Missions - Episode 7: Into The Fire

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2389; A Perplexing Space Odyssey

Location: Ready Room
On: MD146, 0955 Hours

With the Nogura having successfully departed Starbase 72, Captain Colby Drayton and his senior staff had monitored ships systems for over six hours and, once everyone was satisfied that the ship was running as efficiently as possible, he had ordered a temporary change to shift patterns for the day. It seemed only fair given the fact he had worked them to the bone after the explosion a few days earlier. The investigation had been arduous but needed and had thrown up some intriguing evidence. Subsequent talks with Admiral O’Connell had seen the ships previous mission reassigned and now, they had a welcome change of pace headed their way – exploration. True exploration. Granted, it was in an unknown region, and granted it would be under the ever watchful gaze of a new alliance known as the Alrakis Pact, but the ship would still be able to explore the area as she carried out other missions of vital importance over the coming weeks.

With all that in mind, the Captain had decreed that gamma shift would remain on duty for an additional two hours, moving Alpha shift to ten-hundred hours instead of the usual oh-eight-hundred hours; an opportunity to try and regain those lost hours of sleep. Satisfied with the arrangement in place, he himself had turned in a little after oh-two-hundred. He was out for the count the minute his head hit the pillow; no sleeping pills were needed this night.

Despite the disturbed night's sleep, he had looked bright and cheery upon reporting to the bridge, via a stop at the mess hall for a Raktajino and some toast of course - a late breakfast to set the Terran Captain up for the day. He had decided that he would go for the waistcoat uniform variant today as he reported for his shift. He hoped that things would be a little more relaxed than of late.

The new Starfleet uniforms established under the Azulas regime had taken some getting used to, a significant departure from recent years, heralding back to the mid-sixties with a touch of the more modern uniforms that had been in use since the seventies. Now that he was in command, the Captain had disposed of the new design and returned the crew to wearing the more traditional ones that had been in use for nearly twenty years. It had not escaped the crew’s attention that this was nothing more than an attempt to ‘reboot’ after the disastrous times of the former command staff, but it was welcome, nonetheless. A chance to return to what they knew and embark on their first proper mission since the end of the Azulas-era. The change had been made all the more awkward by the Commodore's continued presence aboard the ship, but that didn't seem to bother him as much as it did her.

As for their new mission, the Captain was looking forward to finding out more about the Alrakis Pact, not to mention the other mysteries that lurked in the darkness of their new area of operations. Many light-years to the south-west of Sol, an isolated, desolate region exists, cut off from the rest of the galaxy by large swathes of Federation, K’Zinti and Talarian territory. A lawless territory filled with many worlds all light-years apart, all free to come and go as they please. The area was known by many names, but to Starfleet it was known as ‘The Wastelands’. No fancy fleets had been assigned there, no new installations built nearby and only a handful of populated Federation colonies lay on the periphery of Federation space. Starfleet and the Federation had no reason, no desire, no need to go there - until now. Beyond the edge of explored space, the people of the Wastelands, isolated and full of resentment towards the rest of the galaxy, try their best to thrive under sometimes perilous conditions. But now Starfleet had become embroiled in a race against the clock to make inroads into the area before the Alrakis Pact could claim new members. An area once lacking any strategic value had suddenly been thrust into the middle of a bitter feud...

A feud that the Nogura crew would be in the middle of, but not on their own as it would soon transpire.

He hadn't even made it across the bridge to his command chair after exiting the turbo lift before he was accosted by Lieutenant Okan, the temporary Operations Officer for Gamma Shift, who had been the first to report for duty – as was characteristic for the ever punctual Cardassian. Okan would remain aboard until the ship met up with one of its new colleagues down in the Wastelands and would transfer to the Adriatic, having been replaced by Commander Proht a few days earlier.

"Captain," she called, turning in her seat to glance across at the ships commanding officer. "We've received a holo-transmission request from the Starship Odyssey. They're in the immediate vicinity, travelling at warp six."

Colby collapsed into the command chair and let out a sigh as he got comfortable. 'It's too early in the morning for strange new people…' he pondered internally. "Let's have it," he spoke eventually, but only after two sips of his coffee.

Akaria nodded and tapped at her controls, the holo-communications platform at the front of the bridge activating seamlessly as the figure of a slightly older woman with black hair appeared inside the platform.

"Ahhh, you must be Captain Drayton? Greetings! My name is Captain Eren Utaazi, commander of the Odyssey," the older, Terran-looking woman smiled happily and nodded in the direction of her seemingly younger counterpart. "I know you were supposed to meet the Adriatic in the Iadora system but there has been a slight change of plans. Starfleet has ordered the Odyssey to rendezvous with yourselves, the Adriatic and the Roehampton just outside of the Penthara System, at Starbase Two-Fourteen. I'm transmitting to you the change of orders now," she concluded, appearing to sit in a chair of her own and allowing the conversation to swap sides.

Drayton shifted forwards slightly, his hands gripping the arms of the command chair as he listened to the words of the holographic woman. "I didn't realise Starfleet was sending anyone else out that way. I was under the impression the area was considered a wastela...”

"The threat of the Alrakis Pact is significant, wherever they go. Whatever the reason for this alliance, two of their ships were destroyed by an unknown presence in the unclaimed territories of the Wastelands less than two weeks ago. Whoever the aggressors were, one of their ships then bested two of our newer, most up to date vessels in a skirmish last week. From out of the blue, without warning, before simply disappearing into the night... like ghosts!" Utaazi interrupted, her demeanour changing as she spoke. "So, naturally, they are going to send more than one Sovereign class starship and an ageing wreck of an Excelsior to this new region."

Drayton raised an eyebrow as he glanced across at the Ops Officer, who returned his quizzical expression, before continuing about her business. "We can be at Penthara in the next eight to ten hours, Captain. We'll have to utilise our slipstream drive, but we'll be there,” Colby confirmed, letting the new face know that he wouldn't be pushed around, even if he was only the commander of a ‘single Sovereign Class starship’. Nogura was joining the party from much further afield than the rest of this new Task Group and would need to utilise her new propulsion system to get there quickly - there was obviously something in the works that he didn't want to be late for.

"The closer to eight, the better," Utaazi exclaimed. Then, as quickly as it had switched the first time, her demeanour changed again, and she was once again the chirpy soul who had first contacted them. "See you at Penthara, Captain. Odyssey out."

And just like that, she disappeared and the hologrid was deactivated, leaving Colby somewhat perplexed at the interaction that had taken place.

"A single Sovereign… ageing wreck of an Excelsior..." muttered Okan to the Captain's forward-left position, frustrated at the mention of her new assignment in such a way, "it'd be alright if she was commanding a Prometheus or something, but we could run rings around that little Intrepid of hers every day of the week and twice on Saturdays," The Cardassian glanced back at her Captain, only to see him shooting her a look that sparked a sudden feeling that she had slightly overstepped the mark in her rant, "sorry sir," she offered her profuse apologies and got back to work.

Drayton shook his head slowly, and let out a smirk at the young woman's indiscretion, but his thoughts soon turned back to what appeared to be an adjustment to their orders. The Nogura would now report to the Penthara system and begin a new journey with a few more new friends in tow.

"Lieutenant Okan," he called out as he rose from his chair and pulled down his vest jacket, "note down the adjustment to our orders in the ships log. Call the senior staff to duty stations and then we'll make for the Penthara system, at best possible speed. Have Commander Millarini bring the Slipstream Drive online, inform Lieutenant Franklin of our change of plans and have him ensure all new security protocols are in place for when we reach Penthara," he turned on his heels, not waiting for a response from the Cardassian before heading for his ready room. "Oh, and have Commander's Neprem and Hunt report to me as soon as they come on duty. Knowing our luck, our new friend Captain Utaazi will want to stretch her legs on something a bit more sophisticated than her tiny Intrepid."

Akaria Okan watched with an enormous grin on her face as Drayton disappeared into his ready room and then got to work carrying out her orders.

Inside the ready room, there was research to be done. About the Odyssey, the Roehampton, the Adriatic, and about this perplexing woman called Eren Utaazi…

Command Level Updates

Location: Ready Room, Deck 1
On: MD146, 1015 Hours

It had only been a few minutes since the Nogura had received the transmission from Captain Utaazi of the Odyssey and the change of orders for his ship, but already the Captain had had his curiosity piqued by what he had read in the Captain's file and that information about the Odyssey's previous mission - so much so he was eager to share the information with his two senior most officers who he had ordered to his ready room. He was never one for keeping people in the dark on matters unless absolutely necessary, instead choosing to trust that his people would perform better if they knew as much as possible at all times, and that started with his first and second officers. As a command team, they couldn't be expected to carry out their duties and offer insight unless they were privy to the truth of the situation so, ss he sat at his desk nursing a warm cup of earth tea, he read with interest the information on the screen before him whilst he awaited their arrivals.

Tara had already been en route from Engineering to his office to deliver a status update about the new slipstream drive when she received the call, so a short while later she entered the Ready Room. "Main Engineering reports all is well with the Quantum Slipstream Drive," Tara stated. "There was a slight incident, some internal fluctuations that could have caused some problems, but we seemed to have smoothed everything out, and the drive is operating beautifully," the Trill reported as she sat down across from the Captain. "I'm growing quite fond of Commander Millarini, I'll be sad to see her go when she's no longer needed to oversee the Drive."

"Likewise," Colby frowned as he relaxed in his chair, "I approved her transfer to the Adriatic this morning, along with that of Akaria Okan and young Tempestava th'Zorati. I think it's time to let them all grow a little," he was happy for the officers, especially the younger ones who were going on to permanent roles as department heads on the Adriatic, but it was still sad to lose such competent officers.

"The Adriatic? Very nice ship, they should flourish well there," Tara remarked with an approving nod.

Will entered the Ready Room last, having come from the library, where he spent the beginning of most mornings, reading the latest news and periodicals. He still had a PADD in hand, so he could finish his reading in the turbolift. “Good morning, Captain, Commander,” he said with a smile, sitting down next to Tara.

"Good morning Commander," the Captain nodded in the newcomers direction as he sat up in his chair and got straight to the point. "A short while ago we received a transmission from the Captain of the Odyssey with a slight adjustment to our orders. We're to rendezvous with the Odyssey, as well as the Adriatic and the Roehampton, at Starbase Two-One-Four in roughly eight hours," he told, turning his screen to face them both. On it, there was a schematic that showed the route of travel. "We're going to have to use the Slipstream to get us there on time."

Will couldn’t help but grin. He’d never been on a Slipstream-capable ship. He was familiar with the ships the Captain listed. Odyssey. Adriatic. Roehampton. Intrepid, Excelsior, and Nebula classes. Add a Sovereign and you had a sizeable, capable task group. He recognised the Starbase too. “Two-One-Four. We discussed it briefly the other day. It’s our only installation in the Wastelands. Why are we sending such a force there, sir?”

"In short, the Starbase has detected a force of Alrakis Pact vessels within sensor range and thus, our presence is required much sooner," the Captain told as the display changed to reveal several blinking lights on the periphery of the starbases indicated sensor range.

"That's troubling," Tara remarked. "Are they getting anxious that there are still Starfleet vessels inside the Expanse in violation of the blockade?"

"There are plans for a summit between leaders of both sides to allow further exploration of the Expanse, so I suspect their move here is to draw our attention elsewhere," the Captain told.

“But where?” wondered Will. “There’s not much out there. A lot of it is uncharted, but there’s no indication of anything important out that way.”

"Yet," the Captain added. "We don't know what they may or may not have found, or what their true intentions out here may be, but the sheer fact that we're now splitting assets between here and the Inconnu Expanse gives them an edge," he told before activating a new screen on his display, "what I find perhaps even more troubling is this," he pointed to an energy signal on the screen, "this is the weapons signature of a vessel that not only destroyed two Pact vessels, but also bested the starships Brier-Ridge and Charleston. Both ships had to make a swift getaway and are now headed to Starbase Forty-Seven for repairs," he told as he sat back in his chair again. "Brier-Ridge is one of the new Diligent-class ships whilst Charleston is an Onimaru. Neither vessel is a slouch defensively."

Tara frowned as she looked at the images of the damaged vessels. "I've repaired a lot of damaged hull plating in my days as an Engineer, but I've never seen blast marks like that. What can leave marks like that?" she asked. This was something, something dangerous!

"Whatever the hell this weapons signature is, that is what's responsible," Drayton answered, "I've had the logs added to your clearance levels, but whatever it is, it isn't pretty. It sounds like they come and go in an instant; one of the logs refers to a blinding flash, followed by a volley of weapons fire, then the same flash again. It renders sensors practically useless," he revealed.

Will dug deep into his memories. He was no expert on weapons, but he knew a small amount about the weapons of most major powers and enough minor ones. “It doesn’t sound like anything used by anyone out that way,” he said. “The only non-Pact forces in that direction are the Kzinti and the Ferengi, and neither of those use weapons I’d describe like that. Of course, it could be some unseen power in the Wastelands, or even one from outside importing new weapons to the region. Hard to say much with any certainty.”

"Commander Neprem," Drayton smiled, "following our briefing, you'll have the bridge for the next few hours while I dig deep into the recent contact history between Starfleet and the Alrakis Powers. Commander Hunt, I want you to delve further into what we know and see if you can find anything that match this signature."

Will nodded. “Aye, Captain. There could even be references in the historical database to attacks against Federation or other ships that no one has linked to these incidents yet. If there’s anything out there to find, I’ll find it.”

Tara nodded. "If either of you need an extra pair of eyes, do let me know," she said, but she was grateful that for once she wasn't the one who had to do all this research! "If there's nothing else, then I'll go watch the bridge," she added as she rose from her chair. There was, indeed, much to do.

Rideshare

Location: The emptiness of space (and my heart)
On: Day 1 at 0500

Floating in space and waiting to be rescued provided many opportunities to think and reconsider actions and how things could have gone different. Unfortunately for Lexa, introspection and quiet were not the ways of the Kongeda and she was steadily going crazy. The escape pod had been broadcasting its emergency signal for hours now and mentally she was ready for the ship to target it being a Borg one that came to ascertain what had happened to its friends. The Sovereign might have gone down but in doing so it had inflicted enough damage on the Borg to at the very least get most Starfleet survivors in the area out.

As she checked on the systems of the escape pod she couldn't help but feel regret about not going down with the ship. Trikru always stayed with their command, to abandon it was to bring dishonour to your name, to your village and to your clan. Deception and desertion were the ways of the ice nation not of the woods clan. The Kongeda had however never faced an enemy like the Borg. While not nearly a match in personal combat for them, their ruthless efficiency and singular purpose meant they could overtake even the most powerful Coalition armies with ease. This new threat had made the choice to leave her people to join Starfleet all the more proper and it also meant that the choice to join the Federation in the first place was only justified further. Jus drein jus daun, blood must have blood, she thought as she considered all the lives that she had lost today. Brothers and sisters in arms, comrades, people she respected. They needed to be avenged. It was this that made her desire to keep going, despite the wide array of injuries internal and external that the final minutes on the Sovereign had inflicted, and if she were to be picked up by the Borg instead of Starfleet. At least she would take some more down with her.


Shuttlecraft Jupiter

If there was a hell, Aria Winters was certain this may very well be it. Holding position alongside the shell of the Rhode Island, able to watch as explosive decompressions created a field of debris and bodies, the reality of what had befallen her ship and crew began to sink in.

As a child she had often heard the old stories, tales of how the Borg had devastated the El-Aurian people. Events which were burned into the psyche of an entire species who became nomads. Yet there had been hope. A true hope that it was a darkness which would never again fall over the galaxy.

It was taking too long. Turning away from the view, Aria cast her gaze over the jury rigged comms system. While she had diverted additional power - albeit not much as it was burning through relays she did not have to spare - the signal would not travel far very fast. Yet in the last briefing he would ever deliver, Captain Leighton had spoke of a rendezvous with an old friend of his, the captain of the USS Sovereign.

If they hadn't detected the signal, then she needed to reconsider her plan.

Even as the possibility crossed her mind, a chirp from the adjacent console cut through her thoughts. Calling up the data she frowned, her hope of rescue immediately dashed. An escape pod.

Her brow furrowed. The Rhode Island had not launched any escape pods, so where had this one...?

"Oh," she breathed, making a logical leap. She wished she had the means to communicate with whoever was aboard, yet at least the pod seemed to be on a course with her shuttle. Grateful for a distraction she tracked it, while activating the EMH.

"You can't turn me off and on like a light switch!" he protested as he flickered into existence. "Your bleeding again. What use is - "

"Fix it later," she told him, gesturing to the console, "we are about to have company. Whoever it is may need your services, Doctor."

His bluster faded immediately. "I'll clear a space, shall I?"

Aria nodded. "Please."

Watching as the pod moved closer, she played it safe, allowing the distance to close before she activated the transporter. Hoping, as the sound of the transporter filled the air, that whoever was on the lifepod had not mistaken their lack of greeting as a sign of trouble.

Due to the loss of blood Lexa had steadily started to fall in and out on consciousness. As such when about a dozen alert sounds and lights activated they provided just the boost to get her back to focus on the situation at hand. "Well then, let's see if we get to live to fight another die or if today was a good day to die" She said as she entered a few commands on the console to identify the approaching vessel. It became clear soon enough that it was far too small to be Borg but then again it was also too small to be a Federation rescue ship. As the transporter activated and Lexa steadily saw the interior of a Starfleet shuttle before her she felt relief. Only to collapse the very moment mateialization had been completed. The escape pod for all its problems in comfort had exerted enough pressure on the right areas of her body to keep her going despite the loss of blood. With that external pressure removed even standing became impossible. Through tears and holes in the fabric of the uniform, the nature of her injuries would become clear soon to the EMH as the black liquid steadily escaped her body.

Barely holding onto consciousness she looked up at the Officer that had saved her. She looked to be in a pretty bad shape too. "Commander" she spoke respectfully.

“Welcome aboard,” Aria offered with a small smile, giving the EMH room to work. “Do you need anything?”

“A fully equipped sickbay and less questions would be ideal,” came the predictable reply, dripping with sarcasm. In spite of that he worked diligently and efficiently. Muttering to himself about working conditions.

Aria ignored him. “I’m Aria. This is our EMH. Don’t let the attitude fool you, he will patch you up. What’s you name, Commander?”

Despite her body screaming for her to stop, Lexa forced herself to sit mostly upright as the EMH had addressed most of the immediate problems. "Lexa" she replied with a slight smile. "Thank you" she added, aimed at the EMH for the medical help.

“I wouldn’t thank us just yet,” Aria cautioned, “we can save that for after our rescue. For now, sit back and let the doctor work.”

She seamed to take her own advice, dunking back into the seat she had been occupying, touching a control to hide the view outside. Lying to herself that it was for Lexa’s benefit. “If the doctor gives his okay, there are some ration packs if you are hungry.”

"That would be great, my own supplies got destroyed when the escape pod barely got off before the Sovereign detonated. I think I've been out there for almost a day" Lexa replied, opting to accept the advice and slowly lower herself again. "Don't be worried about the radiation in my bloodstream, due to the surface radiation on my homeplanet all of my people have it" she said to the EMH who was probably going to make an issue of it otherwise.

“Hmm,” was the hologram’s only response.

Aria rolled her eyes. “He is not a people person,” she pointed out to Lexa. “I am sorry about your ship. Ours is lost too. This shuttle is all we’ve got. Unfortunately it only has manoeuvring thrusters, and some systems had been stripped out for refit. It’s not much, but for now it’s what we’ve got.”

"Anything is better than that escape pod. I was pretty sure I was going to die in that thing or be retrieved by the Borg." Lexa replied. "What ship were you on?"

“Rhode Island, science ship,” Aria said, gesturing in the general direction of the wreakage. With a rueful smile she added, “we were finally coming home. And then this. They ripped her apart in minutes. And what’s left is tearing itself apart even now. She was a good ship. Replicators never worked right but good all the same.”

Lexa nodded. "Honestly, the Sovereign didn't fare much better. At least we managed to take a few of them in the battle and a final one in the self-destruct but otherwise it was over in less than 30 minutes as well. I don't know how many made it out"

"Guess we are in the same boat.... I might be able to boost sensors and try to extend scanning range," she offered. "But I imagine they've headed in the opposite direction as nothing has appeared on sensors until you showed up."

"Yeah, most of the escape pods should be clear of our sensor range and the Borg now. I made sure to buy them as much time as I could. I'm still not sure how I made it to the escape pod with all the explosions around me" Lexa said before trying to get up so be an actually productive member of the Shuttle's crew but quickly having to lie down again. "I guess mind over body doesn't always work"

"Just stay where you are and rest," Aria told the other woman, ignoring the incredulous look the EMH shot in her direction. "I'm sure someone will pick up our signal soon."

"Yes, sir" Lexa replied jokingly.


Feline Sabotage

Location: Deck 8
On: Day 144 at 1740

After she was discharged from Sickbay, Meibei was strictly ordered to bed rest by the doctor, the captain and the XO separately and with considerable force. The XO in particular repeated that order at least twice a day, usually with some light-hearted threat of retribution.

Naturally, Meibei completely ignored them. Thus, late one day after spending a couple of hours in Engineering, she slowly floated her way back to her quarters. She was still clearly in bad shape, one antenna missing and half her body bandaged, but her spirit seemed to have recovered much quicker than her corporeal form. Meibei was clad in a flowery vest and a long skirt, humming merrily as she chugged along while reading a PADD, the hoverchair's automatic systems taking her where she needed to go without need for piloting. At least, that was until a very odd sound jolted her out of her concentration.

"Meow?"

Startled, Meibei looked around before spotting a small furry creature in front of her. "Kitty!" she breathed, grinning as he brought the chair to stop, having developed a fondness for the Earth animals while at the Academy. "What are you doing out here? Did you go out on an adventure?"

The cat considered the odd blue woman in her floating chair, plainly wondering what to make of it as its tail slowly wagged from side to side. Finally, the cat approached, meowing loudly in greeting...and then, oddly, it went underneath the chair.

"Uh...what are you doing down there?" Meibei asked, flummoxed. She tried bending down to see under her chair, but her protesting muscles quickly put a stop to that. She was just reaching for her hoverchair's controls when she heard a loud click.

The chair fell to the deck with a sudden loud crash, accompanied by the startled yelp of its occupant and the panicked screech of its saboteur, tipping Meibei sideways onto the deck with all the grace of a sack of potatoes. She groaned as she lay there, unmoving.

"Ow," she grumbled, aching horribly from the fall. She had luckily fallen on her unburnt side, meaning that the bruises were relatively mild, but they hurt nevertheless. Then she spotted the cat moving back into her eyeline, meowing hesitantly before nudging Meibei's cheek with its wet nose. "Meanie," Meibei grumbled, glaring.

Will came running around the corridor in the direction his cat ran. He sped up when he heard the crash, and was shocked to see the badly injured Andorian woman on the ground, his furry friend nuzzling her cheek.

“Oh my,” he said, and rushed to help. “Liviana, what did you do this time?” he asked the cat, who stepped out of the way. “Please, let me help you back up. Did she damage the chair?”

"Dunno," Meibei muttered, wincing. She tried to push herself up off the deck with her good arm, but it started trembling immediately at the strain. "Ow, that really smarts."

“Do you need me to contact anyone?” Will asked, crouching and offering a hand for her to grab for support. He didn’t know how badly hurt she was, either from the fall or her previous injuries, so didn’t want to just start grabbing and cause more pain. The cat, meanwhile, was doing her usual ‘hide by crouching in plain sight’ move that never seemed to work.

"Oh no, I'm fine," Meibei groaned, her grumpy tone at odds with her words. "Could ya pick me up? It's only my right side that's all burnt, and I can stand fine..." Like so, the human gently helped pick Meibei up, getting the pixie Andorian on her feet. Meibei kept a hand on the wall to maintain her balance, but she seemed strong enough despite her injuries to stand unassisted.

