Several minutes earlier…
The command deck of the EAS Alexander was quietly buzzing with activity as the senior officers and crew went about their duties. To the casual observer, this activity would seem normal. But, it was hardly normal as only a few days ago, the crew along with their commanding officer, General William Hague, had become renegades.
A couple hours earlier, Hague along with his executive officer, Major Ed Ryan had been in conference with officials on the Earth-like colony of Orion VII, attempting to gain support for the Clark rebellion. The conference had been largely successful, and they were optimistic that when the time came, they would have a valuable ally against the current Earth Alliance president.
Now, the Alexander was leaving. It was dangerous for the destroyer to remain in one place for too long. Unfortunately, their jump engines had gone down again. They had been temperamental ever since a hit they had taken in the skirmish at the Io transfer point. His engineers had reported it would be another half hour before they had them back online. In the meantime, the Alexander was heading for the local transfer point, over twenty and a half million kilometres away. At their current velocity, it would take them one standard day, an eternity, during which the Alexander could be attacked by EarthForce ships loyal to Earth.
"General," Hague's second officer, the dark skinned Lieutenant Commander Bill Trainor, announced from behind the command chair where he stood supervising the sensor operators. "Jump point forming astern at one thousand kilometres."
"Put it on the monitor," Hague ordered as he looked up at the fore wall.
On it, he could see a view of recently traversed space and the Earth-like planet growing smaller the further they got. For a second, that view changed as the blue vortex of an inbound jump point formed bridging jumps-pace with normal. An instant later, the submarine-like form of an EarthForce Hyperion-class heavy cruiser emerged. Though not as large or as heavily armed as the Alexander, this ship could still be dangerous opponent.
"Red alert," Hague said. "Who is it?"
Looking over the shoulder of the blond haired female officer manning the master weapons station, Ryan read the data coming up on the monitors. "Sir," he said. "Identification code says it's the Clarkstown. She's signalling."
He nodded at the blond officer, and she touched a control.
A moment later, the communication system came to life. "This is Captain Anthony Southwarth of the Earth Alliance cruiser Clarkstown. By order of President Clark you are to surrender your command and prepare to be boarded. This is your first and last warning. If you do not surrender, we will be forced to initiate deadly force."
Surrendering, Hague knew was not an option. "Battle stations!"
In response, an alert klaxon sounded throughout the ship, off duty personnel came on shift, the fighter pilots reporting to their Starfury bays awaiting the order to launch. On the command deck, the activity suddenly increased; as previously powered down systems were brought to ready status.
"Activate defence grid," Ryan ordered. "Navigation: evasive manoeuvres."
Sitting in his command chair, Hague took a look around his bridge as he issued his orders. "Launch fighters," he commanded. "Escort formation."
"Hyperion entering firing range," Trainor stated. "Orders?"
"Interceptors are cleared to take down incoming fire," Hague ordered. "All 'furies, do not fire unless fired upon." He knew the fighters would in the end have to return fire, even the Alexander. But, he refused to take the first shot.
"Sir," Trainor announced. "They've locked on…firing!"
Outside, the space between the two EarthForce ships lit up like a fifth of November fireworks display. The red bolts from the Clarkstown's pulse cannons, rapidly crossing the short distance only to be shot down at the last moment by the Alexander's own interception fire.
In retaliation, the Thunderbolt Starfuries protecting Alexander returned the fire with their nose mounted rapid fire plasma pulse cannons attempting to blunt the smaller cruisers offensive strike capability.
Unlike the command deck of the Alexander, the Clarkstown's was a zero gravity environment with the command crew literally strapped into their chairs with five-point restraints. Strapped into the command chair, Captain Southwarth was frustrated.
The Odysseus was supposed to be heading into the system at high speed from the local hyperspace jump gate. Instead, it had had an unexpected encounter with two unidentified ships. Now, his ship was locked in combat in what was likely to be a losing engagement for his vessel. His vessel was seriously outdated and outgunned.
The ship shuddered. "Report," Southwarth commanded.
"Sir," his executive officer announced from his station. "They're targeting our forward interceptors."
Southwarth nodded in resignation. "Charge the heavy particle laser cannons."
Ever since martial law had been declared, it seemed to Londo Mollari, everyone was trying to leave the station, himself included, albeit for a different reason. He had been 'requested' yet again by Lord Refa to attend a meeting on Centauri Prime.
"This is absurd!" Mollari muttered to the dark haired and well dressed human waiting behind him in the customs queue waiting to depart Babylon 5. "Two hours I have been standing in line. 'Our staff is overwhelmed,' they tell me. 'Too many people trying to get home or escape here. Rumours of rebellion and war. Even the diplomatic lanes are clogged.'"
Mollari too caught up in his complaining, didn't even notice the man rolling his eyes. Silently wishing for the Centauri ambassador to simply drop dead and give him some peace. "Fah," Mollari continued. "If you ask me, I know the real problem. Ever since the Earthers put Narn on their security force…everything has gone to hell."
The human was now quietly nodding, silently wondering if he shouldn't just put a PPG to his head. "They're not very efficient you know," Mollari said pointing a finger rather rudely as emphasis. "You have to keep an eye on them at all times. They-"
He was interrupted, not surprisingly by the Narn security guard. It was his turn to go through the security checkpoint. "Next," the Narn said. Then when he had the Ambassador's attention, he added. "Identicard please."
Mollari handed the card over, which the Narn promptly inserted into his hand-held reader, surreptitiously hitting the cancel control. The reader emitted a complaining bleep. "How strange," the Narn said all too pleasantly. "I'm not getting a confirmation on your identicard."
