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Star Trek Renegade Christmas Special 2002 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?

The Cuckoo's Clock

Malarn smiled to himself as he sat in the spartan wooden cabin as night set in around him and his family. The stars shone brightly in the sky over the gently swaying trees outside and a hearty fire crackled in the grate.

"We have a good life here." Farran sat down opposite her old husband and raised a glass of a fine old spirit to toast their health.

"I suppose we do." He agreed with a nod.

"It's not everything you'd hope though?" She suggested knowingly.

Malarn raised his glass in return and shook his head in agreement. "It is my retirement." He spoke softly, glancing outside at the idyllic surroundings.

"You never did tell me us how old you are!" Farran noted as she edged closer to the roaring fire.

"No I didn't." He agreed. "My species doesn't measure the passing of time in the same manner that you do."

"That much I know." Farran smirked as she sipped at her drink. "It would be rather pointless to do so."

Their peace was suddenly invaded by the exuberant approach of a small child. She ran noisily into the room, yelling in her excitement. Barely old enough to dress herself but already she knew the significance of the day ahead.

"Mummy…" She cried out, jumping up to her mother and sending her drink flying across the room.

Malarn watched with a haphazard smile as his wife tended to the young girl.

"Is it tomorrow yet?" The girl cried out, jumping up and down on the seat.

"It will be when you wake up." Malarn told his daughter softly. "In the morning it will be the beginning of a whole New Year."

"Melium." The girl cheered in excitement.

"Millennium." Her mother corrected. "It means that a thousand years have passed."

"When is it now?" She asked, sitting down and chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully.

"It's almost the year 1000 now." Malarn told her.

"No…" The girl threw back her head and giggled. "You said the universe is older, how can it only be that?"

"But we're on Earth for now." Farran reminded her.

"But Earth is older." The child narrowed her eyes defensively. "You told me this planet is very old."

"It is…" Malarn agreed with a broad smile.

"You're not as silly as you look!" Farran tickled her daughter around the ribs at which the child dissolved in laughter.

"Humans only started counting again about a thousand years ago." Malarn told her.

"No!" Kella shook her head and was suddenly intrigued again. "You said they'd been here for a long time."

"Human history is a bit of a mess." Farran laughed. "We've lost track of ourselves a bit."

"To say the least." Malarn agreed with a grin. "To say the very least."

"Humans are a good people." Farran told her daughter. "There are greedy and violent beings among them but our nature is warm, we like to help each other."

"They help us too?" Kella asked.

"If we need them, I'm sure they would." Malarn told her. "But you are Human really as well just like me."

"And tomorrow is the New Year!" Farran smiled at her child.

"But not Christmas?" Kella shrugged.

"Christmas?" Malarn laughed loudly. "Where did you hear about that?"

"My friend…" Kella said proudly.

"We don't celebrate Christmas." Farran smirked. "It doesn't mean very much to us."

"Why not?" The child frowned.

"For one thing it doesn't mean much to them." Malarn winked at his wife. "They got all the dates wrong. Christmas day is actually an old pagan holiday called "The tides of destruction" the welcomes the passing of the old year to make way for the new. Christ was born sometime in February according to their calendar."

"Who was he then?" Kella folded her arms over her chest suspiciously.

"Well that is a long story." Farran told her. "Too long for tonight."

"Tell me…" The child jumped up excitedly.

"Alright!" Malarn acceeded with a smile. "But then it's bed time."

"Ok…" She agreed grudgingly but happy to have delayed bedtime for a while longer.

"It all happened a long time away." Farran told her.

"In the future again?" Kella smiled.

"Sit quietly." Said Malarn with a note of seriousness he always adopted when he was about to tell a story, even more so when it would be largely made up. "…And I will begin."

The Prologg drifted lazily from the port on the outer colony, Kessig 4. They had delivered their load of slightly artistic objects to the bored and weary inhabitants of the mining colony in exchange for a reasonable load of Dilithium to transfer back to the Gamma quadrant through the Bajoran wormhole.

Behind the Karemman ship flew an escort of two small Bajoran fighters, barely armed and even more barely space worthy. They had been adapted to operate at warp by the engineers aboard the Deep Space 9 station but the modifications were inadequate for them to maintain a reasonable pace for as long the Karemma freighter. This left the crew pondering the real question of who was actually guarding whom.

"Kronnig to Commander Parrow." The Captain of the freighter nudged the officer beside him in the ribs and smirked as the channel opened to the leader of the escort wing. "I thought we'd check in with you, make sure everything is still alright."

"This is Commander Parrow." The reply came over the loud speakers around the ships control room. "The escort wing is scanning ahead, no problems detected, we're on schedule and you have nothing to worry about."

Captain Kronnig shook his head and laughed.

"So long as we don't have to worry about a piece of one of their ships flying off and hitting us." The Commander scowled, finding the entire situation less amusing than his Captain. "I would have felt more comfortable with a Federation escort."

"Beggars can't be choosers!" Kronnig told him with a chuckle. "What more can we say, we swapped a cargo hold full of junk for a cargo hold full of unrefined Dilithium? This arrangement with the Bajorans is turning out to be highly profitable now that the Dominion stay out of our way."

"I don't even want to talk about the Dominion…" The Commander grumbled.

"Well we don't have to!" Kronnig grinned. "Soon we'll be back at the station and unloading our cargo. No problems and a nice profit for a good months work."

"A good months work?" The Commander crossed his arms over his chest in annoyance. "This was the worst tour I've ever had!"

Allarn walked briskly along the promenade aboard the Federation controlled station. A mixture of smells wafted to her nose as she walked along, just taking in the sounds and sights as life carried going on around her.

She glanced up as a young child ran along the metallic gantry, shouting as loud as he could about nothing important and she shuddered. The station had treated her well during her stay which had been rather longer than she'd originally intended. She'd enjoyed the diversity of the people as they'd come and go and partaken of the many strange and unusual things that the Alpha quadrant could offer, trading little bits of technical information for a wealth of new experiences. There was nothing wrong with the station or the people but her situation had changed and now so must she. As she watched the child playing gleefully she knew, beyond all doubt that her decision was made. She stopped and sighed with a heavy heart. She smiled to herself wearily as she looked up to find she'd arrived by total coincidence at a booth, a merchant office where passengers could easily book transport aboard whatever vessels were available for a small fee. Small was the operative word for her, she'd never managed to accumulate anything that could be construed as wealth by any of the species she'd encountered on her travels. In the same way that coincidence governed the lives of her kind they had a tendency to travel in their youth, gathering nothing but experience and a few minor scars.

"Can I help you?" A voice cut into her thoughts. She looked up to the grinning merchant, he had a strange appearance, grey leathery skin stretched taught over the bony outcroppings of his face.

"I hope so!" She smiled back and stepped over. Allarn ran her gloved fingers through her long black hair and sighed heavily. "I'm looking for passage away from this station."

"I might be able to help…" The trader pulled open a small hand-held computer terminal and ran his finger over the menu. "Where would you like to go?"

"Anywhere…" She told him flatly.

"It's a big galaxy." The trader frowned with a slightly puzzled smile.

"Somewhere nice." She shrugged. "Somewhere with humanoids I think. Trees and grass, a peaceful place. Somewhere in the Federation perhaps."

"Earth?" He suggested absently, checking for a ship that would fit her undemanding requirements.

"Do you have a ship going there?" Her lips began to curl up hopefully.

"No…" He shook his head regretfully.

"I see…" She grumbled, her smile vanishing.

"Close though." He raised an eyebrow.

"Why not?" She nodded. "Close is probably good enough."

"Close is not good enough!" Blake Girling scowled at his chief engineer.

"It is for me!" Haldo grumbled and threw out a lump of discarded machinery from beneath the central power globe as it throbbed noisily at full power with a captured arc of lightning broiling away inside like a snake, maddened by it's angry but futile attempts to escape.

"I literally can't keep up!" Haldo smirked, hardly caring for the annoyance of his commanding officer. "Since you got us shot up that last time the ship has begun rebuilding everything to upgrade itself. It's discarding old pieces so fast it can't even beam the old bits into the replicator matrix, my engineers are working double shifts just clearing up after it!"

