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Star Trek Renegade - 1.9 Leading Edge by J. Grey, copyright held by A.P. Atkinson

10 years ago the Federation was attacked by their most fearsome enemy, the Borg - but how far are they willing to go to protect themselves now?

1.9 Leading Edge

"So here we are!" Haldo grinned with inappropriate enthusiasm as Blake scowled in annoyance at his latest engineering review.

"We're that low on fuel?" Blake asked as he rubbed his temples in thoughtful exasperation at the fairly dire projection of their current status.

"Don't you feel hungry or something?" Haldo shrugged with a sarcastic smirk.

"No." He grunted firmly in reply. "Can we increase the rate we draw in hydrogen through the Bussard collectors? Maybe economise on the power drains somehow?"

"No." Haldo pulled an expression that made it clear he believed that any such suggestions were ridiculous. "It wouldn't matter what energy we use or how much we try to save, the power core just creates a steady stream of power, usually at maximum and I can't seem to adjust it. We can only suck in what's out there, the hydrogen count in the alpha quadrant just doesn't have the matter to supply this ship's needs."

"Is there somewhere we could go to fill up our tanks?" Blake frowned and glowered fixedly at the engineer.

"I'll check the star charts for a nebula made entirely from first rate deuterium if you like." Haldo smirked some more.

"Don't bother." Blake flopped back in his office chair dejectedly and sighed deeply to himself. "What can we do to extend out range?"

"Not much." Haldo admitted flatly. "We need to refuel from a tanker once in a while. Without Captain Reader to help us I don't see what we can do apart from find a supply of deuterium somehow."

"We've been scanning the debris field for two days." Blake sighed wearily. "No sign of any trail they might have left in any direction."

"Their warp signal is pretty unusual." Haldo added conversationally. "I can't even make sense of ours yet."

"We have to find that ship!" Blake said firmly, breathing heavily as he spoke.

"Blake." Haldo began with a sympathetic tone. "They could be dead by now."

"No!" Blake said firmly.

"But Blake..." Haldo began.

"No." He insisted. "They could have just killed them on the ship if they just wanted them dead. They took them because they wanted them alive for some reason."

"Logical." Haldo agreed hesitantly but without much optimism.

"We just need a lead to follow." Blake added thoughtfully as he stared out of the window into space.

Haldo sighed and shook his head. "I could try to boost the sensor resolution again."

"It won't work!" Blake shook his head firmly and knotted his hands behind his head. "We need something else, something solid. We've been boosting our sensor resolution for two weeks and haven't found anything worth finding."

"Alright…" Haldo shrugged widely, his palms raised outwards. "What do you have in mind?"

"I wish I knew." Blake told him earnestly.

"Can they see us?" Captain Graves stood at the front of the Wanderer's bridge grinning wildly while the ship remained at the edge of the debris field that had used to be the Olympus. Two Starfleet vessels scoured the wreckage while the Wanderer remained concealed within the Corinthian's cloaking screen.

Captain Graves squinted at the image of a Solaris class vessel in the distance and waved his hand at it.

"I promise you that they can't see us!" Commander Morrow assured him, shaking his head in dismay. "They still wouldn't be able to see us if you were waving at a window instead of at a holographic viewscreen."

"Being cloaked is so cool." Graves said thoughtfully to himself.

"If you say so." Morrow smirked at his Captain's childish enthusiasm.

"If we're inside the Corinthian's cloaking shield then does that mean we can fire our weapons?" Graves rubbed his chin thoughtfully, turning to his Commander with a raised eyebrow.

"No." Morrow laughed. "For one thing our targeting scanners are inoperative in here and for another the intensely inverted graviton field disrupts the phasers so the projected energy wouldn't be able to establish photon cohesion."

"So the energy backwash would just burn our own hull?" Graves turned to his first officer and shrugged.

"That's right, and it would make us visible." The Commander nodded in agreement. "Sounds like you've finally got it after two weeks of me explaining the basic dynamics of a cloaking shield."

"Not really." The Captain admitted as he stepped back to his chair. "Didn't they build a Bird of Prey that could fire cloaked? The Klingons?"

"It didn't work very well." Morrow reminded him. "It could only fire torpedoes and they were low powered battery operated types that didn't initialise until they were clear of the field. They weren't powerful enough to be really effective, by the time they'd fired a few a ship could triangulate their position. I think that was what happened to it in the end."

"Is any of this something I should be aware of?" The Captain frowned and stood with a quizzical expression and his balled fists on his hips as he suddenly snapped himself back to the present.

"Well it's a good job that you're a Captain and not something vital to ships functions!" Commander Morrow told him with a grin.

"We never studied cloaking devices at Merchant training." Graves told him with a note of annoyance.

"How would you know, you never went!" Morrow smirked.

"I damn well did!" He spun his seat to face his old friend.

"You could never tell!" Winston shook his head and laughed.

"So what's going on?" The Captain sighed. "Anything happening out there?"

"Nothing has happened for the whole two weeks we've been here." Winston frowned. "No sign of the crew of the Olympus or the aliens."

"There has to be something…" Graves shook his head. "A hell of a lot can happen to them in two weeks."

Ensign Katherine Rogers switched on a tower of jumbled electronics and it began glowing a dull yellow from a hollow glass chamber.

"The scanners are all ready." She smiled warmly at Blake who was sitting opposite her in the small sick-bay.

"Time for another medical?" Blake frowned in irritation as she began waving a modified scanner around his head.

"I'm sure you'll be fine, you have been on our other check-ups." She assured him. "I don't know why you're always so tense, we never find anything wrong and you know it doesn't hurt."

"I'm not worried." Blake shrugged. "I feel fine."

"It looks like you are fine." She smiled. "No after effects from being killed that second time."

"You get used to it." He smiled humourlessly, wincing inwardly at the memory.

Katherine sat down heavily on her stool and sighed wearily with a weak smile. "Are you worried about Captain Reader and the crew?" She asked.

"Aren't you?" Blake shrugged. "Aren't we all?"

"Of course." She nodded. "Still no leads on them then?"

"Nothing." Blake told her wearily. "We're totally out of ideas, we've been monitoring the communications between the Starfleet vessels, they're pretty much out of ideas too and have been for the last week and a half."

"I'm sorry." She shook her head. "Have they mentioned us at all?"

"No!" Blake replied, glancing over to the bank of equipment as it churned away. "Without Captain Reader nobody in Starfleet really knows we're out here. We're really alone now."

"We're not really alone." She glanced up at him, their eyes meeting for just a moment too long and communicated something way beyond their words.

"I guess not." He agreed with just the ghost of a slightly awkward smile. "I guess I feel that I'm not making too good a job of all this."

"You want to talk about it?" She sat back heavily in the chair opposite and waited for him to speak as she discarded the instruments on the desk beside her.

"The medical is over?" Blake asked in surprise.

"I suppose." She shrugged happily. "You're in perfect health as usual, and I do mean perfect. Not a sign of the slightest cellular misalignment from the absolute peak for your body. I guess if the implants can return you from the dead a weekly check with a medical tricorder is a little bit redundant."

"Nice to know I'm still healthy." He nodded. "I guess Doctor Jones does nice work after all."

"So what's bothering you?" Katherine leant in forwards, cutting herself short of reaching out her hand although she really wanted to. Blake looked up into her expectant eyes and breathed out heavily as he rubbed his forehead.

"We're alone." Blake began with a heavy sigh. "We're cut off from Starfleet now, we can't contact them for fear of Section 31 trying to take back this ship. We've lost the only person we trusted to help us and are probably his only hope of getting home…" He sighed again, smiling at the irony. "Of course we can't help him because we can't contact Starfleet. I feel like I've really messed up the whole thing."

"I know how you feel." She shrugged and nodded in agreement. "But none of this is your fault, we've really been backed into a corner by our entire situation."

"This is my first command." He shook his head in dismay. "I don't have any control over the crew, every mission we go on something seems to go wrong and now we're running out of fuel fast and can't find a lead on where to start looking for Captain Reader and his crew."

"We've helped a lot of people!" She reminded him somewhat forcefully. "We've exposed Section 31, we've rescued ships from halfway across the galaxy, we've carried out a lot of missions for the Federation."

"I'm a lousy Captain." He told her stubbornly, shaking his head to himself.

"You're doing fine!" She smiled supportively. "You're not fully qualified or trained and you're doing the best you can, the same as all of us."

"Well my best had had better get a whole lot better."

"How long have we been here?" Lieutenant Darren Hopkins asked, his eyes staring blankly at the grey walls in front of him aboard the alien vessel.

"Too long." Captain Reader told him flatly, rousing himself from his bleary, half-asleep state to answer. "A few weeks now maybe. I don't know."

