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Star Trek Renegade - 1.7 Alone by J. Grey, copyright held by A.P. Atkinson

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?

1.7 Alone

Captain Granger sat at the commend chair of the Starfleet intelligence vessel, the USS Resilient. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he gazed at the small viewscreen before him. His ship was a modified Defiant class ship with more integration of the basic systems, a less powerful engine and better sensor resolution making her ideally suited for scouting hostile environments.

"There's nothing there." The Vulcan science officer reported in a characteristic flat monotone.

"I can see that." He replied with a weary sigh. "Are we still detecting the distress signal?"

"It's coming through loud and clear!" The Comm officer reported efficiently. "I can't isolate the source yet."

The Captain stood up and stepped forwards to the small holographic screen as he shook his head.

"There's nothing here." He shrugged. "Perhaps the signal is an echo?"

"It's possible but the source seems to be exactly on this position." Lieutenant Sukon informed him from her science station. "I will run a diagnostic on the sensors, perhaps there is an error."

"Perhaps you have made an error?" He suggested with a coy smile.

"Unlikely." The young Vulcan replied without a hint of annoyance.

"Sir!" The operations chief cried out suddenly. "I'm detecting a power surge, a ship appears to be uncloaking!"

"Shields up." The Captain barked. "Red alert."

As the defences raised the shadowy image of a vessel appeared in the viewer, it was so close that all they saw was a blaze of bare grey alloy as the vessel uncloaked and passed over the unprepared little ship."

The Corinthian lay in the centre of a sprawling engineering construction centre deep within the Sol system at the heart of the Federation. Starfleet intelligence had increased security especially for her arrival at Earth and now she was docked at an engineering dry-dock while Haldo continued overseeing the repairs to her damaged Transwarp systems.

"That is one funny looking ship!" Engineer Pavlov told him with a friendly grin. The pair stood before a large transparent aluminium window at the centre office overlooking the docking area.

"What's funny about her?" Haldo crossed his arms over his chest and huffed in abject annoyance.

"I've just never seen anything like it." He replied with a thoughtful shrug as he considered the unusual design. "We were told it was a little different but…"

"But what?" Haldo asked, his eyebrow raised as he turned his body to bear down on the cheerful little engineer.

"It looks like a tadpole with arms…" He laughed. "And there are big holes in it."

"She's an excellent ship." Haldo told him flatly. "She's the best thing in Starfleet."

"It's pretty small." Pavlov commented as he turned away from the gantry.

"She doesn't need much of a crew." Haldo scowled at the annoying little man, any insult to his ship seeming somehow like a personal sleight against him. "She can regenerate from most damage without any help and the control systems do most of the work themselves."

"But not from damage to the Transwarp coils?" Pavlov grinned up to Haldo's frowning face.

"How much longer?" Haldo grumbled, growing bored with the conversation.

"It's nearly ready." He replied. "You've tied up thirteen high-resolution replicators for nearly a week building that thing."

"She's worth it…" Haldo told him, turning back to the image of the elegant, fragile looking craft docked at the engineering gantry.

"You know what I'd really like…" Pavlov said suddenly, flying off at a sudden tangent as he was apt to do.

"I know what I'd really like." Haldo glowered down at him.

"I'd like to go on board." Pavlov grinned. "Just once to see the engineering sections."

Haldo smiled proudly back at him.

It was growing dark overhead and the clouds were broken and lit with a dwindling orange effervescent glow from the setting sun. Reds and yellows were painted across the canvas of the sky over the grey backdrop of the encroaching night to be lit more conservatively by the silvery glow of the moon.

"I grew up here." Katherine said softly as her and Blake walked slowly through the small country village.

"I know." He smiled. "I did too, remember?"

"Sorry." She shook her head and smirked at her silly comment. "I knew that."

"I haven't been here in nearly fifteen years." Blake told her conversationally as he glanced around.

"Twenty five." She corrected him.

"Sorry." He nodded in agreement. "Twenty five. Nothing's changed though."

"Nothing ever does around here." She told him. "I haven't been here myself since the funeral."

Blake squinted as he looked up into the darkening mottled sky as a shuttlecraft flew silently by in the distance and a few birds fluttered about singing cheerfully to one another. "I guess nothing much around here can change." He smiled as he remembered the few years he'd spent in the quiet English village with his family as a child.

"It's a quiet place, almost like stepping out of time." She agreed solemnly. They stopped as she took a deep breath. She pointed towards the church yard just ahead of them peering shyly through a neatly trimmed hedge.

"Over there?" He asked sadly.

"That's where he's buried." She agreed. "My Father."

"Impressive." Engineer Pavlov gasped as he gazed around the Corinthians cluttered engineering section. The Warp core flashed unevenly as bolts of energy arced inside the transparent globe at the heart of the unique system.

"It certainly is!" Haldo huffed proudly as he gestured around his domain. "This is the most advanced ship in Starfleet, most of it is classified so I can't tell you just how truly amazing most of it is."

