|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?|
Captain Reader sat in his command chair at the bridge of the USS Olympus. His elbow was firmly entrenched on the arm of the seat and his head was rested limply on his upturned hand as he listened to the chattering officers and systems around the bridge. It had been a long day, and in fact a long week since the Captain of the Corinthian had dropped a devastating report in his lap that a new and potentially hostile race had appeared to emerge in the Alpha quadrant.
The Olympus was moored ahead of the crippled wreckage of the USS Resilient, the scout vessel that had been destroyed by the aliens who were so far nameless and whom nothing was known about except that they were frighteningly advanced and at least reasonably aggressive.
"Our last shuttle is aboard!" The operations chief, Lieutenant Darren Hopkins told him.
"I want all crews to report to sickbay for thorough examinations before debriefs." Reader told him wearily. He hadn't slept in three days except for a few snatched hours laying on the couch in his room and his mood had suffered.
The turbolift doors opened with a hiss as a tall and slender Moolarian woman stepped through them holding a padd that was bound to contain more for the Captains tired mind to barely cope with. He sighed to his chief science officer and opened his mouth to speak.
"Shall we go to your ready-room?" She asked in a ridiculously shrill voice as she ran her fingers over her dark blue hair.
"Good idea." He raised an eyebrow and hefted himself up with obvious effort.
Captain Louise Grant sat at the bridge of her Merchant ship, the US Belvedere. Hers was at the head of the convoy, a row of private vessels transporting various items across the furthest Federation space lanes.
"Lunch!" Ensign Darwin announced with a wide grin as he handed her a plate with a chicken salad sandwich surrounded by unnecessarily fussy garnish.
"Thanks." She frowned, taking the plate with a raised eyebrow as she watched her officer suspiciously.
"What?" He shrugged with a playful grin.
"I don't think you've ever gone to the trouble of bringing me lunch before." She told him, tapping her foot in irritation. "What have I done to deserve this?"
"I just had a really good time last night." He told her, perching on the edge of the console beside her in the spartan bridge of the small civilian ship.
"I see." She averted her eyes suddenly to the floor.
"What?" He shrugged and smiled again but with a less enthusiastic expression. "What have I said?"
"Last night was very nice for both of us." She began haltingly. "But it didn't necessarily mean anything serious."
"What do you mean?" he furrowed his brow as he looked at her care-worn face. She was middle-aged and carried herself with a quiet dignity always, that was what he'd first noticed about her. Her eyes sparkled with a keen intelligence and deep resource of experience while he was just a young Ensign who'd signed up on the most exciting trade-lane that would take him.
"There are only four of us aboard this ship!" She began apologetically. "Occasionally things happen between crewmen but it doesn't necessarily mean that anything will come of it."
"But last night…" He grumbled softly.
"Last night we slept together." She told him flatly. "It was just one of those things."
"I was hoping…" He began, his eyes sinking to the floor dejectedly.
"I'm married!" She snapped at him, cutting him off. "It's not the greatest relationship but it's a fact of my life."
"I see." He said, speaking like an admonished child.
"And I can't have you showing off and bringing me lunch in front of the others." She told him, wishing deep inside her that she's never let her guard slip with the eager young man in the first place. She glowered at him without feeling any real animosity but doing her best to appear that she did. She ran her eyes over him and couldn't help but feel drawn to him, she was torn between wanting to put her arms around him like a small boy or rip of his clothes like a much bigger boy. The last thing she wanted to do was blame him for an indiscretion that was almost entirely her fault.
"I'm sorry." He mumbled under his breath. "Sir!" He added for good measure.
She breathed a restrained sigh of relief that her point had been made before any damage could have been done to her reputation. Captain of the ship she may have been but it was not actually hers. She was employed by the Federation private transport alliance and it would be many years before she had acquired the resources or reputation to earn a ship that was truly her own.
"So long as you understand." She nodded to him in a voice without the sterness of before.
"I believe so, Sir." He replied standing up from his corner of the control console.
"Good." She smiled coyly. "After all, this could never be allowed to be serious."
"We've analysed every inch of the USS Resilient Holodeck." Tress Kannoy told the Captain as his eyes drearily scanned her reports.
"The computer was modified with sophisticated devices that we're working to analyse." She told him. "These aliens are highly advanced."
"We know that already." He replied as he stifled a yawn. He flipped the report to his desk and leant back wearily. "Very few races have managed to build vessels of that size. Added to that they were able to confuse the Corinthian's systems and block her scanners."
"Perhaps the Corinthian is not as powerful as we are led to believe." She suggested in her high pitched voice as she glowered at the wall to avoid his look.
Captain Reader smirked to himself. "I know how you feel about that ship and crew but sometimes we really do need them and so far they've proved to be nothing but loyal."
"So far." She agreed grumpily.
"I felt the same way." He told her, his finger hesitantly reaching out to the report. "Girling and the others are an asset to the Federation, they've helped us a lot so far."
"I dislike the fact of a Starship vessel being operated completely in secret." She told him bluntly. "I believe that if we are certain of their value then we would not feel the need to hide them."
"I wish it were that simple." He sighed. "There are still fragments of Section 31 throughout Starfleet, that's why all details of that ship are held solely on the Olympus where I can make sure they stay safely out of the hands of dangerous men."
"I have firm principals." She explained. "And the existence of the Corinthian violates them." Reader shrugged at her and glanced again at the report. "Does any of this give us any clue as to who they are and where they come from?" He asked, dropping the padd again to the desk and resting his head on his palm.
"They chose not to leave us a sample of their DNA and a map to their homeworld." She breathed heavily through the narrow airways in her slender neck so that her sigh was almost a whistle.
"That's why we employ scientists, Lieutenant." He told her sternly.
"I can't find anything that offers any clue." She told him, unmoved by his rebuke. "There was no cellular residue to be found on the Resilient. Their technology offers no sign that it has come from any race we've encountered in this quadrant before."
"Excellent." Captain Reader muttered. "Another dead end!"
"Not absolutely." She smiled thinly through her tight blue lips that while natural for her species had the slightly macabre look of an asphyxiated corpse to a Human.
"Enlighten me." He told her, leaning forwards with a fresh hope.
"We know in which direction they went." She told him. "Assuming that they can only travel at warp in a straight line then we can possibly extrapolate their course and follow them. We also know that they can function in our atmosphere so we are looking for an environment such as ours along that path."
"That's pretty thin." Reader slumped back in his chair somewhat deflated.
"It is all we have." She reminded him.
Crewman Murphy thumped his fists down hard on the Captains cabin-door. "Wake up!" He cried out as he rapped harder on the metal bulkhead.
"Alright." She screamed back as she jumped blearily out of bed.
"What the hell is going on?" Ensign Darwin pulled on his trousers fearfully, his heart pounding in fear that they'd been caught.
"Red alert." She muttered to him as she pulled on her tunic and stepped briskly to the entrance. "You get dressed and meet me on the bridge in a few minutes."
"Sure." He agreed with a confused nod. "I will."
The door slid open and she was faced with the ashen face of her engineer, a rugged Irishman with too many years alone in space under his belt. She'd seen a warp core blow up in his face behind a force-field and he'd never batted an eye or missed a step of his job as he saved the ship, to see him scared made her step back involuntarily as she saw the fear in his eyes.
"What is it?" She asked as calmly as she could.
"We're under attack." He told her, swallowing hard. "Two ships in the convoy have been severely damaged so far."
"Who's doing it?" She closed her eyes and marshalled her thoughts together.
"We're close to the X-trantor nebula." He shrugged as she stepped past him into the corridor to the bridge. "They keep moving in and out so we can't scan them."
"Damn!" She cried out in frustration. "Get to engineering and divert power to the shields and get my weapons online."
