Chapter Four

Captain's Log: May 10th 2151

We have been underway for two weeks now and I am pleased to note that after some initial teething troubles the ship and crew are functioning well. It is just as well as Mr Mayweather informs me that we have reached the outer most sectors of our territory and will pass into the borderlands within another day. I have to admit the prospect of taking Enterprise into such a volatile and lawless region of space gives me some concern however necessary our passage through the region is, we will after all be one ship cut off from immediate reinforcements should we run into trouble. Both Major Reed and Commander Tucker assure me that all our defensive and weapons systems are fully operational and that we will be able to defend ourselves should the need arise when we enter the borderlands. However, I find myself still concerned about how the new generation phase cannons will perform. To put my mind at rest I have ordered a course change to an asteroid field point three light years away to test the effectiveness of our weapons systems and to ensure all our tactical systems have been calibrated correctly. We should reach it in another two hours.

On another note, Doctor Phlox has informed me that he cannot safely keep, Klaang in a medically induced coma for much longer. I have to admit that I am a little uneasy about having the Klingon awake when we are still just over two months at warp five from the outer frontier of the Klingon Empire. However if I want Klaang to get there alive and healthy I have no other choice but to allow, Phlox to revive him. I've had T'Pol prepare proper quarters for our guest and Major Reed has already agreed to post a guard to keep an eye on our passenger at all times while he remains onboard this ship or until he earns our trust, whichever comes first.

Captain Jonathan Archer sighed as he concluded his log entry he read it over once again before saving it to the ships records. As he'd said in the log entry, he wasn't thrilled by the idea of having the Klingon up and about on his ship when they were still so far from the Klingon Empire's borders. He kept remembering that, Klaang's first action when encountering a Terran had been to withdraw a wicked looking knife and attempt to kill the farmer whose land he'd crashed on and been chased through by unknown aliens. That seemingly reflexive, aggressive behaviour on top of the very thorough Vulcan dossier on the Klingons meant he believed he had very good reason to be cautious.

Unfortunately as he'd stated in the log he had no choice but to allow Klaang to be brought out of his medically induced coma. Phlox had made it quite clear to him that while Klingons were physiologically tough and very robust they did have certain weaknesses in comparison to other species. One of these weaknesses was that Klingon neural pathways were more vulnerable to damage by certain drugs over time. According to Phlox if he kept Klaang under for much longer then he would begin suffering neurological damage, especially as his nervous system had only just recovered from the trauma of the massive disruptive electromagnetic shock that Klaang had sustained when blasted at point blank range by Mr Moore's plasma rifle. Letting Klaang die after all they'd had to do to get to this point just would not do, they had to wake him. Doesn't mean I have to like it though, Jon thought with a mental sigh.

At that moment the desk comm. panel chirped. "Sickbay to Captain Archer," Phlox's voice said from the small grill.

Sighing softly Jonathan pressed a button on the device. "Yes doctor?" he asked.

"I'm ready to revive our guest now captain," Phlox answered. "I've alerted Ensign Sato, she's on her way down with the translator now."

"Very well, doctor, I'll be right there," Jonathan, replied before signing off. After a moment, he pressed the intercom button again. "Archer to Reed," he said.

"Yes sir," Major Malcolm Reed answered immediately from the bridge.

"Doctor Phlox is ready to bring Klaang out of his coma," Jonathan replied "please meet me in sickbay."

"Aye sir, I'm on my way now."

Jonathan signed off before getting up and leaving the ready room to make the relatively short journey down to sickbay. I hope things go smoothly with Klaang he thought as he came to the turbolift and pressed the summoning button. After a second, the door opened with a soft hiss and he stepped inside and pressed the button for the section of the ship where sickbay was located. While he hoped things would go well with the Klingon when he came around, still he couldn't be sure it would, it paid to be prepared that was why he wanted Malcolm there. If things went badly and, Klaang decided to become unreasonably aggressive – which according to the Vulcan database could happen at the metaphorical drop of a hat with Klingons – then he would have Malcolm use his sidearm to blast the Klingon straight back into the land of nod. After which he'd be transported to the brig to be kept there under guard for the remainder of the trip.

Jonathan hoped that it wouldn't come to that. Klaang was at the end of the day a guest on his ship, a guest of his people until the point in time where he was returned to his own kind. Locking a visitor – especially one from a race that they knew little about beyond what the Vulcan's had shared with them – in the brig was not very polite to say the very least. Not to mention it would, probably not be appreciated by the honour obsessed Klingons, who would probably respond to the perceived insult violently if the Vulcan database information proved to be correct.

However if Klaang threatened his people then he wouldn't hesitate in having him thrown in the brig. It would be for the Klingons protection as well as there own, as the last thing he wanted was for, Klaang to get into a violent confrontation with any of his crew. Especially Trip or any of the other augment crewmembers on board. If that happened then there would certainly be blood on the deck plates as an angry augment was never a pretty sight.

Jonathan knew how vicious augments could get in a fight having seen Trip in a fistfight once when they'd been in the academy. As he recalled they'd been in a spacers bar in New Orleans on leave both of them semi-drunk after spending all afternoon watching a baseball game. They'd been at the bar minding their own business when they'd gotten picked on by a bunch of drunken, burly boomers who'd thought two green Starfleet cadets easy pickings for particularly violent hazing. One had thrown a punch at Trip when they'd stood up to them, and promptly, effortlessly got his fist caught by Trip's hand before getting physically picked up – despite the fact that the guy had had two inches and forty pounds on Trip – and thrown aside like a toy to wreck a table when he landed.

Had the boomers been sober they would have twigged from that display of effortless strength that Trip was both an augment and annoyed and that it would have been a good idea to back off. However they hadn't instead they had charged the both of them and the whole thing had descended into a confusing mass of shouts, kicks, flying fists and human bodies. At the end of it, they had all been hurt; though the boomers had come off the worst with some having multiple broken bones from being hurled into walls and tables repeatedly, or being on the receiving end of punches and kicks that had had the full force of Trip's engineered muscles behind them. It had been a miracle that nobody had been killed, as it was both himself and Trip had gotten very stern rebukes from both local police and their instructors and been made to help clean up the bar afterwards. The boomers for starting the fight in the first place had gotten to spend a few nights in police cells and made to pay damages to the bars owners.

Smiling but at the same time wincing at the memory of that fight Jonathan thought for a moment about the possibility of the same thing happening with Klaang minus the drunken part of course as there was no alcohol on Enterprise. It would not be pretty and was something to be avoided at all costs. Mentally he made a note to have a word with Trip about it. Though it wasn't his friend he was worried about, as aside from that one incident he'd never seen Trip loose his temper; but he knew Trip had considerable influence with the other augments onboard; enough perhaps to at least reduce the chances of a violent confrontation between them and Klaang to a minimum. Especially as Trip was well aware of how the faint menacing air the Klingon put off instinctively put augments on there guard.

