|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 Corinthian slunk gingerly into the edge of the Beta quadrant solar system under cloak and very keen to avoid detection by anything indigenous to the sector. Two gigantic red suns lay at the centre throbbing gently to one another, pulsing with brilliant orange heat that licked the faces of the ten planets in orbit around them.
"The Paggrah system." Doctor Howard Jones announced from his console at the rear of the bridge.
"The third planet has a population of eight billion, they would have discovered warp drive about two centuries ago, if my records are accurate but they were annexed by the Klingon empire." Haldo Compz added with an annoyed frown. "I guess you can't really appreciate the Federation principals until you see how the other team plays the game."
"So what happened to them?" Blake shook his head as he glowered at the planet in the viewer. It was very like earth, much of the surface was covered with water, plenty of land mass for the indigenous population and a well balance Eco-system.
"They're an industrialised civilisation now." Doctor Jones scanned through his files. "They produce ship parts mostly and enough food to be largely self sufficient."
"They produce the wingtip mounted guns for most of the fleet's scout class vessels." Compz added. "As well as the gimble mounted Disruptor turrets for older D7, 8 and 9 type ships
"Do they have Warp drive at all?" Ensign Rogers raised an eyebrow, already suspecting she knew the answer.
"No…" Jones shook his head sadly. "They're denied interplanetary travel, the same as every world in the Empire that isn't inhabited by Klingons."
"So they just sit there on their home-world?" Blake turned from the viewer. "The Klingons drop off the materials and these people turn them into ship parts for them?"
"I would imagine so." Haldo cringed with a weary sigh.
"That's slavery!" Blake crossed his arms over his chest. "If the Federation knew…"
"They know." Jones cut in. "This is deep within the heart of Klingon territory, this is a the way they do things in here. The people are lucky they weren't put to death to make way for Klingon colonisation."
"The Prime Directive would seem to be in operation here." Haldo grumbled. "Even if we weren't creeping around looking for leads under cloak there'd be nothing we could do… nothing we would be allowed to do."
"We should do something." Blake frowned, knowing already that little could be done for them and angry at the growing frustration he felt. "Someone should do something."
"We can do what we're here to do." Katherine turned back to her computer interface. "Carry on looking for the ships that captured the crew of the Olympus."
"Alright." Blake sighed heavily as he turned and stepped back to his chair. "This is the right place?"
"Oh yes!" Haldo nodded. "Someone down there got a good look at the Necrodians as they passed by. From the information that Captain Kromm gave us it looks like they might have dropped from Warp to make a course correction."
"So they use the same kind of Trans-phasing Warp drive that is fitted to all Starfleet vessels since the Excelsior?" Blake shrugged to his engineer.
"It looks that way." Haldo agreed. "Their power source is clearly different but their warp factor is so high that they can't manoeuvre at speeds, they have to drop to sub-light."
"Do we go down there?" Katherine asked.
"We need to access their archives manually." Haldo replied. "Their technology is not compatible with ours from orbit."
"Isn't there some way we can adapt our equipment to interface with theirs?" Blake shrugged, still hoping to avoid detection.
"Not really!" Haldo smirked. "Ours is incredibly sophisticated electronic equipment, theirs is made from rocks and things they found in their body cavities."
"Haldo!" Blake snapped as he adopted his sternest expression at his engineer.
"Their records are just not stored in a medium we can make use of." Haldo grumbled, his eyes rolling to the ceiling in routine annoyance.
"…Which begs the question of why we bothered to come in the first place." Doctor Jones added with a sigh.
"We don't have much else to go on." Blake reminded him. "We need to get a trace on that alien ship as quickly as possible."
"We can't just go down there…" Katherine told them with an awkward smile. "They don't look quite like us."
"Can you surgically modify us?" Blake raised an eyebrow hopefully.
"Not really!" She shook her head heartily. "They have a totally different skeletal structure and an elongated head on a neck that's about twice as long as ours."
"I'd like to volunteer Doctor Jones to try!" Haldo nudged his arm with a wide smirk.
"I'd be happy to let you experiment on my chief engineer." Blake scowled towards him through narrow, glowering eyes. "The procedure would be painful, right?"
"It's just not possible!" Katherine replied flatly. "I'm sorry."
"How well would we be received if we just turned up?" Jones shrugged. "I mean it's not like they've never seen an alien before!"
"It's not them I'm worried about." Blake huffed. "If the Klingons found out we were here in their space without permission I doubt they'd be too pleased."
"That's an under-statement!" Haldo agreed, sneering at the Doctor as if he smelt of decomposing fish. "We didn't exactly make friends with them last time we all met up to play."
"We're not out here to make friends!" Blake sighed. "And we're certainly making a good job of that."
"Go on… you know you want to!" Captain Crowley goaded, waving the small brown box before Captain Graves's nose. Resistance to temptation was a thing he employed sparingly if at all and the box of cigars was obviously damaging to his health, anti-social and unpleasant. Such things had the highest levels of temptation to a man who had given up on even the idea that what he really wanted might ever fall within his reach, at least on the outside of a holodeck.
"I don't smoke." He offered weakly as his arm began to move almost involuntarily to the cigars.
"They're from Altare 4." The Captain smirked with a nod. "They have peculiar properties. I think you'll enjoy them!"
"If you insist…" Graves smiled as his resistance plummeted altogether to lie in a crumpled heap around him. He scooped up a number of the little brown, finely wrapped alien objects and took them with a proud flourish. Captain Crowley had clearly intended for something else entirely to happen and although a little surprised he said nothing.
"So we have a deal?" Commander Morrow asked hopefully.
"I think so!" The freighter Captain agreed. "You inventory has many top notch objects and I can spare the deuterium."
"Lucky us!" Graves scowled and turned away to glower out of the window at the loss of his supply of alcohol.
"We're happy to do a favour for an old friend." Crowley told them both with a beaming smile.
"A friend would have given me a better price." Captain Graves told him in no uncertain terms.
"Cheer up!" He laughed at the disgruntled man before him. "The trade was all your idea in the first place."
