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Star Trek Renegade II - Through the Looking Glass - Part 2 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.

Part 2 of 3

The chief engineer of the USS Asimov was yet an unusual officer to be in service aboard a Starfleet vessel. It was in no way a lack of ability that had seen his posting to the small and uninspiring vessel or the routine task it seemed destined to perform until her inevitable demise. Certainly he drank too much and was a bawdy character with a big mouth that saw frequent exercise but traits such as those hardly set him apart from other engineers. The reasons for his position aboard the USS Asimov when his service record should have promised him a more celeritous engine room on a more prestigious vessel were his own and he shied away from sharing them with too many of the crew; at least until his fondness for alcohol had loosened his tongue in which case it was more difficult to get him to talk about anything else.

"So there you are." Captain Franks said finally after the short briefing that had been unusual in that he had had virtually nothing to tell him beyond a cursory smattering of what little facts they'd gathered so far.

"No." The Engineer shook his head firmly, closing his eyes against the very idea. "Just no."

"We need to increase our speed if we're going to track this vessel." The Captain told him firmly, all signs of this being a two sided conversation vanishing to be replaced with demands that the engineer would have to fulfil if it meant breaking every last one of the laws of physics and doing so while wearing a pink dress held on with rusty nails.

"You're asking me to go faster than a heavy cruiser like the Constitution or the Federation class." The Engineer pushed the specifications that had been encoded on a Pad away from him in disgust that was barely concealed on his face.

"Can you do it, Mr. Murfett?" The Captain asked coldly.

"Yes." He shrugged with a wide gesture of annoyance that his efficiency as a professional was being called into question. "I can do it for about 9 seconds. After that the core will rupture, the coils will disintegrate, magnetic cohesion will die away from the plasma injectors and my heart will explode from excess stress. In short, there's no way we can go that fast and tell anybody but Saint Peter about it."

"Well then you have no choice." The Captain leant back from the desk to sink into the comfort of his chair, his decision made and the Engineer's made for him.

"If a group of engineering specialists came to my engine room telling me how to make improvements they'd all be walking out crooked with a hyper-spanner sticking out of the lower end of their uniforms." He told the Captain as his arms folded defiantly over his puffed chest.

"We'll have no more of that." The Captain pointed directly at him as he sprung forward angrily and delivered a sharp rebuke.

"Sorry." He acceded weakly as his eye sunk to the floor and his arms began to untie themselves. "…but you can imagine how I feel."

"I do." The Captain said more calmly in agreement.

"I worked on the design team that built this ship." The engineer began wistfully. "We put her together thinking we were building the future of Starfleet. Everything looked perfect as she fell together. On her trials she proved excellent but every time they've been in heavy combat they've let the side down badly."

"I know." The Captain told him with a sigh. "They posted you to my ship to observe one in action and you still never found anything wrong."

"I didn't get stuck here." He sat up suddenly, his eyes widening as he spoke. "I wanted to stay until I found whatever was wrong."

"I know." The Captain nodded. "We all respect you for that."

"And now you tell me this…" He began somewhat crestfallen. "Some invisible aliens can show me how to increase our speed in some way I've never even though of. To say it dents my professional pride is a bit of an understatement."

"Right…" The Captain began forcefully. "Let's put a few things straight. You will never meet these aliens. I'm still very much hedging my bets at this point and I'm not intending to allow them the run of my ship. Tarvor will take all their specifications and run complete diagnostics with your help before any new technology is introduced to the ship."

"I suppose I have no choice?" He grumbled thinly and with little resolution.

"Think of it this way…" The Captain told him with a wry grin. "When we hand this vessel back to Starfleet to be scrapped they may well find that we've found and fixed whatever problem has dogged the design and we've made her twice as fast as anything they're planning."

"And I'd be the man who did it?" The engineer could scarcely conceal the childlike enthusiasm that was beginning to broil away inside him as the suggestion took hold.

Captain Franks smiled and began tapping away at his terminal. "Don't you have work to do?" He winked at Mr. Murfett playfully.

"I'm not at all happy with this." Commander Crowley grumbled as the viewer charted the blurred stars as they flashed past the ship.

"What would make you happy?" Tarvor asked flippantly with a voice laced with sarcasm.

"A promotion." She told him stoically. "Preferably one that takes me off this ship or at least away from you."

"We all want that for you." He told her coldly. "But I'm fairly sure that a promotion isn't what I'm tracking in the lateral sensors." He raised an eyebrow curiously. "In fact I'm certain it's more bad news."

"What?" She gasped, leaping up from the Captain's chair she was watching over in his absence from the bridge.

"Quantum distortions at our aft." He told her with an irritating note of calmness. "This ship may have her full share of demons nipping at her tail but she's also packing the very latest and most sensitive equipment ever designed to track cloaked vessels."

"Romulans?" She asked, regaining her composure.

"Yes." He said with a note of distinct uncertainty. "The Klingon cloaking device is about as sophisticated as draping a black cloth over their vessels with white blobs painted on. This isn't just some charged graviton-wave, this is a multi-spectral stealth field. Very clever technology indeed. The Klingons aren't smart enough to have built it and whoever did would not be stupid enough to have let them steal it."

"So what do we do?" She ran her fingers through her hair as she struggled to come up with a tactic.

"Nothing." He told her firmly. "While they're tracking us they're not firing on us. They're still a long way off and don't know we've seen them. For now that's the only advantage we have."

"I'll take any advantage I can get." She frowned thoughtfully.

"There is one thing that troubles me." Tarvor rubbed his chin and stepped closer to the Commander. He lowered his voice before continuing so the others wouldn't hear. "Remember our briefing with the Coo'gral?"

"What do you mean?" She narrowed her eyes and swallowed a lungful of air nervously for indeed she did remember very clearly.

"They told us that only a few days from now this ship would be destroyed by a Romulan Bird of Prey while close to this area." He reminded her. "This not only adds credence to their story but puts us in a position that now we are helplessly relying on their assistance."

"I don't understand." She grimaced at the possibility.

