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Star Trek Renegade - 1.4 Viscous Circle 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?

1.4 Viscous Circle

The Corinthian shook slightly as another subspace tremor exploded in the Bimok 3 nebula, sending an electromagnetic vortex arcing through space onto her badly battered defensive shields.

"Dammit." Blake cursed to himself as the entire ship shuddered from the impact.

"We took damage that time." Haldo warned as his engineering panel began sending out a report.

"I knowÖ" Blake grumbled, rubbing his left arm as if the impact had struck him instead of the nacelle pylon.

"Thatís the third time weíve hit a disturbance in the last hour!" Katherine reminded him as she stepped up towards the slightly raised platform.

"Sensors are still not responding." Haldo shrugged. "Maybe itís time to leave?"

Blake looked at Katherines face, her expression was a determined one but her eyes told a different story.

"You want to leave?" He asked with a slight disappointment.

"If the Section 31 scout entered this nebula then theyíve been destroyed by now!" Haldo commented hopefully from his station.

"We donít even know for sure that they came in here." Katherine added. "Captain Reader just tracked them in this area."

"There arenít many other places to hide." Blake sighed to himself, knowing that they were probably right.

"Theyíd have to be crazy to come in here." Haldo told him as the diagnostics began to review the extent of the damage the ship had sustained. "This is just about the toughest ship in Starfleet and weíre struggling to hold it together in here with all the subspace eddies."

"There must be a way to scan through this kind of nebula?" Blake rubbed his temples as he began to seriously consider giving up, although doing so went against his character.

"Not this kind of nebulaÖ" Haldo smiled and waved his hand dismissively. "Itís charged with a rotating energy frequency thatís causing too much subspace interference."

"How about we move closer to the perimeter and have one more go at scanning the entire cloud?" Blake suggested. "There must be some more things we can try."

"Youíre the bossÖ" Haldo smirked. "I have a couple of ideas."

"I thought you might." Blake nodded happily. "Weíll move to the perimeter and contact the Wanderer while we reconfigure the sensor net."

"The further away from the storm centre the better!" Katherine breathed a sigh of relief.

"Iím going to my ready-room." Blake announced. "Haldo, I want a full review of the damage in one hour."

"You can have it nowÖ" Haldo told him with a grin. "But I could find something to do for an hour if you want to waitÖ"

Blake glared over at him before shaking his head and breaking into a broad smile, somehow it seemed impossible to take Haldoís annoying habits seriously no matter how hard he tried.

"Come onÖ" He gestured with his head towards his ready-room.

Captain Graves paced his new bridge, walking briskly with his hands clenched behind his back. His mind was filled with a variety of thoughts, some fairly coherent, some a jumble of nonsensical rhetoric he would have been unable to explain.

"CaptainÖ" Crewman Bokker said again.

"Sorry?" Captain Graves spun around to the careworn face of his new chief engineer now that Haldo spent most of his time on the Corinthian.

"Iíve got the repair estimates you asked for." Bokker repeated, handing him a freshly replicated Padd with the reports neatly laid out on it.

"Any problems?" Graves mumbled, running his eyes over the Padd with disinterest. He was a firm believer that the key to successful command was to surround yourself with a good team who knew their jobs and then sit back and let them do them with the minimum interference.

"Flying through a small transport ship has caused a fewÖ" He began with a grin. "Iíve got most of the weapons working now except I havenít managed to align the port phaser array yet as that is where our collision damage was worst."

"How long?" Graves shrugged, hardly caring.

"A good couple of days." The engineer nodded his head thoughtfully. "I want to run a scan on the super-structure to make sure the ship is still basically sound."

"Youíre doing very well." Graves grinned back. "Haldo would be very pleased with the job youíre doing."

"Thanks." He smiled proudly, he was a young crewman who had left Starfleet to join the Maquis but had failed to find them in so blatant a fashion as to completely disregard a career as a navigator.

"Itís not that bad." Haldo sighed as Blake read through the reports of minor damage. "We hit a subspace eddy on the nacelle and it blew out our Bussard collector for an hour but it regenerated the damaged conduits. That was the worst of it."

"Itís bad enough." Blake sighed. "Iím more worried about the damage to the computer core."

] "That was very minor, just a surge through the shields, it knocked out a few minor circuits in the memory systems, the surge was almost enough to wipe some of our stored engineering files." Haldo told him. "I think we weathered the storm rather well."

Blake flicked the padd down to his desk and leant back thoughtfully.

"If Section 31 ships did come in here, how well would they have faired?" He wondered out loud.

"It depends if they knew something we donít about navigating a Firestorm-class nebula." Haldo stroked his chin thoughtfully. "If a ship like the Violator or a Defiant class came through here the shields would have been compromised on the first hit, they would have taken heavy damage after that."

"What about a Scarab?" Blake added rhetorically.

"Our shields have been upgrading themselves for weeks, theyíre much more resistant than a Scarab." Haldo smiled, proud of the ship that in his own mind at least heíd adopted as his own.

"So if they came in here then our tracking mission is now probably a rescue mission!" Blake offered with a dry smirk.

"We have to find them first!" Haldo agreed.

"You donít think theyíre in here, do you?" Blake asked.

"Not really." Haldo shook his head enthusiastically. "The rim of this nebula would have masked them from our sensors and they would have been under cloak. They couldnít have known about our capabilities so I doubt they would have felt the need to hide in a way that would mean their almost certain death!"

"I tend to agree." Blake sighed.

"I do have some ideas about making the most of our sensorsÖ" Haldo smiled, raising his eyebrow slightly.

"I never doubted you for a secondÖ" Blake leant back and let his friend continue.

"I have analysed the frequency of the subspace eddies." Haldo explained excitedly. "I can cause them with a very tight and precise phaser beam."

"Weíve spent three long days avoiding themÖ" Blake reminded him with a look of puzzlement on his face.

"We need to make two phaser beams connect at the target point to cause the effect, both at an opposite polarity." Haldo continued. "We set it a safe distance from the ship."

"So why would we do that?" Blake shrugged.

"The subspace blast would irradiate anything in range for a few seconds and we simply watch!" Haldo told him with a proud flourish.

"Like a radar pulse?" Blake grinned at the simplicity.

"Only with bigger explosions!" Haldo agreed. "The shock-waves can be very small and localised so if there is a ship in there itís unlikely to be damaged."

"Fine with meÖ" Blake nodded. "Weíll need to warn the Wanderer what weíre doing."

"Iíll need a few hours to map out the co-ordinates." Haldo shrugged.

"Iíll send a class 4 probe out with instructions for them to move away, just in case."

Doctor Harold Jones ran his tricorder up and down the corridor wall while crewman Crowe stood beside him trying not to laugh.

"I saw itÖ" He insisted, gazing hard at the heavy grey panelling like he was afraid that if he dared to blink he might miss what he was looking for.

"Iím sure you did." He agreed, his hand moving up to cover his mouth as he turned slightly away.

Jones huffed his annoyance and shone a torch into the panel. The square grey plate with framed by a delicate latticework of metallic beams that had a tiny intricate pattern of shiny threads running haphazardly over them.

"We took minor damage in this areaÖ" The Doctor explained.

"It was very minor." The crewman retorted. "We didnít need to send a repair crew."

"Thatís the point!" Jones insisted, growing increasingly annoyed that the man persistently missed seeing the obvious. "The ship is regenerating."

"I know." He nodded with a bored sigh.

"Millions of tiny microscopic robots are rebuilding the damaged areas. Sophisticated computers are beaming out imperfect sections and reprocessing the matter back into replacement parts so fast the human eye canít even see it. The computer is analysing every aspect of the damage and working out new ways to make the ship better and more resilient." Jones enthused. "Tiny tendrils of metal are reforming into new parts that are even more efficient and powerful that the parts theyíre replacing and this is happening right here around us."

"I know." Crowe mumbled, his arms folded stoically over his chest. "So I donít really need to be here, do I?"

"I saw a new circuit forming." The Doctor could clearly control his excitement only barely.

"Iím going to get a cup of coffee." Crowe said finally, having taken as much of the Doctor as he could tolerate.

