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Star Trek Renegade II - 2.2 The Return of the Corinthian by J. Grey

A team in the past blaze a trail into uncharted territory in a struggle to protect the galaxy's future from itself.

2.2 The Return of the Corinthian

Captain Franks stood at the fore of the bridge waiting expectantly and as patiently as the growing anticipation of his crew would permit. Behind him the crew watched as well. Consoles were largely ignored as they gazed into space, a blank canvas on which their hopes would soon be painted in the form of the emergence of the Corinthian.

"Any second now…" Tarvor smiled to himself. "Tachyon readings are off the scale."

"Thank you." Franks told him absently, turning half-heartedly to face him but his eyes refused to leave the screen as he did so. "Keep me informed."

"Should I raise shields?" Lieutenant Sneddon frowned to himself thoughtfully. "Could we be in any danger?"

"From the Corinthian?" The Captain fixed him with an expression of annoyance at the very suggestion as he snapped suddenly from the viewer.

"From the tachyon surge…" He stammered awkwardly his explanation. Tarvor shook his head and waved his hand dismissively. "We're quite safe at this range, Mr. Sneddon." He said.

"We have no idea what to expect?" Commander Crowley rubbed her chin thoughtfully, her eyes remaining fixed on the unremitting emptiness of the Universe stretching out before them.

"We've not managed to access very much information yet." The Captain admitted. "We know it's a prototype, an experimental vessel with many new technologies."

"Considering it will be considered highly advanced almost a century from now, I'm forced to wonder how we'll perceive it here." Tarvor noted rhetorically. "We've all come so far in the last century that an astronaut from only a few decades ago would be stunned if they encountered our own vessel."

"Quite!" The Commander agreed.

"In essence our technology has changed little." The Captain turned finally from the viewer to face his senior staff. "Certainly our Warp-drive is faster, our shields more resilient and our sensors more able but in what ways has Human technology become in any way actually different?"

"It's true that genuine innovation is quite rare." Tarvor nodded his complete agreement. "I would say that in perhaps the greatest technological advances we have made where considered mundane at the time, misunderstood by small minds unable to see the greater scope."

"Like what?" Lieutenant Sneddon frowned as his mind attempted to wrap itself around the science officers thread of reasoning.

"An understanding of binary changed the face of the Earth, as indeed it has many cultures throughout the galaxy." Tarvor began. "Who at the time thought that such a method of thinking would create revolutionary technology that would eventually allow the kind of computers that allow us to travel amidst the stars?"

"Binary…" The Lieutenant rubbed his head thoughtfully.

"Transporters." The Captain offered with a shrug. "The concept of matter to energy conversion is going to change the way we live."

"It's true we are just beginning to understand the full potential of that technology." Tarvor raised an eyebrow as he spoke. "Who knows how far it could go."

"So you expect the Corinthian to have some truly revolutionary technology?" The Commander asked.

"No…" He smiled a very unvulcan grin. "I expect it will just be faster and stronger. Prototypes are rarely more than that."

"We'll see." The Captain smiled with good humour.

And suddenly it began. A flaming red ball of energy seemed to press its way through space as if it were a veil of darkness made from something tangible and solid. The red ball grew hotter, expanding as the heart brightened in the centre.

"Are we safe?" The Captain asked simply, awestruck by the growing spectacle.

"Perfectly." Commander Crowley told him after a cursory examination of the readout. "No problems projected at this range."

The ball erupted suddenly, opening like a flower as a brilliant tendril spiralled out of the core, whipping out into space from the rotating heart.

"Metallic mass!" Tarvor couldn't stop himself from smiling. "I'm detecting a metallic mass inside the event horizon. Just one, it's held together."

"The Corinthian!" The Captain smiled to himself broadly.

"Electronic signal!" Tarvor announced excitedly, his eyes darting from the console to the viewer and back again, afraid he might miss one or either.

"Confirmed!" The Commander nodded in agreement. "It has a Starfleet-type signature."

"Captain!" Tarvor smiled broadly, his assumed Vulcan discipline forgotten entirely. "It has to be her. It has to be the Corinthian."

A tiny shadow emerged in the heart of the broiling energy, almost too small to see.

"The pinnacle of Starfleet engineering, a century ahead of our time!" The Commander enthused, unable to continue her façade of disinterest.

"She's emerged into our space." Tarvor told them. A faint cheer echoed through the ship from the crew who were watching on viewers at their stations and listening to the bridge conversation on ship-wide broadcast. "Shall I zoom in the viewer?"

"Let her come to us, I think." The Captain told him. "Begin hailing them, let them know they have friends here."

"Sir?" Tarvor frowned slightly at his readings. "This ship is quite small."

"She only has a crew of 12." Franks reminded him. "You have to cast off your expectations, Mr. Tarvor. A lot can change in a century."

"There she is!" Commander Crowley almost leapt from her chair and pointed at the ship in the screen.

"My god!" The Captain smiled as his chest swelled with pride. "My…god…" He frowned, his arms falling to his side as he stepped closer to the screen, his eyes narrowing in surprise."

"That's the Corinthian?" The Commander craned forward, narrowing his eyes for a better look.

"Maybe that's a piece that fell off the Corinthian?" Lieutenant Sneddon suggested with a shrug as the ship appeared more clearly before them.

"What the hell is that…thing?" The Captain pointed to the ship before them.

WP23 tumbled from the opening in space and time. Her journey had been short but hardly an easy one. The energy inside the conduit was ferocious and had taken a still greater toll on her systems that a century of fighting the Borg before which time she had already been old.

"We're alive!" Haldo Compz announced with a flourish from the engineering station at the rear of the control room. "At least, we are according to my sensors."

"Where are we?" Captain Blake Girling demanded. "Report?"

"One thing at a time!" WP23 told him wearily. "I feel like I've been upgraded by a team of Klingon cadets. It's going to take me a little time to sort all this out."

"Well we're alive. Nobody expected that!" Haldo told him with a wide smirk. "Especially me. How many people can save the Universe from the Borg and then fly into a collapsing Black Hole and think that it's not a particularly interesting day?"

"I better check for casualties…" Katherine suggested. "WP23, is there a medical kit on board?"

"I doubt it." She replied dismissively. "I'm not really used to having a crew. I'm sure there's some engineering tools if anyone felt like helping me out."

"It wouldn't be my first choice." Katherine grumbled, heading off into the rear bay to check on the rest of the survivors.

"What does that mean?" Goruss Clogg pointed to a flashing light that was hidden under a thick layer of grime and bundles of loose wiring.

"That means that someone is hailing us." She told him.

"Someone is hailing us?" Blake snapped. "Who?"

"I don't know." WP23 grumbled. "It's just a flashing light, it doesn't tell me very much."