At that moment, the turbolift came to a halt having reached the appropriate deck and section of the ship. Jon shrugged off his depressing thoughts as the door opened with a soft hiss allowing him to step out into the corridor. Leaving the lift he began walking the short distance to sickbay, all the while thinking about what he was going to say to Klaang, assuming the Klingon would be coherent enough to hold a conversation with when he woke up. Though it is likely that he won't be, he thought remembering that most humanoids when coming out of a drug induced coma would often be dopey and regularly fall back asleep until the drugs left their systems, in fact, he's probably going to be downright dopey, but we have to try to talk to him now. The last thing I want or need is for Klaang to wake up and think that he's a prisoner on this ship. The sooner he knows that he's our guest and that we're taking him home to Qo'nos the better.

Frowning thoughtfully mentally rehearsing what he was going to say to Klaang that would convince the Klingon that he was among friends Jonathan turned a corner. Ahead of him were the doors to sickbay and standing in front of them, to his complete lack of surprise, was Major Malcolm Reed. One of the things he did like about Malcolm was that he was always, always punctual. In the two weeks they'd been in space he'd never once known the younger man to be late for anything, even when he had very good reason to be late – like when on their fourth day out the turbolifts decided to breakdown meaning all the crew had to walk everywhere as well as use the emergency ladders to get between decks while Trip and his engineering teams tracked down and corrected the fault. Yet despite the inconvenience Reed had not been late for his shift on the bridge – despite the fact that his quarters were three decks below the bridge. If only he would lighten up around me even when off duty, he thought thinking of Malcolm's habit of calling him sir and responding as if he had given an order even when off duty.

Mentally he shook off his thoughts about Malcolm not lightening up around him as he approached the sickbay doors and the senior MACO drew himself to attention at the sight of his commanding officer.

"Stand easy, Malcolm," he ordered.

"Yes sir," Malcolm answered shifting instantly into the position rest stance.

"Has Hoshi arrived?"

"Yes sir she went inside immediately," Malcolm replied. "Sergeant Kesler came out briefly when Ensign Sato arrived and informed me that Doctor Phlox has almost finished bringing Klaang out of his comatose state."

"Then we had better get in there then," Jon, said. "Keep a hand near your sidearm Malcolm but don't be obvious about it. If Klaang becomes aggressive then I want you to be ready to blast him back into dreamland."

"Always am, sir," Malcolm answered allowing a small smile to break through his habitually serious expression, before turning and leading the way into sickbay. Jon followed a few steps behind him, mentally bracing himself for the possible oncoming confrontation.

Immediately upon entering sickbay, Jonathan spotted Doctor Phlox, Hoshi Sato and Sergeant Alice Kesler. All three stood around the central biobed, Phlox and the field medic trained MACO conversing in soft voices as they worked to bring the Klingon out of his coma. Hoshi for her part fingered nervously with the universal translator device she was holding, periodically checking its screen. Probably reassuring herself that she has programmed the thing with the Klingon language data the Vulcan's gave us, Jonathan thought.

"How is our guest doctor," Jon asked moving in front of Malcolm to approach the bed himself and look down upon the Klingon. Just like the last time he had physically seen him at Starfleet Medical the big alien projected an almost palpable aura of danger. An air that was only reinforced by being so close to the Klingon and seeing the small involuntary movements the alien was making as he rose towards consciousness.

"Klaang is emerging from his coma at an acceptable pace," Phlox replied looking over at Captain Archer. "He should regain consciousness very shortly."

"That's fast," Malcolm said speaking up while keeping a weary eye on the unconscious Klingon.

"Klingons have a considerably higher metabolic base rate than Terrans do, major," Phlox explained, momentarily looking up from his patient. "Now that the coma drugs are no longer being administered Klaang's body is rapidly overcoming their effects. He could wake at any time, though I cannot guarantee that he will be coherent enough to hold a conversation with."

"We still have to try, doctor," Jon reminded the Denobulan. "The sooner Klaang knows that we mean him no harm the better. The last thing we need is for Klaang to believe that he's a prisoner. That would only be asking for trouble."

"True," Phlox admitted knowing from his own species experiences with them how aggressive Klingons could be and how easily they could – and sometimes did – jump to conclusions and how their racial stubborn streak – which rivalled that of the Tellerites – meant they would stick to that assumption no matter what you said. "Still I thought I should warn you."

"And we appreciate it, doctor," Jon replied a moment before the comm. panel next to the diagnostic units monitor chirped for attention.

"Bridge to Captain Archer," T'Pol's emotionless, inflectionless voice said from the tiny. Jon rolled his eyes slightly. Now what, he thought as he crossed to the offending device and pressed a button.

"Archer, go," he said.

"Captain the sensors have detected two unidentified alien vessels closing from astern," T'Pol reported. "They appear to be on an intercept course with us and will overtake us in approximately four minutes. We have attempted to hail them but they are not responding."

Jonathan frowned slightly in a mixture of confusion and concern. Something seriously wasn't right here they were still inside Terran Alliance controlled territory, there shouldn't be any unidentified alien ships present, let alone ones that were fast enough to catch Enterprise. "Go to condition two and raise our shields," he ordered after a moment, "then send hostile challenge and ID to the incoming vessels."

"Aye sir," T'Pol answered before signing off. Jonathan turned to Malcolm and Hoshi just as an alarm began to sound throughout the ship, summoning the crew to stations. Condition 2 was not a combat alert but it was a signal for a heightened state of readiness so they could go to battle stations at a moments notice if need be. He was determined not to take any chances with the unknowns, not this close to the borderlands region and the sending of a hostile challenge and identification request to the unknowns would inform them that Enterprise was willing and able to defend herself should they threaten her.

"Hoshi stay here with the doctor, if our guest comes too enough to hold a conversation reassure him that we mean him no harm as much as you can then contact me," he ordered, "Malcolm come with me, I have a bad feeling about those approaching ships. We need to get back to the bridge."

"Aye sir," Hoshi acknowledged echoed a moment later by the MACO officer. Jonathan smiled slightly then his expression turning serious once again he turned and walked out of sickbay with Malcolm a few paces behind him.

The two of them had only gotten a few metres down the corridor when a slight shudder ran through the deck beneath them, a shudder that felt for all the world like the Enterprise was an old fashioned ground car that had just driven over a speed bump. What the hell, Jonathan thought half a second before a deep rumbling boom, like a million base drums all being hit at once, echoed through the hull and Enterprise vibrated fiercely. Jon staggered, his body pulled sideways by a momentary loss of gravitational stability, his eyes widening in surprise. In his twenty-three years of service in Starfleet he'd been in battle a few times especially when he'd been a young ensign serving on the heavy cruiser Farragut during the height of the Terran-Nausicaan War. As such he knew depressingly well the sound and feel of weapons fire striking the ship they were under attack presumably from the two unknown ships.

Battle stations klaxons began ringing throughout the ship, the harsh two-toned screech of the alarms reverberating off the bulkheads making it impossible to ignore. Another loud boom echoed through the hull and Enterprise shuddered again as another blast struck her defences. Jonathan's eyes narrowed, as he came out of his surprise and the battle-hardened soldier in him – the part of his personality that he'd hoped he'd never really have to use again – came to the fore.

