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Star Trek Deneva - Episode I - The Banthar by John Berkeley

The Banthar

December 31st, 2466

"Admiralís Log, Stardate 89199.2, Rear Admiral Riannah Trealor reporting. Well, it is finally happening. Tomorrow, at midday, I will be commissioning the Starship Juno. Needless to say, everyone is excited. Jim is restless. I canít get him to sleep a wink, and he is worried sick. It is my duty to help him through this, both as his superior, his friend and his lover.

Dax, on the other hand, is a bit of a mystery to me. It is evident that she is finding it hard to adjust to the 25th century, but, as expected, excelled at her test at the Academy, and seems to get on well with the rest of the crew.

Bashir is odd as well. He is very shy, yet who he has met so far he seems to get on well with.

The other officers who will serve with Jim seem very good, too. The science officer, a Vulcan called Sonak, is, well, Vulcan. He seems to be a respected member of the crew, yet he is very formal and can sometimes say the wrong thing. The comms officer, Karyn MíGila is also quiet. She is probably the most timid of the group, yet I get the feeling that everything will fare better for everyone once they have gotten used to the ship.

There are others, too. The Bajoran engineer, Barek Amoriel, who seems to be a bit of a wildcard; the Aldaronian helmsman, Elion Laren, who seems to have already made friends with practically everyone. The Danarian tactical officer Varin Kelos, is silent and frank to almost everyone, yet seems to have earned respect by most of the crew already.

I will be aboard the Juno for her first mission, a month-long exploration mission in Titana-Caloris. I hope everything goes off without a hitch..."

January 1st, 2467

Jim Holkham was anxious. Very anxious. He stood, staring out of his small cabin window at the panorama before him.

The boiling atmosphere of Jupiter, with its twelve attendant moons, played out before him, bands of colour and gas swirling incessantly to the music of the aurorae glowing at the poles, to the beat of myriad flashes of lightning which flickered on the night side of that huge planet.

He sighed. This was the day his career had been building up to. Today he would be given command of a Starship, the dream of many a child in the Federation.

He snapped out of his reverie when his combadge chirruped.

"Dax to Holkham."

He tapped his badge.

"Holkham here, go ahead, Jadzia."

"Jim, Iíve received a transmission from Admiral Trealor. The transport ship to the Juno will arrive in ten minutes."

"Right. Iíll meet you in the observation deck."

He tapped his badge again.

*This is It.* he thought. He turned and picked up his kit bag. All he had were a few things he had taken with him to Jupiter Station. All his personal items were aboard the Juno already.

He walked out of his temporary quarters and across to the turbolift. He pushed the Ďsummoní button. A little number appeared on the tiny screen above the button. It said that the next turbolift would reach him in one minute. He tapped his foot, waiting for the lift to arrive. Looking about him, he saw the window at the far end of the corridor. Through it, he could see the festering orange disk of Io, one of Jupiterís largest moons. It was covered with molten sulphur, volcanoes and lava. As he watched, in fact, a huge umbrella of sulphur erupted from one of the volcanoes like some gigantic fiery fountain, to fall slowly back to the surface. Before he could watch any further, however, the door behind him opened. He stepped in.

"Observation lounge." He said, and the doors swished shut.

The observation lounge was a large, two-decks tall room on the Jupiter-facing side of Jupiter Station. There were chairs, couches and tables arranged so that one could watch the huge disk of Jupiter and its moons while enjoying a drink or a game of three-dimensional chess. Looking around, he saw a tall, red-uniformed woman standing close to the window with her hands clasped behind her back, her long black hair reaching most of the way down her back. Walking over to her, Holkham noticed other members of his crew in the lounge, some talking, or, like his first officer, standing by the main window.

Dax looked up.

"Hi, Jim. How are you?"

Holkham sighed. "Fine, thanks. You?"

Jadzia shrugged. "Iím fine." She sighed.

Holkham turned to her as another plume of sulphur erupted from Io, which was receding slowly behind the station on the right.

"Youíre not fine. I can tell. Do you want to talk about it?"

She looked up at him. "This will be the second starship Iíve ever served on. Compared to the others, Iím inexperienced."

He coughed slightly. "Excuse me. Youíll be fine, Dax. Most of the crew has a lot of respect for you, you know that?"

She shook her head.

"You are one of the veterans of the First Dominion War. You have more experience than most people on the bridge. Thatís why Riannah chose you to be my XO. I must admit Iíd rather have made the choice, but I would probably have chosen you, anyway. In any case, most people who will be on this ship feel just as bad as you do. I do, for one." He tuned back to Jupiter.

Dax smiled slightly. "You think so?"

He returned her smile. "I most certainly do."

They stood there, watching the planet below them, until a voice sounded over the PA.

"Starship USS Heron NCC-202079 has docked at gate nine. I repeat- Starship USS Heron NCC-202079 has docked at gate nine. Could all crew awaiting transfer to Starship USS Juno NCC-289957 proceed to gates eight and nine. I repeat, could all crew awaiting transfer to Starship USS Juno NCC-289957 please proceed to gates eight and nine."

Dax picked up her kit bag. Holkham did the same. Feeling he may as well indicate some enthusiasm, he said

"Okay, people, letís go!" to the assembled people in the observation lounge. Around him, his crew got up and filed through the large doors at the back of the room that lead to the docking gates.

He and Dax followed on behind.

The observation lounge was on one of the long slender connecting bridges between the two sections of Jupiter Station. On one side of this bridge, the observation lounge looked out at the planet below, while the other side housed four docking ports. Usually occupied by small vessels or not at all, this time, looking through the windows on the other side of the thin bridge, Holkham and Dax received quite a shock. All the docking gates on this bridge had been vacated, and this was obvious. Docked to the side of the station was a large starship.

Like many Starfleet ships, the front part of her command section tapered out and split into two slender projections, that doubled as docking gantries and sensor arrays.

Gates eight and nine was obvious as they was the only ones with people going in to them. The people filing in were all talking, and the captain and Dax filed in.

Later that day

Holkham squinted as the Uranian system came into view. The twelve moons of Uranus all glinted in the reflected sunlight, and the large, light blue planet girdled by its huge ring system was one of the most beautiful sights he had ever seen.

Had he made this trip a century ago, he thought, the view wouldnít have been so spectacular. However, fifty or so years ago, two of its moons had collided, and the debris had destroyed another moon, reducing three of Uranusí fifteen moons to rubble. The planetís gravity had spun the debris into its ring system, making the already impressive system into one as beautiful and spectacular as Saturnís.

The view was made more beautiful, Holkham thought, by the fact that Uranus was facing them head on, and, as it rotated on itís side, the Heron was directly over the planetís north pole.

But, it was not at the daunting sight ahead of him that Holkham was squinting at. He was squinting at a blurred patch of light to one side of Uranus. That was, he knew, the site of the Uranus Orbital Shipyards, but at this distance - a respectable twelve million kilometers - it should only have shown up as bright dot, not a haze of light.

He wondered if it was just him.

"Dax, have a look at this."

His XO got up, walked across the window, and came to stand at his side, looking out at the amazing scene.

"I know. Itís beautiful, isnít it, Jim?"

"It certainly is, Dax. But, thatís not what Iím worried about." He pointed to the blur where the shipyards should be. "Is it just me, or do the shipyards look hazy to you?"

Dax looked where he was pointing. "Yes. I must say, I would have thought the shipyards would be just a point of light now."