"This is mechanical miracleÖ" Jones told him although he didnít realise the man had already left and wouldnít have scarcely cared if he had.

"How long since you slept?" Ensign Rogers stepped up beside Blake and asked softly in his ear so the question was not audible to the others on the bridge.

"Itís been a while." Blake admitted with a weak smile. The mention of sleep served as an instant reminder of how tired he was and he suddenly felt a great deal worse than when he had been able to ignore the idea.
"I think you need a medical exam." She told him, leaving little room for argument.

"I donít think thereís much you can tell me without a tricorder." Blake shrugged.

"Why donít you leave the medical opinion to people who are qualified to have one?" She said sarcastically but with good humour.

"Itís not really a good time!" He told her. "Maybe after our scansÖ"

"Itís never a good time, is it?" She crossed her arms in annoyance and began tapping her foot. "And I hear youíre suffering from permanent headaches and stomach cramps."

"I wonder where you heard that?" Blake cast an acidic glare towards Haldo.

"So itís true?" She smirked.

"Weíve been through this." He shrugged. "You canít scan me with a tricorder and we think that the pain is just my implants settling and thereís nothing much that can be done about it."

"I want you in my medical bay." She told him flatly. "Otherwise I might have to declare you unfit for duty and have you relieved."

"Relieved?" He snapped round in surprise. "This isnít a science scout or a merchant ferry craft! This is a dangerous Section 31 prototype combat ship thatís bonded to my mind, you canít relieve me."

"I wonít have toÖ" She began with a wry grin. "ÖIf you come to my medical bay for a check up!"

Blake glared menacingly into her eyes as he slowly began to calm down enough to realise that she was playing with him and doing so extremely effectively.

"As soon as the scanning sweep beginsÖ" He told her with a deflated sigh.

"You had better!" She told him, poking him in the shoulder with an outstretched index finger like a bossy school teacher.

"Iím ready." Haldo announced. "You can fire when ready."

"Everything is locked down?" Blake asked, his mind running quickly through the internal sensors to make sure that the ship was as ready as sheíd ever be. He switched the shields up to full power and set the phasers to the co-ordinates and power settings that Haldo had arranged.

A faint beam of phaser energy cascaded out of the main nose canon and vanished into the throbbing purple mass of the nebula as another equally weak beam shot out of the Bussard collector matrix as the system reconfigured to do so.

The two beams crossed exactly as they should and a sudden white ball erupted in the distance illuminating the swirling clouds with brilliant flash of swirling colours.

"Thereís nothing there." Haldo said without surprise.

"Iíll move onto the second set of co-ordinates." Blake told him as the ship adjusted her position.

Two beams shot out again, crossing somewhere in the unseen depths of the heaving purple nebula. Again the cloud erupted in a flash but even larger than before and suddenly the phaser beam lit up brilliantly as energy raced back up them from the subspace rift.

"Disconnect!" Haldo cried out fearfully.

"Iím tryingÖ" Blake agreed as the ship lurched violently to the side. "Weíre stuck in some kind of feedback loop. The phasers are being fed energy from the subspace rift and are self powered."

"Eject the cannonÖ" Haldo suggested, his voice almost a shout as the ship began rocking. A flash went off behind him as a power system overloaded. And sparks showered around the rear of the bridge.

Suddenly it stopped and the control room fell silent. They all stared at the view screen as the large canon assembly floated away lazily from the ship into the glowing purple cloud.

"I suppose Iím going to get blamed for this." Haldo grumbled.

Blake Girling reluctantly entered the Corinthianís small medical bay as the door slid closed behind him as if trapping him in there.

"Finally." Katherine smiled. "Sit down."

Blake complied and sat awkwardly opposite his chief medical officer in her office. He glanced around nervously, trying to distract himself from his growing trepidation.

"Whatís up?" She asked as she accessed his medical history archive.

"Itís been a bad day! We ended up having to jettison the main canon from the nose. Iíve got a repair crew out there trying to recover it but itís going to mean weíre stuck here for a few more hours and weíre still no closer to finding the Section 31 ship!" He told her. "On top of that, we canít communicate directly with the Wanderer. Sheís out there somewhere, a brand new tactically equipped vessel with collision damaged and an unfinished weapons array with Graves in charge which is a bit like letting a gang of monkeys build a shuttle and arm it with a pulse phaser."

"I didnít mean that." She sighed. "I mean whatís up with you?"

"Iím fine." He told her, adopting an expression that showed he didnít know what she was talking about.

Katherine sighed again and placed her hands on the desk, her fingers knotted together.

"Tell me about the headaches."

"Weíve been through this." He told her, not entirely convincingly. "We canít scan me with a tricorder so we canít map the implants Iíve got."

"Which means we canít find out whatís wrong?" She smiled as if she knew something she wasnít quite ready to share.

"RightÖ" He agreed, his thread interrupted by her sudden change of tone.

"What would you say if I told you that I could scan you?" She raised an eyebrow knowingly.

"Iíd call you a damn dirty liar to your face!" He joked, growing more than a little intrigued.

"Itís taken me three weeks but Iíve built a machine that can scan through your scattering shields." She told him. "It only works at incredibly short range, Iíll have to be a few centimetres from your body to make it work."

"How did you do it?" Blake grinned excitedly, and more than a little impressed.

"Iíve been spending a lot of time with a small drop of your blood." She explained. "And Iíve been reviewing Doctor Jones reports on the technology."

"Iím impressedÖ" He admitted with a shrug.

Katherine snapped open her tricorder and laid it on the desk. She pulled out a large hand held probe and began waving it around his head.

"Iíve entered a special diagnostic sub-routine into the medical computer." She began. "Iíve modified this probe to look in a slightly different way into your soft tissue."

"Youíve gone to a lot of trouble." He said thoughtfully as a hazy image returned through his fogged memory of something Haldo had told him while the two of them had become incredibly drunk on whiskey.

"Youíre my patient." She replied dismissively.

"Youíve spent three weeks working on this just to scan me?" He asked. "When did you find the time?"

"I mostly did it in my off duty time." She admitted, realising how it made her sound as the words came out. She winced, wishing that she could take the words back, somehow suck back the last few seconds.

"You spent your free time on this?" Blake snapped round suddenly to face her with a look of pleasant surprise on his face.

"I thought it was important." She closed her eyes again, realising too late that she was giving too much of her feelings away. "Please sit still while I scan you!"

Haldo stood in the engineering section of the ship holding a Padd while the three crewmen assigned to him glared at him with silent menace, blaming his for all the new problems that were entirely his fault.

"We have a tractor beam on the nose canon?" He asked to confirm the report.

"Yes." Crewman Bokker replied. "But none of us want to go out there and reconnect it."

"I donít blame you, itís hell out there." Haldo replied with a nod of agreement. "But thanks for volunteering. Suit up and report to the transporter room."

"Wait a minuteÖ" He grumbled, cutting himself off before Haldo assigned him an even worse task of which there were plenty aboard the Corinthian.

"Actually Iím more concerned with the feedback damage." Haldo sighed to nobody in particular. "The computer took another charge and the communications gear is virtually wiped out."

"Wonít it just regenerate?" The fed up crewman shrugged.

"Itís like a deep wound." Haldo explained. "It will heal eventually but itís our job to help it along with a few stitches.

"How do we stitch up a smashed communications array and a damaged computer?"

"We beam the old one into the matter reclamation plant and replicate a new one from the patterns we have stored in the computer!" Haldo replied as if it were so simple that explanation was largely superfluous.

"Shouldnít we ask the Captain?" The crewman scratched his head, remembering how bad things could get on the ship if Blake was in an unpleasant mood.

"Blake wonít mind!" Haldo smirked. "Heís learning to do as heís told."

"Haldo to BlakeÖ" The comm signal opened with a bleep.

Blake sighed and replied hesitantly, his attention fixed on the grisly metallic device his chief medical officer was handling. "Yes?"

"The communications array looks like the galley did on my last attempt to cook a live Klingon cat." Haldo explained. "We need a new one."

"Iím rather busy." Blake told him as Katherine assembled another even larger and more menacing contraption designed to probe his implants.

