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d. William Roberts



"How ‘bout some more speed then?"

"I don’t know sir, maybe Warp Thirteen. I think the loss of the array is acceptable, but if I see one inkling that the engines themselves are about to blow, I will cut power immediately and drop from warp, sir."

"Make it so, Mister Foley."

The low whine became a high whine, and the floor rumbled constantly. The Fer D’Lance was doing more than it was ever designed to do, but it wasn’t doing it happily. The ‘chop’ of the deck made standing virtually impossible.

"Warp Thirteen, sir, but I can’t guarantee how long we’re going to be able to do it," Foley reported.

"Push her for everything she’s got, Mister Foley."

"We’re approaching the torpedo’s maximum range sir," Puri announced. "Five more minutes at the rate we’re catching them and..." She began fine tuning something in her sensor hood. "Damn!"

That got Kelsey’s attention since it wasn’t too often he heard a Caitian using a Human expletive. "Don’t tell me."

"It appears they’ve noted our approach and have increased their speed as well. They’re matching us right now."

Kelsey looked first to Mister Hrisherisch. The Tellarite shook his head negatively after doing a quick check of his readouts. "‘Damn’ is right. Mister Foley, we’re going to need everything and the kitchen sink right now if we’re going to get a shot at this."

"But, sir!"

"Give me everything, Mister Foley. Now!"

"Aye, sir. Maximum emergency power. Pedal’s to the metal, Commander."

Where did Foley hear that one? wondered Kelsey as he sat on the edge of his seat, staring at the main viewer.

"Warp Fourteen, and that’s it. She can’t give us anymore."

The whine that surrounded the bridge was wavering high to low to high to low, and the rumble was profound.

"I have a tentative lock on the targets sir," Hrisherisch reported excitedly, "but at this range there won’t be much left of the anti-matter warhead to do much damage."

"Are all the tubes loaded?"

"As per your orders."

Kelsey raised his hand in preparation to give the signal to fire. Just one more second girl, just get us a little bit closer, Kelsey thought as sweat began to bead up on his forehead.

The wavering whine began to climb all of a sudden to an almost painful level.

"Sir!" Foley screamed over the racket. "She can’t hold it. It’s either now or never."

Let it be enough, Kelsey silently prayed. "FIRE!!"

All the lights went out; only the red emergency lights lit the enclosure. A new warning buzzer began to ring, and then there was a flash of light.



"The alarm?"


"Could you turn off the alarm?"

He noted that the sheets were soaked beneath him. He’d had the same dream again. The one where he re-lived once again his failure to stop the Kelvan from getting away with their hostages from Free Market, one of which was Murray Williams, his father-in-law.

He felt his wife’s hand touch his back. "You’re soaking wet, dear."

"Yeah, I know, Arlene." Reaching over to the nightstand, he silenced the alarm, quickly noting that he still had a few more minutes before he really had to get up.

"The same?"


"It’s been three years. There was nothing you could do to prevent it."

"So the board said." He rolled over and took her in his arms, feeling the warmth of her skin against his.

"But you still don’t believe it, do you?" she replied, her fingers caressing his chest, pushing through the body hair.

"Consciously, yes," he answered, his own fingertips following the indentation of her spine. "But some part of me won’t let go. I should never have initiated action against them in the first place."

"But then how many more would have been killed, eaten alive in the mean time?"

They laid quietly in each other’s arms for what seemed an eternity. A waste disposal unit hummed loudly from the cabin next door.

"Well," he said as he lightly spanked her firm bottom, "we’ve got to get up. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lot to do today."

"And I don’t?" she responded, rolling out of his relaxed embrace. "After all, my commander is very demanding of his science officers."

"The slave master. I should have a talk with him and get him to let up a bit."

She pivoted on her bottom and leaned over to give him a peck on the lips. "Would you?"

"Of course. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you love."

They embraced again, giving each other a searching kiss. After a long moment, she pulled back and smiled. "We’ll never get to work this way."

"You think?"


"I guess I can clear this with your commander as well, if you want?"

"Thanks, but no thanks." She quickly got to her feet and walked to the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

"A pox on Starfleet protocol," he whispered, remembering the curse from one of the classic novels he’d read during the long hours of night watches in previous commands. "Ah, well, it’s time I got up as well. Too, bad."

November 28th 2292

She seen so much, Kelsey thought as he stared out the transparent aluminum portal of the conference room, of a huge space dock facility, at a ship held there by powerful, mechanical arms. He’d reserved this room in particular for the view. Technicians, like aphids on a rose, crawled all over her surface, prodding, searching her for imperfections and cleaning her skin. He shook his head as he saw the shining metallic surface revealed as tint was removed from the atomic matrix of its Titanium alloy. Soon they’ll have all her beautiful scales off, and she’ll be nude, he concluded, shaking his head. Worse yet, they’ll return her color to that of the rest of the fleet, his thoughts continued. That same ol’ boring white.

He could still remember when his ship had received the tinting that was being removed. The official war had ended in 2285 with the Kelvan, that species’ powerful progenitor destroyed by the Genesis torpedo. However, they had taken so many worlds in their short conquest; it had taken nearly six years finding all of them and mopping them up. His thoughts went back to five years and the events that led up to the design that was slowly, but surely, coming off his ship.

"What is your ship called, valiant sir?" the planetary chieftain asked.

"The Fer D’Lance, sir," Kelsey answered.

"Where does the name come from?"

"Fer D’Lance is the name of a pit viper," Kelsey noted the look of ignorance on the chieftain face and knew he had to elaborate a bit more. "A snake? A legless reptile?" Still there was ignorance. He pulled out his tricorder and brought up a picture of the snake his corvette class starship was named after and showed it to him.

"Ah, yes, very beautiful. Is such a beast as deadly in that form, as it is in this?" the chieftain asked indicating the ship he stood within.

"Oh, yes," Kelsey answered. "The Fer D’Lance is feared in its native land for its powerful venom and very quick strike." He again showed the chieftain what he meant with a video record brought onto his tricorder from the ship’s central computer.

"Then she," the chieftain again indicated the ship around him, "is very well named." He thought for a minute then his face seemed to light up. "Then I have just the thing for her to thank her and her crew for what they’ve done for our world."

"Ah, we’re..." Kelsey began to explain that he couldn’t accept any gifts, but found himself shooshed by this world’s leader.

"It’s the least we can do."

"I really can’t..."

"Am I not the chieftain of this planet?"

"Well, yes, sir, but..."

"And do you have to have my permission to leave?"

"Not yet, sir," Kelsey answered, knowing now where this was going.

"It is my opinion that your ship is not space-worthy yet and needs our," the chieftain said, indicating himself, "personal touch to make it so. Commander, you are not cleared to leave yet."

"In that case, sir," Kelsey responded obediently, "what do you have in mind?"

"I’m glad you see it our way," the chieftain said, obviously very proud of what he’d just done. "We shall put the visage of her name on her, so all will see and know what the Fer D’Lance is and fear it. If you will trust our workers in our space dock, they could do this in one day’s time."

Knowing what the surface of the starship was made of and knowing how hard it was, Kelsey tried to explain. "The surface of my ship is a titanium alloy, I don’t know if—" again he was shooshed by the chieftain.

"We can do this, don’t you worry. All we need is a copy of that picture," he finished, pointing at the tricorder.

And so had come about the stylized serpent that had graced the skin of his corvette ever since. He watched as slowly the large head of a striking viper, whose eyes and mouth were centered on the phaser batteries, disappeared–the workers eliminated the tint from her skin like an unwanted tattoo.

Each of the five photon batteries gracing the stanchion over the oval shaped primary hull had snakeheads as well. He watched as, one by one, the smaller heads were removed. Floating at station nearby, the replacements were waiting. All but the center photon battery were to be replaced with sensor stations. "What a waste," he whispered to himself, his eyes glazing over with emotion.

Then he noted movement from the great door that allowed access to the cavernous enclosure of this repair and refit facility. A new ship was being brought in by a couple of yard tugs. It only had one hull—saucer shaped, the trademark of Starfleet—but that was where the likeness ended. He felt an emotion creep up within himself. One he hadn’t felt since the first time he’d seen the corvette class ship he’d commanded now since the beginning of hostilities with the Kelvan.

It slowly passed between him and the Lance giving him a long moment of inspection. Though she had the saucer shaped primary, it didn’t come to the same edge like the old Constitution class heavy cruiser, but rather was fully six decks thick, and from there rising five more successively smaller floors to the bridge bubble, but remaining flat across the bottom to the heavy stanchion that attached the engines to the main body. There were also five decks below the saucer, leading to the lower sensor dome.

The dual impulse drives were located on either side of the warp drive pylons, and rotated 90º from their usual configuration. But it was the warp drive configuration that really made this new class of ship unique. Four warp nacelles. Two attached to a horizontal support structure, which itself was attached to the ship by a stanchion that angled diagonally forty-five degrees back from the top of the engineering section of the hull, and two more doing likewise from the bottom.

It had a class designation, he knew: Constellation. The first ones built before the Kelvan War had a serious construction flaw that manifested itself in 2287. Almost all the Constellations suffered system-wide failures and shutdowns, and had to be hauled into ports. An investigation had shown the short-cuts taken by the Richter-Hyperdyne Corporation in the ships had caused the problem. It was fortunate that no one had died. The newer ships were being built on the same basic framework, but built by the more reliable (if not more expensive) Yokohama-Chrysler Corporation. The engines had been rated by Starfleet’s Corps of Engineering as ‘vastly superior’ to the warp drive engines of the up-rated Constitutions and ‘superior’ to the warp engines of the Excelsiors.

With that much available energy, she must be pure death in space, his thoughts intruded on the pleasure he felt in the viewing. He couldn’t see her weapon configuration yet, but just as he began to search for them, the Lance came out of eclipse, and he had a deep sense of guilt at the dalliance.

Still, it couldn’t hurt to ask. He pulled out the small, personal subspace transmitter issued to all commanders and opened a channel. "Commander Kelsey to Dock Control."

A male voice answered. "Dock Control."

"Name of new ship just entering the dock area, please?"

"That is..."

Kelsey noted the slight sound of impatience and disdain in the voice on the other side. Dock Control’s comm panel must have lit up like a Christmas tree when that ship came in, he figured as the man answered his question.

"...the U.S.S. Chosin. Just released from the construction docks at Utopia Planitia and beginning final internal spec tune-up and crewing. She is the latest of the Constellation class exploration vessels and is rated as a fast cruiser in tonnage. Is there anything else, sir?"

"No. Thank you. Kelsey, out." He closed the channel and watched as the Chosin was docked in the facility right next to the Lance. It was then that he noted that all repair and refit activity had stopped on his ship. Now what? he asked himself, his gaze dropping to the tips of boots as he began to open another channel.

"Nothing there but dust, Reggie," came a familiar, but derisive voice with a definite alien accent from behind him.

"You’ll burn out fast, Nova," he responded, a smile spreading across his face as he turned to face the originator. He wasn’t surprised to see an Andorian standing there, nor was he surprised to see that this individual’s uniform matched his in color scheme.

"Not if you’re a Super Nova," the Andorian sparred, his voice hinting of offense.

"Lieutenant..." the Human hesitated as he saw the ornate medallion on the Andorian’s jacket strap, "...Commander Thorrell," he finished, setting his mouth slightly downward, but nodding his approval. "So, Starfleet still promotes insubordinate curds."

"As long as they prove themselves in battle," Thorrell returned, "Yes," the Andorian paused taking in all the insignia on the Human’s uniform, before continuing. "I see they still promote Reggies to positions of authority, and give them commands of starships as well."

The Human commander didn’t take offense at the reference to the fact that he’d gotten his commission through the regular channels of Starfleet instead of through the accelerated Nova program, as had Thorrell. "Yes, as long as they prove themselves in battle."

Glad to see you again, ah..." the Andorian paused his gaze taking in the Human’s rank. "Commander Shaun Kelsey."

The two approached till they were nearly toe-to-toe, smiles gracing both their faces, gazes holding each other’s.

Kelsey slowly extended his hand. "It’s good to see you Thorrell."

Thorrell grabbed Kelsey’s arm at the forearm, shoving his forearm into Kelsey’s hand. "A warrior’s hand shake, Reggie."

"A warrior’s hand shake, Nova," Kelsey returned, grabbing tightly to the Andorian’s forearm.

Then they grabbed each other in a fierce embrace—warrior to warrior, both glad to see that the other had survived.

After what seemed forever, Kelsey broke free, returning to his reverie at the portal. He noted the snake was almost completely obliterated from the starship’s skin and there was only the central photon station left. It was already denuded of its reptilian decoration. "Thank you for accepting my invitation."

"Like I had anything else to do?" Thorrell responded.

"You have plenty to do," Kelsey said, not pulling his gaze from the starship outside the portal. "I read your personnel record."

"Pfft," Thorrell came out with an atypical sound for an Andorian, though common among Humans who want to play down a situation. "All in a Nova day’s work, Reggie."

Kelsey turned to see Thorrell right behind him. "I suppose. How’s your...?" Kelsey asked, referring to the wound Thorrell had received during the first landing party the two of them had been on together.

"That little scratch?" Thorrell countered. "It’s nothing."

"Being run through with a Romulan spear isn’t anything to discount," Kelsey said, putting his hand on the Andorian’s shoulder.

"It didn’t hit anything vital," Thorrell continued. "Now if it hadn’t gone all the way through and those spider barbs had released into my innards... Now that would have been a wound to talk about."

Kelsey smiled, his gaze meeting and holding with Thorrell’s. "I suppose."

"And your wounds?"

"Still carry them with pride, Nova. Never did, or wanted to, have them removed by the good doctor."

"Me, too." Thorrell answered, his gaze going past Kelsey to look out the portal. "That her?"

"That’s her."

"She’s not as pretty as you described her," the Andorian commented, pulling a long face.

Kelsey noted that Thorrell’s gaze was switching to the ship in the next berth as well, but they didn’t linger long. He turned and stared out the portal as well, noting that all remnants of the snake were gone, replaced already by the traditional Starfleet white. "Not any more she isn’t." He pulled out a holo-vid he had taken this morning before the re-fit had begun and handed it Thorrell. "But she had been not too long ago."

Thorrell whistled his appreciation for what he was seeing, another entirely un-Andorian reaction. "Appearance was as deadly as her record."

Kelsey always felt a bit uncomfortable when someone referred to, even in the slightest of ways, to his record as a starship commander. "Well, I guess," he said just under his breath.

"You still don’t know how to wear your medals, Shaun," Thorrell said, handing the holo-vid back, not looking at all uncomfortable with using his superior officer’s first name.

"A weakness, I suppose," Kelsey responded, lapsing into a long period of thought. "So," he said after awhile. "Does the fact that you’re here mean you’ve accepted my offer?"

"As if you had to ask, Reggie," Thorrell answered in a voice full of bravado, a tone he normally had. "How could I resist?"

"It doesn’t promise to match anything we’ve experienced so far," Kelsey added. "Heck, look what they’re putting on her right now, and you’ll know what our next mission will be." As he pointed out the portal, the first sensor station floated harmlessly near the place on the ship’s transiting stanchion where only an hour ago had held a photon battery.

"Well," Thorrell said with a growl, "life can’t always be on the edge."

Kelsey turned to face Thorrell. "That’s not quite what I expected from a Super Nova."

"It’s all this contact with Reggies. After a while you can’t help but have some of it rub off. Besides, I’m not getting any younger you know."

"Me, either," Kelsey said, his gaze locking with Thorrell’s once again. "We’re going to have our work cut out for us, Number One," he said, adding the nickname given to first officers throughout the fleet. "A ship straight out of re-fit, practically brand new again, and a crew almost as green."

"I noted that," Thorrell said, bringing his hand up to his chin in thought. "That isn’t standard practice in Starfleet. Why did they do that with her?"

"We were one of the last to return from the mop-up operations," Kelsey responded matter-of-factly. "Except for a few replacements we required over time, I had the same crew that was aboard at the end of the war."

"Well overdue, then. It’s been seven years."

"Exactly," Kelsey concluded, and then sighed. "I’m going to miss them all. It was a very emotional farewell party."

"There you are," came a female’s voice from behind them.

Both officers turned to see who had arrived and saw a female Human in a Starfleet officer’s uniform, trimmed in the science sections deep blue. Kelsey smiled, but Thorrell responded first.

"Can we help you, Lieutenant Commander?"

"You must be Thorrell," she responded as she approached. "Shaun has said so much about you." Her full attention went to Kelsey as her gaze left the confused Andorian. "Have any of the rest responded yet?"

"Excuse me, Lieutenant Commander," Thorrell began, his voice filled with forthcoming retribution.

Kelsey held up his right hand, cutting his new first officer off. "I believe introductions are in order," he said without looking at Thorrell, his gaze reserved only for her. "Commander, this is Lieutenant Commander Thorrell. He has accepted my offer to become my new first officer. Commander, this is Lieutenant Commander Arlene Williams, my science officer, and..." He paused, leaning forward to give her a light kiss on the lips, then pulled back to take her in with his gaze. "...my wife."

"Kerrr-aaa," Thorrell exploded, anger filling his voice. "Of all the...what ever happened to..." He paced away from the couple.

"Thorrell," Kelsey said, with no idea what was going to happen next. He positioned himself for the worse, feeling Williams do the same right next to him. "What’s the problem?"

Thorrell stopped on the far side of the room, staring at the wall like he could somehow make it form a doorway if he stared hard enough. A growl he’d learned from a Caitian officer some years back escaped from his throat, though it made it ache. Then, pivoting hard, he stalked back toward the couple, heading straight for Williams. He bore down on her until there was only the smallest of margins between them.

Kelsey saw the intensity of the Andorian’s expression. His gut said to intervene, but he had an arrangement with Arlene. He could still hear her demand "Don’t you ever try to protect me from circumstances that are inevitable in Starfleet, Shaun. Promise, or no marriage. Deal?" That didn’t mean he would stand by if this got ugly.

"Are there any kits?"

"What?" Williams whispered, breaking contact with the Andorian’s intense gaze for just a moment to steal a questioning glance at Kelsey.

Kelsey was completely at a loss.

Thorrell relaxed just a bit. "Is she a Reggie, too?" He didn’t let his gaze leave Williams’ face, though the question was aimed at Kelsey.

"Yes," Kelsey stammered, then steadied as he realized what was going on. "Of course. Do you think I’d get so close to a Super Nova? And to answer your question...no."

"What?" Williams managed to say a second later only to find herself wrapped up in the Andorian’s powerfully strong embrace.

"I like her," Thorrell said as he let her go.

"Lieutenant Commander," Williams blustered as she straight-armed her way back from him, "if you ever..." Her murderous gaze said the rest.

"Oh, and a strong spirit as well," Thorrell jested, his face breaking into a big smile. "It’s a good thing you found her first, Shaun."

"You were right," Williams said, turning only her head to talk to Kelsey, remaining ready to fend off any more unwanted attention from Thorrell. "He’s not like any other Andorian I’ve met before."

"Which makes him all the more valuable, don’t you think, Arlene?" Kelsey said, appreciating how she looked when her ire was up. "And ‘kits’ is the Andorian term for children."

"I knew that," Williams blustered. "We," she continued, pointing first to Kelsey, then to herself, "don’t believe children have a place on board a starship. Nor do we believe it okay for children to be brought up by surrogate parents, lightyears away. I’m," she assumed a relaxed fighting position, "not ready to give up my career yet."

"On Andor, mated females—" Thorrell never got a chance to finish.

"Remain barefoot and pregnant, and at home," Williams interrupted. "Well this is not Andor, Lieutenant Commander Thorrell, and don’t you forget it." Her green eyes blazed with emotion.

Thorrell stepped in very close, all of a sudden serious and foreboding. "I won’t, Commander, and you are hedging very close to disrespect and insubordination to your new executive officer."

Kelsey knew how hard it was to tell when Thorrell was serious and when he was pulling something cute. Even he was having a hard time reading the Andorian right now. He did know one thing from experience and that was how serious Arlene was about this subject as she unflinchingly stood her ground.

"Excuse me," came a youthful male voice from the doorway. "I’m supposed to be attending a meeting with the senior bridge crew of the Fer D’Lance?"

Kelsey glanced toward the door and saw a tall, dark-haired lieutenant with the yellow piping of Engineering on his uniform. "You’ve come to the right place, Lieutenant. Come on in."

"Yes, sir, but am I interrupting something important?"

The officer looked familiar to Kelsey, but he didn’t know from where. Obviously the man was still very young, or one of those fortunate few who took their adolescent gangliness far into their adult life. "Nah, just a couple of friends introducing themselves to each other."

"With that kind of energy, I could fuel a starship clear across the quadrant."

Kelsey stole a glance over toward Thorrell and Williams and noted that they were no longer glaring at each other, but were actually standing next to each other, relaxed and waiting to be introduced. Okay, he thought. "And who might you be, sir?"

"You don’t recognize me, do you, Commander?"

"I do, but I don’t remember from where. I do know it’s been a long time."

"Twelve years to be exact. I still have the hover-board that got me in so much trouble with Mister Scott."

"Ghilar? Ghilar Stronton?"

"Lieutenant Stronton, reporting as ordered, sir," the youthful officer put away the tricorder he’d obviously been entering data into only moments earlier and assumed a position with his feet shoulder width apart, his hands folded behind the small of his back.

"Relax, Lieutenant, and come in," Kelsey ordered as he gestured for the youth to come in. "How are your parents and the farm?"

Stronton stepped closer and accepted Kelsey’s proffered handshake. "Doing just fine the last I heard from them, sir. They were just finishing the second season and the yield had been good."

"Good, good," Kelsey answered, turning toward the other two officers in the room. "Lieutenant Ghilar Stronton, this is," he indicated with his open hand, "Lieutenant Commander Thorrell, my first officer, and Lieutenant Commander Arlene Williams, my chief science officer." He purposely left off the other distinction. Stronton would undoubtedly find out the rest soon enough.

"He’s a young Reggie," Thorrell said and then was cut off from saying anything else by an indignant Stronton.

"You watch who you’re calling a Reggie, I’m a Super..."

"Nova!" Thorrell piped in with Stronton. "That explains the rank and youth at the same time." He turned to Kelsey, "I like your choices, sir." Putting his arm across the young officer’s shoulders, they turned together, already deep in conversation about things only two Nova graduates could be familiar with.

"Only one left," Williams voice sounded from his side as Kelsey watched Thorrell and Stronton walk toward the other side of the room. "Do you think he’s coming?"

"I don’t know," Kelsey responded, turning to look into her green eyes. "Of all the three invitations I sent out, his was the one I wasn’t sure about since he’s one of the few from the old crew I thought I could snag. I haven’t heard from him. Have you?"

"Nothing, and I just checked the sub-space log for messages."

"You don’t think the offer of a commission insulted him do you?"

"He was pretty proud of being a chief petty officer," Williams answered. "I don’t know. Would it matter if he accepted the position, but declined the promotion?"

"Not to me, but Starfleet might object."

"So when did that bother you?"

"Hmph," Kelsey countered with, then saw the shadow of a large person coming up the hall well before the Tellarite actually entered the room. "He came," Kelsey said, gratified.

Hrisherisch busted into the room snorting, his small, porcine eyes sparking with emotion. "You son of a sow from the last teat, how dare you!"

Kelsey ignored the obvious insubordination in the Tellarite’s words, knowing they were the polite speech of his species. "I dare much, you sow-less wonder. You have a wallow, and all the food you can eat, and you still complain?"

"Of course," Hrisch snorted, still coming forward, but with a three fingered—two that somewhat resembled an elongated cloven hoof, opposed by a third, shorter equivalent—hand offered in the traditional Human greeting. "And how do you fair, sir?" he said, his tone changing, softening.

"Can’t complain, Chief," Kelsey responded, accepting the handshake and returning firmness for firmness. "Doesn’t do any good anyway."

"Oh, but it does," Hrisch retorted. "It does one good to get it out in the open."

"Same ol’ chief," Kelsey replied, then brought his head as close as was polite for the Tellarite. "Does this mean you’ve accepted the assignment?" he said in a tone just above a whisper.

"Let’s see her," Hrisch responded back a little louder, the physiology of his mouth and throat not allowing for anything softer.

Kelsey led him to the portal, indicating the now denuded starship.

Hrisch took a long look, then snorted derisively. "Isn’t that a shame."

"Yes," Kelsey answered.

"Nothing like what she looked like when I went on liberty a couple days ago," Hrisch continued, but not allowing his gaze to leave the starship in the yard. "They’ve pulled her tusks. This isn’t the same ship."

"Did you read the history of the corvette class while you were assigned to her before?"

"Yes, I know," Hrisch brought his three digited hand to his slightly protruding jaw area. "They were designed as deep space scout ships, but," he added, making eye contact with Kelsey, "we did so much better with them during the war."

"I will miss her hull figure," Kelsey sighed.

"The snake?" Hrisch snorted, expressing his kind’s hatred for all serpents. "She’ll look cleaner this way."

"She is named after a serpent," Thorrell said from behind the Tellarite.

Hrisch’s entire attitude changed as he turned to face the source of that statement. "Well, I’ll be wallow dung and thrown into the fields, if it isn’t the Nova piglet that somehow managed to get himself shish-kabobbed."

"I would say you’re only one step from being the best part of a ham and eggs breakfast," Thorrell returned, mimicking Tellarite polite speech.

"Well, I guess you must have learned something since the last time I saw you, strung out on Doctor McCoy’s table, looking like a refugee from some piglet’s bug collection, you’re still standing."

"Yes, I have learned," Thorrell returned, softening his stance now that the formalities were over.

"And you, sire of a hundred litters, trying to be the father of your race, how are you?"

"I don’t think Starfleet will give me the time to live up to that claim, but I try," Hrisch grabbed the proffered hand and then pulled the Andorian into a mighty hug. "Glad to see you."

"And, me, too," Thorrell said as he tried to breathe, though his ribs protested.

"So," Hrisch said after releasing Thorrell. "What is your place here?"

"First Officer," Thorrell answered, standing taller.

Hrisch turned to Kelsey. "Will his antennae fit through the door after this?"

Kelsey snorted, trying to mimic Tellarite responses, "I think so." He then turned to introduce the other two officers in the room. "I think you know the rest as well."

Hrisch turned to Stronton first, but didn’t recognize him. "I don’t think I know this little piglet."

"Sure you do, Chief," Stronton stepped in.

Hrisch’s mouth dropped open as he started to make the connection. "No,"

"Yes, Chief."

"The little whelp with the hover-board?"

"One and only."

"But you can’t be old..."

Thorrell stepped up next to Stronton, and they chorused. "Super Nova!"

Hrisch turned to Kelsey. "Will we survive two of them on the same ship?"

Kelsey again snorted then turned to the final member present. "I think you know my chief science officer."

"Ah, yes, Ms. Williams," Hrisch said, his voice changing, becoming softer. "He spent so much time with you in my torpedo battery."


"All by himself," Hrisch snorted, then laughed.

"Daydreaming, Commander," Kelsey said, trying to explain, but knew by the look on Arlene’s face that it wasn’t over. "Off-line, okay? Later."

"You bet you will, sir."

"Sir?" The word exploded from the weapons chief’s mouth. "This kind of respect is normal between the sexes on Tellar. Coming from a Human female’s mouth? Never heard it before."

Williams waited for the Tellarite to stop the snorting that translated to laughter before setting him straight. "He’s the commander of the ship."

"Ah, I see," Hrisch finally got out, his look of mirth changing quickly when he saw how serious she had become, adding, "Of course. As it should be...sir."

"And the second part of my invitation?" Kelsey asked. "Does one so foul and without even the dignity of a wallow to call home accept a commission?"

"And sink deeper into a pit slime and gooh? Not in yours, or my, life, sir. I’m proud of my grade and will not have any other," Hrisch answered, the fur on the back of his neck bristled.

"Well, I guess I can’t have everything, Chief," Kelsey said, lowering his voice a bit. "But you do understand that in order for you to become a member of the bridge crew, you have to be commissioned ‘officially,’ but as far as I’m concerned, you’ll always be a ‘chief.’"

"Yes, of course, sir, and I thank you."

"Now," Kelsey raised the volume of his voice, " I believe we have a reason for being here? Let’s get this initial briefing under way. We’ve a lot of work to do before she," he pointed with his thumb over his shoulder, "is ready for deep space again. Then I’ve got an appointment with Admiral Gragrar of Starfleet Operations. I guess he wants to go over our new mission parameters."

Hrisch showed how impressed he was with this with a disgusting snort, but it was Thorrell who made the first comment. "Doesn’t sound good, Commander," Thorrell said, suspicion shading his voice.

"No, it doesn’t, but it doesn’t do any good to worry either. Enough of this small talk," Kelsey made it apparent that was all he wanted to talk along those lines. "She," he pointed at the ship outside the portal, "has many problems that action and time away from a space dock has created." He continued the briefing, but his mind kept mulling over what Gragrar could want.


"More power to the transport buffer, or we’ll lose her pattern for good," Transporter Chief Rion hissed, as he punched buttons on the suddenly berserk console in front of him. As if it wasn’t already too loud, the whine of conflicting and resisting electronics added another layer to its symphony, then there was a flash of an exploding circuit from the wall nearby. With a snap the carrier beam changed from its normal blue hue, to green, then to a sickly yellow.

"You mean we haven’t already?" Williams yelled, trying to be heard over the electrical white noise of a transporter gone haywire.

"No," Rion yelled back. "I can’t explain why, but she’s still in there."

Williams left the console, ran to a grill on a nearby wall, and pulled it free. With knowing swiftness, she yanked microcircuit boards and replaced them in a new pattern on the motherboard. Soon there was a new hum added to what was already deafening. "If that doesn’t do it," she yelled a moment later, "I don’t know what will." Stepping back to the console, she entered a new routine and initiated it. "Try to get her out now!"

Without responding, Rion slid the power bar to full and initiated the re-materialization circuit. A humanoid shape began to form. As suddenly as it had gone awry, the transporter shifted and began to function within Starfleet parameters. The carrier beam returned to its normal blue haze and the transport completed itself, leaving its passenger on the raised platform.

The room immediately filled with a scent as a green-skinned woman fell to the deck, her clothes literally disintegrating from her form.

"Jeez," Rion exhaled as he instantly reacted to what was kneeling there.

"What happened to her uniform, Rion?" Williams asked, unaware at first of Rion’s typical male reaction. "What happened to..." she repeated, then looked over to see why Rion wasn’t responding and found him staring mesmerized at the naked female, who seemed almost delirious.

She slammed her hand on the comlink on the wall. "Transporter Room One to Sickbay. We have a medical emergency!"

Orion females were always problems on Federation ships. Before the inclusion of the Barrier Alliance into the Federation, they were found only as slaves on pleasure planets, or as entertainment for the Orion men on pirate ships. It wasn’t unusual to find Orion males in Starfleet—space travel was not new to them—but an Orion female, now that was unusual. As a crewmember, they were more disruptive to the typical male population on a Federation starship than even a Deltan. The Deltan empathic abilities of both their male and female populations was provocative, it was, after all, a learned response. An Orion female body exuded every pheromone in the humanoid sexual library, crossing just about every species boundary in its effect. As long as the affected species was sexual in its reproductive manners—having male and female—the Orion female would affect the male, whether he wanted to, or not.

Having experienced this troubling problem with Elasian females and their addictive tears, the Federation knew how to combat it. If an Orion female managed to break free from that society’s extremely chauvinistic culture to join Starfleet, they were required to take medication, which stopped their body’s natural emanation of pheromone. Something obviously had happened to that mechanism during the faulty transport.

Williams noted the light scent in the air. "Lieutenant Rion, you are dismissed." He was useless in his present state and didn’t even start to react to her commands. Knowing he would fight her if she tried to man-handle him out the door, and that she stood no chance of managing that with her petite frame, she decided to try something else. Hitting the intercom, she opened an inter-ship channel.

"This is Sickbay," came the disembodied female voice of Doctor Shakura, the Fer D’Lance’s chief medical officer.

"Prepare to receive an intraship transport!"

"Nature of medical problem?" Shakura asked, her voice filled with the accent of someone who grew up on Earth’s India sub-continent.

"Transporter malfunction."

"And the subject is still alive?" Her tone was incredulous.

"Oh, yes," Williams answered, "very much so." She noted Rion moving out from behind the transporter console, his eyes glazed over, his face sporting a silly grin. She chuckled at the sight. I’ll get a holo-snap of it, and show it to him after he recovers, but for now... "Doctor, the transporter has stripped subject of her clothes and apparently her hormone control medication."

"I don’t understand how this is a medical emergency, Commander."

"She’s Orion, Doc."

"Oh," Shakura responded, deep understanding shading her voice. "Stand-by while I clear Sickbay of males. I’ll signal you when I’m ready."

Williams heard the door to the transporter room open and saw a corridor filled with male crewmen of several different species, all wearing the same stupid grin Rion was displaying, and all trying to get through the door at the same time. "Hurry up, Doc! This is getting real kinky, real fast."

The Orion wasn’t reacting normal either. Instead of the appreciative leer most Orion fems took on at the prospect of what was about to happen, she instead began to look panicked. Crouching, she took on a defensive posture, her gaze darting right and left as she tried to find an escape route. Rion mounted the platform and reached out for her. She deftly broke his arm for him, then kicked out, catching him smartly between the legs. At first, he only reacted with a grunt, his now wide-open eyes the only thing showing the surprise he felt. Finally, the pain reached his hormone-fogged mind, and he collapsed into a fetal position on the floor.

Williams opened the arms locker behind the console and took out a phaser. Setting it to its lowest level and on its widest projection angle, she ran to the platform, put herself between the Orion and the crowd of males and fired. As expected, they went down in a tumble. This was only temporary as she saw more coming in the corridor. Jumping over the tangle of bodies, she cleared the door of an unconscious Human. The door automatically shut. "Computer, Intruder Alert: Transporter Room One. Activate Security Lock on door." She heard a satisfying clank of locking bars within the mechanism, then returned to the control console before trying to find the Orion. The green female was backed all the way up to the transporter wall, fiercely staring at Rion, who, despite the pain that had him doubled over, was still trying to pull himself closer. Williams readjusted the phaser back to its normal stream and stunned him as well.

"Sickbay is ready, Commander," Shakura announced over the intercom.

"Stand-by, I’ve got to get her onto a pad and the rest off."

"The rest?"

"I must have twenty male crewmen phaser-stunned on the floor at this time."

"I’ll send a medical team to tend to them as well."

Williams dragged two stunned bodies off the platform. "Now for the hard part," she murmured as she faced the Orion, whose body language still screamed last defense. "Calm yourself," Williams said, using the tone of her voice to convey the message as well. "It’s over now."

The Orion relaxed, allowing herself to stand up straight from the crouch of a moment earlier.

She is beautiful, thought Williams as she removed her uniform jacket and offered it to the Orion. It wouldn’t be enough to cover all the female’s assets, but it would serve to make her more comfortable. "I am Lieutenant Commander Williams, Chief Science Officer of this ship. Are you all right, Ensign?" she purposely left off the name that Starfleet HQ had sent her prior to the transport in order to discern the female’s state of mind.

"What...what..?" the Orion’s facial features changed from aggression to a question.

"Don’t know yet," Williams answered the obvious question. "But first thing, first. Could you step onto this platform?"


Williams was a bit surprised by the Orion fem’s question. "Look around you. Have you no idea what caused this?"

"They are animals," she nearly spat as her gaze scanned the bodies all around the platform.

"Agreed," Williams said, then chuckled, " but for now, I think we need to get you to Sickbay."

"Can’t we just walk?" the Orion asked, her face changing to one of concern as she looked at the proffered platform. "I’m not sure I want to go through that again."

"Understandable, but..." She swept the scene with her hand. "We would have to phaser the entire male population to do it."


She must be suffering from amnesia as well if she really doesn’t know why, Williams thought as this question set off warning alarms in her mind. Orion females may not be considered by many to be very smart, considering their usual circumstance, but only a fool would believe they are unaware of their effect on males and what causes it. "Let’s just say it will be quicker this way, and leave it at that. Please, step to the platform." The Orion allowed herself to be led to the nearest circle on the floor. "Do you know your name, Ensign?"

"Ry..." the Orion started, then her gaze went blank as she tilted her head. "I don’t know. Do you?"

"Transport manifest says..." Williams walked back to the console and read what had been sent. "Torval Q’stor." Now why did she initially start to say Ry? Williams asked herself. That isn’t even close to her real name. This warrants an additional comment on the incident report.

"Torval Q’stor?" the Orion mouthed, her face screwed around with the question.

She even has trouble pronouncing it. Interesting, Williams thought as she brought the transporter back on-line and noted it seemed to be operating at maximum efficiency again. Interesting indeed. "Sickbay, prepare for Ensign Q’stor’s arrival."

"Ready," came Shakura’s response.

"Transport sequence beginning." Williams watched as Q’stor quickly disappeared in a shower of energy. "Do you have her, Sickbay?"

"Affirmative, Transporter Room One. Safe, sound and..." There was a pause, "...potent. Recommend you instruct the computer to set life support to screen out this pheromone. Even with that, I am going to recommend to Commander Thorrell that he adjust the duty schedule in that room, as well as Sickbay, so that only female crew members are present for a couple of days. I doubt a male could function well enough to get anything done in the mean time."

"Agreed," Williams answered, nodding her head absent-mindedly at the same time. "I’ll confirm that request as well."

"What’s her specialty?"

Williams scanned the transport manifest and pulled up the Starfleet orders assigning her to the Fer D’Lance—Medical Department, Physical Conditioning. Why doesn’t that surprise me? Williams thought. "Well, Doc, she belongs to your section as the physical training and conditioning officer."

"Phew," Shakura whistled from her end. "I can see how we’ll have no problem getting half the crew to their scheduled work out sessions, but it won’t help the female half. Well, Ensign Q’stor will be ready for duty shortly. Though I’m not sure the crew is ready for her—pheromones, or not."



"Do you understand your mission, Commander?" Admiral Gragrar asked, his presentation completed.

Kelsey felt the honor of being personally presented the mission parameters by Starfleet’s Chief of Operations. Kelsey knew from past experience that Gragrar had been working his way through the admiralty’s staff ranks for quite some time. "Six months ago I would have jumped at this mission," Kelsey said, responding to what he’d just heard from Gragrar. "Shoot, even up to two weeks ago I’d have asked ‘what for’ already half way there, but that was before they pulled the Fer D’Lance’s teeth and made her into a science vessel."

"Never the less, that is your assignment, Commander," the Tellarite admiral responded, the emotional warmth of his voice at absolute zero. "The Fer D’Lance is not an issue for this mission."

Now what does that mean? Kelsey thought as he heard the last part of the admiral’s comment. "Let me see if I’ve got this straight," Kelsey continued, trying to be cordial, a failing of personality, but still there, nonetheless. "You want me to scout out the region of space near Beta Lacertae, near where a Tholian outpost was found before the Kelvan arrival."

"You got it."

"And what if we find Tholian colonies there?"

"Survey the extent of their expansion and report back."

"Is that all?"


Kelsey sat up straighter in the chair.

Gragrar handed him a data chip.

"Can I read it now?"

"Of course," the Tellarite admiral grunted. "Why else would I give it to you now?"

What could he possibly mean by that? he thought as he slipped the data crystal into the personal reader all Starfleet officers carried on them.

"No. No. No! No!! NO!!! Sir! I must protest!"


"Yes, sir."

"Protest what, Commander?" Gragrar didn’t like being surprised. It always invoked strong emotions in Tellarites, usually a fight or flight reaction.

Kelsey kept reading. There was line after line of orders that were absolutely contrary to what he’d been planning on. "Protest this," he said, then remembered to add, "sir. Do you know how many hours we—?"

"Of course, Commander."

"But, sir," Kelsey cried as he got to his feet.

"At ease, Commander," the admiral said, putting every nuance of authority his porcine voice could carry.

"Sir," Kelsey said, coming to the position of attention.

Gragrar stood and came out from behind his desk and faced Kelsey. "I have never, in my entire career seen an officer as contrary as what you just demonstrated. Not even a Tellarite such as myself would act as childish as you are. I’m aware that Humans are not Vulcans, but get a grip on yourself, son."

"But, sir?" he stopped short as Gragrar brought his finger up between them.

"What exactly are you upset about? Your promotion?"

"No, sir. I’ve felt deserving of it for some time."

"Then it’s the complimentary promotion of your senior officers that bothers you?"

"No, sir. They’re all as deserving as I am."

"Then, I suppose you have a problem with commanding a larger compliment of crew?"

"No, sir. I can handle anything Starfleet throws at me."

"Except this one thing," the admiral said, relaxing a bit.

"I guess so, sir. It’s not about me, sir. It’s what Starfleet is doing to the Lance."

"Oh, I see," Gragrar answered, turning away from Kelsey and walking back around the desk. "Pride of first command. I can honestly say I know exactly what you’re talking about." He paused for only a moment, an unfocused look to his eyes as he remembered the occasion. "Be at ease, Commander, and sit back down."

"Yes, sir, but...?"

Gragrar silenced him with a swipe of his hand. "Though initially designed as deep exploration ships, the corvette saw its first and best place as a warship. Pound for pound, not even a dreadnought could match it."

"Exactly, sir, that’s why I don’t understand."

"They’re not big enough..."

"Sir, we heard that argument before. Sure they can’t take a lot of punishment, but you can’t hit what you can’t see."

Gragrar waited patiently for Kelsey to finish, then continued, "Please, Commander, will you let me finish?"

Kelsey sank down in his chair, realizing what he’d done wrong. "I apologize, sir."

"It’s not about that, Commander. I agree that they are one of the finest warships ever created by Starfleet’s space docks, and, yes, someday, we might need such a pure warship again. We don’t need them right now. The problem with their size is that they don’t have enough room for the amenities necessary to keep a crew mentally healthy for the long tedium of a standard exploration mission. Can you imagine spending the time necessary for a long trip, without any contact with other Starfleet vessels, or facilities, in a corvette?"

"Sir, I’ve just logged seven years in command of that corvette. She deserves better than this." Kelsey sighed, and felt defeat creep into his thoughts. "During the war, we always had other ships with us. We never had a moment to spend with daily routine. You could never predict what would happen next. After the war, for six years we did all these mop up missions."

"But you were usually part of a task force or group, Commander. If I recall correctly, you were usually not even in command of these assignments."

"No, I wasn’t. I usually had to answer to folks like Captain Shoop of the Saratoga, or Captain Jawalahara of the Yorktown."

"Sherrie’s a sweetie, and Sandy is the biggest asshole in Starfleet," Gragrar grunted. "He makes me look like Saint Jude." He grunted again. "But for this assignment, you need a bigger ship, Commander. Much bigger."

Then a new thought brightened Kelsey’s mood. "So what ship am I getting?"

"It’s in the orders, Commander. Didn’t you read them all the way through? Or did you decide to lop off my ears and trotters without reading them?"

Kelsey fell silent as he finished the orders. "The Chosin, sir? For a moment, the name meant nothing to Kelsey, then he remembered the ship that had been berthed next to the Lance not more than an hour ago and he felt adrenaline’s excitement burn through his arteries. "The Chosin, sir?!"

"Constellation-class fast cruiser. This one’s fresh out of the oven, I’m told. It will be large enough to suite our purposes. Commodore Po has tried very hard to reserve command of them to the corvette commanders whose ships were being de-commissioned."

"Fast cruiser, my hiney," Kelsey muttered under his breath. "I know I counted six phaser batteries on her primary and four photon torpedo launchers on her warp engine pylons."

"The Chosin has extensive facilities designed particularly for situations found during deep space exploration," Gragrar responded to Kelsey’s observation. "The weapons, as you know, are for self defense only."

Forgot about the sensitivity of Tellarite hearing, thought Kelsey. Not quite as good as a Vulcan’s, but still far better than that of a Human. "Of course, sir. As per policy." Kelsey felt the first glow of pride brighten his demeanor. "Wow," he whispered.