"When this ship encounters that vessel it is destined to be destroyed by it." He told her. "We now have proof that the vessel they described was indeed in the area and observing us. We've also stepped up the schedule and are being shadowed by a vessel that appears to harbour hostile intent. They are offering upgrades to our vessel without which we have almost no hope of surviving."

Captain Singh sat in contemplative silence in his office at the rear of the bridge aboard his upgraded Miranda class vessel. A powerful ship that had been built with a sole purpose, to quell opposition to the large-scale production of a new ship loaded with new technology and design. With that in mind the vessel was built to survive in any hostile environment and was equal to just about anything the Federation had previously encountered. He was still troubled by the decision to send his vessel to assist an already proven ship on a routine matter. Something simply didn't add up.

"Sir." Lieutenant Tavish said softly to catch his attention. "I have the report you requested."

"Excellent." He turned from the view port with a smile. "Paraphrase it please."

"There is no sign of the USS Asimov." He began with a deep breath. "She has somehow deactivated her transponder. Their course was clearly designed to be difficult for us to track. The Captain is well versed in the art of stealth tactics."

"Yes he is." The Captain smiled darkly, an expression that held no humour.

"Something else, Sir." The young officer reported politely. "The communications department have monitored the subspace traffic as you requested."

"What did you find?" The Captains eyes flicked upwards to meet his and the two locked together.

"Another vessel was due to rendezvous with the Asimov but was recalled." Lieutenant Tavish frowned as if he found that highly curious. "The USS Polaris was a light federation transport ship. No armaments and only capable of approximately Warp 3."

"A courier?" The Captain frowned.

"I would imagine so but there appears no record of her mission." He nodded in agreement.

"And then a light Warp-able shuttlecraft is recalled and in her place a warship is sent to assist." The Captain rubbed his chin as he spoke rhetorically, his thoughts tumbling from his mouth. "As if whatever has happened has alarmed Starfleet and almost certainly has happened unexpectedly."

"Sir?" The Lieutenant shrugged lightly.

"Never mind, Mr. Tavish." The Captain smiled. "Thank you. That will be all."

"I have some fascinating new wrinkles to add to your engines, Mr. Murfett." Tarvor announced loudly as he stepped into the larger than usual engineering room waving a pad loaded with data to be converted into additional performance once fully integrated into the engines.

"I've already made my position clear." He crossed his arms and glowered in annoyance at the science officer. "I'm doing this because I have a vague suspicion I'll be chucked in the brig if I refuse."

"You're loving this." Tarvor regarded him suspiciously. "We're going to break some speed records and all the upgrades will have your name on them."

"I know." He nodded wearily. "I imagine the big explosion that signals the end of the ship will have my name on it as well."

"Nobody expects this to end badly..." Tarvor said with an utterly neutral expression. "…more than I do."

"What have you got for me?" The Engineer rubbed his temples in exasperation while resolving himself to their fate.

"The Warp-core." Tarvor began rhetorically. "It's a radial injection unit?"

"Of course." Mr. Murfett sneered at him. "This ship is far too short to install a straight linear injector that would have any more power than a Phaser cell. All ships of this size have a similar arrangement from the Vulcan warp-sled to the Saladin destroyer."

"Now the radial system works by having a ring loaded with a magnetic field of radiation." Tarvor began. "Thirty small injectors feed it instead of a longer single one and the field tricks the reactor core into thinking it's a long steady stream by pulsing the field."

"Indeed." The engineer stifled his lack of enthusiasm and waited for the scientist to say something interesting.

"There is a computer-controlled principal for using many fields pulsing together at different frequencies." Tarvor said excitedly. "The Coo'gral called it multi-phased differential oscillation or something." He took a second to glance at his notes. "Anyway. If we install their software instead of pulsing each injector once we can pulse them all at the same time and increase the efficiency and output exponentially."

"All that power has gone to your head." The engineer told him with a happy smirk of superiority. "If we fed that into our Warp coils they'd just feed it straight back up to us and the core would explode."

"No." He grinned back. "Not if we install this…" He held up the schematics for what he was suggesting."

"What the hell..?" Mr. Murfett dug his fists into his sides.

"It's called Trans-spatial Warp." Tarvor's eyes widened in excitement as he spoke. "Apparently it will be experimented on soon by Starfleet engineers and in service shortly after. They'll even have to rescale the Warp chart to accommodate the improvements. According to my calculation it will let us make warp 9 by their new scale. That would make us the fastest ship in the fleet."

"Great." The engineer grimaced as he snatched the pad with a great deal more enthusiasm than was apparent through his indifferent façade. "We'll be the fastest men in the morgue."

"If this goes wrong then the there won't be enough of any of us left to concern the facilities of the morgue." Tarvor corrected dryly. "At least a space burial will be arranged without undue fuss."

Captain Franks entered the bridge with his usual apparent lack of concern for the activity going on around him, caught up as he usually was in his private thoughts. "My office." He said with a flourish towards the Commander who stood in silence while she waited for his instructions.

"Sit down." He told her as the pair stepped into the privacy of his secluded chamber. She complied; still remaining in silence, her eyes fixed on him while she remained preoccupied with thoughts of her own.

"We need to talk." He told her as he knotted his fingers together in front of his face as if doing so helped him to focus his attention.

"Yes." She agreed with barely a flutter of emotions showing through her expression of stoic formality.

"We're in pursuit of the Federation vessel that is almost definitely not what it appeared to be." He began, his voice low as he led her into the conversation. "In a few hours the modifications will be set into the computer and we may be able to match their speed. So far we've done nothing wrong but switch off out subspace transponder to stop Starfleet from tracking us."

"And ignore your orders to surrender the vessel to my command." She reminded him with a sarcastic lilt to her tone.

"The situation has changed." He told her as his eyes narrowed. "We're well within our remit."

"Yes Sir." She nodded. "I'm well aware of that."

"So where do we stand?" He leant back in the chair, his eyes still fixed on her gaze. "You and I?"

"You mean if you continue to ignore the instructions from our superior officers?" She raised an eyebrow while her lips curled into a sneer.

"If our guests are telling the truth then this ship will have been destroyed in a few more hours." He told her mockingly. "Our choices may be limited."

