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Call of the Zurich

Chapter 1Top

“Captain's log, stardate 57301.5. I have accepted command of the USS Republic, a Galaxy-class starship. I can remember about six years ago hearing that the USS Intrepid found this ship adrift in space at the hands of Cardassians. The ship has since been brought back to Utopia Planetia and undergone a five-year refit to bring it up to current Starfleet specs.

“The ship feels empty right now. The crew has begun to arrive and hopefully we can depart soon. We have a fairly young crew. Some may see this as a weakness. I however see it as an asset. End Log“

Marshall surveyed his ready room. His gear had already been brought aboard. He felt ready for his own command but he was nervous.

“Computer, transmit the following orders to the appropriate personnel upon their arrival: Commander Lana Madison Taylor, Executive Officer: I need to speak with you in my ready room ASAP. Lieutenant Commander Ashley Sawyer, Chief Engineer: Prepare the Republic to be launched. Check all critical systems. Lieutenant Commander John Carter Chief of Security: Good to have you aboard. I'm sure you'll be missed on the Freedom Star. Check out all tactical systems and see that they are battle ready. Lieutenant Victor Virtus, Chief Science Officer: Get acquainted with your station, and check out all sensor systems. Ensign Zelk, Chief Conn Officer: Familiarize yourself with the helm console. Be prepared to take us out at a moments notice. Doctor Leon Cromwell, Chief Medical Officer: Report to sickbay and meet your staff. Be prepared to start physicals when we depart. ”

“Acknowledged and sent,” replied the computer.

A short time later, the door chimes.

“Enter,” replied Marshall.

“Commander Lana Madison Taylor reporting for duty Captain.”

“Commander it is good to see you,” Marshall offered his hand and she took it. “I am glad to see you aboard. However, later I am going to need to go over what requirements I will have for a First Officer. What do you say to dinner in my quarters tomorrow evening?”

“I'd be delighted,” replied Commander Taylor.

Just then, the comm system came to life.

=/\= “U.S.S. Republic, this is Lieutenant Victor Virtus. Request permission to come aboard.” =/\=

“Permission granted, Lieutenant,” the captain replied by tapping the communications console on his desk. “Report to the bridge as soon as you get here. I need a word with you. Marshall out.”

Jim turned his attention back to Commander Taylor, “Care to come with me to Main Engineering?” They exited the ready room as a man in a blue Science uniform with a Lieutenant's pips got off of the turbolift. Jim assumed this was Lieutenant Virtus.

“Lieutenant Virtus, welcome aboard. This is Commander Taylor, the Executive Officer. Familiarize yourself with the Science station. We'll be in Engineering.”

“Aye Captain,” replied Virtus.

“Captain,” started Ensign Portman at the con station. “Message coming in from the Runabout Benning. They are transporting Doctor Cromwell from Jupiter Station, and due to the mix-ups they will be arriving here an hour after we launch. They request a rendezvous in-system . . .”

“No, tell them to proceed on to Utopia Planetia. I'll find someway to hold us up, but don't tell them that. Say we're double checking the intermix formula and it will take an hour longer than anticipated.” Replied Marshall as Taylor got in the turbolift.

<location: deck 34, main engineering, USS Republic>

Ashley Christine Sawyer stood in the observation room of the Utopia Planitian warp core testing room. She had been over-seeing the refit for the past 4 months, and they were less then a day away from the big day now. She ran her fingers through her hair, a nervous tick for her, and shouted:

“Okay guys, those figures are perfect, let's get this thing installed!” said Ashley

Forty-five minutes later, she was standing in main engineering of the Galaxy Class vessel watching as the structural latches locked the mighty warp core casing into place.

She ran her fingers through her hair, and announced,

“Good work people. Let's get this ship ready to rock!”

Captain Marshall and Commander Taylor, walking into main engineering, had just located Lieutenant Commander Sawyer. After making the appropriate introductions the Captain asked, “How's our warp intermix formula?”

“Right on the line Captain,” replied Sawyer.

“You sure you don't need to double check that?” asked the Captain.

“I'm sure sir,” said Sawyer.

“Because.” The Captain then leaned over and whispered something to her.

“I'll get right on it,” then Sawyer took off to proceed with it.

Captain Marshall then tapped his combadge. “Bridge this is the Captain. Notify the Runabout Benning that we'll be here waiting on the good doctor Marshall out.”

<location: sol system, between orbits of Jupiter and Mars>

Starlines streaked past the viewport as the Runabout Benning completed its casual maneuvers through Sol's asteroid belt. In a compartment outfitted for twelve passengers, a lone traveler sat in the portside seat furthest to the rear of the craft. Engrossed in a quaint hardcover book, the sandy blond gentleman occasionally brushed his feathery moustache with an idle hand that rested on his chin. Amber eyes flickered back and forth, scanning the pages with detached interest. After adjusting the collar on his ivory turtleneck, the man’s chest heaved slowly and released an audible sigh.

Suddenly, the hissing of pneumatics registered within the cabin as the compartment door slid open. A young Andorian Starfleet officer walked briskly down the aisle holding aloft a digital message pad. “Incoming message from the Republic, Doctor Cromwell,” sounded the maroon-clad lieutenant. “Sorry we were late departing from Jupiter station. With the late arrival of the Bremerton, and the mix-up in destination orders, your transfer didn’t clear the dispatch office until after 1300 hours.”

The doctor looked up at the lieutenant, accepted the datapad without response, and reviewed the message: “Chief Medical Officer: Report to sickbay and meet your staff. Be prepared to start physicals when we depart.”

Without looking up to the man, the doctor frowned and asked “When do you think we’ll be arriving at Utopia Planitia?”

“Approximately 1800 hours, sir.”

“That’s almost an hour after the Republic is scheduled to depart” replied the doctor.

“Again, I’m sorry sir” said the lieutenant. “I can transmit our situation to the Republic if you wish. I’m sure we can rendezvous with her while she’s still in-system.”

The doctor nodded his head reluctantly, and the officer turned around to exit the way he came. “I’ll let you know when we’re about to dock, sir.”

Slapping closed the book in his hand, the doctor glanced out the window and mused upon his disposition. “Great,” he thought. “Another botched first impression. If this keeps up, I’ll be back on Pacifica sifting through nucleotides for another three years.”

An hour later, an empty mug was placed onto the serving platform of the runabout’s food replicator, and with a multi-toned surge of energy, the drinking vessel was whisked away. After finishing his coffee, Doctor Cromwell was about to return to his seat when the Andorian pilot announced over the intercom “good news, sir. The Republic signaled that she’s running behind schedule. We’ll be able to arrive before she leaves drydock.”

For the first time since embarking on this trek to the Sol system, Leon Cromwell could breathe a sigh of relief instead of frustration. Walking to the forward of the passenger compartment, the doctor continued on into the cockpit where the young Starfleet officer sat at the helm. After taking a seat at the co-pilot’s station, Doctor Cromwell said with peace of mind “thank you, lieutenant. That’s the best news I’ve heard all day.”

Smiling, the Andorian replied “I know you’re nervous about your new assignment, sir. If I were lucky enough to be posted on a Galaxy Class starship, I’d be worried about being late to my new post as well. Do you think you’ll find your new crew different from the Bremerton?”

Doctor Cromwell sat back in his seat with a look of certainty. “Definitely, lieutenant. The Bremerton was purely a science vessel, loaded with civilian scientists and only about a dozen Starfleet crewmen. Our evolutionary genome-mapping mission to Pacifica was the most laid-back job anyone could ask for. However, Galaxy Exploration command is a totally different animal. I’m bound to run into the hard-charging military types.”

Twitching an antenna, the lieutenant asked “hard-charging military types? All good Starfleet personnel should have a certain amount of military discipline, even non-bridge officers. We all have that instilled in us at Starfleet Academy.”

The doctor smiled and retorted “not every officer goes through the academy.”

Raising an eyebrow, the Andorian turned in his seat to look at Doctor Cromwell. “I’ve never run into anyone in Starfleet who hasn’t. Didn’t you go to the academy?

Shaking his head, Doctor Cromwell simply said “no.”

Startled, the lieutenant asked “how did you get into Starfleet then?”

“Well, I spent six years as an enlisted Starfleet crewman, stationed as a life-science research technician on starbase 123” replied the doctor. “After my enlistment was up, I studied to become an MD at the University of Tycho on Luna, and spent my last two internship years at Starfleet Medical.”

The Andorian looked confused, and replied “but, I was told you hold the rank of lieutenant commander.”

“When the Cardassian War broke out,” continued the doctor, “Starfleet scrambled to find qualified medical personnel and offered me a civilian contract as a field surgeon headquartered out of Starbase 72. After the war was over, I stayed on as assistant chief medical officer with the honorary commission of lieutenant. My commission was fully activated when the Dominion War broke out, and I spent most of my time going from ship to ship patching kids back together. Afterwards, they promoted my commission, and gave me the option of any assignment I wanted. This last assignment on the Bremerton was my attempt to return to a life-sciences background, and maybe some peace and quiet. But….” Patting the datapad that held his transfer orders, he added “Starfleet seems to have other ideas.”

A proximity-alert sounded on the helm station, and the pilot turned back to the controls. “Entering sector of Sol-Four” he said. “On course to Utopia Planitia drydock twelve. 120,000 kilometers and closing.”

As the rusty red planetscape of Mars reflected off the viewport, a distant metallic structure appeared out of the black, starry backdrop. Looming closer, the runabout circled behind the gargantuan framework, and like the belly of some giant beast, cradled within its ribs was the blue-gray shadow of a slightly smaller construct. A large circular saucer-shaped hull sat atop an ovalized, cylindrical secondary hull that boasted two blue pinstriped warp nacelles. Port and starboard running lights blinked in synchronized harmony, as thousands of smaller viewport lights shined steadily throughout the craft. The runabout came to a halt at the rear of the massive assemblage, and began a final approach into the rear-facing main shuttlebay on top of the saucer-section.

“She certainly is a sight to look at” whispered Doctor Cromwell, with his eyes fixated on the approaching vessel.

As the two gentlemen watched on in awe, the subspace comm came to life. “Runabout Benning, this is Republic docking control. Approach beams are activated. Engage your landing cycle, and enjoy the ride.“

After fingering his control console several times, the Andorian lieutenant replied “acknowledged Republic, you have control.”

Slowly, the runabout inched ever closer, offering the occupants one last review of the majestic ship. Proudly displayed on the bulkheads beneath them, highlighted by registry lighting and docking strobes, read: “U.S.S. REPUBLIC – GALAXY CLASS STARSHIP – NCC-76241 – UNITED FEDERATION OF PLANETS.”

With a soft jarring and a muffled clatter, the small courier vessel came to a stop, and the Andorian helm officer declared over the comm channel “all stations secure, Republic. Preparing to disembark passenger.” Turning to the doctor, the lieutenant said “we’re all clear, sir. Welcome to your new home.”

Standing up, Doctor Cromwell smoothed the wrinkles out of his turtleneck sweater and adjusted his comm badge. He slung his cylindrical boarding bag over his shoulder, and shook the Andorian’s hand. “Thanks for the ride.”

“No problem, sir” he replied. With a smile and a jest, the pilot added “watch out for those hard-charging military types!”

Returning the smile, the doctor proceeded to the egress ramp.

“Atmospheric pressure equalized” announced the monotone computer voice in the airlock. Doctor Cromwell dialed the debark command on the planetfall hatch, and with a hiss, the door slid open and the egress ramp lowered. As he strolled down the platform, ship personnel were going about their assigned duties at a rapid pace in preparation for departure. Leon felt slightly out of place, either because he was standing around not doing anything, or perhaps because he was the only one in civilian clothing.

As the ramp retracted, the hum of the runabout’s engines began to increase in pitch, signaling their startup cycle. Looking at the cockpit window, the smiling Andorian waved a goodbye to the doctor. Waving back, he was interrupted by the loudspeaker. “Runabout Benning preparing for departure, all personnel clear the launching platform. Repeat, all personnel clear the launching platform.” Realizing that he was not yet across the yellow demarcation line on the floor, the doctor looked up to see the shuttle bay personnel looking at him quizzically. Embarrassed, he quickly trotted past the line, and turned around to see a chuckling Andorian in the runabout cockpit. As the bay doors opened, and the warning beacon activated, the small craft levitated off the bay floor, spun slowly around and departed. The dim flash of the atmosphere field shimmered as the runabout passed the threshold, and the doctor watched it disappear into the depths of space before the bay doors slid back closed.

Chapter 2Top

<location: corridor, deck 4, USS Republic>

Lana watched the captain handle getting the crew on board the ship. It was amazing how he was able to keep track of everything. That and she also had on her mind the fact he had asked her to dinner to discuss what he was looking for in an XO. She couldn't wait. But she also felt the wedding band on her finger from when she was married to her husband. She laid her hand on her stomach as she followed the captain around feeling her baby.

The executive officer had been given a message that she was to meet the new doctor who had just arrived to the Republic. She knew it was part of her job, but she was nervous about doing it. According to her PADD in her hand, he had just landed in Shuttlebay One. When she got there, she walked in and noticed someone there that she hadn't seen before.

The doctor stood at the base of the runabout’s ramp for a good minute, allowing the thought to settle that he was not going back to the Bremerton. Scanning the crowd, an uneasy feeling crept into his stomach as the disciplined, uniformed crew went back to work preparing the Republic for her first trip out of drydock in over six years. Suddenly, the doctor perceived that one of the crew was staring at him with a look of uncertainty. She was a tall officer, wearing the maroon uniform of the command branch. The three rank pips on her collar indicated her station as a Starfleet Commander, and this, the doctor assumed, was a member of the senior staff.

“Doctor Cromwell?” she finally said with a professional demeanor.

Reaching out to shake her hand, the doctor replied “yes, that’s me. Permission to come aboard, Commander.”

Lana reached out her hand and shook his. “Permission granted Doctor, and I would like to say welcome aboard the Republic,” she said. “I am Commander Lana Taylor at your service. The captain had a few things he needed to attend to, so I will be the one to be escorting you around. Shall we go?”

Commander Taylor led Doctor Cromwell out of the shuttle bay and into the adjoining corridor. As the duo walked side by side, past and around officers coming from the opposite direction, the doctor couldn’t help but to apologize for the obvious.

“Sorry about my late arrival, Commander. There were a few mix-ups at Jupiter Station. I hope the captain wasn’t too displeased” he concluded with slight hesitance.

As they stepped into a turbolift, the doctor happened to notice the small bulge in the Commander’s abdomen. Since her face did not denote any sign of weight gain, and the fact that the bulge was located in the uterine area, he realized that he had stumbled upon his first piece of official ship business.

“So,” he said straightforwardly, “have you had your pre-natal exam yet?”

Lana looked at the doctor. She was surprised that he picked up on her pregnancy. “Um…,” she stuttered in shock. “How did you know?” she asked. She stopped in the hallway just inside of the ship.

As she stopped suddenly before entering the turbolift, Commander Taylor’s piercing gaze and apprehensive demeanor met the doctor’s forthright expression, and he realized that he had struck a nerve. Often forgetful of what his trained eye picks up on, he cleared his throat in reparation.

“I, uh, assume that this subject was not intended for public scrutiny?” he said with a tone of professional trepidation. “If you’re concerned with my knowing this information, I can assure you that I hold all of my patients’ medical conditions in the strictness of confidence.”

He peered cautiously outside the open turbolift door, looking from side to side in search of some passerby who was scrutinizing their conversation. Fortunately, no one had noticed the Commander’s abrupt halt, and the doctor spoke in a quieter voice. “If I knew where exactly my office was, I’d invite you in for a private consultation. That being not the case, perhaps we can either head to sickbay, or possibly settle for this?” The doctor motioned for the commander to step through the door into the turbolift.

Lana looked at the doctor. “I can take you right to sickbay now if you would like. Your office is there also,” she said stepping into the turbolift after the doctor.

“Sickbay,” she said as she felt the turbolift move. She stayed quiet for most of the ride.

“Great,” thought the doctor. “My first formal meeting on this ship, and I had to go ahead and make a fool of myself.” As the hum of the turbolift filled the compartment, the tense atmosphere hung over the two officers like an approaching storm. Neither knew what the other was thinking, but yet, both had to form some kind of professional connection in the coming months. However, each felt that they had somehow gotten off the wrong foot with one another.

As the turbolift doors thrust open, Commander Taylor made no delay to the sickbay complex. She marched through the corridor at a rather quick pace, and the Doctor had to make a few, irregular trots to keep up. A sharp turn to the left, and through two large doors revealed a sprawling sickbay department. Several staff were caught off guard at the sudden appearance of their first officer. An attempt was made by several to come to attention, but the Commander did not give enough time.

“That is all right. This is your new Senior Officer in charge of sickbay, Doctor Leon Cromwell,” she said before making a beeline for the CMO office. The doctor tried to keep up, but couldn’t help to stop for a split second after the announcement of his name.

“Pleased to meet you all” he said, as Commander Taylor disappeared into the office. Slightly flustered, and wringing his hands, the doctor took a few nervous shuffles toward the suite, all the while saying “Um, I’ll have a staff meeting with you momentarily. . . There’s just a . . . a pre-departure briefing that the Commander has to give me . . . um . . . Captain’s orders . . . you know how it goes . . . see you all shortly . . .”

The door to the office closed quickly after he entered, and the blue-uniformed staff looked at each other in bewilderment. “What was that?” one of them finally said, after a moment of confusion. After several clueless shoulder-shrugs, they went back to their assigned duties.

Meanwhile, in Doctor Cromwell’s new office, Commander Taylor stood in front of the computer desk with arms folded, tapping her foot anxiously. “That’s two botched first-meetings. I’m on a role,” thought the doctor. New to the office, he could not get himself to sit at the chair behind the desk. Instead, he settled on the corner of the desk, and consciously worked to look relaxed in hopes that the Commander would follow suite.

“Now,” he finally said with as much expert placidity he could muster. “Why don’t you have a seat and tell me what this is all about?”

Lana sat down in a chair that the doctor pointed to. “Well, I am supposed to get you settled into your job before we head out. Captain's orders. I didn't make time for formalities,” she said shifting uncomfortably in her seat, which was uncommon for a half betazoid/half human person. “I know so far this day has not went the way you have expected it to go. Nothing has. You assumed I was pregnant. That got me kind of flustered because no one knows. Not even the captain,” she said from her chair.

Lana didn't know what to say after that. She twiddled around with the ring on her hand. Her wedding band. She knew eventually she would have to take it off, but she just couldn't bring herself to. “So whenever you would like to see me for a check-up is fine.”

Doctor Cromwell listened to the Commander without interruption, but made a mental note of the repetitive shifting in her chair. She seemed fretful. Wrought with an anxiety that went beyond that of an expectant mother, or of an executive officer. Something was on her mind that weighed so heavily that it was threatening to consume her entirely. When she finished talking, the doctor nodded his head slowly as if attempting to ascertain whether something else might be troubling her.

“Well, give me a day or so to get my department together,” he said. “I’m used to days not going they way I expect them to, otherwise I wouldn’t be a good department head. However, if I’m going to be delivering a child while we’re on active duty, especially to one of the senior officers, I’d like to be prepared.”

The doctor stood up and finally went behind the desk in search of a data pad. “Besides,” he continued, “from the looks of it, you’re in about your fourth month, and although it won’t be awhile until you come to term, you’re already beginning to show the signs of pregnancy.” He smiled slightly, as if happy to display his medical prowess. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have noticed…”

Finding a data pad in the top desk drawer, he exclaimed “Ah, here we go. . .” For a brief second, he looked at the chair behind the desk, as if unsure whether it was really his. Finally, he resolved to sit, and after tapping a few times on the data pad, Doctor Cromwell created his first ship-board appointment schedule. “Let’s do your pre-natal exam in three days at around 1300 hours depending on your schedule—I know you’ll be busy. Now, on to the other business at hand. . .”

Slowly placing the pad on the desk, the doctor folded his hands, and looked at Lana with a direct, concerned expression. “Look, I may not be an empath,” he said finally. “But I’ve gone to enough psychology seminars to know when something is bothering a person. You’re going to be a mother, and undo stress on you can reap dangerous repercussions for your child. You already have a stressful position as the Saratoga’s first officer, and as your attending physician, I don’t want to see anymore stress than necessary during this pregnancy. So, if something else is on your mind, it behooves you to resolve it now.”

The doctor sat back in his chair, and added “mind you, I’m a good listener. However, if you’d feel more comfortable with the ship’s counselor, you’ll have to wait until I meet with my staff.”

Lana watched the doctor has he started to get everything organized in his office. She was in shock that he had been able to pin point her pregnancy and know that something was wrong. She thought that just her being an empath that she was the only one able to do that.

“Look Dr. Cromwell, I really don't want to bore you with the details of my life the past few months. I have a job to do and so do you. And basically it says that neither one of us interferes with the other one's personal life except on a professional level,” she said.

Lana then proceeded to get up out of the chair and fell back in from being light headed.

A furrow developed on the doctor’s forehead, as if he had just discovered a new symptom. The Commander, slightly pale, appeared to be on the verge of a fainting episode. Quickly scanning the shelves in his office, Leon spotted a medical tricorder, and immediately put it to work. Standing up, he walked over to Lana, and ran the diagnostic wand around the executive officer several times.

As the device sprung to life in the doctor’s hands, a high-pitched hum came forth from the palm-sized apparatus. “Well, personal life or not, it seems that your electrolyte levels are hovering well below normal.” Closing the tricorder, he looked around on the floor for his cylindrical boarding bag. After kneeling down and prying open the two hinged covers, he reached in and produced a black pouch the size of a hardcover book. The ripping of velcro echoed in the office as the doctor unpacked his hypospray and inserted two small vials of liquid. Dialing the dosage levels, he reached over and gently administered the injection on Commander Taylor’s neck.

“This is a combination tri-ox compound, metabolism stabilizer, and relaxant” he explained. “I also added a few drops of my own special cocktail of serotonin, so you should be feeling better in a few seconds.”

Returning the medical equipment back to their case, the doctor looked back at the XO. “Look,” he pleaded, “this isn’t about you personal life anymore. Whatever it is that’s bothering you is obviously affecting you physically. This is jeopardizing your child and your ability to carry out your duties as exec.”

He knelt down and came to eye-level with Taylor. “Commander . . . “ he stopped to check himself before making a correction in a softer tone. “Lana . . . as your doctor, I’m giving you two choices: you can either talk to myself or the ship’s counselor about whatever is bugging you, or force me to report this to the captain—and I get the impression you don’t want that. For that matter, * I * don’t want that. But you have to weigh the options here: is bottling up this stress more important than the life of your child and the lives aboard this ship? We haven’t even left drydock yet. Imagine what this is going to do to you over the next few days or even weeks.”

Standing up, the doctor returned to sitting on the corner of the desk in front of the Commander. “Now,” he continued, “what do you want to do about this?”

Lana looked at the doctor. She didn't see where she had much of a choice but to tell him what was going on. “Doctor, a few months ago, I lost my husband in a battle. I had no idea I was pregnant at the time. I asked for a transfer immediately because I couldn't deal with being on the same ship as the one he had died on. That was when I got transferred to this ship as the XO. Anything else you want to know?” she asked almost sarcastically.

Closing his eyes, the doctor wiped his forehead with his hand. “Great, I screwed up a third time today,” he thought to himself as a rush of guilt surged through his stomach. Letting out a sigh, he looked down at the floor, then back to the Commander. “I’m sorry . . . I had no idea.”

After a moment of silence, his head scrambled to find the right words to say. “There’s nothing worse in the universe than the death of a spouse,” the doctor admitted. At the risk of exacerbating the situation, he chose to do what every good counselor he had worked with in the past had done: empathize and try to put it the situation into perspective. “Not only are you distraught with the constant reminder of his passing,” he said with realization, “but you carry his unborn child, and have moved to a new ship where you don’t know anyone. No wonder you’re overstressed. The fact that you’ve come this far with it, and accepted an executive position on a starship, is testament to your determination to overcome this.”

Doctor Cromwell shook his head, folded his arms, and looked at the ceiling. Rationalizing the situation with a note of irony in his voice, he said “it’s amazing. I’ve been able to comfort screaming soldiers with maimed limbs, given sedatives to battle-worn catatonic starship crews, and even made a grizzly old Klingon who couldn’t lift a batliff chuckle. But there’s no way at all for me to change the past.”

Finally, he squatted back down and returned to eye-level with Taylor. “I can’t take the pain away,” he admitted. Glancing at the floor, the doctor mused for a second before continuing. “Look, I know we haven’t exactly started off on the right foot, but if you need someone to talk to, let me know. And it doesn’t have to be here, either” he motioned to the office around him. “Sometimes just a drink and an attending ear can help more than a hypospray.”

Lana looked at the doctor. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Another man was offering to help her with the fact that she missed her husband and was pregnant with his child.

“I would appreciate that Le…I mean, Doctor,” Lana said with her head down blushing for almost calling him by his first name.

She rose up from her chair and looked at the doctor.

Realizing he actually did some good to help the Commander, Leon breathed a mental sigh of relief. “It’s always tricky,” thought the doctor, “when your patients are enduring mental trauma on top of a medical condition.” Although he always kept the profiles of his patients totally confidential, once in a while he felt it was necessary to pitch the “I’ll report this to the captain” line to get to the bottom of an issue. In the past, there were very few times when he was forced to follow through with the threat. Fortunately, most saw the wisdom in not arguing with their attending physician.

“I’m glad I could help,” said the doctor. “Remember, you’re not alone on this ship. We’re all here to help one another, and if one of us is suffering, it’s up to the rest of us to do something about it.”

Just as he finished, the ship-wide intercom activated.

=/\= “Senior staff to the observation lounge” =/\=

Looking back to Commander Taylor, Doctor Cromwell raised his eyebrows. “Well, I guess this is it” he said. “After you.” Motioning to the door, the doctor followed her out of the office as they responded to the captain’s call.

Chapter 3Top

<location: in orbit around Mars>

Class VI shuttles were sleek, small, and built for speed, and right now, Lieutenant Commander John Carter needed all the speed he could get.

The tall, dark haired Martian clenched his hands and tried to relax, checking his course and speed for what seemed like the thousandth time as the perfect syncopation of late 20th century Terran jazz continued over the internal comm system. John ran a hand through his hair, and mused to himself.

“Routine paper work, they said.” John tapped out a series of commands on one of the many display boards. A countdown of his ETA to the Utopia Planetia Shipyards appeared. The numbers of the display were falling fast… but not quite fast enough.

“Nothing to worry about, they said.” The Lieutenant Commander glanced over his right shoulder, eyes locking onto his old-style duffle, still marked as property of U.S.S. Valiant II, in archaic stenciled print. A well worn stick of ash, about three and a half feet tall with a small basket on a flared end rested against the duffle. John called out to the emptiness of the shuttle's interior.

“Computer, resume log entry.” The shuttle's systems beeped in reply. Carter had “respectfully” asked that the voice acknowledgement be discontinued. He cleared his throat and spoke.

“Final transfer to U.S.S. Republic has been approved by Fleet HQ. Getting back into space will be a nice change of pace after a year at the Academy.”

Carter's entry was interrupted by the navigational computer's chirp. John then felt the familiar pull at his body as the shuttle's inertial compensators struggled to counteract the effects of shifting from warp speeds to real space. John settled into the pilot's position and couldn't help a smile as the familiar red orb of Mars (he refused to call it Sol IV like most federation citizens) came into view. Floating above, in orbit of John's home world, he could see the sprawling Utopia Planetia Shipyard. nestled in an exterior berth, Carter saw the hull of a galaxy Class starship, the U.S.S. Republic.

“Damn”, John said to himself. “It's good to be home.” John zipped up his gold collar and reached back to slip into his black duty tunic, then opened a channel to Utopia Planitia Control.

“Shuttle Kierkagard to Utopia Station control.” He waited for a response.

“This is Utopia Approach Control, Kierkagard, go ahead.”

John keyed commands to put his shuttle under command of the station's traffic systems. “Lieutenant Carter reporting as ordered from Starfleet Command. Sorry for the delay. Please inform Captain Marshall and the Republic that I await his earliest convenience.”

“Understood, Lieutenant Commander. We'll convey the message. Sit back and enjoy the view.”

John Carter sat down and looked out the viewport of his shuttle as the rust-colored orb that was his homeworld hove closer and closer. Republic’s new Tactical Officer just sat back and smiled. “Oh, don't worry about that. Carter out.”

In minutes, the shuttle Kirkagard was safely docked in Utopia Station. John Carter collected his personal effects, and set out for the nearest turbolift. He couldn't help but let out a small smirk as the turbolift doors opened with no sound at all. John shook his head. “That's just not right”, he commented, stepping into the lift. Again, he called out to the air. “Refit dock two,” he said. “U.S.S. Republic.” John shut his eyes and leaned against the back of the turbolift car, the familiar weight of his Lacrosse coup stick comfortably in his hands.

The next sound he was aware of was the bustling of crewmen and repair teams near the central gangway. Ahead of him, he could see the mammoth saucer hull of the Republic. He stepped out of the lift car and strode up the gangway. “Well John, here we go.”

<location: main bridge, U.S.S. Republic>

Lieutenant Virtus checked left and right, and once certain no one was looking over his shoulder, verified his information, correcting a mistake made over a year ago. Vic carefully programmed the ship's computer to play the FIRST movement of Gustav Holst's “The Planets” upon Lieutenant Commander Carter entering his quarters.

Victor ran his first diagnostic of the ship's sensors. Diagnostics take processor time from the ship's computer and require an infinitesimal amount of power from the ship's batteries. But any non-scheduled use of ship's power had to cleared by the XO. Level 5 diagnostics run every few seconds, and report that the power is on, and that the computer believes the sensors are present, level 1 diagnostics requires hundreds of man-hours, testing every circuit by hand.

Not wanting to disturb Commander Taylor, Victor settled for a “Level Six” diagnostic. Not listed in any of the Star Fleet protocol manuals, a Level Six check consisted of reading the ship's specifications, and visually confirming that the ship did, in fact, have those sensors.

Proximity sensors, active, currently offline, UFP standard issue Mark VIII, based heavily on Vulcan T'li sensor technology that was old when the UPF was still seven races, good out to 1000 meters, can see a paint fleck or a water molecule until it gets within three meters of the hull. Then the ship's own mass interferes with the signal.

Primary Navigation Sensors, active, online, and smart enough to know we are currently docked. UPF Mark VII point II. (Vic briefly wondered what SF sciences department genius decided to stick with Terran Roman numerals, but still include a “point” version update.) Cutting edge technology of the last century, able to detect and avoid interstellar hazards in real space at up to 5 x 10^12 meters…

“Five million kilometers… five thousand megameters… five gigameters… point oh oh five terameters… point oh oh oh oh oh five exameters… ”

Victor realized he'd been talking to himself, and slyly glanced around. The ensign on conn was stoically looking forward at the blank screen, but the helmsman on duty had cranked himself all the way around in his seat and was staring.

“Sorry. Carry on Ensign.”

Vic did the math, two ships closing at full impulse would have 15 minutes warning if all other sensors but primary navigation were out.

Secondary Navigational Sensors, passive, always online, and smarter than an Oranian Shoal Slug or a Terran Border Collie, but not by much. A redundant system that Star Fleet regulations require on all vessels. Regulations dating back to the 21st century on Sol III, when every vessel, from personal land transports to interplanetary exploration probes, had to have three back-up systems for everything. (Vic wondered for the umpteenth time of his life how the Phoenix ever got off the ground.) The secondary nav. sensors listen for energy signatures, watch interstellar masses, and wait until something cuts off the energy broadcast or moves between the ship and the interstellar mass, and then makes an educated on what is nearby, and where it is. They operate on a principle the Academy boys like to call the “Sunbathing Horta” principle, whereby a Horta on a rock will immediately know if a cloud has obscured the sun, even though Horta do not see into the human visible light range. The Republic’s secondary navigation sensors were currently screaming (silently) that the ship was in eminent danger of a collision with six docking clamps, the gangplank, a U.P. communications satellite, a number 12 pneumatic wrench and the planet Mars.

Vic ran a check, and sure enough, there was a number 12 pneumatic wrench resting on the saucer, dorsal, 7.21 meters port of the main deflector array.

The secondary navigation sensors also take over when something is inside the effective range of the proximity sensors. Theoretically, the closer something is, the better the secondary sensors pick it up. Vic remembered his third year at the academy, when he and his partner successfully convinced the secondary nav. sensors of their ancient Constitution-class training vessel that there was a 100 megaton sugar cube between the moon and the earth. Vic got a 5 out of 5 on that project, and a reprimand from the instructor for causing the cadet Lt. to panic, go to red alert, and warn Star Fleet of a possible Borg invasion. The sugar cube had been resting on the main sensor array.

Short Range Deep Space Sensors, active, online, Mark IX Shinomi, Tellarite design with a Terran sense of style, good to 25 light years, adequate to 40 light-years. The bulk of the “eyes and ears” of the main sensor array is tied up in short range sensors.

Vislight, electromagnetic, gravametric, subspace, tachyonic, tardonic (slower than light, i.e. matter), ionic, chronomic (the ship's clock is actually part of the main sensor array, and woe-betide the ensign that damages the sensitive equipment that controls when officers wake up.), and a whole host of other <prefix>-<technical sounding word>-ic detectors. Vic ran a brief scan of the ship's surroundings. Two other Fleet ships docked, one more inbound passing Saturn, three UPF merchant vessels in orbit, 8 shuttles nearby, two moons, one planet, all within 1.6 million kilometers.

Long-Range Deep Space Sensors, active or passive modes, offline, Mark X LoRDSS, specially designed for the Galaxy-class, able to pick up stellar phenomenon at over 250 light-years. Intended for deep space exploration of the gamma and delta quadrants, but interestingly enough, much better at detecting other ships than detecting planets.

Vic paused, finished with his cursory inspection, and looked around the bridge. Standard layout, slightly non-standard carpeting and neutral wall coloration. The Captain, First Officer, Ship's Counselor, helmsman and conn. get to sit, everyone else stands for an eight hour shift.