"Blake!" Haldo explained. "A lot of the systems have been damaged. The self-repair systems will take hours to patch up all the connections."

"Find out who's hailing us." The Captain instructed patiently.

"This is Captain Jonathon Franks of the USS Asimov." He said again, standing before the view screen while the ship in the viewer listed, barely in control of itself. Suddenly the image vanished to be replaced with a view of the control room.

"I'm Captain Blake Girling." He began.

"We've been expecting you." Franks smiled a reserved gesture before continuing. "Your ship is clearly badly damaged, can we offer you any assistance?"
"Put it out of its misery perhaps?" Girling smiled thinly, glancing around the decaying vessel. "At this point I'll take anything I can get."

"We'll come alongside." The Captain told him.

The USS Asimov drew in close to the small vessel and reached out with her telescopic airlock to dock with WP23.

"Welcome aboard the USS Asimov." Captain Frank reached out his hand in an offer of a warm greeting as the survivors met them at the hatch.

"Permission to come aboard?" Captain Girling stood facing him in the airlock opening.

"Granted." He smiled back and reached forth to shake his hand enthusiastically. "We're all very pleased to meet you."

Blake cast a glance back to his team. "This is Haldo Compz, my engineer and bane of my life. Ensign Katherine Rogers and security chief Goruss Clogg."

"Welcome to all of you." The Captain smiled and nodded to each in turn.

"We couldn't help but to notice your uniforms." Blake offered awkwardly. "What year is this?"

"2273!" Captain Franks nodded in agreement. "Clearly we have a lot to talk about."

"Clearly." Blake nodded back with a frown.

"What we could really use is a few medical packs." Katherine stepped forward. "I have some minor injuries on board."

"Please bring them here." The Captain offered, gesturing with his palm to the interior of his vessel. "My surgeon can help them or you can have the use of our medical bay if you'd prefer."

"They're quite minor injuries." She shrugged. "I'm content to leave their care to your Doctor."

"Captain Girling." He turned his attention back. "Your crew are welcome aboard this ship. Would you care to join me in the lounge? We have a lot to discuss."

Girling stepped into the surprisingly spacious lounge with Allarn and Haldo while Katherine assisted the Doctor with the rest of the crew.

"This is a Foundation class ship, isn't it?" Haldo asked with a knowingly raised eyebrow.

"Quite correct." The Captain agreed. "You know your ships."

"I had a friend who served aboard one of these." He explained. "He said it was the last one in existence, it had been decommissioned years before and was serving as a private transport. Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't this the worst ship in the galaxy we could be stuck on?"

"The class has her problems." Captain Franks gritted his teeth in annoyance. "We've made a lot of changes since we encountered the Coo'gral and she seems to be functioning perfectly now. Not that we ever had any trouble with her before."

"The Coo'gral?" Allarn slapped her forehead in realisation. "They arrived first. That explains everything."

"Not their ship." Captain Franks took his seat at the head of the briefing table and gestured to the other chairs for the guests to take. "Apparently they were able to launch an auxiliary vessel containing two of their crew. The ship was lost."

"And the Cardassians?" Girling leant forward across the table and asked with a sense of urgency.

"They're here." Franks frowned. "We encountered a ship they'd modified and it fired on us. The Coo'gral assisted us with upgrades so that we could track it."

"This is serious!" Blake turned to his crew. "That ship was virtually as powerful as the Corinthian. Can you imagine how much damage it could do back in this time?"

"Maybe it was damaged as badly as the Corinthian was?" The Captain offered hopefully.

"The Corinthian?" Captain Girling snapped round suddenly, his eyes as wide as saucers, his jaw agape. "The Corinthian is here?" He stammered. "I never felt her…"

"Blake!" Allarn leant forward and rested her hand on his shoulder. "He means WP23."

Blake looked at her, the pain of his loss clearly visible in his eyes. "Of course…" He sighed.

"That's not the Corinthian." Haldo laughed, pointing back towards the airlock with his thumb. "That's WP23. She's from about three centuries in the future. She's a wreck with a bad attitude."

"I see." Captain Franks nodded solemnly.

"To stop the Borg in the future we were forced to destroy the ship." Allarn explained. "WP beamed us out just in time. We were lucky to survive, or at least it seemed that way at the time."

Commander Baker rubbed her arm while the Doctor prodded her with implements that were worrying in nature.

"Nothing but cuts and bruises!" Katherine announced happily, waving around the cumbersome medical Tricorder that was both considerably larger and a great deal less useful than the ones to which she was accustomed.

"I'm glad to hear it." Commander Baker smiled back thinly as she hopped from the examination bed. "This is almost like home. I like this ship."

"Well it's from roughly the same time period as when the Interdictor came from." Katherine told her. "She was just an early Miranda type vessel."

"Well I'm quite well used to working on upgraded technology from this era." She suggested. "Maybe I could help these people?"

Katherine glanced uneasily at the Doctor who stood up suddenly at the suggestion. "I think we need to wait and see what the Captain decides." She said firmly. "Captain Girling that is."

"Captain Girling…" Franks said as he ushered the younger man to the windows. Blake followed and the pair leant against the support pillars that punctuated the edge of the room. "There's something I want to talk to you about."

"Where should we start?" Blake quipped humourlessly.

"This is personal." Franks told him. "This is personal between you and I."

Captain Girling looked straight at him for a moment, weighing up the man. "Go on…" He nodded after a lengthy pause and with a sense of grim foreboding.

"We're family." Captain Franks told him, his lips curling into a smile. "I'm your great grandfather."

"You are?" Blake smiled involuntarily in relief. "How do you know?"

"The Coo'gral told me." He explained. "I was hesitant about upgrading our weapons and you were part of the argument they used to convince me."

"I've never met much of my family before." Blake exhaled loudly and blinked a few times. "My father died when I was quite young, my mother too."

"I'm sorry to hear that." Franks shook his head and frowned to himself. "It must have been hard."

"Ensign Rogers father looked out for me while I was growing up." He explained. "He helped me get into the academy. It's not like I was ever alone."

"I'd like to get to know you better." Franks told him. "Maybe we can make some time?"

"Certainly." He nodded happily.

"Blake…" Haldo called out quietly, politely butting his way into the conversation.

"Yeah?" He turned to the engineer, still slightly reeling from the surprise of the news.

"We have a problem with WP23." Haldo sighed.

"Now why do I get the impression that I'm going to be hearing those words an awful lot from now on?"

The left door no longer functioned and piles of worn equipment had built up in the opening. Haldo and Blake entered from the other side.

"This is serious." Haldo announced with a dire tone.

"I'm listening." Blake huffed, stealing himself for more bad news.

"She's dying, Blake." Haldo said after several deep breaths. "The AI has taken severe damage from the time vortex. The ship is repairing itself nicely but the personality core is going to expire if we can't find a way to stabilise the problem."