"Oh please," Mollari said accusingly. "You know who I am."
"Oh, yes," the Narn said. "I know who you are, Ambassador. But the computer, you see, does not. And verification is required prior to entry to the departure lounge. Perhaps, I have entered the data incorrectly. We are, after all, very inefficient. Yes, one must keep an eye on us at all times."
Behind Mollari, the previously irritated human was almost dropping from silent laughter. While he didn't want to be kept waiting, he was quite glad to see the Ambassador get put down.
"All right-" Mollari began to retort.
"In a moment," the guard interrupted. "Meanwhile, we have many others coming through. Please step aside, Ambassador." After Mollari had moved aside, he added. "This shouldn't take more than two or three standard hours…next."
Off to the side, Mollari muttered another curse. "Madness. Total and complete madness! This would never have happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another."
For a moment, silence reigned on the bridge of Challenger.
"Put it on the screen," Styles commanded, breaking the silence.
Looking up, Styles watched the view of the EarthForce destroyer, slowly spinning in space. The port side of their forward armoured cowling was badly crushed, the result of a photonic shockwave that had erupted from the torpedoes when the Odysseus had shot them down. Every Starfleet officer knew it was a bad idea to try to shoot down torpedoes at such close range. The resultant shockwave was often more destructive than the torpedoes themselves.
For now at least, the battle had died down, as the fighters attempted to survey the damaged destroyer attempting to establish contact.
The screen flickered, as the image changed to show an unfamiliar vaguely circular bridge with numerous consoles in the background, one prominent console was what looked like a glass free-standing plot display, similar to the one in the Enterprise's conference room.
But, that wasn't what caught Styles attention. It was the person sitting in what was presumably the command chair. His uniform was very martial in appearance. A light navy blue in color with a wide brown leather stripe down the right half of the uniform. On the left breast was an insignia, a stylized combination of the letters 'A' and 'E.' The leather epaulets atop each shoulder had what Styles thought were rank insignia. Looking at the thinly bearded officers blue eyes, he could feel the unmistakable command presence.
"EAS Churchill" the EarthForce officer said. "This is General William Hague of the Earth Alliance ship Alexander in grid Orion. We're under attack! We've taken damage to the jump engines and have lost contact with our med-lab. Captain Hiro-"
The transmission abruptly broke up into static, preventing any further information being gleaned.
"Get that back! Get that back!" Styles demanded, as the main screen flickered back to the view of the severely damaged Odysseus.
At the communications station, Garret quickly went to work, her head shaking in frustration. "I can't," she told him. "Transmission jammed at the source."
Styles nodded in resignation, then turned to the science station. "Full scan," he commanded. "I want to know where they are and what their situation is."
"Scanning sensors," Samno answered.
On the main screen, Styles could see the Enterprise slowly move into view. Her bow pointed straight at the disabled destroyer.
"Sir," Foster said turning from the tactical station. "Enemy fighters coming from the starboard side, trying to outflank us!"
Reset flak barrage," Styles commanded. "Long range dispersion, initiate when ready."
"Delta's 4, 5, 6 and 7," Hollins said from his 'fury Delta 3. "We're going in! And make damn sure that sensor program I sent you, is running." A moment later, he put actions to his own words, activating his engines and flying towards the starboard side of the vessel calling itself Challenger. Well, he thought. I'll give you a challenge. "Computer: Distance to target?"
"Seven hundred meters…seven-eighty…seven-seventy…" the computer responded.
Checking to his left and right sides, he was pleased to see his wing following him in. "At six hundred meters fire your missiles, then get the hell out of there, You don't want to be near when those things go off."
Looking both at his targeting computer and out ahead, he flew his fighter in towards the base of the 'neck', "Computer," he said. "Arm missiles one and two."
"Missiles armed. Range now seven-thirty…seven-twenty…"
Just then, the previously localized flak barrage suddenly started being shot out a lot further, the particle blasts began to buffet his fighter around.
"Fox two, port and starboard!"
"Sir," Yar said looking over to Picard who was sitting in the Enterprise's command chair. "A wing of fighters has just fired a spread of missiles at Challenger. Captain they're nukes!"
"On screen, magnify," Picard ordered. "Can you intercept them?"
"Negative," Yar replied. "They're too close to Challenger's hull. Impact in six seconds."
The screen at the fore of the bridge, flicked from an image of the Odysseus to a close-up starboard view of the Challenger. He could still see damage from its engagement with the Romulans, clearly visible near the base of the secondary hull. On the screen just visible behind the retreating fighters were the missiles. All ten of them, rapidly closing in on the ships starboard side. In the background, he heard Yar quietly count off the seconds to impact.
When Hollins had retreated far enough, he brought his fighter to a relative halt and turned back to look at his handiwork. Just as the Challenger became visible, he saw the shields flare up and spark at various points all over its starboard side. For the merest instant, he thought the shield had stopped them, but his fears were unfounded, they were still visible and a fraction of a second later, they detonated one after another in blinding flashes.
"Multiple thermonuclear detonations confirmed," his fighter reported. "Alert: Metallic mass detected at nine hundred meters. Bearing zero-zero-eight mark zero-zero-one."
"All right!" Hollins exclaimed. "Breaching Pod Alpha, the EMP knocked out their shields. You may commence your run. All Delta's, you may engage at will."
"Sir, I've located the Alexander..." Samno never finished his report, as a hard force violently impacted against the side of the Challenger, shoving it to the port.
In his command chair, Styles grabbed an armrest as he tried to keep from being flung to the deck. All around him he could see his crew fighting their consoles as they crackled and sparked, emitting plumes of acrid electrical smoke that occasionally blocked his view.