His diagnostic complete, Vic logged his findings and put in a work order to U.P. maintenance to collect their wrench before the Republic disembarked. His internal monologue continued to churn, “Is a diagnostic two individual agnostics, or one agnostic that believes in two separate Supreme Beings? Can you run a check on a person to tell if they are agnostic or diagnostic? How can you tell if to two agnostics are working properly?”

Chapter 4Top

<location: main gangway hatch, USS Republic>

Lieutenant Commander John Carter felt the slight shift of gravity as he crossed the threshold into the main gangway of the U.S.S. Republic. Her brightly lit corridors and graceful curves were not as spacious as the art deco buildings back at Starfleet Headquarters, but, John reflected as he began to weave through crowds of busy crewmen, neither were they as cramped as the Intrepid Class U.S.S. Freedom Star, which was his last deep black assignment.

John felt a rush of adrenaline and a bit of pride as he recalled the 'Star's time on Neutral Zone patrol. 'Neutral my ass!' he thought to himself.

Barely a week into their patrol, the Freedom Star, designated as an exploration vessel for Task Force 06, had been called to the rescue of the U.S.S. Discovery, an older Nebula class cruiser that had been affected by some sort of unusual energy surge. In response to the Discovery's condition, John had been part of the rescue team, dispatched in several shuttles to secure the wreck of the Discovery and assess the condition of her crew.

Recovery procedures had gone well enough. Discovery had been rigged for warp-towing, and the battered ship's hull had been deemed space worthy. Freedom Star's recovery teams all made it back on board, and the captain had ordered a leisurely course back to Hellsgate Station.

John couldn’t help but shudder at the thought of that place, reflecting that there must be a reason why some people end up in back-water posts. he suspected it was to keep the flotsam out of the rest of Starfleet's business. Carter stopped at a turbo-lift door toward the rear quarter of the circular hall he had been walking down, waiting patiently until the car arrived. As he waited, he thought about the unceremonious arrival at Hellsgate Station.

John could recall perfectly the bitter disappointment he felt at being towed into the station's repair bay. On reflection, he knew there was little more he could have done. 'After all', he kept reminding himself, 'when the odds start off as six to one against, what does a warp core really matter? To say nothing of what your ideas do to physics'.

The doors to the lift car opened and john Carter was barely aware of the sly grin he reflexively gave whoever the woman in science blue was who stood in front of him now. Carter glanced at her collar.

'Two dots', he thought. 'Don't stare', but it was too late.

“Can I help you, Lieutenant Commander?” The question brought John's consciousness back to what he was actually doing and away from memories of the Neutral Zone, now almost two years old.

“Sorry.” John said, as he stepped into the car. He glanced up, then turned his head slightly to the right. “Deck 4”. He said. A slightly muffled “humph” came from 'the blue woman'. Carter settled into the car and glanced over at her. “What was that?” He asked.

“Officer Country,” was the science lieutenant's reply. “Hope you like it there sir.”

John Carter arched an eyebrow, suspecting she meant more than she was saying. “And,” he paused for effect, “Why wouldn't I? The Republic’s practically a luxury liner compared to my last cruise.”

'The Blue Woman' nodded in agreement. “No argument there sir,” she said. “But…”

'Why?' John wondered. 'Why is there ALWAYS a but?!?' “Yes?” was all he managed to let out.

Blue woman hid a smirk behind her hand as she felt the lift stop on Deck 6. She stepped the doors as they slid open, silently, again, much to Carter's annoyance. As the stepped onto the new deck, she looked back over her shoulder to address Saratoga's new Tactical Officer. “Officer Country is haunted.” She said the words so casually, John knew she at least THOUGHT she was serious. Blue woman stepped out of sight as the doors to the lift car slid shut.

John Carter stood in the lift, blinking once or twice as he felt the car resume it's journey upward to his final destination. The lift car stopped at deck four, doors sliding open silently…again. Carter stepped onto the deck and turned to his left, eyes on the lookout for his new quarters. “Haunted,” he said out loud to no one in particular. “Sure it is.” He continued, “Of COURSE it is. I mean it would have to be, wouldn't it?”

Carter stopped and keyed the command to open the door to his new home. He kept musing aloud to himself. “Good one to pull on the new guy I guess. Better be on the watch for strange shapes and odd noises.” The door to John Carter's quarters opened, and he stepped inside.

A wall of sound hit the Starfleet officer with almost physical force, and John felt himself jump, his duffle and coup stick hitting the floor. “Griffe!” he shouted. “What's that sprocking noise”? John stooped down to get his duffle while his brain sorted out the sounds that were assaulting him. Powerful, pulsing drums. Angry, slicing strings, and weaved in all of that, a melody so low and menacing, it could only be one piece.

John threw his head back and laughed. “That crafty little…” he chuckled. “I was wondering why he didn't answer my call last week. Too smart for my own good”. Carter tilted his head back and yelled over the thunderous music. “Computer!” he shouted. “End playback”. The music ceased as the computer obeyed Carter's command. “Thank you”, he said. “Now”, he called out, “give me the location of Victor Virtus”!

The ever-present, non-localized voice of the ship's computer filled John's quarters.

“Lieutenant Virtus is on the main bridge.”

John was momentarily startled. Vic had been a Lieutenant Commander a year ago on the Freedom Star. Could he have had to take a demotion to get this assignment?

Lieutenant Commander John Carter stowed the last of his personnel gear in the recessed dresser that comprised most of the port side wall of his cabin. He still had trouble believing that any ship in the fleet, even the vaunted Galaxy Class, could allot so much space to individual crewmen. Even the Sovereign Class, which was larger in total than the Galaxy, and had for a time supplanted the Galaxy Class as the “Queens of the Fleet”, had what amounted to less internal space because of interior compartments designated for various science or other mission specific functions, reconfigured shield and sensor arrays, and about a million other internal workings that John still didn't fully understand. He shut the last of his dresser drawers, crossed the room, and draped his black duty tunic over the back of his chair.

Sitting before his work-station, he saw the read tell-tale indicating a personal message was waiting for him, thanks to the ship's internal communications net. Carter had received access and command codes along with final confirmation of his assignment to the Republic, and had managed to commit the sequences to memory during his somewhat rushed flight from Sol III to Mars. He quickly keyed in the new sequence, and watched as the ship's computer displayed the message.

It was short and to the point, from the ship's Executive Officer asking that all Senior Staff review the status of their departments, and prepare reports for the XO's review prior to Republic’s departure from Utopia Station. John read the message, then deleted it. Rather than continue a one-sided relationship with the ship's computer, John flexed his fingers and began tapping commands into his console. A full review of Republic’s Tactical Systems and Personnel would take more time than he actually had, if it were going to be done right, but John Carter had a habit of seeing a deadline and obliterating it rather than just beating it. He opened the Tactical Department's Personnel Database, and set about seeing what he had to work with.

A sea of humanoid and alien faces sailed by as Carter reviewed the records of those he would be responsible for in the coming months. After a few minutes, some things were becoming clear. These were good people. 'Not the cream of the fleet', John thought to himself, 'But we can't all be on the Enterprise'. Even as John became aware of that thought, he chuckled to himself. 'G'! He thought. 'I can't believe they're all the way up to G'!

John Carter began compiling the duty roster for his department as well as several 'default' away team pairings for situations he considered to be common. 'Then again', he knew, 'nothing that happens in Fleet is common anymore.

Managing the workings of the Tactical Department was easier by far than trying to juggle the needs of ALL the departments on the ship, and for the first time, Carter was glad that it wasn't his responsibility this time around. He had been thrust into the position of becoming Freedom Star's XO because of what Fleet had called an 'Untenable conflict of interest' in his former ship's command structure, and that had been an education in diplomacy. One that John had decided he didn't need to repeat any time soon.

John's gaze dropped to the lower right corner of his data display as he put the final touches on the Tactical duty roster. The young Martian squinted his eyes and shook his head quickly. “Only 45 minutes” he said. “Not bad for a guy who grading thesis papers and running middies through the 'grinder' about this time last year.” Carter finished the schedule, then posted it to the ship's master list, as well as copying each of his charges and the XO and CO of the Republic. According to Fleet regs, he was now responsible for a personal review of the ship's combat and defensive systems, but he couldn't do that from his cabin.

Lieutenant Commander John Carter stood up and resisted the urge to make what his sister had called 'The Old Man Noise'. It was, John had decided, a Carter family trait that had started God knew how long ago in the mountains of Virginia on Earth, and had managed to attach itself, perhaps even on a genetic level, through the family's migration. From the initial colonization of Mars all those centuries ago, through present day. All the Carter men. ALL OF THEM, would rise from a seated position and utter something of a cross between a groan and a growl, before taking that crucial first step to wherever it was they were going. John made that noise now, internally if not aloud, as he reached for his tunic.

John slipped into the black jacket with slate blue shoulders, and gold piping on the sleeves to match his department color. After years of wearing red, denoting his attachment to the traditional Conn/Command track, Carter still couldn't quite wrap his head around the fact that he was now in Tactical, despite having taught Advanced Starship Tactics at the Academy for the last year. John fastened his tunic at a comfortable level and pushed the sleeves of his uniform midway up his forearms. It was a state of dress that wasn't specifically against regulations, but wasn't entirely endorsed either.

Republic’s Tactical Officer stepped toward the door to his quarters. The door opened at his approach, just as John had the urge to turn and take one last look at the room. The Lieutenant Commander glanced over his shoulder, and, seeing nothing amiss, set off at a brisk pace back down the corridor to the nearest turbo-lift station. 'Next stop', he thought, 'Main Bridge'.

<location: chief engineer’s office, USS Republic>

Ashley paced in her office, trying her best not to appear bored. She had checked and rechecked nearly every system she could, and everything was ready to go. She sighed and checked the warp intermix ration one more time, and as usual it was at optimal levels. Two of the technicians from the shipyard came walking around the corner carrying some tools and PADD's. Ashley jumped and walked quickly over.

“Crewman, what's that you have there?” she asked, like a hawk savaging for fresh meat.

One of the crewmen stammered and looked at the other who looked at her and said, “Yes, lieutenant, we were just on our way to the bridge to complete some repairs to the rear stations.”

Ashley grinned and snatched the PADD from the crewman. “No need, I'll take care of that for you.”

The crewman looked startled, then slowly grinned. “Don't tell me you are already bored already, sir. You haven’t even left drydock yet!”

Ashley grinned lopsidedly. “Does it show that much, why don’t you guys accompany me, and assist?”

The crewman looked at each other, and the one on the left spoke. “I'd love to, but if your going to help him, the dock manager wanted me to get on transporting some deuterium canisters.” and with that he turned and left.

Ash and the tech entered the turbolift bound for the bridge. Ashley looked over at the crewman. “what’s your name again?”

The crewman looked at her, then said, “Crewman Daniels.”

Ash raised one of her half Vulcan eyebrows. “I haven’t seen you around on the refit crew, did you just transfer in?”

Daniels nodded. “Uhhh yes, I just came in from a transport ship on a long assignment”, he said with a strange grin.

Ash nodded, and then stepped out into the bridge as the doors parted. After greeting the present officers, Ash walked over to the aft stations. Pulling out her hydro-spanner, Ash pulled the panel off the bulkhead and stuck her head in. Daniels kneeled next to her, and peered in at the mass of ODN cables and displays within.

When he though she wasn't looking, he slipped a small circular device out of his pocket and pressed it under the bottom of the panel behind her. But having inherited excellent hearing from the Vulcan side of her physiology, Ash knew exactly what he had just done. She completed her scans and adjustments, then stood up and snapped the panel back in place.

“That's it. Everything is set and ready to go up here.” she said, and looked at Daniels. “Would you like to hit the mess hall and have lunch?”

Daniels appeared nervous then suddenly looked up at her. “Actually no, I kinda have to run. Have a few more stops before I'm done.”

Ash smiled and nodded. “Okay then, thanks for your…help” she said as he abruptly turned and entered the turbolift. As the door closed, she noticed something had fallen out of his pocket where he had been kneeling. Bending down, she saw that is was a PADD. But after looking at it more closely, she realized it was unlike any PADD she had seen before. “Must be some new design R&D is testing out here” she thought to herself. She tapped her combadge.

“Sawyer to Daniels.”

There was no reply. Ash repeated the hail once more, than asked the computer what the location of Crewman Daniels was.

=/\= “There is no crewman on board the Republic by the name of Daniels.” =/\=

Ash sighed, then went back to one of the rear stations and opened a channel to the dock master. “Hey Commander Radditz, its Ash on the Republic. You just sent a crewman named Daniels over to do some repairs on the bridge? He left some of his equipment here and I . . . ”

=/\= “You must be mistaken Commander. I have sent no teams to the bridge, and I don’t have any crewman named Daniels on my staff.” =/\=

Ash looked surprised, then assumed she must have just heard his name wrong. She thanked the commander, then got up and decided she would just go return it to him personally over at the station. She took one last look around the bridge, then walked into the turbolift. Leaning against the wall, she accidentally rested her finger on the face of the PADD of Daniels, and it suddenly beeped to life. Looking down, she was immediately shocked when some of the words on the screen caught her attention:

Starfleet Department of Temporal Investigation Incident Report Stardate: Classified Vessel: USS Republic 76241 Stardate: Classified Temporal Incursion: Miswired ODN junction at rear bridge stations will cause a system overload in the main science panel, which will cause a cascade Neural Gel Pack explosion, causing severe structural damage, killing the entire command crew on the bridge, and severely damaging the Utopian Planitia Shipyards. Mission: Place a modified ODN transponder onto the rear station under-panel to correct the mis-aligned circuits and prevent the explosion. Outcome: The explosion will be prevented, Republic will survive to complete classified missions on stardates CLASSIFIED and CLASSIFIED Temporal Agent assigned: Commander Daniels Signed, Admiral J Fitzgerald

Ashley stared at the PADD, shocked. Then the turbolift doors opened and deposited her back in Engineering. Clasping the PADD in her hands, Ash walked quietly back to her office, and put the PADD into the drawer and locked it. Protocol dictated that she would have to notify the captain about the situation.

Chapter 5Top

<Location: Main Bridge, USS Republic>

“Captain,” announced Lieutenant Virtus at the rear science station. “Message coming in from Starfleet Command. It's our orders.

“Download it to a PADD for me,” replied Captain Marshall in the command pit.

Virtus hands him a PADD containing the orders, and the captain quietly reads them over. A minute later, he tapped a button on his command chair console.

“Senior Staff to the Observation Lounge.”

Moments afterwards, the entire departmental and command staff of the Starship Republic had assembled in the spacious conference room behind the main bridge. Standing up, Captain Marshall addressed them.

“Well it looks like we're all here so welcome aboard the United Star Ship Republic. Starfleet has contacted us, and I have received our first mission orders.” He pushed a button to bring up a display on the screen.

“This is the Yeldon system. It is in the Beta Quadrant. It will take 36 hours to get there at Warp 6. There is rumored to be a secret T'saz base there. We are to check it out. If there is, we infiltrate, get what information we can and get out. Then we destroy the base to hold up their advancement into Federation territory. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me after we have left dock and before we get there. Now, if you'll follow me to the bridge.”

With the short briefing completed, the assembled officers followed the captain onto the nerve center of the Republic. Everyone took his or her station, and Doctor Cromwell seated himself in the second officer's chair.

“Alright,” the captain announced. “Let's get this show on the road. Departure stations.” He taps the intercom button. “Lieutenant Commander Sawyer, how are the engines?”

=/\= “Fit as a fiddle. As you would say sir, like greased lightning.” =/\=

“That I would,” the skipper replied. “Commander Taylor, hail the dockmaster.”

“Control tower reading, Captain,” she replied from her seat next to him, reviewing the checklist monitor.

Redialing a new channel on his armrest, the captain called out “control, this is Republic, requesting permission to depart.”

=/\= “This is control Republic. You are granted permission to depart.” =/\=

“Clear all moorings,” announced Ensign Zelk, the Ferengi helmsman.

The captain responded in the standard departure checklist lingo. “Awaiting port gates from this mark.”

=/\= Mooring lines cleared. =/\=

“Ensign Zelk,” Marshall started. “Take us out at one quarter impulse power. Once we're clear set a course for Yeldon II and engage at Warp 6.”

“Aye Captain,” he replied.

John Carter glanced at the Tac board as the senior staff of the Republic looked ahead. Familiar stars and phenomena filled the scene. John checked local and long-range sensors, then gave a quick glance to the helmsman. He couldn't help but think that the view from the Republic’s Tactical station was somehow just . . . wrong. Carter glanced at the back of Captain Marshall's head, then fixed his gaze on the forward screen as he spoke.

“Sensors showing open sky Captain. We're clear and free to navigate”. John keyed his master Tac display to Long-range Active Sensors, and rolled his eyes as now Lieutenant Victor Virtus, who had somehow managed to be Chief scientist rather than Engineer on the Republic raised his hands in the time-honored “golf-clap” while simultaneously mouthing, 'Nice one, John'.

For his part, Carter gave a cocky smirk and fingered the pips on his collar, making sure to tap each of the three pips . . . very . . . slowly.

As the ship went into warp, the doctor watched as the bridge crew went about their duties with confidence and anticipation of their upcoming mission. The bridge of the Republic was much bigger than he imagined. Years ago, he had the chance to participate in a brief tour of a Galaxy Class starship, the USS

Yamato. However, they never made it to the bridge. The vessel was in drydock, and he was just a young trainee crewman fresh out of basic enlistment training.

Seeing the control center for the first time gave Doctor Cromwell a sense of purpose and belonging that he never felt anywhere else in Starfleet.

“These people,” he thought, “where will they be in a year? How will our upcoming missions affect them?” Remembering the recent briefing, the doctor turned to the captain in the next chair and asked “I’m not too familiar with the

T'saz, sir. What are we likely to run up against if we find a base in the Yeldon system?”

“Well Doctor, we don't really know that much about them. They are from the Vencta System. A purely military culture. Data on their ships is extremely limited. There's a file in the ship's computer on them. I'll see that all of the crew receives a copy.”

Meanwhile, Victor Virtus moved from the sciences station to the secondary tactical station, jockeying for a better spot to hear the Captain describe the T'Saz to the doctor. This also allowed Vic to engage in his favorite on-duty pastime. Victor composed a written 'Request for information' and sent it the one meter to the primary tactical station.

'Request for information. Lieutenant Commander Carter, please update on current condition and well being for past'

Vic ran a brief check on Sol IV's orbital rotation vs. Sol III's.

' .53 Martian years. Sensors indicate a rise in levels of pride and confidence originating in the vicinity of the sciences department head. Recommend against attempting any heated negotiations with Andorian crew members. CSO.'

Vic masked a chuckle by coughing.

John tapped a few keys at his tactical station. The MSSD, (Multi-Station System Display) which had been the Starfleet standard for well-over 100 years, shifted and changed to open a text dialogue between John Carter's Tactical Station and Science One, across the back of Saratoga's spacious bridge.

Carter couldn't help but think back to his time onboard the U.S.S. Valiant II, when a cocky and over-confident Lieutenant John Carter suddenly found himself at odds with thousands of years of Andorian cultural tradition. Even on starships, Andorian's maintained a complex and oft times confusing clan organization where positions in society actually took precedence, albeit not officially, over rank or position within a given ship's command structure. Carter had bucked this tradition by appointing an Andorian crewman he saw as better qualified (to say nothing of his higher rank) for an away mission ahead of another Andorian. What John did not know was that the crewman he had rebuffed was senior to all other Andorian's on the Valiant, and he had therefore insulted this Andorian's house, clan, and . . . depending on who you might have discussed the situation with, the Andorian Race as a whole.

The situation came to a head when John Carter literally had to fight for the correctness of his decision. So there he was, son of a Martian diplomat and a xeno-biologist, facing down a holodeck full of Andorian's who would sooner have snapped his neck than admit an error, and it was about to get worse.

Growing up on Mars had given John Carter a natural, and perhaps even genetic edge when dealing with hot, dry conditions. This is a trait that Andorian's decidedly did not share. John knew that he couldn't possibly take on a room full of angry Andorian's, but thanks to his command codes, and some timely manipulation of the holodeck's climate controls, he wouldn't have to. Carter had arranged for the temperature inside the holodeck to begin at around 70 degrees and steadily climb at a rate of 2 degrees every 2.5 seconds.

Xeno-biology 101: Andorian physiology is not well suited to temperatures over 85 degrees. Studies indicate that Andorian subjects exhibit violent flashes of temper at higher temperatures as their body chemistry changes to accommodate the body's demand to be cooled. After behavioral changes, if the temperature is not decreased, Andorians fall into a state of torpor as their bodies conserve energy by shutting down to a minimal state.

At a final temperature of 115 degrees, which even John Carter had to admit was hard for him to deal with after being away from Mars so long, the last Andorian dropped. To Carter's reckoning, the final score was Mars 72, Andor 0, but it wasn't anything John Carter would want to repeat.

Back in the present, John Carter was composing a quick response to Victor Virtus' question. The two officers had actually met on the U.S.S. Farragut when John was an Ensign, and through some strange quirk of fate, had managed to be assigned to the same command for each of next two assignments. First, on the Valiant II, an Excelsior class vessel that had been assigned to mid-range scientific survey, then to the U.S.S. Freedom Star, where John soon found himself facing down a sizable chunk of the Imperial Romulan Fleet. It was after his 'innovative' dealing with three D'deridex class Warbirds that the Freedom Star was towed back to Hellsgate Station (Starfleet designation SB 666). There, Victor and John met again when Virtus was assigned to be Freedom Star's Chief Engineer. However, shortly after Freedom Star was declared once again space-worthy (following the installation of a new warp-core and re-enforced inertial dampeners), that John had been unexpectedly re-assigned.

What Victor Virtus did not know, was that Carter had been requested to teach Advanced Starship Strategy and Tactics, as well as a course in Basic Small Craft Flight Control, which the cadets affectionately called “Bacon”.

John reflected on his time at the academy as he composed a reply to Victor's query. Eventually, he decided on:

'I spent a year on Sol III teaching Midshipmen what not to do. Boothby says hello'. He sent the message off to Virtus' science station, and then opened a library query to prepare all non-sensitive material regarding the mysterious T'Saz.

Vic read the incoming message from Tactical, and caught the reflection of his two pips in the display. He responded in his typically droll fashion. 'Good to see you too, John. Must remember to send Boothby a fruitcake. Punched SB-666 Commander Morgan in the mouth for third joke about time travel. Spent 3 months in brig. Three meals a day plus all the exercise you want. You should try it; very liberating. Seem to have lost half a pip while inside; must remember to look for that later. Requested transfer to Sciences. Theory much safer, and all things are possible again. Teaching at the academy? Must have been hell for a cowboy like you. Are a whole generation of Starfleet officers going to be flying through Romulan quantum singularities now?'

Vic waited for Jones to reach the ops center. Operations officers were generally solid, dependable, with a good attention to detail. They were also great people to play poker with, as they were usually too busy with duty to spend their credits on luxuries, and they rarely bluff.

There is something about Starfleet branch training that singles out types of poker players. Command department want people that can bluff well, and play the people, not that cards. Sciences tend to do well in the long term, but crack when the stakes get too high. Medical officers can read you like a book, and are patient enough to give Job lessons, but can lose sight of the cards while they are composing your psychological poker profile, and they usually think you are bluffing, even when you are not. Ops are not suited to bluffing, and Tactical are either too cautious or bet too heavy at the wrong moment. Engineers are the ones you want to watch out for. They know the odds, and could care less about the other players. It's just a math game.

Never play poker with your ship's counselor. You cannot win.

Chapter 6Top

<location: main engineering, USS Republic>

Ash was dismissed and immediately made her way to engineering to oversee the first test of the engines at warp speed. She called out orders to the techs that were running around, and then, the mighty warp core rumbled to life, and energy of excitement filled the air. The order came down from the bridge, as the helm took the mighty vessel to warp 6.

“Watch those levels, M'Benga”, Ash called out, and as she did, the drive shifted into a higher level, and with that, the Einstein's objections were disproved as space itself was warped and faster than light travel was achieved.

Ash smiled proudly as her team ran around her like a well greased machine.

“Good work people. Good work.” She stood in main engineering, but she felt that something wasn't quite right.

“Crewman Phillips, check the isodyne relay's, see if they are out of alignment.”

Phillips scanned from his console then looked up. “Yes sir, they are 14% out of alignment. You could hear that, sir?”

Ashley grinned and chuckled out loud. “When I was in the academy ensign, I could detect a 2 micron divergent in the isodyne relays, and call me ma'am” she said, with a wink at the impressed crewmember.

“Bring me a hydrospanner, let's get this taken care of before the captain hear's it to, hmm?”

<location: A turbolift, en route to the officers mess, USS Republic>

As the first full shift ended, and the Alpha crew was relieved, Vic caught John's eye and covertly gave him the universal sign for, “We need to talk.”

As the turbo lift doors closed Vic turned to Lieutenant Commander Carter and dispensed with formality. “It's good to see you again John!” Lieutenant Virtus gushed, giving the slightly startled officer an unsolicited hug.

There was a slightly uncomfortable pause before John returned the embrace. “Um… it's, uh,… good to see you to Vic.” John looked at his friend quizzically.

Vic regained his decorum and stepped back. “Sorry sir. Had to get that out of my system. Care to join me for a drink?”

Vic was dying to catch up, as well as tell John the latest gossip. Although it defied seven hard and fast laws of stellar mechanics, scuttlebutt could travel faster than subspace communications over short distances. The distance from Jupiter station to the Republic was currently surprisingly short. Scuttlebutt said the Republic was picking up another late arrival, and this person was a member of Star Fleet Intelligence. That could mean any number of things, none of them good. John would turn eight shades of red when he heard, two of them not visible to the naked eye.

Inside the turbolift car just off Republic’s main bridge, John Carter was still grinning from Victor Virtus' uncharacteristic outburst. John tilted his head down and rubbed the back of his neck, thankful that the Alpha Watch on Republic was finally over. Carter looked at his friend and posed a question.

“So,” he asked, still rubbing his neck, “there's another one coming?” John ran down a mental list in his head. He himself had almost missed Republic’s departure from the Utopia Planetia shipyards, and the ship's new CMO had only made his rendezvous with the ship because of a “questionable” problem with the warp intermix ratios, at least, that's what the scuttlebutt was.

“All I heard was someone else is coming aboard somewhere between here and Jupiter Station”, victor answered.

“And scuttlebutt is always right?”

“As constant as Planck, John.”

John Carter chuckled. “Well I'll be damned Vic,” he chided in mock astonishment. “You ARE a scientist.”

As the two friends spoke, Virtus shifted his weight slightly to compensate for the decelerating lift car. He noticed Carter's silent, almost imperceptible wince as the lift doors opened… silently.

Victor and John both crossed the car's threshold onto the crowded corridor of Deck Eight, enroute to the Officer's Mess. Virtus adjusted his walking pace by .03 meters to allow for the height difference between himself and Carter. This would alter their projected arrival into the Mess Hall by 1.26 seconds. Virtus brushed the silent computations aside and looked at his friend. “You look better in red John.”

Hearing those now familiar words, John Carter remembered his nervousness during a subspace briefing, now well over a year old with Admiral Timothy Harkins, at that time, Chairman of Starfleet's Tactical branch.

Reports of the U.S.S. Freedom Star's engagement with as many as six separate Romulan Warbirds near the Neutral Zone had brought John more than his fair share of celebrity. Thanks to innovative thinking, and the unfortunate side-effects of the Romulan propensity to power their starships with forced quantum singularities, John had been directly responsible for the destruction of one warbird, the crippling of another, and had been at the helm controls of the U.S.S. Freedom Star when he caused one of the Warbirds to implode. Thankfully, that had been enough to make the other ships in the Romulan task force withdraw, but it had overloaded Freedom Star's inertial dampeners, and caused an automatic shut-down of the ship's warp core.

To John Carter's way of thinking, he had done what he was taught; giving the rest of his crewmates a fighting chance, any way he could. That was the thing that had caught Admiral Harkins' attention.

Starfleet Admiral's were accustomed to getting what they wanted (to only a slightly greater degree than Starship Captains), and Tim Harkins, a man who's round, jowly face and crown of white hair hid a soul of pure duranium, wanted John Carter teaching Starship Tactics at the Academy. Whether that was to keep an eye on John rather than let the helmsman run roughshod through the galaxy, John certainly couldn't tell, and Harkins wasn't saying.

Harkins was insistent. He was also an Admiral. So Carter packed his bags, well aware that the mandatory branch change this assignment brought with it would almost certainly derail John's plans for a command of his own. He had worked his way in record time from just another Conn Officer to Department Head, to XO of Freedom Star, and now, a man Carter was forced to respect and obey simply because of the amount of braiding on his collar, was telling the young Martian to throw all of that away, simply because John had done his job.

Carter gave out an audible 'huff' as he felt his shoulders slump. “Yeah”, he said to Virtus. “I get that a lot.”

Sensing John's obvious, and for that matter unusual tension, Virtus tried to change the subject. He was saved from having to do so by the fact that he and Carter had managed to navigate through Republic’s corridors, and were now standing directly in front of the frosted glass doors, emblazoned with the familiar Starfleet Delta, that marked the Officer's Mess.

John Carter smiled as the duo's presence at the doors triggered them to open with a semi musical scraping, like chimes in a soft breeze. The two officers stepped into a spacious room, well-appointed with several long tables and several more reclusive areas for the crew of Republic to enjoy meals and “down time”. John altered his stance, angling for the replicators on the rooms near wall. “Grab us some seats,” he said. “Still take your usual Vic?” he asked, taking a few steps before Virtus could answer.

“Naturally John.” Victor Virtus quickly scanned the room, seeing many familiar faces, thanks to his copious review of the members of his department, and was conscious to nod respectfully to each “blue-collar” he made eye contact with. Weaving easily through the crowd, he found a small vacant table near the port bulkhead of the room. 'This will do' he thought, as the table gave himself a good view of the room, and Carter a good view of the stars streaking past the ships armorplast viewport at super-relative speeds. Victor settled into his chair as John returned from his replicator quest with a drink in each hand. One, Victor noted was a familiar, frothy orange. 'That would be John's orange juice', Victor thought. The other drink was a strange iridescent blue, which Carter set in front of his friend as he sat down.

“What in the name of Tesla is that”? Victor asked.

John Carter looked up, clearly confused. “Arcturian spring water”, John answered. “Your usual.”

For 2.7 pica-seconds, Victor Virtus considered that his friend was, in fact, correct. Then, he realized he knew better. “No doubt John”, Victor said, careful not to be too patronizing, “you have me confused with another former Chief Engineer turned Sciences head here on the Republic.”

“Yes, because that happens so often.” Was John's reply. Carter looked at the drinks and shook his head. “Sorry Vic”, he offered. “Guess I'm distracted”.

“What's her name”?

Chapter 7Top

<location: main sickbay, USS Republic>

With his blue-uniformed staff standing or sitting at various places in the main sickbay ward, Doctor Leon Cromwell held a datapad in one hand, and paced a circle in the center of the group. After leaving the bridge, the doctor went to sickbay and called in the gamma crew shift on their off-duty hour for a full-crewed staff meeting. He felt that this changeover between the alpha and beta crew shifts posed an excellent opportunity to go over the roster and schedule for the coming days with the entire staff. His civilian attire was a strong clash against the Starfleet apparel, but as he annunciated his clear, direct words to his fellow officers with an occasional animation of his hands, there was no doubt as to whom was in charge here.

“Normally, the Chief Medical Officer of a starship wishes to be the single, direct contact point for every decision made regarding diagnoses in their department” explained the doctor. “However, we’re on a ship of over a thousand personnel, and I don’t expect to be available for all split-second decisions. Therefore, unless it’s an extraordinary circumstance, the attending MD in sickbay has my expressed authorization and support to act in their own professional experience when treating patients who come through these doors.”

Pausing, the doctor referred to his pad for the next items of business. After scrolling through a few computerized pages, he changed over to a different subject before continuing his briefing.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us in the next few days” he said with eye contact on everyone in the room. “The captain has ordered that everyone on the ship be given a full physical examination as soon as possible. That’s a big job, and so I’m going to divide up the task among the different shifts for each ship department. Tomorrow, we'll take care of the medical department, and have you all participate in diagnostic exercises that will double as an evaluation of everyone’s medical skills. As far as the rest of the ship, Doctors Jensen and Y’lair will co-ordinate the physicals for the science and engineering departments, Doctors Fernmore and Yezbeck will take the operations and security departments, and I will handle the command department and senior officers.”

Doctor Cromwell stopped his pacing in front of a young, scarlet-haired humanoid lieutenant, and glanced at the pad before addressing her. “Doctor Harris, as pediatric specialist, I would like you handle the physicals for all family members and non-Starfleet personnel.”

Confused, the young lady responded “Hudson, sir. She’s Harris. . .” Doctor Cromwell followed the lieutenant’s pointing arm to find another female lieutenant across the room waving for recognition. A few chuckles filled the air as the cheeks of the newly embarrassed department head flushed with a slight rose color. “Sorry. . . ” he offered in amends to the two lieutenants.

Clearing his throat, Leon looked around at everyone and continued his speech with a slight smile. “I look forward to serving with all of you in the days to come. I expect you all to provide to this crew the best damn medical care that Starfleet has ever seen. That’s all. Dismissed.”

As the alpha and gamma shifts filed out of sickbay, Doctor Cromwell was last to leave. Deciding that his first day on the job wrapped up better than he thought it would, he decided to treat himself to a meal in the officer’s mess. Normally, the middle-aged, reclusive MD ate alone in his quarters, but professionally, he felt it necessary to get to know this new crew.

As he stepped into an empty turbolift, the doors closed upon his destination announcement: “deck eight.” Pacing as he did during the briefing in sickbay, he let out a sigh as the past day rambled on among the tangled paths of his own thoughts. “Uniforms . . . ” he thought to himself. After three years aboard the USS Bremerton, and interacting with an almost totally civilian crew, Leon found himself facing a ship full of military personnel. The last time he was among this many uniformed officers was during the Dominion Wars, and the memories that stirred were enough to rob his mind of relaxation.

