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Face of the Enemy

Chapter 1Top

The blaring of his cabin's alarm roused John Carter out of his deep sleep. “No,” He murmured softly as he stared at the bright chronometer display on his wall, “not yet. How can it be 0630 already?” He rubbed his eyes, and then glared at the uncaring green numbers, focusing his will to stop the noise. 'Turn… off… alarm…' was the thought repeating in his head like a drumbeat.

John sat on the side of his bed and rubbed his face. “All right, grozit!” He cursed at the noise. “I'm up.”

“Computer.” He called out. “End alarm, please.” The computer chirped in reply and the perfectly annoying buzzing that had brought him out of sleep stopped. Out of habit more than duty, John stood up, making the requisite “Carter Family old-man noise”. He looked around his quarters to take stock of his situation.

Everything was right where he had left it, including the three PADDS that were scattered on top of his desk. The PADDS contained technical information from the future. The PADDS whose very existence was a violation of the Temporal Prime Directive. The PADDS he had asked for because his duty to his ship came before his duty to his Captain or even Fleet itself. As far as John was concerned, he could sort out this mess after the hyper-excited photons and zero-point particles had been thrown around, and all of that would wait until he'd had a chance to wake up.

Carter stumbled to his bathroom and looked in the mirror. His hair was atypically messed, and his face showed a healthy five-o'clock shadow. He looked at his image for a moment and noticed the blood-shot eyes of the face that looked back at him. “Griffe,” he said to the face, “you look like hell.” John did his best to brush that thought aside and pressed his hand against the key to activate his room's sonic shower.

Since the earliest days of manned space exploration, having water to use for hygiene had been problematic. Carter couldn't even imagine how hard life was in the days before grav-plating. He imagined tiny sphere's of water hanging in space, and could see himself staring at it wondering, 'how the hell do I get this where it's supposed to go?'

Since the era of the Great Awakening, the sonic shower had been standard issue on starships and passenger craft; any ship larger than a shuttle or intra-system patrol ships. The principal was simple enough: A subject walks into a low-level force-field, not unlike a scaled down version of a Starship's security field. Then oscillating ultra-low and ultra-high frequency waves passed through the containment area and the crewman inside it, literally shaking loose anything that wasn't attached. This included dirt, dead skin, and whatever wasn't attached. The contrasting sound waves worked in concert producing a particular humming that wasn't terribly noticeable, and John had to admit that the process was both efficient and effective.

He really didn't care much one-way or the other, but John had heard stories, since his days in the academy that certain species looked forward with a hedonistic glee to their daily sonic shower ritual. Remembering that was worth a small chuckle.

Freshly shaken, not stirred, from the shower, John smoothed beard-suppressor on his face and walked back to the main part of his quarters to change into a fresh uniform. John adjusted his collar and checked the ceases of his uniform pants. Everything seemed to be in order. He reached into his closet and pulled out his black uniform tunic, slipping his arms inside, but leaving the garment unfastened, in a style that officers called 'duty casual'.

Carter picked up his comm badge from where it lay, surrounded by the contraband PADDS on his desk and pressed it into place on his chest, and then he gave the device a quick tap.

=/\= “Carter to McTaggart. Welcome to Alpha shift son. Care to join me for breakfast? We have a lot to talk about.” =/\=

Carter didn't wait for the answer. He collected the PADDs from his desk and left his quarters enroute to the Officer's mess.

<location: surgical suite 2, main sickbay, USS Republic>

Lana was sitting alone in the surgical ward. She was not too fond of the idea of being in there. Plus she had this feeling that the captain wasn't having an easier time dealing with it. She had a job to do and she wasn't doing it.

She decided to send a message to the captain.

“Computer, record message.”


I would like it if you would come down to the surgical ward and sit with me.


Computer, send message.”

After that was done, Lana lay down in her bed and waited.

<location: captain’s quarters, USS Republic>

Jim had wakened the following morning. He had just showered and had breakfast when the message from Lana came in. “Strange,” he said out loud, “why didn't she use the comm?” He decided to head to sickbay to see what she wanted. Upon arriving he grabbed her chart and looked at her progress. Then he walked in to the surgical ward.

“Lana, good to see you. I'm on duty in 20 minutes. I have to make arrangements for a medical ship to relieve our people, they're overworked. Plus, I have a report to file and on top of that things are mellowing out. . .”

“Sounds like you are pretty busy,” she said to him smiling. She was glad he was down there. She really loved being around him.

“Please come over here and sit with me,” she asked him.

“I suppose I can for a while. I'm on duty in 20 minutes. I can't possibly run the ship from sickbay. There's something I have to do real quick first,” Jim said.

“Go right ahead,” replied Lana.

“Marshall to Carter, you and McTaggart had better get with Sawyer and get the low down on the upgrades. Also, the species information you wanted should be in the computer. It isn't much but it's all we have.”

=/\= “Aye Captain, soon as we're done eating. Carter out.” =/\=

“Marshall to Bridge, be prepared for the arrival of a medical ship, U.S.S. McCoy she'll be helping us out with the survivors of the Zurich. I'll notify Doctor Cromwell myself. I'll be on the bridge in 18 minutes Marshall out.”

He turned and found a chair and pulled it near Lana. He took a seat.

Lana watched Jim sit down. “I am so glad you are here with me. I remember one other time you were there for me. Do you remember?” she asked him.

“How can I forget? It wasn't that long ago since that incident at the Academy. Last I checked on those punks the ring leader was posted to a science vessel in some backwater sector and a couple of them washed out of the fleet,” Jim replied. “Let's not worry about that now. Everything's going to be fine. I trust Doctor Cromwell, I hope you do too. It's all going to work out fine. Just remember, I'm not far away.”

“I know,” Lana said, “it's just been difficult for me to deal with especially now with everything that has happened.”

“I know it's difficult, believe me. I'm there for you, remember that. I've got to get to the bridge. I'll be back down later.” The captain then exited the surgical suite.

<location: junior officer’s quarters, USS Republic>

In her quarters, Shannon Harris ran her fingers through her hair and looked over her uniform. Short red hair fell just past her ears to frame her face neatly. As a matter of practicality, she kept the back short, just above her neck, but the long side locks sometimes dangled into her vision. She brushed one lock to each side of her face and then smiled briefly; satisfied with her appearance.

Turning to walk into the main portion of her quarters, she spoke to the ship's omni-present, invisible brain. “Computer,” she waited for the friendly chirp, “download files Voyager BEGC and Harris Appendix One to the PADD at this location please.”

“Acknowledged.” Came the familiar female voice.

Shannon stopped herself from saying 'thank you', and thought rather briefly how differently many of the ship's personnel treated the computer. To some it was just a tool, but to others it was the most familiar and even comforting voice on the ship, because on some level, if the ship could answer back, then everything was okay.

Buried deep in the core of the Republic's saucer section was a second generation Daystrom Systems AI Central Processor, and to a certain extent, the ship was alive. It had to be. Trillions of things changed on a starship every second. From plasma flow, to power output of the intermix chamber, to the heart rate of an individual crewman, and somehow, that towering cylinder of transdators and isolinear bundles kept track of it all. Constantly changing it's own procedures to accommodate its new information. If that wasn't learning, Shannon

Harris didn't know what was.

Did that mean the ship was alive? And if it was, did Republic mind that her crew was putting her in an unknown situation? Shannon hoped not, and then silently shook her head as the computer spoke.

“Information Transfer complete.”

This time she couldn't help herself. “Thank you,” she said. 'Funny', she thought after the computer didn't respond. 'All these years of interacting with high-level AI's, and we still haven't programmed them to say “you're welcome.'

Shannon pulled the PADD from its dataport and looked at the small cylinder that was being displayed. She managed to suppress a shudder as she imagined a Borg cube…one of those huge, cold, brutally efficient monstrosities. Each one filled with hundreds, maybe even thousands of these, these THINGS equally willing to create life and steal its spark away, all at the same time.

Harris felt her face twist in revulsion at the thought of assimilation by the Borg and then thought of the delicious irony of using their own technology to preserve something whose existence they couldn't stand. A unique, precious life. She could help but smile. “Take that, you cosmic bastards.” Shannon exited her quarters enroute to retrieve Victor Virtus.

Outside Victor Virtus' quarters, Shannon Harris tapped her comm badge. “Computer, time check please.”

“The time is 0843 and 27 seconds.”

Harris hit the chime on the door to Victor's quarters. “Rise and shine Doctor…”

Chapter 2Top

<location: officer's mess, USS Republic>

John Carter looked up from his reading as he finished the last of his coffee. He'd commed Lieutenant Sean McTaggart only a few minutes ago, so Republic's default Tactical Chief wasn't anywhere near late, but John didn't feel any great need to tell the Lieutenant that.

The doors to the Officer's Mess slid open with their typical soft scrape, and Carter saw Sean McTaggart stride into the room. As McTaggart came closer, Carter caught the wry smirk coming back over his face. 'There's always one,' he thought. 'At least one Mc this, or Mac that, or O' Something.' Carter thought back to the legendary exploits of Leonard McCoy, Montgomery Scott, even the infamous Michael Finnegan, and wondered if Starfleet required a certain Celtic presence on their ships.

“Lieutenant Sean McTaggart, reporting as ordered Sir.” Then the junior officer looked around, seeing John's nearly finished coffee, and the slight crusts of toast left on the Commander's plate. “I'm not late am I Sir?” He asked nervously.

Carter chuckled. “You're fine, Lieutenant.” Carter waved a hand out in front of him. “Please,” he offered, “Sit down. We've got a lot to talk about.” With that, Carter furrowed his brow, glancing sideways to see that the Lieutenant had taken a seat.

“First things first, Lieutenant,” Carter said. “Sooner or later I'm going to end up calling you something OTHER than Sean, or McTaggart, so don't be offended. Or if you are, tell me.”

“Aye, Sir”.

“Second,” Carter continued as he laid three PADDs out in front of him almost as if he were about to take the young lieutenant through a game of three-card Montie, and in a sense he was. “Everything we're about to talk about is classified, potentially illegal, and whether you and I like it or not…” Carter checked his antique wrist chrono, “will be online in 16 hours.”

McTaggart sat across from Carter with his mouth open. “Sir?” He looked genuinely concerned, and looked nervously around the room. “If this is so secret, shouldn't we talk about it somewhere a little more secure than the Mess?”

Carter couldn't help a big smile. “Let me tell you something kid.” John leaned forward a bit. “The Virtus Scuttlebutt Principle dictates that there are no secrets on a ship this size. And if the Black Shirts, Temporal investigations, or that mythical “Section 31” crowd did show up, they'd have to space the entire Engineering Department to keep this quiet. Besides,” Carter looked down at the PADD containing the weapon upgrades Daniels had been so kind to provide the ship, “I'm not sure we'll get out of this clean if the Captain's right about what's coming. Which is why we have all the new toys.”

McTaggart looked at the data scrolling by on the PADD. “Damn…” he whispered.

“Sorry to drop this in your lap kid, but we're the 'Only Ship In The Quadrant.”

“Griffe,” The lieutenant swore.

“Watch the language, kid.” Carter smiled. “Let's get down to work.”

<location: main bridge, USS Republic>

Captain Marshall stepped off of the turbolift to find Captain Ortega waiting for him.

“Captain Ortega, what can I do for you?” Marshall asked.

“I would like to introduce you to Lieutenant Osiris, one of my security officers. Since Starfleet would like to convene a board of inquiry as soon as possible, I wanted to set up a liaison officer between my crew and your ship.” John replies as he motions towards the younger Lieutenant beside him.

“Good to meet you Lieutenant. You will be appraised of everything we find out,” Marshall turned to Ortega, “Good luck with the board of inquiry. I'm sure you have nothing to worry about. Whatever caused this, we're going to find it.”

“I have no doubts in your crew's abilities. I would like if you did recover the emergency pod. If it has been recovered, it needs to be transported over to the

McCoy so that myself and Starfleet has all information recovered from the Zurich. Mister Osiris is under your command. Without further ado, I'm sure the McCoy is waiting for me so I bid you good bye.”

“I believe your emergency pod has been transported over to the McCoy. So, I bid you Godspeed Captain,” replied Marshall.

With Marshall’s last words in mind, Ortega headed to the turbolift and called out “Transporter Room Two.” as the doors close. Lieutenant Osiris turns towards the captain and says, “Sir, if you have no orders for me right now, I was wondering if I can be shown my quarters.”

“Of course. Ensign Rigley,” he called to a young woman in operations gold at the science station. “Secure quarters for Lieutenant Osiris, and show him there.” Marshall took his chair and said “Computer begin daywatch.” The bridge lights became brighter as daywatch had begun.

“Captain,” came the voice of Lieutenant Sertek, “Captain Ortega has beamed over to the McCoy along with Lieutenant Revas by order of Starfleet Command. Our replacement operations officer has also beamed aboard and is on his way to the bridge.”

“Thank you Lieutenant.”

<location: CMO’s quarters, USS Republic>

The two-toned warble of the door chime quietly echoed in Doctor Cromwell’s quarters. Leon was still asleep at his work desk, with his head resting on one cheek where a small pool of drool collected. As the door chimed again, the doctor began to stir.

“Hmmm?” came the muffled snort before the doctor raised his head. With his eyes still filled with sleep, and a string of saliva dripping off the corner of his mouth, Leon’s confused face looked around the room. He wiped his face with his hand after realizing where he inadvertently spent the night.

“Computer, time check” Leon shouted drowsily.

=/\= “The time is zero nine-hundred hours and six minutes” =/\=

“Damn!” came the irritated response of the doctor, as the door whispered open.

A very tired Doctor Yezbeck came into the room and looked around the compartment. As his eyes found Leon at the desk, he said “My shift was done over an hour ago. Are you okay?”

A visibly perturbed and cranky Doctor Cromwell looked back at him responding “I’m sorry. I forgot to set the alarm. What our status?”

Yezbeck counted off the past eight hours of business by extending a finger for each response.

“First, the medical ship USS McCoy showed up during the night and has started to offload the Zurich casualties. This has helped out a lot by freeing up our people. I sent a few of our overworked staff to bed. Second, the captain temporarily placed Lieutenant Commander Carter into the XO’s position, for what reason I don’t know, but I’m assuming has to do with Commander Taylor being in surgical suite two. Third, Commander Taylor hasn’t been getting much sleep, as she keeps being visited by the captain, and calls in a nurse almost every hour. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m too tired to care. I put Lieutenant Tracy in charge down there, and since we’re still at yellow alert, alpha and gamma shifts are on duty. If you don’t mind, I need some sleep. I’ll be back down there at sixteen hundred hours when beta shift is due back to relieve gamma shift. Goodnight.”

