“I can’t fix it.”
The sturdy Bolian was never one to mince words, and these were the first out of Ashok’s mouth after he’d sat down across from Lar’ragos at the ready room’s desk.
Lar’ragos nodded fractionally. “I’d feared as much, Lieutenant. I’m guessing that our Bynars haven’t had any luck in—“
“I didn’t say it couldn’t be fixed, sir,” Ashok cut him off mid-sentence, an unheard of event for the fastidiously polite engineer. “I said I
can’t fix it.”
A brief silence passed as Lar’ragos paused to absorb the full weight of Ashok’s revelation. “Then who can?”
Ashok’s bald head tilted slightly, his expression incredulous. “Respectfully, sir, we both know that only one person can make the drive work as designed. Sandhurst.”
Lar’ragos eased farther back into his chair, blowing out a slow breath. “Right. Well, that’s clearly beyond my ability to arrange at the moment.”
“There is one other possibility… though I hesitate to bring it up.” Ashok looked almost pained at his own admission.
Lar’ragos caught a flash from the ether, a split-second image of a face. “Wait… what? Really? I thought he was out. Gone, I mean, on some kind of interdimensional walkabout.”
Ashok’s eyes widened. “Sir, I really hate it when you do that. It’s like having my mind read without my consent.”
An actual blush colored Pava’s cheeks as the captain appeared suitably mortified. “Yeah, sorry… it just sort of happens. So… uh, the boy-genius is back in uniform?”
“The rumor through the fleet’s engineering grapevine is that Crusher’s just finished his academy qualifications. Of course, even if we could somehow get him assigned to Vanguard, it’d be six-to-nine months before he’d make it out here.”
“And even then we’d have no guarantee he’d be able to figure it out.” Lar’ragos drummed his fingers on the table top absently while he mulled that over. “Faster and more efficient to just request his assignment to Starbase Bastion. He can troubleshoot the drive equations from a holodeck there, and we won’t waste half a year with him on ice.”
“Agreed,” Ashok said simply.
“Here’s hoping the wunderkind
lives up to his reputation,” Lar’ragos muttered.
Ashok smirked. “He’s actually thirty years old now, sir.”
kids to me, Lieutenant.”
“Fair point, Captain,” Ashok allowed. “Permission to take the transwarp modifications offline? Even limited to conventional warp, we’re still one of the fastest starships out here.”
The yellow alert tell-tails began to flash overhead and Pell’s voice called out, "Yellow alert. Senior staff to the bridge.”
Lar’ragos led Ashok out of the compartment and onto the bridge, assuming the command chair as Pell moved to an auxiliary console. The Bajoran reported, “Sensors have detected what looks very much like a Borg transwarp conduit forming one-point-seven million kilometers from Alanthal, Captain.”
“On screen,” Lar’ragos ordered, finding himself looking at a non-descript volume of space after a moment.
“The aperture isn’t visible yet, sir,” the ensign at the Science station noted as Shanthi stepped off the turbolift behind him.
Georgia Kirk arrived and slid into the Ops chair, checking her readings as she ran a series of diagnostics on all sensor systems. Dominic Leone manned the Tactical station just behind Pava’s seat and inquired, “Defensive posture, Captain?”
“Shields up, and bring all weapons online. Warm up one of the Alpha Weapons, one of the gravitic pulse ones…” he brought his hands together theatrically. “…the crushy thingies.”
Leone smirked. “Aye, sir. Withdrawing one gravitic distortive pulse initiator from the armory. I’ll need you and Commander Wu’s access codes.”
“Here,” Wu announced as she exited the fore ‘lift and made a beeline for her seat to the right of Lar’ragos.
“XO, enter our Alpha release authorizations while I coordinate with the Klingons.” Lar’ragos gestured to Ops. “Open a channel to their flagship.”
“Channel open,” Kirk advised.
“Brigadier Gan’Louk, our sensors indicate the likely opening of a Borg transwarp corridor near us in the next few minutes. We’re uploading our telemetry to our joint TacNet. Be advised, this is probably Sandhurst’s tribe, and our goal is to make friendly contact with them. Please order your troops to hold their fire unless fired upon.”
The general’s voice, as gruff as ever, replied, “My men have standing orders to that effect, Captain. No one dares fire without my express permission.”
“Acknowledged,” Lar’ragos replied, “Europa
A full three-quarters of the Klingon armada vanished behind their cloaking fields as they redeployed in a defensive picket opposing the projected Amon route of advance.
And suddenly, there it was, a mammoth Borg cube that seemed to have extruded into the universe with scarcely a ripple.
“Sensor contact, Borg cube,” Kirk alerted, managing to keep her voice even.
“Cube measures twenty-eight cubic kilometers in volume, sir,” Shanthi called out from Sciences. “By size, it’s identified as a standard assimilation vehicle, but its power readings are several orders of magnitude greater than other observed cubes of this size.”
“How do those readings compare with our logs of the previously encountered Amon cube?” Wu inquired pointedly.
A brief pause followed, broken by Shanthi’s assessment, “Exact match, sir.”
The cube continued to approach Alanthal at sublight, the facets of the mighty vessel radiating a riot of colors bleeding through the superstructure from deep within.
“It’s certainly more colorful than a standard Borg vessel,” Pell noted from the chair to Lar’ragos’ left.
Lar’ragos spared her a disbelieving look. “Really? ‘It’s pretty’ is your contribution to our First Contact assessment?”
Pell grinned. “We haven’t got them talking yet, Captain.”
Kirk touched a hand to the tiny earpiece in her right ear. “Incoming hail from the cube, audio only.”
“Put it through,” Lar’ragos instructed, sharing a brief, hopeful look with Pell.
“Klingon and Federation vessels, our intent is non-hostile. Do not interfere in our recovery operations, and we will leave you in peace.”
Lar’ragos toggled the comms interface on his armrest. “Amon vessel, this is Commander Lar’ragos of the starship Europa
. I have been authorized by the Federation to make contact with your species and to open negotiations for a potential pact against the Amon tribe that is carrying out attacks on the Alpha Quadrant.”
A long silence followed.
A sliver of light appeared along one facet of the cube, a growing opening that revealed itself to be a docking bay. “Federation ship
Europa, you may dock within our vessel after we have recalled our collection arrays. We will hear your proposal.”
Pell’s countenance was troubled, despite the invitation. “That seemed too easy.”
Lar’ragos nodded slowly. “Legitimate or not, it’s what we came here to do. Get Liu to meet us at Airlock Three.” He stood, making eye contact with Leone. “Dom, you’re coming with. No weapons,” he added.
Leone’s objection died in his throat as Lar’ragos gestured to the outlandishly large cube dominating the viewscreen. “We’re not shooting our way out of this if it goes badly.”
* * *