As the turbolift slowed and changed direction before speeding up again, the doctor stopped pacing and leaned against the wall with arms folded. Deep in musing, he cracked a smile with a fleeting thought. “I finally caught up to you, Tarses” he mumbled. The doctor hadn’t realized it until now, but being aboard a Galaxy Class starship was the culmination of a dream he had during his early enlistment years. It was an aspiration he shared many years ago with his Martian roommate from the Starfleet medical technician’s course, Simon Tarses. The young duo spent their training months together envisioning a grand idea of space exploration, hoping that they would somehow find their way to the frontiers of the Federation in a starship. Eventually, when they finished their training, Leon was assigned to starbase 123 while Tarses had the luck to be posted to the Enterprise-D. Green with envy, the young Crewman Cromwell stopped communicating with Tarses, and the last he ever heard of him was a few years later when Starfleet Security interviewed Leon about the man. He assumed that Tarses had achieved his dream of entering the academy, and was undergoing a security clearance investigation. The thought made Leon even more envious, and never gave the Martian another thought until now. Feeling a little guilty about leaving loose ends, Doctor Cromwell found himself muttering “I should have looked him up before we left drydock . . . damn. If only I had the time.”

Before he could continue with the thought, the turbolift doors thrust open, and the doctor strolled his way down the corridor to the officer’s mess. Upon entering the cafeteria, he found himself in a virtual sea of Starfleet uniforms. Butterflies swirled in his stomach as he realized how conspicuous he was in his ivory turtleneck sweater. Attempting to ignore the casual looks of curiosity from passing officers, the doctor made his way to the food replicator and announced his order. “Chicken sandwich, potato salad, and black coffee.” The computer acknowledged with a warble, and after a surge of matter-energy conversion, a tray with the doctor’s meal materialized on the serving platform.

Retrieving his tray, Doctor Cromwell turned around and was faced with a dilemma. At this hour, the officer’s mess was full of alpha shift personnel coming off duty for their evening supper. Feeling like a friendless boy who arrived at a new school, the doctor searched for a place to sit but found most of the tables full. Finally, his eyes settled upon a table in the corner overlooking the room, and situated next to a viewport that offered a spectacular view of the warp-burnished starlines beyond. Two officers sat at the table, but a third chair remained empty. One of the officers was a lieutenant commander clad in the gold uniform of the operations branch, and the other displayed a lieutenant’s rank in science blues. Smiling and cavorting among themselves, they seemed to be engrossed in the casual conversation of two friends catching up on old times. Doctor Cromwell walked up to them wearily, not wanting to interrupt their discussion. He took a last glance around the room, hoping to find another open spot to eat. As the choices grew thin, he cast off the last of his temperance and politely interrupted the two officers.

“Excuse, me. May I join you?” the doctor asked.

Brought out of their conversation by the appearance of a well-dressed, albeit casual civilian, John Carter and victor Virtus looked up as Doctor Leon Cromwell posed his question. Carter and Virtus both exchanged looks, and Virtus raised his hand. “Please,” the scientist said.

Doctor Cromwell gave a polite nod and set his tray of food down as he settled into his chair. In the meantime, John Carter continued his train of thought. “I don't know who she is Vic,” the Tactical Officer explained. “She's a Lieutenant in blue,” he continued. “So either she's one of yours, or she belongs to the sadists in Sickbay.”

Virtus caught the tilt of their civilian table-mate's head and the amused smirk the stranger now had on his face.

Victor Virtus was a very smart man.

Virtus cleared his throat and spoke. “What my vermillion collared friend means to say sir,” Victor extended his hand. “Is that I'm Victor Virtus. Chief Science Officer.”

Doctor Cromwell shook Virtus' hand politely. “Pleased to meet you Victor,” The Doctor said. “I'm Leon Cromwell.” The Doctor shifted his gaze to Carter, “Chief Sadist.” He said with a smile.

“This is me shutting up now.” John said.

“I thought that's what that was.” the Doctor added, clearly amused. He quirked an eyebrow at Carter. “And you are?”

John thought briefly, then smiled. “Apparently in a lot of trouble when my Fit Rep comes up.”

“This,” Victor chimed in, “is Lieutenant Commander John Theloneus Carter. Late of the U.S.S. Freedom Star, Republic’s Tactical officer, and…” Victor held up all five fingers and spoke just loud enough for the closest tables to overhear. “Five-time All-Mars Lacrosse champion.”

“Is that a fact?” the Doctor asked. Carter nodded, then sniffed the air.

“It was a long time ago Doc.” John said, trying to deflect the conversation. He held out his hand. “Call me John”.

“Right.” Cromwell furrowed his brow. “Theloneus hmmm? You're Italian?” he asked.

Across the table, Victor Virtus lost all composure, letting out a torrent of laughter that caused heads to turn across the Officer's Mess. “I TOLD you!” the scientist bellowed. “No one. No one! Not here, not on Mars, not even on Zeguma Beach,” Victor stood up and continued to rant, now addressing the entire room. “No one knows who Theloneus Marsh was!” Having proved his point, Victor sat back down.

“Monk.” John said.

Having put two and two together, the Doctor offered understanding. “So, Theloneus Marsh was a monk, and you're Italian.”

Victor was lost in another outburst of glee.

John Carter calmly laced his fingers together, propping his elbows on the table. He looked Cromwell squarely in the eye. “Theloneus Monk.” John said firmly.

The Doctor looked at the still laughing Virtus. “Theloneus Monk is Italian?”

“Oh, yes!” Victor was crying now. “Why not?!”

John pointed a finger at his collapsed friend, and tried to speak forcefully, despite the smile on his face. “You!” he shot to Virtus, “are NOT helping!” Carter turned slightly to face the now bewildered Doctor Cromwell. “Theloneus Monk was a 20th century Jazz musician. Not Italian, American.” Carter sat back, having finally set the record straight.

“I see.” the Doctor offered.

“Do you?” John asked.

Cromwell shook his head. “Not at all.”

Victor Virtus raised his hand. “Check please!”

<location: main bridge, USS Republic>

The stars swept by, blurs of light along the black curtain of space. The silent passage of time and distance cloaked by an illusion of movement. Alone in the vast void, the U.S.S. Republic, it's sleek lines adding to it's sense of speed, moved along at speeds beyond those of light, yet somehow not, trapped in the fabric of Warp on it's journey to the Beta Quadrant.

Ensign Yothers stood at the tactical display, watching for any change in the instruments. He'd recently been assigned to this duty station during beta watch and planned on doing everything in his power to not make a mistake. He scanned the bridge checking to see if anyone else looked as anxious and nervous as he felt, but everyone seemed intent on his or her own station that it was hard to tell. At least this assignment would be something he could write home about, thrilling his little brother about space travel and adventure. Suddenly, a small section of his Display changed color and Ensign Yothers nearly gasped out loud before he realized it was an incoming communications from a deep space relay. With almost practiced ease he opened the channel and was somewhat confused by the message.

“Sir,” he spoke quickly to the young Lieutenant watch-officer in the Command Chair, “We have an incoming Priority Alpha message from Starfleet.”

“Put it through.” responded the Lieutenant.

“I can't, Sir.” replied Ensign Yothers rather cautiously. “It's a Omega Clearance Only. That means only the Skipper can clear it.”

“Fine open a line to the Captain and let him know.” said Cross rather quickly.

“Just great,” thought Ensign Yothers, I get to wake the Captain.

<location: corridor on deck 8, USS Republic>

Captain Marshall left the bridge to head for his quarters. The night watch had just come on duty. He needed to relax because the last few hours have been horrendous. He selected the name for the Captain's Yacht, Columbia.

Arriving in his quarters he saw the message on his comm terminal.

  Captain, I am in my quarters...if you would like to have that dinner tonight.  --Commander Taylor.

He thought about it for a minute and finally decided better now than later. He walked across the deck to her quarters and hit the door chime.

Lana heard her chime go off.

“Come in,” she said.

The captain walked in when the doors opened. She stood up and looked at him.

“Welcome captain,” she said to him.

“Commander, would you care to join me for dinner?” asked the Captain.

“I'd be delighted.” said Commander Taylor.

“I figure we can use the anteroom off of the officer's mess. It should be quiet there.” They left and entered the turbolift. Reaching Deck 10 they got off and walked to the room that the Captain was talking about.

“I thought you had to go through the Officer's mess to get to this room.” said Lana.

“Nope, redesigned during the refit. I kinda like it,” replied Jim.

As they sat, the young Captain asked, “Well, I think we're off to a good start don't you?”

Lana looked at the captain. “Yeah, we are off to a pretty good start. The doctor is settled in and ready to start as soon as possible,” she said rubbing her stomach. “How is everyone else settling in?” she asked.

“Fine as far as I can tell. I think things are going to work out just fine. We've got a good . . .”

The intercom beeped, interrupting the conversation

=/\= “Captain Marshall, we have a Priority Alpha Omega Clearance communications from Starfleet.” =/\=

“Put it though,” he replied, turning to Lana, “I hope this will only take a minute.” The image on the screen in the room showed a Starfleet admiral, and Jim knew as Richard Flynn; Chief of Starfleet operations in sector 000. “Admiral,” the captain greeted him.

=/\= “Captain, we've dispatched the Runabout Ryan from Jupiter Station to connect up with you. They'll be delivering Lieutenant Commander Douglas Forrest, your new Chief of Intelligence. =/\=

“Good to hear,” Marshall replied. “He'll be a welcome addition.”

=/\= “Hold your current position they should be arriving within the hour. Flynn out.” =/\=

As the screen went dark, the captain tapped his combadge. “Bridge this is the Captain. Drop out of warp until we receive our delivery. When it gets here have Lieutenant Commander Carter assemble a welcoming committee. I'm sure he won't mind. Marshall out.”

He turned back to Lana, “Sorry about that, duty calls. When we're alone you can call me Jim.” Just then their food arrived.

Lana looked at the captain. “I don't know what to say. I have never called a captain by his first name. Not even in private,” she said kind of baffled. She then thought back to the call that the captain had gotten. “Looks like we are getting more crew members on board,” she said smiling.

Lana continued to eat her dinner while watching the captain also. “But okay, Jim…what exactly is our first mission?” she asked.

“Well, it appears that we're dropping out of warp for an hour until our new Chief Intelligence Officer arrives,” replied Jim.

“Intelligence?” she asked.

“Our mission is more than just taking out that base. We're to go in and gather what information we can in case the T'saz start more attacks on the Federation. This is not the first mission that I was hoping for. I think that with you being pregnant, I'd better lead the away team.” said the Captain.

Lana sat back in her chair astounded at what the captain just said about her pregnancy. “Look, Cap…Jim, I am just as capable now as I was before I got pregnant to lead an away mission. My pregnancy will not get in the way or interfere. If you want, I can get Doctor Cromwell to okay me for an away mission,” she said getting upset.

Lana then stood up. “You gave me the job as XO because I have the skills to do it. Then you tell me or try to tell me that I am not able to lead an away mission. Thanks.”

Lana then walked out of the mess hall and just started walking down the hallway.

When Lana got up from the table and left is when Jim realized he overstepped his bounds. He decided to take off after her. He raced down the corridor and caught up with her.

“Commander, wait.” the captain said as she stopped dead in her tracks. She turned to face him. “I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I said it in the interest of protecting your dead husband's child. As long as you're up to it I have no problem with you leading our away teams. But until you're not, I want to be the second person to know about it, the first being the doctor. Agreed?”

“You have a deal,” she replied.

=/\= “Bridge to Captain, our new Intel Officer is aboard. Also Captain, Starfleet reports that . . . we're getting a priority one distress call.” =/\=

The seriousness of the subject cleared any other thoughts from the captain’s mind. “Red Alert,” he announced. “All hands to battle stations. Lay in an intercept course and engage at maximum warp. I'm on my way to the bridge.”

“Well Jim,” said Lana, “Looks like we're finally seeing some action.”

Chapter 8Top

<location: transporter room three, USS Republic>

Lieutenant Commander Douglas Forrest appeared in Transport Room Three. He stood nearly 6 feet tall and showed obvious signs of a good physical routine. Over his shoulder hung a standard issue duffle bag, and gripped firmly in his left hand a rather odd looking weapon, or a Lacrosse Midfielders stick for the more discerning. Everything about Forrest said “Regulation” or “By-the-Book”, from the crisp red uniform to the near glowing shine of his boots. Everything except for his hair, a tad long around the edges, rough you could say. Other than that Forrest wouldn't be noticed if he stood in a group of people. Eyes had a tendency to roll right off him, forgetting he was even there. A very handy talent to have in his line of work.

=/\= “Red Alert, all hands to battle stations.”=/\=

“Well hell,” Forrest said aloud, drawing the attention of the nearby transporter operator. “I haven't even gotten both feet in the door.”

With an almost casual stride, Forrest made his way out of the transporter room and headed to the nearest turbo lift. Around him officers and crew hurried to duty stations, their Starfleet training shining through.

“I wonder if they get that flutter in the gut, like I do?” he thought to himself.

“Bridge.” Forrest stated, as the turbo lift doors closed.

Forrest wondered what sort of assignment lay ahead for him aboard the Republic. People in his line of work did one of three things in 'Fleet. Two of them wrapped up in so much classification that sometimes thinking about it needed three types of Security Clearance and the third one just a vicious rumor.

The turbo lift doors opened onto the bridge of the Republic. Forrest was always amazed at the size, almost oppressive.

“Lieutenant Commander Douglas Forrest reporting for duty.” he said as he snapped to attention. “Permission to enter the bridge?”

“Permission granted.” stated the man in the Captain chair.

Forrest took a quick survey of the Bridge, matching faces with names and files. A habit he couldn't stop from doing.

“That must be Marshall.” though Forrest, the briefing files he had read while inbound immediately replaying in his mind. “Highly decorated, level-headed, enough of a maverick to be made Captain before 40. The sort 'Fleet pegged for Admiral with 10 years of command.”

“Take your station at science two, commander,” ordered the Captain. “Monitor, all incoming data and communications.”

“Aye, sir,” replied Forrest. No sooner did he step on board than was the new officer hard at work in the ship’s first crisis.

<location: bridge, Ambassador Class Starship USS Zurich>

“Ship's log, Captain John Ortega speaking. Stardate 57301.9. We're in the midst of a two-week survey mission of the Rosara System. All is going to plan and once we're finished here, Starfleet has authorized my request to proceed to Amusement, where the crew is to enjoy some much needed shore leave.”

From the Science console, a frantic voice sounded. “Captain, sensors are recording a shockwave. It came out of nowhere. Unknown magnitude and approaching fast.”

“Red alert. Tactical/Helm, can we move out of its way?” said John.

“Unable to sir, its length and height make it unable to move out of its path at impulse,” replied Ensign Fren from tactical.

“Sir, we can't form a stable warp bubble to attempt to outrun it,” replied Ensign Wells from the conn.

“Helm, point us into the wave. Try to get us through this. All hands, this is the bridge. Brace for impact.”

The Zurich pointed into the huge wave and was soon engulfed in its energy. The ship pitched and gashes started to form on its hull. The wave passed, but not before leaving the broken and battered Zurich in its wake.

Inside, the bridge was in ruins. Consoles were smashed, some showed signs of fire. Crewmembers laid dead or injured. Some of the rubble started moving as Captain Ortega crawled out. “Damage report,” he managed to cough out.

Ensign Fren crawled over to the tactical console with an extinguisher and put out the flames. He pressed a few buttons on the burnt console and then said, “Severe damage to all decks. Multiple casualties. Navigation, sensors, weapons, shields, off-line. Hull breaches throughout all decks. Decks 7 and 13 are exposed to space. Transporters, life support and communications are on emergency backups.”

Ortega started walking over to the helm and ops positions and saw that Lieutenant Corea was dead, a piece of metal sticking out of his neck. The ensign across from him at the helm was barely conscious. “Did we make it sir?” he asked, wheezing.

“For now,” the captain replied. “Ensign Fren, activate the SOS beacon and open a channel for a message.”

“SOS beacon activated. Channel open,” replied Fren.

“This is Captain Ortega of the USS Zurich to any Federation vessel. We have suffered severe damage to all decks from an energy wave of unknown magnitude. Multiple casualties. Most systems are failing or have already done so. Request immediate assistance. I repeat, this is Captain Ortega of the USS Zurich to any Federation vessel. Requesting immediate assistance.”

“Broadcast that on all Federation frequencies. I need to know total casualties and damaged systems.”

“Aye sir.” Fren pressed the send button and made his way around the bridge to put out the rest of the fires.

<location: officers dinning room, USS Republic>

Vic glanced up at the red lights as they interrupted his hilarity. Pushing himself back from the table, Victor stood, straightened his uniform, and calmly addressed John and the Doctor.

“Battle stations gentlemen.”

John and Vic hit the corridor at a jog, as junior officers scrambled around the mess. The Doctor was a step behind them.

“A drill perhaps,” Leon inquired. John and Vic exchanged glances.

Vic beat John to the response,

“Two point eight hours out from Mars? We'd better hope it's a drill.” The tubrolift doors opened as the three approached, and a rather attractive lieutenant in medical blue brushed pasted them. Vic, John and Leon entered the turbolift, and Dr. Cromwell spoke a second before the other two.



The turbolift doors closed as the lieutenant glanced over her shoulder at the three of them and smirked. John took a step toward the closed doors and pointed.

“Vic, that was the woman!” Victor glared at John.

“Red Alert John… that's the one where you stop thinking about women until the little red lights on every deck stop flashing.” The turbolift doors opened and the doctor extricated himself from the situation.

“If you will both excuse me.”

The doors opened again, this time on the bridge, and the two men moved to their respective stations.

Republic's bridge was a beehive of activity. John Carter and Victor Virtus took quick steps from the main turbo-lift on the way to their stations. As John made the few steps to the Tactical position on the high point of Republic's bridge. Captain Marshall and the XO had already made it to their positions. 'Better late than never', John thought, silently scolding himself. Carter reflexively looked at the Conn station, wondering if Zelk was feeling as familiar with this situation as he was. John brushed the thought aside and configured his system displays to give him as much information as possible.

Information came in from all over the ship. Tactical systems signaled ready, phaser capacitors were charged, and acknowledgements from the ship's forward and aft weapon stations indicated that photon torpedo systems would be on-line soon. John looked to his left and saw that Republic's transdator grid was performing its miraculous task of stepping up the energy in the shield generators to cover Republic in a shell of invisible protection.

Now racing out of the solar system at super-relative speeds, Carter made sure to scan the Long-Range-Sensor-Systems. LRSS indicated clear sailing. No sign of warp signatures, or shipping lane traffic for light-years. Carter took the time to address the back of his Captain's head.

“Sensors show clear skies Captain. We're clear well past Pluto.” John finished the sentence, and waited. John Carter hated waiting; something he had to consider ironic when he stopped to think just how much of a Starfleet officer's time was spent waiting for SOMETHING to happen.

Nervous seconds went by as Republic continued its break-neck race out of the solar system. Soon, sensors on John's station indicated that Pluto was far behind the Galaxy class starship, and they were now headed for what veteran spacers called 'The Black'.

The silence was broken as John Carter, and the rest of Republic's bridge crew heard an effectively annoying 'chirp' from the Tac Board. Carter quickly tapped a control to acknowledge the message. “Incoming message Captain,” he said calmly. “It's a Starfleet distress call sir, audio only.”

“Speakers”, was his Captain's clipped reply.

In a fraction of a second, a new voice had the bridge crew's attention.

=/\= “This is Captain Ortega of the USS Zurich to any Federation vessel.” =/\=

The voice over the speakers was both authoritative and strained.

=/\= “We have suffered severe damage to all decks from an energy wave of unknown magnitude. Multiple casualties. Most systems are failing or have already done so. Request immediate assistance. I repeat, this is Captain Ortega of the USS Zurich to any Federation vessel. Requesting immediate assistance.” =/\=

A wave of anxiety came over Republic's bridge. John Carter glanced over his shoulder at Victor Virtus, and could see his friend… eyebrow raised in contemplation. The Engineer side of Victor was doing math. Calling on everything he knew to answer the unspoken question. John heard it race through his mind in that moment. 'What,’ he wondered, 'what could have enough power to swat a starship out of the black? 'Whatever it is,' he thought, 'we're headed right for it. 'Energy wave, the Zurich’s captain had said. John Carter realized something he hadn't before. 'If ZURICH was at warp,' he thought, 'Then that means there must be one hell of a gravitic signature…'

Carter re-configured his sensor display to pick up gravitons, the tiny, ubiquitous particles that held the universe together in a way that most scientists, perhaps even the frighteningly astute Victor Virtus, didn't fully understand. John blinked as his display was flooded with a wave front of gravitons. More importantly, they were being pushed by something big. Big and fast.

John Carter heard his voice booming over the busy noise of the bridge before he was even sure what he was saying. “Sensor contact, Captain!” he said, “Bearing Zero-Nine-Five, mark Three-Seven. Moving at .9 c, sir. Lots of subspace wash behind it.” Carter saw his Captain nod, then continued to speak. “Recommend we drop to subspace and ride the wave in.”

“Ever the helmsman, eh Lieutenant Commander?” Captain Marshall asked. “Very good, Mister Carter,” the Captain said. “Mister Zelk, drop to impulse and stand by.” Captain James Marshal looked at his crew, who had dutifully taken their stations and were, as far as he was concerned, doing everything they should. “Hold on everyone,” the Captain said. “We're going in.”

John Carter took a tight grip on the wood aplicay rail in front of him and watched his sensor display.


Chapter 9Top

<location: corridor, deck 12, USS Republic>

Leon did not wait for the turbolift doors to close before he continued his jog towards sickbay. As the red tracer lights pulsated along the corridor walls, the crew frantically raced to their stations. The doctor’s heart began to beat faster as a trickle of sweat slid down the side of his forehead. “Too soon” he thought. “Much too soon.” It had been a couple of years since Leon had heard the warning klaxon sounding red alert, and the reverberation shot through his nervous system like an electric shock. “It’s war all over again . . . war is hell . . .”

Slowing his jog, the doctor exited from the corridor into the main sickbay ward. All three medical shifts had reported in and were scrambling throughout the complex. The fit of so many blue-suited crewmen taxed even the large facilities of sickbay so that Leon had to slip past people by tilting his body sideways. The adrenaline surging through his veins gave little room for him to think. However, he didn’t need to. The doctor had dealt with emergency situations countless times, and past experience took over the controls of his mind. As he pulled off his ivory sweater to reveal a black undershirt, he wasted no time giving orders as he made his way to his office.

“Alright, people, lets have some order in here” he shouted over the noisy crowd. “I want each ward designated as a triage unit. Yezbeck, you have the main ward designated as first-level triage. Jensen, you’re in the recovery ward as second-level triage. Fernmore, Y’lair, and Hudson, you’re in nursing wards one, two, and three for third-level triage, overflow casualties, and back-up medical away-teams. Harris and myself will man the diagnostic room with a medical team of four on primary stand-by for away-team emergencies.”

As he made it across the room to the door to his office, he turned around and continued giving orders. “I want a minimum of four nurses in each ward, and a medical technician at every bed. Everyone will have a hypospray kit and medical tricorder on them at all times. Let’s have five trauma packs open and ready to use in every sickbay ward. Finally, I want six additional trauma packs and a portable diagnostic array ready to go if Harris and I need to move out with our team. Let’s move it, people!”

The doctor spoke fast, yet direct. Each member of his staff reacted to his every word, and a wave of confidence spread throughout sickbay like a strong, yet cleansing wind after a rainstorm. Before long, the department was working like a well-oiled machine, and the staff stood by, waiting for casualties to roll in.

Meanwhile, in his office, Doctor Cromwell was dealing with recurring memories from his service in the Dominion Wars. Deep in thought, he replaced his civilian attire with a light blue, wrap-around medical jumpsuit that revealed only a small portion of his black undershirt in the V-neck. After transferring his com-badge from his sweater, Leon went to work strapping his hypo-kit and tricorder to his suit, and double-checking the contents of a gray, hard-shell backpack. It was standard procedure during his field assignments out of starbase 72 to have survival gear ready, as the Dominion had a habit of luring Starfleet teams into an area before activating a hidden transporter shield. They would then find themselves bogged down in trench warfare for days, even weeks. Leon shuttered at the though of how many Starfleet officers he was forced to watch die in that terrible war. “Too many . . .” he thought. “Too many, too soon . . .”

The door to his office chimed, startling the doctor. “Come” he announced. An attractive female lieutenant marched through the door carrying a gray suitcase emblazoned with the Starfleet medical logo. In addition to being a member of his staff, he recognized her as the individual that Lieutenant Commander Carter seemed intrigued with in the turbolift a few minutes ago.

“All wards standing by, doctor” she reported.

“Thank you, Higgins” he replied.

Perplexed, the young officer corrected the doctor. “Harris, sir.”

Astonished at his own words, Leon looked at her with pinpointed pupils and wiped his forehead of sweat. “Of course . . . Harris. I’m sorry. I’ll join you and the stand-by team in the diagnostic room momentarily.”

As she left, Leon’s head collapsed into his hands. “How could I be so stupid?” he thought. “Higgins is dead. She’s been dead for four years.” He wiped a tear out of his eye as the memory of his deceased nursing assistant passed through his mind. “She was the best damned medic in Starfleet.” He stood up and regained his composure. Striding towards the door, the doctor allowed himself one last memory of Higgins before focusing back on the present situation. “She died too soon . . . too soon.”

=/\= “All hands, brace for impact.” =/\=

The Captain’s voice came over the comm system with a hint of urgent anxiety. Doctor Leon Cromwell and his stand-by team waited ominously in the diagnostic room as the ship jostled about. The lights flickered briefly, but all systems remained online.

“What was that all about?” asked Doctor Harris.

The other four members of the team looked about the room, as if waiting for it to shutter yet again.

“Maybe just a local ion disturbance” replied Leon. The doctor was busy handing out palm-sized personal hand phasers to the team members; a precaution he found most valuable in many wartime away missions. “Don’t worry” he continued. “Sickbays are designed to be the most protected areas on starships.”

“Design and reality are generally two separate concepts, doctor” retorted Harris.

Leon replied to her comment with only an amused smirk. “She’ll make a fine assistant CMO” he thought.

<location: main engineering, USS Republic>

As the Republic neared the approaching spatial phenomenon at impulse speed, the engine room shook momentarily as the event horizon cleared the ships outer shields. Sawyer monitored the wavefront on the MSD console, when suddenly an alarm klaxon began blaring with a chilling voice fromt he computer.

=/\= ” Warning warp stress fractures detected in main warp drive assembly. Failure of warp field immanent.” =/\=

Ashley snapped to attention. It was no dream this time.

“Get those warp exhaust levels down, standby backup field generators.!” She yelled. Technicians began running around her.

“Stress fractures reaching critical levels. Core breach is imminent”, the computer implacably announced.

Calling on her Vulcan physiology, Ashley calmed herself, and inversely drawing on the passionate control of her Betazoid side, she evenly called out orders to her crew. Finally, the exhaust was secured and all the modifications made to transfer power to structural integrity.

Ashley tapped her combadge.

“Engineering to bridge, Lieutenant Commander Sawyer speaking. We have a minor (chuckle) problem down here. The energy wave has disrupted our warp core and will prevent us from warp speed for quite some time. I've got power transferred to the main Structural Integrity Fields and we've got a team already on repairing the warp core assembly. I assumed we may need to make a hasty retreat after we get to the Zurich, to escape the residual graviton wave after-shocks up ahead.”

Ashley waited for a response, and a few seconds later Captain Marshall spoke.

=/\= “Alright, have a team ready to beam over to the Zurich. We will need to know what kind of damage they have. Also, try to get the warp drive up just as soon as you can. Bridge out.” =/\=

“Understood, sir” Ashley answered, as the channel closed. “Alpha shift head to transporter room three . . . belay that, gravitons particles will interfere with the pattern buffer too, make that main shuttle bay. You heard the captain, Let's move out people!” Sawyer barked in her command voice.

<location: main bridge, USS Republic>

“Commander,” Captain Marshall said, turning to Lana Taylor. “I need you to lead an away team to the Zurich. Lend whatever aid we can, and try to get everything up and running. I'm sure whoever's left over there will need medical attention.”

“Better take a shuttle,” she replied. “I wouldn't risk the transporters with what maybe coming.”

“What about the runabouts?” the captain asked. “They can hold up to 40 evacuees.”

Taylor shook her head. “The runabouts aren't aboard yet. They're still under construction at Utopia Planitia, and we left port without them under with the assumption that this would be a shakedown cruise and wouldn't need them. The intent was to load them when we got back, if they were ready. We're going to have to use our type-8 shuttles in the meantime.”

Marshall nodded his head. “Agreed.” He turned to the bridge crew, “We're going over to the Zurich. Commander Taylor will lead the away team. I want Carter, Virtus, the good doctor if he or anyone on his staff can be spared, Sawyer and his team, and Forrest. Be ready to go in 10 minutes.” He turned to Carter, “Get your best guy up here to man the bridge while you're gone.”

“Already on it,” snapped Carter as a blue skinned Andorian behind him stepped forward. “Captain this is Lieutenant Regesh, assistant chief of security and tactical.”

“Good to meet you Lieutenant,” the captain replied. “Man your station.”

As Captain Marshall assigned the away team, John Carter looked at his second-in-charge and nodded. He then shifted is eyes to Republic's resident scientist.

“You heard the man Vic,” he said as he made for the turbo-lift, “time to saddle up.”

Virtus couldn't help an amused chuckle. “Yee-hah, John.”

Once in the turbo-lift, Carter tapped his combadge.

“Carter to Armory.”

=/\= “Narundi here sir.” =/\=

“Lieutenant Virtus and I are inbound. Tell Carlsberg and McDermott to gear up for ship-to-ship rescue. Standard away team load. We shouldn't need anything heavier than hand phasers. Judging from sensor scans we're going in with shuttlecraft. Tell the prep teams to load two hard-suits on each shuttle, just in case. Carter out.”

Narundi didn't acknowledge the order, but John wasn't worried. It was a given that tactical crews did what they were told, and John trusted his people to do their jobs. The doors to the turbo-lift opened and Virtus and Carter stepped inside. Victor waited two silent beats, then said, “Deck Five”. He looked at John as the car slid on it's way. “It's still on Deck Five, right?”

“Unless we switched ships and no one told me, but what are the odds of that?” John answered. Since the time the two Starfleet officers had met, Carter had noticed that they both used humor to deal with stressful situations. John had always considered it to be a very natural, human reaction. It was one of the things that John had decided united humanity all over the galaxy. Terran, Martian, or Space Boomer, humor seemed to be the one thing the various offshoots of humanity had in common. 'Still,' John thought to himself, 'No one tells a dirty joke like a Betazed.' Carter chuckled to himself as the lift-car came to a halt, and the doors parted… silently.

Thin red lines ran the length of the corridor walls on Deck Five as Carter and Virtus moved toward the Armory. The pair moved at a steady jog, rounding a corner, then seeing two ensigns in Operations gold standing watch in front of the Armory doors. The standing crewmen took small steps to each side of the door as Carter and Virtus stepped inside.

Once in the Armory, John studied the room. Per his instructions, two officers were awaiting his arrival. Ensign Hanna Carlsberg was every inch the Nordic stereotype. One look at her six-foot frame and neatly braided blonde hair (still well-within regulation) and John knew whose bad side he didn't want to be on. The second member of the security detail was Siobhan McDermott. A small woman with a slight build and close cropped black hair. Her eyes were a strange blue, bordering on purple, and John noticed how they seemed to flit to any sign of movement, as if continually devising contingencies for any situation. Appearances, Carter decided, could be deceiving, because, although she didn't look it, Siobhan McDermott was by far the best shot on the Republic.

Carlsberg stepped forward and handed Carter and Virtus each a type-VI hand phaser, an arm beacon, and tricorder. John quickly attached the beacon to his forearm, and looked at Depach Narundi who was currently behind the Watch Desk. “Where do we stand Narundi?”

Carter's duty officer looked quickly at his status board to confirm his facts. “Commander Taylor has the rest of the team in Shuttle Bay One. Doctor Cromwell has his techs outfitted for trauma, and the hardsuits are being loaded now.”

“Nice work,” John said, double-checking the charge on his phaser.

“Sir?” Narundi asked.

“What is it Narundi?”

“Forrest is on the deck as well.”

“Forrest?” John was honestly confused. There wasn't anyone named Forrest in his department.

Seeing his chief's look of surprise, Narundi made a gesture, as if tipping an invisible hat. John Carter felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up as the meaning of the gesture registered. “Thanks, Depach,” John said, then looked to the rest of his 'gold shirts'. “Right boys and girls. This one's pretty straightforward. We go in, we keep the blue boys alive, and do whatever we can to keep the Zurich from coming apart at the seams. Got it?”

All of the detail nodded. John Carter turned and led them out of the Armory to the nearest turbo-lift. A few steps down the corridor, Victor Virtus turned to look at his friend. “What was all the hat business?”

“Forrest,” John said, as the detail entered the lift car. “Main shuttle bay,” he called out. John felt a sudden tug as the car started in motion, then looked back at Virtus. “Forrest is our new Black Shirt”.


In seconds, John Carter, Victor Virtus, and the Tactical Away Team were assembled on Republic's main flight deck. John nodded to Commander Lana Taylor. “Tactical is briefed and standing by, Sir.”

For centuries, Starfleet had followed the Terran naval model, which had, for all intents and purposes been adapted from the Old Earth British Royal Navy. In what some called the 'Senior Service', all officers were to be addressed as 'sir' or 'mister', regardless of gender, unless and until instructed otherwise.

John Carter hoped he hadn't missed a memo.

Chapter 10Top

<location: main bridge, USS Zurich>

“We're cut off from the bottom half of the ship. Turbolifts are jammed and without power. Emergency force fields, where they are active, are holding but I don't expect them to hold beyond 3 hours,” said Lieutenant Foster the security chief.

“Sickbay is inundated with casualties. The 2 teams I've managed to create are forced to use the Jefferies tubes. We can't get below deck 7. So far 30 dead, including Doctor Fresno, and 50 injured,” said Doctor Deyer, the assistant chief medical officer.

