This falls more into the category of “DELETED EPISODE.” 

 

I just unearthed this a few days ago while sorting through a vast pile of 3½ inch floppy disks.  Written back in August 1998, this is a relic from the time before the “Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec” story arc was written.   Yes, it is a piece of writing from “The Dregs of the Universe” series of TFF.  However, unlike that fetid pile of refuse you saw over in “THE CREATION OF THE FINAL FRONTIER,” this episode is written in the style of present-day TFF, and though I’ve only gleaned it, I don’t believe reading it will be overly detrimental to your health.  Yes, people, this is actually readable…

 

You will note many, MANY changes from TFF of today.  And if you read through “The Creation of the Final Frontier,” you’re already familiar with them.  There is no Erin.  No Lucas.  No Talyere.  No Xi'Yor.  No Hartman.  And Kendall is an extraverted weirdo who is curiously similar to Alan Christopher.  These two episodes are by no means official; in fact, if you read them, keep in mind that THEY NEVER HAPPENED.  Also keep in mind that these episodes have not been proofread, so forgive any errors that you might find.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         Two hundred thousand years ago, a race of highly advanced aliens known as the Iconians traveled the stars.  They were well versed in arts, music and literature.  They were respected for their size and formidability.  But most of all, they were feared.  Feared because with the push of a button, the Iconians could travel billions of light years.  They imprison other races in subspace, or eliminate them completely.

 

         After years of domination, one of the younger races, the Elorg, found themselves superior to the Iconians in all aspects, except one:  dimensional analysis.  Bound and determined to get this unique technology for themselves, the Elorg engaged the Iconians in a brutal war that lasted centuries. 

 

         The Iconians fought long and hard to stop the Elorg from conquering their mighty empire, but, the Elorg were always one step ahead of them.  Finally, after four hundred years of bloody war, the Iconians had run out of time.  Left with nothing but a few worlds and a handful of ships, the Iconians fled two what is now the Romulan Neutral Zone to make their last stand.

 

         The Elorg came with thousands of ships to wipe out the Iconians once and for all, but what they did not know was that the Iconians had one final trick up their sleeves:  the very technology sought by the Elorg.

 

         As the battle begun, the Iconians launched their weapon of temporal destruction on the helpless Elorg, and sent over ninety-eight percent of their population into a subspace pocket, where they were to spend the rest of eternity.

 

         Despite their victory, the Iconians found themselves a weakened, unorganized people, with little more than a few planets and temporal gateways which lead to worlds which had been annexed by alien races centuries ago.  With little else to do, the once might race attempted to start over.  Plagued by terrible new diseases and fighting amongst once friendly clans, the Iconians plunged themselves into civil war, and the darkest age of their history.  And so they vanished, just like their most terrible nemesis.

 

         Historians noted the complete extinction of both races some hundred-thousand years later. . . Or so they thought.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ONE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         January 1, 2395:  Stardate 72002.1

 

         Earth Station McKinley

 

 

 

         It had been six years since Commander Christopher had been to Earth.  Six long years.  After a failed trip to the Delta Quadrant, a less than enthusiastic welcoming home ceremony, and a thoroughly unpleasant debriefing, he could only wonder what was next.  Being called away from shore leave for no apparent reason by a hot-headed Admiral lead him to believe it would not be good.

 

         And so he sat alone in the ready room of Admiral Steven Marcette awaiting his arrival.  Awaiting what could only be bad news.

 

         Suddenly, he heard the doors whisper open behind him.  Christopher tensed up, almost frozen.  He swallowed, and forced himself off his behind to face the Admiral.  “Sir,” he mustered as Marcette entered. The Admiral said nothing.  Instead he stood there and grinned.  Perhaps the news wasn’t bad after all, thought Christopher.

 

         Finally, Marcette entered the room.  As the doors whispered shut behind him, the Admiral offered his hand to the Commander.  “Commander Alan Christopher,” he said warmly.  “Welcome aboard Earth Station McKinley, the most boring place in the galaxy.”

 

         With every passing second, Christopher felt better about his visit.  “Thank you, sir.”

 

         Marcette sat down at his sleek black desk and immediately began punching at the keys on his computer beside him.  After a moment he turned to Christopher.  “As you were, Commander.  Have a seat.”

 

         Christopher nodded.  “Yes, sir,” he said as he plopped back down on the soft gray chair in front of Marcette’s desk.  Marcette continued to work at his computer for what seemed like hours.  What is he doing? Christopher thought to himself.  He stared out the window to see his ship, the Colombia, floating past the backdrop of Earth, when suddenly, Marcette began to speak.

 

         “Commander, I’ve been reviewing your service record.  It seems to be a fairly adequate one.  How are things on the Colombia?  Well I take it?”

 

         “Fine,” Christopher said flatly.

 

         Marcette continued to glare at his monitor.  “And how is Captain Escher?”

 

         “Well.  He sends his regards.”

 

         “Excellent.  It says here you’ve been on shore leave for the past thirty-seven days.  Have you been enjoying yourself?”

 

         The inquires grew dumber.  What is the point of this?  Christopher tried to get past the oddities and answered the question, “I’ve had a wonderful time.  Earth is a very unique, diverse planet.”

 

         Marcette sighed and slapped his monitor off.  “The hell with it,” he muttered.  “I’m not one for all this silly pleasantry stuff.  So, I’ll just get to the point.”

 

         Finally, Christopher thought.  “Which is?”

 

         “You’ve served on board the Colombia for six years as first officer.  Quite frankly, Captain Escher wants you gone.”

 

         What?!” Christopher said, perhaps to loudly than he wanted.  But, it did come as a radical surprise.

 

         Marcette smiled.  Obviously he knew something that Christopher did not, or he enjoyed giving terribly bad news.  Since Christopher had very little contact with the Admiral prior to today, he knew not what to expect.  “That’s right.  He put in for your promotion to Captain three weeks ago.  Starfleet’s had a chance to look it over, and we agree with him.  Congratulations, Captain.”

 

         Indeed, the news was good.  Much better than he had expected.  This hot-headed admiral didn’t seem as bad as he had been hyped.  It must have been the image he was going for, since, Christopher noticed, he did assume it while he was in ops.  “Thank you, sir,” said the new Captain a moment later.

 

         “Don’t thank me, thank Captain Escher.  He is the one who suggested the promotion.’

 

         “I’ll do that.”

 

         “Now, you’re probably wondering where you’re going to serve.  We’ve got a nice frigate on the way from Cestus III, at maximum warp, it should arrive in seven months.  The Junkheap, we call it.”

 

         Was this some kind of joke?  It had to be.  As far as Christopher knew, there was no ship named Junkheap.  Officially, at least. 

 

         Marcette burst out in laughter.  Definitely his hot- head theme was just a rumor to shroud the Admiral in a sea of confusion, keeping young officers on their toes when meeting with him.  “Just kidding.  I had you for a moment, there.  She’s called the Starlight.  NCC-72080-A. Meridian Class.  Captain Gray is retiring.  He’s looked over your service record and agrees with Captain Escher;  you’re the right man for the job.”

 

         This was perhaps the greatest meeting he had ever been to.  This shore leave could be officially over now.  Command of a starship was much more important than visiting some silly planet.  “Thank you, sir.  When do I take command?” Christopher inquired.

 

         Marcette stood up.  “Now.  Captain Gray’s retirement party starts in five minutes.  Let’s go.”

 

 

 

         The Starlight was docked with the station, it’s long, arm-like clamps grasping on to the ship, holding it in place above the giant blue ball called Earth.  The whole unit spun slowly as it orbited the planet.  Soon, night would fall on the station, and all would be dark.

 

 

 

         Christopher and Marcette stood for several seconds in the turbolift, saying nothing.  Both of them simply watched as the yellow lights faded through orange to red.  At times they moved vertically.  The rest of the time, they moved horizontally, indicating the direction the lift was moving.

 

         Now, as the lift came it a gradual stop, the lights moved horizontally, slowing with each passing second.  Then, they stopped moving, and the doors parted to reveal the mess hall.

 

         As they entered, the entire room stopped in unison to observe the newcomers to the party.  Christopher did likewise, observing those already there.  Most of the crew he did not know, although he did recognize a few faces.  Captain Gray, although he did not know him well, and had only exchanged a few brief comments with him at a peace conference several years ago.

 

          Lieutenant Bator was also familiar.  They had never spoken, but, since Bator was the only member of his race ever encountered, most everybody knew him. 

 

         As his gaze drifted, he recognized one more face.  One he did not think he would see again:  Amy Wrighton, the ship’s chief medical officer.  They had served together aboard the Quasar nine years ago.  And that was the last he had seen of her.

 

         But there was no time for conversation.  Captain Gray nodded his acknowledgment at the Admiral and new Captain, and began speaking at the podium at the front of the room.

 

         “It has been my pleasure to serve as your Captain, and as your friend for the past sixteen years.  And a lot can happen in that amount of time.  Although that was a different ship, with a different crew.  Most of you came on after the destruction of the original Starlight in 2390.  But those of you whom I’ve had the pleasure to serve with the entire time; it’s been fun.

 

         “But, there comes a time in human events when one must move on to something different, and that is the choice I’ve decided to make.  Effective as of this morning, I am no longer Captain of this ship.  True, I’m not old, or very gray, but, I have a lot of living left to do, and I don’t feel I can accomplish that aboard a Federation Starship.  You should know that coming to this decision was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and if I had a chance to do it again, things might be different. But, what’s done is done.  It is time to begin a new chapter in the history of the Starlight.  One lead by a new captain.  And so I give you, Admiral Marcette.”

 

         Marcette shook Gray’s hand as he stepped down from the podium and took the stand for himself.  “As this is such a young crew, I highly doubt many of you know Alan Christopher personally.  Undoubtedly, you’ve heard of his former ship, the Colombia, which has just recently returned from a six year journey to the Delta Quadrant.  During those six years, Christopher performed above and beyond the call of duty, and earned the respect of his shipmates.  So, as of stardate 72002.4, Captain Alan Christopher, you are hereby requested and required to assume command of the Federation Starship Starlight, effective immediately.”

 

         Christopher came foreword to the podium. Obviously the Admiral knew this was coming, otherwise his speech wouldn’t have been so well crafted.  Unfortunately for him, Christopher had no idea what was coming, and  had no time to scribe a magnificent speech like he had always dreamed.  He would have to wing it. “Well, an hour ago, I was sweating like a waste-extractor in the Admiral’s ready room half-expecting to be thrown out of Starfleet.  Little did I know an hour later I’d be standing in the mess hall of my own starship.  Suffice it to say, I don’t have a fancy speech written up, so... let’s see what’s out there...”

 

         Christopher slowly stepped away from the podium and walked over to the Commander heading his way. “Greetings sir, I’m Commander Matthew Harrison, your first officer,” he said, extending his hand to the Captain.  Harrison was tall, with short brown hair, bright white teeth and a light build.  As they finished up, their introduction, Harrison turned to Lieutenant Bator beside him.   “This is Lieutenant Bator, our tactical officer and chief of security.”

 

         Bator nodded, but did not offer his hand.  “Sir,” he said politely.  Christopher knew very little about the alien.  He was big, and his skin seemed almost rock-like in complexion, despite its brown-orange hue.  Harrison, however, didn’t give him time to gawk. 

 

         He moved on to introduce Ensign Michelle Thomas, the helmsman, Lieutenant Kristin Hawke, the operations officer, and Commander Erick Logan, the chief engineer.  All three of them nodded politely at their new Captain and offered him a warm hand shake.

 

         Then, Harrison approached Doctor Wrighton.  “And this is our Chief Medical Officer,” he said before Christopher interrupted.

 

         “Amy Wrighton.”

 

         Harrison turned to the Doctor.  “You two know each other?”

 

         Wrighton nodded affirmatively.  “We served aboard the Quasar together for two years.”

 

         Harrison smiled.  “Well, at least you know somebody,” he said to the Captain.

 

         “And I intend to know everybody,” Christopher added.  “Just give me a few weeks to settle in.  This was a highly unexpected mission.  And I suspect it will be a quite interesting one.”

 

         “You have no idea,” Harrison said quietly.  “Come on, I’ll show you the bridge.”

 

 

 

         After yet another entertaining ride in the turbolift, Christopher and Harrison emerged on the bridge of the Starlight.  Big and spacious, the bridge was the pride and glory of any starship.  This one was no different.  On the front wall, a large view screen supported the external view of setting sun.  Before it sat a very large helm station.  In the very middle were to chairs in front of a metal railing, where the Captain and Executive Officer would sit.  And finally, behind that were the ops and tactical stations.

 

         Christopher stood in awe at the sight.  Suddenly, in the midst of his daydreaming, a faint bleeping could be heard from the tactical station.  Christopher turned to the officer manning the station.  “What is it?”

 

         “We’re being hailed,” said the officer.

 

         Harrison walked briskly down to the center of the bridge.  “On screen,” he said as the Captain followed.  A few moments later, Admiral Marcette appeared on the screen.  “Admiral.  What can I do for you?”

 

         “I see you’re settling in quite well,” he said, resuming his totally serious mode which Christopher had observed before meeting Marcette alone in his ready room.  The “stern” mode, he like to call it.

 

         “It’s been ten minutes.  I’m as settled as one can get in that amount of time,” said Christopher.

 

         Marcette smiled.  “Good.  I’m beaming your materials from the Colombia to the Starlight.”

 

         “What’s the rush?”

 

         “Your first mission, Captain,” Marcette said as he punched away at the computer.  “There,” he said to himself before looking back up at the screen.  “Two days ago, one of our deep space probes in the Alteran Expanse disappeared.  At first we figured it was a malfunction in the probe’s transmitter system but now, our long-range sensors are picking up a quantum singularity near those same coordinates.  We’d like you to get some better sensor readings of the vicinity, and if possible, to retrieve the probe.”

 

         Christopher sighed.  “That’s a sixteen day trip at warp nine.”

 

         “Fourteen at warp 9.9,” Harrison added.

 

         “No problem.  We’ll get on it as soon a possible,” Christopher assured the Admiral.  It seemed to be a mindlessly simple first mission.  If they only knew...

 

         Just as the Admiral’s face departed from the main viewer, Ensign Thomas and Lieutenant Bator emerged on the bridge.

 

         After taking their positions, Christopher took his.  Sitting in the Captain’s seat felt good, if not a little weird.  He sat back and relaxed, and prepared himself for his first order.  “Mr. Bator, get clearance to depart from ops.”

 

         “Aye, sir,” Bator said instantly.  A moment later, he came back, “Permission granted.  They are releasing the docking clamps at once.

 

         A second later the ship rumbled slightly as the docking clamps released their hold on the mighty starship.  Now, adrift in space, the Starlight was ready for action.

 

         “Ensign Thomas, set a course for the Kilka Sector, maximum warp,” Christopher ordered.

 

         “Aye, sir,” she replied.

 

        

 

         The Starlight hovered below Earth Station McKinley for several seconds before maneuvering itself around the station, and into the setting of the sun.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         Lieutenant Kendall Johnson stood nervously in the moving turbolift next to his new Captain.  A Captain which he knew nothing about.  He didn’t know how to act, what to say.  A situation he had never been faced with before.  Would the Captain react favorably to his “unique” sense of humor?

 

         But now, here he stood in the turbolift, taking the Captain to the cargo bay to get his belongings from the Colombia.  He knew he should say something, but he

 

wasn’t sure what.

 

         Fearing the Captain may die of boredom, Kendall finally found it in himself to speak up.  “I understand you served on the Colombia, sir.”

 

         Christopher clasped his hands behind his back and leaned against the wall of the turbolift.  “I did, yes.  I was the first officer, where I served “above and beyond the call of duty” when the Hirogen attacked and nearly blew us out of the sky.  Yes that was me.  Enough about me, though.  Who are you?”

 

         Kendall gulped, for a moment not even remembering his name.  Suddenly, it came to him.  “Kendall Johnson.  I’m a lowly junior officer, sometimes privileged enough to come on the bridge and work at ops or science.”

 

         Christopher turned to his subordinate.  “Lowly?”

 

         Have I disappointed him? Kendall thought nervously. He didn’t know what to do, except apologize.  “Sorry, sir.”

 

         Christopher smiled.  “No need to apologize.  I was just surprised,” said the Captain unexpectantly.  Clearly he was not disappointed, but pleased with the response.  “Back when I served on the Quasar with Dr. Wrighton, we used the term “lowly” to describe our positions.  Mere peons in the chain of command.”

 

         The turbolift came to a stop and the doors parted to reveal a long corridor.  “This way,” Kendall said, taking the lead.  “You knew Dr. Wrighton?”

 

         “Yes.  We were good friends.”

 

         “I see.  If you’re anything like her, we’ll get along perfectly,” said the young Lieutenant as he stopped in front of a large cargo bay door.  After pressing a few keys, the doors parted to reveal several sleek black cases with the Starfleet insignia embroidered on the front.

 

         “As a matter of fact,” Christopher started as the two of them entered the cargo bay, “Doctor Wrighton and I are quite alike.”

 

         The Captain stopped several feet away from the cases.  “It looks like they sent the entire ship.  I certainly don’t remember having this much junk.”

 

         Johnson picked up the padd sitting on the nearest case and scanned over its text.  “It says here it’s all yours.”

 

         Christopher sighed.  “Have it moved to my quarters.  I’ll go through it later.”

 

         Kendall nodded affirmatively.  “Yes, sir.”

 

 

 

         The Mess Hall was still bustling with activity after Captain Gray’s hasty departure with the Admiral.  The tables were being arranged back to their normal positions, and in general, the crew was preparing for the changes to come.

 

         In an isolated corner near the window, Lieutenant Bator sat alone, gazing out at the rapidly moving starfield.  As he expected, his solitude was short lived.