"I thought you’d appreciate that, commander. Or should I say? Captain?" Gragrar clasped his hooves in front of him and waited. This time he felt he had the Human figured right. "That is, if you accept the command?" His head cocked a little and his dark eyes almost twinkled.

Kelsey was lost in an internal viewing of his new command when he realized what the admiral had just said. "What? Oh, yeah, of course, sir. I accept!"

"She’s brand-new and will need work before she’s ready for deep space."

"No problem, sir. I’ve got the best crew in the fleet. We’ll get her space worthy in no time."

"I have no doubts about that, Captain. Dismissed."

"Thank you, sir." Kelsey turned sharply and left the office, then turned back. "Ah, sir?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"Do any of the rest know?"

"No, I thought we’d leave that to you, Captain. Oh, and one more thing."

"Yes, Admiral?"

"We’ll have a formal presentation when we officially decommission the Fer D’Lance and commission the Chosin tomorrow. Do you think you can have all the protocol and amenities ready by then?"

"I think so, sir."

"SpaceDock has already begun modifying the Lance for her new owners. The Hawking Institute intends to use her for exploration of black holes. They’re pulling out the weapons systems and putting in a bunch of sensor packages."

"I saw that, sir. We’ll keep out of their way," Kelsey said, his mind already churning through the new details that would have to be seen to before all this could happen. "Can I see the Chosin today, sir. Sort of like a sneak preview of things to come?"

"Cleared through SpaceDock Security already. All you have to do is pay their office a visit. They already have all the orders necessary to change over her command codes to you." Gragrar shifted his attention from the work on his BellComm’s viewscreen to Kelsey. "Very good, Captain. Now, get out of here. I have better things to do than answer your questions and put up with your insubordination today."

The fact that his attention immediately shifted back to the computer told Kelsey the meeting was over. He was about to leave when the admiral began to say something else. He snorted and cleared his throat.

"Yes, sir?"

"Have her ready for inspection in two weeks."

"I don’t know, sir. I can’t accurately predict that until my engineer and I have a chance to look her over."

"Was that a question I put to you, Captain? You will have her ready for inspection and a shakedown cruise in two weeks."

"Yes, sir!" Kelsey acknowledged the order.


"What?!" Thorrell roared, his voice echoing off the inner bulkheads of the Lance’s single shuttle bay.

"She’s being decommissioned and turned over to the Hawking Institute," Kelsey repeated to the same assembly of senior officers he’d only for the first time brought together earlier in the day. He was having a hard time maintaining the dramatic mask he’d assumed the moment he’d entered the ship. All the way back from Starfleet Headquarters, he’d debated how he would break the bittersweet news.

He looked at the faces around him. Thorrell’s was by far the most volatile, but except for Williams’, the rest were showing varying degrees of distress. Most likely from the unknown of what was going to happen next, Kelsey thought. Arlene knows I have something up my sleeve, I bet. He’d learned from experience that he could hide nothing from her. Sometimes I think the Vulcans are rubbing off on us Humans. We’re starting to display many of their characteristics, his thoughts meandered.

"So what are we going to do?" Stronton offered.

"Yes, what is going to happen to us?" Thorrell added the strength of his voice to that question.

Except for a snort from Chief Hrisch, the rest were silent.

"We do as we’re ordered," Kelsey’s voice remained stern.

Cutting off any further disrespectful questions, Kelsey pulled out his communicator and opened a channel. "Transporter Room Two," he paused to study the effect of his command on their faces and was not disappointed. "Energize."

Everyone in the shuttle bay disappeared into a haze of transporter energy.

Kelsey saw a slight shift of surroundings through the blue, shimmering fog that now surrounded him. As his vision cleared, he noted that except for the circle of white light they all now stood in, the surroundings were pitch black. He knew they were still in a shuttle bay, the smallest research bay of his new command. As he’d planned, the rest of his company would be kept ignorant for a moment more. The transporter had put them dead center of the circle of light. He saw the surprise and curiosity on all their faces, including Arlene’s. What impressed him more was that there was not one sign of fear. "This is our new home for the next, say, five to ten years."

"Where is here, sir?" Thorrell asked, none too awed by what his commander had just done.

Good, thought Kelsey, they’re already accepting that I would not bring them to a worse situation. Putting his hand held transmitter away, he addressed the air around him. "Computer."

The female voice that every Starfleet computer used to communicate to the carbon-based units that rode the ships they serviced, answered the call. "Computer on-line. Voice pattern recognized: Kelsey, Shaun, Captain, Starfleet, ship’s commander."

"Voice pick-up?" came one querying voice.

"What ship is this?" came another.

"No more looking for an intercom?" Thorrell enthusiastically piped in. "Great!"

"Captain?" came a familiar female voice within the group.

Kelsey found the source of the voice and saw the look of pride Lieutenant Commander Williams was giving him. He nodded slightly to her, then continued his command. "Computer, bring the lights up in Shuttle Bay Delta."

The lights came up illuminating its entirety. They were facing the titanium door that separated the inner bay and the vacuum of the dock area. Written in standard, in the bold letters of Starfleet was the name:

U.S.S. Chosin


"Chosen," queried Stronton. "As in the chosen, sir?

"No, Ensign, it is pronounced, Cho-sin," Kelsey answered, emphasizing the last syllable of the name. "The history of the name can be found by accessing the computer records on Earth history, twentieth century, United States of America, Korean War, Chosin Reservoir. I leave it up to each and every one of you to look it up and be familiar with the details. You are responsible for disseminating it to the rest of the crew. I doubt very seriously you’ll have any difficulty creating pride in it as the name carries tonnes of honor."

"What kind of ship is it, sir?" Thorrell asked.

"What took you so long?" Kelsey, responded, smirking. "Computer."


"Activate viewscreen, Shuttle Bay Delta, and show view from SpaceDock video sensor Epsilon Twenty-Eight."

The viewscreen came on, glowing with the blue and white Federation symbol.

"It better be bigger," Thorrell quipped, then, "By all the shells..." the rest of his epithet was drowned out by the collective intake and sigh of the others.

Kelsey felt an arm slip around his and knew that Arlene had joined him at his side. "She’s beautiful, dear. Thank you."

"For what?" Kelsey responded to her in a voice just loud enough to be heard by her.

"For taking care of us."

"There’s more."

"More?" Williams asked, using a tone of voice she subconsciously knew he might respond to.

"Ah, dear," Kelsey responded, chuckling a little under his breath, "there is always more, but let me have a few secrets." He saw her pout and he touched her cheek. "Don’t worry; you’ll like it."

"I’m not worried," she replied, and removed her arm from his.

Kelsey returned his attention to the screen. The ship...his ship, was the one berthed right next to his old command in space dock. The transport hadn’t been far, almost too short to comply with the minimum distance specified by the manuals. She was a Constellation-class fast cruiser, somewhere in size between the Constitution class heavy—the Enterprise—and the Miranda-class frigate—the Reliant. In one aspect, the Chosin was similar in appearance to the Reliant in that she had only one hull—the saucer-shaped primary hull, which was the trademark of Starfleet. But that was where the resemblance ended.

The Constellation-class had their engineering sections located in a rectangular box that was inserted neatly into the back of the saucer, and they had the warp nacelles attached to stanchions that were located behind the primary hull. Unlike anything else in Starfleet, the Constellation-class had four warp nacelles, in an equi-distant cubic formation, attached two above and two below engineering by T-bar shaped stanchions.

"What kind of matter-antimatter intermix chamber can power that many nacelles?" Doctor Shakura hissed, breathing her question, rather than speaking it.

"It’s not so much larger," Stronton piped in with an answer, "but a more economical use of dilithium and power transfer technologies. You will note that the nacelles themselves are not the same size as the previous standard. Instead, though smaller, they distribute the warp field into a perfect spherical shaped field rather than the flattened ovoid produced by only two. This allows quicker formation, entry into, and withdrawal from sub-space."

Thorrell began breathing hard, almost a pant. His eyes were lidded nearly shut. "Music to my ears. Like a Super...."

"Nova!" Stronton joined Thorrell in completing the statement, exchanging a pattern of hand slapping that was well known between Nova graduates of Starfleet.

"Not only that," Stronton continued after a moment. "It is capable of generating a large enough warp area to allow other ships to enter."

"For rescue missions?" Doctor Shakura offered.

"Well, yes," Stronton answered, pulling his mouth down into a frown, and nodding his head slightly. "We could use this same corridor to transport objects or people to and from another ship at warp, maybe. I hadn’t thought of that use, but it will also allow us to fire phasers at warp speeds if we can just get close enough. I can predict that if we adjust the emitters a bit, we can actually thin and extend the sphere of influence so that we could push it forward to form a sub-space corridor to the target ship and fire our phasers through it."

"Not recommended, Lieutenant Stronton," Kelsey jumped in here, noting that the rest of the senior staff was becoming quite bored with the deep technical talk. "But something to keep in mind, if we should need such tactics on an exploratory mission such as ours."

A porcine snort erupted from the gathering.

"Yes, Chief Hrisch, what is it?" Kelsey acknowledged his tactical officer.

"I can’t see the best part of her, sir. What about her tusks?"

"Teeth, Chief?" Thorrell corrected the Tellarite chief petty officer.

"No, you sty refuse, tusks...weapons...the rest of your teeth are only for grinding and processing. From this angle, I can’t see but two phaser batteries. I know she must have more."

"And why is that, Chief?" Kelsey asked, verbally jumping between the Tellarite, and what his species considered polite speech, and his Andorian first officer, who obviously was taking offense at the same use.

"With all that available power, she must have powerful weapons."

"But we are at peace, Chief. What do we need weapons for?" Kelsey was having fun with his chief weapons officer.

"War, peace," snorted Hrisch, "what difference when you explore the unknown. A first contact does not always result in friends."

"Exactly, Chief, and precisely what I told Admiral Gragrar when he reminded me that the weapons of Starfleet’s starships were strictly defensive. But," Kelsey continued, raising his hand to interrupt a comment from the chief, "you will note that the Chosin is adequately equipped to handle just about any known threat we may have to ‘defend’ against. Computer," Kelsey said, not waiting for a further prod from the impatient Tellarite.


"Search the space dock video sensors for the appropriate angles to show and locate the target ship’s offensive weaponry."

The screen changed in response. They were now looking at the ship from above. Three circles of light appeared on the top of the saucer halfway between the bridge dome in the center and the outside edge. Two were equi-distant from the bridge, port and starboard, the upraised dome of the bridge dividing the line between them in half. The third was the same distance from the bridge as the twins on either side, but located along the ships forward lateral center line. There was a red dot at the rear of the port edge of the saucer, near its juncture with engineering as well.

Ignoring the red dot for the moment, Kelsey began his description. "The three white circles locate the three top-side phaser batteries. Each are equipped with two phaser emitters in the standard Starfleet configuration and wattage, with peak power attained by shunting through the matter/anti-matter drive." He looked around to see if there were any questions. Seeing none, he continued. "Next," he said to the computer.

The screen shifted to an angle of view from straight below. Again there were three white circles and the single red dot in the same corresponding positions on the ship, only this time the center of the saucer was pinpointed by the sensor/deflector array. "Three more batteries of the same configuration as the top. Plus you’ve got a mega-phaser turret capable of doubling the firepower of two banks. It’s a carryover from the old Soyuz class. It’s got some limitations, but it’s still rather useful in head to head combat."

"With that kind of pattern we can target four phaser emitters per target?" Williams asked.

"Actually," Hrisch said in his grunting accent, "in most cases we should be able to fire six, except in the case of extreme rearward angles where there would be a narrow blind spot."

"Next," Kelsey asked.

The screen shifted to a sensor right in front of the cruiser. Zooming in, and narrowing its range, it focused on a large, dark open maw located dead center on the horizontal portion of the T-bar stanchion holding the topside warp nacelles.

"Four photon tubes," Kelsey offered before anyone else could do the same. "Two up top, two on the bottom stanchion."

"Larger than standard," Hrisch said, making an observation.

"They are," Kelsey answered. "Though it will still fire the standard Marks One through Six, it will also launch even Heavy Duty Communications Buoys which we’ll need to be able to use to maintain contact with Starfleet from extreme distances. We will also be carrying a new type of photon weapon that requires the larger tube."

"Not the Mark Eights!" Hrisch grunted, sounding more porcine with his excitement.

"Mark Eights, Chief?" Thorrell interjected.

"Haven’t you learned to read yet, piglet?" Hrisch retorted.

"Let me remind you..."

Hrisch glanced quickly at Kelsey, a sharp gleam of glee there. Kelsey knew the Tellarite was thoroughly enjoying the fact that Thorrell was still not used to the ‘polite’ language of Tellarites, and that, like all members of his species, he was going to enjoy teaching this first officer how to accept it. Kelsey once again verbally came between them. "As Hrisch is so politely trying to say, Commander Thorrell, they are in the latest Starfleet technical updates, but their security restrictions are limited to those whose specialty is weapons, and the command crews of ships so equipped."


"Yes, Thorrell, politely," Kelsey said, then turned to Hrisch. "For the sake of ship unity, Chief, you must refrain from using it until everyone is up to date on it."

Hrisch snorted his derision and the loss of such fun, but then nodded his head. "Yes, sir," then went on to explain in as general terms as he was allowed to do for security reasons. "The Mark Eights have Multiple Vector Warhead capability."

"Which is?" Doctor Shakura volunteered, the blank look of ignorance on her Indian sub-continent face.

"I guess I can’t expect a healer to know this," Hrisch quipped, letting the doctor down easy. "Let’s see, how can I explain this without violating Starfleet security classification regulations." Hrisch stopped and thought for a minute. "Okay," he said after a moment. "Using the fruit called an orange on Earth. It is divided into many sections within the common outer peal."

"Yes, of course," Shakura responded.

"These sections can be broken totally down, each having a smaller quantity of content within it, in case you want a little."


"Or, you can choose to combine any number of sections for more, to include just taking a bite out of the whole thing, and getting it all at once."


"That’s it, Doctor," Hrisch snorted in unbelief that she didn’t get it. "If I make it any clearer I’d have to kill you before you leave this room."

"What?" Shakura sputtered in disbelief.

Hrisch turned and looked at Kelsey. "I even put it in a Human joke, and she still is offended?"

"No, Chief, just give her a moment of thought, and she’ll figure it out, but since you’re all on the command staff now I’ll make it more clear. The Multiple Vector Warhead is a torpedo with multiple warheads inside. We can choose to shoot the torpedo and leave them all together giving the weapon an extremely large wallop, or individually target each warhead, allowing a wide enough spread to take out whole formations of smaller craft all at once."

"Now why didn’t he say that?" Shakura cajoled.

"Boys and their toys," Williams whispered to her sotto voce.

"My real question here is—looking at where the tubes are located, there can’t be much room for the crew that man it, and why would you put someone in such a perilous position? If the warp stanchion gets cut, you’ll lose everyone that mans the crew as well," reasoned Shakura.

"Point well made, Doctor," Kelsey responded, then made eye contact with Hrisch, "I think you can answer this better, Chief."

"I should hope so, piglet," Hrisch responded, continuing with the polite talk when addressing Kelsey. "The actual location for the weapons crew of each of these tubes is in Engineering. Right, here," he pointed to the aft portion of the ship on the screen. "The weapons are taken from here, to the tube’s breech here," he pointed again, "by a complex set of transporter procedures that insures the anti-matter warhead is never left exposed."

"It just sounds like it gives an accident a chance to happen," Shakura added. "What if the transporter’s timing is off?"

"If it’s off by even the slightest amount, the anti-matter will come in contact with the matter surrounding it, and BOOM," Hrisch said, adding dramatic hoof and arm gestures to emphasize his point.

"Sounds pretty precarious to me."

"There are numerous safety protocols in place to prevent it. And there is a mechanical turbolift system that immediately takes over in case the transporter shows the slightest inkling of failure. It’s not as fast, but it will still allow us to fire and at a good rate of speed."

"There is another of these tubes in the bottom stanchion as well. Both have the ability to fire fore and aft." Kelsey added, finishing that line of questions.

"I think with the Multiple Vector Warhead ability, that pretty well fills the blind spot problem, doesn’t it," Thorrell said to Hrisch.

"Yes, sir, they have to get pretty close in that angle to still use it. Not many starships out there small enough to hide there, and we could still vector a standard Mark Six to take care of that."

"What about the red dot?" Williams asked.

Kelsey choose to ignore the question on purpose. "There is one other aspect of this ship that can make her one of the most powerful weapons platform in the fleet."

Silence in the bay told him that he had them fuddled. "Computer."


"Show Shuttle Bays."

The screen split into three parts showing the bow, starboard and port sides of the saucer. Huge space doors could be seen located there, with four smaller ones located two each on either side of the port and starboard mains.

"We are presently located inside the aft starboard research bay, where the red dot is located on the screen. If you’ll follow me, we’ll move next door." He led them to a small doorway. It opened with a whoosh and gave them access to the corridor beyond. Kelsey turned left and walked a tenth of the arc of the saucer to another similar door. A green light next to the door told them all that the room beyond was pressurized. The door opened, and they entered a shuttle bay three times the size of the one they just left.

"Do you see any difference here?" Kelsey asked the group.

Stronton walked forward and examined one of the launch platforms. "It’s heavier than standard, yet the same width."

"Very good, Lieutenant," Kelsey said, then turned to the group. "Anyone here ever work with Marines before?"

Stronton slapped his hand to his forehead. "That’s where I’ve seen this before. They’re for the fighters the Marines use to support their landings."

"Exactly, Ghilar," Kelsey rewarded the chief engineer. "We can carry a wing of Killer Bee class fighters and a regiment of Marines."

A collective "phew" went up from the officers present.

"And this is still considered an exploration cruiser?" questioned Thorrell. "It’s more like an assault cruiser."

"My thoughts as well, Number One, but that’s what we have," Kelsey concluded. "All right, that’s the extent of my tour. You will each have to fill in all the blanks by yourself. Number one?"

"Yes, sir?" Thorrell answered, his all business expression revealing he was ready to get to work.

"The full crew of the Fer D’Lance will be transferred here. Get them to work immediately. We will be receiving additional members to complete her compliment."

"Yes, sir."

"People, we have two weeks to take this brand, squeaky new, ship and make her ready for inspection by the admiralty, and deep space soon thereafter." Kelsey saw more than one or two looks of disbelief at the short fuse. "I am confident you all can do it. Any questions?"

There was silence.

"Another thing," Kelsey continued after a few minutes. "The Lance will be decommissioned at seventeen hundred hours this afternoon. Uniform is dress formal, no exceptions, and you all will be there. Any questions about that?"

The bay remained silent.

"It’s your show, Number One," Kelsey said after a few minutes. "I’ll be on the bridge if you need me." He exited the bay using the door they’d just entered. Just as it was almost closed he heard Thorrell’s authoritative voice say, "All right, you heard the man..." and then the door shut and sealed, cutting off any further sound.

The corridor was silent with its lack of crew. The lack of intercom boxes was conspicuous. It won’t take me long to get used to that, thought Kelsey as he continued walking toward where he knew there was a turbolift. Right away, he noted the lack of severity of the corridor’s arc as it orbited the central computer core that marked the heart of the starship. Not like the Lance, he thought as he made the comparison, this ship is so much larger.

A moment later he entered the lift. "Bridge."

"Bridge," repeated the computer voice.

The lift sped up the shaft, shifting directions twice as it moved laterally to a tube leading to the top of the central computer core. Kelsey felt none of the bone crushing changes, protected inside by smaller models of the same inertial dampers that allowed the crew to survive jumps to warp speed without being crushed to the back of each room within the starship. Moments later, the door opened, and Kelsey entered the control nexus of the Chosin.

"It’s a lot bigger than the corvette’s bridge," Kelsey said to himself, "but only a little bit bigger than what I trained on under Kirk in the old Enterprise." Unlike most Starfleet vessels, the bridge was not truly circular in shape. There were two turbolift ports along the back wall on either side of the ship’s system status monitor. To the left side of the port turbolift was the ship’s tactical station. To the right side of the starboard turbolift was the ship’s science station. The ship’s system status boards were located in between the turbolift doors. The upper deck had no other stations. Two rails separated the science and tactical stations from the lower area.

There were other big differences that he could see right away: There were two command chairs on a tier one step down from the upper deck, each identical from a cursory view. That would be for the first officer, identified Kelsey to himself, under the new tactical methods, the first officer fights the ship, while I maneuver her. I read that was how they fought ships back in the surface fleets of Earth. He nodded his head in agreement with the new arrangement. They may look alike from here, but a detailed examination of the right arm would show different functions, his thoughts concluded.

In front of the command tier, there was a fairly standard helm-navigation console, complete with the new-style holographic navigation dome in between them. Before the helm-nav console, the mainviewer sat, its screen dark. To the right of the mainviewer was an engineering console without a chair, and to the left was an environmental console, again without a chair. Apparently the bridge of the Chosin would have minimal staffing requirements.

He was tempted to go straight to the left side center seat—his command chair—but resisted the urge. Instead, he toured the stations mounted to the wall. Memories flooded past his inner view as he checked out each one. At one time, or another, during his rise through the command ranks, he’d sat at each one, learning what the job entailed. He completed the tour and found something missing.

He reversed the order of his inspection and once again found no communications console. "Where’s Communications?"

The computer picked up his voiced question. "Communications has been consolidated with Navigation on the right side of the helm-navigation console. In the event of an emergency, redundant communications controls are located on a slide out panel at the tactical station."

"And the weapons station?"

"All ship’s weaponry systems have been transferred to Tactical, including a targeting scanner viewer which raises from the console top when activated."

"Similar to the old Enterprise, eh? Cool, but it will take some getting used to," Kelsey commented.

"Please restate the question."

"Computer, disregard any further questions or remarks unless I precede them with the word, ‘Computer,’ thereby addressing you directly."

"Understood," the computer answered and went silent.

Did I detect a hint of disappointment? Kelsey thought as he approached the navigation station. Sure enough, the board was subdivided into two distinct areas. Navigation on the left, communications on the right. At the helm station, the ship guidance and control systems was one of the most comprehensive he’d ever seen. He stepped up to the tactical station, and admired its complexity. "I guess it would have to be to be able to control all the fire power of this queen of devastation." Kelsey’s mouth turned down a bit, his eyebrows raising as he nodded his head with approval, "Hmph," he grunted through his nose.

He went back to the science area and stood in front of the science station. "Computer."


It is time, he thought. "Transfer all command codes to me."

"Voice identification confirms you are Kelsey, Shaun, Captain, Starfleet. State activation security password."

"Epsilon Three Six Eight Two Omega Epsilon."

"Password accepted; all command codes are transferred successfully. Welcome aboard, Captain."

"Thank you, computer. Activate all bridge stations and ship-wide systems."

The previous quiet of the sleeping bridge woke up to a cacophony of booting systems. "Ah," Kelsey breathed, "that’s what’s missing." He walked over to the left hand command chair and stood in front of it, hesitating for only just a moment, then sat. "Mainviewer, forward angle."

Nothing happened.

Now what, he thought, his mouth pulling slightly to the side. Have I found my first bug already? Then, he realized what was wrong. "How stupid can I get? Computer, mainviewer, forward angle."

The screen glowed to life, showing a section of the inside edge of the space dock. "Find the Fer D’Lance and display it.

His old command came into view; though it no longer was armed with its weapons pods or phaser banks, it still resembled his ship. A maintenance crew had already removed the Starfleet markings for it, and were now painting its new designation on the primary hull: S.S. Burnham, NAR-6245. "And so the sun sets on you, my girl. But like a phoenix rising from its ashes, you’re going to live again," he said, as a tear broke free from his watering eyes.

The doors to the turbolift opened and Thorrell entered with a rush. "Now this is the kind of bridge for me—big, spacious."

"Just right for your big head, Nova," Kelsey said in a false mocking tone of voice.

"That’s right, Reggie, something I missed on those smaller ships, and, huh," Thorrell stopped in his tracks, his gaze locked onto the seat at Kelsey’s side. "Is that...?"

"Yes, Thorrell, it’s the first officer’s station."

"Well, I’ll be hatched early and set out to starve," Thorrell literally leaped at the seat and sat in it, examining every aspect of the command console on the right arm. "Now this is more like it." He began to slouch a bit and stared at the mainviewer.

Both were silent for a moment, letting the ship’s electronic life serenade them.

"It feels like home already."


"I’ve just finished a quick tour of all her primary sections."


"She’s a good ship and will bring the Federation much honor," Thorrell continued.

"I suspect she’ll more than live up to her namesake."

"Yep," Thorrell mimicked Kelsey’s slang.

"Yep," Kelsey responded.




Captain’s Log, Stardate 9494.5

Chosin is presently in the Sol system. It’s been two years since its commissioning, and yet Starfleet still has us conducting the occasional milk run. This time, it’s to Jupiter Station on behalf of Starfleet Base Operations. Seems that some visiting ambassador has a taste for sushi, and we’re bringing in over three dozen varieties of sushi rolls, soy sauce and fresh wasabi and ginger. I kid you not; I don’t know when the Federation decided to convert the Constellation class to catering missions, but I’ve been assured that this is a really special ambassador the Federation is trying to impress. The Chosin is supposed to be receiving new supplies, and we’re next in the queue at SpaceDock. I’m to deliver the sushi, and rush back to the San Francisco Naval Yard.

Meanwhile, I also have an ear to subspace, keeping abreast to the currents of events outside official information coming from Starfleet headquarters. It is clear that there are many things going on deep within the fleet besides what is reported by fleet and media alike.

Reference the loss of the Jenolen on its passenger run to the retirement colony on Norpin V. Chekov and the Enterprise-B warped out of dock earlier today to begin a search and rescue mission. I wish we were assigned to assist. Captain Scott is a dear friend to me as well. If anyone can find that crusty ol’ Scotsman, Chekov can, even though this would be like finding a specific electron in the air around Earth.

As a final part to this log entry, I should commend the ship’s galley in their preparations for Christmas. They have come a long ways toward preparations for this gala event, all the while having to deal with the ambassador’s catering needs.


"You ready for your work out, dear?" a very familiar voice said from behind him.

"I’m always ready for a work out," Kelsey responded as he turned to face the source of the voice. Arlene was in sweats, her hair bound up and out of the way, a sweatband helping to hold any stray strands from her eyes, and a towel draped around her neck. "Oh, that kind of work out." He let a mock look of disappointment settle onto his facial features as he stood to face her.

It drew a knowing smile from her, and she moved toward him, her arms going around his neck. They kissed lightly and her green eyes stared into his eyes of blue. "Later," she whispered, "after you’ve warmed up."

"But what if my warm up burns me out," he teased. "I’m not as young as I used to be, you know," he continued, letting his hands roam down the small of her back, to end up on her backside.

"The day an Irishman can’t respond to a pretty lady’s attention is the day Hell freezes over," she teased right back, but allowed herself a moment of warmth tucked away in his strong arms. Disengaging, she gave him a light tap on the backside. "Let’s go, or we’ll both have perdition to pay to the good doctor."

"Ah, what does she know?"

"Enough, evidently," Arlene answered, pinching a role of extra flesh located around his mid-section. "Let’s go."

"Oh, all right."

The Chosin’s workout area was three times the size of the Fer D’Lance. It actually was almost a gymnasium, but with lower ceilings. The couple immediately noted that there was almost standing room only, the open area filled with crewmembers.

"What do you notice, sir?" Williams said, just above a whisper.

Kelsey noted the "sir" on the end of her statement. His wife was very good at remembering proper protocol outside their quarters. This had been the most difficult part of their contract together, maintaining the intimacy as husband and wife and the professional relationship of senior and junior officer. His memories flashed briefly to his youth and the traditional, now actually, extremely outdated, upbringing his Da had raised him with. I wonder if I could have accepted Arlene being my senior, he thought. An elbow to the ribs quickly brought him back to reality. "What?"

"What are you staring at?"

Kelsey hadn’t even realized that he’d been staring, but now that his attention had been brought to it, centered in his gaze was Ensign Q’Stor. She was in a standard Starfleet physical training uniform, but she filled it better than most.

"Nothing..." he stammered, embarrassed by her question. "Well, actually, I guess..."

"Typical male programming."


She imitated testing the air for scents by sticking her nose into the air and taking in a long drought. "Not a hint of Orion pheromone in the air, and you guys are all gah-gah."

He noted the smile on her face and knew he wasn’t in any real trouble. "Well, I’m sorry, ma’am, but my programming was not my own. I think someone much higher up on the scale of authority had a lot to do with it."

She smiled and grabbed his arm to steer him toward another part of the gym—the weight room.

"They," he indicated the rest of the male crewmen, "will never tire of her presence, I’m afraid. It’s been two years since she came aboard, and—"

"I’m not worried."

"Yeah, right, that’s why you’re cutting off the circulation to my hand with your grip on my arm?"

She released his arm, as it was her turn to be embarrassed. "Yeah, well, just call it female programming."

"Okay," he said, as they entered the weight room.

It was immediately noted that there would be no waiting lines for the machines as the only occupants were a couple of Vulcan crew members and a few females, who seemed to have the same look of disgust as what Williams was unconsciously wearing. They both headed for the mats and began a series of exercises designed to warm up their muscles and prepare them for unaccustomed work.

"Maybe you should order them," she said, indicating the crowd in the open area, "for mental conditioning by these guys," she likewise indicated the Vulcans.

Stretching exercises were bittersweet, feeling both good and bad at the same time, but he knew from painful experience what would happen if he didn’t perform them. "I think they’ve tried for years now."

"...not hard enough," she said through a grunt and she touched her nose to the mat.

Just watching her do that hurts me, he thought as he attempted something else less strenuous. "How do you try harder than a Vulcan, dear?"

"I don’t know, but something has to change," she answered a moment later while holding a different stretching position.

"Don’t worry, honey. The gym is a normal place in the hierarchy of life aboard this ship," he concluded, changing over from the stretching to a couple of simple Tae-Kwon Do katas. He always started a work out re-tuning his body as a weapon, working through more and more difficult maneuvers. Then he would change over to Ken-po, exchanging his hands and feet for a mock blade weapon. Finally, after working up a good sweat and maintaining his heart beat at the level best suited for his age and conditioning, he would move to the resistance machines to maintain his muscle mass.

Their sweats were soaked as they completed the cool down stretching and could once again talk to each other.

"She’s making them pay dearly for their attention," Williams noted.

A quick glance showed that the crowd had not diminished, but the attendees were looking worse for the wear. He shook his head, "She works them hard." He noted the Orion ensign hadn’t even broke a sweat yet. "She’s in pretty good shape."

"Now, don’t start that again," Williams grabbed him by the arm again and began dragging him toward the exit.

"What? I was just noting..."

"Yeah, I know what you were noting. Maybe I should leave you here and let you learn what the rest will learn later, when all this catches up with them."

"Promise?" he kidded.

"Come on, you don’t have time for this...SIR!"

"Yes, MA’AM," he replied, allowing her to drag him out the door.


Captain’s Log, Stardate 9495.3

Monitored the report from Captain Chekov about the destruction of the U.S.S. Bradley, a sister ship of the Chosin. Knowing what I know now about my command, I find it hard to believe that any number of Tholian patrol cruisers could take it out. They must have caught the Bradley by surprise, with her shields down. That Tholian patrol cruisers, with their range limits, were found to be responsible means there is a colony nearby. I have given my senior officers a warning order to speed up preparations for our departure from SpaceDock. We are the closest Starfleet ship to that area and will no doubt be required to respond in the case of trouble.

The diplomatic corps of the Federation has yet to determine how to negotiate with these living crystals, and the Chief Alienologist’s Office still doesn’t know how, or why, they pick their colony locations. So far there doesn’t seem to be a pattern, except that once the Tholians start a colony, there is no way to get them to leave. They force you to destroy every member.

Again, circumstances are cutting into what time I should be using to oversee the restocking of Chosin’s supplies and introducing myself to the new crew. I have been ordered onto a formal hearing regarding the alleged misconduct of a Starfleet captain of engineering. I tried to beg off the board, reminding the Admiralty that I had a specific deadline for having my ship ready. They reminded me that a board of this kind, considering the rank of the defendant, had to be comprised of individuals of at least equal rank, or higher, and, that, I had a competent first officer. The privilege of rank, I guess.

Looking forward to the Christmas Eve party, I only hope everyone has a chance to enjoy it. The galley certainly seems to have gone all out to get ready for it.


The small bell in the center of the table was rung twice, in three sets, its small sound reminiscent of the ones used on the old sailing vessels that used to cross Earth’s oceans so many hundreds of years earlier. Kelsey heard its high tone from the other room, where he stood waiting for the official reading into the log of the standing board members.

"Computer," a non-descript lieutenant junior grade stated from his position on the right side of the board’s long table.


"Begin log. The formal hearing into the actions of, and rank review board for Captain of Engineering Katya Sorenson, is open. Board members are Captain Conners, Captain Kelsey and Admiral Po."

The three flag officers entered the room. Kelsey noted that there were only three other people in it other than the court recorder. Good, he thought, not a lot of witnesses. This promises to be short and sweet.

Po took position right behind the middle seat, Conners on her left and Kelsey stood behind the seat on the admiral’s right. "This board is formed," Po said. "Please be seated."

When the rustle of movement ended Po began. "Is the recorder’s case ready?" he asked the officer that was seated by herself. In a civilian court, this officer would have been the prosecutor, but military courts were more ancient and had their own policies, procedures and titles.

"Yes, sir."

"And the officer to be reviewed, is she ready to make her defense?"

"Yes, sir," Sorenson stood and presented herself.

Kelsey noted she was as all-by-herself as the recorder, which meant...

"Let me get this part straight," Po interrupted Kelsey’s thoughts. "You will represent yourself, Captain Sorenson?"

"Yes, sir."

"Are you sure of your decision?" Po continued. "I can adjourn the board and give you additional time to brief a member of the Judge Advocate General’s corps if you have any doubts."

"No, sir, that will not be necessary."

Good, Kelsey thought again, though he thought her decision in this matter was flawed, the proceedings will not be stalled. He noted the presence of Admiral Robert Brown, Starfleet’s Chief of Engineering, behind her. Character witness, I’ll bet, he thought as the admiral waited for the court’s pleasure to allow him to sit.

"Let the log show that Captain of Engineering Katya Sorenson has chosen to represent herself in her defense," Po said officially. "Please be seated. Recorder, please present the charges and evidence to support."

"Sir, these are the charges against Captain of Engineering Sorenson. Part one: gross negligence in the performance of her duties. Part two: insubordination to a superior officer."

"So logged, lieutenant. Captain Sorenson, what is your plea?"

Sorenson, with her platinum blonde hair tied back in a regulation bun on the back of her head, and her steel blue eyes glowing with the fire of her will, stood to her full two meter height and locked gazes with Po. "Not guilty, sir."

"Let the board so note."

"Recorder, please proceed with the evidence against Captain Sorenson."

"Aye, sir. With the board’s permission, I will play back the ship’s log of the Enterprise, Stardate 9493.2. The incident takes place in the Enterprise’s engineering section."




"Access recorder exhibit one, index engineering log, 0923 hours and play back until notified."

"Accessed and ready."


The alarm was shrieking. "Warning: Warp coil has been compromised. Warning: Starboard intermix chamber has been compromised. Warning: Plasma coolant leaks detected. Warning: Magnetic containment fields are failing."

The red alert klaxon blared loudly. There were frantic calls over the loudspeaker. "Captain to the bridge! Emergency! Captain to the bridge!"

"Somebody shut that fucking thing off!" shouted a tall, Nordic woman.

"Computer, stop playback," the recorder ordered. The computer complied and the scene on the view screen stopped. The collective gaze of the board switched from the uncomplimentary pose of the woman on the screen to the board officer. "Let the record show that the subject on the screen right now is Captain Sorenson, the defendant."

"Do you object, Captain Sorenson?" Po asked.

"No, sir," Sorenson responded.

"Continue, Lieutenant."

"Computer, continue playback of log."

"Now, damn it! I can’t hear myself think!"

"Warning: Warp coil has been compromised. Warning: Starboard intermix chamber has been compromised. Warning: Plasma cool—" Someone silenced the computer.

"Computer, stop playback," the recorder ordered. "Let the board note that this is," he pointed at the screen, "Captain Pavel Chekov, commander of the U.S.S.  Enterprise, NCC-1701-B."

"So, noted, please proceed," Po responded.

"Status report!" Chekov demanded.

The Nordic woman ignored him completely. "Feinstein, get me a magnaspanner. Sinclair, get a rad suit on."

Into his wrist communicator, Chekov issued orders. "Bridge, this is the captain. Standby. Evacuate all nonessential personnel. Use maneuvering thrusters and get us out of Space Dock now. Captain out." Then Chekov shouted, "I said, ‘Status report,’ damn it!"

An ensign stepped forward quickly. "We were replacing the magnetic bottle assembly in the starboard intermix chamber when something happened."

Chekov looked at the intermix chamber. It was filled with plasma. "You’re replacing the magnetic bottle while the engines are on-line?! Good God, who’s the idiot that ordered that?"

The Nordic woman swung around. "I am, Captain. Now could you please be quiet while we get things fixed—"

"Get things fixed?" he was incredulous. "We need to launch the Enterprise away from the solar system and abandon ship. Computer, time until explosion?"

"One minute fourteen seconds," answered the computer.

"Damn. Chekov to Bridge."

"Bridge here," came Demora Sulu’s worried voice.

"Demora, disengage docking clamps. Take the ship out of Space Dock at once."

"We’re unable to comply, Captain. Helm controls have been rerouted to Engineering."

"Who the hell authorized that?"

"I did, Captain, now shut the fuck up!" shouted the Nordic woman from underneath the dilithium chamber outside the intermix chamber. "Sinclair, open up the dilithium chamber and change the polarity of the warp nodes."

"Sir, this suit isn’t rated for that much radia—"

"I gave you an order, Mister."

A pause. "Yes, sir."

The young man in the radiation suit stepped forward, opened the chamber door and reached it with the magnaspanner Feinstein had thrust into his gloved hands. "Okay, Captain. I’m changing polarity... now."

"Computer, status report!" ordered Chekov. "Time until explosion."

"Explosion now unlikely. Warp coil has been realigned. Starboard intermix chamber has been sealed. Plasma coolant leaks subsiding. Magnetic containment fields are gaining in strength. Engines now back on line. Power rating approaching one hundred and ten percent."

"All right, get him to Sickbay. Now!" barked the Nordic woman again.

Two ensigns helped Sinclair out of the rad suit. The young man looked a little tired and a little pinker than he had, and Chekov knew it was a mild case of radiation poisoning. "Get him to Space Dock’s Sickbay."

The Nordic woman slid out from beneath the chamber housing, covered with milky white tetralubisol, Chekov offered her a hand up, and she took it. As she stood, he demanded, "Who the hell are you?"

"Captain of Engineering Katya Sorenson," she said, grimacing. "Will someone get me a towel?" One was tossed to her by an ensign, and she wiped some of the tetralubisol off her face.

"Well, Captain, as the commander of the Enterprise, I want to know what the hell you think you were doing?" he didn’t shout. Well, not quite.

Sorenson rolled her eyes. "I’ve been assigned by Starfleet to oversee repair operations aboard the Enterprise ."

"I see," Chekov nodded his head with his lips almost pursed in a pout. "And these ‘repair operations’ include nearly blowing up the Enterprise and the adjacent Space Dock facility... Interesting. I must say I’ve never heard of such a unique approach to ‘repair operations. "‘

"It was not my intention—"

"Oh, of that I am certain. You had no intention to destroy the Enterprise and the Space Dock. It was just one of those things. An unavoidable accident."

"Sir, if you will shut up—"

"Captain to Security."

"Security Officer Barnes here, sir."

"Send two guards to engineering. I have a ‘captain of engineering’ to arrest for insubordination."

"Three minutes, sir. Security out."

"Sir, I’m sorry about...I meant no disrespect. I just...I..."

"Well, I seem to have your attention, now, Captain of Engineering Katya Sorenson. So, if you will be so kind to explain to me why you nearly destroyed my starship?"

"Sir, the warp coil and starboard intermix chamber suffered damage during the ship’s encounter with the energy ribbon. I was assigned to oversee repair operations for the Enterprise. I determined that the most expedient method of repair would be to replace the magnetic bottle, adjust the coil and apply sealant to the chamber simultaneously without discharging the plasma."

"I see. You would rather risk destroying this ship...my ship, the six hundred men and women aboard her, the adjacent Space Dock and another thousand engineers stationed there...all in the name of expediency."

"No, sir. The computer models I ran through the simulation came back with a success projection of ninety-eight point four percent."

"And did any of their computer models take into consideration that the polarity of the warp nodes might have been reversed by the ship’s encounter with the energy ribbon?"

"No, sir. They did not," she admitted. "However, the entire procedure was approved by Starfleet Chief Engineer Robert Brown himself."

"Oh, did he?" Chekov noted—with a great deal of satisfaction—the arrival of the two security guards. "Escort Captain of Engineering Katya Sorenson to the brig."

"But, sir! As I explained—"

"The charges are gross negligence in the performance of her duties, and insubordination to a superior officer." The two guards stepped forward.

"Damn it, you are not my superior officer!"

They took her arms and restrained her as Chekov stepped forward. She was six inches taller than he, but that didn’t stop him from getting into her face. "When you are on my ship, I am." To the guards, he said, "Detain her until further notice."

"Computer, end playback."

"Ending playback," and the screen changed back to the blue and silver Federation logo.

"Let the board note that this is the only evidence offered," the recorder continued. "Case complete."

"So noted, Lieutenant," Po responded. "Captain Sorenson do you have anything in your defense?"

She stood. "Sir, in response to part one. I was present on board the Enterprise under the approved orders of Starfleet Engineering, signed by Admiral Brown himself. Starfleet’s Chief Engineer, Admiral Brown, as noted on the log, approved the procedure I was attempting on the log. He is present in the court today."

"Yes, so I’ve noted, captain," Po answered, turning her attention to Brown. "Thank you for coming, sir."

Admiral Brown stood. "My pleasure, sir."

"I have a question, sir," Po continued, ignoring Sorenson for the moment.

"Proceed," Brown answered.

"Did you approve the procedure as it was witnessed?"

"Yes, but I was unaware of the fact that the warp node’s polarity had been affected by the ribbon."

"I see," Po said, nodding. "Thank you, sir." Po shifted her attention to Sorenson. "Did you scan for this possibility yourself, Captain?"

"No, sir," Sorenson responded. "I was under orders to get the Enterprise space worthy as soon as possible."

"I see," Po replied, steepling her hands on the desk in front of her. "Continue."

"In response to part two. I hold the rank of Captain, as does Chekov. He is not within my chain of command. It is well established that when a Captain of Engineering is assigned to an engineering section, that section is commanded by same. For this reason I contend he was not my superior officer in this situation."

Po remained unaffected by this as she repeated what she had said a moment earlier, "I see. Is there anything else?"

"No, sir." Sorenson stated.

Po turned to the recorder. "Do you have any response to the defendant’s statement?"

"No, sir."

"Good. I will adjourn this board to discuss the evidence. Captain Sorenson, please wait outside. Admiral Brown, if you would, sir, please remain for a moment." She struck the small ship’s bell in the center of the table and waited as the room cleared. The whoosh of the door and metallic click signaled the moment this was done. "Relax, sirs," Po said not even a breath’s moment after that.

There was a slight rustle as everyone took her advice.

"Does the board need any discussion, or review of the evidence presented?" Po asked, panning the board with her gaze.

"No, sir," Conners answered, the set of his face saying more than the answer.

"If a support staff senior officer had done that to me, on my ship," Kelsey said, letting his thoughts, and feelings, be known, "I’d probably be waiting in the hallway, prepared to address assault charges."