"I need your help." Haldo ignored his comments. "We need to replicate a whole new system from the Starfleet archives."

"Iím going to be a while." He explained.

"I really need the help of a reasonably competent officer." Haldo grumbled. "ÖBut I figured youíd have to do!"

"Heís really good at what he does." Blake mumbled to Katherine by way of an explanation for forgiving his rudeness.

"And you get on with him really." She added knowingly.

"Hang on!" Blake said over the comm channel. He closed his eyes for a second, his mind suddenly inside the computer, scanning archives. It was a disconcerting feeling as if he was reading a book heíd read years ago and mostly forgotten as his consciousness felt its way through the records, half knowing their contents already.

"Iíve found a pattern in the Corinthian data banks." Blake told him.

"Iíd rather stick to approved Starfleet equipment on this." Haldo replied thoughtfully.

"They only fitted standard equipment to communicate more easily with their test base. We can use a Borg inspired array and boost our efficiency as well." Blake told him.

"And the ship can do that for itself?" Haldo asked knowingly.

"Itís already started." Blake agreed. "Girling out!"

"Iíve scanned you." Katherine told him as the channel closed and they were finally alone again.

"What did you find?" Blake asked, a little unsure he actually wanted to know.

She turned her table mounted interface round to face her and sighed slightly as she marshalled her thoughts.

"Your head has a large implant." She began sympathetically, her words almost an apology like telling him somehow made his condition her fault. "It seems to be some kind of computer sub-processor and there are tiny metal fibres running into your brain tissue. Theyíre exchanging electrical information with your brain but the computer doesnít change frequency as fast as your mind does naturally when you sleep or concentrate for instance."

"Is that whatís causing the headaches?" Blake spoke softly, disturbed at the thought of a large metal device implanted deep in his brain.

"I think so." She agreed wit ha nod. "There are also small implants in your heart, lungs and kidneys as well as in your limbs."

"Any idea what theyíre for?" He asked as he grew increasingly concerned. His heart began beating harder and his head swam as he finally heard what was inside him.

"I think a lot of it is to control adrenaline flow and increase your strength." She offered. "Most of the implants are small metal fibre strands that have knotted together to form small electrical nodes and circuits. They seem to run through your entire body."

"What are your impressions?" He felt a growing sense of helplessness as he asked.

"I think youíd die if we attempted to remove them." She told him flatly. "They permeate every major organ in your body and theyíve replaced a lot of the neural tissue of your brain."

"So Iím stuck like this?" He sighed.

"I would guess so." She replied apologetically. "But itís not all bad news."

"Oh yeah?" He smiled weakly. "Maybe this is one time where thereís literally a silver lining?"

"Everything seems stable." She told him hopefully. "And Iíve tracked down the course of your stomach problems."

"I dread to think!" He groaned.

"Itís stress." She told him with a grin.

"Stress?" His mood brightened a bit at the prospect of having a serious human malady instead of a simple misalignment of his alien inspired implants.

"I suppose I should thank you." He said with a relieved smile that at least his implants were not likely to tear through his flesh at any second and make a life on their own. "Youíve gone to a lot of trouble."

"Itís fine." She said coyly, diverting her eyes to her terminal.

"Itís more than I would have expected." Blake told her. "I just want you to know how much I appreciate it."

"It wasnít a problem." She assured him. "Thereís not much to do aboard this ship anyway when youíre off duty."

"What are you going to do now then?" He asked. "Sit around getting bored?"

"I guess so." She shrugged hopefully.

"Well maybe we could bored together later?" He suggested slightly awkwardly. "We both have to eat, right?"

"Iím not sure you do actually." She frowned slightly. "According to these scans anyway."

"But I still can though, right?" He asked, somewhat alarmed.

"Of course!" She told him with a nod.

"So how about dinner tonight?" He suggested hopefully.

"Is this a date?" She smiled coyly.

"Well this is hardly the love-boat!" Blake grinned. "Even the holodeck is permanently set up as crew quarters."

"I guess Iíll have to just settle for dinner then." She told him with a wide smile.

Doctor Harold Jones sat at his console at the rear of the bridge. It didnít have any specific function except to keep him out of the way and he largely knew it. He could access the engineering systems, tactical and science stations but couldnít influence them directly and Blake would surely know if he tried.

In fact he had no interest in accessing the ships systems beyond curiosity and a keen interest in following the gradual evolution of the ship. He no longer thought of the Corinthian as his creation, he was under no illusions that he had just designed the chassis and that the rest of the remarkable facets were of their own design.

He ruffled his brow curiously. He switched his console to access the data coming in from the science systems.

"Doctor Jones to Haldo Compz." He said, tapping his comm badge.

There was a long silence from Haldoís continuing reluctance to answer the former Section 31 scientist.

"What?" He replied grumpily over the open channel.

"Iíve been monitoring the nebula and I think I may have found something."

Blake stood at the heart of the bridge with his bridge-crew around him. Haldo focused the scanners on the co-ordinates that the Doctor had sent him.

"Heís right." Haldo agreed. "There was definitely something out there, perhaps a ship under cloak!"

"We canít maintain a cloak this deep inside the nebula!" Blake added thoughtfully. "I canít see how they could!"

"Iím detecting a distortion." Jones stood up in alarm. "Itís heading this way."

"Shields are up!" Blake reported. "Weapons?"

"Nose canon is still off-line." Haldo told him. "Torpedos are armed and ready!"

"We still donít know what it is!" Ensign Rogers warned. "It could be anything."

"It could be a Section 31 cruiser." Blake replied tensely. "Maybe even a Scarab class ship!" "More distortions." Jones warned as he continued to focus his attention on the science scanners.

"Theyíre closing." Haldo warned, the tension growing on the bridge.

"Launch 5 torpedos in a spread in front of us as we back away." Blake instructed. "Donít activate the engines and arm the warheads so weíre laying a trail of mines."

"That could work!" Haldo agreed. "If weíre lucky they wonít detect them."

The torpedo launcher in the nose dropped out a torpedo as the Corinthian backed away slowly. The motivator engines were inert so the shiny black casing just rolled out into space as the ship accelerated backwards.

"All 5 are deployed." Haldo informed them. "Weíre at one quarter impulse. At this rate whatever is coming will reach us in about 1 minute and closing."

"Iíve locked phasers forwards." Blake told him. "I guess itís their move now."

"Theyíre uncloaking!" Doctor Jones warned them.

"That is not a Section 31 cruiser." Haldo said with a note of growing concern.

The viewscreen lit up with the distant image of a small yellow ship, tatty and worn with evidence of weapons scars along itís old hull. Two engines blades jutted up and down from the nose and it headed directly for them.

"Itís identical to the ship that beat the crap out of us!" Haldo told them.

"Detonate the torpedos!" Blake instructed.

Five huge explosions ripped through the clouds of swirling nebula gas releasing a vast blast of photon energy. The brilliant shock-waves ripped into the approaching ship, rocking her from her course. The Corinthian followed up the blasts with a beam of phaser energy from her port nacelle as she turned sharply away from the attacker.

"Scanning!" Haldo said as he ran his detection gear over the alien ships hull. "Iíve got a lock on their weapons systems!"

"Firing." Blake told him, keen to disable the ship before it could fire on them, grimly aware of the damage they took last time. A phaser beam crackled into the ship sending up a shower of flaming debris from the rear of the hull.

"Their weapons are off-line!" Haldo announced triumphantly. "We did it."

"Thank god for that!" Doctor Jones wiped the prickling sweat from his brow in relief.

"Hailing them!" Blake told the others.

"No reply!" Haldo shrugged. "Same as before. Iím detecting thirteen life-signs but the metal the hull is made from is scattering some of my scanner signals so I canít be too specific."

"Can we get a lock for transporters?" Blake turned to his chief engineer with the seeds of a plan beginning to take root in his mind.

"I think so." He agreed. "Are you planning to beam them off?"

"Actually I was more thinking of going over there!" Blake rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he turned back to the damaged ship on the viewer.

"Over there?" Doctor Jones asked in disbelief.

"They may have injured!" Blake told him, his mind made up. "We donít even know why theyíve attacked us, we should extend an olive branch."

