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Tabor Nansk

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About Tabor Nansk

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    No. California
  1. Sitting in the cockpit of his fighter for seemingly endless hours on seemingly pointless alert, had given Tabor plenty of time to work out a plan on how to deal with the prison situation. Since nothing in the way of a decision – or direction - seemed to be coming down from upstairs, he let his mind wax creative. If he were one of the prisoners, what would be their plan of escape? First priority would be getting off the planet. The facility itself had no long range ships and certainly none that would carry more than a few passengers anyway. The answer had to be in the transport ships that came calling each week with new prisoners and base supplies. Even though they were carrying supplies, the Reaent’s hails hadn’t been answered because she was not one of the usual ships and had arrived off schedule. The prisoners knew something was amiss. So the first step in breaching the standoff was to convince the prisoners that the Reaent was one of the regular supply ships. To do that, they would have to break orbit and make the prisoners think she had given up trying to make contact. The Reaent could then intercept the next regularly scheduled transport, instruct them to stand off, and then return to the prison in that ship’s place. If we could disguise ourselves as asteroids to cross the neutral zone, we could easily disguise ourselves as a transport freighter. Now came the question of putting boots on the ground. The prisoners would be expecting supplies, a few new inmates, and a small contingent of security guards. They probably already had a plan to overpower the transport’s security by dressing a larger force in the prison’s security uniforms. The Reaent could use that to our own advantage – we would let it happen. We’d send a couple of “prisoners” (Tabor planned on volunteering himself and Will), TKar and a few security people, and some of the supplies that the ship was carrying actually destined for the facility. That’s what the prisoners expect and when their plan to overpower the newcomers was successful, they would turn their attention to the next step which was getting aboard the transport. What the prisoners wouldn’t pay attention to is what they couldn’t see. The key to Tabor’s plan was Shamor’s situation. Scuttlebutt travels fast even on a starship. Shamor’s invisibility would allow him to accompany the away team without being detected. He could then part from the main group, rescue the prison’s real security personnel and coordinate re-taking the facility. Tabor was sure Shamor would be all over that assignment. Now all that Tabor needed to do was get the plan to the Captain. Of course he’d have to “go through channels” and that meant getting Will on board with the plan. As Tabor set off for the Flight Office to find his wingmate, he was fairly confident Will would go for it. Especially the part about being a prisoner!
  2. Tabor sat at the controls of the rescue shuttle uncharacteristically frozen with indecision. With every waning of the storm’s winds, he would reach for the throttles determined to take action. The problem was what action to take. He was certain he could launch out vertically, clear the planet’s atmosphere and gain the safety of space. It was just that that didn’t gain him anything. Sure, he could contact the Reaent from there, but that was all. There was no help coming from the ship. If there was something they could do, they would have done it when the first team became stranded and there would have been no need for the second shuttle. Secondly, once clear of the storm, there was no guarantee that he could manage a successful landing again even if the sensors somehow penetrated the interference and located the away team. And he would never abandon them. Flying through the storm was just as problematic. Almost zero sensors meant he would be at the mercy of the wildly fluctuating winds – even if he knew what course to plot. He had only the rudimentary direction that the rescue team had taken on foot. Once again he rued the lack of ground capabilities, though to be fair, the designers couldn’t be faulted for not thinking of wheels on a space flight vehicle. That left staying put as the number one option, one that had the plus of actually following Cmdr. Ridire’s orders. But sitting was not in Tabor’s nature, especially given the admittedly garbled transmission from said commander that seemed to indicate they were in trouble. So Tabor had decided to “hop” the shuttle: lifting off a few feet, clearing the dense forest growth with a low power short burst of phaser fire, moving forward, and then setting down again. It was a risky maneuver – for anyone or anything in front of the phasers – but Tabor was out of patience. As the winds abated again, he began to power up the thrusters. Suddenly the windshield was filled with a giant eye. Before Tabor could react, the eye withdrew exposing the biggest creature the likes of which he’d never seen. It grabbed hold of the shuttle and lifted in into the air like a child’s toy, tossing and turning it before finally flinging it skyward in a long arc. “Well,” he thought, “decision made.” Tabor pushed the throttles to full and did his best to regain stability of the gyrating craft. After what must have been two or three rolls (a generous description of out of control tumbling), Tabor spotted a likely clearing on the ground and worked to set the shuttle down as gently as possible. Ridire was going to have his hide for not being at the original landing site but at least he wouldn’t be able to add crashing the shuttle to the charge. Now for the 64 latinum question: where was he?
  3. Tabor received the order to use the fighters in a scouting capacity with mixed emotions. He was happy to finally be playing an active role in their current mission, but confused as to why he got the call rather than Will. Will had been acting CAG for months now and Tabor wondered if this signaled a change coming from the Captain “Computer, contact all pilots: Report for mission briefing in 15 minutes.” Then he used his own comm badge for a private channel. “Tabor to Will. Will, meet me outside the briefing room before you go in. We need to talk.” Will frowned when he heard Tabor announce the briefing and then the subsequent summons to meet Tabor prior to it. He tapped his badge, "Acknowledged Tabor. Be there promptly." He got up from the couch, put the book away and then left his quarters. The more Will thought about it, the more he frowned. He was the acting CAG, yet a mission brief came down from the Captain to Tabor and not him? Will found himself with mixed feelings. On one hand, the Captain possibly moving forward with officially choosing a CAG was a very good thing for the squadron. On the other, Will wanted the job and he knew that his best friend didn't want to be within ten clicks of it. He turned the corner and found Tabor waiting outside the briefing room while the rest of the pilots were filing into the briefing room. Tabor arrived at the pilots’ briefing room and noted with satisfaction that it was full – no late stragglers. In fact, they were early, a good sign Tabor thought. Will came down the passageway shortly and Tabor looked at his friend with a set expression on his face. “I want you to know this wasn’t my doing, but I am going to need your support.” Will nodded, "I understand." He managed to force a small smile, "And if you get the job, well I guess it sucks to be you then." Will couldn't help the slightly hurt look but there was also confusion, "I just wonder what got the Captain to finally move forward with this decision all of the sudden. He had all the time in the world while we were patrolling Benecia but now in the middle of a rescue mission? That doesn't make sense." Tabor stiffled a sheepish look, not wanting to tell Will that he had gone to see Dr. Curtis with a morale issue. It had always been a long shot, but one that apparently had some effect. "Let's go inside before the natives get too restless." Tabor waived his arm in invitation and let Will enter first. Will frowned slightly as he entered. The slight hesitation was not lost on him but he let it go and kept a neutral face as he headed for one of the seats instead of the podium. As he sat, he couldn't help hearing the whispers from the others about Tabor being up front and Will taking the seat. The waiting pilots fidgeted in their chairs as the two men walked to the front of the room, then stared in disbelief and wonder as Tabor took the dias and Will took a seat to one side. "Gentlemen," Tabor began, "first a comment. There are some changes happening in the command structure. Please look at your data padds now." The pilots accessed the small displays built into the arms of their chairs and the reaction rippled through the room. "You'll note that flight groups and wingmates have been reorganized. That includes Lt. Tomlinson and myself." Tabor had used what he had learned during his informal bull-session in the aft lounge to establish new leaders and crews. Some of the pilots looked up with questioning faces. Others, the key players Tabor saw with satisfaction, looked up with a knowing twinkle in their eyes. The moves explained some of the different simulations Tabor had run the pilots through lately. Will lost his neutral facade and frowned very deeply when he saw that they had been split up as wing mates. Ever since Will got Tabor back and restored him to flying status, he put himself as Tabor's wingman every time. "Are you the new CAG?" asked one of not so happy pilots. This was the question that Tabor wanted to avoid, but knew he had to deal with it straight on and get it out of the way. "For today I am. Now let's get started with the mission briefing." Will found himself growing more and more upset though he managed to keep it from surfacing as he listened to Tabor start. "First off," said Tabor, "This is a mission about mapping. Science thinks they've discovered more of these time bubbles and they want us to get a closer look. Understand me clearly: we are not in a hurry. The Ithaca's been in this anomoly for 25 years. Another day isn't going to change anything. I want you to navigate these bubbles at dead slow. I don't want anyone getting sucked into one of these things because you were going too fast and couldn't extricate yourself if you bumped into one of the surface boundaries. Second, you and your wingman are to stay glued to each other. If someone does get into trouble, I want one of us right there on the spot. I don't want to have to find out someone's missing later at roll call. And third, if you find something interesting, like the Ithaca crew waiving at you..." - that got a slight chuckle out of the assembly - "...call it in and hold position. The Captain's got the final say on what we do from there. Any questions?" Hearing the chuckles, Will was not amused with anything right now that involved the Captain. Once there were no questions, Tabor dismissed the briefing. "All right, gentlemen, to your fighters. I want to be ready to launch in ten minutes." Will waited until everyone had left before approaching Tabor. Though Will's face was neutral, his eyes told the whole story, he was NOT happy about any of this, "So you're breaking up the brand, eh? Mind if I ask why?" Will kept his tone friendly but it was a bit cold underneath. Tabor thought, next to this, the CAG question was a piece of cake. "I'm an anchor around your neck, Will. I've got more baggage than the Howell's on Gilligan's Island. [no one from this century should know that joke, but I couldn't pass it up!] Believe me, I couldn't ask for a better friend. You gave me your family. But you need to distance yourself from me if you're going to advance, especially if this mission goes south. I don't know what the Captain is thinking, but I get the feeling this is some kind of trial by fire. If things go well and I pass his test, well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. If things go badly, you don't want to be anywhere around me." Tabor felt like he was kicking his pet dog so it wouldn't follow him off to school. He didn't believe a word of what he was saying, but Will had to hear it anyway. And more importantly, he had to believe it. "Go on and suit up. We can talk more when we get back." Will nodded, "Alright Tabor, if that is REALLY how you feel about it." Will turned away from his best friend and went to the locker room to suit up. It was difficult to put this confusion with Tabor aside, but now he had to focus on the job at hand if we wanted to hope to survive it. As he suited up, he couldn't help but remember Tabor's words and he didn't like the feeling that was developing in his gut. It was the same feeling that he got when Tabor was running loose trying to steal his fighter for some fool mission. Tabor watched Will go and wondered if this could ever be patched up. He gave his friend time to suit up before going to the locker room himself. When he entered the flight deck, he already had his helmet on so he wouldn't have to catch Will's eye. Climbing up the access ladder, he eased into the cockpit and adjusted the restraints. "Tabor to flight group. Taxi into position and hold." As flight leader, Tabor took the lead position in the launch tube. He notified the bridge that the wing was ready to go and was given the ok to launch. "Tabor to flight group. We're clear to launch. Good luck gentlemen." When deck operations gave him the green light, Tabor pushed the throttle forward and hurtled out into space. Will entered the cockpit and sealed his canopy. After he went through his preflight check and slid his fighter into position for launch, he waited. He turned his head and saw Tabor, with helmet on heading to his fighter. He sighed a bit as he watched Tabor go. Will shook his head, if he didn't love that damned Bajoran so much, he'd hate him. Will smiled at the thought. When the deck officer gave him the green light, he punched his throttle forward and was shot out into space. Once out in space, Will formed up with his new wingman and got ready to do his patrol route. He couldn't resist opening a private channel to Tabor, "Hey CAG-wannabe, stay safe brother. Don't make me have to pull your bacon out of the fire again." His tone was warm. Tabor smiled at the comm. It would be alright.
  4. Tabor left the bridge after the latest batch of probes was fired into the bubble. His mind was spinning with contradictions about the whole procedure and didn’t even notice that Commander Ridire had joined him in the turbolift. Somewhat startled, he said, “I was thinking about your response to me saying the Ithaca crew might not have had a destination in mind as they tried to escape the bubble. You called it suicidal, but I think it was actually the only real option they had. Imagine being lost in the middle of a circular desert, with no knowledge of how far it was to an edge of the expanse, and no way of knowing where help lay beyond its boundary. Any direction would be as good a choice as another. It’s possible that all the Ithaca knew was that they were caught in some kind of distortion, and that nothing showed on their sensors except empty space. You’re probably right that Benicia would be the logical choice of direction, even though they couldn’t see it. But they never reached Benicia, or anywhere else for that matter, and I think I know why.” Aidan smiles to himself, privately thinking that Tabor does have a point. "You're possibly correct, Mr. Nansk. Of course considering the fact that we're dealing with a temporal situation it is possible that they did have a destination in mind and have gotten there...and we just don't know about it yet. Rather the bane of situations dealing with time travel and temporal paradoxes, I'm afraid. It's a pity that such things couldn't just remain the purview of ships named Enterprise." Aidan shrugs slightly as he finishes his comment. He waits for Tabor to inform the computer of his destination before Aidan himself orders it to leave him off near his quarters. Tabor paused before responding. “Respectfully, sir, I think we’re missing an important point – namely, we’re dealing with a spatial anomaly as well as a temporal one. If the bubble we’re only a time distortion and all other spatial parameters were the same as our own space, in order to physically contain a starship at warp for 25 years, the size of the sphere would encompass half the quadrant, if not the entire thing. But that’s not the case. The Captain pointed out that the bubble was actually fairly small. It doesn’t reach Benicia or any other system in normal space. To the Ithaca, they ran for 25 years towards a destination they couldn’t see. To us, they’ve barely moved at all. If there were to be planetary systems for them to reach, the bubble would have to contain a parallel universe of some sort to give them that opportunity. And we’ll never know unless we entered the distortion ourselves. Which I’m not suggesting by the way.” Aidan frowns darkly when Tabor mentions going into the distortion. He had already decided that he'd fight tooth and nail against that idea because it was just as likely that the Reaent would also become stuck. Aidan knew what he wanted the next 25 years or so of his life to be and it didn't involve being stuck on starships. "Tabor, at this moment we simply don't know enough about what's going on to make that determination or any other. For all we know this may be something like those old...oh what were they called...slow motion sports bloopers that my grandfather watched as a kid. Or we're simply getting something like a view through a magnifying lens. Simple logic says they wouldn't have abandoned their ship without a destination in mind." Aidan holds up a hand to forestall the expected reply. "Yes, you may be right and they didn't have a destination in mind. So you should bring up that point to both the Captain as well as Ms. O'Halloran." Tabor knew better than to press his point further. “Deck 3, Flight Ops” he announced to the turbolift. Actually, he was amazed and pleased that the conversation had gone this far – both in terms of getting his ideas included in the mission discussion and that the Commander had even spoken to him at all. Tabor hoped this might be the start of paving over a rocky past. The two men rode the rest of the way in the silence of their own thoughts.
  5. .ExternalClass .ecxhmmessage P{padding:0px;}.ExternalClass body.ecxhmmessage{font-size:10pt;font-family:Tahoma;}Will smiled at seeing an out of breath Anna come running to up to him, "Here...I...am..." she managed to gasp out. Will almost laughed as he gave her a hug and gave her a few seconds to catch her breath but knew she hurried for him, "Well since you are here now and aren't going to die of heart failure, we should go, eh?" "Actually, I left everything in the very capable hands of Dr. Smith," Anna grinned at him. "And yes, we should go now--before some disaster occurs and the Captain calls us all back." Will, being the gentleman he was, offered his arm to her. When she took it, they left the ship and entered the station. Will took a quick look around as they entered the station wondering they should do first. Though it doesn't happen often, Will missed a certain Bajoran male staring right at him. Anna wasn't looking at the people milling around the docking area. This section was for Starfleet only and the person she was looking for wouldn't be here--if the PlaxiCo ship she'd seen on the way in was Andy's, he would be docked with the other freight forwarders, in the non-fleet area. Eyes on the legend they were walking by, Anna craned her neck, saying, "If we get the chance I need to see if--" Tabor was standing off to one side of the arrival gate with his duffel still slung over his shoulder. Even with the flood of personnel making their way through the umbilical, it wasn't hard to spot Anna and Will. The two had obviously grown even closer during his absence and it made him wonder if he should intrude upon them at all. Finally, something Will's father had told him just before he left earth made him laugh and gather his courage. It was the old "if worms had phasers" line, Jared's standard response to any conundrum He would have to hurry though, as neither had seen him amongst the bustling crowd and were almost passing him by. Raising his arm he called out, "Will! Anna!" Hearing their names, Anna broke off what she was going to say and turned, immediately seeing Tabor Nansk, and then blinking to make sure she wasn't seeing things. Excitedly, she yanked on Will's arm as she called out, "Tabor? TABOR!" Will heard froze as he heard a voice he was worried he'd never hear again. He turned with Anna and his eyes were as wide as saucers as they approached. At first he was wondering if his mind was playing tricks on him, "Ta...Tabor?" He touched Tabor's shoulder to make sure that his best friend was real. The instant he found out that Tabor was indeed real and solid, he pulled Tabor into an embrace so tight, Tabor found it difficult to breathe. "It's good to see you too, Will....I think!" said Tabor, nursing his rib cage. "Everyone's getting off! Is that a bad sign? I was hoping to find a nice, quiet corner of the galaxy to get lost in. Any chance the Reaent is going that direction?" He looked wistfully at Anna and Will, relieved that it was they who were the first crew to see him. "Oh by the way, Will, your parents say Hello. I saw them for a while before shipping out." "We just got back from a mission and are on a layover. The next mission is a patrol mission near the base." Will replied as he finished breaking the embrace, "So, what happened after you were abducted? How did you get away? Who took you away?" Will began asking all his questions in rapid fire mode. Once they started, he found that he couldn't shut up. "It's so wonderful to see you, Tabor," Anna added gently, a warm smile on her face, as she took careful stock of Tabor. He didn't look like he'd been injured in any way but she still didn't know the secrets he'd shared with Will and Jared Tomlinson before disappearing. She wondered if he was still in some sort of danger--he'd just said he wanted to disappear into a quiet corner. Maybe he'd suffered an injury to the spirit. Those could be a lot more devastating than a physical wound. Still, no matter what he'd been through, he was here, back with the ship and his friends and now Will could let go the terrible guilt he'd been feeling. Tabor didn't know where to begin his story, especially since Will's questions kept coming rapid fire. "There's so much to tell you, both of you, but here's not the place." He took a measured look at the two of them. "And I'm guessing you both had something different in mind for shore leave than listening to me. Why don't you go on with your plans and we can meet later. I have to report for duty anyway, and I'd just as soon do it when there wasn't a crowd." He gave Will a tilt of the head that said "go on, I'll be fine, I promise to be here when you get back." Will bit his lip hesitantly when Tabor suggested that they continue on to the station and looked at Anna. When he looked back at Tabor, Will nodded reluctantly, "All right, but you had better be on that ship when we get back or so help me..." He left the rest of the threat unsaid as Tabor headed for the ship and Will and Anna entered the station. "He'll be there, Will," Anna stated reassuringly. "And he looks ok. You'll get the story out of him later. We'll meet Caroline for lunch and have a nice time while Tabor gets settled back on the ship. He must have cleared up any problems with being AWOL or he wouldn't have been here, waiting for the Reaent." Tabor boarded a virtually empty ship, which suited him fine. The less attention the better as far as he was concerned. He found the Officer of the Day and reported in for duty. The OD gave him his quarters assignment and Tabor went off to unpack. Since the OD hadn't questioned his arrival, Tabor assumed that Star Fleet had cleared his return. In any case, he was glad to avoid a confrontation. Will, however, was going to be another story. It wouldn't matter what SF said, Will would want to know every detail and would hound Tabor to death until he got it.