"It wasn't exactly my idea!" Graves glowered pointedly at his first officer.
"Is it me?" Blake sighed wearily at his chief engineer in his office at the side of the Corinthians bridge. "Is it me or do all of your plans seem to be getting more and more complex and increasingly likely to fail and kill us all?"
"It's you!" Haldo shrugged with a wry grin.
Captain Girling tossed the Padd onto the desk between them as he breathed heavily and closed his eyes in weary resignation. "Are you serious about this?"
"We can do it." Haldo nodded. "I can do it…"
"A hologram?" Blake said. "You want to bounce a hologram off of my Comm badge?"
"It will look like we're one of them!" Haldo told him without sounding absolutely convinced, or at least not as much as the Captain would have liked. "The hologram will sample your movements and project an illusion that will look the same as the Paggrans!"
"Will it work?" Blake sighed.
"No." Haldo grinned sarcastically. "Not a chance."
"Why the hell do I listen to you?" Blake hung his head into his hands.
"I think I can do it." Haldo admitted. "I can even tie in the Universal Translator, they'll even see us speaking their language and never suspect that we're Humanoid!"
"How many of us can you project down there?" Blake rubbed his face in weary resignation.
"No more than two…" Haldo raised an eyebrow. "And it will take myself and Doctor Jones to watch the holographic projection in case of anything going wrong."
"You and Doctor Jones?" Blake smiled. "You actually want to work with him?"
"Nobody else is qualified…" Haldo explained. "If there was anyone else I'd jump on it but I'm stuck with him until you get us a proper crew!"
"If I had a proper crew then you'd be down in Engineering cleaning up the floors with a mop." Blake smirked.
"And you'd be back at Starfleet filling out your Captains exams with no clue about what the hell you were doing!" Haldo reminded him.
"Alright!" Blake snapped wearily. "I'll take Clogg with me, he's a good choice!"
"The Paggrans are a non-aggressive species according to our records." Haldo frowned deeply. "I think you'd be better taking Katherine."
"Ensign Rogers!" Blake reminded him firmly.
"They wouldn't know which end of a phaser not to sit on, you don't need a security officer, you need Katherine." Haldo said firmly.
"Now you're telling me what I need?" Blake smiled weakly.
"You need Katherine." Haldo grinned back knowingly. "And not just on this away-mission."
"So when are we meant to meet up with the Corinthian?" Captain Graves asked to nobody in particular although he knew well that only Commander Craddock would be listening to him. The rules aboard the Wanderer were simple, Commander Craddock listened to the Captain, ignored him and issued orders to everyone else. Everyone else was happy with this as before the current arrangement Graves had managed to prove himself a severe danger to himself and others. Graves had an opinion and Craddock knew how to translate it into something that might actually not steer them into the nearest sun so the crew had become accustomed to ignoring everything he said until it came from Winston.
"They're out of communication range!" Winston told him wearily. "They have been for a while."
"I know!" Graves grunted and folded his arms over his chest. "They're in the Beta Quadrant investigating the aliens."
"That's right!" Commander Graves grinned to himself while he focused most of his attention on his console. "They're deep within Klingon territory."
"I'll bet they have a full inventory of booze!" Graves crossed his legs angrily and glowered at the stars as they spiralled past on the viewer.
"Not likely." Winston smirked to himself. "Blake doesn't really approve of alcohol."
"Don't I know it…" Graves grunted soberly and with deep regrets that he found himself so.
The Paggran home-world was a sombre place, the people slouched apathetically as they slunk around the town's narrow spiralling walkways. The gloom from the permanently grey sky seemed to have infected the population's mood making the place a reflection of weariness and routine.
"Nice!" Katherine commented as she glanced around. She looked towards Blake and frowned as realisation dawned on her. Her heart suddenly jumped in her chest as she breathed in heavily. "Blake, I can see you."
"You look normal to me too." Blake nodded. "Nobody else seems to have noticed us though."
Katherine scowled to herself as she watched the people pass her by without pausing to give the interlopers a second look. She relaxed slightly and shook her head in puzzlement. Blake pointed to a window some way ahead, blacked out from behind.
"Look!" He told her, pointing to their reflections in the glass. "We do look like them."
"Impressive!" She agreed. "How comes we see ourselves normally?"
"I don't know." He sighed. "And to be honest, I don't care. We may not have long before this trick fails. We need to move!"
"It's right ahead!" Katherine gestured to the building before them, unconsciously wondering what her head movement must look like to an indigenous inhabitant of the planet. "That's their records building. It's the main centre for their outer defensive watch-towers."
"Watch towers?" Blake shrugged as they made their way towards the unimpressive structure.
"Apparently they were built centuries ago." She smiled, intrigued by the history of the world that was so different to the development that might occur within Federation space. "Nearly five hundred and fifty years ago they had ships capable of patrolling the entire solar system. They had a kind of negative ion thrust drive, not as sophisticated as impulse but they were on the right tracks."
"And the towers?" Blake reminded her as the entrance loomed large before them.
"Observation scanners." She told him. "They were watching the skies… probably watching out for the Klingons!"
"Who could blame them!" He smirked knowingly. "Shame they didn't quite make it."
"Maybe they didn't care." She shrugged back at him. "Everything I've seen suggests that they were an apathetic race even before the Klingons conquered this world."
"Perhaps!" Blake nodded in grudging agreement. "The file also says that they have an adrenaline system nearly twice as large as Humans."
"Blake!" She scolded happily. "Humans don't feel emotions due to a flood of chemicals. I can inject you with adrenaline and you'll laugh but won't find anything funny. Emotions come from everything of us that's beyond the organic."
"Our soul?" He suggested with a knowing smile.
"Why not?" She halted and glowered at him defensively. "Almost every intelligent species believes in a connection to a higher spirituality, who cares what it's called?"
"We have a job to do!" He reminded her with a gentle grin. "Maybe we can save this debate for another time?"
"We wouldn't care about your job if we were just a sack of chemical signals floating around in organic meat!" She grunted at him disparagingly.