"May I ask a question?" She sighed, averting her eyes from his. He nodded for her to continue. "Permission to speak freely?"

"On this ship I'd always rather hear what you're thinking than what you think I want to hear." He told her with a slow and calculated nod.

"What is your intention?" She asked coldly. "Do you intend to continue flouting Starfleet regulations and take this ship into uncharted space on the word of a pair of unknown aliens? Are you doing all of this to hang on to this ship?"

"I'm a Starfleet officer." He told her with a wry grin beginning to take his expression. "That doesn't mean I always follow the letter of the law but I always follow the spirit. I wouldn't risk the lives of my crew unless I thought the risks were worth taking. From the evidence I've seen I can perceive a very real possibility that an aggressive alien species has come here with knowledge and technology from the future. Preserving our timeline may well require the sacrifice of this ship and once I'm certain of the situation then I would be willing to make that decision once I have the confidence in the righteousness of that action."

"But then you have nothing to lose." She glowered at him from under her lowered brow. "You're due to kill yourself aboard a transport ship this morning on your way back home."

Captain Franks glared back with undisguised malice while his temper broiled away within him. "Maybe." He agreed. "To tell you the truth I can't for a second imagine how I could ever take that kind of action and that in itself makes me question the validity of the information we've been given."

"And yet here we are." She crossed her arms over her chest.

"So where do you stand?" He asked bluntly, growing impatient with the conversation entirely.

"I respect the chain of command." She told him angrily.

"So I can rely on you?" He asked her.

A curt nod was her only reply. "Good." The Captain smiled darkly. "I can replace you easily but we have enough odds against us right now. There's nobody else aboard as qualified to do your job."

"Very reassuring." She sneered. "And if there was?"

"Then maybe we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"They're at Space-Warp factor, level 28." The Romulan Commander noted as the Federation Starship they were tailing loomed large in the viewer at the fore of his bridge. "We can match them?"

"Yes." His first officer agreed hesitantly. "We have sufficient power to match their speed for another four hours. If they increase their level by three points then we would have to drop our cloaking field to draw the additional power."

"Unacceptable." The Commander shook his head dismissively. "If we don't remain concealed we could provoke a war. Further they'd call for assistance and while a match to a small scout we'd fare badly against a heavy cruiser."

"From what you say we're not in a position in which it would be wise to provoke the Federation unduly." He said as he stepped away from the instruments to join his commanding officer in the narrow briefing room.

"Quite." He nodded grimly. "Do they show any sign of increasing their Warp factor?"

"They have remained constant." He shook his head firmly. "We're monitoring them as closely as we're able."

"Where are they heading?" The Commander looked up with a frown. "Am I right in assuming the worst?"

"Yes sir." The first officer replied grimly. "I'm rather afraid that you are. They do appear to be heading into the maelstrom region."

"Then we'll follow." The Commander said bravely as if the very notion of not doing so was alien to him.

"Sir?" He asked with a frown.

"We follow." The Commander told him firmly with a look of determination that quelled any further discussion on the matter.

"How's it going?" Captain Franks asked as the small platform lowered itself effortlessly onto the deck of the engineering heart of his small ship.

"Fantastic." Tarvor clapped his hands together excitedly as he turned to greet him. "The software is fully installed and all diagnostics show that it runs perfectly with our system."

"I'm still not happy." Chief Engineer Murfett told them both with a sour expression of indignation.

"He's never happy unless he's complaining." Tarvor sighed at him. "Consequently he's probably in whatever his twisted concept of heaven happens to be."

"I can't be." Murfett told him with a smirk. "You're here and all your organs are on the inside. Therefore it can't be my vision of heaven."

"It can't be mine. Mine would smell better." Tarvor told him sarcastically. "I can assure you of that."

"If we could dispense with the foreplay." Captain Franks told them sternly. "I'd like someone to tell me in words of two syllables or less what the status of my ship is."

"If this works then we are now the fastest ship in the fleet and will be for another 45 years." The engineer began with a hesitant lack of enthusiasm. "If it doesn't then the USS Asimov will join her classmates in the annuls of ambiguity and the crew's families are all going to be receiving letters from Starfleet command telling them how sorry they are."

"They may be receiving them anyway if this doesn't work." The Captain told him with a shrug. "Consequently we may as well proceed."

"I'd like to remind the Captain that there's some dangerously unknown alien programs running through the ship's software." The engineer huffed his indignation. "I doubt we can even begin to predict how this might effect the systems."

"The food might be edible? The intercom might not interrupt the command channel with hover-ball results from Earth any more? The emergency ejection panels might no longer eject themselves unless there really were an emergency?" Tarvor groaned wearily. "He hasn't stopped moaning about the possible repercussions since I got here. I'd have pinched his neck if I'd ever mastered the art of doing so."

"We have a Romulan battleship running silently behind us." The Captain told them. "It doesn't take much to predict what will happen if they decide to attack us. We already know."

"So your decision is made?" Tarvor's eyes glinted as he gestured towards an access button that would release the programs into the main heart of the ships computer.

"Do it." He told them.

"Wait…" The Romulan officer announced with a smirk. "Commander, I believe I've found something in which you may be interested."

"From you expression it appears this news falls within the parameters of good fortune." The Commander matched his first officer's enthusiasm with a warm grin.

"Oh yes, sir." He nodded with obvious relish. "I know very little about Starfleet vessels from an aesthetic viewpoint."

"Me neither." The Commander agreed with a cursory glance at their prey in the viewer. "Ugly ships indeed. Covered with a thick grey laminate, twin gawky engine pods with bright glowing tips. They look like clowns rampaging through space with no guidance from an intelligence greater than that of a small animal."

"Yes, Sir." He agreed with a happy nod as he chuckled to himself. "I've found that plays well for us."

"I'm always keen to hear good news." The Romulan Commander stood straight in readiness. "I'm all ears."

"That ship, Sir." He said. "It's a Federation Adams class Starship."

"So?" The Commander frowned suddenly. His expression instantly melted and his lips began tracing upwards. "Oh." He smiled broadly. "Yes, that is rather good news, isn't it?"