  6. Chapter Five From Beta to Gamma 5.1 Gamma Quadrant USS Reaent In thirty seconds, the Reaent had gone from the Beta Quadrant to the Gamma Quadrant. That was the good news. The bad news was they had four Romulan warbirds on their way through the wormhole bent on their destruction. The worse news was what was once one of Star Fleet’s finest ships was now a crumbling wreck and virtually defenseless. At the helm, Lt. Murray stared at his incomprehensible screen. “Where…where are we?” Anna’s Science console slowly stabilized and provided an answer. “We’re in the Gamma Quadrant! Near a binary system named Gheras.” A few calculations prompted more. “That puts us approximately two months from the Bajoran Wormhole.” And to herself, a scientific delight, “We're so close to the Valladro Nebula!” Unaware of the following enemy, the bridge spent precious minutes orienting themselves to their newfound situation. “No evidence of Romulan pursuit?” asked the Captain. “None on my sensors,” answered Murray. “Captain, the wormhole appears to have been created artificially and is stable,” reported Anna. “At least from what I can tell.” The Captain shook his head. “Begin a full analysis of any readings we took during our transit through the wormhole. Specifically, I want an answer to if it is truly stable...and how it got here. Helm, Mark the known location of the wormhole exit, then start us on a course that will swing us back by here in about an hour. Impulse only. I don't want to be sitting at the doorstep in case someone else comes through.” It was then that Anna caught a glimpse of something unusual on her screen. She went over to Murray’s console and tapped the edge of his display, waiting to see if he saw it too. “It looks too big to be a probe. It’s possibly an automated drone,” said Murray clearly intrigued. “There was a stream of magnaton particles that we scanned as we went through the wormhole. Do you think this had anything to do with it?” “Well we’re not going to get anything off of it from out here.” “We could transport it in…?” proposed Anna. Murray nodded and did a brief check. “Um, cargo bay two.” He notified transporter control of the target and then contacted Chief Scherer in Engineering.” “Tell him he might want to put the drone in a quarantine field,” Anna prompted. “Just to be safe!” Though the ship had left the immediate vicinity of the wormhole terminus, “best speed” at impulse, and their circular route, hadn’t given them much breathing room. When the sensors began blaring a contact alert, the crew found themselves confronted by four Romulan warbirds. “Helm, get us out of here, maximum warp!” The helmsman looked at the Captain in disbelief then dutifully selected the maximum setting on the warp drive controls. Not much happened. “Four warbirds, closing rapidly,” reported Murray. The lead Romulan ship opened fire with their disruptors, mostly for effect since they were still too far out of range. Soon, however, distance was not a factor and the shots began falling on their intended target. “Aft shields are failing, sir.” “Can we make it to that nebula and find a nice place to hide?” asked the Captain, not really expecting a positive answer. Murray unbent from his console, faced the Captain and just shook his head. “Didn’t think so.” The CO took a deep breath and decided to take a stand. “Helm, full stop, bring us about, one hundred eighty degrees. Mr. Murray, lay down a spread of photon torpedoes.” Murray wondered if the launchers were even working anymore. He got his answer as the viewscreen showed four tracks racing out from the Reaent. One scored a direct hit and a severely damaged D’deridex fell back from the onslaught. “Only three of them now!” cried the tactical officer. The jubilation lasted only a moment, as more Romulan fire raked the crippled starship. Disruptor shots hit the main saucer section, Engineering and the starboard warp nacelle. Secondary explosions rocked the ship as more critical systems went offline. Multiple hull breaches made it obvious that time was running out. “Complete shield collapse is imminent, sir!” “Mr. Murray, transmit a distress signal on all channels and order all non-essential personnel to the escape pods.” The Reaent threw one, last offensive volley at the Romulans like a punch-drunk boxer, making an all or nothing roundabout swing. The fire caught one of the warbirds square across the bridge and the ship exploded in a mass of tangled fragments. The remaining two paused in their approach, probably stunned that their prey still had any life left. Suddenly, the last D’deridex split in half, sliced through by phaser fire from somewhere above and behind the Reaent’s saucer. Anna almost instinctively ducked as the stuttering viewscreen showed an Akira-class starship pass virtually within touching reach overhead and take up a position between the Reaent and the remaining Valdore. The last Romulan fired but the newcomer’s shields were sufficient to the task. Two streaking torpedoes found their mark on the warbird’s aft section, breaching the singularity drive’s containment field. The enemy ship was consumed in a fireball that Anna thought might reach them as well. The Reaent was eerily still and for a moment, no one dared speak. “Recall the personnel from the escape pods,” ordered the Captain. “And find out who that ship is! I need to buy her captain a drink!” 5.2 Personal Log Lt. Annabelle O’Halloran They were still alive! Anna assumed that as time went on she would cease to be surprised. She continued Monitoring sensors and organizing her thoughts while beginning the process of trying to interpret scans taken before and during Reaent’s trip through the wormhole. So much had happened so quickly. The ship was positioned over a double line of some sort of marker buoys that were transmitting an algorithm over and over that the computer couldn’t interpret. It became crystal clear what those buoys were for when the wormhole suddenly activated and Reaent was swallowed. The wormhole appeared to be an artificial construct. This surmise seemed reasonable based on the dead in the water drone and the over saturation of magnaton particles recorded by their Class 4 probe on its way in. The Fleet database contained a reference to an experiment done in 2372 by a member of the Trill Science Ministry. That experiment created a wormhole that lasted 23.4 seconds before collapsing and blowing everything around it to hell when the shields of a Class 4 probe, sent in to mimic an interstellar spacecraft, interacted with the tetryon field. The Romulans appeared to have found a way to stabilize the field. Hopefully, the scans picked up enough data that the computer could create a model that would be able to duplicate the effect. And now, here they were, in the Gamma Quadrant. Two months travel from the Idran system, home of the Bajoran wormhole. It was incredibly exciting! Naturally, she was keeping that thought to herself. The rest of the crew seemed to take everything in stride and exhibited a kind of grim, world-weary ‘We’ve looked Death in the eye and told him to go screw himself but we’re sure he’s coming back’ attitude. They had all seen so much and this was her first mission. She somehow sensed they would look askance if she mentioned how thrilled she was to have survived a trespass across the Neutral Zone, a cruise through Romulan space and a trip through an artificially created wormhole. She sort of got the feeling it was nothing too out of the ordinary. All in a day's work for Reaent. The Assistant Chief of Security’s comment that the Romulan's ability to open a wormhole at will was something to be seriously worried about reminded her that the ramifications of having survived the wormhole trip were greater than her joy at having lived to tell the tale. She had no trouble recognizing the serious threat to Federation Security, but the sensors in front of her dazzled with data from the nearby Valladro Nebula and while the computer was analyzing, she basked. 5.3 Personal Log Dr. Deborah Mathews Debbie Matthews rushed toward the conference room but paused a moment before entering. She took a deep breath then stepped a bit closer allowing the portal to open with its familiar swishing sound. The senior staff meeting was well underway by the time she arrived. Everyone stared at her as she made her apologies and quietly slipped into the vacant chair beside the Executive Officer. The CMO wasn't sure how many of the department chiefs had already presented their reports. She tried to listen attentively while Aaron Scherer finished his presentation but her thoughts kept drifting to the casualty report she would have to give. The XO already had a general idea. But the others didn't have a clue and that included the Captain. And then the Captain looked at her. "How bad is it?" he asked, a tinge of dread in his voice. She couldn't bring herself to even glance at him or anyone else sitting around the highly polished table. "I'm afraid it's bad," she replied, activating her padd. There was no point delaying the awful news so she plunged ahead doing her best to keep her voice from quivering. "We've suffered a total of 264 casualties," she began. "Of those, 58 are fatalities. That includes 34 MIA. We presume they were lost though the hull breaches." She looked up to find everyone was again staring at her. The expressions on their faces reflected their shock. The Captain looked like someone had just stabbed him in the gut. "Of the 206 wounded," she continued. "62 are in critical condition. That includes the 6 in stasis who were so severely wounded, we haven't yet been able to treat them. 98 were treated and released although some of them have been confined to quarters. There are still 46 hospitalized in serious condition. We're hoping to release most of them within the next ten days." Deb closed the padd and slid it onto the table. "In short, about half the crew is either deceased or unfit for duty. Those numbers will undoubtedly change as time goes by....hopefully for the better." The room was so quiet, she could hear her own heart beat. She looked at the Captain who was visibly shaken by the news. "One more thing," added Deb. "We're quickly running out of supplies and I mean everything from syringes to medications to surgical gowns. If it weren't for the generosity of that Akira’s medical department, we would be in even worse shape. As it is, we're rationing everything." The Captain met her gaze and frowned. Then he looked at Aaron Scherer, the Chief Engineer. "See if you can free up more power for the Sickbay replicators." Aaron nodded and Deb breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Sir," she said softly. "That will be greatly appreciated." For a moment, no one said anything. Then the Captain's demeanor transformed. Once again, he was all business. The meeting continued and Deb settled back in her chair trying not to be distracted by what awaited her in Sickbay. 5.4 Science Lab USS Reaent After the Captain’s meeting with the senior staff, Anna made her way down to Deck 6 and Science Lab 2, still feeling shell-shocked. Dr. Mathews’ casualty report and Chief Scherer’s breakdown of the damage painted a picture much worse than she’d suspected. It hadn’t been easy to sit through and she’d been left with a feeling of helplessness. Fatalities were high and the number of injured was vast. It might have been quicker if the Engineering report had simply listed what was still working. To Anna, it sounded like the Reaent was currently beyond their ability to make repairs. They were heading home, but at their current speed it would take months. The Captain said the Reaent had one last job to do before completely leaving the area. It was imperative, he said, to seal the terminus of the wormhole, the Romulans could not be allowed such easy access to the Gamma Quadrant. He settled on a plan to mine the wormhole entrance in a manner similar to what was used at the Bajoran wormhole during the Dominion War. Anna and Chief Scherer were put in charge of designing the mines and determining the best method for their deployment. In this situation, there was one advantage about the Romulan ships - they weren’t powered by a matter/anti-matter reaction. They used a forced quantum singularity—a mini black hole. The wormhole was stable but Anna speculated it had formed because of instability in sub-space, a very small tear or perhaps nothing more than a thinning of the sub-space fabric. A very convenient anomaly if you happened upon it and had a device that could take advantage of it. And also a very unstable anomaly if a quantum singularity were to be exploded in its midst. The Romulans would have to think twice before risking the destruction of not only their ships, but perhaps even their own area of space. Anna felt at home in the Science lab, more than she did at the Science station on the bridge. She tapped the screen and requested the computer design several mine grids based on all available information. While it worked, she brought up the scans of the Proxima captured right before Reaent had passed into the Gamma Quadrant. She felt strangely haunted by this ship. There were many stories of lost crews and ships in the annals of space travel, but the Proxima was different. She’d made the mistake of letting it become personal when she looked through the ship’s crew files. The scans showed no life pods. Had the crew been forced to abandon ship? The Reaent had almost been in the same situation in the same area of space and only the nearly miraculous, timely arrival of their rescuer had prevented it. The nearest planet that offered the remotest chance of survival was an L class planet 8.24 light years away, not really a chance at all. The computer announced the end of the program run and displayed the result that it deemed to have the most merit. Anna tapped her comm badge and paged Chief Scherer. “Science to Engineering.” “Scherer here.” “Aaron, it’s Anna. I’ve got the computer’s results for a possible mine grid. I’m sending you the details for your evaluation.” “Great! I’ve been working with Flight Ops on using the fighters to deploy them. Captain says we’re leaving soon and wants this plan operational sooner. Scherer out.” Finished with her main task, Anna went back to studying the wormhole. Scans had shown a magnaton particle surge right before it opened and she was sure the drone they had retrieved played a part. The Engineering and Security team analyzing the drone were stymied by the fact that the device was an unknown design, but they were able to determine that the Romulans had modified it. Anna conjectured that its function was to act as a trigger, sending a magnaton beam to a specific region of space and opening the wormhole. The preliminary report from the team indicated that the drone was intact. All they needed was an adequate power source to activate it. Anna wondered if they really wanted to do that. If the device was a trigger, wouldn’t it just open a wormhole back to Romulan space? The Reaent had barely escaped destruction the first time there, a second seemed suicidal. Unable to come to a positive conclusion, she noted her findings, saved everything to her console computer and began formulating her report. The Captain would eventually want to know what the Science department thought and she wanted to frame the variables in the best light possible. 5.5 Leaving the Proxima Behind The mining operation went off without a hitch. The Reaent’s fighters made several runs and placed the mines according to the computer’s diagram. After everyone congratulated themselves on a job well done, the Captain ordered the ship to set course for Camelot Station, Star Fleet’s newest base in the Gamma Quadrant, located near the Bajoran Wormhole. It was going to be a slow trip: the Reaent’s damaged engines could only make warp 1.5 at best. Fortunately, midway on the journey was the Vorta home world and the ship might be able to make some temporary repairs there. Anna had mixed feelings about leaving the Proxima behind. Everyone on board had been through hell on this mission and the thought of going home raised the ship’s morale tremendously. On the other hand, she was frustrated that the mystery of the missing ship’s disappearance had not been solved. Worse was the fact that the ship remained in Romulan hands. Just before entering the wormhole, the order had been given to fire on the Proxima, but amid the chaos and damage being inflicted by the warbirds, tactical had been unable to comply. Repairs, as best that could be made with limited resources, proceeded apace and that spoke volumes about the crew’s resolve and ingenuity. Shipboard life returned to almost normal with most systems functioning at or above the 80% level. But as days became weeks, and weeks became months, the drudgery of the daily routine began to wear on some of the crew. Certainly, some of the adventures along the way helped perk up an otherwise boring trip, though one in particular, involving a temporal split, nearly killed them. Eventually the day came when the ship arrived at the Bajoran Wormhole and the Captain ordered all hands to prepare for transition. When the Reaent exited from the terminus on the Alpha Quadrant side, a cheer literally ran through the ship! “Helm, set a course for Star base 1123, warp three,” directed the Captain, smiling for the first time in months. “With pleasure, sir!” responded the helmsman. Throughout the ship a mild euphoria spread like a contagion – for most anyway. The ship’s counselor was still dealing with some residual effects of the temporal split and Dr. Mathews still had seriously wounded patients that required the expertise of her and her staff. But others, like Anna and young Will Tomlinson, found kindred spirits to commiserate and celebrate with. When the Reaent arrived at the Star base, she was tethered to one of the outer docking arms. After the power couplings were made and a cargo umbilical attached to the hold’s airlock, the passenger gangway was maneuvered into position. It was almost comical to watch the flood of crew on their exodus from the ship collide with the influx of service personnel from the base. Almost unnoticed was the small group of uniformed men who boarded amongst the cargo trolleys. Two split off from the group and made their way to the bridge to see the Captain. The others converged on Engineering to corner Chief Scherer. “Chief Scherer,” said one of the men flatly, “We’ve come for the Romulan drone you brought aboard. And, of course, all of the schematics and reports you’ve made concerning the device.” Scherer looked suspiciously at the men. Uniforms or no, he wasn’t about to just hand over the drone. “And you gentlemen are…?” The leader of the group flashed some kind of identification credential, too fast for Scherer to get a good look at it. “Star Fleet Intelligence. Now, where is the drone?” “I’m afraid I’ll need authorization from my Captain before I can release anything to you.” “That’s happening as we speak. Understand me, Chief, we’d like to do this quickly and quietly – for security reasons. You can either help us make that happen, or we can remove you from the process.” Scherer was sure he didn’t like these men and he was equally sure that whoever they were they were nothing but trouble. But that still wasn’t enough to intimidate him into handing over the drone. Fortunately, Aaron didn’t have to make that decision. His comm badge broke the standoff between the two men. “Bridge to Engineering, this is the Captain. Mr. Scherer, you are authorized to release the drone and any information you might have concerning its operation to these agents.” Aaron tapped his badge in response, “Aye, Captain.” The intelligence officer gave Scherer an oily smile that said ‘I told you so’. “Now, Chief, the drone?” “It’s in quarantine in cargo bay two.” “A wise precaution. Will you show us the way?” The agent held out a hand in a grand gesture. Scherer felt like ripping it out of its socket and beating the man over the head with it. “Follow me.” Within twenty minutes, the drone was crated and loaded onto an equipment trolley and escorted off the ship by workmen in the group. Scherer turned over all his findings on the device and thought the whole affair was over when the two officers who went to the bridge returned. “Just one moment, Chief. Your Captain told us you were assisted in your investigation by the Science department. I think we should pay them a visit, don’t you?” Scherer had no wish to bring the likes of these men to Anna’s doorstep, but he could see no way to dissuade them. The least he could do was try to deflect some of their sliminess by accompanying them and shield her from their prying. “Follow me.” Working in her lab, Anna was startled by the brusque intrusion of uniformed strangers. Aaron gave her an “I’m sorry there was nothing I could do” tilt of his head. “Lt. O’Halloran, we’re here to collect all your notes and findings about the Romulan drone. May we have them now, please?” said the leader. Anna gave a quick glance to Scherer, but the leader cut off her questioning look. “Don’t look to him, Lieutenant. Your Captain has acknowledged our authority in this situation and given his authorization to release everything into our custody.” The man’s pleasant demeanor toward Anna turned icy. “So if you would please, the documents.” Anna sighed inwardly in resignation. Something was wrong here but Aaron’s expression told her it was best for her to comply. She went to her desk and located the appropriate padd, reluctantly handing it to the man. “Thank you, Lieutenant, Chief,” he said turning his head to address each of them. “I think it’s time we were on our way.” The two agents left the lab quickly, leaving a vacuum in the room. “What was that all about?” asked Anna. “Beats me,” said Scherer. “But I’ve got a feeling in my gut those two weren’t Star Fleet anything.” “Well they must be somebody important if the Captain went along with them.” Aaron just shook his head in disbelief. “Oh well, I’d better get back to Engineering. We’ve got enough repairs going to keep us here for weeks. I’ll see you later.” Anna watched the Chief leave the lab, his shoulders slumped in discouragement. She could empathize with the man, for the strange visit left her feeling empty as well. The drone had been her last contact with the Proxima. Without it, the lost ship was truly lost. 5.6 Heart of Darkness Tabor was despondent. The Proxima mission had yielded no answers about his brother. Quite the contrary, he had more questions now than he had at the start. It didn’t help that throughout all of this, his Section 31 contact had been mum. It left Tabor simmering in his own imagination. He tried every construct he could put together to make a connection between his brother’s disappearance and the recent mission. Some were more tenuous than others, but in Tabor’s mind there was no doubt a connection was there. The common factor in all the scenarios was the Proxima, still sitting in Romulan space. He had to get back there and was convinced the fastest way was back through the worm hole. Unfortunately the easiest way back, using the drone that triggered the opening, wasn’t an option anymore. Even though the Reaent had retrieved the drone on its way through the worm hole, once the ship had reached a Federation base, agents had come aboard and confiscated the device and all notes of the object’s investigation. Then, to his joy, Tabor discovered that while it was in the hands of the Science department, Anna had made copies of the schematics she developed during her probes of the device’s inner workings. He had gone down to the Science lab one day while he was off-duty to commiserate when Anna made her startling revelation. “I’ve been working on my own theories about the wormhole,” he was saying. “I’ve speculated from the start that the wormhole was an alien construct. I don’t think the Romulans really had control over it and were just as much in the dark as we were.” Anna brightened and smiled at the clearly distraught pilot. “You’re right! We found a drone that is not Romulan in origin but does seem to have been used to trigger the wormhole.” She tapped her workscreen to bring up a different view. “Here’s the device.” As an aside she added, “It’s been confiscated by Star Fleet, you know.” Tabor nodded that he did know. “This is the drone you discovered?” he said, pointing to the screen, a bit confused that she would have any information left after Star Fleet’s visit. “It is!” she said, and then continued quietly, “I kept a copy of the schematics.” “You got a look inside? Wow, I’m impressed!” He was more impressed by Anna’s boldness and deception with Star Fleet Intel. “Well, it was Security that opened it. I just ran the schematics so we could try to reverse engineer it and reactivate it.” She gave Tabor a copy on an available padd. Tabor’s mind was racing. “Were you here when Star Fleet grabbed it? I mean, how did they seem to you? Relieved? Confused? Anything that might indicate they knew of this thing?” “It was in the cargo bay, so I don’t know how they reacted. They came here wanting to collect all my notes and data. Tabor, do you think what happened was deliberate?” “It depends on which part you mean, but yes I do. I don’t know how much was planned, or how much just happened, but I think Star Fleet knew about the Proxima and wanted someone to check things out.” “I really wish I thought you were wrong.” “But you don’t, do you?” **************************************** Tabor left Anna's office with a renewed sense of purpose. Her revelation of the alien drone was astonishing. The object clearly implied, in Tabor's mind, that a large piece of the puzzle was missing. That Star Fleet had swooped in and confiscated everything associated with the drone, immediately placing it under a classified status, spoke volumes about its importance and exposed a possible clandestine operation. The scope of this operation, its objectives and motives were still unclear, and certainly, as with any venture of this type, how much it was permeated with a "the ends justify the means" mentality left a cold feeling in his bones. It would explain a lot about how the Proxima affair was conducted and the callous attitude the Reaent had experienced upon returning to Starbase 1123. Also astonishing was Anna's willingness to share her bootleg copy of the drone's schematic. It showed her to be a remarkable woman – first, someone curious enough to investigate an unknown and potentially dangerous object on her own; second, someone willing to go against authority in keeping copies of her work in light of Star Fleet's seizure of the drone; and third, her trusting instinct to give Tabor a copy of her findings, increasing the risk of her duplicity being discovered. Tabor scoured the schematic, not really sure what he was looking at. He wasn't a scientist or an engineer. He was a pilot with a background in history. But he'd always prided himself on having a rational, logical mind – though recent events had pushed the definitions of rationality and logic right through the envelope. In any case, he was over his head with this diagram. By Anna's own account, no one actually knew what the device did, only that it worked as a trigger to the wormhole. Tabor thought that given those circumstances, it took incredible fortitude to even turn the thing on. His hat was off to the entire Science and Engineering departments. That being said, Tabor had a bold plan of his own. He decided he didn’t need to understand the schematic, only to be able to follow it. He would surreptitiously recreate the device by wiring it into his fighter. There was enough room in the nose cone for most of the extra parts and by removing some unneeded interior panels and redundant equipment, he was sure the rest could be squeezed in. The only hang up he could see was the power supply. He tried questioning Anna about how small a quantum singularity could be made. He theorized that the Romulans probably used their own drives to power the device. But Anna immediately became suspicious and he had to back off. Setting that problem aside for the time being, Tabor went to work on his fighter. His deception put a strain on his relationship with the Flight Commander and more than once he was reprimanded for letting his shipboard duties slide. Matters deteriorated to the point where Tabor was sure the CAG didn’t trust him any longer. More inconvenient was his friend Will Tomlinson. Tabor didn’t like lying to the younger pilot, but he couldn’t have Will tagging along after him while he most certainly was jeopardizing his career. “What’s going on, wing mate?” Will would say in his usual bright and cheery disposition whenever he found Tabor in the launch bay working on his bird. “Still making repairs on my fighter. Just can’t get the parts,” Tabor would answer, not wanting to look the man in the eye. He would try to send Will off on a wild chase for some such thing, but was finding it difficult to continue to come up with plausible sounding reasons. Truth be told, Tabor didn’t think Will really believed him either. Tomlinson was a rare find – a friend who would stick by you even when you pushed him away. Of course, he got caught. Even at a Federation star base, with personnel presumably screened for clearance, Security was on a heightened status. All the service workers coming and going, bringing supplies and making repairs on the Reaent needed to be supervised and monitored. It was the extra monitoring that tripped Tabor up in his plan. His trips to the fighter bay had been recorded and now questions about his activities were impossible to avoid. In desperation he tried to escape to the station, leading