Holkham nodded, and tapped his communicator. "Holkham to bridge."

"Bridge here." Came the voice. "What can I do for you, captain?"

"Iím looking out of the forward lounge window."

"Yes?"

"And Iíve noticed there is a blur of light where the shipyards are supposed to be. Can you explain this?"

"I can indeed. The station looks blurry because there are a few ships around it."

"What?"

"Well, thereís admiral Trealorís ship, of course, and her escort ships. Also, there are ships bringing in other crew members as well. There are fourteen ships there in total. Thatís probably what you can see."

Holkham nodded. "Thankyou, bridge." He tapped his communicator again.

As the Heron approached, the blur of the shipyard slowly resolved into a number of points of light, which in turn resolved into individual shapes. Holkham could make out the shipyard itself, obviously, and he was surprised at the other shapes he recognised. If his eyes werenít deceiving him, he could see a Courchevel-class starship (one of Starfleetís largest), three Sagittarius-class destroyers like the Heron, four Alaska-class cruisers and no less than six Adelaide-class frigates. He was also surprised to see vast squadrons of fighters around the shipyard. He turned to Dax, who was gazing out at the scene, which was impressive, to say the least. Fourteen starships, hundreds of fighters, a large, squat station, and, in the background, the bluish disc and huge rings of Uranus.

Dax shook her head slowly. "I canít believe it. Thatís a pretty big send-off party."

Holkham agreed with her. "Itís probably Trealorís doing. The Junoís going to be her new flagship and Riannah *loves* being melodramatic."

The Heron slowly manoeuvred between two of its sister ships and docked with the aft section of the shipyard. Dax, Holkham, Bashir, MíGila, and Laren were all directed into the same high-speed turbolift that travelled along the axial spine of the skeletal framework of the shipyard, and down a slender gantry that was latched just behind the bridge of the Juno itself.

When the lift stopped and the doors opened, Dax gasped. In front of her was what was clearly the bridge of the Juno. It was very big indeed. Along the walls were manned stations devoted to science, operations, engineering, and flight ops. The aft section of the bridge was raised somewhat, and on that were three chairs, backed by a sweeping control panel. The room was filled with the voices of people making final flight checks and of consoles responding to the men and women manipulating them.

On the back wall, was the comms station, a library access station, and the shipís dedication plaque. To her slight annoyance, Dax realised that the plaque had her signature on it. Then she remembered that her signature was probably somewhere in Starfleet records, and had been presumably been imprinted on the plaque on its making.

Rather dazedly, she walked down the steps leading from the turbolift doors, and onto the bridge itself. Her fellow officers filed off the turbolift, too, and looking up, a tall, severe-faced man rose from the centre chair, saying in a deep, clear voice

"Captain on the bridge!"

Everyone stopped what they were doing, and rose. Holkham smiled and waved a hand, saying

"As you were, people."

The man standing in front of the centre chair did not move, however. Holkham walked over to him.

"Lieutenant...?"

"Kelos, sir. Varin Kelos of Danaria."

"Very well, Mr. Kelos. You may resume your station."

"Aye, sir."

Kelos walked around the centre chairs and behind the console behind them. He sat down at the tactical station there.

Holkham turned to face the viewscreen. He raised his voice over the noise of the bridge.

"Departure stations, people." Everyone immediately finished what they were doing, and, if they were not doing so already, sat down at their stations. Holkham briefly inspected the small console on his right arm rest and pressed a button on it. His voice sounded throughout the ship.

"Departure stations, all hands assume departure stations." He removed his finger from the button and sat down. Dax sat down on his right, while a young Bajoran man sat down on his right. Holkham turned to Dax.

"Commander Dax, this is Commander Barek, our chief engineer."

Barek nodded warmly to Jadzia. "Maíam."

Jadzia returned the nod with a smile. "Commander."

Kelos spoke up from his console behind them.

"Captain, all hands report ready for departure."

Holkham smiled, and looked over his shoulder.

"Lieutenant MíGila, send transmission to Admiral Trealor- ready to depart."

"Aye, sir."

On the viewscreen, a small object came into view. Tumbling slowly through space, it was moving quite fast. Holkham frowned.

"Zoom in on that object." He said to Kelos.

"Aye, sir." Kelos manipulated a few controls and the object grew on the screen. It was a bottle of champagne. Holkham and Dax laughed, though Barek frowned.

"Sir, what-"

Holkham knew what he would ask, so supplied the answer to the uncompleted question.

"Itís an old Terran custom to break a bottle of champagne on the hull of a ship when you commission it. From the moment he bottle breaks against the hull, the ship is in service.

In the observation lounge, the bottle was visible. Despite the fact that they were supposed to be at Departure Stations, quite a crowd gathered at every single window from which the bottle was visible.

It tumbled through space until is shattered against the hull of the ship.

At the moment it did, a great cheer went up from the crowd watching, and, for the second time, the captainís voice echoed throughout the huge ship.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the USS Juno is operational!"

"Sir, incoming hail from the Lalande. Itís admiral Trealor."

"Onscreen."

The viewscreen changed from a view of the stars to the face of admiral Trealor. She, like everyone on the Junoís bridge, was grinning.

"Congratulations, captain Holkham."

Holkham stood up.

"Admiral, request permission to depart."

"Permission granted, captain Holkham. I shall beam aboard directly. Trealor out."

The screen reverted to stars.

Holkham turned, swinging his arms slightly, to the helm.

"Clear all moorings."

A voice responded

"Moorings clear."

"Helm, all ahead, one eighth impulse power."

"Ahead, one eighth impulse power, aye, sir."

Laren manipulated his control panel, and throughout the ship, the cacophonous *boom* of the impulse engines firing up sounded as the vast fusion reactors surged into life.

The Juno slowly advanced out of the station, and, as she passed, the surrounding fighters formed up into two delta formations on either side of her, as the fifteen surrounding starships all fired once into the heavens.

On the bridge, there was a great deal of cheering and clapping. Holkham was shaking hands with everyone; everyone was shaking hands with everyone else - even Sonak shook hands solemnly with Barek.

After everyone had congratulated everyone else, order set in and everyone resumed their stations. Barek requested permission to go below to engineering, and left the bridge, as, on the bridge transporter, in a flurry of light, Admiral Trealor materialised.

Someone shouted "Admiral on the bridge!" as, for the third time, everyone leapt to their feet.

"As you were." Trealor said, stepping down from the transporter pad. "Permission to come aboard?"

"Granted." Said Holkham.

She walked over to the centre chairs, and sat down next to Holkham in Barekís vacated seat.

She turned to Holkham. "So, *captain,* what do you think about your new ship?"

Holkham smiled. "Sheís beautiful. Thankyou, Riannah."

Trealor raised her eyebrows. "Donít thank me, thank Admiral Richard Danton. Heís the one who assigned you this ship, not me."

Laren turned round, and Holkham noticed him.

"Course heading, sir?" he asked Holkham.

Holkham looked at Trealor, and then at Dax, then he stood up, to lean on the back of Larenís chair. "The Terran Wormhole, Mr. Laren."

"Aye, sir. ETA twenty seconds."

Trealor turned to Jadzia. "So, Jadzia, what do you think?"

Dax raised an eyebrow. "From what I can tell, sheís a good ship. I read up on the Miami-class starships in the Academy."

Trealor grinned. "Look at the viewscreen, Jadzia."