"Do you think they're torturing us?" Lieutenant Hopkins suggested coldly, his voice taking on a note of anger as he spoke. "They haven't lowered the lights at night and just feed us that disgusting white soup every day. Maybe they're trying to wear us down."

Captain Reader looked about at the dishevelled crewmen locked into the bland holding cell with them. Some were sprawled about on the hard, cold floor while a few others paced about the room. Mental stimulation was almost non-existent in the featureless prison. The early conversations had been almost exclusively concerned escape but after a week of continuous trying most of the crew had given up speaking to one another and it had been three days since anyone had attempted to escape.

"They are wearing us down." Reader sneered. "Whether they're trying to or not!"

Suddenly the inactivity of the last two weeks ended in a subtle way that plunged the room into a shocked silence as if the world had split apart instead of just the doors sliding open. The grey panelling hissed and a tiny whiff of ozone blasted through the chamber. Light poured in, brilliant white that burnt their eyes as they had grown unaccustomed to it.

"Oh my god…" The Lieutenant muttered as the silhouette of a humanoid appeared in the doorway.

"Hopkins!" The Captain hissed a quiet reprimand to silence him.

"What the hell do you mean by holding us?" Hopkins yelled out as he leapt to his feet, ignoring his fatigued muscles as anger sent a wave of adrenaline coursing though him.

A humanoid stepped into the chamber and stood among them, unwavering as if it didn't seem to notice him. The crew stared in silent wonder at the creature. Its face was slender as if the pale skin had been pulled tightly over its bony skull. Its eyes were emotionless glaring orbs of glassy white with grey pupils and deep red and yellow tendrils running through them as if it too needed badly to sleep. The skin was uneven, discoloured a yellow and green, mottled with pale white with a slimy yellow residue dripping softly from the corners of its mouth. It had dark sunken eye sockets finished off with thin lips, withered and wrinkled as if the creature had been dried out in some way, pulled back over its yellowing teeth as if in a permanent snarl. The hands hung out below a filthy robe wrapped around its frail looking body, they were balled tightly with long, grimy nails growing from the discoloured fingers.

It turned slowly to face the lieutenant in chilling silence. The eyes never flickered in the sockets and never reflected emotion or thought, only the neck moved as it scanned the surroundings.

"I'm Captain Reader!" He hefted himself to his feet as he spoke.

The alien creature reached out with its slender arm and wrapped its fingers around the Lieutenant's forearm as it began to edge back to the door.

"It's stronger than it looks…" He bit his lip as the creature exerted enough pressure to cause him considerable pain.

"I want to speak with your Captain!" Reader stepped up to the alien as it began to pull Hopkins to the entrance. The smell hit his nostrils, a sour odour that made him move reflexively away.

"It's ok." The lieutenant nodded. "I'm not afraid. I'll go with it."

"You wanted a lead…" Haldo shrugged at the computer terminal. "There it is!"

"That's it?" Captain Girling sighed thoughtfully. "We spend two weeks scanning the debris field and this is the best you can come up with?"

"A Klingon fleet patrolling their borders should have no reason to mention Captain Reader and the Olympus!" Doctor Jones added. "They've mentioned his name several times, we've been monitoring the communications traffic of every ship in our range."

"This fleet is in range?" Blake asked with a raised eyebrow. "It's light-years away from us in the Beta quadrant."

"We've made some adjustments to the sensors." Haldo smirked. "The potential of this ship never ceases to amaze me, as does my own talents in exploiting it."

"So I see…" Blake frowned. "I won't ask how many Federation laws you've broken to do this."

"Best not to..." Haldo agreed with a knowing smile.

"We don't know what this fleet is up to." Doctor Jones began, rubbing his chin curiously. "It seems to be running manoeuvres or strengthening the borders."

"Klingons flexing their military muscles!" Haldo shrugged. "Whatever they're up to they've mentioned Captain Reader several times and have accessed a long range sensor array within their space!"

"So they could be looking for him too." Blake smiled thinly although it was far from the good news he'd hoped for.

"We could reach the fleet and still have enough fuel to keep our cloaks up for a few days before we hit any real problems." Haldo suggested. "We'd have to drop off the Wanderer though."

"I wouldn't want to tow them along anyway." Blake said firmly.

"So what's the plan?"

The Corinthian crept silently towards the Klingon border, hidden behind her sophisticated stealth technology. The edge was marked with ancient listening posts put up centuries before and barely maintained as Klingons were well known to be inept engineers at best. Each of the automated stations was equipped with a disrupter cannon and a self-destruct device, either of which would be capable of doing a lot of damage to an unwary vessel which the Corinthian crew took pains to ensure that she was not.

"Continuous scans!" Captain Girling ordered. "Keep passive sensors locked on that fleet and maintain yellow alert."

"I'm way ahead of you!" Haldo assured him dryly. "We're in no shape to take on those Klingons."

"I'm detecting eleven vessels out there." Doctor Jones hung his head wearily. "Various classes from old D7 reserve ships to a front line Vor'cha class warship with massive upgrades. All heavily armed of course."

"Of course!" Blake agreed grimly.

"They're not your average border patrol!" Haldo's brow ruffled reflexively in wonder. "They're up to something."

Blake stood up and turned to his chief engineer. "What do you mean?" He asked.

"They're looking for something!" Haldo guessed. "One of the D7s out there is fitted out with some very odd looking sensors, not a usual fitting to a Klingon ship and the fleet is widely dispersed in a search pattern perhaps."

"It could be us!" Jones eyes widened in horror and his face drained of all colour as the idea took hold.

"I doubt that!" Blake dismissed his suggestion. "We just got here, this fleet have been out here for a while doing whatever they're doing."

"So what are they looking for?" Haldo shrugged. "What makes the Klingon high command send out a pack of hunters like these with enough fire-power to wipe out most planets?"

"Exactly!" Blake agreed thoughtfully. "What are they afraid of?"

The lights on the bridge of the ship were low and red indicating that the small Klingon vessel was operating under cloak.

"Report!" Captain Kromm hissed at his officers as they operated the rather simplistic and highly automated controls of the ship.

"They are closing!" The burly warrior reported as he glowered fixedly at his screen.

"Perhaps they detect us?" First officer Garragg suggested as he gazed at the tactical display grid on the main viewer.

"Not this ship!" Kromm assured him with a cruel smile of utter self confidence.

"And yet they head this way?" Garragg reminded him as he gestured at the approaching ships.

"Have you lost faith in my design?" Kromm growled through angrily gritted teeth.

"Not yet!" Garragg shrugged dismissively, unmoved by the Captains hostility. "I would suggest that we cannot remain here. They will likely collide with us if we do not adjust our course."

"We cannot engage our impulse drive without risking detection!" Plarg, the Helmsman turned and warned them with a grunt. "If we go to warp then they will detect and pursue us."

"Are my crew losing their courage?" Captain Kromm yelled in his most threatening voice as he jumped from his seat. "We are here on a matter of honour, I should not need remind any of you of that fact."

"We know why we're here." Garragg said calmly to the furious expression of his Captain. Kromm was breathing heavily in his growing rage. His eyes were glaring, fixed into those of his first officer, he was an older man, greying hair cascaded untidily from his ruffled brow ridges and his beard was peppered with white flecks. He was not tall but was stocky, he had the build of a powerful man and possessed the will to use every inch of his strength by any means required. That was not even his true advantage. Kromm was an unusual warrior by any standard, a brilliant mind with a sharp, keen intellect. He had survived to be an ageing warrior because of his brilliance in battle and his value to the Empire had always ensured his protection, at least it had so far.

"We should not be cowering from our own kind." He said finally, speaking softly as he regained his composure, overcoming his fiery Klingon temperament.

"We have no choice!" Garragg told him. "But our moment will come."

"It will." Kromm agreed with a wry smile. "And in no small measure."

"The fleet are approaching." Helmsman Plarg warned. "We will soon be in close enough for their short-range scanners and risk detection!"

"Will they find us with short-range scanners?" Garragg turned to his Captain.

"No." Kromm sat back in his centre chair and began pressing buttons at his arm. "But they will detect us if we engage our engines."

"That fleet is headed up by a M'upwi'Noh class warship." Garragg said rhetorically. "This is a small vessel, we can't match them in combat."

"We won't need to." Kromm told him.

"It's one of the most powerful ships in the empire." Garragg frowned.

"I know." Kromm grinned maniacally, the expression of a man who was unafraid of death because he expected to find it. "I designed it!"

Goruss Clogg stepped into the office at the side of Blake's bridge. The door slid shut behind him with a gentle hiss as it did so.

"Please sit down." Blake gestured to the seat opposite him while he gazed at his miniature terminal screen. Goruss did as he was told without a word, patiently waiting for his commanding officer to finish what he was doing.

