Star Trek: Wolf

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Greysun, Aug 22, 2017.

  1. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    This story is set in a 24th Century version of the Kelvinverse. I wanted to write a Trek story that was more of a blend between sci fi and horror. I hope you find it enjoyable...

    (I had some formatting problems importing my story into the message board. I've tried fixing it, but I've only had limited success so far. Please forgive me if I missed anything.)


    STAR TREK: WOLF

    By Greysun Tegg-Ironsnow


    Chapter One

    Lieutenant Eddowes thought back to the horror movies he had watched with his brother as he saw the Borg cube transit the blood-red disk of Wolf 359. That diamond-shaped, malignant silhouette filled him with fear as it grew steadily larger on the viewer. When he was a child back on Earth he’d enjoyed the illusions of safety like hiding under a blanket or the reassuring knowledge that his parents were downstairs. When a particularly scary movie ended his brother would make fun of it, putting the young Eddowes at ease so he could drift off to sleep.
    He was no coward, but he dreaded the notion of assimilation. Giving his life to defend the Federation was something he could accept, but being transformed into a zombie was a notion that sickened him. He had been on many missions with Admiral Hanson and from time to time they had engaged some hostile species, but he had never faced anything like this. Usually they only experienced brief skirmishes that were solved by Admiral Hanson's diplomatic talents.
    “Starfleet hasn't faced an enemy like this since the destruction of Vulcan,” Hanson had told them as they headed out to intercept the Borg cube. “Vulcan fell, but we will not allow Earth to conquered by the Borg.”
    The Admiral's orders had sounded less confident moment by moment as the Geneva shuddered underneath them. They had broken away from the questing Borg tractor beam twice, the second time with great difficulty and moderate damage. Jean-Luc Picard's Borg-mutilated face had been a menacing constant on the main viewer since they had arrived in the Wolf 359 system. The gruesome state of one of Starfleet's greatest captains had made Eddowes' skin crawl.
    At least the Admiral had finally switched that horrific image off, instead talking to Captain Riker on the Enterprise, trying to bring him up to speed on the battle. Eddowes saw the grave concern on Riker's face, his eyes wide as he watched the Geneva shake under the Borg onslaught. His own attack had failed and the knowledge that Admiral Hanson's fleet was being torn apart was devastating news.
    Forward shields were close to failing when Hanson had begun his transmission. Eddowes could see they wouldn't be able to slip free of the Borg tractor beam a third time. The Admiral was in the middle of instructing the Enterprise to rendezvous at the fleet's fall back position when the cube locked on and struck the bridge of the Geneva with their cutting beam.
    Eddowes actually saw it out of the corner of his eye – a great column of green energy that melted through the side of the bridge, burning through the turbolift doors. Main power went offline and the emergency force fields failed to engage, so the bridge of the Geneva decompressed. Airless cold clamped down on him as he fought to hang onto his console, but it was no use. Eddowes was sucked from his seat at the helm and flung into what was left of the shattered view screen. For an instant he saw that the beam had sliced through the Admiral's chair, searing him into smoking pieces that were scattered about the ruined bridge.
    Lieutenant Eddowes could taste the warm, salty flavor of his own blood as his face was bashed into the jagged remnants of the main viewer. He could feel his broken teeth spill out of his mouth. There was pain but oddly it was distant and unimportant compared to the sadness that welled up in him during his last few seconds of consciousness. He lamented the death of the USS Geneva, remembering how beautiful the Galaxy class ship had looked when he first saw her from a dock window at Deep Space 5. Now she was being brutally vivisected, bleeding atmosphere and crew members into space as she died. Hopefully he would be dead along with her. Better dead than assimilated... the thought brought him a strange feeling of relief. Merciful blackness embraced him and the hellish scene of wreckage and flying bodies ceased.
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2017
    CeJay likes this.
  2. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Chapter Two

    “Commander?”
    A voice, soft sheets, vague sounds of... a medbay?
    “Commander Eddowes, can you hear me?”
    His eyes opened and he found he was lying on a bio bed, a Doctor in a blue medical uniform was standing over him. Behind her was a group of three anxious engineering officers whispering to each other.
    “Admiral, I think he might be ready to speak with you now,” the medical officer was addressing someone sitting right next to Eddowes' bed. He turned his head to see the congenial, smiling face of Admiral Erik Pressman beaming down at him.
    “How do you feel?” Pressman asked him. “Allan, it's Erik Pressman, remember me? Just take it easy, Commander.”
    “Lieutenant...” Eddowes managed.
    “Not anymore, my friend,” Pressman assured him. “You've been promoted. It's Commander Eddowes now. I know it's been a long time, but given the circumstances – ”
    “How... alive?” Eddowes' throat felt strange. His mind was sluggish, struggling for each word. “Where?”
    “We'll get to that, Commander,” Pressman told him. “Give yourself a little time to get your bearings. When the team says you're ready, come see me. We've got a lot to discuss.”
    “Borg - !” Eddowes’ hands clenched into fists as everything came flooding back to him.
    “Easy, Mr. Eddowes,” Pressman gripped his arm. “there's no cause for alarm. You're safe on board the Pegasus. There's no Borg threatening my ship, I can promise you that.”
    “What... why?”
    “Captain Riker pulled off a last minute save,” Pressman explained as he stood to leave. “I'm sure you remember him from when you served here.”
    Eddowes nodded as panic ebbed from his jumbled mind.
    “Who would've thought?” the Admiral asked, laughing a bit. “Ensign Babyface saves the world. Hell, he saved the Federation. Riker and Picard, if you can believe it. Rest now, come and see me when you're feeling better. We've got a lot of ground to cover, a lot of work ahead of us.”
    Admiral Pressman spoke with the three engineers and the medical officer briefly, whispering and nodding. Eddowes closed his eyes and drifted off.

