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Star Trek Renegade II - Through the Looking Glass - Part 3 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 3 of 3

The USS Asimov's reactors flared with power as the Impulse engines carried her gingerly out of Federation space into a new and unexplored region of the galaxy where rumours held of starships vanishing and of things strangers still befalling the unwary.

"Five thousand kilometres." Commander Crowley reported from her station. "We'll be out of range of Federation sensor posts in twelve seconds."

"And alone!" Tarvor shuddered, glancing up from the myriad data churning through his science console. "Alone and adrift in the fires of hell."

"A touch melodramatic." The Captain allowed a smile to flutter across his lips as he turned incredulously to face his old friend. "The unknown has always held fear in the hearts of primitive men but we're explorers at heart. Tarvor, I'm surprised at you."

"I'm not an explorer." He grumbled back with weak protest. "I'm a scientist, given a choice I'd be in a comfortable lab deep within the Federation behind the combined defences of Starfleet and the Federation member worlds. I was thinking only this morning how nice it might be too study the growth of fungus for a while and for once, not on whatever they're serving in the canteen."

"What a shame you don't have a choice." The Commander told him evenly, concealing the ring of sarcasm she had wanted to project more openly that had become stifled by her professionalism.

"It appears I lack both a choice or much of a chance of surviving the next few days." Tarvor agreed with yet another shudder.

"Tarvor." Captain Franks warned. "Your aloof Vulcan cynicism is slipping. Why don't you just tell me what you're reading up ahead?"

The science officer took a deep breath as he marshalled his thoughts, shaking his head as he did so as if to dispel the demons nipping at his mind. "There's a strange radiation coming from nowhere. It's like a wall of subspace static."

"I'm reading that too." The Commander nodded. "But what is it?"

"I'll have to work on that." Tarvor grimaced at his ignorance. "I can tell you that it's going to have an effect on all of our subspace systems, including Warp drive!"

"An effect?" The Captain stood up from his chair and stepped over to the console. "If you had to guess, what might these effects be?"

"If I had to guess…" Tarvor nodded to confirm that he was merely surmising. "I would imagine a drag on our Warp propulsion. I should expect to see a 25% drop in efficiency but maybe more. I would guess our communications range would be cut down too with increased static interference and a lack of clarity."

"And this is the whole region?" The Captain frowned thoughtfully while Tarvor replied with a nod.

"Indeed." He agreed. "That would make this an excellent place to hide."

"So!" The Captain clapped his hands together enthusiastically as he turned to the bridge crew. "We have a time travelling alien vessel the size of a needle hiding out in this haystack and we have to find it wearing leather gloves and dark glasses."

"That would sound a roughly accurate analogy." Tarvor nodded as a smile fluttered unchecked over his lips and his mood lightened slightly.

"Take us to Warp 6." He instructed. "Hold us there and make a full analysis of the drag effect. We'll increase when we know more fully what we're dealing with."

"Yes sir!" The screen flashed as the stars melted into tunnel before them, stretching beyond normal space and time as the ship plunged deeper into the unknown.

"Time is growing short." The Coo'gral told the Doctor, its voice almost sounding slurred as the sound echoed around the lounge. He nodded simply, still his mind racing for a way to help the stricken aliens. "We must give you new things."

"Upgrades?" The Doctor flashed a glance to his assistant. "We have made changes to our engines and warp coils. What more are you asking?"

"Phasers." It replied simply, the word snapping from the alien in a gasp as its breath came only with increasing effort.

"Go on." The Doctor nodded as his eyes narrowed suspiciously.

"Yours are insufficient." It told him with laboured speech. "With some modifications to the pre-fire chamber and focusing coils they will increase in power exponentially. This ship must be all she can be."

"I'm not sure the Captain will be willing to allow changes to our weapon systems." The Doctor frowned. "We're explorers, not warriors. We consider our Phasers to be defensive measures. They're installed to give us the ability to disable an aggressor, not destroy them."

"He will agree." Coo'gral said simply, it's emotionless eyes locking onto his.

"We're not killers." The Doctor scowled back angrily.

"There will come a time when the Federation would not hesitate." It told him calmly, it voice halting between words as its lungs struggled to claw in the thickening air as its decline quickened. "One day your precious ideals will slip and Starfleet will build battle ships. All it takes is fear of the enemy. Fear of the Borg, fear of the Cardassians and the Dominion threat. You will openly betray your principles then and your hand will reach out for new weapons far beyond what we are ready to offer you now. These are the enemies you face now, in your time. This ship has little chance of completing her mission without our help and unless it does your future will end here."

"I would never believe that." The Doctor crossed his arms over his chest defiantly. "Human history is replete with war and lies. We'd never walk that path again."

"It is your nature." Coo'gral told him. "You can ignore it but it remains at your core."

"I know that." The Doctor grinned cruelly. "I know the darkness broils away within every man. I know my mind harbours thoughts of evil actions but I won't judge a species by that measure. I judge us on our actions, on what we achieve in spite of our failings."

"You will bring the upgrades to the attention of the Captain?" The Coo'gral asked finally, its eyes locked into the angry scowl of the Doctor's. He nodded hesitantly in agreement before reaching forward to take up a Padd loaded with the detailed schematics of the new weapons proposals.

"You said Phasers…" He frowned deeply and spoke with an accusing tone. "There's more here than just Phasers."

"There is nothing more than what you'll need." He was told darkly.

"Quantum torpedoes?" He read from the list of headings. "Pulse Phasers? Ablative armour? Cloaking screens? Trans-phasic kinetic mines?"

"Your death is the death of the Galaxy." It told him, the tone lowering still while the volume of its voice increased in annoyance. "The Cardassians will destroy your future and the future of all."

The USS Ronin followed what little trail there was in her search for the USS Asimov. "Report?" The Captain demanded as he lounged in the comfortable centre-chair with his legs crossed and his head thoughtfully perched on his upturned hand.

"Not much to report." The Commander sighed wearily. "Captain Franks has gone to Warp and dropped out several times to cross his trail. Every trail leads us to a star where the radiation has masked his course change."

"He knows what he's doing." The Captain agreed with a deep exhalation of air as he leant forwards to glare accusingly at the view of the stars in the viewer who held their secrets from him. "Any word from our friends in Starfleet?"

"They have hailed us twice." The communications officer reported duly. "They are requesting information about our course."

"Ignore them for now." The Captain held up his hand in a blunt gesture of unconcern. "Let them think we're just slinking away with our tail between our legs for now."

"But we're not." The Commander grinned suggestively.

"We'll keep that to ourselves for now." He nodded back, his stare still locked on the viewer.

"Sir!" The communications officer snapped up suddenly. "I'm detecting something."

"Report." The Captain turned with sudden interest, reflexively stepping up from the chair.

"A ship on a stealth approach." The officer shook his head as he tried to make some sense of the information. "I'm not detecting a navigational deflector beam or any waste plasma. It must be shielding its transmission somehow."

"What are you detecting?" The Captains face hardened as concern began to show. "Romulans?"

"No." He shook his head again. "Federation, Starfleet to be exact. I'm receiving a transponder signal and the computers have returned a non-belligerency confirmation."

"Starfleet vessels don't have stealth equipment." The Commander scowled.

"This one does, sir." The communications officer shrugged.

"Hail them." The Captain instructed, his arms crossing and a thoughtful frown appearing on his face. "It could be Captain Franks."

"They're hailing us." He raised an eyebrow in surprise.