"I can appreciate that!" He nodded in hearty agreement. "There are rumours flying around the crews about what this craft can do."

"I'll bet." Haldo grinned widely.

"I've heard she can make Warp 10…" Pavlov told him. "She's meant to have a phaser cannon that can collapse a sun and a trans-spacial quantum oscillator."

"A what?" Haldo frowned.

"You know what rumours are!" He grinned. "She's even more impressive inside than out."

"That she is." Haldo glanced about his engine room.

"Is it true that she's connected into the mind of her Captain?" He asked.

"Yes." Haldo nodded as if he harboured a slight resentment that the ship shouldn't want to be linked to him instead. "He controls everything at an unconscious level."

"So you don't actually do anything?" Pavlov laughed and patted Haldo on the arm playfully.

"Actually I work very hard." He assured him angrily. "I've established many manual protocols so I can control the systems more efficiently."

"I'm sure you have!" He laughed until a bleep issued from his Comm badge. "Pavlov here…"

"The Transwarp coil is ready to be transported over whenever you're ready." A tinny voice called out.

"Excellent!" Haldo clapped his hands together and then reached out to grab a Padd. He handed the flat device to the engineer. "Tell them to beam the coil to these frequencies, I'll pick up the beam and transport it directly into its mountings."

"You want to intercept our transporter beam?" He grimaced. "Isn't that dangerous? It's taken us a long time to build this thing and I'd hate to have anything happen to it!"

"It'll be fine." Haldo told him as a familiar tinge of arrogance returned to his voice.

The final resting place of Katherine Rogers's father was a dignified place. A black headstone topped the grave, his name and the dates that marked his life were finely embossed on it. The surface was laminated with a gleaming lacquer that would survive many thousands of years before any wear could even begin to show.

"Not many people manage to get themselves buried here." She said softly as she gazed fixedly at the simple epitaph.

"Not many men die in a shuttle trying to save a ship's crew!" Blake told her. "He was a good man, he died a hero."

"He was." She sniffed sadly.

"Are you ok?" He asked, shaking away his own pain.

"Yeah…" She assured him with a weak smile. "For me he died years ago, for you it was less than a month."

"It's a bit weird, isn't it?" He smiled back sadly. "I was actually talking to him in a turbolift aboard his ship and now it's ten years later and he's long dead and I'm standing in a graveyard talking to his grown up daughter."

"The first lesson you learn at Starfleet." She grinned without humour at his troubled expression. "When you leave Earth you leave all your expectations in dry-dock and get ready for anything."

"You're never ready for anything…" Blake told her. He remembered the old mans face as he smirked at him aboard the Mirage, knowing a few things about a naive young officer that he wasn't quite ready to share. "Some things you just can't prepare for."

"He really loved you, you know?" She told him. "He thought of you as more like his own son."

"I know." Blake smiled. "I just can't really believe he's gone."

The two looked at one another, lost for words for a moment. Katherine shrugged happily and turned back to the grave. "He made one hell of a difference in his life."

"He saved a lot of people." Blake agreed.

"He made a difference to me." She told him.

"Me too." He smiled to himself.

Captain Graves rubbed his forehead in exasperation. "How long?" He grumbled.

Commander Morrow sighed heavily as his head drooped slightly. "Three minutes." He told him flatly.

"Only three more minutes?" The Captain seemed slightly more cheerful.

"No, I mean it's only been three minutes since you last asked."

John Graves stood up from the chair and began pacing the Wanderer's bridge. Following the Corinthian around was virtually impossible when the ship was over ten times faster than his was. He had followed her back along her course back to Earth but his craft was only capable of travelling at Warp 8 even though it was a cutting edge commercial design while the Corinthian had a tendency to arrive before he had managed to leave.

"We'll make it back to Earth in about an hour." Morrow told him. "We're going as fast as we can."

"Can we go any faster?" The Captain asked, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

"No ship can go faster than its fastest speed." Commander Morrow groaned wearily.

"Maybe we can get a little more out of the engines?" He suggested.

"There's nothing left in them." Morrow smirked. "We've transferred power from every key system and we're running at ten percent over the recommended maximum output and we have been for far too long already."

"Maybe we need a military ship?" Graves said rhetorically. "Maybe one with bigger guns."

"No ship in Starfleet could keep up with the Corinthian, that's why Starfleet uses her." The Commander reminded him.

"I know." He nodded back. "But we're meant to follow them around as a support vessel and we can't keep up. It makes me wonder just how useful we actually are."

"Thanks for coming." Captain Reader reached out his hand towards Blake. The hand was turned slightly upwards, Blake shook it vigorously and smiled back at him.

"My pleasure." He raised an eyebrow knowingly, waiting for Reader to reach the point.

"How does it feel to back at Earth?" Captain Reader grinned.

"It feels a lot like being anywhere else when you're about to be sent on some dangerous mission before you get your promised shore-leave." Blake quipped although his joke held a grain of truth.

