CHAPTER 68: "WHEN IT RAINS IT POURS"
by Brian Caton with special input from Kim McLaughlin
The USS OBannon hung silently in open space with an armada of alien starships off her bow. A motley collection of seventy vessels from varied races inhabiting the sector. Who had, up until a few hours before, been in vicious combat with the Federation warship.
The OBannon's new master, Captain Sparrowhawk, entered Engineering and surveyed the room before him. Around him, crew members of the OBannon, still attired in the leather uniforms of the enemy Taski, and the newly transferred crew of the destroyed Starfleet Starship USS Harder, clothed in the remains of fleet and civilian clothing, went about their tasks of repairing the ship.
He quickly reminded himself that it was his fault that his crew couldn't look top notch. Because of the current ships conditions, he had ordered that all working replicators be placed at rations levels which meant they could only produce food and water. Not nice, sparkly, clean uniforms.
He moved on into the main area and spotted his target. His First officer was in consultation with one of the newly transferred Engineering Officers. An indignant look sat hard on the Engineers face.
As he got closer, he heard Lieutenant Filby say to McLaren, "Yes sir, I believe we are fully warp capable now. We have recalibrated the injectors again, replaced the crystals again, and both cores are back up to full temperature and pressure again. Commodore, welcome to Engineering." Filby added with a blossoming smile when she noticed Sparrowhawk.
"It's Captain now Judith."
"Don't worry about it." He smiled, "Cam a word with you?"
"Yes sir." Commander Cam McLaren answered and momentarily turned back to the Engineer,"Carry on Lieutenant."
"Yes Sir." She answered with a curt nod.
Taking the Commander by the elbow, Sparrowhawk lead him over to a less congested part of the room, adjacent to a railing that looked down into the next level below. "Cam, Sergal Halthorn of the Glanious Consortium and several other ships captains are beaming over in a half hour to discuss the next course of action and I want you to be there."
"Are you sure that's wise? I was the commander of the vessel that caused this whole sector of space a lot of grief. They may not take too kindly to being in the same room with me right now." Cam said with a look of concern spreading on his face.
"The Sergal has assured me that they don't hold you accountable for what happened. They are quite aware of what transpired." The Captain assured him but then added "But He did want to know how the Federation could allow, in his words, such a dangerous creature as our ship's Chief Engineer to serve on board a Starship and also what we intend to do with our Taski prisoners. Oh, as a precaution, I want guards posted in sickbay near Brian."
"Already done. Dr. Nas is also keeping him sedated and sealed in a quarantine room until he can determine fully how and what the Taski did to him and I'll get Tarkin to double the guards posted in the brig."
"Good." The Captain answered.
"Sir, what do we intend to do about the prisoners?" McLaren asked with a whisper, leaning closer.
"I'm not sure right now." returned his commander offhandedly as he turned to look down to the lower deck. "Is that where you found him?"
Cam followed Sparrowhawk's gaze down to the freshly repaired life support systems, "Ya, Brian was about three meters in." he said pointing to the spot where they had found the chief engineer after the crew had awoken," I thought Kenna'La was going to be sick when she was telling me about it. Tubes and wires everywhere. Nas says he wouldn't have survived much longer in there though."
"Who would have ever thought Deltan pheromones could be that precise." Sparrowhawk quipped.
"Well Deltan pheromones are pretty potent but basically they've never been able to control someone to that extent. And remember, he was only half. I think the Taski were responsible for them being so powerful and finely tuned." Cam admitted.
"Well, hopefully we'll find out if that's true or not."
Something in the way the Captain said it made the First Officer shoot a look at his CO, "Surely you don't think Brian would knowingly help the Taski and endanger his ship and crew?"
Sparrowhawk let out a soft sigh, leaned onto the railing and slowly shook his head, "Cam, right now we don't know the whole story. A whole lot of things happened during that time period. Now, I know how you feel." he added straightening upright. "I don't want to think that way of him, but I need to keep an open mind. At least for now."
Communications Chief Kimara Pel sat at her bridge station contemplating the intricacies and lateral pressures it would take to rip every single one of her hairs out of her head. Since waking up after the battle, her communications team had repaired, jury rigged, cajoled, and even strong armed the ships communications systems back into working condition. Or so they thought. Long range systems kept going offline while personnel comm badges faired no better. And for the better part of her shift, she had been trying to trace down the source of a nondescript, low level tachyon pulse that was intermittently leaking out of her comm system and driving her insane. She had almost missed it in the last diagnostic sweep of the system. The anomaly appeared in conjunction with the long range sensor problem. Just before the comms went down the pulse would fire. Up to this point she could not determine if it was a malfunction or deliberate.
"Maam?" Ensign Lynch walked up with a data padd in her hand, "I need you to look at something."
Sighing and bleary eyed, Pel looked up from from the terminal. "Ok Kendra. Whadaya got?"
"Well I was going over some of the subroutines for the computer core tie in to the Long range arrays and I found this." The young woman handed the padd over. "I've never seen anything like it." Lines of computer code slowly scrolled down the screen.
"What am I looking…"
"There!" Lynch said excitedly, pointing at several lines that were now appearing on the padd.
"What is it?"
"I don't know."
Kimara put the padd down and began tapping away at her terminal. "Lets take a closer look."
Just then Second officer Kenna'La Shushi walked over with a quizzical look on her face. "You got something, Kimara?"