Once she was a bit more stable, Will looked her in the eye. “Sorry about that. You’re Meibei right? Meibei zh’Khessi? I read your file before coming aboard. I’m Will Hunt, the new Strategic Operations Officer.”

"Aw, hi!" Meibei said with a buoyant grin. "Guess that wasn't the most elegant way to introduce myself, huh?"

Will returned her grin, the happiness in her pleasant tone being absolutely infectious. “Not exactly, but entirely my fault. Well, not mine.” He scooped up his cat and held her so that her face was level with Meibei’s. “And this is Liviana. And she’s very sorry.”

Locking eyes with the cat for a moment, Meibei snorted in disbelief. "Oh yeah, I just bet she's sorry," she teased the animal grumpily, but at the last she was unable tor resist a grin at the animal's completely unfair cuteness. "Could you get the chair workin'? I'm not supposed to be walking much, ya know, doctor's orders..." And the XO's repeated insistent orders, but Meibei didn't mention that given how hot and bothered she became whenever Tara got bossy. "There's a little switch on the bottom, next to the anti-grav unit. Just flick that and you can set the chair straight real easy."

“Of course.” Will found the switch and pressed it, and the antigrav unit hummed back to life. He righted the chair and presented the front of it to the Andorian. “Good as new. But can I make this up to you somehow?”

"Well..." Meibei said slowly, biting her lip. She slowly turned around and sat herself back down in the chair with only a mild wince. "Dinner. Human-style. Deal?"

Will nodded with a smile. "Deal. It was nice to meet you, Meibei, despite the circumstances. I'll bring this little one back to my quarters so she can think about what she's done. I'll contact you about dinner in the next day or so?"

"Okay," Meibei said brightly with a sudden grin. She plucked the PADD out from under her backside on the chair, where the helpful human had put it, and paused as she moved a blue hand back to the controls, favouring the mischievous kitten with a mock glare. "And I am so getting you back, Mister. Just you wait."

END

Obligatory Pre-Mission Senior Staff Meeting

With the adjustments to the Nogura's orders and the ship at Slipstream velocity being monitored by Commander Millarini and several others, the Captain had summoned the senior staff, the now burgeoning senior staff since a number of new arrivals had joined the crew, to meet in the observation lounge at eleven hundred hours so he could fill them in on the specifics of the mission at hand. Whilst he completed a task on his data PADD, the briefing room started to fill up.

Having just come from a meeting with the Captain, Tara moved straight to the Observation Lounge from the Ready Room. It was strange to her as she got a cup of tea from the replicator then took a seat to the right of the Captain's chair; she and Drayton were still strangers, yet not, and they had fallen into a comfortable working relationship quite quickly. It made work feel comfortable, familiar, not unlike another relationship she had not all that long ago. Pulling her thoughts away from Hunter, she refocused on a PADD she pulled from her duty jacket, sipping idly at her tea while she read reports and waited for everyone else to arrive.

Will was right behind Tara, having been in the same meeting. They didn’t make small talk as they walked. They’d met before today’s meetings, and one day he was sure they’d be friends wanting to share the details of their previous evenings or upcoming plans. But for now it was nice to walk in silence beside a fellow officer. He got his own beverage from the wall replicator, his a latte macchiato, and sat across from Tara, to the left of the Captain’s chair. His own PADD in hand, containing this week’s Jane’s Defence, he read in silence.

The doors to the turbolift opened with their normal swooshing sound that they made, and there in front of him was the bridge; and the multiple sounds of beeps and conversations among themselves. Taking a deep inhale Zar walked along the back wall of the bridge and moved towards the observational lounge doors, which opened when it sensed his presence. As his eyes adjusted to the change in light from the bridge to the lounge Zar noticed three other officers already sitting at the table, one was Captain Drayton and the other had to have been the frist officer; the three solid gold pips on her collar gave that away, Commander Neprem if he remembered correctly from the ship's personal files. Another officer wearing command colors but the same rank as him."Captain, Commander,'s" replied Zar as he replicated a cup of coffee and took his seat at the table.

Eza entered nodding to those present, and took a seat mid table. His first formal briefing as a member of the Nogura senior staff.

Dr. Alexander arrived to the observation lounge a little later than he had planned. PADD in hand he was ready for this first meeting with the new senior staff. This Sovereign class starship was different to him compared to the Galaxy class of his last assignment and he might have gotten lost a little on his way to deck 1. He gave a quick glance around the room seeing all the new faces, many that he had not met yet. He noticed that his normal seat third down from the commanding officer next to the window was not taken so he made his way over. His back had to face the window so that he would not start daydreaming during the briefing. He laid his PADD down. "Is this seat taken?" he asked around the room but directed towards the three in red trim uniforms at the head of the table.

"Not at all Doctor," the Captain smiled, gesturing for the newest member of the team to take his seat.

The hatch to the observation lounge again opened and a sweaty, nearly out-of-breath Jamie burst through the opening. He had not noticed the eyes upon him as his eyes remained glued to the PADD he had carried with him. He had barely managed to retrieve and organise the data his is typically responsible for in preparation for these meetings. He had spent only the past five minutes or so reading over the data so that he could speak intelligently if called upon. Wiping beads of sweat from his forehead, he looked up from the PADD to a nearly assembled senior staff. Without making more of a scene he approached the long conference table, nodded a greeting to the captain and first officer, and took the open seat across from who he assumed was the Nogura's new chief medical officer. In an attempt to set his PADD down silently, it slipped from his shaky hand made a slapping sound upon the table. Ignoring the blunder, he slid his chair closer to the table and folded his hands in his lap.

The door opened once more, giving the awkward Tactical Officer a reprieve as another of the senior staff entered. By all rights, the chirpy (and still charboiled) Andorian should've still been in her quarters, but in she hobbled regardless, leaning heavily on a cane. Meibei was really making an effort, even wearing her uniform, although it was somewhat ill-fitting. She flashed everyone with a merry proud grin before she gradually made her way to the nearest chair, next to the clumsy human.

"Hi there," she said brightly to him after sitting down heavily in her chair.

Jamie smiled in reply, "Good morning. How are you getting along?" He knew the answer to that based upon her entrance. He also knew Andorian's were both proud and stubborn, and this meant that he would not get a straight answer from her. Nonetheless, he had been worried about her after the incident and wanted to show that he cared.

"Aw, I'm fine," Meibei said with a grin. "Honest, the Nog is harder to patch up than me."

"Good to have you with us Lieutenant," Drayton nodded from the head of the table in the direction of the engineer.

"Thanks Cap'n!" Meibei replied cheerfully, her one remaining antenna twerking back and forth with vigour.

"Alright people, let's get to it," Drayton began the meeting by drawing everyone's attention to the large, wall mounted display. "As you are all aware, our orders were to meet the starship Adriatic in the Iadora system before proceeding into the Wastelands to begin exploration of the region." The Captain then tapped on the desk and the display changed to an alternative location, "An hour ago, we received an updated orders package from Captain Eren Utaazi of the Odyssey. We've been informed of a possible threat to Starbase Two-Fourteen by some Alrakis Pact vessels in the Wastelands. We're to meet the Odyssey, Adriatic and Roehampton at the Penthara System and ensure the security of the Starbase and provide any supplies her skeleton crew may need. The station is two torpedoes away from being reduced to rubble. She's old, out dated and pretty useless as anything more than a sensor platform. We're to beef her security until such a time as the Corps of Engineers finally arrives to perform some much needed maintenance."

"We have more than enough supplies to spare, before we left I made sure that our auxiliary cargo holds were full; in addition to the regular main cargo holds. I can coordinate with Flight control to have cargo shuttles moving supplies along with our cargo transporters,"replied Zar.

"Roehampton is carrying the engineering team, so all we will be required to do is drop off the supplies and then we'll proceed into the Wastelands territory," the Captain informed as he tapped at the console and changed the screen again. "We don't know what they are doing, or what their true intentions out here may be, but the sheer fact that we're now splitting assets between here and the Inconnu Expanse gives the Pact an edge," he told before activating a new screen on the display, "what I find perhaps even more troubling is this," he pointed to an energy signal on the screen, "this is the weapons signature of a vessel that not only destroyed two Pact vessels, but also bested the starships Brier-Ridge and Charleston. Both ships had to make a swift getaway and are now headed to Starbase Forty-Seven for repairs," he told as he sat back in his chair again. "Brier-Ridge is one of the new Diligent-class ships whilst Charleston is an Onimaru. Neither vessel is a slouch defensively."

"I can have a team begin digging into the readings on those weapons signatures, maybe we can make some headway into finding out what we're dealing with if we can't determine who we're dealing with." Eza offered.

“I’ll dig further into historical records,” Will added, reiterating what he was ordered to do in the Ready Room. “It’s entirely possible that we or some other power have come across this sort of weapons signature before, but no one has made the connection. There might be more clues that we can dig up.”

"We'll be travelling at slipstream velocity for as long as possible. If there are any issues from anyone, report them to Commander Millarini in engineering. In the meantime, let's try and have an uneventful journey to our new area of operations," Drayton smirked, knowing the likelihood of that was slim given the history of the ship. "Questions?"

"Captain," Zar said as he looked in his direction "Do we know which two of the pact vessels were destroyed? Also if one vessel was able to force the withdrawal of two of Starfleet's newest vessels, what is the likely hood the Nogura will be a match for whatever is there?" he asked.

"I have to agree with the Commander, Sir," Jamie chimed in. "Though the Nogura is a great ship, the likelihood is high that she may not withstand whatever they throw at us. Do we have any sort of analysis from either the Brier-Ridge or Charleston of the skirmish?"

"Not that has been shared yet," the Captain shook his head slowly. "I don't care what the liklihood is. They are our orders and we are to do our absolute best."

Zar knew that command all too well, he sat their in his seat with his hands folded on top of the table. With a slight tip of his head in acknowledgement . "Very well captain," was his verbal response.

"That being said," the Captain paused as he climbed down off his proverbial 'high horse' and changed tact for a minute. "I want to make sure we are as prepared as possible, so, all departments with the required expertise are ordered to try and find shield modulations or adaptations that will significantly reduce the threat we face from these weapons. Meibei, I think its time we maybe developed a quick start routine for the Slipstream. The minute we signal red alert, I want it powered up and ready to go. We have, I hope, the advantage of speed. Lets make sure we are around long enough to use it," he ordered.

Eza was uncomfortable, it felt as if there was more going on than had been shared, whether that was by the Captain or the brass he felt like the mission may go sideways.

"Any last questions?" Drayton queried with a last look around the room.

With everyone's silence, the Captain rose to his feet and gave his usual declaration of dismissal.

"Let's get to work!"

A Pact with the Devil

Location: Library
On: Day 146 at 1335

Nogura was on her way to Starbase 214 with a sense of great urgency and, with Commander Proht in command of the bridge for the first time, the Captain had returned to the ships library on deck 7 to carry out his search into the formation of the Alrakis Pact. The research was nothing he couldn't have done in his ready room, or on the bridge itself, but the change of scenery to somewhere quiet would be more conducive to his success - or so he hoped. To help him in his efforts, he had summoned the XO to join him.

Tara was no stranger to the library. It was a quiet place to help her unwind with a new book after a long, hard day, and she had become a frequent visitor following Meibei’s injuries. Although today she was here on official business, and as she entered she spied the Captain at one of the library access terminals.

“Hey boss,” Tara said casually as she approached Drayton, but then she blushed when she realized this was not the proper way to greet her Commanding Officer. ‘Cool it, Arjin, I’m on duty,’ she silently reminded the mischievous soul that had become a part of her. “Reporting for duty,” she then said to Drayton, trying to regain a sense of proper deportment.

“Hey boss?” Drayton grinned as he turned slowly to look at his first officer and couldn’t help but let out a laugh. “From now on, it is standard procedure for you to greet me like that at all times,” he declared in between laughter as he reached out for a second chair and pulled it closer for her. For the usually prim and proper commander of the Nogura, it was a great change to have someone at his side who was less.. weird… than his previous XO’s on the Ulysses, and that was saying something for a woman who had been ‘forcibly’ joined with a Trill symbiont and was seemingly still getting to grips with the process. He hadn’t told her, but he respected her a lot for not only that, but for the way she had dealt with so many other things in recent months, especially the death of her former friend and the injury to her ‘friend’.

Tara’s blush deepened. “Please tell me you’re joking, Captain,” she said, taking the offered seat. As if it wasn’t bad enough that Meibei liked to ‘ruffle her feathers’, but now the Captain was doing it too? They must be plotting with one another!

“No, I’m deadly serious!” Drayton shook his head, “greet me in any other fashion and I’ll demote you on the spot,” he told seriously before looking to the console he had been working on. “So… I’ve been looking in to the Alrakis Pact, and we have a problem,” he told before looking back to her, “what do you know so far?”

Tara took a deep, deep breath, then let it out slowly. ‘See what you’ve done now?!’ Tara ‘scolded’ her symbiont, to which the only response was Arjin’s laughter in the back of her mind. Refocusing on the matter at hand, Tara answered Drayton with, “It’s a treaty between the Breen, Tzenkethi, Talarian, and the ‘Ravagers’, which is an amalgamation of various races, they’re basically pirates and scavengers roaming the Expanse without any solid leadership. The Pact itself was formed as a means of trying to force Starfleet out of the Expanse, but as I understand it, they are having difficulty working together to achieve this goal because until recently they have been enemies against each other.”

“Yeah, that’s all changed…” Drayton frowned as he pulled up a new record, “seems they’ve been working together a lot easier of late,” the Captain told as he showed her the list of engagements and encounters Starfleet and Cardassian assets had had with the Pact alliance. “Twenty-three in the last two weeks,” he told, “seems like they have got their act together.”

“That’s unsettling,” Tara replied as she looked over this new information. “They were so uncoordinated while setting up the blockade, I was certain that Command was banking on this lack of coordination to be the means of finding resolution. They’re quick learners to be able to mobilize this rapidly.”

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the Captain quoted as he leant back in his chair. “They’ve united behind a common cause - to rid the Expanse of the Federation and to bloody the nose of the Cardassians after the expansion that claimed Breen territories during the war,” he let out a sigh as he rubbed his temple. “It’s amazing what a common goal can do to four very different species,” he added.

“What I’m most confused about is the Talarians; wasn’t there talk of a treaty between Starfleet and the Talarians not too long ago? So why are they against us now?” Tara mused aloud.

“The big instigators here seem to be the Breen,” the Captain mused as he folded his arms and glared at the screen. “According to Starfleet Intel, a Breen delegation approached the Talarians and, Ronzel, the Commander of the Empire, saw an opportunity to project strength and power. Allying with the Breen would enable the Talarians to show their true power and finally demand respect from their enemies, namely us,” he informed before adding again, “my brain hurts.”

“I concur,” Tara replied, pinching the bridge of her nose. “It’s really disappointing, the Talarians are quite lovely people, it’s a shame they’re mixed up in all this. Although I’m sure survival plays a large part; they probably don’t want to set themselves against the Breen and Tzenkethi by siding with Starfleet.”

“Perhaps…” the Captain trailed off, before leaning forward and tapping the screen. The file on display changed to an image of the Talarian border with the Wastelands, the new area of space that the Nogura was headed towards. “No Starfleet here, so how do we explain that build up of Breen and Talarian ships? They were detected by the new Argolis Array just two days ago,” he scowled. He wanted to agree with her, that maybe the Talarian’s had been dragged in to this mess to keep them safe, but why would they be massing on the border of unexplored space, other than to undertake some sort of mission?

“Could it possibly be because of the encounter with this unknown ship with the unusual weapon?” Tara ventured.

Colby lent so far forward this time he banged his head on the work surface and let out a slightly muffled “God, I hope not…”

Tara actually jumped in her seat slightly at the thunk of his head hitting the work surface. “I, erm, wasn’t suggesting collusion, but rather defense? Perhaps they are as concerned about this new weapon as we are? If handled properly, this may actually be an opportunity for cooperation between Starfleet and the Alrakis Pact.”

Colby sat up in his chair and rubbed his head before looking over at the Trill again. “Maybe you’re right,” he smiled, more out of hope than anything. “I want you to get down to Tactical Astrometrics and give the people there a secret mission. I want that border monitored. I want to know the minute those ships move and wherever they go,” he directed.

“Yes, because watching the enemy like we’re paranoid xenophobes is how we make friends,” Tara remarked, then her eyes shot open, wide with surprise at her own words. “I apologize for the snark, that was Arjin’s doing. Uh, but I can request an active uplink with the Argolis Array to ensure that our observations remain discreet,” she said, once again blushing crimson.

“Alright, see to it,” Drayton nodded as he rose to his feet. “I don’t think I like Arjin anymore…” he frowned for a few seconds before a grin took hold again.

Tara managed a chuckle despite being so embarrassed. “Yeah, I’m not liking him so much either,” she remarked, then rose as well. “He’s like a really annoying roommate that I can’t get rid of…” So of course Meibei loved him!

“I’d say you could threaten to flush him out an airlock like I did my annoying roommate, but, well, that would not help me in any way,” he laughed.

“No, that would not be good,” Tara replied with a laugh. “If there’s nothing else, then I will get right on this-” She had to stop herself from saying ‘Captain’, then with a sigh she said, “Boss.”

Drayton let out the biggest grin to date and playfully slapped the woman on the back as he walked past her towards the opposite exit. “See,” he laughed, “I knew it would catch on!”

It was official: Arjin was going die, again, as soon as Tara could figure out how to do it without killing herself!

Dangerous Indictments

Location: Starbase 214
On: Day 146 at 1400

Lieutenant Commander Katherine Watkins stepped into the main operational centre of Starbase 214 with a hot cup of coffee, creamy and sweet, in hand. This assignment had been dull, and as she approached a year in the role of station XO, routine had begun to set in. She smiled and nodded to the crew, all of which were nursing their own hot morning drinks. All except the Tactical Officer.

“I was just about to contact you, Commander,” the older Betazoid man told her as he beckoned her to his monitor. “These showed up on sensors about two minutes before you came in.”

Katherine’s brow furrowed. She didn’t like what she saw. She tapped her commbadge. “Captain Gral to the bridge,” she called, her Australian accent making at least two bridge crew smile despite the nervousness that was beginning to plague them.

Five minutes later, Captain Tora Gral, the stations commanding officer and ageing Tellarite, hobbled his way into the command centre of the ancient Regula-class space station and approached the aft Tactical station where his first officer was conversing with the stations resident Betazoid. Through his gravelly voice, he addressed the two. "What is it Commander?" he queried as he came to a stop and rested a hand on the top of the console.

“Alrakis Pact ships, sir,” Katherine explained. “A decent-sized task force, largely Breen and Talarian. At least twelve ships, but possibly more. At this distance, it’s possible our sensors aren’t resolving each individual ship. But their direction is unmistakable. They’re going to the Wastelands, sir.”

Gral frowned as he looked at the readout on the display and the make up of the Alrakis Pact Force. Even out here, in the dead end of known space, news had reached them of the formation of the Pact and the incidents near the Inconnu Expanse, but the wise old Captain, a former war hero who had earned his quiet spot on the edge of known space, hadn’t expected them to change direction to the Wastelands. At least, not so soon. “Contact Starfleet. Relay to them the data and continue monitoring,” the Tellarite ordered before hobbling over to the pool table in the center of the room and taking a seat. He rubbed his chin as he entered contemplation mode.

Katherine walked around Ops to stand next to the Operations Officer. The two worked together to compose a quick message for Starfleet Command and send it. “Message sent. Tactical, continue monitoring. Ops, divert power to long-range sensors. See if we can get an accurate reading on that fleet.”

"Any indication of their trajectory?" the Captain queried.

“One-nine-nine-Mark-eight-seven,” Katherine replied. “Right into the Wastelands. I can’t identify any specific destination therein.”

"We've spent months scanning this entire area with the sensor upgrades sent by Starfleet and there is no indication of anything out that way that could possibly be drawing their attention," a fourth officer spoke up, an Andorian in teal turned from his seat at the other side of the command center. "What could they possibly be looking for?"

The ageing frame of the Tellarite commander turned to look at his Science officer and gave him a stern look. "The sheer fact they are here is reason enough for alarm. We don't need to know what they are looking for, only that they are here and pose a threat to Starfleet given the situation in the Inconnu area. It is very possible these vessels are the ones responsible for the near destruction of both the Brier-Ridge and the Charleston," he reminded all that were present.

Katherine nodded. Those were some of Starfleet’s most advanced assets and they were almost killed by some unknown force. The information she’d seen didn’t make her believe it was Pact forces, but if it was them, then it meant they had a new weapon of unbelievable power. Or a new ally.

The operations console chimed, and she went to read it next to the chief. “Good news, sir. Looks like Starfleet is sending reinforcements. Four ships, led by the Nogura.”

The anxiousness in the Ops center seemed to dissipate at the news that there would be Starfleet reinforcements on the way, but for the Captain, it was a sad and dangerous indictment of the situation they were in. "Listen up," he called out in the most confident and strong sounding display he had given in an age, "four starships is nothing in the grand scheme of things; nothing more than an attempt to show the Pact that this station has not been entirely forgotten about. Whoever the Nogura brings with her, they will be no match for whatever awaits them out here!" the Tellarite barked as he rose to his feet and looked around the command center. "Besides," he began again, "even at maximum warp, those ships are still an age away. If the Pact armada heads this way, we will be powerless to stop them. If anything, the presence of the Nogura and her task group makes us more of a target, a challenge almost, and more of a reason for the Pact to linger. While Federation starships are present here in the expanse, the Pact..." he wandered over to the nearby window that granted him sight of the Wastelands expanse, "...well, they'll be here to stay."

Meanwhile, on the sensor readouts, one of the Breen vessels blinked out of existence. The projected trajectory of the other ships were suddenly altered, as if they were turning to investigate. One of the Talarian signals from the other side of the formation disappeared. The remaining signals then turned into a chaotic mess, as if they knew not what to do.

Gral looked at his senior officers and didn't even try to hide his worried expression at the sudden disappearance of two sensor signals and the subsequent reaction of the rest of their fleet, all of the vessels seeming to flee the scene in a variety of directions. Whilst the presence of the small fleet of vessels was worrying enough for the wily old Tellarite, the fact that something, or someone out there had caused these vessels to flee was even more disconcerting. "Commander, get on the line to Starfleet Command" he called out in his quiet, gravely tone, "I suggest they get that task group here a hell of a lot quicker than planned..."

“Yes, sir,” Katherine said, her own expression showing her concern. “I’ll sleep a lot more comfortably with reinforcements here.” She sent a message, as well as their sensor logs showing the disappearance of the Pact ships, to Command with high priority. “Hopefully those ships will be ordered to rush, Captain.”

A response was not sent in the form of a reply. The sensors, however, indicated that the message had been received as the speed of the Starfleet vessels now registered as travelling at maximum warp.

"Good news, Captain," Katherine said, a growing smile on her face, the stress starting to dissipate. "Reinforcements have increased speed. As you said, they're still an age away, but they are taking this seriously."

Turning back to the nearby view port, Gral stared out into the starfield beyond his derelict little station as he considered the future for his crew. In the days ahead, there would be much to do, but for now, all they could do was watch and wait...

* * *

Seven flashes of light appeared in different directions as the routed Alrakis fleet escaped to warp speed. Debris, crystalizing warp plasma, freezing bodies, and lifeless hulks of starship remains slowly dispersed across the area, still following their chaotic maneuvers so hastily executed before destruction. Three vessels sat in the silence of the nearly starless backdrop. Their dark hulls made it nearly impossible for the naked eye to spot. They sat silently for a few moments, as if they were deciding whether or not to follow their prey. A heartbeat later, weapons fire streaked out from each ship, tearing away at the lifeless hulks, until the weaponry reached the computer cores of each ship, fusing them beyond recognition or readability. Satisfied that their secret was safe, the three vessels disappeared, returning to their vantage point.

