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Star Trek Renegade - 1.11 The Races 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?

1.11 The Races

"We're closing on the Doranian vessel." Haldo Compz narrowed his eyes as the distant image of the squat little craft appeared on the viewer. A bulbous yellow ship with odd markings and strangely curvy lines along the middle to control the warp field. Two small nacelles poked proudly from her sides and an awkward impulse engine that was way too large was bolted uneasily to the top.

"Velocity?" Captain Girling rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he watched the craft before him.

"Warp 8.4 and holding." Clogg reported. "It's been holding that pace for over twenty seven hours now."

"I told you." Doctor Jones reminded them from his science station. "That is no ordinary commercial vessel, even this ship would have trouble pacing her for too much longer."

"Time to intercept?" Blake asked, his attention fixed on the image while his mind mulled what lie ahead for them.

"Four hours." Haldo estimated from his readings. "We could increase our Warp factor but I wouldn't advise it just yet, we don't want to tip our hand."

"They'd just run faster to match us if they detected us." Clogg shook his head in agreement. "They seem to be just as fast as we are."

"It certainly looks that way." Blake agreed. "Let's stay at our current speed for now so that they don't notice our rate of approach."

"So we have four hours to kill?" Haldo looked up in interest. "It's been a long few days. I'd like to run a diagnostic on the engineering systems as we go, they're taken a hell of a beating what with the Transwarp and everything."

"I'm not detecting any problems!" Blake frowned. "Other than the particle build-up."

"Me neither, and the purge is coming along nicely." Haldo nodded. "It's just a precaution but bearing in mind that if there are any problems they tend to be my fault I'd like to deal with them ahead of time."

"Considering what's up ahead I'd like to run simulations on the weapons and shields." Clogg shrugged. "It never hurts to be prepared."

"Agreed." Blake nodded at the pair. "I'd rather keep you busy than thinking up new ways to violate the chain of command and annoy me!"

He stood up from the centre chair and took a deep breath as he allowed himself a last glance at the ship on the viewer. A small vessel streaking through space before them, with abilities way in excess of its design. "Doctor Jones," He began. "Could you continue your analysis of the sub-space signal we intercepted?"

"Certainly." He agreed happily. "I'm as intrigued as you are, it should take me a few hours to work it all out."

"Katherine." Blake turned to her as he spoke. "Could you join me in my ready-room?"

"You want to work on this report?" She sighed wearily.

"It'll certainly be complicated." He nodded, obviously lacking in motivation as much as she was. "I could use the help."

"Complicated isn't the word." Haldo chimed in.

"It's a good job we won't have to deliver it to Star Fleet until we manage to get back in contact with them." Clogg added knowingly. "That would give us time to work out a way to make ourselves look good or rescue the crew of the Olympus and become heroes that they wouldn't dare lock up."

"It worked for Kirk!" Doctor Jones smiled.

"They wouldn't be happy." Haldo smirked. "A Starfleet vessel getting involved with covering up the murder of an officer and entering into other illegal activities within Federation space."

"Tell me about it!" Blake grumbled as he headed to his ready room. "Warn me if anything happens."

"You can count on me." Haldo called out ironically after him as he began his analysis of the systems.

The ready-room door slid shut behind them with a sigh. Blake gestured in silence to the chair opposite his over his desk and fell heavily into his own. They remained in silence for a few seconds while they both contemplated the somewhat daunting task before them.

"How do we do this?" Katherine said finally with a shrug.

"Brutally honestly?" Blake suggested flatly. "I think we should just tell the story from the beginning and explain the facts as we remember them, obviously omitting certain details."

"When we do finally give this report to Starfleet how do you think they'll react?" She rubbed her forehead as she spoke.

"Badly!" He smiled weakly and without humour. "I expect they'll take it very badly."

"So where do we start?" She drew out a Padd with the data recorded on it. "We could begin with the fact that we were heading to the co-ordinates in the hope of catching the Necrodian vessel in a few weeks."

"That was in our last report." He reminded her with a shake of his head.

"The distress signal?" She raised an eyebrow.

Blake nodded in agreement. "I guess so. It's as good a place to start as anywhere else."

The Corinthian was travelling at a relatively leisurely pace of barely Warp 7 towards the outer border of the Alpha quadrant under cloak.

"According to my calculations we could have made this journey in about 6.4 seconds if we'd engaged the Transwarp drive." Haldo pointed out as he lounged at his terminal with his hands knotted lazily behind his back.

"There's no rush!" Captain Girling reminded him. "The Kra'Lee can't arrive for another 9 days and it will take at least that long for Captain Graves to find the Furies and get them here."

"If he can find them!" Doctor Jones added with a snigger of amusement.

"Something tells me that they'll find him." Blake smiled. "He's under instructions not to fire on them so they're programming should prevent them from attacking him, no matter how much I'm sure they'd like to."

"Perhaps we should all be fitted with that programming." Haldo suggested. "I tell you; there have been times…"

"With many more to come, I imagine." Katherine grinned.

"It just seems a waste of time to rely on simple Warp drive when we could have got to the co-ordinates a lot faster and began probing ahead with our long range scanners." Haldo sighed, deeply frustrated at having nothing important to do.

"We don't know exactly where they'll be dropping out of Warp, we only have a computer extrapolation." Blake reminded him. "This way we have a better chance to respond if they arrive early and surprise us."

"And what if they do?" Jones looked up. "You can't intend to fight them alone."

"Captain Picard stood alone against a Borg cube while it headed for Earth." Blake turned to the rear of the bridge with an expression of optimism that was far in excess of what he actually felt. "Not only did he slow them down while they assembled the fleet but in the end his ship incapacitated the cube alone!"

"How would you know?" Haldo grumbled disparagingly. "You were dead by then."

"I'm feeling much better now!" Blake scowled at him.

"We can't risk calling for help from Starfleet in case Section 31 intercepts our communication. We're alone all the time that Captain Reader and his crew are trapped aboard that ship." Katherine said thoughtfully. "We're not much of a match for them on our own."

"If the Necrodian ship turns up suddenly and makes a course for Earth then Section 31 would be just as keen as us to stop it." Blake shrugged. "We can deal with the Starfleet renegades afterwards, our priority is to stop a hostile alien attack."

"Aren't we Starfleet renegades?" Haldo asked in a way intended solely to cause annoyance.

"Only officially." Blake smiled knowingly. "Once we release Captain Reader we'll be back amongst the fold."

"If he's alive." Doctor Jones said darkly, his brow furrowed thoughtfully.

"I was just thinking that we don't have a morale officer…" Haldo nudged the errant scientist playfully. "Any idea who would make a good one?"

"It's a good job we aren't looking for a village idiot." Blake grumbled under his breath. "The competition would just be too fierce aboard this ship, it could start a mutiny."

"Captain!" Ensign Rogers said suddenly.

"I see it." Girling sat up as the Corinthian computer fed the information into his brain. He could see the message played out directly through his thoughts as if it had originated in his own mind. "What is it?" He asked curiously. The other sat forwards intently, listening in interest.

"A message." She frowned thoughtfully. "Automated and very weak."

"Maybe I can boost the signal?" Haldo began working without waiting for authorisation to do so. "It's a distress call!"

"You're certain?" Blake stood up and turned to his engineer.

"As far as I can be." Haldo shrugged. "The carrier wave is very weak."

"I have the vessel on sensors." Clogg offered as he set the controls to send the image to the main viewer and waited for instructions to do so. The image suddenly appeared large before them in accordance with the captain's thoughts.

"It's an Allek light cruiser." Jones announced. "Atmosphere and warp capable, normal crew complement is four but it can be operated by a single officer."

"Are they a Federation world?" Katherine asked. "I don't recognise the name."

"They have been for about two decades." Doctor Jones read from his terminal. "They have very advanced propulsion designs and their entry to the Federation expanded the border. They have contributed to Starfleet shuttle design and their work allowed the Type 9 shuttle to set the new small-vessel speed record."

"Why do you ask?" Blake frowned.

"The signal is not a Federation standard type." She explained. "It's more like a short range warning than a cry for help."

"I'm detecting another vessel heading away from the Allek cruiser." Haldo said in surprise. "Who would ignore a distress signal in this quadrant?"

"Not us, I'm afraid." Blake sighed as the ship automatically changed course.

"We're answering the distress call?" Haldo leant forward across his console and adopted a disapproving scowl.

"We're have to." Blake told him firmly. "Both by the most basic Federation guidelines and our moral obligations."

"You do realise it could be a trap." Haldo grumbled, folding his arms over his bony chest. "Not even a very original trap."

"I realise that." Blake agreed pensively. "We're still going."

"Might I suggest that under the circumstances we raise our shields and project a full tactical detection grid in case of other cloaked vessels in the area?" Clogg set in the parameters of his plan to the main computer to be activated at the Captains discretion.

"The ship heading away is a Federation design." Doctor Jones raised a quizzical eyebrow.

"This is still Federation space!" Haldo reminded him.

"It's heavily modified and a very old civilian design." Jones explained. "It has large atmospheric stabilisers but the energy coming off the impulse drive suggests it wouldn't need them at all."

"So it's been modified?" Haldo shrugged. "The Wanderer should never have been in service but we patched her up more times than I can remember. A lot of private merchants have to make do with what they can get."

"I remember it well." Katherine sighed and dropped the Padd listlessly to the ready-room desk.

"I'm not sure we should even mention the other vessel…" Blake scratched his head to remove an imaginary itch.

"You wanted to be honest." She reminded him with a friendly smile. "Nobody will hear the report for some time, by then this will all have settled down, or the Federation will have better things to worry about."

"I guess so." He agreed. although still harbouring significant doubts abut the entire incident.

