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Star Trek Renegade - 1.12 Apex - Part 1 by J. Grey

10 years ago the Federation was attacked by their most fearsome enemy, the Borg - but how far are they willing to go to protect themselves now?

1.12 Apex - Part 1

"The future of history"

Captain Reader sat down heavily on the chair and beneath him it began to mould itself to his shape. It has been a long day preceded by many long days which seemed to be increasingly arduous as the years marched on. Proceeding those were things he didnít even like to think about any more. Every night when he closed his eyes his memories still played out and he was forced to live it again, the terrors he had seen that had cost him his ship and most of his crew. It had been many years ago and his career would have been over long before even if had not resigned his commission early.

"Please take your time." A young man sat down opposite, barely 35 with warm eyes that were framed by a face beset with signs of cold experience.

"Thatís right." A cruel smile flashed over his old lips as he glared at the man leaving no question of his annoyance. "This is my time, not yours."

"Iím aware of your status." The officer acceded. He was dressed in the current Starfleet uniform but with a very different symbol on the collar of his tunic. The insignia went beyond rank, this man could command a Starship or have an Admiral arrested. Captain Reader had once borne the same symbol on his own uniform, the sign of Starfleet intelligence. "Retired twenty four years ago to the Lunar colony of Hargov-4 in the Maros belt." He looked up with a smile. "I used to sit in a field in my father's farm staring up the moon. I knew then that there was nothing else I could do. I had to travel into space."

"The heart of an explorer." Reader smiled back. The officer nodded happily. "And the mind of a bureaucrat."

Captain Ishmael smiled at the old manís spite. "You were once me. You once served the Federation in exactly the way I am now."

"I never beamed anyone away against their will." Reader told him. "And I never claimed the heart of an explorer beat in my chest. I was a soldier, fighting for what I believed in."

"Well thereís nothing much left to explore." The officer shrugged. "And beaming you here to assist us was a legal decision. Check your reserve activation clause some day."

"I have a home to go to." Captain Reader told him coldly. "Shall we get on with this?"

"I have something to say first." He told him, his expression softening as he took a deep breath as if something was deeply troubling him.

Captain Reader narrowed his eyes suspiciously and nodded for him to continue.

"I have read your record and am greatly impressed." He began earnestly. "Calling you here in this manner was my idea. I believe that you will rise to assist us with a problem because youíre an honourable man and bound to do so." He paused for effect. "I short; you have my deepest respect."

"I wonít thank you for your opinion." Reader smiled thinly. "I worked hard to achieve what I did and my reasons for doing so were my own."

"I have a problem." Captain Ishmael began with a sigh. "We have a problem."

"I imagined you did but I donít see how it has anything to do with me." He told him coldly, running his hand over his chest as a minor jolt of pain shot through his tired muscles and buried itself deep inside him, forgotten for now. "Theyíre back, arenít they?" Reader said softly, his gaze lowering sadly to the ground.

Captain Ishmael looked up with a curious frown before suddenly realising what the old man would be referring to. He shook his head. "Nothing like that Iím relieved to say."

Reader slumped back in his chair with a bead of sweat tracing down his forehead. He nodded happily to himself. "Youíre relieved?" He said sarcastically.

"May I ask why you left Starfleet?" Captain Ishmael asked, fingering a thin transparent Padd with the buttons projected holographicaly above the smooth, empty surface. "It wasnít straight away. Apparently your decision to leave was made a week after your medical isolation and debriefing."

"Thatís right." Captain Reader nodded solemnly, rubbing the back of his right hand awkwardly as he turned to stare out of the transparency. "For a month they kept us in isolation. We had access to a holo-deck and everything else we needed but we had no contact with the outside world. They couldnít be sure we hadnít been infected. We all understood."

"During that time you made no mention of wishing to leave the service." The young officer shrugged, intrigued. "Your decision was made on the first day you returned to active duty."

"Yes." Captain Reader agreed, all signs of humour vanishing to be replaced by a troubled frown. "That was when I found out."

"About the losses to your crew?" Captain Ishmael guessed.

"No." Reader smiled but it was an empty gesture. "I already knew that my crew had been decimated by theÖ" He paused and his frown deepened. The word seemed to stick in his throat and his eyes glazed as the vivid image of his nightmares danced before him. "ÖThe Necrodians."

"Iím sorry." He ventured, hanging his head and shaking his head in dismay. "I canít imagine what it must have been like."

"No you canít." Reader agreed, turning away from the transparency and back to the Starfleet officer. "It was when I found out about Girling and the others."

"AhÖ" Captain Ishmael nodded in agreement.

"After that I just didnít see how I could go on." Captain Reader shrugged. "They became the living embodiment of the secret world I lived in. To me, to all of us they were a symbol of the battle against Section 31, against the darkness inside us all. When I heardÖ" He trailed off and merely shook his head. "It was just too much."

"We have a problem." The Captain told his predecessor with a wry glint in his eye.

"You said that." Reader smiled thinly. "Or my mind is finally going the way it should have gone twenty four years ago."

"We found something." The young officer raised his eyebrows and blew the air from his lungs, wondering to himself how to explain.

"If it was my life Iíd like it back." Reader told him, grinning scornfully.

Captain Ishmael fixed him with an emotionless stare and then suddenly his eyes darted back to his desk. He reached down and took out a sealed black box which he placed on the top with a flourish. He took a deep breath and waved a hand over the box. "We found something." He repeated.

Captain Reader noticed the Starfleet Intelligence symbol on the lid of the secure case. In his time the box would have had a built-in micro-transporter and in the event of tampering it would attempt to transfer itself to a secure location or destroy itself with a Code-3 transport. Reader knew that the base he was on must be very close to the secure vaults on Earth or at least connected through a sub-space relay channel.

"Whatís in there?" Reader asked, his eyes fixed on the smooth, satin material as if staring itself might reveal its secrets if only he stared hard enough.

Captain Ishmael opened the seals and the lid dematerialised in a flickering blue blur of light. Inside was a padded holder and a cylindrical container. Reader leant forward and frowned at the container. It was old and dirty, beaten about and tatty, covered in the residue of many years of abuse.

"What is it?" He asked curiously.

Captain Ishmael lifted the cylinder out carefully, fingering the device as if it were delicate beyond compare. He held up the grey device for the old Captain to look at.

"You have got to be joking!" Reader sneered angrily. "You brought me here for that! An old message buoy?"

"A message buoy!" The young Iraqi officer agreed with a grin. "And youíre right, it is very old."

"So?" Reader folded his arms over his chest in annoyance. "Just about every Federation ship ever built is equipped with those, they eject them any time thereís a minor crisis with their records. There must be millions of them out there."

"Firstly this one is rather special." Captain Ishmael assured him with a smirk. "This one is charged with a very odd radiation. Itís phased out of our normal space-time. We only just detected it and it took us three weeks to phase it back into our universe."

"Iím not impressed." Reader told him abruptly.

"We canít even guess how old it is because itís still phasing slightly." He continued. "We also donít know what ship it came from, the transponder code is for a ship we donít have in our records."

"Iíve been retired for twenty-four years." Reader growled at him. "There must be thousands of officers to whom this would be fascinating."

"If I told you that this one has the Section 31 prefixed UX-70666 number of the Corinthian scratched into the casing along with yours and Captain Graves name would that make it more fascinating?" The officer smiled broadly and raised a knowing eyebrow.

Reader snapped up, his arms uncrossed and his eyes widened. "It might pique my interest." He acceded.

Captain Ishmael reached over the desk to hand him the small drone. "Thereís definitely a message on it but itís encrypted." The old Captain reached out to take it.

"A message?" Reader stammered, a tear beginning to well up in his eye as he spoke. His hand recoiled away from the cylinder and he turned away. "I canít." He shook his head. "I canít go through this again."

"We canít open it without you." Captain Ishmael told him softly. "We want to know whatís on there as much as I think you do."

"I donít knowÖ" Reader shook his head and frowned, thoughts welling up uncontrollably in his mind.

"I have arranged a private holo-deck at your disposal." The young officer began. "You will have privacy to view the message on your own and all we ask is that you hand over the details to us afterwards to evaluate any threat and to record the historic events more clearly."

"I can view it privately?" Reader asked suspiciously, his arm beginning again to reach out tentatively to the cylinder.

"Of course." Captain Ishmael agreed with a curt nod. "What do you say?"

Captain Reader watched as the holo-deck doors slid closed behind him and locked. He turned to the small message cylinder that sat in the centre of the large chamber and took a deep breath.

"Computer!" He called out with an authoritative voice. "Give me a chair to sit in." He sat down heavily in the comfortable seat as it materialised behind him. He shook his head as he remembered the secret code that heíd once issued the Corinthian. It had never been officially recorded but had allowed them access to whatever supplies they needed. It would have made for an ideal encryption key that nobody else would have known.

"Reader." He began. "Access Gamma 201- 301- Omega."

"Interface established." The Computer told him softly in itís smooth female voice.

"Whatís in there?" He asked.

"Message contents, bridge recordings, crew logs, exterior monitoring logs, mission logs," the computer began listing the contents of the data.

"Arrange in chronological order." He instructed, cutting off the computer. "Extrapolate data and show records in real time."

"Confirmed." The computer told him with precise efficiency. Suddenly the holo-deck plunged into darkness and the image of the bridge of a highly advanced merchant vessel appeared before him in a flawless hologram.

"Can you take the log entries and arrange them in order to show what happened?" He asked as his eyes grew tight with the sadness of seeing his old friends.

"Program set." The computer confirmed.

"Begin." He ordered, his voice cracking with emotion as the ghosts that haunted him walked from his memory into reality and began to show him every detail that heíd spent the last twenty-four years hiding from.

He wiped a tear from his eye as the feelings began to overwhelm him and cursed himself for his stupidity. "You damn old fool." He muttered to himself, his voice cracking with nostalgic emotion as the story began.

"Displaying Wanderer 2 First officerís log. Time index 7324.5"

"It wasnít easy. Finding three small ships in the vastness of space is harder than most people would realise. In the end, they found us. They came to us as if they knew what we wanted. Weíd killed one of them before and still they came to us with an open mind and willing to help. According to law theyíre fully sentient and protected. I donít agree. Too many sentient life-forms are only out for what they can get. The Furies might be self-aware but to consider them one amongst the other species of this galaxy is to sell them short. I feel they are unique!"

"I think theyíre behind us." Commander Morrow frowned at the readings on the console of the Wanderer. "Iím certainly detecting three Federation type Warp signatures in our wake and theyíre matching our warp factor and heading."

"Then they are behind us." Captain Graves shrugged hopefully with the distinct lack of concern his ignorance afforded him.

"Their Warp patterns are a little odd." Morrow told the Captain. "Theyíre unusually powerful for their size but theyíre based on a very old system. Theyíre also heavily shielded with armour and their tactical grid is very sophisticated so theyíre difficult to lock sensor onto."

"The Furies are an odd design." Graves commented absently with a listless shrug. "Iím just glad theyíre not firing on us."

"Me too." The Commander agreed with a slightly acrid glanced aimed at his Captain. "They definitely appear to be following. I guess they understood our request for help after all."

"So now the Corinthian, the Kraílee, ourselves and the Furies will be there to make a stand against the Necrodians." Graves allowed himself an arrogant surge of pride at his success in locating the Furies and not getting anybody else hurt in the process.

"Do you seriously think it will be enough?" The Commander shuddered at the thought of the gigantic vessel that would soon stand against them if all went according to plan.

"I wish I knew." The Captain admitted grimly, thoughts of the battle ahead filling him with fear and excitement in equal measures.

"Crewman Patterson has completed the automation of the engineering department ahead of schedule." Morrow commented conversationally. "He says they can function down there now with only two people."

"Thatís good." The Captain agreed. "The Corinthian can replicate two type 9 shuttles with the deuterium weíve collected. Now weíve got the spare crew to operate them."

"Itís not that simple though." The Commander turned to face the Captain. "We canít just put people into armed shuttles against a ship of that size. Weíre asking them to face almost certain death."

"So?" The Captain shrugged with a wry smirk.

"They wonít be very happy with that." Morrow crossed his arms over his chest in annoyance.

"This is a fine crew." The Captain told him. "Weíve served together against Section 31, rammed a fleeing ship, faced down a Klingon cruiser and supported the Corinthian against a host of adversaries."

"Yes butÖ" The Commander began, a, little flustered.

"And now weíre charged with the task of rescuing Captain Reader and the crew of the Olympus from an alien who could threaten the entire Federation." The Captain smiled assuredly. "I could ask for volunteers and fill two shuttles twice over from these people."

"I donít know..." The Commander frowned.

"Would you command a shuttle?" Graves raised an eyebrow knowingly. "Would you co-ordinate the attack if I asked you to?"

"Of course I would." He agreed.

"I know." The Captain nodded. "But I need you here, the Wanderer is going in after the Corinthian and the Kraílee."

"I canít wait." The Commander shuddered. "At least in a shuttle I could get away from you. I think that would at least double my chances of survival."

"Displaying Corinthian Chief engineerís log. Time index 7328.2"

"When you have the time to catch up on the damage your Captain does you take it. That never made more sense than on this ship. I donít do what he tells me because he wears a number of silly gold things on his collar. I follow him because heís my friend. He makes as many mistakes as the rest of us but thatís not what makes him special. He admits to his weakness and he does what he says he will. His sense of honour and devotion to his ideals is infectious. I never meant to stay on this ship but nowÖ Now itís my ship too."