"Whoís going?" Haldo grimaced, not relishing the prospect.

"Me." Blake told him. "I have shields built in, Iíll take my two Borgified colleagues with me." Instantly the pair stood up from their control consoles and turned to face him, staring blindly forwards.

"Break out the weapons." Blake said as he led the others to the turbo lift. "Get Katherine on standby, when weíve secured the ship weíll beam aboard a medical party."

"Lets just hope it isnít you that needs patching up by a medical party!" Haldo added dryly.

Blake appeared at the head of the three person away team with a phaser pistol holstered and brandishing a Starfleet intelligence issued phaser carbine designed for close quarters combat in a confined environment.

"Weíve arrived." He told the Corinthian over the open comm channel.

He glanced around him at the narrow metallic corridor where dim yellow lights cast gloomy shadows over the uneven pannelling and rugged support beams. The ship had a vaguely musty smell from too little oxygen reprocessing and maintenance and the floor panels were rusty and damaged with a covering of dirt and grime that nobody had thought to clean during the apparently long history of the ship.

"Life signs are up ahead." He commented into the comm badge as he lead the others towards what he assumed would be the control room.

"Be carefulÖ" Katherines voice issued over the air. "We donít know how much protection the shields will give you.

Blake stopped dead in his tracks for an instant and flashed a glance at the motion detection display on the combat weapon he was carrying. The display was linked to a limited form of tricorder that only detected life signs for the purpose of targeting.

Blake looked ahead into the dim shadows and thought for a moment. He seemed not to need the display, if he cleared his mind he could almost see the people huddled in the control room before him.

"Do you know whatís down there?" He turned to the dead eyes of the large man behind him. The man looked down into his eyes without speaking and his lips began to tremble slightly and his facial muscles began to twitch.

"You can do itÖ" Blake smiled thinly, coaxing the man on.

"IÖ canÖ senseÖ" The man grunted with a deep and stunted voice.

"You?" He turned to the bald female officer. She nodded her simple reply.

"So we have sensors built in too." Blake shrugged to himself. "ÖProbably a kitchen sink in there somewhereÖ"

"NoÖ sinkÖ" The man replied, his vocal tones beginning to adjust to speaking.

"No personality either!" Blake grinned to himself. "I must remember to thank Katherine again for getting me out of that tube early."

The three stalked quietly to the doorway. It was a perfect rectangle with a black access panel and a manual locking release made from dull grey metal.

"Weíve reached the door." Blake said over the channel as he reached out to the control panel. He seemed to know what button to press as the universal translator software built into the augmented intelligence processor in his brain worked it out for him without his knowledge.

The door slid hesitantly open with a slight hydraulic hiss. Suddenly a barrage of fiery red beams of energy struck out, tearing into the bulkhead walls.

The three Starfleet officers dived for cover, a blue shield flashed up from the female officers elbow as a beam grazed past her arm.

"Blake to Corinthian." He began. "They donít seem to be keen to talk to us!"

"Can hardly blame them for that!" Haldo replied from the ship. "But we have other problems. Weíre detecting another vessel heading at half impulse on our position."

The big Starfleet officer returned fire, blasting a fiery beam of energy into the control room to pin down the occupants.

"Is it the same type as this one?" Blake frowned in concern.

"No." Haldo told him. "Scanners are not properly responding but itís not the same."

Blake scratched his head, thinking fast about how to deal with the current situation. He knew that fierce weapons fire could make locking the transporters difficult, especially with the interference from the nebula.

"I have a replicator!" He snapped suddenly, remembering the equipment that was meant to be built into his arm. He held out his palm and concentrated as hard as he could with the image of a phaser grenade locked into his mind. He tried to ignore the sounds of crackling weapons fire while nothing happened.

"Replicate a phaser grenade." He sighed to the big officer. The man turned towards his Captain as a small round stun weapon materialised in a hazy blue flash from his hand.

Blake raised his eyebrows, impressed that it had worked even if he hadnít managed to do it himself. He snatched up the weapon and tossed it into the control room.

Suddenly a yellow flash lit up the corridor as the grenade erupted with phaser energy at a high stun setting.

Blake peered over the control banks set into the wall behind one of the large bulkhead supports where theyíd been hiding behind his phaser pistol.

"Seems quiet." He commented redundantly to the usually silent pair. He stood up and led them gingerly into the gloom of the narrow bay. He squinted as his eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness. The design was crude, incredibly simple with no cultural iconography in the architecture, just simple efficient metal beams and structures with even more simple and crude looking banks of equipment that flashed with blinking warning lights, punctuated by the occasional piece of equipment that appeared starkly out of character.

"It looks like the old WandererÖ" Blake mumbled sarcastically as he stepped over to the first fallen alien body. The man was laid on the cold corrugated metal floor, groaning weakly. He was dressed in a dirty white robe that covered his large rounded body that had hard grey armoured panels on the joints of his limbs. Large devices were clipped onto the suit at various points and a huge threatening pistol had fallen in his open hand, a shabby design that looked like a first year Starfleet cadet had assembled it as a project. Blake stepped forwards to get a better view of his face. His skin was a mottled beige with deeply set almost reptilian creases and tiny dark eyes set wide apart across a huge mound of fatty tissue in the centre of his face that partially covered a complex nasal opening.

"Iíve never seen anything like youÖ" Blake told him rhetorically.

"Haldo to Blake." The comm signal opened and a voice cried out. "The ship is approaching fast. We need you here!"

"On my wayÖ" He replied, slightly annoyed that he hadnít the opportunity to explore further.

"I canít lock the scanners inside this nebula!" Haldo explained apologetically. "I know the ship isnít the same design as the alien but what it is I couldnít tell you. Itís not transmitting a Starfleet call signal of any kind so I strongly doubt itís Section 31."

"What can you tell me?" Blake asked as he paced across the bridge to his central chair.

"Swept forward nacelles!" Haldo shrugged. "lots of energy coming off of the navigational deflectorÖ shields are up and about twice as powerful as ours and I think the forward scanners are locking onto us."

"Targeting scanners?" Blake suggested hoping he was wrong. "If their shields are that good then Iíd hate to face their weapons."

"Our weapons are on a casual lock." Doctor Jones reportedly nervously.

"Hailing frequencies." Blake grunted optimistically. "It hasnít been our day for making friends so far."

"No reply!" Ensign Rogers reported from the console she was temporarily staffing. "I donít think they want to talk."

"Big surprise!" Haldo snorted. "First contact on this ship seems to be more about firing first."

"Well letís make sure weíre ready to do that!" Blake told him with a defiant grin.

"I still donít have a response from the nose canon." Haldo warned. "It could take hours yetÖ"

The ship approached slowly. It seemed to drift through the dense clouds of the nebula towards the Corinthian as if in no discernible hurry but sending an obvious message of its intentions, pointing directly at them with a constant weapons lock.

"Sheíll be in firing range in less than a minute." Jones warned.

"I wonít fire first!" Blake told him adamantly. "This ship only uses weapons to defend herself or others!"

"If that ship has the same philosophy we might be in luck!" Haldo grinned. "We could just sit here pointing our guns at each other until somebody dies of old age."

Katherine winced at the suggestion and leant towards him over the guard-rail. "I doubt somehow that any of this crew are going to get the chance to die of old age!"

"I get the distinct feeling that weíre about to find out." Blake grumbled as he leant forward towards the view screen reflexively and squinting to the image as if it would help it to come into sharp focus.

"A message!" Katherine shouted suddenly. "Theyíre hailing us."

"On screen!" Blake ordered, hoping to find answers.

The screen went blank from the purple image of swirling gas and the image of a bridge appeared. A Human face stared back at him, a careworn expression of tired resolve with fiercely penetrating eyes. The man was around forty with a tiny suggestion of black hair closely cut to his scalp and he wore a tired grey uniform.

"Girling." He said simply in a stony, grating voice as if speaking it was an incredible effort. He leant closer the viewer. "Blake Girling."

"You have me at a disadvantage!" Blake told him uneasily. "What may I call you?"

"It doesnít really matter!" He replied, flopping back in his chair as if the sudden surge of emotion had subsided to be replaced with a strong sense of duty. "I want you all to know that itís not personal!"

