GENWiki

Premier IT Outsourcing and Support Services within the UK

User Tools

Site Tools


archive:stories:vgilante

The Vigilante

Hello, Greetings, Salutations, etc, Well, its finally here. The latest chapter of The Vigilante. Please forgive me for the horrendous delay but I've been trying.

Following are as far as I know the latest versions of all previous chapters of my epic master piece. Along with the newest. I've tried to atleast spell check the thing, so at least that much is right. As for continuity, flow, readability, wellll, I don't think its too bad, but I've been looking at it tooo much lately.

I am *VERY* interested in any and all comments. Please let me know what you like, don't like, have trouble following etc. I am receptive to all feed back. also knowing people are reading my stuff keeps me writing.

If there are any major flow errors please let me know, even send the offending portion, I had to recover a large portion from a major disk failure and may have lost some portions.

For those not familure with the Vigilante, it is a work in process,(has been for over a year now) It is a Star Trek the Next Generation Universe story but follows a different ship and crew. The Big E and gang only make cameo appearences.

I hope you enjoy it and I hope to work on and maybe even finish the last chapter, VI "Full Circle" some time this year.

Larry 1160 Boyer Rd Erie, Pa 16511

len101@psuvm.psu.edu The following is a ST:TNG universe story, all rights reserved. Permission is granted to copy and distribute to anybody free of charge. If anybody includes in in a Fanzine or anything, just let me know and send me a copy. and of course always include this header or a better version of it :)

Standard disclaimers apply, All Poetry taken from the _Collected Works of Robert Service_ without permission but great respect

Larry


Lawrence Nagy 1160 Boyer Rd Erie PA 16511

as always, any feedback, comments, discussion, money, uncancled non-US postage stamps are always welcome and appreciated.

                T H E   V I G I L A N T E
                            I
                      "The Drawing"

Have ever you heard of the Land of Beyond,

  That dreams at the gates of the day?

Alluring it lies at the skirts of the skies,

  and ever so far away;

Alluring it calls: O ye the yoke galls,

  and ye of the trail overfond,

With saddle and pack, by paddle and track,

  Let's go to the land of beyond!
                                 ....
                      Robert Service
                      "THE LAND OF BEYOND"
  The Tau-Epsilon star system was remote even by Star Fleet

standards, of course this was one of the reasons it was chosen. It was also a very crowded system with twelve planets and 6 different asteroid belts. The five innermost planets were 'rocks' with the rest being gas giants. The system also had a very uneven planetary plane making the inner planets a little bit more difficult to approach.

  The fourth planet from the yellow Tau-Epsilon sun had a

barely breathable atmosphere. In years past there had been a small mining operation on the planet but it had been abandoned for a more profitable system. The habitats left behind, however, had made a great base camp for the project now nearing completion.

  Star Fleet didn't normally make a habit of constructing a

star ship in such a remote location. This ship, however, was extremely unique not only in its design but also in its mission.

  The flat black of the space dock girders hung in a close

orbit around TE-4. Inside the frame work was a truly different star ship. The large saucer section and warp engines made it unmistakably Star Fleet. The saucer section was obviously old, even the lowest cadet at the academy would know that it shouldn't be tied to the new style warp engines especially four of them. There were a number other things that a trained eye would pick out wrong with this ship. Some that shouldn't be on a saucer section that old and others that simply were not Star Fleet standard.

  Along the girders were a number of prefabricated

buildings. All habitats for the workers and equipment were contained in the buildings set up along the girders. These accommodations would normally be provided for either planet side or in a nearby space station. That, however, was quite impractical here. Once the space dock was completed the workers were grateful to be away from the old mining habitats. The VE-4 space dock had become a self contained world with but one purpose, build the ship.

  Most of the construction and workers were no longer

visible as they had moved inside the ship to make it space worthy. A few white suited workers could be seen along the girders and in and around the ship tying up loose ends.

  Standing alone barely noticeable against the black of the

girders and the continuous night about them was a lone figure in a black pressure suit. As construction neared completion the man came and stood here more often, staring at the ship.

  Captain Anthony watched his ship near completion, and

thought of the mission ahead, it was suicide by it's very nature. This, however, hadn't deterred him from accepting command. It also didn't have an effect on volunteers to crew the ship even though no one knew the ship, its name its design or its mission. All that was known was that it was extremely hazardous duty with only single, unattached and experienced personnel considered for duty.

  Anthony glanced down at the displays in his helmet, the

Enterprise should be arriving soon he thought, it had entered the system just before he had stepped out. The security for the sector and the system was extremely tight. The Enterprise would approach so as always to have TE-4 between it and the Space Dock. The fewer people who saw the ship or even knew about it the better. The consequences of information falling into the wrong hands Picard and the officers of the Enterprise knew all too well.

  This is why Enterprise was the only ship that visited

TE-4. It is also why there were no records being kept of the visits and the sensors were never used to check the construction site. Simple beacons and indirect communications were the only proof the Enterprise had that anything was here at all. The only reason Picard went along with this was that he knew the basic, ultimate mission of what ever was happening here, that was enough.


  "Sir, approaching minimum distance to beacon signal." A

young navigator said as the Enterprise entered orbit about the barren TE-4.

  "Thank you, Ensign" said Captain Picard.  He then turned

to his first officer and said "Number one, inform our guests to gather their belongings and report to their designated transporter….."

  The navigator pushed a strand of her red hair off her

forehead and stared at the planet on the view screen. In the background she could hear the conversation of the bridge crew, however unless she picked up something pertaining to her or her job she just filtered the noise out.

  Ensign O'Malley was a dreamer and self proclaimed

romantic. She was born on the feral colony on Vega-5 and adopted when she was twelve by Doctor Peter O'Malley. The ships physician of the first star ship to visit V-5 in over 200 years. Many of the warlords of V-5 rejected Star Fleet claiming the colony was settled before the current Federation charter was signed, therefore, they were protected by the Prime Directive. After months of negotiations Star Fleet finally pulled out, but not before little Janice had been adopted.

  She had been on board the Enterprise for quite some time

but rarely worked with top bridge crew. Her normal shift was usually second or third by the ships schedule. The only times she worked with them was in special situations when the captain's presence was required during her shift or an emergency arrived. The only problem was that during emergencies she was usually relieved for the more experienced first shift navigator. This was one of those rare occasions when something important enough was happening during her shift to bring the Captain out of his hole but not important enough for them to bring the whole first shift crew to the bridge.

  Janice O'Malley always dreamed of what lay just out of

sight. She had that desire to open a closed door, turn just one more corner, to look to the other side of the horizon. This caused great conflict in her during these missions, she greatly wished to conjecture to her shipmates her ideas as to what was on the other side of this horizon. However, for security reasons all talk on the subject was prohibited.

  During the first trip to the system Ensign O'Malley had

noticed that the automatic navigation log had been disengaged prior to her shift. When she brought this up with the officer of the shift he reminded her of the no record order by Star Fleet and all automatic logs had been deactivated. It was highly stressed that no one should talk about or enter personal logs that revealed any details of the mission.


  Standing along the corridors of one of the lower decks

was a long line of assorted Star Fleet personnel with bags packed and mostly looks of irritation. They had been relegated to one small (comparatively) area of the ship, then basically quarantined. The regular personnel had no contact with them and they were not permitted in other parts of the ship without an escort. Even though the need for extreme security was carefully laid out to them there was still enough complaining from a few to make the whole lot start feeling discontentment.

  "I can't believe it, they keep us holed up in one area of

this enormous ship for the whole trip than they don't even have the decency to use all of their transporters to get us out of here quickly. Its like first they don't want us here than they don't want us to leave." The man sounding off was one of the usual complainers. He was a large, barrel shaped, bearded human who was apparently some sort of expert in weaponry but no one was quite sure since he boasted proficiency in just about everything.

  "Mr Dolittel, why don't you bless us with your silence

for once. We're finally getting somewhere and we still must listen to you babble on." The speaker was about ten places down the hall from Dolittel. She was a dark skinned humanoid who could look Dolittel square in the chest. She was slim and well proportioned compared to a human female and wore the yellow uniform and insignia of security. She was not tall by any means but was well muscled. She had a high forehead reminiscent of a Klingon but wasn't one. Her long black hair was pulled into a braid and hung down the middle of her back.

  "Commander Tarva, Sir, I didn't see you there." Dolittel

mumbled and turned back toward the transporter room. Dolittel's griping had come to a halt, at least for a while.

  Tarva stood patiently with her satchel at her feet.  Her

stance was a classic military at-ease posture. Though a Star Fleet Academy alumni her up bringing and background on her home-world was very strict military. It was this strict military background that helped her move quickly up through the pseudo-military Star Fleet.

  She could hear the constant hum of the transporters in

the room ahead as the line slowly moved forward. Suspicious by nature and profession she could not help but feel they were lined up like 'algots going to the slaughter'.


  As the Enterprise's transporter room dissolved around

her, a new one took its place. The room was extremely large maybe ten times the size of Enterprise's if not larger. Her background immediately showed it self again as she figured one could transport nearly a whole Kalonian battalion at one time from here.

  "I told you, they could have transported us here in a

quarter of the time if they wanted to." of course Dolittel would be the first thing she'd hear upon arrival.

  Standing in front of the control panel for this section

of the transporter was a average hight, slightly balding human with long, black-gray hair pulled back in a pony tail. The man was wearing a loose fitting black uniform with no visible sign of rank but some standard Star Fleet insignia. The uniform had several large pockets on the jacket and more on the pants, even on the lower parts of the legs.

  The shoes seemed out of place with the obvious utility of

the uniform, they were soft low cut with a sole that could barely be described as firm. It occurred to Tarva that these were not standard for the uniform but were in fact boot liners for a pressure suit. The realization made her smile and think "I'm going to like this man".

  A man in white coveralls of a construction worker stepped

forward and asked for their I.D. cards. These he handed to the man in the black uniform. The man looked at each card and though it was obvious he had done this with every person who had come aboard he still actually read at least the name on each card. It was not as if he were looking for someone, it was as if he were trying to match everybody's name and face the first time by.

  "Welcome aboard" he said as he handed the cards back to

the man in the coveralls. "I'm Captain Anthony," the hum of another portion of the large transporter could be heard next to them. "please follow this gentleman he'll show you to your quarters. Be patient, this ship is still under construction, some things aren't working yet and your also going to have to share quarters with more personnel than they were designed for until others are ready". As they gathered their belongings and stepped off the transporter a woman in white coveralls asked the new arrivals on the other transporter for their I.D. cards.

  "Commander Tarva." the captain said as Tarva turned to

exit with her group.

  "Yes, Sir." she said facing the captain and coming to

attention.

  "Please report back here after you get settled."
  "Yes, Sir." she repeated as the captain turned his

attention to the new batch of I.D. cards, the transporter pad she was just on hummed with new arrivals. Many people would have thought Captain Anthony rude with them or at least curt. Not Tarva, her only impression was that this man was extremely busy.

  Too much was happening around Tarva for her to fully

appreciate it. Workers in different styles of the white coveralls worked all around, bunches of optical cord hung from open ceiling panels, sparks flew from welding torches..still under construction was an understatement.

  Tarva also thought of the captain's order, to report to

him as soon as she was 'settled'. She wasn't quite sure how soon this man expected her, she'd just have to do things one at a time. The first would be to unpack then find her way back to the transporter room. She still couldn't help wondering what the Captain wanted with her, perhaps he had an assignment for her. It would have to be important to signal her out, perhaps Chief of Security. This wasn't too much to expect since she was Chief of Security on the Eclipse. Even if it was an escort ship it was still a responsible position. What ever it was, it had to be one of the top security positions, her background was too extensive to be simply standing guard on the transporter room.

  A cabin door slid open and the man in white said that

there was room for one more in these quarters. "and remember" he said "these are just temporary until the rest are completed." Somehow, Tarva found herself standing at the front of her group, so she stepped in.

  "Do you believe this, they have eight of us crammed into

what is obviously meant for four. This is a freaking enlisted barracks. What kind of chicken outfit is this anyway?" The all too familiar voice came from what was apparently the head.

  Tarva walked over to the one bunk that was slightly

separated from the rest, it was, without a doubt, the prime real estate of the room. All other occupants were at their own bunks, the only other empty one was a built in top bunk, the least desirable in the room. Tarva picked up the equipment already on her bunk of choice and dropped it in the middle of the room and put her own in its place. The other occupants in the room were Dolittel's regular companions but they said nothing, just did their best to ignore her.

  A chime sounded on one of the walls and a name appeared

on a computer screen. "That's mine." one of her room mates said and got up to retrieve a stack of folded black cloth from a drawer that came out of the wall as he approached. He then joined Dolittel in the head.

  "What's that?" She asked, somebody had to say something

eventually.

  In response, a tall blonde haired woman sitting on the

far side of the room tossed Tarva a laminated card.

Welcome aboard the U.S.S. Vigilante.

— There will be a mandatory meeting for all personnel at

  0830 in shuttle bay 1.  This should give all a chance to
  get settled.  All crew assignments will be handed out at
  this time.

— Ship's uniforms are available from the replicators in

  each room, just program required size.  Standard Star
  Fleet issue boots are appropriate. (a slight wait may be
  necessary, full power is currently not on line)

— Please make yourself as comfortable as possible,

  as soon as more quarters are finished they will be
  assigned.

Tarva checked her time piece, 0600, they had plenty of time to get the whole crew over from the Enterprise even at the current rate.

  "Who put my stuff in the middle of the floor?!" Dolittel

bellowed as he emerged from the head wiping water from his face with a small towel. He was already wearing a black uniform identical to what the captain had. His shoulders filled the doorway and his hair brushed against the top of the frame. His gaze then shifted to the bunk he had claimed with his gear.

  Tarva smiled slightly and said "I honestly think you'll

be more comfortable on one of the regular beds, these temporary cots are quite lumpy".

  Dolittel looked at his friends and, for a moment, it

seemed as if he would stand up to Tarva. Instead he picked up his bags and threw them up on the empty bunk. "What are you doing here, Sir?" he said to Tarva.

  "Everyone must make sacrifices, Mr. Dolittel." She

responded. Then said "Computer".

  "WORKING" replied the generic female voice.
  "Commander Tarva requesting complete ship's uniform" she

then gave size and other particulars.

  "Your going to have a wait we've all placed our orders

and only two have come back so far." said the tall blonde.

  Just then the chime rang again and another of the gang

said that it must be his. As he approached the drawer he looked at the screen and saw Tarva's name flashing. "This things fouled up." he said "It says here it's the Commander's stuff." and gestured toward Tarva. He held up the pants they were too small for anybody in the room except for Tarva.

  "Thank you." she said and took the bundle to the head.

She stood in the door way looking inside. The crew member who had just went in to change came out immediately. He was half dressed and wore only the baggy uniform pants and black tank top type under shirt. The rest of his uniforms he had obviously gathered quickly and had them bunched under one arm.

  "There's got to be some mistake, this thing's got the

rest of us qued up in the same sequence we placed our orders." said the Lieutenant by the replicator.

  "Typical of this place," said Dolittel "even the computer

doesn't know what the hell it's doin'. But don't worry, I'll get things straightened around soon as they let me get to work."

  Tarva stood in the restroom in front of a full length

mirror her yellow standard uniform lay in a pile near her feet. She looked at herself in the mirror. All she was wearing was a tight black tank top and matching mid-thigh shorts. On her right shin was strapped a black sheathed knife, with what appeared to be a bone handle and flat black blade, obviously not regulation. She studied the scars visible on her shoulder, arms and lower legs. Many a human doctor had offered to remove the scars for her but none seemed to comprehend the pride she took in them and the battles they represented.

  She looked closely at her left cheek and neck, there was

a fine line, were a scar should be, extending from above her left eye down her cheek and neck to her shoulder. An over zealous human doctor had meticulously repaired this wound. For all the years humans had been in space, they still treated all cultures by human values. It had never occurred to him that a Kalonian would view a scar such as this differently than a human. She, however, couldn't feel too bad towards the doctor since he served on the star ship that rescued her from the escape pod after the Eclipse was destroyed.

  Commander Tarva had been aboard the USS Vigilante exactly

30 minutes when she walked into Transporter Room II to report back to Captain Anthony. The room was empty of new personnel only the captain and the workers were there. Most of the workers were busily doing something with both the transporter pads and the control panel. Captain Anthony looked concerned as he studied the output on a tricorder a skinny man in a white uniform was showing him.

  Anthony looked up at Tarva as she walked in and smiled at

her. "Welcome back Commander," he said "I hope you found your quarters acceptable for the time being".

  "I don't expect I'll be spending a lot of time there,

will I?" she said as she walked up to him and stood at attention.

  "Commander, as you may have suspected, my current staff

is quite slim, in fact before today I was the only crew assigned to the Vigilante to arrive. That leaves me in the unique position of selecting my own staff out of a relatively small pool of volunteers.

  "I have gone over the records of all personnel assigned

to the Vigilante and personally selected the assignments for each crew member. Most decisions were easy, someone is a navigator or an engineer, they have specific rank and basically fall into place. Top command staff is never that easy, however, Chief Engineer, Chief of Security and others require a little more intuitive thought." He paused to check the skinny man's tricorder again.

  "This is it," Tarva thought, "he wouldn't be telling me

all of this if I wasn't getting Chief of Security."

  "The reason I'm telling you this" he said turning his

attention back to her, "is that I had a difficult choice to make for Chief of Security. A man named Simon Norton is boarding as soon as we get this thing fixed. He's been head of security on three different Star Ships most recently on a Galaxy Class which he is giving up to volunteer for this mission. I know this man, he has no desire for any other command position. He is one of the best when it comes to security."

  Tarva could feel her world shaking, she had been so sure

of getting the position, it never occurred to her that someone with such credentials would volunteer for a blind suicide mission like this was rumored to be.

  "I know this may be slightly disappointing to you

Commander." this was a major understatement and he seemed to know it. "I couldn't, however, put someone with your record and diverse background in an ordinary position. That is why I have chosen you as my First Officer. Congratulations."

  "Thank you, Sir." she managed to utter in complete shock.

He had done this on purpose, set her up for the fall pushed her over the edge, then caught her at the last millisecond. This man had a vicious sense of humor, she was going to really enjoy working with him.

  "Now Commander we have work to do.  One of the positions

I haven't filled yet is Chief Engineer we have several qualified personnel," Captain Anthony pointed to the mess around them in a sweeping gesture "I suppose now is as good a time as any to make that decision. Your first assignment will be to get this mess working and give me a call when your ready to continue the transfer process."

  "Sir, why doesn't the Enterprise just transport the

remainders?" Tarva asked as she took in the whole transporter room.

  "In order to keep the minimum distance we need the power

of both transporters and these two pads are the only ones on this ship that currently work. Now decide on a Chief Engineer and get this thing working. We've got to have it working by 0700 if everybody's going to make the meeting." with that, Captain Anthony left the room with eight white coveralled workmen looking at Tarva.

  Before the door had slid completely shut First Officer

Tarva's hand was on the intercom "Lieutenant Commander Dolittel, report to Transporter Room Two immediately".


  Transporter Room II was soon filled with Tarva's

roommates plus a few others. Dolittel's feet stuck out from an open, access panel under the transporter pad. His cursing could be heard across the room. He slid himself out and sat up.

  "What the hell is this thing?" he said "I've never seen

circuits like this."

  "It is state of the art in transporter technology." came

a woman's voice from an open transporter room door. She was a medium height brown haired humanoid. A slight ridge along her upper cheek bones making her eyes appear sunken was the only obvious nonhuman feature. She wore the standard white coveralls of the other construction workers.

  "Doctor Cembera, I should have known you were behind this

mess." Said Dolittel as he stood to greet the new arrival. "If this thing is your doing, where have you been while we've been trying to get it back on line?"

  "I was detained in engine room one installing a new style

dilithium crystal chamber." she said as she approached the troublesome transporter pad. She then turned to Commander Tarva who had been running diagnostics at the transporter control panel. "First Officer Tarva, I'm Crystal Cembera chief engineer in charge of construction of the Vigilante. I'm glad you were finally able to join us here at TE-4."

  "I'm glad to finally be here." Said Tarva "Now if you

could help my Chief Engineer get these things on line."

  Doctor Cembera looked at Dolittel with a slight grin and

said "That shouldn't be too hard".

  Dolittel and Cembera obviously had a history but this

didn't seem to stop her from ignoring Dolittel as easily as everybody else did.

  Doctor Cembera started running a diagnostic on the

transporter while pointing out certain details of the new technology to Dolittel. "The main idea is to boost the effective range three to four times."

  "This is a great step forward", Dolittel said "you've got

the largest transporter room mockup I've ever seen".

  "The next supply ship should have the parts we need to

get all three transporter rooms working properly." Doctor Cembera said ignoring Dolittel's comment's "The technology is so new, it's taking quite a while to get the chips made."

  "Then how in the world did you get these two pads to work

if your still waiting on the chips?."

  "I had to make my own chips,"
  "That's probably what failed." Dolittel muttered.
  "and is why we only have two pads working." she said

still ignoring his comments. "It was a long and exhausting job, I can only guess that something came loose." Doctor Cembera crawled under the pad and disappeared into the workings.

  She soon emerged from under the pad and handed Dolittel a

blackened, fist-sized component. "Both pads were down, so I figured it had to be power related since they each run on their own computer circuitry." She said as she reached into a panel that opened from a near by wall. The panel contained several different kinds of parts, obviously spares. She then retreated back under the transporter pads.

  When she came back out she said "OK, fire them up".
  With that, Dolittel pressed a couple of buttons and the

transporters lit right up. "Well," he said "Looks like I've got a bit to learn before I can be an effective Chief Engineer".

  "Well don't worry, you seem to have a good teacher."

Tarva said.

  "And quite a while before we'll even be ready to begin

space trials." Cembera added. Then said "Come on John, I'll give you a tour of your engine rooms".

  "There's more than one? And what's this about a new style

dilithium …" Dolittel could be heard saying as the door slid shut behind him.

  Tarva frowned as she realized Dolittel just walked out

with out being dismissed. As more people arrived, she would have to make sure proper Star Fleet regulations were maintained. She then pressed the intercom button "Commander Tarva to Captain Anthony, transporters back on line, Sir."

  "Thank you Commander" he replied "I'll be right there.

Please inform Enterprise that we're back on line. Out".


  Tarva's tall, blonde room mate was working the

transporter controls, it turned out she was a top rated operator, when it happened. The last group was transporting from the Enterprise when there was a general abort warning issued from engineering. The warning was almost immediately followed by a massive power surge. If it wasn't for Chief Swanson's reflex action to the warning all eight of the personnel in transport would surely have been lost. She was able to reverse the beam before the surge got through the transporter.

  The surge did catch personal pad number one.  The result

pulled the person out of transport in a crimson flash. The crew had no chance to cover themselves from the resulting gore. The whole transporter room was immediately splattered in red. On the pad, lay a writhing mass of tissue and bone with blood spurting from what had once been organs.

  Transporter Room II immediately emptied with the

construction workers and crew racing for the doors. Many were losing their last meal on the way, others slipped and fell in the blood. Chief Swanson, Fist Officer Tarva and Captain Anthony were the only ones to hold their ground.

  Captain Anthony and Chief Swanson had gone ghost white

with shock, Commander Tarva looked to the Captain for instructions, all he could say was "Get rid of it".

  Tarva walked over to a security panel removed a phaser

and pointed it at her former crew member. Her only thought as she pushed the trigger was "I wonder who it was". It was exactly 53 seconds since the alarm sounded.


  Captain Picard sat in his ready room with the Image of

Captain Anthony on the monitor in front of him. Anthony had several drops of blood on his face and he looked slightly ill. Behind Anthony, a worker in red stained white coveralls was cleaning blood off a wall. The view was so tight on Anthony, the worker was only occasionally visible. "What ever happened there" Picard thought, "had to have been unlike any transporter accident I've ever heard of. What ever new technology they're using on this project has to be radically new and dangerous."

  "According to my records, Ensign Shertz was to have been

my primary navigator." Anthony was saying "Now, I am without anybody who is currently qualified for the position. Captain Picard, I'm aware that a ship like the Enterprise is likely to have several officers qualified to fill this position..".

  "Captain Anthony," Picard said "Are you suggesting that I

assign one of my junior officers to your project?".

  "Not at all." Was the reply "I was merely suggesting that

there may be someone in your crew qualified for this position, who also falls under the other criteria, willing to volunteer if given the chance."

  Picard thought for a second then said "I'll put the

request before all qualified personnel."

  "I'll trust your decision, let me know when or if you've

found a navigator for me. Anthony out."

  The screen immediately went black and Picard sat staring

at the silence for a minute then said "Computer list all ship's personnel qualified as navigator for a star ship."

  "WORKING" the generic female voice said then immediately

displayed a list of over 30 names.

  "Now delete all personnel who are married or have known

living family."

  Three names remained on the list:
                Commander Data
                Ensign Janice O'Malley
                Ensign Ro Laren
  Captain Picard sat and looked at the three names neatly

printed on the black screen. Who would it be? If they knew the mission of the project they would all jump at the chance. That, however, was against regulations, all he could tell them was that it is an extremely dangerous mission, perhaps even a suicide mission.

  If any of these three officers knew they were one of only

three qualified for this project, once again, they would all certainly volunteer. Picard decided to post a general notice to all thirty from the original list. Perhaps by some slight chance the only one he felt he could replace would volunteer. If not, he would cross that bridge when he came to it. This was a strictly volunteer mission and he could not make anyone in anyway feel obligated to volunteer.

  Within minutes of posting the notice, there was a signal

at the door. It was Commander Data.

  "Sir," he said "by your notice I believe I am the most

logical choice to fill the navigator position. Unless, you count Lore as a living relative. I know that Star Fleet does not recognize him as my next of kin."

  "Data," Picard Said "I was expecting you, I tried to

figure out a way to turn down your request without giving you what little more information I have about the project. I decided, however, that to properly satisfy you I must fill you in with what little more information I have."

  Five minutes later Data left the ready room fully

satisfied that it would be extremely hazardous for him to transfer to this project. As he left, he passed the red haired Ensign O'Malley on her way to meet with the Captain. It occurred to him, that she too was on the list of qualified navigators.

  This was too good to be true, Janice thought as she

walked in to see Captain Picard. A chance to transfer to a secrete project, a dangerous mission this had to be good. No more boring star charting, no more hauling diplomats around, no more Ensign Ro taking over for her every time it was just getting interesting. When the tour ended, she would surely be assigned as primary navigator somewhere.

  "Sir," She said almost before the door closed behind her

"have you had any volunteers for the navigator position?"

  "Yes, just one," he said "however, upon close scrutiny of

his record we decided he was not appropriate for the assignment." Picard sat back and watched her face light up with excitement.

  "Sir, I respectfully request a transfer."
  "Ensign O'Malley I feel it is my obligation to tell you a

little more about this mission." Picard said "The notice has always stated hazardous duty, however, since you are approaching this as a last minute replacement I think you should know that most consider it to be a suicide mission."

  "Sir, this is a suicide mission?" O'Malley said quite

taken aback.

  "No, I did not say that. I said that it is so hazardous

that the few people who know about it consider it a suicide mission."

  "What do you think of it sir?" she asked still a bit

confused by what Captain Picard was trying to say.

  "If it works, it will be well worth the costs." he said

"All else I can say is that I have a personal interest in the success of the mission."

  Picard took a deep breath and looked at the beautiful

young woman standing in front of him. Her large gray eyes looked back at him expectantly. Finally he said "If your still interested I'll arrange transportation. Go start packing your gear."

  "Thank you sir." she said and snapped to attention.
  "Dismissed." he said.
  Ensign Janice O'Malley turned sharply and exited the

ready room. As she left, Captain Jean-Luc Picard looked at her personal file that was on the screen during the whole conversation. On it was noted the time and circumstances of her adoptive father's death at Wolf-359.

  "It looks like we all have a date with destiny some time

in our lives." he said to the closed door.


  It was finally happening, she was getting to look on the

other side of a forbidden horizon. Janice could feel great apprehension though. Stepping into the unknown was always a bit scary. She could feel her pulse race with anticipation as she packed her few belongings.

  Being a third string navigator on any ship never rated

the larger quarters. Ensign O'Malley, however, was a woman of few possessions. Vega-5 if nothing else, had taught her to approach life as a minimalist. She had very few belongings and really didn't care for a larger billet. The last thing she packed was an old style picture in frame. It was a picture of her father and her, taken during her first visit to Earth. She was still young maybe fifteen earth years, too old to be considered a child but not yet quite a woman. They were standing in front of some ancient ruins in a country her father claimed his family name originated. She wrapped the picture carefully in a uniform and placed it in her case. Of her few possessions, this would always be her most treasured.

  She wondered how she would transfer to her new

assignment, the survivors of the transporter incident had been transpoted by a very odd looking shuttle. She wondered if they would send it all the way back to get her. She wasn't really sure what had happened with the transporter, only something had gone wrong on the other end and someone, a navigator, had been killed. They did not expect to have the transporters working anytime soon. At the current distance, the Enterprise could not transport her on its on.

  Just then Chief O'Brien's voice came over the intercom

"Ensign O'Malley, please report to transporter room 3, with your gear.".

  "I thought," she said to Chief O'Brien upon entering

transporter room 3 "that we were unable to transport until they got they're system back on line."

  "I thought the same thing." He said "but they gave me new

coordinates for a different transporter. Apparently they had shut it down for being in an unused area. They brought it back on line to help tie up the loose ends before the Enterprise's departure."

  Janice hesitated stepping onto the transporter pad.

Though she had done this many times before, it had never been immediately following a fatal accident. She looked to O'Brien and he just smiled and nodded his head. So she stepped onto the pad stood at attention and waited.

  The Enterprise's transporter room dissolved around her

and was replaced by a smaller more spartan room. In front of her, behind the transporter controls stood a man in white coveralls. "Welcome to T E four space dock." he said "We'll be ready to transport you to the ship in a few minutes".

  To her right Janice could see a large space station style

window. From her vantage point she thought she could see the hull of a ship.

  "Would you like to take a look at your new assignment?"

the man asked.

  Ensign Janice O'Malley put her bags down in place and

stepped down to the window. Outside was something she had never seen, a star ship in space dock. This was unlike any star ship though, a small older style saucer section dwarfed by four new Galaxy style warp engines. The saucer was attached directly to a bulbous main body without the usual neck lifting it away. The impulse engines appeared to be raised up from the main body just behind the saucer.

  There were other things wrong, the color wasn't the

standard star fleet white, it was more of a dull gray. There was no name or number designation anywhere to be seen and she had a clear view of the top of the saucer section. There were other anomalies: antenna pods, miss placed orifices etc. that were not indicative of either the old style saucer or the new style engines or anything else for that matter.

  "What is it?" she asked the man now standing next to her

also admiring the ship.

  "She's called the U.S.S. Vigilante" he said.
  "What kind of name for a star ship is that?" she asked

not really expecting an answer.

  "Don't ask me," he said "all I do is work on

transporters".

  "I hope you weren't running the transporter last time."

she said with a slight smile.

  "No, Sir." he said "Besides, that was caused by a power

surge from engineering."

  Just then there was a signal from the intercom.  "Whelp,

the Captain's ready for you, time to report for duty" he said.

  "I guess so." she said as she returned to the

transporter.

  The small transporter room dissolved from view and this

time was replaced by a much larger one. In front of her stood a man with long gray/black hair that was thinning on top and was pulled back in a pony tail. He wore a slightly baggy black uniform with several large pockets. Though he wore no obvious insignia this man must be in some kind of authority.

  Once she could move again she stood at attention and said

"Ensign Janice Louise O'Malley reporting for duty, Sir."

  "Welcome aboard the U.S.S. Vigilante, Ensign." the man in

black said "I'm Captain Anthony, did you bring your personal file?"

  "Yes, Sir." she said and handed him a small computer disk

from an outside pocket of her bag.

  "Very good" he said as he slipped the disk into the

tricorder he was holding. "Now, leave your bags here, they will be delivered to your quarters. Right now, we are late for an already postponed meeting. Please come with me."

  As they left, she finally noticed that there were several

people in blood stained white coveralls vigorously cleaning the transporter room. Another in clean coveralls approached her bags as soon as she left the transporter pad. She also noticed that a personal pad to her left was shattered and blackened. She could feel nausea catch in her throat, what ever happened here must have been horrifying.

  All through the corridor the men in white coveralls were

hard at work. Many areas where exposed to the superstructure some she could see down through several decks of framing. At one point they had to edge along exposed girders to keep from falling to the next deck. This was the same area a work man had given them each a hard hat to wear while passing through.

  "If we weren't so late I would have taken the safer but

longer route." the Captain said as they edged along the beam.

  When they finally arrived at the shuttle bay it was

filled with more than a hundred black uniformed crew. Ensign O'Malley never thought she would feel out of place on a Federation star ship while in uniform. Now, while surrounded by the crew dressed in the baggy black uniforms, she definitely felt out of place.

  The Captain walked her up to a short dark skinned woman

with a high Klingon type forehead and a long braid of hair down her back. "Ensign O'Malley," he said this is my First Officer, Commander Tarva.

  "Commander Tarva" Janice said in greeting.
  Commander Tarva nodded and said "At least you've lasted

longer than our last navigator did."

  "Your attention please." the Captain said into a loud

speaker. "Once again I'd like to personally welcome you aboard the FULTON class star ship the U.S.S. Vigilante, the most unique craft ever conceived of by Star Fleet.

  "I'd like to say is to remind you of the mission you

volunteered for. Our intent is an extended hazardous duty mission. We may be on tour for several years or more, with no or little contact with Star Fleet. In fact, many analysts believe we will not be heard from again. Now I want you to reflect on this, because in a few minutes when I tell you our exact destination there will be no transfers or shore leave off the Vigilante until after the mission is completed.

  "If you have second thoughts leave now, collect your

belongings and report to transporter room 2. The Enterprise is currently standing by to start you on your way back to your last assignment."

  There was a stirring among the crew, as this sunk in.

Several groups discussed this amongst themselves. Finally three individuals stepped forward and announced that they had second thoughts.

  "Very well," Captain Anthony said "I want to thank you

for the dedication that got you this far. You will be returned to your previous position and no mention of this incident will appear on your records. I must also remind you to never talk about this project, all details are considered top secret. Also, anybody who persists in questioning you about it must be reported to Star Fleet Security. Finally, you must never even discuss this project amongst your selves once you leave this ship, it never happened is that clear?"

  "Yes, Sir." they said together.
  "Dismissed." Captain Anthony said and watched the three

exit the shuttle bay.

  "As some of you may have guessed, the U.S.S. Vigilante is

not a ship of peace," Captain Anthony began "it is a ship of war. We are at war, that's right we are at war and the Vigilante was designed to take the war to the enemy. In order to hasten the construction of the Vigilante, parts were used from the destruction of the first battle. The enemy we face is one of the strongest and most irresistible the Federation has ever faced. The enemy we are going to meet is the Borg."

  At the revelation a slight murmur rose from the crowd.

Finally a voice came from the crowd. "Sir, how do we expect to accomplish this, over 30 ships were destroyed fighting just one Borg cube. Now you plan to attack them with just one ship made up of junked parts. What have we gotten ourselves into?"

  Captain Anthony smiled at this it was just the reaction

he expected, since it was the same one the project committee got when they originally approached Star Fleet with it. "Listen to me," he said "the superstructure maybe made of old parts, however, the technology put into this ship is cutting edge. In every area you will notice parts and functions you do not recognize, this whole ship has become the proving ground for radical new ideas. It will be our job to test and use these new ideas.

  "As we already know, as we use the new components of the

Vigilante things may go wrong. You have all been accepted for this mission because you are some the best. I am confident that working with the designers of the Vigilante you will all learn the new technology and be become as confident as I am in our ability to actually pull this off.

  "I am sure you are also aware of the Borg's ability to

gain knowledge from our computers and prisoners. Therefore, it is imperative that we do not unnecessarily discuss functions of our departments with other departments. There are new designs in all areas of this ship. Technology we know that the Borg do not attribute to the Federation.

  "Another unique feature of the Vigilante is the computer

systems. Though there is a central computer for the day to day needs of life on a star ship, each area has its own separate computer system. These systems are totally inaccessible by the central computer. This does create a problem, a galaxy class star ship can actually be operated with as few as five crew members when in automated mode. The Vigilante needs over fifty highly trained crew just to keep it maneuvering in warp." This was a bit of an exaggeration but he wanted to keep them on their toes or what ever it was that they may pass for toes.

  "By now, all crew have received their assignments, you

are to work with construction personnel preparing The Vigilante for duty. I know there is a lot of work left to do and little time to do it, but I am certain if we work together we can have the ship ready on schedule. I also expect that you should know this ship inside and out by the first space trials. Now lets get to work. Dismissed."


  When Simon Norton had entered the meeting room, he was

last, as usual. He had a great propensity for being late. It never seemed to be of his doing, however. It wasn't his fault that the transporter failed twice before he ever got aboard the ship. The last time, it left him stranded on the Enterprise. The trip to the Vigilante was an eye opener. The transport sent to retrieve them was by no means a shuttle. It was a troop carrying 'drop' ship designed for rapid deployment of personnel to transporter protected landing zones. Only Star Fleet's few anti-terrorist units carried this kind of ship and even they carried standard shuttle craft.

  It was strange that he was the Chief of Security on a

Star Ship that he had no idea what design it was. He didn't know its class or it's layout. He knew it was something different, the large size of the shuttle bay told him that. Also the narrow corridors and small rooms suggested something different about the Vigilante. He only wished that the drop ship had windows.

  Captain Anthony was sitting in a small room with his

command staff when Commander Norton finally got around to joining them. The room like the rest of the ship was painted in gray and other drab colors. In the middle of the room was a large dark gray table with straight edges but slightly bowed to fit with the bow of the room. Around the table were ten high backed chairs securely fastened to the floor, they were also equipped with emergency restraints and belts. In front of each place was a computer terminal sunken into the table. At one end of the room was a large display screen obviously for presentations to the group. The outside wall had several windows looking over the port side of the saucer. Along the top of each window the bottom of the blast shields could be seen. The shields all over the ship would snap shut during red alerts and when in 'silent running'.

  In the early days of Star Fleet before advances in

deflector shield technology blast shields were installed on ships meant for some heavy action. If this ship was destined to confront the Borg it would need them.

  The small amount of time Norton had been on duty he had

spent his time reviewing the files of the other officers. If he was to properly over see security he would have to know with whom he was working. Now sitting next to Captain Anthony in the Command Staff Meeting Room (or known simply as the Command Room) was First Officer, Commander Tarva and across from her was Lt. Commander Dolittel, Chief Engineer. The fourth in the room was a tall female humanoid in the white coveralls of a construction worker, she was sitting next to Dolittel. Commander Norton had been unable to find any information on the construction personnel in any of the computer files. This had distressed him for he felt it best to know everyone he had dealings with.

  "Ah, Commander Norton," The Captain said, "glad you were

finally able to join us. I believe you should be familiar with everybody here, except Doctor Cembera. Doctor Cembera is the chief engineer in charge of design and construction of the Vigilante."

  "Doctor." Commander Norton said and slightly bowed his

bald head towards her. He then took a seat close to the door.

  "This meeting is intended to fill you in on some of the

specifics of the U.S.S. Vigilante." said Captain Anthony and pushed a button on his computer terminal. On each terminal and on the main screen a detailed picture of the ship appeared and began to rotate slowly. "I believe I'll leave this lecture to Doctor Cembera".

  "Thank you Captain" Doctor Cembera said as she stood up

and approached the screen. "The U.S.S. Vigilante is designed with three main features in mind: speed, fire power and stealth. To quickly build the ship we decided it necessary to use some space frames deposited at Memory Alpha. Most of the parts used were in fact taken from the ships destroyed by the Borg. We have, however, completely refitted the ship with new technology from the material used in the hull to the drive systems.

  "I'll start with the hull, the original 'skin' of all

components was removed and replaced with a new composite material. This material is much less penetrable and detectable by all known or encountered scanning devices. This makes us virtually invisible on long range scanners and appear much smaller to closer range sensors. Windows however can not be made of the new material so all windows have been fitted with old style blast shields. If power to the main deflectors is ever lost windows without the blast shields would be extremely vulnerable to detection.

  "It is a known fact that Star Fleet has a policy against

the use of cloaking devices on its ships. This policy does not, however, preclude the research in cloaking technology. The main goal in cloaking research has been to develop adequate detection of cloaked ships. This research added to what we have learned from the Klingons I believe has created the most sophisticated cloaking system ever implemented. The technology has been installed in the Vigilante. Together with the new hull material we call the combined system A.C.T. that is Advanced Cloaking Technology. With A.C.T. the Vigilante should be completely invisible to the Borg and all others for that matter."

  Commander Norton interrupted "If Star Fleet has a policy

against cloaking how did we get a whole ship built around cloaking technology?"

  "Star Fleet regulations have very little influence over a

ship that officially does not exist." responded Captain Anthony.

  Norton sat back to contemplate the implications of what

the Captain just said while Doctor Cembera continued.

  "The next obvious feature of the Vigilante" she said "is

the number of warp drives. With new technologies and alignments these four engines should jump the Vigilante to warp 9.6 from sub-warp speeds in less than a second. You should then be able to hold warp 9.6 for an extended period of time. Next.."

  "Excuse me Doctor." Lt Commander Dolittel said.
  "Yes, Mr. Dolittel." Doctor Cembera said with a bit of a

frown as if anticipating what was coming next.

  "I led a team that did extensive research on these new

technologies and alignments as you call them." Dolittel said "We concluded years ago that they create uncontrollable worm holes around the ship using them."

  "Is this true?" Commander Tarva asked.
  "Yes." Doctor Cembera replied.
  "Your saying you've built this whole ship around theory

that has already been proven to be flawed?" was Tarva's next question.

  "This was to be my next topic," Doctor Cembera said "if I

may continue I think I'll be able to answer your questions".

  "Please continue Doctor." the Captain said knowing what

was coming next.

  "Lieutenant Commander Dolittel's conclusions were

absolutly correct." she stressed Lieutenant knowing how much that elusive promotion irritated him. "This technology does tend to produce an uncontrollable worm hole. Since taking over what Mr Dolittel's team started, the elimination of the worm hole effect has plagued me and other scientists. Not so long ago I was discussing this problem with a colleague in front of my young daughter and my daughter actually came up with the idea that has made this all possible." she said proudly.

  Doctor Cembera's audience looked at her blankly. She

continued on ignoring the looks. "What my daughter asked was why don't we control the worm hole. To tell you the truth this had never occurred to me mainly because travel through the warp generated worm hole can be extremely unpleasant."

  With the word unpleasant a couple of people took a second

look at the restraints on all of the chairs and began to realize what Cembera was getting to.

  "These worm holes can also throw a ship many light years

off course if not further. If we can control the worm hole, and get it to deposit us were we want to go, even with the unpleasant effects, it could be quite useful. In other words, we could get the worm hole to place us in minutes where it may take us a year at warp nine to reach."

  "You keep using the word, us, are you planning to join us

on our planned journey?" it was Dolittel again.

  "I use the word merely as a figure of speech, Sir."

Doctor Cembera answered crisply. Then Continued "We have implemented the new drives in an older test ship, dubbed the U.S.S. Fulton. Once again like all technology we're using, it involves complete replacement of the main systems plus extensive reworking of other systems.

  The results were extremely promising, the Fulton ended up

within the desired sector. There was, however, a bit of a side effect caused by the worm hole, a great deal of the outer hull was ruptured in transit. This, however, should not effect the Vigilante, since the technology has been refined a great deal and the hull and shield strengths have been greatly increased.

  "Finally, there have been a number of modifications in

the shield generators, weapons, and transporters to make the Vigilante actually several generations more advanced than even a Galaxy class Star ship."

  "Don't you think your being just a bit over optimistic

with that last statement." Dolittel said as Cembera reclaimed her seat.

  "And" Tarva interjected "do you think only a couple of

generations are enough to defeat the Borg where they live?".

  "Allow me to answer that." Captain Anthony said "Our

mission is not to defeat the Borg but rather to collect extensive information about them in the hope of being able to defeat them the next time they arrive in our little arm of the galaxy. Okay, any other questions?"

  Captain Anthony and Doctor Cembera began to field

questions about different aspects of the mission and details of the ship.

  During the meeting Commander Tarva examined Commander

Norton. He was a medium sized humanoid a bit shorter then Captain Anthony but with a solid build. His size was due as much to genetics as it was to an obvious attempt on his own part to maintain a highly muscled physique. She could see highly defined muscles reaching up to his neck, it even appeared that his face was muscled. His ears were pointed and his forehead slightly pronounced like a Romulan's. Tarva's background told her that this man was at least part Romulan. Her background also told her that the Romulan/Vulcan traits were extremely dominant and all he needed was one hiding somewhere in his family tree for him to show these kind of features. Another oddity about this man was his totally bald head. It was obvious, at least to her, that he shaved his head which was not consistent with any cultures she could readily attribute to him.


  Ensign Janice O'Malley piloted the gray Drop Ship through

one of the Tau Epsilon far asteroid fields. Next her sat a very cocky acting young man in white coveralls named Picback. They were both properly strapped into their seats but his was turned slightly and leaned back so he could place his feet up on an empty area of the control panel. "I still don't see why I'm out here flying this can around." she said "I'm a navigator not a shuttle pilot."

  "First of all, this is not a shuttle or a can." Picback

said with a smile. "It's a highly sophisticated troop drop ship. Second, from my understanding they don't have much need for a navigator on the Vig for the time being. Third all navigators should be trained as pilots and these are the only things to pilot or navigate for the time being. I guess their just trying to make you earn your keep."

  Just then something besides rock appeared on the

scanners. "That must be our target," Picback said "remember, with the cloaking he can't see us so keep your distance. We don't want him running into us after dropping off our package."

  From their position they could watch the tug disconnect

from the cargo pod after placing it in close proximity to a large asteroid. When it lifted away they could clearly read it's name and number, U.S.S. CHANDRASEKHER NCC-3923-C. Their sensors told them it was doing an intense sensor sweep of the area.

  "What's he doing that for?" she asked Picback.
  "His instructions are very strict,  he's not to leave the

cargo if he detects any other activity in the area." He replied as if extremely bored with the whole process.

  Ensign O'Malley continued to track the tug as it

high-tailed it out of the system. Once the tug had entered warp she began to approach the cargo pod. Picback now sat in normal position and began to work his own controls. The Drop Ship slowly approached the giant cargo pod and was soon dwarfed by it.

  "This thing looks longer than the Vigilante" said

O'Malley as she moved ever closer to the pod.

  "Well, they were originally designed to haul a couple

Galaxy style warp engines around in, with room to spare. This should be our last delivery." Picback said as he powered up the magnetic cargo couplings that had been retrofitted to the Drop Ship.

  "What do you suppose is in it?" Janice asked her

companion trying to make conversation.

  "You know the regs," he said with a smile "we're only

allowed to discuss matters directly related to our jobs. I can make small talk with you about anything to do with a drop ship or flying one. Believe or not we are even allowed to discuss details specifically related to any current assignment."

  With this dissertation Janice laughed and said "You could

have just said, 'I don't know'."

  The couplings clanged into place slightly jolting the

ship. "OKay," Picback said "ease the power up slowly this tub is a lot more powerful than a wimpy star fleet shuttle and remember we have a lot more mass now."

  "Mr Picback, I am not fresh out of the Academy." Ensign

O'Malley said slightly irritated "I have maneuvered the Enterprise through an asteroid field on more than on occasion."

  "The Enterprise's deflector shields probably gave you

quite a bit more room for error, huh?" Picback returned just as they jerked forward. "What was that?"

  "Just slipped the accelerator a bit." The Ensign said.
  "How can you, slip the accelerator a bit?" Picback said

worryingly "You better let me have control I've done this a lot more than you have."

  "Don't worry." Janice said with a slight grin Picback

didn't notice "I can handle it." and pulled back on the control stick to start the maneuver to arc them out of the asteroid field. "But you know, it's been quite some time since I've piloted anything with a control stick."

  "Why didn't you tell me before we hooked on to this

monster?" Picback said trying not to show the panic he was starting to feel.

  "I tried to." Janice said "But you said I had to earn my

keep. Now's its too late, huh?" she sounded as if she was trying not to panic which didn't help Picback's new state of mind.

  A proximity warning began to flash on the scanner

console. Ahead of them they seemed to be about to ram a rather large orange asteroid. Picback locked his arms and legs and shut his eyes bracing himself for the collision, which never occurred.

  "What happened?" he said after more than enough time had

passed for them to have hit the asteroid.

  "You were right," Ensign O'Malley said with a smile "this

thing does have a lot wider turning radius than I'm used to."

  They than passed between two extremely close asteroids as

the proximity warning flashed again. Before Picback had time to react again, they were clear of the field.

  "Whew," Janice said and feigned wiping sweat from her

forehead. "I didn't think we'd make that last one".

  All Picback could do was sit there and hope he didn't

draw the red head as a partner again.

  The huge cargo pod sped through space with no obvious

means of propulsion as the Drop Ship remained cloaked. When it approached TE-4 Ensign O'Malley had placed their cargo into a predetermined orbit. The velocity and orbit had to be precise inorder to eventually get the pod in a matching orbit with the space dock. The idea was to place the pod in a high orbit and brake it down to the matching orbit with the dock. She had been braking since passing the orbit sphere of TE-5. Now she had to drop into a high orbit and begin heavy braking hopefully the space dock would catch up with them as they reached its orbit.

  An untrained observer would have thought the procedure an

easy one. As the cargo pod entered it's high orbit, it began making increasingly lower orbits over the space dock. Eventually, the pod just seemed to drop into space over the space dock. It was then maneuvered into its place in the top of the framing directly over the Vigilante.

  Picback and O'Malley had been gone just over two days and

four hours when they maneuvered their ship into the shuttle bay. As soon as the ship came to rest, the airlock door flew open and Picback jumped down, fell to his knees and kissed the deck. A man in a black crew uniform stood at a nearby control console watching the scene and looked at Picback as he walked by.

  "Don't ever, ever put me in a ship with her again. She

was doing barrel rolls on our way in." Picback said to the shuttle bay chief as he passed.

  Shuttle bay Chief Taragoma then watched Ensign O'Malley

ride the slowly descending Drop Ship stairs as they lowered into place. Her combed back short red hair was slightly messed from the long trip and she carried her uniform jacket casually over one shoulder. As she walked up to him, she put her jacket on and fastened it properly. When she reached him she handed him the ships log.

  "What was wrong with your technician, Ensign?" he asked

her.

  "I have no idea, Sir, I guess he's a little high strung."

she said with a bit of a smile.

  Taragoma checked the log and looked up at the young

woman standing before him. "Okay, dismissed" he said.

  "Thank you, Sir"
  The Chief smiled as he watched her walk out and thought

"I knew we'd have problems with cloaking these things during routine missions."


  Captain Anthony stood in a large, round dimly lit

chamber, around him, workers in their white coveralls went about their business. The room appeared unfinished, there were massive connecters and mountings everywhere. There were, however, no loose wires, everything was large and solid. In six evenly spaced places on the floor were large gear shaped areas almost two meters in diameter. The bottom of these gears consisted of what looked like thousands of optical connections. The walls were basically smooth except for six large L shaped channels.

  Along one wall area, were four round doors about a meter

and a half in diameter. In the middle of each door was a sturdy looking wheel for manual opening. The doors were to escape pods.

  The ceiling of the room appeared out of place.  It was

not made of the same composite materials of the rest of ship and seemed laid across the walls rather than built into them. None of the lighting was a permanent part of the room, it was all temporary work lighting. Captain Anthony stood to one side staring at the flat ceiling.

  The turbo-lift came up through a hole in the floor.

There were two such turbo lift channels in the room. Both had a cable net strung across them preventing anybody from inadvertently stepping into the open hole. The rough out side of the turbo lift was visible as its single door slid open. Commander Tarva moved the net aside and walked up to Captain Anthony.

  She stood at attention when she reached him and said

"Captain.".

  "Yes." he said in a second, after coming back from his

thoughts.

  "Sir, Construction advises that the Bridge is included in

the new shipment." Tarva said.

  "Well I'd hope so." Anthony said with a smile "Tell them

to get it installed as soon as possible, a star ship without a bridge, is like a phaser without a trigger."

  Tarva flipped open what looked like an old style

communicator and relayed the Captains orders. They both then stepped into the turbo lift Tarva had ridden up. "Where to sir?" she asked the captain.

  "How long till they expect to start moving the bridge

into place?" Captain Anthony asked before answering her question.

  "They estimate everything should be ready in about six

hours." she said.

  "Deck Six." he said to the lift then looked at his time

piece. "Commander would you care to join me in supervising the installation of the U.S.S Vigilante's bridge?" he asked.

  "Yes, Sir".
  "Meet me at Air Lock Two at 1730 and bring your pressure

suit gear".

  "Very good, Sir".  She said as he stepped off the lift at

deck six. Commander Tarva then looked at her own time piece, 1230. Five hours, there was nothing pressing needing her immediate attention. It would be a good time to go back to the cabin and rest a bit. She had gotten a minimum of rest since leaving the Enterprise. She did need some.

  "Deck eight" she said to the lift.

  Tarva sat in her cabin in a short black silken robe with

long sleeves. When sitting, the bottom of the robe seemed to barely touch the seat of the chair. The black sheathed knife was still strapped to her right shin and had a few water droplets on it. Tarva was combing her long wet hair to one side of her head and down in front of her. She was leaning forward with legs slightly spread allowing the hair to fall to the floor between her bare feet.

  This is how some of her roommates found her when they

came in. Tarva looked up at them and scowled to herself "I've got to get my own cabin".

  "Commander, we didn't expect you in so soon." said Chief

Swanson.

  "Even The First Officer can take some time off once in

awhile." she replied stressing the title. "I thought you'd be working with the new shipment." she said to this whole group of engineers while still combing her hair.

  "That's my intention, Sir." Dolittel said formally as he

broke out his boot liners and other gear for his pressure suit. "The rest, however, are transporter engineers, and have to wait till we get the bridge out of the way."

  Dolittel saw Tarva continue to frown as the others

continued to make themselves comfortable. "Perhaps," he said "They could begin preparing transporter room three to receive the new chips when ready."

  "That sounds like a good idea, Mr Dolittel" Tarva said

finally losing her frown but not smiling.

  The others, being greatly out ranked, didn't even

question weather this was an order or a suggestion. They just picked themselves up and headed back out the door.

  "Mr Dolittel," Tarva said as he was about to be the last

to leave.

  "Yes, Sir." he said.
  "Would you inform all of our roommates that I have no

appointments until 1730." she said curtly and immediately turned back to brushing her hair.

  "1730, yes Sir." he repeated and walked out.
  "What did she mean about 1730?" one of his companions

asked Dolittel.

  "It means that we can't go back to our own quarters until

then." another one said.

  "It means," said Dolittel "that you should find something

to do until 1730."

  "And why did you say we could prepare the transporter

room for the new chips? When we've just spent the last twelve hours doing just that." said Chief Swanson.

  "We've got every right to use our own cabin, no matter

who our roommate is. What right does she have to kick us out. Aren't we suppose to be tolerant until the other cabins are ready, even the first officer?" said the first.

  "You just don't get it." Dolittel said "How long have we

been here? Four days? A little more? How often have you seen Commander Tarva in the cabin?"

  The three just looked at each other and shrugged.
  Dolittel continued "I'll tell you, before just now, twice

including the first day. In fact, that bunk hasn't been touched, I know, remember, I made it and no two people make a bunk exactly the same way. That means she's been on the go since we got here and your complaining about twelve hours. Now I want you to go keep yourselves busy until 1730. After that you have eight hours to get some rest, because at 0130 hours you are going to begin installing the new transporter chips. Is that clear?"

  "Yes, Sir." they said in unison.
  "Very good and first make sure you spread the word to the

other three about 1730." Lt Commander John Dolittel did not like pulling rank on his team but occasionally, he had to remind them this was still a military mission.


  Smoke filled the bridge and stung Tarva's eyes and lungs

but she recognized the unmistakable cube on the view screen to her right. Everything began to shake while in the distance a partially recognizable star ship exploded. A hull breach alarm sounded and a strong wind began rushing by her. Tarva looked down at her captain laying in her arms. Blood poured from his mouth and his chest made a sucking sound every time he tried to breath. Tarva was backing towards an open escape pod dragging the Captain with her, just as they entered the pod a blinding flash blew them against the back of the pod….

  The familiar rhythm of a Kalonian march sounded in

Tarva's head. She sat up in the dark cabin trying to remember where she was. With her movement the lights came on just enough to outline the room and the march faded.

  As the ghosts cleared Tarva reached for her time piece

and said "Lights, intensity 3. Volume level 5"

  The lights came up enough to read the watch and the march

came back up to pleasant thump. She carried an old Kalonian time piece so she needed light to read it. She then had to do some quick math to convert to standard. Once again inconvenienced by human arrogance, they always seemed convinced that everybody went by Sol-3 time or at least should.

  Tarva smiled, she knew no human thought of their home

planet as Sol-3. Most called it Earth and many not born there called it Terra. Tarva used Sol-3 because it was the Federation's generic name for Earth and the class designation humans used for almost all other planets even those of major Star Fleet allies. She figured it appropriate that she used Sol-3 since many seemed insistent in calling Kalon, Antri-4.

  It was 1700, just what she had set the alarm for.  Tarva

took a load of clean clothes from a drawer and walked into the head. When she looked in the mirror half her face was gashed open from above the left eye down her cheek to her neck and blood pour from the wound…

  Tarva sat up in bed totally soaked in sweat screaming.

She sat in the dark cabin trying to remember where she was. With her movement the lights came on just enough to outline the room and the march faded.


  Commander Tarva met Captain Anthony at Air Lock Two suit

room at precisely 1730.

  "Have you gotten much rest since coming aboard?" he asked

her. "I know you've been extremely busy."

  "I've gotten enough, Sir." she replied as she opened her

bag.

  The current version space suit had two main layers the

first was a gray jump-suit with bio-tech connections. It was worn over the standard tight shorts and tank top under uniform. The jumpsuit even had built in feet which then fit into the boot liner. These parts and the glove liners which attached to the jumpsuit where carried in the bag.

  Tarva saw that the captain had noticed her knife which

she had to take off to fit into the jumpsuit.

  "You know." he said "General Star Fleet regulations do

not allow personal weapons to be carried while on duty."

  "Yes I am aware of the regs, Sir," She said "but there

are also the amendments for preservation of Federation cultures."

  At that his face lit up "Ah yes," he smiled "the Kalonian

Simtar, I should have known." he than held out his hand and said "May I?"

  This was a very presumptuous thing to do.  Anybody who

knew about the Kalonian Simtar would know it would only be voluntarily surrendered to a very close friend or family member. Traditionally, only parents, children and mates would be considered 'very close'.

  The Captain must have known this, when she handed it to

him, he looked extremely satisfied. He carefully pulled it from the sheath, just far enough to see the full blade. The blade's finish was flat black while the edges had been honed to a bright polished black. One full side was sharpened and about a third of the other side while the tip curved up toward the shorter edge. He snapped the blade back into it's sheath and handed it back to his First Officer. He had it less than thirty seconds.

  "I hear they have become extremely difficult to find even

on Kalon." he said as he activated his suit lowering mechanism.

  "That's true, Sir." Tarva said as she stepped into the

bottom half of her suit. "The ebon metal the blade is made of has become extremely rare. While the demand has increased. The return to traditionalism has made it extremely difficult for the families like mine who have always maintained traditional values."

  Anthony had to wait while he lowered his helmet into

place and secured it. He then turned on his intercom and waited while Tarva's suit was secured. Before putting on the suit gloves she placed the Simtar in her bag with the rest of her uniform and placed them in a locker.

  While she was doing this Captain Anthony asked "What is

the handle made of?""

  Tarva hesitated, this Simtar was old enough to be from

the era when Klingon bone was used. She knew, however, that it would be best not to let this get around. "The handles have been made from many differant materials through the years." Tarva finally responded.

  "Was it difficult to find?"  Anthony continued.
  "Actually, Sir," Tarva said "this Simtar was given to my

father by my mother, when she asked him to be her mate. I inherited both of their Simtars after their bodies were recovered."

  "I'm sorry," Anthony said "I didn't realize. I shouldn't

have brought it up."

  Tarva stood up straight, looked at her Captain through

her helmet and said proudly "It is a great honor on Kalon for mates to die together in battle."

  Captain Anthony knew he was digging himself into a hole

so he merely secured his gloves gave her a brief salute and motioned her toward the air lock.

  At the air lock door, they ran systems checks on their

suits. They then checked with Construction Control to coordinate the vital signs check. Next, they backed into large white jet packs. Their ship's black suits fit securely into the construction white space walk packs.

  When the outer airlock door opened, Tarva stepped out and

fired the maneuvering jets with the Captain right behind her. She never really appreciated the size of a star ship till she walked from one. Down the ship to her right the port warp drives swept up and down away from the body. The massive dull gray hull made her feel extremely insignificant, like an insect.

  "Lets go." Captain Anthony said and accelerated to the

cargo pod attached across the top of the upper girders.

  Tarva followed without hesitation, it was some minutes

before they reached the top of the pod. They landed on a black girder and looked toward the pod. "This is the last shipment?" she said more as a statement than a question.

  "That's right." Captain Anthony said and pointed to a

large round container being hoisted out of the cargo pod. The pod's whole top had split down the middle and opened as two large doors. The round container had been fitted with several small rockets along the side and was being slowly lifted from its place.

  "And that," he said proudly "is my bridge.  There are

also the chips we need to get the transporters operational, some parts for the anti-matter chambers, and some blocks of raw hull material."

  "It seems there should be more than that in there."

Tarva said just trying to make conversation.

  Anthony turned toward her so she could see him smile.

"There is." he said "We are also receiving a shipment of new space suits and multi-function phasers."

  Tarva looked down at what she was wearing and said "I

thought these were the newest model?".

  "They are, but they were designed for a peaceful mission,

they are not suitable for us."

  Tarva smiled behind her face plate and said "Finally, a

suit designed for a warrior."

  "That's right, a warrior on a ship that does not exist

and is crewed by ghosts."

  The pair stood over the saucer section looking down into

the open hole they had stood in only hours before. The plate that had been the roof was now attached to the girders below them. The bridge was slowly maneuvered into place over the hole. The channels on the sides of the hole had to match up perfectly with pegs on the side of the bridge. If all had been manufactured perfectly this would insure all connections would fit correctly.

  When the bridge was started into the hole and the pegs

rested on the edges the side rockets were removed and rockets on the top were used to rotate the bridge into place. After the side pegs came over the proper channels, large clamps grabbed the pegs and pulled the bridge down into the very snug fitting hole. When it reached the bottom of the channels the bridge rotated a meter to lock into place.

  Once it was locked in, a systems check was conducted to

test the connections. A collar then expanded from the ship to seal the slight gap left between the bridge and the ship. A cap of composite material was then fit over the bridge to blend it smoothly with the rest of the saucer section.

  "Lets go take a look at our bridge." Captain Anthony said

stepping off the girder and accelerating toward the Vigilante.

              to be continued...........
                 T H E   V I G I L A N T E
                             II
                      "The Shakedown"

…. Have ever you stood where the silences brood,

  And vast the Horizons begin,

At the dawn of the day to behold far away

  The goal you would strive for and win?

Yet ah! in the night when you gain to the height,

  With the vast pool of heaven star-spawned,

Afar and agleam, like a valley of dream,

  Still mocks you a land of Beyond.
                                   .....
                 Robert W. Service
                 "THE LAND OF BEYOND"
  Commander Tarva and Captain Anthony stood in front of the

turbo lift door waiting to enter the bridge. Commander Tarva spoke into her communicator with Construction while waiting for the bridge to be pressurized. When life support was established the turbo lift door opened.

  Captain Anthony and Commander Tarva were alone when they

stepped onto the bridge. Only the emergency lights shining down from hidden recesses illuminated the bridge. The major color scheme was gray with black accents. There seemed to be more chairs then expected, all tightly wrapped in plastic.

  Before they could make it half way around the bridge turbo

lift two opened allowing the construction crew in. They immediately crawled under the control banks and opened other panels. Slowly, computer screens began to light up and the main lights came on showing the whole bridge.

  Tarva and Captain Anthony without saying a word to each

other began tearing the plastic off the chairs. Each station had a chair and was well designed for total access. The current trend in star ship bridges was to have several stations as standing positions, no chairs available. In the Vigilante this could cause a problem if they ever actually tried to use the controlled worm hole effect.

  The chairs had high backs with emergency restraints and

belts. The bridge had the standard layout with Captain in the middle of the Bridge. Pilot and Navigator in front of and to either side of the Captain. Next to the Captain on the left was the Security station. On the other side of the Captain was the First Officer station. The five stations in the middle of the bridge each had a wrap around counsel. The Captain's chair also had special controls on the restraint arms. The Captain and First Officer's consoles were designed mainly for ship wide communications they could also be quickly reconfigured for all other bridge functions.

  Tarva tried her chair out for size.  The cloth seat  seemed

to form to fit. The worker laying under her console stood up and pushed a button on it. The console lit up and Tarva recognized it as a standard console with emphasis on communications.

  She pushed a button and said "Attention, all bridge crew

please report to the bridge."

  As the last of the Bridge shifts showed up, the last of the

workers was leaving. More than fifteen people stood on the front of the bridge in front of the main view screen. Many appeared to have been gotten out of bed, they were yawning and didn't have perfectly groomed hair.

  Captain Anthony sat in his chair and waited while First

Officer Tarva did a roll call of the crew before him. Behind him, stood Chief Engineer Dolittel and Chief of Security Norton.

  "Sir, all present." Tarva said and took her seat next to

him.

  The Captain stood up and said "Welcome to the bridge of the

U.S.S. Vigilante. Until now the only bridge we've had use of has been the incomplete emergency bridge.

