inharmsway.gif (2677 bytes)

d. William Roberts



"Do you have it now, Sensor Chief?" Hss'Grrsss said, keeping most of his compound eyes focused on the heads-up display of his command headset.

"Yes," the sensor chief replied.

"Good. Monitor and report," Hss'Grrsss commanded. Ocular sensors mounted into his head-set picked up the shift in the focus of his compound eyes, highlighting the words forward view. A tap of a large finger on the enable button of the command chair gave the computer its orders, changing the display on the inner surface of the dark-tinted face plate from sensors, to what was actually in front of the Gorn dreadnought.

The room that held the nexus of control for the cruiser Rrall'Riss was circular, its walls filled with computers and ship's artificial intelligence. The conspicuous absence of a viewscreen went unnoticed by those seated in the heavy chairs, their helmet visors giving them all they needed to see to guide the starship through the cosmos. There was very little movement on the bridge--a tap of a finger, or the slight tilt of a head. The growling/hiss of Gornian passed between the bridge crew, mixing with the whistles and beeps of the electronics.

The Gorn were a species of very strong, slow-moving, heavily-boned, reptilian bipeds, their massive cerebral functions dedicated mainly to thought and speech. Their intelligence--quick and nimble--was in sharp contrast to their body.

Yet the Gorn, with all their cerebral prowess, would never have achieved starflight; their features were just too massive, their fingers unable to attain the dexterity needed to build even the most basic electronics needed. It had been a chance encounter with the Medusans that had led to an on-going friendship and technological exchange that had made this possible. The cost to the Gorn had been six habitable worlds. A heavy price, but a wise investment. The Gorn Confederation now encompassed much more than that.

Hss'Grrsss concentrated on what he was seeing in the heads-up display. The last star, a traveler of the galaxy's fringe darkness, passed off its left side, leaving the forward view featureless.

"Has the pattern of subspace interference changed?" Hss'Grrsss asked, not bothering to shift his body to look at the comm-tech.

"No, Leader. They maintain the same regularity the sensors of the Nest world picked up three cycles ago," the comm-tech responded.

"Arhhh'ssss," Hss'Grrsss growled, puzzlement seething through his great intellect. Is this some sort of Klingon trick? he thought. He dismissed the assumption. They were too far from that disputed border.

He looked at the magnification area of the visor/screen, and it became highlighted. A set of his eyes' lenses glanced at the up-arrow, and the magnification rose. He tapped the enable button on the chair, and the view on his heads-up shifted.

At extreme magnification, a seething ribbon of orange, yellow and red bands appeared. It resembled a long, thin, iridescent dust cloud, incapable of slowing their progress. Experience told Hss'Grrsss different. This was the visible portion of a wall of pure negative energy that encased the entire galaxy. Gorn scientists theorized that the Galactic Barrier was the remnant of the immense energy wave produced by the galaxy's explosive birth, billions of years ago.

Hss'Grrsss didn't really care what it was, or how it had gotten there, he only knew there weren't any starships powerful enough to go through yet, nor could he figure out why they would want to. There wasn't anything to see, travel to, or conquer for millions of lightyears beyond it. Besides, their mission in this area didn't have anything to do with going through the barrier. They were to investigate an anomaly discovered on this side.

The barrier continuously emitted radiation on all known frequencies, at a constant volume. Fortunately, the white noise it produced was only a problem if you passed within a lightyear of it, quickly dropping off into the background the further away you got. Listening stations in the Nest system had reported unexplained subspace surges emanating from a single point along its inside edge. Hunt Central monitoring posts had confirmed this.

That was why he and his hunt group had diverted from their normal patrol duties. A quick glance, and the heads-up display changed from the forward view to a computer message format. He reviewed the mission data. Hss'Grrsss understood now why the Gorn High Assembly had become concerned. The situation smelled badly of Orions. The recently enacted treaty between the Gorn Confederation, the Federation and the Orion's Barrier Alliance had brought peace, but it wouldn't surprise Hss'Grrsss to discover an unofficial Orion raiding party waiting for him ahead. Or Klingons...

"Communications, order all ships to subspace silence," Hss'Grrsss ordered. This would be the last message that would pass between his ship and the three others in his hunt until after they'd ascertained what was going on up ahead.


Near the inside edge of the barrier, powerful subspace receivers intercepted the message. A tentacle reached over, twisted a knob that realigned his forward visual pick-ups so he could see the approach of the group of ships they'd been monitoring for quite some time now.

The four starships came into view, their form silhouetted sharply against the brilliant back ground of the galaxy's densely populated central hub. The ships were three oblong spheres connected at the ends. The construct's design reminded the commander of the chains many micro-organisms formed as they multiplied. The two tubes that ran along the top and bottom of each ship were the warp propulsion system, but the technology was far below that which drove even the smallest ship of his armada.

He had known from the moment they had started to cross the barrier that the Gorn would be coming. Intelligence reports told of the Gorn's ability to pick up the subspace radio surge each invading ship produced during its transit of the negative energy field. The same source of information described the Gorn as aggressive and especially intolerant of foreign intrusion.

The passage through the barrier had been hampered by a telepathogenic lifeform which resided in the negative energy field. Never more than an annoyance, his superior mental prowess had destroyed the Ph'ecdalyns utterly and completely, providing him with a brief source of amusement after the long, boring trip through intergalactic space.

The Intruder commander made a deep chortling noise. His force was already two hundred and fifty times the size of the Gorn group, and deployed, ready to meet the challenge. This looked to be even more amusing.


"Are the power surges at the barrier still occurring?" Hss'Grrsss asked, hoping they were. It would be a shame to travel this far only to find nothing.

"Yes, sir."

"Can we see what's causing it?"

The sensor chief responded without moving. "Visually, at extreme magnification. There is something, but it's still too hard to discern what they are. I could use active sensors, but that might attract their attention."

"Agreed. Maintain visual search only," Hss'Grrsss ordered.

Hss'Grrsss returned his heads-up to his ship's forward view. Let's have a look. The heads-up changed. The galactic barrier formed across it in all its magnificence and brilliance.

"Rrrahhsss," Hss'Grrsss flinched, multiple clusters of his compound eyes shutting down to protect the optic nerve. Ordering the display dimmed, he could finally look at it. At first, there was nothing. Dimming the visor one additional step revealed their objective.

A large cluster of sparkling objects held positions right in the middle of the barrier's expanse. His imagination compared them to white dwarf stars caught in a Tholian web. In the middle of the mass was a ship so large that Hss'Grrsss estimated it could hold all the others inside.

Preceded by the now familiar surge of radio noise, a dark shadow appeared just inside the surface of the barrier. A final pop signaled the entry of a new object into galactic space.

"Computer, how many of those objects are there?" Hss'Grrsss was becoming more than a little concerned about how this situation was developing.

The computer's metallic voice quickly returned an answer that added to his uneasiness. "There are nine hundred sixty-five objects detected by visual scanning."

"Can you identify them?" Hss'Grrsss asked.

"Not at this range," the computer responded.


The Gorn ships were within range. Now they would capture them. The Intruder commander gave his orders, and his forces moved. Two sections of fighters broke away, forming into two long fingers reaching along the Gorn flanks.

An orifice, nearly the same width as the Intruder commander's huge mass, opened, revealing a complete set of jagged teeth, allowing predigestive juices to run down his body. I hope we can capture them without too much damage, he thought. I grow tired of the replicated garbage I have been eating since I dropped from my parent. He had only his parent's memories of what fresh food was like, but it was enough for him to anticipate it in the future.


"Rrrahhsss," the sensor chief broke the silence of the Rrall'Riss' bridge with a warning sound.

"What?" Hss'Grrsss queried.

"They're flanking us, Leader."

Hss'Grrsss' great intellect reacted quickly to the changing situation. He brought new commands and orders up on the heads-up, enabling each in turn. A discordant chime echoed through the Rrall'Riss' corridors. Gorn moved slowly to their stations and came on-line.

Hss'Grrsss changed the view on his visor from real-time to tactical. The other three ships were reporting their readiness to mirror his ship's moves. Changing the heading in his visor to two-three-four point three-two-two, his ship changed course. The rest of the hunt changed as well, on a heading that would take them under the line of Intruder vessels on their right flank, setting them up for a clean belly shot.

While his hunt closed on the Intruder line, he turned to look at the communication officer. "Send everything to headquarters."

"Impossible, sir," the officer responded. "They're jamming on all frequencies. We can only communicate with the others in the hunt."

"Ahh'hssss," Hss'Grrsss cursed. His visor told him that the Intruders were reacting to his move by moving back in front of them and spreading out like a huge fishing net.

"The second flanking force is coming in from behind," the sensor chief reported. "They're in the same dome formation."

The tactical screen on Hss'Grrsss' visor showed him what had happened. The edges of the Intruder formations were cupping in and were even now coming together, forming a great sphere. "How soon till complete envelopment?" he asked the sensor chief.

"Three cycles."

He discarded his initial plan, and after a moment of thought, set a new plan into action. "Adjutant, signal the group to proceed with battle maneuver two. Sensor Chief, scan the enemy ships. I need to know who my enemy is and what his capabilities are."

"Yes, Leader." The sensor chief powered up his arrays, reporting as the readings came onto his screen. "The enemy ship is a spherical structure with two antimatter nacelles attached at the equator. The engines show a few differences in design. Their defense shields are similar, with a frequency shift that might make them harder to penetrate. I don't have enough data to make a precise analysis."

Hss'Grrsss absorbed the information, but one piece of the puzzle was missing. "What kind of weapons do they use?"

The sensor chief returned to his computer analysis for a moment. "Unable to tell until they fire on us." A warning buzzer sounded, and he returned his attention to his visor for a moment, his finger tapping the enable button in quick succession. "They have armed and locked all weapons, Leader. Sensors indicate two types: a coherent beam resembling a disruptor, much more powerful than anything we've encountered before. A torpedo launcher, a plasma projectile, power level and guidance still unknown."

The two domes came together, completing the encirclement of the Gorn hunt. With agonizing slowness, it began to constrict on them. The Intruder ship in the center of the right side fired. A crimson tracer appeared as a single plasma torpedo flashed through the shrinking space between it and the Rrall'Riss.

All four Gorn ships spotted the incoming weapon and evaded. It missed the hunt's command ship by nearly a thousand kilometers. The warhead's proximity fuse detonated the plasma, shaking the Rrall'Riss savagely.

The entire right side of the encircling sphere erupted in torpedoes. Every ship in the Gorn hunt suffered direct hits. One so often that it blossomed immediately into a flower of consuming antimatter fire.


"I want them taken alive," the armada commander's mental voice boomed through the subspace frequencies. "Disable, not destroy. Attack pattern: scramble. Use the disruptors." What a waste of protein and information,he thought angrily, his entire digestive track growling.

Once the disruptors have worn down their defensive shields, I'll move the support/assault ship within range of the tractor beam. When they are inside my bays, we can contain them, the Intruder commander thought as half the fighters in the sphere broke from the encircling formation and attacked. "Bring my ship within range of the energy dampening field," he ordered. My fighters need the practice, but, just in case these animals prove more capable than expected, I'll be ready.

The assault ship, immense and powerful, moved from the inner edge of the barrier, taking station just behind the reserve fighters of the spherical formation.


I've already lost a ship, and I haven't even fired yet, Hss'Grrsss thought as a cloud of fighters descended on his ships.

"Torpedoes have a lock," reported the weapons officer.

"Fire," ordered Hss'Grrsss. That certainly will change, he thought. "Lock disruptors as well."

The Rrall'Riss shuddered with the launch of its first weapon, followed quickly by the launch of a second. They streaked away, their blue tracer marking their paths. Six more joined them as the other Gorn ships fired. There were six brilliant flashes and the arcing of energy released by the matter/antimatter explosions.

To Hss'Grrsss' surprise, the fighters flew through it, unscathed and apparently unharmed, still on course for his group of cruisers, their shields not showing the least signs of stress. We must concentrate our fires, he thought. Whoever they are, they have superior technology if they can mount such impressive shielding on craft so small.

The Intruder fighters began firing. Pulses of coherent energy struck the Rrall'Riss and her sisters, shaking them.

"Fire disruptors!" Hss'Grrsss ordered, figuring if they could hit him, he could hit them back, and wondering why his weapons officer hadn't reported lock yet.

"We cannot, Leader. They're still out of range," the officer replied.

"Ahhrrssss," the leader cursed. Their disruptors have a longer range as well, he thought, trying to figure out what to do next as his ship shuddered. The shields of the Gorn ships were already showing the stress, glowing a dull red.

At least they're not using their torpedoes any more, Hss'Grrsss observed to himself, then made the connection. "They're trying to capture us."

"That would fit the pattern of their attack, Leader," his adjutant reported. "They are targeting Engineering."

"Increase shield strength to those areas," Hss'Grrsss ordered, his mind already processing this. We can use this against them, he thought, and make good an escape. He was no longer considering whether they could win this battle. As long as they use only disruptors and have nothing better up their sleeves.

Focusing one of his compound eye lenses onto the course block of his visor, he automatically lit it, changing the course so the hunt would turn and head back the way they'd come. A tap on the enable button made the change, and the ship turned, followed closely by the others. He highlighted Warp Eight and enabled. The hunt disengaged from the fighters, surprising them in the suddenness of the maneuver, leaving them behind.


"Our prey are entirely without means," the Intruder commander said as he watched his prey try to escape. A tentacle reached forward and powered up a subspace transmitter. "Match speed and follow. Those in front, delay them until I can reach you."

He expected no response. Fighters, only recently engaged with the Gorn, sped off in pursuit. Those still in front of the Gorn, attempted to maintain that position.

They're not good enough yet, thought the commander, assessing the combat skills of his fighter pilots. I think they'll get more practice now that we've finally arrived. This galaxy will be ours, just as the one we left behind had been.


"Status," Hss'Grrsss queried.

"The attackers are pursuing," the sensor chief responded. "We are approaching the ships of the encirclement. They are responding to our maneuver, matching our speed."

"We are only just barely overtaking them," his adjutant concluded.

An Intruder fighter appeared on Hss'Grrsss' visor, back-peddling in front of his dreadnought. A flash of coherent energy, and a shudder that could be felt through the frame of his ship told him where the beam had struck.

Staring at the single fighter and wondering at its arrogance, Hss'Grrsss thought, We haven't a chance. They outgun us. The sensor window on his visor showed him that the entire group of fighters was now passing his ships on the flanks and would soon join forces with the one in front of them. They're faster, and their shields are stronger. He noted that the blocking fighter had allowed itself to get within range of his ship's weapons. Let's see how good their shields really are, and if they've the belly to fight a cornered Gorn.

Concentrating on the tactical window on his visor, he brought the icons that represented the other two ships in his group up even with his--standard Gorn attack line. A tap on the enable button sent the signal. Hss'Grrsss saw the other two dreadnoughts move up in response to his orders.

Shifting his attention to the attack window, he targeted the lone fighter in front of them, reserving all three ship's weapons for it. A tap of his finger sent it to the heads-up displays of the weapons crews' heads-ups on all three ships.

A green light next to the targeting window indicated the hunt's weapon readiness. He looked at the FIRE prompt and enabled. Every available weapon of the Gorn hunt fired.

Enveloped in disruptor energy, the Intruder fighter's shields began to glow. The torpedoes struck, adding their annihilating energy to the attack. The fighter's shields escalated quickly to near breaking, glowing a brilliant purple, but still held.

"Ahhrrrssss!" Hss'Grrsss growled. We just hit it with enough energy to destroy a Federation destroyer, and it still exists!

The targeted fighter, seemingly unaffected by the intense attack it was receiving, fired a torpedo and hit the Rrall'Riss' right wing ship, nearly buckling its shields.

"Leader, the rest of the Intruders are nearly in front of us," a voice said.

"I see them, Adjutant," Hss'Grrsss responded, recognizing the source, "but we must make an example of this one so they don't think themselves untouchable."

The fighter's shields were already recovering, cooling to a faint yellow shade.

Hss'Grrsss saw the green light appear next to the weapons window. FIRE.

The next volley enveloped the fighter. Its shields held under the disruptors, but, with the impact of the first torpedo, they buckled. The other two torpedoes struck its exposed skin, exploding, tearing great chunks of metal and material away. But the fighter still lived, back-peddling in front of them, firing its disruptors.


The Gorn ships fired a third volley. The unshielded fighter disappeared.

"Yessss," growled Hss'Grrsss. Hisses and growls of approval filled the air of the bridge. "They can be hurt," he said aloud. But at what cost? he wondered.

A new Intruder fighter moved into position in front of his group. Then another, and yet another. Groups of fighters took up positions on all four flanks--right, left, up and down, then closed up behind them as well. Their disruptors began firing, pulsing non-stop.

The Rrall'Riss' shields held, but were slowly being weakened to dangerously low levels. Her sister ships were in no better condition.


"Good work, fighters," the Intruder commander signaled. "Stand by; I'm almost in position."

His massive assault ship had already gained a position in front of the remaining Gorn ships and was waiting. He watched his fighters continue to harry the prey, holding their attentions away from him until it was too late.

"Ready tractors and energy dampening field," his mind's voice boomed telepathically.

Two sets of projectors came alive on the assault ship as she readied herself to receive the Gorn.


"Shields are nearing collapse, Leader," the engineer roared, trying to be heard over the scream of tortured and exploding circuits.

"I know," Hss'Grrsss roared back. He saw his ships firing in the heads-up, but it was sporadic, uncoordinated, and doing no appreciable harm to the circling fighters.

There was an immense explosion somewhere below his feet, and his heads-up went blank. Removing the now useless piece of technology from his head, he stood. Similar actions by the rest of his bridge crew showed him that the bridge's entire computer net was out. Half the ship's shields had just buckled.

"We must move to Engineering and resume control there." Hss'Grrsss strode off slowly, entering the main corridor that led the full length of the ship to Engineering. His bridge crew followed.

Explosions and electronic screams echoed from points throughout the ship as they walked. They entered Alternate Control and found it still functional. Donning the head-sets, they prepared to continue the fight. Then everything became silent.

"What?" Hss'Grrsss queried. The headset's heads-up showed him an aft-view. There were fighters there, but they were remaining out of range. He reset the angle to the sides and found the same thing. Then he got the forward view. What he saw shocked him to immobility.

A jolt rocked the ship as a giant hand caught hold of it and yanked it onto a new heading, knocking Hss'Grrsss and his bridge crew from their feet.

Everything electric went off, allowing darkness and silence to rule the ship.


"The tractor beam has them, Progenitor," a mental voice reported to the Intruder commander.

"Yes, I see," he answered, watching the beams pull the prey toward the waiting maws of his docking bays. The whine of a new set of electronics and the splash of energy on the captured ships told him that the dampening field was in place as well. All visual evidence of life and power disappeared from them.

Let a failing atmosphere weaken them. Then we'll take them, he thought as the three ships disappeared from the angle of his viewer. His gut grumbled and saliva dripped from his mouth as he anticipated what would come next. Turning, he moved his immense form toward the lift that would take him to the docking bays. A cloud of tentacles wove about the top of his body, quavering with anticipation.

He got there just as the tractor beam left the tri-spherical ships sitting on the floor of the docking bay, dwarfed by the size of the cavernous room. Atmosphere returned to the bay, and he entered. Hundreds of others just like him moved in to surround the ships. They waited patiently.

"Life signs are ebbing, sire," reported a mental voice.

"Reduce and transport," ordered the commander.

A new set of electronic whines filled the air of the bay. A transport beam snapped down from the roof of the bay, leaving a stack of polyhedrals next to each ship. The commander moved forward, picked up one off the top and set it to one side. A tentacle pushed a button on a small box attached to a belt around his middle. A series of lights blinked, and the polyhedral transformed into a seven foot tall, armored, reptiloid. The prey looked around, began to move, but a twist of the same button, and a push froze him in his place, his entire voluntary muscle system bypassed.

The commander reached out with his powerful mind and entered that of his prey. He heard and felt the scream of terror the rape caused. It was immensely satisfactory. He stayed long enough to find out that this was not the commander and that they called themselves Gorn.

"You take that one, progeny," he ordered a smaller version of himself resting nearby, anticipation showing both in the puddle of drool on the floor and the excited weaving of the tentacles. This one had dropped from him not long ago, his first budding. "Report on what you learn."

"Yes, One-Who-Made-Me," the young one exclaimed excitedly as one of his tentacles wrapped itself around the waist of the Gorn. With an ease that spoke of great strength already, the young one lifted the reptilian off his feet. Two more tentacles latched on and turned the Gorn over. Though released from the nerve control device, the Gorn did nothing to stop what was happening, his mind still reeling from the telepathic rape. The progeny brought the reptillian easily to his waiting mouth, head first. The mouth closed, teeth cutting through flesh and bone easily. Blood mixed freely with the drool as the youngster caught everything that fell from the emptying body. "I am processing, One-Who-Made-Me."

The commander acknowledged the youngster's report, noting the subliminal messages of pleasure the fresh food was producing in him. Now, having processed the patterns of the Gorn mind, the commander scanned each polyhedral still on the floor until he found what he was looking for, the patterns of command. Picking it up, he placed it on the floor in front of him and activated the control box.


It had been dark, and he'd been suffocating. Now Hss'Grrsss stood in a brilliant light, his compound eyes attempting to adjust to the rapid change. His first sight was that of a cloud of tentacles stripping the remnants of the armor from one of his crew and stuffing the decapitated body into its mouth. The sickening sound of breaking bones followed. Then he found himself surrounded by similar tentacles and lifted from the ground. He tried to resist, but found he could not move.

"You are Leader," the intruder commander projected.

Hss'Grrsss flinched under the volume of the voice, not realizing that the sound wasn't physical, but mental. He tried to answer, though the power of the tentacle made it hard, "Yesss, I lead." He flinched again as the voice returned, his head pounding under the onslaught.

"I am Commander of the First Armada of the Kelvan Empire. Your species will serve us."

Hss'Grrsss knew this wasn't a question, or a command; it was a statement of fact. He looked around for what he felt instinctively would be the last time. Hundreds, maybe thousands of these creatures filled the bay around his ships. There were piles of polyhedrals next to each. He watched a Kelvan pick one up and set it down. There was the sound of a small electronic gong, and the polyhedral turned into a member of his hunt. The Kelvan snatched up the crew member and consumed him, quickly and efficiently, no body fluids lost to the floor. He knew this was to be his fate soon and faced his captor.

"You know now how," the commander told his prey.

Hss'Grrsss knew there was only one way he could respond. He bit the tentacle wrapped around his waist. His teeth serrated the tissue, cutting all the way through. Kelvan blood gushed into his mouth, but he didn't swallow, letting it fall to the floor.

"You little scurry," the commander roared.

Hss'Grrsss reeled under the mental voice's volume. He felt two more bands of muscle surround him, this time one around his neck. The last thing he saw was the gaping mouth and the teeth that waited.


The Federation heavy cruiser, U.S.S. Enterprise, its gleaming white shape distorted by its faster-than-light velocity, streaked through the vast expanses. The mighty starship's destination was a yellow dwarf star, just a small light amongst millions. Known by many names--Q'Ratzoah, Forlyn, Tu'lunn--those living on the star's third planet fondly called it, "Sol."

The crew was looking forward to their arrival at Earth. . Now, they would be allowed to take any leave they had accrued during which time the Enterprise would be put through more refits. The U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, had clearly been rushed into production, and with that came a number of systemic problems.

Captain James T. Kirk had received orders that he would be given an unprecedented third tour as its commander. The crew's not the only ones looking forward to returning home, thought Kirk, it'll be good to visit the old homestead. Iowa will be pleasantly snowy this time of year. A dark cloud formed as he remembered the fire that had destroyed his family's home that terrible winter a few years ago and the death of his mother soon thereafter. He'd have to make a point of visiting her grave while he was there.

A new thought brightened his countenance as he remembered an event that was about to happen at the Academy: Mid-Year Graduation. "Captain Spock, how many ship's crews did you say were going to be at Starfleet?" Kirk asked.

"Thirty, sir. Would you like me to read the list?" Spock responded, dead pan.

"No, Spock. That won't be necessary. I'll review it later, thank you."

"There is one ship I think will be of special interest to you, sir." Spock didn't wait for Kirk to respond. "The U.S.S. Samson."

That's the ship Kelsey's on, thought Kirk as he acknowledged Spock's information with a nod and a smile. Lieutenant Commander Shaun Kelsey had begun his career on the Enterprise as an ensign fresh out of the Academy, and had become a protegé to Kirk, just as Hikaru Sulu, Pavel Chekov and David Garrovick had been.

The captain turned as Doctor McCoy entered the bridge. The ship's surgeon was carrying one of the newly developed padds. Kirk guessed it probably contained the report he'd asked for. He worried about his old friend and advisor, because the doctor had aged somewhat in this last sojourn, and his once scalpel-sharp mind wandered a bit. It wasn't unusual to see him staring off into space, a vacant look in his eyes. Bearing Spock's katra had taken a toll, and even though that was four years ago, he knew the doctor was still affected by the ordeal.

"Here's my list of those who will need liberty," McCoy said in his best official voice.

Kirk looked at the list and noted that his name was near the top. He was about to protest when McCoy cut him off. "Based on my latest psychological studies, it is my opinion that if those crewmen do not get an extended liberty while we're here, they will become liabilities to this ship, Captain." The doctor gave him one of those don't-even-try-it looks.

Since it was inevitable, and Kirk had already decided to get away for awhile anyway, his only problem now was finding someplace to go on his liberty. There weren't many places he could go that didn't come with disturbing memories. "Mister Riley, plot a course for SpaceDock."

After conferring with Commander Chekov, the ship's navigator, Commander Riley punched in the course changes necessary to complete the captain's wishes. "Plotted and locked in, sir." He turned back to Chekov and continued, "It's sure good to be back. I'm looking forward to visiting the space yards."

Rated as one of the best helmsmen in Starfleet, Commander Kevin Riley had filled Commander Sulu's open slot on the ship's roster six months ago, right after Sulu had accepted command of the Cooper. He had grown a beard during his time as first officer of the Daredevil, an intelligence gathering patrol ship. Now Riley was one of the most eligible officers for command. It was possible that the long-awaited promotion to captain and command of a ship might await him in the ship yards.

"Hey, Pav. Let's go and check out that new spot on the bay once we settle this ol' girl in," Riley continued. "Scuttlebutt is it's the hottest place in the Old City."

"Sure, Kevin. That sounds great. This time, though, let's leave the Romulan Ale alone. I lost a vweek of my life the last time." Chekov shook his head sorrowfully after he responded.

Commander Pavel Chekov still hadn't lost his Russian accent. Like Scott, it made him different, and that was precisely why he kept it. Chekov had no stomach for command. He'd served as executive officer for three different captains, and all three had died tragically. After Captain Matterson's death, he'd requested a return to the Enterprise. Kirk pulled strings to see it was granted, hoping that after a time back aboard the starship, the young man would again request an executive posting. In fact, Chekov had turned one down already. Sulu had been hurt, but understood his friend's reluctance. The exec posting on the Cooper had gone to Lieutenant Commander Xon instead.

A spark appeared in Riley's eye. "Well, boy-o, I think you did quite well last time. You impressed the lasses with your gymnastics, especially when you did that full gainer off the bar and without losing the lamp shade on your head!"

"Girls? Vwhat girls? Lamp shade? I still don't believe everything you told me about that night." Chekov looked worriedly around, wondering who might be listening in to this conversation.

Riley's gave Chekov a sly look, then chuckled.

Turning from her communications panel, Commander Uhura addressed the captain, "Sir, Starfleet sends their respects, and Admiral Cartwright requests your presence in his office as soon as the Enterprise is secure."

"Thank you, Uhura. Acknowledge." Kirk grew pensive, I wonder what that's all about. He didn't have what one might call "a close, working relationship" with Admiral Moses Cartwright. The fact was he didn't like the man at all.

Commander Penda Nyota Uhura was still as beautiful as ever, or so it seemed to Kirk. Though the years had done their best to wear her down, to him she had done a good job of thwarting "Ol' Pappy Time," as McCoy called it. She still turned the occasional head when she walked down a corridor, and Kirk wasn't immune, finding himself more than once fantasizing about her during the quieter hours on the bridge. Following the Serenidad Tragedy, Uhura had commanded an escort-class ship, logging many hours in the center seat. Like Chekov and Sulu, she had lost some of her status by aiding in the theft of the Enterprise from SpaceDock. But since Sulu had overcome that blotch on his service record, she might be in line for a command again herself.

"Aye, sir," Uhura replied. She noted his lingering glance. I'd give more than one penny for his thoughts, she pondered as she sent the requested message. She was very much aware of the captain's occasional interest, but was also aware of her rank and position and didn't push it. That didn't change the fact that her feelings were strong for Jim Kirk, had been from the first time she had served on his bridge so many years ago.

"Ye'll not be going anywhere without me." When it came to smelling out a party, Captain Montgomery Scott was still the undisputed champion.

Riley and Chekov smiled. They'd been on many shore leaves with the burly Scot. The Enterprise's chief engineer had a knack for finding a good time wherever it might be, and he wasn't always too discriminating as to its character.

The engineer checked the status of his engines as he mentally reviewed the places where he would take the two youngsters. A night out with the laddies will be just what the doctor ordered, Scott thought. Come to think of it, I'll bet Leonard would like to come too. He might be a bit stodgy, but he still enjoys a night on the town. The next thought really lit up the old Scot's face. Besides, the graduating class will be out and about the city. It's always fun impressing those poor, naive ensigns.

An anomaly appeared on the engine status board in front of him, and his mind snapped back to business. Turning to the captain, he put in a query. "Sir, any idea what they'll be doing to the bairns this time?" Scott loved a good time, but he never neglected his beloved Enterprise.

"None at all, Scotty," Kirk responded.

Along with the mechanical refits, they also would receive three new officers from the graduating class. Kirk shuddered at the thought of what had to be done to get these greenies up to speed. Numerous situations made life as a starship commander difficult. The breaking in of new ensigns ranked second only to writing the letters informing the next of kin of the loss of their loved ones. The reputation of the rank of ensign hadn't changed much since its invention centuries ago and probably wouldn't in the centuries to come. An ensign was an ensign, and the beast would never change.

There had been one exception to this rule, and Kirk found her standing near her mentor, Captain Spock. Lieutenant Commander Saavik had returned to the Enterprise after completing her diplomatic attaché assignment on Vulcan. Being half-Romulan, she had never been a typical anything, let alone cadet. But she had lost her wide-eyed look. Though physically, she resembled any other Vulcan he had known, Kirk had seen the indications that intense emotions boiled within her. Despite her control, she was still the most challenging sparring partner Kirk had ever encountered. He had more than once found himself looking up at her from the mats of the Enterprise's gym in the past three months.

The starship had secured from warp speed just inside the orbits of Uranus and Saturn, a standard procedure, since the use of warp engines any closer posed a danger to interplanetary transportation. The impulse engines would get them there in less than two days, and the crew would have the luxury of being able to catch up with their paperwork so that once at SpaceDock, they would be free to get all the rest they deserved.

Looking at the viewscreen, it took Kirk a minute to locate Earth. Sol was still just a very bright star. He looked for a bright spot of reflected light nearby. He finally located it by its slightly bluish tint. SpaceDock would be nearby, sitting in the middle of where the gravities of Earth and her moon canceled each other out.


A day and a half later, and right on time, the Enterprise docked. Kirk left the ship and found the nearest transporter station. Surprisingly, he found a slot already reserved for him in the transport schedule. Moses must have something pretty important, he thought, a nagging discomfort building within him as the station's transport room dissolved, and the small station that served the C 'n C and his staff in Starfleet Headquarters materialized.

Cartwright's suite of offices wasn't far away. Upon entering the admiral's outer office, the admiral's personal secretary, Lieutenant Commander Tonya Barrows, ushered him straight in.

"Jim, you ol' space dog. How are you?" Admiral Cartwright stood up and walked around his desk.

Kirk was always just a little uncomfortable around the commanding admiral. There was something about him that was unsettling. Something about the way he referred to and treated non-Humans. It wasn't always obvious. Kirk felt the latent bigotry more than realized it, but he felt he couldn't trust the man completely. He was a notorious fencesitter, too, and that often rankled Kirk. Cartwright had replaced his mentor Harold Morrow after the serious gaffe regarding Spock's katra.

Ella Cartwright, the admiral's wife, and Kirk had been friends for a long time, going all the way back to the Academy. In fact, he'd had a small fling with her. Ella had graduated with Kirk. It had been in Starfleet that she had met Moses Cartwright and then married him. She had resigned her commission for him, an act that Kirk felt was a great loss to Starfleet. Kirk had always sensed an undercurrent of friction in all the contacts he'd had with Cartwright over the years since, and he often wondered if he'd found out from Ella about their past liaison. "Just fine, sir. How about yourself?"

"Fine, just fine. You and your crew going to attend the mid-year graduation tomorrow?" Cartwright asked.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world, sir." What does Admiral Cartwright really want? Kirk thought. Surely he didn't call me here just to renew acquaintances. "What's up?"

"Nothing, I hope, Jim." Cartwright's face grew a little more serious. "But as one of my senior starship commanders, I thought you ought to be aware of a curious development in Gorn space."

Kirk was uncomfortable with the admiral's easy transition to using his first name. He waited patiently, knowing that the admiral would continue when he was ready.

"It's not that Gorn silence is noteworthy. The Federation's recent peace treaty has done nothing to change that. But..." He paused to stare out the large picture window that overlooked San Francisco's harbor then continued, "Our outposts on the nearby Klingon Neutral Zone have reported no broadcasts on any of their standard operating subspace frequency now. Nothing, not even mundane ion storm reports. It doesn't make sense, and I'll have to admit, it has me very uneasy. What do you think?"

"I don't know, sir. It's hard to figure the Gorn. My suggestion would be to wait and see. I'm sure they'll be back on station soon enough." Kirk had to agree this was a new twist to their behavior. Since 2268, the Federation and the Gorn had been on amicable terms. The recent treaty signed on Xantharus IV between the Federation, the Gorn and the Orions had brought peace to the Federation's rear echelons. "You know, it's unlike them."

"I don't know if that's right, Jim. As far as sharing military intelligence, they flatly refuse any request I make of them. Heck, I even asked them to check out an anomalous reading near the galactic barrier. Do you think they responded? No." He snorted. "Sometimes I think their intelligence is as slow as their movements." Cartwright answered, shaking his head at the same time.

That bigoted reference was pretty obvious, thought the Enterprise commander, frowning. He's getting a little lax now that he's Commander-Starfleet. "I'd just wait and see what happens next, sir." Kirk relaxed.

"That's just it, Jim. I can't." Cartwright got serious all of a sudden. "Not after what happened to the Cooper at Xantharus. The President will have both my retirement and my career in a hand basket if I let Starfleet get caught with its pants down again. That's why I'm going to send the Dominion and her battle group out, just in case." Cartwright made eye contact. "Do you think I'm overreacting, Jim?"

Kirk remembered Xantharus well. Captain Sulu had been involved in that one, and by all regards should have died. "No, sir. I think you're making a prudent decision in this case, all things considered." Though there's nothing a dreadnought-class ship could do that one of the heavy cruisers couldn't do faster, Kirk added to himself. Starfleet's mighty dreadnoughts were disappointments, never living up to their design specs and that after trillions of credits.

"They'll be leaving in the next couple of days." Changing the subject, Admiral Cartwright continued, "You're staying at the 'Starfleet Hilton' during the refit of your ship I assume?"

"No, sir." It amazed Kirk how the nickname for Starfleet's Officer Quarters had survived the years. "I have an apartment on the bay. Got it when I first got bumped up to Admiral in 2270. I've kept it ever since."

"Of course." Cartwright smiled, then continued, "Ella and I will see you at the informal party we're throwing in our quarters at the Hilton, won't we? Or should I make that an order?" That last part was a running joke between Kirk and the admiral.

Chuckling, Kirk would have turned the invitation down if it hadn't been for Ella. "Glad to, sir, but please tell Ella I'll find my own date." Ella Cartwright was also famous for her persistent match-making efforts. Kirk frowned a bit as he tried to think of whom he might invite.

Cartwright noted the frown. "That's not a problem is it?"

Kirk gave the commander one of his famous smirks.

"No, I guess not," Cartwright replied, "you've never been too sensitive when it came to that, have you?" The admiral frowned a bit, watching Kirk for a reaction.

Ouch, Kirk winced mentally, he is getting bold, but he didn't let himself rise to the insult.

Cartwright continued. "We'll see you there. Oh, by the way, what are your plans for tonight?

"Scotty and a few of the officers are taking me out on the town," Kirk replied, "so...if I look under the weather tomorrow, you'll know why."

"Have one on me," Cartwright responded as he smiled. "Dismissed."

Kirk left the office and was already tackling the problem of a dance partner. Who was at Starfleet this time of year? Kirk thought as he walked down the corridor. Kate Logan was still running her shipping company. The recent Xantharus treaty had opened new markets to her. Gillian Taylor was involved with a major cetacean research project on the ocean world of Pacifica.

Oh well, I'll cross that bridge later, thought Kirk. Meanwhile, back to the Enterprise and Scotty.His chief engineer always got surly when delayed.


San Francisco was still a prime rest and relaxation spot in the Federation, with good reason. Part of it had kept up with the styles of a growing Federation, appealing to just about all the new civilizations, especially the drinking establishments. Interstellar trade had introduced many new substances to the menu, but alcohol was still the drug of preference to Humans, and an ice cold beer was still their first choice. It was especially true in the Old City.

Scott lived up to his reputation, giving his entourage a four-star tour of the bars around the bay. It was amazing the dives that the engineer knew about. Uhura had come along as well. Presently, they were in a bar with a lit dance floor and loud music. To cater to all the sentient beings of the Federation, a bank of lights, giving off every frequency, lit the dance floor.

"You still drinking that water, Chekov?" Scott ribbed the commander.

"Vwater? No, this is wvodka, and it's better than that bilge you alvways order."

"Now, son, let me explain the finer points of this one-hundred-year-old Scotch."

Riley had started off the night with the group, but had stumbled onto a bunch of his classmates and had gone off with them.

The band playing on the dais was part of a rotating circuit that entertained the different outposts and starbases all over the Federation. They were presently playing one of their newest hit songs. It was a fast, loud piece, that if it hadn't been for the adjustable sonic dampers at each table, would have had the entire bar yelling at each other. The dance floor was full of bouncing, gyrating forms.

Uhura and Kirk were sitting at the same table with Scott and Chekov, who were still deep in conversation. The captain found himself wondering why the engineer and security officer had always gotten along so well since they always vehemently disagreed on so many subjects. Maybe it was because half the time neither one could understand what the other was saying...

"How is your family doing these days, Nyota?" Kirk asked after they ran out of service subjects to talk about.

"Good. The herds are thriving, and business is booming," Uhura responded, pride filling her voice.

Replaced by substitutes of the same nutritional content, fresh beef and other meats were still quite lucrative, and Uhura's family owned and ran probably the largest ranch on the African continent. Now that the Treaty of Xantharus had been signed, the Orions had started importing Terran beef. None of their own planets had managed to produce anything as tasty to Orions as Terran meat products.

In the background, the style of music changed. The air filled with the slow, relaxing sounds of a different piece. The band was taking a break.

"Now that's a bit better," Kirk noted, standing up. "Shall we dance?"

"I'd love to," she responded, already on her feet.

The dance floor wasn't completely empty. The younger set, so fond of the active, loud music, was taking a breather. The older couples replaced them on the floor. That was another interesting parallel between the numerous intelligent species of the Federation. The young liked it loud, fast and stimulating, while the older members liked it relaxed and quiet. Scott and Chekov had found themselves dance partners and were already on the floor. Kirk was enjoying himself immensely. It had been a long time since he'd had a chance to relax. It was times like this when he remembered the solitary beach to stand on of his dreams.

"You dance quite well, Captain."

"Please, you can call me 'Jim' here."

Embarrassed and a little uncomfortable with the breach of etiquette, Uhura looked at the floor for a moment. "Okay, Jim."

"Thank you, Nyota, but I think I can thank my partner for most of it."

They didn't talk much after that, just enjoyed the dance and each other's company. The slow music ended far too soon, and the band came back. An immediate turnover of couples resulted.

"Would you like to get something to eat, Nyota?" Kirk yelled over the music.


"Eat!" He made the hand motion of shoving food into his mouth.

"Yes, of course!" She vigorously nodded her head.

Kirk caught Scott's eye letting him know that they were leaving and got a quick acknowledgment. It appeared Scott and Chekov were set for the night. Once outside, the sound insulation of the building cut off the loud music, letting them hear the typical sounds of a summer night.

Wondering where he could take her, Kirk got his bearings. Soon a place came to mind, and he turned to Uhura. "I know a nice little place on the other side of the park that's famous for its international Earth cuisine."

"That sounds fine, and a walk in the park will go well right about now."

The park was not empty, a favorite location for many couples. They crossed it at a leisurely pace, enjoying every minute.

The restaurant was small and quiet, with only a few patrons sitting at the tables. The maître d' seated them immediately. Kirk ordered a vintage Saurian brandy as they settled in for an evening of small talk and good food.

The meal came and went, the time flying.

"You ready to leave?" Kirk asked, regretting the end of a very pleasant evening.

"Yes. Thank you, Captain, ah, er, Jim," Uhura replied.

"My pleasure, Commander, ah, er, Nyota," Kirk mimicked her discomfort, then chuckled.

Uhura joined him in his mirth.

"Where are you staying?" Kirk asked as they left the restaurant.

"Not far from here." She pointed absently off to the right. "I have an apartment on Main street."

"I'll walk you home, if you'd like," Kirk offered.

Uhura smiled and answered. "That would be nice. Thank you."

As they left, they again entered the park for another short walk. All too soon they arrived at an apartment. They walked up the stairs and stopped before a door with Uhura's name on it.

Turning, she faced Kirk. "Thank you for the evening, sir. We must do it again sometime."

"Soon, I hope. Until then..." Kirk gently kissed her on the lips, and the two embraced for a short time.

On the way home, Kirk replayed the encounter and was a little surprised at the hidden affection it had brought out. He had always been fond of his communications officer, but it had never occurred to him that there might be more to it than that. Yes, there will be a next time, he thought as a smile spread across his face, a whole multitude of next times.


Starfleet Academy--where the Federation's finest and boldest assembled to vie for positions aboard the largest fleet in the known galaxy. Each would be trained as explorers and ambassadors to the newly discovered civilizations, and defenders of the alliance of planets.

Only a few weeks had passed since Earth's traditional New Year. It was a time when the Academy had its greatest influx of past and future graduates. The old came to admire and reminisce; the new to be commissioned into service.

The Academy was always at its finest during graduation, mid-year and summer equally. Not only because of the tradition and precision of the ceremony, but because it drew VIPs from across the Federation. It also served as a modern day rendezvous for the mountain men of the twenty-third century--the commanders and crews of Starfleet's starships. It had been these hardy souls who, like their predecessors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, were opening the new frontiers.

As a band played the opening marches, the personnel took their places in the stands. By tradition, the seating arrangement was according to rank and position, running from left to right, from the bottom of the stands to the top. The Commanding Admiral's seat was up front and just to the left of the podium. His staff and senior advisors sat behind him and finally the starship commanders with their senior cadre. The rest of each ship's crew sat in the stands open to the public. As was customary, there was standing room only, even in aisles.

The crowd hushed as Richard Barstow, the commandant of the Academy, stepped into the reviewing stand and stood behind the podium. "Admiral Cartwright, distinguished commanders, ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present the midshipmen of the Academy."

The first of this year's underclassmen came onto the field, all decked out in their red and yellow cadet jumpsuits. As they passed the podium, the student leader of each group saluted the commandant and his distinguished guests.

With the lower classmen in their final position on the field, it was time for the graduating class to enter. Wearing their brand new Starfleet uniforms and berets, the new officers proudly marched onto the field. Each uniform waited for that most important part, the insignia of the glorious rank of ensign, that single pin of gold.

It had been a long four years of intensive instruction, yet, it still had been only the basics. Each new officer would be continuing their professional education long after the novelty of being commissioned wore off.

During the customary speeches, Kirk had a chance to look around and see who else was there. It took awhile, but he finally found who he was looking for--Lieutenant Commander Shaun Kelsey. He hadn't changed much physically, the brilliant blue eyes framed in contrast by his nearly black hair. Kirk remembered the day, over a decade ago, when the orders transferring Kelsey from the Enterprise to the Samson had come. He had hated to lose the promising young officer then, but was relieved Kelsey hadn't been aboard during the Serenidad many lives had been lost. But now there was a shading of grey at Kelsey's temple, an outward sign of the wear and tear of service in Starfleet.

A few rows back of him, Kirk found the remainder of the Enterprise's crew. In the center of the group was Spock and Saavik. Kirk understood Spock's request to remain with the crew instead of sitting with the ship's senior officers. Saavik and Spock had grown very close since her return to duty on the Enterprise following her three months on Vulcan. Saavik had chosen to follow Spock's career in the sciences, and she was now serving as the second science officer aboard the Enterprise, a post once held by Xon. Spock was also following the career of Valeris, one of the Vulcan cadets who would be commissioned next year. She had asked him to serve as her advisor and mentor, and he, being one of the most senior Vulcans in Starfleet, had agreed.

The commandant concluded his speech and began the swearing in ceremony. "Those to receive their commissions raise your right appendage and repeat after me."

Once completed, the new officers finished the ceremony with a ritual performed since anyone could remember. With a roar, they threw their berets into the air and congratulated each other for making it all the way, turning into a milling sea of new officers, nicknamed a long time ago by an amused dignitary as 'a gaggle.'

The commandant made a final announcement. "Gentlebeings, this completes our ceremony. There will be refreshments in the Christopher Pike dining facility. Underclassmen, return to your classes. Again, congratulations to the new officers. Your assignments will be posted at the reception."

Kirk already knew the names of the three officers he was to get. At the reception, he would covertly watch each of them to get some indication as to what they were like. He especially enjoyed seeing their surprise and shock when they found out their assignments. His ship always drew the best of the class.

As he and his crew made their way to the reception, he reviewed the names Spock had gotten from Starfleet's computers.

Ensign Raymond Swift Deer--born and raised on Dakota, a planet colonized by the last of Earth's Sioux Indian nation. Kirk remembered the last officer he'd had of the Amerind culture. Walking Bear had boasted of his Comanche heritage and had served well. Swift Deer would be a fine addition to the Enterprise's officer corps.

Ensign Riit--a felinoid female from Kzin, her full name translating to Sneaky. It was quite a tale to hear how she got the name. Resembling the Caitians, the Kzinti were aggressive fighters, and Kirk was looking forward to a sparring match with her.

Ensign Spareg--the Enterprise would be empty without the presence of the galaxy's most logical species. It wouldn't be too long before Starfleet would again lose Spock to civilian life. He had served the Federation over and above all others. Not many officers actually got a chance to die for their government and live to tell about it. The gaining of young Spareg would assure the presence of a Vulcan on the Enterprise for a long time to come.

Starfleet Academy's Food Service outdid themselves. The dining facility could pass as a ballroom from any one of the embassies. Laid out on a long table in the center were examples of every culinary delicacy in the Federation.

The reception itself was not unlike receptions of the past. Everyone made polite conversation as they milled around. The new officers stood in their tight little groups and nervously talked to the visiting dignitaries. They were, as a group, tense. Not because of the VIP's, but because they were still without assignment orders. Excitement coursed through them with the arrival of Captain Po, the Academy's personnel officer.

"Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I have the orders for the new officers. If you'll kindly give me your attention," requested Po, an Oriental woman who had once served aboard the Enterprise, even testifying in Kirk's court-martial in that sordid Finney affair.

The time everyone was waiting for had arrived. Kirk positioned himself, so he could see the reaction of his three new officers.

"As you know, class standing determines your assignment. Those individuals rated at the top, will get the most valued assignments. A poll of the graduating class determines the rank of each possible assignment. So, without further delay, let's get started."

The standings of the class were no secret to any of the new officers, nor the ranking of each possible assignment. It was only a matter of seeing what prime assignments needed replacements. The personnel officer knew this, but this was the most fun she would have all year, and she was going to get all she could from it.

"Ensign Spareg, your assignment is immediate and you will report this afternoon to..." She paused as she pulled out some antique spectacles and adjusted them onto her face. The effect was predictable. Even the young Vulcan was showing tell-tale signs of anticipation. "...the U.S.S.Enterprise."

A murmur went through the crowd. This was indeed fortunate. It wasn't often that the unanimous first choice for assignment was in need of replacements. It would have surprised Kirk to see anything but the satisfied nod from the young Vulcan. The announcement sent an even higher surge of excitement through the rest of the new officers. If the Enterprise was in need of replacements, maybe it was for more than one.

"Ensign Swift Deer. U.S.S..." The personnel officer was in her glory now as she stretched it out for the young Human. "...Enterprise!"

The war whoop of the Amerind was centuries old. If the emotional display annoyed anybody, they kept it to themselves.

It was Ensign Riit's turn on the hot seat. Would the personnel officer give the first two further instructions or would her assignment also be to the ship of her dreams? She had wanted to be assigned to the same ship as Commander Uhura. This Human female had been a legend on Kzin ever since her ship, the Anwar Sadat, had brought to the Kzinti Patriarchy a medicine, developed by the Federation, to cure an outbreak of plasma plague that had almost destroyed Kzin. Once the planet's population had been saved, the old Patriarch himself had chosen to join the United Federation of Planets, and once again, old enemies had become fast friends.

"Ensign Riit..."

The whole room heard the soft rumble that radiated from her. Since Captain Po had not given the other two ensigns further instructions that could only mean one thing. Like all felinoids, from the Caitians to the Vedala, her race's sign of contentment was a low, rumbling purr.

"...U.S.S. Enterprise."

The rumble grew louder forming a nearly visible aura about her. The dream she had worked so hard for had come true. She quickly stepped forward and received the valuable orders.

"The three of you will report to your ship this afternoon since it is Starfleet's honor to have the Enterprise present today. Your new commander requests to see you immediately." Looking up, Po spotted Captain Kirk and waved. "I believe I see him and his officers in the back of the room."

The disappointment of the rest of the class was visible. This meant that the Enterprise had filled her quota. They recovered quickly as the personnel officer continued. They could still hope for an assignment to a different starship. Heavens forbid they should wind up in some stuffy staff section here at Starfleet.

The three newest members of his crew approached Captain Kirk. It could be seen that each had a growing apprehension as they approached, though the reason was not as obvious.

For Ensign Spareg, he was a legend as important to his Vulcan culture as Kirk was to the Humans. The presence of Captain Spock inwardly distressed him, and he had to struggle to hide the emotional state from the fellow Vulcan. For Ensign Swift Deer, the Enterprise captain was the reason. Kirk was the eminent warrior of his time and Swift Deer's personal hero. As for Ensign Riit, it was the presence of Commander Uhura, she who had brought salvation to Kzin. They stood stiffly at attention, waiting the first orders of their new commander.

Kirk began the task of relaxing them to a more stable level of excitement. He kept his voice low so as not to disturb the final posting of orders. "Good afternoon and congratulations on graduating with honors. I'd like to introduce my senior officers to you." As Kirk proceeded, he knew this was hardly necessary, but social etiquette required it.

"Let's get on to business. I want you to get your gear together and report to Commander Chekov, ship's security officer and personnel officer, aboard the Enterprise this afternoon. He will detail your duties then. After I return from liberty, we'll set up a time to talk to each of you. Again, congratulations and welcome aboard."

The posting finished, and there were ensigns running in all directions already trying to obey their first orders.

The captain watched his newcomers hurry off. "Well. What do you think of that lot?" Kirk offered to those behind him.

Only Scott had anything but a shrug or noncommittal reply to offer. "Sir, it seems they're allowing younger and younger kids into the service these days, but I think we can mold them into something useful." Grimacing, the chief engineer appended, "Eventually."

The group agreed with the comment. Kirk changed the subject. "So, Captain Spock, what are your plans for the next few weeks?"

"Saavik and I will be visiting the Vulcan ambassador and his wife," Spock responded. "Then I have planned a retreat to Mountain View," he added, referring to the property of the late Roberta Grayson.

"Good, Spock. Give my greetings to your parents," Kirk returned. "And have fun in Washington."

"We shall, sir. You know you are always welcome there if you wish to accompany us," Spock offered.

"Thank you. I may take you up on that," the starship commander replied, then shifted his attention to his chief engineer. "And you, Scotty?"

"Well, sir, I thought I'd visit my family home in Scotland for a couple of days, then return to speed up the work on the bairns. I have a few ideas I'd like to pursue, looking to increasing their efficiency." Scott's eyes unfocused as his mind began reviewing what he was talking about.

"That's fine, Scotty. How about you two?" Kirk turned toward Riley and Chekov.

"Sir, we thought we'd enjoy the hospitality of the house and check out the new ships in SpaceDock," Chekov volunteered. "They've come out with yet another variant of the Miranda-class, different from the Reliant and the Soyuz. I'm told the changes are significant."

"And I," inserted Riley, "want a look at the refitted Oberths." Laughing, he continued, "Every time I turn around, they change the uniforms, retrofit ships, and change the bridge layout. You'd think they'd save money keeping things the same."

Kirk knew what they were saying between the lines. The two wanted to take a look at the ships to which they might be assigned, but chose not to go any deeper. He would hate to lose these two, but if they were going to rise to the height of their potential, they needed positions of higher responsibility. "That's fine, good hunting. If you see Sulu, give him my regards."


Kirk turned toward Uhura.

"What are your plans?" the lovely Bantu woman asked.

"Oh, I'll visit the ol' family homestead."

"Who's caring for it? I thought Peter was in Starfleet," remarked Uhura. Of course, if the rumors she'd heard were true, the captain's nephew wasn't long for the service.

"He is, but my cousins, Johnny and Teddy, have been running the farm since my mother died. That fire all but ate her spirit, and she was gone before we knew it. They rebuilt the place afterwards."

"Are the three of you close?"

"No. They were much closer to Sam. They've always blamed me for his death. Wondered why the great hero couldn't save his own brother."

"Well, that's hardly fair. Using that thinking, they may as well blame Spock and Peter for surviving the parasites."

Kirk shrugged his shoulders. "For all I know, they still do. But, they're family. When I'm done there, I thought I'd just wander around Riverside."

"That sounds just dreadful. Why don't you come with me and visit my family? It'll tickle my folks to meet you after hearing so much about you from my letters," Uhura offered, her eyes offering much more than what she was saying.

"Now, Uhura, I wouldn't want to be a bother." Kirk was feeling a type of discomfort he hadn't felt since adolescence.

"No, sir. It would be a pleasure. Let me call my folks and arrange it. You can leave with me this afternoon if you'd like."

"I surrender," Kirk responded. "But," he hesitated, "I must postpone it until tomorrow afternoon; I'm attending a party at Cartwright's quarters tonight, and I'll need time to recover. Come to think of it, he did tell me to bring a dancing partner." Putting on his most alluring smile, he voiced the question. "Will you do me the honor of accompanying me to the admiral's party tonight, Commander Uhura?"

"My pleasure, sugar." Uhura was beaming.

This turn of events pleased Kirk. He couldn't have done better if he had planned it. He turned to his chief medical officer. "Bones, what's on your agenda?"

Doctor McCoy answered, "I'm going to my daughter's home right away. She gave me another granddaughter you know. Named her Katherine. Family tradition to name at least one daughter that, been goin' on for centuries, or at least that's what my momma said. When the Lord ordered Adam to fill the world, He had the McCoy's in mind."

Kirk remembered seeing the communiqué they had received announcing the birth only a few months back. "My congratulations, Bones. Say hello to the family for me while you're there. I haven't seen Joanna in years."

McCoy was all smiles. "You betcha, Jim."

They began to notice that the reception was starting to wind down. Kirk was just about to take a sip of the champagne that Scott had gotten for him, when, from over his glass he saw an officer he hadn't seen in a while approaching him. "Commander Kelsey."

Kelsey offered his hand. "Sir."