"I need you to catalogue the parts accurately!" Blake insisted waving a padd at him. "Both the new parts as they're created and the old ones that the ship is discarding!"

"I'm trying." Haldo folded his arms over his chest and huffed grumpily.

"Really?" Blake cocked his head to one side and held up his padd. He ran his eyes over the menu of items that Haldo had listed that day. "So according to the chief engineer of the most sophisticated ship in Starfleet, the Corinthian's computer has discarded fourteen red things, a black thing the size of a rat, two triangular bits that smell funny, a really big pile of bits that look like rabbit droppings, twenty seven round blobs and a fish shaped silver object that scared an engineer when it started crawling around the floor."

"I can assure you that he was very scared!" Haldo grumbled in his defence. "I was that engineer! The thing was a metre long and was trying to get into a weapons locker."

"We need to keep better records." Blake fixed him with an angry stare.

"Why?" Haldo shrugged. "Starfleet don't even know where we are usually. Nobody cares!"

"I care!" Blake told him flatly.

"Look…" Haldo hung his head and gestured weakly with his arm. "I'm tired Blake. I've been working with a skeleton crew on a ship that needs constant supervision. I'm tired."

"We're all tired." Blake told him with a sigh of agreement. "But we have a job to do."

"I know!" Haldo shrugged. "And I'm doing it, but will you please stop pushing us so hard, my men aren't Starfleet officers they're merchant fleet volunteers."

"I'm sorry." Blake breathed heavily and dropped the pad onto a console. "I guess we're all a little tense."

"I guess we are." Haldo agreed. "We need a break!"

"A break?" Blake smirked at the ridiculousness of the suggestion although he quietly acceded to the obvious merits.

"Do you know it's nearly Christmas back on Earth!" Haldo raised an eyebrow suggestively. "We have enough energy for a while now that we got some fuel. We could take a couple of days out."

"A lot could happen in a couple of days!" Blake shook his head, waiting for his engineer to carry on convincing him.

"Well in the mean time your crew efficiency is plummeting." Haldo reminded him. "And the ship could do with a break!"

"The Corinthian?" Blake shook his head, wondering what he meant.

"I've been speaking with Katherine!" Haldo began, his arms clasped behind his back as he rocked on the balls of his feet in his irritating mode of utter self-confidence. "She's been telling me about your stress headaches and the fact you can't sleep properly!"

"She did, did she?" Girling scowled, turning away in anger.

"She cares about you and she worries!" Haldo reminded him. "You can't get angry with her for that."

"I know…" Blake conceded wearily and slumped back on the engineering console with a heavy sigh.

"Well the point is that while the Corinthian is upgrading its systems we're using her to the full all the time." Haldo explained. "We both think that we're pushing her too hard and that's causing your problems."

"Nobody thought of telling me!" Blake huffed in annoyance.

"Well I'm telling you now." Haldo grunted. "We need to take a break. This ship needs a couple of days powered down so it can take care of itself and you need a rest too. We'll all be in a better shape to carry on after that."

Allarn placed her palms onto the cold metal plate of the transparent aluminium. Under her skin it felt dark somehow but lit with the warmth of the countless stars shining back at her, each holding stories and experiences for her to enjoy some time in her future after her current situation had been dealt with. She watched in muted silence as the freighter drew up to the clawing docking arm above. The Karemma vessel slowed to the point where only her inertia drew her closer to the docking clamps while the thrusters slowed her to contact the airlock, guided by a powerful tractor beam. She smiled to herself, somehow the intricate ballet of technology was a soothing thing to watch. It was as if it were a demonstration of consciousness, the ability of intelligent life to control the universe within the rules laid down by existence.

"That's her." The trader told her. "The Captain has agreed to take you most of the way along with his cargo. It won't be first class but the ship is comfortable, you'll have your own replicator and the Karemma are a friendly people."

"It's fine." She smiled warmly, staring at the elegant vessel that was now stable and docked at the upper arm. "I look forward to going aboard."

"It will just take a few hours for them to load some more supplies before going on to their destination." He told her, dropping his terminal into his pocket as the commission he had been paid electronically registered in his account. "It was a pleasure." He reached out to shake her hand. Allarn looked at his outstretched hand as her eyes widened. She hunched her shoulders and edged away slightly, glowering at his offer and pulling her heavy brown robes around her after thrusting her hand back into her thin silky glove.

"I'm sorry." He lowered his palm and shook his head in embarrassment. "I thought that was how Humans did it."

"I'm not Human." She told him.

Captain Graves was not a happy man. It was a festive time of the week and he would have been planning tomorrows hangover by now if the kind of supplies he enjoyed most were in dramatically short supply.

"Have you ever actually drunk Synthohol?" Graves sat at his chair at the centre of the bridge strumming his fingers on the controls haphazardly, occasionally hitting a button and making some minor function of the ship change before Morrow could quickly over ride his commands.

"Many times! It tastes no different and is better for you" The Commander assured him.

"I suppose I'll take your word for it." He sighed apathetically.

"We have a message." The Commander said with surprise.

"If they're not offering us supplies then ignore it." Graves grumbled.

"It's from the Corinthian!" Morrow shook his head and frowned. "There's been a change of plan, they want us to hail them on a secure channel when we receive this."

"Is it something important?" Graves jumped up excitedly.

"Maybe we should hail them to find out."

Captain Kronnig sat back lazily at the command seat at the bridge of the Karemma freighter and flicked absently at the controls. The main viewer was a series of gold coloured field coils stretching back into a deep alcove at the head of the control room. It flickered as a holographic view of space appeared in the centre, an utterly black expanse with the stars stretching wearily by as the vessel travelled at her maximum safe cruising speed.

"Three hours to our first port." The helmsman informed him with a weary sigh. "Nothing ahead to report."

Of course there wasn't, there never was. This deep inside Federation space the lanes were extremely well protected, the chance of a pirate attack or even a spacial anomaly were incredibly slight.

"How's our guest?" The Captain straightened himself up in the chair and raised an eyebrow curiously. It was an unusual even to be asked to transport a passenger but not unheard of and it added a slight profit to the trip, all of which would be undeclared to the Karemman government on their return to the Gamma quadrant.

"Very quiet." The first officer scanned through his engineering review that said nothing exciting, the ship was in good condition throughout. "She's only used the replicator twice since we left and hasn't left her cabin. I believe she's reading."

"She was Human, wasn't she?" Kronnig asked without really caring one way or another.

"No." The commander shook his head. "The routine scan identified her as a Forovian, whatever they are."

"Well she looked human." He shrugged.

"They do except they have a slightly different skull shape, not that you could normally tell, especially if they have hair." The commander commented absently. "They have a slight tail too, I believe."

"Tail?" The Captain grunted to himself losing all interest in the conversation rather suddenly.

"What was the Corinthian?" Kella interrupted the story with a frown the burrowed deep into her brow.

"A ship!" Farran explained. "A Starship belonging to the United Federation of Planets."

"Actually it wasn't the real Corinthian, that came later." Malarn told her. "The first one was just a prototype, that means it was never finished but they used it anyway until the real one came about."

"Not finished?" Kella grinned. "How could it not be finished?"

"It was a strange ship with holes in the walls and it did whatever the Captain thought it should." Farran smiled back. "I heard it had more holes than metal and it seemed to have a life of its own."

"When will I see it?" Kella narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

"You won't see a Starship until you're 8." Farran told her. "Unless someone changes time again and we join an alternate Universe… Again."

"We will stay together?" Kella frowned again somewhat nervously.

"For a long time yet!" Malarn agreed.

"DS9?" Captain Graves grumbled. "They want us to go to DS9?"

"Apparently so!" Commander Morrow agreed with a nod. "They need a break it seems and I wouldn't mind the leave from this ship."

"I suppose not." Graves narrowed his eyes thoughtfully and glowered at the viewer. "Actually it would be a nice change of pace to spend a little time relaxing."

"You could drink whatever you like for a few days." The Commander bated him subtly. "There's a wide variety of available cultures there, ample security from pirates and a liberal staff."