 

         “May we join you?” came the voice of Ensign Thomas.  Bator turned, and saw she was indeed not alone.  Both Lieutenant Hawke and Commander Logan stood at her side.

 

         “Be seated,” Bator said, almost ordered as he turned away from his stars to face his fellow ship mates.  By the looks on their faces, he could instantly tell what they wished to discuss.  “Let me guess, Captain Christopher.”

 

         Logan nodded.  “You and Michelle are the only ones who have seen him in action.  Aside from Matthew and some of the junior officers.”

 

         Bator scoffed.  “If you had bothered to come to the bridge after the reception instead of mingle, you would have been able to observe him for yourselves.”

 

         “I wasn’t on duty in the first place,” Hawke protested, folding her arms on her stomach.

 

         “And he hasn’t visited engineering yet,” Logan added.

 

         Erin sighed.  “I think he’s cute.”

 

         “True,” Kristin agreed.  “From what I saw at the reception.  He looks like a fair, honest captain.  Real down to earth.”

 

         Erin continued nodding affirmatively.  “Maybe even a little smitten with the Doctor.  Which is really too bad.”

 

         Logan stared blankly at the table’s surface.  “Smitten?”

 

         Bator, doing the exact opposite, looked straight ahead.  “Smitten:  verb, transitive.  To strike or impress favorably;  to inspire with--”

 

         “Yes, I know what it means, Bator.  I was just stating I don’t like the word,” Logan explained.

 

         Bator glared at the Chief Engineer blankly for several moments.  “Are you sure?”

 

         “Quite.”

 

         Erin giggled quietly.  “What’s wrong with smitten?”

 

         “Smitten is a very nice word,” Kristin agreed.

 

         Logan let out a long sigh before grasping the bridge of his nose and staring back down at the table top.  “What happened to your prate about Captain Chris- topher?”

 

         “Sorry,” Hawke apologized.  “But, since Bator’s not talking, and Michelle’s voiced her opinion, I figured there’s nothing left to discuss.”

 

         Erin sighed.  “He’s cute, sensible, has good gram- mar, nice teeth, and is smitten with the Doctor.”

 

         Hawke smiled.  “Don’t worry, Michelle, the Captain seems way too normal to be happy with her.  You’ll have your chance soon enough.  After me, of course.”

 

 

 

         Christopher entered his new home briskly.  The room was totally dark and cool.  After taking a few more steps in, he ordered the lights on the temperature increased by several degrees.  Then, he spotted his belongings off in a corner.  Several standard Starfleet issue cases, all piled up neatly.

 

         Christopher crossed the empty room and stopped several feet away from the boxes.  Sliding his hand across the nearest one, he sighed and looked around his empty quarters once again.  “Wow,” he whispered to himself before punching in the code to open the case before him.

 

         It buzzed open to reveal some civilian clothes and a box of old holoprograms.  He pulled one of the isolinear chips from the box and looked at the program title, “Cucumber Growing on Alphorius VI.”

 

         The next case he opened had several books in it, along with a gigantic package of ancient floss, and a model of station Deep Space Nine.  He set the things aside to finally notice that he wasn’t alone in his quarters.

 

         Doctor Wrighton stepped foreword from the dark- ness, and came to a stop directly beside Christopher.  She gazed over his luggage and then back to him.  “It looks like they sent the whole ship,” she commented.

 

         “They didn’t,” Christopher noted.  “Although, I’d like to see them try to fit an entire starship into six little standard-issue travel cases.”

 

         “Believe me, they couldn’t.”

 

         “I believe you,” Christopher said closing the lid on the open case before him.  After shutting it, he stood staring at it for several moments.  It had been six years since he had seen Amy Wrighton.  He hadn’t even bothered to send her a message.  Though knowing she hadn’t bothered to do the same was a small comfort.  “So, what have you been up to the past six years?”

 

         “I left the Quasar a week after you did.  I transferred to Starbase 74 as a nurse.  I stayed there for a year before being offered my position here, where I’ve been ever since,” she explained. 

 

         “Did you think of me?” Alan asked quietly.  It was a bold statement.  Perhaps even a stupid one.  But it was too late to take it back.

 

         “Sometimes, when everyone around me turned into serious, conformed, anti-socialists, I would think of you and me on the Quasar.”

 

         “Same here.  Why is it that we are the only interesting people in the universe?”

 

         Amy craned her neck.  “Have you met Lieutenant Johnson?”

 

         “On my way to the cargo bay.  Very interesting fellow.  You’re not married to him, are you?”

 

         Her eyes widened suddenly.  “No,” she replied.

 

         “Good.”

 

         Then she considered the other people she knew.  “But other than us, perhaps your family on Ka’Tula, everyone else is rather dull.  Their loss.”

 

         “Agreed,” Christopher said.  Things had gone better that expected for an impromptu visit.  He had only been on board a few hours, and was already making connections with the interesting people on his ship.  “I think we’re going to make an interesting team in the future,” he noted.

 

         “I hope so,” Wrighton  agreed.

 

         “Well,” Christopher said, “it doesn’t look like I’ve got any furniture.  Would you care to join me in selecting some?”

 

         “I’d love to.”

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THREE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         Captain’s log; stardate 72038.3: Two weeks have past since my installation as Captain of the Starlight, and so far, so good.  The crew seems to be adjusting well to my command style, and everyone seems to like me.  Both good signs.  Unfortunately, we haven’t been in any life or death situations yet to determine how much faith they’ve really put in me.

 

         We’ll be arriving at the Alteran Expanse in the Kilka Sector in just under four hours, where we’ll begin searching for the deep space probe that was lost here on stardate 94996.  I’ll admit, it’s been a long ride, and I’m looking foreword to actually doing something other than picking out furniture.

 

 

 

         “What is our E.T.A., Ensign?” called Commander Harrison from his seat beside Captain Christopher.

 

         Erin glanced down at the chronometer on the helm before her and read off the estimated time left until they reached their destination.  “Three hours, thirty-seven minutes.”

 

         “Good,” said the Captain as the computer at the operations console started bleeping.  “What is it, Lieutenant?”

 

         Hawke glanced down at the bleeping sensor display.  “We have an unidentified vessel heading 0-6-6 mark 4.  They appear to be heavily damaged,” she reported as she turned the sensor alert off, stopping the bleep.

 

         “Life signs?” Harrison inquired.

 

         “One, barely alive,” said Hawke flatly.  “If we don’t take action soon, he’ll surely die.”

 

         Their course of action was a no-brainer.  They would come to the rescue of the sole life on the derelict ship.  “Alter our course, Ensign,” Christopher ordered.

 

         “Aye, sir,” replied Ensign Thomas.

 

         “We are entering visual range,” Bator announced a moment later.  With Commander Harrison’s blessings, Bator placed the image of the crippled vessel on the main viewer.

 

         It hung in space like a painting, hardly moving.  A pale blue-green vessel, circular in shape, although that shape was distorted by its four warp nacelles;  Two on each side with the one closer to the ship being about half the size of the outer nacelle.  At the very center was a deep blue circle that was most likely the bridge. 

 

         The ship itself was small.  It couldn’t have had more than ten decks, probably less.  Most notably though, were the hull breeches scattered across the vessel’s ventral side.  As he stood there, Christopher was able to count at least ten, two of which were clearly not contained, as bits and pieces of debris, conduits, tools and even people floated out with ease.

 

         “What happened to it?” Harrison asked.

 

         “Unknown,” replied Hawke.  “It’s been adrift for some time now.  It’s warp trail has completely dissipated, and any radiation it may have collected has dispersed.  And I’m detecting no weapon fire of any kind, either.”

 

         “Perhaps there was an accident on board the ship,” Christopher suggested, although at the moment, he could not think of anything that could cause that much damage to a starship without destroying it.

 

         “It is a possibility,” Hawke agreed.

 

         Christopher finally turned away from the vessel and stepped back a few steps next to Harrison.  “There’s only one way to find out.  Commander, I want you to lead an away team to the vessel.  Poke around, find out what you can, but most importantly, find the survivor.”

 

         Harrison nodded affirmatively.  “Yes, sir,” he said.  Immediately he turned away from his Captain and headed for the turbolift.  As he did so, he motioned for Hawke and Bator to join him.

 

         They complied, and stepped away from their stations to join the Commander in the turbolift.  As the doors hissed shut, two junior officers took their places, Kendall Johnson being the one to replace Hawke.  Christopher noted he did not know the other officer, a young female Bajoran, an ensign.  He made it a point to get to know her.  But not now.

 

 

 

         As Hawke materialized on the alien ship, the first thing she noticed was the cold.  A quiet, haunting cold soon thereafter accompanied by the darkness.  A few dim lights flickered on and off at random intervals, but they hardly illuminated what appeared to be the bridge of the starship.  Quickly, she activated the flashlight on her phaser.

 

         A few seconds later, two more lights popped into existence, those of Commander Harrison and Lieutenant Bator.  Quietly, they visually scanned the room, noticing nothing out of the ordinary.

 

         Hawke exhaled lightly to see her breath crystallize in front of her.  It flowed outward for several seconds, swirling and  dancing in the air before dissipating into nothingness. Quietly, she slipped her tricorder from her belt and flipped it open.

 

         As it came to life with a serene whine, its bright green and red lights created an eerie glow in the mist that had filled the place.

 

         Ignoring the biting cold, Hawke took several steps forward.  The heels of her boots clapped as they hit the uncarpeted floor, creating a soft echo to bounce back- and-forth throughout the room.  The tricorder bleeped cheerfully as it accomplished its task, finding a computer terminal compatible with the Federation’s systems.

 

         Hawke took several steps toward the computer, each echoing thoughout the room, until suddenly,  the echoes stopped.  Hawke dug her heels into the new ground.  It moved.

 

         Her eyes darted down to look before she was able to get her flashlight on the new surface.  For a moment she saw nothing, but, as the light illuminated the surface below her, she soon realized that she had stumbled upon a body.

 

         Forcing back a panicked scream, Hawke tapped a message into her tricorder, ordering it to scan for life signs instead of computers.  She waved it over the body several times, each time, getting no results.  As she did so, footsteps grew louder behind her. 

 

         She looked back to see Harrison and Bator approaching her position.  Breathing a sigh of relief she got up from the dead alien body to greet her Commander.  At that very moment, the body slid down the step it was on and rolled over, revealing its hideous face.

 

         His yellowed skin was black in places where frost bite had set in.  Across his forehead was a thin ridge that extended down his nose and ended at a point just above his lip.  His completely black eyes were wide open, forever frozen in such a position.

 

         Hawke screamed.  This time there was no holding it back.  She had never seen an alien like this before.  Although he wasn’t the most ugly thing she had ever seen, it was still a disturbing sight.

 

         Thankfully, Harrison and Bator were right behind her. They ignored her outburst and continued as if nothing had happened.  “Have you found anything?” Harrison asked a moment later.

 

         Composing herself as fast as possible, Hawke pointed to the computer terminal a few feet in front of her.  “That console is compatible with Federation systems,” she said, still shaking the fear from her voice.  “And that,” she said, pointing to the dead body,” is it’s operator.”

 

         They glanced at the body one last time before carefully pushing it out of the way.  Bator flashed his light on the terminal.  A thick layer of dust covered the entire console.  As he wiped it off, the stray particles danced in the air for seconds before flying off to more interesting places. 

 

         “We’re having trouble finding the life form,” said Harrison after Bator keyed in a sequence which prompted the display to light up in a dark purple alien text, compromised mostly of jagged edges and nintey degree angles rotated to make a different character.  “Is it possible,” Harrison started, pointing at the body they had just moved, “that he was our man, and he just died before we beamed over?”

 

         Hawke reviewed her tricorder data.  “It looks like he’s been dead for quite some time.  I’d say five weeks at least.  The cold has been preserving his body.”

 

         “Well we’re not reading any life signs now,” Harrison said.

 

         Hawke tapped at her tricorder for several seconds before speaking again.  “Adjust your tricorder to a more sensitive frequency,” she suggested.

 

         “We’ll detect more background interference that way,” Bator noted as he tapped away at the console in front of him.  “But, if you know what you’re looking for, then I suppose it is a valid course of action,” he added.

 

         Harrison altered his tricorder’s frequency and then waved it across the room.  It bleeped several times, and the display showed several spikes, but they appeared to be simple anomalies.  Suddenly, it gave him a warning signal, showing him life signs were spotted about fifteen meters ahead of him.  “Gotcha!”

 

         As he carefully stepped through the debris, Harrison motioned for Hawke to come with him.  She complied, and a moment later they were standing beside yet another pale-yellow alien.  This one did not have any blackened patches of skin, nor did he have as much armor upon his back, but clearly, he was alive.

 

         He breathed in slow, rasped breaths, hardly audible a from even a few meters away.  As he sensed he was no longer alone, his eye lids fluttered open to reveal the same pitch black eyes as his ship mate.  He forced back a wave of pain and attempted to prop himself up against the computer terminal behind him.

 

         “My time is near,” he rasped in a weak, hoarse voice.  His neck buckled and he collapsed onto the deck.

 

         Harrison immediately turned to Hawke for an analysis.  “He’s in shock,” she reported a moment later. 

 

         Which meant he was still alive, Harrison thought, breathing a sigh of relief as he touched his comm badge.  “Harrison to Starlight, we’ve got him.  Lock onto my tricorder signal an beam him directly to sick bay.”

 

         “Aye sir,” replied the transporter chief.

 

         A moment later, the alien disappeared in the transporter beam.

 

         Hawke and Harrison then walked though the cold, dark bridge back over to Lieutenant Bator at the computer.

 

         “I’ve been able to download as much of their database as possible,” he said as they approached.  “It is highly fragmented, and cannot be translated using the tricorder’s translation matrix,” he continued.

 

         “We’ll probably have better luck back on the ship, since we were able to communicate with the injured alien” said Hawke a moment later.

 

         Harrison glanced at the display.  The dark purple text remained in its native tongue.  Only a few of the alpha numerics were in Federation Standard, from what he could tell, it was the translation matrix and interface protocol.  “We have what we came for,” Harrison concluded a moment later.  “We could explore the lower decks, but something tells me we shouldn’t.”

 

         “Agreed,” said Hawke no less than a nanosecond later.  It was obvious she couldn’t wait to get off this floating tomb.

 

         Harrison once again contacted the transporter chief via his comm badge.  “Harrison to Starlight, three to beam up.”

 

         The chief said nothing, but moments later, the away team found themselves surrounded by blue pillars of swirling light, and back on the ship.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

FOUR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         The alien now laid upon a biobed in the sick bay of the Starlight.  Beside him stood Doctor Wrighton and Captain Christopher glaring over his motionless body.

 

         “How is he?” Christopher asked as he observed the pale yellow alien breathe effortlessly on the bed.

 

         Wrighton sighed.  Treating aliens such as Romulans or Klingons was a difficult task in itself, but treating an alien of completely unknown origin was, quite frankly, hell.  “From what I can tell, I’ve stabilized his condition.  But, I don’t know what to expect from him since we’ve never encountered his kind before.”

 

         As Christopher stood beside the unconscious alien, it moaned softly, but showed no signs of waking itself.  Christopher knew it would be best to wait for the alien to wake himself, but the more impulsive side of him wanted to have Dr. Wrighton use a few stimulants to wake him now.

 

         But, such a procedure would most likely put the alien’s life in even greater danger.  Curiosity would have to take a back seat in this investigation.

 

         Suddenly, the doors parted, and Commander Harrison strode in at a steady pace, followed by Lieutenant Hawke.  They looked around for a moment before spotting the Doctor and Captain standing beside the alien.

 

         Harrison promptly headed that way, carrying a PADD in his left hand.  Probably his analysis of the alien ship.  Or something equally as important.  “Captain,” he said a few steps away from the side of the bed opposite the Captain.

 

         “Mr. Harrison, what have you got?”

 

         Harrison looked at the PADD for a moment before handing it to Christopher.  “This is our initial analysis of the data we gathered on the alien vessel.”

 

         Christopher scanned the contents of the PADD.  A few paragraphs were in Federation Standard Text, but most of it was just a jumble of unrecognizable alien symbols.

 

         “As you can see, we’re having some trouble with the translation matrix,” said Hawke, explaining the incomplete status of the data.  “The computer is processing it as fast as possible, but apparently, our dear friend has a complex written language.”

 

         Christopher scrolled back up to the top of the PADD one more time and reviewed the translated data. It appeared to be a passage from their historical databanks regarding the rise of this great empire.

 

 

 

“Over the course of the past hundred cycles, we have witnessed many great changes in the borders of our sphere of influence.  The T’Kothan Sentries have raided our space, forcing us to eliminate them once and for all.  Rokann’a Vreenali, our most brilliant mathematician discovered methods of space travel nintey-three point six percent faster and more efficient than our previous ways.  Lihnot Korvantee lead the rebellion at Gorbanite Square, forcing the Primary Government to recognize the Akrolites as loyal citizens of the Empire. We helped the Voth cross through uncharted space and witnessed the rise and the fall of the Entalken Empire. We saw the defeat of our greatest nemesis, the Bakrini at the hands of the Ronar.

 

     And now, we stand at the height of our grandiose civilization, ready to take on any threat that comes our way.  Except one.

 

     Although it is only a mythical legend, **FRAGMENTED DATA**  Circle of Scholars says has merit.  Since the dawn **FRAGMENTED DATA**  ith the ability to o.. **TRANSLATION MATRIX ERROR STAND BY**”

 

 

 

         No, Christopher thought after looking at the passage more carefully, this was not a simple treatise on the rise of the empire.  It was more than that. “This appears to be a speech of some sort,” he said out loud to no one in particular.  As he scanned the text over and over, Christopher put together the story behind the text in an attempt to crack the mystery.  “It seems to me that this speech was the beginning of a new quest for the Empire.  A quest to seek out the one threat they are not ready for.”