"Hmmm, maybe nothing, maybe everything." Kimara answered as she peered at her screen intently with the two other women now looking over her shoulder.
Shushi began reading the lines. "Where's it from?" She asked. Pel glanced up at Lynch and Lynch nodded and began her story of how they had discovered the errant program.
"So can you open it?" Shushi asked leaning closer to the screen after she was fully informed.
"I'm trying to but I think it's encrypted. Oh what the…!" Pel exclaimed as her screen went dark.
The Sergal's tall reptilian form materialized on the transporter pad accompanied by three other beings of varying height. Sparrowhawk immediately recognized two of them. Captain Lo'vas Narl, of the Prikak Colonies fleet, was a full head shorter with humanoid features and long hair running down from his face and hands. His baggy teal jumpsuit revealed no striking physical features. The Darvish Commander, Chrykiik Koral, reminded Sparrowhawk of a Bluish/green preying mantis with softly glowing green eyes. Although, he had thought that they would be shorter given what he had seen on the Glanious' view screens. The Chrykik's head was roughly level with his own when the alien stepped down off the platform. The Starfleet Captain somehow found this a little unsettling. He glanced quickly at his First officer, relieved to see that he was not alone in that feeling.
The third creature was of a species he had not previously encountered during his brief time in this sector of space.
"Commodore Sparrowhawk, I believe you already know Captain Narl and the Chrykiik. Though you may have not yet met the Head of the Naugri Alliance's squadron." Sergal Halthorn gestured towards the meter and a half tall rodent like being stepping down from the transporter. "This is Ranaal Twaan."
"Yes, welcome to you all. And to you madam." Sparrowhawk added with a slight bow, then turned towards McLaren, "May I introduce my First Officer, Commander Camron McLaren."
He turned back when he heard a sharp hiss. "That is the golraam that destroyed Naugral waystation. What is He doing free?" The Naugri Ranaal spat out as she reached for a silvery device on her belt.
Halthorn quickly reached down with a large four fingered hand and let it rest on her forearm. "Stay your hand Twaan. Remember what I said. You know what transpired and that he had no control over his actions. No one is to be harmed. We all agreed." The warning look on his face appeared to do the trick. Twaan shook off his hand and slowly took her paw away from her belt. But she shot Cam a withering look of disgust.
'I'd better get used to this.' Cam thought to himself as he withstood her stare.
Sparrowhawk covertly motioned to the Security guard that had, up until that moment, been standing discreetly by the Transporter controls, to stand down. She had been reaching for her phaser but had not drawn it yet. He then shot the Sergal a look. Halthorn nodded his head slightly to gesture that all was well for the moment.
"If you would please follow me this way. We'll move to more appropriate settings."
Security Chief Tarkin was laboriously and painfully attempting to squeeze his large frame between two tightly set rows of Photon Torpedoes in Cargo Bay Two to get a more accurate count of the casket like devices now crammed into every unused space aboard the ship. Each one of the rows in the Cargo bay was seven torpedoes high and ten long. He had already squeezed his way down two previous rows and still had six more after this one.
'An extra pair of hands right now would really be shiny.' He thought to himself. But he knew there was none to be had. Several other Officers were doing the same as he, in other parts of the ship, and with half of the crew were missing and presumed dead. Frustration was slowly building inside him,three quarters of his security team among them. He wanted to be out of this room and looking for them, doing something to discover what or where. A clue, a trace. Just to be traveling down that path was what he needed to be doing right now. Not slithering through this maze like a Uvlian molerat. It made him want to scream. And to top it all off… Damn it! He just tore the crotch seam of his accursed Taski uniform. "Frac!" He spat out loud.
But before he could maneuver to see the extent of the damage, his tricorder chirped at him. "Huh?" He raised the device closer to eye level. On its tiny display blinked several figures and schematics. 'That's wrong.'
"Commodore, we feel we must ask you what are your intentions." the Darvish Chrykiik clicked as she glanced to those around the table then back to the Starfleet Officer.
"Well Madam, first off, its Captain now. Not Commodore." Sparrowhawk informed them with a nod but before he could continue…
Both Koral and Halthorn declared "Congratulations."
"Er, yes, thank you… as to your question," He began slightly pulsed, "We are presently trying to determine the extent of Taski tampering. Both to the ship and to my crew. And along those lines, I would like to take you up on your previous offers of help. Also, given the large amount of ordinance aboard, I think your cause would be better served by its use and any other technology left aboard by the Taski than the OBannon would. To begin with, I would like to transfer some photon torpedoes to you as soon as possible."
Twaan's ears perked up noticeably at the mention of the devices. Her tiny whiskers began to twitch as she asked, "Torpedoes? Just how many of these are we talking about? When can we get them?"
Sparrowhawk turned to his Number One. "Commander?"
"Our best estimate is around five thousand. We are still doing a hand over hand inventory." answered McLaren. This was followed by a profound silence in the room as each of the alien officers digested that bit of information.
After a moment, Koral spoke, "We believe we may be of the most service to you, Captain. As you know, we Darvish have an orbital ship refurbishment facility just under a parsec from here. We offer our services." She added with a bow of her head.
"Do not forget. The Naugri offer our services and technicians too!" the little Ranaal suddenly sat forward in her seat, her eyes ablaze with what appeared to be earnestness. The three other Armada commanders were slightly taken aback by her statement.