~To Be Continued~

Incoming Transmission

Travelling at Slipstream velocity was something that would take a lot of getting used to for the crew of any Federation starship, and it certainly wasn't an every day occurrence, but in order to make their rendezvous on time, Drayton had upped the ante so to speak and permitted the Nogura to use the specialized propulsion system. They had been in the slipstream for less than an hour and had already covered a mammoth area of Federation space, a distance it would have taken weeks to traverse in normal circumstances.

The bridge was unusually quiet as the different officers went about their business, monitoring the slipstream they were engulfed in and everything seemed relatively calm. But, as was often the case on the Nogura, the calm always came before a storm.

"Commander Proht," a voice from the starboard mission operations station called out, Akaria Okan having moved there in the presence of a new Chief of Operations at the forward station. "I'm detecting a transmission and the signal is feint. I think the slipstream is preventing us from retrieving the message," the Cardassian called out, stepping forward to look towards Neprem first, and then her new superior at Ops.

"I believe I can boost the signal," replied Zar as he moved his fingers over the console. He figured that if he could possibly change the frequency to the transmission so that it could get past the warp field it might work. Zar tapped into the relay's frequency channel and slowly started tuning the communications array, it was tricky as he never had to work with a slipstream drive before. "I do not believe it will be crystal clear but, once we make contact I can try and re modulate the signal, to make it clear" he added. A few more seconds went by and the frequency change happened and it was boosted. "We should be able to hear the message now."

Eza was monitoring the slipstream effects on the Nogura, he was pleased to see there didn't seem to be any damage and none of the issues that had occurred on the Ulysses seemed to be occurring here. Slipstream, if it worked, certainly would make the commute a lot easier.

Rising to his feet and taking a walk to the mission operations station, the Captain sidled up beside the Cardassian and looked at her console as she worked. "Transmission coming in clearer now Captain," she turned to him and smiled before looking back at the console.

On the screen, a single transmission started to come through, gradually and in blocks as opposed to the usual freedom the communications array enjoyed when at standard warp. At first, the transmission was a simple message. "Fleet of Alrakis Pact vessels detected at extreme sensor range and moving closer," the message read, but then a data packet that included some sensor readings from the station came through. "Display the sensor readings on the main viewer,"the Captain nodded to Akaria before stepping away.

As the Cardassian transferred the sensor readings to the viewer, the Captain stepped towards the forward stations and stood behind both Lieutenant Swift and Commander Proht, his hands resting on each of their chair head rests as he took in what he was looking at. A sizeable number of Pact vessels, mostly of Breen and Talarian origin, entering the Wastelands from Talarian space and headed in the direction of Starbase 214, even if not directly to the station itself. This itself was reason enough for the Captain to be concerned, an eyebrow raising as he observed the readings.

Just as he was about to speak, one of the Alrakis symbols flickered and then vanished from existence. It was soon followed by a second, then a third, before the rest of the fleet seemed to split off in different directions. Drayton spun on his heels, looking in the direction of his senior most officers, hoping they were as baffled as he was.

"The vessels appear to have disappeared from sensors, I'm unable to tell from this range if they were destroyed, disappeared, or something else." Eza chimed in.

"This just gets better," the Captain frowned as he returned to the command chair and looked at Neprem. "We were supposed to be getting back to exploration, now we get wrapped up in Alrakis Pact nonsense a zillion light-years from the Inconnu Expanse!"

"Sir," Will observed from his station, having come onto the bridge a few minutes earlier, hoping to get a closer look at the Pact fleet. "The ships in that fleet didn't initially break formation after three were destroyed. There aren't too many reasons they would hesitate to break. One is that this mission is extremely important to the Alrakis Pact, so much so that they thought they could weather a loss or two. Another, likelier one, is that whatever hit them caught them completely off guard. They didn't see it coming."

Colby listened to the strategists input and nodded before spinning his chair back to its forward facing position. "Helm, eta to the rendezvous point?" the Captain queried.

There were a few minutes of silence until Lieutenant Swift had the response required of him. "Three hours twenty minutes until we reach the rendezvous point," the helmsman confirmed.

"What if we bypass the rendezvous and go straight to the Starbase?" he queried hopefully.

"An adjustment of course would give us a new eta of..." the Lieutenant worked out his calculations, still adjusting to the new slipstream drive, "..two hours and fifteen minutes," Swift told.

"Adjust our course," Drayton nodded before turning his attention to the Strategic Operations officer. "Commander, contact the task group and tell them we've adjusted course and we'll rendezvous with them at the Starbase."

“Aye, sir,” Will replied, accessing the long range secure communications system on his console. “Two-one-four acknowledges also. It sounds like they’ll be glad to see us. Our ship alone practically quadruples their defensive strength.”

Drayton nodded to the Commander in acknowledgement of his efforts, then at Tara, before finally back to the main viewer. The ship was, yet again, an angel of mercy for those in danger.

"Even so, I wouldn't want to place the old base in a battle just yet; besides it looks like the pact has something new to deal with, and that means for the time being they might have a new target," replied Zar as he turned his chair around and faced the command center.

"Anything that can worry a fleet that large is not to be trifled with," the Captain mused, the fingers on both hands drumming on the arms of his chair as he stared past the Bolian and at the screen at the forefront of the bridge. "This whole thing could be a disaster waiting to happen..."

Eza continued to monitor his station, the course change didn't seem to affect the drive, not that it should. So far it looked like they had managed to make sure the drive would work.

"Agreed captain," replied Zar as he turned into his chair looking at the forward view screen. "Just like the kid who threw a rock at a hornets nest. Not only was he attacked, but so was the dog ten feet away."

"So hopefully we find out who our mystery attackers are," Will added. "If the Pact are throwing rocks at a nest, let's find out just what type of insect lives in it, and how painful their sting is."

Drayton remained in silence as he watched the slipstream on the viewer, the ship hurtling towards their new destination at astronomical speeds. Whoever these 'insects' were, he'd make sure they would live to regret it if they ever opted to sting his crew or that of any other Federation asset.

He could never have predicted just how big the proverbial hornets nest was...

Arrival at 214

"=/\=We're on final approach to Starbase Two-Fourteen Captain. Recommend slipstream shutdown."

Words from the familiar voice of the ships Slipstream expert reverberated around the bridge and drew the attention of all in attendance. Drayton inched forward and sat on the edge of his chair, his eyes transfixed on the main viewer as his right hand pressed a button on the arm of his chair. "=/\=Acknowledged Commander," he called out over the comm before closing it again. "Alright Lieutenant," the Captain spoke between deep breaths, "bring us out of slipstream. Commander Zar, Lieutenant Bergen; monitor the slipstream and get as many readings as possible for engineering to analyse," the master and commander of the Nogura ordered, a glance towards his XO the only time he took his eyes off the main viewer.

Eza kept his eyes on the sensors, the data coming in changed as the slipstream around them began collapsing the vessel dropping out into regular space. "Readings look good, there was some unexpected hull stress on the port nacelle, nothing the SFI fields couldn't handle but it may indicate a slight discrepancy in the deflector while collapsing the slipstream."

"I suggest we re-calibrate the deflector dish with the correct frequency of the warp core," replied Zar as he continued looking at read outs from the console. "It could be that as the deflector dish was removing particles and objects out of our way, it caused some feed back; which could explain the stress encountered by the port nacelle," he added as he downloaded all the data for the engineering teams. "All in all we are here in one piece," he added.

With the ship back in normal space after their longest journey at slipstream velocity, the viewer changed to reflect the starfield ahead and the small, glistening speck in the distance that was gradually getting larger due to the magnification range on the visual device. "Let engineering know and have them work on the issue," the Captain directed towards the Science Chief before looking back at the Strategic Operations Officer. "Commander, contact Two-Fourteen. Let them know we're here and the rest of our task group is on the way. They can expect to receive away teams with supplies and personnel shortly. And, invite Captain Gral aboard. I'm sure he'd like to stretch his legs somewhere else for a change," Drayton smiled, hoping to build a rapport with the Tellarite before the bolshy Utaazi woman arrived. "Ops, begin preparing supplies for the station and contact sickbay. See what medical supplies they can spare for the station. The place is a relic and we can expect her supplies and equipment to be relics too. It's the job of this task group to get the station a little closer to the twenty-fourth century," he ordered.

"Yes Captain," Commander Hunt responded and immediately got to work.

"On it captain," replied Zar as he moved his fingers across the console and then opened up the internal comm system to the cargo bays. "Commander Zar to Chief Marrsat and Officer Lyman; prepare the transporters to begin moving over supplies to Starbase 214. Lieutenant Udri coordinate with the Starbase's operations officers to see where they want us to transport the supplies. Ensign Bahr get with flight operations and prepare the cargo shuttles to move supplies over to them," he said as he started manoeuvring his fingers over the console and started freeing up officers and non-commissioned officers to help with the cargo transfers. He started assigning pilots that were off duty to man the shuttles so that they could begin moving the supplies. He then tapped his comm badge on his chest "Commander Zar to Doctor Alexander, if you could direct a few of your medical officers to auxiliary cargo bay 2; we can start sorting out what medical supplies and equipment you would like to transport to Starbase 214," he said as he waited for a response.

Dr. Alexander’s voice came over the com system, “understood, we will be there in 15 minutes, Alexander out.”

=/\= "Bergen to zh'Khessi, I'm on my way down to Engineering, can you spare a few minutes to take a look at the slipstream drive." =/\= Eza said rising to his feet.

=/\=Sure can do!=/\= came the reply from the perpetually merry chief engineer.

When Zar heard the doctor's response and the channel closed he quickly moved his fingers over his console and downloaded the data that the sensors recorded for the engineering team to use for the slipstream drive. Once that was done he quickly tapped his comm badge. =/\=Commander Zar to Lieutenant zh'Khessi, I am transferring the sensor data we recorded while using the slip stream drive to main engineering. Zar out.=/\= he said as he pressed a couple of buttons and started transferring the data where it needed to go.

With the ships crew working on a new objective, a welcome change of pace after the trials of recent weeks, the Captain was pleased to see them so invested in something. The coming days would again see them pushed to new limits, but he was sure that they would respond in exactly the same way they always had; with great dedication and purpose.

Zar continued to remain focused on the task that was before him, he needed to make sure that everything was going to flow like clock-work and they only had 15 minutes to get it right. He briefly looked up from his screen and watched as the outpost became larger and larger in his view, and for one brief moment; he wondered how in the world did a base like this go neglected for all this time. At least the Outpost 231 in the Beta Quadrant was behind on her refit by thirty five years, and he managed to get the base brought up to code in the three years that he was there. Maybe their operations officer could use a few tips and pointers in trying to get the base up and functional, he also wondered if the old style fusion reactor was strong enough to handle all the new systems.

"Captain," Commander Hunt called out as he stepped back from the console he had been working at, "Captain Gral respectfully declines the offer of visiting the Nogura at present. Instead, he welcomes you and the commanders of the task group to the station upon their arrival."

Colby nodded slowly as he listened and then turned to his strategist, "Very well. Inform the Captain that I'll beam aboard as soon as the other commanders are present."

"Of course Captain," William nodded before going back to work.

CO's on 214

Location: Ops, Starbase 214
On: Day 146 at 1900

The old style transporter bay of Starbase Two-Fourteen was filled with the bright yellow glow of her transporter beam as a deep, almost whirring sound filled the room for the fourth time in quick succession. Once the sound subsided and the glow dissipated, Captain Colby Drayton stood on the transporter pad and looked about the antiquated room. It was clear from the lack of maintenance in the room that the station had been neglected and it made him feel sad. Regula-class starbases had been state of the art in their time, but now they were just sad relics of a time long since past.

"Captain," a voice distracted him from his thoughts, "I'm to escort you to the Ops Centre, sir," a Petty Officer stood by the door declared.

Stepping down from the pad, the Captain nodded and held out his hand, "lead the way Petty officer."

Two turbo lift rides later and a corridor walk that seemed to span the length of one of Nogura's nacelles, the Captain was led into the Ops centre of the station. It was surprisingly up to date considering the rest of the station, but that was probably because most of their work was carried out in Ops and thus, it made sense for modifications to take place there.

"Captain Drayton," a gruff voice sounded as the Captain walked towards the situation table at the heart of the room. "Welcome to my humble starbase," the Tellarite commander of the station greeted the task group commander. "I'd like you to meet Captain Desai-Scott of the Roehampton, Captain Maxwell Cohen of the Adriatic and Captain Eren Utaazi of the Odyssey," the Tellarite introduced all of the gathered officers in turn, each shaking hands with Drayton until he came face to face with Utaazi.

"A pleasure Captain," he nodded to the woman as they exchanged greetings, not meaning it at all after their earlier exchange via the holocommunications platform where she had totally rubbed him up the wrong way.

"Captain Drayton," she nodded to him as they shook hands briefly and then stood at opposite sides of the Ops centres command table.

"I assume you have all seen the sensor data we collected," Gral spoke in his usual gruff manner. When a few nods confirmed his suspicion, he continued. "Since we sent you our telemetry, we've lost all sensor readings of the Alrakis Pact forces," he told, "they've vanished. Whether by choice or by nefarious means, they are gone."

"Damn," Desai-Scott shook her head slowly, her hands on the surface of the table. "They must have gone dark somehow; there cant be a force that can get rid of a force that large in the blink of an eye," she remarked with a frown.

"All of our vessels have brought supplies to update the station," Drayton advised the Tellarite, "I recommend that we begin the process immediately. When we are at a stage where the Roehampton crew can supplement the station without the rest of us, we'll head into the Wastelands to investigate what exactly the Pact flotilla were up to," he continued until he was interrupted by Utaazi.

"I say we go into the Wastelands now," she told bluntly, "we need to discover the reason for their presence."

"I concur with Eren," Captain Cohen told, looking at the Betazoid with a nod.

"Well I don't," Desai-Scott countered. "Drayton is right. We need to put all of our efforts into preparing this station for whatever might come its way before we go gallivanting around the depths of the Wastelands."

Gral watched the sides square off, almost in disbelief until Eren Utaazi spoke again. "So, how do we solve this?"

"There's nothing to solve," Drayton answered before letting out a sigh. "Starfleet regulation one-nine-one, article fourteen," he began, which instantly drew a disapproving look from the Betazoid. "In a combat situation involving more than one ship, command falls to the vessel with tactical superiority, should there not be a higher ranking officer present. I think we can all agree here that the Nogura is the tactically superior vessel and thus, command falls to me until we have ascertained the nature of the Alrakis threat," he directed with a glance around the table at all of the commanders in turn. When no one objected, he continued. "Have your supplies for the station beamed over and assign any spare personnel possible to assist in the integration of the new systems. In two days, Adriatic, Nogura and Odyssey will depart for the last location of the Alrakis flotilla whilst Roehampton continues the final upgrades to the station," he concluded.

"We should pool all intelligence that we have so far," Desai-Scott suggested as she tapped at the tables controls. "We have a vast wealth of experience among our crews. I recommend we have our science, strategic operations and command officers work together to analyse everything we have and see if there is anything we missed in isolation."

This suggestion seemed to get a greater air of approval from the Betazoid who nodded in agreement before looking across at Drayton again. "I suppose that as the flagship of this little expedition, you'll have no objection to such meetings and analysis taking place aboard your ship, Captain?" Utaazi queried.

"Of course not," the Captain of the Nogura nodded in further acknowledgement, "I'd also like to invite all of you to the Nogura, with your executive officers, for a special meal tomorrow night," he offered as a sort of peace offering, looking around the group, the bast majority nodding appreciatively. "So, we're agreed then. Captain Gral," Drayton directed his words at the Tellarite commander of the station now, "if you need anything from any of us, now is the time."

"Just a word with you, Drayton," he nodded at the Nogura's commander.

"Very well," Drayton smiled, "the rest of you should get back to your ships and get this show on the road," he suggested, but in a tone that implied it was more of an order than a suggestion. As the commanding officers of the battlegroup left, Drayton turned his attention to Gral. "What can I do for you Captain?"

"There's no easy way to say this," Gral frowned as he took a seat at last, his tired legs feeling the strain of standing for too long, "Starfleet has re-assigned your Strategic Operations Officer to the starbase to oversee sector operations from here," he told in a quiet voice and an almost look of shame.

Drayton placed a kind hand on his fellow commanding officers shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "I know," he smiled jovially, "shit happens, but you are getting a good officer. Commander Hunt is extremely talented."

The two men shared a pleasant smile before Gral rose to his feet again. "Well then, how about I give you a tour of the rust bucket that will be your base of operations for the foreseeable future?"

"Lead the way Captain," Drayton smiled, gesturing for the corridor entrance nearby.

"Captain... bagh!" Gral growled through his pointed teeth, in his first typically Tellarite gesture, "call me Tora."

"Okay Tora," Drayton grinned, "lets see what the rust bucket has to offer," the pair laughed as they began their expedition around the station and also, the start of what both hoped would be a great working relationship.

Anomaly on Long Range Sensors

"There it is again..." Mark Sochaski frowned as he looked at Lieutenant Harper beside him. The two officers were stood at the tactical console that surrounded the command area of the bridge, and were perplexed by what their consoles were showing them.

Eventually, the acting Tactical Officer looked at her counterpart and let out a sigh. Leaning on the rail, she looked down at the Commander. "Ma'am," she spoke to get the XO's attention, "long range sensors seem to be detecting something of concern," Harper told.

Eza was at the Science station and pulled up the long range sensors to see what the issue was.

Zar had arrived on the bridge quite some time ago, and had been managing his console, when he heard the exchange of conversation between the two officers. He slightly turned his head for him to get a clearer hearing on the situation at hand; maybe it was a random fluctuation on the long range sensors, but something was telling him deep down in his gut not to dismiss the feeling too quickly.

"Lieutenant Bergen?" Commander Neprem queried as she rose to her feet, "what are sensors showing?"

"I'm not positive, I'm getting readings that could be slipstream tunnels, but they're not quite right."

"Commander," Neprem gestured at the Bolian at the Ops station to join them at the science station. "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?"




With a deep breath and a smile, Captain Drayton smoothed out the creases on his uniform jacket as he took a step down from the transporter pad, having returned from Starbase Two-Fourteen and his meeting with the commanders of the Battlegroup. At first, he seemed oblivious to the person waiting for him, but then it clicked.

"Akaria! What the devil are you doing here?" he grinned, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder as they shook hands in greeting. "Don't get me wrong, it's lovely to see you, I just didn't expect to see you so soon," he laughed a little as he exited the transporter room with his friend at his side.

"The Captain gave me a bit of time to come and see a few people before you disappear into the Wastelands," the Cardassian officer grinned as she explained her reason for being aboard. The pair were in deep conversation, discussing a variety of topics (her new posting, her new CO, changes on the Nogura, their joint mission) when they were interrupted by a call from the bridge. "=/\=Captain Drayton to the bridge," the familiar voice of the XO called out, which caused him to exchange glances with Akaria. He lifted his hand and tapped his commbadge. "=/\=On my way," he spoke before tapping it and heading for the nearest turbo lift, gesturing for the Cardassian to join him.

A short while later, the turbo lift deposited both officers onto the command centre of the ship and Drayton walked over to the tactical rail, stopping to glance at the Commander. "Report number one," he queried.

"Sensors have picked up some worrying readings," the Trill told as she looked across at the science officer.

"Sir, I think they're transwarp conduits, I originally thought they were slipstream but the signatures are Borg." Bergen reported.

"Borg?!" Drayton exclaimed, looking at his XO in a concerned manner.

Tara simply nodded. "I've seen these readings before. They are the formation of the tail end of a transwarp conduit and, based on the sensor readings, I'd say it is one large conduit we have opening up," the Trill woman revealed.

That was enough for the Captain to hear. Her years of experience in various departments was one of the reasons he had kept her aboard. "Commander Zar," Drayton called out as he returned to his seat. "Hail the Roehampton."

Zar quickly moved his fingers over the console, first seeking out the Roehampton's comm frequency, and then linking the Nogura's directly with hers. Once the connection was made, he typed in a quick command that initiated the call. "Hailing frequencies are open captain."

"Captain," Desai-Scott nodded in greeting when she appeared on the viewscreen.

"Captain Desai-Scott," the commander of the Nogura nodded in response, "my team have analysed the data and we're confident that a transwarp conduit is forming, but we believe it to be in its infancy. If we can get to it in time, we may be able to close it," the leader of the Nogura battlegroup informed as he was passed a data PADD. He looked at it briefly before continuing. "Both the Adriatic and the Ulysses are forming up to our stern. We'll take the whole group; if we can't close the conduit, then we'll be the first line of defence against whatever comes through," he told, but more as an order than a simple suggestion.

Kayla looked off screen at her XO, then back to the main viewer. "We'll be right there with you," she smiled assuredly.

"Very well. We're sending you the co-ordinates now," he informed with a look to his Ops Chief. "Adriatic is somewhat slower than the rest of us, so we'll have to hold the line until she gets there. Good hunting, Captain." And then the channel was closed.

With the channel closed and the crew waiting for orders, the Captain relaxed back in his chair and glared at the viewscreen and the highlighted coordinates that were displayed. After a few moments of silence, he took a deep breath. Reaching down he pressed a single button on the arm of his chair.

"All hands," he paused briefly... "battlestations!"

Roehampton Prepares for War

Location: Roehampton Bridge
On: Day 146 at 1940

Kayla hadn't been back aboard the Roehampton for very long when she had returned to the bridge to assume command from the ships XO, Commander Juros Brenn. The two officers had struck up quite a bond in recent months since the Commander's transfer to the ship as executive officer and they had become quite a formidable command unit. The ship had been involved in several developments with the Alrakis Pact in the last few weeks alone which had seen the ships stock rise considerably. It was not lost on the crew that things had turned around dramatically under their tenure after the last rather torrid few years under Captain Dolan Ramsey. He had commanded the Roehampton for over a decade and, before then, he had commanded the Excelsior-class USS Indefatigable for nearly twenty. The man had lost his edge and the respect of his crew, so once Captain Desai-Scott had ascended to the role of commanding officer, she had set about refreshing the entire staff. It had taken a little while to get Commander Brenn to agree to a transfer from Starbase Unity One, but when he had agreed, the changes really had taken affect. Just eight months in to his role on the ship and already the XO had livened up proceedings and held people accountable for their actions (or lack there of).

Appearing out of the aft turbo lift, the Captain wandered across to her XO and smiled as she took her seat in the command chair. "Report number one?" she asked, looking at the man in the chair to her right.

"Equipment transfer to the starbase is on track and the Corps of Engineers has been deployed," the Betazoid told, but his frown suggested all was not well. With an inquisitive, yet demanding look from Kayla, he continued, "we just received word from the Nogura that they have detected a number of triquantum waves coming from inside the Wastelands," he added with a worried expression.

"Triquantum waves?" Desai-Scott queried with a raised brow before being directed to the science officer.

"Yes Captain," Lieutenant Merta, the ships female Orion scientist nodded as she turned in her chair and looked at the command officers. "They usually precede a series of subspace disruptions, usually with a field magnitude of at least 2.9 teracochranes, which demonstrate a highly-symmetric power-utilization curve."

"Okay..." Desai-Scott trailed off, looking anxious as she sat on the edge of her seat, gripping on to the arms of her chair. "Why do I sense this is not good news?"

"Triquantum waves, nine out of ten times, signal only one thing," the scientist spoke before being interrupted by the XO.

"The Borg, Captain," he blurted out to a stunned expression from their leader, "triquantum waves usually mean the formation of a transwarp conduit exit aperture."

The mention of the Borg, even the mere possibility of their presence, spurred the Captain in to action. "Number one, contact Nogura for orders. If I know Drayton, he'll be planning to investigate and there is no way we're letting them go it alone. Lieutenant Mitchell," she called out as she rose to her feet with purpose, not waiting for a response from the XO, "prepare to bring the warp drive online. Contact Starbase Two-Fourteen and have all of our personnel report back aboard immediately. Corps of Engineers can stay to continue the station refit," she ordered sternly.