"Iím detecting something." Haldo Compz announced lazily. "Ten particles of stellar matter, three comets on long range sensors and a solar flare fifteen light years away but itís a very small one."

"Great." Blake grumbled from the command seat at the centre of the bridge of the Corinthian, running his hand over his face wearily.

"I am so bored." Haldo sighed and turned away from the instrument panel. "A trapped fox will gnaw off itís own feet to escape. Iíd do the same if I could figure out what part of me to start eating."

"Anything would be fineÖ" Goruss Clogg told him flatly. "The only thing you use is your mouth."

"Does anybody want another cup of coffee?" Doctor Jones asked, gazing fixedly on the last cup, which heíd finished only a few minutes before. "I donít even usually drink coffeeÖ"

"Not really." Haldo shook his head. "I wouldnít mind something happening, even something scary."

"Itís funnyÖ" Jones began with a slight smile fluttering across his lips. "When I came aboard I was terrified and have pretty much stayed that way ever since. I actually seem to be used to be scared out of my mind and now I seem to miss it."

"Well we know exactly where the ship is likely to emerge from warp, we just donít know exactly when." Blake shrugged. "So we wait."

"Well according to my extrapolation, it wonít appear for another three days yet." Haldo added. "Thatís a hell of a lot of coffee, Iím not sure if my replicators are up to it."

"Actually I am detecting something." Doctor Jones raised an eyebrow. "A very faint electro-magnetic pulse has been flashing on my sensors every few minutes."

"Out here in space?" Haldo said sarcastically. "Who would ever have thought that?"

"Well you do something then?" Jones snapped back in irritation.

"Weíd all like something to happen but letís just stay calm until something actually does." Captain Girling warned them firmly.

"Captain." Katherine sat up in surprise. "Iím detecting something."

"Really?" Haldo asked excitedly. "Thank god!"

"Itís a hailing frequency but its power is boosted to the point where itís virtually as powerful as a warp field at the source!" She shook her head. "Iíve never seen anything quite like it."

"Thereís a message?" Blake frowned, rubbing his chin expectantly.

"There isÖ" She turned to face him with a worried expression. "Itís on a Starfleet carrier wave and it appears that itís intended for you."

"Captain, I am detecting three vessels on long range sensors." Clogg warned from the tactical station. "Same source as this hailing frequency."

"The Necrodians?" Doctor Jones gasped fearfully, his eyes widening as he spoke and his faint smile returning.

"Starfleet." Clogg corrected. "Theyíre emitting the standard Federation protocols."

"Put the message on the viewer." Blake said calmly with a curious frown.

The screen in the centre flashed to the view of a bridge of a Starship, beige and comfortable with instruments flashing dimly around. An officer stood before the Captains chair waiting to speak as the automated message played on the viewer.

"This is Captain Makarov of the Starship USS Darmajaya." He began. "Weíre looking for Commander Blake Girling aboard the Starfleet vessel, USS Corinthian. We know youíre out there, Blake and we need you to respond. Please reply urgently."

"What do you make of that?" Haldo raised an eyebrow curiously.

"Iím definitely detecting three ships." Clogg reported. "A refitted Galaxy class, a Centaur and a Nova, all heading in roughly this direction at high warp."

"Perhaps theyíve come to help?" Katherine suggested. "The Klingons have been aware of the Necrodians for some time and we did send out a coded report to Starfleet command about them."

"I donít know." He shook his head. "It could easily be a trick."

"This is not Section 31ís style." The Doctor told him. "They wouldnít send out three Starships to hunt for you like this. They like to hide, this is too overt. It doesnít feel right!"

"Can we hail them at this range?" Blake closed his eyes in contemplation.

"I think I can increase the power to the communications array." Katherine nodded thoughtfully, working things out quickly in her head. "Shall I open a channel?"

"Open." He nodded grimly, still harbouring significant doubts about the authenticity of the contact.

"This is Captain Blake Girling." He said. Suddenly the viewscreen flicked open to the bridge of the Darmajaya where Captain Makarov leapt from his chair in excitement.

"Captain Girling?" He smirked.

"I was given a field promotion when I took command of this ship." He nodded. "Unfortunately records of that were aboard the Olympus."

"Weíve been transmitting a call for you for three days now." The Captain sighed. "I was beginning to think you werenít really out here."

"How did you know that we were?" Blake frowned.

"We didnít." The Captain explained. "But we had reliable information that you would be and were hoping it was correct."

"Whatís this all about?" Blake asked finally.

"We have something of a problem." Makarov shrugged. "It appears likely that youíre the best hope of fixing it as youíve helped us out with it before."

"Weíre rather busy right now." He told him. "The vessel that destroyed the Olympus is due to drop from warp at this point in about three days."

"This wonít wait for three days!" Captain Makarov told him firmly.

"Iím listening." Blake crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow in a furtive expression of interest.

"Please rendezvous with us." Makarov raised his hands in an open gesture. "You can get here in seconds with your Transwarp drive. We need to speak with you urgently."

The screen went blank as Blake halted the signal and turned to his officers. "Thoughts?" He asked with a shrug.

"Iíd like to hear what they have to say." Haldo nodded. "Theyíre Starfleet after all."

"What would happen if this was a trick to recapture the Corinthian?" Blake turned to his tactical officer.

"Against three ships?" Clogg sighed thoughtfully. "We could hurt them if we had to but they would severely outgun us, especially that refitted Galaxy class."

"You canít fire on Federation vessels!" Katherine exclaimed.

"Iíll fire on Section 31, you can be sure of that!" Blake told her with a note of certainty. "Trim for Transwarp." He instructed. "It looks like weíre going to pay them a visit."

"Displaying Darmajaya Captainís Log. Time Index 7328.9"

"We finally made contact with the Corinthian. Girling was everything I expected. He lacks experience but has learnt to be highly suspicious. Against all the odds heís surrounded himself with an efficient crew."

The Darmajaya dropped out of warp and came to a full stop at the rendezvous co-ordinates.

"Nothing sir." The science officer reported.

"I donít expect there will be." Captain Makarov told him. "Theyíll come in under cloak, we wonít see them until they want us to."

"If they come." Commander Mica Arlon sneered at her terminal. "We donít know anything about that ship and its crew."

"The enemy of your enemy is your friend." Makarov told her with a smile, wagging an accusing finger at her in a playful scolding. "Iím not fond of the idea of a Renegade Section 31 prototype out there with an illegal cloaking device making arbitrary decisions that affect the whole Federation but Captain Reader believed in them and now so does Starfleet command."

"We have almost no tactical information about that ship!" Lieutenant Drax droned from the tactical station. "We would be poorly situated to mount a defence if they chose to attack us."

"Why would they?" The Captain turned to face the burly Trill officer. "Everything we know suggests the intentions of the Corinthian have always been benign."

"Iím detecting a hail." Drax told him. "Theyíre requesting permission to come aboard."

"Granted." Makarov smiled.

Captain Blake Girling and Ensign Katherine Rogers materialised on the transporter platform aboard the upgraded Galaxy class Starship.

"Welcome to the Darmajaya ." Captain Makarov extended a hand in greeting.

"Thank you." Blake stepped forward and shook the officerís hand warmly, both men having firm grips while their eyes peered suspiciously at one another.

"If youíd like to come this way, I have a briefing prepared in the observation room." Makarov gestured to the door as he led them out of the transporter room. The heavy radiation-proof doors hissed open with a weak sigh as they approached.

"Iíd like to make you aware of a few things." Blake told him as the entered the corridor and began their journey to the lounge behind the main bridge. "My ship is cloaked and shielded but I can still beam back aboard at any time."

"That wonít be necessary." The Captain smirked. He was a distinguished man of Russian decent, powerfully built with a certain resilience inherited from his family. A crop of neatly styled grey hair covered his head and his steely blue eyes flashed around giving the impression that they saw more than there was to see. "I understand your hesitancy but I can assure you that Section 31 have no hand in our being here."

"I hope not." Blake flashed a glance at Katherine.

The observation lounge was spacious and gave an excellent view of the rear of the vessel with the gigantic nacelles, each larger than the Corinthian herself. Behind the massive, sprawling ship the Centaur class craft drifted silently by, a singular circular main hull with a pair of glowing nacelles jutting uneasily from her belly.

"We have a problem." Captain Makarov admitted with a sigh. "Two of our outer colonies have been raided recently by an unusual vessel."

"In addition to that, three Starbases have been attacked." The Commander added.

"And youíre telling me that Iím the only person for this job?" Blake shrugged, highly unconvinced at the story so far.

"The vessel is a Section 31 ship." Makarov explained. "Itís fast, powerful and aggressive." "A Scarab?" Katherine suggested, glancing back to Blake with a raised eyebrow.

Commander Arlon shook her head. "Iím familiar with that design, this is something we havenít seen before."

"Then how do you know that itís Section 31?" Blake asked.

"Four days ago the USS Apache was attacked and disabled in an attack that cost ten members of her crew their lives." Makarov began. "The Apache was on routine border patrols when she answered a distress call from a merchant ship. They spoke to the Captain of the vessel and got a good look at her once the cloaking device was disengaged."

"And?" Blake narrowed his eyes defensively.

"The ship was designated The Apex and is commanded by Captain Faruqui." The Commander told him.

"He was arrested!" Blake sneered, reeling back angrily. "We were forced to destroy his ship, the Violator, after he went rogue with it. Heís a dangerous man!"

"It seems he is looking for revenge." Makarov told him. "He has been looking for information as to your whereabouts. It seems that Section 31 have equipped him with a new type of ship and have given him the resources to recapture or destroy the Corinthian."

"I donít believe this!" Katherine shook her head. "That man is dangerous, heís already proved that. Why would they let him loose?"

"Thatís probably what makes him the ideal man for the job." The Commander shrugged. "He hates you, he hates the Corinthian and will stop at nothing in his mission."

"I see." Blake sighed. "What do you propose?"

"The Apex is cloaked and can sustain warp 9.99 for much greater lengths of time than we can." The Captain explained. "We have been unsuccessful in our attempts to track her but you will undoubtedly have better luck."

"And the Necrodians?" Katherine asked.

"Weíll face them." Captain Makarov replied grimly. "These three vessels have been sent as the first wave. At least seven more ships will join us over the next few days to mount a defence."

Blake looked over to his officer, his expression thoughtful. "What do you think?" He muttered.

"Would you like to know what I think?" Captain Makarov grinned.

"I suppose." Blake turned to him in interest.

"I think these orders came directly from Admiral Namura and youíre a Starfleet Captain." He told him bluntly. "I think you had better get on with your job and let us do ours."

Captain Girling leant back in his chair thoughtfully, a slight smile fluttering across his lips. "I suppose I am." He agreed. "But there are conditions."

"A field-promoted acting Captain is making conditions about the orders of an Admiral?" Makarov said mockingly but with good humour.

"Five other vessels were going to join us at the co-ordinates where the Necrodian vessel was due to drop out of warp." Blake told them. "Three of them are self automated drones called Furies, another is a Klingon light attack ship and the last is the civilian vessel, the Wanderer."

"You have been busy." Captain Makarov looked impressed, if slightly dubious at the news of the motley entourage.

"We also have detailed scans of the ship and their shield frequencies." Katherine added with a wide grin.

"You have what?" The Commander asked, startled at the news. "HowÖ?"

"If we go after the Apex and capture or disable it in time then I intend to return and lead the attack on the Necrodian ship." Blake told them.

"I have already been assigned to head up the fleet." Makarov folded his arms stubbornly.

"The Corinthian has a level of sophistication that you canít match." Blake explained. "And for some reason they backed off from us when we encountered them, they may see us as a threat."

"Youíre proposing to capture the Apex in less than three days then return to disable the ship ahead of our fleet?"

"I am." Blake nodded.

"If you can get back here in that time then I would be happy to have you on my team." The Captain shrugged. "But I have a condition of my own."

"Iím listening." Blake said defensively.

"After this is over you are under orders to return to Starfleet headquarters on Earth for a full review of your activities." The Captain told him.

"You intend to decommission my ship?" Blake scowled.

"I believe the intention is to formally register it as a Starfleet ship and to make your field promotion more permanent." He grinned back. "We received reports about you from Captain Reader before he was captured and have been made aware of some of your recent exploits by a merchant fleet who were very glad to encounter you."

"I see." Blake nodded thoughtfully. "I suppose I can do that."

"Displaying personal Log Ė Haldo Compz. Time index 7330.0"

"Here we go again. Blake is under the misguided opinion that we enjoy racing off on half-baked schemes to save the galaxy as we know it. Now we have to chase after yet another Section 31 prototype hell-bent on destruction. How many prototypes are out there and do they all want to fight us? Itís like the wild west where every gunman has to prove himself. Every prototype seems to want to blast us out of space. I guess that means weíre the best. I can live with that!"

"And you trust them?" Haldo grumbled.

"Even if it were Section 31 they are planning to have an entire fleet waiting for that ship." Blake shrugged to his engineer. "Itís better than we could have hoped for alone."

"So where do we start?" Haldo asked dejectedly. "At the Apexís last known co-ordinates?"

"Actually weíve already started." Blake smiled. "I just dropped our cloaking device. Weíre visible!"

"Great!" Haldo muttered to himself. "Youíre trying to dismantle the ship again before we can even get her finished."

