'Homecoming' By Jack Elmlinger Through the viewport of his ready room aboard the starship Wanderer, Jacen Tullar saw the muddy red-brown sphere of Mars slowly rotate, thousands of kilometers away and he couldn't help but smile at the realization that he was back in the Sol System. Located just off the bridge of the Ambassador class starship that he had commanded now for the last six years, his ready room was his sanctum sanctorum. He stood on the raised section of floor located beneath three wide, sloping viewports. There were couches beneath the viewports but Tullar stood there with his arms crossed over his chest. He had spent those six years of command, leading his ship through hell and high water. He had fought the Klingons, the Cardassians, the Dominion, and most horrifically, the Borg. His time in command had also brought the planet Destara into the Federation, made First Contact with two newly warp-capable species and here he was, back home. The Wanderer had visited Earth in the intervening years, of course, but there was something about this return to the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards for a major overhaul that felt... final. Like he had finished his mission. Like it had been a success and his ship, after years of exploration and combat, was finally getting a chance to rest. The Ambassador class starship had come into spacedock barely half an hour before he had a chance to get started on the required paperwork. Mentally, he decided that the first thing he should do would be to grant his crew's leave requests. Wanderer would be in dock for the next couple of months, at least, and that would be long enough for most of the people under his command to get back to their home worlds for some rest and relaxation. Sighing, he turned away from the viewport and headed down the steps from the raised level. The walls of his ready room were decorated with memorabilia from his career in Starfleet; framed portraits of many of the ships that he'd served on, a painting presented to him by the new Destaran ambassador upon his world's entrance into the United Federation of Planets, a copy of his graduation diploma from Starfleet Academy, and a few other bits and pieces of Human and alien, mostly Destaran, objet d'art that he collected over the years. It's starting to get a little cluttered in here, he thought as he sat down in the seat behind his desk. He had put on a little weight, he realized, and made a mental note to try and lose it by the time that the ship would be ready to get under way again. Activating his desk terminal, he brought up the folder of leave requests. He was about to start work on them when his combadge chirped. "Red Alert! Captain Tullar to the bridge!," came the harsh bark of his First Officer. Jacen was on his feet, a second later, and hurtling through the door onto the bridge. The door shooshed open for him and he stepped through it into a world of chaos. By all rights, his crew should've been more relaxed since they were safely ensconced in spacedock. Instead, the bridge, the nerve center of his ship, was a hive of activity. More significantly, the lights were dimmed and Red Alert lights blinked crimson. "What the hell's going on here, Susan?," he demanded as he crossed the bridge towards the captain's seat. The tall, brunette woman that had been his right-hand woman for the last six years got to her feet as he approached. Commander Susan Murphy, his First Officer and trusted friend, said," Starfleet's just ordered all spaceworthy ships out of spacedock. It seems we've got ourselves an emergent situation, sir." "Any clue what it is?" "No, sir," the commander admitted," but I've already begun disengaging us from the spacedock and powering up our warp engines. Starfleet's mobilizing every ship in Sector 001." Jacen's blood froze. "Whatever it is, this must be big." "Yes, sir," she agreed with him. "And I can only think of one thing that would elicit this kind of reaction from Command." He shared a significant look with her. "The Borg." Wanderer was speeding away from Utopia Planitia at maximum impulse just moments after leaving spacedock. Seated in the center seat, Tullar couldn't help but squeeze the arms of his command chair so tightly that he thought his fingers might break. To his right sat Susan and the seat to his left was unoccupied. In front of his say his senior flight controller, James Lawson, and his operations officer and second officer, Aquiel Uhnari, at their respective posts. Behind him, Science Officer Selana and Nolin Kriyn, his long-time tactical officer, would be waiting at their posts. The tension on the bridge was palpable among his senior staff and the rest of the crew. They had all fought the Borg before, twice now, and still, they were all terrified of them. They have every right to be, Jacen thought. He didn't need to be a Betazoid to sense that the same tension and terror permeated through the entire ship and probably throughout the entire Sol System. Already half a dozen ships had gathered at the rendezvous point, all of them on full alert and with their weapons charged. "Do we have any more data from Starfleet Command?," asked Tullar. "Yes, sir," Uhnari responded, the young Haliian woman's voice catching in her throat. "Massive subspace distortions matching the frequencies of Borg transwarp conduits have been detected in the outer reaches of the system." "This could be the invasion we've been worrying about for years," Kriyn remarked from Tactical. "Any idea on how many cubes, Commander?," the Captain asked Uhnari, ignoring the Bolian's doom and gloom. "No, sir, but considering the size of the distortion..." Jacen shut his eyes for a second as she trailed off, blocking the rising panic in his chest. He