Lieutenant Mitchell's fingers began dancing across the surface of his console. "Aye, Captain." He replied swiftly. At the same time as he was co-ordinating with engineering and working to recall the crew from Two-Fourteen.

Alexander had only arrived on the Roehampton for two weeks and this was his first assignment flying a capital ship. Prior to that he was flying fighters, with a side career as a wing legal officer. Flying a Nebula-class ship was, as one would expect, a whole different ballgame. For the past 10 years he'd assumed that CONN Officers just sat in a comfy chair pushing buttons but there was so much that he had to be across that it was testing his skills in new and interesting ways.

After a few minutes he piped up again, "Warp core is warming up. Engineering reports that we should have full power in five minutes. Our teams have begun to beam back from the station," he received a text message from Transporter Room One and after reading it added, "though I understand the station CO isn't thrilled about us pulling out, save for the CoE detachment."

Inara entered the bridge and spoke. They had to move fast, act fast, and become as adaptable as possible. "Captain.... I already know. I can already hear them." She stated with her usual near-passionless voice. "I highly recommend against engaging the Borg directly. The more of our ships and crews that are scanned and assimilated, the more dangerous the collective will become. The more important objective is the Transwarp Conduit itself. It will allow more borg ships into our area of space unless dealt with. They will become unstoppable if they gain a foothold." She then tapped her combadge. "=/\=All security teams, report for re-arming and defensive assignments. Phaser rifles will be returned to a randomized modulation. Issue TR-117 Rifles three per squad. Bladed weapons will be issued to all suppression teams with the emphasis on personnel with the appropriate strength to do damage to a borg drone. Priority to Vulcan and Andorian crewmembers. Do not let them take you alive, assimilation is... unpleasant."

"=/\=Security teams belay that order and stand by," the Captain ordered, turning to the tactical officer with an angered expression. "I don't care what experience you have with the Borg Lieutenant, you don't just go around giving orders without checking with me first," Kayla chided the woman. "We're still waiting on orders from Captain Drayton. Then, and only then, will I decide on a course of action. Understood?" the Captain queried as she waited for the only acceptable answer from the woman.

Commander Brenn observed the exchange and shook his head slowly. That kind of gung-ho strategy would have worked fine under Captain Ramsey, but this was Desai-Scott's ship now, and she worked differently. Some still had to come to terms with that.

She stared at both of them for a few seconds. "Yes, ma'am."

She was still going to make some preparations without these two knowing about it. While she was on her terminal she began to make certain preparations in-case things went wrong. This arrogance was incredible. If it wasn't her lack of promotion because she was a Romulan, it was these short-sighted fools. Her Romulan side was seething.

"Captain," the Ops officer at the front of the bridge called out, "we're being hailed by the Nogura."

"On screen," she nodded swiftly before the image of Captain drayton sat in his command chair appeared on the viewer. "Captain," she nodded in greeting.

"Captain Desai-Scott," the commander of the Nogura nodded in response, "my team have analysed the data and we're confident that a transwarp conduit is forming, but we believe it to be in its infancy. If we can get to it in time, we may be able to close it," the leader of the Nogura battlegroup informed as he was passed a data PADD. He looked at it briefly before continuing. "Both the Adriatic and the Ulysses are forming up to our stern. We'll take the whole group; if we can't close the conduit, then we'll be the first line of defence against whatever comes through," he told, but more as an order than a simple suggestion.

Kayla looked at her XO, then back to the man on the main viewer. "We'll be right there with you," she smiled assuredly.

"Very well. We're sending you the co-ordinates now," he informed with a look to his Ops Chief. "Adriatic is somewhat slower than the rest of us, so we'll have to hold the line until she gets there. Good hunting, Captain." And then he was gone.

"Well, you heard the man," Desai-Scott spoke loudly. "Helm, lay in a heading to take us to the co-ordinates received from the Nogura and engage at maximum warp," she directed of the helmsman.

While he could certainly understand Lieutenant Serra's desire to avoid another confrontation with the Borg, Lieutenant Mitchell didn't share it. He'd read all about the Borg at the Academy, same as everyone else, and feared them as most did. But he was a Starfleet Officer and believed it was their duty to investigate what could be a grave threat to Federation security. He could feel his heartbeat quicken as he entered the received co-ordinates into the navigational computer. "Course laid in and plotted." He announced with a confidence that betrayed nothing of his fears and anxieties.

When he pressed the control marked 'Engage', the Roehampton swung around. As she did, Mitchell monitored the RCS thrusters performance as well as the IDF system. Both performed exactly as they should have. "Engaging at maximum warp." As he spoke, he input the command that would see the ship go from a virtual standing start and accelerate past the speed of light until she was at her maximum rated speed of Warp Nine Point Nine.

Xander never tired of watching on the screen as the ship accelerated to warp speed. The points of light on the screen all enlongated, seeming to form a tunnel that the Roehampton accelerated towards. With a momentary flash the screen changed to show individual streaks of light as they continued to accelerate to maximum warp.

Inara was still seething. She had managed to covertly order a few of her security team to 'make appropriate preparations' but if the conduit opened, there would be trouble.

And who was she? The Romulan. The Borg bitch no one wanted to acknowledge. "Captain, if we can get to the aperture, a spread of photon torpedoes will cause it to implode for a light year."

She knew she would be shot down by the XO. But, she wasn't going to be re-assimilated.

The Roehampton had reached maximum warp a readout on his console indicated an estimated time of arrival. Cutting into the conversation he announced, "ETA in thirty minutes."

Juros looked at the Tactical officer and his eyes narrowed slightly. "A light-year is nothing. They will be able to traverse that distance at normal warp in no time. We need a more permanent, larger distance," the XO countered. "Got anything else up your sleeves?"

"We could have our task force attempt to close and anchor the aperture. With it closed, any Borg vessel will be destroyed if they use the conduit. It will require all of our task force and their main deflectors. By these energy readings, they are attempting to bring a sizable force into our general area." She noted. "Thirty minutes is insufficient, they will detect us and compensate. We need more speed."

"Number one," contact Nogura and inform the Captain of our suggestion. In the meantime, we proceed as planned," Desai-Scott nodded, evaluating what choices she had in front of her.

"On it Captain," Juros nodded before rising to his feet and wandering to an aft station to contact the flagship of their group.

Staring at the screen, the Captain let out a sigh. This mission to the Wastelands was NOT going to plan...

The Conduit

"Captain's log, supplemental. Once again, the Federation finds itself on the precipice as the sanctity of the home quadrants is again threatened by a foe we considered long since gone. It would appear that Admiral Janeway and the crew of the starship Voyager were not as successful as we all hoped. The Borg, our most lethal enemy, have begun another invasion of the Federation, and this time there may be no stopping them..."

The Nogura Battlegroup was speeding to its new destination at speeds the engineers of each ship probably never knew their ships could utilise. For Nogura, she was at maximum warp because of her slipstream drive being in cooldown, but even the Sovereign-class starship rattled and shook under the pressure they were putting on her engines.

"Battlegroup?" Drayton smirked as he shook his head, watching in silence. How could Starfleet possibly consider their rag tag group of ships a Battlegroup? If the Adriatic saw battle, she'd probably fall to bits. This would be the second time in a year that the Captain had come face to face with the Borg, but this time would be a hell of a lot worse. No damaged Cube in an asteroid field this time.

"Are you okay Captain?" Commander Neprem whispered as she leaned in towards the commanding officer and looked at him with concern.

Smiling, and with a nod, he placed a hand on top of hers and tapped it. "I'm fine," he whispered back before looking to the front of the bridge. "Helm, eta?"

"Six minutes," the Flight Controller revealed.

Six minutes until their latest fight with destiny...

"Any change on the conduit?" the XO called out to whoever was monitoring the transwarp conduit the most.

"Negative," replied Zar as he kept a steady eye on the ship's sensor read outs. He made sure to fine tune the sensors and make them that more sensitive to pick up the first Borg ship coming through. He also shut down all non-essential systems and transferred all available power into a small pool. Granted it was only 18.53 percent from the total amount being used, but it was that small percentage that could save lives; or even a ship. "I've got the sensors fine tuned so sensitively that they would pick up a toaster before we ran over it."

"Energy levels are still building but slower than we expected, we might have an extra minute or two once we arrive." Bergen reported.

==[USS Roehampton Bridge]==

"Four minutes..." Captain Desai-Scott whispered with a sigh as she glared at the viewscreen. She then tapped the control on the arm of her chair and opened a communique. "=/\=Bridge to Flight Deck. Standby to launch," she ordered.

Inara spoke. "I suggest transport inhibitors be placed on our fighter pilots. The collective may attempt to remotely assimilate our pilots in order to use them against the task force." She mentioned. "Also, if that is the case, you may have to remote detonate our fighters."

"Christ..." Juros spoke up, "you cant be serious?!"

"With all due respect, anyone who has ever fought a Borg invasion has failed. I have spent years creating strategies for this. Ninety percent of them have been ignored by Starfleet."

At the helm, Xander adjusted their course eleven degrees to port. In an offhand manner he commented, "Starfleet's repelled two Borg invasions in the past twenty five years." His confidence only ran skin deep. Xander knew what the Borg were, what they were capable of. He was terrified just like everyone else but he hid it well.

==[USS Roehampton Flight Deck]==

"Any pilot who doesn't have their ass in a plane in the next two minutes will have it handed to them separate from their body in three," Brynhild "Valhalla" Keil was hollering across the flight deck, relying on a more old-fashioned style of communication. As a woman of six feet with years of pilot training, well, she could holler pretty damn well. Everyone heard her, and she made sure of it.

The flight deck of the USS Roehampton was nothing short of the proverbial hornet's kicked over by the proverbial boot, and that boot was very not-proverbially walking around attached to the leg of the Roehampton's CAG, also known as She Who Must Not Be Messed With.

Bridge to Flight Deck. Standby to launch.

"Acknowledged, Captain," Keil replied instantly, rushing toward her own bird.

Of course, that's when the other voice chimed in. Transport inhibitors. Remote detonation.

Keil paused with her hands on the ladder up to her cockpit and ground her teeth together. It was logical, but did she really need to hear that. She snapped her head around to find the chief of the deck, the one who answered to Brynna herself. "How long would it take to install transport inhibitors on the birds?"

"Probably more time than we have, Major," the grizzled older man replied, sounding like a bear and a pile of granite had mated to produce his vocal chords. "We can do while you're inside them, though."

Brynna's mind was racing. She had also heard the word "collective," so she knew now what they were facing.

"Get them on as many as you can, but stop when we have to launch. We can't delay."

"Yes, sir," he said, hurrying off and shouting his own orders at his techs.

"And lo, they do call to me," she whispered to herself, putting steel down her spine, as she hauled herself up into the cockpit of her fighter jet. Before sitting and pulling down the canopy, she surveyed the deck: the pilots hurriedly strapping in and racing through pre-flight checks, the techs putting on as many devices as they could, and the hint of shadow hanging over all of it.

She dropped herself into the seat and the bird closed itself in around her. It was time to get ready to flash their teeth.

And hope that Odin had a place for them all in Valhalla.

==[USS Nogura Bridge]==

"Dropping from warp in three... two... one..."

Captain Drayton sat forward on the edge of his chair, holding on to the arms as he observed the change on the viewscreen, the image of moving stars swiftly replaced by what was clearly much more than the initial formation phase of the conduit.

"It would appear we were wrong," he whispered to his XO before looking back at the Ops Chief. "We're going to try the idea of the Roe's Tactical Officer' Commander Zar. Liaise with her to get the exact deflector settings," the Captain ordered of the Bolian before moving to his next officer.

"Aye captain," came the Bolians response as he opened up a ship to ship channel and isolating the tactical officer's console and sent her a quick message requesting the schematics for the deflector dish settings. A couple of seconds later the schematics appeared on his console, and Zar quickly pipped into deflector control and started inverting the deflector pulses to the sub-space frequencies in which the conduit was using to manipulate it's opening. It took Zar a while using the lateral sensor array to try and fine tune the frequency in which the Borg were using, however the conduit was fluctuating the sub-space frequencies back and forth; making it hard to try and pin point which frequency to lock onto.

Drayton rose to his feet and slowly walked around to the Cardassian who was stood beside the Nogura's acting Tactical Chief. "Akaria. I need you at Tactical. I'm reinstating your role here," he ordered. "Prepare a full spread of torpedoes. If the deflector doesn't work, we'll implode the conduit."

"As you wish Captain," Akaria nodded, assuming control from the acting Tactical Chief.

Drayton smiled and returned to his seat at the heart of the bridge.

"Sir, I'm picking up at least three Borg signals on approach through the conduit. I estimate we have less than 90 seconds, whatever we're going to do we need to do fast." Bergen said.

“Transmission from Ulysses,” Akaria called out, "they are having trouble realigning their deflector. We’ll have to try without them,” the Cardassian frowned.

“Mister Zar,” the Captain called out, “are we ready?”

"I'm trying my best captain, the conduit is fluctuating the sub-space frequencies at random; it is making it difficult to lock onto. I'm going to try and modify the deflector dish to emit a modified nadion pulse that should force the conduit frequency to remain stable long enough for us to close it," he said as he quickly moved his fingers over the console. It was a long shot in the dark, but it was a fifty percent chance it would work; closing a warp conduit aperture was extremely difficult short of firing quantum torpedoes a little ways into the mouth. "We are ready to go captain," replied Zar as he pressed his blue long finger over the button, ready to quickly pressed down.

Drayton swiftly rose to his feet with a loud, defiant, "Fire!"

==[USS Roehampton Bridge]==

"FIRE!" Desai-Scott ordered firmly from her seat, "=/\=Launch bay, deploy starfighters immediately and standby to engage should we fail," the Captain declared.

"Deflector at full power and firing," Inara revealed from Tactical as her hands flew across the controls at the tactical station. There was a period of silence for what seemed like an eternity before she muttered, "This wont work in time..."

Desai-Scott and Commander Brenn exchanged silent, concerned glances before their gaze fell on the view screen once again, both hoping, for the sake of the entire Federation, that she was wrong.

==[USS Nogura Bridge]==

Once the order left the captain's mouth, the Bolian quickly pressed the button on his console, and within seconds a bright yellow burst emitted from the main deflector dish of the Nogura.

"Borg vessels will arrive in twenty seconds," Akaria called out from Tactical.

"Can we do anything to speed this up?" Commander Neprem called out from beside the Captain.

"Negative commander, things like this take time; the deflector dish is trying to neutralize the fluctuating sub-space harmonic frequencies that they are using to create the warp aperture. It's randomly changing from inside the source so trying to neutralize it from the outside is very difficult, if we close it; it won't be before one maybe two slip through. We need to find the sequence they are using to opening it and then we can close it quickly" he replied as he watched the read out from his station monitor.

"Borg vessels exiting the aperture!" Akaria called from tactical, seemingly with only seconds to spare before the first barrages of weapons fire began to pulverise the shields of each ship in the group.

Someone once said that the Borg could not be stopped. Only time would tell if that would be true on this day.

Nor the Battle to the Strong

"Adriatic is launching escape pods!"

Colby looked back over his shoulder at his Cardassian friend who had taken over at the tactical station when the previous officer was injured. His bridge crew were not faring well. Neprem had taken the CONN whilst his engineer had been carted off to sickbay.

An explosion at the aft of the bridge followed yet another impact on the ships dorsal shield grid, the Captain holding on for dear life. If the Borg were dealing this damage to the flagship of the group, he could only imagine what was happening to the Odyssey or even the Roehampton.

The timbre of the ships heartbeat suddenly changed, the excited thrum as much a call to action as red light strobed through the hallways. The cacophony of sound erupted from the hidden speakers in every room, corridor and cargo bay.

The shrill sounds of the intruder alert siren going off blared across the bridge, a sudden chill ran down the spine of the Cardassian manning her station. A cold sweat started to form as fear was now creeping into her mind and over taking every rational thought. No amount of training prepared anyone for the mechanical terror that was awaiting them, that was now closer to them than ever before. "Intruder alert," she eventually informed the bridge crew, "decks six, seven, twelve and fifteen."

"Dispatch security teams," Drayton ordered with a growl as he gripped his chair arms even tighter. "Commander Zar, rotate our shield frequencies. I don't want any more visitors. And inform the ships of the Battlegroup that we've been boarded."

Zar closed his eyes briefly as he allowed his senses to come back to reality, as he heard the captain's orders. "Aye sir," he replied, as Zar had nearly gone through a fourth of the frequency spectrum, however he increased the rotation frequency every 5 to ten seconds as his fingers moved as quickly as possible across his forward console. He opened up a channel to every ship that was still with them in the rag tag battle group. "Nogura to all ships we have been boarded by the Borg, repeat we have been boarded by the Borg. They are on decks six, seven, twelve and fifteen. All ships place shield frequencies on a rotation modulation every five to ten seconds." After the signal had been sent, he tapped the console under him and placed his hand on his hand phaser. He quickly applied a rotating frequency on his phaser in case they reached the bridge. "Captain, I can lock down those decks with doors; it will take some additional time for the Borg to break through, but it will slow them down faster. Or sir, we can flood those decks with radiation. which will affect the drone’s systems...."

"We still have people on those decks, we can't flood them with radiation." Bergen countered.

"If the Borg are able to shut down our Main Computer systems, or our ODN lines on decks 6-7 and then destroy the shield generators and SIF generators on deck 12 and then destroy the secondary back up computers or the main power transfer conduits on decks 15 then we are dead. Those decks are critical to the ship, we can do a site to site transport of as many men and women on those decks and transfer them elsewhere. But we've got to slow them down!" He said as he turned and looked back at the captain.

"Order all personnel to evacuate those decks in the next two minutes," Drayton ordered with a nod to Zar. "Then, we'll decompress those sections we can. The rest, we'll just have to deal with after," he told.

"Understood captain," replied Zar as he griped the edges of his console as the Nogura shook form more weapons fire. Zar's fingers quickly flew over his comm panel and opened up a direct channel to those compromised decks. "To all who can respond, evacuate decks 6-7 and then decks 12 and 15 you have two minutes before emergency decompression. Repeat, to all who can respond, evacuate decks 6-7 and then decks 12 and 15 in two minutes; before emergency decompression protocols are engaged." Zar then freed up some additional power and transferred them to the internal transporter system. He programmed the filters to scan for life forms absent of Borg Nano-probes or Borg technology, the last thing he wanted to do was beam up newly assimilated crew members. "Starting site to site transport of non-affected crew members to unaffected decks!"

"We've got Borg trying to infiltrate the computer core, I'm trying to lock them out." Bergen shouted over the chaos of the bridge. His fingers danced across the controls as fast as possible as he added extra layers of command lockouts and encryptions to keep the cyber assault on the Nogura's computers at bay.

"Decompressing main and secondary shuttle bays, I'm also removing the atmosphere off those decks; and I'm also cutting off the gravity deck plating," replied Zar as his fingers quickly moved over the console, quickly cutting systems off from the Borg to at least slow them down. On the console an indicator light was going off letting him know that main and secondary shuttle bays were in the process of decompressing, and a secondary indicator light was going off letting him know that all gravity plating was going off-line and the environmental systems are removing the air from those decks.

==[USS Roehampton Starfighters]==

The stream of curses that flowed from Major Keil's mouth was truly breathtaking. Almost poetic, really.

Three full squadrons of pilots had launched out of the flight deck of the Roehampton, and already the Borg had claimed half that number by direct attack or taking advantage of planes without the inhibitors they hadn't had time to install. The Borg... The frackin' Borg! The full-scale enormity of the Dominion War had little on the terror that could be summoned just by invoking the name of the Borg.

Brynna banked hard left, shouting at her wing-mate as they rolled away from a stream of weapons fire. It wasn't just a dance between enemy weapons but making sure they had to avoid the fire of friendlies as well.

There was no chaos like being a fighter in the middle of a fleet-wide engagement.

==[USS Roehampton]==

"Shit..." Brenn frowned as he looked over at Captain Desai-Scott. "Nogura's been boarded," he revealed.

"Then we must assist as many ships as possible in a strategic retreat." Inara advised. "You cannot wait for orders."

Lieutenant Mitchell was taking in everything being said but his focus was on his job. He'd brought the Roehampton around for another pass with the Borg vessel on their starboard. A quick glance at the shield status screen he kept on his console showed the Starboard shields were down to 31 percent.

He quickly began to roll the Nebula-class vessel to port, exposing the ventral side to the enemy ship. The ventral shields were currently the strongest and it would allow the Lieutenant Serra to unleash the full force of the ventral weapons arrays.

"I will not abandon the Nogura," Desai-Scott growled through gritted teeth as she moved to the edge of her seat. "How about you fire every single thing we have and let me decide when we retreat or not," the Captain barked. "Move us to protect the Odyssey and have them beam aboard as many of the Adriatic's survivors as possible and then tell them to get the hell out of here," the Captain declared.

"Aye Captain," the XO nodded as he began drafting a message to the Odyssey's Captain, hoping the rest of their crew would be doing their job.

"Captain...." Inara nodded. The Tactical Officer waited until the ship was in position and unleashed volley after volley at the nearest Borg vessel, but that just served to make the Nebula class starship a target for the Borg cube.

In a sudden, violent barrage of weapons fire, it was clear the cybernetic foes wanted to stop the sting of this particular insect. Explosions rocked the Roehampton across all decks; the bridge was no different. As the ship shook under the toll of the weapons fire, the Tactical console exploded in Inara’s face, sending the Tactical Officer hurtling to the Deck plating as fires began to spread across the bridge and smoke began to plume.

Mitchell held onto the side of his console so hard his knuckles were turning white. He manoeuvred the Roehampton so that she could continue to provide cover for the Odyssey while trying to keep the stronger shields facing the Borg but given the ferocity of the Borg's weapons barrage, none of their shields would last much longer.

'Inara was right.' He told himself silently as his fingers danced over the surface of his console. 'We should have turned the other way and run as fast as we could.' Giving himself a mental shake, he tried to banish those thoughts for now.

"=/\=Medical teams to the bridge," Commander Brenn called out over the comm as he tried to attend to the wounded Tactical Officer.

==[USS Nogura]==

“More drones, approaching Engineering and the main deflector systems,” Akaria called out across the bridge to anyone that was listening.

This was it, the moment of truth. “Commander Zar, the bridge is yours. Neprem, go and stop them getting to the main deflector. I will take engineering,” Drayton ordered sternly.

“On it,” Neprem nodded, pointing to two security officers and departing by the aft turbolift. Drayton looked at around the bridge before disappearing with a handful of security officers into the forward turbo lift.

"Aye sir," replied Zar as he quickly moved away from his chair and placing his phaser on his hip. Lieutenant Udri quickly moved into Zar's seat and inputted his authorization codes for his personal console settings, and Zar quickly sat down in the center chair. Zar tapped the console on the arm rest and looked at the tactical layout, and looked at the Nogura's shield status. Even though they had been boarded, she could still fight; and he was going to make sure that she stayed in the fight as long as possible.

"Helm, attempt to keep our port side and ventral shields to the Borg ship," replied Zar as he gripped the arm rest of the center chair.

"Coming to heading four one mark three," the Helm officer nodded as he set about following the Commander's orders.

"Tactical fire all weapons at will, keep phasers on a rotating frequency; if you damage an area keep firing on that area. We need to force the Borg to focus on repairs vs moving on the offense; any lapse in time we can create will give us a better chance..."

Death comes to us all

Location: Various
On: Day 146 at 2030

Darkness engulfed deck sixteen the minute the turbo lift doors shut behind Captain Drayton and his team of security officers who had gathered to combat the drones that had beamed to the engineering deck. As what lights remained flickered overhead, the six strong group began tiptoeing their way along the corridor. Eerie silence surrounded them as they tried to contain their heavy breathing and their fear. It helped the security officers to know the Captain was with them, on the battlefield, fighting for his ship just like they were.