 

         Harrison considered the data once more for himself.  “I see where you’re going with this,” he said.  “It seems logical.”

 

         “We’ll know more once the computer decodes the rest of the text,” Hawke said a moment later.

 

         It was truly an intriguing bit of information they had gathered from the computer, although not exactly what Christopher was looking for.  It still didn’t explain why this particular ship isn’t with the others on that quest.  “Did you find out what happened to the ship?”

 

         “No,” Hawke said immediately. “The vessel was cold and dark.  Most of its reserve power was off line, and the alloys used to build the hull interfered with tricorder readings,” she explained.

 

         “It would have been too risky to explore beyond the deck we were on.  If we had, we would have risked walking right out through a hull breech,” Harrison continued.

 

         “But, we downloaded as much of their database as we could,” Hawke added.  “If these people have half-a- brain, they would record their sensor readings into their logs.”

 

         The news was not all bad, Christopher realized.  They would find their answers eventually.  Just not now.  “It will have to do,” he said after a moment.  Tapping the PADD on the palm of his hand, Christopher stepped away from the bio-bed and headed for the doors.  “Doctor, Commander:  Keep me posted on these situations.  Let me know the instant there is any change in anything.”

 

         “Yes, sir,” Harrison said as he watched Christopher depart through the doors.  After they were safely shut, Harrison turned away from the doors to face Dr. Wrighton.  “As usual, Miss Hawke here is taking a survey as to what people think about our new officer.”

 

         Wrighton knew this would be coming.  She would be forced to confront her true feelings about the Captain.  She’d managed to avoid this little inquisition for the past two weeks, and she had hoped she would escape it altogether.  But now, she would have to face the facts.  What did she feel about the Captain?  About Alan?

 

         For several moments she stood there silently, collecting the glares of Hawke and Harrison.  Had there been phaser banks installed in their eye sockets, Wrighton would have four holes drilled into her forehead.  An osteo regenerator would take care of the wounds instantly, she reminded herself a moment later.

 

         “Well,” Harrison said a moment later, completely interrupting her thought process.

 

         She needed an excuse, and fast.  But none were coming.  Where was her brilliant mind when she needed it?  Oh well.  Here goes nothing.  “Since I already know Captain Christopher, don’t you think my own opinion may be biased?”

 

         Both Hawke and Harrison gave Wrighton a half-grin combined with a hint of disappointment.  “How so?” Hawke asked.

 

         “I’ve known him for a long time.  This isn’t my initial impression of him.  Thus, my views would be a moot point in your dear little survey.”

 

         Hawke stepped closer.  Obviously she wasn’t buying the Doctor’s excuses.  “Well then we could use your opinion as a basis for the rest of our answers,” she proposed.

 

         “Fine,” Wrighton said, not bothering to hide resentment in her voice.  It was the moment of truth.  What was about to say would undoubtedly be heard by every pair of ears on this ship.  “I think the Captain is a fine person.  He’s performing his job adequately and admirably.  You should all aspire to reach his level of excellence.”

 

         There. It was over.

 

         Harrison raised an eyebrow.  Hawke just stood there.  “Simple enough,” she said after a moment. 

 

         “Thank you, Doctor,” Harrison commented.  With that, they turned and left sick bay without another word.

 

Wrighton knew not what they thought of her response, but, she would know soon enough.

 

 

 

         “She likes him,” Hawke concluded as the two of them walked briskly down the corridor.

 

         Once again, Harrison raised his eyebrow.  “Oh really?  I interpreted something of a cold hatred.”

 

         Hawke grinned.  “No.  She was upset and insulted because we asked her.  Obviously, she thinks it’s none of our business and wished we wouldn’t conduct these surveys at all.”

 

         “All the more reason to ask her then,” Harrison responded.

 

         “All the more, indeed,” agreed Hawke.

 

         They stopped at the doors of the turbolift and waited for several seconds.  The doors whispered open, and the two officers joined Erick in the lift.  He nodded politely at them and moved aside.

 

         “Bridge,” Harrison said as the doors closed once more.

 

         “Erick,” Hawke said quietly.   “You know how we were discussing the Captain being smitten with Doctor Wrighton in the mess hall?”

 

         He nodded.  “Actually, you and Michelle were.”

 

         Ignoring his last statement, Hawke continued.  “Matthew and I just questioned the Doctor.”

 

         “And?”

 

         She nodded affirmatively.  “I think she’s smitten with him, too.”

 

         “That’s nice,” Logan said flatly as the turbolift came to a stop.  The doors opened to reveal the bridge.

 

         As they emerged, all three nodded at Christopher, who was chatting idly with Lieutenant Johnson at the ops station.  Hawke slipped in and attempted to pick up on the conversation.

 

         “I don’t get it,” she said after a moment.

 

         “Oh, it’s nothing,” said Johnson.  He patted Hawke on the back and left her to her station.

 

         “I’ll fill you in later,” Christopher assured his Chief of Operations. 

 

         Hawke nodded affirmatively and scanned over her console to update herself on what had happened while she was gone.  Very little she noted.

 

         “Well,” the Captain said after a moment.  “We’ve been sitting here long enough.  Doctor Wrighton assures me our alien friend won’t be waking any time soon, so there’s no point in staying here.  We’ll resume our course, and deal with him once he’s out and about.”

 

         “Agreed,” Harrison said a moment later.

 

         “Ensign, set a course for the Alteran Expanse, maximum warp.”

 

         “Aye sir,” Michelle said.  “Course set.”

 

         “Engage.”

 

         As the ship slipped into warp, Christopher resumed his place at the center of the bridge.  “I’m assuming we’ve got about three-and-a-half hours to kill?”

 

         Thomas glanced at the chronometer.  “Right,” she concurred a moment later. 

 

 

 

         Unlike Christopher had expected, the time marched along at a fairly steady pace.  The first hour he engaged himself in an intriguing conversation about ancient Earth paleontology with Commander Harrison, an interest shared by both the Captain and First Officer.

 

         As they approached the second hour, the conversation faded, so Thomas suggested that each bridge officer on deck share their personal history with the Captain to allow him to better understand how they function.  It was a wise idea on Michelle’s part. 

 

         Midway through the second hour, Lieutenant Bator flatly announced that they had entered visual range of the Alteran Expanse.  Harrison ordered the great melon colored expanse on screen, and they continued with their conversation.

 

         Finally, the third and final hour of their two week journey had arrived.  With sensors constantly grabbing more and more data from the expanse, most everybody became occupied, and yet again the conversation ceased.

 

         For the last few minutes of their trip, Christopher found himself staring at the Expanse hanging luminously on the main view screen.  A swirling nether of oranges and reds on the outskirts, which faded to a deep, mysterious purple on the inside.  Although scanners were scaling the view down to fit on the screen, by the looks of it, Christopher could tell the mass before them was extremely large.

 

         “Here we are,” Ensign Thomas reported finally.  “One kilometer away from the outskirts of the Alteran Expanse.”

 

         Both Christopher and Harrison rose from their soft, gray chairs.  “Mr. Bator,” said Christopher, “put it on the view screen, no magnification.”

 

         “Aye, sir.”

 

         A moment later, the seemingly homogenous mass they had been looking at earlier turned into a gaseous mixture of flaming oranges and reds.  From the insides of the expanse, plumes of deep purple matter bubbled out at random intervals and mingled with the reds and oranges, expelling a deep burnt orange into the adjacent space.

 

         “Is there any sign of the probe?,” Harrison asked Hawke moment later.

 

         She peered over her console again and again before responding.  Obviously, sensors were not cooperating.  “The swirling nether before us has obstructed our sensor’s view,” she said a moment later, using the large words to cover disappointing findings.

 

         Catching on, Christopher immediately continued the conversation, something Harrison found quite difficult to do when Hawke was displaying her grammatical prowess.  “Then we must aspire to either circumvent the sensor network, or alter them so they are able to pervade the galactic vapor.”

 

         Hawke smiled.  “Indeed, your exhortations contain merit, however implementation of either course of action will consume at least an hour.”

 

         “Initiate modifications on the sensors.”

 

         Harrison stepped foreword before Hawke could respond.  “Pardon me,” he said, “if you don’t mind, us little peons who failed to memorize the thesaurus would like it if you spoke in terms we can comprehend.”

 

         “Of course, Commander,” Christopher replied cunningly.  “Miss Hawke, you have one hour.”

 

         “Not a problem,” she said turning for the exit next to her station.

 

         “And Commander, have Lieutenant Johnson work on this project with you.  I think he feels he needs a little something more to do,” Christopher said before she left.

 

         “Yes, sir.” Hawke smiled and turned into the turbolift.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

FIVE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         Captain’s log, stardate 72040.1:  After rescuing an unidentified alien from his heavily damaged vessel, we have finally arrived at the Alteran Expanse.  Lieutenant Commander Hawke informs me her alterations on the sensors are complete, and we are ready to begin our search for the Starfleet probe.

 

 

 

         “Bring the modified sensors on line,” Harrison ordered comfortably from his seat next to Captain Christopher.

 

         Hawke, with Johnson standing directly beside her, acknowledged.  “Sensors coming on line . . . now,” she reported.

 

         Johnson turned to the controls mounted on the wall behind Hawke.  “The new matrix is holding,” he noted.  “Sensors are on line.”

 

         “Good,” Christopher commended.  “Scan the interior of the expanse.”

 

         “Aye sir,” Hawke responded.  She activated the sensors on a monitor near her workspace and began running complete sensor sweeps of the region in front of them.  After typing in the sweep parameters, she stepped back and watched for any little blips on the sensor screen.  Nothing happened.

 

         “Can you find it?” Harrison inquired after a long pause.

 

         “No,” Hawke answered.  “It would appear the sensor range has decreased by thirty-five percent in order to attain readings sensitive enough to find the probe.”

 

         “As a result,” Kendall continued, “we can only scan about three-quarters of the way through the expanse.”

 

         “Is it possible the probe has drifted that far into the expanse?” Christopher questioned.  “Starfleet gave us the exact coordinates, and were sitting squarely upon them.”

 

         “Strange,” Bator murmured a moment later.  Entranced by his own sensor readings, he did nothing to clue in the rest of the crew as to his findings.

 

         “What is it?” Christopher asked when the Phobian failed to say anything more.

 

         “Using the new sensors, I have been able to scan inside the expanse for radiation signatures which could not be detecting using conventional sensors,” he said, not exactly explaining his attention getting comment, but explaining his thinking behind it.

 

         “And?” Harrison urged.

 

         And, I am detecting residual weapon fire inside the expanse.”  He stopped in mid-explanation to continue his investigation.  Christopher would have to remind him to complete his work before bringing it up next time.  “Four type-sixteen phaser beams were directed toward our coordinates,” he finished.

 

         “When?” Christopher asked.

 

         Bator glanced at his readings once more.  “Unknown.  Because of the interference inside the expanse, radiation does not decay; it is simply absorbed into it.”

 

         This one shred of data suddenly sparked more than one idea into Christopher’s mind.  The first of which he promptly acted up.  “Ensign, move us back one-hundred thousand kilometers.  If there is a hostile force in there, let’s give them some room.”

 

         “Aye sir,” Michelle responded promptly.

 

         As he felt the ship creeping backward, Christopher turned to Kristin Hawke.  “Kristin, start scanning for, instead of Starfleet probes, for alien vessels designed to hide inside spacial anomolies.”

 

         She nodded politely and went to work instantly.  Just as she did so, the computer started bleeping where Kendall was working, directly behind her.  “What is it?” she asked kindly.

 

         “Sir,” Kendall spoke up, circumventing Kristin’s question.

 

         “What is it?”

 

         “I’ve managed to increase sensor range.”

 

         “And?” Harrison asked.

 

         “I’ve detected some debris heading 023 mark 1.  A durotanium poly-alloy.”

 

         “Durotanium poly-alloy,” repeated Christopher.

 

         Harrison looked at the Captain and confirmed it, “Durotanium poly-alloy.  The primary hull component in Starfleet deep range probes.”

 

         And so there was something lurking inside that nebula.  This had only confirmed what Christopher had feared all along.  Until this very moment, the more optimistic parts of him believed that the probe had simply been moved, or off line.  But now, the evidence for the pessimistic views of the situation appeared to be more valid.

 

         Now the only question that remained was simple:  Who was hiding in a nebula in the middle of Federation Space picking off little Starfleet probes?  It was a question Christopher would not let go unanswered. But how, aside from barging blindly into a nebula, could they find out?

 

         Harrison turned around and leaned up against the metal railing separating the front and back of the bridge.  “Mr. Bator, is there enough debris to account for the probe?”

 

         “Yes,” he replied as a sensor alert went off at his station.  “I am detecting weapon fire inside the expanse,” he blurted out.

 

         “Source?” Christopher asked.

 

         Bator nodded negatively, “Unknown,” he replied.

 

         Christopher nervously sat down in his command chair.  “Yellow alert,” he ordered.  No matter what, he would not let whoever was in there catch him off guard.

 

         “What are they firing at?” Harrison asked as he joined the Captain.

 

         “Nothing,” Bator replied.  “They are randomly detonating some sort of weapon inside the expanse.  As of yet, we do not have a source.”

 

         “Keep looking,” Christopher urged.

 

         What were they firing at?  It didn’t look like they were firing at the Starlight.  Perhaps there were other ships inside there, fighting with each other.  A nebular war, perhaps. 

 

         Sitting here was accomplishing nothing.  If these vessels or whatever kept moving, sensors might not ever find them.  Thus, Christopher decided they needed to end their passiveness and start taking some action.  “If we go in the nebula, our shields and warp drive will be useless, correct?”

 

         “Right,” Michelle confirmed.  “And with the matter inside there, a detonation on our hull would most likely set the entire expanse up in flames.  There would be no way we could survive.”

 

         “Sir,” Bator said suddenly, his voice filled with urgency.

 

         “What is it, Lieutenant?” Christopher asked.

 

         “I’ve got a sensor lock on the vessel.  It is of a similar design to the one we encountered earlier, only substantially larger in size and defensive capabilities.”

 

         “Not good,” Christopher muttered.  “Red alert,” Christopher ordered.  “Erin, back us out another hundred thousand kilometers and hold our position there. Commander, you’re with me.  Mr. Bator, you have the bridge.”

 

         “Aye sir,” Bator acknowledged, however he did not leave his station.  Christopher did not object.  He would rather have a more seasoned officer at tactical and no officer in the Captain’s chair, than a mere peon at tactical who might make a fatal error, and Mr. Bator in the chair.

 

         “We’ll be in sick bay,” Christopher said as both he and Commander Harrison entered the turbolift.  Since the ship inside the Alteran Expanse was so similar to the damaged one they had encountered earlier, it was only logical that the same aliens manned it.  Healthy or not, Dr. Wrighton would be waking him now.

 

         “Deck five,” Harrison ordered after the doors whispered shut.

 

         “Has the computer made any more progress on translating the files you downloaded from our guest’s ship?”

 

         “Yes.  It’s been able to finish translating the message we were reading earlier, and has decoded about five-hundred words of their early history,” Harrison reported.  “From what those records say, these people are called the Elorg.  A species of aliens who roamed the stars two-hundred thousand years ago.”

 

         The Elorg.

 

         The words resonated in Christopher’s ears for several moments.  And he knew they would be doing the same for Harrison.  Both of them had extensive knowledge of ancient history.  “I thought the Elorg were extinct?”

 

         “They should be,” Harrison concurred.  “Since nobody knows what they looked like, we can’t know for certain until our friend tells us.”

 

         “Great,” Christopher muttered.  “What about the document?”

 

         Harrison sighed.  “Apparently, the Elorg’s grand final quest was to conquer the Iconians and to acquire their technology which allows them to open dimensional rifts to other areas of space.  Quantum singularities, if you will.”

 

         “And it must have been the war that destroyed both races,”  Christopher summarized as the turbolift came to a stop.  “We never did know what happened to the Elorg and the Iconians.  Historians simply assumed it was natural selection or natural disasters.”

 

         “Historians might just get proven otherwise,” Harrison said as he followed Captain Christopher into sick bay.

 

         “Amy,” Christopher said upon seeing the Doctor in her office.  “We need you to wake our dear little friend,” he said without bothering to wait for her to answer.

 

         Phlegmatically, she rose from her seat and walked into the main area of sick bay.  “Why?”

 

         “We have reason to believe his people are hiding a warship inside the Alteran Expanse,” Harrison explained.

 

         “I wouldn’t recommend it.”

 

         “I know what you don’t recommend, Doctor, but this isn’t a request, it’s an order,” Christopher clarified.  “We need to talk to him, and we need to talk to him now.  I think we deserve a few answers.”

 

         Shooting Christopher an evil look, Wrighton grasped a hypospray and loaded it with a stimulant.  She walked over to the sleeping alien and injected it on the side of his neck.

 

         At first nothing happened, but suddenly the alien gasped for air and started shaking.  After a moment, he stopped shaking and slowly sat up to survey his surroundings.  “Who . . .” he asked in a dazed voice.

 

         Christopher slowly approached the alien.  “I am Captain Alan Christopher of the Federation Starship Starlight.  Your vessel was heavily damaged.  It was loosing life support and had hull breeches on most decks.  The entire crew, aside from you, were dead.”

 

         He nodded weakly.  Wrighton waved a tricorder over his body several times.  “You were severely injured,” she explained.  “You’re stable for the moment, though.”

 

         “Ah, yes, thank you.  Excuse me for sleeping my entire stay, but as you can tell, I had little choice.  My name is Kielar Maas.  I was the secondary engineer aboard my ship.”

 

         “Can you tell us what happened to it,” asked Harrison.

 

         Maas squinted for a moment while trying to recall what had transpired.  Then he looked up and spoke.  “We were traveling through our territory on a standard patrol, when all of the sudden, the very fabric of space tore itself apart before us.  Our ship was caught in the maelstrom.  Plasma strands pocked our hull and blew out our systems.  But when it was done, we found ourselves here.  Wherever here may be.”