He slid his fingers cautiously over the cold metal plate as he edged forward along the narrow tunnel. The lighting was sparse and the air was thin and sour. The temperature was so low that the cold was almost tangible, like a thing with a solid form you could touch or feel. His lungs burnt as he inhaled the foul, frosty environment and burnt twice as hard as he breathed it out sending a curl of white vapour from his aching lips.

"Are you alright back there?" He whispered. His jaw was tired from the shivering that had already permeated his entire body as made his way along the path.

"I'm ok, Captain." Ensign Collins replied, her voice shrill and weak as she spoke.

"Me too." Crewman Gradlow gasped. He had never meant to be on the ship's bridge, he was assigned to engineering. It was just his luck that he had been sent to the command deck at exactly the wrong moment that had set off the chain of events that led him to find himself where now he did.

"How much further?" The young Ensign asked, her voice weak from the exertion.

Captain Reader wanted so much to tell them both some good news but the light ahead was still just a dot and even though his eyes had adjusted to the poor light he couldn't make out the service hatch in the far distance. "It can't be much further." He settled for a response that at least held no deceit. He had never felt closer to his crew than now during their lengthy incarceration aboard the alien vessel and wanted to be as straight forward and honest as possible.

"Our guest is faltering." The Crewman ventured at the humanoid following them as well as he could.

"I'm alright." Varpo assured them. "I'm just a merchant, I'm not as fit or well prepared for this kind of thing as you are."

"You're doing splendidly." Captain Reader called back to the alien they had met on their investigation of the vessel. Some time before they had discovered that the magnetic door seals ceased to function properly for ten seconds every four hours when the power systems were switched over. That had given them a four hour long window ever day to explore the ship before they could return to their cell undetected. Their third foray was their boldest and would hopefully prove the most significant.

"Tell me more about Earth!" Varpo gasped, his muscles aflame with the incredible effort of keeping up the pace and charged with the determination of a man fighting for his very life.

"I don't come from Earth." Crewman Androv Gradlow began to distract himself from his pain. "I come from a planet called Terros 6."

"You look alike." Varpo shrugged. "What's your home like?"

"I hated it." Androv smiled. "It was a tired world and boring to grow up there. I felt constrained by the lack of originality and hated the routine and the way they stuck to the old rituals instead of pushing themselves harder. I couldn't wait to join Starfleet, it wasn't just a way out, it was alike a revelation when I heard of them."

"And now?" Captain Reader called back knowingly.

"Now, Sir it seems like the most beautiful place in the entire Galaxy and I would give up my limbs to be back there." He smiled weakly.

"What about your home?" Ensign Collins asked the green little man whose skin was scaly and dry and whose black eyes luminesced eerily in the dim metal tunnel.

"I have no home." He growled angrily his reply. "Not since they came."

"You know much about them?" She persisted wearily.

"I know more than I wanted." He shrugged. "I know I'll do anything to get off this ship before I end up like one of them."

"We don't know how they take over the host!" Captain Reader reminded him. "And we have no weapons to either defend or release ourselves if we are infected."

"I need no weapon." Varpo assured him, his voice laced with determination. "I watched my wife whither before me and then return in death as one of them. I will chew through my own wrists and bleed myself to death before I allow myself to become as they."

The young Ensign flinched visibly at the notion.

"I'm afraid I have to agree with you on that one." Androv scowled to himself.

"How's it going?" Haldo craned over Doctor Jones terminal while the scientist worked.

"Don't you have work to do?" Jones grumbled back.

"I am working." He grinned to himself. "My diagnostic programmes are chewing over the data and my engineering team are quite capable of handling both the reactors and the core."

"Do you have to bother me?" Jones snapped at him before suddenly realising his mistake and regretting his words.

"Am I bothering you then?" Haldo grinned more widely. "And I'm not even trying this time!"

"I'm just busy trying to decode this signal!" The little scientist ran his hand over his head thoughtfully.

"Tricky is it?" Haldo goaded.

"Probably not!" He admitted. "It's just that the code seems to be tied up with a whole load of other information and the signal was very degraded. I have to get at the message and filter out the background noise."

"If you need my help…" Haldo nodded arrogantly to himself, relishing ever moment of annoyance he was causing.

"Drink?" Blake suggested, standing up as a cup of coffee instantly appeared in the replicator alcove.

"Any old distraction…" She goaded with a knowing smirk. "Tea please. Herbal number 1701." Her beverage materialised as soon as she'd finished speaking next to his. Blake took the two identical mugs and placed them on the middle of the desk before perching himself on the edge with a heavy sigh.

Katherine picked up the Padd with an almost apologetic expression. "Where were we?" She began.

"Have you got a registration on the Federation vessel?" Blake peered at the viewer although both ships were still beyond visual range.

"No." Haldo frowned. "It's not registered at all. No electronic markings of any kind."

"Hail them." Captain Girling instructed thoughtfully.

"They've vanished!" Doctor Jones said in surprise. "They're totally gone!"

"They can't be!" Haldo Compz mocked him. "No ship that small has a cloaking device, you must be reading the equipment wrong."

"They're definitely gone!" Katherine agreed with a frown. "No reply on any sub-space frequency and no sign of the vessel anywhere."

"Did it go to Warp?" Blake shrugged. "Was it destroyed?"

"It was already at Warp!" Jones told him haughtily. "And there was no energy spike or graviton distortion so it didn't explode or cloak itself."

"How long until we rendezvous with the ship emitting the distress signal?" Blake frowned deeply, more interested in the vanishing ship but grimly aware of their priorities.

"Three hours at Warp 8." Clogg told him with consummate efficiency.

"I'm not detecting any other vessels close enough to detect the signal!" Katherine added.

"Retract nacelles." Blake instructed as his expression took on a stony severity. "Go to Transwarp and get us there now!"

His taste-buds lit up with the bitter tang as the hot, black, sugarless coffee paraded over his tongue. "And then we found the ship!" He said with a sigh.

"I know." Katherine agreed with a slight wince. "I have no idea how to write up that part of the report either."

"How's your herbal tea?" He smiled thinly back to her.

"Good." She grinned. "It's my favourite blend and so good that even the replicators can't mess it up. They came up with about 5 variations of it and there's meant to be an older one that just tasted disgusting when I tried it and I really don't see how it was meant to be the same flavour at all. To me this is the original and will always be the best."

There was a low grating sound as if the two pieces of metal had sealed together over the many years and were finally being pulled apart by slightly inadequate machinery. Then, with a sigh the hatchway wrenched itself open spilling in the light from the rows of lamps outside in the shaft and the acrid, stale air flooded in.

"How far is this climb?" Captain Reader groaned at the prospect of the seemingly infinite shaft before them that clawed up into the upper reaches of the alien ship.

"Not that far." Ensign Collins said without a note of optimism on her voice. "About ten decks is all."

"Time?" Crewman Gradlow asked with a sigh as he rested momentarily.

"We're alright for time." Reader told him. "We're making a good pace."

"We still have a long way to go." Varpo gasped, his breath weak and coming only with considerable effort.

"Are you alright?" The Captain turned to face him with a worried expression.

"I'd better be." Varpo smiled to himself. "If one of them finds me here they'll know where we're heading and figure out what we're up to and all this will have been for nothing."

"Do you really think they'd kill us all?" Androv scowled.

"If they saw us as a threat then yes, I believe they would." Varpo agreed grimly.

"I agree." Captain Reader said solemnly. "We've already established that there is only about three hundred of us left alive."

"That leaves almost two hundred members of the crew unaccounted for, allowing for those killed in the destruction of the Olympus." Ensign Collins shut her eyes as she recalled the friends she'd lost in the attack, some close enough that she had considered them her true family.

"I lost my home-world to them!" Varpo's breathing was becoming less laboured as his strength began to ebb back into his muscles.

"A whole world?" Androv shook his head sorrowfully. "I'm so sorry."

"Don't be!" He glowered, lost inside his anguished thoughts. "We get off this ship and we stop them."

"We will." Captain Reader agreed. "We will be going home, and then we'll protect ourselves from them."

"If I were you I'd leave my Starfleet principals behind when you leave." Varpo suggested earnestly. "These creatures understand only one thing, they've already shown you that."

Doctor Jones sat back with a wide grin on his face.

"Is your underwear too tight?" Haldo goaded with a wide grin.

"I don't wear any." The doctor waved his hand dismissively. Haldo's grin vanished instantly to be replaced with a look of confusion and disgust. "The reason I couldn't so easily manage to discern the message is because there isn't one."

"There's no message?" Haldo smirked at the ridiculousness of the suggestion.

"No!" Jones shook his head. "I mean there's three messages. Each one is very small and separate from the others, maybe only a few characters long."

"I see." Haldo nodded. "And it took you how long to figure that out?"

"It's complex…" Jones told him firmly. "It's embedded in a very complex signal on a very low carrier frequency."

"One that's so low only about a dozen ships in this quadrant would be capable of detecting it." Haldo agreed.

"Well that in itself suggests that there's a good chance that the message was aimed at us." He explained.

"I know that." Haldo sighed. "But there is so many things going on right now, who knows who the hell it's from?"

"We know one thing!" Clogg interjected.

"And what's that?" Haldo sneered at the security officer that he viewed as largely a trained animal, like a guard-dog tugging at a leash with a claw hovering pensively over a weapons discharge control panel.

"Whoever sent it knew what we're capable of and that we would be watching." He told the grumpy engineer.

Katherine pressed a couple of keys on the Padd to open the next section of their report. "So we found the ship?" She began thoughtfully.

"We exited the Transwarp with our cloaking shields still up." He said thoughtfully. "There would have been a surge of quantum frequencies from us but it's unlikely anything around would have been able to detect them."

"And there was still no sign of the vessel that had fled from the sight." She asked, confirming her memory.

"No…" He agreed. "Not yet…"

The Corinthian's cloaking device was extended to mask her arrival through the Transwarp channel.