"I see you have feelings along these lines, sir," Po twisted her chair around so that she could more comfortable listen to Kelsey. "Proceed."

"Thank you, sir," Kelsey answered as he continued. "It’s not so much a question of guilt, or innocence here. It’s a matter of protocol and experience.

"It is obvious that the two subjects hold the same rank, and it is common practice to allow the senior engineering officer to run that shop as they see fit. What command officer doesn’t know this and allow for it in dealings with this specialty.

"We must ask ourselves these two questions," Kelsey continued, feeling he was speaking for the board in this. "Did she do everything in her experience base to ascertain the status of the warp nodes? Did she recognize that Chekov was the commander of the ship? In other words, when did she come on board for the repairs?"

"The answer to the first question will be easy to answer," Conners responded. A check of the engineering log will reveal if she followed all protocols required in the repair up till the moment of the incident."

"Done, already," Po offered. "She followed all protocols required by Starfleet engineering. There was no reason to suspect the status of nodes."

"Fine," Kelsey confirmed. "Then she is innocent of her negligence there."

"Do you agree, Captain Conners?" Po turned to the other board member.

"Yes," Conners answered. "but with one thing to be added."

"And that is?"

"Since "strings" of the type encountered by the Enterprise are so rare, it is easily accepted that there was no way to know what side effects it would have on a starship. It should be added to all engineering manuals that the nodes be checked before attempting any repair."

Po turned to the other admiral in the room. "Admiral Brown, as Starfleet’s Chief Engineer, do you have a problem with this?"

"None," Brown answered. "In fact, it’s already been done."

"Thank you, sir," Po said, returning her attention to Kelsey. "Continue."

"Thank you," Kelsey responded. "In the case where it appears she exhibited a disdain for the possible outcome if the warp core had been exposed, to not only the starship, but to the facilities surrounding her, I’d like to say, she reacted within her level of expertise."

"Explain," Po prodded.

"A quick look at her personnel file shows that she has only recently been promoted to Captain of Engineering. Additionally, she has logged only the minimum time in command. It probably never occurred to her to do anything else but what she did. It was quite obvious that she didn’t have the time to move the Enterprise out of dock to a location where its destruction could be localized, though I doubt she thought about that for a moment.

"As it was," he continued. "She did what was probably the only thing that could be done to save the situation, and that was, to quickly complete the repairs to the nodes and stop the reaction from taking its natural course."

"Well said, Kelsey," Conners commented.

"I don’t have anything to add to the record," Po inserted. "What about the second charge: insubordination?"

"Well, the log pretty much demonstrated her guilt on that one," Kelsey started. "She had a blatant disregard for Captain Chekov’s position on that ship."

"But did she know him to be the captain?" Po asked.

"How many captain’s bars are there on any ship?" Conners continued.

"I think the darkest mark against her here is that even after Chekov identified himself, she continued to demonstrate disrespect and insubordination."

"Let’s explore the last part of that just a little," Po cut in. "Both parties hold the rank of captain, so is there really insubordination? Or just a difference of professional opinions."

"It goes back to the age old question of command over technical expertise, doesn’t it," Conners added.

"And that question is?" Po queried.

"Both are captains, thereby on par with each other," Conners continued his argument. "Of course, Chekov is in command of the ship and is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in, and around it.

"Sorenson is a Captain of Engineering, and it is accepted protocol for that position to be in command of any engineering section she is assigned to, especially in a space dock. I believe the real question here is one of tact and appearance since she obviously challenged Chekov’s position on board his own ship, more importantly, in front of members of his crew."

There was a moment of silence as Conners ended his argument. All were nodding with agreement to what he had just said.

Po addressed her next statement to Admiral Brown. "The evidence speaks for itself, Bob," Po ignored the presence of the other members for the moment.

"I won’t argue against any of the evidence presented, and I agree with the direction this board is taking. Captain Sorenson is extremely untactful with personages outside her engineering expertise and disdainful. This is not the first time she’s ruffled the feathers of a fellow officer. Both charges carry the possibility of complete loss of rank and dismissal from Starfleet without benefits, but," he added raising his index finger to make his point, "I think that severest of penalty would only serve to waste a talented engineer. Though she does deserve to be punished, I would ask that the board consider this in its judgment." Brown finished and sat.

"The board acknowledges Admiral Brown’s comment and thanks him," Po said. Then, turning her gaze first to her left, then right, she continued. "I need your positions, gentlemen."

Kelsey, as the junior member of the board, started. "Not guilty on the first charge of negligence."

Conners went next. "Not guilty of the first charge of negligence."

Po finished. "I agree with the other board members and for the record vote ‘Not guilty’ as well. The charge of negligence is dropped."

There was an audible sigh from Admiral Brown.

"On the second charge—insubordination—what is your decision, gentlemen?" Po continued the proceeding.

Kelsey again went first. "Guilty, but with this added consideration. That she is guilty only to the extent that she did so in front of the ship’s crew."

Conners went next. "Guilty and with the same consideration."

Po finished. "I agree and vote the same. Let the record show that Captain of Engineering Sorenson has been found by the board to be guilty of insubordination, but since there is no rule for allowing consideration in the verdict phase of this proceeding, let the record show that these considerations are transferred to the punishment phase to begin now."

"She should not be removed from service, but instead reduced in rank one grade to Commander," Kelsey offered.

"I agree, but recommend reduction be two grades to Lieutenant Commander, so that she may be assigned as a chief of engineering on a starship, where she can finally learn the role and position of the engineer on a starship," Conners added.

"I agree with the reduction of two grades," Po added. "Let the record show that it is the board’s decision that Sorenson be reduced two grades and be assigned to the next available chief of engineering position available within the fleet." She faced her fellow admiral in the room. "Any objections, Admiral Brown?"

"I believe the board has reached an equitable position and one that I can support. Of course, if she wants, she may not accept the board’s judgment and request a full court-martial you know."

"I think you and I know where that will land her," Po answered. "The protocols for a court are much stricter, as are their interpretations of regulation."

"I agree," Brown replied. "May I have a moment with her before you call her in?"

"You are dismissed, sir," Po said.

Admiral Brown got up and left the room. There was a brief moment of silence which Kelsey broke a moment later. "If I was her, I’d take this and warp out at maximum speed."

"Hmph," Conners added.

"Bob Brown can be very persuasive," Po added.

Though the room was well insulated against sounds from the hallway, it didn’t stop the yelled "What?" from Sorenson, though very muffled. There was a responding, "As you were," from Brown’s obviously male voice. Then a loud discourse between both, though too obstructed to be intelligible to those inside the room. This went on for about a minute and finally they heard Brown say, "That will be just about enough, Sorenson. Let’s see if you are as smart as you think you are." Then there was silence.

Po let it go for another minute, then opined. "I think she’s ready. Computer?"


"Open door and admit Captain Sorenson and Admiral Brown."

The door opened Captain Sorenson led the way until she stood at attention in front of Po. "Captain of Engineering Sorenson, reporting as ordered, sir." Her gaze was locked on some point on the wall, well above and behind Po’s head.

"Captain of Engineering Sorenson," Po led off.

"Aye, sir," Sorenson answered.

"It is the decision of this board that you are not guilty of negligence," Po pretended to read this off the padd in her hands, but Kelsey knew this was just for show. "However, it is the decision of this board that you are guilty of insubordination to Captain Chekov." She let that sink in for a moment. "It is your right to log a response to this decision, captain. Do you wish to make one?"

"Yes, sir," Sorenson started. "It is still my contention that I could not be insubordinate to someone I hold equal rank...."

A loud clearing of a throat came from behind her, effectively interrupting Sorenson.

"...but I will submit to the board’s decision," Sorenson finished, changing her tact in mid sentence.

"It is also the board’s decision that you be lowered in rank two steps to Lieutenant Commander and assigned to a starship as chief of engineering.

"It is my duty," Po continued without missing a beat, "as the head of this board, to inform you that you have the right to request a court-martial if you disagree with the recommendations of this board." She looked up and locked her gaze with Sorenson’s. "Is this your request at this time?"

Sorenson held Admiral Po’s gaze as she responded. "Can I have some time to think this over?"

"Yes, you may," Po answered. "The respondent is given ten working days to respond. Is there anything else?"

The room’s silence was striking.

"Good," Po continued. "This board is adjourned."

Sorenson pivoted smartly and exited, with Brown right on her heals, but before he left the room, he turned and winked at Po, then walked out.

"So, Captain Kelsey," Po said after straightening out the memory boards in front of her and putting them into a briefcase.

"Yes, sir?" Kelsey responded.

"What do you think of Starfleet’s informal judicial system now that you’ve served as a member of a board for the first time?"

"I think it’s much preferable than a court-martial."

"Agreed," Po continued, finishing her packing and looking up. "Your opinion and recommendation was very insightful, Captain. I want to thank you."

"Your welcome, sir." Kelsey didn’t now, nor did he ever, know what to do with compliments from his superiors, so he said nothing else, but his face gave him away, slightly.

"You’ll make a fine addition to the admiralty some day."

"Thanks, but no thanks, sir."

"What?" Po nailed Kelsey down with this single word. "You mean you don’t aspire to join the greats?" She was having fun with her old friend from the Enterprise.

"Well, sir, it’s just that..." Kelsey was stuck. The truth was that he had achieved exactly what he’d always wanted—captaincy of a starship—and really hadn’t thought much farther ahead. He’d seen what staff work had done to his role model—Captain Kirk—and was determined not to let it get to him as well, but to admit to a senior officer that you didn’t want to aspire higher was sort of like committing professional "Hara-kiri."

Po knew exactly what Kelsey was thinking. She’d seen far too many of his kind come through Starfleet—chomping at the bit for command, but unwilling, and too cowardly to take the next step of responsibility within the bigger picture. Ah, well, she thought, letting him squirm a little more, he’s only been a captain for two years, and it hasn’t had a chance to wear on him yet. He might yet see the right path. "Don’t worry about it, Captain," she said a moment later. "You’ll understand soon enough."

"I’m sorry, sir, I don’t think..." Kelsey stammered, hating it when a senior officer saw right through him so quickly.

With a wave of her hand, she stopped any further torture for Kelsey. As she picked up her brief, she turned her attention to the other captain in the room. "Thank you, Captain Conners. As usual, it’s been a pleasure."

"You’re quite welcome, sir."

Kelsey knew that Conners was immensely senior to him in the command seat. He was up there with Kirk as far as longevity went, and had survived the Kelvan War without much of a scratch, but Kelsey noted something different about the way Conners interacted with Po. Like equals, he concluded a moment later. Then came an even larger revelation. He must be close to promotion. It all made sense now. Conners had made the psychological transition from the command chair. That’s too bad, Kelsey’s thoughts concluded. We’re losing a fine starship commander.


Personal Log, Stardate 9496.6
Captain Shaun Kelsey, U.S.S. Chosin

Giving the crew a little bit of a break in deference to the Human holiday of Christmas, though not all preparations have halted.

Heard about a disturbing communication between Sulu and Chekov today. Apparently, Sulu was on the bridge of the Excelsior when he and Chekov had an argument. I find it extremely disturbing, especially now that Sulu has filed a complaint with Admiral Soyen, Chief of Operations, and I find the whole thing pretty petty. I don’t know who’s right or wrong in which search pattern to use, but, for what it’s worth, it’s my opinion that Sulu is too full of himself.

On a more professional note, we receive our first load of a newly improved MVW torpedoes. The original ones we were equipped with were such duds! Thorrell and Hrisch will definitely have their hands and hooves full with these, especially since the new design for the storage locks is untested, but with the talents of these two, combined with Chief Engineer Stronton, we should prevail.

My gut tells me that though we haven’t had any reports as to the whereabouts of the Tholian colony responsible for the Bradley’s destruction, it’s only a matter of time until that hill of ants is once again trod upon and they come boiling forth.

"What’s wrong now, you sowless wonder?" Thorrell harangued, already used to and enjoying the Tellarite polite language. "Why aren’t we ready to stow these weapons yet?"

"Because the clamps won’t hold them, you pile of reeking slop," Hrisch replied, returning tit-for-tat. After all, it was his polite language not the Andorian’s.

A metallic clatter rose from beneath the rack and a string of curse words only a sailor would appreciate.

Thorrell chuckled before responding, "I think we’re a bad influence on him, Chief," he said a minute later, then addressed the hidden personage. "What would your parents say if they heard you now, Lieutenant?"

"What were those engineers in Starfleet thinking in Weapons R’n’D when they designed this clamp? That the weapon it would be holding weighed the same as the original?"

"I don’t know, Lieutenant. You’re the engineer; what were they thinking?" Thorrell winked at Hrisch, enjoying baiting the Human.

"They weren’t, and who cares!"

"What, one of Starfleet’s engineers, deriding the home of his profession?"

"What?" Stronton sputtered, then began wiggling from the tight space he was somehow lodged into. "Oh, sir, not Engineering. I meant, who cares what my family would think if they heard my language?" He finally made it out and stood, his duty uniform horribly soiled with a combination of hydraulic and lubricating fluids.

"Lieutenant, you are a sight," Thorrell chided, almost losing the straight face he was trying to keep locked in place. "And you call yourself a super nova? What would Boothby say about your uniform now?"

"Captain Boothby? Commandant of the Super Nova program?" Stronton fully identified out loud the personage referred to by Thorrell. "He’d know I was doing a good job by the evidence of this detritus. In fact, I once saw him dress down and throw out an engineer student in his program who showed up after a job, spick and span. So I imagine I’d receive a commendation for a job well done if he was here."

Thorrell’s gaze drifted to Hrisch, his face blank at first, then the corners of his mouth drooped and his head tilted a little off center as he began to nod is agreement. "You know something," he addressed his comment in Hrisch’s direction. "He’s right." Then turning back to the lieutenant, he smiled. "Good job, Lieutenant. So what’s the problem here?"

Stronton was busy tapping input into the hand held engineering padd. He hit the enter button, then chewed on the finger nail of his index finger as he watched the diagram on the small screen alter the design it was displaying. He then realized that the Andorian had asked him something. "Hmm," he asked, bringing his gaze to Thorrell’s face, his eyebrows trying to join in the center as the majority of his intellect was still working on the problem at hand. "What was that you said?"

The executive officer had decided to become all business now. "What’s the problem?"

"Hrisch pointed it out to me earlier. The clamps aren’t sufficient to hold the new weapon’s weight. One good bump and we’d have had them smacking down onto the floor en masse."

"Not a pleasant thought, especially if they were armed," Thorrell answered. "Any quick solutions?"

"Why does everything have to be quick, sir?" Stronton shook his head in disapproval as a new design came up on the screen. "Too big," whispered, then input new data.

"Speed is efficiency," Thorrell answered.

"Not true," Stronton replied. "Functionality is efficiency, no matter the speed of completion." A new diagram came up, and he shook his head, mumbling something about it not fitting the receptacle on the weapon.

"Not if a swarm of Tholians are climbing up your anal orifice, Lieutenant," Thorrell continued.

Stronton looked at the ship’s exec, then at Hrisch, then twisted his head around to look on the floor behind him before responding, "That doesn’t seem to be the case right now, sir."

"But it could be shortly."

Stronton put in a new set of data and entered it. "Now that’s news to me. Have you heard something?"

The conversation had Hrisch’s complete attention now.

"Nothing concrete, but it doesn’t take a warp scientist to figure this one out," Thorrell answered. He’d already said too much and hoped these two technological specialists would let it drop as uninteresting.

A new diagram came up on the pad’s small screen. "Ah, I think that will do," Stronton commented immediately, then handed the padd over to Hrisch. "What do you think, Chief?"

"What do I know about the mechanics of a storage device?" the Tellarite snorted.

"Enough to know if it’ll hold your precious weapon in place until you’re ready to shove it up some bad guy’s ass," Stronton retorted.

"You’ve corrupted him with your polite speech, Chief," Thorrell changed back into full mocking mode again. "His parents are liable to stretch you out and cut you into breakfast fare for it."

Hrisch erupted into snorting laughter as his beady-eyed gaze contemplated the new design on the padd in front of him. A moment later, he responded to the exec’s comment, "I’d see them changed to slop first. It would be a race to see who would eat whom." He then changed tacks, and pointed the center section of his cloven hoofed hand at the diagram, "Is it required to use that much titanium alloy for this?"

"If you don’t want to have to redesign the space the clamp sits in, you will," Stronton responded.

Hrisch nodded his head in agreement. "I think this will do," Hrisch concluded. "What do you think, sir?" he handed the padd to Thorrell.

The Andorian scanned the design diagram and noted the adjustments made by Stronton and the brilliance of the concepts behind them. However, it wouldn’t do for either of these two to know just how extensive his knowledge in this area was. Besides, he had a reputation to uphold. "It’s a lot of engineering gibberish to me," he said as he handed it back. "The two of you agree that it will do?"

"Yes, sir," they chorused.

Thorrell placed his thumb on the surface above a computer generated box on the padd, leaving his print in the record, and his authorization as the ship’s executive officer for the modifications and acquisition of materials to... "Make it so, gentlemen."

He left them discussing the actual details of the modification and headed for the nearest turbo-lift. Entering it, he gave his destination. "Bridge."

"Bridge," the car’s computer voice mimicked.

Thorrell felt the slight nudge of acceleration as the car began its transit. The inertial dampeners kept him from feeling the full brunt of the change of speeds from full stop, to that of what would get the passenger from the back of the ship to the top of the saucer in the fifteen seconds it would take.

The door whooshed open to reveal the normal controlled chaos of the bridge of a starship trying to finish preparations. Captain Kelsey was not in the command chair, nor did Thorrell expect to find him there. He knew his captain better than to expect him to patiently sit anywhere. Looking around, he found Kelsey studying a diagram displayed over the science station.

"What’s missing?" Thorrell heard Kelsey ask the air, while still studying the diagram.

"Is something missing, sir?"

"What?" Kelsey turned to see who was addressing him. "Oh, Number One. How’s the problem with the weapon’s clamp?"

"Taken care off, sir," Thorrell reported. "Stronton is still every bit the creative engineering genius."

"Don’t tell me you’ve doubted my judge of character for the past two years?" Kelsey gibed, not really serious, nor taking his gaze from the read-outs scrolling across the screen.

"Well, he’s still an lieutenant."

"A super nova lieutenant."

"That’s what scares me the most, sir."

Kelsey was stunned for a moment by this revelation, enough so that he took his attention from the screen. A super nova graduate worried about another. Locking gazes with his exec he asked the next logical question. "And why is that, Number One?"

"I was there once, and I know what I was like."

"You mean you’ve changed since?" Kelsey had noted some subtle changes in Thorrell’s demeanor since he’d accepted his invitation to become his executive officer. From all outward appearances, his Andorian friend was still the same arrogant, egotistical bastard he’d remembered from his short mission with him under Kirk, but under it was a deep maturity. War has that effect on anyone who survives, Kelsey thought.

"Of course," Thorrell answered. "All things change, or die."

He’s had contact with a Vulcan some time in his experience, Kelsey’s mind analyzed what he’d just heard. He leaned closer to his exec, "So I’ve noted." Then backed off a bit. "So, when can we expect to have a full load of those new MVWs on-board?"

"By the end of the day."

"How about those launch racks for the Killer Bee fighters?" The Chosin had had two such racks for the first two years of Kelsey’s command, but they were empty the entire time. For their next assignment, Starfleet had decided a third rack was necessary. Odd, considering they were never used, thought Kelsey.

"Engineering is hard at work putting in the last of them now. We should be able to accommodate an additional full wing, plus some, if need be."

"Good," Kelsey said, folding his arms on his chest. "I have a meeting with this sector’s Starfleet Marine regiment this afternoon. I’d like to be able to show him we can bring him on-board at a moment’s notice."

"They have a unique operational status."

"What? The fact that they aren’t permanently attached to any starship?"

"It would seem that the most efficient way, resource- and mechanism-wise, to deploy them would be to specific ships."

"True, it would be resource efficient not to have to have the launch and support capabilities on every capital ship big enough to house them, but what would the fleet do if the ship that holds them is otherwise off on some exploratory mission that only it was available?"

"Put a marine detachment on every ship."

"Do you know how much it costs to train one?"


"Let’s put it this way: we could have three nova ensigns for the cost of training one marine."

"Really?" There was disbelief in Thorrell’s voice.

"Yep," Kelsey answered. "Besides, marines only have one function, and it’s very specialized."

"Do you think I could have been a good marine?" Thorrell stated, throwing his chest out and trying to stand a bit taller than his already towering frame.

"Not at first, but I’m sure they’d have molded you into one...eventually," Kelsey stated, and then chuckled.

"Yeah, right," Thorrell harrumphed. "After they’d killed off a bazillion brain cells so I couldn’t think anymore."

Kelsey chuckled and winked in response. He didn’t actually think Thorrell believed that marines were stupid thugs, unemployable in any other task other than brawling, but if he did, then his first contact with them ought to be an eye-opener. "Each Federation sector has a reactionary regiment stationed at a starbase near its center. In that way, no matter where the hot spot, or whichever warp capable transportation is available, they can be there before the problem brews into something worse."

"I understand the concept," Thorrell answered. "I can’t wait to meet...." Just then, a young humanoid lieutenant walked by, stepped down into the well, and sat at the navigation console. Thorrell sidled up to Kelsey. "Who’s that?"

"Lieutenant Miranda Roberts—fresh from the U.S.S. Alliance," Kelsey answered in the same lowered voice. "Just arrived this morning."

"I guess I’d better have security put a guard on her."

Kelsey’s eyebrows scrunched together. "Why?"

"She’s a looker, and every Human male on-board is apt to be bothering her."

"And some non-humans, as well, I suspect, Number One."

Thorrell only then noted the smile and knowing look on his captain’s face. "What? Me? Preposterous. Human females are way too liberated for my tastes! Why, if an Andorian female acted like her Human counterpart, they’d stone her outside the gates of the hive-city as a heretic."

"So I’ve heard," Kelsey answered.

"There’s nothing wrong with that culture. It has survived the millennia without any troubles."

"So I’ve read," Kelsey continued.

Thorrell’s gaze stayed on his commanding officer’s face, but his antennae continued to follow the Human female. Kelsey gave him a friendly slap on the shoulder.

"What?" Thorrell responded, his antennae snapping forward as soon as he noted where Kelsey was looking.

"Oh, nothing," Kelsey answered, and then changed the subject. "Anyway, Major Mason, Commander of the Sector One marine regiment, will be arriving shortly with his exec to inspect our preparations and brief us up on their capabilities. Insure our staff is aware that they may be called to a meeting shortly."

"Done, already, per your instructions at this morning’s staff call, sir." The Andorian shrugged. "Any news on your Enterprise?"

Kelsey shook his head. "That’s not my Enterprise."

"Why?" Thorrell asked, turning to face Kelsey, his gaze searching for the Human’s reaction to his question. "Just because it’s an Excelsior class ship?"

"It’s not the name, nor its type that make a ship," Kelsey answered, "but the people who reside within. That ship is nothing like the Enterprise I remembered. This one has a troubled heart." Kelsey strode forward, toward the left of the mainviewer where he entered his ready room.

The Andorian executive officer followed. "You’re talking about the fact that Kirk died aboard her?" Thorrell continued his questions.

"Nah," Kelsey said, his gaze going down to his boot’s toes as he thought through his response. "Of all the ships to die on, I think Kirk would have preferred it to be that one, but there is a spirit of trouble aboard her. I never thought I’d be saying this, but, I’m glad I’m not a part of her crew."

"Isn’t your old friend Chekov its commander?"

"Yep. He was given command just before John Harriman killed himself."

"Nasty piece of work there," Thorrell said, "and a dishonorable way to go."

"It was a waste of a good officer, but I guess he didn’t feel he had any other choice."

Thorrell’s face reflected the question this comment brought to his mind. "I’m not sure I know what you mean, sir. I only caught what the media saw fit to put over the news nets. The impression I got was that Harriman was somehow responsible for Kirk’s death."

"The captain of a ship is responsible for everything that occurs on his ship," Kelsey continued. "You and I," he pointed at the arrowhead emblem of Starfleet on his jacket, "know and accept this."

Thorrell remained silent, nodding his head in affirmation.

"But every once in awhile, a situation presents itself that takes the control from the captain’s hands. Did you ever meet Captain Harriman?"

"Once, maybe, quite some time ago, when he was still a commander. Isn’t his father a rear admiral at Headquarters?"


"As an Andorian I can understand family pride being a reason for killing oneself," Thorrell observed. "Happens on a regular basis within my culture." He noted Kelsey’s change of expression. "I have rejected that philosophy, like many other things from my world."

"So I’ve noted," Kelsey responded.

"But I," Thorrell indicated himself with both hands on his chest,"have not noted that kind of intensity in Humans before."

"Study medieval Japan sometime, but to get back to the point. I’ve studied the information I could find on the incident surrounding the Enterprise’s encounter with the energy ribbon that took Kirk’s life, and I don’t agree with the evaluation John Harriman’s been tagged with."

"I’ve only seen what the networks have been filling subspace with," Thorrell returned, his face showing the interest he had in this subject. "They have branded him as a sniveling incompetent whose only claim to command qualification is the power his father can bring to bear on Starfleet boards."

Kelsey nodded his head. "I met him some years ago, and I’ll grant you his father had a lot of influence on him, and with Starfleet. John Harriman never had greatness in his future," Kelsey paused a moment, then he locked his gaze with the almost purple eyes of his Andorian first officer. "It took some doing, but I got a copy of the ship’s log. If you want to view them yourself someday, just let me know; I’ll make them available," he was pleased to note by Thorrell’s expression that this was something he wanted to do.

"So?" Thorrell asked, the edge to his voice showing he was getting just a bit impatient with his Human commander. "What conclusion do you draw from the evidence?"

"From my point of view?" Kelsey asked the rhetorical question just so Thorrell knew it was only his opinion and probably not shared by many of his colleagues. "Harriman suffered from some inexperience. He found himself under a lot of pressure from the situation: Starfleet, the presence of Kirk and company, the Media, and—whether he wanted to admit it or not—his father. The evidence points to the fact that he protested taking the Enterprise out too early, stating that it was a safety hazard to go even on the little jaunt they had planned without all the systems up and running. He was over-ruled by Starfleet Command.

"He initially rejected the idea of his ship responding to the El Aurian distress call. His lack of experience allowed him to buckle under the pressure this decision immediately brought to bear on him with Kirk and every news camera of this quadrant watching him.

"Kirk knew this had happened after the ship was at the point of no return. Harriman, realizing he was way out of his league, tried to hand command of the situation to Kirk. Kirk, finally realized what had happened, refused to take the helm, instead, volunteering to make the changes to the main sensor array."

"I see," Thorrell commented, his hand on his chin. "So why do you think they have branded him as a coward?"

Kelsey shook his head. "I’m sure Rear Admiral Harriman has made some enemies, and they started the reaction initially, but Starfleet needed a scape-goat and Harriman fit that bill perfectly. With his suicide, they’ll write it off, and history will never know."

"If they found their scape-goat, why did Smillie and his two main staff officers resign as well?"

"Smillie is an honorable man, and a great leader," Kelsey answered, turning his gaze back to Thorrell. "He knew what had happened and who was ultimately to blame. It was his signature that sent the Enterprise out on that premature run. It was his influence that had over-ridden Harriman’s caution, and he wasn’t going to let a starship captain take all the blame."

"It’s sad," Thorrell concluded.

"Agreed," Kelsey nodded and turned his attention back the monitor. "Now, I want to share this puzzle with you." The captain activated the wall monitor, as he sat down at his desk.

Thorrell took one of the seats in front of the desk, and turned to look at what was displayed. Table, after table of star characteristics. He immediately recognized a few of them. "Those are Tholian systems."

"Very good, Number One."

"What are you looking for?"

"A single characteristic common to all of them, that is not common to other systems. Sort of like, Human colonies tend to be on Class M worlds."

"But not necessarily," Thorrell offered. "You do colonize worlds and terraform them to fit your needs."

"If there are resources valuable to us, or the position of the world is strategically correct to enhance our security," Kelsey explained, while still scrolling the tables down, "but those worlds don’t thrive; they just exist and if it wasn’t for the special interest, soon turn into ghosts."

"That’s true, sir."

"The one thing I’ve noted already is that there is no such thing as an abandoned Tholian colony. Every place they go, they prosper."

"Which is why you are looking for a common denominator...something which would also explain why they sometimes just pop up in the most unexpected places, no where near their formal territory."

"Exactly, Number One." Kelsey scratched his temple as he contemplated the data. "Researching the theory keeps me from sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong."

"What?" Thorrell said as what his captain just said registered. "You’re the captain of this ship, you can be and do anything you want."

"And totally destroy the morale, and self esteem of the crew?" Kelsey continued, returning his attention to Thorrell. "We have a fine crew—self reliant and resourceful—they don’t need to think I don’t trust them."

"But you don’t trust them."

"I trust them, but only so far, and only with the assurance that my senior officers are checking behind them. However, if the crew perceives that I don’t fully trust them, then they become unwilling to trust me."

"I understand."

A signal from the comm terminal on his desk interrupted any further conversation. "Captain Kelsey?"

"Yes, Commander Williams?"

"Major Mason is requesting permission to come aboard."

"Granted and please have him escorted to Briefing Room Two, then, instruct all senior staff to start heading that way as well."

"Aye, sir."

Kelsey saved the study he was making to his personal files, and then turned toward the doors. "Shall we?"


"And that’s how we operate, sir," Major Mason concluded his briefing, manually shutting down the viewscreen where he had displayed the charts that had served to help his briefing. "Are there any questions?"

Thorrell cleared his throat.

"Yes, ah, Commander Thorrell is it?"

"Yes," Thorrell answered. "Did you arrive here in one of your Killer Bee fighters?"

"Yes. The Widow Maker, in fact."

"Did you see any problems with the launch platforms?"

"No, sir. Everything functioned correctly."

"Very good," Thorrell nodded his head, and then turned to Kelsey. "I can now report we’re fully ready to receive a regiment of marines, sir."

"Thank you, Number One." Kelsey rolled his eyes.

Thorrell returned his attention to Mason. "One other thing, sir?"


"Most of us have never seen a Killer Bee fighter. I’m sure engineering is climbing all over and through it even as we speak, but would you be so kind as to give us a, well," Thorrell hesitated for a moment.

Mason was evidently used to the curiosity surrounding his regiments ground support vehicles. "A tour of a fighter?"



That sent a ripple of whispered conversation through the assembled staff.

"Shall we?" Mason gestured toward the conference room door.

The walk from the briefing room to the hangar that Mason’s Killer Bee was secured was short, but not unnoticed by the crew as it was unusual to have so many of the higher ranking officers in the same place at the same time. Mason’s attire of the brown combat suit also caught the attention of many.

A few turns and a short ride on the turbolift brought the group to the hangar bay. The door opened with a whoosh and a collective intake of breath from just about every member of the command crew.

Sitting on one of the three launchers mounted in this bay was a flight machine that just by its general appearance oozed lethality. There was the general impression that it was a workbee, but the resemblance to the standard workbee ended at the warp sled attached to the undercarriage, the phaser mounts extended forward from the two warp nacelles, and the twin phaser turrets mounted atop the housing behind the canopy.

They must have poured the tech into that space, Stronton thought as he mentally created what it must look like inside. It would be the devil’s own puzzle to service it. Then he noted a seal line just above the warp sled. Ah, he mentally sighed, black box technology. The drive package is a fixed unit. When it’s time to service, or replace any part of it, the whole thing is removed and a new one attached. This creates a very quick turn-around time for the fighter needing repair. Very nice, he thought as he smiled. I’ll have to make sure my engineering section is geared up to do this.

Attached, in the normal pattern for Starfleet, to the bottom left and right corner edges were twin warp nacelles, whose struts doubled as the landing gear. To insure there was no damage to the warp components, there was an especially heavily armored cage around the working parts.

Still, thought Williams, this is the thin part in its armor. A rough landing would disable that part for good.

On top, just behind the flight compartment was a turreted set of twin heavy phaser cannons. I’ve seen the specs on those, thought Thorrell, as he quickly kneeled to look under the Killer Bee. Yep, he acknowledged as he saw a corresponding lump underneath. There is another set underneath as well. Of course they are retracted now for landing purposes. Not nearly as powerful as the phaser banks on a starship, they wouldn’t work well on a shielded ship. But as support for a ground assault, they would be devastating. Thorrell wondered how it would protect itself against a real starship while descending from orbit, then his gaze found the shuttle’s sharpest teeth. Thorrell could see the open maw of a photon mortar launcher on the top center of the rear hull, just above the impulse projectors. Very impressive, Thorrell’s thoughts concluded.

Kelsey saw all this immediately, having studied the specs when he’d heard his ship would be capable of carrying these, but what really caught his attention was the paint job. It didn’t have the standard Starfleet white pattern on the hull’s skin, but the scaled green likeness of a Vulcan le-matya, only somewhat stylized in many critical areas. The phaser batteries fired from the center of the golden eyes and the photon’s from the center of twin starburst patterns of brilliant Klingon blood red. The effect was to create the image of a type of monster most civilizations had in their ancient mythologies. It brought back fond memories of the Fer D’Lance and a bit of nostalgic depression.

So impressive was the effect, that no one came much further than just inside the door.

Mason chuckled as he realized he’d continued on by himself. He turned and gestured for them to come closer. "Come, ladies and gentlemen, Widow Maker doesn’t bite the hand that feeds her," he said, indicating the shuttle’s name printed on the side. "We of the First Marine Regiment have a long and rich history. We understand the responsibility in being assigned to the unit that protects Sector One and train to a level unsurpassed by any other combat unit, to include the Klingons. Are there any questions?"

"Very impressive, Major," Thorrell started. "I noted the tubes," he pointed.

"It uses full charge photon grenades that are launched electromagnetically. There are about a dozen grenades aboard." Anticipating Thorrell’s next comment, Mason continued. "Please remember, she is a ground support fighter and not designed to engage in a true space fight. That we have mortars at all is for blowing a gap in any defenses a planet may have up in orbit, or for use in support of full-size starships. Widow Maker can double as a scout, of sorts, making contact with an enemy’s forces, hitting and running, trading space for time, but it was never designed to stand toe-to-toe with a starship of any sorts."

Hrisch snorted in. "Even a Tholian patrol cruiser?"

Mason thought on that one for a minute. "You know something, Chief, that may be an exception to that rule. Though better defended and more massive, a Tholian patrol cruiser has less fire power than the Widow Maker. That might make for an interesting study."

"Captain to the bridge," came a voice from the speakers of the shuttle bay.

Kelsey answered. "Bridge, what’s the problem?"

"Priority One message coming in from Starfleet Headquarters."

"Acknowledged, Bridge. On my way." Kelsey turned to Mason. "Major, please insure my senior officers are well briefed on all your capabilities and support needs."

Just then a beeping sound came from Major Mason’s old style personal communicator. He picked it up and flipped it open, opening a sub-space channel. A voice mentioned three words, none of which made sense to those nearby and a fourth that they all recognized: Chosin. He responded with a different set of words, and then closed the channel. He turned to Kelsey. "We’re on alert," he started.

"I understand, Major, and I think I know why," Kelsey responded. "Continue to brief my senior officers on how to support your regiment. I need to receive this call." Then to all present. "Pay close attention to what the major has to say. You will find out why soon I suspect. Carry on. Thorrell, come with me."

The two left the rest behind. For a pregnant moment, there was only the sound of the air vents to be heard. Then Mason began a detailed briefing, using his command ship as the prime example.


Kelsey and Thorrell entered the bridge and every gaze was on them. The only sound was that of the station keeping sensors. Even the greenest cadet knew the significance of a Code One alert.

"Lieutenant Roberts, what’s our status?" Kelsey asked as he walked in. As a practice, Captain Kelsey always left at least one of his senior officers in command, even during briefings. Today, the new chief navigator, Miranda Roberts, had pulled the duty.

"Admiral Soyen is waiting on the priority channel, sir."

Kelsey thought about taking it in his ready room, but reconsidered that decision. Everyone knows what a Code One is for; no use keeping it a secret, he concluded. "Put him on the mainviewer."

"Aye, sir."

The eternal stoic face of the Vulcan admiral appeared on the screen.

"U.S.S. Chosin, at your disposal, sir," Kelsey stated, coming to attention, hearing Thorrell do the same on his right side.

Soyen went right into the situation. "Captain Chekov and the Enterprise have been attacked by a Tholian swarm originating from Alpha Tucanae Four."

They can strike the Sol system from there, Kelsey thought after he’d mentally figured out where Alpha Tucanae was in relation to the galactic center. Once again, Kelsey thought in that split second, the Tholians have expanded in a random direction, at a random moment.

"Following these orders are the communications Captain Chekov sent us supporting his request for support. Become familiar with them Captain Kelsey," Soyen continued. "The U.S.S. Chosin, as the closest starship, is hereby ordered to proceed to the Alpha Tucanae system. You will take on additional engineering personnel under Commander Sorenson to replace casualties reported suffered by the Enterprise. Also, Starfleet’s experience with the Tholians indicates that they will already have a well-established colony on the fourth planet of that system. Experience dictates that we will have to completely destroy said colony.

"Diplomatic channels, through Ambassador Spock, have so far failed to resolve this issue. It is therefore determined that an assault will have to be made on the planet’s surface to eliminate all Tholians. For this purpose we are assigning the First Marine reactionary regiment to the Chosin. You will prepare for their arrival and support."

"Aye, sir," Kelsey answered, having already anticipated most of these requirements.

"Sir," came Thorrell’s whispered voice in Kelsey’s right ear. "Sorenson and her detail are already requesting permission to come aboard."

"Granted," Kelsey whispered back. "Berth them properly, Number One, and prepare for the marine regiment as well. Dismissed."

"Aye, sir," Thorrell acknowledged and then left.

"When can you be ready, Captain Kelsey?" Soyen asked.

"As soon as the additional personnel are on board, we’ll leave space dock. We’ll take in the regiment on our way to the warp point. Major Mason is already on board and will take over that procedure. I take it this is the reason they are on alert?"

"Yes, captain." Soyen responded. "The rest of their regiment is, even as we speak, mustering and loading up into their shuttles. They should be cleared of their barracks in another twenty minutes."

"We should be cleared of the system and in high warp within the hour, sir," Kelsey offered.

"Good, captain. Starfleet out."

"Good, indeed, sir," Kelsey said as he backed up to the command chair. Hopefully, no more milk runs for a while, he thought.

His thoughts took another second or so to order themselves, then he began. He pressed the ship-wide address button on the arm of his seat. Kelsey began. "This is the captain. We have been ordered to respond to a Priority One distress signal. I repeat we are responding to a Priority One distress. All crewmembers will respond to their emergency stations and stand by. This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill. All departments report to your chief’s when ready. Captain, out." Kelsey visually played the scenes of controlled chaos he had just released on his ship’s hallways.

"Navigator, get me Priority One clearance to leave the system."

"Received, sir."

"Good. Captain Kelsey to Commander Sorenson." Kelsey said, thanking the new internal communications system.

"Sorenson, aye, sir."

"Get your people situated then report to my chief engineer. Help out in anyway you can to get us there as fast as we can, with as little degradation of power output as possible. We’re going to quite possibly get there and immediately have to fight." For a moment, he wondered if the lesson she’d just been taught reference proper subordination within a starship had taken yet until he heard her response.

"Aye, sir," came a competent and unemotional reply from Sorenson. "I am already working with your exec to get my people berthed, then I’ll incorporate them into your duty schedules."

"Thorrell to Captain," came a call from the speakers.

"This is the captain."

"We just received the last of the replacements and a load of supplies. Space Dock just reported they’ve detached the tractors holding us in place. We’re clear to depart, sir."

"Thank you, Number One," Kelsey answered, and then faced straight ahead. "Helm, one-tenth impulse. Take us out."

"One-tenth, impulse, aye, sir," the helm officer answered. "Engine room answers one-tenth impulse. Space doors opening now, sir."

As if this was the most common of commotions, the Chosin departed from its berth and slid out the wide open doors into open space.

"Navigator, compute proper warp point for departure to Alpha Tucanae system. Contact the marine regiment and coordinate a rendezvous to up-load their shuttles."

Fingers flew across panels. "Done, sir," Roberts responded. "I am already in contact with the regiment’s exec and coordinating rendezvous now."

"Transfer to helm and make best speed for the wing."

"Yes, Captain."

"Aye, sir," reported Helmsman Aherrowla, her Caitian voice rolling with purrs.

The Chosin sped off, leaving Earth behind. What seemed only a moment later, the wing of Killer Bees came into view on the screen.

"I have their commander, sir," reported Lieutenant Roberts.

"Put him on the screen."

Though the flight helmet he was wearing hid many of his Human features, he was easily recognizable. "We’re ready to come aboard, Captain."

"We’re ready to receive you. Prepare your wing to be brought aboard and stowed."

"Aye, sir."

The wing split up and each part took station outside the bay they would be berthed in. Powerful tractors latched onto each one in turn and brought them aboard, then maneuvered them into their latching mechanisms. With loud, metallic clanks the clamps latched onto corresponding points on the fighters, and they were secured. In only a few minutes, all the Killer Bees were loaded on board, and the hangar doors shut. With a whoosh of air, the bays were pressurized and the regiment of marines on board the shuttles disembarked. They were met by quartermaster personnel and shown to their quarters.

"Wing landed," Hrisherisch reported from Tactical.

"Warp point reached," Roberts said as she flipped a couple of switches on her navigation console. "Correct heading calculated and programmed in."

"Ease her to maximum warp," Kelsey ordered as he relaxed back into his command chair.

The bosun’s whistle sounded. "Engine room reports ready to give you warp speed, captain," Stronton’s voice came across the comlink.

"Engage," Kelsey said.

For a moment the visual form of the Chosin blurred as it approached warp one, then with a flash of light, she broke the barrier and sped off.


December 26th 2294

"Approaching the Alpha Tucanae system, sir," Roberts reported from her navigation station.

Kelsey stopped fiddling with the writing stylus in his hands. His gaze focused on her instead of the mainviewer full of blurred and streaming stars. Though his gaze had been unfocused before this, his mind had been screaming through the different scenarios he and his ship would soon be facing.

"Can we get a visual on the Enterprise?"

"I think so, sir, " Williams responded from the science stations. "Coming up now."

Starfleet’s pride and joy came up on the screen. "Now that ship’s seen some action," Thorrell noted.

"It doesn’t look as if the Tholians have given her the respect she deserves, that’s for sure," Kelsey added. "Mister Roberts, contact the Enterprise and give Captain Chekov my respects."

"Aye, sir," came the response from the navigator. A moment later, "I have Captain Chekov now, sir."

"Put him on the screen."

A moment later Chekov’s face filled the Chosin’s central mainviewer. There was a small piece of bread at the corner of his mouth though he seemed oblivious to that fact.

"Shaun, you there?" Chekov opened the conversation and then noted the crumb of bread in the corner of his mouth and wiped it free.

"Pavel, you ol’ Cossack," Kelsey quipped. "That’s one beat-up ship you’ve got there."

Chekov shrugged. "Hey, it’s in one piece. That’s more than I can say for more than three hundred Tholian cruisers."

Kelsey laughed. "You know, of course, Pavel, those things are, what? Half the size of a Federation scout ship, and even less armed?"

"Well, considering that a dozen of them managed to destroy the Bradley, you’d damn well better be careful."

Kelsey recalled the report they’d received from Starfleet intelligence just before leaving. "Always, tovarich, always. So, want to borrow a few dozen engineers?"

"Can you spare them?"

"Actually, Starfleet dispatched us with them as replacement crew members for you." Then Kelsey remembered the disciplinary hearing he’d been a board member of and why it had been held in the first place. Chekov looked somewhat hesitant. "One of them is an old...acquaintance...of yours."

Chekov put his hand to his forehead. "Please tell me she’s not a tall, blonde woman who will undoubtedly have one hell of a chip on her shoulder."

