Captain
Join Date: Jun 2012
Posts: 945
# 11
04-05-2013, 12:58 PM
Captain's Log. The Sentinel has received a distress call from Science Station Gamma Twelve. They are under attack from a hostile force and we are on course to intercept. I have called the TRT to the Meeting Room for the mission overview.


As Emony entered the Meeting Room, she slid a finger in the collar of her uniform, giving it a slight tug to free some space. They had just been issued with new uniforms, and it was still a bit tight. Everyone else was already there. Captain Stunshock, Commander Talaina, Xui Li, and the Tactical Response Team. Only called into action when a standard away team was not enough. As Emony sat down in the chair, Stunshock cleared his throat, his customary way of signalling the meeting was now starting.

"Science Station Gamma Twelve has been attacked by unknown forces. We were unable to get an I.D. on the attackers, but they are essentially a small fleet."
"State of the station?"

That from Ttorkkinn, the bulky Saurian who had been assigned to the ship as the TRT commander, following incidents with some of the members. That was the trouble with such an elite group of gun ho members. Personalities often clashed.

"Still intact. We believe the attackers are after the rift generator that was being developed at the station."
"Rift Generator?"

Grimworm, the 8 foot green giant sounded confused.
"What does it do?"

Stunshock motioned to Xui Li, who promptly took over.

"The staff of the station was attempting to create a hole in space. They were hoping this would create a portal to other dimensions, other universes that we could start exploring."

Grimworm muttered a curse under his breath.
"Most of this galaxy is still unexplored, and they want to go off looking for more trouble?"
"We are not here to judge them Grimworm. Please continue Xui Li."

The Operations officer nodded in thanks to Stunshock before continuing.

"It could also be used to instantly move a ship from one point in space to another, including across quadrants. They submitted numerous reports to Starfleet, indicating they had succeeded in opening small portals, roughly the size of a peach, but for no longer than seven point two seconds."

"Peach?"

Karry held her fist up to Grimworm.

"About the size of your fist. Well, not your fist. But my fist."
"Ah."

"The last report submitted indicated they were about to test a new configuration of their phased compensator coils. That report was submitted two days ago."

Talaina frowned.
"So you're thinking this rift worked, and attracted these attackers?"

Stunshock nodded.
"It's certainly plausible. The station only has a small compliment of crew, it's a small research outpost away from any inhabited systems. Regardless, we need to get in there and rescue the scientists, and prevent this generator from falling into enemy hands."

Ttorkkinn nodded.
"Get my team on that station, we'll secure it Sir."
"Yes, I know. We'll beam you to the lowest part of the station. It should be quiet. While your team work their way up, we'll hold off the fleet. Familiarise yourself with the station layout, we'll arrive in 2 hours. One more thing. Take Gar and Mirat. I know-"

"What?"
Roderick almost jumped out of his chair.
"We don't need those two on this team!"

"Roderick, you need trained guns on this mission. And those two know how to fight."
"But-"
"ENOUGH!" Ttorkkinn barked. "Roderick, a Breen and a Jem'Hadar will prove useful in this situation. End of."

Satisfied that Ttorkkinn had settled it, Stunshock steepled his long claws and continued.

"Take the full force. If you can't secure the rift generator, destroy it. Such a device can not be allowed to fa-"

The comm. went off.
"Captain, you're needed on the bridge. We're receiving a comm. from the Typhon."
"On my way. "

Stunshock stood.
"Sort the plan, we'll be there soon."

Stunshock then left the Meeting Room.


**********************************
The Sentinel approached the system. Stunshock sat in the Captain's Chair, the TRT already down in the Transporter room, ready to go. He leant on an armrest, stroking the side of his goatee.

"What have we got?"

Ensign Willie Wurz on Tactical replied.

"There are two cruiser ships circling the station. There are also over a hundred smaller fighters buzzing the area. I don't recognise the ships Sir."

"Ok. Jenna, get us within transporter range of the station. Wurz, try to restrict fire to only those ships firing at us, and hold fire until they shoot first. We don't need to draw extra aggro. Talaina. Make sure Security teams are ready in case we get boarded."


The Sovereign class ship swept into the area, cutting through the small fighters that all turned and opened fire on the vessel. The shields fluctuated as they were hit by an unknown type of pulse cannon attacks from the fighters.

"Within transporter range sir."
"We can't lower beam the team aboard without lowering shields."

Stunshock pushed a button on his armrest.
"Transporter room. Is the TRT ready?"
"Aye Sir."
"Link with Tactical. The instant they lower shields, beam them aboard. Wurz, get those shields back up ASAP. All hands, brace for impact."


As the shields quickly dropped, the team was beamed over to the station. The shields came back up almost instantly, but the ship still shook from the damage.

"Jenna. Evasive. Keep us moving, but close to the station in case we need to pull them out."
"Aye Sir."
"Wurz. Fire at will."


The sound of phaser banks and torpedoes rang out as the Sentinel tried to fight off so many attackers. The two cruisers seemed to be ignoring the Starfleet vessel, leaving the fighters to do their work. This went on for a good ten minutes. Shields on the Sentinel were down to 54%, and for every fighter that exploded, another two seemed to appear to take its place.


"Ttorkkinn to Sentinel. We've rescued the scientists, but we?re pinned down. We can't get to the generator. "
"Can you blow the station?"
"Not from here. We've taken cover in a Panic Room. Roderick is badly injured. Those cruisers keep beaming reinforcements over."
"We'll see what we can do. Hail when you're ready for beam out."

Stunshock spun to Wurz.

"Target those cruisers and fire Hargh'Pengs. Draw their attention."

He then turned to Jenna.

"Keep us moving."


The crew performed their duties as the two ships were hit by the powerful torpedoes. They broke away from the station and started firing powerful beam weapons with a sustained blast at the Sentinel. The ship rocked violently to the side as consoles exploded.

"Shields down to 31%. We can't take that kind of firepower for too long."
"We just need to give the TRT time to get to the generator."

The Sentinel corkscrewed around, shifting the ventral shields to face the cruisers. Another impact showered Wurz in sparks, sending her to the deck in a shriek.
"Talaina! Tactical!"

The Andorian First Officer configured her console to take over Tactical duties. Having been the Tactical officer on the DarkFyre, their previous vessel, she was well aware of what was needed here. The ship kept trying to distract the invaders as much as possible as some crewmembers took Wurz down to sickbay.

"Captain! The Typhon's coming in!"
"On screen!"

The Starfleet Carrier Command Ship dropped from warp in the thick of things, spraying the area with their pulse phaser turrets. They started launching their own Mark VI, V and III Valkyrie fighters, using their modified technology to help thin out the numbers of the aliens.

"Open a channel."
"Channel open."
"Typhon. We need to concentrate fire on the cruisers. We have a team on the station."

"Copy that Sentinel. Focusing fire now."

The Typhon and the Sentinel both came about, pouring their weapons at the cruiser on the left. Hull fractures started crawling across the hull, the Typhon seemingly knowing exactly where to hit to cause maximum damage, Talaina automatically shifting her aim to hit in the same spots. A flash of light signalled the ship's destruction, the two Starfleet vessels instantly switching to the right cruiser. It didn't fare any better.

With the support cruisers destroyed, the fighters started swarming around the station again.

"TRT to Sentinel. Request Beam out!"

"Captain! Reading a disturbance within the station. The Rift Fenerator may be about to implode!"

Emony checked her scanners.
"Talaina's right. Massive disturbances consistant with a dimensional rift."
"Transporter room! Get our people out of there!"


On the screen, the station started rippling, its hull becoming like paper in the wind before it crumpled within itself. A large rift hung in space, giving a brief glance through to another world, one with hundreds of those alien cruisers. One of the Typhon's fighters flew towards the rift, firing at a small target. The rift generator exploded, collapsing the rift and trapping the remaining fighters. They turned and started trying to flee, but the Typhon and her fighters prevented them from escaping. As the last one exploded, Stunshock hit the comm. panel.

"Transporter room! Have we got them?"
"Yes Sir. Some injuries, but all present."

Talaina turned in her chair.

"Sir. Captain Tolbar is requesting to beam over for a debriefing."

"Have him meet me in Sickbay."

Stunshock got to his feet and made his way into the Turbolift.



As Stunshock entered the Sickbay, he noted everyone around. Survivors were on numerous biobeds and clustered around. He spotted Wurz undergoing treatment. And the TRT was gathered around one bed, where Luawra was working. Stunshock approached.

"Report."

Karry turned to her Captain.

"We got all the survivors off the station and destroyed the rift generator."
"Good. At least it won't fall into the wrong hands. What happened?"

He nodded to Roderick, who was immobile on the bed.
"We were in a cargo hold, fighting the enemy. Some blasts hit the crates and they fell over on him."
Ttorkkinn turned.
"Mirat was meant to be covering him. I intend to have a full inquiry about this."

"Doctor? How did we do?"
Luwara didn't turn from her patient as she answered.
"A couple of contusions. Wurz will be off her feet for a few days, but she'll make a full recorvery. But Roderick has suffered massive internal bleeding. His organs are failing and his spine is crushed."

"It was a deliberate attack. The hostiles targeted the crates, intending to knock them down. Mirat should have seen this. Jem'Hadar are meant to know battle tactics like that, he should have been paying attention."

"Easy Grimworm. We don't know Mirat's side yet."
"No, but when we do, I will break his face."
"No. No you won't."

Ttorkkinn glared at Grimworm, making his authority clear. The Hulkanian just let out a huff and crossed his immense arms over his chest.


"I want the rest of you to get checked out, rest and make a report by the end of tomorrow. I'll deal with Mirat."

Stunshock turned as he saw Captain Tolbar enter with another of his officers. Stunshock walked over.

"Captain. Commander."

"Captain. This is my First Officer and Flight Leader of Red Squad, Commander Cooper."
"Captain."
"Shall we go to the Doctor's office?"
As the three officers made their way there, Tolbar asked what Stunshock knew about the attackers.
"Not alot. Just what we got off sensor scans. I'm curious how you knew their weak spots."
"You have Commander Cooper to thank for that."
"Oh?"

"Yes Sir. I've encountered this race once before, back in 2377, during the Titan System Incident. They are a species known as the Kam'Jahtae, the ancient ancestors of the Hurq. Back when I was an Ensign, the Sentinel, the predecessor of this ship, accidentally awoke a ship of theirs from stasis and they attempted to open a rift to bring an invasion force through. The Typhon was able to stop the invasion back then, and we have never heard from them since."
"Our scientists believed the rift that was opened by these scientists linked to wherever the Kam'Jahtae were located, where that original rift had opened to."
"And that is why there were so many of them. Thank you for the help."

"We'll provide aid with your repairs and secure this system while you take the scientists to the nearest starbase. I'm sure we'll meet again Captain."

As Tolbar and Cooper turned and left, Stunshock looked over to Roderick. With such extensive injuries, it was doubtful he could continue with the TRT. Organs could be replaced; bones could be knitted back together. But the spine was still a dangerous place for injuries.

"Hang in there Frank."
*******************************************

A Romulan Strike Team, Missing Farmers and an ancient base on a Klingon Border world. But what connects them? Find out in my First Foundary mission: 'The Jeroan Farmer Escapade'

Last edited by grylak; 04-05-2013 at 04:22 PM.
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 146
# 12 Assassination Attempt
04-07-2013, 07:33 PM
October 2411

If Admiral Leavenworth had been here in person, T'Panna would have strangled him. She had the impression that the elderly human was intentionally rambling in order to get an emotional response from her. Rambling about what happened to Captain Carter wasn't going to make anything better.

"...I have decided to forget about your indiscretions with Captain Carter. I am going to cancel his court martial, which would have occurred eight days from now. I doubt he will be able to attend anyway. I am also considering promoting you to captain to take Carter's place."

Her response was polite and calm, the exact opposite of the fire inside of her. "That is very kind of you sir, but don't you think that is a bit premature?"

On the screen, the human shook his head. "It has been two days now and your doctors don't have a clue what to do. Starships can't function long-term without captains."

---

Three days ago

A small glimmer of light caught Carter's eye. He casually pushed T'Panna down onto the couch and whispered into her ear. She nodded and continued talking. "Life has been so much better since we got together. I don't know what I would have..."

Then Carter sat up and fired at the intruder. This time it was only a holoprojection of the Section 31 agent, so the beam went straight through and hit the far wall.

"It is good to see both of you this evening. Unfortunately I don't have time for pleasantries. I need your help immediately."

Carter stood up and walked over to the projection. "I am done playing games with you. Go to hell." He poked his finger through the projection of the agent's eye.

The agent was calm. "It's not that simple this time. The Gorn have found my secret research facility and are currently laying siege to it. We have lasted seven days, but I don't think we can hold much longer. Under normal circumstances you would never know about this. However, I can't just blow up this lab and move on to my next one since we have made some outstanding technology advances that are worth keeping. Do the right thing and help me out."

Kerna'tharan and three security officers entered the room. Carter turned to face them. "Would you be so kind as to destroy the holoemitters in my quarters so that I can be off-duty? This pesky individual here doesn't seem to understand that I am not interested in helping him."

Three seconds and a few shots later, the projection disappeared. "Thank you very much. Am I correct in assuming that there are no ships nearby?"

The Jem'Hadar nodded. "Aye sir. Will that be all?"

Carter smiled. "Yes. Thank you for the prompt response." He turned around and then hailed the bridge. "Were we able to trace the signal this time?"

Hillel replied. "We were. Jarvis' new system worked like a charm. The signal came from an unnamed planetary system on the far edges of the Mempa sector. It is about seven hours away at maximum warp."

"Set a course and engage at maximum warp. Have the helm drop us out of warp ten thousand kilometers outside the system. Carter out." This is one of those times when a slipstream drive would have come in handy, he thought. If only the brass cared about us...

T'Panna came out of his bedroom, fully dressed in one of the spare uniforms she kept in his quarters. "I assume I won't need this uniform for a few hours?"

---

Seven hours later

This was the weekend where alpha and beta shifts were twelve hours long so that gamma shift could have time off. The general consensus was that everyone loved having the days off, but no one enjoyed working longer shifts to give their crewmembers rest. It didn't take counselor ch'Raul's dual doctorates to understand why this was true.

Alpha shift started in a few hours, but Carter had called them in early. T'Panna was the only person from alpha shift who looked completely awake. Carter knew that she didn't get enough rest last night, which further reinforced his awe at the Vulcan ability to control outward appearance.

Carter scanned the room and then stood up. "I have no idea what to expect. Section 31 deserves to suffer, and it sounds like no one here is in favor of us risking our necks to save them. Be on your guard, and remember the plan. Dismissed."

A few minutes later, the Reaper left warp ten thousand kilometers outside the unnamed system. Glotz, the Denobulan operations officer, reported that there were four Gorn ships attacking a partially-cloaked facility orbiting the second planet. Based on the amount of wreckage, it looked like thirteen Gorn ships had already been destroyed.

Carter looked over to Kerna'tharan. "Go ahead and destroy the Gorn."

"With pleasure, sir," Kerna'tharan replied. "Initiating attack pattern delta."

The Reaper took a beating, but managed to destroy all four ships in less than ten minutes. It would have been quicker if the space station hadn't stopped firing on the Gorn as soon as Reaper opened fire. One word crossed Carter's mind: cowards.

There was silence on the bridge for a few moments after the last Gorn ship was destroyed. Carter had just ordered Glotz to retrieve the Gorn escape pods when the station hailed them.

The agent on the screen showed no signs of fatigue. "Thank you for coming. I doubted your faithfulness, but I can see that you were just putting on a show for your crew. You are dismissed."

"Don't you think it would be better if we stayed and kept guard while you made repairs?" And beam all of you into the brig when you least expect it, Carter thought.

"That won't be necessary. We don't detect any more adversaries, and four other Federation vessels are en route. We will be well defended by the time the Gorn come back."

"I doubt you will ever tell me what you are doing here, so there is no point in staying. We will be on our way. Carter out." Then he smiled turned to face Glotz. "What ships are on the way?"

"Esquiline, Nottingham, St. Louis, and sh'Taal, sir."

"Add that to the navigation log. We will have to look into the crew of each ship later. Will we be able to execute the plan and be out of range before they detect us?"

Glotz nodded affirmatively, so Carter gave the order to start.

---

Seen from space, Reaper's retreat was fairly standard. Shields were down, and the ship was moving away at full impulse. But at five kilometers out, a tricobalt torpedo was fired straight at the station's center of mass. A hard turn to starboard and was shortly followed by the dual phaser beams and a quantum torpedo.

Two runabouts were dispatched to chase anyone who tried to escape. The station fired at Reaper and managed to cause a hull breach on the lower starboard side of deck five. That was the extent of their luck though. The battle was over once the station's shields dropped and Reaper beamed all life signs into their brig.

Kerna'tharan and Chief Engineer Jarvis led a scouting party to retrieve as much data as possible. Meanwhile, Carter and ch'Raul talked about the best method to deal with the captured agents.

"You are facing a court-martial for disobeying orders and getting involved with Section 31. If you handle this situation well, it is highly likely that the admiralty will finally understand where your allegiance lies and drop the charges."

"My allegiance is to Starfleet, not the morons on top," Carter replied. "But I agree with you. I just need to keep my opinions to myself when I announce that I have succeeded where the admiralty has failed."