"Full scan." Blake instructed as he peered at the viewer while they approached the vessel at full impulse.

"The Allek vessel has taken multiple impacts." Clogg warned. "There is no sign of main power still being operational aboard. There's one life sign, very weak."

"Weapons fire?" Blake asked as his interest was further aroused. "Phaser? Disruptor?"

"Rocks!" Haldo suggested. "The damage is consistent with asteroid impacts and there are a number of them in this region."

"No way!" Clogg sneered at the suggestion. "No small asteroid could penetrate a navigational shield and no computer would let a ship hit one by accident."

"There's no residual energy pattern." Doctor Jones told him. "The dispersal of the debris is consistent with a collision with several small solid objects."

"A graviton shear weapon?" Ensign Rogers shrugged.

"In Federation space?" Haldo shook his head. "I'm not detecting any shields on the Allek vessel."

"So they were damaged by an accidental collision?" Blake rubbed his chin. "Perhaps they had a computer failure that affected their navigation and shield systems?"

"Possible but unlikely." Haldo frowned.

"We're in transporter range now!" Clogg announced as the crippled vessel loomed large in the viewer. A sleek and slender grey hull with twin nacelles mounted on the tail and four atmospheric control veins jutting out evenly. One of the nacelles had been smashed open and was sparking with flames from the shattered power conduits and the hull had tears along the outer skin.

"Katherine…" Blake turned to his medical officer as he stepped up. "You're with me. We're beaming over."

"Sir?" Clogg stepped forward hopefully.

"I need you at tactical!" Girling told him. "I can't always monitor the ships systems if I'm distracted."

"Yes sir." Clogg agreed, clearly disappointed at the decision.

Suddenly both the Captain and Medical officer vanished in a flickering blue transporter beam.

The Allek vessel was a small commercial design. It had limited capacity for cargo and large accommodation for the crew. The bridge was at the top of the slender hull and was a spacious and well appointed for such a small vessel. They looked around quickly as Katherine snapped open her Tricorder and began a detection sweep.

"Over here." She called out, moving instantly to the fallen body of a humanoid male. She ran her equipment over him while the screen danced with lights and displays.

"Is he alive?" Blake frowned. The lighting aboard the vessel was low and grim, the emergency lights bathed the room in a sickly yellow glow and long, dark shadows clawed from the consoles along the opulently carpeted floor.

"Barely." She agreed. "He's breathing but in a deep coma."

"Cause?" He shrugged as he glanced around the eerily silent vessel.

"I can't see one!" She admitted with a puzzled expression. "No sign of trauma, energy shock, radiation, sedative or even a medical condition."

Blake's eyes narrowed defensively as he caught sight of something that attracted his attention. "Katherine!" He said softly, drawing a phaser reflexively as he began stalking to the rear of the bridge. She spun around and saw a dishevelled looking pair of feet poking out shyly from behind the instrument panel. She gasped and pointed her medical Tricorder probe at the fallen man. There were no readings that suggested life.

"Dead…" Blake sighed as he felt the man's neck. "He's cold too, this must have happened a while ago."

"I couldn't tell you how." Katherine stood up and shook her head. "There's been no problems with the life support on this ship and I can't find anything that would explain this."

"Is he stable?" Blake pointed to the first man they'd found as he returned his weapon to his belt.

"He's fine." She shrugged. "He's just utterly unconscious."

Blake frowned and shook his head. "Is it safe to beam them aboard?"

"I can't see any reason why not!" She agreed. "I can't detect any danger to us."

"I wonder if they detected it?" He said grimly. "I wonder if they saw this coming."

"I can't think of much I can do to help them unless we find out what happened to them…" She told him. "Stimulants aren't going to help him, his brain activity is too low."

"But he's breathing?" Blake asked.

"Every neural activity that goes beyond organic survival has ceased in his brain." She told him. "I've never seen anything like it."

"Ok…" Blake rubbed his hand over his head thoughtfully. "We'll beam back aboard and take them with us. You can continue your scans, Doctor Jones can analyse the ships logs and I'll take the Corinthian after the ship we detected leaving; they may know something."

"They may." She agreed. "Or they may have been affected by the same thing."

"Now there's a cheery thought." Blake sighed wearily.

"Still no movement on the Doranian vessel." Clogg looked up from his readings at the stubby orange vessel in the viewer. "No acceleration or drop in pace."

"We didn't expect there would be." Haldo acknowledged. "You have to take your hats off to them, that is one fast little ship!"

"The Corinthian is faster." Jones reminded him.

"The Corinthian is a cutting-edge development with virtually limitless resources put into its creation." Clogg shook his head at the naive scientist. "That is a privately owned vessel built on a planet that only discovered faster than light travel a hundred years ago."

"And spent the next ten years at war with their neighbouring world despite being genetically virtually identical." Jones added. "That can accelerate the development of technology pretty fast!"

"It must be making her last dash home." Haldo suggested. "She's can't hold this speed for long."

"I don't know." Clogg cocked his head to one side thoughtfully. "We followed her through the upper atmosphere of a gas giant, through a plasma storm and within 10 metres of the ground on a class M world, who knows what that ship is capable of."

"Do you think she can detect us?" Jones turned to the security chief.

"I doubt it." He shook his head. "We're cloaked and we're approaching them so slowly that we shouldn't be affecting their sub-space eddies. To their sensors it should just look like a slow increase of radiation in their exhaust plasma, even if their sensors are as good as ours."

"Their weapons are no match for ours?" Jones asked with a curiously raised eyebrow.

"From what we've seen of their weapons they are pretty close to our phaser channel output." Clogg smirked.

"What?" Jones cried out angrily, his pride severely dented.

"Although they have only a fraction of the power of our cannon." Clogg added with a grin.

A ship that had only 10 decks in total would be classified as rather small these days among the federation. Climbing up that far on a stark metal ladder when each metal rung was so cold it seemed to burn your unprotected flesh and the weariness from crawling through tunnels was still pervading though your aching muscles was quite another thing.

"How big would you guess this ship is?" Androv called out nervously, stopping to glance down the shaft which vanished into darkness many hundreds of metres beneath him.

"Big." Captain Reader told him. "Maybe as big as a the cap of a Starbase."

"I'd go along with that." Ensign Collins agreed. "I was assigned to engineering but I saw some of the readings as we first encountered it. Everyone seemed impressed."

"It's not theirs." Varpo told them. "When they came to my home it was in a fleet of ships, all different and they left in many of our own vessels."

"You don't think they built this?" Captain Reader called out, keen to keep them all talking, the better to ignore their exhaustion.

"I don't think so." Varpo agreed. "I'm not an engineer though. I just don't see these things building ships."

"The maintenance is incredibly poor." Crewman Gradlow added in agreement. "This ship could be quite old."

"So where did they come from?" Reader raised an eyebrow.

"We had heard of them before they came to our planet." Varpo told them. "They had visited several of our colonies and other places where we had trade agreements."

"What did you hear?" The Ensign regretted asking as soon as she had.

"The B'garias people had met them some years before." He began, his breath growing thinner. "They called them the Blood of the dark angel."

"Nice." Androv shuddered.

"They believe that the universe was created in the middle of a war between two creatures, one good and one evil." Varpo continued. "They believe that when the Angel of white light struck a blow to evil their race was created in the shadow of the falling demon but the consequence was that the blood of evil dripped into the universe and created these creatures wherever it fell so that the virtues would be in perfect balance."

"The yellow liquid?" Reader sighed. "I guess it could be construed that way from a certain perspective."

"You prefer a more scientific approach?" Varpo asked sarcastically.

"We do." The Captain agreed.

"And yet these creatures destroy anything they encounter with no purpose and devour flesh to turn the living into themselves." Varpo said. "They act without feeling or fear of consequence. They consume and destroy without compunction, by my measure they can only be the personification of evil."

"They didn't destroy the Corinthian!" Captain Reader told him.

"What is that?" Varpo asked with a huff as he hoisted himself along the ladder by an effort of pure will.

"A ship." Reader told him. "The first Federation vessel that encountered them and wasn't destroyed, in fact they may have tried to capture her which implies that they are capable of a high level of intelligent thought."

"If they feared it then it must have been a huge ship." Varpo smiled. "Maybe your Federation has a chance after all."

Reader frowned thoughtfully. "Actually it's a very small ship but rather special."

"Sir." Ensign Collins called out to her commanding officer. "I studied ancient mythology. Do you know what the name, "Corinthian" means?"

"Go on?" He asked.

"It means literally one is debauched or impure." She said thoughtfully. "But the Corinthian church was denounced by Peter for feasting while others starved."

They continued in silence towards the upper hatch.

"Are you hungry?" Blake asked, still perched on the edge of the desk.

"I'll eat if you are." Katherine shrugged. "Nothing too heavy though."

"Sandwich?" He suggested.

"Fine." She agreed with a nod as she reviewed the files on the Padd. "Just salad though, please; and brown bread."

"Ok." He agreed. "Are you watching your weight or something?"

Katherine glared at him in annoyance over her report and said nothing as he ordered the food from the replicator with his mind. "I just like to eat healthily!" She told him flatly.

"You've got nobody to impress here." He smiled as he passed her the plate to be met with a stern expression of hostility. "I mean you don't need to try…" He said hopefully.

Her fixed expression continued unabated. "Shall we just carry on?" She suggested dryly.

"Any sign of the other vessel?" Blake asked as he materialised on the bridge of the Corinthian.

"No residual trail." Haldo shook his head. "It's very strange, both the electro-magnetic footprint and the particle wake go only so far and then completely vanish."

"It is very strange!" Doctor Jones nodded. "But we have plotted the course she was following and can match it as you wish."

"What do you mean "we" did?" Haldo grumbled at him.

"Engage on the course." Blake cut him off before he would begin to really get annoying.