Kelsey chuckled to himself upon hearing this description of the fiery engineer. "One chip? Naw, she’s got two or three...dozen. And they seem to have your name on them, Pavel."

"Oh, joy..."

Kelsey chuckled, remembering some of the reports he’d gotten from Thorrell about her. "Anyway, I expect she’ll be more than glad to leave the Chosin. She’s made a lot of...friends here in the past twenty-four hours."

Chekov nodded and then turned to someone off the screen. He said something that wasn’t picked up well by the comm system, but Kelsey did hear something said about a, "Captain of Engineering Katya Sorenson."

"Uh, Chekov, that’s Lieutenant Commander Sorenson. Seems she underwent some sort of official rank review board, and she came up, uh, short."

"Amend my orders, Mister Michaels," Chekov said to the person off to the side, and then he turned back to Kelsey. "Any other Chanukah gifts today?"

"Well, actually," Kelsey responded. "We’re sending you a few dozen Wasp-class Fighter Bees and a few dozen Marines to fly them, so have your hangar decks standing by."

Chekov glanced to what Kelsey guessed was his first officer and nodded. "Continue."

"I’ve also got a replacement science officer for your bridge crew, six hundred kilograms of topaline, two hundred photon torpedoes for you, and even a modular intermix chamber, a warp coil and a dilithium chamber assembly. Lieutenant Commander Sorenson plans to have them installed by morning."

The Enterprise captain looked wary. "The last time she was here..."

"...has taught her a valuable lesson, Pavel." Kelsey responded, having already seen a little change in the engineering officer since the board.

"I hope so, Shaun." Chekov’s face became more serious. "We expect to be attacked at or around fourteen hundred hours tomorrow. I’d like for you and your first officer to beam aboard for the tactical briefing at oh-seven hundred."

Kelsey looked at his wrist chronometer. "Here we were rushing all this way, and we’re actually going to get like six hours of sleep. Must not have been all that big of an emergency, Pavel."

Chekov smiled at Kelsey’s mild jab. "Sleep? Vwhat is this sleep? We have no sleep here."

Kelsey rubbed his eyes in a mocking fashion that got a snort from Hrisherisch nearby. "Just have the coffee hot, the doughnuts warm, and the cream and sugar handy."

"We’ll even leave the lights on for you," Chekov said warmly.

"Thanks, Captain, I appreciate it," Kelsey smiled. "Chosin out," and the screen went back to the outside view of nearby space. Centered in it was the quickly growing orb of Alpha Tucanae.


Commander Thorrell was waiting in the transporter room when Kelsey got there at 0630 hours.

"Ah," Kelsey said, "another fine morning in the neighborhood, eh Nova?"

"That’s Super Nova, sir, and it’s already afternoon as far as I’m concerned. Why did they wait so long to bring everybody together?"

"I suppose the fact that none of the rest had arrived yet, when we got here last night," Kelsey bantered. "Did you happen to see who arrived overnight?"

"Yes, sir. Quite the entourage, though I think we could have handled this alone," Thorrell said with a big smile on his blue, Andorian face, his antennae waving back and forth showing his emotional glee.

"I know, I know, Thorrell, but you know, we in Starfleet like to share things like this amongst others."

Thorrell sighed. "‘Tis a mystery why that is so, sir."

Kelsey looked at the wrist chronograph at the time. " I guess we should head on over. You ready to meet the others?"

"If I must. I’ll try to be civil."

"Thank you." Kelsey and Thorrell stepped up on the transporter platform and centered themselves on an energy pad. With a nod of his head, Kelsey let Chief Rion know they were ready. A moment later, they were surrounded by blue energies and then a transporter room with most of its guts hanging out, obviously so they could be repaired, materialized in front of them.

"Damn," Thorrell exclaimed. "If I’d known this was how their transporter would look, I’d opted for the shuttle."

"Really!" Kelsey responded in kind. "That doesn’t sound like the move of a Super Nova."

Thorrell’s only response was a grimace and a lowering of his antennae.

"Don’t worry about it, Number One. I have much the same feelings."

A yeoman approached. "Captain Kelsey, Commander Thorrell?"

"In person," Thorrell answered, his swagger recovered.

"Follow me, please, sirs."

Panels and circuitry lying about on the floor often interrupted the walk down the corridors of the Enterprise. A couple times they had to use ladders between floors to bypass areas where the turbolifts didn’t service anymore. This ship has seen some intense action, that’s for sure, Kelsey thought as he followed the yeoman. Eventually they came to a room with the words "Main Briefing Room" on its placard. With a whoosh, the door opened. At least that works, Kelsey thought as he entered with Thorrell right behind him. Others had already arrived and Kelsey nodded to them as he headed for the chair in front of which was a card with his rank, name and ship on it.

The briefing room of the U.S.S. Enterprise normally held twelve chairs for its commander, his ten command staff officers and their civilian observer. Seated there today were some of Starfleet’s finest: Captain Pavel Chekov of the Enterprise, at the head of the table, Commander Uhura at his right-hand side; Captain Hikaru Sulu of the Excelsior next to Uhura, his exec—Commander Janice Rand—at his right hand side; Captain Shaun Kelsey of the Chosin next to Rand, his exec—Lieutenant Commander Thorrell—at his right; Captain Arex of the Repulse next to Thorrell, Lieutenant Commander Scott Davis to his right; Captain Gret of the El Cid next to Davis, Lieutenant Trent Cohen to his right; Captain Ra’pas of the Pontiac next to Cohen, Commander Linda Trimble at her side. Also seated, but not at the table were Ambassador Spock, Willis O’Brien and, lastly, Major Matthew Mason of the Starfleet Marine Corps.

At precisely 0700, Chekov stood, and the chitchat and small talk disappeared. "Good morning. Welcome to Alpha Tucanae Five, the place where the Enterprise has been standing its ground against superior forces from a Tholian world. Today, we expect the Tholians will be receiving reinforcements, just as we have, and we anticipate to go into battle at some time between twelve hundred and fifteen hundred hours."

I wonder how he ascertained that? Kelsey thought as he relaxed in his chair.

He gestured to the monitor screen. "This tactical representation details our efforts in this system."

"You’ve been ducking and running long enough, Pavel," Sulu offered, unbidden. "Now that the Excelsior and these other ships are here, we should be able to change the tide of battle," Sulu continued, as if it was his briefing and not Chekov’s. "I have drawn up a plan of attack which will isolate the Tholians into two compart—"

"Excuse me, Captain. You’re interrupting," Chekov said pointedly.

Good for you, Kelsey thought, applauding Chekov mentally for taking charge.

"Not at all. As the most senior starship commander here, I am simply assuming command of Starfleet’s forces in this system. The Enterprise is badly damaged and will need to take a flanking position to the Excelsior."

You’re out of line, Sulu, Kelsey thought as he sat up in his seat, readying himself to get involved here.

Chekov seemed to balk a bit before responding. "On the contrary, Captain Sulu, you are not. I am the commander of this mission, and I will remain so until I am relieved by Commander-Starfleet herself."

That a boy, Pavel. Set him straight, Kelsey thought as he relaxed back into the back of his seat. He felt Chekov would hold his own now.

Sulu obviously was flabbergasted. "Look, Pavel, you’ve done a fine job making do with the Enterprise until I...we arrived. It’s time for you to step aside and let an experienced officer take command of this situation." He turned to Spock and beseeched him, "Spock, can you help Chekov understand the logic of—"

"On the contrary," Spock’s deep bass voice almost shook the briefing room, "Captain Chekov is in command here, sir." There was a brief pause. "Not you."

Chekov turned with surprise to the Vulcan, who continued.

"Captain Chekov has performed his duties admirably; and as I am in command of the diplomatic aspects of this mission, I can see no logical reason why the captain should even consider stepping down from command of the military aspects."

Kelsey couldn’t take any more of this. He felt he could do what he was about to do since he had served with both these officers on the original Enterprise under Kirk. He felt Thorrell tense up as well next to him. Steepling his hands in front of him on the table, he challenged Sulu. "Hikaru, I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I’m thinking that you’re a lot more full of yourself than you realize."

"My thoughts exactly, Captain Kelsey," came Arex’s soprano voice. The Edoan’s mouth clicked rapidly as he added, "I have been reviewing Captain Chekov’s tactical maneuvering during the battles his single ship has had against an armada of Tholian cruisers, and I am impressed. His single ship has done as much damage to the Tholians as no other ship has ever done before."

Typical for a Tellarite, Gret grunted, "Damn straight. I nearly lost the El Cid to three Tholians a few months ago. Captain Chekov’s ship has destroyed over three hundred of theirs."

Captain Ra’pas, an Andorian, tittered, "And while I don’t personally know you as these others do, Captain Sulu, I can plainly see I don’t want to know anyone more pompous than a Tellarite."

Gret guffawed loudly, pounding the table with his hoof, and the others relaxed enough to chuckle a bit.

Sulu turned dark crimson in embarrassment and stood up, preparing to leave. "Perhaps I should make my apologies and return to the Excelsior."

"Hikaru," Chekov began in a conciliatory tone, "have a seat. Actually, I vwould like to hear your...suggested plan for battle. I’m afraid that I have none of my own. The Enterprise has been busy trying not to win this skirmish, but instead, trying not to lose it." He smiled. "It’s an old tactic, going back to the days of the Czar..."

"Oh, spare us, Pavel," Kelsey said, again relaxing, but hoping the Russian wouldn’t get too deep into his pseudo Russian folk lore. After all, Chekov was well known for making up Russian history as he went along.

"Please," Arex implored.

Chekov shrugged and conceded, "Then the floor is yours, Captain Sulu..."

Sulu brightened a touch. "Thank you, Captain." He clicked a control on the display, and a diagram became visible. "Under my plan, our six starships would be able to divide the Tholian armada into two compartments and slowly contract the areas until the Tholians either surrender or are destroyed. Once the Tholian fleet is completely surrounded, they will be ordered to surrender and forced to withdraw from Alpha Tucanae, all the way back deep within the Beta Quadrant.

"To assure a victory, our three Excelsior-class starships—Excelsior, Repulse and Enterprise—will create a triangle. The two destroyers—El Cid and Pontiac—will create a hexahedron by assuming the endpoints opposite each other on a line segment through the center of the triangle. Lastly, the Constellation-class Chosin will serve as a rover or shepherd, if you will, either forcing Tholians into the containment zones of the two tetrahedrons or destroying them out right."

Kelsey had to admit that it was a good and well thought out plan. He wondered if Chekov would think so as well.

Chekov stood. "I commend Captain Sulu on his work here." He glanced around. "Comments?"

"Let’s do it," Captain Gret grunted. "Makes more sense than to sit here and talk about it for a few more hours."

Chekov added, "Others?"

"This plan is doomed to fail," Spock observed.

"How so?" asked Sulu, defensively.

"It presupposes that the Tholians will withdraw. They will not."

"Are you suggesting that the Tholians would rather die to the last individual rather than withdraw from this system?" asked Ra’pas, plainly disturbed by the notion.

"It is a logical assumption. They have never withdrawn from any colony. There is no logic to assume that they will do so here."

"They withdrew from Xantharus," argued Sulu. "I know; I was there eight years ago."

"As was I, Captain," answered Spock. "The Tholian forces invading that system did not withdraw. They were...exterminated, just as will be the case here."

Kelsey was disturbed by the turn of this conversation, "Starfleet does not ‘exterminate’ its enemies, Ambassador."

"Actually, it did in that incident," said Major Mason of the Starfleet Marines. "Every Tholian ship involved in the Battle of Xantharus was destroyed. None of them withdrew voluntarily." He paused. "We didn’t realize it at the time, of course. We were busy defending the Orions from the Tholian carpet bombing of Xantharus Four."

I hadn’t heard of this, Kelsey thought. I guess it wouldn’t be something that Starfleet would make common knowledge.

Spock nodded. "And that was for a system in which they had not yet seeded a colony. Imagine their...fervor, if you will, to defend themselves from our forces here." He paused. "That is why I’m going to insist on one more try to negotiate—"

"Out of the question, Ambassador. There’s no way I’m going to let you off this ship and into their waiting hands," Chekov protested.

"Tholians have no hands, Captain."

Kelsey chuckled inwardly. Though he knew Spock would object to his suggesting he had a sense of humor, this smacked pretty heavily of one. Chekov, Sulu and Uhura rolled their eyes in response. Arex clicked his tongue repeatedly as he laid his head down on the table and banged it three or four times. The others in the assembled group watched their fellow officers in complete bemusement. Finally, Chekov stepped forward and said what everyone else was thinking, "I’m sorry, Ambassador; your mission has failed."

Spock sighed in defeat. "Then the Tholians in this system are doomed."

Chekov nodded in agreement. "One more thing: Major Mason has a number of Killer Bees which will be stationed on the Enterprise. These small attack vessels will be available to help contain the Tholians within the two zones. Don’t hesitate at all to call for their assistance."

There were several nodding heads.

"Oh, by the way, Mister O’Brien, you realize, of course, that you are welcome to record anything and everything, but you won’t be able to broadcast until...until..."

"...until after you..." The reporter didn’t finish the sentence for him. He knew what the captain meant.

"Then, we’re dismissed." Chekov said as he finished the meeting.


Captain’s Log, Stardate 9498.7

Long-range sensors are detecting the approach of at least one hundred more Tholian vessels, including several battlecruisers and another dreadnought. The battle will be joined within the hour, and we stand ready.

Ship’s condition is 100% of optimal.

I’ve heard that Ambassador Spock has logged yet another official request that he be allowed passage to Alpha Tucanae IV via shuttlecraft to try to negotiate with the Tholians. Chekov has denied his request, of course.

The Chosin stands ready and waiting for the action that is obviously going to take place.


"Sir!" Williams called out from her science station.

"Yes, Commander?"

"Sensors showing fifty-two Tholian patrol cruisers bearing zero mark fourteen."

This is it, thought Kelsey. Quickly,he punched the button on the right arm of his command chair,and he heard the claxon sound for red alert.

"They’re spinning an energy web already, sir," Williams added as she stared intensely into the hooded sensor screen.

"That’s odd," commented Kelsey and he brought his hand to his chin. "They usually reserve that for the capture of a crippled ship."

There was a snort from the weapons station. "They’re a bit premature," said Hrisherisch. "How can those crystalline pieces of dung think we’re anywhere near that crippled. I could destroy that web with one shot from our phasers."

Exactly, thought Kelsey. And they should know this as well. I’ll bet everyone else in our group is thinking the same thing. "I wonder what they’re up to," he added out loud.

"Enterprise is leaving orbit, sir," Williams reported.

"Take us out of orbit as well, Lieutenant Aherrowla," Kelsey ordered. "Parallel course."

"They’ve fired on the Enterprise," Williams reported even though everyone saw the plasma torpedo depart the nose of the nearest Tholian patrol cruiser.

Twin beams of coruscating red energy leapt from the rear of the Enterprise’s secondary hull. However, instead of being aimed at the offending patrol ship, they struck the center of the Tholian web and detonated it.

The patrol cruisers that were building the web and four others that were caught off guards near by exploded in blossoms of expanding thermonuclear energies. An omni-directional shock wave exploded outward toward the group.

"We have thirteen seconds till impact, sir," Williams reported.

"Stay with the Enterprise, Aherrowla," Kelsey said just above a whisper, but loud enough for the helmsman to hear.

Roberts reported, "They’ve warned us they’re going to Warp Four to evade the shock wave."

"Stay with them." Kelsey said.

The Chosin’s four warp nacelles began to glow as the starship accelerated. With a visual bang, the ship smeared and sped off, easily outrunning the sub-light shock wave. On the mainviewer, they all saw a series of torpedoes leave the Enterprise’s aft tubes.

"I have many of their ships in our sights, sir," Hrisherisch growled, looking at Thorrell. "Shall we draw this ship’s first blood?"

"No, not yet," the Andorian retorted, taking command of the ship’s offensive and defensive systems. "Save them. I think we’ll need them soon enough, besides, as you can see, there are now only four of that attack group left."

Thorrell glanced toward Kelsey and got a reassuring wink as the captain focused on the ship’s maneuvering.

Hrisherisch snorted in response, obviously displeased.

"You’ll get your chance, Chief. Hang in there," the Andorian executive officer added.

Four blossoms of loosed energy brightened the local area of space as the Excelsior took out the last four as they errantly tried to take it on by themselves.

"Enterprise has ordered the Sulu strategy, sir," Roberts reported.

"Repulse and Excelsior are assuming their positions," Williams reported from the sensor station. A moment later, "There goes the El Cid taking the lead."

The helmsman rowled in what she considered a laugh.

"What’s up, Aherrowla? Kelsey asked.

"I’m monitoring intership communications. Hrisherisch will enjoy this communication, sir." With a flourish of her furred and clawed hands, the Caitian pulled up a recorded transmission.

A voice that was obviously that of the Tellarite captain of the El Cid came over the speaker loud and clear. "You’d better be there to save my bacon, Chekov."

The voice of Commander Uhura responded a moment later, "Captain Chekov gives you his apologies, but says that that wouldn’t be kosher."

The Chosin’s bridge erupted into nervous laughter that drowned out Captain Gret’s expletive response.

Aherrowla pulled the earjack from one of her furry ears. "That’s all we’re going to get from sub-space until we clear the Tholians out, sir."

"Are we being jammed?" Kelsey asked.

"Yes, sir," confirmed Roberts.

"Keep trying, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir." The navigator adjusted her earjack and started punching buttons on the communications panel at the navigation console.

"Aherrowla, put us in a position below the others so that we can enter the fray at the moment of our choosing," Kelsey ordered. "We are the shepherd people. Our part in this is to make sure none of the bad guys stray from the killing fields."

"The Tholians have adapted a phalanx formation, sir," Williams reported. "The Cid is in grave danger if nothing changes." She continued a moment later. "Six battlecruisers and both the dreadnoughts are coming in on Gret."

"And we’re in the perfect position to effect a rescue," Kelsey commented, then ordered, "Roberts, prepare to come to course three-four-zero point zero, positive angle of sixty degrees. We’ll come up under their defenses."

"Course plotted and ready," Roberts responded a moment later.

"Full impulse, Lieutenant Aherrowla," ordered Kelsey.

"Stand by all weapons, Hrisch," added Thorrell.

Kelsey chuckled. "We’re about to enter the fray." Then added, "‘Tis a good day to die." and let an evil chuckle escape.

"Hrisch, target the battlecruisers first. We’ll take on the dreadnoughts once we have help from the others, though I doubt we need it," the Andorian said smugly.

"El Cid is firing on the battlecruisers, sir," Williams said.

"Hrisch, join him. Pick one of the battlecruisers he’s not firing on and let loose our hounds of war," Thorrell ordered.

The Chosin bore down on one of the central Tholian ships and it’s forward edge erupted in death and destruction. There was a brilliant flash of uncontrolled energy off to the side of the mainviewer as the ship El Cid targeted fell prey to the energies of its weapons. The same happened a moment later to the battlecruiser the Chosin had targeted.

"Target the next one in line, Hrisch," stated Thorrell.

"This is more like it," Hrisherisch responded as he ordered his weapons to bear.

"Target the battlecruiser furthest from the center of the killing zone, Hrisch," Thorrell said as he relaxed into the back of his executive chair.

This is going better than I could hope, Kelsey thought. His crew was performing above and beyond expectation. "We need to force them back where they can be engaged by our three heavy cruisers."

"They’re breaking their phalanx," Williams reported.

"Hrisch! Fire on the Tholian cruiser that’s on the furthest edge," Thorrell ordered seeing what was about to happen. If he couldn’t turn them, they would get away.

"I’m trying, you son of a dirty sow," Hrisch said as he showed his frustration by allowing his species ‘polite’ speech to surface. "But they seem to be ignoring the damage I’m inflicting on them!"

"They’re regrouping," Williams announced.

"How effective are our weapons on them, Hrisch?" Kelsey questioned seeing a pattern.

"We’re burning through their shields like they weren’t there, sir. Our new systems must be giving us the edge."

"Good! Let’s take on multiple targets, Thorrell. If we can’t turn them, let’s eliminate all of those battlecruisers."

"Aye, sir," Thorrell answered. "You heard the man?" the Andorian asked, turning to Hrisch.

"Aye, sir," Hrisherisch grunted. "Remaining battlecruisers targeted.

"Fire until we’re exhausted, or they’re destroyed," Kelsey ordered.

"Firing now, sir," Hrisherisch said with a squeal of glee filling his voice as all his babies barred their teeth at once. Beams of red energy lanced out in all the directions possible for them as torpedoes streaked away covering all the angles of attack.

The remaining Tholian battlecruisers fell beneath the onslaught as each exploded into bright mini-stars.

"Yes!" Kelsey said as he shook his fist at the mainviewer. "Now for the dreadnoughts. Where are they, Commander Williams?"

"One ninety mark zero, sir. They’re trying to outflank the Repulse."

"Put them on the screen."

Just as the Repulse came onto the screen, it immediately jumped straight down and out of sight.

"Arex is taking her straight down," Williams reported. "One hundred thousand meters...two hundred thousand...three hundred thousand. He’s stopped her there and is moving under the dreadnoughts."

"Ladies and gentlemen, learn and watch a master of three dimensional tactics at work." Kelsey said as he relaxed into the back of his command chair.

Moments later, they watched the Repulse come back up in a position where it now flanked the large Tholian ships. However, now they were in the rear containment zone of the Federation formation with three heavy cruisers on one flank and the destroyer Pontiac on the other.

"A swarm of patrol cruisers just entered the zone, sir," Williams reported. "No doubt trying to relieve they’re big brothers by attacking the Pontiac."

"If I was Chekov, this is where I’d...."

Killer Bee attack shuttles launched from the Enterprise’s shuttle bays.

"...launch the marines." Kelsey chuckled. "I guess great minds do think alike. There’s got to be a little Irish in that Russian’s background."

"I have another very large group of patrol cruisers on the sensors, sir," came another report from the science station.

"Are we still heading straight for them, Lieutenant Roberts?"

"Aye, sir. Dead center."

"I suspect the dreadnoughts will bide their time until we make contact with the armada and try to catch us between them and the mass of the others." Kelsey stated his thoughts out loud. "I wonder when Chekov will make his move on the dreadnoughts and take them out." Then he had it. "Are they still jamming us, Roberts?"

"Solid, sir."

I have no idea how Chekov plans on taking the dreadnoughts out, thought Kelsey. "But in my opinion they’re the most important target we have right now. Take them out and we can handle that mass of patrol cruisers handily. "Aherrowla, take us to heading zero one zero, down fifty thousand kilometers."

"Helm is answering change in course to zero one zero, sir."

Chosin reversed its course and headed to a position straight below the dreadnoughts. Now the Federation formation had the dreadnoughts in a three-dimensional double envelopment.

"Look at that," Thorrell stated as he pointed at the mainviewer toward the Enterprise. The starships running lights were blinking on and off in a seemingly erratic pattern.

"What the hell?" Kelsey sputtered as he watched.

"It’s Morse code, sir," Aherrowla stated from her position. "They’ve found a way through the jamming."

"What are they saying?" Kelsey queried.

"Hold...your...position. Let...them...come...to...us."

Then they saw the Enterprise stop and turn toward the dreadnoughts.

"We’re in the perfect position to support them," whispered Kelsey, his hands now steepled under his chin. Chekov is thinking—as I would—that the dreadnoughts were too easily forced into the position they are now in, thought Kelsey as he watched the battle begin to unfold.

"The dreadnoughts are moving toward the Enterprise, sir," Williams reported. "They are energizing their weapons."

"Prepare a full spread of torpedoes per dreadnought, Hrisch," Thorrell ordered, sitting forward again in his seat, his gaze intent on the enemy ships. "We have a beautiful angle on their engines."

Kelsey loved being able to concentrate just on maneuvering the Chosin.

"First salvo ready, sir."

"The Enterprise just opened fire on the lead dreadnought, sir."

"Fire, Hrisch!" Thorrell growled.

Every tube the Chosin possessed erupted blue death.

"Hrisch, get your crews to reload fast."

"Son of a sow, is there any other way?"

Thorrell ignored the Tellarite polite language.

"Second salvo ready and targeted on the second dreadnought."


Another wave of blue orbs left the starship even before the first one had bridged the gap to the first target. The running time of the first wave finally came to an end and the combined fire of the Enterprise and the Chosin quickly penetrated the dreadnoughts shields and then wrecked havoc on the exposed skin of the crystalline ship.

"Woot!" Thorrell gave an Andorian war cry from his station. "That’s finished her."

The second salvo struck their target even before the Enterprise could begin its attack.

"That one’s engines have had it, sir," Williams reported. "The Enterprise is making short work of the rest of it."

Thorrell and Kelsey were watching the Enterprise’s final assault on the dreadnoughts.

"Captain?" came a female’s voice from behind them.

Both officers turned to see Lieutenant Commander Williams gesturing at her monitors. "Captain, the Tholians have adopted another phalanx, and are moving in on the El Cid."

"That’s twice they’ve targeted Gret’s ship. Wonder if it’s because of that skirmish he had a few months ago. Lieutenant Aherrowla," he addressed his helmsman, "move us in for interception."

Thorrell turned to Chief Tactical Officer Hrisherisch. "All right, Chief. Ready all weapons crews."

"Yes, sir," he grunted, snorting. His small, porcine eyes sparkled with emotion. "We will teach those sowless wonders not to trifle with a starship."

"Incoming fire. Ahead, zero mark four."

So much for our charmed life here, thought Kelsey as he took hold of the arms of his command chair.

The ship shuddered. Thorrell ordered a yeoman off the bridge. Her report could wait until later. The ship then slammed so violently, Aherrowla was thrown from her seat.

Kelsey tapped the comm panel on his armrest. "Engineering, I want more power to the deflectors, now, or we run the risk of losing her."

"Aye, sir!" Lieutenant Stronton answered. "I’m working on it now. Engineering out."

There was another hit, and the navigation console ruptured into a shower of sparks. Lieutenant Roberts was tossed onto her backside near the doors to the head. Kelsey darted his eyes over to her form and realized, gratefully, that she was only stunned. Thorrell stepped down into the pit and took over her station.

"Number One, plot me a strafing run on the Tholian phalanx, then take us ‘round to the rear. We’re going to come up their middle."

"The Tholians will undoubtedly be annoyed," Thorrell concluded. "I like it."

Kelsey saw that Lieutenant Roberts had regained her position at the navigation station and turned to the helm. "Lieutenant Aherrowla, engage that course at maximum impulse."

"Hrisch, bring all weapons to bear on this run," Thorrell said, returning to his chair. "And Hrisch, if the phasers aren’t still charged and the tubes reloaded after this run, I’ll have your salary docked by thirty percent."

"Yes, sir!"

The engines roared, and the bridge was trembling under their power. The clicking of the phaser relays and pulsing of the torpedo tubes echoed through the bridge. As if it wasn’t already too loud, the whine of conflicting and resisting duotronics added another layer to its symphony, then there was a flash of an exploding circuit from the Environmental console to the right of the mainviewer.

Kelsey looked on in approval as Roberts grabbed a fire extinguisher and began spraying down the station. The environmental technician was unconscious, and the captain called for... "Sickbay, Doctor Shakura! Report to the bridge!"

"Nature of medical problem?" Shakura asked.

"I’ve got a couple of injured crewmembers up here. I know you’re busy; just get me a med tech on the double."

"Sickbay stands ready, Captain," Shakura announced over the intercom. "I’ve got a med team on its way. Sickbay out."

"We’re about to go up the chute, Captain," Aherrowla reported.

"Here’s your chance, Hrisch. Make us proud!" Thorrell shouted over the roar of the engines.

The Tellarite grunted, and his hooves darted all over the weapons station. "Firing all phasers. Bringing all tubes to bear."

"Status of the El Cid?" Kelsey queried, loudly.

Williams yelled back. "I can’t explain why, but she’s still there, and in one piece." She studied her instrumentation. "My God, the Tholians are dispersing! It’s working!"

Kelsey smiled. "As if you had any doubts, Commander Williams." He rolled his eyes at his wife and thought in amusement, Women. "All right, let’s round up some more Tholians. Come about and prepare for another run through the middle."


What seemed like forever, yet was soon over, the battle finished. There were no Tholian ships left intact, having fought until there was nothing left. Lost to the Federation was the destroyer Pontiac, hulled and lifeless as it floated in inner stellar space. The destroyer El Cid was in only a little bit better shape. All but a skeleton crew had been transferred to one of the nearby heavy cruisers. Captain Gret insisted on staying on board as he prepared his command to be towed to the space docks at Starbase Three.

"Per our orders," Roberts reported. "We’re in an orbit over the Tholian colony."

The ship shuddered violently as a plasma torpedo fired from a surface battery hit it.

"Damn, Roberts, get us into an orbit outside of their range."

Lieutenant Roberts quickly went through a few patterns of buttons on her console, Aherrowla fed the course correction into the helm, and the surface of the planet shrunk away on the mainviewer.

"What we should do is take those batteries out with our own fire," Thorrell grumbled. "After all, we decimated their entire fleet just under an hour ago."

"That’s not our orders, Super Nova, so cool your fires," Kelsey responded. It may have been an inappropriate answer, but he was Human and just as irritable as the rest. "We’ve got to wait for what the Federation politicians want to do now."

"Damn politicians," Thorrell said, still grumbling. "Let them come out here and act like a target for a while and then we’d see what they’d do."

"Enterprise is receiving a transmission from Starfleet, sir," Aherrowla offered.

"Is it coded Captain Chekov’s eyes only?"

"No sir. General sending."

"I hope they don’t mind the eaves-dropping, but I think we have the right to know what’s going on."

"Putting it on the mainviewer in a split format."

"Enterprise standing by, Admiral." Chekov could be seen on the right side of the screen.

Lystra Davis’ pleasant visage filled the left side. "Good evening, gentlemen," she greeted them.

"Sir," Chekov clicked his heels as he snapped to attention. "We have defeated the Tholian armada in this system..."

"Damn right we did," Thorrell sniped.

"...The colony—with a population of ten thousand Tholians, by our best sensor readings—remains on the surface of Alpha Tucanae Four."

Davis stared at him, appearing genuinely pleased by his report. "Excellent. We need to make arrangements to repatriate the Tholian survivors to the Tholian Assembly’s nearest colony world."

"That’s not going to be possible, Admiral. There were no survivors from the armada, and the colony doesn’t answer our hails. They are maintaining a hostile attitude toward our ships. The Chosin is in orbit above the planet, and they continue to fire on her with surface to space weaponry."

"Damn right we are," Thorrell added again.

Commander-Starfleet Davis sighed. "Have you tried negotiations?"

"Repeatedly. If you’ve read my report, we lost the Pontiac because Captain Ra’pas kept trying—"

"Damn. Tell you what; let me get a hold of the Challenger. She’s on an exploratory mission deep in the Beta Quadrant. I’ll have Captain Garrovick open communications with the nearest Tholian world. Let’s get them to come clean up their mess."

"On the contrary, Admiral," Spock began. "There is another alternative we should consider."

Kelsey rolled his eyes as Chekov closed his, but allowed the Vulcan to step to the front.

"Yes, Ambassador? I’m hoping that you have a peaceful solution to this dilemma."

"I do. We should cede this planet to the Tholians."

"Out of the question, Ambassador!" Davis snapped angrily. "Ridiculous! Next thing I know you’ll be suggesting that we cede Vulcan to the Romulans, or Serenidad to the Klingons, or Cait to the Kzin!" She snorted. "Can you provide any other logical alternative?"

"I cannot," the Vulcan admitted.

Davis stared at the assembled officers. "Anything to add, Captain Sulu?"

"I stand behind Captain Chekov’s recommendation, Admiral. Let’s see if we can get the Tholians back to their territory."


"And if we can’t?" asked Uhura.

"We won’t consider any other options at this time," Davis answered. "Starfleet out."

Kelsey sighed. "I guess we should scan the surface for all the infestations and begin plans for a bombardment. The Tholians have never surrendered anything."

Twenty-four hours later they had scanned the entire surface of the planet.

"All targets are marked and programmed in," snorted Hrisherisch. "I’ve taken the liberty of putting them in order of importance. Also," he continued, "I’ve already transferred our intelligence to the other ships. We’re all on the same sheet of music now.

"Thank you, Chief. I’m still hoping it won’t come to that."

Hrisch snorted his response.

"We’re being joined by the Repulse, Enterprise and Excelsior in orbit sir," Williams reported.

"We’re getting a net call from Captain Chekov," Aherrowla said.

"Put it on the screen."

"This is Captain Chekov of the Enterprise to Federation starships. You are to target all weapons installations on the planet’s surface and fire on them until the targets are totally destroyed. Do not, I repeat, do not fire on any installations other than the weapons batteries. Signal when ready to commence."

The querying signal came to the Chosin via the comlink at Navigation.

"Signal them we’re ready to fire on our targets," Kelsey commented. Chekov seems to be bothered by this turn of events, thought Kelsey. He looked around and didn’t see any corresponding feelings evident amongst his bridge crew. Searching his feelings, Kelsey did not find any remorse for what he and his ship were about to do. These were enemies of the Federation, proven over and over in the past. Why not treat them the same way they treated our own citizens?

On the screen Chekov bowed his head in what appeared to be a short prayer. Then: "All ships: Fire at will."

Phaser fire began lancing out at positions on the globe that they had only recently received fire from. Photons were saved for what was found to be hardened targets. In an atmosphere, the antimatter warhead created an explosion that exceeded the largest fusion bomb ever created. Annihilation devices had that effect.

Between the Chosin and the other heavy cruisers in the Federation’s group, the surface was quickly cleaned of the ability to defend itself in any capability.

"Cease fire," Thorrell ordered upon completion of destroying their last target.

"All weapons have ceased firing," Hrisch responded. "Reload and recharge is commencing."

Kelsey looked at the Tellarite.

"Just in case, sir. You never know."

"No complaints here, Chief."

"Enterprise is receiving a sub-space message from Starfleet, sir. Shall I listen in?" Roberts reported.

"Of course," Kelsey confirmed the suggestion. "We haven’t been told not to have we?"

"No, sir, we haven’t, and—Aye sir, I’ll put it on the mainviewer."

Admiral Davis occupied the left side of the screen and Captain Chekov the right with Sulu, Uhura and Ambassador Spock at his sides.

"Captain," she explained, "we’ve explored all options. The Tholians refuse to leave; yet they pose a threat to the heart of the Federation. They cannot be removed except by force. Their own people have refused to transport them from the planet and even suggested, no, demanded that we destroy the colony."

"And the establishment of a possible permanent blockade?"

"Only the Vulcans voted for it. The cost in manpower, equipment and materiel make it simply an impossible task. Even they were plainly divided on it themselves."

"I understand, sir."

She paused, then announced, "Pending my decision, you are to draw up a plan of attack for the...liberation of Alpha Tucanae Four. I’m afraid we may have to...remove the Tholians from the planet."

Spock spoke up. "Admiral, please, I implore you. Allow me one more attempt to—"

"I’m sorry, Ambassador. The hive world will be destroyed. We are going to end this now."

"I agree completely, Admiral," added Sulu.

The Vulcan stood there, plainly assessing the determination of the admiral and the two starship captains before him. He sighed deeply. "Unfortunately, so do I, madam, gentlemen," he admitted, his eyes filled with regret. "Logic seems to fail us when it comes to the Tholians."

"I thought that was true of us Humans, Ambassador," Uhura said softly, "but I failed to realize it applies to other races."

The Vulcan allowed her the faintest of smiles. "Regrettably, logic seems to fail virtually all member worlds of the Federation and both the Klingon and Romulan Star Empires."

Davis smiled sadly. "Then perhaps it is not logical to expect us to be logical."

"Indeed, Admiral." Spock cocked an eyebrow. "I find your assessment flawlessly logical."

"Captain Chekov, I am ordering you to destroy the Tholian colony on Alpha Tucanae Four at 1400 hours tomorrow, and may God have mercy on our souls."

"Yes, Admiral. Bombing will commence at 1400 hours tomorrow."

She stared at him a long time.

"Anything else, Admiral?" he asked.

"Are you okay with this?"

"Permission to speak freely, sir?"

Davis looked at the assembled group, as if searching for something hidden. "As long as that damned reporter is not around...yes."

"We’re caught, as in the Russian expression, between the devil and the deep blue sea."

She smiled sadly. "Yes...yes, we are. Starfleet out."

The screen faded on the left side as the connection was cut.

"Thorrell, Williams, prepare a saturation bombardment fire plan," Kelsey stated from his command chair. "We know where every one of their settlements are. Plan to hit all of them with photon torpedoes."

"Aye, sir," the two chorused.

"Of course, we won’t have to take on all of them as the other starships will be involved as well. Liaison with them and divvy them up equally. Have it ready at fourteen hundred hours tomorrow." Kelsey ordered, and then added. "Hrisch, I don’t want any breaks in our ability to support this mission. Do you understand?"

"Aye, sir. Understood, " grunted the Tellarite.

He stood up and stretched. How long have I been sitting there? Time for a walk. "Thorrell, you have the conn."

"I have the conn, aye."

Kelsey left the chair vacant and walked to the starboard turbolift in the back of the bridge. He didn’t see his wife hand over control of her station to another science officer and follow him. When he turned to face the closing door of the lift, he noted her by his side.

"You’re being rather cold about this," she began. "Doesn’t it bother you that what’s left down there are probably non-combatants?"

"Is there such a thing as a Tholian non-combatant, dear?" He felt he could use the familiar phrase here in the privacy of the lift.

"No, I can’t think of how such an individual could be identified."

"Then the point is moot."

"Are you sure the rest of the crew follow you in this action?"

"I expect them to be professional in this. They are all Starfleet."

She sighed. "But they are still mortals, Shaun. Some will be bothered by it."

His thoughts turned to this possibility. "What do you suggest I do about it?"

"Let those who do not agree to do this, bow out honorably."

"And if that should cripple this ship’s ability to perform its duty?"

"I don’t think you’ll find that," Arlene assured him. "Your leadership is too powerful for that. Besides, just think how this will sit with those who don’t agree with destroying all the Tholians on the planet’s surface."

"Hmm, point taken. I will make the announcement in the morning."

She smiled, then reached over and gave him a peck on the cheek before the door could open at their stop. "That’s my Irish lover."

"Ah, shucks, ma’am. Twern’t nothun’."

The door opened and they both walked to the nearby observation deck—Kelsey’s original destination.


"Time to get up, honey," Shaun Kelsey said as he reached over to turn off the alarm.

"Hmmm, hmmm, what time is it anyway?"

"Oh, nine hundred. Time to get up, get dressed, then to breakfast before we need to be on the bridge. I want to be there well before the action starts. Besides, I’m sure the midnight shift is getting weary of the boredom."

"Nothing boring about our present situation. Didn’t you feel them last night? We got hit by a couple of plasma torpedoes that were well beyond their range."

"No, I didn’t feel any of that. Why didn’t they wake me up?"

"Typical Irishman, you sleep very soundly when you want to. I suppose they didn’t feel it was important enough to wake you."

Hmmm, thought Shaun Kelsey, I guess they must have gotten a few of their batteries back up and functional. Ought to add to the excitement. "I’ll have to have a word with the duty officer about that."

"Be nice, dear," Arlene Williams said as she sat up, her pajamas sticking up long enough for Shaun to get a glimpse of her shapely body. She knew this and knew he was watching all the time. "You’ve trained them well enough for them to know when you need to be bothered and when they should handle it themselves."

"Okay, dear, I get it." Kelsey admitted. He more than appreciated the glimpse of her body he’d gotten. "Shall we get ready for breakfast, or do you want to wrestle some first?"

She looked over her shoulder alluringly and hummed. "I’d take you in two out of three falls, you know that."

He faked a pout. "You can’t blame a fellow for trying though."

She grew serious. "Not today, though. There are more important things to be attended to right away."

"Ah, nuts!"

"Maybe tonight though," she said as she winked.

"I’ll hold you to that, lady."

"Good. It’s a date." He stood up and began to dress. He hoped his wife appreciated the sight of his well-muscled form as much as he appreciated her curves. Still in a few minutes he had a fresh uniform on and was in the bathroom, removing the whiskers his face had sprouted over night.


"Captain’s on the bridge," announced the nearest crewmen upon the lift doors opening.

"Status, Lieutenant," Kelsey said as he entered the bridge with his wife right behind him.

"All Federation ships in standard orbits over Alpha Tucanae Four, sir. Nothing new to report otherwise."

"And the pot shots they took at us?" Kelsey said, holding the night shift officer’s gaze.

For a moment, the junior officer was caught off guard by the question. "They were nothing sir. Pretty much dissipated by the time they got to us. I didn’t feel it necessary to bother you with them."

Kelsey frowned, but only to give the lieutenant a hard time. "Thank you, Lieutenant. I appreciate it," and then he smiled, letting the junior officer off the hook. Looking around, Kelsey noted his first shift were all present and already doing their jobs.

"How are we doing, Number One?" Kelsey said to Thorrell.

"Ready to respond to anything you ask, sir."

"Good, no telling what this day will bring."

"Enterprise is attempting to contact the surface, sir," Roberts reported.

It’s a waste of time, thought Kelsey. Why don’t you give it up, Pavel? "Any response?"

"None yet, sir." Then, "Wait, they’re getting something."

"Put it on the screen."

"This is Empress Losatomorphetologincha, Queen of Hive World Seven Four Nine, Tholian Territorial Annex Three Eight Two. We demand your immediate surrender and your withdrawal from our territory. In the interest of interstellar amity—"

On the right side of the screen, Chekov rolled his eyes.

"—we give you three hours to depart from this system."

"Empress," he replied, "your forces have been destroyed. Your planetary weapons have been destroyed. Logic dictates that you must withdraw."

"We remain steadfast. We will not abandon this colony."

"They’re firing at us again, sir," Williams reported. "Weak MASERS, obviously converted microwave communications transmitters.

"Empress, cease firing upon our vessels, or we will eliminate your communications towers."

"Intruders will be destroyed. You will be destroyed," came her reply.

The captain savagely jerked his thumb across his neck, and the communication ended.

"That was abrupt," Thorrell commented.

Phaser fire from the Enterprise silenced the MASERs in good stead. Additional fire took out the power stations below as well.

It was thirteen forty-five when Kelsey opened up a channel to the whole ship and gave his crew the chance to back down if they wished it. "Anyone not wanting to follow this course of action may leave their stations now and not be held accountable for it." Though no one on the bridge took advantage of it, Kelsey knew that some below decks probably would.

Fourteen hundred rolled up on the chronometers and right on the money a communication came through from the Enterprise. "All weapons target production installations and fire at will."

"Fire!" Thorrell ordered.

Hrisch hesitated.

"What’s the matter Chief?"

"I thought it best if the command ship fired first. I’d hate to steal any of its thunder."

"I see."

"Firing now."

Phasers and photons departed the Chosin’s tubes as each predetermined target came into it’s sights. Flashes and mushroom clouds could be seen rising from the surface after each salvo. They had finished destroying all facilities in their assigned sector when Roberts announced that the Enterprise was once again hailing the surface.

The immense gigahedron life form filled the screen. "This is Empress Losatomorphetologincha, Queen of Hive World Seven Four Nine, Tholian Territorial Annex Three Eight Two. We demand your immediate surrender and your withdrawal from our territory. In the interest of interstellar amity, we give you ten minutes to depart from this system."

"Empress," Chekov replied, "your production facilities have been destroyed. You cannot survive there any longer. Surrender," he pleaded. "Allow us to transport you back to Tholian territory."

"We remain steadfast. We will not abandon this colony."

"Empress, your colony faces extinction. We are willing to give you time to withdraw, but you must surrender immediately. Otherwise, I have orders to bomb civilian installations next."

"We have no ‘civilian’ installations. We have soldiers, we have drones, we have workers. We will not surrender. You will withdraw, or we will destroy you."