"I suppose I do deserve a break!" Captain Graves smiled suggestively as he struggled to remember something lurking at the back of his time-addled brain that had become so used to alcohol that it only properly functioned when it was flooded with wine or preferably something stronger.

"I'm not exactly sure what you would like to take a break from!" Morrow smirked and turned his attention back to the controls while shaking his head in slightly bemused dismay. "The Corinthian crew will all need to come aboard the Wanderer so we can all go to the station anonymously."

"Have they transmitted the co-ordinates?" Graves leant back in the command chair as thoughts of the immense possibilities played out in his foggy imagination.

"They have indeed." Morrow smiled knowing exactly what was coming.

"Well then I suppose I can leave the arrangements to you." He shrugged as his mind threw up some partially recalled event. "Who heads up there security team?"

"I don't know." The Commander shrugged. "I believe it's a Bajoran or someone attached to their military."

"Is it a bucket of yellow goo?" Graves rolled his eyes back in his head as he tried to remember.

"Yes." The Commander sighed sarcastically. "A bucket of yellow goo runs the security on a Federation deep outpost station…"

"If it is then I think I had a run in with him once." Graves rubbed his chin and frowned.

"Of course." Winston stopped listening and began replying with the standard responses.

"I spent the night with him, I think…" Captain Graves said in sudden surprise.

"What?" The Commander snapped up, certain he had missed a valuable chunk of the conversation.

"No…" John Graves snapped his fingers. "It was his wife!"

"His wife?" Morrow shook his head in wonderment.

"Well it was somebody's wife." He shrugged. "And it was definitely the bucket who threw me off the station.

"I think it's a miracle that anybody would spend the night with you." The Commander sighed heavily.

Captain Kronnig frowned slightly as he tapped on the black instrument panel in the forward control compartment of the merchant freighter.

"Something wrong?" The first officer snapped defensively.

"What exactly is our cargo?" He snapped his hands behind his back as his frown deepened in concern.

"We're carrying a little Dilithium and a few boxes we were asked to carry to the rendezvous." He replied with a dutiful shrug. "It was all cleared by the safety inspection."

"I'm not convinced." The Captain grumbled. "There are discrepancies in our readings as if we're transmitting a signal of some kind."

"A signal?" The Commander called out disrespectfully as if the Captain were highly mistaken. "If there were I would have detected it."

"It's there…" Kronnig pointed firmly at the controls for his emotionally charged subordinate to see. The controls flashed a dim red as a weak sub-space signal had been detected.

"What is it?" The Commander stepped away from the controls nervously. "What could be transmitting a signal of that kind?"

"I detected it by accident." He explained. "I was trying to access the Starfleet public database entry on our passenger, just out of curiosity but couldn't get the sub-space field to initialise so I boosted the power."

"It's a pulse…" The Commander agreed, swallowing hard. "It's like a homing signal so that someone can track us."

"But who would want to?" Kronnig asked rhetorically. "We've nothing of value on board…"

"We should contact the Federation, ask for help!" He glanced nervously up to his commanding officer. "It could be a Dominion ploy."

"Open a channel." The Captain agreed.

"Sir!" He gasped in abject terror. "A ship is decloaking off our bow."

"So we just leave the Corinthian in orbit around the moons of Krator?" Captain Girling sighed from his desk at the small ready room. "We just abandon the ship and go to have fun aboard DS9?"

"Don't mock me!" Haldo warned. "I worked very hard on that plan."

"You can't be serious." Blake scowled. "You do realise how dangerous this ship could be if it fell into the wrong hands?"

"I hadn't thought of that…" Haldo smirked sarcastically. "The point is Blake that we can leave the two semi-assimilated guys to run things while we soak up some shore-leave."

"We don't know what they're capable of." Blake shook his head firmly. "We don't know if they can think rationally enough to respond to an emergency or even a challenge in Engineering."

"I can't usually think rationally enough to deal with a challenge in Engineering on this ship." Haldo assured him with a smile that did little to disguise his sincerity. "Engineering panels reconfigured themselves three times today and currently speak a mixture of Romulan and Klingon. I was shot twice with phaser beams set to light stun this week, four times a piece of conduit has stolen my tools and there have been fourteen instances of things vanishing into the replicators including my under-pants."

"We all need a break." Blake agreed haltingly. "Things have been pretty frantic the last few weeks."

"Krator is well within sub-space range." Haldo explained. "We can replicate a Type 9 shuttle and leave it aboard the Wanderer shuttle-bay. I've written a program that will keep a constant transporter lock on us and will beam us directly to the shuttle and the shuttle directly into space. If an emergency happens then we can be at the Corinthian's airlocks within 30 seconds!"

"I read your report." Blake nodded. "When it comes to getting some shore-leave you do some very nice work."

"It's what Merchant engineering work is all about." He grinned. "So we're going?"

"It certainly looks that way!" The Captain agreed pensively.

"Excellent." Haldo began rubbing his massive hands together excitedly in anticipation. "Nothing will go wrong, what could possibly happen this deep inside Federation space?"

Suddenly Blake stood up, his eyes widening as if shocked by something that had gone unseen by the engineer. "We're received a distress call!" He told him.

"It's directly ahead." Doctor Jones pointed at the main viewer that was showing an enlarged view of a Karemma ship under attack. A deep gash along her side was glowing a dull orange from a phaser blast and white tendrils of gas were curling from the bay.

"Who's attacking her?" Haldo asked as he and Captain Girling bounded out of the office.

"I'm having trouble telling exactly what's going on." The Doctor explained.

"The Karemma?" Blake shook his head. "Who are they? What's going on?"

"The Karemma are an unremarkable species from the Gamma quadrant. They've entered a trade treaty with several species in the Alpha quadrant, including the Federation." Haldo told Girling who had been dead while all that had happened.

"They're being attacked by a Starfleet vessel!" Doctor Jones added. "An Oberth class ship with impressive firepower including pulse phasers."

"They're not fitted with pulse phasers!" Haldo snapped around to the rear science station. "Your reading it wrong."

"I don't think so." Blake shook his head solemnly as a stuttering barrage of orange energy cascaded into the crippled freighter. "Time to intercept?"

"Two minutes!" Jones told them. "At maximum warp."

The viewer flashed as the Corinthian increased to just beyond the threshold of warp 9.9 towards the very limits of Warp velocity.

The Oberth class vessel rounded the rear of the damaged freighter and fired another tight beam of phaser energy into the down-swept pylons that supported her nacelles, cutting deep into the plasma transfer conduits and sending a barrage of sparks and a brilliant flash from the crippled machinery. Within the vessel the ship lurched violently under the force of the attack.

"Shields have failed." Captain Kronnig warned angrily as he smashed his fist down hard on the dying instrument panel as a shower of sparks cascaded angrily from the upper bulkhead.

"Something is happening." The Commander added to the confused terror going on around the small control room. "The ship is transporting something off of us."

"This makes no sense." Kronnig barked over the shrill whine of the ships emergency warnings.

"Sir!" The Commander stared suddenly at the main viewer, his voice dripping with cautious optimism. "Another ship is uncloaking ahead!"

The Corinthian rippled as the sophisticated cloaking shields around her deactivated revealing her gleaming bare hull as the ship dropped from warp and headed towards the target at maximum sub-light speed reaching ahead with her targeting scanners.

"It's them!" Doctor Jones assured them. "Section 31. The weapons are tuned the normal way."

"The phaser beam is 35% above rated optimum performance." Haldo shook his head and frowned deeply. "They'll burn out the coils in a few more shots."

"That's how it works." Jones told him. "They have a computer program that they download into the core. It over-writes the safety protocols and makes the ship more powerful for a short time at the expense of longevity. They borrow standard ships for brief missions and upgrade them with the software and then return them in a dilapidated state to the ship-yards with faked records, nobody knows anything about it and nobody cares. I would guess that's what happened to this one."

"We're within firing range!" Goruss Clogg told them. "I've targeted the Oberth class ship. It registers as the U.S.S. Europa. It was sent out for a refit after being damaged in a brief tour along the Cardassian border."

Blake Girling narrowed his eyes as the viewer lit up with an orange beam which blasted out of the phaser canon on the Corinthians nose and tore into the scout vessels inadequate shields. The Europa had detected their approach and already begun to retreat, the beam caught their port nacelle as they banked away from the Karemma vessel. The shields arced violently as the immensely powerful beam caught her.