"Sir…" A voice cut into their blunted revelry with a note of urgency. The pair turned to the control room as a wild-eyed officer darted into the briefing room in a fragrant disregard for protocol.

"What is it?" The Commander demanded urgently.

"The ship." He reported grimly in near panic. "It's vanished from our sensors."

"Warp 13 and still increasing." The engineer allowed himself a smile as his instruments told him everything he needed to know and more than he'd ever dreamed. "So much for the Enterprise. This is the ship that everyone is going to remember."

"Somehow I doubt that." Tarvor cast a knowing glance to his Captain as the three watched the readouts as the ship increased steadily in speed, ripping through the records as she went.

"Stress?" Captain Franks asked, rolling back on his heels in relief.

"I'm fine." The engineer told him with a grin.

"I meant the ship, Mr. Murfett." The Captain smiled and shook his head at his chief. "How is she holding up?"

"Better than us." Tarvor interjected. "According to the new Warp scale we're at warp 7.5 now and increasing. No unusual pressure on the ship. She's well capable of increasing the Warp factor still further."

"How fast can she go?" The Captain smiled broadly, his pride in the ship returning and reminding him of the first day he'd stepped aboard. He'd been shown to the bridge by a full Admiral who had told him all about his new posting. After the class ship she was the first ever produced and all the more special for that. A new era in Starship design principals, certainly she was small but she was potent. Capable of doing anything a cruiser could manage with the potential to do a lot of things that one couldn't. It had been a long time before anyone doubted those words and the Captain still remembered them every morning that he stepped onto his bridge on board his ship, albeit more dimly with the passing of the years. She had yet to let him down, yet to perform less than her absolute best when he called of her. The class may have her demons but his ship had him watching over her and the pairing overcame his own problems, hers or any other that fate may deal them.

"Warp 9." Engineer Murfett said with obvious relish. "That's enough. I'm going to hold her here for now. We may have power over the engines but I still don't know the deflector or sensors are up to this kind of speed."

"I bow to your discretion." The Captain smiled at him, his thoughts still elsewhere as the feelings returned. Inside he felt no different than the day he'd taken command, the first day he'd stepped aboard, still slightly in awe of his first Command posting. All else was washed away by the pride that returned to his heart. His ship was again everything she was meant to be and all he knew she was capable of being.

"Nothing." The Engineer shook his head as a happy smile flashed over his lips. "Not a damn discrepancy anywhere."

"I told you." Tarvor shrugged. "Computers these days are slightly more reliable than the sodden opinion of a drunken Irish engineer."

"I'm glad your tinkering worked." Murfett smirked at the science officer.

"Really?" He asked suspiciously, his eyebrows plunging into a deep frown.

"Now I don't need you in my engine room." He told him angrily. "Get up to your own deck and leave us working men alone to get on with doing things properly."

"I think the engineer has things well in hand." The Captain smiled, leading him to the platform that would take them to the bridge. "One thing." He said with a raised hand that plunged the centre into silence.

"Sir?"

"Very well done." Captain Franks said with an inflated chest. "No matter what happens I want you to both know that you have cause to be very proud of what you've done here today."

"What can you tell us about yourself?" The Doctor sat up straight and ignored the computer that seemed unable to offer much assistance in any case. "You have clearly evolved quite unusual characteristics."

"Evolution exists only socially and is a product of successive change." It replied cordially. "As our enemies grew in power our kind believed it wise to begin modifying ourselves to remain unseen as best we could."

"So the fact that you're invisible is technology?" The Doctor nodded as he had expected as much.

"We are a species unconcerned with the physical aspect of our being." It began by way of explanation. "We learnt to phase ourselves out of the physical universe to the point where other races would not experience our presence. We learnt to evolve that technology into a complex computer system stored inside a protein chain and thus were able to incorporate it into our DNA."

"That's astonishing." The Doctor gasped, his eyebrows raising incredulously as he began to consider the possibilities of such a thing.

"It was thousands of years before." The aliens began. "A technology began to develop to allow other races to interact with us more recently. Indeed our vessel and the screens were not manufactured by ourselves."

"You didn't build them?" The nurse frowned.

"We would have little interest in finding ways around a condition that serves our ends well." The alien spoke, the nuances of its expression lost in the blurriness of the screen. "Other species have interests in our technology. When enemies of all began to rise we considered such exchanges to be in the interests of all. We allowed races such as yourselves to develop the ability to speak with us."

"Your ship…" The Doctor frowned. "Who built it for you?"

"You did." The Coo'gral said softly.

"The Federation?" The Doctor's eyes narrowed slightly.

"Nearly two centuries from here." It agreed with a nod. "But what you have seen is not our ship."

Commander Crowley relinquished her seat at the heart of the bridge as the Captain entered through the turbolift door.

"Do you have any idea how fast we're going?" She snapped at him, her dubious rank and position in the team forgotten for the moment, her annoyance washing her restraint aside and making her brave.

"For the sake of argument let's assume I do." He told her with a wry smirk of approval.

"We're exceeding safety margins by over 500 percent." She grumbled. "There's no way this ship can cope."

"Indeed." Tarvor smiled broadly. "We're keeping it down while the engineer studies the various sub-systems. We can increase to full speed later on if his report is favourable."

"What?" She turned accusingly to the Captain. "I don't know where to begin."

"At the end will do very nicely." He told her flatly as he took his seat at the centre. "Tarvor, any sign of them?"

"No Romulans within sensor range." He shook his head happily. "I wonder what they're thinking? They won't believe the speed, they're probably thinking we cloaked."

"Cloaked?" The Commander stabbed her balled fists into her sides angrily. "We're forbidden to develop cloaking technology as well you know."

"In for a penny…" Captain Franks told her, wagging his index finger playfully.

"I don't believe that even you would consider installing a cloaking device." She said sternly.

"Tarvor?" He turned to his science officer.

"Phaser upgrades include a cohesive containment field to increase destructive photon yield, Photon torpedo load can be contained 20% more efficiently with the new magnetic cohesion parameters, shields increased 345% in efficiency and transporter range increased by three times." Tarvor reported. "Nothing about cloaking. I could ask?"