Finally Koral calmly turned back to the Captain. "We Darvish can help not only with the weapons yes, but with any Taski technology that may still be embedded into your ship. Our people are becoming quite skilled with Taski technology."
Before Twaan could muster another counteroffer, Halthorn said "Yes Captain, we All will help wherever we can." and quelled her with a look.
"Excellent, perhaps the best time to talk further concerning those weapons would be at your facility." Sparrowhawk said to the Darvish leader, hoping that Halthorn's statement had quelled any further outbursts from the little Naugri commander.
"Yes, and can we transfer the prisoners at that time as well?" suggested the Sergal with a tilt of his head.
"Agreed." Sparrowhawk replied quickly.
"Prisoners! What prisoners?" The Naugri leaned forward even more in her seat. This time the look on her face was unreadable. She turned to the Sergal. "You didn't say anything about prisoners."
"Yes, we too were not informed of that." the Chrykiik chimed in, also turning to the Glanious commander, her antennae twitching nervously.
"We have around ten Taski aboard, being held in our brig. They appear to be the only ones left alive after the battle." answered Sparrowhawk. Something about the reactions of the two female leaders struck him as odd. But, seeing that the other two leaders didn't appear worried, especially Halthorn, he continued. "Well if that's all, I think we should get underway as soon as possible."
"Agreed." the Sergal said rising to his full height. The others followed suit.
As the aliens made their way out of the conference room and back to the transporter room, Sparrowhawk motioned to the Glanious leader. "A moment Sergal Halthorn." he then stepped to the side of the corridor.
The Captain waited for the group to progress further down the corridor then asked, "The Naugri, what do you make of them?"
The Sergal thought for a second then answered. "Little is known of them. They didn't interact with any other race in the sector prior to the Taski attacking them two cycles ago. You could say they were almost xenophobic. Preferring to stay amongst their own kind. I have been told that it was only just recently that they, as a species, acquired warp technology. Within the last three cycles, if I am not mistaken." A slight smile then creased the Sergal's lips as a thought hit him. "Twaan caught you off guard. Did she not?"
"Yes, you could say that. She does seem enthusiastic."
"Fear not. In my dealings with her, she has sometimes been a little too enthusiastic but to no harm."
"What of the Darvish?" Sparrowhawk asked trying to glean more insight into the two alien races in hopes of allaying his growing suspicions.
Halthorn nodded "Yes, it has been said they are some of the best builders and designers in the quadrant. They have been in conflict with the Taski longer than any of the rest of us." then he added as a thought hit him. "A suggestion. We do not need the entire fleet to accompany you. And I do have other uses for them at the moment. I shall send the remainder of our fleet back. What do you require for an escort?"
"Escort? Two, Three ships maybe. In case we have technical difficulties."
"Very well. I am sure Koral will most gladly send some of her ships and I shall go too. Signal us when you are ready to leave." With that, the Sergal continued on after the rest of the party.
The Captain then leaned against the bulkhead and thought to himself ' Something just doesn't feel right here. But what is it? Is it the Darvish? They're awfully willing to help. But then, so are the Naugri. Hoping to acquire some new weapon? Well, I've practically given them that with the torpedoes. Couldn't be that. What is it? Could the Glanious be setting us up?' then he chuckled slightly. 'Maybe I'm getting paranoid in my old age. That'd be a new trick for me.'
The second in command watched as her commander step into the chamber. "Well m'lady?" She asked the woman eagerly.
"Plans have changed. Probably for the better. Signal base. Tell them they are coming."
The chime to the ready room door sounded and the Captain looked up. "Enter." His Security Chief strode agitatedly into the room with a data padd in one hand. "Something wrong Tarkin?" Sparrowhawk asked.
"Yes Sir. I was performing that inventory you asked for."
"The one for the Torpedoes?"
"Yes Sir. And I came across this." Tarkin said holding up the padd to the Captain. "I've never seen readings like this before from a photon torp. I thought I should get a complete inventory of how many have this signature before reporting it."
Sparrowhawk took the padd offered him and began perusing its information. All of a sudden, a chill ran down his spine as recognition dawned on him. 'Oh no. Is this your doing, Brian?' he thought to himself now alarmed. "How many torpedoes have this signature?" He asked setting the padd down on his desk.
"Over one hundred."
The Captain exhaled forcefully as he made his decision then he said "Sit down Tarkin. Some of what I'm about to tell you has been classified as red level clearance. The Highest. I expect you to treat the information accordingly." He added giving the officer a stern look. "This does not leave this room."
Satisfied, Sparrowhawk began "A few years ago, before you transferred aboard, Starfleet or more to the point this very crew, developed an experimental weapon called a multiphasic torpedo."
"Multiphasic, you mean like our cloaking system?" the Security Chief asked, now leaning closer.
"Yes precisely." The Captain nodded." It was designed to phase through obstructions, namely shields or the hull of a ship then detonate at a predetermined distance and yield."
Tarkin nodded, "Yes sir, I understand the concept. But are you saying that these," and he tapped the data padd. "are multiphasic? If so, forgive me sir but what's the big deal?"
"Yes I think they are" the Captain began. "All information about them has been classified and was supposed to have been erased from our databanks. These "he tapped the padd." should not exist. Now I want your team to begin separating them from the rest of the regular torpedoes."
"Yes sir, but if the info had been erased then that would mean the Taski got it from one of the crew."
"I'm not as concerned about that right now. As I said, begin separating them from the regular torpedoes. Then we can look into how they came into being. And this still remains classified.