Kirk grabbed the proffered hand and shook it vigorously. "Shaun, I see you still have your hair, pilgrim," the captain said, remembering the greeting of Earth's mountain men. "It's nice to see you still in one piece."

"Yeah, there were times I wasn't too sure about continuing that way. Captain Rachelson is a fine commander. She got us in and out without a scratch."

"How long are you here for?" Kirk asked.

"Just a couple of days for liberty, then we leave on our next tour," Kelsey responded.

Hoping there wasn't a classification problem, Kirk asked, "Where to?"

Frowning, the younger officer almost mumbled his answer. "The Andromeda sector."

This brought looks of disgust from those within earshot. The Gorn territory was considered one the most onerous duties in Starfleet. Despite the recent treaty with the Orions and the Gorn, someone had to watch for smugglers and criminals, and unfortunately, Starfleet had gotten the job. The Andromeda sector was located between the Orion territories, the Gorn Confederation and the United Federation of Planets. As a strategic location, it was ideal for all sorts of illegal activities.

The Samson must be part of the Dominion group, thought Kirk before continuing. "Stop by in the morning, and I'll buy you breakfast," Kirk offered.

"Yes, sir. I'll see you then." Riley and Chekov had just caught Kelsey's eye and had him quickly in tow toward an exit.

Kirk had another detail to iron out. It had occurred to him that he didn't have any idea what to bring to the Uhura homestead. "Nyota, what's the weather like this time of year on the African continent?"

"Warm, for the most part. Bring something comfortable and light, and some clothes suitable for riding horses," Uhura responded.

"That sounds fun. I haven't been riding in a long time. Until tonight, say, eighteen hundred or so?" Kirk bowed slightly at the waist.

"Aye, sir." Uhura did a slight curtsy in return, then headed for a nearby door.

The room was nearly empty by now. Kirk had one final ceremony to perform. He'd done it after attending the first graduation not his own, and had continued doing it with every successive visit. Silently, he raised his full glass of champagne, toasting the new mountain men of the Federation. "May your traps be full, your way clear and your days filled with wonder. Watch your hair, pilgrims," he said to anyone left to hear it, then drained the glass. He put it on the table nearby as he headed for the nearest exit.


"We have come so far, First Armada Commander," the Kelvan Supreme Commander said as he looked at the viewscreen that could only show him a small part of the mass of ships that contained the entire Kelvan species. "You do have good news, don't you?"

The mass of ships that had been home for the entire Kelvan empire for two and a half long generations clung to the surface of the galaxy like a Regulan bloodworm. Millions of times larger than the loathsome creature it resembled, it was busy injecting poison into its host. This devil, though, was not content with just sucking out nutrition; it wanted to inject its entire being into its host and consume it from the inside out like a virus.

Three types of ships made up the mass. The small spherical fighter was by far the most numerous, comparable in size and weaponry to the Klingon Bird-of-Prey. Centered inside the ship's machinery was a smaller spherical chamber, the cockpit of the ship's occupant. Individually, each Kelvan was taller than the Vegan titanosaur, resembling the hydra of Earth with hundreds of long tentacles, each able to perform separate tasks. Mute, they communicated telepathically with each other, but this means of communication had a short range so each individual had a mechanical pick-up that translated the individual's mental voice onto subspace frequencies. The ship lacked an actual entry hatch to this internal chamber. A transporter beam injected the occupant onto the control platform. From this central location, the Kelvan pilot could maneuver and fight his vessel as well any ship needing multiple crew members.

The next type of vessel was not just a small step up in size, but was huge. Primarily used to direct and support the smaller fighters, it was a long, cylindrical tube. Attached to its surface were hundreds of projections representing communication antennae, weapons, shield generators and sensor arrays. Located in front were three huge docking bays that allowed it to take many fighter craft in at the same time. Designed to accommodate the lower and intermediate levels of commanders, it accommodated his staff, hundreds of technicians and specialists, and quarters for every member of the fighter group it supported.

At the center of the mass was the single representation of the third type of ship. Like the brain of an organism, it motivated and directed the movements of the mass. Made up of four of the long tubular structures fused into a rectangular box, it dwarfed even the massive support ship. This ship contained all the labs, archives, and staff quarters necessary to support the most powerful individual in the nation. The Supreme Commander never had to leave his centrally located room.

The First Armada Commander had just arrived at this location. Though the Supreme Commander's mental voice sounded calm enough, every mental impulse carried an implied threat. Relieved, the First Armada Commander had the good news his leader looked for. "Yes, Great Progenitor, I have. The new shields worked to get us through this galaxy's peculiar energy barrier. We quickly disposed of the hostile non-corporeal lifeforms residing in the barrier itself, and we are already well ahead of schedule in conquering the species we found on the other side."

"The probe we intercepted, the one sent by the government calling itself the Federation..."

"Yes, Great Progenitor, I know of the one you refer to."

"Is this the Federation?" A mental image of the reptilian bipeds appeared.

"No, Great Progenitor. They are a species calling themselves the Gorn. Rather than have to explain, I have brought you something."

The background tone of the Supreme Commander's thoughts brightened. "A gift?"

"Yes, Great Progenitor." The First Armada Commander pulled out a polyhedron. "It is one of their high leaders. He will have much of what you want to know in his memories."

The Supreme Commander accepted the polyhedron with what appeared to the subordinate almost youthful glee. "Ahhh, thank you, First Armada. A most appropriate gift. It won't bite will it?"

"Yes, Great Progenitor. Take care, but they are as slow as they are strong. They do have very powerful minds, with much information stored inside," First Armada responded.

"Good. I'll absorb this one later. For now, you can bring my chart up to date." The Supreme Commander moved to a control board nearby. A flip of a switch activated it, and a large hologram of their new galactic home formed in the air nearby.

"Yes, Great Progenitor." First Armada moved up next to his commander. He activated an electronic pointer from the console. "According to the knowledge I've absorbed, the Gorn occupy this much of this galaxy," he moved the pointer in the hologram and described the Gorn territory, then color coded it yellow.

"Next to it, right about here, is the Federation with which the Gorn recently merged." The area the pointer described was much larger, spanning from the galactic rim to just halfway to the bright central hub. He color coded it blue. There were areas, some large, some small, in the midst of the blue that had no color.

"Is that all the Gorn know about? the Supreme Commander queried. "The probe said something about staying away from..." He paused for a moment thinking. "What do they call themselves?"

First Armada knew his commander hadn't forgotten but was testing him. "The Klingons, Romulans and the Orions, sire?"

"Ah, yes. What about them?"

"From what I have absorbed, the Klingons are here." He drew the boundaries and color coded it purple. "The Romulans here." A green area appeared. "And the Orion are here." An orange area appeared. "The Orions recently joined with the Federation as well."

"This is all the galaxy they know?" the Supreme Commander sounded amazed. "It's less than ten percent!"

"Yes, Great Progenitor, it appears that for the most part these are all relatively young species, only recently entering interstellar space. The Gorn have records of previously advanced races which have become extinct."

"If only the probes we'd sent had returned, we'd know more now," the Supreme Commander commented. "Do the Gorn have any information on what happened to them?"

"Not in the memories of those we've taken so far, but there have been some reference to a disturbance caused by an unknown vessel whose description indicates that it might have been one of our probes, but the information is very crude and sketchy. From what we can glean, the Federation destroyed the probe."

"That confirms what I had already decided," the Supreme Commander moved away from the console, but left the hologram in place. At a different console, he activated nine small screens. New presences and voices, those of the other armada commanders, joined the war council in the Supreme Commander's room.

His booming, mental voice began the conference. "Armada Commanders. The action against the Gorn is going better than planned, and our progress there is ahead of schedule. Now is the time to start the next step." Two of his tentacles worked on the device controlling the hologram. The red mass of the Kelvan nation started to move like that of an amoeba, entering through a large opening in the barrier.

"My scientists say they can build a device, a bridge, so that we can cross through the barrier without interaction with its negative energy. In the mean time, First Armada will complete the full absorption of the species calling itself the Gorn. We shall change their industry to fit our needs. It will be our new home, and we will use it as a base of operations to begin the subjugation of this entire galaxy. After that we will move on to conquer the people calling themselves the United Federation of Planets." There was a mental chuckle. "It was so nice of them to provide us with a map with which we can plan their conquest."


Spreading out over and filling the valley between the Kurnach mountains and the shores of the ancient dry sea bed of 'IwbIQ'a', the voDleH veng rumbled with unceasing industry. The lights of its existence illuminated Qo'nos' permanent sulphurous haze in an unnatural red glow. The western horizon glowed a deep, blood red, foretelling dawn, its expanse eternally cloudless.

Sharp-pinnacled fortresses stood sentry throughout the city, their ramparts illuminated, displaying the prowess of the one who resided there. The leading edge of the first and largest star that had spawned this world broke over the top of a tall mountainous ridge and lit the top spire of the central keep of the largest of these. Built by the first lord to rule from it, the original stone-walled castle had grown and expanded with the discovery of new and more advanced methods of defense.

A cavernous chamber deep within the central keep held the throne of the Klingon's ruler. It was both spacious and ornate. Mounted on the walls were the family crests from the empire's most influential families, positioned to show the standing of that family in the Klingon hierarchy. The largest crest by far was high on the wall behind the heavy throne, surrounded by purple drapes of the finest Rigelian silk.

The hall echoed with the loud voice of a heavily armored warrior who addressed three others gathered before the throne's dais. He was waving his arms and pacing. "I curse the day our scientists attempted to improve our species and produced the Kh'myr. They challenge every custom, every rule held sacred by our people."

"Calm yourself, Kor. When they arrive, they will sense your irritation and know they've already won," a colleague tried to stop the other's pacing, but failed when he shrugged off his restraining hand.

"That's exactly what I mean, Koloth. I can remember when no one, whether he be these upstart Kh'myr or the Segh vav, would want to irritate me. Qi'yaH. Khalian and his mob make sport of it. Arrgh..." Kor roared his frustration and anger to the ceiling, not waiting for the echo to die before beginning to pace again.

"Precisely why you should work harder at controlling your blood lust," a different member of the group said as he sat in a chair near the wall. The aura of power and control surrounded him. "You do remember what happened when you lost your temper that time in the Organian sector?"

"Arrgh," Kor roared, reaching for his disruptor, but finding only an empty holster. Instead he pulled his taj, his dagger, the only weapon allowed into the Emperor's fortress, the blood letting side blades clicking into position immediately. "You do well not to bring that up, Kang." There was murder in his eyes.

Kang remained in his seat, a smile spreading across his face. "Save it for the Kh'myr, Kor. Would you do their work for them?" He laughed in the face of Kor's glowering temper.

The fourth member of the group put his arm around Kor's shoulders. "Come, my friend. Save this for Khalian."

Kor turned on him, shrugging of the arm. Using the taj as he would his finger in a more peaceful situation, he shook its razor sharp point only micro-kams from his nose. "You do well to watch your back, Kumara. Members of the council more powerful than you have fallen under Kh'myr intrigues."

Kumara laughed, then continued. "I might not wield the same power in the fleet as you and the others. What I lack in physical strength, I make up for up here." He pointed at his forehead, where the ridges of seniority were only just beginning to form. Not many Segh vav males survived long enough to boast these signs of age and wisdom, whereas the Kh'myr were born with them.

"That's right, Kor." Kang stood. "Let your mind be as strong as your power in the fleet, and we will still prevail here."

Kor grumbled, but relaxed. With the scraping sound of metal on metal, he reseated his taj. "I think you all take them far too casually."

"We take them for what they are: the curse of our species," Koloth responded, "unworthy of Kahless. But they hold power, so they must be dealt with." He would have continued, but the sound of voices coming from the hall leading to the throne room interrupted him. He tried to listen to their conversation, then shook his head when he couldn't understand.

Kumara saw Koloth's perplexed look and chuckled. "They use the guttural pIqaD language they've invented almost exclusively now. I hear it more and more in the market places."

"Positions. We must present a solid front," Kang ordered, standing at strict attention in his position on the right side of the aisle, on the arc made by the semicircle of stone on the floor below the dais. "Ignore their entrance, as Kahless ignored the yotlh Ha'DIbaH."

Kor grumbled again, but took up his place next to Kang, with Koloth to his right and finally Kumara on the end. The stood facing the throne, their backs arrogantly displayed to those just about to enter the room.


"I hope you know what you're doing, Khalian," Chang asked as they walked down the hallway toward the doorway to the Emperor's throne room.

"Hah! General Chang, you let your Segh vav half get in the way. Of course, I know what I'm doing!"

Chang studied Admiral Khalian closely. He was pure Kh'myr, taller and heavier than he, for that matter, than any of the Segh vav. The Kh'myr were the products of a genetic engineering project intended to improve the Klingon species. He wasn't really sure if the results could be considered all that much of a success.

In the Segh vav, the pattern of ridges on your forehead would mean that you had survived to middle age and wisdom. In your case, Khalian, I'm not sure being born with them means being born wise, Chang thought as he continued his conversation. "Intentionally delaying the Emperor might be construed as a challenge, Khalian."

"I do not worry about that, Chang. I gain power within the fleet with each day."

Chang glanced back at the third member of their party, Admiral Kusan, also a full Kh'myr, although in the past decade, a moderate toward the Segh vav. He shrugged, concluding the conversation as they approached the guarded door. "My sources don't give you this much support, Admiral," Chang warned.

"You mean your spies?" It didn't surprise him that Chang was keeping an eye on him. Klingons didn't rise to positions of authority by not being aware of what their peers were up to. "They see only what I want them to see." So keep your comments to yourself, half-breed, he thought as he pretended to ignore Chang.

"Halt!" The throne room guards, two massive Segh vav warriors, stepped in front of Khalian's party, their BatlhloH's held to the admiral's throat.

Qu'valth, Khalian's done it this time, thought Chang as he waited to see what Khalian would do.

"What's the meaning of this?" Khalian said, shifting from the Kh'myr dialect to that of High Klingon. "I am Admiral Khalian, one of the emperor's chancellors and ordered here for a meeting."

"The Emperor's law forbids your disruptor in the fortress."

Chang looked at Khalian's weapon belt and saw the offending side-arm still in its holster. He shook his head. Of all the arrogant stunts, he thought. He knows that, and yet he tried to bring it in anyway.

"Place it onto the table to your right." The guards held their weapons at Khalian's throat.

Khalian growled, his hand going to the hand-grips of the weapon.

"Hah!" The guard leader bracketed Khalian's throat just below his jaw in the upper tangs of the BatlhloH. "Take care, Admiral. I would hate to see your Kh'myr head messing up the floor of my station."

Chang saw in the guard's eyes that this was a lie. He would like nothing better than to rid the Empire of this admiral. Glancing at Khalian, he saw something other than submission, and before Khalian could do anything rash, grabbed the disruptor from its holster, and placed it on the table. "There."

A disruptor beamed lanced down from the ceiling to destroy the weapon.

"Why you, Segh vav scum!" Khalian's left hand began to pull his taj, but Kusan stopped his hand.

"Not now, Khalian. Cool your temper," Kusan whispered in Khalian's ear. "You act without honor!"

"You'd better listen to him, Admiral," the guard said derisively. "I can still remove that ridged head of yours for you, and be completely within my rights."

"And my family would revenge me on yours," Khalian sputtered.

"At quite a cost, I assure you," the guard bantered.

This is getting us nowhere, thought Chang. "Come, Khalian. The Emperor waits."

"Precisely, Chang, and this Segh vav petaQ has delayed us." Khalian watched the guard withdraw back to his post. Then, loud enough for everyone in the throne room and the hall to hear, he threatened him. "I am a chancellor to the Emperor, and you have delayed me. Wait till I inform him."

The guard continued to stare forward.

Khalian growled, then stormed into the throne room.

Kusan was the last to enter and stopped by the guard for only a moment. They made eye contact and a quick set of hand signals passed between them. The guard nodded toward a spot where the ceiling met the walls of the hall. Kusan looked and saw a sensor mounted there.

"I suspect he already knows," Kusan grumbled under his breath as he joined the others.


Kudan Kuras, emperor of the Klingon species and a direct descendant of the great Kahless. Latest in a long line of Segh vav, he was of an age where the ridges of wisdom should have begun wrinkling his brow, but his forehead remained nearly smooth, a desired result of generations of controlled matings by the royal household.

"They grow more powerful every day, voq'jup. I wish father had destroyed them when they first emerged." he said to the figure sitting in a chair nearby.

"You must look further back than that to place the blame, voDleH. They were already a powerful presence in the military when he ascended to the throne." the other said in a tone of voice designed to calm Kudan Kuras. "Despite all their faults, the Kh'myr are fearless warriors, and gain much loyalty even in the ranks of the Segh vav. Your father knew this and was wise in not antagonizing them."

"They are no longer satisfied with just existing. Admiral Khalian would have my throne."

"You are most wise in seeing that. Knowing this, you must always be alert and keep his ranks filled with spies," the other said.

"Oh, I do, voq'jup, I do. Nothing Khalian does goes unnoticed, but that half-breed Chang is another problem." Kudan Kuras shrugged his shoulders, resetting the armor on his shoulders.

"General Chang is a survivor, voDleH. His loyalties are only for those that are strong. He is the one to watch, joHwI', but the easiest to control. Always approach him from a position of strength, and he will remain loyal." The other stood in front of the emperor, reached up and straightened the golden circlet on Kudan Kuras' head.

Walking to the door that entered the throne room, the Emperor took possession of the royal scepter. Nearly a full kam long, the scepter was in reality the strike tooth of the last Qo'noS Dun'ghargh, a Klingon dragon, to exist. Legend had it that Kahless had killed the beast whose tooth had been carved to make the scepter. Carved into its root was the handle which fit Kudan Kuras' hand perfectly.

The Emperor started to open the door, heard an argument between the waiting chancellors, and shut it again quietly. "Curse all Kh'myr and the Segh vav females that mate with them."

"My mother mated with one, voDleH," the other reminded Kudan Kuras.

The emperor's face relaxed into a smile as he made eye contact, "Yes, I know, but you are my voq'jup, my trusted friend. I have listened to your wisdom since we were both still whelps, running around this fortress, getting into mischief and surviving. Everything you say and counsel, I know I will benefit from." He reached out and laid his left hand on the other's shoulder. "I trust my back to your care."

"Thank you, voDleH. I serve." The other bowed his head.

"Stay here and observe the meeting on the screen," Kudan Kuras said as he again opened the door. "I will need your advice on what transpires here today."


Kirk looked at his reflection in the long mirror on the wall and shook his head. Looking back at him was an aging Starfleet officer. The body was still in superb shape: strong and healthy. But there were new wrinkles on the face and legions of gray hair he could no longer control. The maroon blazer and white, french cut shirt was his favorite, because the design of its cut drew the eye to the body and away from the face.

He wasn't sure if he liked it now, as for the third time he pulled at it in a vain attempt to straighten it. Chuckling, he realized that it wasn't any better now than it had been the last time he had worked on it. Smoothing down his thinning hair with his hand he talked to himself. "Well, Squirt," he recalled the nickname his older brother had given him when they had both been young and still living on the farm in Iowa, "you're acting just like a teenager again. It hasn't been that long since you had a date, has it?"

The figure in the mirror nodded.

Looking at his chronometer, he noted the time. Better get a move on, Jim, he thought as he hurried away from the mirror into the kitchen. You've only got twenty minutes before you're supposed to pick up Uhura.

"Menu," he said to the BellComm, a small monitor on its face rewarded him with a listing of its functions. "Commodities, please." The screen listed the subjects available. "Floral." The admiral had said informal, which really meant semi-formal. He wasn't sure whether a corsage would be appropriate for the occasion, but, as he searched through the displays, he decided he didn't care what was appropriate. He wanted to give Uhura a corsage.

An arrangement he thought would especially please her caught his gaze. "Rose Classic," he ordered. Instantly, his request was sent to the processing computer, and moments later, the familiar hum of a transporter indicated the completion of his order. Reaching into the chamber, he pulled out his order. Small white buds of baby's breath perfectly complimented the deep red color of the three roses. Admiring it, he knew his choice had been a good one.

Heading for the door, he was again waylaid by the mirror on the wall. Nervously he attempted to straighten his coat.

Kirk's apartment was on the thirty-second floor of a complex at the edge of the bay. Though it wasn't far as the crow flies to Uhura's apartment, he had chosen to take a circuitous route that took him through a park.

Kirk noted the coloring of the evening sky. It's going to be a glorious sunset. How does that phrase go? He thought for a moment as he crossed over a small bridge that took him onto an island in the center of an enormous tropical fish pond. Red at night, sailor's delight. His mind wandered to Uhura, and he wondered if that pertained to relations as well.

Bordering the walkway was a stand of very tall hardwoods, surrounded in turn by open, grassy fields. Park benches had been placed inside the tree line and at the island's edge. This was a favorite haunt for the younger residents. In fact, a few hardy souls had already laid claim to their favorite spots. Looking at his chronometer, Kirk quickened his pace.

It didn't take long to locate the door with the words, "Commander Penda Nyota Uhura, U.S.S. Enterprise," on it. Straightening his coat one last time, he pressed the button to announce his presence. "Come in, sir," he heard as the door swished to the side. Kirk had to keep himself from gaping like a schoolboy as the ebony beauty came to meet him. He had never seen her so radiant.

Uhura was wearing a long, beige, formal dress designed to accentuate those properties of her physique she knew were still her best. The sash she wore bore symbols Kirk assumed came from her African heritage. The long dress covered her completely, yet here and there, it allowed just a hint of the body it covered. Kirk started to straighten his coat again.

Uhura gathered up a light shawl from the back of a lounge chair and approached the stunned captain. His reaction satisfied her. Just to accentuate it, she stopped and twirled around to give him a full dose. He was wearing an outfit she had seen him in many times before. It fit well, accentuating the lines of his strong, mature body. Glancing down at her dress, she broke the ice. "You don't think this is too formal do you, sir?"

Kirk's gaze locked with hers as he answered, "I think it will be just fine. It's beautiful." Then remembering the corsage, he took it from the box. "I'm glad I picked the roses; they'll match your dress perfectly." With a little bit of trepidation, he pinned the corsage to the dress just above her left breast.

Uhura looked admiringly at the flowers in the mirror. "I think they're beautiful. Thank you." A strong urge to run over and embrace him coursed through her as she sensed his admiring gaze on her. She had trouble dampening it as she turned toward the door. "Shall we go?"

In no time, they had reached the building and the corridor where the Commander-Starfleet made his home. A short line of people stood waiting to enter. From the open door, they could hear light music and the low rumble of on-going conversations.

After a short wait, they reached the door and entered the apartment's foyer. To their left was a small table, flanked by two antique chairs. On the table was a small lamp and a decorated wicker basket that was slowly filling up with calling cards--an antiquated tradition, started further back then anyone could remember. Kirk reached into a pocket, procured his card and dropped it into the basket. Uhura followed suit.

They stepped forward, entering the reception line to be greeted by their hosts, Admiral Cartwright and his wife, Ella. "You remember Jim Kirk, don't you, Ella?" Cartwright introduced Kirk to his wife. Another antiquated formality.

"Oh, yes." Ella looked at Kirk, a mischievous twinkle in her eye. "I remember him well." Not nearly as dark as Uhura, Ella Cartwright proudly traced her family heritage back to the Moors of Northern Africa. Then she began to pout just a little. "Who is this with you, Jim?"

The admiral didn't miss his wife's teasing.

"Admiral, Ella, I'd like to introduce Commander Nyota Uhura, my chief communications officer," Kirk said.

Admiral Cartwright nodded, an appreciative look on his face, but Ella was the one to comment. "I can well understand why that's her calling. Thank you for coming to the party."

Kirk and Uhura moved on, to be replaced by the next couple in the receiving line. The large front room had an expansive window overlooking San Francisco's bay. The center of the room was now empty, the furniture that normally occupied the space arranged around the edges. At present, friends and compatriots renewed old acquaintances. In the center of the nearby dining room was a large table, covered with an array of hoers d'oeuvres and sweets.

Kirk and Uhura mixed in with the other officers. When a group with so many common interests got together, it was impossible not to talk shop. In no time, they had found a group of officers they knew and had joined them in conversation. Having Uhura here made it easier for Kirk, since she readily became involved in the same discussions he did.

As he watched her recount one of her adventures as the commander of the Sadat, he found himself looking forward to the next two weeks with her family. At first, he'd been a little apprehensive about spending so much time in someone else's home, but last night's outing and tonight's party were easing these concerns.

The apartment's entertainment system began playing dance music, and, as couples gravitated to the dance floor, Kirk and Uhura found themselves among them. Surprisingly, it was one of Kirk's favorites. Then he realized that it was a song he and Ella had listened to often during their time in the Academy. As the wife of the Commanding Admiral of Starfleet, it was her informal duty to match all single officers with someone special. Searching the room, he finally located her, and the smile on her face betrayed her involvement. Noticing his gaze, she winked.

Uhura loved to dance, and the slow, three quarter time piece was also one of her favorites. As they moved across the floor, her mind reviewed the recent turn of events. She always looked forward to time spent with her folks, but now she had an even better reason to anticipate it. Uncertain at the time of her ground concerning her invitation, she was glad Kirk had accepted. She wasn't sure how he would react to the rugged life on a working ranch. But, he did grow up on a farm, she reminded herself, and that's not so much different.

Strong feelings, long stored away, warmed her heart, then she remembered his fanatical love for his command and it cooled. However, near the conclusion of this last mission, she had also noticed a change in him. While his decisions were still lightning quick and intuitively correct, and his tactical genius had gotten them through more tight spots than was decent to mention, his enthusiasm for it was waning. It was as if he had finally become weary of the constant day-to-day pressure. This, along with the tenderness he had shown her these past two days, fueled the hope that a previously unreachable dream just might be coming true.

The music played continuously, and each song seemed a favorite. The atmosphere was right, the lights low, and the dance floor not too crowded or too open. The bond between the commander and her captain grew stronger as they circled the dance floor, forgetting their professional relationship, letting the stress and strain of the last few years drain away.

Within no time, Uhura, whose voice and singing abilities were famous over the subspace channels, was humming in tune with the music. Kirk loved her voice and never missed a chance to hear it on the recreation deck. It vibrated throughout his being, his soul. He slipped through the final transition from starship commander to lover as they glided over the floor, oblivious to the others around them.


Later, Kirk and Uhura left the party and found themselves heading back into the park. The night sky was flawlessly clear and full of stars. With just a hint of a warm breeze to stir the leaves, and the chirp of crickets, the couple strolled the empty walk.

Uhura noticed the sky and allowed her mind to replace these northern latitude constellations with those over her African birthplace. There would be the Centaur and Cross, the constellations that had guided her ancestors. It was so beautiful and perfect. The two found a spot and sat in one of the park's numerous grassy glades.

"You know if you take away the apartments on the skyline and a few of the trees, this is not unlike where we will be tomorrow night," she said, cuddling up close.

"Is that right? I thought your home would be drier--all savanna." Changing the subject, he asked what had been in the back of his mind ever since she had invited him. "Does the animal reserve near your home have any lions?"

"Yes, but they're strictly controlled on the reserves." She now felt comfortable with dropping the formalities and omitted the customary, "sir."

"I'd like to see them while we're there; I've never seen Terran lions in the wild," Kirk said, dreamily. "Only in zoos."

"Done, Jim. If that's all you want while we're there, this is going to be easy." But she knew there would be more and looked forward to it.

"Well, I'm sure there will be more. Actually, I would really enjoy an uneventful, quiet time with you." Kirk put his arm around her, sharing his warmth.

Kirk was thoroughly enjoying himself. Peace and quiet had been such a rare thing in his life, and he had always dreamed of that beach where he could walk and enjoy doing nothing. In the last few years, this dream had been recurring and growing in intensity. Only now, he couldn't imagine that walk without this beauty at his side. Was Uhura what the dream had been missing?

"We'd better be leaving, if we're going to be ready for our trip tomorrow," Kirk said after what seemed an eternity. "Nyota, I'm looking forward to the visit." Especially with you, he thought as he looked into her eyes.

"Me, too. I can't remember when I've enjoyed myself more than tonight." Uhura smiled contentedly.

As they got up, her hand in his felt normal as they slowly made their way to her quarters. The walk back went undisturbed. The slight fog of deepening night and the cool moist air caused the couple to cuddle closer. Too soon, they reached the boundaries of the park.

Outside her quarters, she faced him. "Would you like to come in for coffee, Jim?"

"Sounds good, Nyota, but I'll have to take a rain check. Thank you for the offer, though." It would have been nice to spend the night with her, but his reaction to her closeness was not just physical but psychological as well. The affection he felt was the kind that could wait. For now, he would just enjoy the closeness of their embrace as they kissed each other good night.

Kirk barely noticed the walk back to his quarters as he relived the night's events. Bones, he thought, you couldn't have prescribed a better treatment.


The sun rose from behind the treeline in a fiery display that reflected reds, oranges and deep yellows from the morning's clouds. Kirk had seen few better sunrises anywhere else in the galaxy.

The sky had still been dark when he had gotten up to pack his bags, then later he had noticed the gradual lightening of the sky and had decided to take a moment to relax on the balcony with a cup of coffee. Now what did that color in the morning predict for the weather? Kirk thought. Rain would be the forecast, as he remembered the ancient mariners poem. "The grass needs watering anyway," Kirk concluded as he noticed the banks of clouds that were massing on the horizon.

From his vantage point, Kirk could see the main walkway through the park and the heavy foot traffic on it. He was a little surprised that the majority were in civilian attire, only a scattering in Starfleet uniforms. Of course, he was a few kilometers from Headquarters and the Academy, and the new Cetacean Research Institute had been built next door. Add to that the Federation Council had been stressing exploration over defense. There was talk of a major study of gaseous anomalies in Federation territory involving hundreds of ships in the works, but that would be a few years hence. And the recent budget had made exploration and research a priority over defense.

Jim Kirk was pleased. The history books at the Academy showed how this had been Starfleet's original purpose, but then they had run into the aggressive Romulans and Klingons. Conflict with them had forced it to take on a more military role. Despite the treaties with the Romulans and Klingons, there were still hostilities present between the superpowers. Fortunately, the new Treaty of Xantharus had brought a major peace dividend. The Barrier patrol had been eliminated; the Orions and Gorn were now allies of the Federation. Eventually, even the Klingons and Romulans would realize that peace was the only way, but he doubted he would live to see it.

His only concern was that in its complacency the Federation would force Starfleet to shrink to a point where they would no longer be a viable defense to her borders. He was not naive enough to believe that the galaxy was no longer a dangerous place, especially just beyond the extent of their present exploration. He knew that the Federation would one day need Starfleet to defend it again and hoped they'd still be up to it when it happened. That was why, whenever the question of cutting the number of required tactics classes at the Academy came up, he made a point of voicing his opposition to it. Loudly.

The appearance of a uniformed figure on the walk approaching his quarters brought Kirk back to the real world. After a moment, he recognized the lean figure--Lieutenant Commander Shaun Kelsey.

Kirk had been following the younger man's career ever since he'd left the Enterprise. Kelsey got closer, and Kirk noticed something different on the young man's uniform. Well, will you look at that! he noticed the new pin on the jacket lapel, Shaun's been promoted to full commander!

Kirk's pride for the man he had 'taken under his wing' bloomed wide as he returned the wave he got. Opening his quarters' door, the captain waited in the hallway.

"I guess congratulations are in order," Kirk said as he shook Kelsey's hand. "When did they do this?" he asked, pointing at the new insignia pin.

"Last night, sir. Biggest surprise I have ever had, or I would have invited you. I guess Riley and Chekov were in on it, since they led me right into the promotion party." Shaking his head and smiling he recalled the festivities. "Captain Kirk, you've got to do something about those two." Then he smiled. "How're you doing, sir?"

"Can you eat?" Kirk asked, knowing what parties of this magnitude could do to one's stomach.

"Sir, I'm Irish." Kelsey patted his stomach. "Cast iron and always ready to go."

"So Riley has reminded me often enough," Kirk smiled as he led Kelsey down the hall. "There's a place nearby."

Kirk led him to a small café. It didn't have the menu range of a large restaurant, but for breakfast, it had always done nicely.

When they arrived they found an empty table and seated themselves. The table had a food servitor built right into it and would serve them much in the same way as the food servitor slots on a starship. The place was empty now, but if they'd come in here one hour earlier they would have had a hard time finding an open space. The café was popular with the Academy's students, who often came here, shoved food into their mouths, then rushed off for their first classes.

Jim Kirk looked over the menu and made his selection. While he waited, he continued his conversation. "So, did you three manage to stay out of trouble last night?"

"Yes, sir. Though we tried really hard to change that. Sometimes I think you couldn't pay to get into trouble around here." Chuckling, he winked.

Kirk removed the steaming plate of french toast and coffee. Kelsey put in his order for eggs over easy and some bacon. In a moment, he also had a steaming platter to work on.

"Did Riley and Chekov ever get back to the SpaceDock?" Kirk asked between mouthfuls.

"Sure did. I went with them. We had to wait almost an hour to get a transport, but once we got there it was worth it," Kelsey responded.

"Did you see anything you liked?" Kirk already knew the answer. On their way into Earth orbit, he had had Spock do a scan of the area. He had heard that they were finally starting construction on a new class of starship. In fact, he remembered reading through the initial specifications when he'd served on Admiral Morrow's staff.

The plan then had been to redesign and refit the present force for more sensors and less weaponry. The engineering staff had designed a smaller ship for just this purpose. From these orders, the new class of ship had been born. If the plans hadn't changed over the years, the new ship would be especially appealing to a young commander.

"You better believe it, sir. They have a new class of starship called a corvette. It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. They took a destroyer-class ship and streamlined the saucer portion into a triangular shape, sort of like the head of a Terran viper, and though she still has the same number of phaser batteries as the destroyer, they've mounted a stanchion above the saucer, just like on the Reliant...excuse me, Miranda-class frigates, and get this..." Kelsey shoved in a final forkful of food and swallowed it hastily. " has mounts for ten torpedo tubes."

"Sensor mounts," Kirk interrupted, "not torpedo tubes."

Kelsey smirked. "Yeah, I know, but I'll bet that could be changed quickly if Starfleet needed the additional fire power. What I wouldn't give to be assigned to one of those ships. Better yet, to somehow get command of one." The excitement of the young officer radiated from him as he described it.

Kirk remembered his first opinion of the new corvettes. They had seemed too small and fragile to withstand the kind of pounding any encounter with an enemy, the Klingons, for example, could produce. He hoped it would prove itself useful with its speed and mobility. "I had hoped you would want to be protected by a little more armor, but I agree with you on one point: they are sweet little things. I suppose if I were your age again, I would be just as eager to get one myself."

Jumping to the small craft's defense Kelsey's intensity increased. "But, sir, don't you see? What they lack in bulk, they more than make up for in speed and agility. You can't hit what isn't there, and the damage you could do with those weapons! My God, just imagine what a broadside from a full set of tubes would do."

Kirk hoped, like every other senior officer of Starfleet, that they would never actually need this potential fire power. Changing the subject, he addressed Kelsey's next assignment. "So you're off to check up on the Gorn tomorrow."

"Yes, sir." Kelsey's sagging composure told the whole story. "It's a boring assignment, but I guess someone has to do it. If we're lucky, someone might try to smuggle some contraband by, or maybe a pirate will try to take a cargo ship."

"Yeah, maybe," Kirk countered, "but I wouldn't count on it. Not much happens with the Orions and Gorn these days. The treaty's brought peace. But there are always the Klingons, Tholians and Romulans. They always provide someone with a little excitement, if you can call wanton destruction excitement."

"Isn't that the truth?" Kelsey sighed with anticipated boredom. Their breakfast was just about finished and the coffee running out. "It was nice of you to invite me for breakfast, sir."

"You be careful out there." Kirk felt a lump forming in his throat. He liked this man.

"Actually," interjected Kelsey, "you need that advice more than I do, since you're usually the one catching the flack from the few that sneak through."

"Yeah, that's true, too. Hey, did I tell you I'm spending my R and R with Commander Uhura's family?"

"No, you didn't." Kelsey leered ever so slightly. "That sounds like fun." He could see that there was more to it than just a visit by the distracted look on Kirk's face.

In a moment, Kirk's thoughts returned to the present as he remembered Kelsey's last comment, if not the leer. "Yeah, it does, and I'd best be going if I'm going to get everything done before it's time to leave. You have to catch a transport to your ship." As both got up, he offered his hand. "Good luck, Commander Kelsey and take care."

"I will, and you follow that advice yourself. Lord knows you need to." Kelsey got up and shook Kirk's hand, then left. Kirk watched the younger officer leave and followed his progress until he entered the wood line. To himself, he made a comparison: He's a lot like me.

Kirk took out a dull gray wafer that was one inch wide and two inches long, with his name and rank inscribed on it. The wafer was a data record of how many credits Jim Kirk had in his account. Every Federation planet had incorporated this means of monetary representation for its citizens, and all had adopted the use of credits as the prime monetary unit. Every citizen of working age had a similar wafer. Placing it into the slot at the table, the central computer on board would record the debit and automatically subtract it from his account. A light came on for less than a second then went out, the transaction completed.

Well, thought Kirk, it's back to packing. This is one date I am not going to be late for. He left the diner to return to his quarters.


Kirk sat in a saddle mounted onto a well-mannered gelding Uhura's father had picked out for him. He still remembered all the riding lessons he had learned as a youth on an Iowa farm, but they hadn't helped him at all when the animal had suddenly shied from the scurrying snake, dumping him to the ground.

Fortunately, the fall hadn't hurt anything but his pride, and the poor horse had looked so downcast about his sudden lack of control. Kirk rubbed his bruised shoulder.

They had arrived about mid-afternoon the day before. Uhura's parents had met them at the transporter station with the ground transport necessary to finish the trip to the ranch. Kirk immediately liked Kirim Uhura and quickly developed a respect for the rugged rancher. Despite the advancement of his years and his obvious success as a businessman, the man had not let his body soften, nor did he look anywhere near the age he had to be.

To complement Nyota's father, was Myra, her mother. It was quickly obvious to Kirk where Nyota had gotten her seemingly ageless beauty. Despite time's best efforts, the woman retained the qualities that had probably driven men wild in her early years.

It hadn't taken them long to reach the Uhura homestead, with its sprawling single story house and numerous outbuildings. Surrounding the buildings was a large expanse of pasture and the largest herd of horses Kirk had ever seen. Kirim had taken Kirk on a tour of the site, while Myra and Nyota prepared the evening meal.

They watched a foal's humorous first steps in life, and Kirim had introduced Kirk to the king of the pasture and Kirim's pride and joy. Prancing around the pasture, with his head and tail held high, had been the most magnificent Arabian stallion Kirk had ever seen. The sun glistened off his dark red coat. His long black mane, tail and the four black socks that reached to his knees, complemented the coat perfectly.

The evening meal had been exquisite, each item either home-grown or raised on the ranch. As the sun began to set, a cool breeze began to give relief to the afternoon's heat. Designed to take advantage of nature's cooling element, the house allowed a breeze to circulate through every room.

Across the west face of the house was a large, covered porch and, to Kirk's surprise, a swinging bench. When he thought about it, the swing's presence shouldn't have been that much of a surprise, since Nyota's parents were traditional in every other aspect of their life style. As the sun slowly set, Nyota and he had settled into the swing to enjoy the flaming colors that illuminated the horizon.

Kirk noted the conspicuous absence of Nyota's parents and privately thanked them for this courtesy. As the night's darkness closed in on the Uhura ranch, they recalled all the places they'd seen and adventures they'd participated in over their years together. It was a pleasant surprise to rediscover how exciting and unique their lives really were.

As the hours advanced, the temperature dropped, giving them good reason to snuggle close. As he sat on the swing with Nyota's head on his chest, he finally felt that he belonged. For the first time since losing Sam, Jim Kirk felt like there was a family who cared about him. Leaning his head on top of hers, he embraced this feeling and made it a part of him. Nyota's family would be his and his hers.

Just before they had turned in for the night, he had located the star called Tau Lacertae and wondered about the disturbing things Admiral Cartwright had mentioned to him. What was going on in that part of the galaxy? He knew that if they stayed up a while longer the Klingon home world's star would rise, and he wondered if that was the source of the Gorn question.

Kirk's wandering mind returned to the present as Kirim brought their horses to a halt on a hilltop overlooking an open, grassy plain. Evidently, this had been where he had thought the lions would be. Kirim had known the pride's approximate location, explaining that the pride usually spent the day in a particular grove of trees located in the middle of the plain. Today, though, there was only one female with four cubs tumbling over her in the grove's shade.

"What a piece of luck, Jim. The rest must be hunting." Kirim scanned the horizon for signs of the herd animals the pride would be stalking. In the distance, a large mixed herd of zebra and wildebeest moved onto the grassy plain. "Come on, everyone. We don't want to miss this." They mounted their horses and headed out.

In an hour, they had reached a point on another hill where they could see the entire herd as it spread out over a large area of the savanna. True to Kirim's prediction, the lions were there as well, and busy.

Kirk had read that, unlike other big cats on Earth, the lion hunted and traveled in groups, or prides. He watched fascinated as the pride laid a cunning ambush. The females circled the herd, hiding themselves downwind of their prey. A single male headed in the opposite direction, upwind and in full view of the grazing animals. Suddenly, the male turned and rushed the herd. In their panic, the animals fled straight into the midst of the waiting females. They pulled down two of the weaker zebras.

While the lions enjoyed the results of their hunt, the Humans decided to eat the lunch they had brought. They chose a large grove of trees with a commanding view of the plain to picket the horses under and set up the meal.

The lion's tactics excited Kirk. "You know, I've seen hunts like that in the ship's computer library, but it doesn't have the same impact as witnessing it live. I suppose you must have problems with them around your cattle."

"Not really, Jim." Kirim returned. "We maintain a boundary of sonics, like the ones we're wearing. My hands ride this boundary continually, repairing and replacing defective units. I rarely lose cattle to animal predators."

After lunch, Uhura's parents left Kirk and her alone together. Nyota had obviously been here before, and she took Kirk on a tour of its natural wonders.

He was extremely aware of her physical closeness during the tour. Walking side by side, he couldn't imagine her anywhere else as their hands found each other. They settled in a pleasant spot under the spreading limbs of a large tree. The warm afternoon, with its pleasant breeze, and the ride up, lent itself to just sitting and enjoying the tranquility. Both felt as though time was standing still, giving them a sense of eternity. The mood filled them as they sought the intimacy of each other's embrace.

Uhura reveled in his embrace, relishing the intensity he displayed. In fact, now that she thought about it, he had been ravenously devouring everything involving her family ever since his arrival. At first surprised by it, she began to associate it with the darkness of his family's history. Kirk's father had died in Starfleet service, and his mother had died barely ten years ago after a fire had gutted the Kirk homestead. His brother Sam and his wife had fallen prey to the stinging cells of a giant brain colony. Kirk's own son, David, had died at the hands of the Klingons on the Genesis planet, and because of this, Carol Marcus, David's mother, had dropped from sight. Also among the effectively missing were Jim's oldest and youngest nephews, both of whom had turned their backs on their name and family for different reasons. The once thriving Kirk family was now down to James Kirk and the middle nephew, Peter. Clearly, Peter's brothers had wanted nothing to do with the Kirk family, and the cousins running the farm wanted even less.

Reflecting on this helped her to understand what Kirk must be feeling. He was a struggling star in a dying galaxy, an aging light that no one could see anymore. Thinking about this depressed and amazed her. How did he survive this darkness? she thought as she tried to absorb the loneliness of his soul. She would lead him into the light and warmth of her bright universe.

She kissed him fully and long, and he responded in kind. The sunny hilltop disappeared as they concentrated only on each other's pleasure. The warm air of the savanna became their clothes. Unafraid of the darkness that surrounded him, she entered his galaxy and joyously joined with him.

A new star appeared in Kirk's life, inviting him into hers. As with a confidence she rarely felt, she led him out of the darkness and into the warmth and light she thrived in. Immediately, the light of the star that was Jim Kirk strengthened and bloomed.


"Are you calling me a coward, Admiral Khalian?!" Kor stood nose to nose with his adversary, his taj already halfway cleared from its sheath.

"If the gauntlet fits, wear it, Admiral Kor."

"Aargh!" Kor roared, shoving Khalian back. The sound of metal-on-metal announced the freeing of his taj.

"Yap!" came the command from the dais.

Two heavily armored guards inserted themselves between the two combatants before Khalian could clear his weapon.

"What you do on your time is your business, but I will not have my chancellors killing themselves while in my throne room," Kudan Kuras said, insuring his tone got their attention. "Put away your weapons."

"But, sire, he challenges me," Khalian protested.

"You filthy petaQ. I will cut both your hearts out and feed them to the Kurnach non'porgh Sop." Kor lashed out unexpectedly at the guard holding him back, knocking him to the floor, then moved to finish Khalian. Two sets of strong hands caught and pulled him back to their side of the room. He looked around and found Kang and Koloth. "Let me go; I will rid us of this filth."

"Yes, let him go," Khalian stood unmoving behind his guard, laughing. "I will add another Segh vav to the permanently retired list."

"I say it again. Yap. Enough." Kudan Kuras struck the dais with his scepter, the booming sound resonating throughout the hall.

Khalian turned his back on the guard and rejoined his colleagues, standing very close to General Chang, whispering to him, his back turned to the Emperor. "I almost had him."

"So it seems," Chang responded.

"If it hadn't been for the weakling on the throne, we could have put another Kh'myr on the council."

"Or allowed them to put another Segh vav in your place," Kusan interrupted. "Not that would be a bad thing." Even though he ws Kh'myr, Kusan held some Segh vav, especially Kang, Kor and Koloth, in high esteem.

Khalian glared at his fellow Kh'myr. "You don't think I could have taken that fat, bar-sitting, song-singing, whoring, has-been, Admiral Kusan?"

"He is a formidable warrior when aroused, Khalian," Kusan responded. "He's killed his fair share of Kh'myr and Segh vav alike for lesser offenses than what you give him."

Khalian growled, then retorted. "And you think I'm less than he? Be careful, Kusan; I have doubted your loyalties for the past decade. Pray that you don't cross the line with me."

Chang put himself between the two, gaining eye contact with Khalian. "He's a loyal Kh'myr, Khalian, but we need you alive and unhurt if we are to truly gain control of the council. Your support in the military is crucial to our cause, and Kor might have gotten in a lucky blow."

"You treat me like an un-blooded adolescent."

As your actions show, Chang thought, then continued. "I promise you a vacancy soon, Khalian. Be patient. First, let's get this meeting over with."

Khalian chuckled evilly, "And I promise you one as well."

Chang didn't like the sound of that.

When will I have a chancellor's meeting free of internal conflict? thought the emperor as Khalian's Kh'myr colleagues counselled him. On the other side of the dais, he saw how Admiral Kang was doing the same for Kor. I hope they talk some sense into those hot heads, and we can complete this meeting. Without their military support on this question, which ever way I go with it, the Klingon Empire cannot get anything done.Then he remembered the special guest that was waiting in the room's ante-chamber. And then there's him. What an explosion his presence will cause.

"This is not the time or the place, Kor," Kang counselled his old friend.

"Do we not want to be rid of them?" Kor retorted, still trying to break away from their combined grasp. "I cannot fathom why you interceded, Kang. Have you yourself forgotten the torment you faced at their hands on Kragyr? You were imprisoned, my friend, and I managed to liberate you while Koloth managed to get you an Imperial pardon."

As Kang's face darkened, Koloth interjected, "Think about it, Kor. We represent the honor of theSegh vav and therefore the emperor. Do not disgrace him here in his throne room by spilling Khalian's filthy blood on these stones."

"Harumph, ahhh, errgh," Kor grumbled, finally trying to get his temper under control, the long mustache that started just above the corners of his mouth and ending well below his chin puffed out with each breath. He felt the pressure of their hands lessen, and he shook them free. "Very well. I will wait, but, I swear by Kahless himself, I will have Khalian's head."

"When the time is right, Kor," Kang assured him, "I will watch your back when you do." He struck him hard on the back plates of his armor. "For now, let us hear what Kudan Kuras wants."

The two parties lined up, back in their places in front of the dais. Kor and Khalian still glared at each other, but were making no more aggressive moves.

"Are you two finished?" Kudan Kuras asked impatiently.

"Yes, sire," Kor and Khalian grumbled.

"Good. I need your advice on a course of action that may well decide the destiny of the Empire for many generations," Kudan Kuras began.

It got the attention of both parties, petty power struggles forgotten. Kh'myr and Segh vav could be guaranteed to agree on only one subject--the survival and success of the Klingon Empire.

"I have a report from the scout force that covertly watch the Gorn. It seems that a very large military force is conquering them." Kudan Kuras motioned toward a viewscreen on the right wall of the room. "Chu'."

The screen came to life revealing a large force of tri-spherical Gorn cruisers. Surrounding and moving through them at will was an even larger force, methodically reducing their numbers. It was obvious what the outcome of the battle was going to be. The screen went blank.

"The Gorn have never been anything but a thorn in our side, sire," Khalian commented, shrugging. "Their loss will be of no concern to us."

"I do not recognize those craft," Kang responded. "Does intelligence know where they came from?"

"Very good question, Admiral," the Emperor said. "And, no they don't. Nor can the scouts ascertain this valuable piece of information, yet. They have their orders to search out the attacker's point of entry into Gorn space."

"In what direction does the attacker push the Gorn defense?" Chang asked from the Kh'myr side of the dais.

Good, thought Kudan Kuras, they're thinking along the same lines. "Chu'", he again pointed at the screen.

It came to life, this time detailing the sector of the galaxy held by the Gorn. A red arrow that came from off the right side of the screen moved across the screen toward the left.

"Do you all recognize where this is going?" Kudan Kuras asked.

The entire assemblage answered nearly as one. "The Federation."

All present in the room chuckled loudly and evilly. As their mirth abated, Kor asked, "There are no side attacks in our direction?"

"None reported, and the scouts have been watching very closely for them," the Emperor responded. "The attackers are single mindedly advancing toward the former Gorn/Federation border, destroying all resistance as they go."

"If they attack the Federation in force...then..." Chang's eyes filled with the fire of excitement.

"Exactly," Kudan Kuras interrupted him, "the Federation forces will be drawn from the Neutral Zone to defend in this other sector."

"And we could scoop up the systems they leave behind. They would be defenseless, and we could extend the Empire deep within their frontier," Koloth finished the proposal.

"Praise Kahless!" Kor roared to the ceiling. "We have them by the balls this time, sire!"

"What about the Romulans?" This question came from someone who had been quiet up till now--Admiral Kumara.

The room silenced as the emperor smiled. Thank you, Kumara, my faithful Segh vav leader. You have unknowingly introduced an aspect of this meeting I had feared I would have to bring up, he thought. "And what about the Romulans?"

"We could maintain our defenses on the Romulan border and still attack the Federation in force," Khalian announced.

"Yes, you may be right, but wouldn't it be nicer if we knew they wouldn't attack us while our attentions were elsewhere?"

Kudan Kuras made a slight hand signal to a guard standing by a small door off to the left of the dais. The guard opened the door and spoke quietly to someone inside. Two people entered the throne room--a young Klingon warrior and a person whose precise identity, other than being bi-pedal, a hooded cloak hid.

"Duran, would you introduce your guest to the High Council?" Kudan Kuras suggested.

"Yes, sire," Duran's voice quavered. "Sire, and chancellors, through my family's ancient ties and friendship with their people, I would like to introduce you to," Duran paused, allowing the guest to remove the cloak, revealing who he was, "Legate Nanclus."

"Retired Legate, late of the Imperial Romulan fleet," Nanclus corrected Duran.

"RomuluSngan!" half the council roared.

"I remember this one," Kang growled menacingly. "He was responsible for the butchering of our colonies in the Kurishtakhan system. I swore vengeance for that one, Romulan."

Chang began laughing. "And he made you look like a fool doing it as I remember, Kang."

Kang turned his murderous glare on Chang.

Ghuy'cha, cursed Kudan Kuras, they're going to return to their rivalries even in the face of this important event. "Yup', I say. Put all past differences aside. What we do in the next month will determine future events for both our Empires."

"Yes, most noble emperor of our past allies, the Klingons, and his council of chancellors. We have an opportunity here that may never happen again." Nanclus tried to help Kudan Kuras keep the lid on the pressure cooker that was the council.

Kang put aside his vengeance, at least for now. "I will let him speak, but, if it isn't worth the time he wastes, I will kill him right here, right where he stands."

Nanclus nodded and proceeded. "I have the permission of my Praetor to make this offer. We promise not to attack the Klingon Empire while they attack the Federation."

"What will you be doing while we've got our backs turned, eh, petaQ?" Khalian demanded.

"The Federation has territory we would take as well," Nanclus responded. "So you see, the treaty benefits us both by allowing us to concentrate all our attentions on the Federation."

"And what territory within the Federation do you claim?" Kor growled.

Already, like carrion birds, they fight over the dead body of an enemy that hasn't died yet,thought Kudan Kuras. I knew this would happen, as I knew they would all see the opportunity we have against the Federation. But not even the best of them is as intelligent as 'voq jup'. He gave me the alternative that would truly guarantee the future of the Empire. Surreptitiously, he signaled to a hidden ally within the Kh'myr ranks. A slight nod of the head indicated to him that the other had seen. He watched the other go to work, talking into the ears of those that would listen.

For long moments, it appeared as if there would be violence. First against the Romulan legate, then internally. Kudan Kuras struck the dais floor again with his scepter. The room thundered with its basso beat, then quieted. "What is your counsel?"

"I say," Khalian was first to speak, "accept the Romulan offer. There is more than enough territory contained within the Federation for both the Romulans and us to share."

That drew a growl of agreement from Chang.

Kang stepped forward. "I disagree with Admiral Khalian. I do not trust the Romulans any further than I could throw one of their warbirds. I say, attack the Federation, but keep forces watching the Romulans as well. Who knows? Maybe we can take some of their territory as well."

That drew a scowl from Nanclus and growls of agreement from Kor, Koloth and Kumara.

"I disagree with both opinions," a single voice said from within the Kh'myr ranks, "and would like to offer a third option."

The correct trail will come from the pack, Kudan Kuras quoted Kahless to himself as he acknowledged the author. "And that is, Admiral Kusan?"

"Join the Federation in defeating these invaders," Kusan said. "It is the honorable thing to do."

"No!" both sides echoed amidst growls and threats, all except Kumara of the Segh vav.

Kudan Kuras waited until the row was about to get out of hand before using the scepter again. He waited till the room quieted, ignoring the looks of hatred and promised violence aimed at Kusan. "Reasons?"

Kusan stepped forward. "The scouts said the invaders are crushing the Gorn. That despite the Medusan technology of the Gorn ships. My question of this august body is: What happens after they crush the Federation? Will it matter if we manage to take territory, only to lose everything to these invaders? They will have no reason not to continue their acquisitions within our territory as well, or for that matter," Kusan looked at Nanclus and finished, "in Romulan space."

There was the rumble of discussion amongst the chancellors.

Kusan didn't wait for them to finish, "and what if we are successful in taking territory from the Federation and they defeat the invaders? How long will we hold it against them with the new technology and skills they will have gained from a military build up? Will they not give us territory, or better yet, concessions on future demands if they feel grateful, or feel in our debt? I say we might get more this way and keep it longer."

Admiral Kumara stepped forward from the ranks of the Segh vav. "I agree with Kusan. I have spent some time with the Humans, as all of you know. I say this not out of sentiment for them, but out of my hope that our Empire will benefit from our actions. We should help defeat these invaders."

Kang pulled the youngest member of the Segh vav element back into their ranks and talked quietly with him a moment, then to the rest. Khalian and the Kh'myr did likewise. The word "honor" spoken loudly by Koloth, Kor and especially Kang could be heard clearly during their discussion. Khalian and the Kh'myr did likewise, and Kudan Kuras could hear the words "honor" and "honorable" coming from Kusan's lips.

Kudan Kuras allowed the discussions to take place, waiting patiently. No matter what, he would make no decision. It would wait until their next meeting, but he would see where each of his chancellors stood on this question. When Chang took Nanclus off to the side, deep in conversation, the Emperor took special note. "Interesting..."