"Come on," he said to Malcolm before starting to run towards the turbolift a moment the distant rumbling whoosh of torpedoes being launched echoed through the hull of the Enterprise.


A Few Moments Earlier

Moving with the effortless, deadly grace of the predators that they were both Suliban stealth cruisers pounced on Enterprise after having tailed her continuously since she first left the Sol system. Ignoring all the requests for identification that the startled vessels crew sent their way the Suliban closed to within just four hundred metres of their target, getting so close that all three ships jolted as their warp fields encountered each other and partially merged. With all ships now essentially inside the same subspace bubble, the Suliban moved to the next stage of their surprise attack.

Hot aquamarine javelins of disruptor fire erupted from the primary forward weapons bank of both cruisers towards the larger Starfleet ship. Being so close together that warp fields overlapped each other the beams of disruptive energy instantly crossed the distance between the Suliban and Enterprise. However hitting a starship moving at warp speeds was far harder than hitting one in normal space, which itself was hard enough as most ships didn't exactly sit still when engaged in combat. One of the Suliban disruptor beams went wide, slicing past the Enterprise's starboard warp nacelle in a clean miss. The other beam however struck the starships port nacelle dead on, and immediately broke apart into a luminous bluish-white fog of cherenkov radiation as it encountered the starships shields. An observer would have seen the Enterprise visibly shudder and a ripple of optical distortion seem to pass in a cocoon around her as the hit on top of the slight instabilities caused by the overlapping sent an oscillation wave through the warp field.

The Suliban fired again, both beams missing the nacelles that were their target, one missing cleanly once again, the other grazing the shields where they protected on of the two part pylons that connected the warp nacelle to both the primary hull – through its connection to the impulse engine nacelles – and the secondary engineering hull. As before, the energy dispersed into a glowing fog even as it revealed a slight hint of the invisible bubble now surrounding the starship, and once again, the impact caused a visible ripple in the Enterprise's warp field.

Then Enterprise returned fire.

In rapid succession four glowing yellow-orange spheres erupted from the Starfleet vessels aft torpedo tubes and streaked towards her enemy, the salvo splitting up evenly with two of the photonic torpedoes heading for each ship. Being fired at such a close range the pilots of the two Suliban cruisers had no chance to even attempt evasion, nor did the cruisers automated point defence network have any chance of tracking and shooting the powerful weapons down. Unopposed the torpedoes slammed into their targets almost instantly detonating with searing white-hot force. Both Suliban ships visibly shuddered under the impacts their own shields flaring brilliantly as they struggled to repel nearly a hundred megatons of focused destructive force.

Angered and more than a little frustrated that their prey was proving far more resistant than anticipated – and had just reminded them that it had some very sharp teeth and claws of its own – the Suliban responded in kind. Two torpedoes erupted from each cruiser along with a rapid fire salvo of beams from their forward disruptor cannons.

The disruptor beams struck the shields protecting the Enterprise first, clawing at the defensive force field with raw energy – setting the shields aglow and making the starship shudder violently. Then the Suliban photonics smashed into the already stressed shields with searing force. The shield flared nova bright under the assault, some energy breaking through the energy web of the force field to claw at duranium-monobonded carbon hull underneath.

For the Starfleet ships warp field dampeners it was to much. Already struggling to maintain warp field integrity in the face of the intense subspace interference being caused by the partial merging of warp fields and the high-energy shocks of particle weapons fire hitting shields, two of the four banks of dampeners in each nacelle overloaded and blew out.

The overload sent a massive oscillation wave along the length of each nacelle, partially tearing the stream of supercharged warp plasma running down the centre of the nacelle tubes apart. Automatic systems cut in immediately, venting the escaping plasma into space before it could fatally damage the relatively delicate warp field coils. Not that the coils were trouble free as suddenly robbed of a continuous source of power some of them – like all engines who weren't getting enough fuel – began misfiring, creating additional distortions in the warp field and sending a series of over or under pressure waves along the return conduits to the warp core.

Hopelessly desynchronised by the misfiring coils the Enterprise's warp field collapsed suddenly and catastrophically. With a fierce lurch that knocked every standing crew member on board off their feet Enterprise sharply decelerated out of warp speed into normal space as the subspace fields collapsed and the warp reactor automatically scrammed to prevent a sudden, massive overload that could have led to a catastrophic loss of antimatter containment.

Not that the rest of the ship was trouble free as the massive gee-forces from the sudden deceleration shot through the ship, despite the best efforts of the inertial dampeners to eliminate them, rattling components loose and fracturing circuit boards. Overloads and burnouts rippled through dozens of systems causing dozens of small electrical fires as some systems blew out. Main power flickered, threatened to fail, but stabilised as automatic systems redirected power around damaged or inoperable systems while at the same time the back up fusion reactors amped their output up to maximum to compensate as much as possible for the loss of the warp cores massive energy output.

Both Suliban cruisers dropped from warp behind the Enterprise as the bigger ship coasted forward on inertia imparted by the sudden, extreme deceleration to sublight speed; and immediately got a sharp reminder that even without warp power the Terran starship was still far from helpless and was in fact still a very dangerous, very angry opponent. Fierce pinkish-red phase beams shot out from multiple cannons as Enterprise defiantly hit back at her tormentors. The closer of the two stealth cruisers took a full salvo from every port phase cannon that could be brought it bear on it, its shields – never really being designed to withstand a pitched battle – flared out of existence under the barrage allowing several shots to slice into the hull. Immediately the thin energy sheathing material over the hull that was such an integral part of the vessels stealth system buckled, large sections flashing to vapour immediately allowing the remaining energy of the beams to scorch and tear into the hull metal beneath.

As its companion cruiser staggered back from the force of the Terran ships assault the other Suliban stealth ship fired on Enterprise with everything it had, unleashing another pair of torpedoes as well as a full barrage from everyone of its forward disruptor cannons. Deprived of the bulk of their power by the warp core scram the Enterprise's shields flared out of existence under the impact of the torpedoes allowing the disruptor shots to strike the naked metal of the hull. Blasts of disruptive energy flailed at the duranium-monobonded carbon hull of the ship, refracting off in a rainbow blaze of diffusion as hull polarisation systems reflected the heat and energy of the blasts back out into space.

However neither the hull polarisation nor the carbon mesh reinforcing the duranium hull could do anything about the kinetic impact, which sent devastating shockwaves into the interior of the staggering ship making it ring like a bell. For the damaged main power systems it was too much, several primary EPS conduits ruptured, spewing superheated plasma into dozens of compartments before EPS flow regulators detected the loss of pressure and automatically closed valves to prevent the whole system from de-pressurising. With several primary conduits now out of action until the breaches could be sealed what was left of Enterprise's main power flickered and died.

Registering the sudden loss of main power on their sensors the Suliban ceased firing. In front of them, Enterprise hung helpless slowly spinning in a lateral, counter-clockwise rotation from the inertia imparted by their last fierce barrage of disruptor fire. For a moment – weary of a possible trap – the Suliban scanned the Enterprise thoroughly. Then satisfied that she was indeed disabled, the cruisers closed in as their crews prepared to carry out their mission to retrieve, Klaang.


