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current_story:the_sword_of_ophiuchus_part_2

The Sword of Ophiuchus, Part 2


Location: Main Engineering, Deck 36, USS Republic (Galaxy Class)
Timeframe: Ten minutes after departing the Personal flier 'Aerosprite'

In the field, Starfleet Intelligence agents are used to improvising broadly and often. Theo “Doug Forrest” Carter knew of hundreds of different unorthodox techniques to pull him and his team out of the most unpredictable circumstances. Yet, there was very little left in his box of tricks when he and Saal Yezbeck found themselves alone, floundering in an energy-starved miniaturized Romulan personal yacht, stuck deep within the bowels of a gigantic lifeless and energy-deprived rouge intelligence base, which itself was cloaked in an uncharted star system floating in an unpredictable orbit around a star located in the farthest reaches of the known galaxy. In effect, chaos theory had stretched the limits of plausibility, and therefore, it was only proper that the universe snapped back into order by offering the two beleaguered men a chance at serendipity.

Once they had pushed aside their bafflement at finding what they had thought was a ghost ship from their past, let alone why it was still intact when all the others had long ago crushed themselves into scrap metal, it didn't take long for them to pounce on the usual jury-rigging methods that the Intelligence branch was so renowned for. The energy from charged hand weaponry was a common substitute for direct power feeds when a transporter has been rendered inoperable due to depleted EPS junctions. Of course, it was only good for one-way transports, but that's all that Theo and Saal needed to abandon the Aerosprite and claim their new vessel.

Fortunately for them, minimal life support was still operating on their new ship, powered by a single backup fusion generator that was the last in a series of five to be drawing energy from the depleted deuterium tanks on the lower dorsal levels of the stardrive section. It was this one lone generator that also kept the navigational deflector operating when the power to the magnetic moorings in the docking bay was severed. Engineering logs had shown that all five reactors were operating three years ago, but as the fuel source reached critical levels, the computer had automatically started shutting them down one by one. Truth be told, the ship had possibly six more months of fuel left in the deuterium tanks before it would have ended up like the ships in the other docking bays: lifeless piles of twisted wreckage.

By the time Theo and Saal had beamed to the heart of the prodigious 42-deck heavy cruiser, it became apparent that this was not “their” Republic. The layout and outfitting was much more antiquated, reminiscent of Galaxy-class vessels from before stardate 44000 when contact was made with the Borg. It was outfitted with only twelve type-ten phaser arrays, which was indicative of the Galaxy baseline model rather than the more common uprated models of today that hosted an additional two phaser arrays on the warp nacelles. Further, many of the modern enhancements seen on current Galaxy class vessels were not apparent on this ship, such as an updated warp core or upgraded shield system capable of handling phased polaron weapons. It was clear that this ship was the USS Republic in name only, and had not seen a true Starfleet refit dock in almost two decades.

The two former intelligence agents slowly made their way from console to console in main engineering, taking note of the ship's status and condition. The low power levels explained why they hadn't picked up the energy signatures of the navigational deflectors and fusion generator during their initial scans, as they showed up as background noise against all the thousands of other low-power ancillary systems still active on the base, as well as the high-density alloys that shielded the docking bays from all but the most penetrating sensor scans. Despite there being no indication of biological life anywhere on the ship or station, Theo and Saal took no chances, and carefully slunk around corners with their Romulan disruptor rifles drawn at the ready. As they arrived at the centralized warp core, they took note of it's unpowered quiescent state, spying several blackened scorch marks on railings and floor grates where it was apparent that a phaser duel had taken place.

As they paused at the dilithium chamber, Theo became concerned that the phasor fire may have damaged the warp core, jeopardizing their ability to bring the ship back online. Slowly, he peered over the railing and looked into the core through the dilithium hatch, where the crystals themselves sat intact, still resting in the dormant dilithium articulation frame and waiting for renewed life from a flow of matter and antimatter via the plasma injectors. As they studied the room, a hissing sound came to their ears, followed by a clank and creaking of tortured metal. It wasn't loud, but was prominently noticeable in the otherwise dormant control room.

“Listen,” Saal beckoned. “Do you hear something?”

As they followed the sound, they kept their rifles at the ready, rounding a corner to see a peculiar construct the size of small dog, plodding about near a broken plasma manifold in the wall. While vaguely shaped like an egg, its outer surface was not convex, but more angular with flattened metallic panels; like a carefully hewn gem crafted into an oval shape. One end was more stout than the other, with the latter being more of a tapered point where a plasma welder was affixed. It was this instrument that was the source of the hissing sound that first caught the ears of the two men.

“What's that thing?” Saal whispered.

“I've seen those before,” Theo recognized the automaton. “It's a positronic exocomp.”

“I thought the Starfleet Corps of Engineers controlled the use of excomps due to their sentience potential?” Saal remarked. “They only allow a handful to be built each year, and then for only research purposes.”

“You think McCain would've let the Corps of Engineers get in the way of his Kostya-driven agenda?”

“Fair point,” Saal admitted.

“It looks damaged,” Theo remarked while intently watching the drone. “Look at that carbon scoring on it's casing.”

Now that they could look closer, a hand-sized close-out panel on it's dorsal sensor node had a cratered pock-mark in it, with black sintering along it's edges. A single phasor shot had landed squarely atop it's positronic cortex, and while not enough to destroy the exocomp, it was clearly enough to damage it.