    The next time he awoke he did feel better. Everything seemed to click into place and he sat up in bed, looking around. He saw other patients laid out near him, all of them unconscious. The medical officer approached him again.
    “Commander Eddowes, good,” she said. She offered her hand and Eddowes got out of his bed and stood up. “I'm Doctor Foster. How are you feeling now?”
    “Much better,” Eddowes told her slowly. “Less confused. “
    His fingertips traced the undamaged contours of his face with gratitude. He looked into the instrument panel and saw his reflection – it looked like he was fully healed.
    “This is incredible, Doctor,” he marveled. “I thought I was a dead man. You not only saved my life, but you saved my face as well. I've never felt so good.”
    “It wasn't just me,” Foster admitted. “Please move cautiously. You've been through one hell of an ordeal.”
    “Are there any other survivors from the Geneva here?” Eddowes asked anxiously.
    “A few,” Foster answered somberly. “There weren't many of you that were... salvageable.”
    “How were we rescued?” Eddowes couldn't understand, given his last memories, how he could possibly be alive.
    “I'll let the Admiral explain that,” Foster replied, touching her com badge. “Foster to Pressman, Commander Eddowes has recovered and he would like to speak with you.”
    “Send him up to the observation lounge,” Pressman replied.
    “Acknowledged,” Foster stepped toward the medbay doors. “If you'll come with me, Sir - “
    “I served on this ship for two years, Doctor,” Eddowes said, feeling more confident now. “I know the way, thank you.”
    He walked into the corridor, somewhat surprised by how good he felt. No aches or stiffness, no pain in his face at all. He ran his tongue through his mouth and found no missing teeth. His heart was still heavy as he thought of the staggering loss of life that had been inflicted on the Federation at Wolf 359; but he couldn't help feeling relieved that he had survived and was still in one piece. It just mystified him, given his injuries and situation on the Geneva...
    Eddowes rode the turbolift up to the Pegasus observation lounge. Admiral Pressman was the only person there, standing before the wide transparent aluminum view port. Eddowes stopped short, caught off guard by what he saw. It was the daunting crimson orb of Wolf 359, it had to be. Its dull red glow struck terror into him and a sensation of irrational panic stabbed into his mind. He got control of himself after a moment and went to stand next to his former captain.
    As he took in the view what bothered him the most was the debris. The wreckage from Admiral Hanson's fleet had drifted around the star and settled into a rough ring or arc that passed in front of the red disk as a tangled black jumble of broken starship fragments.
    “It's... it's a graveyard,” Eddowes whispered coarsely.
    “Yes, Mr. Eddowes, that it is,” Pressman agreed, “but the tribute to honor all of those fallen officers is going to be a monumental undertaking.”
    “What tribute, Sir? What do you mean?”
    “Have a seat, Commander, and we'll get started.”
    “It is an awful sight... all these hulks settled into this rough orbit,” Eddowes commented, shaking his head. “We had ships all over the system during the battle.”
    “We helped a little bit to make sure they were gathered together,” Pressman explained. “We've been at this for a little over a two years now.”
    He absorbed that information in silence, but was shocked that two years had gone by since the battle. The two officers watched the broken shapes drift in front of the star in silence for a few minutes. The realization that the Pegasus was in the Wolf 359 system, seeing those ruined ships and his miraculous recovery had his mind racing.
    “The Federation has suffered a tremendous loss,” Admiral Pressman stated sadly. “It will be a long and difficult road to get our fleet back to full strength. Our enemies aren't just going to patiently wait, they are already moving to take advantage of our weakness.
    “The Federation Council has decided to take some drastic measures to protect our citizens. I have argued for years that we need to change our thinking, adapt to the new challenges we face. For a long time no one in Starfleet or the Federation Council would listen to me. They thought my ideas were too extreme, too dangerous. In the aftermath of this terrible disaster they have finally reconsidered their position.”
    Pressman leaned forward and looked down at the table for a moment. Eddowes could see that the awful sight of all those ruined ships outside the window troubled Pressman greatly. After a long pause the Admiral ran his hand over his smooth head and looked up at him again. When he continued, his voice bore a trace of anger.
    “It's regrettable that it took a loss of this magnitude to alter Starfleet's thinking, but here we are. I've been running some secret operations for certain people in Starfleet Intelligence for a number of years now. Over time, I've modified the Pegasus and taken her places where we've been able to harness some very advanced technology. This has been done in strict secrecy, keeping details even from the Federation Council until now.”
    “Secret operations?” Eddowes asked, concerned. “I've heard rumors about a Section 31 organization, is that what you're you referring to, Sir?”
    “No, no, no,” Pressman said with a laugh, his friendly smile returning. “31 was real enough, but they were amateurs – they didn't go far enough in my opinion. Like I said, the Federation Council has decided it's time for real change, not just some clowns in black outfits sneaking around here and there.”
    Pressman touched his com badge.
    “Pressman to Saltridge.”
    “Saltridge here, Sir.”
    “Take us over so we can get a look at her.”
    “Right away, Admiral.”
    “Saltridge, that sounds like - “
    “That's right, Allan. She was the Tactical Officer of the Geneva. Now she'll be serving as Tactical Officer on the Wolf. Friend of yours?”
    “Yes, actually, we served together on the bridge for over a year,” he smiled. “Glad to hear that she made it out as well. I'm sure you already know the Geneva's bridge was cut to pieces by the Borg.”
    Eddowes felt a little relief in hearing the voice of another surviving comrade. He was also glad when the scene outside the view port changed. Wolf 359 and the transiting debris field drifted out of sight, but certainly not out of his mind.
    “I'm going to let you in on this because I know I can trust you. You served this ship very well for two years and I was glad when they saw your potential and posted you on the Geneva. Admiral Hanson's command was good for your career and that experience has led you here.
    “Commander, we have a mission that may startle you, but I assure you it is necessary. Do you know much about World War 2?”
    “Sure, I've read some of the history, seen a few of the old vids.”
    “You ever hear of the Doolittle Raid?”
    “Can't say that I have, Sir.”
    “America thought it was important to retaliate immediately after the Pearl Harbor surprise attack. They wanted to demonstrate that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air power. So they sent a force of B-25B bombers to inflict some damage on the enemy. We have a similar mission ahead of us now.”
    “You can't mean – attack the Borg?” Eddowes was incredulous. “Respectfully, Sir, that's insane. We've only just barely survived this invasion! Provoking them is suicide, trust me I've fought that battle already! How could we hope to do any significant damage to them? Why would the Federation Council ever consider such a proposal?”
    “They've already agreed to the proposal, Mr. Eddowes,” Pressman informed him with a sly smile. “Don't worry about that. I'm not offended by your objection, it's rational and well founded. Starfleet should be busy licking its wounds and tending to matters at home. It is crazy to go and pick a fight with the Borg. But that's just what we're going to do. After Vulcan was consumed by the black hole, did the Enterprise flee and regroup with the fleet?”
    “No, Sir,” Eddowes admitted, growing a bit distant. The mention of Vulcan made Eddowes think of Admiral Hanson's speech before their ill fated mission. He hoped this wasn't another lost cause, but so far Pressman's idea sounded even more suicidal than Hanson's mission.
    “They pursued Nero and destroyed his ship before he could destroy Earth. That's the same spirit that Riker had when he took on the Borg cube. We can't cower before an enemy like the Borg. We have to show them we mean business! We have to impair their ability to make war on us. To that end, we've planned something similar to the Doolittle Raid.”
    A ship came into view and the Pegasus drew closer to it. Eddowes could see it was a Starfleet vessel, but it didn't look like any he had ever seen. It appeared as if construction was almost complete, there were only a few teams still working outside the hull. The primary hull was oddly formed, being six sided instead of a smooth circle. Two massive phaser lances ran along the port and starboard edges of this stretched hexagon. A large secondary hull with four impulse engines embedded in the aft section was attached directly to the rear of the primary without a pylon in between.
    Three warp nacelles were attached to the secondary hull with long, thick pylons. Two engines below, one above the primary. The top nacelle stretched forward almost as far as the bridge. The leading tip of each nacelle was capped with a reflective black hemisphere. Eddowes tried to see if there were any identifying markings, but the traditional registry number and name were missing from the primary hull.
    “What class ship is this, Sir?” he asked.
    Wolf class, Mr. Eddowes,” Pressman told him proudly. “That is the USS Wolf. She's the flag ship of our little fleet. There are other Wolf Class ships being constructed here right now. The Vulcan, the Deneva and the Malurian. The Malurian and Wolf are virtually complete. The other two will be ready for duty in a matter of months.”
    “You named them after disasters,” Eddowes observed as the Pegasus flew in a shallow arc around the new ship. At one point he saw a bright object some distance beyond the Wolf and assumed it must be one of the other ships Pressman mentioned. “This is quite a project, Sir....”
    “You haven't seen anything yet, Mister,” Pressman boasted, his grin widening. “The Wolf class ships are beyond anything that the Federation has previously built. They are specially equipped to teach the Borg a lesson in manners.”
    “Pardon me, Sir,” Eddowes said carefully. “But that's quite a claim. After what I've seen during our battle...”
    He noticed the Wolf was getting larger in the view port. Much larger. Pressman's com badge chirped.
    “Saltridge to Pressman.”
    “How close are we?” the Admiral asked.
    “One thousand meters and closing, Sir.”
    “Then we had better ghost the Pegasus,” commented Pressman, standing and going over to look over his new ship. “Please join us when you're done up there.”
    Eddowes rose from his chair and joined Pressman by the view port. The Wolf got even closer, quickly filling the entire view port. Pressman simply folded his arms and smiled.
    “Sir,” Eddowes said when he couldn't stand it any longer. “Shouldn't you – ”
    At that point the Pegasus glided right into the Wolf. Eddowes was shocked when there was no impact of any kind. Instead he had a brief impression of decks and bulkheads before they emerged from the other side of the ship unscathed.
    “The phasing cloak is just one advantage my ships will have against foes like the Borg, Mr. Eddowes,” Pressman stated with his disarming smile. “We also have a few other surprises for them.”
    “So we're invisible and we're able to pass through normal matter?”
    “That's right.”
    “What about violating the Treaty of Algeron? Isn't this all illegal?”
    “This is about what's necessary, Commander,” Pressman responded, his mood darkening a little. “The Federation Council has decided that a crippled Starfleet facing a Neutral Zone swarming with warbirds can't afford to discard valuable technology. For our missions, that treaty will be null and void. Regular Starfleet vessels can do without the phasing cloak to maintain the illusion of compliance for the Romulans and our other adversaries. Our special clandestine fleet here, though, needs all the help it can get.”
    “How can you hope to keep this a secret? The sheer number of Starfleet personnel involved in the construction – ”
    “Secrecy won't be a problem, Mr. Eddowes,” Pressman told him, smirking. “There aren't really any Starfleet personnel involved in this shipyard. I've been quietly consolidating discoveries made on Omicron Theta, Exo 3 and a planet called Mudd. These ships are being built by legions of androids. Let me tell you, Allan, these androids know how to keep a secret.”
    “Androids? Like the Soong type – ”
    “Much more advanced than the Enterprise's Mr. Data, although some of the Soong technology was used. The androids work in perfect unison, 24 hours a day, executing my designs and instructions very precisely. They've also been invaluable at contributing to the revolutionary design of the Wolf class starships.”
    “But the resources required – ”
    “You already saw the raw material we're working with, Mr. Eddowes,” Pressman pointed out. “There's plenty of refined metals and other material out here we can work with. Waste not, want not.”
    “Do you mean to say you're actually mining a war grave for starship materials?!” Eddowes was on his feet. “That's outrageous, even for you! The men and women - “
    “Calm down, Commander,” Pressman replied sharply. “Acquiring the materials through normal channels would attract attention. This isn’t Utopia Planitia. We're supposed to be working in absolute secrecy here. The men and women that gave their lives fighting the Borg would support everything we're doing. Do you think they would want to go unavenged?”
    “The Federation isn't supposed to be about vengeance, Admiral,” Eddowes pointed out.
    “How can you see those broken hulls and not think about revenge?” Pressman challenged him. “The Federation can't afford to embrace its ideals of peaceful coexistence and still hope to survive against enemies like the Borg. Even if your morality is above revenge, wouldn't those people want their families to be protected from the Borg and monsters like them? They gave their lives to save Earth, would they want us to give up on the fight now?”
    “I don't think we're giving up – ”
    “Answer me this, Commander,” Pressman demanded. “Can Starfleet beat the Borg? Riker pulled a rabbit out of his hat, but he had Picard on the inside. So far that's a one time trick. In your personal experience, can a Starfleet vessel defeat a Borg vessel?”
    Eddowes sat back down. He felt a little drained, this was a lot to absorb. The Federation abandoning some of its key principles? He couldn't believe they would do that, even covertly. After centuries of maintaining such a high moral standard? Yet they had to face the fact that the Borg could send one or more cubes at any time to finish what they started. Again, the very idea of assimilation filled Eddowes with dread.
    “No,” he admitted. “Starfleet cannot beat the Borg as it is, I've seen that for myself. I still don't feel right about using battle wrecks to construct new ships.”
    “Humans have had to do exactly that all through history,” Pressman pointed out. “In wartime resources are precious. We miss the comrades that we lost, but what good will all that metal do just drifting out in space?”
    “A war grave could be a dignified memorial that would inspire – ”
    “That's what the Federation public believes this is, a memorial like the old wreck of the USS Arizona in Hawaii was. But in truth, the best memorial we can give those people is to make sure the Borg steer clear of Federation space,” Pressman insisted earnestly. “If we follow my plan there's a good possibility we can do that. Will you help me? I need you on this, Allan.”
    “How can I help you?” Eddowes asked despondently. “I'm no genius engineer or inventor.”
    “You're a loyal, experienced officer - something I sorely need right now.”
    “The androids aren't good enough to serve on a starship?”
    “Oh, they can serve,” Pressman assured him, giving him an odd look. “and physically they are more than qualified. But they lack vital experience. As you know, being a bridge officer involves a lot more than technical knowledge.”
    The Pegasus had completed a loop around the Wolf and now came to a stop in front of it. Eddowes thought the ship looked ferocious from this angle, they were lingering just below the hexagonal primary hull. The two giant phaser lances on either side of the hull stared down at them like the menacing eye sockets of a skull. Eddowes could make out a forward torpedo bay installed on the underside of the hexagon, just behind the sharp forward point.
    “I want you to serve as First Officer on the Wolf, Mr. Eddowes,” Pressman told him, going back over to the view port to admire his creation. “Are you with me?”
    “If the mission will protect people from the Borg,” Eddowes answered slowly. “If we can really do what you're suggesting, I would be on board for that. But I need one question answered before we go any further.”
    “I've already drawn up your orders, Commander,” Pressman told him, brushing aside his reservation. “What more is there?”
    “Sir, I must insist on knowing how I was rescued from the Geneva,” Eddowes said, looking Pressman in the eye, letting him know he wouldn't take no for an answer.
    The Admiral tried to hold Eddowes' gaze, but he couldn't. Pressman sighed and looked out the window silently for a long time. Eddowes was almost ready to ask him again when he finally started to explain.
    “Allan,” he said, his voice actually breaking a little. “You didn't survive the battle.”
    “Sir, I understand I must have been resuscitated, I was exposed to space after all. But the reconstructive surgery – ”
    “There was no miraculous surgery, Mr. Eddowes,” Pressman said, turning to face him. “You died. We retrieved your mostly intact dead body from the hulk of the Geneva. We almost discarded you when we saw you had a head wound, but I'm glad we realized it was just your face that was smashed. Using a technique that combined technology from Exo 3, Omicron Theta and Mudd, your brain spent the better part of a month in a highly advanced quantum interference imaging unit. There were other technologies employed and eventually we were able to transfer your consciousness to this superior android version of your original body.”
    Eddowes laughed. Pressman frowned and looked down at his hands. Finally he looked up and smiled, but it was a melancholy smile. After a moment, Eddowes stopped laughing.
    “There was a funeral for you back on Earth,” Pressman told him. “Your mother and brother buried your actual body in a cemetery back in Willoughby, Ohio, after we were done with it.”
    “Done with it?!” Eddowes shouted, stunned by the revelation. “Buried! My family thinks I'm DEAD?!”
    “I know, I know,” Pressman said, putting his hands up defensively. “Believe me, Allan, it was tough to take this course, but there was no other alternative. You're a perfect operative, for a variety of reasons. Trust me – ”
    The words trust me only enraged him further. His android body reacted on some instinctive level and the next thing he knew his right eyeball made a soft sucking sound as it retracted into his head. Eddowes saw his faint reflection in the view port and realized his eye had moved aside to reveal a weapon implanted in his skull. A tactical display blinked into his field of vision, the reticle fixed on Pressman's bald head. It was initially green for a second, but immediately turned red.
    He could sense this was a phaser weapon, but he couldn't get a nadion pulse to fire for some reason. Pressman didn't show any fear, he simply folded his arms and waited. The reticle stayed red, started blinking and finally vanished all together. Eddowes took a step forward with the intention of lifting the Admiral off of the deck and heaving him through the view port. Again, he felt like he was freezing up. He simply couldn't complete the action. Just then, the doors opened behind him.
    “Allan.”
    It was Susan Saltridge. He still stood frozen, trying to will himself into action.
    “Commander Eddowes, please stand down,” Susan told him. She didn't sound afraid or angry, just bored. “There's no point to what you're trying to do.”
    “She's right, Commander,” Pressman agreed, settling back into his seat. “You can't harm me, none of the androids can. Along with the consciousness transfer we imposed a couple of program imperatives. Nothing too terrible, just some protection for me and a strong adherence to secrecy where it concerns our missions.”
    “I can't believe this,” he said, his voice almost a snarl. “You've converted me into some kind of robot!”
    “What we've done,” Pressman yelled. “is turn a closed casket funeral back into a serving line officer! A lot of people had to work very hard to bring you back. Like the phasing cloak and some of our other innovations, I think you'll eventually agree this is all worth it to protect the people we love back on Earth. Think about that for a minute! What would you do to keep your mother and brother from being assimilated into the Borg Collective? How far would you go?”
     