  "Your next project will be to start running total

diagnostics on your stations. You will also be responsible for absolute knowledge of your station. Your next mission will be to form a working knowledge of all other stations plus an in depth knowledge of at least one other related station. I want this bridge busy until we launch. In three days we will begin running simulations. You have until then to at least start learning your stations.

  "One more thing, Lieutenant Commander Dolittel." Anthony

said and turned to face him.

  "Yes, Sir." Dolittel said coming to attention.
  "I have decided that because the Vigilante has a high

average command rank, the position of Chief Engineer should be held by someone with a grade higher than Lieutenant Commander." Anthony paused and watched Dolittel squirm a bit then continued. "As you all may remember, the standing policy is to maintain rank utill the end of the mission. This leaves me in an awkward position since I do not wish one of my most important positions to be occupied by a light commander. I have two choices either second guess one of my policies or second guess my First Officer."

  He stepped toward Dolittel and said "I'm sorry," he paused

"I cann't second guess my First Officer, congratulations Commander Dolittel." Captain Anthony finally smiled and shook Dolittel's hand.

  "Thank you, Sir." Dolittel said, for once at a loss for

words.

  Captain Anthony turned back toward the crew and checked his

time "It appears to be time for the third shift, the rest are dismissed."

  Short, to the point meetings seemed to be Captain Anthony's

style. The crew would have to get used to being pulled out bed for meetings and other whims of the Captain.

  Tarva was the first after the Captain to congratulate

Commander Dolittel. She then said "I have some more good news for you. It's time to move." Tarva then reached over to a nearby computer console and punched up a ships diagram.

  "Finally." Dolittel said with a wide smile.
  "I have assigned the newly finished section here by

engineering to you and all of your personnel. It will be your responsibility to assign quarters."

  Dolittel looked at the diagram and said "They're all

doubles, surly there is enough room on this ship to give the 200 crew here their own billets."

  "Actually there are two singles in the section I have

assigned to you. As for the rest of the available housing we are expecting more crew to transfer after the first space trials. In fact, the bunk rooms we have been staying in will be mostly for their use."

  "You mean they finished the rooms we didn't need first, what

were they thinking?"

  "They were thinking that it would take almost half the time

to get a fewer number of larger quarters ready. Thus allowing us to board earlier."

  Tarva then smiled and said "Now if you'll excuse me, I have

some packing to do."


  Tarva's new quarters were near the middle of the saucer

section near the Captain's. They were small compared to any officer quarters on the Enterprise. There were two 'rooms' separated by slight dividers. Tarva wearing her black robe sat cross legged in the middle of the bed staring at the mirror on a near by wall. She was not looking at her self but reflecting on the nightmares that had been plaguing her.

  When the explosion on the Eclipse threw her and the Captain

into the escape pod it had ripped her face open. She barely had the strength to hit the eject mechanism before the final explosion ripped the Eclipse apart. The Captain's body had protected her from most of the explosion but left her trapped in the escape pod with it. She then drifted for several days before being picked up by the New Aukland.

  When she was rescued, she was unconscious and stayed that

way for quite sometime. Her face was bandaged and she was extremely weak when she finally woke.

  The realization she was the only survivor still plagued her.

As chief of security, it was her duty to do all she could to protect the crew of the Eclipse. She knew they were up against an irresistible force and that the destruction of the Eclipse was not her fault. The honor bred into a Kalonian warrior, however, haunted her every night. She was being torn apart by the loss of her ship and the honor of returning the war to the Borg.


  Commander Norton watched First Officer Tarva approach the

entrance to the cargo bay. It had been several hours since the meeting on the bridge. Tarva had expressed interest in the shipment of the new pressure suits. Now that he was about to start putting them together she wished to be present.

  First Officer, Commander Sashon Tarva was an interesting

colleague. After his arrival on the Vigilante Commander Tarva had approached him about his position. She said that she knew that he was much more qualified for First Officer. The Captain, however, was under the impression that he had no aspiration for a higher position and would much prefer Chief of Security. If the Captain were mistaken, Commander Tarva said that she would talk to him about correcting the error. Norton had no desire for any higher command position, his goals were different than most Star Fleet officers.

  "Sir," Commander Norton said when Tarva arrived "My crew has

begun assembling the first pressure suits."

  "Very good, Commander." Tarva said "Lets have a look".
  When they entered the cargo bay, they found it filled with

shipping containers. Several stood open while black uniformed security and engineering crew pieced together several pressure suits.

  The suits like all other aspects of the ship had an

unfamiliar design. Instead of the standard ribbed design they had flat almost armor like panels on the chest and back. All panels were solid instead of flexible ribs. They also had very pronounced hinged joints.

  Commander Tarva had expected the suits to be black to match

the current color scheme of all the other uniforms. These suits, however, where a dull gray like the hull of the ship.

  Tarva walked around one of the suits, looked at Norton and

said "They look like something out of the dark ages."

  "They are." came a voice from the cargo bay door.
  "Sir." Tarva and Norton said together, it was Captain

Anthony.

  "As you said, we needed pressure suits for warriors."

Anthony said as he walked up to them. "The NM-1's are more than pressure suits, they are suits of armor."

  The Captain turned to one of the crew and said "Is one of

these completed?"

  The crewman pointed to one of the suits hanging on a

shipping container.

  "Have you completed complete systems diagnostics on it?"
  "It was the first thing we did before unpacking any of the

other suits, Sir" was the reply.

  Anthony than turned to Norton and said "Your phaser

please."

  Without hesitation Commander Norton handed the Captain his

phaser. Captain Anthony then made a point of showing everybody he was setting it to maximum power. This would be enough to vaporize just about anything smaller than a standard shuttle.

  "Stand back" he said and poured an extended beam into the

suit. The suit and container jumped back from the force of the blast. Heat poured from the suit and the cargo container buckled from it. All present had to cover their eyes and faces from the heat and bright red glow.

  The heat subsided quickly but the cargo container continued

to glow. Anthony turned to one of the technicians and said "Run a new diagnostics on it. I also want to see a copy of its internal atmospheric record."

  "Aye, Sir." said the crewman and pulled out a special NM-1

diagnostics tricorder which had come with the new suits.

  After a couple of minutes of running the diagnostics the

crewman said "All systems check out in perfect working order."

  The atmospheric report showed that the temperature inside

the suit had risen a total of 10 degrees Celsius during the phaser blast. It might have been uncomfortable but it wouldn't have been harmful.

  "These suits are made of a similar material as the hull of

The Vigilante." Captain Anthony said giving the phaser back to Norton. "The material is different than our hull, it has a much denser cell structure and disperses much more energy as heat. The reason our hull is not made of it is that it takes ten times the current hull material to make the suit material. To protect even more the suits also have built in deflector shields."

  Anthony then pointed to the life support pack.  "The NM-1

suits have an extended life support range of up to five days. They have built in maneuvering jets, they're suppose to be even better than the space walk packs we use now."

  Commander Norton decided to speak up "If these suits are

made of basically the same material as the hull does that mean that scanners will not penetrate them?"

  Captain Anthony smiled and said "So they tell me, anybody

want to find out?"

  With very little discussion it was decided that Commander

Norton should be the first to try on the new suit. It took a while to configure a suit to fit him, but it would have to be done eventually. After suiting up he walked around and tested the joints. The suit fit extremely snug on him, but this was to compensate for vacuum of space.

  "This isn't to bad" he said "It's much lighter then the

standard suit." He than began studying the control panels on one of his lower arms where's the cloaking button?" he said with a wide grin.

  "They weren't able to reduce the circuitry to install in the

suit by shipping time." Anthony replied seriously.

  "You mean they were trying to cloak our pressure suits too?

They really were pulling out all of the stops." Tarva said.

  "Actually if you want to be precise these pressure suits are

not intended for the large portion of the crew currently on the Vigilante." Captain Anthony said. "The only ones who will be issued the NM-1 are command staff and security. The rest will be issued to the new crew we will be picking up after the space trials have begun."

  He turned back to Commander Norton and said lets check the

standard tricorder readings. The crewman with NM-1 diagnostic tricorder replaced it with a standard tricorder. After Norton put on the helmet and lowered the face shield the crewman started walking around him.

  The tricorder made it's usual buzzing and whirling sounds,

after a few minutes he said "The tricorder doesn't even pickup the suit's energy pack. It does, however, show a smaller solid object like a rock of indeterminate make up, about a meter high."

  Almost a meter was cut off Norton's height.  All present

were extremely impressed.

  "Now lets take a look at the new phasers..." Anthony said

and headed to a differant set of containers.

  They were breaking into the phaser boxes when Commander

Doittel and Doctor Cembera hailed Captain Anthony. They announced that the ship's cloaking was available for testing. Captain Anthony agreed, he thought it was also a good time to run scanner tests on the Vigilante.

  "Commander Tarva, have the scanner prepared Drop Ship

readied for a mission in two hours." Captain Anthony said.


  The Drop Ship swung around to face the Vigilante in its

space dock. Ensign O'Malley had become the resident D S pilot. She still insisted she was a Star Ship navigator, not a Drop Ship pilot. Nevertheless, here she sat with Captain Anthony sitting in the co-pilot's seat the First Officer standing behind him and the Chief of security standing behind her. It was enough to make even the most experienced Drop Ship pilot(if there was one) nervous.

  Captain Anthony was busily working the scanners that had

been installed for this exercise. He looked up and smiled, "I read this side of the space dock structure without problem" he reported. "I can count every soul in Construction offices and housing. The structure on the far side of the ship appears to be fuzzy. From the scanners I would say that a small tug size vessel may be in dock. I, however, do not read any life forms on the vessel."

  Commander Tarva smiled and said "A standard tug is less than

a quarter the mass of the Vigilante and only has two warp engines. Currently there are over two hundred crew and construction personnel on the Vigilante."

  Tarva then pulled her oversized communicator out of one of

her pockets and said "Engage cloaking."

  "Acknowledged" came back Dolittel's voice.
  The Vigilante shimmered a bit and disappeared.  The girders

on the far side of the ship became visible. The only odd part were the few supports connecting the Vigilante with space dock, they seemed to be cut off at mid point.

  Captain Anthony spoke up with an update from the scanners

"Scanners now show no presence of the Vigilante and clearly define the whole space dock. This is going to be a very interesting mission."


  The dull gray Vigilante hung in the black girders of it's

space dock backed by the turbulent orange of TE-4. On one of the girders stood a lone figure in a gray pressure suit similar in color to the ship. All four warp engines glowed blue from testing.

  Captain Anthony hadn't had time to look at his ship since

the crew boarded. It was now two months later and this may be the last time he would see the Vigilante from the outside. They were scheduled to begin space trials today. After leaving space dock they would not return to the Tau-Epsilon system, any problems that came up they were required to fix on their own. Because of this policy, all systems were being meticulously checked before the trials began.

  "Preparing to release supports." came a voice from

Construction Control.

  "Acknowledged" Anthony said as he stepped off the girder and

fired his maneuvering controls "Vigilante, engage stabilizer engines."

  "Aye, Aye, Sir." replied Commander Tarva.
  As Anthony came down over the top starboard warp drive he

could see the relatively small stabilizer rockets begin firing while the supports from space dock were released. The stabilizer rockets were computer controlled to keep the Vigilante in a relatively fixed position. In this case the fixed position was in relation to the space dock.

  "Commander Dolittel, what is our earliest estimated time of

departure." Anthony said to his suit's communicator when he entered the air lock.

  "I can have us ready for departure in six hours" said

Dolittel almost immediately.

  "You have two." said Anthony with a smile.
  "I think we may be able to pull that off." was Dolittel's

smart reply.

  Captain Anthony knew that John Dolittel seemed to always

tripled his actual estimates. Dolittel had said he started it when he was in the Academy just to give himself room for error. He than found that it made himself and his team look good when they came in under their estimated times. Now he just did it out of habit, it had just become expected of him.


  Captain Anthony sat in his place on the bridge in front of

him to his right sat the red headed Ensign O'Malley who was Picard's contribution to his crew. Picard had made a good choice in this one, she not only was a highly qualified navigator but had proven herself a fine Drop Ship pilot. She also had something in common with many of her fellow crew, she had a personal interest in the Borg.

  Ensign O'Malley's father, Doctor Peter O'Malley was killed

when the Borg destroyed his ship. With eleven thousand personnel killed and nearly forty star ships destroyed the one encounter with a Borg ship touched all members of Star Fleet personally one way or another.

  Captain Anthony reflected on how many of his crew came to be

on the Vigilante because of that one battle with the Borg. Commander Tarva was the lone survivor of the Eclipse, Ensign O'Malley lost her only family, and many others qualified for the no family, no attachments, provisions of the mission for the same reason.

  As he sat waiting for the launching of the United Star Ship

Vigilante, Captain Anthony felt extreme satisfaction. He too met all requirements of the mission thanks to the one battle with the Borg and Locutus. His last command the USS Nielsen was destroyed in the battle. He had been on Star Base A-6 recovering from a sever bout of Anturi Flu. The medical facilities on the Nielsen had not been adequate for his recovery. The Nielsen had just docked at Star Base and transferred him to it's infirmary when the call came. The Nielsen was to join the armada in a last ditch stand against the Borg.

  Captain Anthony was unconscious the whole time until the

Nielsen was destroyed. When all life on the Nielsen ended, Anthony woke up screaming. They told him he screamed for an hour after waking. The reports of the defeat at Wolf-359 had not yet reached Star Base A-6. In fact, Anthony was not aware he wasn't on the Nielsen. The news of the destruction of the Nielsen dropped him into a shock induced comma. With the death of the Nielsen his life ended too. His wife, lover, best friend was also his First Officer. She was in command in his absence, she would have faced the Borg in his place. She had died without him by her side as they had always promised each other. After waking from the comma his hair started to come in gray. Now just a few years later his jet black hair was almost all gray.

  After the destruction of the Nielsen, Captain Robert Anthony

lost all desire to have anything to do with Star Fleet. He moved to the pioneer planet, Infiniti West and settled down to a life of isolation.

  Infiniti West was a colony planet with an environment

similar to earth. During the early days of colonization, Infiniti West was settled by a group that spurned all technology. Their goal was to establish a colony based on the pioneer life style of 18th century North America. Infiniti West's varied climates made it ideal for adventurers. From seemingly endless tracks of ancient forests to expansive hostile deserts to mountain ranges that made anything on Earth look puny. Infiniti West had something for everyone.

  There was a small Star Fleet station in orbit and some

inconspicuous forts, that helped control visitors to the planet. Their main function was as base stations for scientists studying Infiniti West's immense ecology.

  Robert Anthony lived in a small stone dwelling he found in

the high mountain region of the main continent. The cabin was just below the mountain's tree line. In the foot hills was a small trading post catering to the local trappers and home stedders. For over a year he lived alone seeing only an occasional trapper.

  His solitude ended when he came back from a hunting trip to

find two Star Fleet officers examining his cabin. One was a taller bearded man but the other gave away who they were, the gold skinned android, Data, was the signature of the Enterprise.

  "Captain Robert Anthony?" said the android.
  Anthony dropped the carcass of a six legged furry animal

onto a stone table in his yard. Then jumped down from his horse. The horse whinnied and backed a few steps from Data. Horses had been scattered through out the stars from Earth and they still seemed to know when something wasn't natural.

  "Captain is a Star Fleet title," Anthony said as he began to

walk the horse to it's carrel. "and Robert is what my wife called me."

  "I'm William T. Riker First Officer of the U.S.S.

Enterprise." said the bearded man "This is Mr Data".

  Anthony put the horse in it's carrel and began removing the

saddle. He turned to the two officers and said curtly "What do you want with me?"

  Mr Data began relating their story, it turned out they had

been searching Infiniti West for several months. A team had finally been able to locate him when they found the small trading post and heard of a loner in the mountains every one called, Star Fleet.

  Thus began the drawn out negotiations as they tried to

convince him to return to Star Fleet. The Enterprise had already spent two months in orbit around Infiniti West with many teams looking for him. They now seemed quite intent on not leaving until he agreed to come with them. After more than two weeks he rode his horse to the trading post, where he gave his few possessions to the only person he thought of as a friend, the merchant he did most of his business with.

  Riker, dressed in the local style outfit he had worn during

the search met him at the trading post. Together they beamed up to the Enterprise and Robert Anthony rejoined the elite rank of Star Fleet Captains.


  "Captain, this is engineering, we're ready any time you

are." It was Dolittel in his usual informal manner.

  "Construction Control," Captain Anthony said "the USS

Vigilante is ready to leave the nest."

  "It's been a wonderful experience" came Doctor Cembera's

voice in reply.

  Doctor Cembera stood in Construction Control.  She watched

as the Vigilante slowly moved out from under her. It had a preset course of test maneuvers to run while leaving the system. They had to make sure all the bolts were tight before trying the warp drives. Once they were out of the Tau-Epsilon system though, they would never return. Doctor Cembera had a tear in her eye as if watching an only child go off to war.

  "Doctor," came a voice from beside her.
  "Yes."
  "Memory Alpha reports they are ready to begin shipping the

hulks you requested."

  Doctor Cembera continued to watch the Vigilante slide

silently away then said "Tell them to proceed."


  The trip out of the Tau Epsilon system was an anti-climax.

After so many hours of work few even knew they had even gotten under way. The ship performed flawlessly during the maneuvers through the system.

  Before entering warp, Captain Anthony ordered the cloaking

engaged. It was standard operating procedure that the Vigilante run cloaked. It would not do for anybody to get a look at her while she remained 'Top Secret'. The trip through the Tau Epsilon system would be the only time they would run uncloaked, while the cloaking was functional. For the cloaking to function the deflector shields only needed to be at 10% power.

  "Set course to Predetermined Test Coordinates three."

Anthony said.

  "Aye" Ensign O'Malley said while entering the course.
  "Warp one, engage."
  "Warp one engaged" said the middle aged human sitting in the

Helmsman's seat.

  "Engineering, how are we doing?"
  "I thought we were going to test this thing." said Dolittel

"Not just push her about."

  "Warp five, engage" Anthony said.
  "Warp five engaged" returned the Helmsman.
  There was no obvious difference between sitting in space

dock and traveling at warp five except the view screen no longer showed TE-4 below them but the standard 'rushing stars' opticle illusion of warp.

  The Vigilante spent the next week testing the engines for

extended periods of time below warp 9.6. Finally, Captain Anthony decided it was time to test the Vigilante's acceleration to warp 9.6 from sub warp.

  "Sir, all hands report ready for acceleration test."

Commander Tarva reported.

  Once again Captain Anthony didn't expect to notice anything

special when they jumped to high warp. He couldn't help but wonder if they might sense something.

  "Sir, test coordinates set for warp 9.6 acceleration test."

Ensign O'Malley said.

  "Warp 9.6, engage" Captain said.
  "Warp 9.6 engaged." replied the helmsman than immediately

reported "Current velocity, warp 9.6"

  Anthony thought he felt a slight acceleration but nothing

substantial. They achieved warp 9.6 almost instantly and the Vigilante didn't seem to be effected in any way.

  "Engineering, hold current velocity and begin complete

diagnostic tests, on engines, all systems and ship's structures." Captain Anthony said then headed to the command room.

  Anthony immediatly began preparing a sub-space transmission

to a small colony world near the Romulan Neutral Zone.


  "Captain Anthony, Sir" came Dolittel's voice over the

intercom.

  "Anthony here"
  "All tests complete, the Vigilante has held warp 9.6 for

seven hours with no adverse effects."

  "Very good, prepare to come out of warp."
  Captain Anthony walked back onto the bridge, his crew was

busy running continuous high warp test. "Helm, bring us out of warp."

  "Aye, Sir".
  "Ensign O'Malley, Plot the best possible course to the

Romulan Neutral Zone, sector 5876.34."

  Ensign O'Malley pushed a few buttons on her panel. Then said

"Course plotted ,Sir."

  "At warp 9.6 what would be the estimated time of travel?"
  Ensign O'Malley pushed a few more buttons and said "Two

weeks, three days two hours, eighteen minutes.."

  "Very good," Captain Anthony said and took his seat.  "Set

new course as plotted, warp nine, engage."

  "Ensign O'Malley on present course what would be the

estimated time of arrival using controlled worm hole effect?"

  Ensign O'Malley turned to a second console that appeared

tacked on to her normal console. After pushing several buttons, looking at the display and repeating she said "If we are able to cancel the Worm hole after exactly two minutes 43 point 7676543 seconds we should emerge in sector 5876.34."

  Anthony thought a second and said "How long is that figure

good for?"

  "Sir, taking into account our current speed and the size of

sector 5876.43, about 2 minutes. After that the fractional seconds would begin making a significant difference."

  "Recalculate the timing for fifteen minutes from now and

feed it to my station." Anthony had configured his console to control the worm-hole effect along with helm and navigation.

  He then pushed the worm hole warning alarm.  A loud claxon

began blaring from the ship wide intercom. Another button shut the claxon off on the bridge. The view screen began showing a count down to the controlled worm hole. The bridge crew began strapping themselves into their seats for the first time. While all over the bridge on duty and off duty personnel took their own seats. Many crew had been woke out of comfortable beds not knowing what was going on.

  The view screens in each cabin announced the planned

maneuvere. Each cabin also came equipped with Rough Duty chairs usually built into a wall as part of the decor. All chairs had occupant sensors activated during the worm hole warning. The computer was able to report when all personnel were accounted for.

  "Controlled worm hole count down initiated." Captain Anthony

said almost sarcastically after shutting the bridge claxon off.

  As Commander Tarva watched the count down approach zero she

couldn't help but think this could be their actual first step to meet the Borg or it could all end right now.

  "Shields at Maximum." she heard Commander Norton report just

before she saw the view screen rush at her. It felt as if she was being crushed on a high gravity planet. She could feel her seat begin to wrap around her and heard a female voice begin to scream. In front of her Ensign O'Malley bucked against the restraints and belts, it must of been her screaming. Other voices began to fill her head as the rest of the bridge crew joined the chorus of screams. She watched Ensign O'Malley start screaming in pain and soon heard the new female voice. Tarva realized that she must have heard her own voice to begin with.

  As the count down on the view screen approached the shut

down point Tarva thought she could feel the ship bump or shift a little. The ship seemed to begin to fall away from her. She felt like she was alternately hanging from the restraint belts and being pushed back into the chair. The timer on the view screen counted passed the set shut down point.

  The Vigilante seemed to tumble end over end through the worm

hole it's own warp drives had created. The effect was no longer controlled by the Vigilante. Tarva knew something was wrong by the change in the felt effect and tried to reach for her own controls which proved at first quite elusive.

  After bringing up helm station she began issuing shut down

and stabilization commands to the drive systems. Nothing seemed to have any effect, finally, she started desperate maneuvers including reverse warp. Anything to break out of the worm hole. When the Vigilante finally broke out, the crew blacked out.

  Tarva woke to the sound of a moaning bridge crew.  The view

screen showed 3 minutes 22 seconds of worm hole effect. The other members were slowly regaining conciseness. Tarva unbuckled the straps and opened her restraints. Ensign O'Malley was already standing and stretching.

  Captain Anthony hit his intercom and said "Engineering,

Dolittel what the hell happened to us?"

  "Unknown, we're trying to determine that out now, Sir. "

Dolittel said groggily.

  Tarva saw Ensign O'Malley punching buttons on her console.

"Ensign O'Malley, report what is our present location?"

  "According to the Star Charts we're well within the

Romulan Empire."

  "I was afraid of that." the Captain muttered.
  "Bridge this is Engineering."
  "Go ahead" Tarva said.
  "Sir we'll have to shut down all power to shields and

engines so we can effect repairs to number three warp engine"

  "Commander Dolittel we are in the middle of the Romulan

Empire we may be needing the warp drives and shields. Do we currently have shields and cloaking?"

  "Yes sir, shields are at 40 percent and cloaking is

activated."

  "Do we have maneuvering capabilities?"
  "Engines one and two are on line engine four will remain

inoperative until engine three comes back on line. Our current sustainable top speed is warp 7 and the so called 'controllable worm hole' is inoperative."

  "Ensign O'Malley, at warp 7 how long will it take to get to

our original destination?" Anthony said turning to his navigator.

  The Ensign punched a few buttons and reported "Five weeks,

three days ".

  "and Warp 9.6?"
  Ensign O'Malley reentered her figures and said "One week

five days."

  "Engineering, what is the estimated time for repairs and

corrections to warp coil?"

  "We should be able to do it in three days." was Dolittel's

reply.

  Anthony thought for a bit and said to his first officer "If

we commence with these repairs we're going to need some place to hide. We don't want to be hanging in the middle of Romulan territory with all systems off line. No matter how well our hull protects us from sensors."

  "Agreed, Sir, What do you have in mind." Tarva Said.
  "Since the Romulans may have detected our worm hole this may

not be the best place to hang out. Ensign O'Malley is there an uninhabited star system in this area?"

  "Sir, sensors show two systems in this sector, our records

of Romulan space are not detailed enough to give specific habitation information. One system, however, is a red dwarf star and it is very unlikely there would be any colonies there but there may be a science outpost."

  "Set course for the red dwarf system"
  "Course plotted and set" O'Malley said immediately.
  "At warp 7 what is our ETA?"
  "two days seven hours twenty three minutes, Sir"
  "Sir," Commander Norton interrupted "Romulan war bird

uncloaking about ten kilometers off port bow."

  "Have they seen us?" Tarva asked.
  "Not yet, they're apparently here to investigate the worm

hole. They are doing intensive sensor sweeps of the area. Weapons are unarmed and shields are at a minimum."

  Tarva looked at the image Norton had put up on the screen.

"If they were able to get here that fast we must be in a heavily travel sector."

  "Agreed," Anthony said "set course to red dwarf system full

impulse. Lets put a little distance between us before going to warp. We don't know how good their motion detectors are. Engage

  "Engineering"
  "Commander Dolittel here."
  "Commander, we will be in position for you to effect your

repairs in about three days"

  "Very good, Dolittel out."
  Anthony then turned to Commander Norton "Have they spotted

us yet?"

  "Not yet sir, the war bird is still directing sensors at the

area of the worm hole exit."

  "Very good, Helm, warp 7, engage".
  The Vigilante jumped to warp seven and headed toward the red

dwarf.

  There were no research stations or other habitats in the

system. There were several small planets and a gas giant, the vigilante dropped into a close orbit around the giant and tried to hide in its electromagnetic aura.

  Engineering crawled into the warp engines to fix the bad

coil and test the other three. The rest of the crew began running extensive diagnostics of all systems.

  Commander Tarva's aversion to sleep began to catch up with

her. Captain Anthony ordered her to her cabin until the warp drives were back on line. He made it quite clear that she was not to return to the bridge unless ordered there.

  Tarva was wearing the under uniform shorts and tank top

while exercising in her cabin. She had set up several gadgets for more efficient exercise. A chin-up bar was stretched between the room dividers and a slanted sit-up board was in her front room. Her hair was rolled in to a bun at the back of her head and she was soaked with sweat. This is how Commander Norton found her when he came to visit.

  "Your suppose to be resting." he said as she wiped sweat

from her high forehead.

  She looked around the room and said "I am relaxing."

then went into the head.

  "I don't think this is what the Captain had in mind." Simon

said as he dropped into one her chairs. Because of their similar experiences they had become fast friends.

  Simon heard Tarva taking a shower and had time to reflect on

the circumstances which brought him here. He had spent his childhood on a planet called Hellguard. It was a planet the Romulans occasionally dumped their half breed children born of captives. He was approximately twenty when he was found as an emaciated stow away on a pirate freighter that had visited Hellguard. They put him to work as slave labor and it took him nearly two years to escape to a Federation colony.

  His first task was to create a new life.  He started by

picking a new name. He decided a human name would be as fresh a beginning as he could get. After many years he was finally able to work his way to Earth and petition to the Academy for a scholarship. Thanks to the long life associated with being half Volcan and half Romulan he was not considered too old.

  He was finally content, after years of hopping from ship to

ship he was finally on the most powerful Star Ship Star Fleet had ever conceived.

  Tarva came out from her shower wearing her short black robe

and her wet hair tied up in a towel. She sat cross legged on her bed and said "How are the repairs coming?"

  "Commander Dolittel reports that the repairs are coming

along on schedule. We should be able to continue the tests of the Vigilante in a day or so."

  "Very good we have a lot to do before we can embark on our

mission. Has there been any more signs of Romulans in the area?"

  "We've been keeping a constant passive scanner watch since

taking the shields and warp drives off line. There has been no sign of activity in this area."

  "This all seems too easy."
  "The right equipment can make a difficult job seem easy."
  Tarva smiled at this cliche, Simon seemed to like cliches.

She responded with her own "Yes but sometimes when things seem to be going right something has got to go wrong."

  They both laughed at their exchange, Norton then got

serious.

  "Sashon," very few people knew her personal name and fewer

yet would ever use it, "you haven't been sleeping much since coming on board, we all know it, is there anything I can do to help?"

  Tarva sat up stiff "A Kalonian does not need as much sleep

as other members of the Federation." she said proudly.

  Simon was not impressed, he seldom was, "You haven't

answered my question. From one suspicious personality to another, something is wrong, you can't hide it from me. I know you too well".

  Tarva made a point of looking at her time piece and

announced "It is time for me to sleep, we can finish this conversation at a later date."

  Knowing he was at a bulk head he stood bowed slightly from

the hips and walked out.

  Tarva assumed her cross legged meditation position.  It did

not give her the absolute rest every body eventually needed. It did, however, give her some rest and the dreams didn't come.

  ...Tarva lay in the escape pod barely conscious.  She could

see out of her right eye but only barely. She could feel a weight laying across her. With great effort she managed to pull herself out and look down at it. The remains of her Captain still lay partially on her. His black skin was barely recognizable through the blood and lacerations. Most of the front of the body had taken the force of the explosion that had thrown them into the pod. Much of the flesh and muscle had been blackened from the blast.

  As she looked at it, the body shuddered and took a labored

breath. It's eye opened and the burned skull turned to look at her. The remains of its mouth and jaw struggled to form words.

  "You failed." it gasped "The ship is destroyed your Captain

and crew are dead. How is it that you managed to save your self? A Kalonian putting herself ahead of her comrades who depended her? Who do you think you are? Do you think you really deserve to live?" It had been edging toward her and grabbed her face. It started pulling her towards it, with what was left of it's mouth dangling open.

  Tarva woke thrashing and screaming she was totally soaked in

sweat. She could still feel hands on her face and screamed even louder.

  She could feel words in her mind telling her to be calm.

She was safe and nothing could hurt her. She could still feel the hands touching her face but now it was calming. She thought she could even see her own face with light skinned hands on it. The nightmare had turned to a dream she could relax and let her muscles loosen. Finally she felt safe enough to open her eyes and see what was real.

  Commander Norton sat above her, his bald head accented by

his pointed ears. His hands had been the ones she had felt. He pulled his hands away and looked into her eyes.

  "How do you feel?" he said.
  "What happened?"
  "I wasn't gone more than twenty paces when I came back in to

ask you something. You had already fallen into a dream, nightmare. As soon as I touched you, you started screaming. I only had time to use a mind meld to calm you as you came out of it."

  "Every time," Tarva finally admitted "I fall a sleep the

dreams of the Eclipse's destruction return. They change, they're becoming more vivid, more twisted. Scenes that would normally not bother me are scaring me like I've never known. I've become frightened of sleep, a Kalonian warrior afraid of her bed. What have I become?"

  "You need to resolve the guilt you feel of being the only

survivor of the Eclipse." Norton said. "I don't know if I can help you with that. It is something you must admit to yourself and cope with it. I can, however, use the mind-meld to perhaps help you sleep better. Are you willing to let me try?"

  Tarva thought for a second then looked down at the black

robe plastered to her body with sweat. "I'll try." she said.

  She then got up and went into her bathroom.  He could see

her open the robe and drop it off her arms as she disappeared around the corner.

  When Tarva returned she was wearing a robe the same design

as the black one only a dark red. She still wore the Simtar on her right shin. It occurred to him that he had been extremely lucky she hadn't reached for it when she woke from the nightmare.

  Tarva got into her bed, for the first time in a long time

under the blanket. Commander Norton sat in a chair next to her and lightly touched the sides of her head as if massaging the temples.

  As she drifted into sleep he assured her the dreams were an

illusion. This time with his comfort the dreams stayed away. He could keep the dreams from her, the guilt she would have to work out on her own. He did, however, plant suggestions to keep the fear away. Without the terror she had been experiencing with the nightmares, she would be able to sleep.

  Tarva woke to the piping sound on her intercom and Captain

Anthony paging her. She sat up and looked around her. Commander Norton was long gone. Her red robe was tangled into the covers of her bed, all she wore was the Simtar and sheath strapped to her leg. How long she had been a sleep she had no idea but she felt totally refreshed.

  "Commander Tarva here." she said as she stood and stretched.
  "Please report to the bridge, immediately."
  "Aye, Sir."
  Tarva looked at her time piece and tried to remember what

time it was when she kicked Simon out the first time. By her calculations she must have been asleep over fifteen hours.

  When Tarva arrived on the bridge she hadn't taken the time

to brush and braid her hair as normal. Instead it lay rather unruly on the top of her head and a long pony tail tied in several places hung down her back.

  On the view screen was a distant shot of an uncommon Romulan

ship. Tarva took her seat next to the Captain studied the image for a few seconds and said "What is it?"

  "It appears to be a Romulan research vessel of some kind."

Commander Norton said. "It came out of warp uncloaked several minutes before we started paging you."

  "What's its projected course?"
  "That's why we've gotten the bridge crew together."  Anthony

said "Its current trajectory will put it in orbit around this planet in about an hour"

  Tarva checked the current ship's configuration.  The shields

and engines were still off line. The blast shields were shut to help reduce the Vigilante's sensor profile.

  "Are we going to go into silent running?" she asked.
  "All departments are preparing for the restricted movements

called for by silent running." Commander Norton reported "It'll initiate in five minutes."

  "And Engineering?"
  "Engineering, reports all systems should be back online in

six hours. They are beyond the point of no return and must finish the repairs before they can bring anything up." Captain Anthony said seemingly unconcerned.

  "And what is the current plan?" Tarva said looking at her

Captain.

  "We sit and hope they don't see us.  The planet is big

enough, unless they actually see us they shouldn't pick up any sign of us."

  "Hence the silent running."
  "That's correct, Commander."
  "I hope it works."
  "Your not the only one." Captain Anthony reclined his chair

slightly and looked at the screen.

  The crew of the Vigilante began a long wait.  They took

their places in the Rough Duty chairs. All accept essential activity was curtailed.

  Many automatic systems were discontinued or limited.  The

Turbo lifts ran at one quarter speed unless an emergency over ride was issued. Most important, however, was that the life support circulation systems were also limited.

  When the Vigilante's orbit took it to the night side of the

planet the temperature dropped to an unusual and generally uncomfortable 5 degrees Celsius. On the day side the temperature rose some what but the hull construction didn't allow much solar energy to penetrate. Temperature changes were expected so all Rough Duty seats were temperature controllable but it didn't help much.

  Engineering continued their repairs but at a much slower

pace. Noises from any accidents may be picked up by the Romulan ship, especially if it was a research vessel with hypersensitive scanners.

  The arms holding the warp drives did not have artificial

gravity. The engineers working on the drives were carried through the arms in specially designed turbo lifts. They then worked in zero gravity using magnetic tools and holders. The work required highly skilled personnel and was extremely dangerous.

  The valve that ruptured, had been damaged during the

original mishap. When it blew, the specialist never new what hit her. A large blast of gas crushed her against the bulkhead, it also caused an exterior evacuation valve to blow. The resulting gas leak caused a bright orange streak as it burned in the planet's atmosphere.

  When the emergency lights flashed, Ensign O'Malley shifted

the view screen to reverse. As the bridge crew watched, an orange streak flared out behind them.

  Captain Anthony turned to his First Officer and said "I

think we're in trouble".

  "Engineering, what happened down there?" Tarva said.
  "Unknown, Sir" came Chief Swanson's voice "Commander

Dolittel is suiting up to take a team and have a look."

  Tarva turned on the view screen and looked at the concern on

Swanson's face. "We're going to need maneuvering as soon as possible." Tarva said trying to stress the urgency.

  "Commander," Swanson said "We still needed two hours before

the accident happened."

  "Chief, we need to get this thing moving.  We're also going

to need weapons or your not going to have time to finish the repairs." Captain Anthony said.

  Chief Swanson had gone ghost white, dealing with command was

not her job, she was a transporter Chief. "We'll do what we can." she said and turned off the screen.

  Anthony turned to Tarva and said "Chief Swanson needs some

help."

  Tarva headed toward the turbo lift issuing the emergency

over ride commands as she went.

  "Sir" it was Ensign O'Malley.
  "Yes, Ensign."
  "Sir, all the drop ships are armed and D.S. Three is still

equipped with cargo latches…"

  "Of course, we can use it to change our orbit, if we have

time. Commander Norton take Ensign O'Malley, launch two drop ships, one to provide cover the other to move the Vigilante." the Captain said.

  "Ensign O'Malley?" Commander Norton asked the Captain.
  "She's the only one on board who's had experience piloting

the tug converted Drop Ship."

  "Very well." Norton said joining the navigator at turbo-lift

two and said to the intercom "Shuttle bay, prepare drop ships three and seven for emergency use."

  "Acknowledged" was the brief reply.
  As the pair left the bridge Captain Anthony reconfigured his

console for the navigator station.

  As soon as the turbo lift's door closed Commander Norton

started giving additional instructions to the shuttle bay.

  "Commander, Sir, don't we have any other Drop Ship pilots on

board?" Ensign O'Malley asked when Commander Norton finished talking to the shuttle bay.

  "No, we do not.  The drop ship pilots will be boarded after

the space trials"

  "That helps us a lot now doesn't it?"
  "Well, Ensign, it's keeping you busy."
  The turbo-lift's high speed yellow warning light flashed,

then it jerked to a stop at the shuttle bay. In the shuttle bay, two Drop Ships waited for launch. Out side of the lift two light weight pilot's pressure suits waited for them.

  They had already started removing their baggy black uniforms

while in the lift. Jackets and boots laying on the floor of the lift, Commander Norton and Ensign O'Malley stepped out of their pants as they stepped out of the lift and into the pressure suits.

  The doors of the Drop Ships stood open and the engines were

already warming up. As they approached the ships, the shuttle bay doors opened with only a force field between them and open space. When they entered their perspective ships, the lowered steps practically lifted them in as they closed behind them.

  As soon as she was strapped in, Ensign O'Malley had Drop

Ship Three powered up for launch. She watched D.S. Seven launch and flicker out practically before he was out of the bay. Janice waited a preset time and launched D.S. Three. As soon as she could power back from launch she too engaged the cloaking.

  Time was of the essence, the gas they leaked had burned in

their orbit. It's composition, caused a solid sensor reading when it burned. Her goal was to shift the Vigilante to a different orbit so the Romulans would be a lot less likely to find it. Luckily they had taken an orbit on the opposite side of the planet but it wouldn't be long before they spotted the gas trail.

  Immediately after launching, Ensign O'Malley turned D. S.

Three back toward the bulbous main body of the Vigilante. She skimmed across the hull between the upswept arms of the top warp engines. The magnetic couplings were extended searching for the Vigilante's frame.

  Since the Romulan's sensors would have a very difficult time

finding the Vigilante the largest worry was someone actually seeing them from a view screen or window. If They got close enough to be spotted, D.S. Seven would have to destroy the Romulan ship before it could report to it's superiors. Under no circumstances, could the Vigilante allow it's existence be known by the Romulans.

  The Vigilante was designed with scramblers, hopefully

capable of confusing the Borg for an extended period of time. They were prepared to use the scramblers to prevent the Romulans from reporting back until D.S. Seven was able to destroy them. Hopefully, it would not come to that.

  The feedback from the couplings told her she was over a

likely spot. Slowly she landed D.S. Three on the hull of the Vigilante and engaged the couplings at full strength. The connection, however, was not strong because of the composite hull but it would have to do.

  The Drop Ship's sensors showed the Romulan closing the gap

from the opposite side of the planet. She had to move the Vigilante away from the current orbit and try to keep the planet between them and the Romulans.

  The problem was that because of the weak connection she

could not accelerate quickly. She had to work slowly and nudge the Vigilante into a still lower and different orbit.

  "Ensign O'Malley," came Captain Anthony's voice over the

directed beam communications "their getting close."

  "Sir, I have a weak connection if I accelerate too quickly

I'll lose it. How much longer till we have cloaking back on line?"

  "Because of the accident, Commander Dolittel estimates we're

back to just under two days."


  The Romulan research vessel, Raptor, had just returned to

its post. It's mission was the study of the effects of a collapsing red star on it's planets.

  "Commander, I read some kind of an anomaly on the opposite

side of the planet." the young female Romulan said almost apologetically.

  "Elaborate." said an older female Romulan sitting in the

middle of the bridge.

  "I was running standard high altitude atmospheric scans when

I watched an object form and grow in low orbit. It reads as a solid cylinder about 10 symtons long. We are currently too far away to get an accurate reading on it's composition." said the young sensor operator.

  "Perhaps we have found a new phenomenon."  said the lead

scientist sitting at another sensor station.

  "Helm, adjust orbit for close inspection of this anomaly"

the Commander said.

  The Raptor adjusted orbit to intercept the anomaly.  As they

approached, the sensor operator reported "Sir, it is not solid, it appears to be a gas that registered solid on the long range sensors."

  As the lead scientist studied his scanners he reported "I am

not aware of any element that would create that kind of reading."

  The anomaly was soon close enough to be put on the screen.

It was a long orange streak that seemed to be fading into the atmosphere.

  The young sensor operator finished the analysis and said

"Sir, it appears to be pure mhalogin gas burning in the atmosphere."

  "Where did it come from." the Commander said to herself.
  "Did you say mhalogin?" came an older male's voice from an

open door.

  "Yes, Centurian, but mhalogin does not appear naturally in

pure form and is rare in the Empire" the operator said.

  "I know, but the Federation uses it to cool warp drives."

the Centurian said.

  With the Centurian's comment the Commander hit the Red Alert

and yelled "Shields….Shields…" Before the inexperienced crew was able to bring shields up the ship rocked from an explosion.

  "What happened?" the Commander shouted.
  "We've been hit" replied the Centurian calmly.
  "Get those shields raised.  Damage report, where were we

hit..sensors, who fired on us" the Commander shouted feeling that she was about to lose her first command.

  The Centurian stood at a console after relieving a much

younger crew member. "Commander," he said "the shields are inoperative."

  The bridge rocked from another explosion from a different

side of the ship. The helm console exploded in the operator's face.

  "What's happening? Helm, get us out of here.  Communications

issue a distress call, tell them we are being attacked by an unknown force."

  "Commander," the Helmsman said after the sparks died down

from her console. "I get no response from my console and engineering reports major damage from the last blast. All engines are off line."

  "Commander," the senors Operator said "the sensors are

inoperative, all I get is static."

  The Communications Officer said "All communications are

down, I was not able to issue the distress call."

  The Centurian studied the communications console then the

scanners. "Commander," he said.

  "Centurian" she acknowledge.
  "I believe our scanners and sensors are being jammed.  They

were not damaged in either attack. Also," he said "the two hits we received were precise, they knew right were to cripple us with minimal damage."

  The Commander sat down in her chair heavily and looked at

the fading orange streak. "A trap and we fell right into it. How did the Federation get into the heart of the Empire without detection."

  "Maybe they didn't." the Centurian said.
  "What do you mean."
  "Perhaps this is a test.  Perhaps you are being tested for

worthiness for higher command."

  She looked at him suspiciously "If this were the case

wouldn't you be told of it?"

  "I have no such knowledge."
  "Is this how they tested you in your day?"
  "We did not have the precision when I was young to conduct

this kind of test. I have also never heard of it being done. This does not, however, preclude it from starting."

  "So you don't have any actual knowledge that this is some

kind of test?"

  "Just the facts so far.  We are in the middle of the Empire

in an inconsequential system. We have been attacked by an unseen enemy with such precision that we are totally helpless but have suffered very light casualties. In fact so far there have been no deaths reported. It is my duty to report all possible alternatives to you."

  The Communications officer had been checking the

surveillance films. "Commander," he said "I have found the scenes of the attack."

  "We have pictures of our attacker?"
  "They're real brief, I missed them the first time around.  I

slowed the tape down and you can see it frame by frame."

  "Main screen"
  "This is the first attack." the Communications officer said

as he pressed a few buttons.

  The view was an angle up from under main body of the ship.

A frame at a time passed and they watched the nose of a strange looking ship start to uncloak. The star field peeled away from it as if the ship were emerging from a pool of water. Before it was half uncloaked a missile fired from its nose. The cloaking began to reform around the front of the ship as the tail finished uncloaking. At no time, was there a frame that showed the ship totally uncloaked.

  The Communications officer then said "I can overlay all

frames and get a complete picture of the craft." He pushed a few more buttons and a complete picture of the mysterious ship appeared on the screen. In front of it was a stream of torpedoes caused be the overlaying of the frames.

  The ship was a dull gray color.  It had a stub nose with

bridge obviously the top half and weapons appeared to fill the bottom half. The body was wide and boxy with a single access door on the side. The back lifted above the box with what was obviously the drives. Missing, were the standard warp drive pods sticking away from the body.

  "No warp drives." The Commander said.
  "Were did it come from, if it doesn't have warp drives?"

someone asked.

  "A mother ship." The Centurian answered.
  "Do you know what it is?" the Commander asked the Centurian.
  "My best guess, would be what we used to call a 'personnel

lander'" the Centurian said. "We used them when I was a very young officer and the Empire was expanding rapidly. They quickly carried warriors into battle zones where transporters could not be used. Planets that had transporter scramblers or whose atmosphere scrambled transporters naturally. I even commanded several landing crews." The Centurian shuttered at the memory of the bloody battles. These operations were not well chronicled because of their high mortality rate.

  "Is this one of those landers?" the Communications officer

asked.

  The Centurian walked up to the screen and said "No, but it

has similar features." he indicated the wide body and rounded bottom. "The bottom appears to have extra protection for the stress of dropping through the atmosphere." He then pointed to the back. "The main drives sit high, allowing for cargo to be quickly loaded on and off through wide back doors. If we had a view of the back I'd stake my life it's got them back there. Finally, if it wasn't designed to go into battle, it wouldn't be armed and cloaked. If it were designed for battle in space, it would have warp drives, therefore, it must be designed for battle planet side."

  The Commander sat and studied the picture then said "What do

sensors say during the exact time these frames were taken?"

  The scanner Operator said "I've been running all scanner

logs for the time frame. The best I can come up with is that they seem to have picked the ship up as a small piece of debris of undetermined make up." She then replaced the image on the screen with the scanner interpretation for the same area and time.

  Half the screen showed a graphic representation of what the

scanners had picked up the other side showed an analysis of the same data. The graphics showed an irregular shaped lump fade on, stay several frames, then fade out. At the time the lump reminded on screen the analysis showed size about a quarter that of the ship they had seen and mass as undetermined. No life was registered and all other data showed as undetermined.

  "What ever this thing is," the Commander said "It barely

needs cloaking"

  "Why doesn't it just destroy us and get it over with?" the

Helmsman asked.

  "Centurian," the Commander said "What would happen if we

suffered a massive loss of coolant from a warp drive?"

  "We'd be crippled" he replied.
  "That's right.  If this landing craft doesn't have warp

drives, it couldn't have leaked the mhalogin. Therefore, another ship must have leaked it."

  "It's protecting it's mother ship while effecting repairs".
  "And if the landing craft is cloaked and immune to the

sensors so probably would be the mother ship. If it were still cloaked, however, they wouldn't be worried about us being here."

  "The Federation doesn't cloak its ships," The Centurian

added "but The Klingons do."

  The Commander turned and looked at the Centurian and asked

"After all these years in service to the Empire, do you truly believe the Klingons would have let us live?"

  "No"
  "Now forgetting the official propaganda about the Federation

and relying only on your experience as a War Bird commander, what would the Federation do?"

  "The Federation would do all they could to avoid killing

even a sworn enemy." he said as if having a terrible secret dragged from him.

  The Commander continued to look at her Second in Command and

advisor then said "What if the Federation is experimenting with new technology, were would be the best place to put it to a true test? Inside the Romulan Empire, right. Now, what if they had an accident while stalking a harmless scientific vessel?"

  "They would do all they could to keep us from finding them

out."

  "Precisely,  If their cloaking is down our scanners would

pick them up but only as debris of undetermined make up, like the landing craft."

  "So, they would have to cripple us while they limped away to

make repairs."

  The Commander suddenly smiled and said to the crew "Run all

scanner logs since picking up the mhaligon trail. Look for any debris of undetermined makeup. Also, run a high resolution scan of all view screen logs looking for anything that looks like another ship."

  A loud claxon began blaring all over the ship.  The bridge

crew looked at the Commander and the Centurian.

  The Commander said almost in a panic "It's the Intruder

alert from engineering."

  Practically before the Commander had a chance to finish,

several places on the bridge shimmered briefly and figures wearing dull gray armored suits with darkened face shields where standing in strategic locations. Before anyone on the bridge had time to react, the intruders started shooting large black phasers at them.

  The Commander and Communications officer were the first to

go down. Before the Centurian was hit, he had time to fire his disrupter at one of the intruders. Several inches ahead of the suit, a deflector shield shimmered when the blast hit. The armored intruder returned fire and the Centurian was thrown against the console he had taken over earlier.

  Meanwhile, all over the ship, including the bridge,

canisters appeared and began emitting a white gas. The effects were relatively slow but the crew was soon unconscious. Those that were able to grab a gas mask were soon stunned down by an armored figure that would beam in, shoot them, remove the mask, then beam out.

  Two minutes after the intruder alert claxon came on a gloved

had reached to the Commander's console and turned it off. Commander Tarva looked at the command console through her helmet. "Let's work fast" she said into her intercom "the sooner we get back, the sooner Commander Dolittel will be able to get back to work on the warp drives." With transporters on line, Dolittel was unable to continue repairs.

  Another figured appeared on the bridge with phaser in hand.

Commander Norton looked around and said to Tarva "All ships personnel have been neutralized. Once the gas is gone they should be out about seventy two hours."

  "That should give Mr Dolittel more than enough time." Tarva

said as she pulled the Commander from her seat and dropped her on the floor. "OK, all personnel listen up, our first mission is to find out if they actually saw the Vigilante. If they did we'll have to destroy the ship. I regret it, but its necessary for our own survival. If we can find no record that they have seen the Vigilante we must remove all records of their encounter with us, starting with their entrance into this star system."

  "Too bad we don't have the time to wipe their memories as

well, that would make it really clean." Norton said.

  Tarva said "I know, but all they will have is memories of a

mysterious attack and no proof that will, in any way, link it to the Federation. Just speculation. Without concrete evidence the decision makers will not lend a lot of credence to their reports."

  "I hope your right." Norton said.
  Tarva smiled and said "So do I." she had taken the

Commander's seat and began down loading the ship's technical data banks to the Vigilante. She also began down loading all ship's logs to the Vigilante. She knew that in the time they had, she wouldn't get all of the information from either data bank but would get quite a bit.

  After five hours, Commander Tarva signaled to the Vigilante

'mission complete'. All the Vigilante personnel and gas canisters beamed off at once. With the canisters gone the ship's life support would start clearing the gas off the ship. Once the gas was gone, the crew would remain unconscious for an estimated seventy two hours.


  Sixty eight hours after beaming off the Romulan ship,

Commander Dolittel signaled the bridge that all systems were on line and functioning properly. They had also begun to pickup transmissions to the Romulan ship. The transmissions meant that they would soon be having more company, investigating the lost contact.

  The Vigilante jumped to warp 9.6 as soon as leaving the star

system. Captain Anthony immediately ordered a course plotted back to sector 5876.34 using the controlled worm hole effect. The crew nervously watched the count down remembering the last trip.

  This time Dolittel's realignments worked, dropping the

Vigilante into the correct sector. The worm hole effects were not nearly as sever and the exit was nearly undetectable when they dropped out.

  The Captain then gave the original coordinates as new

heading. The Vigilante immediately jumped to warp eight for its new destination.


  The Enterprise had been waiting at the predetermined meeting

place with no contact. They were several days over the estimated window of arrival. Captain Picard, however, had strict orders to stay on station until ordered other wise.

  "Captain" Lieutenant Worf said "Sub-space message coming in,

for your eyes only".

  "Thank you, Mr Worf, I'll take it in my ready room."
  The message was cryptic, to say the least, but it told

Picard all he needed to know. After reading the message Captain Picard remained in his ready room and called Mr Worf in.

  "Captain, there has been some trouble in Ten Forward." Worf

said stiffly before Picard could get down to his own business.

  "What kind of trouble?"
  "Sir, Two of our guests have been fighting rather severely."
  "Just how severely?"
  "They fought using knives, Sir.  Doctor Crusher is currently

mending both of them. It seems they were able to inflict quite a bit a damage to each other before security intervened." Worf said obviously embarrassed for the performance of his personnel.

  "Is there something you think I should do about this, Mr

Worf?" asked Picard.

  "Sir, I was wondering what kind of punishment I should

impose since they are guests."

  "Well, don't they have a Senior Officer who can deal with

this kind of situation."

  At this Worf stiffened a little more "Sir, the combatants

were a Klingon officer and a Kalonian officer both claiming the position. They decided to settle the argument; traditionally."

  Picard sat back in his chair steepling his fingers in front

of his face and said "I see, perhaps after Doctor Crusher is finished with them they should be placed together in the brig for the duration of their stay on the Enterprise. If either is still alive when it is time to leave we'll let their new assignment take care of any further punishment.

  "The reason I called you in, Mr Worf, is because I'd like

you to inform our guests that they should report to their assigned assembly areas with their gear in eighteen hours."

  "Will that be all, Sir." Worf Said before leaving.
  "Yes, dismissed."
  Worf turned crisply and walked back onto the bridge.

  The two sat in the detention cell staring at each other.

They each wore a strange baggy black uniform with several pockets. One had the high, ridged forehead and nose of the Klingon the other had a similar forehead but not nearly as pronounced. The Kalonian stood a few centimeters shorter than the Klingon but matched him in weight and stubbornness.

  "If they hadn't interfered," the Klingon snarled "you'd be

dead, I had you beaten." he spoke in Federation Standard since Kalonians and Klingons traditionally despised learning or speaking the others' language.

  The Kalonian laughed and said "You fool, you were about to

let your guard down thinking I was beaten. Then I would have ended your life. Accept me as your superior officer and I'll let you live when we get to where we are going."

  Now it was time for the Klingon to laugh "I find it

distasteful enough to serve next to a Kalonian, I would sooner die than serve under one."

  "Like I said, that could be arranged."
  At that the Klingon growled and advanced toward the Kalonian

who did the same. Before they came to blows they heard someone holler to them. It was the Enterprise's resident Klingon.

  "It is time to go." he said shutting off the force field.

He than threw them their bags, already packed. "Come with me, you can take this up at you new assignment." Worf turned and walked out of the detention area.

  "You have trained together for many months," Worf said to

the pair as they followed him down the corridor. "I would think that these differences would have been worked out by now."

  "We trained in different teams." the Kalonian said.
  The Klingon, like most, tried his best to ignore this

Federation fool.

  Worf lead them to a cargo bay which was filled with many

more all wearing the same black uniform. The group was comprised of a number of different peoples. Most prevalent were Humans, Klingons, and Kalonians both male and female. There were others too some looked like Volcans and other assorted Federation races.

  "What are we suppose to do here?" the Klingon said as he

entered the cargo bay.

  "Wait." Worf said and closed the door behind them and

continued down the corridor to a turbo-lift.

  Picard checked his the chronometer and said "Discontinue all

scanner operations, lower shields and turn off all exterior recording devices."

  Commander Ryker looked puzzled and said "Sir, do you think

that is a wise thing to do, this close to the Neutral Zone?"

  "Number One, if it wasn't the proper thing to do, I wouldn't

do it. Now are all of our guests in their assigned areas?"

  "Yes, Sir," Ryker said "and all ship's personnel have left

the areas."

  "Very good"
  "Now What?"
  "Now we wait." Picard said as he sat down in his chair.
  "Sir," Commander Data Looked up from his console "All

personnel in the cargo and shuttle bays have just disappeared, I believe they have been transported."

  Picard smiled and said "Thank you Mr Data, now return to

normal operating conditions and set new course…."

                              to be continued ........

                 T H E   V I G I L A N T E
                            IIIA
                       "The Warriors"

… Thank God! there is always a Land of Beyond

  For us who are true to the trail;

A vision to seek, beckoning peak,

  A fairness that never will fail;

A pride in our soul that mocks at a goal,

  A manhood that irks at a bond,

And try how we will, unattainable still,

  Behold it, our Land of Beyond!
                  Robert Service
                  "THE LAND OF BEYOND"
  All of the new personnel had been transported directly to a

shuttle bay. The main deck of the huge bay was filled with the black uniformed new arrivals. Few of them noticed the strangers standing in the front of the room. It was hard, since the strangers also wore the baggy black uniform.

  They had just enough time to adjust from the unannounced

transportation when the ship's public address system came on.

  "Your attention please." a man with long graying hair said.

The four hundred or so new personnel looked at him but basically ignored his request and continued to talk among themselves.

  This time he spoke in a louder authoritarian voice "Crew,

Attention!".

  Their past months of training went into effect and the bay

was instantly silent and all personnel stood at attention. All eyes turned attention to the three standing at the head of the bay.

  The two males stood about two meters tall, one was a human

with long graying shoulder length hair pulled back in a pony tail. The other was slightly shorter than the human he appeared to be a vulcan and was totally bald.

  The third was a short female with long hair braided and

hanging down the middle of her back. From her high smooth forehead and brown skin many immediately guessed her to be a Kalonian.

  The human continued to address them "I am Captain Anthony"

he said "and it is my honor to welcome you aboard the United Star Ship Vigilante. The mission of the Vigilante is considered extremely hazardous the exact details will be released to you in due time. Right now, I'd like to introduce you to my senior officers."

  He indicated the female and said "this is my first officer,

Commander Tarva and this is Chief of Security, Commander Norton. With the stations you will be assigned to, many of you will report directly to Commander Tarva or Commander Norton."

  Captain Anthony then indicated a large view screen on one

wall of the bay. "If you'd examine the screen, you'll see your current station and room assignments. You have half an hour to get settled in your quarters and report to your duty assignments for introductory meetings. Any questions?"

  There was something said in Klingon in the middle of the

room and several Klingons laughed amongst themselves.

  "Federation Standard will be spoken on the Vigilante."

Captain Anthony said "If you have something to say, say it now!"

    A Klingon stepped forward and addressed the Captain "As a

member of the Klingon Empire, and for its greater honor, I have resigned my self to working with Kalonians," he said spitting the last word then said "but I will not answer to one especially a female."

  Commander Tarva stepped toward the Klingon and looked up at

him. He was a large muscular warrior who was obviously well seasoned and highly respected. The shuttle bay was quieter now then when the Captain was speaking.

  She flipped open her communicator and said "Will a medical

team please report to Shuttle Bay One." She then looked at the Klingon and smiled slightly. The Klingon looked down at her defiantly.

  What happened next the Klingon never saw coming.  Commander

Tarva started to turn to her left then kicked out sideways at him with her right foot. The bones in his lower left leg snapped like dry sticks, he immediately screamed and fell toward the deck. As he fell, Tarva struck down at him with her left hand. His face caved in from the blow as his jaw shattered. His head flung to the opposite shoulder and pinkish red blood splattered across the floor and up on some of the crew standing behind him. He spun totally around, landing on his back.

  Tarva turned and looked at what was suppose to be a crew of

highly trained professional warriors. She continued to wear her smile and said "Is there anyone else who wishes to register a complaint?" she sounded more like a waitress asking a customer for an order.

  The crew remained totally silent, finally one of the

Kalonions began to chant. It was an ancient war chant used before going into battle, the other Kalonians soon joined him. The rest of the crew stood in total silence.


  The Klingon limped to his quarters.  He had missed his group

meeting, even the current medical techniques took time to work. When he entered the cabin the Kalonian he had spent the time in detention with was there.

  "What are you doing here?" he said through wires in his

mouth.

  "We are to share this cabin." the Kalonian said.
  "Why am I not surprised."  The Klingon walked over to the

bunk with his bag on it.

  "Perhaps it is time for introductions" the Kalonian said "I

am called Golta."

  "I am Kartang." replied the Klingon through his wires.
  The quarters would have been large for a single on the

Vigilante. There was one main room with the bunks on either side and the door on the opposite wall. The door to the head was to the right of the main door past one of the bunks. Built into the wall that was most toward the back of the ship were two high back chairs with swing across restraints and buckle down harnesses.

  Kartang inspected the bunk and declared it a typical

Federation luxury. As with Golta, his possessions on this trip were few but he neatly put them in the few drawers allocated to him.

  "Kartang, may I ask you a question?"
  Kartang looked at him and growled "Why are you being civil

toward me, Kalonian?"

  "I have considered the consequences of trouble on this ship.

I've decided that it would be in both of our interests to get along."

  Kartang scratched at the wires in his mouth and said "What

is your question?"

  "Had you ever heard of Commander Tarva before today?" Golta

asked sounding as sincerely as his deep Kalonian voice allowed.

  "No, I had not." Kartang spat.
  "There are not many Kalonians in Star Fleet." Golta said "So

we tend to know about those who are. Like you would know about the Klingon on the Enterprise."

  "Yes we know about him." Kartang hissed.
  "Commander Tarva comes from one of the Southern provinces on

Kalon. Her family was one of the few that stayed with the absolute traditional Kalonian way. These Traditionalists trained their children to be soldiers from the time they were born."

  "So we found out." Kartang mumbled.
  Golta pretended he didn't hear the comment.  Just continued

with the story "When they come to the age of decision, they would chose a discipline. Many would chose to be line soldiers others qualified for training as officers. There are many needs in a well equipped defense force. The traditionalists always garnered the top ranks due to their extensive training. Tarva rose quickly through the ranks and it was thought one day she would be highly placed."

  "So what's your point?" Kartang groweled.
  "I'm getting to it." Golta responed then continued..
  "Tarva was accepted into the Elite Strike Forces.  Only

fifty percent of the candidates who enter training survive. Remember, only the best of the best are accepted in to the program. Tarva finished at the top of her class and ranked in the top five percent of all who have ever finished.

  "Not long after she finished training in the E S F her

parents were killed on duty. As a result, she became disenchanted with the role she had in the Defense Force. Though it is a great honor for mates to die together in the line of duty, she could not accept it. She resigned her commission and applied to Star Fleet Academy. There is an old saying on Kalon, loosely translated it means 'Once E.T.F., Always E.T.F.'"

  Kartang sat on his bunk rubbing his leg and looking at his

room mate. Golta could see the anger in his eyes.

  "If I hadn't experienced Commander Tarva first hand, I would

laugh at your Elite Strike Forces." he said trying to keep saliva from dripping from the wires.

  "I too, always thought they were just a lot of talk." Golta

admitted with a bit of a smile.

  The two looked at each other for a second and then burst

into their races' hardy laughs.

  The intercom piped on "Lieutenant Kartang, report to the

Command Room".

  "Acknowledged." he said.
  Kartang looked at Golta and said "How do I find this Command

Room?" as he stood from his bunk.

  "The Command Room is off the bridge."
  Kartang stood for a moment then limped out of the room.
  The bridge crew acknowledged his presence as if he had been

a long time companion. The bridge was basically laid out like most standard Federation bridges. The main difference was that all stations were designed for access from the same kind of chairs as were built into the wall in his cabin. They even included the restraints and belts. This seemed to be a standard on the Vigilante.

  Sitting at the far end of the slightly curved table that

basically filled the command room were Captain Anthony, Commander Tarva and Commander Norton. The chairs around the table were similar to the others he'd observed on the Vigilante including all belts and restraints.

  Commander Tarva stood to great him.  "Lieutenant Kartang,

this meeting has been called to fill you in on what you missed during your visit to Sick Bay. First I'd like to say that all assignments were made before your arrival. They were based on your performance during training and your experience prior to volunteering for the mission. Won't you have a seat." She motioned to one of the seats near where they were sitting.

  She watched him examine the built in restraints. "They are

called Rough Duty seats, their purpose will be explained to you in due time."

  He sat down in the chair then leaned back casually.  He was

trying his best to look slightly defiant.

  "As I was saying, assignments are based on performance

during training and prior experience. We do not have time to evaluate our crew before making assignments. It has been decided that your assignment will be Drop Ship Commander. With this, will come a promotion to Lieutenant Commander. The position also places you in the official emergency chain of command. You are now fifth in command of the Vigilante."

  With this announcement the Captain and Commander Norton

stood and offered their hands in congratulations. They then announced that they had business elsewhere and dismissed themselves.

  Commander Tarva motioned for Kartang to sit back down.  "We

have some more business to attend to." She said.

  Kartang sat down and wiped away some saliva caused by the

wires in his mouth. Kartang struggled to contain his animosity toward Tarva. Earlier it was easy with the other two in the room, it was difficult with her sitting less then a meter across the table from him. He had not yet said a word, he was very conscious of his mouth full of hardware.

  "Now for the chain of command, if your going to be in it you

had better know it. You will report directly to Commander Norton who is actually third in command to myself. The officer who is fourth in command is Commander Dolittel, Chief of Engineering. This chain is implemented in emergency only, it is not necessarily the day to day order of command. If we are ever in a situation where the top command staff is unable to perform their duties we need to be sure a warrior will be in charge of the Vigilante.

  "Do you have any questions so far?"
  "Yes." he snarled and leaned toward her across the table.

"Why did you do this to your fifth in command." he spat and opened his mouth to show her the wires.