Before Doctor Cromwell could respond, the exhausted Doctor Yezbeck spun around and left. The door whisked closed as Leon shook his head muttering “I hate it when he just walks off like that.”

Standing up to stretch, a muscle spasm shot through his back from being hunched over all night. With a grimace of pain, the doctor reached around and supported his back with his hands. “Double damn!” Leon cursed.

As he pivoted several times at the waist, the pain dulled, and the doctor began his morning routine. “Computer” he announced. “Start the sonic shower. Set for steam mode, rigorous pulsation, and a temperature of forty degrees centigrade. I need a clean set of clothes in the garment repository, use selection Cromwell-one. Finally, download all the sickbay logs since zero-hundred hours onto my datapad.”

“Acknowledged” replied the computer, as the hum of the sonic shower came to life from the lavatory. Leon unzipped his blue medical jumpsuit from yesterday, and gladly placed the soiled item into the recycler with his underclothing following suit. The shower lasted no more than two minutes as Leon slapped on a few drops of beard-suppressor, taking care not to touch the sandy-blonde moustache above his lip. Along with clean underclothing, the garment repository offered a new set of black trousers and boots, as well as the standard black undershirt that Leon promptly covered with his ivory turtleneck sweater. As he attached his combadge, Leon grabbed his datapad and a bagel from the food-replicator and proceeded out the door at a hastened pace.

As he walked down the busy corridor, Leon reviewed the datapad while munching on his bagel. “Yellow alert. All decks, yellow alert” came the calm voice of the Republic’s computer. It was programmed to repeat the alert status twice an hour in the public spaces of the ship. However, since the yellow alert was established over twelve hours ago, the crew came to ignore the constant droning of the reminder. Leon was no exception as he walked into a turbolift without taking his eyes off the datapad. “Cargo deck” he announced, as the doors quietly closed.

Chapter 3Top

<location: USS Republic, cargo bay two>

The long rows of makeshift bunk beds were emptying at a steady rate since the USS McCoy arrived. Medical technicians were calmly going from patient to patient, stabilizing them for transport as a small engineering team disassembled the empty beds. An exhausted Doctor Deyer assisted the medical technicians as best she could, although the bloodshot and droopy eyes indicated her physical fatigue. As she turned around, she saw Doctor Cromwell approaching her.

“How’s it going?” Leon asked. “You look tired.”

Doctor Deyer managed a smile through her weariness. “Yes, I didn’t get much sleep last night. As the surviving senior medical officer of the Zurich, I’ve got a lot of people to look after. Besides, it’s not every day your ship is destroyed.”

Leon smiled back. “I’m sorry I wasn’t down here sooner, but I had a lot to deal with in sickbay.”

“Yes, I heard” responded Deyer. “Your executive officer crumpled on the Zurich’s bridge before beam-out. Is everything okay?”

“She’s . . . stable.” Leon responded with apprehension. “Her condition is confidential, unfortunately.”

With a nod of her head, Doctor Deyer said “I understand. Well, I’m about to finish up here as soon as the casualties are all transferred. It’s up to Captain Ortega on what we do next, but I’m guessing that we’ll be transferred shortly.” She extended her hand in professional gratitude. “Thanks . . . for everything. We wouldn’t have been able to save all our wounded if it weren’t for you and your staff.”

Leon grasped her hand and shook it warmly. “My pleasure, doctor. However, don’t discount yourself. If it weren’t for you getting the Zurich’s sickbay up and running, the job would have been a lot harder, and we would have lost more people. So, let me say thanks as well.”

With a smile and a nod, the two medical officers went their separate ways.

<location: Life Sciences Lab 1740, USS Republic>

“Science Officer's Personal Log, resume . . . I have completed work on the Borg gestation chamber with the assistance of Doctor Harris. It is a miracle of technological advancement, but I suspect Doctor Cromwell needs a miracle right about now. Harris is competent, but a bit … distracted … sometimes. Nothing dangerous or mission critical, but slightly unsettling none the less. I keep forgetting to run her file, and there is something familiar about her that I cannot place my finger on. End Log.”

<location: USS Republic, sickbay, main ward>

With the emergency situated abated, medical staff casually readied empty biobeds for their next use by replacing sheets and pillows. All had returned to normal as the tall, blue-uniformed Lieutenant Tracy signed off on the hourly medical log, and handed it back to a nurse. The dark-skinned Jamaican neurosurgeon adjusted the curls in his dreadlocks before heading back to the officer-on-duty desk. As he did so, Doctor Cromwell came strolling through the main doors, holding a datapad in one hand, and a cup of coffee in another. Recognizing who had arrived, Doctor Tracy adjusted his course and intercepted the Chief Medical Officer before he made it too far into sickbay.

“Ah, Doctor Tracy” Leon greeted him. “Doctor Yezbeck told me you were down here. Sorry I was late. I overslept, and forgot to tell the computer when I wanted to wake up this morning. I was just reviewing the case of Commander Prescott from the Zurich . . . The patient with the missing frontal lobe? How did that turn out?”

“It was a simple case” replied Tracy in his Caribbean accent. “The neuro-regeneration treatments he was given upon arrival helped to preset the brain tissue for a cerebral growth complex. After that, his medical file provided the convolution pattern for organ reconstruction. Reconnection to the hippocampus was the most difficult, but nothing I could not handle. He woke up this morning just in time for his transfer to the USS McCoy. He might have some memory gaps, but his motor and sensory functions were all nominal. I expect his recovery to be one-hundred percent.”

“Excellent work, doctor” Leon complimented. “You did great. Head off to bed, I’ve got things here.”

As Tracy smiled and left sickbay, Doctor Cromwell returned his attention to his datapad, and began wandering towards the surgical suites. As he approached surgical suite two, the door suddenly slid open. Captain Marshal came rushing out and bumped into the doctor, causing him to spill some of his coffee. No sooner did the drops hit the floor than did the dull blue flash of the ship’s purgation system remove the stain.

“Doctor Cromwell,” he said, “the McCoy has arrived to help out with the crew of the Zurich. Hopefully that'll bring some relief to you and your staff.”

“Appreciate it Captain. Don't forget about the surgery later,” the good doctor replied.

“I'll stay out of the way. I gotta get to the bridge,” replied the Captain as he left sickbay.

=/\= “Doctor Cromwell to sickbay ASAP. It is very important” =/\=

Leon frowned and tapped his combadge. “Nurse! I’m right here!”

=/\= “I’m sorry, sir. It’s Commander Taylor in surgical suite two. She’s in a lot of pain.” =/\=

Doctor Cromwell slowly looked back towards the surgical suite door with confusion. “She shouldn’t be in pain,” said to himself Leon with bafflement. “I gave her a neural blocker no more than fourteen hours ago. She shouldn’t be feeling anything . . .”

Again, the intercom came to life, beckoning the medical chief.

=/\= “Virtus to Cromwell. The gestation chamber awaits your final inspection.” =/\=

With a look of irritation, the doctor tapped his combadge and replied to Virtus.

“Understood. I’ll be there shortly. Cromwell out.”

The doctor continued into the surgical suite where the nurse quietly explained her situation. “She’s been awake on and off all night, calling in the nurses every so often.”

“Thank you, nurse. I'll take it from here.” replied Leon.

As the nurse exited, Doctor Cromwell picked up a tricorder and began scanning Commander Taylor. As he suspected, the neural blocker was still in effect, showing that the pain receptors of her brain were not active. The only conclusion was that the pain Lana was feeling was psychosomatic.

Closing the tricorder, Leon put the diagnostic wand away.

“Okay, Lana” said the doctor questioningly. What's going on here?”

Lana looked at Leon. “I am not going crazy here. I feel some kind of pain and pressure in my stomach. What is going on?” she asked scared.

In truth, she hadn't slept well overnight, was really agitated, and wanted her child to be safe. “I know you are a good doctor. But please tell me what is going on and that everything is going to be okay for my child.”

Doctor Cromwell raised his eyebrows to form multiple wrinkles in his forehead. Releasing a sigh and a shake of his head, he replied “Lana, I'm sorry. I'm not getting any indication that your brain is receiving signals of pain. The neural block is a long-used, time-tested method in medicine that stops any pain signals from entering the brain. If you're feeling pain, it's not physical.”

Leon had not dealt with a situation like this in years. Normally, psychosomatic pain is associated to one of two types: conscious, where the patient is usually faking pain for reasons unto their own, or unconscious, where the patient is suffering from emotional trauma that manifests itself into nerve impulses that the brain interprets as pain signals. Only a mental health professional can ultimately determine which it is, but unfortunately, Doctor Cromwell did not know who the ship's counselor was, let alone if the Republic left port with one at all. He made a mental note to find out before the day was done.

Nevertheless, the pain that Commander Taylor was feeling seemed genuine, leading Leon to suspect that it emanated from the situation with her dead husband and the possibility that her and her child may perish in the near future. It was a difficult situation that she was in, and Leon gained no joy whatsoever in revealing it to her. On the other hand, he made a solemn oath to never lie to a patient about their condition.

“Lana, I can’t tell you that everything is going to come out okay,” he said, hoping his bedside manner was enough to prevent another emotional episode from his patient. “If I did, I would be breaking every medical oath I’ve ever taken. But as I said before, your child has the best chance of surviving this between the two of you. I know the computer simulations do not sound promising, but we have an excellent team here, and we all are doing everything we can to make sure that you both live through this.

“No one wants to see either of you die” he continued. “Everyone on this ship wants to see you back on the bridge doing your job as our first officer. The only way we’re going to accomplish this is if everyone works together. The only thing is . . . we could use some help from you.”

Leon wasn’t sure how he was going to phrase this, but he thought he would use the same bartender mentality he used with the captain. Only this time, he’d have to do it without the alcohol.

“Every person who is led draws their strength from their leader. Their confidence flows from knowing that they’re doing a good job, and that their leader has trust in them. If their leader lacks confidence in the abilities of their subordinates, then those people will doubt themselves, resulting in them not doing their job to the best of their abilities.”

He stopped for a moment, hoping that what he said had some effect. “What I’m trying to say is this: it’s okay to be scared. Anyone in your position would be. But it doesn’t help when you’re crying and pleading with all of us to not let you or your child die. It shakes our own resolve to accomplish our tasks to the best of our abilities. It makes us think that you don’t trust us, and that, in itself, puts you and your child at further risk. Do you remember command school? Do you remember what a leader must do in order to make their people most effective? Trust in us . . . Show us that you have the resolve and confidence in yourself to get through this, and we’ll have confidence in our own abilities.”

“Leon, I trust you with everything possible.,” Lana replied. “There is no doubt about that. Just do what it takes. That is all I am asking. Don't back down because one of us is in danger. Do what it takes to save both of us. I guess I am ready to get this over with.”

“Don’t worry” replied Leon. “We’re doing everything possible. Virtus just called and said that your baby’s new home for the next six months is ready for my inspection. As soon as I go over it a couple of times with Doctor Harris, we’ll get it in here and begin.”

The doctor turned around and pressed several keypad controls on the wall. The tropical coast picture on the large viewscreen, which currently showed a sandy beach with palm trees after sunrise, was cleared and replaced with medical readouts. After scanning over the monitors, Doctor Cromwell commented on the readings.

“Looks like your immune-system response is accelerating” he said. “The sooner we get this underway, the better. I don’t know how hungry you are, but I’ll have the nurse bring in your breakfast. Take it easy, and try to relax. I’ll be back soon.”

With that, Leon picked up his datapad and coffee, leaving the surgical suite. Stopping off at the nurse’s desk, he addressed the nurse on duty.

“Please check with Commander Taylor and get her some breakfast. I need to leave for a few minutes, but I’ll be back. There’s a confidential surgery scheduled for 1500 hours, but we may be moving that back to around 1200 hours. Make sure Commander Taylor is prepped in a surgical support module by then.”

“Yes, doctor” the nurse replied, and immediately went to the surgical suite.

Doctor Cromwell left sickbay, and stopped at a wall-mounted computer access panel in the corridor.

“Computer,” he said. “Where is the location of the Chief Science Officer?”

“Lieutenant Victor Virtus is in Life Sciences Laboratory 1740 on deck seventeen.”

The computer offered an illuminated map that Leon briefly referenced before heading to the closest turbolift. “Deck seventeen” he announced as he entered. The doors slid shut, and a few moments passed before they opened again on the selected deck. Searching the door numbers, the doctor finally arrived at the science lab and proceeded inside.

Chapter 4Top

<location: CIO's quarters, USS Republic>

Douglas Forrest was awake by zero six thirty hours and slid into a dark work-out suit before exiting his quarters. His morning run began at an easy pace, jogging down the hallways of the ship. He'd learned to ignore the subtle stares of his fellow crewmates as his unorthodox workout passed them by. This was his time, the gentle rhythmic pace of his run allowed him time to collect his thoughts and process the findings.

Captain Marshall had authorized the Engineering Department to begin refitting weapon and defensive systems onboard the Republic. 'Fleet Intelligence would have a field day on this one. And Forrest knew it would be his ass if he didn't stay abreast of things. Forrest had spent the evening reviewing the engineering reports on the ships progress, evaluated what little of the techo-jargon the Engineering Department was fond of using (why call a screwdriver a spanner?), and figuring out how best to make sure the Republic wasn't leaving itself open to disaster by depending on some hokey-jumbo technology.

The night had also been productive in finding out what all the emotion between the Captain and the XO. It was kind of hard to ignore the kiss in the Shuttlebay during the Zurich Evacuation. Simple matter of accessing their personnel records. Seems they'd been in the Academy together, rather close, no indication of a relationship, but a report from one the Betazed psych-profilers said they had an “unusually strong bond for one another”. According to current info, 'Fleet had tried to put Commander Taylor behind a desk, but certain powers that be placed her onboard the Republic. Forrest wasn't one to begrudge personal feelings or affection so long as it didn't place operatives in jeopardy.