"What isnít?" Blake asked with a growing sense of impending doom.

"Iím here to destroy you, Blake." He told him. "You and your cursed ship!"

Suddenly a beam of furious energy lashed out from the approaching ship and tore into the forward shields. The Corinthian rocked under the incredible blast as she began turning away.

"Severe damage all over the ship!" Haldo warned as power conduits over-loaded and sprayed sparks around the bridge. Blake winced openly as the damage to the vessel registered in his mind as pain.

"I know." He cried out. "Turning away and firing back!"

"No discernible effect." Katherine shouted over the warning klaxons as they shrieked out in agony from the blast to her hull.

"Weíre in trouble." Haldo said in a low mumble that was barely audible. He looked up and spoke more loudly. "Power systems are failing. Shields are dropping and the warp core is stuttering. They knew exactly where to hit us."

Another beam lashed out at them and crashed into the port nacelle sending up a shower of sparks and debris from the panels. The glowing blue filaments and plasma systems stuttered through the nacelle but flickered tentatively back to life.

"The warp core is failing." Haldo warned. "We may have to eject it, we certainly canít take another hit!"

"Iím getting us out of here as fast as I can." Blake told them.

"Iím reading minor explosions all over the main hull." Katherine told him. "The ship is beginning to come apart!"

"Haldo!" Blake snapped around suddenly as inspiration caught him. "Program another sub-space blast in front of that ship!"

"Lock a pair of phasers together?" Haldo grinned back. "I can do that, give me a secondÖ"

"Fire a full spread of photon torpedoes!" Blake shouted as a conduit blew at the rear of the bridge.

A stream of five torpedoes shot out from the forward launcher and flew through a wide arc around the rapidly retreating ship to head towards the relentless pursuer. The exploded in a trail in front of the ship but caused nothing more than a minor inconvenience.

"Phasers locked!" Haldo reported. "Itís not exactly art but it will cause a nice sub-space explosionÖ"

"Iíll settle for nice!" Blake replied with a grin. "You can do art next time!"

A pair of phaser beams fired out from the exposed engineering of the ship and met at a predetermined point causing a feedback loop through the nebula and making a large rupture appear in subspace. The shock-wave lashed out from the purple clouds and blasted the ship from its course in a brilliant blast and shower of debris.

"I guess it didnít take art!" Doctor Jones cried out in relief. "Theyíre not pursuingÖ"

"Thatís the least of our problems!" Haldo shrieked, standing up in horror and edging away from his station.

"What now?" Blake spun to face him.

"The Warp-core is overloaded. I canít control the reaction." Haldo said in a tone approaching utter panic. "The ejection cycle is not responding and itís going critical!"

Blake narrowed his eyes and breathed a heavy sigh, knowing that only one option was left to him.

"Abandon ship." He said sorrowfully, hanging his head in dismay. "Everyone get to the escape pods."

"The warnings are out." Katherine told him, lowering her voice respectfully as if witnessing the death of a friend, or at least a part of one.

"Iíve begun the uncoupling sequence." Blake said out loud, not to anyone in particular. "Iím going to eject the bridge."

With a tiny shudder the bridge citadel unclipped from the main hull. The bridge unit was blasted upwards by a set of fixed thruster charges and then the rear thrusters fired to distance her from the ship.

Blake reversed the angle of the viewer to watch as the tiny fires ripped apart his ship. The small orange blooms of flames grew to huge orange blasts that sent showers of tubing and plating from the hull. Suddenly a huge blast tore out of the hull and a second white hot shock-wave erupted from the crippled warp core as it exploded with the unbridled fury of escaping anti-matter.

The bridge was caught in the blast and sent spiralling through the nebula until the thrusters stabilised her flight.

"Scan for life-boats!" Blake ordered, crying out above the noise.

"Way ahead of you!" Haldo replied. "The emergency systems are nowhere near as powerful as the Corinthianís, this is taking a while!"

"Itís not taking a while." Katherine said dolefully. "Theyíre gone. Thereís nothing there to find."

"There were three crewmen aboard that ship unaccounted for." Blake scowled. "We have to tryÖ"

"Sheís right." Haldo hung his head as he replied sadly. "Iíve detected debris that matches the life-boat signatures, thereís nobody left."

"So what now?" Doctor Jones asked, his body shaking with fear.

Blake turned to the viewer where the Corinthian was now a flaming red ball of super heated nebula gas and was already beginning to shrink away to nothing.

"Set course back to that alien ship." Blake told him with a measured note of determination in perfect balance with an insane desire for revenge.

"I guess theyíre still setting off sub-space explosions in there." Commander Morrow shrugged. "Thereís a lot of subspace instability in there."

"You mean explosion?" Captain Graves asked to check that he was following the conversation correctly.

"Yes." Winston grumbled. "Canít we at least try to make it sound like we are professionals?"

Graves stared at him with a neutral expression before shrugging his contempt with the conversation and continuing his assault on a huge sandwich.

"That last one was massive." Commander Morrow continued. "It was more than ten times what Haldo told us to prepare for."

"Weíre at a safe distance arenít we?" Graves suddenly showed some interest.

"Weíre totally safe at this range." His first officer assured him lazily. "As we discussed before."

"Just checkingÖ" Graves grinned playfully. "You never know and this drinks holder hasnít really been tested yet!"

"I think theyíre coming out." Morrow smiled. "Iím detecting a ship roughly matching their configuration heading this way."

"Why havenít they hailed us then?" Captain graves frowned thoughtfully.

"Probably either interference of theyíve taken some damage." Morrow replied. "Theyíre heading for the perimeter now, I should get a better image when they get a little closer."

"Just be carefulÖ" Graves told him firmly. "It could be the Section 31 scout, maybe even a Scarab."

They continued watching in silence as the image of the ship headed towards them growing clearer as the seconds ticked away.

"Thatís not the Corinthian!" Commander Morrow cried out suddenly.

"Shields!" Captain Graves ordered.

Suddenly a vicious beam of energy tore into the Wanderer, powerful enough to blast through the shields before they even had a chance to fully initialise and cut a swathe instantly straight through the flat hull. The ship listed helplessly as the gaping hole burnt fiercely with jagged exposed ribs clawing through the shattered hull. The ship shuddered to the side as the thrusters tried to rectify her course and then she lurched and erupted in a ball of flame as the shattered systems gave in. The fire ball blasted out from the ship, vaporising the metal and leaving nothing but a growing flash of white light.

"There it isÖ" Blake scowled at the mysterious yellow ship that hung in position before them.

"Repairs donít appear to be complete." Haldo said with a measured smile. "It doesnít look like theyíve detected us yet either."

"Nothing to detect!" Blake told him rather aggressively. "All we have is the equivalent of half impulse power."

Haldo glanced up from his calculations to the burning eyes of his Captain. "They were my friends who died." He said softly. "And I lost the ship as well as you."

"Iím sorryÖ" Blake sighed and turned away. He scowled at the viewer to the alien vessel before him. "I still canít fully control my temper yet but Iím trying."

"Itís been a long day." Haldo replied, waving his hand dismissively. "Iíd be more worried about you if you werenít angry."

"Not as worried as someoneís going to get!" Blake assured him.

"We donít actually know if these two were working together!" Haldo said thoughtfully.

"It makes little difference." Blake shrugged, his attention appearing fixed on the ship. "They both fired on us." Blake stepped forward to the two modified officers and placed his hands on their shoulders. "You two with me, Clogg, you too this time!".

"I was hoping youíd say that!" Cloggs voice hissed happily.

"Haldo!" Blake said, turning to his engineer. "I need you to beam us over there, I donít have the same level of control I used to have."

"Youíll need to wear your comm badges so we can beam you back." Katherine stepped forwards to the away team as Clogg began handing out weapons.

"If this works we wonít be coming back!" Blake smiled thinly, the aggression churning inside him clearly visible in his eyes as he spoke.

"Good luck." She smiled. "And be careful."

Katherine stepped back as the four officers vanished in a hazy blue blur to face more than a dozen heavily armed aliens on the attacking ship.