  Tarva maintained her same composure and said "I did not know

who you were when you came forward. If I did," she paused and leaned across the table to meet him face to face ~'I would have done the exact same thing.'~ She said the last in perfect Klingon.

  Kartang looked at her disbelieving and sat back in his

chair.

  Tarva did too and continued in standard "The Vigilante is

going on what many know could be a suicide mission. To simply mark your record for insubordination would mean something only if we return. So any infractions in proper behavior must be dealt with on the spot and severely.

  "Is there anything else, Lieutenant Commander Kartang."
  "Not at this time." Kartang said calmly.
  "Very good, report to Commander Norton he should be in

shuttle bay three. He'll give you a tour of your area and outline your responsibilities. Dismissed."

  Kartang stood, came to stiff attention then limped toward

the door.

  "Oh, I've been, ah, 'informed' by medical that the small

bone knitters may be functional tomorrow." Tarva was barely able to suppress a grin of satisfaction.

  Kartang stiffened trying to ignore what she was implying.
  "One last thing." Tarva said as the door opened for him.
  "Yes, Sir." he growled.
  "There will be a notation made in your permanent record for

insubordination, for the incident earlier today."

  "Yes, Sir." he repeated and walked onto the bridge.

  The shuttle bays and connected training areas took up more

than two thirds of the bulbous main body of the ship. Engineering occupied most of the rest. The crew quarters and most weapons stations were in the saucer section, there was no neck connecting the saucer to the main body.

  Kartang stood in the massive Shuttle Bay Three.  The bay was

not filled with shuttles, it was filled with strange looking long boxy ships. These must be the drop ships they had been talking about. Most were placed in racks and several were on the deck as if prepared for launch. Others were on lifts being worked on.

  Commander Norton was in a control booth that over looked the

main launch deck. Kartang limped to the one man, open air lift and road it to the booth, maintaining a perfect Klingon at-ease posture.

  When commander Norton saw Kartang arrive he smiled and said

"Ah, Lieutenant Commander, welcome to the Cavern."

  "The Cavern, Sir?" Kartang said.
  "Shuttle Bay 3 is the largest shuttle bay on the Vigilante

and in fact one of the largest in Star Fleet. So its been nicknamed the Cavern."

  "Sir, Commander Tarva told me to report to you for an

introduction to my duties." Kartang remained the serious, out of his element, Klingon.

  Norton pointed out the window at the Drop Ships in the bay.

"The U.S.S. Vigilante carries 30 DS-300 series 5 Drop Ships and five standard transports. The DS-300 was originally designed to land anti-terrorist units in troubled regions of the Federation. The DS-300 Series 5 was designed and built specifically for this mission. It is built of the same composite material as the Vigilante."

  "Sir, what composite material?"
  "Oh yes you missed the introductory meetings." Commander

Norton then briefed Kartang on the properties of the composite material.

  "So the ships become invisible to sensors without cloaking?"
  "The sensor profile is reduced greatly.  For instance at

close range the Vigilante reads about the size of a tug and appears to be unmanned. The Drop Ships appear as debris and a pressure suit made of the material is virtually invisible."

  "Wouldn't it be easier and more effective to cloak the

ship?"

  "The Vigilante and the Drop Ships are cloaked.  Cloaking,

however, can fail. The composite also reflects energy and reduces the damage a direct hit may cause. It might be enough to save the ship from only a hit or two but that can still make a difference in survival."

  "What precisely are my duties as Drop Ship Commander?"
  "You are in charge of the Drop Ships, from maintenance to

planning and coordinating missions."

  "I have never seen a drop ship before, now I am in command

of a fleet of them. Why didn't they train us on these things?"

  "In order to preserve secrecy you couldn't use Drop Ships,

but the trainers you did use are very similar. They do have their own idiosyncrasies though, that is why I've arranged for you take a ship out for a test flight. Since I am too busy to be your co-pilot, I have assigned the only other experienced D S pilot on the Vigilante to ride with you."

  "I do not need lessons on how to pilot any ship."
  "I don't expect you would but I want somebody there whose

flown these things before. This will be the only time you won't have a say in the matter. Besides she'll probably just sleep or sight see the whole time anyway."

  Kartang moaned he was going on his first D S flight with a

female as chaperone. As long as it wasn't Commander Tarva he figured he could stand it.

  Norton watched Kartang limp to the window and get a better

look at the deck. "How much longer do they expect your leg to hurt, and what's with the wires in your mouth?"

  "A day or two." Kartang said through the hardware in his

mouth then said "These shackles are because the small bone knitters are all temporarily 'out of service', they're suppose to come out tomorrow."

  Commander Norton began showing Kartang the specifics of the

Control Booth and other areas of the operation. Kartang knew he had a lot to learn and was ready to start. It took all his concentration to ignore the throbbing in his face and leg.


  The door signaled and Kartang called for the person to

enter. His leg no longer hurt and the wire had been removed from his mouth. It had been only a day and a half so he was quite satisfied with the 'progress'.

  When Kartang heard someone walk into the room he looked up

from his computer console to see his visitor.

  "Lieutenant Commander Kartang," it was a human female with

short red hair. He remembered seeing her on the bridge.

  "Yes."
  "Sir, I'm Ensign O'Malley, Commander Norton asked me to

accompany you on a Drop Ship test run."

  The Vigilante had taken up residence in a seldom traveled

corner of the Federation near the Romulan neutral zone. The star system had two planets one of which had a turbulent but breathable atmosphere. The planet was deemed appropriate for training Drop Ship Crews. The crews, however, were no where near ready for actual flights. So the Vigilante stayed in the system running its own tests.

  Kartang looked at the young human and moaned to himself.  He

knew her history and respected her for where she came from. It was hard, however, to over come prejudices especially when his own skills were being compared to this skinny human.

  "Yes, I've had DS-1 prepared for testing."  Kartang stood

and retrieved his pressure suit gear bag.

  The first order Kartang issued required pressure suits worn

during all Drop Ship flights. Previously, they were only required if hazardous duty was expected. Kartang's theory was that the Drop Ship's sole purpose was hazardous duty, therefore, the pressure suit should be worn at all times.

  Shuttle Bay Three was different than the other two, it not

only was larger but was designed for rapid deployment of the Drop Ships. A force field was raised behind the ships to allow them to exit the bay at high acceleration. Up to four ships could be launched at a time with rapid replacement.

  Shuttle bays one and two were used for recovery and

maintenance. They were also used for movement of cargo so as not to interfere with bay three.

  Ensign O'Malley sat in the co-pilots seat watching Kartang

power up Drop Ship One. "Sir, do we want to do a rapid deployment launch your first time out?"

  "I am an experienced pilot," Kartang snapped "if I'm going

to be forced to make this test flight with an observer, I'm going to push it to the limits."

  O'Malley smiled and said "Great."
  The pilots' pressure suits were similar to the armored ones

but didn't have all the protection. The material was a form of the same composite material but woven into a cloth like substance. The helmets were a lot lighter and the face shields closed either manually or when emergency alarms were triggered.

  "Lieutenant Commander Kartang, to traffic control"
  "This is Traffic Control."

"Requesting clearance for launch of DS-1" He said into the ship's communicator.

  "You are cleared for launch" was the immediate reply.
  O'Malley and Kartang were pressed into their seats as the

Drop Ship accelerated out of the bay. Before it cleared the Vigilante's cloaked shields its own were automatically activated.

  Once the acceleration had ceased Ensign O'Malley turned her

chair slightly and looked out a side window. "I do so much piloting, it's nice to have a chance to just ride for once."

  After half an hour of standard test maneuvers Kartang said

"Have you ever taken one of these on an actual drop yet?" Kartang asked as if he was leading up to something.

  "No, Sir." O'Malley said turning toward him. "Your not

thinking of doing something unscheduled are you, Sir?"

  "They tell me I'm in charge of the Drop Ships, I've decided

it is time to make a test drop."

  They had been making simple orbital maneuvers and now headed

toward were the computer placed the Vigilante.

  "This is Lieutenant Commander Kartang, to traffic control,

requesting landing clearance."

  "You are cleared for landing."  was the immediate reply.
  "Are the preparations complete for test drop." he asked

flight control as he followed the closed homing beacon into the cloaked Vigilante. Just before they would have reached the shields they shimmered and weakened enough to allow the drop ship in.

  "Yes, Sir.  DS-eighteen is prepared for test drop."
  Kartang turned to O'Malley and said "I've read your record

and it appears you are qualified to ride as co-pilot for the test drop, if you wish."

  "I would need clearance from Commander Tarva."
  "I've already obtained her release."
  "Sir, I'm honored you recommended me, I hope I do not let

you down."

  "Your performance during the crisis with the Romulans

deserves recognition."

  "Thank you, Sir."
  When they landed, DS-18 was ready for launch.
  "Sir, DS-18 has had minimal flight time, do you think it is

wise to use it for the first test drop?"

  "Ensign O'Malley," Kartang said harshly "are you questioning

my judgment?"

  "No Sir, but as co-pilot it is my job to point out possible

oversights."

  "DS-18 has been thoroughly tested, it is time it got some

flight time."

  "Yes, Sir."
  Sixteen assorted personnel waited inside DS-18 in full

armored pressure suits. The ship was designed to hold sixteen personnel, eight to a side. The chairs were designed to hold the large armored suits. During launch, they were turned toward the front of the ship for acceleration. After acceleration, the chairs would automatically turn toward the center for easy exit.

  "These are some of the Drop Ship pilots," Kartang said as he

and O'Malley entered the ship. "I have decided they should know what a drop feels like to the crew. I hope this will make them better pilots."

  Kartang looked at the pressure suited warriors.  These were

true warriors. He had trained with them, he knew they would perform well when called upon. The armor he envied to no end. If he had anything like it when he commanded his ten crew ship they would have been indestructible.

  Kartang sat strapped in the pilot's seat he turned and

looked his copilot. To signal he was ready, he dropped the face shield on his helmet, she did likewise.

  As official copilot, it was O'Malley's duty to call for

clearance. Numbers appeared on the wall above the door over their runway. A red light bar on the door above their run way turned yellow when the numbers started counting down. When they reached 0 the light would turn green and they would launch. Everything was timed with the Vigilante's orbit designed for them to land in the designated spot in the minimum amount of time.

  The light turned yellow and the numbers seemed to count down

very slowly. When the numbers reached the end an alarm sounded in the comm-system, the green light came on and the computer launched the ship.

  DS-18 immediately dropped toward the atmosphere.  The

acceleration of the Drop Ship totally countered the orbit of the Vigilante. It hit the atmosphere with its nosed raised so the shields on the bottom would take the brunt of the burn in.

  The round shape of the shields showed as the heat of entry

was dispersed. Inside, the ship shook violently and the hull temperature rose. A display in each helmet counted down projected landing time.

  Ensign O'Malley watched the gauges showing exterior

temperature and stresses, all were approaching the red zone.

  "Sir, shields are reaching tolerances," she said evenly

"adjusting power. We'll be through burn area in five seconds..four…three…"

  The ship bucked and started to shake violently.  "Sir,

shields have buckled, it's breaking up.."

  Kartang glanced at his copilot then at her gauges.  The ship

shuddered again and the hull breach alarm sounded. Kartang had no more time, he reached up and hit the emergency eject button above his head. All eighteen occupants immediately beamed out of the ship and back to the Vigilante. As they beamed away, Drop Ship 18 exploded and continued to fall to the surface in flaming pieces.

  They materialized on the shuttle bay emergency transporter.

As soon as he could move Kartang pulled off his helmet and threw it across the bay. Janice thought the whole ship could hear his blood curdling scream. Five of the other pilots were also Klingons and two were Kalonians they too were showing similar displays of frustration. None of them were as violent as Kartang though.

  Kartang came over to O'Malley screaming loudly in Klingon.

His eyes were wide showing all the white and violet streaks of blood around the edges.

  O'Malley pushed her fire red hair off her forehead and

smoothed it. Her early years on Vega-5 had given her a very thick skin. She looked him in the eyes and waited for him to stop his tirade, she figured he'd at least have to take a breath soon. She waited and tried to decide what he had eaten that gave him such bad breath.

  He finally finished and stood looking at her.  His eyes were

still wide and his shoulder length hair stood in all directions. O'Malley reached into her helmet and removed a storage disk from the gauge area. She put the chip into a nearby console and pressed a few buttons.

  The console immediately lit up showing the entire drop ship

control panel, his controls and hers. Her system and been tied directly to the ships computer and had acted as a flight recorder.

  "Perhaps, this will help us determine what exactly went

wrong."

  Kartang immediately pushed her out of the way and began

studying the output.

  In the suit room, the other pilots were already being helped

out of their pressure suits.

  "What happened out there, human?" asked Valerta, one of the

Klingon pilots.

  "You and that Klingon almost got us killed." one of the

Kalonians said.

  "I have no idea," O'Malley said "the shields began to buckle

for no apparent reason. The stresses of landing through even an atmosphere like that shouldn't have effected it."

  "They had better get it fixed before they send us out in

those things again." said a female human pilot.

  The pilots began complaining amongst themselves.  Even

though O'Malley was also a pilot she wasn't assigned to the drop ship fleet, therefore, she was an outsider. She could hear them refer to her several times and look at her. It was obvious they blamed the outsider for their near demise. Even the humans didn't seem too sympathetic toward her.

  Ensign O'Malley was out of her pilot's pressure suit before

the others were out of their armor. To get away from the pilots as soon as possible she didn't put on her uniform but decided to carry it back to her cabin. Wearing the tight black shorts, tank top and the pressure suit boot liners is how Commander Tarva found her walking down the hall.

  "Ensign O'Malley, what happened out there?!"
  "Lieutenant Commander Kartang is currently reviewing the

flight recorder, Sir." Janice said coming to attention.

  "Ensign, that is not what I asked you."
  O'Malley hesitated for a second looking straight over

Commander Tarva then said "Sir, the shields seemed unable to handle the atmosphere burn in. I did not notice any incorrect operating procedures."

  "Very well, your complete report will be expected when you

begin your next shift."

  "Aye, Sir." O'Malley said and continued toward her cabin now

at double time.


  Captain Anthony, Commander Tarva, and Commander Norton sat

quietly in the briefing room off the bridge. Lieutenant Commander Kartang was finishing his briefing on the mishap with Drop Ship 18. He had presented the complete flight recordings and the analysis of what little wreckage had been retrieved.

  "It is my conclusion," he said "that the new design

deflector shields where not properly aligned to withstand the stress of the drop. Currently all drop ships are being inspected for similar flaws. At last report, three other ships have been found to have improperly aligned deflector shields."

  Tarva looked at him incredulously "So you are trying to pass

the blame of your mistake to technicians who are not here to defend themselves and whom you will never meet?" The data he had presented had clearly supported his analysis, Tarva, however, still felt the need to test the ebon of the Klingon.

  "No, I am not."  Kartang growled at Tarva "The misaligned

deflectors were within the tolerances set by Design. I blame Design for setting improper tolerances."

  "Thank you." Commander Nortan said.  After Kartang had taken

his seat Norton addressed the room "Taking into account the other reports and the data from the flight recorders I must come to the same conclusion." then added "Commander Dolittel has also came to a similar conclusion."

  Kartang sat back and looked at Tarva.  She could see the

animosity in his eyes but ignored it.

  Captain Anthony finally said "It seems this ship has been

plagued by misalignments. I am ordering that all ship's systems be retested. We are setting tighter tolerances and expect them to be maintained."


  Golta checked the readouts below the face shield of his

helmet. It had taken some getting used to, looking down inside his helmet with out moving the helmet. By speaking the designated codes for the members of team RT-2 he could read all of their vital signs. He could also get other information including a display from their suit camera.

  Golta was proud he had been assigned a position equal to

that of the Klingon. It would have been intolerable to not only have to share a room with him but also to be out ranked by him. As commander of landing forces Golta felt that his position was much more Glorious. He and his warriors would do the actual information retrieval, the whole mission was designed so they could do their job. His, would be the most crucial command.

  Right now, he was running a bio-coordination check while

waiting for launch. All other systems checks had been completed, the bio-check was always the last. To get an accurate mission standard the bio-coordination was taken just prior to mission initiation.

  The yellow launch light over the bridge door came on

indicating the countdown had commenced. Golta mentally prepared himself for launch as the green light came on. The force of the launch pressed him into the large seat. This was his sixth practice launch and he still cringed behind his darkened face shield. As soon as the acceleration of the launch ended, the large chairs turned toward the center of the Drop Ship for rapid deployment.

  This drop wasn't any different than the others, the ship

shook violently as it dropped through the planet's atmosphere. Golta watched the teams vital signs as they dropped to the surface. As usual, all including himself showed signs of great stress. This worried him, if they ever needed to go into battle this way, what would the stresses be like then.

  A yellow light in the middle of the cabin began blinking and

the seat restraints opened indicating landing was near. When it turned green the back door would drop open and they would file out in pairs. It didn't matter where they were or what the conditions were like. The suits would protected them, hopefully.

  Normally, just before the green light came on they could

feel a bump when the ship landed. This time, however, that didn't happen, the green light came on and the door opened to a blinding sand storm. The team didn't hesitate though, the soldiers stood simultaneously and quickly marched out the back door two at a time.

  Golta, for this drop, was to be the last off the craft, one

of the first was his second in command, Lieutenant Whitecloud. She would be acting command for this mission.

  He could hear her sound the warning as she stepped off the

door "Heads up, it's a free fall."

  The ship hadn't landed, in fact, it was over a hundred

meters up and flying at a steady velocity when the door opened. The pressure suited warriors stepped into thin air. The training again paid off, not one of them panicked. As they stepped off the door each one stayed perfectly upright and trusted their equipment.

  The suits immediately calculated approximate altitude and

would begin firing built in boosters just in time to land safely. As they fell, the buffeting weather and the blowing sand totally blinded and shook them. The suits, however, used stabilizers to remain up right. Golta tracked the team on his suit's scanners as they fell ahead of him.

  The weather on the surface wasn't any better.  Wind howled

around them restricting vision to the perimeter of the suits deflector shields. The stabilizers fired constantly to keep the suit on it's feet making movement feel extremely jerky.

  Whitecloud ordered all to switch to their Electronic Vision

Enhancer (EVE). None of them actually needed to be told to do this. When EVE was activated the visor went opaque and showed an electronically enhanced view. The view was a composite of scanner analysis and non-visible light analysis. The on board computer then combined and enhanced the output to get a slightly off color image of what the user should see.

  The team slowly separated into a wide formation with

partners always within sight of each other. The rest, stayed within electronic range. The goal was to survey a large area of the planet and be at their extraction site at a designated time. To do this, they would need to be on the move for nearly all of the next three days.

  The sixteen met at the extraction point on schedule and

Whitecloud initiated the extraction beacon. Within five minutes the extraction warning sounded over the suits' communicators. The drop ship had entered the atmosphere and would be arriving momentarily.

  "Attention RT-2, extraction beacon pinpointed, E T A 10

minutes." came the voice of the female Klingon known as Valerta.

  "Acknowledged." Whitecloud said.  The team put some distance

between themselves and the beacon.

  The wind continued to howl around them as they waited for

the drop ship to arrive. The storm was stronger now then it had been since they were dropped. They couldn't hear the ship but EVE allowed them to see it dropping toward them. The ship was being shaken severely by the continuing storm. They could see it buck through the multiple wind vortexes as it descended ever closer.

  "E T A 2 minutes" Valerta said obviously shaking.
  "This is going to be a tough one" Golta commented.
  "I'll do it." Valerta said confidently though still shaking.
  "Maybe they should have beamed us out." one of the team

said.

  "That would defeat the whole point of the exercise." said

Whitecloud. She had lead and coordinated the whole mission, she wasn't about to let her first chance at leadership be anti-climaxed by a beam out.

  The drop ship landed hard next to the beacon.  They could

hear a thump through the storm and filters in the helmets. A large cloud of yellow dust was thrown up around the ship. EVE allowed the team to see that the ship appeared to be intact but they weren't sure. Procedure dictated that they keep their distance until they were sure the ship was safe.

  A minute after landing they saw the back door drop open and

heard Valerta yelling "Lets go, I don't have all day, move, move, move."

  The team immediately began to move as quickly as they could

to the drop ship. Valerta kept the shields raised until the last possible moment to protect the ship from the wind and sand. When she dropped the rear shields to allow them access a strong vortex of wind also got through and lifted the back of the drop ship. The four already in the ship were dropped toward the cabin while the three on the door were thrown back off.

  The rear of the drop ship lifted several meters and the

whole ship pivoted to port. As it swung, the open door/ramp caught Ensign Mueller in the neck. Since all suit deflector shields had been shut down to allow for the close proximity of boarding the door made direct contact with his helmet. The force of the impact threw him to ground and slightly separated the helmet from the suit.

  Golta's warning alarm for Ensign Mueller signaled the

breach. "Control, we have a suit breach." he said as he went to the soldier's aid.

  Kartang's voice came over the intercom "Get your team out of

there, Kalonian. You know the training regulations about beaming out a drop team."

  The suit stabilizers had also been shut down just prior to

boarding. This caused the troops on the ground to loose stability in the wind. Golta, as a result had difficulty reaching Mueller.

  When Golta reached him, he could see the Ensign struggling

inside his suit. The planet's atmosphere was not toxic but the ultra fine dust of the sand storm was blowing directly into his face. The boy, though highly trained, was beginning to panic as he couldn't breath, see or get back on his feet. The EVE had been disabled, and his nose, mouth and eyes were filling with dust.

  The fist thing Golta did was activate what was suppose to be

the suit's automatic sealing. The separated joint immediately filled with a black gel and the life support systems started filtering out the dust. Golta then grabbed the ensign by an arm and pulled him to his feet.

  Valerta had finally stabilized the drop ship and the

remaining crew were boarding. Golta and Ensign Mueller just two meters away, started for the ship. Lieutenant Whitecloud had gotten the rest of the crew into the ship and met Golta and Mueller at the bottom of the ramp.

  "All other hands secured." she said as she grabbed under

Mueller's other arm and helped Golta get him into the ship.

  As soon as they were half-way up the ramp Whitecloud yelled

to her intercom "Close It!". The ramp immediately lifted them into the ship.

  Once the door was closed Golta started trying to get the

helmet off of Mueller. Between the bulk of his own armor and the drop ship rocking up through the atmosphere it was not an easy task. It turned out, that the helmet was not damaged, just separated from the suit.

  "This suit wasn't damaged." Golta growled to Whitecloud.
  "What happened to it?" she asked as she strapped herself in.
  "I don't know." Golta replied as he finally pulled the

helmet from the suit.

  Whitecloud checked Mueller's vital signs in her suit

monitors when she heard the vital sign warning. "Sir, he's not breathing." she said and started to unstrap herself.

  "Stay in your seat." Golta commanded as he pulled off his

own helmet.

  Ensign Mueller was having a sever allergic reaction to the

dust blown into his suit. He was now trying to grasp at his throat as it swelled shut. Golta tilted Mueller's head back trying to keep the air way open but the swelling had closed it off.

  "Vigilante" he yelled "Medical Emergency, Ensign Mueller has

suffered a sever allergic reaction his throat has swollen shut."

  As he finished talking the ship shook severely and tilted

forward. Golta and Mueller slid across the deck between the feet of his team and crashed against the forward bulkhead. The helmets also bounced off the wall next to him and he let out a primal Kalonian scream.

  "Valerta," he yelled "get it steady, We've got problems back

here."

  "Sir, I must increase to exit velocity or we won't make it."

she said.

  Golta hesitated for a second then ordered "Make it so."
  All landing chairs automatically turned forward for

impending acceleration. Valerta then warned "Prepare for acceleration to exit velocity. 5..4.."

  Golta lay over the ensign, straddling him, as he was trying

to activate the suits automatic medication. He had not yet even had time to remove his gloves so it was difficult finding the controls inside the collar of the suit.

  "3..2.."
  The manual overrides inside the collar were designed mostly

for maintenance and testing. Since the suit had been deactivated for boarding the advanced life support was not functioning. The boy was beginning to turn blue and had gone unconscious.

  "His pulse is getting weak" Whitecloud said frantically.
  "1..0..increasing to exit velocity."
  Golta totally lay over the Ensign and wrapped his arms

around his back and held Mueller's head to his chest trying to protect it. The acceleration threw them back across the ship against the landing door.

  Pinkish red blood gushed from a gash across Golta's temple

but Mueller was unhurt. Golta continued to work against the acceleration while pressed up to the back door.

  Golta sat up, screamed again and began trying to remove one

of his gloves. When it came off he threw it forward against the cabin door and immediately stuck his hand back down the ensign's suit. He could barely hear a faint hiss as the suit injected the boy with the needed drug to help reduce the swelling.

  "Pulse seems to have stabilized" Whitecloud informed him

"but he's still not breathing."

  The Drop ship shuddered again and leaned hard to port

slamming Golta and the Ensign against the back of one of the chairs of their comrades.

  "His throat's still swollen." Golta said after trying to

breath into him. He then grabbed an emergency kit mounted on the wall above him. Inside was an assortment of emergency medical supplies. "Normal airways won't work" he said as he pulled out a long skinny tube. "I'm going to use a nasal airway".

  "Valerta,  What's our ETA to transporter range?"  Whitecloud

said as she watched Golta slide the tube into Mueller's nose.

  "The Vigilante will not transport while we're outside their

shields on any Drop Ship training mission." Valerta replied then added "ETA to Vigilante 5 minutes."

  Once the tube was in place, Ensign Mueller arched his back

as he struggled to catch his breath through it. "He should make it." Golta's deep voice sounded grave. They still lay against the back door held there by the acceleration.

  Whitecloud watched the Kalonian holding Mueller's head back

trying to keep the airway open. He was also closely examining the suit trying to decide what had gone wrong with it.

  The vibration of the Drop Ship's acceleration began to

lesson and the g-forces began to decrease. "We are clear of the atmosphere" Valerta declared "ETA to Vigilante 2 minutes".

  "Lieutenant Commander Golta to Vigilante". Golta sounded

relieved.

  "Kartang here." was the immediate reply.
  "Prepare to fix on my signal and transport directly to Sick

bay".

  "Acknowledged."
  "Entering Vigilante's shields." Valerta reported.
  As soon as the drop ship entered the shield sphere Golta and

Ensign Mueller disappeared.


  Still dressed in full armor and walking back to shuttle bay

three is how Lieutenant Whitecloud found Golta. She had already showered and changed to her duty uniform when she went looking for him.

  Lieutenant Anndrea Whitecloud had shoulder length black

hair, tide back in a pony tail and held with a small silver and turquoise clasp. Her skin was still brown from the outdoor lifestyle she lived on earth before volunteering for this mission.

  "Sir, How is Ensign Mueller?" she said as she turned back to

where she had just come in order to walk with him.

  "Ensign Mueller will recover shortly."
  Whitecloud noticed that the cut on Golta's temple had been

healed but left as a scar. "I see that the Meds on this ship are familiar with proper Kalonian care."

  "Yes, one of the perks of having a Kalonian as First

Officer."

  "Sir, have you discovered why Mueller's suit failed?"
  "I investigated it before I allowed them to remove him from

it. Apparently, Ensign Mueller was too anxious to get out of the armor and disengaged one backup system too many."

  "Then the fault was his and not the suit?"
  "Correct, the suit did not fail, Ensign Mueller did."
  The pair turned a final corner and headed into the shuttle

bay.


  Later that day Ensign Whitecloud sat cross legged in the

front room of her quarters. In front of her, on a low stand was a large, half finished painting, her current project. It was the picture of a large brown bird with a white head and yellow beak and talons. It soared over blue-gray mountains far below. She meticulously painted each feather of the bird.

  Anndrea was so preoccupied with her painting she did not

hear her room mate come in, but knew she was there.

  "What is it?" the other woman said.
  Anndrea was not easily startled or distracted she took the

time to finish the area she was working on before turning her attention.

  "It's a Bald Eagle."
  "I've heard of eagles before." said the woman "but I've

never seen a real one. Have you?"

  Anndrea looked at her room mate.  With short bright red hair

Janice was at the extreme opposite end of the scale then her.

  "I took my leave of absence to work in a breading reserve

for these birds."

  "I've only been to Earth for short vacations and shore

leave." Janice said as she took off her uniform jacket and threw it on her bed. "And, I've always spent that time shopping in the big cities. I love discovering new cities."

  "You've never spent any time visiting the Earth wilderness?"
  "It just never seemed to be a priority.  I've always been

fascinated by what people have built. Earth has such a rich history, it's like traveling back in time." Janice had wandered into the other room, she was laying on her bunk looking out at Anndrea.

  "I heard that you grew up on VEGA-5" Anndrea said while she

packed up her paints.

  "Yea, I lived on the streets until I was twelve."  Janice

replied uninterested.

  "I would think that you would have had enough of cities."

She said as she secured the unfinished painting on a wall near a finished picture of a traditional Native American encampment.

  "Enough of cities?  Are you nuts, cities are my home, I

don't feel comfortable without people around me." Janice had rolled onto her back and was looking up at the ceiling, her short red hair hung over the foot of her bunk. Painted on the ceiling was the shadow of a coyote against a full moon. It was Whitecloud's first contribution to decorating the room. Under the painting Whitecloud had recently added a poem she'd found in the computer's library. She thought it was from a collection the Captain had up loaded.

      Go to the Wild that waits for me;
      Go where the moose and the musk-ox be;
      Go to the wolf and the secret snows;
      Go to my fate...who knows, who knows!
                                        R.W.S.
  "Tell me," Janice said "everybody know's how and why I came

to be here, what's your story?"

  "It's not very interesting."  Whitecloud said sitting on her

own bed across from Janice.

  Janice sat up and looked at her room mate. "I'm interested."

she said.

  "Well" Anndrea began "I was born on Earth in what is known

as a 'reservation'. Reservations are areas in North America that were set aside for Native Americans to live as separate cultural entities. Some still live traditional ancient lifestyles and many are moving back to them. It is the current thought that if you are not going to live a traditional lifestyle, why live on the reservation.

  "My parents, in fact my tribe, was obsessed with returning

to the ancient way of life. It was decided that it was impossible to do on Earth. That the land was not suited for people to be living off of it with out also depending on the modern world. As a people, they decided to look else where for a place to colonize in a 'traditional Native American culture'.

  "The tribe applied to the Infiniti West Corporation for a

land grant. Since we were the first large traditional group to apply to the I.W.C. for colonization we were granted a very generous portion. In order to pay for transportation the tribe sold it's lands and boarded a colony ship for Infiniti West. I was two years old when we walked off our ancestral land for the last time. My mother told me that …."

  ....A darkly tanned teenage girl rode a tall brown horse

across an endless prairie. She rode bare back accept for the bedroll and other camping supplies strapped behind her. She had long, straight, black hair tied back by a thin leather thong with a bright red feather hanging from it. She wore a simple brown buck-skin dress decorated with small beads and fringe. With her, rode two younger males both dressed in similar primitive garb.

  They topped a small hill and looked out over the endless

plain around them. "How far do you think?" the older of the boys asked the girl.

  "We could be home late tonight." she said.
  "I can't wait to tell them about the mountains" said the

younger boy.

  "It's amazing, that after all these years, the tribe's never

gone that far east" said the first boy.

  "It may have," replied the girl "we just don't remember."
  "I'd think somebody would have mentioned mountains that

reach beyond the clouds." said the older boy.

  The girl looked at the boy and said "We came here all the

way from EARTH." almost in awe of the fact. "Do you think that any mountains would have impressed them?"

  "You believe that?" the younger boy said "My brother told me

that the story about Earth and the Federation is just a campfire story."

  "Your brother is just a trouble maker, he's almost old

enough to remember." replied the girl.

  "If this Federation tribe really existed then why have we

never seen them?" the younger boy insisted.

  "Never seen them?" the girl looked astonished "what about

the ships we see in the sky at night?"

  "I don't see ships," the boy continued repeating his

brother's words "I only see lights. We've just been told they're ships, to keep us in line 'behave yourself, or we'll send you up to the Federation'. Every parent uses that, they say you just sparkle and disappear. I've never seen anybody just sparkle and disappear, have you?"

  During the conversation the older boy was looking to the

west in the direction they had been riding. "What's that?" he said pointing to the horizon.

  A faint orange glow had appeared on the horizon and was

growing.

  The girl looked at it for a second and said "I don't know,

but its getting bigger".

  "It's not getting bigger," the older boy said "it's getting

closer.".

  "It's a Space Ship!" the younger boy shouted excitedly.
  As the ship got closer they could hear the roar of its

engines. It was wedge shaped and looked slightly battered. As it got closer, it started to gain altitude. When it was over them the three were jumping and waving at it. It seemed to wiggle a bit as if it were waving back at them. Within minutes, it had shrunk to a dot above them, then disappeared.

  "Wow that was great." the younger boy said now in total awe.
  "I thought you didn't believe in space ships." the girl said

with a laugh.

  "I do now.  What do you think it was doing here? I wonder if

the clan saw it"

  "I would think so, It must have flown right over them." the

girl replied.

  The older boy had turned toward the west again and was

squinting at the horizon.

  "What is it," the other boy said "is there another one?".
  "No."
  "What is it?" the girl asked now looking back to the horizon

herself.

  "I think I see smoke." the older boy said cautiously.
  "That's impossible, we never build fires like that."
  "I know, that's why I'm worried."
  The girl leaned forward over her horse's neck and squinted

at the horizon. "My God," she said "I see it too."

  "That's were Camp should be." the older boy added.
  They sat and looked at each other for a moment then kicked

their horses to a gallop. Heading toward a faint pillar of smoke on the horizon in the mid-morning sun the trio rode harder then they ever had.

  As the day wore on, the smoke slowly dissipated but the

three still rode hard. With the sun settling on the ground ahead of them the youths crested a hill over camp. Ahead of them was what they feared most. The remains of tee-pees lay smoldering where they had stood just a few days earlier. About them lay their former possessions and other charred debris.

  The trio sat on their horses staring at the scene, unmoving.

No one moved for minutes, finally the girl slid from her horse and ran down the hill. The other two soon followed leaving the three horses on the hill.

  They instinctively ran to the places their own tents once

stood, but there was no sign of life. The youngest boy stood in the middle of a smoldering black patch of earth, crying. The older boy sat on a log next to his tent, his favorite place to watch the sun set. The girl began examining the wreckage trying to discover what had happened.

  She finally looked closely at some of the blackened debris,

she barely recognized it as a person.

  "Were are all the people?" she could hear the younger boy

say.

  "They're right here." she whispered as the shock set in.
  She heard some moaning but it wasn't coming from her friends

it was from someplace else. She straightened up and listen for the sound, it was coming from the creek.

  She ran to the bank but was afraid to look over, at first.

When she did, she wasn't sure what she saw. Laying in the mud at the edge of the stream appeared to be a woman covered in mud and grime. A large black holed was burned in her back and blood poured from the many cuts and gouges over her body. As the girl approached she thought she looked familiar but wasn't sure. It wasn't until she recognized the remains of an anklet the woman wore did she know whom she approached.

  "Mom!" she cried and fell to her knees in the mud next to

the woman.

  The woman opened her eyes, still bright and clear,

"Anndrea," she whispered "thank God you weren't here.."

  Anndrea cradled her mother's head in her lap "don't worry

mom, you'll be all right, I promise." she said through her tears.

  "No dear," the woman choked "my time has come, I just ....

for you, my love."

  "Who did this, why?" Anndrea gasped.
  "Pirates...don't know why...just came." the woman turned to

look at her daughter. "You must leave this place, this planet has nothing left for you…promise me…go to the Fort…go to the Federation .."

  "I promise" the girl cried.
  Bubbles of blood formed on the woman's lips as she exhaled

her last breath.

  The three children sat on their horses over looking the

favorite summer valley of their clan. From behind them, the morning sun cast long shadows in front of them towards their past. They could not identify any of the rest of the clan, they just left them where they were. Outside of the village circle was the single grave they had spent the night digging.

  Anndrea turned to her two friends and said "I'm going to the

Fort."

  "Aren't you going with us to the other clan?" the older boy

asked.

  "No, I promised I would leave, and that is what I'm going to

do."

  "I want to leave too." the younger boy said as tears poured

down his face.

  "You must find the other clan, that is where you belong.

The tribe must know of what has happened here."

  They were all too tired to argue, they hugged each other

from their horses then parted ways. The girl headed north and the two boys headed south.

  A darkly tanned teenage girl rode a tall brown horse  across

an endless prairie. She rode bare back accept for the bedroll and other camping supplies strapped behind her. She had long, straight black hair tied back by a thin leather thong with a bright red feather hanging from it. She wore a simple brown buck-skin dress decorated with small beads and fringe. Ahead of the girl was a large walled compound with two large doors standing open, waiting for her….

  Whitecloud never finished her sentence, just sat looking

into the room.

  'What ever happened to her on Infiniti West must still be

too hard to speak of' O'Malley thought. Janice sat next to Anndrea and held her while she cried for her memories. Even warriors were allowed to cry, occasionally.

  Anndrea sat up pushed her hair out of her face "I have my

first solo command in a few hours, I'd better start prepareing." she stood and went into the head.


  "Captain Anthony, Sir, I read a ship entering this sector."

It was O'Malley's turn to stand watch on the sensors.

  "Can you project a course for it yet?" the Captain asked

from the Command room.

  "Yes Sir, it's current trajectory will bring it on a tangent

to this system. They won't need to alter their course until the last minute to enter. At current warp ETA is, 5 hours 15 minutes."

  "Keep an eye on them, if they show any sign of actually

paying this system a visit let me know."

  "Aye, sir"
  Several hours later Captain Anthony sat in his quarters

reviewing deployment scenarios submitted by Lt Commanders Kartang and Golta when the yellow alert signal light came on. At the same time there was the piping sound on the ship wide communications followed by commander Tarva saying "Captain Anthony, report to the bridge."

  Anthony hit his comm button and said "I'm on my way." then

headed into the hall. Two meters down the hall a turbo lift stood opened waiting for him. When he entered, the door shut quickly and the lift accelerated toward the bridge without command.

  "Commander Tarva, Report." Anthony said as soon as he

stepped off the lift.

  The rest of the main bridge crew was already at their

stations.

  "Sir, the incoming ship has continued its course on a

tangent to this system but we have picked up extremely intense scanners directed towards the system. The yellow alert was automatically activated by ACT. It seems that the system perceives these scans as a threat and has begun shifting the cloaking frequencies to compensate." Tarva reported.

  "Automatic frequency shifting is designed to compensate for

the intense Borg scanners." Anthony said as he took his chair. Then after some thought asked "Do we have a make on the ship yet?"

  "Sir all we have is that it's a Federation Pentalia class,

perhaps a scout ship." Ensign O'Malley reported.

  "Sir, there are no Federation scanner systems that would

cause ACT to automatically initiate phase frequency shifting of the cloaking." Commander Norton said.

  "Perhaps, you should say there are no systems that we are

aware of." Anthony commented with a smile.

  "That, would be more accurate." Norton agreed.
  "Perhaps we should bring in any training missions we have

out." Tarva suggested.

  "Agreed." Commander Norton said then signaled the 'Cavern'

"Lieutenant Commander Kartang, are there any training teams planet side?"

  "A drop ship is collecting the last team at this time."

Kartang replied.

  "Please keep us appraised of their progress."
  "Aye Sir, Kartang out."
  "Sir," Ensign O'Malley said "the ship has dropped out of

warp and is concentrating it's scans on this area."

  "That's not possible," Tarva said "it couldn't possibly read

us from that distance and there's no way it could see the team on the surface."

  "Have all hands prepare for silent running." Anthony said to

Tarva then to Norton "Have they zeroed in on anything yet?"

  "No sir, they just keep doing wide sweeps, like their seeing

shadows or something."

  "Ensign O'Malley what's their current status?" Anthony

turned to the red head.

  "Sir, they're heading toward us now at three quarters

impulse, they should be here in about forty eight minutes."

  "I read a high energy release on the planet" Norton

reported.

  "Bridge, Drop Ship Control here." came Kartang's voice over

the intercom.

  "Go ahead." replied Commander Tarva.
  "Sir, Drop Ship 21 has crashed on lift off" Kartang said

almost frantically.

  "Survivors?" Captain Anthony demanded.
  "With the storm and the ACT systems in the ship and suits it

is impossible to tell. Sir, request permission to launch a rescue mission!"

  "How many unaccounted for?"
  "Two pilots and a full sixteen member landing team."
  "Sir," O'Malley Interrupted "The ship has increased to full

impulse and has a projected course to enter our exact orbit. New ETA five minutes."

  "They have concentrated full scanner activity on the area of

the crash site." Norton added.

  Anthony swung his command chair around to get a full look at

his bridge crew. All, like himself, were strapped into their duty chairs in preparation for silent running. "Mr. Norton, initiate silent running. Mr. Kartang, permission denied, send a message to any survivors to hang tight we'll come get them as soon as possible. Helm take us to an opposite geo-synchronous orbit, maybe we can repeat that incident with the Raptor."

  The Vigilante adjusted it's current geo-synchronous orbit

over their training area to one directly on the opposite side of the planet. The movement was so smooth it was not perceptible to any of the crew.

  "Sir, I'm picking up a transmission from the surface, audio

only." Norton said.

  "Put it on the speaker"
  The speakers for the view screen immediately erupted in

static. "This is the best I can do" Norton said as he made adjustments.

  A female voice could barely be heard through the noise:

<Vigilante…twelve…survive…suits held..one day…failure..> the rest of the message was inaudible.

  "What are they doing, don't they know we have company?"

Tarva said.

  "They did not acknowledge our warnings to them just before

the crash." Norton advised her.

  "Sir, the Ship has taken up orbit where predicted, and they

have shields at maximum." Norton reported. He then made new adjustments at the comm center "I now have a transmission from the ship, directed to the planet."

  The sound was much cleaner and a male voice said:

<Attention planet side, this is the U.S.S. Delphi, please identify yourselves, we are prepared to offer assistance if needed.>

  Anthony immediately turned to Commander Norton and said "Get

me all you can on the Delphi and the Pentalia class ships."

  "Aye, Sir." Norton said as he started working his console.
  "Captain," O'Malley spoke up "The Delphi has transported an

away team to the planet."

  "How close to our people is their team?" Tarva asked.
  "Can't tell, the armor is deflecting our scans."
  There had been a long pause from the planet then the high

static began again and the female voice came back:

<This…private registry trans…Vigi…, request evacuat…six survive.>

  "My God, they've lost twelve." Ensign O'Malley whispered.
  "If they get evacuated, they'll initiate Drop Ship self

destruct." Tarva said. She then turned to the intercom and signaled Chief Swanson.

  <Say again, how many survivors?  Our scans do not indicate

any lifesigns.>

  "Swanson, here." came a woman's voice.
  "Chief, we need to beam aboard all personnel on the far side

of the planet, can we do it?" Tarva said quickly.

  "We're currently out of range, sir."
  "Damn, the planet's in the way" Anthony said "Helm, move us

into transport range best speed."

  "Aye, Sir." replied the helmsman.
  "Prepare to transport." Tarva said to the intercom then

immediately started entering timings and frequencies to coordinate the transport.

  After another long pause, the voice came back:

<…sheltered…debris. There…six, repeat six…request… evacuation…>

  <Confirmed, we now read six survivors, prepare for emergency

transport.>

  O'Malley then reported "The survivors of the Drop Ship have

been transported, the away team is still on the planet."

  "Tarva to Chief Swanson prepare to transport."
  "Watching for the signal, now." she replied.
  "Sir," Norton said "I have the specs for the Pentalia class

ships but I'm unable to find any registry for the Delphi, in any class."

  "Who ever they are, they have six of my crew."  Anthony then

turned to his intercom "Mr Kartang, I'll need a roster for the team and drop ship crew we just misplaced."

  "Aye, Sir."
  Captain Anthony saw a note immediately appear on his log

screen: Drop Ship 21 Crew and Roster.


  Six figures appeared in a standard Federation transporter

room. A female Klingon and a male Kalonian stood on either side, 2 human males were kneeling over the form of a Vulcan. They all had portable full-face breathers strapped or held to their faces.

  The sixth stood in the center of the semicircle.  She was a

female with shoulder length straight black hair and had the portable breather strapped properly over her face. All six wore one piece, snug fitting, flat gray body suits with wires and connectors sticking out from them.

  The woman made an obvious move towards a tricorder-like

device she was holding. She managed to press one button.

  A security officer saw this and yelled "Look out,  she's got

a weapon!" and fired his phaser at her.

                         to be continued..........

—————

                 T H E   V I G I L A N T E
                            IIIB
                       "The Warriors"
                        (continued)

Hark to the ewe that bore him:

"What had muddied the strain?

Never his brothers before him

Showed the hint of a stain."

Hark to the tups and wethers;

Hark to the old gray ram:

"We're all of us white, but he's black as night,

And he'll never be worth a damn."
          "The Black Sheep"
          Robert W. Service
  Six figures appeared in a standard Federation transporter

room. A female Klingon and a male Kalonian stood on either side of 2 human males who were kneeling over the form of a Vulcan. They all had portable, full-face breathers strapped or held to their faces.

  The sixth stood in the center of the semicircle.  She

was a female with shoulder length straight black hair and had the portable breather strapped properly over her face. All six wore one piece, snug fitting, flat gray body suits with wires and connectors sticking out from them.

  The woman made an obvious move towards a tricorder-like

device she was holding. She managed to press one button.

  A security officer saw this and yelled "Look out,  she's

got a weapon!" and fired his phaser at her.

  The doors to the transporter room snapped opened and a blue

skinned Andorian rushed in, phaser in hand. He was just in time to see the Klingon female pull off her mask, growling, and rush toward the security man.

  The Andorian's shot hit first as the security man's second

shot immediately followed. The Klingon grunted and dropped to one knee.

  "Identify yourselves." the Andorian hissed, his antennae

twitching slightly.

  Anndrea Whitecloud looked at the blue-skinned figure.  Blue

antennae protruded from his white hair. His teeth were bared and gleamed white. She watched as his thumb clicked on the phaser, she knew that he was increasing the setting.

  The transporter room had quite a few other people in it.

The most prominent were the mustard-yellow of security although there were a couple of blue-shirts and the red-shirted blue-skinned humanoid.

  "We have injured. Get your doctors to work." Whitecloud

demanded.

   The Andorian hissed as he motioned to the doctor and her

assistant. He was about to address the female when a Yeoman interrupted him.

  "Sir! Bridge reports that a high intensity explosion has

just been registered on the planet's surface."

  "Coordinates? The team? " he was veritably snarling.
  "Bridge reports no survivors." he continued "Sir, I believe

that she activated some form of detonation device."

  Bronsdale piped in, "Sir, she just killed Assali, Meede and

Albert!"

  "You had no business in putting an away team down there."

Whitecloud said.

  The Andorian motioned with his hand.  "Add extra security,

even to those in sickbay." his voice deathly quiet, his gaze locked with that of Whitecloud. The doctor began moving the others out.

  "But sir!! She is responsible for ..."
  A beam from the Andorian's phaser cut the man short sending

him senseless. He then stared back at the female remaining on the transporter pad. "That is quite enough Yeoman", he hissed.

  "And that is quite enough as well, LIEUTENANT Qhasmon, you

will return to the bridge NOW, I will speak with you later."

  A new man stepped into the transporter room. Now, only

himself and three security men remained in the room with Whitecloud. One of the three was the unconscious form of the man the Andorian had shot.

  Whitecloud instinctively came to attention when she saw the

pips in the man's collar. His features were almost youthful, save for the steely glint in his blue eyes and the firmness he had held in his voice.

  "Sir, the woman ..."  one of the men began.
  "That is enough Yeoman Upaw. I am aware of the situation."

The Captain was terse with the Yeoman.

  The Captain looked at the woman, she appeared to be about as

tall as he, around 5' 8". She had darkly tanned skin and straight black hair, her eyes were dark and defiant. She had sharp angular features that would be considered beautiful and exotic in almost any human culture, as well as some non-human ones.

  "Your name, please." The Captain said formally.
  "Anndrea Smith." She was not a very creative liar.
  "Very well, 'Ms. Smith', Security officer Seneschal will

escort you to medical, then we shall meet. We have much to discuss."

  "Yes, Sir." she replied reflexively.
  The Captain stared ahead at the transporter, feeling older.

He was aware of the Yeoman at the transporter control panel. "Attend to Mr. …. Bronsdale.." Captain Percival Malory turned and left, leaving Upaw to help a now groggy Yeoman Bronsdale.


  Chief Swanson watched the three appear on the transporter.

She still found it difficult to get used to the speed of these new transporters. There was minimal of the standard sparkling, the subject just suddenly appeared.

  The landing party appeared in very unusual poses, they were

covering or averting their eyes as if from a bright light. She wasn't surprised, however, since she had to time it extremely close. She not only had to wait for the destruct command from the Drop Ship survivors, but also had to time it so she pulled them out just before the effects of the explosion reached them. Otherwise, the Delphi may have noticed them 'die' early and investigate further which is something they were trying to avoid.

  "Excellent timing," the shortest one began as he pulled off

his helmet. When he got it clear he looked at the tall blond female human standing behind the control panel. "Who are you, and why have you brought us here?".

  "Sir," another said "I don't think this is the Delphi."

They all instinctively reached for their phasers, the short one finding his first.

  "I wish you wouldn't do that." said a voice from the door.

It was a medium-built, bald, pointed-eared humanoid who was also wearing the same baggy black uniform. With him, was half a dozen others all wearing the same uniform. They carried large, strange looking phasers and wore no rank insignia. The little insignia they were wearing, however, did appear to be standard Star Fleet.

  "Mister, I demand an explanation, who are you people?." said

the tallest of the three.

  At the same time the short human was trying to raise the

Delphi on his communicator.

  "That won't be necessary," said the Vulcan, "this room is

quite shielded."

  The man continued to try to contact his ship but to no

avail. The three didn't lower their weapons, at first, while they assessed the situation. What finally forced their decision was not the security pointing their own phasers at them, but the transporter chief holding her hand over a button on the console. Anyone with respect for the transporter, knew better than to get an operator disturbed with them while standing on the pad.

  As soon as they lowered their phasers two of the six who had

entered with the Volcan circulated relieving them of their equipment. They then took off the remainder of their environmental suits.

  "Now I'd like to welcome you aboard, I'm Commander Norton"

the Vulcan said. "I apologize for abruptly transporting you like we did. But the Captain didn't see any other option."

  The tallest stepped forward and said "I am Commander Assali,

First Officer of the U.S.S. Delphi." he then indicated the others "and these are Lieutenant Meede, and Midshipmen Albert. Now, we'd like to know just who you people are, who's in charge and why we can not contact our ship."

  "All in due time, Commander." Norton said "Now if you'd

follow these men to your temporary quarters. I'm sure, that after that storm you'd like to get cleaned up."

  "Sir," Commander Assali said the word sarcastically "We are

not going anywhere until we get some answers."

  Norton hesitated for a minute then produced an old style

communicator from one his large pockets and spoke quietly into it. When he was finished he snapped it shut and dropped it back into the pocket. "Commander, All I am authorized to tell you, at this time, is that The Delphi stumbled onto a top secret Star Fleet project during a training accident. Much information beyond that, would make you and your crew extremely difficult to safely release, especially if your going to be stationed in this quadrant."

  "I'm sorry, that is not sufficient, Sir." Lieutenant Meede

said.

  Norton thought for a second then said "Okay if that's the

way you want it. Chief Swanson, I'd like you to totally disable the transporter in this room." He then turned to one of his men and said "Make sure all computer interface is disconnected except for the food replicator.

  "Gentlemen, this is not one of the more comfortable quarters

to billet in and the head has minimal wash facilities. But since this is were you wish to remain, we're flexible."

  The three turned and whispered among themselves then Assali

turned back to Commander Norton "Standard quarters will be sufficient until such time we are returned to the Delphi."

  The Vulcan smiled and said "Very good".
  The security personnel escorted the three out of the

transporter room. On the trip to their quarters they saw a some more of the ship. The hallways were narrow, spartin, and purely utilitarian. The room next to the transporter room they arrived in, had another transporter. They could see as they walked by that the room was extremely large and had several large open doors into it. It appeared to have facilities to transport over one hundred personnel at a time, but that seemed ridiculous.

  They arrived at the door to a billet, which slid open

crisply to admit them. "The quarters in this section are designed for four occupants. The replicators can provide for any of your needs, so make yourselves comfortable." said one of the guards.

  "We are confined to these quarters?" asked the Lieutenant.
  "In essence, yes" said the security guard. "The Captain and

First Officer would like to speak to you soon and hopefully answer some of your questions" At that, the guards waited for their guests to enter their quarters and then took their stations on either side of the door.


  "Sir, We have the transmission from Star Base 89" said the

Delphi's communications officer, Lt. Penthrach.

  "Thank you Mr Penthrach" Captain Malory said to his intercom

in his ready room. He then sat back in his chair and punched the files up on his console. He had been awaiting this transmission since getting the retina scans.

  Each file was accompanied by the usual poor quality visual.

Captain Malory browsed through the first page of each file.

            NAME    : William Jacob Collins
            RANK    : Ensign
            POSITION: Flight Specialist
                      U.S.S. AMBARTSUMIAN NCC-3817
            NOTES   : Ship destroyed by engine core
                      failure, all hands lost
                      Star-date 46998.
            NAME    : Joseph Franz
            RANK    : Yoeman
            POSITION: Security Specialist
                      U.S.S. EL CID NCC-534-B
            NOTES   : Killed in action during boarder
                      skirmish with Cardaseans
                      Star-date 47310.
            NAME    : S'Turlek
            RANK    : Ensign
            POSITION: Junior Science Officer
                      U.S.S. TONTI NCC-599
            NOTES   : Missing assumed dead after shuttle
                      disappeared near Neutral Zone
                      Star-date 47329.
            NAME    : Anndrea Clay-Dove Whitecloud
            RANK    : Lieutenant, Junior Grade
            POSITION: Assistant Chief of Security
                      U.S.S. REGULUS NCC-1840-C
            NOTES   : Killed in Transporter accident
                      Star-date 47360.
            From KLINGON Imperial Fleet HQ
            NAME    : K'Lerana Valerta Krogg
            RANK    : Commander
            POSITION: Command Pilot
                      Reconnaissance ship TRARLON
            NOTES   : Ship Lost while on classified mission.
            SUBJECT : KALONIAN National;
                      Star Fleet has no record of the Kalonian
                      subject.
            NOTE    : The Kalonian Defense Force (K.D.F)
                      maintains it's policy to protect the
                      privacy of all it's Citizens.

Captain Malory reread the information, then made a decision.


  "Who are these people?" Lieutenant Meede stormed.
  "We'll find out soon enough." Commander Assali said coolly.
  "We need to exercise utmost caution. We have been abducted

by an unknown force. This clearly constitutes a hostile act. If these were Star Fleet officers, they sure as HELL wouldn't treat other officers in such a manner. I suggest we make mental preparations for becoming hostages… That 'Commander Norton', looked suspiciously Romulan to me…"

  The storm had left them quite grimy even under the

environment suits so they were taking turns using the head. Midshipman Albert came walking out freshly showered. The two officers were too busy planning to get cleaned up so he had taken the first shift in the shower, it did feel good. Since his uniform had gotten quite dirty, he ordered a fresh one from the replicator. Before putting it on he took some time to look through the drawers near the replicator.

  "Sirs, you might want to see this." he pulled out a

laminated card that was stuck in the back of one of the draws.

Welcome aboard the U.S.S. Vigilante.

— There will be a mandatory meeting for all personnel at

  0830 in shuttle bay 1.  This should give all a chance to
  get settled.  All crew assignments will be handed out at
  this time.

— Ship's uniforms are available from the replicators in

  each room just program required size.  Standard Star
  Fleet issue boots are appropriate. (a slight wait may be
  necessary, full power is currently not on line)

— Please make yourself as comfortable as possible,

  as soon as more quarters are finished they will be
  assigned.
  The two officers looked at the card then Assali said "It

really doesn't tell us much. Except maybe the name of the ship."

  "It fits" Meede interjected "That original hail we

heard was garbled, but could have been directed towards a vessel named 'Vigilante'."

  "Sirs, perhaps you should use the showers before they decide

to talk to us." Albert suggested.

  "Thank you Mr Albert, I almost forgot"  Assali said as he

turned toward the head.

  Assali, Meede, and Albert were escorted through the

corridors of the Vigilante. The three were perfectly groomed in standard Star Fleet uniforms. The few others they saw in the hallways wore the same baggy, black uniform with several large 'cargo' pockets. Everyone they saw walked crisply and stiff, all seemed to be overly disciplined and didn't ever give them a second glance.

  Meede raised an eyebrow at this behavior. His abductors had

just moved up several notches on his personal 'danger scale'.

  They were lead into a good sized room for the ones they had

glimpsed. It was flat gray like the rest of the ship with a U-shaped table that had eight chairs at it. Other chairs were also placed around the perimeter of the room. In the center of the U was a single chair positioned to face all seated at the table.

  "Its a court room." Assali said after they had stood in it

for a minute.

  "Are we being put a trial?" Albert asked.
  Meede simply scowled.
  Just then the door slid open and Commander Norton walked in

accompanied by a short Kalonian female and a good sized human male. The man was almost 2 meters tall, had relatively wide shouders and long graying black hair thinning on top and pulled back into a pony tail.

  Meede looked at the man then said "I thought you were dead,"

he hesitated for a moment, and then added "Sir."

  "It's good to see you again too, Mr Meede" the man said.
  Assali turned to the Lieutenant "You know this man?".
  "Yes sir, I served briefly under him aboard the Nielsen

before I was promoted to the Charlemagne."

  "Wasn't the Nielsen part of the armada destroyed at

Wolf-359?" Albert asked.

  "Please Allow me to introduce myself," the man said,

ignoring the question, and offered his had to Assali "I'm Captain Anthony and I'd like to personally welcome you aboard the U.S.S. Vigilante," he then indicated the Kalonian with him "and this is my first officer, Commander Tarva."

  She didn't offer her hand, just slightly nodded toward them.
  "Now, I suppose you have a lot of questions, why don't you

have a seat and we'll see if we can answer any of them." Anthony indicated the chairs at the table as he and Commander Tarva headed for them.

  "Sir, if you really are a commissioned Star Fleet ship, why

have you not allowed us to contact the Delphi?" Meede asked before everybody was fully seated.

  "I thought that would be the first question you'd ask."

Anthony said with a grin. "As I'm sure Mr Norton has advised you, the U.S.S. Vigilante is a top secret project. We are under strict orders not to reveal ourselves to anybody. We are to remain anonymous until such time we have completed the mission for which we were designed and are training for. If we were to simply allow you to call the Delphi that would be in direct violation of one of our primary mission directives."

  "Its interesting that our sensors didn't directly detect you

as we approached the planet …", Assali lead.

  "As I've said, we are an experimental ship, I really can't

get into our 'stealth' capabilities."

  The three sat and looked at each other for a minute.

"Captain, aren't you concerned that the Delphi is looking for us?" Commander Assali asked somewhat incredulously.

  Tarva fielded this one "We were aware that the remains of

the transport that had crashed would be destroyed after the survivors were evacuated. We pulled you off the planet just before you would have been vaporized by the blast. Hopefully, the Delphi will think that you were killed."

  "Hopefully, they'll think we were killed?  You want them to

abandon us? Then what, you keep us against our will, kill us yourselves, what?" Meede had assumed his head of security authoritative tone.

  Tarva had been a security Chief for too long to be impressed

by Meede's posturing. After a few months of him, Anthony had also become use to it.

  Anthony replied "Lieutenant, our intention was to keep you

from harm, if we wanted you dead, we would have ignored you."

  "Which we almost did." Tarva lied.
  Assali had been quietly listening to the exchange and

finally spoke up. "The way I see it then, you are looking for some way to exchange us for your missing crew without revealing yourselves. Does that sum up the situation? "

  "Most of it." Anthony said.
  "There is a bit more we must accomplish to clean up this

incident properly." Tarva added.

  "And that is?" Meede asked.
  "We must insure that all computer and other records of the

Delphi's foray into AR-24 are erased or altered to exclude any and all contact with the Vigilante and her personnel." Tarva replied casually.

  Midshipman Albert blurted out "That's impossible...Sir."  he

then turned to Assali "Sir, Captain Malory would never go for altering the computer records, would he?"

  Tarva looked at Assali "Is the Captain of the Delphi

Percival Malory?"

  Assali scrutinized the recognition in Tarva's face "Yes,

Percival Malory is the Captain of the U.S.S. Delphi, do you know him?"

  "After Wolf-359, the New Aukland rescued me from an escape

pod. The Captain was Percival Malory, we actually became quite good friends." She said this more to Anthony than Commander Assali.

  Anthony turned to Tarva "Between Commander Assali and

yourself we may be able to convince Captain Malory…."

  "Hold that thought," Assali interrupted "convince Captain

Malory about what, I'm not convinced myself. You're going to have to tell and show me a lot more than you have so far to get me to try to convince my Captain to do something that is strictly against policy."

  "Sir," Meede said to Assali "Are you saying that you may

even be considering asking Captain Malory to forge his logs?"

  "Lieutenant," Anthony said "You must learn to look beyond

the rules and regulations of an individual ship to the security of the entire Federation."

  Meede scoffed "Are you trying to tell us that this project

is that important?"

  "We are." Tarva answered seriously.
  Assali motioned for Meede to remain silent and thought for a

moment. "Let's try to compromise some here. Show me what you can of this ship. If you convince me, then I'll do what I can. At no time, however, will I involve myself in lying to or attempting to deceive my commanding officer, is that clear."

  A pipping sound came from the intercom.  "Bridge to Captain

Anthony."

  "Go ahead."
  "Sir, We read the Delphi powering up, she's probably

preparing to get under way." came a female voice.

  "Have we obtained our new orbit?" Tarva said to the speaker.
  "Yes, sir."
  "Very good, we'll be right up." Anthony stood followed by

the rest at the table. "Mr Norton, would you have someone escort Lieutenant Meede and Mr Albert back to their quarters."

  Norton who had remained standing by the door acknowledged

the command with a slight nod and a "Yes, Sir".

  Anthony toward Assali "Won't you please accompany me to the

Bridge?"

  "Sir, I must protest," Meede interjected "I don't know that

we should allow ourselves to be split up by these people."

  "Mr Meede," Assali turned to the man "If we were not safe,

there's not much we could do about it. So I suggest we take them at face value until they give us reason to believe otherwise. Is that clear?"

  "Yes, sir"
  "Now, return to our quarters and wait for me."
  With that, the two groups exited the briefing room.

  Andrea Whitecloud wore a standard yellow Star Fleet

uniform with no rank or insignia. She sat at one end of a table in a relatively large conference room. Sitting at the table were the remaining command staff of the USS Delphi. Among them were of course Captain Malory, Doctor Mayak and the second in command of security, now chief of security, Lieutenant Anna Zalvosta.

  "Ms. Smith" the Captain was saying "Let me get this

straight, you claim that you and your crew are the survivors of a private registry transport?"

  "That's correct."
  "And the name of the transport was The Vigilante"
  "Actually it was the Klingon equivalent, but essentially

yes."

  "Don't you think that VIGILANTE is a rather severe name for

a transport?" Malory was calmly paging through notes on his terminal, notes totally unrelated to what was going on at present.

  "Not for the make up of the crew."  Whitecloud leaned

casually to one side with her hands laying loosely in her lap.

  "Now there's something I'd like to talk about." Malory said

as if suddenly finding something interesting. "It is most intriguing, that you accomplished getting a Kalonian and a Klingon to work together. The only time I've ever seen some in a room together, they were trying to kill each other.

  "It's amazing how much hatred and prejudices can be put

aside if the price is right." Whitecloud seemed bored with the whole process.

  "Then your cargo was extremely valuable?"
  "Some would think so."
  "What exactly was your cargo?"
  "An assortment of things."
  Malory seemed to ignore her answers and just continued

with his questions "If it was so valuable, why did you destroy it."

  "Who said I destroyed it?"
  "Then what was that you were doing with the tri-corder after

you were beamed up?" interjected the new chief of security.

  "I was in the process of activating a homing beacon when we

were transported, I was just trying to finish what I had started."

  "That was some homing beacon." Lieutenant Zalvosta said

incredulously.

  "The tricorder must have malfunctioned when YOUR man lost

his cool. The tri-corder also had a destruct function in it, but that is not what I was activating."

  "Once again you try to blame US for the death of the away

team." Malory was starting to show some slight agitation.

  "I lost more then THREE comrades in that crash, I have to

live with that. I am not going to accept the blame for the death of three people who were some place they shouldn't have been when someone else caused a malfunction. As far as I'm concerned, I'm more of a witness than a participant to the matter." Whitecloud had straighten out and had both hands palms down on the table and was staring directly at Malory.

  Before Malory could respond a piping sound came over the

intercom. "Captain, Bridge here".

  "Go a head Mr Qhasmon."
  "Sir, we are ready to get under way."
  "Stand by.", Malory rose and stood for a moment beside his

chair, gazing at his 'guest'.

  "I am sure that we will speak again, Miss...Smith, before we

reach Star Base 89 at any rate…."

  "Starbase 89?" Whitecloud asked.
  "Yes, the Admiral has shown a specific interest in you and

your crew." Malory clapped his hand atop his chair and abruptly left the meeting room.


  "One thing still puzzles me.." Assali said to Anthony as

they entered the turbo-lift to the bridge.

  "What's that?  BRIDGE" Captain Anthony stood in a casual at

ease posture.

  Assali's knees buckled slightly from the extreme

acceleration of the lift. "I've been trying to figure out why none of our sensors spotted your ship and why we had such a hard time zeroing in on your crew."

  "Mr Assali," Anthony said in mock shock.  "Like we've said,

this is a secret project it wouldn't do us any good if any passing Star Ship could see us, Would it?" The door to the turbo lift opened and Assali and Anthony stepped onto the bridge.