Forrest also checked in on the progress of the “Incubator” as well. After all, it was another example of placing faith in the unknown. Sure, there had been success in deciphering some of the Borg technology since the return of the USS Voyager, but if 'Fleet had so much faith in Admiral Janeway's finds why were 87% of the info still classified? Lieutenants Virtus and Harris would be able to figure things out. The only glitch in the system Forrest was having was trying to access Harris' records. Virtus' info was right there. But no sign of Harris'. Possibly a foul up in the Medical Department. Doc Cromwell would know.

Forrest had also taken the time to speak with “Shadow” and “Shark”, codenames for two of the operatives under his command. Both had been asked to keep close tabs on a target coded “Breech”. Something wasn't right about him and he'd broken security protocol once already. If it became a problem Forrest felt he would be easy to deal with.

Forrest's mind returned to the present as he neared his quarters.

“Not bad”, he thought to himself. Twenty-five minute run, about five for a shower, some strawberry yogurt from the Officer's Mess and on duty by zero seven thirty hours.

Forrest quickly made his way to the Officer's mess, about five minutes later than he planned. As he entered he saw Lieutenant Commander Carter talking with McTaggart the new acting Chief of Security.

“Morning John,” interrupted Forrest. “Morning McTaggart.”

Forrest wondered if Carter would take the bait?

John Carter tilted his head up as Forrest stood over the table where he had been briefing Sean McTaggart on Republic's ill-gotten tech. He waved a hand lazily at Forrest, not bothering to look the Intel Chief in the eye.

“As you were Lieutenant Commander”, he said casually. “No need to stand on ceremony.” Carter felt the smirk return. The jab at Forrest was a small one, but also well-calculated. As acting Executive Officer, John Carter for the moment at least, technically out-ranked every other lieutenant commander onboard Republic, so he was within regs to make Forrest wait for orders. It was simply the latest in what John new would be an ongoing game of brinksmanship with his rival. John chuckled to himself and tossed the PADD containing Republic's weapon upgrades to Sean McTaggart. The lieutenant caught the PADD easily, but couldn't help the look on his face, and the feeling that he had somehow just crossed the Neutral Zone.

“Here you go kid.” John said. “Get used to what we can do and start working on some attack patterns.”

“Aye, Sir.” McTaggart acknowledged.

“Two things I want you to remember kid.”

“Yes, Sir?” McTaggart held the PADD tightly, as he got up, but kept his attention on Carter.

“First, remember that speed is life. Don't stop. Stopping means dying.”

McTaggart nodded, feeling frightfully serious. “Aye Sir.” He turned to leave, then looked back. “And the second thing, Sir?”

John cocked an eyebrow at Forrest. “Simple kid,” he offered, “never let the other guy know what's in your hand.” John collected the remaining PADDs from the table and stood up. “I'll worry about the shields and armor, but be ready to think on your feet when we go hot. Got it kid?”

“Aye, Sir.” McTaggart looked back at Forrest. “If you'll excuse me Lieutenant Commander?”

Forrest nodded slightly. “Carry on Lieutenant.”

“Yes, Sir.” And with that, Sean McTaggart left the Mess.

Carter looked back at Forrest. “Hell of a spot we're in huh?”

Forrest chuckled. “It's not the best of starts no.”

John tilted his head slightly, taking mental note that he had both height and reach on Forrest, but the Intel. Chief probably outweighed him by at least 15 pounds. “You know about Engineering?”

“Hard to miss.”

“Yeah.” John rubbed his chin, as if stroking a beard that wasn't there. “And the thing in Sickbay?”

“Creepy as Hell.”

“Yeah.” John's smirk returned. “Do I even WANT to know how much you're not telling me?”

“Nope.” Forrest couldn't help a smile.

“Right.” Carter took a few steps toward the door of the mess, then spun on a heel, walking backwards to the exit. “I'll be on the bridge.” He explained. “Captain Marshall wants a senior staff briefing at 1500 in the Conference Room.” Forrest nodded again. Waiting for John to back into the Tellarite Conn Officer that was two steps behind him. “Oh, and before I forget…” With lightning speed and the practiced ease of muscle memory, John Carter pulled his arms up and into his side, twisting his torso, and spun to his left, away from the crewman he couldn't have seen.

Forrest recognized the move. It was called a Sioux Roll. A La Crosse maneuver designed to pull an opponent's guard to the wrong side to leave their goal exposed. Had John been on a pitch, the move would have worked. Forrest knew that, but what bothered him was that until Carter pulled the move, Forrest hadn't seen it coming, and he should have.

Carter finished his spin and called back to Forrest as he left the Mess. “Poker on Friday night. My quarters, 1900.” With two more steps, John was in the hallway, and hearing the Mess doors sing shut. The Martian Officer broke into an easy jog, headed for a turbo-lift, headed for the bridge.

<location: Transporter Room One, USS Republic>

The 'static' effect of the transporter wore off slowly and Thomas Sullivan stepped off of the pad, and walked up to the chief standing behind the controls.

“Permission to come aboard?” He asked, his manor nothing but routine.

“Granted, sir. Your belongings are being transported to your assigned quarters,” the chief stated.

“Understood. Since that's all taken care of, I'll be on my way to start my duties,” with a quick nod, Tom left the transporter room and made his way to the turbo-lift at the end of the hall. He had studied the schematics of the Republic during his entire time aboard the McCoy.

“Bridge,” he gave the computer the order and was swiftly shot upwards to the main bridge. The ride was surprisingly shorter than he initially expected. The doors swooshed open, and the wave of bridge activity hit Tom. It was the first time he had noticed that the ship was on yellow alert. He was not fully briefed on the current mission or situation of the Republic, so he decided that it was time to report to the Captain and start his duties.

Finding the Captain was relatively easy, Tom walked toward him, standing tall and at attention when he came to a halt.

“Captain, Lieutenant Thomas Sullivan reporting for duty, sir,” Tom stated and waited for the Captain to respond.

“Lieutenant Sullivan, good to see you. Feel free to assume your station,” the Captain replied.

“Thank you sir,” Sullivan replied and took the ops station.

Marshall glanced at the control panel on his chair. He saw a light on it that only he knew what it meant.

“Sullivan, you have the bridge I'll be in my ready room for a brief time.”

Marshall walked into his ready room and went to his desktop monitor, “Authorization Marshall 47 Beta Gamma,”

The screen displayed what Marshall didn't want to see:

Starfleet Personnel Record

Marshall, James R. Captain

U.S.S. Republic NCC-76241

*Classified Personnel Data*

Accessed Stardate 52305.8

'Oh great, not the classified section' he thought. He checked to see what exactly was accessed, logs dating back to Academy days, Academy records, detailed service jacket, psychological profile, medical scans, the whole nine yards. It had been routed through stations all over the ship. 'At least my program worked' Marshall thought.

Chapter 5Top

<location: holodeck 3, USS Republic>

Ashley smoothed her uniform, and set her phaser to Kill. Storming onto the bridge, she opened fire, catching the Romulan directly in the chest, as he was spinning around to return fire.

She walked out of the turbolift to check his pulse, when she heard a sound behind her, and swiveled just in time to see the other Romulan bringing his fist down towards her neck with a Klingon D'tagh knife clutched in it.

“Computer, freeze program,” she said, just as she felt the tip of the knife prick her skin.

“Dammit”, she cursed. She had just failed the scenario for the 12th time. These were tactical scenarios from the officers training course at the academy, and she had been going through them for fun in her down time, but this one in particular was stumping her. How to deal with this scenario, when the computer kept changing the number of intruders on the bridge?

Now, she was getting a headache. “Computer, End Program,” she said, and left the holodeck for Engineering. Upon arriving, she went straight to her office, and checked on the status of the newest upgrades. Just as she walked into the door, a searing pain tore through her temple, taking her down to her knees. She tried to stagger to her feet, but the pain was so intense, she fell forwards unconscious.

<location: deck 4, U.S.S. Republic>

Lieutenant Victor Virtus walked the quiet corridors of the ship in deep introspection. Things seemed to have calmed down in the last few days. The only problem seemed to be a reoccurring glitch in the ships communication network, causing personal comms to fail at random times. As so often happens when a common and vital system becomes buggy, a dozen people point at everyone else, and nothing gets fixed. Although shipboard systems are technically in the bailiwick of Engineering, the maintenance of the ship's internal communications falls under the auspices of the Operations department. As the failure first occurred on gamma shift, both departments sent people to investigate, both work crews got in each other's way, and with proper UFP diplomacy, all walked away assuming the other folks would take care of it. This had been going on for 36 hours without making it's way up to the XO.

Upon realizing that messages were not reaching their intended destinations, no one went into a panic; Star Fleet personnel are trained not to panic even if Q has turned you into a avian arthropod from the Zyst System; but instead, everyone just stopped talking to one another. People forget that communication existed before the invention of the comm badge, and so, in the course of two days, the ship had become as silent as a tomb.

Vic stopped in mid-stride, wondering how something so mundanely unbelievable could have happened in this day and age. Glancing up and down the corridor to make certain no one could hear him, he tried a long shot solution.

“Computer, End Program.”

=/\= “You are not currently running any programs.” =/\=

No holodeck doors opened. Vic breathed a sigh of relief and moved on.

<location: turboshaft 15A, USS Republic>

Inside the turbolift car, John Carter reviewed the data for Republic's tech upgrades on the PADD he was holding. His other hand held half a stalk of celery that was all that remained of his late lunch.

As he munched on the celery stalk, John was unconscious of the way his head was bobbing and weaving. In his mind's eye, he was pushing the Republic through mock engagements against first one, then multiple adversaries. He'd spent the first half of a relatively quiet Alpha shift on the bridge while Captain Marshall seemed to split his time between the Ready Room and Sickbay. That was to be expected, John supposed, and the Captain had at least had the presence of mind to delegate responsibly to the appropriate department heads.

Carter had already given a copy of Republic's weapon upgrades to Lieutenant McTaggart, and had asked the young officer to start working on several attack patterns, but also felt it best to have at least two back up plans that didn't include the phrase “Commit, zero, zero, zero.”

John's mind weaved its way through a web of intercepting vectors and overlapping weapon arcs. One thing that Federation shipwrights understood was focused power. For years, the bulk of a starship's weaponry had been set forward, and John had observed some time ago that most Starfleet tacticians seemed to adhere almost TOO rigidly to the “forward on” engagement strategy favored by most of the major powers in the Alpha Quadrant.

For the most part, Federation Captains were careful, but decisive. Usually preferring to let their superior shield systems make up for a typical lack of maneuverability. Waiting out their opponents until they could position for a “Kill Shot”.

Klingon Captains fell back on their predatory nature and tended to use fast, sweeping attacks, but the Klingons also saw nothing at all wrong with attacking an enemy from behind, and it had taken years for Federation doctrine to adapt to the fact that the aft of a Klingon cruiser was frequently more heavily armed that the fore, allowing the Klingon fleet to exploit the Federation's somewhat limited linear tactics.

Over several dozen years of conquest and empire-building, the Klingons had perfected the “fly-by” (as it was known at the Academy). Klingon Captains would exploit the speed and maneuverability of their ships to fire on their targets at long range, and then come in fast as if playing the Earth game of “chicken”. Having faith in their shield's ability to absorb a direct assault, Federation captains would usually power through the first barrage and then arc either to their left or right and use phasers to keep the Klingons at bay. Problem was that no one told the Klingons that.

Using superior speed and counting on Starfleet stubbornness, the Klingons used the frontal strike as a diversion so siphon valuable energy from their opponent's front screens. Any decent captain would adjust power to compensate, usually by weakening his rear deflectors. Faced with the amazing power of a Klingon aft weapon array, this was usually a fatal error.

If the Klingons understood speed and guile, then the Romulans understood fear at least as well. Like the Klingon fleet, Romulan ships usually had weaker shields, and their disruptors (also very similar to the Klingon design) suffered from lower range than Federation phasers, but Romulan impulse drives were amazingly efficient, and somehow, Romulan capital ships had ALWAYS been able to out turn and out run their prey. Coupled with the Cloaking Device (the bane of any Federation Captain's existence for well over one-hundred years now) the Romulans had perfected the art of striking almost literally from nowhere, and what Romulan weapon's lacked in range they made up for in ferocity.

Every Starfleet cadet knew the story of “Second Contact” with the Romulans. One ship, just one ship, and a scout craft at that, John had to remind himself, had destroyed four Federation listening posts along the ironically named “Neutral Zone”. The then new Romulan ships combined the cloaking device and the terrible Plasma Weapon with devastating effect. And even though Kirk had won the day . . .

John Carter felt an amused smile cross his face. 'There's that name again', he thought as he focused his mind back to the questions at hand.

Despite the victory of the Enterprise, John had to wonder what sorts of gloom and doom thoughts were going through the halls of Starfleet Command. If one small ship could destroy four outposts, what could a proper capital ship do? Let alone an entire fleet? Thankfully, Starfleet had never had to find out the answer to that question, and John could help but marvel at the thought that the Romulans, even the ones he had met and bested in battle, always seemed as though they had other more important things on there minds. That thought didn't help Carter's state of mind at all.

Much like the Enterprise at the Neutral Zone, John Carter's ship was now preparing to meet an unknown, and if this 'Daniels' was correct, terrible foe. However, unlike that century-old battle of wits, John Carter knew a few things he was hoping his enemies didn't.

John braced himself against the front of the turbo-lift car as he went through his own personal checklist. 'Speed is life' he reminded himself, 'space has three dimensions,' Carter felt his smirk return, 'And you sons-of-bitches have never tangled with a pissed off Martian.'

John straightened himself up as the lift doors opened to the Officer's Conference Room. John knew he was early, but he smiled non the less as he saw Victor Virtus and Shannon Harris had both beaten him to the briefing. Carter set the PADDs he'd been carrying down and took a seat at the table. He glanced at Virtus. “Somehow Vic,” he smiled, “I just KNEW you wouldn't be late.”

“Me?” Victor questioned, doing his best to feign surprise. He held up his hands in a gesture of innocence. “Parish the thought.” Then Victor rested his hands on the top of a strange cylindrical object that sent a wave of revulsion through John Carter's body.

“What the sprock is that doing here?” John cursed.

“Watch your language Lieutenant Commander,” Shannon Harris chided. “We worked very hard on this 'sprocking' thing.”

Harris and Virtus both looked at each other like proud parents, then back at Carter. Apparently John had missed something VERY important.