"They've found away to penetrate our shields," Foster said over the din of the ships alarms. "Lateral shielding has buckled on decks ten through eighteen." He broke off as another alarm sounded on his console. "Sir, we've got one of those pods coming in fast!"
"Damn!" Styles muttered. "Where's it heading?"
"Starboard docking port," Foster responded quickly. "Deck thirteen."
Styles hit the intercom. "Styles to security," he said. "Get a team to the starboard torpedo bay fast. I think they're going to try and board us."
Lieutenant Julie Smith flew the Invader-class breaching pod Alpha like a wild animal as she attempted to approach and dock with the vessel calling itself Challenger. She was aiming for the circular hatch-like structure on the structure at the base of the neck, just like she'd been ordered to by the GROPOS commander, Colonel Thomas Powell. It was, he had told her, a good breaching point.
"GROPOS stand by," Lieutenant Julie Smith said from her flight controls in breaching pod Alpha. "Contact with target…now."
The forward airlock of the breaching pod opened, allowing Powell to see Challenger's hatch.
It was circular he noted, and pearl white just like the rest of the vessel. And written in Earth standard across the hatches midline were the words USS Challenger NCC-1977 United Federation of Planets. Between the letters 'n' and 'g' in Challenger, and the letters 'T' and 'I' in Federation a thin black line was plainly visible running from the top of the hatch to the base. In the rim of the circular hatch, he could see what looked like a computer interface with touch sensitive controls on the top half and a lever in the bottom
"Sir," Major Philips said. "We're ready to proceed."
"Demolitions," Powell said gruffly, reaching for a hand hold as he felt the floor give out beneath him. The fighters were still firing on the vessel. He felt a rumbling explosion shudder through the deck. "Get that airlock open. And tell those fighters to cease fire. I don't want any friendly fire incidents while we're aboard."
"Yes Sir," Phillips said.
"Captain," Garret said. "I've got Commander Kyle on the line."
"Put him on," Styles said. What happened to my shields?"
"Captain," Kyle said. "I'm only guessing, but I think they figured out our shields aren't static. I'm resetting the shield modulation now."
"Won't that," Styles began, suppressing a grimace, "mean that we'll have to lower then raise the shields." Styles didn't have to go on. He knew that the process would take a quarter minute."
"Yes, Sir." Kyle said knowingly.
The ship shuddered slightly, as a quiet rumbling noise could be heard.
"Stand by," Styles said as he looked up at the main screen showing an exterior view of the starboard torpedo bay and the pod attached to the docking port. "Report."
At the science station, Samno looked at a monitor, and then turned to Styles. "Sir," he said. "They've just breached the outer hatch. Should I activate the emergency force fields?"
"Negative," Styles said, an idea occurring to him. "But keep your fingers on the controls." Now, he thought. If I can just lure them to a turbo-lift. "Ensign," he said addressing the young Susanna Nechayev at the bridge engineering station. "After the security team arrives, I want you to assume direct control of that turbo-lift…"
As the smoke cleared, Powell could that instead of the outer hatch, was a hole in the shape of the hatch. The hatch itself was just debris, the metallic shards spread out over the floor.
Beside him, Phillips glanced forward noting a second identical hatch about a meter beyond, albeit without the identification writing. Now the demolitions team moved forward and began to place more explosive charges against the hatch as the main assault team readied their Pulsed Plasma Rifles for the charge into the ship.
"Oxygen masks on," a trooper called out. "Fire in the hole!"
The troopers promptly crouched low to the deck, placing oxygen masks on their faces as they briefly turned away from the hatch as the explosives detonated, sending metallic debris in their direction. At the rear of the squad of GROPOS, Powell started giving orders, even before the smoke dissipated. "Move it! Move it! This isn't play school. Get in there and get us control of that alien ship. The person who captures the ships commander gets a week of shore leave!"
"Sir," Garret said. "Security is in position."
"Understood," Styles said as he turned briefly to Nechayev. "Ensign, when they get into the turbo-lift," He said a smile on his face; I want you to send it to the security complex. But, I want you to send it via decks twenty, six and fifteen." Styles turned to Samno. "Stand by on those force fields."
"Standing by," he answered.
"Open fire!" the Andorian Lieutenant Shran said to his team as the inner airlock doors blew apart in a cloud of metallic shrapnel.
An instant later, he put actions to his own orders as he pulled the trigger on his assault phaser pistol, letting a blue beam of phased energy join the other seven lancing out into the milky-white cloud.
The battle was joined as orange bolts of energy preceded what looked like, to Shran anyway, a troop of twentieth-century soldiers wearing everything from the Kevlar combat helmet, various pieces of body armour and load bearing equipment currently loaded up with what looked like various grenades and ammunition for the short stubby looking rifles they were wielding.
The soldiers came through the airlock two at a time firing bolts of orange energy at his security team, sending them for cover behind various pieces of equipment and support struts in the bay as they advanced on. So far, Shran had counted six. But there were clearly more still inside the pod attached to the airlock. He knew that Styles had planned to herd them into the turbo-lift. Unfortunately, it was obvious that wasn't going to work. He flipped his communicator open. "Bridge," Shran said over the din of weapons fire. In the corner of his eye he saw one of his crewmen fall from a hit to the un-armoured knee. The "The plan's not going to work, there's too many of them. Get me a MACO squad over here from Enterprise."
"Understood," Picard said as he looked at the image of Styles on the main screen of Enterprise's bridge. Despite the image being focused on Styles himself, Picard could clearly see the console behind Styles giving off smoke as it emitted a thin plume of smoke. "I'll send a squad over." He glanced at Riker sitting next to him.