Dax turned, to see another amazing sight. On the viewscreen, blossoming like some immense fiery blue flower, the Terran Wormhole exploded into being before her eyes.

The Juno flew right into the maw of the wormhole before it closed again.

From what Jadzia remembered, it took one minute to traverse the Bajoran Wormhole. But for the Terran Wormhole, it took no time at all. There was no intervening light or sound at all. When the fiery blue mist around the ship cleared, it was to see an altogether different starscape before her.

There were two stars in the centre of the screen. One was about as bright as Sol, but the other was minute by comparison. In the foreground, a ringed, Earth-like planet loomed on the verge of eclipsing the two stars.

"Welcome to the Deneva System." Said Trealor to the entire bridge.

MíGila turned around from her station behind Kelos.

"Sir, incoming transmission from StarBase C209."

"Onscreen." Acknowledged Holkham from behind Larenís chair.

The screen switched to the face of a middle-aged man with greying black hair. Holkham straightened up.

"Admiral Danton."

The man smiled and nodded. "Captain Holkham, I am to give you your orders. Your mission will last one month, during which time you are to explore the area surrounding the Omega sector, beyond the Insobara Nebula. Admiral Trealor will remain aboard for the duration of your assignment, after which you will return to C209 for your next mission. Understood?"

Holkham nodded. "Aye, sir."

"Excellent. Good luck, captain."

"Thankyou sir."

"Danton out." And the screen reverted to stars.

After her shift, Jadzia decided to walk around the ship for a while. She walked into one of the turbolifts on either side of the bridge. The door closed behind her. She studied the cutaway diagram on the back of the turbolift.

"Deck 2." She said, and the turbolift began to move.

Jadzia walked into her quarters. She looked around. To her very great surprise, she saw that her things from DS9 had been packed into cargo boxes and were now in a neat pile on her floor. She knelt down to open the first box. In it was the mirror that she had on her dressing table. Smiling, she busied herself with unpacking her things. To her intense disquiet, she noticed that some things were broken, or, worse, had decayed somewhat. When she lifted out one of her old purple dresses, it fell apart in her hands. Sighing, she made a list of the things that needed replacing.

After about two hours, she felt she had got her quarters in a reasonable state.

"Computer, time."

She was startled to discover that the Junoís computer actually had a personality. The computer responded with the words

"It is eighteen hundred thirty two hours, Commander Dax."

Jadzia walked over to the replicator. She looked at the readout, yet couldnít decide what to drink.

"Computer, what relaxing warm evening beverage would you recommend?"

"Could you specify the area of origin you would like to try?"

"Sol or Deneva Sectors."

"Terran hot chocolate, Vulcan green tea, Andorian *helat* juice, Khatimyrian qiraberry juice, Danarian *solet* milk."

"Terran hot chocolate, sweet."

There was a faint swirling noise, and in a flurry of energy, a steaming mug of cocoa materialised in the replicator before her. Taking a few sips, she went over to sit down by the window. Music. That was what she felt like.

"Juno, music." She thought for a moment. "Sol System, Earth, late industrial era, Gustav Holst, ĎThe Planetsí."

"There are seven pieces of music under that title, each named after a planet known at the time. Which planet would you like?"

"Persephone."

"Sorry, Commander. Persephone was discovered in the mid-twenty-first century. The outermost known planets known at the time were Uranus and Neptune."

"Alright then, Uranus."

The majestic, sweeping music blared for a moment before settling down into the piece. Jadzia closed her eyes. She remembered the approach to Uranus, and tried to remember the view as she let the music wash over her.

Just as the piece was drawing to its end, her doorchime sounded.

Jadziaís eyes snapped open.

"Come in."

The door swished open.

Jadzia smiled. "Julian, come in." Jadzia got up as the music drew to its quiet finish. Julian looked up.

"Ah, ĎThe Planetsí. I didnít know you were into Terran music, Jadzia."

Jadzia indicated for him to sit down, and grinned. "Actually, Iím not. Kira used to listen to ĎThe Planetsí incessantly. The only one I never heard at her quarters was Uranus."

Julian smiled. "Iím more into Beethoven, myself. Have you ever heard his ninth symphony?"

Jadzia laughed. "I donít think thereís a member of the Federation who hasnít. Apart from ĎThe Planetsí, itís the only Terran music I can stand."

Julian smiled. "How are you?"

"Oh, Iím fine. How was your day?"

Julian groaned. "It was an absolute nightmare to begin with. A plasma manifold blew up in engineering."

Jadzia stared. "What? Surely, something like that..."

Julian nodded. "Well, apparently it wasnít one of the main ones, or the entire ship would know about it by now. Apparently, a coil burst or a relay blew or something. I had three people in with second-degree burns. Apart from that, it was quite boring actually. I had to go through every medical record in the ship, and, with a crew of two thousand, thatís a lot."

Jadzia was struck by a sudden thought. "Julian, would you like to got to the forward lounge?"

Bashirís face lit up. "Of course."

In the forward lounge, Jadzia and Julian were sitting on the second level, having a game of three-dimensional chess. As they played, they talked. Julian was telling Dax a story about one of his nurses getting off on the wrong foot in sickbay.

"And then, while she was giving commander Barek a check-over, she dropped the medical scanner, right on his head!"

Jadzia laughed. "I bet he liked that. Check." She added, moving a knight to the third level.

"Yes. He did rather. Anyway, she apologised profusely and tried again, and this time, she didnít drop it at all, but, when she said it was alright to leave, she was standing on the bottom of his trouser legs, so he got up, and down he went.

Jadzia was finding it hard not to shriek with laughter. "Then what?"

"He finally snapped. He asked her if she thought what she was doing was some kind of joke. Check."

"Oh, dear. What happened to her?"

"Well, Dr Lek took her over to one side and had a sympathetic talk with her about being nervous on her first day of duty and all that."

"Poor girl. Sheíll probably get better in time."

"Thatís what I said to her. Apparently, sheís organised a session with one of the counsellors to have a talk about it."

"Well, under the circumstances, I think itís just as well. Just be glad you didnít have anything major happen today."

He raised an eyebrow. "I most certainly am. Still, if I had, I would have had her keep the other patients under control rather than risk having her doing anything risky."

"Hmm. Queen to kingís level one, and check mate."

"Damn. I didnít see that one." Bashir re-traced the final few moves, and came to the conclusion that while chess was fun, three-dimensional chess was far too complicated for him.

While he did this, Jadzia laughed. "You know, Julian, every single person Iíve beaten has said exactly the same thing."

Julian raised an eyebrow. "Well, what would you have me say?"

"Iíve no idea." She admitted.

"Would you like another game?"

Dax raised an eyebrow, but before she could respond, her combadge beeped.

"Holkham to Dax, can you come up to my ready room a moment, please?"

Dax looked at Bashir.

"Sorry. Iíd better go. Thanks, Julian."

"Thatís alright. We should do this again sometime."

"Iíd like that." She touched his shoulder briefly, and left, leaving Julian to gaze out of the window. The stars shot past, with their trails of rainbow light, and, in the background, the galactic band shone with the light of nebulae and stars. Julian Bashir sat there gazing at the sight before him for a long time before he returned to his quarters.

It was the same sight that Holkham was gazing at through his ready-room window. Looking up ever so slightly, he saw the reflection of the doors swish open to reveal Dax standing there. He turned around.

"Come in, Jadzia, come in."