"Any fluctuation?" Haldo swung around on his chair, glimpsing briefly at his monitor while the controls flashed the situation up at him and he continued to barely noticed through his boredom.
"Nothing I can't handle." Doctor Jones grinned at the screen, his eyes fixed and his attention focused like a laser beam at the task at hand.
"What do you think they'll find?" Haldo stopped swinging himself about and gazed for a moment at the planet in the viewer. "Do you think they'll have any evidence about these aliens?"
"No." Jones replied firmly. "I think they'll find that they've been wasting their time even coming here."
"No fluctuations in you, is there?" Haldo slapped him playfully in the back. Jones frowned but said nothing while he continued monitoring the holographic matrix around the two crewmen.
"What exactly are you doing?" Security Chief Goruss Clogg called out.
"What do you think?" Haldo turned and shrugged with an expression of amusement. "I'm trying to get a tan from the glow of my instruments, he's trying to catch a rat that crawled up his shirt sleeve!" He gestured to the Doctor who chose to remain uninvolved.
"I'm serious!" Clogg snapped. "What ship equipment are you using?"
"Why?" Haldo asked, his expression becoming more quizzical and less amused.
"I have noticed a discrepancy." Goruss sighed. "Are you using the Phasers?"
"Yes!" Haldo nodded. "We're firing an invisible transporter beam through the phaser channel at Blake and Katherine, it's a lot more focused and less easy to spot. It also can handle more energy with less dissipation through the atmosphere."
"A narrow, low energy beam!" Goruss said thoughtfully.
"Obviously! The opposite could vaporise a city." Haldo smirked.
"And you're monitoring the beam carefully?" Clogg said with a note of relief as he began to relax slightly.
"Of course." Doctor Jones added. "At least one of us is."
"Well that explains that…" Clogg shook his heads as if to cast off his doubts. "That explains why I'm reading a low powered detection field coming off of our hull."
"What?" Jones spun around from his console as he and Compz glowered at the officer.
"What?" Clogg shrugged awkwardly.
"We're monitoring the beam's feedback." Haldo told him as he lunged forward to confirm his scans.
"We're not using any other active equipment while we're in Klingon space!"
Blake breathed out heavily as he stood before the alien; scarcely able to believe that the vast differences between them was invisible to him.
"We monitored the vessel!" Gravv Trevvett agreed with a smile that spread across his massive drooling lips while his narrow tongue darted over his wide and uneven teeth. "It appeared on our sensors and then vanished!"
"Perhaps it dropped out of warp to make a minor course correction?" Blake suggested, not even sure if the concept of faster than light drive would make any sense to these people.
"Warp…" The heavy Paggran cocked its head to one side as if in deep contemplation. "How do you know of such things?"
"We're from far away!" Katherine stepped into the conversation, mindful of the Prime-Directive that instructed them not to intervene in another culture.
"It was at warp." The Paggran agreed with a nod. "But it left so we were not concerned."
"May we see your logs or records of the ship?" Blake asked hopefully. "It's very important!"
"You are polite." Gravv smiled happily, his huge face lolling uneasily over his massive skull like a caricature of himself. "I will give you what you wish."
"Thank you so much." Katherine beamed happily although her smile would be holographicaly altered before the native would see it.
"It is my pleasure!" Gravv smiled back. "Although you are from far away it appears you are much like us."
"In my experience we're largely all the same." Blake told him. "It's each individual that makes a difference."
"The Klingons are different." Gravv told them with a stern frown. "We do not much like them here."
"The Klingons?" Katherine frowned at Blake, suspecting that their charade was faltering.
"You are from far away." Gravv raised an eyebrow knowingly. "But you have come here with a simple request and you ask politely. You are the kind of people would make welcome."
"Yes." Blake nodded. "We are from very far away."
"It does not trouble me." The Paggran official told him as the information was slowly brought to his terminal. "The Klingons make sure we have few visitors but all are welcome here if they are polite."
"I'm sorry we couldn't tell you straight away." Katherine smiled. "We didn't want to cause you any trouble."
"May I ask why you want this information?" Gravv leant back with a wide shrug and a knowing grin.
"This vessel captured our friends." Katherine said gravely. "We need to find them before something terrible happens to them."
Goruss Clogg glanced up from his security and tactical control panel while the others hovered nervously around waiting for his report.
"It must be a ship, nothing else could account for the particle wake." He shook his head in dismay. "The Klingons must be tracking us."
"We should be able to detect them." Haldo rubbed his temples fearfully. "With our cloaking device up our shields can't come to full power. We'll never match a Klingon warship."
"We don't want to initiate an armed conflict." Clogg replied calmly. "That's the last thing we need right now."
"Call Blake!" Doctor Jones said. "He's the Captain, we need him here."
"We can beam him through our shields." Haldo agreed. "But I'm afraid that if the Klingons know we're here then they might detect out transporter signal and lock weapons onto us."
"No…This doesn't make sense." Doctor Jones frowned curiously. "The Klingons don't have this level of sophistication, they couldn't detect us before so how are they able to now?"
"Who else could be operating this deep inside Klingon space?" Clogg growled at him. "It's certainly not the Paggrans!"
"I'll set up a secure communications channel along the holographic beam so we can talk to Blake." Haldo sighed. "Give me a few minutes."
Blake scowled at the readings. They were simplistic in the extreme and their sensors were able to track them for only a brief time as the alien vessel had quickly gone out of their range.
"A virtual right angle turn?" Katherine shook her head in wonder. "Why would they make a such a hard turn if there was no other ships around?"
Blake nodded in agreement. "It doesn't make sense." He added rhetorically as his mind chewed over the facts.
"I thought maybe a few degrees and then back to high warp." Katherine scratched her head.
"Unless…" Blake sat up straight as realisation grimly took hold. "Unless they're searching for something and following a routine search-pattern around the quadrant."
"Scouting out the whole area?" She frowned.
"To have come from our side of the Alpha quadrant to here while using sensors before making a turn they would have to be fast, much faster than our warp technology." Blake's eyes narrowed defensively. "It explains why they were in Klingon space before and then came back."