 

         Both Harrison and Christopher noticed he neglected to tell them his race.  “Perhaps we could assist you in that regard,” Christopher suggested.  “Where are you from?”

 

         Maas let out a long sigh before responding.  “That question is more complicated than you may believe, Captain Christopher.”

 

         “How so?”

 

         “You see, thousands of years ago, our race was expelled from the normal universe by a race of beings known as the Iconians.  Since that time, we have been forced to live in a sub-space pocket.  I am probably trillions of light years from homeworld.”

 

         Actually, you’re probably just a few hundred light years from it, Christopher said to himself.  There was very little doubt about it now, this person was an Elorg, whether or not he’d admit it.

 

         “Well, I’m feeling much better now,” Maas sighed after a moment of silence. 

 

         He didn’t look any better, Christopher noted.  Then again, he couldn’t judge an alien race which he had never seen prior to this meeting.  For all he knew, Maas could be in perfect condition now.

 

         Also suspicious, Wrighton ran the medical tricorder over Maas’s body once more.  It bleeped and whined with each pass, most likely indicating myriad of problems.  “I’m not so sure,” she diagnosed a moment later.  “I’d say you’re out of the woods, but not in peak condition.  I’d like to keep you here for observation for at least another forty-eight hours.”

 

         Maas scoffed at the idea.  “Unacceptable,” he bellowed.  Suddenly his energy level soared. “I’ve been in Arclosian medical slums and gotten better treatment than this,” he said, lowering his voice a bit.

 

         “Listen,” Wrighton said forcefully, “I’ve never encountered your species before.  I don’t know how to treat you.  I’m guessing the Arclosian slums were a little more informed than I am.”

 

         “Perhaps,” Maas allowed.  “Nevertheless, I expect to be out of this closet in no less than six hours.  Then we shall proceed to my vessel and repair it.”

 

         Wrighton glanced at Christopher.  It was not his place to be giving orders aboard a starship that was not his.  Christopher nodded affirmatively.  “I’m sorry, Kielar Maas, but I cannot take orders from you.  If you wish, we can deposit you on your vessel and tow it back to spacedock after this mission, but you’ll have to wait.”

 

         Clearly unhappy with the decree, Maas folded his arms upon his chest and rose from the bed.  “I will wait until your mission is over to be deposited aboard my vessel,” he said with a strong, stern voice.  “It is not proper to abandon a mission once it has commenced.  Your loyalty to duty is commendable, however, I cannot tolerate being incarcerated here for forty-eight of your hours.  I will tolerate six. Nothing more.”

 

         At least he was being civilized about the entire situation.  His people obviously could be reasoned with, and with reason, comes trust.  And Christopher intended to gain that trust.  “Doctor, you have five hours to observe the patient.  If, at that time, he appears to be stabilized, have security bring him to me.”

 

         “Yes, sir,” she said with a hint of anger in her voice.  Having her necessary treatment periods decreased by nintey percent was also unacceptable.  Repeating the evil glare she sent out earlier, Wrighton turned away from her superiors and guest and returned to her office.

 

         As she departed, Kielar Maas turned to Captain Christopher.  “Thank you for your reasonable nature, Captain Christopher,” he said almost warmly.  “I will not forget it in the future.”

 

         Bingo.  It had worked.  Perhaps the Elorg might not be a threat after all.  Might as well strengthen the bond even more.  “As a gesture of good will, I’m granting you access to our historical databanks and astrometric charts.  Perhaps you can find some reference to your own species to give you some idea as to where you are.”

 

         Maas nodded politely once more.  “Thank you, Captain.  I will make good use of your facilities.  Where may I access these files?”

 

         Christopher turned to the terminal in the nook behind him and to the right.  A “cockpit” terminal used primarily for cataloging medical research.  Because of this, it had limited access to classified files, and virtually no access to ship systems without some reprogramming.  “Over there. We’ve uploaded your race’s native text into our computer, so you can translate the text from Federation Standard.”

 

         Maas nodded once more.  “Thank you again, Captain Christopher, on behalf of the entire Elorg Bloc.”

 

         “No problem,” Christopher said, now very happy.  Their suspicions had been correct.  This man was an Elorg.  And he was far from extinct.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

SIX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         It had been several hours since Maas had begun to study this United Federation of Planets.  And from what he could tell, they were a very inclined toward battle.  War after war, invasion after invasion.  Names, people, planets, races he had never heard of filled the screen.

 

         Borg.

 

         Romulan.

 

         Cardassian.

 

         Klingon.

 

         Jem’Hadar.

 

         They were all alien.  Except one entry he found most intriguing:  a race known as the Founders.  They were shapeshifters, masters of the Jem’Hadar.

 

         Where there shapeshifters in our world? Maas asked himself.  Perhaps, he though, perhaps not.  The ancient texts were not his area of expertise.  Although, he could confirm this with one simple search.  A search for even a mention of his people.

 

         Had these primitive Federations ever heard of the Elorg?  Once again, perhaps, perhaps not.  There was only one way to find out.

 

         Slowly, hesitantly, Kielar Maas typed in the search phrase. Upon entering the data into the computer, the screen flashed “STAND BY” in Federation Standard, despite his translation matrix.  Then a moment later, the computer displayed a short list of files mentioning the world Elorg.

 

         And so they have heard of us.

 

         He opened the first file.  It was a downloaded file from his ship.  The initiation of the conflict against the Iconians. He had read it a hundred times, and did not need to do so once more.  Thus, he closed the file and opened the next.

 

         Once again, it was nothing substantial.  More downloaded files, this time history databanks.  The majority of it was still in the translation matrix being converted to Federation Standard.  Like the previous file, Maas scanned it and promptly closed the file.  Nothing he didn’t already know.

 

         Next, the third file.  He could tell by the content that it was not downloaded material.  In fact, it appeared to be a document of extinction.  Was there another race named the Elorg that had become extinct?  No, it was not possible.  Then again...

 

         He quickly closed the extinction file and accessed the next.  An ancient history paper.

 

 

 

“Ancient Civilizations

 

RE:  Iconians

 

by: Dr. Gregory Baihrstone

 

Updated: Stardate 55447.6

 

 

 

For centuries, scientists across the galaxy have been wondering about the answer to quite possibly one of the greatest mysteries known to the universe:  What ever happened to the Iconians?

 

Two-hundred thousand years ago, a race of aliens known as the Iconians grazed the stars like giants.  Powerful, even by today’s standards, the Iconians were a peaceful, honorable race respected by their neighboring races.

 

Or so historians thought. 

 

The acknowledged “super power” of their day, the Iconians possessed a technology which allowed them to open great rifts in space-time, thus, allowing the Iconians to travel great distances in the blink of an eye.  This unique ability, to our knowledge has not been reproduced since.

 

A recent archeological sight discovered on Dorab VI by Captain Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, may shed some light onto the Iconian’s great disappearance.

 

The sight, unlike others recently unearthed sights, was nearly destroyed by a great particle weapon some two-hundred thousand years ago. Could this be the long rumored Elorg weapon of mass destruction?  If it is, this could prove the theory that these two races were at war once long ago, engaged in the battle that erased them both.”

 

 

 

         The evidence was growing stronger.  Had fate been good to him today?  Had Maas inadvertently found their nirvana? 

 

         “Display astrometric charts,” he ordered immediately.

 

         The view flickered and was soon replaced by the image of the galaxy.  Maas ordered the computer to overlay Iconian territory.

 

         On the screen, a large yellow mass covered over half the galaxy.  Indeed, this was the Iconian Empire’s former territory.  There was no doubt now.  This was home. He needed to contact the others.  Surely more had followed him through the rift.

 

         “Computer, open a channel on subspace frequency 0.0034,” he whispered to the computer.  It did not comply. Then it would be necessary to override it completely.

 

 

 

         “Sir,” Bator said suddenly, interrupting the calm, dead silence of the bridge.

 

         “What is it?” asked Harrison as he half-rose from the comfort of his chair.  The booming voice almost startled him in the midst of the long silence.

 

         “Someone is attempting to send an unauthorized transmission into the nebula.”

 

         Kielar Maas came to mind.  Harrison knew he couldn’t be trusted, despite the nicities he had shared with the Captain.  “Lock him out, Lieutenant.”

 

         Bator complied.  “Done, but, some of the message was sent before the lockout was complete.”

 

         “How much?” Harrison asked inquisitively. 

 

         “Enough,” replied the Phobian as the dead silence returned.  Only now, the silence was an eerily dead one. 

 

 

 

         The Captain’s ready room was often his home away from home.  A place of refuge and meditation, normally filled with treasured items and artifacts.

 

         As thoughts of previous ready rooms entered his mind, Christopher noted that his was, like his quarters, bare.  Aside from the furniture, there was very little in this place of refuge.  Like his quarters, decorating this place was a must.

 

         Suddenly, the doorbell chimed.  “Enter,” Christopher said promptly.  

 

         Commander Harrison hastily barged in a moment later.  Not upset, Christopher noted, just unnerved.

 

         “What is it?”

 

         Harrison stopped a few meters away from the desk.  “Kielar Maas has just sent a transmission to the ships in the Alteran Expanse.”

 

         “Were you able to stop it?”

 

         “A portion of it, but not enough.”

 

         Not good.  Not good at all.  Perhaps the trust they had forged only a few hours earlier was not true at all.  A hoax.  Christopher would not let himself be underestimated like that again.

 

         He touched his comm badge.  “Christopher to Wrighton.”

 

         “Yes?”

 

         “Report to my Ready Room at once.”

 

         “Of course.”  She said nothing more as the link was severed.

 

         Christopher pulled up a schematic of the ship’s sensors and honed in on sick bay.  One life form inside, an Elorg.  “Christopher to Bator, raise a level ten forcefield around sick bay, and cut access to all computer terminals there.”

 

         “Aye, sir.”

 

         Now he had the backstabber cornered.  At least the threat of retaliation was ended.  Who knows what this alien could have done had he chosen to act violently?

 

         Once more the doorbell chimed.  Dr. Wrighton most likely.  “Enter,” Christopher said, and as he expected, Wrighton strode into the ready room.

 

         “You called?”

 

         Christopher sat up in his chair to eliminate his slight slouch.  “Have you completed your analysis of Kielar Maas?”

 

         “No.  I said I needed forty-eight hours to do that.  And in the five hours you allotted me to complete it, our dear “friend” was less than cooperative.”

 

         “I’m sorry, Doctor,” Christopher apologized.  The last thing he needed right about now was an angry Doctor.

 

         “I’m guessing you called me here for a reason other than apologizing for your stupidity?” Wrighton asked as she folded her arms. 

 

         Christopher allowed her the insult and continued as if she said nothing at all.  “Correct.  I’m kicking you out of sick bay and am demoting you to waste extraction.  Nurse Arden shall take your place.  Congratulations.”

 

         Harrison allowed himself a brief snicker as the Doctor’s face turned angry.  She was mad, but was attempting to hide it.  Christopher on the other hand, made herculean efforts to remain dead serious.  Perhaps it was working?

 

         “Actually,” said the Captain finally, “we’re holding Mr. Maas prisoner in sick bay until we can move him to the brig.”

 

         “I knew that,” Wrighton lied.

 

         “I’m sure you did,” Christopher said as the lights flickered around him.  They forced themselves back to life for a brief moment before dying out completely.

 

         As they did so, Christopher could his feet creeping away from the floor.  In the pitch blackness, he could almost make out two other figures, those of Harrison and Wrighton floating aimlessly along side him.  Artificial gravity had failed.

 

         “Harrison to bridge!”  called out the Commander a moment later.

 

         Silence.

 

         “The comm system must be down,” suggested Wrighton as she hung mid air.  She was probably right.

 

         Christopher grasped the wall beside him and pushed himself off, prompting him to sail across the ready room to the doors.  Wrighton and Harrison followed in a similar manor.

 

         Forcing the panel beside the doors open, Christopher pulled out the magnetic constrictors.  Ninety-nine percent of the time they seem to be a useless addition to any starship.  But not now.  This was that one percent of the time when they came in handy. 

 

         Christopher placed the device on the sealed door and input a few commands into its simple interface.  A moment later, the doors hissed, but did not open.  The magnetic lock had been released.  Forcing the doors open with his hands, Christopher emerged on the bridge a few moments later.  They were afloat as well.

 

         “Report?” Harrison called as he floated in.

 

         “We were shot with a barrage of weapons,” said Bator, grasping the sides of the tactical station to keep himself from rising.

 

         “Was there any damage?” Christopher asked.

 

         “None,” he replied.  “We were hit by several polaron bursts in conjunction with a verteron pulse and an unknown particle weapon.”

 

         “It’s taken everything off line,” Hawke added a moment later.

 

         “How long until power is restored?”  Harrison asked.

 

         Hawke sighed.  “Since turbolifts are off line, and we don’t have any gravity, I’d say it’ll take at least half an hour to reach main engineering to find out.”

 

         Obviously this situation would not resolve itself, nor would it be resolved very quickly.  They were dealing with a total blackout.  But Christopher knew that they would have to act fast for several reasons, the most obvious being life support, but also, being suspended in zero-G for extended amounts of time leads to atrophy of the muscles and bone marrow.

 

         “Break out the environmental suits,” he ordered as the faintest explosion could be heard in the background.  Around them, the entire ship swayed back-and-forth from the blast, whatever it was.

 

         “That sounded like a structural defect,” Hawke announced.  “A hull breech or a plasma leak.”

 

         Christopher sighed.  “We’ll never find out what it is unless sensors are back on line,” he said.

 

         “We need to set some priorities,” Harrison suggested a moment later.

 

         Christopher nodded his agreement, but after a moment, doubted it could be seen from the distance Harrison had floated away.  “Agreed,” he said, just to be sure.

 

         “Our number one priority should be life support,” Wrighton suggested before anyone else had the opportunity to speak.  Holding on to Christopher’s arm to keep anchored, she grasped even tighter, sending convincing pulses of pain up Christopher’s arm.

 

         “Good idea, Doctor,” he gasped a moment later.  “I want you and Lieutenant Johnson to get to work on it at once,” he ordered.

 

         “Yes sir,” Johnson said instantly.

 

         Wrighton said nothing, but floated her way over to Johnson.  He grasped her arm and towed her in as she approached.

 

         “Next,” said Christopher as he grasped a tricorder taking aim on his head, “we need sensors.  I know zero-G conditions are inconvenient, but the environmental suits will suffice for the moment.  With the Elorg sitting out there, I want to know what’s going on.  Mr. Bator, you will accompany Lieutenant Hawke and myself to engineering.  Commander Harrison, the bridge is yours.  See if you can get the comm system working.”

 

         “Yes sir,” he replied.  “And sir, what about Kielar Maas?”

 

         “You’re right.  He could be undermining our efforts.  We’ll keep a look out for him. Let’s move,” Christopher called out a moment later.  Though movement was difficult, the crew floated into action, using the magnetic constrictors to force the turbolifts and Jefferies tubes open.

 

         As Christopher peered down the long dark turbolift shaft, Bator placed a flashlight firmly in the palm of his left hand.  Grasping the flashlight, Christopher carefully flicked it on and waved the beam of light down the tube.

 

         The light traveled down until it hit the top of the turbolift.  “It looks like it’s at least six decks down,” Christopher noted as Hawke and Bator joined him.

 

         “There are environmental suits on deck four,” Bator said after a moment of gazing into the darkness.

 

         “Noted,” Christopher said as he stepped into the nothingness of the turbolift.  After a brief nauseating dip down several feet, Christopher leveled out about four feet below the doors.

 

         A moment later he was joined by Lieutenant Hawke.  From the clip on her belt, she unfastened a magnetic constrictor and handed it to Christopher. 

 

         “Thank you,” he said as he fastened it to his own belt.  Now they wouldn’t have to break open a new constrictor every time they wanted to move through a door.

 

         Bator plunged down a few seconds later with phasers in his hands.  “One can never be too careful,” he said as he placed the weapons in the hands of his comrades.

 

         Christopher took the phaser and fastened it securely next to the magnetic constrictor and the tricorder already there.  “Right you are, Mr. Bator.”

 

         With is team ready, Christopher grasped the side of the shaft and started their four deck descent.  A task more difficult than normal.  With his surroundings constantly keeping him afloat, Christopher found the downward motion to be most arduous.

 

         Nevertheless, in dark, murky turbolift, they descended, grasping whatever they could to keep themselves from rising back to where they had come from.

 

         Finally, Christopher flashed is light on a label that read “Deck Four.”  Sighing a breath of relief, the air seemed stale and moldy.  Indeed, life support was not on line.  And the air in the shafts was disappearing quickly.

 

         Hastily, Christopher unlatched his magnetic constrictor and placed it firmly on the door.  It hissed and opened about a centimeter, just enough room for Christopher to stick his fingers in and pull the doors apart.

 

         As they emerged from the shaft onto deck four, the air was much the same.  Still not totally familiar with the layout of the Starlight, Christopher floated aside so Bator could take the lead.

 

         Understanding perfectly, Bator floated to the front of the group and lead them through two short corridors before finally stopping in front of a set of large orange doors.  “We cannot use our magnetic constrictors to open these doors,” he said after a moment.

 

         “They’re to thick.  We’ll have to use the manual release,” Hawke explained further.

 

         “Noted,” said Christopher.  He floated to the panel beside the doors and ripped the cover off.  It floated aimlessly in the corridor until it could no longer be seen by the light of their flashlights.

 

         Slowly, Christopher pulled the lever inside the panel downward, resulting in the same hiss that the constrictors made, only this was a louder and deeper.

 

         A swell of fresh air rushed at them as the room opened up.  The trio quickly floated in to savor the air while it lasted, as it would soon intermingle with the stale air and would be no different.