Several feet away, Theo and Saal noted a black crumpled uniform on the floor, spattered with several handfuls of a dried-up salt-like compound. A hand phasor was lying on top of the garment, and the rank pips on the collar signified that the former owner was a Starfleet captain.

As they watched, the exocomp finished off its repair work on the plasma conduit, chirping a positive response as the weld took hold. The mechatronic automaton then actively dematerialized the welding torch from the tapered end of its forward tool proboscis via an internal matter replication array. With an active hum of it's two tread-like magnetic drive units on either side of it's oval casing, the excomp turned away from the repair site towards another nearby open panel when the same clank and creaking of tortured metal sounded once again; the exact same sound that first drew the attention of Saal and Theo. It came from the repaired plasma conduit, which had just broke open again, causing the duty-bound drone to return to the damage site once more and begin the repair work anew. The two men watched this operation several more times: The conduit breaking, the exocomp fixing it, and then the conduit breaking again. Each time, the exocomp came back to repeat the same repair task again, again, and again.

“Strange,” Theo whispered. “Why doesn't it just close the isolation valve further upstream?” He pointed to the open panel a few feet away.

“Good question,” Saal whispered in return. “Let's find out.”

As the exocomp worked the repair once more, the doctor crept forward, keeping his rifle trained on the drone, just in case it got out of sorts at his approach. For it's part, the exocomp paid no attention to Saal, and as the doctor reached out towards the open panel, turned the manual valve thus cutting off the plasma stream that was causing the repetitive damage. This time, when the exocomp completed it's task, it signaled an affirmative warble before cutting power to it's magnetic drive units and powering down. The engineering room was now quiet.

Theo and Saal looked at each other, clearly at a loss. They were expecting the little drone to move on to some other task, but it didn't. It simply sat there, with no volition to do anything else. After a moment, the two men walked up to it, half expecting it to come alive again and protest at their approach. It didn't. Finally, Saal worked up the courage to explore the damage on it's dorsal panel, touching it with his fingers, and feeling around the crusted, blackened phaser burn. Still, no reaction came from the exocomp. He looked around the room at the various engineering consoles, spying a spare parts cabinet nearby.

“What are you doing?” Theo asked as Saal opened the cabinet and rummaged around within.

“It's hurt,” he said matter-of-factly. “I'm a doctor.”

“I don't think that's such a good idea,” Theo remarked with uncertainty. “If McCain's goons programmed this thing…”

“…Then we'll shut it off if it does something we don't want it to do,” Saal finished the sentence.

Theo relented as ten minutes passed while Saal pulled out a few more instruments from the cabinet, including a hyper spanner, EPS capacitor, and phase compensator. Before long, he had bits and pieces of the excomp's exterior set about the floor in a semicircle pattern, and was using an optical scanner installed on top of the exocomp, peering into it's microscope-like diopter tubes like a microbiologist.

“Do you know anything about positronic circuits?” Saal finally asked Theo.

For his part, the Intel agent had taken a seat at a nearby engineering station, busying himself with other matters, such as re-balancing the deuterium fuel tanks so that they would be ready to prime the plasma injectors with antimatter in preparation for warp-core re-initialization.

“Sorry, Shadow,” he responded. “That thing's YOUR toy now. I'm trying to figure out how to get us out of here.”

“Ever thought that this 'toy' could help us?” complained Saal.

“You've got the resources of a Galaxy-Class starship computer at your disposal,” Theo remarked. “If you don't know something, just plug the little guy into the computer with a patch cable and see if the engineering sub-routines can help.”

Saal looked towards the ceiling and considered the idea for a moment. With a nod of his head, he accepted it, and searched for a standard optical cable harness in the spare parts locker. Finding one of sufficient length, he removed the optical scanner atop of the exocomp, and replaced it with a harness plug before inserting the other end into the computer access node directly below the assistant chief engineer's station. Taking a seat at the console, he started sifting through various diagnostic programs before finding one that matched the exocomp's positronic interface.

The doctor wasn't sure if he correctly activated the program, but the link with the ship's computer did seem to cause the exocomp to stir, causing several servos and lights to engage within the mechanism. On the engineering console, the ship's computer scrolled through a dizzying array of diagnostic and repair menus, moving so quickly that Saal was unable to read them all. He frowned as he had the unnerving feeling that the excomp was taking control of the console. The scrolling progressed faster and faster, trilling each time a digital window changed images, and before long, was nothing but a fluttering series of engineering algorithms and fleeting schematics that hummed steadily in a dizzying cascade of moving imagery.

“Um, Dragon?” a worried Saal beckoned as the computer's streaming reached a fevered pitch. His friend was busy with work of his own and didn't respond right away.

“Dragon!” he shouted louder as the excomp became more active, it's magnetic drive units coming back online, and lights along the casing blinking faster and faster. In a soft flash of white light, the robotic device threw off the optical connector on it's dorsal, causing the cable to fall to the floor in a coiled heap.

“What?” an annoyed Theo responded by turning around, just in time to see the excomp hover upwards to a height of about a meter. As if following a set of pre-programmed instructions, the drone smoothly excused itself from the area and started it's way down a nearby hallway.

“Follow it!” screamed Theo as he grabbed his disruptor rifle. Saal complied as the two went racing after the automaton.