"Clogg, Iíd like to see you in the briefing room." Blake gestured to his security officer. "Haldo, Doctor Jones, you too please."

The four of them took their seats around the table at the rear of the bridge.

"We donít know much about this ship." Blake began with a sigh. "We have a few records from the Apache but they donít give us much to go on."

"The Apache was a Nova class vessel refitted for border patrol." Clogg said thoughtfully as he read through the notes on the Padd. "Theyíre tough little ships, the Apex must be quite well armed."

"The Phaser output is about a quarter of the energy of our cannon." Haldo furrowed his brow. "This ship was built to fight."

"This ship was built to fight us!" Blake corrected dryly. "Sheís also cloaked. Can we look at developing a way to detect her?"

"According to these readings the cloaking device looks like a standard type Romulan type unit." Doctor Jones nodded. "If it is then we should be able to spot it about three seconds before it decloaks and raises shields."

"I could work out a program that would automatically raise shields and fire weapons at that point." Haldo suggested. "It would give us a chance to hurt them before they hurt us."

"Do that." Blake nodded. "But set it up to lock weapons, not fire them. Iíd like to retain discretion over the firing controls."

"I suppose." Haldo nodded with a shrug.

"What do you think?" Blake turned to Clogg who shrugged and dropped the Padd to the desk.

"Itís an impressive vessel, unusual design." Clogg began. "Itís not a match to us though unless it has something we havenít seen yet."

"Like what?" Haldo frowned.

"The Phasers and torpedoes are powerful but they have wonít be enough to cripple this ship before we can damage them." Clogg surmised. "They might have a cannon capable of delivering more energy or some other advantage like superior targeting or an ability we hadnít thought of."

"Why didnít they come after us in a Scarab?" Blake ran his hand over his head. "A Scarab is closer to our abilities than this Apex. Why knowingly use an inferior vessel?"

"Weíre assuming they had a choice?" Haldo interjected.

"Iím sure that Captain Faruqui will answer these questions for us when we see him." Blake grimaced at the prospect. "And when that answer comes we had better be ready."

"Displaying Wanderer 2 Captainís log. Time index 7331.1"

"Racing along as usual. The Corinthian sits and waits while the warrior Captain of the Wanderer gathers the troops. This crew doesnít relish the prospect of facing that Necrodian ship. I canít say I blame them. Thereís not much honour to be found in getting blown to bits without a good fight. Especially if your remains end up as a crewman aboard the enemy ship."

"What do you mean, you can see them?" Captain Graves mocked his first officer.

"Theyíre not cloaked. Theyíre right there in Federation space in plain view." Commander Morrow pointed at the image of the Corinthian in the viewer where she held position at the rendezvous co-ordinates.

"Hail them." Graves stood up, frowning in confusion.

Captain Girling appeared in the viewer at the front of the bridge.

"I can see you." Graves told him.

"Weíre not cloaked." Blake said with a whimsical expression at Graves utter lack of comprehension.

"Why?" He stammered.

"Long story but weíre moving off. We have work to do." Blake stood up as he spoke.

"Youíre leaving?" Commander Morrow cried out in surprise.

"We hope to be back in time to face the Necrodians." Blake assured them.

"No offence but weíre no match to them without you." Graves shrugged. "Theyíll tear us to pieces. Thereís no honour in defeat borne from stupidity."

"Well youíll be joined by a fleet of at least 10 Starships." Blake smiled. "Will that help?"

"It will help." Graves nodded with a smile of relief. "Where the hell are you going?"

"I donít know yet." Blake admitted. "Apparently Captain Faruqui has escaped and been given a ship to destroy us with so weíre hoping to find him first."

"And thatís more important than the Necrodians?" Graves crossed his arms angrily.

"I have my orders." Blake sighed. "Youíre to report to Captain Makarov, heís heading up the fleet until I get back."

"I will." Graves agreed without commitment.

"Iíll do my best to get back." Blake told him firmly. "You have my word. Girling out."

"A whole fleet." Captain Graves nodded to himself.

"Indeed." Commander Morrow agreed. "I think Iíd rather have the Corinthian there instead."

"Me too."

"Displaying Doctor Harold Jones personal log. Time index 7332.9"

"I was asked to work out the course that this Apex ship had followed and look for patterns. It wasnít hard, they donít appear to be trying to hide. A fleet of Starfleet ships didnít sound like it was Section 31ís style. This does. I think weíre playing a very dangerous game but nobody is listening to meÖ as usual."

"The patterns of their attack follow a course." Doctor Jones pointed to a graphic on the wall display. "The first three raids seem to have been with the intention of obtaining resources and to find out trail."

Haldo rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "You think that we could follow it back to where they began?"

"I do." The Doctor agreed. "There isnít much in the sector they appear to have started from but thatís no surprise, Section 31 installations are usually in isolated regions."

"Are there any places that are likely to have a base?" Blake asked in interest.

"A few." The Doctor nodded. "Thereís nothing in the archives to suggest that there ever was anything there so wherever it was built would appear to be new."

"Itís a good idea." Clogg shrugged. "But if weíre looking for a ship why start in the place itís heading away from?"

"We could learn a lot about it, maybe what its intentions are." Haldo suggested. "We could be there in about 1.2 hours at Transwarp velocities. I havenít got anything better to do!"

"Thatís a long trip." Blake turned to his engineer. "What about the particle build-up?"

"I have an automatic purging system installed now." He replied hopefully. "I havenít tested it but projections show it should sort out the problem. We shouldnít have any trouble jumping back to Transwarp once we arrive."

"HopefullyÖ" Jones muttered from the science console.

"Weíll cloak before we leave." Blake told them, his decision made. "When we arrive weíll remain at red alert with the nacelles retracted in case we have to make a run for it."

"Itís a big sector." Haldo grimaced. "It could take a while to scan for this base!"

"By my calculations it would take a month to properly survey the area for a base, assuming it wasnít hidden; which of course it will be." Clogg shook his head.

"Not a big fan of this plan?" Haldo joked to the security officer.

"I do have a suggestion!" Doctor Jones told them with a grin.

"I was hoping one of you was going to say that!" Blake said with a sigh of relief.

"The race track we encountered last week was designed to be erected quickly and removed even faster." He explained. "They had a sophisticated sensor platform that the Section 31 ship was observing so I got a pretty good look at the specifications."

"Iím listeningÖ" Blake told him with interest.

"It starts with a central probe that deploys self-replicating torpedoes which travel at high warp dropping off subspace relays." He explained. "The schematics are already in the replicator archive but will take a few hours to generate."

"You kept that quiet!" Haldo frowned at him.

"Well I donít want you having all the fun!" Jones grinned at the engineer. "Youíre not the only one who can come up with ridiculous suggestions should the need arise."

"Will it actually work?" Blake raised an eyebrow.

"I believe so." He nodded happily.

"Can we add a cloaking device to the matrix so that we can do this quietly?" Blake suggested hopefully.

"Not really." He shook his head. "There isnít enough power to run all the systems but the relays are very small and hard to detect. Itís unlikely theyíll see them unless they know to look for them."

"Then weíll have to move fast." Blake said finally. "Make a start on the probe, Iíll set us up to Transwarp into the centre of the sector."

"Displaying Commander Mica Arlon personal log. Time index 7333.1"

"Girlingís makeshift fleet troubles me greatly. Not only are these people unqualified theyíre dangerous. We have vessels that defy description mixing with Starfleet ships. I seem to be the only person who has a problem with any of this!"

"The Wanderer has acknowledged our hails and will rendezvous at the co-ordinates." Commander Arlon flung her Padd onto the Captains desk.

"I see." Captain Makarov replied with a wry smirk. "And youíre not entirely happy with that?"

"Itís as well armed as the Centaur class ship escorting us but has a crew of only seven people and none of them properly trained for this kind of action." She argued. "The vessel is under the command of a merchant Captain with no Starfleet experience."

"And yet theyíve been getting the job done." He told her firmly, quashing her argument. "They were ready to fight and die in an attempt to rescue the crew of the Olympus, donít you think that they deserve a little of our respect?"

"I have serious reservations about allowing them to join this fleet." She tapped her foot in weak annoyance as she managed to barely kept her temper under control.

"What about the Furies?" He picked up her Padd to look over the initial reports.

"I donít know where to start." She sneered. "They have no human crew aboard and are bristling with weapons. Theyíre self-replicating and can even procreate apparently. According to the reviews theyíre to be considered artificial life-forms in their own right and fully sentient. Theyíre protected by some amendments to Federation law made for some android officer who served in Starfleet apparently."

"Youíve never heard of Lieutenant Commander Data?" The Captain smiled wryly at his moderately irate first officer.

"What kind of a name is that?" She frowned.

"We can trust them?" Makarov shrugged, casting an eye back to his slightly bemused Commander. "The Furies?"

"Apparently their programming precludes them from harming a Federation citizen and theyíre designed with an in-built instinct to protect us." She admitted.

"Well then Iím glad to have them aboard." The Captain smiled at her. "I take it they have agreed to co-ordinate our efforts with them?"

"They appear to have agreed." She nodded. "They donít have the ability or desire to verbally interact but have gestured a willingness to assist."

"That will do for now." He glanced back at the Padd. "I will agree that the Wanderer is stretched a little thin."

"Yes Sir." She nodded.

"Hail them and offer a detachment of crew from among our ranks." He ordered. "Iím sure we can spare a few personnel to augment their staff."

"Yes Sir." She glowered at her Captain. "Iím sure we can..."

"Displaying Captain Blake Girlingís personal log. Time index 7333.4"

"Itís not always doom and gloom. Sometimes something happens that makes you realise whatís really importantÖ"

Katherine looked up from the communications panel with a raised eyebrow. "Message coming in from the fleet." She turned to Blake. "It says itís personal."

"Personal?" Blake looked mystified as he frowned curiously. "I donít know anyone in the fleet."

"Itís from a Starfleet vessel." Katherine confirmed. "Itís on an open channel. Directed for you."

"Transfer to my ready room." He shrugged, hoisting himself from the command seat and stepping towards the automatic door.

"I didnít think he had any friends." Haldo grinned towards Katherine who glowered after the Captain as he stepped into the privacy of his office.

"Itís from a woman!" She exclaimed caustically.

"Well he was engaged onceÖ" Haldo said thoughtfully. "Before he was killed."

Captain Girling opened the channel on the portable terminal on his desk. A familiar face flashed up before him causing a smile to instantly flutter across his lips. "I donít believe it." He said with a wide grin."

"I think that should be my line." The Vulcan officer raised an eyebrow suspiciously. "Itís been a long time. Ten years I believe"

"Not for me." Blake shrugged. "I was dead then and donít remember anything during that time."

"You havenít changed a bit." Nerus told him, leaning forwards and narrowing her eyes as she peered at her monitor. "Iím a Commander now aboard the USS Pandora. I had to pull some strings to be allowed to communicate with you."

"When did you leave the Mirage?" He leant back in the chair comfortably, enjoying the slight discomfort on the face of the Vulcan officer he had served with aboard the old medical ship on which heíd died.

"After your death." She told him flatly. "The events were classified and I was assigned to another ship. I imagine they required my silence."

"How have you been?" He asked conversationally.

"I am perfectly adequate." She told him in a typically Vulcan monotone. "How are you?"

"Iím great." He told her earnestly. "I have a great ship, a great crew and now my old friends are looking me up. What could be better than that?"

"Were we friends?" Nerus asked with a slight sarcasm that she made a point of disguising in her tone.

"Well you contacted me so I guess we were." He told her.

"I suppose so." She agreed. "I look forward to seeing you again in person. Iím sure your experiences would make for an interesting story."

"I donít know about that!" he grinned at her. "Who would want to hear about my life? Iím sure people have better things to do."

"Displaying Corinthian Captainís log. Time index 7335.2"

"Life aboard my ship is more or less like a constant war. Boredom interspersed with sporadic activity and the constant threat of life-threatening violence. The crew seems accustomed to it now. I amazed how well this group have formed into a crew. We have myself with no proper training, a disgruntled medical officer who was considering resigning her commission, a psychotic tactical officer, a merchant engineer, a turncoat Section 31 scientist and two Federation Borg drones steering the ship but somehow these people have turned into a team and a team Iím proud of being a part of."

"Captain!" Haldo cried out. "Shields are up, the program has activated and locked onto a decloaking vessel."

"It matches the configuration of the Apex." Goruss Clogg warned.

"Firing." Blake stood up from his chair as the viewscreen flicked to the point of space where the vessel was beginning to appear. A Phaser beam surged out from the Corinthians side into the rippling blackness of the vessel as the cloaks melted away. The impact crackled violently as the beam cut into the rounded belly of the ship.

"Weíre lining up for the cannon." Clogg reported. "Itís charged and ready."

In the viewer the vessel materialised. Her hull was gleaming along her flank, a short and squat little vessel with tucked in nacelles bristling with potent energy. The Phaser blast had done little damage but there was a black carbon score where the weapon had hit the attacking ship.

"Hail them." Blake barked. "Tell them to stand down."

"No response." Katherine scowled. "Theyíre ignoring us."

"Theyíre not quite ignoring us." Clogg frowned at his console. "Theyíve launched a full spread of torpedoes."

"Evasive manoeuvres." Blake said as the ship banked hard to starboard. "Lock Phasers on the torpedoes, knock as many out as you can."