"That's fine." The Captain grinned to his first officer. "We'll make do without…for now!"

"I'm very happy with the upgrades to the ship." The Captain began thoughtfully as he gazed into an old picture hung on the spartan metal wall of his office. It depicted his ship, the USS Asimov surrounded by an intricate lacework of scaffold beams. She was unfinished, incomplete and helpless, as if held in the protective womb of her mother until grown to maturity and ready to survive on her own in a sometimes dangerous galaxy.

"As well you should be." Tarvor nodded in agreement. "That isn't why I'm here though, is it?"

"No." The Captain shook his head and took on a grim expression. "I wanted to discuss the other matter."

Tarvor's expression darkened at the very mention of such a thing. His back stiffened and he seemed to roll back on the balls of his feet. "I see."

"These aliens." Captain Franks sighed, his eyes closing reflexively as he spoke. "How do we hurt them if we should be called upon to do so?"

"So you still don't entirely trust them?" Tarvor asked, his voice lowered respectfully of the magnitude of the subject matter.

"I don't." The Captain admitted. "Do you?"

"Their assistance in upgrading our systems has transformed this vessel." Tarvor stepped closer to his friend as the spoke. "I admit that in no way does their help imply an honest revelation of their underlying motivation. They have given us open access to their technology and don't appear to be hiding anything or intent on keeping anything back."

"But still they're guiding us into a confrontation with a hostile enemy about which we know practically nothing." The Captain leant on his desk, gesturing forcefully with his free hand. "They have only given us what we need to help them."

"I agree." The science officer nodded. "If you want an opinion based on the facts as I see them then I can give you one."

"Please…" The Captain allowed him to continue.

"Their ship was not built here by any species we've encountered but it did appear in a very well monitored area of space with no warning. The vessel it was engaged with was also capable of speeds that mean it cannot be what it appeared. Their explanation makes a lot of sense although other explanations may also. For now I tend to accept their word as I have no contrary evidence or other reason to doubt it." Tarvor huffed indignantly. "I certainly see no reason to consider them dangerous."

"I need to know how to stop them." The Captain insisted. "For all we know the ship we're after could also be full of similar beings and the total destruction of their ship might not even harm them. I need to know we have a working defence."

"So you don't trust them?" He sighed, his palms raised upwards.

"Can you honestly see me committing suicide?" The Captain scoffed at the very suggestion. "That in itself make me doubt everything else they've said."

"Do you want an honest answer?" Tarvor folded his arms over his chest and began tapping his foot impatiently. The Captain nodded and furrowed his brow, bracing himself for an opinion he feared might not be entirely what he had wanted to hear.

"I can indeed imagine you taking such action." He began coldly. "You are an aggressive and hostile man, you've never flinched to command the use of deadly force when the need has arisen and in your position nor should you. 10 years ago you stepped onto the bridge of this vessel as her new master with the firm belief that doing so was an honour. As the class has shown herself to be somewhat lacking, your assignments have become gradually worse until the ship is the subject of the scorn of high-ranking officers and demands are made to have her scrapped. I have observed how personally you take this, how quick you are to jump to the defence of your ship as if any sleight is spoken against you yourself. In the years you've served you have become increasingly isolated from your family and even your friends and fellow crew. You have now been diagnosed with a stress disorder and Starfleet is aware of that. As if that isn't enough you have received orders to hand your ship over to an inexperienced officer and return to HQ for debriefing. I can well imagine that that chain of events could lead to a scenario like the Coo'gral have described."

"I see." The Captain hung his head while his mind raced. "You believe them?"

"As I said…" Tarvor began with a sigh. "I see no reason not to."

The USS Ronin dropped from Warp and began the business of scanning the region as her impulse engines carried her sweeping hull around the area in which she had been sent to rendezvous with Captain Franks' vessel.

"No sign of the USS Asimov on long range sensors." The young Ensign reported with a note of surprise on his voice.

"I never thought for a moment that there would be." The Captain frowned darkly. His mind churned as he glowered into the emptiness of space before them in the viewer. The pulsating lights at the bottom distracted his attention momentarily as his thoughts languished on memories of his friend.

"You know him well?" The Commander asked, her voice an interruption to his ruminations.

He nodded and stood up from his seat as he huffed a deep breath and smoothed the wrinkles from his uniform. "We were friends." He began hesitantly, still wanting only to believe the very best. "We were aboard the USS Pagoda together. He was directly under my supervision while I was serving as Commander."

"I see." She smiled a gesture of encouragement.

"He was a resourceful officer." The Captain smiled warmly. "He has a quick mind and a strength you rarely find. He took responsibility to heart and was a natural leader. It was unfortunate for him that he was assigned to that ship and not a Constitution class vessel."

"The USS Asimov?" The Commander shrugged her ignorance.

"Only a few are left now." He nodded. "Whenever they were engaged in fleet combat they let themselves down badly, often causing damage and destruction to other vessels."

"I see." She nodded.

"It was just like John to take command of a ship like that." The Captain began rhetorically. "He was always one to take a gamble. When they offered him that ship he would have relished the challenge of a new vessel over some proven technology."

"You like him a lot." She said finally with a supportive tone.

"More than that." He frowned again. "I respect him."

"Backup!" Commander Bochrane shouted angrily as his patience slipped and his temper came to the fore. "We need backup."

"Sir." His first officer nodded in agreement. "There are two other ships within range. They are reluctant to violate treaty in order to join us in Federation space."

"Remind them that if they don't come over here as quickly as possible then where they are could soon be Federation space and the Empire will be little more than a memory held by Romulan slaves." The Commander told him coldly, his eyes still glowering at the empty space before them where the vessel they had been trailing had previously been.

"According to my data…" An officer stood up to offer some explanation. "I believe that the vessel increased in velocity to such a degree that it disappeared off of our sensors in less than three seconds."

"That's impossible." The first officer scolded harshly.

"We saw it with our own eyes." The Commander told him through gritted teeth. "Their absence appears to prove that we have witnessed the impossible."