Khalian was first to step forward with an opinion. "I do not change my mind, sire. Accept the Romulan treaty and be ready to attack the Federation. Are we not Klingons? Do we not take what we need? We wait for no one to give us anything. It is ours, and we will take it."

The Kh'myr delegation lined up behind Khalian.

"Do you agree with this, Kusan?" Kudan Kuras asked.

"I but brought to light an alternative that needed to be explored. My loyalties have not changed," Kusan said. "The needs of the Empire are of paramount importance."

"I see," Kudan Kuras nodded acceptance, then turned to the Segh vav delegation. "Kang, what is your counsel?"

The leader of the Segh vav delegation took one step forward, hooked his thumbs in his weapons belt and spoke. "Though it pains me to admit it, Kumara has displayed an uncommon wisdom in this question and has convinced us that what Kusan has suggested is the wisest course. I and those that follow me," he emphasized, "will go to the assistance of the Federation, if the Emperor orders it."

"I've always said they were cowards," Khalian laughed.

With a growl, the entire Segh vav delegation moved menacingly toward the Kh'myr. Kudan Kuras stopped them in their tracks with one strike of the scepter. They all looked to him, waiting for a decision.

"The decision is mine to make," Kudan Kuras began, giving each chancellor a menacing look, "not yours. I thank you for your counsel and will remember each point of wisdom as I contemplate the problem. I will give you my decision tomorrow," he said as he turned to leave.

"But, sire!" Khalian spoke up, "Do we have enough time for this delay? We must be ready to strike as soon as the Federation's guard goes down!"

Kudan Kuras spun on his heal and directed the point of the scepter at Khalian. "Do you challenge me, Khalian?"

The big Kh'myr hesitated, not knowing if there was some sort of weapon hidden within the scepter.

For a moment, Kudan Kuras felt he would be attacked.

"No, sire," Khalian bowed his head, submitting.

"Return tomorrow, and I will announce my decision," Kudan Kuras concluded, dismissing them all. He heard Khalian's whispers as he walked through the door to his personal ante-chamber. It will all come to a head when next the twin suns of Qo'noS rise above the horizon, he thought as he left the throne room, walking up to voq jup, noting the smile on his face.


The U.S.S. Samson was at station keeping. Without its running lights, it was nearly invisible, a shadow on a flat black backdrop, sitting motionless along what used to be the Federation side of the Gorn Confederation border. The new treaty had eliminated those borders, bringing both the Gorn and the Orion-dominated Barrier Alliance into the Federation.

"Ship's Log, Stardate 8507.67, Standard hourly report.

"We're on monitoring silence, have been now for three days, and have nothing to report. Passive sensors pick up nothing but normal background noise. The subspace frequencies normally used by the Gorn remain empty. The stress of being constantly on yellow alert and at monitoring silence is beginning to tell on the crew. Tempers are becoming short, as is the attention span of those at their stations. Commander Kelsey, third shift commander, second officer, U.S.S. Samson. End log entry."

The navigation officer covered a huge yawn with his hand. Kelsey hated the graveyard shift. Even at the best of times, it was boring. In their present situation, it was pure hell. The ship had been stationary in their present position too long. Not even the starfield the visual sensors were sending to the bridge's main viewscreen changed. He thought about requesting a status update, but then remembered he'd just done that not more than five minutes earlier.

The helmsman yawned, and Kelsey noted that just about every other Human on the bridge was beginning to follow suit. Amazing, he observed to himself, how contagious that is, as he felt the beginnings of the urge form within himself, at least among the Humans anyway; the others seem immune. He succumbed, stretching at the same time. Damn, this is boring.

His mind wandered. Had it only been two weeks since that weekend on Earth? It sure seemed longer than that since Riley, Chekov and he had stood at SpaceDock, watching the construction on the new starship. What had Captain Kirk called them? he asked himself. Oh, yeah, 'Corvettes.' He could just imagine screaming along at warp speeds in one.

His mind was so deep in the land of his imagination that he missed the first set of dull flashes that broke the unchanging background of stars. Slowly, as they continued on a regular pattern, they registered on his consciousness. Then, an especially bright flash jerked him back to reality.

The science officer received the first warning buzzer on the sensor console. Kelsey watched as the other sat up and looked intently into the miniature viewer at his station, tuning the sensors onto a finer scale.

"Helm, give me maximum magnification," Kelsey ordered, instantly alert.

"Aye, sir."

The starfield shimmered and shifted, focusing on a column of tri-spherical starships. After so many hours and days with no sightings of the Gorn, they now had a column of what he recognized as their top class of capital ship--the hunt cruiser--just entering the maximum range of the Samson's passive sensors. Another brilliant flash, so brilliant that the visual sensors had to drop filters to keep from being damaged, occurred behind the column.

Kelsey paged Captain Janet Rachelson' quarters.

"What is it, Commander?" she answered sleepily.

"Sir, we have a column of Gorn approaching our position. They look like they're running from something. We have picked up multiple explosions occurring behind them."

"What kind?" Rachelson asked.

Kelsey looked at the science station with the same question in his eyes. The science officer had obviously heard the question. He turned on the intercom at his station and answered. "Sir, we're getting two types now; most are small and probably photon detonations. We witnessed one very large explosion, magnitude seven."

"How far away?"

"Maximum range," the science officer responded.

"The destruction of a Gorn hunt cruiser?" Rachelson asked.

"Or something of comparable size, sir."

"Report this to the Dominion, Kelsey, tightest directional beam. Continue to use passive sensors only. I'm on my way up. Rachelson out." The intercom went dead.

"You heard her, Communications; transmit present situation to Commander--Dominion. Ask for further instructions."

"Aye, sir."

Adrenalin coursed through Kelsey's bloodstream as he watched the screen.

Multiple sets of very intense explosions were now occurring regularly behind the incoming column. The Gorn changed their formation, every one but the lead ship breaking off, forming into a wide, wave-like rank. They slowed, turned and faced back the way they had come. Now there was only one cruiser left still headed toward them.

"Someone scanned us, sir," the science officer reported.

Kelsey nodded. "Frequency?"

"Standard Medusan. Point of origin," he paused to fine tune the Samson's sensor array, "the cruiser headed for the former border."

It changed course onto a heading straight for the Samson. Behind it, the Gorn line fired torpedoes back toward an unseen enemy.

"You are relieved, Mister Kelsey." Captain Rachelson was standing behind the conn. Enthralled by what was transpiring on the screen, Kelsey hadn't heard the sound of the turbolift's door opening. "Update?"

"We have only the one cruiser still in-bound. It has scanned us and knows we're here. It changed its course directly for us just a moment ago. The rest have formed some sort of defensive line and just fired torpedoes." A flash on the screen interrupted her.

"Wow." Rachelson instinctively shielded her eyes with her hand.

"Photon detonations," reported the science station.

"Thank you, Mister Kelsey. Take over navigation," Rachelson ordered.

"Aye, sir." Kelsey moved to the console, tapping on the other officer's shoulder. "You're relieved; report to your alternate battlestation."

"Aye, sir. The board is yours," the other stood and quickly left the bridge.

Kelsey sat and took over navigation, excited by the thought of what might be about to happen, but glad the captain was here to take over the conn. He scanned the board's setting and made his report. "Heading zero-one-zero point zero, station keeping. Viewer at maximum magnification."

Acknowledging Kelsey's report with a nod of her dark-maned head, Rachelson turned her attention to the science station. "No secondaries?"

"None, sir. Whatever they hit must not have been hurt much."

"The Gorn are still using low-grade Klingon ordinance aren't they?" Rachelson queried.

"As of our last intelligence report, yes, sir."

"Time of flight?"

"Five point three seconds."

"Let's see, that would mean..."

"Six hundred ninety thousand kilometers to their target, sir," the science officer reported, anticipating what the captain was calculating.

"Give or take a few kilometers, thank you. How long till we can see the target?"

"About thirty seconds, sir." Kelsey answered, quickly doing the math in his head.

An alarm went off at communications, and the officer manning it leaned forward, pushing the receiver/ear piece tighter into his ear. A moment later he reported to Rachelson. "Just received a tight burst communication from the Dominion, sir."

The Gorn defense line erupted in a second volley of torpedoes. The plasma torpedoes sped away, their green tracers disappearing quickly. There was a brief moment where nothing happened, then detonation.

"Stand-by communications," Rachelson ordered, sitting forward at the conn. "Time of flight, Kelsey?"

"Three point four seconds, sir," Kelsey responded, already doing the next set of calculations, "four hundred and thirty thousand kilometers."

"Whew," Rachelson said, sitting back in the conn, "whoever they're shooting at is really moving."

The science officer volunteered the speed, "Warp seven, sir."

"Time till visual?"

"And contact with the Gorn line? Fifteen seconds, sir."

Turning her attention finally to communications, she asked, "What does the old man want?"

"He ordered us to maintain position and status. He's reforming the group and will be here shortly."

"Did he say how soon is shortly?"

Kelsey understood the captain's concern. Whoever or whatever was chasing the Gorn had to be pretty significant. The Gorn were not a race to back down to many threats, and if whomever they were shooting at had them on the run, then they must be impressive indeed.

"No, sir."

A line of dots became visible beyond the Gorn line, growing in length even as they watched. A flash that encompassed the entire length momentarily superimposed itself over it then passed. A moment later, the tracers of photons flashed toward the Gorn line. They scrambled in an unsuccessful attempt at evasion. Every one of the Gorn starships was hit, some three and four times. Two of them blossomed instantly into conflagrations fueled by the sudden release of the antimatter from their containment fields.

"Two point seven seconds, sir."

"Three hundred eighty thousand kilometers."

The reports came without being asked for.

Rachelson nodded. "If the Gorn don't slow them down, how soon till they reach our present position?"

"Twenty minutes, sir," Kelsey answered.

It now was obvious what the Gorn line was trying to do. They were buying time for the lone ship that even now was making its best speed for the Samson.

"How soon till the Gorn cruiser reaches us?" Rachelson asked.

"Twenty-two minutes, sir." Kelsey responded.

"They'll just make it," the science officer observed.

"And then what?" Rachelson asked, drumming her fingers on the arm of the conn. "Can we assume they," she pointed at the screen, "will withdraw? Our treaty is with the Gorn, and they're running to us." She let this sink in before asking her next question. "Estimated time of arrival for the rest of the group?"

Kelsey did an estimate in his head. The two heavy cruisers that were with the Dominion would not have been far away from the dreadnought and would already be back by her side, but the other two destroyers would be positioned at other points on the border and would take the longest to recall. Kelsey didn't like what his estimate said, but reported it anyway. "Thirty minutes at a minimum, sir, and that's only if they don't dawdle."

"That's a pretty optimistic estimate, Commander. I say it'll be more like thirty-five minutes, and that's only if the old man gets off his ass and moves the group at their max speed. Mister Kelsey, bring the ship to Red Alert."

Alarms went off throughout the ship. A sleepy shift rolled from their beds and began moving.

The ships attacking the Gorn changed from glowing dots to spherically-shaped starships. A third wave of plasma torpedoes crashed into their line. Each weapon found a target, but to no effect. They launched torpedoes back at the Gorn.

The turbolift's doors opened and additional crew members entered the bridge finally bringing it to its full Red Alert complement.

The intercom in the conn came alive. "Aux control to bridge."

Kelsey recognized the voice of the ship's first officer--Commander Ghilafic Trolany."

"Report, Commander," Rachelson said as she opened the channel.

"Ship's at full Red Alert; all stations report readiness."

"Good time, Trolany. You've trained them well, my compliments," Rachelson said.

"Thanks, sir. I'll pass that along. What's up?"

"I hope nothing, but don't count on it."

While Rachelson brought her second-in-command up to speed on the situation, the pursuit's torpedo launch struck the Gorn line and one more hunt cruiser died. They closed quickly on the Gorn line, slowing from warp to impulse, all their weapons coming to full charge. Just as Rachelson finished, they struck the Gorn line. Like an ocean wave meeting a partially submerged massif, the attackers broke and completely enveloped the defense. Directed energy fire flashed from within, both sides firing at point blank range. A portion of the pursuit, after passing the Gorn line, kept on going, trying to cut off the cruiser that even now was coming up on the Samson's position.

"Did you see that, Trolany?" Rachelson said to the intercom, interrupted by the suddenness of the action taking place before her eyes. The Gorn line was already decimated, and the few that remained were showing signs of near destruction.

There had been no pursuer casualties. Squadrons of the spherical craft broke from the final reduction of the Gorn defense and rejoined the pursuit.

"Damn," Rachelson said.

"I make over thirty ships, sir," the science officer reported.

"They're not going to stop," the captain of the Samson observed out loud.

Kelsey could tell the pursuers were going to catch the remaining Gorn cruiser. It fired a torpedo, but, as before, the lead pursuer shrugged off the torpedoes energies.

"Cancel monitoring silence; turn on all running lights. I want everyone in that force to know we're here. Charge all weapons and bring the shields to full power. Sensors, go active, I need to know everything they can tell us about those fighter craft and whether there are more out of visual range." Rachelson clipped off her orders, finishing with orders to the communications officer. "Send this to the Dominion: Have witnessed the destruction of the Gorn force by a superior force of unknown ships. Anticipate contact with same force in five minutes. Please advise. Samson out."

"Got it, sir."

Two torpedoes from the pursuing craft struck the last Gorn cruiser, breaching her shields near the engineering section and knocking her from warp speed. They were just about to swarm her when the Gorn ship launched a torpedo straight at the Samson.

"What the hell?!" Rachelson yelled. "We're both Federation ships now!"

"I doubt they've forgotten that. That's a standard Federation torpedo," the science officer reported, staring into the sensor hood.

"Oh, joy. Attacked by weapons our new treaty provided them," Rachelson commented.

Kelsey deduced, "Maybe someone on that ship's just a bit trigger happy."

"Brace for impact; here she comes," Rachelson folded down the arms of the conn over her legs, securing her to the conn.

"Inert, sir. Sensors say there is a computer core in the magnetic bottle where the antimatter warhead normally would be," reported the science officer.

The torpedo struck the shields, bounced, then hit again, it's engine adjusting thrust so that it maintained contact with the magnetic field of the shields.

The last Gorn cruiser disappeared within a cloud of pursuit craft, directed energy weapons knocking down her defense shields then cutting her to ribbons. They had only just finished doing this when their attention turned to the watching destroyer. The mass of ships formed back into the line they had used to pursue the Gorn column and waited.

Rachelson opened an intercom channel. "Transporter Room, there is an inert torpedo attached to our forward shields. When I drop the shields bring it on board. Quickly now; I don't want to be exposed long."

"Aye, sir."

"Drop forward shields."

As the shield dropped, the torpedoes engine cut, and it disappeared, caught by the transporter beam.

"I have it, sir."


Kelsey hadn't waited for the order. The shield was back in place even before the captain finished her order. "Shields back, sir."

Rachelson's eyebrows scrunched together as she looked at the line of pursuit craft. "Now what?"

"We're not Gorn craft, sir," Kelsey offered. "They might need to have their orders adjusted."

"Can the computer identify the ships, Science Officer? Rachelson asked.

"Negative, sir. Nothing like them in its database." Something caught the science officer's attention in his screen and he did some fine tuning before reporting what he was seeing. "There is an additional sensor contact behind them."

"Their command ship?" Kelsey threw the suggestion into the charged air of the bridge.

"I'm picking up coded transmissions coming from that location, sir," the comm officer reported.

"Good guess, Kelsey. Anything from our group yet, Science Officer?" Rachelson asked, drumming her fingers on the arms of the chair again.

The science officer flipped a couple of switches at his console, then did a fine tune. "Yes, sir, at long range, they're coming in now."


"Two-five-three point one, Warp Eight, sir."

"Kelsey, plot an evasive course that will keep us in front of them," she pointed at the line of fighters on the screen. "Base course straight back, maximum warp. If that line attacks us, we'll lead them right into the group's teeth."

"Aye, sir. Course zero-seven-three point one, maximum warp, locked in, and at your pleasure, sir."

"Thank you, Navigator. Standby." Rachelson shifted her attention to the officer seated at the weapon's console. On the older ships, the navigator or helmsman would have been in control of the weapons, but the new design of the Samson allowed for an additional officer from the weapons section to man the weapons console on the bridge during a red alert, allowing the navigator to concentrate totally on maneuvering the ship. "Weapons, instruct the chief of each torpedo tube to have three additional torps ready on the rack, and a sufficient supply of each waiting on the conveyor down in the magazine."

"Aye, sir."

That's a dangerous move, thought Kelsey. He could see the crews even now inserting the antimatter into the additional torpedoes down below. If a shot got through, or if one got jostled out of the rack, it could detonate, doing the enemy's job for him and destroying the destroyer. But I would do the same thing in a similar situation, Kelsey concluded as he waited with his finger over the 'engage' button.

"They just received a subspace transmission," announced the comm officer.

"Get ready, everyone," Rachelson leaned forward in her seat.

The pursuit ships moved forward, slowly approaching max impulse.

"Hail them, Communications," Rachelson said. "Warn them off."

"Hailing, sir." Then, "No response."

"Okay, so much for doing things by the book. Wait," Rachelson said quietly to the bridge, "until they cross the old border. They might be baiting us, trying to get us to fire or maneuver, or just to gather intelligence. We don't want to show them what we can do until we have to."

Kelsey began to sweat as he watched the spherical ships get larger on the screen. He readjusted the magnification down as they got closer.

"They've crossed the old border limits, sir," the science officer announced, the volume of his voice louder than necessary. "No change in course; they're still coming right at us."

"Engage: full warp, evasive, but do it in reverse. I want our strong side facing them," Rachelson ordered.

That'll be damn difficult, thought Kelsey as he started plugging in the course that would make the Samson a difficult target. Everything has to be loaded in backwards. Good thing I've practiced this.

"What about weapons, sir?" the weapons officer asked. "I have a strong lock on the center ship of their line."

"Not yet. Evasive only."

The Samson backed away from the oncoming line of fighters, its precise course changing constantly. It had only just finished a course change when the center of the fighter line erupted in torpedoes. Only one was heading directly at the retreating destroyer. The rest were on courses that would send them past the starships upper, lower, and side flanks.

"They've done this before, I see," Rachelson said as she watched the torpedo slowly overtake her ship. "No matter which way we dodge, we get hit. Lock and fire phasers at the incoming torpedo. Return fire, three rounds, no tracers, all tubes. Let's make a good impression right away."

A stream of scathing red fire lanced out from the destroyer's forward phaser battery, detonating the incoming weapon. Right on the tail of the phaser fire they launched two torpedoes, their paths marked only by the initial blast of their small warp drives. Seconds later, two more launched and then two more, all nearly invisible without the tracers to mark their paths.

"Good job, Torpedo Crew. Excellent cycle time," Rachelson complimented her crew. "Now let's see what effect it has."

"All weapons on track, guidance still green. Closing speed nearly warp seventeen," came the report from the weapons station.

An advantage to the pursued, thought Kelsey, all their weapons have to overtake us, and we have a lot more time to target them. Our shots will be on them so quick they won't have much time to react.

The rest of the fighter's torpedoes passed by on the Samson's flanks, then detonated. The shockwaves of the multiple, simultaneous explosions caught the destroyer in the middle, savagely shaking and turning it ninety degrees along its horizontal axis.

"Resuming evasive, sir," Kelsey reported as he programmed in the next turn.

He didn't ask to return the ship to its original attitude, thought Rachelson. I guess he's overcome his two-dimensional weakness.

"First volley arrival in," the weapons officer announced, "three, two, one...NOW!"

Directed beams lanced out at targets too late detected. One beam found a torpedo and detonated it, but its companion got through and hit, dead center. The energy of released antimatter arced and raced over the fighter's forward shields. The next two struck, and then two more, adding all their combined energy to the conflagration, overwhelming and buckling the fighter's forward shields. Residual annihilating energy attacked the starship's exposed skin. The fighter lost way, fell from the formation, all signs of power gone, but its structural integrity still intact.

The bridge crew of the Samson looked on with awe. The weapons officer vocalized what everyone else was thinking. "There shouldn't be anything left but a growing cloud of dust."

"I don't think I want to get close enough to find out how effective phasers will be," Kelsey said as he completed input of the next course change.

"Kind of motivates you to insure they don't hit us, doesn't it?" Rachelson remarked.

"Aye, sir."

"How soon till we rendezvous with the Dominion?" the captain asked.

"Two minutes, sir," came the response from the science station.

"I think we can survive till then," Rachelson predicted. "Prepare another..." The entire line of fighters fired torpedoes, interrupting the captain's orders.

A cloud of weapons quickly descended on the fleeing destroyer.

"Fire all phasers; create a hole in their pattern."

The whine of the phaser batteries and the roar of the warp drive filled the air as Kelsey put the starship through its paces in a complex series of turns and rolls, drowning out the weapons officer's reply. The phasers burned a hole in the pattern, and Kelsey tried to fit the Samson into it, but a weapon made it through and struck. Energy and shock flipped the forward end of the destroyer up, threatening to send it into an end-over-end roll.

"Forward shields are down to forty percent," yelled the engineering officer.

Kelsey didn't hear the captain's response. It was all he could do to get the Samson back under control. To make matters worse, another incoming torpedo appeared in his peripheral vision. He twisted the destroyer around on its axis, and it missed by only a few hundred meters, then detonated, ruining all his attempts to bring the ship under control, throwing it around sideways. The rest of the pattern of incoming weapons detonated, tossing the Samson around like a cork floating in a gale blown pound.

The fighters swarmed the shaken destroyer. Directed beams slammed into the weakened shields. Fire from the destroyer became sporadic and uncoordinated. A flank shield buckled and beams slammed into the destroyer's skin, melting and exploding it into a gaping slash. Atmosphere exploded outward, sending glowing bits of metal outward in a bright spray. Shield after shield began buckling.

Power feedbacks blew dozens of circuits on the bridge, filling the air with shrapnel. The lights went out, leaving the viewscreen and the fires the only source of illumination left.

Kelsey got to his knees, surprised that he was still alive. The whine of a phaser battery told him that at least one battery was still firing, though one look at the weapons console, and the remains of the officer that had been manning it, told him that they were firing independently and most likely inaccurately. There was an immense explosion that shook the Samson's frame, and the phaser fire stopped.

He looked at the viewscreen and saw how the ship was spinning and averted his eyes; it made him dizzy, though the stabilizers kept the worst of the spin's effect from being felt. Ignoring the screen, he looked around the bridge. It was a shambles, and very few of the crew were still alive. A moan from the conn indicated that Captain Rachelson still lived, but the growing puddle of red below the chair told Kelsey that she wouldn't last long if he didn't do something to stop the bleeding.

He got to his feet, only to be knocked down again by a set of immense explosions. The kaleidoscope of colors on the viewscreen caught his attention. A fighter ship flashed by, firing as it passed. Giving up on walking, he crawled to the conn. The chair's safety arms held the captain in place though her upper torso rolled with each shift of the ship. Kelsey groped around on the right side arm looking for the release. Finding it, he punched it, and the captain slumped to the floor with a moan.

A quick inspection of Rachelson's wounds told Kelsey there was little he could do to help the stricken leader. Her eyes snapped open; she groaned with pain as she tried to move into a sitting position.

"Don't move, sir," Kelsey said, pinning the captain down.

"My ship...aaahhh!" Rachelson clenched her teeth as a spasm of pain gripped her.

"Still alive..." Kelsey said, interrupted by the renewed whining of the starboard phaser battery, "...and still kicking, sir." A large explosion could be heard and felt through the floor. "Though I don't know what's keeping her together. They're really pasting her."

"She's a good ship and deserved better," Rachelson croaked.

There was an immense rushing sound coming from below the bridge. Kelsey recognized the sound, Hull breach. That means... He looked up at the ventilator, and there was smoke eddying around in front of it. support on the bridge has failed. The temperature began to drop. It won't be long now, thought Kelsey as he relaxed against the front of the conn, the captain's head in his lap. She spoke weakly. "Tell Sulu..."

The captain moaned one final time, then her eyes glazed over. The last remaining small flickering of a fire sputtered out, the oxygen level on the bridge already too low to fuel it. The air felt thin in Kelsey's lungs, and he began to pant against his will. Whatever he was breathing in wasn't oxygen.

The bridge was quiet; no more explosions shook the floor. One look at the viewscreen revealed only stars spinning by. He shivered once as the temperature on the bridge dropped below freezing. His vision tunneled, then went dark.



"Commander Kelsey?"

Kelsey opened his eyes, then quickly clenched them shut. The light was too bright. "Ahhh!" he said, flailing about, coughing uncontrollably. He felt the sting of a hypospray against the side of his neck. The spasms in his lungs began to subside.

"Relax, sir. Let the triox work."

Kelsey tried again to open his eyes, slowly this time, giving them time to adjust. "What...where?"

"Don't talk, sir," came the assuring voice. "You're in Sickbay."

Kelsey recognized the person owning the voice. "We still have power, Nurse Phoran?" the navigator croaked, feeling better already.

"Yes, sir, at least enough to use the transporters within the ship," Phoran answered. "That's how we got you from the bridge."

"Any others?"

"Only a few, sir, but they were in such bad shape that we had to put them in stasis."

Loud voices from the hallway outside Sickbay caught Kelsey's attention. "Is that Trolany?"

"No, sir. The exec bought it in Engineering when the containment fields began to fail. That's Lieutenant Luncker."

"Luncker, Luncker," Kelsey couldn't place the name, and looked to Phoran with a question in his gaze.

"Security officer, sir. Until we found you, the ranking officer."

There was a fizzle pop from the hallway. "That did it; we got visual again at least," came the disembodied voice from the hall. "Damn, we're still spinning." Then, "Shit, hold on everyone."

"What?" Kelsey exclaimed. Phoran draped himself over Kelsey just as there was an immense crunching sound that seemed to come from everywhere at once, and the floor jumped. Everything not tacked down flew across to the other side of the room.

"Well that God damned well stopped our spin," came Luncker's voice from the hall.

Kelsey sat up and hopped off the examination table. The room spun for a moment, and he felt like he might fall. A set of strong hands caught him.

"You think that's wise, sir?" Phoran asked.

"How long was I out?" Kelsey asked as he shook the dizziness from his head.

"Minute or so," answered Phoran.

A small chorus of cheers came from the hall. "It's about time they got here," came the now recognizable voice of Lieutenant Luncker.

"I've got to see what's going on," Kelsey stood, his equilibrium stabilizing. "I'm fine now," Kelsey told the nurse. "Someone else must need you more than I do."

"Yes, sir." Nurse Phoran moved toward the next table, where a hardly recognizable form lay groaning.

Moving into the hallway, Kelsey looked around at the shambles. Wire circuitry and duct work hung everywhere. Voices from an open doorway on his right told him where everyone was. He walked up to and through it, entering the remains of auxiliary control. A man in a red uniform shirt stood in the center of the room, watching the screen intently.

"Lieutenant Luncker?" Kelsey said as he walked in.

The man turned only his head when he answered. "Yes, sir. Glad you could make it." Pointing at the screen, he continued. "The ol' man's into it, now."

An intense flash from the screen lit the room.

The crewman manning the screen's console yelled. "They got the Siva, sir."

Kelsey recognized the name of one of the other destroyers in the group.

"One minute, she was there, and the next...poof." The crewman augmented the sound with his hands flying outward.

"They're damned hard to kill, sir." Luncker reported to Kelsey, his attention returning to the battle going on in front of them on the screen.

"So I've seen," replied Kelsey. "Do we have thrusters again?"

"Ah, no, sir," Luncker answered.

"What stopped the spin?"

"We hit the fighter we managed to damage. We can't see it, but I would guess we're right up against it, floating out of control in the same direction the battle is going," Luncker explained.

Another bright flash lit the screen.

"The Ivan just bought it," the crewman again made the poof sign with his hands.

"That leaves the dreadnought and the two heavies," Luncker observed.

"I think those fighters will find them harder to handle," Kelsey said, then began watching the screen with the rest in auxiliary control.

To the contrary, the fighters were swarming in and around the three Federation starships. Too close for torpedoes, the Dominion and her two heavy cruiser escorts, the Kongo and the Temir, could only use their phasers as the fighters dodged and darted in amongst them.

"They kind of remind me of a video of a bear hunt I saw as a child in school back on Earth," noted Luncker.

"How's that?" Kelsey responded, not taking his gaze off the screen.

"They used to use dogs to trail the bear. After a while, the bear tired and turned to fight the dogs. The dogs wouldn't let him escape, but wouldn't get close enough for the bear to maul them."

A tractor beam from the Dominion reached out and caught a fighter, stopping it in its flight and draining its shields. All the dreadnought's phasers fired, ripping the ship apart.

"Of course, the bear would catch a dog every once in awhile, but the dogs would hold the bear in place until the hunter could catch up." Luncker crossed his throat with finger, giving the universal sign of an execution. "I wonder if these dogs have a hunter to back them up."

Kelsey remembered the science officer's report before the battle had started, about there being a single ship behind the fighter line calling the shots. Is that the hunter? "Do we have any sensors?"

"Limited," the crewman answered.

"Why?" Luncker asked.

"To find the hunter," Kelsey returned. "Scan back along the course the fighters chased the Gorn on."

"Aye, sir."

"I was only kidding, sir."

"I know, Lieutenant, but it was very insightful." Kelsey smiled nervously.

"Got one," the crewman announced. "Large return, moving in quickly."

"The hunter," replied both Kelsey and Luncker at the same time.

"Got it on visual, sirs."

The screen shifted from the battle. In the center now was the largest vessel Kelsey had seen to date, bigger even than the vids he'd seen of the Whalesong Probe that had attacked Earth a few years back looking for the then-extinct Humpback whale. He thought maybe this would even rival V'Ger in size. Cylindrical in shape, there were antennae, dishes and the gaping maws of what had to be weapons protruding everywhere. In the front were indications of three massive doors.

"Can we raise the Dominion?" Kelsey asked.

"I'll try, sir," Luncker moved over to the unoccupied comm console. He turned it on and set the frequency. White noise filled auxiliary control. "They're jamming us, sir."

"Damn," Kelsey cursed. "The ol' man's too busy to see the hunter, and there's nothing we can do to help."

Luncker and the crewman at the screen's console nodded, cursing under their breath.

The juggernaut came out of warp space practically on top of the dreadnought. The fighters got out of the way, concentrating on the two heavy cruisers, slowly splitting them from the Dominion's side. A massive beam of energy lanced out and struck the dreadnought's forward shield. It immediately ascended all the frequencies of light from dull red to brilliant purple then snapped off.

Every weapon on the Dominion fired in response. Ten beams of red phaser energy streamed across the quickly decreasing distance, shifting, probing for a chink in the juggernaut's armor. Four torpedoes flashed across and detonated, doing more damage to the now exposed forward edge of the Dominion than the huge vessel whose shields simply reflected the energy back at it. Another beam struck the dreadnought, and every light went out.

"How long did the bear last once the hunter arrived, Luncker?" Kelsey asked as he stared with disbelief at what was transpiring in front of him.

"Just about as long as the Dominion, sir," he responded.

The faint haze of a tractor beam snapped on, holding the dreadnought in place. Then from every nook and cranny of the juggernaut's forward edge beams began cutting into the Dominion, concentrating on Engineering. When it was through, the tractor beam pushed the dreadnought out of the way and released it. The once mighty dreadnought, now a hulk, drifted for only a second before its antimatter heart exploded. The shockwave of its death rocked the remains of the Samson, changing the course of its drift and shaking everyone left inside.

The two heavy cruisers, having seen what just happened to their big brother, broke from the cloud of fighters that were still harassing them, trying to escape. The fighters immediately picked up the chase and were soon out of sight. The juggernaut remained motionless right where it had finished the Dominion.


The turn of events overjoyed First Armada Commander. The destruction of the largest Federation vessel had been quick and, most importantly, easy. The last two had broken free, but his fighters were hot on their trails. They would bring them to bay soon enough.


First Armada recognized the mental voice of his second-in-command. "Yes, what is it?"

"The pilot of the stricken fighter still lives. He reports his drive systems have shorted, burning him badly."

The commander oriented his viewscreen on the ship in question. He noted the hulk of a Federation vessel resting against it. "Is he in great pain?"

"Yes, Progenitor," came the answer.

"Good. He will learn faster that way." A beep from the subspace receiver interrupted the conversation. "Yes, Horde Leader?"

"We have surrounded the other two, Progenitor."

"Good," First Armada responded, excited already. "Hold them in place until I get there. I want at least one with its occupants still alive."

"Yes, Progenitor. Horde Leader out."

"Second, remove the wounded pilot, then take me to the horde's location," the commander ordered.

"Yes, Progenitor."


"I hope we look dead enough," Kelsey said to himself.

An alarm went off on the sensor console. Kelsey moved to turn it off, then noted the readings. "They scanned us, gentlemen."

"After what just happened to the ol' man, I guess this means goodbye," the crewman said as he relaxed into the back of his chair.

Another alarm went off, but before Kelsey could turn it off the juggernaut moved off in the direction of the chase. "What?"

"What happened, sir?" Luncker moved behind Kelsey, looking over his shoulder.

"They transported something."

"From where?"

"Too many sensors out; can't triangulate." Kelsey shook his head as he looked at the readouts. "Whatever they wanted, they must have gotten it. We must be too insignificant to waste any energy on."

"So they just left us to die a slow death out here," the crewman observed.

"Looks that way," Kelsey responded, "but let's not give up yet. Unless they come back, we're still alive. And where there's life, there's a chance."

"That's right, sir," Luncker stated, shaking his fist in front of his face.

"First, let's find all the survivors and bring them here, in and around auxiliary control," Kelsey ordered. "Depending on what tech specialists we still have alive, maybe we can patch the ship back together well enough to limp to the nearest starbase."

"Won't that be a waste of time, sir?" the crewman asked dejectedly, ready to quit. "I mean, they're only going to come back and destroy it all anyway."

Kelsey knew he had to nip these feelings in the bud, quickly, or the crew would just give up and wait for their deaths when the ship's batteries went dead. "What's your name and section, crewman?"

Looking around sheepishly, he answered, "Yeoman Foley, sir. Engineering."

I already have one valuable specialist right here, Kelsey thought. "Well, Foley, what if they don't come back? Do you want to die slowly, doing nothing? Because that's what will happen. Or, would you rather keep busy, and maybe survive?"

Foley stared at his hands for a minute, thinking, then answered. "Keep busy, sir."

"Good, you and Luncker find out what we have left. I'll work with Phoran in gathering the survivors."

A half hour later and the juggernaut hadn't returned. Standing in auxiliary control, the surviving officers were briefing Kelsey.

"We have a total of only thirty-four crewman left that can perform their duties; the rest are either dead or in stasis," Phoran stated.

"Warp drive is garbage, sir, but I might be able to repair the impulse drive, if I can find enough spare parts."

"That's great," Kelsey felt heartened by the news.

"Whoa, wait up, sir," the engineering officer exclaimed. "That's not going to be easy. From what I can tell, there aren't any spare parts that are reachable. Most of engineering is open to space and inaccessible, and the other areas are so radioactive we can't enter them any time this century."

"That's not so great," Kelsey responded, coming back to ground.

"What about the other ship?" came a voice from the background.

"What? What was that?" Kelsey asked, searching for the owner of the voice, finally finding out it was Foley.

"The other ship," Foley flipped a switch and the screen changed, "the fighter we damaged. It stopped our spin, and it's still out there, off the bow. Do you think we could use any of its parts?"

That opens up a whole lot of different problems, like the reliability of the transporters and security of the personnel he sent over. But they would cross those bridges as they came to them, thought Kelsey. "I don't know. Engineer?" Kelsey asked.

"I suppose, sir. As long as the original owner doesn't mind."

"Sensors should be able to tell us if anything's still alive over there."

"Working," came a voice from the auxiliary control center's science station. "Sensors find no life signs over there, but..." She paused for a moment, thinking. "Our sensor system is faulting all over the place. I can't vouch for the accuracy."

"Does that ship still have hull integrity?" Kelsey asked the next important question. "And, if so, is the atmosphere breathable?"

"Working. Life support is still functioning. Oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere."

Even more reason to hurry, thought Kelsey. I doubt the owners would leave something behind this functional. "First step is to secure it. Luncker, form a boarding party for me, armed with phasers, set for high. There's no doubt what these people were about. We'll meet at the transporter station in fifteen minutes."

"Aye, sir, but, sir?" Luncker looked uncomfortable.

"What's the matter?"

"I should command the boarding party, sir."

Kelsey started to protest.

"You are in command of the ship now, sir. Your place is with the Samson."

He's right of course, thought Kelsey, already not happy with his first real command. "Right. Well then, get hopping, Lieutenant. Let me know when you've formed your party and are ready to go."

"Aye, sir."

Fifteen minutes later, Kelsey got the word. It took five minutes to get there as he had to thread his way through bustling engineers in radiation suits and ruined hallways. Luncker had his team standing by on the pad, all four of them, with phasers in hand. All of them looked nervous.

"I hope you won't need them," Kelsey said, pointing at the weapons.

"Me neither, sir," Luncker added. "We initially wanted an out-of-the-way place to beam into, but come to find out there's only one compartment over there, smack dab in the middle."

"That's odd," Kelsey said as he took his place at the transporter's controls. The technician that usually manned it was busy elsewhere. "You be careful out there, Lieutenant. Energizing."

The party disappeared. While he waited for Luncker to check in, Kelsey looked around. Off to one side of the pad was the Gorn torpedo they'd taken in before being attacked. What had the science officer said was inside?thought Kelsey. A computer core? It must have been pretty important if the Gorn commander was willing to die delivering it to us, and this force is willing to attack us for it. At least that was the assumption he was making right now for the unprovoked attack that had now probably destroyed the entire group. There was no doubt in his service-oriented mind that they would run down the two heavies as well. Which made it even more imperative that he get the Samson back running. If for no other reason than to get a warning back to Starfleet.

"Boarding party to Samson." Luncker's call came from the console's speaker.

"This is the Samson." Kelsey responded.

"All secure over here. No one's home."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, sir. As the sensors said, there is only one room, and there's nobody here. Only a thick layer of some sort of yellowish gunk that the tricorders say is organic, but can't identify. Hey! Watch it!" The transmission stopped abruptly.

"Lieutenant Luncker! What's going on over there?" Kelsey hit the hailing button. "Lieutenant, report."

"Sorry, sir. The lights just went on over here, startling me. I thought maybe the owners had come back home. I feel sort of like a burglar." The security officer chuckled.

"Do you think it's safe enough to send over an engineering team?"

"Yes, sir. This place is secure."

"On the way. Samson out." Kelsey cut power to the transmitter and went in search of the engineer.

A half hour later, he got a call from the engineer. "Sir, I think we're going about this all backwards."

"What do you mean?" Kelsey asked.

"Granted, a lot of this thing's technology is strange to me, but I have identified the drive system. There is much less damage to this ship than to ours, and I think I can use parts from our ship to get this thing moving faster than trying to repair the Samson. We can then tether the two together and leave. We can't achieve warp speed, but we'll at least be moving."

"You sure about this?"

"Absolutely, sir. Should I proceed?"

Kelsey's first inclination was to say no, then he reconsidered. He wondered if he should transfer everyone over there and cut the Samson free. Then he thought about what a starbase would think if they saw this unknown craft on their sensors. How would he react? No, they would need to bring the destroyer along as well. Besides, there was too much valuable information still stored on the Samson's computers about these aggressors, and he couldn't be sure they could set up an interlink between her and the fighter's main computer.

Then there was the final consideration--time. As in, they didn't have much left. It had occurred to him that the owner of the fighter might even now be coming back to reclaim it. The small hairs on the back of Kelsey's neck stood up as he thought about the juggernaut returning to find them still here. The more he thought about it, the more he knew it would happen.

"Proceed, Engineer. Make it quick; we've got to get out of here."

"Aye, sir. Boarding party out."

It wasn't long before Kelsey saw the fighter come alive on auxiliary control's viewscreen. Running lights snapped on, and it realigned itself in front of the Samson's saucer section. The faint haze of a tractor beam appeared, and he felt the destroyer jump beneath his feet as it attached itself to her. A second tractor reached out from the Samson, cementing the connection. Then the lights got brighter in auxiliary control as a third beam reached across the small space, establishing a high energy conduit through a graviton corridor.

He earned his pay today, thought Kelsey as he answered a hail from the engineer.

"How's that, sir?"

"We're not gone, yet," Kelsey answered, smiling.

"All we need is a course."

"Heading: two-seven-five point zero-zero. Best speed. Starbase Thirty-two." Kelsey had established and confirmed this heading forty-five minutes ago.

"Heading, two-seven-five point zero-zero. We'll begin with one-tenth impulse and work up from there, sir."

"Fine. Engage." The ship lurched under his feet. Where there's life, there's hope, Kelsey thought as he sat in auxiliary's conn. I hope the luck of my Irish ancestors continues to watch over us.


Nearly a full kel later, First Armada's command ship arrived back at where he'd left the fighter. It had taken longer than he'd expected to run down the other two starships. They had destroyed one when it had turned to fight. They had captured the other, absorbing or storing away the survivors. They had then turned the empty starship into a cloud of expanding gas and materials, just like its sister ship.

None of that ship's occupants had been as satisfying as the Gorn had proven to be, especially the ones called Humans, but the memories of the one that had commanded the ship had been most enlightening.

"The fighter is gone, Commander," came the report.


"The fighter is not here."

"Was the damage to it that bad?" First Armada queried.

"Maybe, Progenitor. Scanning for debris."

"Make it thorough."

"Scan complete. I cannot conclusively say if the fighter destroyed itself. There is too much residual radiation and material left from the destruction of the other ships."

First Armada used his viewscreen to do a visual search of the area and found nothing. He didn't like the idea that he couldn't prove the fighter's destruction, but what other solution could there be? At least, they had saved the pilot, though that one would be in the recuperation tanks for a long time.

"Recall all fighters. Then go to Headquarters. We have much to report to the Supreme Commander regarding the Federation."

"Yes, Progenitor."


"I don't like this one either," Admiral Kumara said, a hint of a growl shading his voice. "It's too empty, too quiet."

"It is the time of day, joHwI'," the Kh'myr captain of his personal guard returned. "The whole city still sleeps."

Kumara looked out into the circular opening in the city's residences and the alarms that he'd felt all morning got louder, screaming ambush. "I don't like it," he insisted, his eyes searching every dark nook and cranny of the plaza. The twin suns of Qo'noS hadn't risen yet, and though the city's lights illuminated the center of the plaza well enough, there were enough shadows out there to hide a whole army of assassins.

"This is the third plaza you've said that about, my lord," the captain said.

Kumara heard the couched taunt in his captain's voice. He gets bold, thought Kumara. He would take my place if he could. He remembered seeing the longing stares shared between his most recent mate and this one. Squinting hard at the captain, Kumara's nostrils flared, and he drew in as much of the early morning air as he could, trying to sense anything about the captain that would say 'traitor.' He sensed nothing threatening.

"If it'll please joHwI', I will go out there and ensure there is no ambush," the captain offered.

"Yes, Captain, you do that, but leave the guard here with me," Kumara ordered, watching the captain's reaction.

The Kh'myr nodded, then walked out into the plaza.

It had been over two hoghs since the emperor had called on his chancellors for advice concerning the United Federation of Planets. This was two hoghs longer than the emperor had promised the delay would be in that last meeting, and tensions between the chancellors had grown. Attacks, both overt and covert, had occurred not only here on Qo'noS, but wherever Segh vav and the Kh'myr came together. Kumara's intelligence network warned him that he was the logical next target for assassination, considered the weakest leader of the Segh vav for having been an exchange student on Terra for a brief time during his youth.

The captain of his guard reached the far side of the plaza and signaled all clear.

Maybe I am being overly cautious, thought Kumara. Whether I am Segh vav or Kh'myr, I am still Klingon, and I tire of creeping around in the shadows. We'll see who is the weakest. "Come," he said to the sub-leader behind him. Two columns of guards began to move, splitting as they entered the plaza, following its outer edges.

We'll see who is the weakest, he repeated to himself as the circle of guards made it to the halfway point. The captain was Kh'myr, but had demonstrated extreme loyalty to Kumara in the past. Still, he now regretted allowing Kh'myr to serve in his forces, though they made superb warriors. "OH maj'jaj Hegh. It is a good day to die," he said to the air around him. Thrusting his chest forward, he entered the plaza, keeping his eyes glued on the captain of his guard, who still waited on the far side. He loosened his taj in its sheath, leaving his hand on its hilt, just in case.

"Take them!" came a voice from the shadows. There was the sharp clang of metal on metal, evidence of an attack on the circle of guards.

Kumara watched the captain, who, though his command was under attack, remained where he was, smiling. "MaghwI! Traitor!" Kumara yelled, unlimbering his taj and charging forward.

The captain moved forward as well, meeting Kumara in the center of the plaza.

Kumara hoped to use his greater body weight to overcome the taller Kh'myr officer. The captain stepped aside at the last moment, cutting at Kumara as he passed.

Kumara knew he had erred when the captain moved. An experienced fighter, he parried the captain's cut with his blade. He felt the expected attack hit his defense and allowed his charge to carry him out of range of the second cut. The taj didn't have a long range, but it was a fast weapon, and its recovery time was short. When he turned to face the captain, it was to find him already on him, driving his taj straight at his throat.

Throwing his gauntleted left hand across in front of him, Kumara swept the captain's blade aside, while at the same time driving his blade upward in a vicious upper cut. A strong hand on his wrist stopped his attack.

They wrestled this way for only the briefest of moments. Kumara knew he would lose if it continued this way; the captain was Kh'myr and therefore much stronger. Instead of pushing, he pulled, rolled onto his back, planted the clawed tip of his boot into the other's mid-section and kicked. He felt the splash of a warm liquid as the captain went through the air over him. With a metallic crunch, the captain landed hard on his back. Kumara was already onto his feet, standing over him, ready to continue the fight. The captain only groaned, dropped his weapon and reached down, trying to hold the squirming mass of intestines from leaving his body through a ragged gash that Kumara's boot claw had torn in his abdomen and stem the flow of blood.

Grabbing the captain by the hair, Kumara yanked his head from the stones. "MaghwI!" he said, spitting in his face. With a swipe of his taj, Kumara cut his adversary's throat.

It was then that he noticed how quiet it had become. He stood and looked around. He was in a circle of warriors, but they weren't his. The sound of gauntleted hands clapping startled him, and he turned to find its source.

"yIn, wej yIn. To be, or not to be."

"You spout lines from an Earther play in the midst of your treachery, Chang?"

Qo'noS's first sun breached the horizon and lit the plaza. Its orange light glinted from Chang's eyes as he laughed, making them glow red. "It is not treachery to remove weakness from our ranks. It is our duty." He pulled his weapon from its sheath with a long, drawn out, scraping sound.

Kumara recognized the long-bladed weapon called a tIq taj by the Klingons. Considered a dishonorable weapon by the Segh vav society on Qo'noS, it was gaining popularity, especially among the Kh'myr military ranks. "You insult me with that weapon," he responded, raising his simple taj, preparing to fight.

"The insult won't last long once it takes your head, Admiral." Chang chuckled as he wiped the blood that remained on the blade.

Kumara spat in response, crouching.

Chang's smile faded. The full light of morning glowed strongly in his eyes. "Av!" Holding the tIq taj's hilt with both hands at waist level, he raised the thin, razor-sharp blade vertically in front of his face and advanced on Kumara.

Kumara knew the only hope he had for getting to Chang would be to get inside the longer blade's radius so that the general couldn't bring its long slashing edge to efficient use. There was only the slimmest of chances that Chang would let him do this, or that he would survive this encounter in the end. His only hope now was to die honorably, like a warrior.

Chang lowered his blade so that its tip pointed at Kumara's mid-section, a smile spreading across his face.

Kumara roared to the lightening sky and charged, weapon ready in his right hand, his gauntleted left hand ready to parry.

Chang stepped aside, swinging his tIq taj in a short arc. It parried Kumara's taj blade with a loud clang. Before Kumara could recover, Chang struck with a two-handed swing of his weapon, taking Kumara's weapon hand off, its razor-sharp edge cutting through armor, muscle and bone with little or no resistance.

"Rrraaahhhhgh!" Kumara screamed and turned, staring at his bleeding stump.

Chang set his blade for thrust and stepped into it, driving it through Kumara's midsection, just below where the admiral's chest armor ended, until its hilt stopped flush with Kumara's leather jerkin and the tip projected well out the other side. Chang stood face to face with his adversary, looking deeply into Kumara's pain-filled eyes.

"biD sep. Half-breed," Kumara hissed, spitting in Chang's face. The admiral staggered, but still managed to stay on his feet.

Chang laughed quietly. "You always were so eloquent, Kumara. It's too bad you killed your good captain. He was to take your place on the council, but I'm sure we can find another Kh'myr to take his place." Twisting the blade, he luxuriated in the hiss of pain it brought from Kumara.

Not letting his eyes leave Kumara's face, Chang gave the commander of his forces his next orders. "Clean up this mess. We wouldn't want the people who live here to think us barbarians, leaving our trash behind once the party is over."

"luq joH! Yes, lord!" the leader of the squad said, pulling his disruptor from its holster. Standing over the nearest dead guard, he pointed it at him and fired, full power. The body turned to dust with a flash of steam and energy.

Kumara knew his end was very near and that Chang would leave no evidence behind to indicate any attack had happened here at all. His body would be disposed of the same way, explaining the disappearance of numerous other Segh vav chancellors. A desperate need filled Kumara's pain filled psyche. I must mark this biD sep so that I'm not just another vanquished opponent.

Chang returned his attention to Kumara. "Just like a bug in my child's collection, pinned and ready for display." He laughed. "Parting," he made a cutting motion with his hand across Kumara's neck in a dramatic prediction of what he was about to do, "is such sweet sorrow."

Kumara brought his left hand across his face in what he hoped Chang would believe was a futile attempt to protect his face.

Chang jerked the blade free and prepared for the final strike.

Kumara endured the pain of the blade's removal, and as Chang stepped back, Kumara back-handed him, striking the general across the left side of the face with the knuckle blades of his gauntlet. Kumara fell to his knees, satisfied that he'd at least marked Chang, ruining that pretty face.

Chang's head snapped to his right. "You son of a Segh vav whore!" Chang roared, his left hand instinctively coming to his face. There was no pain yet, only numbness, but he couldn't see from that eye anymore. He did see Kumara drop to his knees, his hands trying to stem the bleeding. Taking up the tIq taj with both hands again, he swung it in a level arc and neatly separated Kumara's head from his shoulders.

Replacing the eloquent weapon in its sheath, Chang pulled his disruptor and disposed of Kumara's body. Turning his attention on the head, Chang found it facing him with a wide grin. Pain began to emanate from the shredded left side of his face. He thought he could hear Kumara's laughter. He felt a warm stream of his blood running down his neck. Hissing with pain, he fired the disruptor again, and the head disappeared from the ground, but he knew he'd see that leer for the rest of his life.

"Done, joHwI'," the squad leader reported.

Chang ignored him for a moment, probing the ruin of the left side of his face.

The leader looked closer at the general's face and saw what the admiral had done. Shredded, the wounded flesh over the cheek had bone fragments intermixed with it. There was a bloody socket where Chang's left eye had been. A glance at Chang's hand told him where the eye's remains were. "Come, lord. You need a doctor." He started to offer a helping hand.

Chang shrugged off the offered help. "No. I don't need your help."

"As you order, joHwI'," the leader said. "The doctors can repair all that, even the eye."

"No," Chang hissed, luxuriating in the pain. "I want the scars."

"At least we must stop the bleeding before the council meets."

Chang stood still for a moment, noting that the second blue sun was beginning to break the horizon. He nodded slowly, the pain beginning to throb. "You're right. Let's go."


"Where is Kumara?" Kor asked his fellow Segh vav as they waited on their side of the throne room.

The emperor had finally called to announce his decision to his council, and, as usual, the Segh vav contingency was there early, and equally as usual the Kh'myr were conspicuous in their absence.

"I saw him last night," Koloth answered. "He had heard that he was the Kh'myr's next target, but he didn't seem overly concerned by the threat."

"He is dead," Kang inserted, his voice low and ominous.

"Kang, you pessimistic Ha'DlbaH," Kor replied. "Kumara will be here soon enough."

Kang stepped very close to Kor, keeping the volume of his voice low, "When have you known Kumara to be late for anything? He is always here waiting for us."

"That is true," Kor acceded, shaking his head slightly. After a moment of silence, he added, "I will miss him."

"We must find a Segh vav leader to take his place," Koloth said.

"I'll wager Khalian will already have someone to nominate as a replacement when he gets here," Kang returned, "and I can guarantee it won't be a Segh vav. Our kind's presence within the ranks dwindles these days."

"The Kh'myr fill the ranks of junior officers and are very quick to kill off a Segh vav commander, with or without a sign of weakness," Kor growled as he answered.


"Kumara is dead, voq jup?" Kudan Kuras said quietly as he watched the Segh vav contingency on the small security screen of his antechamber.

"Yes, sire, less than a kam from here, just as the second sun rose."

"I suppose there is already a replacement?"

"Yes, sire. Colonel Kerla, a prominent commander of Kumara's best brigade."

The emperor turned his attention on his personal advisor, the question asked without being vocalized.

"He is like me, sire. Of mixed heritage...both Kh'myr and parent race."

Kudan Kuras' eyebrows shot up.

"It isn't all that surprising, sire. Kumara's forces are still predominantly Segh vav and wouldn't tolerate a full Kh'myr commander."

"Khalian picked him?"

"He is involved, yes, sire."

"Qu'vatlh! Khalian will have an easy majority." The emperor turned back to watching the screen. "My position with this decision will be untenable."

"Not everything is as Khalian wishes it, sire. Your wisdom is paramount." The advisor bent slightly at the waist, smiling slightly.

There was a commotion somewhere off screen. Kudan Kuras switched visual sensors trying to find the source.


"Disruptors are forbidden in the throne room, Admiral. How often must I inform you of this?" the guard said, his hand outstretched.

"How often must I abide the insults of this petaQ?" Khalian looked around at his fellow Kh'myr, pulling the offending weapon from its sheath, handing it butt first to the guard.

"As long you come here," the guard said with a sneer. "You are late, as usual, Admiral. The emperor waits." The massive door began to open.

"Why, you miserable cretin," Khalian began to pull the only weapon allowed in the throne room from its sheath.

"No, Khalian," Kusan grabbed him from behind, pinning Khalian's arms to his side. "If you kill him, the emperor will surely take the opposite tack."

Khalian shook off Kusan's hold on him, then turned to glare at the other. "I really don't care what the emperor has decided. You are no longer loyal to the Kh'myr sub-race, Kusan. You put honor above my needs...and the needs of our people. Look at Chang over there, bloody and marked. He demonstrates his loyalty to me everyday with actions, but you always advise caution." Khalian's ridged nose was almost touching Kusan's.

"Ying and yang, Khalian," Kusan retorted.


"Ask Chang about it."

Khalian turned to see Chang begin to laugh, then bring his left hand up to the heavily bandaged left side of his face. "Don't, Kusan; it renews the pain."

"What is this 'ying and yang,' Chang?" Khalian grew menacing.

"An old Earther phrase for opposites. Their oriental race believe it is the balance of opposites that provide order."

Khalian's mouth pulled downward as he returned his attention to Kusan. "Be careful how far you push this 'ying and yang,' petaQ. It may be the ruin of you yet."

Kusan remained silent until Khalian turned away from him, then made eye contact with the newest member of the council--Kerla. He shook his head, a silent message.

"Come. We have a war to begin," Khalian walked through the open door.

He's very sure of himself this morning, Kusan thought as he hung back. Noting the guard's attention, he gave him a quick signal with his hands, and saw the guard nod an acknowledgment. Everything's occurring just as 'voq jup' said it would. He is a very wise warrior, his thoughts continued as he entered the throne room to find everyone already lined up in their places.