"We need to have a little chat." Blake told him, switching his screen off and leaning forwards over the desk. He knotted his fingers together before him and breathed heavily as he began a task he was clearly not relishing.

"Certainly, Sir." Clogg nodded compliantly.

"Well that's the point." Blake smiled thinly. "We're cut off now from Starfleet. We're going to be operating without the knowledge of Starfleet command until we can find Captain Reader and the crew of the Olympus."

"I appreciate that." Clogg agreed.

"You're attached to Starfleet intelligence." Blake told him. "We're going to be following the rules as far as we can but we're going to be operating independently for a while."

"May I ask why?" Clogg said politely.

"We can't trust anyone at the moment." Girling shrugged sadly. "Starfleet command has been infiltrated by Section 31, we can't go to them without risking handing this ship over to them."

"I see." Clogg nodded happily in agreement, content that the explanation was complete.

Blake stared fixedly into his angry looking yellow eyes as he tried to read his alien expression. "So where do you stand on this?"

"I don't understand…" Clogg shook his head and frowned, his tight red skin ruffling slightly on his shiny brow.

"Only Captain Reader knows we're officially out here and he may already be dead." Blake explained. "Now if a Starfleet vessel discovered us they would have no record of our existence. Reader gave us a special Starfleet Intelligence code that we could use. We sent it to any vessel in range and it gave the crew instructions to ignore us, that code changed every three days."

"Are you saying that we are now not a Starfleet vessel?" Clogg asked, his tone darkening.

"We are!" Blake told him firmly. "But nobody else will see us that way!"

"I see…" Clogg nodded thoughtfully.

"We need to find Captain Reader and we're the best equipped vessel to do it." Blake began. "We're not going to stop doing our jobs just because things have got a little harder for us."

Clogg smiled and his eyes narrowed knowingly. "If I may speak freely, Sir?"

"Everyone else does!" Blake smirked. "Why should you be any different?"

"You have the look of a man about to make me an offer." He grinned.

"Not an offer." Blake shrugged with a wry grin. "A chance to jump ship!"

"Leave?" Clogg asked as if slightly offended.

"You're a career officer." Blake nodded. "We can give you a shuttle and point you towards home. Your information won't be any use to Section 31 once it gets out because this ship is evolving so fast. A conflicted officer is no use to us out here, I'm just trying to leave the door open for you."

"I'll stay as long as I'm welcome!" Clogg told him without a moments hesitation. Blake nodded back at him with obvious relief. "I know we're operating slightly outside the Starfleet ideal but I guess sometimes there's little choice."

"Even the Federation needs help sometimes?" Blake suggested.

"Utopia occasionally need the support of people who believe in it so much that they are willing to forgo it for themselves." Clogg told him, knotting his fingers together on the desk in a postural echo of the Captain.

"Is that you?" Blake asked with a note of absolute seriousness.

"It seems I have damned myself to finding out!"

Captain Reader closed his eyes. He was utterly exhausted, fatigue was making his muscles heavy and numb as he sat huddled on the cold floor aboard the alien vessel. His eyes burnt behind his eyelids and the lights left a residual image in his mind every time he blinked. The cell was too bright and the growing anxiousness of the bridge crew that were confined with him was keeping him from sleep. The waking world drifted into his nightmarish imaginings with the ghosts that haunted his mind seeming to find new ways to taunt him, shredding his slowly unravelling sanity.

"I've never seen anything like them." Ensign Chanet said nervously as she bit her bottom lip. Reader looked slowly beside him to the attractive young ensign who he'd not noticed as she'd sat down on the bare floor beside him. She was hardly noticeable on his bridge, a minor officer who did her work efficiently enough never to have come to his attention. Her once gleaming blue eyes were dulled and traces of red ran through her yellowing pupils as she too had not properly slept in longer than either of them could remember.

"Me neither." He agreed, his voice croaking and low as he spoke.

"They look horrible." She told him, hunching her shoulders and shuddering as she spoke. The Captain wanted to shout at her, to scold her for her narrow-minded attitudes but his strength faltered and instead he breathed out heavily and frowned at his thoughts. As his mind ran on he dimly realised that his flaring temper was a symptom of his imprisonment and the realisation calmed him somewhat, and besides he himself felt much the same way.

"They're different." He told her, settling for the shortest sentence he could manage.

"It didn't seem to understand what we were saying to it." She bit her lip again, a nervous gesture she hadn't done since she was a child.

"Maybe their language was too different for our Universal translator." He suggested, the effort of talking began to make his temples throb in dull pain.

"Maybe our translators don't work at all in here." She said suddenly as she began running her fingers through her hair and staring with wide eyed fear.

"They work." He told her.

"But how do we know?" She gasped. "We don't have any equipment here to test them with."

"What language are you speaking?" He huffed.

"French." She relaxed slightly as she said it. "It's my first language."

"Well you'll be pleased to know I'm still hearing English."

"I thought you'd be happy!" Commander Morrow flopped back in his seat in apathetic indignation in the small Captains office aboard the Wanderer.

"This is a dull mission!" Captain Graves told him angrily. "The Corinthian goes off to investigate a Klingon fleet and we're left in the Alpha quadrant trying to scavenge deuterium from passing traders."

"We're a support ship!" The Commander reminded him. "We support the Corinthian. They don't have the power to tow us into a Transwarp conduit every time and they need to be very careful on this mission, I think they made the right choice and so did you an hour ago."

"Alright…" He waved his hand dismissively. "I'm not happy but I'll do my job."

"I should hope so!" Winston frowned, feeling more like the Captains keeper than first officer.

"So how are we meant to get hold of this fuel then?" The Captain folded his arms over his chest like a defiant child. "They've already taken most of our reserves from our tanks."

"We have a cargo hold full of stuff to trade!" Morrow held up a Padd with their inventory written on it.

"We do?" Graves snatched the Padd and ran his eyes over the listings.

"We could trade our shuttles." Morrow suggested with a thoughtful shrug. "We'd get plenty of deuterium for those."

"Hang on!" Graves threw the Padd onto his desk and scowled in annoyance at his first officer. "I can't help noticing on our trade inventory that you've listed our entire supply of wines, beers and spirits!"

"It's what we have to trade!" Morrow smiled at the Captains worsening mood.

"You've not published this over subspace have you?" Graves shut his eyes grimly.

"I have indeed." Morrow smirked. "We've even had some interest."

"This is not Synthohol." The Captain shouted at him angrily. "This is not cheap replicated rubbish. Our booze is top notch, full flavoured, illegal in the core systems, brain rotting, old fashioned Alcohol!"

"As I said…" Morrow began with irritating calmness. "We've had a lot of interest."

Captain Graves shook his head and seemed to droop visibly into his chair. "Will we get what we need for it?"

"Oh yes." Morrow nodded enthusiastically. "And Blake assures as that the replicators aboard the Corinthian are high resolution enough to replace our entire stock when they get back."

"Well we all need to make sacrifices." He agreed grudgingly. "Get the highest offer and set a course."

"Have we found the fleet yet?" Blake Girling stood up from his command chair and stepped up to the viewer.

"They're not hard to find!" Haldo told him with a note of distinct trepidation. "There's some big guns out there… some very big guns."

"There's some very good detection gear too!" Doctor Jones added to the Captain's troubles. "They haven't seen us yet, I guess they weren't looking for a Transwarp conduit."

"Lucky us!" Blake muttered under his breath. He turned to his crew. "Any more mentions of Captain Reader on any channel?"

"Nothing so far." Katherines fingers danced over the controls to the communications array.

"Any idea what's going on out there?" Blake shrugged.

"They're looking for something." Katherine told him. "A ship."

"Us?" Doctor Jones gasped again in wide eyed horror.

"Calm down!" Blake snapped as he turned back to the sprawling main viewer.

"It's a rogue ship of some kind." Haldo guessed from the information he had pieced together. "It's someone who has annoyed the Empire quite thoroughly."

"We haven't made enemies of the Klingons yet!" Goruss Clogg smiled as he watched the fleet carefully from his tactical console.

"Yet…" Blake agreed. "Just give us time!"

"Something is happening!" Haldo looked up suddenly.

"Something is happening." First Officer Garragg lunged at his console at the edge of the small bridge. The tactical viewer showed a bloom of yellow indicating an explosion.

"They're launching charges." Captain Kromm rubbed his chin. "That's a good sign."

"A good sign?" Garragg spun around suddenly in surprise.

"It means that their detection equipment has failed to locate us." Kromm grinned. "It also means that the area will be flooded with energy spikes."

"It also means that while we cower here with our stealth cloaks raised we have no shields." Garragg roared in anger as he smashed his fist into a bulkhead.