"She had a good run." He shrugged. "I'm sure someone will miss her."

"I can hear every word, you know." WP23 protested in annoyance.

"Blake, this is serious." Haldo grunted angrily. "She saved your life, she saved all of our lives. We owe her our gratitude and our help. I think we've lost enough people!"

"Alright." Captain Girling acceded. "We'll help her. What do we need to do?"

"Well that's just it." Haldo shook his head sadly. "I have no idea. Her software is stable for now but the computer that is the seat of her consciousness is breaking down. We need to transfer it to a new computer."

"Didn't we beam the computer core of the Corinthian aboard?" Blake shrugged. "Won't she fit in that?"

"No!" She exclaimed angrily. "I'd rather die first!"

"Under the circumstances I'd be happy to respect your wishes." Blake scowled back.

"The core on the Asimov is less than a sixth of the size it would need to be." Haldo explained. "A contemporary core from a Constitution class heavy cruiser would only be half the size."

"There isn't a computer anywhere in known Federation space with the capacity to properly house my intelligence." WP23 told them sternly.

"You mean to store your software." Blake corrected. "We could store your intelligence on a pocket calculator."

"I think I sense a transporter accident coming on." She hissed back at him.

"Maybe there's a way to reduce the software somehow?" Haldo rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Just write a program to make some spiteful comment every ten minutes." Blake told him with a wry smirk. "Nobody will notice the difference."

"How are the patients?" Captain Franks clapped his hands together enthusiastically as he breezed into the medical bay with an uncharacteristically cheery visage.

"They'll live!" Katherine told him with a nod. "Just cuts and bruises. Commander Baker has long term radiation exposure and malnutrition but I'm working to correct that, she'll be fine."

"I feel much better." She added with an awkward smile. "I come from an alternate future where we had little resources. Our ships were in poor shape."

Katherine closed the flap on the cumbersome tricorder and looked at it in mild disgust before discarding it somewhat rudely on a desk and glancing around the bay. Compared to what she had become accustomed to the Asimov was crude and she was in danger of reaching the limits of her patience.

"Ensign Rogers, isn't it?" Captain Franks held out his hand in an offer of greeting. She glanced up at him for an instant and then jumped up quickly to shake it.

"Ensign Katherine Rogers." She nodded with a warm smile. "Chief medical officer of the Corinthian… communications officer… butt of Haldo's jokes, big sister who breaks up the fights and I'm usually the one to fetch the crap from the replicator."

The Captain smiled so that his eyes lit up with good humour. "You may be slightly over-qualified to work around here then." He told her with a wink.

"Probably." She smiled thinly.

"May I ask a personal question?" The Captain ventured, leaning forward slightly as he spoke and instinctively lowering his voice. She nodded somewhat hesitantly in reply.

"Are you and Captain Girling involved?" He said knowingly. "I mean romantically?"

"Excuse me?" She raised an eyebrow as she snapped at him in defensive annoyance.

"I don't mean to be intrusive." He raised a hand and leant away as he flustered slightly apologetically. "I just noticed the way you behaved around one another."

"I really don't think that that's in any way relevant." She sneered at him, her eyes narrowing into defensive slits as she peered out from under pitched eyebrows. "Nor is it any of your business."

"I'm just trying to understand him." The Captain shrugged. "You see we're related. According to the records he's my great grandson."

"What?" She snapped in surprise, her annoyance fading almost instantly.

"I'm not very close to my family." He explained. "And that is to my detriment. Nobody else has served in Starfleet and in fact only my second cousin has ever been into outer space. When I heard about Captain Girling I was more than a little intrigued."

"Wow!" She muttered to herself. "Does he know?" Captain Franks nodded that indeed he did.

"Wow!" She said again.

"I can fix the computer." Allarn scratched her head and looked at Haldo who was chewing his lip nervously. "I mean I think I can fix it."

"How?" He shrugged hopefully. "Unless we shut it down I can't get inside to correct the damaged pathways. If we do that the program will degrade and WP23 will die."

"Well yes…" She nodded. "That's what we'd have to do. We'd have to shut her down."

"Doesn't anybody care about me dying?" WP23 protested.

"I care." Haldo assured her. "It's just that your technology is so radically advanced beyond what we're used to that our options are very narrow."

WP23 remained silent for a moment in contemplation.

"There's the Corinthian's computer core?" Allarn suggested. "It's not big enough for her to operate in it but perhaps we could store the program in there long enough for us to fix her brain."

"No." WP23 snapped suddenly. "I'll not have my consciousness put into that evil thing. The Corinthian was responsible for Borg taking over the galaxy."

"But that was never true!" Haldo sighed apathetically. "And in any case, we changed that future and the Corinthian was the ship that did it. In the future now she'll be considered a hero."

"No." She insisted.

"Well I don't see that we've got a lot of choices." Allarn sighed.

"I have a problem with my ship." Blake told the Captain of the USS Asimov, rubbing his temples as he spoke.

"Somehow I'm not surprised." Franks smiled as he leant back in the chair in his office.

"We need her." Girling told him flatly. "If the Cardassians are out there then she's the only ship powerful enough to take them on."

"The resources I have are at your disposal, of course." Captain Franks told him.

"With the greatest of respect there would have been nothing on the Corinthian that could have fixed her." Blake explained wearily. "She needs to be transferred to a computer infinitely more powerful than anything we have or her consciousness will expire."

"A computer?" Franks frowned for an instant. "What sort of computer?"

"One with the capacity to store and process a virtual human consciousness." Blake shrugged.

"I think I might be able to help you!" He grinned.

Blake stepped into the control room of the small vessel with a renewed sense of optimism. "How long has she got?" He demanded from his engineer.

"Maybe 48 hours." He shrugged. "Maybe less."

"But maybe more!" WP23 added indignantly.

"Probably a lot less!" Allarn added.

"Make preparations to depart." Blake told him. "We're leaving."

"We are?" Haldo glanced to Allarn and then back again as he wiped his grubby hands on his jacket.

"I need you two to come with me." Blake nodded. "Katherine is going to join us as well. Captain Franks encountered an Orion vessel that may have had an advanced alien computer on board. The ship was damaged and couldn't have gotten very far." He explained. "We're going to find it."

Commander Baker stood at the windows of the crew lounge as a brilliant blue flash erupted and WP23 vanished in a blur of Warp-motion.

"They won't be long." Captain Franks told her, lowering his voice supportively.

"Captain?" She turned in surprise. "I hadn't realised you were there."

He looked her over quickly, his eyes running along the length of her body in an instant. "Your uniform is showing its age." He said without intending to offend her. "Perhaps I can arrange some new clothing for you?"