"With what? You have no planetary defense stations left. We’ve destroyed them!"

"We remain steadfast. We will destroy you. This communication has ended."

The screen shifted back to a view of the planet’s surface.

Kelsey clicked his tongue in response.

"They’ve rigged up a MASER in the communication tower we’ve allowed to stay standing to talk to them," Williams stated. "They’re even now firing it at the Enterprise."

"You have to admire their tenacity," Thorrell noted. "But this goes far beyond that. Captain Garrovick’s report on his communication with the nearest Tholian world says that the Queen of that hive actually told us to destroy this hive to its last member."

"Why?" Kelsey shook his head as he asked. "I don’t have a problem with doing what’s needed, but this is a big puzzle. Tholian hives pop up all over the place and demonstrate no pattern or strategy. What drives them to chose a planet? Why do they go there with no consideration as to where it is? Does it only happen here, or do they spread the same way on all sides of their territory?"

"I don’t think I have enough data to even begin to answer those questions, sir," Williams answered.

"How have they been described by you Humans?" Thorrell quipped. "They’re like the fire-ants on your world. They just show up one day in your backyard and you play hell getting rid of them from that point."

Kelsey snapped his fingers as he began to seriously think along those lines. "Maybe that’s the key. Maybe we’re assigning too much complexity to the problem."

"Message from Enterprise, sir," Roberts stated. "Lock on to all remaining ground installations with phasers and photon torpedoes. Fire at will."

"Repulse is firing, sir," Williams said. "Targeting all hive installations in its sector."

Kelsey put the question to the back of his mind. He’d come back to it some other time when there wasn’t so many other things to occupy it. "Target all hive installations within our zone of responsibility."

"Targeted, sir," Hrisch responded. "Weapons are all green."

"Fire as they bear, Chief," the Andorian exec ordered.

The bridge was quiet except for the clicks and hums of weapons firing.

"We’ll be just about out of torpedoes at the end of this fire mission, sir," Hrisch reported.

"I’m sure there’s a re-supply ship on its way here even as we speak, Chief, but thank you for the report. Save a few back just in case the Tholians have a surprise still waiting for us. I’m sure the phasers can take care of any target we may have after that, but make sure we’ve covered the hardened ones while we still have torpedoes."

"Aye, sir."

The firing only lasted a few minutes before Williams reported. "All hive installations have been destroyed."

"Enterprise is calling for a cease fir, sir"

"Cease fire, but have the weapons charged and ready, Hrisch."

"Of course, sir."

"There are a few survivors down there," Williams said, disbelief filling her voice.

"Always are," Kelsey responded. "We’re going to have to go down there and kill the rest in hand to hand fighting I’m afraid. Looks like the marines are going to earn their pay today."

"Enterprise’s transporters are being used."

Already, thought Kelsey. I would have thought Chekov would wait for the all clear from Major Mason and crew before going down there. "Stand by to support them."

"They must have taken some of Mister O’Brien’s holocams with them, sir," Roberts reported. "I’m getting a feed from them. Would you like me to put it on the screen?"

"No need, Lieutenant. Just monitor their transmissions to insure they don’t run into any trouble they can’t get out of."

"Monitoring, sir."

It was only a few minutes later that Roberts exclaimed. "They’re taking fire from the survivors!"

Damn it, Chekov, Kelsey thought. Can’t you see the futility of what you’re doing? We could do this better from orbit using sensors and ship’s phasers. "Have they asked for any supporting fire?"

"No, sir."

"Then keep monitoring them. Williams, start scanning the area closely and let me know what’s going on down there."

"Done, sir."

"They’re calling for an emergency beam up, sir."

"That will be impossible, sir," Williams responded. "A jamming field was just activated."

My God, Chekov, thought Kelsey from the safety of Chosin’s command chair. Give it up, man. They aren’t worth the trouble. "See if you can find the source of the jammer that’s keeping them from transporting. I’m sure they won’t mind if we take it out as quickly as possible."

"Jammer located, sir," Williams reported.

"Give the coordinates to Hrisch. Warn them, Lieutenant Roberts, of what we’re about to do. Hrisch, fine focus of the phasers and fire when they’ve acknowledged our warning."

"Aye, sir," came the chorus.

A moment later, the Tholian transporter jammer was taken out and the landing party could leave.

Not long after that there was a communication from the Enterprise. Aherrowla passed it along to Kelsey. "Captain Chekov gives his compliments and asks that all ship’s captains report to his ship for an important conference."

"Tell him I’ll be there with my first officer."

"Aye, sir. Sent."


In the conference room of the Enterprise, the captains of the surviving ships, Major Mason and Ambassador Spock were soon assembled. They were a subdued lot, but they each had a cup of coffee or tea. The Tellarite, Gret, was gingerly nursing his burned hoof while Arex had two arms in slings. Though the cartilage had been knitted, it would still be a few days before his chief medical officer would let him do without the slings.

Kelsey saw Sulu not far away and approached him. He wasn’t comfortable with how they had departed each other’s presence before the action. "Hikaru, please accept my apologies for being so straight-forward the other day. Blame it on my Irish background."

Sulu frowned for only a moment and then his face relaxed. "Apologies accepted, and I guess I deserved it. Blame my occasional arrogance on my Japanese heritage."

"I guess that’s really what makes Starfleet so great," Kelsey relaxed and smiled. "Our diversity." He laughed lightly.

"But how does what we just did, Shaun, apply to that sense of diversity?" Sulu asked, a frown returning to his face.

"How’s that, Hikaru?"

"We apply the ideas that all forms of intelligence adds to our strength, and then we use that same strength to destroy a form of intelligence."

"Doesn’t there have to be a limit to how far we’re willing to go in the name of diversity? How far is the majority supposed to bend over backward just so a minority can have everything they want? When do the needs of the majority have sway?"

"Interesting questions, and I’m afraid I don’t really know when the limit is reached, though I think we just witnessed one of those cases."

Kelsey nodded his head, noting that the meeting was about to begin from his peripheral vision. "I think you’re right, Hikaru. I think you’re right."

Chekov and Mason were having a conversation about the aftermath. The marine making a point to the starship commander. "Imagine, Captain, we now know more about the Tholians than we ever knew before. We know that they have different physiological structures depending on their functions in their society. The more important the function, the greater the number of facets to their crystalline form. We also know that the higher the rank of the individual, the lengthier their names. It’s going to be useful in trying to fathom their behavior."

Spock stepped forward. "We also have confirmation that they will defend their territory to the last Tholian. It makes it more imperative that we come to a peace accord with the Tholian Assembly itself, and, I hope, soon."

Chekov raised an eyebrow. "I thought hope was a Human failing, Mister Ambassador."

"It is, Captain, but after all, I am speaking in your language," answered Spock, matching Chekov with an eyebrow of his own.

The bosun’s pipe whistled for attention. "Chekov here," the captain said into the open mike.

"Incoming transmission from Starfleet Command."

"Transfer it to the viewscreen in here." Chekov moved to his seat, and the others joined him at the oval table. "Captain Chekov standing by, Admiral."

The screen faded in, and Admiral Lystra Davis greeted them with a curt smile. "Good evening, gentlemen. My staff and I have gone over the results of today’s assault on the Tholian colony on Alpha Tucanae Four, and we are more convinced than ever that we did the right thing, however cruel it may seem. As Captain Chekov himself indicated during his interview with I.N.S., the Tholians simply have so little in common with us that negotiations, such as Ambassador Spock’s peace accords, may be flatly impossible." She paused. "However, we have a greater understanding of the Tholian culture, and given time, perhaps peace can be mediated between the Tholian Assembly and the Federation. It is my greatest hope that a lasting peace between our two peoples will be accomplished within my lifetime."

Chekov and the other assembled captains nodded in agreement.

"Gentlemen, I’m going to issue the following assignments. Orders, sealed orders and background information will be directed to your ships within the hour. Captain Arex, the Repulse is to report to Earth for repairs. At which time you and your crew can indulge yourselves in shore leave. Captain Gret, the warp tug Eratosthenes should be arriving within the hour. The El Cid is to be taken to Starbase Three where it will be decommissioned. You, on the other hand—"

"That’s hoof, sir," Gret interjected.

She smiled. "—hoof it is then. You will transfer your belongings to the Repulse, and hitch a ride to Earth. The Shiloh is awaiting her new captain."

The Tellarite stood, honored by the announcement. The Shiloh was a heavy cruiser of the Excelsior-class, recently commissioned.

"Captain Sulu, Captain Chekov, you are to remain in the Alpha Tucanae system for the next three days. I want to make sure that there are no...complications with additional Tholians."

"Do you expect trouble, sir?" asked Sulu, concerned.

"No, nothing of the sort. But the Federation Council has requested we retain a strong presence in the system for a few days. Just in case..."

Chekov responded. "Understood, sir."

"After three days, the Enterprise is to report to Starbase Three for repairs. Following that, she is to continue on her mission to explore the Beta Quadrant. We’ve made some enemies there today, I have no doubt. Perhaps you can find us some friends."

Chekov bowed his head slightly.

"The Excelsior is to head in the opposite direction. During the Kelvan War, we detected a new race, a race that we still haven’t gotten a name for, deep in the Alpha Quadrant. The only things we’ve seen have been long-range imaging of their starships. Somewhat like the Terran horseshoe crab, these things look like warships. I want the Excelsior to see if you can locate them and their home world."

"Yes, sir," Sulu replied.

"Ambassador Spock, as the Federation’s ambassador-at-large, you’re free to go where you please, but the Federation Undersecretary for Planetary Relations was wondering..."

"With your permission, I shall remain aboard the Enterprise, for the time being," the Vulcan answered. "Or until such time as the Federation needs me."

"Thank you. Major Mason?"

"Sir!" the Starfleet Marine officer snapped to attention.

"You’re to transfer yourself, your men and your materiel to the Chosin. Captain Kelsey, you have some sealed orders awaiting you on your ship. I don’t mean to rush you off, but time is of the essence."

"Understood, Admiral." Kelsey responded, taking the admiral’s words to heart. He turned and shook hands with Sulu and waved goodbye to Arex, Gret and Chekov as he made his way to the transporter room. Thorrell and Mason were hard on his heals.


"Well, major, it looks like you’re back with us," Kelsey said as they walked down the hall toward the nearest turbolift.

"It’s welcomed, sir," Mason responded. "Your ship is much better suited for it than the Enterprise is. The men will welcome the transfer."

"Any ideas about the sealed orders, sir?" Thorrell interrupted.

"None," Kelsey responded.

They reached the turbolift, and the door opened as it sensed their approach. They entered, and the door closed behind them.

"Transporter room," Kelsey said to the computer pick-up. He knew the control circuit would automatically take them to the closest one without him having to specify.

Mason contacted his exec on his transmitter and passed along the new orders.

The turbolift door opened, and they only had a little ways to go to Transporter Room One.

"Back to the Chosin, Chief," Kelsey said to the petty officer on duty at the transporter station.

"Climb aboard, sir, and fly these friendly skies," the chief said, his voice very chipper.

Always nice to have a transporter chief with a sense of humor, thought Kelsey. "Thanks, chief. Energize." Blue energies engulfed him, and, for a moment, he saw both transporter rooms overlaid on each other. The Chosin’s came into focus, and they arrived. Yet, it was always good to be back home no matter how long you had been gone, Kelsey’s thoughts concluded.

"Welcome back, Captain," Chief Rion said from his station.

"Thanks, Chief."

"Commander Williams told me to pass along to you that there is a set of sealed orders waiting for you on the bridge."

"Yes, I know," Kelsey stopped and spoke up toward the open comlink. "Captain to Bridge: Commander Williams?"

"Williams here, sir."

Man is this new communication system sweet, Kelsey appreciated as he continued. "Have the orders transferred to my computer station in the aft conference room and then have all section chiefs meet me there."

"Aye, sir."

Then he turned to his exec. "Number One, get Mason’s marines settled and then join me there. We’ll wait for you."

"Thank you, and aye, sir."

"Mason, I’m sure your exec can take over all the details of getting your marines back into their places here," Kelsey said to the major. "Why don’t you join me in the aft conference room?"

"Wilco, sir." Mason responded, then got on his own transmitter to give his exec his marching orders. "Done. After you, sir?"


"Captain on the bridge," Kelsey heard as he entered the command hub of his ship.

"Carry on," he said getting them back to their station keeping. Sometimes traditions were such a pain, but Kelsey knew the necessity of them as far as ship’s discipline went. Williams was sitting at the conn. "Lieutenant Forkes," he addressed a junior command officer working at the Sciences station. "You have the conn. All department heads will be in the aft conference room for the reading of the sealed orders we just received."

"Aye, sir."

"Commander Williams, come with me," Kelsey ordered. "The rest will be here shortly."

The port door to the turbolift whooshed open at his approach. "Conference room," he said, and the back doors of the lift slid open to a room that had a desk at one end, with a long table with chairs in front of it. Along one bulkhead was a transparent aluminum view port, which presently was dominated by the warp engines and a view of the planet they were in orbit over. On a nearby computer terminal, Kelsey saw that there was a blinking light indicating that there was a message waiting for him to open.

"Go ahead and have a seat."

Kelsey sat down behind his desk and turned the computer monitor so that only he could see it. With a tap of a key, he brought up the file. The first thing he saw was the Federation seal on the screen. In writing below it was the instruction that this file was to be opened by the captain and was asking for him to stand by for a retinal scan so that he could be positively identified. He punched the "proceed" button and sat still as a bright sensor light scanned his right eye’s retina. It was only a moment later that the computer had affirmed he was who he said he was. The file opened, and Admiral Davis’ face was centered on the screen, frozen with the ‘paused’ icon flashing in the lower left-hand side of the screen.

Kelsey was tempted to hit the play button and get a sneak preview, but restrained himself, out of respect for his command. Pretty soon there was a chime at the door indicating that there was someone wishing to come in. "Come in," Kelsey said, and the door opened. Thorrell and the rest of the section heads came in.

"I know you’re all wondering why I’ve gathered you here," Kelsey said as he watched them file in and take their seats. Once they were all in and seated, Kelsey set up the computer so it would transmit to a nearby wall screen. There was Admiral Davis, frozen in place. Kelsey pushed the play button, and the orders began.

"Your orders are very simple. The Chosin is ordered to these coordinates..." Davis began.

Why are those coordinates so familiar? thought Kelsey as they scrolled across the screen.

"...and investigate why the Tholians spread the way they do."

My God, thought Kelsey as he recognized the location deep within the Beta Quadrant. That’s where the Romulan Empire and the Tholian Assembly come together. He heard Arlene gasp as she realized where that was. That’s where we were forced to end our chase of the Kelvan ship that took Arlene’s father and thousands of other colonist hostages from Free Market. How many years has it been since that happened? Long enough that I’d almost forgotten about it...

The orders continued.

"From there you are to proceed along the border with the Assembly, without making contact if possible and backing off from any confrontations if you do make any. Your mission is to ascertain, if possible, what makes the Tholians tick, how they think, why they act the way they do. We have gained a lot of data on them, maybe now we can figure out this last detail and thereby get so we can predict them. I don’t want to have to eliminate another hive if possible. These are your orders. Good luck, captain. Admiral Davis, out."

And the screen went back to the Federation seal.

Kelsey scanned the faces of his department heads and saw different levels of problem solving going on there. Then he got to Thorrell and saw a big grin on his blue Andorian face.

Thorrell opened the conversation. "This is your big chance, sir."

"How’s that, Commander?"

"You may have a chance to find out where they went."

"For those of you who don’t know what my exec’s talking about. Years ago my father-in-law along with a few thousand hostages were taken across the border into the Assembly by a Kelvan mother ship and were never seen again. For those of you who were not with me on the Fer D’Lance when that happened, we were very close to catching them when we blew all our dilithium arrays and had to give it up. Nothing has been heard about them since, and they are thought to be lost since the Kelvan generally kept hostages for only one reason—a source of food and information."

"Couldn’t there have been any other reason for taking so many?" Stronton asked.

"I can’t think of any," Kelsey responded. "But, that doesn’t mean I’m not still curious about where they went."

"Who knows? Maybe we can have a final fight with the Kelvan," Thorrell interjected, a deadly gleam in his eyes.

"There is that," Kelsey answered. If I felt confident with taking on a mother ship with the Lance, Kelsey’s thoughts continued, I’m sure this ship can handle one. But first... "Captain to Navigation," Kelsey said to the comlink in the ceiling.

"Navigation, aye."

"Plot a course to these coordinates and prepare to leave orbit, Warp Factor Six."

"Aye, sir."

"Major, please let me know when your marines have stowed their Killer Bees and are settled in."

"Aye, Skipper."

Kelsey had never been called that by any of his crew. He kind of liked it. "While we’re waiting, I need each and every one of you to be working on the problem of the Tholians. Why do they spread in the directions they do? What are their motivations? Since no one has actually seen a colony ship ever enter a system before the colony begins: How do they get there? I need these and any other questions that might arise as a result of your experimentation answered. By the time we reach these coordinates, I already want a direction of study established so we waste little time just wandering about on the border."

The room chorused with "Ayes."

The marine major’s headset chirped. "Mason here. That’s fine, Exec. Thank you." Then he turned his attention to Kelsey. "Our shuttles are on board and stowed, Skipper. The personnel can get situated while we’re traveling."

"Sounds good, Major." Kelsey hit his comlink again. "Navigation."

"Navigation, aye."

"Course plotted and set?"

"Aye, sir."

"Stand by," Kelsey responded then looked at his department heads. "That will be all, ladies and gentlemen. Get to work." They all began to file out. "Aherrowla, get me Captain Chekov on the horn."

"Aye, sir."

She was only gone a moment when her purring voice came over the comlink. "I have Captain Chekov on the line, sir."

"Pipe it to my location." There was only a moment until Captain Chekov’s face was on the view screen on the wall. "Well, Kyptin," Kelsey mimicked Chekov’s Russian accent, "we’re off on our new mission. You’ve thrown a splendid party here, one I’ll not soon forget."

"I wish it could have gone better, Kyptin," Chekov responded, a frown crossing his face.

"Nonsense, boy-o, it went just fine. Next time you want to do something similar, keep me in mind. I’ll be more than happy to attend."

"Thank you again, Shaun. You take care on your next mission."

"That I will," Kelsey said in his thickest Irish brogue. "And may the wee people always be looking over you."

That caused Chekov to chuckle. "Ah, thanks, I think. Good luck."

"Thanks. Kelsey out." And the channel was cut. Getting up, he walked to the door and entered the bridge.

"Captain on the bridge!"

"Carry on," Kelsey said as he approached his command chair and sat down in it. He noted it was still warm. "Helm, course and speed set?"

"Aye, sir. Navigator has relayed the course. Engines are on-line."

"Take her out of orbit at Warp point Nine until we get clear, then engage."

"Engines answer Warp point Nine."

Not long after leaving the orbit of Alpha Tucanae IV, the Chosin’s shape elongated as it accelerated to Warp One, and beyond, with a flash of light and a shock wave.


Captain’s Log, Stardate 9500.9

We’re one week out from Alpha Tucanae and still a week away from our assigned exploration point at present warp. No use hurrying it since there is nothing pressing there that requires our presence any sooner.

At present, we are still trying to find that common thread that points to why the Tholians pick the worlds they do. We Humans look for oxygen/nitrogen atmospheres. Is it as simple as that for them as well? Then what is it they look for? Ambient temperature...length of day...atmosphere...what? And how is it that they get to the planet in the first place. No one has ever seen a transport ship of any kind.

The science section is steadily examining the data we got from Alpha Tucanae for any clues.


Sweat poured from his forehead as he strained to push the last rep on the bench press. He was pushing it a bit at two hundred fifty pounds, but what else was there to do. Nearby, Ensign Q’Stor was putting a crowd of crewman through their paces. She still packed them in, even though it was now more than two years since she’d come aboard. I guess some things will never get tiresome, thought Kelsey. Though he found her physical charms attractive enough, he was still madly in love with his wife, who even now was finishing a set of crunchers on the mat nearby. He never got tired of watching her.

"What?" she said.

Damn, he thought, caught at it again. He knew he’d been staring at her and she’d noticed. "Nothing, dear. I’m just reminding myself of how lucky I am you picked me."

"Pfft," she said as she mopped her forehead. "What choice did I have?"

"None, of course. Once I set my sights on something, I never give up."

"That’s what I find so enthralling, sir."

"None of that here, Arlene, please. It’s so hard to put up with on the bridge."

"Ah, ah, ah," she scolded. "Don’t forget our agreement."

"I’m not, but this is not the bridge, nor is it anywhere where we can’t act a little like husband and wife."

She walked over to him and reached down to give him a peck on the forehead, but he would have none of that. Grabbing her behind the neck, he pulled her to him and kissed her passionately.

"Shaun Patrick Kelsey!" she protested loudly. "You forget your place, sir!"

But he could tell by her body language that she really wasn’t all that bothered by it. In fact, if he was interpreting it correctly, she was a little bit turned on, as demonstrated by the twin lumps under her top. He just winked and grabbed his towel.

"I apologize, ma’am, but I think you’ve been taking lessons from that Orion over there, and I just couldn’t help myself."

"You’ve not heard the last of this, Captain," she said and then winked.

"I’m sure of that," he responded, and then winked back. Tonight was going to be fun.


"Coming up on our destination, sir," K’Lafa reported from her position at navigation. The Catullan ensign was a relative newcomer to the Chosin.

"Very good, Lieutenant. How far away is the Romulan Neutral Zone?" Commander Thorrell asked in return. He was manning the conn for the third watch.

"One parsec," was her response.

"And the Tholian Assembly?"

"One parsec," came the same answer again.

"Very good, we’re centered on the no-man’s land in between."

"Aye, sir, almost dead center."

"Ensign Moff," he addressed the Centaurian helmsman, "bring us out of warp and to a dead stop."

"Aye, sir, engines answer dead stop."

The Chosin’s form shortened and dropped from warp into normal space. Not long after that it came to a complete stop with only station keeping thrusters firing.

And this was also where the Kelvan assault ship had crossed over as well, thought Thorrell, his antennae swiveling, taking in the ambience of the bridge with that very sensitive sensory organ. He’d been on another ship when Captain Kelsey had chased the Kelvan warship here, but he’d read the reports. There had been nothing his friend could have done different to change the outcome.

Looking upward, he spoke into the open air microphone, "Bridge to Captain Kelsey."

The response was quick in coming. "Kelsey here."

"We’ve arrived on station."

"Thank you, Number One. Have the science section begin scanning. Proceed along the Tholian border until we come adjacent to a known hive world. Stop there and do a detailed long range scan of it. Unless we have an emergency, I will let you and the night watch handle things."

"Aye, sir," Thorrell responded. How many other commanders would have reacted so nonchalantly in the same circumstances? thought Thorrell. "Navigator, plot a course along the assembly’s border."

"Course plotted, sir."

"Helm, engage, Warp One," Thorrell ordered, then turned to the science station. "Sensors, search for a Tholian hive world within range of our long range scanners."

"Aye, sir." The science officer for that watch answered and buried his head into the hood, programming the computer for the correct search parameters.

Thorrell sat back and tried to relax, as he’d seen Kelsey do so often when actions were set in place. But his mind was racing along all the alternate paths and options that were possible.


"Now where were we?" Kelsey whispered into his wife’s ear.

"Making a silk purse of my pig’s ear, I believe Shaun," Arlene answered in a breathy voice full of passion.

"Ah, yes, so I was."


Filthy Humans, thought Q’Stor as she finished the last repetition of exercises for this set. They smell bad enough just standing around, but when they’re sweating, it’s all I can do to keep from throwing up. "Come on, gentlemen. You can’t be all that tired."

To a man, they were all panting heavily, sweat pouring from them and soaking their work out clothes.

As expected, her thoughts continued, I have none of the females in my groups. She grinned to herself as her thoughts explored the advantages she had with the crew right now. With a count to four, she came to a stop. "That’s it, gentlemen. Stretch out and cool down before hitting the showers, or you’ll be seeing Doctor Shakura later. You know what she’ll say, and do."

They groaned, but none the less began stretching, letting their muscles cool down slowly.

Patting down her forehead with a towel, she turned her back on them and frowned. How had these Humans done so much, as weak as they are? she thought. But they have, and so I’ll remain careful. Uncle Ryl, I will avenge you.

From what she had seen, the focus of her ire was a strong leader. I can well imagine how he could best Uncle Ryl, but, that was when he had been as young as I, and my uncle as old as he is now. It will be a different story this time. But I also have the mission I was assigned to complete. Before I effect my vengeance, I must do everything in my power to keep the Chosin from finding out the truth about this area of space and the alliance that has been kept so secret. A lot balances on no one knowing about it.

Ignoring the stares of the Human males still in the room, Q’Stor walked out and into the corridor. Five floors down and toward the rear of the neck of the ship that spanned the space between the saucer shaped primary hull and the engineering section, she entered her quarters and finally privacy from staring eyes.

She had killed the Orion female Q'Stor after finding she had been stationed aboard the Chosin. Then there had been the matter of getting the device from the Tal Shiar implanted which would fool the medical sensors of most ships. If she were ever injured seriously, her nature would be known. And while the ridiculous trick in the transporter room had helped support her false identity two years ago, there was still the matter of the pheromones. On the top of the chest of drawers was a bottle of the essence that affected males so provocatively. She only hoped she didn’t have to use it again. The thought of having intimate relationships with any of this crew threatened to turn her stomach.


Captain’s Log, Stardate 9503.1

We’ve arrived on station just opposite a hive world on our side of the boundary. Long-range scanners are gaining us valuable information. A couple of Tholian patrol cruisers checked us out from their side of the border, but they were content on staying on their side, and we stayed on ours. So far, no idea what makes them tick though.

We’re presently doing a detailed comparison of all aspects of this system and comparing it to the Alpha Tucanae system in the hope that we can find something similar.


Kelsey turned to his wife. "Any similarities?"

"The planet has a surface temperature that is no where near identical," Williams answered. "They’re about 100 degrees centigrade different. The surface gravity of this world is about three times that of Alpha Tucanae Four, and the atmosphere has a higher methane/sulfur content as well. I don’t know, the planetary conditions themselves do not give us many clues as to why the hive thrives here, and there, as well."

"Hmm," Kelsey hummed as he steepled his hands under his chin. "If the planets are that different, then what is the common thread here?"

"None of the data we’ve gathered so far explains it."

"Keep looking."

"Of course."

"What was that?" Stronton could be heard to say from his place at the engineering station.

Kelsey only just barely was paying it much attention.

"Can’t you clear it from the intake without shutting down the drive?"

That caught Kelsey’s attention, and he swiveled his chair around so he could hear the one-sided conversation better.

"How’d it get through the deflector?" Stronton asked. "I know, I know, there’s no telling. I’ll be down there in a moment and take a look at it. Stronton out." He looked up and saw Kelsey was already looking at him. "Sir, we need to take the port impulse drive off-line. Evidently, some kind of debris has become lodged in the in-take."

"Contact Commander Thorrell and keep him updated," Kelsey ordered.

"Wilco, sir." Stronton set the engineering console on auto and then walked to the turbolift, departing a moment later.

The trip down to the part of engineering that housed the impulse drives was a short one that was more lateral than vertical. He walked only a short way down the corridor then entered a door with the sign, "Port Impulse" on it. The chief engineer for that engine was already tearing down the shielding that protected the inhabited section of the ship from the deadly reactions that propelled the great starship.

"Forcefield in place, Chief Jackal?" Stronton asked the Andorian engineer.

Her antennae swiveled around, but her head did not. "Of course sir," she said and then grunted as she finally procured the release of a stubborn bolt. The plate fell away, and they were looking into the cavernous maw of the engines intake scoop. There lodged against the center of the protective screen that kept things like this from flying right into the reaction chamber and destroying the engine, was a one meter oblong, gun metal gray spheroid. That it was not natural was immediately discernable by the glossy smooth surface.

"What the...?" Jackal spouted as she entered the scoop and approached the spheroid.

"Don’t touch it, Chief," Stronton ordered as he looked around for a tricorder. He found one nearby at the main console. He then entered the scoop himself and approached the mystery. Turning on the mini-sensor device, he passed it once over the surface. The composition of the surface material became visible on the screen. That looks very familiar, thought Stronton as he adjusted the sensor to scan deeper. It was reflected back so that he couldn’t sense anything inside. He spoke toward the comlink in the ceiling. "Stronton to Science Section."

"Science Section," came the response.

"Get a forcefield container large enough for an object that is a meter square."

"What you got, Lieutenant?"

"Don’t know," Stronton responded. "Something got through the navigational deflector field and lodged in the impulse scoop. Doesn’t look to be something natural."

"On the way," the science officer responded, and the connection was cut.

It was only a few minutes later that they showed up with an anti-grav sled with a forcefield projector at one end. They quickly maneuvered it into the scoop and got it next to the spheroid. With hands covered in heavily shielded gloves, they manhandled the object onto the sled, then switched on the field.

"I took a cursory scan of it with this tricorder. I think you’ll find the results a bit interesting."

"Why so, Lieutenant?"

"The material is similar to a Tholian."

"But it’s stone cold," the science officer exclaimed, his surprise at the conjecture not hidden.

"I know," Stronton replied. "Yet, look for yourself." He showed the science officer the results of the scan.

He tilted his head to one side as he took in the readings. "That’s almost a perfect match for a Tholian. There is a couple of slight differences, but not big enough to matter. This will be a puzzle, that’s for sure."

"I wonder how many more of these are out there?"

"What do you mean by that, Lieutenant?"

"I don’t know, Ensign. Call it a hunch that is helped along by the general shape."

"You don’t think..."

Stronton cut off the ensign’s thoughts. "I don’t know, but I think I’ll take these readings to the bridge and have them scan for more."

"Good, idea. In the mean time, we’ll take this to the lab and see if we can find out exactly what it is. Maybe we’ll prove your theory correct."

"Yeah, maybe."

They went one way in the corridor, while Stronton went the other. In the background, Chief Petty Officer Jackal was reassembling the shielding plate in preparation for getting the engine back in service.

"Bridge," he said as he entered the nearby turbolift. In no time, he was back in the nerve center for the starship.

"So," Kelsey said as he noted the serious look on the engineer’s face. "What have you got, Stronton?"

"Maybe nothing, maybe something big," he responded as he went over to the sensor station and Commander Williams. "Ma’am, could you put these readings into your computer and scan the area for others like it?"

She took the tricorder and placed its base into a recess that fit it perfectly. Downloading the readings, she set the sensors to search. "That’s much like a Tholian would read on the sensors, Lieutenant."

"I know, ma’am, but I just took it off the object that was lodged in the impulse engine scoop."

"Interesting," she responded. "What was the object’s temperature?"

"Near absolute zero," he answered. "In other words, room temperature for the area of space outside our ship’s skin."

She hummed as she tuned the sensors for the search. There was an immediate response. "They’re all around us," she reported.

"What?" Kelsey responded from his center seat. "We’re surrounded by Tholians?"

"No, sir, but objects that scan just like them."

"What are you thinking, Stronton? Kelsey asked.

"They’re eggs."

"That can’t be. We saw Tholian eggs on Alpha Tucanae Four, and they had the same ambient temperature as an adult."

"Then maybe a seed of some sort," Stronton theorized.

"Commander Williams," Kelsey ordered. "What are their points of origin?"

Williams punched in a series of computations and queries into her computer before answering. "Sir, they have all originated from the nearby hive world."

"How are they being propelled?"

"I suspect by the solar winds of the star at first, and then along the currents of deep space until they are snagged by the gravitational fields of a new star," Williams answered.

It all began to come together in Kelsey’s mind. They float along on the currents until they are drug into a star’s system. Though it’s probably problematical as to whether they actually land on a planet, or not, before plunging into the star itself, but once there they would plant themselves. "I’ll bet those are all future queens, but what triggers them to grow?"

"That I don’t know," Stronton said, shrugging. "I’m only allowed one moment of genius a day."

"That’s the common thread," Kelsey said. "What about the nearby hive world and the Tucanae system is the same?"

Williams looked up from her scope to make an observation. "I’ll let the science section know to keep that ‘egg’ in a protective field as they test it. If we accidentally trigger it, I think the immediate rise in heat, as the being within develops, would kill those nearby very quickly."

"So ordered," Kelsey said as he relaxed. One mystery down and one more to go, he thought. "Inform Starfleet of our suspicions. Send them the readouts of the tricorder so they can start finding those ‘eggs’ before they land. We can now at least keep them from going elsewhere in Federation space."


They’re one step closer, thought Q’Stor as she read the report that was circulating through the ship’s computer nets. "We" know the "common thread" as Captain Kelsey calls it, but I must keep them from finding it. How?

"How would Uncle Ryl have done it?" she mumbled to herself. "He was the devious one in the family."

Then it occurred to her what needed to be done, and she sat down in front of the computer monitor in her quarters. Actually, it was quite simple once she put her mind to it. She’d known how to do this when she was still quite young. The hardest part would be to hide what was happening from the casual observer and even that she felt she knew how to disguise.

Three hours later, she put in the last command and relaxed into the back of her chair to check her creation for any errors before sending it on its way. There were none, so with a tap of the "enter" key, she sent it to the core to be incorporated into its programming.


"No matches," Williams found as she looked at her computer read-out in Science Lab Two. How can that be? she thought. There has to be something in common with both systems. Humans need an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere to survive, even when the gravities and ambient temperatures aren’t quite the same. That is our common thread. What is the Tholian thread?

"Run it through again," she ordered of her science team.

"Why, ma’am?" one of her techs asked. "There isn’t anything about either planet’s characteristics that are identical."

"That doesn’t make any sense," she retorted. "There must be something about both planets that are the same or the Tholians wouldn’t survive on each of them the way they did."

"What do they eat?" a different tech asked.

"Good question," Williams said as she went back to the computer record to see if there was any clue there. "They’re made up of a silicon-based crystal. I would suppose they’d need that to build their matrix."

"That’s true, ma’am, but there are thousands of worlds out there with silicon rich surfaces, some even within the Assembly’s controlled area, yet there are no hives there."

"Then that’s not the key," Williams concluded. "Though it might be a secondary need."

"Does anyone know the metabolic process that allows them to generate such a high body temperature so as to keep their crystalline matrix semi-fluid?" a tech queried.

"Some sort of nuclear reaction?" another answered.

"Can’t be," offered Williams. "Never had so much as a roentgen of released radioactivity registered on any of our sensors."

"Hmm," the tech tapped his fingers on the table. "So how do they generate their body temperatures? I don’t think it’s done with a chemical reaction."

"None that we know of would generate such a high temperature for as long as they maintain it?"

"What do you we have in our science that allows us to generate energy and what does it use to do so?" Williams asked, trying to generate a line of research.

"We’ve already eliminated chemical."

"Yes," they chorused.

"And with a body temperature as high as what we know the Tholians to have, we know it can’t be biological, in a normal sense of the word."

They all nodded in agreement.

"Then it must be radiological of some sort," concluded Williams. "And as such, then the trigger must be something about the star they settle nearby, rather than the planet itself."

"Oooo-kay," one of the techs said. "Then we should be evaluating what each star gives off that might nourish a Tholian?"

"I would think it’s electro-magnetic of some sort, wouldn’t you?" Williams added.

"Makes sense from a crystalline point of view. Something that would vibrate the atomic structure of the being."

"Okay, what part of the electro-magnetic structure of the Alpha Tuc system would cause crystals to vibrate?" Williams asked.

One of the techs accessed the computer and brought up the necessary data on the star Alpha Tucanae. "Ma’am, there must be a thousand or so frequencies available that might cause a crystal to vibrate. Do you really mean you want us to explore all of them?"

"Which ones are common to both Alpha Tuc and this one nearby?"

"That cuts it down a bit, but not a lot."

One of the other techs cleared her throat. "And how do we test our theories? We don’t have a Tholian to try it out on?"

"Don’t we?" Williams point out. "What is that object we just retrieved from the impulse scoop?"

"Has that been established yet, ma’am?"

"No, but it hasn’t been refuted either. For all we know, those are Tholian queens ready to emerge upon finding themselves on the right world, with the right environment."

Most shrugged their shoulders at that thought.

"On the other hand," Williams added. "The orb may be some sort of religious art work that the Tholians send out as part of some ritual. That’s how much we really know about it."

"What if we’re successful?"

"Then we’ll have proved a theory, Chief."

"No, ma’am, that’s not what I’m getting at," the tech continued. "If it is a seed of some sort and if we find the trigger..."

"You mean when don’t you?" Williams countered, smiling slightly. "I have every confidence we’ll figure this out."

"Well, yes ma’am, but we’ll maybe have a functioning, viable Tholian on our hands. That could get real hot, real fast."

That is true, thought Williams. A Tholian’s body temperature is very hot. "Point taken. Put it in a containment forcefield as we work on it."

It took some time to maneuver the spheroid into position, but soon they had it on the projector stand with the blue haze of a protective field all around it.

"Do we agree that it has to be something electro-magnetic emanating from the host star that triggers it?" Williams started.

"Without anything else to go on, that seems like a logical place to start since the planets themselves have very little in common."

"Then let’s take apart the Alpha Tucanae emanations starting at the low end of the spectrum."

"Should we test all of them, or just the ones that are unique?"



"Come on ladies and gentlemen!" Q’Stor prodded the class of crewmembers. Though there were a couple of females present in this class, the majority were males. "Only a dozen more repetitions, and we can move on to the next exercise."

This gained a few groans from the group, but not as many as there used to be when she’d first come on board. They’re getting into better shape, she thought as she pushed her own body through the last set. They do adapt quickly. Am I doing the Empire any service getting these Federation flunkies into such fine shape? Then she saw Captain Kelsey working out on the weight machine and her thoughts became dark and menacing. Patience, Rylasta. For that is my real name, my family name after the uncle she had so admired when she had been a child. I need to have him alone, and then it will be over oh, so quickly.

With that set of repetitions over she brought her mind back to what she was doing. "Okay, to the next exercise. Let’s go, get into the starting position."

There was no groaning, or for that matter, too many faces showing the heavy exertion.

They are getting in better shape. I wonder how my other program is doing in keeping them away from the secret?


"That’s it, ma’am. That’s all of them and not one of them caused the spheroid to react."

"Not even a little bit?"

"Nothing. It might as well still be floating in space for all the reaction we got from it."

"And we tried all the unique frequencies?"

"All of them."

"Any other radioactive qualities about Alpha Tucanae?"

"There were a couple of rare types, but they didn’t do anything to it either."

"Let me see our entire trial sample as a spectrum analysis," Williams ordered. She was sure there was something they had to have missed. A squiggly line showing the amounts of each frequency present in what they’d used on it appeared on the scope.

"Let’s see our analysis of Alpha Tucanae." Though the scale was a bit different, the line full of ups and downs was identical. Something was wrong. Something had to be wrong. Something about Alpha Tucanae activated Tholians, yet they had tried each and every one.

"Where’s this data coming from?" she said indicating the scan record.

"Central computer records."

"Do we have any readings that don’t originate in the central core?" It was a long shot, but she had nothing to loose.

"I suppose we have a raw archive record someplace. They’re supposed to remain pristine so that a more pure analysis can possibly be made," one of the techs offered.

"Check to see."

About an hour later, they found the appropriate data chip and placed it in the reader.

"Again, put into a spectral analysis and run it through the computer to see if there are any new anomalies."

Once again the lines were exact. Then Williams had a suspicion creep up from the back recesses of her mind. What if the main computer is being influenced somehow? "Okay, let’s do it by hand through something that isn’t controlled by the central computer."

"Like what?" a tech queried. "Everything in this lab goes through the central computer."

"Not the tricorders."

The tech snapped his finger. "Of course!"

Digging out one of the portable scanning devices, they hooked up the data stream to it from the data chip and ran it. At the top of the mini-screen was the chip’s spectral record. On the bottom was what the central computer was saying. There was a low frequency squiggle that wasn’t the same, but it was insignificant.

"Nothing different, ma’am," the tech announced after a moment.

"Try it again, there has to be something different. Amplify the graphic to spot small differences."

"Aye, ma’am."

The record came once again to the low frequency squiggle, but this time it wasn’t so insignificant. "Got something, ma’am."

"Can you separate it from the rest and tell me what it is?" Williams asked, excitement beginning to make itself known in her mind.

"Running the attributes through the computer." A moment later, "Nothing ma’am. The computer doesn’t recognize it."

"Doesn’t recognize it? Or doesn’t acknowledge it?"

"It’s like it’s not even there."

"Copy down the precise frequency and amplitude and do a manual search of the data banks."

It only took a moment. "Pertack’s radiation, ma’am."

"Are you sure?"

"I’ll do a second analysis, but it looks to be a perfect match."

So why isn’t the ship’s central computer picking this up? thought Williams as she waited for her tech to make the second, and in this case, more detailed analysis.

"Confirmed, ma’am. It’s Pertack’s alright. Very rare, even by galactic standards."

"Get a pure record of the nearby hive world’s star and put it through a tricorder," Williams ordered. Her trust in the ship’s main computer was now curbed. Something was wrong there, and that would be the next inquiry.

It took a moment to get pure data, but they soon had it on a memory chip and slipped it into the same tricorder they had just used to find the first anomaly. As before, in the low frequency end of the spectrum was that slight squiggle indicating Pertack’s.

"Voila," Williams exclaimed. "Pertack’s is the common thread."

"But, ma’am," the tech queried. "These orbs came from the nearby hive system. Why didn’t they activate while still inside that star’s influence?"

"Good question," Williams answered. "But one good question at a time. Let’s test our theory on the orb. If Pertack’s is the key, then it should react."

A projector capable of producing Pertack’s radiation was put together and aimed at the orb.

"Forcefield in place?"

"Still functional, ma’am."

"Cool the inside of the field to the same as that of what it is outside the ship and produce a spatial vacuum in there."

Machines went to work and soon the ordered environment was produced inside the shielded area.

"Turn down the lights," Williams ordered. "I want to be able to see any visuals that may occur."

The lights went down to just about what it would be at dusk on Earth.

"We ready, ladies and gentlemen?"

"Ready," they chorused.

"Tricorder ready to get all this down?"

The mini-scanning device was already set on a nearby table, aimed at the orb and active as seen by the flashing lights on its surface.

"Tricorder is ready."

"Flip on the radiation projector."

There was a slight hum from the projector, and an immediate response from the orb. The gunmetal surface suddenly became translucent, and a steady glow could be seen coming from within. But that was it.

"Any change in temperature?"

"None picked up by the sensors in the observation deck it’s sitting on."

So far, it still could be some kind of religious article.

"Wait!" a tech hissed. "There is a slight mass change. It seems to be experiencing growth on a small scale."

"But still no thermal production?"

"None that I can see on the tricorder."

Then it hit her what was missing. "Damn! It needs to be jump started," Williams stated.

"Jump started, ma’am?" one of the techs queried.

"Yeah. Think about it. What’s the one thing we haven’t added here that would happen to a new queen upon seeding a planet?"

She got blank stares.

"Atmospheric entry."

Some hit their foreheads with the palms of their hands and others swore.

"How do we simulate the heat of that?" Williams queried the group.

"A phaser set on wide angle fire," came the answer from one of the techs.

"Yep," Williams acknowledged. "That would do it. Get it ready and stand by. I have to report to the captain what we’re about to do." Looking up to the comlink on the ceiling, she called Captain Kelsey. "Commander Williams to the captain."

Kelsey was only just getting his uniform on after showering down. "Yes, Commander?"

"Could you come down to Science Lab Two, sir? We think we may have something interesting to show you."

"Has this to do with the orb?"

"Aye, sir."

"On my way."

A few minutes later, he entered the darkened lab. In the center, he saw the orb, sitting on a lab platform, with the haze of a forcefield around it and a reddish glow coming from the center of its body.

"Report, Commander."