“I can get no response from the engines. The shuttlebay is a mess. I could probably get one shuttle to work, but with no power to the shuttlebay doors, they won't open easily. I could blast them, but that will expose the cargo bay to space and may cancel any attempt at rescue,” said Ensign Torbey.

“Keep it in mind. Doctor, prepare your wounded for evacuation to the escape pods. We'll start abandoning ship in 2 hours. Ensign Torbey, grab whoever is able-bodied and get that shuttle in working condition. If we abandon ship, we'll need it so that the last person can escape if the automatic systems are down. Lieutenant Foster, short of looking out a window or force field, can we tell if anybody has responded to our distress call?” said the Captain Ortega.

“No sir. I'll ask everybody to keep an eye out for a glimpse of a ship,” he replied.

“Pass the word around. And lets see if we can get through to the lower half of the ship. Dismissed,” John Ortega looks around the bridge again, “I guess.”

“Sir, let me have a look at that head wound,” said Doctor Deyer.

“I'm fine, tend to your injured,” Ortega replied, trying to brush off the young doctor.

“No sir. You need treatment. If you won't climb down to sickbay, then I must do some first aid treatment here so you don't get worse,” she replied.

“Alright, do what you need and I'll be down in 10 to check on the troops.”

Doctor Deyer ran her medical tricorder over the captain before using a wound sealer on the head wound. “You have a dislocated shoulder and a mild concussion. I suggest you have someone help you get to sickbay. I'll bandage it for now so that it doesn't do anymore internal damage.” She pulled out some field dressings and secured the affected arm.

John thanked her for her services as she headed over to the Jefferies tube to make the climb down to sickbay.

'Lets hope someone heard our call for help.'

<location: main sickbay, USS Republic>

=/\= “Doctor Cromwell, this is Commander Taylor. The Republic is approaching a badly damaged federation ship in distress. Casualties are uncertain, but the ship’s compliment is several hundred. We could use anyone you can spare in the main shuttlebay for an emergency away mission. Transporters are off-limits due to graviton disturbances.” =/\=

Leon tapped his combadge. “Acknowledged, Commander.”

“This is it, people” he announced as he stood up and grabbed a gray-cased medical trauma pack. As the team of six exited the diagnostic room, they carried with them a heavy load of medical supplies. Doctor Cromwell again tapped his combadge.

“Doctor Fernmore and Doctor Y’lair, this is Doctor Cromwell. I’m activating you and your triage teams for an emergency away mission. Grab your trauma packs and medical equipment and meet me in the main shuttlebay.”

As both doctors acknowledged, Leon turned to a short, black-bearded lieutenant that stood attentive in the main sickbay ward. “Doctor Yezbeck, we’re going to be shipping casualties in by shuttle. As soon as they land, I’d like to have the transporter room perform intraship transports directly to sickbay. Please check to see if this is feasible. Otherwise, have anti-grav stretchers waiting in the shuttlebay.”

“Yes, sir” replied Doctor Yezbeck.

As the backup medical teams began pouring out of the nursing wards, Doctor Cromwell nodded at them and said “Let’s go.”

In the corridor, the red-alert tracer lights continued to pulsate as the main doors to sickbay flew open, startling passing crewmen. Everyone backed up against the wall to make room for Leon racing out of sickbay followed closely by two long columns of blue-uniformed medics. As the column disappeared towards the turbolifts, the displaced crewman looked after them for a moment before returning to their duty stations.

<location: shuttlebay one, USS Republic>

Lana went down to the shuttlebay to get ready to go over to the Zurich. She was nervous and could feel that the captain was nervous for her also, but hopefully

Leon was going to be going with them and she knew that he wouldn't let anything happen to her. When she got down to the shuttle bay, Lana looked around to see whom all was there.

Ashley Sawyer barked, “Okay Alpha Team, your with me. We are also going to have to devise a way to get the main shuttle bay doors open on Zurich, they have no power to the bay doors over their.” They entered the turbolifts and all 4 of them were in the main shuttle bay just as the rest of the away team entered from the other side. Ashley walked over to Commander Taylor and asked her, “is this team too many to fit in the shuttle? I can actually make do with only two of my technicians.”

“Okay, we know what is going on,” Lana said to everyone, ignoring Ashley’s question for the moment. “The shuttle is our best bet to go. When the captain gets down here, I want us all to be ready to go. I know that I am still waiting on other members of the crew to get down here also. So, the only thing I will say is we can sit here and wait. I want our helm officer to go ahead and start doing the pre-flight check now, so that we are ready to go,” she said giving her first set of orders. “Any questions?”

Just as the Commander finished her briefing, the corridor doors buzzed open, and Doctor Cromwell arrived on the shuttle deck with a fully equipped medical team of twelve. He came to a stop in front of Lana, let out a breath of exertion, and said “reporting for duty, Commander.”

Lana was impressed by how fast the officers were getting to the shuttle bay.

She knew they all had questions and she was going to try and answer them all since she was leading the away mission. She looked from the engineers to the tactical team. Then her eyes fell on the CMO of the ship.

“Ok, I want to thank everyone for getting down here as fast as you all did. I am very impressed. You have all heard what we are up against on the Zurich. I want to get in there, try to save the ship and the crew, and get back to our ship without loosing anyone. I am sure you all feel the same way. Are there any questions?” Lana asked.

She looked around at her crew and hoped they all were ready for their first away mission. She didn't get a chance to meet them all . . . but as a half-betazoid, she was able to pick up on the feelings of the crew. There was a lot of anxiousness and nervousness, but she knew that her away team could handle it.

“Not a question, Sir.” intoned Forest, the black-uniformed intelligence officer, who Carter just realized was among the crowd. “Just wanted to say introduce myself before we head into the chaos. Lieutenant Commander Douglas Forrest. Just so you know, I'm qualified for Zero-G operations, triage, and most small equipment repairs. Tell me where you need me and I'm there.”

Just then the captain walked through the doors of the shuttlebay. He walked over to Taylor and handed her one of the PADDs.

“What's this?” asked Commander Taylor.

“Scans we just took of the Zurich,” the Captain replied. “You'll need it. I know this isn't your first rodeo. You'll be fine.”


The Captain then walked over to Sawyer.

“Here's our recent scan of the Zurich. If you look closely you can see that their shuttlebay doors have no power. Think you can find a way in?

“You bet I can,” she replied with confidence. “I have a few ideas already.”

“Good.” The captain then turned to everyone and addressed them. He looked within himself for the right words to say.

“Alright everybody, I know this maybe difficult to accept, but the crew of the Zurich is depending on us. I imagine that it's not a pretty sight over there. Lives are at stake here. I need you to do your jobs to the best of your abilities. You are to investigate, help any wounded that you find, and get all critical systems back online. Let's do our job and get out of there. The Zurich is waiting for us to save it if we can. I'll keep trying to get a message through to them to tell them that you're coming but I can make no promises. Let's get to work.”

Lana looked at the captain as he finished his speech. She was nervous with thismission, but she was going to prove even being pregnant, that she could handle this. She pulled the captain to the side.

“Thank you for trusting me with this mission, Jim. I appreciate it. I will make sure that I do have Doctor Cromwell near if anything happens to me.”

She leaned in and gave the captain a kiss on the cheek.

As the Captain gave the order to proceed, Doctor Cromwell was anxious to submit a request to The Captain and Commander Taylor.

“Captain, Commander” he summoned as the crew began to board the shuttles. “Using shuttles to transport casualties to the Republic may prove too slow for some patients. Should we run into injuries that are so severe that they will die before we can get them to sickbay, I’d like permission to attempt transporter evacuation.” Leon shrugged his shoulders saying “I’d like to give them every possible chance to live. Perhaps if we used pattern enhancers to set up emergency beam-out points around the vessel?”

Doctor Cromwell searched the faces of his superiors for some suggestion of support to his idea.

Lana looked at the doctor. She wasn't sure if this was her call to make, but she was going to do it anyways since she was leading the mission.

“Doctor, I agree with you. I want to also save as many lives as possible on the

Zurich. If you think we can set up the enhancers, then let's do it. If we start experiencing problems, I want them stopped and we will come up with something else,” she said.

“I agree,” the captain chimed in, sounding more upbeat than in his speech a moment to ago. “We have to save as many lives as possible. Take the enhancers as long as there's room for them.” The doctor left to collect them as he turned to Taylor.

“Lana, I'd like to have Carter at the helm of your shuttle. He's up for it, one of the best shuttle pilots we have. Also, have Sawyer bring a few power packs. They've got to have power over there. I'm done giving orders.” He paused momentarily before continuing. “Lana, I know I would feel better if you did have the doctor nearby. Anything happens to you, turn command of the away team over to Carter and get back here ASAP. I don't want to lose you.” He leaned towards her and kissed her on the lips.

Lana pulled away for a moment. “I…I…I don't know what to say,” she said stunned. She then leaned in and returned the kiss. Then she pulled a way. “You won't loose me. I promise.”

She then walked back towards the group. “All right. Carter, you are our pilot. Start doing the pre-launch checks now. Forrest, Cromwell, you two are to stay with me as much as possible. As tactical, I am going to need you to come with some of the best ideas possible to keep the Zurich from falling apart. As medical, you are going to be required to help the crew as much as possible in keeping them alive,” she said.

Ashley respectfully held back as Lana handed out assignments. In her head she mentally calculated the precise number of power packs that would be needed to both power the internal transporters, open the main shuttlebay doors, and maintain environmental and atmospheric shielding systems simultaneously.

“Twelve,” she said out loud absentmindedly, bringing a few strange stares at her. Her assistant engineer however knew immediately what she meant, and smiling knowingly walked over to the shuttlebay engineering replication platform. He returned a minute later with a anti-grav pallet with 14 deuterium based energy packs. Ashley nodded her head, and looked over at Lana to signal her that the engineering group was ready.

Doctor Cromwell walked across the shuttlebay floor carrying a set of transporter pattern enhancers in each hand. He approached his medical staff who were waiting outside the shuttles as the engineering crews loaded additional equipment.

“Is all our medical gear stowed?” he said to the other eleven members of his team over the whining of the pre-started shuttle engines. As all members nodded positive, he continued. “Good. I’ve picked up two sets of pattern-enhancers for emergency use only. If we find casualties that we can’t stabilize, and their condition is terminal, I have permission from the Captain and Commander Taylor to attempt emergency transport to the Republic’s sickbay.”

The doctor set a pair of enhancers at the feet of two blue-uniformed lieutenants; one a tall, young male Vulcan, and the other a gray-haired, wiry human female. “Y’lair and Fernmore, I want you two to take your team to the other shuttle” he said. “Harris and I will take our team in Commander Taylor’s shuttle. That’s six medical people per shuttle. If the situation warrants it, we can break our teams of six in half, making four teams of three with one doctor and two medics per team. Hopefully, it won’t come down to that and we can stick together, but I want us to be flexible just in case. Off you go, then. And remember: use transporters for your patients ONLY if you have no other choice! Good luck!”

Leon waved a farewell to the medical team headed for the other shuttlecraft, then turned to Doctor Harris and the rest of his team saying “Shall we?”

“After you” responded Harris.

As the six medical officers crowded into the shuttle, Doctor Cromwell stuck his head into the cockpit to see John Carter busily doing the pre-flight checks.

With a smile, the doctor said, “Never thought you’d see action on your first day, eh John?”

John turned to look at Leon, and suddenly noticed that behind him, one of the seated medical officers in the passenger compartment was none other than the attractive female officer he kept running into around the ship.

“Oh, Hey Doc,” he said, glancing up briefly. Cromwell felt a slight chill as he saw what John Carter was looking at, or more accurately, into. The Martian tactical officer was wearing what 'Fleet officially dubbed the “H-O-O-D-D”, or Heads-up Optical Output Data Display; a simple plasti-form frame that wrapped around a crewman's head, much like Starfleet's own antiquated shipboard communications headsets, with a flat display screen set over one eye, and audio receivers and pick-ups resting over the opposite ear. The units were designed using adapted Dominion technology as a way to keep unit commanders apprised of battlefield progress without having to constantly ask for updates. During the Dominion Wars, Federation shuttle pilots and Task Force Commanders took to wearing them so that they didn't have to take their eyes off of what they were doing to read their instruments. Seeing John wear one now, the Doctor was surprised how many memories he felt surging back.

“Are you kidding?” Cater jibed, “I figured we'd be half-way to Quo'ons by now knowing my luck. Remind me to tell you about my appointment with the Romulan Senate” John chuckled and nodded to a voice that Cromwell couldn't see. Carter held up his hand, then looked at Cromwell again. “Hang on a sec Doc,” John said, tilting his head to look out the shuttle's armor-plast view port. “No, that's ok Hannah,” John said to the other shuttle's command crew. “Sawyer's already got a plan to get Zurich's bay doors open. Once we're on station and the blue-shirts are away, I want you and McDermott in the hardsuits. If anyone's going to walk into a pocket of hard vac on the Zurich, I want it to be one of us. Carter out.” John looked back at the Doctor. “You guys all tucked in back there Doc?”

Cromwell nodded and gave Carter the traditional 'thumbs up'. “We're all set John.”

“Sit tight Doc,” John reassured him, “We'll be there before you know it.” As the Doctor went to take his place in one of the shuttle's deployment seats, John Carter heard the rhythmic 'thunk' of EVA boots on the shuttle's deck plating. Looking back, John saw the red headed Ashley Sawyer, Chief Engineer of the Republic, sealed in an EVA suit apart from the helmet she carried under her arm. “Just relax Commander. I'll get you so close you can get out and walk.”

Sawyer sat easily at the position behind John. She watched as the Helmsman turned Tactical Officer finished his pre-flight work-up, then heard him address the other shuttle's flight crew. “Ghost Two, this is Ghost One. Flux chillers are up and we're leaving the barn.”

The shuttle DesCartes rose gracefully from Republic's spacious flight deck and moved silently through the pressure seal that separated the shuttle bay from deep space. Once Ghost One was clear of the field, with a second shuttle on her right 'wing', John put his ship in a graceful turn and headed for the battered hulk of the U.S.S. Zurich.

“So tell me,” John asked the Engineer. “How is this supposed to work again?”

“First, I'm going use one of the pattern enhancers to beam both me and this pallet of neural gel power packs into the main hangar deck control room. My first priority from there will be to restore power to the environmental systems in that bay so we can get everyone out safely when I get her opened up.

Next, take these packs here and get the atmospheric shielding in place so that we don't all do a little EVA once we land in the hangar, and last I use the remaining packs to power up the bay doors, and hope to high heaven that there is enough juice left to maintain the atmospheric shielding until we can at least get my team down to engineering and get full power back on to those systems.”

Ashley sat quietly, after spilling it all out for Carter, and listened to any of his objections and suggestions to the plan.

Chapter 11Top

<location: main engineering, USS Zurich>

“We have to assume that everybody on the bridge died in the carnage. We can't get past deck 13 and because of that, we have no access to the shuttles. If we decide to abandon what is obviously a losing battle, one of us may have to stay behind,” yelled lieutenant Ans.

“We are not leaving until we're forced to, lieutenant. Now, I need you to lead a team to try to get more power. Emergency power is going to last maybe another 3 hours. Ensign Roache, how many casualties do we have.” replied Lieutenant Commander Rick Donald, the chief engineer, in a firm and collected voice.

“At least 100 dead. I lost count after 50. I estimate almost double that injured.” said Roache.

“The SOS beacon has already been activated sir.” said Ensign Fallow with a hint of surprise in his voice.

“That means that there is someone is alive up there. Lieutenant Ans, you now have a reason to find that power. There are more than just us still alive. Dismissed,” replied Rick.

“Aye sir.” Ans left with a damage control team, more confident in what he could do with the current situation.

The rest of the engineers broke off to tend to the injured, both themselves and others in the secondary hull.

A young ensign in a medical uniform was picking through the wreckage, trying to see if someone was buried. A movement caught his eye and he saw a hand waving near the atmospheric shield covering a hull breach. The ensign ran over and saw a bloodied face covered by a piece of scaffolding. “I found someone. Come and help me.” he yelled. Two crewman rush over and they start moving the debris. The ensign pulled out a tricorder and ran it over the body. The person they uncovered was barely conscious with a nasty gash in his scalp. His right leg was bent in an ugly angle and the medical tricorder confirmed an open compound fracture. “I'll stabilize the leg but we'll need supplies before we can move you.” he says in a caring voice. The buried crewman nodded weakly. The ensign started working on the leg while the crewmen continued clearing debris.

“Sir, look.” one of the crewman says as he pointed towards the shield. The medical ensign and the other crewman looked in the direction he indicated.

“You, inform the captain and spread the word,” he said pointing to one of the crewman. “You . . . continue digging this casualty out.”

The crewmen continued on their new assigned tasks. Outside in space sat a Galaxy class starship.

<location: main sickbay, USS Zurich>

The room was a mess of casualties and piled wreckage. Moans and shrieks of pain could be heard everywhere. “Brings back rotten memories of the war,” said Captain Ortega as a nurse worked on resetting his shoulder.

“Sir,” said the nurse. “If this reminds you of the war, then it was worse than Starfleet was letting the FNS (Federation News Service) know. Definitely not pleasant,” she replied. She turned off the device in her hands and said, “All done sir. Don't exert too much on that arm, as it will still be weak. If you don't mind, I have others to attend to.”

“Go help the troops. Thank you,” the skipper replied, moving around the arm and shoulder to see how much use it has. The nurse walked away just as a crewman burst into the room. “Sir, a vessel has arrived. It looks to be a Galaxy class ship.”

“Continue informing the crew,” Ortega commanded with relief. “It'll lift their spirits. I'll be on the bridge.”

“Aye sir,” They parted ways as the Captain made his way to the bridge.

<location: shuttlecraft DesCartes, inbound to the USS Zurich>

Lana sat on the shuttle and watched as the stars went by. She also had on her mind about the kiss between her and the captain. She then remembered she was on a mission.

She had the chiefs of the departments on her shuttle with her so she could discuss strategy with them. She looked at Forrest and Cromwell.

“What is the game plan that you two have once we get there?” she asked the two of them.

“Well, Commander,” replied Forrest “I can't say I have much to offer until we get ourselves aboard. I just wish we could handle this with the transporters. I'm not looking forward to being in one of these crates if another shockwaves passes us.” Forrest hoped no one noticed the white knuckled grip he had on his seat.

“Once we are inside I suggest a priority be made to get the wounded aboard the Republic, followed by trying to get a handle on saving the Zurich. 'Fleet hates when ships don't make it back.”

“Look,” Forrest continued after a moment in thought. “We hardly know the condition of the Zurich, Sawyer wants to be aboard into who knows what situation. You want my honest opinion? We mate our hatch to the Zurich's hull, in a place we know has life support, match pressures, and burn a hole through. It'll get us on board and we can always patch the spot later.”

Forrest seemed a bit edgy as Carter's flying brought the DesCartes closer to the lumbering hull of the Zurich.

“Well, I agree with Forest about the transporters” commented Doctor Cromwell.

“Without a quick way to beam back the most critically injured of the Zurich's crew, it'll be slow going.”

The Doctor adjusted his seat, then continued. “However, I'd rather do what Sawyer has planned and try the Zurich's shuttlebay. That gives us a large staging area to gather casualties and load them onto the shuttles rather than trying to drag them through an airlock. In fact, I'd suggest that once we get aboard that we begin continuous rotating shuttle flights between the Zurich and the Republic to evacuate the injured. If Sawyer can get Zurich's comm system online, we might broadcast that all casualties who can be moved should try to make it to the shuttlebay.”

Leon frowned at the complexity of it all. “If only we could use the transporters somehow . . .” he mumbled. Leaning forward, the doctor addressed Carter and Sawyer in the cockpit.

“Hey, do you two suppose that if my team and I implant subcutaneous transponders into patients, and set up pattern enhancers around them, that you could use the DesCartes' emergency transporter and beam casualties from within the Zurich to her shuttlebay? Would there be any graviton interference within the Zurich to prevent that? The quicker we can evacuate the injured to the Republic, the better.”

Ashley shook her head affirmatively. “Yes, there should be no problem with beaming within the ship, once I get inside and dock, I can put first priority on environmental and atmospheric systems. If we are lucky, I can even give a small amount of power to the Zurich's cargo transporter in the shuttlebay to supplement our own transporters. We are going to be in a time crunch with all the major systems down, and I think we can pull this off.”

Sawyer then looked at the mission commander. “So what's the word, am I going in or are we going to do a breach entry into the hull? Either way, my team is suited up and ready.”

Before Commander Taylor could respond, Doctor Cromwell jumped in.

“Well, I think that settles it. Wouldn’t you say, Commander?” he said, turning his head to Lana. “We don’t have to do a breach entry. When Sawyer and her people get the Zurich’s shuttlebay secure, my medical crews scour the ship for casualties, implant them with transponders, set up a pattern enhancers around them, and Carter beams them to the shuttlebay where we have a rotating shuttle fleet ready to take them to the Republic.”

The doctor looked at her and the rest of the shuttle occupants for a positive response.

As the shuttle DesCartes sailed closer to the Zurich, John Carter kept his eye on the decreasing distance between his shuttle and his target. Hearing the discussion of the mission on Zurich, the Tactical Officer offered his opinion. “Commander Taylor?” he asked, “So long as we're floating theories sir, something's been needling me for a while.”

Commander Taylor nodded and spoke. “Go ahead, Carter.”

“Well sir,” Carter explained, “Zurich is Ambassador class. Solid, stable, but it follows the older 'Fleet model. It's closer to Enterprise class than, say, Galaxy class.”

Sawyer nodded, while in the shuttle's load-out bay, Forrest looked at the XO, unconsciously rolling his fingers forward, motioning for Carter to 'Get on with it'.

“There's a bigger division between the Primary and Secondary hulls sir. They're only connected by a few Jeffries tubes and a couple lift shafts, and since a lot of the ship's critical systems are in the secondary hull, we might be wise to dispatch the second shuttle down to Engineering while we work our way across Zurich's saucer.”

Behind Carter, Sawyer nodded. It wasn't a bad idea.

“There's a Universal Docking Ring on the port side neck, just behind the torpedo bays. Hang on back there…”

DesCartes swung up on her right nacelle, and then rocked back to a steady course toward Zurich.

“Sorry. Little bit of flotsam.” John's eye scanned across the information being displayed in front of his eye. The shuttle's course was clear now.

“It's a simple matter to detail Ghost Two to the UDR. Then we'll be halfway home.”

<location: main bridge, USS Republic>

Captain Marshall arrived back on the bridge to find Lieutenant Exander Revas, the current Operations Chief, sitting in the command chair. He got up as the captain walked onto the bridge and allowed the captain to sit.

“Captain,” Revas asked. “Wouldn't it be a good idea to try hailing the Zurich, if nothing else to let them know we're coming?

“You have a point, lieutenant. Regesh,” he turned to the Andorian tactical officer. “Open a channel, and record this in case we have to keep broadcasting it.

“Aye sir,” replied the sapphire-skinned lieutenant. “Go ahead.”

“This is Captain Marshall of the Federation Starship Republic to the U.S.S. Zurich, please come in. Captain Ortega, please respond. We are dispatching a rescue team to help you and should be arriving on board shortly. Republic to Zurich, please come in. . . .”

“No response yet Captain,” announced Lieutenant Regesh after a moment of silence.

“Very well,” replied the captain. “Broadcast that on all Starfleet frequencies. Revas you have the bridge. I'll be in the crew lounge. I want to know the second we get a response if we get one. I want to answer it myself.

“You got it Captain,” Revas replied.

<location: main bridge, USS Zurich>

John Ortega sat in the XO's chair, a little worried on where his XO, Commander Torga was. Just before the shockwave hit, Torga was on route to engineering to check on a request by the Chief Engineer to run some impulse flight checks since we were between scans. The Science department was setting up the next pallet, so the ship had some down time.

Ensign Torbey walks out from the Jefferies tube entrance and brushes himself off before making his way in front of the captain. “The shuttle Heidi is repaired. She's a little shaky but will be able to collect escape pods, should we evacuate.”

“Very well. Are we able to get those doors open?” the captain asked.

“Sir, we have the choice of the atmospheric shield or the door. We don't have the emergency power to handle both and we're cut off from the power packs near engineering.”

“What about the other two shuttles?”

“We used the power packs in them to power up the Heidi.”

“Alright, prepare the Heidi for evacuation of injured. We've got a Galaxy class vessel sitting off our starboard aft. I want the most critical but the most chance on survival, as assessed by Doctor Deyer, on that shuttle.”

“Aye sir. I'll inform Doctor Deyer.” With that, Ensign Torbey heads back to the Jefferies tubes and makes the transit down to sickbay.

At the same time, Lieutenant Foster makes an announcement. “Sir, incoming message from the Galaxy class vessel.”

“Lets hear it.”

“Th– – Ca—in Mar—ll – — —–ation –ar—p R–ubl-c – —

—— Z—–, –eas- —e –. Ca—-n O–ega —ase res—d. –

— —pat—ng - -e—e t–m t- —p — — —uld – a—vin- -n

—-d —rt–. R—bl– – Zu—-, p—se c— i-. . . .”

“Can you clean that up?”

“I'll try sir, communications seems to be failing. The message is repeating.” replied Foster.

“This is C–tain M–sha-l o- t-e F–eration S–rship R-pub-ic to the

U—S. Z—ch, p-e-se c-me in. C-ptain Or-ega p–ase r–pond. We

are -ispa-ching - re-cue te-m to -elp yo- a-d s–uld b- ar—ing on

b-ard sh–tly. Re-ublic t- Zu–ch, p–ase -ome i-. . . .”

“That is the best I can do sir. Your reply will probably turn up the same,” said Foster.

“Alright, open up a channel on the same frequency.”

“Channel open.”

“Starship Republic, this is Captain Ortega of the Zurich. We have received your message, although slightly garbled. We have no contact with anything below deck 7. Sickbay is attempting to bring casualties to the shuttlebay on deck 3. Request power packs and if a second shuttle is inbound, request it head to shuttle bay 3 under the engineering hull.”

“Message sent,” replied Foster.

Chapter 12Top

<location: turbolift, deck 9, USS Zurich>

Commander Torga shook his head. “I must have been out for a while,” he said to himself as he shook his head again. He looked down at his left forearm and saw the sign of a closed facture. He then remembered that he was on route to engineering to check on a request by the Chief Engineer to run impulse flight checks. He also remembered the ship going to red alert and the captain calling out ‘brace for impact.’ He then hit the other side of the turbolift and blacking out.

Torga looked at the status panel and saw that the emergency systems had engaged. He tried opening the door by walking towards it, but it did not budge. Going back to the status board, he smashes a panel just below it. Inside was a hand crank that controls the doors in such an emergency. He pulled it towards himself three times and it opened onto a deck full of wreckage. Walking out, he made his way down the corridor. A couple of security ensigns are carrying an injured crewmember down the hall when they see the commander. “Sir, if you follow us, we've set up a triage and command area in the Swiss Alps.” The ‘Alps’ was Zurich's version of Ten Forward.

“Lead on.” he replies, waving towards the Jefferies tube.

<location: the ‘Swiss Alps,’ USS Zurich>

Commander Torga walked into a scene of chaos and screams. A lieutenant in an operations uniform motioned him over to the bar. “Lieutenant Devon sir. It’s been hell here. I have 3 medical ensigns and one lieutenant junior-grade tending to the wounded, with non-coms and a few security ensigns going around trying to find wounded. We can't get above deck 7 and below deck 13.”

“Start planning for evac,” replied Torga. “Those causalities that can walk or don't need immediate attention are to report to escape pods. All personnel with some form of medical training are to remain here. Round up some volunteers to stay behind and continue the search for volunteers. Do not launch escape pods until we are certain there is a Federation vessel out there to pick them up.”

“Aye sir.” Lieutenant Devon then headed over to start issuing orders to the gathered crew. Torga took another look at the chaos and then turned back to the bar as he sat down on a stool.

<location: main engineering, USS Zurich>

Rick watched as the warp core brightened slightly. Lieutenant Ans and his damage control team walked out from a Jefferies tube beside the core and stopped in front of the lieutenant.

“That's the best we could do sir. Warp drive is out. From the outside, it probably looks ok but we've got one of our nacelles held on by a thread. With our nacelle like that, I wouldn't suggest impulse either.” he says.

Rick nodded his acknowledgement and walked over to the main status board. “At least you got enough power to get partial internal sensors. I see life signs throughout the saucer section. How is shuttlebay 3?”

“Unknown sir. There are no craft in her. I'll take my team down and see how bad she is. Also, a member of my team saw a Federation shuttle going between our nacelles,” replied Ans.

“All the more reason to ensure we can use that bay as an evac point. Go and I'll arrange for injured to go once your team has cleared the space.”

“Aye sir.” With that, Lieutenant Ans turned back towards the Jefferies tube and ordered his team down to shuttlebay 3.

Meanwhile, Rick turned and walked down the hall, turning around a corner and into a make-shift sickbay. He finds Ensign Roache busy trying to tend casualties. “Sir, I'm severely undermanned here. I've got a few crewman with medical experience tending to some of the injured, but no one qualified for field surgery, so I fear we may loose even more before a rescue happens, if it does.”

“Help is on the way Ensign. Try to keep up as best as you can and start preparing cases for evac to shuttlebay 3,” Rick replied.

“Aye sir.” Roache turns and starts scanning a crewmember that was dragged in. “Cat-3, over there,” he says, pointing toward various casualties with minor injuries. Rick turns back towards engineering to leave the young ensign to his work.

<location: Shuttlecraft DesCartes, on final approach to USS Zurich>

In DesCartes' command cabin, John Carter could feel the hackles rising on the back of his neck. He looked at the distance between Zurich and the shuttle. Ten thousand clicks. Nine thousand… 'What the hell are they waiting for?' John thought. 'We're running out of time!' John twitched a muscle in his left cheek, opening a com channel to the second shuttle, coded as Ghost Two.

“Carter to Ghost Two. Vic? get me scans on the Zurich. See if her aft hanger deck is in shape to take visitors. Carter out.”

It was a breech in protocol. John wasn't in charge of this away team, so where the shuttles went in wasn't his call. It was his job to put the shuttle where he was told. On the other hand, no one was telling him anything, and as Tactical Officer, it was John Carter's job to keep his crewmates safe, and people on the Zurich were dying while John was waiting for SOMEONE to give him and order.

John called back to Ashley Sawyer, behind him. “Sawyer?” he said, quietly and firmly, “get buttoned up and stand by.” The Engineer nodded and sealed the helmet on her EVA suit as she walked back toward Descartes' transporter pad. Carter opened the shuttle's internal intercom.

“We're at six-thousand clicks and closing AWFULLY FAST. Sir.” John closed the mic, cursing silently 'You've got 15 seconds,' he thought. 'Then, I'm making a call.'

Moments later, the com system came alive.

=/\= “Marshall to DesCartes, I've ordered the Bartlet to dock in the Zurich's shuttlebay 3. They've got people trapped in there. If it's at all possible, have Forrest extract what he can from the Zurich's computer core. We need to know what happened. If you can't get the pattern enhancers to work, you should have more than enough Emergency Transporter Units on board.” =/\=

Commander Taylor pressed a button on her armrest. “Aye Captain, we'll take care of it. We'll be docking with the Zurich in about one minute. Carter seems to have taken some initiative and is flying us into shuttlebay one. Is there anything else?”

=/\= “Yes. Don't let Carter push you around. Republic out.” =/\=

Ash raised her eyebrow, and immediately glanced first at Carter who was smiling, and then at Taylor who was apparently deep in thought.

“It appears we don't have anytime to spare then, I'm going in now,” said Ashley. “Commander Taylor, once I'm in, I'll ascertain the status of the bay, and when I give the word, send the remaining 2 engineers in. If all goes well, I'll immediately get environmental controls and atmospheric shields up. Well be docked and ready to evac casualties in precisely 10 minutes from my mark” she said logically.

Taylor nodded, and Ash walked back to the ETU padd. As she walked past Carter, he handed her a compression phaser rifle, and smiled wryly. Ashley winked at him, then strapped the weapon on her side and stepped into the padd. “Mark. Energize”….

Ashley was immediately struck by the darkness of the shuttlebay one, save for the faint red alert status lights, and the dim lights from the main control room up above. She glanced up at the tower, and immediately noticed there were crewmembers slumped against the glass up there. She immediately pulled out her tricorder and took a quick scan of the room. Life support was down on all decks below this one, and he was reading faint life signs in the room up above. Very faint, which could only mean they had somehow managed to seal the control room door before the room lost its atmosphere. A transporter beam flared into existence, and a pallet of transport enhancers and deuterium pattern enhancers appeared next to her.

Ashley focused her thoughts, and immediately began to make her way towards the MSD shuttlebay ops panel. As she did, the deck suddenly lurched, and several cargo canisters began floating on the deck in the absence of gravity. Inertial Dampers were clearly offline. Ashley attempted to activate her anti-grav boots, but they refused to activate. Undaunted, she began moving forward, using her vulcan/betazed psionic powers to keep her feet planted firmly on the deck.

As she reached the panel, she noticed it was also devoid of power, and she had moved so far from the light of the Ops tower, that it was too dark to see to remove it from the wall. She tapped her combadge, and told the shuttle to beam the other two engineers in now that she had checked the perimeter. As they appeared in the middle of the room, she signaled them over her in-helmet comm. “Magruder, you go over to the environmental panel and try to stabilize the atmosphere in here. Smith, you handle the atmospheric shielding. My scans show there already to be partial power to the bay doors. I'm going to try and get up that wall over there up to the Ops Tower and get them open from there.”, she ordered. They nodded and got to work.

Ashley then made her way over to the lift. and pressed the control on the side. Nothing. Ashley cursed, then looked around for a ladder of some sort, but the Ambassador class had no such thing here in the shuttlebays. So, Ashley did the only thing she had left to try. She focused her thoughts, took a deep breath, and then used her psionic powers to walk up the wall in defiance of what little gravity there was, and make her way towards the control tower. As she neared the halfway point, the room lurched again, and her concentration was broken. A canister began floating freely towards her, and Ashley panicked. Grabbing her phaser rifle, she put it on the lowest power setting and fired directly at the canister, which both deflected it, and also propelled her upwards towards the upper deck and the door to the control tower. She grabbed the railing, then gracefully flipped over the handle and landed softly with a flourish.