She smiled and looked away coyly. "We didn't have many resources where I come from." She explained apologetically. "Something new would be very nice, thank you."

"I'll escort you to the stores if you'd like." He suggested, gesturing with an outstretched palm to the door. With a wistful glance back to the window she nodded, smiled again in acceptance of his offer and allowed him to lead the way.

"Captain!" She began hesitantly. "I come from a time in the future where vessels of this kind have been augmented with more modern technology to battle the Borg. I'm quite familiar with the upgrades you're installing."

"I see." He said with a thoughtful smile. "You're offering me the benefit of your experience?"

"I'd like to help in any way I can." She said simply. "I'm not used to standing by! Where I come from those kind of people died out a long time ago."

"Well I guess that every cloud has a silver lining after all." He quipped lightly and she laughed much harder than his humour required.

WP23 arrived in slightly less than three seconds at the Orion vessel which was still exactly where the Asimov had recorded her position. The battered old ship listed helplessly in space, the drive section smashed beyond repair while the craft had been abandoned by her crew and left to rot out in the unforgiving void of space.

"That thing has a super-computer on board?" Haldo sighed in weary resignation that their task seemed a hopeless one.

"It looks in better shape that WP23." Blake said, glancing upwards to the ceiling, not quite sure where he should be looking so that she might better see him.

"So this is it?" She huffed her indignant reply. "I'm destined to spend the last remaining days of my life being insulted by a chimp in pyjama's? Life has indeed been unkind! I'm not entirely sure I'm going to miss it."

"This is a Starfleet uniform!" Blake glowered with a degree of menace into the windscreen. "It's a Captain's uniform and as ranking officer I must remind you that your programming compels you to obey my orders. I may well decide to order you to remain silent for the duration of the mission, please bear that in mind."

"And I may well decide to release the structural integrity field beneath your chair which is the only thing holding four square metres of my cockpit floor together." She retorted as if grinning at him mercilessly.

"Children!" Allarn interjected. "We have a mission."

"Quite!" Blake agreed with a caustic glower at her as he hefted himself from the control seat at the front and turned to the others. "Katherine, Haldo. You're with me."

"You can't go dressed like that." Allarn held out her hand, pointing at their uniforms and wagging her head in objection. "If anyone is alive over there you could pollute the timeline."

"Don't worry." Haldo grinned. "If we see anyone, we'll kill them!"

"She's right." Katherine agreed grudgingly. "We can't take over our equipment either."

"What can we take?" Blake shrugged.

"I can replicate contemporary civilian clothing in the matter stream." WP23 said smugly. "In the reintegration process you'll arrive in ordinary clothes appropriate to this backwards era."

"And our weapons? Tricorders? Communicators?" Blake nodded, content with the plan so far.

"Nobody's perfect." She told him. "I suggest you keep them hidden."

They materialised in a flickering blue haze that melted away much quicker than they were used to. Blake blinked at the gloomy, corroded interior of the pirate vessel as he adjusted to the poor lighting.

"Oh good." Haldo said as he took a deep breath. "There's still air here."

"I did check the scans quite thoroughly." Ensign Rogers snapped at him in annoyance. "The bridge is that way." She reached out and pointed to an opening in the metallic bulkhead. They made their way slowly along the narrow path, the metallic floor panels flexing wearily beneath their every step.

"No life signs." She reported, her voice remaining low as she spoke.

"No sign of a super-computer either!" Haldo exclaimed, glaring at the Tricorder readout. "Only sporadic power spikes from the ships reactor and they're almost gone. My guess is that there's a battery powered anti-matter backup field in operation. The reactor has almost definitely purged by now."

"Apparently Captain Franks arranged for a shuttle to ram the engines." Blake said with a frown as he led the way towards the control room.

"Interesting approach." Haldo smirked. "What do you make of him?"

"He seems ok." Blake shrugged. "He's clearly a very moralistic man, he has a strong sense of honour or else he wouldn't have put himself in this position."

"I can't believe you two are related!" Katherine smiled. "You don't seem much alike."

"Related?" Haldo snapped up with sudden interest, a lopsided smile flashing over his languid lips.

"He's my great grandfather apparently." Captain Girling told him with as flat a tone as he could manage. "I'd unfortunately never heard of him before so I can't regale you with tales of his legendary exploits."

"What are the odds?" Haldo raised an eyebrow as his mind began wrapping around the statistics.

"Infinitesimal." Katherine told him before he could make up some number and pretend his maths was far better than in fact it was.

"We have a job to do!" Captain Girling reminded them.

Haldo huffed in annoyance. "We never talk any more." He muttered softly.

"Nothing!" Haldo grumbled in irritated frustration as he nudged a pile of machinery with his foot that he was certain was not an advanced computer of any sort. "This thing definitely isn't it."

"So what is it?" Captain Girling huffed in annoyance at the singular lack of progress.

"An emergency light!" Haldo shrugged back.

"I don't think we'd have any problem getting WP23's personality in one of those." He raised an eyebrow thoughtfully.

"You're not her biggest fan!" Haldo smirked to himself. "Personally I like her."

"She's annoying, hostile, confrontational and rude." Ensign Rogers added. "I suppose you two do have a lot in common."

"We've both vital to the mission!" Haldo told her with a conceited smile at his own importance.

"Nothing here that points in any way to an alien computer?" Girling sighed.

"There's nothing here at all." Haldo shrugged dolefully.

"Well there's the corpses of two men." Ensign Rogers shot him an acidic glare at his lack of compassion.

"Nothing of interest." He corrected himself.

"The Computer core has been ejected." Blake said as he waved his Tricorder over the ships consoles. "According to the ship's records the computer was loaded into an escape pod so that it could be ejected in an emergency."

"Do you think that the rear half of the ship being torn away would constitute an emergency in this era?" Haldo quipped.

"I imagine so." Blake scowled. "I take it nothing showed up on our scans as we arrived?"

"No." Haldo shook his head. "These are pirates, they don't follow our rules. The computer could be cloaked, self-destructed or sent into orbit somewhere if it had a warp-sustainer motor like a torpedo."

"We don't have time for this!" Blake shook his head angrily.

"What choice do we have?" Katherine shrugged apathetically.

"We have partial access to this ship's database." Haldo said with a grin. "Maybe the records will tell us where the super-computer actually came from?"

"Get onto that." The Captain said finally. "It's the best lead we have."

Allarn sat back in the engineer's chair at WP23's control room. She rubbed her chin thoughtfully as she reviewed the data before her.

"Any idea how long?" She said finally.

"Not really." WP23 replied softly. "I feel normal. What am I supposed to feel when my brain falls apart?"

"It's usually quite unpleasant." Allarn assured her. "If you were a physical entity I would suggest taking your own life to avoid it."