"If this is indeed a seed, then Pertack’s radiation is the common thread. Alpha Tucanae emits it, as does the nearby hive star. I imagine if we do a detailed study of any of the other hive stars we can see from here, we’d find the same thing."

"So what have you done so far?"

"Just what you see. The orb is sitting in an environment simulating the conditions of deep space. We are presently illuminating it with Pertack’s from that emitter over there." She shifted her attention to the tech with the tricorder. "Any further growth?"

"Just slightly, but it’s steady."

"Evidently Pertack’s is to them as oxygen/nitrogen is to us."

"Is it producing its own body temperature yet?" Kelsey asked, not seeing what would be obvious evidence of same.

"Not, yet, but when you think about it, how long after coming under the influence of a star emitting Pertack’s would a seed float around before being grabbed by the gravitational influence of a planet?"

"From days, to years, to centuries, I suppose."

"I surmise that it would experience some slight bit of growth with the first contact with Pertack’s, but, and here’s my theory, it needs to be kick started into full growth and normal Tholian life."

"What’s the influence you think does that?"

"Heat of atmospheric entry."

"So it has to be a planet with an atmosphere of some sort?"

"Even though the content of the atmosphere’s we’ve seen them in varies, that’s the secondary commonality: they’ve all had atmospheres."

"That’s true," Kelsey nodded. "Is that why you have a phaser set up over there?"

"Aye, sir and that’s why I called you down here. To give us the go ahead to fire it and possibly activate the being inside."

"Maybe we should do this on the cargo transporter platform of the one of the bays? Just in case it gets out of hand."

Williams nodded her head. "Good idea." She turned to her crew. "Prepare to transport the whole thing to Cargo Bay One and place it on the transporter there."

"Aye," they chorused.

It took over an hour, but the whole thing was set up again, ready for the final test.

"Permission to fire the phaser, sir," Williams asked.

"You ready to transport in case of an emergency, Rion?" Kelsey queried.

"Transporter warmed up and ready, sir."

"Let her rip, Commander," Kelsey ordered.

"Fire phaser!"

The phaser had been adjusted so its field harmonics matched that of the forcefield and so its energies streamed right through and struck the orb. The forward edge immediately began to heat up with the areas just behind them heating more slowly. At first, nothing happened except the orb became white hot on one end. It was because of this brilliance that nobody noted that the throbbing light within began to glow continuously as well.

After what should be the appropriate amount of time for an object of this size to complete the heat producing part of atmospheric entry, Williams ordered the phaser switched off.

"Heat dropping inside the field."

"Allow the ambient temperature inside to climb just like it would if it was entering an atmosphere."


As the leading edge cooled, the light from within could now be seen to be growing in intensity.

"Mass is increasing."

"The orb is now a source of its own heat, leveling off at that of a Tholian."

With a crack, the outer shell split and a multi-faceted crystal began to grow from within. The shell’s material was slowly being absorbed into the glowing matrix of the crystal itself and soon the crystal was the only thing still standing in the forcefield. Facets were forming and reforming all across its surface.

"My compliments, ladies and gentlemen," Kelsey said. "I think you’ve solved the mystery of the Tholians."

There was a humming sound from the new individual now as it continued to grow just off the material that was left of the seed. All of their universal translators crackled to life.

"I am Valoristathenesnuminorvary, and you are trespassing in Tholian territory!"

"Even at this young age they are no different," Kelsey noted aloud.

"I didn’t expect it to mature into sentience. Damn!" Williams fussed.

"What if we remove it from the source of Pertack’s radiation?" the captain asked, watching the Tholian assert its crystalline appendages against the forcefield holding it captive.

"I think it will ensporulate."

"Cut the Pertack’s radiation."

The creature whined. "You have ten minutes to...withdraw...from..." And the crystals collapsed into a heap on the deck.

"Damn, we killed it," one of the science techs said.

"Don’t be so sure," Williams countered. She pressed a series of controls, and lowered the forcefield. She reached into an equipment closet, and brought out a dilithium-powered manipulative claw. Using the claw, she sorted through the shards of crystals and withdrew a spheroid object. Scanning it with her tricorder, she pronounced, "Valoristathenesnuminorvary, I presume."

"Chief Rion, prepare to transport the materials to a position two hundred meters outside the ship."

"Aye, sir," said the Grazerite who’d come to Cargo Bay One after the initial transport.


The Tholian spheroid and the shards of its former self disappeared in a wash of blue energies.

Looking at it through a view screen, Kelsey pondered, "How long will it last out there?"

"Forever," Williams answered, unless its destroyed. "I mean, the thing could fall into the gravity well of a star or a planet without Pertack’s radiation, and it would perish.

One of the techs gasped as she reviewed something on the main computer screen.

"What is it?" Williams queried.

"I was searching for stars that emit Pertack’s radiation, since our next step would be to warn them of possible insertion by a Tholian seed. You’ll never guess what star came up?"

"Which?" Kelsey and Williams said at the same time.


"That’s worth reporting, I think," Kelsey observed.

"I’d say so," Williams supported. "It’s a good thing they hadn’t found Venus before we terra-formed it. I think they’d have liked it in its natural state."

"That’s true," Kelsey responded. "Do you think they carry a source of that radiation with them on their starships? And if not, how far away can they get from a source before they begin to die?"

"I see where you’re going with that, Captain," Williams answered.

"Extrapolate that as the distance and then scan local space to see if there are any gaps in the Assembly’s coverage of their borders."

"I see, but sir, what do we need that knowledge for?"

"Humor me," Kelsey said as he smiled. "It’s very important."

Williams waved at the techs to get to work. It wasn’t long before an answer was found using the Chosin’s long-range sensors.

"There are huge gaps, or corridors, if you may, within their territory where there is no Pertack’s radiation," Williams reported.

"Are you thinking, what I’m thinking?"

"I don’t know sir, maybe."

"When we chased the Kelvan here before, they entered Tholian space without any challenge from them. Do you suppose there are corridors all through their territory where they can’t go and therefore don’t defend?"

"I would guess there’d be only one way to find out," she said cautiously.

"That would be for a ship to find the route and take it to where’er it leads."

"Captain, you’d have to get Starfleet’s permission, and then the Federation’s permission in turn since this would be crossing a sovereign border."

"I’ll get right on that one from my angle," Kelsey stated.

"Permission to speak freely, sir?"

Kelsey looked at the two science techs and Chief Rion. "Dismissed, gentlemen. Thank you."

After the Cargo Bay had cleared, "Yes, Arlene?"

"Shaun, you don’t have to do this. You don’t have to go after that Kelvan ship. It disappeared eight years ago!"

"Arlene, Starfleet must know if the Kelvans have gotten a foothold in the Beta Quadrant. If they come at us again, the Federation might not survive. If they’re out there, we’ve got to find them."

"What if they’re not out there?"

"I don’t think it will hurt if we take a good look around to be sure. If they’re not there, fine, the Federation is secure."

"And if we find them?"

"Then I intend to make sure that they’re never in the position to make war against anyone ever again."

"Vengeance?" she asked.

"Justice," he answered determinedly.

"All right then. Go ask Starfleet. See what they say. In the mean time," added Williams, "I have another mystery to explore."

Kelsey frowned. "And what’s that?"

"Why the main computer didn’t note the common thread between Alpha Tucanae and the hive star nearby."

"That’s true," Kelsey offered. "Look into that would you?"

"Aye, sir."


"We’ve found the common thread, Admiral," Kelsey said to the image of Admiral Davis. "And how they spread."

"Good work, Captain," Admiral Davis said. "Send me your report, but can you give me the down and dirty right now?"

"Sure, sir," Kelsey responded. "Pertack’s radiation is to them as oxygen is to us. They spread by sending out ‘seeds’ in all directions from their hive worlds, to travel on the stellar winds. If they enter a star system with that radiation present it activates the seed, but it takes the heat of atmospheric entry to start them growing. I don’t think it matters what the atmosphere is though since they’re found on everything from class A through Y planets."

"That would explain the randomness of their appearance in star systems far from the Assembly’s borders," Davis offered.

"Yes, sir. I’m sure they do the same thing to any other area outside the Assembly," Kelsey continued.

"Very good, Captain. Was there anything else?"

"Yes, sir. We have found areas, or corridors, for lack of any other way to describe them, through the Assembly’s territory where there is no Pertack’s radiation. I think it may be possible that if we were to travel through the middle of these corridors that we would be safe from attack. Tholians cannot thrive when they are away from a source of the radiation, and I surmise that they must carry a source, yet to be discovered by us, with them when they travel in their starships to areas outside their natural sources. I would like to explore the possibility that they don’t actively patrol areas within their own territory that is devoid of Pertack’s."

"I’ll have to take that up with my Federation liaison and get back with you. If your theory is wrong, and you’re caught inside their borders there would be hell to pay," Davis added.

"I understand, Admiral. We’ve a corridor nearby, and we’ll stand by here for permission to enter," Kelsey offered.

"Ah, I see," Davis responded.

Is she that good that she can see my motivation already? thought Kelsey. "See what, sir?"

"This was where the Kelvan ship disappeared, and you think you can finally find out where they went with all those hostages."

Damn, she’s good, acknowledged Kelsey to himself. "Well, yes, sir, that had crossed my mind."

"As I said, stand by in your present position and await further orders. I’ll let you know as soon as I know. Davis, out."

The screen went back to the Federation’s seal.

Kelsey knew this would be a very long wait, or would at least seem like a long wait. He decided to go and work out as a way to pass the time. "Kelsey, to Thorrell." Kelsey said to the open microphone in the comlink overhead.

"Thorrell here, sir."

"Please assume the conn. I’ll be in the work out room."

"Yes, sir."

"Kelsey out."

"You want any company, Shaun?" Williams said from the computer station nearby in the science lab. They were alone for the moment, which explained why she had called him by his first name and not the formal "Captain."

"If you think you can get away from your work here? Sure," Kelsey answered. "I was going to work through some katas."

"Let me put a few more parameters to my search program, and it’ll run itself," Williams responded.

"Then I’ll wait."

As she’d said, it only took a few minutes, and she sent the program searching.

"How long till you’ll have some answers?" Kelsey queried.

"It depends on how extensive the problem is that kept the computer from finding the common thread," Williams answered. "Not long, I hope."

"I’m hoping for the same brevity with my request to Starfleet, but, you know how that will probably go."

"Yep, we’ve got quite a bit of time on our hands," she responded. "You ready to go?"

"You bet ya," he answered.

After a stop by their quarters, they headed for the gym. It wasn’t far away, as nothing is really far away on any starship, but soon they had arrived. They noticed Ensign Q’Stor standing at her station nearby, waiting for others to arrive to be exercised. Shaun and Arlene chose not to, instead heading for a workout mat in the corner. They began stretching out.

There he is, Q’Stor/Rylasta thought as she performed maintenance to her work out equipment. But he’s never alone. At least this time, he’s only with his mate. I might get an opening here. Patience. Patience.

Stretching done, Kelsey and Williams started going through some Tai Chi movements to get themselves further warmed up. This went on for a half-hour before they moved on to the more intense form of martial arts called Tae Kwon Do. These moves were quicker and designed with more power. Slowly, as they warmed to the katas, their movements became quicker as well. Soon they were at full speed, and the room filled with their chis and hahs as kicks and punches filled the air around them. The Tae Kwon Do kata ended, and they went back to Tai Chi to cool off. They heard a single set of applause from the edge of the mat. They looked over to see Q’Stor standing there, grinning.

"Very good, sirs."

"Thank you," Williams responded breathing a bit hard. Kelsey just shook his hands to relax them as he moved to the heavy bag to punch at for a bit.

"I wonder how your style would fair against mine," Q’Stor said to Williams.

"I don’t know," Williams responded. "What style do you use?"

"Loo Doc," she said, using the style name her culture used for one of its many martial art forms. They won’t recognize it for what it is anyway, and it sounds Terran oriental enough. "Ever heard of it?"

"No," Williams answered. "And I’ve heard the names of most of them. Where does it originate?"

Caught, Q’Stor/Rylasta thought. "It’s a form of Orion martial arts. I learned it from my...what would you call him...my father’s brother?"

"Uncle," Williams inserted.

"Yes, my uncle." Except for the Orion part, she was telling the truth.

"That might explain it."

"Shall we spar a bit?" Q’Stor offered.

"No contact?" Williams queried.

"No contact."

"Yeah, sure."

They paired off facing each other. Williams in the classic starting stance of her style, her left fist up and a bit forward, her right fist cocked back and tight by her side. She had her feet about shoulder width apart and her knees slightly bent so as to accommodate any quick moves she might have to make to avoid being hit, or to make a move of her own.

The match started, and, at first, it was strictly a set of moves designed for feeling out your opponent. Then, quickly, Williams struck out with a feint with her left hand, then a right angle kick that should have struck the Orion just above the knee, but was pulled, then finally a right hand forward punch that she pulled so as not to actually hit her target. Unfortunately, when it was complete, there was no face at the end of her fist, just thin air. Q’Stor had mock parried each feint and then deftly moved away from the final punch, setting up her own in return which stopped just millimeters from Williams right cheek.

"Touché," Williams said as she reset for the next set.

For the next ten minutes, the same went on, with the same results. No matter how swiftly Williams moved, and which move she tried, it always turned up empty and with the Orion in a position poised for a strike instead.

Kelsey became interested during the third such set of maneuvers. The style that Q’Stor was using looked familiar to him, but he didn’t know from where. It definitely wasn’t Terran, or at least, he didn’t think so. But where had he seen it before?

After his wife failed one more time to best the Orion, he stepped in. "Can I try?"

"Be my guest," Williams offered, a bit winded by her exertions as she traded places with him at the side of the mat.

"Shall we make this a bit more challenging sir, your being a male and all?" Q’Stor asked, still holding her guard up and dancing a bit, moving from one foot to the other.

"What have you got in mind?"

"Quarter force, open hand?"

Sounded reasonable to everyone but Williams, who suddenly saw a scene where she was helping him to Sickbay to have his wounds looked after by the good doctor. "Captain, I don’t know."

"Sure," Kelsey answered a bit cockily. "Why not?"

This may be the moment I’ve been waiting for, Q’Stor thought. I’ll let myself get hit a few times—build up his confidence, and in the heat of a moment, deliver a killing blow. She nodded, "Quarter force, open hand it is," and she began dancing.

Kelsey was more of a stand up fighter, but he knew that if he didn’t move around with her, she’d quickly get the best of him. Her style was still very familiar. Where have I seen it before?

They sparred for a bit, looking for weaknesses, then she struck the first blow after a flurry of feints with punches and kicks that confused him just enough for her to slip through a slap that caught him on the left side of his neck. For a moment, he was stunned enough that he dropped his guard. She struck again, this time aiming for the other side of his neck, only this time he was able to block it and move back out of range.

That was quarter strength? Kelsey thought as he danced back, shaking his head. She knows how to defend against punches and kicks. Let’s see if she can handle this. Without too much fanfare, he began by throwing a couple of punches which she deftly blocked but on the last one, he stepped in, wrapped his arm around her waist, dropped his hip and picked her up off her feet, then threw her to the mat, holding onto her right hand, leaving the entire right side of her rib cage exposed, which he quickly took advantage of by kicking her there with the arch of his foot, thereby knocking the wind from her without breaking any of the ribs beneath. He let her hand go, and she got up.

"Very good, Captain," Q’Stor said, rubbing her side. "Shall we continue?"

"Your choice," Kelsey answered.

She began dancing again and noted him putting up his guard. It had changed somewhat, and he was moving different. He’s not one to make the same mistake twice, she decided. The simple neck strike won’t work again. I’ll have to try something a bit different. He’s stronger than I anticipated though. If I’m not careful, this could go badly.

I’ve seen this style before, Kelsey thought as he moved around, staying just out of reach of her punches. The sooner I figure it out; the better off this sparring match will go. Of course, it wouldn’t look good for me to lose to an ensign.

They danced around some more, interrupted by flurries of punches and kicks, each being deflected by the other. Kelsey tried to get in close again, but Q’Stor would have nothing of it, dancing away before he could bring the advantage of his weight to bear. Kelsey began to breathe hard.

He’s tiring, Q’Stor thought. Now’s the time.

She began setting him up with a series of feints, punches and kicks. All of which he parried, but with each set, with more difficulty. She didn’t let him recover, but continue to bore in.

Williams was watching intently from the edge and could see how the intensity was building between the two. She wondered if they hadn’t crossed the line from a friendly sparring match to something much more. Then she saw what Q’Stor was about to do, only because of her detached position. The Orion was setting her husband up for what could only be a killing blow, if it was delivered at full strength.

This is getting real intense, thought Kelsey as he dodged and parried each attack, then tried to attack in turn, only to have it easily deflected. Try something different; do something different, he was so intent on what he felt he had to do; he didn’t see what was coming.

Williams did and sprung to action.

I’ve got him! Q’Stor thought as the muscles in her upper arm, shoulder and chest gathered for the finale. One more flurry and there it was, the back of his head, exposed. She struck with everything she had. Only to have it struck aside.

Williams pushed Kelsey to one side and stood ready to defend herself in a position between her and her husband. "Ensign! Stand down!"

"What?!" Q’Stor exclaimed in surprise.

"I think that was getting way to serious for my tastes."

"I am sorry, sir," Q’Stor bowed in mock humility. "I must have gotten carried away by the excitement of the match. You fought so well that I forgot myself." Flattery should carry the moment.

"Shaun, are you all right?" Williams said, forgetting all protocol.

"Of course," he said as he regained his balance. "Why’d you do that?"

"We’ll talk later."

"I think that will be all for now, Ensign," Kelsey said as he ceremonially bowed toward his opponent.

"It’s probably for the best, sir," she replied, bowing in the same way.

The couple walked away.

Q’Stor could hear Commander Williams saying "I don’t think you..." and then they were out of her hearing range. He’s good, she thought, but I don’t understand how he bested Uncle Ryl. She began stretching and readying her mind for the class that even now was beginning to file in. "Stretch out, ladies and gentlemen. We’ll get started in a few minutes."

The fight she’d just been in hadn’t fazed her a bit.


"Do you know what just about happened in there, Shaun?" Williams snapped in a voice just above a whisper as they walked back to their quarters.

"Yeah, I almost had her right where I wanted her," he said and chuckled.

"No, dear, she had you right where she wanted you already."

"Is that right?" he remarked, coming up short in the hallway. "How so?"

"She was lined up to smash in the back of your skull," Williams pointed out.

"Maybe, but what you didn’t know was that I was just about to roll out from under it when you pushed me aside," he retorted. "I knew what she could do back there. Besides, it would have only been one quarter strength."

"That’s not what I read in her body language, dear," Williams answered. "What I saw was someone getting ready to break a cement block."

Kelsey chuckled. "All part of the show. However, I do recognize her style from somewhere, and that’s got me bothered."

It was her turn now. "How so?"

"The warnings I was getting made the short hairs on the back of my neck stand up."

"And you continued to fight?"

"I didn’t feel at the moment like I had much of a choice," Shaun said. "Maybe that’s part of the memory that I can’t remember."

"Well," Williams concluded as they reached the door to their quarters. "Don’t do that again. I don’t think our ensign is as in control as she lets on to being."

"Yes, dear."


"Sir," Aherrowla said from her post at the comm station. "I have a subspace message coming in from Admiral Davis."

"Put her on the screen," Kelsey sat up straighter and pulled down on his tunic to straighten out the wrinkles in it. The admiral appeared on the screen. "What can we do for you, Admiral?"

"As of five minutes ago, after a day and a half of discussion in the Federation council, you have permission to explore your theory about Tholian space."

"Good, Admiral."

"You are to proceed very slowly and at the hint of confrontation, to return to our side of the border."

"Aye, sir. Anything else?"

"Of course, we don’t expect you to report your findings until you return to our space, but keep a detailed record."

"Aye, sir."

"One other thing. You have permission to resolve that long standing problem in any way you see fit."

Kelsey knew she was referring to the Kelvan assault ship and the hostages they had taken with them. "Thank you, sir. I think we have more than enough resources for that."

"Don’t get cocky, Captain," Davis warned. "They are a very resourceful species and have had seven years to adapt to our tactics. Who knows what you may find?"

"Good advice, Admiral."

"That is all, Captain. Good hunting," the admiral said as her image faded back into the background of stars that were in front of the Chosin.

A common phrase from the war, thought Kelsey. "Roberts, plot a course to take us to the point on our border that is half way between the nearest Tholian hive and the Romulan neutral zone."

It took a moment for Roberts to find the spot using the ship’s sensors and then plot the course. "Course laid in, sir."

"Let’s go," Kelsey ordered. "Warp Five, please, Aherrowla."

A low hum began to be felt through the deck plating and the stars on the mainviewer began to smear. With a bump, the ship broke into warp and sped away toward her destination on the Tholian border.

It only took a half hour to reach it, and the ship came to a stop again.

"Sensor sweep, Commander Williams," Kelsey ordered. "Any ships on the other side?"

Williams intently peered into her sensor screen. Moments later, she turned toward Kelsey. "None to be found. In fact, there’s nothing but normal space debris ahead of us to the full range of the sensors."

"All right, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to go to work," Kelsey said as he rubbed his palms together. "Full sensitivity on passive sensors, Commander Williams; I want to know the second we are spotted and targeted by the Tholians. No active sensors at this point in time." Active sensors now would only serve to broadcast our position, thought Kelsey as he prepared his ship for the mission ahead. Even a warp signature may be too much, but I don’t want to take forever doing this, his thoughts continued.

"Passive sensors only, sir," she responded. A blinking light got her attention on her sensor board. The computer had a response for a question she had had it investigate.

"Commander Williams, suggest a course parallel to what should be the Romulan border and the nearest Tholian hive and relay it to Navigation," Kelsey said.

"Best guess at this point, sir," the science officer returned.

"Course plotted and laid in, sir," reported Roberts.

"Take us to Warp One to cross the border, Helmsman,"

The Chosin once again exploded into warp, though just barely, as it slipped into Tholian space.

"Any response?"

Williams didn’t take her face from the sensor hood to check out the computer message as she knew she didn’t have anything real critical being investigated, "None so far, sir."

"You hearing anything on subspace like an alarm, Aherrowla?"

"None, sir," the Caitian responded, her face showing how intently she was listening to her earpiece. "Not a peep. Only background noise."

"Good," Kelsey said. "Increase speed to Warp Two."

There was a brief hum as the engines took up the menial challenge.

"Engineering answers Warp Two."

"We’re even with the hive world right now," Williams reported. She knew the inquiry she had running in the central computer and was intrigued with what it found out, but it could wait a bit longer.

"Still no response?" Kelsey queried.

"None, sir," Williams answered

"Negative communications from that direction," Aherrowla chorused.

"How many stars with planets have we passed so far on our present course?" Kelsey asked.

"Three, sir," Williams responded. "Two with planetary systems. No data on types at this moment."

"Don’t worry about it," Kelsey assuaged. "It’s enough to know that there are planetary systems to be visited in their territory where they won’t challenge us." If we were going to be challenged by the Tholians, thought Kelsey, it would have been right about now. "Where’s the next hive world?"

"Just off the starboard bow, heading three zero four mark five sir," Williams announced.

"I have subspace chatter on Tholian channels in the space between that hive world and the one we just passed," Aherrowla added.

"Confirmed," Williams went on. "I detect warp signatures in a wide corridor between them."

"Is there a corridor around it where we can go unnoticed?"

"Recommend a heading change of three zero four mark nine nine five. I detect another hive world out there, but no warp signatures."

"No subspace activity either, sir," Roberts added as she and Aherrowla were sharing the communications duties.

"There’s as big a gap as we had here between them," Williams announced.

"Let’s slide through and see what’s on the other side," Kelsey said, sitting back in his chair. This wasn’t a whole lot different than navigating a minefield, only the distances were a whole lot further apart.

The Chosin came through the gap without challenge.

"I can’t find any evidence of a hive system ahead of us," Williams announced. "Sensors have them angling off to starboard at an acute angle."

"All stop," Kelsey ordered as he sat up straighter in his chair. "Narrow beam on our active sensors. Anything non-Tholian ahead? Any anomalies of any type?"

"Like what sir?"

"Like, Romulan," Kelsey responded. "I can’t imagine them leaving this big a fold in the line untouched.

Williams changed the settings on the sensor board. "Nothing so...." then she stopped and fine tuned a reading. "Ah, wait. Good call, sir."

"What do we have?"

"A platform of some sort."

"Has it spotted us?" Kelsey said. How can it not have seen us, he thought even as the response from his bridge crew was forthcoming.

"No active scans coming back from it toward us," Williams answered.

"I’m only picking up a basic sub-space carrier wave, no information being transmitted along it," Aherrowla purred.

"Okay. Roberts, plot me a course to come up on the Romulan side of the platform," Kelsey ordered.

"Not that I would mind a bit of action to liven up this dull patrol, but wouldn’t that be in violation of the Romulan Neutral Zone treaty, sir?" Thorrell offered.

"I don’t think so, Number One," Kelsey responded. "This is not the Neutral Zone. I’m not sure what kind of treaties the Romulans and Tholians might have in place, but it must not be too aggressive if you take that there is only one sensor platform here with no patrols or star bases to back it up."

Thorrell nodded his agreement.

"Course plotted and laid in, sir," Roberts said from navigation.

"Engage. Warp One, Aherrowla."

They hadn’t gone more than ten minutes along the course when Williams’ attention to the sensor scope became intense again. "Another platform at a heading of three one five."

"Same configuration?"

"Yes, sir."

"That doesn’t make any sense," Kelsey said as he mentally analyzed the data he was receiving. "Are you sure it’s a sensor platform?"

"No, sir," Williams conceded.

"They’re buoys, sir," Roberts offered.

"What did you say?" Kelsey asked, his gaze boring into her.

"I’m sorry sir, but they’re very much like the navigational buoys we use to guide our ships through heavy radiation belts."

"If that’s true, then," Kelsey took it to the next step, "draw a line through the two buoys and then scan along the line toward Tholian space. What do we find?"

Williams re-directed her sensors and then clucked her tongue. "I have a buoy at heading zero six zero, just a bit off the line between the other two."

"Exactly, sir," Roberts offered. "It’ll be guiding a ship through a channel and that channel may not be exactly a straight line."

"A channel into the Tholian Assembly," concluded Kelsey.

"Are the Romulans so cozy with the Tholians?" Thorrell questioned.

"That’s quite a question, Number One," Kelsey said. "If they are, they’ve never let on to it with us; they’re friend and ally against the Kelvan."

"I wonder how they were able to get past the territorial issues with the Tholians?" Thorrell asked. "The Romulans and the Tholians are both almost equally rabid in the defense of what they claim as their territory."

"Exactly. That’s what makes this kind of hard to believe."

"Coming up on the first buoy," Williams reported.

Now everyone was calling it a buoy instead of a platform.

"I have a visual."

"All stop, Roberts," Kelsey ordered then to Williams. "Put it on the screen."

It was a very simple object really. Two dishes pointed in opposite directions with a center vertical wing of solar arrays supporting it. The navigational deflector that kept it from being struck by random space debris had a slight green hue.

"That’s Romulan for sure," Thorrell observed.

Aherrowla put her right hand to her earpiece and then turned to Kelsey. "We’re being hailed, sir."

"Evidently it does have sensors of some sort," said Kelsey as he sat forward in his chair. "I hope it doesn’t report us to its overseers."

"Seems to be an automated message—in the clear—in Romulan," Aherrowla announced. "Very short and repeating."

"Put it on the screen."

A Romulan officer appeared and although his mouth was moving in patterns for the Romulan language, English came from the speakers. "You have entered channel fifty-two..."

Fifty-two channels? thought Kelsey. That’s already a lot. I wonder how many they have in total?

"...do not deviate from the center of the course, or you will be immediately attacked."

No one had to ask by whom. The message began to repeat.

"They’re pretty confident of these borders," Thorrell said. "No patrols, and a navigation system that leads into the heart of a very aggressive species territory."

"Let’s see where it leads, shall we, ladies and gentlemen?" Kelsey said as he relaxed back into his chair. "Roberts, follow the buoys."

"Aye, sir."

"Go only as fast as we need to make good progress, but without taking a chance at missing a turn, Helm."

"Aye, sir."

This warning turned out to be unnecessary. As they approached each buoy they received the new heading to take from it. They passed ten more hive worlds without so much as a single hail as the channel twisted and turned between them. During that time, Williams took a moment to see what the computer response was.

It was a result from the program she had put in place to find out why they had been unable to ascertain the common thread earlier. She read the computer analysis. It pointed out a small subroutine that had forced it to ignore any results for Pertack’s radiation. So, she thought as she continued reading the information, someone actively kept us from finding this information out. She tapped in a new query. Where did the insertion come from?

The computer only worked for a moment before coming back with an answer. "Unable to ascertain. Origin not discernable at this time."

Someone is very good with computers, she thought. The computer has to catch it as it’s being done next time. Quickly, she tapped in a new search parameter, with a warning routine attached. The next time I’ll know right away when someone’s tampering with the computer and then can trace it. In the mean time, Shaun and Thorrell need to know that we’ve got a hostile visitor on-board.

She got up from her science station and walked over the command and exec chairs. "Captain, we have an intruder on-board," she said just above a whisper.

"What?" Kelsey asked.

Thorrell heard the exclamation and bent over to listen in.

"Remember when the computer failed to recognize the common thread?"

"Yes," Kelsey responded.

"I had the computer search for the reason why and it found a specific subroutine that caused the computer to overlook Pertack’s," Williams explained.

"When was it put there?" Thorrell asked from his first officer’s station.

"Since we left the Alpha Tucanae system, but the computer was unable to trace the specific station it came from. Whoever it is covers their tracks very well," Williams continued.

"Obviously, we’re treading on someone’s toes, and I have a feeling there’s a Romulan connection involved since from what we’re seeing, they’re the ones who may want to keep this and what it entails, a secret," Kelsey added. "Can you insure the computer isn’t tampered with again?"

"I’ve activated the computer’s self-defense routine and programmed it to notify the science station as soon as it senses an unauthorized entry," Williams answered. "Whoever it is won’t get in unannounced again."

"Very good, Commander Williams. Let me know the moment the trip line is sprung so we can get this person collected up before they can do some real damage," Kelsey ordered.

"Wilco, sir," Williams responded and then went back to her station.

Thorrell added, "I’ll have a security detail standing by. We’ll tell them we’re preparing for boarders. They won’t suspect the real reason behind their duty assignment, but they’ll be able to mobilize at an instant’s notice."

"Good idea, Super Nova."

It was some time before Commander Williams had anything more to report reference the hum-drum subject of their insertion into Tholian space. "We’re coming to an opening in the hive matrix, sir," Williams reported.

"Opening to what?"

"Looks to be a large gulf, but unable to ascertain how large at this moment."

"Come to the opening and stop, Aherrowla," Kelsey ordered. "We need to figure out what’s beyond before we go charging in."

An hour later, the Chosin stopped. The line of buoys continued on in a straight line at a slight angle to the right and down.

"I have three star systems in that direction which seem to be well within the gulf," Williams reported.

"Any signs of life around them?"


"I’m picking up sub-space chatter, sir." Aherrowla announced. "They’re Romulan and the source of the chatter seems to be coming from the center orange dwarf star."

"Confirmed, sir," Williams added. "I have warp signatures there as well. I suspect there are more than just this one settlement in this gulf."

"And if we followed this yellow brick road," Kelsey knew this metaphor would be lost on quite a few of the crewmen, "we’ll end up in Emerald City, so to speak."

Though most really didn’t know what he was talking about, they knew what the color of emeralds were and that that had to be a reference to a Romulan settlement.

What a find this was, thought Kelsey. The Romulans and the Tholians in some sort of co-habitation contract together. I hope the Romulans don’t catch us here. We’ll have a little bit harder time taking care of one of their warships than if we have to deal with a couple Tholian patrol cruisers. Of course, it would also be sticky as to whether the tentative friendship that had been struck up between the Federation and the Romulans to fight the Kelvan would hold up in the light of this discovery.

He doubted that the Federation would really care in this case since they didn’t have a common border here, but just how much of the Tholian Assembly’s territory was also shared in this symbiotic relationship and how much technology were the Romulans giving to the Tholians in return. What kind of patrol cruisers will the Federation meet during the next skirmish? All good questions.

"Take us around the gulf, Roberts," Kelsey ordered. "Stick as close to what has to be Tholian space as possible." He turned to his wife and science officer, "Keep a close eye on the passive sensors for another channel out of here and for any Romulan ships in the area. We don’t dare use the active sensors."

"Course plotted and laid in, sir," the navigator reported, a tinge of excitement in her voice.

"Engage, Warp Two."

"It will be very easy for a Romulan observer to discern our signature from one of theirs since the Federation uses anti-matter to power our warp drives and the Romulans use S-2 graf units they’ve bought from the Klingons," Thorrell pointed out.

"Intelligence reports suggested that the Romulan fleet has been moving toward using quantum singularities, but it seems unlikely that they’ve equipped the entire fleet with them," Lieutenant Hrisherisch reported from Tactical.

"I appreciate the input, gentlemen, but we’re going to have to risk using our warp drives. Otherwise, it’ll be years before we find ourselves another way out of this...hornet’s nest," the captain explained.

"Engineering answers Warp Two, sir," answered Helmsman Aherrowla.

"I’ve checked the route we’re taking, Captain," reported Williams. "We should be well outside the more powerful short range scanners of the settlements and there are no other evidence that anybody’s out there."

"All the same, keep a close eye for evidence of a sensor platform, or patrol ship. I find it very hard to believe the Tholians and Romulans are so cozy that they aren’t watching each other."


Thorrell spotted Stronton on the far side of the galley. He went by the food dispenser, made his selection—something palatable to his Andorian tastes— and carried it over to the table where the lieutenant was sitting. "Well, fellow Nova," he opened. "What you working on?"

Stronton’s face beamed with a smile as he put down the hand-held padd. "Just trying to work out some details that could improve our warp intermix formula and give us maybe ten percent more power to the warp drives. How ‘bout yourself, sir?"

"Keeping it all together, mainly." Thorrell answered. "I once saw a picture from your Earth that pretty much describes what being the executive officer is like. It showed a man on some kind of board, with a sail, and he was sliding down the face of what could only be a wall of water."

"A surfer," Stronton volunteered. "Wind surfer. I think I’ve seen pictures like that."

"I imagine he couldn’t imagine controlling the power of the wind yet he manages to channel its energy in such a way so that he can use it."

Stronton nodded. "Yep, that’s what they do. I once tried it, but could never quite get the balance thing down."

"I’ve heard you had better uses for board’s like that," Thorrell winked. "A hover board, I believe?"

Stronton chuckled over that. "That was a long time ago—over twenty years, in fact—when I was a kid."

"And what are you now, youngster?"

"A kid, but grown larger," Stronton answered and chuckled.

"Aren’t we all?" Thorrell added and laughed as well. "What do you make of our present situation?"

"I haven’t given it much thought outside of what my engines will have to produce if we’re caught," Stronton offered.

"We have Romulans and Tholians living side by side, when we can’t get close to an agreement of the same magnitude with the Tholians through our own diplomatic corps."

"There’s something to this we just haven’t figured out yet," Stronton said. "Something that hasn’t occurred to us yet. Like most things, I imagine it will be so simple that we’ll smack ourselves on the forehead for not thinking of it earlier."

"Yeah," said Thorrell, though he could never figure out that Human expression of frustration. "The general thought is that the Rommies and Tholies have some sort of treaty running that allows for the Rommies to have settlements within the Assembly’s territory."

"I imagine it goes both ways," Stronton returned. "The Rommies probably don’t put up a fuss if the Tholies create a hive on their side of the line."

"But that’s not like the Romulans at all," Thorrell continued. "They’re obsessive/compulsive about their borders."

"Treaties are about give and take, my Nova friend."

"Yeah, but it just doesn’t make sense!" Thorrell shook his head as he spoke. "Another thing that’s got me puzzled..."

"What’s that?"

"It looks like these settlements have been here for some time. If the Rommies and Tholies have such a great relationship going, why haven’t they traded technology?"

"Technology might not be their trade currency," Stronton answered. "The Rommies and Tholies technology are based on radically different concepts. I can’t imagine much of what the Romulans have—just as in our case—would work well on the Tholian ships, and vice-versa. Can you imagine the Tholians trying to adapt a cloaking device to their patrol cruisers? Yeah, they’d be invisible, but their heat signature could still be seen a light year away." Stronton laughed as he watched Thorrell shove a mouthful of food in his mouth. "Besides, that would be a complex answer. I still think the answer is much more simple than that."

"So what do you think it is?"

"As I said, probably something simple, though I’ve not put much thought into it up till now."

"Okay, Nova, put your mind to it for a moment and think on it."

Stronton nodded and put his memory board away in a haversack he had over his shoulder. "Okay, what do we have?"

"Romulan settlements well within Tholian space."

"Yes and channels through the same space from where you would think the Romulan border would be."


"Yet, we see no evidence that the Romulans patrol these areas, or are monitoring them for incursions by the Tholians."

"Correct, which points toward a pretty rock solid treaty," Thorrell offered.

"Of course, or something else," Stronton added.

"And that something else would be?"

"Oh, I don’t know," he sat and thought for a minute, then it was if a light went on over his head as his face brightened. "Maybe the Tholians just don’t care."

"What?!" Thorrell spat. "If we get anywhere near one of their hive worlds, they attack."

"If we get near, yes. But what if there’s a range to how close you have to get before they will attack?" Stronton said, as he played a little with a thread that was coming loose on his uniform sleeve.

"Ah, that’s a load of..."

"No, wait, think about this," Stronton continued. "We see no Romulan sensor platforms, or patrols along the channels, nor any of the same so far in this gulf. We have not been challenged by the Tholians as we’ve traveled the channels—not even looked at by a patrol cruiser, as long as we stayed near the markers. It’s as if we’re in the middle of the territory and security is lax because there is so much on the outside of it to protect it that security is not needed."

"Okay, I can see that."

"It’s so simple, really," Stronton went on. "There is no trading of technologies, no ideas, no anything simply because there is no treaty to begin with."

"What?" Thorrell was beginning to see it, but it wasn’t quite focused just yet.

"There is no treaty. The Romulans have discovered a trait of the Tholians that we hadn’t found yet. We only just found the common thread to the why they pick the worlds they do. The Rommies discovered this some time ago and used it to figure these channels and gulfs out. They also must have found out that the Tholians only attack when a threat gets so close to their interest in an area. Anything outside of that goes unnoticed."

Thorrell whistled as it became clear. "Damn, that is simple. Yet it matches the rules we’re seeing." Thorrell shoved the last forkful of food into his mouth and picked up his tray. "I think the captain will be interested in this idea."

"You may be right," Stronton responded as he got up himself.


Now what am I to do, Q’Stor/Rylasta thought. They found the common thread, and now they’ve found the safe channels within Tholian space. How long before they figure out the width and breadth of the situation here, and the whys? She pulled maintenance on one of the weight machines in the work out room.

I blew my first chance to kill Kelsey, her thoughts continued. His mate interfered. There’s a force to be reckoned with. She lifted a weight with one hand that most Human males would have found difficult with two hands. Most likely whatever I do to him, I will also have to do to her as well. They’re never apart too often.

But what am I to do in the mean time?

Then another thought went through her head—a solution by the feel of it. I don’t have to do the dirty work myself. I could let someone else do it. It wouldn’t be near as satisfying and if my idea works I might die as well, but it will serve the Empire just as well, maybe better.

She stopped her work for a moment and thought. It will require me to contact the authorities of this settlement though. How do I do that? I don’t want to spook Kelsey and allow him to escape back across the border.

An idea came to her, and she smiled. It would be both difficult and easy. She knew it would take the Chosin another day, or so, to reach the next clear channel at their present speed, and she needed to put her plan of action into effect well before that. Or did she? Patience, Rylasta, patience. They’re not leaving this area anytime soon; I can wait.


"It can’t be that simple!" Kelsey exclaimed. Williams and he had just sat down to eat.

"Why not, sir?" Stronton protested. "Everything else about this mission has been."

"The Romulans are just taking advantage of the fact that the Tholians just don’t care about the space that they can’t live in?" Kelsey said, and then shoveled a forkful of food into his mouth.

"Exactly, sir."

"You’re right about one thing. Everything about this mission has orbited around simple solutions," Kelsey admitted.

"I think the Romulans have, in this case, shown extreme patience in being able to pull this trick off," Thorrell offered.

"How deep do you think they’ve established settlements?" Kelsey queried as he studied the food he might not be able to get back to now.

"How deep is the Tholian Assembly?" Williams answered from where she sat next to him. "When you think about it, now that we’ve established the criteria for what planets the Tholians will build hives onto, and now knowing that they pay little attention to those areas that hold nothing of interest to them, if one were to map out the channels and gulfs, one could establish an entire empire within their assembly and live handsomely."

"What a secret to keep," Kelsey said, admiringly.

"And one I imagine they would defend," Thorrell added.

A bosun’s whistle sounded. "Captain Kelsey?" came the disembodied voice of Aherrowla over the rec room’s comlink.

"Yes?" he spoke toward the ceiling.

"We’re coming up on a channel leaving this gulf. Shall we enter it?"

"Stand by the opening. I’ll be right up." He’d guessed right; he wouldn’t be allowed to finish the meal. He supposed that was one reason why he was able to keep his weight off—he never got to finish a meal.

"Aye, sir. Bridge out."

"Come, ladies and gentlemen. We have some exploring to do," Kelsey said as he stood up, gathering his tray of food as he went.

His wife followed his example while the other two left the galley. "Shaun?" she called just above a whisper.

"Yes, dear?" he responded in the same voice as he deposited his tray in the waste compartment.

"How long do you think we can follow these channels before we at least run head on into a Romulan freighter?"

"I don’t imagine too long, but what’s there to do at this time?"

"I guess we should keep our sensors trained for an unmarked channel out to our space in case we have to make a quick get away?"

"Good idea," Kelsey admitted. "Work on it, will you?"

"Yes, dear," Williams said as she deposited her tray in the same receptacle.

They walked out into the corridor, turned right, walked a bit further and turned to enter the opening of the nearest turbolift.

"Bridge," Kelsey ordered.

The door shut with a whoosh and then there was the slight feeling of acceleration that the inertial dampeners couldn’t quite compensate for. A moment later, the doors opened and they had arrived. As was usual for a standard moment on the bridge, everything was pretty quiet except for the hushed murmur between occupants and the sensor noises.

"Captain on the bridge!"

"Carry on," Kelsey responded and let everyone get back to their jobs.

Lieutenant Aherrowla, who had been running the watch, vacated the command chair to take up her place at the helm station, her own relief heading for the turbolift. Kelsey sat down and got comfortable. "How far away is the channel?"

"A light year," came the helmsman’s response.

"Short range scan the mouth of the channel and see if there’s anyone there," Kelsey asked Williams. "No use broadcasting our presence to the whole neighborhood."

"Sensors don’t detect any ships, sir," Williams responded after several moments. "Just the channel buoys."

Though Williams had set the sensor scan for low power, there was a rider signal that sped off further and in a direction other than was wanted.

"Okay, let’s enter the channel and see where it leads," Kelsey ordered. "Warp Factor Two. That seems to be the functional speed for navigating the channels."

The Chosin slid into the channel and sped off, leaving the gulf behind. It spent the next two days, twisting and turning its way through the channel that took it passed fifteen hive worlds.


"Sir!" Williams reported from her science station. "I have tachyon sources in front of us."

"Helm, all stop!" Kelsey ordered.

"Helm answers all stop," Aherrowla repeated back as she punched in the right commands and got the correct responses back from engineering.

"How far ahead?" Kelsey queried.

"From what I can tell, using passive sensors, just outside the exit into the next gulf."

"Like a greeting party?"

"It would appear that way," Williams answered.