"You wanted to see me, Jim?" Dax asked, sitting down beneath a large painting of the Juno in orbit of some planet or other,

"Yes. I just wanted to know what your first impressions are, how you think the crewís doing, that sort of thing."

Jadzia stuck out her lower lip for a moment, thinking. "Well, from what Iíve seen, thereís a little tension, but less than twenty-four hours out on the maiden voyage, thatís only natural. Apparently, the only major upsets today have been a rather unlucky nurse in sickbay, and a dangerous plasma manifold."

Holkham nodded slowly. "Yes, I heard about that, but it wasnít that serious. How did you know?"

"Oh, Dr Bashir stopped by."

Holkham nodded, and Jadzia saw there was a look in his eye that she found odd, somehow. "That was thoughtful of him. So, the only problems are nerves, really?" he continued.

"Yes, it seems so."

"Good. Thankyou, Jadzia. Iíll see you on morning shift, then."

"Aye, sir."

She got up, smiled, and left, leaving Holkham to his thoughts.

January 2nd, 2467

Captain Jack Hayes was the sort of person who liked things to go off according to plan. So, when his ship, a destroyer called the USS Maxwell, was assigned to explore the space beyond the Arcalon Sector, he was less than happy. He was therefore very annoyed, when, in the middle of the night, he was awakened by his second officer, who asked him to come up to the bridge.

Ten minutes later, a rather snappy captain Hayes walked onto the bridge of the Maxwell. His second officer, a calm Andorian called Pelan, rose from the centre chair.

"Captain, we have detected a small starship on the other side of this solar system. I thought you should be informed."

Hayes nodded. "Very well, Mr. Pelan. Tactical, can we get a visual lock on it?"

Hayesí tactical officer nodded. "Yes sir. Visual lock confirmed."

"Onscreen."

The blank, featureless wall at the front of the bridge distorted slightly and resolved into a perfect holographic image of the stars outside the ship. In the centre of the screen was a large point of light, moving slowly across the screen.

Hayes frowned. "Magnify."

A large green circle appeared around the dot, and enlarged, the image inside it expanding, too. It resolved into a view of a small ship, composed of two triangular wings, and a short connecting structure. One wing was long and scalene, while the other was short, and perfectly equilateral. The ship was a strange, mottled green, with black lines and strange feather-like etchings around the edges of the wings. There were purple warp grilles (or the equivalent) long the rear-facing edges of the wings. It looked rather threatening, and Hayes frowned.

"Has that sort of ship - or a similar sort of ship been encountered near here before?" he asked.

His tactical officer tapped in a command to his console and looked up.

"Negative, sir. The only large alien race encountered in this galaxy so far is the Kalrathaan Empire, and their ships are not designed like that. Anyway, the Kalrathaan are our allies. Surely they would have told us if they were exploring this sector, too."

"You would think so, wouldnít you? Comms, can we hail them?"

"Iíll try, sir." After a while, his comms officer turned around. "Sir, theyíve seen us."

On the screen, the attitude of the odd ship altered, and it sped up.

The tactical officer looked to Hayes. "Shall I raise shields, sir?"

Hayes shook his head. "No. We donít want to provoke anything."

The comms officer turned round. "Sir, weíre being hailed."

Hayes raised an eyebrow. "Onscreen."

The screen switched from stars to a view of the interior of the alien ship. The effect that image had on the bridge crew was startling, yet subtle. There was a change in everyoneís expressions, and the reasons were obvious.

The alien standing in the centre of the vesselís bridge was about as alien as was possible. It had triple-jointed limbs, so that its legs were shaped like a Ďzí, foot-long black fingernails like claws, a long head with ghastly eyes, something only vaguely resembling a mouth, and a crest of tall spines atop its mask-like face, where on a human there would have been hair. But the most striking point was the colour of its skin.

Green. But not entirely green. The dark, ivy colour of itís skin was mottled with deep purple and black lines, and, at itís side, on a belt, was a long, evil-looking bladed weapon seemingly carved out of some kind of lavender crystal.

The alien began to speak, but the universal translator could not cope. Instead of Federation Standard (which consisted of a conglomeration of Terran, Vulcan, and Andorian), a harsh whispering came from the bridge speakers.

Hayes frowned. "Comms, what happened to the translator?"

The young commas chief was baffled.

"I donít know, sir." He tried tapping out a few commands on his console, and the harsh whispering changed into Federation Standard.

Hayes spoke.

"I am Captain Jack Hayes of the Federation Starship Maxwell. My apologies. Our translator is not functioning well. Could you repeat your last message, please?"

The alien spoke again. "I am commander Nahaz of the Banthar Confederation. What is your purpose in our territory?"

Hayes was surprised. "The Maxwell is a starship of the Federation, dedicated to exploring the galaxy."

Nahaz appeared to frown. "You are an intelligence ship?"

Hayes shook his head. "No. We are explorers. We hold no malice towards the, er, Banthar. If we have violated your territory, we would be happy to leave."

The Banthar stood, impassive, and replied. "But where would you go?"

"Back to the Federation border, six light-years away."

"What is this Federation?"

"The United Federation of Planets is an alliance of almost two hundred races and planets based around the principle of mutual well-being. The Federation is dedicated to exploration and scientific research."

"You said the border was six light-years away. The border of Banthar territory is over fifty light-years away, in all directions."

Hayes was worried, now. "In our exploration, we encountered only a few minor races. They willingly joined the Federation. There was no evidence of any ruling power or overseeing culture."

"Are you saying you convinced our provinces to secede to this... Federation?"

"Of course not! They had no overseeing government at all. There was no evidence of inter-stellar travel anywhere in the area."

"You have annexed Banthar territory. It must be returned."

Hayes sighed. "Which systems would you wish to be returned?"

"Arcalon, Ariaan, Trieste, Oharsa, Merced, the Triangulam systems, Deneva, Iowa, Mayacephalon, Thorhault and Beta Anulis."

Hayes assumed the universal translator had used the Federation names for the systems.

"Nahaz, you are talking about the lives of twenty-nine billion people! We canít just transfer these systems like that! I shall contact my superiors and they will be able to hammer out a treaty."

The Banthar crossed its arms. "That is not good enough, captain. You will either withdraw from those systems, or the Banthar Confederation will withdraw you instead."

"Nahaz, I donít have the authority to do that!" Hayes was getting very angry.

Instead of responding, the Banthar made a gesture, and the screen reverted to stars.

Instantly, the tactical officer spoke up.

"Sir, the Banthar ship has raised shields. They are also on a direct intercept course."

Hayes sat down, and put his head in his hands. After a couple of seconds, he looked up.

"Signal red alert. Comms, you contact Starfleet and request instructions. Tactical, whatís their status?"

"They appear to be armed with some kind of disruptor weapon and atomic torpedoes. They also appear to have some kind of advanced weapon system integrated into their hull."

Hayes groaned.

"Helm, set a course for Arcalon StarBase, permission to use hyperwarp."

"Aye, sir."

The Banthar ship shot towards the Maxwell like some kind of cosmic dart.

Without warning, the Maxwell gave off a glow, as if it were bathed in blue light being reflected off water. Suddenly, a ring of green light exploded from a point some distance behind the ship. The Maxwell stretched and shot forwards, growing brighter before disappearing in a huge flash of light.

The same day

"Captainís log, stardate 89201.3, Captain Jim Holkham of the USS Juno reporting. After seven hours in the field, it seems that the ship is doing well. Aside from one or two cases of nerves, the only major problem we have so far encountered has been an unstable tributary plasma manifold. I look forward to our month-long mission exploring the Omega Sector."