  On the main screen was the image of the Delphi.  The

Vigilante had come up behind and above it. The angle and the distance made the single warp drive ship seem extremely small.

  "My God," Assali said "you're cloaked, aren't you?."
  Anthony smiled "Yea, I suppose we are.  Ensign O'Malley

report."

  "Sir, the Delphi has maintained its shields and appears to

be preparing to leave orbit."

  "If they leave orbit, we're going to have a tougher time

fixing this problem." Anthony stood behind O'Malley looking at the ship on the screen.

  "What were your plans with my ship?" Assali asked concerned.
  Anthony looked at the Delphi's first officer "It doesn't

matter, Malory seems to be playing it safe."

  "He does seem to have a sixth sense"  Assali agreed with a

smile. He knew that Malory was anything but safe in his style of Captaining.

  Tarva walked up behind them from the other lift "That does

seem to be a major requirement for a Star Fleet Captain."

  The Delphi changed its orbit and vectored away from the

planet. It made an abrupt half turn and changed course for a little more than an instant. Then it resumed its course and heading. Within seconds it was out of sight as it increased to maximum impulse power.

  "What kind of maneuver was that?" Anthony asked curiously.
  Assali smiled "I call it a 'Crazy Qhasmon'"
  "What's the point?" Anthony was not satisfied.
  Assali merely shrugged his shoulders.
  "You know Andorians ..." he offered.
  A Vulcan seated at the science station along the rear

perimeter of the bridge spoke up "Sir,"

  "Yes, Lieutenant S'Erlet."  The Captain turned his attention

to his young Science Officer.

  "I have been monitoring the Delphi as closely as possible. I

have … noted … that it seems to have a very sophisticated scanner emission pattern. There seems to be some problems with it however, as periodically, the scanner bandwith gets flooded with garbage. Akin to resonance echoes, Sir.

   "I would think that this may lead to some problems with

their navigational sensors. "

   Tarva didn't quite agree with S'Erlet's opinion, "I doubt

that a Captain would have his ship prepare for warp speed if he felt that his sensors were faulty …." Tarva kept her other suspicions silent.

  Assali continued to remain sailent on their speculations.
  "Ensign O'Malley, at current course what is their best

destination?" Anthony asked.

  "Sir, current course will set them directly to Star Base

89."

  Anthony turned to Assali "Commander, would Star Base 89 be

an appropriate destination for the Delphi at this time?"

  Assali continued to simply stand mute.
  "What would be the average cruising speed of a Pentalia

class ship?"

  "Warp six" Tarva replied.
  "Plot a wide course to Star Base 89 best speed.  We'll just

go and wait for them." Anthony said.

  "Best speed, Sir?" O'Malley confirmed.
  "Best Speed" Tarva confirmed.
  "Aye, Sir." O'Malley worked a few buttons.  "Course plotted

and laid in, Sir"

  "Engage." Anthony stood casually with his hands in his

jacket pockets.

  The helmsman next to O'Malley pushed a few buttons and the

Vigilante vectored out of orbit just like the Delphi except for the 'Crazy Qhasmon'. "Full impulse" he reported.

  "We're clear for warp" O'Malley said after a couple minutes.
  "Engage." Tarva said from the Captain's chair.
  The star field on the screen suddenly blurred to the

standard 'rushing stars' optical illusion of warp. "Best Speed attained." the helmsman said immediately.

  "Very good, notify me when we arrive at Star Base 89."

Anthony then turned to Assali "Won't you join me in the briefing room?" and headed toward a door near one of the Turbo Lifts. Assali turned and followed the Captain off the bridge.

  Anthony had to layout their mission to Assali in some

detail. He, however, did not tell him of the new technology or how they planned to get to the Borg in a timely manner. The fewest number of details revealed the better, if only he could totally convince Assali.

  The toughest part was getting Assali to agree to try to

convince Malory on his word alone with out revealing the Vigilante or its nature.

  Assali still didn't have any idea what the ship looked like.

All windows he'd seen merely looked into empty space and Anthony was very tight lipped about details of the ship.

  "Captain," Assali said "You have more or less convinced me

of your sincerity and the importance of your mission. My question remains, how are you going to contact the Delphi or alter it's logs after it arrives at Star Base 89?"

  "Actually near a Star Base a Star Ship is likely to have

minimum security especially when it comes to having its shields lowered for transport."

  "And what do you plan to do when the Delphi lowers its

shields?" Assali was again showing proper concern for his ship.

  Anthony smiled and said "Not the same thing we would have

done if they had dropped their shields at AR-24."

  Assali scowled at the evasion.
  "Okay, here's my plan, since it involves you and will

require your help…"


  Whitecloud had been assigned a small but nice room.  In

fact, it was a lot nicer than what she had on the Vigilante, but it wasn't home. She had been allowed only limited contact with the rest of her crew, they were being treated equally well. She wondered with a flashing grin how close their stories were to hers.

  Anndrea Whitecloud had lost faith in a Supreme Being since

she was disenchanted on Infiniti West, now she found herself praying that The Vigilante had picked up the Delphi's landing party. With the death of S'Turlek she had lost a total of 13 of the original 18. It would be difficult for even a seasoned commander to deal with, it being her first solo command made it even more difficult.

  Whitecloud walked to her door which she had to signal to

have the guard open. A guard stood in the doorway looking at her "What do you want?" he said.

  "I Was told that you had exercise facilities that could be

made available to me." Whitecloud said as pleasantly as she could.

  "One moment" he said cursly.  She could see him reach to his

communicator pin as the door slid shut between them.

  A few moments later the door slid open again and the guard

still stood in the same position. "Facilities are currently available, are you ready at this time?"

  "Yes, that would be fine" she grabbed the bag of exercise

clothes she had been issued and headed out the door. A pair of guards fell in behind her.

   Anndrea had been working out on the strength training

equipment for about ten minutes when a couple of young security officers, not that she had seen an older security officer on the DELPHI yet, entered the rec room.

  "You're the one, aren't you?" one of them said as they

approached.

  Whitecloud who had been in a reclined position sat up and

pushed hair off of her face. "I'm sorry were you talking to me, Ensign?" she said in an authoritative voice.

  "Your the one who killed the away team.  What are you doing

in here? Shouldn't you be in the brig?" one of them said harshly.

  "What caused that terrible accident is still under

investigation." Whitecloud said as she stood up.

  "Were the hell do you think your going?" the other said and

pushed Whitecloud hard enough to make her sit back down on the bench. "You kill two security officers and the First Officer, now your in the security training room acting like you own the place."

  Whitecloud stood up quickly and stared at the speaker then

hissed "Mister, if you touch me again, I will KILL you, is that understood?"

  The other one grabbed her by the arm and spun her towards

him as he said "How dare you threaten Star Fleet officers".

  Whitecloud grabbed the man's arm, pulled him free of her and

twisted the arm around his back. The man groaned from the sudden stretch then screamed as his arm and shoulder broke and and his arm started to double back on itself.

  As soon as his friend screamed the other man rushed at them.

Whitecloud kicked straight out at him landing square in the chest doubling him over and throwing him across the room.

  Whitecloud stood behind the man and continued applying

pressure. As he screamed she whispered icily "Death is easy if you know how to apply it."

  In response to the man's screams, the guards had come

running into the room. "What's going on here!" one of them yelled as they approached.

  Whitecloud let the man go and pushed him to the floor.  "Why

did you let these two in, you know I'm not allowed company."

  One guard held a phaser on Whitecloud while the other knelt

down to examine the security man she had just released. His arm was still twisted up behind his back and he lay on his stomach moaning. The guard with the phaser touched his communicator pin and said "Security and medical to Security Training Room one."


  Anndrea Whitecloud stood in the conference room in a stiff

at ease posture. Seated at the table were Captain Malory, Chief of Security Anna Zalvosta, and Doctor Mayak. Standing to either side of Whitecloud but against the walls were two large security men.

  "Ms. Smith," Malory began "we are here to determine the

circumstances around the incident earlier today in the Training Room. In your own words what exactly happened there today?"

  "Sir, I was approached at a time when I was led to believe

that I was to remain segregated from the rest of your crew." Whitecloud began "They accosted me in a rough and threatening manner. I told these ENSIGNS to leave me alone, instead they persisted in confronting me. Since they were not suppose to be there, I knew they didn't just 'happen on me'. They had planned to confront me and were in collusion with my guards. It was obvious that they had plans for me, I was not about to allow them to follow through."

  "The Ensigns of course, tell a different story." Captain

Malory said "I tend to believe the truth is some where in the middle."

  "Captain, Sir," Lieutenant Zalvosta said "do you believe

that four Star Fleet officers are lying?"

  The Captain turned to his new Chief of Security "I believe

that both parties' perceptions of events may be slightly clouded." Then to Mayak "Doctor, what is the status of the injured crewman?"

  The doctor looked down at a chart in front of her "The

gentleman with the injured arm should be pretty much healed in a day or two. His arm, however, may never be exactly right, but we'll see. The other merely had the wind knocked out of him, he's fine."

  "Thank you, Doctor.  Ms Zalvosta inform all personnel

involved that appropriate disciplinary action will be taken." Malory then spoke to the whole room "Ms Smith please take a seat, the rest are dismissed."

  "But Sir..." one of Whitecloud's guards started.
  "But nothing, everyone is dismissed I wish to talk privately

with Ms Smith."

  "Aye, Sir." the other guard said and they headed out of the

room with the rest.

  After Whitecloud had taken a seat across from Malory he said

"Lieutenant Whitecloud, I believe it is time we ended this charade."

  "I'm sorry, you must have me mistaken for somebody else."

Whitecloud said calmly.

  Malory pushed a few buttons on the console in front of him.

The screen at one end of the room came on with the first page of Whitecloud's file from Star Base 89. The visual was poor, as was standard, but it was obviously Whitecloud. "Are you trying to deny that this is you."

  Whitecloud thought for a second and said very seriously

"Sir, I'm hoping you will realize that the persons in those files can't be on this ship."

  "I must know why three of my best officers were killed.  I

have a lot of questions I need answered, before I can accept that you were never here."

  "Tell me what you have." Whitecloud seemed to be offering to

answer the questions.

  Malory paged through his notes on the terminal for a few

minutes while he considered the options. Finally he said "The explosion?"

  "We could not leave top secret equipment to be found by

anybody. Policy."

  "What really happened?"
  "You stumbled on to a top secrete project just when things

weren't going well"

  Malory continued to page through his notes "Your still being

extremely evasive, Lieutenant."

  "I have my orders."
  "And what do your orders say about answering to Admirals

under direct questioning?"

  "I'm willing to pay the price of keeping my orders."
  Malory frowned at her stubbornness, this wasn't getting any

where. He knew that she was hiding a lot, but was she sincere about the secrecy. If she was telling the truth and Star Fleet was involved, then he shouldn't be asking her questions.

  "I'll leave the rest of the questions to the Admiral, maybe

you'll be able to talk more freely with him." Malory said then turned off his console.

  "I don't think so." Whitecloud said matter of factly.
  "Well, we'll find out very soon."
  The conversation was interrupted by the comm pipping on

"Captain, Bridge here".

  "Go ahead, Mr Penthrach"
  "Sir, preparing to drop out of warp for approach to Star

Base 89."

  "Very good, I'll be there in a few minutes."
  "Bridge out."
  Malory left the room then the two large security men came in

to escort Whitecloud back to her quarters. As they walked down the corridor, Anndrea considered her new gaurds. It was obvious these two were chosen to guard her because of their size. They even wore security vests that would help protect them incase of a fight. She was quite flattered by the respect they were finally showing her.

  She decided to start a polite converstation, she looked up

at one, smiled and said sweetly "Are you, afraid of me?"

  He looked at her with a frown and replied curtly "No."  They

were not suppose to talk to her, and didn't want to.

  The tio had arrived at Whitecloud's quarters.  She stepped

in, then turned to face them, continuing to smile and holding her hands behind her back in a loose at-ease posture.

  "You should be." she said.
  The door slid shut between them.

  The Vigilante had taken up a place off of Star Base 89.

They had been hiding in a nearby system until they estimated the Delphi would arrive.

  The ship's orientation made the Star Base appear to be

laying on it's side. It was a massive structure, designed to dock more then ten Star Ships at a time.

  The top half was dome shape, with a long pylon like tale

extending below it. The structure ended up looking very much like a mushroom. Protruding from every surface of the Base where a multitude of antennas and sensor arrays. Evenly spaced around the base of the dome were five large doors to allow StarShips into Dry dock.

  Being a monitoring station for the neutral zone, Star Base

89 was heavily armed and shielded. It not only had phaser rings on the dome but had a multitude of phaser cannons and torpedo launchers spread over the surface. The shield generators were not as visible but were still there. From shear size alone the base was able to generate shields capable of with standing a prolonged attack.

  "Ensign, monitor the scanners closely, we don't need anybody

bumping into us." Tarva said from the Captain's chair. Tarva smiled at her use of words, she was begining to sound like the Captain.

  "Aye, Sir" replied O'Malley.  She soon spoke again "Sir, the

Delphi is dropping out of warp and approaching standard orbit around Star Base 89."

  Tarva stood and pressed a button on the Captain's console

"Bridge to Captain Anthony."

  "Go ahead." returned the Captain immediately.
  "Sir, the Delphi has just dropped out of warp and is

approaching Star Base."

  "Acknowledged, I'm on my way."
  Tarva then headed to the turbo-lift.
  Tarva entered Transporter Room II dressed in her yellow Star

Fleet uniform. Commander Norton, Commander Assali and Chief Swanson waited for her. Norton also wore his yellow standard uniform, just incase.

  Tarva spoke to Norton as she entered "Have you been able to

spot any of our people on the Delphi?"

  "We think we've spotted Valerta and Galleran.  We also feel

that we can transport through their shields. As they stand, their at minimum power and we've been able to determine the pulse frequency. I think, however, that it wouldn't be prudent to just pull them out."

  "Agreed, what's the Delphi's Transporter activity been

like?"

  "There's been some activity but there hasn't been any way to

tell if any of our crew but Valerta and Galleran are still on the ship." Swanson replied.

  Tarva said "I'll go to Star Base and try to contact Captain

Malory from there."

  She then stepped onto the front of the large pad.  As she

stepped up, she noticed the pad had a slightly different tint to it then the rest. It was the pad destroyed by the accident that killed Ensign Shertz. Tarva was tempted to step to an adjoining pad, but didn't. "When ever your ready, Chief."

  "Waiting for an opening, Sir" Swanson said as she watched

her scanner. "Energizing"

  The scene around Tarva shifted and was replaced by a hallway

on Star Base 89. She immediately started walking as if she was going somewhere. It would take her a moment or two to get her bearings but she didn't want to look out of place.

  Tarva had been to Star Base 89 and knew where she was going.

The Base lounge was quite large to accommodate the high Star Base traffic. One feature, was a communication facility for personnel to make personal calls to other ships. Normally, even personal traffic had to be channeled through official channels. These facilities allowed personnel to keep in touch on a more unofficial level.

  "Commander Tarva?" The male voice came from behind her as

she approached the doors to the lounge. When she turned she saw a medium built human wearing a yellow uniform with Star Base security insignia.

  "Lieutenant Bloom," Tarva said trying to be casual. "It's

been a long time."

  "Commander, I didn't know you were visiting, I would have

looked you up." Bloom said with a smile as he approached. "How have you been?"

  Lieutenant Ian Bloom had served as second in command of

security under Tarva on the Eclipse. He had transferred to a position on Star Base A107 a month before the Borg incident.

  "I didn't know you were stationed here." Tarva said with a

smile when he reached her.

  "I'm Chief of Internal Security." he said proudly.  She knew

that his interests always were in Star Base Security. "Where are you stationed now, Sir?"

  "I've been working as a security consultant for new

operations in the sector." Tarva lied.

  "So your just visiting?  Perhaps you'd join me for dinner

this evening, we have so much to catch up on."

  Tarva smiled, she and Lieutenant Bloom had become good

friends. She really would like to catch up with him. "I'm Sorry, I can't, I have somebody else I really do need to catch before one of us leaves."

  "Perhaps I could help." he offered as they approached the

doors to the lounge.

  "Thanks, but that's not necessary, all I have to do is make

a call."

  He smiled, "Of course, your here to use the comm center.

Okay, I'll let you go."

  "Perhaps we can schedule dinner before I leave, I'll contact

you."

  "Very good," he said "Till then.." he bowed slightly then

turned crisply and walked back down the hall.

  Tarva walked through the nearly empty lounge.  Because of

the few patrons she could catch snippets of conversation. Once again her K.D.F. back ground showed it self. She caught her self trying to listen to them as she passed. You never know what you could pick up.

  One conversation caught her attention but she didn't allow

herself to even slow down as she passed.

  "..I still can't believe the away team was killed, it

happened so quick, no warning."

  "And your saying that the Captain is cajoling the person who

caused it?"

  "You wouldn't believe..."
  Tarva entered one of the comm booths on the far side of the

lounge. She placed her palm on the ID pad, hoping Anthony was right about how she was officially listed. A small screen lit up showing her ID information.

            NAME    : Sashon Tarva
            RANK    : Commander
            POSITION: Security Specialist --
                      Star Fleet Security Consultant Corps.
            NOTES   : Currently on Assignment along Romulan
                      Neutral Zone assessing possible security
                      Lapses.
  Most of the Vigilante's crew where listed as deceased.  The

top brass of Project Fulton, however, knew that the Vig may have need of making some kind of contact with regular Star Fleet. Some selected officers on the Vigilante were assigned to the S.F.S.C.C. which was, in fact, just a cover for Project Fulton personnel.

  She then entered her request for a patch to the Delphi.

Since it was a public channel there was a slight wait before the hail was answered.

  The chubby face of a rather over weight man appeared on the

monitor. "This is the Delphi, Lieutenant Penthrach, can I help you?"

  "Yes, I'd like to speak with Captain Malory."
  The man glanced at his screen obviously checking her

personal information provided with the transmission. "I'm sorry, Commander Tarva, the Captain is not available at this time. Can I take a message or arrange a call back?"

  "Yes, tell the Captain I'd like to speak with him as soon as

he is available." Tarva then placed her communicator pin in a matching indentation on her console. "Entering communicator frequency now."

  "Very good, Commander, I'll pass your message to the Captain

as soon as he is available."

  "Thank you, Tarva out."
  The screen blinked off, Tarva stood and headed to a table in

the lounge. She was trying to place her pin on properly when a shadow covered her. Thinking it was the waiter she looked up to order.

  "Commander Tarva?" said a blond haired human female standing

over her. She wore the red uniform of Star Fleet command and commander pips on her collar.

                            to be continued........

                 T H E   V I G I L A N T E
                            IIIC
                       "The Warriors"
                        (continued)

…. You who find us in this place, Have pity in your breast; Let us in our last embrace, Under earth sun-hallowed rest. Night's a claw upon my brain: Oh, to see the sun again!

            "SUNSHINE"
         Robert W. Service
  Tarva stood out of courtesy to a fellow Star Fleet Commander

"Yes, do I know you?"

  The woman offered her hand and said "My name is Commander

Shelby".

  Tarva ignored the gesture and said "Won't you have a seat."

and motioned toward an extra chair at her table. This was not a good sign, but Tarva figured Commander Shelby may have merely recognized her. There weren't that many Kalonians in Star Fleet.

  When they were both seated Tarva asked "How may I help you?"
  The woman looked at Tarva seriously "Let me get right to

business, I'm what I guess I would call, the local liaison for the S.F.S.C.C."

  Tarva was not expecting this, she knew that the S.F.S.C.C.

was just a front developed by Project Fulton. Commander Shelby admitting she was in the 'Corps' was telling her that she must know about the Vigilante.

  Tarva didn't say anything she just looked at Shelby as if

waiting for her to finish a sentence.

  So she continued "I was alerted to your presence by the

computer when you accessed the comm station. I must admit that I was not expecting any of the 'Corps' to be stopping by here so soon."

  "Why wouldn't you be expecting me, Commander, Star Base 89

was on my schedule." Tarva replied pleasantly.

  "Of course, this isn't the proper place for us to discuss

this matter." Shelby said and stood up "Shall we."

  Tarva followed Shelby out of the lounge.  She turned to

Tarva "So, how long have you been on Star Base 89?"

  "For a while." Tarva replied.
  They walked swiftly through the corridors not speaking.

They turned into a small room in a security section. The room was bare except for a table and several chairs, when the door closed, it seemed to seal itself. There wasn't even the obligatory computer console or other computer based accessories. Shelby took one of the seats and Tarva sat in another.

  "So, how can I help you, Commander?" Tarva said.
  "Commander, what in the world are you doing here?  Project

Fulton issued explicit orders for you not to make contact. Is your ship in the area?"

  "I do not know who you are, or what connection you have with

Project Fulton. If you are involved, you know that I can't discuss any details with you. So why have you even contacted me?"

  "I've chosen to contact you because you've boarded Star Base

89 without authorization and you are in direct violation of Fulton directives. I'm trying to determine why you have done this and if we should be concerned about your progress." Shelby seemed to be getting slightly anxious.

  Tarva decided that this human knew enough about the project

to confide in. "During a training session, we experienced a failure in one of our personnel delivery systems. This failure caused the loss of quite a few of the team involved. The remainder of the team was picked up by Captain Malory and the U.S.S. Delphi before we had a chance to retrieve them ourselves. At the same time we found it prudent to remove a Delphi landing party from the site before some wreckage self destructed."

  Shelby put the pieces together "So your ship and the Delphi

have effectively exchanged crew members, is that correct?"

  "Yes."
  "Now your here to contact Captain Malory to try to effect

some sort of exchange."

  "Essentially."
  Shelby sat back in her chair and looked at Tarva "Is there

anyway I can help?"

  "Does this Admiral Hrgon know about project Fulton?" Tarva

asked.

  "Not officially." Shelby said as if it was a running

problem.

  "What does that mean?"
  "The Admiral is, shall we say, extremely nosy, he has to

know everything that is going on in his quadrant. He won't acknowledge the fact that there may be some Star Fleet projects that he shouldn't know about."

  Tarva thought for a second then asked "And how much do you

know of the project, just were are you placed?"

  "You may have already guessed that I can't really answer

that question but I can tell you what I don't know. I don't know your ship's name or how its going to do what its suppose to. I don't know the Captain, it could be you. I do know some of the basic tech theories proposed for use in Project Fulton but I don't know their standing. I guess my job is that of liaison, any time S.F.S.C.C. comes through the computer, I jump. Other then that, I have regular duties here. In fact, this is the first time I've actually been needed in this capacity."

  "I think you may be able to help us, Commander." Tarva said

"If we are going to convince Captain Malory to go along with us we may need your input."

  "That's why I'm here."
  Tarva's comm pin began to chime, she immediately touched it

and said "This is Commander Tarva"

  "Commander," came a familiar voice "Malory here."
  Tarva smiled at the sound of his voice "Captain, I need to

talk to you, it's quite important"

  "I can arrange for you to beam over, if you want."
  "That would be best." Tarva replied.
  "Very good, I'll release authorization."
  "Acknowledged, Tarva out."
  Tarva turned to Shelby "Where's the nearest transporter

room?"

  "I'll take you."
  The two commanders walked out of the secure room and headed

down the hall.


  Tarva watched Commander Shelby, the Transporter Chief and

the Star Base transporter room begin to sparkle, soon everything was sparkling. The sparkling began to reform in the shape of a new transporter room. At the controls was a Yellow shirtted operator and next him was a young man in a red command uniform.

  As soon as she could move again, Tarva came stiffly to

attention and said "Captain, permission to come aboard, Sir?"

  "Permission granted," Captain Malory said "Welcome aboard

the Delphi."

  "Thank you, Sir."
  "So, Commander Tarva," Malory said with a smile "how have

you been?" The standard offer of a handshake was absent.

  "I've been fine." She replied formally "Sir, I do need to

talk with you."

  "Yes, of course." Malory said then motioned to the door.

"Won't you come with me." They walked into the hall and headed to the turbo lift. "So, Commander, your doing security consulting now, must be very interesting."

  "Yes, Sir, I get to do a lot of traveling, it keeps me quite

busy." They rode the lift only a few decks before stepping onto the bridge.

  Tarva quickly surveyed the bridge.  It was definitely a

standard Pentalia layout but obviously brand new. A few things looked slightly familiar. They were the extra panels tacked on to the ops station and science station. Very similar in look to what was tacked on the Vigilante's helm and navigation stations.

  "Mr Qhasmon," Malory said to the blue skinned Andorian

sitting in the Captain's chair "Please make sure that I have minimum interruptions while I talk to Commander Tarva"

  "Aye, Sir." he replied immediately.
  Tarva followed Malory into his ready room and as the door

slid shut she heard someone say "Two Kalonian's in less then a week, that's one for the record book."

  As soon as the door closed Malory turned around and embraced

Tarva. "Sashon, what are you doing here?" He asked after their short hug.

  "Percival, I've got a problem and I need your help."
  "You know I'd do anything I can for you."  Malory said as he

leaned against his desk with hands to his side. "What do you need, passage somewhere, someplace to stay, what?"

  Tarva frowned slightly and took a step toward him "It's not

that easy."

  "Well, lets hear it then." Malory was starting to get

interested, he had never known Sashon to be evasive.

  Tarva looked around the room then said "Is this room totally

secured?"

  Malory looked puzzled and troubled at the same time then

said "Computer"

  "WORKING" came the generic female voice.
  "Initiate, Alpha security"
  "ALPHA SECURITY INITIATED" Replied the voice.
  Tarva looked back at the door control panel.  The small

green light on it had changed to red. The red light was the only out ward sign of a security code implementation.

  "Satisfied?" Malory had walked behind his desk and motioned

for Tarva to have a seat. After she sat down, so did he. "Now what's with all of the secrecy?"

  Tarva sat back comfortably, crossed her legs at the knees

and said "I'm here to get my crew back."

  "And what crew is that?" Malory asked sounding genuinely

confused.

  Tarva smiled "I believe you picked them up in AR-24.  I'm

here to retrieve them."

  "So she wasn't lying when she said Star Fleet was involved."

Malory mused to himself.

  "Who is that, Captain?"
  Malory sat for a minute then said "I should have known that

you were involved, Whitecloud is too damned cold to be associated with anybody else."

  "I hope the Lieutenant hasn't caused you any trouble, I must

warn you that some would refer to her as, I believe the proper phrase is 'a Loose Cannon'." Tarva paused then added "Lieutenant Whitecloud is a very good warrior, she was one of my star pupils when I was training Special Forces."

   Malory smiled, "Thanks for the warning, but it's a bit

late. Don't worry though, no one was injured too severely.."

  "I do apologize for any incident that may have occurred.

Most of our crew is a bit 'on the edge'. We've learned how to deal with them, but they can be a handful if your not prepared."

  "So I found out." Malory agreed.
  Tarva had to turn the conversation back on track "Now if you

could tell me who else is alive and where they are."

  "Now wait a minute, Sashon, three of my officers were killed

in AR-24. I can't just turn them over to you without finishing the investigation." Something was going on here and Malory wasn't about to just drop everything blindly, even if the security of the Federation was involved. He had a duty to his ship and his crew to find out what. Besides, if this was for real, Admiral Hrgon would know about it, wouldn't he?

  "What I was hoping for is not going to be that easy,

Captain." Tarva said "But that brings me to the other topic I wanted to discuss."

  "And what might that be?"
  "Your landing party was not killed at AR-24."
  "What?"
  "We were able to retrieve them just before the explosion."
  "If my people are still alive, where are they?"
  "They are quite safe, you can trust me on that.  Right now,

they're just waiting for me to arrange a proper exchange."

  "Well, that's going to be difficult.  Lieutenant Whitecloud

has already been transferred to the Star Base for interrogation. I was delivering her when you called." Malory seemed quite aware of the irony.

  Tarva considered for a second then said "Can you get her

back?"

  Malory laughed "Get her back? I couldn't even keep her

myself! As required, I had to inform the Admiral of the deaths of my three crewmen. As such, the Admiral wanted all of the details… After I informed him of the party that I beamed up, he almost went berserk. He wants to interrogate all of them personally, I would have liked to have asked my own questions… I have to deliver the other four survivors within a couple of hours …"

  "I thought there were six survivors?" Tarva said concerned.
  "Oh yes, the Vulcan S'Turlek, did not survive his injuries."
  Tarva was quiet for a few moments "Let me lay this on the

table. We have to get this taken care of. Not only do we want to get both crews back to were they're suppose to be, but we also need to adjust ship's logs to erase all data collected."

  "Now wait a minute, your asking me to forge my logs on your

word?" Malory was quite serious "I'm sorry, Sashon, but I can't do that, on what little you've given me."

  Tarva said  "We knew that this would be your response so

we've arranged to give you more then my word." She then stood and pulled out a large old style communicator from under the back of her uniform. She flipped it open and said "Have you made arrangements with Commander Shelby?"

  Malory shuddered, if Commander Shelby is involved in this,

it must have something to do with the Borg. If that's true, it's no wonder they have such tight security.

  Tarva listened to the response on the communicator then said

to Malory "Can you at least promise not to make any new logs concerning this incident and especially this conversation until I've had further opportunity to convince you?"

  Now Malory didn't need to consider for a second "I will not

make any new logs or investigate this incident further until you've had that chance."

  Tarva smiled "Now would be as good a time as any to get

started."

  Captain Malory stood, ready for the intrigue.  "Where do we

go?"

  "Let's start by going back to Star Base 89."
  "Okay, but first, I have to talk with my officers, won't you

wait on the bridge for a second. Computer, cancel alpha security."

  "ALPHA SECURITY CANCELED."
  The red light on the control pad changed back to green and

Tarva headed out. She could hear Malory asking some of his officers to come in.

  The communications officer and a young female officer were

already headed to the ready room as she stepped onto the bridge.

  "Mr Penthrach, has there been any unauthorized

communications to or from the Delphi, say in the past ten minutes?" Malory asked as soon as the door was closed.

  The Lieutenant stiffened his large frame "No sir, our

systems would alert us to any unauthorized transmission."

  Malory then turned to the female "Ensign, has there been any

unusual ORACLE anomalies since we dropped out of warp?"

  The Ensign also came to stiff attention "No Sir, We've been

doing the standard calibrations since arrival. We have not had any unaccounted for readings." The standard ORACLE testing procedures included testing it's output against the known readings from other ships and structures in the area.

  "Is there a problem, Sir?" Penthrach asked.
  "No Lieutenant, dismissed."
  With that all three stepped onto the bridge.
  Tarva and Malory appeared in a small transporter room on

Star Base 89. The room was empty except for the operator, a blond haired human female wearing a red command uniform.

  "Commander Shelby, how nice to see you again."  Malory said

to the attractive officer as soon as he was released from the effects of the transporter.

  Shelby was all business "Sir, won't you come with me

please?" She immediately turned and exited the room before they had a chance to even step down from the transporter.

  Tarva and Malory followed Commander Shelby, none of them

said a word. They were soon in the security section standing outside the secure room Tarva and Shelby had met in earlier. The door opened indicating it was unoccupied. Shelby pressed a button on the control pad closing it in front of them. Tarva and Shelby watched down the corridor until it was empty. Shelby then nodded to Tarva.

  Tarva pulled out her communicator and said into it "All is

clear, you may proceed when ready." the communicator was quickly returned to it's place under her tunic.

  A light blinked on the control pad indicating the door was

being operated from inside. It then slid open revealing Malory's First Officer.

  "Captain, it's good to see you again." Assali said with a

wide smile.

  The four sat around the table in the sealed room.  Tarva,

Shelby and Assali had been laying out the details of what needed to be done. With Assali convinced it hadn't taken much to swing Malory. There came a time that every Captain had to implicitly trust his officers especially the First Officer this was certainly one of them.

  "I still can't believe that Admiral Hrgon is out side the

loop on this." Malory said.

  "We couldn't include everybody." Shelby replied "That would

defeat the purpose. The more people who know, the greater the chance of a leak either accidental or intentional we just can't afford one. Besides, though Admiral Hrgon's loyalty to Star Fleet is indisputable, he does have his own agenda. We don't need anybody side tracking Project Fulton to affect their own power base."

  "I suppose your right, but it still disturbs me to be going

around a commanding officer's back." Malory thought for a second then said "How about Commodore Albrit?"

  Shelby frowned, "He's dead, we're still not sure what

happened to him. No disrespect intended, but I wouldn't have had anything to do with this project if he'd been involved."

  Malory frowned and nodded as well, "I hadn't heard that ...

but you've won me over… Now, how are we going to accomplish this task?"

  After further discussion they had come up with plans to get

The Vigilante's crew back to her and they had a plan for explaining the reappearance of the Delphi's officers. The biggest problem would be getting Whitecloud away from Admiral Hrgon without him going ballistic looking for her. That was the tough part, he had her under tight guard and would be ready for the others very soon.

  After they stood to leave Assali pulled out an over sized

communicator, like Tarva carried. He watched the others leave as he signaled the Vigilante. As soon as the door shut behind them the walls shifted and became the Vigilante's transporter room.

  Malory spoke to Commander Shelby as they walked back toward

the transporter room. "Tarva and I will begin preparations as soon as we get back to the Delphi."

  "Very good, I'll begin preparations on this end.  I hope all

works out, we need to get this over with as soon as possible." Shelby had just finished speaking when they turned a corner and came face to face with Admiral Hrgon and Lieutenant Bloom.

  "Ah, Captain Malory, just the human I've been looking for."

said the Admiral. He was relatively short, a Tellerite, quite hairy with a large nose, more like a snout.

  Malory, Shelby and Tarva immediately came to a natural

attention. "Sir," Malory said "How can I help you?"

  Hrgon ignored Malory for the moment and turned to

acknowledge the others "Commander Shelby, and this must be Commander Tarva."

  "Sir" they both said.
  "Commander Tarva, your with the S F S C C?" Hrgon pronounced

each of the letters as if it were a word.

  "Yes, Sir." She replied.
  "Very good, I'll be wanting to discuss something with you,

if you could contact my aid to set up a time."

  "Sir, I may not be in the area much longer." Tarva said

trying to avoid the meeting.

  "Well, we'll just have to make it soon.  By the way,

Lieutenant Bloom informs me he could not find a record of your billet assignment or even of your arrival itinerary."

  "Sir," Tarva said not wanting to appear defensive "part of

my job is to identify security lapses at Star Fleet installations. Though I'm not here on official business it's become kind of standard for us to travel under low profile. Since I'd just arrived, when I encountered Lieutenant Bloom, I had not yet secured quarters. Now Captain Malory has offered the hospitality of the Delphi so I'll be billeting there."

  "And what of Lieutenant Whitecloud?" Malory asked.
  Hrgon looked at the two female security specialists flanking

the Captain then said "We were unable to get any new information from her. She has been extremely well trained, I wish my whole security staff were trained as professionally." The last remark made Bloom shift uneasily.

  "Also, Captain" Hrgon continued "I'm going to want to

discuss this matter with you more in depth some time soon, as well as your new orders, now that Albrit is dead. Perhaps you should accompany the rest of Whitecloud's crew when you transport them over."

  "Yes, perhaps that would be the best time." Malory agreed,

somewhat surprised by Hrgon's callousness.

  "Very good." Hrgon was about to walk away when he turned to

Shelby. "Commander, are you available in about half an hour? I've got some problems related to Captain Malory's guests I'd like your opinion on."

  "Yes, Sir." Shelby said instinctively.
  "That will be all, dismissed." Hrgon and Bloom continued

down the corridor.

  "Do you think he just happened to bump into us?" Tarva said

more insinuating than asking.

  Nobody bothered answering her, they were at the transporter

room.


  Tarva stood in her room on the Delphi looking out at Star

Base 89. She had to take her room for appearances sake but they had work to do. She had her communicator in hand but she had paused to look at the majesty of the station.

  Tarva flipped open the devise, held it up to the side of her

face and said one word "Energize".

  There was a slight pause waiting for an opening then the

wall and window in front of her shifted and became Transporter Room II on the Vigilante. Captain Anthony stood next to Chief Swanson at the controls, with him were Commanders Assali and Norton. "Report" he said simply.

  "Sir, as Commander Assali has probably reported we have a

plan to return all crew to their proper assignments. There will be a slight delay retrieving Lieutenant Whitecloud, she has already been transferred to Star Base 89." Tarva remained standing on the transporter. "The only other problem will be telling exactly when our team is being transported."

  "Does the Delphi have any Klingon or Kalonian crew?"

Anthony asked. He had approached her and stood a step below her so he could talk to her more face to face.

  Tarva knew where he was leading "No sir, the Klingon and the

Kalonian our scans show are both survivors of the drop ship."

  "And there are five of our people still on the Delphi?"
  "No Sir, one of the original crew died after arriving on the

Delphi. He was the Vulcan S'Turlek." Tarva had not moved from her spot.

  "So as long as they transport all of our crew at the same

time, by themselves, we should be able to get them back." Anthony headed back to his place by the control panel.

  "Sir, Captain Malory has assured us he would arrange to make

it so." Assali said.

  "Very good," Anthony turned back to Tarva "Commander, you'd

better get back to the Delphi."

  "Aye, Sir."
  The wall and window shifted back.

  "Sir, Holding Area R-8 reports they are prepared to receive

our guests." reported the Yeoman standing at the control panel.

  "Very well, have them brought in."  Malory and Tarva stood

to one side of the operator. They would beam over after transporting the four.

  The door to the transporter room opened to allow in the new

arrivals. First in was the Klingon female flanked by two security guards. The rest followed, each accompanied by two security guards with drawn weapons. One of the guards carried a metal satchel that contained all of the equipment and clothing the survivors had with them when they came aboard. The last in was the Chief of security, her and the guard carrying the bag were the only ones without drawn phasers.

  The four walked straight to the transporter and took their

positions. None of them said a word or acknowledged Tarva's presence, but they did notice her. The bag was placed on its own pad then the security stood back from the pad, as was custom. They, however, did keep their weapons drawn.

  Malory turned to the operator "Raise force field".
  "Force field activated." he said after pushing a few

buttons.

  The security immediately holstered their weapons.

"Dismissed." Lieutenant Zalvasta said. The eight immediately filed out of the room.

  Malory, Tarva, Zalvosta and the operator were the only ones

to remain.

  "Where is Smith," The Klingon demanded.
  "What have you done with her?" said one of the humans.
  Malory smiled, they were good, defiant to the end.  "Don't

worry, you should be seeing her very soon." he then turned to the operator "Energize."

  A few buttons were pushed, then he slid his fingers up the

control panels applying power. The four started the normal sparkling then the operator said "Sir, I'm reading some sort of power surge. Delphi to R-8, do you have a lock?"

  They had started fading in and out "Delphi, this is R-8 we

can't get a secure lock, increasing power."

  The operator responded "Try to reverse, we don't want to

lose them."

  "Acknowledged." the four continued to sparkle and fade.
  "What's going on?" Malory demanded.
  "Sir, something's wrong, we've lost the fix, trying to

regain now." The operator was desperately pushing buttons. A red light on the console began to blink accompanied by a beeping sound.

  "Delphi, do you have them?" came a worried voice over the

speaker.

  "I think I've got the lock..." the whole transporter flashed

from an explosion. The force field absorbed most of the explosion but failed from loss of energy. The control panel mostly protected the operator but Zalvosta, Malory and Tarva were fully exposed. All three were thrown back against the bulk head.

  Red emergency lights came on to a loud fire claxon.  The

operator stood up from his instinctive ducking position and started calling for medical and emergency teams. He then turned to attend his Captain.

  "Delphi, what happened over there, we've totally lost them.

Do you have them? Delphi, please come in…."


  Tarva limped into Malory's quarters after signaling.  A

fresh scar ran down the far right of her face from just below her ear wrapping around toward front of her neck and disappearing under her collar near the rank pips. Her left arm hung in a low sling.

  Malory sat at a work station table in the middle section of

his suite. A large regeneration patch was affixed to the right side of his face.

  As she approached, he looked up at her.  She could see the

fury in his eyes. "Computer!"

  "WORKING"
  "Initiate Alpha Security."  he said loudly.
  "ALPHA SECURITY INITIATED."
  Malory stood up to face Tarva she could see his upper torso

was held stiff by a temporary brace.

  "What the HELL did you people do to My transporter?!" He was

losing his attempts to control the anger. "We could've all been killed!"

  "Sir," Tarva said trying not to react to his emotions "the

transporters on the Vigilante are a radical new design. It was impossible to predict how the Delphi's transporters would respond to the forced signal."

  "Nothing's impossible to predict when it comes to this kind

of technology. If your people didn't know or suspect then they are extremely incompetent."

  "Percival," Tarva said softly trying to calm him "if they

did know, I was not informed. You must remember though, we are still in training, that includes learning all of the idiosyncrasies of the technology. Nobody on board was involved in any of the development, they just handed it over to us and said 'good bye'."

  "My transporter room was destroyed and four people were

almost killed, I hope it's worth it." He had softened some.

  "I hope so too."
  "Did they get a hold of your people okay?"
  Tarva smiled slightly "Yes, Sir, they arrived with no

adverse effects."

  "Very good, at least some thing went right."  Malory had sat

back down. "Now Admiral Hrgon is screaming for me. I've been able to put off going to see him because of the injuries but that's already wearing thin."

  "This could be my chance to go, he did want to talk to me

too." Tarva suggested "We have to start enacting the plans to get Lieutenant Whitecloud back to the Vigilante."

  Malory cringed at the reminder that he was still going to be

involved in these covert operations. If Hrgon pieced it all together, it could ruin his career. "Very well, I'll make arrangements. Dismissed."

  As Tarva headed back to the door Malory was saying

"Computer, cancel Alpha Security."

  "ALPHA SECURITY CANCELED"
  The little green light on the panel came on just as Tarva

reached the door.


  Lieutenant Bloom met Malory and Tarva in the transporter

room. "Sir, I'm surprised your willing to use the transporter so soon after the accident." He said to them as they started down the hall.

  "The transporter that exploded, is no longer functioning."

Malory said as if talking to a child.

  "Has there been any progress in determining the reason for

the accident?" Bloom persisted.

  "No, the explosion left very few clues." Tarva replied.
  As they progressed through the corridors they could see an

increase in security, including check stations and ID checks. Finally, they reached an interrogation area and met Admiral Hrgon.

  "Ahh, Captain Malory and Commander Tarva I'm glad your back

on your feet after the accident." Though he was trying to sound pleasant, his irritation was quite evident. He then headed into one of the rooms saying "Come with me."

  A window on the far walled looked into one of the rooms.

Sitting casually at a table was Lieutenant Whitecloud. "This is Lieutenant Anndrea Whitecloud." Hrgon said to Tarva.

  "Sir," Tarva interrupted "is that a one way window or a view

screen?"

  "It's just a standard observation window." Lieutenant Bloom

said trying to get in on the conversation.

  "I'm sorry, Sir." Tarva said "You were saying her name is

Whitecloud."

  Hrgon looked slightly irritated but continued "At least

that's what our records tell us. They also tell us, however, that Lieutenant Whitecloud was killed in a transporter accident almost a year ago. In fact, Commander, all four of the victims of your transporter accident are all listed as having died around a year ago."

  Hrgon turned back to Malory and Tarva "Don't you think it

quite odd that all of her living but dead comrades were killed a second time in a transporter accident? As a security specialist, Commander, how do you interpret this situation?"

  "Sir," Malory interjected "Whitecloud claims to be part of a

top secrete Star Fleet mission. If this is true, the inconsistencies with her story tend to add up."

  "All except two," Hrgon said "Have you read her file?  She

has been rec-og-nized for bravery, and was top of her class" Hrgon sniffed.

  "She also has a record like your Lt. Qhasmon.  She has been

busted two times for insubordination. She was put on hold for fighting with shipmates, and her last Captain had to get her out of jail for destroying a bar in a fist fight on Intalla 4. All her comrades had similar records. This isn't the type of person for a Star Fleet top secret project…"

  During Hrgon's speech, Tarva figured that he just didn't

know how to handle a good warrior.

  Hrgon continued "Finally, I am not aware of any top secret

missions in this quadrant. Star Fleet would not be running training missions in this quadrant without alerting me."

  "Sir," Tarva said "What if she is telling the truth?"
  "That's just not possible."
  "Sir, you must have an open mind when it comes to matters

like these. Shouldn't you at least consider the consequences of pursuing what may be a classified project. There may be a very good reason for such tight security." Tarva was trying to act like she was piecing her argument together as she went.

  Hrgon seemed to take extreme offense to the argument.

"Commander, I'm a Rear Admiral in Star Fleet. I am responsible for the security of this entire quadrant my integrity is beyond reproach."

  Tarva was extremely uncomfortable with anybody believing

themselves so invincible. "Sir, I'm one of the few survivors of Wolf-359. I've lived through what can happen when an enemy gets inside the head of someone who's loyalty and integrity are beyond reproach. If we don't start keeping that in mind as we form our own power bases, the Federation may not be so lucky next time."

  "Commander, do you know more about this then you are letting

on?" Hrgon suddenly sounded extremely suspicious. "Tell me, just exactly which ship did you come in on."

  Whitecloud began fidgeting around under the table.  Soon she

ducked down so nobody could see her.

  "Sir, I resent the implication your making." Tarva said

"Could it be, that I've struck a cord you don't want to hear?"

  Lieutenant Bloom was looking into the room "Sir, where did

she go?"

  "I think she went under the table." Malory responded.
  "What the hell is she doing?" Bloom asked and approached the

window to get a better look.

  Whitecloud stood up from under the table and looked directly

at the window. She then calmly lifted her right hand as if pointing at them.

  "Look out, she's got a phaser!" Bloom yelled and dived

toward the Admiral knocking him to the deck. Malory and Tarva hit the floor to the whine of the phaser and exploding glass.

  Lieutenant Bloom was the first one up, hitting his comm pin

and calling for security as Whitecloud jumped through the window. He was grabbing for his phaser as she approach then hesitated when she seemed to be turning away. He never realized that she was setting up for the round house kick that dropped him to the floor, unconscious.

  Whitecloud then grabbed Tarva from behind holding her close

across the abdomen with the phaser between them. It was clear to all that she had the phaser set to maximum power.

  "Everybody get up." Whitecloud said to Malory and Hrgon.
  "If you were really Star Fleet," Malory said "you wouldn't

be doing this."

  "Lieutenant, you'll never get away from here," Hrgon added

"you've just sealed your fate."

  "You make any kind of move on me," Whitecloud said calmly

but with wild eyes "I'll take the Kalonian with me. Do you really want to risk that?"

  "Lieutenant," Tarva said "be reasonable you don't want to do

this." sweat had begun to form on her face.

  "Quiet!" Whitecloud demanded and nudged the phaser some

"Quiet all of you!"

  The door to the room flew open and three security guards

jumped through phasers in hand. The first two fired point blank at both Tarva and Whitecloud. At the same time Malory jumped at Whitecloud hoping to knock the phaser loose. He heard the tell tale sound of a phaser set on full power being fired when the shots from the security phasers struck him. Just as he would have hit them, Whitecloud and Tarva were enveloped by a red glow and disappeared. Leaving Malory to roll to the floor unconscious.


  Captain Percival Malory lay in his own bunk aboard the

Delphi, his head still throbbed after almost a full day. The phaser blasts on top of his previous injuries had made him extremely weak. He still wasn't sure what had happened, he hadn't heard from the Vigilante and it didn't go down the way he'd been told it would.

  He wasn't sure if he'd drifted off or what but he was

suddenly aware of a presence next to his bed. He turned to look, it was his old friend Sashon. She wasn't dressed in her standard mustard yellow uniform but in a baggy black one.

  She leaned over to look at him, her long braid fell to one

side. "How are you she whispered?"

  "Fine, just very weak, Dr Mayak tells me I should be good as

new pretty soon." he smiled and sat up slightly leaning on his elbows. "When am I going to get my officers back?"

  "They'll be along very soon." Tarva said quietly "Just

remember your one last promise."

  "Don't worry, I'm in too deep to back out now." then asked

"What about the logs we down loaded to Star Base 89?"

  "We have to trust that Commander Shelby can take care of

those files." Tarva said carefully. She could see the strain in his face. "I've got to go."

  "Make sure you come back, I don't want this all to end up

being just a waste of time." he had eased himself back down flat.

  "I'll do my best, I promise."  She leaned over and kissed

him lightly then stood up straight. He watched her flip open her large communicator and say something into it. "Good bye my friend." she said to him then was gone.

  "Good bye.." he said, then surrendered to the exhaustion.

  The following day, Tarva went down to one of the cargo bays

to see the final loose end tied up. In the bay sat one of their few standard transports. This one had been given private markings and I.D. codes. The ship was too big for the bay and sat at an angle to fit.

  Commander Assali and crew stood dressed in their

environmental suits outside the ship waiting for the pilot. They had purposely damaged the suits and covered themselves with dirt.

  One of the few human drop ship pilots had planned to pilot

the transport but Norton and Kartang had decided otherwise. They didn't need another 'loose canon' on the Delphi even if it was just for an hour or two.

  "So who's going to pilot it?" Assali was asking Shuttle Bay

Chief, Taragoma.

  "I'm not sure" he said "but he should be here anytime now."
  As if in response to his prediction a door to the bay opened

to allow in a person dressed in non-issue clothing. The clothes looked like a conglomeration of Klingon and Romulan uniforms with some other odd equipment thrown in for good measure. An old style Romulan disrupter hung comfortably at her side.

  Taragoma didn't recognize her at first until he noticed her

bright red hair which had been slicked down flat. He smiled and said "You'd better wear your seat belts."

  Assali recognized her too "Isn't that Ensign O'Malley, the

navigator?"

  Tarva had joined them "Yes, Commander, it is."
  They watched her begin the preflight check with one of the

technicians. "Don't you have somebody other then the ships navigator for this mission?" Assali asked.

  "Most of our Drop Ship pilots are not human," Tarva said "we

felt that after the trouble we've caused, a non human pilot would actually invite closer scrutiny. The few pilots that are human, however, have had, shall we say, a falling out with Star Fleet of one sort or another. It's been decided that Ensign O'Malley would be the best pilot to deal with Star Fleet at this time."

  O'Malley approached the group and stood at attention "Sir,

the ship is ready for departure." she said to both Tarva and Assali.

  "Very good," Tarva said "prepare for departure."
  The four boarded the ship.  It had been loaded with an array

of trade goods and amenities for long haul travel. It really looked and smelled like someone had been living in it for a long time.

  O'Malley sat in the pilot's seat with Assali at co-pilot.

Albert and Meede sat in makeshift net type slings in the cargo area. "This is the Faraday requesting clearance for departure." O'Malley said to flight control.

  "Faraday your cleared for liftoff." Taragoma replied.
  The blast shields in the cabin snapped shut as the Faraday

slowly lifted from the deck. The ship rotated forcing the aft end through the force field of the bay so it could slip free of the ship. O'Malley hated flying blind.

  The Vigilante had moved to the asteroid belt to let the

Faraday out unseen. The blast shields remained shut until the ship was clear of the Vigilante's cloaking. Great measures had been taken to keep details from their guests, they weren't about to cancel that by letting them get a look at the actual ship.

  "Captain," Lieutenant Penthrach turned toward Malory "We're

being hailed by an incoming transport."

  Malory wore a small regen patch near his ear and sat extra

straight still feeling the effects of the back brace he'd very recently shed. "On screen."

  The face of a young, red haired female human filled the

screen. "Hailing the U.S.S. Delphi, this is the Transport Faraday."

  "This is the Delphi, Captain Malory speaking." Malory said.
  "Captain" the woman replied "I'm Janny Osborn, owner and

operator of the Faraday. I believe I have some people you've been looking for."

  "Indeed?" Malory tried to sound slightly intrigued but not

really interested.

  They could see her reach up and adjust something on the

control board. The view on the screen started to widen revealing a very familiar face.

  Malory stood up quickly to the sounds of gasps from the rest

of the bridge crew. "What is the meaning of this?" he tried to sound as surprised as the rest of the crew.

  Commander Assali sat next to the pilot, he wore a tattered

environmental suit and was smudged with dirt. "Captain, Sir, permission to come aboard?" he said.

  "It's a trick." Qhasmon hissed "We saw them die in that

explosion."

  Malory ignored the Andorean "Are there any other survivors?"

he asked trying to sound very unconvinced.

  "All three of us survived," Assali said "the others are in

the back. Sir, if we could expedite this, we haven't had a shower in quite awhile."

  Malory signaled to have audio broadcast cut then turned to

the ORACLE operator "What can you tell me about that ship?" he had to cover all the bases he normally would.

  "Sir, I read four life forms, all humanoid." She scanned the

readings closer "There is no unusual power output or substances." she continued to dial in, "In fact, sir, I read the power output to be quite weak. My first guess would be that the dilithium crystals are deteriorated."

  Malory turned back to the screen "Permission granted to land

your craft in shuttle bay 1." He then cut the audio transmitter again and turned to the intercom. "Security and Medical to Shuttle Bay 1. Shuttle Bay 1 prepare for incoming transport."

  "Captain," O'Malley said cautiously trying to play the role

"Your crew has promised me certain compensation for returning them."

  "Are you trying to ransom my crew to me, Captain Osborn?"

Malory asked very suspiciously, he hadn't been told of this twist.

  "No, Sir." O'Malley replied with what seemed to be a twinge

of fear. "It's just that this being a high security area I may have trouble leaving freely. I've been promised safe passage, absolutely no interference."

  Malory looked toward Assali for confirmation "That's

correct, Sir. With the stipulation that she does not incur any offenses while with us."

  O'Malley laughed "Yea, I'm to be on my best behavior."  She

then said "There is one other thing that is even more important."

  "And what is that?" Malory said, though, knowing how these

people operated he could guess what it was.

  "As your scanners have probably already told you," O'Malley

said "My supply of dilithium crystals has begun to deteriorate. I've been promised the needed repairs to the drive and replacement of the crystals."

  "What ever Mr Assali has promised, I will stand by." Malory

finally said tiring of the 'negotiations'.

  "Very good" the red head said "Starting approach to shuttle

bay." the screen returned to standard view of the approaching ship.

  "Sir," Penthrach said "In coming message from Admiral Hrgon.

Apparently he's been monitoring the conversation."

  'Here it comes' Malory thought to himself then said "Thank

you Mr Penthrach, I'll take it in my ready-room."

  The transport expertly slid into the shuttle bay and set

down smoothly. The door on the side of the long boxy body hissed and jerked open. Steam poured out of release valves partially obscuring the opening. A short figure walked up to the door way then started down the stairs. He wore a tattered environmental suit and carried the helmet professionally under one arm.

  The semi circle of security guards around the opening knew

at once it was Lieutenant Meede. Immediately behind Meede, came Midshipman Albert looking similarly disheveled. By the time Meede reached the deck the doorway was filled by Commander Assali. Finally, Chief of Security Zalvosta loudly said "Attention, First Officer on Deck" bringing the assembly to stiff attention as Commander Assali descended the ramp.

  Zalvosta approached the three "Sir, Welcome back" She said.
  "Where's Captain Malory?" Assali asked.  Then smiled "I

thought he would be here to greet his prodigal sons personally."

  "Sir," Zalvosta replied "He received an urgent message from

Admiral Hrgon just as you were making your final approach."

  "Yes, I understand." they were expecting as much.
  Doctor Mayak approached with her team to begin preliminary

scans of the survivors. Zalvosta turned to speak with Meede but was distracted by a commotion from the assembly. Coming down the gangplank was an oddly dressed woman with slicked down bright red hair.

  The woman wore what appeared to be an assortment of

mismatched older style Romulan and Klingon uniforms. There was also a small assortment of equipment strapped to her, not the least of which was an old Romulan disrupter casually dangling from her round hip. This was obviously the pilot, Janny Osborn.

  "Ms Osborn," Zalvosta said when she reached the bottom of

the steps "I'm going to have to ask you to leave the weapon with us for the duration of your stay."

  O'Malley looked at Zalvosta suspiciously for a second then

looked at Meede and Assali, Assali nodded. O'Malley made a quick motion toward the disrupter jerking it from the holster and spinning it next to her at the same time. The barrel ended in her hand with butt pointing out. She then turned and gave it to Meede.


  The assembly sat in one of the Delphi's meeting rooms.

Present were Admiral Hrgon and his aid, Captain Malory, Commander Assali, Lieutenant Meede, and Midshipman Albert. Also present was the ORACLE operator on duty at the time of the explosion at AR-24 and Janice O'Malley.

  O'Malley sat toward one end of the table away from the rest.

She was slouched back with her feet sticking out in front of her. It was all she could do to keep from putting them up on the table but figured she was pushing it as it was. She really enjoyed playing the rogue.

  Admiral Hrgon turned to O'Malley "Let me get this straight,

you were passing by the AR-24 system when you picked up a distress signal?"

  "As I've said several times before," O'Malley said "I was

passing by the system when I received what sounded like a distress call. The Faraday was already starting to have problems but I figured there may at least be something to salvage. It wouldn't take much to scan the area and see if I could find something to help fix my drive."

  "You weren't even thinking of survivors?" Malory asked.
  "Of course, if there were survivors there would be a better

chance of some usable equipment. Besides, a lot of times there is a reward for the safe return of survivors. Sometimes, the survivors are able to express their appreciation for being rescued." O'Malley had rehearsed the story well.

  "Did you know that charging survivors for rescue is against

just about every code there is?" Hrgon asked in disbelief.

  "Of course, but there is usually some sort of voluntary

reward. For instance, I would not have come here if it wasn't for your crew. My first choice was the Nexus Colony, they were much closer and not nearly as patrolled as this place is."

  "And you would have had to pay for your own repairs at

Nexus, is that right?" Hrgon was more making a statement then asking a question.

  "I'm a trader, I have to make the greatest return possible.

If I come out of this with free quality repairs, I've done quite well."

  "Surely" Hrgon said trying to look threatening "You know

that if we run a complete I.D. check on you, you'd probably be arrested."

  "I was assured safe passage by a Commander in Star Fleet,

that was enough for me." O'Malley had to remain confident.

  "That is enough, Sir." O'Malley said firmly to Hrgon.

"We've had enough tragedy from this incident, it's time to close the book on it."

  Hrgon took the opportunity to turn on Malory "And how do you

explain abandoning your landing party on a planet with a hostile environment?"

   "Sir, there were several factors leading to the apparent

'abandonment'. First of all, there was some effect from the rock structures on the planet on the ORACLE sensors. Couple this with the storms, and we were effectively sensor blind. False images abounded and by the time we did get a good check, thanks to the timely recovery of Lt. T'irna, there were no life signs on the planet. Moreover, both you and Star Fleet command had ordered the DELPHI to come here at once anyway. You because you wanted to question the survivors personally, and Star Fleet command on the whims of the late Commodore Albrit."

  Hrgon frowned at the shifting of blame but before he could

say anything Assali said "Sir, we were unconscious for over twenty four hours, by the time we dug our way out of the sand we could not reach the Delphi, our communicators were destroyed. If Ms Osborn hadn't also heard the distress call that originally brought the Delphi in we would be dead by now."

  The discussion of detailed events lasted several more hours.

Each person involved ended up telling their story several times, some times in groups and sometimes separately. In the end Hrgon begrudgingly closed the case accepting the stories as they stood but vowed that he knew some kind of cover up was happening. He also said that he thought that all of this was somehow connected with Whitecloud and 'The Vigilante' and would eventually prove it.


  Malory, Meede and Assali stood in the shuttle bay to see

O'Malley off, all other standard personnel had been dismissed. Meede carried the disrupter and gave it back to O'Malley as she stood in front of the ramp.

  "I'm glad you finally decided to trust us" O'Malley said to

Meede spinning the weapon back into it's holster.

  "I didn't have much choice." he said then added with as much

of a smile as he could muster "I half wish I was going with you, that was a fine crew."

  "Thank you," O'Malley said "Coming from you, that is quite a

complement."

  She then turned to Assali.
  "Give my regards to everyone, I wish you the best of luck."

Assali said holding out his hand.

  O'Malley shook the Commander's hand and said "Thank you,

sir, we'll need it."

  Malory also offered his hand "I thought I had said all of my

good byes already." he said "Just make sure you bring them back, is that clear."

  "Yes, Sir." O'Malley said then shook his hand.  Before she

let go, she hugged the Captain lightly then the other two. Janice then climbed the steps to the Faraday and disappeared behind them as they closed.

  The Faraday waited as the bay doors opened then slid out of

the Delphi and headed to the asteroid belt.

                            ++++
  The woman standing next to Captain Anthony's bed seemed tall

for a human female. Her wavy blond hair was cut to above shoulder length and was held casually away from her face with several clips. She wore the red uniform and insignia of Star Fleet Command.

  Anthony stared at the woman as she sat down on the edge of

his bed. "Robert," she said softly "your doing the right thing. Star Fleet needs information on the Borg. If they ever return in force, it could mean the end of life as we know it. You know that can't be allowed to happen. Everybody here knows the risks, they've accepted them. Use the information we obtained from the battle to keep your crew alive."

  "I've lost so many already" he whispered "and we haven't

even left the Federation."

  "I know," she said soothingly "many more could die too, if

you let them."

  Anthony raised his hand to touch her face and she reached

out to touch his. "I love you.." he said as she faded away.

  The door signal chimed waking Anthony, he called for the

visitor to enter. Commander Tarva came in and stood at attention just inside the door.

  "Sir," she said "all final tests have been completed, the

U.S.S. Vigilante is ready for deployment."

  "Very good," he said "Notify all hands to prepare for

departure within the hour. I'll be with you in a moment." Tarva reached for the wall mounted communicator to relay the orders and Captain Anthony headed into the bathroom to change.

  Tarva waited in the first room in her standard 'at-ease'

posture looking around the Captain's cabin. She had been here before but had never taken a close look at it. The cabin consisted of three rooms separated by the same style dividers as in her room. The first room was set up as a meeting room with a table and several chairs. The middle room was the sitting room, with a couch and the standard rough duty chairs. The third room had the large, almost double bed, closet and other amenities.

  Next to the door, was a shelf with a glass covered pedestal.

On the pedestal was a faded blue book with well worn edges. In the upper right hand quadrant were stacked faded gold print words 'Collected Poems of Robert Service'.

  Tarva pushed a button on the pedestal, the front of the

glass opened and the platform holding the book slid out at her. Tarva carefully opened the front cover and saw a name penned on the inside 'L..ry Na..' the rest seemed to be an address. Something compelled her to turn to the end of the book and read the last stanza of the last poem…

             And so, frail creatures of a day,
           Let's have a good time while we may,
           And do the very best we can
           To give one to our fellow man;
           Knowing that all will end with Death,
           And lift our heads like blossoms blithe
           To meet at last the Swinging Sythe.
                           FINIS
                      to be continued........

                 T  H E   V I G I L A N T E
                            IVA
                      "Ring of Spears"
          "Deny your God!" they ringed me with their spears;
          Blood-crazed were they, and reeking from the strife;
          Hell-hot their hate, and venom-fanged their sneers,
          And one man spat on me and nursed a knife.
          ..........
               "The Soldier of Fortune"
                    Robert Service
  The screen showed the count down, fifteen minutes was almost

up….00:59, 00:58…the bridge crew sat quietly, preparing for the inevitable…Phasers had been secured by all stations, just in case….00:37, 00:36…

  Captain Anthony looked at his crew, they seemed almost

relaxed, but they had done this before…0:24, 0:23…

  Behind the numbers, were the rushing stars illusion of warp.

The Vigilante had jumped to high warp when the count down had reached 01:00.

  Ensign O'Malley watched the displays on her control panel.

Had she set the coordinates properly? or would they die in the middle of a star. She was aware of the padding of the head rest of her seat. She could remember how it felt in the past…00:13, 00:12…

  Commander Norton couldn't suppress a grin, this was the

ultimate adventure, from a planet of half breed out-casts to the greatest mission ever, he'd been preparing for this all his life…

  The computer voice came on "TEN, NINE,...".  it seemed like

an eternity, "…THREE, TWO, ONE." The stars on the screen turned blue and started forming rings.

  00:01, 00:02 ...the numbers started counting back up but

blurred from the screen…

  Captain Anthony felt the seat wrap around him, like in the

past. The blue tunnel on the view screen started rushing at him, it was pushing him through the chair. He instinctively tried to reach for the console in front of him but his arms refused to move. A noise started coming to him, it was a chorus of screams, he joined in….

  In engineering, Commander Dolittel watched anti-matter

mixing chamber 1 pulse at its steady rate. The worm-hole was caused by alignments in the warp drives, what most engineers would consider a fatal design flaw. The power draw wasn't any different than it was at warp 9.6 so engineering wasn't as taxed a one would think. The blue rings of the worm-hole drove through him….

  As quickly as the discomfort had started, it was over.  It

left behind splitting headaches and knotted muscles. It seemed only a short time, but ten minutes had past.

  Captain Anthony undid the restraints and slid from his chair

gasping. On either side of him, Tarva and Norton also tried to catch their breath and fumbled at the restraints. Anthony knelt on the deck at the foot of his chair, his right arm lay across the seat and the other propped him up. This had been the longest jump yet and he could feel it.

  The standard rushing stars of warp were back on the screen,

superimposed on them was the worm-hole count, 10:00. Anthony looked to his helmsman.

  "Full Stop."
  "Aye, Aye, Sir." the Ensign said "Full stop".  He then

pushed a few buttons on his console. The rushing stars disappeared.

  Anthony pulled himself back into his chair, "Mr. Norton,

report."

  "Sir," Norton paused trying to clear his head completely. "I

read no sign of activity in this sector and no sign of the worm hole."

  "Thank you, Commander." Anthony turned toward his navigator.

"Ensign O'Malley, do you have our location plotted yet?"

  Janice leaned forward with left elbow on her console and

held her head while she worked with her right hand. "Sir, destination sector confirmed, we're at the far side of suspected Ferengi frontier." They had gone completely through the Romulan empire and now were beyond any sector the Federation had ever visited.