  3. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Eddowes tried to relax. He felt like himself, but he also knew he was this... thing. He thought about his family and how he would likely never see them again. This was beyond anything he ever imagined when he signed up for Starfleet, but it seemed like he had little choice. The phaser muzzle in his empty eye socket deactivated and retracted, allowing the eyeball to push back into place. His paralysis abated and he backed up a few steps to stand next to Susan at the door.
    “Susan, Mr. Eddowes is going to be the new First Officer on the Wolf. Isn't that right, Mr. Eddowes?”
    Admiral Pressman leaned back and tented his fingers, his confident grin returning. The look on Pressman's face made Eddowes want to attack him all over again, but he resisted the urge. Any kind of retribution against him was impossible... for now at least.
    “Yes, Sir,” Eddowes agreed after a long silence. “It would appear to be the only option I have.”
    “Very sensible,” Pressman commended him. “Lieutenant Commander Saltridge is also reporting to the Wolf, you can go along with her. We've had one of the Wolf's shuttles onboard the Pegasus for an upgrade. She'll go over some of the general mission specifics as you return the shuttle to the Wolf. Until we meet again, Commander Eddowes.”
    Eddowes nodded at the Admiral and followed Saltridge into the corridor.
    “Are you....” he tried to ask her as they walked to the shuttle bay. “Have you been - ”
    “Yes, I'm one of the Risen, just like you,” she cut him off, sounding impatient. “One minute I'm at tactical firing a spread of photon torpedoes and the next I was bisected by a flying metal beam. I'm not sure if I suffocated or bled to death since I blacked out from the shock.”
    They were at the threshold of the launchbay. She stopped and faced him, adopting a tone he assumed was supposed to help him get past the horror of his new situation.
    “Allan, touch me,” she told him.
    “What do you mean? Why?”
    “Just touch my face or my arm.”
    He did as she asked, running his fingertips along her cheek. He gently gripped her arm. What he felt was warm and soft, just like it should be. He was still not reassured.
    “Can you tell I'm not an actual human?” she asked quietly, looking him in the eyes. “Look at me. Am I just some machine?”
    “You feel human enough,” Eddowes admitted, feeling his own arm. It felt completely natural, he'd never guess it wasn't true flesh. “You sound like the officer I knew on the Geneva.”
    They continued to the shuttle bay and Eddowes stopped in his tracks when he saw what was waiting for them. It was an oblong black ellipsoid sitting on three retractable legs. He could discern none of the usual shuttle features from this thing, although it was roughly the same size as a standard Starfleet shuttle.
    “What type of shuttle is this?”
    “This is one of the new Blackbody shuttles, designed for stealth,” Saltridge explained. She approached the shuttle and placed her hand on the hull. A circular opening appeared in the seamless flank of the ship and they climbed in. “Too small and not enough power for a phasing cloak. An unconventional design, but the Kite is fast and very tough to detect.”
    Once inside it looked similar to the kind of shuttle Eddowes was familiar with, but the controls were more suited to a fighter than a simple shuttle. He took the co-pilot's seat, preferring to let Saltridge fly this strange craft while he watched.
    “Shuttle Mississippi Kite departing Pegasus,” she informed the bridge. “Requesting permission to launch.”
    “Permission to launch granted,” came the response.
    He felt a slight bump as the landing gear retracted and they hovered for a moment. Saltridge input some commands and they lifted off the deck and out into space. The Wolf loomed above them, a menacing ghost manifested from the worst battlefield he had ever seen.
    “How can we ever re-enter society, have you thought about that?” Eddowes fidgeted as they flew closer to the Wolf. “We're doomed to be on eternal duty, even if our missions are successful! Pressman will never let us go. We can't even go on shore leave.”
    “We can pass a medical scan or even fool a transporter,” she advised him as she piloted the shuttle. “Shore leave isn't necessarily out of the question, but shore leave on Earth or a regular starbase is pretty doubtful. Explaining why we're still alive to curious authorities would be very problematic. But it's not so bad. We survived and we're as close to human as they could make us.”
    “Humans don't have phasers implanted in their skulls,” Eddowes noted sourly. “But I guess we'll need every edge we can get, given what we're facing. Attacking the Borg... we'll end up on the scrap heap anyway.”
    “It's one hell of a concept, an audacious mission to say the least,” Susan answered, bringing them up into the Wolf's shuttle bay. There were recessed arms in the belly of the secondary hull that were descending to bring them up. “Given the condition we were in, it's not like they could ask our permission. Going to our families for permission would destroy the secrecy of the project. Pressman has taken a lot of personal risks to assemble this small fleet. The Federation Council thinks it's important. I happen to agree with them. I can live with my current situation if it means protecting Earth from the Borg. Can you?”
    “Maybe,” Eddowes muttered grudgingly.
    “Good, because if you thought you were upset before there's an even worse line you're going to have to cross now.”
    “Umbilicals attached,” the bridge officer on the Wolf advised them.
    “Acknowledged,” replied Saltridge.
    The shuttle bay doors closed beneath them. A ramp extended out to the shuttle door.
    “Shuttle Mississippi Kite requesting permission to dock.”
    “Permission granted, Mississippi Kite, “welcome aboard.”
    Saltridge shut everything down and they sat for a moment in silence. The shuttle offered an impressive one hundred and eighty degree view of the Wolf's bay. The stealth features insulated the shuttle interior very effectively. Eddowes couldn't even hear the noises of the dock work going on around them.
    “You'll need to keep an open mind now, Allan,” Susan warned him, her tone deadly serious.
    “I'm not sure how many more surprises I can take today,” he replied miserably, putting his face in his hands.
    “You need to prepare for one more big one and you'll want to be a lot more reserved than you were with Admiral Pressman, understand?” She looked over at him, her face grim but determined. “Your awakening on board the Pegasus was a bizarre situation and Pressman understands that. Your behavior on that ship won't be held against you. But as soon as we set foot on the Wolf I'll be calling you Sir. You'll be expected to function as a proper First Officer and give proper respect to your Captain... no matter what.”
    He looked her right in the eyes, tired of this whole game.
    “All right, Saltridge, hit me with it then.”
    “Your Captain... ”
    She was visibly uncomfortable for the first time, looking down at the dark console. She took a couple of deep breaths. After a minute or so he couldn't take it anymore. It felt like the Kite's interior was closing in on him.
    “Obviously you're not going to find the right words,” he observed. “How bad can it be? Just say it.”
    “Allan, the Captain of the Wolf is a Borg.”
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2017
  4. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Chapter Three