Location: Transporter Room 6, Deck 14, stardrive section, USS Republic (Galaxy Class)

With a sudden hiss, the doors to the transporter room slid open just as Theo and Saal came sprinting through the open passageway. They paused with their rifles in hand, huffing and puffing to catch their breath as the exocomp stood hovering at the controls. It seemed to be politely waiting for the two humans to regain their composure, calmly levitating in front of the matter/energy controls expectantly.

“What?” Theo huffed after a moment. “Does it want us to get on the transporter pad?”

As an answer, Saal simply walked up along side the exocomp, his fear of the little drone ebbing. From his point of view, if the robot wanted to do them harm, it would have found plenty of ways to do so by now. Shaking his head in annoyance, Theo joined the two behind the controls.

“Wait a minute!” exclaimed Theo as he studied the panel before him. “This transporter is operational!”

“Yeah,” Saal added. “And the matter array has been re-routed back into the pattern buffers in a continuous diagnostic loop. I've seen this trick before! There's six people still locked in the transporter beam!”

Theo was about to order Saal and the exocomp to stand back when the brash automaton activated the re-materialization sequence. As soon as the transport cycle was complete, a flurry of phasor fire erupted from the transporter pad. It came from six humans dressed in tactical black Starfleet uniforms who emerged from the transporter matter stream expecting battle. Not only were their phasor rifles drawn, but they were aimed directly at the transporter control console, as if anticipating an attack as soon as they emerged from the matter stream.

Theo, Saal, and the exocomp each dove below the transporter console just in time, crouching in terror as the doctor and his former intel cohort charged their disruptor rifles in preparation for return fire. The upper wall above and behind them became riddled with searing hot plasma as the rain of energy weapons sprayed the panel full of holes.

“Cease fire!” one of the attackers finally shouted on the transporter pad, holding out an outstretched hand to signal his comrades to stand down. Though none of them lowered their rifles, they ceased firing long enough for the thirty-something soldier who shouted the order to analyze the situation. The seasoned veteran with enlisted rank on his collar warily stepped off the transporter pad, moving cautiously towards the console that Theo and Saal ducked behind. The entire time, he kept is phasor rifle trained on their location.

“Commander Forrest?” he asked with trepidation and dawning recognition of the man he only caught a glimpse of before he dove for cover.

Behind and below the control console, Theo and Saal sat crouched, looking at one another in confusion at the beckoning of Theo's former alter-ego. As if reading each others' mind, the two Republic refugees exchanged glances of “well, are YOU going to answer him?” when Theo chose to take a risk and raised his hands in disarmament while slowly coming to his feet. As he did so, the man who called out his name smiled and lowered his rifle, further iterating his non-hostile intentions by slinging the weapon over his shoulder.

“Chief Petty Officer Richard Towe,” the man greeted Theo, holding his arm out to shake Theo's hand. “Good to see you again, sir.”

“Deuce,” Theo recognized him as he stepped forward to accept the handshake. “I remember you.”

“You know this man, Deuce?” asked a young, spry commander who remained standing on the transporter pad, his rifle still pointed at the two strangers.

“Commander Forrest and I served on the Galaxy-class Republic,” explained Deuce. “The REAL Republic. I was part of the hazard team on Cestus Three when the Gorns invaded.”

The entire group of attackers appeared off-guard and surprised when Deuce explained who Theo was, as if they were being introduced to a renowned historical figure. They looked at each other in amazement as they lowered their weapons and began stepping off the transporter pad.

“I remember you telling me about that,” the ranking commander remarked while he walked up to Theo and the Petty Officer. “That was the first event that uncovered Kostya's little renegade operation.”

“Don't you mean cabal?” a red-haired lieutenant exclaimed with abhorrence over his shoulder. The group's visceral reaction to the mention of Kostya's name caused Saal to cautiously pull himself out from behind the transporter control console.

“And Doctor Yezbeck,” concluded Deuce, spotting Saal as he cautiously stood up to regain his full height. “Republic's head surgeon under Doctor Cromwell.”

“I remember you, Towe,” Yezbeck acknowledged. “Who are your friends?”

“Commander Blake St. John,” the young, blue-eyed ranking officer introduced himself. “Team leader of Task Force Trident.” Motioning to the red-haired lieutenant behind him, he added “this is my number one, Lieutenant Sheila Anderson.” Pointing to the three other individuals in front of the transporter platform, he presented the rest of his team that was composed of a wide-eyed twenty-something human male with unkempt black hair and facial stubble to boot; a tall, brawny woman with braided blond hair who sported the largest piece of automatic weaponry of the team; and an almost teenage-looking younger man with a squat face, protruding lower lip, and a very close crew cut that almost made him look bald. “That's Ensign Carson Jensen, our computer specialist. Next to him is Petty Officer First Class Louise Clayborne, our second heavy weapons specialist aside from Deuce here. Finally, that's Crewman Brian Baker, our medic, fresh out of his Starfleet Medical training program.”

“Wait!” Lieutenant Anderson halted the conversation. “Where's Blimpy?”

“Um,” Theo frowned. “Who?”

“Our exocomp,” she explained looking around the room. “We hid him in a shielded locker in engineering. He was programmed to free us from the transporter loop.”