"We should arrive at the point where the ship vanished in three minutes." Clogg told the Captain. "I recommend we raise shields and charge weapons."

"Agreed." Blake nodded. "But don't lock the weapons onto a target until we know what we're looking at."

Katherine sat beside the unconscious man in the sickbay. He was young, barely thirty years old and slightly built. He had a mop of unruly light coloured hair and his blue eyes stared out glassily and unseeing from his face. She glanced over at the dead Human. He was older, maybe fifty years and had the look of a distinguished and intelligent man, even in death.

She held up the Tricorder and scanned for every possible thing she could imagine but still was at a loss to explain what had caused their condition.

"Girling to Rogers." Her Comm-badge chirped at her.

"Rogers here." She touched the badge and huffed her annoyance at the stubbornness of the mystery.

"Any news?" He asked over the channel.

"The ships scanners haven't shed any light on this." She told him disappointedly. "They're both Human but there's no DNA, physical or service record for either of them. No medical conditions, both men were quite healthy although the older has a slightly elevated blood oxygen level."

"No records of any kind?" Blake persisted.

"That's odd in itself." She agreed. "But far from illegal within the Federation, we assume the best of our members and citizens until proven otherwise."

"Keep me informed." He said with a sigh, obviously hoping that the ships advanced scientific equipment might have revealed more than a simple tricorder. "Blake out."

"I've made a quick review of the ships records." Doctor Jones began. "They're encrypted behind an advanced fractal algorithm, it's an incredibly sophisticated system, not at all what I would have expected."

Blake scowled at the suggestion. "Can you make anything from it?"

"Not unless I break the encryption." He shrugged. "I've gone over the engineering data, that's open and I think I can tell you what happened to the ship at least."

"You certainly have my attention!" Haldo turned and folded his arms over his chest.

"Thank you, Captain Compz!" Blake scowled sarcastically.

"The ship seems to have made a full stop for some reason." Jones explained. "She dropped shields and then just sat there while the asteroids drew in closer and she drifted out of control. It looks like main power went offline as a security measure when the nacelle was accidentally impacted and there was no response from the crew."

"So why did they stop?" Blake shrugged.

"Find the Federation ship and ask them!" Haldo suggested as the stars streaked towards them on the viewer.

"We're approaching the point where the vessel disappeared." Clogg told them.

"Secure from Warp." Blake ordered. "Impulse speed and full stop 2.5 kilometres from the point where they vanished."

"Full stop!" Clogg agreed.

"There's nothing there." Haldo frowned.

"No wreckage?" Blake sighed. "No warp or impulse trail?"

"There's nothing." Haldo rested his chin thoughtfully on his upturned palm.

"So we continue?" Doctor Jones asked nervously.

"No…" Haldo shook his head. "I mean there's nothing…"

"Explain?" Captain Girling turned to his cryptic engineer.

"There's no background radiation of any kind coming from the area I'm scanning." He said with a puzzled expression.

"There is nothing here." Clogg offered. "It's tactically insignificant, just a few unexplored planets with no life and little interest. There's not much that ever would happen around here."

"There's be something!" Haldo grunted.

"What do you suggest?" Blake asked with a shrug.

"A probe!" Haldo nodded. "We could launch one to the point where the ship vanished and then it could go further if it still detects nothing."

"Clogg." Blake nodded.

"Type 4 probe loaded." He said as the probe automatically blew from the launch tube. They watched as the remote information appeared in the centre of the viewer.

"It's gone!" Haldo cried out, jumping up from his seat.

"Telemetry has completely ceased from the probe." Jones shuddered. "It's vanished."

"It's disappeared off my sensors too." Clogg agreed.

"Ok…" Blake dug his balled fists into his sides. "I guess we go in!"

"In?" Jones shook his head. "You have to be joking."

"A probe is one thing, this ship is quite another." He told him firmly. "We have a corpse and a man in a coma in our infirmary and a ship ahead of us that might be in severe trouble, it looks as thought our choices are limited!"

"Course laid in!" Clogg told the Captain hesitantly.

"Engage, thrusters only." He instructed. "Let's take this nice and slow."

The Corinthian edged forward gingerly towards the point in space where the little Federation vessel had disappeared.

"One metre!" Haldo warned.

"Let's go!" Blake breathed heavily.

The viewer flashed brilliantly for a fraction of a second.

"Oh my god!" Haldo gasped.

"Oh my god!" Blake smirked. "That's what Starfleet will say when they read this."

"Quite possibly." Katherine agreed with a sigh. "Isn't this the part where it all gets rather complicated?"

"It's been complicated from the moment I woke up in a glass tube after being dead for ten years." He said wearily.

"And getting more so every day we're out here." She reminded him as she took a bite of her tasteless sandwich.

The metal door slammed to the ground heavily sending a trail of dust blowing up from the floor and a metallic echo bouncing off the exposed walls far into the distance.

"We made it." Captain Reader smiled broadly, using the last of his strength to pull himself from the service duct before the others. He clambered out, peering into the dim hall with narrow crawl-ways and corridors leading off in every direction. He wished he had a phaser but would have happily settled for a metal bar in his hand with which to fend off the frightening aliens.

Ensign Collins gasped as she rolled from the hatchway, her chest heaving for air. "The worst is over, right?" She spat the words out haltingly.

"Depends if we get seen doing this!" He told her with a raised eyebrow and a reassuring smile that fell short of his intentions.

Varpo climbed out next and crawled away from the hatch wearily, his body aching, his muscled on fire. "What now?" He managed to ask through halting breaths.

"Now we have to get past their vats." Reader told him, his voice lowered in respect for the difficulties ahead of them. We believe they have a gantry that runs over the whole area and we should be able to make it over without being seen."

"It will be noisy in there." Ensign Collins agreed. "It would be best if we ran and hoped for the best."

"Ran?" Androv cried out in disbelief.

"It's about 500 metres to the gantry." Captain Reader told him. "You have a few minutes to recover."

"I'll need them!" He sighed, collapsing on the floor.

"We all will." The Captain assured him.

"We're making good time." The Ensign told them as she hefted herself to sit up. "We've estimated that it should take less than an hour but we have over eighty minutes left."

"Glad to hear it." Varpo smirked.

"Listen up!" The Captain began. "I don't need to remind any of you what's up ahead?"

"No sir." Ensign Collins shook her head.

"That gantry is less than two metres wide and has no safety rail." He reminded them anyway. "If you fall off of it you have a fall of nearly one hundred metres and will either land on a metal floor or in a vat of the yellow liquid."

"The Dark Angels blood!" Varpo corrected.

"The noise should cover our dash across!" The young Ensign added hopefully.

"Is there machinery down there?" Androv shrugged.

"No." Varpo shook his head solemnly.

"Then what?" He shook his head curiously.

"The screams of the captured people as the blood steals their flesh." Varpo told him flatly with a note of weary resignation. Androv's eyes widened fearfully as the thoughts curled their way into his mind and buried themselves in the darkest recesses of his imagination. "Not all of us go with the quiet courage your people have shown, most of us curse these animals back to the hell they come from with the last of our breath."

Captain Blake Girling stepped onto the bridge of his ship. "Report?" He asked.

"The engineering diagnostic is coming along nicely." Haldo shrugged. "Nothing to report, the ship is running perfectly under my watchful eye."

"I thought she might be." He smiled back.

"Tactical systems are at ten percent over rated efficiency projections." Clogg added. "The weapons and targeting systems are at peak efficiency and the shields are running perfectly."

"And this signal we detected?" Blake turned to the Doctor.

"I'm getting there." He smiled back awkwardly. "It's actually three messages in one, each very short."

"Any idea who it came from?" Blake asked hopefully.

"Not yet." Jones admitted.

"Them?" Girling gestured to the Doranian ship in the viewer ahead of them.

Doctor Jones shook his head. "I don't think so."

"Keep me posted!" Blake told him. "And let me know if anything happens out there."

"Yes sir!" Clogg replied.

Blake stepped back into his ready room to where Katherine was waiting for him.

"I've collated all the medical data into the report." She told him as the door slid shut behind the Captain. "Not that there's a lot of it."

"Shall we carry on?" He sighed, virtually falling into his chair behind the deck.

"Ok." She nodded with a smile.

"What the hell is going on?" Blake shook his head in puzzlement and turned to his staff for opinions.

"I'm working on that!" Haldo told him as his fingers danced over his controls.

"At least we're alive." Jones breathed a sigh of relief.

"For now!" Blake agreed.

"I'm detecting at least 17 vessels close to us." Clogg began from the tactical station. "Many are at high warp and there is weapons fire around the region."

"Weapons fire?" Blake frowned.
"Very heavy." Clogg nodded. "Military grade, some as powerful as you'd find on a Klingon battleship."

"Have we walked into some kind of war?" Haldo shrugged.

"The first question I want answered is why we couldn't see it." Blake aimed the question at his engineer.

"Sensors won't detect anything from where we've come, even our own path in." Haldo explained. "Whatever it is that we crossed is double-blind, we can't see out and out you can't see in."

"Are you suggesting that somebody has cloaked an entire region of Federation space to have a private war in?" Blake shook his head.

"Stranger things have happened!" Haldo sighed. "Take last week…"

"Ok…" Blake raised his palm to stop him. "What can you tell me about the ships out there?"

"Various small vessels." Jones began. "Mostly commercial, heavily upgraded types with incredibly powerful shields and weapons for their size."

"Any sign of that ship?" Blake turned to Haldo again.

"Well…" Haldo began haltingly. "I think so."

"You think?" Blake asked angrily. "You have the most sophisticated computer in Starfleet and you can't be sure?"

"Alright I'm sure." Haldo grinned inappropriately. "The only problem is that it's on the other side of a solar system that's about five light years from here."

"What?" Blake sneered. "Look again!"