"On screen." The Captain shrugged, turning back to the monitor. Space vanished instantly to be replaced with the gloomy red interior of a Starfleet vessel on high alert. A high-ranking officer stepped into view, scowling with menace and aloof authority out at the crew.

"I'm Captain Titor." He said simply. "You will stand down and hand over all of your recorded data to us immediately."

"On whose authority?" Captain Singh asked, his eyes peering into the other ship, scanning quickly with the benefit of experience. He noted the unusual layout of instruments as he hunted for a schematic of the ship.

"Starfleet intelligence." The officer told him coldly. He was a tall man, straight in stature and stood with an imposing confidence and unwavering resolution. "You will stand down if you ever want to take the centre chair again." He stared firmly into the other vessels bridge.

"Sir." The communications officer began, taking the precaution of muting the communications channel. "The ship doesn't register as a known class. It's Starfleet but the vessel itself is classified."

"I'm not at all surprised." He admitted as he returned his attention to the viewer. "I'm Captain Singh." He began. "We'll hold position and await your arrival."

Commander Crowley took her seat opposite the Captain in his ready-room at the side of the diminutive bridge. She waited patiently for him to complete the report on his Padd. "Opinion?" He demanded wearily.

"Engines are one thing." She began haltingly as if her thoughts and speech were running at different speeds. "Having the Coo'gral showing us how to maximise the performance of our drive systems is a completely different proposition to refitting our Phaser banks and equipping ourselves with aggressive technology from the future."

"I tend to agree." He nodded solemnly. "Quantum torpedoes? Do we even have an explanation of what they are?"

"Tarvor is working on that." She told him with a negative expression. "By his estimates we could equip ourselves with five of them if we removed the payload of standard torpedoes and borrowed the drive material from the Coo'gral shuttle. He says the ablative armour is out of the question for now but the regenerative shielding is a possibility."

"I'm interested in the shields." The Captain said with a nod to himself.

"Lieutenant Sneddon is working on a full review of our tactical systems in the light of the information the Coo'gral have supplied about the Cardassian vessel." She said finally. "Hopefully we'll have a better idea of what we may be able to make from this list by then."

"This is not a battle ship." Captain Franks said firmly, his chest rising proudly. "She is a Starfleet vessel. I won't turn her into ship of war, even to protect ourselves from fighting one."

"I quite agree." She replied with obvious relief that that was his position on the matter.

"There's something else though, isn't there?" He asked, watching her shift uneasily in her seat as the conversation appeared to be closing. She duly nodded her positive reply and closed her eyes for a moment.

"I hesitate to bring the matter up." She began awkwardly.

"We talk freely on this ship." He told her with a smile. "Haven't you learnt that yet?"

"Yes." She agreed. "However I have an issue with a member of the crew. As your first officer I feel as though it is my duty to bring my concerns to your attention."

"Quite right." The Captain nodded in agreement. "What's Lieutenant Sneddon done now?"

"Tarvor actually." She said with a frown while she waited for the rebuke she was certain was due to follow.

"Tarvor." The Captain smirked to himself. "Please continue."

"His behaviour has given me serious concerns for his state of mind." She began. "As a Vulcan he should be utterly dispassionate and yet his emotions are surfacing quite openly with accompanying physical responses. I have accessed the Starfleet database and I believe he may be suffering from a condition known as Pra'chakar which can seriously effect the thought processes of Vulcan males. Although it's a form of senility it's not unheard of for a male of Tarvor's age to be affected."

"You've done your homework." The Captain smiled as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"You have encouraged me to be more open but under the circumstances I felt wise to keep my concerns to myself while I considered the situation fully." She said as she hung her head, feeling like she had somehow betrayed the science officer.

"Tarvor is fine." Captain Franks told her finally.

"But sir…" She began in protest. Captain Franks stood up and turned from her with his hands clamped tightly behind his back. He stared for a moment at the picture of his ship in dock.

"I have something to tell you." He said finally. He turned back to her with an expression she found difficult to read. "Before I continue I would like to have your assurance that what is said in this office goes no further." The Commander nodded her reply as she frowned curiously. "As Commander you have the right to know this but due to the sensitivity of the information I wanted to wait for a more opportune moment."

"Sir, you have my assurance of discretion." She told him.

"Considering we're all meant to be dead by now, myself with a self inflicted Phaser burn to my temple and the rest of the crew at the hands of a Romulan Bird of Prey it seems a more opportune time may well never present itself." He told her with a smirk. She nodded for him to continue.

"Tarvor is not a Vulcan." He told her flatly. "He's Romulan."

"Romulan?" She gasped in surprise, her jaw lolling open as her mind raced.

"Let me explain." The Captain sighed. "Tarvor's family were campaigners for reunification. They believed in bringing the worlds of Romulus and Vulcan back together to reunite their people. After the heavy losses of the Romulan war and the Klingons breathing down their necks a lot of people were sympathetic to the idea. The Romulan government feared a civil-war which would basically invite the Klingons to simply come in and take over virtually unopposed. They came down hard on them and most of his family were executed for treason. Tarvor and his two sisters escaped and surrendered to a Federation vessel requesting asylum."

"Starfleet knows about this?" She asked, still surprised at the revelation.

"They do." He agreed. "Tarvor was carefully vetted but had a good background in science. He had served aboard three insurgence scouts so has a working knowledge of Romulan technology. I made sure he was a member of my crew as soon as I heard about him. Calling himself Vulcan was his idea. He feels it makes his acceptance a little easier."

Commander Crowley rung her hands nervously as she breathed a heavy sigh. "It's a lot to take in." She said thoughtfully, his brow furrowing into a frown.

"I don't want you to treat him any differently." The Captain warned her. "He's proved his loyalty both to the Federation and to this ship."

"I understand." She agreed.

Bochrane, the Romulan Commander glowered at the tactical readouts before him. "The Federation heavy cruiser has changed course to rendezvous with the other vessels." Centurion Churnag told him with a sigh.

"They know something." The Commander surmised. "They must be on the trail of the Foundation class ship. This is all very confusing."

"Confusing indeed." Churang agreed unreservedly. "Confusing and dangerous."

The Doctor turned as the doors slid open to the lounge. Captain Franks walked briskly in with an air of authority as he made his way to the table where the Doctor was continuing to interview the two aliens.

"I have considered your offer." He began with a note of resolution to his tone. "We are considering integrating the regenerative shielding into our tactical grid but will not be upgrading the Phasers and torpedoes."

"Unwise." The Coo'gral told him. "You will reconsider."

"I will not!" Franks snapped in annoyance. "The weapons with which my ship is armed serve for our defence alone. I won't violate the principles on which Starfleet is founded."

"Principles will not protect you from a polarised disrupter stream." The alien told him through gasps as it struggled to breath. Its lungs burnt and it wheezed as it spoke.

"How long do you have?" The Captain asked the still invisible alien creature as he dropped the Padd carelessly to the counter top to demonstrate that all conversation of the matter was indeed over.

"Not long." The Coo'gral hissed. "The pressure is strong now. It is hard to stand."

"There's nothing I can do." The Doctor shook his head sadly as he shrugged helplessly to his own uselessness. "I can't help them."

"There is something you must know." The second of the two told the Captain. "Then you will upgrade the weapons."

"The matter is decided I'm afraid." He shook his head firmly.

"You are married." The Coo'gral continued, ignoring him as it spoke. "Your first wife bore your daughter. She is now fourteen although you've not seen her in five years."