“You mean this little guy?” Saal asked, pointing at the mechatronic egg-shaped drone that peeked around the floor base of the transporter console. A few servos sounded with muted beeps and clicks as it looked at the lieutenant.

“THERE you are!” she exclaimed in relief. “What are you doing hiding back there?”

The exocomp timidly floated out from behind the console, giving a computerized explanation in chirps and whistles that were indecipherable by anyone else.

“What do you mean we've been in the transporter loop for almost three years??” she shouted, much to the shock of St. John's team. Immediately, she slung her rifle and walked over to displace Saal behind the transporter controls. After dialing a few buttons to cross reference the transporter logs with the current stardate, she groaned in apprehension at the data before her.

“Confirmed!” she exclaimed in dismay. “Its almost stardate six-two-zero-zero-zero. We've been in the loop since stardate fifty-eight-nine-nine-three…”

“Did you run into anyone else on the ship?” St. John said sharply to Theo and Saal.

“No,” Saal replied. “Our old ship was badly damaged when we arrived in the system and had to abandon it. Once we penetrated the cloaking field, we looked all around the base for a safe place to beam to, but it looks like life support was terminated all throughout the base for a very long time. Only the Republic here had a minimal habitable environment. We found your friend here down in main engineering,” he said, pointing to the exocomp he now knew as “Blimpy”. “He was stuck in a repair loop fixing the same plasma conduit over and over.”

“What happened?” Anderson asked the mechanical drone. In response, the sentient device released another verbose babbling of computerized jargon that the lieutenant listened to intently.

“He says the rupture was cyclical… breaking every five seconds after he repaired it,” came the translated explanation. “His higher processor functions were damaged, so he couldn't think his way out of the loop.” With a quizzical expression on her face, she asked the looming question. “How'd you get damaged?” Following another round of binary discourse, Anderson's expression contorted into shock and surprise. “Captain TREYLAN??” she blurted. “How did HE know?” As before, Blimpy offered an explanation in his peculiar computerized dialect.

“Who's Captain Treylan?” Theo asked the commander.

“He was the man who was supposed to take command of Republic after we overhauled her,” St. John answered. “He'd been nipping at our heels for weeks to hurry up the upgrades. Of course, we were intentionally slowing the work down, so he probably became suspicious and was watching us closely.” The commander returned back to the lieutenant. “What happened with Treylan?”

“Blimpy says Treylan chased him around main engineering, trying to shoot him with a hand phasor,” Anderson explained while still translating the exocomp's binary explanation. “All he could do was rupture one of the plasma conduits to defend himself. It knocked Treylan cold, but also damaged Blimpy's self-repair sub-routine in the process. After that, the conduit kept bursting back open each time he fixed it. He must've been constantly fixing the same plasma conduit for the past three years…”

“That's a long time to keep fixing the same thing over and over,” St. John whistled in amazement.

“He said he'd still be there if it weren't for these two,” Anderson translated, pointing to Saal and Theo. “He says 'thank you'.”

“You're welcome,” Saal offered.

A chirp and a twirtle signified an affirmative response.

“His official Intel name is 'PackRat',” Anderson explained as an introduction to their seventh team member. “But we've come to just call him 'Blimpy'. He seems to prefer that.”

“I understand now,” Theo put the pieces together. Turning to Saal, he explained. “Back in our day, when Fleet Intel formed a team, they almost always ensured it had an engineering specialist. Remember Costello? He was our tech during the Dixie operation. Today, though, when they can't find an engineering tech, they'll sometimes send a team to the field with an exocomp instead. It saves having to constantly recruit ornery engineers who don't always follow the rules.”

“We got Blimpy when our team formed up in the Orion System,” St. John continued. “While he can understand each of us perfectly, SHE'S the only one who can understand HIM,” he said of Lieutenant Anderson. “Communications is her Intel specialty.”

“That's what you get when you spend two years on Bynaus,” she returned. “If you ask me, I think everyone should learn Bynary as a second language.”

“Commander,” Theo changed the subject. “If you don't mind me asking, what's your mission here?”

“To be honest, we didn't really have one until we formed up in the Orion System several months before we came here,” he admitted. “Back then, Task Force Trident was a team of nine. When Commodore McCain caught up to us, he commandeered the Republic and my team.”

“We're familiar with McCain,” Theo explained. “He's the head of 'The Organization'. I was here at Gamma Serpentis a few years ago to break one of Republic's officers out of McCain's clutches. Maybe you knew her? Ensign Kuga?”

“Never heard of her,” St. John admitted. “However, a lot of secrets were kept on this base over the years, so I'm not surprised it was covered up. You're lucky you got out of here alive.”

“I know,” Theo responded. “So this is YOUR vessel?”

“Technically, yes,” the commander continued his explanation. “While Captain Treylan was slated to take over command, he was just one of McCain's hand-picked yes-men here at Gamma Serpentis. In truth, about a year before we came here, a Galaxy-class ship was found adrift near the Romulan Neutral Zone in Beta Quadrant. The USS Asgard. She was under automatic emergency stasis and shutdown, showing only slight signs of combat. The Enterprise-E first discovered her and towed her to the Delveos System. We were sent by Fleet Intelligence to recover and refurbish the ship, with orders to re-christian her as the USS Republic.”

“But why?”