"They're not firing." Clogg frowned curiously. "They're in retreat."

"We've knocked out their weapons!" Blake told the security officer. "Lock a tractor beam, they're not going anywhere."

"I've got them!" Haldo told the Captain. "Their engines aren't powerful enough to give me anything to worry about."

"This is Captain Girling aboard the United Federation of Planets Starship Corinthian to Karemma vessel." He began as the communications signal tracked onto the freighter. "You were attacked by a stolen Starfleet scout vessel but we've secured it now. What is your status?"

"Battered and bruised." Captain Kronnig replied in an audio only transmission. "They did enough damage to keep our power off-line, we'll be alright with a little help. We don't know what they were after but we did detect some transporter activity!"

"Did they board your vessel?" Girling asked, turning to Doctor Jones for some idea of what the rogue Starfleet agency might have been looking for.

"I honestly couldn't tell you." Kronnig replied. "Our sensor are heavily damaged."

"Scan their vessel for non-Karemman life signs." Blake ordered to Doctor Jones at the science station.

"Blake…" Haldo snapped up. "They're breaking free of the tractor beam."

"Locking weapons on their engines…" Clogg said as he targeted the ships twin impulse deflection crystals.

"Increasing power to maintain magnetic cohesion…" Haldo said as his fingers danced frantically over the controls. "They're using some kind of scattering beam, out lock is breaking up..."

"One non-Karemman life sign." Doctor Jones warned. "Too much interference to be precise but it's humanoid. I've locked the transporters on it."

"I'll beam it now…" Blake told him as he watched Haldo's worried expression as the tractor beam lock continued to degrade. "Clogg, get down to the holding cell and greet our guest, I'll handle the weapons."

"Yes sir!" He snarled and drew a phaser from the small locker beneath his desk. "My pleasure."

"Power to maximum!" Haldo called out as he drew power from the warp engines.

Suddenly a bright flash pervaded everything around the bridge, the viewer lit up a brilliant white and both ships vanished, locked together by the tractor beam.

Blake Girling groaned as he slowly regained consciousness. He glanced around the bridge to where his officers were laid around their consoles or collapsed on the floor. He pulled himself up and rubbed his eyes. His body felt weak and drained and his eyes burnt behind his eyelids.

"Haldo?" He called out but there was no reply. He wearily dragged himself to his feet and glanced forward to where the two assimilated federation drones were also rousing themselves back to consciousness. He smiled to himself, the implants throughout their body must have assisted in their recovery. He punched a floor-plate as hard as he could and it slid back to reveal a phaser, a ration pack and a small medical box. He took out the little black carton with the white emblem of twin snakes coiled around a knife and opened it up. The hypo-spray was loaded with a compound to assist the recovery of his crewmen as a matter of course. He dragged himself wearily to his engineer and pressed the device hard against his neck. The spray made a slight hiss as the chemicals were injected painlessly into his skin. Almost instantly Haldo groaned and began to twitch to life.

Girling proceeded to inject the others and sat down heavily beside Katherine as she stretched and sat up off the control panels.

"What happened?" She moaned, her voice heavy from the effort of speaking.

"Haldo?" Blake turned to the engineer.

Haldo waved his hand as he worked the controls. "I'm working on it." He assured them. "The systems are coming back online."

"We're not where we were!" Doctor Jones frowned. "The stars are way out of line and I'm not reading any navigational markers in this sector."

"He's right!" Haldo agreed. "We're nowhere near Bajor and I'm not detecting the Europa either."

"Then where the hell are we?" Blake staggered to his feet uneasily, balancing himself on the edge of Katherines chair.

"I've got Bajor on long distance scanners!" Haldo stood up in surprise. "They're not transmitting any of the signals I've been looking for including the navigational and marker beacons."

"What happened?" Blake rushed over to the console as best he could.

"Blake!" Doctor Jones glanced up in disbelief at the readings. "We're exactly where we were but not when we were."

"What?" Captain Girling huffed in annoyance, guessing what was coming next.

"We've travelled through time…" Haldo sighed. "I can't be precise but it's a very, very long time."

"Forward or back?" Blake rubbed his temples.

"Back… a long way back."

"I've got something." Haldo said suddenly, flopping back in his chair in exhaustion. "I've located the Europa's warp trail. They're heading back to Earth at maximum Warp."

"Maximum Warp could be very fast with their modifications!" Doctor Jones added. "Even if we hurt them with our attack."

"How much of a head start do they have?" Blake turned and made his way to the centre chair.

"About an hour." Haldo raised an eyebrow.

"Plot course and engage our cloaking device." He ordered. "Let's go after them!"

Goruss Clogg accompanied the Captain to the holodeck, which had been temporarily reconfigured to serve as a brig for their newly acquired guest. His hand rubbed over his hip, checking the location of his phaser pistol which was charged and ready and had been configured to his own special requirements with tinkering he undertook without the knowledge of his commanding officers. He was not a man to leave anything to chance and occasionally he felt that Starfleet protocols had an annoying tendency to compromise efficiency.

"Ready?" Blake nodded towards his security chief with a note to his voice indicating a lack of general concern.

"I am!" Clogg assured him with a wry smirk.

"Female!" Blake sighed. "Humanoid, unarmed. I don't think she was a Section 31 agent at all. According to the crew manifest of the ship she was just a passenger from DS9."

"We don't know that." Clogg sneered at the Humans trusting nature. "You yourself have weapons built into your skin which were installed by Section 31, we should still consider her a threat."

Blake nodded solemnly in agreement as the door slid open to admit them.

"Where am I?" Allarn turned suddenly to face them, launching herself from the bench towards the flickering force-field but stopping well short of touching it. "Who are you?"

"Who are you?" Blake asked as he stepped up to the invisible wall of energy between them. "We're a Starfleet vessel, who are you working for?"

"I'm not working for anyone!" She frowned in confusion. "I was travelling to Earth."

"Why?" Clogg snarled angrily.

"Do I need a reason to visit Earth?" She glowered back at the burly officer.

"No you don't." Captain Girling agreed. "But the ship you were travelling on was attacked by a stolen Starfleet ship so we're not sure who we can trust. I'd appreciate your co-operation."

She turned to face him, her eyes staring into his, as if weighing him up.

"Personal reasons." She told him softly. "I'd rather not say any more. I don't have to, do I?"

"No you don't." Girling shook his head. "I'm sorry you've got involved in all of this."

"It's ok…" She sighed. "It's not the worst thing that's ever happened to me."

"I'd like to have our chief medical officer check you over." Blake told her firmly. "After that I'll assign you quarters for the remainder of your stay with us."

"Ok." She agreed weakly, folding her arms over her chest beneath her billowing robes. "Does that mean you're going to let me out of here?"

"No!" Clogg told her flatly.

"Yes." Blake corrected. "It does."

Katherine smiled at their guest as she ran the medical Tricorder probe around her head. "Were you injured at all in the attack?"

"I don't think so." Allarn replied awkwardly as if the device irritated her in some way.

"Is there anything I need to know about you?" Katherine asked as sympathetically as she could out of respect for the woman's apparent nervousness.

Her eyes widened suddenly and she turned to stare up into the open expression of the medical officer. "Like what?" She asked in alarm.

"Don't worry." Katherine smiled uneasily, noticing the raw nerve she had unwittingly touched. "All I mean is whether you are using any kinds of medication or have any long term injuries. I just need to know if there's medically anything I should be aware of."

"Oh." Allarn relaxed slightly. "It's the custom of my people that we don't touch anybody. I'd like to observe that if it's alright with you."

"Of course." Katherine agreed. "We do what we can to help others observe their beliefs."

"Thank you." She replied with some relief. "This is a strange ship, not at all like most Starfleet vessels."

"It's a little different." Katherine nodded. "It's a prototype, it's not quite finished yet."

"Why did the other ship attack us?" Allarn turned to face her again.

"They belong to a group called Section 31." She explained with a sigh. "They're a criminal group that have infiltrated Starfleet, our job is to stop them whenever we can."