"Bridge to MACO country," Riker said activating the intercom. "Strike 1, your up. Stand by transporter rooms."
Engineering aboard the Challenger, was a madhouse. Engineers wearing their white protective garments were everywhere. At the main console, next to the pulsing warp core, Kyle was working away as he studied a diagram of the shield grid and his planned modifications. He was writing a routine that, he hoped anyway, would randomly alter the shield modulation every couple of seconds. He looked up as he heard the intercom go active.
"Engineering," Kyle could hear Styles saying over the roar of the warp core at full power. "I thought I ordered you to restore the shields."
"I'm ready to do it now," he answered.
"Then do it."
He touched a few controls, and the diagram of the shield grid changed. Now it was just a diagram of the ship. In the corner, a countdown was running. Counting down the seconds: Fifteen…fourteen…thirteen… "Bridge," Kyle said, looking up. "Shields are down."
A few seconds earlier, in transporter room one aboard the Enterprise, Major Sandra McKenzie and the six members of MACO squad Strike 1, were standing on the surrounding transporter pads. McKenzie's features, like the others in her squad, were hidden behind a carbon black combat helmet with an opaque blast in place over faces capable stopping anything short of a type-III phaser compression rifle on its tenth setting. Over the black uniforms they wore, they were wearing a black phaser-proof vest along with a multi-pouched combat harness. Each was visibly armed with the type-IIIB phaser rifle and numerous other weapons including stun grenades and knifes.
As McKenzie stood on her pad, she looked over at one of the other troopers in the squad. "Hudson! Leave the M41A pulse rifle behind." The trooper she was looking at was more heavily armed than the others in Strike 1. In his left hand, pointing at the ceiling was a vintage projectile firing assault rifle, while his left held the phaser rifle. In a holster on his back, was a bat'leth he'd taken from a Klingon he'd once killed. "And the bat'leth. You're not going to Qo'nos."
Hudson turned his head and looked at McKenzie. Despite his face being hidden by the blast shield, she could have sworn he was smirking. "But Ma'am," he moaned. "I've never left them behind. They'll be lonely."
"Not as lonely as you'll be," McKenzie growled, "if I have to send you to the brig."
For a moment, Hudson may have been about to protest, then he strode if the platform mumbling some kind of apology to Julie as he deposited the rifle and bat'leth on a nearby workstation. For a moment, McKenzie thought he was talking to the rifle. Then, as he retook his place, a voice boomed over the intercom.
"Challenger" Riker was saying, "has dropped her shields. You can begin the op."
"Chief O'Brian," McKenzie was ordering, looking at the Irish transporter chief. "Stun grenades. Lock onto the Earth Alliance boarding pods and energize."
"Aye Ma'am," he replied as he worked his console. "Energizing…"
On the larger central transporter pad, the one used mostly for cargo, were a six stun grenades, placed in a circular pattern. A moment later, they disappeared in a sparkle of the transporter beam.
After a beat, McKenzie looked round her squad, then placing her rifle in the ready position – left hand on the stock, right on the grip and trigger – "Strike 1," she said. "Lock and load. Chief O'Brian, energize."
At the pilot's station of Breaching Pod Alpha, Lieutenant Julie Smith looked up, startled as she heard a brief whining noise coming from the floor of the deck behind her.
Glancing round, she noticed that there was a small object, cylindrical in shape, which she could fit in the palm of her hand. It seemed, she was thinking, to be emitting a series of bleeps that was increasing in its frequency. It could only mean one thing. Activating the pods intercom, she yelled one word. "Grenade!"
As it went off, all she could see was a blinding white light, as a roar of sound filled her ears. Then everything went black as she fell unconscious.
"Ten seconds," Foster was saying from the Challenger's tactical station, "till shields restoration."
Styles just nodded - his eyes on the fighters that were beginning to focus on the Enterprise, which was now holding position just off the Odysseus. The larger starship, was shrugging off the fighters attacks, its shields barely glowing under the assault.
"Sir," Samno said, glancing up from his station. "Two members of the MACO party just beamed aboard the boarding pod. The other four have beamed onto deck twelve."
"Seven seconds," Foster said.
As the sparkle of the transporter effect faded, McKenzie took in her surroundings. She and Hudson were standing just inside the wrecked airlock. Of the other four members of Strike 1, two were on guard duty in the main compartment of the pod, keeping a watch over the stunned invading troops. The third pair was behind the aft access door to the port torpedo bay, opposite the airlock.
Pulling her tricorder from a pouch, she flipped it open and making sure it set to silent mode, made quick scan of the torpedo bay beyond. In it were at least a couple of dozen life signs. According to her scan, two of the intruders were mirroring both hers and Hudson's positions on the other side of the airlock, while a second pair had the aft access door under guard. The rest appeared to be moving about rapidly and interacting with the different life signs. The cause was obvious. The fight had broken down into a slugging match.
Quickly putting her tricorder away, she pulled out her communicator. Rather than use com-badges that could be lost in a fight - the MACOs, sometimes referred to as the Marine Corp, preferred the old flip communicator design as they were sturdier and more powerful. She never did understand why the squids, meaning the 'fleet, had eventually changed to the 'badges a couple decades earlier.
Flipping hers open, she opened a channel to Challenger. "Strike 1 to Challenger," McKenzie was saying. "Strike 1 to Challenger."
"ChallengerBridge here," was the response from their communications officer. McKenzie didn't know the officers name. "Go ahead Strike 1."
"Tell environmental engineering," McKenzie was sawing," to access the grav plating controls for deck twelve starboard forward and standby to push them up to eight gravities."