Chapter 6Top

<location: Life Sciences Lab 1740, USS Republic>

The science lab was lined with blinking computer consoles, automated assembly chambers, and bountiful workbenches overflowing with intricate tools of every kind. Leon walked slowly among the plethora of machinery admiring the complexity of it all when he reached the end of the room and realized it did not appear occupied.

“Hello?” Doctor Cromwell asked quizzically. As the only noise in the room was the quiet hum of scientific and engineering equipment, the doctor developed the tell-tale furrow in his eyebrows that he developed whenever a situation turned out to be the contrary of what he expected.

“Hello?” he beckoned again with more annoyance in his voice. It became clear that the quiet atmosphere of the lab contained no other life form besides that of himself.

“Computer, location of Lieutenant Virtus” he called out into mid-air, hoping that a secondary location confirmation would prove that he was not going crazy.

=/\= “Lieutenant Victor Virtus is in the Officer’s Conference Room on deck four.” =/\=

Leon shook his head muttering “I haven’t got time for this.” Stomping out of the science lab, he retraced his last steps to the turbolift. Upon entering it, he turned around with an annoyed look on his face and announced his destination. “Deck four!” he bellowed, causing a passing crewman to turn his head towards the perturbed medical officer in the elevator. The doors whisked closed before the confused crewman walked on past.

As the turbolift doors swung open on the designated level, the doctor continued his vexed shuffle towards the conference room. Walking straight through the doors, he stopped to find Virtus sitting behind the conference table next to Harris, and Carter standing with a PADD in his hands. The trio looked at him as he strolled in, and realized that the annoyed look on his face indicated he was in no mood for a senior staff meeting.

Before he said anything, the doctor’s eyes fell onto a contraption next to Virtus. It was painted in the standard Star Fleet pearlescent-white, and mounted on a push-cart platform with dozens of different engineering components connected to central, cylindrical tank. The tank’s surface contained a small, transparent-aluminum viewport affixed in the center, and an attached portable computer was active and displayed several bio-readout screens in a self-diagnostic mode. Assuming that the device was the gestation chamber he asked Harris and Virtus to construct, he stared at it for a moment before addressing the collection of officers.

“I wasn’t informed of any staff meeting,” Leon said gruffly.

For his part, John Carter tilted his head and cocked an eyebrow. “Really? That's odd. I got the notice in my message queue this morning. Must be more problems with the com system.” Carter glanced around the room. “But you're right Doc,” John added casually, “We are missing a few people.” John looked at the empty seats around the conference table. “Forrest, McTaggart, Zelk…where the hell is everybody? I figured at least 'Points' would be here.”

For a brief moment, the contingent of Republic's senior staff looked at each other. Carter was conscious of not looking too long at Doctor Harris, who had the somewhat dubious honor of sitting directly across from him. In the rich golden light of the conference room, Carter was struck by something. 'Was her hair always that red?'

Off all the people around the table, only Victor Virtus would have noticed Carter's over-long glance. Processing the information quickly, Victor maintained his composure, apart from the rythmic tapping of his fingers on the table top, as though he were entering values into a PADD.

“Are you all right Victor?” Shannon Harris asked, looking at the Science Chief's hand.

Virtus didn't even blink. “Perfectly,” he said, careful to keep his eyes straight ahead. “Just working my way through some teseract models.” He turned his head to look at Harris. “I think I need more closet space.”

Harris blinked.

“That was a joke of course.” Victor said dryly.

“Of course.” She agreed, not entirely sure what she had just agreed to.

John Carter leaned back in his chair and put a hand under his chin, looking rather determined about something. “Right.” he said, perhaps a bit to forcefully. “Might as well get this sorted out.”

Carter rose from his seat and walked over to the wall mounted MSDS, tapping the ship-wide internal hail. It was an old piece of hardware, dating just after the invention of the transdator, but the hardwired comm system functioned apart from the comm badge and message nets, so if there was a problem with one system, communication inside the Republic was still possible.

“Carter to Department Heads. All senior staff please report to the conference room ASAP.”

“That should fix that,” he said confidently. Then the com system chimed to life again.

=/\= “Sawyer to Doctor Cromwell. Do you have a minute Doctor?” =/\=

Carter couldn't help a laugh as Leon excused himself to see what Ashley Sawyer might need. “It's always something.” John said with quiet resolve as he sat back down at the table.

The doors to the conference room hissed open and Leon Cromwell had to pull a quick sidestep as Sean McTaggart stepped in. “Sorry I'm late sirs,” he said nervously. “No one said anything about a staff meeting to me.”

John Carter felt a slight pressure behind his left eye, and had the feeling it was about to get worse.

<location: deck 34, USS Republic>

Jogging through the engineering corridors of the Republic, Doctor Cromwell hurried his way towards Main Engineering. Although he was partially annoyed at being torn between two places, Leon was secretly thankful he was pulled out of what he saw as an impromptu staff meeting. When he entered the conference room, all he was hoping to achieve was to take custody of the gestation chamber so he could go ahead with the surgery on Commander Taylor. However, he had no idea that he was expected to take part in a command briefing.

As the doctor rounded the corner into the Main Engineering compartment, he witnessed a group of engineering crewmen huddled around Commander Sawyer who was on the floor, rubbing her temples. The crewman were attempting to comfort her, but Sawyer seemed more annoyed than in pain as she insisted for her co-workers to return to their duties.

“Okay,” bellowed the cranky doctor. “Let’s break it up, and give her some room. Everyone back to work.” At his urging, the crowd dispersed as Leon pulled out his medical tricorder. Kneeling down to the chief engineer, he waved the diagnostic wand over Sawyer, carefully reviewing the readings. He seemed puzzled by the symptoms.

“Commander, is this the first time you’ve had a collapse like this?” Leon asked.

“Doctor, actually, I have been having these sharp pains in my head for the past few months,” replied Sawyer.

Doctor Cromwell’s eyebrows furrowed in thought, trying to reach a hypothesis as to the engineer’s malady. “How far back do you remember having headaches like this?”

Sawyer thought for a moment. “Well, I haven't had a history of migraines.”

Pressing a few buttons on the tricorder, Leon quickly compared Sawyer’s DNA pattern to known sequences of hereditary diseases. “Hmm,” he thought to himself. “This could have been brought on by a genetic precursor…”

Sawyer was startled, and slightly uneasy by the doctor’s prognosis. “Precursor of what type of genetic problems?” she asked with restraint.

“I’m not sure,” Leon admitted. “It would help if you could provide me with some family background. Did any of your relatives have any chromosomal defects leading to a genetic disease?”

Ashley thought for a moment before her eyes widened with comprehension. “My god, now that you mention it, my grandfather was diagnosed with Metlaf's syndrome! I'm sure you are aware of its strong hereditary traits. None of his children had it, so there is always the possibility of it.”

“Well, that doesn’t explain increased blood flow to your pre-frontal cortex,” explained the doctor. “I haven’t had a chance yet to review your medical file, but my scans indicate that you have a high percentage of Vulcan and Betazoid DNA. Have you had any telepathic episodes recently? Extended usage of mental telepathy can bring about fainting episodes like this, especially if you have the genetic disposition for Metlaf's syndrome.”

“I have been using my abilities a bit more than usual on this vessel,” admitted Ashley. “That could explain it.”

Helping Ashley up off the floor, Leon explained what treatment regime she needed to follow. “When you have the time, stop by sickbay and I’ll administer some RNA repressors to lower the Metlaf enzyme level. That’s what’s causing the enhanced blood flow to your brain resulting in your fainting episodes. In the meantime, try to lay off any conscious telepathic activities.”

Sawyer nodded her head. “Understood, Doctor, thank you.” She hesitated for a moment before begging a boon from the doctor. “Also, I would really appreciate the captain not finding out about this…”

Leon simply smiled at the request. “No problem. I seem to be doing a lot of that these days.” Closing his tricorder, he began to walk back towards the turbolifts. “I think we have a staff briefing that we need to go to, as much as I love them.”

Ashley followed the doctor’s lead. “Yes, we better get back to that briefing.”

<location: conference room, deck 4, USS Republic>

“We are all busy, so I will begin.”

Victor set is hand on the cylindrical device to his side.

“This is the device you asked for Doctor. It appears to function exactly as you described it. I wash my hands of it. All this futuristic technology from the Borg is bothering me.”

Vic glanced over at John.

Carter immediately felt his jaw tense, and he shot a concerned look at Doctor Cromwell. He then cleared his throat at said simply, “I'm sure that Doctor Cromwell knows what he's doing.” Then John leaned forward slightly in his chair.

“Then perhaps someone could explain to me why our ship's profile has changed.” Victor asked.

Carter looked at Ashley Sawyer, who was still out of uniform, then glanced back at the rest of the assembled officers and explained.

“Miss Sawyer decided that the ship could use some improvements.” John hoped that his form of address wasn't taken as an insult. By now word had no doubt spread throughout the ship that Sawyer was off the clock. He gave the former Chief Engineer a wry smile. “I hope you understand Miss that this is all highly classified. Normally we don't let civilians hear this sort of thing.”

Despite the tension of the moment, Sawyer let out a small chuckle. “I think I'll manage Lieutenant Commander.”

“That's good to hear.” John dimmed the lights in the room and activated the immersive holo-display. The walls and ceiling of the room were quickly covered by an enlarged representation of the local star system. At the Center of the room, hovering just above the middle of the conference table, a representation of the Republic hung in space. The left third of the conference room was marked by an irregularly shaped red border. John swiveled in his chair to look at red area.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Kreltan Confederacy.” He waited a beat or two for the words to sink in. Captain Marshall has more of the details, but I can tell you they're big, nasty, and according to some people,” John glanced at his watch. “In 36 hours they destroy the Republic.”

“Excuse me?” Victor Virtus chimed in.

“Oh yeah,” Carter quipped. “Seems they got some sort of Super Dreadnaught, and in 36 hours it blows us up and proceeds to lay waste to the Federation.”

Shannon Harris looked at Victor who was whispering to himself. “What do you mean they WILL destroy us? How can you possibly know that if it hasn't happened yet?”

Carter looked at Ashley Sawyer. “You made the call Points,” he said. “Might as well fill the rest of us in.” Carter keyed the display off and the lighting in the room returned to normal. John sat back and waited to hear exactly how much Sawyer would say, wondering all the while what was keeping his Captain.

Ashley absently ran her finger where her combadge would normally sit, and spoke up.

“It's not a matter of if we are destroyed, we WILL be destroyed. History shows that in less than 36 hours, we will engage a Class D Kreltan Dreadnought, at which time we will be destroyed without much resistance. The Starfleet TPD was indeed breached as some of you have heard. An agent from the distant future came back to warn us and . . . prepare us for that eventuality. According to him, this timeline has been altered, and we are destined to run into them, no matter what course of action we choose from this point on.”

She allowed for this information to sink in, then holding her throbbing temple, stood and made her way to the MSD. “However, he has provided a way for us to not only survive the encounter, but to prevent the ensuing disaster. As a quick summary, here is some of the technology that I, under orders from Captain Marshall, and advisement with our agent, have not only installed, but activated.” she said.

Then feeling a bit tired, she sat back down, and allowed Lieutenant Commander Carter to detail the relevant portions of the upgrades. She put her hands to her temple once more, and closed her eyes as she listened.

Suddenly, the doors to the conference room slid open, and Captain Marshall swiftly marched in to the head of the table. He did not bother sitting down, and the look on his face indicated that he was both irritated and anxious.

“I know some of you may think I'm crazy,” he started with an off-note. “And possibly unfit for command, but I know what I'm doing. My behavior lately may not reflect that, but as the old Earth saying goes I'm just getting my feet wet. I'm not all too sure we can trust Daniels for that matter, but if what he told me is true I need you to trust me. One hour ago, someone either on this ship or it was transmitted off, accessed my classified personnel record. I need to know who it is, because it could be anything for all that matter. I place my life into your hands. We all know our jobs let's do them to the best of our abilities. We have one of the finest crews in the fleet, let's act like. I am proud to serve with all of you. Dismissed.” Marshall surveyed the expressions on each of them he liked what he saw.

Doctors Cromwell and Harris were first to leave the room, followed by Carter, Virtus, and Sullivan. Soon, everyone was enroute to his or her various duty stations when Marshall received a call over the com system.

=/\= “Bridge to Captain, Kreltan signature headed this way. Three hours out at their present speed.” =/\=

“Yellow Alert, I'm on my way.”

“Captain?” it was Sawyer, who had followed the captain out of the briefing room. “Daniels said they would be here in 34 hours.”

“I know, but it looks like there's been a change in plans.” As they arrived at the turbolift Marshall said, “By the way Sawyer, I can't have a civilian as my Chief Engineer.” Jim then produced the PADD (with Sawyer's resignation) her combadge, and pips. “I didn't have the heart to send it back with the McCoy. Is that enough time to get the upgrades online?”

“Barely,” she replied.

“Do it,” the Captain replied while entering the lift, “Bridge.”

Chapter 7Top

<location: corridor, deck 4, USS Republic>

Lieutenant Harris and Doctor Cromwell emerged from the staff meeting with dazed faces. Commander Carter’s prophetic rendition of the Republic’s destruction weighed heavily on their minds. Leon rolled the gestation chamber down the corridor as the duo went beyond earshot of the other officers.

“Have they gone mad?” muttered Leon. “What is this time-shift mumbo-jumbo they keep talking about? If were doomed to be destroyed, why in the hell tell us about it unless we can do something?”

Keeping her eyes straight ahead, Harris replied to the doctor in a matter-of-fact tone. “Well, it sounds like Carter and Sawyer are trying to do something. But I have to admit that I don’t altogether understand the time-traveling bit myself.”

“That’s just it,” explained Leon. “How do we know this Daniels is the real thing? Aren’t they taking a risk by trusting someone who says he’s from the future and wielding all sorts of new toys that could be, for all we know, false renderings intended to make the Republic more susceptible to a Kreltan attack? For all we know Daniels IS Kreltan!”

“I’m sure they know what they’re doing” responded Harris. “Although, I’m concerned that the Captain is a bit more uncomfortable with this than anyone, especially since this is his first command.”

Leon shook his head. “The Captain’s not the only one with misgivings. Did you hear the stress in Carter’s voice? I’m guessing they’re both at odds with each other about this, and are trying to hide it from the rest of the crew. If we don’t get Commander Taylor back on the bridge, it may come to blows between the Captain and Carter.”