"How do you know that?" He growled through gritted teeth, his fists reflexively balling and the colour draining from his ashen face as the anger flooded his muscles with adrenaline.

"She marries an officer from Starfleet." The Coo'gral spoke softly. "Is it irony that she found that he reminded her of you?"

"I'm warning you…" The Captain leant forwards, the Doctor reached out and held his arm. The Captain turned to glower into his worried eyes.

"Captain…" He said warmly to his friend.

"Her son is the father of a man." The Coo'gral told him as if that revelation explained everything. "Our research is conclusive." The second spoke without hesitation. "And irrefutable."

"We don't understand." The Doctor said while the Captain composed himself.

"Then we must explain." The Coo'gral said.

"We could activate the device?" The Romulan First-officer suggested. "Surely that would force their hand?"

"And tip ours." The Commander shook his head solemnly. "We will indeed use it but not yet. It is our only hope of victory now."

"Yes, Sir." The officer agreed with a nod. "Even three Federation vessels could not stand against us once we activate it. We would have the advantage."

"Correct." The Commander agreed. "But we can only use it once. We must bide our time until we are closer to victory."

"Our two other vessels have acknowledged our message." The officer nodded again at the superior wisdom of his leader. "All of us now will converge on the enemy in the Shadow zone."

The Commander leant forward on the flat oblong table before him. In the centre a schematic of the region showed the tactical plan they were following. "Here." He pointed to the place he intended to spring his trap. "We'll attack them here."

"Excellent, sir." The officer nodded as he made preparations to transmit the information to the Commanders of the other vessels.

"Churang." The Commander looked up to the enthusiastic junior officer. "Sir?" He looked back with a neutral expression. "Have you ever been in combat? I mean real combat against a superior enemy with the resolve to destroy you?"

"I'm looking forward to it." He grinned suggestively.

"I'm not." The Commander told him as the enthusiasm vanished from the face of his colleague. "The Federation are strong. I'm in no hurry to see the spilling of more blood because I'm weary of the smell of death."

"But we are righteous." The officer frowned in confusion.

"That's no more than a difference of ideology." He told him flatly. "Righteousness is the province of the victor and it is he who will pen the pages of history."

"I pray it will be us." He scowled with a more restrained form of determination than before.

"So do I." The Commander agreed. "As we fight for the future of our Empire, so do I."

The officer's lounge was deserted except for the invited crew who had been called upon to join the meeting.

"We are going ahead to install the weapon upgrades." The Captain announced with a heavy heart.

"Sir?" The Commander scowled at him disapprovingly. "I thought you agreed that to do so would be to violate the principals we are here to uphold."

"Lieutenant Sneddon." He ignored her and turned to his tactical officer. "Our Phaser cannons should readily accept the modifications to the new pulsed configurations."

"They will indeed." He agreed with a nod and an awkward glance to the other officers. "They'll overheat fast though. We'll have to cool them for about 5 seconds between firing cycles."

"Then you better get used to hitting things the first time you fire at them." He told him coldly. "Tarvor. I want you to go ahead and refit five torpedoes to the new quantum configuration."

"I advise against it." He shrugged. "The yield works in a totally different way. I can't be certain that our shields will protect us adequately or that we'll even be able to store them safely on board."

"Those are my orders." Captain Franks told him bluntly as his eyes ran over the Padd. "The regenerative shields are relatively simple to install and I want them functioning as quickly as possible."

"I can have them running in about 3 hours if I set my team to it and you don't give us any nasty surprises." The Engineer assured him.

"No promises." The Captain made an attempt to smile but it was lost to the darkness of his mood.

"May I ask what changed your mind?" Commander Crowley rubbed her temples with growing concern.

"Now is not the time." He told her. "I need you to co-ordinate the efforts of the team. Make sure all departments are working as efficiently as possible together."

"I know my job." She scowled.

"Then don't let me stop you from doing it." He glared back angrily.

The USS Gideon pulled alongside the Ronin. A smaller vessel with a saucer suspended over a long secondary hull that opened at the front to show a bristling array of brutal weaponry.

"They're hailing us." The communications chief warned his Captain. "They want to beam aboard."

"Send co-ordinates." The Captain instructed. "Commander, would you care to join me in Transporter room 1?"

"Sir!" She agreed as she followed him to the turbo-lift.

"I think we're in trouble." He admitted once the doors had sealed and secured their privacy.

"We, sir?" She asked with a coquettish smile. "You are the Captain."

"Quite so." He agreed with a frown. "Well in that case, let me remind you of an old Earth saying that my father once told me. Shit runs downhill."

She chuckled to herself with cautious optimism. "Sir, I don't see that we've done anything wrong. We're concerned for the safety of a fellow Starfleet vessel and are in an attempt to assist them."

"I think it's safe to assume things have taken a more serious tone than that." The Captain assured her. "Starfleet intelligence… classified ships… As I said before, I think we're in trouble." The lift whined to a halt before changing direction and heading horizontally towards its destination.

"May I ask you a question?" She ventured, gazing up to her commanding officer towards whom her feelings were not solely and exclusively professional. He nodded simply and waited for her to continue. "Captain Franks? What do you think is really going on?"

"I wish I knew." He shook his head dolefully. "He would never betray Starfleet. Whatever he's doing is for the good of the Federation and I'd trust him before I take the word of any number of Intelligence officers. He'd die before he'd do the wrong thing. He's one of the finest officers I've met."

"You really respect him don't you?" She smiled to herself while fantasising that he one day might describe her in equal terms.

"I hope you get the opportunity to meet him." He told her. "I really do."

"Enter!" Captain Franks barked, annoyed at the intrusion the door chime had made into his thoughts. The door slid open as Tarvor stepped into the office. "Can I help you, Mr. Tarvor?" He asked coldly.

"Yes." He nodded and anticipated an offer to take a seat. "I believe we need to talk."

"I don't remember giving you an order to come to my ready-room, in fact I distinctly recall giving you a job to do." Franks told him without too much accusation, relieved as he was for the distraction.

"Well we all have a job to do." Tarvor told him, leaning back. "You're not going to able to do yours properly with a head full of pent up aggression."

"I have many things in my head right now." The Captain breathed heavily and rubbed his temples.

"Why the upgrades?" Tarvor ventured. The Captain stood up from behind his desk and stepped to a cabinet mounted on the cold metallic bulkhead. From within he brought two bottles and held them up to his friend. One was Romulan ale and the other was a matured scotch whiskey.

"Romulan ale always tasted to me like someone had drowned a Baranian cat in a puddle of its own urine." Tarvor began with a frown. "That is actually how they make it, you know?"

"Whiskey then?" Franks muttered to himself, discarding the bottle of green liquid carelessly back into the cabinet. He poured two small glasses and thought to himself about the events unfolding around them.

"You were telling me about the weapons upgrades and your insane plan to go along with the aliens you don't trust?" Tarvor began.

"Was I?" Franks smirked as he handed him a glass and the pair clinked them together politely. "They told me some things."

"Things?" Tarvor raised an eyebrow curiously.

"I have a daughter. She's just a child for now" He began with a sigh. "She's going to marry an officer in Starfleet and have children one day. One of them will have a son who will have a son of his own." He stopped for a second while he thought, a deeply unsettled expression on his face. "It's like the future is laid out for all of us and there's nothing we can do about it. Time is rolling over us, we're not running along a track from the past to the future, it's running straight over us."