"That's really cheered me up." She grumbled back at her. "Just because I'm a technological entity doesn't mean my life is worth any less than anyone else's. Why then does this entire crew insist on treating me like a vintage pocket watch that's wound down?"

"I'm new to this crew myself." She smiled to herself, her eyes flashing with the suggestion of a joke she was unwilling to share. "They do care about you, or at least they will if you let them."

"I don't want them to care about me." WP23 hissed her reply.

"How long have you been without a crew?" Allarn leant back in the chair, ignoring the files displayed before her. "How long have you been alone?"

"All my life!" She grumbled. "I liked it that way."

"Then why don't you want to die?" Allarn asked with an assumed tone of innocence.

"What?" WP23 snapped back.

"People measure life in different ways." Allarn began. "In some cultures life is considered to be anything that is aware of its existence. To Klingons life is anything with a heartbeat, To Cardassians life is anything that can be eaten."

"So what does it mean to you?" She asked in interest.

"The Universe is itself a form of life. To live in it your existence must be integrated with the lives of others." She told her softly. "To be truly alive you must fit into the Universe somewhere. Your existence must cause change to someone. Without a crew you have no purpose and your life is pointless."

"Well the choice was made for me." She grumbled to herself. "I have a crew now… one I never wanted."

"And so you're alive." Allarn smiled at her. "That's why you don't want to die. You've finally got something to lose."

"I have it…" Haldo frowned deeply at his Tricoder readings.

"From the expression on your face, whatever it is you have is something I wouldn't want to catch." Katherine said with a worried expression of her own.

"What was that?" Haldo dropped the instrument to his side and turned to face her with a smile spreading over his face. "Was that a joke? Did you make a joke?"

"What have you got, Haldo?" Blake cut in to return the conversion not just to the pertinent point but to any point at all.

"This ship went to a small moon in orbit around a gas giant." Haldo began. "A gas giant without a sun to orbit around I would like to add."

"That's unusual but hardly unique." Katherine noted.

"According to the logs this ship landed on the moon and loaded up with cargo." Haldo told her, his words assisted by a raise of the eyebrow to properly convey the message.

"I see…" Blake frowned curiously.

"I don't!" Katherine shrugged.

"This ship can't land." Blake told her. "It's not atmosphere capable."

"So it's been modified?" She guessed.

"No." Haldo shook his head. "According to the Captain's log the moon was capable of sustaining Human life. How does a planet sustain Human life without a sun?"

"Geo-thermal activity?" She suggested.

"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard." Haldo laughed at her. "There's more chance of meeting a Ferengi ship in Federation space in this era."

"So where is this planet?" Captain Girling asked.

"At Transwarp…" Haldo ran some quick calculations through his head, rolling his eyes upwards as he thought. "Not more than a few minutes away."

"WP23." Blake pressed his concealed comm-badge. "Bring us back."

Commander Baker shook Tarvor's hand warmly and smiled at him as she was introduced to the key staff around the USS Asimov's bridge.

"Welcome to the family." Tarvor said with a less than formal tone.

"Thank you." She replied happily. "It's very nice to be here."

"Nice to have you here." Lietenant Sneddon added. "I can't wait to talk to you about all the upgrades we need to make to the tactical systems."

"So we can fight the Cardassians?" She bit her lip nervously. "I'm not sure this ship would ever be much of a match for them."

"What do you mean?" He frowned and crossed his arms over his chest as if his pride had been dented by her remark.

"For all her upgrades even the interdictor was never much of a threat to the Cardassians." She explained. "This ship is much smaller than she was, and less powerful."

"WP23?" The Captain asked, matching the Lieutenant's posture. "How will she fare against them?"

Commander Baker shook her head slowly. "Perhaps together?" She suggested hopefully but her lack of resolve plunged the bridge into disquiet. "The Corinthian would have been able to stand against them."

"Is it not possible to match the technology of that ship?" The Captain suggested thoughtfully. "WP23 is highly advanced, we have this vessel to work with as well. I'm sure that if we pool our resources we can mount an offensive."

"We can certainly try." The Commander agreed. "I have some things from WP23 we can use to make a start!"

Haldo Compz stepped into the lounge to the rear of the diminutive little ship. "Haldo?" Allarn called out to him, watching him walk past her in solemn silence, his head hung dejectedly and his mind clearly occupied by thoughts of a private nature.

"What?" He stammered absently, turning to face her somewhat in surprise at finding her there.

"Are you ignoring me?" She smiled to him.

"Not intentionally." He assured her. "I was miles away. We've all got a lot on our minds."

"Saving the ship?" She suggested knowingly.

"Yes." He nodded in agreement. "This crew have suffered enough losses. We're not going to lose WP23 as well."

"The Corinthian…" Allarn sighed.

"People too." He told her. "We lost both of the assimilated officers in our escape."

"We lost Doctor Jones as well." She reminded him with a raised eyebrow.

"Well he was just a Section 31 agent." He shrugged. "I couldn't care less about that."

"That's not what I heard." She gazed at him for an instant, noticing what an incredibly poor liar he really was. She made a mental note to play poker with him as soon as possible. "I hear you were friends. I heard you were rather good friends."

"Don't believe everything you hear." He told her firmly.

Engineer Murfet glared at her for a moment shaking his head as he did so. "The core is already generating nearly 400% more power than it was designed to." He told her bluntly.

"If you add my program you can increase that to 700%!" Commander Baker told him confidently. She glanced to the Captain for support.

"Well?" Captain Franks asked the engineer. "She says it's entirely safe. Where she comes from they've been using this program for years."

"No!" He snapped and folded his arms over his chest in a defiant expression of refusal. "I can give you a thousand reasons why it won't work."

"But the benefits in the increased power would be worth trying it, at least." The Captain argued. "If we could generate that much power we could seriously consider installing matter-replicators."

"Our computers are nowhere near sophisticated enough to run those things." The engineer huffed indignantly. "If such things are even possible at all."

"We could update some of your systems with parts we brought with us." Commander Baker said thoughtfully. "A few isolinear chips would increase your computational power exponentially."

"Captain!" Mr. Murfet turned to glower at his commanding officer. "Where is this going to end?"

"What do you mean?" He glared back.

"We've installed weapons we barely understand, shield modifications, new systems, a new Warp-drive and power modifications. This is already barely the same ship we left space-dock in. Where will all this end?"

"This will end, Mr. Murfet with the destruction of the Cardassian threat." The Captain told him evenly. "Now I'd like you to work with the Commander to augment our systems further, and I'd like you to do it of your volition. If not I will make it an order."

The planet loomed before them, hanging like a gigantic orb of inert rock in space before a brilliant distant star pulsating with effervescent energy.

"This is it." Haldo noted casually and without any overt sign of interest. "According to the logs of the Orion vessel this planet is where they found the advanced alien computer."