"Which leaves the question of what they were looking for." Katherine noted with a deep intake of breath.
"And how many of them are looking." Blake turned to look at the Paggran official who had barely been following the conversation.
"Not looking for us!" He said with a lop-sided grin. "They left us alone."
"That was lucky for you." Blake smiled back, wondering momentarily what the gesture would look like to the alien.
"Haldo to Girling!" The signal cut into their conversation through a wail of static. Katherine and Blake stared at each other with surprise for a moment before he answered.
"Go ahead." He told the engineer with an apologetic glance at their host.
"We need you up here, we have a problem!" Haldo told him firmly.
"What's happening?" Blake frowned fearfully.
"A ship is tracking us, a ship of unknown origin appears to be in orbit with us." Haldo told them, his voice lowered dramatically.
"Blake!" Katherine began, her eyes widening. "These people have no defences, we have to help them."
"On our way…" Blake agreed. He turned to Gravv with an outstretched hand. "We have to return to our vessel now."
"I understand." The Paggran nodded.
"Do you have any way to contact the Klingons and bring them here in case of an emergency?" Blake asked as his mind tapped back into the Corinthian to begin the process of arranging their transport.
The big alien shook his head.
"We don't know what's up there." Katherine explained. "We'll do our best to protect you but we may not be able to stop them if the alien ship has returned."
"Thank you for trying." The official smiled. "You are good people."
The Starfleet officers vanished in a flickering blur of blue light.
"Report!" Blake ordered as he stepped onto his bridge.
"There's a ship out there." Haldo told him from behind his console. "We're detecting power signals but they're sporadic and we can't get a good fix."
"It could be Klingons!" Clogg reminded them.
"It could be the Necrodians." Blake frowned. "With one of their gigantic ships that laid waste to a Klingon Bird of Prey, a converted Defiant class scout and the Olympus."
"I hope it is the Klingons!" Doctor Jones shuddered.
"That has to be the first time in the history of the Universe that someone has hoped that an unknown ship tracking them is a Klingon!" Haldo smiled uneasily.
"Make a note in your diary." Blake told him grimly. "And let's hope that there's someone out there that will read it some day."
"That's it." Jones glowered at the Captain. "Keep up the crew's morale."
"I'm detecting something!" Clogg looked up from his readout.
"Confirmed!" Haldo agreed with a note of rising panic. "Weapons fire!"
The Corinthian banked hard as a green blast of energy lashed over her weakened shields. Energy arcs seared over the hull as her defences began to buckle under the attack.
"Drop cloak." Blake ordered over the wailing warning sirens. "Raise shields to full and triangulate the position that weapon came from."
"Whatever it is it can fire under cloak!" Haldo shook his head. "I had a momentary reading but nothing precise."
Blake glowered at the view-screen as Phaser blasts fired out from the Corinthian into roughly the area where the shot emanated.
"Contact…" Clogg grinned from the weapons console as he sent a full spread of photon torpedoes into the cloaked vessel. The first two missed but the third and forth caught the edge of the ships shields and exploded with a ferocious blast of highly focused energy that caused the shields of the enemy ship to phase across her hull.
"Not a Necronian!" Haldo said in relief. "It's too small, about 180 metres in length."
"That doesn't rule them out!" Blake reminded him as he turned to face Goruss Clogg. "We'll discuss this later." He told him with a raised eyebrow. Clogg lowered his eyes to the controls, realising his mistake in firing the weapons without express orders to do so.
"I've set a new course." Blake told them. "Fire a full spread of Phasers into that ship."
"We're leading them away?" Katherine suggested.
"Whoever they are they're still a treat to the Paggrans." He nodded.
Suddenly the ship lurched again as another volley of weapons fire caught her port nacelle.
"Analysis?" Blake turned to his engineer as the Corinthian automatically began evasive procedures.
"Disruptor!" Haldo told him.
"So it is the Klingons?" Clogg nodded knowingly.
"The Kra'lee is cutting edge Klingon." Haldo corrected. "This ship is more powerful and a good deal more able than her."
"Return fire!" Blake turned to scowl at his tactical officer. "Load quantum torpedoes, maximum yield, full spread. I want that cloak brought down."
"Yes sir!" He nodded.
Seven brilliant white balls of energy streaked from the nose of the ship in rapid succession and travelled around in a wide arc to track back to the object behind them that was still cloaked. They blasted into the vessel, the first three missing entirely while the forth caught the outer edge of the shields. As they were programmed to do they all began tracking the explosion and detonating as close to it as they could.
"Direct hit!" Clogg grinned as he announced triumphantly.
"Their cloak is going down and their defensive shields appear to be going up to full power." Haldo frowned. "Just like us!"
"Like us?" Katherine raised her eyebrow quizzically.
"A little too like us!" Blake agreed as they watched the reverse angle on the large holographic viewer while the approaching vessel swam closer towards them.
The vessel had a large central hull and two straight wings jutting out with a nacelle at each of the tips.
"Romulan!" Haldo gasped.
"Romulans?" Katherine frowned deeply. "How can it be?"
"When did they learn to fire when cloaked and how did their Disruptor energy get so powerful?" Clogg shrugged. "A Valdore class Warbird couldn't have hit us that hard."
"For now let's just concern ourselves with the fact that it is!" Blake told them. "Target their weapons and fire at will."
The viewer lit up with a green arc of energy as their main weapon lashed out from the nose. The beam caught them on the tail as the Corinthian continued on her evasive manoeuvres. A power conduit erupted at the rear of the bridge sending a cascading blaze of sparks and smoke from the damage.
"Why the hell do you keep putting that much power into the bridge control systems?" Haldo shouted at Doctor Jones who had designed much of the ship.
"You have to." He shouted back defensively. "Too much remote automation and you just lose control of the vessel if you take damage just like Kirk did when they first encountered a cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey."
"That certainly didn't feel like a Romulan Disruptor!" Blake noted.
"Shields are down to 80%, Impulse engines are stuttering, we're losing power." Clogg warned.