"That's what's troubling you?" Tarvor asked curiously with a sip of the smooth old liquid.

"I came to realise something." The Captain shook his head. "We're gone. We can't ever go back. I know we knew that when we started this but now we're committed. We're dead and have to stay that way, out of the way of history while we make sure nobody else is allowed to change things."

"You'll never see your daughter again?" Tarvor nodded knowingly. "So what did they tell you that made you accept the upgrades?"

"I can't even begin to get my head around it." The Captain admitted. "Something is happening here beyond any of our wildest dreams."

"I realise that." He agreed softly.

Captain Titor materialised in a flickering blue light in the main transporter room aboard the USS Ronin. Captain Singh stood before his first officer as the pair waited patiently for the technology to complete its cycle under the watchful gaze of an experienced operative. The deep humming sound subsided and the Intelligence officer stepped forward from the platform, peering around accusingly as he did so.

"What information do you have pertaining to the whereabouts of the USS Asimov?" He asked coldly in a tone that implied that anything less than absolute co-operation would neither be acceptable or tolerated.

"We believe that it headed off along the course we're following." The Captain admitted, his head hung slightly as guilt wracked his emotions, feeling as if he was letting down his old friend.

"You." He pointed rudely at the Commander, ignoring any sentiment of politeness. "Begin downloading all you have to my ship." She glanced up at her Captain with eyes almost pleading for guidance. He merely nodded once before glowering at the other man with barely concealed hostility.

"What's going on here?" He demanded, straightening his back as he spoke.

"You're handing over your sensor logs." He told him, rocking back on the balls of his feet as his hands clasped tightly behind his back. "You will then head for the Klingon border to begin the mission to which you were previously assigned."

"Just like that?" He shook his head, aghast at what he was hearing. "There's a Starfleet vessel out there. Perhaps in trouble, perhaps needing our assistance."

"And perhaps not." Captain Titor snapped finally, his own mood darkening. "The Asimov and Captain Franks have gone renegade. They are to be considered hostile." He paused for a moment as if for dramatic effect. "Hostile to both Starfleet and the Federation at large."

"Captain Franks would never betray the Federation." The Captain shook his head firmly, with the confidence of a man speaking of a friend. "He has served for years on the Romulan border and proved himself time and again as a trusted officer and expert in the affairs of our adversaries."

"Listen to yourself." Titor sneered, his fingers uncoiling from themselves as his right hand reached out to extend an accusing finger of admonishment to the Captain. "He's served for years as an expert in the Romulans. He patrols the Romulan border in a Foundation class ship and now he vanishes after capturing an alien vessel."

"So?" His eyes narrowed, his frown deepened as he feared he was about to hear something he would not like but would find difficult to refute out of hand.

"So…" He continued stabbing towards the officer with his finger as the words dripped like acid from his cold lips. "Disgruntled and weary with his service he then finds something that gives him a boon. An alien vessel that gives him a ticket… an invitation into Romulan space and asylum for his crew."

"Never." He sneered through gritted teeth. "He'd never switch sides."

"It would appear that he already has."

"How are my upgrades coming?" Captain Franks called out as he stepped onto the corrugated metallic floor plates of the engineering deck.

"I have a team of seven staff." The chief began with a grumble as he wiped his hands down the front of his uniform. "Two of them are tearing apart that alien shuttle for the spares we need to build your new torpedoes while the rest of us are integrating god-only-knows-what into our systems."

"Is this your way of telling me that things could be going better?" The Captain allowed a smile to crack through his façade.

"Seven!" Murfett reminded him. "I have only seven engineers on my team as well as Tarvor but he barely qualifies as a member of his own species."

"What's the progress?" The Captain glanced around the brash modifications. Glowing panels of circuitry replaced some of the control processors with new optical connections. New brackets fixed the untested parts to places they didn't entirely fit and the jumbled engineering was taking on an almost comic appearance as the laboured team scurried around shaking their heads disapprovingly.

"The Phasers are ready." He shrugged his reply. "Shield modifications are well under way as well. We only have 42 torpedoes left on board and we're going to lose five of them so if these quantum modifications don't work we'll be weakening our hand."

"I'm well aware of that." He nodded his agreement and his expression showed that he had not taken the decision lightly. "The ablative armour?"

The Engineer stared at him incredulously for an instant as if lost for words. He then waved his hand dismissively and laughed mockingly at the very suggestion. "I'm not joking." The Captain told him sternly.

"It's impossible." He scowled in a distinct lack of amusement.

"I want it installed and running by the end of the week." The Captain told him to cut the conversation off and leave the proper impression in the mind of his staff.

"It would require a network of replicators working with a resolution, accuracy and speed we're simply not capable of." The engineer protested. "Even if we were, we don't have the power to run a system like that."

"You heard me, Mr. Murfett." The Captain told him with a slightly upturned lip.

"Still nothing." Nurse Paulson said. She closed her eyes as if masking herself from the darkness they were feeding into her soul. She dropped the probe to the table and showed the Doctor her Tricorder readings. Still they failed to register that the Coo'gral were even in the room and yet through the smoked glass of their frames they could see their suffering and watch helplessly as they slowly declined towards their inevitable demise.

"I've never experienced anything like this." He told her with a smile that was intended to be comforting but was strangled by his own morose feelings. "To be so helpless…"

"Time…" The Coo'gral gasped, looking up at them from where it huddled on the floor of the bay. "Time… is short now."

"Is there anything we can do to make you comfortable at least?" She asked them, her eyes watering as she choked back a single tear while her emotions pricked at her heart.

"Let us not…" The second began, stopping to force another lungful of air into its weakening lungs, each breath taking it ever closer. "Let us not… our words be wasted. Our death can have meaning or else our lives will have none."

"Time…" The first began. "Time is resilient. History is coiled around impermeable threads of circumstance. Those seeking to alter history will find great effort in doing so. It can be done but time resists change, the pattern is spun already and everything fits in perfectly."

"What are you saying?" The Doctor frowned curiously, not quite understanding their intended message. "Are you saying that we can't change history?"

"But we have changed it already." The nurse shrugged. "The Captain didn't commit suicide. The ship wasn't handed over to Commander Crowley and destroyed by a Romulan Bird of Prey."

"Perhaps they're saying that we haven't." The Doctor felt a chill crawl up his spine as realisation burgeoned in his already troubled mind.

"Delayed perhaps." The Coo'gral agreed with a nod that required great effort. "It will be down to you to ensure you last long enough to destroy the threat posed by the Cardassian ship from the future or else you risk losing everything."

"So we are destined to die?" Paulson swallowed as her eyes widened fearfully.

"It is as much as we can do to delay the inevitable." The Coo'gral agreed. "Your sacrifice will be worthy of note but the pattern is set."

"But we must be able to change things?" The Doctor shared his assistant's nervousness.

"History has recorded these events and always must." The little alien insisted flatly as its voice trailed off. "Captain Jonathon Franks died by his own hand aboard the courier vessel, USS Constantine while relieved of his command. Commander Crowley took command of the USS Asimov and the vessel was attack and destroyed by a Romulan Bird of Prey on a final routine scouting mission along the edge of the neutral zone."

"How long?" He asked dimly, his eyes lowered while his feelings sank past his heavy heart to the floor as if he'd begun already to grieve for his loss.

"We have given you a chance…" The second Coo'gral said, raising its head with obvious effort. It's thin lips contorted with a flutter as with a great force of will it mimicked one of their human expressions of warmth. "Our deaths will mean everything if yours can be used to serve the freedom of the galaxy. Do not squander the chance you have been given."