  "Very good, begin plotting the next leap....Ah, Ensign, this

time lets keep worm-hole time down to around, say eight minutes. That last ride just about did everybody in."

  "Aye, Sir." Janice smiled, the Captain was trying to make it

sound like he wasn't responsible for that ten minute jump.

  Janice began plotting the next leap.  After each use of the

worm-hole they had to recalculate a new heading. The worm-hole never placed them exactly where they had intended and the error increased the longer the jump.

  Anthony turned on the ship's public address system

"Attention crew, prepare for next controlled worm-hole in one hour. All stations should have status reports filed with in fifteen minutes. That is all."

  For the next hour, the bridge crew reviewed the reports from

the rest of the ship and ran tests of their own. It was imperative that The Vigilante be in perfect condition before using the worm-hole.


  Anthony sat in the Command Room at the head of the long

table. He'd been reviewing some of the command reports but his attention had wandered to a nearby window. The blast shields had been opened to give him a view, now he just sat and stared at the stars. The blackness and the stars engulfed him.

  The mission had been so long in the making, it was hard to

believe they had finally taken the first step. Two more jumps would put them in the same sector that The Enterprise had first encounter the Borg. The Enterprise had been 'flung' there by an entity known as the 'Q'. It had apparently wanted to prove that the Federation was not prepared for what lay outside of its borders. That one encounter, had brought the Borg to the heart of the Federation. That one encounter had changed his life, forever. That one encounter, in fact, had brought this crew together.

  Anthony still wondered what it was like when the Nielsen was

destroyed. Did she die doing battle or was she merely swept aside like so many other victims. He would never know, and when it came down to it, he didn't really want to know.

  The stars suddenly disappeared replaced by the dull gray of

the blast shield. Anthony could hear the door slide open and someone enter the room. He turned to look.

  "Sir," it was Commander Tarva.  She stood in her stiff.

at-ease posture, close enough to the door to keep it open. "We are prepared to begin count down for the second worm-hole."

  Anthony looked at his First Officer, she had been at

Wolf-359. He wanted to ask her what she knew of the Nielsen but couldn't. He knew that it was as difficult for her to speak of as it was for him. Just having her as his first officer, made him feel closer to the last moments of his real life.

  "Thank you, Commander, make it so."
  "Very good, Sir."  Tarva came to attention, snapped about

face, then exited the room.

  Tarva was a true enigma, sometimes she was, stiff,

absolutely military, other times, she acted like an old friend. Perhaps she could sense when he needed distance, or perhaps, she needed the distance.


  The jumps seemed to get easier, perhaps they were getting

used to them. The crew came out of the third jump fully functional, which was good, since it was a suspected Borg sector. This was the same sector the Enterprise had first met the Borg.

  "Long range sensors report." Anthony said immediately.
  Norton checked his screen.  "Sir, scanners indicate no

activity in this sector."

  Anthony had released himself from the restraints and was

stretching. He turned to Commander Tarva "Commander, what's our status?"

  "Sir, all sections report no apparent damages.  Full reports

will be ready shortly." Tarva was still fully strapped into her seat.

  Anthony stood behind O'Malley who was still trying to

stretch off the effects of the worm-hole. "Ensign, how many star systems are in this sector?"

  "Checking now, Sir." O'Malley immediately reached for her

controls. "Sir, there are three systems in this sector, one yellow system and two reds."

  "Thank you, Ensign."  Anthony turned and looked at his crew

while he thought. Their mission was quite open ended, seek out the Borg in the heart of their territory and collect as much useful information on them as possible. They did not know were the Borg came from, so this was just the first step in tracing them back to their, hopefully, 'home' planet. He turned back to O'Malley.

  "Ensign, plot a course to the nearest system.  What would be

our E.T.A. at Warp seven?" Anthony stood between the two front stations with his thumbs hooked in the pockets of his uniform jacket.

  After a few calculations, she reported "At warp seven, the

closest system is 10 hours 15 minutes away."

  "Very good, lets go take a look."
  "Course laid in, Sir."
  "Engage."
  The helmsman went to work.
  Anthony turned to Norton "Mr Norton, what's our status?"
  "Sir, Shields are currently at 25% power and cloaking is

engaged. We have full power available any time it is needed."

  Anthony took his seat and turned to Tarva "What do you

think?"

  Tarva had finally taken the time to undue her restraints.

She finished a communication with medical, then turned to the Captain. "Sir, we could be exploring out here for a year and never see a sign of the Borg. The cube the Enterprise encountered may have been some sort of long range scout. There may never have been any other Borg presence in this quadrant."

  "I quite agree, but this is all we have to go on."
  "Just so we're prepared to do a lot of simple exploring for

the Federation." Tarva pushed her console aside and stood up to stretch.

  Anthony stood too, looking at the view screen he smiled "I

hope it doesn't come to that."

  "So do I, Sir"  Tarva returned the ironic grin.

  Janice had been relieved until they reached the first

system, she had eight hours to get some rest. In her rooms she found Whitecloud working on the painting of the eagle again.

  "How can you be working on something like that when we've

finally entered Borg territory?" she asked.

  Whitecloud seemed to ignore her as she finished a tree line.

Anndrea was wearing a knee length white smock over the standard tight black under uniform. She put her brush in a glass of water and stood up.

  Anndrea smiled at her friend "And why aren't you on the

bridge?"

  Janice was already sitting on the foot of her bed removing

her boots. She laughed "I guess we all need some time off."

  "Or away," Anndrea added,  then got slightly serious "Your

going to want to get some sleep?"

  "Is that okay?" Janice knew it had to be but couldn't help

being courteous, especially to a ranking officer and friend. She still hadn't figured out which came first in this forced relationship.

  "We never should have let ourselves get on differing sleep

schedules." Anndrea had grabbed her uniform off her bed and turned to go into the head.

  "Thank you." Janice didn't actually plan to 'go to bed' just

turn down the lights and relax to some music.

  Janice took off her uniform jacket and laid down over the

covers on the bunk. She looked around the rooms waiting for Whitecloud to leave so she could turn down the lights. Janice looked at the pair of weapons hanging on the wall near Whitecloud's paintings. One was the Romulan disrupter she carried when she'd visited the Delphi. The other was the, adjusted phaser that had been beamed to Whitecloud to get her and Commander Tarva off of Star Base 89.

  Whitecloud came out of the head in full uniform.  "I'll be

in the training room, they may actually need us some time soon." she smiled.

  "Someday, I suppose." Janice agreed with a laugh.
  Whitecloud turned off the lights as she left.

  When Janice returned to the bridge, they were just preparing

to drop out of warp for approach to the system. The system was a red one. The star was small and dark. There were five planets and two asteroid belts. Two of the planets appeared to have atmospheres, the others were gas giants.

  "Sir, approaching first target planet." O'Malley reported.
  "Put it on the main screen." Tarva said and joined Anthony

who was already standing.

  The planet appeared to be brown and very hazy, as if it was

surrounded by a cloud.

  "What's that cloud?" Tarva asked before Captain Anthony

could.

  "Undetermined." O'Malley replied.
  "Sir," it was Lieutenant S'Erlet, the science officer who's

station was on the perimeter behind Tarva.

  "Go ahead." Anthony said to his often neglected Science

Officer.

  "Sir, it appears that the planet is surrounded by a large

amount of debris." The Vulcan continued to watch his instruments.

  "What kind of debris, and is it safe for us to take up a

standard orbit?" Anthony asked.

  "I am not sure of the source of the debris but it appears to

be natural. We should be safe in a high orbit."

  "Very good, helm take us to a high orbit."
  "Aye, Sir" the helmsman said and made some adjustments to

his controls.

  The Vigilante moved to a high pole to pole orbit.  With the

planet's rotation, they'd be able to do a cursory survey of the whole planet relatively quickly.

  "Sir," S'Erlet spoke up after about ten minutes of study.
  "Go ahead." was Anthony's only reply.
  "It appears that the debris is made of dirt and rock from

the planet's surface. The planet has no mineral deposits and appears to have no layer of top soil. In fact, I believe that it is missing several kilometers of its surface thickness."

  "You mean that all of this debris is from the planet

itself?" Tarva asked.

  "Yes, Sir, But I can't make positive conclusions without

visiting the surface directly." S'Erlet knew he was pushing a bit with that request but he'd been allowing himself to be in the background long enough.

  "What's the surface and atmosphere like?" Tarva asked.
  "Sir, there is a thin atmosphere and the surface is almost

all rock." S'Erlet was intrigued that they were taking his suggestion of an away team seriously.

  Tarva hailed Golta in Drop Team Operations.
  "Golta here." came the gruff Kalonian reply.
  "Prepare an away team to escort Science Officer, Lieutenant

S'Erlet to the surface." Tarva said casually.

  "Yes, Sir, Golta out."
  S'Erlet fed the necessary planet information to Operations,

then headed down there himself.

  "Helm, adjust orbit to a geo-syncronis orbit over Lieutenant

S'Erlet's chosen coordinates." Anthony sat back in his chair and waited. Soon they'd have their first real look at the planet. Could this debris around the planet be, in some way, related to the Borg? Probably not, but they had to investigate every clue.


  Four figures appeared on the barren rock of the planet.

Three wore dark gray, armored pressure suits the forth wore a non-armored suit but was the same color and design of the others. The fourth also carried two cases of instruments and immediately opened one.

  The three in armor had phasers in hand and spread out to

survey the area. "Lieutenant Whitecloud to Vigilante".

  "This is Captain Anthony," Came the immediate reply "go

ahead."

  Whitecloud switched her phaser to her left hand then started

pushing some buttons on the control panels on the left arm. "Initiating visuals."

  "Acknowledged" There was a pause as they adjusted their view

screen. "Visuals coming in clear, thank you, Lieutenant." The bridge crew were now watching through the mission camera built into her suit.

  The planet was mostly large smooth rock.  There was very

little dust let alone dirt. With the thin atmosphere, there would be no weathering to create the dirt.

  After S'Erlet broke out his equipment and the team started a

slow walking survey of the area. They soon noticed that the rocks weren't as smooth as they first appeared. Many places were deeply gouged some places even looked cut. It was hard to tell what could have done the cutting, but it appeared to have only happened recently. The rock formations were not sedimentary rock, most appeared to be magma formed.

  During most of that day, and the next, the team was

transported all over the planet surveying and tacking samples. Ten hours after the last survey, Lieutenant S'Erlet was ready to present his findings.

  S'Erlet stood at the head of the Command Room, seated at the

table nearest him was Lieutenant Whitecloud. Captain Anthony, and Commanders Tarva, Norton and Dolittel awaited his report.

  Since Lieutenant Whitecloud had help S'Erlet collect and

sort the data she was there to help with the presentation. She pushed a few buttons and brought up a split screen of the planet. One side showed an approaching view of the planet in its brown cloud, the other view showed a dramatic view of the landscape under a dark brown sky. The landscape was unique since it was of totally smooth rock formations and balloon type mountains.

  "The planet under observation appears to be quite unique."

S'Erlet began "It is composed totally of volcanic rock formations. The formations were all formed by cooling lava not more then one thousand years ago. Because of the thin atmosphere, there has been negligible erosion of the rock. Therefore, it still appears almost exactly as it did when it first cooled.

  "There are, however, areas where the age of the rock tests

500 million years and older. These areas are easily spotted because they have either deep cut marks in them or are partly covered by the newer more bulbous lava. If it wasn't for the extremely old lava formations and the atmosphere, I would have placed the age of the planet at only about 1500 years."

  S'Erlet paused to allow scenes of the different formations

and types to be shown. He then continued when a graphic depiction of the total planetary terrain came up next to the approach shot.

  "The Debris in orbit around the planet appears to be rock

and perhaps what could be called dirt from the planet. I have determined that the debris is from the planet due to its extreme chemical similarities to the current surface. With a sufficient atmosphere, the current surface would eventually weather into soil of the same make up of the debris in orbit.

  "It is my theory that the debris around the planet was

originally part of the planet's surface." The graphic of the current planet filled in, adding layers of dirt and other common surface features.

  "The biggest detraction from this theory is that the

estimated total mass of the debris would not be sufficient to cover the planet properly. There is also only trace amounts of metals and other minerals."

  Anthony spoke up "Lieutenant, if your contention is that the

debris around the planet is not sufficient to cover its surface where do you propose it came from?"

  "Sir, it is my theory that the debris did come from the

planet. I believe that it was forcibly removed and all usable minerals and ore where taken. In essence, the planet was totally strip mined and the 'slag' was dumped into orbit. This process would probably also destroy the planets atmosphere."

  Dolittel spoke up "That's impossible, who would do such a

thing?"

  "Sir," S'Erlet returned "You forget where we're at."
  "But the Borg don't 'mine', they take what other cultures

have already created." Tarva said.

  "They don't mine now, but what did they do a thousand years

ago when this appears to have happened?" S'Erlet argued. "Also, the gouges in the older rock indicate that this was not caused by a natural phenomenon."

  Captain Anthony stood up as S'Erlet sat down.  "Thank you

Lieutenant, is there anything else you'd like to mention before we move on?"

  "Yes, Sir" S'Erlet said and pushed a few buttons on his

console. The view screen changed to show another planet that appeared to be surrounded by the same cloud of debris. "This is our first view of the other planet in this system that appears to have some sort of atmosphere. As you can see, it too suffers from the same affliction as this one. In all of the Federation's explorations, there has never been another planet showing the same phenomenon. Now we have two."

  "Perhaps it is unique to this system." Anthony said.
  "Perhaps." S'Erlet agreed.
  The group discussed the possible history of both planets

then decided to visit the other planet and make a similar survey. It was hoped that similarities or differences between the planets would confirm something, anything.

  The second planet showed even more signs of deep regular

cuts in the old magma. It was finally decided to register this under possible activity by the Borg or other advanced culture.

  The Vigilante then moved on to the other two systems in the

sector. All three systems' planets showed the same signs of total strip mining. In all, they discovered ten planets that had been destroyed in the same manner. The other planets in the systems were gas giants and thus were not approachable in this manner.

  It was even decided that some of the planets may have had

extremely severe atmospheres. The first thing the 'pillagers' of these planets would have done was rip the atmospheres away, it would have made things much easier. The power needed to do this was incomprehensible and had not until this point ever been attributed to the Borg.


  • * And there was I, sore wounded and alone, I, the last living of my slaughtered Band. Oh sinister the sky, and cold as stone! In one red laugh of horror reeled the land. And dazed and desperate I faced their spears, And like a flame, out-leaped that naked knife, And like a serpent stung their bitter jeers: "Deny your god and we will give you life" * Captain Anthony sat in the Command Room looking out the window. They had visited three systems and ten planets, now what. They had taken the opportunity to launch drop ships to do the surveys more efficiently. They had run more drills and the drop teams were in constant training. Still, they had nothing new to go on, they knew no more about the current state of the Borg then when they left the Federation. The next question was, where next? He had several choices: they could pick a random course and just go hunting. They could start a spiral exploration of adjoining sectors until they found more stripped planets. They could follow a trail of stripped planets hoping it would lead to the Borg. The only problem, was that the trail could lead away from the Borg. Also, all of the planets in this area could be stripped, effectively making no trail at all. Another suggestion was to follow the course the original Borg cube was on when the Enterprise met it. This led to another problem, should they follow the cube where it was going to, or coming from. A wrong decision could waste a lot of time. "Robert," the voice came from the back of his mind. "Follow your instincts, they've never failed you." "But I've never had so little to go on." he thought back. He opened his eyes, standing just outside the window was a woman in a standard red command uniform. "Your closer than you think." she said in the back of his mind. Anthony stood up and approached the window, he whispered "This isn't the way we were suppose to be." "I know." she said. The woman faded and became his reflection as Anthony reached out and touched the window. Anthony was startled by the piping sound from the bridge. "Bridge to Captain Anthony." "Go ahead." he said to the window. "Sir, long range scanners show something moving across our scan area." "Thank you, I'll be right there." Anthony stared back at his reflection in the window for a second; then turned and exited to the bridge. Captain Anthony walked out to see a graphic depiction of the scanner display on the main view screen. It was a semi-circle grid with the flat side along the bottom of the view screen. The center of the line indicted the Vigilante's current, relative position. Moving across the top of the screen were three blips. "Report." he said as he took his seat. "Sir," O'Malley responded "We have three objects moving across the limits of our scanners at high warp." "Can you tell anything about them?" "No, Sir, not at this range. Current velocity, however, is warp nine." "Thank you Ensign." Anthony said then turned to Tarva "Sound yellow alert. Have all hands prepare for battle stations and silent running." He then turned back to Ensign O'Malley "Ensign, plot an intercept course, I want to come in from behind. First get us behind them, then we can approach from the back." O'Malley worked for a few minutes then put a projected course on the screen. "Sir, at warp 9.2 we can get behind them in about twenty minutes. We could then approach them at a lower velocity at our leisure." "Very good." Anthony smiled "Make it so." "Course laid in, Sir" O'Malley reported. "Engage." The Helmsman pushed a few buttons then reported "Warp 9.2" the tactical display was replaced by the rushing stars illusion of warp. Anthony turned back to Tarva "I want boarding teams ready to explore the ships. We'll start without the armor if possible, we don't want to give away all of our secrets right off." He then turned to Norton "Have guards posted EVERYWHERE, if these guys can board us I don't want them to have time to do any damage." He then said to both Commanders "As of right now, nobody is off duty." The bridge was suddenly full of activity as guards were posted and non-regular stations were manned. The guards seemed unnecessary since the whole crew, even on the bridge were armed. Two guards, however, were posted on either side of the view screen. They all took time to check their weapons for full charges. Every station through out the Vigilante had a phaser holder. Some had boxes built into the consoles others had what looked like holsters built into the sides of consoles and chairs. The crew kept the phasers with them at all times but placed them in the holders for convenience while on duty. After ten minutes, Ensign O'Malley reported "Sir, I've confirmed six, repeat six, Borg cubes traveling in formation. Current velocity is exactly warp 9." The Vigilante dropped in behind the Borg ships keeping them at about one quarter maximum sensor range. The distance was close enough to allow a rather good view at extreme magnification. The six ships flew in three pairs or two stacks of three. The precise symmetry made them look like three ships on the long range scanners. "Analysis" Anthony said turning to Lieutenant S'Erlet for the more precise sensor reports. "Sir, the ships have exactly the same measurements of the ship that invaded the Federation." He continued to adjust his controls. "They, however, have a greater mass. Each ship, in fact, has quite a different mass than the other." he hit a few buttons and the respective masses were superimposed over their images on the screen. "How odd," Tarva said "that they would build seven ships of exactly the same dimensions but make them very so in mass." "The mass on these ships is distributed quite unevenly, as if it was added recently." S'Erlet thought for a second then added "Perhaps they are carrying cargo." Before anybody could respond, Ensign O'Malley spoke up "Sir, I'm reading more ships behind us. They've just come into scanner range." "How many?" Tarva said very interested. "There's at least twelve and their gaining, but slowly." O'Malley continued to watch her output. "Are they more Borg?" Anthony asked his frown betrayed his concern. "Unknown at this time, Sir." O'Malley said "But at our current velocity they should be in range to tell in about twenty two hours." Anthony looked at his crew "Options." Tarva turned toward the Captain "We could wait for them to get close enough for a better reading, or…" she hesitated. "Or what Commander?" Anthony asked knowing what she was probably going to say. "Or, Sir, we could go back and take a look at them or just stop and wait for them. Either way, with them doing warp nine plus, we would know in about 10 minutes." Anthony thought for a second, running his hand through what little hair he still had on the top of his head, then said "Take us down to warp four, but keep us out of their way. We want them to go past us no through us." The Vigilante swung wide to port then slowed down to warp four. Within minutes, O'Malley reported "Sir, I read fifteen ships. None of them appear to be of Borg design. They are traveling at Warp 9.01." She continued to check her displays. S'Erlet then added "Sir, the ship designs do not match any of those that the Federation has ever encountered." "They will be by us in about fifteen minutes" O'Malley added. "Who are they?" Anthony asked to no one specifically. "They're us, Sir." Tarva said coldly. "Excuse me." Anthony looked at his first officer. "Sir, I believe that the six Borg ships have just 'assimilated' another civilization. These fifteen ships have taken pursuit, like any remnants of the Federation would have done if the Borg had been successful at Sol-3." "That's why those Borg ships have extra mass, it does fit." Anthony said. The fleet of alien ships was an impressive armada. They were obviously an assortment of different styles and classes. The lead was a large triangular ship with a second smaller triangle on top, an apparent bridge. It made the Vigilante and most of the other ships in the armada seem small. There were several other triangular style ships all much smaller then the lead but obviously related classes. The other ships all had unique designs; some were long and sleek with large batteries of weapons on them, others were boxy and clumsy looking, apparently carriers of some sort. After they passed, the Vigilante took up behind them matching speed. Anthony figured that he should learn about these people before going in for a close look at the Borg. Besides, they were slowly gaining on the Borg and at the current speeds, would be engaging them soon. "Sir," O'Malley said "I've found the transmissions from the lead ship, and we have visuals." "Main screen." Tarva said leaning forward in interest. The main screen changed to what was apparently an older male of a humanoid race. He had long styled hair with full beard and mustache. His eyes were a bright red but otherwise his features were strikingly human. The man was wearing bright ornate robes and jewelry. The sound was absent, at first, as the universal translator learned the language. The man appeared to be making a speech to the rest of the armada…."so by the will of Lin'hrlar we will triumph over these creatures spawned from depths of Zin'hrlar's own madness. I, the carrier of the heart of Lin'hrlar, will lead you to the glorious retribution of our peoples." Others could be seen behind the speaker. Some wore similar ornate robes but not as splendid. Most, however, wore more practical uniforms. All either carried side arms or swords. Anthony turned to Commander Norton "What is your analysis of their strengths, do they have a chance?" Norton had been scanning the ships ahead of them "Sir, the lead ship is highly armed and shielded. The other ships have an assortment of technologies. Most of the technology is on a par with current weapons in use by the Federation; including, phasers, photon torpedoes and shield generation. The larger ships are carriers of probably small fighter craft. These fighters would account for why all of the ships have phaser turrets that are good only for very close combat. In fact, none of the ships seem particularly suited for a prolonged ship to ship battle." Norton paused as he analyzed more information from the scanners "The lead ship appears to have very powerful phaser cannons. The cannons, however, would not be highly effective on a small or moving target. My guess is that they're meant for long range bombardment." Tarva was standing, staring at the ships on the screen. "What kind of propulsion systems do they use?" "They seem to use some sort of cross between fission and anti-matter, probably based on compounds unique to their systems. Their actual drive system is similar to our warp but slightly more efficient then the Federation's standard drives. I think this accounts for their ability to maintain high warp. It appears that they can maintain their current velocity indefinitely, but can't do much beyond that." "So their efficiency curve goes right up to warp 9.01 then drops pretty quickly after that, eh?" Anthony had sat back in his chair studying the ships in front of him. "Now we have to decide what we're going to do about them." Captain Anthony suddenly stood up "Lets discuss this some place more suitable, Tarva, Simon in the Command Room. Lieutenant S'Erlet, you have the bridge, let us know if anything changes." "Aye, Sir." The three went into the command room to begin discussing options on how to deal with their 'new friends'. "We don't have any choice." Tarva said. "How's that?" Captain Anthony knew exactly what she meant but he figured he let her voice it first. "We can not acknowledge ourselves to these people. It is directly against mission directives. Their intentions are clear, to attack the Borg. If we reveal ourselves to them, we reveal ourselves to the Borg. Since there is no chance that they will defeat the Borg, even with our help, then there is no reason for us to interfere." The Captain sat back in his chair "I'm afraid I'd come to the same conclusion. It, however, haunts me to just sit back and watch the remnants of an obviously rich and diverse civilization be destroyed." Commander Norton agreed "It is obvious that we would be unable to dissuade them from the attack. They appear to be driven by a strong religion. I agree that we have no choice but to remain observers to this conflict. Perhaps we can use the information we gain from the battle in future conflicts." Tarva suddenly looked up as if having a revelation "What about survivors?" Anthony looked at her "What?" "There's going to be survivors, there's always survivors." Tarva was living proof of that "Do we just ignore survivors? If we're just going to sit this battle out, we've got to do something." "She's right, Sir. We may be able to justify sitting this out, but we must help any survivors." Simon Norton seldom seemed so passionate about anything. Anthony had to play devil's advocate to make sure they thought of all proper precautions before bringing any of the survivors aboard his ship. "What will we do with a group of aliens on this ship? How will they react to us, will they resent us for just sitting back and watching. I know I would. Will they cooperate with us when we try to achieve our goals. If they never trust us, we'll have to keep them confined. Remember how much trouble we had convincing Assali's men, even after we convinced him, and we were all Star Fleet." Tarva and Norton looked at Anthony wondering what his decision would be. He finally said "We'll need security on hand for everyone we bring aboard. Treat them as unfriendlies, that's the way they'll see us, and we must be prepared. Have force fields up when they're beamed aboard, we don't know what their responses will be. Keep them segregated and guarded, I don't want them to be able to do any random damage. At all times, the safety and mission integrity of the Vigilante must be maintained. Is that clear?" They were going save some of these people, but probably scare them to death doing so. "Sir, who do we rescue? Do we take the masses off the ships before they're destroyed?" Tarva had to have some 'official' guide lines set for the transporter operators. "We'll only take those people whom we can get without the Borg noticing. Escape pods only, and after the Borg have departed. We do not have room for the rescue of the whole ships' crews. Just those who would survive the battle itself without us being here." Anthony thought for a second then added "If we can pull some of their small craft pilots just as their ships are destroyed we'll do it. None others, this battle would be waged weather we were here or not. These people have made their own choice to die revenging their people, we can't deny them that." The intercom opened from the bridge. "Sir, this is Lieutenant S'Erlet" "Go ahead." Anthony said immediately. "Sir, one of the ships has increased speed, it appears that something is about to happen." S'Erlet was extremely cautious presenting his simple conclusion. "We'll be right out." Tarva said and the three stood in unison. When they got onto the bridge, it was apparent that the largest of the 'carriers' had broken formation and pulled ahead of the lead ship. The ship had a large boxy body that looked like it could almost hold the whole Vigilante. Along the top where the body slopped down toward the bridge area were thirteen round hatches currently closed by spiraling doors. There was movement at the bottom of the ship. A large door had opened along the bottom with the opening toward the back of the ship. The door was centered in the ship fore to aft and port to starboard. It was three quarters the width of the ship and a good quarter of the length. The opening created, was obviously protected by a force field since people and equipment could be seen on the lower portion. The center of attention seemed to be an egg shaped craft about the size of a large shuttle. The egg-shuttle soon lifted from its place and slipped free of the carrier. It immediately began breaking, and maneuvering toward the triangular ship. As soon as the shuttle was clear the large door began closing and the carrier started maneuvering to get back into formation. The course the shuttle was taking was extremely tricky. It apparently didn't have the ability to keep up at warp nine. It braked and maneuvered until it was directly in front of the approaching lead ship. The lead ship opened a door on its bow just above the ports for its phaser cannons. The shuttle continued to break and adjust its course until the lead ship swallowed it. ……..

Deny my God, yes, I could do it well;

            Yet if I did, what of my race, my name?
            How they would spit on me these dogs of hell!
            Spurn me and put me on the brand of shame.
            **********
  "Lord,"  The man had walked through the expansive, crowded

bridge of the Star Watcher then ridden up the lift to the Lord's Dais.

  The man was Sir Utlin Robe'than second in command of the

carrier Star Controller. Sir Utlin wore the black uniform of a fighter pilot but the flowing red cape with high collar of High Command. Instead of a straight saber that was traditionally worn by members of High Command, Sir Utlin carried a battle blaster. The large blaster hung comfortably in a similar size black holster strapped securely to his left thigh.

  Sir Utlin stood out in all company, he had the slim, not

tall frame of High Command but was clean shaven with spiked short hair of a warrior. His light brown skin and bright blue eyes betrayed his origins on Tregamalis, but, in this age of enlightenment, that fact was ignored, usually.

  Sir Utlin stood with his head bowed and the scroll he was

carrying held tightly to his chest. He stood next to, Lord Lang'OA Dowe Fin Dragma, Lord Commander of the Lin'hrlar Protectorate Fleet. Lord Dowe finished the work he had before him then turned to Sir Utlin.

  Sir Utlin could hear the Lord's robes rustle as he turned.

"Sir Utlin, Welcome back to the Star Watcher."

  Utlin snapped his hand down and looked up at Lord Dowe

"Thank you, my Lord." he said then held out the scroll and bowed slightly from the hips "I bring you the 'Pledge of Following" from Commander Travois of the Star Controller."

  The 'Pledge of Following' was an ancient custom among

Commanders when they were about to follow a Lord into what was considered a hopeless, but Holy, battle. Commander Travois was always the last to issue his pledge, because he never considered a battle hopeless. The more 'hopeless' battles Commander Travois survived, the later his pledges became. The pledges had, for some Lords, however, become more of a vote of confidence then an oath of 'willingness to die'.

  This final remittance of the 'Oath' from Commander Travois,

was, in fact, a very ominous event. It was an admission from the most seasoned Commander of the Fleet that he truly expected to die in the coming battle.

  Lord Dowe took hold of the pledge but didn't take it.  His

red eyes looked through his beard at Sir Utlin. "It will not be long now, Sir Utlin." he said then took the scroll.

  Utlin stood up straight "Yes my Lord," he said formally "I

know."

  An aid working at a console next to Lord Dowe spoke up "My

Lord, we will be within range in ten par."

  "Very good, alert the fleet, start charging the guns." Lord

Dowe then turned to Sir Utlin "You'll want to get back to the Star Controller before the battle begins." he said.

  "Yes, my Lord."
  Lord Dowe formally opened the scroll and read it, then

rolled it back up and placed it in a rack behind his throne. It joined 13 other scrolls. "Dismissed."

  "Thank you, my Lord" Sir Utlin said then made a sharp

about-face causing his cape to fan about him then headed to the lift.

……….

  Half an hour after the shuttle had entered the leader's

ship, S'Erlet reported "Sir, the carrier is opening its door again."

  The Vigilante had taken up a position even with the plane

formed by the formation of the alien ships. From this vantage point they could monitor the entire fleet. The giant door on the carrier had begun to open again, only this time the opening was toward the front of the ship rather than the rear.

  "Sir," S'Erlet said "I'm reading movement on the lead ship."
  The shuttle doors on the lead ship had also opened.  The egg

shaped shuttle suddenly exited at a high rate of speed. It immediately turned back toward the carrier. The ship was breaking severely causing it to approach the carrier extremely quickly. It landed in the opened bay almost recklessly. Because of the size of the bay, it was obvious that the precision flying was not needed this time around.

  "There's something else," Commander Norton said after

checking his scanners "All ships are starting to show large power build ups. The lead ship is apparently charging its phaser cannons."

  "Can those things be effective at warp 9?" Lieutenant

S'Erlet asked.

  "They must know what they're doing." Tarva said then hit the

red alert button.

  Commanders Norton and Tarva began issuing instructions for

the transporter rooms to retrieve survivors. Tarva then reported to the Captain "There are drop teams ready for deployment in the 'cavern'. There are also guards standing by in Transporter Room II. "

  Anthony turned to Commander Norton "Mr Norton, what's our

status?"

  "Sir," Norton replied immediately "Shields are at full

strength, cloaking is on line, all phasers are at full power and all torpedo delivery systems are loaded."

  Tarva then hailed engineering "Commander Norton, report

status."

  There was a slight delay then Dolittel's voice came over the

intercom. "Sir, engineering is sealed for battle. All personnel are on station. Repair contingency and rescue teams are stationed through out the ship."

  Commander Dolittel sat in the rough duty chair in his

command center between the two engine rooms. Through windows to his right and left he could see both anti-matter mixing chambers. The chambers pulsed casually, in unison, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happing.

  Right now, the only access between the two rooms were the

doors into his office. Dolittel could see his technicians at station. Most were strapped into rough duty chairs, others were tying things up before getting into theirs. There were also armed guards standing in strategic locations in both rooms. These guards had the most hazardous stations since evacuation was designed to drop the rough duty chairs to safety. The guards would have to make a run for it if an evacuation was called.

  "Prepare to drop out of warp on notice" Tarva said to the

helmsman.

  They then waited for the action to start.  The first out

ward sign was from the carrier. The round doors on the top of the ship spun open. Similar doors on the other smaller carriers also began to open.

  "I have numerous small power sources in all carriers."

S'Erlet said.

  As if to punctuate what S'Erlet just said, thirteen small

craft launched from the newly open doors. There were apparently two different types, one was a single seater, the other seemed to be a two seater. The single seater had a long tubular body with warp style engines held out to the side like out riggers. The two seater was rounded but wider with the pilots apparently sitting side by side.

…………

  • *

Then, through the ringing terror and sheer hate

            Leaped there a vision to me- Oh, How far!
            A face, Her face...through all my stormy fate
            A joy, a strength, a glory and a star.
            **********
  Upon returning to the Star Controller, Sir Utlin was

confronted by the confusion caused from the impending deployment. The shuttle was immediately snatched up by giant lifts and moved to its storage bay.

  Normally all activity would cease for the passage of a High

Commander, but in times of war these courtesies were suspended. Sir Utlin always considered most courtesies to High Command a hindrance anyway.

  Sir Utlin strode confidently across the bay barely aware

that the platform was moving beneath him. Utlin's cape flared behind him as he rounded the corner to the lift.

  An operator at the lift immediately came to attention and

saluted, right hand to the chest and a slight bow of the head. "Sir," he said "Commander Travois wishes a conference with you before your launch."

  Utlin returned the salute, but without the bow, and said

"Thank you, please take me to the Command Center."

  The open air lift had room for a dozen warriors but non rode

with Sir Utlin. They sped up past the hangers of hundreds of fighters. The fighters hung by great hooks to be more easily lifted into launch preparation areas. The system allowed for hundreds of fighters to be launched in minutes.

  Sir Utlin walked into the small office without being

announced. If any other crew member, even Command, had done this, Commander Travois would have their head. Sir Utlin, however, being second in command, always had direct access to the Commander.

  Commander Travois Beu'lrmt Van'derla wore an ornate version

of the black warriors uniform that his first officer wore. Over the uniform he also wore a red cape but once again more ornate and much longer. Sir Utlin always considered capes that hung lower than the knees to be impractical and too bulky.

  Commander Travois had long brown gray hair and full beard of

a proper High Commander. He had light brown skin like Sir Utlin but had bright red eyes like Lord Dowe. Though none would admit it, this one small difference would always relegate Sir Utlin to Second in Command, and HE knew it.

  Commander Travois looked up as Sir Utlin entered the office.

"Welcome my friend." he said and stood to welcome him.

  Sir Utlin came to attention and saluted with a slight bow

and said "Commander, you wished to see me before I launched?"

  Commander Travois returned the salute with the bow, which

surprised Utlin "Yes, with the Pledge of Following I have acknowledged to all that I believe this is a hopeless battle. Many, however, believe that we can win because this is a Just War." the worry in Commander Travois' eyes was evident. He sat down heavily and leaned back.

  "My friend," Travois continued "These creatures have already

destroyed everything we ever held dear. They've destroyed hundreds of ships and killed millions of people. Our kingdom is dead. Lord Dowe believes we can defeat them, I do not."

  Sir Utlin shifted from side to side not knowing why

Commander Travois was stating the obvious "Commander, is there something more?"

  "I want you to promise me something, between friends and

warriors." Travois said and leaned forward a bit over his desk.

  Sir Utlin stiffened and said "Anything my Commander."
  Commander Travois withdrew the long straight sword from its

sheath on the side of his desk. "Promise me that you will fight this coming fight as you never have."

  "That goes with out saying." Sir Utlin said almost insulted.
  "I'm not done." Travois said unannoyed by the interruption.

He then handed the sword to Utlin, hilt first "I also want you to promise me that when the battle is lost, that you will not allow yourself to die uselessly. Someone must live to tell others of our great peoples and of the these evil creatures."

  This was not an easy thing to ask, their people never walked

away from a battle. They had a strong tradition of winning or dyeing, that is what they were doing here. They had lost, but they still lived. Tradition and honor dictated that they had no other course of action.

  "Take this sword" Commander Travois said "It was given to me

by my father and he his. Its been in my family since the time when it was our only weapon, when we truly lived and died by the sword. It was a time of true warriors and honorable foes. Take it now, in honor of my son who stands now, controlled forever by those creatures."

  Sir Utlin stood for a moment, looking at the sword being

offered. If he accepted it, he accepted the charge. He was not sure if he could accept it, it went against all that he had lived by, every code, every oath. Was it right for him to put them aside when all around him would not? Never before had one day seemed so far away and unreachable.

  Utlin saluted again and said "What you ask of me, my

Commander, is the most difficult mission I could ever face." With that he reached out and grasped the sword firmly.

  "I could have chosen none better for my second, you have my

leave." Commander Travois said. He then stood, saluted Sir Utlin and watched him leave, red robe flowing out behind him.

  • *

Beneath the pines, where lonely campfires gleam,

            In seas forlorn, amid the deserts drear,
            How I gladdened to that face of dream!
            And never, never had it seemed so dear.
            **********
                      "The Soldier of Fortune"
                           Robert Service
          to be continued..............

                 T H E   V I G I L A N T E
                            IVB
                      "Ring of Spears"
                        (continued)
            Must I now forever and forever go from you?
            Ah, yes I must...for if I do this thing,
            How can I look into your face again?
            Knowing you think me more than half a king
            I with my craven heart, my honour slain.
            ..........
                      "The Soldier of Fortune"
                            Robert Sevice
  Soon all carriers were blossoming an assortment of small

fighters. The Vigilante had to pull further back to stay out of the way of the growing swarm of small ships.

  "Sir," S'Erlet said "Current count of fighters is 1,238 and

growing."

  The Borg were currently visible only on high magnification

and holding warp 9. Suddenly the Leader's ship glowed blue around its gun ports. It released two large beams of blue light. The beams continued long after they had disappeared into the distance.

  The Vigilante was watching the ship and the Borg on a split

screen. The beams had merged to one by the time they hit dead center on the middle, left Borg cube. The cube suffered no obvious major damage, but its lights seemed to dim slightly and some sparks erupted from the impact area. All six cubes, however, immediately dropped out of warp.

  "I think they just pissed them off." O'Malley whispered to

herself.

  "I think your right, Ensign" The Captain responded from

behind her.

  At warp 9.01, the fleet had to almost immediately drop out

of warp to keep from running into the Borg. The fighters and other ships leaped forward attacking all six cubes. The leader's ship had dropped out of warp as soon as it had fired. It now approached at impulse speeds.

  The carriers stayed just out of standard Borg range allowing

their fighters to do the work for them. The five undamaged cubes started taking immediate tolls on the fleet.

  Each cube projected multiple tractor beams holding the

larger ships at a safe distance while their shields absorbed what weapons that could be released on them. The Borg then initiated their cutting beams, one ship at a time.

  The fighters headed through the Borg's shields and fired

indiscriminately on the cubes. The Borg's reaction was immediate, they started firing energy charges into the swarms of fighters. The charges took out several of the fighters at a time.

  "Sir," Norton said "I've got a message coming from one of

the Borg cubes."

  "Put it on the screen." Anthony responded.
  The screen changed to a scene of a bearded humanoid with

several Borg adaptations. Sections of the mans hair and beard were shaved to make room for an appliance. Tubes lead from his shoulders over his head connecting to the appliance. His eye that wasn't covered was bright red, like the man's they saw in the message earlier.

  The voice was mechanical and sounded like several were

talking at the same time. "The fighters are irrelevant." It said "You will all be assimilated like the rest of your people. Resistance is futile."

  "Have we gotten any of the pilots yet?" Anthony asked.
  "No, Sir" Norton said "The Borg defenses against the

fighters are too quick, and the ships aren't well shielded we have no way of knowing who to track. When they're hit, they explode immediately"

  "Tell them to keep an eye open, there might still be

somebody we can grab." Anthony looked back at the image on the screen continuing to tell all how irrelevant and futile the whole situation was. "And get that off the screen."

  The on going battle reappeared.  One of the large ships that

had moved in on the cubes was beginning to break up. The cube had several tractor beams on it and was splitting it down the middle. So far, they hadn't seen any escape pods launched from any of the ships.

  Then a new strategy became apparent, the fighters after

getting through the shields were able to blast holes in the Borg ships. They then flew into the ships. The cube this seemed to work best on was the one hit by the long range blast. But several others also appeared to have been entered by fighters.

………….

  By the time Sir Utlin had made his way to the launch deck,

his wing and many others had already launched and were engaging the enemy. His personal fighter was a modified (of course) X1-90 single pilot attack craft. It had dual warp blasters mounted on the sides where the standard phaser cannons should be. There was a standard phaser cannon in the nose, taking the place of survey equipment. The survey equipment was meant for peace time missions and war time surveillance missions, neither of which Sir Utlin was involved in anymore.

  The craft was also fitted with experimental life support

equipment. The equipment was said to extend life support time indefinitely, but he'd never needed it. As Sir Utlin waited for the fighter to be prepared for launch it occurred to him that he had no place to go if he did survive the battle. His life support may last indefinitely, but he only had limited food and very limited room to 'live' in. These things shouldn't concern him at this point though, his first mission was to fight valiantly in the battle. If, in the end, he found that he was still alive, he'd worry then.

  When the ship was placed on the launch line in front of him,

Sir Utlin placed Commander Travois' sword in the standard, but never used, scabbard behind the seat. He folded his cape and also placed it behind the seat. He then took the helmet off the seat and put it on. After he lifted himself into the cockpit he connected the helmet's wires to the navigation and fire control computers and secured the belts. The straps pressed him firmly into the custom fitted seat. The g-suit he wore under his uniform inflated to prevent high-g black outs.

  The launch sequence was projected into the face shield of

the helmet. "Sir Utlin," came the Voice from flight control "You are cleared for launch." as soon as the voice ended, the seat seemed to wrap around him. The launch tube rushed at him then suddenly turned to stars, black and mayhem.

………….

  The Vigilante had parked over-head looking down on the

action. The Borg ships remained in their formation but the damaged cube seemed to stray a bit.

  "Sir, I believe the lead ship is about to fire on the Borg

again. I read the same power build up as before." Norton reported.

  Soon the ships that were maneuverable broke from the attack

and away from the line of fire.

  "Keep us away from them." Tarva said as some of the swift

fighters headed in their direction.

  "Have any of the fighters come out of the cubes yet?"

Anthony asked.

  "I haven't read any exiting fighters" S'Erlet reported.
  As soon as the path was cleared, except for the two ships

still held by tractor beams, the Leader's ship fired again. This time, it targeted the cube that seemed to have taken the most damage from the fighters. There wasn't even distance enough for the two beams to appear to fully become one. The cube glowed bright blue as the energy from the beam dispersed around its shields.

  As soon as the ship ceased fire, the fighters swooped back

in on the Borg. This time, however, the fired on cube broke formation and went after the leader's ship. Apparently, after firing the weapon, the leader's ship wasn't able to maneuver quickly.

  A good third of the fighters broke off from the remaining

five cubes and attacked the one going after their leader. The four remaining maneuverable cubes seemed to take this as a cue and spread out. They stopped using the grab and cut technique and started firing more energy charges. The fighters and ships quickly succumbed to the new method. Even the carriers that had stayed in the background were now targeted.

  The large carrier that had released the shuttle took several

hits in the side. It had continued releasing fighters and had even collected some damaged ones on the giant bottom door. Now it rocked from internal explosions as the fighters inside ignited from chain reactions.

…………

  When Sir Utlin launched from the Star Controller he had a

difficult time not being hit by any of the fighters. He could hear the constant chatter of the fighters from his command. All semblance of order or controlled attacks had disappeared. The Borg dealt with them in a very efficient manner, just destroy anything that comes near.

  Before he had a chance to approach any of the cubes, he

heard the Star Watcher's warning of 'fire in the tube'. He didn't hesitate in following the other fighters pulling away from the enemy.

  He thought that he could hear the shot, using the Star

Watcher at point blank, in the middle of battle, like this, was unheard of. When he swung around back toward the Borg he expected to see only five ships. Instead, he saw all six, only this time one had broken formation and was going after the Star Watcher.

  The Star Controller tried to divert the Cube but only

sustained damage as it passed. Sir Utlin could see the his ship rocking from exploding fighters and fuel. It wouldn't be long before Commander Travois made good on the Pledge of Following. Many of the other fighters headed toward the Cube to protect their leader. Sir Utlin knew it was fruitless, they should concentrate on the damaged ship. Perhaps they could at least destroy one.

  Diverting his course toward the damaged Cube, the last he

saw of the Star Controller was it lining up for its destiny. "Good by my friends." he said aloud and accelerated to his own destiny.

…………

  The great carrier lumbered toward the cube attacking the

leader's ship. As it approached, they could see that no escape pods were being ejected. The immense carrier, the pride of its fleet, was dwarfed by the single cube.

  When the carrier was attached to by the tractor beam, Norton

looked up and said "She's powering up her warp engines."

  Before anybody could react, the carrier jumped to warp and

collided with the Borg ship. The explosion rocked the Cube causing most of one side to cave in and open to space. They could see debris flying from the opening. Almost immediately, the hole slowly started closing in.

  The leader's ship had taken sustained damage and didn't have

the power to pull away from the Cube while it was regenerating. While the hole was still open, the fighters took the opportunity to enter the ship. Several small surface explosions could be seen from the damaged caused by the fighters on the inside. This was the first time fighters on the inside were obviously doing something.

  The number of maneuverable ships had been greatly reduced.

Only five seemed in relatively good repair. The rest were either disabled like the leader's ship, or destroyed.

  The four remaining undamaged cubes strung out across the

battle area. They began meticulously destroying all ships in their path. It was as if they had had enough of this game and it was time to clean up.

  The Borg ship involved in the collision was only about two

thirds finished with its repair to the hole when it locked back onto the leader's ship. This time the cutting beam took obvious chunks out of the haul. As these pieces were absorbed into the superstructure of the cube, the hole closed up a little more.

  The Borg's advancing destruction of the leader's ship was

evident, but still no escape pods were jettisoned. Suddenly, the Borg let go of the ship and moved away from it. Just as the Cube got some distance, the ship self destructed.

  Within a few more minutes, one of the remaining ships made

another suicide run on a cube that had grabbed it. This time, however, the Borg were ready for it and the ship exploded harmlessly against the cube.

  The remaining ships and fighters took the same tactics, as

the Borg got a hold of them, they would implement some sort of suicide maneuver. Though valiant, none were successful. The Borg had learned from the first ship to do it and were prepared.

…………

  • *

No! No! my mind's made up. I gaze above,

            Into that sky insensate as a stone;
            Not for my creed, my country, but my Love
            Will I stand up and meet my death alone.
            Then though it be to utter dark I sink,
            The God that dwells in me is not denied;
            "Best" triumphs over "Beast" -and so I think
            Humanity itself is glorified....
            **********
  Sir Utlin flew wide around the other Cubes.  Through his

radio he could hear the reactions to the destruction of the Star Controller. The destruction also seemed to push four of the remaining Cubes into action. They fanned out and started destroying everything in their path.

  One of the things he heard his comrades doing was flying

into the Cube the Star Controller had just rammed. This sounded like a good idea. With his extra fire power he may be able to open a hole big enough to get into the damaged cube.

  On approach, his sensors read no shielding from the Cube.  A

few other fighters were flying around the ship virtually ignored. They seemed to be indiscriminately firing on the superstructure.

  He switched to a general scrambled frequency "Attention,

this is Red Wing Commander, what wing are you?" the ship to ship signals had very limited range to keep down the confusion.

  "Go ahead, Red Wing Commander, this is Blue Wing, or at

least what remains of it." Blue Wing was from Star Fire, a small but highly decorated carrier, it was one of the first destroyed.

  "Do you have any strategic targets on these things?" he

asked as he swooped over the massive ship.

  "No sir, not really, we've just been hitting anything that

looks important." returned the young voice.

  "Have they returned fire?" Utlin asked making a high-g turn

and flying back.

  "No Sir, We think Lord Dowe's guns shorted them out pretty

good. They must be ignoring us to fix the damage." Sir Utlin couldn't tell which of the ships was talking to him since all of them continued their strafing runs.

  "Well" he said "I think it's time we pay them a closer

visit." Utlin said as he lined up for his run.

  "Sir, a couple of us went in, but we haven't heard from them

and we can't seem to make that much damage anymore." The voice came back.

  "I think I'll give it a try."  Sir Utlin said and powered up

all of his weapons.

  "Sir, if you open it, we'll follow you in."  the boy sounded

confident, confident that he was about to die.

  The ships stopped their normal runs and started gravitating

toward his position. When their flight patterns seemed to be in sync with his, he started his run.

  This time, instead of coming in parallel for the normal

strafing, he went straight at the ship. His right index fingered started pumping the trigger for the warp blasters. The fighter bucked every timed he fired its blasters. He poured full power to the front shield and continued to fire. The surface of the Cube disintegrated under the blasters.

  His scanner showed a large open area inside the cube about

30 finlars from the surface. Debris had started flying out of the hole from depressurization. He continued to pump the warp blasters causing explosions deeper into the hole. He then turned the phaser cannon onto automatic pulse, maybe it would held chop up some of the debris.

  Just as he approached the opening, his first instinct was to

back off the throttle to hopefully navigate to the interior. Instead, he punched the throttle up full and was pressed into his seat from the acceleration. He was tempted to hit the warp engines but knew that was instant death. He continued to pump his warp blasters but all he saw were explosions and debris hurling at him. He let go with a primal scream as he flew into the destruction.

  The promise to stay alive was the furthest thing from his

mind.

  • *

"And now, my butchers, I embrace my fate.

            "Come! let my heart's blood slake the thirsty sod.
            "Curst be the life you offer! Glut your hate!
            "Strike, Strike, you dogs! I'll not deny my God!"
            **********

…………

  Finally, the six cubes reformed and warped away.  The one

cube that had been struck originally seemed unable to maintain the perfect formation. The six, however, continued back on their original course. This time they held a much slower pace, warp 8.6.

  Just before they warped away, Norton said "Sir, I read an

explosion on the damaged Borg ship."

  "On the screen." Anthony said.
  Norton put the six ship formation on the screen then zeroed

in on an area of the one cube that wasn't holding perfectly in the formation. On its surface were a series of explosions that appeared to be initiated from the interior. Finally, just as the cubes jumped to warp, a lone, single seat fighter emerged from the hole.

  The fighter emerged into a sea of debris.  Suddenly alone,

left behind by the ship it came from. It limped slowly through the devastation surveying for survivors that weren't there.

  Tarva turned to Anthony "Sir, I believe we have our only

survivor."

  Captain Anthony turned to Commander Norton "What's your

analysis of that ship?"

  Norton was already studying his tactical scanners. "Sir, I

read one life form, apparently uninjured. The ship no longer has warp capability, but has life-support."

  "Open hailing frequencies." Anthony said.
  "Hailing frequencies open." Norton returned.
  Anthony stood and looked at the fighter on the screen as if

he were talking directly to it "Attention fighter, this is Captain Anthony of the United Star Ship Vigilante, do you read me."

  There was a short pause then a voice came back "This is Red

Wing Commander, please state your position, I do not read you on my scanners. They could, however, be damaged."

  Anthony smiled, this was a pretty cool cat.  "I did not

state our position, but I do offer you our assistance."

  There was another pause "Your a bit late to be offering

assistance."

  "Does that mean you do not desire our assistance?"
  The small ship did a few turns and loops, obviously looking

for the source of this conversation. "If your really around here, I would definitely appreciate your assistance." He didn't sound too committed.

  Anthony smiled "Okay." he said "Now, here's where your going

to have to trust us."

  "I don't like the sound of that."
  "Don't worry," Anthony said "have I ever lied to you."
  There was some nervous laughter in reply.
  "Now, what we would like you to do is shut down all power to

your weapons and engines." Anthony said very carefully.

  "And then what?" he was almost flip.
  "And then wait."  Anthony said then added "I must warn you

that if you power anything up, we'll be forced to interpret that as a sign of aggression."

  "Is that all?"
  "That is all, do we have a deal?"  Anthony was beginning to

like this guy.

  "I don't seem to have much of a choice.  Powering off now."

The man still didn't seem too convinced.

  Norton looked up "He's powered down all main systems."
  "Okay" Anthony said "Tell Shuttle Bay Two to lock on to the

fighter with the tractor beam. Have transporter room two stand by, if he powers up, pull him out and destroy the ship."

  "Aye, Sir." Norton said as he reach to his comm switch.
  Anthony then added "Also, have security meet us in Shuttle

bay two."

  Norton grinned slightly and said stiffly "Of course, Sir."
  "Commander Tarva, Your with me." Anthony turned toward the

lifts with Tarva a step behind.

………..

  What was going on, were the Borg back? Was he dead and

talking to Lin'hrlar himself. Was he just space happy and hallucinating? It was too soon for that.

  It didn't matter, with his warp drives out of commission, he

had no where to go. He had enough supplies for a month but what good would that do him at sub-light speeds?

  He breathed deeply whispered a short prayer to himself then

started shutting down his systems. What ever was going to happen he hoped it would happen soon. How long should he wait to power back up before they wouldn't take it as an act of aggression.

  What if they just wanted him to power down so they could

attack him. Some sort of pirates waiting to salvage what little debris was left of the fleet.

  Suddenly his ship jerked, he almost reached up to power on

thinking he was being attacked, but hesitated. There were no explosions, there were no lights he wasn't under attack. The ship was moving on its own. This wasn't possible, unless something was pulling. He started looking around maybe he could see something.

  The stars in front of him started looking blurry.  Some

seemed to be getting close too quickly. The stars shimmered and disappeared revealing a large dark gray ship. He was extremely close, his reflexes caused him to jerk the joy-stick hard to port to avoid a collision. It didn't work, of course, since he wasn't under his own power.

  He appeared to be heading directly toward the back of the

ship. Four large, flatten, cylindrical, engines, spread out from the body, two above him and two below. The engines glowed soft blue down the sides.

  Ahead of him the four engines swept away from a large

bulbous body. The ship was smooth and symmetrical, there were no gun turrets, or ports. It was no wonder they wanted him to power down, a lone fighter could reek untold damage on this ship.

  There were three doors in the very back of the ship two

smaller ones side by side over a much larger one. The door on the right started opening and his craft was being pulled toward it.

  "Well," he said to himself "that looks like my destination."
  Where the door had been, was replaced by a shimmering blue

force field. His ship glided smoothly through the field and into a well lit bay.

  There were two other ships in the bay, both looked like some

sort of transport one had star drives, the other did not. Standing to the side were some people in baggy black uniforms, must be this ships security.

  A couple appeared to be like himself, sons Lin'hrlar the

others were some creatures unlike anything he'd ever seen. His ship came to rest directly in front of the reception committee. He pushed the canopy open button but kept an eye on the group the whole time.

  One of the group stood out, he was wide shouldered with

non-alien features. He had long hair like a High Commander, but he was clean shaven, like a warrior. He stood in the middle flanked on either side by both dark skinned creatures and few other non-aliens. One thing he noted was that they all carried side arms. Another thing very strange occurred to him, some of these creatures were apparently females. What strange creatures these were to not only bring females with them, but arm them too.

  They continued to wait for him to conclude any business he

needed to, very courteous. He disconnected his helmet and stood up, then stepped down on to the ships built in ladder. When he was half way down, he removed his helmet and placed it on the seat, then reached behind the seat took out his cape. By the time he jumped to the deck the red cape was flowing out behind him.

  A dark skinned non-alien approached him and handed him two

small devices. From the way he motioned it appeared that one was to be place in his ear, and the other around his neck with the disk on the front of his throat.

  It could be a trap, something so they could control him.

Sir Utlin hesitated, waiting for some kind of explanation. He also rested one hand comfortably near his battle blaster.

  Finally the man with the long gray black hair stepped

forward holding a small device in his hand.

  "Well come aboard the U.S.S. Vigilante." he said through the

device in his hand. It was some sort of translator. "I am Captain Anthony, I believe we've already spoken."

  Sir Utlin snapped to attention and saluted, including a

slight bow of his head "I am Sir Utlin Robe'than, First Officer of the Carrier Star Controller, and Commander of Red Wing Tactical Fighter Squadron. I am in your debt for your hospitality, Captain."

  The Captain though obviously unfamiliar with the salute,

immediately returned it. He then said through the box in his hand "It would make communication much easier if you could use the devices you were given." He then indicated the objects Sir Utlin still held in his right hand. "They'll allow the computer to translate automatically"

  Sir Utlin considered the devises carefully, they seemed

harmless. He started with the piece for the ear.

  "A lot better then this contraption." the Captain said

apparently in Sir Utlin's own language. What a marvelous device.

  He then strapped the other piece around his neck, it fit

like a piece of jewelry. "What is this piece suppose to do?" he said. The rest in the room smiled as if they recognized the question, but he heard it in his own language still.

  "That device translates for the rest of us.  By

inconveniencing you slightly, the rest of the crew will not have to wear the translators while you are with us." the Captain said.

  "Now for the rest of the introductions."  The Captain

continued. He indicated the short dark skinned female creature standing next to him. "This is my first officer Commander Tarva."

  Sir Utlin looked at the creature, she almost looked normal

but her forehead rolled slightly and her hair started at about the top of her head. She looked like she was a cross between the Children of Lin'hrlar and some of the even uglier creatures standing about. He considered 'her' for a moment then decided that since she had been indicated as second in command he would treat her as he would wish to be treated aboard the Star Controller.

  He gave her his stiff salute and slight bow, the same as

he'd given the Captain, "Commander Tarva".

  She comfortably returned both, but didn't say anything.
  "If I may inquire," the Captain said "by what name are you

used to being addressed?"

  They had given him simple names, obviously how they

addressed one another. He'd given them his full title, his own people would know the proper salute, these people did not. Their translator changed the words for them but didn't indicated customs.

  "I am officially addressed as 'Sir Utlin'" he said formally.
  "Very good, Sir Utlin"  The Captain said as another creature

came in.

  He looked almost normal but he was completely bald, had

pointed ears and a very slight green complexion. As the man approached Captain Anthony indicated him and said "Sir Utlin, this is Commander Norton, he is in charge of security on the Vigilante."

  "Commander Norton." Sir Utlin said and repeated his salute.
  Norton retuned the salute without hesitation.  Then turned

to the Captain "Sir, if I may."

  The Captain looked slightly unsure then said "Of course."
  Commander Norton turned back to Sir Utlin "Sir, I'm going to

have to ask you for your side arm, for the time being."

  Utlin hesitated for a second then decided that they really

didn't have to ask. He pulled it from his holster and handed it Commander Norton, who took the weapon bowed slightly then handed it to one of the creatures standing nearby.

  "Now," the Captain said "If you'll come with us we have much

to discuss before we can get you settled in."

  "I believe we do." Sir Utlin agreed and followed the group

out of the hanger.

  As they left, he noticed that technicians were circling his

fighter with scanning devices but appeared to be keeping a respectful distance. If this was a sign of how he was going to be treated, it might not be too bad.

  They entered a nearby room with a long table at on end and

rows of chairs facing it. It was some kind of seminar or meeting room.

  Sir Utlin was ushered to one of the chairs then Captain

Anthony, Tarva, and Norton also took seats. Two of the ugly, ridged, dark skinned creatures took guard positions on either side of the door.

  "To get started, perhaps I should tell you who and what we

are. Perhaps I can answer some of your obvious questions before asked." The Captain said.

  "That sounds like a good way to start." Utlin agreed.
  Before Anthony could begin a piping sound came out of the

ceiling. "Bridge to Captain Anthony." came a female voice.

  "Anthony here, go ahead"
  "Sir, we have the Borg back in scanner range"
  "Very good, maintain distance."
  "Aye, Sir." returned the voice then the speaker obviously

turned off.

  Utlin looked slightly alarmed "The Borg have returned?"
  "No" Anthony said "We jumped to warp to follow them as soon

as you were in the bay."

  "I didn't feel the acceleration." Utlin returned.
  The Captain smiled proudly "You rarely do."
  Captain Anthony then proceeded to tell Sir Utlin about the

Federation and their encounter with the Borg. He also told him about the development of the Vigilante to spy on them and gather information. Then finally about their presence during the battle.

  This infuriated Sir Utlin. "You mean that you sat back and

watched the remains of my people get destroyed by these evil creatures and did nothing? How could you, what kind of creatures are you?"

  The battle seemed to weigh heavily on the crew of the

Vigilante. These allegations obviously disturbed them.

  "What would you have had us do?" Anthony asked coldly.
  "You could have helped us, you obviously have some sort of

weapons." Sir Utlin insisted.

  "Yes, we have weapons, very similar to what your ships had.

Do you think that in the end, we could have made a difference?" Anthony was speaking very carefully.

  "You could have done something, maybe helped destroy one of

those things." Sir Utlin knew now why they had taken his blaster, they must have predicted his anger.

  Anthony sat back, obviously disturbed by the events.  "You

don't know how much this decision weighs on me and my staff. All of us have been personally affected by the Borg." Anthony shook from some kind of memories. "But we have a duty to our own people. They are depending on us to return with information that they may be able to use to defeat the Borg once and for all.

  "If we were to valiantly engage in a hopeless battle, then

we would have betrayed the whole Federation. They are depending on us to do our best to return with the intelligence they need." Anthony looked at Sir Utlin carefully, hoping to see some sort of understanding.

  Utlin sat back and considered Captain Anthony's argument, he

tried to put himself in their place. As a warrior, it was tough to understand sitting out such a battle. But perhaps, they had a point, to put ones own civilization over another dying one. It was what he was doing, not caring about the needs of their civilization.

  "I suppose," Utlin said slowly "I can understand the reasons

that would cause you to stay out of our battle." he hesitated then continued "I can also understand the pain and helplessness you and your warriors must have felt doing so." With that said Sir Utlin suddenly felt a closeness to these people and the inner conflicts they must endure. He prayed that Lin'hrlar would look after them.

  "With that cleared up," Commander Tarva said "We must make

some decisions."

  "Such as?" Sir Utlin tried his best not to talk down to this

female creature.

  Captain Anthony spoke up before Tarva could answer "Sir

Utlin, I must excuse myself, there are other duties that I must attend to."

  "I fully understand, Captain" Sir Utlin said and stood as

Anthony did.

  "I leave you in the very capable hands of Commander Tarva, I

know she will be able to help you find a proper place among us." With that Captain Anthony turned and exited. At the same time Commander Norton excused himself and took the guards with him.

  Sir Utlin soon found himself alone with the creature who was

second in command of this ship. He was very uneasy with the thought of a Female on a war ship but a female alien in charge of one would take some real getting used to. He looked at her as she took her seat across from him. She seemed short even compared to her comrades, but very confident. There had to be a reason she was second in command.

  After he took his seat she spoke again "As I said, we have

some decisions to make. First we'd like to have permission to examine and repair your fighter. When we finally reach our destination, you may wish to have use of it."

  "You mean you haven't examined it yet?" Sir Utlin sounded

slightly surprised.

  Tarva smiled "We've done all we can without touching it,

they have strict instructions to respect your property."

  "I have some personal property I'd like to retrieve before

your technicians start working on it." Utlin decided to see how far he could push it.

  "Very good.  Now about what we're going to do with you.  I

figure there are several options you could chose from if you wish." Tarva said remaining very business like.

  "I get to chose my fate?" Sir Utlin asked surprised.
  "Of course, we do not want you among us if it is not where

you want to be. That brings us to your first option, we could repair your craft and send you on your way."

  Sir Utlin frowned at this thought.  There was literally no

place for him to go.

  "Now if you wish we could take you to the Borg and let you

fight your own battle, this is I guess very similar to the first option." Tarva was mentioning these options knowing full well Sir Utlin probably wouldn't seriously consider them.

  "Do you have any less drastic options for me." he asked

giving her lead to continue.

  "We do not take observers on the Vigilante." Tarva said

"Therefore, if you chose to remain, you will have to join the crew. Our crew is made of a diverse number of different peoples from different cultures, if you chose to join us, you will have to accept that. You will have to accept our mission and our goals. We will, however, try to work with you to find for you a position worthy of your skills and experience. Does this sound acceptable?"

  "Just like that?" he asked "How do you know you can trust

me, that I won't work for my own agenda?"

  Tarva leaned forward, Sir Utlin could see a fire in the

creatures eyes that sent a chill down his spine. "We will not stand for any part of this crew not being part of the team. There is no room out here to deal with infractions in any but the harshest of manners."

  Sir Utlin had to keep himself from swallowing hard, perhaps

he would be better on his own. "What if, in the future, I wish to leave the Vigilante?"

  "As long as your departure would not adversely effect our

mission, we could not prevent you from tendering your resignation." Tarva said simply.

  "Can I have some time to think about it?" Sir Utlin asked.

Perhaps if he had sometime to get a better feel for what these people were all about.

  "Of course, but we don't know when the Borg will get to

where their going. So you may not have time to become a proper member of the crew by the next emergency."

  "I'll just have to risk it."
  "Until then," Tarva said "Lets get you set up in your

quarters.

  "Very good." Sir Utlin said and stood with Commander Tarva.
  When they walked out of the room, the two guards that had

been in the room with them were waiting just out side the door. The first place they went was to the shuttle bay. Sir Utlin's fighter was flanked by several guards who came to attention as they approached. Several techs continued to walk around the craft with hand scanners.

  Sir Utlin climbed up to the cockpit and removed a few

things; first was a long straight sword from behind the seat, the other was a pack of apparently personal gear. He then approached Commander Tarva who was talking with a large bearded man. Sir Utlin wore the sword in the seldom used loop on his belt and carried the bag as he approached.

  "Sir Utlin," Commander Tarva said "this is Commander

Dolittel, he is our Chief Engineer and will in charge of the repairs of your craft."