"Warp blast on my signal." He ordered. "Three seconds at maximum warp, drop four quantum torpedoes at our exit point and then retract nacelles, reverse position and manual targeting to lock on this ship when it comes after us."
"Program set." Haldo told the Captain.
"I'm ready." Clogg added in agreement.
The Corinthian suddenly streaked through space as the warp-field began to establish itself and then the vessel erupted in a silvery blast as it tore away through subspace. The Romulan looking vessel followed them to unwarily warp and flew straight into the inert torpedoes which instantly exploded around her causing damage to the vessels shields.
The Corinthian emerged from the warp trip and automatically began retracting her nacelles to protect them from damage from incoming Disruptor fire. They turned to target their entry point and set the phaser cannon to its highest setting to blast the ship as it followed them out of warp.
"They hit the torpedoes." Clogg announced with a smile. "And I'm detecting some subspace signals. It looks like they're coming after us."
"Get ready with that Phaser-cannon!" Blake told him. "Fire as soon as it comes through and keep firing until you risk over-heating the cannon."
"Yes sir!" Clogg replied more than happily as his fingers hovered expectantly over the controls.
"They're coming." Haldo raised an eyebrow. "I've detecting a warp field."
Suddenly the vessel streaked out of subspace in a blaze of energy. The phaser beam caught it almost instantly and it erupted in a blaze of red energy, vanishing completely behind the explosion.
"Yes!" Clogg slammed his balled fist down hard on the console in triumph.
"That was a photon torpedo blast!" Haldo told them with a very worried expression.
"Scan the area!" Blake ordered, jumping up from his chair.
Suddenly the Corinthian rocked to the side as another Disruptor blast caught them.
"Return fire!" Blake barked. "Now!"
Phaser beams stuttered out from the ship, reaching into space towards where the shot had come from. A beam caught the cloaking device of the vessel and it stuttered towards failure as the shields came back to full power.
"What happened?" Blake growled.
"It was a hologram bounced off a torpedo that was travelling with a Warp-sustainer motor." Haldo guessed. "They probably got the idea from watching what we were doing on the planet I would imagine."
"Our ventral shields are down to 25% and falling." Clogg warned.
"Our Impulse drive has taken more damage." Haldo added to their woes. "We can only make about half our normal sub-light speed."
"We still have weapons." Blake sneered as a blast from the cannon reached out to the attacking vessel.
"They're banking away." Clogg smiled. "We're hurting them too."
"Hail them!" Blake turned to Katherine.
"Still no reply." She shook her head. "They just don't want to talk."
"They prefer the universal language of kicking our arse!" Haldo frowned at the ship loomed large in the viewer.
"I speak it like a native." Clogg replied with a testosterone filled expression of maniacal anger.
"They're heading off and building to warp!" Katherine told them.
"Deploy the nacelles." Blake told them. "We're going after them."
Both vessels vanished in a blast.
"Warp 9.999." Haldo shook his head. "That is one fast ship."
"It can't hold this speed for long." Doctor Jones shrugged as he watched the tail section of the Romulan vessel before them.
"Nor can we." Blake rubbed his chin.
"At least it's giving us time to regenerate from the damage." Haldo said thoughtfully. "And reset out shield harmonics."
"It's giving them time too." Blake turned to his engineer and walked over to his console. "What kind of ship can run at this kind of speed and still have energy left for self-repair while keeping their shields up?"
"This one." Haldo shrugged. "Not much else that I know of."
"But this one is a radical design, way outside of normal Federation engineering practice and the Romulans are behind us in weapons and propulsion fields so how did they make the jump?" Blake asked rhetorically.
"Time travel?" Jones suggested.
"It better not be." Blake growled. "I've had more than enough trouble with that for one life-time."
"In your case for many life times!" Haldo added.
"Vernak class!" Jones announced as he glanced up at the screen. "It's a pretty close match."
"You've found it?" Blake asked with notable surprise. "It's a standard type ship?"
"Not really." He shook his head. "It's close but refitted perhaps." They all looked at the engineering schematics of the Vernak class vessel as they appeared in the Section 31 vessel archive. It was a light cruiser, designed for high warp transport and routine science missions while having limited weapons.
"No way!" Haldo waved his hand dismissively. "It's a similar design like their scouts and science vessels but it can't be the same."
"It looks very close!" Blake said curiously as he compared it to the scans.
He turned his attention to the Doctor. "When you designed this ship did you copy any of the parts?"
"Of course." He agreed. "Many of the parts were stock equipment or simple upgrades and I was inspired by other ships when I set about the cosmetic look."
"Could they have built a whole new vessel that was so closely inspired by the Vernak?" Blake shrugged.
"Why would they?" Haldo shook his head. "The Vernak is nothing special, just another boring Romulan ship shaped roughly like a bird."
"When I borrowed parts of other designs I was aiming for the classics." Jones nodded in agreement. "I wanted the elegance of the Constitution class, the Excelsior and several old prototype vessels I looked up in archive files."
"And you came up with this?" Haldo sniggered.
"Maybe that is how they came up with this?" Blake frowned.
"What do you mean?" Jones glared as if the suggestion was a personal sleight.
"Is there any way that the Romulans could have got hold of Borg technology from the recovered scout?" Blake asked.
"No." He said firmly. "No chance whatsoever."
"How do you know?" Haldo raised an eyebrow, enjoying the awkwardness that the line of questioning had caused his reluctant colleague.
"The Romulans knew about the base of course but they did not know that we had a Borg vessel captured there." He told them. "We took considerable pains to ensure that they never had access to our work."
"Their power systems are a lot like ours." Haldo told him. "They have matched us at every point."
"I don't see how else that ship could be such a threat to us otherwise." Blake shrugged. "A Romulan vessel of that size couldn't generate the sort of power we saw in that Disruptor beam."
"The Corinthian was unique, it was a solely Federation project." Jones told him angrily. "We considered the technology far too dangerous to allow it to fall into the hands of a potential enemy."
"What about the Scarab?" Clogg suggested.