"Weapons?" He shuddered. "You want to fight?"
She turned to him angrily with a grim look of determination. "I want to live." She hissed "And I'll do whatever it takes to make sure that happens."
"Yes sir." He said with a nod as sweat cascaded down his brow, his mood lightening as his confidence returned in small measure.
"Report!" Captain Grant called out as she stepped onto the bridge.
"I'm detecting four ships." The first officer spun around in surprise. "Lots of weapons fire. The convoy is breaking up, nobody knows what to do!"
"Great!" She muttered, rubbing his brow in exasperation.
Ensign Bob Darwin bounded onto the bridge as the Captain took her seat. "Anything I can do?" He called out breathlessly.
"Take the tactical station!" She told him not bothering even to turn as she scanned through the reports on her terminal.
"I'm detecting disruptor fire!" Darwin called out as he jumped into the big black control seat at the heart of the rounded alcove that controlled the limited weapons systems.
"Romulans, Klingons or Breen!" The Captain said thoughtfully.
"Phaser fire too." He said, furrowing his brow curiously.
"The fleet is responding?" She smiled in relief.
"I don't think so." He shook his head. "They're pulsed in some way, very powerful."
"Pulse phasers?" She furrowed her brow.
"I still can't tell who is shooting at who." He told her. "These systems are just not good enough."
"Just keep my shields up." She told him flatly. "We're coming about, take us towards the weapons. We're going to rally the fleet."
A flurry of pulsed phaser fire tore across the hull of the merchant ship, the US Cosgrove as it rocked hard from the impact of the viscous onslaught. Behind the attackers a massive green ship lurched from another torpedo strike as it bore down on one of the three little ships blasting a volley of green disrupter fire. The little ship rocked and lost control, it went skipping through space, blasted completely off its axis by the powerful weapons strikes.
The remaining two vessel concentrated a continuous stream of fire onto the rampaging Klingon vessel until its port nacelle finally erupted in a plume of flame as the plasma feed totally buckled. The two remaining ships launched a furious volley into the merchant ship. Flashes of photon energy lashed over the weak vessels shields as they finally collapsed under the attack.
"Captain Reader." The young Ensign said with a very serious expression as she stepped into his ready room. He sighed to himself and cast a glance of abject apathy to his science officer as she sat back with untarnished arrogance.
Reader nodded and raised his eyebrows expectantly.
"We received a message." She explained offering him a padd.
He refused with a raised palm. "What did it say?" He sighed.
"A merchant fleet has been attacked, they require our assistance as we're the only vessel in range." She explained.
"What are they doing out this far?" He sighed in annoyance, turning to glower out of the window.
"Colony supply." The Lieutenant suggested. "The rewards are great for private operators willing to travel this far out from the heart of the Federation."
"It was a rhetorical question!" He grunted and clasped his hands together behind his back.
"If we are to track the alien vessels warp trail then we need to act immediately." She told him flatly. "We cannot abandon our mission."
"We can't ignore a plea for help either." He told her thoughtfully.
"There will be many more pleas for help if we do not find these aliens and deal with the threat." She stood up and gave her position forcefully.
Reader turned and grinned at her widely. "Well you can't have it both ways!" He told her playfully.
"Sir?" She frowned.
"We either go ourselves or we ask Captain Girling to take our place!" He told her, relishing the chance to irritate her.
"Under the circumstances…" She grumbled, averting her eyes. "…Perhaps we should consider sending the Corinthian to investigate the merchant fleet!"
"We should be going after the aliens!" Haldo grumbled as Blake grinned at him across the ready room desk.
"They're hoping to send a white flag or an olive branch." Captain Girling told him. "They don't see us as that."
"They treat us like a broom to sweep up the crap they leave behind." Haldo grumbled, folding his arms over his chest.
"Language!" Blake smirked, waving his finger in admonishment. "I haven't been fully trained in first contact situations, none of us have. The Olympus has a highly trained crew who are used to dealing with situations like this and stopping them from turning nasty."
"I suppose." Haldo huffed in annoyance.
"I'm quite looking forward to it." Blake smiled. "A nice simple investigation, a nice clean job with lots of easy black and white solutions. No gigantic alien ships, no temporal wormholes, no derelict Borg ships and no Section 31."
"I didn't think of it that way." Haldo nodded. "I could use the time actually. I would like to run a complete diagnostic on the new Transwarp coils to make sure they've settled in properly."
"Well there you go!" Girling smiled. "Mind you… they seem to be working better than ever!"
"Well they would." Haldo told him arrogantly. "I corrected the design."
The Corinthian emerged from the Transwarp conduit with a furious blue blast of subspace energy towing the Wanderer behind her wrapped up in the safety of her extended shields.
The little ship unfolded her nacelles back to the front of her nose as she glided elegantly towards the fleet with her cloaking device disengaged for once while the Wanderer trailed behind her.
"So I'm going to be a part of the action this time?" Captain Graves enthused. Blake nodded back at him as they crowded around the briefing table at the rear of the bridge citadel of the Corinthian.
"The Wanderer checks out, she didn't take any damage from the Transwarp journey." Haldo told him. "You can all transport back over whenever you like."
"So what's the plan?" Commander Morrow shrugged to Blake.
"Well looking over the tentative reports it looks like we're going to have to work pretty hard to sort through what happened here." Blake replied while a part of his mind received the information from the computer. "Goruss Clogg will head up the investigation."
"Of course I would value the assistance of Captain Graves and Commander Morrow in interviewing the crews of the merchant fleet vessels." Clogg said politely offering an object lesson in diplomacy while gesturing with a nod towards the men.
"Glad to help." Morrow smiled.
"It seems that three small ships attacked the fleet for some reason." Captain Girling explained. "Luckily a Klingon transport was passing and helped out. It took heavy damage but managed to almost destroy one of them."
"Any casualties?" Ensign Rogers asked.
"Nothing the medical teams from the fleet can't handle." He told her. "I'd like you to meet with the crew of the US Belvedere as they seem to have headed up the rescue mission."
"Any idea who attacked?" Clogg asked.
"Pirates I would imagine." Blake shrugged. "The reports are sketchy at best, nobody seems to know what the hell happened."
"I'll find out!" Clogg told him with absolute confidence.
"I know you will." He replied.
"Haldo, I want you to see if we can assist in any way with repairs." He said as he worked his way through his crew assigning jobs. "Doctor Jones, I want you to analyse the attackers' vessel and identify them."
"I'll get right on it." The Doctor nodded happily.
"Captain Graves, can you find who is in charge of the convoy and contact them directly…" Blake continued.
"And who's going to speak with the Klingons?" Katherine smiled at him knowingly.
"I've reserved that privilege for myself." He groaned. "They wouldn't respect anyone else unfortunately."
"No offence taken!" Captain Graves muttered under his breath.
"What a shame!" Haldo grinned at him.
"Starfleet intelligence?" Captain Louise Grant asked, leaning back in her chair in her private office at the rear of her bridge.
"We were in the neighbourhood." Captain Graves nodded in agreement as he rocked inanely back and forth opposite her.
"You're wearing a Federation merchant uniform." She smirked, not sure whether to accept his credentials or have him beamed off her ship to nowhere in particular so long as it was away from her.
"Actually we're attached to the other ship." Graves explained. "I worked as a merchant Captain for a great many years which is why I was asked to come and talk to you."
"What would you like to know?" She smiled, turning away towards her replicator. "Can I get you anything?"
"Coffee please." Graves said after a brief pause. "What model replicator is it?"
She laughed out loud and smiled broadly. "I'm in space too long at a time not to have the latest model." She assured him. "This one is nearly as good as the one on the Enterprise itself!"
"I spent too many years making coffee the old fashioned way." He told her with a frown. "The system on my old ship was so clapped out it could barely recycle the water."