"Standing by…" came the immediate response.
McKenzie didn't acknowledge. Instead she changed channels. "Team 1 to Team 3," she stated.
"Standing by…" came the heavily Russian accented response from Corporal Jenny Bukovsky.
"Bukovsky," McKenzie said quietly. "Is your tricorder picking up those guards by the access door to the port torpedo bay?"
"Affirmative," Bukovsky stated. "What's the plan?"
"Watch the gravity readings for the forward end of the torpedo bay," McKenzie told her fellow marine. "When it jumps up to eight gravities, move in and take out the guards."
"Understood," Bukovsky answered. "Team 3 out."
"Hudson," McKenzie asked. "Set?"
Hudson simply nodded as McKenzie contacted Challenger's bridge. "Up the gravity," she said. "Now!"
Quickly putting her communicator away, McKenzie and Hudson stepped quietly into the torpedo bay and violently smashed the butts of their phaser rifles into the helmets of the two intruders guarding the airlock, knocking them to the ground. Pointing their rifles at the fallen guards, she spoke ominously in unison with Hudson. "'Now my young Jedi, you will die.'"
Both McKenzie and Hudson fired.
Hearing the sound of two more bodies collapsing to the deck, McKenzie and Hudson glanced up. Approaching them from the access door to the port torpedo bay was Bukovsky and her partner Private Richards. "You didn't actually kill them," Bukovsky was saying. "Did you?"
"Naw," McKenzie said, her voice grinning. "The rifles were set stun. But they'll certainly wish they were."
Beside McKenzie, Hudson was practically laughing as he pointed to the forward end of the bay. "Would you look at that?"
As the others looked to where he was pointing, they started laughing themselves. At the forward part of the bay, next the hatch where torpedoes would enter the launcher was a pile of bodies struggling to move under the weight of eight gravities. Most seemed to be wearing old style green battledress uniforms, but here and there they could see the blue of a Starfleet uniform.
McKenzie had been right a minute earlier when she had thought the fight had degenerated into a melee. It was the only explanation for the pile up. Taking a moment to stop her laughing, she approached the console on the back wall and activated the intercom "Strike 1 to bridge," she said. "Starboard torpedo bay secure. Lock onto all life-signs lacking a communicator and transport them to the brig. Same with the boarding pod."
Sitting the command chair of the Challenger's bridge, Styles turned briefly to Nechayev. "Sorry," he told her, "you didn't get you fun. Maybe next time."
"Sir," Garret said looking over at Styles. "Commander Kyle's reporting he's ready to re-raise the shields."
"Samno," Styles ordered quickly. "Activate the emergency force fields."
"Tell him to raise them." Styles told Garret.
At his console in engineering, Kyle quickly entered the command that would raise the shields. Glancing at a schematic of the ship as he did so, he saw the shields perimeter reform around the hull. He also let out a small whoop of joy as the pod attached to the starboard side was pushed off the ship as they were raised.
"Bridge," he said. "Shields restored."
A moment earlier on the bridge of the Enterprise, Picard was watching the slowly spinning form of the Odysseus on the main screen. A few minutes earlier, just after the Challenger had fired her torpedoes and for all intents disabled the EarthForce destroyer, he'd ordered the Enterprise to close the distance between the two vessels to see if there would be any reaction. So far there hadn't been any.
Several hundred meters beyond the Odysseus, with hostile fighters buzzing around her, was the Challenger.
"Captain," Data said looking up from his position in the operations bay. "Challenger has just restored her shields." A beat later Data spoke up again. "Fascinating," he was saying. "As the Challenger raised her shields, it pushed the boarding pod off their hull."
"On screen," Riker said from his seat next to Picard.
The image shifted for a moment to show a view of Challenger. Slowly drifting away was the conical boarding pod. "Sure hope," Riker said; sotto voice. "Nobody was on that thing when it was pushed off."
"The pod is empty, Commander," Data supplied
"Captain," Yar was saying. "I'm getting a message from Challenger. They say they've captured the intruders and want to go help the Alexander."
"Uh huh," Picard acknowledged.
"Sir," Riker said looking at Picard. "I don't think they should. By helping them, we'd be getting involved in internal affair of the Earth Alliance. You know that's a violation of the Prime Directive."
"We're already involved-" Picard was cut off as he felt the ship shudder.
On the main screen, both Picard and Riker could see a bright red beam lance out briefly from one of the Odysseus's rear turrets as the destroyers spin gradually slowed to a stop. The crew of the destroyer was regaining control of their vessel.
"We're already involved," Picard repeated after the shuddering had stopped. "We became involved the moment that vessel," Picard gestured towards the main screen, "opened fire. Like it or not, we're now a part of this conflict." As Picard finished, he glanced over his shoulder to look at Yar; she was awaiting the reply she would have to send back to the Challenger. "Tell them to proceed," he told her. "I think its time we made some friends in this reality. Instruct the Challenger to escort them to their destination."
"Aye, Sir," Yar answered as she got work on her console composing the message.
"I hope," Riker said. "That it's the right side we're trying to make friends with."
Picard nodded absently, studying the main screen. Ignoring Challenger, heading off under impulse power, for now, he focused on the Odysseus instead. The Earth Alliance ship appeared to be turning back towards the structure it had originally arrived through. Trying to get a message out, Picard thought. And abandoning its fighters in the process.
"Captain," Crusher said studying his readouts. "The Odysseus is reversing course. Looks like they're heading back for the array they arrived through."