Security on a wild chase through the ship’s service corridors and access hatches. It was to no avail. Tabor’s downward spiral and hit bottom. The Captain had him arrested and remanded to the custody of the star base’s brig. In a sense, Tabor was relieved. He never liked sending coded reports imbedded in his personal communications to Section 31. Besides, over the last several months they had never responded and Tabor wasn’t sure the story about his brother was really true anymore. Perhaps destroying his career was the only way to make a break from the agency’s grip. Then one day he had a visitor. Tabor didn’t recognize the man, but his non-descript dark attire virtually screamed Section 31. “Tabor, Tabor, Tabor,” he said, shaking his head, “What have we here? Your task is not complete.” Tabor threw a sarcastic look around the cell and replied, "Looks like I'm at the end of the road to me.” The visitor produced a reptilian smile. "You have so little faith in us, Tabor. On the contrary, your journey is just beginning." “Who are you?” “My name isn’t important, but I think you know who I represent.” “Why haven’t you contacted me? I’ve done everything you’ve asked. What am I supposed to do?” The agent came closer to the force field of the cell. "Now listen very carefully to me, Tabor. We’ve been with you all along. Things haven’t always gone as planned, but that’s to be expected in an operation such as this.” “Not as planned? That’s got to be an understatement. Who would have planned a disaster like this?” The man turned stony. “What happened in Romulan space was out of anyone’s control. However, this…” he waved his arm around the brig, “this is your doing. What we’re you thinking?” His despair turned to anger. “I was thinking that I hadn’t heard from you for months. I was thinking that whatever was going to be done, I had to do it. I was thinking that my ship was going in completely the wrong direction and if I was ever going to get back to my brother, I had to manage it myself.” “Too much thinking, Tabor,” the agent said, laughing at his little word play. Tabor thought it was a good thing he was behind a force field or the authorities would be adding a homicide to his charges. “So,” the man continued, “here’s what we’re going to do. First, we get you out of this brig. That’s already in the works and you should be released shortly. Second, we need to get you back on board the Reaent. Your work there isn’t finished. You will be sent in a high speed pod on an intercept course to the Reaent where you will rejoin the crew.” Tabor started to protest, but the man interrupted him. "No, your reunion will not be entirely pleasant but that has been taken care of as well. You will have sealed order for your Captain, for his eyes only. You will discuss this meeting with no one and you will continue on as we've discussed before.” He gave a quick snort. “I hope you’re not claustrophobic! And third, you need to be patient…and flexible. It’s the mark of a good agent, Tabor.” “I don’t want to be an agent,” said Tabor. “Perhaps not, but you are. Besides, you do want to help your brother don’t you?” It was their trump card, their means of getting him to do anything for them. He could only nod. “Good. Things will start to move quickly, Tabor. I have to go now, but we will meet again later.” With that, the man turned and melted out of the holding area and was gone. Tabor bordered on despair. On one hand he'd be happy to return to his friends on the Reaent. On the other, well, he couldn't even tell them what was on the other. When the security detail arrived to set him free, Tabor accompanied them with head held low to a small shuttle port on the outskirts of the base. He squeezed into the coffin-sized pod and waited as the life support mechanisms were hooked up. He knew the procedure. A sedative would render him unconscious during the voyage - cushioning him from the crushing acceleration that would be required to catch up to the Reaent - re-awakening only when the pod dropped out of warp for the rendezvous. Aboard the Reaent, the bridge had received communication notifying them of the scheduled arrival of the pod, but not who was in it. When the pod was retrieved and brought into the shuttle bay, a full contingent of security was on hand, ready for anything. The hatch was released and the occupant climbed out. To their surprise, it was Tabor Nansk. He faced their shock and hesitation with a sealed padd in his outstretched hand. "I have orders for the Captain." It was another several months – into a new year, 2385 – and several bewildering missions later that brought Tabor the brink of resigning his commission. Then word spread through the ship that their next stop would be Earth – and extended shore leave for all. Tabor thought he would be able to use the time to find his mysterious contact and force a confrontation with the agency. He would have the truth, whatever it may be, once and for all. But alas, once again, Will Tomlinson stood in his path. Chapter 6 Earth 2385 6.1 Shore leave “Big Bear,” was Will’s answer to Tabor’s question of where were they going. “What’s a ‘big bear’?” Will laughed. “It’s not a what, Tabor, it’s a where! Big Bear Lake to be precise. It’s our family home up in the mountains. Clean air, spectacular views, you’re going to love it. I insist. You’ve got to come.” Much to Tabor’s dismay, Tomlinson insisted that he join Will and Anna at Will’s parents’ home in a small mountain town a few hours south of Star Fleet headquarters. "You are going to pack a bag and you are going to come with me down to Earth and meet my family." Before Tabor could open his mouth, Will went on, "You'll love them, and my mom’s a great cook!” Tabor tried to bow out of the invitation citing his interference in what he was sure was Will’s intention of introducing Anna to the family. But Tomlinson would have none of it. “I want you to meet my dad. I think you’ll find him…interesting in light of your situation.” Tabor didn’t think Will knew the half of his “situation” – and he certainly didn’t want to tell him – but there was no way out. He packed a few belongings and the two of them met Anna in the transporter room. "Hello, Tabor," she said, giving the Bajoran a smile which immediately increased in wattage as she put two and two together. "Did Will invite you to his folks’ house, too?" It made sense, Will and Tabor were good friends and the Bajoran was probably in the same boat she was - no family within light years. "That's terrific," Anna enthused, not giving either man a chance to respond. Visiting Will's family suddenly seemed much less intimidating with Tabor along. The three of them beamed to a transportation hub, caught a shuttle and within a few hours were standing on the front porch of the Tomlinson home. “Welcome to our abode!” said Will proudly. Tabor thought “abode” didn’t begin to describe the place. Estate seemed more fitting. Coming to the front door was a man that was an older version of the young pilot. He gave Will a small smile, "Welcome home boy." After they embraced, Jared Tomlinson looked over Anna and Tabor, "And who are these fine people?" Beaming, Will turned and made introductions, "Dad, this is Tabor Nansk, my good friend and teammate." He then waved to Anna. "And this is Annabelle O'Halloran. a lady very special to me." Will turned to his two friends, "Anna, Tabor, this is my father, Commander Jared Tomlinson, Starfleet Special Ops." Tabor’s heart skipped a beat when he heard the descriptor, “Special Ops”. Now he understood why Will was so fired up about him coming home with him. Jared's smile held a small element of mischief and his eyes had the same twinkle as Will's. "Retired," Jared added before holding out his hand to Tabor. "Mr. Nansk, good to meet you. Will holds you in very high regard." Jared turned his gaze upon Anna and Anna saw that he had the very same intense gaze as Will though Jared's eyes were brown. "Ms. O'Halloran, a pleasure to meet you. Welcome to my home. Please set your gear down and make yourselves comfortable." Jared walked toward his chair and they noticed a slight limp in his walk before he sat. Will motioned to the comfortable easy chair for Tabor while he sat on the couch and patted the empty cushion next to him for Anna. Feeling more relaxed after meeting Commander Tomlinson, Anna sank down on the couch next to Will and listened absently as Will and his father chatted. Shortly into the conversation, a lovely middle aged lady walked into the room wiping her hands on a towel, her face lighting up like the dawning sun when she spotted Will. "William! When did you get come home?! Come here!" Will got up and hugged his Mom as she made her way to him. He held her tightly for a moment before gasping, "Mom! I can't breathe!" She released him and gave him a kiss on the cheek before noticing that they had guests. "Oh and who are these people William?" Will made the introductions once more. "Mom, this is my best friend Tabor Nansk and this..." indicating Anna, "...vision of loveliness is Annabelle O'Halloran. Anna, Tabor, this lovely lady is my mother Lisa." Lisa smiled a purely motherly smile as she gave a small hug to both Tabor and Anna. She looked at everyone and then took Anna by the hand, "Come dear. All this testosterone is more than any one woman should be exposed to." While she led Anna into the kitchen, Jared stood up, "Come on boys, let's go to my study and talk." ************************************** To Tabor’s dismay – though he wasn’t sure why he was dismayed – he ended up telling much more of his story than he would have intended. Jared listened thoughtfully and only interrupted to ask a few clarifying questions. Will, on the other hand, fidgeted restlessly on the couch. The young Tomlinson was a man of action and sitting idly while his friend was in trouble disturbed him. “Let me make a few discreet inquiries, Tabor, and we’ll talk some more later. In the meantime, Will, why don’t you show your friend around the grounds. I’m sure your mother has Miss O’Halloran occupied in the kitchen so you’ve got some time to kill.” Will signaled Tabor to come outside with him and as soon as the front door closed, started in on his fellow pilot. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this? I thought we were wing mates?” “I couldn’t, Will. You heard what I said about my “visitor” in the brig. How could I bring you into this? And how come you never told me your dad was Special Ops? You really threw me for a loop there.” Will just shrugged as if to say “we all have secrets”. Tabor continued. “Now I'm not sure how I want this to play out. Is my brother dead or is he alive and being held prisoner somewhere? Which is worse? If he is alive, how can I possibly get to him? This “visitor” thinks I have some action to take, but it beats the heck out of me what it might be. Am I supposed to be on the Reaent to do it, or somewhere else in some other capacity?" Will couldn't help but laugh, "What if worms had phasers, birds would leave them alone." When Tabor looked at him in confusion, he elaborated. "If I were to ask too many questions, my dad would ask that question about worms and birds. The point is, don't worry about the “what if's”, Tabor." Will put a comforting hand on the distressed Bajoran. "Have faith Tabor. The primary objective is to find out about your brother and we will. One way or another we will." Will smiled warmly, "Now forget about this for awhile. We have a short time left here. Relax and enjoy what is here while we have it, ok my friend?" Tabor nodded glumly. “Now if you’ll excuse me, my friend, I think I better go rescue Anna from my mother!” With that, Tabor was left to his own thoughts. He watched Will head back up the path to the house, then turned to continue along the trail. He walked another hundred meters or so and was suddenly startled by a voice coming somewhere in the trees. “Hello, Tabor.” Tabor spun, trying to determine the location of the sound. From behind a large fir appeared a man dressed in dark clothing. Tabor shivered as he recognized the man as the Section 31 agent who visited him in the brig on Star Base 1123. “What are you doing here?” “Relax, Tabor. Didn’t you listen to a word your friend said?” Tabor was shocked that the man had spied on their conversation. “You can’t involve these people! What do you want?” “I told you on Star Base 1123 that your role was not complete. It’s time for you to take a more active part in our plan.” Before Tabor could protest further, the man stepped up next to him and pressed a control button on a device he was wearing on his left wrist. Tabor felt the tingle of a transporter beam and panicked. “No!” he cried. But the sound was carried off into empty space. 6.2 The Dark Voyager Tabor re-materialized on the pad of a grimy transporter room. Before he could continue his protest, the agent took him by the arm. “Come with me, Tabor. I have something to show you.” The man led the way down an equally grimy passageway. Tabor stopped in his tracks and demanded, “Where am I?” Turning back to face his uncooperative charge, the man said, “You’re on the freighter Dark Voyager. Have some patience, Tabor, and all your questions will be answered.” Tabor watched as the man continued along the passageway, as if to say “follow me or don’t”. He decided that just standing there wasn’t going to solve anything and quickly caught up to the man’s stride. At an apparently random spot on the bulkhead, the man touched his wrist control again and Tabor marveled as a section of the wall silently slid back revealing an inner door. The man held his wrist device up to the security panel and with an audible click, the door swung back into a room that was the complete opposite of the dirty passageway. Inside was packed with the gleaming electronics of a state of the art command center. The crew was attentively monitoring their consoles and displays, to what end Tabor could only guess. The man chuckled at Tabor’s confusion. “Come with me, there’s more.” His path took them up a few decks, down a few more and a couple of turns that Tabor was sure were meant to get him lost. It was successful. One grimy passageway looked like the next to Tabor. Again, the man stopped at a random spot and activated a wall section. This time when the inner door opened, Tabor found himself at the entrance of a well appointed bridge. “Come in, Tabor,” greeted an older man standing by what might have been the command chair. He was dressed in a grey coverall that was absent of any insignia or rank. “Let me introduce myself. My name is Shepard, Director Shepard…of Section 31.” By now, Tabor was nearly speechless. He looked around at the bridge, stupefied at the discontinuity between the modern cleanliness of this and the command center and the grimy façade of the rest of the ship. As if reading his mind, the Director said, “Don’t let appearances deceive you, Tabor. To all outward observation, the Dark Voyager is just what you see…a run-down freighter plying the space lanes hauling, shall we say, lower profile goods. But underneath the surface is a different story. This ship is a match for just about anything that might come our way.” “So why the deception?” asked Tabor, finding his voice. The Director smiled. “We like to stay under the radar, to use an old metaphor.” Waving his arm around the bridge, “And don’t you think this is more in tune with the overall posture of Section 31?” Tabor scowled, “I wouldn’t know. What am I doing here? Where are we going?” The Director turned serious. “You’re here because, like we’ve told you all along, your brother needs you. As to where we’re going, even you, Tabor, should be able to figure that one out. We’re heading for the Neutral Zone.” Chapter 7 The Neutral Zone 7.1 Revelations The trip to the Neutral Zone took about two weeks. The Captain of the ship hinted that the she could have made the stretch faster, but a showy display of speed wasn’t in keeping with the image of a “one step out of the scrap yard” freighter. Tabor virtually walked the entire distance, pacing his quarters and roaming the passageways as if urging the vessel to arrive sooner. He saw little of the Director. The man spent most of his time in the communications room which, aside from the brief tour, was off-limits to Tabor. Instead, Tabor became acquainted with the “public” areas of the ship: cargo bays, crew quarters, mess halls. He suspected that what he saw of the engine room wasn’t the whole picture. Tabor was no mechanic, but even he could tell that what was presented wouldn’t push this ship faster than warp 5. How many other rooms lay beyond hidden seals he couldn’t begin to imagine. Eventually, they arrived at the Neutral Zone and Tabor was summoned to the bridge. The Captain and the Director were both present and the Director made a patronizing sweep of his arm to draw Tabor’s attention to the view screen. “There it is, Tabor, the Neutral Zone.” Inwardly, Tabor seethed with impatience. He knew there would be no signs or markers delineating the border, nothing to set it apart from the vast expanse of stars that was the galaxy. “How would you propose to cross it?” asked the Captain. Tabor wasn’t sure what was expected of him in answer, especially since the entire bridge crew had turned in their seats to see what he would say. His hesitation drew a number of “helpful” suggestions from around the room. “Fly right through, balls to the wall, guns blazing!” “Go real slow and announce we’re an Andorean freighter loaded with ale!” “I know! Let’s disguise ourselves as a rock and just float across!” The last elicited a derisive laugh from the crew and Tabor wasn’t so slow of mind as to miss the not so subtle dig at the technique used by the Reaent nearly a year earlier. The Director came to his “rescue”. “Actually, Tabor, I thought we’d just drive on up and ring the front doorbell.” His nod to the helmsman and the crew’s subsequent return to efficiency made it clear that that had been the plan all along. “We’ll be there in just over four hours. I’ll call you when we’re ready.” And with that, Tabor was “dismissed”. The Neutral Zone was created after the Romulan-Earth War in 2160. It stretched almost the entire length of the Alpha-Beta Quadrant border that separated the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire. Its width varied depending on how sensitive – and how insecure – either side was feeling about what lay across it from their potential enemy. In some locations the distance was nearly twelve light years as in the sector guarding the home world Romulus. In other, thinly populated regions, however, it was a mere single light year in across. This was the case at the Hyralan Sector where the Reaent and now the Dark Voyager was making its penetration. When the Director’s comm signaled their arrival, Tabor was back at the bridge in a heartbeat. The agent explained that the ship was roughly halfway through the Neutral Zone. Tabor had surmised that the quip about ringing the front doorbell was just that, but he was wrong. “Comm, let them know we’re here.” “Aye, sir.” The officer made an adjustment on his console and sent, “This is the freighter Dark Voyager holding at coordinates 357.29 mark 650.” To Tabor’s astonishment a Romulan Valdore-class warbird materialized less than a kilometer off their bow. “We have a reply, sir,” said the comm.. “On screen, Mr. Johanson.” A Romulan officer, flanked by his subordinate, appeared before them. “Director Shepard, how good it is to see you my old friend,” greeted the Romulan. “Commander Omalar, it’s always a pleasure!” replied the Director. The Romulan gave a shrug and then pointed to an extra braid on his shoulder. “Actually, it’s Admiral now.” Shepard looked closer and said smiling, “So it is! Congratulations, Admiral!” Omalar beamed. “May I present my Senior Commander, B’Ril?” “Glad to make your acquaintance, Senior Commander. Admiral, I take it all went well in the Senate?” “Indeed Shepard. Thanks to your assistance, the Tal Shiar has had its hand duly slapped and the Pro Counsel saw fit to place the whole affair into the hands of the Military….meaning, me!” “An excellent outcome, Admiral.” The Romulan waved with mock annoyance, “Oh, call me Omalar as you always do. You know my opinion about titles.” Shepard laughed, “Yes, you love to point out how leaders come and go, but the little guys like us in the field always stay the same.” But the Director couldn’t resist one, little poke at his counterpart. “But Omalar, you are a leader now!” “Sshh!” he said, putting a finger to his lips, “or I’ll never get the time to go fishing again!” An astute observer might have noticed B’Ril close his eyes and give a gentle shake of his head. Tabor was speechless at the exchange. “Did you bring the item, Shepard?” “It’s in our cargo bay, Omalar. And you?” Omalar turned and gave a silent signal to someone off-screen. Like an apparition, a second Valdore de-cloaked off the Petan’s starboard flank revealing within its protective cover a Nebula-class starship. Tabor’s eyes grew as wide as saucers. “Is that the Proxima?” The Director seemed startled, as if he had forgotten Tabor’s presence. “Omalar, may I introduce Lt. Tabor Nansk. It seems his brother may have been aboard that ship when the Tal Shiar first…acquired her.” The Admiral nodded politely in return. “Lieutenant.” Tabor’s restlessness was not unnoticed by the Director. “Omalar, speaking of people on board, would any of the crew be here today?” A slight frown creased the Admiral’s forehead. “I’m afraid not, Shepard. The Military recovered the ship but there was no evidence of the crew. All of the escape pods were missing, if that helps you in any way. Perhaps with my new status I will be in a position to make further inquiries.” “I hope that will be so, Omalar. So, on to business. Are we ready for the exchange?” Omalar indicated he was. “Disengaging the tractor beam now. You may activate yours when ready.” “Thank you. You have the co-ordinates my comm officer sent you for the drone?” “Yes, Shepard, we’ve already beamed it out of your cargo bay.” The Director just smiled. “You know it’s inoperative?” Now it was Omalar’s turn to smile. “That will just make it all the more interesting, don’t you think?” “I hope we see each other again soon, Omalar. Please say hello for me to your family.” “I will do that, my friend. And you should know, my wife keeps asking when you’re going to get married again. She says a man without a wife is only half a man!” Omalar patted his ample waistline as if to prove his point. “Tell her ‘someday’. Perhaps if I meet someone who can cook as well as she!” Omalar beamed again at the compliment. “Oh, and my daughter says thank you for the…what is it?” he paused in a moment’s thought. “Ah, the IPhone 227.” He waved absent mindedly, “whatever that does.” His nod ended the conversation and the viewscreen went blank. “Do we have the tractor beam engaged?” asked the Captain. The Operations officer answered in the affirmative and satisfied the Captain. “Then back us out of here, helm. Make best speed you can towing our prize.” “That’s it?” asked Tabor, still not believing what just transpired. “What about my brother?” The Director turned to face the Bajoran. “If Omalar tells me he doesn’t know where they are, he doesn’t know.” “I can’t accept that! What about the holodisplay?” Shepard seemed resigned. “Yes, that is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps your brother left it aboard ship when the escape pods were launched. I don’t know. In any case, there’s nothing more to be learned here.” With that, the Director turned and left the bridge, leaving Tabor still rooted in his place. The Captain and the bridge crew were all absorbed in their tasks, ignoring him as if he didn’t exist. Tabor never felt more isolated and alone. And hopeless. 7.2 Going Home The voyage home was interminable, not that Tabor was in any hurry. Home. Earth, perhaps, but certainly not Tabor’s home. He felt like a man displaced, with nowhere to go. He couldn’t bear the thought of returning to Bajor to face his parents. What could he possibly tell them? Star Fleet? His career surely had to be in ruin. Section 31? Director Shepard held out that possibility but Tabor didn’t think he was cut out for that line of work. The Reaent? As if there would be a place for him there. Looking back, it all seemed like such a waste. His brother had left his family believing he was dead – and now he might be. The Proxima had gone to rescue him, and now they were probably dead. The Reaent had gone to rescue the Proxima, and it took a virtually miraculous intervention to hold casualty numbers at around fifty percent. And Tabor had stubbornly followed a fool’s errand that left his future in doubt and a life seemingly without purpose. The Dark Voyager’s crew left him alone to brood in solitude. He didn’t blame them for what had happened and there was nothing they could do to ease his journey back. An occasional “Good morning, Lieutenant” was all the conversation they offered, and to be honest, all Tabor could have tolerated. When the freighter finally reached Earth, Tabor accompanied the Director down to San Francisco in one of the shuttles. The Proxima was hauled off somewhere undoubtedly top secret for Star Fleet to comb through for clues. Tabor didn’t care anymore. He melted away into the crowd at the launch complex at the first opportunity. He had ditched his uniform in favor of a non-descript coverall and no one was the wiser outside the main building. He approached the ticket window at the high speed mag-lev transport station and bought a ticket heading south. “One way, please,” he said to the clerk behind the glass. Finding his train, Tabor located a compartment that was empty at the moment and settled into the middle seat, his bag occupying the space next to him. He hoped it would be enough to discourage any additional passengers. The trip took only a couple of hours and Tabor used the time to catch up on some much needed sleep. Sleeping was difficult these days – too many dreams. When the train pulled into the terminal, the passengers spilled out into the bright southern California sun. Tabor walked out to the front of the station and found a row of taxis waiting for their fares. He motioned to the lead driver, got a nod in return and hopped into the back of the cab. Rummaging through his pocket, Tabor found the crumpled piece of paper he was searching for and gave it to the driver. “This is going to be expensive, mister,” said the driver frowning a little. Most taxis worked on the principle of many short haul fares to maximize their profit during any given day. Tabor’s address was much further away. “Not a problem,” said Tabor, and then began thinking about “money” and hoped it really wouldn’t be a problem. Another two hours brought the taxi to Tabor’s destination. He reached into another pocket and took out all the currency he had and gave it to the driver. “Keep the change,” he said and was glad the driver’s face indicated it was a sizeable tip. As the cab sped off in search of more business, Tabor hefted his duffle bag and set off up the narrow road. The fresh air smelled wonderful and he filled his lungs greedily. It felt good to stretch his legs and the fifteen minute walk revived his lethargy. As he approached the house, a golden retriever came bounding off the front porch to greet him, followed by a man and a woman curious as to their unannounced visitor. Their eyes widened in surprise as they recognized who it was. “Tabor!” Tabor ruffled the dog’s head and ears and dropped his duffel to the ground. Tears were welling up in his eyes as he said, “Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Tomlinson. I’m sorry to intrude on you like this, but I have nowhere else to go.” Lisa and Jared were all smiles as they enveloped him in open arms, slapping him on the back and hugging him until he couldn’t breathe. “Welcome back, Tabor!” said Jared, a hand on Tabor’s shoulder, looking him in the eye. “Yes, come inside,” cried Lisa. “You’re home now.” The End