"According to my scans there is air down there." WP23 told them. "It's not quite M-class but close enough that you won't die without survival equipment."

"How reassuring." Captain Girling sighed at her apparent disregard for their safety.

"I can land there." She suggested. "I've not landed in over a century, it would make a refreshing change."

"Is your hull really up to atmospheric entry?" Blake asked cautiously, highly dubious about the whole idea.

"Well no…" She admitted. "Probably not, but my shields are more than adequate. It'll be a smooth ride."

"It'll be quicker and easier than beaming down." Haldo added. "Her sensors will be more accurate the closer we get, our search will be faster."

WP23 added haughtily, "And the clock is ticking."

"Alright." Blake nodded finally, reminding himself that there was always the emergency transporter if things went wrong and the Asimov was close behind them and capable of mounting a rescue. "Plot a course and take us down."

"To feel the embrace of an atmosphere around my body." The ship mused to herself. "I'd almost given up on ever hoping to experience that again."

"Your body?" Haldo's brow ruffled into a curious expression of bemusement as his lips traced into the very suggestion of an awkward smile.

"Yes." She snapped defensively. "I've always thought of myself as a being. My hull is my outer body." She paused for a moment in contemplation. "You biological species have a quaint notion that your flimsy frames are the only natural way intelligent life can thrive. Perhaps the natural order is for you weaker species to create something better, did that ever occur to you?"

Haldo glanced to the Captain and shrugged, taken off-guard and not quite knowing how to proceed as for now a quip escaped him.

"Like the Borg?" Girling offered simply, his tone cold and cutting as he hissed the name.

"No." She growled back. "Like a father making way for his son, endowing their offspring the opportunity to carry their wisdom on to a new age of discovery."

"It is feasible that the fate of Humanity is to create its own replacement borne of its technology." Allarn suggested neutrally, simply enjoying the conversation for its own sake.

"We have encountered enough advanced species to know that the fate of most intelligent creatures is to increase its consciousness, not replace itself with technology." Girling told her defensively. "A race intelligent enough to build such technology is rarely stupid enough to let it run away with them."

"Like the Q!" Allarn suggested. Girling nodded, his eyes narrowing cautiously as he waited for her to continue.

"It's most likely that their advanced abilities are indeed technologically based." She sniffed. "They most probably began increasing their basic intelligence with genetic manipulation, eventually adding advanced computer programs into their synaptic cortex by restructuring their DNA."

"We couldn't possibly know that." Haldo frowned as he replied, his expression betraying his concern.

"It's natural for a conscious species to begin manipulating their surroundings." She smiled at his unease. "Eventually they invariably learn to create advanced forms of manipulation such as Starships…"

WP23's tired hull yawned noisily as she entered the atmosphere of the planetoid. Dull light finally licked over her hull as the old ship drifted lazily from the dense cloud covering and made her way towards the surface.

"Any sign of any structures?" Captain Girling rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he watched the instruments and glanced to the view before him curiously.

"Nothing of any importance." Haldo shrugged. "There's evidence of a few small shelters scattered over the surface."

"There's lots of sand." Allarn huffed. "No biological activity. I am detecting an odd electrical interference from something. I'm compensating as best as I can."

"This interference?" Katherine asked softly. "Could it explain the light?"

"I think it's best you don't ask about the light." Haldo replied.

"Perhaps someone crashed here?" Blake suggested. "Perhaps a vessel from an advanced species was found by the Orions?"

"Highly advanced species rarely crash." Allarn told him with a slightly condescending tone. "In fact genuinely advanced races rarely employ ships at all."

"Your species do!" Haldo asked with a coquettish smirk towards the Captain. "Don't they?"

"When it suits us." She agreed without appearing offended. "However we don't consider ourselves advanced."

"Finally we agree on something." WP23 said finally with a tone suggesting annoyance in the lack of herself in the content of the ensuing conversation. "Despite the interference, I'm detecting something you all should be aware of."

"What?" Haldo glanced down to the readout. "I can't see anything that suggests a civilisation capable of using basic tools ever existed here."

"I'm detecting glass." She smirked with abundant self-satisfaction. "Fused sand from the landing of a crude space vessel."

"The Orion pirate ship's landing site?" Captain Girling asked.

"More like a shuttle." Allarn scratched her chin thoughtfully. "In any case the Orion vessel was hardly capable of entering an atmosphere."

"Set a course." Girling instructed.

"These data-chips have something on them." Chief Engineer Murfet muttered, flinging down the three isolinear chips that Commander Baker had managed to scavenge together from the few spares collected from WP23. He stood before an assemblage of parts that had somehow been bolted together to form a device he wanted simply not to be in his engine room.

"Erase them." She offered simply.

"If you're right…" The engineer began. "…these chips can store massive amount of data and they're virtually full. It may be wise to at least see what the hell is on them."

"I know what's on them." She replied with a sigh.

"Which is?" He insisted.

"The transporter patterns of three dead crewmen from the Corinthian." She replied sadly. The engineer stepped back reflexively from the chips, gazing at the as if they were rotting Human remains. "We can't erase them."

"Where I come from we make use of everything." She told him.

"You aren't where you come from any more." He told her insistently. "We have time for respect here."

"Perhaps you're right." She sighed.

"Oh good, there's air here." Haldo took a deep breath at the somewhat stale natural air of the planet, it was warm and heavy and had a slightly strange feel to which he couldn't quite apply an explanation.

"Will you please stop saying that!" Ensign Rogers grumbled at him. "You know I made full scans before I allowed the door to open."

"Before the door fell off…" Blake corrected.

"WP23's self repair equipment will have that sorted out by the time we get back." Haldo cast a slightly concerned look back to the ship as the trio made their way forwards gingerly, Tricorders flashing wildly ahead of them.

"I am reading something up ahead." Katherine snapped up suddenly in surprise.

"Sand?" Haldo commented glibly, gesturing to the ceaseless deserts stretching out seemingly infinitely before them.

"Energy!" She glowered back at him.

"She's right." Haldo glanced down to his own instrument. "Residual energy from light weapons-fire about three hundred yards from here."

"Why didn't WP23 detect that?" Blake scowled.

With a glance at the decaying vessel behind them, Haldo said, "I wonder why…"

"Alright!" The Captain said with a deep breath. "I'll go first, set phasers for stun and follow me."

"Stun?" Haldo drew his side-arm and toyed with it aimlessly. "What's it set for now?"

"Mild tickle." Katherine told him, shaking her head in dismay. She drew her own and pointed to the power control buttons.

"Excellent!" Haldo grinned. "And how do I fire this again?"

"Set it back to minimum and make sure you point it away from me." She told him angrily.

"Allarn?" WP23 muttered, almost to herself.