"Sir," Riker said. "If they contact their superiors…"
He didn't have to go on; Riker knew the consequences of what could happen if the enemy got away. They'd report the position of the Challenger and Enterprise. Then both starships could very well come under the guns of a much larger force, and while the Enterpriseand Challenger could handle a half a dozen EarthForce ships. A dozen could present a significant danger.
"Ensign Crusher," Picard said, leaning forward in his chair. "Keep our bow on the Odysseus; Lieutenant Yar, standby photon torpedoes."
Within the 'fury Gamma 1, Nishizawa, watched with horror as the larger hostile, called Enterprise, quickly and gracefully rotated about, keeping its bow on the effectively wrecked EarthForce destroyer. From the way the Enterprisemoved, Nishizawa could tell that the Odysseus could be destroyed at anytime. Any second, he kept expecting to see those reddish missiles fly towards and destroy the Odysseus.
What are they waiting for? Nishizawa thought.
A moment later, it was obvious that whoever was in charge of Odysseus now had realized the same thing as it started to fire its remaining particle lasers on the Enterprise; trying to make itself as dangerous a target as possible.
In Nishizawa's eyes, it was a useless gesture; he could see the energy barrier, which closely followed the form of the Enterprise, flare with a bluish glow every time a particle laser hit.
"In optimum firing position," Crusher reported bluntly; entering a series of commands into the helm. "We're now entering a pursuit course. Captain, I've confirmed it. The Odysseus is definitely heading for the array. Forty-five seconds till interception with the array." Watching the Odysseus fire her remaining particle lasers, the young ensign was reminded of the fact that a wounded ship could be very dangerous.
"Mr. Data," Riker asked glancing back to the operations station. "Is it possible, that the array is some sort of transwarp aperture?"
"Commander, I do not believe so," Data answered as called up the sensor logs. "When the array activated the last time, sensors detected a massive burst of neutrino and verteron particles embedded within a tachyon matrix. From this, I can only hypothesize that the array is some kind of wormhole generator."
"Is there any way to confirm that?" Picard asked
"Thirty seconds," Crusher announced. Giving the bridge crew a verbal reminder that time was against them.
"A gravimetric scan is capable of detecting wormholes," Data cocked his head as he processed his response to Picard's inquiry. "However, given the artificial nature of the phenomena, the scan would have to be done while the array is active."
"I'm no expert on wormhole theory," Picard said. "But, wouldn't the wormhole pull the destroyer into the wormhole?"
"I could," Data way saying. "Lock on a tractor beam to hold them in place after they activate the array. Going to full reverse impulse should keep us from getting pulled in also."
"Sir," Yar announced, looking up from the tactical station. "I've got a full spread of torpedoes ready and locked on."
"Understood," Picard acknowledged. "Time till the Odysseus reaches the array?"
"Twenty seconds," Crusher answered.
Aboard the Alexander, Major Ed Ryan looked around the command deck, surveying the damage from the command chair. Most of which was centred on the sensor stations. Near those sensor stations at the rear of the command deck, a medic was giving emergency first aid to General Hague; lying unconscious on the deck. The left side of his face was a bloody mess where shrapnel from an overload had struck him as he'd studied what had appeared to be a sensor ghost.
Standing at the execs station on the left of the bridge, Trainor – who had been supervising the sensor officers – now had taken over Ryan's normal post since the he'd been forced to take command. "Sir," he said. "We're picking up that sensor ghost again."
"Where?" Ryan asked, glancing across his left shoulder.
"Bearing directly ahead," Trainor said. "It's closing fast at twenty-five PSL."
"Check that," Ryan said, not believing the velocity for a minute. Nothing could travel that fast.
"Confirmed," He paused as he saw something else. "Major, the sensor ghost is hailing us on tight beam. The signal strength is strong enough to punch through the Clarkstown's jamming."
"Put it through," Ryan said. "And lets hope they're not hostile," pausing for a beat, he added, "too us anyway."
Looking up at the monitor on the fore wall, the image of the running battle between his Thunderbolts and the Clarkstown changed to show that of an unknown command deck. The view seemed to be focused on the ships commander sitting in his command chair and what appear to be four displays showing what appeared to be schematics of what looked to be the design of an unfamiliar ship. Though Ryan couldn't be sure, he had the impression that the command deck was roughly circular, like the Alexander's.
For the moment, Ryan ignored the background, and paid attention to the occupant in the command chair. He was wearing what seemed to be a rather utilitarian blue uniform with gold piping around the shoulders. Just below the piping on the uniforms left breast adjacent to a vertical zipped pocket, he could see what appeared to be an insignia of sorts. A small silver arrowhead shape on top of what appeared to be a gold oval. Just within the piping on the right breast, Ryan could see what appeared to be four silver rectangular pips.
"Earth Alliance Ship Alexander" the officer was saying. "I'm Captain Robert Styles of the Federation Starship USS Challenger. We picked up your distress call and are on route to assist. Be advised, we are coming in with weapons hot. ETA: Four minutes eight seconds."
As Styles spoke, Ryan's mind was racing with questions he didn't have time to ask. What was this Federation? Where did they come from? Why were they intervening? What did they expect in return? Were they from some lost colony or were they descendents from 'abductees?'
"Can we respond?" Ryan asked. "Anyway to break through the jamming?"
Trainor shook his head. "Sorry," he said. "Not without taking power from the interceptors."
On the Enterprise's main screen, everyone could see the Odysseus; its four massive ion engines glowing brightly as they slowly pushed the EarthForce destroyer onwards to the array with the Enterprisein pursuit.
At the helm, Crusher called the time out again. "Ten seconds," glancing back to Picard as he did so.