“Indeterminate,” St. John explained. “I had my orders. However, as soon as it happened, it seemed to have caught Kostya's eye. When our transponder codes shifted over to the USS Republic, it was like a target beacon went out on the Intel network. McCain arrived with his fleet in the Orion System within hours after our transponder code was changed, and took over operational command. He assumed that Admiral Kosyta sent us for some reason. What could I say? I told him we were standing by for orders from Fleet Intel, and he claimed he WAS Fleet Intel. So, we became part of his fleet.”

“Surely you can't be serious!” Saal said flabbergasted before Theo piped in. “You trusted a Kostya lackey and just followed him around the Beta Quadrant?”

“Oh, I wasn't happy about it,” the commander admitted. “But you know the first mantra of any intelligence officer in the field: observe, collect, and analyze.”

“If memory serves, it's observe, collect, analyze, and DISSEMINATE,” remarked Theo.

“Yes, well, that last one wasn't possible for us. All outgoing subspace traffic was monitored and controlled by McCain's flagship, the USS Coeus. We had to keep our cover if we were going to stay alive, especially since Admiral Kostya was holding his leash. As soon as he took operational command of the Republic, the whole fleet went straight to the Bajoran Wormhole and headed here to Gamma Serpentis.”

In an uncomfortable realization, it suddenly occurred to Theo that St. John's team was in the transporter loop for longer than President Kostya's administration had been in office. He had referred to him as an admiral and not the leader of the Federation.

“You know,” Theo started. “He won the election. Kostya is president now.”

Instead of a chorus of shocked faces and howls of disbelief, St. John's team barely showed any emotion, with only Deuce shaking his head while the others displayed simple expressions of annoyance.

For his part, St. John was simply nodding in agreement, as if confirming something he already knew.

“We expected as such,” St. John explained. “While the polls were already leaning in that direction after the Remnant attacks, McCain was one-hundred percent certain that Kostya would win, not turning down a chance to reiterate that at every command staff meeting. We've been preparing for the eventuality of a Kostya presidency for months.”

“So you did McCain's bidding when you got here?” Theo asked. “You became part of the Organization?”

“Not actively. Our main job was to upgrade Republic using stolen alien technology. She's an old ship, and needed an overhaul anyway. McCain put us in charge as her repair crew, and we took our time at it so that we could feel out the base. As we started learning about why this base was here, our new mission became clear: Infiltrate and dismantle the Organization from within. I know for a fact that the old man was doing everything he could to gather Intel on Kostya before the election. While we couldn't communicate with the old man after McCain snagged us, I'm certain this is what he would've wanted us to do. We've spent months here at Gamma Serpentis, secretly collecting data and storing it in Republic's databanks. This base has turned out to be a gold mine of information about Kostya's cabal and all his illegal activity. That is, up until a few days before we entered the transporter loop.”

“What happened?”

“A communique came in reporting that Commodore McCain was killed aboard the USS Coeus,” St. John went on. “As soon as the report was logged in the base's computer, everything at Gamma Serpentis went on lockdown. Docking bay doors clamped shut… Databanks automatically deleted themselves… even a bunch of cold-storage warehouses autonomously vaporized their contents. His death triggered deadman switches all over the base.”

“But that didn't do all THIS,” Theo commented. “Before we came, this base didn't have one single living or dead organism on it. Microscopic or otherwise. Not one. This place was as sterile as speck of intergalactic dust.”

“No,” admitted St. John. “And you wouldn't find anything left alive. Not after what happened here. Once the deadman switches were all triggered, McCain's last orders went into effect.”

“Which were?” Theo asked expectantly.

“To get Gamma Serpentis back to the Alpha Quadrant.”

“What?” a confused Doctor Yezbeck asked. “The WHOLE base?”

“Yes,” declared St. John.

“But this base is HUGE!” Saal pointed out. “The whole thing wouldn't fit through the Bajoran Wormhole! It'd be ripped to shreds as soon as it hit the event horizon!”

“Besides,” added Theo. “There's no warp drive in existence large enough that could form a warp field around this base. It would take decades under impulse power just to get to the wormhole.”

“That's the really scary part,” Lieutenant Anderson took over the explanation from her commander. “McCain's last order was to reconfigure the base's main verteron array to create a Geodesic pulse using the nearby red giant star. This would create a Geodesic fold that was intended to transport the entire base to another red giant in the Alpha Quadrant. Gamma Crucis. Only eighty-eight light years from Earth. This would make it a perfect attack platform smack-dab in the center of the Federation.”

Saal started shaking his head in disbelief, waving his hand in refutation.

“Wait, wait, wait. A geodesic fold creates HUGE amounts of geodesic radiation. The levels are so intense that it would liquefy all organic matter coming anywhere near the fold. No one would survive the trip! Plus, this place is so huge, the magnetic eddies alone would be worse than a trip through the wormhole!”

“Did you think McCain wouldn't have had this all planned out?” Commander St. John re-directed back to the doctor. “This place warehouses thousands of alien artifacts from all over the Gamma Quadrant. Borg-derived structural integrity fields are installed on every deck… McCain salvaged them over the years from wrecked Borg cubes in the Alpha Quadrant. As for the Geodesic radiation, he ordered the subspace transceiver array to be reconfigured into an enormous phase generator using an amplification crystal the commodore found on a planet deep within Dominion territory. The array was capable of producing a synchronic distortion field for the whole station, putting it and everything within out of phase with the geodesic radiation. In my opinion, it was questionable whether it would have worked, but McCain's standing last order for the base was clear: If he died, this was their next course of action.”