"I'm sorry." Captain Reader told him earnestly. "We have a situation."

"Don't we always?" Blake shook his head.

"We're a little short-staffed." Reader told him. "Your ship is fast, you're the only thing we have in range."

"What do you want me to do?" He sighed back.

"A vessel has stopped responding to our hails." Reader explained apologetically. "The Captain was a personal friend of mine. I'd like you to investigate."

"You're asking for a favour?" Blake smiled.

"Ensign Rogers tells me that you're all checked out medically and the Corinthian is back to full operational status now that I've arranged to have the parts you need made available to you." Reader shrugged as the ghost of a smile crossed his lips, he hoped that it might prove useful to remind Blake of his continued assistance. "I'd really appreciate your help!"

"Download the details to my ship." Blake told him with a note of regret that his trip had ended. "We'll get underway as soon as I speak to Haldo."

The Corinthian swept majestically past the softly rotating globe of Earth. Blake couldn't help but smile at the sight of his home, the planet that was still the seat of the entire human race, the seed from which the entire Federation had grown and flourished.

"I wonder when we'll be back…" Katherine sighed, her eyes fixed on the welcoming image of the gentle blue planet.

"Soon." He promised her. "And next time we'll have our shore leave without any interruptions."

"I know." She smiled sadly, disappointed that their trip had been such a short one. She sighed deeply as Earth grew ever smaller in the reverse angle on the viewer.

"I miss him too." Blake told her.

"I know." She smiled.

The USS Resilient drifted helplessly in space, a shattered piece of wreckage adrift in the vacuum. Her hull was littered with damage from weapons fire and some sections of the plating were completely gone, exposing the super-structure beneath.

"She's dead in the water." Haldo reported slightly sadly as he shook his head at the smashed Starfleet vessel before them.

"I'm not detecting any life-signs either." Katherine agreed. "That ship had a crew of forty people."

"Forty people." Captain Girling repeated thoughtfully as rubbed his chin and paced the bridge.

"From the debris pattern I would guess this happened at least two days ago, probably as soon as Starfleet lost contact with them." Haldo told him as he glanced dejectedly at the smashed scout ship.

"We need answers!" Blake told them as he turned suddenly to his crew. "I'm not going to Starfleet command to tell them that an entire crew died without some explanation as to why."

"You're going aboard?" Haldo suggested as he shifted expectantly in his seat.

"Just me." Blake nodded. "I'd like you to began sweeping for residual trails. I want to know who did this."

"I'll go with you." Katherine stood up. "There may still be people over there."

"It might not be safe." He told her thoughtfully, his decision against her not quite made.

"I'll take my chances." She told him firmly as she took her away-mission kit from the counter where it was stowed. "I'm coming with you!"

He nodded in agreement, not wishing to labour the point. "You have the bridge!" He told Haldo as the pair of them vanished instantly in a flickering blue transporter beam.

Ensign Rogers and Captain Girling materialised amid twin columns of light. Blake frowned and glanced around the bridge in surprise.

Katherine looked up at him with a confused expression and shrugged at him.

"What went wrong?" She sighed, looking around the bridge. Blake raised his eyebrow and looked around.

"This is the Corinthian!" He exclaimed at the familiar surroundings.

"The transport failed." She told him with a shrug. "We're back where we started."

Blake shook his head and stepped towards his command chair. "Something is very wrong!" He grumbled.

"Where is everybody?" She mumbled as she became suddenly aware that the bridge was deserted. "What happened?"

"I can't hear the ship!" Blake told her, his voice rising fearfully. "I can't feel the computer, I can't see anything."

"What?" He eyebrows raised and she stepped gingerly forwards to him. "The computer link has died?"

"I don't know." He groaned as he wiped the nervous sweat from his brow as it began to prickle uncomfortably. "It's just gone silent."

"Maybe this isn't the Corinthian?" She suggested. "Perhaps the bridge of the Resilient just looks the same?"

"There's no damage." He frowned. "It all looks the same as when we left and as far as I know our ship is unique."

"Can we switch the controls to manual?" She asked, trying to sound as calm as possible although that was far from how she felt.

"I don't know." He admitted with a shrug. He took a deep breath and sat slowly into his chair.

Katherine sighed deeply.

"I guess the ship should just work like any other…" He began hopefully. "I should be able to access the command menu from here and get most of the ship working."

"Maybe we were away for a while?" She suggested rhetorically, turning to glance at the abandoned crew stations that seemed eerily silent. "You lose all sense of time in a transport, we could have been locked in a pattern buffer safely for a few days if something went wrong, maybe longer on the Corinthian, the systems are more sophisticated."

"Sensors are working on a reduced setting…" Blake called out with a relieved smile, rousing her from her thoughts. "The USS Resilient still seems to be out there but I can't seem to lock onto anything properly with the main systems working."

"What about internal sensors?" She asked as she moved towards her familiar science station. "I could look for our crew… they're probably here somewhere."