Soon, they were presented with their first scene that looked like it had come from a horror movie. Upon turning a corner, the team were shocked to see the badly mutilated body of one of their crewmates. Bending down, and with tricorder in hand, the Captain scanned Ensign Duco’s body and frowned at the readings. Clearly, it was an assimilation attempt gone wrong but what surprised him was the method of the attempt. There were no obvious signs of puncture wounds attributed to tubules, no signs of any way of forcing the nanoprobes that had been successful into the man’s bod.. wait. What was this? Drayton lifted up a small canister located at the bodies side, a hypo spray of sorts, or so it seemed. He scanned the insides of the canister and looked worried at the results.

As he lifted his arm, ready to tap his commbadge, a scream from up ahead called the team into action. The team lifted their compression rifles and began moving a bit quicker until the ‘victim’ came hurtling towards them, with drones in hot pursuit.

But, in one horrifying move, instead of waiting to capture their prey, the Borg drones simply opened fire on the fleeing officer, gunning him down in a blaze of hatred that caused the security team to open fire in response. With three drones down, two began to…

“What the… are they… retreating?” one of the officers queried in utter confusion. And he was right to do so. The Borg? Retreating? It was unheard of! But they were doing it, nonetheless.

“We need to get to engineering,” Drayton changed the subject, gesturing for the group to push forward. He followed quickly, his rifle raised as he scanned ahead of him, surveying all the bodies in their path. Ensign Malcore. Lieutenant Davies. Petty Officer Vorikal. Chief sh’Elas. Bodies. Not drones, but bodies. Gunned down by the Borg. Why?

==[Deflector Control]==

“”I’m reading three Borg, all inside.”

“Damn it!” Neprem slammed her fist against the bulkhead wall. “Any sign of what they are doing?”

The security officer beside the Commander looked over his tricorder and shook his head slowly. “No ma’am. I can’t get an accurate reading from out here.”

“Then I guess we’ll just have to go inside and find out,” the Trill told with a nod to the door, signalling for her team to spread out equally either side. Once the group of four were in position, Tara nodded. With a tap on the door’s controls, access to deflector control was granted and the group stepped forward, drawing their weapons and engaging in a fire fight with the drones there present.

As was typical, the Borg had clearly adapted to their weapon modifications and, as the Starfleet officers searched to find an alternate setting, the drones turned away from their prey and huddled in a group near the main deflector console.

“Commander, I’m detecting a large energy build up…” the security officer revealed as he showed the tricorder to Neprem. She looked at the reading, and up at the Borg just in time to realise their fate. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes for the last time.

==[Main Engineering]==

A massive explosion further along deck sixteen drew the attention of the security team that were preparing to enter engineering, the resulting shockwave sending them hurtling to the floor. Upon rising to their feet, the Captain realised straight away where the source of the explosion had come from. “=/\=Drayton to Neprem,” he called out after tapping his commbadge.

Silence.

“=/\=Drayton to Neprem, respond!” he asked again. The silence on the other end was deafening and caused him to bow his head for a moment.

When he looked up, he had a look on his face that suggested to those around him that someone was going to pay for what had happened. “We need to get in here and ascertain what the Borg are doing. If we cannot, we do not leave here. Understood?” he asked of his security team. Each one in turn nodded, resolved to follow their Captain’s lead, whatever the outcome.

Using his tricorder to override the locking mechanism on the main engineering door, the Captain nodded to his people. Once the large bay door opened, the team scampered inside, weapons drawn. What awaited them, concerned them all.

“They’re ejecting the core!” one of the security officers, McKinnon, declared, which instantly drew fire in their direction from two of the nearby drones.

Drayton and his team ducked for cover behind nearby consoles and began to unleash volley after volley of their own weapons fire, but before long, the Borg had seemingly adapted to every possible weapon setting. “=/\=Drayton to bridge! The Borg are trying to eject the warp core. Lock them out!”

"Laki! quickly lock them out!" replied Zar once he got the order from the captain. He watched his eyes frantic as the young lieutenant, quickly moved as quickly as possible; Zar quickly moved out of the center chair, and quickly stumbled as the ship rocked from a weapon's impact. He quickly grabbed the back of Laki's chair and watched as each and every code was being by-passed. "Commander nothing is working, they are still trying to access ejection controls."

"This shouldn't be happening unless, they assimilated the Chief Engineer; damn it' he replied as he tapped his comm badge while moving in a shaky manner back to the center chair. =/\=Zar to Drayton. The by-passes aren't working, they must have assimilated the Chief Engineer and were able to side step our lock out codes."

Drayton sighed at the response from Zar. With the Borg free to eject the core, he had just two choices left – let them, or decompress the entire bay. He opted for the latter. He moved over to a side console and began tapping away, only to be thwarted in his attempts; the Borg had clearly gotten wise to earlier tactics.

Then it began.

“Thirty seconds until warp core ejection.”

Drayton looked across at his security team and waved for the door. “Get out! Now!”

“But sir, we’re not leaving you behind,” McKinnon declared, grabbing hold of one of the fleeing officers and stopping him in his tracks.

“I won’t let them take over this ship,” he ordered with a wry smile at his boys. “Distract them while I manually override the decompression systems. I need at least a minute,” he told with a look at Petty Officer McKinnon.

“You got it, Captain,” the Petty Officer nodded, a smile to his Captain that meant everything and provided Drayton with the courage to proceed.

==[Bridge]==

“I don’t understand…” Akaria spoke out from the tactical display, “Commander, it looks like someone is trying to decompress the engineering bay…”

Zar gripped the arm rests as the Nogura shook again from more weapons fire, a console behind him exploded and a young officer manning the station was thrown into the back of the First officer's chair. On the view screen things were looking quite bleak, and if the Nogura lost her warp core; there went her main power, shields; they could run off of secondary emergency power but against the Borg that wouldn't hold up at all. "They must aren't able to stop the Borg and the only way is to suck everyone out into space."

Zar tapped the comm button on the arm rest of the command chair "=/\=Zar to Captain Drayton, someone has accessed decompression controls for main engineering. What's going on?"

There was silence for a few seconds before a rather emotional sounding reply came from the Captain in the depths of the ship. "=/\=If I don't decompress this deck in the next fifteen seconds, the Borg will eject our core and strand us here, potentially destroying us and the rest of the tactical group. I need you to stop the ejection process," the Captain ordered sternly, before saying words he didn't think he would ever have to say. "The crew is yours Commander. Get them to safety; regroup with the fleet. Survive!"

And with that, the channel terminated as quickly as it began.

"He can't be serious?!" Akaria called out, flabbergasted at what she had just heard from her friend and valued colleague, a man who had helped her career flourish.

"He is" replied Zar as his mind went back to his conversation with the captain; this would be one order he would not disobey. "Laki, I need you to cut the main access computer and ODN lines to main engineering. At the same time I will be rerouting the secondary computer core and it's ODN processors to by-pass the main access lines!" Zar walked over to the main engineering console, and started by-passing all the primary sequences one by one and using the secondary computer core to create it's on access by pass link into main engineering. He knew that Laki would be the diversion plan as the Borg would try and stop him but they wouldn't be able to counter Zar's movements. As soon as he secondary access control Zar quickly inputted his authorization codes and locked out all access to ship system functions from anywhere else but the bridge, and then stopped the ejection of the warp core.

"Main computer and odn-lines to main engineering have been severed commander. The Borg were trying to stop me every step of the way," and suddenly his console beeped indicating that the decompression cycle had completed. He turned and looked at Zar, and Zar briefly looked at the rest of the ship's crew before returning to the captain's chair.

"Akaria, open a channel to the task force; you'll have to manually direct the feed as the Borg will try and jam the signal. Keep the frequencies on a constant rotating channel, that will be harder to pin point. Laki, I want you to cut off all access to the bridge and shut down the turbolifts and also I want you to erect a level ten force field around the bridge. The Borg have been locked out of all ships's functions and more than likely they are going to try and press their way to the bridge, have security teams posted on decks 2-5 and locked down the blast doors in main engineering."

"Aye sir," came his reply with his orders as the Nogura shook once again from weapons fire.

"Channel open," Came Akari's reply before she sunk down onto her stool.

=/\=This is Lieutenant Commander Zar; Captain Drayton and Commander Neprem are dead. I have taken command of the Nogura. We have sustained heavy damage to deflector control and our shields are operating now at 42 percent; and so far we have the Borg contained. However we need to tip the balance of power in our favor, we need to focus on one of the two ships and force the Borg off-balance; it will take them sometime to adapt and reset to the change of power."

With the closing of the communications channel, the crew of the Nogura slowly had to come to terms with the startling turn of events.

Once more, unto the breach

Collapsing back into her seat in utter shock, Desai-Scott lifted a trembling hand to her mouth as the reality of the news set in. There was an almost eerie silence around the bridge as the crew took it in for a moment. Even the weapons fire seemed to have subsided for a moment, seemingly giving everyone the chance to take in the news from the flagship.

"I can't believe he's gone..."

"Captain," Brenn placed a gentle, yet oddly firm hand on his Captain's arm to draw her attention back to him. "We can grieve for Captain Drayton and his people later. The group needs you. They need your orders, ma'am."

Kayla slowly glanced to her right, her tear filled eyes gazing at her executive officer before she gave a quick series of nods to try and focus herself. He was right, afterall. She was now the ranking officer in the Battlegroup. It was then that she realised the weapons fire had stopped. "Report!"

Inara had to shake herself back to life almost after the news from the Nogura and took a moment to steady herself and get the report the Captain needed. "The Borg ships are headed for Federation space," the Romulan frowned as she looked down at the Captain.

"I can tell you why..." the Ops Chief called out through his own cracked voice. "I'm detecting an additional six Borg vessels in the conduit. Estimating five minutes until they get here..."

"Inara; contact the Major. Have the Air Group regroup on our flanks. Lieutenant Mitchell, move us to the mouth of the conduit and then, the bridge is yours," the Captain declared as she rose to her feet and gestured for her XO to follow her to the ready room.

Brenn rose and raised his eyebrow as he followed her. The look on her face was one he had seen a few times before. It meant she was concocting something in her mind. Something sinister.

Mitchell brought the Roehampton around. She was feeling sluggish, hardly a surprise given the beating that she'd taken so far. He made a few adjustments that would improve the responsiveness of the thrusters slightly.

It didn't take long for the Roehampton to arrive at the conduit's mouth. He reduced speed until the Nebula-class Heavy Cruiser came to a full stop. Placing the Roehampton, he relinquished the Helm to his relief and moved towards the centre of the Bridge.

He slowly lowered himself into the centre chair. Even as Officer of the Watch he could feel the weight of starship command pressing down on him. It felt very much like they were in the eye of the storm and soon the winds would be picking up and they would once again be thrust into the maelstrom.

==[USS Roehampton Air Group]==

Things weren't bad.

Brynna had seen bad before, and this wasn't wasn't bad.

This was catastrophic.

Patches of her fighter were burning, but it was just "okay" enough to keep her flying. Her heads-up display was going off with about six different warning messages like an overexcited kid at a birthday party. She had never been in a battle that had quite this many things going off at the same time, nor had so many markers of her air group going dark. The big ships were faring terribly, as she could hear as the CAG over comms, but the smaller ships were faring worse. They were being blown right out of the star right, left, and center.

Brynna, normally so stoic and so silent, shrieked a curse meant for her ears alone as she banked hard to the left and even with all the backups and stablizers, could feel the weight of her violent turn pressing against her in her jumpsuit.

It had become neither flying nor just fighting, but a dogfight, slugging it out just to survive.

"Wolf!" she shouted the callsign of a pilot in her own squadron. "You're burning plasma behind you like a trail of fireworks. Pull back and use some of us as cover, shoot from the rear until we can get this shit mopped up and get us home." Like that's going to happen, her more cynical side said.

"No can do, sir," the brash young man called back. Resignation was practically visible in his words. "I'm a goner already. Burning trails is the least of my issues."

Her dark eyes flickered up to her view to see him accelerate, the ship practically flying apart as he sped toward a Borg ship. She knew what he was doing. "Wolf-- No!"

"Been a pleasure, Commander."

The bird flew straight into the Borg ship, penetrating through its defenses and crashing full-on into its side. It was damaged there, but unbowed. It kept moving, and it kept shooting.

Brynna grit her teeth and forced herself to focus. FOCUS!

"Roehampton to Major Keil. Regroup your remaining fighters on the ship's flanks. Roehampton out."

Although the major didn't think it would do any good, she relayed the order to what fighters and pilots she had left from the thirty-six she'd started with. She danced between the phaser beams, sending a prayer to the gods as she made her way back to back and sides of the nest. To do what they could.

==[USS Nogura Bridge]==

Where there had been an almost eerie silence on the Roehampton, there was no such silence on the bridge of the flagship. Tears rolled down faces, crewmembers found themselves hunched over consoles and sobbing. For many who had joined the Nogura with the Captain from the USS Odyssey just a few short months ago, they now experienced a loss of great devastation. In just twenty short minutes, the flagship had gone from leading the fight, to being crippled by their cybernetic foes. Captain Drayton had been successful in preventing the Borg from completing their mission to eject the ships warp core but in doing so, he had sacrificed his life in much the same way Commander Neprem had when she had entered Deflector Control to stop the Borg. To recover from the loss of a commanding officer, let alone the loss of both command officers, would take a crew an age, but the Nogura crew didn't have that time. Still in the middle of a fight for their lives, they had to come together quickly.

"Pull it together people, we can grieve later." Zar knew that he couldn't give into his emotions nor the way he felt at the present time, to do so would go against everything he had been taught and he trained for. "We must remain focused on the task at hand," and at the utterance of those words the Nogura stopped shaking. Zar looked down at the tactical console to his right and was watching the display as the Borg ships warped away from the area.

"Tactical track those Borg ships and get me a pin point location on where they are going?" replied Zar as looked around the room. This was the breather that they briefly needed, to regroup and reassess what was going on.

"Uh... umm... yes sir," Akaria nodded as she started tapping on her controls once again. "Their course trajectory would take them to Betazed and on to the inner core territories," the Cardassian revealed. "They'll be intercepted by the fifth fleet at Betazed if they stay on course," she added.

"Commander," the relief Ops Officer called out, "we're receiving a transmission from the Roehampton, audio only." Looking at the state of viewscreen, it was no wonder the transmission was audio only.

Zar did not like hearing where the Borg ships were headed, indeed the 5th fleet would engage them; and since the Dominion War the Betazed system had been upgraded with defense system platforms so the chances of destroying those two Borg ships were much more likely than their small task force. Zar was about to have a transmission sent to the fifth fleet to warn them of the incoming Borg vessels when he heard about the transmission from the Roehampton. Glancing up at the view-screen he looked at the Nebula class vessel move closer to the mouth of the aperture and come to a full stop. "Put it through the speakers lieutenant," replied Zar as he sat back and observed the situation that was before him.

"=/\=Commander Zar, this is Captain Desai-Scott," the voice of the Roehampton's commanding officer crackled through the speakers and filled the bridge. "We've come up with a plan to seal this conduit for good, but we need your help."

"Very well captain what is your plan of action?' he inquired as he leaned forward resting his elbow on his knee and his hand holding his chain as he rubbed it back and forward.

"=/\=We need you to begin immediate beam out of all Roehampton personnel. I'm going to take a handful of people and the ship into the Conduit; a core breach would generate the type of force that would destroy the conduit for hundreds of lightyears and crush any Borg vessel inside," Desai-Scott declared over the comm. "I'll need you to maintain a sensor lock on everyone that stays aboard and beam us out at the last second," the Captain added.

"Captain, the Nogura has sustained moderate damage; and truthfully the Roehampton is going to be needed in the fut..." he attempted to say before being cut off.

"=/\=There is no alternative," she scolded over the comm. "Your captain gave his life, rightly, to ensure your crew and your ship stayed in the fight. The truth is, the Nogura will be a far better weapon in Starfleet's arsenal against the Borg than the Roehampton could ever hope to be. She's old, she's had countless refits and she still can't manage the speed or weapons compliment you can," she trailed off before quietly adding, "this is the only way to stop these bastards joining their friends at Betazed. If they get through, the fighting fifth wont stand a chance and Betazed will fall."

"Captain Scott, you are correct. Only the blast of a warp core breach and close the aperture," said Zar as he quickly started thinking about how the Borg are able to keep the conduit structurally sound. To do so would mean that they would have created network hubs throughout area which used modulating frequencies to operate. "However it will only destabilise this end of the opening, right before the Roehampton's core goes critical you will need your ships computer to send a resonance burst through the conduit. The Burst timed with the explosion will freeze the modulating frequencies for a brief moment, but that moment will be enough to have the explosion go deep enough that it collapses this conduit."

"=/\=Those of us remaining behind will see to it," Desai-Scott's voice crackled, "begin the evacuation immediately."

"Captain, the Nogura's systems are under strain as it is; and that will make evacuation of the Roehampton that much more lengthier. Therefore I suggest one time massive beam out from both ships. The Nogura will do a one time transport over and the Roehampton can do a one time transport as well, all remaining personal I suggest evacuate via shuttles and emergency escape pods. That will give the Nogura's transporters enough time to reset. Then, when the Roehampton's core is about to go critical we can beam you out; also sir I'm going to have the primary and secondary cargo transporters to lock onto your store of torpedoes, we've used quite a bit up in this brief encounter."

There was silence on the other end of the line for a short while until the Captain spoke again. "=/\=Agreed. Let's get it done, Commander."

"Aye captain," replied Zar as he stood up and walked beside the ops chair "We are making the preparations now, begin transport in two minutes. Zar out." Zar looked at Laki and pressed his hand on the young man's shoulder. "Make sure that you keep an eye out on the power levels, we've already sustained damage and I don't want the transporters overloading."

"Aye sir," came his reply.

"Akaria, send an emergency priority distress signal to Starfleet Command and the Fifth Fleet, let them know it is a code Wolf359; also contact Starbase 214 and let Captain Gral know what is happening."

"Yes sir," Akaria nodded, getting to work.

Zar returned to the command chair and slowly leaned back and looked out of the view screen of the Nebula class starship. So many things were moving through his mind, the fact that the Borg decided to switch tactics basically saved them from slaughter; yet so many were lost during this event. Were the Borg actually launching a full scale invasion of the Federation with multiple ships, and not only the Federation was at stake but the entire Alpha and Beta Quadrant. More than likely if that was the case, then they all would have to ban together to drive out the invader. Would he live that long? Would his family and home planet survive this invasion. Now was the time to rally and repeal give the Borg a fight like they've never experienced before.

==[USS Roehampton Bridge]==

The bridge of the Nebula-class vessel was a hive of activity as preparations for the emergency evacuation were underway. Desai-Scott, however, was the only one not moving as she sat stationary in her command chair, staring at the glitching image of the Sovereign-class starship on the main viewer.

"=/\=Brenn to Air Group. Combat landings have been authorised aboard the Nogura. Bunch up, get as many in as possible," the XO called out over the conn from beside the tactical station.

"Lieutenant Mitchell," Desai-Scott finally spoke up as she rose to her feet and stepped over to the helm officer. "I can't do this without you Alexander," she spoke quietly as she placed a reassuring hand on the mans shoulder. "I need you and Brenn to stay with me when the rest of the crew have evacuated. Can I rely on you, Lieutenant?"

Xander looked up at the Captain and nodded. "Yes, ma'am." He knew that Captain Desai-Scott planned for them to beam off at the last possible minute but if something went wrong the three of them would die along with the Roehampton. With a deep breath, let out sharply through his mouth, Xander returned to his work, plotting the best course into the aperture of the conduit.

The mighty Nebula class starships final journey...

==[USS Roehampton Air Group]==

Combat landings on the Nogura.

The order came over Brynna's comms and made her frown. That wasn't a promising sign, but she knew there wasn't time to ask questions. She instantly relayed the order to...well, those who were still alive. The numbers were enough to drop the bottom out of a person's stomach, but only if they had the luxury of time to feel such a thing.

"Move fast," she ordered, her voice tight. "They're still shooting at us and will have no problem shooting us in the back."

Everyone knew that there was no such thing as mercy in the Borg, so the best they could do was fight back and fly fast. Brynna would damn well be the last one in and she kept firing shots at the Borg vessel as she watched her last birds make their way for the wounded Nogura and she brought up their rear.

As the first group landed amid "plan B," a phaser shot caught the very edge of her wing and sent her spinning. She heard her officer's shouting in her ears to get her status, but she was too busy straining again pedal, stick, and G-force to get herself righted before she got herself dead right at the last line.

Brynna felt her head smack around the inside of her own helmet--some safety precaution, that--and then her vision blurred for a moment before she gritted her teeth until they damn near cracked and she righted the ship in time for a sloppy line-up with the flight hangar on the Nogura.

"Commander!" she heard in her ear.

"Coming in hot and wobbly," she replied, hearing her own struggles echo back in her ear as her bird tumbled its way into the Nogura...

A Costly Sacrifice

"All personnel have departed the ship except for the three of us."

Desai-Scott slowly turned to acknowledge the words of her first officer who had assumed the tactical station and nodded slowly, her gaze drawn back to the fluctuating blue conduit ahead of the ship. Had it not spelt total disaster for her crew, she'd have almost found the phenomenon to be quite beautiful, but not today. Today, the conduit brought more of the Federation's most feared enemies to their doorstep and it simply had to be closed, sealed forever.

"Bring us to all stop Lieutenant," the Captain ordered of the Helm Officer at the front of the command center.

Xander's fingers danced over the console's surface to comply wit the order as he replied, "All stop, aye." He looked up at the viewscreen and for a brief few seconds watched its fluctuations play out in front of them. Within minutes it would be destroyed and the Roehampton with it. 'And possibly us.' He mused silently.

"Que sera sera." He muttered quietly as he prepared to execute the next phase of the Captain's plan.

==[USS Nogura Bridge]==

"What the hell just happened!" replied Zar as he waved his hands in front of his face clearing away the smoke, which was erupting from one of the back consoles. Zar stood up in the midst of the smoke and walked over the operations console while letting out a brief cough, ejecting the inhaled smoke.

"Captain the transporter grid has overloaded sir, primary and secondary transporter systems are down," replied Laki as he checked the read out monitor. "The grid must have sustained unknown damage during the battle. Especially since main engineering is shut down, and the primary computer systems have been cut and rerouted to the secondary computer system."

"Using the transporter systems are out of the question, but we can use the cargo transporters...they run independent of the main and secondary transporters. I want you to re modulate the cargo transporter to beam over human life."

"Working on the modifications now commander," he replied as he quickly set to his task at hand.

"Akaria, we haven't heard from our security teams in a while about the remaining Borg drones on the ship; what's the latest status report?"

Akaria was so engrossed in her task that she almost must the request for information from the 'Captain' but found out the information he required. "Anti-boarding parties report that the Borg drones beamed away as the final vessels from the initial attack group diverted to Betazed," the Cardassian responded.

"What's the Status on all shuttlecraft and escape pods from the Roehampton?" he asked.

"What we can hold, we have aboard," the Tactical Officer began, "but we are in the process of jettisoning cargo and bring pods into the bays."

"Okay," replied Zar as he sat back in the captain's chair. "okay," he said as he cracked his knuckles and let out a deep breath.

"Commander it will be another two minutes before we can get the transporter fully modified over," said Laki.

"Akaria open a audio channel to the Roehampton."

Soon enough, the audio channel to the Roehampton was once again active.

"Captain Scott this is Commander Zar. We've just experienced a primary and secondary overload to the transporter grid, repair time to get one of the transporter systems back online would take way too long. We are re-modulating the pattern buffers in cargo bay 2, and we are going to use one of the cargo transporters to beam you out, what is the ETA before warp core overload?"

The commline had even more static on it thanks to the Nebula-class vessels position inside the conduit, but the message from the Captain came through as clear as it could. "=/\=We're at two minutes and counting," she spoke.