  7. Star Trek [/size] The Proxima Affair From the voyages of the USS Reaent Dee Ellis Acknowledgements This has been a wonderful – and challenging – journey, and I need to recognize and thank a number of groups, people and sources for their assistance in making this work possible. Distances and travel times were computed with the help of the Warp Speed Calculator found on the USS Dragonstar website www.ussdragonstar.com/utilitycore/warpspeeds.asp. There were many sites with calculators, but this was my favorite. Location names and their places in the galaxy are based on Star Trek star charts available at http://ucip.org/sims/science/newmaps. An incredible source of information – ships, people, dates, events and more – can be found at Memory Alpha, http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/Portal:Main. Inspiration for this project came from the exceptional creativity of the crew of the USS Reaent, of which I am proud to be a member, home-based at the Star Trek Simulation Forum, www.stsf.net. Thanks to Fred Michaels for permission to use the Reaent and expand on her Proxima mission. And finally, special thanks to the crew members of the USS Reaent who had the faith in me to produce a quality product and therefore gave me permission to use their characters, logs and biographies in the making of this book. I couldn’t have done it without you! Debbie Mathews Wimbley Murray Annabelle O’Halloran Aaron Scherer William Tomlinson Dee Ellis August, 2010 Prologue 2369 - 2370 The Gamma Quadrant Sometime before the second millennium, B.C. (earth time), on a water planet inside the Omarian Nebula, in the far reaches of the Gamma Quadrant, a race of Changelings emerged. Their natural state was fluidic, as befitting their world. But they were a fragile race, vulnerable to other world corporeal beings they called “solids”. To overcome this vulnerability, the Changelings developed a relentless drive to control the worlds around them and thus neutralize any threat to their existence. Foremost in their plan was to limit contact between themselves and the solids. This is not to say that isolationism was their policy, quite the opposite. The Changelings wanted to dominate everything around them, but using, however, a behind the scenes approach. To accomplish this, a benign race known as the Vorta was conscripted to act in a service capacity, performing administrative, diplomatic, scientific and command functions. The Vorta would be the “face” of a Changeling-led coalition known as the Dominion. The Changelings themselves were considered gods, the Founders, by the Vorta and to an assorted collection of “member races” acquired through expansion. The muscle behind this expansion was a genetically engineered race called the Jem’Hadar. Bred specifically for war, the Jem’Hadar were ruthless in their service to the Dominion. To further ensure their unwavering loyalty, the Founders also bred into this force an addiction to a chemical known as Ketracel White which, of course, was supplied only by the Dominion. Through the ensuing millennia, a significant expanse of the Gamma Quadrant and a growing list of member races came under Dominion control. Given the vast distances of space and the time required for inter-Galactic travel, the Founders had every reason to believe their rule would go unchallenged. When the Bajoran wormhole was discovered in 2369, shaving off seventy-thousand light years of travel between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants, the Founders’ assumptions were about to be tested. In the eyes of the Bajorans, inhabitants of the planet nearest the Alpha Quadrant terminus of the conduit, the wormhole was a religious phenomenon, spoken of as the Celestial Temple by their Prophets. For the other worlds of the Alpha Quadrant, the connector represented exploration, trade and, most importantly considering the impact it had on future events, expansion. Bajor was quick to press claims in this region of space - New Bajor was the first colony established in the Gamma Quadrant. From the Gamma Quadrant terminus of the wormhole, near the Idran System, it was only a few additional light years to the Kotha Tremali System where, on the one class-M planet, Kotha Tremali III, the colony settled. The colony was the pride of its home world and twice a week supply shipments traversed the passage that linked the two quadrants together, bringing needed materials and new, eager settlers. Over a surprisingly short period of time, the population on New Bajor grew to over 138,000 people. The Dominion, too, was quick to exploit the link and began their own explorations of the Alpha Quadrant. The aggressiveness of their intrusion, along with harassing the Bajoran settlement, ships and various outposts that sprang up on the Gamma Quadrant side of the anomaly, served as a warning to the major powers of the Alpha Quadrant that the Dominion was a force to be reckoned with. In 2370, when diplomatic ventures by the United Federation of Planets ended in failure, these powers began preparing for an anticipated incursion. Correspondingly, the Dominion withdrew their Jem’Hadar troops from the Alpha Quadrant and began a build-up of forces in preparations of their own. Despite the ensuing lull in hostilities, to most observers, war was just around the corner. Chapter One The Gamma Quadrant 2370 1.1 The Jenkata Nebula “Man, do you stink.” Commander Mike Basham wrinkled up his nose and scowled at the newcomer to the forward observation array. The young lieutenant wasn’t about to let a mere matter of rank hold his tongue. “Twenty-three days without a shower hasn’t done you any favors either…sir.” The man’s quick smile would have clued an outside observer to the joke: all four men onboard, the entire complement of the USS Nathan Hale FS-503, were well past the definition of ripe. The FS designation on the ship’s registry put the vessel in the Forward Scout category, a Hermes-class ship consisting of a small saucer section and one nacelle, though nowhere on the Hale would one find such registry information. Highly modified, the Hale was a spy ship and as such, even the crew wore no distinguishing uniforms or indications of rank. “I thought you were going to fix that thing. ‘No problem’ is what you said as I recall,” Basham returned in mock anger. The lieutenant shrugged. “Sue me. I’m a communications specialist, not a plumber.” Even that was a joke as the facility in question used sonic waves to cleanse the user rather than water. “I relieve you of the watch, sir,” said Lt. Harkin, making as much a flourish as was possible in the tight confines of the room. The Hale was a short range vessel – though capable of short bursts of high warp – that required the longer range transport services of a “mother ship”. On this mission, that role was played by the USS Sarajevo which inserted the Hale into position just over three weeks ago. Obviously as a spy ship, communication back to the support vessel was restricted to only vital information or emergencies. Unfortunately for the crew, a balky shower didn’t make the cut. The commander squeezed by, performing the shift change ritual of ducking and twisting around the equipment crammed into the small space. “Thank you, Connor. Nothing to report, just the usual cargo run to New Bajor.” He checked a screen to his right and confirmed the ship, “the Odyssey.” Currently, the Hale lay hidden in a stellar cluster known as the Jenkata Nebula. Located about 3 light years from the Idran system, the nebula sat on the edge of Dominion space, though the exact boundaries of that region tended to fluctuate depending on who was pressing the claim. From that position she could monitor the wormhole terminus, the traffic going to and from New Bajor and any other activities – meaning Dominion – that might occur in the area. “The others asleep?” asked Basham. The three man crew rotated six, four-hour duty cycles manning the sensor equipment and monitoring power emissions to avoid detection. When not in the forward array, each crewmember had specific maintenance duties and schedules to follow for an additional four hours, four hours of “free time” and eight hours for sleep. “I think Grunder is, but that new guy is back in the storage bay playing handball against the bulkhead.” The “new guy” was unassigned though even Basham’s orders failed to explain exactly why, only that they specified he be “kept appraised” and given access to all available data the ship collected. The unknown rankled Basham, along with the fact that the man was an outsider, a Bajoran. “I’m going down to the bilateral arrays, “said Basham, “I noticed a slight harmonic resonance in the signal return earlier in my shift.” “I’ll keep an eye on it.” Harkin gave the commander a nod as he settled into the observation chair. The bilateral arrays gave the ship its peripheral vision, something very useful as the ship gently maneuvered among the drifting gasses of the nebula. They weren’t critical to the mission, but without them it would be as if one held a hand over one eye: you still had sight, but lost the depth perception – and the ability to track events, or obstacles, on the edge of your main focus. On this mission, the main focus was not New Bajor or the convoys heading to and from the colony. It was deeper into the Gamma Quadrant. Not long after the wormhole was discovered, and Alpha Quadrant ships began exploring in earnest, contact was made with an alliance called the Dominion. Fronted by an aggressive species called the Jem’Hadar, the Dominion claimed exclusivity of all space in the Gamma Quadrant. The Dominion accused the Alpha Quadrant powers, of which many were pushing through the wormhole, of infringing on their territory. There had been several incidents already where Jem’Hadar had attacked outposts and the Hale’s mission was to be an early warning against an assault by a relatively unknown, but potentially dangerous opponent. “And do try to stay awake!” the commander added with a wink. He turned, secure in the knowledge that Harkin was one of the best he’d worked with in a long time. But more than three weeks of staring into empty space was enough to drive anyone into a stupor. Halfway down the corridor a thought occurred to him and he decided to pay his “guest” a visit. He worked his way down a narrow access tube that exited on the upper deck of the storage bay. Indeed, there was the fourth man, intently swatting a small, black ball against the far bulkhead. “Nansk!” Basham called out to him. The Bajoran deftly caught the ball as it rebounded back to him, then turned to look up at the commander. “Yes?” “Want a little friendly competition?” The man glanced around at the limited space in the bay, doubting this would work out well. He shrugged his shoulders and replied unconvincingly, “Sure.” Basham climbed down the ladder to the bay floor and took up his position on the Bajoran’s left. “Your serve?” Nansk bent low and delivered a sweeping, upward scoop. The ball sailed high and to the right, rebounding on a path that was going to cause the commander trouble with the cargo secured along the left bulkhead wall. Basham leapt to take the ball mid-flight and returned it with his left hand, though it was a fairly weak strike. Fortune was with him, as the ball barely made it to the front wall and left the Bajoran with a short dribbler. Nansk was able to reach the ball in time with his own weak return, but as he backpedaled to a defensive position, he collided with the commander with a heavy, tangled thud. Looking at Basham laid out on his back on the bay floor, and giving him an ‘I knew this would happen’ expression, he said simply, “Sorry.” Basham propped himself up on his elbows and said, “Not to worry.” He stood and dusted off his dignity. “You don’t say much, do you?” “What would you like me to say?” Basham’s frustration at the man’s elusiveness had been growing the entire mission. “For starters, you come aboard my ship with vague orders that make me wonder why you’re here. You have no official function on this ship, yet I’m supposed to give you all data we collect. Believe me, I’m used to secret missions.” He waved his arm in display, “I mean, look around, it’s what we do. But you’re off even our screens. Who the hell are you?” Nonplussed, the Bajoran answered quietly, “My friends call me Lucian.” The commander stared incredulously for a long moment. “That’s it? That’s all you’re going to tell me?” “I can’t tell you any more, Commander, at least not here. But if you’ll come with me to my quarters, I have something I need to show you.” 1.2 The Bajoran Wormhole “Three minutes to terminus, sir.” Captain Ron Parker took the helmsman’s report with a nod. The USS Proxima, a Nebula-class starship, was on her scheduled run to New Bajor, alternating inbound and outbound legs with her counterparts, the Bajoran transport ship Celestial Prophet, and a second Federation ship, the USS Odyssey. The colony of 138,000 was only a few months from its founding and needed constant resupply, but the Federation had an additional motive for being so heavily involved in a non-member settlement. Ever since the discovery and opening of the worm hole in 2369, exploration ships and outposts began running into conflicts with the major power in the Gamma Quadrant - the Dominion. The Federation wanted an increased presence in the quadrant and Star Fleet was tapped to provide the muscle. “Number One, make all decks ready for wormhole exit. I want to go to warp as soon as possible.” First Officer Martin Sherin was a burly man that gave one pause until you got to know his genial disposition. “Expecting trouble, sir?” he asked. Parker shook his head slightly, “Not really. The last Star Fleet briefing mentioned increased harassment by the Jem’Hadar on some of the more distant outposts. I doubt they’d be so bold as to try something this close in, but one never knows.” Sherin was a capable First Officer and he carried out the order without further questioning. He trusted Captain Parker completely, the result of seven years of service under Parker’s command. His pride was running a top-notch ship and his reward was the Captain’s confidence. “One minute to terminus, sir.” The helmsman started the sixty-second clock and began the preparation to transition from the wormhole event horizon and the jump from impulse power to warp. Parker looked at Sherin and received an ‘all ready’ nod in return. Typically, the transition wasn’t rough, but it could be momentarily unsettling if one didn’t know it was coming. Not the best situation to be caught in if one was engaged in something delicate. “Thirty seconds.” The viewscreen showed the familiar rush and swirl of wormhole travel. To a trained eye, one could sense a thinning in the vortex patterns that signaled the end of the line. Suddenly, the screen went black as it took a split second to recalibrate to the Gamma Quadrant and display the region’s stars. “Transition complete, sir. Confirmed we’re in the Gamma Quadrant.” “Let’s hope so, Lieutenant, or we’re going to have to get a new map,” said Parker with a slight chuckle. “Helm, lay in a course for New Bajor, warp eight. Engage.” The helm responded efficiently and a satisfied Parker turned to his first officer. “You have the bridge, Mr. Sherin. I’ll be in my ready room.” He pushed out of the command chair, did a quick survey of the bridge personnel, and exited to his port-side ready room. The office was lean but not Spartan, as Parker was a private sort and not one to display a lot about his personal life. He sat down behind his desk and started reviewing a couple of the recent reports submitted by his department heads. The Proxima had a well trained crew and Parker found no fault in any of the findings. Shortly, his attention began to drift and spun his chair around to face the observation window. This whole business of Star Fleet supporting a non-member planet’s colony in a quadrant that was barely explored, and even less secured, was troubling. He understood the strategic decision; having eyes and ears on the edge of hostile territory was invaluable. But it was a two-edged sword as it also meant that the Federation was essentially hanging bait out to the Dominion, almost daring them to attack. And it wasn’t just the outposts that were vulnerable; the Jem’Hadar had accosted ships, too. At warp eight, it would take the Proxima a little under thirty-six hours to reach New Bajor – the freighters would take even more. As one composer from 20th century earth put it, “It’s a long time to hang in the sky.” 1.3 The Nathan Hale “But these orders virtually place you in command of the ship! My ship!” exclaimed Basham as he read the padd Nansk had given him, holding it as though it was some kind of repulsive object. Following the Bajoran to his quarter as though he were a junior officer had done nothing to improve the commander’s disposition. “No Commander. I have no designs on your ship. You just need to know there is a higher priority mission at stake – assuming the situation presents itself.” “But you can’t tell me what it is.” “My orders say no.” Nansk took the padd from the commander’s hands and placed it back in the locked drawer from whence it came. Pausing briefly to look at the small holo-display of a man, a woman and two boys, one in his teens, the other much younger, he activated the thumbprint lock and turned to face Basham once more. “It probably won’t even happen, Commander. We don’t know if the information we have is correct. That’s one reason why we’re here.” “We?” Basham confronted the man. “Tell me, right now, who are you? Who do you work for?” Nansk took a breath and thought a moment. He liked the commander and understood the man’s frustration. But his orders were clear; no outside personnel were to have access to mission details. Still, antagonizing the man wasn’t going to make things any easier; and if events did play out, having an ally would increase the odds of success greatly. “My associates and I aren’t on what you would call the official register.” “Let me guess, Section 31?” Basham spat out the words in disgust. “What are you doing on my ship? From what I’ve heard, nothing good ever comes from dealing with you guys.” The Bajoran stifled a short laugh. “Actually, a lot of that is intentional. It keeps operations quieter and simpler.” “Well nothing is going to be quiet or simple around here mister if you don’t tell me what’s going on.” After another short pause, Nansk made his decision. “For the last several weeks, ships running to and from New Bajor have reported unusually high levels of magnaton particles emanating from somewhere near the Jenkata Nebula. You know the way things are out here, politically I mean. That’s why you’re sitting here spying on the Dominion. Star Fleet would love to get an advance heads up on any new weapons system they might have.” “What’s so top secret about adding ‘look for new weapons’ to my orders? Why are you here?” As Nansk detailed the information that led Section 31 to place him on this mission, the Commander’s face grew grayer and grayer. The Bajoran nodded in understanding. “A war is coming, Commander, though with who remains to be seen. I sincerely hope the Section is wrong on this, and when the Sarajevo comes to pick us up with our relief, I want nothing more than to go home and be with my family. But I need to know that you understand what we’ll have to do if they’re right.” Basham look at him with steel gray eyes. “We’ll do it, Mr. Nansk. I still don’t see why Section 31 had to be involved, but we’ll do it. “Politics, Commander. It’s all politics. And when the politicians finally screw things up so that there’s no other solution, you and I will get the call to clean things up.” “You’ve got that right, mister,” said Basham, finally finding agreement in all that he’s heard until now. 1.4 USS Proxima By the end of the thirty-fifth hour, the Proxima was nearing the Idran system. A ternary system with no habitable planets, it was really only a navigation mark on the way to New Bajor. It was point in the journey when ships’ crews began to perk up, anticipating arrival and shore leave at the colony. For the helm, the system’s outer asteroid ring was something to keep note of on the slim chance that one of the rocky fragments escaped its orbit and drifted into the shipping lane. From Idran, the Proxima began making preparations for arrival. Down in the cargo bays, crew personnel spent the last hours readying the supply containers for transport to the planet’s surface and checking the manifests for whatever freight they would be loading for the return flight to Bajor. On the upper decks, those crew who were fortunate enough to be “off-rotation” were making plans for a quick shore leave. For Captain Parker, the chronometer seemed to have stopped. He couldn’t shake the inner feeling that this wasn’t going to be a normal flight and was anxious to arrive. He seemed to be literally holding his breath when the helmsman finally announced, “Fifteen minutes to arrival, sir.” “Put us into standard orbit over the capital. Contact New Rekantha and let them know I want to start offloading right away.” “You’re in a hurry this trip, sir,” noted the First Officer. Sherin held a secret hope that he, too, could get off the ship and ‘stretch his legs’ on solid ground, even if it was for just a few hours. Parker read his XO’s mind. “Not to worry, Marty, I want you planetside to supervise the transfers.” Then he added in an aside, “Actually I want you to ride herd over the crew going down. It’s going to be a quick turn around and I don’t want anyone wandering off.” Sherin was puzzled by the captain’s demeanor, but acknowledged the ‘order’. “Aye, sir.” As he turned to leave the bridge, he had a thought. “Do you want me to bring you anything back from the surface?” Parker thought for a moment about the Bajoran ale that was sure to be brewing somewhere within the teeming capital – and then got a hold of himself. “No, but thanks for asking.” He gave Sherin a lopsided grin and nodded in the direction of the turbo lift. As Sherin departed, Parker turned the bridge over to his Operations Officer. “I’ll be in my ready room, Mr. Rivard,” and walked up the ramp to the upper level and into his office. Sitting at his desk, he activated the console computer. “Computer, display the latest intelligence advisories for the Idran Sector.” Parker scrolled through the files, not finding anything that called for his attention. After several minutes, he leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and willed himself to relax. It didn’t work. ************ Six hours later, the transfer of cargo was complete. The planet had received the equipment and medical supplies it had requested and the Proxima had taken aboard mineral samples, reports from various government officials and – not too surprisingly – a few passengers; colonists who couldn’t make it in the difficult early weeks and months of settlement. Parker was privately amazed that the number wasn’t greater. He admired the rugged determination required of colonists of any planet and wondered if he could ever trade the relative ease of a starship captain for the life of a settler. Re-emerging onto the bridge, the captain settled into the command chair. He looked around and noted that shift change had occurred and the stations were manned with new faces. On the right armrest, he tapped the comlink button, “Bridge to Commander Sherin, report.” A slightly metallic voice responded, “Sherin here, sir.” “Mr. Sherin, are all personnel back on board?” “Yes, sir. Everyone’s accounted for and the cargo is stowed and secure.” “Excellent, Mr. Sherin. Bridge out.” To the helmsman, “Make ready for departure. Plot us the same course back to the wormhole.” “Aye, sir,” responded the young lieutenant. Operations announced, “All decks report ready, sir.” “Very good,” said Parker. “Helm, break orbit. Go to warp 8 when we’re clear.” The helm engaged the thrusters and the ship pulled slowly out of the planet’s gravity. At the specified distance, the pilot brought the main drive online and the Proxima winked out into warp. 1.5 The Jenkata Nebula With only a few days remaining in their deployment, Commander Basham permitted himself a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. With any luck, none of the issues that the Section 31 agent represented would unfold. It wasn’t that he was unsure of his, or his crew’s, abilities as certainly his training with Special Ops had prepared him for almost any contingency. But what the Bajoran had told him was a magnitude beyond ordinary clandestine – whatever that oxymoron was. It was C-shift. Grunder was in the observation array and Basham was supposed to be in his quarters sleeping. However, sleep had been an elusive state since that dreadful conversation in Nansk’s quarters. An entire host of zero sum scenarios kept running through his head. Had he been prone to making analogies, he might have likened the situation to another famously unsolvable situation – rescuing the Kobayashi Maru. Finally surrendering to frustration, the commander arose and, since he’d never changed into sleepwear, went straight away to the observation array. He poked his head into the room and caught Grunder’s attention. “How’s it going?” Grunder pulled the audio-visual headset off his head and gave Basham a shrug. “Same old, same old.” “Good. Let’s keep it that way,” said Basham, as if any of them could control the future. The commander left the array and was halfway down the length of the ship when the alarm rang. He spun on the balls of his feet and sprinted back to the forward observatory. Reaching the doorway, arms outstretched on either side of the opening to halt his momentum he asked, “What have you got?” “Three ships approaching from three-five-five mark 6.” Grunder faced the commander with a grim expression. “Jem’Hadar, sir.” Basham turned at the sound of running feet along the passageway. He knew it would have to be the Bajoran – Harkin’s responsibility in an emergency during C-shift was the engine room. As the man came within view, Basham took no pleasure in being right. “Commander, what is it?” said the agent. “Visitors, and probably not in a welcoming mood,” he said and then returned his attention to Grunder’s displays. “How long until they get here, Brian?” “They’re not in a big hurry, coming in at warp two. About thirty minutes? But they’re heading straight toward us so I’d guess we’ve been spotted.” Basham swore under his breath. He checked the chronometer on the bulkhead and mentally calculated. “The Sarajevo ought to be just clearing the wormhole,” he said to Nansk. “If we send them a message they could increase warp to the rendezvous point. We can maintain nine point five for about an hour and close the distance.” He tilted his head in conjecture, “We might just make it.” “Worth a try.” The Commander turned back to Grunder’s waiting visage. “Send a narrow beam, sub-space message to the Sarajevo. Let her know what’s happening and include all the data packets. Then start dumping everything in the system. You know the drill.” Grunder nodded his understanding and immediately went to work. A spy ship was expendable but her collected reconnaissance was not. Their top priority was transmitting nearly thirty days of surveillance data and then wiping everything from the computer’s memory. This seemingly redundant task was necessary in the event the self-destruct sequence was somehow interrupted and the ship fell into enemy hands. Additionally, much of the equipment would be sabotaged for just the same reason. Basham tapped his comm badge. “Connor, get ready for a burst. And we’re going to need it for as long as the engines hold out.” “I’m on it, sir,” came the reply. “What do you want me to do?” asked Nansk. “You got anything you don’t want the Dominion to have?” Nansk nodded, “A couple of things,” and turned back down the passageway and hurried down to his quarters. The Nathan Hale had light weaponry, but it was no match for one, let alone three Jem’Hadar warships. Speed was her primary advantage and as the warp core annihilations ramped up to nine point five, not even the best inertial dampers could disguise the fact that the ship was near to tearing herself apart. 