"You do that!" He agreed enthusiastically. "I can't get propulsion or weapons online. Tactical systems are not responding either!"

"No shields?" She frowned.

"I know…" He agreed. "And whoever shot up that ship could still be out there under cloak."

"Blake!" She said suddenly, frowning deeply at the display. "There's nobody else aboard."

"What?" He turned suddenly to face her.

"I'm only detecting one life sign." She shrugged. "The Corinthian can usually track you but I can't even detect you now. We're alone here."

"Alone?" He grimaced, turning to the viewer where the wreckage of the Resilient floated morbidly ahead of them like a corpse bobbing in some wretched body of water.

"Are you ok?" She asked, sensing a change in his mood.

"There's something wrong!" He told her, a deep frown cutting across his forehead.

"I know that." She smiled weakly. "Our crew has vanished and we're alone in space on an unresponsive ship."

"It's not that." He shuddered. "There's something very, very wrong here."

Katherine stood up and took a tentative step towards him, a chill began to work its way fearfully up her spine as she stared fixedly at his motionless form as Blake gazed at the viewer. "Are you ok?" She ventured nervously.

"Not really." He admitted, wrapping his arms around himself. "I just get this feeling that something is wrong. I've never felt anything like it."

"Maybe we could go down to the medical bay." She suggested. "It could be the sensors you have built into your body detecting something."

"I don't know." He shrugged. "Maybe…"

The medical bay was as silent as the rest of the ship. The doors still opened as people approached them but there was none of the usual interaction that occurred on the Corinthian, lights adjusting themselves as people walked into the room or the temperature resetting itself either to personal preferences or to irritate them if the ship chose to dislike them.

"There are some things missing." Katherine glanced around her office and over the wracks of medicines she usually kept fully stocked.

"We must have been trapped in the buffer for some time." Blake suggested. "I've noticed a few other things that don't look quite right."

"Well someone must have been in here since we left." She told him, slightly annoyed that anyone would have encroached on her domain, even if she was missing for a while.

"This almost doesn't feel like my ship." Blake smiled haphazardly. "I'm not used to not being able to feel her."

"You can't feel anything?" Katherine asked, lowering her voice to be as supportive as possible.

"Nothing." He agreed with a shake of the head. "I don't think I've ever felt so alone."

"Thanks!" She sniffed angrily. Blake looked up suddenly into her angry gaze.

"I'm sorry…" He mumbled, slightly surprised at the intensity of her reaction.

"My fault." She exclaimed, reminding herself of their position. Over the last few days the chain of command between them had relaxed completely, even though the relaxed structure on the Corinthian would never have been officially approved by Starfleet.

"I know I'm not alone." He began by way of an explanation. Her glare had softened to a slightly apologetic expression. "In fact if I had to be alone in the universe I can't think of anyone I'd rather share it with."

"Haldo?" She suggested with the ghost of a smile flashing across her lips as she tried to dismiss the tension.

"Haldo?" He smirked back with a shake of the head. "Alone with the most annoying man in the Universe? When the end of time arrives to sweep the last remains of humanity away Haldo Compz will still be left hanging around because even death wouldn't want to get stuck with him."

"Maybe…" She agreed, turning away from him to reach for her scanning equipment.

"I know I'm a little insensitive at times." He began as he began rolling up his arm-sleeve for her to begin her sensor sweep.

"You're the Captain." She told him. "You can't always be everybody's friend."

"I mean with you." He told her, moving up next to her.

She turned and glanced up into his eyes for a second and their gazes locked together. "Me?" She asked, feigning ignorance. She wasn't sure if she wanted the situation to grow or to never have happened. Her heart raced in her chest, her head swam with anticipation.

"We're not just colleagues." He told her softly. She nodded weakly in agreement, their eyes locked together still.

"I know." She whispered back through laboured breath.

"We're friends." He smiled broadly.

"Friends?" She blinked.

"I'm sure your father would want me to look out for you." He told her, glancing down to his exposed forearm. "I mean, you've looked out for me."

"I see." She smiled, tucking her feelings away and floundering slightly with the equipment.

"We're friends?" He asked. "Right?"

"You want to know something?" She sighed, gazing back up into his expectant eyes.

"Sure." He told her with a nod.

"You think you know something about being alone because you can't feel your ship." She began solemnly. "You should try my father. Until then you know nothing."

"He was a good man!" Blake frowned.

"He was a bastard!" She snarled back at him angrily, her pent up aggression suddenly finding expression.

"Katherine?" Blake was taken back by her hostility.

"He left me for over twenty years before his body caught up." She snapped back. "He was never there for me, he never cared who I was or what I was doing. He was a stranger to me and I spent most of my life believing it was my fault."

"He had a career…" Blake stumbled over his words.

"He had a daughter!" She scowled. "Not that he ever noticed."

"He loved you!" Blake told her firmly.