"We're definitely gaining on them." Haldo ran his fingers over his massive bald head. "They're fast though, travelling at better than Warp 9 for the whole journey."

"That is fast for an Oberth class ship!" Blake sighed. "Let's hope their weapons aren't as well adjusted."

"They will be!" Doctor Jones grumbled. "But they're still no real threat to us. We can take them on."

"If they maintain this course then they'll be at Earth in about an hour." Haldo told them. "I could adjust our speed so that we drop out of warp at the same time they do and we can head them off at Earth."

"Assuming that's where they're going!" Blake rubbed his temples thoughtfully. "They must realise what has happened!"

"Their ship was pretty heavily damaged." Jones added. "They must be shunting a lot of power into the Warp drive to keep the ship moving at this speed, my guess is they're running without communications and with minimal sensors with some kind of stealth system in operation. Chances are they just assumed that whatever happened was the result of our weapons and have made a run back home."

"So were facing a Section 31 crew heading for Earth's history with no idea what the hell they're doing?" Haldo shook his head in dismay.

"I don't want to fire in them." Blake said firmly. "But I'd rather destroy that vessel than risk letting them alter history."

"Agreed!" Haldo nodded enthusiastically. "I assume they'll fight when they see us?"

"You can count on it." Doctor Jones shuddered at the prospect that he didn't particularly relish.

"Ok!" Blake nodded thoughtfully. "Haldo, I want to drop out of Warp ahead of them so we can stop them before we reach home."

"I can do it." Haldo nodded. "But we're taking a chance that they'll stick to this course."

"I can't see what else they'd be doing." Jones noted grimly. "I hope you're right, I'd like not to be erased from history."

The Europa emerged from Warp in a blaze of white light, spewing glowing blue drive plasma from the smashed port nacelle while the twin impulse deflection crystals flickered intermittently from the incredible demands the crew had heaped on the little vessel. It seemed to hang in space, powerless while the last of its energy was poured back into the sub light drive systems.

"No shields." Haldo reported from his station.

"No transmissions coming from the ship at all." Katherine added. "It's almost dead, everything is being used to run the drive systems!"

Blake Girling sat at the command chair glaring at the scout vessel in the viewer, his own ship secure beneath it's cloaking shields.

"Weapons are locked." Clogg reported efficiently. "Targeted their drive systems, I can knock them out with a single shot from our phaser cannon."

"Hold." Girling ordered. "Open a hailing channel and prepare to lower the cloaking device."

Allarn watched in silent awe from the rear of the Corinthian's bridge. She gazed fearfully at the damaged ship that had attacked her transport with no apparent motive and wondered if Humans were indeed the right choice after all.

"No response!" Katherine reported with a sigh.

"Wait!" Haldo started suddenly. "I think they've beamed someone down."

"Oh no!" Blake groaned. "Lock onto whatever they beamed and bring it here as quickly as you can!"

"I'm on it!" Haldo agreed.

"Target their main power." Blake said hesitantly to his security chief. "Don't do any more damage than you have to."

"Yes sir!" Clogg grinned to himself as a pulse blasted out from the nose cannon and tore into the hull of the vessel, catching her between the small nacelles and sending up a shower of sparks and flashes as the power grid collapsed aboard her.

"They're using a scattering field." Haldo shook his head in dismay. "Whoever it is has a device on him I've never seen before. I can't beam it back."

"I've never seen anything like it." Doctor Jones agreed. "It must be new."

"Or it may have been what they were after." Clogg suggested with his natural suspicion.

"I'm beaming down!" Blake stood up suddenly, his mind made up. "They probably don't know what they're doing, I'll have to stop them."

"I've set the replicators to generate some appropriate clothing." Haldo told him.

"Katherine, you're with me!" Blake called out as he made his way to the replicator alcove to collect the disguise.

"Excuse me!" Allarn called out.

"We're busy right now!" Blake told her firmly.

"I know what they've got down there!" She said nervously. "I know why it's confusing your sensors."

Blake stopped and glowered at her, waiting for the frightened young woman to continue.

"It's called a TT-Cell." We use them as a power source for our vessels." She explained. "Or we used to, thousands of years ago, before we evolved…"

"I don't understand…" Katherine frowned. "You're a Forovian, you've only been Warp capable for about three centuries."

"You're coming with us!" Blake told her with a sigh. "You can explain on the way."

The three of them appeared in a flickering blue light at the edge of a primitive village set into the heart of a sandy valley between deep and foreboding rocks. It was growing dark already and the sun was casting an orange glare over the dusty yellow floor and the faint glow of small fires were barely visible in the openings of a few dwellings as people prepared for the coming of darkness.

"Where are we?" Blake turned to Katherine who had already begun working with her Tricorder.

"I can't tell you exactly." She shook her head. "Somewhere hot I think."

Blake frowned at her rather pointless explanation.

"Whatever this thing is it's confusing my Tricorder." Katherine continued. "I can't be sure of anything."

"Can you tell me where this officer is?" Blake asked hopefully.

"I've localised the greatest source of the radiation." She nodded. "It's just outside the village somewhere."

"There shouldn't be this much radiation." Allarn explained. "The device must have been damaged."

"What is it?" Blake scowled at her distrustfully.

"It's basically two atoms in a leaking temporal stasis field." Allarn explained awkwardly as if she wasn't exactly sure herself. "One of hydrogen and one of anti-hydrogen. They're put together to completely destroy themselves."

"Anti-matter?" Katherine asked in surprise. "There's anti-matter here?"

"It's stored in a temporal stasis field that slows down the destruction so it will last about ten thousand years, releasing energy through the field as it does so." Allarn told her. "It's quite safe until you fire weapons at it, lock it in a tractor-beam or teleport it."

"Is any of this registering on the Tricorder?" Blake sighed.

"There's a lot of energy coming off this thing!" Katherine nodded in agreement.

"Too much!" Allarn agreed. "The rate of leakage is increasing. The device will collapse in a matter of hours."

"And when it does?" Katherine flicked her eyes up at the young woman.

"The explosion will increase to full speed instantly." She shuddered at the prospect.

"The damage will be like a small photon torpedo going off." Blake growled. "I think it's safe to assume that it will be sufficient to damage to the time line."

"Worse than that!" Allarn shook her head and frowned. "If it increases to full speed when the field collapses then the released energy could re-energise the coils and begin to invert the sequence."

"Which means?" Blake shook his head.

"The blast could carry the stasis field outwards, slowing down and speeding up time all around it." She explained. "It would be like bending Subspace until it snaps."

"We had better go!" Katherine said. "We don't have a lot of time!"

Allarn walked ahead while Katherine and Blake worked with the Tricroders.

"I did find some odd readings!" Katherine told him with her voice lowered to exclude Allarn from their conversation.

"Go on!" Blake told her.

"Her brain is different to what I had expected. There's a kind of background electrical activity going on." She explained as they made their way towards the village.

"What could that mean?" Girling breathed out thoughtfully.

"She's a Forovian, my reading prove that." Katherine surmised. "I just can't put my finger on it but there's something wrong here."

Blake shook his head. "Allarn!" He called out. The young woman turned to face him, her expression one of surprise.

"I think you need to explain what's going on here." He told her flatly and with a note of resolve.

"I didn't mean to hurt anyone!" She told him, a tear beginning to well up in the corner of her eye. "I thought the Trans-Temporal cell wouldn't be any more dangerous than a Warp-core and it wouldn't have been if it had been built properly."

"You invented it?" Blake dug his balled fists into his hips in surprise.

"No, it's a long story." She frowned, shaking her head.

"Why were you coming to Earth?" Katherine asked, glancing towards Blake.

"I'm pregnant." She snapped angrily.

Katherine frowned and turned to face the Captain. Blake raised an eyebrow in wonder, asking a silent question of the girls sincerity. Katherine shook her head dismissively, her scans had shown no sign of an infant and her species had a similar reproductive cycle to Humans.

"You're pregnant?" Blake asked, his voice showing his doubts.

"No…" She cried out. "Yes… but not like you mean."

"Can you explain?" Katherine asked, her voice lowering supportively as she took a reflexive step forwards.