1.6 U.S.S. Sarajevo The Sarajevo wasn’t ten minutes post-transition from the Bajoran wormhole when the message arrived. “Captain, incoming comm from the Nathan Hale,” announced the Communications Officer, a young lieutenant j.g. His voice elevated a notch, “It’s got an emergency code attached!” “Start the data transmission download protocols and put the emergency code onscreen.” The captain arose from her chair and took a couple of steps towards the forward viewscreen. “It’s ‘text-only’ sir,” he said as his fingers danced around his station panel. The viewer changed from Gamma Quadrant stars to the Hale’s hastily sent distress call. All it took was seeing ‘three Jem’Hadar warships’ and the captain leapt into action. “Helm, plot an intercept to where the Hale will be, assuming she holds course and speed. Maximum warp. Bridge to Engineering, if we’ve got anything more than warp nine, now would be a good time to have it.” The Sarajevo flashed into warp in a race against time. 1.7 USS Nathan Hale “Holding at nine point five, commander.” Even through the comm system, Lt. Harkin’s voice revealed the tension they all felt. Basham checked the chronometer again, though he already knew the answer. Thirty-six more minutes until the drive unit failed – assuming the ship didn’t break apart before then. Thirty-six minutes to a rendezvous with the Sarajevo – assuming the Hale’s emergency transmission made it through. Two big assumptions, and they wouldn’t be out of the woods even if they held true. Certainly the Sarajevo was a more formidable opponent than a spy ship, but Basham had no doubts that that would give three Jem’Hadar warships no more than a moment’s hesitation before attacking. “Where’s our pursuit, Mr. Grunder?” Grunder looked up from his console, pausing in his task of sabotaging the equipment to check the tactical display. “We got a good jump on them, sir. If the Sarajevo is there, we should be in the bay with time to spare.” “Good. Keep on up here. I’m going down to engineering to help Harkin.” In reality, there wasn’t much ‘helping’ to be done; more like crossing one’s fingers and keeping vigil over the engines. Back in the crew quarters section, Nansk was hurriedly, but methodically, destroying the contents of his locked drawer. Padds of classified material – much of the details of which even Basham still didn’t know when the agent ‘read him in’ to the mission – were erased, the electronics physically destroyed and the pieces collected for disposal. They would be ejected from the ship and dispersed into space. “Twenty-four minutes,” came Grunder’s announcement over the comm. The Bajoran was almost finished with his task, hesitating on the last item – the holo-display of his family. Training had taught him to let nothing fall into enemy hands that might be turned against you, but he couldn’t bring himself to sever the only connection he had left to a ‘normal’ life. There would be time later if things came down to it, he thought, trying to delude himself. “Fourteen minutes,” as Grunder’s countdown continued. Nansk tucked a few belongings into a small duffle and left it on the desktop for a quick grab if and when it became necessary. He left his quarters and made his way forward to the observation array to get a firsthand look as events played out - and discovered he wasn’t alone with the idea. The Commander and Lt. Harkin were already there. He gave Connor a questioning tilt of the head. “They don’t need me at this point. They’ll either hold together or not,” Harkin responded concerning the engines, correctly interpreting Nansk’s body language. Grunder turned to the assembled group, “Six minutes.” “Any word from the Sarajevo?” Basham asked. “Nothing, sir.” The four men spent the remaining minutes in silence as the event chronometer counted down to zero. Grunder cut the drive and gave Harkin a “good job, we’re still in one piece” smirk. “The Sarajevo?” asked Basham. “No signal yet, sir” “The Jem’Hadar?” Grunder checked the tactical display and looked back at the commander with hope. “Ten minutes back.” Basham was grateful for the ten minutes, but he tempered the younger man’s hope with the stern reality – if the Sarajevo didn’t show, and soon, the Hale was going to be in deep trouble. For a tense minute or two the men waited, scanning the viewscreen as if their eyes could see more than the ship’s sensors. Suddenly, Grunder’s voice rang out. “Power build-up off the port side, sir. It must be the Sarajevo.” His joy was short-lived, however, as a frown crossed his face. “Magnaton particles?” he said turning with a questioning look to the commander. Basham slumped in resignation and shot a glance at Nansk. The Bajoran gave a nod in reply. “Can you pinpoint the source of the emissions?” Grunder made a few adjustments to his console and his head bobbed in the affirmative. “About three thousand meters off, sir. It’s coming from a small object, just over two meters in length, one in circumference.” “Can we bring it on board?” Basham was truly hoping they couldn’t as this object had to be the device that Nansk had told him about. “Why do you want to bring it onboard, sir?” asked Harkin. The commander faced Connor with a grim expression. “I’ve got my reasons, Lieutenant. Will it fit in the cargo bay?” Harkin thought a moment, “Just, sir” “Mr. Grunder, move us to the far side of the object. I want to put it between ourselves and the Jem’Hadar.” After warp nine point five, impulse seemed a snail’s pace as the Nathan Hale inched over to the device. The ship had just reached position when time ran out. A phased polaron beam caught the ship’s nacelle, sending the Hale into a flat spin. “Guess who’s here,” said Grunder bravely, working the helm controls to compensate for the loss of thrust. “Evasive maneuvers,” shouted Basham as he reached for a support to keep from falling. The other two men crowding the passageway weren’t as fortunate to find a handhold, and were sent crashing into the opposite bulkhead. “Commander, you must get that object,” protested Nansk, pulling himself up and stumbling back to the array doorway. Basham looked at the Bajoran with loathing, “That’s going to be difficult right now.” “You have to try. You know what’s at stake.” The commander fought an internal war with himself. He turned back to the array room and questioned, “Grunder, can you get us under enough control to get a grappler on that thing?” Grunder gave him a shrug and said, “I can try, sir. It would be easier if they’d stop shooting at us, though.” He made another adjustment on the console and the ship stabilized somewhat into an unsteady wobble. With a finger poised over the grappling control, another alert sounded and drew his attention. “We’ve got more company, sir,” his eyes lighting up. “It’s the Sarajevo!” Basham ducked through the doorway further into the room, craning to see the viewscreen from a better angle. Phaser fire slashed across the viewer to what he hoped was a Jem’Hadar target. “Grunder, get that object and let’s get out of here.” Despite Grunder’s best efforts, the ship’s gyrations made aiming problematic and the grapplers missed high and to the left. He reeled in and his second attempt was right on target. “Got it!” On the fortunate side, the ship’s instability also made the Jem’Hadar’s aim erratic, their second salvo once again only grazing the ship. But it was enough. Plasma spewed from a gash along the starboardside fuselage and the Nathan Hale sat dead in space. 1.8 USS Sarajevo As the Sarajevo dropped out of warp, she was immediately confronted with a dilemma. Three Jem’Hadar warships, flying in a delta formation, were closing in on the Nathan Hale. But instead of rendezvousing directly with the mother ship, the little spy ship was moving away in a tangential direction. “Where’s she going?” the captain asked to no one in particular, staring at the viewscreen in stunned surprise. “Shields up! Red Alert! Comm, raise the Hale and tell her to change course to….one nine zero mark two five. Helm, put us between them and the Jem’Hadar.” Tapping her comm badge, “Bridge to Flight Deck, standby for docking procedures.” But no sooner had the orders been given, than the lead warship opened fire on the Hale. The polaron beam shattered the spy ship’s nacelle and spun her out of control. “Weapons lock on that lead ship,” ordered the captain. “Phasers locked and ready, sir,” was Tactical’s response. “Fire!” The shot was a direct hit on the Jem’Hadar vessel. It pulled out of formation and lagged behind, wounded but not out of action. “Where’s the Hale?” demanded the captain, her voice betraying an impatience made acute by their situation. Though the Sarajevo’s fire had reduced the odds somewhat, it also had alerted the remaining Jem’Hadar that a new player had entered the scene. Leaving their crippled brethren behind, and ignoring the still spinning Hale, the two ships turned and spread out to flank the newcomer. The tactical officer looked up from his display and answered, “The Hale appears to have lost port thrusters.” Amazed he continued, “She’s still moving away from us! I’m reading a small cylinder, about the size of a drone, emitting magnaton particles. I think they’re trying to retrieve it.” “That had better be one damned important cylinder,” swore the captain. “Helm, evasive maneuvers, but keep us as close to the Hale as you can. Weapons, fire at will.” With her movements limited by her protective duties, the Sarajevo was caught in a losing battle. Again and again, the Jem’Hadar ships raked her hull with their polaron weapons. “Shields down to thirty-four percent, sir,” tactical reported, as the ship rocked from the impacts. The captain screwed up her face in frustration. “Comm, tell the Hale she’s coming on board ready or not. We can’t stay here. Weapons, photon torpedoes, full spread. Buy us some time.” The Sarajevo lashed out at her attackers, inflicting considerable damage but not enough to stem the onslaught. The two Jem’Hadar ships pressed in from both sides. Suddenly, the tactical officer shouted over the noise of battle, “Sir! The Hale has taken another hit. She’s dead in the water!” “Comm, do we have response from the Hale?” “None, Captain.” The list of options was growing shorter for the captain. Docking with the damaged craft would require her to drop shields, though it could be done in minimal time – if the Hale had helm control. Trying to grapple the disabled ship into the landing bay would leave too much time exposed to Jem’Hadar fire. And tractoring it out of the area meant dropping the shields altogether. “Scan for life signs.” Before the captain received her answer, the Sarajevo was rocked by another round of fire. “Captain, shields down to twenty-one percent. We can’t take much more.” “Sensors are down, Captain.” Bad news was coming in from all stations. Biting her lip, the Captain made a fateful decision. They weren’t going to be able to retrieve the spy ship and they certainly couldn’t let her fall into Jem’Hadar hands. “Weapons, target the Hale.” It was a testament to the bridge crew’s training that that order solicited nothing more than a few widened eyes. The tactical officer locked on to the target and was rewarded with a shower of sparks as the console erupted along with much of the bridge. Everywhere, crew battle flames and falling debris – and none of the station reports were good. “Shields are down!” “Weapons offline!” “Casualty reports coming in!” “Engineering to Bridge. We’ve got an anti-matter containment leak. If we can’t stop it, we’re looking at a warp core breach in five minutes!” The captain surveyed her ruined bridge and imagined what devastation lay below decks. She was going to lose her ship, the ultimate dread of any commander. “Comm, send a subspace distress call to New Bajor. There might be a Federation ship in the lanes to pick it up. Operations, set the self-destruct sequence at ten minutes and wait for my mark.” She tapped her comm badge and addressed the ship, “All hands, this is the Captain. Make ready the escape pods and standby to abandon ship.” Her plan was to give engineering four minutes, but she only had two. A polaron beam cut into the heart of the engineering section killing all who had remained frantically trying to save the core. “Operations, initiate self-destruct. All hands, this is the Captain. Abandon ship! I say again, abandon ship!” Scrambling over the wreckage, she was the last of the bridge crew through the escape hatch. All along the hull, pods that were still functional were jettisoned from their moorings and floated away from the crippled ship. Heartbroken, the captain viewed her ship and silently counted down the minutes. Inexplicably there was no explosion from a warp core breach. Confused, she checked her chronometer and waited for the self-destruct sequence to engage its final command. It seemed like an eternity until the timer wound down to zero. There was no explosion from the self-destruct. The captain was in despair. The Sarajevo drifted as a lifeless hulk, as two Jem’Hadar warships made their final close. 1.9 USS Proxima Four hours into the return voyage, Captain Parker was summoned from his ready room. “Captain,” came the page from the Comm, “We’re receiving a distress call from a Federation ship.” Parker bounded out of his desk chair, “On my way.” He entered the bridge and made his way down to the command level. First Officer Sherin ceded the Captain’s chair but Parker did not sit down. “What do you have?” “It’s from the USS Sarajevo, verified signature code. They say they’re under attack from the Jem’Hadar.” “The Jem’Hadar?” The captain turned to his tactical officer, “What’s their position?” The officer checked his display and reported, “Near the Jenkata Nebula, sir, about three light years from here.” Parker was surprised. “The Nebula is virtually in Dominion space! What are they doing so far out? Is there visual?” “No, sir,” replied the Comm. “It’s audio only.” “Play it.” The bridge crew listened as the Sarajevo’s call for help crackled through the obvious sounds of battle. “What does Star Fleet records have on the Sarajevo?” After a short moment of query, tactical replied, “The Sarajevo is an Istanbul-class starship. There’s no record of what her mission is in the Gamma Quadrant.” “I’m not familiar with that class,” said Parker with a frown. Tactical queried again. “There are only three ships listed belonging to that class. Again, there is no information as to their purpose.” Parker did not want to go running off deeper into the Gamma Quadrant but a distress call took top priority. “Helm, lay in a course to the Sarajevo. Warp nine.” “Aye, sir.” “Time to intercept?” The helmsman looked back unhappily, “Eighteen hours, sir.” Parker shook his head and turned to Sherin. “Too long. Put the ship on Yellow Alert and notify Sickbay to get ready for casualties.” Sherin went to work and the Captain finally sat down in the command chair. Resting his chin in the fingers of his left hand and tried to imagine what scenario his ship was now racing into. It wasn’t going to be good. Although he had no idea what kind of ship the Sarajevo was, after eighteen hours, someone was going to be in pieces – and he wasn’t betting against the Jem’Hadar. Restless, Parker arose from his chair and went up to the Tactical console. “Lieutenant, let me see the display on the Jenkata Nebula and the nearby systems.” The screen showed the stellar formation existing just outside “official” Dominion space and his feelings questioning Federation presence in the Gamma Quadrant resurfaced. This wasn’t the first incident involving an Alpha Quadrant ship but, as far as he knew, it was the first for the Federation, though it probably wouldn’t be the last. They’d tip-toed into someone else’s neighborhood and discovered they weren’t welcome. Back on Earth, the Council was going to have to decide, and soon, whether they were going to pack up and leave, or plant the flag and stay. The former meant foregoing potentially lucrative trade opportunities; the latter meant war. *************************** At seventeen hours, thirty minutes after the incoming distress call, Captain Parker put the ship on Red Alert. They had received no further communication from the Sarajevo. “I want sensors covering the entire sector around the Nebula,” he ordered. The sensors swept in vain for a sign from the stricken ship. The returns indicated no ships were in the area, only a debris field that was too small to account for a starship. Parker sat on the front edge of his command chair as though ready to leap out of it. The Proxima closed the final distance and dropped out of warp at the coordinates given in the distress call. “Well at least the Jem’Hadar have left,” said Parker to himself. “Analysis of the debris, Mr. Patterson.” The Science Officer swiveled his work seat to face the captain, “Consistent with Star Fleet materials, sir. Hull fragments mostly and, judging by the residual matter/anti-matter scarring on it, at least one fairly intact warp nacelle – though it’s size would indicate it’s from a much smaller vessel.” “How much smaller?” Patterson made a quick calculation and accessed the Star Fleet schematic database. “Probably from something about the size of a Hermes-class scout ship.” Parker turned to his XO, who had joined him even though he was technically “off shift”. “What do you make of that, Number One?” Sherin thought a moment before postulating, “A ship that small couldn’t have made it out here on her own. Maybe she was part of the Sarajevo’s complement.” An idea flickered in Parker’s mind. “Perhaps that’s what an Istanbul-class ship is, a carrier. But why would you use such a small craft when you have a starship at your disposal?” The answer came to the two men simultaneously. “It’s a spy ship!” “Of course,” said Parker, “that explains its proximity to the Nebula. What better place to hide while keeping an eye on the surrounding sector?” “Clearly the Sarajevo isn’t here. There’s not enough debris and there are no escape pods. Do you think the scout could have made it back into the nebula to escape from the Jem’Hadar?” asked Sherin. Parker was skeptical, but if there was any chance of finding survivors, that’s where it would be. “Helm, take us back to the Nebula, warp 7. Mr. Patterson, see if you can adjust the sensors to filter out the interference.” “Aye, sir,” said the Science Officer, his hands flying over the console. Sherin leaned closer to the captain and said in a low voice, “They’d need at least warp 3.5 to get there before we arrived, say seventeen hours or so, and that much speed would certainly attract the wrong kind of attention.” Parker nodded in agreement. “And not likely to have happened minus their warp nacelle.” Warp 7 put them on the edge of the nebula in 87 minutes. Thrusters moved the Proxima gently into the formation as the sensors peered in. “Like looking for a needle in a haystack, Captain,” said Sherin, “Especially if it’s a needle that doesn’t want to be found.” The CO was about to agree with him when Patterson’s voice interrupted. “Got ‘em, sir! Two thousand kilometers in, bearing zero five zero mark one one five.” The captain bounded from his seat. “Helm, take us there, slow and steady. Bridge to Engineering, standby tractor beam. I want to bring that ship into the…” he started to say “launch bay”, and then realized a Hermes-class would never fit. “I want to bring it alongside for docking.” The Proxima crept through the nebula until she came within range. “Engineering to Bridge, We’re ready when you are.” Captain Parker peered through the static on the viewscreen to trying to determine the ship’s condition. He could see no identification numbers but he had to admit he didn’t really expect any, not if the ship was part of a covert operation and certainly not after the pounding the scorch marks on the hull seemed to suggest she endured. “Comm, can you raise her?” “No, sir.” “Mr. Patterson, any life signs?” Patterson grimaced and shook his head. “The ship appears to be heavily shielded. Between that and the interference from the nebula, I can’t be sure.” “Engineering, engage tractor beam and bring her alongside. Sickbay, have a medical team standing by at the airlock. Mr. Sherin, you have the bridge. Go to Yellow Alert. Back us out of here and set a course for the wormhole, I’m going down to see what we’ve got.” As the turbo lift doors swooshed open he added, “Oh, and have a Security team meet me there.” The captain took the lift to deck thirteen where the port-side docking ring was located. It always gave him a chuckle when he recalled having read somewhere that high-rise buildings on Earth often “omitted” a thirteenth floor because some thought the number bad luck. He hoped that wouldn’t be the case today. When he arrived at the airlock, the wrecked ship was just being hard tethered to the Proxima. As the airlock cycled to ‘green’, teams rushed toward the craft to investigate and render aid. Work crews prized open the main hatch and the Security personnel entered cautiously, flashlights and weapons in hand. Parker followed in behind one of the security officers. Ship’s power was running emergency systems only, but the air was breathable – though choking with dust. The team searched the small ship quickly and the Security Chief hurried up to the captain. “Looks like a crew of four. Three dead, one barely hanging on back in their cargo bay.” The officer signaled the medical team to come aboard and ordered the rest of his security detail to disembark to make room. Marveling at how even four crewmembers could manage in such cramped quarters, Parker squeezed into the cargo bay along with the ship’s doctor and a corpsman. The injured man lay unconscious, draped over a strangely configured device that had the ominous look of a coffin. It was attached to a portable power generator that was no longer functioning. “Doctor, report.” The doctor looked back at the captain with a snort, “You don’t give a woman much time, do you?” She ran her tricorder over the body and pronounced, “Well, he’s alive – barely. But I’ve got to get him to Sick Bay and away from whatever this thing is. He’s been exposed to high levels of magnaton particles and it’s playing havoc with my tricorder.” Parker frowned, “Magnaton particles? Are we in any danger? Why didn’t we pick them up before?” The doctor moved aside to let her corpsman move the man. “My guess is that the shielding on this ship contained the emissions enough that our sensors couldn’t distinguish them from the nebula’s background radiation. I don’t think we’re in any immediate danger, but I wouldn’t advise spending a lot of time just standing here.” The two backed further down along the passageway to allow a gurney to enter the room. The man was carefully lifted into place and secured with the safety straps. “Do what you can for him, Doctor and let me know when he regains consciousness.” Parker went forward and found his security chief in the little ship’s observation array. “What do you make of all this, Chief?” “Most of it’s destroyed, sir, but I can tell you that it’s at a level of technology that I could only dream about.” The Captain shook his head in wonder. “What about that thing in the back?” Now it was the Chief’s turn to shake his head. “I have no idea, sir. I’ll have someone from Science take a look at it.” “The Doctor says it may have been emitting magnaton particles. Tell them to take precautions and limit their exposure. Let’s find out quickly what that thing is and how to shut it down if it starts emitting again. Otherwise, I want it off my ship. Understood?” “Yes, Captain.” Parker shook his head once more in amazement and thought, “Definitely a spy ship. I wonder what they found?” and with that he worked his way back to the cargo bay. The medical team was just removing their patient, accompanied by two security personnel. The captain let his mind wander about the identity of this mystery man but his thoughts were broken by the XO’s voice. “Bridge to Captain Parker. We’re clear of the nebula and the course to the Alpha Quadrant is laid in.” “Very good, Mr. Sherin. Take us back…” “NOOO!” The strangled cry interrupted the captain’s order. The medical team halted the gurney as the doctor ran her tricorder over the man’s body in disbelief. Parker stepped up beside the bed and a bloodied hand grabbed for his sleeve. “Captain, you can’t take the device into the Alpha Quadrant, not now,” the man said frantically. Parker leaned closer and asked, “Why? What is it? It doesn’t seem to be functioning. Is it a danger to my ship?” “It’s a trigger! It needs to be…” Convulsions wracked the man’s body and he lapsed back into unconsciousness. “Captain, I must get him to Sick Bay immediately!” pleaded the doctor. “Go!” ordered Parker and then tapped his comm badge, “Mr. Sherin, hold your position. I’ll be up to the bridge shortly.” As he strode off the little spy ship he turned and quickly surveyed the wrecked interior one last time. So many questions that needed answers. Parker headed for the nearest turbo lift and waited impatiently for it to arrive. “Bridge,” he said upon entering, not even waiting for the doors to close. *************************** A combined Science and Engineering team had been studying the device for the best part of two hours. Their scans revealed a configuration that matched nothing in Star Fleet records and they were no closer to figuring out what it did than they were at the beginning. “Turning it on would probably tell us a lot,” said one technician. “And have it start bombarding you with magnaton particles? That wouldn’t do well for your future, Ensign,” laughed Willoughby, the head of the Science department, a lean-framed man with over twenty years of service. “What would magnaton particles do, I mean other than kill me?” the lad persisted. “The man said this was a trigger. What would magnaton particles trigger?” “That’s the question of the day,” said Phillips, the Chief Engineer. “And why, whatever it does trigger, can’t it be triggered in the Alpha Quadrant?” As fate would have it, the men didn’t have long to wait for an answer. Without warning, the device came to life sending their instruments off their scales. “What did you do?” Willoughby demanded of the young ensign, who had been poking a two-tined probed into every nook and cranny it would fit into. Ensign Scott was aghast. “Nothing, sir! I was taking passive readings, that’s all!” “It’s spewing magnaton particles, Will. We need to shut it down or get out of here,” Phillips warned. Willoughby gave the engineer an exasperated look that admitted he had no idea how to disable the device. “Pack it up, gentlemen, it’s time to go.” Outside of the spy ship, Willoughby tapped his comm badge, “Willoughby to the Bridge. Captain, the device is on and we can’t turn it off.” On the bridge, Parker took the news with resignation. “Understood, Mr. Willoughby. Clear the scout ship, we’ll jettison it out to space.” The captain nodded to the XO and Sherin put the pre-arranged plan into action. The airlock sealed off the accessway and the restraining clamps released the little ship. Tractor beams reversed the procedure of bringing the craft alongside, gently pushing it out into open space. “Helm, move us to a safe distance from the ship,” Sherin ordered. When the thrusters had taken the Proxima out a few thousand kilometers, Parker spun the ship one hundred eighty degrees. “Weapons, target one photon torpedo on that ship.” “Captain! I’m reading increasing levels of neutrinos directly astern,” announced the science officer. “Magnitude is now…” he made a quick check of his display, “Sir! It’s a wormhole event horizon!” “Helm! One hundred eighty degrees about,” commanded Parker. “Red Alert, shields up!” The view screen showed the signature swirl of a wormhole opening not more than a thousand kilometers in front of them. Tactical added to Science’s report. “Sensors detect a ship emerging from the wormhole.” Before their eyes, a ship appeared that no one on the bridge had any trouble identifying. Parker was incredulous. “What the hell are they doing here?” A Romulan Bird of Prey stood nose to nose with the Proxima for a seemingly eternal second before cloaking and vanishing from their screen. Like a child’s game of Blind Man’s Bluff, Proxima’s sensors swept the region in a futile attempt to locate their foe. Suddenly Tactical warned, “Bird of Prey de-cloaking one hundred eighty degrees astern. She’s firing her disruptors!” The Proxima was rocked by the impact that caught her squarely along the engineering decks. “Warp drive is off-line. Aft shields down to forty-seven percent,” reported Operations. “Maneuvering thrusters, one hundred eighty degrees about. Keep our forward shields towards her,” shouted Parker, though by the time the Proxima rotated the Romulan had re-cloaked and was gone. “They’ll have us chasing our tail, Number One.” “De-cloaking again, off the port side!” cried the tactical officer. “Phasers, lock and fire!” Two bolts of energy, phaser and disruptor, crossed paths and found their marks. The Bird of Prey reeled from the hit and immediately re-cloaked. The Proxima, however, fared worse as the disruptor beam shattered the port nacelle. The ship began to tilt off-axis as the helm struggled to maintain control. “Photon torpedoes, wide dispersal. Fire!” They were firing in the dark, hoping to make a lucky hit, but their long shot didn’t pay off. The Romulan ship appeared again astern, starboard quarter, the disruptors easily slicing through the remaining shields. The Proxima rolled onto her back, drifting without power. Captain Parker hung on to the command chair as people and objects began floating away in various directions. “We’ve lost gravity control! Comm, send a subspace message. Give Star Fleet our location and situation.” “The communications array must be down, Captain, I can’t generate a carrier frequency.” Just then the crew felt the jerk of a tractor beam. Incredibly, the view screen was still functioning and someone cried, “They’re pulling us into the worm hole!” Clinging to his chair, his feet dangling above his head, Parker twisted to watch in stunned fascination as his ship was pulled, slowly, inexorably into the swirling vortex. Chapter Two Earth 2384 2.1 San Francisco The three men sat around an oblong table in an expansive office on the 40th floor of a building owned by a well-known financial institution. It could have been a meeting between the CEO of the bank and his regional vice-presidents – but it wasn’t. The affairs they were discussing weren’t financial, they were political. In fact, the men didn’t work for the institution at all. Their allegiance was to the United Federation of Planets, although one wouldn’t find their group on an official organization chart. Since 2161, the Federation has occupied various sites scattered around San Francisco. While its Executive offices are located in Paris, the Legislative chambers and Judiciary were located in the Presidio within the city. Star Fleet, which provided the diplomatic and military muscle, was based at Fort Baker, just outside the city on Angel Island, sharing the island with Star Fleet’s Academy. The fact that these men were meeting in an office building not affiliated with any of the Federation’s official activities should give one a hint as to the nature of their existence. These men were the top three of an organization known as Section 31. The group took its name from Article 14, Section 31 of the original United Earth Star Fleet Charter which, if liberally interpreted, allowed established rules of conduct to be “bent” in the event of extraordinary circumstances. Though neither condoned nor even acknowledged, Section 31 activities have run in a parallel shadow throughout Star Fleet’s history. Tonight was the first time in many months that the three had met together in the same room, an indication that an “extraordinary circumstance” had taken place. Tomorrow, the office would once again be vacant with a real estate firms’ “For Lease” sign on the door. “You’ve all read the latest intelligence brief?” asked the Director alternating his questioning look between the other two men. Their affirmative nods prompted him to continue. “What’s your perspective on this, Mueller?” Mueller spread his hands on the table and spoke. “First off, for the Romulans to contact us in this way is highly unusual. Second, what they’ve sent us is of dubious value – information about a ship that’s been lost for fourteen years? Certainly the Romulans would have had it stripped it down to the bolts long ago.” The third man, Sterns, interjected in agreement. “I think it’s safe to presume that the Romulans want something from us. They key is why did this come to us, rather than to Star Fleet? That tells me that whatever they want, it’s not official. If it’s not official, then who are we dealing