 

         Using their magnetic constrictors to open the storage lockers, each of them pulled out a bright white environmental suit highlighted at the chest, cuffs and neck with red bands. 

 

         Slowly, they slipped into the suits and ran a diagnostic to check the suits for any breeches, and that it had enough oxygen to sustain them.

 

         “Magnetize,” Christopher ordered once each of their suits gave them the all clear.

 

         With the flip of a switch, their boots suddenly sucked them to the floor and kept them there.  Nodding their readiness to one another, the group slowly walked out of the room, each foot step accompanied by a sonorous clank until they reached the carpeted corridor.

 

         Retracing their footsteps, Christopher lead the group back to the turbolift shaft they had emerged from.  With the doors still open, he peered down.  The lift was only one deck away.

 

         With a daring leap, Christopher plunged downward and landed firmly on top of the turbolift.  Both Hawke and Bator followed a moment later and assisted Christopher in removing the hatch on top of the lift.

 

         With the hatch floating aimlessly above them, Bator peered in first.  “It’s empty,” he said flatly as he waved his light inside the lift.

 

         “Then let’s go,” said Christopher as he jumped through to the lift below.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

SEVEN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         “. . . we have entered the Alpha Quadrant . . . homeworld . . .  ransmit. . . ta . . o. . . dev . . .    b. . .    . . .    . . .”

 

         “Again,” came the deep, authoritative voice of Gorvak To’Chall, commander of the Elorg Warship Zareth.  He was referring to the message the Zareth had intercepted several hours ago from a vessel situation over 150,000 marks from the nebula.

 

         “. . . we have entered the Alpha Quadrant . . . homeworld . . .  ransmit. . . ta . . o. . . dev . . .    b. . .    . . .    . . ,” came the mysterious voice once more.  Terribly garbled and incomplete, it was only a fragment of the entire message.  What had happened to the rest is unknown.

 

         To’Chall paced back-and-forth across a small area of his dimly lit bridge.  “Are you sure you cannot clear the message any further?

 

         “Yes,” came the voice of a lowly science officer.

 

         “And you are sure this is on an Elorg communication channel?” To’Chall continued.  If this was a hoax, he wanted to make sure whoever was implementing it would suffer a long, painful death.

 

         “The signal is on frequency 0.0034,” confirmed the same lowly officer.

 

         To’Chall grunted softly as he lowered himself into the heavily padded command chair.  “The emergency channel.”

 

         A channel so heavily encrypted that only high ranking officers had access to it.  A channel so off-beat that nobody in their right mind would use it.  If this was a hoax, it was a very cruel and unusual one.

 

         Gorvak glanced over the data for himself from the station directly to his right.  It was severely fragmented and degrading by the moment.  In the mess, however, he noticed what appeared to be a sub channel transmitting yet another message.  Even more heavily encrypted.  Could this possibly be the comm channel that only the highest ranking officers had access to?

 

         “Open a channel to base,” To’Chall ordered at once.  If this was another channel transmitting, it could have more data.

 

         “Channel open, sir.”

 

         To’Chall stood up and straightened his uniform as yet another pale yellow alien appeared on the main viewer.  “To’Chall,” he said.

 

         “General,” said To’Chall evenly.  “Our vessel has picked up a heavily fragmented message from an unidentified vessel nearby.  We have disabled the vessel in case we need to investigate further.  Although the message itself is nondescript, it seems to be transmitting an addendum on a heavily encrypted sub channel.  Beyond the emergency channel.”

 

         The General appeared was aghast.  “How is this possible?  Nobody except the highest ranking officers have access to that channel.”

 

         “Which channel is it?” To’Chall asked carefully.

 

         The General peered downward.  “To’Chall, I am telling you this only because you are my trusted friend, and will most likely be a high ranking officer soon,” he said with the utmost seriousness.  “As you know, we have thirty standard communication channels, as well as five classified channels and three emergency channels.  This one is classified.  The only classified channel that transmits alongside an emergency channel is the Homeworld Channel.”

 

         “The Homeworld Channel?”  To’Chall repeated.  Was this some sort of new entertainment frequency, so advanced that normals couldn’t watch it?  Unlikely, but an interesting thought.

 

         “Yes,” the General confirmed.  “It indicates that homeworld has been successfully located.”

 

         The Elorg Homeworld located?  It has been the dream of every Elorg since the Iconian war to return to their homeworld, however due the subspace pocket they were trapped in, that seemed like an unlikely goal.  Now, the channel was activated.

 

         “Is there a way to confirm the message?” To’Chall asked.

 

         “Yes,” said the General.  “Input the following encryption sequence:  four, three, seven, eight, nine, two, zero, zero, one, one, six, nine, three, eight, four, five, seven, zero, one, eight, four, six, six, nine, four, nine, four, two, five, eight.”

 

         To’Chall complied.  As he input the sequence, he could feel the hope being restored in his body.  It was as if he was unlocking to doors to nirvana.  Finally, he entered the final digits, and the sub-channel unlocked and became active on the screen before him.

 

         With a few keystrokes, To’Chall opened the file.  To his surprise, the message was incredibly short.  One word, repeating over and over:  Akantharmoraga.

 

         “Akantharmoraga,” To’Chall said aloud.  “That’s the entire message.  It just repeats over and over.”

 

         The General’s eyes grew wide.  As they did, To’Chall was sure his did the same.  His heartbeat increased rapidly, and his veins filled with excitement.  “Is this it?” To’Chall asked.

 

         The General swallowed.  “Yes.  You now sit in our galaxy, To’Chall.”

 

         At last, they were free.  Free from their punishment of permanent incarceration in a subspace pocket.  Free to retake that which was wrongfully taken from them two-hundred thousand years ago.  And they would.  To’Chall had no doubts about it.

 

         “I will summon the fleet,” the General announced a moment later. “And we will begin to rebuild the Elorg Bloc from the ground up.”

 

         “Agreed,” To’Chall said triumphantly.  “Glory awaits in the Alpha Quadrant.”

 

 

 

         The trip had started off so simple.  Down a little turbolift shaft and into a turbolift.  But since then, it had grown into a terrible battle.  Because there was no gravity in the shaft, Bator found it easier to simply walk down with their boots magnetized to the sides of the lifts.  Their equilibrium balanced out, so it seemed as if they were walking down an ancient sidewalk.

 

         Aside from that, the constant course corrections resulted in a bit of confusion.  Since Christopher was not yet intimate with the inside of the ship, he relied heavily on Bator and Hawke, who often disagreed on which way to go.

 

         Often, he was forced to make an educated guess as to their path, sometimes ending in a dead end, other times leading them to an even more confusing intersection.

 

         Nevertheless, it seemed they were moving toward engineering at a pretty good clip.  They had been traveling straight down a tube for several minutes now.  The constant clanking began to form somewhat of a musical pattern in Christopher’s mind, something like the twentieth century bands that would make music out of garbage cans and other off-the-wall musical instruments.

 

         Suddenly, a brief movement far down the shaft brought Christopher out of his daydream.  A very brief movement which he was only able to glimpse when Bator’s light shined on it. 

 

         What could it be?  Was there somebody else in the turbolift shaft with them?  Hastily, Christopher moved his ray of light over the area he had just seen.

 

         Nothing.  Nothing but the turbolift shaft.

 

         “What?” Hawke asked a moment later, noticing that something wasn’t quite right with the Captain.

 

         “Nothing,” he said uneasily.  “I’m just seeing things.”

 

         “Oh.”

 

         They moved on.  Only now, the clanking of their boots no longer appealed to Christopher.  They echoed mysteriously throughout the turbolift shaft over and over. 

 

         As they progressed, each step became more difficult.  The magnets now seemed to be gluing his feet to the deck instead of holding him firmly in place.

 

         But that was not the case, Christopher reassured himself.  It was fear.  “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Christopher muttered a moment later.

 

         That same moment, a low, uneasy groan emanated from the path before them.

 

         Hawke stopped dead in her tracks.  “Are you sure about that ‘nothing’ you encountered earlier?” she asked nervously.

 

         Christopher grasped the phaser from his belt.  “Come to think of it, no,” he replied with an equally un-nerved voice.

 

         Bator flashed his light down the corridor.  Once again, there wasn’t anything there.  Unfortunately, that knowledge did nothing to rid of the gigantic knot in the pit of Christopher’s stomach.

 

         Slowly, he slipped the tricorder into his hand and flipped it open.  Waving it around in the air, the tricorder did nothing to indicate it had found anything.  It bleeped consistently with a short, clipped shrilled noise.  No life forms here, it concluded as the moan returned.  This time only more ominous.  And near.

 

         “I don’t like the sound of that,” Christopher confessed as he put his tricorder away in favor of his phaser.  Somehow, it seemed to calm his nerves a little.  “Let’s go,” he said a moment later.  “Standing here won’t do us any good.”

 

         As they progressed, Bator constantly moved the light back-and-forth to make sure they weren’t running into . . . anything.

 

         “This is it,” Bator nearly whispered as they reached yet another intersection.

 

         “Engineering is to the left,” Hawke said, pointing with her phaser as a loud, disgruntled moan emanated from the direction they planned on going.

 

         Bator quickly whipped his light down the corridor.  Instead of the usual flat, gray wall they were used to seeing, was a pitch black decorated with what appeared to be a several tentacles.  And it was moving toward them.

 

         Bator moved the light upward to reveal a terribly hideous alien face.  Pitch black with two shining red eyes and a drooling mouth with three jagged teeth poking through its lips.  Christopher was glad he couldn’t see the rest of the beast, which remained shrouded in darkness. 

 

         It groaned loudly now, creating a sonorous boom inside the turbolift shaft.  Suddenly, it lashed out and struck Hawke in the abdomen with what appeared to be a tentacle, only armed with three clawed fingers at the end.

 

         Both Christopher and Bator fired their phasers at the beast, but it seemed unfazed by the blasts impacting it.  They fired again, this time at a higher setting.  It flinched and dropped Hawke to the ground.

 

         Now, with its red eyes glowing brightly through the darkness, Christopher could feel one of those arms wrapping around his waist.  It squeezed.  Tighter and tighter.

 

         Without looking, Christopher increased the phaser level several times, to what he hoped would be level sixteen, vaporize.

 

         As the pain increased rapidly around his waist, Christopher fired at the alien’s head.  It screamed loudly and dropped him harshly on the ground. As he impacted the ground, Christopher watched the beast disappear, screaming with pain.  Vaporize it was.

 

         “I’m okay,” Hawke said weakly from a few meters behind Christopher.  She grasped the side of the wall and pulled herself up.

 

         “Engineering is just down the shaft,” Bator assured the Captain as he came to his feet.

 

         “Then let’s go,” Christopher urged.  “I want to get out of here as soon as possible.  These tubes give me the creeps.”

 

         “No complaint’s here,” said Hawke.

 

         She had three holes in the front of her suit.  They didn’t appear to be bleeding, but the lighting in the tubes was so bad, Christopher couldn’t tell otherwise.  He would take her word that she was unscathed.

 

 

 

         Logan stood firmly on the ground in engineering.  He had been able to restore artificial gravity almost instantly in the heart of the starship, since the system took very little damage on this deck. Unfortunately, the comm system was completely fried and would most likely have to be replaced. 

 

         Suddenly, the doors burst open and three crew members in environmental suits entered. Logan immediately dropped his padd and went over to greet them.

 

         “Gravity, Mr. Logan?” Christopher said as he removed his helmet.

 

         “Only on this deck,” said the chief engineer.  “The system wasn’t badly damaged and we were able to bring it on line with relative ease.  We also have partial power on decks ten through twenty-four.”

 

         “What about communications?” Bator asked as he removed his own helmet.

 

         Logan nodded negatively.  “Hopeless,” he said.

 

         “And life support?”

 

         “It’s running at twelve percent,” Logan reported.  “Doctor Wrighton sent us a text message stating Lieutenant Johnson may be able to get it up to thirty percent with the next three hours.”

 

         As Logan started back for his station, the three other bridge officers followed.  “What’s it like elsewhere?”

 

         Christopher sighed heavily as vivid memories of their recent encounter still flashed in his mind.  “Not good.”

 

         “What is it?” Logan asked.

 

         “Intruders.”

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

EIGHT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         “Intruders?” Logan repeated with marked surprise.  “You mean Kielar Maas?”

 

         Christopher nodded affirmatively.  “Yes, but at the moment, he’s not our primary concern,” he said, remembering the horrid beast he had seen just moments earlier. 

 

         “So the Elorg have fallen to our secondary concern?” Logan questioned.

 

         “No,” said a voice suddenly from an opening hatch behind the warp core.  Christopher knew that voice all too well.  The voice of Kielar Maas.

 

         He quickly hopped out of the hatch and slammed it shut.  After patting the dust from his uniform, he took a brief visual survey of the engine room before wandering over to greet Christopher.

 

         “Pardon me for not using the doors,” he said tiredly, “but your ship seems to be in a bit of a jam.  No gravity.  Life support failing.  No communications.  Oh, yes, quite a jam.”

 

         Christopher didn’t accept the humor as he stepped foreword toward Maas.  “You sent a message to your people, didn’t you?”

 

         Maas giggled briefly before stepping away from the angry Captain.  “I did,” he confessed.  “It would seem I located our homeworld.  I had to tell my people.”

 

         He understood the reasoning behind Kielar Maas’s decision, but quickly dismissed it as he moved on to the next matter at hand.  “Quite frankly, I don’t care about your people at the moment.  We may have intruders aboard this ship, other than yourself.”

 

         Maas raised an eyebrow.  “Terrible beast.  Black as night with haunting red eyes that seemed to drill a hole in your head with their mysterious gaze.  Shrill teeth protruding through its blistered and callused lips?”

 

         Christopher’s heart skipped a beat as Maas described the beast to the letter.  How could he know?  Had he seen it?  Was this beast released by Maas?

 

         “It wasn’t real.”

 

         “Not real?” Christopher repeated, doubting it, of course.  “If you’ll excuse me, that seemed quite real.  It nearly killed Lieutenant Hawke!”

 

         Maas waved off the Captain’s disbelief and stepped back to the control panel where Logan had been working earlier.  “It was all a figment of your imagination, Captain.  You see, the Elorg are a highly telepathic race.  So telepathic in fact, that we can create illusions with our own mind.”

 

         A race this telepathic posed a severe threat to the Federation.  With this sort of weapon in their possession they could trick the Federation into believing almost anything if they tried hard enough.  What’s more, it was part of Elorg physiology, and could not be taken away. 

 

         Maas nodded.  His pure black eyes tightened their gaze on Christopher.  “I can understand your fears, Captain,” he said.  “But you should also know that while we are a race of telepaths, very few can create believable illusions.  Had it been lighter in the turbolift shaft, my manifestation of an Elorg T’Charkan Beast would have appeared as no more than a poorly made holographic projection.”

 

         “Why?” Christopher asked cautiously.

 

         Maas pulled out a chair and sat in it.  “Captain Christopher, I must make a confession,” he said quietly.  “What I told you earlier in your medical bay was only a partial truth.”

 

         “How so?”

 

         “It is true that the vessel was on a routine patrol, however, I was not a part of its crew.  I was there to kill the ship’s executive officer.”

 

         It was a blunt, unexpected reply.  Christopher stepped back as he wondered why Kielar Maas clandestinely boarded a ship with intent to eliminate one of its officers.

 

         “Surely you do not want me to go into extensive detail on Elorg rituals, but he owed me his life, and I was there to take it.  Nothing more, nothing less.”

 

         A cryptic, mysterious response that raised more questions than it answered.  Christopher found himself wondering what kind of people these Elorg were.  Any race that allows such a thing should be considered barbaric.

 

         “Unfortunately,” Maas continued, “he was killed before I was able to get to him.  I am an outcast among my people now.”

 

         Christopher signed.  “This is all terrible, I’m sure, but you didn’t answer my original question:  Why did you create the illusion?”

 

         Maas gulped.  “To test you.  If I am going to stay aboard this vessel, I need to know how this crew will react in any given situation.”

 

         “Stay aboard this ship!” Christopher shouted, perhaps loudly than he would have liked.  Not that it was unwarranted.  This came as more of a surprise than anything he had encountered in the past few weeks, including the illusion.

 

         “You expect me to let you stay here after all you’ve done?  I don’t think so,” Christopher said sternly. 

 

         “Captain,” Hawke whispered a moment later, “don’t jump the gun on this,” she said quietly.  “He could prove himself useful if we ever get into a fire fight with the Elorg.”

 

         Christopher nodded.  “Perhaps you’re right, Kristin, but right now I don’t exactly trust him.”

 

         “Then perhaps I can prove my worth to you, Captain Christopher,” said the Elorg.

 

         He rose from his chair and returned to Logan’s station, where he began messing with the computer terminal before him. 

 

         Logan slowly walked over to him and observed quietly.  He was accessing the communication sub-routine.

 

         “It’s fried,” Logan mentioned as Maas punched away at the controls.

 

         The Elorg ignored the human behind him and continued to input data into the sub-routine.  After several moments of tapping, the screen flashed normal operation.  He pressed the communication button on the station.  “Engineering to bridge.”

 

         “Bridge,” came the voice of Commander Harrison a moment later.  His voice was filled with surprise, and weak due to the stale air.  “Who is this?”

 

         “Kielar Maas.”

 

         “What the hell are you doing in engineering?” Harrison asked loudly.

 

         Maas flashed Christopher and the others a wry smile.  “Fixing this floating piece of scrap metal you call the Starlight.”

 

         “And how can I believe you?”

 

         Christopher slapped his comm badge. Because there was already an open link nearby, the badge honed in on that signal.  “You can, Commander.  He’s on our side.  I think.”

 

         “Believe me,” Maas said with a hint of relief in his voice, “I am on your side.”

 

         “Well, if you are, then get life support back on line.  We’re two minutes from evacuating the bridge due to lack of oxygen.”