    For the second time that day, Eddowes found himself laughing at what he'd been told.
    Saltridge sat calmly, her face absolutely serious, until the unwelcome notion sank in. Eddowes stopped laughing and stared at her, looking as if he was about to be sick. Luckily, his new body didn't seem capable of vomiting. His moment of nausea gradually passed, leaving him stunned and speechless.
    “Pressman wants to fight fire with fire,” Saltridge explained. “What Picard and Riker did to save Earth was an incredible achievement. We need commanders in this fleet that understand the Borg and exploit any weaknesses they may have.”
    “How did Starfleet come by a friendly Borg?” Eddowes inquired, extremely skeptical.
    “Not just one,” Saltridge corrected him. “Six Borg were retrieved after the cube was destroyed by the Enterprise. They attempted to flee the cube in a small sphere ship but the implanted sleep command disabled them as well. While the cube ultimately exploded due to the sleep command malfunction, the sphere was merely adrift with dormant Borg on board.
    “They were liberated from the collective and revived as individuals. As you might imagine, Starfleet has been busy debriefing them for some time now. Admiral Pressman managed to get three of the six assigned to the first ships he was building.”
    “How can we even think of trusting them?” Eddowes scoffed. “If they receive a Borg signal they could turn on us in an instant.”
    “The Admiral has had them modified to prevent anything like that,” Saltridge said. “But I believe – and I don't like saying this - the most effective safeguard we have is hate. They genuinely hate the Borg for enslaving their minds and violating their bodies. The three beings that Pressman selected were eager to volunteer if it meant getting revenge against their former captors.”
    “So he put them in command?” Eddowes asked, bewildered. “That's going too far to say the least. Taking orders from a Borg is unthinkable. I could maybe see them in an advisory capacity, but not as captains.”
    “There are other reasons these three candidates were suitable to command a starship. For starters, they were already captains before being assimilated. Are you ready for this? Like I said, once I open this hatch we'll be expected to behave like Starfleet officers, whatever we encounter. No matter what we've been through. You may have reservations, but she'll be a starship captain and she will demand respect and obedience. Do you truly think you can serve as first officer on this ship?”
    Eddowes thought about it for a long time. Saltridge sighed impatiently and looked out the view port to the busy loading dock that was just across from them. She was about to speak again when he answered her.
    “Yes,” he sighed, getting out of his chair. “Let's get this over with.”
    The hatch opened up and they climbed out onto the extended ramp. As soon as Eddowes' feet touched the deck of the Wolf he had a sudden sense that he needed to go to medbay. The feeling was very urgent.
    “This might sound crazy since we're androids and all,” Eddowes said. “But I feel like I need to go to medbay. Right now.”
    To his surprise, the suggestion that he was an ill android didn't bother Saltridge in the slightest. She simply nodded.
    “Go ahead, Sir,” she answered as they left the shuttle bay. “I am needed on the bridge. I'll see you later.”
    There was a turbolift shaft right outside of the bay. Eddowes noticed that the couple of crewmen he saw were dressed in what he thought were old 22nd Century MACO fatigues, the gray camouflage he remembered seeing in history class.
    “Medbay,” he said, stepping into the lift.
    “Bridge,” Saltridge said. “If you want to talk later, I can let you know when I'm off duty. If what you've learned so far has been disturbing, you might have some more questions.”
    A few seconds later he was stepping off the lift and heading into medbay as Susan continued up to the bridge. It was the smallest, least equipped medbay he had ever seen. Three biobeds and a glassed-in office for what looked like the only physician on board.
    An elderly Andorian in a lab coat, MACO uniform and glasses was leaning over the biobed closest to the office, his antennae bending forward as he tended to a patient. As Eddowes approached the Doctor fished a tricorder out of the pocket of his white coat and scanned the patient lying on the bed.
    Since there was an exam underway he backed off, stood by the door and waited, respecting the patient's privacy. After a couple of minutes, though, he felt compelled to come closer to the bed anyway. As he drew near he heard a loud female voice greet him.
    “Welcome aboard, Commander Eddowes.”
    The Doctor made a final adjustment with a tool Eddowes couldn't quite see and the patient sat up in the bed. Eddowes stopped in his tracks and took in the sight of his new captain.
    She was roughly humanoid, but with significant differences. Her uniform was another modified version of the old MACO style, without any emblems or rank insignias. Eddowes wasn't certain of her home world; he had never seen her species before. Her tall, muscular body shape suggested something like a cross between a Gorn and a Klingon. Her face resembled that of a human female, although the jaw and mouth were a little more pronounced. Her large eyes were a bright yellow, split by vertical pupils. Her skin was a dull gray and her lips were a dark purple. Instead of hair on her head the Captain had long, serrated black feathers glimmering with a violet iridescence that cascaded down past her shoulders.
    An irregular crown of silver Borg implants were visible peeking out between the feathers where they jutted from her skull. When she got up from the bed and stood before him, he saw she was very close to two and a half meters tall. Now that she was standing Eddowes could see other metallic implants at various points on her body and the sight of them made Eddowes shudder. She took a step towards him while the Andorian medical officer was still scanning a couple of implants embedded in her spine.
    That's when Eddowes noticed that the Captain had a tail.
    His commanding officer's long tail arched up behind her, reminding him of a scorpion's tail. It obviously had extensive cybernetic enhancements, implants studded its length ending in a dovetailed metal tip that looked like a large stinger. It swayed back and forth as she looked him over.
    “Commander Allan Eddowes, reporting for duty, Captain - ?” he said, resisting the urge to take a step back as she approached him. It was the first time he had reported to a command without even knowing the name of the commanding officer.
    “You may call me Stride,” she said, her voice surprising him now that he could see her better. It was pleasant, if he had heard her over an open channel he would have assumed she was human. “Formerly a victim of the despicable Borg. Before that I was the commander of the Husnock warship Bloodthirst. You were a victim of the Borg as well, weren't you, Commander? They told me you're one of the Risen, not just another mechanical soldier, so I'll be expecting more from you. A great deal more. Being victims of the Borg is something we have in common, so I think we'll both enjoy our revenge even if your naive Federation is squeamish about such things.”
    She smiled, revealing interlocking fangs that gleamed in the strong lights of medbay.
    “I've been informed of the general mission, Captain Stride,” Eddowes managed, a little overwhelmed. “I hope we'll be successful.”
    “You've only the vaguest idea based on very sketchy intelligence,” Stride commented as she looked down at him. “But we'll fix that soon enough. This is Doctor Serein, my personal physician.”
    The Andorian nodded to him briefly, studying the readout on his tricorder. He turned and looked up at Stride.
    “The damage to your left sclerotic ring is almost completely healed,” he told her, holding the tricorder up for her to see. “I don't think you'll require another microsurgery on your face.”
    “The Doctor was good enough to save my natural eye after the Borg tried to ruin it,” Stride explained to Eddowes. “Fortunately my people are fast healers.”
    “Your custom modifications to the Borg enhancements seem to be fully functional at this point,” Dr. Serein continued. His voice was dry and technical as he studied his test results. “Some still require a practical test. Your tail - ”
    “Very good, Doctor,” she dismissed him with a satisfied nod. For the briefest instant Eddowes thought he saw a forked tongue flicker out from between her teeth, but he couldn't be sure. She turned back to Eddowes and took a step towards him, looking at him closely. “I'm glad to see your Interface is working.”
    “Captain?” Eddowes asked.
    “You're here. How do you think you knew to come here?” she asked him, seeming amused by his confusion. “Does one usually report to their new captain in medbay?”
    “I... felt I should...”
    “Isn't it impressive how the Interface works on the subconscious level?” she asked Dr. Serein.
    The Andorian shrugged and continued to look over Stride's test results.
    “But, Captain, I just had an impulse to – ”
    “I ordered you here,” she corrected him, walking around behind him. “You have within you the Interface which receives a signal from my own Norman Implant.”
    As Stride moved around in front of him again she tapped her feathered head and winked at him. The expression was very human, but it was disconcerting coming from those big yellow eyes. It made him jump when something tapped the back of his own head. Eddowes spun around and saw Stride's tail had snuck up behind him as they were talking.
    “We share a link, Commander,” she explained, sitting back on the biobed so the Doctor could inspect implants in her right arm. “One of my cranial ports has what Admiral Pressman calls the Norman Implant, a synthesis of Borg and several different android technologies. Communicators aren't necessary with us, Mr. Eddowes, we'll be able to coordinate between ourselves just fine. I can sense every android on this ship, especially the Risen.”
    “You can read my mind?” Eddowes was very uncomfortable with the notion. Captain Stride didn't answer for a moment, making him even more nervous.
    “Not exactly,” she said. “We're not a collective. I would consider something like that to be obscene. The link ordinarily operates on a subconscious level. I only send a message into your conscious mind if I have to. You also have to be in range for me to accomplish that.”
    “Oh,” Eddowes said, his doubts worse than ever.
    Captain Stride seemed to sense his discomfort and gave Eddowes what he assumed was supposed to be a look of sympathy. She got to her feet and looked to the Doctor who was still busy analyzing his test results.
    “Are we done here, Dr. Serein?” Stride asked, stepping toward the medbay doors.
    “For now, Captain,” he answered dryly. “Please keep in mind - “
    “Yes, yes,” she cut him off. “Let's take a little stroll around the Wolf, Commander Eddowes. Then I'll show you to your quarters.”
    “Of course, Captain,” Eddowes agreed, actually curious to see what Pressman's secret ship had to offer.
    The Captain and First Officer went back to the turbolift, where Stride hesitated.
    “After you, Commander,” she invited him.
    He stepped inside and backed against the wall as Stride entered. The lift had been built large enough to accommodate her, but it was still a very close arrangement. Eddowes started to realize she emitted some kind of odor, an odd fragrance that he couldn't place.
    “Engineering,” she said and the turbolift zipped along. “I know my Borg experience has made you uneasy, Commander, but I trust it won't influence our working relationship.”
    “No, Captain,” was all he could think to say. Saltridge had warned him, but now that he'd met her his uneasiness had certainly grown.
    “Good,” she said, her tail bumping against him as they stopped.
    The lift doors opened and they proceeded to a catwalk that encircled the engineering section below. What Eddowes saw down there horrified him to such an extent his ocular weapon port opened again.
    “Stop, Commander!” Stride shouted, placing her hand in front of his head. “Be calm! All is as it should be. This is Kelinda, she is a Kelvan engineer that has volunteered to help us fight the Borg. Her species are capable of assuming other forms. What you see here is her natural form.”
    There was a slimy, glistening black mass below them, writhing with a hundred tentacles. As he watched he realized the creature was working on dozens of systems simultaneously. If the slight scent from Stride had bothered him, the pungent reek from Kelinda again tested whether an android could become nauseous. As he watched a thick mass of tentacles surrounded what looked like three engine cores linked together.
    “Kelinda is a talented engineer,” Stride explained as they walked around the catwalk. “Using knowledge from her people, my people and the Borg we've been able to leave the antimatter warp engine behind. Only the Blackbody shuttles run on the old style warp core. The Wolf uses three captive Omega particles for its power source.”
    “I've never heard of this kind of power system,” Eddowes answered quietly as they watched the Kelvan work below them. “What is Omega?”
    “Not surprising,” Stride told him. “It's secret, illegal and extremely dangerous. When one of these particles explodes it destroys subspace within a certain radius. Keeping even three of them balanced and stable is a very delicate task, but Kelinda is up to the challenge. If she wasn't, well, we wouldn't be here. Kelvans are some of the best engine builders there are.
    “The payoff is that we'll be able to travel much faster and farther than a typical Starfleet vessel. We have a built-in engine-killing device down here that's supposed to neutralize the particles automatically in case of a catastrophic failure, but nothing's certain in life. Of course, we have the option to eject any one of the three cores, destroy them and flee an area if we need to. Hopefully we never do. Naturally, Omega has been outlawed since its discovery by the Federation.”
    “Sounds extremely risky,” Eddowes commented in a mortified whisper, watching the monster below make adjustments to the glowing triple core while the monster next to him explained why it shouldn't ever be used. Would they break every single Federation law before they were through? Admiral Pressman's arrogance seemed to know no limits. To have such technology at the disposal of this Borg-Husnock hybrid seemed like madness to Eddowes.
    He wondered if androids could go mad.
    Maybe he would find out.
    He shook his head a moment and tried to reorient himself. He remembered his upbringing on Earth, being taught that off world creatures weren't to be feared. They're simply different from humans and that's okay.
    Not monsters, alien life forms.
    “Are you all right, Commander?” asked Stride, turning to look at him. “Shall we continue?”
    “Yes, Captain,” he assured her, quickening his pace to keep up.
    “Kelinda has a small staff of androids at her disposal that serve as an engineering crew during her rest and off duty hours, but in reality she handles almost everything by herself. Shall we continue to Security?”
    They had reached a turbolift at the far side of the massive Engineering section. Knowing that Starfleet had built a ship around something even more unstable than antimatter evoked some serious silent reflection in Eddowes. He tried to gain solace by reminding himself serving here was still better than his nightmare of being assimilated.
    When the doors opened on the Security level Eddowes didn't want to step out.
    “Come along, Commander,” Stride encouraged him, looking over her shoulder to give him a chilling smile. “Time to inspect the troops!”
    A silent formation of around one hundred stood silently before them at attention. The entire deck was absolutely silent as they started to walk between the rows. Each figure was clad in the same outdated gray camouflage, they all wore gray gloves and on each head was a Breen helmet.
    “Captain, why are our security officers wearing Breen helmets?” Eddowes asked, already afraid of what the answer might be.
    “Deniability, Mr. Eddowes,” Stride explained confidently. “These are, of course, androids. Not Risen like you but combat androids that are programmed to defend the ship at any cost. During missions they have limited autonomy but I can also run them efficiently using my Norman Implant. If they are damaged they can self destruct, or I can cause them to explode. Any fragments recovered will seem to indicate they were Breen or built by the Breen. Since the Breen have no blood, it wouldn't be suspicious if one of these androids were to be shot without leaving any vital fluids behind. The weapons they use are Breen disruptors, so any investigation will tend to point to them. I thought the Breen would be a good scapegoat since people might be hesitant to retaliate against them. They also wouldn't be very forthcoming if someone tried investigating their activities.”
    “What's under the helmet?” Eddowes inquired, looking at one closely.
    “None of the material that makes you appear human,” Stride assured him. “Just a machine that's less sophisticated than you are. They comprise what you might call a utilitarian covert security force, with me serving as the centurion. They will also obey your verbal commands, of course, in my unlikely absence.”
    Not one of them had moved or made a sound as Captain Stride and Mr. Eddowes had walked around the room. They simply stood there like statues, eerie for the fact that they could start moving at any time.
    “Let's see your quarters, then,” Captain Stride suggested when they had reached the turbolift.
    They got off at the Officer's deck and went to a room that was finally familiar to him. He had the standard quarters for a First Officer, the kind you'd find on a proper Starfleet vessel. Eddowes actually felt mild joy for the first time since he had awakened on the Pegasus. The layout and décor created the comforting impression that he was serving on a real Federation starship.
    “Your personal weapons are here,” Stride told him, indicating a cabinet next to the door.
    “The eye phaser isn't enough?” inquired Eddowes, bemused. He opened the cabinet and found a standard Starfleet KA-Bar knife and a TR-116 Projectile Rifle. He had never seen the TR-116 before, he picked it up and carefully looked it over.
    “The rifle is fitted with a micro transporter like the prototype,” Stride explained. “It is able to send a tritanium bullet a thousand meters away and strike the target accurately, regardless of any obstacles. This version is lighter than the test model and uses technology that will not trace back to Starfleet. The eye piece was mounted on a head set for the prototype but we've integrated the targeting unit into the eyeball of each android to make things less cumbersome.”
    Eddowes put the weapon back, closed the cabinet and sat on his bed for a moment. Captain Stride walked around his quarters and peered out the window, taking in the tragic view of the Wolf 359 system as their ship orbited its namesake.
    “So, what do you think of our ship, Mr. Eddowes? The Wolf is a formidable battleship even by Husnock standards.”
    “Pressman's design seems to be trying to compress the fighting power of a dreadnought into a vessel that's just a little bigger than a light cruiser,” he observed, deciding to be as honest as possible. “You've designed the twin phaser lances to be extremely powerful, but because of that fixed design they can only fire forward. Essentially you've traded flexible targeting for firepower. The Wolf has to align with its target as opposed to the more adaptable multi-target phaser arrays you find on a typical Galaxy class starship.
    “The power source is very troubling from what you've told me. I would have stuck with a traditional antimatter warp core because it's tried and true. I don't know how reliable an Omega based system will be. I also don't want to find out what happens when it goes wrong.
    “The defenses are probably the most impressive aspect of the ship. The phasing cloak provides excellent protection and vital camouflage for clandestine operations. If we set aside the fact that it's in violation of a peace treaty it's probably the greatest innovation I've seen on a ship in my career.”
    “I have also designed and manufactured supplies of gravimetric torpedoes for all three Wolf class ships,” she said, a note of pride in her voice. “I can attack multiple targets simultaneously with those.”
    “More destructive than the usual photon torpedo,” Eddowes commented.
    “They also give us some more deniability,” she said. “Gravimetric torpedoes are of Borg origin. As you say, there may be situations where using the phaser lances isn't an option. Leaving behind a Borg weapon signature will give some of our enemies the idea it was a Borg attack so they can address any complaints they might have to the Delta quadrant. I've also installed adaptive stochastic shielding to use on each ship. We can't fight with the phasing cloak engaged, so we need a good set of strong shields.”
    “Stochastic shields?” asked Eddowes. “That's a new one on me.”
    “They randomly change shape and frequency at a very rapid rate,” Stride explained. “I created them specifically to resist Borg adaptations, but of course nothing can hold out indefinitely against them.”
    “That's true,” agreed Eddowes, thinking back to the battle. “I have to say, the thing I disapprove of most is the automated crew and the use of what could be considered slave labor.”
    “A harsh term for drastic measures during war time,” said Stride. “Even on your planet there was a... draft? Humans were conscripted for military service in times of need. This is no different. Admiral Pressman felt we had no alternative if we were going to hide what we're doing from our Alpha quadrant competitors. We needed experienced personnel.”
    “What it amounts to is ruined lives,” Eddowes noted sadly. “People who will never see their families again. Soldiers for whom service will never end. I find that depressing, Captain.”
     