The room still echoed with the sound of his scepter striking the floor. The two factions of his chancellors were already at each other's throats, and he'd tried to enter as soon as the Kh'myr had settled into their positions. As voq jup had said, there was Kerla standing with them, and Kumara was missing from the other side. Chang looked smug, even though blood-soaked bandages nearly covered his face.

"I have made my decision," Kudan Kuras announced in his most ceremonial voice.

"Your wish is law and will be carried out to the last drop of our blood, sire," both Kang and Khalian voiced, following the traditional response.

"There is a chancellor missing," Kudan Kuras observed. "We will have to wait for him."

"Admiral Kumara has retired from the council," Chang said, stepping forward. "Permanently."

The Kh'myr side of the chamber broke out in raucous laughter.

"I shall miss his wisdom," Kudan Kuras responded. "We cannot continue without his support."

"His replacement is present with us, sire," Khalian stepped forward.

"And he is?"

"Colonel Kerla, sire."

Kudan Kuras' attention fell on the newest chancellor. "Do you understand the duties and responsibilities you take onto yourself?"

"Yes, sire, I do."

"May your council be as wise as your predecessor," Kudan Kuras said through the grumbling of the Segh vavsegment. "But we cannot have a mere colonel serving as a chancellor. I hereby promote you to the rank of brigadier general."

"Thank you, sire." Kerla stepped back behind Khalian and took his place in line next to Kusan.

"Then I can continue with the announcement of my decision regarding the situation in which the Federation finds itself," Kudan Kuras said. "Since we last met, a force of the invaders met a Federation dreadnought battle group and destroyed it."

"That is good, sire," Khalian volunteered his council, "that means it has started, and we can begin our attack on the Federation."

"But if these invaders took out a dreadnought battle group," Kor injected from his side of the room, "what will stop them? Not even our largest battlecruiser can stand toe-to-toe with a dreadnought."

"Kor, you're becoming feeble as you grow old," Khalian retorted. "Everyone knows that even the least of our fleet can out maneuver a dreadnought, and that is its weakness. The Federation puts too much faith in those clumsy, garbage scows."

"But not so the heavy cruisers that always escort the dreadnought. You and I know there isn't a ship known, not even a K't'inga, that can match, ton for ton, the Federation heavy cruiser for combined mobility and firepower. If I recall, you yourself commanded a wolf pack which was unable to destroy even one Federation battlecruiser."

Khalian grumbled his response, "I have not forgotten." Then his voice grew louder, "but neither have I forgotten that I am a Kh'myr Klingon. There is nothing I cannot overcome."

"You are a fool, Khalian," Kor began, but the booming sound of the emperor's scepter interrupted him.

Trying to assuage the bitter feelings that were building, Kudan Kuras opened tactfully. "I hear the wisdom in your advice, and it only serves to support the decision I have made."

"We await your decision, sire," the room echoed with the combined voice of the gathering.

"I have decided to support the Federation in their defense."

"Qu'vatlh, sire, why?" roared Khalian, stepping to the base of the throne's dais. "They will be on their knees and at our mercy."

"Kusan's wisdom influenced my decision. If the Federation falls to this invader, then how long before we fall before them as well? I would rather have the Federation owing us a debt of gratitude then their wrath at our attack of an undefended border."

Khalian turned to glare at Kusan, who stood unflinching under the unspoken onslaught. Growling, Khalian turned back to the emperor, his right hand jammed under his weapon belt. "If I were Emperor, I would not show so much weakness." Khalian barely veiled the contempt he felt.

"You are not emperor, Admiral Khalian. I am." Kudan Kuras stood tall and straight as he responded to Khalian's challenge. "Nor can you be. You do not carry the blood of Kahless."

"And you are the last in that line," Khalian said as he spun around, withdrawing something from his belt. He pointed a palm-sized disruptor at the emperor. There was a collective gasp, even from the Kh'myr present. Energy weapons were forbidden in the capital city of Kling, let alone in the Great Hall.

Time compressed in the throne room. Kudan Kuras knew he was only seconds from death, his gaze focusing on Khalian's victorious leer. Kang, and the rest of the Segh vav were only now reacting, trying to reach Khalian before he could push the trigger. So Kahless' line ends, he thought as he let the scepter go. It stood by itself, not surrendering to gravity for what seemed a long moment, before it began to fall. Reaching up with one hand, he unclasped the gold chain that held the imperial cloak on his shoulders, letting it fall around his feet, while with the other hand he took the Imperial Crown--a circlet of gold-plated latinum--from his head. Catching the gaze of the only one in the room who could save the Klingon Empire now, he tossed it back-handed toward him.

Khalian fired, and a thin, scarlet stream of directed energy struck Kudan Kuras dead center in the middle of his armor breast plate. With only the sound of the disruptor to mark his passing, he disappeared under its fiery attack.

The scepter finally fell, its booming impact echoing away slowly in the throne room's vaulted ceiling. Kusan caught the circlet. Khalian ran up the steps, stood in front of the throne, his arms upraised, roaring in triumph.

The room erupted in chaos. Kang and his Segh vav contingency charged Khalian. Chang and the Kh'myr chancellors intercepted them. Tajs left their sheaths and clanged together in close combat. A company of armored Kh'myr crashed into the room from every available entrance.

Khalian tried to fire the disruptor again, but each time he had a Segh vav chancellor in his sights, someone got in the way. He especially wanted a shot a Kang, his arch nemesis, regretting that he'd been unable to keep him bottled up in that prison.

The Kh'myr warriors brought order to the room, forming a line between the combatants and surrounding them. Though they couldn't fight, they still roared oaths and obscenities back and forth, promising the most painful of deaths.

Khalian put the phaser back in its hiding place and picked up the scepter. It felt good in his hand, his fingers fitting neatly in the holes carved into the end. With a crash, he brought its pointed end down hard onto the dais. It served to silence those on the floor. He brought the scepter down again for effect and smiled. Every eye was on him now, and he reveled in his new position. One look at the warriors that filled the room told Khalian they were members of Kusan's command. He laughed loud and long.

Kang finally found his voice, "MaghwI'," he said, spitting on the floor. "You have forfeited everything."

"You are wrong, Admiral Kang, I have gained everything. It is the first duty of a Klingon to eliminate weakness in the Empire. I," he paused accentuating the pronoun, "have done so and therefore claim the reward."

"Ha'DIbaH!" Koloth spouted, trying to get through the guards.

"Guards! Take the Segh vav from my sight until I can determine what execution best suits my fancy," Khalian decreed. "It is time we eliminated their kind from my Empire, once and for all."

None of the guards moved.

"What is this? Obey your Emperor!" Khalian screamed.

Kusan came forward and stood before Khalian. "You claim the throne of the Klingon Empire?"

"I do, by right of arms."

"But you are not of Kahless' line, and you know nothing of honor, bringing a forbidden weapon into this chamber."

"There are no more of Kahless' line, therefore I begin a new line. And the only honor I am concerned about is how the Empire will honor me. From now on, the House of Khalian will rule."

Kusan made a quick, discreet signal with his hand. A powerful bolt of directed energy came from the back of the room and struck Khalian dead center. A cutting variety of disruptor, it did not neatly disintegrate Khalian, but bored a bloody hole through him. Khalian stiffened, then fell like a tree under the woodsman's axe. The scepter fell to the floor a second time in one day.

Kusan turned to face the room without mounting the dais. His forces held order, but grumbles and growls of uncertainty came from the remaining chancellors.

"I suppose now you're the emperor," Kang said, his voice oozing with contempt. "So much for the honor that we both supposedly share."

"No, I am not of Kahless' line either," Kusan answered plainly. "And I still value the honor we share, Kang."

"But you are Kh'myr," Kang continued.

"Yes, I am. But I am first a Klingon, and unlike this wretched fool, I hold honor above life itself." He turned to point at the top of the dais where Khalian's body still lay, blood flowing from the gaping wound, his eyes staring vacantly at the ceiling. "He placed himself above honor and has suffered the ultimate penalty."

General Chang, who had a moment earlier been ready to jump to Khalian's side and join him in his position of power, backed away from the front, disappearing into the crowd at the rear of the room. His wounds hurt, and now this had happened. Khalian had been impatient in his quest for power; he would not make the same mistake. Someday the opportunity would come again, and he would be ready to take advantage of it.

Just as he was about to slip from the room, he felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning, he found Nanclus, the Romulan legate, and Duran, his official escort. "What do you want, Romulan?"

"There is much we can do for each other," Nanclus said.

"What can a Romulan do for me?"

"Come. Let us leave this confusion, and we'll discuss it."

Chang looked around to see if anyone was paying him any attention and found that all of them were watching the dais. "Lead the way," he said quietly and followed Nanclus out a side door.

Grumbling continued to fill the room with a disruptive background noise. Then Kang stepped forward and it quieted. "I applaud your action against Khalian, and only wish I could have been the instrument of his death, thereby paying him back for the time I spent in prison, but who will lead us then? None of us has enough support to control the empire by ourselves. If I or one of my Segh vav colleagues took control, the Kh'myr would continue to subvert all efforts to bring the Empire under our control, and likewise if you or one of your Kh'myr took control."

"Agreed. Until both races agree to work together as Klingons, forgetting their physical differences, neither can rule."

"Someone must be in command; someone must make the crucial decisions," Kang continued.

"Again, I agree." Kusan stood there unmoving, smiling like a triget who had devoured the sitra.

Kor grew impatient, growling. "Then who, you son of a whore?"

Kusan turned to gesture toward the throne. Standing there was someone who had entered quietly while Kusan had held their attentions. "I submit the name of Gorkon, the emperor's voq jup, one who is both but neither Segh vav or Kh'myr. He has never taken sides with either. He was wise enough for the emperor to give his complete faith to. He comes from a very powerful Kh'myr family, and his mate comes from an equally powerful Segh vav clan. But above all, he is an honorable Klingon, perhaps the most honorable since Kahless himself. I say he should lead the Empire."

There was a moment of grumbling and covert conversation, then a voice spoke up from the Kh'myr side. "I will support Gorkon." It was Kerla, the newest member of the council.

Then Kang spoke up. "I will support Gorkon."

Kor and Koloth followed suit a moment later.

"Good," Kusan announced. "The High Council has approved the leadership of Gorkon." Turning, he bowed without taking his eyes off Gorkon, holding out the Imperial Crown, "I pledge my allegiance to you, sire."

Gorkon stood still, quiet, letting his gaze meet that of each one of the chancellors. He found support in each warrior's face. Reaching down, he picked up the cloak. The medals pinned to it chimed as he lifted it. Securing it to his shoulders, he reached down to pick up the scepter. Limping from an old wound, he used the scepter to descend the stairs and receive the crown.

But instead of putting it on his head, he instead walked back up the dais' stairs and stood in front of the throne. Slowly he hung the crown on the top prong of the BatloH' carving that made up the left side of its back. Without turning, he spoke, "I do not claim the title of emperor. I am not of Kahless' line."

A humm of approval welled up from the crowd.

Gorkon waited until the room grew silent again to continue. "The crown and throne that was his will wait for his promised return." He turned to face the room from the top of the dais, "Instead, I create, as my first official act, the title and position of Supreme Chancellor of the High Council, and assume its duties." As a final gesture, he struck the scepter to the dais, completing the transaction.

The room exploded with roars of approval. Kusan signaled the captain of the company of warriors, and they quickly and quietly left the room, leaving the leader of the Klingon Empire to talk to his Chancellors.

Stepping down from the dais, he joined his chancellors on the floor and with sweeping arm motions gathered them around him. He began, "As the leader of my people, this is how we will attack..."


"She's giving out, Commander Kelsey, and there's nothing engineering can do to stop it," Luncker reported, now as the ship's new executive officer.

"What happened?" Kelsey queried from his position in auxiliary control.

"Between the damage sustained to both ships during the battle and the differences between their drive system and ours..." The exec paused. "...I'm surprised we've made it this far."

"Do the best you can. Auxiliary Control out." Kelsey shifted his attention to the other system area that was now more important than the engines--communications. If they couldn't get to help by themselves then it was imperative that they be able to call for it. More important than that, to warn the Federation of the threat that was staging on the Gorn borders.

The senior surviving communications officer was an Andorian ensign named Thirket. Fresh out of the Academy, his experience level was minimal, but Kelsey knew he was doing the best he could. The trick was to coax more out of him without letting him know you were doing it.

"How're we doing in the comm department, Thirket?"

Buried up to his midsection in the belly of the comm console, the ensign didn't hear him. Flashes and curses in Andorian told Kelsey why.

Approaching the console, Kelsey got on his hands and knees and looked through the access panel. There were optical fibers, wires and conduits hanging everywhere. It was hard to see where they stopped and Thirket began. "How are we doing?"

"Not good, sir. Feedback from a weapon hit fried every subspace circuit in the console. I'm having to modify circuits from every department on the ship to try and make it work," Thirket answered.

"Will it work?"

"Your guess is as good as mine, sir. I'm learning more now about how subspace works, or rather, how it doesn't work, than I ever did in the Academy. I guess if I have enough time I will eventually get us at least one frequency open."

Kelsey didn't feel it necessary to tell the ensign that time was running out. There was no one more qualified left alive, and Thirket would or would not succeed in getting communications back up in his own time. "Do we have anything that can be used to get the attention of help?"

Thirket stopped work for a moment, thinking, then got visibly upset. Andorian curses coming out rapid fire, he squirmed about and extracted himself from the console.

"What's the matter?" Kelsey backed out of the way.

"Why didn't I think of that before I put so much time into repairing what can't be repaired?"

"What are you talking about?"

"The distress buoy. Down in the photon tubes. I can use the subspace transmitter from it." He walked toward the open doors to the hallway.

Kelsey stopped him. "No good, Ensign. The exec and I already thought of that. There's nothing but open space where the tubes used to be." This had been the third time he'd had to stop Thirket from doing this. It was an indication of how exhausted the young ensign really was. Unfortunately, he couldn't send him to get some rest, not now when everything counted on him getting some sort of communication established. The only thing he could do was stay with him and ensure he remained focused on this one project.

Thirket stared vacantly toward the empty hall, then turned slowly to stare at the ruined comm console. "I can't do this."

"Sure, you can." Kelsey could see the look of failure on Thirket's face. "If not subspace, maybe some other type of communication signal. Something that will attract attention to itself."

"What are you talking about, sir?"

"There are as many ways of communicating as there are stars out there. We just have to find the one that will attract attention to itself so the receiver can figure out it's a message."

Thirket's mouth dropped open and his eyes became vacant with thought. "Okay," he said a moment later, scratching the base of his right antennae. "Okay," he repeated.

"Okay, what, Ensign?" Kelsey wasn't sure whether that meant Thirket was on to something or just losing it completely.

Thirket began thinking out loud. "What would attract someone's attention the fastest?" Then answered the question himself, "Some sort of threat. An energy wave? Nope, don't have the power to spare to create something big enough to cover enough area or fast enough to get there sometime soon." Thirket was deep in thought. "Ahh." A smile spread across Thirket's face.

"'Ahh,' Ensign?" Kelsey wasn't sure to be happy or worried.

"Tachyons, sir, tachyons."

"What about them?"

"Naturally occurring, faster than light, particles. I can generate a tachyon pulse with any of the sensor dishes and use it to carry a simple message."

"Tachyons bombard starships all the time," Kelsey stated. "How would that get their attention?"

"I'll create it on a frequency that will make it appear to be a phaser shot. Used to happen all the time at the advent of interstellar travel. Drove the sensor officers crazy, especially after the first Romulan War. The pulses would cause the automatic alarms to warn the ship of an attack, then the communications officer would receive these messages. It's so simple, sir."

Kelsey always liked simple solutions. "Make it so, Ensign."

Thirket moved over to the remains of the science station and ascertained which of its assets were still available. "Yeah!" he exclaimed after a moment. "The main dish is still intact."

"How long can the message be?" Kelsey queried.

"Very short, sir. One word, concept, anything," Thirket answered as he configured the sensor emitter.

"You mean like, 'Help?'"

"Exactly, sir."

"How often can you pulse?"

"Just a moment, sir." Thirket pressed one last button and a light began to flash red. "When that turns green, the pulse will be ready."

"Have you put our message on it already?"

"Yes, sir. SOS. Simple and still accepted as an interstellar call for help." Thirket was timing the pulse while he talked. The light flashed to green. "I can pulse every thirty seconds, or until there isn't enough power left."


Thirket was about to do that when he withdrew his hand quickly, as if something had burned it.

"What's wrong, Ensign?" Kelsey asked, worried.

"The signal will be omni-directional, sir. What if they," he nodded his head toward the rear of the ship to indicate the invading force that had caused all this, "hear it and get here first?"

"A chance we'll have to take, Ensign. Send it."

The pulse left the saucer dish, causing the lights throughout the ship to dim. They recovered quickly, but it was enough to remind Kelsey of how much it cost. If the impulse engines of the fighter gave out, they wouldn't get many more pulses out before the system would be drained completely.

Things were coming to a head very quickly for the survivors. They'd been crawling along at quarter impulse for two days and were still too far from any regular star lanes to hope for a visual spotting. If someone didn't hear the distress call, the Samson, with her fighter companion, would become just another pair of ruined derelicts, floating through the deep darkness of interstellar space.

A half hour of pulses later, the impulse engines gave out completely, and the ship began drifting, life support draining the power supply slowly, but surely. Lieutenant Luncker walked into auxiliary control with the news, though the fading lights told the whole story.

"That did it, sir."

"I know, Exec."

"What now?"

The lights dimmed as the sensor dish fired a pulse. They didn't fully recover their brilliance afterward.

"Thirket, discontinue pulsing." Kelsey ordered, then turned to Luncker. "Move everyone to the area around Sickbay and Aux Control. Seal the rest of the ship and cut power to them. We'll wait it out right here."

"Aye, sir." Luncker went to execute the order.

"Should I shut down the sensor system, sir?" Thirket asked.

"No, Ensign, continue to listen. Passive sensors don't use much power. Keep one pulse ready, just in case we get a response. Place our location on the carrier."

"Aye, sir." Thirket relaxed at the sensor console, taking the first break he'd had in days.

Voices in the hallway told Kelsey that his exec was carrying out his orders. Pretty soon it became a constant backdrop. Kelsey began to stare at the unchanging starscape on the viewscreen. At their present, slower-than-light speed, nothing seemed to move, nothing got closer, or was left behind.

"Can I be of some assistance?" a voice asked behind Kelsey.

Kelsey turned to find the ship's chaplain. "Yes, Padre. I need the crew to settle in for the wait. If they aren't too anxious, they'll use less oxygen, etcetera, etcetera, you know what I mean. If you could calm them, please?"

"What are our chances of being found?" the chaplain asked.

"Good question, Padre," Kelsey responded. "I wish I had a good answer, but if you would put in a good word with whoever's in charge upstairs, I would be mighty grateful." Kelsey smiled.

The chaplain nodded, then left.

Luncker returned a little while later and caught Kelsey napping. Slumped over his console, Thirket's breathing came in a low, steady pattern, indicating he was in deep sleep. "How we doing, Exec?"

"Everyone's settled in. The chaplain's earning his pay," Luncker reported.

"Good," Kelsey responded, then pointed at the empty chair at the engineering console. "Take a load off, Exec. There's nothing to do now but wait."

"Aye, sir." Luncker sat.

Ten minutes passed, and the survivors settled in. Most, including Kelsey, went to sleep, a reaction to the sudden cessation of stress.


Kelsey snapped awake, unable to remember falling asleep, and feeling disoriented and shaken. A sound seemed to echo off into the background, but he couldn't tell if it was real or part of some dream his exhausted brain had invented. Remaining very still, he listened closely to his environment. Snores, mumbles, the comforting whir of life support, but that was it. What did I hear? he thought, checking his chronometer to figure out how long he'd been asleep. Six hours have passed, he said to himself then shook his head, wondering why that bothered him.

The sensor station came alive with a warning buzzer, startling him. Thirket nearly fell to the floor as he awoke suddenly to the jangling alarm. Shaking his head, the ensign turned off the alarm, then began the process of ascertaining what had caused it.

Kelsey walked over to peer over Thirket's shoulder.

"Computer says we're under attack, sir," Thirket reported after a moment, then shook his head. "Phasers? Can't be, sir. There's no ship within range."

"Tachyon pulse, Ensign?"

Thirket's eyes got very wide as he made the connection. "Could be, sir. If there is a ship out there, and they received our pulse, and couldn't raise us on subspace, they might try to raise us the same way we raised them. I will prepare the computer to receive the next one."

They didn't have to wait long. A quieter alarm told them there was a weapon burst coming in. It hit and Thirket captured what was riding it. "Whoever they are, they're asking, 'Where?' sir."

"Any way of finding out their identity?" Kelsey remembered what Thirket had asked earlier. What if this other ship was a patrolling fighter from the force that had damaged them in the first place?

"No way, sir. Simple tachyon wave, just like ours."

"Is the sensor dish still loaded with a pulse?"

"Yes, sir."

"Send it."

The lights in auxiliary control dimmed and didn't recover. The answer was on the way.

I hope they're close, thought Kelsey, noting the dusk around him, because that'll be the last noise this ol' girl is going to make.

A bright point of light moved within the starfield on the viewscreen. It came from the left side of the screen, slowly centering as it got closer. Still quite a ways out, the ship was easily recognizable as Starfleet, its saucer-shaped primary hull giving it away. "Turn on the running lights, Ensign."

"Aye, sir."

Kelsey tapped on Luncker's shoulder. When his exec was finally awake, he whispered in his ear the good news. "We have company, Exec. Get the crew up and ready to leave."

Luncker jumped to his feet, whooping. "Hot damn, sir! We did it!"

"It seems that way," Kelsey responded. "Now get them ready."


"Gentlemen, the C in C," Starfleet's adjutant announced.

The room's occupants came to attention behind the long, U-shaped formation of tables.

"Take your seats, gentlemen." Cartwright stormed in, followed closely by Smillie and Scira. He stood at the desk located at the open end of the 'U' and waited for the other two to take their seats before beginning. "Thank you for coming. By now, you have all heard what has happened." He looked around the table and saw all their heads nodding. The large number of non-Humans on his staff disturbed him.

"First, let me say this," Cartwright glowered, "I'm not happy with how slow Starfleet is responding to this emergency. We still have too many ships that haven't reported in ready to move." He knew that William Smillie, the Chief of Operations, would have a lot to say in reaction to that statement, so he didn't dwell on it. "On your monitors are the parts of the operations order we," he indicated Smillie and Scira, "sent you last night. The mission hasn't changed; we are going to have to put a force onto the old Gorn border that is formidable enough to stop any further aggression. As you present your parts of the briefing, please be ready to add it to the order."

Cartwright sat. "We'll start with you, Scira."

The Skorrian chief of personnel stood. "I have reviewed your task organization for the defense of the Federation, sir. And to put it frankly, sir," the avian admiral looked uncomfortable with what he was going to say, "we don't have enough service personnel in the system to bring the entire fleet up to war-time strength."

This bothered Cartwright, though he'd already known it was coming. It was precisely for this reason he had railed at the Federation Council's cutbacks over the last few years, but he wanted the reason entered into the official records. "Why is that, Scira?"

"The steady cutbacks in funding for Starfleet over the years, and the severe draw down of forces they've thrust upon us has left us with a large shortfall in trained, experienced crews."

"Pull the senior class at the Academy, commission them now. Accelerate the rest of the classes," Cartwright responded.

"But, sir. They're not ready yet," argued Commandant Barstow.

"What better training than on the front? Just call it on-the-job training and get them moving," suggested Torvaal, Chief of Logistics.

The chief of personnel shook his head, his feathers drooping downward. "Aye, sir."

"Will that help, Scira?" asked Smillie.

"A little, sir, but..." He hesitated when he saw the glare Cartwright was giving him. "Never mind, sir."

"Is that all?" probed Smillie further.

"No, sir," Scira continued, "at least not about accelerating the course of instruction at the Academy. This concerns the new corvette-class ships."

"Yes?" Smillie was getting agitated.

"We don't have enough captains to command them."

"That's easy, Scira. Promote some new ones," ordered Cartwright, trying to end the discussion.

"We can't, sir. Not until the Council approves funds to pay them."

"We could find ourselves over run by invaders by the time the Council agrees to anything like that," remarked Lystra Davis, Cartwright's chief of staff. She'd replaced Bob Bennett only last year.

"Maybe, sir, but we don't have the funding."

"Reduce the rating for command of a corvette to the rank of Commander. Does that help?" Cartwright smiled.

"Yes, sir."

"Is that all?"

"Yes, sir."

"Yves." Cartwright nodded toward Admiral Yves Gervais, his chief of security, to begin.

"This is the third contact we've had with them. The first was a scout force that overwhelmed the Enterprise for a brief time nearly twenty years ago. The scout force itself was defeated by Kirk and his senior officers and marooned on a class M planet near the galaxy's edge. The second encounter was fifteen years ago, and we thought we'd seen the last of them once we wiped them out," he paused as the room erupted in hushed whispers.

"We don't know how many there are in this attack, but information gleaned from the records intimates that this is the invasion force the Kelvan sent the scouts to pre-stage, and contains the entire population of their species. The report from the Gorn computer core supports this.

"Initial results of our tests on the fighter that the Samson brought back indicates that their technology is not a whole lot different from ours. They altered their shields to withstand the Galactic Barrier, and they're now tougher than ours, but much less resilient.

"Except for one case, their weapons are simple plasma torpedoes and disruptors. The one difference is a dampening beam that literally drains all power from its target, including the shields. Limitations on this weapon, as seen by both the Samson and the Gorn fleet, are that it is a short range weapon, and only carried by the largest of their vessels."

"If their weapons are not superior to ours" Cartwright interrupted, "then why are were they so successful against the Dominion battle group?"

"My guess is that they surprised the battle group by attacking immediately, and the Dominion was simply overwhelmed by the number of fighters the Kelvan threw at them. Add to this the size difference between their assault ship and the dreadnought, our largest starship; I think they panicked."

Cartwright nodded, but remained silent.

"Anyway," Gervais continued along his format, "the Kelvan morale is probably very high. They just overwhelmed the entire Gorn Confederacy and are busy adjusting the Gorn's industry and living quarters to fit their needs. The Gorn observed them taking the high rises of their nest world and ripping out two of every three floors to accommodate their larger body size. They also observed the Kelvan' complete subjugation of the Gorn as a species, using them both for heavy labor and food."

"Food, Yves?" Cartwright asked.

"Yes, sir. The Kelvan are consuming them."

Disgust at the prospect of being hunted and eaten distorted the faces of the entire assemblage.

"They communicate using standard subspace transmissions, but the content of the message is not a standard audible source. At first, we thought they were scrambling the message in some way, and that all we could hear was the carrier wave, but research carried out during the second probe encounter by then Commander Spock determined that they are powerful telepaths and can attach their thoughts to a subspace carrier. R'n'D is studying the transmitter/receiver on the captured fighter and should have a solution to this soon.

"Unless there are any further questions," the chief of security said, noting that there were none coming, "I will be followed by the chief tactician."

Rear Admiral M'luss stood, walked over to the viewscreen, pulled out a small laser pointer and began. "My briefing follows what you see in the operations order in front of you." The Caitian gestured to the disks being distributed by one of his staffers.

"As per the task organization, Starfleet will be broken down into ten task forces. Task Forces One through Five have three Federation-class dreadnoughts, as their central core and will be ordered to engage and stop the main attack. Task Forces Six through Ten's central core will have Constitution, Constellation and Miranda class heavy cruisers, deep space cruisers and frigates as their core. Their mission will be to patrol the sectors containing non-traditional invasion routes and to plug breaches in the main defense lines.

"There will be heavies to escort and augment the dreadnoughts of the first five task forces." M'luss noted the nods of agreement amongst the staff. The dreadnoughts weren't as effective as their designers had intended.

"Saladin, Siva and Cochise class destroyers have been equally distributed to the task forces, as are the Hermes and Oberth-class scouts. They are to be used to track and screen the Kelvan forces, then later help channel them into our kill zones. You will note Task Forces One through Three have a few of the new Mugato-class corvettes. More will be forthcoming as the space docks complete construction."

M'luss noted the Andorian Chief of Fleet Operations Readiness, Rear Admiral Thrax K'al Kevaran shaking his head and making notes. Both Cartwright and he had expected this, so he continued on in his briefing.

Pointing at the back of the conference room, he signaled the screen to be activated. A detailed map of the old Gorn boundary came up on it. With the laser pointer, he began showing them what they had planned for the Federation's defense.

"We have already begun denying the Kelvan some sectors. Ptolemy, Keppler and Dolland class tugs, with special mine-laying transport containers, have begun laying down concentrated fields of Mark One antimatter mines." Areas shaded in red appeared on the screen. M'luss remembered seeing the specifications on this mine. It packed a heavy antimatter charge, and could be triggered by contact and proximity. "These are not marked with warning buoys, but all ships, both in Starfleet and the legitimate civilian cargo fleets, have received warning announcements concerning their general location." A yellow haze appeared further out, in general ovoids well outside the exact boundaries of the fields.

Behind the minefields, a large, blue dome, broken into nine parts, appeared. Task force numbers marked which force would be responsible for what area. As stated earlier, the dreadnought forces were occupying the traditional invasion routes and had no minefields laid out in front of them. Cartwright wanted the enemy to come this way.

A second, smaller blue dome appeared behind the next layer of mines. "That, gentlemen, is where Task Force One will be placed as a secondary line of defense." A bright blue dot labeled 32 appeared near the Klingon Neutral Zone. "Finally, we will move the Safe Haven-class SpaceDock that makes up Starbase Thirty-two from its present position," he pointed at the blue dot with the laser and followed it as it moved to a position centered and behind the second defensive line, "to here, where the forward area commander will maintain his headquarters."

M'luss turned to face Cartwright. "Have you decided who will command the defense, sir?"

Cartwright chuckled then answered the question. "I wish I was. That job will be a whole lot easier than the diplomacy...actually, the begging...I'll be doing back here in the council, trying to insure we continue to get enough support for Starfleet. No, I have given that command to Admiral Harry Morrow."

The aging, previous commander of Starfleet stood up to be acknowledged, then sat back down.

"I will expect a copy of your operations order on my desk tomorrow morning, Harry."

"My staff is already working on it, sir."

"Fine," Cartwright responded then returned his attention to his chief tactician. "Continue, Admiral."

"The rest of my part of the order is technical and, with your permission, can be gotten by reading the order."

"Fine," Cartwright nodded, "Torvaal, your turn."

Vice Admiral Pik Torvaal, Starfleet's chief of logistics, stood up and cleared his throat.

Cartwright dreaded what he was about to hear. Making plans and moving forces was easy to do. Supporting them with the supplies needed to maintain their positions was another thing completely. The success of the Federation's defense would hinge on Starfleet's ability to support the force.

"Sir, with your declaring a war-time emergency, we have begun to activate the memoranda of agreements and contracts that are in place with the civilian agencies. They are complying, but it will be at least another three weeks before they can make the full transformation. Present Starfleet spacedock facilities have had their schedules accelerated, returning ships to the front quickly so that the dock can be moved closer to the action." Torvaal glanced toward Thrax, indicating the Andorian admiral should speak.

"Those ships unable to be completed in the next two days, including the three new corvettes, will be towed to a place near their eventual defensive positions. I have ordered all civilian techs federalized, and they will be transferred with their facilities." The chief of fleet operations readiness stopped, sighing, trying to find a way to breach a difficult subject.

"What is it, Admiral?" Cartwright asked.

"Well, sir. Are you sure you want to send the corvettes to the front?" asked Thrax.

"Why not? They're faster, better armed than the scouts, and will be a welcome addition to their ranks."

"Yes, sir, but they're brand-new, untried, and haven't been taken out on a shakedown cruise. For all we know, we could lose them all to wormhole effects, or they may just blow up the first time they use their new warp engines."

A yeoman from Intelligence slipped quietly up behind the chief of security and handed him a message board.

Cartwright ignored this and was about to answer Torvaal's question when he heard Gervais clear his throat. "Go ahead, Yves."

"I've just received an intelligence report from the Klingon and Romulan neutral zones, sir."

"When it rains, it pours," Cartwright said, sighing. "What?"

"Increased activity all along both borders. They may have noticed the thinning of our defenses there."

"What do we have left on that front?"

"Obsolete ships that were due for decommissioning. Not one of them is good enough to face a Klingon or Romulan attack."

"There's your answer, Thrax. We'll order the corvettes to that border. It'll serve two functions: to shake out the bugs in the corvettes, and give the Klingons and Romulans something to look at," Cartwright ordered.

Admirals Gervais, Thrax and Torvaal nodded in agreement.

Cartwright turned to the chief of personnel. "Who do we have available to command the border guard?"

"There's Commander Kelsey, late of the Samson," Scira answered.

"No. Too green. Give him a corvette instead. Which one is closest to being completed?"

"The Fer d'Lance, sir," Torvaal answered.

"Cut the orders, Scira. Is there anyone else available?"

The Skorrian pulled out a padd and punched in a query. A moment later, he looked up with a smile on his face. "There is Captain Sulu. He's presently waiting for repairs to be completed on the science vessel Cooper. With the work accelerated on the combat capable ships, the Cooper won't be ready until June at the earliest."

"He'll do. Cut orders for him to assume command of the U.S.S. Mugato and the border guard."

"Aye, sir," Scira nodded, tapping in the request on a small computer/messaging device. Finished, he punched the send button, and it sent a short message to his adjutant. The orders would be cut and sent before the briefing ended.

"Anything else, Thrax?"

"Not on that subject, sir." The Andorian deferred back to the chief of logistics.

Cartwright sighed as he realized that Admiral Torvaal was about to get into the real nitty gritty of the logistical problems.


An hour later, Torvaal finished. He had described many more problems with acquiring support from the civilians, but nothing that couldn't be handled.

During that time a steady flow of messages came into Morrow's message board, beeping each time one arrived. He quickly read each one. Most he could answer right away, but one, a message from his operations officer, had to be addressed at the briefing.

Cartwright stood as Torvaal sat. "That completes this briefing. Are there any more questions or concerns?"

Morrow stood. "Yes, sir."

Cartwright sat back down. "Go ahead."

"My adjutant just sent me a disturbing message. He states that in order to cover the entire front, even with minefields covering some avenues, we will not have enough ships."

"You've got everything I can spare, Harry," Cartwright offered, with just a touch of fatigue in him voice.

"Yes, sir, I know, and I have a solution, but it will require a lot of help from Logistics."

"And that is?"

"I need every class one sensor probe Starfleet can spare."

Torvaal's eyebrows scrunched together as he asked the obvious question. "Why?"

"The class one sensor probe has the same number and type of sensors as a starship. When activated, they can be mistaken as one from long range. I can scatter them in the spaces between the real ships, program them for random operation, and thereby give the Kelvan the impression that there are more defenders than there really are."

"Good idea, Morrow," Cartwright was smiling as he turned to his chief of logistics. "Give them to him."

"Yes, sir," Torvaal acknowledged and sent a message to his assistant.

"Now. Are there any more concerns?"

There were none.

"Let's get to work gentlemen."


The alert was called just as Captain Kirk and Uhura were returning to Starfleet Headquarters from their liberty. Proceeding straight to the Enterprise, they had discovered her already in final preparations for departure. Civilian technicians filled her corridors, completing her refit. Both boarded the nearest turbolift and headed for the bridge.

The bridge was in the grip of the organized chaos normal for pre-departure routines. Everyone was trying to get the last minute details accomplished at the same time. Taking it all in with a glance, Kirk noted that someone was missing.

Getting his first officer's attention, he asked the obvious question. "Spock, where's Chekov?"

The Enterprise's first officer was at the science station briefing Mister Spareg on the unique items and capabilities that he had added to the station's console. At the captain's inquiry, he left the new member of the crew with a familiarization program and approached Kirk with the first officer's board. This portable computer memory contained the information needed by a starship's executive officer. One file it maintained was the status of the personnel on board.

Keying in a coded sequence, Spock called it up. "Sir, when they sounded the alert, these orders followed." He handed Kirk the board for his review. Spock continued as the captain read the first set of orders. "Let me be the first to congratulate you on being assigned as Commander-Task Force Six."

The next set of orders were not at all surprising. "Does he know about these?" Kirk looked to where Commander Riley and Lieutenant Commander Saavik were preparing the navigation console for the trip ahead.

"No, sir. I thought you would like the pleasure."

"Thank you, Spock. Arrange the ceremony in the recreation room in one hour. Inform all appropriate persons and ensure they are present." Kirk continued through the numerous pages before coming to Chekov's orders. "I think he deserves that."

"Yes, Captain," Spock answered, coming to parade rest. "I would say it's been a long time in coming. It's unfortunate that a promotion in rank doesn't come with it, but the commanding officer of a corvette is rated at commander."

Kirk continued to read the orders. "To Commander Pavel Chekov, you are hereby reassigned to the command of the U.S.S. Diamondback, effective immediately."

Looking at Spock, Kirk continued. "I wish I could have presented this. Why did he have to leave so soon?"

"I was curious about that as well, but no sooner had he left, when a tug hooked up to the spacedock his corvette was in and warped out," Spock's face remained non-committal.

Kirk was curious where Chekov and his command had gone, but knew that Spock would have told him if he'd known. "Who do we put on the weapons console?"

Spock mentally reviewed all those qualified on the equipment and soon had a suggestion. "Lieutenant Trillock has served satisfactorily as a phaser battery commander for the past six months. I would say he is ready for the promotion in position."

"He's the Andorian?" Kirk queried.

"Yes, sir," Spock answered. "A very efficient and aggressive officer."

"Make the change immediate." Kirk handed the board back to Spock. "When will we be ready to depart?"

"The ship is ready now. Starfleet will be sending us our departure orders shortly. They also promised to send the listing of the ships assigned to your force at the same time."

Spock had just finished speaking when Uhura received numerous messages from Starfleet. She acknowledged and transferred the contents to her status board. Similar to Spock's exec board, its formats were designed specifically for the comm station. "Orders from Starfleet, sir."

Their eyes met and held as memories of the past two weeks intruded on their minds. She brought her board to him, where he scanned the orders. Nodding his head, he activated the ship's log, reading them into it. "Captain's Log, Stardate 8511.23. The Enterprise is ordered to proceed to Starbase Thirty-two, where it will be joined by the rest of Task Force Six. There the technicians presently on board will be transferred to Starbase Thirty-two and then sent to the nearest spacedock. Task Force Six will then receive its final destination orders. Signed: Moses Cartwright, Admiral, Commander-Starfleet. Log off."

Kirk scanned the bridge and saw everyone waiting for his orders. "Mister Saavik, plot a course for Starbase Thirty-two." He then punched up engineering on the command intercom. "Captain Scott, are we ready for a little trip?"

Scott's brogue answered the question. "Aye, sir. Impulse and warp engines at your disposal."

"Thank you, Captain Scott." Kirk turned to Riley. "Helmsman, impulse engines at Sublight Factor Nine. Let's take her out."

"Aye, sir. Sublight Factor Nine."

The Enterprise jumped out of Earth orbit, within seconds reaching ninety percent the speed of light. Because of the war alert, a special corridor had been established through the normally clogged traffic lanes of the Solar system. Just under an hour later, the starship was approaching the massive gas giant Jupiter, and then the warp jump point.

"Mister Riley, prepare to go to Warp Factor Six."

"Warp Six, aye, sir."

"Commander Uhura, ship's intercom, please."

Uhura flipped the necessary switches and nodded to the captain.

"All hands, this is the captain. As you know, Starfleet has been ordered to full alert. Starships are even now proceeding to war-time positions along the Gorn Confederacy's old border. The situation is still unknown, but I will give it to you as I receive it myself. Secure for warp speeds. Captain out." Flipping a switch on his chair, he cut the intercom. "Mister Riley. Warp Six."

"Warp Six. Aye, sir."

Riley slowly eased forward on the lever that sent power to the warp engines. The Enterprise leapt forward, approaching the speed of light. The visible spectrum distorted as the laws of physics affected them. The ship seemed to stretch out and smear. As it attained Warp One, it changed into a wave of energy, producing a massive gravitational and magnetic shockwave. Inside the warp envelope, nothing changed, as the ship continued to accelerate toward Warp Six.

Kirk heard the engines level off as the ship reached the ordered speed. "Mister Spock, please accompany me to my quarters. Mister Riley, you have the conn." He joined Spock in the turbolift, while Riley took his position in the captain's chair. Once the doors closed, he turned to his second in command. "He looks comfortable in that seat."

"Yes, sir. It appears he will get a baptism by fire."

"Is everything ready for his promotion?" Kirk asked.

"Yes, sir," Spock answered. "The word has been given to those attending."

The doors opened as soon as the turbolift stopped. They continued the conversation as they walked down the corridor. "Spock, there is more in the message from Starfleet than just our destination. I'd like you to review it with me.

"Yes, sir."

"That reminds me, I want you to be my Task Force executive officer."

The traditional eyebrow lift accompanied Spock's response. "Of course, sir."

"Thank you, Spock. Ah, my quarters. Please come in." The doors shut quietly behind them as they entered.

Kirk transferred the remaining messages to the personal computer in his quarters. "Computer. This is Captain James T. Kirk."

The metallic voice of the computer responded. "Computer on."

"Play back messages received this stardate for Commander-Enterprise, eyes only."

The computer went into a security mode as it processed the clearance required to view the information. It immediately sensed Spock's presence. "Identity of person with you?"

"Captain Spock."

"Standby for retina scan." A beam probed the blood vessel pattern in Kirk's right eye and then Spock's.

"Identity confirmed and clearance completed. Standby to view message."

Admiral Cartwright appeared. "Captain Kirk. You will remember I mentioned that something peculiar was happening in Gorn space. As it turns out, they have been engaged in a life or death struggle with a hostile force from outside our galaxy."

Kirk remembered his numerous encounters with that enigmatic barrier and made a couple of quick assumptions about these intruders. Then he returned his attention to the viewscreen as the admiral continued. "The Gorn have fallen to what we now know to be the Kelvan Empire."

Kirk hit the pause button and looked at Spock. "The Kelvan?"

If this surprised Spock, it didn't show, his outward appearance remained neutral. "The Federation is correct in mobilizing so quickly."

Kirk nodded as he pressed proceed, allowing the message to continue.

"My biggest concern is how we're going to face this force ourselves. Included with this message is a brief overview of the intelligence we got from the sole surviving ship of the Dominion's battle group. Please review it before you arrive at Starbase Thirty-two and be ready to comment." Cartwright paused.

"Congratulations on your new command. Please congratulate Captain Riley for me when you publish his orders. Smooth sailing. Admiral Cartwright out." The screen winked out, and the computer indicated that the intelligence file was waiting.

Kirk turned to Spock with an unspoken question in his eyes.

Spock answered it. "Jim, I would like to see the intelligence report before rendering an opinion. Captain Scott also should be allowed to view it. As chief engineer, he may see a weakness in their equipment that could be turned to our advantage."

Kirk agreed. "Fine, Spock. Please have Scotty meet us in Briefing Room Two right after the promotion. Invite Captain Riley as well. Anything else, Spock?"

"No, sir. Not at this time."

"Good. I'll meet you in the recreation center in thirty minutes. I've got some unpacking to do."

"Yes, sir." Spock left Kirk's quarters.


In the recreation center, a few of the invited crew were already arriving. Most figured this would just be a briefing by the captain concerning the alert. Riley arrived after being relieved by Mister Saavik at the conn. He was curious about the reason for the assembly, but comfortable since many of his friends were also there. He already missed Pavel Chekov and wondered how he was doing aboard the corvette. Riley had to force himself not to dwell on why he hadn't gotten a command as well. On the other hand, he had been in Starfleet long enough now to know that it didn't do much good to worry about it.

As Kirk and Spock entered the room, its occupants came to attention.

"Commander Kevin Riley, front and center!" Spock noted the look of complete surprise on Riley's face. Excellent, he thought, no one has informed him.

Riley positioned himself in front of Kirk and waited as Spock continued, "By order of Admiral Moses Cartwright, Commander Kevin Riley is hereby promoted to the rank of captain. Effective immediately."

Spock handed the captain's insignia to Kirk, then waited as Kirk put them on Riley's shoulders.

Kirk shook his hand after he finished putting on the rank. "Congratulations, Kevin. It is well deserved and long overdue."

"Thank you, sir."

"Stand by. We're not finished yet." Kirk then motioned for Spock to continue.

"Effective as soon as the Enterprise reaches Starbase Thirty-two, you are hereby ordered to assume command of the U.S.S. Enterprise."

Riley almost fainted. That's why I didn't get command of a corvette!

Kirk put his hand on the shaken Riley. "Kevin, take care of her, or you'll have to answer to me personally."

Riley was one big smile. "You can trust me, sir."


Two weeks passed as Starfleet frantically put itself onto a war time footing. They spent the first week learning how, since it had been over a century since it had had to do this on such a large scale. What had been the Gorn Confederation had become the Kelvan Occupation Zone; the border, the Kelvan Line.

Cartwright was reviewing Morrow's placement of the forces when his intercom beeped. "Yes?"

"Sir, Lieutenant Colonel West is here to see you," his aide reported.

"Good, send him in." Cartwright blanked the screen. Rene West was his liaison officer to the Starfleet Marines. Not nearly as flashy as service in the starships, there was still a function for those who chose to be in the one part of Starfleet that was still strictly militaristic.

"Lieutenant Colonel West, reporting as ordered, sir." West executed a precise hand salute.

Damn, that makes me uncomfortable, thought Cartwright as he clumsily returned the salute. I wish the ground forces would get away from that tradition. "Sit down, Colonel."

"Thank you, sir," West responded.

Cartwright opened a folder with the words Top Secret written in red on the front. "Very impressive, Colonel."

"Thank you, sir." West nodded, but remained serious.

"Do you think you and your special force can really infiltrate their ranks, find out what they're up to, and get that information back to us without them even knowing you've been there?"

"Piece of cake, sir."

"But no Human has ever been successful in penetrating the Romulan or Klingon High Command. How do you propose to accomplish it now?"

"Combination of plastic surgery, make-up and audacity, sir."

More like foolishness, Cartwright thought as he searched West's face for any sign of this being some kind of elaborate ruse. "Your team does know the odds against them, don't they?

"Ground or space service has its portion of risk. We all know this before we sign up," West said, no emotion shading his voice.

Yeah, sure, thought Cartwright. "Okay, I'll approve this mission." He signed his name to the bottom of the cover sheet.

"Thank you, sir."

"But only because it's imperative we find out what the Romulans and Klingons are up to."

"I understand, sir." West stood, took the folder from Cartwright, stuck it under his arm and once again executed a precise salute.

Cartwright returned the salute and watched as the colonel walked out of his office. It's a long shot, he thought, but if they find out anything that will help me feel better about that flank, it will be most appreciated.


The U.S.S. Quintillus was making one of its close in sweeps and allowing the Kelvan to detect it. Its sensors were picking up an increased number of Kelvan ships on the other side, but not enough to indicate an impending attack. A moment earlier, they had contacted the scout on their flank and had verified that this gradual increase was occurring everywhere along the Line.

The science officer of the scoutship was just finishing a long range sensor sweep when he located a fast moving target. "Captain, I have a strange target approaching the Line at Warp Six," he reported.

The captain noted the confused look. "Can you identify it?"

"Not yet, sir. I mean, it's not that it's too far away, but it keeps appearing and disappearing from my scope."

"Plot its computed course on the screen and mark where you predict it will cross the Line."

"Yes, sir. On the screen now."

Projected on the screen was the phantom's projected course and all the Kelvan ships presently within range of the sensors. Four brighter areas along the line showed where along that course it had been visible to the sensors. The computer had connected the trails to show where it would enter Federation space.

The captain got his communications officers attention. "Send this to Commander-Compactat. Advise her we are investigating."

"Aye, sir."

"Navigator, plot a course to that point of entry and lock."

"Plotted and locked, sir."

"Warp Factor Six."

A new marker appeared on the viewscreen as the Quintillus' sensors picked up additional targets at the extreme limit of their range. The science officer immediately focused on it. "Sir, there is a new group of ships within range of our sensors." He turned, becoming excited. "The computer has identified them as Kelvan vessels. They are following the same basic track as the first ship."

"How many?" responded the captain.

"Sensors pick up twenty, in a tight formation."

The science officer's excitement spread through the bridge. Especially into the captain as he ordered the following subspace message. "To Commander-Task Force Four, on the U.S.S. Compactat. Urgent. Have small group of Kelvan on a course that will enter Federation space in fifteen minutes. Request reinforcements. I am proceeding under Red Alert for the expected point of penetration. Quintillus out." Turning to his executive officer, he continued, "Bring this ship to Red Alert and arm all weapons. It looks like we might be the first into this one."

This brought grimaces from everyone on the bridge. The first into a scuffle of this magnitude didn't have a long life expectancy. They all had heard what had happened to the Dominion and its support group. It only took them moments to reach the predicted entry point.

"Sir, the Kelvan are still coming, but by the way they're zig-zagging, they look like a pack of hounds on a warm trail."

The captain smiled at the description of the Kelvan search pattern. It now became clear to him what was happening. "Communications, hail on both Romulan and Klingon emergency channels."

"Aye, sir." There was an immediate response. "Sir, I've gotten a response from the Klingon Bird-of- Prey K'r'Sgart."

"That's our disappearing target." The captain activated the microphone in his chair. "I.K.S. K'r'Sgart, this is the U.S.S. Quintillus. What's your status?"

The face of a Klingon starship commander replaced that of the tactical plot on the viewscreen. "Commander Quintillus, this is Captain Kitrist. My dilithium crystals are failing, but we will make your location."

The science station came alive. "Sir, the Kelvan ships we just talked about? Their course just straightened out, and they have increased their speed immensely. They're gaining rapidly on the Klingon. I think they have picked up his subspace transmission."

Captain Christy looked up at the screen. "Captain, you have at least twenty Kelvan closing on you. Can you squeeze a little more speed out of your ship?"

"Yes, Captain, we can. Our estimates still show us with a little bit of an edge on them. My concern at this point is will that be good enough? Are there any more of you there?"

"We'll know more about that in a few minutes, Captain. How many of your crew survive?"

"Just enough to pilot the ship. We have been evading capture since the petaQ Kelvan attacked the Gorn nest world."

"Captain, you have permission to enter Federation space. We'll give your followers a little surprise if they continue."

The Klingon reaction was surprising considering the circumstances. "We'll see, Captain. Kitrist out." He faded from the screen as the tactical display replaced him.

The Quintillus' executive officer confirmed the Klingon statement. "Sir, his predicted arrival is correct. The Kelvan force will be right on his tail when he crosses. If they don't respect the boundary, well...I don't need to remind you of what happened to the Dominion, sir."

Captain Christy had already thought of this. "Any response from the Compactat yet?"

The comm officer pulled the ear receiver from its place in his ear as he answered, "Sir, they just contacted us. I'll put Admiral Fitzpatrick on the screen."

"This is Captain Christy, sir. Can you see what's happening here?"

"Yes, we're monitoring it now. Stand-by to observe and report. The Jugurtha, Loki, and Drake should be arriving in your location in a few minutes. They will be followed by the Exeter and its battle group a few minutes later. Can you hold on there, Quintillus?"

"Yes, sir, standing by. Quintillus out." Captain Steven Christy looked at his executive officer and shook his head. Even with the added strength of the six starships, the Kelvan still outnumbered them, two to one. By all reports, that ratio had to be reversed to fight the Kelvan. With this thought still fresh in his head, an idea formed.

"Science station, can we orient the sensor satellites so they lock on and track that group of Kelvan?"

"Yes, sir. What do you have in mind?"

"Orient them now and override their random operation. Turn them on."

"Yes, sir, but what will that accomplish? We already know they're coming."

"If it worked for Gideon against the forces of Midian, maybe it'll work for us. Let me know when they're all on."

A light went on in the eyes of the Quintillus' science officer as it became clear what his captain was attempting. "Sir, they're powering up now."


The Kelvan commander had orders to stop the Klingon ship at any cost, even if it meant crossing into Federation space and destroying more of their starships in the process. He was about to order this, knowing that his force would easily overcome the single Federation ship that was watching when his sensor alarm lit up. He was picking up numerous sensor sources ahead. His computer told him that no less than a hundred ships were tracking his group's progress.

Normally, if the assault/support ship that supported his group was in the area, this would not have bothered him. With it, he felt they could take on a force even this large and win, but it was elsewhere and he had only his pursuit group and the few patrol ships in the area at his disposal. The ship he had been attempting to capture was not worth the loss of this force, and was going to escape.


The Quintillus' sensors noted the change in the Kelvan's progress. "Sir, they're breaking off."

"Good! It worked." Christy relaxed. "Have they stopped completely?"

"No, sir. Their proceeding cautiously toward the Line, but they're definitely not chasing the Klingon anymore."

"Turn off the satellites. No use giving them the truth of the situation," Christy ordered.

"Aye, sir, powering down."

The satellites returned to their random patterns and alignment.


The Kelvan commander noted the change and cursed. He had hoped to gather more information on this Federation force. If for no other reason than to show it to his commander as explanation for not capturing this pesky Klingon. Oh, yes, they knew the identity of those that crewed this ship, but the Supreme Commander wasn't ready to attack them yet.

Now he only picked up two ships ahead of him as the Klingon joined the Federation ship on the other side of the Line. This created some disturbing questions. Either the large mass of starships he had detected could make themselves invisible; not entirely unlikely considering what this Klingon ship had done over the past week, or this was just an extravagant trick. His knowledge of Federation starship capabilities was next to nothing, and no one, as of yet, had determined if they had the invisibility device on their ships. The odds for this were strong enough that he settled for just gathering intelligence on the ships he could see.

His reward was the arrival of three slightly better-armed vessels.


On Quintillus' bridge, the communications officer turned to his commander. "Captain, the three destroyers want to be updated."

It's always comforting to know you're not alone when facing a larger force, Christy thought. "Transmit the situation as it stands now, then get me the Klingon commander."

"Aye, sir." Returning his attention to the communication console, he pressed the buttons needed to accomplish this. "Sir, I have the Klingon."

Putting on his most genial smile, the captain faced the screen. "Welcome to Federation space, sir. What is your status?"

"Commander, I must congratulate you on a most ingenious deception. It seems to have fooled them for now. My ship has no damage, but our dilithium crystals are beginning break down."

"I think we can help you out with that problem." He turned to his engineering officer, "Can you rig something?"

Nodding, the engineer responded. "I think so. I'll need a little help from his engineer though." He turned to his console and contacted the Klingon counterpart on a separate frequency.

The Quintillus' science officer caught his captain's attention. "Sir, the Exeter group has arrived."

Securing from warp speed, the U.S.S. Exeter, with five additional heavy cruisers, joined the growing force of Federation starships around the Klingon.

"The gang's all here," Christy noted to the bridge. "See if they have any further orders for the Klingon commander."

An answer to his question was quickly forthcoming as the communications chief made contact. "Sir, Captain al-Faisal, of the Exeter is calling us right now."

"Put him on the screen." Christy again confronted the screen as a slightly graying man came on. "Captain al-Faisal, this is Captain Christy of the Quintillus. What's your pleasure?"

Captain al-Faisal's face showed the relief of finding the situation already resolved. "Well done, Christy. That idea was a stroke of genius. I see the Kelvan are still watching."

"Yes," Christy chuckled. "I think we have them stymied for now. I wouldn't count on it working again."

"You're probably right," al-Faisal nodded his agreement. "How's the Klingon?"

"Fine. My engineer is working on getting his engines back on line now," Christy related what he was doing to get the K'r'Sgart back to snuff. "Do you have anything from Fleet Headquarters about what to do with them? "

"Yes, Admiral Fitzpatrick has ordered them to Starbase Thirty-two for debriefing. The information contained in their central computer is going to be an invaluable source of intelligence about what's going on over there," al-Faisal relayed.

"Do you think they'll let us do that, sir?" Christy responded.

"After what we just did for them, I think they'll be more than willing to cooperate," al-Faisal argued.