 

         “I am no miracle worker, Commander Harrison,” said Maas.  “However, Elorg systems are much more advanced than your own.  I can fix them only because they are simple.  Nothing more.  I can have life support, artificial gravity and sensors back on line within the hour with the assistance of Commander Logan and his people.”

 

         Christopher folded his arms.  “Then get to it.  Logan, give him all the help he needs.  Just as long as he doesn’t start any of those illusions.”

 

         Logan nodded.  “Yes, sir.”

 

 

 

         To’Chall sat comfortably in his grand command chair.  His fingers were steepled to demonstrate his power to the lower officers surrounding him.  It worked.  They knew they were inferior to him. 

 

         “Rakann,” he shouted out suddenly, gripping the helmsman’s should firmly.

 

         Rakaan had been a faithful servant of To’Chall four seven cycles.  He had proven himself on many occasions.  Despite Rakaan’s low rank, To’Chall found himself respecting the younger officer more than the others, mostly because Rakaan showed he had potential.  Because of this, To’Chall planned to reward him someday.  Someday soon.

 

         “Yes?”

 

         “What is the status of the fleet?”

 

         He gracefully checked the sensors in front of him and turned to face his superior.  When he spoke, his words were firm and clear.  “The sixth squadron will reach the perimeter in forty-seven intervals.  The second squadron is nintey-three intervals away, and the twentieth squadron is four-hundred eight intervals away.  The others will arrive significantly later.”

 

         “How many ships will that give us until the others arrive?” asked Kalem, To’Chall’s first officer. 

 

         Unlike Rakaan, Kalem was not favored by To’Chall.  He was considered a fool by most of the crew, and To’Chall treated him as one.  But, since it is only proper to train an executive officer, To’Chall did all he could to keep Kalem in line, an arduous task at times.

 

         The graceful Rakaan checked the sensors once more.  “Those three squadrons have a combined total of sixty-eight vessels.”

 

         To’Chall winced.  “Will that be enough to hold the perimeter of the Expanse?”

 

         “By our estimates, there are seven-thousand, six- hundred, forty-one vessels in the quadrants adjacent to the Expanse.  However, less than one tenth of them are in our territory.”

 

         “That leaves about 760 vessels in our space,” Kalem surmised, both surprising and impressing To’Chall.  Perhaps there was hope for him yet.

 

         “However, if we move slowly, fewer than one-hundred vessels should respond to our presence the expanse.  It is tactically possible to hold this expanse until the others arrive,” Rakaan reported.

 

         “Then that is what we shall do,” To’Chall decided.

 

         “Once the others arrive, we should receive little opposition from the other side.  At last count, the Elorg Bloc consisted of 5,383 warships, 7,501 raiders, and 27,446 shuttles and transport ships,” Kalem read from the screen beside Rakaan.

 

         “Impressive,” To’Chall said to no one in particular.  “But the question remains, when will the others arrive?”

 

         “Unfortunately,” Rakaan said, “this rift is in the most remote area of our sub-space pocket.  Most of our vessels are engaged otherwise.  By our estimates, it could take years for them to reach us.”

 

         To’Chall nodded negatively.  “Of all the places in sub-space why did the rift form here?  I’ve been looking over our sensors.  Homeworld is nearly 3,000 light years away from here.”

 

         “A three year journey at high warp,” said Rakaan flatly.

 

         Kalem kindly shoved Rakaan out of his way and accessed the sensor logs.  He promptly brought up a display of their region of space.  In the middle was the Alteran Expanse. 

 

         A moment later, a red circle began flashing several sectors away from the Expanse.

 

         “This is Gildebron III,” Kalem said.  “According to the ancient texts, it is the location of an Elorg base.  Assuming it is still there, it would make a sufficient command and control station until we are able to reach homeworld.”

 

         “Gildebron III,” To’Chall repeated.  “As I recall, it was not targeted by the Iconians.”

 

         “It was not,” Rakaan said, pushing Kalem away.  “The Iconians were unable to detect the base because of a unique cloaking technology based upon quantum--”

 

         “Thank you, Rakaan,” Kalem interrupted rudely.  “Suffice it to say, it was cloaked.  Which means, it may still be there.”

 

         “From what I can tell from the alien vessel sitting outside the expanse, Gildebron III is uninhabited, in a region of space known as the Kilka Sector.”

 

         Things grew bright for To’Chall.  This find would undoubtedly elevate him to a status of high authority.  Perhaps leader of the base on Gildebron III.  That would make him the official leader until the rest of the fleet arrived. 

 

         “That is an excellent idea, Kalem,” To’Chall forced.  The fool was turning to be smarter than he appeared.  “We will attempt to retake the Kilka Sector, and set up a base on Gildebron III.”

 

         Now, it would only be a matter of time before things turned ugly. . .

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

NINE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         Captain’s log; stardate 72043.8:  We have made contact with the Elorg, an ancient race which was believed to be extinct.  Now, they sit before us in the Alteran Expanse, and from what our Elorg passenger tells us, they may be preparing to retake their former empire. 

 

         In the mean time, he has helped us to restore power to our vessel after the Elorg completely disabled us two days ago. 

 

 

 

         Harrison sat comfortably on a chair in the observation lounge.  Beside him were Bator and Kendall Johnson.  A few seats down sat Kielar Maas, alone and out of his armor.  He now wore a simple all black outfit.

 

         “Now, tell me again,” Harrison said softly, “why did you send the message if you knew your people would invade?”

 

         Maas scoffed slightly.  “I was extremely excited about the find.  I was hoping it would restore my good name among my people.  I was, of course, wrong.”

 

         “I see,” Harrison said softly.  “Then why were those Elorg ships sitting in the Alteran Expanse before you sent the message?”

 

         “They were simply exploring.  They had no idea where they were, but I assure you they would have found out eventually.  I just clued them in.”

 

         They had been questioning Maas for an hour now, and his story had not changed since his confession.  It seemed plausible.  An outcast hoping to restore his name. 

 

         “How do you know your people still don’t accept you?  You were unable to contact them,” Bator popped in a moment later.

 

         An extremely valid question, noted Harrison.  One that had not been asked yet.

 

         Maas sighed.  “As I said earlier, we are telepathic.  They know I am here.  They must also know I sent the message.  Before I sent the message, I could sense the malice they felt towards me.  Since that time, it has not changed.”

 

         “I don’t understand.  Why are you an outcast?”

 

         Maas looked straight ahead.  “Five years ago, I was a highly regarded member of the Elorg Bloc, a General.  I was investigating the murder of T’Lara Garesh.  After weeks of searching, my evidence pointed toward a man known as Welakan Nitz.  He was tried and executed.  The next day, a man named Dilgas Prim confessed to the murders, but the case was closed, and Prim was absolved of his crimes.  He went on to become the executive officer aboard the Harikri.  I, on the other hand, was court-marshaled and humiliated, only to be restored upon the death of Prim by my own hand.”

 

         “But Prim is dead, and you didn’t kill him,” Kendall finished.

 

         “Exactly,” Maas said.  “Making me forever an outcast to my people.”

 

         His words were slow and careful, each one filled with the pain of his loss.  Now they knew the full extent of his story, and why he felt it necessary to stay on board the Starlight.

 

         “I understand your problem,” Harrison confessed sympathetically, “and I’m sure Captain Christopher will take everything into consideration before he makes his decision.”

 

         “Shall I pack my bags now or later?”

 

         Not an optimist, Harrison said to himself inwardly.  Obviously his pompous, arrogant guard had been either a ploy, or this fellow was extremely two- sided.“Don’t you want to at least wait until the Captain decides?”

 

         “I’ve heard that speech before, Commander Harrison.  And in my case, it’s always meant, ‘sorry, too bad, have a nice millennium.’”

 

         This fellow obviously did not take rejection too well, Harrison noted.  Perhaps he could convince the Captain to let him stay on board.  They could work on boosting this poor fellow’s confidence.  It was worth a shot, at least.

 

         “Don’t give up until you’ve heard the official word,” Harrison offered.  “And besides, you don’t have any bags to pack.”

 

         Maas still sat, sulking with his eyes staring straight down at the table.  “Perhaps you are right.  I will not give up until Captain Christopher throws me out the airlock.”

 

         “That’s the spirit,” Harrison said sarcastically.

 

         Kielar Maas rose from the table and pushed in his chair quietly.  “If I am no longer needed, I would like to return to my cell.”

 

         Cell?  When was he in a cell?  He must be referring to sick bay.  Or else he found himself in the brig and couldn’t get out.  Harrison doubted the latter, of course.  “Mr. Bator, assign Mr. Maas some quarters.”

 

         “Aye, sir,” Bator said quickly.  He pushed himself away from the table and exited the conference lounge via the back entrance.  “If you will follow me,” he directed toward Kielar Maas.

 

         He followed somberly a moment later.

 

         “That is one sad fellow,” observed Kendall a moment later.

 

         “Indeed he is, Lieutenant,” Harrison agreed.  “I don’t think he’s had much good luck in his life.”

 

         “Perhaps we could do something about that.”

 

         “That’s what I’m hoping,” said Harrison as he got up.  “I’m going to speak to Captain Christopher on his behalf.”

 

         Kendall eyed Harrison cautiously.  “Are you sure you want to do this?  As I understand it, you originally opposed his being here.”

 

         Harrison patted the younger officer on the back.  “Kendall, sometimes a small act of compassion can go a long way.”

 

         Kendall tightened his lips and nodded.  “I hope you’re right.”

 

 

 

         Two and one-half weeks had past since Christopher’s arrival on board the Starlight.  It had taken just as long to get everything in his quarters just the way he wanted them.

 

         Naturally, starship quarters are not luxury houses, but they were the next best thing in the vastness of space.  But Christopher had not intended for them to be as large as they were.  He found his belongings comfortably filled only three-quarters of the room.  Walls remained bare.  Rooms stayed empty.  Shelves remained naked.  They would be filled in good time, of course.

 

         But for the moment, they were as perfect as Christopher needed them to be.  Modern, dark gray furniture graced the living area.  Meanwhile, sleek ebony chairs sat around the exterior part of a booth eating table.  The interior was cushioned with a soft, gray velvet on the seat.  An aquarium provided both the back of the booth, and the table itself.  An impressive feature Christopher found most enjoyable.

 

         But now, he sat at his large, ebony table amidst dim lights and the company of Doctor Wrighton in the chair before him.

 

         “This isn’t working out as I had hoped,” Christopher admitted right off the bat.  He had expected fireworks and flowers.  Instead, there were constant disagree- ments and battles between the two of them.

 

         “Indeed,” Wrighton agreed.  “I suppose our careers tend to clash with one another.  It happened with Captain Grey, too.  I seem to think on a different wavelength when it comes to making command decisions.”

 

         Christopher raised an eyebrow.  “I guess that’s why you’re not a command officer.”

 

         “I guess so.”

 

         “You don’t think this is harming . . . ‘us’, do you?” Christopher asked a moment later.

 

         “Was there ever really an ‘us,’ Alan?”

 

         He thought for a moment.  A long moment, back to the time they shared aboard the Quasar.  “No, I suppose not.  But still, we had a very strong friendship.”

 

         “We still do,” she said, quietly wrapping her arms around her knee and resting her chin upon it.

 

         Then the silence rolled in.  A long, eerie silence, during which, neither one knew exactly what to say.  So, fate saved the both of them--the door chimed.

 

         Christopher snapped out of his trance.  “Enter,” he said a moment later.

 

         Turning to the door, Christopher watched the doors slide open.  Commander Harrison stepped into the dimmed room and looked around.  Almost instantly, he spotted the two of them sitting at the desk.

 

         “I like what you’ve done with the place,” he said, shifting uncomfortably in the heat.  “It’s a little hot in here, don’t you think?”

 

         Christopher nodded.  “By Earth standards,” he said.  “I was born and raised on Ka’Tula Prime, a warm, sultry world near the Romulan Neutral Zone.  The temperature there is several degrees warmer than that of Earth.”

 

         Harrison seemed only mildly surprised, but his words proved otherwise.  “I had no idea.  I suppose I should have read your file a little closer.”

 

         “Indeed,” Christopher said. “Make sure you do.  There’s some interesting stuff in there.”

 

         “You might want to read mine, too, Commander,” Wrighton suggested a moment later.  “I grew up on Marius Prime.”

 

         “You see Matthew, not everyone lives on Earth,” Christopher explained kindly.

 

         “It’s a nice planet,” Wrighton added,  “but I don’t call it home, even though I’m part human.”

 

         “I’m sorry.  I just get that way sometimes.  I just expect all humans to call Earth home.  Although my other mistake was not knowing you weren’t human, Doctor.”

 

         “I’m twenty-five percent human, seventy-five percent Marian,” she confessed a moment later.  “But the two species are so similar, there are hardly any differences, aside from the fact we’re latent telepaths.”

 

         “Fascinating,” Harrison uttered.

 

         Christopher, a non-human himself, abruptly changed the subject.  “Not that this isn’t fascinating,” he said tiredly, “but I highly doubt you dropped by to discuss our genealogies.”

 

         “Right you are, Captain,” Harrison admitted slowly.  He relaxed and sat back in the chair next to Wrighton.  And now it begins.  “I’m here to discuss Kielar Maas.”

 

         A topic which needed addressing, Christopher noted.  He had not yet made up his mind as to whether or not the Elorg should stay.  Perhaps what Commander Harrison had to say would sway him.  “Go on,” Christopher urged.

 

         “As you requested, Kendall, Bator and I have been questioning Mr. Maas for the past hour and a half or so,” Harrison said crisply.

 

         “And?”

 

         “The first hour was like talking to a wall.  But then we started poking around.  I got a little bold and asked him why he was an outcast.  I’ve included it all in my report, of course, but I’m here to speak on his behalf.”

 

         Harrison speak on the alien’s behalf?  Just a few days ago, he was protesting about their lax security measures.  “Is this an illusion?”

 

         “No,” Harrison said questioningly.  “It’s just, that I feel we need to give him a chance.  He’s had a rough life.  No breaks.  Terrible luck.  I want to show him that the universe isn’t totally against him.”

 

         Christopher wasn’t being swayed in the direction he had hoped.  Kielar Maas had not made a good first impression, and unfortunately for him, that’s what counts most.  “I’ll consider it, Commander.”

 

         Harrison slowly rose from the soft, dark chair he was seated upon.  “That’s all I ask,” he said on his way out.

 

 

 

         From the look on Christopher’s face, Harrison realized that his chat had not gone as well has he had hoped.  The initial conversation was an uncomfortable subject in unfamiliar territory.  His transition was rocky at best, and the words that followed were awkward and imprecise.

 

         Indeed, things looked bleak for Kielar Maas.  Perhaps the Captain would show some compassion of his own.

 

         Harrison stepped into the turbolift as he finished his thoughts.  “Bridge,” he muttered when he realized the computer was awaiting his command. 

 

         The turbolift droned as it embarked upon its journey to the bridge, and Harrison drifted back off into his thoughts.

 

         He had injected this hopeless being with a shred of faith in optimism and compassion, begging him not to jump the gun. But in the end, it would seem that optimism had let the both of them down.

 

         The Captain said he would think about it.  So until he made his choice, Harrison decided to neglect keeping Maas informed. To keep the flame alive.

 

         “Report,” Harrison barked as the doors parted.  He stormed out of the turbolift and sat down in his chair as Kristin Hawke began to speak.

 

         “It looks like you’re just in time, Commander,” she said.  “Sensors are picking up some activity inside the rift.”

 

         “What’s happening?” Harrison asked.

 

         “I’d say more ships are coming through,” Hawke said without even looking down at the data.  She knew what was happening beyond a shadow of a doubt.

 

         Kielar Maas had been right.  His people had taken the initiative, and were on the move.  Hell would be pouring out of that rift before too long.  “How many ships?”

 

         “I can’t say.  Anywhere between one and zillion.  Take your pick.”

 

         A terribly cryptic answer to such a direct question, Harrison noticed.  She didn’t know, he surmised.  “I’ll pick one and hope for the best,” he said.  Perhaps optimism will prevail at least once today.

 

         “Shall I notify the Captain?” Bator asked.

 

         “Please do.”

 

         It seemed like time itself stopped as Bator made the call.  “Bridge to Christopher.”

 

         No response. Bator repeated the process once more, with the same results.

 

         “Computer,” Harrison said, “locate Captain Christopher.”

 

         “Captain Christopher is in his quarters.”

 

         “I wonder why he’s not responding?” Kendall asked a moment later.

 

         Harrison knew.  “Contact Dr. Wrighton,” he ordered a moment later.  He could have done it himself, but it would have reduced the drama unfolding before them.

 

         Bator keyed in the signal this time instead of vocally issuing the order.  This would both contact the Doctor, and annoy he because she would not know who the sender was.

 

         A moment later, her voice came over loud and clear on the comm system.  “What?”

 

         “Doctor,” Harrison said loudly.  “Could you tell the Captain he’s needed on the bridge?  It would seem his comm badge has been deactivated.”

 

         “Of course,” she said sheepishly.  “He’ll be there in a few minutes.”

 

         Harrison turned to Michelle and met her equally sheepish grin.  “Will he be taking the Jefferies Tubes?  It took me less than a minute to get from his quarters to the bridge.”

 

         Wrighton huffed with impatience.  “He’s a busy man, Commander.”

 

         “Indeed,” Harrison said amidst muffled laugher behind him.

 

         “Wrighton out.”

 

         After he was sure Wrighton’s link was terminated, Harrison smiled and turned to Hawke.  “And you said they weren’t getting along,” she mustered.

 

         “When Kristin makes a call, she’s never wrong,” Logan chimed in from the engineering station in the far corner of the bridge.

 

         Suddenly, the ops station lit up, and instantly Kristin turned all business.  “I’m picking up an energy surge,” she said evenly.