with?” Mueller speculated, “The probability is Tal Shiar. They’re still trying to make a comeback after the Dominion War.” “That still doesn’t give us what they want or why we would be interested in a fourteen year old ship,” argued Sterns. The Director considered for a moment, then leaned forward and set a small object on the table in front of them. “Perhaps this might alter your thinking. This wasn’t in your briefings and the two of you are too young to remember the circumstances.” He activated the device and a holo-image of a family appeared before them. “Who are they?” asked Sterns. “They’re the family of one of our operatives. He’s the older boy in this picture when it was taken. The emitter is a memento he always carried with him, despite me telling him not to.” “How does this affect our situation?” The Director leaned back into his chair and gazed at the ceiling, as if recalling a painful memory. “His name was Lucian Nansk, recruited out of a resistance cell on Bajor during the Cardassian occupation. He was a bright, young kid, always eager to take the more difficult missions. His last one was aboard the Nathan Hale, a Star Fleet spy ship sent to the Gamma Quadrant just before the outbreak of the Dominion War. It disappeared somewhere around the Jenkata Nebula, along with its mother ship, the Sarajevo. Everyone presumed the Dominion had something to do with it. In fact, the Sarajevo got off a distress call claiming to be under a Jem’Hadar attack.” Mueller picked up on it. “Claiming, sir?” The Director nodded. “Not a word about her – or from her - until 2374 when, interestingly enough, the Sarajevo shows up again, just in time to be destroyed in a battle during the war.” “Dead men tell no tales,” quipped Mueller. The Director returned forward toward the table. “But back in 2370, the closest Star Fleet vessel was the Proxima, your fourteen year old ship, Sterns. But they were eighteen hours away.” “So what happened?” asked Sterns. “And how did she get into Romulan hands?” “That’s the mystery here. The Proxima was never heard from again. The Dominion War broke out a few weeks later and the whole thing was lost or conveniently forgotten in the post-war reconstruction.” Mueller began connecting the dots. “So we’ve got an operative’s keepsake that goes from spy ship to maybe mother ship to maybe rescue ship to Romulan hands. However that happened, that last part is the only thing that’s definite. They had it, and now they’ve sent it to us – along with suddenly revealing ‘Oh by the way, we have your ship, too.’” “And that’s the dilemma the Romulans have handed us,” said the Director. He waved his hand in the air, “The Proxima is secondary, almost inconsequential. As you’ve noted, there are certainly no more secrets left to be salvaged after all this time.” He picked up the holo device, switched it off and examined it. “But this damned emitter. How did they get it? Was Nansk taken captive somehow? Did he defect? Was he and the rest of the crew dead and the Romulans just stumbled across it? And why in blazes has it taken them fourteen years to do something with this?” “We’re back to what do they want,” said Sterns. The Director nodded. “And until we figure out what it is, there’s not a whole lot we can do.” “How do you want to proceed?” asked Mueller. “As it happens, Nansk’s younger brother has just recently graduated from the Academy. I did a little checking and found out his first posting is directing traffic at a backwater star base – not the kind of thing that’s likely to excite an active, young ensign. I think he’d make the perfect recruit for our purposes. And I’ll bet he’ll jump at the chance to find out about his brother.” The two other men gave a knowing smile to each other. “And what are our purposes, sir?” asked Sterns. “We need some firsthand intel, a sneak and peak. I have someone in mind who can put things into motion. We get young Nansk posted to the right ship, Star Fleet sends it for a look-see, Nansk relays what they find and we make our move from there.” “How much background do we give him?” asked Mueller. “Just that his brother may be alive and that we need to find out more information before sending in the cavalry.” “Who do you want making the recruitment?” “Already taken care of.” The Director looked at his watch. “The boy’s in Spain. Allowing for a nine hour time difference, we should have our answer sometime tomorrow.” He slapped his hands down on the table top. “Any other questions, gentlemen? No? Good, I’ll be in touch. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an admiral to call upon.” 2.2 New Madrid Tabor walked through the narrow streets of a city that despite its name was decidedly old. Once one got off the main boulevards and away from the tourist traps, the rugged splendor of a nearly forgotten time emerged. Life here hadn’t really changed in centuries. New Madrid took its name after extensive rebuilding following the devastating earthquake of 2106, but the culture of a people was anything but new. Fresh from Star Fleet Academy, newly minted Ensign Nansk was enjoying a two week leave before starting his first assignment – an admittedly lackluster posting to a transport operations hub on Starbase 47, near the Cardassian Demilitarized Zone. The one good thing about the base was its proximity to his home world, Bajor. The young Bajoran had disappointed his parents with his decision to join Star Fleet and he hoped to atone for this grievance by being able to visit them more frequently. New Madrid was unbearably hot during the long, summer days and Tabor quickly grew to appreciate the local custom of “siesta”, taking refuge from the blazing sun and only re-emerging when the later evening breezes cooled the city and its inhabitants. It seemed the entire population would then be out strolling the parks or sipping sangria at a table at one of the myriad of outside cafes that surrounded every major and minor plaza in the city. Tabor’s command of Spanish was minimal and certainly atrocious to native ears, but he learned that a smile and a “por favor” smoothed most transactions. Tonight he was into his second liter of sangria, eavesdropping on a particularly animated conversation going on at the table next to his. He had no idea what the two gentlemen were discussing but it was entertaining to watch the passion with which they made their respective cases. He pushed his empty tapas plate forward and leaned back, letting his imagination run wild. Surprising him from behind came a low voice – in English. “It’s not polite to intrude on other people’s business, Tabor.” He spun in his chair, then recoiled at being face to face with a total stranger. “Excuse me? Do I know you?” The man slid into the empty chair next to Tabor and leaned forward on the table, interlacing the fingers of his hands as if in prayer. “No, but that’s not important. What is important is that I know you. And that we are going to help each other in ways you can’t begin to imagine yet.” Tabor eyed the man suspiciously. There was nothing distinguishing about him. The dark hair with a touch of grey at the temples gave him a fatherly image. He wore a black, leather jacket – a bit odd in this heat - and khaki pants, an outfit that could have described your average tourist. But his eyes were as cold as rolled steel, though he tried to soften their penetrating stare with an oily grin. “Who are you and how do you know me?” The man sat back, reached into his jacket with his right hand and pulled out a small holo-emitter, the kind people use for keepsakes. He set it on the table and activated the device. Tabor was stunned to see the image of his family – his mother and father, his older brother and himself. The picture had been taken in front of the family’s home when he was about eight years old. “Where did you get this?” He was sure he recognized the emitter. “This is my brother’s. He always carried it with him.” The man leaned forward again and re-clasped his hands. “It is indeed your brother’s, Tabor, and I would like very much to tell you how I came to be in possession of it. But not here.” The man pushed back his chair, pocketed the emitter and stood. “Come for a walk with me, Tabor? It’s a beautiful evening for a stroll don’t you think?” Tabor sat in momentary indecision. “Come Tabor, I mean you no harm. As I said, I want to help you and for you to help me.” Tabor set his jaw and threw caution to the wind. “Alright,” he said standing, “I’ll give you till the next plaza.” He reached into his pocket and deposited a few coins on the table to pay for his meal. The two men left the café and walked leisurely out into the middle of the square. “I assume you wanted privacy. Now you’ve got it,” said Tabor. “So tell me, where did you get this?” The man continued his stride and replied evenly, “What would you say if I told you your brother was alive?” Tabor stopped in his tracks and turned on the man. “I’d say you were a liar. Lucian died when I was nine years old. That picture was taken the day he joined the Bajoran resistance against Cardassia. It was the last time I saw him – except for the funeral. He was killed when the Cardassians raided one of their strongholds.” “Did you actually ‘see’ him at the funeral, Tabor? Think carefully.” Tabor thought back to that day when some members of the resistance brought his parents the fateful news. There was no body and the service that followed was closed as well. The only thing Tabor could remember was himself as a young boy crying in anguish over the coffin of the big brother he worshiped. It was Lucian’s death that made him vow to join Star Fleet. If the Bajorans couldn’t defeat the Cardassians, maybe the Federation could. “No, I didn’t see him.” “No. That’s because Lucian didn’t die in that raid. In fact, he wasn’t in the Resistance at all. He was working for us. His “death” was just a cover story to shield you and your parents from any repercussions his real assignments might bring to you. And it worked, too. At least until he got careless and let that emitter fall into the wrong hands.” Tabor’s quick temper got the better of him. “My brother was never careless! Something must have happened for him to lose that.” “Something did happen, and that’s what we want you to find out.” “Why me? And who is us?” “I’ll answer your second question first. We’re a small, intentionally not very visible part of the Federation. We play an integral role in maintaining security in the quadrant so folks like you can have a nice, peaceful life.” Tabor bristled at the implication. “You know nothing about my life or you wouldn’t be making statements like that.” The man shrugged, “Have it your way, it changes nothing. Your brother is still in trouble, and you’re the one he needs.” Tabor was about to protest when the man cut him off. “I know, ‘Why me?’ Your brother may be being held captive and, as you know, it will have been for a very long time. People sometimes change, do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. Psychiatrists call it the Stockholm Syndrome and they say that having someone close to the victim making initial contact at the time of rescue is often critical in bringing them back. I can’t think of anyone closer to your brother than you, Tabor.” That clinched it. “What do you need me to do?” “Well first off we need to put you into a position where you can be the most effective when the time comes. That means not sitting twiddling your thumbs on low priority star base.” The man pretended to think a moment, toying with Tabor’s emotions. “We have a ship in mind, the Reaent, an Ambassador-class starship that will be going the right direction very soon.” “Going where?” “It’s best you don’t know just yet, Tabor. Believe me, it’s somewhere where the Federation can’t just walk right in, if you know what I mean. For now, your job will be to simply become one of the crew. I understand you’re a pilot by training?” “Yes, that’s correct.” “Excellent. It just so happens the Reaent is in need of a fighter pilot. Interested?” Tabor was hooked. Flying was his dream and rescuing his brother was unimaginable. All he could do was nod. The man’s face broke into a satisfied smile. “I thought you might be.” Questions began to bubble to the front of Tabor’s mind. “How will I know what I’m supposed to do, and when and where and…” The stranger held up a cautioning hand and turned deadly serious. “We’ll communicate with you at the appropriate time with instructions. Do understand, Tabor, that secrecy is the most vital element in this mission. You are to tell no one about this conversation or anything about your brother. If any of this leaks prematurely, the whole thing is off and your brother’s fate will be sealed. It’s in your hands, Tabor.” Again Tabor just nodded, then found his voice. “One last question. Who are you?” “We’re known as Section 31. Now, finish your vacation Tabor – on schedule – and report back to Star Fleet headquarters. Your transfer orders will be waiting when you arrive. We probably won’t be seeing one another again for a while, but you will be contacted. Good luck.” The man turned and disappeared into the crowded plaza leaving Tabor in a whirl of thoughts and emotions. His brother, alive! Tabor vowed then and there to do whatever it took to make that possibility a reality. Chapter Three USS Reaent 3.1 Reporting for Duty When Tabor came aboard it, it was like the proverbial kid in a candy shop. Certainly the Reaent wasn’t the newest or fanciest ship in Star Fleet, but she had a storied reputation and an outstanding service record. Built in 2357, the Reaent was an Ambassador-class, Scientific Light Carrier laid down on a design that had been introduced in the 2330’s. By 2372, newer designs and more demanding missions had left her functionally obsolete. Unwilling to simply scrap a structurally sound starship – along with her fifty sister ships – Star Fleet initiated a refit program to enable continued service to the Federation. With work completed, the Reaent was re-commissioned in 2378 and spent the next five years adding to her record. The ship underwent yet another modification with an “Enhanced Scientific Explorer” refit in 2383. Basically that meant the additional capability of carrying approximately thirty Peregrine Class fighters for ship defense and support while on extended – and often isolated – missions. Tabor wandered the passageways with his duffel bag trying not to look lost while he oriented himself to the ship’s layout displayed on his padd. Eventually he arrived at the Flight Operations Office and presented himself to the Officer of the Day. “Ensign Tabor Nansk, reporting for duty, sir.” The OD eyed him skeptically, “You one of the new pilots?” “Yes, sir.” “Hmm,” he said, checking a padd lying on the desk. “Nansk? Yes, here you are. Expected you an hour ago.” Tabor felt his face flush. “I’m sorry, sir. I had a little trouble locating the Flight Ops. The schematic on my padd doesn’t seem to match up with the ship.” The OD gave a little chuckle. “I suspect we’ve had a few changes around here since that diagram was uploaded. Never mind, you’re late. What that means is that you don’t get your quarters assignment right now. You’re overdue for your new crewmember physical and the doctor doesn’t like to be kept waiting. I suggest you get moving. I’ll forward your arrival on to the Executive Officer. Now, get going!” Tabor gave a quick salute and backed out of the office. The doors whooshed shut and he stood dumbfounded in the passageway for a moment. Sickbay… Now where was that? Ditching the padd, Tabor located a display console on the bulkhead wall. “Computer, show me Sickbay.” A blue line was generated on the diagram and Tabor committed the route to memory. Still feeling out of place lugging his duffel bag around, he set off for his next destination. All in all, the crew he encountered in the corridors was friendly enough, but he was mostly ignored as he made his way to the sickbay. The Flight Office was on Deck 3 and Sick Bay on Deck 19. Tabor found the turbo lift exactly where the blue line said it would be – to his relief. He smiled at a female ensign as he entered and stated his destination. She nodded in reply but didn’t say a word. Standing awkwardly to one side, he felt like she was giving him the once over, deciding if he was someone worth talking to. The Ensign disembarked on Deck 12 and Tabor made a mental note to find out which departments were located there. Maybe he could find a good reason to be there and run into her again. “Resume,” he said and as the lift doors swooshed shut and he rode the rest of the way alone. At Deck 19 he finished the “blue line route” and presently came to a set of doors marked “Medical”. Tabor paused a moment, rearranged his duffel bag across the other shoulder, and then entered. 3.2 Sickbay Tabor entered a reception area and was impressed at the state of the art facility. He wasn’t sure why he expected anything less, but one never knows on a military vessel. “Can I help you?” asked a woman in a white lab coat. Tabor stammered, “I’m Ensign Nansk. I’m supposed to see the doctor for a new crewmember physical?” “You sound like you’re not sure, Ensign. Are you a new crewmember?” Nodding foolishly, “Yes, ma’am.” “And isn’t it a requirement that all new crewmembers receive clearance from the ship’s doctor that you’re fit and ready for duty?” “I suppose it is, ma’am. This is my first assignment, so I don’t have a lot of experience to go by.” Laughing at his discomfort – though not derisively - she said, “No, I don’t suppose you do! And stop calling me, ma’am. It makes me sound old! My name is Mathews, Doctor Mathews.” “Hello Doctor Mathews.” The doctor checked her desktop computer and located Tabor’s base-side medical records. “I see you’re a pilot, Ensign Nansk. Please take a seat,” motioning to one of the biobeds. Tabor bobbed his head again, dropped his duffel bag in what he hoped was an out of the way corner and went to the bed indicated, hopping up trying to look nonchalant. Doctor Mathews grabbed a tricorder off her desk and walked over to her new patient. With a practiced hand, she made a quick but thorough examination of the nervous Ensign before her. Tabor listened to all the beeps and sounds from the medical scanner, and wondered what they all meant. From somewhere in the back of the bay, an assistant called out, “Be careful with that scanner, Doctor! You know, that’s the one that short circuits all the time. Don't want to shock the new guy!” Tabor’s eyes widened at the warning. Again Doctor Mathews poked fun at his discomfort. “Don’t listen to her, Ensign. It’s sometimes a little slow down here and we get our jollies pretending to torment the newbies.” The doctor looked at her tricorder then to Tabor. “You’re fine, Ensign. I’ll be sending my report to the Executive Officer and Flight Ops shortly. You should be on duty very soon now! Oh, and breathe, Ensign.” Tabor realized he’d been holding his breath and exhaled after a seeming eternity. “Thanks, Doctor,” and gave her a “can I get down now" look. This time when Doctor Mathews laughed, he felt the warmth of her caring personality. “Yes, Ensign, you may get down.” She waited while Tabor retrieved his duffel bag and then motioned for him to come over to her desk. Reaching into the bottom drawer, the doctor pulled out a wrapped piece of candy on a small, white stick. To his questioning look she answered, “It’s a lollipop. Mostly they’re for children, but I find that most of my patients are just big kids at heart.” Tabor unwrapped the treat and plopped it into his mouth. The sweet taste reminded him of home and he felt a fleeting pang of regret not seeing his parents before reporting on board. “Thank you, Doctor,” and quickly left so she wouldn’t see the shadow that crossed his face. Doctor Mathews smiled as he left. Sending off new crewmembers always made her feel a bit like a new parent waving their child off on the first day of school. What would become of them? She sat down at her desk and began to download the examination information into the computer’s medical database. 3.3 Murray The weeks and months went by quickly for Tabor. As he settled in and got to know more and more of the crew, the Reaent was becoming his second home. The missions were exciting and he reveled in the challenges. With each new assignment, he wondered if this would be the one to rescue his brother. But he’d heard nothing from his Section 31 contact and was beginning to wonder if he ever would. Patience was not Tabor’s strong point. He worked hard to earn his Flight Leader’s confidence and apparently succeeded when one day the Captain presented him with his first promotion – to Lieutenant J.g. Tabor re-doubled his efforts to improve his performance, both as a personal objective and to distract his mind from what might be happening with his brother. Then one day while he was taking a meal in the junior officer’s mess, he spotted someone who was rarely seen there. It was well known that Wimbley Murray preferred a more private setting, so to find the First Lieutenant sitting at a table amidst the barely contained chaos of chattering crewmates was indeed unusual. Tabor decided to investigate. “Lt. Murray,” he said approaching the table with his tray, “Mind if I join you?” Murray looked up at Tabor, apparently undecided as to whether or not he wanted to allow this intrusion. Finally he pushed the chair opposite him back with his foot and said simply, “Have a seat.” Tabor quickly unloaded his tray and set it off on the next table over. “Thank you, Lieutenant,” he said sitting down and pulling his bowl of Bajoran stew closer. “I don’t see you much down here. Something special today?” “Haven’t you heard? We’ve got a new mission, a real doozy. Thought I’d come down and take the pulse of the crew, so to speak.” “I haven’t heard a thing! Of course, you’re on the bridge so you get everything first hand. Me, I’ve got to wait until the CAG decides to tell us before I know anything. What is it?” “We’re going to the Neutral Zone. Going through the Neutral Zone – uninvited.” Tabor thought that was a bad idea. “That’s not going to be taken well by the Romulans,” he said cautiously. “Why are we doing this?” Murray sized up the Bajoran who, although a couple of years older than he, had less time in Star Fleet service. He leaned forward conspiratorially. “OK. You didn’t hear this from me. We’re going to look for a ship. Seems it’s been missing for fourteen years and just now started broadcasting a distress beacon.” Tabor sat bolt upright and nearly dropped his spoon. Fourteen years was how long his brother had been presumed dead – at least until the Section 31 operative told him otherwise. Could this be the mission? “And this ship is in Romulan space?” Murray nodded with a Cheshire cat smile. “So what are we going to do if we find it?” Murray just shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t think anyone’s thinking that far ahead, if you ask me. I mean, just getting across the Neutral Zone without getting caught is like a gazillion to one.” “Someone must have a plan. Why else would Star Fleet send us?” “To answer your second question first – or maybe not to answer it,” Murray said, laughing at his own joke, “Who knows? I guess they don’t want to send in an entire rescue fleet for a ship that probably isn’t even there.” “You think it’s a trap?” asked Tabor, his mind racing with possibilities. Murray just gave the Bajoran an ‘are you really that green’ look. “So what is the plan? How are we going to get into Romulan space undetected?” “Right now, the front runner is to disguise ourselves as little lost asteroids and simply float across.” Now it was Tabor’s turn to look incredulous. “You can’t be serious. The Romulans are not that stupid.” Murray shrugged again and stood, picking up his meal tray. “Remember, you didn’t hear any of this from me.” As he passed Tabor, who seemed to be stuck in his chair, he smiled and said, “I’ve enjoyed our little conversation, Mr. Nansk. We’ll have to do it again sometime.” 3.4 Engineering Down in Engineering, a different type of conversation was taking place, namely how to get an entire starship across the Neutral Zone without being detected by the Romulans. Chief Engineer Aaron Scherer and his team had been working with the Flight Group earlier on equipping the individual fighter craft with holo-emitters to disguise their configuration, and were now devising a plan to expand the ship’s arrays to make it appear as a rogue asteroid when a new face entered the room. “Hello. We haven’t met yet, I’m the new Science Officer, Anna O’Halloran.” Scherer looked up and made a quick appraisal of the pretty young woman standing in front of him. “Hello to you. What can I do for you, Lieutenant?” “The Captain asked the Science Department to coordinate with Engineering and I got nominated.” Scherer was taken with her raven-black hair and piercing blue eyes. He decided to give her his full attention and stood up from his console. “A pleasure, Anna. What have you brought for us?” Anna faced an imposing looking man with a scar running across his left eye. Even though she had heard the Chief was as gentle as a pussycat, his face could just as easily have told a different story. “Just an idea I would like to talk to you about – if you have a moment.” “I think we’re all ready for any new ideas. What does the Science Department have in mind?” “I've heard the talk about using holo-emitters to hide the ship from sensors and I'd like to offer an idea to go along with that.” “Please don’t keep us wondering,” said Scherer leaning slightly on the table. “Do go on.” Anna took a breath and let it out, hoping she wouldn’t look like an idiot. “We’ll be using the ship’s sensors to detect and analyze incoming sensor frequencies from the grid. We can try to use these for electronic counter measures to either absorb or negate the signal. We could disperse a signal that is similar but completely out of phase in order to produce completely destructive interference.” She finished in a rush, as though if she paused to take a new breath, the whole plan would evaporate. “That’s it.” Scherer nodded thoughtfully. “Very original. You’re a credit to your department.” Greatly relieved, Anna smiled and gave a simple, “Thank you.” One of the other engineers now spoke up. “We have personal cloaking technology that we could modify to either mask the fighters for escort or expand to hide the entire ship.” “Can’t do the ship – Treaty of Organia and all – but the fighters might slip through the fine print,” said Scherer rubbing his head. “It’s an interesting idea. We would have to look at the specs to see if we could modify the field to at least a shuttle dimensions.” “Well, we just need to give it a bigger power source and alter the projection field.” “And make sure the heat sinks don’t burn out.” Anna wedged in a question as the two engineers paused for thought. “Wouldn’t the Romulans be able to see us because of the power output?” “Not necessarily,” answered Scherer. “But heat dispersion would be the key.” He turned to his colleague, “Ok, run with it. Work up some numbers and we’ll keep it as a backup plan.” “It sounds risky,” said Anna, not really wanting to sound like a skeptic in her first meeting. Scherer chuckled, “We’re going into Romulan space. That’s a pretty big risk in and of itself.” Anna conceded, “True, but I wouldn’t want give them extra ways to find us.” “I think the holo-emitters are going to be our first choice,” said the Chief. “At least that’s the impression I get from the Captain. That’s not fool-proof either, but then nothing is.” 3.5 The Neutral Zone Alpha Quadrant After weeks of preparation, the Reaent was nearly ready to attempt crossing the Neutral Zone. The holo-emitter idea had remained “Plan A” and was about to be put to the ultimate test. Tabor had been consumed with the thought that somehow this mysterious ship was linked to his brother’s disappearance. The Proxima. He rolled the name around on his tongue like the pit of some enticing fruit. He was torn with indecision. On one hand, nothing of what he knew about this mission made much sense and, granted, he knew very little. First, you have a ship missing for fourteen years in enemy space that suddenly starts sending out a signal. And the Romulans don’t hear it? Second, if Star Fleet knows the ship is there, why not take more aggressive action in retrieving it? If Star Fleet doesn’t know it’s there – and they suspect a trap – how could they order one, nearly worn out star ship to go on a virtual suicide mission? And third, what were they supposed to do if they made it across the Neutral Zone, made across Romulan space and actually found the ship? Tabor shook his head. On the other hand, it all made perfect sense – at least with regards to Lucian. From the limited information contained in the ship’s database, he discovered that the Proxima was lost sometime at the beginning of the Dominion War, the same time period that Lucian supposedly died. The Section 31 operative said his brother had been a spy and who better to spy upon during that time than the Dominion? How the ship had gotten into Romulan space was a question unanswered, but for a time the Romulans had signed a neutrality agreement with the Dominion. Perhaps there was a connection there. And even though he hadn’t been contacted by the Section 31 agent, Tabor had no doubt that a mission of this magnitude is what the man meant when he said the Reaent would be “going in the right direction soon.” Distracting him from his thoughts were his duties in the Flight Group – of which he was now a full Lieutenant and second in command – and a new, pup of a pilot named Will Tomlinson. Will was a strapping young man and