"Is your anger motivated by fear?" Kromm launched himself from the central chair with a speed that belied his generous proportions. He knew exactly how to deal with his old friend, a comment that knocked him off balance would make him think and stop drawing on his passions as he all too frequently did. A warrior filled with rage was perfectly fine with a Bat'leth in his hand but on a bridge in a tactical role he wanted an officer thinking clearly.

"This is good for another reason." Kromm placed his hand firmly on the shoulder of his friend as he fixed him with an optimistic glare. "With charges detonating all around the fleet will not detect us as we move away."

"Yes!" Garraggs eyes shone suddenly as realisation dawned. He turned to the helmsman. "Who is launching the charges?" He called out.

"There is only one." He replied. "There is a modified D7 that has been outfitted with charge delivery pods. It is behind the Korr'Grall, the ship leading the fleet."

"Perfect!" Kromm smiled to himself at his turn of fortune.

"What is the interval?" Garragg looked back at his Captain with a grin.

"4.5 seconds between charges." The helmsman replied, not quite sure what was happening.

"Mark the next explosion and program the computers with the details." Garragg began barking orders. "Plot a course away from here at full Impulse speeds. Fire the engines for 0.5 seconds every time a charge detonates."

"Yes sir!" The helm officer replied happily as it suddenly all made sense.

"You see how a turn of misfortune can often be the opportunity you've been waiting for." Kromm smiled at his first officer.

"Yes sir!" Commander Garragg nodded apologetically. "They shouldn't detect us and we should be clear in short while."

"Perhaps now we can take this ship and begin our mission."

"Charges?" Blake guessed as the viewer lit up with distant explosions ripping through space in silent fury.

"A cloaked ship can't have shields up." Haldo shrugged and glanced around the crew. He smirked at the Captain. "At least traditionally."

"So they're trying to flush someone out." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"The question is whether the person we're looking for is firing the charges or being fired at." Katherine noted grimly.

"We can't get any more information from listening to comm traffic." Doctor Jones told them. "If they've started firing then they've finished talking."

"Any sign of a ship out there?" Blake asked, stepping up towards the consoles at the rear of his bridge.

"I don't know…" Jones admitted. "I'm detecting a sort of energy echo."

"An energy echo?" Haldo raised his hairless brow in sudden interest.

"It's a new idea I had." Jones grinned at his own inventiveness. "The photon blast from the charges releases an energy that washes over a cloak and causes a minor distortion. With the Corinthian sensors I can detect it."

"I would have thought of that." Haldo grumbled to Girling. "It's not that clever and no different really from the idea I had in the nebula a few months ago."

"It's ok…" Blake laughed dismissively.

"You remember the nebula though?" Haldo called out as Blake turned back to the viewer, hoping to remind them of his long previous resourcefulness.

"This echo is transmitting an energy field of its own!" Doctor Jones said with a beaming smile of self satisfaction.

"An Impulse field!" Haldo cried out suddenly, desperate to get himself noticed.

"Plot their course…" Blake instructed as a tactical grid appeared in the centre of the viewer. A yellow line plotted from the source of the echoes to predict their trajectory.

"Directly away from the fleet and deeper out into the Beta quadrant." Katherine raised her left eyebrow thoughtfully.

"I think we've found our target." Blake nodded. "The question is what do we do now?"

"Shields are up and stable." Goruss Clogg reported. "The cloak is protecting us, no sensor beams are pointing in our direction so far."

"They won't see us!" Haldo turned to scowl at the security officer. "This isn't some century-old clapped-out Klingon warship with all the subtle charm of a baseball bat in the teeth."

"A baseball bat in the teeth is a useful analogy for what might happen if you're wrong and the Klingons do see us lurking in their space." Clogg pointed out evenly.

"We certainly don't want to annoy the wrong people." Blake agreed. "We can't take on the entire fleet but we'll be more than a match for the ship they're chasing."

"So we're going after that, are we?" Katherine knotted her fingers together. "What if it's a Negh'Var or something bigger?"

"Then we retract the nacelles and get out at Transwarp as fast as we can." Blake shrugged.

"It isn't." Doctor Jones told her. "It's a small ship, probably a Bird of Prey."

"It usually is." Haldo agreed. "They're not know for their inventiveness which is why they're in flying junk heaps that were old when they built them and have folding wings that even their engineers can't quite explain while we're in the most advanced Starfleet vessel ever built."

"That I designed..." Doctor Jones smirked with objectionable arrogance.

"I think the fleet are plotting their impulse trail!" Katherine called out. "According to Comm traffic they're examining the same spacial grid as we are."

"They're not going to make it!" Haldo confirmed. "The lead ship is taking targeting co-ordinates from the sensor ships!"

"They're our best lead!" Blake scowled, rubbing his temples thoughtfully. "Maybe we need to give them a helping hand!"

"I knew it wouldn't take us long to make a new enemy!" Haldo noted.

Captain Wragg sat at the bridge of the enormous M'upwi'Noh class vessel heading the fleet. The upgraded ship had been equipped with additional personal modifications of his own specifications with even larger weapons and a personal escape shuttle installed behind the bridge that he kept very quiet from his crew. The vessel drifted forwards with the cruiser behind spitting out the charges in all directions and lighting up the Klingon border like a celebratory firework display.

"Anything to confirm our findings?" He growled.

"No Sir." An officer reported without turning to face the Captain. "Perhaps they are not here after all."

"He's here." Wragg sneered through gritted teeth. "He would have had to sneak here at low warp to avoid detection and drop to Impulse to negotiate our listening posts."

"Yes Sir…" The same officer agreed heartily. He knew little of technical matters, he knew how to watch the screen and he knew how to kill something bigger than him, anything else he just made up as he went along.

"We have them!" The officer jumped up in excitement.

"On screen!" The Captain yelled with disproportionate enthusiasm. The viewer dropped the orange tactical grid and showed an image of a huge explosion ripping out through space. A brilliant white plume of energy trailed off from the edge of the blast and lit the dull red bridge from the light in the viewer.

"Definitely a ship." The officer frowned as he struggled to remember his basic training. His father was a close friend of the Captain but his appointment to the Korr'Grall had stretched a family friendship that reached back a hundred generations to the brink of breaking point. It was feasable that a typically Klingon "accident" would soon befall the young officer in an unlit coridoor. "Klingon!"

"Klingon!" The Captain repeated happily. "The debris is Klingon."

"The transponder code identifies it as one of ours." He agreed.

"And so it ends." Captain Wragg sneered. "No honour in your death, Kromm. Now all that will remain is the legacy of a thief and a coward."

"Sir?" A warrior rubbed his massive bony brow ridges curiously.

"What is it?" The Captain spun to the rear, angry at having the moment of his victory interrupted.

"There must be a glitch in our internal systems." The Warrior shook his head as if his brain needed winding up to work properly. "I'm getting a warning that two of our shuttles are missing."

"Energy wave echoes?" Haldo sneered to the Doctor. "When the chips are down who comes up with the ideas that really matter?"

"Let's see if it works first!" Jones grumbled, his eyes fixed on the console as the fleet remained motionless before them.

"At least you were right about one thing!" Captain Girling smiled with some relief. "They didn't detect us."

"We slid right through their deflector shields and they never had any idea we were there!" Haldo laughed at his own inventiveness. "My ship is incredible!"

"I designed it…" Doctor Jones reminded him. "It's really my ship!"

"You're both wrong!" Blake told them firmly as if separating a pair of arguing children.

"According to their Comm traffic they've noticed that the shuttles are missing but don't know what to make of it. It looks like they believe the explosion was the ship they're after but I don't think it's going to fool them for long." Katherine announced with a relieved smile. "It looks like we bought them some time anyway."

"The last thing they're going to assume is that we beamed them off through their shields and took one out to get blown up by one of their charges." Haldo grinned to himself.

"We'll see." Goruss Clogg failed to share his optimistic appraisal. "Perhaps we should have detonated the shuttlecraft with sufficient firepower to vaporise it so that they would not have been able to closely examine the wreckage."

"I guess we'll know for next time!" Blake cut him off with a scowl.

"I will maintain a casual weapons lock on the lead vessel and keep our shields at maximum power for now." Clogg replied.

"I've clamped down the second shuttle in our bay." Girling told the chief engineer. "You had better be right about this."

"The power cells are usable." Haldo assured him with a dismissive wave of his hand. "They'll give us enough power to finish off our work here."

"Unless our work finishes us off first." Clogg noted as if he thought that atmosphere on the bridge needed to be just a little darker.

"Are you still trailing the Bird of Prey?" Blake asked.

"I am!" Doctor Jones replied, casting a smirk sideways to Haldo. "I've sent the co-ordinates to the navigational computer."

"I have them." Blake nodded as the Corinthian banked away from the fleet after the small ship.

"This doesn't make sense." Captain Kromm said thoughtfully.

"Maybe they were scouting the area with shuttles and accidentally blew up one of their own!" Garragg suggested with a shrug.