"You might want to phrase that in a better way. You didn't succeed where they failed; you took advantage of a rare mistake made by Section 31 and exploited it for the benefit of the fleet. Make it sound like you were just doing your duty."

"What's the fun in that?"

ch'Raul never missed an opportunity for a snide remark. "Your fun is being able to see T'Panna every night instead of a four-hundred pound Denobulan cellmate in New Zealand."

---

It was time to destroy the station and leave before anyone else arrived. Carter had retreated into his ready room to work on his remarks to the admiralty. T'Panna assumed that Carter would enjoy giving the order to obliterate the station, so she hailed him. Fifteen seconds later, she hailed him again. Then she stood up, walked over to the door, and overrode the controls.

Carter was on the floor in an awkward heap.

---

It only took a few minutes for the medical staff to detect traces of an unknown neurotoxin. Unfortunately, it took half an hour to figure out how Section 31 had attacked Carter.

Kerna'tharan and Hillel replayed the security footage again. Even though Kerna'tharan was the security chief, Hillel was doing the talking. Hillel wasn't particularly close to T'Panna, but he had more tact than an angry Jem'Hadar. "It appears that the assailant was wearing some sort of personal cloak. The footage shows a hypospray appearing out of nowhere and then being applied to Carter's neck. Then it disappears again.

"There is no evidence to suggest a beam-out, so whoever did this is either onboard, or they beamed out using technology that we don't have access to. We have confined all non-essential personnel to quarters, but I doubt we will find whoever did this."

T'Panna paused for a moment and considered her choices. In the long term, it would be beneficial to determine the loyalty of each captain that was rushing to Section 31's aid. Getting this information would involve stretching the truth a bit.

"We are going to stay and pretend that we got here too late. Then we will use the assistance of the other ships to find any survivors and hopefully a cloaked shuttle. In a day or two we will report our findings."

"Your orders are to lie? I thought that Vulcans..."

"Lieutenant Commander Hillel, my orders stand. Do you want to formally protest them?"

---

Two days later

T'Panna left the ready room and entered the bridge. Everyone's eyes were on her. Expressions ranged from sympathy to rage.

"Command has written off Carter for dead, but I refuse to lose hope. However, they have given us permission to hunt down the responsible party and bring him or her to justice. We will drop off the prisoners at K-7 and dig through the logs of "Esquiline, Nottingham, St. Louis, and sh'Taal to figure out more about Section 31. I will not rest until justice is served."

T'Panna looked into the eyes of every bridge officer. It was clear that they were of one mind. She sat down in her seat - the first officer's seat - and began to cry.

--------------------------------------

Timeline:
2398
  • Odyssey, a Luna-class science vessel, launched
2408
  • Odyssey qualifies for a ten-year refit. It never happens.
  • April: T'Panna joins the Odyssey crew as second officer / head science officer
24092410
2411
Crew (still haven't figured out all the casting yet):

Captain Everitt Carter (human male)
  • Mitch Pileggi
  • Age: 57
  • Bald, goatee
First officer: T'Panna
  • Minka Kelly with slightly pointed ears
  • Age: mid-30s
  • Named after Vulcan grandmother
  • Is 1/4 human
Operations: Glotz (Denobulan male)
Helm: Lt. Alastair Simeon (human male)
Counselor: Commander ch'Raul (Andorian chaan, which is male)
  • Doctorate doctorate in clinical psychology, and a second one in pantheistic religions
Doctor: Evans (human male, British)
Chief Engineer Miguel Jarvis (human male, Hispanic)
  • Dating Amanda Carpenter
Lt. Amanda Carpenter (human female)
  • Gets demoted from Gamma shift acting captain
Librarian: Alice (photonic).
  • Intentionally appears as a teenager
  • Ellen Page
Security: Lt. Cmdr. Hillel (human male, Middle Eastern descent)
  • Middle Eastern
  • Wife Isabella (Olga Kurylenko)
  • 4 year old daughter

Last edited by superhombre777; 04-07-2013 at 07:52 PM.
Rihannsu
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 216
# 13
04-09-2013, 11:49 AM
Bryan was studing the displays of various frontlines in the Athena's strategic command center when one small report in the Orion sector caught his eye.

"Athena?" he called out, and the AI's new holographic image, a beautiful women with light brown hair, gleaming blue eyes, and pale skin, shimmered to life in front of him.

"What do you need, sir?" She asked.

"What sector is that?"

She stood thinking for a second. "Starbase 24, sir." She said at last.

"Any communications from that sector?"

"Playing now sir."

At first there was nothing but static. After a second however, the signal finally cleared up enough to get through. "Repeat, this is Starbase 24, we are under attack by the Klingon Empire! We need immediate assistance! Our defense grid cannot hold them off much longer!"

"Athena, tell them that the 1st Assault fleet will respond and will be there soon. What is the threat estimate for the sector?"

"Very high, sir. The 10th fleet has already responded, but they're outnumbered more than four-to-one."

"Send the signal for the fleet to gather. We have a long day ahead of us."

*******

Bryan stood with the other senior officers of the fleet, looking at the holographic display showing the battle near Starbase 24. The 10th was in bad shape. They were unable to hold their ground against the seemingly implacable Klingon armada, and were losing ships faster than they could eliminate them.

"Bryan, if you could handle the briefing?" Leyla asked.

"Yes ma'am," he replied, before turning to the other senior officers, "At 0914 hours today, Starbase 24 was attacked by Klingon forces under the command of General D'ald. At present, the 10th is engaged in defending the base, but they are out numbered four to one. I'm sure some of you have reservations about facing such long odds, but Starbase 24 is vital to the Federation supply lines. In addition it serves as the server housing for some of Starfleet's most classified data. As a result, we can't let the base be destroyed or fall into Klingon hands. Now, even with our aid, the fleet will still be outnumbered about two to one at best. At worst, the 10th will be wiped out by the time we arrive and we'll be out numbered by about five to one."

"Now then," he continued, beginning to manipulate the hologram to illustrate his plan, "here's the plan. When we warp in, we'll be warping in from their flank, so we'll have the advantage initially. We can drop out of warp, and immediately hit them in the side. That advantage won't last long, so we need to do as much damage as we can in that time. Once we lose the element of surprise, we're going to try and turn it into an all out melee, and draw the Klingon armada away from the base. The Klingons have already boarded the Starbases according to latest intel, so I want to prevent them from getting any reinforcements aboard. In addition, while we're en route, we will launch assault shuttles to deploy MACOs to reinforce the Starbase security forces. It will be a risky maneuver, especially considering the fact that we will still be moving at high warp when the shuttles are launched, but I have confidence that we will be able to do it."

Bryan 'tapped' the hologram, zooming in on the battle. "Battle plan will be as follows: Battle groups alpha, beta, delta, gamma, psi, and omega will be the main body for the attack. Their goal will be to move right into the middle of the fight and push the Klingons out. Battle groups epsilon and rho will guard the flanks, making sure no Klingon raiding vessels can attack from the side. The carrier group will hold back and deploy fighters to any sector they're needed. Support vessels will be tasked with detecting cloaked vessels and giving their positions to the battle groups. Rules of Engagement are weapons free once we enter the sector. Any questions?"

Vice Admiral Valensiya, captain of the Venture class Dreadnought U.S.S. Aspire, and flag officer of battlegroup gamma, raised her hand. "What do we do if we can't break the Klingon advance?"

"Glad you mentioned that," Bryan replied. "Athena, would you mind explaining your plan to them?"

"Of course, sir," The AI said, her hologram shimering to life to Bryan's left. "Once we arrive, I will begin backing up all of the data to the servers at Starbase 1. In addition, if the Klingons do break through, then I will set the data transfer protocol to be my highest order process, which should speed up the process exponentially. Once the backup is done, and we are unable to hold, I will wipe the servers clean and fill them completely with junk data. That should result in the Starbase being completely useless to the Klingons."

"Anyone else?" Bryan asked, but nobody else spoke up. "Very good. What's our ETA to the staging area, Athena?"

"About five minutes, sir."

"All right. Remember the plan everyone. Good luck to you all."

*******

The Athena dropped out of warp near the 1st Assault fleet's starbase, known as Nova Prime to find most of the fleet already gathered there. A handful of ships had yet to arrive, but the vast majority had arrived and were ready for battle. The Athena took her place at the front of the fleet's battle group Omega, the most battle-hardened group of the entire force.

"It's a grand sight, isn't it Bryan?" Ibalei said, walking up to him in the observation room.

"It sure is," he replied. "We've never done an operation on this scale before. Should be pretty impressive to behold."

"I agree. The full capability of the fleet is finally being brought to bear."

Bryan turned to face his wife. "Have you said goodbye to your family yet?"

She paused for a moment and closed her eyes before answering. "I didn't. And I'm not going to because of what they did shortly before Zizania and I were Joined."

"Right," he replied, brushing a strand of deep red hair out of her eye. "Sorry, I nearly forgot your parents didn't approve of us being together either."

She looked into his eyes sadly. "Don't worry about it. It's not like I really had much of a choice in the matter."

"Well, maybe when this war is over we can-"

"Sir," Athena said, appearing right beside him. "The fleet is almost ready."

Bryan sighed. "Well, I guess it's time. Let's get up to the bridge."

*******

"Admiral on deck!" Justin called as Bryan stepped off of the turbolift and into the Athena's bridge.

"All sections, report." He called, tapping the intercom button on his chair.

"Tactical here," Lieutenant Commander Kerry Avalrez called from her station, "We are good to go."

"Engineering is ready and able, sir," Six called.

"Operations," Lieutenant Syfil said, "Scorpion fighters are ready for launch and hazard systems are online."

"Medical reporting," Syiseda called through the intercom, "We are ready to go."

"Science is good to go, as always," Ibalei said to Bryan's left.

"Preparations are complete. We are ready for battle. Aara, signal the flagship that we're ready."

"Sent, sir," the Orion called.

They all waited in silence for a minute. Bryan could almost picture preparations on the other ships as the prepared for the coming battle. MACOs getting their gear together, fighters being moved to the flight decks of the carriers, crews making last minute adjustments to their ship systems. Eventually, Leyla finally came on via intercom. "Attention all ships, this is Admiral Leyla Blaze on the Seraphea, You are cleared to warp to Starbase 24. Remember the plan, stay with your command ships, and don't let the Klingon fleet through. All ships, engage!"

At that, all 160 ships of the fleet warped out, leaving no trace of their presence behind.

*******

The fleet had been traveling at warp 20, a benefit of the fact that the entire force had been equipped with Asynchronous warp field generators, for about half an hour, when they finally began getting reports from the battle. What they heard was not good. Even though they were only about a minute or two out, the 10th fleet would be effectively depleted by the time they arrived.

"Mayday, this is the 10th fleet!" An extremely worried voice came over the intercom, "We need immediate assistance! We are heavily outnumbered by a Klingon armada at Starbase 24! Fleet is down to 25 percent strength, and the Klingons have boarded the Starbase! Repeat..."

"10th, this is Vice Admiral Bryan Mitchel Valot of the U.S.S. Athena, we are coming in to assist. We are less than one minute out. Just hold on a little longer."

The fleet dropped out of warp, and the joined the battle in earnest. The leading groups of ships from the 1st warped in right on top of the Klingon's flank, driving into them like a spear. Ships exploded left and right as cannon blasts, beams, and torpedoes all shot away from the federation ships, tearing apart the Klingon fleet and giving the 10th some much needed breathing room. The ships of the 1st fought as if each individual ship were four, savagely tearing into the Klingon's fleet, driving them back and inflicting immense losses. The Klingon fleet was caught completely off guard by the sheer force of the assault from the Federation fleet, giving ground as their ships were torn apart.

The entire battle seemed to simply open up like a book in front of Bryan. He could see exactly what ships were where, what areas needed the most help, which ships were the keys to unraveling the Klingon fleet, and so much more. Bryan immediately began calling out orders to his ship and battle group, and they surged into the Klingon force, carving a path into the heart of the Klingon formation. pushed the Klingons, not giving them inch, and pressing them back further and further. Slowly, the Klingon forces began to attempt to pull away from the battle as more and more ships fell to the onslaught brought by the 1st Assault Fleet.

"Sir, the Klingons are attempting to pull back!" Athena said.

"Good," Bryan replied, still studying the patterns in which the battle flowed as astutely as if it had just begun. "How are the assault teams doing on the Starbase?"

"Admiral, this is the ground team." Justin called over the intercom, right on cue, "We have successfully cleared all control rooms. My best teams are getting ready to move in on the server room right now, and in addition, the device you asked us to secure was retaken as well."

"Very good. Casualty report?"

"Approximately forty present injured, with twenty percent of injured being removed from fighting. In addition, approximately four percent KIA."

Bryan winced. "Anything else to report?"

"Not right-" A blast cut he transmission out for a few tense moments. "Get up off the floor you lazy-" the transmission cut for another brief moment. "I said return fire, not cower behind cover like a little girl!"

"Justin, is everything alright?" Bryan asked.

"Yeah, Klingons ambushed us is all. Two injured, but otherwise we're all still here."

"Sir, report from the Starfleet detachments to Omega force," Ensign Aara called from the comm station, "The Victory reports that they'll be here soon to reinforce us. ETA, one hour."

Bryan watched the battle as it occurred around the Athena. "Battle probably won't last more than twenty more minutes." He said. "Tell them to go back to their original posts."

"Are you sure, sir? We could use all the help-"

"Aara, in one hour, we'll all either be victorious or dead. Either way, Four of Ten's battlegroup won't be much help."

"Very well, sir."

The battle continued to rage on, at times feeling like an eternity, at others feeling like an instant. The Athena turned elegantly in the middle of the fight, phaser beams lancing out in all directions, torpedoes speeding away from their tubes to slam into Klingon warships. The ships had taken a lot of fire, but in spite of everything that had hit her, even with some hits making it through her mighty shields, the ship fought on.

"Sir, the Klingons are starting to pull back!" Athena called out.

"Good. Aara, get me the Serephea."

"Bryan, what is it?" Leyla asked impatiently.

"The Klingons are starting to pull back. Should we pursue?"

"No, we've lost enough ships already."

"We could trap the Klingon fleet here and force them to surrender if you want."

"How?"

"An experimental device, on the Starbase, known only as Project Spider's Web. It's designed to be able to trap an entire fleet in a sector without causing damage to the ships or preventing our forces from entering or exiting."

"Do it."

"Aara, contact the Starbase. Tell them to activate Project Spider's Web."

"Done, sir," She replied.

Almost as soon as she did so, space seemed to ripple briefly outside the Athena's windows.

"Sir, my sensors indicate the Klingons are unable to form a stable warp field," Athena called.

"Caught like a fly in a spider's web," Bryan said, smiling a little to himself. "Aara, open a channel to General D'ald's flagship."

"You PetaQ'!" The Klingon general spat as soon as he appeared on the screen. "What have you done?"

"Trapped you here," Bryan said, carefully keeping his voice level. "I hereby request the surrender of you and your fleet."

"Nothing you say will convince me to surrender to you cowards."

"You call us cowards," Bryan replied, his voice dangerously quiet, "And yet you can't even engage us in a fair fight. Whenever you go to battle with us you out number us. Yet, somehow, we still hold the line against you."

"You have no right to-"

Bryan signaled to Aara to cut the channel. He stood smiling at the blank screen until Aara called "They're hailing us, sir."

Bryan held up his hand and slowly counted down on his fingers. When he got to zero, D'ald's face once more appeared on the viewscreen.

"You have a lot of nerve for a human."

"So, what's your answer, D'ald? Will you surrender and allow your men to live, or let them be cut down in an unwinnable battle?"

The entire bridge was silent for a minute. Bryan and D'ald stared at each other the entire time, neither one wavering in the other's gaze.

D'ald was the first to brak the silence. "Fine. You can have your victory. Just this once."

"It only needs to be this once," He replied icily. "You won't be going to war ever again."

*******

Bryan sat staring at the computer in his ready room, finishing his report to Starfleet command about the battle that had just taken place.

"Sir," Aara said through his combadge, "There is an incoming transmission for you. Not sure from who though."

"Athena?" He called to the ship's AI.

"Unsure," she replied. "Can't trace it. It's almost as if the transmission is coming from nowhere at all."

Bryan sighed, already knowing who it was coming from. "Put it through."

"Greetings Bryan."

"Franklin Drake." Bryan replied with a touch of annoyance. "What do you want this time?"

"I understand Section 31 has you to thank for protecting our classified intel."

"Not your classified intel, Drake. We were there to protect the Starbase, aid the tenth, and protect intel that belongs to Starfleet. That your undercover agent's roster is also stored there is only happenstance."

"How did you-"

"I have my ways. And the answer is still no Drake. I will not ever join Section 31. You all have too much power. Power can be abused if not regulated. You all will never accept any form of regulation. Now then, if you'll excuse me, I have a ship to run."

"At least consider-"

Bryan cut the channel before he could finish the sentence. "No means no Drake," he muttered to himself. "Athena, check the entire system for traces left by Drakes' transmission. Chances are he wants to watch and see what I'm doing so that he can keep trying to recruit me."

"All ready done, sir."

"Good."

Brya sighed. Ever since the Driffen's Comet incident, Section 31 had been deperatly trying to recruit him for their 'cause.' Every time they contacted him, he turned them down, stating the old adage about absolute power. And yet, each time, they continued with the same speech about the grater good.