"I never knew." She shook her head dolefully. She glanced back up at him and sniggered to herself at an internal joke that made her feel sad but somehow had no other way to express itself. "Do you want to know something really scary?"

Blake nodded quietly.

"I spent two weeks with you aboard the Yorktown just before you died." She explained sadly. "You made time for me, you put yourself out so I could see my dad. That was the first and only time I ever felt wanted by anyone other than my mother the whole time I was growing up."

"I'm sorry." He shook his head, scratching through his mind for something more meaningful to say.

"It's hardly your fault." She shrugged, a smile forming on her face to mask the emptiness she'd felt.

Blake took a deep breath and hung his head thoughtfully. The seconds dragged on in silence as the pair avoided each others eyes.

"I don't know what to say." Blake ventured finally.

"Have you any idea how I felt when I heard that you'd died?" She smiled because she didn't know what else to do.

"I wasn't thrilled about it myself." He told her.

"It was the only time I ever saw my father crying." She told him, her eyes glazing over as she became lost in the distant memories that suddenly seemed so sharp and vivid. "It really hit him hard when you died. He felt that it was his responsibility to protect you after your father died protecting him."

"And you?" He asked, his brow furrowing thoughtfully.

"I didn't cry." She told him with a note of resentment. "I felt numb actually, I didn't know what to feel."

"I had no idea I'd made such an impression." He shrugged, losing himself in his own ruminations.

"I hated you!" She told him, smiling apologetically. "I hated you for leaving me…"

"You were just a kid…" He replied dismissively, not knowing what else to say.

"Well I'm not now." She said softly. "And part of me still feels the same way."

Blake just stared at her, waiting for her to continue, to explain what she meant.

She sighed and shook her head. "You're back and haven't really changed a bit but you're still not there for me. I don't want to just be another member of your crew, when I feel that I am I just feel like a child again trying to get noticed by my dad."

"Estimated time of arrival?" Captain Graves called out as he strode back and forth around his bridge behind the command chair.

"According to the sophisticated computer integrated into the Wanderer's key systems…" Commander Morrow began with a sigh. "…The ETA is ages because we're not equipped with Transwarp."

"The most sophisticated vessel outside of Starfleet and we're just towing along behind the Corinthian like a lame dog trying to keep up with a race-horse. First we head for Earth, then she gets repaired and upgraded before we can even arrive and we're all off again." He huffed in annoyance. "Are sensors detecting anything ahead we can shoot at?"

Commander Craddock rubbed his forehead in exasperation. "Your Klingon heritage is really beginning to assert itself." He observed stoically.

"I'm just bored." The Captain muttered. "All we ever seem to do is race after the Corinthian and we're always too late to get in on the fun."

"Fun?" Craddock laughed. "Fun is naked green women, Romulan ale and loud music. Getting shot at, blown up and ramming transport ships is only fun if your brain belongs in a sandwich."

"Maybe mine does!" The Captain smirked. "So long as its served with a cold beer I don't care either way."

"I'm bored too." The Commander shrugged, rotating his chair to face his friend.

"Maybe we could fit a Transwarp engine to this ship?" Graves suggested rhetorically.

"Hardly…" Morrow smiled. "Even Haldo doesn't know how that thing works yet."

"Haldo…" Graves repeated thoughtfully as if savouring the name, holding it up to examine the word in his mind.

"I miss him." Winston said flatly. "It's not the same around here is it?"

"No!" He said simply. He breathed deeply, glancing at the instruments around the bridge as they flashed status information at him. "Do you know how warp drive works?"

"Sure…" Morrow ruffled his brow as if the question was ridiculous.

"I mean really know." Graves insisted. "Not the stock answer. We all know that time and space both exist as energy fields vibrating at relative frequencies and that subspace is a general measurement of the background energy of the universe that is taken as the connecting principal between the two ambient fields."

"I went to the merchant academy too." Morrow told him with a knowing expression. "They made me memorise that stuff too."

"But do you honestly know what it means?" Graves insisted.

"I can align a warp field." Morrow shrugged. "I can service a warp coil, I could even design a warp coil set-up if I had to."

"Yeah." The Captain smiled. "But do you know what any of the maths means. Could you have invented the system knowing what you know now? Could you design the Phoenix without the software like Cochrane did?"

"No." Commander Morrow admitted. "Only a tiny handful of people at Starfleet HQ could actually do that."

"Haldo could…" Graves told him evenly.

"I know." Morrow nodded in agreement.

"One time on the old Wanderer we had a warp field stutter." Captain Graves began, leaning heavily onto the side of the navigational console. "We dropped out of warp and ran a level one diagnostic on the entire array. It came back with a readout, a series of numbers that didn't make a lot of sense to me."

Commander Morrow nodded for him to continue.

"Haldo took one look at the console and got really annoyed. He ran a diagnostic on the main computer and it turned out it was a fraction of a degree out of alignment with the warp-drive." He explained with a wry smile. "He knew that already from the numbers, he was one step ahead of the computer just working it all out in his head."

