|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?|
"It could be an impulse turn." The operations chief confirmed.
"These energy signatures cannot be a naturally occurring event." Commander Brown added, confirming what the Captain already knew. "There is at least one ship out there performing high speed manoeuvres."
"Have they detected us?" Captain Faruqui asked impatiently, staring at the main viewer which could tell him nothing.
"The readings are erratic but they don't appear to be heading in our direction." Goruss Clogg said with notable relief drawn from the fact that with the cloaking device in place they were running without defence shields.
"We have been moving in with thrusters only in black-hole mode so it is unlikely that they will be able track us." Commander Brown added hopefully.
"Follow the signal with scanners." He instructed as the Captain hoisted himself from his seat to turn to his officers.
"Yes sir." Clogg agreed as he locked the tactical scanner grid onto the signal.
"It's two ships." The operations chief reported.
"Confirmed." Commander Brown agreed. "I'm detecting two impulse trails but they are very weak and definitely not heading this way."
"So at least two ships are leaving…" The Captain said thoughtfully. "I just wonder how many are left."
"More to the point, how many Scarabs?" Goruss Clogg added.
"I doubt it would be more than one." Captain Faruqui assured him. "We don't believe there are more than three or four completed yet."
"Yes sir." Clogg replied. "But one would be more than enough, wouldn't it, Sir?"
Lieutenant Commander Blake Girling turned in surprise as his door chimed signalling the presence of a guest. He breathed a heavy sigh and drew a lung-full of air into his aching chest that burnt from the exertion of forcing himself to exercise.
He reached into his shirt pocket for his brashly assembled phaser made from parts of the replicator and switched the controls to activate it if he should feel the immediate need to do so.
"Come." He called out to the computer.
The doors slid open with a hiss as the magnetic seals gave way and Katherine Rogers stepped in sheepishly and began peering around in the darkness.
"Does the light still hurt?" She called out from the doorway apologetically.
"I just prefer it this way." He replied, stepping in front of the window so the faint starlight illuminated his silhouette. "Come in."
"I need to talk." She said as she began across the cabin floor. "You're breathing is laboured, are you alright?"
"I'm feeling much better actually." He assured her. "I had some tension to work out."
"I can come back later if you're busy." She offered hoping he wouldn't take her up on it.
"I'm done. Why don't we take a walk?" He suggested, grabbing a black jacket from the back of the chair and throwing it on over a grey shirt.
"How about the observation lounge on deck 3, we're at battle stations so nobody will be in there?" She suggested, halting as she spoke.
"Fine with me!" He smiled, glancing back at the comm panel.
"The stars seem a little odd." Captain Graves noticed as he paced the length of his cabin.
"They seem dull and unfocused." Winston Morrow agreed as he watched the pacing figure with growing annoyance. "What do you think it means?"
"I think we're cloaked." He replied, nodding in agreement with himself.
"Wouldn't everything out there look black?" Morrow shrugged. "The light would be bent around us."
"I've never been on a cloaked ship." Graves replied, stopping momentarily to stare out of the window. "If the light was totally bent around us then the ship would be unable to function properly. They must compensate for that somehow."
"Maybe the window is just dirty." Morrow offered with a sigh.
"Graves to Compz." The merchant Captain said as he tapped on the comm-badge he had been issued.
"Compz." Came the reply from the small gold symbol.
"Are you busy?" He asked, reaching into his back pocket for his gin flask.
"Yes." He replied earnestly. "But I could use a break, shall I come down?"
"Yeah, it would be good to see you."
"I guess I was a little harsh." Blake began as they walked into the observation deck room that sat just below the raised bridge assembly at the top of the main hull. There were five large plate windows that gave an utterly impressive view of the massive purple and blue planet that was orbited by a circle of dusty brown rock fragments loaded with metallic minerals that made a pulsating ring of shimmering colours as the distant sunlight caressed its way across them.
"That's alright." She shrugged.
"I guess all this is a lot to take in." He explained. "One minute I'm in fight with some alien vessel and the next it's over a decade later and I'm being told I was killed and brought back by Starfleets evil twin."
"You signed up for this!" She smirked, her grim mood weighing heavily so that smiling somehow escaped her.
"It's all getting a little surreal." He grinned back.
"It might be getting worse." She told him flatly.
"Go on…" He said as he took a seat at a table next to the windows and waited for still more bad news.