The Security Chief nodded and added "I don't know how we can say they are regular when their warhead yields have been increased tenfold." the officer shook his head.
The Captain answered "You know what I mean. But I don't want these" and he tapped the data padd again, "to be transferred to our new found friends."
"But before you do that, I have another task for you. Before we hand over the Prisoners I want them debriefed. I'll send you someone who I think can help."
Standing, The Security Chief nodded to him and said "Yes Sir." With that he left.
'Well Brian, I can only hope they found out about the torpedoes from somewhere other than you. This does not look good my friend.' Sparrowhawk worried.
He reached over to a button on his desk. "Sparrowhawk to Dr. Nas"
"Doctor. Until further notice I want you to keep Mr. Caton under heavy sedation. Understood."
Captain's Log: Stardate 0207.10
I am growing concerned over the magnitude of systems throughout the ship that are experiencing what seem to be random failures. After several failed attempts at field repairs on key systems, I have reluctantly taken a local species up on their offer of help. The Darvish have a space dock within a parsec of our present location that they say can accommodate the OBannon. They appear genuinely willing to help, almost over eager. As does another species the Naugri. Sergal Halthorn of the Glanious Consortium has assured me that I could do worse. As usual, I have my doubts and suspicions. But we are currently underway to the Darvish facility despite them.
I have made the decision to begin interrogating the prisoners in hopes that they can shed light into what's been happening to the ship and, more importantly, what happened to our lost crew members. None of the surviving crew appears to remember a thing.
Though I know that there are several crew members from the original crew who are either telepathic or empathic, I have decided to give that unenviable task to one of the HARDER crew with the idea that she hasn't been mind controlled for the past eighteen months and given what I know of her, I feel that she can do the job set to her.
On a side note. Several of my senior staff has voiced ethical objections over the use of a telepath for interrogation purposes. Given the present circumstances, I feel that such a use is justified.
"Best to leave them in the dark on certain items." Captain Sparrowhawk said to himself grimly.
"Sir, I think we've found something." Pel informed McLaren when he strolled out of the turbolift.
"Whadaya Got?" he answered, changing direction stiffly and heading over to her side of the bridge. He was still sore from his injures and though he tried to hide it, those who knew him could tell.
Shushi, who had been standing behind the Comm Officer looking over her shoulder, straightened as he approached. A look of concern brushed her face. "Still in pain?"
"No. I'm fine." He lied. "So what did you find?" He asked changing the subject.
"Well, we found this," Kimara answered pointing at her newly reactivated station. Once again, lines of computer code scrolled slowly down the screen.
"What is it?"
This time Shushi answered exasperated, "We don't know. Every time we get close to discovering what it is, it shuts us out."
"Shuts us down more like it." Pel added.
"Hmmm," Cam slapped his comm badge, "McLaren to Gy'Cham." The device made a dull chirp and he looked to his Communications chief for an explanation.
"Sorry, person to person is still offline. You'll have to use intraship." Kimara told him apologetically.
Shaking his head, he moved closer to the terminal, whispering to no one in particular "When it rains it pours." He pressed a command on the panel then said, "Commander Gy'Cham to the bridge."
Within moments the turbolift doors hissed open and the large Brikarian strode out and over to them. "Yes Commander?"
"We've got something here I'd like you to take a look at." The First Officer said gesturing to Pel's station. Both Kimara and Kenna'La moved to make room for the Science Officer.
"Ah. I see you have found the anomaly as well."
"You've seen it already?" Shushi asked incredulously.
"Yes. It is present in at least five other systems that I was personally running diagnostics on." Gy'Cham returned as he looked up at the three officers.
"Well what do you make of it?" asked McLaren.
The bronze colored Science officer carefully leaned back in the chair and began. "It appears to be of Federation origin but it is not part of the ships normal programming. We have found it in the Weapons, Propulsion, Environmental, and Navigational computers. Also, as one would surmise, the Main Computer core. I suspect that even the Secondary core is infected. I was on my way there when you paged me. I believe that this program is the cause of several, if not all, of the malfunctions we have been experiencing."
"What do you think its function is?" asked Pel now looking closer at the screen. "Is it a danger to the ship?"
"I do not have enough information at this time to know that." He answered.
"Best guess." said McLaren.
"I would rather not. It does not appear to be dangerous but please allow me to investigate further."
"All right then. I'll inform the Captain. Carry on." McLaren said reluctantly.
As Crewman Eathra Phwolfe approached security station one in the brig, Security Chief Tarkin stepped out of a door way to her right. "Um, the Captain…" she began tentatively.
"Yes. I know. Right this way if you please." The Chief said gruffly as he gestured with a thumb down the corridor. She followed after him.
As they neared the area, she felt the tentative brush against her mind and tried to identify it. As she opened her mind wider, the brush became firmer. It was not human. It was totally foreign to anything she had encountered previously. Eathra tried to read the touch. What was the intent of this contact? The contact shied back and forth along the edges of her consciousness. All of a sudden, she was reminded of the stealth and menace of a takosund waiting in ambush. Stealth was only used for two reasons, to avoid an attack or to perpetuate one.
Was it a member of the OBannon, still partially controlled or confused by their long mental imprisonment? Was it one of her Harder crew mates seeking revenge for their lost friends? Or was it one of the many victimized species who would gladly seek revenge against the violent aliens she was now ordered to interrogate?