Will they ever leave me alone? Bryan thought to himself. Sighing, he finished the report and sent it to Starfleet command, knowing full well that Section 31 would end up reading it too.
Vice Admiral Bryan Mitchel Valot
Commanding officer: Odyssey class U.S.S. Athena
Admiral of the 1st Assault Fleet
Join date: Some time in Closed Beta
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 155
# 14 Starbase EXL-4X
04-10-2013, 11:49 PM
Captains Log, USS Havrage, on a scientific survey in the Arcanus cluster. We have received a distress signal from a nearby resupply and refueling space station EXL-4X. Before the message cut off abruptly, the officer mentioned invaders on the station. We are the only ship in the area available to help. Hopefully we can arrive in time to help.

Supplemental -
We received a short communication. Earun was only able to make out something that sounded like "blockade". We are about to drop out of warp. Weapons are ready if we are attacked. Hopefully the mere sight of a well outfitted Starfleet vessel will prevent anyone from firing carelessly. If there is a fight, however, I've instructed Hwodwoo to scramble enemy sensors and Sam X to shut down enemy systems. With a show of superior abilities, perhaps we won't have to fire back.

However, if there is a great threat, Thik is ready to let our cannons let loose.

Supplemental -
We dropped out of warp to find no ships of any threat around the station. There is something stopping communication. Transmissions are being sent by the station and some of the various ships in the system, but nothing is getting through. Earun is trying to configure the sensors to receive the signals being sent from the communications arrays that she has been able to detect as powered and emitting data. Thik is preparing a team to beam to the station.

Supplemental -
Earun is still working on communication, and Thik has beamed to the station once Thoren assured me the interference had no effect on transporter usage, and we beamed over an Epohh and beamed it back in the same condition it left in. The away team have transmitters to enhance their location signals and transporter patterns in case anything goes wrong. If it does they can send a pulse to let us know to beam them back.

Supplemental -
Earun was able to tune the sensors to one specific ships communication array, a ship that appears to be outfitted for research. There are sending a shorter wave signal to another ship in the area that cuts through the static. We can't yet hear both sides of the conversation, but it appears they did a similar thing with their sensors as we did to communicate with each other. Clever, those science types. The other ship is using a different frequency. It also seems that a certain vessel came into the system just as the communications started getting blocked, according to what we could hear. Thoren just informed me the away team is requesting to beam back. I will meet them in the transporter room.

Supplemental -
Thik has informed me much of the station is locked down, doors are closed and shut down, emergency force fields activated, systems deactivated, but they were able to get some information. It seems the invaders are Pakled, and the person they spoke to seemed to think they only wanted help, but something went wrong, and since they entered the system, thinks started going haywire. There is a Pakled ship in the system and Earun says it is entirely possible it is the source of the jamming. Thik is preparing to beam over to see if we can help. I'm sending Sam X over. He has expertise is computer viruses, and he suggested something like that might be in use.

Supplemental -
The communications block deactivated soon after Thik and Sam X beamed aboard the Pakled ship. I then received a message from the Pakled captain. He was visibly uncomfortable. It looked like he had somewhere else he wanted to be. First he explained they had gotten help from the station, and it seemed to be working. He then told me a story, which Sam X corroborated, that they had found in their travels a strange communications device which they had installed on their ship before knowing fully what it was. Then they had a medical emergency and needed help. They tried to configure the communications device to send out a distress signal, instead, the blockage occurred, so they beamed to the station, which had been perceived as an attack. He then explained the cook had served a bad batch of some dish made from some food they now believe they paid a Ferangi far too much for, and most of the crew was suffering from constipation. He told me they just wanted to find something to "make them go."
Chewson Pwan - VA
S.S. Doff Lundgren
Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 579
# 15
04-11-2013, 03:29 AM
Personal log: Tylha Shohl, officer commanding, USS King Estmere NCC-92984

"Launching Alpha. Launching Bravo. Charlie and Delta flights, prep for immediate launch." Anthi Vihl's steady, professional voice has no edge of tension. I wish I was that sure of my own.

King Estmere has crashed out of subspace at the fringe of the asteroid belt surrounding the Delta Gracilis facility, weapons ready, Scorpion fighters already shrieking off the launch rails. The main viewscreen is coming to life now, showing the tactical situation as our sensors establish it.

At the communications console, F'hon Tlaxx is unaccustomedly serious, as he repeats, in an undertone, "Delta Gracilis, this is the USS King Estmere, responding to your priority one distress call. Please advise regarding your situation. Over." A pause, and then, again, "Delta Gracilis..."

"Launching Charlie. Launching Delta." Two more flights of Scorpions streak out into the void.

I look up at the screen. The Scorpions are out there, shifting rapidly into their attack formation. The facility is marked by a blinking diamond on the map. The drifting asteroids show as vague, lumbering presences, inert and harmless.

There is nothing else on the screen.

"Sensor scan," I order. My mouth is dry. "Rig for tachyon detection, and charged particle bursts." The enemy must be cloaked, it's the only explanation. Well, my ship has resources: if an invisible enemy is out there, we can pierce that cloak, reveal and defeat them.

The awful alternative is that the enemy has already been, and gone. But the research station's transponders are active, its power levels are high, there is no sign of debris or energy weapons discharge on the sensors....

There is no sign of anything on the sensors.

King Estmere noses her way through the asteroids, towards the massive chunk of chondrite that supports the Delta Gracilis base. The Scorpion fighters fan out, weapons ready. Beyond the range of conventional sight, space is flooded with signals, our active sensors pinging out charged particles and exotic wavelengths, sampling space, sniffing for the enemy... and finding nothing.

"Please advise regarding your situation. Over." F'hon's voice is growing hoarse.

And then a voice comes over the speakers. "Thank God!" It is cracked, hysterical. "King Estmere, you have to stop them - they're coming round for another pass - oh, God, help us! Help us!" The voice abruptly cuts off.

The facility is only a few kilometres ahead of us, now. I can see it on the screen: intact, untouched.

"Well," I say, to no one in particular, "sounds like we have a problem."

---

King Estmere holds station three kilometres off the facility, still at red alert, her fighters weaving around her in patrol patterns. But I'm more and more convinced that it's not that kind of fight....

But it is a fight, of some kind. The sensor scans have convinced me of that, at least.

"One hundred and twenty-five life signs," Samantha Beresford reports, tight-lipped.

Even Anthi gasps, at that. The crew complement at Delta Gracilis is supposed to be over three thousand.

"The station's defence grid is inactive," chief engineer Dyssa D'jheph reports. "No indications as to why... no sign that any of those phaser arrays has been fired in months. Station main power is still online, life support and structural integrity are both one hundred per cent. Main deflectors are offline, but - as with the weapons systems - there's no sign of damage."

I look around the conference room, at the strained faces of my senior officers. F'hon is next to speak. "Apart from the initial distress call," he reports, "there's only been that one, brief, communication. Um, records indicate the distress call was authorised by a Dr. Tamik, the station's director... we might have a voiceprint match for the other one, a human scientist called Damon Stevenson - it's a little doubtful, the computer gives us eighty-eight per cent. Aside from that.... nothing. Automated challenge-response just gets back dead air on all channels."

"OKay," I say. "So... it's consistent with the station being attacked and its defenses overwhelmed... with the minor detail that there are no physical signs of anything happening. Is it just me, or is that weird?"

There is no laughter, not even nervous laughter, in response. "All right, so let's consider our options," I go on. "It seems to me... we can call for backup, we can keep station and try to get communications back with the survivors... or we can go in and find out what happened, on the ground."

"I'm going to take a guess at which is your preferred option," Samantha Beresford says dryly.

"Damn right," I say, "but I don't want to go in completely blind. Anthi, what do we actually know about Delta Gracilis?"

Anthi picks up her PADD. "Structurally, it's a standard class-B space-environment science outpost with an additional two research modules, a tactical command centre, and the defence grid," she says. "The research is classified, of course, but the general pattern is high-energy dimensional physics. Dr. Tamik is on record as saying that his research programme is our best shot at taking the war to the Tholians, but he's not specific as to why, or how. Sensor scans read negative for any sort of Tholian incursion," she adds, "apart, of course, from ourselves."

"With all the Reman gear aboard," Dyssa mutters, "King Estmere's barely recognizable as a Recluse carrier any more."

"Okay," I say, "what about security systems? What sort of challenge can we expect if we beam in?"

"We must assume most of the tactical teams are... among the casualties," Anthi says, and there is something bleak in her expression as she speaks. "As for automatic systems - there is an onboard defence system, using security holos similar to the ISIS system on Facility 4028. Their IFF should let us pass in unsecure areas, but we could have trouble getting into the laboratories or the station's central admin complex. Having said that, though... there is no sign of active holo-emitters on the station at this time."

"Not yet," F'hon adds in an undertone.

"Something to watch for," I say, resignedly. "Well, let's get moving."

---

The tactical teams beam in to the station's reception area, securing a bridgehead before they let me in. There is no sign of damage in the big, round room with the tasteful abstract murals and the transparent dome overhead. Still, I am in full battle armour, and my phaser pulsewave is a reassuring weight in my hands.

Soledad Kleefisch has taken charge of the reception room; besides her, there is a young ensign - a human, named Colton, I think - and the Ferengi cyber-warfare specialist, Klerupiru. She is standing over the reception desk's computer console, a frown on her sharp-featured face; one finger is nervously pulling at her uniform collar. She is something of a Ferengi traditionalist, I remember, and doesn't like wearing clothes. Her other hand is moving on the console, tapping briskly at the controls.

"All quiet," Soledad reports. "Tac teams are fanning out from this location. So far, nothing to report."

"Something pretty odd here," Klerupiru says in an abstracted voice. Her eyes flicker towards me for an instant, then turn back to the console. "Lots more activity than I'd have expected, and... multiple timestamps on the data logs. Overlapping... sometimes conflicting.... It's weird. Sir," she remembers to add.

"Can you get through to anything useful on that console?" I ask.

Klerupiru bites her lower lip. "I'm not sure.... It looks like someone's enabled a priority override on it, allowing top-level access to the base systems... except it's intermittent. Weird. The command priorities seem to vary, as if the security settings are constantly being reset. I don't know what's causing it."

"A virus attack?"

"Possibly...." Klerupiru's voice trails off as the console absorbs all her attention again.

I turn away, look around. It's a typical room on a typical base, quiet, tasteful to the point of blandness... and there is no sign that any sort of battle has been fought here, no explanation for the distress call. If I listen, and taste the air with my antennae, I can hear a distant tramping of feet, and I know that it's just my own tactical teams exploring the immediate area. There is nothing strange, nothing out of place -

The four black figures pop out of nowhere, faceless behind mirrored visors, bulbous in body armour. Their weapons are ready, and the air is suddenly full of scorching heat and the dull blatting sound of plasma weapons.

I'm already moving, ducking out of the line of fire, bringing up my own gun. Someone is screaming. The phaser pulsewave crashes in my hands, and one of the attackers flickers and vanishes as swiftly as it appeared. Two more of the attackers are already impaled on lines of sick green light from Soledad's split-beam disruptor; the last one is trading shots with Klerupiru, who has ducked behind the console and brought her phaser out. I blast that one down, and turn to Soledad's antagonists, but they are already flickering out. Holograms, their matrices shredded by the disruptor fire. But their weapons had a real enough effect -

Ensign Colton is down. I slap my combadge. "Medical emergency! Plasma weapons burns!" The ensign is moving feebly, his upper body charred. He was wearing standard issue armour, basic gear, not enough for the situation. I kneel down beside him. "Hang in there, Ensign, help's on the way." His agonized eyes give me no acknowledgement.

There is the whine and glare of a transporter, and Samantha Beresford is there with her medical kit. She winces at the sight of Colton's injuries. "Nasty," she comments, her hands moving swiftly. "All right, Ensign, let's get you stabilized for transport and off to sickbay. Pronto." A hypospray hisses, and Colton's face relaxes a little. Samantha hits her own combadge, issues terse orders, sparkles away with her patient.

I take a deep breath. Now, there are signs of battle, all right; the walls are scarred from plasma burns and the fringes of our own weapons' discharges; the air is hot and bitter with expended energies.

Klerupiru clutches at her brow and swears under her breath. "This doesn't make sense," she says. "Sir, those were holograms... weren't they?"

I nod.

"But the holo-emitters were offline!" Klerupiru positively shouts. "They were offline the whole time! They still are offline!"

"Maybe someone beamed in mobile emitters?" I suggest, doubtfully.

"I'd have seen the transporter signatures." Klerupiru gestures at the console, which has escaped, miraculously unscathed.

Another mystery. "Warn everyone to be on the alert," I tell Soledad.

She nods, and then her hand goes to her headset comms. "I'm getting a message," she says. "Sir, it's Commander Lolha. She says they've found someone on level two. Just beneath us...."

I heft the pulsewave in my hands. "Let's go."


---

There are signs of battle on the next level: burn marks on the metal walls, the sign of phaser fire. Lolha and her team are crouched around a doorway, one that's been hastily barricaded with furniture - a desk, a computer console tipped on its side. The Tellarite gestures for me to keep my head down as I approach.

"He's not shooting at us," she says, "but he's shooting."

"At who, then?"

"I don't know," says Lolha. "He's off his pointy-nosed human head, from the sound of it."

A line of orange light stabs out from behind the barricade, to splash harmlessly against the opposite wall. "His phaser's nearly drained," Lolha says.

I raise my voice. "You in there! Can you hear me?"

"Stay back!" A panicky, breathless reply.... It sounds like the voice on the communicator, earlier. I decide to take a chance.

"Stevenson? Damon Stevenson? I'm Tylha Shohl, from the King Estmere. We're responding to the distress call."

"You're too late! They're everywhere!"

"Stay calm." I try to put an edge of command into my voice. "My tac team is outside this door now. You're safe. We can transport you to our ship right now, if you want."

A white face appears behind the barricade: Stevenson. His eyes are wide, his dark hair disarranged, fear is etched on his features. "I don't - Get back!" Fear, and disbelief. "Can't you see them?"

He raises a phaser pistol. I flinch back as the bolt hisses past me, aimed at nothing. "Get me out of here!" he screeches.
He leans out, over the barricade, looking at - something. Something I can't see.

Hallucinations. It has to be hallucinations. Some chemical or biological agent, released into the base's atmosphere, driving the inhabitants insane -

Then a patch on the front of Stevenson's tunic chars black and spits out sparks. A second patch, close by, does the same; then a third. The phaser drops from his hand and he slumps over the barricade.

We all turn around, peering comically down the long, brightly lit corridor. There is no one there. There is no one in sight except us... and the dead man.

---

Several hours later, Samantha Beresford is looking tired and irritable in the King Estmere's sick bay.

"Ensign Colton is out of the woods," she tells me. "We've replaced his lung and six of his ribs - temporary prosthetics while the cloned tissue grows in. He should be good as new in a month or so. As for the other one -"

"I was thinking," I say hesitantly, "about some sort of hallucinogen...."

Samantha snorts. "You can use hypnotics and hallucinogens to create some psychosomatic effects," she says. "You can hypnotize someone, touch a piece of ice to their skin, and a blister will form if you tell them it's a hot coal. What you can't do is hypnotize the cells of their body into burning from polaron fire. That's what killed the scientist from the base. Not hallucinations. Three shots from a high-density collimated polaron beam. Probably Jem'Hadar."

I shake my head. "We'd have seen it," I say. "Jem'Hadar shroud technology isn't perfect - and the beam would have stood out. Besides, Stevenson could see whoever - or whatever - killed him." My antennae twitch as my frustration rises. "It doesn't make sense. None of this makes sense."

Samantha runs her fingers through her hair. "You saw the security holos who attacked Colton...."

"Yes." I frown. "I assume that's what they were... but there are things wrong there, too. Klerupiru is sure the holo-emitters were offline. And plasma weapons... they're not standard on security holograms."

"So what is it? Ghosts? Are we fighting ghosts?"

"I hope not. Not again...." I sigh, and pinch the bridge of my nose. I'm tired, as well as frustrated. "I've pulled everyone off the base for the moment. Until we've got some better idea what's happening."

Samantha pulls a face. "We've lost seven more of the remaining life signs," she says. "Sir, I think we need to get a better idea quickly."

"You're right." She is. But I don't feel any better ideas coming on. My combadge chirps at me. "Shohl."

"Skipper." F'hon's voice. "Message coming in for you. We have contact with the USS Finlandia."

"Put it on a screen in sickbay."

---

The face on the screen is that of a Vulcan woman, intent and composed. She has unusual reddish-brown hair and a disconcertingly level gaze. "Vice-Admiral T'Pia, Starfleet Science Command," she says. "We have received the distress call from the Delta Gracilis facility, and your own request for further assistance. Finlandia is twelve point six hours from your position at maximum warp speed. Please advise further."

"I wish I could." I shake my head. "The situation here is - confused. The facility appears to be under some sort of attack, but we don't know how, or by whom." Tersely, I recount the sequence of events. Damn Vulcans, all they ever want is facts.

At the end, T'Pia's face is unchanged. "The situation is, as you say, confused. What assistance do you require?"

I think fast. "Hold off," I say. "We've no guarantee this - whatever it is - won't spread to the King Estmere. Until we've identified the - the problem - it wouldn't be wise to risk another vessel."

T'Pia gives a brief, mechanical nod. "Finlandia's resources are at your disposal," she says. "We are a science vessel - we may have investigatory facilities that you lack. If you can transmit your data, we will review and analyze it."