"Then why have they stopped firing charges?" He wondered.

"Maybe it would be wiser to simply consider ourselves fortunate and make a run for it?" The First officer raised a massive hairy eyebrow.

"Wise council." The Captain nodded. "I take it the course is plotted?"

"We're ready to get the hell out of here as soon as you give the word!" Garragg assured him.

"Warp five…" He told them. "Engage."

"They've gone to warp." Doctor Jones announced. "I'm still tracking."

The viewer lit up with a white flash as the Corinthian automatically accelerated to beyond the speed of light to match the vessels course and trajectory.

"How long until we are out of sensor range of the Klingons?" Captain Girling sat down in his command chair at the centre of the bridge.

"They usually can't see anything they can hit with two metres of rusty steel." Haldo commented dryly.

"Seventy five minutes at this speed and we'll be safely out of detection range." Clogg replied slightly more helpfully.

"I want to get that ship out of warp without causing any lasting damage." Blake told his security officer. "We may have friends aboard that ship but equally we may have a bunch of blood crazed Klingon Warriors who want to mount our skulls on their two metres of rusty steel."

"If it's a Bird of Prey we could try an ionic pulse." Clogg sighed thoughtfully. "It could reset the cloaking matrix, it might make them think something has gone wrong. It's an old trick but it usually works."

"We're tracking them!" Haldo argued. "We can extrapolate their exact outline and since they're cloaked they'll be running without shields. We could easily knock out their engines."

"We're at warp, we can't use phasers!" Clogg told him.

"Thank you!" Haldo said sarcastically. "I did complete the first year academy course of basic warp physics."

"A torpedo?" Blake suggested. "Can we measure it accurately enough to force them out of warp?"

"I can load a warhead to discharge an ion burst." Clogg offered. "It would temporarily collapse the warp field, it may even cause the cloaks to fail."

"Once they're secure from warp I want a phaser firing solution that will make sure they stay that way for no longer than two minutes." Blake told him, encouraged by the plan so far.

"I don't understand." Haldo shrugged.

"We all might have to leave in a hurry if the fleet does catch up with us and at warp 9 they'll be here in a lot less than seventy five minutes." He began. "We can always do more damage later." Blake added with a grin.

"A phaser strike to the rear fusion reactor couplings will do it." Goruss Clogg suggested. "They will be able to re-route power to balance the warp drive but it will take them some time."

"That would have the benefit of keeping their weapons offline too." Blake nodded happily.

"Let them shoot at us!" Haldo sniffed. "See where that will get them."

"Have you got something against Klingons?" Girling smiled uneasily.

"Nothing particular." Haldo shrugged. "No more than against anyone else."

"I don't think he likes anybody…" Doctor Jones added.

"I see that as more their problem than mine!" Haldo agreed with a smirk. "I don't actually dislike anybody here." He cast a glance at the Doctor. "Well… with obvious exceptions."

"I don't believe this!" Captain Wragg smashed his hand down onto the side of his chair. The console beneath his palm flickered from the impact and stuttered dubiously back to life.

"Run the scans again!" First officer Garrn yelled at the warriors around the Korr'Grall bridge, issuing orders to nobody in particular.

"There is no way that that amount of residual material could have come from the missing ship!" An officer reported sheepishly.

"It's our damn shuttle!" Captain Wragg roared from his command chair.

"How could it get out there?" Plarg raised his palms upward in wonder. "It makes no sense."

"I want a report from our security chief about that." Wragg growled while his chest heaved in his broiling rage. "In fact, have him shot!"

"Yes Sir…" Plarg agreed enthusiastically as he drew his disrupter. "I shall take care of it personally."

"Get the scanner ships to begin hunting for a warp trail!" He ordered. "I want that ship found. The fate of the Empire could depend on it."

"Still no sign of pursuit." Commander Garragg stood at the front of the bridge watching the reverse angle in the main viewer. "Nothing behind us but out troubles."

"They lie ahead." Captain Kromm laughed but his humour had a dark edge to it.

"Don't I know it." Commander Garragg nodded to himself knowingly. "What lies ahead makes a Klingon fleet look appealing."

"As far as they're concerned I have stolen the first of a new era of Klingon technology." He huffed to himself. "What they'd have done to us if they'd managed to catch us is anything but appealing."

"At least if they'd killed us we'd have stayed dead." Garragg turned to face his Captain. "We'll be outside the detection grid by a very wide margin by now. We can increase to a higher warp factor if you'd like."

"I'd like to keep the ship low for now." Captain Kromm sighed to himself. "She hasn't even settled in to herself yet."

"She doesn't need to." Garraggs eyes narrowed and a look of confidence set in over his features. "I oversaw the laying of every hull plate, every structural support pylon, every beam and girder. This ship can take any punishment you want to throw at her."

"Oh I know." Captain Kromm smirked. "I designed this craft, she's going to make the Bird of Prey look like a piece of farming machinery."

"Sir!" An officer called out from the front of the bridge in alarm. "Incoming torpedo…"

A brilliant blue flash exploded out from the torpedo as it drew in close to the Klingon ship. The blast erupted out with surprisingly little explosive yield. The energy washed over the ships hull, arcing with brilliant blue power as the cloaking shields collapsed and the ship shimmered back into view.

"The cloak is dropping and the warp field is dissipating nicely." Goruss Clogg reported happily. "No serious damage to the vessel is detected."

"That is no Bird of Prey…" Doctor Jones announced as he squinted at his console. "I don't recognise it, I'm running it through the recognition tables."

"I'm targeting the fusion reactor connection lines." Blake told his chief security officer. "Make sure this does just enough damage to keep them here for a while, nothing more."

"I'm as certain as I can be, Sir." Goruss Clogg assured him as the computer system locked on. "But this isn't a Bird of Prey as we suspected although I'm sure I've locked on correctly."

"You'd better be!" Blake told him dryly as the beam automatically blasted out of the nose cannon into the slender external piping of the Klingon ship. The viewer showed a close view of the ship as the phaser beam cut through the plasma feed tubes.

"Perfect shot!" Clogg smiled in relief, his shiny skin wrinkling around his lipless mouth. "And the phaser energy was low enough that I was able to keep the ship cloaked while we fired."

"Hail them…" Captain Girling ordered to Ensign Rogers.

"They're hailing us!" Commander Garragg turned slowly towards his Captain.

"Who the hell are they?" Captain Kromm slammed his balled fist down onto the side of his chair. "They can disable us while cloaked before we even know they're out there."

"It can't be Klingons." Garragg shook his head. "This is the cutting edge of ship design and we can't fire while cloaked!"

"I suppose we better talk to them!" Captain Kromm grumbled hatefully.

"It could be them…" Garraggs eyes widened suddenly as he unconsciously began to edge towards the weapons console.

"They wouldn't be hailing us." Captain Kromm shook his head dismissively. "They'd have probably destroyed us." He glowered at the blank viewer as damage reports flicked up on the monitors around the bridge.

"On screen…" He instructed and waited for the channel to open.

"This is Captain Blake Girling!" He spoke to the Klingon captain as the image of the bridge appeared on the viewer.

"Starfleet?" Captain Kromm stood up and roared in surprise.

"Not quite…" Haldo muttered to himself from the back of the bridge.

"Starfleet intelligence." Blake nodded. "We just need to have a little talk with you."

"You could have hailed us!" Kromm sneered at him.

"Seeing as how you've inspired a fleet of Klingon ships to track and destroy you we thought it might be safer to make sure you're not about to fire on us before we hailed you." Blake explained. "I'm sure you can see my point."

"This is a Klingon matter…" Kromm growled through gritted teeth.

"We're all friends now!" Blake smiled back. "And I have a proposition that might get both of us what we want…"

"I have little choice but to hear you out…" Kromm acceeded angrily.

"I guess not." Blake nodded in agreement. "I will beam over with a couple of members of my crew and you can explain to me what's going on."

"And if I refuse?" Kromm goaded, knowing already this position was weak in the extreme.

"I'm still cloaked, you have nothing to lock your weapons onto." Blake laughed. "That's if you had weapons. I guess if you refuse I could just hand you over to the Klingon authorities."

"What makes you think you'll be able to leave my ship alive?" Kromm knotted his fingers together and cracked his knuckles loudly while grinning with open hostility.

"Call it a lucky guess." Blake grinned back as the viewer snapped off suddenly.

He turned to the rear of the bridge and took a deep breath. The large officer from the front helm control stood up in silence and placed a phaser pistol at his side.

"Arm yourself, Goruss." Blake told him. "You're with me."

The three Starfleet officers materialised instantly in a shimmering haze of blue light on the Klingon ship's bridge.