The Corinthian automatically targeted the blazing red weapons as they tore through space towards her. Beams lashed out at them engulfing three instantly in flames that then erupted in a plume of furious energy.

"Two got through." Clogg shook his head.

"One!" Haldo corrected. "The other missed us on the last turn."

The bridge lights dimmed as the impact of the torpedo lashed against the Corinthians shields.

"Return fire." Blake instructed with a note approaching regret that doing so seemed to be their only recourse. "Quantum torpedoes. Full spread."

Clogg launched the white-hot barrage of missiles from the firing binnacle in the shipís nose. The five torpedoes found their mark, ripping into the Apex as she turned hard away to protect herself. One skipped over the ridge of her shields but the other four exploded violently sending their destructive power directly to the target.

"Direct hit." Clogg reported. "Her shields are down to 32 percent, ours at still at 96. Thatís still a tough ship!"

"Hail them again." Blake instructed.

"Channel open!" Katherine smiled wryly in relief.

"This is Captain Blake Girling to the Captain Faruqui." He began. "Lower your shields and surrender. This is a battle you canít possibly win."

Captain Faruqui appeared in the viewer sitting at the heart of his bridge amidst the sombre lighting and dizzying array of instruments. "I didnít come here to surrender." He sneered quietly, clasping his hands calmly behind his back in a gesture of austere detachment.

"Did you come here to die?" Blake shook his head and pleaded with the renegade officer. "You canít take another round against this ship, you know that."

"Weíll see." Faruqui shrugged in a controlled gesture of arrogance and stepped quietly from the side of his chair as his staff fussed around him. "Surrendering wasnít part of the deal. Weíre here to prove ourselves against you, to destroy you or capture you and that is what I intend to do."

"Youíve already failed to do that!" Blake insisted angrily. "The Corinthian is too advanced, youíre not going to win and I donít want to kill you and your crew."

"Sir." Clogg interrupted from the rear. Katherine muted the speakers so that they could talk privately.

"Their shields are at 85 percent and the hull damage they sustained is repairing itself fast." He informed him.

"Iím detecting replicator signals all over the Apex." Haldo confirmed. "Their ablative armour must be self-generating and their shields harmonics are recalibrating."

"Regenerative shielding." Doctor Jones cried out. "Itís not very reliable but itís been fitted to a few vessels."

"So this is a delay tactic." Blake growled as he turned back to the viewer. "Stand down, Captain Faruqui. I will disable your vessel if I have to."

"Theyíre preparing to fire." Clogg warned.

Suddenly the main cannon in the nose of the Corinthian fired at the Apex. A massive stream of Phaser energy exploded out, cascading over the hull of the enemy.

"Her shields are down to 45 percent." Clogg grinned with satisfaction as the Apex listed away in the viewer, her shields crackling with arcing energy.

"Target her engines and weapons only. I donít want to hurt anyone over there." Blake ordered his tactical officer. "Fire."

Another blast of energy tore into the Apex, ripping into her belly across the ejection plates for the small warp-core. The glowing blue radiator vents along her engines flickered and sparked under the impact.

"Sheís still moving away." Clogg reported with surprise. "That was a direct hit to her warp-core supply conduits, she should be dead in the water."

"Iím detecting a shuttle-pod." Haldo frowned. "They dropped it off.

"A shuttle-pod?" Blake snapped around. "Life-forms or warheads?"

"One life-sign." Haldo nodded grimly. "Quite weak."

"Theyíre firing." Clogg warned as the Apex fired a beam of energy at the shuttle-pod. The port nacelle erupted and glowed a furious blue as plasma began blasting through the shattered engine cowling.

"Theyíre going to explode." Haldo warned.

"Beam them aboard." Blake instructed.

"I canít." Haldo said suddenly. "The shuttle has a rotating shield frequency. I canít isolate it to beam through."

"Keep trying." Blake snapped at him as watched the Apex flash white as she went to warp.

"Got them!" Haldo cried out triumphantly. "Theyíre in sick bay. I erected force fields."

"Katherine." Blake nodded to his chief medical officer as she leapt up from her console to make her way to the sick bay.

"The Apex has cloaked." Doctor Jones shook his head solemnly. "I think itís safe to say theyíll drop out of warp and make several course corrections to hid their trail. Weíve lost her."

"Start analysing the warp trail and particle wake." He ordered. "Find them again and do it quickly."

"Iím right on it." Haldo nodded.

"Letís go and meet our guest." Blake frowned at Katherine.

The dishevelled passenger of the small shuttlepod glanced nervously around the small sickbay as she felt her way around the force field that held her in place.

"Well look who it is!" Blake smiled humourlessly as he caught sight of her.

"Girling!" She cried out in surprise. "Blake Girling. What the hell am I doing here?"

"Captain Morrow." He shook his head at her. "The Captain of the Scarab class vessel, the USS Sphinx."

"My ship was destroyed." She scowled angrily back at him.

"What a shame." He grinned at her. "Mineís still fine. Not so much as a scratch."

"So I see." She glowered angrily back at him. "Is my brother still aboard?"

"He and Captain Graves are aboard their own vessel now." Katherine told her as she began a sweep of her body with the medical tricorder. "We still work together however to mop up the remains of Section 31. Itís not usually very challenging"

"You failed." She sneered. "Section 31 just became even more covert but weíre still out there."

"We realise that." Blake told her. "Are you going to tell us what happened? I hear you had a run-in with some Romulans after we left."

"I was reassigned to the last remaining Scarab after I returned to Federation space." She told them. "The Sphinx was lost but myself and most of the bridge crew escaped in the Captainís yacht."

"Not a very Starfleet thing to do." Katherine noted dryly. "You abandoned the crew?"

"How did you come to be aboard the Apex?" Blake frowned at her.

"Captain Faruqui destroyed my ship." She glowered back at him angrily.

"How?" Blake narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "The Apex doesnít appear to be a significant threat to a Scarab."

"Thatís what we thought!" She grumbled. "We were sent to find him when he first refused to answer orders to surrender the vessel."

"He stole the ship?" Katherine raised an eyebrow and cast a glance back to the Captain.

"It was assigned to him but his actions aboard her were not entirely what we had had in mind." She explained. "He tricked us. He agreed to hand over the vessel but when we beamed him aboard we found that he had somehow confused our sensors."

"What did you beam aboard?" Blake could not hide his amusement. "Donít tell me a torpedo materialised on your platform?"

"Yes." She grumbled dejectedly.

"NoÖ" Katherine smirked. "Thatís the oldest trick in the book."

"Yes." She nodded stoically. "The bridge section was blown free. Not much else survived. He beamed me aboard and left what remained of my crew stranded."

"What a shame." Blake covered his mouth with his hand to mute his laughter.

"We almost destroyed him." Katherine told her mockingly. "We had to break off our pursuit to rescue you or would have had him easily."

"I doubt it." She glowered menacingly at her. "He was just playing with you. He made a half-hearted attack to gauge your systems abilities. He wants to know exactly what he's up against."

"So do we." Blake told her, fixing her with a more serious glare.

"I canít tell you much about the ship." She shrugged. "He would hardly have allowed me to be captured by you if I could."

"What can you tell me?" Blake asked, her statement seeming reasonable for the moment.

"I can tell you that the ship wasnít built by Section 31." A faint grin flashed cruelly over her lips.

"It has a Federation signature." Katherine frowned.

"Itís a classified Starfleet project I believe." She appeared to relish sharing the information. "It was developed in secret and Section 31 officers were in control of some aspects of the operation but it isnít one of ours, we were just observing in secret."

"Who handed the ship over to Faruqui?" Katherine asked. "A known insane renegade who had already taken the Violator."

"I was not given that information!" Captain Morrow told her flatly. "I do agree it seems a very odd choice."

"Odd?" Blake yelled. "The fact that a Starship is being developed in secret is odd. That the prototype is handed over to him is insane."

"We donít know that it is the prototype." Captain Morrow reminded him.

"Then what is it?" Katherine shrugged.

"I know a couple of things which struck me as slightly unusual." Morrow smiled weakly before casting a wry glance at Captain Girling. "ÖOr insane if you prefer."

"You have my undivided attention." He smiled sarcastically at her.

"I was told that it was important to capture the Apex at any cost, even destroy it if I had to and yet it was the future of Starfleet ship design." She began. "When I began my tactical review I could find no solid specifications for the craft whatsoever and no record of its existence for more than two weeks before it was assigned to Captain Faruqui."

"So?" Blake frowned at her. "You people love your secrets, why would it surprise you that the records were restricted?"

"You donít understandÖ" She sneered happily at him. "This ship was assembled in under two weeks and before that time they had not made final the design."

"Thatís impossible!" Blake shook his head and frowned.

"It can take years to build a Starship, even a small one." Katherine added. "Designing one can take even longer. The Corinthian was just a test-bed for new technology but that took over six years to develop the design."

"Where was it built?" Blake stepped forward to the edge of the force-field that separated them.

"I canít tell you that." She almost laughed.

"You were sent to capture him." Blake pointed out. "You can look on this as passing on the baton if you like."

"I canít tell you where the ship was built!" She glowered at the Captain. "In case you had forgotten we donít play on the same team."

"You remember that electro-magnetic radiation I told you about?" Doctor Jones rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"No." Haldo told him. "And I donít really care."

"Well it seems that the pulses are quickening!" Jones continued.

"Is it the Apex?" Blake leant over his console as he returned to the bridge.

"I donít think so." Jones shook his head. "I canít discern the point of origin but it seems quite local to us."

"Could it possible help us to track the Apex?" Blake persisted dryly.

"I donít see how." He shook his head.

"Well then stop looking at it and get on working on the Apexís trail before I get angry." Blake told him with a smile that held little warmth. "Understand?"

"Yes sir." The scientist hung his head under the Captains annoyed glare.

"I think I have them." Haldo announced triumphantly. "I had a plan."

"Go on." The Captain turned to him with stunted interest.

"We hit them with a phaser blast before their shields were up." He explained, glancing over smugly to Doctor Jones. "We burnt their hull slightly and they left a trail of microscopic residue as they went to warp. Even though they were cloaked I think we can track them for a few light years but that should be enough to show us where theyíre heading."

"They were at full speed." Jones nodded in agreement. "Theyíd have had to go in a straight line all the way, they wouldnít be able to manoeuvre."

"If they dropped out of warp then weíll be able to detect the warp signature in normal space." Haldo grinned with utter self satisfaction.

"Make it so!" Blake nodded. "Letís get after that ship so we can get back in time to meet the Necrodians."

"Thatís right." Haldo grumbled. "Give us an incentive."

"Displaying Corinthian Chief medical officerís log. Time index 7335.8"

"Our guest was in good health. Her story bears out from the medical evidence Iíve found so far. Her stress levels are high and there is a slight compression to her spine typical of a bridge ejection if the Structural Integrity field wasnít fully operational. Itís not her Iím concerned about. Even though I canít scan Blake thanks to his implants I know him well enough to know that something is bothering him."

"What if itís true?" Katherine suggested in the ready-room at the side of the bridge. "What if Captain Morrow wasnít lying?"

"Sheís Section 31." Blake argued sternly. "She wouldnít have told us the truth on general principal."

"But what she told us fits well into what we know." She reminded him as she leant forward across the ready-room desk.

"Thatís how it works." He sighed angrily. "They know how to spin a lie and make it look convincing."

"Alright." She leant back in her chair opposite. "What is Captain Faruqui doing? Heís got a new Federation vessel and is acting in a way that will get him noticed and heís publicly out to get you. Heís behaving very strangely."

"Me?" Blake smiled. "Why would he want to get me?"

"You humiliated him twice." She reminded him. "You disarmed him when you captured the Corinthian and you destroyed the Violator. Not only that but you did it in such a way that nobody died, it was a surgical strike both times, it made him look bad."

"Can I tell you something?" Blake picked up his glass absently and stared into the murky depths within it while his mind churned with thoughts.

"I would like to think so." She nodded hopefully.

"I never felt like I captured the Corinthian." He explained. "I never felt like it was a lump of metal out there for me to take or steal or even to take command of."

"How did it feel?" She asked.

"I once heard someone say that a famous sculptor believed that his art was already locked within a block of marble and he was just there to chip away the packaging." Blake told her, his eyes staring away into his thoughts. "I feel sometimes like she was always there, my destiny, just waiting for me patiently."

"It was just a coincidence." Katherine told him with a note of concern for his state of mind.

"Was it?" He smiled weakly.

"So where does Faruqui fit into all this?" She ventured, returning the conversation to the point.

"I donít know." He admitted as he dropped his glass to the table with a wry smirk. "I wish I did."

"Heís out for revenge. Nothing else." She suggested forcefully.

"Am I any different?" Blake asked, scowling at his own thoughts.

"Of course." She told him firmly. "You know you are."

"Heís out here to get me, Iím out here to get him." Blake began thoughtfully. "He hates me for what I stand for, I hate him for what he has become. There isnít anything between us but perspective."

"You donít believe that?" She narrowed her eyes as she spoke. "Youíre doing what you believe is the right thing, what we all believe in."

"Iím not sure what I believe sometimes." He admitted. "Starfleet is building battleships now and fighting just about every species they encounter. Itís not the Starfleet I remember any more; itís not the Starfleet I died to protect."

"Things change." She shrugged. "Itís always been a dangerous galaxy to live in, weíve had to arm ourselves from the very beginning."