They rounded the corner to the main cell area and Eathra's eyes met those of the blue female Taski in the cell across the room. Recognition flashed in both directions. She slammed her mental walls up just as the alien thrust into her mind. Eathra went over backwards into the corner of the wall and then slid down onto the floor, her eyes rolled up and her body went limp.
'You seek to learn our secrets Mind Sifter?' the alien laughed in her mind.
Eathra's shoulder was cut open to the bone. The wound pulsed with waves of pain and blood flowed freely, matting her leg fur all the way down to her paw. In her mind, she dodged the enemys mental blade and felt the burning heat of its close passage. This battle was lost. How the female Taski had brought a blade into this mind battle was beyond her comprehension, but it had turned the tide against her. Her natural mind defenses were useless against the long blade.
Your attempt at defense is pitifully.' Taunted her opponent.
But Eathra would not give up this fight. This was her mind. She could and would choose the battle ground. In a flash, all light disappeared. She sank down onto her belly and crawled away into the shadowless realm. She called out to Si'Tler, her soul-bound companion. Her only living comfort. Just the thought of him strengthened her. Si'Tler was telepathic. An image of the Cansifel flashed to the surface of her thoughts.
In the conscious world, her body went into spasms on the floor. In her mind, she felt Si'Tler's bonds pull at her. He called to her and she ignored him. She would not allow him to follow her into this battle. He poured the gift of strength into her with his voice.
"Let me in!" He ordered.
"No!" she replied vehemently. Phwolfe let light, color, and sound flood back into her mind. Images and memories swirled around her. The Taski stopped and drew her sword into a defensive posture. She slashed at the images when they came too close to her. But her blade passed through them harmlessly. These were memories and her blade held no power over them. "You can tell your Captain nothing." the enemy spat in frustration.
Eathra gathered all her remaining strength in one final push. In a lightning quick move of force and images, Eathra dove at her adversary, catching her below the arms, the effect of which toppled the alien and sent her weapon flying off into the ether of Eathra's mind. With the impact, the Taski's image in her mind disappeared. Consciousness grabbed a hold of her long enough for she to open her eyes and see Tarkin bending over her and the prisoner unconscious in the cell. She then slipped back into the gloom.
Gy'Cham, accompanied by two computer technicians, entered the Secondary Computer Core chamber and immediately began removing access panels. The acrid smell of burnt wires and insulation still hung in the air.
"Begin a Level One diagnostic on the buffers Ensign." He said to the young blond woman beside him.
"Lieutenant, I want you to scan the interface with the Comm systems. I am going through the back door to get a closer look at that program." He added to the other tech.
"Um, Sir. Maybe I should do that. I am rated as a level 8 programmer." Ensign Tanya Fuller offered tentatively. "No offense but you're only rated to level 6." she added moving over to an access station and activating the tricorder in her hand.
Recognizing the logic in her statement and that that was the very reason he had selected her for this detail, Gy'Cham smiled inwardly then answered, "Very well. Please allow me to look over your shoulder though."
"Yes sir." was her only reply for she was now engrossed in her work. Within a minute she had worked her way through several firewalls and avoided a myriad of watchdog programs designed to detect her intrusion.
"Ah, there's our baby." she whispered to herself.
"Be careful Ensign. We do not want to risk a shut down of the secondary core at this time." Gy'Cham warned her. Instead of looming behind her, he had moved to another screen to monitor her progress.
"Yes sir." she said with tongue peeking from the side of her mouth in concentration.
A moment later. "Ensign."
"Do you see that?" the Science Officer asked.
"Yes sir." on the screen, computer code began blinking faster. Each time it reappeared there was less of it displayed. "I would say we've found a Trojan code tied to this navigational program here. From the looks of it, this is where it originates from and radiates out to the other systems. It looks like its counting down or something."
Yes, but a countdown to what?" asked Gy'Cham. Just then the dull thrum that permeated the ship while at warp speeds disappeared. Simultaneously, the numbers on the display began disappearing faster.
"Oh Hell. Whatever it is. It's not good!" Fuller yelled now alarmed.
"I agree." Gy'Cham swiveled around in his seat and punched a button on the panel. "Gy'Cham to the Bridge. We have a problem."
The OBANNON slipped gracefully from warp to normal space accompanied by two squat, bright red, ladybug shaped Darvish ships and the Sergal's larger, dart-like flagship GROSSE REE.
"Message from the GROSSE REE, sir." Pel informed Sparrowhawk. "It's not live."
"Go ahead." he ordered. The Glanious leader's image appeared on the forward view screen.
"OBannon, I must leave you in the Darvish's care. I have accompanied you as far as courtesy permits and I must return to my fleet. The Taski, I fear, have begun a counter offensive in the Teril system and I am needed there. Till we meet again."
"Well that was short and to the point." Cam quipped.
"Yes… Godspeed." the Captain replied as he watched the greenish colored warship peel away from the formation and enter warp.
"Aye sir. Message sent."
Shushi spoke up from her station, "We're within visual range."
"On screen." the view switched from the retreating Glanious vessel to a long, wide, reddish-orange frame work structure orbiting a heavily forested planetoid. Several smaller damaged Darvish ships hung inside in various states of repair. Auxiliary craft flitted amongst the ships like worker bees in a hive. An asteroid field dotted the surrounding space. The screen then started to go fuzzy.
"Shields fluctuating and we're loosing resolution from the forward sensors." The Ops officer informed the bridge crew.