"He knows his stuff." Morrow replied, raising his eyebrows.

"He's the best man to be in charge of the Corinthians engineering." Graves muttered sadly to himself. "I just wish he were here though."

Katherine stepped onto the bridge gingerly. She glanced around the vacant seating around the room until she noticed Blake moving around beneath the command chair and surrounding displays.

"Blake!" She called out.

"Over here…" He replied, hefting himself from under the bay.

"Did you find anything?" She asked, stepping forwards slowly.

"No." He admitted in annoyance as he stood up and wiped his hands on his shirt. "I can't access any of the main external sensor systems." He paused momentarily and glared back at the command seat. "Yet." He added angrily.

"I'm sorry." She hung her head.

"Not your fault." He sighed.

"I mean about before." She told him apologetically. "I should have kept my mouth shut."

"I'm glad you didn't." He smiled back at her as warmly as he could. "I guess things have been a little insane since I was resurrected."

"It's ok." She told him. "I understand."

"I'm the one who should be sorry." He breathed heavily. "I guess I just haven't made the time to talk with you. I guess I didn't realise just how big an effect all this has had on you."

"It's ok." She repeated weakly, hanging her head to avoid his eyes. "I've been working with my scanning equipment but for some reason it won't detect you. I can't find any malfunction in it to explain why it's failed."

"I can't find anything wrong with the ship!" He grumbled back to her. "The computer should be interfacing with my brain. There's simply nothing wrong!"

"Can we switch to manual?" She shrugged hopefully.

"I don't want to." He explained. "With only a crew of two to operate the ship and no control over the automated systems we'll be in pretty poor shape to find our crew or defend ourselves if we have to. I'd rather get the interface working instead if we could."

"I see." She nodded in agreement. "Do we have a choice?"

"I wish we did!" He sighed regretfully. "I suppose we better think about activating the manual override."

"It's just a case of entering your codes?" She asked as Blake slunk haltingly towards the command controls.

"I guess so." He muttered. "Although there might be a problem with that!"

"I'm finally detecting the Corinthian on long range sensors!" Commander Morrow said with a grin. "We should be in hailing range in a few more minutes."

"Excellent." Captain Graves huffed from his chair at the centre of the bridge where he had sprawled out lazily in abject boredom. "It's about time."

"It would have taken a lot longer on our old ship!" Morrow told him flatly. "We've been running at just over Warp 8 the whole way."

"I'm not complaining." He sneered as he hoisted himself into a more dignified seating position. "I just get a little fed up with missing out. I guess a part of me wants to be in the thick of it and we just can't compete with the Corinthian for that."

"I'm happy to have a ship with proper shields and more than one phaser bank." Morrow told him. He turned to face Graves. "I've opened hailing frequencies."

"This is the Wanderer." John Graves began as he stood up and pulled his uniform straight. "How is everything, Captain Girling?"

"This is Haldo Compz!" The reply came back. "We seem to have lost our Captain for now."

"You've lost Blake?" Morrow asked in surprise. "How is that possible?"

"He beamed over to the Resilient." He replied over the comm channel. "There was a surge of energy as they transported over and then nothing, we can't get most of the systems to work and sensors are not operating."

"We're on our way…" Graves grinned widely.

The Wanderer drew up next to the stationary Corinthian and came to a halt with a flash of her RCS thrusters as they fired to brake her. Both ships floated before the tattered remains of the USS Resilient as it tumbled listlessly in space, her systems shattered.

"Welcome aboard." Haldo called out from beneath the bridges engineering console. "Sorry you had to use your own transporters, we don't seem to be able to get ours to work."

"We can't get anything to work." Dr. Jones called out from behind an access panel where he was scanning the ducting with a tricorder. "It's like all the connections have frozen up as soon as Blake left."

"Nice to see you're having fun." Commander Morrow glanced around cheerfully at the open panelling where Haldo was cursing quietly under his breath.

"We always have fun." Haldo growled. "I though I hated it when the Corinthian used to try to incinerate me or cut my head off with my own tools but this silent treatment is even worse."

"What about the power surge you told us about?" Captain Graves balled his fists and dug them into his sides after casting a slightly amused glance at his first officer.

"I can't analyse it without the computer!" Haldo told him with a voice dripping with tired resolve. "I can't get the computer working without Blake and I can't find Blake until I analyse the power surge."

"There's a name for that, isn't there?" Graves frowned thoughtfully.

"It used to be called the Wanderer." Morrow smirked, nudging his friend in the ribs. "I guess things have changed now!"

"Not for me they haven't." Haldo grumbled as he stood up from the tangled cables around his feet.

"If you promise not to do this to it I could let you use my computer." Graves grinned inanely as he gestured to the open panels and jumbled equipment scattered around the bridge.

"Hilarious as ever." Jones muttered.

"So that's your problem?" Katherine lent back heavily on the console with a tired sigh. "Hardly anything to worry about really."