Captain Holkham walked onto the bridge that morning smiling. At once, Sonak got up from the centre chair, saying,

"Captain on the bridge!"

Everyone on the bridge rose. Holkham walked over to Sonak, saying,

"As you were, people."

Everyone sat down again. Holkham looked to Sonak.

"Everything normal, Ďcommander?"

"Yes, sir. We entered Omega Sector three hours ago and have commenced long-range sensor sweeps. So far, we have not found anything of note. However, we have been experiencing some difficulties with the ISHTAR array, though Lieutenant McKinnon and a team of engineers have been working on it for the past ten minutes. They expect to be back up to normal by oh-eight-hundred hours."

Holkham nodded. "Very good. Take science station, commander."

"Aye, sir." Sonak walked past the XOís chair and up the steps that led to the science station. Holkham sat down, as Dax walked onto the bridge.

As she walked down the steps, Holkham said,

"Begin day watch."

An ensign working at main ops pressed a button, and the lights brightened slightly. Dax sat down next to Holkham.

He looked over to her.

"Sleep well, commander?"

Dax nodded. "Yes, surprisingly. The beds on the Defiant were so cramped, and hard. The Academy beds werenít much better, either."

Holkham agreed. "Oh, I know what you mean. I got placed on report for asking for a more comfortable bed."

Dax smiled. "When I was at the Academy, in 2360, the commandant almost expelled me for suggesting that."

"Hmm. They havenít changed a bit, those Academy supervisors."

Dax started to respond, but she was cut off by the comm. system.

"Bashir to Holkham."

Holkham tapped his badge. "Holkham here, go ahead, doctor."

"Sir, lieutenant McKinnonís been injured. Iím afraid thereís not much I can do for her aboard. If sheís going to get the treatment she needs, Iím going to need a StarBaseís facilities."

Holkham looked grimly at Sonak.

"Sonak, whatís the nearest Starfleet vessel?"

"The starship Capricorn. If we use hyperwarp, we will be able to rendezvous with her in twenty minutes. The Capricorn is returning to Starbase C213, anyway."

"Thankyou. Doctor Bashir, can you keep her stable for two hours?"

"Yes, sir. What are we doing?"

"Weíll rendezvous with the Capricorn. Sheís going back to C213 anyway, and if they step on it, theyíll be able to get there in... ...how long, Mr. Sonak?"

"One hour at hyperwarp, sir."

"...In three hourís time."

"Right, sir. Iíll see what I can do."

Holkham tapped his badge again.

"Sonak, did McKinnonís team manage to repair the ISHTAR Array?" asked Holkham.

"Not quite sir. Current estimations indicate another ten minutes before the array is repaired."

Holkham sighed.

"Helm, set a course to rendezvous with USS Capricorn, permission to use hyperwarp."

"Aye, sir."

The Juno slowed out of warp, her slender form contracting to its normal size, as she swept into normal space again. However, already, changes were happening. A blue light, as if reflected off water started on the nacelles and quickly spread to other parts of the ship. In a short amount of time, the whole ship was rippling and glowing. Without warning, she stretched and, as she did so, a large ring of green light erupted at right-angles to the shipís axis. Staying perfectly two-dimensional, the ring expanded slowly as the Juno continued to stretch, before vanishing in a searing flare of white light.

The picture on the viewscreen while this happened was as impressive as what was visible outside the ship. The stars, which while at warp, had long rainbow tails, grew again, but this time, they became needles of silver. The stars began to shoot past, and before long, a rippling wall of energy loomed ahead. When the Juno passed it, the bridge crew were looking at a completely different view. The stars had vanished, to be replaced by a swirling vortex of what seemed like light blue cloud, with light and dark patches, and the occasional patch of fiery orange - a hyperwarp conduit.

Holkham turned to MíGila.

"Lieutenant MíGila, send message to captain, USS Capricorn. Inform him that weíll be rendezvousing with them in twenty minutes to transfer a critically ill crew member, who needs medical attention at C213. Advise him to enter hyperwarp as soon as McKinnon has been transferred."

"Aye, sir."

Holkham watched as the Capricorn glowed, the green ring appeared, and as she shot away in a blaze of light. He sighed and turned to Laren at the helm.

"Lieutenant Laren, resume original course, bearing 180 mark 45, warp factor three."

"Aye, sir."

Holkham was in quiet conversation with Dax in the centre seat, when MíGila turned round. As she was behind him, he, of course, didnít see her.

"Captain!"

"Yes, lieutenant?"

"Iím picking up a distress signal."

Dax groaned and Holkham leapt to his feet.

"Onscreen."

The screen switched from a view of the stars shooting leisurely past to a garbled view of the bridge of a Sagittarius-class destroyer.

"This is captain Hayes of the USS Maxwell. We are under fire from a hostile alien craft. Request immediate assistance. I repeat, immediate assistance."

"This is captain Holkham of the USS Juno. What is your position?"

"Arcalon sector, section three-five."

"Acknowledged, captain. We will assist, expected ETA ten minutes."

"Thankyou, captain."

Hayes staggered a bit as a shot shook the deck beneath him. A panel in the wall behind him blew out, showering sparks everywhere. Hayes cut the transmission.

"Red alert. All hands to battle stations." Holkham turned around, a haunted expression in his eyes. "This is most certainly *not* my day."

Five minutes later, Admiral Trealor appeared on the bridge.

"Jim, whatís going on?" she demanded sharply.

"The Maxwellís under attack. Weíre going to assist them."

Trealor groaned and stat down in Barekís centre seat. "What did they say?"

"Weíve been getting data transmissions from them for about two minutes, now. Apparently, the starships Leyban and Constellation are heading to assist, too. From what we can tell, they made first contact with a race called the Banthar, who promptly demanded that the Federation hand over control of all major systems in our space. The captain of the Maxwell tried to negotiate, but the Banthar merely attacked, instead."

"The Maxwell sent us a holoimage of a Banthar." Said Dax, slightly pale. "Sonak, put the image of the Banthar on screen."

Sonak pressed a few buttons and the alien image of the Banthar Nahaz appeared on the viewscreen. Trealor gasped.

"Good gods! Captain, may I use your ready-room?"

"Of course, admiral."

"Thankyou, Jim." Trealor rose and practically ran into the door leading to Holkhamís ready room.

"Do you get the feeling she knows something we donít?" asked Dax.

Deep in open space, two ships battled. The slender form of the Maxwell and the harsh, angular Banthar vessel spat volleys of incandescent energy at each other, each trying to outdo the other. Suddenly, there came a rippling blast of light, and the huge form of the Juno swept in behind the Banthar ship. Both other ships stopped firing at once.

"The Maxwell has suffered some moderately heavy damage to the port nacelle. I am reading minor hull breaches and some armour buckling on the secondary hull. The Banthar weapons must be very effective." Observed Sonak, examining his panel.

Holkham rose from the centre chair. "Open a frequency to the Banthar vessel." He told MíGila.

"Aye, sir."

The screen switched to an almost identical picture to the one beamed to the Juno from the Maxwell. Nahaz rose.

"What is this?" he demanded, the universal translator interpreting the odd whispering and forming the noise into a language understood by the bridge crew of the Juno. "What right have you to do this?"

Holkham stepped forward.