"Understood we are working on it as quickly as possible, Zar out," he replied. Zar moved himself over to the engineering station and looked to see if he could give any additional help needed. With the Roehampton now inside the fluctuations were going to be extreme, and he knew that the transporter targeting sensors would need to be strong enough to get an accurate lock and strong enough to keep a lock. Luckily there were no Borg left on the ship to deal with, Zar quickly accessed the engineering functions while Laki was modifying the transporter buffers to handle human matter. Zar took the science stations, the observation lounge and any additional power he could free up and shunted it into the transporter buffers and targeting sensors. While working with a two minute times limit he wasn't sure what was going to happen, but hopefully they were able to get them out alive. "Laki how is it looking?"

"I'm working sir, we should be ready in a few seconds just finishing the matter conversion pattern sequences that tie into the patter buffers, we don't want the cargo transporter to only materialize all the minerals and metals in their bodies," he added. It was only going to be a matter of time but it was close but hopefully they were able to get this thing completed.

==[USS Roehampton Bridge]==

"We have a problem..."

That was not what the Captain needed to hear with less than two minutes to go until the ship was due to explode and, hopefully, save the entire Alpha quadrant in the process. She rose from her command chair and looked to the aft of the bridge where Juros Brenn was working at an engineering station. "Please tell me we can still do this..."

"Oh we can still do this," the Betazoid nodded as he turned around and looked at his superior officer, "but there is a problem with the command processors. If we're going to detonate the core at the right time, someone is going to need to stay behind and press the button," he frowned.

At the Helm, Xander quickly did the math. The experience of the Captain and XO were more valuable to Starfleet than his own; of the three of them he was the most expendable. 'Besides, if you're gonna go out, might as well go out in a blaze of glory.' He told himself silently. Standing, he turned to the Captain. "I'll stay behind, ma'am."

"If anyone is going to stay behind, it's me. This is my ship, it's my duty," Kayla told in between deep breaths and exhales, and with a resigned smile as she slowly came to terms with her fate. "Captain goes down with the ship, right?" She could see that Juros was bristling to speak and she threw a hand up to stop him. "I need you on Nogura. You're senior. Take command, get the ship and crew to safety and get orders from Starfleet Command," she smiled as she placed a gentle hand on her XO's shoulder, waving the Flight Controller to the aft of the bridge with the other. "You've both been the finest officers a captain could ask for," she smiled tot hem both.

"Captain...," Juros protested. "I can press the button. My career, my life, has been longer than yours. I've seen more, done more. You have your entire career ahead of you still," he added. "It doesn't have to go down like this..."

"Yes, Number One, it does..." she smiled, "now, time to get out of here you two."

Juros stooped to give the smaller woman a hug and it was at that point that he slowly produced something from his left sleeve. A long, cylindrical object that he slipped into his hand and, without a second thought, pressed against the woman's neck, instantly sending the Captain into a lifeless stupor, thankfully in the safety of his arms.

"What the hell are you doing?" Xander rushed to where the XO stood with the lifeless form of the Captain in his arms. It was clear what the XO intended.

“Take her,” Juros declared as he tried to hand off the Captain’s lifeless body to the Helm Officer. “If you lot are going to get out of this, you’re going to need her,” the Betazoid continued. “Time to go, Lieutenant...”

Mitchell hunkered down and placed the Captain over his left shoulder, carrying her in a fireman's lift. With his left arm around the Captain's legs, holding her in place, he extended his right towards the Commander. "We haven't served together for long, but it's been an honour."

"The honor has been all mine Lieutenant," the Commander smiled ruefully as he shook the Flight Controller's hand. "Look out for her. She's going to need all the help she can get in the coming days," the Betazoid revealed as he ran a gentle hand down the Captains arm and then took a step backward, signalling that the time for chatter was over.

With a nod, Alexander rushed into the turbolift and ordered it to Transporter Room One. The journey was mercifully short and Xander jogged towards the Transporter Room, careful not to jostle the unconscious Captain too much. He moved straight up onto the pad when he reached his destination. "Mitchell to Nogura. Two to beam out."

=== [USS Nogura Bridge]===

When the call came in to transport Zar glanced over at Laki who gave a simple nod of his head, and with the movement of his fingers activated the cargo transporters from his console and started the beaming process. Within a few seconds, the console beeped a couple of times when the transporter cycle had started and when the transporter cycle had finally completed. " Transport complete Commander," replied the young ops officer.

"Helm, reverse engines and back us off; but keep us pointed forward, and train all phaser banks and quantum torpedoes on that opening," he stated as he leaned forward in the center chair looking at the view screen. "Just in-case this doesn't work and the Borg come pouring through that opening..."

==[USS Roehampton Bridge]==

"Warning. Borg vessels approaching. ETA, one minute."

"Tell me something I don't know you stupid piece of crap!" Juros shouted back as the Roehampton began to shudder slightly under the strain of being stationary inside the conduit. He just about made it to the command chair before it rocked to such an extent he was almost tossed from one side of the command center to the other. "Well, this was a great idea..." he grimaced as he grabbed hold of the chairs arms to steady himself. With a deep breath, and the fact that small specs of Borg ships were now visable on the main viewer, the Commander braced himself. "Computer," he looked around the room one final time, "activate program Brenn-Alpha-Six-Three."

"Program activated. Warp core breach in ten... nine... eight... seven... six..."

==[USS Nogura Bridge]==

As the Nogura's engines fired up and the massive Sovereign class vessel started reversing on the view screen with the Roehampton in view; and suddenly a massive explosion erupted in front of there eyes as the warp core of the Nebula class vessel went critical. The explosion generated a shock wave in all directions, and pieces of debris followed it. "Akaria, divert all power to the forward shields!" replied Zar as he watched the shock wave approaching their position.

The Cardassian tactical officer tapped furiously as she diverted as much power as she could muster to the forward shields until she was satisfied that they would repel any incoming debris.

"All hands brace for impact," he responded as the shock wave impacted with the Nogura causing her to shutter violently which caused a nearby console to spark from a power over load.

"Scan the area of any additional signs of the Borg, was the conduit successfully collapsed?" he inquired as seconds flew by, granted it would be technically another full two minutes before the Borg came busting through.

"Sensors appear to confirm the destruction of the conduit Commander."

The aft turbolift doors slid open to reveal a commotion from inside as a woman escaped her attendees and made her way onto the command deck. "Get your hands off me!" she exclaimed as she shrugged off the hands of the security officer. "Touch me again and it'll be the nail in your career's coffin!"

Zar turned in the captain's chair when he heard a commotion from the back of the bridge, as his listened to the exchange of words he looked at his security officers and held up his hand to stop them as Captain Scott walked forward looking at the view-screen in front of them.

Captain Desai-Scott watched the view screen and saw the signs of dust and debris from the aftermath of the Roehampton's explosion. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes as she thought of her friend who had given his life to save hers and ensure she lived on, despite the fact that he had disobeyed orders and temporarily sedated her in order to get her off the ship.

Zar wasn't going to ask any questions, he knew when the order changed to beam out two instead of three someone remained behind to ensure the self destruction sequence was inputted. He allowed a brief moment of silence to transcend on the bridge before he slowly stood up from the command chair, "I am sorry for your loss Captain Desai-Scott," replied Zar. "Should there be anything that you and your crew needs, the Nogura is here. I'll have Lieutenant Laki, our Operations Officer, assign your crew to some of the empty quarters we have on board, and we are currently making preparations to turn the cargo bay areas into temporary quarters once we have no more quarter assignments to hand out."

"We need to contact Starfleet Command and get new orders Commander," the Captain declared after taking a moment to gather her thoughts and compose herself in the face of these strangers. "In the meantime, we should pursue those vessels headed for Betazed," she suggested, but more in a tone that implied she was giving the Commander orders.

Zar remained silent for a few moments as he listened to the words of Captain Scott as she looked as if she regained her composure, and he continued to stand there as he slowly thought about the reply he was going to give. "Lieutenant Okan already sent a distress signal to Starfleet Command," he said as he turned on his heels and sat back down in the command chair on the bridge. "Priority one signal Wolf 359, a message was also sent to the Fifth Fleet and also Starbase 214."

Zar then cracked his knuckles releasing the pressure and allowing a feeling of calm to over take him as he looked in the captain's direction. "As far as pursuing those vessels, the Nogura's warp drive is currently down so we will not be able to lay in a pursuit course. However we do need assistance in getting our repairs underway, since more than 2/3's of the Nogura's engineering team was wiped out. Perhaps the engineering crew of the Roehampton would be willing to assist us in our repairs?" he asked her.

“Put the entire Roehampton crew to work,” Desai-Scott agreed. Looking the Bolian over, the Captain knew that he wasn’t going to give up command of the Nogura easily. She also knew that she wasn’t going to hang around and take orders from a mere Lieutenant Commander. But, for now, she would bide her time until the right moment to pull the rug from under him and assume the captaincy. “I’ll be in Sickbay for my checks should you need me,” the Captain informed with a nod before heading for the turbo lift at the back of the bridge.

Once inside and alone, the Captain broke down into a flood of tears as the pain and suffering of one sacrifice too many finally engulfed the fragile Terran. If only she had known that more sacrifices would be necessary in the days to come...

Clash of the Titans

Location: Observation lounge
On: Day 146 at 2115

"Acting Captain's Log Supplemental: Lieutenant Commander Zar in command. It has been a rough 48 hours for the Nogura and her crew; what was supposed to be a mission of exploration into an unexplored region of space has now turned into one of the largest invasions in history from the Borg Collective. The Nogura and the task force assigned to the Wastelands area was successful in closing the warp aperture the Borg used to invade our territory," said Zar as he continued to walk around the massive observation lounge.

"However, the damage the Task Force sustained was critical. The Adriatic was destroyed, and the Ulysses sustained heavy damage and was forced to withdraw; the Roehampton was self-destructed to close the aperture, but the largest losses came with the deaths of Captain Drayton and Commander Tara Neprem, the first officer. As the senior most ranking officer on the Nogura, Captain Drayton left me in command before he sacrificed his life in driving off the Borg boarding parties." A pause entered the room, not even the sounds of breathing echoed as Zar closed off himself to life for a brief moment. "Since that time, we are slowly repairing our battle damage and repairing the warp engines before we can warp out of the area. The crew of the Roehampton have been aiding us in this process; only time will tell of what the Borg plan to do. Computer end log."

Zar sat down at the head of the table with data PADDs stretchered out every where, from reports to casualties and even repair and supply statuses; he wasn't going to use Captain Drayton's room, it was much too soon to do that, which is why he set up a small temporary office in the observation lounge. Plans would be drawn up from Starfleet command no doubt; and it would only be a matter of time before the Nogura was called back into action.

Disrupting the Commander, the starboard doors to the lounge opened to reveal the presence of the former Captain of the Roehampton, a little more composed than she had been a short while ago on the bridge. "Commander," she nodded respectfully to the Bolian as she entered the room and approached the table that dominated it. "I wanted to apologise for before," she sighed, "and to thank you for rescuing my people."

"Of course Captain," replied Zar as he collected the PADDs and pushed them all over to one side. "I can understand the frustration in all of this, no one is prepared to lose men and women and starships on a simple exploration mission," Zar stood up and walked over to the replicator and pressed a couple of buttons, since main power had been rerouted to handle the other areas of the ship something would have to be done manually. "Would you care for something to drink? I know dealing with what you have had to face today is a right time for that."

"Thank you, but no. I'm fine," Kayla lied as she pulled out a chair and slipped into it to avoid her legs giving way beneath her. The toll of the traumatic day threatened to engulf her, but she had to maintain some sense of dignity for the high office she once held. "It can't have been an easy day for you either, Commander. Losing one member of your team is bad enough, but to lose both your commanding officers on the same day is nothing short of traumatic. How are you holding up?" she queried, turning into a Counsellor for a short while.

Zar replicated himself a cup of coffee with a hint of cinnamon, it was a custom that he was taught many years ago when he was a second year student at the academy; amazing enough that no one in their right mind would have thought that today the Federation would be dealing with a threat of this particular size. As he took a sip of the brew he returned back to his chair and placed his mug on the table in front of him. "I am holding, I've learned to push aside my frustration to focus on the task at hand," he said as he waved at all the data padds in front of him. " I did not have time to form a bond with Captain Drayton like the rest of the crew did, however we did have a strong mutual respect for one another; and hopefully in time I would have been able to look at him more than like a captain, perhaps a brother. Yet that choice and option is no longer valid to any of us. The question is how is the crew of the Roehampton and yourself? I know that losing a close friend is like closing a family member."

“Well that’s why I am here,” she responded as she clasped her hands together and lay them on the table top. “The crew and I need to feel useful. We cannot, we will not, sit back. It is time for us to be put to work, which brings me to the difficult topic of command,” she added.

"As far as I can clearly see it the crew of the Roehampton are working just fine with the Nogura's crew, so let's just clear it up," he said as he gently placed a PADD down on the table and looked at the captain. "This is more about you wanting to take command of the Nogura, am I correct?!"

"Let's face it Lieutenant Commander," Desai-Scott spoke as her face changed and she emphasised the difference in rank, opting to dispense with the usual custom of omitting the 'Lieutenant' from it, "this situation requires a commanding officer with the experience of the big chair, of making the tough calls, just like your Captain made, and just like I made. No disrespect, but what makes you think you are qualified to command this ship going forward?"

Zar picked up his coffee mug and took a long sip of it, he briefly closed his eyes to give himself a moment to put everything into perspective and to also organize his thoughts before he spoke. "I've wondered the same thing, what does qualify me to command the Nogura. Since I only hold the rank of Lieutenant Commander as you so emphatically emphasized." Zar had a funny feeling that he would need exact information to combat a captain of her caliber, so while taking another sip of coffee; he picked up a data PADD and tossed in front of her onto the table. "Pick that up and give it a read."

Desai-Scott raised an eyebrow as she eventually acquiesced to his 'order', taking some time to read over the PADD's contents. When she was eventually finished, she tossed it to the table and sat back. "Am I supposed to be impressed by this? Two years as a Captain and then you threw it all away by breaking the prime directive? You were demoted and spent two years in prison. If anything, you've just provided me with even more evidence that you shouldn't be in command of this ship," she argued as she rose to her feet. "I have no idea what Drayton was thinking letting you on his command team..." she trailed off with a shake of her head.

"The argument was am I qualified to command the Nogura, and the facts point to that I am qualified," replied Zar as he smirked and sipped his coffee again. " As far breaking the prime directive I saved over 525 million lives in doing so; please tell me you have done better?" he inquired as he smirked again in her face. "As far as Captain Drayton bringing me on his command team, he wanted someone who could read the grey areas of command, verses everything being in black and white. He brought me aboard because of my command experience, and the fact that the had someone on his team who thought like he did and understood as well," Zar said as he picked up another data padd and started reading it with his eyes; it was nothing but a mere engineering report, but he wanted he wanted her to think it was more. "Also if you would look into my file Captain Drayton sided with me in the decision that I had to make, and that I made the right choice of action; I know every protocol I know every directive. I have fought in two wars and now a third one, I have served under one of the greatest captains within Starfleet and trained under the best. I would say that I am highly qualified for this position, and before you say that I am seeking to return to command that is far from the truth; I am following Starfleet protocol here, and honestly I believe that you are in no position to command another starship at this time."

"The minute your broke the prime directive you lost your qualifications for command. That's clear by the decision to send you to prison and reduce your rank," Kayla argued back. "It doesn't matter if you saved one life or 525 million! You broke the Federation's founding principle of non-interference. Do not sit here and lecture me on being in a position to command. Starfleet have made that determination by making me a Captain and YOU, a Lieutenant Commander." She took a few steps out from behind the table and approached the computer console. "Let's settle this shall we? Why don't you contact Starfleet Command. Let's see what they say..."

"I'm not the one that needs to contact them as I am already in command of the Nogura, that is for you to do. I also find it very easy for one to pass judgement against someone who has never walked in another person's shoes or experienced the things they experienced. You are dictatorial and you are not fit for command either, Starfleet Command will request information from the Nogura's doctor and even then I can bring up your state of mind as I see it now you are not mentally fit. Do not push me Captain, I am no ones enemy unless you make me one; that is clear and simple."

"How dare you stand there and presume to tell me I am not fit for command! I gave EVERYTHING that I cared for to save not only your life, but the life of EVERYONE on this vessel. Do not dictate to me about walking in someone else's shoes," and with that, she turned and left the briefing room. She would definitely be contacting Starfleet, and she was certain that she would be delivering him some 'exciting' news soon.

Zar watched the former captain of the Roehampton storm out of the observation lounge, and more than likely causing a scene on the bridge. He gave a roll of his eyes and continued working on the data PADDs that were on the desk before him.

A short while later, the communications array chirped to life. "=/\=Bridge to Commander Zar."

"Zar here," he replied as he picked up another data padd and started compiling all the data from the Borg engagement, perhaps something could be found as a weakness within their tactical plans.

“=/\=Sir, we’ve received a text transmission from Admiral Azulas at Starfleet Command. Shall I route it to you there?” the unknown voice told over the comm.

Zar picked up another padd and started going over the acting department head's update. "Go ahead bridge," replied Zar as he pressed the padd scanning through the data as in the other hand he picked up his cup of coffee and took a sip from the mug.

The transmission was simple in nature. In it, Admiral Azulas offered her condolences for the loss of the ships commanding officer and his deputy, and congratulated everyone for their successful attempt at closing the conduit, despite the heavy losses. Lastly, it also mentioned the issue of command. In it, Azulas noted the admirable job that Zar had done in Drayton’s stead but she had reluctantly decided that command had to be granted to the officer most senior in rank. She did note, however, that she had recommended that Desai-Scott should retain his services in a command role and that they put their differences aside.

Zar read the message thoroughly and raised his eyebrow in that it was recommended that she retain his services in a command role. Zar gently uploaded the message into his personal files and closed it out and nodded his head in satisfaction. He had at least gotten high praise from Starfleet Command for his actions, now since he had their respect maybe the new captain would be willing to give him his dues as well. But something on the inside of him suggested that wasn't likely going to happen, and he slowly putt down the data padd and thought about how this was going to affect them all.

Around the ship, a subtle, short message was transmitted to all crew members to inform them of the change of command. There would be no formal ceremony, no official changing of the guard or transferring of command codes with the usual pomp and circumstance. Now was not the time.

Now, it was time for work.

Orders are Orders

Major Keil walked into the observation lounge on the Nogura, noticing she was one of the first ones there.

That was probably because she'd bypassed the stop at sickbay like it had been "strongly advised" she do, but there hadn't been time. As soon as all her birds and pilots that had survived had touched deckplates, she'd had to check in and check over. There were numbers to be counted, and she had worse-injured pilots to make sure got medical attention. She knew that medical staff had to be overrun after a battle like that, so she wasn't going to bother them with something superficial.

Of course, the end result of this was the Roehampton's CAG--former CAG?--showing up when called with a blossoming bruise around one eye, a cut to match, and blood half-smeared from where she'd used her sleeve to wipe it off. She was also limping, which was noticeably on the frame of a woman her height.

For the moment, she limped herself to a wall she could lean against. She didn't want to sit, just yet, feeling the adrenaline from the battle still pulling half her muscles taut while containing her grief and emotions pulled on the other half. Like a wire pulled tight and ready to snap, she folded her arms across her chest, leaned her side against the wall, and waited for whoever else would be showing up...

Lieutenant Akaria Okan was the first of the Nogura natives to arrive in the briefing room, her grey skin feeling clammy whilst beads of perspiration formed on her brow. She didn't feel great, and would have been surprised if anyone did, but still she did her duty. Upon noticing the unfamiliar face in the room, she stopped in her tracks and zipped up the gold undershirt of her uniform and fixed the collar so she looked as presentable as possible, despite the dirt and grime that accumulated on her uniform during the battle. "Hi..." was all she could muster as she took a seat at the table.

Brynna watched the other woman walk in. She didn't know her so could guess she wasn't also from the Roehampton. The major nodded slightly in return, although the gesture made her head hurt. "Hello," she greeted, though she didn't exactly feel in the mood for small-talk.

The tactical chief pulled out the chair next to her and gestured to her apparently new colleague and shipmate. "We're all in this together and it's been a pretty crap day," she remarked, with the most polite smile she could muster.

With a snort, Brynna said, "Yeah, you could say it has." She eyed the chair for a moment, but being a reserved-but-not-really-mean woman, she moved forward and sat down. She tried to return the smile, but it probably fell short.

"Major Brynhild Keil," she introduced herself after lowering her long frame into the seat with a grimace.

"Akaria Okan," the Cardassian nodded with the best smile she could muster.

The CAG-turned-whatever she was now smiled weakly. "I wish I could say it was a pleasure, but nothing about this is, eh?"

Eza entered the observation lounge and nodded to those present. An updated causality report in one hand, the only working hand he had the moment he had broken his arm during the whole ordeal and despite the bone being repaired the Doc had ordered him to wear a sling and not use it for at least a few days.

Alexander wasn't entirely certain why he'd been summoned to the Observation Lounge. On the Roehampton he was Chief Flight Operations Officer but on the Nogura he had no position. He entered to find several people already gathered, recognising only Major Keil from the Roe. He acknowledged everyone with a nod and slipped into an open seat.

Zar had been working long hours supervising what repairs could be completed, granted since the Nogura's chief engineer had been killed along with other members of the engineering crew, he had been over seeing that department; and placed Lieutenant Udi in charge of the ship's operations. As he walked into the lounge he spotted a couple of the Nogura's crew and a few officers from what appeared to be from the Roehampton's crew as well. As he took a seat near the head of the table he let out a quick sigh and rubbed his forehead and then the bridge of his nose, trying to release not only built up stress but his apparent tiredness as well.

Conversations continued for several minutes until, in the midst of the conversations, interrupting the fevered speculation, the doors to the observation lounge once again opened to reveal Captain Desai-Scott, who promptly made her way inside and gestured for everyone to take a seat. Instead of making a beeline for a seat around the crowded table, the Captain stopped in front of the wall mounted display console and tapped away, bringing up a display, live from Stellar Cartography. On the display, the entire Federation was displayed, with many red, flashing signals. When she eventually turned back to the staff, she took a deep breath.

"I've just been in contact with Starfleet Command," she scoffed and shook her head, "not quite true. I've been in contact with Rear Admiral Azulas, the most senior officer able to take my call," she started as she rubbed her right temple. "According to the Admiral, the Borg have launched a massive offensive against dozens of targets across Federation space in the last few hours. What we encountered in the Wastelands was one of many smaller engagements." Tapping on the screen again, a list of seven systems came up for all to see. "Benzar, Cor Caroli, Mab-bu, Memory Alpha, Orion, Qualor, Vega. All these systems have fallen in the last three hours and this...," she changed the star chart again to show just those seven systems, "...is why."

"They've got us surrounded, the major core systems." Eza said staring at the screen.

Just like everyone else, Keil stared at the screen. "By the gods," she murmured to herself. That...was not the sort of battle map one wanted to see.

Xander's stomach dropped at the sight of the star chart on the screen. What he was seeing couldn't be right.

"It is a significant shift in tactics from our enemy," the Captain continued. "We know what we have seen aboard our vessels. No attempts to assimilate the ships, just a strong desire to keep the conduit open and destroy us in the process. We've never engaged them in such large numbers, and we have never faced such an assault deep at the heart of our own space."

"With the core territories cut off from the rest of the Federation, it will make any sort of co-ordinated response almost impossible," the Captain smiled as she stood behind Lieutenant Mitchell, using the back of his chair for support as she looked around the room. "Almost impossible. Starfleet Command are ordering all available assets in the southern territories to assemble in orbit of Ba'ku, deep inside the Briar Patch. It's believed we can assemble there without fear of any Borg reprisals due to the nature of the Patch. In forty-eight hours, all vessels assembled in the Patch will launch a counter offensive and will attempt to punch a hole all the way through to Earth. If there is a sign that they are moving against Earth sooner, we go sooner. It's as simple as that," she revealed, finally breaking for a while to let the assembled gathering of Nogura and Roehampton personnel come up with thoughts or questions.