“I don’t think Commander Carter would be capable of crossing the line that far,” said Harris with a twinkle in her eye, remembering the “date” she finished with the flying-ace tactical officer. “Still, I agree. The sooner we restore the chain-of-command, the better.”

The two entered a turbolift, accompanied by the Star Fleet reproduction of a Borg gestation chamber. As the doors closed, Doctor Cromwell offered one last ominous point. “That is, IF we can restore the chain-of-command. This is one of the riskiest operations I’ve ever performed . . .”

<approximately 3 hours later in sickbay, surgical suite two>

Doctor Cromwell and Lieutenant Harris were clad in the Star Fleet standard dark-red surgical over-garments, and were busy prepping a sedated Commander Taylor for the risky embryonic-transfer operation. The Commander and Captain Marshall exchanged a private meeting before he was called to the bridge, and the doctor held Commander Taylor’s hand for a last surge of confidence before putting her under a pain-free, artificially-induced coma. Now, as Doctor Cromwell adjusted the surgical support module in which Lana Taylor was entombed, Harris readied the gestation chamber by filling the center tank with pre-fabricated placental fluid based on Commander Taylor’s DNA.

“Tank filling at 0.56 liters per minute. Full capacity at 1.2 minutes from my mark . . . Mark.” Harris went down the surgical checklist that she and Doctor Cromwell completed only an hour ago.

“Acknowledged,” came Leon’s voice through the scarlet surgical mask. “Activating sterilization field.” An electronic hum followed a brief shimmering of white energy crackled throughout the small room.

“Surgical bed grav-plates reduced to 0.1 G’s” snapped Harris’ reply as she adjusted a wall-control panel. “Patient’s vital signs are stable.”

“Laser scalpel” Leon announced professionally, as Harris handed him the requested piece of equipment. “Executing a ten-centimeter lateral incision into the uterus, 2.91 centimeters deep.”

The sharp whine of the scalpel rang for only a moment, as the surgical support module automatically initiated microscopic capillary pressure points, preventing any blood loss.

“Showing a 0.02 drop-off in placental fluid pressure” Harris reported. “Embryonic vital signs stable.”

“About what we expected with the reduced tension on the uterine walls,” explained the doctor.

=/\= “Gestation Chamber has reached full-capacity. Discontinuing fluid transfer.” =/\=

Harris, turning her attention back to the chamber, answered the computer’s announcement by dialing several control pads at once. “Chamber reads nominal. All systems functioning within specified parameters.”

“Acknowledged,” replied Leon, handing off the scalpel to Harris. “Cellular discriminator,” he requested, as she placed a wide-handled instrument into his hands. The doctor tapped a few buttons on the support module and announced “tissue manipulation complete. We have workable incision. Proceeding with membrane dissolution from the uterus.”

Doctor Cromwell activated the new, hand-held device, and it produced a violet beam of light aimed directly into Taylor’s abdomen.

“I’m reading a slight drop in the patient’s blood pressure,” came Harris’ voice.

“Odd . . .” replied Leon, as his eyebrows folded into his tell-tale, foreboding furrow. “Is it within tolerance levels?”

“Yes, but it’s fluctuating.”

“As long as it’s within range,” he said. “Membrane dissolution complete. Suction wand, if you please.” Harris exchanged the discriminator for a long, thin device that terminated with a small, concave nipple, and placed it into Doctor Cromwell’s hand.

Harris returned to the gestation chamber, pressed a control, and a bright yellow energy field appeared on the top surface of the central tank. “Insertion threshold activated. Ready for transfer.”

“Commencing placental retrieval” replied Leon, as a bead of sweat trickled down the side of his head. “Wish us luck.”

Doctor Cromwell activated the wand, and a soft hiss of air sounded from the tip of the device. He manipulated the tip into the incision, and with a soft, wet slurping sound, slowly pulled out a glistening amber sphere of about 5 centimeters in diameter. The translucent sphere floated effortlessly at the tip of the wand in the surgical bed’s low-gravity environment, Within the tiny placenta, a small fleck of a life-form, complete with a miniature beating heart, lay oblivious to the hazardous operation taking place.

<location: main bridge, USS Republic>

“Captain,” said Carter, “Main Engineering reports the upgrades are online and functioning.”

“Good. Virtus, time until the arrival of the Kreltans?”

“12 minutes, they've increased their speed to Warp 8.”

“McTaggart, I want a target analysis ASAP.”

“Aye Captain,” he replied.

“I'd recommend Red Alert,” said Carter.

“Not yet. Only if we have too,” Marshall ordered. “See to it that all civilian personnel make it to the saucer section.”

“I'm on it sir,” Carter replied.

“We're being hailed audio only,” said Sullivan.

“Open a channel.”

The operations officer nodded after quickly dialing a com frequency.

“This is Captain James Marshall of the Federation Starship Republic to whom am I speaking?”

=/\= “This is General Jondav of the Kreltan Warship Indwelling. You are trespassing in our space. Withdraw or suffer the consequences.” =/\=

“General, I can assure you that we are on a rescue mission and well within Federation space. Your people have no claim in this sector or any other around here.”

“Captain, we have visual,” said Sullivan.

“On screen,” Marshall gasped at image he saw. The face on the viewscreen was that of his own.

John Carter stopped mid-stride as he heard his Captain gasp. He pivoted to his right and saw Captain Marshall's mirror image on the screen. “Oh, son-of-a-bitch!” he hissed as he turned again heading for the turbo-lift car. 'Great!' he thought, 'So now we've got either a clone, an elaborate hoax, or some parallel universe garbage! What's next? A sprocking Doomsday Machine?'

John turned again and rode in the lift car toward deck 10. As the car moved silently, he tapped his comm badge.

“Carter to Security.”

=/\= “McDermott here sir.” =/\=

John was glad to hear a pleasant voice answer from the duty station. “Siobhan,” he said firmly, “Captain Marshall wants all civilians helped into the Shelters on the saucer. I'm headed to The Hill to coordinate with Counselor B'Rell. Have Regesh meet me there, and prep the damage control teams. I think things are about to get a little interesting around here.”

=/\= “Interesting, Chinese interesting, sir?” =/\=

“Roger that, McDermott. Carter out.”

As the turbo-lift opened to the bust expanse of Republic's main deck, John shifted his weight and did his best to weave through the busy lanes of crewmen getting to their duty stations. 'Yes indeed,' Carter thought, 'We certainly do live in interesting times.’

<location: main bridge, USS Republic>

=/\= “You see Captain, we are capable of assuming any shape or form that we choose. Right now I like this one. Our goal is to destroy from within. I have studied your life Captain. I know what you will do before you do, and I can assure you that you will not live long enough to regret it. I will defeat you and your puny Federation.” =/\=

“Say you do beat me,” Marshall replied. “Starfleet's sensors are going to detect that you're a shape shifter.”

=/\= “I don't think so. We are far superior to our sister species the Founders. We can match humanity down to the genetic level. Prepare to be destroyed.” =/\=

“They've closed the channel,” said Sullivan ominously.

Chapter 8Top

<location: surgical suite 2, main sickbay, USS Republic>

=/\= “All hands Red Alert.” =/\=

The ship shuttered with such a jolt that the suction wand, which held aloft the helpless embryo of Commander Taylor’s child, floated out of Leon’s hand as both Doctor Cromwell and Lieutenant Harris lost their footing. The lights faded momentarily, but by design, the backup power system kept a steady stream of energy to the surgical support module.

As the wand and attached placenta went tumbling helplessly above the low-gravity surgical bed, a dark-red glove reached up and gently, snatched the handle. Lieutenant Harris stood up with the device in her hand, and immediately carried it to the gestation chamber. With a flick of the wrist, the suction wand released the placenta and its encased embryo over the glowing yellow threshold. The amber sphere floated momentarily before being gently deposited down into the protection of the main gestation tank. The yellow threshold automatically deactivated, and the chamber sealed itself.

A breath of relief emanated from Shannon Harris as Doctor Cromwell stood up, using the surgical bed for support. Tapping the combadge under his surgical smock, Leon shouted “Cromwell to Yezbeck! What in blazes is going on?!”

A static sizzle sounded briefly before a frantic Doctor Yezbeck came over the chattering com-channel.

=/\= “The ship’s under attack! I’m getting casualty reports from all decks!” =/\=

Both Shannon and Leon looked at each other in horror. They went to great lengths to ensure that Commander Taylor’s operation was complete before the Republic engaged the Kreltans. In the briefing, it was mentioned that they wouldn’t be encountering the approaching vessel for another day and a half. Either something else had happened, or the Kreltans were faster than initially anticipated.

<location: main bridge, USS Republic>

The Indwelling fired on the Republic, and she shook wildly as the impact hit.

“Defensive pattern Kirk Epsilon,” Marshall ordered. “Virtus, find any weaknesses on that ship that we can use. McTaggart load the trans-phasic torpedoes and fire at will. Sullivan, call the cavalry.”

The Republic fired on the Indwelling.

“No damage,” said Virtus.

“Captain, they've jammed all hailing frequencies,” said Sullivan.

McTaggart then spoke, “Incoming . . .”

They bridge shook as sparks flew. McTaggart and the helm officer hit the deck and did not get back up. Marshall was knocked off his feet. Sullivan and Virtus almost flew out of their seats.

“Sullivan take the Helm. I've got tactical,” ordered Marshall as Sullivan moved to the station.

“Virtus to sickbay, we've got injured here.”

<location: surgical suite 2, main sickbay, USS Republic>

Static chatter interlaced throughout Virtus’ announcement, but the message was clear: they were in trouble. Leon tapped his combadge to reply. “You and every other place on this ship. I'll send a team up. Cromwell out.” Shaking his head he tapped the badge again. “Yezbeck, coordinate the response teams and triage wards we had during the Zurich’s evacuation. Get a team up to the bridge and clear those damn comm-channels for the emergency squads only!”

The acknowledgement was barely forthcoming as the ship shuttered yet again. Returning his attention to the operation, Doctor Cromwell frantically asked “How’s junior? Will he be alright?”

Harris nodded. “Yes, the embryo is currently responding well to the transplant. Don’t worry about the tank. Virtus and I triple-reinforced the shell, and incorporated multiple redundant backups to the miniature acceleration compensators. This thing can handle a complete hull breach after being tossed down a 30-deck turboshaft. We made sure of that.”

As the ship rocked from another attack, Leon continued his inquiry as he turned his attention to Commander Taylor. “And the power supply?”

“Redundant backups as well, with a tempest-shield to prevent energy leaching. The embryo couldn’t be in a safer place.”

The lights faded off and on as Doctor Cromwell looked up. “If they keep this up, I’m going to lose both these patients regardless of how tough that tank is. . . “

Almost on queue, warning buzzers sounded on the surgical module as Commander Taylor went into severe convulsions. Leon’s pinpointed pupils indicated the first sign of panic he had in years. “Eclampsia! Damn-it! I knew this would happen! 50cc’s of Enclatium, stat!”

Immediately, Harris handed a hyposray to the doctor. As he administered the medicine, the loud banging on the inside of the support module subsided as Lana’s convulsions grew weaker. More warning buzzers sounded, and bio-readouts went from yellow to red. “Administer another dose! I’m going to close up the uterus!”

Reacting by instinct, Harris followed Leon’s directions as he activated the auto-suture on the surgical module. As the incision was closed, he glanced at the readouts while they still flickered between yellow and red. “She’s falling into cerebral shutdown!” Leon exclaimed. “I’m only getting nerve impulses from the hippocampus now! The uterus is closed, get me the cordical stimulators!”

Harris placed the neurological devices on Lana’s forehead as the ship jostled from another direct hit. The lights dimmed again as the frenzied medics worked to jump-start Commander Taylor’s nervous system. More hypo-sprays were administered among the static zaps of the cordical stimulators. Still, the readouts hovered between red and yellow.

Without warning, a huge explosion severely rattled the surgical suite as everything went black.

<location main bridge, USS Republic>

Marshall surveyed the tactical console. He had an idea, “Sullivan can you get us closer to the Indwelling?”

“I'll get as close as I can sir. I only know the basics,” he replied.

“Just keep them in front of us. I'll do the rest.”

=/\= “Carter to bridge, all civilians are in the saucer section.” =/\=

“Good, get back down here. Captain's having to take Tactical. Looks like he needs a hand. Virtus out.”

Marshall fired everything the Republic had at their warp nacelles. It did some damage but not enough. The Republic was taking a beating.

“Their damage is at 17% Captain,” said Virtus.

“What's ours?” asked Marshall.

“Looks like hull plating on decks 23 & 17, shields weakened, impulse engines are sluggish, aft weapons depleted, Forward phasers down to 60%, aft shields at 13% and fore shields at 60%.”

Marshall didn't like what he heard. Just then Carter arrived with the med team in tow. “Looks like you could use a hand Captain.”

“I bloodied their nose a bit, take over.”

=/\= “You're doing good Jimmy, but not good enough. You're putting up a better fight than I imagined. I have you out manned, out gunned, and out smarted. You humans are so pathetic.” =/\=

“I hate being called Jimmy,” said Marshall, “Virtus have you found a weakness yet?”

“I've managed to get their shield remodulation frequency. Transferring to Tactical.”

The ship rocked as more sparks flew on the bridge. The Republic was bleeding. It knocked Carter and Marshall off their feet and Sullivan and Virtus from their stations. They got up and resumed firing.

“Captain,” said Carter, “That last hit, with all the damage we have taken has knocked out the upgrades. They are offline.”

“Ideas?” asked Marshall. “I want to defeat these bozos. Let's send them back to whatever corner of space they came from.”

“Always.” Carter said, with an air of confidence that surprised even him. John braced himself against the wood grain rail that served as the landmark of the Tactical station on Galaxy Class Starships. He watched as a glowing ball of angry green energy swung and darted closer to the Republic. “Helm! Roll 45 degrees to port. Take that hit on the ventral shields!” Carter and the rest of the bridge crew shifted their weight to compensate for Republic's radical change in orientation, but John managed to keep his eyes focused on the viewer ahead. Relying on years of training and experience, John's hands keyed in a series of commands to change the viewers display.

“Tactical view up!” Carter said out of sheer habit.

Gone was the familiar black of deep space, pricked by the light of distant suns. Gone was the massive Kreltan Dreadnaught John was told would kill him and his crew. Instead, Republic's main viewer displayed a spherical area of local space for the next three-hundred-fifty-thousand kilometers. Also on the ship's main plot were vectors indicating speed and heading of the Republic, her Kreltan adversary, and the sporadic amounts of fire the two ships were exchanging.