Just then Gy'Cham's voice erupted from the bridge speakers. " Gy'Cham to the bridge. We have a problem."
"Go ahead." ordered Sparrowhawk looking up to the ceiling instinctively.
"Recommend we hold position." The Science officer started. "We have ascertained, partly, the function of the anomalous code and there is concern."
"Ok." Sparrowhawk prodded.
Ensign Fuller spoke up. "Sir, it's tied into Navigation really heavy but it's also wormed it's way into almost every system on board, in some way, as we previously thought."
"Well, that would explain most of the problems we've been experiencing." quipped Shushi.
"Exactly Sir. But that's not the half of it." fuller said.
Gy'Cham chimed in, "It looks like there is a countdown program now running."
"Countdown to what?" Pel asked suddenly looking up from her station.
"Do not know. But it quickened when we exited warp. What is our current position?" asked the science officer.
"We're approaching the space dock." Sparrowhawk answered as he rose from his chair as realization dawned on him. He glanced at the Helm officer. "All stop."
"Answering all stop, Sir."
Pel's console chimed. "Sir, the Darvish want to know why we've stopped."
"Tell 'em we need to tidy up before they come on board." McLaren said.
The Captain acknowledged the response then asked, "Gy, I'm not down there. You are. Does it look like there is a danger to the ship or to the space dock if we proceed closer? Or could it be designed to disable us fully?" He added as one of his many suspicions tickled his brain.
"I do not think so, but it is still unclear what the full function of this program is."
Pel did some quick calculations with the facts in her head, then said, "Sir, I don't think that's the case. Could it be that it's a spy program or virus?" Every head on the bridge turned in her direction. She then looked up at the speaker, "Ensign, you said it was centralized in the Navigation program. Right?"
"Yes, that's right." came the disembodied reply.
"Could it be pulling information about the ship? Say systems status and galactic coordinates and that countdown could be information being sent out."
Cam walked closer to her with a look of concern on his face. "Sent out how?"
"Through that tachyon pulse we monitored earlier." she answered pointing at a small display on her terminal with computer code blinking at them.
Gy'Cham's voice was heard from the speakers, "That could be true."
"But you said it looks Federation in design. If it's an alien program that doesn't make sense." Kenna'La said to the Science officer three decks below her.
"Yes, I did. It could have been designed and installed by one of the crew while they were under mind control. That would explain the similarities." answered the brikarian's voice.
"Ok. How do we stop it?" the Captain asked, hastily rising from his seat.
"Since it reacts to any overt intrusion, a complete back door wipe of the ships systems would probably be the answer." offered the science officer.
"Isn't that what the Darvish also want to help us with?" Kenna'La inquired.
The Captain shook his head. "I'd like to keep this one in house. Either scenario you both came up with could be viable. I don't want to chance it."
Pel's station chimed again, "Sir, the Darvish are now asking if we plan on docking soon or should they begin sending teams over to expedite repairs."
"Stall them" Sparrowhawk fired back. "Gy'Cham, how long would a wipe like that type take?"
"I am unsure. It depends on the extent of the infiltration."
"Best guess Gy." McLaren said.
Fuller spoke "I would say only a few minutes. Sir."
The Captain exhaled sharply as he digested the info. He then slowly sank into his seat and said, "Ok, begin." He then turned to Pel and said "Contact the Darvish. Tell them that we have a situation on board and we don't want to risk any damage to their facility or their people. Keep it simple and if they offer to help… Politely Decline."
"Beginning wipe now sir. It looks like we can't do a blanket wipe. We'll have to go system by system. But it still shouldn't take long." The lights on the bridge slowly dimmed then regained their brilliance.
"Life support offline." Ensign Terry said from the science station. Then a moment later "It's back up."
"Gravity plating down on decks five through ten." the Engineering Bridge officer stated then added "Power restored."
"Shields and sensors are offline." Shushi stated from her station. The forward view screen went blank.
All of a sudden the ship rocked hard, knocking people sideways. Hastily repaired stations and conduits on the bridge began sending sparks showering down onto the deck below. A heavy grinding noise was heard as the ships anti gravity systems strained to compensate to the sudden stress.
"What the hell was that?" yelled McLaren as he quickly pulled himself up off the deck. The ships many automated collision alarms adding to the din.
"Unknown. Sensors just came back up. But shields are still fluctuating. Sir we've got incoming fire!" Lieutenant Tandy yelled from the tactical station.
"The Darvish are firing on us!" Shushi returned incredulously. On the front screen, long brilliant green bolts of light arced out towards the OBannon from the repair facility.
'Here we go.' Sparrowhawk thought to himself. 'The trap has sprung.
"All hands brace for impact!" The First officer ordered. The disruptor bolts screamed at them then flashed by. Just barely missing the bridge. "What the…" Two seconds later double blinding flashes illuminated the bridge.
Tandy spoke again, "Sensors now reading seven… No ten ships emerging from the asteroid field."
"Darvish?" Sparrowhawk inquired looking to him as he rose from the Captains seat
"I don't think so. Those blasts were directed at those incoming ships. Not us."
"Could have fooled me." Pel said anxiously.
"Why didn't we detect them before?" asked McLaren.
"I don't know." the Bridges tactical duty officer returned, shaking his head, baffled.
"Visual." The Captain ordered. The view swung from the orbital dock yard to eight small dark grey ships and two slightly larger vessels closing fast with the much larger Federation Starship.