  5. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    “I, too, am deprived of a former life, Mr. Eddowes,” she said, her fangs emphasizing the S in his name. “Once I served my planet as a proud leader in the Husnock Attack Fleet. You should've seen Spilornis, my home world. We lived in thick jungles that covered our entire planet, all of our technological installations were underground. We had extinct volcanic mountains we hollowed out for launching space vehicles from beneath the surface. For much of the time it was dark there because our home was in orbit around a great, beautiful gas giant called Pallas. It eclipsed our local star for extended periods, so we hunted during the long twilight.
    “When the sunlight returned, Mr. Eddowes, we always had a great celebration we called the Gleam. The majesty of Pallas was a marvel, the colors and patterns of that world were worshiped by my ancient ancestors. They thought it was a god hovering above our planet. During the Gleam I could see why. We all hung in the tree tops, waiting for the first sliver of light over the horizon of Pallas. It was like our god was giving us a gift of pure sunlight. I remember the first time my offspring saw the Gleam, how the light shimmered off of his feathers.”
    “You – you're a Mom?” he couldn't help but be shocked by this. Stride didn't seem the mothering type to him.
    “I was. I had a single offspring on Spilornis, long ago,” she answered, still staring out the window. “That's all gone now from what I’ve been told. The Husnock there were obliterated along with all the other life forms... or so it’s believed.
    “So, you and I are not so different, Commander. I can understand your situation.”
    “With all due respect, Captain, I don't think you can,” Eddowes replied miserably, staring down at the deck.
    She whirled from the window and closed the distance between them with one step. The towering Husnock glared down at him and for a moment he thought she might actually react with violence in response to being contradicted.
    “As I said before, Mister, I'm a victim just like you,” her yellow eyes narrowed with anger as she spoke, but she didn't shout... at first. “Am I an uploaded mind in an android body? No, but I am as changed as you are. I didn't ask to be implanted with a host of cybernetic devices. I didn't want to see my ship destroyed and I certainly didn't want to spend years enslaved on a Borg cube. I would have preferred to die fighting with my crew!
    “The worst thing was, upon escaping from the Borg, being told that my entire race has been exterminated. A genocide of all Husnock! The end of all our great wars in one horrible defeat. I struggle each day with being utterly alone! I try and make sense of being the last survivor, but I can't. Perhaps I was spared because I was merged into the Borg Collective at the time, I can never be sure.”
    Captain Stride stepped back and regarded Eddowes as he looked up at her. He didn't know how to respond to what she had told him. It was too terrible to contemplate what she had been through. How could one console a creature that was the last of it’s species?
    “I have sustained myself by taking control of my situation,” Stride continued, her tone even and reasonable again. “I have modified my remaining implants to serve me, to enhance my own combat capabilities. I have agreed to join Starfleet, to undertake Admiral Pressman's mission and inflict vengeance on the despised Borg.
    “When I was a commander in the Husnock fleet, I wouldn't have given a second thought to ravaging your Federation. Now, as things are, I am alone in the universe and the best thing is to be allies. I am trying to get beyond the Borg torture I suffered and the loss of my race. You have managed to defeat death itself by continuing to exist in your synthetic body, a great achievement.
    “I realize that being one of the Risen is difficult, even painful. I feel pain as well - my home is gone, my people wiped out. Your home exists, your people are alive. The family that lives on Earth can never know you survived, you can never see them again. We share a similar burden in that respect, we are both exiles. At least we have a chance to protect your people... just a moment. I think there's something...”
    Stride's communicator came to life.
    “Saltridge to Captain Stride.”
    “Stride here, go ahead.”
    “Admiral Pressman says a ship has been detected at the edge of the system,” Saltridge reported. “He wants us to investigate at once, he suspects someone is trying to spy on our operation.”
    “Warn the last construction crews to detach from the hull and withdraw to a safe distance at once,” Stride instructed. “Set a course to intercept them and engage at warp 3. The Wolf will jump in right on top of them! Red alert! Time for the last part of your tour, Mr. Eddowes, let's head up to the bridge.”
     