“Come on, come on,” Carter pleaded with the universe, “Show me something.”

Colors changed again on the graphic representation of the Kreltan attacker, indicating points of gravitic stress and relative shield strength. Scanning the image on the viewer, Carter finally saw what he needed. “Gotcha,” he said, in an almost predatory whisper.

“Helm, set two-seven-one by fourteen. Give me full impulse, but don't jump to warp. Not yet at least.” He looked at Sean McTaggart who was now watching the tactical repeater from the XO station. “Remember what I told you kid?”

“Yes sir!” McTaggart added with youthful exuberance.

“Good.” John said as he shifted his focus to the man standing over his right shoulder. “Vic, give me their complete sensor profile. Might as well put what few toys we do have to good use. Oh, and…”

John added as he felt his cocky smirk return, “remove the inertial safety locks will you please.”

Now settled back in the Captain's chair, James Marshall wasn't sure about what he just heard. “Carter!” He queried, “What the devil are you playing at?”

“Poker, Captain.” John said calmly. He looked down briefly at the Master Tac Display and saw that the Inertial Lock-Outs were now disengaged. “I'm willing to bet that whatever it is over there was counting on dealing with you. Not me. Time to see if he really knows his stuff or if he's just relying on a really big stick.”

As Carter continued to scheme, Republic rocketed away at near-relativistic speeds. John watched with satisfaction as the Kreltan ship accelerated to pursue. “Excellent,” John whispered. “Just like the book says you should.”

Chapter 9Top

<location: deck 12, USS Republic>

Smoke billowed out of the main doors to sickbay as they were forced ajar by the multiple hands of escaping crewmen. The smoke was obscuring the wavering lights of the corridor as medical technicians in blacked uniforms were struggling to drag unconscious comrades out of the damaged complex. As others raced off down the corridor with as many medical supplies as they could, the soot-covered Vulcan face of Doctor Y’lair clambered over to a wall-mounted comm-panel.

“Bridge, this is Lieutenant Y’lair. We have hull breaches above, below, and on the main deck, aft section. Plasma is venting into habitation compartments from the impulse decks. Sickbay is out of commission, and we’re evacuating everyone to Ten-Forward. Reroute all casualties to Ten-Forward. Repeat—Send all casualties to Ten-Forward, we’ll have medical teams regrouping there. We’re sealing off this deck. Y’lair out.”

<location: main bridge, USS Republic>

Moments later, a message came back that Counselor B'Rell had secured all the civilians and casualties in Republic's forward section, affectionately known as “The Hill”.

John Carter felt his pulse race as he planned his next move. There were three rules he lived by when it came to combat in space. First, 'speed is life'. Don't stop. Stopping means dying. Second, 'space is three-dimensional'.

It amazed John how few officers in 'Fleet actually understood how space worked in a physical sense. He'd spent the better part of a year trying to get his cadets at the ATC to 'use the whole board', meaning the Z-axis of space. He was also keenly aware that he didn't have to be head on with an enemy to attack them, though the fighter jock in him did enjoy that quite a bit.

The third rule of Carter's personal tactical bible was to 'never, ever, let the other guy know what was in your hand'. Republic had been at a disadvantage relying too much (in John's opinion) on what they 'knew' would happen, and because of that, his ship had gone toe to toe with a ship that outgunned even the updated Republic. Now, most of those improvements were off-line, and Republic was running for it's life, but that was fine for now.

For all the Kreltan Dreadnaught's power, she was slow at sub-light speeds. Anyone who could see the tactical plot on Republic's viewer could watch the distance between the ship's growing, even as the Kreltans tried to pursue, and Republic was now exiting the Kreltan's energy weapon range. Rule one held true from what Carter could see. Speed was life. 'Now,' Carter thought I've got to drop some of our dead weight, and get the civilians to safety. Fortunately, he could do both at once.

The design team at Utopia Planitia had built the Galaxy class so that her saucer could be separated at proceed under warp while the so-called 'Stardrive' or secondary hull, could remain on station as an agile and dangerous element. In this particular situation, separating the primary hull would get the civilians onboard the Republic out of harm's way, while also relieving the stardrive of having to carry the massive weight of the saucer section. Republic was about to get faster.

John Carter cleared his throat and tapped the control on his board to open a channel to Engineering.

“Bridge to Sawyer. Any chance we can get the ablative armor back on line? If I'm going to sucker these guys in, we're going to need to take some hits with the shields down.”

<location: main engineering, USS Republic>

“On it sir, I've transferred all non essential power to the generators.” she said, dashing back up from Deflector control to Engineering.

“If all goes well, we can sustain at least 10 direct hits before the armor will show signs of failure. After that, it might get bumpy. I recommend keeping us on a spinning Z axis rotation, so the armor is evenly hit, she said, as she thumbed up the power levels on the generator.

“This should increase power systemwide for us, and get all of our damaged systems back online” she said, as a shower of sparks erupted from a console. “But its still going to get hot in here, we need to get out of here as soon as possible!” she yelled over the din.

Ashley ran back down to the lower level, and checked the power levels. Things looked grim, she hoped Carter's plan would work. As she transferred power, she couldn't help but think that this whole situation was Daniel's fault. He had done a damn poor job of preparing them for this, and they were in trouble.

Lot's of it.

“That’s it bridge, that’s all the power we can muster. Use it wisely, when this is gone, we are dead in space and/or dead!” she yelled as low rumble came from the re-energized warp-core.

<location: main bridge, USS Republic>

John turned his attention to the smartest man he knew. “Vic? How are you coming with that sensor profile?”

“Standing by John but…”

“Load their profile into the active sensor suite and stand by to give it everything we've got.”

Virtus knew where Carter's mind was headed. With enough power, it was possible to overwhelm an enemies sensors, and show them what YOU wanted them to see, and while Vic knew it was possible, he wondered WHY his Martian compatriot would want the Kreltans to see a reflection of themselves, to say nothing of the fact that Victor knew Republic wasn't capable of generating enough power to carry it off. Even with the quarda-lithium warp core.

“John,” Victor said firmly, “We don't have the power to…”

“Not yet Vic,” Carter interrupted, “But we will.” Carter tilted his head slightly and addressed Captain Marshall.

“Captain,” He barked. “Permission to cut the saucer loose? I'd like to do it as we jump to warp one…give them a little boost. With the inertial safety locks off, they'll be able to coast out of here, and the Kreltan's won't be able to get a warp trace. It means they'll get away clean sir. ALL of them. Then we can take the gloves off.”

John waited a beat, then added. “Trust me Captain. Please. I know what I'm doing.”

Carter was surprised at himself for even asking the Captain's permission to release the saucer section. A few years ago, he might have ordered it on his own authority because he KNEW that it was the right thing to do. For that matter, he suspected that Captain Marshall would agree with him in this instance, so asking for the order was ALMOST a waist of time. Still, John was about to challenge what some would consider destiny, so it always paid to cover your bases.

In the Captain's chair, James Marshall was quickly processing what had just happened. Attacked by a mirror-image of himself, 'At least it's a shape-shifter and not some other damned thing.' he thought, Republic's ill-gotten technology had proved far less effective than he would have hoped, and now Marshall was running.

He hated running, he hated it with a passion. He always thought it was a sign of weakness. But James Marshall was also a man who was keenly aware of his responsibilities. He had civilians and casualties (one in particular) to worry about. If saving them cost Marshall a little pride, well that was fine with him.

Marshall turned his head slightly to his right. “Whom do you need to pull this thing off?” he asked, as Republic was jolted by another photon hit from the Kreltan ship.

Carter used his arms to absorb the jolt forward. “Don't stay in a straight line Kid!” He shot back at Sean McTaggart. “We've got velocity on them. Mix it up and make them work for a hit!”

Sean McTaggart nodded from the Conn. position and keyed in a series of commands. “Evasive pattern GTFO-1, engaged!”

Carter suppressed a smile as he saw Republic's projected vector dip on the Z-axis while the ship rolled up on her starboard side to project a minimal aspect the Kreltan Dreadnaught. 'I'll be,' he thought to himself, 'The kid learns fast.' John Carter took a quick survey of his tactical display and watched with satisfaction as the Ablative Armor and Photon Torpedo systems came back online. “Way to go Points!” He yelled over the noise.

“We're in business Captain, if you can spare me and Vic. I can handle Tactical and Conn. at once. To tell you the truth, I prefer it that way, and Vic's a qualified Ops. Officer. Plus, I'll need him on sensors if this is going to work at all. Sawyer and her people are keeping things together down in Engineering so…”

A yellow tell-tale blinked on the Tac Board. “Incoming hail from the Kreltans sir.” Carter said.

“On Speakers.”

The annoyingly confident voice of the Kreltan General Jondav filled the bridge. “Jimmy boy. I'm shocked. You? Running? You're only making it worse on yourself you know. It's only a matter of time before I hunt you down and kill you.”

As James Marshall worked out what to say next, he made out what could only be some sort of Kreltan curse, carried over the speakers as Sean McTaggart's erratic maneuvers caused a salvo of enemy torpedoes to miss the Republic. Marshall stood up and tugged at the bottom hem of his tunic.

“You have no idea how happy that makes me… General. Looks like you don't know me as well as you thought you did. The way I see it if I can't destroy ya, the least I can do is go get some help to send you back to that backwater corner of space you came from.”

Marshall took a few casual steps forward and turned to head to the turbolift on the fore side of the bridge that would take him directly to the battle bridge. As he walked, he continued to address his Kreltan doppelganger. “You are in violation of Federation space.” He said firmly. “Your presence here is without a doubt an act of war. Surrender now, and you'll live. If not, well… I can't make you any guarantees, but… I bet you already knew that. Didn't you General?”

The voice that answered back was filled with rage. “You insolent static life form! I'm going to rip out your spine and…”

“I'll take that as a no, and while we're at it, don't call me Jimmy.” Marshall said, then brushed his fingers across his throat; a signal for John Carter to close the audio channel.

James Marshall walked forward to stand in front of the bridge turbolift. “Mister Sullivan.”


“You'll be in command of the saucer section. Stand by for saucer separation on my mark. Get these people back to the nearest starbase. We'll give you a little push at warp one to send you on your way. If you should, for some reason, drop out of warp, head for the closest star system at impulse and send out a distress call. We'll connect up with you as soon as we can.” Marshall stepped into the lift car.

“Virtus, Carter, you're with me.”

John and Victor exchanged looks, then jogged quickly toward the lift car.

“Aye Sir” Virtus said with cool efficiency as he stepped inside.

Before entering the car, John Carter looked back at Sean McTaggart. “Keep 'em guessing Kid!” he said in encouragement.

“Aye, Sir!”

Marshall spoke again, “Sullivan,” he was reminded of a friend he couldn't be there for at the moment, “if Commander Taylor should find her way up here, let her take command if she's up to it. She'll want to feel needed. Trust me.”

“Yes sir, I will,” replied Sullivan.

Carter stepped inside the lift car, and smiled as the doors slid shut. Across from him, James Marshall gave him a hard look, then spoke to the empty space above him. “Battle Bridge.” He said, then paused as the car began to move. “Time to end this, let's go clean their chronometers boys.”

It seemed as though the Battle Bridge was light years away.

Chapter 10Top

<location: surgical suite 2, main sickbay, USS Republic>

It was still dark as Lana slowly awoke. She was barely conscious, and felt the heavy weight of her quilt over her body. Obviously, it was still early, and her duty shift was hours away. Taking a deep breath, she smelled smoke, and began to cough which caused a spasm of pain throughout her body.

“Computer, lights!” she beckoned without response. Trying to move the quilt away, her arms hit upon a hard surface. Was this her quilt? She didn’t remember her bed being this small. She tried to roll over and wake her husband, but could not move her legs. The panic of claustrophobia caused her to open her eyes. It was still dark, and the only light she could see was a pulsating red tracer light. She suddenly realized she wasn’t in her quarters.

Wearily, Lana shook her head, trying to rid her mind of cobwebs, but to no avail. With all of her strength, she pushed against the structure surrounding her body with both arms. Slowly, the rigid surface gave way, and with a loud slam, the mysterious shape fell away onto the floor. Feeling around in the darkness, she found herself atop a small bunk. Still, there was no feeling in her legs, nor could she move them. Panic began to creep into her mind as Lana clambered off the table and onto the floor. Her legs were still inactive.

Now she remembered . . . the operation. But what happened? Where was Doctor Cromwell? The red tracer lights and the unconscious forms of two bodies on the floor next to her answered those questions. Smoke hovered in the air as Lana frantically crawled on her arms to reach for the door panel, her legs dragging lifelessly behind her. Pressing the panel multiple times revealed that no power was available to the door, nor the comm system. She tried a few more panels, and realized that there was no power to the surgical suite at all, save the battery-powered tracer lights.

Suddenly, the one factor of her situation that escaped her until now entered into her soul with a chill. She felt her stomach, and realized she was no longer pregnant.

“My baby!” she gasped, coughing yet again from the smoke.

Spinning around on the floor, she caught sight of the one other light that radiated within the dark room other than the condition red tracer lights. It was a soft, amber light, coming from a small, circular viewport, and surrounded by smaller blue and white blinking diodes on adjoining consoles. Hastily, she crawled over to it, realizing it was the gestation chamber she had so reluctantly accepted as the vessel to hold her unborn child. Peering into the window, the luminous aura was not the vile, green reflection of Borg technology she expected. Instead, the warm, orange glow was pleasant and inviting. Focusing closer at the small orb in the center of the fluid-filled tank, was the encased embryo of her unborn child. Its tiny heart was beating contently, and was completely unaware of the critical situation outside the armored protection of its new abode. The bio-readouts on the adjoining panels indicated all was well with her baby, and as it quietly and peacefully continued it’s ten-month development, a tear of joy ran down Lana’s cheek.

Lana knew she wouldn’t' be able to get far without use of her legs. She was happy her baby was okay. That was her whole life, and she didn't want to loose it. She sat down on the ground and tried to get her bearings and to look at her surroundings. She then looked around and saw Doctor Cromwell on the ground. She crawled over to him. “Doctor? . . . Doctor Cromwell??” she said trying to get him to wake up.

It was hard to notice the blood splotch on Leon’s left temple through the dark red surgical clothing, but as Lana removed the cap and mask, she saw the streaks of crimson down the side of his face. He moaned and gritted his teeth as Lana attempted to wake him.