"I know the feeling." She nodded. "This is my first command but my last ship had a replicator that only made five different dishes and couldn't get any of them right."
"I'm glad to see you know where your priorities are." He told her with a nod of gratitude as she passed him the coffee. He smiled broadly as the aroma hit his senses in a very promising way.
She sat down opposite, more relaxed than before and comfortable with the man opposite now that they had found common ground.
"I'm not sure how much I can tell you." She shrugged. "It was all over by the time we got there."
"Anything you can offer would help." Graves told her, slouching back in the chair as he made himself comfortable.
"You've read my report?" She shrugged. He nodded his reply. "Well it all happened pretty fast, the fleet weren't responding so we moved in. By the time we arrived it was all over."
"But what did you see?" Graves leant forward as if he was suddenly interested.
"The Klingon ship was damaged." She told him thoughtfully. "The US Cosgrove was shot to pieces and was listing out of control. The Klingons had shot one of the little ships that had fired on her, it was on fire but still functioning. The other two hit the Klingons, they took a lot of damage and then they all fled leaving us and them staring down at each other."
"What did the ships look like?" He asked as he took a sip of the coffee.
"Small." She frowned as she strained to remember any details. "No markings I noticed. They were bare metal glowing red and blue, rounded…"
"Could have been anything…" Graves mumbled.
"I can give you a copy of my sensor logs if you like?" She offered. "I doubt they'll be much use but we're happy to help in any way we can."
Captain Blake Girling materialised on the transporter pad aboard the huge Klingon craft with Goruss Clogg at his side.
"I've never been aboard one of these!" Clogg said nonchalantly as a pair of burly warriors headed towards them with the characteristic swagger to their walk and massive weapons at their sides. They were dressed in the traditional silver and grey armour that seemed unnecessarily restrictive and weighty.
"I've been on a few." Blake shrugged. "Not like this one though."
"A Vor'cha?" Clogg suggested.
"This is a Ya'Vang." Blake corrected him. "A lot of the parts are the same but it's just a big transport, it has nothing like the power of a Vor'cha."
"Fair enough." Clogg glanced around, highly unimpressed by the whole situation, particularly the smell.
"Welcome to the N'klaa!" The first of the two warriors shouted at them in a tone designed solely to intimidate.
"We're glad to be here." Blake replied politely and somehow managed to sound as if he meant it.
"Follow me!" He boomed his reply.
"You're taking us to your Captain?" Clogg asked as the trudged along the bare metallic walkways where the floor plates clattered beneath their feet noisily around the spacious corridor.
"You are honoured." The second of the two huge Klingons told him. "Our Captain is the head of the house of Kra'lonn himself."
"Great." Clogg clapped his hands together in excitement.
"Are you mocking me?" One of them spun around suddenly and barked directly into his face.
"Easy." Blake told him nudging him back with a hand firmly placed at the warriors chest. The Klingon went sprawling back in surprise at the amount of force that he had applied.
"I'm not mocking anyone." Clogg raised his hands in a universal gesture of surrender. "I have nothing but respect for Klingons."
"You are wise to respect us!" The warrior hissed at him.
"I met quite a few of you in the combat trials back home." Clogg told him, staring up with an open expression. "Some of you fought quite well."
The two Klingons stepped forward angrily, knowing they'd been subtly insulted but not sure how.
"I've had enough of this!" Blake shouted at them as his temper flared. "Now stop posturing around and get on with taking us to your Captain."
The Klingons looked at one another and turned to lead them off along the corridor.
"What's all that about?" Clogg muttered quietly to Blake.
"I don't know." He shrugged back with a deep frown on his face. "I've heard of this though. The more lowly the posting the more aggressive the Klingon."
"You mean they're more relaxed on the front line?" Clogg smirked.
"Being posted to a transport is a bit of an insult after a lifetime of training as a warrior." Blake guessed.
"Maybe defending the convoy has reminded them of their warlike aspirations?" Clogg noted rhetorically.
Doctor Jones began his analysis of the records and scans taken of the attacking ships.
"Well, I guess I can get on with testing the Transwarp coil!" Haldo Compz said with a note of smugness that he felt had been sorely lacking in him of late. Where was the fun in being chief engineer aboard the most advanced ship in Starfleet if it kept him too busy to truly enjoy it?
"They don't need our help?" Jones asked conversationally as he accessed the files, trying not to look like he was actually trying to ignore him.
"They don't need my help." He corrected. "You could offer them your services, perhaps you could skulk at the rear of their bridges using up oxygen but performing no discernible function?"
"I help out." Doctor Jones told him angrily, his face flushing red.
"Really Harold?" Haldo smirked, leaning on his console and peering over at his screen.
"Might I remind you that you that I designed this ship!" Jones grumbled. "You'd all be long dead without me!"
"Whatever you say." Haldo grinned widely as he began on his way to engineering.
"Oh no!" Jones closed his eyes shook his head wishing that he'd not seen what he had.
"What?" Haldo frowned. "What have you done to my ship?"
"I think we have a problem…" He exclaimed with a heavy sigh.
"Welcome to the N'klaa!" Captain Wrogg slouched back in his command chair and turned deliberately away from the two Starfleet officer as if their presence was nothing more than a mere annoyance.
"The pleasure is all ours." Blake told him with a smile. "I'd like to thank you for your actions in protecting the Federation merchant convoy."
"It is indeed fortunate we were here." Wrogg told them, hardly bothering to look in their direction as he spoke.
"I hope your repairs are going well!" Clogg said politely.
"They are." Wrogg began working on a computer console set into the side of his chair rather than face them.
"You took a lot of damage to your nacelle." Blake told him. "They're quite small for a vessel of this size, if you don't have power to operate your replicators then we're happy to help with supplying parts."
That managed to get his attention. The Klingon Captain glowered up from under his heavily ridged brow beneath a mop of unkempt wiry black eyebrow hair. "Your ship is a tiny, fragile looking thing." He growled. "Hardly a ship for a man to command."
"Size isn't everything." Blake smiled.
"Sometimes it's what you do with it that counts!" Clogg agreed. "I'm rather enjoying my posting to a small powerful ship… rather more than I would the opposite."
Wrogg glowered back at his computer console while fuming in his bottled rage. "Was there anything else?" He growled.
"We'd like any information you might have on the attackers." Blake told him. "We intend to apprehend them."
"We did not take records." He told them with a very Klingon smile. "We were busy being warriors."
"I thought this was just a transport ship!" Clogg grinned.
Katherine Rogers sighed heavily at the row of battered bodies before her.
"We're lucky that nobody was killed." The fleets chief medic told her.
"At least that's something." She agreed angrily. "You've done a great job helping the wounded."
"Thanks." Doctor Wirril said with a beaming smile. "I've never had to deal with anything like this. It was a bit of a shock I can tell you."
"I can imagine." She smiled back weakly. "I was going to offer you support, medical supplies or assistance but you seem to have everything well in hand."
"We may not be Starfleet." He crossed his arms over his chest and smirked proudly. "We know what we're doing. I am a fully qualified medical practitioner."
"I never meant to suggest otherwise." She assured him.
"Do you people have any idea who did this?" He frowned. "Or more importantly if they'll be coming back…"
"Not yet." She admitted. "But we will and we'll do everything possible to ensure that they won't be attacking you again."
"Glad to hear it." He nodded happily and with obvious relief.
"How were the Klingons?" Haldo grinned as Blake and Clogg materialised on the bridge.
"Belligerent." Clogg snapped back. "And they smelled even worse that I remember."
"They were even more awkward than usual." Blake told him in agreement. "They're just a transport ship crew with delusions of grandeur."