"They donít stand a chance." Haldo shuddered, shaking his head sadly.

"They were alright over there before." Katherine told him angrily, her own fears finding expression.

"I meant the poor sods over there!" Haldo sighed.

Blake materialised at the head of the group to face a startled alien who was still clearly suffering the after effects of the phaser grenade. Blake fired a beam into him from his hand weapon and the huge man collapsed backwards onto the rear bulkhead sighing loudly as he crumpled to the floor.

Clogg snapped open his tricorder. "Three on the bridge, the rest are dotted around what could be the engineering sections in the blades."

"Weíll go to the bridge and from there we should be able to beam the whole lot of them off the ship!" Blake told them, heading off down the narrow corridor to the control room.

"Off the ship?" Clogg queried. "You mean back to the Corinthianís bridge?"

"Thatís what I said." Blake scowled. He raised his weapon to the open doorway as one of the creatures lumbered through it. A beam knocked him to the ground with a flash and the four officers dashed forwards to check for others who may have been alerted.

"Did you hear him?" Clogg huffed, his breathing shallow and tense as he scanned the corridor for movement.

"I just knew." Blake told him. "Apparently I have a tricorder built in too."

"I can see how that can be useful!" Clogg replied a little uneasily.

"Katherine thinks that with practice I can see through womenís clothes." He told him without intending any humour. Clogg laughed quietly anyway, hoping he was indeed joking.

"Lets go!"

Haldo sat at the command chair at the heart of the spacious bridge which now needed a great deal of cleaning. The floor was littered with chunks of debris and scarring from blown out conduits.

"What do you think is going on over there?" Katherine asked rhetorically.

"I imagine that some large aliens are wishing theyíd stayed in bed." Haldo replied light-heartedly. "I havenít seen Blake this annoyed since all this began."

"Me neither." She agreed.

"Girling toÖ" He stammered as he cut short his sentence. "Girling to the bridgeÖ"

"Bridge here." Haldo stood up suddenly.

"Weíve captured the enemy ship." He told them. "Weíre going to beam you here and simultaneously beam them to you."

"Agreed." Haldo told him, rubbing his hands together gleefully.

"Lock every system with the best encryption you can come up with." Blake instructed. "If that bridge ever moves one centimetre Iím going to be very disappointed."

"I get the impression that now would be a very bad time to disappoint you." Haldo commented dryly.

"You could be right!" Blake agreed. "Hurry up, I need you over hereÖ"

Katherine, Haldo and Doctor Jones appeared in the heart of an effervescent yellow blur as the alien transporter beamed them to the control room.

"Welcome aboard." Blake waved them over to the control panels. "Haldo, I need access to the engineering systems and weapons so we can get under way."

"Why do we need weapons?" Jones asked with a shrug.

"We need them." Blake assured him. "Youíll see why when we get where weíre going!"

"Best not to ask!" Haldo groaned as he snapped open a tricorder and began working.

"Jones." Blake grabbed the man by the shoulder. "I need you to work on the databanks, we need to know how these aliens are and why they want us dead."

"Iím on itÖ" Jones agreed as he headed for what looked like a computer terminal.

"Ensign Rogers." He turned to her with a ghost of a smile on his lips. "I want you to start analysing the files on these creatures. I want to know anything you can tell me."

"Iím on it." She told him with a nod.

"The repairs are far from completeÖ" Haldo called out. "We managed to do quite a bit of damage but I should be able to get her moving in a few minutes."

"Whereís the communication array?" Blake asked, offering his engineer his full attention.

"Thatís about the only thing running at full power!" Haldo smiled.

"Destroy it." Blake told him with a tone that implied that nothing less than absolute compliance would be tolerated.

"Why?" Haldo shrugged.

"Iím assuming that these two ships are working together." Blake replied coldly. "When we meet up I donít want them wondering why we havenít been in touch."

"Ok." Haldo muttered. "Youíre the boss."

"Iíve found somethingÖ" Jones called out, ignoring the other conversation.

"Go onÖ" Blake snapped round suddenly and Haldo stopped what he was doing to listen.

"These people are called the ChesíKaa." He began, gesturing to the screen behind him. "They were paid to come here and destroy us."

"Paid?" Haldo shrugged. "By whom?"

"By the other ship." Jones told him. "Two cargo crates were loaded aboard this vessel as payment and they were led here."

"Any records on the other ship?" Blake asked.

"Iíll have to dig a little deeper."

"You do thatÖ" Blake nodded. "Iím going down to the cargo bay to see what the payment was."

Blake held a torch up in front of him. He knew that while the ship was empty apart from his own crew that traps could have been laid or sensors might not function properly so his guard was firmly up.

He half felt his way along, his fingers brushing against the grimy cold metal wall as he slid along, his body pressed against the bulkhead.

He finally reached a doorway, a big silver plate that slid open as he stepped up towards it and the cargo bay light snapped on suddenly, spilling a sickly yellow glow into the corridor that illuminated the dirty panels and sent shadows out to haunt the empty hall.

Blake drew his phaser pistol and gingerly stepped into the bay. It was a small compartment at the top of the lower engine blade and was strewn with open crates with their contents spilt out. He shook his head at the dwindling possibility of discovering much from the wretched contents until two sealed boxes caught his eye. They were in a clearing, a small part of the bay seemingly set aside for a purpose beyond the equipment that had been hurriedly or lazily unpacked.

Blake walked briskly over and ran his hands over the front access panel. The writing was in English, the standard Federation language that had been in use for countless years. He frowned in surprise, not only did his attackers appear to be human but now it appeared that they were somehow affiliated with the Federation.

He pressed a button marked open and the front of the crate dissolved in a flicker of silver energy. Blake stepped away slightly startled. The crate was large and lit up inside as it opened to reveal rows of racking. He stepped forward to a raised platform that allowed him to step inside. He placed his hand in the closest rack and pulled out a small device.

It looked like a Starfleet weapon but was smaller with a longer snout and the handle had a large black cylinder hanging out. He reached to the other side and found rows of small black cases. He opened one to find a sophisticated medical kit that was in an almost totally flat box. As he opened the kit the tools materialised effortlessly in a swirl of replicator energy.

Blake rubbed his chin thoughtfully as the ship shuddered implying that the craft had began to move under sub-light engines.

"Well done Haldo!" He grinned.

"Well done Haldo!" Katherine grinned knowingly, looking up from her work. She tried the thing on her own head but hers was way too narrow as the aliens heads were nearly twice the size of Humans.

The device was some kind of head gear with an array of lenses and small devices cluttered untidily together around it.

She pressed it to her temple and it suddenly initiated sending a pencil-thin beam of red laser light forwards as a flawless hologram appeared before her of the room. She smiled in startled surprise and collected her thoughts. The hologram showed everything she could already see but showed her an image through the bulkheads, beyond the metal of the walls and revealed everything.

"Impressive." She muttered to herself.

"What is?" Blake called out.

Katherine spun to look at him but there was nothing there. She moved her head around hunting for his image. "Blake?" She called out.

"Of course." He frowned.

Katherine lowered the device and Blake was standing a few metres before her with his palms facing upwards, mid-shrug.

"This is their head gear!" She told him. "It shows a virtual view of everything in sensor rangeÖ except you of course."

"Of course." Blake sighed. "That explains a lot."

"Iíve found a few things out from extrapolating their DNA from traces I found." She told him.

"Go onÖ" He bid her, leaning back wearily.

"Theyíre not highly evolved, their brain-pan size is well below average and their DNA is not as complex as ours." She began. "I donít believe they could have evolved this technology on their own!"

"I found their payment for destroying us." He replied thoughtfully. "Two creates full of advanced equipment."

"That makes sense." She rubbed her chin. "They provide a service and the payment is technology to help them improve their service. If a race had a low or poorly developed moral ethic then it would be a reasonable evolutionary path."

"It doesnít explain why weíve never heard of them!" Blake told her.

"No it doesnít." She agreed.

"I guess dinner is off." Blake commented with a weak smile as he tossed the phaser over in his hand.

"I can wait!" She grinned back happily. "Even you have to eat sometime."