"They beamed up two more of the tubes." She explained.
"With more people inside?" He asked.
"We can't get past the computer encryption so we can't tell who they are yet." She nodded in agreement. "I do know that when we found you the treatment had reached level 4 and it was at level 5 before we got you out, on these two it's already at level 7."
"But we don't know what that means?" He asked rhetorically.
"We're in orbit around a planet that might have a Section 31 base." She continued. "Apparently the people in the tubes were going to be tested aboard a ship."
"Tested in what way?" He leant forward and stared unwaveringly into her anxious eyes.
"I don't know." She shrugged sadly. "We're cloaked and scanning for this hidden base at the moment, it could be in the asteroid ring."
"They're going in?" Blake asked, leaning back with a faint smile forming as ideas traced their way through his cluttered mind.
"They can't take the ship in." She explained. "I have heard they're out-rigging two insurgence shuttles with cloaks and quantum torpedoes."
"Insurgence shuttles?" He shrugged.
"Runabout class ships." She explained. "We have four on board but only three are ever primed and functional. They're big transporters but ours carry heavy weapons and armour."
"But look just like ordinary transports?" Blake nodded gravely. "I'm beginning to get the hang of this intelligence stuff."
"It doesn't take much…" She smiled. "…Intelligence that is. You just make sure you're someone that can't be trusted and assume that everyone else is too."
"That's great." He nodded sarcastically. "I don't think there's enough intelligence on this ship to go round."
"Look." She said, leaning forwards. "I want to help these people, they could be just like you with no idea about any of this."
"Me too." He agreed. "How?"
"I was hoping you could tell me!" she shrugged.
"Do you trust your Captain?" He asked. "Will he use what he finds on the planet to help these people?"
"To be absolutely honest I don't think he will." She replied, sighing heavily as she spoke. "He just wants to get to Section 31."
"Then I'm going to have to go down to the base." He said firmly.
"I think we have it, Sir." Goruss Clogg said with a note of jubilation on his croaky voice as his console flashed some very shaky sensor data to him.
"The base?" Captain Faruqui jumped up from his chair, grinning widely.
"One of the larger asteroids has a device that is emitting some kind of navigational deflector bubble to keep the other asteroids away." He explained. "It is phased in tune with our own sensors so we didn't detect it at first."
"On screen." He barked angrily, spinning to the main viewer.
The image of the asteroid filled the screen. It was simply a large inert rock in space, almost perfectly spherical and spinning gently in no discernible pattern, or at least one that it didn't see fit to divulge to observers.
"There are several tunnels wide enough to accommodate our attack shuttles." Commander Brown reported cheerfully. "If the Violator remains at cloak then we should be undetected while our security team attacks and the shuttles will be safe from attack by the Ibex once they're inside, assuming of course that it's still in the area."
"How long until the shuttles are ready?" Captain Faruqui asked, turning to his over-worked chief of security.
"They are reporting ready." He replied. "Crews are performing pre-launch tests and security personnel are assembling in the staging area."
"Goruss, report to the lead ship." He instructed. "Assemble a secondary team to deploy from the support ship. I want two engineers and two medical officers on the staff."
"What about Haldo Compz?" Commander Brown suggested. "He would be invaluable if we came across any more traps!"
"See if he's willing." The Captain sneered. "Remind him that this could be a bumpy ride."
"Hello lads!" Haldo called out cheerily as he wandered into his crews temporary quarters.
"Compz." Captain Graves called out cheerfully, standing to greet him.
"I hear you are confined to quarters." Compz noted. "Did you try and steal some cutlery or something?"
"I didn't do anything." The Captain grunted. "I mentioned Scarabs and ended up being very rudely treated."
"They are all very touchy about that." Compz agreed, lowering his frame into a waiting chair that hadn't been waiting for him while Morrow looked on in frustration that somebody had stolen his seat.
"What is a Scarab?" Morrow asked, scolding himself for allowing his curiosity to get him further involved with things he knew he shouldn't have got himself involved with in the first place.
"A ship." Compz shrugged. "Some kind of ship, I don't know what's special about it but they're scared of it."
"They were unsure about the power of the Aggressor class." Captain Graves stood up and began pacing the floor thoughtfully. "That was just an upgraded Miranda type vessel. By now it must be very old but it still posed a threat to them on this brand new armoured stealth battleship thingy."