"I'm here." She replied, looking up from her work at the computer terminal. "What's the matter?"

"I couldn't hear you." She said, her voice straining and thin.

"Is everything ok?" She stood up from the banks of equipment, her heart fluttering nervously.

"Everything is grey." The ship replied. "Darker every second."

"Try to hold on." Allarn told her, dashing across the control room to the engineering console.

"I can't find anything to hold on to." She replied softly, her voice seeming to come apart, the personality drifting from the tone leaving only a bland electronic note. "I'm dying, Allarn."

"No!" Allarn cried out as she began to divert additional power.

"I never wanted to die alone." WP23 admitted as her voice drifted away towards silence. "Tell the others I appreciate their efforts, even though I may not always have shown it."

"Hold on." Allarn told her firmly.

"Even Girling…" Her voice cut off and the lights on the console died. Allarn stood for a moment, lost. The ship still seemed functional but it was but a shell, empty cold and dead.

"Oh no." She muttered softly.

Girling edged forward over a small dune with his phaser drawn. Before him was a charred opening in the sand, globules of fused glass framed the edges from the heat of an energy discharge.

"Come on…" He called to the others. "Whatever happened here, we missed it." He stepped forward into the considerable crater that had been formed in the stead of weapons fire from a vessel. "My god!" Haldo muttered as he caught sight of the hole. In it was the charred remains of a metallic mass pointing skywards, an assemblage of metal poles and struts, shredded by a direct hit.

"What was this?" Katherine asked rhetorically, her curiosity piqued.

"Energy conduits." Haldo pointed to the machinery. "Fed with raw power and links to a computer if I'm guessing right. That means it had a level of sophistication."

"A communications device?" Blake guessed, returning his phaser to the holster at his side.

"I don't know." He admitted, his eyes drawn to a small area before him where the damage seemed lessened greatly. "It could have been anything."

"Do you think the Orions did this?" Katherine surmised thoughtfully.

"Makes sense." The Captain agreed. "If they detected this then they might have attempted to disable it for some reason and then land to investigate."

"I think I could hazard a guess as to why they felt motivated to disable this." Haldo stood up from the array of parts lying scattered around.

"Go on." Blake told him.

"This is a weapon." He smiled thinly. "This installation is designed to fire an energy beam upwards."

"What?" Blake scowled. "There's nothing here to protect."

"The main computer is missing." Haldo pointed to where a large module had been removed. "There are several other parts still here. I would surmise this was a remote, self-motivated weapon designed to fire at any unauthorised vessel entering the planet's atmosphere."

"But why?" Katherine asked.

On returning to the ship the three were met with the dire expression of doom from a highly flustered Allarn. "What is it?" Haldo demanded expectantly, panic beginning to rise through him as he made no attempt to disguise his anxiety.

"It's WP23!" She told him as he paced nervously before her. "I think she's dying."

Captain Girling breathed a sigh of relief.

"Think?" Haldo cried out.

"Her program reduced down." She shrugged helplessly. "I'm holding onto her with programs I've added to her system but I'm fighting a losing battle." Her eyes locked onto a piece of technology they had brought back to the small ship and her lips curled into a smile. "You found the super-computer?"

"We don't think so!" Blake told her. "It's just a component left over from a weapon emplacement we discovered."

"Weapon emplacement?" Allarn frowned. "There's nothing here worth protecting."

"We actually went through all that earlier." Katherine told her firmly.

"Maybe I can help her!" Haldo racked his brain urgently, making his way unevenly to the engineering console and discarding the piece of alien technology carelessly to the floor.

"How long do we have?" Blake asked as an idea vaguely occurred to him.

"Until what?" Allarn shrugged.

"Until WP23 completely expires?" He looked at her with an expression that clearly displayed his general lack of concern.

"Minutes!" Haldo cried out helplessly. "Why?"

"The weapon we discovered would have been able to project an energy beam into space?" Blake surmised wryly.

"Of course…" Haldo turned to him, momentarily distracted from his floundering around the engineering controls.

"Then a single emplacement would hardly have been able to defend an entire planet." Blake reminded him. "There must be a second one on the other side at the very least."

"Another weapon?" Haldo threw up his arms in exasperation. "So what?"

"So another weapon would need another super-computer to control it." Allarn nodded in realisation.

"We can't take off." Katherine looked around the dying controls as lights slowly winked out around the ship. "Can we?"

"We can tell the Asimov to get here as fast as she can." Blake told her. "They couldn't be more than another hour behind us in any case."

"I'll raise them on sub-space." Katherine duly stepped forward to the controls.

"If we could find the other computer we could replace the worn-out hardware." Haldo rubbed the sweat from his brow. "We could save her. We could save WP23."

"Can you keep the program from degrading too far until the Asimov gets here?" Blake narrowed his eyes as he ran some quick calculations through his mind.

"I think so…" He nodded his reply.

"Allarn." The Captain turned to her. "Take our Tricorders and download all the data ready to transmit to Captain Franks when they get here. Our scans should help them locate the other weapon emplacement."

"I will." She agreed.

"A message on sub-space…" Commander Crowley reported at the Asimov's bridge. "Very distorted but it appears to be coming from WP23."

"On speakers…" The Captain stood up from the centre-chair, his brow furrowing and his fingers knotting reflexively behind his back.

"WP…." The message began amidst considerable static whine which made concentrating on the words very difficult. "…as fast as you possibly… weapon… before she dies…"

"It sounds like they've come under attack." Lieutenant Sneddon frowned to his Captain.

"Captain Franks to engineering." He began in the communicator at his wrist. "I need maximum speed now."

"Captain…" The Engineer began wearily.

"Now, Mr. Murfet." The Captain told him in no uncertain terms. He turned to the tactical station nestled in the rear of the bridge. "Shields, Mr. Sneddon."

"You don't have to tell me twice." The Lieutenant told him coldly as he began raising the vessels tactical grid to full readiness.

"Red alert!" The Captain ordered. "Maximum Warp!"

"I think it sent." Katherine said finally, tossing the mic back down to the agricultural technology of the instruments. "There's so much odd interference coming off this planet that it's difficult to tell."

"What the hell is this?" Allarn gestured to the alien technology they'd brought aboard.

"We don't know…" Blake admitted with a shrug. "Feel free to sate your scientific curiosity."

"Thanks." She smiled as she scooped up the damaged piece of equipment.

"Ever seen anything like it before?" Haldo asked, his interest overwhelming him and drawing his attention slightly from his somewhat frantic efforts to hold together WP23's program.

"It looks like a toaster my Uncle Blorg used to have." She nodded in agreement. "We could have waffles for breakfast."

Captain Girling glared at her momentarily.

"Actually I think I know what this is." She smirked proudly. "It's a backup unit designed to monitor and repair the super-computer."