Leaning forward, Picard could practically feel the tension in the air of the bridge. The array could activate itself at anytime. The Odysseus was within spitting distance of the array. As he glanced round the bridge, he could that his crew was feeling it as well. Forward at the helm, Crusher wiped away the beads of perspiration that were forming on his forehead. Behind, Data with his lack of emotions was oblivious to the tension as he worked to get the gravimetric scan ready.
"Five seconds," Crusher announced.
"Captain," Yar said glancing up from her station. "I'm picking up a tachyon broadcast being directed at the array. It appears to be some sort of data burst."
"The array is powering up," Data said. "Initiating scan."
On the screen, just ahead of the Odysseus, Picard and Riker could see the explosive chain reaction taking place on the array. An instant later, in flash of light, an orange-yellow vortex could be seen forming within the struts of the array.
"Sir," Crusher said. "The Odysseus is being pulled into the vortex!"
"Yar," Riker said getting to his feet. "Lock on tractor beam; Ensign Crusher, full reverse."
Following some distance behind in his Starfury, Nishizawa watched the proceedings through his canopy. Ahead of the Odysseus, he could see the orange-yellow vortex that was the entry way into hyperspace form within the jump gate. Also visible, were the blue rays of light that seemed to reach out, from just below the dish on the forward end of the Enterprise's secondary hull, and latch onto the Odysseus.
It was a tractor beam he realized. He'd heard that the Minbari and some of the races from the League of Non Aligned Worlds had it.
"Impulse engines," Crusher supplied, "now reading full reverse."
"Tractor beam locked on and engaged," Yar said working away at her console. "Sir," she said after moment, responding to an alarm on her console. "The Odysseus has just launched some kind of probe into the array."
"On screen," Picard ordered. "Destroy it."
"I'm sorry, Sir." Yar responded. "It's gone."
"Damn," Riker said. "I'll give you good odds that probe was their log buoy with records of their engagement with us."
"Status of your scan?" Picard asked Data. "We need to deal with that ship before they give us any more surprises."
"Almost done," Data answered. "Fascinating; the phenomena is a wormhole of sorts. However," Data continued. "It does not lead to another point in space. Instead it leads to another-"
"Data," Picard said, cutting him off. "Later."
"Aye, Sir," he acknowledged. "Scan complete."
Looking at the main screen, Picard saw the wormhole abruptly collapse then fade away. Glancing back towards Yar, he gave the order he'd wanted to give for the past minute. "Lieutenant," he said. "Destroy that ship."
"Aye, Sir," Yar responded. "Releasing tractor beam, firing torpedoes…"
In his 'fury, Nishizawa instinctively knew that the Odysseus's time had come when he saw the tractor beam disengage, along with a pair of those strange reddish missile launching themselves from a point near the base of the Enterprise's neck to impact the Odysseus amidships. The resulting explosion broke the destroyer's spine, effectively breaking the ship in two.
"The Odysseus has been destroyed," Yar said. "And I'm receiving numerous hails from the fighters. They're surrendering."
"Very well," Picard sighed. "Beam those pilots and any Odysseus survivors aboard; Ensign Crusher, stand down from condition red. Go," he continued, "to condition yellow."
Hurtling towards the Alexander, the Challenger shuddered violently, as if trying to tear herself apart. Sitting in his command chair, Styles tried to exhibit a calm he didn't feel as the deck vibrated beneath his feat.
This vibration wasn't from weapons fire; that he could ignore. But this vibration was being generated by the ship's own impulse engines on the trailing edge of the saucer.
Down below in main engineering, Kyle had just registered a complaint that he was pushing the engines beyond their tolerance limits. Styles had merely acknowledged the complaint, simply stating that he'd note the complaint in the ships log and left it at that.
"In weapons range?" Styles demanded, glancing forward to the helm.
"Not yet, Captain." Crewman Burke answered, his eyes focused on the main screen. "Thirty seconds. We're still two point three-six-two million kilometres distant."
"Not good enough," Styles said, beginning to feel his calm exterior disintegrate. He'd promised to help the Alexander; he'd be damned if the Challenger was going to arrive too late and find a smoking hulk where there once had been a destroyer. "Increase impulse power to one nineteenth past full impulse."
"Sir," Burke pleaded his eyes wide at the prospect of doing what his commanding officer was suggesting. "She'll fly apart!"
"Then," Styles barked. His calm exterior gone. "Fly her apart!"
Burke felt a shudder pass through him as he complied. This shudder though, did not come from the ship; it came from the fear he felt. He'd never heard Styles bark like that before.
At the trailing edge of the saucer, the ionized gasses streaming out from the impulse engines exhaust ports, normally invisible, began to glow brightly.
"Sir," the blond weapons officer said. "Clarkstown is firing!"
On the screen at the fore of Alexander's command deck, Ryan watched as one of Clarkstown's particle lasers lashed out, striking the ship in the rear of its rotating section.
As the ship shuddered from the hit, Ryan moved over to the blond and stood next Trainor who was studying a damage report. "Thirty percent hit to rear decks," he told Ryan. "One more of those, we're going to loose rotation and go Z-gravity. We can't outrun them in normal space." After a moment, he added. "Major, the jump engines are back online. We have to jump while we've got the chance."
"And leave our fighters stranded?" Ryan answered. "We can't jump without them."
"If we reel them in," Trainor said, objecting to the idea. "We'll loose our screen. The Clarkstown will burn us from stem to stern."
"Damn it," Ryan muttered. "Haven't we lost enough already?"
"If you won't jump," Trainor said. "Then let me open fire with the aft batteries."
"I don't want to kill," Ryan said trying to get through to Trainor, "any more of our own ships."