"I am captain James Holkham of the Federation Starship Juno. You have attacked a Federation Starship without provocation or due cause. I believe you should be the one answering question here."

Nahaz crossed his arms briefly.

"I am commander Nahaz of the Banthar Confederation. You and your Federation have annexed our territory, Holkham. I offer you the same choice as I offered your comrades. Withdraw or be withdrawn."

"I am sure that captain Hayes explained to you that we have not even heard of your race until now. There are not even legends about your race in the cultures of the planets in this area."

Nahaz made a noise that sounded unpleasantly like laughter. "Why should there be? We never actually visited those worlds. Apart from the Xantanu of Arcalon, who I believe you or your superiors convinced to secede to the Federation."

"On the contrary, commander, they joined the Federation willingly. They had no overseeing power before. They were independent."

"The Banthar have ruled this area for hundreds of years. We will not relinquish it so quickly."

The screen reverted to stars.

"Damn him!" Holkham swore, sitting down heavily and slamming his fist onto the armrest of his chair.

"Sir, the Banthar vessel just sent a transmission to a point in a nearby solar system. I think they just called for reinforcements, sir."

Holkham groaned.

Kelos suddenly exclaimed.

"Sir, theyíre withdrawing!"

On the screen, the Banthar ship glowed slightly and vanished.

Holkham sighed.

"Open an emergency frequency to StarBase C209."

"Aye, sir."

The face of Admiral Danton appeared on the screen.

"Captain Holkham, you need not present your case to me. Admiral Trealor has contacted me already. I am ordering you to hold your ground. The starships Leyban and Constellation are on their way, and the USS Dalarinť is on standby. We have received information from the Kalrathaan High Command as to the location of the Banthar homeworld, and I am contacting them to lodge a formal protest as we speak. However, do not let the situation get out of hand. I shall contact you shortly."

Danton cut the transmission.

"...Take all necessary action, I repeat all necessary action. The President has been informed, and the council has agreed to a declaration of war if necessary. The Triple Alliance has been informed as well, and the Kalrathaan are sending you re-enforcements. I cannot stress the point to strongly: negotiate if you can, but we feel it is *vital* we keep the Banthar out of our territory. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Iím so sorry, Riannah."

Dantonís face vanished, to be replaced by the Federation crest. Trealor, pale, turned to face the rest of the briefing room.

"Well, there you have it. Weíre at war."

A stir went round the conference room. Trealor turned to Bashir.

"Doctor, have you prepped sickbay?"

"Yes, admiral. We have holodeck two and cargobay three ready to stand by as well."

"Good. Barek, what about engineering?"

"Iíve got repair crews on standby, and all back up systems are tested and operational."

"Brilliant. Sonak, any information?"

"Yes. We have detected a small task force of Banthar ships approaching, ETA two hours. The force appears to be composed of three ships like the one we first encountered, Nahazí ship, and a larger ship as well, presumably of the heavy cruiser variety. The frigate USS Leyban, the destroyers Constantinople and Constellation, and the carrier USS Dalarinť are approaching, and they shall arrive in approximately thirty minutes."

"Good. Lieutenant Laren, whatís the status of the fighters?"

"Weíve got three squadrons prepped and ready for flight, with the other two on standby. The Maxwell reports that itís two squadrons are also ready for flight."

"Brilliant. I canít apologise enough for this recent turn of events. Still, I suppose these things happen."

Suddenly, from the window at the back of the room, there came a searing blaze of light. Everyone shielded their eyes, and looked out. There was a ball of fading white light with a halo of white gas visible beyond the port nacelle.

Holkham tapped his combadge.

"Holkham to bridge, report."

"Itís the Maxwell, sir. She lost antimatter containment. We lost her, sir."

Everyone stood motionless for a minute. An entire starship. A kilometre-long Sagittarius-class destroyer. One and a half thousand people, all dead.

It was a danger that every starship crew was resigned to. Having suffered badly in the fight with the Banthar vessel, the Maxwell had evidently suffered a momentary power loss in one of its six antimatter pods. That was all it needed. On atom of antimatter, that was all. A single atom would release enough energy to make the force fields collapse. That single pod would have detonated with the force of ten hydrogen bombs. The other antimatter pods would have followed suit. There was no chance anyone survived.

Numbly, Holkham walked through the door leading into the bridge.

"Survivors?" he asked, shakily.

"None, Iím afraid. No debris at all. It - it just happened." The ensign at Ďscience twoí started to cry. "All those people. There was no warning at all."

"Easy, ensign." Holkham comforted the young man. "Look, if you donít feel up to continuing today, you have my permission to stand down until your next shift."

"Thankyou, sir." The now shaking ensign stepped down, and walked down the steps from science, up those leading to the turbolift, and off the bridge. Sonak took his place.

Looking around, Dax saw that almost everyone else on the bridge was as affected as that ensign. Everyone was fighting back tears, and one officer at flight ops had her head in her hands, tears streaming down her cheek.

Trealor bent over by MíGila, who had just vacated the centre chair, to have a look at her console. She went even paler and straightened up.

"Oh, my god."

Everyone who was in the briefing room when it happened looked at her.

"What?" asked Laren.

"Captain Hayes was talking to us when it happened."

Everyone went white.

The stricken lieutenant at flight ops spoke up.

"One moment, he was on the viewscreen, telling lieutenant MíGila that theyíd be ok, and suddenly, the transmission cut, and we watched as it... it... happened."

Everyone was silent. After a while, Dax said a short Trill prayer. While by no means making up for the loss of the Maxwell, it seemed to strengthen the resolve of all but the most severely affected people on the bridge. Slowly, everyone began to resume work.

MíGilaís console beeped. She looked up.

"The Constantinople just sent their condolences. Iím also receiving messages from the other ships as well."

Trealor steeled herself.

"Well, weíd better try and keep on task. We can remember the Maxwell after this conflict is over." She turned to Sonak. "Mr Sonak, whatís the status of the Banthar?"

"Status unchanged. They are still heading straight for us, admiral." He raised an eyebrow. "Interesting."

"What is, Mr Sonak?"

"Although the Banthar vessels are moving at a speed comparable to that of a ship at hyperwarp, I am detecting no residual subspace readings. Their means of motivation, whatever it is, does not use subspace or affect it in any way."

Everyone was taken aback by this startling news.

"They must be using some from of gravimetric slipstream device." Sonak continued.

MíGila turned round.

"Admiral, captain, the Leyban and the Dalarinť have arrived. The destroyers will arrive within the minute as well."

Holkham turned to the viewscreen, as everyone took their positions. "Onscreen, lieutenant."

The screen switched to a view of a different area of space. There was a sudden flare of white light, and the slender Leyban and the carrier shot into view.

The Leyban was about the size of a Galaxy-class starship, but was designed much more like a Sovereign-class. The nacelle pylons swept back and up; there was no connecting neck between command and engineering hulls, and the command section was in the shape of a rounded diamond, with the bridge structure in the centre. Behind the bridge structure, the deck was raised, tapering back in a smooth equilateral triangle with the ridge at the apex and the impulse engines at the rear. Five hundred meters long, she was an Adelaide-class frigate.

The two starships were very different. While the slender Leyban looked like a normal Federation Starship, the titanic carrier was altogether different.