"That's where it is!" He told him. "And it's travelling away from us in excess of Warp 9.5 away from Federation space."

"It couldn't have crossed that kind of distance in this time, not even at that Warp factor." Jones frowned at the readings that while illogical appeared to be correct.

"How long at warp 8?" Blake frowned at his engineer.

"Several weeks" He replied. "We can jump to Transwarp and get there a lot sooner."

"No detection system is pointing in our direction." Clogg told him. "Our cloak does appear to be holding."

"Let's go to Transwarp!" Blake acceded.

The small commercial Federation type vessel was an ageing design. It had a central pod that contained the cockpit and the engineering system and two large cargo pods jutting from either side. At the rear were two small nacelles and massive atmospheric stabiliser wings that doubled as a subspace antenna array.

The vessel loomed in the Corinthian's viewer as the ship emerged from her Transwarp travel.

"Transwarp drive is stable." Haldo reported as the nacelles swung back into their normal position.

"There's a large build-up of tachyon particles in the nacelles." Jones frowned. "I wouldn't recommend any more Transwarp for a few hours until it disperses."

"Hopefully we won't need to." Blake noted as he watched the small ship.

"How is that little thing capable of what we've seen her do?" Haldo said, mirroring the thoughts of the others. "She looks like she was assembled by a team of monkeys in a hurry to get home."

"Well this one looks like it was assembled by the same monkeys who left to go home half way through." Clogg grinned in accordance with his assessment.

"Now, now." Haldo waved an accusing finger at the security officer as he slapped Doctor Jones on the back. "This is one of those monkeys right here, let's not insult him!"

"Scan the ship!" Blake ordered, his attention fixed by the mysterious vessel.

"We're being hailed!" Clogg looked up, startled by the new information.

"We're cloaked!" Blake exclaimed. "How can they be hailing us?"

"Good question!" Haldo agreed.

"On screen!" Blake turned to the viewer grudgingly.

"Goruss Clogg to Captain Girling." The intercom chirped.

"Girling!" He acknowledged, pressing his badge.

"We've detected something on long range sensors." Clogg began.

"On my way!" He replied, hoisting himself eagerly from the chair.

"Just when it was getting interesting!" Katherine smiled uneasily. "Almost at the part where we cover up a murder and prepare to attack an unarmed civilian ship!"

"All in a day's work!" He grimaced as he left to enter the bridge.

"We've detected a vessel up ahead!" Clogg told the Captain. "A large ship, stationary. A Doranian design."

"So they are on a final run for home." Haldo nodded to himself.

"It's a big ship." Clogg sighed. "700 metres in overall length."

"Any tactical data?" Blake asked hopefully.

"Too far away." Haldo shook his head. "It registers as being a Tr'a'bokk class cruiser with no military affiliation but all things considered we should approach with caution."

"At least two hours until we're within weapons range." Clogg told them. "The vessel we're pursuing is not attempting to increase its speed but we have detected another vessel behind us, almost definitely another Doranian ship although the design is either not on record or so heavily modified that even the auto-recognition can't make sense of it."

"It gets better and better!" Blake sighed. "I assume our cloaking device is holding?"

"So far!" Haldo agreed. "But Transwarp is still not recommended. The build up of tachyons is so heavy that it would block the creation of an energy field of any type."

"Understood." He nodded. "For now, just keep a watch on all three vessels."

"You really should have designed an automatic purge system into the ship!" Haldo said conversationally towards the Doctor.

"Well at that point we still didn't know how Transwarp would work." Jones shrugged. "Perhaps now that we finally do you could integrate it into the engineering systems?"

"Do your job for you, you mean?" Haldo grinned widely, his lips drawing back almost aggressively over his blunt teeth.

"The Corinthian is a prototype, under constant development." Jones told him with an innocent smile. "I'll be happy to design it for you if you're more comfortable sitting back and watching diagnostic programmes."

"I've already set the upgrades in motion." Blake sighed wearily. "The ship recognised her shortcomings and took steps to fix them."

"I designed that system!" Jones smirked at the Engineer.

"I've had enough of this!" Blake turned to the squabbling officers with a stern expression. "I have to go and work out a report to Starfleet in which I have to explain my involvement in a murder but I'd rather do that than stay here and listen to you!"

"Problems?" Katherine asked, sensing the tension as Blake stepped in from the bridge.

"Like I need any more!" He exclaimed wearily. "They're out there fighting like children."

"I see." She nodded knowingly. "Maybe you need to exert a little more authority over them?"

"It's difficult." He rubbed his forehead in exasperation as he perched himself on the edge of the desk. "They're not Starfleet officers, I can't just order them and expect them to comply without question."

"Clogg you can." She shrugged. "You allow him a very wide latitude, I've noticed."

"He's a good officer." Blake nodded. "Perhaps a little enthusiastic with the firing controls but otherwise I have no complaints about him whatsoever!"

"And me?" She smiled provocatively. "I don't think I ever remember you giving me a direct order."

"I've never had to." He smiled back.

"Well there still has to be a chain of command on this ship." She suggested, leaning back in her chair and dropping the padd to her thigh. "Perhaps it shouldn't just be represented by the amount of gold dots on your collar?"

"What do you mean?" He frowned, suspecting that she was about to say something utterly profound that while annoying him deeply would be virtually impossible to refute.

"If you don't mind me saying so," She began as if she really didn't care whether he minded or not. "You are a young officer and act as though you believe that the uniform demands the utmost respect; which it would aboard a Starfleet ship."

"This is a Starfleet ship!" Blake replied stubbornly.

"It's not an entirely Starfleet crew." She shrugged. "You need to let them all know you're the boss and that's simply the way it is."

"And you?" He grumbled weakly.

"Well I am a Starfleet officer." She told him with a twinkle in her eye. "I like the way things are for me on this ship, I don't think I'd like to go back to working under a proper Captain!"

Blake's eyes narrowed slightly as he puzzled over whether she was joking or not but he thought the most diplomatic thing to do would be to accept her advice and work on finding some way to assert his authority. "Let's get on with this report, shall we?"

"The incoming hail is on audio only." Haldo said solemnly but deeply intrigued. "It's definitely coming from the ship."

"On speakers…" Blake frowned angrily, irritated that his tactical advantage had vanished.

"Hello!" A voice cheerfully called out around the bridge speakers.

"This is Captain Blake Girling…" He began haltingly.

"We know." The voice told him flatly. "The Corinthian, we've been watching you for a while."

"Then you have us at a disadvantage!" Haldo grumbled.

"Us?" The voice mocked. "Our decrepit little ship has the most interesting Starfleet vessel around at a disadvantage?"

"Who are you?" Blake insisted.

"It wouldn't matter if I told you." The voice told him with a sound in the background of someone sniggering to themselves. "You don't know who we are."

"Then it won't matter then if you explain, will it?" Clogg growled as the console he was staffing reviewed the shields of the vessel.

"We have reason to believe that you could be at risk from an infection of some kind." Blake told them. "The crew aboard a vessel we both encountered was incapacitated and we have not yet established how."

"Incapacitated?" The voice replied with humour. "You had better mean dead or I'm going to be very disappointed."

"You had something to do with this?" Blake scowled.

"I killed him, if that's what you mean." The voice replied. "The other guy just got in the way."

"After this admission, you do realise I will have to arrest you?" Blake dug his fists into his sides angrily.

"That would be a neat trick!" The voice began to laugh openly at the suggestion.

"I will send a boarding party to arrest you!" Blake told them flatly.

"No!" The voice snapped. "I'll come aboard your ship. I'd love to see her."

"We're going to arrest you." Clogg huffed indignantly.

"No you're not." The voice laughed dismissively. "We'll beam aboard your bridge, transmit the co-ordinates."

Blake turned to his officers with a puzzled expression.

"Interesting…" Haldo shrugged. "They're confident."

"They can afford to be, they can travel beyond the limits of warp velocity." Clogg sighed. "Who knows what else they're capable of…"

"They know what we're capable of…" Blake sniffed. "And they still don't seem to feel we're a threat."

"So what do we do?" Clogg waited for instructions.

"We invite them aboard." Blake shrugged. "I guess we hear what they have to say."

"There it is." Captain Reader gazed in awe of the tiny platform before them. Two metres wide and plated haphazardly with bare metal panels. Sections varied in colour after being replaced over many years and there were occasional gaps where panels were entirely missing.

"This is the only way?" Androv shook his head.

"It is!" Varpo agreed with a solemn nod. "That platform leads to the final leg of our journey. After this, we're home free."

"Is everyone ready?" The Captain took a deep breath and marshalled his thoughts at the daunting task before him.

"Yes sir." The young Ensign nodded and swallowed hard fearfully as her eyes took in the narrow platform and long drop to the deck beneath them.

"Varpo?" The Captain turned to their alien guide.

"I'm ready!" He smiled. "There's no challenge that will stop me!"

Reader breathed out heavily and prepared himself for the long dash over the unprotected gantry. "Let's go." He muttered. He stepped out onto the plating, feeling the panels shift slightly beneath his foot.

His heart pounding in his chest a certain grisly death beneath him he lunged forward and began to run.

"Everything is stable!" Blake raised an eyebrow thoughtfully.

"Stable!" Katherine nodded with a wry smirk. "A seven hundred metre cruiser is right ahead of us with at least twenty small vessels docked with it and at least two ships travelling along with us."

"Heavily armed ships." Blake corrected with a smile.

"You have an odd idea of stable." She smiled back.

"It's stable for us." He said. "We seem to have stabilised at a point where things can't get any worse."

"If serving aboard the Corinthian has taught me anything it's that things can always get worse." She told him without a shred of sarcasm.

"Shall we get on with this report?" Blake picked up the Padd dejectedly.