"That might be the best thing you can do for us," I say. "No, wait. You're with Starfleet Science - can you get any background for us? Any idea of what Dr. Tamik was working on, and what might have gone wrong?"

"That is a possibility. I will do what I can." A faint frown crosses T'Pia's face. "I am reminded of something." She closes her eyes in concentration, opens them again. "I reviewed all available data on Dr. Tamik and Delta Gracilis when we heard the distress call. I am unable to determine any relevance in the information we have - however, one item may be of interest to you. Dr. Tamik requested data concerning an incident involving your own vessel. There was a mirror universe incursion, I understand."

I repress a shudder, thinking of my insane mirror universe counterpart and her dreams of conquest. "There was. Tamik was interested in it? What did he want to know?"

"Unknown. The request for information was included in the digest of comms traffic from the base. I merely remark on the coincidence."

"It's something to go on. If we can find Dr. Tamik...."

"I will contact Fleet Command and make representations on your behalf. I may also be able to obtain assistance from the Vulcan Ministry of Science. We will do whatever we can to assist you, Vice Admiral Shohl. Good luck. Finlandia out." The screen goes dark.

---

In the briefing room, a hologram of the base revolves slowly in the air, semi-transparent, bright spots marking the approximate locations of the remaining life signs. Six more have winked out.

"I've, um, I've got something that might help." Klerupiru is hollow-eyed, exhausted. "There's, um -"

"Spit it out," I tell her.

"I think I've got command codes for the security systems," she says. "They're supposed to be secure, but, well, you know people...."

Klerupiru managed to establish a link into the base's computers before we pulled out. And, it transpires, she's been working at it continuously since, tracking traffic, prying into recorded communications. Ethically, it's highly questionable. But she has results, and that's all that matters to me right now.

"With those codes, we can transport people directly to central admin, and the secure labs," I say. "Damn sight better than fighting ghosts all the way through the base.... Good work. Now, where to aim for?"

Dyssa takes over. "The only thing I've got to go on is power consumption curves." She stabs a finger into the hologram. "This lab here is using more power than anything else in the place. And it's right underneath central admin, too." Her finger moves up, to rest on a bright spot. "There's a life sign reading in that approximate location. We can't get a transporter lock on it, directly...."

"So," Samantha says, "if the mountain won't come to Mohammed -"

Some human proverb; I don't know the background, but the meaning seems clear. "All right," I say. "Klerupiru, clear me for access. Let's go see Dr. Tamik."

---

"Just you and me?" Zazaru asks, as we reach the transporter room. Her face is calm, her manner composed.

"You're the science officer," I say, "you talk Tamik's language. Also.... You remember that business with the mirror universe? Our counterparts on the Presa Gran?"

"I'm not likely to forget it." Zazaru's Trill spots show more strongly as her face pales. "I still have nightmares about it."

"I'm sorry," I say. "But - well, one of the few things we've got to go on is that Tamik was asking about that incident. I don't know why, or what he wanted to know -"

"But I would be best placed to understand his thinking," Zazaru finishes for me. "Makes sense."

"Thanks." We reach the transporter pads. Klerupiru is standing next to the operator at the controls. "Everything ready?" I ask her.

"I've transmitted all the overrides I could find," she replies. "Um - sir, the computers are still acting pretty weird. I think the codes are all consistent, but -"

"We'll be on our guard," I assure her. I turn to the operator. "Energize."

The world sparkles, fades out, comes back different.

We're in an office like a million other offices across the Federation - very like Admiral Semok's office on ESD, in fact: bare, functional, without ornamentation. Zazaru and I are standing in front of a big desk - and behind the desk is a man.

He looks up as we beam in. He is thick-set, bulky, with dark hair turning grey at the temples, above those unmistakeable pointed ears. "Dr. Tamik?" I say.

"Oh, no," he replies, "no, no, no, this won't do at all."

He reaches across the desk and taps at something on a console. Then he looks up at me and frowns. "Are you still here?"

"Are you Dr. Tamik? I'm Vice Admiral Shohl, from the King Estmere. We're responding to your distress call. This is my chief science officer, Commander Zazaru."

He blinks at me. "I don't have time for this," he says in a high, complaining tone. "Computer, reset and delete branch with extraneous Starfleet interference."

Zazaru and I exchange glances. Nothing else happens. Tamik sits behind his desk, fingers drumming impatiently beside the console. This man is a Vulcan, I remind myself: for him to be showing this much emotional affect, he must be perilously close to a nervous breakdown. I try again. "Dr. Tamik, we are real. We're really here, and we need to deal with this situation. One of my officers has been injured already, and at least one of your staff is dead - probably more, possibly many more. We must -"

"This is getting out of hand," Tamik announces, without even bothering to look at me. "Computer, recalculate baseline and adjust." His hand descends on the console, his finger touches an icon -

- and he vanishes.

No transporter sparkle, no hologram flicker. There is not even a puff of displaced air to mark his going. The chair behind the big desk is suddenly empty, and that's all there is to it.

Zazaru and I look at each other. "What do you think's going on?" I ask her.

"I'm... not sure, sir," she says. "Perhaps we should look at that console?"

"Perhaps we should see if Klerupiru can get access to it," I mutter, as we cross to the other side of the desk. The control interface is complex, marked with icons I don't understand; from the furrow on her brow, it seems Zazaru doesn't understand them either. There are diagrams, too, higher mathematics - very much higher - and images of branching, fractal structures....

Things begin to fall into place. My eyes widen in alarm, and I slap my combadge. "King Estmere, respond please," I say, and, "Zazaru. Scan for anomalous quantum energy signatures. Not mirror universe."

"King Estmere responding, sir," says F'hon's voice. "What's wrong? Do you need help?"

"Just checking," I say. I look questioningly at Zazaru, while she sweeps the scanning beam of her tricorder around the room.

"Multiple anomalous signatures," she says doubtfully. "You're right, sir, they're not mirror universe. But my readings are... still confused...."

"Several different levels of them," I say. I study the branching diagram on the screen. "Possibly a whole lot of them.... Tamik was talking about taking the war to the Tholians. Dimensional engineering, the sort of tricks the Tholians play with subspace tunnels and spatial inclusions. Somewhere in Tamik's lab, he has a machine that... that fractures reality."

"It's...." Zazaru shakes her head. "It's possible, sir.... I remember our mirror counterparts telling us about an infinite number of possible worlds. If Tamik has found a way to superimpose anomalous quantum energy states.... But how could he use it -?"

"Perfect camouflage," I say. "Send in an attack force in a quantum-shifted state, and the enemy won't respond, because they won't exist to the enemy - until they do. Circumvent defenses, maybe, by shifting to a reality where they're not there.... Oh, it makes some sense, all right. It even explains some of what we've seen. The multiple timestamps on the computer logs - different things happening at the same time, but in different realities. The enemy that was real for Stevenson, but not for us. Tamik, just now, tried to remove the reality where we exist... and now, I think, he's shifted himself to one where we don't."

"But -" Zazaru's frown is deepening. "Objects in spacetime interact with each other. If you shift the quantum signatures so that some of those objects no longer exist - how do you predict what interactions will be affected? And how do you communicate with the things you've shifted out of existence? I can't see any way to keep this under control - you'd end up with chaotically branching world-lines -"

I point to the console screen. "I think that's exactly what we've got," I say. "And Tamik thinks he has some way to control them... but I'm guessing he's wrong."

"So what do we do, sir?"

I bite my lip in thought. "Stop the problem getting any worse. Find Tamik's machine and shut it down. It must be in the lab below us...."

"What happens then, sir? Do the multiple realities collapse back into one? Or would the divergent world-lines... spin off, into universes of their own?"

"I don't know." I heft my phaser pulsewave. It's probably useless, but it's still reassuring. "Only way to find out is by doing. I'll take the chances, I think. King Estmere, beam Commander Zazaru back to the ship."

"Sir -" Zazaru's protest is cut short by the shimmer of the transporter beam. With my useless gun at the ready, I head for the door.

---

The door of the lab opens with Klerupiru's stolen codes.

It ought to be dramatic. There should be flashing lights, strange machines pulsating with energies. Instead, there is a neatly arranged workbench, a computer console behind it, a power supply... and a simple metallic cylinder, as tall as me and about a meter wide, with a few status lights blinking on it.

This must be it... but whatever it is doing, it is on a level of reality far too fundamental for me to detect it. My antennae twitch nervously as I approach it. If I'm right... then I'm approaching it through a tangled jungle of world-lines, of probabilities, what-ifs and might-have-beens. But there is no sign. My footsteps echo in the empty laboratory, and the machine stands impassively before me. There is a metal plaque affixed to it, I notice, at about eye level; there is an inscription on it. To my surprise, it's written in an extinct human language. It reads:-

EX UNO PLURES

"Oh, very droll, Dr. Tamik," I mutter. Out of one, many. Indeed.

"Sir?" Klerupiru's voice: I've left my com link with the King Estmere open.

"Never mind," I say. "I've found Tamik's device. I don't think we have time for me to figure out how it works... I'm just going to pull the plug."

The power supply, at least, is standard. I open the housing, toggle the shutdown codes, and, for good measure, pull out the plasma manifold from the EPS conduits. Good luck restarting that from a remote console. I stand up -

And I freeze. I am no longer alone. A dozen black-armoured figures are around me, phaser rifles in their hands, aiming at me.

"I'm Vice Admiral Tylha Shohl," I say, rapidly, hoping they are programmed to respond. "Responding to a priority one distress call. I am authorized to be here."

The security holos stand there, impassive. Then, with a faint flicker, they wink out.

"Nice work, Klerupiru," I say, with some feeling.

"Um." Klerupiru's voice sounds nervous. "Nothing to do with me, sir... the security computer's gone into shutdown. I think.... I think it's finally responding to all that conflicting data, all the weird timestamps. It's gone into failsafe mode. Sir, life signs are popping up, all around the base -"

My eyes widen. The world-lines have started to coalesce. "That means every other computer on the base might do the same thing! Klerupiru, get control!" I turn and race for the lab door. "Alert medical and damage control teams!" With the computers offline, the whole base could become a disaster area. If it isn't one already.

A voice sounds from the air around me. "Security alert! Restore function to Laboratory Alpha immediately! Detain any unauthorized personnel!" Tamik's voice. Damn.

"Shut that idiot off and give me the base's PA system!" I order. There are stairs up to the admin office - I don't dare risk the turbolift, not now. "On it," says Klerupiru. Then, "All yours, sir."

"This is Vice Admiral Tylha Shohl of the King Estmere," I say, and my voice booms back at me from a dozen different sources. "Remain calm. We are evacuating this facility. Medical teams will be with the injured shortly." I'm guessing there are injured. "Dr. Tamik is relieved of his post as director, on my authority, effective immediately."

I sprint for the door of Tamik's office. He knows the systems here, he will try to regain control -

He is pounding furiously on his console when I burst in. I don't have time to reason with him. I raise my pulsewave, and the blast of orange light flings him against the back wall, to rebound and fall limply to the floor.

I check my settings. I did have it on stun. Pity.

---

"Finlandia is four hours away," T'Pia says from the screen in my ready room. "Our medical teams are prepped to receive casualties. Also, I have obtained full endorsement of your actions from Science Command and the Federation Science Council. Dr. Tamik will answer for his breaches of ethics."

"Good." Three hundred and eighty-four dead, in the end, and over a thousand seriously injured - caught in attacks by the Jem'Hadar, the Klingons, the Tholians, a dozen unknown aliens, or in some natural disasters; anything that might have happened, and did happen in one of Tamik's subsidiary realities. King Estmere's medical facilities are full to overflowing, Samantha Beresford and her team working around the clock. A lot of casualties, for a war with no enemy.

"Dr. Tamik's reasoning seems to be fundamentally flawed," T'Pia observes with that typical Vulcan calm. "The mere act of shifting objects out of baseline reality.... abrogates basic principles of causality. Causes without effects, effects without causes. Tamik appears to have hypothesized some overall meta-causality principle which would allow him to exercise control over what objects were real, at which level of reality. This hypothesis was not borne out in practice."

"Maybe," I say. "Though... we got the distress call. In some hypothetical, alternate reality, Tamik had enough sense to make that call... and it got through to us." I give a short, forced laugh. "It almost makes me believe there is a higher power watching over us."

"Superstition," says T'Pia bluntly. "Random factors operated in our favour, that is all." She pauses, then adds, "If, indeed, they did. Who is to say that this is the baseline reality in which Dr. Tamik began his project? I believe you, yourself, were concerned that he might have - shifted - you out of the real world, into some subsidiary branch of his world-lines. Would you, or I, even know if that were true? We check for anomalous quantum signatures only by comparing them to our own...."

It's a possibility. And it's a haunting one. "As you say, we'd never know. And... in this reality, whatever it is, we won. I guess we'll have to live with that."

"Logical. Finlandia out." The screen goes dark.

I can see my reflection in it. Last time I studied my reflection, I was worried there were too many of me. Now, I'm worried that there might be too few.

Real or not? I can never know. But, in whatever world I'm in, there is work to be done. So I go and do it.
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2012
Posts: 106
# 16
04-11-2013, 02:47 PM
Azera Xi: Dead Drop

Captain's Log, Stardate 90901.63 - The Roanoke has received a priority one distress call from Starbase 343 and should reach the system within a few hours. The automated message indicates that an unknown enemy has seized control of the station, and further attempts to contact the base have failed. Starfleet is responding with all available ships in the sector, but the nearest vessel is several days away. The transmission makes reference to a discovery that, should it fall into the wrong hands, might jeopardize the Federation's war efforts; according to the briefing Starfleet Intelligence sent us ahead of the mission, that may be an understatement.

"It's called the Orb of Space," Azera explained as she swiveled her chair away from the display panel on the wall to turn back toward the spacious observation lounge and the senior officers gathered around the conference table. The paused image flickered silently behind her shoulder, displaying the familiarly crystalline hour-glass shape of a Bajoran Orb within the open doors of its bejeweled ark along with an overlayed stream of technical data.

"Three weeks ago," she leaned forward as she continued, "the Federation science vessel Polaris discovered the Orb during a routine patrol of the Zenik System. After initial scans showed unusual and potentially dangerous readings even for an Orb, they brought it to Starbase 343, where it's been in quarantine and undergoing more extensive tests ever since."

"Captain," Dr Umliz interrupted, the Bajoran medical officer's brow furrowed in thought, "why wasn't the Bajoran government informed about this? The discovery of a new Orb is one of incalculable significance. Was Starfleet intending to keep it for themselves?"

"I wish I could say," Azera Xi shook her head sympathetically, "what I do know is that Starfleet Intelligence claimed jurisdiction over the research and classified all of it top secret almost as soon as the Orb reached the station. Our engineering team's been reviewing the findings sent to us just a little while ago, and... well, Nyzoph should probably take it from here."

"Yes sir," the Andorian engineer nodded to the young woman at the head of the table, and he tapped a few flashing buttons built into the polished surface to bring up another display filled with rolling columns of numbers, "the orb emits a continuous stream of verteron particles that loop around it like a magnetic field, forming a kind of dormant verteron node like the ones in the Bajoran wormhole. The science team found that specific subspace pulses could activate the Orb and instantly transport its users across interstellar distances, like an Iconian gateway."

"What's the range," Corspa asked, leaning closer beside him to study the readings.

"They were just about to start testing that," he shrugged a little to the first officer before glancing up to the captain as well, "but the equations suggest its only limit is the particle horizon. It could reach anywhere in the observable universe with the right sequence."

"That's incredible," Auslaz whispered to herself, and then she took a breath before speaking louder, "but I thought there were only nine Orbs. Is this one of them?"

"Ten," the ship's doctor gently corrected her, "counting the Orb of the Emissary found during the Dominion War. This isn't one of the Orbs known to Bajor, but it's been speculated since then that there could be other Orbs whose existence has been forgotten. But Captain, you said it's called the Orb of Space, so I take it the ark container had Bajoran inscriptions."

"According to the report," she nodded, "though in a very ancient script."

"I see," Kwam replied with a thoughtfully worried frown.

"So anyone who gets their hands on it," Angel spoke up, the handsome security chief resting his chin on one fist as he stared up at the image on the wall, "could instantly transport themselves anywhere in the galaxy. The Klingons, the Orion Syndicate, the True Way Alliance, even the Dominion itself would all love to get their hands on something like that."

"We haven't detected any ships around the station," Azera answered with a small frown, "but that could just mean they're using cloaking devices. Whoever's responsible for this attack, we have to assume that they're trying to steal the Orb of Space. We'll arrive at the station in less than an hour: I want battle stations ready in case we have to fight our way through."

"Aye captain," each of the officers replied in turn, and with a parting nod from Azera they each began to rise from the table and make their way back to the bridge.

"Captain," Dr Umliz's voice rang hesitantly over her shoulder, and Azera jumped a little from her chair, smiling shyly at the sight of the Bajoran doctor as the last of the bridge crew slipped through the hissing doors to leave the two of them alone in the lounge.

"Yes, Doctor," she tilted her head a little curiously as she stood up to face him.

"I didn't want to say anything in front of the others," he answered quietly, "but this may be more serious than we've been told. If I could have five minutes of your time..."

Azera wasn't sure she really had five minutes to spare given the circumstances, or that sickbay couldn't use those five minutes to better prepare itself for any casualties. Then again, she'd never seen such a look of suspicion and dread in Kwam's eyes before.