Bridge

TAS Enterprise

Sub-Commander T'Pol resisted the impulse to groan as she awkwardly picked herself up off the deck in front of the command chair. Her head throbbed from where she'd been slammed to the deck by the last enemy barrage, but with the stoicism that her kind had long since mastered she ignored it. There were other more important things to consider than simple physical discomfort. With Vulcan calmness, she accessed the situation.

It was not encouraging.

The bridge around her was in semi-darkness lit only by dull blue emergency lights and the flickering yellow-orange glow of a fire near one of the auxiliary consoles at the back of the bridge. Squinting in the smoke filled gloom she could just see that the crew on duty had survived. Moreover they were like her picking themselves up off the floor where they'd been hurled as the ship shuddered in agony under the impact of that last barrage of disruptor fire.

"Damage report," she ordered as one of the recovered junior officers grabbed a fire extinguisher from a slot on a bulkhead and began tackling the fire, snuffing it out in under a stream of high-pressure fire fighting gas.

"Main powers out," Lieutenant Collins reported from the engineering/damage control station. "Warp and impulse engines are down we're in an uncontrolled lateral spin. The warp core has scrammed and secondary fusion reactors are down as well, we won't be getting main power back for awhile. We have multiple electrical and plasma fires throughout the ship, automatic fire suppression systems are coming back online and responding. Weapons and shields are inoperative, we're sitting ducks. Hull polarisation is off line and we've got some minor thermokinetic damage to the outer hull."

"Try and get the shields and weapons back online," T'Pol instructed before turning to Ensign Mayweather. She was pleasantly surprised to find that he had already anticipated her orders and was using the manoeuvring thrusters to begin correcting the ships spin. After a moment she realised she shouldn't really be surprised, not only was surprise an emotion that Vulcans weren't supposed to experience but if she'd learned anything in her two weeks on this ship it was that the crew were competent and very good at their jobs.

"Where are the enemy ships," she asked looking over at Lieutenant Powell who'd taken Major Reeds place after the captain had called the MACO away from the bridge.

"Enemy vessels appear to be moving to flank us, sir," Powell replied. "However they do not appear to be manoeuvring into docking positions."

T'Pol raised an eyebrow thoughtfully as she sat back down in the command chair. If the alien ships that had just attacked them were not manoeuvring into dock then what were they doing. Logic suggested that they were doing something. Was it possible that their unknown antagonists were part of the small group of races who possessed transporter technology? It was a logical answer, the aliens if they intended to board were going to transport over.

"Alert all security teams," she ordered. "Tell them to prepare to repel…" her voice trailed off as a new sound made its presence known. A strange humming whining sound that she did not recognise, a moment later a shimmering wall of blue-white energy came through the far bulkhead and began to sweep across the bridge. As it washed over crew they immediately began to slump to the deck or over their consoles unconscious. Some kind of immobiliser beam, she thought a moment before the wave washed over her of its way through the ship. Immediately a tremendous weakness hit her limbs and she slumped back in the command chair. It felt as though someone had just attached solid duranium weights to her limbs as she suddenly couldn't even martial the strength to move even a finger.

Darkness began to encroach upon her vision and seemingly, from far away she heard the familiar whine of transporter beams. Out the corner of her eye, she faintly saw a greenish column appear as one of there unknown antagonists began to materialise on the bridge. Then darkness descended on her like a unstoppable smothering blanket and she knew no more.


Engineering

TAS Enterprise, A Few Moments Later

Commander Charles Tucker the Third, groaned softly as consciousness returned. Slowly he opened his eyes to find himself lying face down on one of the catwalks that ran down the port and starboard sides of the warp core, allowing engineers and technicians to directly monitor and do repairs on the huge antimatter reactor as necessary. For a moment, he lay where he was in confusion, wondering what on Earth he was doing flat out on the deck, with only the transparent aluminium visor of the bulky radiation proof suit and helmet he was wearing between his face and the rough mesh decking.

Then he remembered.

About ten minutes ago he'd come in here with two other members of the engineering staff to begin running some routine checks on the core and take direct readings from the plasma manifolds to ensure everything was working properly after the strain of nearly two full weeks at maximum. They'd just started running the first checks when the ship had been shaken first by something that felt like an odd oscillation in the warp field and then by repeated blasts of weapons fire. Though it had been a few years since he'd been in a fight on a starship he – like his friend and commanding officer – remembered depressingly well the sound and feel of a ship under attack.

Vaguely he remembered starting to run to get back to the engineering control room as the battle stations alarm sounded. Only to be knocked off his feet by a violent jolt. He remembered getting back up only to see smoke and sparks shoot out of the junction boxes for some of the warp field dampeners and seeing the blue glow of the warp reactor flicker and die. Before he'd been able to react there had been a shock so violent that he'd been thrown into the bulkhead hard enough that neither his helmet nor his engineered physiology had been able to prevent him from being knocked out.

Shaking his head to clear some residual disorientation he awkwardly sat up and looked around. Three things immediately jumped out at him. One was that it was dark, the only illumination was coming from dull blue emergency lighting that reflected weirdly and dimly off the dark metal cylinder of the warp reactor. Two that in was dead quiet, there was not even a subtle vibration in the metal beneath him like there would normally be, the ship had to be at a dead stop in space. And three that sprawled on the catwalk next to him was one of the other two men who'd come in here with him. The other had been on the other catwalk on the opposite side to the reactor and impossible to see from his current position in such low light. While he could see better in low light than a normal could even his eyes had their limits is such low light and with the shadow being cast by the dark and ominously silent warp reactor.

Awkwardly he stood up, swaying as a wave of dizziness washed through his head almost making him fall over again. After a moment, it passed and he cautiously moved over to the other man on this particular catwalk and turned him over. The other man – that he belatedly recognised as Crewman Falkland, a warp systems specialist – appeared to be unconscious but otherwise unhurt, obviously like him Falkland had been slammed hard into the bulkhead, but lacking the greater regenerative abilities of an augment hadn't yet recovered enough to regain consciousness.

With a sigh Trip realised he was going to be alone for a bit. Guess I better find out what the hell happened, who the hell attacked us and get some help in here, he thought as he operated a control on the right arm of his radiation suit, activating its built in comm. unit.

"Tucker to control," he said calling the engineering control room just a few metres to his right beyond the armoured bulkhead that separated it from the core. There was no reply beyond a faint buzz of static. "Tucker to control please respond," he said again. Once again, there was no response beyond static. Frowning in concern and confusion, he tried a different tactic.

"Tucker to bridge, respond," he said hoping they would answer. But as with engineering control, there was no response at all from the bridge. Something is very wrong here, Trip, he thought to himself, before once again trying a different tactic. "All hands this is Commander Tucker if you can hear me please respond."

Once again there came no response to his entreaties which meant that either the comm. system was down or the crew were unable to answer for some reason. Maybe we're repelling boarders, shit better get out their and organise the defence of engineering if we've been boarded, he thought before stepping over Falkland's almost motionless form and started walking along the gantry back towards the thick, shielded door that separated the core chamber from the engineering control room.