“Obviously, it didn't work,” Theo concluded.

“Actually, we made sure it NEVER worked,” retorted Anderson. “We sabotaged the transceiver array and reprogrammed the verteron beam so that the far end of the Geodesic fold would open on the other side of the star. Sensors would never pick up the opening on the far end, and it would end up right back here in the same star system.”

Saal exhaled loudly shaking his head at the incredible sophistication and gall of Commander St. John's story. “Unbelievable,” he exclaimed, thinking of the thousands of people who would have been subjected to the deadly radiation. “You liquefied everyone on this base who were only following McCain's orders.” His mind floated back to the empty uniform he and Theo found in engineering, the salty residue being the only remaining components of Captain Treylan. He then painfully recalled the numerous empty uniforms they found floating around the rest of the base.

“Unlawful orders,” St. John corrected defiantly. “You assume that there were innocent people here, doctor. We had months to sift through the personnel files. Every single one of them was a Kostya zealot. They would have followed Kostya's orders to the gates of damnation and back, if he ordered them to. Ex-Marquis, rogue Section Thirty-One, Baku insurrectionists… these were the rank-and-file of McCain's army. They didn't care about Federation Law or the honor of wearing a Starfleet uniform. They lived for one person: Admiral Kostya. There's no prison or court-of-law they wouldn't have gotten a pardon from. They would have set the Federation on fire in his name, given enough leeway.”

Silence fell upon the group as they stood uncomfortably in the transporter room. They were all Starfleet Intelligence operatives at heart, and knew that they were not without their own faults. Throughout their careers, each of them struggled with shades of gray invoked by their occupational specialty. More than once, each were faced at one time or another in deciding whether to sacrifice their ideals for the good of the whole. As each considered the gravity of St. John's decision to halt McCain's plans for Gamma Serpentis Base's arrival in the Alpha Quadrant, they came to grips with the reality of the situation: Not every solution has a clean, moral outcome. They each had blood on their hands, and they needed time to admit to themselves that St. John's decision would not have changed had any one of them been in command instead.

“How did you figure out your survival plan?” Theo finally asked, allowing them respite from the discomfort of the moment.

“We knew Republic's antiquated isolinear chip-based network would remain intact after contact with Geodesic radiation,” explained the scruffy-haired Ensign Jensen. “However, every other computer on the base uses bioneural gel packs. Aside from basic electronic systems such as control consoles, portable equipment, and engineering backup systems, our models showed that only the Republic's computer core would remain operational when we exited the Geodesic fold. Anything else that relied upon biological technology on the base would not survive. Including the other starships berthed in the other docking bays. I assume you found those ships rendered inoperable?”

“Quite,” Saal nodded his head in affirmation, recalling the overwhelming heaps of scrap metal.

“We had Blimpy here modify the Republic's transporter, rerouting the matter array through the pattern buffers and lock them into a level-four diagnostic mode,” Anderson continued the explanation. “It's an interesting trick that the engineers at Fleet Intel programmed into his memory core. Our patterns would stay intact as energy-only in the diagnostic loop, just long enough to get us past the Geodesic fold. He was supposed to come back and re-materialize our patterns once it was safe to do so.”

“That's amazing,” Theo admitted. “You figured out a way to survive a Geodesic fold!”

“It wouldn't have been my first choice to do it that way,” St. John conceded. “For all we knew, the Geodesic radiation would've ionized the circuitry of the isolinear network too, even though the models didn't show it would. I'd say we were very lucky we didn't get killed by the stunt.”

Theo was lost in thought as the commander concluded his remarks. Saal was looking at his friend quizzically, knowing full well that the gears were turning in Theo's head; an expression that only he would have noticed. As for the other members of Task Force Trident, they slung their weapons over their shoulders as Commander St. John handed out orders.

“Louise, stay here in the transporter room and take stock of the landing party gear and EVA suits. We may need them before too long.” Turning to his second-in-command, he continued. “Sheila, take Blimpy back to engineering and do a full engine diagnostic. If everything checks out, bring the mains and impulse deck back online.” Turning to the young medtech with a crewcut, he said, “Brian, why don't you and Doctor Yezbeck check out sickbay and see what medical assets are still good after their contact with the Geodesic radiation? If we're the only ones left out here in this part of space, I don't want to be without operational medical facilities going forward.” Finally, he turned to Deuce and Jensen. “You two, you're with Commander Forrest and I. We'll head to the bridge and get the sensors back online.” Turning to Theo, he asked “are you good with that, commander?”

Theo nodded in compliance, his thoughts still wandering to St. John's inadvertent discovery of a means to survive a Geodesic fold.


Location: Turbolift, USS Republic nee Asgard

The four Intel agents stood in the turbolift as the quiet hum of the magnetic drive unit signified their shuttling between decks enroute to the bridge. They stood in silence momentarily until the senior officer broke the quietude.

“Well, commander, it looks like we owe you our lives,” admitted St. John. “If you don't mind ME asking, what brings YOU to Gamma Serpentis Base?”

“We're here to find the Delta-X,” Theo explained. “It's a high-powered fast-attack starfighter prototype that never went into full production. McCain stole it and brought it here. I have orders to get it back or destroy it.”