“How’s it going down there, Magruder?” she asked. “Just a second . . . there. Atmospheric levels stabilizing, sir.” With that, a hissing sound came from the upper vents, and the sensor in her helmet told Ashley it was safe to breathe now. She unsnapped her helmet, and told Macgruder “good job”. Then she focused her attention on the door handle. It was powered through the main EPS conduits on the deck, which meant it was non-operational just like everything else. “We don't have time for this”, she said impatiently, and taking a step back, she thumbed the power level up on her phaser, took aim and fired three quick bursts at the door, which swung open as soon as the entire handle mechanism disintegrated. She rushed in, and after making sure the crewman were breathing, she pulled out several power packs, and walked over to the main control panel. It was completely dark.

Ash dropped to her knees and crawled under the panel, and removed the bulkhead door below to access the main EPS juncture conduit. The power packs there were not only drained, but the internal circuitry in them had been reduced to a fine powder. She pulled them free, and placed 5 new self-regenerating power packs in their place. She could immediately hear the massive generators whirring to life around her, and the panel above hummed to life also. She looked out the window, and her two engineers gave her the thumbs up sign as all the lights came on in the massive bay. Sawyer smiled back, then activated and checked the main cargo transporter padd near the rear of the bay. Now there was one last thing to do. She walked back to the other panel, and transferred some power from environmental controls to the gravity generators and immediately she heard several canisters falling to the ground in the main bay. Ash smiled and walked out the door and looked down. “How is the atmospheric shields looking, Smith?” she asked. “Online and ready to go, sir” he reported.

She checked her chronometer. 9 minutes and 54 seconds. “Good work you two!”, she said then tapped her combadge. “Sawyer to Descartes, everything is ready to go in here, and we are opening the bay doors now. Stand by to dock. Sawyer out.”

Sawyer took off her EVA gloves, and rode the now active lift down to the main bay level and make sure the shuttle got in okay.

<location: shuttlecraft DesCartes, USS Zurich>

From the display over his right eye, John Carter saw a small telltale turn green. John couldn't help a smile. He clicked on the internal mic once again. “Looks like they've got the atmospheric shield in place Sir.” Carter checked his sensor repeater again. “I'm showing a green deck. As soon as the barn doors open, I'll set us down. You folks better get suited up.”

As John waited for his team leader's instructions, he twitched a cheek and opened a channel to Ghost Two. “Carter to Virtus. How are things on your end Vic?”

Lana noticed that the shuttle was docking. “All right, we are here. Sawyer is already in which is a good thing. Now, we have things we all have to do. My main concern is trying to find the captain and get to the bridge. As said prior, Forrest and Cromwell are with me at all times. Now, let's see about getting the rest of the crew on board.”

Lana sat in her chair and waited on the okay from Ashley so they can get on board and start the rescue procedures. This was a high priority mission and she was going to make sure that it got done and they got back to their ship without loosing any of their own crew.

<location: shuttlebay 2, USS Zurich>

Crewmembers were busy loading crew onto the Heidi when a crewman comes running in from shuttlebay one. “Ma'am, a shuttle has arrived in shuttlebay one.” he calls out.

“Good, this shuttle is full. Start sending these causalities next door. You, ” Doctor Deyer pointed to one of his nurses “go with this transport.”

“Aye ma'am.” The nurse headed inside and the hatch closed. Doctor Deyer went over to the pilot hatch. “I'll activate the atmospheric shield. You blow the hatch as soon as I'm out of here.”

“Yes ma'am.” The pilot's hatch then closed and the shuttle launched. It made a short turn to face the doors. The doctor then walked over to the ground control station, activating the atmospheric shield. Finally, she walked out the door and into shuttlebay one. A few seconds later, phaser fire is heard and a slight bump was felt. The Heidi cleared the shuttlebay and headed to the Republic.

Meanwhile in shuttlebay one, the shuttle Descartes finished her turn and landed. The away team, led by Commander Taylor, walked out of the rear entrance. Medical teams started to load the ship once the away team was clear. Doctor Deyer asked for another nurse to accompany the transport before walking over to the away team. “Lieutenant Commander Deyer, ship's assistant chief medical officer, ma'am. Welcome to the Zurich.”

“Thank you commander. I need to see the captain,” replied Taylor.

“Right away ma'am. Most of the casualties are in sickbay. I don't know if all of them have been found yet.” She quickly points to a medical crewman to check on the crewmen in the shuttle ops room. The crewman nods an acknowledgement and makes his way up. “The captain and Lieutenant Foster can be found on the bridge. I'll have a crewman escort you through the Jefferies system. He'll probably have some priorities.”

Doctor Cromwell walked up to Taylor. “I’ll get my team following Commander Deyer towards sickbay, beaming casualties to the shuttle as we go. Call me if you need anything” he said, as he turned and tapped his combadge.

“Cromwell to Carter. Keep your eyes on the sensors, and look for the subcutaneous transponders as we implant them. Don’t bother to call, just beam them to the shuttle as soon as you see them on your scope. If you’re having trouble getting a fix on any of them, contact me and we’ll set up a pattern enhancer around them. Cromwell out.”

=/\= “Understood.” =/\=

Commander Taylor nodded as she followed the crewman to the Bridge.

Doctor Cromwell looked to Lieutenant Commander Deyer and said “Commander, if you will lead, I’d like to get my team to work immediately.”

They joined up with the other five member of the medical team who just finished unloading their gear. As all picked up their trauma packs and medical kits, they followed Commander Deyer and Doctor Cromwell to sickbay.

Chapter 13Top

<location: bridge, USS Republic>

=/\= “USS Republic, this is the shuttlecraft Heidi. We have incoming wounded and request landing instructions. Please reply.” =/\=

The Captain just arrived on the Bridge when the call came in from the Shuttlecraft Heidi.

“Shuttlecraft Heidi,” announced Lieutenant Regesh at the tactical console. “You are cleared to land in Shuttlebay one.”

Lieutenant Revas, who was in the command chair, stood up and allowed his commanding officer to take his seat. Captain Marshall turned to Revas and said “Ah, Lieutenant. Start checking with Starfleet for any records of all ships that have been in the area recently. I want civilian, Starfleet, and if possible our allies and enemies.

“I’ll get right on it sir,” Revas replied. “But this isn't exactly my area of expertise.”

“Let me explain my rationale,” the captain continued. “If this energy wave is artificial, we need to know who did it. If you have to wait until Forrest gets back and have him contact Starfleet Intelligence. With the possibility of this being artificial, we need to know who or what has caused it.”

Revas nodded his head. “Makes sense. I'll get started.” He then moved to one of the aft bridge stations to begin his work.

Regesh then spoke up. “Captain, I'm picking up a decaying warp signature on our sensors.”

“Do you know who it is?”

“Not yet,” Regesh admitted. “I've got the computer working on it. For all we know it could be the Zurich's or even our own.”

“It couldn't have been ours,” Marshall said quizzically. “We shut down the warp core before we rode the wave. Keep on it, Lieutenant.

The Captain took his chair as he opened a communications channel by pressing a button on the armrest console.

“Republic to Commander Taylor,” Marshall called out. “Status report.”

=/\= “Commander Taylor here. Condition is stable at the moment. I am trying to reach the captain of the Zurich. I am on the bridge at the moment. I will get back in touch with you if we have any new developments. Taylor out.” =/\=

<location: main shuttlebay, USS Republic>

After passing through the atmospheric shield, the shuttlecraft Heidi came to a soft landing on the deck of shuttlebay one onboard the Republic. As the whining of the engines slowed, the deck officer sounded over the loudspeaker. “Down and clear. Resume deck operations.”

A young, black haired ensign in medical blues jogged up to the Heidi’s hatch, and as it opened, he walked through the doorway.

“Welcome aboard the Republic. I’m Ensign Brooke” he said to the cockpit crew. The Ensign turned his head to the passenger compartment to see the grim severity of the casualties the Heidi brought aboard.

“Welcome to the beginning, ensign,” replied the pilot.

Brooke’s eyes widened with astonishment as the ensign tapped his combadge

“Shuttlebay one to transporter room three. Lock onto all life signs within the passenger compartment of the shuttle that just landed. Beam them directly to sickbay immediately.”

=/\= “This is transporter room three. Acknowledged.” =/\=

The pilot watched as the last of the injured is transported off. He restarts the engines and swings the shuttle back towards the door. “Heidi to Republic shuttle control, permission to return to Zurich.”

=/\= “Launch path clear.” =/\=

“Roger that. Heidi out.” The shuttle lifts off and heads back out to open space. She rounds the port nacelle and starts the return to the Zurich. Halfway between the ships, she passes by the DesCartes making a run for the Republic. Two minutes later, she arrives at the Zurich's battered shuttlebay, ready to take on more casualties.

<location: sickbay, USS Republic>

The silence within sickbay was almost overwhelming as the staff could only stand and wait the onslaught of casualties they knew they were about to receive during the next few hours. The air chimed with multiple transporter signatures as veils of white energy cascaded over numerous beds around the complex. Suddenly the airburst alive with the shrieks and painful moans of critically injured Starfleet crewmen from the Zurich. Medical technicians scrambled to the bedside of the newcomers with tricorders and auto-sutures.

A nurse shouted from one bed, “Doctor Yezbeck, this one’s hurt bad.” A short man with a balding head and beard ran over at the calling of his name. After a glance at the patient, whose chest was plastered with burnt flesh and blackened uniform, Doctor Yezbeck examined the tricorder readings.

“Plasma burn” came the doctor’s diagnosis. “It went straight to the cardio-vascular system. Ready surgical suite four and prep this patient for a bionic heart replacement. He won’t make it through the next hour on life support.”

“Yes doctor” replied the nurse, but Yezbeck was already moving to the next bed where a young, gold-uniformed girl lay holding her bloodied forearm.

“This one will make it fine with a bone-knitter and dermal regenerator. Give her a local anesthetic and transfer her to triage two.”

As Yezbeck gave the order, the medical technician at the bed did not have time to reply before the doctor was across the room to another patient. This one was an unconscious male human in command red whose left skull was packed with a bandage material soaked in blood.

“This one’s missing part of his left frontal lobe” came the shaky voice of the young attending medic.

“These are tricky” remarked Doctor Yezbeck. “Put him on life support, and begin neural regeneration treatments. Then get Lieutenant Tracy over here, since he’s our resident neurologist. Maybe he can get the optimum cerebral pattern in place before closing up the skull.”

Again, before the tech could answer, the doctor was walking across the sickbay ward and removing his blue uniform shirt. He stopped to grab a set of surgical smocks hanging in a translucent closet on the wall. While he was there, he pressed the comm system button next to the closet door.

“Sickbay to engineering. This is Doctor Yezbeck. Code blue, urgent. Call up a pattern for a M’Benga-C4 bionic heart in the fabrication center. Materialize one copy of it, run the pre-programmed self-diagnostic, and get up here on the double.”

Doctor Yezbeck threw on the red surgical smock and moved into the next room before the reply came.

<location: shuttlebay one, USS Zurich>

=/\= “Bartlett to Carter.” =/\=

“Go ahead Vic,” Carter Responded as he sat patiently in the cockpit of the shuttle.

=/\= “Sorry about the delay. Things are messy down here. From the outside, I'm amazed the Zurich is holding together. We've got missing bulkheads on six decks, and there's extensive damage to both nacelles. I read faint life signs on deck 9, looks like they're trapped. The wave is still causing interference, but I think it should be safe to try the pattern enhanced transporting. I'll see what we can do about power on our end. Virtus out.” =/\=

From the cockpit of the shuttle DesCartes, John Carter watched as Leon Cromwell's small army of Med techs hit the shuttlebay floor with an almost military quality that Carter had to admire.

John quickly scanned the shuttle's readouts, keeping a careful eye on his drive plasma temperatures. The trick in a relief flight like this was to keep the engines hot, but not too hot. All around him, Carter could feel the soft humming of the shuttle's fusion plant, and for a moment, it seemed like that was the only sound in the bay. John glanced back to the shuttle's now empty cargo bay and realized that he was, in fact, alone. Even Ensign McDermott, sealed in her powered hard suit was off with part of the away team. Carter had thought it wise to assign the ensign to watch Commander Carter and Commander Forrest while they went after Zurich's surviving bridge crew and, perhaps more important from a tactical point of view, the surviving records in Zurich's computer core.

Carter took a mental inventory of where his people were. By now, he knew that Ghost Two had made it into Zurich's Secondary hull shuttle bay. Victor Virtus had reported to John that several decks were open to space, and that residual graviton interference had made the trip into the bay a little tricky. 'Good thing Regesh and Carlsberg packed the hardsuits,' John thought to himself.

Carter's thoughts drifted further back to the teams' departure from Republic, still trying to make sense of what he knew he saw, but still hoped he hadn't. “I still don't know what he was thinking.” John muttered aloud.

The mission seemed straightforward enough; get to Zurich as fast as possible, save lives. Looking back, Carter decided he could have done without the pep talk from the command staff. Mostly, he had to admit, because it wasn't his style. Maybe it was a Martian thing. Maybe John was just plain practical, but whatever it was, John Carter had always preferred action to oratory, with one notable exception.

Right now however, actions were bouncing around in the back of John Carter's mind. The funny thing was, they hadn't been his. John could feel with perfect clarity the shock and surprise he had felt as his Captain, a man he'd known for all of 5 hours, had kissed the Executive Officer of Republic good-bye before the shuttles had left to rescue the Zurich.


It wasn't a clap on the shoulder, a shake of the hand, or even a friendly peck on the cheek. It was a kiss, and John knew it was the LAST thing that belonged in the chain of command on a starship. He also knew that, for the moment, it was none of his business. He had work to do.

The sudden appearance of four transponder signals on his optical display helped focus John's thoughts on the moment, he stood and pivoted to activate the shuttle's transporter unit. To his surprise, he saw the same tall, red headed woman in medical blue that had gotten his attention when he first came onboard the Republic. The Lieutenant met his gaze and nodded. “I've got it Commander,” she said.

“Thanks,” was all he could manage. Carter settled back into the pilot's couch as the transporter unit whined to life followed by a second, third, and fourth. Behind him, Carter knew that the female Medtech, he thought her name was Harris, was running tri-corder scans over the new arrivals.

“They're stable,” she called back, “but don't give me too many bumps.”

John smirked to himself, which both showed his amusement and opened a comm channel to Republic.

“Carter to Republic. Ghost One is inbound with four more casualties. ETA six minutes.”

Carter didn't wait for the acknowledgement. DesCartes lifted smoothly off the deck and sailed through the atmosphere seal into the vacuum of space.

<location: main bridge, USS Zurich>

Ashley Sawyer stepped out of the turbolift and glanced around and noticed a young ensign posted by the door looking expectantly. She smiled at him, and extended her hand, and said, “hi, I am the Chief Engineer from the Republic” The ensign smiled timidly.

“M-m-my name is Ensign Redpath”.

Ashley kept smiling. “What exactly are you doing?” she asked cordially.

He looked nervous for a second, then suddenly realized he was blocking her path. He jumped out of the way, and began stammering and Ashley finally laughed and put her hand on his shoulder. “Don't worry ensign, we'll skip the court-martial this time”. He calmed down a bit, and she again asked him, “What are you doing up here?”

“I am the courier sir, internal communications are down.” he said, visibly less forced. Ashley sighed. “Let me take a look here….”

Meanwhile, Captain Ortega was already in conversation with Commander Taylor. Lana looked at the captain, saying “I have a full staffed away team on board sir. They are doing what they can to get your crew off . . . or at least get the injured to the Republic. I am here to help, I am sorry that this has happened to your ship. I know how hard it can be to lose a ship that you have been the command of for a while. Is there anything I can do here on the bridge?”

“Did you bring any power packs with you?” Captain Ortega responded. “We need internal communications back up so I can find out how the rest of my crew is doing. Still, your sympathies are noted. She was an old ship anyways. Tell me commander, have you ever lost a ship?”

Lana looked at the Captain of the Zurich. “No, I have never lost a ship, just a husband,” she said looking at him. “But we do what we can to help you with your crew and getting them to safety.”

Forrest, who was with the XO’s team on the bridge, stood surveying the mess of the Zurich's bridge, small electrical fire marks scoring the various stations. With practiced ease he walked over to the Science Station, easily the least damaged, and placed his PADD along the console. Forrest fingers quickly typed out a six-string command and his PADD began downloading the accessed files.

“Commander Taylor,” Forrest spoke, as he looked up from his task, “I've begun primary downloading of essential files. It'll take about five minutes for it to be finished.”

Forrest turned back to the display and watched the text flash by at speeds far to fast for him to even comprehend. Forrest glanced back quickly over his shoulder, making sure that Taylor and the other were busy and quickly entered in a four digit access code. The PADD opened a smaller file and quickly transferred over the newly accessed data. Forrest was fairly sure no one had seen the change. Starfleet needed that information and Forest was damn sure it would get to his superiors.

“All done here, Commander.” Forrest said, looking to see if anyone had noticed.

“That’s good,” she replied turning away from the captain momentarily. “I would like to speak with you in a few minutes,” she said.

She then looked at the captain. “I will make sure that everything is done to the best of our ability.”

She then walked off and headed towards Forrest. “Find anything interesting as to what happened?” she asked in a low voice.

As their voices turned into quiet murmurs on the bridge, Ashley Sawyer was finishing repairs to the comm system with the ship’s internal courier. She took out a power pack, and went over to a bulkhead. Removing the panel, she scanned around for a bit, then finding the right ODN junction, she removed a dark power pack, and attached a new one. She looked up at the ensign, who tapped his combadge, and the ensuing chirp was all the notification they needed.

They both stood up, and Ashley looked over at Ortega. “Captain,” she said nodding her head in greeting, “Internal Communications should be up ship-wide, sir.”

“Thank you,” he replied. After tapping his combadge he said, “bridge to engineering.”

<location: main engineering, USS Zurich>

Rick tapped his combadge and replied “Engineering, nice to hear from you captain.”

=/\= “Same to you. Report.” =/\=

“At least a hundred dead, a good one fifty injured. Damage control teams report that shuttlebay three is clear of debris. If there is another shuttle out there, we're ready.”

“Good, find a couple of those power packs you’re hiding and get that bay open. The Republic's Bartlett should be sitting somewhere near there. Keep whatever systems are up working and we'll be sitting back at Amusement before you know it. Bridge out.”

<location: shuttlecraft DesCartes, inbound to USS Zurich>

Inside the shuttle DesCartes, John Carter double-checked the operational temperature of his drive plasma. 'Good,' he thought, 'all in the green.' The shuttle had just made its second trip back to the Republic without an unexpected incident. Carter had passed both Republic's own shuttle Bartlett, as well as the shuttlecraft Heidi, dispatched from Zurich.

John had lost count of the number of bodies he had managed to ferry back to Republic with the help of Doctor Cromwell's able med teams, and now he was racing back to pick up more survivors from the battered Ambassador Class cruiser John and his crew had been dispatched to rescue. As DesCartes closed distance on Zurich's shuttle bay two, Carter couldn't help but wince as first one, then another, and another amber telltale blinked to life on the display over his right eye.

Each telltale was a subcutaneous transponder. A tiny electronic device that helped a ship's, or shuttle's transporter system lock onto a target. Each telltale was a fellow member of Starfleet who was dying.

“Grozit,” John cursed quietly. “How many of them are there?”

“According to her manifest.” said a smooth alto voice behind him, “Five-hundred sixty-two.” The voice belonged to the tall red head in medical blue that had been John's companion for the duration of his relief flights. “You should watch your language. Most officers don't swear like that.”

“Oh, tell me about it.” John said. “I've always considered that to be a flaw in Academy curriculum.” John winked, more out of reflex than anything else.

John's companion checked the settings of her tricorder and stood up as she noticed how close DesCartes was getting to Republic. “Here we go again, Commander,” She said.

“Looks like six on the way,” John said.

In what was becoming a disturbing ritual, John didn't even think twice as he piloted Descartes between the Zurich's dim warp nacelles. Reflexively, he twitched his cheek, opening a comm channel.

“Ghost One to Zurich control.”

=/\= “Zurich control, Ghost One. You're cleared into bay two. =/\=

“Roger that, Zurich Control. We're through the seal in three, two, one…”

There was a faint hum through DesCartes' systems as the shuttle breached the force field that was keeping Zurich's shuttle bay protected from space. Without conscious thought, John's fingers flew across the flight controls. The shuttle slowed, reared it's nose up slightly, and seemed to hang motionless in the shuttle bay as thrusters worked to kick the back end of Ghost One away from the bay's entrance, finally landing gently on the deck.

In DesCartes' crew compartment, Shannon Harris braced herself as she felt Carter's “bootleg” turn begin. “Damned pilots!” she said.

“What was that?”

“Nothing Commander,” Shannon lied, but despite herself, she was smiling. 'So help me,' she thought to herself, 'On some level he's actually enjoying this!'

The Med tech took a deep breath as she completed the sequence of commands to activate the shuttle's transporter. A bright wash of charged particles filled the crew cabin, accompanied by a shrill electronic whine. Instantly, six more bodies materialized inside the shuttle. With professional detachment, Shannon Harris gave each patient a scan with her tri-corder. Standard procedure to make sure that each arrival was safe enough to ferry back to Republic for proper attention. With a quick pass of the instrument, scans confirmed what Harris already knew. She called back to Carter. “All six are good to go, Commander.”

“Roger that,” John called back while opening communication with Zurich's ad hoc flight controllers.

“Ghost One to Zurich control.

=/\= “Standing by, Ghost One.” =/\=

“Six more enroute to Republic, control. Ghost One is up and out.”

In less than two minutes, John Carter had touched down, loaded his shuttle and set course back to Republic with six more patients. It was fast, it was efficient, but John couldn't help the nagging feeling that it would never be enough. 'What hit these people?' John wondered.

It couldn't have been the graviton wave. Republic had weathered the same phenomenon on the way in without so much as chipping her paint. Granted, it was at sub-light speeds, but John had to assume that both Republic and Zurich had followed the same procedure.

'So what in god's name happened?' John Carter hated questions like that.

Chapter 14Top

<location: USS Zurich, just outside sickbay>

As Doctor Deyer and Doctor Cromwell’s team neared sickbay, they saw the various walking wounded. “Ignore their pleas,” Deyer said. “They're only priority 3 cases. Our major cases are taking up the beds inside the sickbay.” They walk in and start working. Four casualties are implanted with transponders and soon disappear. Deyer started showing others of the team the most severe cases still in the sickbay. “I have more 6 more severe casualties sitting outside of the shuttlebay. I want them on the next transport.”

She asked a crewman to head back up to ensure that those casualties go next. He complies with the order and sprints back towards the shuttlebay.

Scanning the crowded expanse of the Zurich’s sickbay, Doctor Cromwell was overwhelmed by the staggering amount of severely wounded casualties. Unconscious patients littered the floor and biobeds, some with the comfort of a silver emergency blanket to fend off shock. Others, conscious but catatonic, sat slumped up against walls and consoles. The emergency lights flickered, and the meager power there was barely kept the overtaxed medical equipment functioning.

“Doctor?” came a voice behind him. It was a young, brown-haired ensign in a gold operations-branch uniform that was spattered with blood and grime. His faced showed almost bewildered exhaustion and he handed Doctor Cromwell the patient status list. Painful cries from the injured stirred reminders that their lives were in his hands, and every minute that passed closed the gap between them and certain death.

Leon quickly went over the lengthy casualty list with the resident staff as his medical contingent went to work opening their trauma packs and distributing the badly needed medical supplies. As he completed the review, he addressed his medical team.

“Doctor Harris” he said, “let’s break our group up into the three-person teams we talked about before we left. I’ll keep my team here in sickbay, tending to the most severely wounded. Take your team and continue moving through the ship. Bring the pattern enhancers and implant transponders in patients that are trapped under debris or cannot be moved. Help others to sickbay or the shuttle deck for evacuation. You may not be able to stabilize some patients, so transport with them to the shuttle and stay with them during their flight to the Republic.”

“Yes Doctor” she responded, motioning to the two closest medics from the Republic. Closing their medical packs, the three medics worked their way across the sickbay complex to the exit. Turning to the enervated patients who were able to make it to sickbay, Doctor Cromwell and his remaining staff began diagnoses and treatments.

“Patient seven, alpha status” said the attending ensign escorting the doctor to the nearest biobed. The patient, a male Vulcan in command red, was missing his left arm, and a burn crater was torn out of his torso below the amputated appendage, exposing green and cream-colored flesh. Bandages and medical padding were strapped to the body, but did little to keep the grave wounds from leaking precious, life-giving blood.

“He’s missing his spleen and left renal organ,” said the doctor. “We need to prep him for surgery immediately. He won’t stand the trauma of transport to the Republic.”

“There’s no power to the surgical suites,” explained the beleaguered ensign.

Doctor Cromwell sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Well, configure a sterile area, and open a surgical pack in my medkit. We have no choice but to piece this guy back together before transport.”

“Yes doctor,” answered the ensign, as he turned to his makeshift sickbay staff. “Let’s do what he said, people,” he exclaimed with frivolity and raising his hands with a hopeless gesture.

“Hey” the doctor retorted with a touch of annoyance. “We’re going to do everything we can to get you and your people back on your feet. But I need you to listen, and do your best to help my staff and Doctor Deyer.”

The young man shook his head, trying to hold back tears. “I’m sorry doctor. It’s been a long afternoon.”

“I understand,” said Doctor Cromwell with as much comfort as he could muster. “Just hang in there, and we’ll get through this. Okay?”

The ensign nodded slowly, and returned to work.

Turning to the next patient on the list, the doctor found himself looking at an unconscious human female in operations-gold. Her abdomen was packed with blood-soaked gauze, and her trouser legs were torn open with over a dozen pressure-bandages affixed to the exposed skin. He scanned her with a tricorder, and quickly came to a diagnosis. “She’s missing about two meters of her small intestine and has severe internal bleeding near the duodenum. Prep this one for immediate surgery as well.”

Clearing the tricorder’s last scan, the doctor went to work on the next biobed where a young man in an engineering jumpsuit laid with a huge pressure bandage over his neck. Dark red blood leaked out from under the bandage, staining his uniform. A serum generator was strapped to the upper arm, pumping fluid into the patient at maximum capacity.

“This one has a massive tearing of the right jugular vein,” explained the doctor. “He needs some time with an internal auto-suture before we can get him to the Republic.”

The doctor turned to see a Zurich crewman in operations gold pulling a blanket over a patient.

“What happened?” asked the doctor.

“An ion field disrupted his nervous system. He hasn’t been breathing for at least twenty minutes. I did six tries with the neural stimulator and no response.”

“Wait!” Doctor Cromwell demanded, running over to the bed. “You said an ion field?”

The crewman nodded in confusion.

The doctor pulled the blanket off the dead patient, revealing a ghostly white face of a human male. Grabbing a hyposray, he quickly inserted a vial of medicine and dialed an unknown dosage level before injecting it. Within seconds, the body began to erupt in severe spasms with foaming at the mouth.

“It’s okay,” said the doctor. He inserted an instrument length-wise into the patient’s mouth in an attempt to hold back the tongue from being lodged in the throat. “I’m inducing an epileptic seizure.”

“You’re what?!” exclaimed the crewman in disbelief.

“I’m inducing a seizure” he repeated himself with emphasis. “Any patient that’s been over-exposed to an ion field suffers a shutdown of the nervous system. The acetylcholine receptors throughout the body depolarize, and inducing a seizure will, in effect, reset the nervous system and re-polarize the synaptic pathways.”

A few seconds later, the patients’ spasms died down, and Doctor Cromwell dialed the dosage of another substance before injecting it. The body fell limp once again, and the doctor removed the instrument from the patient’s mouth.

“There” he announced. “Try the neural stimulator again.”

The confused crewman rolled the freestanding medical contraption to the biobed, and swiveled the U-shaped stimulator aperture around the patient’s head.

“Stand clear,” declared the crewman as he activated the stimulator. A static-sounding pulse of energy emanated from the machine, causing the patient to express a momentary muscle twitch throughout his body. Seconds passed before the crewman exclaimed “nothing.”

“Again” demanded Doctor Cromwell.

As before, the machine swelled with a static pulse, and the patient twitched once more. However, this time the steady red bio-readouts on the status board blinked before some turned to a hopeful yellow. Suddenly, a cascade of readouts turned from red to yellow and the neural output level indicated a signature of activity.

“That did it!” shouted the crewman. “He’s alive!”

“Easy, crewman” said the doctor. “We’ve got hundreds more here that need our help. Get this one on life support and implant him with a transponder. The Republic can take him from here.”

“Yes doctor!” responded the crewman with an encouraging smile that extended from ear to ear.

Turning back towards the sickbay, the doctor looked around at the massive crowd of patients awaiting treatment. With a sigh, he shouted a question.

“Where can I get some surgical smocks? We’re in for a long night . . .”

<location: main bridge, USS Zurich>

Taylor and Forrest were quietly conversing about the recent download of the Zurich’s computer core.

“Well, ” Forrest began, “Without being able to review the complete logs I'd only be able to guess. But from what little I have seen, and I hope you understand that I'm no expert on these things, it just seems to me that the Zurich would have had more warning of the shockwave if it had been a ‘natural’ occurrence.”

“Are you saying it was man-made?” asked a rather surprised Taylor.

“As I said, sir. I can't offer an expert opinion. Just a possibility.”

Forrest wondered exactly what the Zurich had uncovered in its survey of the Rosara System. The recall codes he'd entered had downloaded something onto his PADD. Starfleet Intelligence had obviously thought something might be a bit odd in the system to have an additional sensor scan hidden on the Zurich's computer.

Forrest thought back on what he knew about the Rosara System. Most of the hard scientific data he'd breezed over but couldn't see any relevance. Strategically, Rosara wasn't contested, or even a useful system. Mineral scans hadn't been finalized, but early indicators predicated some useful metals. Somehow, Forest had a feeling he was missing something. Something he should know.

The Captain looked towards where Lana and Forrest were standing and talk, and he obviously overhead some of the conversation. “Are you saying that since it appeared out of no-where, that it is not natural? Is it possible that we've tripped over a new weapon and somebody decided to declare war on the Federation by almost destroying my ship?” asked Ortega as his ears perk up to what Forrest was saying.

Captain Ortega heard the message and tapped his combadge. “Bridge to Engineering.”

=/\= “Commander Donald here sir.” =/\=

“Commander, we need power and fast. See what can be shunted to those batteries. Sensors, Force fields, whatever you can.”

=/\= “Aye sir. I'll see what miracle I can perform. Engineering out.” =/\=

Lana looked again to Forrest. “Well, when we get back on the Republic, I want everything possible done to see what is going on. I tend to go on suspicions myself until I am proven wrong. I want you to follow yours, and keep me up-to-date on what is going on,” she said.

She then tapped her combadge.

“Commander Taylor to Doctor Cromwell.”

<location: Zurich, Shuttlebay two>

The lights flickered and exposed wires sparked as medical technicians scurried around, moving patients that could be moved, and helping the least injured to the shuttle.

“Lieutenant, the Bartlett is not rated for that many people!”

Virtus continued to move the around the shuttlebay as he argued with the pilot.

“Ensign, we have fourteen cubic meters of personnel and cargo space, and 18 cubic meters of injured crewmen. I want them sitting on each other's laps and stacked like cordwood. I want six in the cockpit, two in the washroom and one in each closet. And I want you lifting off in 180 seconds. Is that clear Ensign!” Virtus' question left no room for doubt.

“Yes Sir,” replied the pilot. With a backwards glace, the ensign began weaving his way through the injured.

Vic took a moment to sigh. Someday he'd get the hang of command in crisis situations, but not today apparently. The cover on the panel he needed had already been knocked loose, but the panel itself appeared undamaged. Perhaps it was an issue of trust. Vic ran his tricorder over the panel, and then attached a lead from this belt to a recessed socket below the panel. It always took a while for a crew to come to trust their new department head, and vice versa. The micro-powerpack Vic was carrying would last a few minutes, long enough to check the ship's status. Maybe he should change his tone of voice when giving orders in tense situations. The panel flickered to life, reporting other power outages, local hull breaches, stress fractures, lack of access to the main computer. Carter always seemed to sound a bit more forceful when in combat, beyond the normal increase in volume and urgency of emotion. Vic typed in commands and got muted beeps in response. He'd have to ask John about that sometime.

Vic blinked, and reread the data on the panel. Power readings and bulkhead stress figures for the interconnecting dorsal were a bit alarming. The interconnecting dorsal is the 'neck' that attaches the saucer-shaped primary hull to the secondary hull, containing the main deflector array and the nacelles.

Vic tapped his combadge. “Virtus to Commander Taylor.”

=/\= Go ahead Lieutenant. =/\=

“We have a problem. The interconnecting dorsal appears to have been fatally weakened by the collision with the energy wave. The only thing holding the primary hull to the secondary hull is the structural integrity field, which is running on emergency backup power. If we don't start getting power from main engineering, the secondary hull is going to tear free, exposing decks 14 on down. Those emergency batteries are only going to last another … 17 minutes.”

Vic waited for her response before telling her about the artificial gravity problem.

After landing, Doctor Y’lair and Doctor Fernmoore agreed that they should separate their group into two teams of three, as discussed with Doctor Cromwell before they left the Republic. In the chaos of the Zurich’s secondary hull, it became apparent that the shuttlebay was the only staging area they would be able to use for collecting the injured. As Y’lair gathered his team, the tall Vulcan slung the transporter pattern enhancers over his shoulder and made his way into the engineering decks, followed by two medical technicians. Doctor Cromwell’s mission orders were clear: stabilize casualties, implant them with transponders, and get them off the Zurich.

As the short, gray-haired Doctor Fernmoore directed her medics to begin loading the shuttlebay casualties onto Bartlett, she addressed the overstressed pilot who just finished a heated argument with Lieutenant Virtus.