"I guess soÖ" He nodded with a smile that lifted some of the darkness that had clouded his soul

Haldo set the controls forward to follow the course that the ship had followed after attacking the Corinthian.

"Windows!" Doctor Jones shook his head in mild amusement. "Iíve not seen a ship of this size with windows at the bridge instead of holograms for years. The control room was square with a large row of four massive transparencies at the fore. A big ring had been shabbily installed roughly in the middle which may have been an imaging device but the design didnít match the simplicity and inelegance of the rest of the bridge.

"You think windows is bad." Haldo smirked snobbishly. "The controls still have levers to control plasma flow."

"Itís hard to believe that this thing could have nearly destroyed us." Jones sighed.

"Obviously they put a lot more emphasis on weapons than they did into other refinements." Haldo added conversationally.

"HaldoÖ" Blake called out as he stepped onto his new bridge aboard the captured ship.

"Captain?" Haldo turned from the windows. "Weíre under way to follow that ship. Weíre running about three quarters impulse for now but repairs are coming along now!"

"Look at this." Blake handed him the weapon from the crate.

Haldo looked him in the eye for a second after giving the weapon a cursory glance. "Where did you get this?" He gasped, rolling it over in his hands. "Itís like nothing Iíve seen before."

"Itís a lot like a phaser." Blake suggested.

"Itís a phaser but much different to ours." He enthused. "Itís so small and light, thereís no room for the focusing coils."

"It was the payment." Blake told him, glad to see that Haldoís reaction was similar to his own.

"Guns?" Haldo frowned in concern.

"Equipment." Blake corrected. "Two large crates of assorted tools and weapons, all with English writing on them."

"Thatís not Federation!" Haldo shook his head firmly, glancing over to the silent Doctor Jones.

"Not Section 31 either." He assured them earnestly. "Iíve seen a few things but nothing like that!"

"Have you figured out the shields yet?" Goruss Clogg called out to Haldo.

"I think soÖ" He replied, still more interested in the weapon.

"We might need them." He said with a note of urgency. "Iím detecting a ship heading this way."

The ChesíKaa cruiser manoeuvred its unshapely hull to point directly at the approaching vessel as the craft headed directly forwards through the dense purple nebula. The front of her forward swept nacelles glowed an angry red and the hull was a narrow point.

"Donít panic." Blake told them. "Theyíre expecting to see us."

"Letís hope theyíre not expecting to kill us." Haldo added for extra drama although none was needed.

"Theyíre pulling in closer." Blake noted. "Bring the ship about to show them the damage to our communications array. Let them get the hint."

Haldo nodded and manoeuvred the cumbersome vessel to display the gaping wound he had caused with explosive charges.

"Theyíre slowing." Clogg told them. "Theyíre running with shields down and I believe I have our weapons running at full power!"

"Donít lock on yet." Blake told him. "I donít want them to detect the sensors until itís too late."

"I still canít figure out the sensors properly." Haldo apologising angrily at his own failure.

"Itís ok." Blake assured him, resting his hand supportively on his friends shoulder. "If we pull this off then weíre all going to feel a lot better."

"Theyíre close enough." Clogg warned. "Any closer and with our shields down weíll take damage ourselves."

"On my mark I want a full volley of beam weapons to fire on that ship." Blake instructed. "Then raise the shields to maximum and launch a full spread of torpedoesÖ" He gestured out of the window to a towering hill of cylindrical engineering that had been identified as the weapons launcher. "Öor whatever the hell this thing fires."

"I only have a casual target lock." Clogg told them. "Iíll hit the ship but I canít target anything specific without locking on the scanners."

"I wouldnít know how anyway!" Haldo grinned at his most annoyingly inappropriate.

"Ready?" Blake asked, his eyes glinting with barely contained fury as he glared at the tiny dot as it approached them. The crewmen nodded their readiness.

"Fire!" He ordered.

At his command the two cannons at the top and bottom of the engine blades emitted a focused beam of energy that cut instantly into the approaching ship. With its shields down the beams ripped into the armour, tearing through the structure of the craft and forcing her from her course. The shields in the cruiser snapped up and a volley of glowing white torpedoes streaked from the launcher to erupt on the stricken ship as she tried in vain to protect herself from the furious onslaught.

"Sheís hurt." Haldo reported. "I can tell that much."

"Set a course." Blake told him. "Keep weapons locked onto that ship, Iím going to board her as soon as weíre in transporter range."

The ChesíKaa vessel reached the ship quickly and pulled up before her with its cannons locked onto the damaged bridge. The hull was littered with scars from the weapons fire she had been mercilessly subjected to and clouds of plasma were leaking from the damaged nacelles.

"It looks like the Corinthian!" Haldo said with a raised eyebrow.

"I donít see how!" Doctor Jones frowned. "She was a one-off."

"The swept forward nacelle design is meant to be more efficient." Blake suggested. "Maybe these people figured that out."

"These people are Humans." Haldo commented, scratching his head. "Weíve known about the design for decades but havenít had the materials to build a ship with that configuration, the stresses are just too much."

"If that ship isnít Starfleet and it isnít Section 31 then who the hell is it?" Clogg said what they all were wondering.

"Shields?" Blake asked, turning from the windows and checking the status of his phaser pistol.

"Their shields are down." Haldo told him. "Iím reading power fluctuations all over the ship."

"Iím going aboard!" Blake announced. "Clogg, you can join me if youíd like!"

"Love to." He grinned.

"The rest of you watch that ship." He told them. "Any sign of movement then destroy it!"

"But BlakeÖ" Katherine pleaded. "What if youíre aboard?"

"If they start moving then Iím already dead!" He insisted. "Destroy it before it destroys you!"

"Ok." Haldo agreed uneasily.

Blake Girling and Goruss Clogg materialised with the two nameless officers on the smashed bridge of the vessel. The scanned around quickly for any sign of movement before satisfying themselves that it was deserted.

"Scan the ship for life signs!" Blake instructed as he looked around the bridge. It was much like his own had been but perhaps a little smaller. The controls looked more rounded, more simple and basic implying that the ship might do more for itself than was usual or expected.

"Five people." Clogg announced. "All in engineering."

"You stay here." Blake told him firmly. "Weíre going in, lock onto us with a site-to-site transport."

"I should come." Clogg objected.

"They may not be able to detect us." Blake replied firmly. "Stay here and energise as soon as you have control."

Clogg sighed to himself in disappointment. The controls were easy to work out, hardly alien at all. "I have it." He told them. None of them heard another word as the dissolved in the middle of a flickering blue light.

They arrived in engineering and all three quickly locked onto the people closest to themselves. Before the startled crewmen could respond they were hit with phaser beams that sent them painlessly into unconsciousness. The forth target came out to se what was going on and was dealt with swiftly by the large officer while Blake kept the last man for himself.

He raised his weapon to the Captains head and said nothing. He just glared mercilessly into his frightened eyes in silence, the anger boiling away inside him.

"Girling!" The Captain muttered fearfully as a bead of sweat traced its way down his forehead.

"And you are?" He growled through gritted teeth.

"Iím Captain Spencer." He replied.

"Why?" Blake asked, his voice still low and threatening.

"Why did I attack you?" He asked, as if the question was ridiculous.

"Why shouldnít I kill you where you stand?" Blake sneered.

"You probably will anyway!" The Captain replied. "I know that!"

"Youíd better start explaining." Blake told him, flexing his grip on the phaser that was still set to stun.

"I have a better idea!" He told him, the fear vanishing from his eyes for a second, replaced with a grim determination. "Initiate self destruct."

"What?" Blake backed off a step in surprise as the computer gave an oral confirmation that the ten minute countdown had begun.

"Iíve done what I came here to do." He replied. "I was going to send the ChesíKaa home but seeing as youíve killed them I can finish up early."

"Youíll die too." Blake told him, the weapon still levelled at his head.

"I came here to die." He said with quiet resolve. "It was the only way."

"Explain this!" Blake shouted, his anger spilling over.

"This ship is too dangerous." Spencer told him with a sudden burst of anger of his own. "At least Iím responsible enough to realise it."

"This ship?" Blake frowned, trying to understand.

"This ship is the Corinthian!"