Three people materialised on the bridge of the Corinthian in a shimmering translucent light. At the head was a tall man with a shaved head and piercing eyes. Behind him were two shorter Humans, both with dark hair and all were casually dressed in dark clothing.

"It's bigger than it looks from the outside!" The tall Human noted nonchalantly as he glanced around the bridge seeming more disappointed than impressed.

"And you are?" Blake asked, his expression stern.

"You can call me Quill." The man replied with a light-hearted smile. "You must be Blake."

"Captain Girling!" Blake sneered angrily.

"Then I'm Captain Quill!" The man smirked and reached out his hand to greet the Starfleet officer. "It's a pleasure, I've heard a lot about you, mostly from monitoring your signals but you're never more honest than when you think nobody's looking."

"I have to ask what you did to the crew of the Allek vessel." Blake ignored his outstretched hand.

"Nothing really." He shrugged. "At least not in the way you mean."

"His past just caught up with him…" One of the others commented as he stepped over to the engineering consoles with interest. "You can call me Cole, by the way."

"We call him something else." The last of the trio noted casually. "It's not a compliment."

"Perhaps we should call you that at your trial?" Clogg suggested dryly.

"There won't be a trial." Quill smirked, waving his hand. "You have no evidence and no grounds to arrest us."

"Except your confession." Blake reminded them.

"Under Federation law a citizen can't condemn himself without being made aware of the legal consequences." Quill smiled knowingly.

"I promise you…." The last of the three stepped forward with a bizarre grin carved across his face, "I'm aware of virtually nothing!"

"This is true!" Quill agreed wearily. "He still thinks it's the 1960s and he wasn't even alive then."

"I notice you have the same QSM drive that we do." Cole perched himself on the edge of the engineering console and smiled to Haldo disarmingly. "We have always had problems with the long range sensor resolution before a jump, how do you do it?"

"QSM drive?" Haldo sat up suddenly. "What the hell is that?"

"Whatever you call it…" Cole shrugged. "Your faster than Warp drive?"

"Transwarp?" Jones asked excitedly. "You have the same drive system? You know exactly how it works?"

"We do now." Quill muttered with a frown. "You'd be surprised how many things we hit before we'd figured it all out though."

"We obviously all have a lot of questions." Blake raised his eyebrow curiously.

"You have a lot of questions." Quill smiled. "We have places to be and things to do. We can't stay long, unfortunately."

"You've come aboard a Starfleet vessel admitting a murder." Blake frowned angrily at the visitors. "You can't just expect to leave at will. You have a lot of explaining to do."

"Well your Transwarp drive is down." Quill explained. "Ours is functioning perfectly as far as we know. How are you going to catch us?"

"I have rotated our shield frequencies to prevent transporter operation." Clogg told him. "You're stuck here."

"I told you they'd try to do that." Cole laughed at their efforts.

"I can lock a tractor beam onto their targeting scanners to prevent beaming." Haldo suggested.

"Ok…"Quill sighed wearily at his friend. "You win, I really thought they'd try to fire on us first to disable our ship."

"And I thought the other thing…" The last of the three men said proudly.

"It's probably best if I don't tell you what he thought." Quill sighed towards the Captain. "Over the years his grip on reality has become a little frayed around the edges."

"It's very sad…" Cole added. "There was once a time when he was considered one of the foremost idiots of our time, now he's a sad shadow of his former self."

"These are serious charges." Blake persisted.

"Whatever…" He shrugged his reply. "We have a job for you."

"You're not in the position to make demands…" Blake frowned curiously, wondering what was coming next.

"Oh you'll want to do this." Cole told him from the engineering console.

"Do you actually know any of what is going on here?" Quill asked.

"It's rare for this crew to know anything about what's going on, even aboard our own ship." Haldo shook his head wearily. "Why should now be any different?"

"So you weren't actually investigating this?" Quill asked with a grin. "You just stumbled onto this by accident?"

"I told you so…" Cole smirked happily. "This ship is right in the heart of a synchronicity maelstrom."

"Perhaps you could enlighten us?" Blake suggested with a note of distinct annoyance.

The muscles in his legs burnt angrily as he sprinted across the metal gantry. His heart pounded weakly in his chest, fuelled solely by adrenaline and a force of pure will, his strength long since exhausted. He pushed all thoughts of the long drop beneath him to the rear of his mind as his feet clattered down heavily onto the precarious panelling. The towering bridge swayed slightly with the rhythm of his steps above the horrors beneath, the aliens and their vats of sickly yellow liquid, separated from him by a fall his body could not easily survive if his footing were to falter. Captain Reader glared ahead, fixated on his task. He could see the dark alcove at the other side, a small room where the bridge headed, bathed now in dusty silence and grim shadows from many years with no use, a forgotten place which lead to their ends.

He allowed himself a smile as the goal loomed large before him and his dash drew close to an end. Suddenly he was falling, he heard the sound of a panel shearing away from the platform where his leg had torn through and was falling. His hands clawed for purchase in panic as his weight carried his body through the hole. His fingers grasped onto a torn and twisted piece of thin metallic fabric and he clung on in terror. His mind noticed first the odd sensation of the material, not at all cold to the touch and oddly soft for a metal. Then slowly his mind registered the dampness of his blood, the pain of his torn skin as the splintered plate cut into his tense fingers.

He glanced down below. His feet swung uselessly beneath him over one of the vats. Inside the gigantic rusting cylinder the sickly yellow liquid churned and bubbled as if in expectation of his body, ready to devour his soul through his decomposing flesh as it would rot his body away from around him sealing his mind into a hopeless prison of agony with no release of death.

What little they knew, what little observation and reason he and the Starfleet crew of scientists had ascertained came suddenly to nothing in his terrified mind. There was no bio-organic resin life-form beneath him, just the yawning chasm that led straight to hell, licking softly at his ankles and waiting for his inevitable plunge through the very gates of damnation.

He clung on with every ounce of will and strength he had ever had but it was not enough. The torn panel bit at his skin like the teeth of a hungry animal, ripped into his flesh and he slipped ever closer to the horrors beneath.

"We've got you!" A voice cut into his thoughts and reality seeped back into his mind through his clouded fantasies of doom. He glanced up, his chest heaving in panic and his heart pounding so he could hear his pulse raging through his ears. The engineer and Varpo, his alien guide were dragging him up, their hands on each of his arms. He felt light, as if his body had fallen to its doom as he lay on the bridge, his rescuers laying exhausted beside him.

"We need to go." Captain Reader gasped as he drew himself up, flexing his hands weakly and ignoring the pain. His legs were wobbly and weak beneath him but somehow he managed to command them to carry him forwards.

"Yes, sir!" The young Ensign agreed wearily.

"You probably should have left me." The Captain turned to the small team. "But I doubt I'll ever find the words to tell you how glad I am that you didn't."

Katherine waved a second Padd before the Captain. "I've more or less finished my medical report of the crew of the Allek vessel." She told him thoughtfully as she chewed her lip softly. "Do you want my real one or the faked one for Starfleet?"

"What does the real one say?" Blake shrugged.

"That I absolutely failed to find any reason for the senior officers demise, his brain functions simply ceased." She told him. "The fake one puts it down to a radiation leak."

"Aha." Blake smiled happily. "The good old radiation leak excuse."

"It won't be the first time I've ever seen a chief medical officer use it." She raised an eyebrow thoughtfully and huffed indignantly. "So much for my integrity."

"I shouldn't be too concerned." Blake told her with a grin. "Considering you developed your integrity on the Violator."

"Shall we continue?" She asked with a slightly annoyed expression.

"This is a big bridge." Cole noted rhetorically as he stepped to the briefing lounge at the rear of the deck. "For such a small ship!"

Captain Girling ignored his comments as he sat at the head of the table. Beside him sat his chief engineer, Haldo and Doctor Jones. The three visitors sat opposite.

"I honestly don't know where to start!" Blake told them, shaking his head. "You claim to have killed a Federation citizen, we're in the middle of a cloaked war-zone and you claim to have Transwarp capability."

"War zone?" Quill frowned as his lips curled upwards in a smile. "You really don't know what is going on here, do you?"

"You do!" Cole gestured at Doctor Jones who sat listening incredulously.

"I do?" He pointed to himself as he glanced around, generally mystified.

"Lets begin by telling you something you don't know but are likely to find more interesting than accusing us of things you know you can't prove." Quill suggested. "The dead man is Admiral Loxley assigned to Section 31."

"Section 31?" Doctor Jones puzzlement deepened.

"And there's a Section 31 ship out here I want you to capture and hand over to the authorities." Quill continued.

"But there's a catch!" Cole added, raising his finger. "You have to keep all this a secret, at least for a few more days."

"If there is a Section 31 ship out here then I will do my very best to apprehend it in any case." Blake raised an eyebrow, intrigued by the turn of events. "I cannot keep my investigation a secret, however."

"Then you're going to have a lot of unanswered questions and another ship full of dead Section 31 officers." Cole told him flatly. "If you can't do it your way then we'll do it ours."

"And what is your way?" Haldo squinted as he turned to the man.

"We bore them to death with stupid questions." Quill suggested with a shrug. "I think you know the basic method."

"What exactly is going on here?" Blake raised a hand to his chief engineer for him to remain quiet.

"Are you going to capture the Section 31 ship or are we?" Quill asked in reply.

"You have to tell me why I should trust you!" Blake told him flatly.

"Because I'm just like you." Quill smiled and leant back heavily in the chair. "We're all the same."

"What do you mean?" Haldo sneered.

Quill glanced to Cole, something communicated between the pair in silence. Cole nodded and shrugged before turning back to the Captain.

"Have you ever heard of the Eugenics war?" Quill asked, knotting his fingers before him as he spoke.

"World War three?" Haldo nodded.

"I hope you're a better engineer than a historian." Cole told him with a smirk.