"I wasn't so involved in that project so I can't guarantee the security was as good as mine." Jones sniffed haughtily. "But the Borg engineering work was kept secret, the Romulans should not have been able to get close to it."
"There was only three." Haldo frowned. "We damaged one when we stole this ship and another one was accounted for later on when the Violator was destroyed."
"They're dropping out of Warp." Clogg warned. "They're charging weapons."
The Romulan ship banked as it dropped to sub-light speed and rounded away from the trailing Corinthian while firing a spread of energy bolts from it's rear weapons pod. The Corinthian spiralled through the incoming energy only getting caught by the last as it skipped over the starboard nacelle causing little damage. She responded with a blast from the nose cannon which caught the central hull and staggered off the powerful shields.
"Where is she heading?" Blake frowned as the ship sped away from them.
"Not much here." Haldo shrugged. "A few asteroids floating around, not big enough to land on or block enough of our sensors to hide behind."
"Is their cloak fully functional?" Blake raised a quizzical eyebrow. "If we're thinking like a Romulan then their normal tactic is to hide and fire pot-shots, not risk a full-on confrontation."
"Which means they have a plan?" Haldo suggested.
"They're acting out of character if they don't." Blake nodded in agreement.
"They're luring us in!" Clogg warned them.
"I'm raising cloaks." Blake smirked. "If we turn their tactics on them then at least we'll have some kind of advantage."
"Cloaks are up." Haldo reported. "Defensive shields have dropped to 45% of normal efficiency automatically and the phaser cannon is off-line."
"I still have torpedoes and a good weapons lock." Clogg sneered at the Romulan ship in the viewer as it slowed down to get a better look at the Corinthian who had suddenly begun behaving oddly.
"We have her interest." Haldo noted as the Romulan ship turned to face them, drawing to a full stop and reaching out with her advanced scanners.
"What's her shield status?" Blake turned to the viewer and glowered at the enemy ship.
"About 80%." Clogg replied. "I think I can get that down to 60% with a volley if they stay put."
"Not yet." Blake shook his head. "Haldo, scan the asteroids for me. Look for any odd energy patterns!"
"Cloaked ships?" He raised an eyebrow knowingly. "I had already thought of that but the rocks are dense enough to cut our sensor efficiency in half. They're going to be tough to spot if they're cloaked."
"Can't this ship scan with enough efficiency to predict a ship's motion from the particle wake?" Clogg shrugged.
"Meaning?" Doctor Jones turned to face him, intrigued. "If they're hiding then they'll be stationary."
"What about if we blow up a rock so that they're suddenly the only stationary thing, wouldn't the blast show up any cloaked ships?" He suggested with a grin.
"It would…" Haldo grinned back at Blake.
"Make it so!" The Captain nodded.
"Nobody talks like that any more!" Haldo told him with a smirk. "Nobody who isn't close to retirement."
"Torpedo away." Clogg told them.
The cloaking shields were extended around the torpedo as it streaked invisibly from the nose of the Corinthian until it had travelled too far to hide but that was long enough not to betray the vessels position to the Romulans. It streaked on past the startled ship as it fired its thrusters to manoeuvre away, assuming that the weapon was aimed at her.
It found a large rock in the heart of the asteroids and exploded with a high yield of anti-matter, vaporising the first rock and sending a shock-wave through the field.
"Sensor data coming in!" Doctor Jones told them happily as the figures scrolled by on his terminal.
"There's ships out there." Haldo sighed. "Three Romulan scouts at least. Nothing bigger luckily."
"They probably didn't want to risk getting caught sending in the big guns to Klingon space." Blake nodded without surprise. "I imagine they're under orders to self-destruct at the first sign they've been detected."
"I'm detecting a plasma leak." Katherine spun from her console. "That torpedo must have caught one of them and damaged it."
"Rather them than us." Haldo shrugged.
"Hail them." Blake commanded, stepping closer to the viewer.
"They're still refusing to answer." Katherine shook her head sadly.
"Impulse trail!" Haldo snapped. "They're moving away from us at full sub-light speed, once they leave the asteroids they'll be very difficult to track."
"They want us to track them." Blake sneered as the lead vessel slowly turned and headed away.
"Doesn't mean we have to!" Doctor Jones interjected nervously.
"Blake!" Katherine turned quickly from her panel. "They're heading back to Paggrah and charging weapons to full power."
"So we have no choice now but to follow them." Haldo shook his head in disgust at their tactics.
"Follow them." Blake instructed grimly. "Maximum Warp."
The Corinthian emerged from her Warp travel in silence, unseen behind her cloaking device and entered orbit around the defenceless planet.
"No sign of the Romulans." Haldo reported with a sigh. "I guess they're cloaked again."
"We have a new problem!" Katherine said as she began a wide communications scan. "Three Klingon vessels have been despatched to investigate the activities here."
"What class?" Blake sighed wearily.
"Two D12 Birds of Prey and a Vor'cha attack cruiser." She replied, her eyes closing as her heart sunk in her chest. "They'll be in weapons range in four hours."
"We have to find this Romulan ship!" Blake rubbed his head thoughtfully.
"Even a scout vessel is powerful enough to do significant damage to the Paggran home world if they attack it." Clogg noted. "Especially if it has additional attack pods."
"Safe to assume it has!" Blake agreed.
"If they enter the atmosphere we could track them, even if cloaked." Katherine suggested.
"Only if they enter the atmosphere this side of the planet." Blake's eyebrows arced down angrily.
"So what do we do?" Haldo shrugged.
"Klingon long range sensors won't be able to discern what we are for a few hours yet!" Blake said thoughtfully. "We have to act now!"
"Clogg seems eternally ready to shoot at things but I can't give him anything to shoot at." Haldo sighed.
"The Paggrans are living as slaves of the Klingons and we're powerless to help them." Blake shook his head. "I can't act to free them but I'm not going to allow a Romulan attack aimed at us to cause any more suffering to these people."
"So what do we do?" Jones asked, suspecting he was not going to like the answer.
"They wanted us to follow them." Blake told him. "We just have to give them what they want."