“Harris, what’s Taylor’s vitals?” he babbled. As he moved his head back and forth, he coughed spasmodically due to the smoky air. Grunting with pain, he slowly sat up against the nearby wall and opened his eyes. Focusing in the dim light, he saw the commander sitting on the floor in front of him.

“What the hell are you doing out of bed?!” he bluntly asked, while painfully holding his hand against his head wound.

“Well, to be quite blunt, doctor, someone needed to find out what had happened. You were unconscious. I woke up and fell on the floor and crawled over to you. And don't you get an attitude with me. I still have seniority over you even though I am out of commission at the moment,” Lana said laughing at her last comment. “I am aware that I can not walk, but I had to find out what was going on, and had to find out why I didn’t' feel pregnant any more.”

Lana had no idea what was going on. She slowly started regaining feeling in her legs, and reached for her communicator that she put away in a drawer under the surgical counter prior to the operation. Her head was still filled with cobwebs as she fumbled to make a call.

“Commander Taylor to Captain Marshall,”

Lana sat on the floor beside Doctor Cromwell. She knew he would not be too fond of the fact that she was off of the bed. That and she hadn't heard from James. That really worried her beyond all. She knew what she was going to do, even though it wouldn't impress anyone that she was with and around.

Lana looked at Leon. “I am going to try to get to Captain Marshall. I want to help out as much as I can. Please stay with my baby. I trust the baby with you.”

“Lana, it isn't safe. Plus we’re trapped in here,” Leon said.

“At this moment, I don't care. He needs me on the bridge or wherever he is at. Please just take care of my baby.”

Leon had no idea what she was up to, but was in no position to argue. His own head was pounding, and it was all he could do to stay conscious.

Just then, Captain Marshall called back on Lana’s communicator.

=/\= “Marshall here. It’s good to hear your voice, Lana” =/\=

“What is going on?” she said drowsily, the coma-inducer from the operation still filling her mind with a fog. “I woke up in the surgical ward and it was really dark.”

=/\= “Deck 12 has been evacuated. Sickbay's been relocated to The Hill, didn't they take you up there?” =/\=

“No, we are stuck down here in surgical suite two. Doctor Cromwell and Doctor Harris are injured, but they are talking to me. Leon is going to take care of the baby. I want beamed immediately to where you are at.”

=/\= “I’ll have transporter room 3 beam you out. Stand by.” =/\=

<location: emergency turbolift, enroute to the battle bridge.>

Victor turned to the captain and acting XO without glancing up from a PADD. The battle stress was evident by only the slightest increase in his rate of speaking.

“I don't know where you expect to get your power from Commander, but I can generate sensor echoes all over this quadrant if that's what you want. The absence of the main sensor array on the saucer section will make it a bit tricky, but I've done more with less.”

John smirked.

“Of course you have”

The turbo lift shook slightly as a torpedo went off 100 meters starboard.

“Ops to Tactical. They've switched to proximity detonations. They know we're too fast to hit dead on.”

Vic raised an eye to look at the acting XO as the turbolift doors opened and the trio took up positions around the dim battle bridge.

“Do try to remember that the battle section is not a Ghost Wing fighter, and if you start doing X/Z-axis back flips you WILL pull the nacelles off the secondary hull…”

“Vic, we're in a bit of a rush…”

”… and I don't have to remind you that the support pylons can only take an extra 75 kilonewtons per square meter of yaw stress once we detach the saucer section…”

“Vic, about the sensor sweep…”

”… and you might like to know that the enemy vessel appears to have a four meter blind spot on their port side, amidships, slightly aft of their ram scoop. Not big enough to hide a ship, but it might help.”

“LIEUTENENT, I need that…”

“… full scan? It's on the display under your left hand Commander.”

Victor strapped himself into his station's chair and waited for the fireworks to begin.

<location: main bridge, USS Republic>

Lieutenant Tom Sullivan made his way to the Captain's Chair and sat down, feeling more comfortable than his operations duty station chair.

“All stations, all hands, prepare for emergency saucer separation. Evacuate all civilians and non-essential personnel to the saucer. Helm, the nearest starbase is Starbase Delphi, as soon as we separate change course for arrival at that destination,” Tom stated, the ship rocked some more from weapons fire.

“Bridge to Marshall. Captain, we're ready for saucer separation on your orders. We have a course set to Starbase Delphi, and the evacuation of civilians and non-essential personnel is currently underway, we're standing by,” Tom stated over the comms. He waited, somewhat impatiently for the Captain's orders. He hoped that all would go well.

<location: transporter room 3, saucer section, USS Republic>

The veil of transporter energy dissipated to reveal a delirious Lana Taylor lying on the platform half-naked and wearing a surgical in-patient smock. An ensign in operations gold helped her off the transporter pad as the transporter chief called to the bridge.

“This is transporter room three, we have Commander Taylor.”

=/\= “Good job, chief. What about Doctors Cromwell and Harris?” =/\=

The chief looked confused. “I didn’t get any other com signals to lock onto.” He turned back towards the inebriated Commander Taylor. “Ma’am? Did you have others you wanted beamed out?”

“Leon’s going to stay with my baby!” she said with a slur, the drugs still inhibiting her thought processes.

“Get her to Ten Forward, ensign,” the chief quickly said before turning back to the transporter controls.

“I don’t need a drink!” she protested as the ensign assisted her to the exit. “I want to go where Jim is! Where’s Jim?” The doors slid shut, silencing her remonstration.

=/\= “Chief, what’s the status of our doctors? Are they out yet?” =/\=

A look of alarm began to creep across the face of the transport chief as the controls chirped with multiple negative warbles.

“Bridge, I’m reading a plasma fire on deck 12, can you confirm?”

=/\= “Affirmative, chief. We have it emanating from a ruptured conduit from backup impulse drive number two.” =/\=

“The fire is generating a EM pulse throughout the deck around sickbay!” he announced with panic slipping into his voice. “I can’t get a transporter lock! Can you shut down the impulse drive?”

=/\= “Negative. We’re undergoing an emergency saucer sep. We can’t shut it down.” =/\=

“Then those doctors are as good as dead . . .”

<location: battle bridge, stardrive section, USS Republic>

=/\= “All stations, all hands, prepare for emergency saucer separation. Evacuate all civilians and non-essential personnel to the saucer.” =/\=

Sullivan's announcement rang out all over the Republic as the three men took their respective stations in the Battle Bridge. Marshall in the command char, with

Victor Virtus manning Ops, and John Carter manning Conn and Tactical.

=/\= “Bridge to Marshall. Captain, we're ready for saucer separation on your orders. We have a course set to Starbase Delphi, and the evacuation of civilians and non-essential personnel is currently underway, we're standing by.” =/\=

“Stand by bridge,” Marshall said. “Carter are we ready to go down here?”

“Captain, we're ready to separate,” Carter said.

Marshall turned back to the com system. “Battle Bridge to Main Bridge, we're ready down here. We are 'go' for saucer separation.”

“Carter,” Captain Marshall ordered. “Take us to Warp One. Virtus when we've reached Warp One jettison the saucer.”

“Captain,” Carter announced. “The saucer section is away. We are on course back to engage the Kreltans.”

“Noted,” he replied. It was time for him to act like a captain.

John Carter concentrated on his upcoming battle with the Kreltan Dreadnought. As the saucer of U.S.S. Republic continued out of sensor range, bound for Starbase Delphi, John Carter checked his Tactical plot.

“Coming to bearing Zero-two-seven mark Twenty-five. Current velocity is point eight-five cee.”

John noted with quiet satisfaction that the stardrive section of a Galaxy Class starship was, as advertised, quite a bit more responsive to helm changes, which was good, since he was going to need all the maneuverability and speed he could get. The smirk returned.

Next to Carter, Victor Virtus manned the Ops station on the battle bridge. From there he could monitor all of the ship's non-combat systems. Out of habit, and owing to his “former life” as a Chief Engineer, Virtus had delegated a section of his MSSD to monitor Republic's warp core. Victor managed to stifle his surprise as the display indicated mega-joules of surplus power. Immediately Victor began to theorize. 'Of course!' he thought to himself, 'with the quadra-lithium intermix chamber effectively doubling our output, and the saucer no longer drawing from ship's power, Republic now had twice it's normal available power, and roughly half of the systems that they were normally required to service. A surplus of one-hundred-forty-eight point seven percent, allowing for momentary inconsistencies in the intermix ratio'.

“Nicely done John.” Victor commented. “Looks like you can do math after all.”

“Looks like.” Carter glanced at his tactical board again and keyed the command to energize Republic's ablative armor generator and photon systems. He felt a slight shift as tons of super-dense duranium alloy were replicated and beamed into place to reinforce the leaner, meaner Republic. “Ablative armor and photons are both a go, Captain. Kreltan's are at 185 k-klicks and closing… head-on, sir.”

“All right Mister Carter,” Captain Marshall said, his voice possessing an almost icy quality. “Take these folks to school.”

For the first time since learning of “Daniels'” interference from the “future”, John Carter let himself smile. “Aye Sir!” he answered, now eager to prove his enemies, and perhaps even Destiny itself, that Starfleet crews don't take kindly to hopeless situations. John tilted his head to his right.

“Here we go Vic,” he said. “Stand by to push the Kreltan sensor profile through the active array. Wait for me to drop the shields, then we blind 'em.” Carter keyed in more commands. “Photon torpedoes ready. Four birds, no spread.”

“Wait for you to what?” Virtus asked.

“Wait for you to WHAT?!” asked Marshall from behind John's position.

“Three, two…” Carter watched as the distance between Republic and the Kreltan Dreadnaught closed at amazing speed. On the Tactical plot, Republic's stardrive was about to enter a yellowed area that indicated the Kreltan's maximum weapon range.


The stardrive section crossed into range of the Kreltan weapons.

“NOW!” Carter's voice thundered across the bridge. Warning lights and sirens blared as Republic's shields dropped.

Victor Xavier Virtus kept his mind on the task at hand. Relying on the training and discipline that Starfleet had ingrained into him, he activated the active sensor suite on Republic's stardrive section.

“Sensors active!”

Chapter 11Top

<location: main bridge, Kreltan Warship Indwelling>

On the bridge of the Kreltan Dreadnaught, James Marshall's shape-shifting double asked his crew to confirm what his eyes were showing him, because it just couldn't be. “What is THAT?” he asked his sensor officer.

“It appears to be… an Oligarch Class Dreadnaught, General.”

The General was furious. “Damn you, you weak-willed proto-form! I know what it APPEARS to be, but why? How?”

“I don't know sir,” The junior officer tried to explain, “but there appears to be no sign of the Federation ship. We tracked their jump to warp, but they didn't leave the system.”

The Kreltan Commander began to understand. “Clever, Jimmy,” he said, “But YOU can't change your skin.” The General leaned forward as a predator. “Target their vital systems,” he ordered, “but don't destroy them. I want Marshall to be able to look into his own face as he expires!”

The Kreltan's weapon officer obeyed his General's orders. “Disruptors and plasma torpedoes targeted and ready, General.”


<location: battle bridge, stardrive section, USS Republic>

“Here it comes!” John Carter warned as he watched his Tactical plot. Warnings of charged particle beams and explosive plasma filled the status display, and the crew on Republic’s battle bridge braced for multiple impacts.

Impacts that didn't happen.

For a moment James Marshall didn't know what to do, but that moment passed in a confident flash. “Damage report?”

Virtus checked his readings again. “Nothing, Captain. Ablative armor is intact, all systems green.”

In the black of space, the smaller ship that was now the U.S.S. Republic dipped and rolled as angry lances of Kreltan disruptor fire spit uselessly into empty space. Barely missing their target, but missing all the same. As the distance between the two ships continued to close, Republic sailed through the hail of Kreltan fire. Momentum would carry the Federation ship on it's present course, and minor course corrections would allow her to bring weapons to bear on a now, clearly confused enemy.

“Close, but no cigar.” John Carter hissed.

With frightening speed, and accuracy, four glowing bundles of anti-matter, chronitons, and neutronium shot from the torpedo tubes just above Republic's main defector dish; to slam, one after the other, into the same target on the mammoth Kreltan Dreadnought.

<location: main bridge, Kreltan Warship Indwelling>

“What do you mean, 'No effect'?!?” the OTHER James Marshall screamed.

“We hit them General,” the weapons officer tried to explain, checking his displays again. “I KNOW we did, but instruments show no effect.”

Two mighty explosions rocked the Kreltan bridge. The first two torpedo hits had battered down the Dreadnought's impressive shields, leaving Republic's remaining shots to find their mark unhindered. For a moment, there was eerie silence on the Dreadnaught's bridge as shocked systems struggled to fulfill their functions and come back on line. Emergency lighting cast a sickly yellow glow on the scene as the General asked his Second for a report on his ship's status, but dead life-forms didn't answer questions.


<location: battle bridge, stardrive section, USS Republic>

“Hold tight.”

John Carter's fingers flew across the Con panel as Republic banked to the left of the Kreltan Dreadnaught. As Republic continued along her arc, John used the reaction control thrusters to change the angle of attack of the Stardrive section while maintaining the ship's bearing and velocity. A slight roll to starboard, and Carter was able to bring forward and starboard phasers to bear on the Kreltan ship.

Fierce red lances of energy shot from Republic's phaser banks and struck their target with ruthless accuracy. As the neutronium enhanced phasers cut vicious gashes into the fragile remnants of the Kreltan shields, there was a dull flash, then a large white plume as the crew of the Republic saw what photon-encased neutronium particles did to unshielded hull.

Two, three, four beams of lethal energy raked across the surface of the Kreltan ship before Republic's course and speed carried her out of range, leaving brilliant, glowing scars on the Kreltan ship as she passed.

As John Carter plotted his next course change, he smiled to himself as he “leaned” into the course he planned. A hold-over from his days as a small craft pilot. The Kreltan ship was now some 75 thousand klicks astern of Republic as John entered the command to swing to starboard and close on the attacking Dreadnaught from behind and above.

'He's angling for a kill shot,' James Marshall thought to himself, 'but it's too soon. We haven't hurt them enough.' Marshall watched the tactical plot carefully and felt his eyebrows raise as he saw Republic's velocity decrease, but the Martian helmsman wasn't targeting weapons. “Carter?”