  Before Sir Utlin could properly salute Commander Dolittel

held out his hand and said "Welcome aboard."

  Not knowing the proper response, Sir Utlin held his hand in

reply. Commander Dolittel took hold of his hand with a firm grip and shook it saying "I can't wait to take a look at that fighter of yours, don't worry, we can get it flying better than new."

  "I hope you can." Sir Utlin said not knowing how to respond

to this man.

  "Now if you'll excuse me, with your permission, we'd like to

get to work." Dolittel said after letting go of Utlin's hand.

  "Thank you." was all Sir Utlin could think to say.
  As Dolittel walked away, Utlin could see him motioning to

technicians and heading toward the fighter. He then looked at Tarva questioningly.

  "I must apologize for the informality of our Chief Engineer,

he is not a great military man, but he is a gifted engineer." Tarva said, then headed toward a door. "Now, lets see if we can find proper quarters for you."

 Sir Utlin was assigned what was called junior officer's

quarters. It had two rooms with two bunks in one of them. Tarva explained that there were no singles available, but this was the next best thing, since he would not have a room mate.

  Commander Tarva then took the time to show him the different

features of the room, including the 'replicator' and 'head'. She showed him how to access the computer verbally to get a list of foods and other things available through the replicator. He wasn't sure how it worked but was intrigued with the technology.

  Commander Tarva then took him on a tour of the ship,

including the very small bridge. It would have been difficult for him to believe a ship of this size could be run effectively from such a small place, but it seemed to be working just fine. He was also shown a shuttle bay they called the 'cavern'. She seemed quite proud of its size, but it paled in comparison with the Star Controller.

  She also showed him several rooms she called transporters.

He wasn't quite clear about their function, but was sure he would find out.

  He finally decided that of the functions shown him, he was

best suited for security or something they called the drop ships. He would have to look into them more closely. They did make it clear, however, that within their normal mission parameters their was no place for his fighter. Though it had powerful weapons, it lacked other technology vital to maintaining mission integrity.

  Tarva had assured him that unless somebody specifically

challenged him, he had access to the ship, within reason of course. He decided to visit a place of gathering Commander Tarva had pointed out, some sort of cafeteria. Tarva had even suggested visiting the place on his own, to get a 'feel for the crew'.

  He had sat in the place a short time when two non-alien

looking females approached him. One he recognized from the bridge, she had been introduced as a navigator the other was unfamiliar.

  He stood as they approached "May we join you?" asked the one

with darker skin and straight black hair. He found both extremely attractive.

  "Of course," he looked at the red headed female "Ensign

O'Malley wasn't it? But I don't believe we've been introduced." he said to the other.

  She smiled "I'm Lieutenant Whitecloud, but you can call me

Anndrea." she held out her hand in the same way the engineer had.

  This time he knew the gesture and gripped her hand and

shook. The woman had an amazingly strong grip.

  Ensign O'Malley offered her hand and said "And please, off

duty, I'm Janice."

  As they sat down with him he decided that since they had

offered their personal names, it would be proper to offer his too. "You may call me Ra'than" he said.

  He chatted with the two women quite a while and soon

discovered that they were roommates. He was able to get a lot of social information from them. They told him about the different species on the Vigilante. They warned him about the tension between the Klingons and the Kalonians, he promised he'd watch what he said around them. It didn't take long to realize just what a diverse group this was and that he might actually fit in.

  Soon they both had to excuse themselves, Ensign O'Malley had

to report for duty and Lieutenant Whitecloud had an appointment in the Drop Team Training Room.

  "Would you like to join me?" Whitecloud asked as she stood

up.

  "What sort of training is being conducted at this time?" he

asked as they walked away from the table.

  "It's practice in hand to hand combat.  It may not be very

useful against the Borg, but it is still good for the mind and body." Whitecloud said.

  "And what are your duties, medical?"  They had discussed

many things but Lieutenant Whitecloud's position had never come up.

  Whitecloud laughed, "Not exactly, I'll be leading the

exercises."

  They stopped in front of some crew quarters and Whitecloud

walked in. Sir Utlin stayed outside.

  "Won't you come in," Whitecloud said "I've got to change

into my work-out clothes."

  Utlin hesitated for a second then stepped in.  He was just

in time to see Whitecloud disappear into the head with a bundle of clothes. The room had the first decorations he'd seen on the ship. Several paintings hung on one wall; one was of some primitive people who looked vaguely like Whitecloud, the other was of some kind of bird but it didn't look finished.

  "Do you like them?" Whitecloud said from right behind him.
  It surprised him because, as a bloodied warrior, he always

prided himself on being aware of what was going on around him. "They are very intriguing." he finally said.

  "I apologize for the Eagle, I haven't had time to work on it

lately." Whitecloud said. She had changed into loose white clothes that appeared to be made of the same material as the uniforms. "Shall we go?"

  "Yes, of course."
  As they walked down the hall Sir Utlin said still sounding

confused "So your job is training the warriors?"

  "That's one of the duties I've taken on, but my official

designation is second in Command of the Drop Forces." Whitecloud said trying not to brag.

  "I thought these Drop Forces were suppose to be elite

warriors, and a Female is second in command?" Sir Utlin said finally unable to contain his shock.

  Whitecloud stopped and looked at Sir Utlin curiously "Is

there something about females in your culture you have failed to mentioned?"

  Sir Utlin stiffened a bit "In my 'culture', we recognized

that there are certain roles for the males and females. War was not a role for females, neither was commanding warriors."

  Whitecloud looked at him and said "That's to bad, you

probably missed out on a lot of great talent by pre-defining the roles of your society." She then continued down the hall. Sir Utlin followed, his red cape flowing out behind him.

  When they approached the training room Whitecloud turned to

Sir Utlin. "Would you like to join us for the workout?"

  "I don't think I am dressed properly." he said hoping to get

out of it.

  "Don't worry, we have changing facilities here."
  "ah....Great."
  The room was filled with an assortment creatures from the

Vigilante. All were dressed in the similar white robes and were extremely respectful of Sir Utlin and Lieutenant Whitecloud. He joined them for a grueling work out and then stood in for a punching bag during the combat training.

  After an hour of humiliation at the hands these creatures he

finally admitted to himself that they were all skilled warriors but protested "But this is a style of combat I have not been trained in."

  Whitecloud looked at the him while the team fell silent, she

had barely broken a sweat. "I heard that you carried a sword with you." she said "Perhaps you have some proficiency with it?"

  "I've at least used one before." now he had her, though he

never had use for one in battle, he was recognized as one of the best duelers in the fleet.

  Whitecloud turned and spoke to one of the Klingon creatures

who went to retrieve something from the supply room. He returned with two black poles with white handles, just longer than an arm. Whitecloud handed one to Sir Utlin, thick end first.

  "These are a little contribution from the Klingon training

techniques. The Federation doesn't have a tradition of using 'blades', however, the Klingon's do. I felt that the coordination developed through training with swords would help in other areas of combat. These devises are modified to be harmless but deliver a slight electric shock on contact. The shock, however, does increase slightly with the force of impact. Sir Utlin, are you game?"

  "Who shall be my opponent?"  Sir Utlin asked curiously.
  "Why me, of course."  Whitecloud returned.
  Sir Utlin almost declined he had never fought a woman before

and it didn't matter that she was second in command of such fine warriors. Finally, he decided that this was his new peer group and it was time to become one of them. "How do you turn it on?"

  Whitecloud turned hers on and took a casual on-guard stance.

The rest of the room gathered around and started cheering for both.

  Sir Utlin took his standard stance which differed

considerably from hers. He didn't know who should move first but was answered by a sharp pain in his arm. While he was debating with himself, Whitecloud stepped forward, tapped his arm and returned to her position.

  "Come on, wake up." she chided.
  The ensuing duel pitted the battle scarred veteran of

countless wars, Sir Utlin, against the merciless, Special Forces warrior, Lieutenant Whitecloud. When Whitecloud closed her attacks Utlin could see the coldness in her eyes. When he gained the advantage, she never faltered she pushed a new strategy. He found that she could take and receive pain without hesitation.

  At one point, they stood exchanging blows to the side, one

would take a full hit to the side then deliver one. Pain surged through him from the electric shock and the weight of the weapon. It was a test of endurance neither one would back down from. Sir Utlin didn't remember who broke the routine, but was glad when it ended.

  Over an hour after they began, they knelt facing each other,

totally out of breath. Sir Utlin could taste the blood drip from his broken nose and pain surged from his throbbing side. Whitecloud looked back at him with a wide smile, two different shades of blood stained her workout clothes and a large welt had started to rise on her cheek. The room had filled with spectators who watched in total silence.

  Sir Utlin surveyed the crowd, in the front of one group was

Commander Tarva standing in her formal at-ease position. Seeing the Commander, Sir Utlin struggled to his feet and faced her.

  "Have you made your decision yet?" Tarva asked.
  "Yes, Commander," Sir Utlin looked around "If they'll have

me."

  Tarva looked to Whitecloud who said "Welcome aboard." and

offered her hand.

  Sir Utlin grasped and shook it, then stepped back and gave

his own traditional salute.

  "Very good." Tarva said "Now we'll have to confer with

Lieutenant Golta and the Captain to assign a field commission and position in the team. Until then, Lieutenant Whitecloud will issue, and train you on the equipment you'll be using."

  "Thank you Commander." Sir Utlin said.
  Tarva nodded then walked across the mat toward the door.

The crowd parted more then sufficiently to let her through without slowing down.

  Sir Utlin sat stripped to the waist in an examination room

in the medical section. Lieutenant Whitecloud was in an adjoining room, probably getting the same treatment. A large bruise had formed on his right side from just under his arm to just above his thighs. There were a number of other bruises and cuts over his body.

  "What the hell were you doing sparring with Lieutenant

Whitecloud?" The medic asked as he started to work.

  Sir Utlin looked at the man, he looked like a seasoned

warrior, what was he doing working as a medic. "Is there a problem?"

  The man ran a scanner done the bruised side "It's just that

most people know better than to fight with the Lieutenant."

  "Why is that?"
  The man quieted down a bit and said "I worked on the ship

that she was first assigned to, after she left Special Forces. She kept us very busy, most incidents, however, were never reported. The guys she fought with were mostly too embarrassed that such an attractive woman had bettered them in a fight. It was lucky for her, she would have been thrown out a lot sooner than she was."

  "What kind of incidents?" Sir Utlin normally didn't care for

any kind gossip but he found Lieutenant Whitecloud extremely intriguing.

  The man ran some kind of bone knitter over the broken ribs.

"It's just that she likes to hurt people. Well I guess it's better than killing them like she used to."

  Sir Utlin looked at the man unbelieving.
  "Its true, one of the reasons she had to leave Special

Forces was that the underworld had a price on her head. She couldn't be effective as an undercover agent with her face plastered all over the place." The medic then turned to mending the broken nose.

  "She had a price on her head? How did that happen?"
  "It's rumored that when she was undercover, she would sooner

kill someone than fight with 'em. You kill enough of a crime lords best people, he gets annoyed."

  "The more I hear about the Lieutenant the more I like her."

Utlin said with a smile.

  "Well I'm glad to hear that, but if your going to keep

training with her, we'll be seeing you again." The medic said as he started working on the large bruise.


  Lieutenant Utlin stood in the back of the drop ship, his

back against the stern bulk head. The troop door lay open next to him. He held the phaser pointed to the roof and waited. He listened for the go signal from the receiver in his ear. The darkness around him was complete but the goggles he wore gave everything an eerie off color glow. The sound of phaser blasts told him the action was approaching his position.

  Utlin thought back on the past weeks; the Vigilante kept up

its relentless warp nine pursuit of the Borg; and he learned. He learned to speak Federation 'Standard', he learned to work with all of the creatures on this ship, and he learned his new job.

  They were troubled by where to place him in the Drop Team

structure. At first they thought he would actually be best suited for Drop Ship pilot, but he was a fighter, not just a pilot. He best fit in with the ground troops, the real front line warriors.

  His field commission was a tricky thing, he was obviously an

experienced warrior and leader. They felt like he deserved to be highly placed. There were, however, many on the teams who had worked hard for their positions. It would be difficult to suddenly have them answering to someone who, until just weeks ago, hadn't ever heard of Star Fleet or The United Federation of Planets.

  They gave him the rank of lieutenant(junior grade).  At

first he thought it was much below his naturally born position, but birth-right seemed to hold little importance to these creatures. He would have to earn further promotions and importance. This couldn't be too difficult in an organization that allowed so many females to rise to such importance.

  He heard the signal as the team approached the ship, it was

time to give cover so they could get to safety. He leaned out low, looking for his comrades. They were coming in from the right, phaser blasts following them. He stepped out and fired at the sources of the blasts. When the last of the team was aboard, he turned and followed him them in. A sharp pain exploded in his left arm and side causing him to drop the phaser and throwing him across the ship.

  When he came to, one of the Klingon creatures was looking

down at him. "You'll do better next time,..Sir." it said gruffly.

  These live fire exercises must have been Whitecloud's idea.

  Four weeks after beginning their pursuit, Tarva was awakened

by the yellow alert. She heard Lieutenant S'Erlet saying "Command to the Bridge."

  When Tarva got to the bridge Captain Anthony was just

arriving on the other lift. Commander Norton was already in his chair and S'Erlet was busy at his station. Ensign O'Malley sat staring at the image on the screen.

  It was a single Borg cube, obviously at an extreme distance,

but it was just one cube. It was also obvious that they had dropped out of warp.

  Tarva looked at the cube "What happened to the other five?"
  Ensign O'Malley turned and looked back at Commander Norton.

O'Malley had gone ghost white.

  The Captain looked at Norton, "Well, what happened to the

other five?"

  Norton looked up at Captain Anthony "Sir, all six Borg ships

entered this one."

  • *

I saw the spears that seemed a-leap to slay,

            All quiver earthward at the headman's nod;
            And in a daze of dream I heard him say:
            "Go, set him free who serves so well his God!"
                      "The Soldier of Fortune"
                          Robert W. Service
            **********
                                to be continued............

                 T H E   V I G I L A N T E
                             VA
                         "Outpost"

Since all that is was ever bound to be; Since grim eternal laws our Being bind; And both the riddle and the answer find, And both the carnage and the calm decree; Since plain within the Book of Destiny Is written all the journey of mankind Inexorably to the end; since blind And Mortal puppets playing parts are we: ……

            "Faith"
       Robert W. Service
  Captain Anthony looked at the Borg Cube on the screen, it

looked like all the others. Scanners, however, indicated that this one was bigger, much bigger.

  "What do we have?" Tarva asked.
  "It appears to be a Borg space station." S'Erlet

volunteered.

  "Perhaps, it's their home." O'Malley suggested

optimistically.

  "What's your Analysis." Captain Anthony said to the bridge

crew.

  "Sir, I estimate that this cube is 2 million times the

volume of a standard Borg ship." S'Erlet reported.

  Captain Anthony whistled in appreciation of the size.  "What

kind of scans are they emitting, is there any sign they may be able to see us?"

  "Negative, Sir." Commander Norton said "They are emitting

standard Borg signals."

  "Okay, keep a close watch on all activity, I don't want one

of those cubes running into us."

  "Aye, Sir." O'Malley and S'Erlet said in unison.
  Anthony then turned back to Commander Norton "Let's go to

complete battle stations, repost all guards, and have away teams ready to scramble from transporters and drop ships. I want primary teams, again, to be prepared with out the armor, lets keep our technology a secret as long as possible."

  Norton stood saying "Aye, Sir." then exited the bridge.
  Anthony looked at Tarva "What do you think?" then back at

the cube on the screen.

  "We're going in, aren't we?" Tarva said with a half smile.
  "That's what we've been training to do." Anthony responded

then sat down in his chair. He leaned back and clasped his hands across his chest.

  Tarva sat on the edge of her chair, turned to look at the

Captain. "When?"

  The Captain looked at his First Officer "I know, we have to

study it, get an idea what it really is and so on, but we'll go in, ……we will go in."

  "Just try not rushing it, sir." Tarva said quietly "We've

got time."

  Anthony looked up at his navigator "Ensign O'Malley, set a

course to take a closer look, standard orbit."

  "Aye, sir" O'Malley responded "Plotted and laid in."
  "Engage." Anthony said.
  "Aye, Sir." the Helmsman returned.
  The Vigilante headed toward the Borg cube.  They quickly

started backing off the magnification to keep it on the screen. Once they were close enough to get a good look without magnification, they cut the impulse engines and went solely with maneuvering thrusters. It was the same kind of technique they used for orbiting a star base.

  "Sir," S'Erlet said "Every indication from the object is

that it is not a ship. It appears to have stabilizers only, there is no means of propulsion evident."

  "What about the sub-space 'Borg Link' that the Enterprise

logged, what kind of patterns are there?" Anthony asked.

  "I've started the analysis but it will take some time before

any conclusions can be made." S'Erlet said.

  "Very good, but I want you to take any technicians you need

to complete the analysis quickly." Anthony said.

  "Sir," S'Erlet looked up from his console "I may be able to

do a more complete analysis with facilities in engineering."

  "Dismissed." Anthony then turned to Tarva "Commander I'd

like you to be in charge of mapping the cube. We need to know where the entrances are and other vital areas.

  "Aye, Sir" Tarva said "I'll get right on it."  She then

started contacting the survey specialists from the Drop Teams.


  Lieutenant Utlin stood in his armor looking out over the

'Cavern' below him. It didn't come near the majesty of The Star Controller but from this distance it did seem quite far down.

  "When ever your ready, Lieutenant." came Whitecloud's voice

over the intercom.

  He only had to do one thing, and that was step off the

platform. If the suit worked, it would automatically fire its rockets and lower him safely to the ground. If it didn't work, and he was lucky, he wouldn't spend too much time with the medics this afternoon. He was used to being in control, if the rockets were suppose to fire, he wanted to fire them. A computer deciding to turn something on didn't sit well with him, he wanted the control.

  "Trust the technology." he whispered to himself and stepped

of the ledge.

  He could immediately feel the suit vibrate slightly and stop

his decent. He soon landed gently on the deck. The suits weren't made for flying about in a gravity situation but would safely lower the occupant. In zero gravity, however, they told him, that they did have maneuverability.

  Utlin looked about, the team he was training with waited for

him. Since Commander Dolittel retrieved the flight recorders and cameras from the fighter they held him in much higher esteem as a warrior. They did, however, find it amusing that he seemed scared of heights. It wasn't that he was afraid of heights, he just didn't trust alien technology. Put him in his fighter, and they'd see fearlessness.

  Lieutenant Whitecloud met Utlin in the suit room.  "We've

found a Borg outpost."

  "What?" Lieutenant Utlin had just gotten into his uniform.

He had switched to ship's standard, it was only proper. They did tell him that for formal occasions Star Fleet allowed traditional, cultural dress. There, however, would be very few formal gatherings on the Vigilante in the near future.

  "The Borg ships all entered a much larger Borg Cube which

appears to be stationary." Whitecloud said in obvious excitement.

  "Is there some way we can get a look at it?" Utlin said in

total fascination.

  "Of course." Whitecloud said "It's on the view screen in the

meeting room right now."

  The meeting room was crowed with drop team personnel.  The

Borg cube was prominently on the screen. When they walked in Whitecloud spoke up. "Okay, the Captain has ordered us to prepare for deployment."

  There was a resounding cheer from the gathering.

"Lieutenant Golta has ordered that teams five and six remain on call and suited. Teams one and two are to be prepared in class 1 mission uniforms. That's why you are here, five and six are already on station in Shuttle bay three waiting for orders to board and deploy. We are to suit for deployment and await here for orders."

  As second in command of drop teams, it was Whitecloud's

honor to lead the most likely team for deployment. Lieutenant Utlin had been assigned to Whitecloud's team until his training was complete.

  Class one mission uniforms were the standard ship uniform

with gear added. The teams sat in the rough duty chairs in the meeting room. There were 32 in all, two teams of 16.

  Each wore their standard uniform with a black 'mission'

helmet added. The helmets included face shields with tactical 'heads up' displays and built-in communicators. The extra equipment included, technical gear for mapping and surveying. Half carried analytical tricorders, the others carried 'extra' fire power. All carried their new larger phasers. These phasers reminded Lieutenant Utlin of his own battle blaster, which now hung like a trophy in his quarters.

  As soon as the Captain wanted to see if the Borg reacted to

them, he'd send this group in. He wouldn't use the suited warriors unless he had to, he wanted to guard the technology of the suits as long as possible.

  After five hours the Captain ordered a stand-down and the

drop teams off full readiness.


  After stand down, Lieutenant Utlin went down to the shuttle

bay to inspect his fighter. A week after he had arrived, he was summoned to a meeting with Commander Dolittel and the Captain.

  They met in the shuttle bay to discuss the future of the

fighter. At the time, it lay in pieces around the bay. Its stripped frame was barely recognizable. Commander Dolittel stood over one of the star drives conducting some form of tests.

  Dolittel looked up as Utlin approached "Hello, Lieutenant."

he said pleasantly "How are you to day."

  "Commander, what have you done to my fighter?" Utlin said in

shock.

  "The technology used in your fighter is unfamiliar."

Dolittel said "My technicians were unable to make sufficient progress on the repairs, so I've been forced to do the job personally."

  Utlin couldn't say a word, he did not believe that the

damage to the ship had been this severe.

  Dolittel continued to talk as he worked "I've spent every

spare minute I've had since your arrival to learn your systems." He looked at the mess around him "To do that, I've had to do a little dissecting, but don't worry, everything I've taken apart has been meticulously documented."

  Dolittel looked over Utlin's shoulders "Ah, here's the

Captain now."

  Utlin instinctively came to stiff attention and had to force

himself not to give his traditional salute, those days were over. "Captain, Sir" he said in greeting.

  Anthony looked at the debris scattered through out the bay

"I hope you'll have this cleaned up before we need this bay again." he said with a smile.

  "Yes, Sir." Dolittel answered.
  "What's the status with the fighter?" Anthony said as he

started a walk around.

  "Sir, I've just finished repairs on the warp drives, and am

currently running systems checks. By combining our two technologies, this ship should be able to maintain warp 9 for an extended period of time. The ship seems to have been retro-fitted with some extremely powerful blasters that integrate warp technology."

  Anthony looked at Utlin, apparently for an explanation.
  Utlin smiled proudly "A friend of mine designed them based

on the technology used by Lord Dowe's cannons."

  "They will make an excellent thesis for my next submission

to Star Fleet Research and Development." Dolittel said with a smile then said "This ship, however, must have bucked like a son of bee every time you fired the things."

  Utlin wasn't sure of the exact reference but understood the

meaning "That is why they weren't considered for standard equipment. If I wasn't securely strapped in, I'd be thrown against the canopy every time I used them. They also tended to knock the ship off course."

  Dolittel smiled "With your's and the Captain's permission I

can fix that. A simple inertial dampening field should do the trick. I can tie it directly to the firing mechanism so there won't be any lag. You'll only feel a slight vibration when you fire. "

  Utlin looked at the Captain for his reaction "Do what ever

you wish, as long as your other duties are not neglected. Just remember, that unless Lieutenant Utlin relinquishes owner ship claims to the ship, only use standard Star Fleet technology." The Captain then dismissed himself.

  "What does that mean?" Utlin asked.
  Dolittel looked at the debris around them "That means that I

can upgrade your phaser, your shields and other systems using commonly available technology. If you want me to cover the ship with the same composite material used for the Vigilante's hull and include cloaking, you'd have to agree to the fighter becoming a permanent part of the Vigilante's resources."

  "And if I don't?"
  "Then I'll fix it up, close it up and pack it away until we

get back to the Federation."

  It had been a tough decision, if he had given it up, they

would have assigned it to him, but it wouldn't have been his. If he kept it, he wouldn't be able to fly it again until they finished their mission and returned to the Federation. Everybody on board knew that they may never return. Now as he stood looking at the ship he was glad he made the decision he had.

  The fighter stood in the middle of the bay looking better

than it had the day it was delivered. The paint was bright white, all of the old patches were gone, replaced by new metal. The red stripe down the nose was bright and crisp like it was when he had painted it after arrival on the Star Controller. It was a fighter to be proud of.

  Lieutenant Utlin watched as hoists were fitted to the ship

and it was hauled away to storage. It seemed as though the final page on that chapter in his life was finally being turned.

He knew though, that if they survived, he would once again have the freedom it offered.


  The complete command team sat in the Command Room off the

bridge. Golta and Kartang sat at opposite ends of the table with Captain Anthony, Commander Norton, Commander Dolittel and Lieutenant S'Erlet between them. Commander Tarva stood at the head of the room to give her presentation. On the screen was a full picture of the Borg 'outpost'.

  Tarva looked at the gathering "We have finished the

preliminary survey of the structure. There appears to be a primary entrance to it here." A large portion of the cube was highlighted near the bottom of the top half of the cube.

  "This is the entrance the ships we were following entered.

There are other apparent entrances but the structure appears to be built around this point." She then pushed another button and a rotating, graphic depiction of the cube appeared next to the current picture.

  "We have logged fifty existing 'standard' Borg ships docked

to the outside of the station. There are also apparent 'niches' for two hundred more ships." The displays had zeroed in on a docked Borg cube. "We can only deduce that this is a major Borg center."

  Anthony looked up "Commander, is there any indication if

this is the Borg home?"

  "I'll let Lieutenant S'Erlet answer that." Tarva said then

nodded to S'Erlet.

  S'Erlet stood "Thank you Commander.  I have been studying

the patterns of the 'Borg Link' since we arrived here. It is apparent that there are three major sub-space carriers emanating from this station. We, however, are unable to determine the purpose of these signals but are continuing studies. My best hypothesis is that these carriers connect similar Borg stations."

  "Do you have any proof of this theory?" Anthony asked.
  "No, Sir." S'Erlet said "What we do have, is that this is

the first major Borg installation encountered. It is emitting unique signals to specific locations. These signals are not going to standard ships, therefore, they must be going to similar installations. I do not believe that this is the Borg 'home' because their home must be a planet. There isn't even a star system near by. If this is the center of the Borg empire, then they have abandoned their home planet."

  "I concur." the Captain said "We must, however, explore this

facility to determine its place in the hierarchy."

  Golta and Kartang grunted their approval of 'exploration'.
  Anthony turned to Commander Norton "Commander, I'd like you,

Golta and Kartang to work with Commander Tarva and Lieutenant S'Erlet to develop a plan to systematically explore this structure. Find specific locations to target such as computer centers. I want a plan to explore the important areas efficiently.

  "In order to do this, we're going need a much closer look,

so we're taking the Vigilante into the station. Commander Dolittel, we'll need all systems in top order. Commander Norton, I'll want all guards reposted and all weapons systems ready for battle. Before we send in large parties, we'll send in a couple teams just to get an idea of how they'll react to us."

  Anthony looked around the room "Any questions."
  "How long before we go in?" Norton asked.
  "We'll begin the approach as soon as this meeting is over."

Anthony sat back in his chair, very relaxed "Anything else."

  The Vigilante was dwarfed by the Borg station.  They entered

the opening along a bottom corner, great pipes and conduits stretched out beneath them. Above them, more cubes were docked along the walls. Further into the station, the top half opened up revealing that it was mostly hollow.

  The Vigilante was brought about and faced back toward the

opening. Captain Anthony decided to survey the interior before making another move.

  The six cubes they'd been following were soon spotted docked

together above them.

  "There are two areas we want to get a closer look at."

Anthony was saying to Commander Norton. "We need to study what they do with the remains of a civilization. I'd also like to find out what is in the bottom half of this thing. There is no exterior opening, it ought to be interesting."

  "So the first teams should be deployed in the area of the

docked cubes so we can trace what the do with the cargo." Norton said.

  "Correct." Anthony stared at the display of the cubes

"Another team should be sent below to chart that area."

  "Very good, Captain."  Norton transferred his phaser from

its holder on his chair to his holster "We'll begin making plans."

  The first step away from the Vigilante was a drop ship

flight to the upper reaches of the docking bay. The drop ship being used, was the same one originally retrofitted with extra scanning gear. Equipment had been added in the troop area to extend its scanner capabilities. Commander Dolittel had designed six operator stations to be added to the ship to expand its ability to run detailed passive and active scans. They had the ability to map every nut and bolt within their scan range if they wanted to.

  Drop Ship Seven floated up through the expanses of the Borg

structure. Around it the cavern was totally still, if they hadn't seen the cubes enter, they would have thought the station abandoned. There were none of the support or repair craft so common in any Federation space dock.

  Upon the return of Drop Ship Seven, plans for the first two

away missions were finalized. Team one with Whitecloud and Utlin, was chosen to explore the interior while team two would examine the activity dealing with the returned Cubes. Lieutenant Utlin had requested to be assigned to team two but it was decided that his connection to the subject may jeopardize his objectivity.

  The first incursions into the station would remain small.

Even though the Borg had ignored the Enterprise's away teams in the past, they had been aware of the Enterprise. It was not known how they would react to intruders from an unknown source.


  Drop Team One appeared in what scanners had indicated as an

access area just below the surface the dock area. The team had their class one mission uniforms. Each member had a locator implant for quick retrieval. The implants had originally been designed for the teams during use of the mission armor. After the incident with the Delphi, all away team members had been implanted.

  The sixteen appeared with drawn weapons in full cover

formation. They faced in all directions with the ones in front squatting low so those behind had clear fire over them.

  The tunnel was 200 meters wide, had rounded sides and was

ribbed from the joining of sections. The top and bottom were flat and smooth. Many scratches and gouges led up and down the faded green passage. The tunnel reached into the distance in one direction but obviously opened on to an area several hundred meters away.

  Lieutenant Whitecloud flipped open her visor and looked

around as several scientific members began taking scanner readings. "They put us down in an obscure location so we would have some time to get our bearings." She looked at the tricorder users. "Is there any reaction to us yet?"

  "Nothing obvious, Sir." said a medium built dark skinned

human.

  "Team One leader to home." Whitecloud said to her mike.
  "Team One, this is home, go ahead." Came Golta's rough

voice.

  "Beginning mission status check." Whitecloud said.
  There was a slight pause as each team member coordinated

with control on the Vigilante. They each made voice and visual tests then confirmed transponder coordinates. Each member had a camera built into their mission helmets and transmitted continual visual and related audio. The audio was not team member chatter but from a mike built into the helmets like the camera.

  "Okay" Whitecloud said after the tests were completed

"Spread out and lets head to the opening."

  The team separated into pairs and started down the tunnel,

leaving foot prints in the thin layer of dust that covered the deck. One member of each pair proceeded with drawn weapon only, the other also took readings with their tricorder. They allowed several meters between each pair for safety of the group. They would all randomly turn to check their flank.

  The tunnel opened in to a large storage facility.  Piles of

large beams towered above team. Beyond, they could faintly hear the hum of machinery that brought a strong acrid odor with it.

  "What are they for." Whitecloud asked.
  "Unknown." replied one of the technicians.
  Whitecloud then used a quick hand signal telling the team to

spread out though the area. In the middle of the room, one of the pairs found a control panel on a raised pad. Whitecloud quickly found her way to the area.

  Two other pairs were already on the scene and two techs

stood on the two meter high pedestal, looking at a control panel. She could hear inspection instructions coming from the Vigilante to the technicians.

  Whitecloud turned to Lieutenant Utlin who was with her,

phaser in his left hand and tricorder in his right. "Stay here, keep an eye out, we may draw their attention."

  "Agreed." Utlin said and put his tricorder in its holster.
  Whitecloud holstered her phaser and climbed the flat U

shaped rungs on the pedestal to the control panel. The panel stood at the top of the pedestal without any railing around it. It was a single panel on a thick stem, it was dark gray, almost black with many buttons and display screens on it. The pedestal and panel were covered with a thick layer of dust and the panel was dark.

  "What ever it was used for, it's not used any more."

Whitecloud said.

  "Perhaps we can use it to access their computer system."

Lieutenant Utlin suggested from below.

  "To access their computer system, is to access them."

Whitecloud returned.

  "Perhaps that is why this panel is not used." said one of

the techs. "If they have direct computer interface, they would no longer need this kind of individual control over a function."

  "Of course," Whitecloud said looking out at the stock around

them. "they don't use this kind of control now, but there had to have been a time when they did."

  "Well, at least it gives us some kind of idea how old this

station is." Tarva said over the radio. "Do not try to activate the panel. Leave one pair to study and record it and continue survey."

  "Aye, Sir." Whitecloud said and pointed to one tech who

would remain on the pedestal, her and the other climbed back down to the deck. "Continue survey to the far side, toward the machinery."

  They split up again and continued to head toward the heat

and noise at the far side of the storage room. The temperature rose slowly and the noise and smell also increased.

  When the opening to the next room came into sight, those

that had their face shields up had to lower them. The bright light coming from the room was blinding without the protection of the tinted shields. The opening towered above the team and dry heat blasted out. The team could not get closer then 100 meters from the opening, and even then, they felt like they would be burned.

  "What is it." Whitecloud asked above the din.
  "It's a foundry." replied one of the technicians.
  They then looked back at the stacks of beams they had been

walking through for the past hour. "This must be some kind of repair facility." Lieutenant Utlin said.

  "Repair or Construction." Whitecloud corrected.
  "Perhaps." Utlin agreed.
  "We need to get in there and get a closer look at what

they're doing." Whitecloud said.

  "It sounds like a job for the armored pressure suits." Utlin

said.

  "That it is, that it is, my friend." Whitecloud responded.
  "What do we do until we can return with them?" Utlin asked.
  "We'll check the length of the room, perhaps we can find

another way down to the next level." Whitecloud said.

  Lieutenant Utlin used hand signals to direct the team on a

course parallel to opening. They continued scouting the area staying just out of the worst effects of the opening. Skirting around and under the stacks of giant beams they soon found another, much smaller opening out of the store room.

  The dust from the access tunnel was mostly absent from the

store room but was again apparent in the new access. The access was an apparent elevator shaft. The channel seemed to reach indefinitely above and below them. Next to the shaft was another control panel, similar to the one they had found in the middle of the room.

  "What do we do now?" One of the techs asked.
  "Well," Whitecloud said "we could continue to be afraid of

revealing ourselves by experimenting with these panels we keep finding, or we could see what happens."

  She then signaled the Vigilante "Team one leader to home,

request permission to experiment with current control panel."

  Unexpectedly Captain Anthony's voice came over the intercom

"Team leader, you are authorized to attempted to access all computer terminals you encounter. This mission is to gather knowledge and your current mission is to see how their going to react to us. Don't be afraid to push buttons."

  "Aye, thank you, Sir." Whitecloud said with a smile.
  "Home out." Anthony said and signaled off.
  Whitecloud immediately signaled one of the techs toward the

panel. A skinny woman slightly shorter than Whitecloud approached. She began a close scan of the panel with her tricorder. "Sir," She said "It appears that there is power to this panel, we should be able to get a response from it."

  "Very good," Whitecloud said "make it so." She always wanted

to say that.

  The tech started with a couple of larger buttons but didn't

seem to get any response. She then saw what looked like a scanner just above the panel, after placing her hand over the scanner, the panel lit up. She then pushed the largest button on the panel and waited for a second for some kind of response. A yellow light lit up on the top of the panel and movement could be heard coming from the shaft.

  "You did something, Ensign." Lieutenant Utlin said.
  Soon something rattled in the shaft and a large, open air

grate elevator appeared. There were no railings, just a flat, dust covered grate and a glowing control panel sticking up from a pedestal.

  "Is it safe?" one of the techs asked.
  "Who wants to go first?" Whitecloud asked with a grin.
  Lieutenant Utlin stepped forward "I'm game."
  "Home, be ready to transport Lieutenant Utlin on his

signal." Whitecloud said before Utlin started testing the grate.

  He started by prodding it with his foot.  Though the

tricorders said it was stable, they had a tendency to misdiagnose where the Borg were concerned. He then walked across the grate to the control pad.

  "Which way, up or down?" Utlin said while studying the

controls.

  "Down, of course." Whitecloud said.
  "Okay." Utlin pushed a button on the pad and was thrown to

the grate as the elevator accelerated upwards. "By the cape of Lin'hrlar, I think I pushed the wrong button." he screamed as the elevator flew up the shaft.

  "Do you request retrieval?" came a voice from the 'ship to

shore' intercom.

  "Negative, lets see where I'm going first, but stand by." he

said loudly though he didn't have to.

  The elevator stopped at the first opening it came to,

hundreds of meters up. The door revealed the first Borg they'd encountered. There were narrow passageways crowed with the mechanical lumbering Borg.

  Most seemed to be in their regeneration stations but others

occasionally stepped away and made adjustments to nearby equipment. The passages weren't regular, they flowed organically in and around equipment. An obvious contradiction from their precedence of meticulous regularity and geometric precision.

  Utlin pulled out his tricorder and began doing scans of the

area. He really didn't know what he was scanning, that was for the techs to analyze later. He wanted to explore the new area, they'd finally found the Borg, but he was alone and the team was waiting for him. He would be back though.

  Utlin walked over to the pedestal and leaned his helmet

camera towards it and lifted his visor. "Well, Home, do you have any suggestions for my next trick?"

  "The button you pushed the first time was the oval towards

the top of the panel." came a voice over the communicator.

  "That's correct." Utlin was impressed with the astute

observation.

  "We suggest the oval at the bottom half of the panel."

returned the voice.

  "Sounds good to me." Utlin said and reached for the panel.
  "Lieutenant, Sir," came the voice quickly "We would also

suggest that you secure yourself to the elevator before pressing the button."

  It was too late, the elevator dropped away from under

Utlin's feet as soon as he pushed the button. Lieutenant Utlin felt as if he were flying for a second, before the elevator shaft shifted into the Vigilante's transporter room. The transporter pad came up and smacked him in the face. Laying on the transporter pad with blood gushing from his nose, he wished he hadn't lifted his visor before pushing the button.

  The medic on duty immediately came over to treat Utlin.

Within minutes, he was ready to return to the current location of the away team.

  Utlin looked toward the tall blond female working the

transporter "Thanks for the fast work."

  The woman smiled "I was going to let you fall a bit, Sir,

but figured since your still new, your allowed one mistake."

  "Thanks." Utlin said.
  "But remember, only one." she smiled then disappeared,

replaced by the away team and the Borg station.

  Whitecloud looked at Utlin with a bit of a frown "Well," she

said "I don't think that elevator is going to work to get us to lower levels."

  "There were other controls on the panel." Utlin returned

"Perhaps one of them regulates the speed."

  Whitecloud turned back to the tech at their panel "Do any of

those controls appear to be incremental?"

  "No, Sir." replied the tech after inspecting the panel for a

few seconds.

  Whitecloud then turned to Utlin "Did any of the controls on

the elevator appear to perform that function?"

  Utlin looked out at the elevator sitting in the shaft.  His

foot prints and other marks were barely noticeable in the dust on the edges of the grating. "I don't remember, perhaps I should go out and take a look."

  Whitecloud and several others looked out at the elevator

"Your as good of a choice as any," she said "now that you are experienced with the thing."

  Utlin flipped down his face shield and walked back on the

elevator. The control pad had the two ovals on it with thumb prints in the dust, it also had several other controls. One control was a graduated dial. The dial had regular marks around it with heavier lines forming an open bottom V at the top. The single mark on the dial was pointing straight down away from the V.

  "If this is the speed control," Utlin said "it appears to be

at half speed. Which way should I turn it?"

  "Turn it slightly one way," Whitecloud said "then ride it up

again. Your tricorder should be able to tell us if it goes faster or slower."

  Utlin turned the dial a couple of centimeters to the right,

sat down then pushed the top oval. He didn't even feel the contraption begin to move. It just felt like the grate came up and smacked him in the back of the head. When he came to, he was looking up at the face of the medic on the Vigilante.

  "What happened?" Utlin whispered.
  "You passed out from a blow to the head, and sever

g-forces." The Medic said "It's a good thing you were wearing a helmet."

  The medic then had Utlin remove his uniform jacket and

shirt, both of which were shredded and soaked with blood. Utlin's upper back was cut in a grid pattern from slamming back on the grate.

  Twenty minutes after stepping into the elevator shaft the

second time, Lieutenant Utlin reappeared among his comrades. They had retrieved the elevator a third time and were studying its control pad.

  "You had a fifty, fifty chance." Whitecloud informed him.

"We've just finished tests on the elevator and are prepared to proceed down to the next level.

  Half of the team stepped onto the elevator and rode it down

to the next level. They had set the speed control a centimeter in the opposite direction then Utlin had chosen. The elevator slid down the shaft at a very comfortable pace.

  The next level was a large open area.  High above them, they

could see the structural support of the previous level. The level, however, was cordoned off by 3 meter high walls and a low humming sound could be heard.

  After the team was together, they made their way through the

corridors which soon revealed many 'work stations'. All stations were unmanned but appeared to be ready for use. The stations had a combination of standard Borg computer interfaces and manual interfaces. At the first computer interface port, four personnel were left to attempt access.

  The noise became louder and more distinct as the team

proceeded through the maze. Even though they hadn't encountered any hostility, they turned each new corner in a two-by-two cover formation. One stayed high and the other low giving mutual cover. The rest of the team lined the walls with weapons drawn and pointing up. They snapped around the corners and moved quickly through the area.

  Eventually, they reached a wide open area.  The place was

filled with giant working machines. Many stretched over fifty meters into the air. All of the machines were painted the normal dull Borg gray. Most were connected with a series conveyers and robotic tracks. At the ends of the machine lines, the parts coming off were enveloped by the green glow of the Borg transporter and disappeared.

  The outside edge of the room was lined with standard Borg

interface stations. Most of the stations were occupied with assorted Borg. Some Borg wandered about the machinery making adjustments.

  "Lieutenant Whitecloud," came a voice over the team

intercom, it was one of the techs left behind to access the computer port.

  "Go ahead" Anndrea responded as she watched the Borg wander

about, doing their insignificant duties.

  "We have accessed the first layer of security, we currently

have access to the functions of this work station. It appears that these abandoned ports have been neglected for so long that there is no significant protection. We are about to attempt accessing the second level which appears to be the data transmission level." The young male voice said.

  "Very good," Whitecloud said "proceed."
  While the access was attempted, the rest of the team waited

at the entrance to the manufacturing area. Soon, one of the Borg stepped away from its station and headed for the team.

  The Borg had pale, ashen skin and was dressed with partial

armor like plates. Servomechanisms could be seen opening and closing driving the creatures legs. Its respirator could be heard opening and closing as it approached. A ribbed tube ran up behind its head from an apparatus on its back. The tube connected into its face just to the left of its chin and behind the jaw. The tube could then be seen under the skin merging with its windpipe.

  "Looks like we have company." Lieutenant Whitecloud said.
  Several of the team took aim at the Borg but Whitecloud

waved them down. "Let's see what it does." she whispered. Then said "Sub Team One, disengage the port, you've attracted some attention."

  "But, Sir," returned the young voice "we have accessed the

data layer. We've only just begun down loading."

  "Ensign, its coming for you.  Disengage immediately and

vacate the area. Understood?" Whitecloud said firmly.

  "Acknowledge." returned the voice.
  The whole team flattened against the walls as the Borg

walked between them. Whitecloud signaled to the two at the end of the line to follow the creature as it disappeared around a corner.

  Golta's voice came over the ship to shore intercom: "Sub

Team One, you were given direct orders to disengage with the port, comply immediately."

  "We just need a couple more minutes." the young tech's voice

returned.

  "Negative, disengage immediately.  We can not have the Borg

see us doing something that they object to so early." Golta practically growled.

  "Beam them out." Whitecloud said.
  "Negative, for security reasons, this early in the mission

we will not beam them out while they are under observation or their equipment is accessing the Borg computers." Golta said gravely.

  "I can't disengage the tricorder from the port."  Came the

young voice now starting to panic. "The ports must have magnetic locking."

  "Set the self destruct on the tricorder and prepare for beam

out." Golta growled back.

  "Acknowledged."
  There was a slight pause when Golta came back "Beam out

completed."

  Then one of the team that had followed the Borg said "The

Borg is approaching the tricorder."

  Suddenly, in the direction they had come from, they could

hear a popping sound. Sub Team Two reported back "The tricorder exploded as the Borg attempted to access it. The Borg and the port were both destroyed."

  "Sub Team two report back to this position."  Whitecloud

said coolly.

  "Sir" One of the other team members said "You'd better look

at this."

  Whitecloud looked out at the machine area.  The conveyers

and the robotic arms were shaking. Many of the lights around the area were flickering. As this was happening, the Borg started stepping off their stations and several were already heading for the team's position. Some of the Borg were heading toward them but most were heading into the machinery to check on the malfunction.

  "Back to the elevator." Whitecloud order and started herding

the team before for her.

  "What if they're going to ignore us this time?" One of the

techs asked.

  "I have a hunch." Whitecloud said "Move it."
  The remaining members of the team headed back toward the

elevator ahead of Whitecloud and Utlin.

  Whitecloud and Utlin were several meters and few turns

behind the rest of the team. They heard the lead say "They've beamed into the damaged area. Look out…arrrgh.."

  When Whitecloud and Utlin turned a corner they saw two of

the team firing at a Borg that had grabbed and injected one of their comrades. The Borg was beaming out just as the bright blue of the phasers hit. It exploded in a green and red flash throwing the shooters back into the soldiers who had come up behind them. The room and the team were covered in green and red gore from the Borg and the team member.

  "Home, this is Team One, eleven to beam out, now."

Whitecloud said loudly.

  "Negative." came Golta's gruff reply "The Borg have raised a

force field in your area, we are unable to transport."

  "To the elevator." Whitecloud said.
  The away team rushed through the twisting corridors back

tracking their way to the elevator. This time, however, they maintained the two by two cover formation rounding the remaining corners.

  The elevator was in the shaft, but this time two Borg stood

on either side of the entrance. When the first two came around the corner, the Borg activated and started heading toward them.

  "Standard phaser power this time." Whitecloud warned from

behind them.

  "Aye, Sir." one of them said as they adjusted the large

weapons.

  Whitecloud watched the Borg advance slowly toward them.

"Fire."

  The two phasers each emitted a short red beam at a separate

Borg. The Borg stumbled backward as a green patch glowed on their torsos then fell over back wards.

  "Lets go." Whitecloud said then jumped forward leading the

team onto the elevator. As soon as they were on the elevator, Whitecloud nudged the speed control back toward center then pushed the top oval. They could just see the first Borg round the corner when the elevator flew upward.

  Before they reached the level they had come down from they

felt the inertia seem to lift them away from the elevator. The shaft shifted and turned into the transporter room of the Vigilante. As a group, they seemed to jump together and land clumsily on the pad.

  "Where's that fool?" Whitecloud demanded.
  "Ensign Peterson is waiting in Conference room A1." came

Lieutenant Golta's reply. He had been standing next to the control panel waiting for them.

  "What about the other team?" Lieutenant Utlin asked.
  "The Borg have continued to ignore them, so they will

continue their explorations." Golta said then turned back to Whitecloud "You, Lieutenant Utlin and myself are required in Conference Room A1, immediately."

  Whitecloud dismissed the rest of the away team, then the

three exited the room. Utlin and Whitecloud remained in full mission gear and carried their helmets under their arms.

  Conference Room A1 was the 'court' room Captain Anthony and

Commander Tarva had used to meet the away team from the Delphi. Ensign Peterson sat in the single chair facing the U shaped table. Captain Anthony occupied the chair in the middle of the U and Commander Tarva was next to him. Golta, Whitecloud and Utlin took seats on the side of the U closest to the door.

  Ensign Peterson still wore his mission gear, his helmet sat

at his feet and his phaser was still in his holster. He was a young skinny human, slightly taller than Whitecloud.

  When the three were seated, Commander Tarva looked up from

her computer council directly at the ensign. "Identify."

  The boy put his hand on a pad on the arm of the chair.  The

computer came on and started listing his name and history. It told of his graduation from Star Fleet Academy with honors just two years earlier. Five commendations were listed for accomplishments in surveillance work and code decryption during his previous/first tour along the Romulan Neutral zone. It was the file of a rising star in Star Fleet. All in the room could see the pride in the boy's face as the accomplishments of his budding career were listed.

  Tarva continued to look directly at the Ensign "Ensign

Peterson, you are charged with disobeying a direct order, resulting in the death of a team mate and jeopardizing the entire mission of the Vigilante. What is your defense to these actions?"

  "Sir, the information I was collecting could have been vital

to our mission." Peterson said nervously "All I needed was a few more minutes to accumulate enough data to be useful. I could not have predicted that the tricorder would become locked into the access port. There is also no indication that I would have been able to disengage it if I had tried immediately after being ordered to."

  Tarva continued to stare at the Ensign who was trying to

maintain his composure. "Do you agree, that if you had discovered that the tricorder was locked you could have initiated the self destruct sequence earlier."

  "Perhaps." The boy admitted.
  "Do you agree that if the self destruct had been initiated

earlier the Borg unit that was damaged by the explosion would not have been harmed?" Tarva continued coldly.

  "Yes."
  "Do you agree that if the Borg unit had not been harmed,

they would not have had a chance to act so severely toward the Team member that had run into the replacement?"

  "Sir, there is no proof that the original unit would not

have attacked in the same way the second one did." Peterson was continuing to stay calm.

  "But Ensign Osborne would have been aware of its presence

and not run into it." Tarva said as if concluding a complex argument.

  "Ensign Osborne should not have been moving so recklessly

through a hostile environment." Peterson sounded as if he were grasping at straws.

  This time Lieutenant Golta snorted then said "Excuse me

commander," Tarva nodded, Golta continued "We have the video from the incident. Perhaps, we should examine him 'moving recklessly'"

  "Proceed." Tarva said after glancing toward the Captain.
  The screen on a side wall lit up showing the shaking video

of someone walking quickly down a hall. The bottom of the screen showed Osborne's name, the time and stardate. The side of the screen showed a readout of simple vital signs; pulse, heart rate, respiration, and basic brain wave patterns. He was not moving in the standard two by two cover formation but was stopping at each corner and checking the room before stepping quickly into it.

  The room of the explosion was empty, including no sign of

the Borg caught by the explosion. Ensign Osborne had checked it properly and was half way through when a Borg materialized directly before him and simply reached around him. All of the vital signs on the screen immediately went flat. Soon after, the screen shimmered green then went blank.

  Tarva said "Do you have anything else to say, Ensign."
  Ensign Peterson looked ill "No, Sir."
  The Captain looked at the young man "Please wait out side."
  Ensign Peterson stood stiffly and walked out of the room,

carrying his helmet professionally under one arm. He stood outside the room by himself in a very stiff at-ease stance. Several minutes later, Lieutenant Utlin came to the door and escorted him back in.

  "Please remain standing." The Captain said.
  All five at the table stood and faced the Ensign.  Commander

Tarva spoke first "For disobeying the direct orders of a commanding officer while on a hazardous mission, you are sentenced to exactly thirty hours in the brig. You will also, of course, have a notation made in your permanent record for disobeying a direct order in a hazardous situation."

  Peterson didn't seem phased by the announcement "Is that

all, Sir?" he said emotionlessly.

  This time Golta spoke "No, that is not all.  You will also

be reassigned to duty in engineering. The Drop Teams no longer have use for your skills. This reassignment also means relocation to new quarters. Before severing your time in the brig, you will pack your gear and move to your new billet location near engineering."

  Peterson had gone ghost white "But, Sir..." he mumbled.
  Commander Tarva cut him off "Dismissed."
  Golta, Utlin, and Whitecloud escorted Peterson back to his

quarters. His roommate, thankfully was not there. Golta entered with him and collected the Drop Team gear. Then stepped outside while he packed his few possessions.

  When Ensign Peterson stepped back into the corridor he was

greeted by two lines of personnel facing into the center of the hall, standing at stiff attention. They were the total Drop Team personnel less the current away team. There was just enough room for him to walk between them. The lines started about two meters from his door and were led by Golta and Whitecloud.

  Ensign Peterson stiffened his back, sucked in his gut and

walked proudly toward the gauntlet. As he approached, Whitecloud and Golta snapped stiff, formal about faces and faced away from him toward the bulkheads. The rest of the personnel did the exact same maneuver as Peterson approached.


  Several hours after returning from their mission, Whitecloud

and Utlin were reviewing the tapes and records in the drop team meeting room. They used the screen to replay key sequences of the team members video. Their goal was to reason out what the purpose for the lower half of the station was.

  The most obvious function for the station, was

manufacturing. Apparently, the Borg used the facilities to repair massive damage to their ships. There was some suggestion that new cubes were also manufactured. There was, however, no indication that there were any cubes currently under construction.

  The door to the room slid open allowing in Lieutenant

Commander Golta. Utlin and Whitecloud stood as their immediate superior approached.

  "The away team has returned." Golta said when he reached the

table. "They have returned with something we think you may both be interested in." Golta looked directly at Utlin "Especially you Lieutenant."

  "What is it?" Utlin asked curiously.
  "They've found what appears to be an unassimilated female

from your species." Golta responded coldly.


  Whitecloud, Tarva, Anthony, Golta and Utlin stood watching a

monitor of a room in sick bay. There was a single bunk with a woman sitting on it. She sat with her back against the wall and had her arms wrapped around her legs hugging her knees to her chest. She sat with her face buried and rocked slowly back and forth. She wore a long heavy dress and robes, all appeared to have once been highly decorated and ornate. Now, they were ripped and dirty. She had dark skin and long dirty brown hair that appeared that it might reach the floor. From her current position, they could not see her face or make out much about her size or body structure.

  "She does look like a Child of Lin'hrlar." Utlin whispered,

very shaken "Do we have any pictures of her."

  Golta pressed a few buttons and the screen switched to some

mission footage. The video showed the view from a point leader slowly going through a Borg area. The audio was the standard sounds of machinery with occasional comments from the team member. Soon, he turned a corner and saw a mass of cloth and hair huddled in a corner.

  He called for back up and approached the object carefully

with trained phaser. When it was obvious he was being ignored, he put his phaser away and gently made the woman look up at him.

Her face was dirty and gaunt, but there were no obvious signs of injuries. She had dark skin, darker then Utlin's, and she had bright red eyes. Her eyes, however, seemed totally blank. The rest of the video showed a tech doing a medical check then finally the woman disappearing to the Vigilante.

  A medic had joined the group at the view screen.  She spoke

directly to Tarva "The woman is malnourished and dehydrated, but otherwise in pretty good physical condition. We've given her some nutritional supplements, she won't let us get closer to do anything else. After what she's been through, we don't want to force anything on her, at least not yet."

  Tarva turned to Lieutenant Utlin "What can you tell us about

her? Is she one of your people? Anything you can do to help us contact her would be appreciated. She may have information we could use."

  Utlin sensed the coldness in Tarva's comments but ignored

it. "She is 'One of Us'. She appears to by high born and was probably pampered and spoiled. Her people are from the planet Riganilus, you can tell from her darker skin and red eyes. Riganilus was one of our ruling planets and a center for our religion."

  The group could see Utlin's mixed emotions.  He was looking

at the only other known Child of Lin'hrlar, but apparently did not care for her based on her heritage.

  "Do you think you could contact her?" Tarva asked "So far

she has not responded to any of our attempts."

  Utlin looked at the creature huddled on the bunk.  "I'll

try." he said simply.

  Sir Utlin dressed in his battle uniform.  It had been

cleaned and mended by the ships computer and looked better then it had in years. He carried the ceremonial sword in the loop on his belt and wore his battle blaster securely strapped to his left hip. His hair was cut short and spiked like a warriors. His red cape flowed brilliantly out around him.

  He marched into the small sickbay room and snapped to

attention then bowed deeply from the hips. "My Lady." he said in his own language "We are pleased to have found you alive and well."

  The woman slowly looked up over her arm.  There was dirt

smeared across her face and greasy stringy her fell across her face. Her red eyes showed a glimmer of recognition at the figure that stood before her.

  "Who are you?" she whispered hoarsely.
  "I am Sir Utlin Robe'than, formerly First Officer of the

carrier Star Controller and commander of Red Wing, Tactical Fighter Squadron." Utlin spoke very carefully. "And please, My Lady, what is your name?"

  The woman looked up and down at the warrior before her.  It

was obvious she was inspecting the propriety of his presentation.

  "I am Lady Purlerna Von Hather'fon of the House of Pulerna,

Second House of Lords in the Lin'Lolar region of Riganilus." She stated. As she spoke, she straightened herself out and tried to look dignified. "Where is my father?"

  "My Lady," Utlin said "we do not know were your father is."
  The woman looked about her "The creatures have been

defeated, we have won? You must return me to my home, they must be worried for me. Where am I? How did I get here? My father must be looking for me, when will I see him? Is this one of my Father's ships? I didn't know the Star Controller followed my father. Is this the Star Controller? Who are those creatures who were here before…I must have been dreaming…" She looked at Utlin with a blank stare. Her questions were still coming, but her voice was gone to the dehydration.

  Sir Utlin helped her lay down flat then left the room.  He

went immediately to the Chief Medic. "Are there any human females who can treat her?"

  The Chief Medic looked at Utlin confused "Why human and

female?" he asked.

  "Humans look the most like our people." Utlin said "And a

woman of her breeding, would have only been tended by other females. I believe this would make her most comfortable."

  "It can be arranged." He replied.
  "Very good, also, please only allow humans and preferably

females in to see her. The different species on the Vigilante are beyond anything she would have ever encountered before." Utlin thought to himself that they were beyond anything he had ever encountered before.

  The next day Utlin returned to sick bay dressed again in his

traditional clothes. Lady Pulerna paced her room, still wearing her tattered robes and still quite dirty.

  The Chief Medic turned to Utlin "She has been very

uncooperative. She refuses to bathe or change out of her rags. She will not talk to her medic and barely acknowledges her presence. We are about to sedate her so we can get her cleaned up and get some proper nourishment into her. We were hoping you could talk some sense into her before we took that step."

  Utlin signaled at her door then entered when she said

"What?"

  "I did not give you permission to enter." she spat at him.

"What is going on here, who are these people?"

  "My Lady" Utlin said after bowing "You were no condition

yesterday for me to explain, perhaps I should have."

  "Yes, perhaps you should have." She agreed angrily.
  "My Lady, you are on a space vessel called the 'Vigilante'."

Utlin started.

  "Vigilante" she hissed "What kind of name is that, I have

never heard of it. Is it from one of the border fleets?"

  "My Lady," Utlin said gently "Perhaps you should sit down."
  "Why, what is wrong?" She insisted.
  "Please." Utlin said trying to be as calm as possible.
  The woman sat on the edge of her bed and looked at Sir

Utlin. "Out with it nave." she said "I'm getting tired of your game."

  Utlin hung his head for a second then looked the woman in

the eyes "This is not a vessel of the Fleet. It is an alien vessel that was pursuing the creatures that attacked our people."

  "Where are the rest of the Children of Lin'hrlar?" she asked

softly.

  "All was destroyed by the creatures known as the Borg."

Utlin said distantly "We are all that is left of the Children of Lin'hrlar."

  Lady Purlerna started to slowly rock from side to side

humming some incoherent tune. Her eyes were closed and her face returned to its blank expression.

  Utlin took Lady Pulerna by the shoulders and shook her "You

must accept this." he said "They need you, I need you. You must be strong and make your Father and ancestors proud. Do you hear me?"

  The woman's burning red eyes suddenly flew open "How dare

you touch me, you Tregamalin." she snapped.

  Utlin stepped back and looked at the woman.  Had she

snapped, was she lost forever, or had Lin'hrlar reached out and cleared her mind. He would soon know.

  "What manner of creatures are these that we are among?" She

asked.

  "There are many different creatures on this vessel.  They

come from a place they call, The United Federation of Planets." Utlin hoped that she had broken through the barriers she had erected to protect herself against the Borg.

  "Where are they, I demand an audience with their Lord."  She

said imperially.

  "That can be arranged, but first, perhaps, you should get

cleaned up." Utlin observed.

  The woman looked down at her robes then held herself up

straight. "Perhaps that would be best. You are dismissed for now, but remain available. I will require at least three attendants to help me prepare for my meeting with the ship's Lord."

  Utlin smiled, he couldn't wait to see this unleashed on the

Vigilante, they thought the Borg were tough to deal with. He bowed deeply from the waist "Very good my Lady." then exited the room.

  The next few hours were a very trying time for the medics

assigned to Lady Purlerna. She treated them as servants and took minimal direction from them. She refused to wear the devises for the universal translator, insisting they were beneath her.

  With the guidance of Lieutenant Utlin, they were able to

design clothes for her she wouldn't simply drop on the floor saying "Unacceptable."

  Finally, she was cleaned and dressed in new flowing, blue

and red robes. They were not nearly as ornate as what she was used to but they would do, for now. Her hair was cleaned and flowed over her shoulders past her knees in front and behind her.

  Utlin looked at her through the monitor, marveling at her

sudden beauty. He did, however, notice that he was not as awe struck with her royalty as he once would have been.

  "You will instruct Sir Utlin that I require his presence."

she said to one of her medic/attendants.

  "Yes, I will inform him." said the medic as she left.
  "I've had enough of Lady Purlerna." said the Medic as she

passed Utlin who was standing at the view screen.

  Utlin couldn't contain his smile, but didn't say a word.  He

headed into the Lady's 'chambers'. "My Lady."

  "My attendants leave a lot to be desired." Lady Purlerna

said. She was sitting in front of a mirror that had been installed for her.

  "They are not attendants." Utlin said "They are highly

trained and dedicated Star Fleet medical officers."

  "Ha," Purlerna scoffed "Officers? You've got to be kidding.

Female officers, and did you see how light their skin was? I don't even know what they're doing on a space craft."

  "My Lady," it was becoming very hard to spit that phrase out

"There is much for you to learn about the species that make up the crew of the Vigilante. Some of them are quite different then anything we have ever seen in our part of the Galaxy."

  "Of course." Lady Purlerna said "Lin'hrlar exiled all

sentient creatures that were not in his image. This Federation must be the remains of those out casts. Is it not written that 'All of the creatures known and unknown shall bow down and give homage to the true children of Lin'hrlar?'"

  Utlin sighed, he'd forgotten that the High Lords of

Riganilus still followed the later writings of the Overseer of Lin'hrlar. If she truly believed that stuff, it would be very difficult to get her to behave properly for the Vigilante. He was afraid that if she proved too bothersome, they would confine her to quarters and ignore her.

  "Listen to me, My Lady." Utlin said very seriously "The

people on this ship had never heard of the Children of Lin'hrlar before finding me. They do not recognize birth right, only actions and achievements. They are very proud of the fact that they do not restrict a person simply based on their heritage. They will treat you with respect but they will not treat you as a better."

  "Blasphemous." Purlerna said loudly "It is written that all

creatures will bow down before the Children of Lin'hrlar."

  "Please." Utlin insisted "They have not read the writings of

the Overseer. You must remember that you…we are only guests here."

  Lady Purlerna stiffened a bit then said "You are correct, we

are guests, we must behave as such. Now I wish to meet our host, please tell the Lord of this vessel that I will see him now."

  Utlin hung his head and sighed "I will inform him." he then

turned crisply and left the room.

  Utlin returned to Lady Purlerna within five minutes and

escorted her to her new quarters. He explained that the Lord was not available immediately. The Lord, however, wished that she take the time to get acquainted with her new cabin.

  She walked slowly around the two rooms. "Why are there two

beds, is one for my attendant? It shouldn't be in the same room as mine. Perhaps this is just the front chamber." She walked into the head and back out "What is the meaning of this? Where are the rest of my chambers?"

  "This is all there is." Utlin said "You will not have an

attendant. The second bunk is here because the quarters were design to be shared by two people. Junior Officers, to be exact."

  "How will I get along, what if I need something."  She

asked.

  "Just ask the computer." Utlin then demonstrated.  "If there

is anything thing you need the computer can provide it for you, or direct you to it." He then demonstrated the replicator.

  "I have my own computer to do this for me?" She asked

suspiciously.

  "That's right." Utlin said.
  They were interrupted by a piping sound "Bridge to

Lieutenant Utlin." came a female voice out of a wall speaker. The intercom in the room had been modified to translate automatically.

  "This is Lieutenant Utlin," he said "go ahead."
  "The Captain will see our guest now." returned the voice.
  "Thank you, Utlin out."
  "Bridge out."
  "Please explain something to me." Purlerna said.
  "Yes"
  "What is this 'Captain'?"
  "It is their title for ship's Lord." Utlin replied.
  "And 'Lieutenant'?" this time she sounded suspicious.
  Utlin smiled sheepishly "I must apologize, I have not been

totally honest with you. I am no longer a guest on the Vigilante. I have accepted a commission in their organization. I am part of the crew, and my rank is Lieutenant. I have been wearing this uniform so that you would feel comfortable with me.

I must admit, however, that it feels good to be in it again."

  "You are highly placed, perhaps second or third in command?"

She sounded impressed.

  Utlin looked about the room. "The room I'm quartered in is

exactly like this one. I share it with a science officer, also a lieutenant."

  She said no more, just followed him out of the room.  He

escorted her to the bridge. They met very few people in the corridors and Utlin was thankful for that. She still had not seen anybody but himself and humans. He was not sure what her reaction to her first alien would be, especially a Klingon, they were just so damned ugly.

  Lady Purlerna paid little attention to the bridge.  She

seemed very unimpressed by it and the crew she saw there. They then walked into the room known as the Command Room. It was mostly filler with a long table, slightly rounded to fit the room.

  One person sat at the table, a heavy framed man with long

gray/black hair pull back in a tail and thinning on top. He stood as Purlerna and Utlin entered and said "Welcome aboard the Viglante." He spoke into a devise he held in one hand that translated for him. "I am Captain Anthony, Captain of the United Star Ship Vigilante."

  "Thank you." Purlerna said she then sat down in the chair at

the head of the table.

  The Captain reclaimed his seat and said "We have.."
  Anthony was interuppted by his guest "I did not give you

permission to be seated..Captain." she spat the last word.