"Sure," she replied a little tremulously, "go ahead."

* * *

The shimmering glow of the transporter beam faded away to leave the away team engulfed in billowing white mist. The arched bulkheads and side corridors seemed to loom and sway around them through the unnatural fog, the winding passageway within Starbase 343 as murky and humid as a jungle trail. The group gathered closer, squinting through the rolling mists and choking down the strangely electric scent of the air, and then Auslaz spoke up.

"It's the environmental controls," the science officer's voice rose above the beeping readout of her tricorder, "humidity and ozone are both extremely elevated, and most of the other gases are ionized. Sensors are having a hard time cutting through all the interference."

"Any survivors," Azera asked as she looked left and right through the swirling gloom.

"I'm picking up over a hundred life signs five decks below us," the young Trill nodded as she waved the handheld device around the walls and floor, "along with multiple casualties scattered throughout the rest of the starbase. The station's on minimal power and the docking clamps are locked, so it looks like they've barricaded themselves in the sublevels."

"Can we reach them?"

"Not right now," she shook her head with a frown, "turbolifts are inoperative. Most of the primary systems are offline, and I'm getting some kind of interference from the command center on Deck 1, like there's a dampening field. We'll need to restore power before we can..."

Something clanged through the corridor behind them, something large, heavy and metallic that shook the floorplates beneath each thudding footstep. The team instantly twisted around with its phasers aimed into the roiling white fog, Corspa and Angel stepping slightly ahead of both the captain and the blue-clad science officer shaking her head in confusion.

"Scans aren't showing anything," Auslaz tried to explain as she tapped buttons on her tricorder, waving it back in the direction of the shuddering footsteps and then banging it against her knee to no avail, "there's a lot of interference, but there should still be something!"

"Whatever it is," Corspa tersely replied, raising her weapon higher, "it's big..."

Azera listened to the approaching footsteps, focusing intently to separate each thud from the echoes it sent through the fog and down the length of the hall. One two-three... four five-six. She tapped a finger against her left palm in time with the oddly familiar rhythm of those footsteps even as she kept her phaser raised, listening to the slow-quick, one-two tempo.

Then she caught a glimpse of the large arachnid shadow through the fog, six glittering metal legs lifting and carrying its upright, oblong shape across the floor as the sea-green beams of its search lights swept through the haze. It looked like a robot, a spider-legged machine scanning the hallway with each mechanical footstep, but anyone in Starfleet would recognize that clicking cadence, and the powered exosuit that encased its living crystalline pilot.

"It's a Tholian," Azera muttered, and then she spoke louder as it suddenly stopped and began to swivel its glowing visor toward them, "everyone, take cover!"

The away team leapt aside into two halves as they ducked down opposite sides of an adjoining corridor, Angel and Azera peeking around the left corner at the intruder as Corspa and Auslaz braced themselves behind the right edge of the intersection. A sizzling radiation beam sliced through the empty corridor as they crouched lower, and then a stream of orange phaser beams swept back through the hallway, bathing the white fog in a fiery red glow as they danced around the stalking, armored alien. The hissing beams vanished after a moment and the creature suddenly stopped, uttering the shrill clicking sounds of its native language. Then it began to skitter forward again, flooding the misty corridor with a hissing purple beam.

"I've got an idea," Angel whispered to Azera as he adjusted his handheld phaser's settings and glanced out into the main hallway again at the striding creature. Then, before she could say a word of protest, the security chief flung himself into the open passageway, rolling across the floor into a crouching aim at the Tholian and firing off three quick phaser blasts before it could adjust its aim. Each of the shots flashed through the robotic carapace, the exosuit flickering like static around the energy beams before turning solid again, and he dived behind the opposite corner as it raised two silver-clad arms to fire its own indigo beam at him.

"That was crazy," Auslaz hissed under her breath as he clambered upright beside her and Corspa, and she smacked her tricorder across his arm, "you could have gotten killed!"

"Sorry," he rubbed his arm and frowned a little, "but it should have worked. Those shots didn't even bounce off a shield, they just went right through the thing like it's not there."

"Wait a second," Auslaz suddenly jolted upright in realization, even as Corspa and Azera continued to fire their phasers down the hall, "hang on, let me check something..."

The science officer aimed her tricorder again, her fingers racing across the controls to scan the hallway with a new range of settings, and she gave a satisfied nod as the device flashed a readout of both the armored alien and several energy sources surrounding it.

"It's not real," she showed her tricorder's readings to Angel and Corspa, and then she called out across the misty corridor, "Captain, the Tholian's a hologram! Somebody must have sabotaged the security holoprojectors to simulate an attack. The changes to the environmental controls are just to obscure the readings so we wouldn't recognize it at first."

"Can you shut it off," Azera shouted over the hiss of another radiation beam.

"I think I can," Corspa called back as she holstered her phaser and unclipped a small spherical device from her belt, "I'll adjust a photonic grenade to target the hallway projectors instead of the hologram. That should at least give us some breathing room."

The Andorian tactical officer finished arming the grenade and lifted her arm to throw it around the corner - and then she turned around with a sharp cry at the sight of a transporter beam glowing across the hallway, leaving only a ghostly afterimage of the captain.

* * *

Azera Xi twisted wildly around as the beam faded away, a luminous blue void gradually coalescing around her into a large steel-gray chamber. A raised octagonal ring of wall-mounted consoles stretched around her on every side, lined by a thin metal handrail that almost gave her a feeling of being trapped, caged within the sunken core of the empty room. Command consoles surrounded her, turbolifts lining the bulkheads... the operations center, she realized...

...and the searing pain of a phaser beam stabbed across the back of her shoulders.

Her legs wobbled beneath her and suddenly crumpled forward, knocking her backward and slamming her head across the floor. She groaned and tried to lift herself back to her feet, and her legs lay still and lifeless below her waist. The young captain looked around with a growing panic, trying to bend her arms and sit upright, only for her arms to remain as limply unmoving as if she'd been asleep. She fought to swallow the fearful whimper rising to her throat and tried to fling her whole body sideways, and felt just her head rolling sideways against her shoulders as the rest of her body lay motionless, paralyzed from the neck down.

"Your spinal cord's been overloaded by a calibrated phaser pulse," Azera heard a familiar voice somewhere overhead, and she struggled to lift her head up from the metal floor to see him, "the effect will wear off in an hour or so, but by then it'll be too late. And I'm afraid your telekinesis won't be of much use either: this room's been equipped with a suppression field."

The lingering pain of the phaser blast began to give way to a dull throbbing heat spreading across the small of her back as her dark eyes rolled and fixed on the crewcut blonde man standing above her, his featureless black leather uniform, the jagged scar running down his right cheek and the humorless scowl that met her own wordless glare. He holstered his weapon without another word as he began to pace the room, then he spoke again.

"Captain Azera Xi," Franklin Drake gave her the slightest formal nod, "we finally get to meet in person. I just wish it could have been under better circumstances."

"And I wish it'd never been at all," she snarled, "what are you up to, Drake?"

"Yes, I do get that a lot," the Section 31 agent smiled faintly at her defiance, "you know, we really don't give Federation phasers enough credit. Such versatile devices..."

It occurred to her that he seemed to be stalling, either buying time or just reluctant to answer her question. She tried to clench her frozen hands as she spoke again.

"You're after the Orb, aren't you?" she hissed up at him, "who needs double agents and deep cover when you can send assassins right into the Klingon chancellor's bedroom?"

"That would be a great advantage to Section 31," he agreed, and he turned around from the communication panel he'd been studying to face her again, "unfortunately for us, there's really no such thing as an Orb of Space. That was just the bait. The prize is you, Captain."

"But the reports came from Starfleet Intelligence," she murmured to herself, and then her eyes narrowed with realization, "because you're the one who sent them to us. And you staged the attack on Starbase 343. These people have been hurt, some of them killed... why!?"

"To make the trap more convincing," Drake shrugged, "it's unfortunate, but everyone here swore their lives to protect the Federation, and their deaths won't be in vain. We won't squander the opportunity your presence here has given us, the way the rest of Starfleet did."

"My presence," Azera Xi shook her head weakly, then she gave an exasperated groan as she glared back up at the rogue officer, "of course. You mean Species 1's presence."

"Admiral Kane was clever," Captain Drake continued as he paced around the paralyzed girl with the predatory calm of a tiger, "he knew enough about Starfleet Intelligence to guess at the lines of communication available to Section 31, so he hid his report about you in plain sight, right under our noses. But the moment you found out who you really are, it was only a matter of time before we read the right reports and found out too. And while Starfleet's more sanctimonious elements may have been content to let you run around the quadrant playing captain, we have much better uses for you, and the insights you can offer us about the Borg."

"Well, I guess there's no choice but to tell you everything," she rolled her eyes and answered him with sarcastic resignation, pausing for dramatic effect before she continued, "it all began when I was 4 years old and built the very first Borg drone. But since I hadn't learned how to read yet, I mixed up the on and off switch and they've been out of control ever since."

The black-clad operative just looked over at her with a wryly amused smile before continuing to slowly circle the command room, his arms crossed behind his back.

"The real answer's probably locked up somewhere in your unconscious, but honestly, we're not interested in what you might know about their origins. We don't care where the Borg came from, we only care about ending them. The Borg are a plague that's been infecting this galaxy for thousands of years. Every time someone discovers a cure, they mutate, they 'adapt' and keep spreading. But with you, we finally have a sample of the original strain."

He paused for a moment, glancing down at Azera to see what she had to say. She met his curious look with a silently smoldering fury, and so he resumed his explanation.

"Every piece of cybernetic technology they use," he said, "was designed for your species. When their nanoprobes rewrite someone's DNA, they become more like you. Your physiology is the mold for every Borg drone that's been assimilated since, a blueprint for their biological core. And now that we have that blueprint, we can begin to devise a real weapon against them. Something that attacks their fundamental nature, that their nanoprobes can't adapt to overcome. A neurolytic pathogen written with your DNA could kill every last one of them."

"You self-righteous bastard," she spat at him.

"A ship is on its way right now to take you to one of our secret facilities," he replied as calmly as if he'd been remarking on the weather lately, as though he hadn't heard her insult at all, "I'll already be gone by the time it arrives. To be honest, I was tempted to just stun you and leave you here for them. But I respect you too much to do that without facing you myself and explaining the reason for your sacrifice. And let me be clear, it will be a terrible sacrifice."

She gathered her breath for another retort, but he'd already started speaking again.

"You'll die," he explained tonelessly, "and then you'll be revived, again and again while our researchers hone and test the pathogen to make sure your immune system can't possibly adapt to it. Then they'll infect you with the Borg's nanoprobes and start the process over again to test their reaction to it as well. The only solace I can offer is that once we've learned everything we need to know, it'll finally end, and your death will save thousands of worlds. And if you truly care about saving the Federation, you'll want to do what's right, no matter the cost."

"And if you truly cared about the Federation," her body twitched with suppressed rage as she shouted at him, "you wouldn't be standing here betraying everything it's stood for!"

"Spoken like a true idealist," he answered curtly, "we'll just have to agree to disagree..."

Drake's words slurred away into a confused stammer for a moment and he shook his head with a groan, lifting one hand to his forehead and glancing around the flashing consoles and steel gray bulkheads around him. Then he slowly smiled, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath before opening them again to look down at the intensely staring girl.

"You're trying to get into my mind," he smirked, "well played, but it won't do you any good. We do have ways of protecting our thoughts against telepathic intrusion."

"Good," Azera muttered as she narrowed her gaze, "that'll make it easier."

"What are you talking about," he asked warily. Her voice had been perfectly calm, all the fear and anger he'd grown accustomed to vanishing entirely - and as he felt her mind twisting smoothly through his thoughts again, his muscles clenched with the panicked fury of a tiger that's just now realizing it's been looking at the bars of a cage from the wrong side.

"It's not your mind," the pink-haired captain replied, "that I'm interested in."

And with those words, Drake's legs instantly gave out beneath him, sending the operative tumbling forward across the polished floor. His nose smashed open beneath the weight of a head suddenly as limp and heavy as a bowling ball, and the arms he'd tried to fling down to catch himself dangled like wooden planks from his shoulders, as utterly detached from his being as if they'd been amputated. His pained cry gave way to a choked gurgle as the blood from his broken nose snorted back up into his windpipe, and his eyes widened for an instant with the cold dread of suffocating facedown on the floor, his arms and legs useless to roll him the few inches it'd take to save his life. Then a boot kicked him hard across the side, flipping him onto his back and leaving him gasping the air with relief even as his spleen ached from the blow.

"What did you do," he choked up at the calm young woman standing above him in her dark command uniform, "how can you be... you don't even have a working spine!"

"No," Azera shrugged, then she smiled again, "good thing yours is working so well."

"You," the black-suited operative hissed, all the panic building through his paralyzed body distilled through his wide brown eyes, "you're attacking my brain stem..."

"Oh, just enough to borrow the motor pathways," she answered as she lifted her right hand to casually wiggle her fingers and study the back of her hand. She flexed her palm to make a fist and then reached both her arms over her head, languidly arching her back before turning to pace around the room in precisely the opposite circle he'd traced while talking to her.

"Of course," Azera Xi continued with a sardonically regretful frown, "since your brain's busy moving my body around, the rest of your body's just out of luck for the moment."

"Telepathic neural targeting," Drake grunted from the floor, "that's a Lethean technique."

"I dabble," she shrugged with cheerful modesty, and then she turned away at the sound of a small beeping alarm from one of the communication panels behind her. She raised her palm toward the paralyzed operative as she listened intently, then hopped lightly over the railing and darted up to the station console for a closer look at the readings flashing across it.

"This must be the ship you mentioned," she called back over her shoulder, "so I guess you were expecting to be gone by now. Well, I suppose we should answer them."

Azera pressed a few buttons and an open audio channel chimed through the room.

"Unknown vessel," the young woman sternly called out toward the ceiling, "this is Captain Azera Xi of the Federation starship Roanoke. Identify yourself immediately."

"I don't know if this ship even has a name," the familiar Andorian accent of her chief engineer replied through the channel, "but it's Commander Nyzoph, Captain."

She sighed a little with relief and glanced down to relish the way Drake had closed his eyes with frustration and leaned his head back against the floor before she continued.

"Hi Nyzoph," she grinned broadly, "I'm glad to hear your voice - otherwise this was going to be a really awkward conversation. So what kind of ship did they try to send?"

"An unregistered Orion frigate," he answered, "I'm not sure which is more dangerous, the disrupter cannons or this antique warp core. They did have a cloaking device, but since you'd already guessed that part, we had a tachyon grid waiting for them. We've seized the ship and locked its crew in the cargo hold. Syndicate pirates, from the look of things."

"Understood," she nodded, "have you heard from the away team?"

"Yes sir," his voice chirped through the console, "they've disabled the holoprojectors, shut down the dampening fields and transported the injured to sickbay. Four dead, fifteen wounded, with minimal damage to the station itself. Corspa was about thirty seconds away from having Lieutenant Onplav beam you back - she'll be glad to hear things are going smoothly."

"That makes two of us," Azera smiled softly, "Azera out."

"So you knew all along," Drake growled from the middle of the room as the captain tapped the communication panel again and turned back around to face him, "how?"

"Well, since you were nice enough to tell me your plan," she smirked, "I guess I can return the favor. All those science details your report gave about the Orb of Space were very impressive, they had our engineering staff completely fooled. But you really shouldn't have tried to pass a story about a fake Orb onto a ship whose doctor used to be a Vedek.

"Azera Xi to the Roanoke sickbay," she tapped her golden combadge.

"Dr Umliz here," the ship's Bajoran doctor answered through the audio link.

"Doctor, if you have a moment, Mr Drake is curious to hear how you knew that the Orb of Space was a fake, that the mission was probably a trap to lure us to Starbase 343."

"Oh that won't take long," he replied amiably, speaking loud enough for the glowering intelligence officer to hear him as well, "you see, the ancient Bajoran language incorporates many of the concepts of what humans would call 'relativity theory.' More specifically, it describes both space and time with a single word. So the Orb of Space translated into its original name would really be the Orb of Time - and as you know, we've already found the Orb of Time."

"And there you have it," Azera beamed, "any other questions?"

Franklin Drake seemed to have stopped listening entirely now, his eyes fixed blankly on the ceiling as he lay motionless on the floor. Then his body suddenly twitched in a spasming flurry of movements from his head and neck, and he looked wildly around at the room in renewed panic until his bewildered stare caught and held fast to the salmon-haired woman.

"Captain Azera Xi," he stammered hesitantly, "what... what happened?"

"What do you mean," she asked suspiciously.

"I don't think we've met before," he tried to move again, his head bouncing against the metal floor as the rest of his body lay frozen, "but you're the captain who saved Vega Colony from the Borg, aren't you? My name is Franklin Drake. I don't... why can't I move? The last thing I remember is that I was on an assignment in the Bolarus Sector... a Romulan ship decloaked... and everything else is a blur. How did I get here, Captain? What's going on?"

Azera stared intently down at the confused operative, her own doubts starting to grow as she watched his eyes darting around the room with bewildered fear. He looked up at her with plaintive confusion, shaking his head once more... and then his eyebrow twitched.

"Oh you're good," she rolled her violet eyes and turned contemptuously away as she tapped her combadge again, "I think I've heard enough, but have fun telling our security officers how the evil Romulans made you do it. Captain Azera Xi to the Roanoke."