Kelsey punched the button for red alert on the right arm of his command chair. Red lights flashed on and off, and a klaxon began sounding throughout the ship. Kelsey knew his crew would be scrambling to their stations; even those that were off duty. "Bring our shields up to one hundred percent, Lieutenant Hrisch." He hit the comlink on his chair arm and opened a channel, "Major Mason?"

"Mason here, Skipper."

"Get your Killer Bees fired up and ready. We may be needing your support in a short bit."

"Aye, Skipper," came the marine commander’s clipped response.

Kelsey returned his attention to Williams. "How many sources?"

"Looks like ten, but they’re relatively weak."

That’s both good and bad, thought Kelsey as he worked through the problem. "Weak...or small?"

"I guess small would work for this as well," Williams reported.

"My guess is that we have a patrol group of scouts waiting for us," Kelsey decided out loud. "I think the jig is up. Go to active sensors and let me know what we’ve got out there."

"It’ll give our position away."

"I think that’s a moot point at this moment, but it will let them know that we know they’re out there."

"Killer Bees warmed up and ready, Skipper," came Mason’s voice over the comlink.

"Thank you, Major," Kelsey passed along the information he knew. "It appears we have ten Romulan scout ships ahead, but they’re cloaked, so it’s hard to verify that fact."

"I think," Mason responded, "that with your help, we can handle them. Just give us the word."

"I hope it doesn’t come to that. We’re supposed to be friends—sort of."

"Just in case, then."

"Active sensors confirm what we already know," Williams said. "Ten tachyon sources lined up across the gap of the channel."

Shall we run? thought Kelsey steepling his fingers under his chin. Or shall we confront? This is their territory, though secretly so. We are trespassing, though in a loose sense of the word. It’s not like the Romulans have put "No Trespassing" signs out to stop such incursions. Let’s test the friendship that was established during the Kelvan War. "Hail the Romulans."

"Hail them, sir?" Aherrowla said, just a hint of a feline hiss in her voice.

"Yes, hail them," Kelsey responded. "We’re the interlopers here. Let’s make it legitimate by at least trying to talk to them."

"Aye, sir." Aherrowla answered. Then, "No response, sir"

"Try again."

An explosion rocked the Chosin, pitching her forward. Two more followed quickly.

"We’re taking fire from the rear, Captain," Williams reported. "Romulan K’t’inga cruiser coming in from the channel. Must have followed us from the last gulf."

"Or snuck around us while we were studying the scouts ahead." Kelsey surmised. "So much for diplomacy."

"We’re being hailed by the cruiser, sir," Aherrowla announced.

While they’re talking, they’re not firing, Kelsey thought. "Put them on the screen."

A Romulan commander appeared in the central mainviewer. "Federation starship, I am Commander Stymac of the Imperial ship Corlyx Strike, you have crossed the Neutral Zone in violation of treaty. Prepare to be boarded."

"This is Captain Kelsey of the U.S.S. Chosin. We did not cross the Neutral Zone and are in Tholian space. Why have you fired on us?"

"You are trespassing on Romulan territory. Prepare to surrender your ship and be boarded."

You think too much on the abilities of your battlecruiser and that of the scouts, but I’ll play this game a little further, thought Kelsey. "No, sir, we are but exploring areas of the Tholian Assembly where they don’t seem to have an interest. They have only claimed this area of space. What is your interest here, Commander?"

"If you choose to continue along this line of conversation, Captain Kelsey, we shall be obliged to destroy your ship."

Enough of this, Kelsey concluded. "I repeat, we have not entered Romulan space and are only here on an exploratory mission."

"You have five of your minutes to surrender your ship, or we will destroy it." The screen went back to the background stars they were facing.

"Hrisch, charge all weapons and get your torpedo crews limbered up. I want as many weapons as we can bring to bear on that battlecruiser. Target all his shield generators. I don’t want him to be able to cloak again. Thorrell, prepare the ship for battle."

As the executive officer, it was Thorrell’s job to fight the ship, and Kelsey’s to maneuver it into a good position. "Aye, sir, ship’s systems show green, and the aft shields are firming up to one hundred percent even as we speak."

"Good. Hrisch, prepare all forward batteries and tubes to target the scouts. I don’t want them to stand a chance of getting in our way if we need to go to warp." He hit his comlink. "Major Mason, prepare to launch all Killer Bees. Your mission is to damage, or take out as many of the scouts as you can, then prepare to get back on board in a moment’s notice so we can warp out."

"We’re ready, Skipper," came the Starfleet Marine major’s reply.

"We’re being hailed again, sir," Aherrowla announced.

"Ignore him," Kelsey ordered.

"They’re powering up weapons, sir," Williams reported from the sensor station.

"Okay, they’ve already fired first, so I don’t have to wait for another round. Thorrell, it’s all yours."

"My pleasure, sir," Thorrell answered, turning to Hrisch. "You may fire when ready."

"Aye, sir," snorted the Tellarite chief. "Firing rear phasers and torpedoes now."

The ship shuddered with the launch of the torpedoes and beams of coruscating phaser energy crossed the gap, striking almost the same places the torpedoes detonated.

"Full ahead impulse," Kelsey ordered. "Take out those scouts."

"Killer Bees launch," Thorrell ordered from his location. "All forward weapons fire at any tachyon or deBroglie wave source."

Blue tracers flew from the Chosin’s forward tubes and red phaser beams reached out. Shudders ran through the ship’s frame as Romulan-styled disruptors hit it. The battlecruiser’s commander clearly was not at all amused. Though ten scouts decloaked, only eight of them were still functional as two became visible only to self destruct. The Killer Bees engaged the others at close range.

"Engineering, cut forward thrust to the impulse engines and prepare them to go to full reverse," Kelsey ordered.

"Engine room answering zero forward thrust, sir," Aherrowla reported.

An explosion rocked the bridge, throwing more than a few to the floor. They were quick to regain their posts.

"Rotate us horizontally one hundred and eighty degrees, Helm. Bring our forward shields to bear on the battlecruiser."

The Chosin rotated smartly on her vertical axis. While the Killer Bees fully engaged the scouts, she now barred her teeth in the face of the Romulan battlecruiser.

"Helm, reverse thrust," Kelsey ordered

"Engines answer reverse thrust, sir."

"Hrisch, I want everything we have on that Romulan battlecruiser," Thorrell added.

"Targeting now, sir." Hrisch snorted. "We have green lights across the board."


Unable to maneuver because of the constraints of the channel, the battlecruiser now reeled under the onslaught of the Chosin’s weapons as torpedo after torpedo slammed into her forward shields. Red phaser fire searched the forward area for weakness, and then finally found one when the shields went down. Great, gaping holes formed in the battlecruiser’s skin as the coherent energy of the Federation star ship’s short-range weapons did their deadly job.

Kelsey had to hold on to his chair as the battlecruiser’s disruptors made their presence known. The Chosin was not totally immune to the Romulan weapons.

"Forward shields down to ten percent, sir," Stronton announced over the comlink.

"Keep pounding them, Hrisch," Kelsey ordered. "They can’t hit us if their molecules are scattered across this area of space. How are the marines doing?"

"Just fine, sir. Only two more scouts left, and the marines are pounding them to bits."

The Chosin backed out from the channel and into the gulf, weapons and coherent energy flying all around her. That the battlecruiser was taking the worst of it was readily evident by the pieces that flew from it every time the Chosin’s phasers and photons hit it. Then it happened, the energy source that kept the quantum singularity in its place within the battlecruiser’s guts flashed off for the briefest of moments. Instantly, the matter that was the battlecruiser was pulled into its infinite mass. For a moment, the battlecruiser seem to be pulled into itself, then exploded in a fireball of consuming energy.

How am I going to explain this? thought Kelsey. The Romulans are supposed to be our friends, and I just destroyed one of their capital ships.

"Sir!" Williams yelled from her station. "We just lost two Killer Bees and the rest are scattering."

"What?" Kelsey questioned. "I thought they had the scouts well in hand."

"They did, but now there’s another battlecruiser and two warbirds that have come in from the direction of this gulf’s settlement."

"Damn!" Kelsey roared, losing control for a moment. "Recall the Killer Bees, and prepare to defend against those ships."

"Sir," Thorrell offered. "I’m a Super Nova, and I don’t like those odds."

"Neither do I, Number One, but we’ve got to buy time for the marines to get back on board," Kelsey responded, then turned to his weapons chief. "From left to right, Hrisch, target those birds—one after the other. Keep them busy."

"Aye, sir. We’ll give them hell."

Fire from the Chosin raked across the left most battlecruiser, then the center warbird and then the right warbird, then back again. In the mean time, the Killer Bees made like their namesake and made beelines for the waiting hangars.

"Open shields just long enough to let them in, then close it up behind them," Kelsey ordered.

"Fighter shuttles entering their bays, sir. Only a few more minutes, and we’ll have what’s left of them on board," Stronton announced.

One more Killer Bee succumbed to the green disruptors of the Romulan birds before they gained the protection of the Chosin.

"Let me know the moment they’re all stowed away, Stronton," Kelsey requested.

"Aye, sir."

The full might of the three Romulan ships began to fall on the sitting duck target that was now the Chosin. The deck rocked under the impacts. Yet the shields held.

"Shields are almost gone, sir," Stronton offered.

"Bees are all home, sir," Thorrell reported.

Just in time, Kelsey thought. "Helm, plot a course along the right edge of this gulf and prepare to go to warp."

"Why not go back the way we came, sir?" Stronton asked.

"I imagine there’s an even bigger welcoming party in that direction, and we’ll have no room to maneuver when we meet them."

Stronton nodded his head and returned his attention to trying to get all the energy he could to the shields.

"Course plotted, sir."

"Engage, maximum warp."

The Chosin banked to the right, stretched out as it gained speed and then exploded into warp with an flash of light. The battlecruiser and warbirds followed closely on its heals, firing disruptors and plasma torpedoes all the way.

"Evasion pattern delta three," Kelsey ordered.

"Evasion pattern delta three, aye, sir," Roberts repeated.

That ought to keep their plasma torpedoes from having an easy target to find, Kelsey thought, then held on to the arms of his chair as the Chosin was rocked by near misses.

The cat and mouse game between the Romulans and the Chosin went on for another six hours before something new happened.

"Warp signatures detected straight ahead, sir," Williams reported.

"How many?" Kelsey queried.

"Six, sir and by the size of them, all additional birds of prey."

"Six to the front and three to the rear. Not good odds," Kelsey said to himself. We’ve got to find a way out that limits their ability to attack us and yet gets us closer to home, he thought. "Where’s that escape route you promised me, Commander Williams?"

"There’s an opening between the Tholian hive worlds at five twenty one mark seventy."

"Any battlecruisers there?"

"No, sir."

"Channel markers?"

"None, just a large opening."

"Helm, change course for the opening. Let’s get out of here."

"Changing course, sir," reported Aherrowla.

The Chosin dove straight down, leaving the Romulans to come together behind them and then to continue the chase.

"We’ve entered the channel, sir."

Twin explosions on the port side of the ship demonstrated that the Romulans were still trying to get a bead on them.

"We need to slow down sir, or we’ll fly right into a hive world’s space and all the trouble that will entail."

"Slow to Warp Two," Kelsey ordered. "Make whatever course corrections are necessary to remain outside of Tholian space. I hope the Romulans observe the same caution, thought Kelsey. Otherwise they’ll be on us in nothing flat.

"They’re not following us," Williams announced a moment later.


"They’ve stopped just outside the channel opening and are waiting there."

"All stop," ordered Kelsey. This was intriguing. "Have we entered a box canyon?" And they’re out there just waiting for us to make an escape attempt?

"If we have, sir," Williams reported, "it’s a deep one. No indications of it ending any time soon."

"How many Romulans are there at the mouth?" Kelsey asked.

"Nine at present, plus there are more warp signatures coming in from behind them."

"That pretty much seals that opening up," Kelsey surmised. "We only have one choice—explore this channel to its end and hope the way is clear. Plot a course in the center of the channel, fastest warp we can make and still remain clear of the Tholians."

"Course plotted, sir," Roberts responded.

"Engineering reports ready with warp," came Stronton’s reply.



Not unlike a riverboat navigating a twisting channel, so was the Chosin’s course in this area of space. The next two days were spent stopping and starting, twisting through narrow corridors and avoiding warp corridors that the Tholians used to get from one hive world to another. But they didn’t see any more Romulans along the way, which was a good sign—Kelsey hoped. Much needed repairs were made during this time as well. It was on the first watch of the third day when something new happened.

"Gulf opening up ahead, sir," Williams said, peering into her sensor hood.

"How big?" Kelsey responded. "They’d encountered more than a few widenings in the stream up to this point, so he didn’t want to get his hopes up.

"Pretty big. Off the scale on all sides."

"Okay, Helm, bring us to the opening then all stop," Kelsey ordered.

"Aye, sirrr."

I hope we’re not about to find out why the Romulans didn’t want to follow us, Kelsey thought as he watched the stars stream by on the mainviewer. But if we do, we’ll just have to work our way through this as well. "Williams, which way is Federation Space?"

"Bearing one hundred two mark five, sir."

"Keep a sensor eye peeled for a channel in that direction. Just in case we need to leave here in as big a hurry as the last gulf." And hope we don’t find Romulans waiting for us there as well. Wouldn’t that be a hoot to find out how close the Romulans were to a border we never expected to see them at? Kelsey chuckled nervously to himself.

"We’re at the mouth of the channel, sir," Williams reported about an hour later.

"Scan for Romulans," Kelsey responded.

The Chosin sent electro-magnetic feelers out in all directions, as well as listened to the noises of the void, searching for what may occupy this area. Nature hates a vacuum and having an area of space this large, with this many stars, with no one occupying it, was a vacuum.

"Nothing green sir," Williams reported after about fifteen minutes. Of course her reference to green was pretty obvious. Then she cocked her head and returned her full attention to the computer console in front of her. "Wait."

"What have you got, Williams?"

"Something we haven’t seen in nearly seven years."

"What?" Kelsey was getting a little impatient with this.

"It’s Kelvan, sir,"


Williams turned her chair so she could look at him. "I’m picking up Kelvan sensor signatures. It looks as if they’ve established a colony of some sort here in this gulf."

That might explain why the Romulans haven’t done the same here. But they know how to defeat the Kelvan—learned it from us during the war—why aren’t they flushing them out like we would, or are about to? Kelsey’s thoughts explored the possibilities. "See if you can establish the extent of their presence here." A long diminished hope began to re-kindle in Kelsey’s heart, and he knew from experience that it would be in his wife’s heart as well. There really can be only one source for this Kelvan presence, thought Kelsey, but let’s see if it pans out. However... "Any sign of a channel leading back to Federation space?"

"None within range of our sensors," Williams responded. "But, the gulf goes quite a ways out in that direction. For all we know, it could go all the way out."

"Wouldn’t that be nice," Kelsey said as he relaxed back into his command chair. He hadn’t even noticed that he’d been sitting forward in it. Probably had been since the announcement that they were entering a Kelvan enclave of some sort. "Search for signs of a cloaking device. Remember, they had devised one of their own when we rooted them out of the Free Market system."

"Aye, sir," Williams responded. "Putting that into my search parameters."

"Navigator, plot a course toward the sensor signatures. Helm: Warp Factor Two. Let’s see where these giant hydras have set up a home."


A day later, they were slowly moving into the vicinity of a blue-white dwarf star and its four planets. The Kelvan signatures were coming from the fourth planet.

"The third and fourth planets are not a whole lot different, and there’s not much difference in distance from the star between them. Both can sustain humanoid life as well, and both have much the same mass as Earth," Williams reported. "When they’re in the right positions in relation to each other, there must be some hellacious tidal forces."

"Which one are the Kelvan centered around?" Kelsey asked.

"The fourth one."

He had to ask the question that he knew his wife was asking herself. "Any sign of Humans?"

"Do you think maybe?…" Thorrell started to say.

"It would tie up a loose end, yes, Number One." And maybe answer the question of just exactly what happened to Arlene’s father—Murray Williams— one of the ones that had been taken. "I want to find out how many ships the Kelvan have left, Science Officer, and where they’re located."

"Active sensors might give our position away, sir," Williams argued.

"Yes, I know. Use a visual search of the fourth planet’s area and see if they’re there. The assault ship shouldn’t be hard to find. The hard part will be finding the fighter craft that either survived our final attack, or have been built since then. Continue to look for any sign of a cloaked vessel. The years may have made them complacent a bit, but we must remember that the Romulans know of this place and have reason to avoid it.

"Navigator, I want a course plotted that will allow us to approach the star from the opposite side as the two planets, and then one that will allow us to come around it with the body of the third planet between us and the fourth. I want to be able to hide in the sensor shadow. Maybe from there we can get a closer look at what the enemy is doing."


He sat under a tree-like plant at the end of the last row of tubers he had planted in his part of the garden. It was mid-day, and he really shouldn’t be outside right now. The sun here was brighter than he remembered most other places he’d been to, though those memories were growing dimmer and dimmer as each planting season came and went. But he’d wanted to take a break after weeding. The gravity here was a bit stronger, though they’d all grown accustomed to it by now. Still, it felt good to just sit and relax as long as he kept a sharp ear for the alarm horn.

The tubers he was growing were the first edible plant they’d found here, though many had died before that discovery was made. Granted, the planet had the right kind of air—well, at least they could breathe it without complications—though he had no sensor device to check to see what the exact composition was. It also came with water, but once again, no one knew what the quality was outside of the fact that it was clear, for the most part, cool and with trace flavorings of the local mineral contents. Originally, these two items made life possible for a little while on this world, but after about three weeks, things got rough.

He looked up at the few clouds that drifted by above. They were whiter than he remembered clouds being, but that was probably because the star this planet circled glowed blue instead of yellow.

Pinkies, as the tubers were called, looked a bit like Earth carrots, but that was where the likeness ended. They had a woody, branching top section with broad leaves and had a flavor not a whole lot unlike an Earth peach. That was how the Humans in the group described them. The non-Humans had other comparisons from their home worlds. All agreed that they served to feed them well. They grew quickly, allowing them to be able to harvest them in rapid order and provide a steady food source.

There were cold-blooded animals that roamed the wild areas of the planet and though they did manage to snare them on occasion, without many of the cutting tools you took for granted in a more advanced society, it was hard to do anything with them. They’d come here with no weapons to speak of, and they’d only been able to fashion a few tools from the metal containers they’d been left here with by the raiders.

He listened for any hint of a warning horn at that thought.

"Honey?" came a woman’s voice from a nearby cave opening. "You coming in soon?"

"Yes, dear, in a minute," he answered.

Thank God for the caves in this area. Some of the openings were too large and allowed access by the raiders, but many had small, or thin openings—like the one he and his family lived out of—that kept the raiders out. Though the opening here was thin, the cave beyond was large enough to house ten other families, with a small vent hole in the top to let out the smoke from their fires. That had been another challenge at first, building and hanging onto a fire.

"Kelvan," he said to himself and then spit. He knew the name of the raiders. Being totally carnivorous, they preyed on the survivors. The community had set up an alarm system of horns to warn others if one of their spherical ships was spotted. But sometimes they weren’t spotted until it was too late because they could make themselves invisible. Slowly, but surely, despite all their precautions, the number of survivors was diminishing. Unless something changed, even though children were being born to the survivors, there wouldn’t be anybody left. There had been thousands at the beginning, but now due to predations from the environment and the raiders, there was maybe six hundred or so. Nobody knew the exact count anymore since they were scattered across a large area, relying on cave systems to survive, and there was no good communication systems between them.

"You know you shouldn’t spend too much time in the midday sun, dear," the woman’s voice said.

"Yes, I know, I’m coming in now," he said as he got up from his seat under the tree. It was getting pretty hot. Walking fast, he made his way to the cave. Just inside the entrance he could see his wife. She had a baby on her hip and his daughter toddling around by her feet.

"Ray, you spend too much time outside," she complained.

"I know, DeShana, but sometimes, I like to be alone when I think."

"Do you really think we’ll be rescued someday?" she asked.

"We’ve been here a long time, Dee, and there’s no telling where they brought us. I doubt it, but that wasn’t what I was thinking about anyway," Ray answered.

"Then what were you thinking about?"

"That despite all the adversity, how good I’ve got it here," he continued.

That brought a smile to her dark face. He took her up in a big embrace and despite the wiggling child, gave her a big kiss. In actuality, the inside of the cave this time of day was a noisy place, with ten families living there, but he didn’t notice it at that time. A new thought crossed his mind briefly when he thought about rescue. Murray Williams, what are you going to do about this family if that outside chance occurs? How do I explain this to Susan?


"How many do you suppose they have on board?" the Progenitor queried.

"It’s a large starship of Federation design," reported the underling. "Five, maybe six hundred?"

"Do we know exactly where they are and what they’re doing?" the Progenitor continued its query.

"One of our fighters spotted them as they entered our area of space and has been shadowing them ever since," the underling answered. "It appears they are trying to approach our system from the far side of the star and thereby avoid detection. It is safe to assume that they know we’re here. From all indications, they were chased here by the Romulans after being discovered sneaking around in the next open area."

"Did any of the Romulans follow them in?"

"None, they stopped quite a ways out."

"I think they’ve lost enough patrols now that they just don’t come here anymore," the Progenitor observed. "How soon can we start sending raiding parties into their space? Our food supplies here quickly diminish and my budlings die from starvation."

"Yes, sire, we are all hungry. The food source on the third planet has grown so sparse and hard to catch that it is hardly worth traveling there anymore. They don’t reproduce their adults fast enough with their two-part style of doing so. If they only budded like us, they’d keep up with our needs."

"Yes, that would be good, but they don’t and so if we want to survive, we must find other sources. Now back to this approaching starship. Make sure we set the trap tight so they can’t escape. We want all of them to join us for dinner," the Progenitor said and then jiggled in what passed for Kelvan laughter. "Get my flagship and escort ready to greet these visitors."


"Come to course two seven four mark eight and keep that blue dwarf star between us and that fourth planet," Kelsey ordered.

"Set and ready," Roberts answered.

"Engage, Warp Factor One."

"Sir!" Aherrowla almost exploded from her chair at the helm. "I just found a subspace communication source nearby!"

"Triangulate and identify," Kelsey said as he sat up straight in his command chair.

"Low-band Kelvan, and it’s coming from behind us, maybe a couple of light minutes away."

The chief science officer became busy at her sensor station. "I don’t see anything th..." Williams started then stopped as she fine-tuned her settings. "Wait, I’m picking up a tachyon source back there. We’ve a cloaked visitor, sir. Sorry I didn’t see it sooner."

"How long do you suppose they’ve been there?" Kelsey asked, though it didn’t really matter at this point. The jig was up; it was what they did now in response that was important.

"If I had to guess, I’d say they probably acquired us the moment we entered this gulf," Williams said as she shook her head. "I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t spot them sooner."

"Don’t worry about it, Commander. It would have made little difference in what we’re doing now except we may not have wasted so much time being stealthy if we’d known we’d been seen already."

"Shall I send a little surprise back to our shadow and destroy it?" Hrisch snorted from his weapons station.

"Maybe, Hrisch. Load up a volley of torpedoes and wait."

"Why wait, sir?"

"Let’s do it in such a way as their master doesn’t know it’s gone till it’s too late.

"Navigator, plot a course toward the star’s chromosphere and prepare a course change so that we double back when we reach fifty million kilometers."

"That’s going to be one hot move, Reggie," Thorrell commented.

"Hopefully too hot for our shadow to evade from."

The Chosin changed course slightly and headed straight toward the blue dwarf star. Though no one on board could actually see it, not far away, the shadow did the same.

"Find me a prominence, Commander Williams," Kelsey ordered.

"Got one developing just to starboard of our present course."

"Helm, steer for it and then prepare to double back."

"Course plotted and ready," Roberts relayed.

"Aherrowla, listen for the shadow to transmit a report of our new course."

"Aye, sir."

A mass of stellar material arced into space right in front of the Chosin. She nosed right into it.

"Hang on people this is going to be hot."

The frame shuddered, and the floor bucked as the starship hit the leading edge of the expanding mass. The red alert klaxon went off, along with the radiation warning, the heat alarm, and several onboard systems began crashing.

"Deflectors are going down exponentially the longer we stay in this super-heated area, sir," Thorrell commented.

"Take us to Warp Factor Five, and let’s get out of here."

"Warp Factor Five, aye," helm responded. "Engines answering."

The starship jumped through the prominence and drug a large mass of it out the other side. The deflector fields were glowing yellow, but held.

"Reverse our course and come to Warp Factor One."

"What are we doing, sir?" Thorrell asked.

"Nothing too obvious," Kelsey said, as he flipped open a covered button. He held his thumb over it for a second, then pressed it.

"We can target the tachyon source which may, or may not, give us a clean kill, or we can wait until we can see the fighter and take it out then."

"Ah," Thorrell stated. "I see, or at least, will see."

"Target and prepare to fire, Hrisch! All weapons. I want it to die without being able to signal to its master. They may know we’re in the area, but they don’t need to know exactly where. When they’re visible, fire at will."

As predicted, a spherical object exited the still-expanding prominence, dragging along a trail of material, just as the Chosin had done not more than a few minutes earlier.

At point blank range eight beams of red coherent energy lanced out from the saucer section and four photon torpedoes launched. The MultiVectorWarhead torpedoes only went a short distance before separating into sixteen smaller warheads. The Kelvan fighter’s shields were already stressed by passing through the prominence and this addition was just too much for them. The shields went down with a flash and energy cut into the fighter’s skin. This and the fury of the star’s prominence began taking it apart. At the last minute, it tried to evade, but was hit with a second volley even as it veered. The resulting fireball was quickly sucked into the prominence’s stream and disappeared.

"Our shields are down to thirty percent, sir," Thorrell reported.

"Helm, take us around the star and just outside its chromosphere (but within our safety range) on the other side. I want to see what they’re bringing to us and want to use the star’s energy to blind their sensors."

Kelsey flipped open the button cover, and pressed the button. He glanced around the bridge, and was glad to see no one had noticed.

"Course plotted, sir."



"We’ve lost contact with the fighter, sire," an underling reported to the leader of the Kelvan.

"Where was it when we lost contact?" the progenitor asked, his tentacles remaining somewhat still showing that he wasn’t all too concerned by the news.

"Far side of the star, near the chromosphere."

"Predictable. That’s the direction I’d come from if I wanted to come here by stealth," the progenitor mused. "But it has eliminated any semblance of surprise on our part, as it also does on theirs. Both of us knows that the other is here."

"Yes, sire."

"Move our fleet in orbit over the third planet. We’ll meet them there and maybe the commotion will draw out some of those we left there so we can capture them as well."

"Good plan, sire."

"Of course it is. Get it done."


"Where are they?" Kelsey queried.

"An assault ship and ten fighters have just left the orbit of the fourth planet," Williams responded.

The Chosin was at station keeping just outside the range of the star’s prominences and chromosphere.

"How long can we stay here?" Kelsey asked a moment later.

"Shields are draining slowly, but surely. Maybe fifteen more minutes," Thorrell answered. "That is if you want to have something left to fight with afterward."

"Where’s the first and second planet right now?"

"They’re both on the far side of the star right now." Williams answered. "No way we can use them as cover," she continued, reading into the question the reason he was asking after the years of living together they had experienced.

"It was a thought," Kelsey continued his musing. "What destination do you think the Kelvan have?"

"Straight for the third planet."

"That’s the other one that’s habitable for the majority of Federation citizens?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you suppose that’s where they’ve stashed their hostages, and that’s why they’re headed there now?" Kelsey supposed.

"A good possibility," Thorrell answered from the back of the bridge. "Since they’re strictly carnivores, I imagine that’s as much of a crop for them as corn is for someone from Nebraska on Earth."

"And now they’re protecting it," concluded Kelsey. He then turned his attention to his weapons chief. "Hrisch, how many torpedoes do we have in our inventory?"

"Enough for those ten fighters and to disable the assault craft," the Tellarite answered. "But not enough to finish the big sow off if we’re having to deal with the fighters and assault ship together."

"Agreed. My guess is that they’ve got to figure we’ve made a report to our headquarters and that there will be a fleet coming this way soon. They’re going to try and collect up as many of the hostages as they can and skip town just the way they did the last time," Kelsey explained.

"We’re not going to let them do that, are we, sir?" Thorrell said, literally drooling at the concept of an intense piece of action.

"Of course, not," Kelsey answered with a wicked smile playing across his face. "In fact, if they think I need a fleet to take out their assault ship, they have another think coming." Hitting the comlink, he opened a channel. "Kelsey to Major Mason."

The response was almost instantaneous. "Aye, Skipper."

"Prepare your Killer Bees and two Mark Three Heavy Shuttles for action. I want to brief your marines on what’s about to happen. We’ve got action ahead and your people have a very important part to play."

"Give me about an hour, sir, and we’ll be waiting for you in Launch Bay One."

"Thank you, Major. Kelsey out."

"Can you let the rest of us stiffs in on your plan, sir?" Thorrell said from a position now right behind the command chair.

Kelsey turned his attention to the mainviewer. "Can I have your attention?" he said to the bridge crew. "It’s pretty simple, really," the captain said and then dove right into what he’d come up with.


"Isn’t the night sky pretty tonight, Dee?" Ray said as he took a break from weeding the garden. Nighttime was when they got most of they’re work done since it was then they weren’t such an obvious target.

She was even less noticeable than he with her dark complexion. Looking up from her work, all you could see was the white parts of her eyes and her smile. "Yes, it is, though the Milky Way," she said pointing at the swath of stars that were where this galaxy’s excretion disk could be seen "isn’t quite the same as it is on Earth."

There was low chatter all across the field as the cave’s occupants farmed their land. Everything would have to be pretty much done by the time this planet’s sun rose. No one fooled themselves into thinking that the Kelvan couldn’t find them in the dark as well. After all they were fairly technologically advanced and had sensors just as effective as Starfleet’s, but the cover of night made them feel more secure nonetheless.

The clanging of metal on metal had them all on their feet in nothing flat. Then there was the sound of a horn. Kelvan had been sighted. Most likely one of their spherical craft that could make themselves invisible with a cloaking device of some sort, had materialized above one of the other caves.

Ray grabbed the two year old, and Dee had the infant strapped to her chest. They both began, as did the others in the field, running for the cave. A dark spherical object materialized straight overhead, and there was the sparkling of a transporter as a hydra-shaped figure now stood in front of the cave entrance. So much for escape, Ray thought as he grabbed Dee and dodged toward a thicket of bushes. He’d seen this play out many times before. The Kelvan would only leave once it had gathered up enough prey to fill its game bag. His only hope was that he and Dee could keep from being detected long enough to beat out that time period.

Then, the unimaginable happened. A long steam of brilliant red energy struck the Kelvan and turned it to dust. Once Ray’s eyes had reclaimed their night vision again, he thought he saw a bulky rectangular-shaped vessel swoop down and land where the Kelvan had only a moment earlier stood. He rubbed his eyes to clear them of the last vestiges of the brilliant light, then saw a square of red light appear as a hatch opened in the craft, and he saw figures run out from within. He couldn’t tell who they were, but one thing was for certain: they were humanoid.

"Dee, come on," he said as he pulled her to his feet. "The Kelvan is gone, and I think we have friends here now that have a spacecraft of some sort."

"Was that what the bright light was?"

"If I’m not mistaken, it was a high power phaser—like what a ship of some sort mounts."

Another brilliant steam of light hit the rectangular ship from above. The fighter craft was finally reacting to the loss of its compatriot on the ground. The beam did little damage as the crafts shields absorbed the energy easily. With a whoosh, the rectangular ship lifted and took off over the treetops. A moment later, it reappeared, firing its red beam of energy at the fighter.

"Everybody, within the sound of my voice, return to the cave. The path is clear," came a voice in Federation standard.

The unimaginable has just happened, thought Ray as he got Dee back on her feet, gathered up the two year old and ran for the safety of the cave. Upon reaching it, he was met by a group of what was now easily recognizable as Starfleet Marines, who were setting up a defensive perimeter outside the cave’s mouth.

"Get inside, sir...ma’am. It could get pretty dicey out here any moment now."

Ray looked over his shoulder at the sky just as he was about to enter the cave and saw the Marine vessel fire what was obviously a photon mortar at the Kelvan fighter. Are they nuts? he thought. Firing an anti-matter weapon while still in the atmosphere? Knowing what was about to happen, Ray grabbed Dee and moved her toward the safety of the wall. "Get down, dear. This is going to get real rough, real fast. He heard one of the marines yell, "Everyone take cover."

There was a brilliant flash outside the cave mouth that lit up the entire area almost as brightly as this planet’s sun would do. A moment later, the shock wave hit, and the inside of the cave shook. This was followed by a couple of secondary explosions, the whine of an object falling quickly through the air, and then the thump and explosion of something hitting the ground not far away. That it was the Kelvan fighter that had been struck down was quickly demonstrated by the marines outside the cave entrance high-fiving each other.

This scene repeated itself two more times before quiet once again reigned outside the cave. Though there were no more anti-matter explosions, the sky outside was being lit continuously by flashes that since there were no corresponding audible explosions could only be happening outside the presence of an atmosphere. Ray handed the two year old to Dee and then walked over to the cave mouth, more curious about the developments than he was worried about his well-being. He looked out and saw the marines staring intently into the sky. He walked out far enough so that he could see what they were watching. There was a battle raging in orbit above this world, and he had a ringside seat.


"Clear those fighters out of my way, Mason!" Kelsey yelled at the mainviewer.

"We’re working at it, sir." Mason’s voice came back over the ship’s speakers. "There are only two left, but we’re out of mortars, and these guys are tough."

"Hrisch, do we have enough torpedoes left to take them out and still be effective against the assault ship?"

"Aye, sir, barely. As long as we don’t miss."

"You? Miss?" Kelsey faked astonishment. "I doubt that’s possible!"

The Chosin bore down on one of the remaining fighters, firing all its phasers at once. This heavily taxed the Kelvan’s shields, but did not break through. Then there was the launch of a single torpedo. It went straight and true, striking the Kelvan fighter dead center. The torpedo did its job, and the fighter was hulled, killing its single occupant.

Explosions rocked the Chosin as the assault ship bore down on it. Kelsey had had to give up some mobility to target the fighter craft. A Killer Bee succumbed to intense fire from the cylindrically shaped behemoth.

"Let’s knee cap it," Kelsey said. "Attack pattern delta epsilon two." Kelsey didn’t name any of his pre-designed moves evasive maneuvers. That was too much like going on the defensive, and Kelvan didn’t respect that. He only had attack patterns, designed to take advantage of known enemy weaknesses. This pattern specifically dodged defensive fires while bringing the Chosin’s weapons to bear on the assault ship’s engines. If he could cripple those, he could kill the Kelvan at his leisure.


Q’Stor/Rylasta stewed at her action station. As the ship’s physical trainer, she doubled as one of the medical first aid teams. They weren’t busy right now, but the situation warranted that that would end shortly. She had failed in her attempt to keep the Federation from finding out the why and how the Tholians spread. She had failed in her attempt to keep the knowledge of how extensive the safe corridors within Tholian space was a secret. Her comrades had failed to capture the Chosin, thereby insuring this secret was secure. Her government knew of this Kelvan enclave and had avoided it after losing a great many scouts to the Andromedans’ hunger. The Kelvan were aware of the cloaking device and could defend against it. The Romulan Empire knew about the Federation hostages that had been taken here by the Kelvan, but had chosen not to say anything, feeling that it was none of their business—they had other things to worry about in this region.

This left two courses of action left to her. Sabotage the ship so the Kelvan won, thereby securing all the secrets. This would also insure she accomplished her personal mission of revenge, since Kelsey would be killed in the act. If the Kelvan lost anyway—a great possibility since Kelsey’s skill at killing Kelvan was well known—somehow get the captain alone and take care of the business herself. The last course would be more pleasurable to her, and she had no doubts she could handle the Human. Just the thought of that brought a grin to her green face. Let’s see what I can do about the first possible action, she thought.

Looking around, she noted the rest of the team wasn’t really paying attention to her, as they moved to their final action station. Slowly, but surely, she faded back and then ducked into a side hallway. Quickly, she worked her way back to her quarters and the waiting computer console. This was where she knew she could do her most damage as far as crippling the ship’s capabilities and insuring its destruction. Now, she thought, where can I cause the most damage?


Williams was preparing to give damage assessments to the attack when the light she had programmed to blink when the computer sensed an intrusion to its programming began flashing. At first, she thought to ignore it, since they were about to enter combat, but it was exactly for this reason she treated it like an emergency. "Sir," she exclaimed, getting his attention with the tone of her voice. "Someone is trying to access the computer’s programming!"

This was a new twist to what was transpiring. "Make it look like the new programming is successful, while at the same time isolating it," Kelsey said, sitting on the edge of his seat. "Trace the source." Then he turned to Thorrell. "Notify your security detail, and have them pick this spy up."

Thorrell punched a button on his own chair and contacted the chief of security and put his plan into action.

Whoever it was, finished their work and sent the new routine to the main computer. Williams quickly read it and saw immediately what its intent was. "Whoever it is just tried to disable the photon transfer system! If it had worked, we’d have been forced to mechanically move the torpedoes from their storage area to the tubes."

"Trace it!" Kelsey ordered.

"Done," Williams said looking up from her sensor hood. "Science section…medical…" she paused a moment. "It’s from the computer station in Ensign Q’stor’s quarters!"

"Get Security right on it, Thorrell," Kelsey said, turning to his first officer.

"Already done, sir," Thorrell answered, finishing up talking to the security team.

Returning his attention the battle at hand, Kelsey focused on the Kelvan assault ship that was looming ever larger on the mainviewer.


Rylasta had just finished sending the new routine to the main computer when an alarm went off at her station. She had input warning programs of her own, and this one told her that what she’d just attempted to do had been intercepted and been traced to this console.

"Well, it was nice while it lasted," she said under her breath in Romulan. Quickly, she went to the chest of drawers where she stored some of her uniform and picked up a small box and an item wrapped in leather. She opened the box and pulled out a small disruptor that looked like a brooch. It only had enough energy for a couple shots, so she’d have to make them count. Unwrapping the object, she freed a Orion ceremonial dagger. Though to the casual observer it looked like a costume prop, it, like the disruptor, was very deadly, but had a limitation built into it. If she only used it like a dagger, it could be used over and over again. However, it had spider barbs built into it, and a simple twist of the handle activated those deadly hooks that would embed themselves in the surrounding flesh of the victim ripping it to shreds, causing a vicious wound. The victim would stand very little chance of survival. This would be its killing blow, so she had to be careful when she did it. She hoped it would be in Kelsey as then she would try to embed it in his gut, and thereby assure him of a slow, painful death.

Stashing both of these away, she quickly exited her quarters to begin the stalking of her prey.


"Major Mason gives you his compliments, and reports that the surface of the third planet is secure, and that all surviving hostages are safe," Roberts announced from her navigation station.

"Tell him well done and standby," Kelsey said. "Now to the work at hand." All this will be to naught if we can’t eliminate the assault ship, his thoughts continued.


"They’ve what?!" the Progenitor roared telepathically.

"Small fighter craft intercepted our collection teams on the surface and destroyed four of our fighters, killing all on-board," the messenger answered.

"Why weren’t we warned?"

"This is a new type of ship, and we’ve never seen this capability before," the messenger replied. "They most likely dispatched them while still on the far side of the planet from us."

"No matter," the leader responded. "We’ll dispatch this one, and the budlings will be forced to join the others on the surface as our food source. If they think to destroy us using tactics from the war, they’re in for a surprise."

"Yes, sire."


A Killer Bee streaked in and fired a single mortar, hitting one of the three Kelvan fighters. The lights went out in the Kelvan fighter and it lost headway, veering erratically to the side. But this action brought the Bee too close to the assault ship and massive fire erupted from the behemoth overwhelming the small ship’s shields and destroying it as it tried to escape.

Though looking at things strategically is a cold way to view the loss of personnel and equipment, Kelsey thought. Trading a Bee for one of their fighters is an acceptable loss. Two more Kelvan fighters to go, and they’re being engaged by other Bees. "Roberts, how soon till we can fire on the assault ship?"

"Completing ordered maneuver now and as predicted, we’re lined up for a shot at the Kelvan’s engines."

"Hrisch has targeted our MVW torpedoes on the shield projectors in that area," Thorrell offered after checking the read-outs at his station.

"The assault ship is trying to maneuver out of its predicament," Williams said from the science station, her face buried in the sensor hood.

"I’ve got you now," Kelsey whispered. "Fire all MVWs. Let’s rip her shell off."

The Chosin’s tubes erupted with blue orbs of light. Each went in a different vector as they raced to their assigned target areas.

The one targeted for the closest point hit and immediately the unexpected happened. The stream of destructive antimatter splashed against another shield layer, absorbing it across its surface. This happened to the other torpedoes as well, with the end result that none got through.

The assault ship completed its turn, bringing the majority of its weapons to bear on the Chosin. Weapons fire began to rock the cruiser as its shields began absorbing the Kelvan fire.

They’ve adapted, thought Kelsey. That’s the reason they didn’t run like they did the last time. Of course, they’re trapped in here as well, so this is going to be a very intense fight. "Maneuver us out of range of those weapons, Roberts. We’ll try a different tactic."

The Bees finished off the last of the Kelvan fighters, but at a dear price. There weren’t many left to maneuver away and out of range of the assault craft.

"Order the marines to the hangars for refit and rearming," Kelsey stated. "We might need them again if we get this big momma under control. Williams," he continued, "the MVWs are useless against the double shield. Scan to see if it extends across the entire surface?"

"Scanning," she responded. A moment later she reported her findings. "There are double shields around the engines and the command nodule up front. All other areas are standard for a Kelvan ship."

"Stronton, how are our shields holding up?" he spoke to the comlink.

"Rebuilding nicely, sir, but that baby packs a mighty wallop," the chief engineer replied. "We’re at eighty-five percent strength and climbing."

Kelsey knew there was only one solution here, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. "Thorrell."

"Aye, sir?"

"I’ll be dodging in and out of range of that ship’s weapons, giving you attack vectors on the shield generators that are only protected by one layer of shields."

"I see," Thorrell grinned. "We’ll expose what we can and wear them down, using our better mobility to dance around it. Very good, sir. You present me with targets, and Hrisch and I will take advantage of them."

"Use up the torpedoes. They’re only good for one thing, and we’re finished with the fighters."

"My thoughts exactly, sir," Thorrell answered.

"Give me a ‘head’s up’ when you’re ready," Kelsey said, relaxing a bit into the back of his command chair. I hope the new configuration of shielding of my ship can take a beating, because this is going to be rough, Kelsey thought as he watched his bridge crew work. "Williams, find and feed the coordinates to our weapons of all the shield generators that protect the most critical areas of that ship. Prioritize them in order of criticality."

"Aye, sir," Williams answered barely taking her face out of the sensor hood to answer.

A moment later, a porcine snort from Hrisch announced the arrival of targeting coordinates. His hooved hands punched in responses and a moment later, "The first of the coordinates have been targeted. It should destroy the shield generators protecting the starboard center section of the ship.

The Chosin rocked as a pattern of long range weapons from the Kelvan hit its shields.

"Shields holding, sir," Stronton reported. "Right at eighty percent again."

"Let’s not let them take pot shots like this," Kelsey responded as he saw numerous other orbs of energy leave the Kelvan. "Evade those if you can, Aherrowla."

Most passed harmlessly to one side, or the other, but some made it through, and the starship was rocked again.

"That’s enough. Are we ready?" Kelsey asked.

A chorus of "Ayes" responded to his question.

"Bring us to heading three two five point one, maximum impulse," Kelsey ordered. "Engage!"

"Hrisch, prepare to fire phasers as sections of the Kelvan ship are exposed," Thorrell ordered.

"Ready, sir."