Tabor was constantly amazed the boy could squeeze his 6’ 1” frame into a fighter. More to Tabor’s consternation was Will’s almost psychic empathy when it came to judging the emotional states of others – in this case, Tabor’s – that nearly drove him up a wall. It was as though Will could see right through him and know every doubt or hesitation that crossed Tabor’s mind. But the kid had a winning personality and over time they became best friends. “Hey, wing mate!” cried Will as he spotted Tabor entering the flight deck. Tabor gave the boy a half hearted grin in return and called Bravo squad – his flight squadron – over to one side of the launch bay. “OK, gentlemen. Today we’re going to find out if all this extra crap we’ve been hanging on our fighters is going to be worth its weight in drag,” he said referring to the holo-emitters and knowing the metaphor completely lost something in translation. “We’re going to go outside and play like nice little asteroids. Any last questions?” Of course, it was Will who spoke up. “If we get fired upon, do we get to fire back?” “You will wait for orders. Is that clear?” Tabor looked at all the other pilots first before settling in on Will. “And you stay glued to my wing.” “That’s my job,” he replied enthusiastically. Tabor continued, “Besides, if all goes right, no one is going to be shooting at a rogue asteroid and scattered pieces.” He looked again at Will felt a chill run down his spine. Those darn green eyes of his were peering into Tabor’s soul again, exposing the lie that the squadron leader in any way believed that all was going to go right. The pilots took to their fighters and at the signal from the bridge, launched into their formation. Tabor was always taken by the sight of open space whenever he first left the launch bay. He shook off the distraction and ran through the checklist Engineering had provided to ensure proper function of the holo-emitters. His console showed all green, all systems functioning normally. Off his right wingtip was Will, and behind them, intentionally raggedly spaced, was the rest of the squadron. “Standby to engage holo-emitters,” he gave as command. “Standing by,” replied Will cheerfully, as did the other pilots. Tabor felt like he and the others were sitting ducks, a feeling that didn’t diminish when the order came to engage the emitters. Now they were sitting rocks, if anyone actually fell for the ruse. Power levels were kept at a minimum, with just an occasional push of thrust to keep the formation floating in the right direction. Tabor had argued with his Flight Leader against the “asteroid plan”, favoring something more believable in the event they were caught sneaking across the Neutral Zone by the Romulans. But the Captain had chosen this plan and now they had to make it work. As the cluster slowly edged into the zone, Tabor knew only time would tell if it would be successful or not. Chapter Four Romulan Space 4.1 The Neutral Zone Romulan Space The IRW Petan hung motionless in its patrol zone in the Hyralan Sector, much to the dismay of her Sub-Commander, an ambitious officer named B’Ril. Messages from the Petan’s nearby sister ship indicated a similar feeling of frustration. He sidled over to the man sitting in the command chair at the center of the bridge. “Commander, if I may have a word,” he spoke in a quiet, yet urgent voice. “Speak, B’Ril,” replied the older officer. “You’re views are always welcome.” It was Commander Omalar’s standard response, yet B’Ril was never quite sure if he really meant it or not. “Sir, are we not leaving much of our sector unguarded by remaining here such an extended length of time?” “Why? Is there something wrong with your sensors?” B’Ril winced at the remark. Whenever something was amiss onboard, it was always his ship, his systems, his responsibility. “No, sir. Everything is in proper order.” Omalar pressed on. “Are your scans focused on the co-ordinates I’ve given you?” “Yes, sir. As you’ve ordered.” The Commander turned in his chair to face his subordinate. “Then what, B’Ril? Do you not trust me?” This is what it always came down to whenever B’Ril questioned a command. Trust. Loyalty. Obedience. “Always, Commander. Do you know a vital piece of information that makes you stay here?” “I know many things, Sub-Commander,” he said with emphasis on the word ‘sub’. Omalar had risen in the ranks from Centurion during and after the Dominion War, to a “senior” commander status, partly through skill, partly through intrigue and never missed an opportunity to remind an underling of his or her place in the chain of command. “One of the most important is patience.” He leaned back in his chair with a contented sigh. B’Ril knew what was coming. “When I was a boy, my grandfather used to take me fishing in a small boat on a lake near our village. We would sit for hours waiting a fish to bite. I was certain there were no fish in the lake and complained to him repeatedly. He just smiled, occasionally telling me to check my bait. I would pull in my line and be astonished that the bait was gone. ‘There’s something down there’ he would say. ‘You just need the right bait and patience’.” B’Ril had heard the story before, but he couldn’t help asking. “Are we using the right bait, sir?” Omalar smiled and re-focused on his sub-commander. “Oh yes, B’Ril. And with a little patience, we’re going after a fish bigger than you can imagine.” 4.2 Neutral Zone USS Reaent Tabor watched with growing concern how two hours of drifting had separated his squadron. “Tighten up, Bravo. We need to look like a cluster of asteroid bits as much as possible.” Will had nearly fallen asleep when the message roused him. “Great first assignment, boss.” How the kid could be bored out of his mind floating across the Neutral Zone was a wonder to Tabor. He rubbed his hands together for warmth, as the cockpit started to chill from the reduced power levels they were using. “Stay alert, Will. We’re on borrowed time.” No sooner had the words left his mouth than a comm from the Reaent put them on alert. Murray’s tactical sensors had picked up a contact. “Long range sensors have detected two unknown vessels bearing zero five zero mark six, heading across our way.” “Only two?” thought Tabor, “we must be living right.” After a tense twenty minutes of waiting, the other ships passed from sensor range and the ‘all clear’ put them at relative ease. Apparently, on the bridge, the Captain was through with the charade. Tabor looked on in disbelief as the Reaent suddenly emerged from its asteroid shape. Will, seeing the ship shed her disguise, perked up awaiting orders. “Fighters, drop your holos and take up escort positions,” barked the Flight Leader. “It couldn’t last forever,” thought Tabor switching off the emitters. Will disengaged his emitters and powered up his fighter, waiting for Tabor to move. The fighter squadrons now formed a defensive ring around the ship. Tabor sent a private message to the Flight Leader. “You know, if the Romulans catch us now, my plan for drifting across hiding in wreckage might actually happen. Except it’ll be real wreckage.” Now in a more forward position, he checked to see if the new pilot was still with him. He twisted in the cockpit to look over his right shoulder. Yep, there he was, right off his wingtip. Tabor could almost see the young pilot grinning. “Bravo Squadron,” came the instructions over the comm, “Turn to a heading of 180 relative. We need an ID on that contact.” Tabor passed the message to his wing mate. “Will, follow me, we’re going on a field trip.” The two fighters broke formation and shot out deeper into Romulan space. They cut power to avoid detection and began scanning for the lost contact. Will picked it up first on his screen, his eyes widening. “Tabor, am I reading this right? Is that a warbird?” “Hard to tell at this distance, but I’d guess it’s probably not a tourist vessel.” “Can they see us?” Checking his tactical display, Tabor responded with more confidence in his voice than he felt, “Probably not. We’d be at the very edge of Romulan sensor range, and we’re a whole lot smaller target for them to pick up.” A few more minutes of scanning produced enough data to make a reasonably sure conclusion: The vessels were indeed Romulan. Two Valdore-class warbirds to be precise. Tabor sent the information back to the Reaent and received a “Clear to go weapons hot. Fire if fired upon” in return. Will felt the surge of adrenaline in his body as he brought his weapons online for real for the first time. But Will’s “surge” was short lived. “Fighters, disengage escort and return to the ship,” was the order from the bridge. Will couldn’t believe it. Boring as it was, the asteroid disguise was working. Yet at the first sign of trouble, the plan was being ditched. And of what use were fighters sitting in the launch bay? He didn’t have time to fret over such matters as the squadron regrouped and made their approach to the Reaent. One by one, the fighters made their landings and taxied to their tie down positions. After getting the raised, crossed arms at the wrist “hold” signal from the ground crew, Will cut his engines and popped the canopy. He almost tore off his helmet and shouted across the bay to his squadron leader. “Hey Tabor! What gives?” Tabor gave a “who knows” shrug and climbed out of the cockpit and down the access ladder that had been rolled up to the side of his fighter. He didn’t know, but he was certainly going to find out. 4.5 IRW Petan Ready Room The tension in the ready room was palatable. Omalar had ordered the two warbirds to break off shadowing the Federation ship and set a new course. The Commander from the Urok was pacing like a caged beast and B’Ril was torn between defending his mentor or joining in on the assault on the senior commander’s recent orders and the reason he had just used to justify them. “The Tal Shiar? You’re going to blame this on the Tal Shiar?” asked the Urok’s panicking commander. It was common knowledge that to go against the elite intelligence agency, however hated and mistrusted, usually ended with someone “disappearing”. “Calm yourself,” ordered Omalar, “let me explain it to you…one time.” And so the story unfolded. “In the late 2260’s, the Tal Shiar discovered a device deep in the Chaltok System that they could not identify – its purpose nor its origin. They brought it to a secret research facility that had been built on the fourth planet to study its function. What they discovered, after many failures, was that the device was a trigger.” Omalar, ever the fisherman, paused to set the hook. “It opened a worm hole to the Gamma Quadrant.” The look on the two officers’ faces told him they were on the line. Continuing, he said, “The Tal Shiar made contact with an aggressive race of changelings known as the Founders and as you know now, these Founders led the Dominion. In 2369, when the Bajoran worm hole was discovered and the Federation” – he said the word with distaste – “began intruding on their space, the Dominion prepared for war. At the time, the Tal Shiar wanted no part of this war tried to convince the Founders that the Empire would stay out of the way. Besides, the worm hole was not always stable. It required two of these alien devices to open it, one at each terminus, and tremendous amounts of energy to operate them, virtually consuming an entire quantum singularity drive.” Omalar indicated for the two officers to sit, and he sat himself down behind his desk. “And then the Tal Shiar got greedy. In 2370, on one voyage through the worm hole, a Tal Shiar ship ran into a Federation ship and decided to attack it. Not only attack it, but to drag it back through the worm hole into Romulan space.” “How do you know this?” asked B’Ril. The Commander brushed off the inquiry with a shrug, “That’s another story for another time, Sub-Commander. For now, just accept that I have my contacts and that the information is true.” He leaned forward on his desk before proceeding. “They hid the ship inside an artificial asteroid/moon orbiting around Chaltok IV and studied it thoroughly. The Military decided to let that fact remain secret for the time being, even from the Senate. When the Dominion began pressing the Senate to abandon their neutrality, some members of the Tal Shiar tried to join forces with the Obsidian Order and strike at the Founders’ home world. You know the outcome of that.” B’Ril and the Urok commander nodded sullenly. The annihilation of the Romulan and Cardassian fleet at the Omarion Nebula was legendary. Omalar continued. “Why that didn’t bring an immediate declaration of war against us by the Dominion I don’t know. What it did do was alert the Military to Tal Shiar scheming. And,” he said stabbing the air with his right index finger, “bring us information about this Federation ship. Some in the Senate were worried that the Tal Shiar might be dragging the Empire into war, and wanted to reduce the agency’s grasp on political power. As it turned out, the loss at the Omarion Nebula nearly did the job for them. The Tal Shiar appeared to be in ruins.” The Commander pushed his chair back and stood behind his desk, turning to gaze out the viewing window. “Unfortunately, that condition did not last. In the next few years, as the Tal Shiar again began to grow in power, they saw their future tied to the success of the Founders over the Federation. So it should come as no surprise to you that the leading proponent of closer relations with the Dominion was the Tal Shiar’s own Vice-Chairman, Senator Vreenak. It was he that negotiated and pushed the Non-Aggression Treaty through the Senate.” The senior commander turned back to his subordinates. “This part I’m about to tell you brings me no pleasure, but let me assure you it was a necessary task. After delivering the signed treaty to the Dominion, Senator Vreenak’s shuttle was diverted on a ruse to the Federation’s Deep Space Nine station. There, an operative of ours, planted deep within the Obsidian Order, gave him evidence that the Dominion was planning an invasion of Romulan space. It was false, but the Military was desperate to avoid an entanglement with a Dominion at war with our sworn enemy. Truth be told, we were not ready for a conflict with the Federation. That’s a secret that was held at the highest levels of the Military and the Senate Council.” The two officers looked at each other with shock at hearing such heresy. “Vreenak discovered our subterfuge and threatened to expose us to the Council. As a matter of last resort, our operative placed an explosive device aboard the Senator’s shuttle and destroyed it in route to Romulus. The subsequent investigation pointed to Dominion treachery and even the Tal Shiar could not prevent the Council from declaring war on the Founders.” “But Commander,” protested B’Ril, “how did that help the Military? If we weren’t prepared for war with the Federation, how were we going to fight against the Dominion?” “An old Romulan saying, B’Ril: ‘The enemy you know is better than the enemy you don’t’. Besides, we didn’t have to commit all of our forces in assisting the Federation. If Star Fleet was defeated, we would have been in a much better strategic position to capitalize on that event.” “But we’ve digressed, gentlemen. To the here and now. Your consternation is what to do about this Federation ship in our space. Once again the Tal Shiar is extending its tentacles in a grasp for power and the Military will not let that happen. And so, to our mysterious, long-hidden ship. We’re going to let the Federation find it…in Tal Shiar hands! The Senate will be forced to discipline the Tal Shiar for jeopardizing the neutrality we’ve enjoyed with our neighbors for these many years. Remember, as I’ve told you B’Ril, it’s all about the bait.” The Urok commander was left speechless, but B’Ril found his voice. “How do you know they’ll go to Chaltok IV? How did Star Fleet find out about this ship?” Omalar’s face broke into a cagey smile. “Because I told them.” 4.6 Chaltok IV After a nerve-wracking few hours at maximum warp, the Reaent was within sensor range of the Chaltok System. The Proxima’s signal still emanated from near the fourth planet, but now seemed localized in the vicinity of a small asteroid that orbited moon-like around the sphere. The Reaent dropped out of warp to allow the science and tactical sensors a better look at the system. Almost immediately, warnings sounded on Murray’s console. “I’ve got Romulan ships in the area of Chaltok IV that seem to be in a holding pattern around the asteroid. And two more on the outer edge of the system.” The Captain asked for a tactical overlay on main viewscreen. “Anyone making a move?” “No, sir, everyone’s just sitting.” At her science station, Anna let out a low whistle. “Nine of them!” She checked her database, “Six that fit known Romulan science profiles and three medium sized war ships, not counting the two beyond the seventh planet.” She checked again, “They’re Valdores!” Murray confirmed that analysis and added, “Sir, it’s reasonable to assume the Romulans can detect us as well.” The Captain’s perpetual frown turned into an outright scowl as more warning alarms sounded on the bridge. “Magnaton particle fluctuations, building rapidly between the fourth and fifth planet,” announced Anna. She looked up at the main screen in amazement at what was now clear for all to see. “It’s a worm hole!” “Helm, get us in behind the sixth planet, out of their sensor range,” ordered the Captain. The sixth planet in the system was a gas giant tilted on its axis. The Reaent maneuvered into a geo-synchronous polar orbit, hidden from Romulan sensors, but also blinded with their own. “I’m assuming they still don’t know we are here,” asked the Captain. Murray shook his head and replied, “I can’t imagine they don’t, but if they do, they’re doing a good job at ignoring us.” Anna was doing her best to coax an image through the gaseous interference of the planet. She was somewhat startled to discover Dr. Mathews on the bridge standing quietly beside her. “Dr. Mathews,” she declared quietly, “what brings you to the bridge?” “A small medical issue going on in sick bay. I didn’t want to call and interrupt anything up here. What’s happening?” Anna motioned for the doctor to take the second science station seat and proceeded to outline the situation. “How do we get closer without them noticing us?” asked Mathews. “The real question is whether it’s worth the risk. We don’t even know if the Proxima is actually there. After fourteen years in Romulan hands the odds are slim.” Mathews was inclined to agree. “Even if those are science vessels, they’re undoubtedly armed. We would be a sitting duck if we tried to sneak in.” Anna tapped her console screen. “There might be way. Look at that! There’s a radiation belt that extends out pretty extensively. If we stayed within the field I don’t think they could pick us up on their sensors if we ventured a little closer.” The Doctor was suddenly worried. “How much radiation?” Anna checked the readout. “Quite a bit as it turns out. We really shouldn’t stay here all that much longer with our shields down.” Murray had overheard the conversation and couldn’t help adding his two cents worth. “We’re in Romulan space. We really shouldn’t stay here at all that much longer. Period!” Anna gave him a disapproving look and Murray assumed a pose of mock defense. “I mean, I’m just saying!” The Captain and the First Officer had been engaged in discussing the options for further investigation. “Unless you’re proposing to do a snatch and grab and pull it and us through that worm hole, wherever it goes, I doubt the Romulans are going to let us take an extended look,” said the XO. Anna took advantage of a pause in the debate to notify the Captain about the radiation issue. He turned and opened his mouth to speak, then stopped as he noticed Dr. Mathews. “Dr. Mathews, I didn’t see you come in. How long can we stay here?” he asked, redirecting his question to her. “As little time as possible, but if we can get out of here within the next thirty minutes, that would be good.” Murray chimed in, “In any case, sir, we need to make a move and we need to do it soon. The longer we stay here, the longer we risk being found.” The Captain muttered in exasperation, “Even the hiding spots will kill you around here.” He spent another few moments in contemplation and then had a spark of inspiration. “Stand by here. Number One, I’m going down to Engineering. You have the bridge. Keep me informed if anything changes.” And with that he rushed into the transporter, leaving a bewildered bridge crew. ********************************* Scherer and his staff were putting the finishing touches on an admittedly inelegant patch job, trying to ensure a stable power supply regardless of whether the holo-emitters were on or off. He was surprised to see the Captain burst into the room and ask, nearly out of breath. “Chief, the computer systems of the fighters feed real time data to the ship. And we can transmit through that connection to relay ship sensor information, right?” Scherer nodded in agreement, “Yes, that’s certainly possible.” “What’s the best range we could expect?” Scherer thought a moment and replied, “Under perfect conditions we could probably get through the solar system.” “How much data could that connection handle?” “A standard data link still leaves us enough bandwidth for a secondary signal, particularly audio/video in case of emergency. Plus, I could probably tweak the settings to get a bit more than that. What did you have in mind, sir?” “Lieutenant Commander, you have fifteen minutes to have your teams rewrite the autopilot protocols on five fighters so they will accept commands through the fighters’ communications arrays. You are then to upgrade that array as best you can.” Scherer’s eyes widened in skepticism. “They don’t have to operate long, Chief. Just long enough to fire off a few phaser shots, a few torpedoes, attract attention, jump to warp and be gone.” “You’re hoping the foxes will give chase and leave the hen house unguarded.” The Captain tapped his comm badge, “Captain to Bridge. Mr. Murray, I need the Reaent’s tactical computer to be able to remotely handle all flight controls of a Peregrine fighter. I need to link the data feed to the flight simulation program on the holodeck and run the signal both directions. And you’ve got less than fifteen minutes to do it.” On the bridge, Murray bent over his console and got to work. “I’m glad he didn’t ask for something impossible,” he muttered. 4.7 Into the Looking Glass Holding position outside the Chaltok system, the Petan and her sister ship had a tactical front row seat to the action. The arrival of the Federation ship had caused no alarm among the vessels surrounding the fourth planet. Omalar shook his head in disgust. “Fourteen years of guarding a derelict has made them complacent,” he commented to B’Ril. “We should warn them, Commander,” said the junior officer. “No, let them find out on their own. It will merely add to their embarrassment before the Senate.” The two officers watched their viewscreen a noted how the starship eased into the concealment of the gas giant six planets out into the system. “See how they use the gravimetric radiation to hide their energy signature, B’Ril? Just like a fish hiding in the shadows of the rocks in a stream.” The man never stops, thought B’Ril. He was about to make a pointed comment to that effect when the Federation ship disgorged a swarm of smaller craft. “Commander, those must be the fighters the ship carries.” Omalar was intent on the screen. “Yes, the ‘enhanced’ Ambassador-class.” “They can’t possibly think those small fighters will penetrate the defensive screen around the base?” The Commander scrunched up his face in thought. “One would think not. There must be another strategy at play here.” The fighters swooped in on the ships surrounding the asteroid, firing phasers and launching torpedoes all the while performing sometimes erratic, evasive acrobatics. The Romulan ships awoke from their stupor and began to return fire. Breaking from their formation, the three Praetor-class warbirds gave pursuit to the wildly maneuvering attackers. The skirmish lasted only a few minutes with neither side inflicting a fatal blow. Suddenly, the fighters retreated and blinked out into warp away from the planet, perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic. The warbirds joined the chase. A few moments later, the Federation starship began to move, leaving its cover and heading for the fourth planet. “Ah, B’ril, do you see? Masterfully done, a textbook diversion, wouldn’t you say? Draw away the defenders with one hand, and attack with the other.” But instead of attacking, the Federation ship launched two probes. Several of the science vessels shifted their orbit to cover the gaps created when the Praetors left. Though only lightly armed, the ships targeted the probes, destroying one and severely damaging the second. Their efforts against the starship itself were yielding a lesser result. On the far side of the asteroid, a series of marker beacons illuminated a “lane” in space and a drone began emitting magnaton particles. The Federation ship steered a course to position herself between the asteroid and the lane. The communications officer aboard the Petan announced, “Commander, the Science vessels have sent out a distress call. The Praetors are returning to the base and four D’deridexes have signaled their approach.” “We must respond, Commander!” pleaded B’Ril. Omalar hesitated, but finally relented. “Yes, but not in too great of a hurry, I think. We are still missing an important player in this drama.” B’Ril was confused what the older man meant, but agreed to approach the battle at low speed. He returned his attention to the viewscreen in time to witness a spread of photon torpedoes fired by the starship at the asteroid. Strangely, the torpedoes didn’t impact on the surface, finally exploding some ten seconds later from the interior of the rock. “What is that?” he asked as the asteroid “flickered”, its cloaking field deactivated, revealing a space dock built inside. Tethered to the framework of the dock was a Nebula-class starship. “That, B’Ril, is the prize,” beamed Omalar. “Now all that remains is to see what the Federation ship will do with it.” Whatever its strategy, the Reaent wasn’t having much success. The fire from the science vessels was easily repelled by her shields, but the buffeting made it difficult to hold a position relative to the newly discovered starship. Of more concern was the pounding she was taking from four newly decloaked D’deridexes. Scars along her hull showed where the Romulan disruptors were penetrating shields and wreaking havoc on the outnumbered ship. Omalar’s complacency now gave way to urgent concern. He ordered the Petan to intercede itself between the Reaent and the other Romulan ships. “Sub-Commander, see those marker beacons leading away from the asteroid? I want you to target the starship with disruptors set at twenty-five percent power and push it to the end of that lane.” B’ril was stunned. “What?!” The senior Commander spun on his subordinate and grabbed him by the shoulders. “That ship must survive, B’Ril. Otherwise the Federation will never know about their captured ship and the Tal Shiar will escape the wrath of the Senate.” B’Ril still remained unbelieving. Omalar called over his shoulder to the tactical officer behind him. “What’s the level of magnaton particles coming from that drone, Centurion?” “It’s rising exponentially, sir, like a singularity drive about to overload.” Omalar kept his eyes fixed on B’Ril’s. “Push it, Sub-Commander! Push it into the worm hole!” B’Ril looked at the viewscreen but saw no worm hole. What he did see was a Federation ship moments away from destruction. “Trust me, B’Ril! Hurry! Do it now!” The Sub-Commander didn’t understand why he had to give the orders, but he took a leap of faith in his mentor. “Disruptors at twenty-five percent. Fire at will!” The Petan’s aim caught the Reaent just under the saucer section, tipping the starship into a slow roll. Ignoring the incoming protests from the other Romulan ships, B’Ril ordered his weapons to focus along the Reaent’s main hull. The effect was like a body blow and the Federation ship skidded towards the outer boundary of the beacons. “I still don’t see a worm hole, Commander.” “It will be there, B’Ril. Believe me, it will be there.” Omalar wasn’t really sure he believed either but he had no other option. His contacts had brought him information about the Tal Shiar’s experiments with an unknown device that created artificial worm holes, but no one could ever state categorically that they had actually seen one produced. “Magnaton particle emissions are off the scale!” cried the Centurion. Suddenly the Petan’s sensors went wild. B’Ril ordered aft thrusters to hold their position then watched in amazement the sequence of events unfolding on the viewscreen. There, at the end of the markers, appeared the classic swirling pattern of a worm hole. The Federation ship’s forward momentum carried it into the open vortex where it was swallowed up and vanished in an instant. One of the D’deridex-class warbirds had raced past the Petan’s starboard flank during the battle, wanting to claim glory and make the kill on the Federation ship. Flanking it were three other warbirds, including the Urok. When the worm hole opened, they were unable to reverse course in time and all four were pulled into the gaping maw. Omalar slumped into the command chair. His work was done and now his fate was up to the Romulan Senate. Only time would tell whether he would emerge in victory or defeat.