Arriving at the heavy door, he carefully operated the controls, which wasn't exactly easy in the bulky gloves of the radiation suit. Wish we could work in here without wearing these things, he thought, would make life so much easier. After a few moments, the door control panel bleeped and with a hiss of releasing hydraulic pressure, the door slowly opened.

Trip's eyes widened when standing on the opposite side of the door was an alien. It was humanoid but completely bald with yellow skin whose dimpled appearance reminded him of the surface of an orange. It was dressed in a maroon coloured jumpsuit and had a weapon holstered at its side. Completing the uniform the alien was wearing was a belt with a series of metal discs that Trip recognised as implosion explosives. For a second he and the alien stared at each other in surprise, then the alien emitted a high-pitched cry of alarm and its hand shot towards its weapon.

Before he really realised what he was doing Trip burst into action. With one hand, he grabbed the alien's wrist before it could completely draw its weapon. Holding the wrist in his hand he squeezed as hard as he could pitting bone against muscle which would force the alien to drop the weapon, instantly the alien emitted a screech of pain as Trip's five times normal human strength crushed some of the finer bones in its wrist with a harsh series of cracks. The weapon clattered to the floor, Trip paid it no mind as he released the wrist and instead quickly punched the alien in the chest, ripping the wind from its lungs with a loud whumph, and then as the alien reflexively started to double over he grabbed it again. Before in a judo move hurled the alien over his shoulder and released him. The alien flew through the air, bounced between the side of the reactor core and the bulkhead wall on three occasions before collapsing into a heap on the floor at the far end of the gantry, unconscious or dead.

Trip paid the alien no further attention the confrontation having told him two things. First that he had been right about Enterprise having been boarded by whoever had attacked them, second that those aliens had done something to disable the crew so they could move through the vessel without having to confront the ships security teams backed up by their larger than normal contingent of MACO's. They had to have done something to quickly neutralise the two hundred plus crew everyone but him that was, for some reason he was awake and able to fight back. He doubted that his augment physiology had something to do with it, or at least wasn't the main reason why he was awake and not in dreamland like the rest of the crew. There were after all a number of others of his kind aboard this ship, especially in MACO contingent, if the extra strengths provided by their kinds engineered physiology was the reason for him being awake they would be as well and would have moved to secure both the bridge and engineering even if the comm was down. Some other factor had to be at work.

After a moment, he mentally shrugged, whatever the reason was he couldn't think about it right now. There were other things to worry about, like the fact that Enterprise had been attacked and boarded by unknown forces. Forces that he was willing to bet belonged to the same unknown alien race that had forced Klaang's ship down on Earth and chased said Klingon through the Oklahoma cornfields in an attempt to kill him. If it was they then they were obviously here for the Klingon, and probably didn't care who got between him and them. Just what have we gone and gotten ourselves into, he thought, whatever it is doesn't matter right now though, Trip. Right now just deal with the situation in front of you. Do your duty as a soldier and officer of the Terran Alliance Starfleet, your ship has been disabled and boarded. Deal with it.

Mentally standing up straighter, his course of action clear in his mind, he was about to cross into engineering control proper when a soft groan from behind him caught his attention. Spinning around he looked back along the gantry and saw that Falkland was starting to sit up. Relieved that he was at least have help he moved back towards the other man.

"Falkland you okay," he asked.

"Yeah boss I'm fine," Falkland, answered shaking his head. "What happened?"

"We've been attacked," Trip replied. "Most if not all of the crew are unconscious and we've obviously been boarded," at Falkland's questioning look he pointed at the alien he'd just tangled with.

Jeffery Falkland looked where Trip was pointing and blinked when he saw the yellow skinned alien lying motionless on the deck. From his vantage point, he could clearly see that the alien's neck was twisted at such an odd angle by some powerful impact that it could only be dead. Guessing what had happened he winced and almost wished that he hadn't been awake to see it. Though it was common knowledge among the engineering crews that there boss was an augment it was rare for them to see him use the full scope of his abilities particularly his strength. Strength had obviously been used to throw the alien – who looked to weigh at least a hundred kilos – down the length of the reactor core like a toy.

"Ouch," he said. "You really did a number on him boss."

Trip shrugged. "He tried to pull a weapon on me," he said before offering Falkland a hand to help him stand up.

"That was a stupid move," Jeff commented with a grin as he accepted the offered help in getting back to his feet. He was fully aware of the full extent of augment abilities and everything that came along with those enhanced abilities, his best friend from high school who was now his sisters husband was one after all.

"It was a bit," Trip agreed. "But then so was attacking and boarding this ship in the first place. Come on lets see if we can wake up the rest of the engineering crew, its likely that the increased shielding around this part of the ship has reduced the effectiveness of whatever it was that our uninvited guests used to stun the crew."

Jeff nodded in agreement. "Likely," he said. "So we try and wake up the engineering crew then what?"

Trip's smile was predatory as he replied. "Then we show these aliens why it was a very bad idea to attack and board this ship."

Jeff's grin matched his bosses at the thought of getting payback on those who had attacked them. Assuming of course they could awaken the rest of the engineering crew there were a number of things they could do against the hostiles without harming the rest of the crew. Things like remotely closing the ships internal bulkhead doors, sealing off entire sections of the ship. Designed to be used in the event of a hull breach or god forbid a fire once closed the bulkheads were completely airtight and almost impregnable by small arms – the aliens would have to use fusion cutters to break through. Even with fusion cutter's it would take time to break through as the emergency bulkhead doors were made of the same duranium-monobonded carbon material as the ships hull, just a little bit thinner.

He was jolted out of his thoughts as he and Trip crossed into the engineering control room proper, and had to sharply duck as with a screech like a banshee a brilliant blue-green energy beam struck the bulkhead next to them causing a spray of sparks and a thick puff of smoke. Diving to the side Jeff looked in the direction the beam had come from, to see another of the yellow skinned, bald headed aliens in the open doorway to the rest of the ship. The alien fired at them again though the beam went wide and just struck the decking in front of one of the consoles eliciting another spray of sparks and a smoke as well as filing the air with the acrid stink of singed metal.

The alien fired again it immediately became obvious to both engineers that the alien couldn't see them that well in the dim lighting and the deep shadows it was casting. Another disruptor beam sliced through the air and struck one of the still unconscious engineers sprawled on the floor. The unfortunate engineer's body shook and lit up from within with a deadly surge of blue-green energy, the horrid stench of burning meat filled the air and then the engineer was gone, disintegrated so completely that not even ash remained.

"Carter," Jeff cried out in rage and grief at the sight of one of his friends murdered right in front of his eyes. Immediately he had to duck down lower as a beam shot his way, it missed the back of his radiation suit by mere millimetres, coming so close that he imagined he could feel the heat on his back despite the suits thermal shielding. Jesus that was close, he thought a second before he heard a howl of pain followed by the sound of something heavy hitting the deck.