The Starfleet Intelligence vessel began to move away as the Pagoda adjusted her course to follow. She was a small vessel, barely 70 metres long and yet armed to the teeth. Built with a singular purpose she had neither the space to accommodate a crew of scientists nor the will to employ them. The USS Ronin stood motionless in space while her bridge crew watched in silence as the two Starships moved off.

"All docks are secure." The Commander began dutifully but spoke as if doing so was an effort. "Propulsion is nominal, course to the Klingon border plotted and accepted. We can move off at your discretion, Captain."

"Hold position." He instructed coldly while his mind worked to sift through his disparate thoughts with a hazy kind of clarity.

"Sir?" She frowned, slightly confused.

"You gave them the exact course the Asimov took?" He sat back in his chair, his eyes narrowing and a tiny smile beginning to form on his face, his decision made.

"Yes sir." The Commander shook her head curiously.

"The exact course that she took with all the deviations that made her almost impossible for us to track?" The Captain smiled openly.

"Yes." She agreed, beginning to realise what he was hedging at. "That course. In fact it's still in our helm computer."

"And that course would obscure our progress from any other ship?" The Captain turned to her with a knowing smile.

"I would imagine so, Sir." She nodded thoughtfully. "Especially two vessels wilfully ignoring it to track forwards as fast as possible and travelling at maximum Warp."

"Quite so…" The Captain grinned widely.

"Sir!" The helm officer said while setting the controls. "I'm quite new to this vessel. I would hope not to disappoint my Captain by executing the incorrect course entirely."

"Oh, I'm sure you won't disappoint me at all." The Captain told him with a note of certainty.

"It's been a long day!" Captain Franks rubbed his temples wearily before perching himself on the edge of his ready-room desk.

"Long isn't the word." Tarvor agreed without hesitation. "We've got most of the upgrades under way but we're a long way from being fully functional."

"We were before we embarked on the upgrades." The Commander noted sarcastically with a wry glance at her Captain.

"That's the spirit." He grinned back, his palm outstretched to take the Padd she was offering him that contained her assessment of the ships capabilities. "You're starting to fit in a little better already."

"Somehow that doesn't feel like a compliment." She sighed.

"It seems more like an insult to me." Tarvor grumbled as his left eyebrow tracked upwards.

"What bothers me is how well everything is going." The Captain dropped the Padd to his knee and ruffled his brow curiously. "For five years I've heard nothing but damning reports of how this class of ships is dangerous and under-developed and then we add all these new wrinkles and she takes all our abuse while eagerly asking for more."

"She's not just a Foundation class ship!" Tarvor added sternly, like the rest of the crew all too quick to jump to her defence. "This is our ship and she's yet to let us down."

"So far…" Commander Crowley added slyly.

"No sign of the Spacematic vessel?" Franks asked her with a frown.

"None." She shook her head sadly. "It's gone from our sensors completely. We haven't had so much as a sensor echo in five hours now."

"This is a good place to hide." The Captain bit his lip in annoyance. "Radiation cutting our sensors and clipping our wings, added to which the region is totally uncharted."

"If it is hiding." Tarvor noted with a slight uneasiness. "If it didn't vanish…"

"Considering the effects of space here and the rumours that pirates are operating with impunity the stories of ships vanishing here are less likely to be the result of a mysterious ghostly presence than they are of a more mundane case of ambush."

"You'd rather be ambushed by pirates?" The Captain asked with a smirk. "At least it would give us a good opportunity to test our weapons systems."

"Which brings me to the next point that has been bothering me." Tarvor began with a sharp exhalation of breath. "We have yet to prove that any of our upgrades will do anything more than light a candle and even that is assuming they don't blow the ship apart."

"Ever the optimist." The Commander scowled at him.

"To Tarvor the glass is always half empty, with tepid water, containing at least three dead insects." Captain Franks winked at her while Tarvor looked on in disapproval, his eyes flicking between the pair. "I do agree it would be nice to test our new equipment but I have reservations about tipping out hand to these "Cardassians" if they indeed are out here."

"Or to Starfleet?" The Commander looked up at him with a renewed seriousness. "It's safe to assume they'll take an interest in the disappearance of this ship while it's under the command of a Captain about whom they harbour doubts."

"Sensors can't see anything but I think she must be right." Tarvor agreed with a sigh. "As if we needed any more problems…"

"Continue scanning at wide angle and rotate the frequencies." The Captain told him. "If we have anyone behind us I want to be well prepared."

The two Romulan officers stood before the main tactical viewer of their ships bridge. Before them the schematic from the briefing table was sprawling out for all to see. The bridge was diminutive and lit dully. Sensors glowed a dimly muted shade of green and Spartan panels of switches were laid out in neat and functional rows beneath the monitors. The bridge operated in near total silence, the staff remaining attentive to their controls to better afford their trusted superiors the respect they earned by climbing the ranks.

"Two Federation ships are converging on the Foundation class." The first officer said finally although the details were plain to see. "Our vessels are close by and secure behind their cloaks. We are unseen and are at maximum speed to intercept."

"Our one advantage would be if we knew exactly where it was and could plot a more direct course." The Commander rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"We have that ability." The ambitious young officer said with relish. "We have only to operate the device."

"Then operate it." He said with a scowl as he resigned himself to the act. "And may the gods have mercy upon us."

Captain Titor sat at his chair at the heart of his bridge. He was the twisted image of tension, sat upright while glaring fixedly at the view before them. His ship was small, functional and equipped with little luxury. Beside him was his first officer operating the system controls and at the front of the bridge another officer at the combined navigation and helm.

"The Pagoda is holding at Warp 7." The Commander reported as he went about his duty.

"I might prefer her to remain at the border of Section 2031 while we investigate alone." The Captain told him thoughtfully. "We hardly need the guns of a heavy cruiser to destroy the Asimov. I would prefer the security of doing the job ourselves."

"Understood." The Vulcan officer agreed with a curt nod as though barely listening.

"Starfleet Intelligence is hardly reliable in matters of this kind." Captain Titor continued, simply verbalising his thoughts.

"That is what Section 31 was founded for, after all." Commander Siriv spoke in a flat monotone. "We are rather good at maintaining internal security after these years of experience."

"Quite!" The Captain agreed as if the pair where a single mind bouncing an idea around itself.

"I'm quite sure the Asimov is no match to this vessel." Siriv said as the schematic view of their prey appeared on his monitor with a tactical readout. "Quite sure."

"I'm not concerned about them." The Captain said grimly. "If they have already met with the Romulans then we may have another ship to deal with. If Franks has already handed over the Asimov then we may have a fight on our hands."

"A fight against a refitted wreck." Siriv noted humourlessly. "Nothing the Romulans are using can match us. They're still licking their wounds after the war. The Klingons are nipping at their defences constantly, whatever progress their technology is making is confined solely the province of their survival."

"Such arrogance, Siriv?" The Captain scolded mockingly. "It's not like you."

"Arrogance, no." He assured him. "I see little value in our serving in this role. The Foundation class should simply have been cancelled years ago when Captain Drake lead the defence of the DS3 space station. His ship spun out of control and was delivered to a waiting wing of Romulan Warbirds who turned the fight against the three other Starships."

"They won." The Captain allowed himself the darkest of smiles. "And Drake was killed in the fighting."