  Captain Anthony sat back and laughed heartily.  "Lieutenant,

you warned me of her arrogance but I did not beleive you. I appolagize for that." He then turned back to the Purlerna "My Lady, you must understand that you are aristocrat without a court. I am the Captain of this vessel and that means I am incharge of everything, includeing all crew and passengers. If I desired to have you returned to the place you were found, you would be there before you could blink an eye–literally. So please behave yourself, we offer you life beyond the certain death the Borg offered." Anthony's face was totally serious.

  Purlerna was furious "How dare you speak to me that way, you

low class alien."

  Anthony sighed "If that's the way you want it.  Lieutenant,

please escort Miss Purlerna back to her quarters. She will remain there until she wishes to treat the crew of the Vigilante with proper respect."


  Lieutenant Utlin entered Lady Purlerna's quarters after

signalling. Ths time, he wore the standard ship's uniform with the large black phaser replaceing his blaster. It was twenty two hours since Purlerna had been confined.

  Lady Purlerna's hair was tied back in a long tail.  She wore

some loungeing clothes she'd been able conjure up from her replicator. As soon as Utlin entered she turned on him furious "Where have you been?" She yelled "I signalled for you more then two hours ago."

  Utlin had been instructed to be civil to her.  They still

hoped to get though to her and get some information about the Borg. First, however, she had to learn to be a member of the crew, or at least a gracious guest. Anthony knew that if he treated her like the royalty she had been, she would always be impossible to deal with.

  Utlin looked at the woman and said sternly "I have duties

aboard this vessle. I can not and will not drop what I am doing everytime you 'signal'. Now what is it that you signalled me about?"

  Purlerna turned her back on him "It is unimportant, NOW."
  "In that case I would like you to meet a colleage and friend

of mine. The Captain thinks that if you were to meet and talk with some of the crew, you would learn to fit in better."

  Purlerna turned back around to look at Utlin "I do not care

to meet any of your warrior barbarian friends."

  "That's too bad." Utlin returned "She was very interested in

meeting you."

  "Really, how close a freind is She?"
  Utlin knew what she was implying and purposely ignored the

question. This would just reinforce what she was thinking, what ever got her interested. Utlin leaned out into the hall and signaled.

  Lieutenant Whitecloud came in dressed in standard uniform.

Her hair, however, instead of being simpley tied back, was held back with a fancey silver clip with a large turquise stone in it. She had also applied a small amount of makeup, very uncharacteristic for her. Utlin had suggested the makeup, he felt it might help Purlerna relate to her better. Whitecloud also wore the necklace and hearing aid used by the universal translater.

  "Lady Purlerna this is Lietenant Whitecloud, my immediate

superior." Utlin said formally.

  Whitecloud bowed very slightly and said with a pleasent

smile "I'm very pleased to meet you."

  Purlerna looked at the dark skin female who just entered.

The woman wore a very pleasent smile but her steal gray eyes seemed cold and distant.

  "Of course your pleased." Purlerna replied then turned to

Utlin "Your dismissed, I'd to talk with Lieutenant Whitecloud privately."

  Fifteen minutes later, Whitecloud met Utlin at his quarters.

She looked very confused another rarity for Lieutenant Whitecloud. "I don't know whether to laugh at the creature or vent her." She said as soon as she walked in.

  Utlin started laughing uncontrollably.
  "You set me up, what did you tell her?" she said finally

starting to smile.

  "I implied that we may be, how do you say...an Item."
  Whitecloud glanced at her painting of the soaring eagle

hanging on Utlin's wall. "I suspected you may have said something like that."

  "What did she say?"
  "She told me that I should stay away from you.  She said

that even though you are from Tregimalis you were from proper enough breeding for her. She said that an 'alien' such as myself has no business with a Child of Lin'hrlar. I was also informed that it is your duty to take her as your 'Companion' since you two are the last of your kind. She also said other things about the obvious inadequacies of my heritage which I do not care to repeat."

  "I told you she could not be changed." Utlin said.
  "She was bred this way since birth.  They all are.  Why do

you think I chose the life of a warrior? My own father had arranged a match for me with a creature just like her. I was barely an adolesent, so I lied about my age and joined the academy." Utlin smiled at the memory.

  Tarva had gone into the head to remove the makeup as Utlin

spoke. "You know," she said as she came out drying her face with a large towel. "I was thinking about what she said about you taking her as your Companion. I think she is quite right. In fact, I think the sooner the better."

  "What?"
  "Perhaps if you spent a lot more quality time with her, she

would eventually be able to fit in."

  "No way," Utlin said starting to panic "I am not not going

to spend the rest of my life with that creature. She may be able to lose the edge enough to fit in, but she'll never change."

  "You may not have a choice in the matter." Whitecloud said,

then quickly left the room.

                      to be continued...........
 ----------
                 T H E   V I G I L A N T E
                             Vb
                         "Outpost"
                        (continued)

…… Then lets have faith; good cometh out of ill; The power that shaped the strife shall end the strife; Then lets bow down before the Unkown Will; Fight on, believing all is well with life; Seeing within the worst of War's red rage The gleam, the glory of the Golden Age.

              "Faith"
           Robert Service
  Captain Anthony had hoped to learn more about the Borg's

reactions to Lady Purlerna before he sent another team into the station but soon gave up on the idea. It was determined that any information that may be gleaned from Purlerna would simply have to be included in the mission report.

  The next missions were planned.  Drop Team One, led by

Lieutenant Whitecloud, would return to the foundry in mission armor. Drop Team Two, this time led by Lieutenant Commander Golta, would again inspect the upper levels. Drop Team Three, led by Lieutenant Utlin, would return to the elevator shaft and continue the investigation of the lower levels.

  After the incident earlier, the Borg had closely scanned the

vicinity outside of the station. Probes the Vigilante had left in orbit around the station reported high intensity sensor scans exactly the same as those encountered by the Enterprise during its encounters with the Borg. Within six hours, all unusual activity had ceased and the Borg returned to their normal operating conditions. Normal conditions also included the dropping of the shields they'd erected around the incident site.

  "What if they have regained control of the elevator?" Utlin

asked.

  "Then we'll beam you out like we did last time."  Tarva said

simply.

  "What if they're just waiting for us to use the elevator

again then they'll have us." Utlin continued considering the possibilities.

  "Lieutenant Utlin," Tarva said "if you do not wish to lead

this mission, or feel you are not ready, we will find a replacement for you."

  "Sir," Utlin said formally "I am merely considering

contingencies."

  "Lieutenant Utlin, I don't have to remind you of the

contingency for getting captured by the Borg, do I?" Tarva queried.

  "No, Sir." Utlin returned immediately.  Fighting to the

death, was a tradition among his people and it still ran strong within him.

  Drop Team One materialized outside of the Borg foundry.

They had beamed in with phasers drawn and in standard cover formation. After determining they were being ignored, they started advancing on the foundry. The tinted visors with EVE (Electronic Vision Enhancement) revealed much more of what lay just inside the entrance.

  The level they beamed in on turned out to be an overlook.

Below, were gigantic vats of molten iron and other ores. The furnaces seemed to be cranked to full volume, but no activity was evident. Standard Borg stations were immediately evident on their level. All stations were currently occupied.

  Whitecloud signaled for them to split up in standard paired

teams. The first order of business for her, was to examine the Borg of this area. She approached the nearest station with phaser drawn and trained on the occupant.

  The Borg was not the 'standard' model but was highly

modified. Most Borg tended to have only part of their face modified with implants. These Borg, however, had totally covered faces, in fact, every part of their bodies were covered.

  Another major difference was that they all had large back

packs. The packs were made of many layers of small tubes that were fused into their backs. The stations the Borg stood at were larger then the standard stations to allow for the bulk of the packs.

  "Why the back packs?" Whitecloud wondered aloud.
  The technician with Lieutenant Whitecloud ran scans on one

of the Borg. "Sir, it appears that the back packs are cooling units. The modification would be necessary for the Borg to be able to operate in this environment."

  "I agree." Whitecloud commented "I can think of no better

explanation."

  The level they were on, was more like a catwalk.  It

consisted of grating similar to what the elevator was made of. The catwalk slowly spiraled down to the bottom of the foundry. From their current position, though, the team could not see the far side of the area.

  The Drop Team reassembled and started down the catwalk in

their standard two by two cover. So far, they hadn't seen any movement in the area but weren't going to take any chances.


  When Team Three tested the elevator, they found it still in

perfect working order. Their fist stop was the level they had visited previously. The first goal was to try accessing one of the ports. This time, however, they would only monitor the first data level. There was no apparent response after ten minutes so they disconnected and headed to the machinery.

  In the machinery area, the Borg continued to ignore the

team infiltrating directly among them. The new objective was to study the shop and determine what was being made. Another goal was to determine the level of technology being employed. Were the Borg manufacturing at a level above what the Federation was capable of, and if they were, could they learn from it.

  It was apparent that the Borg could see the team members.

As the Borg wandered about performing their tasks, they would adjust their paths so as not to run into anyone.

  The group had split into four sub-teams to more effectively

chart the area. They were soon lost in the machinery that towered above them, making most feel like insects. It was soon discovered that there were walk ways connecting the taller machines. Giving all a new perspective on the area.

  One of the subteams climbed to the catwalks for a better

view of the area. The ladders were actually only long, flattened U's built into the sides of the machines. From the catwalks it was obvious that this manufacturing area stretched out for hundreds of meters beyond their entry point. Beyond, was what appeared to be another series of partitioned rooms, similar to what they had just left.

  "Lets make for the far side." Utlin said "Maybe there are

more relics."

  The team gathered on the far side after two hours of

negotiating through the maze of machinery. None had been harassed or in anyway noticed by the Borg working in the area. They fanned out and walked quickly across the fifty or so meters of open area before the partitions.

  The new area was different from the partitioned section on

the far side of the level. The area was not only walled but covered. The walls were sturdy and seemed thick. The tri-corders could not scan through the material and could not positively identify it. Where the partitions they had encountered originally were open and easily accessible, they could not immediately find an opening or door.

  "What is it?" one of the Techs asked.
  "Perhaps it's a storage facility." another volunteered.
  "Perhaps," Utlin said "We should find an entrance and find

out." He then pointed to half the team and sent them in one direction while he and the rest headed in the other.

  "Let us know if there are any changes in the tricorder

readings." Anthony said as the teams separated.

  The walls were in panels of the same size as the dividers on

the other side. These walls were dark green, almost black and covered with a thin layer of dust.

  After ten minutes, the other team hailed Utlin.
  "Sir, we've found an area of the wall that appears to be a

sealed door." Said the head tech with the group.

  "Acknowledged," Utlin returned "do not attempt entry.  We

will be with you shortly."

  Lieutenant Utlin then addressed the Vigilante "Home, this is

Team Three, requesting transport to sub team location."

  "Prepare for transport." came Chief Swanson's brief reply.
  The area around Utlin shifted and he and his team  found

themselves standing with the sub-team.

  "Report." Utlin said as soon as he arrived.
  "Sir," one of the techs said "we have found a seamed area of

the wall that reads thinner than the rest. It is my opinion that it is an opening of some kind."

  Utlin examined the seams then the surrounding wall.  "Are

there any scanners or releases in the area?"

  "No, Sir." The tech returned "We've done a complete scan of

the area and there are no other panels or any kind of scanning devices."

  "What can you tell me about what's on the other side of this

wall?" Utlin had stepped back and gazed at the 'door'.

  "Sir, our tricorders were unable to make accurate readings

through the material but since the door is thinner than the rest of the wall we can make some cursory readings." The Tech responded. "The atmosphere is breathable but uncirculated. I would describe it as 'stale'. The door opens on to a hallway, but we can't tell much beyond that."

  Utlin pulled out his own tricorder and pointed it at the

door. He made a few adjustments then touched a button on the control pad he wore on his right arm. The team members with their face shields down could see the MV Light ring come on around Utlin's face shield.

  Utlin drew his phaser and held it in bent arm, pointing

in the air, the standard ready position. "Team Three Leader to Home." Utlin said.

  "Go ahead, Team Three Leader."  Came Commander Tarva's

reply.

  "Requesting transport to tricorder projected coordinates."
  "Prepare for transport." Tarva replied after a minute.
  Utlin touched a button dropping his face shield and said

"Energize."

  The standard, indirect, off-yellow Borg lighting

disappeared, replaced by the soft blue of MV radiating from Utlin's helmet. A long hall stretched into darkness in front of him. At the end of the light, he could see a connecting corridor.

  Utlin turned around to examine the door, now behind him.

The difference in thickness between the door and wall were quite evident. The door was set into a meter deep alcove, this time Utlin found the scanner they'd been looking for.

  "Home, this is team three leader." Utlin said formally.

There was, however, no answer. "Home, I am not receiving your reply." Utlin continued "I will, however, continue as if you can read me. I am inside the protected area. There appears to be no source of light. I was hoping that my presence would trigger automatic lighting but it has not." Utlin started shaking slightly trying to fight back panic.

  "The area has obviously been sealed for a long time.  There

is atmosphere, but it is extremely stale. There is minimal dust, I can only assume that it indicates that the whole area is tightly sealed from the rest of the station. My first task will be to open the door now that I appear to have access to the control panel."

  Utlin pointed his tricorder at the control panel and fumbled

with its still relatively unfamiliar controls. From what he could tell, there appeared to be low voltage power to the panel. The panel appeared to be a combination of previous control panels and access terminals. Utlin punched a few buttons and looked for the scanner that the elevator had, but got no response.

  Finally, Utlin decided to try the computer access. His

tricorder had been fitted with a 'standard' Borg style connecter, so it plugged right in. The tri-corder's automatic diagnostics immediately began trying to access the port. After a couple of minutes it beeped indicating it had found a possible access. Utlin then had to press a button allowing it to continue with a set of precoded, random access, algorithms.

  Within minutes, the panel lit up and the tricorder beeped

again. Utlin now had two choices, he could try to access the panel's functions manually or he could allow the tricorder to continue its analysis. Sick of playing with the tricorder, Utlin reached out and pressed the largest button on the now lit control panel.

  There was a pause after he pushed the button that made Utlin

think nothing was going to happen. Then the door moved in toward him and slid slowly into the wall. When the door started to move, Utlin lifted his face shield, eliminating the effects of his MV light, and looked around. Hidden lights in the top corners of the walls had come on slightly illuminating the tops of all of the walls. It made for an eerie effect, like a pathway leading into inky nothingness.

  As soon as the door opened enough for them to fit, the rest

of Utlin's team pushed their way in. Four immediately formed a standard cover formation facing down the hallway. The rest lined the walls, all with weapons drawn and safely pointed at the ceiling. The lights continued to brighten, illuminating the team and the hallway.

  "Sir," Ensign Morris said "we were unable to read your

transmissions while the door was closed."

  "I thought as much since I could not raise you or home."

Utlin replied to his second. "Post two guards outside the door so we can maintain contact with the Vigilante. Also, before we move further in, we must determine how our signals are being blocked. Is it part of the structure or is it aimed at us."

  Utlin then stepped outside and signaled the Vigilante.

"Home, this is Lieutenant Utlin."

  "Report." Tarva said simply. "We have lost signals from all

personnel inside the new area."

  "The material appears to absorb all communication signals.

The tricorders were only able to penetrate at the thinner door area. I suggest that if we enter further into the area we'll have to proceed with extreme caution."

  "Agreed," Tarva said "We'll beam down communication relays

so that we can maintain contact but we will be unable to get a proper lock for transport. If you go in, your going to have to get yourselves out."

  "Agreed." Utlin returned.
  "One other thing." Tarva continued "Our scans are blocked

for over two hundred meters down. You have a lot of area you can explore, and only one known exit."

  "We'll proceed with caution."  Utlin said, "Out".
  Utlin saw a number of backpacks appear.  Each pack contained

twenty relays about the size of a tricorder. They would simply activate and place the relay on the floor when their connection with the Vigilante began to fade.

  When Utlin returned to the hall, the lights were bright

enough to see to the end of the hall. The lights were not bright, just the standard off yellow indirect light that was prevalent in the rest of the level.

  The five packs of relays were distributed to the technicians

then the group started down the hallway. Twenty meters in, they came to the first intersection. Utlin split the group in half and each took a corridor.


  Captain Robert Anthony stood in the Away Team command

center. The center looked like the bridge of a Starship. There was a commander's chair in the middle of the room with operator's stations in front of it. Each operator could monitor several team members at a time and the commander could direct any of the video to one of five screens on the front wall.

  When Anthony had first visited the center during one of the

training missions, Lt Commander Golta had instinctively offered the center chair. Anthony, however, refused telling Golta that in this room he was in charge of activity unless specifically relieved.

  Now the command center was busy.  With the most away teams

yet deployed, most of the operators had reported even though they were not needed. The area had been designed to follow and coordinate over 300 personnel, if needed. Currently there were only 48 deployed.

  Tarva sat in the commander's chair.  With Golta taking this

early opportunity to join in on the fun, Tarva had to cover for him. Anthony smiled to himself, he wished he could be out there with them, that's why he was here now.


  Soon after splitting up, Utlin's team found the first room.

The lights in the room came on as they entered. The room was filled with bunks holding mummified Borg. These Borg were different than the ones Starfleet was used to. They where obviously Borg but not nearly as heavily implanted as standard Borg. Also, the stations they were on appeared to be only sleep areas.

  "Sir," one of the techs said to Utlin after examining some

of the bodies.

  "Yes, Lieutenant." Utlin replied.
  "I can not find any of the standard Borg circuits in these

bodies." The tech said.

  "Elaborate." Utlin said as he approached the young woman.
  "Sir, all Borg we have encountered have two main kinds of

interfaces. The first is the main power connector, which allows them to feed. The other is the Borg link, which keeps them connected to the whole. These Borg do not have the circuits for the Borg link. In fact, it is my guess that these units were never part of the link. I wish I had the facilities on the ship to do a proper analysis."

  "Team leader to Home." Utlin said to his mike.
  "This is home." came Tarva's voice.
  "Can you read the Borg units in the area?"
  "Only through your transmissions, we are unable to

accurately scan the area."

  "Would it be possible to transport some of the bodies to

home for closer inspection?" Utlin sounded more curious then anything.

  "If you triangulate with the location function on three

tricorders we may be able to get a proper lock."

  "Permission to attempt transport?".
  "Hold." was Tarva's reply.
  There was a few minutes of silence then Tarva returned

"Proper isolation fields have been activated. Prepare for triangulation."

  Utlin motioned for three techs to surround one of the

bodies. "Sending coordinates..now". Utlin said when all three signaled ready.

  There was a slight pause then the body was gone.  They did

the same with two other bodies that appeared to be different models.

  Utlin's team continued to survey the new area.  They soon

found areas that appeared to be living, dining, even recreation and computer interface areas. It was slow tedious work, but Captain Anthony decided in order to understand an enemy, one must know as much about its past as possible.


  Anthony stood in an observation room looking at one of the

Borg bodies. They had turned out to be extremely well preserved and were providing unprecedented information on the inner workings of the implants. Though the Enterprise had made extensive examinations of a captured Borg, named Hugh, and Locutus, there had never been a chance to actually dissect one.

  It was the Vigilante's third shift and a smaller staff was

on duty in the science section. Two of the other Borg were currently being examined, this one was alone. Anthony saw movement out of the corner of his eye.

  A woman entered the exam room.  She wore the standard, red

uniform of command and commander's pips. Her wavy blond hair barely touched her collar and was held off of her face by a couple of simple clips. With her hands clasped behind her back, she slowly walked around the creature.

  Anthony watched in fascination as the woman circled the Borg

several times. Finally, she stopped and looked at Anthony through the one-way window.

  "It's close," she said "very close, but not exact.  It was

never part of the link. You need to be able to access the link without them knowing. If you can do that, they can be defeated."

Anthony watched the woman approach then fade as she reached

the window. He continued staring into the room as a tear formed in his eye. Blood dripped from his palms from squeezing his finger nails into them.


  Lieutenant Utlin sat in his quarters examining recordings of

the days explorations. His roommate had been transferred closer to the science section so he again lived alone. He was not reviewing his own team's records, rather he was looking at Team One's records of their explorations of the top half of the station.

  There was occasional evidence of his own civilization.  The

artifacts were coldly presented, but they were there. Remains of familiar structures and workmanship, Children of Lin'hrlar raped and twisted by these evil creatures, all could be seen in these cold records of the days journey.

  Utlin had wanted to spend this time in the Command Center

but had been ordered to his quarters. They wanted him fresh to lead the expedition to the next layer of the 'Barracks', what the new section had been named.

  As survey teams continued the exploration of new areas,

Utlin found it irresistible to stay away from the Command Center. Now, he sat in his quarters examining what records he did have and making plans for his next shift.

  Since the Captain had ordered a fourth team into the outpost

to explore the next level down they were already suffering from information overload. With all of the information coming in, it was impossible to analyze all of it. It was quickly becoming obvious that they would not come near to having a complete understanding of the outpost during their time here. The technicians of the Command Center had become more like librarians of the new data rather than analyzers of it.

  As Utlin stared at the images before him his door signal

chimed.

  "Come." he said without looking up.
  He heard the door open and someone walk in.  He looked up to

see Anndrea standing just inside his door. She wore her standard uniform but her straight back hair hung loose about her collar. Somehow, she seemed softer than usual, almost, but not quite, peaceful.

  Utlin stood out of courtesy "Good evening, I believe is the

proper greeting." he said with a smile. "How are you tonight."

  Anndrea managed a soft smile then said "I'm fine, just came

to see what your impressions of today's events are."

  Utlin motioned to one of the rough duty chairs near his work

station and waited for Anndrea to sit down and let the chair form to her. "The working areas that Team one explored are fascinating and quite disturbing to me but they don't seem to hold many surprises." Utlin began.

  "How integrated have your people seem to have become with

the Borg?" Whitecloud said carefully.

  Utlin sat back and looked at the images scrolling by on his

screen. "Their behavior or duties don't seem to be any different than the rest of the Borg units. The impression is that they have become fully assimilated into the society. Other than that, I really don't have any special insights, they are no longer Children of Lin'hrlar, they are Borg."

  Whitecloud sat back in the chair and closed her eyes.  Her

legs moved slightly as if she were trying to swing the chair from side to side. "Has there been any progress with Lady Purlerna?"

  Utlin cringed at the thought.  "She's changed, she no longer

acknowledges the existence of the Borg, she thinks she's on a long cruise. We sit in this accursed outpost and she looks at a view screen and sees stars streaking by."

  "Haven't the counselors been working with her?" Whitecloud

asked.

  "The counselors on this ship are trained to help warriors

find their lost metal. They are no not what you would call xenophysicologists, trained to guide an alien mind back from its depths. From the cases I'm familiar with, when one of my people was lost, there was no retrieving. Perhaps it is Lin'hrlar protecting her from the terror we face now." Utlin had obviously given this a lot of thought.

  "What is going to be done with her?" Whitecloud actually

sounded concerned.

  "It's still undecided," Utlin replied "She has named her

computer interface and now thinks it's her attendant. She never leaves her room and I am the only person she even acknowledges, all others she ignores." Utlin had learned to like Purlerna in the past couple of days but it was more out of pity.

  "She has only been like this for a couple of days, she could

still come back." Utlin continued. "Like I said, once a Child of Lin'hrlar is lost, they usually can't be retrieved except through the grace of Lin'hrlar himself."

  "You will continue to try to talk her out of it?"

Whitecloud asked.

  The thought was obviously an unpleasant one, but Utlin

nodded simply and said "Yes, I'll continue to visit her when I have time."

  "Very good, now, tomorrow we have a big day ahead of us.  I

plan to join you in the exploration of the next level of the barracks." Whitecloud looked as if she had just delivered very good news.

  "Your taking command of my team?" Utlin asked defensively.
  "Not at all, we've just decided that Team two should join

you in the Barracks. It is too large of a place to be explored by only sixteen people at a time."

  "And the other areas?" Utlin asked.
  "Teams six and seven will join Team one in the upper half

and Team five will join Team four on the next level. You know, Team four seems to have found some sort of communications array but they're holding decision on that until we get more information." Whitecloud replied.

  "We really should get some rest before the expedition."

Whitecloud said after a moment of silence.

  "Perhaps your right." Utlin agreed.
  Anndrea stood and walked into the other room, removing her

uniform jacket. Utlin followed her, saying "Computer, lights intensity 2."

  The lights dimmed.

  The two teams appeared outside of the only known entrance to

the Barracks. Team four had looked for sign of it on their level, but could not track it down. The further into the outpost they got, the more interference they encountered in all of their tracking equipment.

  The third shift teams were just emerging from the structure.

Their leader immediately reported to Lieutenant Whitecloud. The report basically told them that there were no new findings, only Borg in various states of decay. They hadn't even found any new specimens worth beaming aboard the Vigilante in almost four hours.

  The only new thing that had been found since Utlin had left

was the elevators they planned to take down to the next level. They were easy to find, just follow the main hallway to its end.

The team that found the elevators had tested one but had not ridden it, that would be the privilege of their superiors.

  Utlin felt a strange feeling as the double team approached

the bank of elevator shafts. There were 30 personnel in the group, one person from each team had been left at the door as guards or look outs.

  He looked up at the top of the shaft just above his head.

"I don't think we want to go up."

  The controls on the two panels were identical to the ones on

the earlier elevator. They had already been tested, and were suppose to be properly set for use. Utlin hesitated then stepped onto the grating.

  "I guess I'm still the logical choice." he quipped "I've got

the most experience."

  "Remember," Whitecloud reminded him "the Vigilante's

transporters are not there to pull you out this time."

  "Thank you Lieutenant," Utlin said with a smile, "I'm aware

of that."

  There were twenty five elevators along the back wall.  The

two teams would use three of them. Two team members were chosen to stay at the top level to maintain the communication relays. Relays were also being attached to the top of the shafts and to the elevators.

  The second level looked like the one above, a main corradore

down the middle with connecting corridors about every twenty meters. There were no immediate differences, but all felt the cold isolation and age of the area. It was like opening an ancient tomb.

  Once everyone was off the elevators they split into their

original teams. The plan was for each team to explore half of the level, using the main corridor as the divider. It was soon discovered, however, that this level was quite different than the first.

  The area to the right of the corridor was one large open

room. It was divided off by standing containers, supporting wires and other hardware. The containers were large enough to hold a large size humanoid, they were black with metal trim and partial glass fronts.

  The containers could not be seen over, because of their size

and the support cabling running to them. The team could tell, however, that this half of the barracks was filled with them.

  "Sir," one of the technicians said "The containers hold Borg

units apparently in stasis. I read a very small trickle charge to all of the chambers."


  After two days of exploring the lower levels of the

'Barracks', Whitecloud and Utlin were ready to make a formal presentation to command. Captain Anthony and the rest were in the Command Room.

  Whitecloud stood by the main screen with a cut away

schematic of the Barracks. "Sir," she began "The Barracks is filled with a different model of Borg then we have yet discovered. As you know, the top level was filled with mummified Borg that do not appear to have been part of the 'Borg link'.

  "Most of the Borg in the lower levels, however, do appear to

be in some kind of stasis. The Borg in stasis do seem to be in perfect condition. There are some units that appear to be in defective containers. These Borg show extreme signs of decomposition." The picture on the view screen then split to show a pile of Borg attachments and what appeared to be humanoid remains.

  Whitecloud turned and looked at the remains "We have begun

an analysis of all Borg attachments. Because of the age and micro-fine wires, the job of safely collecting the pieces is extremely tedious."

  "What about the undamaged units?" The Captain asked.
  The remaining schematic of the Barracks was replaced with a

picture of a Borg in its container. "We are not certain what the reaction might be if we disturb the viable Borg units. We are waiting for your go ahead to open some of stasis units."

  The group began discussing the pros and cons of opening some

of the containers. It was obvious that the computer systems on each level monitored the Borg, but it was impossible to determine to what degree.

  Robert Anthony listened to his officers discuss the merits

of opening the stasis tubes. It occurred to him that there was only one decision he could make.

  The Captain cleared his throat and the room immediately fell

silent. Anthony stared at the ghostly Borg image on the screen for a second then said "You've been discussing weather or not to open some of these containers, there is no choice." Anthony looked at his officers for a second then continued. "The containers MUST be opened. Our mission here is to gather information, nothing else. This gives us only one plan of action, that is to open the containers and discover as much about these units as we can. The choice then becomes..How do we do it?"

  Anthony looked at the group again, they were all nodding

agreement. "Now, what I want you to do is analyze as much as you can about these units and the stasis system before we try opening a chamber. I will be kept abreast of all progress on the analysis and will maintain the final go ahead for opening, is that clear?"

  "Yes, Sir." the group responded, practically in unison.

  Lieutenant Utlin stood in an observation room looking at

Lady Purlerna. She sat hunched in a corner of her room, slowly rocking back and forth. Her arms were wrapped around her knees hugging them tightly against her face. "How long has she been like this?" he asked an attendant.

  "We found her that way this morning." a female Ensign

replied. This one was different from most, she had short, straight, black hair and pointed ears. Whenever Utlin spoke to her, which wasn't often, she seemed cold, almost mechanical.

  "Did anything happen that could have caused this reaction?"

Utlin continued to stare at Purlerna.

  "The surveillance cameras show that she woke in the middle

of the night and crawled into the corner." The pointed eared female continued to talk to him emotionlessly.

  Utlin approached Lady Purlerna then knelt in front of her.

He reached out and slowly stroked her hair from in front of her face, soon he could see her forehead over the top of her knees. She had stopped rocking as soon as he touched her. He gently placed his hands on either side of her head and made her look up at him.

  Half of Lady Purlerna's face was covered with a black mask.

A multi-prismed goggle covered her right eye, wrapping around the side of her head, embedding into her skull just behind her ear. A small red laser was attached to the appliance along the jaw line and flashed across Utlin's face as the woman looked up at him.

  Purlerna's good eye widened in recognition, she spoke in a

mechanicle imitation of her own voice "Resistance is futile," she said "surrender for assimilation and serve the greater good of the collective."

  Utlin sat straight up in bed trying to chase away the dream.

With his movement, the cabin lights brightened slightly. He looked around trying to remember where he was. Utlin could sense warmth next to him, he looked down on the bronze, muscled, V shaped back of Anndrea Whitecloud. The sheets covered her to her waist and her straight black hair partially hid her shoulders. She hugged a pillow under her face and looked at him with her one exposed eye.

  "Was it the dream again?"  She sounded slightly groggy but

very coherent.

  "Yes."
  "Is it still the same."
  "No, she spoke." Utlin shook his head trying to clear the

remaining threads of the dream.

  "And" Anndrea still hadn't moved.
  "She said that resistance is futile and we should just

surrender." Utlin had leaned back on his elbows and was looking at the painting of a four legged creature on the ceiling. "Do you think they know where we are?" He asked.

  "I don't think so, they'd be in here after us." Anndrea

responded. "Besides, there isn't much we could do about it if they did."

  Utlin continued to study the ceiling and the poem Anndrea

had included:

      Go to the Wild that waits for me;
      Go where the moose and the musk-ox be;
      Go to the wolf and the secret snows;
      Go to my fate...who knows, who knows!
                                        R.W.S.

He finally understood.


  Transport areas were set up on each level of the barracks.

Standard pattern enhancer pylons were used and were tied into the communications relays. This allowed the crew to stand in the field defined by the pattern enhancers and be beamed back to the Vigilante as if a transporter had been installed.

  Utlin and Whitecloud watched as technicians started running

tests on the room's computer terminals and on five viable Borg. One of the tricorders connected to an interface port began to beep indicating a break in the code.

  "Has it accessed the terminal?" Whitecloud asked as she

stepped toward the tricorder. As she spoke, the other tricorders also began to signal.

  Several technicians were monitoring the tricorders with the

larger analytical tricorders. "Negative." one of them said "The tricorders appear to have activated the computers."

  "Home, this is team one, should we discontinue experiment?"

Whitecloud said immediately.

  After a slight pause, Commander Tarva replied "Negative,

continue data collection, but upgrade to defense condition two."

  The teams had entered the barracks under defense condition

one; drawn weapons, mutual cover formations etc. They were currently under def-con 3; holstered and locked weapons, helmets off or visors up, generally a more relaxed working atmosphere. Def-con 2 called for charged weapons, helmets on with lowered visors where appropriate and nonworking personnel taking positions to provide more security. The security personnel were always under a defense condition that was one higher than the rest of the crew.

  The computer panels began to light up and seemed to begin

running diagnostics as lights and displays began flashing in increasingly complex patterns. Within minutes, all levels began reporting that their computers were going through the same sequences, even those that they had not tried to access. Soon, the rooms began to light up as the support cabling running to the stasis containers began to glow.

  When the stasis containers began being effected by the power

up, Tarva ordered all tricorders disengaged. The removal, however, had no effect on the activation.

  All teams except for teams two and three were immediately

evacuated. Teams two and three remained behind to monitor the new activity.

  All remaining team members had gone to def-con one.  The

team couldn't do much about the activation,just monitor and try to remain close to the beam out points. Lieutenants Utlin and Whitecloud remained by the computer centers as the technicians continued to monitor the changes.

  "Sir," one of the techs said "There's something happening in

one of the canisters."

  A canister that had stood off to the side from the rest had

lit up and began to hum. All phasers were immediately aimed at the lone container. Whitecloud, however, signaled for them to relax slightly.

  Soon, the front of the canister jerked open releasing steam

and an acrid odor. The Borg standing inside could be seen unmoving through the smoke. It didn't move for several seconds then began to take deep breaths. Bellows built into the Borg's sides constricted and expanded to force each breath.

  The Borg was built different from other units, it had a full

head appliance that didn't cover any part of its face, the body armor was thicker than normal and more angular. The unit's attachments for the arms were connected on top of the arms leaving the hands free.

  Its eyes snapped open and it stepped out of the canister

walking directly toward the group. They thought it would ignore them as usual, instead it stopped and stared at its reflection in the Utlin's face shield.

  The Borg spoke to Utlin in a cold mechanical voice that the

universal translator automatically translated to standard "Identify."

  For want of something better to do, Utlin opened his face,

bowed slightly, never losing eye contact with the Borg and said stiffly "Sir Utlin, at your service, Sir."

  The Borg stood with his head tilted to the side for a second

then said in perfect mechanical Federation Standard "Why have you awakened me..us..Sir Utlin At Your Service Sir."

  Utlin hesitated for a second then said simply "Identify."
  The Borg did a stiff imitation of Utlin's bow and said

"Offensive Unit One of ten kil. Why are you awakening us, Sir Utlin At Your Service Sir."

  The Borg tilted its head to the side again and stared past

Utlin for a second then said "RESISTANCE IS FUTILE, YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED…." the Borg looked confused for a second then spoke again "The link has been expanded, this must be investigated." He turned to the computer terminal making a fist of his right hand causing a long metal rod to telescope from the underside of his wrist, then connected to the terminal.

  There was a call from one of the guards on the first level

of the Barracks "Attention, this is sentry one, we have company. Three Borg have just materialized outside the Barracks and are heading in."

  Tarva's response was immediate "All teams, evacuate

immediately." Tarva hesitated for a second then added "Defend yourselves with extreme prejudice."

  As Tarva spoke, so did the old Borg "You are intruders."
  The Borg then moved faster then anyone had ever seen.  His

left arm connected with a device attached to his hip, bringing it up pointed at Utlin. Before they had a chance to react, the thing fired a burst of yellow energy striking Utlin just below the right elbow as he jumped out of the way. The blast severed Utlin's arm and blew a large gash in his right side. Utlin's dark red blood splattered in all directions as the blast continued on striking a much slower human tech. The tech to simply blew apart as he flew back against several stasis canisters.

   Utlin was the first to fire back at the Borg.  He had fired

as he jumped out of the way, still taking the hit. The Borg was hit low on its right side. It staggered back a step but it took aim again. Through the ensuing commotion Lieutenant Utlin could still hear the whirring and beeping of the tricorder clutched in his right hand.

  This time the Borg's shot went wide as it absorbed ten more

red phaser blasts. The team could hear the Borg's shot strike something behind them with a loud explosion. The Borg stumbled back from the phaser strikes, with wires sparking from dry wounds.

  <This is Chief Swanson,>
  Came the voice of the usually quiet transporter chief.
  <We've just lost signal from transport area A, repeat, we've

just lost signal from transport area A.>

  The Borg fired again, this time the shot went totally wild,

destroying several stasis containers and showering the team with sparks and debris. It was the last thing Offensive Unit One of Ten Kil did as a bright blue phaser beam struck the creature, instantly vaporizing it.

  The radio-intercom was soon filled with disjointed

confusion…

  <The Borg are still coming>...
  <Team Three withdraw immediately>...
  <Team Three, report status>...
  <The door is closing>...
  <We're going to be trapped>...
  None of the team members had had the presence of mind to

change their phaser settings except Lieutenant Whitecloud. Anndrea knelt over Utlin holding a triage pad over the wound, her phaser still leveled at the spot where the Borg had been. The rest of the team held similar cover positions all kneeling or crouched giving 360 degree cover.

  <Team Three....withdrawal....level one.....Quad A... extr..>

Commander Tarva's transmission and all other's from the Vigilante ended with the closing of the Barrack's door.

  One of the techs who was still monitoring his tricorder

spoke up "Other canisters are powering up."

  Whitecloud quickly looked at the lights on all of the

equipment. "Lets move toward the elevators." She thought for a second then added "Target all equipment and make sure we get those analytical tricorders out with us." With that she fired an extended beam into the main computer station near them.

  The team got to its feet and started firing on all computer

terminals, canisters and conduits. They were soon being showered with sparks, fire and debris. The closest canisters and equipment vaporized while other equipment started exploding from chain reactions.

  Team Three started down the hall toward the main corridor.

Lieutenant Whitecloud held Lieutenant Utlin to her side holding the triage patch in place. Utlin's stumped didn't bleed, it was cauterized by the blast. The rest of the team split into their standard two by two cover formation.

  Borg units started to appear from around the banks of

canisters. Each was slightly different from the next but all appeared to be heavily armored and lumbered more than the standard Borg. Many had full face appliances and carried accessories strapped to their sides.

  The new units were immediately targeted but were barely

effected by the standard red phaser, even at full power. Many of the team, however, had already switched to blue which vaporized the creatures. .

  "Full power to blue spectrum." Whitecloud yelled through the

confusion.

  With the whole team now firing in blue, large areas started

to clear around them as everything vaporized. The phasers however, started to over heat and shut down, Whitecloud's was the first to go.

  Anndrea Whitecloud holstered her phaser and took Lieutenant

Utlin's. Using the aiming systems built into the weapon and her helmet, Anndrea drew down on another emerging Borg. Left handed firing was always one of Anndrea's weak points but she still drew marksmanship honors. Now, with the weight of Utlin at her side, the pressure of having to keep moving, the intense heat from the fire fight and moving targets, Whitecloud missed.

  As soon as she missed, Whitecloud called a warning, dropped

the Lieutenant and jumped to the side, re-aiming. Before she could regain her target, however, the Borg fired at her and the two team members that had stayed with her for support. The two others were hit by the full force of the blast disintegrating them in a blaze of red. Anndrea felt the remains of her commrads splash against her as she vaporized the Borg.

  Utlin lay face up on the deck clutching his side, slowly

rocking back and forth. Anndrea couldn't see his face, but could still feel his pain. She helped the Lieutenant back to his feet and headed into the curtain of smoke and fire ahead of her.


  The communications on the bridge of the Vigilante had

erupted into a sea of confusion as soon as the door to the barracks closed. Captain Anthony was suddenly bombarded with information from every survey support team on the ship. Anthony's attention, however, was focused solely on Commander Tarva, Lieutenant Commander Kartang, and Lieutenant Commander Golta. Golta and Kartang were in their command centers and shared a split main screen.

  "Sir, all teams except team three were safely evacuated

before the door closed." Tarva reported.

  "Were the evacuation coordinates successfully relayed."

Anthony sounded like he was grasping at straws.

  "I don't know what good that will do." Golta growled "even

if they make it to the coordinates, there's no way we can transport them out. The Borg have raised the transport shields again."

  Anthony scanned the faces on his main screen then turned

slightly to also look at his first officer. "That's our next mission, to retrieve the lost Drop Team and their tricorders."

  "Sir," Tarva said formally, "I must remind you that our

mission guidelines clearly state that we should not jeopardize the mission of the Vigilante for the life of any member of the crew."

  Anthony smiled slightly "The key word there is 'guidelines'.

The over ridding mission command is that the Captain has complete authority to follow his own judgment."

  Tarva sat up a little straighter, she never wanted to leave

the team behind. It was, however, her job to remind the Captain of mission regulations.

  Anthony turned back to the screen "Now, I want suggestions

for the rescue, and I want them within ten minutes. We have people dying down there."

  Ten minutes later, Anthony and Tarva met Golta, Kartang and

Lieutenant Valerta in the 'Cavern'. "Okay, what's the plan?" Anthony asked as they approached.

  The two Klingons and the Kalonian came to attention as the

Captain and First Officer approached. "Sir," Kartang said "we have devised a plan to retrieve Drop Team Three."

  "Lets hear it."  Anthony said immediately.
  "We recommend sending in a drop ship to retrieve the team."
  "How do you recommend we get the drop ship in there?" Tarva

asked.

  "If we blast our way through the deck directly below us and

the underlying walkway it would be a straight drop to the Barracks." Kartang said enthusiastically. "The drop ship should have enough fire power to blast a hole in the barracks and allow retrieval of the team."

  Anthony looked at the warriors in disbelief this was a

suicide mission if there ever was one. It would also, without a doubt, give away the position of the Vigilante. He then looked at the female pilot "I assume you have volunteered to pilot the drop ship."

  The female Klingon came to stiffer attention and said

proudly "Yes Sir."

  Anthony then looked at Tarva who was scrutinizing the Pilot

"What's your opinion Commander?"

  "We'll have to move the ship as soon as she drops."  Tarva

said contemplatively. Then to Valerta "You'll have a real rough ride."

  "I can handle it." the Klingon said threateningly.
  "Okay, contact tech, find out exactly what we'll need to do

to punch a hole big enough to drop through." Anthony said and started to turn back toward the door.

  "They're already working on the calculations." Golta

informed the Captain.

  Anthony smiled slightly again "Very Good, we'll set a

tentative time for the drop in exactly twenty minutes." Anthony paused in mid turn and said "I'll want a second drop ship prepared as a backup."

  "Sir," Kartang said "Lieutenant Valerta is the best pilot we

have besides myself. As commander of the drop ship fleet, I recognize it is my duty to remain with the command center but if the mission proves too hazardous for even Lieutenant Valerta, I request the honor of piloting the second drop ship."

  Anthony stood in his half turn and looked over the group for

a second "Permission granted." he said simply and exited the Cavern.


  Through the EVE system built into her helmet, Whitecloud saw

the computer generated outline of the tail end of her retreating team. The figure was providing back cover for the rest of the team continuing ahead. The soldier's phaser trained directly on her as she approached, then aimed high and fired over her shoulder. She could smell the ionization and feel the intense heat as the shot barely missed her head. Whitecloud never flinched from the shot, just kept moving. She did duck, however, as she felt debris land about her.

  "Report." Whitecloud commanded as she approached the sentry.
  "Sir, including you two, I can account for seven." the

sentry said without diverting his attention from the surroundings.

  Whitecloud cringed, she had lost half of the remaining team.

How many more would die, rather, would any of them survive?

  Whitecloud found the remaining four just inside the entrance

to this half of the level. They were providing mutual cover and watching the main corridor and elevators. Anndrea laid Utlin with the group then crouched with them against the wall.

  "What's the situation?"  She asked as she looked out at the

elevators.

  "The Borg in stasis in this section seem to have stopped

reviving." One of the warriors said "The Borg by the elevators appear to be the ones that came in from outside." The man nodded toward three Borg standing stiffly by the center of the bank of elevators.

  "I wonder how long they've been there?" Whitecloud mused.
  "They arrived just after we did." one of the four

volunteered.

  "From above?"
  "Aye, Sir" They came down on the elevator.
  "Sir," the remaining tech said "I'm picking up a lot of

movement in here, the Borg are still waking up."

  "We'd better get out of here." Whitecloud said.  She then

motioned for someone to pick up Utlin and they started heading toward the elevators.

  Just as they started along the wall, the three Borg

separated forming a large triangle. Immediately, cylinders of green light appeared as more Borg beamed into the triangle.

  "They're using the three to triangulate for beaming." one of

the techs said.

  "That means their sensors can't read in here either."

Whitecloud responded.

  Soon, ten Borg were in front of the elevators and were

heading toward the stasis room. Several of the team immediately drew down on the Borg, but Whitecloud waved them off. "Lets see what they're going to do."

  The team continued toward the elevators, hugging along the

wall. When they were about half way, one of the tail guards called out "We've got more company."

  Five old Borg had emerged from the stasis room and were

facing the now advancing Borg. The Borg had passed the team and totallyignored them. The two groups of Borg stood staring at each other for a few minutes.

  Whitecloud had the group hold its ground waiting to see what

would happen. Finally, one of the old Borg spoke.

  "The Link has been expanded beyond its original intent."
  "THE INTENT OF THE LINK IS IRRELEVANT" One of the newer Borg

said in a mechanical voice that sounded like many voices.

  "We have been awakened, there are intruders to deal with."
  "INTRUDERS ARE IRRELEVANT, YOU ARE OBSOLETE YOU MUST BE

REASSIMILATED."

  "We have been awakened, there are battles to be won,

intruders to be eliminated."

  "THE INTRUDERS ARE IRRELEVANT, BATTLES ARE IRRELEVANT,

WINNING IS IRRELEVANT, YOU MUST BE REASSIMILATED."

  More old Borg had begun to emerge from the stasis room and

columns of green light started to appear bringing more newer Borg. "We'd better get out of here while we can." Whitecloud said.

  As soon as the team started to move, one of the old Borg

pointed its weapon at the group. Before it could fire, however, one of the other Borg grabbed the weapon with one hand and removed a circuit from the creature's neck with the other hand. The Borg immediately fell to the floor.

  The old Borg units immediately responded by firing on the

other Borg. As soon as the firing began, the team broke into a dead run toward the elevators. The newer Borg were being cut down by the old Borg but replacements were beaming in. The replacements, however, had shielding that could withstand the blasts of the older Borg. By the time the team was on the elevator, the hallway was filled with both older and standard Borg. The standard Borg at first seemed to be taking a beating but looked like they would eventually overwhelm, as usual.


  Lieutenant Valerta sat alone in the drop ship.  She wore

full pilot armor phasers strapped to both hips. She sat tensely in the snug pilot's seat with a half snarl on her lips. The signal over the door counted down eternally slow, her world seem to be passing by in slow motion.

  Drop ship command and the bridge heard Lieutenant Valerta's

Klingon primal scream as the drop ship launched. As soon as DS Twelve cleared the bay, The Vigilante began a fast assent toward the top of the Outpost. DS Twelve had its own flight path, straight down toward a solid deck.

  Everything had to be timed just right, as DS Twelve

approached the surface, the Vigilante beamed photon torpedoes into place. The torpedoes appeared and detonated seconds ahead of DS Twelve. The cloaked drop ship's egg shaped shields could be seen against the fire and debris of the explosions as it passed nose first through the holes the Vigilante had just punched in the outpost.

  Valerta struggled against the turbulence of the explosions

as she passed through the outer hull and the access tunnel the first team had originally beamed into. The turbulence from the depressurization reminded Valerta of piloting a star glider through the solar winds of the Omicron Dellon. Once Valerta cleared the access tunnel it was a straight drop to the machine room and the top of the barracks. Valerta fired her thrusters swinging the ship toward the barracks then immediately activated the targeting systems. The drop ship's fire control computers where preprogrammed with strike coordinates and evasion maneuver sequences.

  The drop team had been ordered to extraction point alpha

which was the corner of the barracks to the right of the main door. Valerta was to target the wall to the left ofthe door so as not to jeopardize the team.

  The drop ship approached the barracks in extreme

acceleration with shields at maximum and cloaking engaged. As soon as she was within range, Valerta fired a full volley of photon torpedoes at the barracks. The cloaking peeled away from the drop ship to allow the firing then immediately reappeared as extreme evasive maneuvers were taken.

  When Valerta finished her turn and roll, she came about to

allow full sensor scan of the area. The floor outside the barracks had a giant hole in it but the walls merely seemed discolored. The ships sensors read no cracks or other kinds of damage to the structure.


  When the elevator arrived at the top level, the team was

greeted by the two guards that had originally been posted there. Leading the group off the lift, Whitecloud turned to the guards.

  "Report."
  "Sir," A Klingon said "three Borg came in then rode the

elevator down, no other Borg have entered since the door closed." As he was saying this, he continued to cover the other elevators.

  "Sir," the other guard spoke up "what is going on down

there."

  Whitecloud had stepped away from the group trying to get in

the full picture of the situation. "The old Borg have come out of stasis, they appear to be designed for a single purpose."

  "What purpose?"
  Whitecloud turned and looked at the guard raising her face

shield "They're warriors."

  "They're designed for battle." one of the others added.
  There was movement in one of the elevator shafts.  The group

immediately dispersed from the area then turned back to cover.

  "It's from one of the lower levels." the Klingon noted.
  A lift holding ten Battle Borg arrived just as the Klingon

finished. The Borg immediately started firing on the group, cutting one of the techs in half.

  The response was immediate, with the team firing an array of

red and blue phaser blasts at the Borg. Several Borg took direct blue hits, causing them to stumble and burn but not disintegrate. The red phasers did no obvious damage.

  Whitecloud then yelled "Aim for the lift."
  Three of the Borg had gotten off of the elevator before a

blue phaser disintegrated it. The seven Borg still on the platform dropped out of sight.

  Whitecloud made an adjustment on her phaser before the three

could get too far from the shaft. This time when she fired, bright white fire flared from the sides of the phaser muzzle and the Borg where hit with a solid blast of energy and blown back into the shaft.

  "Use the photon grenades," Whitecloud yelled "destroy the

elevators before we have more company!" As she said this she stuck Utlin's phaser in her belt and ran toward the shafts already pulling grenades from her equipment pack.

  "Set them at full power." Whitecloud added.  The remaining

members of the group followed suit, pulling out grenades and making adjustments on the go.

  They spread out and started dropping the remote controlled

grenades down the shafts, even the one that had just been destroyed. They weren't quite done when one of the control panels lit up.

  "Another one's coming up." someone yelled.
  Whitecloud pushed a few buttons on the controller on her

left arm and yelled "FIRE IN THE HOLE".

  The seven ran from the shafts, all watching the countdown

displays in their helmets. They hadn't even made it back to where they had left Utlin when they dove for the deck covering their heads. Twenty-one of the twenty-five shafts immediately blew yellow and blue flames over the team. A shock wave threw everyone over six meters further down the hall. The team recovered quickly and came up with phasers in hand. The control pads for two of the remaining four shafts lit up.

  Whitecloud headed for Utlin and commanded "Take cover!"  The

rest of the team stumbled to their feet and headed down the hall toward the nearest connecting corridors. Anndrea had Utlin by one arm dragging him towards cover when the Borg arrived.

  Both lifts were packed full of battle Borg who immediately

started to spread out. The blue phaser blasts that met them only damaged them, but didn't destroy any. After laying down several barrages, Whitecloud pulled out more photon grenades.

  "Set to full power." Whitecloud said as she adjusted the

dial on her's.

  "But Lieutenant," one of the techs said "full power?"
  "DO IT" Whitecloud yelled then leaned around the wall and

started throwing her grenades over the heads of the advancing battle Borg. She then turned toward the Klingon guard and said "Target the undamaged elevators."

  As soon as the grenades rolled into the elevator shafts,

Whitecloud called again "Fire in the hole!" then detonated them.

  The team stopped firing and dove down the hall away from the

doorway. Whitecloud never had a chance to take proper cover when the flames, shockwave and deafening roar from the explosions blasted down the side corridor. The explosion lifted Anndrea from the deck and threw her over the rest of the team.

  Lieutenant Whitecloud landed clumsily rolling sideways with

flopping arms. Her back, arms and legs smoked from the flames but she was saved from major damage by her fire retardant uniform.


  The Borg response to Valerta's attack was immediate.  The

interior was soon filled with white flashes of probing energy beams. Valerta expertly flew evasive maneuvers and lined up for another attack, this time on the door.

  Two volley's of triple photon torpedoes struck the door and

surrounding area with a blinding flash. Valerta began her roll and retreat before the cloaking was totally reengaged but this time took her first hit. The drop ship shuddered from the strike but didn't suffer any damage.

  When she was finally able to check the damage of the last

attack, the results were the same, major exterior deck damage and discoloration at the impact site. There was, however, no discernible damage to the barracks or the door.

  The drop ship shook from another hit, and even harder from

two shots that immediately followed. Valerta cut power dropping and rolling the ship to the right, trying to keep the probing beams from zeroing in on her. After the roll and another turn, she accelerated and climbed straight up the side of the room.

  Before Valerta could start another run on the door, five

more energy beams found her. The drop ship shook violently as the shields failed and the ship took its first direct hits.

  Valerta struggled to maintain control with secondary systems

failing. She then accelerated making abrupt turns and dives trying to avoid the net of energy bolts. Many of the shots continued to miss as the Borg tried to adjust to the low scanner profile of the now uncloaked drop ship.

  Valerta got the ship positioned for a third attack then took

more hits, four to the engine area, several glanced off the body and others struck the cabin over the copilot's seat. Power to all systems began to fail as sparks and smoke filled the cabin. Valerta had no recourse, she set the impact destruct mechanism, accelerated toward the barracks, then hit the eject button over her head.

  Since the Borg had raised beam out shielding, Valerta was

ejected mechanically. The pilot's chair was ejected through the top of the drop ship. The top clam shelled around the pilot to form an ejection pod.

  Valerta's ejection pod was thrown high over the machinery

below. The pod was nearing its zenith when the drop ship struck the barracks and self destructed. The blinding white flash damaged the outer machinery below and threw the pod further across the room, crashing into the partitioned area.


  Kartang sat strapped into the pilot's seat of his drop ship.

He could hear the confusion of the situation through the intercom but didn't say a word. The bitterness of his own blood slid down his throat as he bit his lip trying to maintain his focus.

  "Drop Ship One," came Tarva's voice "prepare for

deployment."

  "Drop Ship One standing by." was Kartang's gruff reply
  Captain Anthony and the rest of the crew sat strapped into

their rough duty chairs. The main view screen showed the expansive outpost hold stretching out below them. The Vigilante sat in a high corner of the outpost above the coordinates it had occupied since arrival. Now they had to perform a tricky Z-axis drop back to the bottom to deliver more photon torpedoes and Drop Ship One.

  "Sir" Lieutenant S'Erlet spoke up.
  "Yes, Lieutenant." the Captain replied immediately.
  "I'm reading a large number of low energy beam discharges in

the hold below us." S'Erlet said as he studied the readouts in front of him.

  "What purpose do they have." Anthony asked adjusting his

console to show S'Erlet's station.

  "They are similar to what Valerta reported before she

crashed." S'Erlet said.

  "They're looking for us." Anthony said coldly.
  "What do we do, Sir?" Ensign O'Malley asked as she prepared

for the drop.

  Anthony's reply was simple "Hold our position."  then to

S'Erlet "Lieutenant, is there any sequence to their search pattern?"

  S'Erlet worked quickly at his console trying to guide the

ship's computer through its analysis. "Yes, Sir" he then anticipated the next question "Now predicting gaps in coverage for next ten minutes and plotting possible course for Z drop."

  "Very good."  Anthony smiled then added "feed earliest

possible course to helm. Ensign, initiate Z drop by S'Erlet's feed."

  "Aye, Sir" O'Malley said and began making the proper

adjustments. Immediately a two minute eighteen second timer appeared on the screen. "Z position adjustment maneuver in two minutes." O'Malley reported just as the timer reached the marked.

  Kartang watched the new countdown progress, his own launch

sequence held at twenty seconds. Kartang had been in numerous skirmishes and raids along many of the empire's borders but never before had he felt such fear. He sat alone in an unproven piece of Federation equipment waiting to dropped like a rock into an alien space station to retrieve possible survivors of a science expedition.

  He watched the sequence near its end, waiting for some sign

of the descent. Of course he knew there would no discernible movement but he still expected it.

  The Vigilante started its descent through the station.  It

made wide sweeping turns and sudden drops to stay in the gaps of the energy beams. Ensign O'Malley closely monitored the computer's course choice and stood ready to redirect the Vigilante in an emergency.

  "Ensign," the Captain said to his navigator "prepare a

course for emergency withdrawal from the station."

  "Aye, Sir." O'Malley said hesitantly then started pushing

buttons.

  "And the survivors?" Tarva asked.  She wasn't questioning

her Captain's judgment, just needed to know what to prepare for.

  "I will not risk anymore personnel or equipment for possible

survivors." Anthony replied "And we definitely can not risk the Vigilante any further at this point." he hesitated for a few seconds to wipe sweat from his forehead. "We have another destination to reach beyond this outpost. We must complete our mission."

  "Sir," O'Malley reported "approaching drop point."
  S'Erlet was the next to speak up "Captain, I'm reading extra

structural reinforcements at original drop site. They also appear to have extended the beam out shield to that area."

  "What's the closest beam in site available?" Commander Tarva

asked.

  S'Erlet put a diagram of the area on part of the screen.  He

then highlighted the section covered by the Borg's force field. Pointing to an area outside the force field S'Erlet said "We could beam in the torpedoes here, along with direct firing we should be able to punch a new hole in the deck."

  "Will there be enough room for the drop ship to maneuver in

that area?" Captain Anthony asked.

  "Yes, Sir." S'Erlet replied.  "From our surveys there should

be enough room for the drop ship to safely navigate to the access tunnel which the Borg don't appear to have repaired."

  "Very good," the Captain said with a nod. "notify Commander

Kartang of the change."

  S'Erlet pressed a button on his console sending the changes

to the drop ship.

  Kartang's launch count-down had already commenced when he

heard a beep from his navigation computer. New directions were being fed for the drop.. He was able to glance at the new plans just as he was pressed into his seat from the acceleration of the launch.

  The drop ship cleared the Vigilante and immediately nosed

down toward the deck of the hold. A small area directly in front of DS One erupted into flame blowing debris at it. The cloaked shields shimmered from the destruction around them as DS One passed into the outpost.


  Once the blast from the photon grenades settled, the drop

team crawled to their feet and surveyed the damage.

  "Lieutenant!" one of the techs called when he saw Whitecloud

sprawled on the deck ahead of them. He ran up to her and shook her lightly yelling "Lieutenant Whitecloud, are you okay?"

  Anndrea slowly started to move then struggled to her side as

the tech helped her up. "Did we get them all?"

  "Affirmative." replied the Klingon.  "All Borg appear to

have been destroyed."

  "Very good, are there any bodies still intact?"  Whitecloud

was leaning on the tech and heading toward the still form of Lieutenant Utlin.

  "Yes, Sir." The Klingon grunted back.
  "Very good, bring it with us, it may still prove useful."

Whitecloud reached Utlin just after one of the other techs reached him and had begun a medical scan.

  "How's he doing?" Anndrea asked gently lowering herself to

the deck next to Utlin.

  "He's alive." the Tech replied as if it were the only

conclusion he could reach.

  "Can we move him?" Anndrea asked softly relying on the Tech

to keep her from falling over.

  "We're going to have to."  The man said simply.
  Anndrea nodded slightly and said "Lets go then."
  Whitecloud had just gotten to her feet and had two of the

team carrying Utlin when the Klingon came back with a Borg body. "What now?" he huffed as he approached the shrinking clan.

  "Now." Anndrea said "we get our butts to extraction point

alpha and hope the Vig can get in here."

  Approaching the far corner of the barracks, the team could

hear a distant rumbling noise. "What was that?" one of the guards asked.

  The team was in the hallway just off the main corridor

closest to the entrance to the barracks. The rumbling came again a few minutes later, only this time it seemed to be right next to them. "There it goes again." The guard said.

  Whitecloud looked up from her support and slowly turned

toward the corridor. "Its the Vigilante," she said hoarsely "they'll try to punch through the door, it's the weakest point."

  "What'll they use?" someone asked.
  Then one of the techs had a revelation "I don't know," she

said "but I don't want to be standing here when we find out."

  With that, the team looked at each other for a second then

grabbed their wounded started running down the hallway away from the main corridor. The walls and ceiling suddenly shook violently and a blinding white flash blew down the main corridor carrying the door, adjacent walls, ceiling and part of the floor with it.


  The escape pod thundered open from explosive bolts allowing

a black suited figure to roll clear of the contraption. She crawled to a near by wall and sat against it trying to run diagnostics on her pressure suit. Most EVE systems were down, greatly limiting her vision. The suit's communication systems were also off line. After running all of the diagnostics, Valerta opened her pressure suit to the environment, no need to waste life support.

  Valerta stood up with a phaser in hand, she leaned against a

wall still dizzy from the fall. A large path of destroyed dividers stretched out in front of her, flattened by the crash.

  Then hopefully Valerta said "Home, this is Lieutenant

Valerta, over."

  Harsh static was the only reply "Now what?" Valerta said

aloud but still there was no reply.

  "First order of business." She started thinking to herself.

"Figure out where I am. Then how am I going to get out of here? Okay, one thing at a time, are there any landmarks I recognize from the reports?"

  Valerta looked around, trying to see beyond the debris of

the dividers. She could see nothing obvious so she started climbing through the trail of destruction she'd made in her landing. If she could find the elevator, she may be able to get beyond the beam out shielding. Then all she would have to do would be to figure out a way to signal the Vigilante.

  All corridors seemed to connect to a center passage which

lead Valerta to the elevator. She was soon on the next level up and dwarfed by the massive girders in storage there.

  Things had changed from the reports she had seen.  The

girders and beams were no longer neatly stacked but tipped over or at least listing. This was the main level she had dropped by on her way to the barracks, the stacks must have blown over from the decompression in the tunnel.

  Valerta continued to try to raise the Vigilante but to no

avail, her systems were either too damaged or the Borg had raised more interference shields. She was about to take off her flight suit in the hopes that she would become visible to scans when something stopped her, a sixth sense told her she was forgetting something.

  The middle of the room was suddenly filled with explosions

but the distance and stacks of beams protected the pilot. The ceiling high above Valerta's head was engulfed by flame. Instead of debris crashing down into the room, a strong wind started blowing towards the destruction. Valerta barely had time to grab the edge of a beam as she was picked up by the sudden fury. The stack of beams she clung to shifted some but wasn't about to be lifted or moved.

  There was a new noise, a roaring sound was quickly growing

from above. Out of the flame and debris from the explosions. Valerta could see the egg shaped shields of a drop ship shimmer and disappear. Lieutenant Commander Kartang in DS One was on his way to finish what she had started.

  Kartang watched the maze of girders approach.  The auto

navigation systems immediately oriented the ship toward the entrance to the tunnel. Kartang accelerated toward the opening, skimming across the stacks of girders with the shields sparking as he glanced off them.

  DS One cleared the girders then nose dived to fit the

entrance of the tunnel. The Borg had not repaired the tunnel as it was irrelevant so the drop ship had a straight drop to the Barracks.

  Kartang's scanners immediately told him that there was a

large hole where the door to the barracks used to be. There also appeared to be signs of life but there was a lot of interference.

  "Team Three," he said hopefully "this is DS One do you

read?"

  There was a brief pause as the drop ship rushed toward the

Barracks. "DS One, this is ….three…dr" came the broken up reply from Lieutenant Whitecloud. "Six survive."

  "Prepare for extraction." Kartang said as he swung the ship

around to drop the back into the hole in the barracks.

  "Acknowledged." came Whitecloud's simple reply.
  As soon as they punched the second hole in the deck, the

area the Vigilante was in came under heavy fire from the probing energy beams. For all of its advance technology, the Vigilante did not have the ability to manuver quickly in a tight spot. For all of its tremendous size, in galactic terms, the outpost was still a tight spot, a very tight spot.

  The Vigilante shuddered as another energy beam glanced off

its side shields. The near hit was immediately followed by a series of much stronger beams in the same area. Ensign O'Malley was barely able to get the ship out of the epicenter of the strikes but the Vigilante still shook under more direct hits.

  "Damage report" Anthony yelled as his ship took the first

hits of its career.

  Commander Norton immediate responded "Sir, the shields are

holding at ninety five percent, no damage reported so far."

  "Do the Borg appear to be trying to adapt to our shield

frequencies?" Anthony asked leaning hard in response to a hard evasion turn.

  "Yes, Sir," Norton said "they are using new frequencies in

an apparent attempt to predict our random shield frequency shifts."

  The evasive maneuvers O'Malley was using were basically

random but designed to keep the Vigilante in the general area for drop ship retrieval. The Borg, however, soon figured this out and a wall of energy appeared ahead of them and started sweeping in their direction.

  "Captain," S'Erlet said from OPS "the curtain of energy the

Borg have put up consists of thousands of energy beams all rotating frequencies. When it contacts us, the odds are ninety five point two to one that more then one beam will penetrate our shields."

  Anthony's response to this new development was immediate

"Helm, set course out of this place, warp five."

  O'Malley turned and looked at the Captain "But Sir.."
  "But nothing!" Anthony said loudly "Engage!"
  DS One landed heavily in the ruins caused by the destruction

of DS Twelve. Before the ship had fully rebounded on its shocks, the troop door in back dropped open. The remains of the drop team three, with their Borg souvenir, scrambled aboard before the steam from the troop door's release valves had cleared.

  As soon as all of the team was on the door or further, they

were yelling "Go, go, get us out of here."

  The troop door had just snapped shot and Kartang was

applying power to the thrusters when the outpost shook violently. Kartang looked up in time to see the upper deck blow away.

  The hole DS One had come through was sealed soon after the

drop ship had found its way out of the store room. Valerta immediately began formulating plans to attract attention. She would use a high power break down sequence in one of her phasers to attract the attention of the Vigilante's scanners. She was running toward the center of the room setting the self destruct when the Vigilante jumped to warp to escape the outpost.

