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How To Put The Cork Back Into The Bottle

"Oh, God help us," thought Deb as the image appeared on the main view screen. The ship was beyond huge. It was, by far, the largest vessel she had ever seen. And even without scanning it, Deb knew this one was armed to the teeth.


She closed her eyes for half a second hoping the image would be gone when she reopened them. But, of course, it wasn't. This latest turn of events was no dream. She was facing an ugly reality and it only took a moment for the consequences to sink in.


"It's Duren."


Deb looked to her right. She had no idea how long George McLean had been standing there. She'd been concentrating on the viewscreen and never even heard him approach. He offered her a quick glance before returning his attention to the warship now approaching People's Head.


"It's Duren," repeated McLean, his voice firm. "Nobody else would have access to a ship like that."


General Matthews nodded silently. Her XO wasn't telling her anything new. From the moment the massive ship dropped out of warp, she'd known it was Duren. She also knew she had under estimated the importance of whatever project he had underway on People's Head.


"I'm a little surprised," said Deb quietly as she turned to face McLean. "I assumed he would send assets to protect his project but I didn't expect him to show up personally."


George shook his head. "Neither did I." He looked his CO in the eye. "Which means whatever is going on down there is more than important. He has plans....big plans. He's here to insure nothing gets in his way."


The two officers stepped toward their respective chairs but remained standing. "Scherer said that tower might have housed a biowarfare weapons plant," continued Deb softly.


"It could have," replied McLean. "But if it did, it was a smokescreen to hide something else."


Matthews again glanced at the viewscreen. The image of the deadly warship grew larger as it approached People's Head. "I agree," she quipped. "And I think I know what that something might be." She clasped her hands tightly in front of her. "I think he's trying to create another Guardian. I think he wants to manipulate the time line."


She heard McLean draw a deep breath. When she finally looked in his direction, he simply nodded his head. "That makes sense. But our torpedo hit something critical. Looks to me like his project is out of control."


Deb frowned and put her hands on her hips. "He's El Aurian. For all we know, this was his field of expertise before he decided to corrupt the UFP." She paused for a moment and took another quick look at the warship. It's massive hull completely filled the viewscreen. " I think he's the only one who knows how to stop whatever it is our torpedo started." She again looked at McLean. "It's just like you said. He's here to insure nothing gets in his way."


George smiled wryly. The look in his eyes told her that he understood what was coming next. "I guess we're about to get in his way."


Deb smiled sadly. "We're sure going to try. There's a lot more at stake here than a few worn out starships. If we allow him to regain control of that project, then we're all doomed."


"Maybe we're doomed if he doesn't regain control."

"We're doomed either way. There's only one correct solution. We have to figure out how to put the cork back in the bottle." Deb drew a deep breath. "And quite frankly, the odds are not in our favor."


McLean looked down at his boots for a moment. Then he glanced around the soot smeared bridge of the NFS Reaent. "Well," he began slowly. "We've had a good run. It's only right that we go out in a blaze of glory."


Now it was Deb's turn to drop her head. It took her a moment to regain her composure. "We need to notify the remainder of the fleet. All communications must be in Priority One Code."

McLean nodded toward the viewscreen. "I hope they haven't cracked it."

Matthews sighed. "I hope so too. The task at hand is already difficult. If they've cracked our latest code, it will be completely impossible."

"So, what's our plan?" asked the XO.


Deb Matthews glanced toward the science station and then back at George. "Tell the fleet what we suspect. Advise them to stand by for orders. In the meantime, I'm going to have a chat with Mr. Sinjyn. He's El Aurian. Hopefully, he's got to have an idea or two on how to handle this."

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