"The class is a failure." Siriv snapped with a suddenness that belied his Vulcan disparity. "We should be infiltrating Klingon space. We should be more concerned with the increase in energy production at Praxis and their continued development of their new scout class vessels."

"There's no mystery there." The Captain returned his attention to the viewer. "They're gearing up to an invasion of Romulan space."

"Except we'd never allow that." Siriv turned to his commanding officer with a raised eyebrow.

"I'm sure something will be arranged." He smiled knowingly. "If they don't destroy themselves we may just have to help them out."

"Captain to the bridge…" Tarvor spoke with concern into his communicator. He turned to the Commander who was already stepping up from the centre-chair.

"I need more from you than a guess." She told him with a worried expression.

"It'll have to do." He told her with a shake of the head. "Something is very wrong here."

"If all you have is a guess then I'd like to hear it." She told him, running her hand over her black hair in exasperation.

"I don't know." He admitted. "Many things are troubling me. This simply adds to my concerns."

"Like why the Captain decided to go ahead with the upgrades to our weapon systems?" She surmised.

"I am not comfortable discussing that with you behind his back." Tarvor told her flatly. "He's both my commanding officer and my trusted friend."

"They told him something and then he orders something he had already discounted." She continued, unabated by his protest, which had been weak at best.

"I know." He nodded with a huff of indignation. "He is aggressive but not given to violence when uncalled for, nor does he seek out confrontation. I have found him a measured officer and man but have begun to think differently of him in light of recent events."

"You know him better than many of us." She agreed.

"This is personal." Tarvor swallowed and turned slowly to face her. "This is personal to him, nothing less could convince him to make these changes."

They both glared at one another, for a moment lost in contemplation before the door slid open and the Captain stepped onto the bridge. "What is it?" He demanded.

"Captain," Tarvor began. "I've detected something. A polarised beam was sent to our location. At first there was a sweep of the entire region on such a low carrier wave we didn't detect it. Then the beam was locked on us for two thirds of a second. I analysed the sensor logs and discovered the sweep after that."

"Someone is looking for us." The Commander told him with a frown.

"It sounds like they've found us." Franks grumbled, leaning over the console to see the information for himself. "The question is who?"

"I know who…" Tarvor told him with utter certainty. "The carrier wave is a common enough signal, I know all too well how to analyse it."

"Who?" The Captain stood up suddenly and his expression was one of stony severity.

"Romulans." Tarvor spoke with absolute certainty.

"A Bird of Prey I wouldn't wonder." Franks frowned to himself. "The one destined to destroy this vessel."

"The sweep would have triggered our automated sensor software." Tarvor explained. "The ship automatically would have locked long range sensors on the source for a full analysis. If that happens then the polarised beam would have become a communications channel between the two computers."

"They could have spoken to our computer?" The Commander gasped, turning to the Captain in surprise.

"In a simplistic way." Tarvor agreed.

"You said would have…" Captain Franks asked softly.

"The software is crude." Tarvor smiled thinly. "I installed my own package years ago and made many system changes drawn from my experience with Romulan technology."

"But they know where we are?" The Captain smiled back.

"And it's safe to assume they're on their way."

"A flash… just for an instant." Siriv said as the data was sent to the viewer. "I would guess that some kind of polarised beam was bounced from the hull of a ship running with its shields down."

"The Asimov." He scowled. "What would a beam like that be used for?"

"Communication." Siriv told him flatly.

"So it's true and now all evidence is irrefutable." Captain Titor said to himself. "Captain Franks had indeed intended to hand his ship over to the Romulans and now they're coming to make the trade. Why else would he be hiding in an unexplored region of space which clouds our sensors with shields down while communicating with the enemy of the Federation?"

"Weapons charged." Siriv reported calmly with his utterly efficient monotone that lacked the merest suggestion of Human warmth to even the slightest degree.

"Tell the Pagoda to stand fast." The Captain instructed. "We'll deal with this ourselves!"

"Something is coming…" Tarvor warned with a sigh. "Federation I think."

"You think?" The Captain asked caustically from his command chair as he prepared to take his ship to full alert status.

"It seems to be running some kind of stealth equipment." He explained hurriedly. "It's not emitting a communications beacon. It's coming at us cold, whatever it is. It's heading directly at us from the direction we came… from Federation space."

"Who would be running stealth equipment in the Federation?" Commander Crowley asked rhetorically. "Starfleet intelligence?"

"Section 31." The Captain frowned.

"Who?" Tarvor turned to the Captain with a shrug.

"Never mind…" He scowled at the reverse angle at the viewer although a visual lock was still some time off.

"Red alert, sir?" Lieutenant Sneddon asked impatiently.

"Shields up." Captain Franks instructed. "No weapons lock."

"Sir?" Sneddon turned in surprise.

"I won't fire on a Federation ship, no matter who they are. No matter how misguided their intentions." He explained. "We can still easily outrun them."

"No we can't." Commander Crowley added. "If we leave here we'll lose the sensor search pattern. We might never track onto the Spacematic again in here."

"So we wait?" Tarvor growled at her. "We sit here and wait to be fired upon by a ship with no such moral objections as those holding back our Captain?"

"Tarvor!" Captain Franks snapped, plunging them both into silence. "How long?" Hesitantly he returned his attention to his instruments. "Five minutes at the present velocity. They'll be in visual range in two."

"We can't leave." The Commander insisted. "We'll lose the Spacematic if we do."

"We can't stay." Franks added rhetorically. "And we won't fire, even on Section 31."

"May I remind the Captain that there's a Romulan vessel heading in our direction as well. Maybe more than one…" Lieutenant Sneddon added, eager to bring the new tactical systems to bear.

"So then what?" Tarvor exclaimed. "What are we going to do?"

The Section 31 ship dropped from Warp ahead of time to adjust her scanners for a better look at her target.

"Shields up." Captain Titor ordered. "Charge Phasers. Load tubes, lock target."

"Shields up." Siriv replied. "Red alert status. All stations report ready."

"I see her." He scowled while a haphazard smile carved across his lips maliciously. In the viewer the tiny dot of white appeared before them that signified he had found his mark. "Magnify."

The image grew to reveal the Asimov, standing motionless in space before them. "They're hailing." Siriv warned in surprise.

"Ignore them." The Captain waved his hand dismissively.

"They're asking us to stand down." Siriv told him without interest.

"We're not here to accept their surrender." Captain Titor reminded his first officer. "We're here to complete our original orders and destroy that damn ship before it can do any more harm."

"Yes Sir!" The Commander agreed.

"Fire."

Two photon torpedoes flashed angrily from the launchers and lashed out with tendrils of energy as they soared silently through space at the small Starfleet patrol vessel.

"They've fired." Commander Crowley closed her eyes in dismay. "Evasive manoeuvres?"

"Tarvor, hold the sensor lock as best you can." The Captain snapped angrily. "Helm, emergency evasive pattern, delta 2. All power to forward shields." The stars streaked away as the little ship pulled herself out of the way of the flaming bolts as they bore down at her. Suddenly the lights dimmed reflexively as the torpedoes clashed violently with the shields. The ship shuddered on her axis as consoles flickered and a flash erupted from a minor system over the bulkhead door.

"What did I say about no surprises?" The Engineer cried out over the intercom system.

"What did I say about no promises?" Captain Franks retorted. "Bring us about and charge Phasers."

"Sir?" The Commander looked over to him with questioning eyes.

"Trust me!" He told her.