"Welcome to the Kra'lee." Commander Garragg turned in surprise to the three and spoke with obvious venom while his brow wrinkled curiously, wondering how they had managed to so easily defeat their ship.

"Captain Kromm?" Blake reached out his hand to greet the Klingon. Kromm looked at his outstretched palm as if it were a decomposing fish.

"Girling…" He replied with an angry sneer. "You fired on my ship. Explain yourself."

"You've upset the Klingon high command." Blake shrugged. "They were hunting you, I'd like to know why…"

"How is this Federation business?" Garragg stepped forwards and snorted angrily as he stepped forward menacingly. "You're light years outside your space. This is a Klingon matter."

"You stole this ship?" Goruss Clogg asked as he glanced around the unusually modern bridge. Instruments were laid out logically and with intelligent thought behind them. The architecture was more functional than most with the bridge forming a devided pressure sphere with heavy girders supporting its structure, unlike typical Klingon engineering.

"She is my ship!" Captain Kromm clenched his teeth angrily. "And my business is my own."

"Well then maybe I should turn you back over to the Klingons?" Blake suggested as his face took on a more serious expression. "They're going to find us, we don't have time to play games."

"Games?" Garragg snarled, his temper soaring inside him and only barely under his control.

"What do you know about Captain Reader?" Blake asked the question to the Captain.

"Reader?" Kromm's eyes narrowed defensively. "What do you know about Reader?"

"We're looking for him." Clogg told the Klingons.

"So are we…" Kromm stepped back, glowing suspiciously at the Starfleet officers.

"Then we definitely have something to talk about!" Blake smiled.

The officers sat around a briefing table at the rear of the Klingon bridge. The lighting was subdued and the table had a large raised section with holographic projectors set in the middle.

"What is this ship?" Clogg asked as he took his seat opposite the imposing first officer and watched him like an adversary from whom he expected an imminent attack.

"The Kra'lee is my ship." Captain Kromm replied more calmly than before although his voice was still laced with aggression and suspicion. "She is a new design, the first of her kind but not the last."

"One day she will replace the Bird of Prey as the backbone of our fleet." Garragg added proudly.

"What do you know about Reader?" Blake asked, leaning forwards to the Captain.

"I know him." Kromm told him flatly. "His ship was destroyed and he was lost!"

"You know about that?" Clogg rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"Until my recent actions I spoke with the authority of the council." Kromm smirked. "I fear those days are now over."

"Ok!" Blake sat back in his chair with a heavy sigh. "We could glare at each other all day and that won't get us anywhere so I'll tell you what we know and we can take it from there!"

Kromm nodded simply and waited for him to continue.

"Captain Reader was investigating a new alien species who we believe destroyed his ship, The Olympus." He began solemnly. "We don't know much about them, they appeared in our space a few weeks ago and destroyed a scout ship. When we investigated they tried to capture my ship by stealing my access codes and then they left without firing on us. Captain Reader followed up on them and that was the last we heard of him."

"He has been captured then?" Kromm shook his head angrily.

"We hope so." Clogg agreed.

"You should hope not." Garragg growled with sudden rage. "A quick death would have been better for him and his crew."

"How very Klingon." Clogg smiled to himself.

"We hope to find him alive." Blake frowned. "You know more about them?"

Garragg looked to his commanding officer, obviously wanting to say more. Kromm nodded reservedly.

"We call them the Necronians." Garragg told them. "The Klingon high command encountered them in deep space two years ago."

"Two years?" Blake asked thoughtfully.

"A Bird of Prey met them." Kromm told him. "It was scouting deep outside of our space."

"What happened?" Blake asked cautiously, sensing the news might not be good.

"They were dying when they arrived back!" Garragg told them. "The ship was damaged and had returned on automatic as it was set to do."

"The crew died soon after." Kromm continued. "Their organs ceased to function but their bodies did not."

"I don't understand!" Clogg shook his head.

The door slid open spilling brilliant white light into the gloomy holding cell. One of the aliens dragged in Lieutenant Hopkins and flung him in. He stumbled and fell into the wall, crumpling to the floor with a weak groan. Captain Reader stared for a moment, not knowing what to make of the situation. He shook his head to clear his jumbled thoughts and watched as the macabre creature backed away, staring at the captured bridge crew. The door slid shut automatically behind it as it stepped out.

"Darren?" Ensign Chanet called out as she stumbled towards her fallen comrade.

"No!" He cried out from the corner where he'd collapsed, his voice cracking and thin. "Don't touch me."

"Leave him." Captain Reader called out as he stepped closer to his officer. The crew stepped back to watch as the young lieutenant fumbled about blindly trying to sit himself down. His uniform was tattered as if there had been a violent struggle and it was badly stained with a thick yellow liquid. His face was glistening with sweat and more of the slimy residue and he stared out with unseeing eyes.

Captain Reader knelt down beside him. "What happened, Lieutenant?" He asked softly. "What did they do to you?"

"I don't know." He gasped. He turned to the sound of his Captains voice. "Just don't touch me. It's some kind of infection I think."

"Tell me what you know!" Reader told him softly. "In your own time..."

"There was a tank." He frowned as he strained to speak through the pain. "It was full of this yellow liquid, the stuff was everywhere, along the corridor, up the walls. They dragged me to this tank, they look even worse in the bright light."

"What do they look like?" He asked, his voice low and nervous.

"They're dead." The lieutenant clutched his hand onto his chest as he spoke. "They all look dead. Their skin is decomposing on their faces, they're eyes are opaque and they smell rotten. They don't breathe as they move and they're all dressed in shredded rags."

"Aliens can look very different from us." The Captain began.

"They're dead." He snapped, gasping his words through laboured breaths. "I know dead when I see it. There were members of our crew there too. Their uniforms were torn and they didn't look as rotten as some of the others but they were dead and still walking around with the rest."

"Perhaps they just took our uniforms." Reader suggested as a sense of dread began to take hold of him.

"I'm dead too." The lieutenant winced as a jolt of pain surged through his chest. "I can feel it taking hold of me."

"You'll be ok." The Captain said redundantly, nothing else coming to his mind as he watched the young man that he'd never really taken the time to get to know.

"So let me get this straight!" Blake rubbed his temples in exasperation. "The Klingon warriors that encountered these aliens came back as animated corpses?"

"Yellow liquid ran out of them." Garragg continued his story. "Some who encountered the liquid ended up like them."

"They were all destroyed." Kromm told them solemnly. "We incinerated their remains."

"So there is nothing left to study?" Clogg asked disappointedly.

"We studied them as best we could." Kromm scratched his head, obviously the matter caused him grave concerns. "The liquid itself had a complex internal bio-electrical signal pattern."

"Perhaps an intelligence?" Cloggs brow raised in sudden interest.

"More to the point, these aliens have the crew of the Olympus and the Resilient?" Blake breathed out heavily. "We have to find them!"

"We don't know where they come from." Kromm told him. "They were encountered by accident."

"Why didn't anyone tell the Federation?" Blake asked, his annoyance obvious by his tone as he intended it should be.

"It was considered a Klingon matter." Kromm shrugged. "Our hands were tied whether I agreed with the decision or not."

"Did the high council send a fleet after them?" Clogg asked, hoping for more information.

"No!" Garragg slammed his fist down angrily.

"Then what did they do?" Blake asked, sensing that they were reaching the point.

"Nothing." Kromm told him evenly.

"A decision was made to do nothing to provoke them." Garragg sneered. "It was decided that we were not equipped to fight this kind of enemy."

"That doesn't sound very Klingon." Blake noted.

"It isn't." Kromm agreed heartily. "I had some standing in the council so I took steps of my own."

"This ship?" Clogg guessed.

"This ship was the beginning." Kromm nodded. "It will be the pattern for the next generation of warships to strengthen our defences."

"Captain Kromm also instigated an upgrade program." Garragg added, clearly proud of his superior officer. "A new border defence fleet with four new warships, all with upgraded weapons and power."

"Ironically my new measures proved a little too good during our escape." Kromm smirked. "We only just made it."

"Just so you know, I mean to rescue the Olympus crew." Blake told them finally.

"As do I!" Kromm agreed. "Which is why I was forced to take the action I have."

Lieutenant Hopkins sat in silence as his breathing became increasingly laboured. His chest rose and fell beneath his uniform erratically and gulping in huge gasps of air between the painful surges that coursed through his body as the yellow liquid slowly took hold of him.

"It's an infection of some kind." The Commander guessed. "It's eating him alive from the inside."

"Is there anything we can do for him?" Captain Reader asked, for the moment the situation had allowed him to ignore his fatigue and focus his attention.

"Not without a sick-bay." She shook her head. "I only wish there was."

"Do you think it's possible?" Reader huffed and shook his head. "Is it possible that this ship is somehow crewed by animated corpses?"