"Perhaps Section 31 have no qualms about using weapons that aren't morally acceptable." Morrow suggested. "Polarised ion streams are illegal due to the radiation fallout but are nearly half as destructive as Phasers again."
"The radiation would damage the ship and the crew, there's no way to protect against it." Graves pointed out. "This was an old ship, it didn't look like some suicide machine."
"Maybe they've simply got more advanced technology." Compz postulated. "Several older designs of vessels have endured to this day due to their virtues over more modern designs. The Excelsior class, for instance has proved to be able to withstand incredible amounts of punishment and can endure high warp for longer periods than many more recent ships."
"The Miranda is a modular design." Captain Graves added in agreement. "It could be built quite cheaply and is a common sight that doesn't attract much attention."
"But…" Compz continued, drawing the focus of attention back to himself where he preferred it to be. "What is the Scarab?"
Blake Girling walked along a silver and grey corridor with boringly repetitive support joists and lighting fixtures marking every section. He was followed closely by a burly security officer who was under instructions to follow his every move without being overly intimidating.
He knew that his civilian clothing was a considerable nuisance in his plans to smuggle himself aboard one of the two insurgence shuttles but he had simply to live with it. He had considered beaming himself aboard but had discounted that plan immediately as the targeting scanners couldn't detect him so beaming him anywhere was virtually impossible. The only way that anyone could tell where he was, was either visually or by the comm-badge he had agreed to wear.
He walked briskly towards the officers lounge one deck up from the observation deck so that the guard lost sight of him for an instant around the bends and got used to doing so. The guard knew enough to suspect that his own presence was merely a precaution or possibly in case he fell sick and not that Girling posed any real threat, he was after all a Starfleet officer.
Blake walked slightly faster around a blind corner and drew his cobbled together weapon as he did so out of sight of the security officer. He knew that when battle stations were called it was normal to find ships relatively quiet as everyone was otherwise occupied and that suited him perfectly.
As the guard stepped round the corner, Blake was waiting for him with a short discharge from his phaser. The replicator coil flashed with sparkling orange energy as a beam of coherent photons streaked erratically from the muzzle end into the shocked and unprepared guard.
With a groan the big man slumped noisily to the ground, his eyelids fluttering and his arm twitching from the low power of the blast not quite doing everything it was meant to do.
Blake knew he had to move quickly as he grabbed the shoulders of the man and dragged his weight towards a Jeffries tube opening that he had noticed on his way to meet Katherine. With a grunt he hefted the groaning man into the service ducts and grabbed the door plate from the floor.
He waited for a second, looking at the guard who was already beginning to moan and twitch more openly.
With a sigh he shot him again, the beam catching him on the leg and sending him plunging into unconsciousness.
Blake tossed the comm-badge in the tube and shot it with his phaser pistol before fastening the door to the Jeffries tube and continuing on his way to shuttle-bay 2 to embark on his next act of stupidity but he knew it was now too late for regrets.
Katherine Rogers stepped into the slightly recessed airlock opening to the insurgence shuttle and continued down the narrow access-way to the rear lounge where rows of seating for the landing party had replaced the normal comforts. She sat at one of the last few seats available and waited in silence for whatever would happen to begin to happen.
She glanced out through the side window at the maintenance team who were scurrying around with flashing tools and instruments making sure every device was functioning perfectly as detection could make their short journey a significantly shorter one. Faint tendrils of white smoke rose from the ships vents before the internal air conditioning could swiftly remove them and the air was heavy with the smell of powerful machinery preparing itself.
She craned her neck to the doorway in the hope of seeing Blake but no matter how much she strained she could barely make out the door. She closed her eyes and hoped against reason he'd make it, especially after all the help she had given him would, if discovered end her career in an unfortunate and permanent manner.
Haldo Compz continued on to shuttle-bay 2 at his usual leisurely pace as if the world around him was as important as his last bowel movement.
"Compz!" He heard a voice call out from behind him. He turned to see Blake Girling jogging to catch up with him as they both made their way up to the bay entrance.
"You're going down to the base?" Girling asked conversationally.
"It seems like the thing to do." Compz agreed. "These people would rather kill themselves than actually think the mission through so I'm going to try and offer the voice of reason and if that fails then at least I have the amusement of being able to tell them that I told them so."
"You don't think this is a good idea?" Blake suggested.