With a glimmer of light the Corinthian swam lazily back into view as the cloaking device melted away. As it did the shields came instantly up to full power and the main phaser banks charged in readiness.
"Incoming weapons." Clogg warned. "Brace yourselves."
The ship rocked slightly as the Disruptor beam lashed her shields. As they arced with energy two Romulan scouts uncloaked and began an attack run. Green over their hull's surface they bore the unmistakable modular form of the scout class vessel with additional weapon mounts beneath the wings.
"Quantum torpedoes." Blake ordered. "Cripple them quickly, we still have to find their leader."
The white lights of the weapons streaked across the viewer and caught each of the two vessels as they made their run. The blast was sufficient to send both spiralling out of control away from their intended target and incapacitate them momentarily.
"Phaser cannon." Blake turned to Clogg. "Knock out their main computers. That should stop them from being able to self-destruct."
"Done." Clogg replied happily as the orange energy lashed across the viewer and tore into the little ships.
"Now we've taken up some of their advantage." Haldo said with an expression of concern. "They're still an even match for us."
"I'm detecting a plasma leak." Katherine cried out. "It's permeating the cloak. It must be the damaged ship."
"Lock the cannon onto it and open hailing frequencies." Blake stood up excitedly; hoping that a way to prevent further bloodshed had finally presented itself.
"Open!" Katherine said in surprise as the ship responded.
"This is the Starship Corinthian." Blake began. "Release your cloak and lower your shields."
"I doubt they will…" Haldo muttered pessimistically.
"Nobody wants to die." Blake told him. "If we can beam the crew over here then maybe their friends won't be so keen to fire on us."
"Their shields are down." Clogg said in surprise as the scout swam into view before them.
"Make an attack run." Blake instructed. "As we pass by beam the crew aboard through the shields."
"I will have to revolve the shield frequency." Haldo warned. "They won't be as resilient while we do this."
"I'm not dropping them with that ship out there and I'm not going to leave that crew to die." Blake said with firm resolve. "So we'll do this quickly and at the first attempt."
"Course laid in." Katherine told him with a heavy breath as confirmation arrived on her terminal. The ship engaged on its path instantly towards the crippled vessel, closing fast.
"Blake!" Haldo warned suddenly. "There's nobody aboard that vessel. It's a trap!"
Suddenly the Romulan craft exploded violently as the core breached. A viscous blast ripped into the Corinthian sending her sprawling through space out of control, her shields being pummelled from the force and her hull taking damage.
A shower of sparks arced around the control bridge as thick, acrid tendrils of smoke curled from the burnt-out circuitry of the damaged vessel.
"Status?" Blake cried out above the emergency measures that were struggling to reassert themselves.
"Shields are down to 30%." Haldo cried out. "Warp is offline, phaser lock is not functioning. I have partial power to the torpedo tube although the replicator is damaged so we're down to the 30 left in the magazine."
"Cloaking device?" Blake cried out hopefully. Haldo shook his head sadly in reply. "Even if it were functioning they would be able to track us through it with this amount of damage. That scout must have been flooded with anti-matter especially for us."
"And we still have that ship out there to contend with." Blake groaned.
Suddenly the Romulan ship floated into view ahead of them, her Disruptors fully charged and ready, her launch tubes loaded.
"I'm detecting something coming this way." Haldo grunted from his console in dismay as his fears were confirmed. "I guess there was more Romulans there after all."
"Lock weapons." Blake instructed. "Prepare for a full volley and then emergency pattern Beta."
"Those aren't Romulans." Doctor Jones frowned as the readings. "They're more like a floating antique yard of little fighters."
"Paggrans!" Blake sighed as he switched the viewer to the incoming vessels. They were small, aggressive ships with an oddly arranged ion engine running at the centre of the tail and the cockpit bolted precariously on the front.
"Blake." Katherine cried out.
"I know." He cut her off.
"They don't know what they're up against. They don't have a hope." She persisted.
"I know." He repeated. "Engage, full weapons."
A flash cascaded from the weapons binnacle in her nose as a full spread of five torpedoes blasted from the Corinthian. They ripped towards the Romulan ship who had already detected the firing cycle and began to move away in readiness, strengthening her shields where they were needed most to limit the effect.
Two of them tore into the shields causing little damage as the Corinthian prepared for another attack as it dragged every last ounce of power from her weakened impulse engines.
Suddenly the Romulan vessel lit up as flash after flash exploded onto her unprotected flank.
"What the hell?" Blake stammered as the viewer showed the Romulan ship taking an incredible beating from the odd little Paggran fighters. "Help them out." He grinned. "Fire all torpedoes!"
The Paggrans continued their assault without any respite while the photon torpedoes from the Corinthian lashed one after another into her weakening shields.
"I have power to the cannon." Haldo announced proudly.
"Lock onto the Romulan vessel." Blake commanded with a sigh of relief. "And open hailing frequencies."
"We're being hailed already." Katherine told him. "From the Paggrans."
The image appeared on screen of the meek expression of the leader of the fighter wing. "We have helped you." He said with a coy smile. "We can kill that ship now. I can ram it and it will burn."
"That won't be necessary." Blake told him firmly, a little surprised at their abilities.
"Burn brightly." The Paggran grinned with a troubling expression. "Be pretty."
"That's fine." Blake assured him with a raised palm. "We don't need to kill them. We need to know why they attacked us."
"If they won't tell you I can make them pretty." The leader of the fighters scowled at the crippled Romulan vessel.
"Please stand by." Blake nodded and turned to his crew as the image flashed off.
"No wonder the Klingons didn't execute them." Haldo shook his head with a wry smile. "They're probably terrified of them."
"Another moral victory for the Prime Directive!" Clogg added.
"The Romulans are replying." Katherine announced. "Putting it on screen."
The middle viewer flashed to the bridge of the smashed vessel with several Romulan officers dashing about trying to maintain life support.
"Hello." Blake began with a sarcastic grin, his hands knotted behind his back. "We've been calling you all day but we got no answer. We wanted to invite you to a party with some of our new friends. I think you've met them."