  The Vigilante's four powerful warp nacelles instantly

propelled the ship out the hold. At the same time, the deck of the outpost was caught in the warp field. A path from the Vigilante's position all the way out immediately lost structural integrity and blew apart.

  DS One was blown toward the rupture with along with

everything else that wasn't securely bolted down. Kartang struggled to maintain control over the rapid ascent and stay clear of the other debris. He figured he was doing an adequate job since all systems were still on line.

  Valerta, never knew what happened.  Everything in her area

was instantly blown out of the Outpost. Hurtling helplessly into the immense hold of the Outpost, Valerta totally forgot she was still holding the phaser she had set to self destruct. She was sure she could see DS One heading right for her just before everything went white.

  Kartang averted his eyes slightly from the explosion.  He

thought that he had seen a drop ship pilot's pressure suit, but it was gone now. He quickly returned his attention to his job and accelerated through the remains, aiming toward what looked like the exit.

  The Vigilante skipped through space stretching its warp

muscle for the first time in quite a awhile. Ensign O'Malley had set a wild randomized course away from the outpost then back.

  "When we get back to the outpost, take up a parking position

below the thing and begin scans for the drop ship." Anthony sad as soon as they had determined that they had not been followed.

  "And Ensign." the Captain said almost as an after thought

"I'd like to see you in the Command Room as soon as we've taken up station."

  "Aye, Sir." O'Malley responded stiffly.
  Janice stood stiffly just inside the command room.  The door

snapped shut just behind her, brushing her baggy uniform.

  Captain Anthony sat leaning back in one of the chairs with

hands gripping the arms of the chair. He was turned looking at his reflection in one of the windows. "Ensign." he said coldly.

  "Yes, Sir."
  Anthony turned slowly and looked at the skinny red head.  "I

recognize that it is part of the bridge crew's duty to remind me of any facts I may have missed." He leaned forward slightly glaring at her. "However," he continued "don't ever question an order in an emergency. Is that understood?"

  "Yes, Sir." O'Malley repeated in almost a whisper.
  Anthony turned back toward the window and continued staring

at the closed blast shields. "Dismissed."

  Captain Anthony sat looking at the blank window.  His

imagination filled the darkness with flames and destruction. Amongst the confusion he could see the woman he loved trying to maintain control of a dying ship. She stood at the weapons station directing fire while the Borg cube cut The Nielson to pieces…..

  Anthony felt a shaking sensation and the visions in his head

disappeared. As his heads cleared the face of his first office formed in front of him.

  "Sir," She said.  "Sir, are you all right?"
  "Yes, Commander." Anthony said very alert now "I'm fine."
      "We've picked up the transponder from DS One." Tarva

said "At least we know it has not been destroyed."

  "Have they responded to the hail yet?"  Anthony hoped Tarva

wouldn't notice him trying to worked the cramps out of his hand from clenching the arms of his chair.

  "No, Sir.  We are only trying standard drop ship frequencies

so as not to jeopardize the Vigilante. We are also broadcasting our docking transponder in hopes that they will be able to follow it in if they have lost communications." Tarva watched her captain massage his twisted hands but didn't plan to question his state of health.

  "Very good, maintain present position until drop ship

coordinates can be confirmed or we make contact with DS One." Anthony continued to look the Kalonian in squarely in her black eyes. "Is that clear?"

  "Aye, Sir." Tarva said formally.  She then snapped a perfect

right-face and marched out of the room.


  After clearing the immediate debris from the decompression,

Kartang hung close to the out side of the Outpost. He had no idea what to do from here. If the Vigilante had left them, it would have been for the good of the ship and the mission. What would they do then. A drop ship didn't have warp drives and the nearest star system was years away at sub warp speeds. Besides, it was probably another system raped clean by the Borg.

  Kartang explored the endless side of the structure then

finally chose a spot to make plans from. They needed to consider their options then make a plan of action. They didn't have many choices, but wanted to make the best choice for the overall mission parameters.

  They really didn't have time to come to any real decision.

After a day, the ship's computer indicated that "the Vigilante was ready for them to complete final docking maneuvers". The computer's simple message came from intercepting the Vigilante's docking beacon. It was all Kartang needed to find the Vigilante and finally complete the rescue mission.

  It wasn't long before Kartang completed his final approach

to the Vigilante. Medical and technical teams were all on hand to meet them. Utlin was transported directly top sick bay, he had fallen into a deep comma and some on the drop ship had thought he was dead.

  Whitecloud was conscious but showing signs of extreme

illness from her injuries. She was taken with the rest of the drop team to sick bay.

  Tarva entered the command room and stood at attention at the

head of the conference table. Captain Anthony sat in his usual place at the other end studying reports from the technical surveys. "What's the prognosis". Anthony said after finishing the current screen of text.

  "Sir," Tarva said formally "of the six surviving members of

Drop Team Three, only Lieutenant Utlin has any permanent injuries."

  "Will he be able to resume any kind of active duties?"
  "Physically, yes, mentally, we can not tell.  Its only been

five hours since the rescue and he is still in a deep coma." Tarva sounded deeply concerned.

  "Do we have any facilities for fitting him with

prosthetics?" Anthony seemed distracted by the information still on his screen.

  "No Sir," Tarva replied "the Vigilante does not have the

facilities to properly fabricate the bionics or tissue cloning most commonly used in cases like these."

  "Are there any other options?" Anthony continued to page

through the notes on his terminal.

  Tarva hesitated for a second.
  Anthony sensed this and looked up "What is it?"
  "Sir," Tarva said apprehensively "some of the Med-Techs have

suggested using some of the mechanisms from the collected Borg relics to build a replacement for Lieutenant Utlin's arm."

  Anthony sat back tapping a light pen on the table.  "He

might have objections to such an idea, for both personal and religious reasons."

  "We are aware of that Sir, that is why I hesitated putting

the option forward."

  Captain Anthony sat back in his chair and stared at the

ceiling. Then finally said "tell the Med-Techs to begin researching and preparing the project. But also tell them not to do any work on the Lieutenant until he can competently give his permission. They should, however, be totally prepared if he is willing."

  Tarva smiled slightly "Yes, Sir."  Then was about to leave

when Anthony interrupted her in mid turn.

  "Oh, and by the way." he said casually.
  "Yes, Sir" Tarva said regaining her position.
  "Have helm lay in the new course Sigma-Nu, and have the

Vigilante and crew ready for warp in thirty minutes." Anthony said.

  Tarva considered for a second then smiled and said "Aye,

Sir, and may I ask where we're heading?"

  Anthony turned and pointed to a diagram of the Outpost with

its three main communications relays mapped out. "All of our surveys of these arrays indicate that the information being broadcast is not symmetrical. The middle array appears to rebroadcast the information patterns provided by the other two arrays. The other two arrays only appear to repeat what comes in on the middle array. This leaves us to believe that the middle array is connected to a controling force."

  Anthony smiled at his executive officer "We're going to

follow the middle signal to its source."

I have no doubt at all the Devil Grins, As seas of ink I splatter. Ye gods, forgive my "literary" sins- The other kind don't matter. – Robert W. Service

                 T H E   V I G I L A N T E
                             VI
                       "Full Circle"
   Just think! some night the stars will gleam
     Upon a cold, grey stone,
   And trace a name with silver beam,
     And lo! twill be your own.
   That night is speeding on to greet
     Your epitathic rhyme.
   Your life is but a little beat
     Within the heart of time.
   A little gain, a little pain,
     A laugh, lest you may moan;
   A little blame, a little fame,
     A star-gleam on a stone.
                  "Just Think"
                  Robert W. Service
  A light mist filled the air.  A bright green meadow stretched

into the distance. The carpet of flowing grass and wild flowers was broken by a thin brown path winding through the rolling hills.

  The grass shuddered and swirled away as a lone figure

strolled along the path. He walked slowly with his hands out to either side feeling the light touch of the tall seeding grass. His long red cape fluttered out behind him, sweeping the grass underneath it. A thin sword hung from the man's belt, nearly touching the ground behind him. The man's black, leather-accented uniform was tailored to fit exactly. Every crease and seam was meticulously pressed and lined.

  The man cut the perfect figure of a soldier.  His body was

thin but muscular. His short black hair stood straight up. The man's features were sharp and angular, with several old scars high-lighting his cheeks and neck. His skin was a healthy brown from the constant presence of the small planet's two suns.

  The soldier stopped at the top of a small rise to scan the

fields around him. His bright blue eyes drank in the beauty of the rolling hills. Sir Utlin Robe'than felt the peace of Tregamalis, it had been a lifetime since he'd been here, but it was still home.

  He could sense movement behind him.  Coming up the path was

an old man in simple peasant's robes. The man looked old and frail. He was mostly bald but had long waist length hair from ear to ear. He carried a twisted black branch as a walking stick, but didn't seem to need it. The old man quickly made up the distance between himself and Sir Utlin.

  With shriveled eyes and skin pulled tightly about his bones,

the old man looked like a skeleton. He approached Sir Utlin and looked up at the proud and bloodied warrior. The man's feeble looking hands tightly clutched his walking stick. He continued down the path and motioned for Utlin to follow him.

  When Utlin caught up, the man asked "What do you seek, My

Son?"

  "I seek peace."  Utlin answered softly.
  "Why do you seek peace, My Son?" the man asked "Is it not a

soldier's duty to seek out conflict?"

  "It is a soldier's duty to maintain peace and protect it and

the people from conflict." Utlin answered dutifully, wondering who this old man was.

  "Then why are you here, My Son."  The man returned.
  "The conflict is over, there are no more of my people to

protect, it is time for me to enjoy the peace."

  "Who are your people?" the old man sounded confused.
  Utlin stiffened and said proudly "My people are the Children

of Lin'Hrlar." He reflected on his recent past. "I am the last Warrior of Lin'Hrlar, and one of the last of his people. I had dedicated my life to the protection of my people, now they are gone. My job is over, it is time to rest."

  The man now looked even more confused "You're here after

battling for YOUR people?"

  "Yes."
  "But the people you were with, YOUR people, are still looking

for you." the man's bright red eyes burned through Utlin.

  "They aren't Children of Lin'Hrlar."  Utlin insisted.
  "They aren't?!" The old man asked "Who then are they?"
  "They're aliens who had never heard of Lin'Hrlar."  Utlin

replied now confused by the old man's questions but trying to stand his ground.

  "Then why were you with them?  Why did you suffer for them?

Why did you die for them?"

  Utlin couldn't answer the questions.  "I don't know." he said

and bowed his head turning away from the man.

  "Look at me, My Son." the old man said softly.
  Utlin turned back to the shriveled old man.
  "You've done well.  You've fought well for Lin'Hrlar and his

children. But Lin'Hrlar has reclaimed most of his children."

  "I know," Utlin said "now it is my turn."
  "No." the old man said softly "Lin'Hrlar is not ready for

you."

  "What?"
  "Lin'Hrlar still has many plans for you.  It is in you that

the seed of his people still grows. It is in you that the flame of his soldiers still burns."

  "I do not understand." Utlin returned.
  "You will, My Son, you will."
  The pair approached another gentle hill.  Sitting on top of

it was a lone woman dressed in immaculate purple and gold robes. Her long dark hair flowed down her back spreading out on the robes circled about her.

  From the back, she looked familiar but Utlin couldn't place

her. "Who is she?"

  "She is your," the old man hesitated "no, OUR destiny."
  Utlin reached out with his right hand to turn the woman

toward him. As he touched the softness of her robes, pain shot through his arm. His hand and arm seemed aflame as they faded from his sight, his world went black.


  A soft beeping sound grew in the distance as Utlin regained

consciousness. His eyes opened looking for the sound that had awaken him. All he could see was the gray of a sheet covering his face. He was about to call out when the sheet was swiftly pulled away.

  Utlin became aware of a confusion of voices around him.  One

of the voices came from the surgeon standing over him. "Lieutenant, can you hear me?" The man said.

  Utlin sat up and looked around "What's for dinner?"

  Commander Tarva stood in the command room across from Captain

Anthony. Scattered on the table was an assortment of artifacts taken from the Outpost. Anthony was carefully reading one of the analysis reports on the screen in front of him.

  Tarva cleared her throat after waiting for several minutes.
  "Yes, Commander?" Anthony said finally acknowledging his

first officer.

  "Sir, At exactly 1852 hours," Tarva began "Lieutenant Utlin

was officially declared dead. All body and brain functions had failed and he could not be revived."

  Captain Anthony sat back heavily "I'm sorry to hear that." he

said sincerely.

  "That's not all." Tarva said "At 1900 hours, Lieutenant Utlin

sat up and asked for something to eat."

  "Let me get this straight." Anthony said after staring at

Tarva for a few seconds "Lieutenant Utlin is in a coma for nearly four weeks, dies then eight minutes later wakes up asking for food."

  "Correct." Tarva said with a rare but genuine smile.
  "Amazing." Anthony remarked shaking his head and turning back

to his monitor "Thank you commander."

  Tarva immediately did a sharp about-face and exited to the

bridge.


  "Have you told him about 'IT' yet?" Janice asked her

ex-roommate.

  "He's only been awake for a couple of hours."  Anndrea said

to her friend. Anndrea hadn't been extremely comfortable taking a room by herself, since the attrition that allowed it came from the losses in her own drop team.

  Janice stood up on the unused bunk and started pacing back

and forth. The hard soles on her boots seemed to cut deeply into the material but didn't do any damage. "Do you think he's going to object or something?"

  Anndrea watched Janice pace, "I don't think he'll object.  He

knows that in order to learn all we can, we take chances and sometimes make questionable decisions."

  Janice stepped off the bunk, landing with a solid thunk, and

walked over to the console Whitecloud was working at. "I can't believe that after all this time the Lieutenant would just wake up like that after being out of it for so long."

  "There's a lot of things we don't know about his people,"

Anndrea said "and we probably never will."


  Lieutenant Utlin sat in the infirmary bunk looking at the

medics looking at him. They seemed so confused by the fact that he had passed over then returned. It was nothing, Lin'Hrlar was not ready for him yet, so he was sent back. It did happen occasionally, perhaps not as often for them, but it did happen.

  Utlin stretched his left arm and examined it.  His hand

looked weak and pale. He had been healing for a long time, he was ready to start getting back into shape. With this thought, he looked at what was left of his right arm. There was a bit of arm left just below the elbow, but not enough to be of much use. He guessed he'd have to adapt; more equipment could be configured to attach to his arm, the controls in his fighter could be reconfigured to work with the Federation's advanced computers, he could think of many different changes he'd have to make to accommodate the missing hand.

  The pointed eared female pushed her way through her staff and

stood next to Utlin. "I apologize for the crowd, but they have been working on you every day since the mission, and they are concerned."

  "I understand." Utlin said in his dry unused voice.
  "Now we have some things to discuss." the female said "While

you were 'healing' we've been designing a possible replacement for your missing hand."

  "What sort of replacement?" Utlin asked, he'd never heard of

replacing a missing limb, you just learned to adapt or you would be slain.

  "It is called Bio-mechanics," The female began "we have

designed a mechanical arm to replace the one you have lost."

  "Sounds good, how does it work and when can I have it?"
  "Well there are a couple of problems." The doctor said.
  "Such as?"
  "First, we did not have the proper materials to create an

exact duplicate arm, so the one we did design looks mechanical."

  "Who's going to notice where we're going?"
  "There is something else you should know." the pointed ear

doctor hesitated for a second "Many of the parts we used came from the Borg specimens we retrieved from the Barracks."

  Utlin was quiet for a second then smiled slightly "How

appropriate that we should start assimilating them."


  Utlin had been awake for two days and already had his new arm

in place. He had seen very little of the rest of the crew except for Lieutenant Whitecloud who made a point of visiting him several times a day. There seemed to be something she wanted to tell him but couldn't. Utlin figured that she would when she was ready.

  Utlin was walking slowly around his room, re-learning to use

his legs when Anndrea signaled and came in. "How are you doing?" she asked as she approached.

  Smileing, Utlin replied "Well the legs still seem to work."

he then held up the black metal mechanical hand. "This thing even appears to be functional."

  "How about a walk?"  Anndrea suggested
  "Sure, what's going on?" Utlin asked as Whitecloud headed for

the door.

  Anndrea led her friend to an area of the ship that he had

never had business in before. After passing through several security check points, they arrived at a holding area with a lot of activity.

  "What's going on here?" Lieutenant Utlin asked as they

entered the room.

  Just as he spoke, The Lieutenant turned a corner and came

face to face with a Battle Borg. The Borg was standing in a cell in the brig, it was held back by a strong force field.

  "By the Cape of Lin'Hrlar." Utlin exclaimed "Where did this

thing come from?"

  "We brought him out with us." Anndrea said "We thought he was

killed by photon grenades, but the techs in the infirmary were able to bring him back."

  The Borg stood in the middle of his cell, absolutely still.

He ignored all of the activity beyond the force field.

  "Does he move?" Utlin asked.
  "Just to connect up to the power and recharge his batteries,

once every five hours or so." One of the techs said.

  "Then he goes right back to were you see him now." someone

else added.

  "That's it?" Utlin sounded a bit surprised. "There's been no

communication, nothing?"

  "Not a word." Whitecloud confirmed.
  "Perhaps he's damaged from the blast."
  "We don't think so." Anndrea replied "All of his biological

and mechanical functions check out."

  "This kind may be incapable of individual thought." One of

the tech's put in.

  "That's not true." Utlin said holding up his mechanical hand

"The one that did this to me spoke in the first person."

  One of the techs interrupted "Sirs, look at him."
  The Borg was looking directly at Utlin listening to what he

was saying. "We've never been able to get his attention before, no matter what we did."

  Utlin faced the Borg and looked him in the eyes "Identify."

He said to the creature.

  The Borg tilted its head to one side for a moment then said

in a mechanical voice "I am unit Three Two Five Eight of 30 Kil." The thing then added "You have been identified as Sir Utlin At Your Service Sir, an intruder."

  "That is how one of your units identified me, but I am not an

intruder."

  The Borg looked at Utlin questioningly "Was this

identification in error?"

  "Yes."
  "What is your proper identification."
  "I am Lieutenant Utlin Robe'than."
  The Borg considered this new information for an instant then

returned to his original blank stare.

  Everybody in the room knew they weren't going to get any more

conversation out of it, but Utlin persisted. "What is your function?"

  "My function is to follow the collective into battle."  The

thing said. It then walked over and stood directly in front of Utlin.

  There was some commotion in the outer chambers and they heard

someone call out "Captain on deck."

  Three Two Five Eight ignored the people in the room coming to

attention and continued to address Lieutenant Utlin. "Lieutenant Utlin Robe'than, what is your function?"

  Utlin hesitated, he knew that Captain Anthony was monitoring

this conversation from the outer office and Utlin didn't want to say the wrong thing to the enemy. "My function is to communicate with and learn about other cultures."

  "Other Cultures are irrelevant."  Three Two Five Eight

stated. "In time, all is to be ruled by the Borg."

  "Lieutenant," came Captain Anthony's voice.  The Captain

stood beside Utlin. "What do you have for me?"

  "Captain, Sir, this is Three Two Five Eight of 30 Kil." Utlin

stated trying to make a formal introduction. Utlin then turned to address the Borg but it spoke first.

  "You are Captain Robert Anthony, Captain of this Starship."

It stated.

  Anthony was not surprised that the Borg knew his name.  "So

you were aware when we were originally trying to communicate with you?"

  "That is correct."
  "Why didn't you respond then."
  "My systems could not find a point of reference for response.

Lieutenant Utlin Robe'than helped me key into the data down loaded from the collective before I was damaged."

  "Are you willing to talk with us about the collective?" the

Captain asked.

  "I have been deactivated for a long time.  The Collective has

expanded beyond its original intent. I am not a member of the current collective." The Borg said dryly.

  "Is that why you were fighting after we awakened you?" Utlin

asked.

  "We are not members of the current collective.  They intended

to assimilate us. We are not assimilated, and we do not assimilate, we conquer."


  A Command Staff meeting was called to discuss the information

provided by Three Two Five Eight. Captain Anthony, Commander Tarva and the other members of top command met in the Command Room.

  "He's lying!" Golta growled, "He wants to confuse us with

contradictory information."

  "The Borg don't lie." Commander Norton returned "They don't

have to."

  Captain Anthony agreed "We are irrelevant to them.  To lie to

someone acknowledges relevance. We must consider that this Borg is telling us what it perceives to be the truth. We must combine that with what we know about the Borg and try to draw some conclusions."

  Anthony scanned the assortment of officers in the room then

continued. "I want everybody to continue to analyze what we've already learned. We need to know all we can for our next confrontation. Focus on your own specialties, how can you interpolate what we have so far. I need as many points of view as possible, the smallest detail could determine if we survive this mission."

  Captain Anthony finished speaking to the sound of the

intercom piping on, the yellow alert warning sounded and Ensign O'Malley's voice came over the speaker "Captain to the Bridge."


  The whole command crew exited the Command Room directly onto

the bridge. Captain Anthony was the first out and headed to his center seat. "Report!" he sad to no one specific.

  Ensign O'Malley turned her chair slightly so she could look

back at the Captain but still cover her console. "Sir, we have detected twelve vessels on long range scanners, all moving at high warp. Three are heading in our general direction, the others are to our extreme sensor range heading in the direction we are."

  The Captain turned to S'Erlet at the science station.  "Do

you have an analysis of those objects yet?"

  "Sir," The young Vulcan began "The ships are currently too

far away to do a detailed analysis, but their size and other characteristics indicate possible Borg influence."

  "How long till you know for certain?"  Anthony asked turning

back toward the sensor display on the screen.

  "At current velocity," S'Erlet stated "I will be able to tell

conclusively in four minutes 15 point 5 seconds."

  "Okay," Anthony said "go to red alert.  I want everybody at

battle stations."

  All over the ship, the blast shields were lowered and the

lights were dimmed. The crew took their places in the rough duty seats while security donned Class One mission gear and took positions in strategic areas.

  S'Erlet soon confirmed that the ships they were monitoring

were indeed Borg vessels. The ships coming towards them were not responding to them but were on a trajectory by them. S'Erlet's analysis also revealed that all paths came from or headed to a common point.

  "We should be able to make preliminary scans of the origin

point in one hour twenty one minutes." S'Erlet informed the bridge.

  Things were suddenly moving quickly.  The crew of the

Vigilante had gone from seeing the occasional sensor blip to a whole screen of them.

  "How many do you read now?" Captain Anthony spoke directly to

his navigator.

  "There are now one hundred and seventy five vessels on the

long range scanners." Ensign O'Malley tried her best to make her report with little emotion.

  "Slow to warp 5." said Captain Anthony then turned to his

first officer. "We're going in slow so we have time to analyze and prepare for what's ahead."

  In the weeks that followed the atmosphere on the Vigilante

was extremely tense. Everybody waited for the green shimmer of a Borg transporter bringing a boarding party. The bridge crew was ever on the alert for one of the passing cubes to divert it's coarse to inspect this tiny intruder. None of it happened. The Vigilante sailed smoothly ever closer to what appeared to be the center of Borg activity.

  Life on the ship was as normal as it could get.  The drop

teams and pilots trained endlessly. There was no "good enough" or "we're ready". Every member of the Vigilante's crew was a professional warrior though some wouldn't admit it.

  Ensign O'Malley sat in the drop ship simulator after

completing one the hardest testing batteries. She pulled herself up out of the top hatch and removed her helmet. Her short red hair was plastered to her forehead with sweat.

  Lieutenant Commander Kartang stood outside the simulator with

his arms folded across his chest. The forced frown he wore told O'Malley that she probably didn't do as well as he had expected. "If that had been a real mission you, your co-pilot, and a whole drop team would have been lost!" he growled at her.

  "I am not a Drop Ship Pilot" O'Malley stated simply "I'm a

Starship navigator."

  "You, Ensign, are one of the few backup pilots we have.  If

anything goes wrong, your skills may be needed to save many lives." Kartang shot back at her with an even more menacing growl.

  "Sir" O'Malley returned "I hope your highly trained

professional drop Ship Pilots don't need the services of this 'under-fed', female, human navigator to get their hides out of the fire."

  Kartang stood blankly in front of O'Malley for a moment then

growled "Dismissed." He watched the human turn crisply and walk away from him. The tests at this level of training were designed to be nearly unsurvivable. The intent was not only to push the pilot's skills to the maximum but also to see how that pilot dealt with defeat.

  On the mission O'Malley had just nearly completed, Kartang

failed one time out of five. He would be proud if she were a member of his team. But he was glad she wasn't, skinny human females who showed no fear of him and sometimes little respect made him nervous.

  Ensign O'Malley entered Lieutenant Whitecloud's quarters

after signaling. The Lieutenant sat cross legged on the floor in front of a large painting. She wore her baggy black workout robes and a red band was tied around her head to keep the hair from her face.

  Whitecloud looked over the top of her painting at her former

roommate. "You've been running the flight simulator again, I see."

  O'Malley let out a growl of frustration and threw her helmet

into one of the rough duty chairs. "Kartang treats me like one of his mercenaries when I'm down there. I agreed to do it because I thought it would help me blow off some steam, instead that Klingon is making me even crazier." Janice paced back and forth through the room as she raved.

  Janice stopped behind Whitecloud and looked at her painting.

It was a picture of Sir Utlin's ship _Star Controller_. The vessel was in the middle of launching a swarm of fighters. Looking at the meticulous detail helped O'Malley calm down, she dropped into a nearby chair let out an audible sigh.

  Anndrea turned around and looked at her guest "Janice, we'll

be approaching the Borg system in two days. You've got to relax and focus on what's ahead of us. The fate of the Vigilante may rest on your being able to execute your duties flawlessly. Forget about Kartang, his job is to push you beyond your limits." Whitecloud then smiled "He appears to be doing quite well at it too."

  Captain Anthony sat alone in the Command Room studying the

reports of the approaching system. Anthony hadn't ventured past the Bridge in more than two days and had spent the majority of that time in the command room. He could feel his body slowly giving up to exhaustion but he refused to acknowledge it. The terminal he was reading from began to blur and he thought he could smell smoke.

  The room was suddenly filled with noise and confusion.

Looking up from the monitor he tried to figure out what was going on. He was no longer in the Command Room but a place much more familiar, it was a place he knew he'd never see again.

  Red alert and other klaxons bellowed and crew scrambled to

cover emergency stations. This was the bridge of the U.S.S. Nielsen and standing at one of the fire control stations was a woman who looked very familiar to him. The ship rocked from a strike, everything shook and the crew struggled to maintain their balance but Captain Anthony couldn't feel it.

  The woman barked orders to those about her while maintaining

control of the targeting computers. Anthony watched the crew struggle to maintain their balance while the ship took sharp evasive maneuvers in response to the woman's orders. The inertial dampening fields must be damaged he thought else the crew wouldn't be reacting so severely to the maneuvers.

  Suddenly, everything was still.  The woman turned and looked

at Captain Anthony. She pushed her shoulder length light brown hair out of her face and walked over to him. "Robert, why are you here?" she asked.

  "I don't know." he replied "I was in my command room on the

Vigilante and the next thing I knew I was here."

  "Come with me." she said and walked over to one of the

consoles. After pushing a few buttons, the main screen changed from a tactical display of the area to a distant shot from a probe.

  There were starships everywhere.  Some were intact others

were hulks and shells. In the middle of the destruction was a single Borg cube. The woman pointed at the screen "This, my love, is my destination," she said passionately "not your's."

  "I should have been here, it was my place to be here by your

side."

  "Listen to me," she replied "you must honor my death with

your life. I am a part of you I always have been, always shall be. Honor our life together by making the most out of yours."

  "I love you." he said forcefully.
  "I'll always love and be with you." she replied then the

Nielsen shook violently and exploded.

  Captain Anthony woke with a start as the Vigilante rocked

again. He ran to the bridge to the sound of the red alert klaxons. The ship rocked under his feet as he arrived. "What's happening?" he demanded.

  Tarva stood looking over S'Erlet's shoulder watching his read

outs "Unknown, Sir," She replied immediately "but it does not appear that we are under attack."

  "Helm, dead stop." Anthony commanded then took his seat as

the ship rocked again. "Any casualties?"

  In this kind of situation with the captain in direct command

of the bridge, it was Commander Tarva's duty to monitor all ship board functions and activity. The captain basically operated through her. "Sir, medical reports no casualties." Tarva smiled at this. She knew that all over the ship personnel probably suffered minor cuts and bruises from the unexpected jolting but this crew would never think of complaining about it.

  Ensign O'Malley reported that they were at dead stop.  The

crew then waited for the next jolt. It didn't come.

  Captain Anthony reviewed reports coming in about the current

situation then asked "How far are we from the Borg system?"

  O'Malley replied "At previous warp, we are 32 hours from the

Borg system."

  The captain suddenly turned his attention to their

destination. "Can we see it yet?"

  O'Malley checked some readouts then said "Yes, sir, the Borg

system should be visible."

  The Captain smiled slightly "Put it on the main screen."
  Janice pushed a couple of buttons and the main screen

switched from its tactical displays to a star field. The field then began to change and a single star stood out in the middle. At first it looked like any other star, then as the magnification brought it in closer, there was a noticeable blink.

  "Its pulsing." Tarva said.
  "According to the scans," O'Malley stated "the pulse is

caused by a large number of objects orbiting the star."

  "That's impossible." Tarva said "I've never heard of any star

system with that many planets."

  "Commander," O'Malley replied "I didn't say they were

planets." she then put a tactical chart of the system on the screen.

  The tactical charts were created using data from all scanners

and could be quite a bit more detailed than standard visuals. The chart of the Borg system showed the star surrounded by a cloud of planetoids and debris.

  While waiting for S'Erlet and other members of the science

teams to determine what was causing the buffeting in warp, much of the crew focused their attentions on the Borg system. The most accepted theory was that the system was filled with a millennia of debris from Borg conquests. What ever the reason for the state of their system, the Borg ships continued to come and go at high warp.

  After several hours of study S'Erlet believed he knew the

reason for the shaking. "The turbulence is caused by a degradation in the fabric of space." he reported to the bridge crew. "It has been caused by hundreds of years of high warp travel over the same routes."

  "Are we going to experience it all the way into the system?"

the Captain asked.

  "If we continue at the lower warp speed, yes. However, if we

travel at warp nine or greater we should not feel the effects as severely." S'Erlet replied.

  "At warp nine," Captain Anthony said aloud to himself "we're

less then ten minutes away." He then turned to his First Officer. "Commander Tarva, sound general quarters, we're going in."

  The outer sphere of objects clouding the Borg sun was a

network of outposts. The outposts the Vigilante scanned had the same dimensions and surface map of the one they had visited. The traffic of Borg ships appeared to be concentrating on these stations.

  Beyond the outposts, the system was a cloud of debris and

planets orbiting the Borg sun. The first layer the Vigilante scanned consisted mostly of refined metal and other materials that did not occur naturally.

  The Vigilante took a close parking position next to one of

the outposts while they completed their initial scans of the system. It had been their experience with the first outpost that the senors on these installations did not work well in close proximity.

  All non-gaseous planets in the system were strip mined like

the planets the Vigilante has surveyed upon arrival in the quadrant. The mining of these planets, however, was not nearly as efficient and they were also showing several thousand years more weathering then the other planets.

  "Sir," Ensign O'Malley reported "I am reading one planet that

has not been mined."

  "Lets see it." the Captain said immediately diverting his

attention to the main screen.

  "The computer is extrapolating now." O'Malley said.  On the

screen, the picture of a dark gray-blue planet began to flicker as the computer pieced a view of it together through the debris of the system.

  For an M-class at the current magnification, the crew

expected to see the out line of land masses and weather patterns. Instead, the planet appeared to be a single swirling mass of dark gray clouds. O'Malley adjusted the sensor frequencies filtering the clouds, the computer extrapolated the new readings into a fresh view of the planet.

  Instead of the naturally flowing forms of continental land

masses, the picture showed a grid work of construction. There were no shores or mountains, no sign of agriculture or unused land, everything was covered.

  "My God." The Captain whispered "The whole planet is built

over."


  Lieutenant Utlin had sat with the drop teams in their meeting

room watching the Vigilante's progression through the Borg system. They had detected very limited travel activity within the confines of the system. It was hypothesized that the Borg had over grown and abandoned their home planet for the network of outposts. There was, however, a very strong Borg link signal coming from the over-grown planet.

  The progress was extremely slow.  The ship had to be guided

on a path so as not to disturb any of the debris. If they bumped anything or created a wake, it could give them away.

  Utlin and Whitecloud  wandered out of the meeting room and

into Cavern. In the locker room, the A-Drop Teams were preparing the mission armor.

  "Do you think the Captain will use any of us this time

around?" Lieutenant Utlin mused.

  "If he gets a chance I know he'll send some of us in."

Anndrea replied.

  "Don't you think we'll get close enough?"
  "We barely made it out of the Outpost" Whitecloud replied.

"The Borg know something is out here and they know how to detect us. All that's left is for them to know were to look."

  Everyone on the bridge held their breath as the Captain read

the initial reports on the system. Now was the moment of decision, he would either decide to head into the lions den right away or they would sit and analyze the system for weeks as they had done on there approach. Nobody knew what the Captain would do, but they were all getting tired of sitting around watching the Borg fly back and fourth. They had been tracking the Borg flight patterns since leaving the Outpost it was time to do some real exploring.

   Captain Anthony turned to Ensign O'Malley "Ensign, plot best

course and speed to the Borg planet so as to achieve zero wake in the Borg debris field. What is the estimated time to have that ready?"

   Ensign O'Malley processed the course parameters then replied

"Computer estimates it will take thirty seven minutes to plot a course with zero wake keeping impulse power over ten percent."

   "Very good." The Captain turned to Commander Tarva

"Commander , you have the bridge. I'll be in the Command Room."

   "Yes, Sir." Tarva replied and watched the Captain stride

into the Command room.

   Upon arrival at the Borg system Lieutenant Utlin felt a

great pull to visit Lady Purlerna. They were in now at the front door of the creatures that had destroyed their world. Lin'Hrlar had brought them both here for a reason. What was his plan? Did they have a mission here, or was their survival more basic? Were they meant to be the re-genesis of Lin'Hrlar's flock? When these thoughts cross his mind, Utlin couldn't resist the urge to visit Purlerna. Could he ever except the fate of excepting this female as his Companion?

   The Lady sat in her outer chamber listening to some obscure

Federation music. Utlin sat on a small bench across from young lady. She was a magnificent sight in her red and gold robes and long flowing hair. She had put on some weight and looked fit and healthy. She continued to scan what ever it was that held her attention on the computer and fashionably ignored him for a few minutes.

   Finally she pretend to finish or grow bored with what ever

she wasn't reading on the screen and turned to Utlin. "I am pleased you have come to visit, my Future Companion." she said softly.

   "We haven't had much of a chance to talk since my return."

Utlin said "I came to see how you have been."

   "I am quite well." Purlerna said "I am, however, becoming

quite bored with this cruise. My attendants are very slow to respond to my calls and always act as if they are doing me a favor." she sighed slightly resigned to her fate of having such poor help.

   "What kind of instrumental are you listening to?" Utlin

asked trying to carry the conversation.

   "Something from a period call 'Terran Mid-eighteenth

Century' I've never heard of it before, but it is relaxing." Purlerna stood and swirled her robes about as she turned toward the replicator. "Are you hungry? we can have something delivered, at least the food service on the vessel is top notch.

   Utlin panicked, she had never been this nice to him before

and he started thinking about the 'future companion' comment she had just made. "No, I'm not hungry, thank you." he replied quickly as he stood. "I really must be going, I have duties elsewhere." He headed toward the door while she was still across the room from him.

   Utlin  felt a surprisingly strong grip on his arm that spun

him away from the door. It was Lady Purlerna, she must have run across the room to catch him. Her eyes were wide and very lucid. For the first time in many weeks she looked like she had come out of her fantasy world. Her fear was very evident. "We must leave this place." she plead.

   "What?" Utlin wasn't sure if she knew what she was talking

about.

   "They know we're here." Purlerna said "They've been waiting

for us. Tell the Lords of this vessel, tell them we must leave this place,…please" she started begging and dropped to her knees, clutching Lieutenant Utlin around the legs. "Please," she sobbed, "we must leave here…we must."


   Not long after Lady Purlerna had to be sedated the Vigilante

started its slow trek into the Borg system. The course the computer mapped out would get them to the Borg 'Home World' in 5 days.

   The crew was more on edge now than when they had entered the

Borg outpost. Nobody knew how the Borg would react to an alien vessel entering their system. Would they consider it irrelevant as they seemed to consider everything else, or would it be enough out the ordinary that it would warrant investigation. Nobody seemed to notice that the Vigilante traveled with its cloaking activated, it was assumed by the speculators that the Borg could defeat the cloak. The only remaining question was just how long would it take the Borg to come to investigate.

   Captain Anthony and Commander Tarva were not nearly as

skeptical as most of the crew. There was yet to be any evidence that the Borg sensors could defeat the cloaking. They were making preliminary plans for surveying and exploring the Borg planet when someone signaled at the door to the Command Room then entered..

   It was S'Erlet "Sir, I've been tracking the movement of Borg

vessels in the area." He began.

   "What do you have?" the Captain said turning his computer

display aside. He knew that S'Erlet would not disturb them if it wasn't important.

   "Since we began the final approach to the Borg planet, there

has constantly been five Borg cubes within two hundred million kilometers of our position."

   "What!" Captain Anthony was suddenly very interested. "Are

you saying that we are being shadowed by five Borg cubes."

   "Not exactly." S'Erlet replied "The Borg flight patterns

keep that many vessels with in the sphere I described."

   "What does that mean?" Commander Tarva asked.
   "I mean, Sir, that it appears that we are being shadowed but

not by the same vessels. The five are constantly changing depending on what looks like normal flight paths."

   "Could this be a coincidence?" The Captain sounded very

concerned.

   "If we were stationary, yes," S'Erlet said "but we are

moving, and still continue to be the center of a sphere of flight paths." S'Erlet then produced the results of his statistical analysis of the Borg flight paths.

   The Captain studied the data for a few minutes then called a

meeting of the top command staff. It was obvious that the Borg knew they were there and were going to great lengths not to show it.

   The options were limited, continue with the current flight

plan until the Borg made their move, or exit the system with all possible haste.

   "If we must leave now, we are not coming back." The Captain

said. He wasn't arguing a choice of action, just brainstorming the consequences. "Our job is not to fight our way to the Borg home world, it is to gather intelligence. We now know more about the Borg then the Federation could have ever dreamed of before commissioning the Vigilante."

   "But to get this close and not actually go the Borg home

planet would be tantamount to failure." Tarva interjected "What if they continue to ignore us? What if this adjustment of flight paths is their way of studying an anomaly without taking ships away from normal operations?"

   Commander Norton then spoke up.  He normally remained silent

at these meetings unless addressed. When he spoke, they all listened "While we sit here discussing the intentions of the Borg, they are studying us, they are analyzing us, they are _Learning_ from us."

   The Captain turned and looked at his First Officer for a

second then jumped to his feet. He headed to the bridge at a dead run.

   "Ensign," Captain Anthony said loudly "plot a course out of

the system, best speed."

   "And the wake, Sir?" Ensign O'Malley ventured.
   "Damn the wake, get us out of here." The Captain paused in

thought for a second "Plot the course to head directly away from were the closest Borg ships are headed." Captain Anthony then ordered the ship to Red Alert. "I doubt they're going to let us go peacefully." he added under his breath.

   The ship was already at battle stations, but at red alert,

they strapped in to the rough duty seats and closed the restraints. The guards and other security personnel took their weapons off safety and brought them to full charge. People were already in their places for "silent running" now they were hanging on, waiting for the fight to begin.

   "Speculate,"  the Captain said to the bridge crew "have they

pierced the cloaking, and, or the hull. Can they scan us without our sensors picking it up?"

   "Sir," Commander Tarva spoke up "If they could fully scan

us, wouldn't they have boarded or confronted us……"

   "Captain" Ensign O'Malley said "new course plotted and laid

in, Sir."

   "Thank you, Ensign, engage, full impulse."
   The Vigilante immediately took a sharp ninety degree nose

dive. Even with the inertial dampening fields, a maneuver that sharp was still felt by the crew. Anybody who was not strapped into their seats found themselves scrambling for support.

   The Captain had a hard time holding back a smile for Ensign

O'Malley. She had plotted the exact course he had asked for and threw the ship into it just as he had ordered. Many commanders would at least be annoyed with that kind of behavior, but he had given this Ensign a lecture about second guessing him in an emergency. She proved she had learned her lesson well, it also showed great self confidence in not looking for approval of the drastic maneuver. The Captain, of course, knew he had cleared the way for her by not asking to see the course before ordering it.

   "If tomorrow comes," Captain Anthony thought "I have a lot

of notations to make in the personnel records."

   With the Vigilante's sudden change of course and velocity,

the Borg vessels immediately broke their flight paths and headed toward the ship.

   The Vigilante dodged through the debris field of the Borg

system at full impulse. The path was not the most direct to open space but was calculated to put as much distance as possible between the ship and the Borg. The Vigilante was using the star system as a buffer between them and the Borg craft.

   The Borg took up immediate pursuit.  Within two minutes,

they could detect eight Borg cubes heading toward the vicinity of the Vigilante's exit from the system.

   "Sir" S'Erlet spoke up "I'm reading a low level resitron

pulse emanating from all Borg outposts. The pulse is acting like a motion detector, it is how the Borg can track up."

   Tarva turned her chair toward the young Vulcan.  "How does

it work?"

   "All outposts are sending the resitron signal to all other

outposts. If they have the system accurately charted, they will be able to detect any new movement or object."

   S'Erlet's consoled beep and he looked at new readings.

"Sir," he said "new data indicates a sub-space force field connecting the outposts in our vicinity."

   "What effect will it have on us?" Tarva asked.
   "Uncertain, I'm analyzing now."
   "No need," Commander Norton said "Minimally, a sub-space

force field of this type will rip away our deflector shields and it may rupture the hull."

   The Captain began typing at his console. "Ensign O'Mallley,

I'm entering a new course."

   "Aye, plotting new course." The young woman responded as she

laid in the new orders. The bridge could see O'Malley tense up as she translated the new heading. She couldn't help a quick questioning glance over her shoulder at the Captain.

   "Engage."
   All expected the Vigilante to make another sharp turn, but

the change wasn't noticeable.

   "There are now twelve Borg vessel converging on our previous

exit point." Someone offered.

   The Captain brought a chart up on his screen and on one of

O'Malley's screens. "Ensign, here is our way out of the system." Captain Anthony said "This is going to take some precision flying on your part, I hope your ready."

   "I hope so too, Sir." Ensign O'Malley returned with a forced

smile.

   An object soon appeared in the middle of the main view

screen.

   Commander Tarva leaned forward looking at the image on the

screen. "It's one of the outposts?"

   "Correct," Captain Anthony said he then pointed to the

diagram on his monitor "here" he pointed to an outer section of the super-structure. "We can take the Vigilante through here and avoid the force field."

   "Sir?" Tarva said quietly "Are you sure we can make it at

speed?"

   "We're going to have to, aren't we." The Captain returned in

the same hushed tone.

   "Reading activity at the outpost." Ensign O'Malley reported.

"There are Borg ships deploying from the station."

   "Steady as she goes." Captain Anthony said "Maintain course.

What's our ETA?"

   S'Erlet spoke up "Sir, our ETA to the outpost is three

minutes fifty seconds…mark."

   "Thank you." Anthony then turned back to O'Malley "At

precisely one minute, thirty seconds from structure begin evasive maneuvers Diago-Alpha."

   "Diago-Alpha, aye Sir" O'Malley confirmed.
   Commander Tarva then turned to Commander Norton "Prepare

Counter Measures for release at initiation of maneuver."

   "Working on it." Norton replied as quickly entered orders

into his console. "If the resitron tracking is as sensitive as I think, I know just what we need."

   For the crew of the Vigilante time seemed to stand still.

All who didn't have duties to perform watched the image of the Borg outpost rushing toward them. Only the bridge crew knew of the pending Diago-Alpha maneuvers. To the rest it just seemed they were rushing head first into the Lion's den.

   The ships deploying from the outpost formed a grid in front

of the structure and started heading toward them. "Sir, S'Erlet reported they are sweeping for us."

   "Thank you, Ensign." Captain Anthony replied then said

"Change evasive maneuvers to Diag-Beta, initiate on my mark."

   "Diag-Beta." O'Malley responded "Aye, Sir."
   On Captain Anthony's command the Vigilante started a series

of evasive maneuver's design. First a series of low power photon torpedoes were launched to detonate sequentially carrying the signature of the Vigilante's momentum forward. They also hoped the explosions would overload the resitron receptors and help blind the Borg for a few seconds as the Vigilante made its run through the superstructure of the outpost.

   The Vigilante cut speed and made a series of sharp course

changes. The photon torpedoes continued to detonate along the ship's former path. The Vigilante dropped under the cubes and was soon beyond the ships. The Borg had immediately focused their attention on the Vigilante's old path and the counter measures. The crew watched as their old flight path was filled with energy charges and tractor beams from the Borg ships.

   "Nice job, Ensign." Anthony said "Now take us in."
   "Aye, Sir, starting final run now."  O'Malley replied.
   "Prepare to jump to warp as soon as we exit." Anthony told

the bridge. "Evasive pattern Romeo-One."

   The Vigilante increased speed and headed toward the right

side of the structure. The computer was given the task of adjusting speed and direction based on the scans of other outposts. If this Outpost varied in design from the others, it could be disaster for the Vigilante. The ship weaved in, out and around the surface structures of the station. Every course change and speed adjustment was predetermined from maps they made of the first Outpost and hopefully corrected on the fly from incoming data.

   Approaching the final obstacle, the crew was ready to jump

to warp before being totally clear of the structure. "Hold your speed." the Captain said "If they can't see us on this side, we don't want to give ourselves away by jumping too soon."

   It was a matter of seconds from clearing the last structure

to clearing the Station totally. The few beats of time it took to be free the station were an eternity. The ship was barely flexing when it flung them away from the Borg system at warp 9.

   "Any sign of pursuit?" Commander Tarva asked praying for a

negative reply.

   In response, the ship rocked hard to port and the lights

dimmed for an instant.

   "Continue evasive sequence."  Anthony said, then turned

toward Commander Norton "What's out there?"

   "We read two Borg cubes in the immediate area." Norton

replied, reading directly from reports on his screen. "They are holding warp nine and firing randomly in front of them."

   "Lets see them." Captain Anthony said turning toward the

main screen.

   "Stabilized rear view coming up now, Sir." Norton responded.
   The screen  showed two Borg ships that appeared to be

moving in a synchronized dance left and right, and up and down across the screen. The apparent movement was caused by the Vigilante's evasive maneuvers. Without computer stabilization, the picture would have been a complete blur.

   "Why only two?" someone wondered aloud.
   A coded clearance appeared on Commander Tarva's screen from

the Captain. "Commander Norton have fire control target the closest Cube. Prepare delivery sequence Shelby-One." She said without turning her attention from the commands on her screen. As second in command of the Vigilante Commander Tarva was given many of the firing codes instead of the Captain. It was an attempt to decentralize command in case of capture.

   "Commander hold fire." the Captain said.  "Helm, increase

speed to warp nine point three." Captain Anthony was hoping the Vigilante could get away from the Borg without a fight. He knew they couldn't defeat the Borg and he wanted to avoid leaving the system in a fire fight.

   Just as the Vigilante increased speed, Lieutenant S'Erlet

spoke up "Captain, no! They may be able …" The Vigilante shook violently and lurched hard to port.

   As soon as the ship started to shake, Commander Tarva

started yelling, "Fire, Fire."

   The Vigilante released a stream of photon torpedoes directly

at the Borg ship behind them. At the same time, they beamed dozens of specially prepared torpedoes directly into the interior of the ship. The torpedoes fired at the cube had minimal effect on the it, but served as a distraction. The torpedoes were beamed into strategic locations throughout the structure.

   The photon torpedoes exploded in a predefined pattern called

the Shelby Sequence. Commander Shelby was one of he foremost authorities on the Borg and had suggested that if their main power conduits could be disrupted in exactly the right pattern, it could create a feed-back resonance that would destroy the ship. The Borg immediately started experiencing trouble and dropped out of warp.

   The Vigilante had trouble of its own and no one noticed when

one of their pursuers dropped light years behind them. The star ship had dropped its speed and spun wildly off course.

   "Maintain Warp." Captain Anthony yelled  "Continue evasive

maneuvers. Engineering what's our status?"

   Tarva cross talked over the Captain, ordering the targeting

of the second cube.

   "We've sustained damage to warp nacelle One." came Commander

Dolittel's voice from engineering.

   "Unable to establish transporter lock on cube's interior."

Commander Norton reported, then added "Shields are at seventy five percent. Cloaking is operative."

   "Damage stableized." Dolittel echoed in the background.
   "Holding warp nine." helm reported over the commotion.
   "What the HELL happened!?" The Captain demanded.
   "Our increase in velocity registered on the Borg's motion

detectors and they were able to triangulate on us." S'Erlet reported speaking as quickly as he could.

   "Sir," Ensign O'Malley spoke up "I read ten Borg ships

headed in this direction at high warp, they will catch up with us in five minutes."

   "Shiv."  Captain Anthony said loudly then started entering

new commands into his console. "Helm, I'm entering a new course."

   "Aye, Sir" came the simple reply.
   "Engage."
   The Vigilante immediately dropped out of warp and changed

its heading straight down. For an instant, the ship continued on its old course with saucer section pointing down. The closer cube was immediately light years beyond them with the other ships also over shooting.

   The Vigilante used its acceleration advantage jumping

directly to warp 9.6. This time they held a straight course trying to put as much distance between themselves and the Borg as possible.

   "Bridge," came Dolittel's voice from engineering.  "I don't

know if we can maintain this speed, the damaged nacelle might not hold."

   "We won't have to for long."  The Captain replied "Prepare

for controlled worm hole.." Before Anthony had finished speaking, the Vigilante shudder and the lights flickered.

   "Sir we're losing speed." Ensign O'Malley reported.
   "Engineering," the Captain yelled at the intercom what's

going on down there?

   "We lost nacelle one,"  Dolittel reported  "nacelle two is

also off line." Because of resonance and synchronization problems, the warp nacelles could only be operated in matched pairs. "Recelebrating for two nacelle operation now."

   From the last maneuver, the Borg had become extremely strung

out and did not have a precise location of the Vigilante. The one ship in the area was able to zero in on the interference and radiation being generated by the failing nacelle. The ship approached slowly, still unable to pin point the intruder.

   "All Stop." Captain Anthony commanded.
   "Initiate jamming." Tarva said as they watched the ship

approach. The jamming devices were designed to blind the Borg scanners and to mask the Borg link.

   The Vigilante drifted under the Borg ship as it passed

through the area. The crew watched the Borg on the main view screen in silence. The ship passed beyond the Vigilante but was still within jamming range when it turned back.

   Anthony signalled engineering. "Do we have full speed?"
   "We have full speed." came Dolittel's reply "But

acceleration will be effected slightly and we won't be able to hold top speed indefinitely."

   "How about the controlled wormhole?" Tarva put in.
   "Aye, it is still operational." Dolittel returned.
   Approaching the Vigilante's position the Borg began an

intense off-frequency sensor sweep of the area. The cube wasn't heading directly toward the ship but would pass extremely close.

   "Prepare to jump to warp nine point six on my command."

Anthony told the crew.

   The Borg passed just beyond its closest point when the ship

came to a dead stop. Sensors on the Vigilante told them the whole area was under intense study from the Borg.

   The crew leaned forward watching the Borg closely.  Should

they wait and see if they passed on or jump now and hope to out run them.

   "It can maintain nine point six just as well as we can."

Captain Anthony said to Commander Tarva when she looked at him questioningly. "Lets see if they pass on. Helm be prepared for warp if they get any closer."

   "Sir, I'm ready a power buildup in the closest face of the

Cube." S'Erlet reported.

   "Get us out of here!" Anthony said.
   A tractor beam sprang from the Borg ship aimed directly at

the damaged nacelle. The Vigilante jumped to warp nine point six just in time to avoid the beam. The Borg immediately took up pursuit.

   "Prepare for  controlled worm hole." Anthony commanded.

"We've got to get out of here before they can triangulate in on us again."

   The Vigilante rocked again as the Borg latched out with

their tractor beam. The beam locked solidly on the deflector shields around the disabled nacelle.

   "They've established a tractor Beam lock. We're dropping out

of warp." Commander Norton reported. "Targeting all weapons now."

   "Fire at will."  Anthony said. "Get us out of here."
   For the first time ever the Vigilante's phasers fired in

anger. The high powered phaser banks fired through a 'rippling' effect in the cloaking and did heavy damage to the cube's superstructure, but the tractor beam held tight. At the same time all of the Vigilante's torpedo delivery systems targeted the cube. The launched torpedoes were aimed at the source of the tractor beam and at the sights that were taking damage from the phasers. The tractor beam area was heavily shielded and the torpedoes did no significant damage. Heavy damage continued to be inflicted on the areas the phasers could reach, the beam held tight. Internally, torpedoes were beamed in but they couldn't achieve the Shelby Sequence and were doing no noticeable damage.

   Another beam came from the Borg ship, this was the high

powered cutting beam. It immediately struck the shields between the top nacelles, next to the tractor beam. The Vigilante shuddered and lost power to many low priority systems as the computer tried to maintain the shields.

   "Shields down to forty five percent."  Commander Norton

reported.

   "Disengage cloaking." Captain Anthony said "Save the energy,

they know we're here."

   "At current rate, shields will fail in five minutes."

Commander Norton said.

   "Sir," it was S'Erlet.
   "Yes" The Captain said quickly glance toward the young

Vulcan.

   "We may be able to escape when the shields fail."
   "Explain."
   "The Borg still haven't dealt with the Vigilante's hull

material. Because of its energy absorbing nature the tractor beam may not be as effective against the bare hull."

   The Captain looked at his security chief "What do you

think?"

   "Its a solid hypothesis based on current data." Norton said

"But the data is not conclusive."

   "What about the cutting beam?" Commander Tarva asked.
   "Oh," S'Erlet said almost nonchalantly "We'll take a direct

hit over Engine Room One."

   Tarva immediately signaled evacuation of Engine Room One and

emergency lock down of Engine Room Two. All personnel were evacuated from Engine Room One and all non essential personnel from Engine Room Two. The remaining personnel stayed in their rough duty chairs which would automatically drop to safety in an emergency. They all knew this wouldn't happen, since if E.R. Two failed, there would be no safety.

   "Prepare to drop shields." Anthony commanded.  "Helm and

Engineering be ready for warp as soon as we cut the rear shields."

   Captain Anthony sat back and braced himself.  He could sense

the rest of the Bridge crew and the ship tense up as the lights dimmed again from the power strain of the two beams.

   Phaser and torpedo fire continued to pour from the Vigilante

but was having considerably less of an effect. When the Vigilante dropped it's rear shields its lights seemed to brighten for an instant. Immediately, however, the cutting beam hit the craft amid ships near the saucer section. Much of the energy was dissipated by the hull, but Engine Room One was still engulfed in fire and explosions.

   The Borg tractor beam was much less focused and needed more

time to adjust to the new target. This was all the Vigilante needed and it was instantly out of sight. Borg being as single minded as they are immediately took off after the strange little ship.

   Commander Dolittel and several technicians worked feverishly

in the engine room control center that over looked both areas. The evacuated Engine Room One was engulfed in flame and high power electrical discharges the instant the Borg struck the ship. Most functions had already been diverted to Engine Room Two, but the Vigilante still felt a massive power loss from the damage.

   Seconds before the strike, Commander Dolittel had closed the

blast shields between the control room and Engine Room One. Through failing monitors, he watched one of the two most advanced engine rooms in Star Fleet burn.

   Now they had another problem, they had started shutting down

the ALPHA warp core as soon as the evacuation was ordered, but there hadn't been nearly enough time. The team was doing all they could to release the energy building up in the damaged coils, but they knew it was only a matter of minutes before a total breach.

   Sirens howled around him as Commander Dolittel signaled the

bridge. "We have less then two minutes before warp core breach." he reported. "Prepare for ejection of ALPHA warp core and anti- matter pods."

   Dolittel then glanced at the stats for BETA core, it was

pushing 98% capacity. Continuing work on the ejection he signaled the bridge with the stats for the BETA core and the count down for the ejection of ALPHA core.

   10...9...
   The Vigilante held warp eight and the bridge crew watched

the countdown for the ejection of ALPHA core.

   .8...7...
   They watched the Borg gaining on them and knew they had only

one card left to play.

   .6...5...
   "Prepare for controlled worm hole." Anthony yelled.
   .4...3...
   Explosive charges released the ALPHA Core exterior hull

plates from the Vigilante.

   .2...1...
   The plates didn't have time to separate from the ship when

they were blown away from the much larger explosions expelling ALPHA core and its anti-matter pods.

   The ship rocked from the radical maneuver but the maintained

power thanks to the BETA core. The picture of the approaching Borg ship was soon obliterated by the exploding warp core. All silently hoped the cube would be destroyed or disabled by the explosion, but it quickly emerged from the cloud unscathed.

   "Bridge, Dolittel here." came a voice over the intercom.
   "Commander," Anthony called back "do we have the controlled

wormhole?"

   "Sir, it's a mess down here." Dolittel returned.  "There's

no way we can implement a worm hole and have any control over it."

   "I read five more Borg ship closing fast." S'Erlet reported

in the background.

   "I don't care about control!" Anthony yelled at the bearded

face on his monitor. "Get us out of here, now."

   The nearest Borg ship was close enough to fire on the

Vigilante but had sustained sufficient damage to effect its targeting systems. The first bursts of energy missed the Vigilante, but they would use the misses to adjust their sighting.

   Ensign O'Malley had been trying to run setup routines on the

Worm Hole console next to her but was getting no response. Suddenly the ship was filled with a loud siren that none recognized at first. It was the ten second warning for the wormhole.

   Dolittel had to over ride every safety precaution built into

the controlled wormhole, but that was easy working at the engineering main console. The Captain didn't seem to care were they went, as long as it was away from here, and Dolittel quite agreed. Strapping himself into his rough duty seat, he looked out into the engine room and watched his crew scramble for their own chairs.

   "God, I hope they make it." he thought to himself, then

frowned. "God I hope WE make it."

   They hit a brick wall, or at least if felt like it.  Captain

Anthony wasn't sure what happened. Everything flew at him and he felt himself crush into his chair. The bridge wrapped around him then began to spiral in front of him. It looked like a long tunnel with the view screen and stars at the far end. The tunneling felt like it was drilling into his hole body. Then it was through him and he felt like he would be blown apart.

   When the Vigilante purposely breached the alignments of its

warp coils, the pursuing Borg ship was extremely close. The artificial wormhole created by the breach sucked the large Borg ship into its starship sized corridor. The Cube collapsed like water flowing through a funnel.


   Pain surged through everybody on the Vigilante.  They felt

like every blood vessel their bodies had exploded. Captain Anthony gasped for breath and fumbled to release himself from his restraints. The Bridge was almost black except for faint red emergency lighting. The Wormhole control systems had emergency power cut offs in case accidents, but they too may have been disabled to implement maneuver.

   Captain Anthony felt extremely light headed, but didn't know

if it was from injuries or from loss of gravity. When he got the restraints removed and tried to stand, it felt like the seat just dropped away from him. He wasn't in free fall, but gravity was minimal.

   "Bridge to engineering." The Captain said looking around the

bridge. "What's our status?" The bridge crew was slowly gaining consciousness. Debris hung from the ceiling and littered the deck.

   "Bridge to Engineering, report."  Anthony tried again.
   There was still no response.  Captain Anthony made it one of

the Bridge engineering stations and tried to run some diagnostics.

   "Bridge to any station, report." came Commander Tarva's

voice from behind Anthony.

   The Captain looked back at his First Officer, he had

neglected his bridge crew knowing the status of the ship was more important then any one of them. The short Kalonian was working herself free of the restraints and trying to raise the rest of the ship at the same time.

   The diagnostics didn't look good, they had minimal power,

and it looked the safety over rides on the worm hole had totally shut down the BETA warp core.

   "This isn't good." Captain Anthony said softly.
   Other Bridge crew were slowly gaining consciousness.

Commander Tarva was able to raise several sections of the Vigilante, but not Engineering.

   "Were are we?" Anthony said, "Did we get away from the

Borg?"

   As if in answer to his question, the Vigilante rocked with a

great THUD. The whole crew scrambled for the support and looked at each other trying not show the fear they we feeling. The ship rocked again.

   "What is it?" Antony demand "Are we under attack?"
   The crew tried every station for answers but none responded.

The power loss was total for external sensors. When the ship rocked a third time, Captain Anthony and Commander Tarva both scrambled for the command room. After prying the door open, they had to contend with the blast shields. There were manual controls, but they were not designed for emergencies, only maintenance.

   After getting one shield half open they had a small area

looking across the rear of the ship. The Vigilante floated in blackness. The few pin points of light from distant stars weren't enough to tell them what was out there.

   "We have contact with the drop bays." Anthony said.
   "Yes, Sir." Tarva replied.
   "Tell them to turn on the emergency landing beacons, that

might give us enough light to see what out there." Another thudding sound echoed through the ship.

   "Commander Kartang reports they have about a minutes worth

of battery power for you." Tarva report from here large communicator.

   "That should be plenty."  Anthony said.
   Tarva put the communicator away bring out a tri-corder and

leaned down to look out the window with the Captain. In such an absence of light even the smallest amount can seem like a sun rise. Straight back, light suddenly came up from where the hull dropped off to the shuttle bays.

   Captain Anthony and Commander Tarva grimaced at what they

saw first. To their right, the hull was scorched black and cracks radiated from the center of the strike. The upper port nacelle had a large hole blown in the front and was shattered down the side. Wires and debris dangled from it.

   At first they saw no sign of what was hitting the Vigilante,

finally they saw a large chunk of debris slowly float out of the darkness and glance of the side of the ship. With the hit, a dull THUD echoed through the starship. Soon after they were hit, the lights from the shuttle bay faded and went out.

   "Did you get it?" Anthony asked.
   "Yes, Sir." Tarva replied holding up the tri-corder show a

clear picture of the object that had just struck the ship.

   The two headed for the Bridge and heard the computers begin

to come back on line. Tarva went straight to S'Erlet to help with identifying the debris and Captain Anthony tried signalling engineering again.

   The intercom was filled with static, a step forward, then a

voice broke though. ".ridge, this is Comm….Dolit…damage from worm……..casualties. Will have some..ower on line in….minutes." Dolittel was speaking quickly to get the message through before communication was lost again.

   Captain Anthony turned to one of the technicians nearby get

down there and find out what exactly is our status." He then turned to someone else, "Try to set up a computer link with engineering, maybe we can get some information that way."

   "Can anybody tell me where we are yet?" Anthony said looking

around at the whole bridge.

   Ensign O'Malley spoke up. "Sir, I have established a link

with Stellar Cartography we are working on our location now. With the main computers still down, it may take awhile."

   "OK, Ensign, keep working on it."
   "Sir." It was Commander Tarva.
   "Yes, Commander.
   "We've tentatively identified the debris we saw." Tarva

reported.

   "What is it?" the Captain asked he figured it was from some

part of the Vigilante he couldn't see.

   "The piece I recorded is a fragment of a Borg ship." Tarva

reported. "We've also enhanced the pictures to show more of the space around us."

   Tarva then showed Captain Anthony the tri-corder's screen.

It showed that the Vigilante was floating in a cloud of debris.

   "Apparently," S'Erlet offered "The cube followed us through

the worm hole and was torn apart in the process."

   The Captain looked at the picture and smiled "I guess it

didn't fit."

   The ship rocked again from another strike.
   "If we don't get the shields back up soon, that damned Borg

ship may still be the end of us." Anthony said in frustration.

   At that, the main lights came up and everyone suddenly felt

much less light headed.

   "Bridge, this is Engineering." came Commander Dolittel's

voice over the intercom.

   "Go ahead, Commander." Tarva replied.
   "We have main power back on line and shields at eight

percent. We've sustained major damage to all drive systems but should be able to repair most of it." Dolittel reported. "We are currently working on getting the impulse drives back on line so we get some maneuverability back."

   "What about the warp drives."  Tarva asked.
   "It's hard to say, Commander.  We should be able to get

nacelles three and four on line, but not at full capacity. Top speed will probably be around warp seven and top sustainable speed around warp five."

   "How about the controlled worm hole" the Captain asked

dryly.

   "Sir," Commander Dolittel returned.  "that last jump  is

about as controlled as it gets."

   "No control on the worm hole and no high warp capability."

Captain Anthony summarized. "I hope we landed somewhere near the Federation, or else it could be a very long ride home."

   Ensign O'Malley looked up from her console with a glazed

look in her eyes. "Sir we have determined our present location. We are on the far side of the Gamma quadrant."

   "The Gamma Quadrant?" Tarva asked in disbelief.
   "We would have had to go right through the Alpha quadrant to

get here." someone said.

   "Sir," S'Erlet offered. "At high warp, the Gamma quadrant is

eighty years from Federation space."

   "Thank you Lieutenant, I know." Captain Anthony said as he

dropped heavily into his chair, "I know."

              You who find us in this place,
              Have you pity in your breast
              Let us in our last embrace,
              Under earth sun-hallowed rest.
              Night's a claw upon my brain:
              Oh, to see the Sun again.
                     "Sunshine"
                       Robert W. Service



/data/webs/external/dokuwiki/data/pages/archive/stories/vgilante.txt · Last modified: 2002/06/23 06:44 by 127.0.0.1

Was this page helpful?-110+1

Donate Powered by PHP Valid HTML5 Valid CSS Driven by DokuWiki