"The Eugenics war changed the world forever." Quill explained. "Actually it led to World War three as the factions fought for power."

"It was a cold war, fought in secret." Cole added. "It advanced technology exponentially but nobody on earth ever knew it was happening until many years later."

"We've all heard of Khan and those like him." Blake told them. "What has this all got to do with what's happening here?"

"Nothing." Quill smiled. "Nothing whatsoever."

"What?" Haldo barked in annoyance.

"Your ship is the heart of a synchronicity maelstrom." Cole reminded him. "You're pulling in coincidences like a very large hoover chasing a very scared cat."

"Hoover?" Doctor Jones frowned and tapped his ear. "Synchronicity?" He glanced at the Captain with a crooked expression of confusion. "I think my Universal Translator is malfunctioning."

"Ha!" The third of the three laughed. "You know it, you crazy cats."

"Try to take this seriously, Thunderstick." Cole scolded his exuberant friend.

"Mine too." Haldo frowned nervously at the man. "At least I hope it is."

"Admiral Loxley has everything to do with Khan!" Quill leant forward, ignoring his comrade.

"I'm really lost." Haldo hung his head and sighed.

"It's simple really." Blake told him.

"No it's not!" Quill snapped, his face suddenly adopting a stony severity. "It's no more simple than waking up dead in a glass tube or being from a race of humans from halfway over the galaxy."

"How did you…?" Haldo stammered.

"You want to know what the Eugenics war actually was?" He asked angrily. "From someone who was actually there?"

"Calm down." Cole said softly to his friend. Quill hung his head and breathed heavily a couple of times.

"I'm ok." He nodded.

"How can you have been there?" Haldo asked, his voice low and respectful as often it was not.

"There was always a war." Quill began more calmly. "There always will be between man's morality and desire to do the right thing and his fear. There will always be rivalry between men who try to do what is right and those who allow their fear to sour their hearts."

"Section 31?" Cole shrugged with a wry smile.

"There are bloodlines that could be traced back many thousands of years." Quill explained. "People who were shunned by those that sought power. They created stories about them and banished them to the shadows where they stayed for millennia."

"Ever heard of Druids?" Cole asked cheerily to break the somewhat sombre mood. His question was met with silence so he carried on unabated. "At the turn of the twentieth century some of their artefacts were displayed in museums. They had a technology to examine microscopic organisms in water that predated the birth of Christ. They saw darker times coming so they destroyed their records and their knowledge was passed on only by word or mouth so a lot of technology was lost."

"If it weren't for the Dark-Ages we might have beaten the Klingons into space!" Quill added with raised eyebrows as the thought sunk into his audience. "Instead Humans took it upon themselves to fear witches, sages and practitioners of ancient arts and to hunt them down and kill them."

"Some things never change." Haldo nodded grimly.

"In the late twentieth century there were experiments into these bloodlines." Quill continued. "A lot of people had strong blood connections to a deeper past. The secret government began rooting these people out and began running experiments on them in secret to see if there was some genetic abilities they could exploit."

"Secret Government?" Haldo frowned.

"The Bildersberg group." Cole replied. "MJ12, The New World Order, The Masons, The Illuminati. These people attracted new names like my friend attracts sexually transmitted diseases." He patted their crewman and he chuckled to himself quietly.

"My twin sister was abducted and killed." Quill told them quietly. "Nobody believed that these things were happening to us because we were just guinea-pigs. These days we've learnt to listen to what people are telling us but back then the powerful were continuing a quiet war behind closed doors, they didn't want any questions asked that might make people wonder about the truth."

"They built space-craft in secret, like the DY series that became common later." Cole told them. "They had technology hundreds of years ahead of time because of their research into human intelligence that they had conducted in secret."

"You're saying you were alive during the Eugenics war?" Blake folded his arms across his chest.

"Do you seriously expect me to believe that you're a resurrected Starfleet officer flooded with Borg nano-probes?" Quill smiled. "And yet you know you are?"

"The point is that Admiral Loxley was alive back then too." Cole told them. "In fact he'd been alive for a long time even then."

"He was born before then?" Blake shook his head. "He wasn't the result of a Eugenics experiment?"

"He was the cause of a few." Cole scowled. "He has the soul of an explorer but without any compassion in it. We believe he was the result of some very nasty work that happened during the second world war."

"One of his experiments extended the telepathic abilities of the subjects." Quill explained. "They had a kind of sixth sense for trouble and an ability to stay out of it, just like the witches that the dark ages had done their best to wipe out."

"It's how we've lasted so long." Cole nodded to himself. "And it's an ability we've been practising with for a very, very long time."

"Long enough to have learnt how to stop a mans brain working?" Blake surmised.

"Yeah." Quill smirked. "About that long."

"We can't tell Starfleet that." Katherine shook her head and smiled dolefully.

"I know." Blake agreed. "Not that anyone would believe us."

Katherine flung the Padd onto the desk. It clattered over to the Captain and laid before him with a button marked "Erase" flashing in the centre of the screen.

He picked it up and pressed the button with a sigh. "It's a shame we didn't have more time to ask more questions."

"If they're telling the truth then maybe we will." She suggested with a grin.

"Haven't you cracked that code yet?" Haldo grinned maniacally at the Doctor.

"Actually I do have the first message worked out." He smiled proudly. "It's a three digit code number."

"I see." Haldo raised an eyebrow and glanced at the screen. "It could mean anything though."

"I know." Jones admitted with a sigh. "It could even be a normal function of a ship to put out a registry code of this kind."

"Who knows?" Haldo nodded dryly. "Considering what's going on around here it could be just about anything."

"Well we'll know more when we get the rest of the messages." Doctor Jones rubbed his head wearily. "I'm not going to stop until I've got it all figured out."

"I admire you tenacity if not your intelligence." Haldo smirked disparagingly.

"A three digit number?" Security Chief Clogg called out from the rear of the ship.

"So?" Haldo shrugged.

"Well if the next number is also a three digit number then perhaps they're co-ordinates?" He suggested.

"They just might be!" Doctor Jones exclaimed excitedly, launching himself up from the chair. "Assuming they are then the next number should fit into a certain pattern, I could find it in a tenth of the time!"

"We made it." The Engineer gasped, glancing back at the platform behind them.

"Barely!" Varpo added with a glance at Captain Reader.

"What was that thing used for?" Ensign Coles asked rhetorically as she glowered accusingly at the narrow platform with no safety rails.

"Droids used them I think." Varpo shrugged. "We found a few dotted around the service tunnels. They're small little box shaped things with a single wheel they seem to balance on."

"You never mentioned them!" Captain Reader started suddenly.

"I never thought to." He shrugged. "The ones we found were all broken down and looked like they had been for many years. We never encountered one that worked."

"How much further?" Androv asked. "It can't be far now."

"It isn't." Varpo agreed with a smile. "We're nearly there."

"That doesn't mean we can take our time." Captain Reader told them. "Come on…"

"QSM Drive?" Haldo smiled to himself as he poured over the data from the Transwarp analysis systems. "I can believe I never spotted it for myself."

"You're not still going on about that, are you?" Doctor Jones shook his head and frowned.

"You built it and you never figured out how it worked." Haldo reminded him dryly.

"Who is the greater fool, the fool or the fool who follows him?" Clogg asked the pair.

"I think you insulted me!" Haldo frowned as he turned to the rear.

"I think he managed to insult us both."

"It's really very simple." Cole told the engineer.

"It would have to be." Blake sighed at his officer.

Cole smiled and turned back to the engineering controls. "It's just a matter of scanning ahead far enough through several phased layers of subspace."

"We got the drive from some traders." Quill told the Captain. "They actually didn't know what it was but a friend of mine figured it out and designed some software to calibrate it."

"A Vulcan?" Doctor Jones shrugged.

"You really wouldn't believe me if I told you." Quill frowned haphazardly.

"You see every particle has a quantum signature in subspace." Cole began. "There are 20 distinct frequencies with infinitely variable power ranges that form every conceivable permutation. With sophisticated enough equipment you scan the Quantum signature of a region of space and transmit a frequency match where you are, that creates a distortion between the two regions of space in a purely subspace domain and distance becomes irrelevant."

"It creates a slipstream between the two point because no one thing can exist in two places so the universe is fooled into treating them as one place and connects them and you travel quickly between the points." Quill shrugged. "Cole would have you believe we invented this thing when all we did was bolt it onto our ship and press buttons until we hit the right one."

"Ours is silver!" Thunderstick told them all proudly. "It has many flashing lights and they're all called Dave."

"And this war?" Blake asked finally. "Why are Section 31 interested in it?"

"This is no war." Quill smiled. "This is much worse."

"Worse?" Doctor Jones looked troubled.

"This is how we made the money to buy a faster than warp drive!" Quill told them with a mysterious grin.

"You deal in weapons or something?" Blake crossed his arms disapprovingly.

"When he says buy the drive, he actually means that he conned them out of it!" Cole corrected the slightly inaccurate statement.

"I paid them!" Quill frowned defensively.

"There aren't many interstellar species out there that are naive enough to trade technology for magic beans." Cole shook his head.

"And now there's one less." Quill smiled knowingly. "It was a hard lesson but they had to learn it sometime."

"You sell technology in the middle of a war zone?" Blake shook his head.

"Of course not!" Cole shook his head and laughed at the very notion.

"This isn't a war." Quill told him. "Your Doctor Jones knows what this is."

"I don't!" He assured them with a look of consternation.

"You shouldn't make the mistake of crediting him with too much intelligence." Haldo quipped.

"It's a race." Cole smiled.

"And we have to drop out in about ten minutes." Quill added. "We're going to have a problem with our Warp drive."

"A race?" Jones said thoughtfully, rolling his eyes back in his head. "A race…"

"A race?" Blake turned to the scientist.