"Sir." He straightened up from his console with a smile. "The other ships have agreed to join us."

The Commander nodded in relief. "Instruct one to return to the co-ordinates from which the Federation ship originated. The other can join us in the pursuit, forward it the details and instruct it to assist us."

"I have managed to locate an ion-trail." The Science officer of the USS Ronin said with a shake of the head that did little to inspire the enthusiasm of the Captain. "It's very faint but the direction it's heading in suggests they were on their way to an uninhabited region at the very edge of the Federation exploration treaty zone."

"Why would they go there?" The Captain frowned as the image appeared on the viewer of a navigational schematic. "They secured the alien vessel and then headed away from the area using stealth techniques to hide their trail?"

"Indeed." The Commander agreed as her balled fists came to rest at her hips. "It makes no sense."

"The ion-trail is very vague." He reported. "If they changed course more than once then the data is virtually useless. If they continued in a straight line then we can estimate where they may have been heading."

"Section 2031?" The Commander frowned. "Feasibly it would be a good place to hide."

"Yes…" The Captain rubbed his temples wearily. "But hide from what?"

"Section 2031 is an unusual region." The Science officer began. "It's outside of Federation space and has yet to be thoroughly explored but there are odd electro-magnetic properties within that affect navigation."

"There are stories of dozens of ships going missing in there." The Commander lowered her voice as if the subject disturbed her.

"There would be if the conditions cause problems for ships attempting to pass through." The Captain reminded her bluntly.

"But there are rumours." She grimaced more openly.

"I've heard of them." He shook his head despondently. "It would make sense for the USS Asimov to head there if she intended to hide."

"Or if they were in pursuit of someone else who intended to hide." The Commander's lips fluttered upwards and her eyes brightened as she made the suggestion.

"Sir!" A voice called out from the side of the bridge. "We're receiving a message from a Starfleet vessel."

"Confirmed." The science officer operated the sensor controls and locked them on a vessel approaching them. "There is a ship heading this way. Starfleet registry, NCC-1791. The USS Pagoda."

"They're ordering us to withdraw." The communications officer reported with a frown.

"I'm detecting something…" Tarvor sat up straight suddenly at his science station as he monitored a vessel ahead.

"The ship?" Captain Franks turned to face him expectantly with optimistic relish on his voice.

"Spacematic transport vessel." The Commander told him as she ran the vessels details through the files. The same type as that which was attacking the Coo'gral."

"Then I think it's a safe bet that it's the same ship." The Captain smirked to himself as his attention flicked back to the viewer.

"Combat mode?" Lieutenant Sneddon asked hopefully, his finger hovering above the controls to bring the Phaser banks to readiness and arm the torpedoes.

"I think so, Mr. Sneddon." The Captain nodded. "Time to intercept?"

"At this relative velocity less than two minutes." Tarvor warned. "I'm going to have to adjust the long range sensors somewhat to cope with our new abilities."

The Captain hoisted himself from the chair and turned to his crew. "I want them alive." He began sternly. Spacematic vessels shouldn't give us too many problems, even if heavily upgraded and armed. I want to disarm and disable it if necessary. So far it has stopped short of firing on us so we're going to engage it with the assumption that it is a citizen of the Federation and only act to defend ourselves if absolutely no other option is available."

"Understood." Lieutenant Sneddon agreed as if somewhat disappointed.

"My uncle operated a Spacematic vessel for three years." The Commander added. "They have a weakness in the magnetic field generator at the rear. It stops waste plasma from being sucked in by the ramscoops at Warp. If it fails for any reason the engines go into automatic shutdown, even a relatively low powered strike should be adequate."

"Good work, Commander Crowley." The Captain smiled at her warmly for the first time, possibly ever.

"I think I can manage that." Lieutenant Sneddon agreed as he set the weapons output low enough to cause little damage to the other vessel.

"We're within hailing range." Tarvor told the Captain as he opened a channel, knowing instinctively the Captain's wishes from the familiarity grown from many years of service together.

"This is Captain Franks of the Federation Starship, USS Asimov." He began with authority. "I formally request you to secure from Warp immediately."

"They heard us…" Tarvor nodded. "No incoming reply. I think you failed to impress them."

The Captain took a deep breath and stepped forwards to the viewer as the tiny image of the ship began to swim into view before them. "Secure from Warp immediately or we will be forced to take action to make you." He said coldly in a voice that left little doubt as to his sincerity.

"May I remind you that Federation law would not permit us to fire on a civilian vessel that has not initiated violent action towards us?" Commander Crowley noted from her console. The Captain spun around to scowl menacingly at her. "There is no law preventing us from overtaking the ship and dragging it out of Warp with a tractor beam."

"I could do that." Tarvor grinned. "If we locked out two ships together and inverted our own Warp field we could cancel out theirs and both ships would safely drop back into normal space."

"It's that or a torpedo…" Lieutenant Sneddon suggested whimsically.

"Do it." The Captain nodded.

The USS Asimov flashed past the commercial ship that held her course blindly as if ignoring the Starfleet vessel. As she drifted past the small craft the tractor beam emitter mounted on her stern came into play and locked onto the little ship with a flickering beam of light.

"They're dropping from Warp." Tarvor warned. "I'm matching their velocity…"

"Lock Phasers." The Captain growled as he pointed to his tactical officer. "Open a channel to that ship."

"Open." Tarvor nodded as he began a more detailed scan as the two vessels dropped into normal space, the stars melting back into silvery points of light before them.

Suddenly the view screen lit up as the vessel fired a volley of pulsating blue bolts of energy. A conduit exploded and the bridge was momentarily plunged into shocked anarchy.

"Return fire!" Captain Franks barked out above the melee as the emergency equipment began dealing with the damage. He watched expectantly as the seconds dragged by. Noise filled the bridge as information panels screamed their warnings, smoke billowed from damaged banks of controls and his crew dashed about around him. He alone was aloof, he detached himself from the reality and focused only on his mission, all else fell from his attention as he focused solely on his goal. With relief he saw a blue bolt of Phaser energy lick out from the viewer. The Spacematic vessel banked away as the beam lit up her shields.