"Yes Captain," Luverala's abashed voice piped through her communicator.

"Will you beam Mr Drake directly to the brig?"

"Aye sir."

A wavering chime hummed through the air as the shimmering blue light of the transporter beam caught Drake's immobile form, and she sighed and shook her head a little as she watched him fading away into the empty air. Then she spoke through the open channel again.

"Is he behind a force field?"

"Yes sir," the Betazoid engineer, and the ranking officer on the sparse bridge while the away team worked on the station, replied, "security just confirmed his arrival."

"Understood," she nodded, and she finally let herself relax, giving a heavy sigh of relief as her mind slipped loose from the cold black web of his chemically encrypted engrams - and her sigh gave way to a startled squeak as she suddenly tumbled backward and slammed across the floor again, the leaden weight of her paralyzed limbs an oddly familiar sensation now.

"Luverala," she nervously asked the empty air, "are you still there?"

"I'm here," his voice rang through the combadge.

"Oh good," she replied quickly, "could you also beam me straight to sickbay?"

"Locking on now," his voice quickened with alarm, "are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she sheepishly muttered, "I think I'll just lie here and catch my breath..."

The azure glow of a transporter beam swept around Azera, and a moment later the operations center and its steel-ringed array of consoles stood silent and empty.

* * *

Captain's Log, Stardate 90902.17 - Franklin Drake's currently enjoying the hospitality of our ship's brig, along with the Orion mercenaries he hired, and we're on our way to Earth Spacedock to remand them to Federation custody. While the frigate crew's willing to cooperate, they have little information other than their anonymous client's coordinates to a remote dropoff point that's light years away from any star system or known base. Drake continues to insist that he's the victim of a Romulan brainwashing scheme, and unfortunately I've found Starfleet Command to be less skeptical of his claim than the situation seems to warrant.

"You have to be kidding me," Azera scowled into the small raised viewscreen on her ready room desk, and then she tapped a button to switch the image on it to the larger black panel across the surface of her desk before she flopped into her cushioned chair. Admiral Quinn's stately, gray-haired face seemed to stare up through the desk and, after blinking up at the soft white glow of the overhead lights for a moment, she leaned back down toward him.

"His medical scans show signs of neural trauma consistent with a Tal Shiar mind probe," the admiral frowned, "and he did pass an autonomic response analysis."

"He's probably had that 'neural trauma' ready and waiting for years," Azera Xi's voice rose with exasperation, "and passing an ARA scan just proves he's a sociopath..."

"Captain," Admiral Quinn interrupted her, and his voice dropped a little, "frankly, I agree with you completely. This isn't the first time Drake's name has come across my desk, and I only wish I could say this time will be the last. He has a powerful ally somewhere in the highest ranks of the Federation, and whoever it is, they want to keep him in Starfleet Intelligence."

"Even if Starfleet Command buys this story," she stood up from her chair to lean over the glowing panel of her desk, "he's been compromised by his own admission! How can he possibly keep a classified intelligence post after claiming he's been a brainwashed spy?"

"He'd have to be medically cleared first," the admiral replied, and he spoke again after a thoughtful frown, "people like Drake, the ones who introduce themselves as Section 31 agents and dress in black uniforms, they're just flunkies, overgrown cadet boys living out their spy holonovel fantasies. The real heads of Section 31 are smart enough to stay in the shadows and let them do all the talking. For all his bluster, Drake is a puppet, nothing more.

"I don't know why they're pulling the strings to keep him at his post. Maybe they think he's still valuable somehow, or maybe he's a loose end they'd rather cut personally. He might even have some kind of leverage over the rest of Section 31 that's forcing their hand. But whatever their reasons, he's undoubtedly lost any position of authority he had with them."

"We don't know that," she insisted, "and he'll still be giving orders and coordinating intelligence just like he was before. What if he tries something like this again?"

"We'll be watching him," Admiral Quinn reassured her, "I've been chasing Section 31 for a long time now, and one thing I've learned is that they never return to the scene of the crime: to do so would risk exposing themselves. Section 31 isn't a secret Starfleet organization, Captain, it's a rogue network of Starfleet criminals. The only way they can avoid capture is by operating in total secrecy, and they lost that advantage by making an open move against you. They had one chance to capture you, and Franklin Drake blew it. They can't afford to try again."

"I'd feel a lot more confident about that with him in a detention facility."

"So would I," Quinn nodded sympathetically.

"So Drake gets away with everything he did by claiming the Tal Shiar put him up to it," Azera Xi snarled under her breath, and then her voice began to grow softer as she continued thinking aloud, "and that he... can't remember anything that happened..."

"Captain?"

"Excuse me, Admiral. I just have to write an addendum to my report, that's all."

"Azera Xi," Quinn frowned with concern, "I understand your frustration, but the official story isn't going to change. The people protecting Drake will make sure of that."

"Oh no," she smiled mysteriously as she sat back down, "I wouldn't think of challenging the official story. I just think it could use a few more twists and turns, that's all."

"Captain," the admiral began, then he sighed and smiled ruefully, "just be careful, okay?"

"Yes sir," she nodded to him, and, as soon as the call ended and the display panel on her desk went dark again, she lit it back up with a few more taps of her fingers across the polished surface and began to quickly type one last entry on her post mission report.

* * *

"Captain," Franklin Drake said earnestly as he rose from the plain bunk bed on the far side of the spacedock brig to stand before the seemingly empty doorway and the glowing white force field projectors lining it, "whatever I might have said before, I want to take this opportunity to apologize now and assure you that I have the utmost respect for you. I don't know why the conditioning snapped when it did, but I'm glad to be free from it and myself again."

"No need to apologize," Azera answered coldly from the other side of the force field, and she took a silent breath, glancing back and forth between the pair of red-clothed security guards standing at attention before she continued in a softer, more compassionate tone, "I'm sure you've heard about my report, about the plan you described and what you intended to do."

"It's horrible," he shook his head grimly, "I can't believe even the Tal Shiar would stoop to that kind of vivisection. I hope... I just hope I can earn back your trust someday."

"I hope so too," she said softly, "I guess you've also heard that, under the conditioning's influence, you claimed to be a member of Section 31 and that you were acting in the Federation's best interest. That you've been claiming to represent Section 31 for months now."

"That's the worst part of it," Drake made a scowling face and looked away, "that the Romulans would use me to turn Starfleet against itself, to sow that kind of distrust..."

"Yes," Azera nodded sympathetically, and she waited for him to look back up at her before quietly continuing, "well, there's something else I didn't mention at first. I've already reported it to Starfleet Command and they've begun an investigation, but I respect you too much to just leave it to them without facing you myself and explaining the situation."

If he recognized her choice of words, he didn't give any hint of it; he met her calm gaze with a mixture of curiosity, forlorn guilt and all the admiration he'd professed for her.

"You see," she continued, "the Section 31 cover they must have implanted you with slipped for a moment at the end. You actually talked about being a Romulan spy."

"What," he asked, and she only caught the subtly hissing undercurrent of surprise in his voice because she'd been waiting for it. She glanced shyly down, allowing him to regain his composure and assume a look of startled innocence before she spoke again.

"I don't know if you were gloating or desperate," she quietly explained, "or maybe the programming simply went awry, but you said that restoring Franklin Drake would never work, because you were never Franklin Drake at all. You said this entire personality is just a construct that the Tal Shiar created, and so long as it exists, you'll always be loyal to them."

"That's absurd," he snapped with an outrage he caught only a second too late.

"But sir," Azera said gently, never letting the sympathetic lilt of her voice drop, "if you don't remember what happened on Starbase 343, how can you be sure?"

Drake clenched his fists, his eyelids twitching as he stared intently through the force field at the slight pink-haired girl standing calmly before him. And then he finally spoke.

"Of course," he said quietly, "we can't be too careful, can we?"

"I was worried at first," Azera continued with an appropriately thoughtful frown, "about the impact bringing this information to light could have on your career. But I know that, as someone who truly loves the Federation, you'd want me to do what's right, no matter the cost."

"I appreciate your candor," Drake answered through tightly gritted teeth.

"Don't worry," she smiled reassuringly, "I'm sure once Starfleet Intelligence finishes digging through your history, interviewing everyone you've met, investigating every friend you've ever made and all the other details of your life, we'll uncover the real Franklin Drake."

"I can't wait to meet him," he muttered dryly, and then he glanced up with a look that, for all the smoldering anger it held, also harbored a disturbingly genuine gleam of admiration, "it's a shame you became a science officer. You'd have fit in well at Starfleet Intelligence."

"Coming from you, Mr Drake, that means," Azera flashed him a warm smile that only heightened her icy glare, "well, I think you already know how much that means to me."

Azera turned away from the glowering operative and, with a parting nod to each of the security officers, began to walk back down the dimly lit corridor toward the turbolifts that led up into the bright open lobbies of Earth Spacedock. Then she twired around again, walking backwards as she cheerfully shouted down the hall at the brig's glowing doorway.

"Good luck, Captain Drake! Remember, stand tall - don't ever buckle under!"

She turned back around to board the turbolift and finally gave up on trying to conceal her grin as the doors slid shut, leaving Drake digging his nails into his palms and pacing furiously around the holding cell as the light from the turbolift gave way to shadows again.

Last edited by sparklysoldier; 04-17-2013 at 07:27 PM.
Career Officer
Join Date: Nov 2012
Posts: 3,214
# 17 Porcelain Hammer
04-11-2013, 11:41 PM

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."


"Freedom is just a pretty idea unless it's backed by Force."

The Masterverse Timeline / Ten Forward Fanfics

Last edited by sander233; 09-08-2013 at 08:47 PM. Reason: stardate
Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 2,574
# 18
04-12-2013, 04:17 PM
Captain's Log, USS Bastogne NCC-93385, stardate 90201.5.

The
Bastogne is en route to Starbase 114 for a well-deserved shore leave, after our - rather unusual encounter with the famed Guardian of Forever. We will also be rendezvousing with the Kirk there, to transfer Lt. Paris back to her ship. Charming girl - don't know if I'd be as gracious toward someone who kidnapped me and shoved me two hundred years back in time. Profits, I wasn't that nice to Drake last time we spoke, and he hadn't kidnapped us - just dragooned us.

All systems are nominal, which makes a nice change. I think Vovenek's getting bored.


Grunt sat back in his command chair, fingering his brand-new commander's pip. He knew it was supposed to be SOP for an officer to receive a new command on being promoted to full commander, but he also knew how badly stretched the Fleet shipyards were - why, they'd recently been pulling old Andorian escorts out of mothballs and putting them on the front lines! Half of the admirals seemed to be flying around in commandeered Breen and Jem'Hadar ships, because Starfleet's production lines just weren't able to keep up with the losses being taken on the Borg front. No, all in all he really didn't mind staying with the old Bastard a little longer...

"Captain," Roclak interrupted his reverie, "we are receiving a distress signal. Priority One."

"One? Where is it, what ship, and how long will we take to get there?"

"One moment... Sir, it's not from a ship at all. The signal is being interfered with, probably at the source, but it's identifying as a research station. Something about True Way, and something else about 'temporal generators'."

"Temporal? That's not a very comforting word, Rock. Especially not today."

"I agree, sir. However, we're the nearest ship - the Termigant is next nearest, but it would take over three standard hours to arrive. We can be there in thirty minutes."

"Very well. Tell Termigant that we're responding to the signal. Don't acknowledge to the station - we're going to want to try to keep the advantage of surprise. Gydap, anything on sensors?"

"Yes, sir," the Andorian replied. "I have one Galor-class cruiser, with an odd irregularity to their energy outputs. It looks like their main reactor's having some issues. Also, their transponder is offline. Definitely not Cardassian military."

"Nothing else?" Grunt asked, surprised. "We're kind of far out from the True Way's usual turf - they only sent one ship?"

"So it would seem, sir. Incidentally, the station doesn't appear on any standard navigation charts of the area. Inquiries into this region are met with the same data precautions as those around Section 31's pet slingshot at Bepi 113."

"'Curiouser and curiouser,'" Grunt mused. "Ms. Shelana, please stand by on weapons, and have a few of your young men in the transporter room prepared to board the station."

"Don't you plan on boarding the Cardassian ship?" Roclak asked.

Grunt smiled. "Rock, if Shelana leaves enough of that ship to board, we'll consider it."

Shelana chuckled. "If."

Grunt touched a control. The Red Alert klaxon began howling through the ship. "All hands, this is the captain," he announced. "All hands to battle stations. Repeat, all hands to battle stations. We have a stop to make before getting that leave."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was an inoffensive little orange dwarf star, the kind a Klingon would have found homey. It hosted only three planets, one close-orbit gas giant and two rocky outer worlds too small to hold atmospheres. Orbiting the second of those rocks was a medium-small space station, accompanied by a beat-up Cardassian cruiser with no identifying marks on her hull.

A few light-seconds away, space twisted violently for a moment, before expelling a Starfleet cruiser, multiply-painted and proudly emblazoned USS Bastogne.

"Ms. Shelana," Grunt said, "you may - indulge yourself."

"Yes, sir," the Andorian tactical officer replied, with a feral grin. "Thank you, sir."

Lances of energy, blue and orange, speared through the endless night, enhanced with Shelana's own shield-piercing frequency modulations. Purple flares of Hargh'peng torpedoes streaked toward the Cardassian craft, already beginning its ponderous turn toward battle. Its own weapons returned fire, raking Bastogne's shields and shaking the ship's occupants.

"Shields holding at 90 percent, Commander," Gydap reported. "Minor fluctuation in the impulse drive."

"On it," Vovenek reported on the intercom.

"I thought you said everything was nominal!" Grunt complained.

"And I thought you said we were headed straight for a starbase. We were nominal for going to a starbase. Nobody said anything about flying into combat!"

"Continue firing at will, Shelana," Grunt said. "That sort of thing can't keep happening to this poor ship right now."

Shelana didn't say anything; the phaser and disruptor banks spoke on her behalf. The shielding surrounding the Cardassian ship wavered - and its overworked portside shield generator suddenly exploded through its hull. The Cardassian's engines wavered and died, and her port weapons ceased firing.

"Her port shields are down, sir," Gydap reported.

"Rock, send a standard surrender offer," Grunt ordered.

"Aye, sir. Transmitting." The Klingon grinned slightly. "Reply received. If the translator's working right, they have no concept of Klingon anatomy - what they're inviting me to do is physically impossible, even after a few drinks."

"Very well, no one can say we didn't try. Shelana?"

The Bastogne's fire increased with the addition of the aft phaser turret, tearing through the hull of the enemy craft and causing a massive series of explosions. In moments, all that remained of the former Galor-class ship was a rapidly-expanding cloud of gases and metallic debris.

"That's what I thought," Vovenek said. "They looked like they were in even worse shape than us."

"That's what they get for being racists," Grunt pronounced with satisfaction. "There are a lot of people who make better engineers than most Cardassians. You, for instance, my Pakled friend."

"You're making me blush," Vovenek said.

"How can you tell?" Roclak replied, straight-faced.

"Rock, hail the station. See if you can find out what's going on there," Grunt said. "Gydap, I need a sensor sweep of the station. Look especially for Cardie life signs."

"Scanning... Sir, I can't seem to get a look inside the station. There's a sensor-scattering field, which ordinarily I could compensate for, but on top of that there seems to be some sort of temporal issue going on - some of the signs I'm scanning seem to be shifted by several seconds from the neighboring data." Gydap shook his head. "I never did like temporal mechanics. I like it even less these days."

Grunt sighed. "I know the feeling. Anything yet, Rock?"

"Still scrambled, sir, but I did get a fragmentary audio of one of the True Way trying to reach their ship - I think he was looking for instructions on whether to start executing hostages."

"Well, that does increase the level of urgency a bit. Rock, Shelana, we're off to the transporter room. Rock, please have the quartermaster deliver our usual boarding supplies from the armory. Shelana, download whatever you can get on the floorplan of that station to our tricorders. Vovenek, come up to the bridge and keep a sharp eye on sensors. Let us know the microsecond anyone without a Starfleet transponder gets within range. Gydap, you have the conn. If trouble starts, try to get us out - but judging by the levels of precaution surrounding this installation, your first priority is to deny access to this station to anyone not from the Federation. By any means necessary, Mr. Gydap - and our survival is secondary to this."

"Aye, sir, I have the conn." Gydap touched the audio link in his ear. "Er, Chief Wayne's compliments, sir, but he says there's a lot of interference from whatever they're working on over there. He says he can beam you in there, but if you want beamed out, you have to shut it down."

"Then we'd better get this right. Let's go, people!"

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The azure sparkle died, and Grunt and Roclak found themselves in what looked to be a storage area, along with their escort, two young human males from Shelana's security troops.

Grunt tapped his combadge. "Grunt to Bastogne. We're here. Storage B, all right. Is Shelana's team in place?"

"Aye, sir. They're ready on our signal."

"All right, let's see what we can see." Grunt tapped the channel closed. "After you, Rock."

The Klingon slid the door open, poking the muzzle of his pulsewave disruptor out ahead of him. When nothing attacked, he peered around the corner. "Looks clear," he said. "Ensign Michaels, it's your turn."

One of the Security men stepped forward and out the door. "Scanning... nothing, sir. Ready to sweep this floor."

Grunt, Roclak, and the other Security man, Lt. Singh, moved out. A distance down the corridor, after several rooms with no occupants, Michaels held his hand up. "Just a second, sir - thought I saw something..."