"Hardly…" He agreed sarcastically with a frown as he rubbed his forehead thoughtfully. "You have to understand that the ship wasn't ever exactly a normal Starfleet vessel."

"So there were never any command access codes ever issued?" She asked rhetorically.

"I guess not." He agreed, biting his lip thoughtfully. "I don't actually know how to enter the manual codes, I don't even know if she has any, I certainly never created any."

"So there's no way you can take control of the computer at all?" She asked, leaning forwards with no suggestion to offer.

"Not that I know of!" He admitted with a despondent shrug. "I guess I could blow out the main computer connections…"

"We could do that!" She nodded. "It doesn't look like we have a lot of choice."

"I don't want to do that." He shook his head firmly. "I don't know what it could do to the ship!"

"Do we have a choice?" She persisted as she sighed wearily. "We've tried everything else and we know that a hostile vessel is out there somewhere."

"I suppose not!" He admitted weakly.

"Maybe I should take command?" Captain Graves eyed the Corinthians command chair with a wry grin as his mind filled with colourful imaginings.

"Maybe you should say something really funny." Haldo baited him. "I could do with a laugh while I work."

"I am the senior officer!" He told him haughtily, edging unconsciously towards the central seat.

"You're not a Starfleet officer…" Commander Morrow reminded him.

"This is not a Starfleet ship!" He grinned widely, seriously considering making a bid for command of the Corinthian. "Technically at any rate."

"Shut up…" Haldo told him firmly. "I'm the chief engineer, the ship is under my jurisdiction until the Captain returns."

"There's nothing to take command of." Doctor Jones added. "Without signals from Blake the ship is totally unresponsive anyway."

"She's slowly reverting to the state she was in before she initialised." Haldo explained as he sat thoughtfully considering his options. "Pretty soon she'll be totally inert. The force fields could begin to fail around the hull soon."

"She could lose life support?" Morrow grimaced.

"That would be the last thing to go." Haldo said hopefully.

"It could certainly happen if we don't get Blake back soon." Jones sighed. "There is so much of this ship that we still don't understand."

"So getting to him is still our priority?" Morrow asked.

"Do we still have any control over the navigational deflector?" Haldo said suddenly as an idea took hold.

"I can configure it manually I think." Doctor Jones stepped away from the open pannelling where he was working. "Why?"

Blake stood before the main computer system. The control room was located at the rear of the engineering section behind the engine room. The computer processor was a long pulsating mass of glowing blue filaments, each a crystal filament with infinite capacity for the refraction of light.

"So this is the computer?" Katherine glanced around the disordered equipment that littered the bay.

"Usually it's my mind's home away from home." Blake smirked unhappily.

She snapped open a tricorder and began scanning the surroundings. "A phaser shot there should take the main computer off line and hopefully everything will reset to manual control." She pointed to a pipe that fed into the main tower, a silver metal strut beset with small details.

"We can't access the weapons lockers." Blake grumbled, not relishing the prospect of damaging the ship. His ship.

"You still have your built-in phaser." She reminded him.

"I know." He sighed, raising his palm towards the computer. "I'm not looking forward to this…"

"Me neither." She agreed with a shudder as she raised an emergency breathing mask to her mouth in case the atmosphere vanished.

"Oh well." He closed his eyes for a second, scarcely able to believe he was going to actually do it. "Here we go."

A flash erupted from his hand and a blue beam cascaded into the computer terminal. A plume of orange flame blasted out instantly as the beam tore into the unprotected metalwork.

Suddenly the walls began to melt away, flashes of light bloomed around the room as the panels and bulkheads began to faze in and out or reality with a skittering yellow light that crackled noisily around them.

"What the hell is going on?" Katherine reflexively ducked and edged quickly closer to Blake as the computer core vanished and stuttered back to where it had been.

"This is a Holodeck…" Blake frowned deeply and spun around as the images continued to flash on and off.

"We're on a Holodeck?" She gasped, narrowing her eyes to peer deeper into the fading walls to get a better view of what might lay beyond.

"We must be on the Resilient's Holodeck." Blakes furrowed brow deepened thoughtfully as he contemplated their position.

"Then why can't we detect the real Corinthian?" She shrugged nervously as the images around them began stuttering away into darkness to show the jagged white metal struts of a holo-matrix generator with a large gaping hole torn into it from the phaser strike.

A white glowing pulse tore out from the deflector dish of the Corinthian into the damaged little ship.

"That ion pulse should easily carry a narrow band sensor beam, it should cut through just about any interference." Haldo said, rubbing his chin hopefully.

"It could also do a great deal of damage to humanoid life if it comes into contact with it." Commander Morrow added with a great deal of trepidation.

"With the prospect of Captain Graves taking command of this ship, it's a risk I'm willing to take!" He replied dryly.

The Captain remained silent but smiled to himself at the very suggestion of one of the most powerful ships in the known galaxy being his to command.

"I've found them!" Doctor Jones cried out excitedly. "I've got their comm-badge frequencies now."

