so he's not bound by any particular code of conduct, and I can't be held responsible for anything he may choose to do to you."

The Romulan imposter regarded Hacksaw with a cool gaze, concealing his fear.

"And then, you shot my brother here," Admiral LaRoca gestured toward Rusty, on his left, "so you know how he feels about you. Now, he is a Starfleet officer, and normally he keeps himself restrained, but I should warn you he is prone to occasional violent emotional outbursts. And he could split you in half down the middle faster than you can blink."

The Romulan flicked his eyes back and forth between Rusty and Hacksaw. Rusty had his mouth curled into his smile, and his reptilian eyes had narrowed. Hacksaw just stared back with a grim expression. The Romulan began to show his growing fear.

Jesu pushed back from the table. "Perhaps I should leave the three of you alone for a while until you're willing to cooperate."

"No!" G'Dahn protested. "Don't go! I'll tell you whatever you want to know..."


Starbase 51 - eight days later

It seemed wrong somehow to christen a Borgified strike escort with a bottle of champagne. So Six of Eight had smashed a pint of Andorian ale over USS Hammerhead's spiny prow. The small group in attendance broke into applause.

Fozz leaned toward Rusty. "I sure wish Traa'cee could've seen this."

Rusty just nodded solemnly.

* * *

Admiral Bill Davis mounted the dedication plaque in the back of the Hammerhead's bridge. He stepped back, and Admiral LaRoca stepped closer to read the quote engraved under the ship's name. "The value of a thing is what that thing will bring" - Larry Niven, "Lucifer's Hammer"

"I don't get it," LaRoca stated.

"The quote? Wasn't my idea," said Davis. "But she's all yours now. Do you have any idea what you're going to do with her?"

LaRoca looked around the bridge. This was really not a ship for a diplomat. The Hammerhead was built for a single purpose - to destroy anything and everything in its path. The Tiburon was more than capable as a combat vessel, but she had the capacity to fill so many other roles. She was the perfect ship for him. He would keep his flag with her. But with this incredibly lethal warship under his command... what could he do with the Hammerhead? "I don't know." He had the firepower to end a war. Or start one. "I'll think of something."

"Look at all the pretty lights!"

The Masterverse Timeline / Ten Forward Fanfics

Last edited by sander233; 09-08-2013 at 09:47 PM. Reason: stardate