 

         “Yellow alert,” Harrison matched her tone.

 

         The bridge dimmed slightly and acquired a faint yellow glow as the dormant lights surrounding the place suddenly activated.

 

         “Two Elorg vessels have emerged,” Bator reported.  “More are coming,” he added a moment later.

 

         “How many do you count, Mr. Bator?” Harrison asked.  There was no way to be sure, but an estimate would be sufficient for the moment.

 

         “Unknown,” he said.  “Our modified sensors are being hampered by the radiation from the rift.  We may loose them altogether.”

 

         “Keep it together, Mr. Johnson,” Christopher ordered as he emerged from the turbolift.  “Take whatever power you need,” he said, passing by tactical and making his way down to Commander Harrison.  “Two questions,” he said.  “What have you got on me, and what have you got for me.”

 

         Harrison grinned slightly as Christopher took his seat. “It would appear the Elorg are making their move.  Two vessels have emerged from the rift,” Harrison said calmly, ignoring the other question completely.

 

         Realizing Matthew wasn’t going to touch the subject, Michelle turned from the helm.  “And we believe you were making your move,” she said wryly.

 

         Christopher sighed.  “You guys,” he said in an extended sigh.  “Open a channel to Admiral Marcette.”

 

         “Aye, sir,” said Bator. “Channel open.”

 

         “On screen.”  Christopher stood back up and straightened his uniform as the stern face of Marcette appeared on the screen before them.

 

         “How goes the search, Captain?”

 

         “Admiral, the probe was destroyed.  The Elorg may be invading, and I’d feel a tad bit safer if we had some reinforcements out here,” Christopher blurted out to Marcette’s growing eyes.

 

         “Wait a minute,” he said.  “The ‘Elorg’ are invading?  Just who the hell are they?”

 

         “You should catch up on your ancient history, Admiral.  They were the terrible nemesis of the Iconians.  And they’re back.”

 

         “How?” Marcette asked in disbelief.

 

         “They’ve been trapped in a subspace pocket for two-hundred thousand years.  And from the looks of it, they’re not too happy about it, nor are they to concerned about pleasantries.  This is an invasion, Admiral.”

 

         Marcette’s jaw almost struck the table top.  “How many vessels are there?”

 

         “Three at the moment,” Harrison offered.

 

         “They had thousands of vessels at the height of their empire.  I’d imagine they still have most of them,” Christopher continued.

 

         “Can you reason with them?” Marcette asked.  No doubt he was running countless possibilities and outcomes through his mind at that very moment.  Peace, of course was the first course of action, but sometimes, that course is just not possible.

 

         “We have one of them on board our ship right now.  They are a stubborn people, Admiral.  They’ll be reasonable as long as it’s to their advantage,” Christopher explained, speaking of Kielar Maas and his stay in sick bay.

 

         The admiral caught on quickly.  “So if we do something they don’t like, they’ll raise hell,” he surmised.

 

         “Exactly.”

 

         “Just what exactly is the territory they’re after?”

 

         “Kristin,” Harrison said, quietly.

 

         A moment later, a map of Federation Space appeared on the view screen, placing Admiral Marcette in a small inset box near the top-left corner.

 

         “This is Earth,” Christopher said, pointing to a small blue blob near the left side of the screen.  “Here is Ka’Tula Prime,” he continued, pointing to another blue blop in the top-middle of the screen.  “This is the Romulan Neutral Zone, and Romulan Space,” he finished, pointing to the right side of the map.

 

         The Alteran Expanse appeared a moment later as a fairly large pink spot near the bottom.  All around it, a pale yellow out line appeared.  It slowly grew to include the nearby sectors up to, but not including Earth, and a large portion of Romulan Space.

 

         “This is their territory,” Christopher said as the animation came to a halt.  “And most likely, what they plan on retaking first.”

 

         Marcette looked over the map.  “Earth isn’t in any immediate danger,” he noted. “Where is their homeworld?”

 

         “We don’t know,” said Harrison.  “Most of their astrogational charts were lost over the years.  We’ve downloaded a large portion of their database, however, and we should know soon enough.”

 

         “Excellent,” Marcette complemented.

 

         The map shrunk away and the Admiral once again filled the entire screen.  “I’m dispatching the Stratus, the  Potempkin, and the Norway to rendezvous with you.  All three ships are patrolling the Neutral Zone, and are at least two days away at warp nine.”

 

         “Noted,” said Christopher with a small sigh of relief.  At least they wouldn’t be alone for long.  “We’ll see if we can reason with the Elorg.”

 

         “Make it so,” Marcette said sternly as he terminated the communication link.

 

         After Marcette was gone, Christopher turned to his first officer.  “Somehow I don’t think the Elorg are going to listen to us,” he admitted after a moment of silence.

 

         “Do you think we can hold them off for two days?”

 

         Christopher sat back down in his chair.  “We’d better.  Or else things are going to get ugly in a hurry.”

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

TEN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         Forty-four hours.  It didn’t seem like a long time under normal circumstances.  But today, forty-four hours seemed like an eternity for Alan Christopher.  Forty-four hours of vulnerability, unless he could convince the Elorg Commander to stand down.

 

         Not knowing what to say to them, Christopher reluctantly turned to their Elorg guest, Keilar Maas, who was more than willing to help.

 

         “First and foremost,” Maas said loudly, “you must be clear and forceful.  My people respect power, and if you show you lack it, they see it as an invitation to conquer you.  This is important above all else.”

 

         Clear and forceful.  Not something Christopher found himself to excel in.  But he would have to be in order to succeed.  “What next?”

 

         “Second, you must be reasonable.  To be frank, Captain, my people are going to invade whether or not you like it.  If you go into this thinking my people will back down and crawl back into their little hole when you tell them their invasion is wrong, you have got another thing coming. If they ask for ten systems, give them at least five.  If they ask for --”

 

         “I’m not simply going to give them any system.  Period.  I was thinking we could relocate them to a region of space where they wouldn’t be invading other species’ territory.”

 

         Maas chuckled.  “They’ve been waiting for this day to come for thousands of years.  I highly doubt they will agree to move to a new homeworld because it is convenient for you.”

 

         This wasn’t getting anywhere.  Maas was simply contradicting everything Christopher had planned to say to the Elorg.  Perhaps this was a good thing, but then again . . .

 

         “What else?” Christopher demanded hastily.

 

         “If you’re going to get an attitude, Captain I don’t mind being blown to smithereens,” the Elorg spouted suddenly.  “I’m not a member of this crew.  You can’t order me around.”

 

         But I can kick you off, Christopher thought darkly.

 

         Maas raised an eyebrow.  “If that’s what you want,” he said simply.

 

         “What? How did you hear that?” Christopher said amidst his confusion.

 

         “Aside from the fact I’m a telepath?”

 

         Of course, the Elorg are telepaths.  Christopher had almost forgotten.  He would have to keep his dark thoughts in check around them in the future. . . that is if they ever encountered the Elorg again.

 

         “Look,” Christopher said sympathetically, “we’ve both had a rough couple of days, so we’re both a little on edge.  I’d say we give this a rest.  I think I can handle things from here.”

 

         Maas showed some relief on his face.  “On that we agree,” he admitted.  “If you need me, you know where I’ll be.”

 

         “Indeed I do,” Christopher said quietly. “I’ll let you know how this goes.”

 

         Maas nodded.  “Please do.”

 

         Christopher waltzed out the door at a fairly brisk pace and didn’t look back.  In the back of his mind, he knew he may have offended the Elorg with his hasty departure, but it didn’t seem to matter at the moment.  They were already on rocky terrain.  A brusque exit couldn’t make things much worse.

 

         Seeing his pace was incredibly brisk, Christopher slowed marginally as he approached the turbolift.  It sensed his approach and the doors whisped open immediately.  He didn’t even stop as he stepped in.  “Bridge,” he barked as the doors slid shut.

 

 

 

         A moment later, he emerged on the bridge.  “Bator, get me the lead Elorg ship,” he ordered as he rounded the tactical station for his spot in the center of the bridge.

 

         “They are responding,” Bator announced promptly.

 

         Christopher straightened out his uniform and threw a fake half-smile on his face before ordering the communication be put on the main viewer.

 

         The screen flickered, and the Alteran Expanse was promptly replaced with the face of a hardened Elorg officer.  His eyes narrowed as he observed the humans before him.  “I am Gorvak To’Chall of the Elorg Warship Zareth,” he said adamantly. 

 

         Christopher looked directly into the eyes of To’Chall.  “I am Captain Alan Christopher of the Federation Starship Starlight.  You seem to be invading our space,” he said, hoping he was clear enough.  It would be most embarrassing to mess up with is first sentence.

 

         To’Chall only squinted.  “This is our space,” he said flatly, as if no one had dared to enter it since they left two-hundred thousand years ago.  “We are simply retaking it.”

 

         Christopher raised an eyebrow.  “Two-hundred thousand years after you abandoned it?  I’m sorry, I can’t allow you to do that.  Perhaps you would be interested in relocating to an area of unclaimed space where you will not be challenged.”

 

         That statement had obviously struck a chord with the Elorg.  His eyes widened from the gazing slits, and his nostrils flared.  Relocate!” he bellowed.  “Unacceptable.  We will proceed with our original plan to retake our old territory.”  Now his voice was only a small amount calmer, but his expression had not changed.

 

         What to do now?  Kielar Maas had offered his help, but revealing him to the Elorg would most likely only make things worse.  He was a hated outcast among his people, and if they knew where he was at, they would most likely decide to exterminate him.  And, by the sound of things, if they exterminated those around him, all the better.

 

         No, calling Kielar Maas would not be a good idea.  Stalling, too would not work.  It was clear from the time he had spent with Kielar that the Elorg were an impatient bunch.  Perhaps a tour de force would be the only way out.

 

         “A fleet of Federation Starships will be arriving in several hours,” Christopher lied.  Sure they would be here, just in two days.  “At that time, we will collapse your rift if you do not agree to relocate elsewhere.”

 

         To’Chall turned his head.  His lips were moving but no words were coming out.  He must have muted the transmission.

 

         A moment later he looked back at Christopher.  “Your ships are nearly five cycles away,” he said.  “We could destroy you now if we wanted.”

 

         So they were not easily fooled.  There went everything. To’Chall stared intensely at Christopher for several moments before speaking again. 

 

         “Lucky for you, we must stand watch and guard the rift, or else you would be destroyed now,” he snapped.  A moment later his face disappeared and was replaced by the haunting glows of the Alteran Expanse.

 

         “That could have gone better,” Harrison said quietly.

 

         “Indeed,” Christopher agreed.  He plopped back down in his chair and looked at the Expanse churn before them.  “Much better, Commander.”

 

 

 

         “Rakaan!” To’Chall blasted as the repulsive face of the Starship commander blinked out of existance.  “How much longer must we sit here?”

 

         Rakaan quickly complied.  It was a must if he wished to remain an equal in the eyes of To’Chall.  “We must sit here,” he said slowly, “until the others arrive.”

 

         To’Chall could feel the anger boiling in his blood.  “Unacceptable,” he said sternly.  “Give me a precise answer,” he boomed.

 

         Even Kalem seemed to quiver in To’Chall’s anger.  Indeed, the Federation Starship captain had angered him a great deal with his poposterous bumbling.

 

         “Just under twelve intervals remain until sixth squadron arrive,” Rakaan corrected a moment later. 

 

         “Twelve cycles?” To’Chall repeated.

 

         Kalem made himself readily available at To’Chall’s side.  “The alien fleet will arrive in under four cycles,” he reminded his superior unnecessarily.

 

         “And when that time comes,” To’Chall said grimly, “we shall be terribly outgunned.”

 

         Scenario after scenario played out in To’Chall’s mind, each ending in his destruction at the hands of the Federation.  Unless he disobeyed orders and attacked now.  The thought was tempting, but was it worth the risk?  Perhaps it was.  A warship and two destroyers against one Federation starship?  It was no match at right now.

 

         “Set a course for the Starlight’s position,” To’Chall barked a moment later.

 

         “Sir!” Kalem exclaimed before any order was acted upon.  “What about our orders from the General?”

 

         To’Chall glared at his first officer.  “As of this moment, we can easily eliminate a clear and present danger to our cause.  In four cycles, we may not have that advantage.  Should the nemesis decide to attack at that time, we may be defeated,” To’Chall explained with a harsh coldness to his voice.

 

         “Perhaps you are correct,” Kalem admitted a moment later.  His voice was weak like that of a child.  To’Chall only glanced at is bumbling first officer as he wallowed off the bridge.

 

         “Rakaan, take us out.” To’Chall barked the order with such power, the lowly officers behind him shivvered in their boots as a chill ran down their spines.

 

         “Yes, sir,” Rakaan replied, seemingly unfazed by his leader’s actions.

 

 

 

         Amidst the swirly blue and red gas of the Alteran Expanse came forth a huge black warship covered in an aging armored plating.  Its engines roared as they propelled the ship foreward toward the Starlight.

 

 

 

         “Sir,” Bator said suddenly.  “It’s the Elorg-- they’re coming.”

 

         “Shields up, red alert.” Harrison joined the Captian as he bolted out of his seat and hastily walked up to Ensign Thomas’s station.  “Three vessels, heading our way,” he surmised from the data.

 

         “Rapidly coming our way,” Thomas corrected.

 

         Christopher looked at their speeds and nodded.  Rapidly coming our way,” he repeated.

 

         “What’s our move?” Michelle asked cautiously.

 

         Christopher glanced at Harrison.  “Run,” said the executive officer forcefully.

 

         Christopher glanced back at the sensors one last time.  “I would be inclined to agree with you, Commander,” he said a moment later.  “Ensign Thomas, set a course for the fleet, maximum warp.”

 

         “Aye, sir,” Thomas responed.

 

         As the ship jumped into warp, Harrison immediately turned to Bator for an analysis.  “Well, Mr. Bator?”

 

         “They are pursuing,” he said.  “Warp 9.8.”

 

         “At that speed, they shouldn’t overtake us,” Michelle offered a moment later.

 

         If we can keep this speed,” Harrison reminded her.

 

         “Can we, Mr. Logan?” Christopher called across the bridge to Erick Logan.

 

         He checked his engineering station’s computer.  “We should be able to keep warp 9.98 until we rendezvous with the fleet,” he confirmed.

 

         The bridge crew let out a collective sigh of relief.  Christpoher returned to his command chair as they did so and sat down uncomfortably.  His first battle as Captain was just around the corner.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

ELEVEN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         Captain’s log; stardate 72044.1: We are currently fleeing a fleet of Elorg warships who are less than happy about our suggestion of relocating them to another region of space.  Rendezvous with the Federation fleet will take place in less than an hour, and the first battle in what I’m sure will be a drawn out war, will comence.

 

 

 

         “The situation has gone downhill in a hurry, Admiral,” Christopher explained over an increasingly fuzzy comm channel.  The Elorg had begun jam all Federation frequencies, making communications in the Kilka Sector increasingly difficult.

 

         “How many vessels do they have on you?” Marcette asked. 

 

         Christopher glanced down at the sensors unnecessarily.  He knew there were three ships, and that number wouldn’t be changing any time soon.  “Three,” he said slowly.  “The two smaller ones we can handle no problem.”

 

         Marcette frowned.  “And the third?”

 

         Christopher gulped.  “It is clearly a top of the line warship, almost four times larger than the Starlight.  It must be their flag ship or something.”

 

         “Can four starships take it out?”

 

         Christopher waved his hand at the Admiral signaling him to stand by as Christopher turned to his tactical officer.  Can four starships take it out, Mr. Bator?”

 

         “Unknown. We’ve never faced the Elorg in battle before.  We don’t know their capabilities or their strategies,” he said flatly.

 

         Marcette peered at the monitor off the screen.  “You’d better hope four starships can take it out, Captain,” he said a moment later.  “The nearest starships are three weeks away at high warp.  Do you think your Elorg passenger will be of any assistance?”

 

         “I’m not sure.  He doesn’t seem to like me.”

 

         “I think he will,” Harrison chimed in not a moment too soon.  “I seem to be able to talk to him on a farily even plane.”

 

         Marcette glared the Commander in the eye. Even through the snowy picture, the Admiral’s glare was crystal clear. “Then do so, Commander.”

 

         “Yes, sir.”

 

         “Report back in when the fireworks are over, Captain.  Starfleet out,” Marcette said.  A moment later he blinked out of existance.  In his place, three looming warships drew closer. 

 

         Christopher backed himself into his seat.  “Good luck, Commander.  You’ll need it.”

 

         Harrison nodded his thanks.  “I’ll try to make this quick,” he assured everyone as he strolled into the turbolift.

 

 

 

         As the bell on his door chimed once more, Kielar Maas stood quietly at the window in his darkened room and watched as the stars streaked by.  “Enter.”

 

         He turned only upon hearing Harrison’s voice.  “Kielar,” called the Commander.  “I need to speak to you.”

 

         “Oh really?  I thought you came by to sell me some Lyka beans,” said the Elorg quietly.

 

         “Perhaps next time,” Harrison said, not even knowing what Lyka beans were.  He stepped into the dimmed quarters only a few steps more before stopping.

 

         Kielar Maas slowly turned to the chairs in the distance.  “By all means,” he offered, leading the way to the sitting area.  “What do you wish to talk about, Commander Harrison?”

 

         Harrison sighed.  “I know this subject is uncomfortable for you,” he started, “but if you don’t talk, there’s a chance we’ll all die.”

 

         Maas matched Harrison’s exhasperation.  “My people.  They’re coming, are they not?”

 

         His quick wits would make this easier, Harrison noted.  “Yes.  We’ll meet up with them in about forty minutes,” he said to the apparently interested Elorg.  Maas seemed to have been a person of some authority amongst his people at one time, he might even know the prefix codes to these ships.  If they had any.