"Name your terms." The Romulan Commander cried out over the noise aboard his ship.
"I want information first." Blake told his sternly. "Why did you attack us?
"We were sent to destroy you in the only vessel that could." He replied angrily, his eyes loaded with hatred. "We know what you've done and have come to stop you."
"What have we done?" Blake frowned at his adversary.
"You have made a deal with the Borg!" He sneered. "We captured one of your vessels after the destruction of a mutual base in the neutral zone. We copied the technology and added some of our own."
"The Scarab?" Haldo shrugged. "The one we incapacitated when we escaped."
"We know about your Corinthian, we were sent to destroy you before you share your technology with the Klingons." The Commander growled. "We are primed to self-destruct, and we're taking you with us!"
Suddenly a Tractor beam lashed out at them, locking the two vessels together.
"Can we get away?" Blake called out as the viewer switched to an external image of the Romulan ship.
"Not with our power losses." Haldo shook his head.
"Warn the Paggran fleet to move away." Blake told Katherine. "We can at least hold them here at a safe distance while they escape."
Katherine nodded and sent the message the little fighters who duly complied, only moving far enough to get out of the blast range so they could remain and watch the explosion.
"Will our shields hold?" Blake asked grimly, already knowing the answer.
"Not a chance." Haldo racked his brain for a solution.
"There must be a way to break the beams lock on us!" Clogg shouted. "We must have enough power to do something."
"Where is the beam focused?" Doctor Jones suddenly jumped up with a wide smile.
"Our tail, just behind the main impulse reactors." Haldo shook his head.
"We could eject that section!" The Doctor suggested enthusiastically. "We could detonate some charges and the tail would break free. Most of the ship is unfinished, it was built from modular engineering sections which would shear if we could deactivate the structural integrity fields."
"Two minutes to the Romulan warp core breach…" Haldo shook his head. "We have no chance."
"We could ram it with a shuttle?" Blake shrugged. "A Type 9 would be powerful enough to tear off the tail and the blast would blow us clear so long as the shields held."
"Whatever you're going to do, do it fast." Haldo warned. "Time is running out."
Blake looked at the expectant faces around him and instantly vanished in a flickering blue glimmer of light as he guided the transporter beam with his mind. He materialised aboard the replicated shuttle as the ship ejected it into space inside the shields of the vessel. He quickly set the co-ordinates and launched the powerful shuttlecraft towards the target, dematerialising the instant he did so, hoping that the transporter cycle would be fast enough to return him to the bridge.
The shuttle exploded into the exposed metal, shearing through the struts and girders that were already weakened by the battle with the Romulans Tractor-Beam. The blast blew the Corinthian forwards and she fired her thrusters to move away as quickly as she could from the Romulan. She engaged her warp drive just as the enemy vessels warp core exploded.
Blake appeared on the bridge in a flashing blue light. He spun around quickly, waiting for a report, slightly surprised to find himself still alive and in one piece.
"We made it." Haldo smiled broadly in utter relief. "We cleared the blast."
Blake sighed wearily and collapsed into the command chair. "Impulse?" He muttered.
"I can get us moving but we need some time to lick our wounds." Haldo told him. "It's been quite a day."
"Haldo." Blake groaned, dragging himself back up from the chair. "Find us somewhere to hide and get us there. I'll be in my ready-room."
It took three days buried at the heart of a volcano on Paggrah to regenerate from the damage but the geo-thermal heat disguised the ship from the investigating Klingons who seemed to be in something of a hurry to get away from the Paggran home-world for reasons of their own.
Ten seconds after they launched under the veil of secrecy afforded by their cloak they were back at the heart of the Alpha quadrant to rendezvous with the Wanderer emerging with a blast from a Transwarp tunnel.
"Transwarp signature." Commander Morrow huffed indignantly, bored with the long wait.
"At last!" Captain Graves agreed. "Hail them on our secure channel."
The image of Captain Blake Girling appeared on the viewer. "Hello gentlemen." He smiled with a careworn expression.
"We've been waiting for days." Graves grumbled. "While you've been snooping around the Beta quadrant we've been working hard to get some fuel for that ship of yours."
"We ran into some trouble." Blake explained.
"We've had trouble too." Graves moaned on. "You don't hear us complaining."
"Maybe you should beam over for a briefing?" Blake told him, ignoring his winging.
"I'll arrange to do so." Graves began as he was suddenly enveloped by a transporter beam and instantly appeared in the briefing room at the rear of the Corinthians bridge next to his first officer.
Commander Morrow shook his head and frowned deeply. "So these new aliens were not heading away from our space, they're circling it?"
"I think they're scouting it out." Haldo sighed. "From the data we've gathered it looks like they're running around the very outskirts of our space and the borders of Cardassian, Romulan and Klingon empires."
"All the major powers in this sector." Graves raised an eyebrow thoughtfully. "We need to get this message to Starfleet."
"We still have no contact with Starfleet." Blake reminded him. "What we do have is an estimate of their course and velocity. We may be able to work out where they will drop out of warp to make their next course correction."
"And then what?" Commander Morrow smirked as if the suggestion was ridiculous. "If we attacked that ship it would be like a fly attacking a lion."
"Then that's what we do." Blake told him firmly.
"The Kra'lee has agreed to join us." Haldo added. "Although they're not equipped with Transwarp they should still arrive in good time."
"We also have the Wanderer." Blake grinned. "That makes three ships so far."
"So far?" Graves frowned. "How long do we have?"
"They don't seem to be running directly between the points." Haldo explained. "They're taking their time to have a proper look. We have about three weeks we think."
"Three weeks?" Graves sneered. "What can we do in that time?"
"The Kra'lee is bringing as many Paggran fighters as she can carry." Blake began. "Believe me, those things pack a punch."
"And us?" Commander Morrow squinted suspiciously.
"You're going to find some old friends." Blake smirked. "The Furies."
"The Furies?" Graves scoffed at the idea. "We killed one of them."
"There's an old Vulcan saying." Haldo grinned. "Only Nixon can go to China."
|Last modified: 09 Nov 2020