Risking a look up, he saw that the alien was clutching at its arm, its weapon on the floor next to a heavy wrench that had obviously struck the aliens gun arm, making it drop the weapon. Though he couldn't see the alien's facial features clearly in the gloom, he could imagine them screwed up in pain as unless the aliens bones were made of duranium the bone would have would be broken from the impact. Serves you right you murderous bastard, he thought as Trip pounced on the alien, taking it around the waist in a classic football tackle.

The angered augment and the alien hit the deck with a loud, bone-jarring thud that made Jeff reflexively wince in sympathy. That must have hurt, he thought as the Trip pulled back slightly and delivered a powerful – but not full strength punch – to the aliens jaw. It was obvious that despite the fact that that he was mad as hell Jeff's boss wasn't trying to kill the alien but rather wanted him alive, presumably so he could be interrogated once they took the ship back. It said a lot for Charles Tucker that he could remain clear headed enough to think so well even when enraged by the death of one of his people. Not all augments could think that rationally when they lost their tempers, in that regard there wasn't really that much difference between a normal and an augment.

Amazingly, the alien seemed unaffected by the punch, aside from giving a yelp of pain and anger at the impact. Jeff blinked slightly in amazement, if Trip had hit him like that he would have surely broken his jaw yet this alien was seemingly shrugging it off. Then something happened that he could barely believe. In a move that seemed biologically impossible, the aliens uninjured arm seemed to dislocate itself at the shoulder, pull back in a weird arc before the alien used it to slam a punch into the side of Trip's helmeted head. The blow struck with enough force that the augment engineer got batted side while crying out in a mixture of pain, surprise and disbelief as the side of his head hit the side of the helmet even as the rest of his body hit the bulkhead hard.

With amazing agility – that was surprising even to someone who was used to augments – the alien moved to the side, retrieved its weapon and got back to its feet. Horror gripped Jeff as he watched the alien soldier start to aim the powerful weapon at Trip – who was struggling to recover from the aliens punch knocking him against the bulkhead. Only the fact that he'd still been wearing a radiation suit had protected him from being knocked unconscious or worse, as it was he'd been merely rendered almost senseless. Oh, no, you don't you alien bastard, he thought, you're not murdering another friend right in front of me.

Before he even realised what he was doing, Jeff emitted a loud battle cry, leapt to his feet with adrenaline-fuelled speed grabbing a fusion torch from a convenient equipment trolley and bringing it to bear on the alien as he did so. The alien looked over at him, its attention grabbed by the primal sound of the battle cry, and suddenly seemed to realise he was the bigger threat than the dazed Trip. The weapon started to be brought to bear on him, he could imagine the alien fingers starting to tighten on the trigger.

He fired the fusion torch.

A brilliant purple-white spear of plasma – eye tearing bright against the gloom – erupted from the tip of the cylindrical device. The blast of superheated plasma smashed instantly into the aliens torso, designed to cut through duranium and other high technology alloys the aliens clothing and body was no barrier to the plasma beam. In less than an instant, the beam burned right through the aliens clothing, body, and shot out the other side, the alien screamed a raw throated yell of agony that ended in a gurgling sound. The plasma beam cut off as Jeff released the control stud. The already dead alien shook in place for half a second, muscles going into spasm as the massive electromagnetic shock raced through its nervous system. Then it toppled over backwards and lay still on the deck, a faint line of steam rising from the neat fist-sized hole that had been burrowed right through its body.

The fusion torch dropped from Jeff's suddenly nerveless fingers as the adrenaline surge faded away. A sick feeling began to well within him as he realised what it was that he'd just done. I… I killed him, he thought staring at the lifeless, softly steaming alien body in a sort of disbelieving, frozen horror. He'd never killed anyone or anything before, he'd never even killed an insect as a child. He found himself unable to look away from the body, it was all he could do not to throw up inside his radiation suit.

A hand waving in front of his face, and the feeling of another hand on his arm brought him out of his dazed state. Blinking he turned his head and found himself looking into Trip's face, there was a look of understanding and gratitude in his eyes.

"I…" Jeff started to say.

"I know," Trip answered his voice soft. "You had no choice, you saved my life. Thank you." Not trusting himself to be able to speak properly yet, Jeff merely nodded and from the look in his bosses, eyes knew that Trip fully understood what he was feeling.

After a second more, Trip patted his shoulder. "Come on, Jeff," he said, Jeff blinked slightly he'd never heard Trip use his given name before. "We've got work to do, start trying to wake up the rest of the engineering crew while I close up that bulkhead. We're not out of this yet."

"Yeah, yeah right," Jeff replied mentally shaking himself and moving away from his boss and friend towards the closest unconscious engineer, who just happened to be Lieutenant Kelby. As he squatted down in front of him and started to try to shake him awake, he heard the sound of Trip's footfalls on the decking.

For a moment, he looked back at the door, and saw the alien lying there dead but only for a moment then the thick armoured door closed and locked as Trip operated the controls. Jeff blinked and looked back at Kelby, forgetting for now what he'd just done. However, he knew somehow that it wouldn't last, that eventually he would see that dead alien again and feel the guilt over ending its life. Though as Trip had said he'd had no choice, it was either the alien or his boss, it didn't stop him from feeling guilt over taking the aliens life. He hoped it would go away eventually.

But he had the strangest feeling that it never would.


Bridge

Suliban Stealth Cruiser Dra'can

A Few Moments Later

Commander Valik sat in thoughtful silence as he studied the Terran vessel floating on his view screen bathed in the soft greenish-grey light of tractor beams. The design was a novel one, elegant and functional at the same time, optimised for both speed and endurance – something his engineers could well attest too. Enterprise had not been at all easy to catch having maintained warp five for the better part of two standard weeks forcing them to really push their own engines to catch up with her while maintaining full stealth as if the starship had spotted them it would have been the end of the mission and any hope of recovering Klaang.

Valik hadn't minded too much, it had been a few years since he'd last had a challenge like this. Being the commanding officer of a stealth cruiser, he hadn't really been involved in the campaign to start a civil war in the Klingon Empire, beyond the occasional reconnaissance mission. Dodging Klingon patrols was relatively easy for his people their stealth technology was virtually impervious to Klingon sensors, so there had been little challenge to it. Certainly not the challenge that keeping up with and disabling Enterprise had been as while the Terrans were less advanced technologically than the Suliban they were still a very formidable and capable enemy who didn't go down without a fight.

A fact that they'd proven when they'd ambushed Enterprise. The Terran vessel had fought back hard, severely damaging the Shan'var and dropping the Dra'can's shields to thirty-five percent before being overpowered. Due to the damage both ships had sustained getting back to the Helix without being followed or intercepted along the way was not going to be easy.

"Status of boarding parties," he ordered after a moments more contemplation of Enterprise and the problem of getting back to the Helix in one piece.

"Team one on the bridge is reporting that they are having considerable difficulty accessing the Enterprise's main computer system," the communications officer reported. "It's protected by surprisingly complex, multi-layered encryption codes. Teams two and three report they've secured the area around the medical facilities, our stun pulse appears to have been effective as all crew encountered so far appear to be unconscious.