"Perhaps we were just being naive before and are now just finding out way?" He suggested with a sigh. "Maybe violence is a part of human nature and weíre destined always to return to it?"

"I believe youíre right about that." She nodded. "But I also believe we have an in-built sense of right and wrong and what we choose to do is up to us. I donít think that war is ever an answer and I donít believe that Starfleet should have built the Defiant, the Violator, Apex or even the Corinthian."

"Well the Apex appears to be our most pressing concern." Blake gathered his thoughts and stood up. "Letís get to work."

"Displaying Wanderer 2 Captain's log. Time index 7335.9"

"The fleet is assembling and weíre a part of it on an equal footing. After years of dropping off balls of jelly to spy on shipping lanes with the hope of catching Section 31 with their pants down weíre finally where we all deserve to be."

Captain Graves watched through the three large observation windows at the front of the ship as another of the Starfleet vessels appeared to join them.

"Weíve rotated our shield frequencies to the parameters the Darmajaya requested us to." Commander Morrow told him as his eyes ran over the data on his Padd. "To their long range sensors the entire fleet should just look like a small pocket of ionised gas. It should be enough to fool the Necrodians into not changing course to avoid us straight away."

"So weíre actually joining a Starfleet blockade on equal terms." The Captain grinned, unable and largely unwilling to disguise his enthusiasm.

"It appears so." Morrow sighed. "Despite the fact that weíre actually just a merchant vessel."

"Weíre as well armed and equipped as a Nova class ship and I just saw one of those out there." Graves crossed his arms defensively. "The Wanderer is a good ship, theyíre lucky to have us."

"They seem to be aware of that." Commander Morrow replied. "Weíve proved ourselves a good ship and crew and they need all the help they can get against that Necrodian vessel."

"We wonít let them down!" Captain Graves put his hand flat against the transparent aluminium window. The metal was cold to the touch beneath his skin and he smiled as he gazed out into space.

"We wonít." Commander Morrow smiled behind him. "Weíre ready."

"I hope the Corinthian makes it back in time." The Captain turned suddenly, his face dropping the beaming grin that had been painted on since he had received his orders.

"Yeah." The Commander nodded in agreement. "Iíd like them here too. We all would."

"Displaying Corinthian tactical officerís personal log. Time index 7336.2"

"Compz and Jones have been studying their records and charts and have another wild scheme that has almost no chance of working. The Captain appears more than happy to go along with their ridiculous scheme. Of course this could never happen on a real Starfleet vessel. The Captain would have real officers, not these people telling him what to do.

I watch them in their incompetence while they squabble against one another to show whoís the cleverest. They annoy me, thereís no denying that but serving on this ship has changed me even more than Iíd like to admit. Maybe Iím stretched more due the Captainís lack of experience but I certainly feel more autonomous but even that isnít it. Jones walked by me this morning and put a cup of coffee on my console. To place a beverage on a monitor was a gross violation of protocol and to have one on the bridge was against regulations. He told me it looked like I could use it and then just went back to his station. That would never happen on a true Starfleet vessel either but I just canít imagine serving anywhere else.

Maybe it is the competition between them but their insane plans always seem to work out. Maybe itís the Captainís naivety that lets him make unusual choices and take advice from places no other Captain would look. Somehow this ship has become my home and I never saw it coming until someone brought me a cup of coffee just because it looked like I needed it."

"Itís not a normal Starfleet installation." Doctor Jones told them as the officers sat around the briefing room table. "Iíve been through every classified base and construction facility and none could have produced the Apex. It has to be a new place."

"The Apex is quite small." Katherine said thoughtfully. "How big would a construction yard be to have built her? Perhaps she was built on a mobile structure like a ship?"

"No, it would still be very large. Apart from the construction scaffold it would need stores for the parts, docking ports for material delivery and habitat modules." Haldo frowned. "Certainly too big to hide easily."

"Why build a new facility at all?" Blake rubbed his chin. "What is so special about this ship?"

"Iíve been wondering that myself." Haldo nodded. "Iíve been going over and over the ships details and there is just nothing remarkable about it at all. Itís an interesting design with some clever improvements over other ships but thereís no radical new technology in her that should require a totally new approach to the construction."

"And yet the prototype was sent after the Corinthian?" Blake sighed. "It doesnít make much sense, does it?"

"Well I donít know where the Apex is heading." Doctor Jones told them. "Her course so far was designed to locate us."

"No." Blake said finally. "Weíre going to find where this ship was built."

"But Starfleet would have gone there first if the installation is one of theirs." Jones frowned. "Weíd just be wasting time if we covered the same ground."

"Perhaps they werenít allowed to go there." Blake suggested. "Itís a classified project after all."

"Well if they werenít then we wouldnít either." Clogg added. "Weíre all one big happy family now."

"But thereís one big difference." Blake told him with a furtive grin. "Iím not going to ask for permission."

"One big happy familyÖ" Clogg sighed.

"Displaying Corinthian Captainís log. Time index 7337.2"

"Here we go againÖ"

The Corinthian emerged from her Transwarp journey under cloak at the heart of the system.

"Iím ready." Doctor Jones announced happily with a sideways glance to Haldo.

"Clogg." Blake crossed his arms and stared out at the viewer. Endless stars filled the screen as space stretched on before him infinitely. Their task seemed hopeless, finding a base amidst the sprawling vastness of the Galaxy. "Deploy the beacon."

"Itís away." Clogg confirmed.

"Iíve extrapolated the most likely positions of the base." Doctor Jones began, sending data to the navigational computer. "The detection grid will take a few hours to deploy and will keep expanding after that. Until then we should investigate the leads."

"Agreed." Captain Girling glanced down to the arm of his chair behind him where the information flashed up on a small monitor. "Where is the base most like to be?"

"Well that would depend!" Haldo scratched his head. "What is their priority likely to be?"

"Meaning?" Clogg frowned at the engineer curiously.

"Is security their first priority or is practicality?" Haldo explained. "If theyíve taken pains to hide the place properly then it would make it hard to get equipment delivered. If they are mass producing Starships then theyíll need a good supply of parts."

"Iím detecting a starship!" Doctor Jones stood up excitedly, as the viewer flashed to the image of a vessel. A large cargo freighter was ambling through the sector at a low warp factor with a long train of utility modules trailing behind.

"Not security thenÖ" Haldo smirked.

"Is there any other explanation for that ship being in this region?" Blake frowned.

"On the course theyíre heading theyíll end up leaving Federation space altogether before they get anywhere interesting." Haldo grinned in satisfaction.

"On the path theyíre heading there are two possible sites!" Doctor Jones began. "The first would require a course correction but the second is a small moon that theyíll reach in about four days at their present course and velocity."

"So theyíre in no rushÖ" Clogg scowled thoughtfully. "If they increased to Warp 6 theyíd have been easier to detect due to the energy output. Maybe this is what weíre looking for?"

"Itís definitely a good lead." Blake agreed hesitantly. "Set course for the moon. Letís see whatís there."

"Displaying Darmajaya Captainís log. Time index 7337.3"

"I have made a career in Starfleet over many years. During that time I have respected the chain of command but sometimes I wonder about the reasoning that goes on in the minds of my superiors."

Captain Makarovís face dropped its characteristic smile as he stood at the front of his bridge. "OhÖ MyÖ GodÖ" He muttered to himself at the image in the viewer. The Kraílee loomed ahead of the Starfleet engagement force, itís engines glowing deeply with the massive energy surging through her potent engines.

"More of Girlingís friends!" Commander Arlon mused to herself with her arms clenched firmly behind her back.

"I was expecting a Bird of Prey." The Captain shook his head at the aggressive little ship before them. "Iíve never seen anything like that."

"Apparently itís new." The Commander raised her eyebrows as she read the report on her Padd. "Starfleet engineers were made available to the Klingons to help them upgrade their technology. The Kraílee is the result."

"Starfleet helped make the Klingons more dangerous?" The Captain smiled and shook his head.

"The technology exchange was intended to strengthen our region of space against outside attack." She took a deep breath as she read the data. "It makes sense after our losses to the Borg and Dominion invasions. Even more so with the possibility of the Necrodian attack."

"Well whatever the reason, there it is." The Captain raised his hand toward the viewer to point at the vessel. "Open a hailing frequency."

Suddenly the image flashed to the bridge of the Kraílee. Although Klingon at itís heart the technology was clearly advanced with logical, concise readouts bristling with pertinent data replacing the usual interior of a Klingon vessel that was covered with filth and dry blood.

"Captain Makarov?" The Klingon smirked showing off his slightly blunted teeth as heíd been too busy lately to find time to sharpen them.

"And you must be Kromm." The Captain smiled a greeting. "We were told to expect you."

"Captain Graves has explained the situation to us." The Klingon told him. "We are at your disposal."

"Weíre sending you a new frequency for your shields. It will help us to remain unseen from the Necrodians long range sensors." The Captain began. "We will also relay a tactical overlay of our plan of attack."

"Excellent." The Kromm nodded happily. "We have a cloaking device, I suggest you modify your plans to accommodate that."

The Captain smiled broadly and nodded.

"We also have three Paggran fighters in our cargo hold." He began. "Although rather antiquated their weapons and aggression in battle are somewhat frightening. They have agreed to assist us in the fight."

"GreatÖ" Commander Arlon grumbled under her breath. "When do the Ferengi turn up?"

"I donít believe theyíre invited!" Kromm Said suddenly, surprising the Commander that her sarcastic comment had been overheard. "Perhaps they should have been, after all every race that lives here has a vested interest in defending our border from an aggressive alien species."

"I didnít intend any offence." Commander Arlon stammered nervously, glancing for support to her superior officer.

"I didnít take any." The Klingon shrugged. "Iím here to defend the honour and future of my kind. I happen to believe that the future lies along the same path as that of the Federation and that honour is best served by working together."

"Are you sure youíre really Klingon?" The Captain ventured a joke.

"Quite sure." Kromm agreed. "Thereís more to being a Klingon than trying to destroy everything you can point a disrupter at. I tend to believe that that kind of behaviour is a poor attempt to over-compensate for other perceived weaknesses."

"Well I have to say that Iím very glad to have you on the team." Captain Makarov smirked, relieved that the Kraílee appeared to be an asset to the fleet rather than the complication he had feared it might be.

"Thank you." The Klingon grinned. "Now just give me something to point my disrupters at and get out of my way!"

"Displaying Corinthian Captainís log. Time index 7338.5"

"The trip to the moon was very short. We travelled at conventional warp. Even with the particle purge system in operation Iím dubious about relying on it until itís proven. We may need to jump to Transwarp at any given moment and I want to be ready."

The moon was in orbit around a gas giant planet. It was almost as large as Earth but a deep red in colour and peppered with impact craters from many years of being pummelled by stellar artefacts attracted to the heavy gravity of the planet it was in orbit around.

"Anything?" Blake shrugged impatiently as Doctor Jones and Haldo raced against one another to be the first to discover a lead.

"I have something." Goruss Clogg grinned widely beneath the two fleshy tentacles that framed his mouth. The scientist scowled in annoyance at him. "Iím detecting a slight sub-space variance that could be caused by a holographic projection.

"A hologramÖ" Haldo smacked his palm onto his forehead in dismay at not thinking to check for one.

"Sometimes itís the simple things!" Blake grinned at the disgruntled engineer.

"Heís right." Doctor Jones said in agreement. "Thereís a very simple holographic projection covering a crater big enough to be a small base. Itís projecting out into space."

"The target?" Blake folded his arms expectantly.

"Nothing there." Haldo smiled. "It must be a facility hidden with a hologram in orbit."

"Iím really not detecting anything thereÖ" Clogg shook his head. The energy is being sent up into space but there should be some fluctuation and Iím not detecting anything."

"I am." Doctor Jones said grimly. "Debris. Tiny trace amounts of the kinds of materials youíd expect to see in a construction rig."

"Debris?" Blake stepped forward with a growing sense of alarm. "Are you sure?"

"Heís right." Haldo shook his head solemnly. "Thereís a residual charge of weapons fire. Itís very faint but now I know what Iím looking forÖ"

"I want that hologram taken down." Blake turned angrily to the main viewer. "Iím not interested in subtlety. Get it down now, we need to see whatís happened."

"I can tune the Phaser canon to an inverse frequency of a standard holographic signal." Haldo suggested. "It would overload the projectors instantly."

"Do itÖ" Blake commanded bluntly.

"Give me a second." Haldo craned over the controls and began making the modifications.

"The weapon energy is Federation." Doctor Jones said with a sorrowful shake of his head. "High powered Phaser. The Apex must have done this to cover her tracks."

"And as a classified project nobody bothered to come and check." Blake grumbled. "Secrets are a cage that the people who use them live inside of!"

"Ready!" Haldo snapped up from the console.

"Fire!" Blake said as the weapon lashed out at the surface.

With a flash of energy the hologram broke away and melted softly into nothing. It decayed away swiftly, flickering with arcing yellow flashes as the base was revealed beneath the projection of an artificial mountain.

The base was a circular installation like the saucer section of a large Starship embedded on the rust coloured surface of the planet. Around the perimeter tendrils of technology snaked out over the scarred surface of the alien world to various pieces of machinery and cylindrical shelters. In the centre a large emitter projector poked up into the stratosphere and had been projecting the protective hologram into space.

"Oh my god." Haldo shook his head, his eyes flicking reflexively away from the image on the viewer of the desolate Starfleet base. The surface of the structure was littered with holes drilled through it with a powerful Phaser.