Looking around the crate he was behind, Grunt saw what Michaels had spotted. "That - that's us. How is that possible?"

Roclak already had his tricorder out. "It's a temporal anomaly," he said. "What you're seeing is where we'll be in a few minutes. We're going to be running into this a lot, I think."

Grunt frowned. "You know something, Rock? I'm really getting tired of all this temporal crap."

"Trust me, sir," Roclak said dryly, "I've already promised myself that if we ever wind up on Earth in the late 19th century, I'm going to find the human writer Wells and kick him in the head until he forgets all about his time machine idea."

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Two floors above them, Shelana paused, panting slightly. Her custom bat'leth dripped with Cardassian blood.

"Commander," one of her men said in an awed voice, "that was amazing. But don't you think maybe we should take prisoners or something?"

"If they wanted to live," she replied, "they shouldn't have attacked a Starfleet facility. Especially a secret Starfleet facility. They'd probably have been killed to shut them up anyway - I'm just speeding things up a little."

"Um, sir, all due respect, but I'm pretty sure that's not what Starfleet does."

"That's what you think," Shelana said, with a feral grin. "There's a man I know of named Drake who might disagree with you. Enough chatter - we still haven't found any hostages yet. Let's move."

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------'

Seven minutes, eight rooms, and four Cardassian patrols later (although in fairness, three of them were the same patrols, just in different times), Grunt stopped his group just outside a door labeled, "Operations".

"Shh. Hear that?"

Roclak cocked his head for a moment. "I don't hear anything."

"Yeah, I forgot - human and Klingon ears are mostly just for decoration. Voices on the other side of this door. Sound agitated. Probably our targets. Set weapons to stun - I'm willing to bet the hostages are in there too." Grunt tapped the control panel, and the door slid open quietly.

A group of True Way loyalists stood near a control panel, several of them pointing weapons in the vague direction of several civilian scientists. Some of the scientists bore bruises and other marks. "Daron to Nessil," one Cardassian repeated into a communicator. "Daron to Nessil. Requesting information as to disposition of prisoners. They are unwilling to talk to us. Please respond." He looked at another of the True Way. "It's useless, sir - all I get is static. There's too much interference from the experiments here."

"Or from Starfleet," Grunt said, stepping out of a shadow. "Please surrender. It will make all of our lives easier, and save you a rather nasty headache later."

The response was immediate - poorly-aimed fire began to splatter around Grunt and his party. Phaser beams and pulsewave blasts, somewhat better aimed, fired in response. Suddenly, a blue-clad form slid gracefully into the crowd of attackers, striking at any who managed to avoid the phaser barrage. In a matter of moments, every Cardassian in the room lay on the floor.

"Mok'bara, Rock? Really? Showing off much?" Grunt grinned.

"Not showing off, sir," Roclak replied soberly. "Well, not much, anyway. But you said 'stun' - and my disruptor doesn't have a stun setting. Besides, I didn't want any stray shots to hit the hostages."

"Hmm. Good point." Grunt turned to the scientists. "I'm Commander Grunt, of the starship Bastogne," he said. "We're here in response to your distress call. First question - do you know of any other Cardassians on the station?"

"There were two or three sent out to keep an eye outside the room," one civilian, an older human male, replied. "And another group upstairs..."

"Shelana to Grunt," Grunt's combadge interjected. "We found and neutralized three groups here. No sign of hostages."

Grunt tapped his badge. "That's because they're all down here, Shelana. And it sounds like you've taken out the last of the attackers. Any prisoners?"

"Any what, sir? I think you're breaking up."

"Acknowledged. Stand by for beamout once we get this place shut down. Grunt out." He tapped his badge again. "Well, it looks like you're safe now, Mister... ?"

"Doctor, actually. Dr. Hassan, lead researcher here at Anderson Station. We were working on a device that might have actually reproduced the abilities of the Guardian of Forever - have you heard of the Guardian?"

"We're familiar with it," Grunt replied with a grimace. "Why in the name of the First Shopkeeper would you want to do that?"

"Just think of the research possibilities!" Hassan said, eyes gleaming. "No more trying to understand events through a historian's 'interpretation' - we could actually see the Rihannsu leave Vulcan, or the flight of Cochrane's Phoenix, or Archer's speech that founded the Federation, or - or anything!"

"Or what you were doing in your quarters last night," Grunt continued conversationally. "Or what someone said to you late one night in grad school. Or when something else happened that you'd rather not be general knowledge. Have you ever heard of a group calling itself 'Section 31'?"

"Why, yes," Hassan replied haltingly. "There- there was a man who offered us this station, and the funding to complete our device. Mr. Drake, he said his name was - Frank Drake, I think. He said he represented a group of investors called Section 31..."

"And he'd make sure nobody stole your device, right?" Grunt snarled. "Except him, of course. He'd profit by having a private time machine!"

"Is that - if that's what he expected, then I'm afraid he was going to be disappointed," Hassan said. "We only developed a viewing portal. Actual interaction with the past was too difficult - we still don't even have a theory how that could be possible. No clue how the Guardian does that."

"Hmmpf. He'd still have the perfect spying device. I'd really rather he not have that. Besides, we fought some Cardies in the corridor that were time-shifted, so you were onto something." Grunt pondered for a moment. "Can your device be moved? We've got a cruiser here - we could take you straight to Starfleet Command for protection."

"Not moved as such, no," Hassan replied, "but if necessary, we can reproduce the research elsewhere - we have all of our notes, we'd just need funding. Why? Is this Mr. Drake a criminal or something?"

"Or something, yes. Very well, Doctor, please have your people gather their belongings and notes, shut down your device here, and prepare for departure. We'll take you to Earth Spacedock."

"Really?" Dr. Hassan brightened. "I've never been to Earth. That will be different, at least." He turned to his people, most of whom still seemed stunned by this sudden reversal of their fortunes - again. "You heard him, guys!" he called out. "We've got, what, maybe half an hour or so? An hour?"

"One hour, tops," Grunt replied. "And please make turning your machine off a priority - it interferes with comms and transporters."

"Certainly, Captain! Nothing simpler!" Hassan touched a control on the panel nearest him. "There you are - system deactivated. So much easier than getting it spun up in the first place."

"Thank you, doctor." Grunt tapped his combadge. "Grunt to Bastogne," he said. "Do you read?"

"Bastogne here, sir," Gydap replied. "What is your situation?"

"Perfectly normal, Gydap," Grunt said.

"That bad?" replied Vovenek's baritone.

"Gydap, we're processing the hostages now. When they're ready, in an hour or maybe less, we'll be beaming them aboard for transport to Earth. We also have some True Way for the brig. Once everyone is aboard, I want this station blown up."

"Blown up??" Gydap and Vovenek replied together, disbelief apparent in their voices.

"Drake started the project here. He wanted them to build him a time machine. I don't want him to have one. I'm here, and have a starship. He isn't, and doesn't. Therefore, I get what I want, and he doesn't get what he wants."

"Agreed, sir. We'll be standing by to beam everyone aboard. Passenger quarters are being prepared. How many guests?"

"About a dozen. Somebody'll have to double up. That part's not my worry - I'm a starship captain, not a hotel manager."

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

An hour and ten minutes later, Grunt sat in his ready room, Admiral Quinn on the viewscreen. "And so we evacuated the station, sir. We're bringing the researchers - and their research - straight to you."

"You say Drake commissioned this?"

"Yes, sir. That's what Dr. Hassan tells me."

Quin drummed his fingers for a moment. "Commander Grunt. You now have direct authorization from this office to scuttle that station. Don't give Drake a chance to get his filthy paws on anything they did there."

"Aye, sir. Ah, I, well, sort of took the initiative, sir. The station's already gone, and irradiated just to make sure. Mr. Roclak assures me that no coherent data can be extracted from it at this point, and Dr. Hassan concurs."

"I see. I don't generally encourage my officers to destroy assets, Commander, but in this case you followed the prudent course. Please bring everything you found to my office soonest. I've already cleared your ship through traffic control."

"Thank you, sir. We'll be initiating transwarp shortly. Bastogne out." As Quinn faded from the screen, Grunt strode through the door to the bridge.

"Courts-martial all around, then, sir?" Roclak asked.

"No, Rock, the admiral actually ordered me to do what we did anyway. Gydap, please prepare to initiate transwarp to Sol system on my mark. The admiral's already given us clearance."

"Standing by, sir. Have been since you went in there."

"Good man. Initiate transwarp - now."

Space puckered and stretched, and the Bastogne vanished as if it had never been. All that remained behind was the wreckage of a Galor-class cruiser, and an expanding cloud of radioactive gas and metallic dust.
-------------------------------------------

When I make you breakfast in bed, a simple "thank you" is all I need. Not all this "who are you and how did you get into my house" nonsense.

Last edited by jonsills; 04-12-2013 at 09:47 PM.
Commander
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 491
# 19
04-13-2013, 06:49 AM
God damn them all! I was told
We'd cruise the seas for American gold
We'd fire no guns, shed no tears
Now I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier
The last of Barrett's Privateers
-Stan Rogers, "Barrett's Privateers."
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIwzRkjn86w



He stood in the main atrium of the space station, arms folded as, around him, smoke billowed and flames crackled between toppled pillars and ruined walls. Ruddy red light flickered from the alarm klaxons, and the air was ripe with the tang of flame, smoke and blood. Just to his left, a portion of the wall had been blown out into space, a forcefield now covering the hole and giving him a glimpse of the magnificent starscape and the sleek shape of the Oricar hovering menacingly in the void. Before him, gathered in a huddled, terrified, weeping mass, stood the remaining crew of this space station-- eighty, all told, barely half of the original number. The other half had made the mistake of trying to fight the Orion boarders.

He felt like a conqueror, like a true corsair, like a terror of the void. For the first time since he had lost everything, Lynathru felt satisfied.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said with a wide, beaming smile to the prisoners, "please stay calm and try not to make any sudden moves. As of now, you are all prisoners of the good ship Oricar. I have no wish to hurt any more of you, and I am certain that a lot of you are quite nervous. Rest assured, if you all behave yourselves, then I promise you will not be treated badly." The prisoners, by this point, was too frightened to respond. The last man among them who had shown any sort of defiance was now lying at the back of the pile, barely conscious and almost black with bruises, courtesy of the Oricar's enforcers.

It had, Lynathru reflected, been satisfyingly easy. A small depot station like this, located far at the edge of Federation space, had had almost no chance to defend itself when the Oricar had dropped out of warp in front of it. A few crippling volleys of disruptor fire had been enough to drop the station's shields and knock out what few phaser emitters it had. With the shields down, Natari had given the order to board, and as Natari's mate, Lynathru had been given the honour of leading the boarding action. It was an honour that Lynathru had accepted all too happily.

Two dozen of the ship's brutes had beamed onto the main halls and concourses of the station to eliminate the Federation security teams, while Lynathru and his own handpicked enforcers beamed onto the station's bridge itself, aiming to eliminate or imprison the station's command staff. The ensuing firefight had been quick and brutal: two members of Lynathru's party had been felled by phaser fire from quick-witted Federation officers, but they were no match for the combat experience and brutality of the Oricar's enforcers. Almost everyone in the bridge was killed or subdued in under a single minute, and Lynathru had personally gunned the station's commander down with his twin disruptor pistols, blasting the human before he could so much as yell an order. The rest of the battle for the station had been just as quick: the crew of this station were the dregs of Starfleet, low-level officers qualified for starship duty, along with civilian contractors, labourers and merchants. They had put up a spirited, but futile fight against the more seasoned Orion boarders, and had died in droves for their efforts. Before long, the fight was over, and those who hadn't been butchered by the Oricar's crew had had the good sense to surrender.

And now, here Lynathru stood with his armed enforcers in front of the pitiful remnants of the station's crew, waiting for reports from the rest of the boarding party as they scoured the cargo holds. A depot station like this usually served as a hub for whatever trade went on in the region, and indeed, two trading vessels-- a Pakled merchantman and a Koberian freighter-- had had the misfortune of being docked here when the Oricar had attacked. All told, there was plentiful bounty to be harvested from this station, and the remnants of the station's crew would be useful as well-- either as slaves back on Terjas Mor, or as hostages in case any Federation ships arrived on the scene. Though hopefully, the Oricar would be long gone by the time Starfleet picked up the station's distress call.

At Lynathru's side, Raco, his subordinate, glowered at the prisoners, his ugly, slab-like face twisting in a frown. "They're a sorry-looking bunch," he grunted. "If we take them back to Terjas Mor with us, they'll likely only sell for medium price." He rubbed his chin, a chin that had been bent out of shape by the same numerous brawls that had broken his nose several times over. "If you ask me, we should just space the lot of them. It would save more room in the Oricar's cargo holds."

Lynathru turned and fixed Raco with an icy glare. He was slightly taller than Raco, though not as stocky, and while the former wore only a pair of faded brown coveralls and a flimsy tunic that exposed his muscular chest, Lynathru was clad in an armoured suit of black iron plates edged with the indigo blue of Natari's house. The armour denoted him as Natari's mate, and, therefore, as someone to be taken seriously among the Oricar's crew.

"Well as it so happenes, I wasn't asking you," he replied. "If we have room on the ship after Sharrad and his lot have finished their looting, then we'll take them with us. If not, then we'll leave them here for Starfleet to deal with."

Raco raised an eyebrow at Lynathru, the motion barely visible under the metal plates that adorned his bald scalp that denoted him as one of Natari's serviles. "You'd leave them alive? Mistress Natari might not like that."

Lynathru's response was heralded by a confident, charming smile. "Oh, leave our Mistress to me, Raco," he replied. "I know how to talk to her."

The statement was true, after a fashion. His marriage to Natari had been one of convenience: after Lynathru's inheritance had been squandered by his idiot of a mother getting herself and the family barge blown up, he had been forced offer himself as a mate to the leader of the third most powerful corsair house in the whole of the Syndicate. Natari was a shrewd-- and admittedly beautiful, woman-- who knew that a corsair as experienced as Lynathru would be a valuable addition to her forces. Both of them knew that theirs was a partnering of convenience, nothing more, and were happy about it. Natari got to absorb what little wealth was left of Lynathru's house, and Lynathru...got to see action again, out in space, instead of suffering the hellish limbo of near-poverty on Terjas Mor.

The only real bone of contention between the two of them, though, was the matter of handling prisoners. Natari and her crew had earned a grisly reputution, both in the Syndicate and the Federation, for murdering prisoners who were either too worthless or too numerous to be taken as slaves. This had never sat well with Lynathru: massacring prisoners was a sure way to make more enemies than a corsair could afford. Blood, in the long run, was too expensive, and he had pointed out as much before to Natari. She had simply given him a whistful smile, and had told him, in that typically playful voice of hers, that he was adorable when he worried over nothing.

As if on cue, Lynathru's communicator beeped. He pressed it. "Lynathru here."

"Ah, Lynathru, so nice to hear that the Feddies didn't kill you," came Natari's teasing voice. "I was worried that I might have to go hunting for a new mate if things didn't go well."

Lynathru smiled. "Yes, that would be terrible, wouldn't it?" he replied. "It would be damned selfish of me to inconvenience you by dying."

He heard Natari's soft laugh on the other end. It was a disarming, girlish giggle, a sound that always set Lynathru at ease. "I take it the action went well?"

"Very well. We've lost only half a dozen men. Sharrad is down in the cargo holds, gauging value and tagging crates for transport as we speak." He glanced at the prisoners, who continued to stare at him with uncertain terror. They were mixed-race lot, like all Federation crews, and Lynathru could spot Humans, Bolians, Vulcans, and even the odd Caitian in the mix. "We have also taken quite a few prisoners, Mistress. As far as I can tell, the majority of them are labourers, tech specialists, and the odd engineer here and there. I think they could be useful to us." He wondered, idly, if these prisoners understood or even appreciated the favour Lynathru was trying to do for them.

He heard Natari give a whistful hum on the other end. "Hmm, perhaps," she replied. "Though you should probably hurry. Our longe range sensors have picked up a warp signiature at the periphery of the system. We may have company soon."

Lynathru felt the skin on his neck prickle at the news. Starfleet's response had been much quicker than he had anticipated. He glanced out the ruined wall again at the sleek, galley-like shape of the Oricar floating in space. "How soon?"

"Unknown so far," came Natari's response. "The gas clouds at the edge of the system are throwing off our sensors...oh dear."

What happened next happened so quickly that Lynathru's senses barely registered it in time. There was a brilliant flash of light, like the birth of a new star amidst that endless starscape, and a second later a long, silver shape glided into view just below the Oricar. Lynathru caught the impressions of a disk-like saucer, an elengant, elongated body and a pair of gleaming blue nacelles. A Federation cruiser, he realized. An Excelsior-class.

And then, with a deep hum, there was the brilliant white flash as ten humanoid shapes materialized into the atrium.

Swearing loudly, Lynathru acted on instinct, springing forwards towards the prisoners. The foremost among them-- an auburn-haired Human woman in a tattered mechanic's coveralls-- shrieked as Lynathru grabbed her by the hair, twisting her around as he pushed her in front of him. Even as the other prisoners erupted into a chorus of cries and screams, Lynathru drew one of his disruptor pistols and pointed it at the squirming human's skull. In front of him, the humanoid figures fully materialized, revealing more Humans, Andorians, Bolians, VUlcans...all wearing the distinctive black-and-primary colour uniforms and triangular badges of Starfleet.