"I haven't known the Klingons to ever be cooperative, no matter what the circumstances."

"We'll see, Christy. We can only ask."

"And they can say 'no,' and usually do." Christy said. "What about us? What's next?"

"I'd say we should give our audience a good show, then proceed back to our normal patrol pattern," al-Faisal concluded.

"Very good. We were sure happy to see the Exeter," Christy said. "It was getting a bit hairy here for awhile."

"I don't doubt that one bit," al-Faisal smiled nervously. "Admiral Fitzpatrick told me to push her to the extreme limits to get here in time." The captain of the Exeter regarded his old friend. "And you know we'd've done it if need be."

"I don't doubt that a bit. Thanks again. Quintillus out." Christy turned to his engineer. "How are we doing?"

"Almost finished, sir. It took a little fixing, but we're reforming his dilithium's lattice now."

"Good." Returning to the viewscreen, he flipped the switch on his command chair, putting him back on the open channel to the Klingon. "K'r'Sgart, this is Quintillus."

The Klingon commander returned to the screen. "Yes, Captain?"

The broad smile on the Klingon's face surprised Christy. "You are ordered to go to Starbase Thirty-two where you will be debriefed."

"Our own commanders have ordered us to cooperate with you in any way." Kitrist scowled with disgust, obviously not comfortable with those orders.

This surprised Christy as well. It wasn't Klingon policy to allow people they considered enemies to probe around inside their computers. "Send him Thirty-two's position," Christy said to navigation.

"Sending, sir."

"Thank you for your help, Captain." The scowl deepened. Kitrist executed a precise Klingon salute as the connection ended.

The Quintillus' viewscreen returned to a forward view, showing the D-12 Klingon bird-of-prey dead ahead. Moments later, it moved away.

Captain Christy watched as the Klingon accelerated to warp speed and disappeared. "Exec, let's get on with our show. We wouldn't want to disappoint those boys across the Line." He watched as his crew responded to his orders and relaxed.


"Gentlemen, the C'n'C."

Cartwright's staff came to attention.

"Take your seats, gentlemen." Cartwright said, himself sitting as well. A quick glance showed him that they were all there. "Yves, you called this special meeting. I assume you have the data from that Klingon ship we rescued?"

"Yes, sir," the chief of security answered.

"Proceed, Admiral."

Placing himself next to the viewscreen, the French admiral began his briefing. "Computer, run intelligence program K'r'Sgart. Authorization Gervais." The screen came to life. The first scene was a jumbled pile of Gorn skeletal parts, picked clean. "Verification of what we got from the Gorn probe."

The next scene showed a busy walkway of a Gorn city. "Do you note anything missing, sir?" Gervais asked.

"The Gorn?"

"Yes, sir. According to the Klingon commander, the entire Gorn population of this planet has disappeared."

The screen changed, and this time it was showing a space dock. There were three of the now familiar fighters in it, swarms of Gorn technicians working on repairs. "In this case, it can be seen that the Kelvan have successfully adapted the Gorn industrial capabilities to fit their needs."

Next on the screen was what looked like a pile of polyhedral shaped rocks.

"What are those?" Cartwright asked.

"Wait, sir, you'll see," the chief of security responded.

A moment later, a Kelvan entered the screen carrying a Gorn with two of its tentacles. He put the Gorn down, and his captive just stood there, as if frozen. A tentacle of the Kelvan pushed the button of a device attached to its equipment belt. A circle of lights came on for a moment, and the Gorn collapsed to his knees.

"That is the neural paralysis field the Kelvan use to catch their prey. The scouts used it on the crew of the Enterprise and later on the Rycherian younglings. It is effective on any species with a central nervous system, but has a very short range," Gervais reported. "The Klingon commander told us that they witnessed numerous escape attempts by the Gorn, but all of them ended the same," he passed his finger across his neck to illustrate what the Kelvan had done to them.

"They aren't even allowed to die at their own pleasure," Cartwright moaned.

"No, sir, just for the pleasure of their master."

The scene changed again, this time there was a Gorn couple copulating on the screen. Nearby stood two Kelvan, watching intently. "The best the Klingon could fathom from this is that they are beginning a breeding program to produce a better, more malleable form of Gorn."

"Sir, this next shot is most important."

The screen went dark for a moment, then returned to life with the Galactic Barrier centered across the screen. In the center of its seething length was a large, gaping hole that appeared to go all the way through. There was a mechanism keeping the hole open, and a steady stream of fighter and assault craft moved through it. "The Kelvan have constructed a gate of some sort that allows them free access to and from our galaxy without having to make contact with the negative energy of the barrier. Sir, you can't believe how much power that gate needs to do that."

A number appeared on the bottom of the screen in response to the admiral's statement.

"My God," Cartwright exclaimed, "that's enough power to keep a large Federation city alive for a month, and the Klingons say it used that much in a day?"

"Yes, sir."

"Phew." Cartwright's face showed his incredulity for a moment, then he recovered. "I want this distributed to every ship in the fleet and for every crew member to watch it. I want them to know what we're fighting and why."

"Yes, sir."

"You're all dismissed."

The meeting broke up and the staff left. Cartwright remained, staring at the open maw of the gate and the Kelvan ships that were still coming in.


"Slugs, I grow tired of waiting," his massive mental voice boomed through the others' central nervous system. "When shall we start the conquest of the Federation?"

The Supreme Commander of the Kelvan Empire had his forces massed, ready to attack. The ships of the First Armada would have the honor of spearheading the drive into the heart of the Federation. They had had to absorb the worst the Gorn could throw at them, and had lost many of their numbers, but they had earned the honor. They would be augmented by the Second Armada.

Two auxiliary attacks would be conducted by the Third and Fourth Armadas on the left, and the Fifth and Sixth on the right. The rest of his forces would follow along behind with him, mopping up any bypassed resistance.

He was growing impatient. He had wanted to commence the attack on the Federation three days ago and had allowed his armada commanders to talk him out of it. They had then said something about wanting a little more time to consolidate their forces in the new territories.

They agreed that a three pronged attack would tie up large numbers of the Federation's forces, giving his main attack a smaller defense line to engage. Of course, if the Federation chose to ignore the flank attacks, each of them would be massive enough to accomplish the conquest by themselves.

Now he wasn't so sure that the delay had really been too well-founded. Reports from the patrols told him that the Federation was laying a massive minefield across the most direct routes into its interior. Bypassing them would force his armadas into places where this galaxy had placed natural barriers-- radiation belts, dust clouds, galactic strings--where, because of what these phenomena did to electronic equipment, they would be little more than target drones.

The huge gateway provided his armadas with a clean entry through the energy barrier. Now his entire species was through and occupying Gorn space.

He had called his subordinate's liaison officers to his throne room. Using these individuals for communications was the Kelvan way of defeating the time lag caused by the massive distances of space. As intimates with their commanders, they could be relied on to reflect their views accurately.

One officer gathered his wits and answered. "We are ready to attack now, Great Progenitor, but sensors have picked up information showing the Federation's technology level higher than that of the Gorn. We feel that our scientists need just a little more time to insure a more efficient assault on their positions."

The Kelvan had given up sensations so they could control a host of multiple functions. Those that had conquered and controlled the Andromeda galaxy had also given up their emotions, but that had been generations ago and billions of light years away, and this generation had relearned them. The Supreme Commander was getting angry with this group. "Fools, what could they possibly have that can stop the combined might of our forces!"

The spokesman showed discomfort in his position, but continued, "Great Progenitor, unlike the Gorn, the Federation has a multi-warp drive, like ours. Their shields and the metallurgy of their hulls are disconcertingly similar to ours."

"And how do you suppose this happened?"

"Our guess is maybe they absorbed it from the probe personnel from our first expedition."

"Nonsense. According to our data, none of this galaxy's sentient occupants have evolved with that trait." The supreme ruler focused on the form of the poor officer that had answered. "Do we not outnumber them one hundred to one? Do we not deserve to rule these puny people?" The ruler's anger escalated with each statement, never before had he experienced such frustration.

Sensing the end of the ruler's tirade, the officer continued. "Yes, Great Progenitor, we have these advantages, and we do deserve to rule these sub-intelligent creatures, but there are other pieces of information that slow our actions."

"And they are?" the ruler's telepathic voice exploded in their heads, making them all jump.

"The ability of that Klingon warship to disappear and appear at will behind a device we do not understand."

The Supreme Commander started to respond, but the liaison officer politely cut him off as he continued his argument. "We do not understand the unreasonable response to attack by the species in this galaxy. Yes, we have beaten them in every battle so far, but that's because we have such an overwhelming force."

The ruler's mind latched onto the first point. "My scientists say that this Federation either does not have the invisibility device...or does not use it."

In response, the officer searched his intelligence reports. In a moment, he responded to the ruler's statement. "The truth of the matter is we haven't seen them use it yet. We also have not discovered any mention of the device in any of the memories of those captured in that first battle. But I fear, Great Progenitor, that we have not seen the last of it."

"This is of no consequence." The ruler was building to a new height of emotion.

"No, Great Progenitor," the officer injected, "but the Federation technology is close to ours." He was trying to drive this point home. "I submit that we surprised them with that first attack. The whole thing might be turned around now that they are aware of our intentions. They may even match us one to one."

"We never fight one to one!" The Supreme Commander again showed intense emotion. "Never. So far, you haven't shown me sufficient reasons to delay any further."

The liaison officer gave in to the will of the Supreme Commander, but added, "We only wish we had more time for some additional study."

"Noted," the ruler sighed inwardly and calmed, though the volume of his mental communication continued on high. "I want the attack on the Federation to commence at mid-kel four kels from now, that will give you one full kel to prepare when you return to your units!"

The liaison officers floated away. The supreme ruler brought up a map of his conquests and inwardly scowled, I must dispatch this Federation quickly. They control only a small amount of this galaxy and there must be many more beings out there ready to be conquered. On the screen, he noted with satisfaction that his forces were even now lining up in preparation to move forward. But first I must absorb the Federation.


Starfleet quickly debriefed the K'r'Sgart and sent a report to every ship in Starfleet. Spock stood in the back of the recreation hall where it was being projected onto a very large screen for the crew. It dredged up dark, confusing memories from the time before Khan's return, before the Genesis project, and his death and rebirth.

He went back to his quarters and began the meditation process required to access these memories, knowing instinctively that a clue to their survival lay there. At first, the memories confused Spock, as did all memories from before his reincarnation. Broken and uncorrelated, the memories were often dream-like.

There was Rojan and Kelinda, the leaders of the first Kelvan probe expedition. They had died with the arrival of their mother ship, absorbed for their memories, just like what was happening to the Gorn now. He saw an earless being that he, after a moment, identified as a Rycherian youngling nearing pubescence; mr'Antor, he brought up the younglings name from those hazy memories. mr'Antor had become a leader amongst his people after the change, able, because of his experience on board the second Kelvan probe, to understand events outside his world--the politics of the Federation.

He remembered mr'Antor fondly, but put the memory aside, marking it for later perusal. It was the ship that had kidnapped mr'Antor, the other Rycherian younglings and him which was the subject of his search. He remembered much about that ship, how it worked, where its weaknesses lay. He had destroyed that one from within, triggering its warp drive to explode by reprogramming the ship's main computer. Much of what he'd seen while accessing that computer began to come back to him now, slowly--painstakingly slow.

It was hours later when Spock found and reported to Captain Kirk in a briefing room that now served as his office as the commander of Task Force Six.

"Of course I remember the second Kelvan probe, Spock," Kirk said. Dark, irreconcilable memories of Talya came leaping to the forefront of his mind. He'd loved her and still mourned her, blaming himself for not being more careful in their relationship and causing her death. It had led to his decision to accept the desk job that Starfleet offered him, and it had been Kirk's decision which had prompted Spock to return to Vulcan and seek the attainment of Kolinahr. "If I remember everything correctly, they controlled the entire Andromeda Galaxy, meaning that we have probably badly underestimated their total forces." A troubled look came over Kirk's face. "Spock, I'm puzzled about something."

"About what, sir?"

"If these are the Kelvan come a-calling, why aren't they simply running right over us? If I remember correctly, their technology was very much advanced of ours."

"That was true twenty years ago, sir. The Federation learned much from what remained of the colony Rojan and his people set up and the remains of the mother ship. I submit that because of this information, we have incorporated pieces of their technology into ours. They, on the other hand, have remained constant. I also submit that this is their entire population we're seeing this time."

"Why? Didn't Rojan say something about a thousand millennia passing before the radiation levels in Andromeda got too high?"

"Yes, and that is a puzzle that will have to be answered by the Kelvan, if we are ever able to establish communications with them. Until then, we must find a way to stop their present advance."

Kirk's face became somber, drawn down by the sudden realization of what the Federation faced. Spock's emotionless face became as stark as granite as his computer-like brain began the process of analyzing the situation.

Kirk was the first to break free of the effects. "I wonder if Morrow or Cartwright know any of this."

Spock's right eye-brow shot up, his way of shrugging. "Starfleet's problem right now is trying to find a way of destroying large numbers of their ships without having to trade one for one in the process. If we don't, brilliant tactics will not avail, they will simply overrun us using the sheer weight of their numbers. I have some ideas on this, but would like to discuss them with Captain Scott before I pass them on to you."

"Fine, Spock. I don't think I have to tell you not to dawdle. In the meantime, I've got to contact Morrow on Starbase Thirty-two. He may need to rethink his defense tactics."

"Aye, sir." Spock turned and left.

Kirk keyed up the intercom in his quarters. "Bridge, this is the ca...uh...Kirk," he corrected himself. He was no longer the captain.

Captain Riley answered immediately. "Bridge, aye."

"Get me Admiral Morrow at Starbase Thirty-two. Pipe it down here."

"Aye, sir."

The intercom went dead, and Kirk returned to his desk. It was nearly ten minutes later when the intercom returned to life. "Bridge to Task Force Commander."

He recognized the voice. He opened the channel through the monitor on the desk and saw her face on the screen. "Yes, Uhura?"

"I have Admiral Morrow standing by."

"Thank you, Commander."

Kirk straightened his immaculate uniform and prepared to face the Commander-Forward Operations. "Admiral Morrow, this is Captain Kirk. I have urgent information for you and your staff."

Harry Morrow's face was beginning to show the strain of the preparations. "So your communications officer said. What is it?"

"Sir, do you realize that this may not be just an invasion force from Andromeda, but the entire species?"

Morrow turned to someone off screen and motioned. "Jim, what is the source of your information?"

"Captain Spock, sir."

"Why didn't he say something before this?"

"The Genesis episode, sir, many memories from his prior life are sometimes slow to surface."

"More Vulcan mysticism, Kirk?" Morrow frowned, shaking his head.

Now Kirk knew why Morrow and Cartwright got along so well; they shared many of each other's prejudices. "I suppose so, but Spock is walking and talking proof Vulcan mysticism is based on fact."

Morrow was not listening to Kirk's answer, but was instead talking to some one off the screen. "I'm sorry, Kirk. What was that?"

"It's not important, sir."

"Thank you, Kirk. I'll get my staff working on this right away. Starbase Thirty-two out." The official seal of the Federation replaced his face on the screen.

You'd better hurry, Harry, Kirk thought, shaking his head in thought. Because I don't know why the Kelvan have given us this much time to prepare. He sat at his desk for only a moment, then became antsy, the walls seeming to close in on him. Damn, I hate office work, he thought as he jumped to his feet, heading for the door. "Riley and I need to work out some new tactics."


Admiral Morrow's mind went to work as soon as Kirk's face disappeared from the screen. He had to arrange his forces to meet such a massive threat. He realized that he couldn't possibly defend the Federation's frontier on this border with the forces he had. He decided to shorten his lines by withdrawing most of them back to area's closer to the Federation's primary systems. The dome-shaped pattern would remain, but the density of the defending forces would be more concentrated.

The scouts would be left on the Line so that the Kelvan progress could be monitored. They would have express orders not to become decisively engaged, but to shadow the aggressor's path. He scheduled a staff meeting so he could pass on this information to those who would actually accomplish the tasks.

The realization of how hopeless Starfleet's situation might be began to cloud over any of the optimism he might have once felt. I'm going to need every ship Moses has in reserve, right away, he thought, paging his aide.

"Yes, sir?"

"Get me Admiral Cartwright at Starfleet Headquarters on subspace, Code Factor One."

"Aye, sir."


"I've given you everything I can afford, Harry," Cartwright responded to Admiral Morrow's request.

"Even the ships on the other borders?"

"If you mean those watching the Klingons and the Romulans? I've already thinned those forces to the bare minimum. They're filled with the new corvettes--ships that haven't even shaken out all the bugs yet." Cartwright explained, though he didn't want to. "According to Gervais, both Empires are up to something."

"What does it matter, Moses?" Morrow looked worried. "Let them have the few systems they'll take. If we lose on this front, we'll lose everything."

"Come on, Harry. Is it that bad?" Cartwright was beginning to worry about his old friend. If this had Harry Morrow concerned, then there must be something to it.

"It's that bad, Moses ol' buddy." Morrow hated having to ask for anything. He'd been Commander-Starfleet once, and it grated on him. "If we lose here," he repeated, "we lose everything."

"I'll see what I can do, Admiral Morrow," Cartwright responded, beginning to feel the same worry that Morrow was displaying and hating it. "Headquarters out."


Captain's Log, Stardate 8515.07

There is disturbing news arriving every day on Starfleet's bulletin frequency. It appears as if Starfleet is about to be embroiled in the biggest conflict in its history. It is what every member of the service dreams about with ambiguity and I find myself stuck on the far side of the Federation, forced to be an observer, watching a border that prior to this would have guaranteed action, but now makes me yawn. Captain Sulu, commander, U.S.S. Mugato and the border guards.

Sulu tried to relax. The ship around him smelled of SpaceDock; it was so new, but he wouldn't complain. It was a functional ship, and it was his for the time being.

He'd been sitting idle, waiting for the technicians to complete repairs on the Cooper when Starfleet had sounded the alert. Repairs had stopped on his old command, the technicians yanked away to more pressing projects. The Cooper, as an Oberth-class science vessel, had last priority; all assets were being put into the ships that could be converted the fastest for war duty.

Just about ready to contact Operations to volunteer for reassignment, Sulu's orders had arrived, sending him, and those of the Cooper's crew still assigned to her, over to the newly finished Mugato. Newly graduated ensigns from the academy augmented the veterans of the Cooper.

Sulu smiled as he remembered when he'd first seen the new corvette at station outside the space dock. The Mugato was a fine ship, a commander's dream--fast and powerful. I fell in love with her right away, he thought while sitting at the conn a week later.

And what a week that had been. Breaking in both a new ship and a new crew at the same time was a dream all right--a nightmare--but Sulu was happy with the results. Now if only something would happen on this side of the Federation.

Then there had been establishing himself as commander of the entire force of corvettes and the Constellation-class deep-space exploration ships that now guarded the two neutral zones. He was grateful when he found two old friends already present at the border--Commander Chekov on the corvette Diamondback and Commander Kelsey with the Fer d'Lance. He'd split the guard force into two smaller commands; one for each neutral zone. Chekov commanded the battle group that watched the old Klingon border, and Kelsey the Romulans.

His force was too small to allow his ship the luxury of sitting back in a central location. The Mugato had a patrol zone that watched the area of space where the Klingon and Romulan Neutral Zones met, forming a triangle of uncontrolled space often used by pirates.

Unfortunately, the only excitement they'd had on this side of the Federation was the hint of movement along both the borders. And that wasn't really all that exciting, since both the Klingons and the Romulans regularly moved their forces around on their side of the neutral zones.

"Coming up on the Ferrisile Nebula, sir," Science Officer Xon reported.

"Scan for residual radiation traces," Sulu ordered.

Pirates, smugglers and raiders used this dark nebula regularly to enter the Federation unseen. Perfectly located for this purpose, it occupied a position within both the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Though a ship could use it and remain unseen, it always left a slight radiation trace behind to show that it had been there.

"Scanning, sir," the Vulcan science officer responded. "Nothing but..." His report stopped in mid-sentence, then: "Fascinating."

"What, Commander?" Sulu was already on his feet, heading for the science station.

"Fascinating!" the officer repeated, louder than the first time as he tuned and aligned the sensor dish.

The bridge became electrified, most of the present shift coming from the Cooper and having had that ship shot out from under them by the Tholians.

"What have you got?" Sulu asked, standing right behind him.

"An impressive trail of residual nebula radiation and ions."

"What kind of ions?" Sulu asked.

"The type ships with S-2A graf units produce, sir."

"A smuggler? With Klingon engines?"

"No, sir. A smuggler usually travels alone, this trail is too wide for that."

"A pirate force?" It wasn't unusual for pirates to send a force along the neutral zones to enter the Federation here. The Orions had done it for centuries, and though there was a peace treaty outlawing such, not all Orion ship commanders had agreed to the terms.

"No, sir. Still too big for that," the science officer reported. "Computer estimates that over forty warp-driven vessels passed by here using S-2A graf propulsion units."

"How many over forty, and what was their heading?" Sulu queried.

"The computer is unable to determine how many exactly; the trail is muddled and overlapped." He reset the sensor console and fine tuned it. "Course..." He squinted into the hood. "...undetermined. It doesn't head directly for any system, but it does pass through an especially dense section of colonies."

"Colonies that the Klingons have had their eyes on?" Sulu asked.

"Many of them have been points of contention for some time, sir."

"Gather as much information on the trail as you can. Get me an exact number of ships." Sulu then turned to the communication station. "Send this to Starfleet, Code Factor One. To Commander-Starfleet: The Klingons have sent a large force across the Neutral Zone, suspected destination Federation colonies near border. I am in pursuit with my entire force. Sulu, Commander-Border Guard, out." Sulu paused to let Anex, his Edoan communications officer, send that, then continued. "Get me in direct communication with the group commanders."

It was only moments later when the comm officer turned to face Sulu. "I have Commander Chekov, sir."

"Put him on the screen."

Pavel Chekov appeared on the bridge's main viewscreen. "Vwhat is it, Captain Sulu?"

"The Klingons are moving. We just found the trail of a large force leaving the nebula. Gather up your group and meet me here," he rattled off the coordinates.

Anex caught Sulu's attention and mouthed, "I have Kelsey, sir."

Sulu nodded, returning his attention Chekov. "What will be your E.T.A.?"

Chekov turned to someone off screen and ask the same question. A moment later, he had an answer. "It'll take at least six hours to fold the line toward you."

The comm officer walked quietly over to the conn and tactfully got Sulu's attention again. "Kelsey says the Romulans have crossed their Neutral Zone as well."

Damn! thought Sulu. And I thought we were on the wrong side of the Federation to see any action. "See if you can cut that back, Chekov. I have Kelsey on hold. He says the Romulans have done the same thing."

Chekov whistled before replying, "When it rains, it pours. Old Russian proverb my great aunt once told me. Diamondback out."

The screen immediately changed to Kelsey. Sulu felt a close camaraderie with this officer since Kelsey, like him, was commanding a ship with cadre left over from a ship that had been likewise shot out from under him.

"Captain Sulu. The Viper just found an ion trail of immense proportions crossing the Romulan Neutral Zone. She estimates that at least fifty ships using quantum singularity drives have crossed into Federation territory."

That's probably how many Klingon ships crossed here, Sulu thought. This is beginning to look like there has been a renewal of their old alliance. I'm going to have to withdraw from my positions on the borders, without waiting for an answer from Starfleet, to pursue these two salients, leaving the border wide open to anything else that might cross. But if I wait for Starfleet to answer, I might not catch up in time. Now I know how Captain Kirk felt when he had to make a decision, not knowing how the boss will react, or whether he will support you. "Form up your group, Kelsey, and pursue the Romulan force."

"Aye, sir."

"What was the heading the Romulans were on?"

"A direct course for Sector One."


Task Force Six had been ordered to new positions closer to Starbase 32 and had left the scout ships U.S.S. Hermes, Tonti, and Tucana at the Line. Though the scouts had orders not to decisively engage the enemy if they crossed over, they would make the Kelvan welcome as uncomfortable as possible, and were deploying antimatter and gravitic mines as fast as they could along their side of the Line. The Kelvan would not find the frontiers of the Federation a welcome place to be.

Technicians throughout the fleet were working non-stop on the new data provided by the K'r'Sgart. Finding a weakness in the Kelvan armor had the highest priority. The science section of the Enterprise came up with some leads themselves.

In the engineering section, two old veterans were brainstorming. Spock and Scott were both staring at a cross section schematic of the Kelvan fighter.

The engineer absent-mindedly repeated what he was seeing on the screen. "The Kelvan fighter is a large, hollow sphere, containing one room and one occupant."

Spock verbally reviewed the data. "Yes, Captain Scott, it is. The single occupant, with his massive brain and numerous appendages, can control every aspect of the ship from this central location. Continue."

Scott nodded and continued, "Then, if the hull's integrity can be breached in even the smallest way, the whole ship and its occupant would be doomed."

The Vulcan returned an answer. "That is correct, Captain, but there's the problem. It takes incredible amounts of energy to buckle their shields, more than one ship's worth of weaponry."

"Aye, sir, the Kelvan hide is tough, taking the massed and continuous fire power of more than one ship to penetrate it."

"I think I just said that, Captain Scott."

"Aye, you did." Then something about the Kelvan fighter triggered the release of a memory Scott traced back to his days in the Academy. "Ye know, Mister Spock. In some ways, this fighter reminds me of a tank."

"A what?"

"A tank." Scott didn't feel he could describe the item he was seeing in his mind's eye adequately. "Computer, find the twentieth and twenty-first century Earth weapon system called a tank and display a schematic."

"Working," came the computer's female voice. A moment later, a picture of the behemoth of the twenty-first century's battlefield came onto the screen. The computer began listing characteristics.

Scott and Spock heard the computer, but weren't listening and soon it finished.

The Vulcan was the first to speak. "How does this remind you of the Kelvan fighter?"

"It has heavy armor and a single open space for its occupant. At the time of its invention, it required massive concentrations of fire to destroy."

"I perceive the correlation."

"Well, don't you see, Captain Spock? Maybe the weapon they devised to destroy this baby might work against the Kelvan," Scott offered.

"And that was?"

"A warhead comprised of a high explosive shaped into an inverted cone. Upon detonation, a super-heated jet stream of gas would be formed that burned a hole through it. Once inside the sealed environment, the jet stream caused devastating effects on both the crew and equipment."

"I fail to see how a shaped charge of chemical explosive will help us now, Captain Scott."

Spock was being especially dense, probably for a reason. Scotty continued, "I believe they called the weapon a 'HEAT' round--High Explosive, Anti Tank." The engineer didn't let the Vulcan comment, charging on in his description. "A HEAT round in the twenty-first century proved to be the downfall of many armored vehicles of that time. Now we're talking about a shield designed to distribute the energy of modern beam weapons, averting damage from the actual skin of the ship. What we need is to first determine what kind of energy will temporarily negate the shield's effects, and then we can project a secondary energy through the temporary opening."

Scott's brow furrowed, his genius being brought to bear on the problem. In a few moments, he relaxed into the smile. "We can equip a standard photon torpedo with an M-ray projector in the nose. The projector will overload a Kelvan ship's shield generators."

Spock paused for a moment, racing through the calculations that would prove the feasibility. "It can be done, Captain Scott, and might just be the weapon needed to balance the difference between them and us. I fear we may not have the time to manufacture them in sufficient quantity to be of immediate help. I will design the M-ray projector, while you redesign a torpedo to carry it. The engineering section will need to gear up for producing the antimatter to arm the weapons."

Scott hesitated. "Shouldn't we test it first?"

"If the Kelvan give us the time," Spock responded.

"Aye, sir," the chief engineer said, "and we had all better pray that it works."

Spock stood up. "Shall we get started? I will report our plans to Captain Kirk."

They left engineering, going in different directions. The production of the first m-torpedo, as it was soon to be dubbed, began.


Captain Kirk was in his office when Spock came to report the development. "Spock! That's amazing."

"Yes, sir," his adjutant returned.

"How soon can engineering begin production?"

"They have already begun work on the first prototype. It should be ready for testing in twelve hours."

Kirk backed up. "How do you plan to test it?

Spock responded. "By placing a shield generator on a satellite designed to measure the end effect of the weapon."

"Good, Spock. Set up the test. In the meantime, document the general design and theory of the weapon."

"Yes, sir." Spock had just a hint of a smile. "I have already accomplished this task. It is ready to transmit to Starfleet for dissemination."

Kirk fawned surprise at his exec's foresight. "Very good, Spock. Have it sent right away. Let me know when you're ready for the test."

"Yes, sir."

Kirk sat back down behind the desk. "If there isn't anything else, you need to get back to Engineering. Good work, Spock, and thank you."

Spock acknowledged and left. There was a lot to be done and relatively little time to do it.


On time, Captain Scott contacted Spock. The first prototype was in tube number one. Spock relayed this to Captain Kirk, who told them to meet him on the bridge.

Captain Riley knew about the upcoming test and its possible implications. Kirk, Spock, and Scott's arrival on the bridge didn't surprise him. "Sir, the science section has a probe fitted with a set of shields ready to be launched."

"Thank you, Captain Riley. Have it launched and activated. Then prepare the torpedo station to fire. On my command."

The bridge crew followed the orders given, the tension in the atmosphere growing. It all ended when Lieutenant Trillock reported that the new torpedo had positive lock on the target.

"Well, Spock, would you like the pleasure of the first firing?" Kirk asked.

Spock's eyebrow lifted in the customary expression, and he answered, "No sir. I think Captain Scott should have the privilege. It was his idea."

"Excellent point, Mister Spock," Kirk replied, "Captain Scott, would you like the pleasure?"

"Aye, sir. Mister Trillock, prepare to fire torpedo."

The Andorian placed his finger over the trigger switch for tube number one and waited. All eyes fastened on the shielded satellite.


The ship shuddered with the launch, and the blue tracer of the torpedo's engine tracked its course. The probe was at point blank range and the torpedo's flight short. Its detonation was anything but anticlimactic. Upon contact with its shields, a flood of invisible energy dissipated the shields and never gave them the chance to absorb and dissipate the unleashed energy of the subsequent antimatter bombardment. The satellite exploded, leaving a small cloud of glowing plasma in its place.

Trillock continued, "The torpedo functioned according to its design. Normal detonation."

Kirk turned to Spock with a question. "Will it kill a Kelvan fighter by itself?"

"Once it passes through the shields, it reverts to being just a standard photon, but it will allow us to destroy the shield generator quickly, exposing the ship to the fire of our other weapons."

The bridge personnel jumped to their feet cheering. Excited conversation drowned out all other noise on the bridge. Everyone but one joined in on the celebration. Uhura was intently listening to her earpiece as a subspace message came in. She acknowledged the message and rushed over to Kirk, who was still excitedly congratulating Scott. Finally, she got his attention and passed along the message.

Kirk's face immediately became solemn. "It's from K'Lucek on the Tonti. The Kelvan are massing on the Line." He turned to Captain Riley. "Captain, take us to our final battle position. Uhura, radio the Task Force to take up final alert positions and await further orders. Scotty, gear us up to start production of as many of the new weapons as we can generate. Gentlemen, we have a job to do." Kirk left the bridge.

"Mister Saavik, place this ship on red alert," Riley ordered.

Klaxons went off throughout the ship.

Two minutes later Saavik turned to Riley, "Section leaders report ready, sir."

"My compliments to the crew. Take us to our battle position."

"Course set and locked."


The Enterprise streaked off, reaching her maximum speed a few minutes later.

Riley watched the stars streak by on the screen, his thoughts churning through everything he needed to remember and accomplish in the few minutes it would take for them to reach their defense positions and rendezvous with the rest of the task force. They eventually came back to the new weapons and he knew of one group that would need the new weapon specs badly, even before they were approved and distributed by Starfleet. "Uhura, give our scouts priority on those weapon specs."

"Aye, sir."

Then as an after thought, "And Sulu's command as well. After all, what are friends for."

"Sending now, sir."


The waiting was over.


Captains Log, Stardate 8515.9

It has been forty-five minutes since the Tonti reported activity at the Line. There has been a noticeable increase in Kelvan activity all along the old Gorn Confederation border. Riley, commanding the Enterprise.

What a time to finally get a command, Riley thought as he looked around, on the brink of the biggest conflict this part of the universe has ever seen in untold millennia, and against an enemy so numerically superior to us that... He shuddered with the thought. It was enough to stagger even the most courageous commander's resolve. Riley concluded that experience would be the deciding factor, and he knew this ship and its capabilities like the back of his hand.

An alarm at the communications station interrupted his thoughts. Ensign Riit had just relieved Uhura and was acknowledging a subspace message. "Sir, Captain K'Lucek has just reported a further increase of Kelvan activity on the Line," Riit reported.

Riley nodded, "Put their forward view on our main screen." He punched a button paging Captain Kirk.

Kirk answered immediately. "Yes, Riley. What is it?"

"Sir, the Tonti has reported an increase in activity."

"More than before?"

"Apparently so."

"Are you receiving his forward view?"

"I've asked for it, sir." Even as he said this the viewscreen shimmered and a view of the minefield guarding the Federation's side of the Line filled it. "Yes, sir, we have the Tonti's forward view now."

"I'll be up in a moment. Send a report to Starbase Thirty-two. Kirk out."

A formidable force of fighters and assault ships moved forward and crossed the border, pulling up just short of the first line of mines. A powerful jamming signal began interfering with the scout's transmissions, filling the screen with lines of visual noise. It was primarily due to the expertise of the communications officers of both ships that the view of the minefield continued getting through.

Forming a wedge, a group of fighters headed for the minefield. Using their disruptors, they began clearing a path. In their haste, they missed one and it exploded. The heart of the Kelvan wedge disappeared and the rest of them were thrown into mines nearby, completing their destruction.

Two more wedges formed. The first started up the established corridor, this time much more slowly, carefully finding every mine in their path. The other started a second path.

Captain Kirk arrived on the bridge. He too noted how close the Kelvan were to breaching the obstacle. He walked over to the science station. "Put the tactical situation on this smaller monitor, Spareg," he ordered. I wonder if Starfleet intelligence has figured out where the main attack will be? he thought, as a signal, on a dedicated sub-space frequency from Starfleet, updated the tactical screen. It showed three large red fingers pointing at the heart of the Federation. How long before the Kelvan cut off all our subspace communication, he wondered.

Looking over at the communications station, he got the felinoid officer's attention. "Ensign Riit, ask Captain K'Lucek if his engineering section has built any m-ray torpedoes yet?"

"Aye, sir," she purred, excited.

The familiar face of the Tonti's Vulcan captain appeared on the screen. "Captain, we have only two. May I assume that the reason you asked is to see if it will really work on the Kelvan ships?" If a Vulcan could show emotion, K'Lucek was on the edge of demonstrating the renowned ferocity that Vulcans were known to have had before the logic of Surak.

"You are amazing, K'Lucek." Kirk smiled and continued, "I know Vulcans can read thoughts, but I've never known one to do so at this range. Aim for their shield generators, then follow it up with additional photons. I wouldn't suggest you stick around to use your phasers, evasion being the better part of valor here."

"Aye, sir. That would be logical," K'Lucek responded. "The first one through will be targeted. Tonti out."


K'Lucek didn't have long to wait, the Kelvan completed the first corridor moments later. "Navigator, plot an intercept course for the lead fighter. Insure we have an evasive course already in the computer. I want no delays in implementing it."

The navigator nodded and complied. "Courses computed and locked, sir."

K'Lucek addressed his weapons officer. "Have the first m-torpedo loaded and armed in tube number one and a standard photon in tube number two. Place the second m-torpedo in the aft tube. Fire forward tube number two two seconds after tube one, same targeting data. Inform me when it has a lock."

The Kelvan wedge moved cautiously forward. The rest of the Kelvan force followed hard on their heals.

"Engage," K'Lucek said in a tight voice, relaxing back into his command chair.

The Hermes class scout leapt forward at maximum impulse, headed straight at the Kelvan screen. It drew fire from every ship in the enemy's wedge, but unlike the Gorn ships the Kelvan had just vanquished, this ship came through the hits unaffected.

At optimum range, the weapons officer pushed the trigger. K'Lucek felt the ship shudder as the new weapon left the tube and streaked toward the center of the Kelvan formation. The second photon followed right on its tail.

Executing the pre-loaded evasive maneuver, the Tonti dove straight down in an gradually curving arc that left the scout on a general course back to where Kirk and the rest of the task force was preparing its main defensive line.

"Run time, ten seconds, on my mark," the weapons officer reported, "Mark. Ten...nine...eight..."

"Aft view, navigator," K'Lucek ordered.


The torpedo pulsed the m-rays.

", impact, impact, impact."

Invisible this time, it instantly created a hole of crackling energy that allowed the torpedo to flash through and strike the fighter. Its guidance had been true, and it hit the shield generator, blowing it and a large section of the hull away. The shields went down, and the second torpedo arrived. The fighter blossomed into a flower of energy and debris.

Undaunted, the wedge of fighters came to full speed, pursuing the scout. The Tonti's aft tubes launched two more photons in what was to quickly become a familiar pattern of destruction for the Kelvan. Hulled by the second photon, the ship that had only moments earlier taken the lead, began drifting away from the wedge's course.

Pursued by fighters, the Hermes class ship jumped and dodged out of their sights, remaining elusively out of range.

"Let's see if we can lead them on a wild le-matya chase," K'Lucek observed. "Change basic heading to zero-zero-five point one-one."

The other two scouts assigned to Kirk's task force, the Hermes and the Tucana, joined the Tonti. They'd witnessed Kelvan crossing the Line in their sectors as well. They had discovered, nearly the hard way, that the ships they had been tracking had been ordered to join the main column. A large patrol of fighters, guarding the main column's flank, had nearly ambushed them.

"We've lost communications with the Enterprise, sir," the Tonti's comm officer reported. "Jamming on every subspace frequency."

"That's logical," acknowledged K'Lucek, "but keep transmitting. It'll delay them knowing just how effective their equipment really is."

"Aye, sir."

"Do we still have contact with the other scouts?"

"Yes, sir, at full gain."

"Get me in contact with them."

The faces of Captain Mullar'habi of the Hermes, and Captain Kiretchai of the Tucana shared equal portions of the Tonti's viewscreen.

"Date of rank, gentlemen," K'Lucek requested.

"Has it come to that already, K'Lucek?" Kiretchai, an Andorian, asked.

"Date of rank, gentlemen," the Vulcan repeated.

"2285," Mullar'habi responded.

"2283," Kiretchai added.

"Mine is 2282. I therefore, as senior officer present, take command."

"Fine, K'Lucek, or should I say, sir?" The Tellarite ship captain, Mullar'habi, almost sneered. "What are your orders?"

"Evasion pattern, same as before. Stand-by. K'Lucek out."

K'Lucek thought for a moment, reviewing the data he had received. As he thought, he watched the Kelvan fighters following them try once again, unsuccessfully, to get in front of his group.

Before communications had been cut with Starfleet, they had determined that the column bearing down on Kirk's task force was not the largest, but a secondary one. The main column was advancing on a course straight for the center of the Federation and was easily twice the size of the one the Tonti was shadowing. The last tactical update showed four dreadnought task forces already maneuvering to intercept the main thrust, leaving the heavy cruiser task forces to take on the two axillary lines of attack.

It didn't take a tactical genius to realize what the Kelvan were up to, but still, K'Lucek wondered if Admiral Morrow would recognize his peril. He looked at the last tactical report the Tonti had received from Starfleet. It showed Task Force One, the fifth dreadnought force, massing its forces in front of Starbase 32.


"We are in pursuit of the three Federation defenders, Progenitor," the commander of Horde Six reported over a tight beam subspace signal.

"So I see," Third Armada responded. We breached the minefield, and it only took five fighter hordes, he thought. Not a big loss since I have the rest of my armada and the entire Fourth Armada behind that. And now there were only these three defenders. "Engage and destroy them, Horde Six."

"We cannot, Progenitor. The remnant of Horde Five tried, and they destroyed them. They have some sort of weapon that passed through their shields as though they didn't exist."

"You sound as if you fear these inferior beings," Third Armada accused.

"No, Progenitor, but every attempt, or ruse we use to engage them fails. They simply withdraw," Horde Six answered.

"And why is that?"

"They are as fast as us, Progenitor."

Third Armada watched as the Federation ships danced out of range. So, he thought, the technicians had been correct in one of their observations. They match our high speeds. He noted the heading the Federation ships were taking, and he realized what they were trying to do. He opened a channel to his entire force. "Attention Third Armada. Break off pursuit of the Federation ships, resume previous heading." Right at the defensive strong point intelligence had discovered some time ago, he remembered the briefing given by the Supreme Commander's staff. The Great Progenitor had made that our first objective, his thoughts added. "At all costs, do not deviate from this course again," he added.


"Sir, they have broken off pursuit," the Tonti's sensor officer reported.

"What is their course now?" K'Lucek asked.

"One-six-one point zero-four."

"Right at Starbase Thirty-two."

"Aye, sir."

Their intelligence is very efficient if they are aware of Starbase Thirty-two's position this far out, K'Lucek thought as he watched the leading edge of the Kelvan column veer off from its pursuit. "Change course to stay in front of them, a gradual, wide arc, if you please. We don't want to stray into the range of their weapons," K'Lucek ordered, then added, "inform the others of our course change."

The three scouts changed course together and soon were back in front of the Kelvan column.

K'Lucek noted the presence of a large, cylindrical shaped ship just behind the screen of fighters. I wonder if that is their command and control center? he thought. "Science officer, scan that large ship in the center of their formation."

"Aye, sir," he ducked his head so he could look straight into the sensor hood. He twisted the fine tuning and focus knob only once before turning to report. "One point one four million metric tons; large antennae array; multi-compartmented; large forward docking bays."

"Communications, how much subspace activity?"

"Unknown, sir, but it is the source of the jamming signal."

"That is at least their forward command ship," K'Lucek said matter-of-factly. "If we can disable it, maybe it will slow up the column's advance."

"Maybe, sir," the sensor officer replied, "but we would have to penetrate the fighter screen to do it."

"That's obvious, Commander."

"Well, sir, they outnumber us thousands to one."

"To be more precise, they outnumber us two hundred twenty-three to one."

"Never mind, sir." The sensor officer shook his head in resignation.

"I have a plan," K'Lucek announced. "Get me the commanders of the Hermes and the Tucana on a tight beam channel."


"Are you out of your mind, K'Lucek?" Captain Mullar'habi of the Hermes said as K'Lucek finished describing what they were going to do. "That's suicide!"

"There is an element of risk," the Vulcan conceded.

"Yes, but this is not just a simple risk you're talking about, K'Lucek," Captain Kiretchai of the Tucana added. "You're talking about the possible destruction our ships."

"There is an eleven point two-zero percent chance of that happening, Kiretchai."

"But that isn't our jobs, K'Lucek," Mullar'habi retorted. "These ships weren't designed to be used in a head-on engagement. Especially one where the odds are so astronomical."

"Our job is to defend the Federation," K'Lucek said, reciting Starfleet's Manual of Conduct.

"No, it is for the larger ships of the main defense to defend the Federation the way you have in mind. It is for us to tell them where the enemy is," Kiretchai retorted, "and we cannot do that if we are dead."

"Their jamming precludes us telling Captain Kirk where the enemy is, but if we can create enough of a disturbance by attacking them, the Enterprise's sensors will pick it up."

"Okay," Mullar'habi conceded, "who goes after the command ship?"

"We'll all use one m-torpedo to open a hole in the screen. The Tucana has two m-torpedoes remaining, so she will continue to attack the command ship. Target the forward shield generators, Kiretchai, that will leave her bridge open to our standard munitions."

"When?" Kiretchai asked.

"Right now," K'Lucek answered.

The three scouts reversed course and at full impulse, headed into the teeth of the approaching column. A cloud of plasma torpedoes erupted from the fighter screen long before the scouts were within range of their own weapons. All the scouts were hit, some more than once.

"Shields are down to seventy percent, sir," the Tonti's science officer reported after the bridge stopped rocking.

"Are tubes one and two ready?"

"One has our last m-torpedo and two a regular Mark One."

"Make sure the m-torpedo's targeting is still green. It won't do us any good if it misses."

"Still green, sir."

"Fire one," K'Lucek waited less than a second after he felt the shuddering launch of the m-torpedo, then, "Fire two."

The Hermes and the Tucana fired as well. Three sets of torpedoes streaked ahead, closing the gap quickly. The first torpedoes burned through two of the fighter's shields just as planned, striking them precisely where targeted, leaving gaping openings in the screen. The third, central fighter twisted along its vertical axis as the m-torpedo negated its shield. Instead of taking out the generator, it instead struck an empty part of the ship's surface, blowing away a good part of it, but not doing the job intended. The second torpedo hit an intact shield, and did no damage.

"We still have a fighter in front of us, sir," the Tonti's science officer reported.

The same fighter fired a plasma torpedo that nearly instantaneously hit the Tonti, savagely rocking her.

"Shields down to forty percent, sir."

"Acknowledged, Science Officer."

"Tubes one and two report locked and loaded. Phasers report we're within their range as well and that they have a lock."

"Fire all weapons. Target the shield we just weakened."

Twin blue tracers followed the shudder of launch. Three sets of twin scarlet beams streamed across hard on the heals of the torpedoes.

"Orient us ninety degrees along the horizontal axis," K'Lucek addressed the navigation officer, "dodge to the left side of the fighter."

"That will put us dangerously close to the Hermes, sir."

"Acknowledged. I trust you will be careful."

"Aye, sir."

"Four groups of fighters are moving in to close the gap we've made, sir," the sensor officer reported, not moving his face from the sensor hood.

"Estimated time of arrival?"

"Less than two minutes."

"More than enough time."

The Tucana and the Hermes streaked through their respective gaps at full impulse. The Tonti, after successfully buckling the fighter's shield and hulling her, slid by, tipped onto her side, hard on the other's tails.

Lining up in the lead, the Tucana launched her second and last m-torpedo. The second torpedo was held in readiness. There was no way this ship could be hulled the same way the fighter class of ship could be. It struck the forward shield generators of the command ship leaving it wide open to attack.

Every weapon the scouts had that could get an angle on the opening fired, ravaging the forward surface of the mighty command ship. The phasers fired continuously while the crew of the torpedo tubes re-loaded and then fired again. At the last second, just before the ships themselves collided with the twisted remains of the Kelvan bow, they pulled out in an equilateral triangle-shaped star formation.

"Effects of attack?" K'Lucek asked the sensor officer after giving navigation the command to take them on an evasive course back out of the Kelvan column.

"Hard to tell, sir. Explosive energy, secondary explosions, radiation leaks, all make it hard to read."

"The jamming has dropped, sir," the comm officer reported.

"Order the others to evade as best they can, and rendezvous at a position one thousand megameters in front of the Kelvan."

The Tonti rocked violently under the captain's feet.

"Shields down to twenty percent, sir."

Four fighters streaked by, their disruptors firing. The Tonti rocked again.

"Those are the new fighters, sir," the sensor officer reported. "They're swarming us, and sensors have picked up more coming in from the rear of the Kelvan column." He was nearly yelling now.

His fear level is building, thought K'Lucek.

"I have an acknowledgment on your evasion orders from the Hermes, sir, but I can't raise the Tucana," the comm officer reported.

"Put it on the screen."

It was hard at first to find the Cygnus class scout. There were nearly twenty fighters swarming and pounding it with their weapons. With a flash, the Tucana's shields went down. Two seconds later, she jettisoned her antimatter pile. One fighter couldn't get out of the way and disappeared with a flash of released energy. Another two seconds, and the Tucana joined it in death, her impulse engines exploding out of control.

The fighters that had taken out the Tucana came straight at the viewscreen, their disruptors firing, rocking the Tonti's floor.

"Shields down to five percent, sir," the science officer reported. "Evasion is impossible; it's too close in here, and there are too many of them to fight."

"I've lost contact with the Hermes, sir. Our subspace antennae is gone, blown from its moorings," the comm officer reported.

Dead ahead of the Tonti, the Hermes was trying to plow through a cloud of fighters. For a moment. it appeared as if the scout would follow its sister ship in death, then a shimmering globe of energy surrounded it and it streaked forward, entering warp and just missing two fighters on the forward screen of the column. The sudden change to warp caught many Kelvan fighters in the wash, causing them to momentarily lose control.

K'Lucek's logic would never have allowed him to think of using such a drastic tactic. Captain Mullar'habi could just have quickly destroyed himself in a fatal collision with a fighter. Instead, now the Tellarite's ship was streaking to safety.

The floor rocked again under the fire of the Kelvan fighters. Alarms went off throughout the ship. Somewhere, there was a hull breach.

"Port shields have been buckled. Hull breach reported. I am attempting to seal the area off. We'll lose the rest any moment, sir," the science officer yelled.

"Go to warp six, Helm. Same heading as the Hermes, navigator." K'Lucek ordered, feeling the floor rock again, alarms going off at the science station indicating further shield loss.

"It's going to be close, sir. The Kelvan are closing up around us," the navigator reported.

"Does it make a difference?" K'Lucek retorted in a calm voice.

"No, sir. Course locked."


Shields down and fires raging within her outer compartments, the Tonti passed directly to warp, followed for only moments by a streamer of fighters.


"The jamming has stopped, and I have regained contact with the Hermes, sir," Uhura said as she turned to face Captain Kirk. She had replaced Riit when the ship had gone to red alert.

"Put the captain on the screen."

A haggard visage, on a smoke filled bridge, appeared on the screen. Kirk recognized the Tellarite. "What's your status Captain Mullar'habi?"

"Not good, sir. Our shields are down, and the warp drive's just about had it."

"What about the others?" Kirk asked.

"Tucana bought it." Mullar'habi shook his head. "I have the Tonti in tow."

"What happened?"

"Under K'Lucek's command, we engaged the Kelvan column in an attempt to take out one of those big ships. We thought if we took out the command structure, it would slow the column." Mullar'habi looked down for a moment before continuing his report. "We really muddied that ship up, but the only thing we accomplished was the end of the jamming."

"How is K'Lucek?"

"He's fine, sir, but his ship's a wreck. I don't know what's holding it together. We've most of his crew here, while he and his engineers try to hold things together back there."

"What information can you give me on the Kelvan column?"

"They're still on the same heading, same speed. We didn't slow them one bit. Estimate they will arrive at your forward defense screen in forty-five minutes." Mullar'habi stared straight into the screen for a moment before continuing. "What are your orders, sir?"

"Can you stay in front of the Kelvan in your present status?"

"No, sir, we are losing ground. Estimate they will overtake us in thirty minutes, but K'Lucek won't abandon his ship."

The screen suddenly shook, and Mullar'habi seemed to turn on his side as a huge explosion disturbed the video pick-up on the Hermes' bridge. Yelling could be heard in the background. The pick-up slowly cleared itself, and Kirk could see Mullar'habi getting a report from someone off-screen. He had an idea what had happened.

"We lost the Tonti, sir. Containment failure. K'Lucek and his engineering section went with it."

The loss saddened Kirk, but he was careful not to show it. "Can you maintain contact with the Kelvan column, without drawing any more of their fire?"

"Aye, sir."

"You're my last set of eyes out there. Don't jeopardize yourself any further, but do keep sending me updates until you reach the destroyer line. Then, you and your ship, head for New Detroit for repairs."

"Aye, sir. Hermes out."


The Kelvan column entered the long range sensors of the destroyer screen right on time. The Hermes had lost ground and was beginning to draw long range fire.

"Come on, Mullar'habi. Kick her in the ass," Kirk muttered as he watched from the bridge of the Enterprise.

A plasma torpedo came dangerously close to the Hermes, but a jink at the last moment caused it to miss by only the barest of space.

"Order the Xerxes and his destroyers to begin screening." Maybe this will give the Hermes the margin of time they need to get away, he thought as he saw Uhura send the message.

The Saladin class ship, and the sister classes with it, began laying down a dense cloud of positive charged dust and ions, intended to blind the Kelvan sensors and video pick-ups. Though it would blind the Federation ships as well, the handicap would be to their advantage since they knew the territory.

The lone scout entered the cloud and took off on a new heading, threading her way through the mine field waiting on the other side of the cloud. She'd finished her job and was headed for the space docks. Now it would be up to the rest of the task force to face the Kelvan threat.

"Order the destroyers to begin phase one of the defense operations," Kirk said to Uhura.

The destroyers fired and a dense wave of torpedoes locked onto targets, hitting the entire front of the Kelvan column. Many fighters disappeared in a bright, consuming flower of energy, causing a fire break that splashed back into the next wave of ships. Forced to clear the dead ships out of their way, the Kelvan advance slowed.

Noting the initial success of his tactics, Kirk put the next step into place. "Tell them to withdraw behind phase line meat-grinder."

The destroyers pulled back through the sensor blinding cloud and passed through a hastily laid field of antimatter mines that began right on the back edge. As the last ship cleared the field, a subspace radio signal activated them. With practiced skill, they reformed their line just within torpedo range and waited.

And waited.

"Come on, come on," Kirk repeated just under his breath as he watched the picture the U.S.S. Xerxes was sending him. Maybe they smelled the trap and changed course, he thought. If they did, then this will have all been for naught, he told himself. Maybe they're stopped on the other side because they know there's a trap there and don't know what to do about it. Then I've won, having slowed them down.

All conjecture ended when the front side of the field erupted, destroying an entire rank of Kelvan fighters. Not even waiting for the debris and excess energy to clear, the next rank entered, only this time they were firing their disruptors as soon as they cleared the ion cloud. Right behind them were two command/assault ships, the same type the Hermes had reported fighting, only neither of these had the slightest hint of damage.

While the fighters continued to clear the mines, the assault ships moved up close behind them. The lead behemoth found a mine the fighters had missed. A section of its midriff disappeared, the shields there instantly buckling under the massive release of energy. But the assault ship proceeded onward as if nothing had happened.

"Tell them to concentrate on that one, Uhura," Kirk instructed.

"Aye, sir."

This is too tedious, Kirk said to himself as he watched Uhura send the message, we've got to find a way to send orders without having to go through intermediaries. Turning to look at the viewscreen, he saw the Kelvan force still entangled in the mines. He knew his orders had gotten through when a spread of ten torpedoes, the full capability of the five destroyers assigned to him, speed away, converging on the wounded Kelvan assault ship. Then, the image on the screen changed to electronic snow; the speaker filled with an electronic scream.

"What?" Kirk said, his hands over his ears.

Uhura turned the audio circuit off. "Jamming, sir."

"Put tactical on the screen, I've got to see what's happening."

"Aye, sir," Spareg answered.

Spock, whose watch this was, had personally requested the presence of Spareg as an assistant, and was standing behind him, ensuring he did everything right.

The snow changed to a tactical interpretation of what was happening at the front. There was the minefield--a blob of yellow--and still locked into it, the symbols of the Kelvan ships. There were the symbols for his four destroyers..."Wait a minute. Only four? Where's the Cimon?" There was an odd pattern to the destroyers positions. "What's going on, Spock?"

"One moment, sir, the computer is still interpreting the last sensor sweep."

The screen wavered and now there was a cloud of red objects surrounding the four blue symbols that represented his destroyers. No, three blue symbols, the one that represented the Scipio flashed off. Damn, thought Kirk, what happened?

The screen wavered again, and a stream of red could be seen passing around both ends of the minefield.

"Order them to disengage!"

"I can't, sir," Uhura turned from frantically working at her station. Her normally well managed hair had a few strands escaping from their restraints. "The jamming covers all known subspace frequencies."

"Damn, damn, damn." Kirk yelled as he watched the rest of his destroyers fall under the Kelvan onslaught. First the Xerxes, then the Shaitan and finally, the Molock.

Even before the last blue symbol flashed out, the column of red reformed and continued on course for Starbase 32. The only thing that stood in their way now was the remainder of Kirk's task force; fifteen heavy cruisers. If Kirk thought they had any chance of survival, they disappeared quickly. His only hope now was to make their last stand such that it would help the cause and take out as many of the Kelvan as he could before falling.