"We have an emergency situation over here!" Cloggs voice called out over the comm signal to the alien vessel.

"I noticed." Haldo agreed as he fussed around with a bank of equipment. "Youíre building up to a self destruct!"

"We donít have long." Clogg agreed. "Can you lock onto us with transporters?"

"Just you!" Haldo told him. "The interference from the Warp core over there is interfering with the sensors. Iíll beam you over now and try and clear up the signal!"

"No!" Clogg replied firmly. "Iím staying. Iím going to find them and get them out of the engine bay."

"If you go down there I might not be able to beam you back either." Haldo warned.

"Explain!" Blake told him firmly as he levelled the weapon at Captain Spencer.

"This is the Corinthian!" He replied simply. "The ship evolved for over one hundred years into this ship, the one youíre standing on now."

"She evolved?" Blake frowned, shaking his head slightly as he tried to fit the pieces together.

"Slowly." He agreed. "Parts were gradually replaced with better parts until she became this."

"Youíre from the future?" Blake asked, his weapon beginning to lower from Spencerís face.

"One of the only pieces of technology left was a temporal induction motor which we installed into the engines." He explained. "I brought back the Corinthian to destroy you and a ChesíKaa cruiser to make double sure, they were working for Section 31 for years before we found out about them."

"Why?" Blake almost pleaded. "Why did you have to destroy my ship."

"Thereís no Federation where I come from." He began sadly. "Thereís no Romulan empire, no Klingons, nothing except the Borg."

"The Borg?" Blake grimaced at the mention of the thing he hated and feared most.

"They assimilated everything." He told him. "They left nothing but a few ships huddled together including this one and they had no interest in taking her."

"Go onÖ" Blake told him.

"They got the Federation first, they got past our defences with a single sphere and began to turn us into them." He sneered at Blake. "Thanks to you."

"Me?" Blake shook his head.

"The communications gear on the Corinthian ran at a frequency that the Borg could use, hardly surprising as the technology was theirs in the first place." He shook his head sadly. "The computers had everything on them and just gave it all to the Borg, all of Section 31s records about us, the Romulans and all the other races, every shred of tactical data was just handed over."

"Oh godÖ" Blake closed his eyes and dropped the phaser to his side.

"We took this ship and came back to destroy you, all of you in the hope that we could change history." Spencer explained. "It probably wonít work, we all knew itís a long shot but it was the last thing left to try."

"There has to be a better way!" Blake sighed in dismay. "There must be a way to guarantee that we can change things!"

Captain Spencer shook his head in quiet resolve.

"Cancel the self destructÖ" Blake told him.

"I canít." He replied. "This is too important, we locked down the controls so the countdown canít be halted."

"Haldo!" Blake called out over the open Comm channel. "This ship is going to self destruct in seven minutes."

"I knowÖ" Haldo replied from the Corinthian bridge. "Iíve beamed over and Iím my way down to help."

"I didnít authorise that!" Blake growled.

"Youíre all useless without me." Haldo explained. "The blast for the warp-core would destroy us anyway, we canít get out of range in time!"

"Have you heard whatís going on?" Blake said over the comm badge.

"I gather this is the Corinthian." He replied with a shrug as the transporters locked onto him and beamed him to the engineering section.

"Thatís right!" Blake agreed as the gangly form of his engineer appeared before him. "We need to stop ourselves from replication the Borg communications gear on our Corinthian."

"The destroyed Corinthian?" Haldo shrugged. "I think thatís already covered."

"Thereís a device on this ship!" Blake explained quickly. "Itís designed to communicate through time."

"So what?" Haldo smiled lop-sidedly.

"So we contact ourselves and warn us not to use the Borg communications array template, instead we replicate a Federation design!" Blake suggested hopefully. "If our past selves get the message then this ship would never have come back to destroy us!"

"How does it work?" Haldo turned to the captured Captain who hung his head and crossed his arms unresponsively.

"We tried that." He shook his head. "We tried contacting you while you were inside the nebula but the conditions in there just caused the messages appear as subspace eddies."

"The computer terminal!" Blake ushered Haldo to a large alcove set into the far bulkhead. "Weíll access the files directly."

Haldoís fingers danced across the computer console, accessing the main files. "Blake." He began pensively as the data appeared before him. "I know time is short but I think thereís a room or something behind this panel that you might want to see."

"Open it." Blake told him as Haldo carried on reading through the files.

The wall hissed open quietly to reveal a service junction with a computer core behind it. Blake stepped into the computer room, nothing like it existed on the Corinthian that he remembered. He glanced over the new equipment, banks of tiny tendrils of silver cables hung everywhere, connecting small devices to a larger central core. He stepped forwards, his heart beating fiercely in his chest as he felt a growing sense of trepidation.

He stepped up to the computer core to where a glass tube filled with a bubbling yellow fluid was mounted firmly on the side. He peered into the glass, trying to see past the thick liquid. He stepped backwards suddenly, his heart jumping wildly behind his ribs in horror as he caught sight of his own head bobbing in the jar with countless thousands of slivery threads snaking out of the shattered skull and empty, hollow eye sockets.

"I have a plan!" Haldo called out in triumph as the computer warned him of only two remaining minutes before theyíd all be blown to bits.

"Can you communicate with us through time?" Clogg cried out hopefully.

"Not that plan!" Haldo waved a dismissive hand. "I have a good plan!"

"Iím listeningÖ" Blake said weakly as he stepped from the computer core room, clutching his stomach in disgust.

"The communications gear is too badly damaged to send much of a message in any case!" Haldo said but his expression remained optimistic.

"Go onÖ" Blake told him.

"The ship was buffeted with subspace eddies which were caused by this ship sending an electronic data stream back through time." Haldo explained. "I can use the same equipment to send a bigger data stream to the same temporal co-ordinates!"

"Meaning?" Girling shrugged, waving his hand to remind him how short time was.

"We suffered minor damage to our computer core." Haldo began. "I think that a more pronounced stream of data will cause enough damage to erase the Borg communications files from our computer!"

"Will it work?" Blake asked.

"I wonít know until it happens!"

"Do it!"

The Corinthian exploded, the blast clawed out from her engineering heart and obliterated the ChesíKaa vessel as the energy seared out through the Bimok 3 nebula, scarring the delicate purple clouds.

"Haldo to BlakeÖ" The comm signal opened with a bleep.

Blake sighed and replied hesitantly, his attention fixed on the grisly metallic device his chief medical officer was handling. "Yes?"

"The communications array looks like the galley did on my last attempt to cook a live Klingon cat." Haldo explained. "We need a new one."

"Iím rather busy." Blake told him as Katherine assembled another even larger and more menacing contraption designed to probe his implants.

"I need your help." Haldo ignored his comments. "We need to replicate a whole new system from the Starfleet archives."

"Iím going to be a while." He explained.

"I really need the help of a reasonably competent officer." Haldo grumbled. "ÖBut I figured youíd have to do!"

"Heís really good at what he does." Blake mumbled to Katherine by way of an explanation for forgiving his rudeness.

"And you get on with him really." She added knowingly.

"Hang on!" Blake said over the comm channel. He closed his eyes for a second, his mind suddenly inside the computer, scanning archives. It was a disconcerting feeling as if he was reading a book heíd read years ago and mostly forgotten as his consciousness felt its way through the records, half knowing their contents already.

"I thought there was a Borg pattern in the computer." Blake grumbled with a sigh.

"As Iíve tried to tell you, most of the experimental files have been deleted in the last impact." Haldo replied wearily. "Iíve still got the Starfleet records but Iím going to need your help!"

"Iím really busyÖ" Blake complained.

"Iím sorry." Haldo continued without sounding like he meant it.

"On my wayÖ" Blake grumbled finally. "Blake out!"

"I guess we can finish later." She shrugged slightly sadly.

"Duty calls." He sighed back. "Iíll be back as soon as I can."

Katherine smiled uneasily and watched as he left the bay in no particular hurry. She slowly began to disassemble the scanning device with a heavy heart, knowing quite well that Blake wouldnít be back any time soon.

"Always the bridesmaid, KatherineÖ" She muttered to herself. "Never the bride."

 

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