The command section, shaped like a spearhead, was in itself easily five times as long as the Leyban. Behind the command section, the deck rose up into a teardrop-shape, tapering back and up slightly to the aft of the ship. Two long nacelle pylons swept forward and down from the shipís centreline, each with a nacelle at the end, and one in the middle. Painted in large, black letters across the command section were the words:

ĎUSS Dalarinť - NX-250695í

The two ships swept closer, the Leyban dwarfed by the huge shape of the carrier behind it.

And, behind the two ships, there was a second blaze of light, as two identical starships swooped in. Identical in design to the late USS Maxwell, they soared high over the carrier before diving and coming to rest on the other side of the Juno like a pair of swans landing.

Their small command sections were like smaller versions of the Junoís. They had no connecting neck between the engineering and command hulls either. At the back, between the nacelles, the classic shuttlebay marked the end of the engineering hull. Beneath that, however, were a pair of forward-slanting wing-like structures that extended underneath the nacelles.

Sonak raised an eyebrow as the two ships dove.

"It seems the helmsmen of the destroyers are in high spirits."

Trealor called to MíGila from Barekís chair.

"Lieutenant, open a channel to the other ships."

"Aye, maíam. Channel is open."

"This is admiral Trealor aboard the Juno. We will send you a data transmission containing all we have discovered about the Banthar. I advise yellow alert." She turned to Sonak. "Mr. Sonak, begin transmitting."

"Yes, maíam."

Half an hour later, the atmosphere on the bridge was tense.

"Mr. Sonak, how long until the Banthar arrive?"

"Approximately ten minutes, captain."

"Well, thereís no sense in waiting any longer. Signal red alert, and advise the other ships to do the same."

"Lieutenant Laren, order our fighters to launch. MíGila, tell the carrier to deploy their fighters too. Advise Leyban and the destroyers to stand by."

The two officers responded,

"Aye, sir."

At the aft of the ship, alarms sounded, ordering the fighter crews to get ready to depart. The huge doors at the aft of the engineering hull separating the fighter bay from outer space retracted as defence shields went up, keeping the air inside the cold bay. All over the ship, defence crews ran to their posts, as, all along the hull, the many pulse phaser turrets of the Juno swung into life.

The first fighters launched and organised into a triple-chevron, as the bay doors of the carrier slid aside. The two destroyers swung wide to cover the carrier, while the Leyban swung closer to the Juno.

"ETA one minute." Sonak said, not looking up from his console.

"Right." Holkham stood up. "Mr. Kelos, bring all weapons online."

"Aye, sir."

"Holkham to SGC."

"Stargun control here."

"Activate the stargun, prepare to fire on my command."

"Acknowledged."

The Junoís huge ISHTAR navigational deflector was surrounded by a ring of the hull that was slightly raised out from the main structure of the ship. At equal intervals were eight large crystals, and a similar one was in the centre.

These were normal phaser cannons, but they were programmed to fire simultaneously at the same point in space. When the centre one was fired, the resulting beam of energy was incredibly powerful, if somewhat inaccurate. Originally nicknamed a Ďstar guní due to the shape formed by the phaser beams, that name was quickly adopted by Starfleet, and, now, the Miami-class starships were equipped with one apiece, integrated into the ISHTAR array.

"Captain, the Banthar are preparing to enter combat."

Holkham sat down. Trealor, however, stood up.

"MíGila, try hailing them."

"Aye. No, sorry, maíam. Theyíre refusing to respond."

"Damn." Trealor sat down again.

"Tactical, prepare to fire phasers on my mark."

"Aye, sir."

"The Banthar are in visual range." Said Sonak.

"Onscreen."

The screen changed to show an unpleasant picture. Four identical ships, including the one presumably still controlled by Nahaz, were assembled around a much larger vessel. This ship consisted of two wings extending down from a high central spine, which connected them to a large, diamond-shaped main structure. This structure had its apex connected to the spine, so that its two shorter sides faced forwards. This ship, too, was etched in black, and was a threatening green colour, like its smaller escorts.

"Sir, the large ship has just sent a transmission, text only." Said MíGila.

"What is it?" asked Dax.

"It reads: ĎYou have one minute to vacate our space or we shall open fire on you.í"

Trealor sighed. "Send return message, saying that this can still be resolved peacefully."

"Sending message." There was a pause.

By way of a response, the large ship shot right at the Juno. The deep magenta beam of light impacted harmlessly on the shields. At the same moment, the smaller ships broke, as the larger one spat forth a volley of yellow torpedoes.

"Order the defence crews to shoot down those torpedoes!" shouted Holkham, getting to his feet. "Laren, order the fighters to break and attack." He stared at the green ships on the screen. "Mr. Kelos, fire at will."

The Junoís many pulse phaser turrets swivelled to face the torpedoes and fired, bolts of energy shooting everywhere. Five of the seven torpedoes exploded, but two hit the shields. As they did so, two points of energy appeared at the ends of each phaser array, and converged, multiple beams of fiery light lancing towards the Banthar ships.

The destroyers swooped down on the approaching ships, as the fighters, in their three triple-chevron formations, followed suit.

It was chaotic. The Leyban fired, dodging bright purple bolts of disruptor fire; the Juno dove and let a dozen azure ion torpedoes fly; the fighters swarmed the Banthar like insects; and the destroyers entered the fray as the enormous Dalarinť stayed clear.

A yellow torpedo slammed into the Junoís shields, sending rainbow waves of energy rippling around the bubble of energy. The Banthar ships, seeming unperturbed by the dozens of fighters, regrouped and came in for a new assault.

Holkham stood up, slowly, as the Banthar ships came in.

"Mr. Kelos, you have permission to fire the stargun. Target the lead ship."

"Aye, sir."

Outside the Juno, eight beams of fiery light erupted from around the deflector, and joined, forming a ball of energy. The central phaser shot straight through the centre of the ball, right at the lead Banthar ship.

The firepower this weapon had was somewhat over-excessive, to say the least. The ship exploded, and the two other ships on either side of it were knocked sideways by the force of the blast.

On the bridge, Holkham smiled, grimly.

"One vessel destroyed, two more damaged." Reported Kelos. "Our stargun array is now entering recharge cycle. We wonít be able to fire it again for a few minutes, sir." He said.

"Never mind, Mr. Kelos. Sonak, how are the other ships doing?"

"The destroyers have suffered minimal damage, though the Leyban is in trouble. I advise we assist her, sir."

"Very well. Mr. Laren, alter course bearing 350 mark 215. Kelos, target the ship thatís tailing Leyban, and fire at will."

"Aye, sir."

The Juno dove from the battle, sweeping down through the mess of phaser fire and torpedoes. As she did so, Kelos fired the phasers, which caught another smaller ship on the smaller wing.

The Leyban took the opportunity to rise upwards, leaving the Banthar ship hurtling down. The Banthar ship soon shot back up, too, but this time, the slender form of the Juno was blocking its path. The Banthar ship veered sharply to avoid a collision, and, as it did so, the Juno fired again, six deep blue ion torpedoes slamming in succession into the Banthar vessel, which promptly exploded.

"Good shooting, Mr. Kelos. Helm, come about ten degrees, take us on to the next ship. Sonak, how are the other ships doing?"

"The two remaining smaller ships appear to have broken off and are heading after the carrier. The larger ship has suffered moderate damage, and is tackling the Constellation and Leyban, though the Constantinople has suffered multiple hull breaches. It has been heavily damaged, sir." Reported the Vulcan.

"Damn. MíGila, tell the Constantinople to head behind us, weíll cover them." Said Holkham.