"It's my time." Allarn told her, her voice thin as she hung her head. "I shouldn't tell outsiders."

"Do you mean you're at the right age now and you have to go and get pregnant?" She asked. "Did you come to Earth looking for a mate?"

"No…" She shook her head. "I'm pregnant!"

"Alright…" Blake raised a hand. "We believe you but what about this device? Did you build it?"

"Not really!" She shook her head. "I sold a few plans while I was on DS9 to pay for my stay. New technology is worth a lot of money. I met a Ferengi in a bar who paid me enough in exchange for the schematics for the TT-Cell."

"I see." Blake nodded as things became clearer. "You still haven't really done anything wrong. Selling technology is generally legal throughout the Alpha quadrant."

"So why did that ship attack me?" Allarn asked as the first tear ran down her cheek despite her efforts to remain composed.

"They were just trying to steal it, I expect. They might have wanted to stop anyone else from getting it." Katherine told her. "They might even have been after you as well thinking that you had invented it."

"I take it the damage to this device is what sent us back in time?" Blake guessed.

"Possibly." She agreed. "I've never seen one fired at before."

"How old are you?" Katherine asked. "You look about twenty five…"

"I'm a little older." She shrugged. "I'm about two centuries older than either of you."

"You must tell me your secret." Katherine quipped a little unsure of whether to believe anything this woman said.

"I'm not really a Forovian!" Allarn told her bluntly.

"I see." Blake nodded, not surprised in the least.

"Well actually I am, but I'm not just one." Allarn frowned, trying to think of some way to explain.

"Well that makes it much clearer." Blake told her. "What are you?"

"It's complicated." She told him. "We don't talk about it with outsiders."

"Why not?" Katherine asked with a shrug.

"To protect ourselves." She grumbled. "To protect ourselves from being attacked for what we are and what we know."

"Good plan!" Blake acceded. "We tend to keep our mouths shut about our ship too so I know how you feel."

"What about your ship?" Allarn asked, keen to change the subject.

"What about you?" Blake smiled back at her.

"I think we're getting closer." Katherine cut in. "The radiation is spiking."


"This is insane!" Haldo rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he reviewed the brief notes on the TT-Cell. "This thing couldn't possibly work!"

"It does explain what the Section 31 team were after!" Doctor Jones frowned at the computer simulation running through the science station. "The field that slows down time could be very useful in a wide variety of roles."

"But if it does go critical, how the hell do we contain it?" Haldo shrugged. "If the time is speeded up when the field collapses then there isn't much we can do about it from up here in orbit."

"I dread to think…" The Doctor shook his head and frowned deeply. "If we could lock onto it we could beam it into space…"

"I wouldn't feel happy doing that!" Haldo grumbled. "The local temporal distortion could tear through subspace. We'd need to contain the blast with a force-field."

"You want to beam this thing aboard?" Jones staggered back in shock. "We couldn't possibly generate a field strong enough to safely hold this, it would tear the ship apart."

"We have to face the possibility that we may have to beam the crew to the surface and risk losing the ship." Haldo sighed. "It would take a defensive shield grid to generate the kind of power we're going to need."

"Without the Corinthian we'll be stranded here forever!" Jones grumbled weakly.

"Would the defensive shields aboard this ship contain the subspace damage?" Goruss Clogg asked from the tactical station as an idea began to take hold.

"Only barely…" Haldo shrugged. "They'd only need to hold for a micro-second but the overload would destroy the generator coils and then the ship."

"Can we do it?" Clogg asked again as a smirk began to form on his thin lips.

"I'd have to increase power to the shields but yes, I can do it." He nodded. "We better be off the ship by then though!"

"How would you increase the power?" Clogg narrowed his eyes as if he held a winning hand of cards and was relishing the chance to lay them on the table before a beaten challenger.

"I'd have to disconnect everything, including life-support!" Haldo shrugged.

"So you'd have to disconnect the safety protocols to do that?" Clogg rubbed his chin.

"Blake would have to authorise that." Haldo nodded in agreement.

"Well that ship already has the safety protocols disconnected and I've cut main power to the engines already…" Clogg pointed to the viewer where the Section 31 scout ship hung listlessly in space. "According to my readings their Warp core is still active…"

The village was dark, lit by dancing orange flames as the light glimmered from inside the dingy stone buildings. The streets were quiet but still bustling with minor activity as people went about their business along the sandy walkways.

"It's up there on the hills." Katherine gestured with a nod to a clearing outside the small town.

"It won't be long…" Allarn warned as she glanced at the Tricorder readings as Katherine held the screen up to her under her tattered robes that let her hide amongst the inhabitants.

"Right…" Blake frowned. "They're probably armed, I'll go alone."

"I'm coming!" Katherine sneered at the suggestion.

"No…" He said firmly. "I have shields, they can't hurt me."

"I'm a Starfleet officer." She reminded him. "I can't just stand here while you go on ahead all the time and besides you need me to scan ahead while you keep watch! It will take both of us to find him."

"Can I trust you to wait here while we go and retrieve this device?" Blake turned to Allarn who looked more than happy at being left behind.

"What do you want me to do?" She shrugged openly.

"Just don't talk to anyone…" Katherine told her. "Stay out of everyone's way."

Allarn nodded with a vague smile while the officers turned back to the clearing.

"Come on then!" Blake sighed. "Let's get on with it."

The Europa's bridge was deserted now that the Section 31 crew had been beamed into the Corinthian's secure holodeck while Haldo and Doctor Jones worked on their ship.

"Will this work?" Jones shuddered.

"If it doesn't by the time we get home the subspace tear will be big enough to have swallowed half the galaxy. There doesn't appear to be many species in a very advanced technological state here to repair it so it better had!" Haldo grinned darkly.

"Well no problem then." Jones huffed loudly. "Nothing can possibly go wrong."

"We'll have to raise the ship's shields remotely from the Corinthian." Haldo spoke rhetorically as he worked from the science station. "They'll be strong enough but will only stay up for about three seconds before this ship just falls apart."

"Will that be long enough?" Jones looked up in alarm from his station.

"Plenty!" Haldo assured him. "The Corinthian's transporters should be able to beam the TT-Cell directly into the vessel's engineering bay where the shields will be focused."

"Even the Corinthian struggles to beam through shields!" Jones worried.

"I have the frequency!" Haldo assured him. "This is going to work."

"Well better on this ship than on ours!" Jones sighed. "At least we can get home."

"Yes… home…" Haldo smiled haphazardly. "I guess we'll have to worry about that one later!"

"We should focus our scanners on this ship when it goes." Doctor Jones sat up sharply. Time around it will be speeded up and slowed down simultaneously, that should look pretty amazing."

"Whatever turns you on!" Haldo grinned and shook his head finding some measure of amusement in the Doctors relentless curiosity.

"Ok…" Haldo stood up. "This ship is as ready as it's ever going to be. We can let Blake know we have a plan for dealing with the device!"

Blake and Katherine gingerly worked their way towards the clearing. The air was still except for a gentle cool breeze and the occasional call from a herd of sheep in the distance.

"It's right up ahead." Katherine told him.

"Be careful." Blake replied with a stern warning. "This guy beamed down probably expecting to be at a meeting with a fellow agent, instead he's somewhere in the past out of contact with his ship. He'll be confused and defensive."

"I am a Doctor." She reminded him grumpily. "They do teach us psychology at Starfleet these days!"

"Just be careful." He whispered. "I mean it."

"I never knew you cared…" She grinned at him. Blake rolled his eyes back in head and chose not to rise to the bait on this occasion.

"Damn!" She cursed through gritted teeth.

"What?" He whispered to her.

"The Tricorder has died." She explained. "There's too much radiation out here. I detected four Human life-signs and then nothing."

"Four?" Blake shrugged.

"Three about one hundred metres on the left with some domestic animals and one alone just ahead where the radiation is strongest." She told him.

An almost inaudible bleep chirped from Blake's communicator beneath his greying robes. He reached under and pressed the badge to receive the message. "Girling here." He muttered as quietly as he could.

"This is Haldo." A voice chirped out, muffled by the heavy cloth and distorted by static interference. "We have containment ready for the device." He reported happily.

"But?" Blake asked knowingly.