"Most Klingons are." Haldo shrugged. "Competition for warriors is pretty intense."
"I'll be checking them out regardless." Clogg told him moodily. "I've got some other stuff to review first."
Doctor Jones stepped forwards sheepishly and hung his head as he took a deep breath.
"Our good Doctor has something to talk to you about!" Haldo slapped the scientist on the back as he spoke.
"This doesn't sound good." Blake frowned at the mans obviously troubled demeanour. "Should I take it that this would be better discussed in my ready-room?"
"I would appreciate it." Jones nodded weakly.
"Come on then!" He sighed.
The doors behind them slid shut. Blake slumped into his opulent chair behind the desk and waited patiently as Doctor Jones and Haldo Compz sat opposite.
"What have you found?" Blake sighed, fearing the worse.
"You're never going to believe this." Haldo grinned widely.
"Enough!" Blake told him forcefully, glowering at his chief engineer.
"I know what the attacking ships were." Jones began haltingly.
"That's good." Blake told him, allowing him to continue.
"They're Section 31 prototypes." Jones told him bluntly, gazing up with a sorrowful expression.
"I see." Blake grimaced. "Maybe you'd better tell me all about it."
"Ok." Jones agreed as Haldo sat beside him with a growing smirk. "Years ago there was a scientist working on a particle fountain of some kind. She invented some kind of tool called an Exocomp."
"Never heard of them." Blake shook his head and glanced at Haldo.
"You were dead at the time." Compz told him.
"The Exocomps were designed to be small robotic engineering probes but it was discovered that they had a rudimentary artificial consciousness that worked in concert with their advanced programming making them highly decisive and inventive in the face of a crisis." Jones continued. "Section 31 acquired several of these units for study."
"Small robots?" Blake asked.
Jones nodded in agreement. "Their systems were fully understood and replicated in a much larger computer." He told them. "A ship was designed around them, a fully autonomous sentient starship."
"Which is of course illegal." Blake guessed.
"Studies into sentient machinery is restricted." Haldo nodded casting a caustic glance at the Doctor. "It's too open to abuse of all kinds."
"The ships were small and quite limited." Jones continued. "We built three of them and they were all interconnected with a scrambled subspace connection so they could formulate a defence or attack together."
"Section 31 was notoriously under-staffed." Haldo chipped in.
"The ships had a sophisticated replicator net and a generator alcove." Jones explained. "They could self repair from pretty much any damage that didn't destroy them, just like a living organism. Their internal design was modular and very simple. They're robust and heavily armoured but deliberately not sophisticated so that any parts can be easily replaced, they can even create parts for one another."
"So Section 31 was virtually trying to build a sentient living battle-ship fleet?" Blake sat back in his chair shaking his head. "What genius came up with this idea?" He asked rhetorically.
"Well now that really is the cherry on the cake!" Haldo chirped happily.
Blake glanced at Jones pathetic expression and knew exactly what he meant. He sighed loudly and dropped his head into his hand.
"The project was shelved!" Jones argued. "They were deactivated and put into storage as they were just too unpredictable."
"You came up with this?" Blake groaned.
"I didn't know any of this would happen!" He moaned meekly. "I'm sorry."
"Can you imagine explaining this one to the convoy Captains?" Blake snapped back. "One of my crew who used to work for an illegal division of Starfleet designed and built these ships which attacked you."
"You could tell them you've been dead for ten years." Haldo beamed. "That might get their sympathy."
"This isn't funny." Captain Girling told him in no uncertain terms.
"A Starship is on its way!" Haldo told him, the smile gone from his face.
"They'll kill them if they find them!" Jones added.
"You want me to help three murderous robotic ships?" Blake asked in disbelief.
"You have to admit that life is never what you expect on this ship!" Haldo grinned.
"There's more…" Jones bit his lip nervously.
"Of course there is…" Blake sighed and raised his eyes to the ceiling.
"When the project was shelved there was an accident." Jones began.
"This should be good." Haldo turned to face him expectantly as if he fed on Human misery.
"During the trials the ships were set upon a series of target drones controlled from an observation ship, an Aggressor class." He began. "The target drones inflicted a lot of damage on the lead ship and they all decided that the Aggressor was responsible. They were programmed to eliminate the threat and they decided that the best and quickest way to do it was to disable the observation ship."
"So they attacked the Section 31 cruiser?" Haldo enthused. "I'll bet you were on it, weren't you?"
"I was." Jones admitted.
"So what happened?" Blake asked.
"We managed to destroy one of them before the other two would accept their deactivation codes." He sighed. "They almost destroyed us in the mean time."
"But there was three of them!" Blake frowned. "We even got a pretty good scan of them."
"I can't explain it." Jones shrugged. "To my knowledge only three were built from my design and they were years away from being serviceable."
"We have a situation!" Blake began haltingly to Captain Graves.
"We do?" He raised an eyebrow curiously and sipped at the excellent replicated coffee.
"Don't we always?" Girling's lips tracked upwards at the corners very slightly. "We're leaving in the Corinthian to find these attacking ships."
"And me?" Graves asked, his mood darkening visibly.
"I'd like you to stay and guard the fleet until Starfleet arrives with reinforcements." Blake told him flatly. "Yours is the most heavily armed vessel we have and there's a real chance that these might come back for another try."
"I can do that." He grinned, more than happy to comply. "What about the Klingons?"
"They're in a lot worse condition that they'd admit to." Blake smirked. "Their ship took quite a beating. We've extended the offer of help but they're not interested. Just stay here and keep your eye on them."
"You don't trust the Klingons?" Captain Graves frowned.
"I don't trust these Klingons." Blake corrected. "They're a little too full of themselves. I wouldn't be surprised if they start throwing their weight about around the fleet."
"And if they do?" Graves shrugged. "That's a big ship out there with a bigger crew than this entire merchant convoy."
"Then you'll have to be the bigger man." Captain Girling told him. "It wouldn't hurt to remember that you outgun them by 50% either."
"I do?" Graves beamed happily.
"That doesn't mean you can throw your weight around!" Blake smiled at him. "If these ships come back then you won't be able to stop them by yourself."
"How comes?" Graves shrugged and took another sip of coffee.
"They'll work together to find your weakness." Blake assured him as he handed him a Padd. "This contains all the computer access codes for every ship in the fleet, assuming they haven't been changed since the Corinthian was launched. If the worst comes to the worst then you can hack into the control of every ship and mount a united defence."
"They won't like that." Graves frowned. "The Captains."
"Put it to them." He suggested. "You're in charge here until Starfleet arrives."
"And when they do?" Graves raised an eyebrow.
"Use the Corinthian's registry codes." Blake told him. "It was issued by Captain Reader, it gives you a ridiculously high clearance and describes the ship as an unusual prototype and lets the Captain know to leave us alone. Just transmit the code on a secure frequency and then leave quietly."
"Understood." Graves smiled happily, incredibly pleased to have something important to do.
"We should be able to stay within communications range." Blake said hopefully. "Good luck."
"Thanks." Graves reached out to shake Blakes hand. "But we won't be relying on it."
The Corinthian drifted away from the fleet, her RCS thrusters flashing over her metallic hull as she glided gracefully through space.
Blake took his seat at the centre of the bridge and took a deep, thoughtful breath. "So where do we start?" He asked, leaning against the arm of his chair.
"The nebula!" Haldo suggested. "It would be easier to hide in there."
"Too much interference." Doctor Jones shook his head.
"You have a better idea?" His chair swivelled about as Blake turned to face him.
"I understand the Furies better than anyone!" He nodded.
"The Furies?" Haldo Smirked to himself.
"An old legend." Doctor Jones explained. "Three witches called the Furies took it upon themselves to seek justice for those wronged."