"Team four has entered the medical facility and have retrieved, Klaang, they will be transporting back aboard shortly," the officer continued, then frowned. "Team five aren't responding, however they were detailed to place implosion charges on Enterprise's warp reactor system. It's possible that the thicker shielding around the engineering compartments is interfering with communications."

"Possibly," Valik said feeling a sudden premonition drop on him like a cold blanket. He had a feeling that the reason the team wasn't responding had nothing whatsoever to do with the thick metal alloys used to shield warp reactors and warp plasma conduits blocking their comm. signals.

"Sensors scan the Enterprise's engineering hull," he ordered, "find team fives bio-signs."

"Yes, commander," the sensor officer replied and carried out the command. For a few moments, there was silence as invisible beams of energy reached out from the Dra'can's main sensor array and scanned the engineering hull of the Terran vessel. "Commander we're not picking up team fives bio-signs."

"The alloys shielding the engineering section could be blocking our scans," Vice Commander Domar suggested.

"Negative, Vice Commander," sensors reported. "We're getting scans of the engine core and surrounding compartments. They are somewhat blurred by the increased shielding and higher ambient radiation levels around the core itself. We're also detecting Terran bio-signs in the compartments around the core, however team five's bio-signs are not registering."

"Are you saying that the crew in the engineering sections are awake and that they've killed team five," Domar asked.

"Yes, Vice Commander. It does appear that way."

"How is that possible," Domar demanded to know. "The stun pulse should have disabled all non-Suliban on that ship."

"It's possible that the core shielding blocked the stun pulses effects," Valik suggested. "It has happened before, Domar as you know. There are some forms of shielding that the stun pulse cannot penetrate or not completely penetrate that could be what has happened here."

"Possibly," Domar admitted reluctantly. "So what do we do now, Enterprise must be destroyed if we are to completely conceal that we have been here."

Valik frowned thoughtfully, while it had not been in the actual orders from Commander Silik destroying Enterprise would have been good practice. It would have made certain that there were no witnesses left behind who could possibly attest to what they'd done and possibly alert the Terrans and through them the Vulcans that they were the ones behind the unrest in the Klingon Empire. Destroying the Terran vessel by placing implosion charges on the reactor system would have completely covered their tracks as it would have made it look like the ship had suffered a sudden and catastrophic loss of antimatter containment to anyone who came to investigate why the ship had not reached Klingon space. Unfortunately, it didn't look like they were going to be able to simulate a warp core breach now.

Which meant that there was only one real way to destroy Enterprise, and that was to target her with photonic torpedoes and destroy her with there detonations. The problem with that would be that photonic weapons left debris behind, quite a bit of it, debris that could be analysed by investigators to determine how the ship was destroyed. Debris that could also possibly contain intact data recorders that would reveal just who it was who had destroyed Starfleet's newest ship, which could only garner the Suliban a new enemy, unfortunately there was no other way left open to them.

Valik started to open his mouth to order the ordinance officer to rearm photonic torpedoes and target Enterprise, when the sensors came to life with an urgent warning tone. "What is it," he asked.

"Commander long range scanners have detected a group of ships approaching at high warp," sensors reported. "They're on an intercept course. Warp signatures are Terran, the phase variance matches what we observed being generated by the engines on several of the cruiser and destroyer-type ship's we detected leaving or entering orbit of the Terran homeworld. Scans reveal three warships, one light cruiser and two heavy destroyers."

"Time to intercept," Valik asked in justified concern. The Dra'can and their companion ship Shan'var were stealth cruisers they weren't really equipped to engage in direct combat against dedicated warships, and he was fully conscious of that fact and that fact that they'd only succeeded against Enterprise due to superior numbers and the element of surprise and even then they'd taken considerable damage before successfully subduing her. Going up against three warships would be tantamount to committing suicide as between them the three Terran warships would easily possess the firepower to destroy both of his ships without breaking a sweat.

"Four minutes, thirty-five seconds," sensors reported. "We're picking up long range scanner beams coming from the lead ship, sweeping the area. They've seen us. All three ships increasing speed, time to intercept now two minutes."

Valik silently groaned in annoyance. That was nowhere near enough time to retrieve, Klaang and completely cover there tracks. We'll have to just be satisfied with retrieving, Klaang and taking him back to the Helix, he thought.

"Communications order all boarding parties to return to the ship immediately," he ordered.

"And what about Enterprise," Domar asked. "We should target her with photonic torpedoes and destroy her."

"Destroying Enterprise is no longer an achievable goal, Domar," Valik replied. "The incoming ships would easily detect the torpedoes before they impacted Enterprise if we fired them now. It would only motivate them to pursue us and destroy us in retribution. Our engines have already sustained some damage from attempting to keep up with Enterprise and the temporary merger of our warp field with theirs, which means we will not be able to outrun the incoming ships in a straight chase.

"Therefore to make a clean escape and evade destruction we have to distract those ships. Leaving Enterprise in her current state, adrift, completely helpless should provide an appropriate distraction. Don't you agree?"

"Yes commander."

"Good now bring the boarding parties back onboard, and make sure they bring the Klingon with them. Navigation as soon as they aboard take us to warp, destination Helix Zero Two Four."

"Yes commander."


Bridge

TAS Exeter

A Few Minutes Earlier

Captain Tanya Morganstone glanced over at her communications officer, as the young Hispanic ensign tried once again to contact the Enterprise. Though she kept her features calm, she was worried about Jonathan Archer and his crew and had been ever since there long range scanners had detected strange energy surges on Enterprise's filed flight path, which had been forwarded to all border patrol units by Starfleet Command. Her concern had only grown when Enterprise abruptly dropped to sublight speeds in the middle of nowhere, she'd immediately ordered her ship along with the Ajax and the Achilles to alter course to intercept Enterprise, and ordered Ensign Rivera to attempt to contact her.

"Anything," she asked.

"No, ma'am," Ensign Miguel Rivera answered. "Still no response from Enterprise on any channel, they're receiving us, I'm getting an automatic acknowledgement from their comm. array. There just not answering."

"I think I know why," Lieutenant Hall said from tactical. "Sensors have detected two unidentified alien vessels flanking, Enterprise. There holding her in tractor beams. One of the vessels is showing signs of heavy damage. Sensors also reveal that Enterprise's power emissions are way down on what they should be and we're not detecting a warp signature. It looks like her warp drive has scrammed."

Tanya frowned. That could only mean one thing, the energy discharges they'd detected had been weapons fire aimed at Enterprise's nacelles. Fire that could have forced her to violently revert back to sublight speed and caused her warp reactor to scram to prevent the plasma backwash from causing a potentially catastrophic overload. Enterprise had been attacked likely by the two unknown ships, though it was equally obvious that Archer hadn't gone down easily but had kicked and screamed the whole way.

"Condition one," she ordered sharply her eyes narrowing. She didn't care who the aliens who'd attacked Enterprise were, she didn't care to know that. All she knew was that Jonathan and his crew needed her and that she was going to make the aggressors pay for their actions – with their lives if needs be. "All hands to battle stations and increase speed to maximum warp. Ensign Rivera advise the Ajax and Achilles to do the same."