“Ensign,” she said. “I need you to take as many casualties to the Republic as possible, and do an immediate turn-around and get back here.”

“I know! I know!” shouted the ensign, his outburst a splendid indication of his internal frustration with his superiors.

“Look, sonny!” she yelled back. “I’m guessing there’s at least a hundred injured here in the secondary hull, and were cut-off from sickbay in the primary saucer-section! If you don’t shape up, there’s going to be a lot of dead crewmen over here!”

The ensign rolled his eyes and apologized. “Sorry, Doctor.”

“That’s better,” she said in a calmer tone. “Now, when you get back, I need you to use the Bartlett’s emergency transporter and lock onto the transponders that Doctor Y’lair is implanting into patients as we speak. If you can’t lock on, call us, and we’ll use the pattern-enhancers.”

Doctor Fernmoore left the ensign to do his work, walking away and grumbling about the months she had left before retirement. She stopped to watch her two medical technicians work on a pair of casualties. Behind them, and up against the bulkhead, sat the shuttlebay’s inactive cargo transporters. As an idea spread across the doctor’s brain, she addressed her technicians.

“I’ll be right back. I’m going to see if Lieutenant Virtus will be able to get those transporters operational. Maybe we can start beaming casualties to the shuttlebay while the Bartlett is gone.”

The aged, wiry-figured doctor jogged over to Virtus who was busy at an engineering panel and addressing Commander Taylor over the comm system. She stopped abruptly, wondering if now was a good time to ask her superior for assistance. From the sound of it, the ship was about to tear itself apart. The thought made her uneasy, but the idea to use the cargo transporters might speed up the evacuation, so she thought now was a good time to bring the subject up.

“Lieutenant Virtus, sir?” she asked. “I know you’re busy, but I was wondering if you would be able to power up these cargo transporters. Doctor Y’lair is implanting transponders into casualties throughout the secondary hull, and since the Bartlett is about to leave, they will be the only transporters available to us until the shuttle gets back. If we start transporting casualties here, to the shuttlebay, the evacuation will go much faster.”

“Frankly doctor, I'm amazed the atmospheric force fields in this bay are holding given our current power shortage. I'll have someone check on the cargo transporters, but any power we can give them will be needed by the structural integrity field. If we…”

Victor's comm badge beeped.

=/\= “Pakita to Virtus.” =/\=

“Go ahead Maria.” Lieutenant Junior-Grade Maria Pakita was an able geophysicist and decent administrator in Vic's new staff.

=/\= “One of the Lieutenants said we might be able to give you an energy feed, and also suggested overlapping the Zurich's hull with the Republic's shields.” =/\=

Victor pondered for a moment.

“Ask Engineering about the feasibility of an energy feed to boost the integrity field, and get me that Lieutenant’s name.” Vic again tapped his combadge. “Virtus to Republic. Captain, can will kill two birds with one stone? Move the Republic within 25 meters of the Zurich to decrease shuttle travel time, and possibly use Republic's shields to dampen the graviton interference, allowing us to use the transporters?”

Vic knew it was dangerous, for if the secondary hull tore loose, the chance of a warp core explosion went through the roof, and at that range, the explosion would be inside the Republic's shields . . .

Chapter 15Top

<location: main sickbay, USS Republic>

The deafening noise of shouting staff and wailing casualties roared throughout the Republic’s sickbay. The blue-uniformed medical staff clambered from bed to bed, tending to the constant flow of incoming wounded. With each transporter chime, and the subsequent shimmer of an appearing patient, the sickbay crew reacted with ever-increasing swiftness to offset the rapid influx of medical cases.

“Send him to triage two!” ordered one medic. “I need an arterial regenerator over here!” shouted another. The scene was similar to the Zurich, with patients stacked against the wall, and doubled up on biobeds. Fortunately for the Republic, all medical systems were operational and at full power.

Doctor Yezbeck emerged from surgical suite four, his red surgical mask slid down below his beard, and smock mottled with dark patches of blood. His eyebrows were forced into a downward fold, and eyes filled with intense consternation. He pulled the red latex gloves off with a discernible slap, and examined the chaos around him.

“This is nuts” he muttered to himself. Throwing the gloves into the surgical recycler, he ran his hands through the wall-mounted sterilization field. “Nurse!” shouted Doctor Yezbeck to a nearby ensign in medical blues. “What’s the status of these people? How many do we have, and what’s the capacity of the other triage wards?”

The nurse, finishing up with an unconscious patient on a biobed, turned to an attending medical technician. “He’s finished here. Transfer him to the recovery ward.” She walked up to Doctor Yezbeck, her face replete with trepidation and weariness. “We’ve got over a hundred of the Zurich’s injured in here, and they keep pouring in” she explained. “About half are severely injured and are designated triage one. Unfortunately, we don’t have the capacity for that many patients in here, so we’ve overflowed them into triage two. However, triage two is bursting with patients as well, and triage three is in the nursing wards with antigrav-stretchers stacked to the ceiling. We could definitely use more room and more people, doctor.”

“Thank you, nurse” the doctor acknowledged. Yezbeck quickly removed his surgical smock to reveal his black undershirt stained with sweat. Tossing the garment into the recycler, he also grabbed his mask and cap, which followed the same route as the smock. Pressing a button on the wall-mounted comm system, Doctor Yezbeck spoke in a firm, yet stressed voice.

“Sickbay to bridge. This is Doctor Yezbeck. I’d like to transfer some people from life sciences and have them convert cargo bay two into a recovery ward. We’re completely overwhelmed down here with casualties from the Zurich, and we could use the extra space.”

=/\= “Acknowledged sickbay. We’re on it.” =/\=

The balding doctor then turned around to face the expansive crowd, still not satisfied with the assiduous situation. “We need more people” he mumbled with a frown. Beckoning into mid-air, the doctor summoned some extra help. “Computer, activate EMH.”

In the center of the inextricable sickbay, a new, rarely used member of the medical staff faded into existence. “Please state the nature of the medical emergency” rang the calm, British voice of the young, black-haired and blue-eyed holographic doctor. His tranquil demeanor was a stark contrast to the bustling turmoil surrounding him.

“We’re taking on casualties from a Federation ship in distress” explained Doctor Yezbeck. “Our CMO and several staff are in the field, and our triage wards are overloaded with patients. Grab a medkit and tricorder and get to work on the severe cases here in triage one. Use a surgical suite if you have to.”

“Right away” responded the hologram, as it moved swiftly over to the nearest biobed. Doctor Yezbeck, went over to the surgical closet and obtained a fresh set of ruby-red surgical scrubs. A nurse nudged her head out from surgical suite three and addressed the doctor.

“This next one has a spine fractured in three different places. There’s trauma to the skull, and the meningeal membranes are filling with fluid.”

“I’ll be right there” announced Doctor Yezbeck, slapping on a new pair of scarlet-colored gloves. As he went walking into the surgical suite, a last comment sprang from his lips.

“It never rains, but it pours . . .”

<location: main bridge, USS Zurich>

Ashley continued pacing on the bridge when the comm picked up.

=/\= “Virtus to Commander Taylor.” =/\=

“Go ahead lieutenant.”

=/\= “We have a problem…” =/\=

Ashley didn't need to hear anymore. Being a Vulcan/Betazoid hybrid had its advantages . . . and its disadvantages. Something very bad was about to happen, and it not only involved the Zurich, but the Republic herself, and on this destroyed hulk of a vessel, she was powerless to the do anything.

Lana thought for a moment about the developing problem, and the possibility that the Zurich may be falling apart while they speak. “Get as many people out as you can,” she ordered. “Or try to get a shield up around it so we don't loose any people. Do whatever you have to do.”

She was starting to get flustered and overwhelmed. This ship was going to be destroyed with no hopes of saving it. But one way or the other, she was going to save the people on board.

Ash could hear the strain in Commander Taylor's voice, and immediately knew this feeling of helplessness wasn't just affecting her. She cast a reassuring smile at Forrest and Lana, and walked over.

“This is not going to be a pretty next few hours guys, but if anyone can handle it, I know its us,” she said, and put her hands on the shoulders of Forrest and Taylor. Then directly addressing Lana, she said, “Commander, I can't fully explain it to you at the moment, but I strongly feel my presence is needed back on the Republic. Request permission to return on the next shuttle. I'm not entirely convinced we are alone out here . . . ”

Lieutenant Commander Forrest quickly viewed the information on his PADD, searching for an answer to the nagging questions he had concerning the source of the explosion that had left the USS Zurich a crippled mass of tritanium drifting in space. The data wasn't making any sense. Sensors showed no trace of energy capable of such destructive force, at least none that Forest would have expected. It wasn't a subspace weapon. Nothing that 'Fleet Intel said was in the Dominions old bag of tricks. Something was missing, some part of this little puzzle right in front of his face.

“Captain Ortega”, Forrest looked into the eyes of a man determined to not lose his control. “You were doing routine sensor sweeps of the area, correct?”

“Yes, Commander”, replied Ortega, his curiosity peeked by the questions.

“Okay,” continued Forrest. “Assuming routine procedure, your shields should have taken most of the impact, but the damage here indicates that either shields were down or the energy wave ignored them. I'm gonna rule out the Borg, I don't see a big cube floating around us. The Dominion never showed evidence of such a weapon, I doubt they're involved.”

“Where are you going with this Forrest?” interjected Commander Taylor.

“Well, sir,” he replied as he began to pace back and forth, “Something caused this shock wave, if it was a natural occurrence the Zurich's sensors would have seen it coming a mile away, so to speak. Standard sensors sweeps extend nearly seventeen light years, add to the fact that the lateral arrays were also on line, the Zurich's crew would have had nearly seven minutes of warning, give or take a minute. Someone or something made this explosion.”

Immediately tapping his combadge, the intelligence officer said “Forrest to Republic. Sir, I suggest you start scanning the area hard, looking for something. Because I don't think we're alone out here.”

Lana looked at the officer. “All right. Return back to the Republic with everyone else. Do what you can to find out what is going on,” Lana ordered. She then looked back at Forrest. “What is going on that I don't know about?”

As she stood on the bridge of the Zurich, she suddenly had a sharp pain in her stomach.

“OOWWWW!!!!!!” she screamed out.

She touched her combadge. “Beam me straight to sickbay. Have Doctor Cromwell meet me there immediately. This is an order,” Lana said gasping for breath.

<Location: Republic Bridge>

Captain Marshall sat in his chair as reports came in from the Zurich.

Lieutenant Revas, the operations officer, was still hard at work at sciences station towards the rear of the bridge when he called out to Marshall. “Captain, you better take a look at this.”

Marshall walked over to the Science station. He didn't like what he saw.

“How much time do they have?”

“About 15 minutes,” Revas replied. “Unless they can get main power back from Engineering.

“Bridge to Engineering,” the captain said, tapping his combadge. “Would we be able to transfer power from here to the Zurich they sure could use it?”

=/\= “Lieutenant Hathaway here. Sir, we can't do it. We're overworked as it is and in case we had to get the Republic out of here we couldn't do it quick enough.” =/\=

From the helm station, the young Ferengi helmsman spoke up. “Captain? Lieutenant McTaggart and I have an option.”

The young lieutenant standing next to the helm console was Lieutenant Sean McTaggart, the second shift tactical officer under Lieutenant Regesh. In the past few moments when he took over the tactical station from the Andorian officer, he and Zelk watched closely everything that had occurred on the Zurich as well as out in the depths of space. When Lieutenant Virtus called in, asking for a renewed look at utilizing the ships transporters by bringing the Republic in closer, McTaggart and Zelk went to work, formulating a plan. Now, with the captain back on the bridge, they decided to bring the subject to him.

“It's risky,” McTaggart admitted. “But it just might work. Why can't we move the Republic into transporter range and beam them out? With the pattern enhancers they have set up and with the gap in the hull of the Zurich we could get almost everyone. With the gap in their hull we would have to tune our scanners to match it but it can be done. They won't survive much longer if we don't try.

“Time left?” Marshall asked Revas at the rear science station.

“Twelve minutes, Captain.”

“Zelk,” he addressed the helmsman. “Move us into position.” Looking towards McTaggart with a half-smile, he concluded, “risk is part of the game.”

“Marshall to all transporter rooms,” the captain beckoned to the com system. “Beam everyone you can off of the Zurich. Lock onto anyone you can and get them out of there. Make it your top priority.”

<location: USS Zurich, sickbay>

Minutes had passed before the Zurich’s sickbay took on some semblance of order. The biobeds were full of the most injured patients, while the floor was neatly stacked with stretchers that held the less severe cases. In the center of sickbay, a makeshift surgical bed was erected, and Doctor Cromwell was busy working on a patient surrounded by two nurses.

The doctor was dressed in red-colored surgical over-garments, and his hands were buried deep within the delicate flesh of a patient. Through his surgical mask, he released an audible sigh at the sounding of the comm system. It was Taylor, and from Leon’s perspective, she couldn’t have picked a worse time to call him.

Looking at one of the nurses, the doctor said “Always when I’m in surgery. If you will, crewman. . .”

Immediately, the young nurse tapped the combadge on Doctor Cromwell’s chest, which was hidden underneath the surgical scrubs.

“This is Doctor Cromwell. I’m a little busy down here, Commander . . . “

The moment passed in silence.

“Well, she called. Why doesn’t she answer?” he muttered. “I’m done with this one” he said to an attending nurse. “Close up and implant him with a transponder.”

“Yes doctor” the nurse responded.

Walking a short distance away from the table, the doctor lowered his surgical mask and removed the gloves. Annoyed that he received a comm call in the middle of surgery, and had yet to receive an answer, he pulled off his red surgical smock to reveal his V-neck wrap around medic’s jumpsuit. He tapped his combadge yet again.

“Commander Taylor, this is Doctor Cromwell. What do you need?”

Seconds passed as he stood there without response. Suddenly, the Zurich’s comm system burst alive. The fact alone that it was working surprised everyone in sickbay, but the news it brought left everyone wrought with anxiety.

=/\= “All hands, this is the bridge. Prepare for evacuation via transporters. Abandon ship, I repeat abandon ship.” =/\=

“What the HELL??” exclaimed the doctor, his eyes widening at the news. Some patients within sickbay, brimming with drugs and pain, feared the worst and began screaming. Doctor Deyer and Doctor Cromwell looked across the room at each other with the same appearance of astonishment. The Republic’s medics and Doctor Deyer’s provisional medical staff began scrambling from patient to patient attempting to calm them.

“Implant everyone with transponders!” ordered Deyer, reacting to the abrupt orders of her captain. “Prepare them for immediate transport!”

Doctor Cromwell, fuming with rage, had no such loyalties to the booming voice over the comm system. He punched his combadge with such animosity, that if it were not attached to his chest, it would have gone flying across the room.

“Now hold on there, CAPTAIN sir! I’m not going ANYWHERE until every last injured person is off this ship! Do you understand??”

One by one, patients around sickbay began to dematerialize, Doctor Deyer included. In less than five seconds, the entire sickbay was nearly empty.

“Republic! Do you hear me?? Do not . . .”

Doctor Cromwell was cutoff in mid-sentence as the shimmering white veil of transporter energy surrounded him, and the Zurich’s sickbay lay empty and abandoned.

Chapter 16Top

<location: main bridge, USS Zurich>

Before Forrest could react the nimbus of the transporters caught Commander Taylor in mid-fall. Forrest took one last moment to survey the empty bridge of the Zurich, amazed that she had held together this long. Exposed conduits, burnt consoles, and flickering displays held evidence to the sheer tenacity of Starfleet. He then realized he had very little time left himself. Tapping his combadge, he asked for evacuation.

“Republic. One to beam aboard.”

Forrest stared at the Zurich and slowly watched her fade away only to be replaced by the Republic's Transport Bay.

<location: transporter room two, USS Republic>

Forrest, Lana, Sawyer, and Ortega rematerialized on the transporter pad just as the chief reported that they have the away team. Forrest helped Taylor onto a nearby antigrav stretcher as she’s whisked off to sickbay. Ortega tapped his combadge and said “Captain Ortega to Zurich department heads. Staff meeting in 10 minutes on the Republic’s bridge observation deck.” He and Forrest then depart the room, entering into a waiting turbolift.

After they left, Ashley stepped down off the transporter padd, and immediately made her way to main engineering on the Republic. She stepped through the doors feeling even more unnerved then when she had been on the bridge of the dying Zurich. But now she was unnerved even more, because she was beginning to sense something. Danger was approaching, and she did not know in what form or fashion, but she was getting extremely supernatural omens . . .

“Philips, Sultan, get to work on repairing that warp drive, double time. Andrews, Scott, I want structural integrity at 100% or better, pull power from the secondary grid if you have to.” she said frantically. There was no time to waste. Then she walked into her office. The decision she was about to make was most likely going to be the one that would end her career in Starfleet. But she felt she had no choice, she couldn't go to the captains with just this hunch of hers of the approaching doom, and her back was against the wall with the Republic still damaged from its encounter with the graviton field a few days ago.

Ashley removed her combadge from her uniform, and all 3 of her rank pins, then walked to the door of her office. She then walked over to a group of officers who were standing at the MSD panel. “Smith, Sierra, I have a special mission for your team. Follow me” she said, and took them into her office.

“Computer, seal the door with a level 9 force-field, and disable all log and recording devices in this room, authorization Sawyer Alpha Omega Epsilon, recognize”

=/\= “Acknowledged.” =/\=

Then, she pressed a few button on the keypad lock for her desk, and opened the drawer and pulled out a PADD. A Starfleet PADD . . . from the future.

“Gentlemen, a day before this vessel launched from drydock, we were visited by a temporal agent named Daniels from a future Starfleet temporal enforcement division group. He left this PADD on board, and it contains plans and instruction on upgrading the tactical and sensors of this vessel. I have no doubt broken numerous directives by not only reading its contents, but by even telling you of its existence. I was prepared to order you to make the upgrades under my orders, but I now realize that I cannot take this action without the permission of Captain Marshall. Therefore, under *she picks up the PADD, and presses a few keys*, Starfleet Temporal Defense Code 03465-Alpha, I am requesting, not ordering…this is completely voluntary . . . requesting that you accompany me to the bridge as witnesses that I am bringing this proposal to Captain Marshall to allow me to upgrade this ship with technology from this PADD.” she said, without any trace of emotion.

Smith merely blinked a few times, but Sierra immediately asked, “Sir, since you have already engaged us in this procedure, what exactly are the technologies in question?” she asked.

Sawyer smiled. “They are very impressive lieutenant. They include, Chroniton Neutronium Torpedoes, Neutronium enhanced shielding and armor plating, a brand new Quadralithium Matter/Anti-Matter converter, and type XVI Neutronium Phaser arrays. It also would increase our current sensors to include Multi-Spectral Quark levels and at least 36% longer distances. By my calculations, we could have the modifications installed and tested in 2 and a half days with all teams working around the duty shifts.”

Smith finally spoke. “Sir, who exactly is it we expect to be fighting?”

Sawyer appeared troubled. “I'm not even sure myself ensign. As you know, I'm a telepathic hybrid, and I can sense certain things literally before they occur. All I know is that in less than 96 hours, we are going to need all of these upgrades, and even then, they may not be enough. Any other questions?”

“No sir”, the pair spoke in tandem.

“Then we should go to the bridge immediately.”, Sawyer faltered for a second, and ran her fingers over her collar, which was devoid of any rank pips. “You may remove your rank insignia and combadge if you wish, but I plan to take full responsibility for any disciplinary action my next few minutes may incur.” She said in all seriousness. They did so.

With that, she removed the lock from the door, picked up the PADD, and made her way to the turbolift. “The die is cast . . .” she half muttered aloud and to herself at the same time.

<location: shuttlecraft DesCartes, inbound to USS Zurich >

John Carter always considered himself a man of action, and while he certainly had done his share of studying, he didn't care for hard sciences. He knew his astronomy, spatial mechanics, and applied physical theory. These were all things that a Conn Officer in Starfleet had to know in order to get a shuttle, runabout, or even a starship to do what he needed it to. The thing about numbers was that they didn't care about anything. Not whether you were going to be late for your first date, or that the tide of a battle might be turned if a torpedo finds its mark. Either the numbers added up in your favor, or not.

Math made the universe a cold and unforgiving place, and John Carter had often considered that the rules of the universe tended to discount a person's will. After all, when you're hurtling toward the photosphere of a star, the star doesn't care who you are, where you came from, or what sort of plans you had for dinner. So sometimes you have to teach the stars whose boss.

=/\= “Republic to away team, pile everyone you can into shuttles we're going to attempt to beam you out of there. We're betting the farm we can pull it off with what's gotten done over there. There's not much time to argue so don't.” =/\=

This, John decided, was one of those times…

The shuttle DesCartes made what Carter knew would be his final relief flight to Zurich's shuttle bay. He had arrived less than 30 minutes before with a fully loaded away team and had already brought 60 casualties from Zurich back to Republic. John winced as he heard his Captain's order, and now he had a choice to make. Either he played it safe, circled back to Republic and trusted to her transporter crews to retrieve the rest of the Away Team, or he followed his father's advice.

'Always save the last dance for your date John,' he had said. 'Go ahead, have a good time son, but at the end of the night, you dance with the lady that brought you.'

Carter increased DesCartes speed toward Zurich's open bay. Behind him, Shannon Harris braced herself against the bulkhead to deal with the change in inertia.

“What the devil are you doing?” she yelled at Carter.

John's voice was calm and measured, but very firm as he answered her. “Just finishing the date,” he said. “Power up the transporters,” he added, “we've still got to get Sawyer's team out of Bay One, and I'm going to do it in a hurry.” Carter felt the familiar smirk return to his face as he planned his next move.

Meanwhile, Shannon Harris was far more concerned with what she had just heard. She took the seat next to Carter in the command cabin, and turned to face the transporter controls. “With all due respect, Lieutenant Commander, we've been ordered to evac, not charge back in! And what the Hell are you smiling at?”

John couldn't help but speak his mind. “Why is it . . .” John tilted his head, scanning his ocular screen for transponder signs. One by one, they went green then blue, right before disappearing from his display, meaning that they had been beamed directly to Republic. 'Good,' John thought as he finished speaking to Harris. ”. . . that someone says 'With all due respect', right before they do something AMAZINGLY disrespectful? Hold on.”

Harris felt her stomach drop as DesCartes dipped low on her z-axis to avoid the onrushing shuttlecraft that were leaving Zurich almost as fast as he was approaching the doomed starship. As the oncoming craft rushed overhead, John's fingers quickly tapped a series of controls to pull the shuttle's nose back on a dead reckoning for Zurich's shuttle bay. Then the com system chirped.

=/\= “Ghost Two to Ghost One. Uh, John? Can't help but notice we're not all headed in the same direction.” =/\=

“Hi Vic,” John replied, not bothering to hide the chuckle in his voice. “Seems we've got a couple of stragglers, and I figured the cargo transporters would be busy beaming off the wounded. Are Carlsberg and McDermott accounted for?”

=/\= “Yes John, we're all here and tucked in, but…=/\=

“Time check please, Vic.”

=/\= “Six minutes, 27 seconds…mark. Don't change the subject John!” =/\=

“Was I?” John answered back. He glanced sideways at the furious Shannon Harris. “That man's better than any chronometer in the Fleet.”

“Why doesn't that make me feel any better?” she answered. “Transporters standing by.”

“Thanks.” Carter turned his attention back to the disembodied voice of Victor Virtus. “Come on Vic,” he explained, “I know you've worked the numbers. Republic's crews are doing all they can to get the wounded off in time, and as it is, they might not get them all. If I don't get the team out of the shuttle, who will? Besides,” Carter added, more for effect than anything else, “I was in the neighborhood.”

=/\= *sigh* “Five minutes, 52 seconds… mark.” =/\=

“Two more than I need. Thanks Vic. Ghost One out.” John shook his head slightly as the com channel closed, then glanced at Harris. “Stand by,” he said, “bring them onboard as soon as we've crossed the atmosphere shield.”

“Understood,” the med tech answered, then added, “You don't have to do this to impress me you know.”

“Why?” John wondered aloud, “Is it working?” He didn't wait for the answer, but he could see the smile on her face, despite the tension of the situation. Carter's cheek twitched as he opened the com again.

“Ghost One to Engineering detail.”

=/\= “McGruder here Ghost One. What the sprock are you doing? We're standing by for beam out!” =/\=

“Oh my,” John whispered to Harris, “there's that rough language again.” Carter cleared his throat. “You still are McGruder. It's just going to be a little . . . faster this way. Stand by.”

“Here we go!” John tapped another series of commands into DesCartes’ flight control system, and clicked the override as the computer reminded him that what he was about to do was not recommended. Seconds later, DesCartes breached the atmospheric shield of Zurich's shuttle bay.

From the shuttle bay's deck, McGruder looked through the visor of his EVA suit at the shuttle that was bearing down on his position. He turned his head sharply to look at the other wide-eyed engineer. 'He's not stopping.' McGruder thought. 'holy shi . . .'

Inside the command cabin of Ghost One, John Carter gritted his teeth as the shuttle pitched hard up on her port nacelle, inertial dampeners glowing red on the display board as Carter pulled the shuttle into an impossibly tight hairpin turn. Midway through the turn's arc, he barked out one word to Lieutenant Harris. “Energize!”

“Got 'em!” Harris called back, as both she and Carter heard the whine of the transporters fade, followed by two distinct 'thuds' as the new arrivals to the crew cabin hit the bulkhead unceremoniously. Harris looked back and grimaced as McGruder gave a weak thumbs up. Shannon looked forward and smiled as DesCartes crossed the atmosphere shield and rocketed toward Republic.

John Carter breathed a sigh of relief as he saw the inertial dampeners settle back into the green and watched as distance to Republic began to decrease steadily.

“Ghost One to Commander Taylor. That's all our people, Sir.”

<location: main bridge, USS Republic>

The doors opened and Captain Ortega, with a uniform full of grime, walked out. “Permission to enter the bridge Captain Marshall. Or should I say our savior and hero,” he said with a small smile, still hurt on the loss of his ship.

“Permission granted,” Marshall greeted him. “Welcome aboard the Republic, Captain.”

Watching the viewscreen as what was left of the Zurich exploded, the Republic rocked slightly, but no damage occurred.

=/\= “Transport room two to bridge. We got the last of the injured off the Zurich. However . . . Doctor Cromwell was none too pleased. Before he went off to sickbay he told me to tell you . . .” =/\=

The captain raised an eyebrow with calculated curiosity. “Yes, chief?” he urged on.

=/\= “Well, sir . . . he told me to tell you to put the transporter buffer someplace I'd rather not repeat . . .” =/\=

“I'm going to have a talk with the doctor. Bridge out.” Marshall turned to Captain Ortega, “We'll get your people all fixed up. You are entitled to quarters, and all the holodeck privileges you want.”

“Thank you, captain,” Ortega said. “I need to use your conference room.”

“Go right ahead.”

Just then Forrest arrived on the bridge. “Captain Marshall, I may have an idea of why the Zurich was caught in the shockwave, but no idea what caused it.”

“Go on Forrest,” the captain replied, walking towards him. “We'll talk in my ready room.”

As the two exited the bridge, the turbolift doors opened. Victor Virtus limped onto the bridge, and Lieutenant Pakita moved aside as he struggled over to the Sciences station.

“Are you injured Lieutenant?” Pakita asked.

“Only my pride. Did we get everyone?”

“We believe so sir.”

“Good. I'm certain Captain Ortega will do a head count as soon as things calm down in medical. With that in mind, you remain here, and compile a list of everyone in our department with more than basic first aid training. Any that can be spared from their duties, have meet me cargo bay three.”

“Aye sir,” Maria dropped to a whisper. “Rumor has it the XO was injured.”

“Don't go around spreading rumors, but thanks for keeping me informed.”

Vic headed for the turbolift and mused again on the speed of scuttlebutt. “Deck 11.” As the doors closed he began prioritizing. One, injured personnel, two, cause of explosion, three, meeting with department heads that Captain will undoubtedly call, four, write report, five, brief science section chiefs based on data from three, six, food, seven, sleep if time permits before 0800. Vic lived by having a schedule, and hated having to modify and reorganize his plans, in spite of the fact that he was damn good at it.

Chapter 17Top

<location: main sickbay, USS Republic>

Moments earlier, the Republic’s sickbay had quieted down, as patients were transferred to other wards, and cargo bay two had been converted to a recovery center to handle the overflow of casualties. However, out of nowhere, numerous transport signatures signaled across nearly every open space in the main sickbay ward. Suddenly, the overcrowded scene from earlier repeated itself. Medics went dashing from patient to patient, helping them off the floor, or injecting a hypospray. The unexpected return to chaos caused Doctor Yezbeck to re-emerge from surgical suite four. Realizing that sickbay was even more overwhelmed with casualties than before, his jaw dropped, and a confused looked crept across his face.

“What in blazes is happening?” he asked.

A frantic nurse, who was helping an injured Zurich crewman onto a biobed, replied “I don’t know sir, they came out of nowhere!”

Without warning, the main doors to sickbay sprung open, and Doctor Cromwell came stomping through, followed by several of the medical field staff, Doctor Y’lair, and Doctor Fernmoore.

“Of all the goddamn, idiotic . . .” he bellowed, causing a surprised look to spring forth from Doctor Fernmoore and a raised eyebrow from the Vulcan Doctor Y’lair.

“What happened?” asked Doctor Yezbeck straightforwardly.

Flabbergasted, Doctor Cromwell responded “I wish I knew!” He held his hands in the air, accentuating every word with a somatic gesture. “I’m in the middle of surgery, and suddenly the call comes out to abandon ship! I try to explain that I need to stabilize some patients before transport, and I don’t want anyone left behind who needs medical help. So what do they do? The beam me and my staff away without so much as an apology!”

Calming down to take in the situation around him, the doctor looked around sickbay and asked “what’s the status of these patients?”

Doctor Yezbeck, still in his ruby-red surgical smock, shrugged his shoulders and replied. “They just arrived. Before that, we had a good handle on all the patients you were sending us.”

Suddenly, a female scream erupted from surgical suite two. Both Doctor Yezbeck and Cromwell turned to look at the door from where it came from. Already agitated, Leon briskly walked into the room to find the holographic doctor holding a tricorder wand over Commander Taylor. She was lying on the surgical bed, grabbing her abdomen, and wincing in pain.

“Now just hold still, Commander” came the calm British voice of the EMH. “I’ve got to diagnose the cause of your pain. If you don’t give me some cooperation, I’ll have to sedate you.”

“Lana!” shouted Doctor Cromwell.

Turning to see the civilian attire of the doctor, the indignant looking EMH replied “if you don’t mind, I’m busy with a patient. You’ll have to come back when I’m finished.”

Between her spasms of pain, Commander Taylor shouted “get this crazy thing away from me!”

“Now don’t struggle” ordered the annoying voice of the EMH. “It’s only going to make the pain worse.”

“What are you doing?” demanded Doctor Cromwell. “Give me that thing!” He swiped the tricorder from the hologram and began scanning Commander Taylor’s abdomen, giving no more thought to the EMH who stood there completely astounded.

“Who do you think you are?” demanded the holographic doctor. “I’m going to report you to the chief medical officer!”

Doctor Cromwell, annoyed and angered to no end, bellowed over his shoulder with increasing irritation and vehemence. “I AM the chief medical officer! Now get out there are start treating the wounded, you holo-projected ninny!”

With a stiff lower jaw, furrowed eyebrows, and hurt pride, the EMH left the surgical suite without another word, allowing Doctor Cromwell to continue his diagnosis.

“Easy, Lana” Leon crooned. “Let’s have a look here . . .”

He did his best to conceal the deep concern he had over Commander Taylor’s unborn child. With the chaos she just endured, Leon felt the knot growing in his stomach as he feared the worst.

<location: captain’s ready room, USS Republic>

Lieutenant Commander Douglas Forrest walked into the room, barely a step ahead of Captain Marshall. Marshall looked like a man in search of answers and none to accustomed to waiting long for them. It was time for Forrest to at least reveal part of the mystery. Marshall sat behind a mahogany desk, a picture of a much younger Marshall standing next to an older man, the only sacrifice to Spartan surface.

“You were saying.”, Marshall began.

“First off, Captain”, replied the weary-eyed Forrest “what I'm about to tell you is still highly classified by 'Fleet. Six years ago Starfleet Intelligence became aware of a conspiracy to infiltrate Starfleet and the Federation. Little was known about the creatures attempting this feat and Starfleet has made a great effort to recover as much data on them as possible. The Zurich was part of that mission, unbeknownst to her Captain and crew. The Zurich's sensors were programmed to recover the files of a deep space probe that had been relayed to a beacon hidden in the Rosara System. I believe that the beacon had been discovered and booby-trapped to destroy whatever ship was sent to recover the information. What they actually used to cause such an explosion is beyond my ability, but I'm betting Virtus and Sawyer could tell you once they get access to the Zurich's sensor readings.”

Captain Marshall looked at Forrest with disbelief, and all the intelligence officer could do in response was smile and nod his head.

“Sir,” continued Forrest. ”'Fleet feels it's imperative that the home world of these creatures be located. And the fact that the Rosara System is near Orion Syndicate space means that they may have been infiltrated as well. The Orions have always been closed to the Federation and near hostile with 'Fleet. We've never had a good idea of the Syndicate's military strength, disposition, or temperament. The only Federation ally close to them would be the Ferengi and they don't give information away cheaply. 'Fleet Intel has been trying to get someone on the inside of the Syndicate for years and had no luck.”

Marshall placed his elbows on the desk, his fingers stippled and rested lightly on his brow, Marshall looked like a man weighing some heavy loads.

“I'll take it under advisement. I'm going to have to discuss some things with Captain Ortega before I can allow us to proceed with this. Rest assured, something will be done. I can't say what at this time. Dismissed,” stated the Captain as he turned to look out the window. He saw the portrait of his ancestor and namesake, United States President James Marshall. “We live to fight another day Mister President.”

Just then the door chimed, and it was Sawyer.