"Phasers incoming…" Tarvor warned as the ship shuddered again under the attack from the Section 31 cruiser. "They don't seem to like us very much."

"The feeling is mutual." Sneddon cried out over the wailing emergency klaxons.

"Report…" The Captain barked.

"Shields holding well." The Commander told him with some relief. "All modifications are holding for now."

"Not that they're any good to us unless we're willing to use them." Lieutenant Sneddon grumbled.

"It just got worse!" Tarvor cried out. "Subspace signal shows a dissipating Warp trail and a graviton wake."

"What does that mean?" Commander Crowley shrugged in ignorance.

"Romulans are going to join us in about 5 seconds." Tarvor spelled it out simply for her. "They're preparing to drop cloaks. That means they intend to fire."

"At last!" Captain Franks said with a grin, stepping up from the chair in his enthusiasm. The bridge plunged into silence as the officers turned to face him, afraid that perhaps there had been a little fire behind the smoke and the growing suspicions had a foothold in reality.

"At last… Something I can shoot at." Franks enthused. "Lieutenant Sneddon… I believe our Pulse-phasers are as yet untested?"

"Not for long, Captain." He grinned widely as his fingers danced over his manual targeting controls as before them space began to swim with a hazy distortion.

The Section 31 ship banked hard to starboard in surprise as the Romulan Bird of Prey began to materialise before them. The Asimov adjusted her course to point directly at the new threat. Twin Phaser cannons tucked beneath the flat platform of her hull supporting her tubular nacelles exploded to life spluttering a burst of orange energy into the unshielded vessel as the green hull began to emerge from the invisible shield of gravitons. The bolts connected directly along the wing and flashed angrily as each delivered its broiling energy into the defenceless hull of the alien ship. The plasma feed to the port nacelle was disrupted as the ships safety devices worked their hardest to protect the Romulan vessel from destroying herself.

"Successful test." Tarvor smirked at the huge stricken vessel before them as the ship banked away.

"I may not be able to fire on Section 31…" Captain Franks said with a grin as he folded his arms defiantly over his chest. "…but I know someone who can."

In the reverse angle on the view screen they watched as the stunned Bird of Prey turned her nose-mounted plasma cannon on the interceptor. A white flash of energy licked out, connecting with the Starfleet vessel and lashing over the powerful shields as the Asimov powered away from her line of fire.

"Target their engines and fire." The Captain told his tactical officer firmly. "Disable them only. Do them enough damage to keep them here and pointing away from us."

Lieutenant Sneddon busied himself with complying with the commands before bothering to take the time to acknowledge them. An orange beam cut a swathe from the Asimov's ventral Phaser pad and caught the belly of the Romulan ship. The glowing green engine set in the underside sparked angrily and the nacelles dulled, denied power from the source.

"The Starfleet ship is backing off." Tarvor announced. "They're not sure what to make of all this."

"I can hardly blame them!" Captain Franks smirked.

"Sir… The Romulans…" Tarvor said thoughtfully as he scratched his head. "They have two additional disruptor pads. No launchers fitted."

"So?" The Captain frowned, already guessing as to what his science officer was hinting at.

"They're no threat to us." Tarvor swung his chair around to add dramatic flair to his announcement. "That's a fifty year old ship at its heart with upgrades that over-power her ancient technology."

"We would have faired evenly in a fair fight?" The Captain glanced up beneath pitched eyebrows at the hulking green vessel, a bloated and outdated ship without the ability to back up the threat she presented.

"Section 31?" The Commander began thoughtfully as she began rubbing her chin. "Why would they set out to destroy us? They fired without exchanging a single word of dialogue."

"As if that had always been their intention." The Captain nodded and turned his eyes back to the small vessel as it came about to face them again.

"I don't understand?" Lieutenant Sneddon's eyes remained fixed on the vessel as it cleared the Romulan ship and began to face down on them, her weapons flaring to life. "Does this mean I get to fire on them after all?"

"It might just." The Captain narrowed his eyes to defensive slits as he leant forward on the back of his officer's chair. "Commander, thoughts?" He asked, his words snapping to emphasise their lack of time.

"Under the circumstances…" She said thoughtfully as the torpedo tubes on the other ship glowed brightly ahead of them. "I'd suggest that something is happening quite beyond what we were lead to believe was correct."

"Again!" The Romulan commander cried out in panic. "Activate the device again." The polarised signal again reached out from the belly of the vessel, probing the Asimov with it's invisible fingers.

"It can't just be the range, Sir." The communications officer cried out above the growing terror sinking in around the bridge. "I'm still failing to get the feedback from the Starfleet ship. The device isn't working."

"This can't be…" The first officer rubbed his temples incredulously. "Ever since the Warbirds destroyed the first of this type the device has always worked perfectly."

"I know." The Commander gazed apathetically at the view of the enemy in the viewer while his crew attempted to coax his damaged vessel back to life. "We discovered the weakness in their system. A failing in the sensor programs that were designed to track us, to discover cloaked vessels. We have always been able to enter the computers of these ships ever since and take the advantage."

"Then why?" The officer pleaded helplessly. Why can't we get access to the computers of this ship?"

"We destroyed the first of them many years ago." The Commander sighed. "Perhaps our secret has been discovered. Perhaps they have learnt of our ability."

The Doctor ignored the buffeting of the ship. He leant close to where the grey outline of a body was starting to appear from nowhere. He felt certain he could make out the motionless form before him. It was as if the creature was made of smoke of just the shadow of a living being, projected from some other place into his world.

He watched in silence for a few seconds that dragged into an eternity. He reached out gingerly and ran his index finger through the image that had burnt into his retinas. A cold feeling ran up his spine as the very tip of his senses brushed against the unreal flesh of the noble being that lay in silence before him.

"They're dead." He said grimly to the nurse, his eyes fixed on the vague tendrils of an outline as a tear welled in the corner of his eye. "Tell the Captain that our guests are dead."

"We've taken damage." Commander Siriv shook his head dolefully. "The Bird of Prey's weapons have taken our shields down to 38% with a direct hit. Clearly the Romulans are protecting the Asimov."

"Then why did Franks fire on them?" Captain Titor leapt from his seat as the pulsating red beacon lit the bridge dimly to signal their emergency status.

"Could it be simply that he has lost his mind?" Siriv asked with a frown. "Reports of his stress disorder could easily have been played down by the ship's surgeon. Perhaps our fears for his sanity were not unfounded?"

"Glib!" Titor sneered. "I am unhappy to draw unwarranted conclusions."

"Then what?" The Vulcan officer shrugged.

"We were sent here because Franks is losing control. He has made a bargain with the Romulans. For years every ship of that class has been easy prey to them in battle and now we know why. He has betrayed us somehow. He and his Romulan first officer handed over a way for the Romulans to take some advantage of our own ships."

"I would remind you." Siriv began haltingly. "We only have circumstantial evidence on which we are basing out assumptions."

"Assumptions?" Captain Titor cried out in rage as he turned to his unmoved officer. "An insane officer and a Romulan spy on board a ship known to be at the very heart of a breach in our security?"

"I agree that the conclusions our superiors have drawn are indeed hard to refute." Siriv continued humbly.

"Captain?" Tavor turned his seat as the ship banked away from the dubious Section 31 vessel. "According to my projections the Romulans will be back in control of their vessel in less than three minutes. The Starfleet vessel is on an intercept course."

"I'm thinking…" He snapped back."