"Yes, ma'am," Rivera answered as klaxons began to wail throughout the ship summoning the Minerva-class light cruisers crew of a hundred and seventeen Starfleet personnel to race to their battle stations while there twenty five strong detachment of MACO's hurried to don combat armour ready for possible boarding actions. The bridge lights dimmed slightly as engineering began redirecting power to the ships weapons systems and shield generators.

"Captain the unknown vessels have just disengaged their tractor beams," Hall reported. "There moving away from Enterprise, warp engines are powering up." His console chirped again. "They've gone to warp both ships are moving away at warp four."

"Status of Enterprise," Tanya asked.

"There still adrift in space," Hall answered. "Minimal power readings, however our sensors are picking up life signs on board. They appear to be mostly unconscious. Sensors reveal moderate damage to the warp nacelles and some thermo-kinetic damage to the outer hull."

Tanya scowled slightly torn about what to do. The alien vessels had obviously gotten whatever it was they wanted from Enterprise and just left the ship adrift in space, presumably, they'd detected her squadron approaching and realised that she'd run them down and show them no mercy if they'd destroyed Enterprise. By leaving, the other ship intact though they'd left her with something of a dilemma.

On one hand she wanted to pursue the aliens and explain to them that, no one got away with attacking a Terran vessel and that the consequences of doing so were dire indeed. On the other hand however Enterprise was adrift and nearly powerless, her crew unconscious and in desperate need of assistance, assistance that she was bound by duty, tradition and honour to provide. Of course, I could do both, she thought, I do have three ships after all.

"Ensign Rivera contact the Ajax and Achilles tell them to pursue the alien vessels at a distance. Under no circumstances are they to engage the aliens, just follow them until we can join them," she ordered. "Advise them that until that time we will be assisting Enterprise."

"Yes ma'am," Rivera answered before relaying the orders to their companion ships, "orders acknowledged ma'am. They'll pursue the aliens and not engage them unless threatened." His console chimed softly and a smile appeared on his face. "Ma'am we're being hailed by the Enterprise. There's a Commander Tucker on the line, says he's the chief engineer."

"Put him on screen," Tanya ordered hoping that they were about to get some answers as to what exactly had happened here. She kept her eyes focused on the high resolution screen at the front of the bridge as it changed from the familiar view of stars streaking past at warp speed to showing the face and shoulders of an unfamiliar but handsome man in a Starfleet issue radiation suit, though the helmet had been removed.

"Commander Tucker," Tanya asked and got a subtle nod in acknowledgement. "I'm Captain Tanya Morganstone of the Exeter. We're two minutes from your position. What's your status over there?"

"Not good I'm afraid, ma'am," Tucker replied straightening slightly on the screen, moving to attention. "Most of the crew are still unconscious. Everyone in engineering is awake though some of my people are somewhat groggy. Main powers out all over the ship, our uninvited guests have departed so I've sent Lieutenant Kelby and some people down to deck eleven to restart the pulse fusion generators and Lieutenant Hess has taken some others to start sealing the breaches in our EPS grid. We should have partial main power back in a couple of minutes."

"Stand easy, commander," Tanya instructed. "We saw the alien ships leave and I've sent my other two ships in pursuit. Do you know who they were and why they attacked you?"

"Yes and no, ma'am," Tucker answered. "As to how they were I don't know, they were not the best conversationalists I've ever met. The two I directly encountered tried to kill me and some of my people when they saw we were awake, I dealt with one of them and Crewman Falkland shot the other with a fusion torch." Ouch, Tanya though inwardly wincing at the though of being killed by the plasma beam from a fusion torch, it would be a painful way to die but like death by phase beam it would be mercifully quick.

"What do you mean you dealt with one," she asked curiously.

"I ugh kind of hit him once or twice before throwing him down the length of the engine core. He hit the core and the bulkheads a few times before coming to a stop. One of the impacts snapped his/its neck," Tucker answered. "Though I was lucky I caught the alien by surprise, whoever they are there bloody tough even by my kinds standards, and their joints must be really weird giving what the second alien did.

"As to what the aliens wanted well that's obvious given who's missing from our internal sensor feeds."

"And who is that?"

"Klaang, he's gone," Tucker, informed her. Tanya frowned, that was not good news. Like many of the frontier squadron commanders she'd been made aware of Enterprise's mission to return Klaang to the Klingon Empire, though viewed in the context of Klaang being either taken from Enterprise or killed the alien attack made sense. The aliens who attacked Enterprise are the same ones who forced Klaang down on Earth and tried to eliminate him, she thought recalling the briefing Starfleet Command had given her like all frontier squadron commanders on the exact nature of Enterprise's mission.

"I see," she said at last. "That's not good."

"No its not," Tucker agreed.

"We'll get him back soon enough," Tanya said after a moment. "Whoever these aliens are they're not going to escape, not until we've both taken back Klaang and informed them that they cannot attack one of our ships without incurring the most serious of consequences."

"That's good to hear," Tucker replied with a smile.

"In the meantime though we will be coming to assist you," Tanya said calmly. "We'll be at your location very shortly. Which of your airlocks are intact?"

"All of them," Tucker replied. "Our uninvited visitors never touched them instead they used transporter technology to board this ship. However if your asking which airlock would be best used docking I'd say use the forward starboard docking port given that our port nacelle has been damaged by disruptor fire."

"Understood. As soon as we drop out of warp we'll manoeuvre to dock with your forward starboard airlock."

On the screen, the engineer nodded. "I'll send somebody up there to meet your emergency teams as they come onboard," he said.

"Very well. In the meantime commander, concentrate your repair efforts on getting your main power systems back online," Tanya instructed.

"Yes ma'am."

"Good luck," Tanya added. "I'll see you in person very shortly, commander. Exeter out." As she spoke, she nodded to Ensign Rivera in a non-verbal command to close the communications link with Enterprise. Immediately Commander Tucker's face vanished from the view screen and the view of stars streaking by at warp returned, though it would only be for a few more moments as the background humming of the warp engines was changing pitch as the ship slowed down ready to drop back to sublight speeds and the full effects of Einsteinium space-time.

"Mr Pierce," Tanya said to her helmsman. "As soon as we drop out of warp manoeuvre us into dock with the Enterprise's forward starboard airlock. Mr Hall have all hands stand down from battle stations and prepare to commence rescue and recovery operations."

"Yes ma'am."

As her crew carried out their assigned tasks, Tanya leaned back in her command chair and thought about what had just happened. Whoever they were the aliens who'd attacked Enterprise had either had to have been desperate or very brazen to have attacked before she left Terran space and crossed into the volatile borderlands. Clearly there was something about Klaang, something that was so important that they would be willing to take such a big risk when it would have been easier to wait until Enterprise was deep into the borderlands and out of range of any easy help from the rest of Starfleet.

Whatever their reason is we'll find out soon enough, she thought before turning her attention back to the view screen which now showed the disabled Enterprise hanging dead in space. Once we've helped Jonathan and his crew get back on their feet we'll run their attackers down and find out exactly what the hell is going on here. And then the aliens will pay dearly for their unprovoked attack.

She would make sure of that personally.