"Anything is possible!" She frowned. "The key is the yellow liquid. I'd need time to investigate it more thoroughly before I could guess at what is going on here."

"You're an expert in xeno-biology and in first contact situations." The Captain told her angrily. "Make a guess on what we've seen so far."

She glowered at him in annoyance, her long background in science was not well served by resorting to unsubstantiated guesswork.

"The Lieutenant's body is already beginning to excrete the liquid." She sighed. "I believe that there may be an infectious agent that is able to feed off of a humanoid body and leave it in such a dilapidated state that it would appear to be a corpse."

"So we could all be infected already?" Reader stepped back involuntarily as realisation hit him.

"I doubt it." She shook her head. "They seem to require direct physical contact or else why take the Lieutenant to the tanks containing the liquid?"

"So we have time?" He frowned deeply. "The question is how much!"

Blake stood up suddenly as if he had received a sudden shock.

"Haldo to away team!" His Comm badge chirped.

"The Klingons have found us!" Blake warned as his hand reached for the badge.

"Long range scans have shown the fleet is heading this way." Haldo told him over the channel. "You had better beam back."

"On our way…" Blake told him. "Keep the cloaking device online."

"How long?" Kromm turned to his first officer who jumped up from his chair and began working the sensors.

"I don't see them!" Garragg sneered at the Starfleet officers.

"They're coming." Blake insisted. "My ship has unusually potent detection equipment."

"It can also fire when cloaked I notice." Kromm told him with his eyes fixed on the Captain. "I suspect our escape may have been made with your assistance."

"Where do we go from here?" Blake shrugged.

"We intend to find your Captain Reader." Kromm assured him as he hoisted his massive frame from his chair at the head of the table.

"Me too." Blake nodded with a smile. "It seems both of our chances may have just doubled."

"It does indeed." Kromms lips traced upwards in the merest suggestion of a smile.

"I'm detecting the fleet!" Garragg stood up in surprise. "They'll be here in about nine minutes."

"Do you want our help again?" Blake raised his left eyebrow.

"They're close." Garragg whispered under his breath as the tactical viewer displayed the image of the Klingon fleet as they closed on the small cloaked vessel. Ahead of the old decommissioned vessels that had been refitted as surveillance ships were the fleet's heavy guns, powerful ships bristling with weapons. At the head was the huge M'upwi'Noh class ship. A modified Vor'cha with additional weapons, armour and an extra pair of nacelles mounted atop of the gleaming hull.

"They won't see us." Captain Kromm rubbed his beard thoughtfully as he spoke but he didn't feel any measure of the confidence he was trying to purvey to his crew.

"And if they do?" The first officer shuddered at the thought, there was little honour in a death such as that and their reward would be for history to record them as thieves and traitors to the Empire that they all loved so deeply.

"This is a new ship!" Kromm grinned wickedly. "This is not just a refitted, out of date Bird of prey with bigger guns. This is a ship that will one day be the backbone of our fleet, I shouldn't need to remind you of that."

"Your rhetoric will not deflect a barrage of disruptor fire." Garragg told him.

"Did it ever occur to you to ask how I met Captain Reader?" Kromm's smile vanished instantly and his expression took on a stony severity. "What must it take to for a Klingon to consider a Human a close friend?"

"You are my Captain." Garragg told him, turning back to the tactical display as the fleet edged towards them. "It is not my place to question you until it is my place to kill you and take your place."

"That is not something I fear." Kromm smiled at his old friend.

Garragg smiled back weakly, his attention still drawn to monitoring the hunter pack as they stalked them. "So how did you meet him?"

"Captain Reader was responsible for a special Starfleet project some years ago." Kromm explained.

"Starfleet are weak!" Garragg sneered.

"Starfleet are idealists but they are far from weak!" The Captain shrugged. "It is an arrogance of our race that we mock every other attitude than our own."

"So what was their project?" Garragg folded his arms over his massive chest.

"They were afraid of another attack from the Borg." Kromm explained with a knowing smile. "While you were overseeing the development and construction of the hull I designed I was working with Captain Reader on new ways to strengthen our technology."

"He helped you to build this ship?" Garragg unconsciously unfolded his arms as he asked in surprise.

"Quantum torpedoes!" Kromm said softly as if counting out a bribe to a grasping hand. "Trans-spacial shielding, Ablative generators, pulsed energy weapons, isolinear computers for faster targeting..."

"They gave you that?" Garragg raised an eyebrow thoughtfully.

"They helped me to develop it for myself." Kromm corrected. "You can be told the sum of two numbers and keep that knowledge forever but if you can be shown how to work it out for yourself then you can know the sum of any numbers."

"So that is how this new ship comes to be armed with these weapons?" Garragg nodded with a wry smile as the idea fell into line with his model of the universe. "I see…"

"This was no secret!" Kromm told him, keeping a watchful eye on the tactical viewer. "The Empire selected me to liase with Captain Reader for the project. It was not publicised but was recognised by our governments, a joint project to strengthen out part of the galaxy against whatever threats lie out there…"

"It all makes sense!" Garragg shook his head and laughed.

"We can't go on like this forever." Kromm told him sadly. "We can't go on guarding our little portion of space with ancient technology while new races like the Federation expand with new ideas faster than we ever thought possible… and do so without firing a single shot."

"So you decided to innovate?" Garragg suggested.

"Don't you think that it's about time?" Kromm smirked.

"And now our future depends on one Starfleet vessel and the word of its Captain." Garragg crossed his arms over his chest.

"I think we can trust him." Kromm nodded in agreement. "His suggestion shows he is a man of honour."

"He is a man of honour if he is true to his word." His first officer reminded him.

"If not then our deaths will be swift and glorious."

Lieutenant Hopkins gasped wearily, the effort of breathing was growing steadily harder with every lungful of air. The pain was spreading, his muscles were on fire throughout his body and they ached to move. His joints burnt dully on his arms and legs and his eyes throbbed in his skull with a blinding pain.

"How are you feeling?" Captain Reader knelt down beside the young officer.

"Not… Good." He croaked wearily, the voice of a man who was clinging to the edge of a cliff by his fingertips and running increasingly short of strength.

"You're doing well." Reader lied. He gazed into his dull, lifeless eyes. The colour had gone as if a gigantic cataract had grown over them in a matter of hours. His skin was pale and haggard, and was shrinking onto his bones all round his face and his mouth lolled open as the sickly yellow liquid began tracing from the corners of his lips. "If this is an infection you may be able to fight it."

"My brain!" He explained even though the effort of speaking brought a fresh agony. "I can't think…" He felt trapped in his mind, as if his body had been turned against him and forced him to cower in the recesses of his consciousness where the evil fingers of the yellow fluid could not easily claw their way to. The touch of it seared his mind, flooded his thoughts with pain as it felt its way around his body, claiming it for itself as it consumed him from within.

The Captain shook his head helplessly, unable to think of anything comforting to say while his officer withered away before his eyes.

"I have a sister…" The young man gasped, glancing about for a familiar face with his blinded eyes.

"Go on…" The Captain told him, his voice soft and low.

"If you make it…" The lieutenant groaned as the muscles in his throat burnt with a searing pain like he could have never imagined. "… If you make it home, could you tell her I love her?"

"I will." The Captain agreed, seeing no more point in offering the young man any false hope that he might one day tell her himself.

"…Honour…" The Lieutenant swallowed, he felt as if the liquid was making its final assault on his body. His throat was full of it, choking him, drowning him with its sickening grasp. His mind burnt now, the little part of him that he scurried into while the alien thing had devoured his body was now beginning to unravel. He knew it was into his brain, his head was filled with a strangely euphoric gnawing sensation as if a plague of locusts were devouring his thoughts, fighting over each scrap of him. His heart was thumping weakly in his chest with an erratic beat and he knew the blood would carry it to his brain, the seat of himself. His thoughts seemed to drift off into nowhere as his synapses fell prey to the thing stalking his body. The light blur that had permeated his senses seemed to be darkening and the pain that was everywhere seemed somehow more distant. "…Serving with you…" He croaked thinly, his voice barely audible. The pain seemed distant as if happening to someone else and he was just watching as the world around him grew darker and darker.

Captain Reader stood up and sighed heavily as the body of his lieutenant stopped moving, his chest ceased and his jaw lolled open.

"He's dead." The Commander said redundantly.

"That's your plan?" Haldo smirked as if he believed that this was all some kind of joke.

"Do you have a better one?" Blake took his seat at the heart of the Corinthian's bridge.

"I'm sure we could come up with one a little better!" Doctor Jones cast a troubled eye at Haldo, deeply concerned that the plan was basically a thinly veiled suicide attempt.

"Look!" Blake stood up and turned to the rear. "We have about six minutes left before the fleet arrives which means they know where Kromm is and how to trace him. Not only do we have to keep him alive but we have to make sure they're not looking for him any more."