"Sir!" Commander Crowley lost her reserved veneer of efficiency in an instant. She leapt from her seat and pressed down on the communicator button at her wrist. "Tavor," she began to the bemused science officer. "How do these Quantum torpedoes work? Is the blast more destructive than a Photon torpedo?"

"By several times." He frowned at her.

"Evacuate the shuttle bay." She ordered into her communicator. "Captain, I have a suggestion."

"This better be good." He smiled back at her.

"It is." She grinned, a rare sparkle in her eye as she spoke.

The Asimov streaked away, vanishing in a blur before them.

"They've gone to Warp." Siriv said dully as if finding the whole thing to be lacking in amusement. "They are exceeding our top speed by a factor of three."

"What?" Titor roared at him accusingly. "That's impossible. That old ship can barely make Warp 8."

"Indeed." He replied calmly. "I can pursue. Should I follow them?"

"Are you joking?" The Captain growled. "Engage immediately."

The cruiser entered Warp as the officer fingers danced over the controls. The screen lit up as the vessel jumped beyond normal speeds and entered the realms above the speed of light.

"Incoming torpedo…" Siriv warned. "They've fired on us."

"Evasive manoeuvres." Titor growled. "Launch emergency counter-measures and increase power to the forward shields."

"Acknowledged." He agreed. "I have target lock on the enemy."

"Fire…" Captain Titor grinned before the viewer exploded as a torpedo streaked away into space before them.

There was a flash. Brilliant white light softly felt its way evenly from the heart of the blast, blooming out into the icy darkness. Then the shockwave followed, a ripping explosive cartwheel of energy licking out from the heart of the eruption that shook the Universe to its very core.

"Report!" Captain Titor said simply.

"The blast registers as a quantum eruption." Siriv read from his readouts. "It was simultaneous with our torpedo blast. The energy signal is consistent with a Warp-core eruption and the Asimov no longer appears on our scopes."

"At last!" Titor relaxed slightly and sat back into his chair. "Franks over-reached himself when he crossed swords with us."

"It appears so…" Siriv agreed earnestly.

"It seems that his fate was sealed when we launched after all." Titor began to himself. "It's not so easy to escape from Section 31. You can only delay the inevitable."

"Yes sir." Siriv nodded. "The Romulans?"

"Leave them." He sneered. "Let them go home. Let them carry word of what happens to traitors of the Federation."

Captain Singh stood in dismay as the cruiser appeared before his vessel. "They're hailing." The communications officer reported. He cast a worried eye to his first officer who flashed an equal look of concern back. She stood at his side as the viewer flashed to the interior of the vessel.

Captain Titor stood before them, a vague smile lighting his face darkly. "I expected to see you." He told them across subspace.

"I couldn't abandon my fellow Starfleet officers quite as easily as my orders." He said with a certain confidence.

"I never thought for a moment that you would." Titor shook his head. He raised his Padd to his gaze as if reading from his notes. "You consider Captain Franks to have been a friend?" He asked softly.

"I do!" The Captain replied defiantly.

"Then I'm afraid I have unfortunate news." Titor glanced back to the bridge of the Ronin. "Captain Franks surrendered himself to the USS Constantine and the vessel was turned over to the Commander. They were intercepted by a Romulan Bird of Prey and destroyed. Captain Franks took his own life aboard the transport ship."

"What?" He asked in dismay, his shoulders hunching under the weight of the news. "I don't…"

"I'm very sorry." Titor continued. "We were too late to assist the Asimov. She was lost with all hands defending the Alpha quadrant."

Captain Singh glowered in silence.

"I can understand your feelings in this matter." Titor told him finally. "Under the circumstances I have chosen not to have this incident added to your record."

The Captain continued to stare in silence. The Commander stepped forward to speak. "The Captain appreciates that." She said simply. "Ronin out."

With her words the screen flashed back to the stars before them.

"You knew they'd follow?" Siriv asked.

"I'm Human, it is our nature." He replied simply.

"Will they believe our cover story?" The Vulcan asked as he set the programs into the computer to depart.

"They will." He nodded. "They will help to tie up all loose ends. It was a good plan from the outset. The Constantine already has the appropriate remains aboard and nobody will show a great deal of interest in the loss of that ship."

"And now?" Siriv asked finally.

"And now…" Titor said with a grin. "I hear the Romulans lost the prototype of a new version of the Bird of Prey to the Klingons. I think I'd like to see what the Klingons managed to do with it."

"Course set, sir." The helmsman said.

"Engage!"

"Well done, Commander." Captain Franks smiled warmly to his first officer as she sat opposite him in the ready room with Tarvor at her side.

"You can think on your feet." Tarvor told her with an impressed expression. "You saved the ship."

"Unfortunately we had to eject the remains of the alien shuttle to do it." Captain Franks noted with a sigh of disappointment.

"It appears that Section 31 believed the Quantum torpedo strike to be our Warp-core over-loading." Tarvor reported. "They never would have detected the Coo'gral ship and our acceleration to Warp 9.9 by the new scale ensured we were far out of range of their sensors by the time theirs registered the blast."

"Well engineer Murfett is less pleased with all this than we are." Franks almost laughed to himself. "There was considerable buckling to the engineering hull from our little stunt. I know he'll cope with repairs."

"We're right back where we started!" Commander Crowley nodded with approval. "The Romulan vessel stayed right where she was for just long enough for us to track back to the exact position."

"An all round success." Franks grinned to her. "As I said, excellent work!"

"Except we now are operating an illegal cloaking device!" Tarvor pointed out.

"Nobody's perfect!" Commander Crowley told him firmly.

"You portray that truth of that admirably." He glowered at her sarcastically. "Captain." He began, glancing back to the imposing form of the man unquestionably in command of the ship. "We are no sporting many upgrades about which the crew have many reservations. We have proved that they work adequately but you still owe us an explanation of your decision to have them installed."

"I owe you?" Captain Franks smiled knowingly. He stood up from his seat and stepped deftly to his private cabinet. From it he brought the bottle of scotch he kept for special occasions and poured three glasses. The Commander regarded hers somewhat suspiciously but accepted the offer in any case. "I think maybe I do, at that."

Captain Franks held up a glass in salute. "The Coo'gral." He said sadly. "…May their sacrifice never be in vain!"

"I'd certainly be interested to hear this explanation." She told him, her face contorting into a grimace as the liquid flashed over her unwary senses.

"They told me something." He began thoughtfully. "Out future is their history. My daughter will one day marry a Starfleet officer. The son of their son will father a man who will also one day serve in Starfleet."

They waited patiently for him to continue.

"We can't face the Cardassians." He told them unreservedly "We have only a fraction of the power we would need but we have only to find them. They told me that too."

"You've lost me." Tarvor admitted.

"There was another ship drawn into the temporal rift from the alternate future." Franks began again his somewhat disjointed tale. "The ship was from less than a century in our own future but is capable of fighting the Cardassians on equal terms. That ship is coming here too."

"A Federation ship?" The Commander asked in interest. The Captain nodded in agreement.

"She is called, the Corinthian." He told them proudly. "She will be commanded by Captain Blake Girling, my great Grandson."

"I see." Tarvor smiled.

"Suddenly the future isn't just a word." The Captain smiled back to him. "Suddenly the future is something tangible and we can't entertain the possibility of failure."

"To the Corinthian…" Commander Crowley raised her glass.

"To the Corinthian." They agreed.

 

- The End -

 

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Last modified: 02 Jan 2014 
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