“Oh, that?” St. John recognized what Theo was talking about. “You're welcome to it, if you can put it back together. It's in an engineering lab on level three-twenty-seven, in about a thousand different pieces on the lab floor. McCain had it disassembled and was planning to reverse-engineer it to build a fleet of starfighters based on its design.”

“That figures,” Theo replied sourly. “I guess that ends my mission here. What's your plan? I assume you plan on getting back to the Alpha Quadrant?”

“Heh,” Blake chuckled. “That's a good joke. No, if Republic is still in good shape here, then our next task is to destroy this station and then disband Task Force Trident. Our mission will be done.”

“You don't want to go home?”

Blake St. John looked at Theo with a raised eyebrow. “I assume Kostya's still president?” he asked in return to a nodding Theo. “Then we've probably been burned. If we step anywhere near the Alpha or Beta Quadrants, we're likely to be arrested.”

“I know the feeling,” admitted Theo with a regretful sigh.

“Oh?”

“My lifeline was cut, too,” the former Intel agent explained. “I was in the middle of an operation on Farius Prime a little over three years ago. If it weren't for Yezbeck, I'd still be stranded there. We eventually made it to Risa, and given a reprieve by the old man if we could capture the Delta X.”

“Hmm,” surmised St. John as the turbolift slowed and changed direction before picking up speed again. “If you still want it, we can see if Blimpy is willing to put it back together for you.”

“No, that's okay,” sighed the former Doug Forrest. “This base is so torn apart, we'd be lucky to find all the pieces. Though, if you don't mind – and if we can find it – I'll take the central processor node to prove that it's been destroyed. Maybe that'll satisfy the old man.”

“I think we can arrange that,” agreed the commander. “Once you have it, then what?”

“Well, once we're done helping you here,” Theo explained. “Yezbeck and I have got to find our way to the Delta Quadrant.”

The three other Intel operatives in the turbolift were taken by surprise with the declaration, looking at each other with uncertainty.

“The Delta Quadrant?” St. John questioned. “You want to go to the DELTA Quadrant? Isn't that a little far away?”

“Yes,” nodded Theo. “But that's our next mission.”

“What's your plan for getting there?” asked the Intel commander.

“Funny you should ask that…”


Location: Bridge, deck 1, USS Republic nee Asgard

The expansive Galaxy-class control center was just as opulent as it's predecessors from decades past. While it did not possess the ancillary science and engineering workstations to the port and starboard as the real Galaxy-Class Republic did four years ago, it still maintained the roominess and aesthetic quality that the designers at Utopia Planitia first intended for maintaining a comfortable workspace aboard deep space exploration cruisers. The bright tan carpeting still matched the padded vinyl seating arrangement, and the smooth faux wood railings gave the impression of a homey feeling while also maintaining the utilitarian needs through a multitude of recessed LCARS-based control panels.

At this moment in time, all members of Task Force Trident were present on the bridge, either in person or on the main monitor in front, along with Theo Carter and Saal Yezbeck, the latter transmitting from sickbay. Chief Petty Officer Towe - aka Deuce - stood at the tactical arch, while Commander St. John sat comfortably in the command chair, his elbow resting on the armrest in a leisurely pose. Manning the Ops console was the ill-groomed Ensign Jensen, scratching at his rough-shaven face while Theo paced the space between the command chair and con. Petty Officer Louise Clayborne joined audio-only from the transporter room, while on the main monitor, the split screen displayed Lieutenant Anderson on the left side of the screen, while Doctor Yezbeck and Crewman Baker stood on the right side.

“What's your plan for getting back?” Lieutenant Anderson asked with ambivalence after hearing Theo's request to take the ship to the Delta Quadrant. “We can open the Geodesic fold on this end using the base's verteron array, but if you hadn't noticed, the Republic is an older Galaxy-class baseline model from the 2360s. She doesn't have the equipment to generate enough verteron particles for establishing another Geodesic fold once you get there. At least not one big enough to pull a ship this size back through to the Alpha Quadrant. It'd be a one-way trip.”

“We don't need a fold big enough to pull the Republic back,” Theo explained, continuing his pacing in the center of the bridge. “Just Yezbeck, John Carter, and myself. We can have the Republic generate the largest verteron beam it can, and then use one of the shuttles to get back. They're old, but they have transporters, and they can be locked into a diagnostic loop just like the one you used here.”

“Let me get this straight,” reasoned Blake St. John sitting in the command chair. “You want to abandon a Galaxy-Class starship in the Delta Quadrant?”

“Yes,” Theo admitted. “Unless we can come up with better way to get both us and the Republic back to the Alpha Quadrant.”

“You know,” the scruffy-haired Jensen interjected from the Ops station. “The door swings both ways. If we maintain the verteron particle flow through the fold, the ship could come back the way it came.”

“You mean keep the verteron beam activated while in the Delta Quadrant?” asked Lieutenant Anderson.

“That,” Jensen added. “Or schedule a second Geodesic pulse at a predetermined time.”

“It could take us DAYS to find John,” pointed out Theo. “Maybe even weeks or months if our coordinates are off any. I don't think there's enough energy in the station's reactor to leave the fold open that long.”

“Correct,” Commander St. John added. “The verteron array will take every drop of energy left in the base's reactor core. It takes so much power, I doubt there's enough to keep it open even an hour. We'll have to drop the base's cloaking field just to generate the one short Geodesic pulse needed to create the fold.”