"The Furies, The Corinthian?" Haldo grinned at Blake. "I guess you didn't get out much when you were younger."
"I don't get out much now!" He replied moodily. "But I do know how they think."
"Where are they going?" Blake asked, dragging the conversation back to the point.
"One of them is hurt." Jones replied. "It will need to regenerate and repair, it will need to go somewhere where all its energy can be used to replicate the parts it needs."
"Can they land?" Blake rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
Jones nodded his reply. "They might try to do that."
"What about fuel?" Haldo asked thoughtfully. "They can't survive on what they can suck in with their Bussard collectors."
"They're very small and highly efficient. It was more economical on power to build three of that size than one larger ship.." Jones told him. "They can go a long time on what they have."
"There are two possibilities along the path they left on." Goruss Clogg told them. "There are two systems each with a variety of planets and moons. What would be the best conditions for them?"
"They won't have gone anywhere along the path they appeared to leave on." Doctor Jones shook his head. "They're too smart for that."
"What do they need?" Blake asked. "What are they looking for?"
"Privacy." Jones replied. "But they won't have gone far."
"Why not?" Haldo frowned thoughtfully
"They'll stay within sensor range, they'd know we were coming to investigate and they'd want to complete their mission." Jones replied thoughtfully.
"I've engaged the cloaking device." Blake told him as the ship was suddenly surrounded with a field of invisibility.
"Perhaps we'd need to know their mission?" Clogg suggested. "It would help my analysis if I knew why they attacked the convoy."
"Alright!" Blake stood up and turned to the viewer. "We'll sweep the whole area in a standard search pattern using the fleet as a starting point. Meanwhile, Clogg, I want a full inventory of everything on that convoy. Work with Jones and try to se if there was anything on those ships that could have prompted the attack."
"Yes sir." Clogg agreed.
"Haldo…" Blake pointed to his chief engineer. "Get those sensors running at their peak, I don't want to miss anything."
"We won't miss anything." Haldo told him with utter confidence in the ship.
"Ensign Rogers." He said finally. "My ready-room."
Captain Reader sat in the fairly uncomfortable seat at the heart of his Sovereign class bridge while his crew went about their business. He glowered at the viewer as his ship gingerly probed the space ahead with its potent scanners while drifting forwards at barely half impulse power.
"Anything?" He asked, already knowing the answer.
"I am still detecting a residual energy trail of some kind." His science officer told him. "I would imagine that the vessel stopped here for some reason."
"Probably a course correction." The first officer told him. "There's a pulsar at the heart of a nearby system, it's upsetting the gravitational fields in the whole region."
"Well that would depend if gravitational fields would effect their warp drive or even if they can only travel at warp in a straight line." Lieutenant Darren Hopkins suggested dryly.
"Is there any other reason that the ship might have stopped here?" Reader asked, his fatigue beginning to shorten his temper.
"I'm detecting nothing." Hopkins told him. "They've neither dropped anything off nor does there appear to be anything to collect."
"Another dead end." The Captain sighed heavily as he dragged himself wearily to his feet. "Continue on this course at warp 5, maximum sensor resolution. I'll be in my ready-room and I'm not to be disturbed until we find something."
The doors slid shut with a hiss behind Katherine as she stepped into Blake's office.
"Sit down!" He gestured as he stepped over to the replicator which had already begun producing him a cup of coffee. "Can I get you anything?" He asked.
"Andorian Tea please." She nodded her agreement. Blake sat opposite her cradling his mug as a cup appeared in a shimmering blue light in the replicator alcove and then materialised in front of her as the transporter intercepted the pattern and sent it to the table. She couldn't help but smirk at what could either have been an attempt to show off or a display of abject laziness.
"Did you get a chance to look over the injured people?" He asked, sipping from his mug.
"I did." She agreed. "Their medic was highly efficient, there were no fatalities."
"No fatalities." Blake repeated thoughtfully. "As if the attack was meant only to disable the ships, not destroy them?"
"You'd have to talk that through with Clogg and Haldo." She shrugged. "The wounds were conducive with over-loaded feed conduits erupting."
"No phaser burns?" Blake rubbed his chin.
"Nothing like that." She shook her head firmly. "They were all accidental secondary wounds, nobody was exposed directly to weapons fire."
"It doesn't make a lot of sense." Blake sighed heavily. "These ships have enough space for a crew of two people who were meant to be there to watch over the ships functions."
"So?" She asked with a shrug of her shoulders.
"So if they were attacking a convoy where were they going to put what they took?" Blake shook his head.
"If they were after inanimate objects then perhaps they could have beamed them into a pattern buffer and stored the object as energy until they could use it." She suggested.
"They're not meant to be that sophisticated." Blake argued. "I've been reading over Doctor Jones' reports on these ships. Apart from the computer systems and replicator network they're incredibly simple, some of the design is borrowed from ships nearly a hundred years old. They're small enough to get away with the very minimum of engineering to make them easy to repair."
"He went from one extreme to the other!" She quipped gesturing around her at the ship that represented a monstrous mass of over-complex engineering that even the designers failed to comprehend.
"He certainly did." Blake agreed with a contentious smile. "The design of these Furies is elegant in its simplicity, every part is proven effective and somehow he's cobbled together a ship from outmoded parts that is beyond the cutting edge of modern technology."
"What's bothering you?" She leant forwards to him.
"Jones designed these ships to be escort scouts. They're designed with a central core of programming that is built around Starfleet principals." He began. "I can't see how Section 31 could have begun mass producing them and send them out to attack convoys of merchant vessels."
"Section 31 has its own reasons." She commented dryly.
"But they're not out to destroy Starfleet." He told her bluntly. "In their own distorted way they believe that what they are doing will benefit everyone."
"If these ships had succeeded then they would have done." She told him. "But they didn't, they went wrong."
"So how did two become three?" Blake asked, his eyes narrowing defensively. "Who built more of them if they failed the way Jones said they did?"
"I really can't answer that." She shook her head. "All I can tell you is that without any doubt the initial reports on the injuries were perfectly accurate."
Captain Louise Grant sat on the Wanderer's generous briefing room at the forward tip of the saucer with three gigantic circular windows showing a view of the fleet craft as they slid silently by.
"Welcome to my ship!" Captain Graves grinned as he took his seat at the head of the polished black table where seven other Captains sat staring back at him, the fleet leaders.
"It's very nice!" Captain Grant told him.
"We have something important to discuss with you all." Commander Morrow did his best to get down to business.
"Go on." A wizened, grey-haired old officer told him bluntly, he was an Asian man with a twisted ageing body but his eyes shone like a fiery young man.
"Starfleet has dispatched two Starships that will be here in about six hours." Graves told them.
"Fantastic!" Louise smiled. Her expression fell as she noticed the grim look on Morrow's face.
"We have to defend the fleet until they arrive." He explained. "This ship has an excellent weapons array but we're just one ship."
"Are you saying you can't protect us?" The seasoned Captain Rajol leant forwards with a mocking tone.
"We're saying we need your help!" Graves told him. "These ships used the surrounding nebula as cover as they warped in and out causing enough damage to split up the fleet. We need to form a defensive ring against another attack until reinforcements arrive."
"Most of our ships are virtually unarmed." Captain Grant explained. "And we're only operating with small crews, we don't have the manpower to arrange this!"
"We have a suggestion!" Commander Morrow told her.
"We form a circle around the weakest of the ships and defend our perimeter with the ships that are armed." Graves grinned at her. "We can command the fleet from the Wanderer in case they come back before the Corinthian finds them. From here we can control your control systems to co-ordinate the best defence."
"I'm not at all sure about this!" The old Captain cast a troubled glance around the room.
"Not much gets past the Corinthian." Commander Morrow told him dryly. "This is just a precaution."