"I've heard a rumour that Section 31 attended a competition to gather new technology." He shrugged. "I don't know much more than that but I heard it was highly illegal."

"It runs every five years." Quill explained. "It's an endurance course, there's usually six different challenges from atmospheric flight to weapons targeting."

"We won last time and were the favourite this to win again." Cole added with a wry grin.

"But sadly this year we had to drop out due to technical difficulties." Quill sighed. "Luckily we had an awful lot of latinum bet against us in an anonymous name so we stand to make a lot of money."

"I see." Blake shook his head, knowing that he should disapprove but finding that he really was beginning to find the whole thing more tolerable than he would have readily admitted.

"We have to be going." Quill said with a warm smile. "I trust we can count on you?"

"I would imagine so." Blake told them with a nod.

"Goodbye, Captain Girling." Cole said as he stepped back ready to beam back aboard their own ship.

"Blake…" Quill said thoughtfully as he turned to leave. He turned back to face the Captain. "You're alone out here right now. Starfleet have turned their back on you and you've embraced that because it's the right thing to do."

"You know a lot about us." Blake nodded.

"Not many Captains would have done what you have." Quill told him. "Don't forget who and what you are, we never did and we never stopped fighting. One day it will all seem worthwhile, I promise you that."

"It was a pleasure to have met you." Cole called out. "I still think we should have gone for Katherine Janeway!"

"Nah…" Quill shook his head as the three of them dematerialised.

"Have you detected the lead vessel?" Blake asked quietly, his mind racing ahead.

"I believe so." Haldo nodded.

"Set course and track it." Blake instructed. "It should lead us straight to the finish line where Section 31 will be waiting for us."

"I think I'm detecting a signal." Glogg said with a curious expression. "Very faint and very complex."

"A hail?" Blake shrugged.

"It certainly doesn't look like one." Haldo shrugged.

"We'll worry about it later." Blake huffed as he turned to the viewer. "We have a race to win and we have to do it without anyone spotting us."

The Doranian cruiser loomed large in the Corinthian's holographic viewer. Blake Girling stepped onto his bridge from his ready room, still mulling the finer points of his report with Ensign Rogers.

"Four minutes to contact, Sir." Clogg reported.

"Any cloaked vessels in the vicinity?" Blake asked, still distracted by thoughts of the recent events.

"Twenty eight." Haldo grinned. "Apparently it was a part of the contest this time."

"Any more Allek ships?" Blake frowned.

"I'm detecting one more, docked with a big yellow thing just past the finishing line." Haldo shrugged. "It's not cloaked."

"Any Starfleet type vessels?" Blake grinned back.

"One." Haldo nodded with an aggressive smirk. "An insurgence shuttle. I believe there is a fish in our bucket, shall we lock weapons on it so we can shoot it?"

"Not just yet." Blake shook his head and turned to his chief of security. "Have you done what I asked?"

"Yes sir." Clogg agreed happily. "I downloaded the contest rules and have found exactly what we're looking for."

"Excellent." Blake turned back to the viewer. "I trust the phaser modulations are locked in?"

"I anticipated your wishes." Clogg reported efficiently. "The correct modulation has been set for some time."

"I thought it might be." Blake grinned. "Knowing how much you enjoy this part of your job I suppose I had best leave it to you."

"And there it is." Varpo gestured to the final leg of their long journey.

"Home." Crewman Gradlow said mockingly as the small team stood before their cell door.

"Not for long." Captain Reader assured his crewman. "We'll be out of here before you know it."

"I thought jumping down a lift shaft was bad." The young ensign gasped wearily. "I thought that leaping into a dark and bottomless hole hoping that the anti-gravity safeguards at the bottom were still functioning was the worst idea ever but I had no idea the journey back would be so damn hard."

"Hard but worth it." The Captain told her with a smile, a faint gesture but the first genuine one he had shown in longer than he could remember. "We made it all the way to the transmitter array in about twenty minutes, sometimes the hard part is returning to where you started."

"Yes Sir." She smiled back warmly.

"If they'd caught us it would all have been for nothing." Varpo added as he sighed, lost in contemplation of their small victory. "But they didn't. They couldn't. Between us we struck a blow."

"We made a difference." The Ensign told him with a beaming smile. "We've changed our odds."

"Not if they catch us." Varpo reminded them as he glanced around the corridor.

"It's still three minutes until the door opens." Captain Reader told him. "We're safe here for now."

"Will you be able to get back to your cell?" Ensign Collins asked.

"I have time." He assured her with a smile. "I have a few tricks up my sleeve."

"I'll bet you do." The engineer grinned knowingly as he slapped the little alien on the back.

"I heard something." Ensign Collins glanced round fearfully, plunging the group into silence.

"What did you hear?" Reader whispered nervously.

"They're coming!" Varpo sighed. "I can hear them."

"No…" She closed her eyes pathetically, helpless to save them. The electronic locks to the door were still active and behind it lay their salvation.

"If they find us…" Reader spoke rhetorically as he racked his brain for a solution.

"They won't!" Varpo told them with a tone of absolute certainty as he walked away briskly from the group.

"No…" Ensign Collins cried out as he stepped away from them.

"Yes." He turned to her with a vague and nervous smile. "Yes, this is the way it has to be, this is the way it is. They won't suspect me of sending a message, they would know you have and all this will be for nothing."

"We'll find another way." Reader stepped forward to the little alien whose knowledge of the alien vessel had made their plan possible.

"To stand against evil guarantees it can never consume you." Varpo said softly, turning back to the sounds as they clanked along the path towards them. "Just remember you now have two lives to avenge."

"No." The Ensign wiped a tear from her face as her eyes burnt uncontrollably with furious emotion.

"I owe my life to avenging the death of my wife." Varpo said, his voice low, his words more to muster his courage than to inform anyone else of his intentions. "My life is now yours, so is her revenge." His pace suddenly quickened and he was gone, swallowed by the shadows that lurked behind the brilliant light of the panels outside their cells.

"The door is opening, Captain." The engineer said softly, the sound of Varpo's footsteps vanishing into the distance. "The magnetic seals are beginning to break down."

"Get us in there." Captain Reader told him, his attention locked on the dim corridor. Suddenly a scream echoed through the metal tunnel, a blood-curdling cry of terrified agony. "Get us in there but we have a legacy to take with us now."

"Firing!" Clogg smiled broadly as the phaser cannon sent out a cloaked lick of energy toward the unsuspecting Insurgence shuttle. "According to the rules if another vessel outside the track gives assistance to another they are instantly disqualified."

"I presume that disqualification is not something they take too lightly?" Captain Girling smirked knowingly as the beam coursed from his vessel.

"It has happened four time in the past seven races." Clogg told him. "Oddly I can find no record anywhere of what happened to those who suffered it."

"Perfect." Blake nodded to himself as the phaser beam tore into the invisible vessel, overloading it's primary systems. The upgraded runabout lit up suddenly, blue arcs of energy surging from its cloaking device and bristling from the weapons array.

"I'm detecting communications frequencies." Ensign Rogers grinned. "They've got them."

"I'm torn." Haldo shrugged. "Part of me wonders what they'll do to them, the other half really doesn't care."

Blake turned to his officers and pulled down his uniform over his slim frame. "Hopefully it's enough to dissuade Section 31 from interfering again."

I think that's a safe bet." Haldo nodded happily. "Most of the racers have enough fire-power to take on a Defiant class ship, Section 31 are just no match for them."

"Nor are we." Clogg reminded them.

"Good job we're on their side." Blake noted as he turned to the viewer.

"As far as we know." Clogg grumbled.

"Blake!" The Doctor jumped up suddenly.

"Blake?" Haldo mocked. "When did you lose all respect for the chain of command?"

"Doctor Jones?" Blake gestured authoritatively to the scientist as he cast a knowing glance to Katherine. "You have something?"

"The message!" He exclaimed excitedly. "I know what it was."

"Was it aimed at us?" Haldo dropped his head to his upturned hand as if fed up with him already.

"It's for us." He nodded with a wide smile. "It was for us."

"What did it say?" Blake asked calmly.

"It's a set of co-ordinates and another set of numbers." Jones told them with a massive grin. "I figured it all out."

"Co-ordinates of what?" Blake shrugged patiently.

"A spatial grid close to here, about three light-years." He told them. "They could have only got them if they'd somehow got to the main computers."

"You're making no sense." Haldo told him. "You're going to give science a bad name if you carry on."

"It was the last number that made all the pieces fall together." Jones took a deep breath and tried to calm himself.

"What was it?" Blake asked, his hands knotted behind his back.

"There's only one thing it can be and that means I know who it's from." He waved his arms about in excitement as his enthusiasm again gripped him.

"And?" Haldo asked lethargically.

"It's a shield modulation." He smiled. "It's the only thing it can be."

"Why would someone give us their shield frequencies?" Haldo sneered at the very suggestion.

"The distortions are due to a high warp factor and massive deflector beam coming directly in the direction of the co-ordinates." Jones grinned back.

"Captain Reader." Blake smiled uncontrollably.

"It has to be." Doctor Jones nodded wildly. "And if he's sending us this then they don't know that he has. We have an advantage."

"We have a big advantage." Clogg nodded, highly impressed that something he could really appreciate had happened.

"Captain Reader." Blake crossed his arms over his chest while he nodded with a warm smile. He turned to Goruss Clogg. "I imagine you can come up with a plan that takes this into account?"

"Sir." The security chief replied. "I already have. It will be on your desk in one hour."

"It's been quite a day." Blake turned to the viewer to where the little Runabout was being viscously harassed by several race officials who had weapons that appeared twice the size of their ships and them many times larger that their quarry.

"I have just one question." Haldo sighed.

"What's that?" Blake said softly as he gazed at the spectacle before him with a new sense of optimism.

"What the hell is a Thunderstick?"


Last modified: 09 Nov 2020