"Sir," the blond looked up, interrupting their argument. "USS Challenger entering visual range. They're hailing the Clarkstown on audio."
"Let's hear it," Ryan ordered, retaking his command chair. He wanted to see just who their saviour was. "And give me a visual of the Challenger."
On the monitor, he could see a smallish ship that seemed to conform to the schematics he'd seen in their communiqué earlier. "She's a beauty," he murmured. The ship he noted was apparently leaving behind a stream of bright plasma that was slowly dissipating as the ship moved rapidly closer.
Over the speakers, he could hear Captain Styles talking. "This is Captain Styles of the Starship Challenger. The EAS Alexander is under own protection. Stand down, or be destroyed."
The response, as Ryan expected, was immediate. "This is Captain Southwarth of the Clarkstown" As Ryan listened, he could see the Challenger rapidly decelerate as it grew larger on his monitor. As it did so, he began to be able to make out some of the lettering on the hull. It was in Earth Standard. Also visible, were the blackened scorch marks of battle. Probably recent, or they would have had those sections of their hull replaced.
Despite taking in the view of the Challenger, he kept listening to the on going broadcast. "Negative," Southwarth was saying. "You have no authority."
"My torpedoes say otherwise," Styles responded calmly. "Let me give you a brief demonstration…"
"And just so you know," Styles said, looking at the image of the Alexander and the Clarkstown beyond. "This is our photon torpedoes minimum yield." Sitting in his seat, he glanced over to Garret; he made a slashing gesture; silently ordering her to cut the broadcast. "Lieutenant Foster, fire."
Hearing the sound of the launcher echo through the decks, Styles turned his attention to the main screen. On it, he saw the torpedo streak onwards, past the Alexander and her fighter screen towards the Clarkstown. A moment later, it slammed into the hull and detonated leaving blackened scorch mark near the antennae arrays on its bow.
"Damage assessment," Styles ordered.
"Minimal damage to the Clarkstown," Foster reported, glancing back towards Styles. "Mostly hull scarring," he added. Confirming what could be seen on the screen. "She's also taken damage to auxiliary systems. Sir…she's falling back and appears to be turning to starboard. Heading: two-six-seven mark six."
"Captain," Garret added. "We did more than simple hull damage. The jamming field is gone."
"Captain," Samno said, glancing over his shoulder to where Styles sat in his chair. "Sensors are picking up a vortex forming just ahead of the Clarkstown. She's entering it…Sir, she's gone."
Still watching the main screen, Styles began issuing his orders. "Garret, hail Alexander. Right standard rudder, take us behind their stern and bring us along side; match their course and speed."
"Sir," Trainor said moving quickly across the Alexander's command deck to the execs station. "Jump point forming; the Clarkstown is withdrawing."
"Reload our fighters," Ryan said, sighing in the relief. "The Challenger?" Ryan asked. On the main monitor, the external visual was showing the Challenger moving into a matching course.
"Coming about," Trainor said. "Appears to be matching our course and speed…Sir, their hailing."
"Put them through," Ryan said, trying to look as presentable as possible. Once again, he was looking at the unfamiliar command deck he'd seen before. Only this time, Ryan was thinking, the man in the command chair looked more relaxed, leaning back into the chair, rather than leaning forward. "USS Challenger," he began addressing the human appearing commanding officer. "I am Major Ed Ryan of the Earth AllianceShip Alexander. Please identify yourselves." Another thought occurred to him as he watched the officer sitting in the chair. There's no seatbelts, Ryan was thinking. That means either he's secured to that seat by Velcro; or that ship has artificial gravity.
"As I said earlier," Styles said sounding a little irritated. Probably, Ryan realized, from having to repeat what he'd said in his earlier. But, he'd wanted to make sure he'd heard right the first time. "I am Captain Robert Styles of the Federation Starship USS Challenger. I thought the Alexander was under the command of General Hague?"
"She is," Ryan confirmed. "I'm the Alexander's executive officer. General Hague was severely injured in the engagement."
"I understand," Styles answered, his expression changing to one of concern. "Do you need medical assistance? I can have shuttles sent over with a medical teams and supplies."
"I'd appreciate it," was Ryan's prompt response. "But first," he continued. "I'd very much like to hear where you came from and how you become involved in the war?"
"It's a long story," Styles tried to say somewhat evasively.
"I still want to hear it," Ryan said, trying to make his order sound more like a request.
"Very well," Styles went on. "We are from an interstellar political entity known as the United Federation of Planets and our arrival in this system as a result of an encounter with a spatial anomaly. We were preparing to get underway to Starbase 105 when we were ambushed by Klingon warships. During this engagement, both the Challenger and our command ship, the USS Enterprise, were caught within the anomaly when it suddenly grew. The next moment, we found ourselves within the vicinity of that array in the outer region of this system. We've been here for almost a week now."
"You'll excuse me," Ryan said. "If I say that I've never heard of this Federation. Nor have I seen a ship designed like yours. The technology…"
"That wouldn't surprise me," Styles answered plainly. As Ryan watched his expression, he could tell that he was being truthful; at least partially. "The Federation is a long, long way from here. Now as for why we intervened. That is simple enough. A short time ago we were engaged by an EarthForce destroyer. Its captain accused us of being a part of the rebellion and when my superior denied it, an all out assault was launched against us. It was during this engagement that we picked up you distress call and we were ordered to assist. My orders are to provide any assistance needed and escort you to your destination."
"I get the impression," Ryan said. "That was the short version."
"It was," Styles said. "Now about that medical teams..."
"Send them over."
To be continued in Chapter 7