"No life signs." Clogg reported calmly from his station.

"Is life support functioning?" Blake turned to the Doctor who stared at him with his mouth gaping open in surprise.

"Youíre beaming down?" He gasped.

"Iíll take that as a yes!" Blake nodded. "Haldo, Katherine. Youíre with me."

Haldo stood up instantly and then frowned deeply as he realised how automatic his responses had become to instructions that risked his life.

"Clogg." The Captain sighed and turned to the tactical console. "I want you to keep monitoring for any sign of the Apex. They shouldnít have followed us here and shouldnít have been able to keep up but keep your eyes on the sensors."

"And if I see them?" Clogg frowned.

"Youíre authorised to use whatever force you feel is necessary to defend this ship." Blake scowled. "Disable them if you can."

"I understand." Clogg nodded in agreement, understanding the deeper implications of the orders.

"Clogg." Blake hesitated and turned back to his officer. "Thatís your old Captain out there. If you have any problems with my orders then Iíll have you relieved and there wonít be any negative comments in your records."

"This is my ship." Clogg smiled thinly. "Iíve never had any problem with any orders Iíve been given during my time aboard. You can trust me to continue to serve to the best of my abilities."

"More than good enough." Blake nodded.

The three emerged in the middle of a flickering blue light from the transporter beam aboard the wreckage of the installation. Katherine snapped open her medical tricorder and began a more detailed scan for life-signs while Haldo began taking readings with a specially modified Tricorder set to his own specifications.

Blake glanced around the damaged machinery and made his way gingerly through the tattered remnants to the central data core interface.

"It looks like a bridge." Haldo noted conversationally. "Not too old either, perhaps Ambassador class."

"It looks like the whole installation is a modified Ambassador saucer section." Blake frowned thoughtfully as he began trying to coax the computers back to life.

"That would certainly save a lot of time." Katherine added.

"The question is why they were in such a hurry." Haldo said grimly. "Itís hardly Starfleet normal procedure to drop Starship parts onto a planetoid surface to serve as a base."

"Not really." Blake agreed. "Why not just leave a ship in orbit?"

"Energy." Haldo announced, dropping his tricorder to his side. "In orbit a ship would be using various systems to maintain itself. This way they can keep the energy signature low enough not to be easily detected and still have power to erect the hologram."

"There were thirty two permanent residents of the station." Blake announced as the information appeared on the only remaining monitor that appeared to function. "According to the logs, most of them were in the orbital construction yards when records ceased. Only one person was here in the control room."

"Found him!" Katherine called out grimly as she stood over the remains of the officer. "Whatís left of him."

Blake and Haldo exchanged glances before moving quickly to her side. "He died of plasma burns when the console exploded." She explained sadly. "He was at a communications panel so I think itís safe to assume he knew what was happening and was trying to call for help."

"We donít know that." Blake reminded her.

"Not a nice way to go." Haldo shook his head, his sad eyes fixed on the fallen Starfleet officer.

"There are three other people in the complex." Katherine read from the screen of her tricorder. "They all died in the same place." She held her Tricorder up to Haldo. He compared her reading to those he had taken.

"Thatís the power regulation plant." He shrugged and took a deep breath. "It took the heaviest damage in the attack."

"Why so few people?" Blake rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "How can you build a ship in two weeks with less personnel than it takes to fully staff it?"

"Maybe the shipís crew assisted in the construction?" Katherine suggested.

"Iíve never heard of that happening but it does make sense to have an experienced team on hand in the construction of their own ship." Haldo shrugged. "If they can build a vessel in two weeks then it might well become standard practice."

"The future of Starfleet designÖ" Katherine raised an eyebrow furtively as she remembered Captain Morrowís assertions.

"He knew exactly where to hit them." Blake turned to Haldo. "That means that Captain Faruqui was here long enough to become familiar with the base. He knew these people. He knew their names, he probably ate with them and saw them call their families."

"Now thereís a cheery thought!" Haldo grimaced openly at the idea. "Iíve done some preliminary scans of the station and I canít find a lot of the things I expected to see."

"Like what?" Blake crossed his arms and leant back with interest for him to continue.

"There are no spare parts, no ship building equipment." Haldo shrugged. "They could have all been in orbit but the amount of debris suggests that whatever was up there had a low mass. I doubt they would have built all this just to construct one vessel!"

"A low mass doesnít bear out the idea that most of the station personnel was up there." Blake scowled. "To have supported that many people the construction yard must have had offices. Could they have really also stored the parts to build a ship?"

"No." Haldo said bluntly. "They couldnít. I donít understand it. This base is more like a station to test a ship than build one."

"Maybe thatís what it was?" Katherine shrugged. "Could the parts of the ship be delivered here for assembly?"

"Maybe thereís some critical new part of the design that means the final work has to be done at a special facility?" Haldo suggested thoughtfully.

"Well the Captain went to a lot of trouble to hide whatever it was." Blake said finally. "Upload the station logs to the Corinthian computer. Weíll analyse them on the way."

"There is one other lead we have to investigate." Haldo grinned as realisation caught him.

"Iím listening." Blake glanced back at him hopefully.

"That ship heading this way!" He shrugged. "Thereís nothing here to show us what happened but that ship is coming to deliver another one."

Blake smiled.

"There it is againÖ" Doctor Jones waved his arm at the readout on his station. "A faint electro-magnetic pulse coming from our own hull. It doesnít make sense, itís radiating from us but not coming off of us. Weíre cloaked, nothing should be able to permeate out screens."

"Youíve been tracking this since before we arrived." Clogg shook his head. "Itís nothing to do with this base, is it?"

"I suppose not." The Doctor sighed and turned away from the security officer in dismay.

"Then I suggest you report the problem to Haldo and when all this is over the engineering team can look into it." He told him bluntly. "For now keep monitoring for signs of the Apex."

"But the pulses are getting more frequent." The Doctor protested. "It must mean something!"

"Doctor!" Clogg snapped. "You have your orders."

"Who left you in charge?" He scowled, peering over to the burly officer like a scolded child.

"Displaying Darmajaya Captainís log. Time index 7338.6"

"In all the years Iíve been serving in the fleet Iím glad to say Iíve never been called upon to go to war. Happily all-out conflict is simply not something that happens very often. Only the Dominion had the same attitude to war as we did. The Cardassians attitude was much less aggressive, they fight like theyíre playing chess, small hits and runs, all about tactics and minimal losses. Few species have the same taste for destruction that Humans have. Even the Borg werenít interested in destroying us, only in fulfilling their ends.

But now Iíve been selected to begin a war or end one. The Necrodians have shown themselves to have a brutal attitude to conflict and Iím to face them. I can only hope Iím equal to the task but if I am does that make me more HumanÖ or less?"

Captain Makarov sipped gingerly at his drink. It was foul beyond his wildest dreams but he was sure that if he drank it with enough frequency the flavour would grow on him. It was a herbal tea blend that had been popular in ancient china. His wife virtually forced him to drink it due to the health benefits but it was for personal reasons that he continued to drink it while away from her. For some reason all of the really great Captains had had their odd little quirks and he felt like he should best continue in that tradition. The man he admired most throughout history was the great Captain Jean Luc Picard who had himself once commanded a Galaxy class vessel. He was known to drink Earl Grey tea, a blend even more foul than the feted green herbal blend his wife insisted on. Other notable officer drank anything from Klingon Raktajino to normal Earth Coffee in huge quantities; like a Starfleet Captain who had recently been promoted to the rank of Admiral due largely to her stupidity; a wise political decision to put her somewhere they could keep a closer eye on her.

He was already an accomplished officer. Few officers in Starfleet climbed the ranks to become master of their own vessel but fewer still managed to take the centre seat on a Galaxy class Starship. Apart from a handful of other ships the Galaxy remained one of the most auspicious postings in the fleet and the dream and aspiration of all.

The door bleeped twice to signify that someone outside of his ready room sought an audience with their Captain. He pushed the tea to one side and swallowed hard to better remove the taste from his palate.

"Enter." He smiled.

The door slid instantly open as the Commander stepped through. Her face was severe as always it was but there was an extra element to her austere expression.

"What is it?" He frowned.

"Weíve detected the Necrodians on an intercept course." She said simply. "They have crossed our extreme long range sensor threshold. We expect them to fall within weapons range in seven hours if they maintain their present course."

"Right on queue." He hung his head. "Move the fleet to yellow alert and instigate last minute battle drills." He ordered sadly. "Warn the whole fleet to move to red alert at my signal and prepare to engage the enemy early in case they accelerate."

"Yes sir." She nodded and turned to leave.

"Mica." He called out as she stepped up to the automated entrance. She turned back. "Good luck to us all." He said softly.

"Yes Sir." She smiled back warmly.

"Displaying personal log Doctor Harold Jones. Time index 7338.8"

"Of all the members of this crew Iím the one they have the greatest right to hate. Itís true I designed the Corinthian and was involved in the project to convert Borg technology into something we could use. I genuinely believed that what I was doing was for the good of all the Federation. It wasnít until I met the people who lived the lives I was touching that my eyes opened.

I work hard to put my past behind me and they seem to accept me more and more. I have nowhere else to go, thatís true but even if I did I think Iíd choose to stay here."

"According to the charts itís a class T heavy transport." Doctor Jones said conversationally as the Corinthian slunk anonymously alongside the freighter with her cloaks still engaged. "Light armament, good forward deflector grid. Big but nothing special, there are fourteen in service within the Federation."

"Can you scan the interior?" Blake stood up and stepped closer to the viewer, taking in every detail of the large ship.

"I can get a partial scan." The Doctor narrowed his eyes and frowned an apology. "The hull has multiple skins with power conduits running close to the outer surface. The cargo modules are also equipped with level 4 force-field projectors in case of dangerous cargo so the scans are being scattered."

"If you had to guess?" Clogg asked impatiently.

"It has parts of a ship on board." Jones shrugged. "Lots of parts."

"Then we have our answer." Katherine shrugged. "The base was just an assembly line."

"It looks that way." Blake frowned and rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"Wait a second!" The Doctor stood up suddenly. "Something just crossed our detector grid at the heart of the system." He looked up with a look of horror. "Itís a cloaked ship."

"Theyíre on to us." Clogg suggested. "The Apex must have tracked us here."

"If they know weíre here then theyíll know about this freighter." Captain Girling turned from the viewer and gestured with his thumb to the gigantic space ship.

"More loose ends for them to tie up?" Haldo frowned. "What are you going to do?"

"We will have to lure them away." Blake said without a moment of hesitation. "We canít allow them to attack another Federation vessel."

"Displaying Wanderer 2 Captainís log. Time index 7339.7"

"Iím half Klingon and ready for a fight with anyone. Winston says he doesnít even like to take shore leave with me any more because I get him into too much trouble. This is different, this time a lot of us arenít just going to wake up in a cell with a headache the next morning. This time a lot of us arenít going to walk away.

I have to admit that as the time draws in my enthusiasm for battle is diminishing rapidly."

The image of a silver mushroom shaped vessel floated over the briefing room table. Captain Graves stared at it, shaking his head periodically as the image rotated slowly around the horizontal axis.

"Itís certainly big." Captain Makarov said finally, breaking the silence among the other Commanding officers sat around the Darmajayaís briefing lounge.

"Yes." Kromm agreed with a huff. "Do we have an exact measurement?"

"Isnít "big" enough?" Graves sneered at the Klingon.

"Five and a half kilometres in length." Commander Arlon told him. "Nearly four in diameter. The tail seems to house their version of a warp drive and it travels upwards instead of on a forwards plane like we do."

"We donít know much about the weapons systems except that theyíre powerful enough to have utterly destroyed the Olympus and surgically disabled the Resilient." Captain Makarov began. "We have reason to suspect that there are survivors from both of these attack still on board as someone was able to transmit the shield frequencies to us."

"Reader." Kromm said with absolute confidence.

"Weíd all like to think so." Makarov nodded, choosing not to dampen his Klingon enthusiasm. "The problem is that we donít know where they are aboard."

"I assume weíre having this meeting because you canít tell enough from the design of the ship to decide where to hit her to cripple it." Commander morrow raised an eyebrow suspiciously.

"I wish I had better news." The Captain sighed. "Weíve been going over what little we know but the simple answer is that the ship works on principals so utterly different to our own that we donít know how to stop it from going back to warp without simply doing as much damage as we possibly can and hoping to hit a vital function."

"And hoping not to hit our own people." Captain Graves caught the gist of the problem.

"We believe that the glowing centre is a power conversion system as well as the deflector." Commander Arlon added. "We believe it should be our principal target."

"That isnít really the reason youíve called this meeting though, is it?" The big Klingon said with a wry smile.

"No." He hung his head sadly. "I have some news for all of you." He looked up from the report to the expectant faces of the Captains of each ship in the fleet. "Starfleet has made policy on this issue and has forwarded orders for me to relay to the fleet."

"This doesnít sound good." Commander Morrow frowned, suspecting what was coming next.

"Starfleet nor the Klingon Empire is in a strong position to defend our borders after the losses we have incurred from the Dominion war and the Borg invasions." He began. "Our planetary defences are stretched to breaking point and we simply cannot risk that ship breaking through our lines. Stopping that ship is the number one priority. Rescuing our people is a secondary consideration. Nothing is more important that preventing that vessel from entering further into our territory."