"But we can't lock onto any electronic signal from up here." Haldo told him. "We can manually align the transporters to get the thing off of Earth but we'll be cutting it fine as the Cell is likely to detonate it as soon as it materialises if it's already this unstable."

"Well it's about ready to go off any second anyway." Blake shrugged.

"Well we still can't lock onto it unless you give us some idea of where to look." Haldo replied.

"I'll do what I can!" Blake huffed thoughtfully as his communicator began to whistle and then spluttered and died completely.

"Problems?" Katherine asked.

"Aren't there always?" He groaned.

Allarn walked slowly along the quiet village streets. She just watched the faces, reading their expressions, feeling their moods through their eyes in the brief glimpses that caught her stare. She'd never been to Earth before but it felt right being there now.

The gnawing sensation in her mind was wild now, it had been growing for many months but now the screaming within her mind was almost impossible to ignore, it filled her thoughts and drove her in a disarming way as if she was simply an observer in her own body.

She reached beneath her own humble robes to her gloved hands and gently pulled away the delicate silky coverings that had covered her fingers since she felt the oncoming sensations and knew that her time had reached her.

She smiled, it would be so good to relieve herself of these feelings and return to her life until it started again at least. Before her she saw exactly what she had been looking for and she smiled broadly. It would be a Human after all.

Blake decided on a frontal assault, relying on his shields if plan A and B failed in his approach to the Section 31 officer and either one of them began firing weapons.

He lowered his head as he had noticed the local people did as they walked through the streets. The robes were covering his head while his eyes peered coldly out from the opening in the hood towards the darkness that he knew contained the man he was after.

"Who are you?" A voice cut out from the shadows in English. Blake spotted a slight movement and his fingers found his compact personal phaser which had been set to a high stun setting.

"Who's that?" Blake called back, still hoping to pass as an ordinary local. A beam of energy licked out of the darkness implying that his ploy had failed and done so miserably. Blake's instinct was to throw himself on the floor and return fire but he remained standing and pulled the hood down from his face.

"I'm Captain Blake Girling." He cried out. "The device you took is an unstable temporal generator, it transported us back in time, we need to get off the surface before we risk affecting the time line!"

Another flash of phaser energy pointed out clearly that reason had also failed.

"Blake…" Katherine called out behind him. He spun around as a beam of energy crackled against his personal shields and saw the Ensign pointing wildly towards his open robes that were fluttering wildly in the breeze. His chest was glowing and flickering gently as his personal shields were automatically fending off the radiation from the damaged device.

"Oh no…" He grumbled as he caught sight of three figures slowly approaching their position.

"Locals are coming…" Blake called out. "We need to get out of here before they see us or before this thing explodes."

Another beam licked out of the darkness and missed wildly.

A phaser beam shot out from behind where Katherine had got a good enough look to be able to hit him. The Section 31 officer groaned and collapsed in a heap under the brilliant orange blast of energy.

She scurried up behind him and caught sight of the approaching shepherds as they made their way towards the light of the weapons fire and the glowing form of the Captain.

"Get rid of them!" Blake pointed a thumb towards the three local residents. "Don't let them get any closer."

"What are you going to do?" She gasped as she moved quickly towards the officer to check his condition.

"I have to mark the spot somehow so that Haldo can lock on with transporters!" He rubbed his temples as his mind raced for a solution and the people continued forwards without fear.

"Com-badges?" She suggested.

"They're dead or malfunctioning too badly…" He shook his head. "We need to light a fire so bright they can see it from orbit."

"A phaser!" They both said together. Blake dashed to the device, a small black cylinder, no larger than a phaser rifle lay at the floor, glowing red from photon spill ports at one end. He dug the phaser into the ground and set it to emit a low level beam on a continuous setting which would light up brilliantly but have no real destructive value. A pencil thin orange beam lashed out and headed straight up into the black night sky and on into the silvery stars.

Katherine scooped up the officer and dragged him towards Blake.

The Captain waved his arms at the three herdsmen who stood staring at the spectacle. "Get away from here." He barked. "It's not safe here!"

Katherine dragged the officer as far away as she could. He groaned and staggered as he slumped semi-conscious on her shoulder. Blake watched as they scurried quickly away from the device while he waved furiously at the men to leave before anything else could go wrong.

Suddenly Haldo got the hint and a massive blue light erupted around the phaser as the transporters scooped a massive chunk out of the Earth and beamed it away in a twinkling brilliant display that was also unfortunately witnessed by the men.

"Got it!" Haldo cried out in triumph as the Corinthians transporters sent the TT-Cell to the Europa's engineering bay behind the uprated shields.

"Sensors locked on!" Doctor Jones called out in excitement and stared fixedly at the viewer.

Suddenly the Oberth class Starship vanished in a massive white blast. The explosion instantly vaporised the hull and was momentarily contained by the defensive shields. Flaming tendrils of white light reached out from the focused ball of energy in slow motion, clawing out like a tired predator yawning lazily but choosing not to attack.

Haldo and Doctor Jones watched in awed silence at the display of the ship blowing itself apart in seconds that would stretch out for hours.

"It worked." Haldo whispered in relief. "No Subspace damage."

"That better not be the Corinthian!" Katherine said fearfully as the sky lit up with a brilliant white blast in the heavens.

"It wasn't." Blake assured her. He glanced down at his chest and was relieved that without the radiation his shields had switched off and he was no longer glowing.

"My communicator is down!" Katherine told him as they discretely made their way back towards the village to retrieve Allarn and remove themselves from Earth. "It must have burnt out."

Blake flicked open his Tricorder. "I'm detecting her." He groaned. "She's right in the centre of town in the middle of a crowd."

"So much for staying out of the way!" Katherine sighed.

"Tell me about it!" Blake shook his head. "I'll beam you two back aboard and go and get her myself."

"He's not hurt, just a bit stunned." Katherine gestured to the softly whimpering form of their captive.

"Lock him up with the others." Blake scowled. "I won't be long!"

Allarn watched the Humans with a deep sense of satisfaction. She smiled warmly as the light from a fire warmed her face. They were a good species with a promising future if they could stop firing weapons at everyone long enough to realise it.

"It's time to go!" Blake told her as he moved up behind her unseen with his hood pulled up over his face.

She turned slowly to face him with a warm smile.

He looked forwards to see what the crowd had gathered to see. At the middle was a shabbily assembled hut where a young girl had recently given birth. Her face was reddened from the effort and the baby was already sleeping soundly. Blake smiled to himself at the warmth the sight had evoked in the people around them.

He put his hand on Allarn's shoulder and whispered again that it was time for them to go. She nodded thinly with obvious disappointment and put her hand on top of his, blinking away the happy tears that were welling up in her eyes. Blake noticed briefly that her glove was missing. He frowned for a second, remembering how much she had resented the idea of being touched before. He looked up again at the scene before him with a growing sense of dread.

He glanced up above the hut to where the flaming remains of the Section 31 scout were still burning brightly in the sky above spilling silvery white light over the village and he looked into her knowing eyes that suddenly seemed filled with a wisdom way beyond a couple of centuries.

"My god…" He said softly. "What have you done?"

Blake sat behind his office desk while Haldo went about resetting the Transwarp drive to get them across time with help from Allarn who seemed to know a great deal about it.

"She was a little more forthcoming this time." Katherine said awkwardly. "Apparently her species is a kind of energy being that lives inside a host species. Each one of her kind carries the accumulated knowledge of their race with them. Every few hundred years it splits and they transmit the energy to a new sentient being. They grow up with the combined virtues of the host and the knowledge of the aliens although it can take hundreds of years to get used to it."

"So when she said she was pregnant she actually meant she was ready to divide into a new host, thereby having an offspring?" Blake suggested wearily. "She was just looking for someone to turn into one of her kind?"

"I suppose so but it's not really like changing someone, it's more like adding something to what they already are. Apparently their longevity is an intellectual state, she said that the reason we age so quickly is because we're used to after seeing it in lower species of animals." Katherine told him. "She only had to make physical contact with another species for the energy wave to cross over which was the real reason she was not keen on anyone touching her. She said the transfer only usually works on an infant or unborn child but they don't like to take chances."