  6. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    This is an interesting story. Especially with the minds downloaded into androids, the references to past Trek species, and the technology used in the Wolf. I also like the characters and the other ship classes named after disasters.

    Captain Stride, a Husnock, seems like someone to watch. So does Eddowes.
     
    Greysun likes this.
  7. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Chapter Four

    The Wolf trembled slightly as the opposing ship began to attack. Eddowes felt it again as the turbolift reached the bridge. He stepped out into red lights and what looked like a Klingon battle cruiser on the viewer. Captain Stride took her position in a customized command chair, Eddowes noticed the back of the seat was split down the middle with a gap to allow for the Captain's tail.
    “They encountered one of the tachyon pulse satellites we placed at the edge of the system,” Saltridge informed them. “The pulse beam overloaded their cloak. When it failed, Pressman picked them up on sensors. He thought it would be a good test case for the Wolf.”
    “Take your station, Commander,” Stride ordered. “Jam any transmission they try to make.”
    The Wolf bridge layout was similar to the Ambassador class starships and Eddowes had trained on one of these in the Academy. He took the First Officer's position to Stride's right and called up a readout on the ship as they sent another photon torpedo towards the Wolf. Eddowes saw the jamming options, selected them all and hit initiate.
    “Engage phasing cloak,” Stride ordered, studying her own display. “Come about and bring us up behind them, helm.”
    The next torpedo from the Klingon ship passed right through them. Watching the android at the helm alter course Eddowes wondered if he was one of the Risen or just another android. Either way, he seemed competent enough as the ship's view changed. They swung around and came to a stop just under the Klingon ship, just behind their nacelles.
    “They're trying to go to warp,” Saltridge warned them from tactical.
    “Disengage the phasing cloak. Let's knock down their shields,” Stride said. “Gravimetric torpedo, fire when ready.”
    The blast of green energy from the Wolf devastated the Klingon ship's shields. Eddowes could see them buckle and fail on his sensor display. There was some secondary damage to their hull as well. The Klingons fired another photon torpedo and the Wolf vibrated under the impact.
    “Minimal damage,” Saltridge reported. “Our shields are holding.”
    “Cripple their warp drive with another gravimetric torpedo, low yield,” Stride ordered, her tail twitching above her head. “Fire!”
    Another shimmering ball of green energy slammed into the Klingon's engineering section, resulting in a large explosion. The ship flipped over, drifting away from the Wolf. Someone on the bridge managed to fire a disruptor blast at them but it was far too feeble to penetrate the Wolf's shields.
    “They've lost main power,” Eddowes reported. “Fires on the engineering deck. There's a hull breech, but their emergency force fields seem to have it sealed for now.”
    “Back us off in case they lose antimatter containment,” Stride ordered.
    “Message coming in from Admiral Pressman, Captain,” Saltridge reported.
    “On screen,” Stride sounded annoyed at the interruption. Pressman's angry face replaced the damaged ship. “Yes, Admiral?”
    “Captain Stride, I want prisoners from that ship for interrogation,” he ordered. “I need to know why a Klingon ship is sneaking around my secret base.”
    “Captain, the Klingons have restored some power and are attempting to fire another torpedo,” Eddowes reported.
    “I don't know about your prisoner idea, Admiral,” replied Stride, fangs showing in her smirk. “Seems like they think it's a good day to die.”
    “Prisoners, Captain!” Pressman yelled. “Live prisoners!”
    “Mr. Eddowes, are their shields still offline?” Stride inquired.
    “Yes, Captain.”
    “Transporter room, lock onto any Klingon from their bridge and beam them down to security.”
    “You're only using the gravimetric torpedoes, right?” Pressman asked, exasperated.
    “Yes, when I'm done it will just appear to be additional Borg-related wreckage, Admiral.”
    “Do you have my prisoner yet?” he demanded.
    Stride put her palm to her forehead for a moment. Eddowes thought maybe she was showing frustration with Pressman's insistence, but then he realized she was using her Norman Implant to communicate with the security androids.
    “We've got one for you, Admiral,” she reported, looking up. “Now may we finish our job?”
    Pressman calmed down a little. He nodded grimly.
    “Proceed, Captain.”
    “Take us out another five thousand kilometers. Mr. Saltridge, fire gravimetric torpedoes, a spread of three at full yield,” Captain Stride sat back and smiled as those fiery green lights descended from the Wolf, the explosions twisting and crushing the Klingon vessel into smoldering shards of metal. “Qapla'!”
    Eddowes and Saltridge gave each other a glance at the Captain's final remark, which seemed out of place on the bridge of a Starfleet vessel. None of the other androids on the bridge seemed to find it distasteful.
    “That is what they say, yes?” she asked Eddowes as she watched the burning fragments of wreckage fly apart on the viewer.
    “I've never served with a Klingon, but that is my understanding,” Eddowes agreed, turning his attention back to his panel. “It doesn't look as if they were able to send any transmissions, no escape pods detected. Other than our guest in security, no survivors. I guess the Klingon's would consider that a 'success', they died in combat after all.”
    “The Husnock slogan was more specific and straightforward,” Stride commented, rising from her chair. “Death To All. That's what we always said. In the end that included us as well, it would seem... Hopefully the rest of our mission will run smoother than this, right, Commander?”
    “Hopefully, Sir,” Eddowes answered awkwardly. “Destroying the ships of allies isn't really what we're supposed to be doing.”
    “Let's meet Admiral Pressman's new Klingon friend, Mr. Eddowes,” Stride said, heading for the turbolift. “The bridge is yours, Mr. Saltridge. Set course for the Pegasus so we can deliver our prisoner to the Admiral.”

    The scene that greeted them in security was less than ideal. Captain Stride had ordered her androids to put down any resistance from the Klingon. To that end they had shot him several times with their Breen disruptors after he attacked and damaged one of them. An android with a fractured helmet and broken disruptor stood off to the side.
    The Klingon lay in a pool of blood in the center of a circle of security androids. Eddowes approached cautiously and checked him for life signs. Stride looked over the damaged android while Eddowes removed the Klingon's many personal weapons. She must have given the android a mental command to go and get repaired because it left the security deck as soon as she was finished inspecting it.
    “He's alive, but in bad shape,” Eddowes told her.
    “So,” she said, coming to stand beside Eddowes. “We have an injured Klingon. I should have had him beamed directly to the brig. Dr. Serein, I have a patient coming to medbay for you.”
    “Acknowledged,” the Andorian answered unhappily.
    Stride bent and picked up the Klingon warrior's d'k tahg dagger. As she examined it, the little side blades popped out. She smirked at the weapon, looking at it like it was a pen knife.
    “What are these for?” she asked, gesturing at the small blades. “Cleaning under your fingernails?”
    She tossed the weapon back on the floor and looked at two of the security androids. They immediately picked up the Klingon and carried him to the turbolift.