"We won't be able to Slipstream in the patch, but given the damage we sustained I'm not sure we'd be able to right now anyway." Eza chimed in. "How many ships can we expect to make up the force?"

"One. Sixty. Two hundred," Desai-Scott shrugged. "It all depends on how many are in a position to answer the call."

"If I may?" Keil said, face grave as she leaned forward on the table slightly. "Of the three squadrons from the Roehampton, we now have a handful on board the Nogura. Eight birds will be spaceworthy with some repairs. Three are scrap now. I have ten pilots alive, including myself, who'll be able to fly with a few repairs of their own."

Zar was looking at the out look of the map on display, the Borg did create an established defensive line around the core worlds of the Federation; granted things looked bleak but this suggested plan of action from Starfleet Command in his mind was suicide. A counter attack that could end up in failure, and there would be resources that would be lost behind it. "There are too many variables that could go wrong with a counter attack of this size, and from what we have witnessed the Borg have changed tactics which makes them more dangerous than before," Zar stated as he looked at the map. "If that's the case then we need to do the unpredictable, that is finding first those warp conduits and destroying them; if we do not destroy them they can continue to pour in massive amounts of ships. If we can cut off their supply lines to the Delta Quadrant then we will have them cornered, they may be able to repair their ships; but they do not have the resources to build them. Any word from the Klingons or the Romulans, or any other Alpha Quadrant power?"

"This is not the Dominion War," Kayla declared sternly, "we are fighting an enemy that doesn't depend on supply lines, doesn't even need transwarp conduits to get their ships here unless they plan to do so in larger numbers. There is no way we can destroy every single conduit that forms. The Borg are here, and the only way we can defeat them is to liberate the core worlds, regroup with the fleets in that area and go on an offensive the scale we have never conducted before," the Captain dictated. "Morale is already at rock bottom. If Earth falls, you can bet your asses we will never recover and the Federation as we know it, will be finished. Ask any of the El-Aurian's aboard. They are scattered, no longer a race. That's what we will be. We'll no longer be the United Federation of Planets... god knows what we'll be, but it wont be that..." she trailed off as she climbed down off her high horse for a moment. "And no, we've heard nothing from anyone outside of our borders, but according to Azulas, there are rumours the Borg have struck the Klingon's too. If that's true, we can probably assume the same of Cardassia, the Romulans, and anyone else we might turn to for help."

Zar wanted to call the captain out about Earth being the key to the Federation, considering just because one major planet or system falls does not destroy the entire Federation; however he would remain silent on that matter. "So attacking an enemy of brute strength and resources head on is the way to achieve victory? There has to be alternative strategies captain, simply launching a massive counter strike would do nothing but lose us additional resources and men and women."

"What would you have us do Commander? Skulk and hide as we seek out these transwarp conduits and try to close them? Do you see anymore starships lying around for us to destroy? I sure as hell don't," Kayla argued, rather forcefully. "This is war! Our very way of life has been targeted, purposefully, by an enemy intent on wiping us out. We have all lost close friends today and no one here wants to lose anyone else, so, if you don't think a counter-offensive is a good idea, by all means, present us with an alternative. But don't just sit there and suppose there are alternatives. Give me some! Anyone!"

"What about a way to try to disrupt their link to the collective and each other. If we could block that and prevent them from communicating we might have an advantage." Eza offered. "Starfleet has had some luck getting into the Borg command network, in the attack on Sector 001 the Enterprise was able to trigger the regeneration command and make the cube go dormant."

Alexander had been sitting quietly, listening to everything being said. "The Borg's ability to adapt is phenomenal," He pointed out needlessly, finally breaking his silence. "At best that would buy us time, probably minutes, and then we'd be right back where we are now." He paused for a moment before dryly adding, "Unless, of course, we can adapt faster than the Borg can."

"Not to mention, when the Enterprise crew were able to do that they had the insider knowledge of Picard and the incredible talents of the Android Data and last I looked," the Captain allowed a brief smirk to come across her face for a split second, "...none of you were super human machines capable of trillions of calculations a minute. We don't need to make a decision now," she paused, looking around the room as her voice lowered and she started to show some signs of compassion for the first time this meeting, "we're not due to arrive at the Briar Patch for several hours. Anyone not on emergency repairs to the engines or defensive systems needs to get some rest. In the meantime, if you come up with any ideas, feel free to bring them to me or Commander Zar and we'll discuss them before making a decision."

"There is another option that is open to us, however that can only be discussed between the two of us Captain. Yet what I do know is that yes this isn't the Dominion War and going on the offensive is not going to help anything. We need to think defensively for the time being; we need to adopt a defensive offensive plan, we draw the Borg into attacking us but in territory and conditions where we have an upper hand. For instance the Briar Patch is an excellent place to have a defensive battle to where we can defeat the Borg."

"The Borg may have changed tactics but they are not stupid," Kayla shook her head, "their ships would never survive the distortions in places like the Briar Patch or the Badlands. No, for now, we proceed with our orders."

"I know the Borg aren't stupid, however they are not blind to making mistakes; because they are of one mind means they are more capable of making said mistakes. It has to be something that we can use to bait them, and I have a very tempting bait but like I said captain; this has to be discussed in private."

"I don't keep things from my people Mister Zar," Kayla frowned at the Bolian, finding herself increasingly frustrated with the senior most member of the Nogura crew. "If you have a plan, share it here. I like all of my staff to have an input."

"Never mind captain, I'll speak to you about it later; right now let us focus on repairing the Nogura," replied Zar as he wished the captain showed more discretion in regards to private matters, the one thing he knew Captain Drayton would take under advisement.

"Anyone else?" the Captain queried, her hands on her hips as she looked around the room.

"I know it's a bit morbid but I'd like to search the debris from our lost ships. There may be components of use, with a Borg conflict it might be awhile before we can dry dock for proper repairs." Bergen said, "Perhaps our fighters could assist in the search once the Major clears her pilots and fighters."

"You have until repairs are complete," the Captain nodded.

"Thank you," Bergen replied turning his attention to his PADD and already beginning a list of priority salvage if they could find it.

After a few moments of silence, the Captain gave a nod. "Time to get to work everyone. Dismissed."

Zar waited for the entire room to clear out before he walked over to the captain "If I may have a moment their might be an option that hasn't been considered before that might want to be looked into as a last minutes option."

Kayla looked at the Bolian in utter silence before pulling out a vacant chair and staring at him. If he had something to say, he needed to make it quick. She had little time for him.

"I'll be quick," he said as he looked at her with his piercing blue eyes. He did not care for her, and she knew it; but at the end of the day she had no choice but to respect him. "As a last resort, we should consider the Omega directive; that's something we don't have to talk about now, but if we aren't able to hold the line and just one of the founding worlds falls. Then we might want to consider launching an attack against them with Omega, its just something to consider."

Kayla rose to her feet and shook her head with a smirk. “You really have no understanding of Federation rules, do you?” and with that, the Captain left the observation lounge in disgust at the suggestion from her acting executive officer.

Zar glanced at her back with his piercing eyes, a good captain would always have a back up plan incase things became even more dire; however he would allow her own folly and pride to consume her and watch her spiralling downfall....

M.A.R.S. - The Bringer of War?

Location: Officer's Quarters, Deck 04
On: Day 146 at 2200

ON:

Alexander began pulling his uniform jacket off before the doors had begun closing behind him. He continued de-clothing until there was nothing left to remove and stepped under the hot stream of water from the shower. Standing there as the grime, sweat and tears of the past few hours washed off him. If only it was as easy to wash the pain away.

He didn’t know how long he’d stood under the water, just letting it wash over him. Eventually he went through the motions of cleaning himself before shutting the shower off and reaching for a nearby towel. The cooler air in the bedroom caused a quick shiver to pass through him. He replicated some casual clothes, denim jeans and a plain white v-neck t-shirt, and pulled them on once sufficiently dry.

He’d just come from a rather tense meeting between assorted officers of the Nogura and Roehampton, the take away was that they would head to the Briar Patch to make repairs and regroup but their next step was unclear. That said, Alexander knew what his next step was. A refugee on the Nogura, he would be volunteering with the engineering teams to help make repairs.

“I’m too wired to sleep.” He said aloud to the empty room. Instead he decided to do a bit of reading; specifically, the technical specifications of the U.S.S. Nogura. He wasn’t sure how temporarily he’d be onboard and figured that he should spend some time getting to know her.

The one standout aspect of the Nogura, for him, was the Quantum Slipstream Drive. Prior to his assignment to the Roehampton, and a year spent on temporary assignment at JAG Headquarters, Alexander had undergone six months QSD training at Boscombe Down in England.

Xander spent the next hour reviewing the Nogura’s previous use of the drive; the sensor data, telemetry data, diagnostic data. The young pilot was in his element.

When he’d had his fill of studying the QSD, he prepared to deactivate the terminal. He stopped short when something else caught his eye. “M.A.R.S. System.” He’d never heard of it before. The specifications listed it’s status as ‘PENDING’. “What are you?” A little further digging revealed it to refer to the Multi-Adaptive Refractive Shield System.

A combination of two technologies, multi-adaptive shielding and refractive shielding, it would allow a ship to become invisible to sensors, not unlike a cloaking device. The difference is that if someone looked out a window, the ship would still be visible. ‘No doubt their way of getting around the Treaty of Algeron.’ He mused.

The technology had been tested out in simulations but hadn’t yet been tested in the field on a Starship. It was planned to have been installed and tested on the Nogura in the next few months but obviously the situation had changed. This new technology could provide a tactical advantage over the Borg that the Federation desperately needed.

Alexander quickly decided to bring this technology to the Captain’s attention. He began downloading the data onto a PADD. It would still have to be installed and tested but it could provide an important tool in their fightback against the Borg. There were no guarantees it would work but there were no certainties in life. ‘Except death.’ Xander thought bitterly.

He didn’t bother pulling his uniform on. Instead he replicated a pair of brown boots and fixed his hair to make himself presentable. Grabbing the PADD on his way out the door he asked, “Computer, locate Captain Desai-Scott.”

Almost Home

Location: USS Rhode Island
On: Day 146 at 2225

Bridge, USS Rhode Island

"Commander, shields are at five percent and falling!" Ensign Paige Harper called out, clinging on to the edge of the Ops station, eyes wide as another volley of weapons fire rocked the Rhode Island. "Engineering is not responding and I'm detecting multiple hull breaches, decks six through eight."

From the command chair, Commander Liam Leighton gave a curt not as his own display tracked the hellfire the Borg were raining down upon them. There had been no warning, no offer of surrendering to the Collective. Not that there was a chance in hell of them agreeing to such terms.

A science vessel, Rhode Island was not equipped to withstand such an onslaught but damned if they didn't try. Already several of his senior staff had been transported to sickbay, including his wife. Junior officers were now having to step up, to prove themselves worthy of the uniform. And he could not have been more proud.

"Shields are down," Lieutenant Jayk reported from tactical, "I am detecting multiple intruders throughout the ship. I am dispatching security teams and attempting to isolate those sections of the ship."

"Communications?"

"Still jammed," Harper reported. "Orders captain?"

It was futile he knew. But the order still came. "All hands," he announced, activating the ship wide comms, just as the distinctive sound of transporter beams filled the air, "Abandon ship."

And in that moment he knew. In under six minutes and 52 seconds, the Borg had essentially torn his ship apart. He thought of his crew. Of his wife. Was she evens still alive? He thought of home. And then, as the nearest drone turned to him, one shot brought the life of one Commander Leighton to an end.


< One hour later >


"Join Starfleet, they said. Discover the universe. And just when you are almost home, hey! Here comes the Borg..."

Eyes stinging and lungs burning from the acrid smoke filling the confined space, Lieutenant Commander Aria Winters paused to get her bearings. Far more reliable than her sense of direction in the dark, the defacto commander glanced at her tricorder before closing it over.

One more hatch between her and the shuttle bay.

Ignoring the near constant complaints from her 'companion', she looked up as another explosion rocked the ship. The weapons fire had stopped when the Borg had retreated and left them adrift. No, these were secondary explosions caused by structural and systems failures throughout the ship. It was literally tearing itself ship apart.

Besides herself, Aria had detected no other lifesigns on board. The rest of the crew were either dead or becoming 'one' with their new collective. And it had all been done with brutal efficiency. They had no time to even issue a distress signal, all frequencies jammed.

She had only survived because they had to have one of the most insane holograms ever to grace a medical bay. He had quite literally saved her life, killed her and then saved her life again. It had worked, obviously but he did not know that it would when he did it. She didn’t know if she should be grateful or furious. Instead she was just ... numb.

Chief Science Officer for most of her time aboard, Aria had become acting XO following the loss of Lieutenant Commander Wilson almost six months ago. In that time she had come to know every nut and bold of this ship, ever member of the crew. And now they were gone and the ship was not far behind.

Deciding not to waste whatever time this ship had left, she moved quickly through the Jeffries tube. Focusing on priorities.

They had to get off this ship, issue a distress signal and hope there was help nearby. Because those Borg ships had been on course for Betazed. They were just unfortunate enough to be in the way.

Reaching the hatch, she found the control panel dead. Just like everything else.

On the other side of the hatch lay Shuttle Bay One. The extensive damage to the ship was mirrored in the bay itself, although one section appeared to be relatively unscathed. And right there, like their own personal miracle, lay a shuttlecraft.

Another explosion, much closer this time, had the EMH emit a very feminine sounding screech, sliding closer as thicker, black smoke began to pour in. Time to move.

"Okay Doc, time to go," she said, closing over the tricorder and shifting so she could manually release the hatch when she was ready. "When this opens, we move and we move fast. There is no life support on the other side of this hatch but it is still presurised. We are going to the far side of the bay, to the Jupiter. Do you want me to take your emitter?"

"Absolutely not!" the hologram replied indignantly. "It will take at least two to traverse that bay will all of the damage and when you pass out from oxygen starvation, how will you get in to that shuttle unless I am with you."

"You weren't so shy killing me before," she quipped, "and does it look like I have pockets?"

"And when we get to said shuttle?" he demanded.

"We can breathe, for one thing. The we get out of there before the ship completely falls apart," she told him simply.

"Out how? The doors are sealed shut."

She looked at him like he was a malfunctioning toaster. "The ship isn't going to mind another hull breach, Doctor. She's lost and going to take us with us if we do not hurry so we make ourselves an exit. Okay...Ready?"

"I'm a doctor, of course I’m not!"

"Good enough. In that case..." she said, her hand poised on the manual release, "shall we?”

"Wait!" he called out as he scrambled after her into the dark. He was certain blood loss was affecting the woman's sanity.

"What do you mean, make an exit?!"


<< Shuttlecraft Jupiter >>

"I would urge you to remain still," the EMH advised, administering a hypospray while studying the readings on his medical tricorder, all the while humming a tune to himself. "While hardly the facilities a physician of my calibre is accustomed to, I believe you are well on the road to recovery, Commander. Rest, however, is recommended."

Lying on her back, Aria frowned, unable to remember even reaching the shuttle. She had been close, tantalisingly close, when another explosion seemed to bring the entire ship crashing down around them. The shuttle they had been aiming for disappearing beneath twisted metal that quickly buried the lifeline she had bet her chances on.

"Where are we?"

"The Jupiter," the hologram informed her. "and we are maintaining a short distance from the Rhode Island. I'm a doctor, not a pilot. And I had to tend to your injuries while I had the rare opportunity of having you sit still for more than five minutes."

Aria winced as she began to sit up. "But the Jupiter - "

"Undergoing repairs from the incident in the asteroid field. Yes. Well. Options were limited," he huffed. "We have life support, power, partial weapons and shields."

"But no comms system and they were still refitting the engines."

"I was," he said testily, "getting to that. I did not have the opportunity to ask it for a full service history before boarding."

"Okay, okay," she conceeded, not quite sure why she was trying to placate a hologram. "Starfleet will notice soon enough that we aren't on sensors anymore, and when we don't reach the starbase. They'll come for us. But I'd rather not wait around.

"Help me up, we'll find an engineering kit and see if we can do some more surgery. We need to is to get out a distress signal, Doc. Even if it is just for a few minutes."


<< twenty six hours later >>

Initiating the signal, drawing in power from any system they could spare, Aria leaned back against the bulkhead. It was basic, unencrypted and on a frequency rarely used but she sat through a lecture at the academy on how starships, and bases, still shifted through even reduntant frequncies. Just for the fun of it, she supposed.

The interior of the shuttle was a riot, components pulled from other systems to build even a semblence of a comm system. Of all the shuttles, he had to pick this one, she sighed as she looked down at the mobile emitter in the palm of her hand.

While she welcomed the company, the the contact burns he had healed while she did things that were definately not in the user manuals for shuttlecraft, when he started singing Klingon Opera she drew a line. Now there was just silence.

Now all she could do was hope someone was listening.

OFF

Late Night Musings

Location: Captain's Quarters
On: Day 147 at 0145

Alexander pressed the door chime of the temporary quarters assigned to the Captain. That was where the computer told him she was. He was starting to doubt his decision to inform the Captain of this, especially so late at night. 'Maybe the Captain's already aware of it and has dismissed it. Maybe Starfleet Command is already preparing to roll the technology out across the fleet and I'm behind the curve.' It was too late now, he'd pressed the chime.

Appearing at the doorway in her dressing gown, the Captain's hair was somewhat dishevelled and her eyes narrowed as she adjusted to the light of the corridor. When she realised who it was that had woken her from her slumber upon the incredibly comfortable couch in her room, she smiled at him as politely as she could. "Mister Mitchell. What can I do for you?"

"Sorry for disturbing you, Captain." He instantly regretted interrupting the Captain's sleep. "I didn't realise how late it is. Guess I lost track. This can wait until morning."

"Don't worry Alexander," she smiled as she stepped aside and let him enter her quarters. "So, what got you so engrossed at this time of night?" she queried, stepping over to the replicator."Drink?"

Xander shook his head. "I'm fine ma'am, thanks." As he watched the Captain replicate her beverage of choice, the Lieutenant continued, "I couldn't sleep so I decided to review the Nogura's specs. Nerd that I am, I wound up neck deep in the data on her QSD drive." He allowed himself a lopsided smile. "But I also found mention of something that I think we could use in our fight against the Borg."

He held the PADD out for the Captain to take. "It's called M.A.R.S., it stands for Multi-Adaptive Refractive Shielding. In a nutshell, it's a stealth technology that's one step sort of a cloaking device. In theory it'll render a ship invisible to sensors but if you looked out a window the ship would still be visible."

Returning to her sofa with a steaming cup of Raktajino in hand, the Captain took the data PADD and offered the Lieutenant a seat opposite her. She took a moment to read through the data he had presented her with before nodding. "I've heard about this. There were rumours of a system in the works that would be employed on the new Century-class starships. You think this system is aboard the Nogura?" she queried, sipping her beverage.

Xander nodded. "I believe so. They've already run simulations using the Nogura and the system was due to be installed and undergo field testing over the next few months." He sat back and sighed. "This won't tip the balance, but we could find it incredibly useful."

"Download every bit of material you can and run it past Commander Zar and the engineers," the Captain nodded as she passed the data PADD back to the Lieutenant. "We'll schedule some simulation time in the holodeck once they're online again. I'd like to see what it is we're looking at."

Xander accepted the PADD. "Aye ma'am. I was planning on working on repairs with the engineers anyway, at least until Starfleet can find me a permanent post." He paused for a moment. "I feel a little useless since the Roehampton's destruction...a little...lost, I guess."

"Well I was meaning to talk to you about that," the Captain smiled as she put her coffee cup on the table top and relaxed on the sofa again. "Since Admiral Azulas gave me command of the Nogura, she also gave me authority to freely assign people to roles, including survivors from any vessels we should encounter. That starts with the Roehampton crew. So, if you would be willing, I'd like you at Nogura's CONN from Alpha shift tomorrow?" she asked, looking at him with more than a little hope in her eyes. If he would say no, perhaps the rest of the Roehampton crew would? Not that she could blame them, the Borg had taken everything from them, or rather, she had because of the Borg.

Alexander smiled. He was a pilot, not an engineer. The Captain's request was music to his ears. "No place I'd rather be, ma'am." Taking a deep breath he continued, "I've only served under you a matter of weeks but I'd follow you to hell and back." He paused as his lips formed into a grim smile. "And before this is over, we may be doing just that." That wasn't a particularly positive note to end their conversation on but these were grim times. "Anyway, I'll let you get some sleep and I'll try and do the same myself. Goodnight Captain."

Rising to her feet, the Captain slowly made her way to the door, leading her guest to the exit. "Your words are very kind Lieutenant, and greatly appreciated. Get a good nights sleep and I'll see you on the bridge later," she smiled, giving the man a nod as she pressed the door control to grant access to the corridor.

Xander nodded before stepping out into the corridor. He doubted that a good nights sleep was on the cards for him but he would still try.

Resistance is Futile After All?

Reporting to the bridge at oh-seven-thirty, the new Captain of the Nogura did so to little fanfare, to little applause. She simply slid into her new role, and her new seat and silently observed the goings on in the command centre. It was just the way she wanted it, for now at least. The crew of this ship had been through an immense amount of change in recent weeks, they just needed to get on with the job at hand and dive into their work headfirst. They didn't need to dwell on their losses; there would be time for that later.

Someone who hadn't let the Captain's presence go unnoticed was Lieutenant Akaria Okan, the Cardassian who had only rejoined the ship for a brief period and now found herself assuming an unfamiliar role thanks to her friend, the ship's previous commander. She was observing the Captain in silence when her console began to beep, drawing everyone's attention to her. After some investigating, the Lieutenant reported in. "Captain," she began, "sensors have identified a distress call. Well, more of a distress beacon. It is transmitting on one of the older frequencies, but there is definitely someone transmitting a Starfleet signal," the Cardassian revealed.

Nodding slowly, the Captain looked down at the controls now at her disposal, the command chair of the Nogura somewhat different in design to the one she had found so comfortable on the Roehampton, but she found what she was looking for. Tapping a button, she opened a ship wide communique. "=/\=All senior staff, report to the bridge." When the comm channel closed, she would await the arrival of the senior staff before deciding on their next course of action.

Lieutenant Mitchell had been on the Bridge for roughly half an hour already. He'd relieved the Delta Shift CONN Officer at zero-seven-hundred and went about settling in at the controls of the Sovereign-class starship. The control layout was modified according to his own preferences and saved so that when next he logged in, it would automatically configure itself accordingly.

When the Lieutenant reported a distress beacon, Xander pulled the co-ordinates from the sensor data and brought up the navigation screen. The beacon was transmitting from a location between their present location and Betazed. 'A good bet whoever's sending this signal has had a run-in with the Borg.' He plotted a course for the co-ordinates of the beacon. The Captain hadn't given an instruction to do so but he felt it prudent to be ready.

"What's our best possible speed?" Kayla queried of her friend at the CONN as she tapped away on a data PADD she had been handed.

Xander quickly consulted his console, checking over the latest diagnostic reports regarding the warp drive. "Warp Seven point Five." He replied. "QSD is still offline." He was rather disappointed at that and found it difficult to hide.

"Move us to intercept," the Captain nodded in response, "warp seven."

Lieutenant Mitchell worked his console. "Warp seven, aye." The engines engaged, propelling the Nogura along on the course he had plotted.

Bergen took his position at the science station and began focusing the sensor towards their target. "Ma'am, I'm not able to detect what exactly is transmitting the signal, it may be an actual beacon or a ship with an automated distress transponder. The signal is text only. I'm also detecting quite a bit of interference on the channel, I don't think we'd be able to send a signal back to them until we're much closer."