"Even though this is a science base there is still bound to be a security team, not to mention that there's probably at least one aggressive ship in orbit." Compz agreed.
"So you're a consultant too?" Blake smiled, holding up a portable pad with his orders programmed into it although he had programmed them himself earlier using Ensign Katherine Rogers command codes.
"They roped you in?" Compz sighed. "I didn't think you were that stupid."
"I'll take that as a compliment." Blake grinned as they reached the bay.
The doors slid open to the large shuttle bay that had an observation platform running around the top. The rear walls had deep hanger doors recessed into them where large service and cargo bays resided and yellow lighting danced across the floor in a regular pattern.
In the middle of the snug fitting bay was the imposing form of a large insurgence shuttle, a huge grey boxy craft with nacelles burning blue and red and the impulse engines already powered and ready to propel the craft into space.
Blake led the way as Compz clearly had no interest in doing so. He crossed the floor and handed the pad to the flight officers as he stepped up the entry gantry to board the ship.
"We're the consultants!" Blake pointed his thumb at his chest as the officer took the pad. "Lieutenant commander Blake Girling and merchant chief engineer Haldo Compz."
The officer scanned the pad quickly and looked up from his seat at the navigation controls.
Blake waited with a neutral expression, hoping his plan would work while the seconds ticked by, every one taking him closer to the brig and then an extended period of exploratory surgery by inept intelligence staff trying to extract every secret in the most literal way.
"Please take your seats, sirs!" The officer handed him back the pad and pointed rudely to Compz. "You'll have to sit at the rear but the Commander may remain in the control booth if he wishes."
"I'm just a consultant." Girling smiled, knowing that the two way communication holograms might reveal his presence to the Captain. "I'll go through to the lounge with the others."
"As you wish." He replied curtly, turning his full attention back to the controls of the shuttle.
"You made it." Katherine leant forward to whisper into Blake's ear as he sat down beside her in the converted lounge of the shuttle.
"Didn't you think I would?" He asked with a smile. "I guess they have other things to worry about right now."
"How did you lose your escort?" She cupped her hand over her mouth as she spoke to keep her voice from travelling.
"He's sleeping off a phaser blast in a Jeffries tube on deck 2." He replied calmly. "He'll be fine in an hour or so."
"Where did you get a phaser?" She scowled.
"I made one out of parts I rescued from the replicator." He shrugged. "It's dead now though, It was only good for a few shots."
"We should all be offered weapons when we land." She looked him over suspiciously, dubious of his ability and motivation to fabricate weapons undetected. "Why did you build it?"
"Without wishing to sound derogatory, I don't trust you." He replied with a shrug. "Not you personally, just this whole Starfleet Intelligence thing."
"I think I'm beginning to agree with you." She sighed.
The two cloaked insurgence shuttles slipped unseen into the broiling asteroid belt that circled the immense unnamed planet below. The target loomed large before them amid a lazily spiralling wall of randomly moving rock.
The shuttles crept along at thruster speed in case their impulse engines were detected, guided by sophisticated computers that monitored each rock under the watchful gaze of the highly trained flight crew.
"They're maintaining communications silence." Goruss Clogg reported from his station. "They will signal with a three millisecond pulse from their impulse engines when they are about to enter the asteroid."
"Do you see any problems monitoring the shuttles?" Commander Brown asked while the Captain stood motionless at the centre of the bridge staring into the viewscreen with his hands clasped behind him.
"I can't say." The operations chief replied earnestly. "I won't know if I can detect the impulse signal until it comes. At this point I'm not detecting anything through their stealth cloaks and I'm reasonably certain that we haven't been detected either."
"Maintain constant passive sensor sweeps of the whole sector." Captain Faruqui grunted. "The Ibex could be out there, I'd rather avoid her than tangle with her."
"Agreed!" Goruss Clogg replied enthusiastically.
"Estimated time to contact?" Faruqui turned purposely from the monitor at the front of the bridge to face his officers.
"The shuttles should arrive at the base in about two minutes, depending on the density of the asteroid field at their approach vector." Commander Brown replied, stepping up to the centre section of the bridge to join him.
"Weapon status?" He growled towards his security chief.
"Phasers charged and all banks report ready." Goruss Cloggs fingers danced across his controls as the data flashed up before him. "All four torpedo tubes are loaded and the main forward quantum tube is armed with full inventory. Main pulse-phaser cannon has priority power feed and is running at full power."