    Admiral Pressman had been silent since he beamed over from the Pegasus. Now that Pressman and Eddowes stood in the Wolf's medbay he broke that silence with a heavy, disappointed sigh.
    “My order was to obtain prisoners, Commander,” he said, looking down at the injured Klingon. “This man is on life support, what good is he to me? Why was he was shot and beaten? What the hell were you thinking?”
    “He fought back against our security androids. Actually, Sir, if I could just speak to you for a moment - “
    “He is not in command here, Admiral,” Captain Stride said, joining them from the turbolift. “The Klingon's condition is my responsibility. He's alive, isn't he?”
    “Barely! The purpose here was to gain intelligence, Captain, not to club him and blast him into a coma. I know you ran things differently in the Husnock Attack Fleet - “
    “Admiral, with all respect, I think if the Klingon spends five minutes with your special friend he will reveal everything you want to know.”
    “I don't think that's a suitable topic for discussion, Captain,” Pressman replied, irritated. “You shouldn't believe every rumor you hear.”
    “As you wish, Sir,” responded Stride, walking over to look down on the Klingon as he struggled to breathe. “But if you want him to meet your friend you should probably beam him out of here sooner rather than later.”
    “You're probably right,” Pressman agreed, nodding. “Pressman to Pegasus. Two to beam directly to medbay.”
    He stood next to the Klingon and they both dematerialized.
    “Good riddance,” remarked Dr. Serein, folding his antennae back in disgust.
    “I think the Wolf performed admirably in its first combat action, don't you, Commander?” Stride asked him as they left medbay.
    “Yes, Captain,” he agreed. “But the Admiral seemed upset with our results.”
    “Those Klingon spies weren't going to surrender, Mr. Eddowes, we both know that,” Stride responded dismissively. “They're lucky this isn't a Husnock ship. If it was that Klingon would be floating in space with the rest of his comrades. Now, since all of the final work on the Wolf and Malurian is complete, we can discuss our first real mission. We'll rendezvous with the Malurian in a few hours. I suggest you take some down time.”
    “You mean I'm not expected to work 24 hours a day like the rest of the androids?” Eddowes asked, genuinely surprised. He hadn't needed to eat or drink since he had gone back on duty. He assumed sleep was a thing of the past as well.
    “You're not just an android,” Captain Stride replied.
    For a moment he thought she was actually being kind, but he quickly learned otherwise.
    “The Risen do actually need minimal sleep,” Stride explained. “regular androids don't. If one of the Risen doesn't get three hours or so of sleep a day their performance will deteriorate until they go insane and shut down. Something to do with your matrix being based on an uploaded living mind instead of being programmed from scratch from what I understand. I'll see you when you're back on duty, Commander.”

    Eddowes went back to his quarters. Since the Wolf had shifted position the local star was no longer visible from his window. There was no depressing red light to greet him, only the blackness of space. He took in the silence of his quarters for a moment, savoring it. Then he slowly sank to his knees on the deck and wept for a few minutes. His shoulders shook as he sobbed, overcome with everything he had witnessed.
    Eventually he regained his composure and walked into his bathroom. In the mirror Eddowes saw his reflection and marveled at the tears that were still on his face. Ever since he had learned that his mind had been uploaded, Eddowes had doubted he was still truly himself. Even if he was still him somehow, he hadn't thought an android body capable of feeling or expressing emotion. But thinking about his anger at Pressman on the Pegasus, his surprise and fear upon seeing the Kelvan in Engineering and now seeing himself just after his breakdown... It made him wonder. Had Pressman actually managed to achieve the impossible? A successful transfer a soul into an android body? Was he really experiencing an authentic copy of his intellect?
    What bothered him most at the moment was the fluid running from his eyes. What was it? It wasn't made of genuine human tears, that much he knew. Eddowes touched his face, pushed back his lips and eyelids. He studied himself in the mirror extensively. He knew he was in an android body and still he was damned if he could see or feel a difference. He found it amazing and disturbing at the same time.
    He finally wandered over to his bed and laid down, easing into a strange, dreamless sleep.
     
  8. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Chapter Five

    When he awoke it was a little over two hours later. The unwelcome dim red glow of Wolf 359 was again visible through his window. Eddowes thought how glad he would be when they left this star system and he hoped the Wolf would never return to its depressing namesake.
    “Computer, where is Lieutenant Commander Saltridge?” he asked, wondering if she was still off duty.
    “Lieutenant Commander Saltridge is in the forward observation lounge,” the computer informed him.
    Eddowes was surprised that the Wolf had a lounge of any kind, given what he had seen so far. But he was eager to meet up with Susan again, he had a lot of questions that be doubted would be answered by Pressman or Stride.

    The forward observation lounge was much like medbay, small and not very well equipped. The view from the front window was the most impressive thing about it. Since the Wolf had a hexagonal primary hull the forward most section came to a point and the wide view port straddled this corner. A wooden table in the shape of the Starfleet Arrowhead was set up in front of it and there were replicators nearby. Eddowes assumed this area was provided for the infrequent occasions the Wolf's crew would be entertaining actual organic guests that required food and drink. Of the three people seated there right now only one had a beverage.
    Saltridge was staring out at the somber red disk of Wolf 359 with its faint line of debris. There was a Vulcan studying some data on his tricorder. Lastly there was a blonde woman drinking coffee as she tried to converse with the obviously indifferent Vulcan.
    “Saltridge.”
    “Commander, please join us,” she invited, indicating an empty seat.
    He did so, but didn't speak right away. He wasn't really comfortable asking his questions in front of people he'd never met. Eddowes felt that caution was best, especially when he considered his unpredictable Husnock Captain.
    “Have you settled in now, Commander?” the blonde woman asked him. “You seem to be a little more at ease than when he first met.”
    Eddowes tried to place her, but he couldn't. Was she one of the doctors or technicians from the Pegasus? He didn't think so. She was dressed in the same gray MACO uniform as the rest of them, with no identifying marks of any kind. Her hair was done a little strangely, with a little curly Q at the top.
    “I'm sorry,” Eddowes answered. “I don't recall our previous meeting. Did we serve together?”
    “I saw you just yesterday,” she said with a smile. “When the Captain brought you through for a tour.”
    Eddowes looked at her blankly.
    “In Engineering.”
    The cold rush of dread realization washed over him. Captain Stride's offhand comment came back to him - her species is capable of assuming other forms. This had to be the black mass swarming with tentacles that he'd witnessed sprawled over the Engineering deck... disguised as a human woman.
    “What?! You – you're the - “
    “Beast from Engineering?” she laughed. “Right, Commander. Thank you for not shooting at me. I am the Chief Engineer on the Wolf, Sir. Lieutenant Commander Kelinda, at your service.”
    She took another sip of her coffee. Eddowes saw Saltridge looking at him, amused by his horrified reaction. She raised her eyebrows innocently.
    “Pleased to, uh, see you again,” he told her, feeling awkward. “I understand you're quite an expert when it comes to the Omega Particle Drive.”
    “The technology of my people was blended with revelations from the Borg, Human and Husnock civilizations to achieve that, Commander, but yes – I can keep them stable. Once the right technology is available, it's a fairly straightforward engineering problem by Kelvan standards.”
    He turned to the Vulcan who was still staring at his tricorder display, pointedly ignoring them all. He looked up briefly when Saltridge went ahead and introduced him.
    “This is Lieutenant Elgin of Vulcan, Commander,” she said, nudging him with her elbow.
    “Yes,” Elgin said, setting his tricorder down. “Pleased to meet you, Mister...”
    “Commander Eddowes, First Officer,” he answered, trying to sound a little more official and a little less lost. “What is your position on this ship, Lieutenant?”
    “Science officer... and repairman,” Elgin told him.
    “Forgive me for asking but are you - “
    “One of those they call the Risen?” replied the Vulcan dryly. “Yes, I'm afraid I am. I had just joined the crew of the Liberator in the astrometrics section. I believe we're all familiar with the results of that ship's last mission.”
    “Yes,” agreed Eddowes in a softer tone, looking down. “Are we the only three Risen on board?”
    “There aren't that many of us in Pressman's fleet,” Saltridge commented, looking out the view port again. “On the Wolf, there's only the three of us. Kelinda here is certainly no android, along with the organic Dr. Serein and Captain Stride. The rest are either crew androids or security androids.”
    “Why so few Risen?”
    “Recovering bodies that could be worked with was apparently difficult,” Elgin explained. “The process of uploading a consciousness is very time consuming, taking weeks. Multiple thorough quantum interference scans are required just to begin the procedure. Even after the transfer takes place there are multitudes of adjustments to be made. At any point an error can result in complete failure and total loss of the subject. Since there are only a small number of Risen successfully produced, we're spread thinly over Admiral Pressman's fleet. He wanted at least three experienced officers on each ship before the missions started.”
    “We had our first informal mission already,” commented Kelinda.
    “At the expense of some curious Klingons, I understand,” added Elgin, frowning in disapproval. Eddowes had served with Vulcans before, he had always seen them try everything possible to avoid a fight. As a culture they did not approve of killing. He wondered how Elgin's cultural pacifism would go over on board the Wolf.
    “I guess that will be a problem for the Captain and Admiral Pressman to worry about,” Eddowes said, not wanting to disagree with a superior officer in front of the crew.
    “Do you know when we rendezvous with the Malurian?” Saltridge asked.
    “It should be soon,” Eddowes answered, joining her in staring out the window. “The Captain told me a few hours. I hope we get underway soon. I really do hate looking at that star.”
    No one at the table disagreed with him.
    As he sat there, Eddowes became increasingly aware of an urge to find cargo bay three. Over the course of a couple of minutes the impulse grew stronger until he realized he was being subtly summoned.
    “Please excuse me,” he said, standing to leave. “It's been good to meet all of you, but I think the Captain needs me.”