"Sir they could have been hiding in that asteroid field. I'm reading huge amounts of tritium and pladium ore. There was no way we could have seen them in there, especially with the way our systems were." Shushi offered.
"Can we id them? I want to know who we're about to lock horns with." yelled Sparrowhawk as the ship shuddered again from a barrage of fire.
"Computers ids them as Naugri destroyers and corvettes." Tandy said looking up from his screen in surprise.
The Captain shot him a look "What?" Then glanced to his Communications chief, "Pel, Hail them."
"All I'm getting is static Sir." she answered visibly frustrated. "I think their jamming subspace."
"Damn." The Captain spat. Then nodded to his First Officer.
"Red Alert! All hands to Battle Stations!" McLaren yelled as he moved over to the First officers chair and activated a screen on its arm. Through out the ship, the crew clamored to their posts bathed in the crimson alert lights.
"Weapons now on line, shields still fluctuating but the ablative armor is holding." Tandy said quickly grasping his console as the ship was jolted again by fire.
Sparrowhawk slid back into his chair "Helm, get this moose moving. Tactical target all incoming."
"Moving the moose, Sir" The great starship's powerful impulse engines shoved her forward.
"Darvish launching all available ships." Shushi stated. The fiery red Darvish combat ships were ejecting themselves from the space dock. Several had umbilical lines still attached to their hulls, sending out trails of sparks.
"Acquiring target lock on the closest enemy vessel. Can't get the phasers to cycle. Switching to Torpedoes." Tandy said. McLaren and Sparrowhawk shot each other a look of concern.
"Target further away from the ship Lieutenant," yelled the Captain over the klaxons.
"Aye Sir." On the view screen, a brilliant blue globe of light streaked over the bridge and careened into the Naugri destroyer in the center of the enemys diamond formation. The supercharged ordinance had no problem punching through the unfortunate vessels hull. The resulting explosion turned the ship into a vibrantly colored expanding cloud of gas and debris. Shock waves flew out from its axis, causing the two closest corvettes to explode from the pressure as the waves slammed into them.
"Dear God!" Shushi exclaimed. Shock washed over every face on the bridge.
Tandy, his jaws still on the floor, offered" Wow!" He then collected himself. "Phasers now cycling."
"Good." The captain said visibly shaken. "Do not use the torpedoes unless we absolutely have to."
"Understood." More violent, green disruptor blasts lanced out at the oncoming enemy from the space dock and the defending Darvish ships began throwing themselves into the fight. "Darvish weapons causing minimal damage. They are on almost par with the Naugri it appears."
"Reading energy discharges on the far side of the shipyard." said the Ops officer.
"Split screen" ordered the Captain. The viewscreens image split in two with the escalating battle on the left and several explosions blossoming from the Darvish facility on the right. Suddenly, ten more Naugri corvettes rolled over the top of the structure from behind, peppering it with weapons fire as they went. They then charged directly at the OBANNON. As her aft upper and lower mega cannons swiveled to meet them, they separated into two flights and flew at her in a pincer formation. The Starfleet Frigate shook as their combined fire raked at her stern. Two of the attacking ships were peeled open by the answering blasts from the larger vessels cannons.
As the little corvettes quickly closed the distance, the OBannon's phasers began lancing out at them, picking off one more and winging another. One flight rolled over the top of the warship while the other dropped underneath, firing as they went.
"Reading transporter active in the brig!" yelled Shushi.
Two seconds later the overhead speakers crackled to life "Bridge, the prisoners have just beamed out of their cells!" the Security Chief's voice said. "All ten are gone. I'm beginning a ship wide search."
"Don't bother Tarkin." McLaren answered. "They are no longer on board."
"We've got the shields back but just barely." The tactical officer said.
Anger boiled on Sparrowhawk's face "Mr. Tandy, remove those ships from my sky."
"Aye sir. Having trouble getting a lock at this range though." Three of the Naugri ships suddenly changed course and headed for open space.
"I'd lay even money that our missing Taski are aboard one of those ships." quipped the First Officer anxiously. The Captain just shot him a look. A phaser blast caught one of the retreating arrow shaped ships in its stern, sending it spiraling out of control before exploding. The OBannon was then rocked heavily as the one remaining Naugri destroyer opened up on her.
"That was a mass driver! They aren't supposed to have those!" yelled the Tactical officer.
"A what?" Pel shot at him.
"Theoretically more powerful than a disruptor or phaser but requires more energy." He said as his fingers danced about his board. He glanced over at her and say the look of incomprehension. "It is similar to our photon torpedoes but different, like a tiny black hole or dwarf star instead of antimatter, for lack of a better term. Mr. Gy'Cham could probably explain it better."
"Let's make sure we don't get hit again. Helm evasive." Sparrowhawk said. The OBannon rolled on her main axis and dipped down just as another volley from the destroyer flew at her, missing her by mere inches. The Frigate answered her with twin cannon blasts. One of which caught the slightly smaller ship on its bow, like an uppercut, causing it to skid to the right. The other beam shot harmlessly by. Hull plating at the impact site was sliced open and white hot sparks began escaping out into cold of space. The Naugri ship refused to acknowledge her wound and her weapons ports began again to glow in preparation to fire. A sustained phaser beam from the OBannon, abruptly caught her amidships, carving its way through her armored hull. A second later she peeled open like a grape and hung dead in space.
"The two Naugri ships with the Taski have gone to warp." Shushi said.