"As a Klingon that is not just understood, it is an accepted way of life." Kromm smiled supportively. "You will not be disappointed with our performance."

"For those of us that donít ram other ships for fun?" Morrow grumbled the question while the other officers began shifting uneasily in their seats. "Could we have the literal translation?"

"We donít matter." Captain Graves told him softly. "If we have to die to stop that ship then thatís what we do."

"I seeÖ" Morrow shook his head and sighed heavily.

"Is that a problem?" Captain Makarov asked without accusation.

"I knew that." He began. "I knew that this would likely be my last day alive but to hear it out loud is another thing. To hear it sent from Starfleet just brings all my nightmares to life."

"My nightmares are all alive already and walking the corridors of that ship." Kromm told him. "If itís any consolation you wonít be the first to die. I can assure you of that."

"Considering the risk of capture we have one more order from head quarters to follow." The Captain began again. He handed out Padds to the officers around the briefing tables. "You are all to set your vessels to self-destruct in either the event that all internal life-signs cease or if the vessel loses control for more than ten seconds."

"A wise precaution!" Kromm agreed. "I had already instigated my own protocols aboard my ship but I can extend the time to ten seconds."

"Displaying Corinthian Captainís log. Time index 7339.8"

"Well, we have a plan. The monitoring system was meant to be taken down just as quickly as it was put up. If this works I need to cripple the Apex as quickly as possible and lock onto Captain Faruqui. If I can beam him off the ship then I hope to be able to bring the Apex down quickly, before she can hurt the freighter or before she ends up hurting herself."

"Emit the feedback pulse!" Blake ordered. Doctor Jones duly complied and a high frequency signal was sent from the Corinthian into the network of sensor relays that had automatically deployed. The ones at the centre began to erupt in a flash sending signals up the lines for the others to follow suit. The Corinthian sensors lit up with the image or thousands of relays vanishing in small electrical explosions.

"The cloaking device on the Apex is failing!" Haldo cried out triumphantly. "The energy from the network has over-loaded it."

"Are we in firing range?" Blake asked, already setting the cannon to discharge just the right amount of energy.

"Ready!" Clogg agreed. A blast shot out and smashed into the cloaking device coils at the Apexís nose. It erupted instantly in a fiery ball of torn metal. A second beam lashed out at the Apexís exposed nacelle while the ship struggled to raise her shields. The beam caught the central hub at the front of the engine and the energy stuttered throughout the vessel as it banked away firing her own Phasers.

"Open hailing frequencies." Blake ordered as he stepped up to the viewer.

"Channel open." Ensign Rogers confirmed as the image of the Apex bridge appeared before them.

"Stand down!" Blake told Captain Faruqui angrily. "Itís over."

"I donít think so." He sneered back as his officers began to compensate for the damage. He drew his finger over his throat and the signal cut immediately.

"He doesnít want to talk!" Katherine shook her head, unable to communicate further with the enemy vessel.

"Theyíre charging weapons." Clogg warned.

Blake sighed and shook his head solemnly. "Fire." He commanded. "Weapons and engines only."

The Corinthian released several fine beams of crackling energy that licked across the shields of the Apex as they began to rise to full power. The nacelles flashed and dulled as they drew more energy to their defences. She returned a lacklustre attack with a streak of Phaser power that exploded harmlessly over the Corinthian.

A final beam lashed out and caught the Apex in the side of the primary hull. A panel exploded instantly her main power conduit that fed energy to the weapons exploded sending a plume of flame lashing out from her crippled side.

The Apex drifted helplessly, rolling over as her thrusters remained inert and unable to correct her. Yellow and orange light flickered angrily beneath her damaged hull as the repair systems struggled to raise force-fields and protect the ship from the ravages of vacuum. A final beam fired out from the Apex, weak and hopeless. It crackled over the Corinthianís shields harmlessly.

"That was their last reserves. Weapons are now inactive." Clogg reported calmly, hanging his head in regret. Firing on the Federation vessel had brought him no satisfaction in his work.

"Good work." Blake told him encouragingly. He turned to Katherine. "Open a channel. Instruct them to surrender and offer whatever assistance they require to maintain life-support."

"Theyíre firing!" Clogg snapped up suddenly in surprise. "A torpedoÖ"

Blake turned in surprise to his security officer. "Lock Phaser onto it."

"Itís not aimed at us!" Clogg frowned curiously and ran his fingers quickly over the diagnostic panel. His frown deepened as he looked back up to his Captain. "Iíve lost it!"

"It cloaked." Haldo reported. "That was no ordinary torpedo, theyíve refitted it with a cloaking device."

"Where?" Blake turned back to Clogg.

"Theyíve fired at the cargo ship." He growled angrily. "At warp speed it should hit the target in twenty three minutes."

"Theyíre hailing us." Katherine called out.

Blake nodded at her and the image of the Apex bridge appeared again on the viewer.

"I imagine youíll be leaving us?" Captain Faruqui grinned at his foe.

"Youíre firing on an innocent Federation transport." Blake pleaded, hoping to recover some shred of decency in the renegade Captain. "Deactivate the weapon, please!"

"Iíll be gone by the time you get back!" Faruqui continued unabated, turning away and clasping his hands thoughtfully behind his back before continuing. "Iíll be coming after you again though. I wonít stop until your ship is destroyed."

"Is that all you care about?" Blake scowled. "Youíve gone from a Starfleet officer to a sociopath maniac working for the enemy you once fought to stop! How can you now be taking orders from Section 31? What happened to you?"

"The clock is ticking." Faruqui told him darkly with a cruel smile. "Iím focusing a sub-space scattering beam at the ship, you wonít be able to contact them unless youíre within transporter range. Youíd better hurry!"

The image on the screen vanished as Blake turned away. "Transwarp now!" He ordered.

The Corinthian exploded from her Transwarp journey in sight of the mammoth cruiser. It was a huge vessel with a narrow forward hull and a long modular spine stretching back with rows of cargo modules.

"Hail them!" Blake instructed softly, his mind locked into the sensor array, scanning for any sign of the cloaked torpedo.

"Theyíre responding." Katherine quickly flicked the image up on the viewer.

The Captain of the merchant cruiser stood up and stepped forwards with a puzzled expression as he shrugged to himself. "Hello." He began, smiling awkwardly. "Can I help you."

"A torpedo has been fired at your vessel." Captain Girling warned. "Itís cloaked and you wonít be able to detect it."

"What?" His smile vanished instantly to be replaced with a frown of deepening concern while his bridge was quickly plunged into muted silence. "Who would fire on us?"

"What is your crew compliment?" Clogg called out as he scanned the vessels tactical abilities and found them inadequate.

"We have a crew of 109." The Captain shook his head, rubbing his temples nervously. "Weíre only carrying cargo, no passengers."

"MuteÖ" Blake turned from the viewer to his crew. "What are their chances?"

"Poor." Clogg admitted with a sigh. "Theyíre tactical grid is very weak. A direct torpedo strike to the mid-engine section would knock out their shields entirely and possibly overload their warp core. They should have been running with an escort but it looks like Starfleet didnít want to draw attention to them."

"Blake, we canít let them abandon the ship." Katherine added. "Their life boats couldnít reconnect to the ship and they couldnít get out of range if the warp core exploded. Weíll have to beam them here."

"109 people?" Doctor Jones sneered. "Where would we put them?"

"Thereís a seat right next to me that doesnít appear to have anything useful in it." Haldo offered, glaring at the Doctor evenly with a crooked smile.

"Weíll consider that as a last resort." Blake rubbed his chin and glanced back at the image on the viewer.

"If they dumped their cargo we could vaporise it with our cannon." Haldo suggested. "The debris particles would show the path of an approaching torpedo to about 5 kilometres. Maybe 6."

"Would that give us enough time to shoot down a torpedo?" Blake frowned at the dubious plan.

"I couldnít react that fast!" Clogg shook his head. "I could set up a program that would automatically fire though."

"Do it." Blake instructed optimistically as he turned to the viewer. "I have some instructions for you and your crew!"

"Weíll happily follow your orders!" The Captain assured him nervously, only too happy to comply.

"I need you to eject your entire cargo into space." Blake told them firmly. "Then raise your shields to maximum and move your crew to the most secure parts of your vessel."

"It would help their chances if they disconnected their core." Haldo suggested.

"Can you keep your shields up without your warp-core?" Blake turned back to the merchant Captain.

"For an hour or soÖ" He shrugged his reply. "Less if weíre attacked."

"That will do!" Blake nodded.

"The program is set!" Clogg looked up from his console. "Weíll automatically target any torpedo entering the region."

"Theyíre ejecting their cargo." Katherine told them as the huge boxes arranged around the vessel fired explosive bolts and released their loads to drift out into space.

"Wait a second." Doctor Jones frowned from his science console. "Those arenít parts for an Apex type ship."

"What then?" Clogg asked with sudden interest.

"Junk." Jones cocked his head to one side and frowned thoughtfully. "Parts from dozens of old ships, just junk."

"Itís a decoy or a trap." Clogg said angrily.

"Maybe not." Blake said thoughtfully. "ÖBut thereís still over a hundred people over there for us to protect so we hold our ground."

"Firing cycle locked in." Clogg told them. "Iíve set the energy discharge to blast the debris as far out from the ship as possible while keeping it dense enough to spot the torpedo. I think I might be able to give us about 6 kilometres."

"Fire." Blake nodded.

Clouds of parts flooded out of the gaping cargo boxes that ran along the massive Federation freighter. The Corinthian fired a beam of energy from the cannon in her nose and the cloud of twisted wreckage began to erupt in furious blasts that vaporised the debris into microscopic particles.

"Displaying Darmajaya Captainís log. Time index 7333.9"

"The battle drills went rather well. Weíre as ready as we can be. The battle-bridge is fully manned and the connection bolts are fitted with explosive charges. We can perform an emergency separation no matter what damage we take now. That was the Commanderís idea. Sheís been an excellent officer but I think Iíll be losing her soon. Sheís ready to take a ship of her own and we both know it. I have enjoyed working with her but itís been a bit of a strain having my daughter-in-law as my first officer.

I toured the ship. The crew seems optimistic. Thereís a general air that weíre going to beat them easily. I certainly donít know where that comes from but morale is high so Iím hardly complaining."

"Red alertÖ" Captain Makarov ordered grimly.

"Red alert!" The Commander repeated. "Shields to maximum, charge weapons. All crew to battle stations."

"The fleet has responded." Lieutenant Drax added to the sporadic melee of efficient activity around the bridge of the huge vessel. "All ships are going to full tactical alert."

"At the front of the vessel is the deflector array." The Commander began loudly enough for all officers to hear. "We believe that a concerted attack on that point will stop the Necrodians from returning to warp. We have their shield frequencies and target co-ordinates have been sent to the fleet."

"Without doubt theyíll adjust their shield frequencies when they realise what advantage we have." The Captain stood up from his chair slowly and dominated his bridge, his words plunging the officers to silence as they gave him their full and undivided attention. "We need to hit them hard and fast to stop them from fleeing. Once we trap them here we need to begin scanning the vessel for our people. We all know what we have to do."

"Sub-space eddies are increasing." The systems officer reported. "Theyíll emerge from warp in ten seconds."

"Good luck everyone." The Captain smiled emptily as his heart leapt in his chest and his body flooded with adrenaline. "Lock weaponsÖ"

The seconds dragged by as the officers watched empty space on the main viewer. A pair of lights danced back and forth at the base of the image projection screen as the countdown continued in silence. Suddenly a white flash exploded in the centre of the viewer.

"Fire torpedoes." Makarov ordered coldly. "Full spread."

"Displaying Wanderer 2 Captainís log. Time index 7334.0"

"Weíve received all the data that the Darmajaya could send us. Weíre fully staffed, our weapons have all had a diagnostic scan by the engineering team, the shields have had a full test, the engines have been protected with a class 4 force field and Iíve had a gigantic glass of Scotch. Weíre ready!"

"Fire torpedoes." Captain Graves grinned as the warp effect melted away from the enemy ship. The image of the Necrodian vessel hung huge on the Wandererís viewer. It looked hopelessly vast, dwarfing the Galaxy class ship that was heading up their fleet. The craft was old and worn. Vast areas of darkness streaked across the smooth metallic hull and the central engine area glowed a deep, burning yellow, crackling with power.

"Torpedoes away." Commander Morrow agreed as the viewer lit up with the image of seven glowing red missiles hurtling through space at the alien vessel. "Phasers locked. Firing at the hub."

"Did I tell you to fire?" Graves frowned suddenly.

"The fleet is under standing instructions to fire everything at the hub." The Commander reminded him as a flickering orange beam cut out from the forward weapons array at the upper tip of the ships saucer.

In the distance the gigantic vessel seemed to be reeling under the massive onslaught of angry weapons from a dozen sources each unleashing their power.

"Move us in closer." Graves said with a lop-sided smirk. "And fire at will."

"Closer?" Morrow snapped round to the Captain. "Are you mad? The Kraílee is leading the first wave once we have word from the USS Darmajaya."

"I think we should be attackingÖ" The Captain frowned to himself thoughtlessly.

"I think we should wait for word from the command ship." The Commander surreptitiously began locking the Captain out of the controls in readiness for his next stupid comment.

"You know what your problem isÖ" Graves smirked at his old friend. "You have no sense of adventure."

