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.

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

Location: Various
On: Day 146 at 2040

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...

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