Personal Log, Stardate 8516.2

This is the worst Kobayashi Maru I've ever been in. If I stand and fight, my Task Force will be overwhelmed by the Kelvan. But, if I move to a position more favorable, then I expose the flank of Starfleet's main defense.

Kirk looked at the tactical situation on the small monitor in his office and shook his head. The information on that screen is only an estimate, his thoughts darkened, the Kelvan jamming has completely shut down contact with Starfleet, and the "big picture's" source.

The Kelvan force that was bearing down on his position was still a half hour out, and the remains of his Task Force were as ready as they were ever going to be. The red fingers that represented the Kelvan were growing longer even as he watched, all three converging on the symbol that represented Starbase 32. He stood and began angrily pacing behind his desk. Which was the reason he'd left the bridge in the first place.

"I guess all those who still hold me as some kind of supernatural tactical genius are going to be disappointed this time. Though I have some ideas that might work, there's nothing in the ol' brain pan big enough to take on the Kelvan. Personal log entry complete."

Remembering that Spock was on the bridge, and badly needing a sounding board for some ideas he was developing, he contacted the bridge.

"Bridge, Riley," was the reply.

"Captain Riley, is Spock on the bridge?" Kirk asked.

"Yes, sir. One moment." There was a pause.

In a moment, Spock was on the intercom. "Yes, sir?"

"You and Riley come down to my office."

"Yes, sir," Spock responded.

It wasn't long before the two were standing at the door waiting to enter. Kirk unlocked the door and had them sit at the long conference table. He transferred the tactical map to the small monitors on the table so that they could see them better.

"I don't know if either of you can see the possible problem facing Starfleet." Kirk pointed at the monitor, then continued. "As you both know the Kelvan have not allowed themselves to be delayed or decoyed away from their lines of advance."

Both officers nodded.

Kirk continued, "We are presently waiting for them to hit us here," he pointed at the monitor, "in a static line of defense." Kirk gained and held their gazes. "The loss of the destroyers showed us how they'll react to a static defense." As a side thought, Kirk added. "By the way, these courses converge on Starbase Thirty-two."

He paused to let that sink in before continuing. "I think we are going to find ourselves cut off immediately after they contact our defenses--here, here and here." He used an electronic pointer on the monitor to indicate the places where the advances would meet the Federation defenses.

Spock began to see what Kirk had obviously already discovered. "The Kelvan then could deal with each isolated force at its leisure."

"Precisely." Kirk was glad Spock had picked up on it so quickly. He could tell that Riley wasn't far behind. Both of their faces became tense.

Riley responded next. "Sir, I take it you have a plan to counter this." There wasn't a hint of doubt in his voice.

I hope I live up to his loyalty, thought Kirk. "We will maintain our present position until we make contact with the Kelvan forces. As it becomes apparent we will be enveloped, just like the destroyers, the task force will break contact and scoot out before the trap can be closed. If we do this right, we can get between Task Force One and Starbase Thirty-two, a position where we can support the final stand better."

Spock nodded and commented. "That will work up to that point. My calculations of the Kelvan forces shows that they have enough to pin down our defense and still have enough to continue the attack. We cannot possibly stop them."

Kirk shrugged, "Then, we'd best be ready with something more imaginative. Until then, let's give our ships their orders so they can be ready. Spock, put it in place. Let me know when the Task Force has acknowledged the orders."

Spock nodded and departed. Turning to Riley, Kirk continued. "Kevin, this ship will have to be both leader and example to the whole force. If one of the other ships gets into trouble, it will be up to us to rescue it. I know you are up to the challenge. Keep on your toes, Captain, and we'll see the end of this."

Riley stood up smartly, proud of Kirk's confidence in him, "Don't worry, sir. We will." Then departed.

Kirk called up the communications station. In a moment, Commander Uhura's face came onto the screen. "Is there any way to get through to Starfleet Headquarters? I must talk to Admiral Cartwright."

Uhura had never seen Kirk so intense. "I can try, sir. Maybe if I tighten the beam on the high or low ends of the frequency band I can blow a hole through the jamming."

"Thanks, Nyota. Kirk out."


Uhura selected the high end first, but found electronic snow and the same high pitched wail the Kelvan used to jam frequencies. Nope. No chance of sneaking through there, she thought as she changed to the low end. This must be what it's like to command a scout, having to search for the smallest of openings in their defense, she pondered as she slowly and painstakingly searched every micrometer of frequency for a place that the Kelvan jammers had missed. They can't be everywhere. Then she found it, a very narrow portion of a frequency that was quiet.

With an open channel, she began sorting through her contacts back at headquarters and picked out the one that would serve to patch her through to the Commander in Chief. Someone who she'd gone to the Academy with and was also from the African continent of Earth. Uhura proceeded to talk to her in Swahili. "Kifti, I have an extremely urgent message for Admiral Cartwright. It's from Captain Kirk, and it's most important."

"My God, Nyota. Do you know you're the first contact we've had from the front in hours?" The other's face showed the surprise this call was producing.

"We don't have time for this, Kifti." Uhura remained serious though she wished she could reach out and embrace the other. "If we remain on this frequency too long, the Kelvan will find it. Call me when you have Admiral Cartwright." She cut the connection before her friend could say any more.

A few minutes later, Starfleet called back. Uhura transferred it immediately to Kirk's office. "Sir, I have Starfleet."

In Kirk's office, moments later, Admiral Cartwright appeared. "Before you say anything, Kirk, download your tactical situation. We're starving for intelligence back here."

Kirk complied, then waited.

"Thanks, Kirk." Cartwright smiled nervously. "Let's keep this quick. Now that we know there's a hole, we don't want the Kelvan to fill it in."

"Sir, I believe that the integrity of the first defensive line is already in danger of being overrun by the Kelvan attack." Kirk tried to emphasis this as best he could. He had to convince Cartwright of the danger.

"Captain, the Kelvan are tough, but they haven't shown any indication of being that tough," Cartwright chuckled. "If you think more ships would help, I'm sorry, but both the Klingons and the Romulans have forces inside the Federation as well, and I just can't afford anything further." Cartwright sagged and sighed. "The defensive shell we've created should break up their formation, like an umbrella in a rain storm."

"Sir, I respectfully disagree, and..." Before Kirk could finish, the Admiral's face began to smear across the screen. Kirk recognized the evidence of being jammed.

Uhura came onto the screen. "I'm sorry sir, but they found us. Captain Spock requests your presence on the bridge."

The Enterprise tilted and shuddered in a way Kirk recognized immediately as the effects of a near miss onto an unshielded surface. Riley must have just barely gotten out of that one's way. I hope the shields are up now,he thought as he felt the ship twist the other way so forcefully that the inertial dampeners couldn't compensate for all the centrifugal force created by it, he can't continue to dodge this way without tearing the Enterprise apart.


"If they change course again, let me know, immediately, Kelsey," Sulu ordered.

"Aye, sir. Fer d'Lance out."

Punching a button on the arm of his command chair, Sulu changed subspace frequencies. "That was Kelsey, Pav. The Romulan force he's tracking changed course again."

Commander Chekov grimaced with the news. "Back toward Sector One?"

"No, and that's what bothers me," Sulu said. "They're now on a heading that will take them pretty close to Starbase Thirty-two."

"The Kelvan Line?" Chekov queried.

"Apparently," Sulu answered.

"Just a moment." Chekov signaled to get someone's attention off screen, and the Federation symbol came onto the screen.

Just great, thought Sulu as he stared at the screen, the Federation is under attack from what appears now to be three fronts, and he puts me on hold.

Chekov came back on screen. "That confirms it, Hikaru."

"Confirms what, Pav?"

"My group of Klingons is heading in the same direction. Maybe not as directly, but they have a shorter way to go. This smells like a bad case of borscht to me," Chekov said. "Vwhat do you suppose they're up to?"

"I don't know, but it can't be any good for the Federation, of that much I'm sure."

"I agree." Chekov shook his head as he answered. "Has Kelsey seen what he's tracking, or, figured out how many there are?"

"He hasn't seen them yet, though he figures he's less than a day behind them and that there are over fifty ships."

"Phew!" Chekov exclaimed. "That's bigger than my group. I estimate we have between thirty-eight and forty-two. We thought that maybe we saw one of them a little bit ago. Looked a lot like an old D-7 battlecruiser, but it was only visible for a couple seconds."

"Are you sure your group is heading toward the Kelvan Line as well?"

"Not one hundred percent. There are a few contested colonies still between them and the Kelvan area of operations, but it certainly does look that way."

Sulu decided to change the subject. "Any news from the front?"

"Nyet, Hikaru. Not even from the Enterprise."

"The last transmission I got from them had the specs for the new weapons, but subspace's rumor control has things not going well there," Sulu commented. "How's your engineering section doing with the new torpedo?"

"We're quickly building up a large stock of them."

"Keep me informed if there are any changes," Sulu began to conclude the transmission.

"You, too. Especially from Starfleet. I'm getting so close to the Kelvan zone that the jamming's beginning to affect my radios."

"Wilco, Pav. U.S.S. Mugato out."


"It worked, Great Progenitor." The air around Third Armada seemed to shimmer with the intensity of his mental communication with the Kelvan Supreme Commander. "Just as you said it would."

"As predicted, they favor a static defense and singular combat," the Supreme Commander responded. "If you demonstrate with a portion of your force to hold their defense in place and punch through on all four of their flanks, they can't function anymore."

"Brilliant, Great Progenitor." I wish I'd thought of it, he thought, then I could have risen to a position closer to the Supreme one. "We are closing on their final line of defense in this sector."

"Very good, Third Armada. The other flank has made contact and is nearing completion of its annihilation. The main column is only moments from contact as well."

"Victory is at hand, Great Progenitor."

"As I predicted."

The screen went blank, leaving Third Armada to complete his forces preparation for the attack.


Kirk reviewed his plans on the way to the bridge, filling in the missing details. It occurred to him how similar to maneuvering a single starship, commanding a task force really was, once you adjusted your mind to the larger size.

His inner ear told him the ship was turning itself inside out evading something, but there was no whine of ship's phasers or the distinctive shudder of torpedoes. What was Riley doing to counter the attack on my flagship? he thought, fretting in the lift.

Kirk entered the bridge, and met, face first, the full intensity of a life or death struggle. There had already been one casualty on the bridge--the new weapons officer--who lay unconscious on the deck. The weapons console showed charring around all the buttons, evidence of an immense overload. It also explained why the Enterprise wasn't fighting back. The floor rocked as the starship absorbed yet another hit.

With his upper torso buried inside the guts of the system, someone was working to correct the short-coming right now. A moment later, McCoy, leading a medical team, pushed Kirk pushed to one side.

"Move it, or lose it," the physician said, then added, "Captain, sir."

"Riley, what happened?" Kirk walked up behind the command seat. "How come the shields weren't up?"

Not sparing any of his attention from his evasive maneuvers, Riley answered. "A wave of long range torpedoes came at us from nowhere, we just barely had time to get out of the way. Some residual energy entered the weapons circuit, shorting through the console and into Trillock's hands. Ensign Swift Deer had just delivered a message from phaser battery three when it happened. He put the fire out and has been busy ever since."

Kirk nodded and watched McCoy work. The first thing he noted was that the Andorian wasn't dead, but, by the intensity the doctor was showing, he wasn't too far from it. A moment later, Swift Deer replaced the grill he had removed to access the insides of the console. Sitting down in the vacant seat of his predecessor, he flipped on the switches and the board came alive with green lights.

On the screen, Kirk saw the next wave of Kelvan fighters begin their approach on the Enterprise. From the corner of his eye, he saw Swift Deer react, and he felt the ship shudder with a staggered, double launch, as a m-torpedo and its standard equivalent, streaked away. A Kelvan fighter that had become too bold during the Enterprise's silence died. Another volley later, and, with the reactivation of the phasers, the enemy was obliged to show the cruiser a little more respect.

Despite the intelligence reports regarding the size of the Kelvan fleet, and the fact that he shouldn't be surprised by what he saw, the number of fighters attacking the Enterprise disconcerted Kirk. It was to Riley's credit that he could maneuver the starship in such a way as to cause the Kelvan shots to miss or only glance off the shields. Still, because of their overwhelming numbers, Kirk realized the Kelvan would soon overwhelm the Enterprise if she was not helped or allowed to disengage.

Moving to the engineering station, he got Scott's attention. "How much more of this can we take?"

Scotty turned his attention from helping the Enterprise's new chief engineer to answer Kirk. "Sir, at the present rate of expenditure, the dilithium crystals will be dust in less than an hour."

"That's what I thought." Kirk went over to where Spock was monitoring the science station. Looking over the Vulcan's shoulder he noted something peculiar. "Spock, are these monitors correct, or are the other ships receiving less attention than we are?"

"I had just noted that myself," Spock's eyebrow went up. "Evidently, the Kelvan have been doing their homework, deducing correctly that we are the command center."

Nodding his head, Kirk went back to examining his task force's status monitor. An idea formed that might take a little bit of the heat off his beleaguered flagship. "Uhura."

She turned to answer. "Yes?"

"Can we break through the jamming locally and communicate with the rest of our task force?"

"On full gain," Uhura answered, "yes, sir."

"Good. Pass on my orders for the Lafayette and the Shaula to take up stations one hundred meters to our left and right, sixty degrees below our plane."

"Aye, sir."

Kirk returned his attention to Riley, but had to wait while he finished his conversation with his first officer--Mister Saavik.

Saavik was making some sort of recommendation. "Captain, should I bring up someone a little more experienced to man the weapons console?"

Riley took one look at viewscreen, saw an incoming fighter take two quick hits from the forward batteries, then gave her an answer. "No, Saavik, I think things are just fine the way they are. Let Mister Swift Deer stay on."

"Aye, sir." Saavik returned to her position on the navigator's console.

Riley noted Kirk standing nearby and directed his attention toward him."Yes, sir?"

"In a moment, we are going to get some help from the ships on our flanks. This should allow you to concentrate the attention of our weapons into a smaller area of space, specifically above and in front of us. The others will take over the flanks."

"Thank you, sir," Riley smiled nervously. "I was beginning to believe I would be forced to break my promise to you."

"What are Task Force commanders for," Kirk shrugged, "if they can't pull a few aces out of their sleeve now and again?"

"The Lafayette and Shaula have acknowledged," Uhura announced. On Kirk's monitor, he watched their blips move in close to the Enterprise, forming a small equilateral triangle. Their fire immediately augmented that of the Enterprise.

Kirk turned to Riley. "Get in touch with the other two commanders and start putting together a way to increase the triad's efficiency. We've got to get so we move more like one ship."

"Aye, sir." Riley turned to Uhura. "Commander, set up a separate channel for me to communicate with Captains Borlo and Strift."

"Aye, sir. You'll see them in the upper right corner of the main screen." Uhura responded.

Soon, the faces of the other cruiser's commanders could be seen in the upper right corner of the screen, and Riley began coordinating their efforts.

After an initial period where their movements were clumsy and slow, the three starships soon melded into a coordinated team. The Kelvan fighters that a moment before had been pressuring them badly, were now being pushed back. At the same time, fewer full strength hits were registering on their shields.

Observing the effectiveness of this new technique, Spock and Spareg began discussing something in hushed tones at the computer station. Apparently, they came to some sort of agreement as both started to program something into the ship's main computer.

Kirk noticed the activity and was curious about it. "Spock, what are the two of you doing?"

After a few more instructions were put into the computer, Spock turned and answered. "Sir, it occurred to me that if the other two ship's computers could be tied into ours, it would increase the team's maneuvering efficiency two hundred and twenty-three, point two-one percent."

"Good, Spock. How long until you have it finished?"

"Not long." Spock turned and continued putting commands into the computer station.

Kirk checked the status of his task force. The Kelvan were showing the other cruisers a little more attention now, as each tried to defend itself in singular efforts. He remembered the records of each starship commander in his force and knew every one of them had seen combat at least once before now. But none had ever had to deal with more than one or two antagonists at a time.

The Esabl's shields were the first to buckle, and despite the commanders best efforts to break contact, a swarm of Kelvan fighters jumped her. The attack was so intense that they blew the warp nacelles completely off the secondary hull. A moment later, the crippled heavy cruiser's impulse engines blew. A chain reaction of explosions within the ship's engineering section ended the dark drama.

Kirk began to feel uneasy as a solution to this predicament tried to break through from his subconscious mind into the real world. Something about what he was seeing on his monitor contained the solution to defeating the Kelvan attack, but he just couldn't seem to get a handle on it. Where have I seen a situation like this before now? he thought. In an attempt to dredge it up, he stared at the status board and began to concentrate on it.

Hoping that seeing the bigger picture might help, he opened a channel to the ship's main computer. "Computer, show me the tactical image for Starfleet."

"Insufficient data at this time."

"Best estimate, if what is happening here is happening everywhere else?"

The monitor changed, and the double sphere defense formation that the Federation had set up was a sieve now. The Kelvan had completely broken through along all three of its axis. Spurs from the main Kelvan thrusts were doubling back behind the Federation lines. Kirk knew in his gut that though this was just a computer estimate, it was most likely accurate. Nothing would stop the envelopment of Starfleet's defenses, including the small force he commanded. Again the solution tried to reach his consciousness.

Spock and Spareg had finished the programming needed to tie in the computers of the triad. The efficiency of the new program showed immediate results. The group made a turn, that a moment earlier, only one ship could have done so precisely. The turn caught the fighters that had been dogging the Enterprise by surprise. The fire from the three starships destroyed one Kelvan and so heavily damaged the others that they finally disengaged, giving the crews of the triad a breather.

Kirk turned to Uhura. "Signal the task force. Team up in triads like ours."

"Aye, sir."

"I hope it will be in time to be of help," he said as he watched his forces team up. What is it about these groupings that is the key? he thought, the tactical genius within him working at a feverish pitch.


On the far side of the bridge from Kirk, Ensign Swift Deer's weapons board had finally cleared, showing all weapons ready. Sitting back, he reviewed what had just occurred. He had taken over the weapons console during the worst of the attack, and had succeeded in running the ship's weapons. Looking around, he didn't see anyone that out-ranked him in the weapons department standing ready to take over, nor did he see any indication that there would be. An immense sense of accomplishment filled him as he realized they were going to let him stay.

A distant move on the screen brought him back to the problems he faced. They wouldn't let him stay long if he didn't maintain his concentration. The move to combine the fire power of three ships was genius. Now Captain Spock had interfaced the three maneuver computers so that they would operate together completed the logical next step. While contemplating how this had increased their abilities, his mind took the next logical step. What if they could interface the targeting computers the same way? Such a modification would eliminate the problem of firing too often at one target, and not enough on the others.

Leaving his station, he approached his Academy friend. "Spareg, can we tie in the targeting computers the same way?"

Spock overheard the question and although it intrigued him with its possibilities, he waited to see how the two ensigns would handle it.

Spareg's eyebrow lifted in a now familiar facial gesture as he answered. "Very interesting, Mister Swift Deer. I should think it could be accomplished. I shall begin to work immediately." Turning, the younger Vulcan input the commands that would bring the targeting computers together.

"Thanks, Mister Spareg. Let me know when it's in place." Looking at the viewscreen, Swift Deer saw the next wave of Kelvan coming into range. "More palefaces." He rushed back over to his console and started targeting incoming fighters for the Enterprise's weapons.


Kirk hardly noticed the evasive maneuvers as his flagship returned to the fray. Instead, he was concentrating on the tactical situation of his Task Force. The fourteen remaining heavy cruisers were now formed into boxes and triads, and were engaging the Kelvan.

Even with the new technique, the tactical plot showed him that his task force was still losing the battle. "Computer, show me the estimated tactical plot of Starfleet's defense again." The total picture had gotten worse already. The computer was estimating that the Kelvan would by now have established contact with Starfleet's secondary defense ring, Task Force One, which defended Starbase 32. He began digging deep into his memory for the elusive answer he felt was there.


The crews of the Enterprise triad were now getting used to the idea of fighting as a unit. Spock watched Spareg put in the final commands tying the three targeting computers of the triad together. He had already taken the concept of interfacing multiple ship functions one step further. If maneuvering and targeting could be united, why not the shields? With this combination, the energies of three sets of warp engines would build an even tougher defensive barrier. While Spock worked on the commands necessary to allow the new interface, Spareg finished the targeting program.

Ensign Swift Deer let out a whoop as the interface engaged. The uncoordinated fire of the three starships smoothed out as each Kelvan ship that came into range got attention from the triad's weapons. With the computers set up this way, the only Human interaction necessary now was to initially point out the incoming Kelvan. If the Kelvan ship left the firing zone of one Federation ship, whichever ship was still in range immediately picked it up. Few Kelvan ships escaped the attention of the triad's weapons without being bitten.

Riley watched the viewscreen with a glee fringing on a Klingon blood lust. The ancient Celtic warrior took over. "Navigator, lock in course to intercept that incoming group of fighters."


"I'm tired of waiting for them."

"Aye, sir."

Deep in thought, Kirk briefly noticed the change in tactics and took note of the new status on the screen. Turning to Spock, he started to comment, only to notice that Spock and Spareg were again deeply involved on the ship's computers. Now what? he thought. If the next innovation was as effective as the last two, he didn't want to disturb them.

He looked again at the tactical plot. The Kelvan would by now have pierced the second line, and would be working toward enveloping it as well. With a sense of foreboding, he knew that Starfleet's Forward Headquarters, with its entire chain of command, was probably right now exposed to a Kelvan attack. As powerful as the Starbase's defensive weaponry was, its maneuvering capabilities were severely limited, leaving it doomed.

Beyond them was an open corridor to the prime systems of the United Federation of Planets. Kirk felt that nothing would stop the Federation from following the same fate as the Gorn now.

The entire first line was probably fully enveloped now, and engaged in a life or death struggle similar to his, except for one vital difference. The rest were losing the fight, while his small unit was gaining the initiative. Why? he asked himself.

Then, the nagging solution that had been fighting to surface all this time broke through as he remembered something from the military history classes taught at the Academy. In Earth's eighteenth century, a commander had faced an opponent many times his strength, just like him. Back then, the commander had not only succeeded in defending himself against the attack, but by the end of the battle had annihilated the enemy's forces.

The occasion took place in a country called Holland, near a town named Waterloo. Then, the Duke of Wellington, commanding the allied forces of England, had faced a French force under Napoleon that far outnumbered him. Wellington had formed his forces into what later became known as the English Square and let the offensive power of the French beat themselves apart against its concentrated firepower.

He ordered the computer back to his force's tactical screen. They were already formed into small examples of this square.

Spock and Spareg had just finished with the computer when they turned to see Kirk approaching with a smile and a swagger that Spock immediately recognized. It said that Kirk had a solution to the problem, and by the intensity of the look, it was a good one.

"Spock! How many more ships can we add to our group and still use our central computer to coordinate their actions?" Kirk asked.

"I should think we could do it to an unlimited number," Spock answered. "The necessary programming would not be all that more complex. Why, sir?"

Kirk motioned for Spock to follow him. He got Riley's attention and got him to follow him as well. As he passed the communications station he asked Uhura to come. He took the two over to his command console and presented his simple plan to them. "We have failed so far because we have been fighting as individual ships. If we put our forces together into a composite force, the odds shift. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, we can shift to the offense using this new method." Turning to his flagship's commander, Kirk confirmed what he'd seen earlier. "Am I right, Riley?"

Riley beamed as he realized that Kirk had seen his shift in tactics. "Aye, sar, we can." he replied in a thick Irish brogue.

Kirk began firing commands at them at warp speed. "Spock, prepare our central computer to coordinate all the task force's computer functions."

"Uhura, send to our task force. Break contact and go to this location." Kirk pointed out a spot on a heading toward Starbase 32. "Incorporate the needed changes to their computer programming with the message. Let them know they will be put on line with our computer as soon as we rendezvous with them. We will build a massive English square out of our ships."

"Aye, sir." Uhura left.

"Captain, bring our group to heading three-four-eight point two, at warp six. Let's get out of here." He added after a little contemplation. "I suspect that Admiral Morrow on Starbase Thirty-two can't last too much longer."

"Aye, sir. Right away." Riley left and the bridge came alive with commands. The Enterprise triad broke contact with the Kelvan forces.

Only Spock remained as Kirk completed the details of the plan for his second in command. "As we absorb each of our groups, I want the ships positioned so that half face forward and the other, aft, in an alternating pattern like this." Kirk put the pattern on the console screen. "Then I want to have all the computers tied in to ours so that they become one entity, capable of coordinated maneuvering and targeting action."

Spock acknowledged the plan. "That shouldn't be too much of a problem. Spareg and I will set up the Enterprise's computer as the coordinating center for the combined computers. I don't know if you noted it before we disengaged, but the weapons of the Kelvan didn't seem as effective as before."

"Now that you mention it, the shields didn't seem as stressed," Kirk acknowledged. "What did you do?"

"Spareg and I have interlocked the shields of the triad so that the warp engines of the three ships support them as a single unit," Spock reported. "Our shields are now fairly impregnable to the Kelvan weapons."

"That's amazing Spock," Kirk said, a smile spreading across his face. "See to it that as we grow, the shields continue to be interlocked in this fashion."

"Aye, sir." The Vulcan waited for Kirk to continue.

"We will break from this pocket, incorporating as many survivors as we find, and try to relieve the starbase. If that fails, we will then try to absorb as many surviving ships as can make it to us and stop any further Kelvan advance," Kirk concluded.

"Yes, Captain," Spock responded.

"Let's get on with it." Kirk returned his attention the tactical screen.

Spock went to the science station and started to prepare the computer for its new job as the central processor for a large square of starships.

I hope some dreadnoughts survive this, Kirk thought, knowing he could use their massive firepower, but more importantly, that third warp nacelle and the additional energy it provided, to better accomplish his plans, but if they don't, his thoughts continued as he reminded himself about all the problems that class of ship had with respect to maneuverability, then I'll have to do with what is left.


"We must be more careful, Kor."

"It was unavoidable, Kang. It's an old ship and for a moment, the cloak failed. Do you think our shadow saw us?"

"We must assume they know exactly who they're following now." Kang changed the nature of their conversation. "Any word from that filthy half-breed targ, General Chang, or his newfound friends?"

"Not a whisper. After Khalian failed, he disappeared from court," Kor responded.

"Physically, he disappeared," Kang corrected his friend. "My spies say he's still very busy."

"Mine, too."

"That's too bad. Because of him, Koloth and Kusan had to remain near the home world with their forces," Kang added. There was a moment of silence, then, "Can you feel it, Kor?"

"That this will be where it will happen?"

Kang looked at the forward view on his viewscreen and the swirling, radiation riddled clouds of the Kironis Coalsack of Markab, and somehow knew this was where the Federation would live or die. Like an old wound, when it was about to rain, he felt it in his bones. "Yes, Kor, this is where it will happen, and this is where we will wait."

He'd begun having this feeling almost immediately upon their arrival here, finding Starfleet mine-layers hard at work laying mines in what the Humans called Mephisto's Gate, the only navigable corridor through this region for parsecs. It was no wonder Starfleet was mining Mephisto; it was a natural canalization point. And, since no ship, not even the Kelvan, would chance the plasma fields and the dust clouds within the coalsack nebula, they would be forced to come through Mephisto or spend most of a day going around.

"Are you ready to fight again, old friend?" Kang finally broke from his contemplation.

"It is a good day to die," Kor replied.

"Yes, it is, voq jup, but an even better day for bringing glory to the Empire. Qapla' Kor joH! Kang executed a precise Klingon salute.

"HIja' Kang joH!"


The Enterprise triad rendezvoused with the first of the task force's other triads. The Republic, Astrad, and Salayna merged into the group's formation and entered the net.

A final addition to the new family of programs brought the sensor arrays of the square's starships together, sending information into the processing centers of the Enterprise, which, in turn, correlated it and sent it back in a more useful form.

The final formation resembled a square Tholian web made of starships interconnected by strands of subspace communication beams so powerful that you could see them spanning the small gaps between them. The group now acted, and reacted, as one, large, living entity.

They completed it just in time to meet the first challenge. Dead-ahead was a large group of Kelvan warships, assigned the mission of keeping the Federation forces separated. The square waded into the Kelvan line, sweeping them aside like a broom sweeps sand from the floor. Those that attempted to stop them came under heavy attack. Many came apart so quickly that very little remained to mark the location of their last stand. The rest, completely surprised by the square's power, broke off the attack and allowed themselves to be left behind.

Not slowed by the event, the square continued on toward Starbase 32.

Kirk analyzed the group's first engagement. It was pleasurable knowing that they could have annihilated the entire Kelvan force if they had wanted to. He admitted that it had been tempting to do just that, but it would have taken too much time, and he felt in his gut that Starbase 32, and those that lived within, didn't have much of that precious commodity left.

"Mister Swift Deer," Riley said, sitting in the command chair.

"Yes, sir?"

"I noted you've stopped using the double photon pattern with the m-torps."

"Yes, sir."


"Inefficient use of force. One works just as well against a fighter."

"Are you sure?" Riley felt concern and for good reason. "I don't want any fighter to survive and hit us later when we're not expecting it."

"Absolutely, sir."

"Captain Riley?" Spareg called from the science station.

"Yes, Mister Spareg?"

"Sensors have begun picking up energy surges, but they're not coming from the starbase's last reported position."


"Two five five mark one one, approximately one point two light years off our present course."

"What was that?" Kirk couldn't help but hear the conversation from where he stood at the back of the bridge.

"The square's sensors have picked up energy surges, sir." Riley reported to Kirk.

"Could it be the starbase?"

Spareg answered this one from his station, "No, sir, wrong direction and too soon."

"Computer has identified four distinct types of energy in the surges; phaser, disruptor, photon and the energy signature of detonating plasma," Spock began reporting from his station. "By its present position, I would say it is a dreadnought task force, most likely Task Force Four. Their original defensive position was not far from here."

"Any information on Starbase Thirty-two?"

"Sensors are beginning to pick up energy surges from that direction as well, sir." Spock answered.

Kirk was in a difficult quandary. On one hand there was a task force in trouble, with ships that could be placed into the square, adding to its offensive power. Then there was Starbase 32 and the commander of forward operations, Admiral Morrow. The answer came fast and easy to Kirk. "Change heading, two-five-five mark one-one, maximum warp."

The square changed course.

Spock quietly moved to Kirk's side. "By doing this, Jim, you may have sentenced everyone on Starbase Thirty-two to death."

"I know, Spock, but the starbase is purely a defensive strong point, and, for all intents and purposes, cannot move. The defense in this sector has already failed and what Starfleet needs now is mobility, not a static defense."

"A logical decision, derived logically. I commend you, sir," Spock responded with his typical eye brow lift. "I just wanted to ensure you knew what you were risking."

"Believe me, Spock, I know." A flicker of remorse darted across Kirk's expression.

"E.T.A. battle site, two minutes," Saavik reported from navigation.

"Put it on visual, Mister Saavik," Riley ordered.

"Maximum magnification, on screen now." Saavik altered the setting with a touch of a finger tip.

A collection of battered heavy cruisers and a single destroyer, surrounded by Kelvan fighters, with an assault ship in attendance nearby, came onto the screen. If this truly was the remnants of Task Force Four, there was no sign of the dreadnoughts that had made up its core.

A massive disruptor pulse from the Kelvan assault ship struck the shields of a heavy cruiser at the edge of the Federation formation. Its shields buckled with a flash, allowing residual energy to arc across the bottom of the primary hull and neck.

"Transponder identification of that heavy cruiser," Spareg paused reading his monitor, "U.S.S.Altair, an Achernar class heavy cruiser, assigned to Task Force Four."

"Identification confirmed," Spock said to Kirk.

Like a pack of hungry wolves shadowing a herd of caribou, the Kelvan fighters sensed the Altair's weakness and attacked. The crippled cruiser disintegrated on their first sweep, unable to resist anymore.

Kirk knew that the rest would face a similar end if something didn't happen soon to prevent it. "Uhura, see if you can contact the commander of that force."

"Aye, sir."

As she brought the full power of the square's combined subspace transmitters on line, the bridge watched as the Kelvan assault ship moved closer to the next ship in the line.

"Sir, I have Captain Croft of the U.S.S. Excalibur."

"Put him on the screen."

Uhura complied and a battle ravaged bridge came onto the screen. Kirk remembered Steven Croft from the Academy. He had been right up there with Kirk in his standings in tactics and now was a veteran commander. The ravaged visage that came onto the Enterprise's main viewing screen only faintly resembled the man from his memory.

"Captain, where are the dreadnoughts?" Kirk asked.

"The Kelvan targeted them first and locked onto them with those massive assault ships of theirs," Croft sighed, defeat oozing from every word. "They didn't last long, believe me." Croft's face curled into a wicked grin as he continued. "They took a few with them though." Then the smile faded. "You know something, Jim? It didn't help; there are just too many of them." Pointing abstractly to the side, he added, "They left the one assault ship and its fighters to finish us slowly." He attempted a smile again as he finished. "We are certainly glad to see you. What are your orders, sir?"

It was easy to see that Croft was ready to release control of his situation to a person he felt was probably his last hope. Kirk took over. "Disengage and proceed toward us at the best speed your warp drives can still give you. If you can, get the Kelvan to follow."

"Sir, after what I saw them do to the dreadnoughts," Croft appeared worried, "do you think that would be wise?"

Kirk chuckled. "Bring them to me, Captain. I think you will be pleasantly surprised."

The Task Force commander watched the Excalibur's captain turn and give the appropriate orders. Returning his attention to Kirk, he acknowledged the order. "On our way, sir. It looks like we're bringing the whole lot of them with us."

Kirk put on his most encouraging face. "Leave the driving to us, Captain Croft."

The screen faded as Kirk turned to Spock. "Form the group into a large cup, allow the survivors to pass through the gaps between the ships. Prepare to receive the Kelvan force that follows."

Spock turned and punched the commands into the Enterprise's main computer. The wall of ships began to bend inward, forming a perfect concave curve. Kirk could see from his position that the balance of the ships facing the incoming Kelvan forces had armed themselves with the new m-ray torpedoes. All phasers showed a maximum charge, and stood ready to lock onto the unsuspecting enemy.

Preparations for the fight were just being completed when Croft's group of survivors finally got close enough to see. The seven starships were charred and battered, and Kirk didn't want to venture a guess what was holding them together.

Leading the Yorktown, Hornet, Kestral, Sinuiji and the Za'Farin out was the Excalibur. Tagging along, keeping the big boys between it and the Kelvan, was a single, Siva class destroyer, the U.S.S. Mars, its presence an indication of its commander's expertise.

Right on their tails was the Kelvan force.

Kirk turned to Uhura, "Send to our group. Hold your fire until they're all inside the cup." He smiled, remembering something from his history books. "Until we see the whites of their eyes."

"Aye, sir," the communications officer said, as she began sending.

Riley asked, "Do you think they'll just come straight into our trap?"

Kirk grinned. "I don't think they'll put a single thought into it. They're so arrogant that it won't occur to them that we can stop them."

True to his prediction, the Kelvan charged right into Kirk's square.

"Fire!" Kirk ordered as the last Kelvan ship entered the kill zone.

The inner side of the square erupted. One m-ray torpedo was more than enough to finish a Kelvan fighter. Computer coordinated phaser fire was surprisingly effective on those who weren't finished by the torpedoes. In no time, the square decimated the Kelvan force facing it, with the few fighters that survived running for the perceived safety of the assault ship's shadows.

Kirk's force hadn't met one of these huge ships before. Probably because there were no dreadnoughts assigned to it. Though he couldn't afford to lose any of his numbers now, he knew this ship had to be neutralized quickly. "Uhura, jam their transmissions."

"Aye, sir," she acknowledged. "Jamming now."

"Spareg," Kirk turned to face the young Vulcan. "Use the computer link to send this message: Re-arm and standby."

"Aye, sir."

"Weapons: Target all his shield generators. I want him helpless as quickly as possible."

Spareg moved from the computer console after sending the message and peered into the hooded monitor of the sensors. Flipping a switch, he powered up the Enterprise's sensor arrays. With her, every ship in the square probed the assault ship's structure as well, and the data poured into the Enterprise's computer. "Sir, identified and targeted."

The fate of his fighter force must have finally sunk home to the commander of the assault ship. Picking what must have seemed the better part of valor, he turned his ship on its axis and prepared to escape.

The changing attitude of the Kelvan assault ship showed on Swift Deer's weapons board as computers strained to maintain their targeting locks. "Sir, they're withdrawing!" the ensign sounded the alarm.

Kirk had noted the change himself. "Target the engines, and," he paused for an instant, "Fire!"

Swift Deer had already begun the target switch process. As each torpedo showed green, he fired. The salvo wasn't parade ground perfect, but it was none the less effective as m-ray torpedo after m-ray torpedo crashed into the aft shields of the Kelvan ship. Though none of the weapons individually had the power to destroy a vessel of this size, they did an efficient job of turning the Kelvan warp and impulse engines into garbage.

"Reload and target the shield generators!" Kirk jumped at the opportunity.

"Aye, sir," Swift Deer's fingers moved quickly across his board. "Reloading torpedoes now. Phasers show ready."

Kirk acknowledged with a nod.

Swift Deer's console went green. "Torpedoes ready, sir."


The m-ray torpedoes erupted from the battle groups tubes. The shields went down, their projectors destroyed. The whole wall opened up with everything that could get an angle. Great, gaping holes appeared in the flanks of the assault ship as immense internal explosions, triggered by the scathing fire of the phasers, ripped through the ship. No less than fifty standard torpedoes smashed into it, the crew of the Federation ships venting their anger on it. Within moments, the Kelvan assault ship was dead, fires and explosions ripping it apart from within.

"Ensign Swift Deer. Cease fire, all weapons," Kirk ordered.

"Aye, sir!"

The younger officers were all ecstatic, the senior officers pleased.

Captain Scott, watching the whole thing from auxiliary control, came onto the ship's intercom in his thickest brogue. "Now that's what I call a party! Ken we do it again sometime soon, sir?"

Kirk answered his friend, "My pleasure, Scotty." Turning to Riley, he gave him the group's next destination, "Make a bee-line for Starbase Thirty-two. We've got work to do."

Riley acknowledged and relayed it to Saavik at the navigation console.

"Aye, sir." The growl in Saavik's voice showed how hard it was for her to keep the Romulan genes in her silent.

Then to Spock, Kirk ordered, "Get those new ships in position and on line."

"Yes, Captain."

From behind his position, Kirk heard Spock add, "It is exhilarating to see that they can be beat."

Kirk turned around with the usual look of surprise that hearing the Vulcan talk of experienced emotion brought on. "You, Spock, you experienced exhilaration? Now that has to be a highly emotional state."

"Yes, sir," Spock feigned confusion and shook his head, "I can only attribute it to my katra's short stay inside McCoy's cluttered mind."

"I see, Spock," Kirk's face blanked. "My deepest apologies."

"None needed, sir," the Vulcan replied, "I have accepted the contamination of the doctor's mind as one of the hazards of duty."

"Captain Riley, course for Starbase Thirty-two locked in," Saavik reported.

"Warp factor eight, Mister Saavik. Engage." Riley sat back in his chair.

"E.T.A., Mister Riley?" Kirk asked.

"Mister Saavik?"

"Twenty minutes, if, and this is a big if, the Kelvan do not delay us."

"That is a big if," Kirk responded. "Uhura, get me in touch with the Excalibur and transfer it to my office."

"Aye, sir."

"Spock, ride herd on the Task Force for bit while I debrief Captain Croft."

"Aye, sir."


"They cut us off from Task Forces Two and Three right at the start," Croft reported. "The Kelvan got behind us right away, keeping us from retreating. I assume they did the same to Task Force Five. All indications point toward the Kelvan shoving Two and Three back into Task Force One's zone of operations, which, in turn, was being driven back into the starbase."

"Have you heard anything from Task Force Five since then?" Kirk asked.

"Nothing from the moment the Kelvan first crossed the Line. As I said, I assume they were cut off the same way the Kelvan cut us off, because they occupied the same position as we did on the other flank."

"So there might be just as good a chance they withdrew with the other two?" Kirk asked.

"That's a long chance, sir."

"Understood." Kirk changed the subject. "Are your ships integrated into the net yet?"

"Pretty much so, sir."

"Good, because I'm sure it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better," Kirk warned.

"I agree, though this square of yours gives me more hope than I had less than an hour ago," Croft paused for a moment, then he snapped his fingers and got excited. "Oh yeah, there is one piece of information you may not be aware of since you were so far out on the flanks. Morrow ordered mine-layers to put down minefields on the other side of the starbase when it looked liked the defense would fail. The Kelvan jamming became too intense right after that, and we didn't receive the coordinates."

"That's nice to know. It wouldn't do us any good to find a way to beat the Kelvan only to fall prey to our own mines."

"No, it wouldn't, sir."

"Thanks, Croft. Kirk out." He cut the connection, and the Federation symbol appeared on the screen. He studied it intently. It was the new symbol, with three major stars. The stars represented the original United Federation of Planets, the Barrier Alliance and the Gorn Confederation which had only recently merged. He shook his head sadly at the fate of the Gorn. Perhaps it wasn't too late. Perhaps... "Computer?"

"One moment please. All input/output circuits are busy at this time," the computer's female voice replied.

That last piece of information concerning the new minefields bothered him, so he decided to do a little map reconnaissance of the areas of space behind Starbase 32, just to see if he could discern where he would put those minefields if he'd been in charge.

"Captain Kirk to the bridge," the intercom announced. It was Riley's voice, and he sounded bothered.

He hit the button on the computer console, opening a channel, "Kirk here, on my way."


The turbolift doors opened and the silence on the bridge hit him as if he'd just run into a brick wall with his face. A glance at the viewscreen told him why. The Enterprise square was no longer traveling at warp speed. An immense field of broken and dead starships blocked her way. The charred remains of a warp nacelle floated by, accompanied by the burned out and eaten away primary hull of a different ship. The damage to most of the ships was so bad that it defied any attempts to identify the ship they came from.

"There's the Konkordium," Riley identified the wreck of a dreadnought as it went past the forward visual pick-up. The bridge dome was only a charred crater, and there wasn't much else left of the largest class of ship in Starfleet. "This didn't happen long ago."

"Task Force Two," Spareg identified.

"There's the K'ushui, and the Mondoloy," Saavik piped in with an identification of two Achernar class heavy cruisers that floated by, their twisted remains locked together in a macabre, zero gravity dance.

"Task Force Three."

"Damn!" Swift Deer exclaimed.

"What is it, Mister Swift Deer?" Riley queried.

"Targeting just picked up a transponder from a ship near the outer edge of the field." Swift Deer paused, trying to regain control.


"It's the Unificatum. A good friend of mine was serving on board her."

"Task Force Five."

"I guess that answers the question whether they got trapped on the flanks like Four," Kirk observed. "The Unificatum was their flagship."

An explosion, felt through the bridge's floor long before it was actually heard, grabbed the bridge's attention.

"Three wings of fighters attacking, sir," Swift Deer announced as he found them on his targeting monitor.

"Gentlemen, they know we're here," Riley said. "Let's get back to work."

Kirk watched from his station at the back of the bridge as his square did just that.


"Great Progenitor!"

A voice boomed through the mind of the Supreme Commander, but he ignored it. The view on the screen in front of him was more important. Trapped against the strong point was the remains of the Federation's defense force. His circling forces were leisurely picking them off one by one at their leisure. It was the most fun he'd ever had.

"Sire!" The voice came again, accompanied this time by the touch of a tentacle.

"What is it?" The Supreme Commander let the aggravation he felt fill his voice.

"We're under attack, Great Progenitor!"

It took a moment for that to sink in, but when it did, the Supreme Commander's drooling smile disappeared. "What?"

"We're under attack!"

"We can't be; we're the attackers. Who would attack us?" He spun around to face the aide.

The attendant reached out with a tentacle and selected a different visual pick-up and then dialed up its magnification.

The Supreme Commander saw a square of Federation vessels burrow into a cloud of fighters and emerge from the other side, unscathed and unslowed, a path of dead fighters in its wake. He activated a transmitter and the visual of Fifth Armada Commander came onto a different screen. "What do you intend to do about that attack on your rear guard, Fifth Armada?"

"I am aware of it, Great Progenitor."

"Your fighters are failing to stop it."

"Acknowledged, Great Progenitor. I will stop them with my flag if necessary."

The Federation square caught the next layer of fighters by surprise and scattered them in front of it like a strong wind.

"I think it's becoming more and more necessary. Do you see what they're doing?"

"Yes, Great Progenitor."

"If the Federation forces become aware that we can be beaten, they will gain the confidence in their weapons we've worked so hard to defeat. With this, they will meet us on equal terms. Do you understand how important it is that they don't learn that? Destroy that square now, quickly, before the ships we have trapped around the strong point see them?"

"Yes, Great Progenitor."

"Good." He cut the connection with Fifth Armada and opened a channel to First.

"Yes, Great Progenitor," First Armada answered.

"Finish this; it no longer amuses me. Third and Fourth Armadas are coming in soon, and I want to be ready to push further into Federation territory when they get here."

"Yes, Great Progenitor." The screen went blank. The Supreme Commander's eye stalks swiveled over just in time to see the central command of the Fifth Armada take on the Federation square.

The square changed shape. The edges slipped back, and now the Federation ships looked like a hollow cone. Just as the point ship was about to run into the lead fighter of the Fifth Armada, the entire forward surface of the cone erupted with a cloud of torpedoes. The weapons struck and burned through the shields they encountered. Red streams of destructive energy followed close behind and the point of the cone buried itself deep into the Fifth Armada, headed straight for the special assault ship that was its heart and brain--the flagship of Fifth Armada.

The Supreme Commander couldn't believe what his eyes were seeing. No amount of punishment from the surrounding fighters seemed to slow the cone in its purpose. As it broke into the space surrounding Fifth Armada's command ship, the cone's fire focused on it. The forward shields of the assault ship didn't slow the in-coming weapons. They struck, ripping into its super structure, throwing large chunks into the space surrounding the growing wound. The forward shields went down and every beam weapon of the cone fired, eating a path deep into the assault ship's heart. The assault ship exploded only moments later.


"Damn straight!" Kirk yelled over the cheering on the Enterprise's bridge.

"Bridge, this is engineering." The intercom tried to get Kirk's attention. "Bridge, this is engineering!"

Kirk finally answered the hail. "Yeah, Scotty?"

"Could you tell young Mister Swift Deer to take it easy on the weapons next time? Firing everything at once like that puts a mighty strain on the square's bairns!"

"I'll pass it along, but I won't guarantee anything," Kirk answered. "It takes just about everything we've got to kill the giants. How soon until we'll be ready to fire again?"

"Like that?"


"Right away, but then we'll need fifteen minutes to recharge."

"Thanks, Scotty. Bridge out."

The cone emerged from the scattering remnants of the Fifth Armada, and reverted to its original shape--a flat square. Still nearly a quarter a light year away, Starbase 32 needed help. A sphere of Kelvan ships surrounded it, blocking any direct observation. The flash of weapon fire reflecting from deep within gave evidence of the continuing struggle.

"Captain Kirk, sir," Uhura nearly jumped from her seat, "I've broken through the jamming. Admiral Morrow wants to talk to you."

"Put him on the screen."

The forward operations commander's uniform was torn and burnt in numerous places. He was holding an arm that had a splinter from a shattered console sticking through it. "Kirk, is that you?"

"We're coming, sir." The sight caused a lump to form in Kirk's throat. "Hold on."

"We've had it here, Kirk. I'm ordering the starships around the starbase to disengage, break through the Kelvan lines and join you."

"But, sir!"

"No buts, Captain. That's an order. And this time, you'd damn well better obey it."

"Yes, sir."

Morrow started to say something further when a blinding flash, accompanied by a speaker vibrating explosion, blanked the screen. When it recovered it showed them the body of Morrow where it had been thrown up against the bulkhead on the far side of the base's command center, ripped to shreds and only just barely recognizable as having been Human.

A dreadnought with five heavy cruiser consorts fought its way clear of the siege. Right on their tail were two assault ships and a cloud of fighters.

"That's the Alliance," Spareg identified. "With the Essex, Potemkin, Monitor, Krieger, and Samaara. Task Force One."

"Uhura, get me the commander of that dreadnought. Riley, we're going to do the same thing for the Alliance we did for the Excalibur and his group.

"Spock, as soon as we take care of this next group of Kelvan, I want to transform our formation into a cube. Put the Alliance in the center and tie her power plants into the net. She might not be the best thing in a fight, but she's a massive source of energy for our weapons."

"The square's weapons show full charge," Swift Deer announced, still listening to incoming reports on the targeting net.

"That one first," Kirk pointed at the assault ship on the left.

"Sir, if I may make a reminder," Spock interrupted. "Until we can get the Alliance into the power grid, every time we fire the entire square, the power net nearly collapses, including the shields."

"Thanks, Spock."

The Task Force's second in command nodded as he headed back for the science station.

"Whenever you're ready, Ensign," Riley nodded to the weapons officer.

"Aye, sir. Targeting the left assault ship, now."

A second group of escapees emerged from the siege. It was a mixed bag of destroyers; the Hektor, Pontiac and Al Mahdi... all Cochise class ships; the Loki, a Siva class, and finally two Saladin class destroyers, the Tamerlane and Azrael. All led by the Achernar class heavy cruiser Mirfak.

Kirk nodded. "Begin engaging the fighters as soon as we can range them. Let's give them," he pointed at those trying to make good their escape, "at least a fighting chance at survival."

Two more small groups emerged, but the Kelvan destroyed them before they got far. They were adapting quickly to the situation.

"Beginning firing sequence," Swift Deer said, not taking his eyes off the targeting monitor, "now." He pressed the engage button on his console.

Photons began leaving the square. At first sporadic, the pace picked up as more and more Kelvan entered the range of the square's weapons. The phasers began firing, and the entire surface of the square became active.

"Ready to pulse fire on the left assault ship, sir," Swift Deer announced.

"Discontinue firing at fighters," Kirk ordered in preparation for the power drain. "Bring square's shields to maximum."

"Damn!" Swift Deer yelled.

"What's wrong, Ensign?" Kirk walked over to the weapons console and looked over Swift Deer's shoulder. There were the cross hairs, aimed right at the center of the assault ship, but in front of that was the Alliance.

"I have the Alliance, sir."

"Tell him to get out of the way; a z-axis maneuver, minus three kilometers, now," Kirk yelled across the bridge, then to Swift Deer, "Don't wait until he finishes that; shoot as soon as he is clear."

Maneuvering thrusters fired all across the top of the Alliance as she dove straight down. Her top side warp nacelle hadn't even cleared the targeting monitor's screen when Swift Deer pressed the fire button and the lights of the square's ships flickered.

The burst of simultaneous weapons fire, resembling an elongated orb of red and blue energy, flashed momentarily between the square and the Kelvan behemoth. For a brief moment, the battered assault ship continued forward, then, with a brilliant flash, it exploded, the shockwave expanding outward like the ripple formed by a rock thrown into a pond, knocking fighters around like they were no more than Terran cottonwood seeds on the surface.

Ensign Swift Deer moved the cross-hairs to the second assault ship and waited only the briefest of moments after the lights came back to full intensity before firing another pulse. This time the lights went out, but the pulse of projectiles was already on their way.

Caught amidships by the shockwave of its sister ship's death, the second assault ship's nose tilted upward at a forty-five degree angle, its course changed ninety degrees to what it had been on only a moment earlier. The pulse hit, but not in the concentrated, circular pattern produced on the first two assault ships, but in one that was linear. Not as neat as before, a swiss cheese effect opened up a cut across it from the bottom to almost the top. Atmosphere exploded outward from the wound, sending the craft into a slow, forward tumble. The remnants of the top superstructure could no longer maintain the integrity of the ship's lines and she broke, both halves tumbling together on their new course.

The lights on the Enterprise's bridge took longer to recover this time, as did every other light in the square. Kirk looked around and found Spock approaching him.

"We must allow the systems to recover, sir," Spock said, once he arrived.

"At least until we have the Alliance on-line," Kirk countered, then turned to Swift Deer. "Mister Swift Deer, stagger your fire. No more pulses."

"Aye, sir."

Against fighters, this was more than ample and the Federation escapees made it to safety. The square changed shape, but not into a simple cube. The Alliance took position in the center of the open space within the formation, its mighty three warp drive forming the heart of the formation's power production. The Enterprisepulled in front the dreadnought's bow, with her five sister Constitution and Constitution II class heavy cruisers--the Republic, Excalibur, Yorktown, Exeter,Potempkin--on each of the dreadnought's other flanks. Surrounding this, was the rest of the starships of the square, the destroyers mixed randomly into the pattern.


"I can't believe you let them get out of the siege," the Kelvan Supreme Commander screamed, his mental voice shaking the air around him. He was glaring at the screen. "First Armada!"

The voice of an aide interrupted that of the leader's. "Great Progenitor, First Armada's command ship was the one that led the pursuit of the Federation's last dreadnought."

First Armada is dead? thought the Supreme Commander. My first bud is dead? This shook the Supreme Commander's confidence. The ache of failure burned within him as he realized that his forces might not be totally invincible. "Second Armada?"

"Yes, Great Progenitor?"

"You are now Lead Armada Commander."

"Thank you, Great Progenitor."

"Your task is to take the force surrounding the Federation strong point, augmented by the Third and Fourth when they arrive, and destroy those Federation ships. When you finish that, I will then add the remnants of the Fifth armada and the intact Sixth to your command. With that we will complete the subjugation of the Federation."

"Yes, Great Progenitor."

"Don't fail me, Second."

"I won't, sire." He cut the connection.

The Supreme Commander watched his forces pull away from the flashing and arcing remains of the Federation strong point. The column of Third and Fourth's armadas arrived. He saw the Federation cube form and maneuver away on a course deeper into Federation's territory at warp speed. His forces were close on their tail.

"Order my screen of assault ships to close in on me," the Supreme Commander ordered the commander of his mighty flagship. "But before we enter warp, finish the destruction of their strong point. I want it to be the funeral pyre for my First."

"Yes, Great Progenitor," the commander responded.

The flagship, easily four times the size of the assault ships that were his screen, moved off in the general direction that the pursuit had taken. Disruptors began pummeling the wreckage of Starbase 32, and, as soon as they had gained enough distance, a cloud of plasma torpedoes. A chain reaction blazed on board the starbase, and just as the flagship entered warp, the containment field that held the starbase's massive antimatter heart collapsed and it transformed into a star-bright explosion.


"Ahhhh ha ha ha ha!" West's maniacal scream filled the room, only to disappear into the sound absorbing material lining the wall.

"Colonel West?" Chang directed his question at the Human secured to the interrogation table, pulling the agonizer away from the man's neck.

On the ceiling, its mind-blanking beams shining directly into West's eyes, was a device developed by Humans to treat their insane. Its technology stolen by spies years after the Federation's medical community had abandoned it, the Romulans had found a use for it. A signal from the Klingon interrogator cued the Romulan technician to turn down the power.

"Colonel West?" Chang repeated his question.

"Is that my name? Yes, I think so. That is my name, lord. Yes, it is," the Human moaned. "What do you want? I've already told you everything I know, I swear," West begged.

"I know," Chang let his voice become filled with compassion, as if he felt pity for this creature under the power of his will. "I know. I just want to ensure you remember the pain you will feel if you ever try to recall what happened to you."

West's eyes filled with pleading. "I will never disobey, Lord Chang. Please, no more pain."

"I know, but just in case..." Chang reattached the agonizer to West's neck, turned it to full intensity, then signaled the Romulan technician on the other side of the protective screen, as he joined him in the interrogation control booth, the beams came back.

West's screams drowned out the thrum of the neural neutralizer. After a few minutes, when the Human's mind was at the edge of complete failure, the Romulan technician turned down the neutralizer, and Chang removed the agonizer. West lapsed into a deep coma.

"Humans are so weak," Chang observed as he pocketed the agonizer and left the room.

Legate Nanclus met him outside the door. "Is he ready?"

"He will do anything we ask of him. When the time comes of course, Legate." General Chang announced.

"And that is?" Nanclus asked.