  8. Tabor watched Will charge out of the flight office on his way to sick bay, leaving him alone to ponder their situation. The Reaent was at red alert, rushing headlong into a confrontation of unkown consequences. Tabor believed to his bones that they were not in their own timeline, and thanked fortune, he was not alone this time. Will had been convinced and agreed to take up the task of making the case to others. The communication with Anna had mixed results. She didn’t jump at the possibility, but she didn’t outright dismiss it either. In fact, Will seemed energized by the exchange. He had a medical way of determining the appropriateness of this timeline and rushed off to see Dr. Merina. That was the good news. The bad news was the ship was not stopping, or even slowing down to make the relevant tests possible. The Vulcans onboard must be going crazy, the twist of logic necessary to rationalize this course of action assaulting them. History clearly showed the Kithomer conference producing success, thanks to the actions of Capt. Kirk and the Enterprise. If this were truly their own timeline, then despite one cloaked BOP or four, the Enterprise makes it through, and the official records are correct. And based on Tabor’s own experience with…let’s say the more shady side of SF Intelligence, he could easily understand how three other BOP’s “disappear” from the records. Unless one subscribes to the circular logic of “been there, did that, so we need to do it again” of temporal physics, then the Reaent’s best course of action is to do nothing – stay out of the way and get out of here as quickly and cleanly as possible. This was the foundation of the Temporal Prime Directive. And if this were not their own timeline, what arrogance to think that history played out the same as ours, or that intervening somehow will have an effect on our own. Or worse, that intervening will make things “better” for them. How many wars have been fought with that rationalization? Tabor couldn’t understand how, what with the Reaent’s own recent history of the anomaly and time shifts, that anyone wouldn’t take a hard second look at what was happening now. Maybe that was the problem – Capt. McQueen didn’t have that history. Nothing drives home the complexities of time jumping like seeing your ship blow up and half the crew killed and then reappear like nothing has happened. Again, Tabor thought of his visitor while in the brig. He wondered what was in the sealed orders he gave to the Captain. Something in them must have been favorable since he was allowed back aboard the Reaent. Could he gamble that there was more, that he might have access to the Captain’s ear? What the hell, he thought, only one way to find out. “Computer, open a private channel to Capt. McQueen. +McQueen+ Captain, Lt. Tabor Nansk here sir. May I have a word with you?”
  9. Tabor had listened to Angel’s briefing in glum silence. Apparently the Reaent had been slung back in time after encountering some kind of anomaly. Part of him was screaming “I told you so”, the similarities to the Proxima events were too close to be a coincidence. Then, the Reaent was thrown forward until the two divergent lines merged, and now she was thrown back. How long until reconvergance this time was anyone’s guess. But Tabor had a theory, one that would have been tested had he not been caught and arrested. Even though he had been released and returned to duty on the Reaent – the visitor’s instructions still weighed heavy on his conscious – he didn’t have free reign to continue along that path. This time he’d have to take a different approach, and he held out a slim hope that he might have an open ear with the Captain, depending on what was actually in those sealed orders. His first inclination was to go see Anna again. She had surprised him the first time by not being receptive to his ideas, but now since everyone knew a time shift had occurred, and indeed were under instructions to try to solve the dilemma, things might be different. But Angel’s order to report to the pilots’ alert room derailed that plan – at least temporarily. One bit of fortune, Will’s injury had put him in second position again. So as he watched the other pilots playing cards, he studied who he could bluff into divulging the information he needed. Ensign Enigma turned out to be the perfect candidate. When Angel left the room, Tabor made his move. “That’s not the answer I want to hear, mister” said Tabor when Enigma tried to lie and said the modifications to his fighter were removed and destroyed. Actually it didn’t make any difference if they were, they all could be replicated. It would just take more time. “You heard Lt. Angelis,” he continued with menace in his lowered voice. “I’m second in command now. So unless you want to spend the next month scrubbing exhaust manifolds, tell me now. Where are those parts?” Enigma folded like a cheap uniform. The modifications were still intact. Because of the recent circumstances, maintenance hadn’t the time to remove them. With Tabor in the brig on the Starbase, no one thought there was any rush. He was under no illusion that there was any way he was going to get near that fighter on his own. But if things worked out, this time he wouldn’t be on his own.
  10. Action Log Tabor Nansk The outcome of the events that led to Tabor's disciplinary transfer to the Starbase wasn't unexpected for him and in many ways it was a relief. His time of deception was over. After ducking under the airlock's inner door, ship's security had found him fairly quickly – not that he was making it too difficult to be found. Captain McQueen had signed the orders and Tabor was released into the custody of base security and put in the brig. When the visitor arrived, Tabor sighed with resignation. It had barely been 6 hours. "Well, Tabor, what have we here? Your task is not complete." Tabor threw a sarcastic look around the cell and replied, "Looks like I'm at the end of the road to me." The visitor produced a reptilian smile. "You have so little faith in us, Tabor. On the contrary, your journey is just beginning." He came closer to the force field of the cell. "Now listen very carefully to me, Tabor. In a short while you will be released. You will be sent in a high speed pod on an intercept course to the Reaent where you will rejoin the crew." Tabor started to protest, but the man interrupted him. "No, your reunion will not be entirely pleasant. But that has been taken care of. You will have sealed orders for Captain McQueen, for his eyes only. You will discuss this meeting with no one. You will continue on as we've discussed before. And, Tabor, we will be in contact." The man turned and melted away out of the brig. Tabor bordered on despair. On one hand he'd be happy to return to his friends on the Reaent. On the other, well, he couldn't even tell them what was on the other. When the security detail arrived to set him free, Tabor accompanied them with head held low to a small shuttle port on the outskirts of the base. He squeezed into the coffin-sized pod and waited as the life support mechanisms were hooked up. He knew the procedure. A sedative would render him unconscious during the voyage - cushioning him from the crushing acceleration that would be required to catch up to the Reaent - re-awakening only when the pod dropped out of warp for the rendezvous. Aboard the Reaent, the bridge had received communication notifying them of the scheduled arrival of the pod, but not who was in it. When the pod was retrieved and brought into the shuttle bay, a full contingent of security was on hand, ready for anything. The hatch was released and the occupant climbed out. To their surprise, it was Tabor Nansk. He faced their shock and hesitation with a sealed padd in his outstretched hand. "I have orders for the Captain."
  11. When Tabor spotted the Security detail at the Flight Deck he was disappointed, but not surprised. It wasn't an unexpected – or unplanned for – development. He had just hoped for a little more time. So be it. Tabor backtracked to a maintenance hatch and crawled in, leaving the door ajar. The route was clear in his mind and he wanted it equally clear to the teams that would be following him. Without his comm badge, his bio signs were going to be nearly impossible to separate from the normal swarm of crewmembers going about their assigned tasks of maintenance. So Tabor was going to have to figuratively drop bread crumbs – an open hatch here, a disrupted conduit there. The first of his devices detonated next to circuit that controlled the lights in hydroponics. [Note: Not to worry Captain about last week's charge. I was never trying - and never would try – to blow up the ship. Just a little sabotage.] The task went quickly as he had actually practiced it a number of times before. A few more open hatches, a few more minor disruptions to low-level systems, and the trail would lead a blind man to the final location: a small maintenance airlock on deck 17. Before entering, Tabor pried an access panel off the corridor wall and disabled the security feed. Don't want to have anyone find him too early. Tabor pulled the largest of the charges from his backpack and placed it about one meter to the right of the outer door. There was no point in trying to blow the door itself, it was too heavily reinforced – for obvious reasons. But the ship's designers had never imagined someone trying to blow a way OUT of the airlock into open space. Hence the comm link port that was used while the ship was in space dock was an overlooked weak point in the hull. He shaped the charge for its maximum effect, set the timer, stepped back and eyed the rack of EVA suits along the right hand bulkhead. He needed to cycle the inner door before the detonation to avoid a devastating decompression that might harm someone out in the corridor. Not that he expected anyone to be there – part of the reason for choosing this particular airlock – but Tabor didn't want to take a chance. The inner door slowly closed, the heavy gearing that ensured safety against zero atmospheres settling it into position. When the timer reached its programmed mark, the charge exploded with a muffled roar as most of the force was sucked out into space, along with anything not securely fastened in the room. That included the entire rack of EVA suits. The debris, mingled with the shredded suits and the room's O2, made a distinct vapor trail that angled straight for the planet. The port side airlock faced directly towards the surface. As the particles entered the upper atmosphere, heat from the ensuing friction set them alight in a pretty twinkle. On the ship, alarms went off in a number of locations, sending damage control teams scurrying to assess and repair. Security would undoubtedly be close behind but they wouldn't find anything. The breadcrumbs ended here.
  12. Tabor left Anna's office with a renewed sense of purpose. Her revelation of the alien drone (ok, maybe not alien but for sure not Federation) was astonishing. The object clearly implied, in Tabor's mind, that a large piece of the puzzle was missing. That Star Fleet had swooped in and confiscated everything associated with the drone, immediately placing it under a classified status, spoke volumes about its importance and exposed a possible clandestine operation. The scope of this operation, its objectives and motives were still unclear, and certainly, as with any venture of this type, how much it was permeated with a "the ends justify the means" mentality left a cold feeling in his bones. It would explain a lot about how the Proxima affair was conducted and the callous attitude the Reaent had experienced upon returning to Starbase 1123. Also astonishing was Anna's willingness to share her bootleg copy of the drone's schematic. It showed her to be a remarkable woman – first, someone curious enough to investigate an unknown and potentially dangerous object on her own; second, someone willing to go against authority in keeping copies of her work in light of Star Fleet's seizure of the drone; and third, her trusting instinct to give Tabor a copy of her findings, increasing the risk of her duplicity being discovered. Tabor scoured the schematic, not really sure what he was looking at. He wasn't a scientist or an engineer. He was a pilot with a background in history. But he'd always prided himself on having a rational, logical mind – though recent events had pushed the definitions of rationality and logic right through the envelope. In any case, he was over his head with this diagram. By Anna's own account, no one actually knew what the device did, only that it worked as a trigger to the wormhole. Tabor thought that given those circumstances, it took incredible fortitude to even turn the thing on. Hats off to Cpt. Michaels and the entire Science and Engineering teams. With a sigh of frustration, he knew he'd have to risk going somewhere for help. He didn't want to expand Anna's risk – or breach her trust of confidentiality – by going to someone else in the crew. He nodded to himself as an idea formed in his mind: the holodeck. He'd gone to this well before, although this time it would be different. This time his instructions to the holodeck wouldn't specify his advisors, only the parameters of the situation. In his impatience to get started, the trip to the holodeck seemed to take forever. When he arrived, he entered his code and program instructions. When the doors swooshed open, Tabor stood rooted at the entrance: the difference was immediate and obvious. Gone was the warm, inviting fireside room of past meetings. What lay before Tabor was a cold, barren room of stainless steel and glass. A solitary figure stood at one end of the room, his back turned to the entrance. "Please come in, Lt. Nansk," he said in a voice non-pitched, neither inviting nor menacing. Tabor stepped into the room and walked a few paces to the center. As the holodeck doors swooshed closed, the figure turned around to face him. Tabor was frozen in place. It was R. Daneel Olivaw. "You have a problem," Daneel said, again in that non-inflected voice. His features showed the millennia of his existence but it was his stare that cut Tabor to the bone. The humaniform robot made no movement whatsoever and Tabor wasn't sure how to proceed. As the silence dragged on, he decided the statement was just that – a statement, not a question. Tabor shook himself out of his awe of this…man(?) and asked, "Do you know about the wormhole?" Daneel never moved, but the stare seemed to soften. "Yes," he answered. Tabor waited for more, but Olivaw was silent. He tried again, "Do you know about the drone?" "Yes." "Can you tell me about them?" The robot again was silent for a long time. "No," was his eventual reply. Tabor was dumbstruck. Daneel had the answers he and his shipmates needed. The holodeck had fulfilled the requirements of his request perfectly, a situation that was a puzzle in and of itself. The holodeck worked in conjunction with the ship's computer, which itself communicated with any number of Star Fleet computers to "create" what the user programmed or requested. If the entire Proxima affair was classified, how was the holodeck able to gain access to the information necessary not only to animate R. Daneel Olivaw but to give him knowledge of the situation? Or were the robot's "no's" the computer's way of saying, "sorry, it's classified"? "Are you unable to tell me because the information is restricted by Star Fleet?" Finally the robot moved. Daneel turned his head slightly as if gazing off into space. "Are you familiar with the Three Laws of Robotics? The First says 'A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm'." Tabor thought a moment, "I don't believe you're here to harm me, so are you saying that harm from another source will come to me if I know this information?" Daneel turned back to face Tabor. "A very few of my kind have postulated a "Zeroth Law" that states 'A robot may not injure humanity or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm'." It was the first time Daneel had used any emphasis in his speech. "I am one of those few who accept that Law. Yet I find it places me in a delicate position. How does one balance the two laws? Which takes precedence over the other?" Tabor was confused. "How does the possibility of my personal harm conflict with not harming humanity as a whole?" "In some situations, the conflict is between the Laws, Tabor, and it causes incredible stress on a robot's brain. The number of calculations involved in attempting to resolve the conflict is unimaginable. Indeed, I had a dear friend, a robot very similar to myself, suffer a catastrophic positronic failure because of the conflict. No doubt you've noticed how little I move." Tabor was shocked. He suddenly realized Daneel's coldness was borderline paralysis. "What can I do to help? What if I guess the answer? Will that free you from the conflict?" "The conflict, Tabor, is that by telling you, I risk allowing harm to come to you. However, by not telling you, in essence 'through inaction', I risk allowing harm to come to all humanity. Confirming or not confirming your 'guesses' is the same as telling. The conflict remains." "Can I order you to tell me?" Daneel shook his head slightly, "the Second Law." Tabor felt helpless. Watching this poor creature's discomfort was more than he could bear. "Daneel, I release you from this task! Computer, end program, NOW!" He stood in the middle of the empty holodeck shaking with growing fear and anger. He could guess now. The wormhole was alien and it somehow posed a threat to humanity. The drone did play a part in controlling the conduit. And Star Fleet knew of – or at least highly suspected - the threat. And they would stop at nothing to try to prevent it. 'The ends justify the means' surfaced again in his mind. Suddenly, finding the precise machinations of the Proxima affair was irrelevant. Whatever the decision process and/or circumstances that existed that sent the Reaent into Romulan space paled when compared with discovering what the wormhole linked our galaxy to. And with that revelation, all of his torments fell away. Nothing seemed more important than returning to the Neutral Zone, to the last known position of the wormhole, and continuing the investigation. There was not a moment to lose. And then he remembered: they were heading for the Cestus System – completely the wrong direction.
  13. It was time. Weeks of anguish had led up to this moment. Tabor left his quarters and walked quietly down the dimly lit passageway, well aware that midway through the night shift he probably wouldn’t encounter any other crew. At the junction of an adjoining corridor, he opened the access panel to a maintenance shaft, crawled inside and pulled the hatch closed behind him. Moving ahead on hands and knees, he came to a vertical ladder and climbed two decks down. Here was the first hurdle: he had no way of knowing if anyone was on the other side of the access panel to the cargo deck. Tabor pressed his ear against the panel and listened. Nothing. Taking a deep breath, he toggled the latch and opened the door into the passageway. No one. So far, so good. Quickly climbing out of the Jeffries tube and re-securing the hatch, he continued to Cargo Bay 3. He couldn’t just enter the bay, there would be a security trace if he used the door. But the maintenance plans he’d studied showed a ventilation inspection shaft five meters down the passageway. As with most basic maintenance access points, it was unlocked and unmonitored by Bridge security. Once inside, it was simply a matter of locating the corresponding hatch on the cargo bay’s side. The final resupply teams had finished loading, for the most part, earlier in the day so again the odds of running into someone was remote. Tabor slipped unnoticed into the cargo bay. He headed directly for the umbilical connecting the Reaent’s bay with the station’s loading dock. His clothing was a yellow coverall, the type worn by the stations workers. He’d purloined one a few days before while supervising replacement parts for the ship’s fighters. Tabor thought of his comm badge lying on the night stand in his quarters. When they instigated a search for him, the computer would dutifully report him in his quarters. By the time Security discovered the deception, the Reaent would be too far out to make a return feasible. And without a comm badge/ID, station security wouldn’t even “see” him without a very time consuming search. With only a moment’s hesitation, Tabor stepped through the umbilical and onto the station. This was the riskiest part of his plan. He only had a rudimentary schematic of the station’s passageways and maintenance corridors. He didn’t want to risk an in-depth computer search of those records. Too much chance of drawing attention down upon himself. But the essential part of his plan was simply to disappear for a few hours. Yes, he’d have to deal with the consequences later, but that would be later. Even at this early hour, the station’s cargo bay was fairly busy. It wasn’t hard to blend in with the workers coming and going and Tabor joined the flow of bodies exiting the bay. He discreetly wandered for a while, finally coming upon a dining commons. The build-up of adrenaline had made him hungry and he ordered a ham sandwich and a fruit juice from the replicator. The dining facility was on an outer ring of the station with viewing windows along the back wall. Tabor took his food and settled into a table in the back of the room. As luck would have it, he could gaze upon the docking arms of the station’s gigantic interior. At the bottom right corner of the window, he could see the Reaent, hanging from her docking arm like a Christmas ornament. The various umbilicals were still attached to the ship - departure time was still hours away. The clock on the wall seemed to go into slow motion as the minutes and hours clawed their way into the morning watch. Tabor nibbled his sandwich, trying to make it last, trying to look inconspicuous. After an eternity, Tabor saw the umbilicals disengage from the ship and the docking clamps release. The Reaent floated slightly downward, then sideways as the maneuvering thrusters eased her away from her dock. With agonizing slowness, the ship headed for the great space door in the station’s outer wall. Tabor realized that he was holding his breath, knowing that once clear of the station, the Reaent’s impulse engines would fire, taking her out to the required distance to safely engage the warp drive. He wouldn’t see the flash of the warp field, but he could imagine it. He checked his own watch. Any minute now, the ship would be gone and he would be stranded on the station. Then there would be hell to pay. Setting the remains of his meal aside, Tabor waited another ten minutes, just to be sure, then left the dining room. The Reaent was gone and for all intents and purposes, he was alone on the station. He found a site plan display on a passageway wall, located his position and keyed in a request. “Computer, show me the Station Security office.” The display promptly drew a purple line guiding him up a number of decks and terminating at the appropriate destination. He thought “terminating” was an interesting choice of words for him to think of. Probably very prophetic. A distinct “clunk” and slight shudder aroused him from his sleep. The umbilicals had disengaged. Tabor sat up in bed, drenched in a cold sweat. The Reaent was departing for the Neutral Zone.
  14. Tabor left sickbay, tootsie pop in hand [the grape one], and went back to his quarters. He didn’t want to ask Angel for a few days off. Too many questions. Truth be told, he didn’t want to talk to Angel at all. So far he’d avoided having to give a verbal report to his commander and hoped that the PADD version would do, but that was likely to change some time soon. Fortunately, the ship’s repairs had kept everyone busy, so it was relatively easy for him to find something more pressing to do, with a politically correct excuse for not rushing right up to the Flight Office. Will was another story. The kid kept trying to corner Tabor like a love-starved puppy. The last time Tabor tried to suggest that he could handle matters without the extra help, Will went off with a crushed expression on his face. It wasn’t Tomlinson’s fault, or Angel’s or anyone else’s for that matter. Tabor just wanted to be left alone. No one had answers. No one alive – or dead – or….prophets, it was getting hard to keep straight who was who and which was which. It all depended on your point of view which category someone fell into. No, he was just going to have to figure things out for himself. Will had had a wild notion of hacking into the station computers to look for “something”. Tabor was sure that would just bring some authority crashing down upon their necks and the likelihood of there being any real information on a remote starbase was slim. Dr. Matthews had begun a “support group” of the survivors/dead [take your pick]. Tabor went to one session and couldn’t wait to get out of the room. He never returned for a second. No, answers were definitely up to him. And they were going to have to happen soon. Repairs would be finished eventually and the ship would be departing. And Tabor had a major decision to make before that happened.
  15. Tabor sat and stared at his PADD as though it were a foreign object. Angel had asked for a full report and Tabor was struggling to even get started. He’d keyed in an entry, stopped, erased it and started again several times already. Actually, he’d lost count. There wasn’t any way of sugarcoating it: these people, this ship shouldn’t be here. They died. It blew up. End of report. Of course, that would not be acceptable to Angel. So, with a heavy sigh, he tried again. Duty Log Lt. Tabor Nansk USS Reaent [stifled choke] Recording…. “Ship’s fighter component was launched at 1420 hours zulu. A-wing was first out of the bay, followed by B-wing. Upon clearing the launch tube, we were in an immediate firefight. I observed the attack formation of four Romulan warbirds, the crippled hulk of the Reaent, and the scattered debris of much of A-wing. They never even had a chance to fully deploy. B-wing was already under fire and taking heavy…damage. [He couldn’t bring himself to use the word “casualties”] Specifically, Lt. Tomlinson’s fighter was struck by a torpedo and destroyed.” “Apparently orders had been given to abandon ship on the Reaent as multiple escape pods were ejected. The last order that came over the comm was to focus on protecting the pods. It was a hopeless effort. My fighter was hit by a disruptor, knocking out propulsion, life support and communications. I was tumbling dead in space. As I spun away from the action I observed most of the pods destroyed by disruptor fire. When the few remaining pods were beyond the immediate field of battle, I saw Lt. Angel’s fighter turn and make a suicide run into the bridge of one of the warbirds. Shortly thereafter, the Reaent exploded, though whether from Romulan fire or the self-destruct sequence I can’t say.” “With the fighting over, the Romulans began mopping up operations. The fleeing escape pods were run down and tractored one by one into various Romulan ships. I believe I escaped a similar fate simply because I looked like a floating piece of wreckage.” “The exact time frame of these and later events are estimates, as my ship’s chronometer was damaged in the fight and my suit’s back up broken as I was thrashed about during the initial tumbling after being hit by the disruptor. Approximately thirty minutes later the wormhole exhibited a disturbance and a Federation task force emerged – including the Reaent. With superior numbers and firepower, the Romulan warbirds were destroyed. Fighters were launched to search the debris and I was successful in manually signaling one to my position. It was Lt. Will Tomlinson. Lt. Tomlinson transported me back to the Reaent – with what was left of my fighter in tow – where I was relieved of flight duty and confined to Medical pending an examination.” Tabor felt drained. He didn’t know how many minutes went by before he snapped out of his reverie. “Computer, end log.” His hold on sanity was hanging on the outcome of Will’s wild idea of what happened. At least their investigation kept him going each day.