The Chosin made its run across the center of the Kelvan assault ship. Even as it made its turn, photons raced away, easily leaving the starship behind in their race for the enemy’s flanks. The distance between the ships closed quickly. The torpedoes ran straight and true, impacting on the shields of the Kelvan ship. This time, though, there was only one layer of shielding and the torpedoes ripped into the exposed area of the assault ship, wrecking everything in their path.

Not taking any of this laying down, the enemy’s weapons raked the incoming Chosin.

"Their shields are down in the targeted areas," Williams reported.

"Fire phasers, Hrisch!" Thorrell ordered, his voice demonstrating the excitement he was feeling.

Coruscating beams of red energy lanced out from all phaser batteries that could bear, melting gaping holes in the side of the huge ship. The Chosin passed the Kelvan and raced away toward open space on the other side. As she left, it fired another salvo of torpedoes from its aft tubes. All of them ran straight and true, and the midriff of the Kelvan ship was left exposed.

The Kelvan ship dwarfed the Chosin, and the fight could be described in ancient terms like a small frigate doing battle with a full ship-of-the-line.

"Shields are down to forty percent," Stronton reported. Kelsey could imagine the young man holding onto his station down in Engineering as the floors bucked from the impact of Kelvan weapons.

At this rate, he’ll wear us down long before we hurt him enough to win this, thought Kelsey. I’ve got to find a way to hit him without being hit in return. "Evade those long range weapons, Aherrowla."

"Doing my best, sirrr," she responded, her hands flying across the helm console. In response, the Chosin jinked and jerked back and forth, changing both lateral and vertical positions. Soon they were out of range of most of the Kelvan weapons, though it now turned to keep its more heavily armored front end toward the Chosin and to give chase.

"The trick is going to be to cut the power to the command center," stated Kelsey as he studied the situation. "I think in order to do that we’ve got to break its keel."

"Shields coming back to sixty percent, sir," Stronton reported.

"At least with them chasing us, they can’t bring as many weapons to bear," noted Kelsey. "Bring us to heading two four zero point zero. Let’s dance with him a bit, while we continue to poke holes in his skin. If we bleed him enough, maybe he’ll weaken."

The Chosin banked away onto its new course that would allow it to sweep the port side of the Kelvan.

"Use the MVWs, but don’t let them splinter. Give them a full spread, targeting the same exact spot," Kelsey ordered. Let’s put a deep hole in him, his thoughts continued.

The Chosin ran from bow to stern of the Kelvan, along its port side. When it came to the exposed area that even now showed extensive external damage, another full spread of torpedoes erupted from her tubes. In the mean time though, this was like trading broadsides, and the smaller Federation ship began taking fire from every Kelvan weapon that could be brought to bear from that side.

"Bridge! Shields dropping quickly!" Stronton yelled over the din of the ship being hit. Then a moment later: "Port aft shield just buckled! We’re taking damage in the decks there. Casualties being reported, but the structural and environmental forcefields are staying in place so nothing has been exposed to a vacuum."

The torpedoes found their targets and with the combined power of all their separate warheads, blew a huge hole in the Kelvan’s port side amid-ship. The running lights up front flickered for a moment, then held steady.

We hurt him, but we can’t continue to trade blows. This isn’t going to work, thought Kelsey. "Helm, ninety degree to port, takes us to warp one and get us out of range of his weapons!"

The Chosin turned and sped off with a visible snap. The Kelvan assault ship gave chase, it, too, accelerating to warp speed.

"Hrisch, can we continue to target the unshielded area?"

"Aye, sir," the Tellarite had given up all his polite language right then, concentrating on the events at hand. "It’ll be a bit tricky at warp speeds, but we can do it."

He turned to Thorrell with a new set of orders. "With him chasing us, it’ll be easier for us to fire back at him, then it will be for him to fire forward. I suggest we use solid MVWs, so we can punch some big holes in him."

Thorrell nodded his head in agreement. "Sounds like a plan; I’ll make it so."

"Proceed whenever you’re ready; I’ll keep us just within range," Kelsey added, then turned to face the mainviewer. "Roberts, plot a course for a very wide circuitous route around the star system, maintaining an evasion course at the same time. I don’t want to make this too obvious."

"Course laid in. We’ll be staying within a light year of the system."

"Aherrowla, engage!"

The floor bucked a bit as the Chosin was hit from behind by a Kelvan weapon. It had very little effect as it was dissipated by the long range it had to traverse at warp speeds.

"Aft shields holding firm, no degradation," Stronton reported over the comlink without being asked.

"Torpedo room reports ready. Kelvan mid-ship section targeted," Hrisch reported.

Thorrell looked to Kelsey, who in turn only nodded. "Your weapons, Number One, fire when ready."

The Andorian smiled; he still wasn’t used to being the one to fight the ship. He turned to Chief Tactical Officer Hrisch and nodded. "Fire, Chief."

The Tellarite punched a single button, and the aft batteries disgorged a set of blue orbs that sped away to the rear. The closing speed with their target was very quick, and after taking a little arc at the end of their run, they completely bypassed the forward edge of the assault ship and slammed into the area already damaged by the earlier fire. A huge annihilation fireball formed, with pieces of ship quickly flying away, being left behind. This time the lights up front flickered out and then returned, but the assault ship maintained both course and speed.

That’s interesting, thought Kelsey after observing the flicker on the Kelvan ship. "Williams, have we been scanning them all along?"

"Aye, sir."

"Check their forward shields," Kelsey queried. "Are they still at full power?"

Williams turned a knob on the side of the sensor hood, fine tuning it. "Still double shielded," she reported a moment later.

"How about after our last strike?"

Her fingers flew across the panel as she pulled up the computer log. She then put her full attention to the sensor screen. "Sir!" she said a moment later, excitement filling her voice. "For a moment, there were no shields, then only one layer, with it taking a full second before the second layer kicked on."

"Are you thinking, what I’m thinking Commander Thorrell?" Kelsey said as he turned toward his first officer.

"I think so, sir," Thorrell answered. "We’re stressing some power nodes in the center section. If we time it so we hit the forward, command section, after we strike the center section again we might be able to get through to the shield projectors on the bow."

"Exactly. Prepare to make it so, Number One."

Thorrell turned to Chief Hrisch. "I want a half spread of full MVWs targeted for the center again, just like last time. The other half I want with MVWs set to multiple vectors, each smaller warhead targeting the shield projectors, coordinates will come from the sensor station. Time them to hit their fore area a split second after the mid-ship strike. Make a mess of their bow, Chief. Oh, yeah, and cut the photons blue tracer element. They don’t need to know they’re coming."

"It will take a moment to set up, sir," Hrisch responded.

The bridge’s deck jumped forward a bit as a full spread of Kelvan torpedoes found their target on the aft shields of the Chosin.

"Captain, aft shields down to sixty percent," Stronton reported over the comlink. "We either need to get out of range of their weapons, or start evading better."

"Don’t take too long, Chief," Thorrell responded to the chief’s time estimate.

Letting his first officer set up the weapons, Kelsey thought through what maneuvers he was going to use next. We have no place to run without running into Tholians or Romulans. We must finish this or be destroyed trying. With those thoughts in mind, Kelsey set up for the next move. "Aherrowla, Roberts, prepare to come about as soon as the torpedo strike is completed."

"Course plotted and laid in, sir," Roberts responded, her voice showing none of the anxiety that such a maneuver was probably generating inside her head. No one willingly placed their head into a alligator’s mouth—at least no one sane.

"Tubes loaded as ordered, sir," Hrisch reported a minute later.

"Fire! All tubes."

Two blue orbs blasted free of the Chosin’s aft tubes. A moment later, there was the small flash of another launch, only this time the projectiles only had the smallest of exhaust tell-tale.

Once again, the Kelvan assault ship didn’t even attempt to dodge the incoming fire. Huge fireballs expanded from her mid-section as the weapons struck. The lights flickered as before and immediately there were twin detonations in front of its bow and the smaller warheads spread out into their programmed patterns, their tracers active. Encountering no shielding they all found their targets. All the shield generators were turned to molten slag, as well as some of the forward weapons launchers.

"Execute maneuver, Aherrowla," Kelsey said, leaning forward on his seat.

The Chosin came about in a tight, warp driven U-turn. If it wasn’t for inertial dampeners, everyone inside would have been plastered to the port bulkheads.

"Her shields are down," Williams reported.

"Chief, I want continuous fire from every weapon we can bring to bear," Thorrell ordered, his voice filled with excitement. "Use up all ordinance. Burn out the phasers in the process if you have to. Destroy that thing’s head."

"Mister Stronton bring all available power to the forward shields," Kelsey ordered.

As the Chosin closed, torpedoes were launched, the tubes reloaded and launched again with very little recovery time. As soon as they were within range, the phaser batteries began to open up with their red, destructive beams, probing to cut holes in the ship’s metallic skull and destroy the brain within. The entire front portion of the Kelvan ship erupted in explosions, annihilation bubbles and internal structures that were blown free by the hits.

The assault ship didn’t take all this without answering some. Fire from its remaining weapons began reaching out for the Federation cruiser. The Chosin jumped and shook with hits as it continued charging toward its foe.

"Forward shields already down to thirty percent!" Stronton announced over the din of the bridge at battle.

All fire from the front section of the Kelvan assault ship ceased as those weapon launchers were destroyed. Still, the two ships bored down on each other, the distance between them becoming critical.

"All torpedoes launched, sir," Hrisch announced as the last of the deadly projectiles streaked away and then MVWed. "Phasers beginning to overheat."

"We’re only one hundred thousand kilometers from it, sir," Williams reported.

"Shields are down, sir," Stronton reported, his voice hoarse from trying to make himself heard over everything going on in Engineering. "We’ve taken damage to many of the forward decks, some are still open to space, though emergency bulkheads have isolated it."

"Emergency forcefields, Mister Stronton?" Kelsey asked over the comlink.

"Overwhelmed, sir. Too much damage."

"Get them up as soon as possible," Kelsey said, though he knew it would do very little good now for those unfortunate enough to have been in those areas. Giving the phasers another moment to complete more destruction, he sat back in his command chair and gave orders. "Helm, ninety degrees to starboard, upward angle of forty-five degrees. Will it have been enough? Kelsey thought as he steepled his hands over his mouth.

The Chosin made the turn and sped off at the ordered angle of departure. Left behind was what was left of the assault ships bow. It was now a tangle of twisted metal girders. Glows from within the destruction showed of fires still raging in those areas that stilled had atmosphere in them. All through the wreckage secondary explosions sent more of the Kelvan ship’s parts flying outward, to be left behind as the ship continued along at near lightspeed.

Kelsey noted that the Chosin was no longer being hit by fire. It looks as if we’ve at least damaged their fire control, thought Kelsey. "What’s their status, Williams?"

Williams was studying and adjusting then studying again as she gathered information. Then she reported. "The forward section is destroyed. Secondary explosions in areas amid-ship, but the engines are still functional and providing forward momentum in the direction they were on before our attack. They have not changed course since we veered off."

"Navigation, take us to station keeping just outside the range of its weapons."

Explosions began to erupt further back from the ruined bow. A small ship detached itself from the bottom of the assault ship.

"What?" Kelsey queried.

"No weapons, sir. Only rudimentary propulsion and simple shielding," Williams reported. "I think it might be an escape ship of some sort."


"Looks to be heading for the fourth planet of the system."

The mainviewer turned bright white and a excretion ring spread out from the center as the Kelvan assault ship succumbed to internal fires and the loss of control of the warp drive’s power source.

"Everyone grab something, this is going to be rough!" Kelsey said as he saw the shock wave coming.

The Chosin was hit and flipped over as the energy of the ship’s destruction hit it. The lights on the bridge went out, then to red as the emergency system took over. High energy circuits whined and then exploded as they were overtaxed.

What took only moments, but seemed like forever to Kelsey, the bridge quieted. His command chair’s passive restraint system had kept him in place. He looked over to see Thorrell looking back at him with a silly grin on his face. Kelsey cocked his head in question to the look.

"Wow!" was all the Andorian could say.

"Wow, indeed," Kelsey responded. Then he looked over to the science station where his wife had been. She was no longer in the station’s seat. He began to panic as he fumbled with the restraints so he could search the bridge for his wife. "Thorrell, contact Engineering. Tell Stronton to get this ship back on its feet."

A voice from comlink answered the captain’s concern. "I’m okay," the chief engineer said. "It takes more than that to faze a…."

And Thorrell joined in…"Super Nova."

Even after all that, Kelsey thought. He searched around and then found Williams laying on her side four meters away. He picked her up and her head lolled back. There was blood covering half her face. At first, he despaired, then noticed that the source of the blood was a laceration just inside of her scalp line. She would be suffering from a concussion, but that cut, though it was bleeding heavily, could be fixed. He hit his comlink, "Captain to Doctor Shakura."

Amazingly the system was still working. "I’m pretty busy right now, Captain. Could you make it brief?"

"We’re going to need a med team up on the bridge," Kelsey said as he checked Williams out for any further injuries. She groaned when he probed the left side of her rib-cage. Possible broken ribs, he thought.

"Can you get them down to the recreation center, sir?" Shakura said. "We’ve set up a triage and treatment center there. Sickbay was overwhelmed pretty quickly."

"On our way, Doc," Kelsey said, and then cut the connection.

Gathering Williams up in his arms, he found Thorrell on the other side of the bridge. "Commander, get things straightened out here. Get those who can move on their own to help those that can’t. You heard the doc; the rec center’s been set up as a triage station."

"Aye, sir."

"You have the bridge, Commander."

"I have the bridge, sir."

Kelsey walked over to the turbolift, hoping that it still worked. With a whoosh, the door opened, and he noticed that the lights were still on inside. He stepped in, and the doors closed. "Recreation center," he ordered.

The lift began to move and a moment later it stopped at the right deck and the door opened. Kelsey was not prepared for what he saw. Loose decking and ceiling tiles were strewn around. Down the hall was a small I-beam semi-blocking the way. This is all fixable now that the battle is over, he thought as he began picking his way through it.

He’d gone about a tenth of the way around the arc to the Rec Center when he came to a stop. There standing in the middle of the hall, blocking the way, was Ensign Q’stor. Kelsey recognized the Romulan-styled dagger in her belt, but couldn’t make out what the small object in her hand was that she was aiming at him.


Kelsey knew of the ship-wide search for this officer. "Ensign Q’stor?"

She pointed the small disruptor at him with her finger on the gem that was the trigger. "It’s not Q’stor, Captain. That’s a disgusting name I no longer want to hear," she spat. "I killed your Orion physical fitness trainer two years ago before she was to come aboard."

"All right," Kelsey said as he put Arlene down gently. Thank goodness the bleeding has stopped. "What is your name then?" he asked, trying to delay for the time he needed either to work out how he was going to get out of this, or for a group of crewmembers to arrive. This hallway couldn’t remain deserted like this for too long.

"It’s Rylasta," she answered standing up a bit straighter, but keeping the weapon aimed at his mid-section. "Sub-Centurion Rylasta. You don’t know me, but I do know you, Captain."

Now when have I met her before? he asked himself. The name does sound familiar somehow. "Okay, Sub-Centurion Rylasta, you obviously have a beef with me. From the reports, you’ve also been tampering with my ship’s computer. I guess you’re a spy for the Romulan Star Empire. Is this correct?"

She smiled. "Though that was the primary mission the government gave me, that wasn’t the most important thing I had to do—in my mind.

"Two years ago, we wanted to know the secrets of this ship, its mission, its weaponry. We also are aware of something the Chosin has. Something that belongs to us. Something we want back. Unfortunately, I’ve not had any opportunity to accomplish much in the way of retrieving our property.

"When you were assigned this mission after the events of Alpha Tucanae Four, my superiors made it clear to me that they didn’t want you to find out how the Tholians spread, because as long as you were worried about them in this sector, you wouldn’t be watching us. My government didn’t want you to find out that there were actually areas in the Tholian Assembly’s claimed territory where they had no interest in, let alone weren’t even watching. We also didn’t want the Federation to know just how extensive was our presence within Tholian space." She chuckled after admitting all this. "But that wasn’t why I asked for this assignment."

If it gained him time, he was willing to listen. "Why would a pretty young Romulan like yourself want to spend so much time within the Federation? I assume you are a Romulan?"

"Of course, Captain," Rylasta answered. "With what I just told you I would think it pretty obvious."

"Well you look like an Orion to me, I wasn’t sure whether you were really Romulan, or an Orion working as a Romulan agent."

She smiled a bit, then continued. "You don’t recognize me through my name, do you?"

"It does seem familiar, though I don’t know from where."

"I was named after my uncle."

Kelsey searched his memory for any time he’d had any dealings with a Romulan named Rylasta. "Still doesn’t ring a bell with me," he said a moment later, shaking his head, "and Rylasta would be a name I’d remember."

"His name wasn’t Rylasta," she said, frowning. "That’s a female derivative of his name. My uncle was Centurion Ryl."

Now that name rang a bell in Kelsey’s memory. "Ah!" he said. "The commander of the gravity weapon your people built well within Federation territory," he said to her, putting emphasis on the fact that it had been in Federation territory. He also remembered how that fight had ended up. He’d left her uncle pinned to the wall of the Enterprise’s transporter room with a sword—much like a bug in an entomologist’s collection.

"He was an honorable Romulan!" she spat. "Doing his duty and obeying orders."

"Of that I have little doubt," Kelsey answered. She’s not going to want to kill me with that weapon in her hand, it’s much too impersonal, his thoughts went on. I’m going to have to deal with the dagger. Beginning to prepare himself for that eventuality, his memory went back to the sparing match he’d had with Rylasta earlier in this mission and now he remembered where he’d seen that style before. With that knowledge, he knew how he might defend against it. The real problem was that as a young Vulcanoid, she was much stronger than him.

"Enough chit-chat," she said, smiling. Taking closer aim, she fired the disruptor.

Kelsey wasn’t surprised when it went just over his right shoulder and struck the ceiling down the hallway behind him with a loud bang. He stood his ground not flinching, though he now had a burn across his cheek, caused by the near miss.

She tossed the weapon away, then pulled the dagger free. "You’ll die much the same as my uncle."

Kelsey assumed a Tae Kwon Do defensive stance. The first thing he had to do was to separate her from the blade in her hand. By the stance she took, he knew that wasn’t going to be easy because she obviously knew what she was doing. He slowly moved toward her, trying to get the fight clear of where Arlene was lying.

Rylasta circled to his left causing him to put his back to the wall of the hallway. He knew she would strike now because if she was successful, it would leave him pinned to the wall, much like he’d left her uncle.

She smiled and began, feinting to the right and then left. He easily moved out the way of each, preparing himself for the real attack. It came without any more delay. She threw out her left hand, swiping aside his defense and drove the blade forward toward where his belly was.

However, he moved out of the way and grabbed the wrist of the hand with the weapon and spun, using the energy behind the strike to carry her forward, off balance. With this, and some added power he lent to her arm, he drove the blade into the wall just above Arlene, and then with a back-hand, he struck her across the side of the head. Though it didn’t disable her, as it would have a Human, she did release her grip on the knife. With a palm strike to the middle of her chest, he drove her backward away from the weapon and further down the hall.

She backed up only a fraction of what he would have been comfortable with and prepared to come in again. He settled himself into a stance that was offensive in nature, but could quickly be changed to a defense as well. She came in with a flurry of well aimed punches that he was able to block, while at the same time letting loose with punches of his own. Must drive her back, he thought as he set himself up for the next set of moves.

She set up, but he didn’t let her initiate it, instead going on the offensive. He mixed in some kicks designed to damage her knees and lower legs with his punches and managed to back her up some, but she defended against them easily, then began a series of attacks of her own. Kelsey quickly lost any ground he’d gained.

"You’ve gotten old, Human," she said with a smile, then quickly threw in a new set. "Two years here, and you never even knew I was a Romulan. What an incompetent captain you are and what fools you have for your crew..."

Kelsey was only able to block the first set with the last punch catching him full on the mouth. He felt loose teeth as he back-peddled from the strike. She followed him with growing confidence. He defended the best he could as he waited for his head to clear. She bobbed and wove in front of him presenting very little to target, but he did manage to get one through which caught her above her left eye, opening a cut there. Green blood began flowing from the opening.

"As you Earthers say," she said touching the wound and seeing her own blood. "Touché."

With that she went at him with the energy only youth could muster. She didn’t seem at all winded by her activities up till that moment. On the other hand, Kelsey was beginning to show the extent of his exertions, breathing hard. She drove him back past Arlene with a series of punches and kicks, some of which connected, opening up a cut under his right eye. He managed to get some strikes in of his own, and although they served to mar her green face, it failed to slow her down one bit.

Kelsey could see what she was doing, but there was nothing he could do to stop her. Her attack was constant and relentless. Now she was just punishing him. It was all he could do to stay standing. She struck him with a new set of punches that all pretty much got through, and his face was turned into a bloody mess. He couldn’t continue, and she knew it, standing back and admiring what she’d done.

"Now for the finishing touch," she said, animal ferocity in her voice. She turned to where she thought the knife should be in the wall and found nothing but the slit. "What?"

"You looking for this?" Williams said, sliding the blade up to its hilt into Rylasta’s midsection, her face not more than a few inches from the Romulan’s. Rylasta twisted in an attempt to pull free and only caused the blade to twist in Arlene’s hand, setting of the spider barbs. With explosive deadliness, the mini-hooks sprang into the flesh around the blade, shredding the tissue. There was a look of surprise, anger and pain all at once flowing across the Romulan’s face, then she slumped to the floor, a flow of green blood spreading from the massive wound, to pool on the floor beneath the body.

Williams just stood there staring at the body, her conscious mind still not fathoming what she had just done.

Kelsey stood nearby for a moment trying to catch his breath, his face a bloody mess. Finally, breathing in deeply, he said, "Let’s go."

"Hmm?" she responded

"Sickbay has set up in the Rec Center, and now we both need the good doctor’s attention."

"She would have killed us both," Williams mumbled, still staring down at the body.

Kelsey walked up beside her and put his arm around her shoulder. "She didn’t. Let’s go."

"I’ve never…" Williams started to say something.

It was one thing to destroy a ship from a distance with all the lost lives that entails, he thought as he evaluated her state of mind. It’s another thing to take a single life in close combat like this. He took her face gently into his hands and turned her gaze to look at him. "You did what had to be done." Then he just held her for some time.

A security team moved into the area and took in the scene, and who was involved. "Sir, what happened here?"

"Romulan agent," Kelsey said indicating the body on the deck.

Then they noted both of the senior officer’s injuries. "You need some help getting to triage?"

"Yes," Kelsey said, releasing Arlene to the helping shoulder of the security officer, then letting himself be supported as well.

The walk to the triage center was a short one. Doctor Shakura was just helping a patient onto a cot when she saw the group enter and identified who they were. "Captain, I was told you had an injured Commander Williams with you, but no one said you were injured as well."

"We were," he groaned as he sat down, "way laid."

The doctor did a quick check of Kelsey’s facial wounds and closed the worst of them with a dermal regenerator. "That will do for now, Captain," she said, putting the medical instrument away. "I have other, more seriously wounded patients to attend to."

"Take a look at Commander Williams, Doc," Kelsey said. "Besides the wound on her head, she may have suffered a concussion and some badly bruised ribs."

"Let me be the doctor here, Captain. You just sit there and be the patient for a while." She did check Williams next, who just sat there staring off into space. Again the dermal regenerator came out to repair the gash in the hair line. The she probed the commander’s rib cage getting a groan a moment later.

"Just bruising," she said after a moment, "but she seems to be suffering from a bit of shock," Shakura said as she pulled out a hypo-spray, slipped in a cartridge and dialed up the dosage. A touch to Williams’ upper arm and a hiss delivered the medicine. Then the doctor helped Williams to lay down. "Let her rest a bit and she should be alright. Except for some bruising, you’ll be fine. We’ll keep an eye on her for you if you need to be someplace else." And then the doctor moved on to another part of the rec center.

He stared at his wife for a long moment, watching her breathing. She had saved his life, and that after being injured. He would be even more appreciative of her, that was for sure. Then he remembered the bridge. Speaking up toward the open comlink on the ceiling, he sent out a call. "Commander Thorrell."

"Thorrell here, sir."

"I’ll be stopping by my quarters for a bit, then head back up to the bridge. Take us into orbit around the third planet."

"Third planet, aye."

Kelsey stood up, and the room swam for a moment, then steadied. Muscles from all over his body complained. You are going to be one sore puppy, boy-o, Kelsey thought to himself as he put one foot in front of the other toward the door. With each step he steadied, and as he left the rec center, he was doing better. He heard the engines respond to increased power and knew his orders were being put into action. Nothing a good sonic shower and a fresh uniform can’t fix, he thought. With that in mind, he headed for the nearest turbolift.


Things had been quiet outside the cave for some time now, and Murray Williams was becoming very inquisitive. All the other survivors were huddled in the back of the cave as well, and a few of them looked to him for direction. Somehow, they looked at him as their leader, and although he had not active campaigned for that position, still they did. The reason for it was why he faced the opening in the cave and began to walk toward it; he was sometimes just too curious for his own good. For his own reasons, he wanted to know more of the details than what he had already seen with the arrival of these Federation marines.

"Ray?" he heard Dee say in a whisper. "Do you think you want to go there yet?"

"It’s been quiet for some time now," he answered, only just barely turning his head to answer. "I think that what ever is going to happen down here is done. Wait here with the rest, and I’ll get some more information."

There was one of the soldiers that stood out from the rest and was wearing the insignia of an officer. He approached him and then waited until the officer was through talking to someone on the transmitter in his hand. The time came a moment later as the transmitter was put into a holder on the officer’s belt.

"Ah, sir," he began. "My name is Murray Williams. I’ve sort of been elected chief of this group."

"Ah, good, I was hoping to find someone central to talk to and pass on some information to," the officer said as he faced Murray. He was a good ten centimeters taller than the older man and looked down at him to get the answer. "My name is Lieutenant Doug Davis, First Marine Regiment, presently mobilized with the Federation starship U.S.S. Chosin."

"That’s good to know, Lieutenant," he turned around and gave a thumbs up to the others in the back of the cave. "I think the first and most important question is: Are we rescued?"

The officer smiled, "I think you can safely say that now. I just talked to our command section on the Chosin, and they just finished off the big Kelvan ship."

Murray felt exhilaration began to swell up in his chest and his eyes watered up, letting tears run down his cheek. Through his choked up throat, while wiping away the tears with the sleeve of his rag-tag clothes, he asked, "How many?"

"Kelvan?" the officer began, "there were only…." But was interrupted by Murray.

"Not those slugs. I don’t give one damn about them," he said and then spat onto the cave floor. "How many survivors? We don’t have good communications with the rest since we’ve been so scattered."

Davis faced the ceiling as he did some calculations in his head. "From the reports I’m hearing from the other wings, no more than three hundred."

Murray’s shoulders slumped as he reacted, "So few."

"They, like yourself, only survived because of caves like this one and that kind of limited how many," Davis explained.

"We were several thousand when the Kelvan put us down here. They would have set up an installation here as well, but there was something about the magnetic fields of this planet that disrupted their body masses, and they left in a hurray, leaving us behind."

"They set up a colony on the fourth planet," Davis continued. "We’re keeping an eye on it just in case they have any more surprises left."

Murray asked the next question everyone would want to know. "When are we leaving?"

"The Chosin suffered some damage and will need to be repaired before we can accommodate you all, but it shouldn’t be long now. They’re on their way back to an orbit around this planet even as I speak. You might pass along to everyone else that if there is anything here that they want to take along, to get it together. They can’t take much, but will be allowed something."

"I can’t speak totally for the others, but there isn’t a thing here besides my wife and children I want to take away," Murray said, shaking his head. "But I will pass it along." He started to turn around, and then had one more question pop into his head. "Who commands the...Chosin, did you say?"

"Captain Kelsey."

A new lump formed in Murray’s throat at his son-in-law’s name. A new tear ran down his cheek.

"Is there a problem, sir?"

"No," Murray answered a moment later. "No problem at all," and he left to tell the others.


"Captain’s on the bridge!" Yeoman Janson announced as Kelsey walked through the turbolift door.

"As you were," Kelsey answered with the standard response, and he saw everyone return to the business they probably had been doing before his arrival. He walked over to Thorrell. "Status, Number One?"

Thorrell turned and saw the bruising on Kelsey’s face and the fact that he was walking a bit gingerly. "We are nearing orbit around the third planet. What happened to you, sir?"

Kelsey grimaced as he touched his right cheek. "Had a bit of a run-in with our Romulan spy."


Kelsey ignored the query. "How’re the ship’s repairs going?"

"We’ve just gotten started, but we’re beginning to pick up the pieces down below. It wasn’t our friend who kept interfering with our computer was it? Thorrell queried.

"One and the same," Kelsey responded as he approached his command chair. He really needed to sit down; there were many muscle groups that were complaining again already.

Thorrell frowned. "I would have thought that person would have tried to blend in better. How’d you find out who it was?"

"She," Kelsey emphasized,"found me."

Thorrell sputtered a bit.

Kelsey nodded his head, not afraid to admit to anything. "Yep. Our physical trainer from Medical."

"The Orion? The one with the nice t—"

"One and the same, but not an Orion," Kelsey continued, checking to see if he had any teeth that might be threatening to come out later. "Romulan."

"Since you’re still able to stand, then is she in the brig now, sir?"

Kelsey shook his head, "No, she’s in the morgue."

"You killed her?" Thorrell said shaking his head slowly. "What a waste!"

Kelsey motioned for Thorrell to come closer so he wouldn’t have to say what he had to say next too loudly. "She had me beat, Number One. I should be the one in the morgue right now with a Romulan knife in my innards."

Thorrell’s face showed the concern this statement did to him. "Then who…?"

"Commander Williams."

Thorrell let out a low whistle. "You carried her out of here. How…?"

Kelsey was almost whispering now. "She came to, saw what was about to happen, took the knife and ran Rylasta—that’s her real name, by the way—through with it."

"Is Commander Williams all right?"

"She’s under the care of the good doc and will be good as new by tomorrow. Boy am I glad she came to when she did."

"No doubt about that," Thorrell stated. "This, Rylasta did you say?"

Kelsey nodded.

"Could have stayed hidden for days," Thorrell continued. "Why’d she come after you?"

"Blood feud," Kelsey answered. "Do you remember Centurion Ryl?"

Thorrell put a hand to his mid-section and grimaced. "How can I forget?"

"His niece."

Thorrell nodded slightly.

"Entering orbit around the third planet, sir," Roberts reported from her station.

"Well, Number One, we have more work to do."

"Yep, repairs to the ship and marines to get back on board."

"Also a load of survivors to quarter somehow."

"How many do you suppose there are?"

"Lieutenant Aherrowla, contact the surface commander and ask how many survivors we should expect?"

The Caitian brought up the ground frequency and queried the person on the other end. Her answer for Kelsey’s question came back quickly. "Three hundred and twenty-eight, some of which are small children."

I guess that’s to be expected, Kelsey thought as he heard the last part of this. After all, they are mortals. "Use the emptied quarters from the casualties for the families and double up the rest with the crew."

"Aye, sir, I’ll make it so," Thorrell responded.

"Do it quickly, Number One," Kelsey added. "I don’t want to stay here any longer than I have to. That escape ship must have been the leader, and there still are Kelvan on the fourth planet. We don’t know what surprises they may still have."

"Wouldn’t we have seen that by now?"

Kelsey shook his head. "I don’t know, just get them up here as soon as possible, and let’s get out of here."

"Aye, sir," Thorrell said as he left the bridge.

"Should I send a full report to Starfleet, sir?" Roberts asked from the navigation station. "They’ll be interested in what we’ve found."

"I’m sure they will, but let’s wait till we’re clear of Tholian space before we make the announcement. I don’t want those crystals to know we’re here just yet. Listen for Kelvan transmissions though," he added. "Just in case."

"Aye, sir," she purred.

Kelsey knew that the corridors would even right now be bustling with crewmen cleaning up the detritus of conflict, making the ship presentable again. It wouldn’t be comforting for the survivors to come aboard and find the damage and mayhem one sees on board any vessel that’s just seen hard combat.

Calling up to the ceiling comlink, he hailed him, "Mister Stronton?"

"Aye, sir," came the disembodied response.

"How is Engineering?"

"The engines are stressed, but recovering nicely," Stronton responded. "The shields are back to full power, and although we have some circuitry that overloaded during the fight, we’re making repairs on them as we speak. Over all," he concluded, "she’s in good order."

"How are the transporters?"

"All are working to specs," came the answer. "None of them were severely damaged."

"We’re about to make full use of them. Can you have the techs do a full diagnostic on them?" Kelsey ordered.

"Wilco, sir," Stronton replied. "Is that all, sir?"

"I think so."

"Mason to the captain," came a new voice from the communicator.

"Yes, Major," Kelsey replied. "How can I help you?"

"My men on the surface say the survivors want to know when they’re going to leave?"

"Pass it along that we’re checking the transporters now and will be able to commence within the hour."

"I’ll pass it along," Mason responded. "We’ll maintain security down there until the last of them is gone, then we’ll get up here as fast as the Bees will get into orbit."

"Sounds good, Major."

"Oh, and by the way," Mason added. "Lieutenant Davis says that there is one of the leaders down there that wants to see you as soon as he gets situated on-board."

A glimmer of hope sparked in Kelsey’s mind. "Who is it?"

"He says his name is Murray Williams and that you’d know him."

"That I do," Kelsey answered. "Pass it along that I’ll see him soon." That is the best news I’ve had in a long time, Kelsey’s thought went on. Now I can sleep better. "Anything else?"

"None that I can think of."

"Kelsey out."


It took about an hour to insure the transporters were in top shape, and the survivors were brought on board. Soon the corridors were filled with a rag-tag cross section of Federation citizenry. Mixed in with them were youngsters, whose eyes were the size of boulders at the sight of their new surroundings.

It was another six hours before everyone was situated, and the remaining Killer Bees were back in their hangars. During that time there was no sign of a reaction from the fourth planet. The doctor began releasing some the patients in the ward that had responded well to treatment and were ready to return to duty. Among them was Commander Williams.

"Science officer to Captain," Williams called the bridge.

"Yes, Commander?" Kelsey responded.

"I’m going to my quarters to get cleaned up a bit, and then I’ll be up to the bridge."

"I’ll meet you there, Commander."

"Your prerogative, Captain."


She had just gotten out of the sonic shower when he arrived. His face was beginning to show the purple mottling of bruises, and he was obviously favoring some sore muscles. "Why, Captain, aren’t you the sight?"

"Haven’t had the time to get the doctor to look at fixing this," he said gingerly touching his left cheek. "You haven’t faired a whole lot better, dear."

"All part of full day’s work," she said as she began putting on a clean uniform.

"I suspect more than that," Kelsey answered. "We all have put in overtime today."

"That’s true," she said.

She finished dressing in silence and had soon put on the final touches. Without any further dalliance, she headed for the door. "Shall we?" she said.

"Sure," he responded and followed her out.

They both headed for the nearest turbolift and got in. "Bridge," she said, and the door closed.

Kelsey interrupted. "Over ride," he said. "Deck Five."

"What?" Williams started.

"Humor me," he responded. "It’s worth it."

They got out on the fifth deck, and he turned left. They hadn’t walked far when he stopped in front of compartment door. Without a pause, Kelsey hit the button that told those inside they had a visitor.

An older gentleman, gaunt with deprivation, answered the door. He’d already gotten cleaned up and had a set of clean clothes on. Kelsey was almost run over by his wife as she threw herself at the man.


"Arlene?!" he said as he caught her in his arms. Tears were suddenly flowing down his cheeks. "I never thought I’d see you again."

Arlene Williams pulled herself from her fathers chest and there was a moist spot there where her tears had soaked in. She just stared at his face for a moment, seeing how much he’d changed since the last time she’d seen him.

A little girl came up and pulled on Murray Williams’ pant leg. "You’re my daddy," she whined.

Arlene Williams looked down and saw a dark skinned little girl who was hugging her father’s leg and peeking out at the strange woman. Then Arlene looked up at her dad’s face with a question in her eyes.

"Ahem," Murray cleared his throat. "Arlene, you have to understand. I didn’t think we’d ever be found. None of us did down there; it was such a hopeless situation." Half turning around, he motioned to a woman that was standing silently further into the room with another youngster on her hip. "Arlene, I’d like to introduce you to DeShana. DeShana, I want to introduce you to my daughter Arlene." Murray paused for a moment, then continued. "DeShana is my wife."

There was an awkward silence.

Kelsey decided he should do something. "I think some consideration of the circumstances is due here, Arlene."

Arlene looked at her father, then at DeShana, and then finally at the little girl. Without breaking her eye contact with the little girl, she said, "Ah, Dad, I think mom will be very surprised to say the least." Then she squatted down to eye level with the little girl and held out her hand. "Hi, my name is Arlene, and I’m your big sister."


Captain’s Log, Stardate 9522.4

Sensors have found a narrow corridor between Tholian systems that seems to be heading in the direction of Federation space. It seems to be our only hope since this gulf has turned out to be a box canyon of sorts, with the only large opening controlled by a large Romulan force.

We checked out the fourth planet of the system before we left. Sensors found a large settlement of Kelvan, but there were no more spacecraft to be found. Sensors also found that that planet had only trace amounts of the raw material needed for them to build anything to replace what they’d lost. There was also only very small indigenous life forms. The survivors were all for a bombardment of their settlement, but since we only have phasers left, it seemed a bit futile. We left them there to die, marooned.

On a personal note. Commander Williams and her father are making up for lost time, and although no one involved believes it’s going to be an easy situation to explain to Admiral Susan Williams all believe it will be all right.


"We are standing by at the mouth of the corridor, sir," Roberts announced.

"It’s not very wide, but we should be able to slip by the Tholians in it without drawing their attention," Williams reported from the science station.

Kelsey sat forward on his chair and studied the mainviewer with its myriad of stars. "Enter the corridor, Warp One. We’ll start off slow until we see where this will lead." For all we know, he thought, it might dead end after only a few light years though sensors don’t show any Tholian systems that close in the area ahead of us.


They spent the next three days twisting and turning down a maze of corridors, some leading to dead ends causing them to have to back track and try a different direction. On the third day, navigation gave the Chosin’s position as only one star system away from Federation space.

"Is there any way around it?" Kelsey asked.

"Sensors can’t find any gaps," Williams answered. "It’s another dead end."

Kelsey had been contemplating what he would do now for the last day in case this happened. "How far across is the Tholian space we’ll have to traverse?"

"At its thinnest part, sensors tell us at least ten light years," came the response.

"Any sign of the Tholians knowing of our presence?"

"Nothing on the sensors but patrol ships, but how can we assume anything else since we’ve been using passive sensors so far?" Williams answered.

Kelsey shook his head, then turned to his first officer. "Commander Thorrell, it’s happened as we thought it might."

"Aye, sir, it has."

"Do you think we can do it?"

"We won’t know till we try."

"Roberts, plot a course through the thinnest part of Tholian space and set us for maximum warp."

The navigator studied her sensor read-outs a moment, made some adjustments into the computer and then responded. "Course laid in and ready sir."

Looking over his shoulder toward engineering, Kelsey continued. "Can you give me all she’s got for this short sprint, Mister Stronton?"

"She’ll do you proud, sir."

Kelsey sat back and tried to look relaxed even though every part of his being was screaming. He flipped open the shield over a button on his command chair arm. Pressing the button, he noted a slight wobble in the ship’s lighting. "Engage."

The Chosin leapt forward, going faster and faster as her engines began to scream. The points of lights that were stars smeared past in long streamers, yet still she accelerated. And disappeared completely.

There was a nagging whine coming from everywhere at once when Stronton made his report. "Maximum warp, sir. Warp Factor Fourteen."

"How soon till we enter Tholian space?"

"In ten seconds," replied Roberts. "Five…four…three…two…one….we’re in, just skirting the Oort cloud of two Tholian hive systems."

"I’m surprised we haven’t been spotted already," Williams reported without looking up from her sensor hood. "We have just passed within four hundred thousand kilometers of a fighter craft convoy, and they ignored us completely!"

"How far till we’re clear?"

"Nine light years."

"We’ve cleared one system," Williams said. "There is no sign that we’ve been spotted. We must be going too fast for them."

You think so? Kelsey thought, grinning.

"Wait!" Williams said as she adjusted her sensors. "There’s two dreadnoughts directly ahead. Our present course will pass within two million kilometers on our port side," Williams reported.

"They must have been monitoring our progress," Thorrell suggested. "We’re going too fast for them to catch us."

"Maintain speed and heading, Mister Aherrowla," Kelsey stated.

"Mister Hrisch," Thorrell said as he swiveled his chair around. "Prepare to fire all phasers at the web at maximum range."

"Targeting now," Hrisch said as he punched in data to his weapons board.

"Belay those orders, Chief," the captain said firmly. "We’re in no danger."

"Sir?" asked Thorrell and Hrisherisch at the same time.

"Distance remaining, Navigator?"

"Five lightyears, sir."

"Captain, at least send Starfleet our position and current status," Thorrell suggested. "Let’s see if we can have some help in case these crystalline bastards decide to follow us into Federation space."

"They won’t. Maintain subspace radio silence."

Thorrell regarded his captain guardedly. "Sir..."

"Number One, I think you need to trust your captain." Kelsey winked at the Andorian. "At least, trust in the magic of the leprechauns."

"Leprechauns..." the Andorian repeated. "...are some sort of magical imp which can vanish when you try to catch them."

"If you take your eyes off of them," Williams added.

"Sir, a Tholian supply group directly in our path, dead ahead."

"Adjust course to bypass them by a hundred thousand kilometers."

"The Chosin has a cloa—"

"Belay that, Number One. Everyone knows that leprechauns are a myth."

With renewed and deeper respect, Thorrell bowed his head slightly. "I stand corrected, Captain. Impressed, but corrected."

"We’re now entering Federation space."

"Helm, slow her down to Warp Factor Six. Navigator, plot a course for Starbase 211." The captain depressed the button on his arm console, then closed the shield over it.

"Stronton to Bridge," came the young man’s voice over the comlink. "We’ve got a weird power fluctuation. It happened just before we went to high warp, and just after we came out of it."

"Acknowledged," Kelsey answered. "See if you can track it down, Super Nova."

"Aye, sir."

"Course laid in for Starbase 211, sir."

"Helm, engage."

"Aye, sirrr," the Caitian purred.

"Estimated time of arrival, Navigator?"

"At this speed, five minutes, Captain."

"Aherrowla, raise Starbase 211 for me. Send Commodore Alden my regards. Tell him I’ll have a full report of our findings shortly. I’m sure they’ll be very interested in what we’ve found out," Kelsey said and then continued. "Also send a full roster of the survivors we picked up. I’m sure their families will be very glad to hear that they’re alive. And be sure and tell him we’re going to need some time in an orbital space dock."

"Yes, Captain Kelsey."

We sure can use the repair and refit facilities of the starbase, he thought sitting in the command chair and watching his bridge crew work. I’m sure the crew can also use the time on liberty. They’ve certainly earned it. His gaze stopped on Commander Williams as she worked at the science station. She seems to have accepted the situation with her father, his thoughts concluded, even to the point of accepting the younger half-siblings. She treats them almost as if they are a niece and nephew. Then his thoughts took another tack along that subject. Or is it that she is treating them as surrogate children of her own? Hmm, that’s quite a thought. It is still to be seen how Admiral Williams is going to take this. One can only hope it will be to the benefit of the children since they deserve the best.

He turned to his first officer, who now was relaxing in his chair. "What do you suppose they’ll have for us next, Number One?"

"Probably some boring exploratory mission, sir."

"You mean like this last one?"

"Oh, no, sir, much more boring, I’m sure, now that we’ve shown how capable we are," Thorrell said with a big grin on his blue face, his antennae perked up to full attention.

"Wouldn’t that be something?" Kelsey responded.

"Yes, it would."

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