"We could probably mask their warp trail!" Haldo suggested with a shrug.

"No!" Blake said firmly. "We need the Kra'lee to trust us, we need a grand gesture!"

"I'm not really sure you've thought this through!" Doctor Jones added. "I've been looking over the weapons those ships are equipped with. They could tear us apart!"

"Are we a match for the Korr'Grall?" Blake folded his arms over his chest.

"Barely!" Haldo admitted. "And that would only be assuming there wasn't an entire fleet of insane psychotic murderous Klingons looking for someone to kill… which there are!"

"With our cloaks up we can't run our shields at full power." Doctor Jones protested. "We won't be able to fully protect ourselves."

Captain Girling hung his head for a second in quiet contemplation, wondering if he was right after all. Doubts began to cloud his judgement.

"He is the Captain!" Ensign Rogers stepped up beside him.

"The plan is sound!" Goruss Clogg added from the security console. "I've been over the figures, it should work perfectly well and will doubtlessly earn us the respect of Kromm."

Blake looked at the faces around the bridge. Haldo shrugged and scratched his head. "Well if we're going to do this then I'd better check the shield emitters, I'll run a quick diagnostic."

"I guess nobody cares what I think." Jones glanced around as if he suddenly thought he was surrounded by idiots.

"You're right!" Haldo smirked. "Suddenly I like this plan!"

Katherine put her hand on Blakes shoulder and smiled supportively. "You know what this ship can do better than anyone." She told him.

"I hope you're right!" He nodded with a smile.

Captain Wragg glowered at his tactical viewer as the projection of where Kromm's ship might be was displayed ahead of him. "Time?" He called out, his focus fixed on thoughts of what he would do when he found the turncoat.

"Two minutes." The helm officer reported.

"Prepare to drop out of warp and slow to one half impulse." He instructed. "Lock weapons on target and charge phasers."

"Sir!" Helmsman Plarg sat back in his seat in surprise as his instruments flashed up the situation before him. "I don't understand…"

"What is it?" Captain Wragg leapt from his seat towards the front of his bridge.

"Sir!" He turned to his Captain. "The Kra'lee has uncloaked… It's heading for us with charged weapons and full shields."

Captain Wragg glanced up as the tactical viewer flashed up the image of the small cruiser heading at them. His lips curled up into a smile, a cruel expression as his mind filled with images of battle and glory.

"So you're still a Klingon, Kromm! This is a better end for you!" Wragg muttered to himself happily. He sat back in his chair and clasped his fingers around the arms where the main control systems were at his exclusive command. "Drop out of Warp!" He barked. "Shields to full, arm torpedoes, lock weapons!"

Garragg sat at his chair at the front of his bridge. He huffed loudly and gazed at the viewer. "I hope you know what you're doing!" He grumbled.

"Here's where we find out!" Kromm shrugged to himself as the image of the Korr'Grall loomed large before them. "Are weapons charged?"

"Charged and untested!" Garragg assured him. "Do you realise we've never even fired the pulse disrupters before. We don't even know if they'll work!"

"They'll work!" Kromm spoke with more hope than confidence.

"We'll be within firing range in a few seconds." Garragg told him solemnly. I've shunted reserve power to the forward shields."

"Multiple target locks on the most heavily armed ships!" Kromm ordered. "And let‘s hope the Corinthian is as good as Captain Girling's word!"

"Weapons lock established." An officer reported. Captain Wragg barely noticed where the voice came from , only the words mattered. The outline of the vessel in the tactical screen went from yellow to red with a flash.

"Photons…full spread." He ordered. "Lock disrupters."

The forward pod on the Korr'Grall lit up with a brilliant flash as s beam of furious green energy lashed out towards the small scout ship. The beam tore into the forward deflector shields, lashing out at the little ship. The first of the torpedoes careened towards the scout and exploded violently.

"Shields down to 80 percent!" Garragg warned. "Their disruptors are still locking onto us."

"Did we take any damage from that torpedo?" Kromm worked on his central controls as he barked over the sound of warning klaxons.

"No!" Garragg grinned. "It didn't damage our shield grid at all!"

"So far so good!" Kromm smirked back. "Return fire!"

A stuttering blast of green pulses of disrupter energy blasted over the hull of the Korr'Grall as the Kra'lee banked to starboard and manoeuvred away from the forward disrupter beam. Each pulse blasted up a flash of energy as they licked over the huge vessels shields. A pair of torpedoes tracked the craft as it made a desperate run through the sensor ships of the hunter fleet. The torpedoes exploded brilliantly behind the ship, blasting out with furious energy directed at her weakening shields.

The Kra'lee banked hard and made a dash at the fleet leader behind a cascading blast of pulsating disrupter energy. The scout ship flew along the length of the massive border patrol vessel, lashing out with everything she could muster. As it flew over the nose the mighty ship caught her on the tail with a beam from her forward cannon and a spread of torpedoes. Each erupted with a blaze of power at her rear and suddenly she erupted, exploded into a vast tearing expanse of energy.

"Yes!" Captain Wragg smashed his palm down onto the arm of his chair in triumph.

"Target destroyed…" The Commander reported as fragments careened over the viewer.

"He fought well." Wragg nodded happily. "A true Klingon until the end."

The bridge crew watched in silence as the glowing embers and twisted shards of metal as they tumbled through space away from the blast.

"Well that worked!" Haldo yelled as a shower of sparks exploded from the ceiling behind him. The bridge was bathed in red light and the emergency warnings winked silently around.

"We're alive aren't we?" Blake scowled at him.

"We're hurt but not as badly as I feared!" Haldo admitted. "I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is one tough little ship!"

"Little?" Clogg grumbled in annoyance. "This is the biggest ship in Starfleet!"

"Maybe we can find a better way to prove it then standing between a Klingon disruptor cannon and its target next time." Jones grumbled as he console flashed on and off before him.

"It definitely worked this time!" Goruss Clogg glowered at the little scientist. "The second shuttle took the brunt of a pair of our photon torpedoes, they had no idea it wasn't Kromm's ship that got hit, it happened too fast for their sensors!"

"We learn by doing!" Haldo nodded happily as the Corinthian began to repair itself.

"How is Kromm's ship?" Blake asked as he turned from the holographic viewer and the image of the massive and threatening Korr'Grall beyond.

"It's ok." Haldo shrugged. "She took a few disrupter blasts but we were able to target each of the torpedoes just before they hit her so she didn't take a lot of damage and we rode the last disrupter beam ourselves."

"Our cloaks are stable?" Katherine asked, noticing the damage to the ship and still aware of the fleet outside who would destroy them without a second thought.

"They seem to be!" Haldo agreed." Us and the Kra'lee are still invisible to them."

Captain Kromm watched as the fleet moved away at low warp on its way back to the Klingon borders. "It worked." He sniffed.

"We owe our lives to the Federation?" Garragg grumbled. "I don't believe it!"

"We're alive." Kromm shrugged. "And they won't be looking for us again!"

"So now we can begin our search for Captain Reader?" Garragg sighed heavily.

"We can indeed." Kromm nodded. "And one day we will return to the Empire with the glory that is our birthright and more importantly a full tactical review of our enemy!"

"You think they'll be back?" Garragg turned to his commanding officer and trusted friend.

"I think we can count on it."

Captain Blake Girling watched as Kromm and his new ship departed to search deeper in the Beta quadrant where the Bird of Prey had first encountered the Necronians while he would head in a different direction to widen their search.

"So now there's three of us!" Haldo rocked back and forth on his heels as the viewer followed the Klingon ship.

"Three?" Jones shrugged.

"Well I still count the Wanderer as one of us!" Haldo sneered back. "Now we have three ships searching for the Olympus crew."

"As soon as we meet up and we refuel I'll replicate and fit some upgraded sensors for them." Blake suggested.

"You mean I will…" Haldo sighed knowingly.

"Same thing…" Blake smirked.

"Well I'm just glad it all worked out." Katherine said.

"Yes." Haldo agreed. "Sometimes I amaze even myself.

"Me… Not so much." Blake smiled sarcastically at his engineer.

"So what now?" Katherine shrugged. "We're no closer to finding Captain Reader and have no good leads to follow."

"We'll find them." Blake assured her as he gazed out into the darkness of uncharted space. "We'll find them!"

"Gather round!" Captain Reader called out with authority, ignoring his fatigue. His crew huddled around him, gazing up to his eyes, waiting for him to say something, anything that might raise their spirits.

"We're getting out of here!" He announced as if revealing something already based on fact. "We're not waiting around until this happens to all of us!" He glanced back to the body of Lieutenant Darren Hopkins as it began to twitch.

"I want suggestions in two hours." He growled angrily. "We're leaving!"


Last modified: 09 Nov 2020