Blake hung his head and sighed loudly. "I take it you worked out where and when we are and I don't want to know?" He groaned.

"You were right…" Katherine smiled. "You don't want to know."

"I don't believe this one!" He groaned. "We came here to stop any changes to the time line and look what we end up doing!"

"It doesn't look like we changed anything." Katherine said with a raised eyebrow. "Maybe we were meant to be here."

"Are you suggesting that this was all part of a plan?" Blake shook his head. "I suppose it does all fit the story rather well."

"I know." She agreed. "All we need is three wise men for the full set, but I think they turned up some time after the birth anyway."

"It's a good job." Blake grumbled "You couldn't find three wise men on this crew.".

"Incidentally." She added. "Your Universal Translator burnt out, I dread to think what those herdsmen though you were saying to them."

"I can't wait to give this report to Starfleet!" Blake hung his head into his upturned palms with his elbows resting on the edge of his desk. "It's a good job we have a cloaking device to hide from Temporal Investigations behind."

"Maybe this one we should keep to ourselves?" Katherine suggested.

Captain Blake Girling stepped out onto his bridge, which was still lit up with the holographic image of the Europa burning in slow motion out in space, lit up as brightly as a star.

"Nice work containing the subspace damage!" Blake pointed to the main viewer.

"It wasn't my idea actually!" Haldo grinned. "It was Goruss Clogg you have to thank."

"Thanks!" Blake smiled at him. "It must have been a nice change of pace from blowing things up."

"An interesting experience." Clogg grinned back. "But I know my place!"

"I don't think anyone could have guessed our place on this mission!" Blake breathed out heavily.

"Well…" Allarn began.

"I think it's best if we leave before we do some real damage!" Blake cut her off.

"Before we do some more real damage!" Haldo corrected.

"Don't remind me!" He sat heavily into his chair. "It seems we've been the unwitting victims of a pre-destination paradox and everything is now ticking along exactly as it was supposed to all along. Let's get ourselves out of here."

"So that's Christmas?" Kella frowned.

"That was the first Christmas." Farran nodded.

"That's why we don't talk about who we are with outsiders!" Malarn told her firmly. "They wouldn't believe us or understand and they'd only get angry, people do get angry with things they don't understand."

"But we were put here to help everyone!" Kella shrugged. "You told me that the universe put us here to help all the other races."

"Yes we were." Malarn smiled at her. "But when we're young we have a lot to learn and we make mistakes."

Kella looked up at her parents, her mother who had been pregnant with a child and her father who had supplied the knowledge that flooded her young mind. "But we should celebrate Christmas." She grumbled.

"I used to." Farran smiled. "When I was a child and before I met Malarn who explained to me as much as I could learn."

"But then I'd get presents…" Kella frowned.

"There's nothing we could give you that could ever equal what you already have." Malarn smiled warmly. "When you understand that, then you're ready to find your path."

Kella frowned thoughtfully for a moment. "Until then can I just have presents?"

With a flash of blue light the Corinthian exploded through subspace with its nacelles swept back for Transwarp. The ship glimmered with broiling energy as the tachyon field that had carried them back through time slowly dissipated from the gleaming metal hull.

Ahead of the ship was the Wanderer hanging in space at the rendezvous point at full stop, her thrusters firing listlessly to hold the position as she waited patiently.

"Home!" Haldo grinned with obvious relief. "As if nothing ever happened."

"Nothing did to them!" Doctor Jones reminded him.

"They're hailing us!" Katherine told Blake redundantly, knowing that the ship had already fed that piece of information to his mind. "Captain Graves wants to know what kept us."

Captain Girling sighed and watched the viewer with the image of the merchant vessel hanging before them, his mind full of thoughts about what had happened.

"What shall I tell them?" Katherine asked after a lengthy silence.

Blake turned suddenly as someone touched his chair, rousing his thoughts to the present. "I can imagine how you feel!" Allarn told him with a knowing smile and a warmth in her eyes as she spoke.

"Seen it all before?" He scowled.

"We don't do these things to hurt you, we do them because we must!" She said without losing her patience. "Have you ever thought that perhaps a string of coincidences is actually a plan, a plan laid down by something greater than all of us?"

"You're saying this was meant to happen?" Blake stood up from his chair to face her. "If you knew then why didn't you tell us?"

"It is simply that I didn't tell you." She shrugged. "We're just following the plan and I'm nothing more than a puppet who sees some of the strings but it is those strings that guide me as it is all of us."

"That's a useful way to avoid your responsibilities." Blake told her, shaking his head in annoyance.

She turned with a smile to Haldo who had been listening in silence, hoping for an argument to break out for some time. "Do you believe that your life is mapped out in infinite detail or that you have freedom of choice?" She asked.

"I take it you know the answer?" Haldo's eyes shone for a second as he pondered the thought. "I guess I believe there's a plan, after all the very fact of this ship and crew is so ridiculous a proposition that it can't have happened by chance."

"Katherine?" Allarn turned to her as she asked.

"Freedom of choice!" Katherine said firmly. "I believe that the decisions I make change my life."

"You're thinking like Humans." She smiled and turned back to Blake. "Your existence is corporal and you have grown accustomed to seeing things with your perspective but that is not how the universe sees you."

"Then how?" Blake crossed his arms.

"Time is infinite but to the Universe it is just another part of an intricate whole like a limb is to you, fully understood and able to bend to its will." She explained. "You have only to bend your perception to see time from another angle, instead of seeing your life as a path leading from one moment to the next, see it head on so that everything happens at once without time to separate it. Looking down on your life before it has begun or ended you can see that every decision has been decided and has been done so because of who you are so that you have both freedom and a destiny."

"So who plans it?" Haldo smiled.

"We all do, the sum of our consciousness." She told him as if it was obvious.

"Very interesting." Blake sighed. "It must be very convenient to hide behind philosophy every time you play with people's lives."

"Words are the beginnings of ideas," She began, "But it is actions that fire the passions of others, my kind do what must be done. I will tell you something of your future if you wish."

Blake glanced over to Haldo who was nodding eagerly.

"Soon you will be searching for someone against insurmountable odds." She told them all. "You will find much more than you are looking for and will taste some small part of a larger plan than you could ever imagine."

"Great!" Blake grumbled. "More good news, isn't it nice to have something to look forward to?"

"The Wanderer is hailing again!" Katherine told him.

Blake shook his head. "Tell them to follow us. I'll cloak the ship and leave it to regenerate while we carry on to DS9."

"And you, Allarn?" Haldo called out. "Where can we drop you off?"

"I must head for the Neutral Zone." She told him with a wry grin that was calculated to suggest she knew something that she'd not be discussing further. "I will be meeting somebody there in a few months so I'll need to arrange a transport at the station."

"Anything we should know about?" Blake asked suspiciously.

"Patience." She told him. "Remember your decisions have already mapped your destiny."

"Captain Graves says he's ready for us to beam aboard when we are." Katherine said as the reply came over the systems.

"I'm ready!" Blake told her. "I'm more than ready!"

Kella's eyes glinted under the light of the silvery moon as the myriad stars shone overhead. Malarn watched from the wooden doorway that he had built with his own hand while his wife tucked in their child. It was rare for his kind to choose a mate before the transfer rather than abandon the process to chance but Kella was living proof of the wisdom of doing so. He grinned at his thoughts as he realised that even his decision was simply a part of the plan, no more his to control than the spinning of a coin.

"I can go up there one day?" She asked her father with an excited smile.

"You will." He nodded, remembering his time travelling the Universe fondly. "When you're ready."

"What's it like?" She sat up suddenly sending the sheets flying back from her bed and making her mother grumble silently.

"It will be what you make it." He told her. "You future will belong to you and you will belong to everybody. You'll change many times and do things you can never imagine."

"Will I change my name?" She asked, frowning in thought as her young mind raced.

"Yes." Malarn agreed. "Many times."

"Maybe I can call myself Allarn!" Kella enthused. "Maybe I can be like her."

Farran glanced over to her husband with a happy smile.

"I'm sure you will." He told her. "I'm sure you will."



Some models kindly supplied by Paul L. Cass.


Last modified: 09 Nov 2020