knew the Borg better than most, having once been their 'guest' for a week and having spent several fear-filled days as a resident of a timeline overrun by them where they had successfully prevented the launch of Zefram Cochrane's warp ship, the Phoenix. He and his crew had escaped assimilation then, but only by the skin of their teeth and they would now. "Kriyn, I want all power to the shields. Load all torpedo bays and charge all phaser banks," he ordered, looking over his shoulder at him for a moment before looking ahead again. "Mr. Lawson, standby for evasive maneuvers. Aquiel, patch us into the fleet's transmissions. As soon as they've come up with a strategy, I want us to be acting flawlessly in concert with it. Selana, what can you tell me about these distortions?" "Little more than Commander Uhnari could," the Vulcan woman answered him. "It matches our records for a distortion caused by Borg transwarp conduits, though it is significantly larger and more concentrated than any that we have seen in the past." "What about the nature of the conduit itself?," Tullar asked her. "Could there be any way that we could collapse it or destabilize it once it's been opened?" Or before, he silently added. "None that I can gather from these readings, sir," Selana said, delivering her grim announcement with her standard, uninflected tone. Tullar envied her emotional control and not for the first time. "Ok," he said, taking a deep breath. "Patch me into ship-wide." "Channel open," Commander Murphy assured him. He was speaking to the entire ship now. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Captain speaking. As I'm sure you've already surmised, we've been ordered out of spacedock and into the face of an emerging threat to the Sol System. It's my solemn duty to inform you that we believe this threat to be linked to the Borg. You're all well-trained, consummate professionals. Many of you have fought the Borg before and the rest surely know what to expect. Be assured that we're not alone in this fight. More than two dozen ships stand ready to defend Earth, Mars, and the rest of the Alpha Quadrant. Stay at your posts and stand by for combat. Tullar out." With a slashing motion across his throat, he signalled Murphy to cut the channel. "Sir," Uhnari said suddenly," the conduit is opening." "On screen." The forward viewscreen shimmered into life. There was a starscape displayed, studded with various starships. Jacen spotted the Venture, a Galaxy class behemoth, and the Merrimack, a Nebula class science ship, among a few smaller ships, but he realized that the gathered fleet, though rapidly swelling in size, would be no match for a full Borg invasion. They wouldn't match up much to even a single cube. And then, just beyond the fleet, an anomaly burst into life like a sickly green blossom amongst the stars. The bridge crew collectively held its breath and Jacen imagined the same thing happening throughout the solar system... and then a single Borg sphere emerged. A second afterwards, the anomaly collapsed. Tullar's pulse pounded in his ears, remembering how long and hard Wanderer had fouhgt against a Borg sphere, not a year earlier in the Beta Arduchi system. It had been a sphere that had already suffered heavy damage at the hands of a Romulan task force. This time, it was a fully-armed and operational sphere and he had no doubt that though it was much smaller than the cubes that the Federation had suffered such great losses against in the past, it was nonetheless a very real and present danger. "Kriyn, I want firing solutions on that sphere now," he ordered. "Prepare a full spread of quantum torpedoes. Lieutenant Uhnari, do we have anything from Command as far as a fleet strategy goes?" May the Great Bird spare me from bumbling admirals. "Captain," Selana said suddenly before the Haliian could answer him," the sphere is exploding." "What?!" The fleet hadn't even opened fire yet. "My God," Susan said from beside him. They watched, dumbfounded, as the sphere erupted into azure flames. It flew apart, nothing but a momentary fireball, before it was gone. From the conflagration flew a small ship and Jacen strained to make it out against the flames. There was no mistaking that familiar saucer-shaped primary hull and pair of nacelles... "It's one of ours," Ensign Lawson said in disbelief. "Intrepid class." "Intrepid class?," Susan repeated but realization dawned on her. "It couldn't be..." "Voyager," Lawson said, finishing the First Officer's thought. He checked his readout. "It is. It's them!" Relief flooded over Tullar. He knew that Voyager had been lost in the Delta Quadrant for the last seven years, trapped in the farthest reaches of space, far from home and facing hostile alien species with no kind of support from Starfleet. He hadn't followed their story in the press as closely as he would have liked but he knew the basics. Wanderer's captain also knew that they should still have been very near the terminus of the border between the Beta and Delta Quadrants, still tens of thousands of light-years away from Federation space. And now here they were. They were home and delivered there in the middle of a Borg sphere, nonetheless. "We're getting a transmission from Command," Aquiel announced, barely suppressing a relieved giggle. "All ships are ordered to secure from Red Alert and stand down from defensive postures." On the screen, Jacen saw the plucky little starship speed towards the waiting arms of its Federation brethern and he couldn't help but join the rest of the bridge crew in a grin. "By all means, Commander, do as they say," he ordered," and tell Captain Janeway that she and her crew are welcome home." "Aye, sir." "Mr. Lawson, set a course.... for home..." The End.