"We're ready for anything." Commander Brown smiled to herself.
"Perhaps not." Captain Faruqui hung his head thoughtfully. "Not if the Ibex is out there."
"The first shuttle has entered the tunnel." The first flight engineer called out over the comm system aboard the second ship.
"I wouldn't want to be aboard that one!" Haldo Compz grinned towards Katherine and Blake.
"It's going to be a rough ride." Blake agreed with a shrug.
"How are you feeling now?" Compz asked, turning to peer out of the side window as the ship slipped into the gaping mouth of the huge crater.
"I'm fine." Blake assured him. "If the worst thing that happens to you today is not being dead then it's been a good day."
"I guess so." Compz nodded as his lips curled away from his large flat teeth. "You recovered quickly, have you managed to remember anything more?"
"I'm afraid not." He replied with a shrug.
"May I ask you a personal question?" Haldo blinked innocently.
"You can ask!" Blake grinned back.
"When you died, did you see a tunnel of light and some dead relatives wrapped in white cloths waiting for you?" Compz asked earnestly with a slightly disturbing lack of sarcasm.
"I'm afraid not." Blake raised his eyebrow quizzically. "It just went black and then there was suddenly this massive painful blast of brilliant white light when I woke up."
"Oh, I see." Compz replied disappointedly.
"Why do you ask?" Katherine leant forward as she spoke.
"My entire race is dead." He explained with a shrug. "They're all gone and it would be nice to think that they continue in some way, somewhere. I would hate to feel that all I have left in my life is a quest for revenge for their deaths."
The airlock hissed open with a sigh of escaping gas as the pressures equalised between the access portal and the shuttle. The control engineer and the tactical officer worked quickly at the front of the powerful transport ship as the security detail prepared for their attack run.
"We all know what we're doing?" Goruss Clogg asked to the rows of officers all brandishing their phaser carbines menacingly.
"Yes sir." The red squad leader confirmed as he banged his hand hard onto the centre ring of his black chest-plate to activate a low powered deflector shield that went some way to protecting them from most of the blast of a direct phaser hit.
"Transporters ready?" Goruss continued, turning to his flight engineer.
"I have a full sensor map of the base interior. Were ready to deploy the mines." He confirmed. "At your signal."
"Beam the concussion mines to every location." Goruss Clogg ordered before row after row of dark circular implements began to vanish from the transporter pad in a flash of sparkling blue light.
"Red team go!"
"They're on their way." Katherine said with a shudder as the shuttle decloaked and manoeuvred in towards the waiting docking arm. "They will beam in concussion mines first, they fire a wide beam phaser discharge to incapacitate anyone within range and then they track any movement and fire on it."
"Sounds reassuring." Compz noted. "I'll be sure not to move."
"Your comm-badge will send out a constant non-belligerency signal so the mines won't trace you." She smiled but it looked more like an apology. "If there's any circuit failure the devices deactivate, it's quite safe for you."
"I don't have a comm-badge." Blake whispered as the ship jerked slightly as it married up with the docking clamps.
"It uses the same detection system as tricorders do, you'll be safer than anyone." She assured him.
"What happened to your comm-badge?" Compz asked knowingly, waiting for him to explain as he folded his ungainly arms over his equally ungainly chest.
"I lost it." Blake said as if it didn't matter.
"I take it you're not actually meant to be here then?" Compz continued making little effort to remain unheard by the others in the cabin.
"Keep your voice down." Katherine told him.
"I'm just trying to help those people trapped in the tubes." He explained hopefully. "I have something of an affinity with them."
"A more elevated reason than revenge, I suppose." Compz quipped at his own expense.
"Please don't tell anyone." She begged.
"What are you planning to do?" Compz asked, leaning forward and lowering his voice.
"We're going to find anyone who can tell us what the hell is going on." Blake assured him. "Hopefully before the troops move in and destroy any hope of getting some answers."
"You told me that without their secrets Section 31 would lose their power." Katherine reminded him hopefully. "You know you're not going to destroy them with guns or bombs."
"You want me to help you?" Compz sniggered, his lips gyrating madly in time with his stunted laughter.
The flight engineer suddenly called out over the tannoy system, plunging the cabin into silence.
"We're docked, begin blue team deployment."
Proceed to Chapter 8 of 10
|Last modified: 09 Nov 2020