"They're definitely on board the Resilient?" Haldo smiled at his own inventiveness.

"A sub-space signal is being established." Jones reported with a frown. "I can't control it."

The dim red glow of emergency lights suddenly vanished around the bridge and the normal soft white glow returned. The viewer crackled to life and the ships instruments began to return instantly to normal.

"The ship must have locked on to Blake!" Haldo said with a note of obvious relief.

Suddenly there was a low hum as two figures appeared in the flickering blue light of a transporter beam. Blake stepped forwards as soon as he had fully materialised. "Status?" He cried out authoritatively.

"Everything seems to be returning to normal." Haldo replied from the engineering console. "Shields are coming back up, sensors are operational… Where the hell have you been?"

"Good question!" He agreed as he stepped towards his chair. "Why did you lose contact with me?"

"There must have been some kind of interference blocking all sub-space channels. We detected a power surge when you transported and then nothing." Jones guessed. "Perhaps a natural phenomenon from the damaged Resilient?"

"There was nothing natural about this." Blake assured him. "Someone set us up in a Holodeck simulation to try and get my command access codes."

"Section 31?" Captain Graves snapped up, a sudden rush of adrenaline coursing through him as he prepared to fight.

"It looks that way." Captain Girling sneered angrily, glancing at the wreckage of the Resilient in the viewer. "And they killed an entire crew to do it."

"Blake…" Haldo cried out, standing up suddenly in surprise. "Something is uncloaking ahead of us, a ship!"

"Locking weapons!" Blake growled as he glowered at the viewer with fierce resolve. "Shields to maximum."

The light around the vessel flickered slightly and then lazily dissolved so that the gigantic vessel seemed to melt out of the darkness. A huge disk shaped object with countless windows blazing over its polished metallic hull. A massive spike stretched forwards from the top, reaching towards them from a glowing heart and a series of struts and machinery reached out from the base.

The vessel was almost as large as the upper section of a starbase and could easily swallow a Galaxy class Starship.

"So not Section 31 then?" Haldo stared fixedly at the ship in the viewer in abject terror.

"That thing has to be a couple of kilometres across." Katherine gasped at the awesome spectacle.

"And the rest…" Doctor Jones added meekly.

"Perhaps it would be better to explore a diplomatic solution before we open fire?" Winston Morrow suggested nervously.

"Good idea!" Blake agreed, staring at the ship as the Corinthians scanners reached out with invisible energy. "I don't think that us firing would make any difference one way or another to a ship that big."

"There's nothing like it in the databanks." Jones told them, his curiosity already motivating him to check. "Not even in the Section 31 protected files."

Slowly the vessel edged closer to the crippled vessel that drifted before her, dwarfing its diminutive size with its sheer enormity.

"Open hailing frequencies." Blake told them, issuing the order to nobody in particular.

"Energy spike!" Haldo warned. "They're powering something up."

"Shields!" Blake shouted as he leapt from his seat.

The ship flashed a dull yellow and streaked off upwards with the warp drive struts trailing behind her glowing steadily until it vanished in a blur of pseudo motion.

"It went to warp we think." Blake explained to Captain Reader aboard the Olympus. He shook his head at the report and breathed out heavily through his nose. "We assume it was their version of a warp drive, it wasn't a kind of trail we recognise."

"I see." Reader replied flatly, his attention still fixed on his padd.

"Do you know who they are?" Captain Girling folded his arms over his chest in anticipation.

"Not really." Reader flung the padd down in annoyance and frowned deeply, his face showing a troubled expression. "Your scans do match a description we've been hearing about for some time."

"Tell me more…" Blake insisted.

"It's highly classified." He told him with a shake of the head. "I can tell you that this is the first proper, solid sighting of them. We've had three unsubstantiated reports of encounters in deep space."

"They were trying to get me to enter my access codes." Blake told him. "The power surge we detected was either a scan of the Corinthian to get the Holo-simulation accurate or some kind of jamming frequency to scramble our sensors."

"Perhaps." Reader agreed.

"Why?" He shrugged. "The Corinthian was no threat to that thing, they could have destroyed us easily."

"Your computers are loaded with information." Reader suggested. "In the event that a Starfleet intelligence vessel is boarded the computer archives the data behind a fractal encryption code. Perhaps they wanted to take command of your ship before that could happen."

"Maybe." Blake agreed with a thoughtful nod.

"No sign of the crew of the Resilient?" Reader sighed heavily and glanced out of his office window.

"Nothing." Blake replied solemnly. "So what now?"

"The usual." Captain Reader stood up and stepped to the transparent alloy window and gazed out at the myriad stars as his ship sped along past them. "Under circumstances such as this we begin a thorough search for the aliens and attempt to open a dialogue."

"They didn't seem to want to talk." Blake reminded him.

"Then the Federation could be in very serious trouble." Captain Reader told him, wearing the expression of a deeply concerned man.


Last modified: 09 Nov 2020