Ashley walked into the ready room, and saw Captain Marshall and the Intelligence officer seated at the desk. She nodded to the two engineers who were with her to remain by the door, and she walked towards the desk. “Captain, Commander,” she began, “I have something that I should bring to your attention sir,” she said, absent-mindedly fingering her collar which still was devoid of rank pips.

“What is it Sawyer?” he asked noticing she didn't have her rank and insignia.

Ashley appeared deep in thought for a second, then straightened slightly and looked directly in the captains’ eyes. Sir, what I am about to tell you is in direct breach of the Temporal Prime Directive, but I feel it is imperative that we immediately take actions to protect this vessel against an impending attack from unknown assailants.” she said in all seriousness. As if to underscore the importance, she placed a futuristic PADD on the desk in front of him.

Marshall took the PADD and looked at the contents. He said, “These are for upgrades to the Republic, technology I've never seen. The Republic has got the latest technology on board, state of the art everything, why would we need this? We have a battle trained crew, a wonderful Engineering team, we can handle whatever may arise.”

“I would have to agree Captain, our first priority should be finding the homeworld of these beings that I was referring to,” said Forrest.

Ashley sighed and took a second to collect her thoughts. “Sir, this technology is from the future. This PADD was left here by a temporal agent who came on board shortly before we left drydock, during an incident that in some alternate timeline apparently resulted in the destruction of our ship on our first mission. It is my belief . . . that we are facing a similar situation now, and the future technology contained on this PADD was meant to be put on this vessel. In fact, I can say for a certainty that it is the correct course of action for us to take”, she said added.

Ashley now noticed that Forrest had been strangely quiet the entire time she was speaking, and assumed he was concerned over the implications of the future technology. Addressing them both equally now, she said, “sirs, I mulled this proposal over in my head for several hours now. I understand my duty as a Starfleet officer, and I also understand my duty to protect this vessel and its crew, and that’s what I'm trying to do here sir. This technology is not just laid out on this PADD as if it’s a manifest of the capabilities. This PADD contains precise instructions, tailored specifically for this vessel alone. I don't know about you, but that seems like more than a coincidence to me. I can't say for certain, because Daniels has not been seen since that day, but I think this was destined to…

At that moment, a polite cough was heard from the far side of the room by the replicator. Ashley glanced over, and was shocked to see someone who she could only guess was Daniels standing looking at them.

“I'm afraid she's right Captain,” said a voice Marshall didn't recognize. Just then the body appeared from the replicator alcove. It was a man, a little shorter than Marshall he was staring at them.

“Who are you?” asked the Captain.

Ashley spoke up before he had a chance to, “Captain, I believe this is Daniels. If that PADD is correct, then he is a temporal agent with a future Starfleet.” She looked over at Daniels, who was smiling cryptically. “Am I correct?”

The man answered, “That is correct. Captain Marshall, Lieutenant Commanders Sawyer and Forrest, what I have to say is of extreme importance. . .”

“First off,” Captain Marshall spoke up, “Where and when are you from?”

“Illinois, but not as you know it. In the thirty-first Century,” replied Daniels.

“Why are you here?” chimed in Forrest.

“Your assumption is correct. You are not alone in the sector. Captain, what you are about to face is a force bigger than anything the Federation has ever seen before. You are dealing with a race known only as the Kreltans.”

“Never heard of them,” replied Captain Marshall.

“History,” continued Daniels. “Records you made first contact with the Kreltans after the rescue of the Zurich in which the crews of both the Republic and the Zurich died with all hands. This wasn't supposed to happen that way. In the Kreltans dealings with the Orion Syndicate they learned of the Federation and set out to destroy it. Using those very beings Forrest was referring to, they tried to infiltrate Starfleet to do it. With a stolen Kessok weapon they caused the shockwave that wiped out the Zurich.”

“You say the Republic is not supposed to be destroyed? If I had to, I'd lay down my life for the Federation . . .” started the Captain.

<location: unknown>

“Recognize this place?” asked Daniels.

“Earth,” replied Sawyer.

“I know the remains of that building. It's Starfleet Command . . .” said Forrest.

“Looks like it was done a long time ago,” said the Captain.

“It was. This is what Earth looks like due to the results of the Kreltan Massacre of 2385, which could have been prevented. History records you, Captain

Marshall, and the Republic doing so much more than stopping them. You remind me too much of Archer,” said Daniels.

“Jonathan Archer? You've met him?” asked Sawyer.

“Yes, there's more. There is a temporal cold war being fought across space and time and on many fronts. One of those is in Archer's time, and another is here. Captain, it is imperative that the Kreltans be stopped until Starfleet can build up its defenses long enough to permanently deal with them.”

<Location: Ready Room, USS Republic>

Daniels was gone.

“Well, he confirmed what I had suspected,” said Forrest.

“Sawyer, make any repairs that you need and then begin the upgrades. . .” Marshall noticed another PADD on his desk. He picked it up and saw what was on it, data on the Kreltans. “Their warships are comparable to a Reman Warbird but not as advanced. We've got a job to do, let's do it.”

“I'll get right on it sir,” said Sawyer as she put her rank and insignia back on.

=/\= “Cromwell to Captain Marshall.” =/\=

The Captain winced. This day was not going well, and the last thing he needed was another argument from his medical chief. He clenched his jaw muscle and rubbed his forehead, not sure of whether to ask the doctor for a headache remedy, or to bark an order confining him to quarters. Raising his eyebrows in exasperation, the captain tapped his combadge.

“Doctor, if this is another one of your insubordinate tirades about my order to evacuate the Zurich, I'm really not in the mood for it right now. In fact . . .”

The doctor responded with enough concern and professional demeanor in his voice that it caused the captain to set aside his current annoyance with him.

=/\= “It's not, sir. It's Commander Taylor. I think you'd better get down here.” =/\=

Marshall's mouth went dry as he said, “I'll be right down. Forrest, tell Carter he has the bridge.”

<location: shuttlecraft DesCartes, prior to docking in USS Republic>

Shuttle DesCartes came to an easy rest on the polished dura-steel plating of Republic's shuttle bay. John Carter reviewed his power-down sequence and spoke absent-mindedly. “I'd like to thank you for flying Barsoom Airways,” John released his restraints and stood up, “please return your chairs and tray-tables to their upright and locked positions.” As Carter moved toward the shuttle's crew area, he saw that Shannon Harris was shaking her head.

“Do you take ANYTHING seriously, Lieutenant Commander?” Harris knelt down in front of McGruder who had, along with a second engineering crewman, been the object of Carter's latest last-minute rescue. The Med Tech ran the scanner head of her tri-corder over McGruder's arm, and called back to her Martian companion. “Congratulations.” she said somewhat coldly. “McGruder's got a broken arm.” Harris reached in her tool kit for the portable bone knitter. Next to her, John Carter was helping the second engineer to his feet.

“Could be worse Lieutenant.”

“He's right, Ma'am.” McGruder added. “We could be sucking vacuum right now.”

“Don't encourage him!” the Doctor shot back. Then she smiled wryly. “This process doesn't HAVE to be painless you know.”

McGruder smiled as he heard the humor in his Doctor's voice. “Duly noted, Ma'am.”

John and the other engineer limped over to the shuttle's loading ramp control and soon the cabin was filled with the low hum of servomotors. The light from the shuttle bay and the smell of freshly recycled air were a welcome change from the cramped conditions of the shuttle. Carter was pleased as a second Med Tech appeared at the bottom of the ramp to receive any casualties from the shuttle.

“I've got him Commander,” the tech said calmly as he took the Engineer off John's shoulder. Then the tech turned to address Doctor Harris. “Doctor Cromwell needs you in sickbay stat, Ma'am.”

Harris gave a curt nod. “I'm sure we're overloaded down there.”

“And a half, Ma'am.”

Shannon Harris finished treating McGruder's injury and then went to help the second Med Tech, sliding herself under the wounded engineer's right arm. “Ok, take it slow.” She said. It looked for a moment like she was about to turn her head to address John, but the ship-wide com interrupted her.

=/\= “Forrest to Carter. You're ordered to assume command of the Bridge.” =/\=

John called out to Forrest's disembodied voice. “Carter to Bridge. I'm inbound.” Then he turned to look at Harris. “No rest for the wicked, Doctor.” Carter made a quick jog for the nearest turbo-lift.

“Let's hope not.” Harris added, knowing the departing officer couldn't hear her.

John Carter winced subconsciously as the turbo-lift doors opened…silently, onto the bridge of the U.S.S. Republic. He made a quick turn to his left and strode down the gentle slope of the ramp to what most officers referred to as “The Pit”, or, the sunken area on the bridge where senior officers traditionally kept watch over the goings on the bridge.

Carter hesitated for a second as he approached the center seat, as if silently asking the Captain's permission to take his spot.

As he settled into the command chair, John looked at Forrest. “Status report please, commander?”

“Both Captain Marshall and the XO are in sickbay.”

That wasn't good news.

“We're at red alert, per Captain's last order before turning over the bridge.”

“Right,” John nodded. He looked over to the Officer seated at his left. “Ops. Huh?”

Revas was nodding towards the viewscreen.

“Okay then,” John looked ahead to the main viewer, seeing what was left of the U.S.S. Zurich, which now hung in two pieces; her saucer having been separated from the secondary hull because of intense gravitic stress. “Someone want to tell me what hit the Zurich? 'Cause it sure as Hell wasn't just the graviton wave…”

<location: corridor, Deck 12, USS Republic>

The red tracer lights pulsated along the walls of the Republic's corridor as her commanding officer walked through a pair of sliding mechanical doors. With a pneumatic hiss, the entrance to sickbay parted and Captain Marshall crossed the threshold into the main ward. The medical complex was brimming with patients from the Zurich, but between the minutes of the last mass transport from the doomed vessel, and the moment the captain walked in, the well-trained medical staff of the Republic brought the situation under control. Although all biobeds were full, patients were no longer littering the floor, nor overflowing the other triage wards.

The captain continued his walk past the first few biobeds, scanning the large room from side to side. Realizing who had arrived, the young, black-haired holographic doctor walked up to him and spoke in an irritated British accent.

“Captain, I must comment that I do not like the attitude of your chief medical officer.”

Captain Marshall, recognizing the infamous image of Doctor Bashir from Deep Space Nine, realized that the EMH program was up and running during this most recent crisis. He barely took notice of the computerized replication.

“That makes two of us” he replied before turning away towards a nurse who was attending a bed-ridden Zurich crewman. “Where's Doctor Cromwell?” he asked.

The nurse pointed to a closed door along a wall whose surface contained the slim graphical text found on so many shipboard doors throughout Starfleet. It read “Surgical Suite Two,” and the wall panel to the right, which would have indicated “Surgery In Progress” if it was being utilized for such, was not illuminated. The captain wasted no time and proceeded through the door.

Inside, Doctor Cromwell was wearing a light blue physician's jacket over his V-neck jumpsuit, and reviewing a large wall-mounted viewscreen that contained numerous indicator graphics, bio-readouts, and animated images of rotating protein molecules. The surgical bed supported an unconscious Commander Taylor encapsulated from neck to heels in the tetrahedral construct of a surgical support module. Like the viewscreen on the wall, the top of the contraption was replete with computer readouts, as well as one large animated graphic of a placental-encased embryo. Captain Marshall came to a halt inside the small room, and as the door slid closed behind him, Doctor Cromwell turned around to face him with a very sober, serious expression.

“What happened?” asked the captain.

In full diagnosis mode, the doctor proceeded to offer an explanation. “She nearly had a miscarriage” he explained. “Although I cannot pinpoint the exact reason of why, the commander has been under an intense amount of stress, and inter-species pregnancies can sometimes have severe complications unto their own.”

Unsure of exactly what the doctor meant by complications, the only words the captain could say after looking at the immobile form of Lana on the surgical bed was “will she be okay?”

“That depends” offered the doctor. “The commander is currently sedated, but she has some decisions to make when I wake her.”

The captain frowned and said “what kind of decisions?”

“Well, her system is undergoing pre-mature labor. I've given her medication that will delay a premature birth, but I can't keep doing it for the next five to six months required for the fetus to complete it's gestation period. Hormones are surging through her body, some human and some non-human, and it thinks that now is the time to give birth.”

“There's got to be something you can do” retorted Captain Marshall.

“Well, ordinarily I would attempt a series of hormonal therapies combined with protein-activators to trick her body back into thinking that it's not time give birth. Unfortunately . . .”

“Yes?” the captain urged with impatience.

“Well, there's the interspecies aspect” Leon explained. “Not only is there human and Betazoid DNA associated with this child, but I'm detecting some far-removed Romulan DNA on the forty-fifth chromosome. This is causing an immune-system response to the embryo, and the commander's body is rejecting it. If I stop her labor now, her immune system would eventually reject the embryo, and then we have the problem of an in-eutero infection as well as a bunch of other nasty problems. If I attempt a shutdown of the immune system to prevent rejection, not only will the commander have to remain in a sterilization field for the next several months, but she'll also have to be sustained through direct-protein transfer, and most importantly, the fetus itself won't develop a proper immune system. With an inter-species child, a malfunctioning or non-existent immune system means it probably won't survive beyond it’s first year of life.”

“Doctor!” exclaimed the Captain. “In English!”

Doctor Cromwell closed his eyes and recapitulated his explanation. “Her child is only four months developed. Unfortunately, one way or another, Commander Taylor is going to have to give birth. Not in five or six months like she should, but now. A premature birth this early means certain death for the child.”

The shock of the words reverberated through the captain's mind. There was a moment of silence before his now raspy voice asked the next question.

“What are her options?”

“There are two,” the doctor said. “First, there's the embryonic gestation chamber: a piece of Borg technology brought back from the Delta Quadrant by the USS Voyager. Starfleet Medical has made leaps and bounds in the field of embryonics due to its introduction a few years ago. However, the computer models I've run indicate that transferring an embryo as young as Commander Taylor's would have a very low possibility of success: less than twenty percent. Doctor Shannon Harris is our resident embryologist and pediatrician. With her help, I might be able to suggest a more optimistic success rate of fifty percent. However, even with that risk, there's also the very real chance that we'll lose Commander Taylor herself in the process. The human and non-human pregnancy hormones in her system would likely cause a negative and irreversible cascading systemic effect at the sudden loss of the placenta. One of the effects of this systemic impact would be a hybrid eclampsia resulting in her death.”

“I don't like that option” replied the captain. “What's the other?”

Doctor Cromwell sighed and said, “the second has the best possibility of saving Commander Taylor's life but would result in the loss of the child.”

“You mean abort the pregnancy? Doctor, I don't even think you could . . .”

“No” said the doctor. “With the technology available to us, I can offer her an alternative. Perhaps you’re familiar with the phenomena of embryonic resorption. Some species of placental mammals, when pregnant and overstressed, have the ability to reabsorb their growing fetuses. Since all mammals have a common ancestor in their evolutionary lineage, they all possess the genes capable of resorption, although are not expressed among most mammalian species. I can use a gene-activator protein and instruct her RNA to begin manufacturing the appropriate enzymes to naturally reabsorb her embryo. In a few days, Commander Taylor would be back on her feet minus one unborn child.”

“And those are her only options? Those do not sound like very good ones” remarked the captain with ominous overtones.

“Worse still” replied the doctor, “they’re not your decisions to make.” He picked up a hypospray from the instrument repository in the corner, and inserted a vial of stimulant. Dialing the dosage level, he gently reached over to the sedated Commander Taylor, and pressed the instrument at the base of her neck. Within seconds, Lana began to gain consciousness.

As painless, drug-induced lucidity dawned upon her, Captain Marshall and Doctor Cromwell calmly explained to her the dilemma with as much comfort and compassion as they could muster.

When Lana awoke and heard the options presented to her and her baby, she wept for several minutes. After calming down, she looked at Captain Marshall straight in the eyes as she said to the doctor…“Do what you have to do to save the baby. I don't care what it takes. Now that I have said that, Doctor, will you please let me and the captain have a few minutes?” she asked.

Lana really wanted to spend time with Jim before Leon done anything to her and the baby.

The doctor nodded solemnly. “I understand. I have to coordinate with Lieutenant Virtus and Doctor Harris to fabricate the gestation chamber anyway.” He beganto walk towards the door, but stopped and turned around.

“I just want you to know” he added, “that we’ll do everything within our power to make sure that both you and your baby will come out of this okay. You have my word on that.”

With that, Doctor Cromwell nodded to Captain Marshall and exited the surgical suite.

Jim focused his entire attention on Lana. He couldn't help hurting for her. He knew it would be difficult and tried to encourage her some.

“Lana,” he began, “I know you're in a tough spot, and I know how hard this must be for you. I want you to know that I'm here for you. If you need anything, and I don't care what it may be, let me know. Don't worry about your duties for right now . . .”

Lana cut him off as she said that. When she heard Jim say that he would do anything for her, she thought of one thing that she wanted him to do for her.

“Jim, the only thing I want is for you to stay with me the whole time. I don't want to be alone, and I know with you there, I will be okay,” she said looking in his eyes.

She then drifted off for a moment. Like she remembered something. Then she looked back at him, but she had a slight distant look in her eyes. “I love you,” she said before she drifted off to sleep.

Marshall's heart stopped as he heard what Lana had said. Just before she drifted off he managed to tell her, “I love you too Lana.”

Chapter 18Top

<location: USS Republic, sickbay, main ward>

Doctor Cromwell emerged from the surgical suite, embroiled in his own thoughts. He was concerned, but not altogether surprised, that Commander Taylor chose the surgical option that caused the most danger to her own life. “There’s not a day or night” thought the doctor, “that a mother wouldn’t offer her own life for her own child.” He stood there, releasing an audible sigh. The doctor was exhausted, yet there was much work to do. The ship was less that 24 hours out of drydock and they’ve already tackled a major mission. “What’s next?” he thought.

As if an answer was bestowed upon him by fate, a voice pulled him back to the present situation. “If it isn't too much of a hassle, I would like to know how my crew is faring. I don't see Doctor Deyer here so I assume she's in one of the other triage wards.” Looking up to see a grime-filled uniform of a Starfleet captain, the Doctor could only speculate on who this new face was.

“Captain Ortega, I presume?” responded Doctor Cromwell. As the newcomer nodded a positive response, a confused looked spread across Leon’s face as he looked around sickbay. “Unfortunately, when I returned to the Zurich, an incident with one of our own officers took my attention.” The doctor then spoke into mid-air. “Computer, location of Doctor Deyer from the Zurich?”

“Lieutenant Commander Deyer is in cargo bay two.” Came the disembodied and monotone voice of the Republic’s computer.

The doctor nodded with comprehension and returned his attention to Captain Ortega. “My staff turned cargo bay two into a recovery ward” he said. “From the looks of it, most of your people who have been treated and need convalescence are probably there. Other less severe injuries were probably treated and discharged back to duty. The serious cases will remain in sickbay. I can say with certainty that all the injured that made it to the Zurich’s sickbay are okay, as they were transferred directly here. For that matter, any of your crew who made it to the Republic are, at the very least, stable, since Doctor Yezbeck (one of my assistants) didn’t report any post-evacuation deaths.”

Doctor Cromwell rubbed his forehead, and raised his eyebrows. At that very moment, Doctor Shannon Harris walked into sickbay looking slightly light-headed. “Feel free to inspect your crew either here or in cargo bay two,” said the doctor to Captain Ortega. “If you’ll excuse me, I have another situation that requires my attention.” Leon then proceeded to intercept Doctor Harris.

“What happened to you?” asked Doctor Cromwell.

Harris gave a half smirk, then replied “I finished a date with a flight jock.”

“You what?” asked Leon, rather confused.

“Never mind” she replied, shaking her head. “What can I help with here?”

Cromwell lowered his voice and began filling her in on the situation with Commander Taylor. “Our exec is undergoing several serious complications to her pregnancy. We’re going to attempt a placental transfer to an embryonic gestation chamber. . . “

“A gestation chamber?” balked Doctor Harris. “Does she know the risks involved?”

Leon motioned her to lower her voice “yes, I explained everything to her. She wants to do everything possible to save the baby. Right now I need you to go to the science chief’s office and work with Lieutenant Virtus to fabricate the chamber. You have until 1500 hours tomorrow to get it finished, as that’s the time I’m planning the surgery. It’ll be a joint operation between you and me. You’ll be responsible for the embryonic transfer, and I’ll be focusing on my efforts to keep Commander Taylor alive.”

Concerned, Harris nodded her head slowly and responded, “yes doctor.” She then proceeded to turn around and exit sickbay. Just then, the com system came to life.

=/\= “Virtus to Sickbay. I and seven members of life sciences are in bay two. We all have some form of intermediate or advanced medical training. Where can we be of the most use?” =/\=

<location: USS Republic, cargo bay two>

Lieutenant Virtus and his life sciences staff stood among a huge layout of double bunk beds anchored to the cargo bay floor. Mounted on the metal supports between each bed was a double-screened diagnostic console. Every bed contained a recovering Zurich crewman, and a handful of blue-uniformed medical technicians went from bed to bed, checking the status of each patient.

Towards the end of the long rows of bunks, gold-uniformed engineering crews were busily installing more beds. As they acknowledged completion of one bed, a veil of transporter energy engulfed it, and two patients appeared on both levels. A medtech quickly came over to secure the newcomers into recovery status.

The com system replied to Victor’s call.

=/\= “This is Cromwell. Thanks for your help, lieutenant. Doctor Deyer from the Zurich should be down there somewhere. Have your people report to her for help in our makeshift recovery ward. As for you, I have an urgent project in need of your expertise. Doctor Harris is on her way to your office and will fill you in. Cromwell out.” =/\=

“Acknowledged, doctor.”

Victor Xavier Virtus would admit to himself (in his darker moments of hubris) that he was a genius. His pre-fleet education, academy career, and performance in multiple tours of duty all confirmed this. He was qualified to serve in Engineering, Sciences and Medical, and was working on Command. He enjoyed Federation history, considered searching for loopholes in Star Fleet regulations an evening's diversion, and spoke a little Romulan. But he knew his limits, and they were being pushed. Even he could not be in three places at once. But he could do something almost as good . . .

Vic turned to his makeshift medical team. “Lieutenant Lee, take your people and find Doctor Dryer. He or she is somewhere in this cargo bay. Assist the doctor in any way you can.”

“Virtus to Pakita.”

=/\= “Here sir.” =/\=

“Scan for the Zurich's emergency log buoy. It should still be within sensor range. Our new Intel officer may even be able to give you the frequency of the buoy’s locator beacon if you ask nicely. Virtus out.”

Such information is normally classified to prevent enemy ships from intercepting log buoys, but Vic had a sneaking suspicion that Lieutenant Commander Forrest had clearances that the majority of Star Fleet were not even aware existed.

“Virtus to Harris. I am making my way to my office, and will be there in three minutes, forty-five seconds.”

Vic had been improving. In the past, back in his days in engineering, he wouldn't have rounded to the nearest fifteen seconds. But highly accurate temporal relationships were meaningless to your average member of Star Fleet, who finds the difference between 225 seconds and 232 seconds to be insignificant. To an engineer, important events were measured in femtoseconds, and whole theoretical universes could be born, mature, and collapse in the time it took to blink. But the standard starship crewman could not only fail to grasp the importance of time, but tended to become confused by any measurement of time more accurate than the minute, nor was your average ensign interested in how you broke down the journey from Main Engineering to the Holodeck into 17 contiguous pieces, having a minimum interval travel time of 2.2 seconds, and a maximum interval travel time of 41.7 seconds.

Vic ran his fingers through his short brown hair. The trouble with being a genius is often the result of being too smart for one's own good; over thinking a problem. The problem with being awake for twenty-two hours was that one's performance would start to degrade, and the mind would begin to wander… and Vic's mind wandered under normal circumstances.

Vic shook his head to clear it. The meeting with the Doctor was now the first priority. While impossible to be in three places at once without encountering a spatial paradox, it was possible to have one's influence felt in three or more places at the same time. Vic left the bay for his office.

<location: sickbay, main ward, USS Republic>

As Doctor Cromwell finished his conversation with Lieutenant Virtus, he proceeded to a nurse who was completing work on a Zurich crewman.

“Nurse,” he beckoned in a low voice. “When the captain comes out of the surgical suite, please have him meet me in my office. At the same time, I need you to go to Commander Taylor in the surgical suite, and go over the at-risk surgical checklist. She’ll need to review her will, have someone secure her belongings, and send messages to loved ones. When she’s done, make sure she gets some sedatives. She’s likely to have a sleepless night without them.”

The nurse nodded and was about to turn away when the doctor added “one more thing. Keep this under your hat. It’s a confidential situation and we don’t want everyone on the crew to be speculating on her condition. Okay?”

“Yes doctor” she replied, then excused herself to ready the necessary materials.

Doctor Cromwell glanced about and reviewed the hustling and exhausted staff throughout sickbay. With a frown, he tapped his combadge.

<location: chief engineer’s office, USS Republic>

“Computer,” Lieutenant Commander Sawyer beckoned to the ship’s custodian. “Activate new power grid addition from Matrix 639 through 852. Transfer new system integration routines to all applicable main bridge consoles.”

=/\= “Acknowledged.” =/\=

“Disable main sensor grid, and transfer ODN connections to the Multi-Spectral Sensor array.”

=/\= “Acknowledged.” =/\=

“Reroute deuterium regulator flow into the new warp casing system.”

=/\= “Acknowledged.” =/\=

Ashley stood back from the MSD. “Okay guys, let's bring everything online. Computer, Begin level 1 diagnostic on all new systems.”

=/\= “Multi-Spectral Sensor array . . . online. Enhanced Quadra-lithium transwarp drive . . . power level at 35% and rising, WARNING, Warp Field unstable. Chroniton Neutronium Matter/Anti-Matter Torpedo launching system . . . full power available, full yield levels. Neutronium enhanced shield generators . . . online, conventional and enhanced shield at 78%. Ablative Armor Generator . . . Offline, WARNING: insufficient power to main generators to initiate system. Type XVI Neutronium Phaser arrays . . . Online, full yield levels. Diagnostic Complete.” =/\=

Ashley frowned. “Let's get those last systems online and get the power levels at least 95% within the next two hours, people. Let's move!”

The Republic was now a totally new ship.

<location: main bridge, USS Republic>

On Republic's bridge, John Carter listened as his operations officer gave his assessment. John leaned forward bracing himself with his forearm. 'Disruptor signatures', he thought, 'and too much particle interference to see if there are any warp signatures.' Carter shook his head. He didn't much like what he was thinking at all.

John glanced at Revas, the Ops Officer. “Thanks for the input lieutenant.” The other officer seemed relieved as John noted his work, but Carter had bigger things on his mind. “Tactical,” he called out firmly, just a bit surprised at the voice that called back, because it wasn't his own.

“Standing by, Commander.”

“Intensify scans on the area near Zurich's saucer.” John ordered. “Stand-by on tractor beams. I want to make absolutely sure we don't leave anyone out in the Black.”

The danger of that was more real than Carter was comfortable admitting to himself. The graviton wave, however it had started, made local space the equivalent of a parsecs wide fog bank. Passive scans were only good at short range, and while Republic could focus sensors and cut through the interference, it was a lot like navigating through that same fogbank with a flashlight, so finding Zurich's life-pods, if any, would be a little tricky. More than that, John was agreeing with Exander's analysis. Zurich had been hit by a weapon, and he had no way of knowing if Zurich's attackers had gone.

Carter gave himself a mental shake. 'First things first.' “Helm?”

Ensign Zelk answered back, “aye, sir.”

“All ahead easy Mister Zelk,” he said. “Thrusters only please.” John knew it was important to keep the bridge crew's confidence in him high, so he decided to start with something he hoped would be easy, and he had to be sure about the life pods.

“Stay sharp on the lateral sensors, Tac.” It pleased John to feel how easy it was to be comfortable with the crew, and that showed in his use of nicknames wit most of the crew. He watched as the officers on the bridge went about their jobs. 'Fleet had trained all of these people well, and John Carter knew they were up to the task.

The image of Zurich's severed primary hull grew larger as Republic crept closer on reaction thrusters. The search had to be slow, thorough, and absolutely right. Moments ticked by, and Carter, along with the bridge crew, waited in silence until the ship's com beeped to life.

=/\= “Sickbay to bridge. This is Doctor Cromwell. I’d like to submit a request that you secure the ship from red alert. My alpha shift is completely exhausted, and I'd like to make sure I have a fresh gamma shift come 0100 hours. I'm assuming other department heads are having similar concerns. Cromwell out.”=/\=

“Carter here, Doctor. Stand by.” John rubbed the back of his neck, and weighed his options. The Doctor had a point. Republic's Alpha shift had been on duty for almost 14 hours, minus the twenty minutes of down time they had enjoyed before detecting Zurich's distress call. Everyone on board had done well, but John knew that if they were pushed much harder, even the best of them would begin making mistakes. Not good if one was trying to keep a fellow crewman alive.

Carter gave a look to Lieutenant Revas, sitting at his left. John felt his eyebrows raise, asking silently, 'Yellow alert?'

Next to John, Exander gave a crooked nod that John took to mean 'Seems all right to me.'

“Shipwide com please, Tac.” Carter heard the familiar chirp from the tactical console. Whatever he said next would be carried throughout the ship.

=/\= “Attention all hands. This is Lieutenant Commander Carter. Stand down from red alert. We are at condition yellow.” =/\=

Yellow alert meant a few things. Firstly, the ship's shields and defensive systems would remain on line and fully powered, keeping the ship safe. Second, powering down the weapons would free up valuable power to other areas of the ship, and perhaps most important, it would allow the ship's Alpha Watch to get some rest.

John noted the change in ship's status on the log, and then turned his attention to fixing Republic's sensor blindness. To John's mind, that sounded like a job for the ship's Chief Engineer. “Bridge to Lieutenant Commander Sawyer.” he called out.

There was no response.

“Computer?” John asked. “Location of Chief Engineer Sawyer?”

=/\= “Lieutenant Commander Sawyer is not onboard the Republic.” =/\=

“What the Hell ?!?” was John's stunned response.

Douglas Forrest sank heavily into the cushioned seat to the right of Lieutenant Commander Carter. The past few hours had come at him in a blur. Forrest's eyes gazed over to the duffle bag still sitting next to the turbo lift doors, his possessions, still without a home. Forrest gestured to a nearby ensign and pointed at his duffle.

“Ensign”, he began, “could you see that my gear gets stowed away in my quarters, then let me know exactly where those quarters are?”

“Yes, sir,” snapped the ensign, as he grabbed the bag, looking at the strange wooden club strapped across the top.

Forrest turned and looked at Carter, his brown eyes judging the man sitting in the captain's chair. Forrest once again slipped into the fugue state and began recalling all the information he had read on the famous Lieutenant Commander John Thelonius Carter. Forrest smiled and could help but think about the fun this was going to be.

Forrest began typing a series of commands into the armrest display PADD and began checking the engineering files on the modifications that Sawyer had begun to the Republic. Strange technical displays and notations began scrawling across the screen. Forrest was most assuredly beyond his element. He just wondered the reasoning behind the order to the upgrades without proper 'Fleet approval. Hell half this stuff was beyond replicator capabilities, yet Sawyer and her people were getting it done. Starfleet engineers, also called the Miracle Workers.

“So, Commander,” Forest began as he turned to look at the Martian, “we should look at getting the Zurich crew off on one of those nearby ships.”

“Yeah you've got a point there,” replied Carter, a slight hint of something hidden behind his words.

“Commander,” continued Forrest, “when you get a chance we need to have a talk. A private little chat. Something away from rank. Because I hear you think you can play.” Forrest smiled. Time to see what this Carter was capable of, what the records and reports couldn't tell you. Because if Forrest's gut was right, a lot of people were going to be depending on the man sitting to his left.

The smirk returned, and John could feel it. That particular facial gesture had always been Carter's brain's way of saying; 'Okay, I've got it.' John looked at Commander Forrest as a false of recognition went through his mind. “Well,” John said calmly, “I think a lot of things. He settled back in the Captain's chair. “For example,” he continued, “right now I'm thinking you're the same Douglas Forrest who holds the Academy Lacrosse record.”

Forrest chuckled and nodded. “That's right. I see my reputation precedes me.”

“Not exactly,” John joked back, “Isn't your reputation classified?”

Some very important parts of John Carter's life were parts he would never be able to talk about. From the flight-testing of the U.S.S. Defiant, to his rather unique standing in the eyes of the Romulan government, John had long decided he'd had more than his fill of Starfleet Intel. The “black shirts”, as most of the fleet called them (a reference to the days when Fleet uniforms consisted of red over-tunics and branch colored collars. Intel collars were black), had a tendency to keep things to themselves. The problem with that is that John Carter had learned long ago that a lack of information can kill you, and he knew better than any Admiral, or damned, upstart Black Shirt, the things he needed to know.

John laughed again. 'And now he needs to prove he's the big dog.' Carter glanced back at Forrest. “Tell you what Commander,” he offered, “Once we get ourselves down to one ship's worth of crew, I'll make sure you get an invite to the poker game.”

Forrest looked a little confused.

“Unless you were talking about a real game?” John asked. “But . . . you know better than that. Don't you.”

<location: chief surgeon’s office, USS Republic>

“Doctor,” Captain Marshall said, walking into Leon’s office. “Commander Taylor wants me in the operating room with her. She'll feel better knowing I'm nearby and frankly we need to make her as comfortable as possible. I can do a lot of minor things in the operating room if you need me to.”

The Doctor slowly looked up from his monitor, and looked the Captain in the eye, squinting slightly with his eyebrows folded into a scowl. He looked as if he was about to say something, then cleared his throat and leaned back in his chair.

“Tell me something, captain” the doctor finally said. “Would you want your boss looking over your shoulder while you were trying to do your job?” Realizing he might have crossed the line yet again, Leon offered “if that’s what Lana wants, fine. However, once she’s put under, I’d feel better if you were a quiet observer. My people and I know our job, and I’m just as concerned as you are about Commander Taylor.”

Doctor Cromwell held an extended hand out to the seat in front of his desk, inviting the captain to sit. As Jim complied, Leon sat forward again, leaning on the desk and folding his hands.