From the Con position, John Carter tilted his head and addressed Victor Virtus, seated next to him at the Ops. Console. “Vic?” he asked, “Can you get me a look at their power curve? I'm curious to know how much power that beast has, and where they're putting it.

“From this distance John,” Virtus looked at his sensor display, “I can tell you what the General had for breakfast… assuming of course that his species eats at all. If they're anything like the Founders, then I suspect that they're photo-metabolic, which of course means that…”

“Later Vic. The power curve please?”

Two beeps followed.

“The power curve John.”

<location: main bridge, Kreltan Warship Indwelling>

“Damn that solid!” Jondav screamed from his smoke filled bridge. Somehow, against the might of an Oligarch Class Dreadnaught, the pride of the Kreltan Confederate Fleet, a small group of primitive solids…SOLIDS, who couldn't even extend themselves beyond a back-water sector of space, had cost him one of his most trusted officers, and a not inconsiderable amount of pride.

For centuries, the Kreltan Confederacy had used their natural guile and cunning as shape-shifters, and the amazing power of their Battle Fleet to conquer dozens of systems. None of those civilizations had provided credible resistance, to say nothing of single ship!

Jondav's fury was boiling to the surface. So much so that he was no longer bothering to hold James Marshall's shape as his own. He felt his concentration slip as he assumed a more comfortable, less-rigid shape, now resembling a rotund puddle of skin, muscle and tendon, possessing soft cartilage instead of the accursed human skeleton tradition had forced him to adopt.

It was a long-held Kreltan belief, that their race had been given the ability to change shape so as to better spread fear and confusion to their enemy. Over centuries of warfare with “lesser-evolved” species, it was also found that nothing so unnerved an opponent as showing them their own face before they died. Solids tended to identify themselves more with what they saw with their eyes, rather than what they were within themselves. If you can take an enemy's face, you make him doubt his own identity, and therefore his own right to exist.

The Kreltans had prided on not allowing their enemies to trust their own eyes, but now, through some sort of technological trickery, General Jondav found that it was HE who couldn't trust his senses. “Cut through it!” Jondav ordered, his voice now a low rumble, filled with menace. “Show me their True Face!”

There was frustration in the voice of the Kreltan Weapons Officer as he tried to comply. “I can't General,” he offered. Their sensors are over-powering!”

“Clever human, but I can adapt too,” Jondav chided his adversary, “and far better than you can, you filthy solid.”

According to the Kreltan sensors, the Federation ship they thought they were attacking was in fact, another Oligarch class Dreadnaught. A truly massive vessel, bristling with weaponry and sheer destructive potential. By fooling the Kreltan's sensors, The crew of the U.S.S. Republic had made their enemy's weapons attack targets that should have been there, but were not. Not his crew's fault really, Jondav reasoned. After all, computers only did what their programs told them to do. So Jondav would simply have to alter his orders.

“Target the Primary Environmental Control.” He ordered with a sickly gurgle.


“Do it! Environmental Control is buried deep inside the hull of this ship. Whatever they've draped themselves in, they still have a core, and I'm going to smash it to pieces! Ready torpedoes and fire!”

The General's orders were swiftly followed.

“Success, General! We've hit them, I mean… the True them.”

A sickly smile crept across General Jondav's face. “Excellent,” he hissed.

<location: main sickbay, saucer section, USS Republic, docked at nearby Delphi Station>

The charred remains of the Republic's sickbay complex was brimming with repair personnel. Since the docking of the saucer section at Starbase Delphi, Lieutenant Sullivan, as acting commander of the vessel, was determined to have the essential habitation component of the starship repaired and ready for duty by the time the Captain and others returned. Although there were other damaged parts of the hull, it seemed sickbay suffered the worst of the damage when the Kreltan vessel took deadly aim at the impulse engines. Plumes of superhot gases erupted from ruptured conduits just to the aft of sickbay, causing plasma fires to rage throughout the main deck. Fortunately, emergency containment fields activated at strategic points throughout the affected decks, but not before turning the medical wards into burned, hollowed-out chambers of blackness.

Doctor Cromwell and Lieutenant Harris were located in the sealed chamber of the surgical suite after an hour-long sensor sweep of the ship. It seemed that, after Commander Taylor had beamed out, the saucer section's impulse engines created an electromagnetic flux throughout the damaged impulse conduits when it separated from the stardrive section. So, transporters and communications became non-operational on decks that were flooded with impulse plasma. In the cramped spaces of the surgical suite, the air became thin, and if it were not for access to a hyposray and a vial of triox compound, both medical officers would have suffered a horrible fate. It was with extreme relief from the Republic's worried medical staff when the two doctors were located and beamed to the Delphi's infirmary. Now, as engineers and the medical staff returned to the re-pressurized sickbay, they all worked diligently to return the complex to an operable state.

Doctor Cromwell, recently returned to duty with the regenerative patch still active on his forehead, sifted through the remains of his office. “Didn't really have much time to settle in,” he thought while scraping away soot-covered shelves. The bustling main ward could be heard through the melted doors as Lieutenant Harris found her way to into the office.

“There you are,” remarked Harris. “Engineering reports that replacement equipment is ready to beam from the starbase. They've already begun replacing bulkheads in the nursing wards, and they're about to begin in the main ward.”

Leon looked away from the destroyed shelving unit and looked at Harris. “I see they fixed your shoulder,” he said, making no response to the repair update.

She looked down at her arm before looking back at him. “It was really nothing, sir. Just dislocated. Nothing to write home about.”

“How's the rest of the crew?” asked Doctor Cromwell.

“Well, the regrouped medical staff reports 27 dead, and 54 injured,” Harris reported somberly. “All of them Star Fleet personnel; no civilians were hurt.” The hesitance in her voice indicated a concern that she wasn't willing to reveal, but Leon caught on.

“Any casualties from the stardrive section?” he asked strategically, the words causing a dull pain in Harris' stomach.

“It hasn't returned yet,” she stated with despair.

“You're worried too, eh?” asked Leon, as Harris nodded her head. “Have a little faith, Shannon. He's one of the best flight jocks in Star Fleet.”

As comforting as the words were, it still didn't ward off the concern the entire saucer section crew held for their comrades in the Republic's missing stardrive section . . .

Chapter 12Top

<location: battle bridge, stardrive section, USS Republic>

The light mood on the Battle Bridge was broken by two solid impacts, sending low shudders through the soul of the stardrive. From the Damage Control station, Commander Lana Taylor reacted with swift professionalism. “Two plasma torpedo hits on port side neck Captain. No damage to the photon controls, but the armor in sections 9 through 16 is gone.”

“Looks like they've seen though your little sensor trick Lieutenant Commander.” Captain Marshall said, an edge of concern in his voice. “Increase speed. Set us up for another pass.”

“Not yet, Captain.” Carter responded.

“EXCUSE ME?” James Marshall raised his voice. “Lieutenant Commander Carter, you are WAY out of line…”

“There Vic, do you see it?” Carter asked. “When they altered course and speed to engage.”

“Indeed John.”

Carter felt the smirk return as he keyed commands to red-line the stardrive's impulse engines, rolling the Republic to take incoming fire on her thus far, unaffected ventral surface. 'Thank god for artificial gravity,' Carter smiled to himself as Republic spun and raced away from her Kreltan adversaries.

Nervous seconds ticked by before James Marshall spoke. “Explain, Carter.” He ordered.

John kept a very cautious eye on his Tactical Plot as he explained his insubordination to his Commanding Officer. “We've hurt them, Captain, but even with the weapons upgrades, it's not enough. All we've done is sprock them off.”

“Incoming!” Virtus yelled. The Battle Bridge rocked again as Republic's ablative armor absorbed three impressive disruptor shots from the Kreltan Dreadnaught.

Carter braced himself against the impact and continued. “We don't have the firepower to destroy them,” he added, “but the General isn't thinking anymore, he's reacting.”

More impacts rocked Republic. “Port-aft phasers off line, Captain.” Virtus advised.

Carter winced slightly, continuing his explanation. “He's trying to match us move for move, but he can't. Their ship is just too massive. Since WE can't destroy them, I figured I'd let them do it for us. Didn't have time to explain beforehand Captain.”

“Noted Carter.” Marshall answered. “I'll let it go this time. If we live through this.”

“Thank you, sir. Torpedoes away.”

“Ops.” Captain Marshall ordered. “Divert power from phasers to the ablative armor. See if we can get those holes patched.”

“Aye sir.” Virtus complied with his Captain's orders.

Republic soared away from her attacker, moving at thousands of kilometers per second. The Kreltan Dreadnaught accelerated to pursue the Federation ship, which meant that General Jondav only had seconds to react to the two photon torpedoes angling in to destroy his vessel.

<location: main bridge, Kreltan Warship Indwelling>

The view of battle on the Kreltan bridge was blotted out of existence by the brilliant flash of anti-mater against the black of space, and Jondav was rocked from his seat. “Enough! Enough of this! If he wants a dance, I'll give him one! Increase to flank speed, and charge all forward weapons. Do not let him shake us loose!”

<location: battle bridge, stardrive section, USS Republic>

“Here they come, sir.” Victor Virtus looked at his Ops. display showing the Kreltan's power usage. All the Kreltan systems were red-lined. “Wow John,” Victor whispered, “You've outdone yourself this time. They're REALLY sprocked off now.”

James Marshall cleared his throat and fixed his attention on the Tactical Plot on Republic's main viewer. “Whatever you're going to do Carter, do it. We've got a ship to put back together.”

“Aye, Captain.” Carter shifted his attention to Virtus again. “Stand by to cut active sensor output. Stand by shields, and…” Carter couldn't help a chuckle…“ready a tractor beam.”

<location: main bridge, Kreltan Warship Indwelling>

Jondav smiled with satisfaction as the “expected” sensor image of a Galaxy Class stardrive section re-appeared on the Kreltan Dreadnaught's sensors.

“There you are, Jimmy.” Jondav hissed.

“General,” The Weapons Officer added, “They've raised their shields, and weapon targeting is active. They’ve decided to fight.”

“No,” Jondav corrected, “they've decided to die. FIRE!”

<location: battle bridge, stardrive section, USS Republic>

Republic sailed nimbly through space rocked occasionally by glancing energy fire and plasma torpedoes, but against ablative armor from the 31st century, they were little good, at least in the short term.

“Forward shields down to 40 percent,” Lieutenant Virtus called above the din of battle.

=/\= “Engineering to bridge! Phasers are out. Control relays are fried. I can't bypass them. The control coils are slag. Are we TRYING to get hit up there?” =/\=

“Actually yes.” Marshall remarked rather dryly. “Don't worry Sawyer, Mister Carter assures me he has things well in hand. Bridge out.” Marshall cleared his throat again. “You're working on my last nerve Lieutenant Commander.” Marshall warned.

John Carter nodded, but part of his brain had to admit that he wasn't really paying attention. His eyes were fixed on the Tactical Plot, and the distance between his ship and the Kreltan Dreadnaught, which was rapidly spiraling to zero. “Photon torpedoes, targeted. Stand by for tractor beam.”

“Tractors ready.” Virtus affirmed as sparks flew from a nearby circuit cluster. “Shields are out. We've only got the armor left. All other systems operational. For now.”

“Perfect.” Carter said, his voice filled with menace. He watched as Republic sailed closer to the massive Kreltan ship, now separated by a miniscule 200 kilometers. “Lock tractor beam. NOW!”

The bridge crew of Republic's stardrive was rocked as powerful electromagnetic forces formed a tendril of energy between the two starships.

“HOLD ON!” John Carter screamed. He felt and heard Republic's protest as massive fusion powered impulse engines struggled to pull the Kreltan's incredible weight back the way Republic had come.

<location: main bridge, Kreltan Warship Indwelling>

“It's a what?” Jondav asked in alarm.

“Some sort of focused gravity beam. They’re holding us in place… or, trying to.”

“NO! Jondav screamed. I will never be held by… by that! Full power to the sublight drives! Break us free!”

“But General…”

“DO IT! Now!”

Once again, Jondav's orders were obeyed.

<location: battle bridge, stardrive section, USS Republic>

Carter and Virtus both watched as the Kreltan ship's power usage changed. mega-joules of energy were being channeled and focused to pull against Republic's own powerful engines. Like a game of cosmic tug of war, the tractor beam between the two ships bore a tremendous strain, and now held an astounding amount of energy. In seconds, Carter knew, the Kreltan's would pull away with all the power they could muster, but when they did, physics dictated that all the energy between the two ships would have to go somewhere, and John Carter had picked that point wisely.

The Kreltan power curve continued to crest, building near its maximum usage.

“Just a little more.” Carter pleaded with the universe.

The Kreltan ship forced its power to maximum.

“Now Vic!” Carter shouted. “Let 'em go!”

A millisecond later, the tractor beam was gone, and a physical light rendering of local space replaced the Tactical Plot on Republic’s viewer. James Marshall felt himself rise to his feet, his jaw dropping as he watched an amazing situation unfold.

The once mighty Kreltan Dreadnaught now hung in space in two jaggedly wrought pieces. Venting atmosphere, bulkhead, and bodies as the two pieces spun wildly out of control.

The Kreltan Dreadnaught had sent all of its power into its sub light drives. One of which was located in the aft quarter of the hull, one amidships, in a decidedly non-linear fashion. In a practical sense, this created competing stresses in the Kreltan hull that had been designed, not for speed, but stability and raw force. The initial scans of the Kreltan Dreadnaught had shown John Carter the weakest structural point of the vessel. Subsequent scans had revealed the precise location of the sublight powerplants, and the stresses that they put on the Kreltan hull.

Push the engines hard enough, in the right direction, Carter had reasoned, and something had to give. In this case, the Dreadnaught's hull.

“I don't believe it,” Captain Marshall breathed. “How in the world did you manage that?”

John Carter wiped his brow, then ran his fingers through his dark hair. “Physics.” He answered. “When we locked the tractor beam at their sweet spot, it changed the geometry of the Dreadnaught, at least from the standpoint of the stress vectors. One engine pulled one way, the other went, well…” Carter rubbed the back of his neck. “It went the other way. You can't mess with that much mass and not get nailed for it.”

“Damn son,” Marshall added now settled back in the command chair. “I'm glad you're on our side.”

“Me too Captain.” John Said. “Standing by for orders, Sir.”

archives/face_of_the_enemy.txt · Last modified: 2020/10/25 02:54 by site_admin