Chang shrugged. "You never know when you might need someone reliable in a high place. It was fortunate that your people picked this Human up. He might come in handy, though it's too bad the rest of his group died in interrogation."

"You had too much fun there to be really upset by that, General Chang." Nanclus smiled. "Are you sure there's not some Romulan blood in you?"

"None that I know of, Legate," Chang answered. "We'll insert him into the next inhabited system with the shuttlecraft taken from his ship."

"Do you think Starfleet will accept the story you gave him regarding how he got this far from the Neutral Zone?"

"Why not?" Chang became arrogant. "Humans are so naive when it comes to their own. They badly want to believe they can overcome any obstacle, no matter how unbelievable it is."

A sub-commander came running down the hallway, stopped in front of the legate and saluted. "Legate Nanclus?"

"Yes, Sub-commander?" Nanclus returned the salute.

"Sensors just picked up an immense antimatter explosion at these coordinates," he handed the legate a padd with the coordinates written on the screen, at the same time looking sideways at General Chang.

"It's the coordinates for their Starbase Thirty-two," Nanclus announced aloud, noticing the sub-commander's discomfort. "Don't worry about the general. He's my friend. Now, leave us."

"Yes, Legate." The sub-commander saluted, then ran back the way he'd come.

Nanclus waved the padd in front of Chang. "As Gorkon predicted, the Federation in falling to the invaders. This says that sensors are picking up further energy readings indicative of a running battle, leading away from the site of the explosion, toward the heart of the Federation."


"Toward Mephisto's gate, in the Kironis Coalsack."

"Ingenious," Chang exclaimed. "That's a natural canalization point. Whoever is determining that course wants to restrict the other side's maneuvering space."

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Chang?" Nanclus asked.

"That this is the crisis point where a force of war birds would be most efficiently used?" Chang's remaining eye sparkled with excitement. "Why, yes, of course. We should at least be in attendance, one way or the other."

"Agreed." Nanclus smiled, then walked over to the nearest internal comm station. "Bridge, contact the phalanx. Course change, heading three-three-seven point five." He began walking toward the war bird's bridge. On the way, he pointed out an important side item to Chang. "There's a Federation colony around the star the Terrans call 'Skat.' We'll leave our friend there."


"They've changed course, sir," the Fer d'Lance's science officer reported.

"And, what is it now?" Kelsey asked. The group of cloaked vessels they had been following had changed course often.

"Three-three-seven point five, sir."

At least its not back toward Sector One, thought Kelsey. "Possible target objective?"

"Two possibilities, sir," the science officer suggested, "The Skat colony at Delta Aquarii, or, Mephisto's Gate, near Markab."

That caught Kelsey's attention. "Did you say, Mephisto's Gate?"

"Aye, sir."

"Change course to follow, maximum warp," Kelsey ordered. "Get me Captain Sulu, A.S.A.P."


"Have you found where they went?"

"No, sir. It's like they never existed."

Sulu shook his head. How could they lose them now, when they'd come so far? he thought. "Keep searching, Xon. That many ships just can't disappear without a trace."

The Vulcan science officer began to comment. "Logically--"

Sulu interrupted him. "Even if they are cloaked. Keep looking." The captain stared hard at the viewscreen. On it was Chekov's Diamondback. The rest of Chekov's guard group was on station nearby, waiting, like a pack of hunting hounds, for someone to regain the trail. Sulu had had his corvette join them when he'd begun losing subspace contact because of the Kelvan jamming. They were so close to that area of operations now that he fancied he could feel the electricity. "Navigator, what's our present position?"

"Thirty light years from Alpha Pegasii, heading zero-six-seven point five."

Markab? Sulu questioned himself. What could the Klingons possibly want with that system? There was something important about that system, something that triggered the alarm bells in his head.

"Comm officer, are we still out of communications with the Fer d'Lance?"

"Yes, sir. No response to any of our calls," the comm officer stated, then qualified that response, "but then again, the jamming precludes contact with all but Commander Chekov's group."

There is something important about the Markab region. Sulu continued to search his memory.

"Ahhh!" The comm officer yelled as he pulled the receiver from his ear. "I'm getting something across a whole band of subspace, all mixed up, sir. It's breaking through the jamming, but the distortion is pretty bad."

"Put it on the screen."

"Too much distortion, audio only right now."

"Then, put it on the speaker."

For a moment, there was only the buzzing hum of the jamming signal, then a series of snaps and crackles mixed with something that maybe, if you used your imagination, sounded like a voice. "Rom....des...Mef..." Then the jamming signal and then a different voice, or rather, a crowd of voices, yelling, screaming, mixed with explosions. Then, suddenly, loud, clear and free of static, came one word "...Mephisto..."

"That was Commander Kelsey's voice, but I couldn't recognize any of the others." Then the significance of the name came to Sulu as he stood quickly to his feet. "That's it! Mephisto's gate!"

"What, sir?" the navigator turned to face the captain.

"Of course, Mephisto's Gate! It all fits now."

"What fits, sir?" This time it was the science officer.

"Scan in that direction, Xon."

The Vulcan science officer turned his attention to the sensor hood.

"Get me Chekov."

A moment later, Commander Chekov's face was on the Mugato's main viewscreen, and Sulu was explaining to him what he'd just realized. "Don't you see, Commander? That's where our Klingon friends are headed."

"Vwhy vwould they go there?" Chekov questioned. There's nothing there but a big dust cloud, full of some pretty nasty plasma discharges. In a small way, it's ten times worse than the Galactic Barrier."

"Yes, but in a local sense it's huge, and all the star lanes from the surrounding sectors go through the opening in its center--Mephisto's gate--because any other way takes forever. Our Klingon friends must think this is where the action is going to be."

"Vwhat action?"

"Don't you hear how bad the jamming's getting?" To emphasize the point, a few lines of visual noise distorted Chekov's face for a moment.

"Da. So?"

"I'm willing to wager my entire paycheck for the next year that the Kelvan are either pushing the remains of Morrow's fleet this way, or, whoever's in command now is leading them here. It's a natural obstacle that would restrict the maneuverability of any force driven into its region, and..." Sulu paused, thinking.

"And?" Chekov queried.

"Wait a minute, Pav," Sulu's face showed the excitement he was feeling as he remembered a message they'd received from Starfleet only hours before the jamming had finally cut all their ties with headquarters on Earth. "There's a minefield in the Gate now."


"Damn, is right, Pav. If I'm right and the defense is coming or being driven this way, then the minefield will trap them."

"And if they get through that," Chekov completed the thought from his end. "Then there are the Klingons, in a prime position to pick them off as they come through."

"Times a'wastin', Pav. Bring your group to heading zero-six-nine point one-eight, maximum warp. We're not much, but we're probably the only chance those poor bastards have left."


Task Force Log, Stardate 8516.9
Captain Kirk, commanding.

Have spent an entire day and two additional shifts, dodging and fighting the Kelvan column. The officers that were on the bridge when the Kelvan opened their attack yesterday are back, though they don't appear rested. Probably aren't; the stress of being pursued doesn't allow one to relax.

No matter how hard I try to get them to vary from their course toward Sector One, the Kelvan counter with forces numerous enough to force us back onto the course they choose. I know they are herding us, but there is nothing at this point I can do. Kirk, commanding Task Force Six.

"Computer, log off." It bleeped its acknowledgment. Then he contacted engineering. "Scotty, can you give us more speed?" Kirk asked, while he stared at the viewscreen. It showed the center of the Kelvan pursuit, still exactly where it had been two hours ago, not gaining, but not falling away either.

"Aye, Cap'n, but we'd leave some of the square behind. It's not my bairns that are slowing us down, but those of the others. We can only go as fast as the slowest ship in the square, and those are the destroyers. Now if you want to leave them behind for the Kelvan to have, we can maybe get an additional warp and a half out of the cruisers and the dreadnought."

Kirk didn't want to do this and he knew the engineer knew this. "Never mind, Scotty. Bridge out."

"Entering the Kironis sector," Spareg announced from the science station.

Pitch black, except the random surface flash of plasma discharges, the Kironis Coalsack already filled the sector of space on the square's left and was quickly cutting off the right.

"E.T.A. at the gate, Spock?" Kirk asked, nervousness beginning to fray the edges of his voice. We have to get through the gate and shut the door, Kirk thought, chewing his lower lip. It's the only thing that'll save my ships.

"We will be within sensor range in two minutes and visual range ten minutes later," Spock answered.

"How soon till the Kelvan catch up?"

"Their formation has already cut off any possible escape routes to the flanks. I don't know why they haven't already engaged us." There was nothing in his voice to indicate the emotion any other being would have shown in the same situation.

"Then the gate is our only way out now," Kirk deduced, "and exactly where they want us. Maybe we can turn it against them."

"Yes, sir. I'd say we've passed the point of no return."

"I think we need to have a talk about the timing of your sense of humor, Spock."

"I see no reason to insult me, sir."

Kirk chuckled despite the tension he was feeling.

"Sensors show the way clear, sir." Spareg reported from the science station.

Kirk was about to order the square through at its fastest warp speeds when he remembered what Croft had said in the debriefing. "No mines?"

"Our sensors are not receiving anything, sir, " Spareg returned.

"Why do you suspect mines, sir?" Spock added.

"Something Captain Croft said," Kirk responded. "He said that Morrow had ordered additional fields on this side of the defense." Turning his attention to Spareg, "These may not be standard Mark Ones, designed to be seen. These may be Mark Two's, made of sensor absorbing materials and flat black surfaces, practically invisible to those who don't know where to look. Still, it's not standard practice to leave a minefield unattended, not even Mark Two's. Scan for an attendant ship, a mine layer or a destroyer, something."

"Aye, sir," Spareg acknowledged, looked into the sensor hood, then returned an answer. "Nothing, sir."

"Spock, check out the design specs for the Mark Two. See if there's a mechanical or programming backdoor that someone can use to see them, if they know the right procedure."

"Aye, sir." Spock acknowledged, accessing the main computer. A moment later, he found what Kirk wanted. "The Mark Two has a small, very short range, subspace transceiver designed to transmit a brief signal when it receives a simple sine wave on the correct frequency."

"I suppose they don't list the frequency range?"

"No, sir."

"But I think I remember them talking about this in my last communications update," Uhura broke into the conversation from her station. "It said that since the Mark Twos can't be seen or sensed, the frequency wouldn't have to be too wide. Thank goodness they don't require a coded signal."

"Good, Uhura," Kirk relaxed, but only just a tad. "As dark as it will be in the gate, the Mark Two will be just as invisible as if it was cloaked."

"Aye, sir." The communications officer went to work.

Kirk's square entered a semi-circular indentation in the Coalsack's cloud, still on a heading that would take them to the mouth of the gate itself. The Kelvan armada closed in behind them.

"Got them, sir." Uhura said a moment later. "Multiple returns in the gate. Number and pattern indicates a full spread of mines. No discernable safe corridor."

"You've signed our death warrant, Harry." Kirk looked at the toes of his boot tips.

"Sensors have found ship wreckage in front of the field," Spareg offered.

"The Kelvan have already been here," Kirk interpreted.

"Which means..." Spock began.

"They have been herding us from the moment we left Starbase Thirty-two. Now we know why," Kirk furnished the ending.


"Get around their flank, surround them," Second Armada boomed to his sub-commanders. "Cut off all routes of escape from this pocket."

He watched as his forces streaked away from the armada's main column, attempting to get around the square of Federation starships, staying out of range of its weapons by skirting around the edges.

They don't know how they've helped me, Second Armada thought, then laughed. My scouts told me about the minefield in this opening and how they destroyed the attendant ship that had laid it. I've been herding the square toward it ever since. I've already sent Fifth and Sixth Armadas the long way around the interstellar dust cloud, just in case they find a way through, but I think it will be unnecessary. Then, on to Sol, and the garnishing of the Supreme One's gratitude.


"Captain Riley, give us the straightest and shortest course for the minefield, flank speed. We'll need every thing these ships will give us now."

Riley swiveled his chair around, his face reflecting the question he was about to ask, "Toward the gate, sir? It's a trap."

"I don't know if you've noticed, Riley, but we're trapped already. The only thing left to us is to keep them from surrounding us, by attaching one flank to the field, refusing it to them. This way they can't swarm us."

"Aye sir." He passed it on to Saavik, who in turn started the procedure that would not only set the course for the Enterprise, but for every other ship in the square.

"Two wings of fighters and their attendant assault ships just passed us, sir," Spareg announced. "Establishing positions in front of us now."

Damn they're fast, Kirk thought. "Ignore them, Captain Riley."

"But, sir!"

A glance from Kirk quieted the commander of the Enterprise.

"Ensign Swift Deer. Now that we have the dreadnought's power plant, we can pulse the square's weapons more often, but I still want this method of fire restricted to the assault ships. Individual fire for the fighters." Kirk paused to think a moment, then added. "Starting with the two assault ships in front of us, just in case."

"In case of what, sir?"

"You'll see." Kirk turned to his second in command. "Captain Spock, can we focus the combined tractor energies of the square into a large beam."

"I should think so."

"Powerful enough to grab and hold one of those assault ships?"

"My best guess says it could be done. Yes, sir." Spock's mouth pulled down, and his eyebrows shot up.

"Vulcan humor." Kirk shook his head and smiled. "I'll trust your best guess over anybody else's calculated risks. Set it up."

"Yes, sir."

"Once more into the breach, people," Kirk took his place at the back of the bridge. "Execute heading, Captain Riley."

At maximum warp, the square headed straight for Mephisto's Gate. It could be seen that the minefield ended about one hundred megameters from the leading edge of the black dust of the Coalsack.

Swift Deer noticed it first. "Sir! They didn't complete the field. Look, on all the edges, a big gap."

Riley looked at Kirk and shook his head, both sharing the same thought, Ignorance of youth. "No, Ensign, the field is complete."


Riley held up his hand and cut off Swift Deer's protest. "Allow me the privilege of expressing the wisdom of experience. There is one property of the Coalsack I know about that you don't. The plasma discharges within that cloud resemble the pure negative energy of the Galactic Barrier, only they're focused and thousands of times more powerful. The positive energy systems of a starship draw them like a magnet. You'll see what I mean if a Kelvan ship wanders in too close."

Swift Deer turned around. His whole demeanor said, If you say so, sir, his attention drawn by the proximity of the Kelvan forces that had positioned themselves between the square and the minefield.

The square entered the gate, taking up most of the free space. Energy could be seen building within the pitch black clouds of the Coalsack, its surface coming alive with massive lightning bolts that passed in and through the billowing edge, seeming to follow them, as if it had eyes.

Two additional Kelvan wings attempted to squeeze by to reinforce the two in front. They strayed well within the buffer zone Riley had just described to Swift Deer. First the right side, then the left erupted in massive strikes of plasma energy from the clouds. The fighters were consumed by the bolt of energy, leaving nothing but empty space where they had been. A flashing, deep within the clouds indicated a continuing readiness to do the same again to any other source of positive energy that strayed too close to its grasp.

"See?" Riley noted.


Kirk sidled up to Spock. "Remind you of anything?"

"Sir?" Spock's eyebrows shot up again.

"Search your memories; before Genesis. What other entity had a plasma shot that did the same thing?"

"V'ger," Spock answered after only a moment of thought.

Action on the front precluded any further discussion along this line, though for a moment, Kirk wished he could somehow contact that living machine, somehow contact the Decker unit within, and, somehow convince it to end the Kelvan's existence.

"Forward units firing now," Swift Deer announced.

The leading edge of the square erupted with m-ray torpedoes. Very few of the Kelvan fighters survived the first volley, and those that did, found their shields weakened far enough to be buckled moments later by phaser fire. Soon there were only the two assault ships left.

"Pulse fire is green on the right side assault ship, sir."

"Fire, Swift Deer."

The trajectory wasn't perfectly up the middle of the targeted ship, but it was close enough to cut a long diagonal line through many vital areas, including their command and control center.

"Direct hit, sir," Swift Deer reported nonchalantly, this sort of thing no longer exciting him.

"All power systems are dead on the Kelvan ship," Spareg announced. "She's losing her navigational tone."

"Spock, grab that ship with the square's tractors," Kirk ordered.

Spock's eyebrow went up, but he obeyed.

A nearly invisible beam of energy caught hold of the newly created derelict, and though it was almost half the mass of the entire square, it came along. The lights of the square dimmed with the drain.

"Power reserves down twenty percent, sir." Spock announced.

"Thank you, Captain," Kirk said without looking away from the screen.

The warp drives of the Alliance began to pulse and glow with the added strain.

"The other's firing," Swift Deer observed.

"Phasers only, Swift Deer," Kirk ordered," I need that ship's help as well." No sign of the mines, but I know they can't be too far away. Now if only the Kelvan commander will cooperate just a moment longer, he thought.

Swift Deer's head turned slowly, he glanced at Kirk, then to Riley, who didn't seem to notice.

The square's shields effectively stopped all the shots from the remaining Kelvan assault ship, and only her phasers lanced out in return, splashing ineffectually against the assault ship's powerful shields. Still on a heading for the center of the minefield, the square's shields contacted the shields of the assault ship, setting off an explosion of incompatible energies. The Kelvan's forward momentum slowed, stopped, then finally reversed, being pushed backward against her will by the Federation square.

"Power reserves down fifty percent, sir," Spock announced.

Hold in there baby, Kirk offered up a prayer. "Prepare a repulsor push of remaining tractor energies."

"Yes, sir."

A wide, cloudy beam lanced out from the Kelvan, striking the square's shields. The lights of the square dimmed further.

"They've hit us with a power dampening field. Power reserves down sixty percent." Spock said, then in a voice that the background noise of the bridge easily drowned, he added, "Whatever you have planned, Jim, you had better do it now, or we won't have the energy."

Almost where I want him, Kirk estimated. "Photons, point blank, take out the dampening projector."

"Too close, sir; the explosion will involve us as well."

"No, it won't. His shields will protect us by closing behind the m-torp," Kirk indulged the junior officer.

There was a momentary flash as a weapon launched, then burned its way through the shield. An explosion a split second later shut down the dampening projector. As predicted by Kirk, the Kelvan shields contained the photon's explosion.

"Power reserves leveling off at fifty-five percent, sir." Spock reported.

A flash of lightening in the clouds in the background silhouetted a small square object right behind the assault ship.

Kirk saw it. "Keep pushing them, Riley," he ordered, noting how close the minefield was getting behind the Kelvan. Don't see it, you Kelvan bastard; keep your eyes on me. "Fire phasers, front side only."

"They won't do any damage," Swift Deer protested, though he still pressed the fire button.

Every phaser on that side fired. The Kelvan shields began glowing under the strain, but held.

"Repulsor ready, Spock?"

"Charged and ready, sir."

Kirk did a final estimation of the distance to the black shape behind the Kelvan. "Now, Spock, repulse him."

A pale blue beam, flowing from every ship in the forward face of the square, savagely punched the forward shields of the Kelvan ship. It backed him up only a couple megameters, but it was enough to bring it into contact with a mine. A brilliant explosion instantly buckled the assault ship's rear shields and ravaged the entire stern.

"Grab him with a second tractor, and push," Kirk ordered.

Her engines now useless, the assault ship could not push back against the tractor. It hit another mine, then another and another until there was a corridor cleared through the field and only a small section of the assault ship's bow left caught in the beam.

The rear face of the square came under intense Kelvan attack.

"Power reserves are recovering; now at seventy percent." Spock reported. "As long as we don't let one of their assault vessels get close enough to use the dampening field, we'll continue to recover, despite the continuing attack."

A weapon pulse fired, and an assault ship that had tried to maneuver in too close, drifted away, destroying itself from within. A cloud of fighters descended from the Kelvan ranks, their numbers so great that most got in, took a shot, and got out without receiving anything in return. Behind them, a wall of assault ships was forming, preparing to use their mass like a battering ram, in an attempt to overwhelm the Federation square's defenses.

"Push the derelict through, Mister Spock. We'll use it to widen the safe corridor through the minefield," Kirk ordered.

After another series of explosions, and again, with only a scrap of the Kelvan bow left, the corridor was widened even further.

"Science station, scan the corridor: Is it free of mines, and, is it wide enough for the square to get through without having to be disassemble?" Kirk asked, then added. "Without the square's protection, the Kelvan will squash individual ships like they were insignificant bugs."

Spock answered. "Receiving no transponder signals from the corridor, but it is nine hundred fifty- seven meters too narrow."

"Damn," Kirk said, his voice filled with frustration. "I guess we'll have to make the corridor larger the ol' fashioned way, with phasers, and hope we don't miss one."


"Yes, Captain Riley," both Kirk and Spock answered.

"I hope you can come up with a solution soon," he said, pointing at the viewscreen, which now showed the action from the aft view. "Because, with or without the square's ability to protect us, the Kelvan are beginning to wear us down."

The Kelvan fighters formed themselves into large wheel shaped formations. Only the smallest measure of their arcs were actually within range of the square's weapons. This gave the fighter a running start on its approach, making it hard to hit as it strafed the square's rear.

Spock moved up to Kirk's side quietly. "Sir?"

"Yes, Spock," Kirk answered without taking his eyes off the screen.

"Spareg informs me that because of the stress caused by the continual attack on the rear shields, if we miss one mine, it will buckle the entire shield structure."

"That figures," Kirk answered, shaking his head. "When it rains, it pours."

"What, sir?"

"Old Earth phrase, Spock." Kirk paused for a moment, then snapped his fingers. "When it rains, Spock."

"Rain? I don't see the correlation."

"When it rains, you need an umbrella," Kirk said, smiling.

Spock stood as straight as he could, not letting his gaze leave his best friend and commander, worrying that maybe this had been the last straw for his sanity.

Kirk saw the reaction and laughed. "It's so simple, and no, I don't need McCoy's assistance. First, we need an umbrella for protection; just long enough to let the water go down the drain."

"Ahem," Spock looked deep into the hazel colored eyes of his friend, "if you say so, sir."

"Captain Riley, Saavik, come here," Kirk signaled them all to gather around. When they had, he laid out his plan.

It took some time to enter the navigation orders required for what was to happen next. Time in which the Kelvan stepped up their attack on the rear of the square, and moved their line of assault craft right up the maximum range of their dampening fields. The square tried to ward them off, but the plan required them to save all weapons for the execution. All except phasers, which snapped out again and again in a display of power.

"Ready, Captain Riley," Kirk had returned to his station in the rear of the Enterprise's bridge.

"Ready, Saavik? Swift Deer?" Riley passed the request down to the ones who would be required to do it.

"All weapons show green, sir," Swift Deer reported.

"Course locked in and ready, sir," Saavik reported.

"Ready, sir," Riley reported to Kirk.

This is it, thought Kirk before setting the whole thing off, we will live or die in this next moment. The scene of an empty beach, on a tropical island, with no worries, flashed before his mind's eye. "Execute!"

The lights on the bridge of Enterprise, as well as every other ship in the square turned off, as every weapon that could target a Kelvan ship--m-ray torpedoes, photons, and phasers--fired at their cyclic rates.

The forward edge of the Kelvan attack wilted under the attack. Fighter craft disappeared; it ripped apart assault ships, internal fires raging through their corridors. The second rank of the armada, trying to move forward, found it nearly impossible to maneuver past the wreckage.

Kirk's square changed shape into a large three dimensional arc, spreading out. Then, like an opening umbrella, it snapped into place, tractor beams grabbing the ravaged Kelvan front ranks and shoving them back into the second rank, fowling them.

Then, as if they'd practiced this a thousand times, the center of Kirk's umbrella melted away. Like water swirling down a drain, the Federation ships passed through the corridor, leaving the Kelvan behind--confused and dazed. Reaching the other side, they began rebuilding the formation, ready to plug the breach.

"Reload all weapons!" Kirk yelled. "They won't stay stunned for long."


"You slugs," Second Armada screamed at his lead sub-commanders, "they're getting away!" Through the hole, he could see the square reforming on the other side. "Get in there and continue the attack!"

"But, Progenitor, there isn't a lot of space in the corridor. We won't be able to maneuver, and they're already forming up on the other side."

"Do you question my orders, slug? I'll make you rue the day you dropped from my side." Second Armada's tentacles wove about in the air above his eye stalks.

"If we but wait..."

"Wait? Wait! For what?" Second was livid. "The Great Progenitor will come here and cut off all my tentacles and feed them to his pets if I fail to bring this square to an end."

"No, sire, that's not what I mean."

"I'll take my assault ship and lead you through if that'll help."

"No, sire, don't..."

"Just don't you lose sight of me." Second Armada shut down all outside communications and contacted his bridge. "Go through the corridor and engage the square."


"Here they come, sir," Swift Deer reported. "All weapons are green."

"Give them everything we've got, Ensign, but wait until the assault ship is almost through," Riley cautioned, knowing what Kirk wanted without asking.

On the screen, the assault/command ship moved slowly through the corridor, carefully avoiding the mines visible on the flanks. Right behind him, a host of fighters packed the mighty ship's shadow.

"Fire!" Riley yelled. "Send those bloody Redcoats a message they'll never forget in this life time."

"'Red coats'?" asked Saavik, looking down at her jacket.

"Never mind, Mister Saavik. Man your post," ordered Kirk.

The pulse struck the assault ship. For the briefest of moments, the massive ship absorbed the punishment, then its entire mass converted to energy. It sucked the fighters behind it into its growing ball of annihilation energy, adding to the conflagration.

"Get us out of here, Captain Riley!" Kirk ordered.

"Aye, sir."

The square moved rapidly away from the building explosion, down the narrow passage toward open space.

Behind the square, a new star, small and bright, quickly burning up its available fuel, expanded, sucking in row after row of fighters and assault ships, then the mines as well. Caught in the conflagration's reverse flow, the energy filled, flat black clouds of the Coalsack bent inward, the lightning strikes of its plasma adding to the destruction.

"Will you look at that," Kirk shook his head. "I just love it when a plan comes together."

"Sensors report the magnetic eddy that formed the gate is breaking down, sir," Spock reported. "The Kironis Coalsack is closing Mephisto's Gate right behind us. Any Kelvan from that force of ships that survived the explosion will have to go all the away around the outside to get to us now."

A wall of coruscating energy, the same dark color as the Coalsack from which it was born, rolled in on the square.

"Where'd that come from, Spareg?" Riley asked.

"From the gate, sir, just formed and we're too close for the sensors to have seen it in time to warn us," Spareg answered.

"Hold onto your hats, gentlemen," Kirk said, grabbing hold of a railing.

Like a storm wave hitting a jetty, the energy surge, formed by the destruction of the gate, struck the square and washed over it. The shields quickly escalated toward failure and just as the wave was passing, buckled. The last of the waves of energy attacked the group of starships.

"Damage, Scotty!" Kirk yelled into the ship's intercom.

"Blown and overloaded circuits, sir," Scotty answered from engineering. "When the shields buckled, they surged and took out the entire interface circuit we've been using to connect us with the square. Nothing a SpaceDock can't fix, of course."

"Can you fix it here?"

"Aye, sir, but it'll take a miracle."

"Then I'm talking to the right man. We're not out of the woods yet, Scotty. Get those shields back."

"Aye, sir. One miracle coming up."


"Here they come, Admiral Kang," the sensor officer reported on the Klingon flagship. "Their shields are down."

"And the Kelvan?"

"They're coming fast, my lord."

"Do the Federation ships see them?"

"I don't think so, sir. They've aimed their sensor scans forward."

"Is the Enterprise with them?"

"Yes, my lord, she is."

"Good. Good. Let them come just a little closer," Kang growled, his voice filled with threat. "Are disruptors and torpedoes ready?"

"Charged and ready, my lord."

Staring hard at the square of ships that was emerging from the cloud, Kang began to chuckle. "Kirk, you son of a targ, won't you be surprised to see me?"


"We just barely made it out of there with all our tentacles intact," Fourth Armada reported.

"What about Second and Third?" Sixth Armada requested.

"It was the destruction of Second's ship that started the whole thing. Third was trying to pull out what he could when the cloud of dust collapsed on him. It looked just like when the Great Progenitor consumes an enemy." Fourth Armada changed the subject. "What is your status?"

"We are nearing the position where the other side of the opening in the clouds comes out. I have the square on my sensors now. Their shields are down."

"Good, it falls to us to finish the Great Progenitor's work. I will gather up the remainder of my forces and join you. By then you should have finished this last force of starships, and we can conquer the Federation together."


Spock approached Kirk from the science station. "We just picked up a surge of neutrinos, sir."

"Residuals from the gate?"

"Negative, sir."

"What do you suppose..."

A massive explosion threw Kirk and Spock from their feet.

"What the hell?" Kirk yelled as another explosion rumbled through the frame of the Enterprise, shorting out circuits on the bridge and threatening to cut off the lights.

"The Mirfak is gone," Spareg reported, after a quick glance into the sensor hood. "A near miss damaged the Azrael. She detonated a plasma torpedo only a hundred meters from her flank. She's falling away from the formation."

An Achernar class heavy cruiser and a Saladin class destroyer, identified Kirk to himself. "Where's the fire coming from?"

Instead of answering, Spareg sent what he was seeing to the viewscreen. Three wings of Kelvan fighters were coming in quickly.

"How far away are they?" Kirk asked.

"Three hundred and fifty thousand kilometers and closing, sir. Long range sensors are beginning to pick up a large mass of ships behind them."

They must have fired those torpedoes at their maximum range, thought Kirk as he punched up engineering on the intercom. "Scotty!"

"Scott here."

"We need that miracle, Scotty. We need it now. How long till the interlocked shields are back?"

"I've just a wee more work to do before I can attempt reconnecting it."

"Hurry up, Scotty. I don't think the Kelvan will wait."

"Aye, sir."

Even as the intercom went dead, the entire front of the Kelvan fighter formation erupted in torpedoes.

"Thirty-three seconds to impact," Swift Deer reported.

"Lock phasers," Kirk ordered.

"Coordinated fire impossible, sir. The entire interface net is down. All fire will have to be individually targeted."

Which means it will be ineffectual, thought Kirk.

"Another neutrino surge, sir," Spock reported.

"What the hell?" Kirk asked the air around him, not expecting an answer.

"Twenty seconds to impact," Swift Deer counted down, "nineteen, eighteen..."

Lord, help make their shots good, Kirk prayed as he watched the incoming weapons.

"Ten, nine, eight...."

Decloaking, a line of Klingon assault cruisers appeared in the path of the torpedoes. Golden red disruptor fire detonated them only seconds away.

"I have the commander of the Klingons on subspace, sir," Uhura announced.

"Put him on the screen."

"I thought I saw a garbage scow in trouble," Kang crowed, "and I didn't want this part of the galaxy to be polluted by its remains." The Segh vav admiral laughed at his own joke.

I don't know what to say to this man, thought Kirk. one hour ago I would have opened fire on him, but now... "What the hell are you up to, Admiral Kang?"

"Saving your Earther ass. What does it look like I'm doing?"

That may be, but that doesn't mean I trust you, Kirk thought. "What can I say?"

"How about, thank you, Ha'DIbaH?"

Okay, I guess that would be in order, thought Kirk before answering. "Thank you, Kang."

"I have the interface fixed, Cap'n." Scott's voice announced over the intercom.

Turning to Spock, Kirk pointed at the intercom and said, "Get the shields interlocked again." Then to Kang, "You do know that there are a lot more Kelvan coming this way. This place is not going to be very hospitable in a short time."

"Try again, Mister Scott," Kirk heard Spock say in the background.

"It is a good day to die, James T. Kirk," Kang answered. "Humans have never understood that about Klingons."

I understand your predilection with death, Kirk thought bitterly, remembering the death of his son. Both yours and others.

"We tried to go to one hundred percent right away, and that's why the circuits blew again," Kirk heard Scott answer Spock's query and knew the interlocked shields would remain down for a while longer.

He could see on the tactical screen how soon the entire Kelvan force would make contact with the Klingons. He knew that Kang had no idea what he was facing, but that damned Klingon arrogance wouldn't let him accept any advice from him, an Earther. Oh well... "Be my guest, Kang, and thank you. I should caution you--"

Kang smiled, and his eyes grew large and intense. "Qapla!" he roared, saluting.

"Whatever," Kirk returned, after Kang's image disappeared from the screen. Turning to Spock, he asked the obvious question. "What happened?"

"The moment we attempted to raise the square's shields, the interface blew again. Mister Scott is endeavoring to correct that right now."

The lead wave of fighters engaged the waiting Klingons. Fighting singularly and with standard weapons, Kang's force soon found themselves hard pressed by the situation, and forced to withdraw. In the distance, the Kelvan main column came into visual range.


"I don't recognize those ships, Intelligence," Sixth Armada queried.

Tentacles waving, and drool flowing from his wide, tooth-lined mouth, demonstrated how upset the Kelvan technician on the other side of the intercom was. "I don't know, Progenitor. We didn't see their approach. They were, well, just there, suddenly."

His fighters buckled the shields of an interloping cruiser. Moments later, they finished their work, and the ship converted into an expanding fireball.

At least their technology is no better than the Gorn, Sixth thought with satisfaction, but how did they get in under my sensors, unseen? "Capture one; I want to absorb a memory," Sixth ordered.


"Qu'vatlh, Kor. We've only just made contact, and we've already lost a ship?" Kang roared at his fellow commander. Smoke began filling the air around Kang. He saw a shape streak across the bottom of the central viewscreen, and he turned his attention to the ship's gunner. "Fire, petaQ, fire. Don't let that one get under us." The floor bucked under his feet as, despite a direct hit from the Klingon disruptor, the Kelvan ship still got a shot in before departing.

"The main body of their force will be on us in only a few moments more, Kang," Kor yelled back. "We can't hold against even the smallest of their ships."

A brilliant flash signified the death warrant of a second Klingon cruiser.

They're doing this all too easily. We're like prey animals, waiting to be scooped up by the hunter,Kang thought as he watched the Kelvan main body get closer, and there is the hunter. "We've got to do something different, Kor."

"What, Kang, what different way is there to fight than face to face?" Kor was getting livid. "Can you change the tusks of a targ? Are we not Klingons?"

"Yes, Kor, we are brave, but this is too one sided..." the sound of a clearing throat interrupted him. It was the communications tech. "Yes, petaQ, what is it?"

"The Federation force commander wishes to talk to you, my lord."

"Continue to fight as we have, Kor. Maybe our ferocity will still win the day." In his heart, Kang knew this wouldn't be true in the end.

Kirk came onto the viewscreen.

"Can't you see I'm busy, Kirk?" he snarled.

"Yes, Admiral, I can. You're busy dying."

"And you should be grateful, you son of a targ, because our blood is keeping them off you."


On the bridge of the Enterprise, Kirk squelched his impulse to gloat at what was happening to the Klingons. He had thought seeing them die under the Kelvan guns would feel good, but it wasn't. All he saw was the waste of a precious resource--combat vessels. Good, tough, combat vessels, that if utilized correctly, might mean the difference between possible victory or eventual defeat and subjugation.

"It's going to be wasted if you don't do something different, Kang," Kirk said smugly.

"And I suppose you know what to do?" Kang responded.

"Hit and run, Kang. Use the cloak to stay out of sight until you have the advantage. Team up against them; their shields are too tough for one ship to buckle alone. Believe me,, we," Kirk raised his arms to signify everyone in the square, "already know this."

"I don't like the sounds of that. It sounds like we're running from these Ha'DIbaH."

"Well, if you'd rather die an honorable, but useless death, then continue your present style of tactics."

"Miserable Human petaQ," Kang roared at the screen.

The central viewscreen on the Enterprise returned to viewing the Klingon skirmish line as Kang cut the connection. Two more cruisers were in danger, their shields down, and the main column was only moments from being within weapons range.

"Shields, Mister Spock?"

"Another minute, sir."

"I hope we have a minute, Spock." Kirk said without turning from the viewscreen.

The Klingon line was wavering, all their shields visibly stressed to their limits. The Kelvan main column had arrived and was reaching out along the Klingon flanks, hungrily swallowing them alive. The Klingon force disappeared, enveloped by the Kelvan front ranks.

I can't let this happen, Kirk thought guiltily. I might hate them, and Lord knows I won't ever be able to trust them, but to let them waste themselves like this... "Status of the interface, Spock?"

"Just came back on-line, sir. We have full interface capability."

"Good." Kirk turned to face the screen. Oblong shaped orbs emerged from the Kelvan mass as he watched. The Klingon ships had finally cloaked, but it was doing them no good, their overcharged shields giving away their positions. "Captain Riley, change course."

"You're not going to rescue them are you, sir?" Riley spat out.

Kirk let his gaze drop to that of Riley's. "Prepare to come about and engage the Kelvan. The Klingons will or will not survive, but we must make a stand somewhere, or the Kelvan will enter the Federation's central systems." Kirk sighed. "I'm tired of running. As the Klingon like to say, 'It is a good day to die.' Why not here?"

"Helm is responding, sir," Saavik announced, "the square's interface is functioning four by four; all ships announce readiness."

"Engage, Captain Riley." Bucking himself up, Kirk tried to think like a Klingon. "Let's bloody their nose. Who knows? Maybe we can save a few Klingon hides in the process."

The square, its shields sparkling with readiness, came about in a wide arcing course change. Her weapons charged and locked, she glowed with a blood thirsty gleam.



Sixth's mouth was watering with anticipation of the meal that his armada would soon provide him. A few of the ships he'd surrounded had gotten away, but most were still within the cul de sac-- trapped.



"The Federation square!"

"Don't worry about them. We'll finish these minuscule animals that thought to get in the way, and then we'll catch up."

"No, sir, they're not running; they're attacking!"

"What?" surprise filled Sixth Armada's mental voice.

"They have turned and are attacking, Progenitor."

Sixth adjusted what he was seeing on his screen in time to see the square hit the outer ranks of his armada. Torpedoes from the square destroyed every fighter that got in the way and soon they had relieved the trapped ships within, who quickly took advantage of the opening, escaping into open space, their previously overloaded shields quickly cooling, leaving them completely invisible.

"This is better than I could have ever hoped," Sixth said as he began to laugh. "They've come to me to be destroyed."

A pulse of Federation weaponry destroyed an assault ship supporting the forward ranks of his armada. The loss didn't worry Sixth much; he had more. "Surround them. Don't let them escape ever again," his mental voice boomed out over his command frequencies.


"I knew it, sir," Riley said, shaking his head. "They tucked their tales between their legs and ran."

"So much for Klingon honor, eh, Riley?" Kirk couldn't help agreeing with the young captain on this point.

"Sir, we must get away from our present position." Spock announced, standing next to Kirk.

Kirk could see what was going on. His square was powerful, but not omnipotent, and the Kelvan would eventually wear it down. Soon, they would surround his square with so many assault ships that his ships would burn up all their weapons destroying them, and the Kelvan would still have enough ships to drain every measure of energy with their dampening fields.

"Back us out, Riley. Get in front of them."

"Aye, sir."

The square began fighting its way out of the Kelvan envelopment. The best it could do was clear a hole to the rear, but they couldn't disengage from the other five flanks. The shields of the square began to rise through the spectrum, red to yellow to blue, and eventual failure.

"I have the Klingon commander, sir," Uhura announced.

Kirk just realized that the Klingon communications were defeating the Kelvan jamming. "How are they doing it?"

"I don't know, sir. It must be something about their carrier signal, but I have him loud and clear."

"Analyze their communication while I talk." Then pointing at the screen, "Put him on."

"Qu'valth Kirk, before today I would have caved in the head of anyone who said that Earthers could display Klingon honor." Kang's whole demeanor had changed. "What can I, and the remainder of my force, do to help you?"

"Attack their flanks, Kang."

"With what? None of my weapons are effective against them."

This put Kirk into an immediate bind. He could give them the secret of the m-ray torpedo, but it would null out any advantage the weapon might have in future operations against the Klingon. He hesitated, the old hatred and mistrusts arguing against such a revelation. Logic finally won out when he realized that the Kelvan might win otherwise.

"We have a modification for our photons. I will give it to you in return for the specifications that allow you to communicate with us despite heavy Kelvan jamming"

Kirk could see Kang was wrestling with the same arguments concerning future operations, just as he'd been.

"Agreed, Kirk."

Kirk pointed at Uhura and nodded. The exchange happened quickly and efficiently. The Klingons got the secret of the m-ray torpedo and the Federation the new communication adjustments.

"Attack their flanks. Hit and run, Kang."

The old arrogance returned to the Klingon's face. "Don't presume to instruct a Klingon on how to fight. Kang out."

Kirk saw Riley watching him and shook his head. "Same ol' audacity."

"How simple," Uhura commented a moment later.

"What's that, Uhura?" Kirk asked.

"They just adjust the frequency a quarter band width. It's enough to avoid the jamming, but close enough to the real frequency to trigger the computer to make the fine tuning automatically."

"Do you think the Kelvan know about it?"

"Not so far," Uhura answered.

"And I traded the secret of the m-torp for that?"

"Yes, sir," Uhura answered. Then added, "but if it means we will eventually defeat the Kelvan, then, it was a good trade."

Why don't I feel good about that? Kirk thought as he returned to watching the action.

The square's shields were becoming painful; they were glowing so brilliantly purple it hurt to look at the screen. Every ship in the square glowed with the output of their antimatter drives. Kirk wondered just how much more they could take.

Kang came onto the mainviewer, over-riding everything else. "Watch your starboard side, Kirk."

Not needing a micro-second of thought, Kirk knew what was about to happen. "Swift Deer, prepare to fire all weapons on the starboard side."

"Aye, sir."

Half the Klingon force uncloaked on that side and fired, immediately recloaking.

"I want whatever they don't hit targeted and hit from our side," Kirk ordered.

"Aye, sir."

Thinking they would be as immune to the Klingon weapons, as they had been before, the Kelvan did nothing to evade the incoming weapons.

"Weapon trajectories profiled; I've targeted the fighters that won't be hit," Swift Deer announced.

"Fire," Kirk yelled.

The starboard side of the square erupted in m-ray torpedoes. The two waves of weapons hit at the same time, and the Kelvan fighter forces on that side ceased to exist.

"Very good, Kirk. You think just like a Klingon." Kang appeared on the screen. "Now the port."

This tactic served to clear the square of the Kelvan armada.

"Don't lose them, Riley," Kirk told the commander of the Enterprise. Amazing, thought Kirk, an hour ago I wanted to lose these Kelvan bastards. Now that there's the chance to cut them off at the knees... "Stay just inside the range of our weapons. Make them pay for every square kilometer they gain with their life's blood."

A Kelvan assault ship, with two fighter wings in attendance, broke free of the wreckage that filled the no-man's land between the two forces.

"Watch that one, Swift Deer." Riley pointed at the screen.

Before Riley could drop his arm, a force of Klingon assault cruisers appeared in front of and all-round the Kelvan incursion, killing the fighters and so badly mauling the assault ship that it disengaged, limping back to the main column.

"No need, sir," Swift Deer said without taking his eyes off his targeting monitor.

The battle had now moved to the outskirts of the Markab system, its blue light shining bright. There was a trail of wreckage and derelicts leading from Kironis.


"Get around them!" Sixth Armada's mental voice boomed across the thousands of square kilometers of space still occupied by his force.

"We cannot, Progenitor," a sub-commander responded.

"Why not? We still outnumber them."

"The wreckage of our dead gets into the way, and every time we try to get out, the ghost ships intercept."

Who are these other pests? Sixth asked himself, and, how do they make themselves invisible? They are the key to this, I think, and if I can restrict their movement, I win.

"We have communication contact with Fourth Armada, Progenitor."

That's the answer, thought Sixth with glee. "Put him through to me." When the other was on the screen, he outlined what they needed to do to break the gridlock. "I'll hold their attention here, Fourth."


"What are they doing, Kirk?" Kang asked. Kor had joined him on his ship when the battle had begun to stagnate, and was standing behind Kang on the Enterprise's viewscreen.

Kirk had been studying the situation for the past five minutes. Holed up behind the wreckage of their own ships, the Kelvan were doing something he'd never seen them do before--defending. He knew he needed to take the fight to the Kelvan, but his force had to stay in the square to remain strong. Any attempt by individual ships to penetrate the Kelvan defense, as found out by the Klingons, always resulted in tragic failure. His only recourse was to sit still, a stumbling block between the Kelvan and what had to be their final objective--Sector One.

"Is the mighty Kirk stymied by these cretins?" Kang badgered Kirk.

I hate Klingons, Kirk's thoughts screamed through his being, I wish I didn't need them at all. Squelching his anger, he answered the barb. "This doesn't make sense, Kang. They have never slowed their advance like this before."

"Maybe they fear us, eh, Kirk." Kang smiled open-mouthed. Kor slapped him hard on his armor, but Kang feigned not to notice the impact.

"I don't think so, Kang," Kirk shook his head at the Klingon over-confidence. He can't think we've already defeated the Kelvan, Kirk thought before he continued. "They're up to something, and they're holding us here in preparation for it."

Kang became serious. "My thoughts as well, Kirk, but sensors don't pick up anything coming from Kironis."

"Ours either," Kirk admitted.

The Klingons broke contact, and the screen returned to showing the front of the Kelvan column.

So, what are they up to? Kirk asked himself.


"A large group of star ships has just come within sensor range, Legate," the Romulan flagship's commander reported.



"Show me," Nanclus ordered.

A spherically shaped ship came onto his viewscreen, followed a moment later by a large cylindrical affair. There was little detail, and Nanclus knew why. They were still outside visual range, and these were sensor interpretations.

"How many?"

"Unable to ascertain exact number; their formation is too wide to scan in its entirety."


"The trail of engine exhaust suggests they came in on heading two zero two point five. Their present heading is three-three-seven point five."

"Nearly back the way they came," Nanclus thought out loud, then asked. "Status of battle?"

"Unclear, sir. No further returns. It's either over, or moved out of range."

It was all too clear to Nanclus. "Or on hold. Set our heading to match theirs. Send this to all ships in the phalanx: Prepare for battle."

"Should we attempt contact with the battlefield?"

"No. Maintain long range subspace silence."

"As you command, Legate." The commander saluted, and the screen went blank.

"Why do we not warn them?" General Chang asked. He'd been present in the background throughout the conversation.

"They will feel more gratitude if we pull their backsides from the fire," Nanclus chuckled in a cold, detached way. "It's all an integral part of the diplomatic process. You'll see; we'll get more in the end if they feel we've rescued them."

And if they find out we could have warned them? Chang asked himself. Their hatred may cause another war."You're very clever, Legate," Chang complimented the Romulan phalanx commander, rather than saying what he really felt. It didn't bother him much that this course of action also might cause many deaths within Kang's group as well. After all, they were only Segh vav.

"I'd like to think so, General."


"Fourth Armada reports his force is in position just outside the square's sensor range, progenitor." Sixth Armada's chief aide reported. "When you begin your frontal attack, the wings of his anvil will curl around their flanks and complete the envelopment."

"Good, good," Sixth Armada crowed. With one tentacle, he switched to the command battle frequency. "Commence frontal assault."


"Movement detected, sir," Spareg announced.

"Here they come," Kirk responded. "Warn the Klingons."

A wave of fighters passed around and past the wreckage of fallen comrades, reforming into a solid front. Behind them was a double wall of assault ships.

Here they come, is a gross understatement, Kirk thought as he turned to Riley. "Fire all weapons, full cyclic rate."

Klingon cruisers, as before, began working the flanks of the Kelvan advance with their 'now you see them, now you don't' hit and run tactics.

The Kelvan line was taking a beating, but continued forward, their weapons returning shot for shot, volume for volume.

Nothing new, thought Kirk. Why does that bother me? "Reverse course," Kirk ordered. "Slowly, make them pay."

And the square, with its Klingon outriders, did just that.


"Repeat message!" Kang roared.

"They're all over us, my lord." An immense explosion sent a crewman flying in the background of the Bird of Prey commander, and then the screen changed to snow.

"Who was that?"

The sensor officer answered. "Bird-of-Prey K'lorna. Assigned to rear security."

"Get me Kor."

Admiral Kor came onto the viewscreen. "Is it not glorious, Kang? Like targ to the slaughter."

"Yes, yes, Kor," Kang waved his hand in front of him, as if to shove that aside. "Take command here."

"Why? Where are you going?"

"Rear security was just destroyed. I'm taking three cruisers with me to check it out."

"Should I inform Kirk?"

"Not yet, continue the fight here. Kang out." Then, shifting his attention to the ship's helm, "Let's go. The K'lorna's last reported position."

Kang's group didn't have to go far before they found what had destroyed the bird-of-prey: a line of Kelvan warships sweeping in like a giant fishing net.

"Qu'valth," Kang cursed. "'pI' Sop qul!' The fat of the targ is roasting in the fire now. Fire all weapons, then reverse course. Get me Kirk on subspace."


"Can't you just cloak, Kang?" Kirk asked, his question as to where the Klingon admiral and his ships had gone answered. He was having a hard time understanding the Klingon because of the yelling in the background and the constant whine of that ship's warp engines.

"To what effect, Human? We are fish in a quickly shrinking pool of water. Where would we hide?"

Kirk looked to where Spock was standing. "Can we integrate their systems into ours, Spock?"

"It will require us to access their central computers." Spock let his eyebrow rise slowly.

"Yes, I see where they may object," Kirk said, turning back to Kang. "We can provide you the protection of the square, but..."

"But what, Kirk? Don't play games; we don't have time." Kang became gruff.

"You will have to allow us access to your main computers."

A huge explosion shook the visual sensor on the Klingon bridge, and Kang received a report from someone off screen. He responded quickly to the messenger in short, choppy Klingonese, then returned his attention to Kirk. "Do we have a choice? I will instruct Kor to begin the process with the forces he has with you." The screen vibrated, and a console exploded in the background sending its operator flying with the force of its destruction. "I'm down to two cruisers, Kirk. Estimated time of arrival your location is five minutes, and the Kelvan are right behind me. Admiral Kang out."

Only moments later, Admiral Kor hailed the square. "I don't like it, Kirk. I don't like it one bit, but prepare to incorporate our forces into the square."

Kirk nodded, then pointed to Spock, who began the process. When Kang finally arrived, the square had already absorbed the fifteen Klingon assault cruisers under Kor's command. Kang's ship was by itself now, the only survivor, and, as he had predicted, the Kelvan net was right behind him.

"Park him next to us, Spock," Kirk ordered. "Get his ship incorporated quickly."

Kang's cruiser slid through the square's shields just in time. A spread of Kelvan torpedoes, aimed to finish him, crashed into the defensive line right on his tail.

"Operation Break-out, Spock," Kirk proceeded without waiting to see the last Klingon ship emplaced, "now, before the Kelvan can realize the initial success of their surprise."

"Break-out" was the code name for the process that changed the cube into a cone. All ships now faced toward the starship in the point, all weapons focused forward. Kirk had Spock pre-program the maneuver into the computer so it could be implemented within a short period of time. The cube changed shape as it changed heading, picking up speed.

Four lines of ships in the cone, along each cardinal direction, starting with the one in the tip, readied their tractor beams for repulsing. Kelvan ships that were dead, injured, or just plain stubborn, would be treated roughly.


A familiar pattern of destruction began within the Kelvan ranks as the cone drove straight through the center of the Kelvan net. For a moment an assault ship managed to gain a tractor hold on the cone, but a pulse of coordinated weapon fire cut the beam off, savagely ripping the massive ship's hull to shreds. The repulsor beam shoved it to one side, and it took its place with the rest of the wreckage within the cone's wake.


"Estimated time of arrival," Sulu asked his navigator.

"Five minutes, sir."

"There's one hell of a battle going on dead ahead, sir," the science officer reported.

"I hope we're not too late," Sulu said just under his breath, then thought, though I don't know if this small force of corvettes and exploration cruisers will be of much help. Turning his attention to the weapons station, he added, "Ensure all weapon crews are ready."

"Weapons charged and ready. All they need is a target, sir."

One look at the glow of the shields of the corvettes with Chekov's Diamondback, told Sulu that they were in the same state of readiness.

"Sir, the power level of the Kelvan jamming signal just dropped. I have the Fer d'Lance," the communications officer reported.

"Put him on the screen," Sulu sat up in his chair. It had been days since they'd had contact with the other group of corvettes. "What's your status, Kelsey?"

"We're hot on the Romulan's tail, on a heading for the Markab system. Maybe only five minutes back. We thought we'd lost them back at the Skat colony, but something about their status has changed, because they're leaving a trail of energy a blind ship could see. I think they're getting ready for action and have charged all their weapons to maximum capacity, and their cloaks can no longer hide them."

"Are you picking up the signs of battle in the Markab system."

"Yes, sir. It looks like a real meat grinder in there." Kelsey paused a moment, staring at something just to the left of the screen. "We can see the flashes now." A flash so bright that it reflected off Kelsey's eyes caused him to flinch. "Damn."

The same flash had arrived at the Mugato's location only moments earlier. That told Sulu that both of their forces would arrive nearly at the same moment.

"Should I try hailing?" Kelsey asked.

"No," Sulu returned with vehemence. "If the battle is close, our arrival might tip the scales faster if we don't announce our arrival ahead of time. Prepare for combat. The enemy is assuredly the Kelvan, but also may include the Klingon and the Romulans as well."

"Agreed. Kelsey out."


"Damn, that was close," Riley commented, a dark spot within his eye still marring his vision.

Three assault ships had locked onto the top of the cone and had begun draining energy with their dampening fields, while at the same time attempting to buckle the shield with concentrated disruptor fire. In this shape, repelling flank attacks was hard to coordinate, because only a small portion of the ships could get a good firing angle.

Luck had been on their side. The first m-ray torpedo to hit the center assault ship momentarily malfunctioned, allowing it to drive deep into its interior. The eventual detonation set off a massive chain reaction within the assault ship and it had disappeared, the force of its destruction taking the ships on either side with it. The resulting energy release had been brilliant and massive, savagely shaking the cone and momentarily buckling every shield on that side.

"We've reestablished shield integrity, sir," Spareg reported, "now at twenty percent."

"How much further, sir?" Riley asked, turning to look at Kirk.

"I suspect they're shifting their forces around to cut us off as we drive through them," Kirk responded glumly.

Outside the cone, the color of the powerful combined shields of its members rose through the spectrum and now had reached the upper ranges. Phaser fire passed disruptor fire going the other way. Kelvan ships seemed everywhere. M-ray torpedoes flashed away, disappearing into the mass of ships circling the cone. Shockwave after shockwave rocked through the very fabric of space, as the expended energy of attack and defense rose toward nova levels.

Suddenly, there was a flash so bright that the visuals shut down. It got very still on the bridge, the noise of the computers the only thing breaking the silence.

"What the hell?" Kirk said, noting how white his knuckles were as he gripped the rail for support.

The visual came back on. They were somehow free of the Kelvan encirclement. Markab burned brightly in the center of the screen, her natural satellites in a straight line away from her equator.

"Aft view!" Kirk ordered. What happened during that flash? he asked himself.

The cone had just barely cleared the edge of the Kelvan. Fighting a furious battle between them was a line of Romulan war birds firing everything in their formidable arsenal...plasma torpedoes, disruptors and even the old style plasma mortars. But without the support of the cone's fire, the Romulans lost their forward momentum fast.

"Reverse course, Mister Saavik. They won't be able to hold them," Kirk ordered, seeing an opportunity here he hadn't thought possible only moments ago. He didn't care why the Romulans were here, or how they had gotten this deep within the Federation. It only mattered that they were here and supporting him. "Spock, form us into a wall, the maximum spread we can manage.

"Uhura, hail the Romulan commander."

She did, and a moment later responded, "I have Legate Nanclus."

"Captain Kirk. I am Legate Nanclus of the Romulan Star Empire, the commander of this phalanx."

Kirk could see a Klingon with a patch over his eye in the background. That might explain why they're here, Kirk thought as he addressed the Romulan legate. "We are turning to support your attack. Slide to either side and continue your fire, we'll strike the middle with everything we have."

"Stand by, Kirk." Nanclus passed the body of the request to someone off screen. Listened to a report, then turned to the Klingon, who shrugged in response. Nanclus nodded, turning back to Kirk. "I understand your tactic, and will comply."

"Prepare to receive the specs on a weapon that has proven more than effective against the Kelvan shields."