"Track them. I want to know where they go." The Captain ordered.
"Cap, the Darvish are in trouble." McLaren informed him. Sparrowhawk's attention was drawn back to the battle. Several of the insect species' ships were either tumbling slowly through space or hung powerless as flaming gases flowed out of openings in their hulls. Debris was scattered everywhere.
"Status on shields?" He asked.
"Up. But only to seventy percent." came the reply.
"Helm move us in. Lets try and protect them. CIC, begin variable weapons engagement." ordered Sparrowhawk. With that, the majority of weapons targeting authority switched to the Command and Control center hidden deep within the bowels of OBannon's hull allowing for several, if not all, of the Starfleet frigates powerful weapons systems to be fired at multiple targets simultaneously.
The Starship tipped up on her starboard edge and barrel rolled her way into the dogfight. Her phasers screaming out in all directions and her eight torpedo launchers sending ordinance slicing off to the far reaches of the fray. She plowed her way amongst the combatants, receiving enemy fire as well as friendly. Many times she moved in take a barrage squarely with her shields meant for a disabled Darvish vessel. Superior firepower and flying skills soon whittled down the remaining enemy vessels till, after a half hour hard combat, only three were left. Those three, when seeing which way the odds were turning, flipped one hundred and eighty degrees and headed at a rapid pace for open space.
The Captain exhaled then said, "Stand down from red alert. Begin mop up operations. Pel, send our thanks and offer our assistance with rescue operations."
Captain's Log: Stardate 0207.10 Supplemental:
We have discovered that most of the computer problems we have been experiencing were caused by some sort of encrypted program embedded within the secondary computer core. But traces of it were found in every system aboard. It appears federation in origin but again I have my doubts. My Communications Officer thinks it could have been put there to gather information about the ship, its crew and their whereabouts and transmit that information to some, as yet unknown person or faction. We still don't know its exact function but that would seem to be the most likely story. My Science Officer and his team devised a method for removing the program, which had us shutting down each system, one by one, and wiping its computer memory.
During this operation though we were attacked by a squadron of Naugri ships. I am uncertain as to their intent. Was it some type of infighting amongst the armada and they trying to claim the Taski prisoners for themselves or are they now in league with them. Either way the result was the same. All ten of the prisoners were beamed out of our brig when our defense shields were down. A note though, our brig's shield were quite operational at the time. Something to think about. Another thing to mention is that apparently the Naugri posses the technology to produce mass driver weapons. Devices that are still considered, in the Federation, theoretical at the very least, and at the most highly classified. I must also note that the Naugri never used these weapons while fighting previously in the armada and they didn't deploy them against the Darvish today, only on us. More food for thought.
Unfortunately, we were unable to acquire any information from the Taski. As known, they are very powerful telepaths, but their mental skills are much more formidable than we had thought and are very aggressive at deploying these skills. My ships Counselor, Crewman Phwolfe, will be in sick bay for a few days recovering from her encounter with them. I am proud to say though that she gave as good as she got. I do believe that the particular woman she tussled with will be in the same boat. Have it noted that I shall be putting her in for a commendation.
Lastly, we are still in dry dock at the Darvish fleet facility, or as they call it, Station 6. With their help, we have made great inroads in removing the left over enemy technology and hopefully with any luck, any more hidden programming will be found by the Darvish technicians. Who, I might add, are on par or better than any I have met from the Federation, not that I get out much. Although, I will be glad when they finally get my ready room repaired.
Almost all of the extra torpedoes and the like have been offloaded and are on their way to being distributed amongst the armada. I plan to remain here until we are back up to standard.
"Computer save." he said. He then looked up, "Thanks for the use of your office Doctor."
"No problem." Dr. Nas replied. He turned and walked out the door with the Captain. "Sir, when am I going to be able to start replicating medical supplies?"
"Anytime Doctor. Sickbay's replicators and power supplies were one of the first priorities when we docked."
"Oh, well what about these uniforms?"
"Check with the Quarter master." Sparrowhawk said to the physician as they strode over to the bed where Counselor Phwolfe lay asleep. He bent down to her and he softly whispered, "Sleep well." With that he left.
Out in the hallway, Gy'Cham and Kimara stood, before them was the window to the quarantine room which held their friend and shipmate, Brian. He lay upon a diagnostic table. Several patches of newly regenerated skin shone on what was visible of his face and arms. His chest slowly rising and falling, but beyond that, there was no movement. Shortly, their silent vigil was joined by Cam and Kenna'La. All four officers quietly and anxiously kept watch over their friend.
Sparrowhawk entered his ready room and sank down onto the couch exhaustedly. He let the silence of the chamber begin to envelop him and he felt himself sinking into a welcome rest. Mercilessly, his comm badge then beeped at him. "Sparrowhawk."
Security Chief Tarkins voice erupted into the silence "Sir I have something you'll find interesting. I've sent it up to the computer in your ready room so when you're ready you can look at it."
"Thank you." The Captain returned tiredly. He reached over the arm of the couch and activated the little screen on the side table. He recognized the image that came up as that of the brig with the ten Taski prisoners still incarcerated. The time stamp on the recording was just prior to their being spirited away.
All ten suddenly looked up at the ceiling in unison then, one of their number, their leader, she looked directly at the hidden security camera and smiled. A chill ran down his spine, the secret hand gesture she flashed, as the transport beam took hold, he knew all too well. I'll be back.