"Their weapons are off the scale." Tarvor cried out. "They've got power I wouldn't even want to guess at."

"Torpedoes." The Captain ordered as a flaming trio of missiles flashed out of the launchers in the vessels nose. The crew seemed to freeze as the viewer tracked the three flaming red bolts streaking towards the small ship. Each erupted on the shields of the craft, delivering their energy as intended. The Spacematic began to move away.

"Follow them." The Captain pointed to the craft. "Don't let them get away again."

"We can't." Tarvor brought his fist crashing down on the readout in frustration. "Propulsion is offline."

The Captain's temper began to rise, his chest pounded with fury as he felt the almost impossible urge to lash out. He turned back to the viewer as the little vessel vanished in a flash, returning to Warp.

"Track them!" He ordered coldly. "I don't care where they go, I want them tracked."

"Engineering here." A voice called out over the internal comm system.

"Franks!" The Captain replied, his fingers pressing down unreasonably hard on the controls at the edge of chair.

"We overloaded the modifications." The Engineer explained. "We didn't take much damage. The energy they hit us with just over powered our systems. I can get us underway in about five minutes."

"You have two." The Captain growled at him, his attention still largely locked on the viewer to where his adversary had vanished. The engineer knew better than to comment further when he knew he would disappoint him while the Captain was in a poor mood.

"Systems are coming back online." The Commander reported. "Shields are back up to 80%. Impulse and main fusion reactors are returning to normal." She paused momentarily. "Whatever passes for normal aboard this ship."

"What did they hit us with?" Franks turned to his science officer demanding some explanation.

"A wet fish for all I know." Tarvor admitted with a shrug. "All I can tell you at this point is that it was neither a Phaser nor was it a Disruptor of any kind."

"More questions…" He scowled.

Captain Singh stood quietly at the window of his quarters, staring out into space.

"You were right." Commander Montgomery shook her head while a troubled frown settled on her face. "How did you know?"

"Something is very wrong." The Captain turned to face her with a weak smile. "I just guessed, no more than that."

"So according to Starfleet files the USS Pagoda is under permanent assignment to Starfleet intelligence and has been for three years." She reviewed the data. "Their instructions to us have been confirmed. We're to withdraw from the area immediately."

"This alien vessel must have really got Starfleet brass scared." The Captain suggested thoughtfully.

"What could be so special about it?" She shook her head. "From the information I've seen I'd be intrigued but little more. Over the years we've encountered hundreds of species with wildly diverse cultures and technology. Why would this little ship excite them so much?"

"I wish I had an answer to that." The Captain told her earnestly.

"You do realise, Sir, that we do have to follow these orders." She began with a wry grin.

"I'm well aware of that, Commander." He scowled at her.

"The orders only require us to leave the area." She reminded him suggestively. "There is no stipulation as to where we're intended to go."

The Captain's eyebrow raised above his left eye as he began to realise what she was hinting at.

"All I'm saying, Sir is that we already have a lead to follow and it does take us away from the area." She told him with a sigh. "If we were to head away on that path we would indeed be following our instructions to the letter."

"I like you, Commander." The Captain told her, leaning back in his chair as he saw her in a totally fresh perspective.

"Should I arrange for us to leave, Sir?" She asked with a smile.

"Why don't you do that?" He nodded. "I think I can trust you."

The Doctor huffed his annoyance as he took his seat at the moulded grey table in the interrogation room. The ship had two lounge areas, one put aside for crew recreation and the other for diplomatic purposes. The second of the two was outfitted with advanced security and survivability equipment that could both adapt to a wide variety of species and their cosmopolitan needs. For the most part the lounge was virtually unused except by a few members of the crew who utilised the space for martial arts and other physical exercise that required more space than was available in the diminutive gymnasium or their own cabins.

For now the security equipment was being fully utilised and the space turned over to holding the alien visitors until they had been more fully assessed.

"We had some problems." The Doctor explained wearily. "No injuries, thank God."

"You encountered the Cardassians." The Coo'gral said firmly, making the inquiry more of a statement than a question.

"Apparently." The Doctor shrugged. "They used a Spacematic transport. That's a low grade ship, barely more than a shuttle with basic facilities and a simplistic Warp drive."

"They arrived before us." The Coo'gral spoke with a tone that may have been regret. "In your future and our present a vortex through time was created. There was an explosion and the vortex began to close in on itself. We detected the Cardassian ship and decided to follow it in our vessel."

"To destroy it?" The Doctor asked, caught up in the narrative.

"Things did not go according to plan." Coo'gral began as if with the very deepest of regrets. "The vortex was crude and unstable. Within it we encountered the enemy and they fired upon us. Our vessel was damaged and we could no longer maintain our shields. We launched two small shuttles to follow them and keep a track or destroy them if possible."

"There's another of your shuttles?" The Doctor sat back in surprise.

The alien shook its head slowly. "It was destroyed by our ship. At that point it was out of control. We were lucky, we were the first to leave."

"So the Cardassian ship arrived first and you believe they have begun to alter history?" The Doctor turned to the nurse with a frown of concern.

"They have learnt to hide here, it seems." The Coo'gral agreed. "They must be stopped. This ship will serve to do it. You are all meant to be dead and have no further impact on history. You are ideally suited to assist in the destruction of the Cardassians."

"Well that will be the Captain's decision to make, not mine." The Doctor told them firmly, quite glad that it was true.

"Captain?" Chief Engineer Murfett said with surprise as he stepped onto the deck. "Is there a problem?"

"No." He shook his head and waved a hand to dismiss the suggestion. "We're under way at Warp 8 and all systems appear stable. I just wanted to see how things were holding up down here for myself."

"We're in good shape." The engineer wiped his hands down his uniform and gestured to the master readout screen. "We took quite a beating and I won't pretend they didn't hurt us but she's recovering nicely now."

"We saw a radiation leak." The Captain told him knowingly.

"It was minor." Murfett snapped suddenly. "We're working to seal it. There's no threat to the crew. We ruptured a conduit in the exhaust system and it permeated through the hull. It's not harmful and once it's sealed we can have it purged in less than thirty hours. The ship can even cope with that herself with the automated systems."