"We have only to protect ourselves for six hours!" Captain Grant said with a sigh. "I don't see that we have much of a choice."
"The sooner the better." Graves told them.
"Nothing!" Doctor Jones cursed silently as the scanners failed to locate any trace of the Furies.
"Do they have a cloaking device?" Haldo asked as he ran through the frequencies hoping to detect something that he might otherwise have missed.
"No." Jones shook his head. "I wanted to build them with legal Federation technology. We were planning to release the prototypes to Starfleet for mass introduction as soon as we could."
"Why?" Haldo furrowed his brow curiously.
"Because they could be operated unmanned." He explained. "They were simple to manufacture, we could have had thousands of them on every border, around every colony and outpost within a decade."
"Probably best they went wrong when they did then!" Haldo winced at the idea of the Alpha quadrant over-run with Jones failed experiments.
"I had hoped that they'd offer a new level of defence to Starfleet." He grumbled. "They would have been able to react faster and more decisively to an attack than a Starship with a crew all at odds with one another."
"So you really had the best of intentions?" Haldo smirked slightly more reservedly than usual.
"I always do!" Jones told him flatly.
"So why do you want to find them before Starfleet?" Haldo leant forwards, temporarily ignoring the sensor display.
"I want to find out what I did wrong!" He shrugged. "I want to know how an idea to help and protect humanity and the whole Federation ended up turning on the designers and attacking a fleet of innocent ships."
"So not compassion then?" Haldo grinned.
"I don't want them destroyed." He admitted weakly. "I spent too long working on them to see them killed now."
"Killed?" Haldo frowned.
"They're sentient!" Jones nodded in agreement. "Maybe artificially so but they're conscious of their existence and they don't deserve to be arbitrarily judged and executed."
Haldo turned back to his controls with raised eyebrows as he pondered the Doctors position. "What makes you think that Blake won't be forced to destroy them."
"At least I'll be here to plead their case!" Jones told him. He frowned thoughtfully. "They don't pose much of a threat to the Corinthian, I hope that Blake won't be forced to fire on them, he's not the sort of man that wouldn't look for alternatives first."
"I hope so too." Haldo grinned. "I think I'd like to meet them."
The doors to the office slid open just before Goruss Clogg reached out to press the button and let Blake know he was there. He stepped back slightly with a growing frown as Blake smiled at him from behind his desk.
"Almost used to this." He muttered as he stepped inside. He took a seat next to Ensign Rogers and handed a padd to the Captain.
"What did you find?" Blake asked, glancing over the review.
"I checked the manifest of the fleet and did a little digging too." Clogg told him. "The fleet was carrying mostly deuterium and replicator patterns, nothing you couldn't find anywhere."
"What sort of patterns?" Katherine asked in interest.
"New styles of clothing…new tools…upgrade food recipes…things like that." He said with a shrug. "That's a pretty normal thing for the outer colonies, they need to be sent the new inventions every now and again."
"What else?" Blake sighed.
"Some interesting things!" Clogg nodded with a wry smile. "There were two phaser cannon emitters for a start."
"Really?" Blake seemed suddenly interested.
"Not ship mounted ones!" Clogg told him. "These are much more powerful planetary and station defence weapons."
"Like the one mounted on the Corinthian nose?" Katherine raised an eyebrow curiously.
"You couldn't just mount one on a starship!" Blake said with a furrowed brow. "They need a magnetic shield and heat exchangers as well as a massive power supply. The one we have is an experiment, it only works because our warp core is so unusually powerful."
"There have been trials to fit them to Galaxy class Starships!" Clogg told him. "Not too successfully but I've heard of one fitted to the under-side of a Galaxy saucer. Apparently the plasma feed was unreliable but they're going to keep trying."
"A weapon like that could cut a Klingon cruiser in half!" Katherine said rhetorically.
"The weapon isn't important." Blake shook his head. "It's the plumbing to make it work, I don't see why they'd be interested in that, a Fury could certainly never use one if a Galaxy has trouble."
"I tend to agree." Clogg nodded. "There was also a variety of hand-weapons, computer parts and medicines, the kind of stuff that's difficult to replicate."
"I take it you cross-referenced the orders?" Blake asked knowingly.
"Of course." He looked almost insulted. "Everything is accounted for!"
"So what were they after?" Katherine asked.
"Maybe we need to know who sent them?" Blake sat back in his chair.
"I did some digging on the ships too." Clogg told them happily, keen to show off his boundless enthusiasm and efficiency.
"I thought you might!" Blake smiled.
"I investigated the Klingon house of Kra'lonn as well." He began. "They've been around a long time but haven't generated a lot of interest among the ruling councils. They currently operate four ships, the N'klaa is their largest as well as two B'rel class Birds of Prey and an old D5 cruiser."
"A D5?" Katherine smirked at the very suggestion.
"Well they're still in service although very much in the background." Clogg explained. "Apparently theirs has been refitted as a salvage ship… probably many times by now. The B'rels are more or less standard although they have larger internal cargo bays. I assume they've compromised their weapons to do it."
"And Wrogg?" Blake asked, sensing there may be more to the story.
"He's the odd element." Clogg nodded. "He's the new head of the house, he took control about a year ago and has been out looking for dangerous assignments, probably trying to get himself noticed and improve the standing of his clan."
"You think he was looking for a fight." Katherine asked with a shrug.
"Yes." Clogg replied simply.
"So how did they know where to find one?" Blake asked.
"Thanks for your support!" Captain Graves said as he and Captain Grant stepped into the ready-room on his bridge.
"I want to stay alive." She told him. "I've seen what happens with these merchant convoys before. They won't agree who's in charge, if there's a decision to be made it can take weeks."
"Can I offer you a drink?" He gestured to the replicator. "It's state of the art!"
"Coffee please." She smiled.
"I can offer you something stronger!" He told her with a beaming smirk.
"I never drink on duty!" She told him with a raised hand in a gesture of polite refusal.
"Of course you do!" He smiled. "I've never met a merchant crewman who didn't!"
"I thought you were Starfleet!" She frowned disapprovingly.
"I suppose." He grumbled. "Two coffees… no sugar."
"It's a good job you were here." She told him as their drinks materialised. "They listened to you."
"I'm glad to help!" He told her. "Between you and I, before we met up with the Corinthian we had a dilapidated old wreck of a ship so I know what it's like to be this far out in space and helpless."
"Actually I've never been out this far!" She told him conversationally as they sat down opposite one another. "I volunteered for this posting as a promotion. It seemed a good way to get that extra pip on my collar… until now!"
"I guess you all have your reasons for being out here." He said thoughtfully, wishing he'd ignored her and ordered a stronger drink.
"Captain Rajol is close to retirement." She nodded.
"The angry man who kept arguing at the briefing?" He asked.
She nodded and smiled at the simple but perfectly fitting description. "He has a right to be angry. He's Captain of the US Cosgrove that was attacked. He's out here earning a retirement home on an inner colony, my young Ensign is out here looking for adventure. We all have our reasons." She looked thoughtfully at Captain Graves, a man who just didn't fit in. "May I ask what you're doing out here working with Starfleet Intelligence?"
"I'm really sworn to secrecy." He shrugged. "Mostly revenge I guess."
That was the sort of comment that could end a conversation pretty quickly but she persisted out of morbid curiosity. "What about Captain Girling? What's his story?"
"Girling?" Graves averted his eyes to the ceiling thoughtfully. "His story is mostly classified. He's a good man though, he's helped me out a lot."
"Evasive." She smiled. "I guess I can take a hint."
"I've found something…" Haldo said suddenly as the sensors detected a faint signal.
"A Fury?" Doctor Jones leapt out of his seat in excitement as the Captains door slid open and he stepped briskly out with the others trailing behind him.