“Drop the cloaking field??” shouted the voice of Petty Officer Clayborne over the comm system from the transporter room. “Do we want to even do that? It was a miracle that no one saw us generate the pulse the first time three years ago!”

“True,” replied the Deuce. “I'm rather amazed myself that no one came searching for the base back then.”

“Well,” interjected Theo thoughtfully. “Back then, you were so far away from any Gamma Quadrant assets that it was easier to escape detection. The only way WE happened to find you is that we had a Romulan tachyon scanner aboard our ship. You weren't in the orbit you should have been when I was here previously.”

“I guess that explains why Kostya's cabal never found us,” surmised Lieutenant Anderson. “They probably scanned the system and assumed we were destroyed in the first Geodesic fold.”

“The sensor network here in the Gamma Quadrant has expanded dramatically over the past few years,” warned Theo. “Even one short Geodesic pulse will probably attract attention this time around, and there's a fleet of starships just a few systems away who'll report us back to Starfleet Operations.”

“That means we could very well have the station commandeered again by more of Kostya's pawns,” concluded Commander St. John.

“We can't let that happen,” a determined Deuce added from the tactical console.

“Agreed,” the commander conceded. “This station must be destroyed as soon as possible after we generate the Geodesic pulse. I don't want to press our luck any further than we have to.”

“We could try Virtus's Borg transwarp nexus idea to get back,” Saal said reluctantly on the monitor, transmitting on the split screen from sickbay. “How's your cyber-negotiating skills?” Behind him, the eyes of the medic, Brian Baker, bulged with incredulity at the idea.

Theo pursed his lips, then dismissed the idea. “We'll keep that in our back pocket in case we can't find another way. The important thing is that we find John and get him home.”

“John Carter must be a pretty important guy for you to go through all that trouble,” the commander commented.

“Well, he WAS the ranking officer of the Republic Eight,” Deuce reminded the commander from the console arch behind him. “The whole Federation owes him their lives whether or not they realize it.”

“Still, that's a lot of starship to be bringing to the Delta Quadrant for just the eight of us,” Anderson explained with the warp core pulsating behind her in main engineering.

Blimpy beeped and whistled in annoyance from off-camera.

“Sorry… NINE of us…”

Theo was heartened that his newfound Intelligence comrades were so willing to join them on such a dangerous journey. That fact that they were assuming that they'd be joining him and Saal without even voicing it made him feel like he was part of a real Starfleet Intelligence field team again.

“Well, in the off chance we can't get back, I'd rather have a Galaxy Class starship to live aboard instead of a shuttlepod,” Theo explained. “Besides, no one said you all need to come along. Yezbeck and I have to do this. The rest of you don't.”

“None of it,” Deuce held up his hand in refutation. “You and Carter saved me and the rest of the Hazard Team on Cestus Three four years ago. I'm not letting you go alone.”

“Right,” the commander backed him up at the captain's chair. “And if Deuce is going, we're ALL going.” As a momentary silence fell upon the bridge, each individual considered the potential mission that Theo had just laid down in front of them.

“Sheila,” asked St. John after a moment. “Any way you can scavenge some of those Borg structural integrity field generators from the base?”

“Blimpy and I will have to do an EVA,” she replied. “It might take some work, but I think we can do it.”

“Take Louise with you, just to be on the safe side,” ordered the commander.

“I'll start prepping some suits,” the petty officer announced over the comm system.

“You know,” Anderson warned from the screen after PO1 Clayborne closed the channel. “It'll be a severe power drain on Republic to keep just one of those generators active for any length of time.”

“We don't need them to run long,” St. John replied. “Just long enough to get us through the Geodesic fold. In addition to reinforcing Republic, I'd recommend projecting another structural integrity field forward of the ship as it enters the fold.”

Sheila's eyes lit up. “Hey! Good idea, Blake! That'll give us an extra line of defense against the magnetic eddies!”

St. John smiled. “That's why I went to command school,” he remarked wryly. “You may want to have Blimpy also modify the main deflector for multi-phasic shielding as well.”

“That was my plan,” the lieutenant replied expectantly. “It was already one of the upgrades I was working on. It'll be about a day before we can get all this online and working.”

“A day well spent,” St. John replied as Anderson's side of the screen went blank. “Jensen,” he turned to the twenty-something computer specialist at the ops station. “Why don't you and Deuce grab some EVA suits from Clayborne and head to the base's verteron array control room? See if you can begin programming it for a Delta Quadrant transit.”

“I'll send you the coordinates for the nearest red giant to our destination,” Saal added. “You'll need to know where to focus the verteron beam on our end. Otherwise, we'll keep prepping the medical center. Sickbay out.”

“Acknowledged,” Jensen replied as the screen went blank. He swung the ops console away before standing and marching up the ramp past the command pit, joining Deuce in the rear portside turbolift.

Soon, Commander Blake St. John and the man formerly known as Lieutenant Commander Doug Forrest were alone in the expansive command center.

“And what would you like ME to do?” Theo asked.

“If you live up to what your reputation says you do best, commander,” St. John replied with a crafty smile. “Then you and I need to rig this station for the biggest demolitions operation the Gamma Quadrant has ever seen…”

(to be continued)

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