Zar entered the bridge a few moments after the captain requested that all the senior staff be present, he had just finished gathering the latest reports from the majority of the departments except for a couple of them. As he stepped off the turbolift he heard about the distress signal issuing out a text, which was normally not the standard run of the mill distress call. "Captain," he said as he moved towards the first officers chair. "I suggest we encrypt the Nogura's computer systems; we do not know if the carrier signal is corrupted or what. Also this is very strange that we are picking up this kind of a distress signal."

Weldon burst off of the turbolift shortly after Zar's own arrival. The recently appointed Chief Engineer of the Nogura appeared less fashionable than one should be on arrival to the command center of a ship. His face and uniform were dirtied in suit, from several hours worth of extensive repairs and hard labour. "=/\= No no no. I told you to reroute from decks seven through twelve, sections nine through thirteen." He quietly shouted this to one of his junior engineers through his comm badge upon making his way over to the engineering station on the bridge.

Madigan's hands moved across the station with urgency, activating several diagnostics and subsystem displays. Another minute or so of some muffled and slightly heated exchanges would be audible to those around him. The Master Chief's own temper and harsh demeanor would shine through in a few particular comments. The skeleton engineering crew were overworked, undermanned and were having to deal with an unexpected change in departmental command. There was also the reality that this ship wasn't his. Weldon was thrown into a department that he considered worked half-ass backwards in some ways, with only some of his former crew mates which had made it out alive with him.

After aggressively tapping away on the engineering console for a few seconds, confirming several repair team tasks and adjusting the prioritization schedule Weldon finally looked back and made eye contact with Desai-Scott. Perhaps the only saving grace of the recent days gruelling events was the fact that his Commanding Officer from the Roehampton had stayed alive and was now in command of the Nogura. Master Chief Madigan did not like most people he encountered or worked with but he respected the Captain and would give her his best.

Next to arrive was the now-squadron commander of the Nogura, whose long-legged form strode onto the bridge with purpose and what some had called (not to her face) her "resting bitch face" on. She looked around and moved nearer to the captain, overhearing just enough to know that a signal of some sort had been detected. "Captain," she greeted laconically, by way of letting her CO know she was there but would wait to hear more to know her position in it.

Desai-Scott nodded to the Chief Engineer and then to the Squadron Leader in turn before gesturing for the fighter pilot to take the seat to her left. "I'd be interested in your assessment of things as time goes on Major. Welcome, to the bridge," Kayla smiled to Keil before looking back to the Master Chief. "How go the repairs, Chief?" she queried of the senior most enlisted man on the ship.

'About as quickly as two snails fucking.' Weldon thought to himself, almost out loud. He resisted the urge to give some sarcastic reply to Kayla and instead danced around it, "With the resources I have Captain, they're going as well as can be expected." Really - his crew were outnumbered with tasks at present and things were not happening as fast as he would have liked but there was little he could do in terms of replicating more engineers.

"Use whoever you need to get things done. I can't imagine we'll be at a Starbase anytime soon," the Captain directed with a nod to the enlisted man before looking back to the CONN. "ETA to the source of the transmission?"

Mitchell glanced over at a countdown clock display he had running. "We'll reach the beacon's coordinates in just over three minutes."

Zar slowly closed his eyes and pressed against the upper bridge of his nose and slowly moved down releasing the built of tension, he moved his fingers over the side console next to his chair and started pulling up status reports from the various departments. It had been a struggle here lately, and even more so since everything had transpired, however he was not going to allow that to affect him as he continued to read the various reports coming in.

"Commander Zar," Kayla called out, "are we any closer to knowing what exactly it is we are searching for?"

Bergen's eyes were glued to the sensor readings coming in, as if he was willing the sensors to reveal more information than they were. With each passing minute more data came in as they got closer, the readings definitely looked to match a buoy or probe of some sort, something designed for long range message transmission over a longer period of time, possibly an emergency beacon or log recorder. He began another series of scans focusing on the signal itself and sent his finding to the Ops station.

Using the Nogrua's lateral sensor arrays, he used a small amount of the reserve power and boosted the sensors to increase their range outwardly. As he was doing sensor sweeps of the area the image and results were not coming in clear at all; since the last battle the sensors hadn't been fully repaired and so it was expected to get unpredictable readings. "Ship sensors are having a hard time find out what is coming from that particular transmission as it can literally anything from a Runabout to an escape pod; especially using that particular emergency communication frequency." Zar refined the sensors to read along the communications C-band range and fine tuned the sensors to get an accurate reading. After a couple of sensor sweeps on the new band frequency, the sensors started identifying what looked like a small shuttlecraft; according to the images that where appearing on the console in front of him. However with the Borg in the area he did not want the ship to be lead into a trap and so he pulled up the emergency frequency and transposed it into the ship's computer data base and pulled up matching listings for those types of frequencies from Federation shuttlecraft; and after a couple of seconds it matched up. "Looks like to be a Federation shuttlecraft on our long range sensors."

"I've made some headway on the transmission, we've made out a Federation transponder code." Bergen chimed in from Science.

"Thank god there is someone else out there," the Captain whispered as she collapsed back into her chair with a sigh of relief. "Transmit a response on all Federation frequencies. Let them know that help is on the way," she then looked towards Zar, "standby any available transporter system. We're too cramped on the flight decks to bring anyone other craft aboard," she told.

Keil could only agree with that silently, of course, but she did chime in here. "We could make some room if we had to, Captain," she drawled, "but a quick launch for the fighters, if needed, would then become nearly impossible."

Bergen listen to the exchange, he didn't like the idea of handicapping one of their major tactical assets before an inevitable battle with the Borg. "We've got room in Cargo bay 3 to convert it to temporary housing if needed. If we end up with a lot of people to accommodate."

"All of the cargo bays have already been converted Lieutenant Bergen to accommodate the Roehampton's crew," replied Zar as he started to prepare the main transporter room to prepare to receive personnel from the stranded shuttlecraft. "However captain, I can have my personnel to convert some of the officer's quarters from double to quads by replicating double bunk beds; that will free up some more space." Zar sent a personal message from his console to his Asst. Chief to prepare to do just that, and when the transporter room responded back that everything was powering up Zar gave a small inward smile. "Captain, transporter room reports that everything is ready. However from here we can trigger the shuttle's auto-destruct sequence, I doubt Starfleet would worry about the destruction of a single shuttle."

"We'll scuttle the shuttle," the Captain nodded as she rose to her feet. "I'll be in the transporter room. Zar, the bridge is yours," the Captain told, somewhat reluctantly, as she headed for the aft turbo lift.

"Aye Captain," replied Zar as he turned in his chair and moved towards the center chair on the bridge and sat down, and watched as his on duty back up Ensign Bahr took the operations station.

==[Transporter Room]==

Entering the transporter room, the Captain nodded at the assembled medics and then looked towards the transporter chief before tapping her commbadge. "=/\=Desai-Scott to bridge. We're ready down here," she told.

Ensign Bahr used the transporter systems to pierce the interior of the shuttle craft to pick up the two life signs. After the life signs were picked up on their signatures where quickly scanned and locked on to. When Petty Officer Jordan got the sensor data read out at the main console, she pressed a few buttons and activated the Nogura's transporter system.

Commander Winters released a deep breath as the transporter released the two occupants who had been plucked from the shuttlecraft. Since they entered sensor range, she had been tracking the Nogura's approach, yet until now it didn't quite seem real.

Glancing over her shoulder she made sure Lexa was also aboard, knowing it meant her unexpected companion could receive proper medical care. Which from the looks of the medics, they were ready to provide.

Nevertheless, the EMH's holo emitter was firmly held in the palm of Aria's hand. It had been a last minute decision, figuring they were more likely to transport them aboard. And while he could be a monumental pain in the ass, he had also been invaluable.

Clutching her side, moving gingerly, she moved towards the one woman who was not clad in medical blues. Just from the way she carried herself, it was clear she was a commanding officer. "Thank you, Captain. I wasn't sure if anyone would pick up our signal."

“Welcome to the Nogura,” Kayla smiled as she offered a hand to the woman who had addressed her. “My name is Captain Kayla Desai-Scott. And you are?”

“Commander Aria Winters,” Aria said, moving to shake her hand and quickly pulling her hand back when she realised it was stained with blood. Moving it back to her side she offered an apologetic smile before adding, “I was aboard the U.S.S. Rhode Island when it was attacked. The Commander,” she gestured to Lexa, “was aboard the Sovereign.”

Captain Desai-Scott looked at the injured Lieutenant Commander and gestured for the medics to take her to sickbay for assistance. It was going to be a long old day.

=====[Bridge]=====

Zar watched on the center chair's console that the transporter sequence had been completed, Zar gave a nod that the repairs to the transporter system had been most successful. "Ensign Bahr transmit the self destruct sequence to the shuttle and set the time for fifteen second count down on my mark," replied Zar. His relief ops officer moved his fingers across his console and pulled up the shuttlecraft's registry number, and found the unlocking code into the shuttle's main computer system. Once he was in he remote activated the self-destruct sequence on the shuttle and set the timer for 15 seconds. "Commander Zar, self-destruct sequence is ready to arm on your orders sir."

"Excellent, Lieutenant Bergen keep an active long range scan for any Borg ships I don't want us caught off guard. Lieutenant Mitchell lay in a course for the Briar Patch and takes us to maximum attainable warp."

"Maintaining full sensor scans, nothing at present." Bergen replied.

Xander had already plotted the course that would see them continue on towards the Briar Patch and input it to the navigational computer. It was only a simple matter of engaging the engines. "Accelerating to warp speed." He announced as the Nogura began pushing beyond sublight speeds and began her faster than light onward journey to the Briar Patch.

Zar watched on the view screen as the Nogura jumped into warp, he knew he only had a few moments before the distance was too great between the two ships to activate the self-destruct; but he wanted to make sure that the Nogura was safely away. "Ensign Bahr, send the transmission." The young ensign quickly activated a series of buttons which sent the frequency to the shuttlecraft. "Transmission has been sent sir, self destruct sequence is in progress."

"Lieutenant Bergen, let me know when we have confirmation on that detonation via ships sensors," said Zar as he quickly compiled up a report for the captain on her return to the bridge.

"Aye sir," Bergen replied, a moment later the sensors registered the anti-matter explosion of the forced core breach. "Sir, the vessel has been destroyed."

"Excellent," replied Zar as he relaxed a bit. He looked down at the console and checked the steady reports flowing in from the transporter tech indicating that the pattern buffers were going to need to be re-calibrated. "Luca, looks like Petty Officer Jordan needs some additional help in re-calibrating the pattern buffers in the main transporters; assign two people to give her a helping hand, who knows who else might need saving while we are heading to the patch."

"Aye sir," came his reply as his fingers move across the consoles making the appropriate assignments from the duty roster to assist.

With the the rescue op complete and surprisingly gone off without a hitch the Lieutenant returned his focus to the long range sensors. The secondary science station had been re-purposed as Borg Patrol HQ and manned by a rather surly tactical officer. Every spare watt of power was routed to sensors or engines the Trill was still a bit worried the battered Nogura may fly apart at any moment. He turned his focus back on his readings and willed the vessel to make it to the Briar patch and reinforcements in one piece, but dread was starting to bubble up in him, what if there were no reinforcements?

Zar was monitoring the bridge he his eyes feel on Eza, he slowly pushed himself up from the center chair and walked over to the young officer and leaned down near him to where only he could hear. "Something on your mind Eza?" Zar said dropping the formalities.

"No sir, hoping we don't run into anything more on our way." The Scientist replied.

"Your not the only one thinking that Eza," replied Zar as he himself let out a hopeful sigh. For once he was hoping that things would break right for them eventually, it had been a whirlwind for all of them. "I've been hoping and asking that we catch a bit of a break ourselves. You've been doing an excellent job, and Captain Drayton would be proud of you."

Bergen just nodded keeping is eyes on his readings as the sensors probed for any signs of Borg activity.

Zar gave the young lieutenant a quick pat on his shoulder and then walked towards the center chair and sat back down.

With the ship en-route to an area of relative safety, the crew had a number of hours to get the ship in shape for what was to come.

Appointing a New Leadership Structure

Location: Observation Lounge
On: Day 147 at 1125

It had been a matter of hours since the survivors of the Sovereign and the Rhode Island had been rescued and in total, some almost fifty people had been found in a variety of locations around the Betazed sector, but now the ship had returned to its previous course to meet up with the fleet that was forming in the Badlands, ready for the counter-attack on the Borg. Captain Desai-Scott had put everyone they had rescued to work, supplementing the Nogura crew and, in some cases, offering them permanent roles with the crew to fill vacancies that had arisen. Largely, she had replaced many of the Drayton-club, eager to put her own stamp on the ship now that she had been given command. They had shown their previous commander great loyalty but she had already sensed that some of them would struggle to come round to her way of thinking - most notably the acting First Officer.

It was clear that she and the Bolian were not going to agree on virtually anything. They had clashed from the minute she had come aboard and every suggestion, either way, was met with resistance from both sides. Maybe part of it was due to some innate feeling or need to take control on her part, to assert her authority on her new crew, but she couldn't help but think that he resisted and gave ridiculous suggestions just to test her. But now she would see how he would react to her new 'test'.

Kayla had summoned both Zar and one of the survivors from the Rhode Island to the Observation Lounge (she still hadn't brought herself to take ownership over the ready room that had belonged to Captain Drayton, although she would have to do so eventually).

The first of the two to arrive, Lt.Commander Winters paused just inside the doors of the Observation Lounge. The space was not much smaller than the entire Bridge aboard the Rhode Island and infinitely more spacious than a shuttle.

While a scientist at heart she had thrown herself into helping with repairs the moment the doctors hinted that she could leave Sickbay. Keeping busy was preferable to dwelling on what happened.

“Lt.Commander Winters, reporting as ordered, Captain,” Aria announced.

Zar had been walking among the departments to check on the repairs and to see how things were going, and he also spoke with the Nogura's crew to see how they were doing when he was summoned to meet with Captain Scott. He had stopped by his quarters quickly to put on a new uniform jacket as the other had gotten dirty and picked up a padd and headed straight for the captain's location. Once he arrived he walked inside the observation lounge and saw another officer standing their, he did not recognize her; but she did seem familiar. None the less he walked in as he straightened his uniform jacket, "you called for me captain?" he asked.

"Yes," Desai-Scott smiled as she gestured for both officers to take a seat at the table. "I've asked you both her to address the issue of the vacant executive officer role aboard ship," the Captain began. "It is clear that whilst rank does not differentiate you from one another, your experiences do. You are both eminently qualified in your own ways and whilst Commander Zar has service aboard the Nogura in his favour, Commander Winter's most recent role was as an executive officer on the Rhode Island, which gives her positional superiority."

From her seat, Aria glanced at the Bolian as the Captain set out the reason for summoning them both. While she was a sole survivor from her own crew, Zar, as far as she knew, was a long standing member of this one. Yet the ship had become a gathering of Nomads, effectively four crews coming together as one.

Zar quietly sat their waiting to hear her decision. It was interesting enough that in this case that he would excel beyond Commander Winters. Just because she was recent in her posting does not mean that she was in the superior position, the captain just wanted to give an excuse to do away with him.

"I have decided that, with the task at hand, it would be a mistake to take our most experienced department head and Chief Operations Officer away from a critical role. With that in mind, Commander Winters, I wish to congratulate you on your new role as executive officer of the Nogura," the Captain revealed as she held out a hand to the newcomer.

Aria was momentarily speechless, standing as she shook the captain's hand. "It would be an honour, Captain."

Zar had literally had enough, as the padd his had in his hand emitted a sharp electronic whine as his hands crushed the glass; crushing the internal processing unit within. "permission to speak freely?"

"If you must Commander," the Captain nodded.

"I was going to hold my peace but I am not going to do so any longer," he said he clearly stood up causing the chair that he was in to push backwards; eventually tipping over as the friction from the carpet caused it to do so. "You have been odds with me since you came on board the Nogura. You were angry with me because I would not simply turn over command of the Nogura because you out ranked me. Then you belittle me during the senior staff meeting when I attempted to offer sound suggestions to your strategies. You mocked my two years as a commanding officer, and now you make up some damn fucking excuse to put someone in the First Officer's chair who just came aboard not only two days ago!"

"No commanding officer in her right mind would place someone who has just been through a traumatic event with her as the sole survivor in that chair right now! You don't even know her! I am the one who rallied the Nogura's crew when you were placed in command by Starfleet Command. I am the one who has made sure that the Nogrua's repairs and all the departments were still operating. I am the one who put aside feelings and told the Nogura crew to work side by side with the Roehampton's crew as this was a brutal war!" Zar by this time had thrown the already damaged padd onto the ground and listened to it shatter in a thousand pieces.

"My second in command is just as experienced in the operations department, you know that because he is still filling in as I was the Acting Executive Officer. Just be up front with me and tell me you do not care for me and you do not want me in that chair because WE DO NOT GET ALONG! I could have better respected that decision than the bullshit one you just made up!"

Aria arched an eyebrow as she listened to the tirade. Clearly she was late to this party, given the grievance her fellow officer had just aired. Not to mention the unfortunate end his PADD had met. She refused to take his offence personally, he did not know her just as she did not know him. And she was effectively being moved in to replace him. Which was never easy to take. From that perspective she sympathised.

From an other, she did not believe he was helping win his argument.

"Perhaps you do not need to respect the decision, Commander," Aria suggested, her voice the very essence of calm, "but you do have to respect the uniform. Everyone, including you, has gone through something traumatic in the past few days. Now is the time for us to find ways to work together, not forget who we are and fight amongst ourselves when the real fight is out there."

"But that's just the point Commander Winters, we are forgetting who we are," replied Zar as he took several deep breaths and was able to start calming down after just yelling. "What good does it do to respect the uniform that the three of us are currently wearing, when you do not respect the person that is wearing the uniform." Zar paused for a bit and bent down and picked up the broken padd on the floor. "This padd right here is broken, and it can be fixed and repaired. It computes data just like another padd we have on board; but just because this padd has sustained the amount of damage that it has does it mean that it should be tossed away just because of the damage? Because that's what it feels like. Yet for the uniform we are forced to respect it but not the person inside it. I will follow your decision, but I do not have to like it nor do I have to respect the decision."

Rising to her feet the Captain stared the Bolian dead in the eye. "Do I detect a mutinous tone to your language, Commander? I couldn't give a flying frak if you like my decisions or not. If you do not wish to serve as a member of MY crew Commander, you are more than welcome to leave your rank insignia and comm badge here, on this desk. If you leave this room with them on, you will damn well respect and follow my decisions and orders or I'll have you tossed in the Brig where you can rot until the ship is destroyed or the Borg assimilate you. Is that understood?!" the Captain fumed, almost forgetting the new XO's presence.

"I understand that you are not used to being questioned or challenged Captain Desai-Scott, so it would be reasonable for someone like you to take my out burst as that of treason. I aired out my grievances for you to address as a commanding officer and not someone who is displaying hurt feelings. The only reason why I am staying on the Nogura is because their is no current ship for me to transfer to at this point; and the Nogura's crew still needs a voice."

“The Nogura crew HAVE a voice. It’s a shame you are hell bent on ensuring yours is the only one heard,” the Captain retorted as she slid back into her chair. “There will be plenty of assignments waiting for you when we reach the Briar Patch Commander,” she nodded, “I’ll be happy to accept your transfer request at that stage. You are dismissed.”

"I will make sure that the latest departmental reports that I've collected are turned over for your review Commander Winters," he said as he gave her a nod and turned and narrowed his eyes at the captain of the Nogura. He slowly pivoted on his back heel and slowly walked out of the observation lounge with his fist balled up. From now on he wouldn't say a word, he would allow her own downfall to be upon her head.

With the troublemaker removed from the equation at last, the Captain looked at the new XO. "I apologise about that Commander. Tensions have been running high since Starfleet Command made their decision," she told before pulling up a map on the large screen in the observation lounge. "We're headed to the Briar Patch to rendezvous with the gathering fleet. We will then, as per our orders, launch a counter offensive against the Borg here," she pointed to the map. "It is essential we break through to Earth or the Resistance to this threat will be over before it has begun," Kayla added, looking at the XO in hope that she would support the decision and their orders. The last thing she needed right now was another Zar on her hands.

Aria listened intently as she studied the map. “I assume the Briar Patch is to deter or slow down the Borg?” She commented, not expecting a response. A counterattack would be difficult but necessary. This was the Borg. “How long until we arrive?”

"A few hours," Kayla nodded with folded arms, "once there, we'll begin a series of sensor sweeps and put some early warning systems in place."

As the two officers continued to talk through the proposed mission with the fleet, the ship continued at great pace to the Briar Patch.

Search

Location: Space
On: Day 147 at 1430

Bergen sat at the secondary science station on the bridge which was being used to receive the sensor telemetry from the flight of fighters being used to help search the debris field.

"How's it looking Major?" He asked over the open comm channel. They so far hadn't found much.

"It's looking like someone shot several ships to hell," Brynna replied in a half-grumble sort of voice. Hauling herself and only-mostly-functional birds was not her idea of fun and, let's be honest, she was still reeling not just from the loss of her ship and most of the people she'd known on it but also almost two-thirds of her own air group. A little more professionally, she said, "So far, not a great deal, although..." She checked her HUD. "I may have something... Stand by."

Bergen trained the sensors on the area near the Majors fighter, he was picking up a faint energy signal. "Looks like something might still be running."

Brynhild nodded, a little, in her helmet, even though she knew he couldn't see it. "Yeah, that's what I see too," she agreed, staring at her HUD. "Sensors on this poor bird still aren't great. Can you tell me if it looks like something that's gonna go boom when I approach?"

The Trill scientists fingers danced over the controls on his station, "I mean, a lot of this can go boom, but I think we're good. It looks like it may be the majority of an impulse reactor." He replied. "You should be safe to move in closer."

"I'm trusting you. If I get blown to Odin's hall, I'm coming back to haunt you," she drawled as she carefully guided her fighter in closer. As she did, her own sensors began working better. After all, fighter craft weren't meant for science or heavy sensor ops. They worked better up close. Even more true when still somewhat damaged, like hers was. "I think you're right about it being an impulse reactor. My bird ain't equipped to bring that in, though. Someone else will have to come out and get it if you want it."

"I'm tagging the location, we've got a type 11 gearing up to come pick it up." Eza replied, "I'm also picking up a pretty large tritanium signature, it's likely a large piece of hull, bearing 123 mark 52 from your current heading. Want to check out it out?"

"On it," she replied, adjusting her course. "Do we want large pieces of hull?" She wasn't used to having to salvage for the ship's parts, after all, and she had never been an engineer so what was salvageable or useful for a starship was not necessarily top on her list of knowledge.

"We've still got a couple holes we need to plug, given our other damage if we could get a large piece it would provide some resources at the very least. Replicating the alloys to repair damage to the hull is quite energy intensive." Bergen replied.

"Understood," Brynna said with the verbal version of a nod, since nodding would not be seen nor was really possible in the helmet she wore as part of her flight suit. She steered her bird on course with his directions, weaving in and around the wreckage field and trying to not think too much about where it all came from... "Looks like you're right, Lieutenant. A pretty large piece at that. It--"

She stopped short when she saw the body floating, half-attached to it. Swallowing hard, she forced herself to hold her self-command. "Tell me there's no life signs coming from it. There can't be, I'm sure, but I'm seeing a...mostly intact body."

"No life signs Major, we also had a couple teams do an initial search as soon as we were out of the immediate threat of the Borg, anyone you," He paused trying to think of the right words, "Come across, is no longer with us."

"Understood," she replied. It wasn't like she hadn't known that, rationally, but there was still something in the brain that compelled one to ask... "We can tag this for collection too. The hull piece looks intact for what of it there is. Warn anyone collecting it, though, that the body seems attached to the hull somehow."

Bergen gulped as he felt the taste of bile rising in his throat. "Noted. I think we've gotten the most of what we can use if you want to do one more wide sweep and then bring her home."

Brynna blew out a sigh, her voice and demeanor notably...quieter. "Will do. I'll be back to the nest shortly."

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