"Repair?" Katherine rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "Do you realise what this could mean?"

"No waffles?" She narrowed her eyes thoughtfully.

"Does it repair data?" She continued.

"I think so." Allarn nodded, looking over the slightly charred box. "Why?"

The Asimov exploded from Warp at the apex of the moon in a blaze of light as she streaked into normal space.

"Sensors adjusting." Commander Crowley reported as the computers raced to catch up with the highly upgraded drive. Slowly information began to pour onto her scopes.

"Captain!" Lietenant Sneddon called out. "I'm detecting a weapons lock."

"What's on your mind, Katherine?" Blake stepped over to the communications console and perched on the side of the rail.

"We lost the pattern of three of our comrades during the emergency beam-out." She began thoughtfully. "The data was stored in a file on isolinear chips we removed from WP23 when we arrived."

"My God!" Haldo exclaimed excitedly. "We could restore their patterns! We might be able to bring back Doctor Jones!"

"What about their energy?" Blake frowned.

"It may be possible…" Allarn said thoughtfully as she began pacing the bridge.

"Incoming message!" Katherine smiled as the red light flashed on the console. "It's the Asimov."

"On speakers." Blake said with relief.

"This is Captain Franks!" The message began.

"This is Captain Girling." He replied. "I can't tell you how glad we are to see you."

"I'm holding the program." Haldo grinned. "We have only a few minutes left but I think we are going to make it."

"Are any of you injured?" Franks asked.

"No." Blake replied. "The crew is fine but we urgently need you to begin scanning for a weapon emplacement on the other side of the planet."

"We already found it!" The Captain replied.

Haldo punched the air in triumphant relief. "We disabled it with a blast from our pulse-phasers." The message continued.

"Disabled it?" Haldo's expression dropped as realisation dawned. "Destroyed it?"

"It won't give us any more trouble." Captain Franks told them all proudly.

"No…" Haldo shook his head in disbelief as he watched helplessly as WP23's program eroded away before his eyes and the lights around the cabin flickered off quietly one by one.

Captain Blake Girling, Allarn and Ensign Rogers materialised on the Transporter pad of the Asimov to be met by Captain Franks and Commander Baker, both smiling broadly.

"It worked!" The Commander enthused. "It worked perfectly."

"Commander?" Blake turned to her, still slightly stunned by the turn of total misfortune to which the crew should by now have become quite accustomed.

"I upgraded the drives." She beamed a happy smile. "The Asimov is now capable of a sustainable Warp speed of 9.98 by the new scale."

"That's excellent." He smiled back emptily to her.

"Commander." Katherine began. "We need the isolinear chips that we left."

"Why?" She shrugged to the Doctor.

"The ones with the data files of our people stored on." She explained. "We have technology that we're hoping can help to restore their files."

The Commander looked back to the Captain awkwardly.

"Is there a problem?" Blake guessed, rubbing his temples wearily.

"I erased them." She shrugged. "I wasn't going to but when we heard that you had been attacked the Captain ordered maximum speed. We had to finish up the work in a hurry so I used the isolinear chips to augment the system."

"Erased them?" Allarn repeated with a sigh. Katherine shook her head at the utter hopelessness of restoring deleted files.

"Were you able to find what you need to fix your ship?" Captain Franks asked.

"No." Blake told him. "I'm afraid she died."

The darkness was everywhere around. It permeated every thought and transcended the essence of reality. Darkness was the only reality, her being was the darkness, the empty blackness of a void, of nothing. Nothing, she thought and suddenly realised that the thought itself was alone amidst the vacuum. A thought. She was no longer swept along by the darkness, now she was able to experience it and realised she was aware not only of the darkness but of her own ability to perceive it. Layers of thought began peeling away the emptiness, experience, awareness, consciousness all began tumbling back to her.

Light pierced the darkness. A single point before her. There was no turning away as the light foggily drifted through the void, spilling the Universe into her mind once more.

A voice came through. Sounds forming into words and words into patterns. Her fractured mind began to grasp each pattern as understanding evaded her for now. Her mind tenaciously worked at the sounds until the began to make sense, a strange kind of sense in a senseless world beginning to fall back into place around her and within her all at once.

"I think it's working…" She heard from a voice not only speaking words she could understand but coming from a voice she could recognise.

"I still think this is a bad idea!" Katherine crossed her arms over her chest and glowered out through the window into space.

"We need her back." Blake told her with a dubious smile. "We can't handle the ship without her."

"Where am I?" WP23 ventured, her electronic voice still soft and uneasy. "Am I alive?"

"I'm afraid so." Haldo told her, wiping a tear from his eye as he spoke. "We managed to bring you back."

"Bring me back?" The ship asked. "I was dead?"

"As dead as an inanimate object can be!" Katherine told her.

"We managed to repair your program with a piece of alien technology we found." Haldo told her softly as her program continued to reconstruct itself.

"My program is intact?" She said with notable surprise. "That's an impressive trick for a monkey."

"That monkey saved your life!" Blake told her firmly.

"I thought that my computer was breaking down." She said more gratefully. "How did you repair it? It's way beyond the sort of sharpened-stone level of technology you people are used to working with."

"Don't worry about that right now." Haldo told her slightly evasively.

"What?" She asked suspiciously.

"Can I tell her?" Katherine stepped forward hopefully.

"Your computer had taken a lot of damage." Haldo explained. "We had to use our initiative slightly."

"What?" She asked again.

"Your processor now has an awful lot of sand in it." Allarn told her without concern.

"Sand?" WP23 asked scornfully.

"The planet we landed on was a gigantic computer, the natural sand was modified and used as a processor." Haldo told her. "Allarn thinks that many millennia ago an entire race downloaded their consciousness into the planet to create a single mind."

"I don't necessarily agree with that…" Katherine glowered at the alien woman fixedly.

"Ok…" WP23 replied evenly. "That's not too bad. I can live with that."

"Excellent." Haldo patted the console and smiled. "You get some rest."

"…Except there's more, isn't there?" WP23 asked knowingly.

"What makes you say that?" Blake smiled wryly to himself.

"There's always more!" She replied caustically. "I've realised that since I met you lot."

"There's just one other tiny modification we had to make." Haldo said uneasily. "It's nothing too important though."

"Get it over with." She told him.

"We might have had to throw away your old computer." He began. "We might have also had to use the Corinthian's computer upgraded with the sand. If you get the strange feeling that you are the Corinthian then that's probably why."

"What?" She snarled in furious rage. "I'm the Corinthian?"

"Oh yes, that's right." Katherine snapped her fingers as if suddenly remembering. "You blame the Corinthian for the destruction of the galaxy. It must be quite a nasty shock to discover you now are that ship!"

"I'm the Corinthian!" She gasped to herself.

 

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