"You know what your problem is?" Morrow countered, turning to the Captain. "You just donít have enough left to live for!"

"You may be right." He nodded in agreement with a wistful glimmer in his old eyes. "But we finally have something worth dying for and thereís nobody Iíd rather have along side me."

"I need to be more careful choosing my friends in future." Morrow smiled and turned to the viewer. The Necrodian vessel lashed out with a particle weapon and caught the Kraílee on her port wing. The shields arced angrily under the violent assault and she broke off her attack run firing another stream of burning torpedoes into the gargantuan vessel as she retreated to lick her wounds. "Maybe now is not the best time to be worrying about the future."

"Today is a good dayÖ" Graves smiled. "Increase to maximum Impulse. Lock weapons on anything on that ship that looks important and engage!"

"Displaying Corinthian tactical officerís log. Time index 7334.2"

"The program set into the computer was totally autonomous. No organic species could have reacted fast enough to an incoming torpedo with only 6 kilometres to lock weapons onto it. The Corinthian can do it but only just. Iím only projecting a 60 percent chance of success."

"Got it!" Clogg nodded in relief. "The torpedo hadnít armed the anti-matter, the shields took the blast, there shouldnít be any casualties."

"Now all we have to do is find the Apex." Haldo sighed. "Again."

"Any ideas?" Katherine breathed out heavily. "Hang on, weíre being hailed."

"Hailed?" Blake turned to her and raised an eyebrow as he wondered why she would think that unusual. "The merchants?"

"No." She shook her head grimly. "The Apex."

"On screen." He instructed, turning to the imaging system as the Apex bridge flashed up on the central panel.

"Well done." Captain Faruqui goaded. "A very inventive solution."

"Thank you." Blake replied coldly, his temper swelling inside him as he battled to maintain his composure.

"You did me quite a lot of damage." Faruqui sighed, looking around at the few officers engaged in repairs. "Iím back under cloak and well clear of you now."

"I imagine weíll be seeing you again?" Blake sneered angrily at his enemy.

"I think you can count on that." Faruqui agreed. "I havenít finished with you yet. Not by a long way."

"Me too." Blake assured him.

"Until then." The screen flashed off, the image replaced by the empty cargo vessel drifting in space helplessly.

"Iím detecting a warp-core breach." Clogg frowned. "Twenty-one light years from our position."

"The Apex?" Katherine frowned, attempting to lock the transceiver array on the communications frequency. "No sign of it."

"My god." Haldo shook his head regretfully. "I guess we did more damage than we thought."

"I know my job!" Clogg scowled at the engineer. "I didnít cause that."

"Someone did!" Blake said thoughtfully.

"BlakeÖ" Katherine looked up from the communications channel. "The fleetÖ"

"The fleet?" He asked, stepping over to her quickly.

"Theyíve engaged the Necrodians." Her eyebrows pitched up in an expression of hopelessness.

"How long at Transwarp?" He turned to Haldo.

"An hour." If I really push her I can do it in 30 minutes but it would over-load the purge system, we wouldnít be able to Transwarp for another ten hours."

"Transwarp now!" He instructed. "I have someone I need to talk to in the mean time."

Blake turned to leave the bridge and turned back to Doctor Jones. "Scan the baseís records. Go over your own readings. I want to know everything about the residual weapons charge you detected."

"Ok!" He nodded with an expression that he found the orders confusing.

"At least one problem has solved itself." Haldo quipped. "Good riddance I say."

"There but for the grace of god goes I!" Blake told him sadly as he left.

"Displaying Blake Girling personal log. Time index 7334.3"

"None of this added up but I think Iíve figured out enough of it to make a guess at what Section 31 have been up to. My temper is still under control but only barely. Iíve never felt the same as before my body was riddled with implants. The anger fills me, I can hardly control it but just this once Iím not going to try. There was at least one person on board that knew more than me and sheís going to regret playing her part."

Captain Girling stepped into the medical bay and the doors slid shut behind him as if making a point of their own.

"Captain!" The Section 31 officer barely looked up from the single bio-bed where she languished behind a force-field that locked her in.

"The Apex was destroyed." He told her flatly.

"I knew you could do it." She shrugged, a wry smile on her cruel lips. "There was never any doubt in my mind."

"I didnít do anything." He told her, stepping forwards closer to the force field. The invisible screen suddenly vanished with a vague flicker of light and he was free to touch her.

Captain Morrow stood up in alarm and stepped reflexively away from him as he slowly stalked closer.

"You killed him, didnít you?" He said accusingly.

"From here?" She raised her hands as she quickly discarded his suggestion.

"Section 31. You killed him. You caused his Warp-Core breach." Blake told her. "But you did more than that, didnít you?"

"I donít know what you meanÖ" She stammered, her eyes locking onto his furious gaze that never once faltered as it bore into her.

"You had the base destroyed as well. You had Starfleet officers killed." He continued.

"I donít know what you think you know." She told him nervously, sensing in him the fury that broiled beneath the surface.

"You never intended to capture the Corinthian." Blake told her coldly. "You knew the Apex wasnít up to it. You sent him out here to die. You set him up to fail."

"I wasnít involved." She shook her head. "I told you the truth."

"But you didnít tell me that it was a test." Blake stepped up a few inches from her, her body was pressed up against the wall. "Did you know that my mind is connected to my ship? Did you know I can control all the systems with a thought?"

"Yes." She whispered in fear.

"I could cut life-support around you or I could beam you off my ship one square inch at a time." He told her coldly, his anger lighting his eyes.

"It was a test." She acceded weakly, her voice cracking. "We needed to test the Apex in the real world.

"So you sent her out to fight for real." Blake growled at her through gritted teeth. He shook his head in disgust. The room filled with a low hum as the transporters began to lock on to their target.

"No waitÖ" The Captain pressed herself still harder against the bulkhead in fear.

"Why me?" Blake asked as the humming grew louder.

"It was Faruqui." She stammered awkwardly. "We couldnít send the Apex after an alien. We couldnít provoke another species and we couldnít risk the Apex falling into the hands of our enemies. We knew that Faruqui would happily go after you and that youíd kill him. We knew youíd wipe out any trace of him. We knew the Apex couldnít beat you but we could at least see how well she performed. He wasnít just expendable, he was a liability and we needed to be rid of him."

"But I didnít destroy it." Girling sneered angrily at her.

"NoÖ" She admitted, her eyes flashing round the narrow bay looking for signs of the transporter signal bearing down on her, waiting for the technology to take the first bite out of her.

"Why?" He asked, his head slowly moving menacingly towards her.

"I donít know." She stammered fearfully. "I really donít."

He silently glowered into her eyes. "I donít know." She continued. "The Apex was different. It was special in some way. They didnít know if it would work. I donít know anything more than that. Everything else I told you was true."

"Because of your secrets and lies the crew of the construction yard is dead." Blake began scolding her angrily. "Because of you the crew of the Apex died without ever knowing why. Because of you the fleet has engaged the Necrodians without me."

"Iím just doing my job!" She insisted weakly as the hum of the transporter continued growing in pitch.

"Your lies have cost you your ship." Blake told her, stepping back and relaxing slightly. "Your lies have cost you your career."

"And what about your career?" She glanced about the bay in a way that approached panic. "What will Starfleet do when they hear about this?"

Suddenly the door over-ride triggered and the hatch slid open. Blake turned to see Katherine step into her sick-bay.

"What the hell is going on?" She demanded in annoyance. After a cursory glance around she reached out and scooped up a sample jar filled with a thick grey liquid. "Blake, turn off the speakers, theyíre going to break my beakers if this noise continues."

Instantly the hum vanished from the bay and Blake smiled back at her. "Sorry." He said simply.

"What?" Captain Morrow gasped, reaching out for something to lean against, her heart pounding in her chest.

Captain Girling stopped to wink at her as he left.

"Displaying Darmajaya Captainís battle log. Time index 7334.4"

"They quickly adapted to our Phasers. It seemed that their shields worked in a different way to ours. According to the engineers they had all the properties of a solid object. Our advantage didnít last long and certainly not long enough."

The Darmajaya raced across the shimmering silver surface of the Necrodian vessel, lashing out with her Phasers. Suddenly a huge hole erupted on the vessels hull, spewing plating out into space and revealing a vast gaping orifice big enough to swallow any Starfleet vessel.

"Iíve found them!" The Commander cried out in triumph. "Iíve found over two hundred distinct humanoid life signs aboard the ship."

"Can we lock our transporters onto them?" The Captain jumped up from his seat excitedly.

"Weíll have to drop our shields as we make a pass." The Commander said thoughtfully, shaking her head reflexively, not relishing the prospect. "We could call another vessel to draw fire for us."

Makarov winced at the screen as another Necrodian energy weapon tore into a small Oberth class ship, rocking it from its course with the violence of the blast. "We wonít last long without our shields." He said thoughtfully.

"Incoming hail from the Corinthian!" The security officer said in surprise. "They will emerge from Transwarp in twenty seconds and are offering to assist."

"WaitÖ" The Captain said, raising his fore finger as an idea flashed into his head. "That ship can transport through our shields. They could beam our people up and send them straight on to us."

The Commanderís expression remained impassive as she simply shrugged non-committally at the idea.

"Open a channel." The Captain grinned. "This is going to work!"

The Darmajaya banked hard as the Corinthian cut in under her belly, the pair moving in close to the enemy vessel. The USS Kelly, a small but heavily armed Oberth class vessel came in from behind to draw fire and clear a path over the surface of the huge craft. The Galaxy class vessel blasted out with her ventral Phasers and the energy danced over the metallic hull of the alien vessel.

The Corinthian shot out from under the huge Starfleet vessel and let out a shot from her nose cannon, the Phaser beam exploding through the weakened hull.

"Displaying personal log Haldo Compz. Time index 7334.8"

"About to emerge from Transwarp. My modifications are in place but I doubt theyíll hold. Blake is going to send us in on yet another insane mission but the ship can handle it. If that man was in command of any other Starfleet vessel weíd all be long dead by now but heís not. This is the finest ship ever built and Iím the proud engineer. I know I moan about them but Iím also proud to serve with these people. Iíd never admit it but even Jones has grown on me."

"Iíve got the co-ordinates of 209 humanoid life signs." Haldo grinned excitedly. "Iím beaming them up through the USS Darmajaya shields now!"

"Something is happening!" Doctor Jones warned, frowning deeply and rubbing his forehead anxiously.

"Go on!" Blake barked at him, his attention locked on manoeuvring the little ship through the volleys of beams that were blasting out at them.

"That signal Iíve been monitoring." He explained. "The signal has been increasing in frequency and now itís virtually a constant buzz."

"Will you shut up about that damn signal!" Haldo told him in annoyance as his console flashed down the number of remaining Starfleet officers left aboard the alien ship.

"Something is going to happenÖ" The Doctor protested. "Wonít someone listen to me?"

"No!" Blake told him angrily as the ship banked hard, a beam of energy missing her nacelle by only a few metres and grazing hard against her powerful shields.

"Displaying Darmajaya Captainís battle log. Time index 7334.9"

"I knew it would workÖ"

"Got them all!" The Commander exclaimed in triumph, an emotion mirrored around the bridge. "They did it! All of the people we detected aboard are now in medical isolation in the cargo bay."

"I guess the Corinthian has proved herself." The Captain grinned at her knowingly. "I knew she wouldÖ"

"I suppose it has." She narrowed her eyes at him, annoyed at herself for lowering her defences.

"Sir!" The security officer pointed to the viewer with a sense of urgency. The Corinthian flashed in a brilliant white light, engulfed in a burning effervescent glow.

"What the?" The Captain murmured to himself helplessly as he could only watch as the light melted away.

"Theyíre gone." The Commander said softly.

"No trace of the CorinthianÖ" The security chief agreed solemnly. "No debris, no energy wave, nothing."

"What did they hit her with?" The Commander shook her head. "What has that kind of power?"

"Move the fleet away." The Captain barked, grabbing hold of his thoughts and dragging them back to the fight. "Concentrate fire on the hub as we move back."

The Necrodian vessel drifted without propulsion as the Starfleet vessels moved away, lashing out with their rear weapons as they retreated.

"The Wanderer is requesting information about the Corinthian." The Commander closed her eyes sadly. "They want to know where their friends are."

"Theyíre dead." The Captain shook his head sadly. "Open a channel to the fleet. I have an announcement to make."

"Halt program!" Captain Reader cried out, leaping from his chair in a way that belied his years. He shook his head, wiping his hand over his eyes to clear the tears that blurred his vision "Thank youÖ" He gasped through his laboured breaths. "Thank you all for what you did for us."

The holodeck image remained motionless. The outdated vision of Captain Makarov as a young officer stood before him.

"Thereís nothing left to see." He wiped his arm over his eyes, choking back the tears that rolled down his cheeks.

"There is thirteen hours of footage remaining." The computer told him coldly.

"I donít need to see old images of my friends dying." He sneered at the automated voice. "They diedÖ Thatís all I need to know. There is nothing else."

"Thirteen hours of footage remains in real time." The computer insisted.

"What?" He spun around to the frozen images. "The crew continued to record data for another thirteen hours?"

"Confirmed."

Captain Reader sat awkwardly back down on the seat, his jaw open in surprise. "But they diedÖ" He said finally. The computer failed to reply.

"Cancel commentary. Continue with real-time playbackÖ Show me what the hell happened next!"

 


Proceed to Part 2

 

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