 

         Maas shifted his position.  “Then it would seem that I have little choice,” he assertained.  “What do you want to know?”

 

         “Anything.  Especially about that large warship.  We fear it may raise more than a little hell.”

 

         “Raise hell?”

 

         Harrison allowed himself a small grin.  Apparently the Elorg wasn’t familiar with the term.  “It’s a human expression.  It means your people are going to create vast amounts of trouble for us.”

 

         “I see.”

 

         “So, what do you know?”

 

         Maas tilted his head, as if it was actually necessary in accessing his memories.  “The Elorg warships were designed to be indestructable.  It is unlikely your conventional weapons will be able to destroy it.”

 

         “Can we disable it?”

 

         The Elorg nodded.  “Perhaps.  If you target the phaser cannons mounted on the dorsal side of the ship.  It is their primary weapons array.  Once it is disabled, the ship’s targeting range is limited to vessels below thier ventral flank.”

 

         “It seems too easy,” Harrison admitted a moment later, hoping with all his might that Kielar Maas was not lying to him.

 

         The Elorg nodded.  “It will not be an easy task, Commander.  The vessel is equipped with twelve shield generators, eight of which have overlapping area over the array.”

 

         “The shield frequency might help us.”

 

         Maas nodded.  “Elorg shields automatically randomize their frequency every microsecond in a frequency threshold beyond that of this vessel.”

 

         “Prefix codes?”

 

         Maas nodded once more.  “Feedback loop.  If you do not enter the Captain’s pass code, his ship will emit a feedback loop which will destroy your vessel.”

 

         “You guys pulled out all the stops when you built these things, didn’t you?”

 

         “It would seem so,” Maas admitted.  He folded his arms and stared at Harrison for what seemed to be an eternity.  His glare was neither warm or cold, simply a blatant look.

 

         The moment passed and Maas shook himself out of his transe.  “Pardon me, Commander, my mind seems to have wandered.  That is all I know.”

 

         “Thank you,” replied the Commander. “If this works, I’d say you have a good shot of keeping these quarters.”

 

         Maas’ eyes widened.  “And if it does not?”

 

         “We’ll all be dead.  Either way, it would appear the quarters are yours.”  Matthew smiled before turning toward the exit.

 

         “Looks can be deciving, Commander,” Maas chimed in as Harrison walked out.

 

 

 

         The doors hissed open suddenly.  Captain Christopher immediately popped out of his seat and turned to see just the person whom he had expected, Matthew Harrison.

 

         “Well?”

 

         “According to our guest, these warships are almost invulnerable,” said Harrison to Christopher’s dismay.  “Our only shot seems to be the weapons array on top of the ship.”

 

         “According to our own readings, that area is heavily shielded,” Bator spouted a moment later.  “It would take most of the fleet’s quantum torpedoes to penetrate the shielding.”

 

         “Tell that to the fleet,” Christopher ordered as he returned to the comfort of his chair.  As he slouched down into the padding, the view on the screen suddenly flickered from passing stars to several Elorg warships in hot pursuit.

 

         “They’ve entered visual range,” said Hawke.

 

         Christopher jumped at the news.  “Erick, I thought we could keep ahead of them?”

 

         Logan nodded.  “We could have if they maintained their speed.  Up until this point, they have, but it seems they’re in a hurry.”

 

         “They’ve increased to maximum warp,” Thomas chimed in.

 

         “How much time is left?” Harrison asked.

 

         “Thirty-three minutes,” Thomas replied almost intantaneously, in a crisp, clear voice.  “At the rate they’re moving, they’ll intercept us in twenty-eight minutes.”

 

         “However, they may enter weapons range several minutes before that,” Bator announced.  “As we observed earlier, the Elorg have extremely long-range weaponry.”

 

         “How many minutes?” Harrison demanded.

 

         “Unknown.  We do not know the maximum firing range of their weapons.”

 

         “Shields up, yellow alert,” ordered Christopher. “Just to be on the safe side,” he assured the Commander.

 

         The bridge dimmed slightly as a quiet yellow illumination settled in on the bridge, along with it, an eerie silence.  Danger lurked around the corner.  They all knew it.

 

         Christopher cast Harrison a weary glance.  He looked exhausted.  No doubt, the Commander was pulling a double, or even triple duty shift.  In fact, Christopher couldn’t remember the last time he walked on the bridge without Matthew there to greet him.

 

         “Commander,” he whispered quietly.

 

         Harrison turned slowly from his fix on the view screen.  “Yes?”

 

         “How many duty shifts have you pulled?”

 

         He looked down and ran a few quick calculations on his fingers.  “Five,” admitted the Commander a moment later.

 

         With an evil glare, Christopher let out a long sigh.  Five duty shifts?  As in, you haven’t slept in over thirty hours?”

 

         “I’m fine,” he assured the Captain.  “Really.  I’ve pulled ten shifts in a row.”

 

         “Now you’re patronizing me.”  Christopher steepled his fingers and turned his view, but not his attention back to the screen.  “When this is all over, Commander, you will take the next two days off.  You will then begin serving one, maybe two duty shifts per day like the rest of us.  You will not whine, complain, or anything of the sort.”

 

         Harrison almost snapped at Christopher, but stopped himself before a word could seep out.

 

         “Commander,” Christopher started, but then rephrased it, “Matthew, not to long ago, I was a first officer.  I know how it goes.  Sure, you’re always on duty, but not literally.”

 

         “Yes, sir,” Harrison sighed.  “I’ll try to take it easier.”

 

         “That’s all I ask.”

 

         As their conversation drew to a close, both of the commanding officers found themselves entranced by the sudden charging of the enemy’s weapons array.

 

         The blue illumination needed no explanation, but Lieutenant Hawke obviously thought otherwise.  “They seem to be charging a long-range weapon,” she noted.

 

         “Evasive maneuvers, Ensign,” Harrison ordered.

 

        

 

         A ball of swirling blue energy emerged from the weapons array and charged across the distance between the two ships with ease.  It only grazed the Starlight’s shields and flew off into oblivion.

 

         Two more shots followed, both missed completely.

 

 

 

         “No damage,” Bator announced.

 

         Christopher, standing behind Michelle Thomas, peered down at the console before them.  “Nice moves.”

 

         “Thanks.”

 

 

 

         To’Chall pounded the arms of his chair with anger and spat out several explicatives as he watched their torpedoes sail past their target.  Kalem!”

 

         “Their ship is more maneuverable than we thought,” Kalem explained calmly.

 

         “I doubt that!” To’Chall bellowed.  I think that you are even more incompetent than I thought.  Had I not promised your father that I would not kill you, you would be dead right now.  And if General Rikas had not suggested you, I would demote you to cleansing the waste filtration system!”

 

         “Yes, sir,” Kalem squeaked out from beside To’Chall, deciding it would be best if he remained silent for the time being.

 

         To’Chall immediately turned his attention back to their long-range battle. “How much longer until they can fire back?”

 

         Rakaan accessed the sensor logs at this station.  “They have the means of firing back right now.  However, it is unlikely their targeting sensors can keep any projectiles on the proper course long enough.  I’d say they won’t risk a confrontation until they’ve rendezvoued with their fleet.”

 

         To’Chall frowned.  “The time has come to step up the attack.  Ready the entire weapons array and fire!”

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

TWELVE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         The Starlight slowly decellerated into normal space near the rest of the fleet, and quickly came about to match their heading.  Following a few seconds behind them were several more raging balls of swirling energy.  This time, they pounded the shields of the Norway, prompting them to flicker briefly.

 

         Not far behind those projectiles came the Elorg fleet, lead by their deep black warship.  The vessels came to an abrupt stop several hundred kilometers away from the Federation starships, and began charging their weapons.

 

 

 

         “Red alert,” ordered Commander Harrison.

 

         The yellow alert lights suddenly flashed to a blinking red amongst a much darker bridge. Both Christopher and Harrison sat calmly its center discussing battle plans.

 

         “Sir,” Kendall abruptly interrupted.

 

         Christopher looked up from his conversation with Commander Harrison.  “What is it, Kendall?”

 

         He stopped for a nervous second, and then looked back at his screen. “I just thought you’d like to know that several more Elorg vessels seem to be emerging from the rift in the Alteran Expanse.”

 

         “Not good,” Christopher muttered as the ship rocked slightly from a nearby explosion. 

 

         “They’re several hours away, at least,” said Harrison.  “We should make our stand here, and then run like hell when its over.”

 

         Christopher agreed.  “Mr. Bator, lock onto the lead warship’s weapons array and fire.”

 

 

 

         Dodging several more of the swirling energy pulses, the Starlight rapidly approached the sleek, black vessel, unleashing a barrage of quantum torpedoes as it did so.  The entire volley exploded on their sheilds, sparking lavender crackles along the shield perimeters.

 

         Not far behind the Starlight was the Stratus, performing a similar maneuver.  It’s torpedoes did the same, only eliciting more of bang upon impact.

 

         The two ships came about and repeated the maneuver once more, this time, prompting an extensive explosion inside their shields.

 

 

 

         “They’re primary shield generator has been destroyed,” Bator announced triumphantly.  “They’re out of control.”

 

         “Two of their support vessels have also been destroyed,” added Hawke a moment later.

 

 

 

         With its aft quarters in a heap of flames, the immense warship collided with one of the remaining destroyers, shredding the vessel to pieces.  Debris shot out in every direction as the destroyer was engulfed in a fiery orange inferno.

 

         The warship drifted aimlessly, rotating haphazardly amidst the debris.  Slowly, it regained it’s attitude control and came about, launching an assault on the Potempkin.  The ship took a heavy thrashing and blew up as the Elorg warship passed by.

 

 

 

         Potempkin destroyed,” Harrison said mournfully in the darkness of the bridge.

 

         “Enemy vessel is coming about for another assault,” Hawke warned as the view screen lit up with the explosion of the Norway.  As flames died off, the smoldering hulk of the Norway emerged, heavily damaged, but not destroyed.

 

         “Fire at will,” ordered Christopher.

 

 

 

         The Stratus and the Starlight charged toward the two remaining vessels with their weapons firing.  The last support vessel blew up after sustaining a direct hit from the Stratus, while the Starlight pummled the warship’s weapons array.

 

 

 

         To’Chall gasped in another breath of smoke-filled air and quickly dropped to the floor, deciding he had consumed enough of the poison.

 

         “All support vessels destroyed!” Rakaan called out, still at the helm.  “Our shields are holding, but not for long.  Power is extremely limited.”

 

         Rakaan patiently awaited further instructions, however, he recieved none.  Turning away from the helm, he realized that nobody else was conscious to give commands, thus, it was up to him to make the big decisions.

 

         After a quick visual survey of the smoke-filled bridge, Rakaan surmised that it would be wise to retreat, thus, he programmed the computer to fire one final volley before escaping back to the Alteran Expanse, where the fleet would be waiting.

 

         All in all, the attack was a success -- stall the enemy long enough to ensure the expanse was secured.  And now it was.

 

 

 

         The Starlight rocked from the impact of several plasma torpedoes on the shields.  Smoke filled the bridge, prompting an eerie red fog to hang in the air.  Christopher grasped the sides of his command chair to ensure his safety.

 

         “They’re retreating!” Hawke called out from the operations station when the rumbling ceased.

 

         Christopher turned in her general direction, but could not make out her face through the smoke-filled room.  “Good,” he called out.  “Stand down from red alert.”

 

         A moment later, the bridge returned to its normal illumination, only hindered slightly by the smoke still hanging in the air.  Harrison waved it aside flambouyantly as he approached Bator’s station.  “Status?”

 

         “Shields are down to forty-one percent.  There are seventy-six microfractures in the hull, and the air filtration systems are off line.  The Stratus is in similar shape.  The Norway has massive hull breeches on all decks.  Forcefields are not in place, however there are several escape pods adrift.  The Potempkin was destroyed, no survivors,” Bator reported.

 

         Christopher slumped down in his seat.  “Have repair teams get to work.  Michelle, start collecting the escape pods.  Commander, see you in the morning.”

 

         Harrison turned away from the tactical station and peered down at the Captain.  He smiled with only mild exasperation and a weak “yes sir,” before departing through the turbolift doors.

 

         “Air filtration systems are coming on line,” announced Kendall Johnson a moment later.

 

         The thick haze that filled the bridge rapidly was sucked out through the vents along the ceiling, and visibility was completely restored.

 

         “Mr. Logan, the bridge is yours,” said Christopher as he headed for the turbolift.  “I think I took in one too many smoke-filled breaths.”

 

         Logan quietly came up to the central bridge as the Captain left and assumed the seat in the command chair. 

 

         “Or, too many hours away from the Doctor?” Hawke suggested wryly after the doors were safely shut.

 

         “Perhaps,” Thomas giggled while punching in a new course heading.

 

         “Then again,” Logan interjected before anything else could be said, “maybe he really did need medical treatment?”

 

         Upon their eyes meeting each other, both Hawke and Thomas smiled and nodded negatively.

 

         “Nah,” Thomas assumed, and then turned her complete attention back to the helm.  “Approaching escape pod bearing 088 mark 3.”

 

 

 

         “You seem fine to me,” Wrighton concluded after waving the medical tricorder in front of Commander Harrison several times.  “But just to make you feel better, I’m giving you ten cc’s of trioxin to relax any of your boo-booed lung tissue.”

 

         Harrison lifted an eyebrow as the hyprospray hissed, indicating the medication was entering his system.  “Thank you, Doctor.”

 

         “Not a problem,” she replied.  “And if you’d like, I can prescribe some kayolane to help you sleep.”

 

         Harrison kindly shoved her away.  “Doctor, I haven’t slept in over thirty hours.  I won’t need any help falling asleep.”

 

         “Well, if you change your mind...” she said as Captain Christopher entered the premise.  “Captain.”

 

         Christopher walked over to her.  “Commander, are you here for some kayolane?”

 

         Harrison hopped off his biobed.  “Actually, I was just leaving.”  With that, he strolled out the doors and headed, presumably for his quarters.

 

         “And what do you need?” Wrighton asked as Christopher hopped onto the biobed.

 

         “How about some dexalin?”

 

         Wrighton waved the tricorder over the Captain’s chest.  “Minimal oxygen depravation, and minimal tissue damage.  I’d say you needed an excuse to come visit me.”

 

         Christopher grinned quietly.  “Well...”

 

         “Harrison to Christopher.”

 

         Christopher peered down at his communicator.  “Good night, Commander.”

 

         “Just one more thing--Kielar Maas.”

 

         Christopher rolled his head back and sighed.  “Ah, yes.  I’m on my way.”

 

         Wrighton patted Christopher on the shoulder as he scooted off the biobed.  “Nice try.  I’ll see you...for dinner?”

 

         “19:30 hours, my quarters?” Christpher added.

 

         “See you there.”

 

 

 

         Kielar Maas watched patiently as Captain Christopher waltzed through the doors of his quarters and into the warm darkness.  “Captain Christopher,” he said a moment later.

 

         Christopher stopped several meters into the room and turned to the Elorg, who was standing patiently at the window, gazing at the stars.  “It’s been a busy couple of days, so, I haven’t really had time to think about your request.”

 

         Maas turned his view away from the window and started Christopher directly in the eye.  “I’ll admit, that we are not on the greatest of terms.”

 

         “Indeed, we are not,” agreed Christopher.  “And if I were a normal person, my every instinct would tell me to throw you out the airlock.  You’re more trouble than you’re worth.”

 

         Maas choked back the nasty reponse at the tip of his tongue.  “Luckily, you are not a normal person.”

 

         “Lucky you.”  Christopher turned toward the window and watched several pieces of blue debris, remains of an Elorg destroyer, pass by.  “The fact of the matter is, I have a terrible feeling that I’m going to need your... help in the future.”

 

         “In other words, I am your only source of information on how to deal with the Elorg.  If I become... obsolete, you will simply replace me,” Maas summarized harshly.

 

         “Close,” said Christopher, holding a deep breath in his chest. “The bottom line is, you can stay here.  Don’t try anything, though, because the minute you start misbehaving, I’ll become a normal person, and that airlock will be the least of your worries.”

 

         “I see.”

 

         Christopher finally let out that breath and placed an uncomfortable hand on the Elorg’s shoulder.  “Hopefully, we can work out our differences.  If not, Commander Harrison is an excellent, if not stressed intermediary.”

 

         “You noticed that, too?” Maas inquired.

 

         Christopher raised an eyebrow, and could no longer hold back a smile.  “There’s hope for him, yet.”

 

         “Indeed.”  Maas turned away from the stars and lifted a PADD from the table in the back of his quarters.  “I’ve begun to compile a list of Elorg alphanumerics to help you decode our files.”

 

         “Excellent,” Christopher complimented.  “Give it to either me or Commander Harrison when you’re done.”

 

         Maas smiled.  “Yes, Captian.”

 

 

 

         The bridge was once more alive and well.  As Christopher entered, he nodded at the host of junior officers at the science stations and proceeded for his spot in the center of the bridge.

 

         A few paces behind him was Kielar Maas, enjoying his grand tour of the ship which he now called home.

 

         “Report, Mr. Logan?”

 

         Logan rose from the command chair.  “We’re picking up the last of the escape pods now.”

 

         “Excellent.”  Christopher came to a stop next to his chief engineer and turned to those in the aft bridge.  “The past few weeks have been what some might call a new beginning.  I’ve had to deal with commanding my own starship and this terribly volitile crisis.  And then, what’s started here today was undoubtedly only the beginning of a whole mess of things for us to deal with.  The dark deeds that were done here will not be forgotten for some time.

 

         “With any luck, and a little help from our friends, we can start to heal that wound, and come to an understanding with the Elorg. Until that day comes, however, Kielar Maas here, has agreed to share all of the dirt he has on his people, and to come with us on our journeys into...the final frontier.”

 

 

 

 

1 1 1