"I've detected a few fragments of hull plating." Haldo told them all. "I've locked their co-ordinates into the navigation computer."
"I've got it!" Blake agreed. "We're under way."
"Captain!" Jones stepped out from behind his controls. "May I have a word?"
"Is there any sign that they've detected us yet?" Blake scowled at the scientist.
"No." Jones shook his head. "They'll not be able to scan through this ships cloaking device."
Blake nodded in satisfaction. "What can I do for you, Doctor?" He asked, his attention turning to the viewer.
"I'd like to know your intentions…" Jones told him softly.
"If I intended to destroy them then I'd have just left them to a Starship that didn't know what they were." Blake told him. "We're not out here to arbitrarily destroy a potential life-form."
"Thank you." Jones replied meekly.
"Take your station." Captain Girling told him. "I need you."
The Corinthian crept invisibly towards the fragments of metal. Beyond the tiny pieces of debris was small ice-moon in orbit around a gas giant. The ice fields gave the planet a white sheen that glinted brilliantly as the moon caught the light from the twin red suns at the heart of the system.
"Ice!" Jones nodded thoughtfully. "They can operate in a liquid environment."
"They could be hiding under the ice?" Haldo asked with a deep frown. "Would that be the best place to hide while they make repairs?"
"What else is there in this system?" Blake asked thoughtfully.
"Not much." Katherine told him as she accessed the Federation database. "Two B class planets, no ore deposits to attract colonists."
"The pressure would be too great on a B class planet!" Doctor Jones told them. "They could survive there but not without shields and they'd need to drop those to begin repairs."
"The ice is smashed on one of the faces." Haldo said. "A small comet has impacted some time in the last twenty hours."
"Perhaps it made a cave?" Blake scratched his head thoughtfully.
Suddenly the Corinthian rocked to one side as an explosion caught her off guard.
"Torpedo!" Clogg warned them.
"Dropping cloak!" Blake snapped as the shields increased to full power. "How did they find us?"
"The comet strike!" Jones announced proudly. "It left a dust trail behind, we disturbed it as we approached the moon."
"They're that smart?" Haldo grinned, impressed for once by something that he hadn't done himself.
"They can learn and adapt." Jones shrugged.
"Find them!" Blake warned as he turned the ship to where the torpedo had been launched.
"Got them!" Haldo told him. "They were hiding on a large chunk of displaced ice from the moon."
"Hail them!" Blake told Katherine as he stepped closer to the viewer.
"Will that work?" Haldo grinned again.
Jones nodded. "They can speak." He said simply.
"No response." Katherine told him. "They're ignoring us."
"Incoming torpedo!" Clogg warned.
"Target it." Blake scowled as a phaser beam cut out from the nose and the torpedo erupted in a brilliant red flash as it was instantly vaporised releasing it's load of anti-matter.
"I'm detecting the others behind us!" Haldo warned. "They're charging weapons!"
"What a surprise." Blake frowned. "Open hailing channel."
"Open." Katherine told him.
"This is Captain Blake Girling of the Starfleet Intelligence Starship Corinthian." He began quickly. "I am here to apprehend you for the attack on the merchant fleet. Please power down your weapons."
"No response!" Katherine shook her head dolefully. "This isn't working."
"Clogg." Blake spoke to his security officer. "Target their weapons and drive systems only."
"You can't!" Jones called out. "The systems are distributed throughout the hull, there's no central point, they're designed to take a lot of punishment."
"Some people do their job just a little too well." Blake told him. "How do we stop them?"
"You could try a warning." Jones suggested. "You've tried a language they can understand, maybe try a language they can't ignore!"
Blake turned to the viewer. Suddenly the angle reversed to the two small craft as they approached his ship. A wide angled phaser beam struck out into space and erupted over the flickering shields of the lead Fury. It staggered slightly as it attempted to recover from the blast.
"Power down your weapons!" Blake warned again.
Suddenly a huge chunk of ice began to careen towards them, large enough for the Corinthian to land on, behind it a stream of photon torpedos lashed out towards them.
"They've accelerated the ice with a tractor beam!" Haldo warned.
"Incoming torpedos!" Clogg warned. "Two more from behind."
"Great!" Blake rubbed his temples in annoyance.
The Corinthian suddenly banked hard to starboard and accelerated out of the way as she engaged her cloaking device and vanished in a veil of darkness. The torpedoes went dark as they deactivated to be salvaged later now that their target had vanished.
Suddenly the Corinthian appeared behind the two rear Furies and fired a short blast at full power from her nose cannon. The ice erupted in a furious blast of orange energy as it was instantly destroyed.
"Get the hint?" Blake asked over the open comm channel. "It might not just be a block of ice next time.
"Their weapons are charged but targeting scanners are not locking onto us." Clogg smiled. "I think you've got through to them."
"About time!" He scowled. "The question is what do we do now?"
"They can't surrender!" Jones warned. "Whatever they've been programmed to do they'll see the job through."
Blake nodded and turned to the viewer.
"What is your mission?" He spoke to the three ships. "We want to help you but we need you to communicate with us."
"Incoming message!" Haldo told them. "A datastream."
"What kind?" Blake turned to face him.
"Hologram, a recording I think."
"It could be a trick!" Clogg warned. "A computer virus perhaps."
"Play the recording." Blake rubbed his chin. The holographic viewer went instantly black, punctuated by countless slivery stars with a cascading golden nebula cloud running along beside them. They watched the sensor logs in silence as the attack on the fleet was replayed before them.
"Oh no!" Blake muttered in dreadful realisation as they watched what had actually happened.
"The Furies are moving off!" Clogg told them suddenly. "They've gone to maximum warp."
"Blake?" Katherine cried out. "We have to stop them!"
Captain Graves stared into the viewer at the fleet. From virtually nothing he was now the commanding officer of a powerful ship and watching over a large merchant fleet in a dangerous part of space. Life was good.
"Incoming message!" Commander Morrow said with a note of surprise.
"What?" Graves stood up suddenly and ran his eyes over the holographic view of space. "One of the fleet?"
"The N'klaa." Winston told him. "They're leaving."
"Leaving?" Graves ruffled his brow. "They wouldn't leave if there's a fight to be had. There's no honour in that."
"They're powering up their engines!" Morrow told him.
"Play the message!" Graves frowned.
The speakers around the bridge chirped as the message opened. "Wrogg to US Cosgrove!" It began. "It is time, Captain Rajol!"
"I don't think that was meant for us!" Graves rubbed his forehead as it prickled with nervous sweat. "Power up the weapon systems."
Suddenly the Wanderer bucked hard to the side as a powerful blast of disrupter energy caught her shields.
"Incoming message from the Corinthian!" Morrow cried out as his console went made, red warnings lighting up the displays.
"Not now!" Graves slammed his fist down onto the console. "Target that ship!"
The first of the Furies tore into the fleet and a blaze of pulse phaser energy stuttered out of the front of her towards the Ya'Vang class transport ship. The orange flames tore into the ships shields sending bolts of flickering green energy licking over her hull.
The US Cosgrove came to life slowly behind it, firing a beam of energy towards the little ship.
"The Cosgrove has responded." Morrow reported. "The attackers are back, I've targeted the first."
"Fire!" Graves ordered. The Wanderer fired a beam of powerful energy. The phaser licked out at the little disk, tearing into the shields that were already damaged from the assault by the merchant ship and the Klingons.
Suddenly the Corinthian appeared in a flash of white warp energy and instantly fired a beam at the Klingons and a second at the merchant vessel, the US Cosgrove.
"Cease firing on the Fury!" Blake ordered over the emergency over-ride channel.
"What?" Graves shrugged, utterly confused.
The N'klaa fired a volley of green blasts into the crippled Fury and the little ship erupted in a flash as the shields collapsed and the hull was cracked open helplessly from the fierce attacks.