"Ok." The Captain smiled. "It sounds like you're on top of things."

"I always am." He smirked. "We're working on a way to get more power to the shields so we don't take so much damage next time."

"Any luck?" The Captain asked with interest.

"Nothing like the threat of death to motivate an engineering team!" He quipped. "Actually we have a few ideas. I think we can increase power to the shields while not at Warp by channelling power through the nacelles."

"Sounds good." The Captain nodded. "Check everything with Tarvor."

"Sir…" He protested but was cut off by a glower from the Captain.

"You may consider that an order." Suddenly a call came through on the Captains wrist mounted intercom. "Franks." He said, pressing the controls while his eyes remained fixed on the engineer who had begun to sulk dejectedly.

"Doctor here." The message began. "Can you meet me right away? We may have a problem."

With a frown he acknowledged and left for the single turbolift that accessed the engineering hull.

The Doctor stood up from the chair as the door hissed open. He cast a troubled glance to his assistant as he stepped towards the Captain.

"Problem?" The Captain shrugged openly.

The Doctor gestured for him to stop with an outstretched palm and then slowly led the Captain to the far edge of the room. "Somewhat." He agreed as he glanced back at the two floating frames of smoked glass through which was visible the two alien beings.

"What have you found out?" The Captain asked, his voice lowered as the two huddled closely together.

"Quite a bit actually." The Doctor began with a troubled sigh. "But that's not why I called you."

"Then why?" He frowned as he began to suspect the worst.

"There was a release of radiation during the attack." The Doctor began. "It's had an effect on the physiology of our two guests. It's began to phase them fully back into our physical perception of the Universe."

"You mean they're becoming visible?" The Captain began to smile.

"It's more than that." The Doctor shook his head with an expression of utter seriousness. "They're phased out of the physical Universe too. They have a presence less than a hundredth of that of normal Humanoid species."

"I don't follow." The Captain admitted, casting a curious glance to the guests.

"The atoms we're made of are tiny pockets of electricity and are mostly areas of empty space." The Doctor explained. "Theirs are a different kind of electricity to ours, they have less than one hundredth the mass and density that we consider normal."

"I'm sure there's a problem in all of this that I don't see?" The Captain suggested wryly. "You're telling me that we'll be able to see them and contain them more easily if we need to, maybe even make them susceptible to a Phaser?"

"John." The Doctor snapped urgently. "They're dying."

"What?" The Captain frowned and shook his head slightly in confusion.

"Their bodies couldn't possibly support their own mass if they phased into our Universe fully." The Doctor told him with a sorrowful expression. "Their lungs will collapse in less than four hours and they'll suffocate."

"So what can you do?" The Captain scowled as realisation of the direness of the situation dawned on him.

"Nothing." The Doctor admitted weakly. "I couldn't even begin to help them until they phased sufficiently into our universe and by then it would already be too late."

"So it's inevitable?" The Doctor closed his eyes and shook his head sadly. "Do they know?"

"They told me." The Doctor replied with a sigh. "They want to talk to you about it."

Captain Franks stepped past the Doctor without another word and stepped slowly to the doomed aliens.

"Captain Jonathon Franks." The first of them said. "Thank you for meeting with us."

"You're welcome." He told them in reply as he sat himself in the chair opposite.

"By now you have seen that our position is helpless." The Coo'gral began. "The Cardassians must be stopped at all costs or the entire universe will be in danger."

"What do you expect me to do?" He asked earnestly.

"We have assisted with upgrades to your vessel." It told him. "We are willing to offer you the benefit of our records and data as well as anything else you feel might help in your quest. You must find the Cardassian ship and assist us in its destruction."

"If I agree to that what makes you think I would be able?" The Captain shook his head sadly. "We have a Romulan vessel on our tail and ahead of us is a totally uncharted region. We've faced a vessel that has simply been upgraded by the Cardassians and barely escaped with our ship in one piece, we would have no hope against their vessel when we find it."

"You need only to find it." They told him together, their voices spoken as one.

"I don't understand?" The Captain admitted.

"We have much to discuss." The first of the two told him. "Before we can even begin with that we must have your agreement to continue where we have failed."

Tarvor stood before the viewer as if in awe of the spectacle that confronted him. The blackness of space unfolded before the ship, punctuated by countless stars.

"Section 2031." He shuddered to himself.

"Surely you don't believe the stories?" Commander Crowley asked mockingly. "You're a Vulcan, you aren't interested in superstition."

"The Vulcans have a name for this place." He turned to tell her. "The Vag'cronnar. It means the place where shadows stalk the soul."

"The Federation calls it Section 2031." She sneered at his apparent discomfort. "According to my records it's unexplored while the council attempts to extend the exploration treaty to allow us the rights to enter. According to long range scans there is an electro-magnetic field permeating the region that causes a 12% drag on a Warp field and reduces the efficiency of sensors by around 30%."

"I've heard stories." Lieutenant Sneddon added from the tactical console.

"Don't you start." The Commander warned him in annoyance.

"I didn't mean the spooky kind." He smirked at the science officer. "I've heard that the Orion syndicate might well have a central base of operations in there. Apparently that's why the Federation is so keen to get in."

"The Romulans won't enter it lightly." Tarvor wrapped his arms around himself as he spoke.

"That really won't be a problem." Sneddon grinned. "They wouldn't risk a fight with the Orions at the moment. They have enough enemies to keep them busy and the Empire is virtually on its knees after the war."

"That's not why." He told them, his voice lowered respectfully.

The doors slid open to the turboshaft entrance at the rear of the bridge as the Captain joined them.

"Status?" He asked as he made his way to his seat.

"We're at the edge of Section 2031." The Commander told him. "All systems are at normal operating levels and we're ready to proceed."

"Proceed into the Vag'cronnar." Tarvor added darkly.

"Plot a course." He ordered. "Time has suddenly become short. It's imperative we get on with the business of tracking the Spacematic transport as quickly as we can."

 


Proceed to Part 3 of 3

 

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