“Besides,” he continued. “I’m a little concerned about your feelings for her.”

“What do you mean?” the captain erupted, flaring with animosity.

“I’m not blind,” replied the doctor. “I know it’s not place to say anything, but I think you should consider that you’ve only known Commander Taylor for a few short hours. She’s under a lot of stress with the trauma of her new position, the recent death of her husband, and now the possible loss of her child and her own life. She’s reaching out for someone to care about her, and offer affection. I’m concerned that you may be placing your feelings for her ahead of your responsibility for the crew of this ship.”

“That’s not true!” the captain shot back, lifting himself out of his seat slightly. “And my personal life is none of your business!”

Doctor Cromwell held his hands up in front of him as he sat back in his chair. “This is only an observation,” he said defensively. “Not an accusation. Some of the crew have already mumbled speculations on the situation between you two, and I thought you should know. I’m no authority on Starfleet regulations, save that of medical. However, I think you should enlist the advice of your own senior staff regarding the possibility of a conflict of interest.”

“That reminds me. Since Lana will be undergoing a risky surgery, you may want to consider adjusting the chain-of-command on the ship to induct the next in line as the new, temporary first officer. I’ve already taken Taylor off the active duty roster, and if she survives the operation, she’ll need some convalescence before I return her to a light duty schedule. Having someone to take over for her in the meantime would be a prudent course of action, I think.”

The doctor looked back into the stressed, tired, and visibly frustrated eyes of the captain. This most recent mission has taken a toll on the crew, and Leon knew with experience that the Republic’s commanding officer was on the edge himself. Standing up, Leon went to fetch his boarding bag that he left in the office after his arrival hours earlier. Prying open the hinged cover, he produced a pyramidal-shaped glass bottle filled with a bright green liquid. Reaching over to the wall-mounted drink replicator, the doctor tapped a few buttons and two empty drinking vessels appeared in the serving chamber. He placed the glasses on the desk and began pouring the vermilion beverage into the cups.

“I know we’ve been getting under each other’s skin lately,” said Leon with a hint of regret. “The situation with the Zurich evacuation angered me because if I was transported less than a minute earlier, my hands would have been in the flesh of a patient. Too many times during the Dominion Wars I’ve seen medics and their patients beamed away, causing the techs to botch an operation in the matter-stream. It only takes the slight involuntary movement of a laser-scalpel to cut a major artery or nerve cord. However, I think we can get past rubbing each other the wrong way if we hold a mutual respect for each other’s position, and consult one another when we make decisions that effect our immediate duties. Agreed?”

The doctor picked up his drink, but noticed the captain’s reluctance to take his own glass from the desk. “Didn’t you hear?” Leon asked. “Carter put us at yellow alert. That means we’re off duty—that is, if you wish to be. Besides, you’re looking a little stressed, so consider this my prescribed remedy. Aldeberan whiskey, and a fine year, I might add.” Leon held his drink in the air, offering a toast. “To the Republic, and to her executive officer. May they both sail through this turbulent time in their lives.”

“To the future,” said Marshall as they both drank. “I tell you what Leon, I trust you. Why don't we do this instead so that I won't be in your way during the procedure. Before you put her under I'll be there and just before you bring her out of it page me and I'll come right back down. The way I figure it, she'll never know the difference and it'll free me up to attend to ship's business.”

“Sounds good to me Captain,” said the good doctor.

“When we're off duty, call me Jim,” said the Captain.

“Jim it is then,” said Leon.

“You were wrong about how long I've known Lana. I knew her during my first assignment at the Academy. Some cadets were harassing her, and I put a stop to it. We dated until I got transferred, I never got to say good-bye. I never expected to see her again. I figure I've broken about half a dozen regs by now.” Jim said.

“I see, this really puts you in a tough spot, the re-opening of old wounds. Remember you're the Captain she's the XO. Don't do anything that takes away from that otherwise it makes for a very uncomfortable situation for us all,” Leon advised.

Jim replied, “I'm aware of that. The Admiralty forced me into this command. I knew full well that I wasn't ready but they insisted on giving me the Republic. Now that I'm here I guess I still have some learning to do, but I really need the crew to trust me.”

“Then stop acting like an Exec and think like a Captain. You might surprise yourself.”

“Already working on it, I've got to go make Carter Acting XO and then I intend to sleep for a while. Let me know if anything urgent happens Leon.”

“Will do Jim,” said Leon.

As the captain walked out of his office, Leon slumped back into his seat nursing his drink. The frustrations of the day seem to melt slowly away with each sip, and when the glass was empty, he placed his and the captain’s into the beverage dispenser on the wall. As the drinking vessels were whisked away, the doctor packed up his select bottle of spirits, and placed it carefully back into his cylindrical boarding bag.

=/\= “Doctor . . . Commander Taylor is awake.” =/\=

The warble of the COM system broke the silence in the small office. As Leon stood up to answer the nurse’s call, he became light-headed and slightly dizzy. Placing a palm on his forehead, he closed his eyes and mumbled “I should remember not to drink those quite so fast.” Regaining his composure, he walked over to the com panel and replied to the medical technician.

“Acknowledged, I’ll be right there.”

Leon let out a loud sigh and raised his eyebrows in fatigue as he picked up his boarding bag and slung it over his shoulder. Looking back towards the desk, he noticed that the ivory turtleneck sweater he was wearing before the red alert sounded was handing on the back of his chair. Wanting to check on his only resident-crew patient before turning in for the night, he decided against dressing down and instead slung the garment over his other shoulder before proceeding to exit the office.

In the surgical suite, the nurse was finalizing the at-risk surgical checklist with an understandably distraught Commander Taylor. She was forced to double-check her posthumous arrangements while at the same time reserving her concern and sorrow for her unborn child. The nurse had removed the surgical support module, and slightly elevated the head-end of the surgical table. Lana, who had changed out of her uniform into a clean in-patient smock, wiped away a tear as she signed off on her text messages to loved ones. “Thank you, nurse.” She sniffed, attempting to make a smile.

As Leon walked into the suite, the nurse looked towards him and announced “she’s all finished, doctor. Everything is in order for the procedure.”

Doctor Cromwell replied “Thanks. I’ll take it from here. Now go get some sleep.”

As the relieved nurse walked out, Leon looked at Lana with a fatherly expression. “You look a little frazzled” he jested.

“That’s the understatement of the century” came the sarcastic reply from Taylor.

Adjusting his expression back to his concerned, professional demeanor, the doctor continued. “Don’t worry, Lana. I’ve got the best people on this ship working on the problem. I’m certain we’ll be able to pull you and junior through this.”

Leon walked over to a wall console and dialed a few commands. The large wall-mounted view screen, which originally contained bio-readouts and medical graphics, was replaced with a nighttime, outdoor tropical landscape complete with a star-sparkled sky and a dazzling aurora on the distant horizon. As the doctor adjusted the lights of the small room to match the twilight atmosphere, the environmental controls offered a light breeze of fresh air, and the sounds of chirping crickets and lapping sea waves filled the chamber.

“I’d like you to stay in sickbay this evening, so we can keep a close watch on you. However, I don’t think that spending time with the recovering Zurich crew will help your condition, so you can stay here in the surgical suite.”

A faint hum registered around the surgical bed, and Lana suddenly felt much lighter, as if floating on water.

“The low-gravity field of the bed will make you more comfortable,” explained Doctor Cromwell. “And I’ll give you a natural sedative to help you sleep. If you have any problems, just call out to the computer, and the nurse outside the door will be in here before you know it.”

Leon prepared a hypo-spray, and administered it to Lana. “Don’t worry,” he whispered reassuringly with a soft squeeze on the shoulder. “Everything will come out fine. Think positive, okay?” He smiled at her with conviction, attempting to convey a sincere and confident attitude. As he walked towards the door, he turned around and said “good night, Lana. I’ll see you in the morning.”

As Doctor Cromwell left the surgical suite, the short, balding Doctor Yezbeck walked up him, noticing the bloodshot, baggy eyes, and dazed expression. “You look beat, chief . . .”

“I am,” replied Leon. “How’s things here?”

“Fine,” said Doctor Yezbeck. “I just finished up with my last patient. All the injured Zurich crewmen are stable and recovering. Not a bad bit of medical evac, doctor. If it weren’t for you, we probably would have lost some people.”

Leon managed a smile. “It was a team effort. Both here in medical, and the engineering staff, and the shuttle pilots, command, transporter rooms, the list goes on.”

Doctor Yezbeck smiled back, although with a bit more energy. “Why don’t you get some rest, chief. I got things taken care of here.”

“I think I will,” admitted Leon. “Call me if I’m needed.”

He was about to leave when he paused to add a last item of business. “Hey, Leon said. “You did a knock-up here as well, doctor. When I’m back here in the morning, I’d better not see you!”

Taking the hint to ensure his own rest, Yezbeck replied “you got it.”

Chapter 19Top

<location: USS Republic, chief medical officer’s quarters>

After a ten-minute search and the computer’s help, Leon finally found his assigned quarters. They were standard senior officer’s quarters, with a large living area and two adjoining rooms for bathing and sleeping. However, Galaxy Class vessels boasted a luxurious reputation throughout the fleet, and as Leon gazed across the spacious quarters, complete with potted plants and astronomical paintings on the wall, he spotted his long-parted personal freight from the USS Bremerton. He walked up to the sofa along the back wall, and stared out among the stars through the viewport.

Before long, Leon settled into his room, and began to finish off his day’s work. With heavy eyelids and a distracted expression, he sat down at his desk and activated the workstation console.

“Chief Medical Officer’s log, stardate . . . uh . . . stardate . . .” Leon looked around, confused and unsure of the current date and time. It was a long trip from the Bremerton, plus settling in to his new duty appointment, plus the emergency response mission, plus a collapsed XO in his sickbay. Time seemed to scramble and become discontinuous among the events of the past several hours, or days. Placing his elbows on the desk, Leon cradled his head within his folded arms for a moment to clear his thoughts.

=/\= “Log entry activation acknowledged. Please continue.” =/\=

Although the monotone, female voice of the computer was alert and steadfast, there was, unfortunately, no attentive audience as an audible snore emanated from the sleeping doctor. With no choice but to abort the log entry, the computer warbled a deactivation sequence, and the workstation screen went blank.

<location: corridor, deck 14, USS Republic>

Shannon Harris quickened her pace as she moved through Republic's corridors, running through a mental checklist as she went. The adrenaline from her shuttle relief flights was finally wearing off, and she began to realize exactly how long she'd been working. Shannon breathed a sigh of relief as the corridor lights shifted from pulsing red to a calmer paced yellow. Somehow, Shannon had to admit, that made it okay to be tired.

Moments ago, Doctor Cromwell had given Shannon what she knew to be a difficult task. Build an embryonic gestation chamber from tech that was lifted from the Borg during the infamous journey of the U.S.S. Voyager. Thinking of that name, Harris suppressed a shudder.

All of Starfleet knew Voyager's story. How the ship, while pursuing Marquis rebels, was catapulted to the far end of the Delta Quadrant, and then, in defense of a fledgling race, destroyed their easiest way home. Shannon couldn't help but wonder what life must have been like on that ship. Seven long years seeing the same faces, the unfamiliar stars, and no visits, not even subspace messages from home. Then the Borg came, and Voyager's Captain made a deal with the devil.

Shannon Harris was only in high school when the Borg destroyed most of Starfleet at Wolf 359, and she now recalled vividly the fear and dread of being huddled into deep shelters in her native Australia; structures that hadn't been used since the Faction Wars that ravaged Earth before first contact with the Vulcans.

'Earth' she thought. 'That fragile little world.’ She continued walking through the corridors, and paused briefly at the entrance to a turbo lift shaft.

Doctor Harris entered the car and spoke to the computer system. “Computer?” she asked.

The com system chirped, indicating that it was ready for her question.

“Where is the Chief Science Officer's…er…” she briefly wrestled with a small grammatical error, ”…office?” she finished.

“Office of the Chief of Sciences is on Deck four.”

Harris tapped a control on the lift car's wall, then spoke. “Deck four.”

The car moved horizontally, then briefly stopped. Shannon felt the shift in momentum as the car shot up vertically. In seconds, the car came to rest, and the doors hissed open. As Harris walked down the ship's rounded corridors, she couldn't help think about her evacuation flights from Zurich. 'Just finishing the date, he says!' Harris shook her head and chuckled to herself. 'Who does he think he is anyway?'

Harris scanned the coding on the doors as she passed them, finally finding the Office of Lieutenant Victor Virtus, PhD. 'PhD?' she thought. 'How can he be a PhD and only be a Lieutenant?' Harris checked the door, and found it still locked. She guessed that Virtus was still on the way.

Shannon turned her back to the wall, folded her arms across her chest, and bent her left knee, propping her body against the bulkhead with her left foot. A few seconds later, she saw a tall, thin, brown-haired man in science blue move with an amazingly measured pace around the corner. This, she knew, was Victor Virtus.

“Doctor.” She said, straightening up.

“Doctor.” The tall man answered.

“Doctor.” She shot back, not even realizing she'd done it.

Victor blinked. “I did say that already didn't I?”

“Yes, Doctor.” She added, fighting the urge to laugh out loud.

“Thank you, Doctor.” Virtus said keying his door to open. He stepped aside to let Harris enter. “Let's get down to business shall we?”

“Tempus fugit.” she added.

Victor cringed.

Moments later, Victor and Harris exit the office, both looking a bit frayed. Vic heads for his quarters with Shannon hot on his heals.

“So let me get this straight. The XO is pregnant. The XO is injured. You and Doctor Cromwell want me to help you build a fake womb out of partially understood BORG technology, in an attempt to save the XO and her unborn child… in the next 36 hours!?!”

“The Captain has taken a personal interest in this matter and…”

“Oh, I SAW the Captain's interest in the shuttle bay! And counted four breaches of Star Fleet regulations, two broken Standing Orders, and one infraction of UFP law.” Vic realized his temper was getting the better of him just before he almost mentioned that this was why women were not allowed on ships for eleven Terran centuries. “Forgive me Doctor. What you are asking is not impossible, but beyond my ability to deal with at this time. Will Commander Taylor and the baby make it until morning?”

“Yes, and I understand..”

“Good. Please talk to me after I have had 6.25 hours of sleep, or 0815, which ever comes first.”

Victor keyed into his quarters, and made his way to the replicator.

“Hot Tea.”

“Lieutenant Virtus,” Vic spun around, assuming incorrectly that the Doctor would not follow him into his own room. “I understand that we've all had a rough day, but try to look past your current fatigue and consider the good of the crew, and the people from the Zurich.” Vic knew morale would be low until the Zurich's crew was safely transported to Star Base 18, and the effect of the ship's first officer being out of action would not help.

“Very well Doctor, I will start making the appropriate arrangements. We're off duty. Would you like a cup of Oolong tea?”

“No thank you Lieutenant. I also have tasks to accomplish before 0800. Can I take a rain check?”

Victor blinked, “I’m sorry. Take a what?”

Shannon sighed, “Long story. Some other time perhaps. Sleep well Lieutenant.”

“Call me Victor.”

Shannon grinned slightly as she walked out the door.

“As you wish Lieutenant.”

The door closed with a totally inaudible swish.

Vic groaned and sat down to write two reports and a preliminary checklist for a Borg gestation chamber, before getting a wholly inadequate amount of sleep.

<location: Chief Engineer’s Office, USS Republic>

Ashley paced back in forth in her office. The upgrades were nearly complete, all that was needed was the final approval from the captain to bring the systems online, and then to break silence with the crew on the upgrades and how to use them. But that was the easy part. The hard part was calming her conscious. They were breaking so many protocols, and she just knew this wasn't going to end well. She picked up the infamous PADD, and unencrypted its contents. She knew what was on the PADD. It contained several centuries of history and technological data. All she had to do was find her own name, and then look ahead to see what was….but no. That would be crossing the line. That would be unethical, to say the least. She re-encrypted the PADD, and put it in her desk. As she did so, she could overhear two people standing near the door talking quietly

“I just don't like it”


“It seems cowardly and the easy way out”

“What on earth are you on about, mate?”

“All this future-technology rubbish. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned engineering ingenuity? On my old ship, we would figure out how to lick whoever these devils be without cheatin' by lookin at some future hogwash and installin' it on the bloody ship.”

“O'brisbayne, we aren't cheating. Look at it this way, we are fulfilling what history recorded that we had to survive.”

“But how do ye know this, mate? Did you look at the wee cheat sheet also?”

“No, but I trust Ashley and the Captain. I know she wouldn't do all of this on her own accord.”

“Look matey, I just don't want my great grand kids reading about this mission, and thinking their old man O, cheapened out during a fight, and tried to accept some charity from their own time. We can fight these devils with a little bit o' smarts and manpower. That’s how they did back in the old days, they didn't need no future rubbish.”

“O'B, what if this technology is our only hope? What then?”

“Then obviously history intended for us ter die out here right now then, mate. Who are we to change that?”

It was at that point the she recognized the voice of a third person.

Daniels was in Main Engineering

“Because gentlemen, history is written by the victors. History is what is yet to come, and it cannot be changed. If it IS changed, then it always finds a way to return back to its original flow over time. If we are indeed supposed to die out here, right now, I assure you it will happen, no matter what we do. But if that is our fate, with or without this miraculous technology, remains to be seen. Have faith in your crewmembers. I know we'll succeed.” he said, and stepped into Ashley's office.

As he did so, the crewman said, “And who in the bloody hell was that?”, just as the door closed behind him.

Daniels walked over to Ashley. “I know what you are thinking. All I can tell you, is that you are making the right decision, for the fate of this crew. What you do here today, has far wider implications than just the immediate threat.”

Ashley looked up. “Why?”

Daniels looked down however. “I can't tell you that. Just know that it is the correct decision.”

But now Ashley looked troubled. “We will have to return to some type of base within the next few weeks to offset the Zurich survivors. At that point, it will become apparent to anyone there with access to sensors and half a brain cell that we have some pretty non-standard technology on-board this ship. Then comes the inquiry, then the general court-martial, and I end up in New Zealand before the end of my next tour of duty.” Ashley said. “Am I correct?”

Daniels looked up. “What will happen, will happen. I have told you only what I can.”

Ashley sighed. “Why are you here?” she asked. Then she noticed where he was looking. “You want this PADD back, don't you?”

He nodded. “Even with this intrusion, your timeline must be kept as close to untainted as possible within the current situation. I cannot allow this potentially dangerous information to remain here, and possibly fall into the hands of your approaching foe.” he responded.

She handed the PADD to him, and he vanished in the whisk of a transporter beam.

Ashley stepped out into the main bay, and checked at every station. Next, she tapped her combadge.

=/\= “Sawyer to Captain Marshal. The upgrades are complete, and are ready to be brought online at your command. What are your orders sir?” =/\=

Chapter 20Top

<location: main bridge, USS Republic>

On Republic's bridge, John Carter found it difficult to concentrate. Part of that was from lack of sleep, part of it was because he had a LOT of things on his mind. Gamma Shift had just come on, and he had turned the bridge over to Lieutenant Suvek, a capable Vulcan officer who had the dubious task of keeping Republic safe while two of her four duty shifts slept. The Vulcan stepped calmly down the ramp and stood in front of Carter as he got up from the command chair. “I relieve you.” The Vulcan said in a cold, perfectly precise manner.

“You bet you do.” John shot back.

The Vulcan Watch Officer tilted his head and raised an eyebrow.

John Cleared his throat and spoke. “Computer.” He called out.

A soft chirp answered.

“Note change of watch in ship's log at . . .” Carter turned his left wrist upward, checking an old-fashioned wrist chronometer, a gift from his great-grandfather for whom he was named. “2458, mark.” The computer beeped abagain. John thanked his replacement on watch and then stepped into the turbolift car waiting just off the bridge.

Once inside the car, John finally felt like he could relax. Technically, he was off duty four hours ago, when he had taken the ship to Yellow Alert, but with both the Captain Marshall and the XO in sickbay (John couldn't WAIT to hear the explanaion for that!), there was no one else to turn the bridge over to, so he had to wait for Gamma shift.

Carter unzipped his duty tunic halfway down his torso, and pushed his uniform sleeves up. He leaned against the back wall of the turbo lift and wondered aloud. “I just want to know where the hell my Chief Engineer is.” He said, to no one in particular.

“Lieutenant Commander Sawyer is not on board the Republic.”

John glared at the car's speaker grid. He considered asking the natural follow-up, but realised that the computer was telling him exactly what it could about Ashley Sawyer, and arguing with it was pointless. “Emgineering.” He called out. “I'll figure this out for myself.” John felt the car move slightly as the inirtial compensators kept him from being slammed to one side or another of the lift car. The trip to Engineering wouldn't take too long, but in the meantime, he had a chance to think.

'Seems pretty simple,' he thought. We're less than a day out from the center of the Federation, even at high warp, so for once we can't possibly be the “Only ship in the quadrant”'. John laughed out loud. During his years at the Academy, he had studied the era in history called 'The great Awakening', where that phrase had become infamous.

Starfleet had managed to negotiate a tenious peace with the Romulan Empire almost a hundered years earlier, and was now able to turn it's attention to outward exploration and keeping an eye on the Klingon Empire. Thanks to the commissioning of the Constitution Class, the first true starships in fleet history, both those jobs would be possible, if not easy.

In the time of Kirk, Sulu and a handful of other legendary captains, being the only ship in quadrant was a real possibility, but the use of that phrase also became synonomous with “You just got the short straw”, and virtually gaurenteed that you would get rescued by a ship named Enterprise.

'Kirk'. Even thinking of that name, John felt small, though he probably shouldn't have. 'Sure', John thought, 'you had your day in front of the Klingon High Court, but I've got a date with the whole Romulan Senate.'Carter brushed the thought aside as the turbolift car slid to a stop.

He stepped into Main Engineering; a beehive of activity that was highly unusual given that it ws the middle of the night, ship time. All around him, crewmen and officers in Opperations gold were poking in accessways and re-wiring things John could only guess at. Standing high in the room, on the transparent aluminium deck halfway up the warp intermix chamber, Carter spotted Ashley Sawyer checking her figures on a PADD.

“SAWYER!” He yelled up, but she didn't hear. Carter took a few quick steps and weaved his way through the shifting sea of technichinas. Finally, he made his way to the small pesonell lift, and was moving upward to join Sawyer on her transparent perch.

“Hey! Points!” He yelled. Sawyer snapped her head in Carter's direction as she heard his voice. As she waved him closer, he continued. “Why aren't you answering comms?” He asked. “And what IS all this stuff?” John's eyes went to a large gathering of tecnichinas down on the main level to his right. “Is that the main Phaser relay?” John didn't care that he was shouting now. “Grozit, Sawyer! What the Sprock is all this?”

Considering the flurry of questions, Ashley Sawyer took them all rather well, scarcely looking up from her PADD to talk to her clearly frustrated crewmate. “Watch your language please.” She said with a smile. The same one she had used to reassure him during the tense journey over to Zurich, not that long ago.

Sawyer kept checking the PADD and doing math in her head, then tucked the handheld device away. “I heard what you did For McGruder and Tomlinson. Thanks.”

“Sure, now will you please…” John was struck speachless as he noticed that Sawyer's rank pips and comm badge were gone. “Oh Hell.”

Starfleet had many unwritten traditions. one of them was that, if a crewman felt he absoloutely had to do something that was against one of Fleets standing orders, then they did them 'off the clock' that meant removing all rank and office insignia from the uniform. Theoretically, it also made one a 'non-entity' in terms of the chain of command, and thereby insulated the rest of the crew, including the command staff from blame. In short, Sawyer was taking the fall for someone . . .

Ashley was now trying to figure out the last intermix ratios for the Quadro-Transwarp drive on her PADD, when she heard Carter yelling at her. She kept checking the PADD and doing math in her head, then tucked the handheld device away. “I heard what you did For McGruder and Tomlinson. Thanks.”, she said to him.

“Sure, now will you please…” John was struck speachless as he noticed that Sawyer's rank pips and comm badge were gone. “Oh Hell.”

Ashley held up her hands defensively. “I'm under strict orders to discuss this with no one.” she said, but even she could hear the uncertain timbre in her voice. She walked over to a comm panel, and spoke.

“Sawyer to Capt Marshall, you are needed in Engineering immediately.”

=/\= “I'll be right there.” =/\=

Ashley looked down, and tried not to make eye contact with Carter until the Captain arrived.

John Carter stood nervously next to Lieutenant Commander Ashley Sawyer as they rode down together on the small motorized platform to the main floor of Engineering onboard the Republic. Somehow, John knew that Sawyer wasn't making eye contact with him on purpose, but right now he was too focused on the radical changes in Engineering to focus on Republic's Chief Engineer.

Ashley cleared her throat and kept her composure. “This way, John.” She said, as the two walked into Sawyer's office. Like the rest of the Galaxy Class starship's in the fleet, there was plenty of room, but John was surprised at a few things. The office itself was sparcely decorated. No personal items at all as far as he could see. That wasn't unusual, John thought, seeing as how this was the Engineer's Duty Office and technically was the station for the engineer on duty at the time, but it was not out of the question for small personal items to turn up on a desk.

The desk itself was another matter. Multiple PADDs, various isolinear chips and technical diagrams were strewn across the desk top, standing in stark contrast to the ordered discipline that seemed to radiate from the office itself. Faced with that dichotomy, John Carter was suddenly keenly aware that there was a lot about Ashley Sawyer he didn't know. He also didn't like the tension in the room, and it seemed like now was the time to change that.

“Look, points,” he started.

Sawyer cocked her head. “What did you say?”

John looked at her, tapping his own ears with a fingertip.

“Sorry.” He offered. “I have this thing with nicknames,” he explained. “But thanks for smiling.” John started to pace, having exhausted his already meager supply of small talk.

As if on cue, Captain James Marshall appeared at the doorway to Sawyer's office. “What's the problem Sawyer?” He stopped in mid sentence when he saw Carter waiting in the Chief Engineer's office. “Oh.” He said.

Carter snapped to attention when the Captain entered the room. Marshall gave John a nod as the office doors slid shut. “All right,” Marshall said. “What's on your mind Lieutenant Commander?”

John knew that it was important for him to keep his temper. Unfortunately, Martians weren't known for keeping their cool. Carter set his gaze on his CO.

“That's a pretty long list just now sir.”

“I'm sure it is.” Marshall stated simply. 'I bet he's going to say something about what happened'. The Captain thought. He braced himself against the edge of Sawyer's cluttered table. “First things first Carter.” He said. “Commander Taylor is in sickbay. Her condition is very serious, and potentially life-threatening.” Marshal saw a small change in Carter's expression. 'Good.' The Captain thought. 'At least he cares.' Captain Marshall looked at Carter's face again. “In light of her condition, I'm promoting you to Acting XO. Can you handle that Carter?”

The words hit Carter with a sober familiarity. He'd been an Executive Officer before. He'd even been forced to assume a Captaincy before, through very unfortunate circumstances. Now, however, he simply nodded. “You'll get my best, Captain.”

“I'll need it. I'd like the both of you to join me in my ready room.” The Captain said, almost casually. “There are a few things you need to know which are of dire importance. Carter, it'll shed some light on the situation.”

With know words at all, the trio departed for the Captain's Ready room.

Republic's trio of officers made the quick journey from the bridge turbolift, down the sloping ramp, to the Captain's Ready Room. As Ashley Sawyer, John Carter, and Captain James Marshall filed into the Ready Room, Carter thought he noticed a look of surprise on the face of the Vulcan watch officer who currently had command of the bridge, but brushed that aside as highly unlikely.

The doors to the ready room closed and Carter assumed 'parade rest'. Ashley Sawyer looked at the pair of chairs arranged in front of the Captain's table, but waited to see what Captain Marshall would do next.

James Marshall sat behind his desk and tried to let himself relax, then looked at his officers. “Please, sit down.” He said calmly. Sawyer found her seat quickly, keeping herself straight and composed. Next to her, Lieutenant Commander Carter looked tense, and was leaning forward in his chair. Marshall gave each of his two officers a quick glance and then spoke. “All right Carter.” He said, with the barest hint of resignation in his voice,” Let's get this over with.”Marshall knew what was coming.

“Permission to speak freely, Captain?”

Marshall nodded.

”'Don't let Carter push you around?'” John leaned forward, trying to reign in his temper. “Captain, I had to pull teeth to get an order from that woman. We were less then three minutes from touchdown on Zurich, and she hadn't given an order.”

“She's going through a hard time right now Carter.” The Captain spoke in a mellow baritone, keeping his voice calm and measured. “You don't know the whole story.”

“I know enough!” Carter shot back. “Or are you going to tell me I didn't see you kiss your XO seconds before we dusted off?” For a moment it seemed as though the Captain might speak, but John didn't give him the chance. “I read her jacket Captain.” John went on. “Her husband's been gone what? All of three months? Leaving aside for a moment that you just CAN'T do that, you must see the conflict of interest here!”

“Of course there's a conflict of intrest, that's all I've been thinking about since you were on the Zurich. Frankly, my personal life is my own business,”

“Not when that personal life effects the running of this ship, sir.”

Marshall calmed his tone down, “The fact remains she's pregnant with her dead husband's child. She needs comfort from any place she can get it. Her situation is critical, things don't look good right now.”

“She's what?” Both John and Ashley said in unison.

“Doctor Cromwell will have her in surgery by tomorrow.” Marshal explained. “Virtus and Harris are workining on a way to ensure the health of the baby.”

'Well that settles it', John thought. Then he spoke up. “Captain, we should make for Deep Space 3. They're the closest starbase, and they're better equiped than we are to deal with not only Commander Taylor, but the Zurich survivors. Cromwell and his people have done amazing work, but we should get out of here ASAP.”

Next to Carter, Ashley Sawyer spoke up. “Can't do that John. Not for at least 36 hours.”

“Right.” John nodded. “The little re-decorating party in Engineering.” Carter looked again at his Captain. “When were you going to tell me that my tactical systems were going to be down? Were you going to tell me at all? I don't like being in the dark Captain.” John said, trying as best he could to state his case rationally. “It makes my job a lot tougher.” John looked again at the missing parts of Sawyer's insignia. “And while we're at it Captain, why is Sawyer off the clock?”

“Ever heard of a race called the Kreltan Confederacy?” Marshall asked.

“Doesn't ring any bells.” Said Carter.

“It is my belief that they have used a stolen Kessok device like the one the Soverign encountered last year. It is probable they used it to destroy whatever it was that caused the energy wave that rocked the Zurich. Their ships are quite advanced almost up to the specs of a Reman Warbird. In order to fight them we've had to install some highly advanced technology,” Marshall explained.

“Where did we get this tech from? Was it Forrest?”

“No, Daniels.” The Captain answered.

“Daniels?” John tilted his head. “Who's that?”

“This ship was sabotaged before it's launch. Daniels prevented it. He's from what, on our calandar, is the 31st Century. He said something about a Temporal Cold War and how someone doesn't want our mission to succeed . . .”

John couldn't believe what he had just heard. He stood up from his chair, and wasn't much concerned about the level of his voice. “The 31st Century! You can't be serious! What mission? We weren't even out of dry dock before Zurich's distress call!”

Marshall's expression did not change. It was clear to John that Marshall and Sawyer both believed the story. Immediately, John had new questions. “How do we know he's telling the truth? If there are hostiles in the area, how do we know he isn't with them?” Carter began to pace. “What about the damned Temporal Prime Directive? Even if this Daniels is right, we can't accept his help. It changes the timeline.” John circled back to put his hands on the back of the chair he had been sitting in.

“From what Daniels told us, if we don't stop the Confederacy, Earth will become a barren wasteland. This saboteur was sent to make sure we didn't stop them. I've decided that it's worth the risk, Lieutenant Commander.” Marshal said flatly. He had indeed made up his mind.

Carter heard the autority in his Captain's voice. John's passionate side wanted to keep yelling, but then the practical side of his brain took over. “All right sir,” He said. “If we're commited, we're committed.” John's head dropped as he resigned himself to a course of action he could barely believe. “But I'm going to need specs on the new shields, weapons, and power systems. It's my job to keep us alive when stuff starts going boom, so I need to know exactly what I have to work with.”

Marshall and Sawyer exchanged a quick glance. “That's not a problem Carter,” the Captain said.

“Thank you, sir.” Carter lifted his head again. “I think that's all I have.”

“Carter,” Marshall said, “I know I've probably broken six Starfleet regulations and two chapters of Federation law. I am not perfect and I never expect to be, but I need you to trust me.”

Carter straightened up and folded his arms across his chest. “Then as your First Officer Captain, might I advise you to keep your senior staff in the loop?”

Marshall nodded, but he also knew there was more to come. “And?”

“And,” John continued, “If things between you and Commander Taylor don't change,” John stepped back toward the door to the ready room, unphased as the doors hissed open. “One of the two of you is going to have to find a new job.”

John let those words sink in then looked at Sawyer. “Poker at 2100, Friday in my quarters, Points.” Then he pivoted on his right foot and left the room.

After his meeting at the end of which he ordered both Carter and Sawyer to get some sleep, he stuck his head out the door to find Lieutenant McTaggart at the Tactical console.

“Yes Captain,” McTaggart said nervously as he made his way to the ready room. The doors shut as Marshall began.

“Commander Taylor is on medical leave. Lieutenant Commander Carter will be Acting XO for the time being. I'd like to make you Acting Chief of Security until further notice. I know you're up to the job Lieutenant, and I have the utmost confidence in you.”

“Um, Sir, Lieutenant Regesh actually has seniority over me. He might be rather displeased if you go above his head like that.”

Marshall considered Regesh, the stoic Andorian security officer, before finally deciding to give the temporary job to McTaggart on the grounds allowing him to develop leadership skills. “That’s my decision,” the captain finally said, not willing to explain his reasoning. “I hope you’re up to the job.”

“Yes Captain, I can do this, and do it well,” he replied.

“Good, now get some sleep. I need a fresh bridge crew.”

He left as Marshall turned to the painting of his ancestor President Marshall, “We live to fight another day Mister President, and now I'm going to sleep.”

archives/call_of_the_zurich.txt · Last modified: 2020/10/25 02:54 by site_admin