"Is anyone in the connecting corridor?" Blake growled through gritted teeth as he glared at the N'klaa.
"Empty!" Haldo assured him.
"Lock the cannon at that ships neck and cut its damn head off." He ordered to Clogg.
The flickering orange beam lashed out at the Klingon vessel, catching her behind the forward arrow-head that contained the command bridge. The metal erupted in brilliant luminescence as the forward part of the ship tore free of the main hull.
"Disable the US Cosgrove but be more gentle with her." Blake ordered as he folded his arms over his chest angrily. The viewer lit up as a beam cut into her engines and the nacelles flashed and then went dark almost instantly.
"Everyone cease firing!" Blake ordered to every ship in the fleet as the N'klaa drifted from the Federation ships aflame.
Katherine, Haldo and Doctor Jones stepped up to the centre and watched in silence. The two surviving Furies drifted towards the shattered wreckage of their comrade. They stopped, each resting a few hundred metres from the smashed hull that arced and crackled and glowed a deep red at the burning edges. The two ships suddenly turned and tore through the fleet at full impulse and then left in a blur of warp energy.
"Should we go after them?" Katherine asked, her voice almost a whisper.
"We have some rescuing to do." Blake hung his head and sighed deeply. "And I don't think they're a threat to anyone if we just accidentally lost them."
"Captain Rajol?" Captain Louise Grant shook her head in disbelief. "I can't believe it."
"Apparently it's true." Captain Graves told her, helping himself for a drink from her replicator. "He was working with the Klingons."
"Why would he do that?" She shrugged. "He was due to retire, he'd been offered a place on an inner colony."
"Of course I can't tell you any of this!" Graves said with a shrug. "I guess he wasn't happy with what they offered him. The Klingons offered him more to help their attack on the fleet."
"Why would the Klingons attack us?" She frowned, none if it making much sense.
"They wouldn't normally." He explained. "The house of Kra'lonn was a low ranking clan, their new head wanted to make a name for himself. He planned to take your cargo to sell in exchange for bigger ships and kill you all, Captain Rajol would be the only survivor and could make up any story he liked."
"And the Furies?" She asked.
"I couldn't possibly tell you that they were programmed to protect Starfleet and all Federation ships and were just trying to help." He smirked. "And I definitely couldn't tell you that they were escorting your fleet since they first saw you or that they'd been hiding in the nebula for years without anyone knowing."
"You have a pretty weird job." She shook her head. "I think maybe it's time I broke one of my personal rules and had a drink while on duty!"
"It was never one of my rules!" He assured her happily.
The Corinthian crept silently back to the ice-moon, hidden behind her cloaking device although this time Haldo was monitoring every particle of space-dust to keep them completely hidden.
"What makes you think they came back here?" Katherine asked as Doctor Jones stood at the front of the bridge, staring at the image of the moon as it filled the holographic viewer.
"I don't know." He sighed wearily. "They seemed to be protecting something, as if they were trying to keep us away."
"We really have to go!" Blake told them. "We need to rendezvous with the Olympus."
"Two more minutes." Jones pleaded. "I just need to know."
"It will take me ten to trim for Transwarp while we're cloaked." Blake nodded with a smile. "You have that long."
"Thank you." Jones smiled happily, turning quickly back to the viewer.
"I have them." Haldo said in sudden surprise. "They're in the crater and you'll never believe what they're doing!"
"Let me see." Jones pleaded.
The viewer zoomed in to show the two little craft nestled in the vast, gaping hole in the sheets of solid ice. Both were static, their engines powered down as they lay on their landing pads. Between them was the unfinished hull of another Fury, an incomplete version of themselves. The new ship flickered with energy as the others replicated parts and beamed them onto her.
"They're reproducing." Jones smiled uncontrollably in wonder.
"My god!" Haldo shook his head. "They're really a new life form then."
"I guess so." Jones gazed at the viewer, his eyes glazing over. He wiped a tear from his eye before anyone could see him.
"So that's why there was three of them." Blake ruffled his brow. "Nobody mass produced or reprogrammed them. They probably found a way to reject their deactivation codes and escape.."
"What was their original programming?" Katherine asked.
"They were escort ships." He said simply. "We programmed them to protect the Federation."
"We have to go." Blake told him softly. "It's time."
Jones nodded and stepped back to his controls, hardly able to stop staring at the viewer as he moved away.
"Let's go to Transwarp!" Blake said as the ship banked gently away.
"And all is well with the world!" Commander Morrow smiled. "The Wanderer performed admirably and the fleet was saved. The evil-doers were incarcerated and everyone we met didn't hate us for once."
"And I get to fire my weapons!" Captain Graves added for good measure and poor taste.
"Indeed." The long-suffering first officer agreed grudgingly. "So those ships we helped to destroy were actually a kind of artificial life form who were just trying to help?"
"Easy come, easy go!" Graves flicked an imaginary piece of lint from his shirt. "Lets go. We have a long journey ahead of us."
"Course laid in." Morrow shook his head in dismay of the Captains attitude.
"Those little ships…" Graves began thoughtfully.
"Yes?" Commander Morrow sighed.
"They fought with honour." He said with a smile. "There's no shame in dying that way, even for an artificial life-form."
"My god!" Katherine stood up from her adopted controls and stepped towards the viewer.
"I've confirmed the co-ordinates." Haldo said softly, shaking his head. "That's the Olympus."
"Confirmed." Clogg agreed. "No life signs."
The Corinthian nudged forwards through a vast cloud of debris. An almost complete nacelle spiralled away before them amidst a jumbled mass of torn metal shards.
"No life signs." Blake repeated, rubbing his head in dismay. "There were over six hundred crewmen on the ship."
"There's no bodies either." Katherine told him hopefully. "We don't know that they were killed."
"I'm reading a number of empty life-pods." Haldo added. "They're damaged heavily, they were most likely aboard when the ship was destroyed."
"Residual weapons signatures?" Blake asked.
"Nothing I can make sense of!" Clogg told him. "I'll keep working on it."
"We better contact Starfleet command." Blake slumped into his command chair.
"We can't!" Haldo shrugged. "Captain Reader was our only contact."
Blake closed his eyes as realisation struck him.
"We're alone?" Katherine gasped.
"We're alone!" Blake agreed. "We can't contact Starfleet without Reader!"
"What the hell are we going to do?" Haldo stood up and slammed his hands down on his console. "We have to tell someone."
"We find them." Blake stood up as the idea flushed his resolve back through him. "We find the crew of the Olympus and we find who did this to them!"
"We better find them fast." Doctor Jones warned. "Because I've never seen a ship torn apart like this since the Borg invaded."
Captain Reader sat crouched in the corner of a dull, dark room. The walls were made of bland grey material that was oddly warm to the touch although the ship had a chill to the air that sent nerves jangling up his spine as he thought about it. The smell was acrid and fierce and breathing deeply sent a burning pain coursing through the bottom of his lungs.
"Twenty four!" His operations chief, Lieutenant Darren Hopkins sat heavily down beside him, his uniform hanging from his shoulder in tatters and a gouge showing through his shoulder with black blood caked around the wound. He breathed heavily and clutched his injuries as he came to rest beside the Captain. "All of them are deck-one crew although there may be more of us in other rooms, there's no way to tell."
"Thank you, Lieutenant." Reader nodded. He strained slightly to listen. Above the groans and heavy, laboured breathing of his crew was a throbbing, clicking sound that was almost tangible through the walls.
"Have you any idea what's happening, sir?" He asked hopefully.
"No." Captain Reader replied simply as he glanced nervously around. "I get the distinct feeling that it might be better not to know."
|Last modified: 09 Nov 2020