"Thank you, Captain Kirk." Nanclus nodded, and the connection was cut.

The Romulan phalanx split in half and the Federation formation, now a flat wall, hit the Kelvan formation.


"What is happening?" Sixth Armada's mental voice bellowed.

With the loss of Fourth Armada, he was the only bud of the Great Progenitor left to command the composite force around him. Conflicting reports streamed in from every sub-command and every front. Some reported they were still moving forward. Others that they were surrounded and dying. He was confused and couldn't see any of this because of the wreckage his assault ship was passing through.

"Progenitor, the armada is heavily engaged on three sides," an aide reported to him. "We can't go forward, left or right. The pilots of the fighters are becoming confused."

"I can't see what's happening!" Sixth's mental voice bellowed.

"Progenitor! They have stopped us." the aide reported again. "They will destroy us if we do not begin a defense."

"I only know how to attack."

His ship broke free of the wreckage, and he got a clear view of what was happening. The relentless advance of the Federation's wall was chewing up his forward elements. At the same time, a force of an another unknown type of starship had engaged his left and right flanks.

Desperate to do something, the Kelvan commander switched to his computer's tactical screen. A solution jelled in his mind as he stared at the large, overview picture. As savage as the attack was, the enemy just didn't have enough starships to completely envelope him. He still had three moves open to him: Turn around and go back the way he had come or go over and below the wall.

The thought of retreat was revolting and terrifying at the same time, since it would most assuredly mean his ingestion by the Great Progenitor if he survived. His great intellect explored the other alternative further. By ordering his forces into the openings above and below the wall, he could transform his envelopment into theirs. He sent the new course of action to his beleaguered forces.


Kirk saw the change in the Kelvan maneuvers. He looked at his tactical screen and saw the body of the Kelvan fleet pinching out and forming fingers that began to extend above and below him.

"Refuse them the flank, Spock," Kirk yelled, trying to be heard over the battle's din. "Bend the top and bottom flank over like this," he demonstrated with his hands, making them bend like a hinge.

"Acknowledged, sir."

The wall's ends folded ninety degrees, continuing to face the Kelvan fighters.

The Kelvan fingers continued to extend themselves, and were already near the end of the two new flanks. In a few more minutes they would turn the corner and attack Kirk's rear flank.

Sulu's border guard of corvettes arrived. Kelsey struck the top Kelvan finger and Chekov the bottom. The concentrated fire from the ten photon tubes that each of the new vessels had lined up across their top side transom was devastating in its accuracy.

The bridge of the Enterprise broke into a bedlam of cheers when they saw the help arrive.

Kirk smiled. He had the Kelvan right where he wanted them now. "Uhura, contact Captain Sulu." Kirk centered himself in front of the viewscreen and waited.

Sulu's familiar face appeared in front of him.

"Welcome to the party, Sulu."

Sulu was only slightly amused. "We've had to come a long way, sir. The Klingons and Romulans are not easy rabbits to follow."

"Any more where you came from?"

"Nope, but then again, I lost contact with Starfleet a couple days ago. Maybe they're already on their way."

"Highly doubtful, Hikaru. You and I both know Cartwright's sitting on his ass back on Earth, jumping at his shadow, knowing that he has to do something, but not knowing what," Kirk said, too tired to be respectful anymore.

Sulu winced, but otherwise ignored the remark. "Aye sir. Shall we finish this?"

"That would be nice, Sulu. Kirk out."

The screen returned to the battle raging not more than a few hundred kilometers away.

Sulu's force of corvette's closed the gaps above and below Kirk's recovering wall of ships, cutting off and crushing the encircling fingers in a classic hammer and anvil maneuver. Boxed in, the Kelvan formation transformed from the cohesive fighting force of only moments earlier, to a confused ball of individual ships.

Many turned and fled back along the open path they had arrived on. The Romulan lines, now extending well past the end of the Kelvan column, picked them off, like china plates in a shooting gallery.

The remains of the Kelvan armada now found what it was like to be surrounded by merciless hostiles. A deadly rain of m-ray torpedoes reduced the once mighty formation of warships down to one assault ship--the Sixth Armada's flagship.

Surrounded and outnumbered, its shields and weapons still registered at full power. Amazed that the shields were still functioning after suffering so much damage, he ordered an immediate cease fire.

Unable to control the blood lust, a Klingon battle cruiser broke from formation, bent on finishing the job.

Showing that it still had the willingness to fight back, the weapons of the assault ship lashed out. The Klingon shields showed the strain of the attack, and it turned away, returning to its original place in the wall.

Kirk had seen enough. "Transmit this on the hailing frequency. I want the Romulans to hear it as well."

Uhura's hands flew across the board and moments later she nodded to Kirk.

"Cease fire, all ships. I repeat, cease fire." After a little thought, he added, "Begin jamming their transmissions. We wouldn't want him to warn his superiors."

"Aye, sir."

Silence ruled the bridge. Then, the realization of what had happened sank home. They had stopped and destroyed a major force of Kelvan, and in so doing, had also destroyed the illusion of invincibility.

Returning to the real world, Kirk got the attention of Uhura. "Contact the Klingon and Romulan commanders. Give them my respects and request that they join me on the Enterprise. We have much to talk about." He was about to leave the bridge when a thought occurred to him. "Am I safe in assuming that subspace is cleared now, Uhura?"

"You know something, sir? I haven't checked," the communications officer said, blushing a bit.

"Contact Starfleet."

"Aye, sir."

"Come with me, Spock."

He was about to leave the bridge, with Spock hard on his heals, when he remembered one last thing he had to do.

"Captain Riley, my compliments to your crew; they have performed admirably." He entered the turbolift accompanied by the cheers of a bridge crew whose thoughts and attitudes had just returned from the grave.

Soon after Kirk and Spock entered the office, Captain Scott also arrived. The chief engineer had a dusty, brown bottle under one arm. "I think this calls for a drink my friends."

Spock neither agreed nor objected.

Kirk smiled. "A hundred years old?"

"At least, sir." Scott pulled the cork and tipped it up, taking a long swig. "Ahhh. Now that's good," he said as he handed it to Kirk.

Kirk sipped a small amount, then handed it back. The amber colored liquor felt good as it warmed him all the way down to his toes.

The engineer beamed with pride. "No one else could've done it, sir."

"Nonsense, Scotty," but Kirk didn't object any further. "Unfortunately this is just the beginning. I hope the next battle will be a little better planned."

Scott nodded in agreement. "Well, we know it can be done now."

"True, Scotty, true." The communicator console on the table buzzed. Kirk answered. "Yes?"

"Sir, I have Admiral Cartwright."

"Pipe it down here."

"That son of a bitch," Scott growled, already feeling the effects of the liquor, "has done nothing to support us here. At least that's what Sulu said."

"Mister Scott, you are talking about the C in C," Spock responded, solemn and stern.

"Here, Captain Spock. You need a little eye opener. Take a swig of this."

The Vulcan declined.

Scott continued the tirade. "You and I know he had forces on the other borders he could have sent us as soon as he saw how badly things were going here. Do you see any of them here, Captain Spock? Where's the Excelsior and the rest of her class? Why, defending our flanks from the Tholians!"

"There are Captain Sulu and his corvettes, Mister Scott."

"They came because they thought the Klingons and Romulans were up to no good. And Sulu left the Constellation class ships behind to defend the borders."

Kirk jumped in. "Nothing is free, gentlemen. Had Sulu left the borders unattended, I'd have busted him down to an ensign myself. At least the Klingons are here to support us."

"Aye, sir. They'll be wanting plenty for this help."

"In the meantime, sir, Admiral Cartwright is waiting for you." Spock pointed at the monitor on the desk.

"He can wait for a moment more, Spock." Kirk took another swig from Scott's bottle, then sat in front of the monitor, ignoring the finger gesture his engineer was giving it.

"Status, Kirk?" Cartwright came right to the point as soon as he appeared on the monitor.

Kirk ran down the list of ships left to him, then briefly described what had happened since jamming had cut all communication.

"That's all you have left?" Cartwright sounded angry. "I'm going to court-martial the task force commander responsible."

"Excuse me, sir," Kirk put the transmission on hold, cutting power to the visual pick-up. "Give me that bottle, Scotty."

"Son of a bitch," Scott repeated as he handed the bottle over. "Give him one for me, sir. The unholy mother--"

"Gentlemen," Kirk interrupted his engineer before he could finish the epithet. "I will need a few moments of privacy."

"Yes, sir," Spock and Scott said as they walked toward the door.

Before it sealed, they could hear Kirk reopen the channel. "How dare you, Kirk..."

The door shut and only just barely restricted the sound of Kirk's angry retort. Captain Scott had a smug look on his face as he rocked from his heals to his toes, enjoying what they could hear, though heavily muffled by the corridor's bulkhead. The conversation lasted until long after Kang, Kor, and Nanclus arrived. While they waited, the remainder of Scott's bottle kept them all entertained.


Personal Log, Stardate 8533.7

It has been two months since our victory at Markab, but so much has happened that it seems more like two years. Though Cartwright fought it, wanting to put another of his cronies in the position, I am now the Commander of the Kelvan Theater of Operations.

Kirk pressed the pause button and watched as a Saladin class ship, fresh from the repair yards, took up its position in the formation of ships that escorted and screened his flagship. He felt he could reach out and touch them, though he knew it was all holographic technology.

The command chair he was sitting in was suspended in the center of a perfect sphere. The specially designed chamber was quiet now, a total reversal of what was normal. He couldn't see them right now, but he knew there was a full watch monitoring their stations in positions surrounding him at the sphere's equator.

He continued his log entry.

"Soon after taking command, it became obvious that I could not do so from the Enterprise. I will love her for the rest of my life, but the requirements of my position as commander require more conference room space and a power plant twice that what the Constitution class can provide, especially with this new command center I'm sitting in and commanding from, provided by the research and development center on New Saar. I have moved my flag to the U.S.S. Alliance, the only surviving dreadnought."

He paused the log again, picturing in his mind's eye what the Alliance looked like with this room and its supporting technology installed. The Task Force Command Center, or TFCC, as they called it, was a conspicuous bulge behind the bridge dome of the Alliance, and a revolutionary new piece of holographic technology. Coated with a special reflective material, the room, when in use, could project the view from all round the starship. The dreadnought's computer and all her sensors were tied into the projection device, so that not only could the occupants see the local surroundings, but also any piece of intelligence or star system known to the computer. At anytime, he could have it show the status of any command and the actual extent of Starfleet's advance against the Kelvan.

The first time Kirk had entered the room, he had almost panicked. The effect was like stepping into open space without a suit. If it hadn't been for the illuminated aisle-way to the command chair he doubted he could have made it all the way without crawling. Once he got used to it, Kirk couldn't imagine what he'd done without it. It was like being free of his fragile human body and floating free in the quiet of space, all by himself.

He found himself spending many hours watching his forces maneuver and fight. It was times like this when he could fully appreciate the unique qualities of the chamber. Easy to forget there was a powerful starship around him. He felt free of it and the frailties of his Human body. No longer did he need to have an atmosphere to breathe or food to eat. In this world, he cruised the star lanes without the help of powerful engines. His destroyer escorts were only a step away and his beloved Enterprise only two.

He swiveled his seat so that he faced the ship's heading and could see the galactic energy barrier. It still held his gaze, even from here, where all he could see of it was a thin multi-color ribbon. Its magnitude overcame him, as it ran from left to right as far as both his and the ship's eyes could see.

Switching from the hard to miss, to something not so easy to find, he searched for their destination. It took a moment, but far ahead was the pinprick of light that was where the first Kelvan scouts--Rojan and his crew--had set up their colony, and, later, when their mother ship arrived, had died, absorbed by the commander of the second probe. This star, on the edge of the territory that had been contested by the Federation and the Gorn, was where the Kelvan invasion fleet had finally stopped running, and where now they were cornered by his combined forces.

Kirk was not unaware of the irony the situation created as he finished his log entry.

"Now I must make the hardest decision I have ever had to make. In the next couple of days I will have to order what will be considered by most a terrible act of barbarism. Captain James T. Kirk, commanding the combined forces of the Kelvan theater."

He stood and the aisle to the room's door lit up. He had a briefing to go to. In it they would discuss the operations that would most likely end the Kelvan war. There was one aspect of the upcoming push that he was hesitant to talk to his new found allies about. After all, Starfleet had told the Klingons that they had dismantled the remaining Genesis prototypes and erased all plans and descriptions from the computers. It wasn't supposed to exist anymore, yet he had one right now stored away in the Alliance's torpedo magazine.

He exited the TFCC and into the reality of a ship's corridor. The walk would be a short one.

"Gentlemen, the Theater Commander."

He heard Spock's voice coming from the conference room. There was a slight shuffling sound coming from within as those in the room came to attention. He entered, noted that everyone was present. "Take your seats, gentlemen. Bring me up to date, Spock."

Spock complied. "As you know, sir, following the battle at Markab, we successfully led the Kelvan to believe that there were more of us than there were, pursuing them deep into Gorn territory. After numerous battles, we finally reversed the Kelvan advance, and liberated most of what used to be Gorn space.

"We have found little left of that species, their home world completely denuded of them. We have since found some individuals still alive on a few of their remotest colonies, but it will be some time before they can regain their former status.

"The Kelvan still maintain two armadas and are surrounded here," Spock pointed to the planet known as Rojan's World, "where they, despite determined attacks on our part, have fully entrenched themselves.

"At this moment, we have ceased all offensive operations, per your orders, sir. Are there any questions?" Spock looked from individual to individual, then to Kirk.

"None from me, Captain Spock. Thank you," Kirk said.

Spock sat in the chair next to Kirk.

"We have a most serious subject to discuss, and I want all of you in on it," Kirk opened the briefing. Around him were various ship commanders, from the Federation, Klingon and Romulan forces.

Kang was first to speak. "Why the cease fire? Let's finish them, now!"

Kor sat right next to him and pounded on the table to support his colleague. "Immediately!"

Kirk could see the battle lust in both Klingons' eyes. Maintaining his calm, he responded. "At what cost, Kang?" Shifting the direction of his gaze, "At what cost, Kor?"

Legate Nanclus, offered some help. "Calm down, my Klingon friends. I agree with Captain Kirk. What would it cost us? You know I want them destroyed as much as you do, but if there is a better way, I am willing to hear it."

Kirk didn't recognize the Klingon that sat next Nanclus. The patch over the eye, and the wicked scars that marred that side of his face, made him look very sinister and he had never heard him speak outright in past meetings. That Kang and Kor disliked him was obvious. I'll have to ask Kang about it sometime, Kirk thought as he studied the other. Sometime when conditions are more favorable. There is a slight physical difference between him and the others, he did note before continuing. "Thank you, Nanclus."

Kang calmed down. "Now that we've lost our momentum, how do you propose to take out so many?"

"I can do it, and will, but..."

"QI'yaH, lam Humans!" Kor exploded to his feet next to Kang, the scrape of metal on metal preceding the appearance of his knife in his hand.

"Kor!" Kang grabbed Kor's knife hand. "Have you been drinking?"

"No!" Kor's anger continued to build. He tried to free his knife hand from Kang's powerful grip. "They were to have destroyed them! By the terms of the Treaty of Mutara, they were to have destroyed all of them!"

Kang remembered what had caused that treaty and stood as well. "Is Kor correct, Kirk? Do you have a Genesis torpedo?"

Aiming the first part of his answer at Kang, Kirk answered. "We began construction on a single prototype torpedo in case the Kelvan defeated our defense forces." The Theater Commander paused for a moment, looking down at his folded hands on the table top. "I really don't relish using it in the way I must. It will cause its inventors," he purposely left out that one of the inventors was his son, "to be remembered as the creators of a monstrous weapon. Stored in the hold of the Alliance is that torpedo."

"It breaks the treaty!" Kor roared, brandishing his dagger, its side blades locked out and ready.

"And what would you have done, Kor? Allow the invasion of your empire? Or would you accelerate the research into developing that sun bomb our intelligence agents report you've been working on?" demanded Kirk.

"Kor! Hold your lust for blood in check," Kang ordered, holding Kor's weapon arm all the harder.

Kor locked gazes with his old friend. "Don't you see, Kang? Once used this way, they won't be as reticent to use it again, later!"

The responsibilities of command weighed heavily on Kirk, and Kang's persistent objections were getting under his skin. He remembered that Klingons ascended in rank by eliminating their superiors and that the best way to confront a Klingon was to come straight at him, not brooking discussion, but by punishing rebellion harshly. With this in mind, he stood, moved quickly behind Kang, and, remembering every colorful phrase he knew in the Klingon language, tore into Kor. "You lam petaQ of a targ. Are you saying that I do not know what I'm doing? Do you know of another way to destroy the Kelvan armada any faster? Or, is it that you want to take my place? If that's it, I can oblige you right here and now. Afterward, I will fill your place with someone I can trust to obey my orders. How about a Human commander of a Klingon ship? Eh, Kor? How about that?"

"Human," Kor smiled evilly, "I would like nothing better. Later, after you've used the device. And don't even think about putting a Human on a Klingon ship; they'd eat him alive." Kor's smiled broadened.

"Then you no longer protest my having one to use?"

"No," Kor folded the bleeder blades back against the main blade and reseated the dagger in its sheath, "but I won't forget. Nor will the Empire forget that the Federation does not honor its treaties."

"And the Klingons do? Tell us all about the sun bomb, Kor! What about you, Kang?" He looked at the Klingons seated at the table. "How can we trust your people when they have a weapon capable of creating a supernova?!"

All Kirk's prior disgust for Klingons came back. They talked of the honor of fighting face to face, without subterfuge, but they were more than willing to use the cloak to sneak up behind their prey. They were more than willing to protest the development of a powerful weapon by their enemies, but would, given the opportunity, steal the technology for themselves. He knew that he could never truly trust--or like them--ever.

Laughing for a moment, Kor answered Kirk's charges. "I don't know what you're talking about, Captain Kirk. What if what you say is true? Then it's as we've always said, 'The galaxy belongs to those who are strong enough to take it.'"

Damn him, Kirk thought as he tried to calm down. Damn him for making me lose my temper. "You remember this, Kor. If you ever dare challenge my authority again, hang the Kelvans, I'll destroy you myself, right then and there, and this time, there is will be no Organian to stop me."

Kor laughed uproariously, seeming to ignore Kirk's promise.

"Be this as it may," Nanclus injected into the emotional atmosphere of the room. "When do you propose to use the torpedo on them?"

Kirk dampened his rage before answering. "I don't think I could use it on them until I give them a chance to surrender. What we are proposing is the total destruction of an entire race of sapient beings." Raising his hand, he stopped any further protest before it started, "I know what they have done and what they intended, but they deserve the opportunity."

He let this settle in as the Klingons and Romulan visibly relaxed. Kirk knew that Spock would not protest, so he didn't consult him. "Good. I will attempt to persuade the Kelvan Supreme Commander to surrender in one hour. If he responds to my request for parley, then I will give him twelve hours to decide. If he doesn't...twelve hours later, we'll use it."

Chang leaned toward Nanclus and whispered. The Romulan legate nodded. "My colleague and I have a couple questions."

"And they are?"

"How do you propose to communicate with them? They are telepaths. We've never heard them speak with a voice."

"Captain Spock assures me that they can speak, given the proper motivation. He also assures me that they will have by now absorbed," Kirk noticed the question in Nanclus' eyes concerning this and felt he needed to explain. "They consume their enemies and absorb the memory RNA. Afterward they know everything their victim knew, including the language."

The legate nodded. "My second question: If they do surrender, what will we do with them?"

"You may not be aware of this, but there have been two other incursions by the Kelvan. In the first one, the Kelvan scouts demonstrated a unique ability to transform themselves into any life form they wish. And by doing so, they begin to assume all their traits. If forced to assume forms that are not as powerful as their true forms, they can be injected into the general community," Kirk answered.

"You may live to regret that decision later," but the legate was already thinking of the technological gains that could be had if a few decided to become Romulans.

"I don't think we will have to worry about many Kelvan taking advantage of our offer, do you?" Kirk scanned the room and saw nothing but shaking heads. Activating the monitor in the center of table, Kirk contacted the Alliance's bridge.

Gerhardt Stephon, the officer that had successfully gotten the dreadnought out of the Kelvan siege, and subsequently been promoted to captain and given command of the ship, answered. "Yes, Captain Kirk?"

"Have communications begin the attempt to contact the Kelvan high command."

"Aye, sir."

"Thank you, Captain Stephon. Kirk out."

Addressing the entire assembly, Kirk stood. "I want you present if the Kelvan answer."

They nodded and stood as well, following him as he left for the bridge.

The message only had to be repeated twice before the Kelvan Supreme Commander responded.

"Qu'valth, ghaH moH." Kor spat upon seeing a Kelvan for the first time.

Kirk ignored the comment, not understanding the words, but understanding the inflection of voice. The Kelvan's visage was not pleasing to the eye.

The Kelvan Supreme Commander spoke first, his voice a deep, gurgling wash, very guttural in its pronunciation and heavy with a hissing accent. "I accept your request for parley. What is it you want, Captain James T. Kirk?"

Kirk recognized the Gorn accent from past encounters. "We would like to offer you, and your people, the opportunity to surrender."

Not knowing how to judge Kelvan reactions, they couldn't tell that the Supreme Commander was laughing. "We can hold this place forever if we choose. Why should I surrender to you and your puny allies?"

"My first inclination is to finish you here and now. We choose to be merciful and allow you to live in peace with us."

"And what would you do with us?"

"The scouts you sent here twenty of our years ago demonstrated the ability to change their form permanently, assuming the properties of that form. We would require you to transmute as part of the terms of surrender."

"We can do that but once in a life span, and then it is permanent. We would no longer be Kelvan."

"Those are our terms," Kirk repeated, standing firm. "Accept, or watch your species be eliminated."

"They are not acceptable," the Supreme Commander responded. "We would rather die than weaken our form."

Kor growled and whispered, "Are we sure they're not Klingons?"

Kirk heard Kor's observation and ignored it, giving the leader of the Kelvan the ultimatum. "I give you twelve hours to change your mind. If you do, contact us on this frequency. During this time my forces will do nothing offensive in nature as long as yours do likewise. Agreed?"

"Agreed." The screen went blank as the Kelvan cut the connection.


"How many have surrendered, Captain Spock?" Kirk asked, though in his observation chamber he couldn't see his adjutant. The chamber picked up his question and revealed the station where the Vulcan was sitting.

"Very few, sir. Our interrogation has ascertained that they are born through a budding process, precluding very little disloyalty. The few that have defected are buds of Rojan and his people. When they found out what happened to them, they decided to have nothing further to do with the present leadership. Additionally, we cannot assume they have all absorbed the ability to speak standard."

"Hmm," Kirk said, thinking, then changed the subject. "How are preparations going on the Genesis device?"

"Captain Scott reports he's in the final stages now. He has encased it in multiple layers of deflector material and installed a shield. This should give it the ability to withstand a couple of direct hits from Kelvan disruptors in case of detection. I recommend, as a final precaution, we fire it as part of a cloud of other long range torpedoes."

"Makes sense." Kirk nodded. "Set it up."

"Yes, sir."


The last hour of the cease fire saw a flurry of final preparations. Everything was ready for whatever decision the Kelvan made. If they surrendered, holding facilities were under construction. If they didn't, every weapon in Kirk's force had a target assigned to it.

Kirk arrived at the TFCC just as the Alliance's navigator notified the command room that the twelve hour time limit had expired.

"Commander Uhura?"

The communication post of the chamber became visible. "Aye, sir."

"Contact the Kelvan Supreme Commander."

"Aye, sir."

Kirk studied the chamber's holographic image. It showed what was in the immediate vicinity of the Alliance--in real time and magnification. A line of ships, his ships, disappeared into the distance on both sides, surrounding the system.

A section of the chamber's wall changed to snow, then coalesced into the image of the Kelvan Supreme Commander. "Captain James T. Kirk, I have not changed my mind. We will not surrender."

"I regret that answer. I wish you would follow the example of some of your subjects."

The host of tentacles surrounding the Supreme Commander's eye stalks moved around jerkily in agitation. "They are nothing. I will not surrender." The transmission ended, and the wall changed back.

Silence filled the room.

Looking up at the holographic representation of the system, Kirk faced the planet that would be the torpedo's target. It floated quietly, serenely, the center of the Kelvan defense network.

In a voice filled with failure, Kirk gave the order he had been dreading. "Signal all ships to fire."

"Aye, sir," The task force's weapons officer answered from his post, momentarily illuminated by the room's computer.

A cloud of torpedoes exploded from the encircling fleet. Though hidden within the cloud, the one called Genesis II, because of the additional weight it carried, soon lagged behind.

Kirk saw this and hoped that the Kelvan would be so busy fending off the others that they would miss this.


"Great Progenitor," an aide to the Kelvan commander reported. "Every one of their vessels has fired. The devices will impact in four subkels." He paused, unsure of how to present the data he'd just gathered. "One of them is falling behind."

Irritated by the aides untimely interruption of his concentration, the Supreme Commander snapped an answer back at him. "So what?! What do I care about the one that is malfunctioning? I assure you the rest will work wonderfully."

"No, Great Progenitor. Sensors indicate it's not malfunctioning; just more massive...different."

The Supreme Commander probed deeper. "How different?"

The aide studied a sensor display nearby and peered into it. "It is radically different. The basic casing is larger and instead of an antimatter warhead, it contains a pocket of proto-matter." Pausing, he let the sensors probe the torpedo further. "The others have minimal computers on board for targeting and navigation, this one's computer is actively building toward some kind of climax." Two of his tentacles went to the sensors controls and changed their probing pattern.

Growing impatient, the Kelvan ruler exploded. "Well?"

"The wave the device is producing is unlike anything we've ever seen before."

"So? What does that mean?"

"Great Progenitor, I keep remembering what this James T. Kirk said, 'I could destroy you all right now if I wanted,' yet as devastating as all those other devices are going to be, they will not destroy us all."

The Supreme Commander answered, "When this initial attack is over, they'll follow it up with the real assault."

"True, they will overwhelm us in the end, but it will be costly. This James T. Kirk has not shown the tendency to be so wanton." Turning to peer at the sensor display again, he adjusted its focus. With all his tentacles moving nervously, he turned. "Great Progenitor, that torpedo has a shield around it!"

"Send a fighter to intercept it."


Kirk had been watching for just such a development and was the first to notice the fighter leave. "Scotty! They've spotted the Genesis torpedo."

"Aye, sir."

"Will its shields protect it?"

"Doubtful. They'll protect it against a couple o' stray shots. But against the weapons of a determined fighter?" He shook his head slowly. "It does nae stand a chance."

"Uhura, get me the Fer d'Lance."

In a moment, the face of Commander Kelsey replaced Rojan's World on the chamber's screen. "Yes, Captain?"

"They have spotted the Genesis torpedo, Shaun. A Kelvan fighter is trying to intercept it right now. You must stop the fighter from accomplishing its mission. Take your entire corvette group if you think it necessary, but I'd rather you left them here, just in case Genesis doesn't get through."

"Understood, sir." Kelsey's face disappeared, and the three dimensional image of Rojan's World returned.

"Computer, show me the Fer d'Lance."

The holographs shifted, and the corvette came into focus. Its impulse engines fired, taking it out of formation.

Kirk noted that the Fer d'Lance was the only one going out, and he was grateful that Kelsey had seen it his way, and was utilizing good economy of force.

The cloud of long range torpedoes ran into the line of defenders. The Kelvan destroyed as many as they could, and were themselves destroyed by many more, but still some got through. The fighters turned in pursuit. Unnoticed, and now quite a long way behind the rest, a lone torpedo began its approach. Coming up quickly on its tail was the fighter sent to intercept it.


"How many did we intercept?" the Supreme Commander asked.

"Seventy percent, Great Progenitor," the aide answered.

"Trajectory and estimated damage to planetary facilities?"

"Random targets on the planet's surface. We expect there will be some minor damage."

"And the lone torpedo?

The aide answered the question by shifting the visual monitors so his ruler could see for himself. The fighter was just coming onto the heading needed to intercept it.

"Whatever it is," the Supreme Commander gloated, "we'll not have to worry about it anymore."

Then the corvette entered the screen, working its way toward a killing position behind the fighter.

"What the..." Surprise filled the Supreme Commander's mental voice.

The aide was again at the sensor console. "Federation starship, Mugato class. It is on an intercept course for our fighter. That verifies that the torpedo is the weapon Kirk has sent to destroy us."

"Warn the fighter of the other ship's approach and tell him to hurry. Get three more of our fighters to help him."

"Yes, sire."

Three fighters stopped their pursuit of incoming torpedoes and headed for the Fer d'Lance.


His science officer's report of the three new fighters didn't surprise Commander Kelsey. Now was the time to use some good, ol'-fashioned, one-on-one, broken-field running. "Exec, prepare to engage. Power up all weapons; load all tubes."

Three m-ray torpedoes launched moments later from the Fer d'Lance's tubes. Instant evasion saved two of the ships from death. The third was left behind, a drifting, hollow hulk.

The Fer d'Lance engaged the other fighters with phasers, as they now were well below the minimum range of the photons.

The Kelvan interceptor got Genesis II into its sights. Powerful energy beams shot forward, striking its rear shields. Glowing, the shields held, but the shockwave of the hit knocked it off its course, and out of the fighter's sights. A moment later, the on-board computer had corrected the deviation and it was back on course for Rojan's World.

"Did they hold?" Kelsey had seen the disruptors hit the Genesis torpedo.

"Aye, sir," the science officer reported.

Sighing with relief, he thought, I've got to get around these fighters and stop that one, at any cost.

Maintaining their positions between him and his target, the Kelvan fighters were defeating every one of his attempts to do just that. They wouldn't let him pass, nor would they let him get far enough away to use the more effective torpedoes.

"Two more fighters coming in, sir," the science officer noted.

"Target with m-torps," Kelsey ordered.

"Very close to minimum range, sir," the Vulcan at the weapons station warned.

"Understood. Comply, and cease all further minimum range warnings. They are irrelevant in this situation."

"Aye, sir," the Vulcan responded and went to work.

The two weapons left their tubes and almost immediately struck their targets. The double shockwave buffeted the Fer d'Lance severely.

"Shields down to eighty percent, sir," the exec warned.

The lone interceptor got Genesis II into its sights again and fired. Again, the disruptor energy hit the torpedoes rear shields.

"Torpedo's shields have buckled, sir."

"Is it still functional?"

"Aye, sir, she's coming back on course. The Kelvan's right on her tail."

"Damn," Kelsey knew he had to do something desperate and he remembered a tactic he'd used a long time ago in a Kobayashi Maru-like scenario used against him by Captain Kirk as a young lieutenant, newly assigned to the Enterprise. "Bring us to course zero-one-five mark two. Fire phasers, full cyclic rate."

The Fer d'Lance lined up neatly with the small gap between the two antagonists.

The Kelvan fighters were both receiving direct hits from the corvette's phasers, but were confident that their shields would hold. Coming straight at the Fer d'Lance, daring her to veer off, they fired disruptors.

"Sir, forward shields are about to buckle," the Fer d'Lance's science officer reported.

"Target with m-torps and photons. Full impulse."

"The range is..."

Kelsey interrupted the Vulcan with a vicious glare. "Target and fire, Lieutenant."

"Aye, sir."

The twin launches of double m-ray torpedoes followed immediately by standard photons struck both Kelvan fighters at the same time, only seconds after launch.

Both fighters blossomed into twin flowers of destructive energy which were joined in the middle. The Fer d'Lance flew right through that bright energy bridge, and out the other side.

"Forward, starboard and port shields have buckled. Radiation injuries on outer decks. There's been a hull breach on the forward section of Deck Five. Warp engines are off line," the chief engineer reported. "Repair parties and medical teams are responding."

Kelsey nodded his acknowledgement. "Where's the Kelvan interceptor?"

It came onto the viewscreen. A pulse of energy shot out from its disruptors and struck the torpedo. A cloud of deflective material blew away from the torpedo's skin.

"She's totally defenseless now, sir," the science officer reported.

"He's on its tail again, preparing for the final shot," the navigator added.

"Tube six has a lock with a m-torp, sir," the weapons officer reported.

"That's it? We have ten tubes and only one has a lock?"

"Circuit damage."

"How about phasers?"

"Both batteries show green, charged and ready."

"We'll have to make this shot good. Target his aft shield generators. Time the phaser burst to hit as they go down."

The weapons officer's hands flew across his console. "Set, sir."


With deadly accuracy, the torpedo struck, destroying a large section of the fighter's aft and the shield generators located there. Four streams of red coruscating, particle beam energy ripped into it, setting up a chain reaction that finally destroyed it.

"Stay with the Genesis torp," Kelsey ordered.

"But, sir, the warp engines are down, and if we're too close..."

Kelsey interrupted the science officer with a chopping gesture of his hand. "I know, but we must ensure the safe deliverance of that weapon--on time, on target. Helm, have an escape heading already locked in, full impulse."

"Aye, sir," helm responded.

In front of the Fer D'Lance, the lone torpedo made final adjustments to its course and began to build toward detonation.

At the last possible moment, Kelsey gave the order. "Evasive course. Engage."

The Fer D'Lance veered away, half her shields still buckled, clawing slowly, ever so slowly for the safety of interstellar space.


Kirk had been on the edge of his seat throughout the encounter. Even now, with Genesis safe, he couldn't relax knowing that Kelsey had taken his ship well within the range of the deadly device's effects, maybe too close for him now to escape. The corvette was almost there. Just one more second, please Lord, give him the time,Kirk thought as he watched unable to affect any assistance.

Genesis detonated. A brilliant flash appeared in the upper atmosphere of Rojan's World. Every monitor in the fleet, including the TFCC went totally dark.

While he waited for the sensors and visual pick-ups to recover, Kirk recreated in his mind the pattern of events that would be tearing Rojan's World, and the remains of the Kelvan fleet, apart. He began worrying about the fate of Kelsey and the crew of the Fer D'Lance.

The chamber reactivated. Red hot material was already spewing out into space from the point of impact. It continued out only a brief moment, then dove back to its surface. The effect began to spread across the surface of the planet. Not content with this, it began to spread outward into space, sucking in everything it found there into its deadly embrace. The wave's initial destructive phase began to change as its program reformed the raw material it had created into its new matrix.

As if getting closer to the chamber's surface would help him to see it better, Kirk stood. There was no sign of the Fer D'Lance. The corvette was nowhere to be seen.

"Scan for them," Kirk ordered.

The chamber picked up his request and complied. The only ships it picked up in the target area were a few scattered Kelvan fighters, survivors of the holocaust.

Kirk sagged into the chair. What is it with me and those I love? Kirk's depressed thoughts churned. Shaun was as close to me as any real family member could ever be. Forgotten was the final victory, though he could hear evidence of celebrations already occurring all-round him. Forgotten was all the glory that would come with it. None of it would replace what he had lost.

Uhura had seen Kirk's reaction to the evident loss of the Fer D'Lance, and was about to go to him when a ship's hail in her earpiece stopped her. At first, she couldn't believe the code number the ship was sending, but there it was, the Fer D'Lance was requesting communication with the Theater Commander. Slowly, a smile spreading across her face, she listened intently to the familiar voice in the earpiece. Bypassing the two-way screen between her and Kirk, she made her way to the center of the chamber. "Sir, there is a ship urgently requesting to talk to you."

"Who is it, Uhura?" Kirk didn't feel much like talking right now.

"A good friend, wishing to congratulate you."

"Oh, very well." Standing up, he straightened his coat and put on a good face. "Put him on."

A young Human face appeared. Commander Shaun Kelsey was evidently in good health after all. "Congratulations, Captain Kirk. I do believe the war is over."

"Shaun, how did you...? Where did you...?" The surprise and shock was too much for Kirk; he could do nothing but stand rooted to the floor, his mouth open.

"Kang's flagship grabbed my ship with a tractor beam, enveloped it in his shield and warped out before the Genesis effect could take us."

Kang's visage came onto a second section of wall to the right of Kelsey's. "You owe me, Kirk. You owe me big." He laughed, then disappeared.

"I hate owing Klingons," Kirk mumbled under his breath.

Shaun began to look hurt. "After all I've just done for you, you'd think I'd get at least a 'How do you do?' or something...anything besides how much you hate owing favors to Klingons." Kelsey chuckled as he saw Kirk's reaction. "What's the matter? The wee little leprechaun snatched yer tongue away,, sir?"

Recovering from his shock, Kirk yelled at the screen. "Shaun, you son of a bitch. You scared me out of ten years of my life, and, at this point, I can't afford to lose that much." But he was smiling now, able to enjoy the victory. "How the hell are you?"


The command room was, for the first time in weeks, empty. Seated inside the Alliance's TFCC, Kirk watched the surface of the Earth revolve below him.

I'm drunk, he thought and smiled, his head bobbing, as he tried to remember how many drinks he'd had. He lost count after the fourth. He'd been feeling fine until that last batch of punch had arrived. That's when the world had started to grow fuzzy. Though it was hard, he analyzed how he felt and figured out why he'd suddenly become so inebriated, so quickly. Romulan Ale, he identified to himself. Someone spiked the punch with Romulan Ale. He chuckled and sipped some more, willing to give up his night, and quite possibly, the next day as well, to the hallucinatory ingredient the creators of that potent beverage found so alluring.

The event that had triggered the party in the dreadnought's forward observation deck was her decommissioning. Starfleet, after reviewing the performance record of the mighty ships, had determined that they hadn't been effective enough to bother building more, and having only one was a waste of valuable resources.

For Kirk, the party wasn't so much a goodbye celebration for the grand old lady, the last surviving dreadnought, but that he'd gotten back the Enterprise.

I will miss this room though, he thought. If it didn't take so much energy to run I'd have Scotty put one in the Enterprise. His thoughts turned to the burly Scot as he considered ordering him to find a way to adapt the device to his favorite Constitution II class ship. Then he remembered seeing the chief engineer slumped in a corner of the observation deck, further gone than him. But not tonight, he concluded, taking another sip of punch and slumping a bit in his own seat.

The weeks that followed the destruction of the Kelvan fleet had been hectic. Admiral Cartwright's demotion from Commander-Starfleet to a staff position under the new commander, Admiral Bill Smillie, had been the most surprising of them all. Or had it been? he thought as he mulled over the idea. I should have seen that one coming all the way. I must be getting old if I can't see stuff like that coming.

Admiral Yves Gervais of Starfleet Intelligence had offered Captain Riley a substantial promotion in position within his staff. Riley had been in Kirk’s office when Gervais had made the offer and Kirk, seeing the twinkle in the young captain’s eyes, had known Kevin would accept.

In fact, the C in C had made a similar offer to Kirk, wanting him close to the top. As one of Smillie's deputy commanders, Kirk felt he could have finally had an influence in bringing Starfleet around to a position of strength, a place it hadn't seen in years. But he knew a desk was not his destiny. So gently, but firmly, James T. Kirk turned down the offer.

He was happy for Riley, but he was happier for himself. This left the Enterprise command slot open, and, with the gratitude of the Federation behind him, he'd slipped right in, unopposed.

But he'd had enough of the celebration and was feeling more than sufficiently inebriated. He absent-mindedly took a sip from the glass in his hand. He couldn't remember refilling it from the punch bowl, but here it was. Though he reminded himself that is was the probable source of Romulan Ale, he wasn't listening to himself anymore and tossed down the remainder in one gulp. Relaxing into the chair, he only half saw the holograph of the moon rising over the Earth on the dome.


Pulling the last shift required, so that the junior communications officer on board the Alliance could go to the celebration, Uhura was just completing some last minute details when Kirk stumbled in. Whew, he has really tied one on, she thought. I should escort him back to his quarters, but after what he's been through? I think he deserves whatever he wants. She went back to work finishing the final watch report.


Kirk was unaware of her presence. His thoughts had suddenly turned dark. He'd thought himself over the guilt he'd felt about using David's invention as a weapon, but the ale, seeming to have a life of its own, had found it locked away deep in his subconscious and had released it, allowing it to ravage his psyche all over again.

Uhura stopped her work when she saw him stand up and begin speaking to someone in the direction of Earth. A quick glance around showed her that no one else was in the room. Putting down the padd, she knew he was going to need help soon.

"David, I am sorry. I've had to use your invention for something monstrous. You intended it for peace, and I used it for war." Kirk looked down at the floor, weaving, almost losing his balance, then his head shot back, his eyes pleading. "The whole planet, David, a thriving ecology--gone, poof, just like Genesis." The ale dredged up the visions of what had happened to Rojan's World only a few days after the use of the device. The proto-matter, as had happened on the Genesis world, had begun to break down, and it had taken Rojan's World with it in a final, fiery catastrophe. "But if I hadn't used it, the resulting loss of life would have been just as monstrous." Looking down, he continued, "Please forgive me, son."

Hearing something from the screen, Kirk looked up with eyes that saw what the ale wanted them to see; a shape forming above the planet. It was David, just as he remembered him on the day his son had boarded the Enterprise. He addressed his comments straight at the apparition. "Oh, David, my son." He was too far gone to stop the hallucination. "How I hate the Klingons for taking you from me! Even fighting side by side with them has not helped. I know you would have me forgive them for your death, but I can't, and for that, I am sorry."

David Marcus' face appeared relaxed and supportive as it spoke. "Klingons are Klingons. You will some day have to accept them, or die with your hatred. As for my device? You did not use it wrong, father. I wanted to create a tool for building, and you have used it to preserve life. I know that many have died, but many more have life because of it."

Kirk shook his head and looked down, the movement causing his equilibrium to falter for a moment. The hallucination waited for his father to look up before continuing. "The memory will always be there father, and you will remember that you made the decision. But, keep this in mind, they made their decision not to surrender. You had no choice, and only you were brave enough to make it." A tear flowed down the cheek of the apparition, and an admiring gleam entered its eyes. "I am proud to be your son."

The emotion Kirk had kept bottled up behind the dam of his personal pride for so long, broke, sweeping his stoic resolve away, shaking his body with great, wracking sobs. That had been what David had said to him the last time he had seen him alive.

Uhura silently listened to the one-sided conversation and waited. She longed to comfort her commander, but knew that it wasn't time yet. Then, when the once tall man sagged back into the command chair, obviously devastated, she knew what she had to do. Crossing to the center of the chamber, she confronted him. One look told her that he wasn't seeing her. She saw the misery and the loss on the tear streaked face of the warrior. Reaching out, she took him to her, wishing she could take the sorrow to herself. Instead, she gave him a warm place to run and hide in. She hummed a lullaby she'd heard her mother sing to her as a child as she pulled Kirk's head to her breast, rocking ever so slightly.


"Can you believe the arrogance of the Federation, Lord Gorkon!" Chang roared from his side of the audience chamber.

"Do you suppose they misunderstood our request?" Gorkon asked the general assembly.

"They understood it all right," Kang answered from the other side of the chamber.

"Do you think the payment we requested in return for our assistance against the Kelvan was too extravagant?"

"Moving the Neutral Zone thirty light years?" Kor answered. "No, Lord High Chancellor, we all feel it more than appropriate."

"We should have asked for more," Kusan added from the Kh'myr delegation. "Then they may have taken our request more seriously."

No one in the general assembly had forgotten how Kusan had saved the empire from the usurper whose name they did not discuss, that had been stricken from all records, whose entire family now lay dead. Nor had they forgotten how he'd done it. He was now a senior member of the assembly having gained their respect as a leader.

"I think we should take the territory by force, to the qul with requesting," Kor stormed. "What are we after all? Females?"

"No!" chorused the general assembly. "We are Klingons! Klingons! Klingons!..." they chanted.

Nothing changes, Gorkon thought as he struck the scepter to the podium, trying to bring order to the chaos, but failing as the assembly continued to chant.

He stared absent-mindedly over their heads at the tri-blade symbol of his people. They want war. They always want war. Haven't they had enough yet? Gorkon thought as he watched them begin to march around the floor, Kh'myr and Segh vav together.

His thoughts churned as he watched, shaking his head. The thought of and the preparation for war unites my people like nothing else, of that I'm sure. Suddenly, he felt the need to join them, his warrior blood stirred by the march they were singing. But we cannot always resort to war. We must find an acceptable way to deal with those around us, one that travels the trail of peace, of diplomacy, or war will finally lead to our destruction. Kahless knows the drain on the economy has already started this process.

He stood in front of the throne, finally deciding to let them vent their emotions in their demonstration, but his thoughts were coming to a conclusion. I must find this...this undiscovered country if my people are to survive. I must find it, explore it and claim it as my own, or watch the Klingons, as a species, fade to oblivion.

But for now, he finally succumbed to the rhythm of their song, I will join them, because without their help, I will fail. He took off the cape of his office, the awards pinned to it jingling, and draped it over the arm of the throne. Turning, he let his basso voice join in and, with the scepter held in front of him, joined the parade.


Personal log, Stardate 8543.32.

Starfleet has begun rebuilding. I can feel the sense of urgency that moves them to accelerate the training at the Academy and graduate officers to take the places of those we lost. The ships coming out of the space docks are never complete, requiring technicians to come along to finish building them while they patrol their stations.

"I need your signature on this, Commander."

Commander Kelsey paused the log entry, taking the status board from the engineering ensign and making his mark with the stylus. Handing it back, it amazed him how young the man looked, and how scared he seemed.

"Thanks, sir."

Kelsey nodded, looked around the bridge, saw there was nothing new happening, then went back to his log entry. "The new ships are more heavily armed and armored because of the Kelvan war. For example, I had expected Starfleet to order the additional photon tubes mounted onto my ship's transom, in place of the sophisticated sensor arrays, to be removed. They haven't; my ship still bristles with weapons.

"The new admiralty that replaced those that served under Cartwright are much more aggressive in their affairs with alien cultures, and emphasize training for war, over training for first contact. It's very Klingonish, and I wonder at the wisdom of it. I know the present Commander-Starfleet does not support this hawkish attitude, but for the time being, opinions being what they are within Federation politics, he must feel obligated to go with it.

"I heard from Sulu yesterday. He's back to commanding the recommissioned Cooper, ferrying relief help to the Gorn nestworld. Scientists, that sort of thing. On one hand, I envy him his opportunity to lead so many people and be in an instrument of change, but, on the other hand, I have grown exceedingly fond of my ship and crew. The Fer d'Lance is a fine ship, and is already earning quite a reputation for itself."

"Sir?" the communications officer piped in.

Kelsey put the log on hold again. "Yes?"

"I'm getting a message from the Ziellata colony." He paused to listen to something in the earpiece.

"And?" Kelsey queried.

"They're requesting the presence of a Starfleet vessel. It seems an Orion frigate just established orbit around their world, and they don't trust his stated intentions."

That's way on the other side of our patrol sector, Kelsey thought. Man, I'm stretched thin, but if the job were easy, everybody would be doing it. "Navigation, compute a course, and helm, ready the ship for..." After a second's thought, "...warp five." It's not an emergency yet, he justified to himself.

"Aye, sir."

Kelsey returned to conclude his log entry, this new situation giving him another thing to place within its memory.

"By destroying the Gorn, the Kelvan have created a huge, political vacuum. They have destabilized the entire sector and all the local governments, confederacies, and unions are now rushing to fill it. Some, like the Orions, are a species we recognize and know how to deal with, but what if this attracts others we haven't seen before?

"This brings to mind a report that Sulu sent to Starfleet just the other day from his ferrying mission to the Gorn nestworld sector. He said something about his sensors picking up a ship whose design the computer could not identify. It had quickly slipped out of sensor range and had never entered Federation territory, but Chekov described it as looking like a big Terran horseshoe crab.

"Ah, well. It will work itself out in the end, but Starfleet will be kept pretty busy in the mean time. Commander Kelsey, commanding the U.S.S. Fer d'Lance."

"Recommended heading, eight-eight point four-one. E.T.A. eight hours, sir," navigation answered.

"Confirmed, sir," the science officer responded.

"Lock it in, helm," Kelsey ordered.

The helm set the course into the computer. "Locked, sir."

Once more into the breach, Kelsey thought as he looked at the stars on the view screen. "Engage. Warp Five."


The bosun's pipe echoed in the transporter room. "Permission to come aboard?" asked Captain James T. Kirk as he reviewed the command crew which had materialized with him. Spock, Scott, McCoy, Uhura and Chekov all stood on pads around him.

"Permission granted, sir," responded the young lieutenant from behind the transporter console. "Welcome home, sir."

"Thank you. Well, gentlemen...and lady," he caught Uhura's glance, and his demeanor softened, "we've--"

A bosun's pipe sounded. "Bridge to Captain Kirk."

The transporter technician keyed the wallcomm and nodded to his captain.

"Kirk here."

"Captain, this is Tenaka. Sir, we're receiving orders from Starfleet Command to report to Breidablik on the double."

"Breidablik?" asked Kirk.

"It is the sixth planet of the Gamma Bootis system, adjacent to what used to be Gorn and Klingon territory," stated Spock as though it were common knowledge. "The Federation has been negotiating with the Breidabliki for admission."

"Apparently we've got some work to do."The captain smiled. "Mister Tenaka, set course for Breidablik. Warp Factor Five."

"Yes, Captain. Bridge out." He surveyed his officers...his friends. "Well, let's go show 'em why we make the big bucks."

A chorus of 'Yes, sir's followed him out of the transporter room.


by d. William Roberts

My Star Trek stories are generally built around one central idea, many times concerning a loose-end left over from the television series, or movie. In Harm's Way ties up of a loose end left behind from the original series episode "By Any Other Name." The Enterprise vanquished the Kelvan scout ship, but nothing was ever said about the Kelvan Empire itself. Did it decide to invade one of the other neighboring galaxies? Did it just die out? Did the radiation levels rise so precipitously that they had to leave before hearing from the scouts? (Since even the Kelvan had to use generational ships to cross the inter-galactic void, they obviously couldn't have waited for the scouts' return.) If so, it is only logical that they would go to the closest one—ours.

With the central idea created—the invasion by the Kelvan Empire—the story's outline had to be created. I do what's called backward planning. In other words, I decide how I want the story to end and then continue to add steps to achieve each level before that. I learned this technique during my twenty-two years in the U.S. Army.

Before I go into the details of this particular story let me tell you another trait of my writing. I am a student of history, with a focus on the military aspect. I also believe in the axiom, "There is nothing new under the sun," when it comes to reactions to events. Everything we do has already been determined/discovered; we only change how it is specifically done, with better technology and knowledge.

In military tactics, there is generally nothing new. The territory/space needed to accomplish, and the speed required to execute, them grows. In ancient times, all that was needed was a hilltop for space and arriving on foot was fast enough. With the insertion of horse cavalry, the amount of space that could be maneuvered in grew. In Star Trek, the space needed is measured in parsecs and light years and the speeds faster than light. Ancient warfare was two-dimensional. Space warfare, like submarines, is three-dimensional. Tactics that worked in the past, still work now and I submit, will still work in the future. They have to be modified for the space needed to execute them.

Examples from the story:

1. Kirk's square: As explained in the story, it is a derivation of the English square that was used by Wellington to defeat the French at Waterloo. It also uses the fact that the force with the shortest internal lines of maneuver, supply and reinforcement will prevail. We saw that in the Union army's position at Gettysburg during the American Civil War.

2. Refusing the flank during the battle of Markab: Was a common defense tactic used during ancient ground warfare when an enemy was about to flank the line. During Gettysburg, Colonel Chamberlain, and his Maine regiment, did it very effectively against the Confederate soldiers in their attack against him on Little Round Top.

3. Quadruple envelopment of the Kelvan during the battle of Markab: This is a three-dimensional derivation of an attack that has historically been successful here on Earth: Hannibal's victory at Cannae; the American victory at The Cowpens. During the battle in the story, you see a fairly specific description of the thought patterns that an enemy caught in this maneuver goes through.

4. Battle of Mephisto's Gate: Very much resembles the Spartan battle against the Persians at Thermopylae. Fortunately for the Federation, the defenders did not fight to the death as King Leonidas did. Instead, they used a common tactic of peeling away defenders to reform at another location to continue the defense. The Spartans used natural terrain to canalize (force) the Persians into a small front with the majority of their forces stuck in the rear and unable to maneuver into the battle. Modern methods uses minefields to force an enemy into a killing zone. At Mephisto, the coal sack does the same thing.

5. The use of sophisticated imagery and sensors in Admiral Kirk's flagship—Alliance. We see this concept in use now in Iraq. With this I was a bit ahead of my time.

I also believe that the more simple a weapon, the better it works. Too many working parts gives more chances for it to malfunction. I introduced the m-ray torpedo with that in mind. This is just a modification of a weapon type—High Energy Anti-Tank, or HEAT round—we presently use against heavily armored vehicles like tanks. Where we presently use a shape charge of chemical explosives to create a super-heated stream to cut through the metal, the m-ray uses a shaped charge of anti-matter.

The Kelvan War greatly resembles World War II's campaign in the Pacific against the Japanese. It even includes the use of a new, devastating weapon to bring it to an end—Genesis Torpedo.

A consideration I took toward writing this story was would it be action, or character driven? In my case, at that time, I was exclusively writing action driven stories and besides this story couldn't be done any other way.

One of my goals while writing this was to demonstrate large-scale tactics of the future—hundreds of ships. Up till then, all we saw was small scale battles—at best two to three starships. With the norm being one-on-one battles much like the fighter pilots of World War I. This created a huge challenge in keeping track of ship's names and which fleet/unit they were operating with. Starfleet already had hundreds of ships of many different classes, but then I added Klingon and Romulan ships as well.

Oh, yeah, the inclusion of many different non-Federation forces. It was my opinion (still is, by the way) that the only way to bring together traditionally antagonistic peoples so that they work together as a team is to force them to overcome a foe that is so superior that they can't take them on all alone. In the case of In Harm's Way it is the formation of an alliance between the Federation, the Klingons and the Romulans. This is also historically accurate. During World War II, the United States and Great Britain joined forces with the USSR to defeat the Germans. Likewise in the Pacific, the US and Britain joined forces with China. The fact that the alliance fell apart after the foe was vanquished is also historically correct.

There are a couple of smaller loose-ends addressed by In Harm's Way.

1. The relationship between Kirk and Uhura. I know this aspect is controversial in that you really didn't see much of this in the series. However, Uhura did relate her secret love for Kirk in the episode "Plato's Stepchildren." Which was where I identified that loose end from.

2. The beginning of the relationship between the Romulan Legate Nanclus (soon to be the Romulan ambassador to the Federation in the movie Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), General Chang, and Admiral Cartwright. In fact I put into play the beginnings of the plot that finally unfolds in that movie.

3. The beginnings of the plot that unfolds in my next novel Liberation From Hell.

4. The most prominent and continuing loose end was the beginnings of Shaun Kelsey as a primary character that is exclusive to the Orion universe.

Everything I've written at Orion either ties up, or creates loose ends.

There have been some technology and tactics I established in this novel that have since been seen in the movies and television series. Whether or not they (Paramount) first saw them there, or just that great minds think alike, is unknown to me.

1. The concept of beaming individuals to different locations rather than as a group to one location (The boarding of the Kelvan fighter by Kelsey and the survivors of the Sampson.) This was later seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

2. The description of what a photon torpedo is; a tube shaped object rather than an energy projection. Later seen in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan and on.

3. Cloaked anti-matter mines. This was later used extensively in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and seen on Enterprise.

4. The introduction of a small warfare specific starship—the corvettes. Later used in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the movie Star Trek: First Contact in the form of the Defiant.

5. Fleet level tactics and maneuvering. Later used extensively in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

6. Holodeck technology. Described in Admiral Kirk's command and control center on board his flag-ship—Alliance. First used in the animated series, and later used extensively in every series since Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I agree with one reader's review of In Harm's Way that it was highly technical in nature, but it introduced a lot of concepts and technology that hadn't been created yet by Paramount. In Harm's Way was a very compact trend-setter and I'm sure there's much more I could say, or discuss about it that I've forgotten over the past thirteen years.

d. William Roberts

main.gif (14802 bytes)

Free counters provided by Andale.
banner.gif (754 bytes)

Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES -- 2285-2293 The Third Mission.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction.
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website