Just then, the larger Banthar ship fired right at them. The already damaged shields overloaded for a split second, letting a torpedo and three disruptor blasts strike the hull directly.

The magenta disruptors carved huge scorches on the Junoís belly, while the torpedo hit the underside of the command hull. The force of the explosion sent the ship reeling.

Holkham struggled to remain upright as the deck underneath him bucked sharply to the right.

"Report!" he yelled over the noise.

"Our shields went down for a moment. Weíve suffered minor damage to the secondary hull, and we have a hull breach on deck 34. Emergency force fields in place and holding. Twenty three injured, no casualties."

"Good. Laren, how are the fighters doing?"

"Alpha squadron reports three destroyed, they are currently dogging the two smaller ships. Beta squadron reports nine down, they are regrouping to attack the larger ship. Gamma squadron reports four down, they are attempting to draw fire away from the carrier. Of the sixteen destroyed, seven have been killed."

"Right. Mr. Laren, take us in closer to the larger ship; tactical, target the weapons arrays and fire."

The Juno lanced with more phaser fire into the wings of the alien craft. Where the beams met the hull, small plumes of fire erupted, sending crackling energy over the hull. The ship returned fire, sending five torpedoes right at the diving Juno. This time, the defence crews got all of them, yet were not prepared for the second volley. This time, only two were destroyed. The remaining three slammed into the hull.

The noise on the bridge was awful.

"Twin hull breaches on decks 49 through 53. Also reporting hull breach on deck 22. Thirty-nine injured, and four reported missing. Again, no casualties, but I canít hope much for those four." Shouted Kelos.

Holkham was angry enough to spit. "Kelos, whatís the status of the stargun?"

"Recharge sequence complete... now."

"Then, MíGila, advise the fighters and other ships to get clear. Kelos, when theyíre out of the danger area, fire with all youíve got. All weapons."

"Aye, sir."

Suddenly, the fighters broke off and swerved sharply towards the Juno. The Constellation and Leyban, too broke off their attacks and shot over the Banthar ship, which turned its guns on the Juno. Most of the firepower was dissipated by the shields.

But, even as the first torpedoes hit the shields, the Juno fired with the full might of her firepower brought to bear on the large Banthar vessel.

Four beams of light erupted from each phaser strip; volleys of three or more torpedoes spat from the torpedo bays, and the stargun whined and fired for a second time.

The phasers carved up the Banthar shipís shields as if they were made of thin metal. The twenty or more torpedoes each slammed into the stricken shipís hull. Even as the stargun bolt left the Juno, the ship was already dotted with small explosions.

The stargun bolt, however, was what finished it. With a blast more powerful than twenty hydrogen bombs, the Banthar ship detonated.

The blast of light, followed by a receding glow and an expanding ring of molten debris silenced the bridge crew.

Holkham felt as if someone had smacked him over the head with a saucepan. The noise of that blast momentarily deafened him.

MíGila, however, turned round with a look of urgency on her face.

"Sir, the remaining Banthar ships are retreating. But, Iíve just received a transmission from Starfleet. The Banthar have attacked in Mayacephalon, Ariaan, Arcalon and Deneva. Although the attack on C209 failed, they report that admiral Danton has been killed."

They barely had time for that to sink in before the viewscreen suddenly switched to a picture of the Federation Seal, which vanished, to be replaced by the sombre face of the Federation President. Everyone stood up.

"Sir, itís a universal transmission." Said MíGila.

"Citizens of the United Federation of Planets, it is my grave duty to inform you that one hour ago, an alien race known as the Banthar attacked Federation space in Deneva Quadrant. These unprovoked acts of aggression against Federation citizens constitute a declaration of war against the Federation and its allies. It therefore saddens me to announce that the United Federation hereby declares war upon the Banthar Confederation. I personally declare General Alert Code One. All Federation starships are hereby to declare a state of code blue. All Federation starships and bases along the border of Federation space are to hereby to declare a state of yellow alert.

I can only give you my regrets."

The screen reverted to stars, and, as the transmission ended, Riannah Trealor sat down and cried.

"...promotion to Fleet Admiral to take effect immediately. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Under other circumstances, Iíd congratulate you, but..."

"Itís alright, sir. Thankyou."

"Godspeed, Riannah."

Fleet Admiral Trealor turned to face Holkham and Dax.

"Well, Iím afraid I must leave. The Constellationís returning to C209, and, Iím afraid I must to so too. C209ís my posting, now."

"May I show you to the transporter room, admiral?" asked Holkham.

Trealor smiled. "Of course, captain."

Holkham turned to Dax. "You have the bridge, Jadzia."

Dax nodded, then turned to Trealor. "Good to see you, admiral."

"Good to see you, too, commander. Good luck."

They both grinned. "Good luck to you, too, admiral."

Trealor nodded, and she and Holkham walked into the turbolift to the right of MíGila.

"Deck five." Said Holkham, and the doors slid shut.

"Well, it seems this is it, Jim." Said Trealor.

Holkham nodded. "Congratulations on your promotion, Riannah."

"I would be happy, but..."

"I know. Iím looking forward to returning to C209."

Trealor grinned, her long, red hair catching the light. Holkham was suddenly seized by how beautiful she was.

"Iím looking forward to you returning, too, Jim."

Holkham would have continued, but the lift stopped, and the doors opened. Trealor and Holkham walked out, and down the corridor to the transporter room.

The ensign at the controls stared as Trealor walked in.

Trealor smiled at her. "As you were, ensign. Transport me over to the Constellation, please."

"Aye, maíam. Your things are aboard already. Whenever youíre ready, maíam."

Trealor turned to Holkham. "This is where I get off, Iím afraid, Jim." She put a hand on his shoulder, stepped up on tiptoes, and kissed him. Holkham returned her kiss, and, presently, they separated. Then, Trealor stepped up onto the transporter pad.

"Take care, Jim."

"You too, Riannah."

Trealor looked to the transporter operator. "Energise."

And admiral Trealor vanished in a whirl of sparks.

Later that day

Jadzia looked up as the door chime sounded.

"Come in."

The doors slid apart to reveal doctor Bashir.

"Mind if I come in?"

"Julian! Of course not."

Bashir came in, and walked over to her.

"Sit down, Julian." Said Dax, indicating a seat.

Bashir looked at her. "Thank god youíre all right. When the red alert klaxons sounded I thought Iíd pass out."

"Iím fine, Julian." She said, with a smiled. "How was duty today?"

He groaned. "How do you expect it was? I had upwards of fifty people in today, and I had three post-mortems to supervise."

Daxí smile faded. "Sounds awful. Are you all right?"

"Oh, Iíll survive, I expect."

Dax nodded. "Did you hear the news?"

"What - about war with the Banthar?"

"No, not that. Riannahís been promoted after Danton was killed, and Jim got orders direct from the Commander, Starfleet. Weíre continuing our exploration route."

"What?"

"Yes. I expect they feel we need more shakedown time."

"Well, I certainly hope it lasts as long as possible. Iíve never been comfortable with going into battle with friends."

Dax sighed. "No-one aboard does. Still, we may be able to contribute - potential allies, a back door into Banthar territory, that sort of thing."

Bashir nodded. Just then, the door chime sounded again.

"Come in." called Dax.

The doors opened to reveal Holkham standing in the door frame. He looked around, and spotted Bashir.

"Oh, sorry. Am I interrupting anything?"

"Not at all, Jim. Come in."

 


Proceed to Episode II

 

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