"None of you move!" Lynathru yelled, even as his enforcers and the Starfleet away team all pulled their weapons free. He pulled the sobbing woman's head back further, keeping his pistol levelled against her temple. "Drop your weapons, or the prisoners die!"

Eveything seemed to slow down. The Starfleet team seemed to waver as the enforcers levelled their disruptors at them. Raco was yelling something and then, suddenly, Lynathru felt something nudge against his booted foot.

He glanced down. There, at Lynathru's foot, was a small, metallic sphere, a tiny readout on its surface blinking repeatedly in ruby red.

"Oh, you bastards--"

There was a flash of light like a sun going nova, and a second later Lynathru was staggering backwards, clutching his eyes as he screamed. His eyes felt like they were burning, and his ears were drowned in an awful, shrill ringing. He stumbled backwards, feeling himself brush against scrabbling, twisting bodies as he stumbled drunkenly, tried to get his bearings straight.

Angily, he willed his eyes to open. Painful light intruded on his vision once more, stinging his irises, and everything was blurred and out of focus. A flash grenade, he realized. Those Federation bastards had used a flash grenade on him, and now his human shield was gone. The ringing slowly began to subside, however, and he heard familiar sounds at the edge of his hearing-- the flat, spitting pulse of disruptor fire and the more noisome screech of Starfleet phasers.

Breathing a curse, he pulled both of his pistols free. In the swirling, blurred haze of his vision, he could barely make out a black and red shape moving. Steadying himself, he raised both of his pistols to fire--

--and lurched, his shots going wide, as something slammed into him from the side. He crashed to the deck in a clatter of armour, dazed. The next thing he knew, heavy blows were raining down on him: feet stomped and kicked at him, and his head snapped to the side as a heel smashed against his temple. Colours darted across his vision, and he could feel something cold and liquid trickling down his scalp, even as his ribs buckled and ached beneath his armour as he was stomped on, again and again. Louder than even the screech of weapons fire, he could hear angry voices shouting "Orion," "pirate," "bastard" and "murderer" over and over again.

Shaking himself, Lynathru lurched upright and lashed out blindly with an armoured fist, and felt it slam, satisfyingly, against someone's face. His vision began to clear, and he saw that he was being surrounded by a gaggle of bodies in ragged worker's outfits and ruined civilian attire. The prisoners, he realized, her ganging up on him now that rescue had come for them.

Snarling, he lashed out, hammmering a booted heel into one Human's kneecap with a gruesome crunch of bone, and then spun, his spinning legs knocking another two assailants off of their feet. Spinning back to his feet with practised ease, he saw an angry Bolian lunging at him. Having lost his disruptors in the earlier sprawl, Lynathru was left only with his bare hands-- which he used to catch the Bolion's lunging fist, before grabbing his outstretched arm and, with a deft twist, throwing him into another assailant that had been trying to rush him from behind.

Lynathru's senses returned to him, and in a single moment of wonderful clarity, he was aware of everything: the furious firefight between the Starfleet people and the enforcers, the Oricar and the Federation ship trading weapons fire out in space, and the tidal sprawl of prisoners who were now railing angrily against their captors with fists and curses. And Lynathru, unluckily enough, was caught in the middle of that sprawl.

Unfortunately for these civilian scrubs, however, Lynathru actually knew how to fight.

He exploded into a whirl of movement, blocking easily-telegraphed punches and shouldering and elbowing away anyone opportunistic enough to take him from the back or side. What few blows actually connected with him were soaked by his armour as he laid into his assailants with punches, chops and kicks, breaking ribs, arms and faces with brutal efficiency. His heartbeat pounded in his ears as he fought a path through the crowd. He was stopped, momentarily, as a rather hefty Human caught him from behind, compressing him in a bear hug. Against any other species, this might have worked, but Orion males were known for their prodigious physical strength. Grabbing his attacker's wrists, Lynathru dropped forwards, throwing his assailant into another three of his comrades, knocking them all over like bowling pins.

Suddenly, there was another flash, and his entire body shook, almost knocked off balance by a heavy vibration. An overwhelming smell of ozone told him that his personal shield had just taken a hit, and had just shorted out. Spinning, Lynathru saw a Starfleet officer standing amidst the firefight-- a tall Andorian male with short-cropped hair, calmly aiming a phaser rifle at him...

Wasting no time, Lynathru lunged forward, grabbing the end of the Andorian's rifle and pushing it upwards just as he fired his second shot, the ochre bolt fizzing uselessly into the ceiling. He was met by the Andorian's fist, which slammed across his right cheek and snapped his head to the side. Spitting blood, Lynathru retaliated by slamming an armoured elbow into the Andorian's face, and heard him cry out in pain as his nose was broken. As the Andorian staggered back, Lynathru, keeping a hold on his opponent's rifle, pulled him forwards and dropped low, knocking his opponent's feet out from under him with a leg sweep. As his opponent crashed to the floor, it was a simple matter for Lynathru to finish him off with a quick, brutal stomp to the neck.

Before Lynathru could even grab for the Andorian's phaser rifle, however, something exploded quite violently nearby. His entire body was hit by the full force of the shockwave, and he was aware of pain surging through his entire body before he slammed into a bulkhead, and everything went dark...


*****

"Lynathru!" A familiar, gruff voice Said as a pair of hands shook him roughly. "Lynathru, are you alive?"

Slowly, Lynthru's eyes flickered open. As his vision slowly blurred into focus, he could see Raco standing over him, an ugly-looking phaser burn on his shoulder. In the background, Lynathru saw flames and smoke billowing everywhere, and heard the discharge of energy weapons somewhere in the distance.

He blinked. He was lying propped up against some sort of flat surface. A wall...he remembered being propelled into a wall by...an explosion of some sort. His back and arms were a throbbing mass of pain, and pins and needles shot through his right arm when he tried to move it. The side of his head felt wet, and each breath he took felt like a knife in his lungs. "What...happened?" he asked, surprised at how ragged his voice sounded.

"A photon grenade exploded next to you," Raco replied flatly. "Everyone's dead. Dead or dying. The Feddies are going through the station gunning down everyone."

The news was enough to make Lynathru sit upright. Past the smoke and the flames, Lynathru could see bodies littered all over the floor of the atrium. Some were those of Starfleet officers or the station's workers. Most of them, though, were Orions. With a sickening feeling, he realized that the only reason he was still alive right now was because the Feddies had taken him for dead.

He glanced to the side, searching for the hole in the wall. All he could see was smoke. "Then...contact the Oricar...and request that Natari...beam us aboard..." he managed to rasp. Hopefully, the Oricar was still in one piece, somewhere out there...

"I already have," Raco replied. "Mistress Natari sends her regrets."

Lynathru blinked, as Raco's words slowly sunk in. The full, horrible realization of what Raco had meant hit home, just as Raco drew his disruptor pistol.

Moving quickly, Lynathru reached forward, ignoring the searing pain in his ribs as he grabbed and pulled on Raco's wrist, wrenching his hand to the side to ruin his aim. The disruptor fired, the sizzling emerald bolt searing the bulkhead next to Lynathru's head as Raco, off-balance, came falling forwards...

...and was impaled, throat-first, on Lynathru's dagger as he pulled it free from his belt. Warm green blood slithered down Lynathru's arm before Raco jerked back, gurgling wetly as he pawed at the dagger now lodged firmly in his throat. As Lynathru watched, the other Orion toppled onto his back and lay, flailing spasmodically as his fingers tried in vain to get a grip around the dagger's handle. After a few seconds, Raco gave a final, pathetic gurgle and went still.

Leaning back against the wall, Lynathru took several deep breaths, wincing a little as the lingering pain in his spine flared up again. It took him a few seconds to realize that his arm-- the one now soaked in Raco's blood-- was shaking. Thoughts raced through his too quickly for him to dwell on. Natari had ordered this. Natari had told Raco to kill him. Here, in the chaos of a botched raid on a Federation outpost, Natari had tried to have him assassinated.

He grimaced. He had been stupid, he realized, to not have seen this coming. Natari had only chosen him as her mate so that she could assimilate his family`s wealth and territory. And now that she had that, he realized, she had no further need of him-- no one would question Natari if Lynathru died tragically in a botched raid in Federation space. It was the Orion way: Natari was simply securing her place at the top of the food chain.

Angrily, he kicked at Raco's cooling corpse, and winced as the motion caused pain to surge through his ribs again. Around him, he could see the omnipresent cloud of smoke begin to build up further and further. He had to get out of here, he realized: if he stayed here, the flames or the smoke would eventually kill him. Come to think of it, he had to get off the station entirely: no matter who found him-- be they Orions or Starfleet-- he would most certainly be killed on the spot.

Taking a deep breath, he braced himself against the wall and, slowly and agonizingly, stood up. A hiss of pain escaped his clenched teeth as his battered ribs and spine protested, but he still managed to stand up to his full height. The front of his armour was a buckled, scorched mess, and it was a wonder that it was still intact. Taking a deep breath, Lynathru turned and began to limp away from the sound of distant phaser fire. He only hoped that he remembered the brief map he had seen of the station's interior correctly...


****

Almost ten minutes after the battle had begun, the Oricar broke off from its engagement with the Federation Excelsior, atmosphere and plasma leaking biliously from several ruptures in its hull as it retreated. Those members of the boarding party who could be rescued were beamed back as the Oricar limped away towards the edge of the system. Relentlessly, the Excelsior pursued the Oricar, hammering her with phaser fire until the Orion ship finally jumped to warp, escaping. The remaining Orions on the station, abandoned by their ship, fought with the desperate ferocity of dead men as the Starfleet away teams closed in on them. Furious room-to-room fighting raged across the station, but in the end, the Federation triumphed. Every single Orion left on the station was either killed or injured in the aftermath of the battle. Every Orion, that was, except one.

Unnoticed amidst the chaos of the battle, a lone shuttle had flown out of the station's bays, zipping at full speed in the opposite direction from the Oricar. Aboard, Lynathru sat in the pilot's seat, battered and weary, as he plotted a course. He knew that his options were limited: Natari was head of the third most powerful corsair on Terjas Mor, and had the eyes and ears of Melani Di'an herself. She had agents in every smuggler's haven in the quadrant-- Drozana, Tazi, Deep Space Nine, and even Ferenginar were all off limits to Lynathru now. And no matter where he ran to, he was certain that Natari would try to finish the deed and eliminate him.

And so, he plotted a course for the one place where he knew he would have any real safety: Qo'noS. The homeworld of the Klingon Empire.



*****

The loud, angry buzz of the Notqa's shipwide communicator woke Lynathru with a start. He jolted upright, and almost banged his head against the low-hanging ceiling of the Klingon bunk. He let out a tired groan as he blinked rheumily. Even after his rough year of officer training in the KDF, he still wasn't used to sleeping on the flat metal slabs that the Klingons used as beds.

Searching his discarded shirt for his wrist communicator, he found it and slapped it. "Yes?" he grumbled.

"Commander, we've just recieved orders from KDF command," came Kovor's voice on the comm. "We're to patrol the Kahless Expanse until further notice."

Lynathru groaned. "Aren't there any other ships in range who can carry out the patrol instead?"

"Yes sir. The I.K.S. Norgh'a'Qun, under General Ssharki. The General is the one who relayed the order to us."

Lynathru bit back the urge to curse all generals everywhere. "Alright, set a course for the Kahless Expanse then, maximum warp," he ordered. "I'll be on the bridge as soon as possible."

"Yes Commander." And with that, the communication ended.

Sighing, Lynathru started to dress, slipping on his armour. He had not been sleeping well these past few days, and it wasn't just because of the hardness of Klingon beds or the stress of his new command. It was the fact that he lately kept having the same dream...or rather, memory...over and over again each night. He hated this particular dream, because nothing ever changed: no matter what, he was still betrayed in the end, still forced to flee for his life. Still reduced to a fugitive, where once he had been a prince among corsairs. The fact that he was relatively safe gave him little comfort.

Standing up, Lynathru found the bottle of blood wine he mostly drank the previous night, and emptied its remaining contents into a used goblet. "Here's to you, Natari," he muttered, downing the rest of the foul stuff in a single gulp, before tossing the goblet aside and exiting his quarters.

Last edited by ambassadormolari; 04-14-2013 at 08:42 AM.
Commander
Join Date: Jun 2012
Posts: 406
# 20
04-13-2013, 03:16 PM
Captain's Log.

Stardate....hmph. It is not important. Is there time....here? It was not supposed to be like this.

I do not blame my crew. The Uka'Vor has ever exceled at her tasks, and it is questionable if any ship could have done more. Even an old, half-discarded K'tanga-class such as she was possessed such ability as other ships in the Fleet, and against this....

Still, I know my duty. I will execute it. Hear my words, Warrior of the Empire, for they are true, by blood and by blade! Upon the honor of House Karuth, I so swear!

The Uka'Vor was completing her assigned patrol in the Yerha Nebula when we received a high-priority automated emergency message from Station Kor-One-Four-One, which had been established to perform special experimental research on the nebula. Of note, a subspace weapon capable of inverting the warp fields on a target ship showed promise, and it had been linked to a special warp generator to identify the effects on a ship carrying this weapon. We were on assignment to keep prying eyes from discovering these experiments, yet it seemed we had failed somehow, for the station was now in an unknown enemy's hands.

As the only ship assigned to the project for security reasons, we immediately set course for the station under full cloak. In the hour before we arrived, my officers suggested several plans to retake the station, almost all ending with the facility badly damaged or destroyed. This was unacceptable, as this would almost certainly result in the loss of all data held on the projects to date. More, we knew that our backup ship would be enroute with orders to destroy the station if we failed to retake it, but the nature of the sector would prevent its arrival for several days.

And days we did not have. Upon examination of the potential of the inversion device, my Science Officer noted something that seemed to have escaped the scientists of the project. If the weapon were linked directly to the station's own power generators, the resultant increase in output would allow it to produce a directed subspace wave on the order of that which resulted when Praxis exploded many periods ago. It would literally cut space apart like a dagger. And the new colony of that upstart Romulan Republic was within the range she predicted for such a strike. Too much coincidence, too much opportunity to ignore. Clearly, whoever had taken the station intended just this.

Knowing how many Klingon lives would be lost if we failed, I informed my Assault Commander to ready his troops to retake the station at any cost. I then provided the Gunnery Officer with the codes that would lower the station's shields at the proper time, informing him that I would take it as an insult if he dishonored the ship by letting his weapons fire without my order to do so. Kaur was the kind of ambitious warrior who needed to be reminded of the penalty for insubordination on a regular basis, but I could not afford the loss of his marksmanship, especially this day.

We dropped out of warp in full cloak, to find the station intact. A full series of passive scans confirmed that no evidence of attack or damage was present, and I began to understand that the enemy we faced were our own people, tempted to seize power or perhaps a side effect of the device, I could not know and may never know. It is even possible there were aliens controlling them, though I have heard that excuse used many times before a field execution, so what did it matter? I ordered the ship to assault the station, and if any of the personnel aboard survived, I thought I would have ample time to determine the cause at my leisure.

When our cloak dropped and our override codes failed to strip the station of its defenses, I knew we had only seconds before the heavy weapons on it reacted to our arrival. It was on my order that the Uka'Vor rammed the shields, breaching them and driving her prow into the first pylon of the facility. The damage to both was extensive, but it brought the opportunity for our warriors to transport onto the target, so it was a good day to die for those aboard my ship who were in the forward torpedo room.

It was my Science Officer who noted the massive flux in the station's power core, and I remember seeing the entire station outlined in purple light as every surviving instrument on the bridge flew into chaotic overload. Kaur must have had a reflexive finger on the firing controls, for I do not believe he could have gotten off the disruptor shots that caused the station to stagger in the time we had before the universe tore itself to shreds around us.

I must state now that I believe the staggering of the facility kept the weapon from finding its intended target. Certainly, I remember seeing the station coming apart even as my own ship caught part of the purple light on its port nacelle as it leapt from the station. Then, everything came apart around me, and I knew no more.

I regained consciousness at some point, and found myself in my Command Chair, in what remained of my Bridge. That I could breathe with the entire back section torn away caught me by surprise, of course, but the red, smoke-choked sky that shone through it caused even more concern to me. I was on a planet! The Uka'Vor could not land on a planet! What madness was this?

If only it were so. If I were on a planet, then at least rescue could be hoped for. If I were mad, then I would not have to endure the knowledge that I am not. But this is not to be.

No, as I surveyed the wreckage of my ship strewn across the landscape, the flows of lava and the absence of any of my crew, or even of their bodies, I knew it was not so. For I could see the fortress far across the field of molten rock, and see the symbol wrought upon its gates.

Hmph. I have spoken too long, and this recorder has only a minimal storage capability left to it. I am placing it on the Uka'Vor's emergency beacon, and will send it into the molten sea, which my father once said legends claim flow to the peaks of Qo'noS itself. I know it is probably folly, but what else have I to do? The beacon is rated for temperatures well above that of the magma, so I have no fear of it succumbing to that, and it is possibile that someone, somewhere, sometime may receive this, and know of the fate of the Uka'Vor.

For I stand now, looking at the gates of Gre'thor, and will do so for ***@#@#!!@

<Recording Limit Reached. Data Corruption Past Retrieval>

<End File>

Last edited by danqueller; 04-13-2013 at 03:32 PM.
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