    Eddowes found cargo bay three without any difficulty, it was one of four wedge-shaped bays situated toward the rear of the primary hull. He was puzzled to find the large doors to the cargo bay locked. He pressed the entry pad, wondering if there was still some interior construction taking place onboard.
    “Come,” replied Stride from the speaker. The doors parted to release the unexpected and unwelcome stench of a barn yard.
    He put his hand under his nose and stepped inside. There was an elevated catwalk like the one in Engineering above him. On the main deck where he was standing were several species of animals in different pens, milling about. He saw mostly deer fawns with some piglets, young llamas and others in different sections. The catwalk was loaded on either side with containers that apparently held food for these creatures. At the opposite end of the dimly lit bay, right above the loading doors, was Captain Stride.
    She reclined in something like a large hammock strung between support girders, preening her feathers. She was surrounded by extra uniforms, a few unopened crates and some objects he didn't recognize. He saw that a sizeable lavatory had been built into one corner of the catwalk area. It finally dawned on Eddowes that the Captain was using the cargo bay as her quarters.
    “Come up here, Commander, we need to discuss our next move,” she invited him.
    She was smoking a dark red gel, periodically burned by a tiny plasma flare, from a fluted glass cylinder. A long tube for inhalation extended from it which she now set aside. Her head tilted back as she blew thick black smoke up at the ceiling. He assumed the fire suppression system had been disabled in this bay since the computer didn't react to the haze collecting above them. As Eddowes climbed up the catwalk and approached her he thought she must be smoking some sort of intoxicant, her slitted pupils had grown very wide, pushing back the yellow in her eyes until they looked like a string of thin crescent moons glowing in the low light. Despite that she seemed lucid enough as she spoke to him. At least the fragrant smoke was more pleasant than the foul odor from the deck below.
    “We'll be needing some information before we proceed,” she told him, her claws striking the deck as she got out of her hammock. “The Wolf will be leaving with the Malurian in less than thirty minutes. We will proceed under cloak to Zeta Alpha 2 to meet with a Yridian. He has always dealt with Starfleet personnel in the past. You and Lieutenant Commander Saltridge will beam down and present yourselves as regular Starfleet officers. Your mission is to buy a set of coordinates from this individual. You can change into standard Starfleet uniforms for this mission. Of course there is to be no discussion of the Wolf in any way with these creatures.”
    She looked over the animals below, taking in a deep breath, seeming to enjoy the odor Eddowes found so offensive. When she turned to face Eddowes again he saw her pupils were slowly returning to a less exaggerated width, making him assume that the intoxicant in question was already wearing off. Stride noticed him studying her face and the red substance she was using.
    “Your replicators make terrible food, but at least they're good at making intoxicants. This is Nuarr, a resin typically smoked during a meal by my people,” she turned off the plasma flame. “Don't worry, Mr. Eddowes, I have two large livers so intoxicants are quickly filtered out of my blood. Besides, even though I am briefing you, I am technically off duty anyway.
    “The price for the information we need is one gram of biomemetic gel, stored in a special sealed container in cargo bay one,” she told him, looking back down at the animals. “Access to that cargo bay is restricted so it will be beamed down to you when we arrive.”
    “Is that all, Captain?” Eddowes inquired, eager to leave the cargo bay.
    “Use caution on Zeta Alpha 2, Commander,” Stride warned him. “This Yridian is called Shmuuth. He has apparently provided accurate intelligence to Admiral Pressman in the past, but he also warns us that Shmuuth can be greedy and reckless. You and Saltridge should watch your backs.”
    Captain Stride opened her mouth wider for a moment and Eddowes saw she had a double hinged jaw. A muted cracking sound was audible as she stretched and reset the bones in her skull. He found it disturbing to witness a face that was so similar to a human distort into such an exaggerated predatory yawn. Her wet fangs glistened as she suddenly jumped up onto the catwalk railing, startling him into taking a step back.
    “May I ask why you're keeping animals onboard, Captain?” he inquired, her behavior making him more and more uneasy.
    “Among my people we consider the best delicacies to be the young, tender offspring,” she explained, absently scratching at one of the implants that poked through her shining mane of dark feathers. “We Husnock prefer to feed on live prey. I find your replicated foodstuffs to be inadequate at best, revolting at worst.
    “When I was undergoing my surgeries and being debriefed back on Earth I was provided with some of your wildlife to eat. I developed a taste for some of the species from your planet. Admiral Pressman was kind enough to supply me with livestock to keep on the ship.”
    Stride watched the animals below for a moment, then she leapt off the railing and dove headfirst towards the deck. Her semi-metallic tail clanged as it wrapped around the railing at the same instant she grabbed a deer fawn from below and bit the head off of it. She hung suspended upside down as Eddowes tried to look away. He could hear the crunching and splurps as she consumed the animal while the rest of the creatures backed as far away as they could from the spreading stain of blood on the floor.
    “If you'll excuse me, Captain,” Eddowes managed, trying not to make a retching noise. “I will make arrangements for the away mission.”
    Captain Stride didn't respond except for more squishing and snapping sounds so he glanced down briefly over the railing. He glimpsed her tearing the hind leg off of the fawn like a drumstick and quickly looked away again. He decided to take the commencement of her meal as permission to leave. As soon as the cargo bay doors closed and locked behind him he took several deep breaths, grateful once again that his android body did not suffer from nausea.
    “Lieutenant Commander Saltridge,” he called. “Please meet me on the bridge in five minutes.”
    “Already up here, Sir,” she answered.
    Eddowes stopped in his quarters and replicated a red and black Starfleet uniform. He took great pleasure in changing out of the old gray MACO uniform and into attire that he felt was more appropriate. He set his three gold pips into his collar with pride, feeling like a true First Officer for the first time since he boarded the Wolf. He started to hope that maybe serving on the Wolf, strange as it was at times, could be just like any other facet of Starfleet.
     
  9. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Chapter Six

    He felt even more official as he stepped onto the quiet bridge in his uniform. Saltridge was there at tactical, surrounded by hard working androids.
    “The Malurian has just joined us, Commander,” she reported. The Wolf's sister ship was visible on the viewer before them. “Captain Nichols is hailing us.”
    “On screen,” he replied, taking the Captain's chair.
    “Greetings, Wolf,” said Captain Nichols. “I assume I'm speaking with Commander Eddowes?”
    The man on the screen before him was badly scarred, it was pretty clear he was a liberated Borg like Captain Stride. He had scars, a missing eye and a couple of visible implants, but he was human. He looked to be in his mid thirties with dark, close cropped hair and a tired blue eye. Glad to see a real human face, Eddowes felt an immediate kinship with this man.
    “Hello, Captain,” he replied. “It's nice to meet you. I'm sure Captain Stride would like to speak with you herself but she's, uh, off duty right now.”
    “Quite all right, Commander, she and I were both briefed on this assignment by Admiral Pressman. How are you getting along with your new situation?”
    “It's been one hell of an adjustment, Sir,” Eddowes admitted. “But in the end I guess it's better than being dead.”
    “I suppose that's true,” Nichols agreed. “It's not easy coming back from the kinds of things that have been done to us. But we're Starfleet officers and we're going to achieve some profound victories with the technology that's at our disposal, correct?”
    “Yes, Sir,” Eddowes answered, liking this man even more. “Ready to depart when you are.”
    “Engage phasing cloak and set course for Zeta Alpha 2,” Nichols ordered. The image of the Malurian wavered and then faded from the sensors.
    “Activate the phasing cloak,” Eddowes ordered. “Helm, set course as ordered, Zeta Alpha 2.”
    “Aye, Sir,” the android replied, making him feel even more at home.
    He noted that as the Wolf used her phasing cloak a glimmering, ghostly image of the other vessel became visible on the viewer and on sensors. It made him wonder if the cloaks were functioning properly.
    “Do you see that, Saltridge?” he asked, intrigued by the surreal apparition of their sister ship.
    “Yes, Commander,” she agreed. “I think we're seeing that because we're in the same phased state. It's kind of eerie to see... but both of us are invisible and insubstantial to observers in normal space. We can proceed undetected by outsiders.”
    “Susan, you'd better change into a regular Starfleet uniform for the away mission.”
    “Yes, Sir,” she replied, heading for the turbolift. “I'll join you in the transporter room.”
    After she left Eddowes just sat there, actually enjoying the feeling of commanding the bridge of a starship, even if the ship in question did violate uncounted laws and treaties.
    He switched the viewer to aft view and watched Wolf 359 rapidly recede from a big red disk to a vanishing red point. In a couple of seconds he couldn't see it at all and that elevated his mood even more. He switched back to the forward view of stretched starlight zipping by the ship.
    Eddowes sat on the bridge for the duration of their trip, studying the Wolf's systems and resolving any questions he had about her structure and operations. He frequently checked the monitor for the Omega Triple Core, assuring himself that Kelinda was keeping everything in order down in Engineering. The numbers never changed in the slightest and the amount of power provided to the enhanced engines was astounding. Soon they entered the Zeta Alpha system and Eddowes was glad to see a G Type star again. Its bright yellow light was an uplifting contrast to the dim crimson light cast by Wolf 359.
    The two ships approached the second planet. The Wolf went into a standard orbit and the Malurian held a position at the edge of the system.
    “We'll watch your back from out here,” Captain Nichols advised him. “Sensors show no other vessels in or around the system. I think you're clear to proceed, Mr. Eddowes. Good luck on your away mission, Commander.”
    “Thank you, Sir,” Eddowes answered with a smile. He heard the bridge turbolift doors open behind him and turned to see Captain Stride waiting for her chair.
    “I'll relieve you now, Mr. Eddowes,” she said. She looked at the planet on the viewer. “The weather seems clear, so we'll watch you from above. Once you've made contact we'll beam down the payment.”
    “As you wish, Captain.” Her remark told him that he would be out of range of the Norman Implant once he was on the planet, something that made him feel even better.

    He met Saltridge in the transporter room, happy to see she was now wearing her black and gold uniform. He pushed his arguments with Admiral Pressman to the back of his mind, feeling happier now that he was truly back to work. Even if the ship and mission were classified, here he was with a promotion and a real mission. That had to count for something. He and Saltridge took their places on the transporter pad.
    “Energize,” he said to the android operating the transporter.
    They materialized at the edge of what looked like a small, abandoned town. The weather on Zeta Alpha 2 seemed a little on the arid side to Eddowes, but they were pretty far from the two major bodies of water on the planet. Since they were expected to maintain a low profile, he thought the location was appropriate.
    “No one here to greet us,” Saltridge observed, taking out her tricorder. “Reading seven life forms a little further into town.”
    “Let's proceed... slowly,” Eddowes told her, starting to walk towards some run down concrete block buildings.

    Captain Stride watched from high orbit as her two officers walked down the dusty road into town. Her eyes narrowed with suspicion, Pressman had assured her Shmuuth would be there to greet them. She hadn't sent security androids because of their Breen appearance. She didn't want to alarm the Yridian or any citizens of Zeta Alpha 2 they might encounter unexpectedly. But now as she watched from above Stride wished she'd sent them along anyway.
    “Zoom in tighter,” she ordered, leaning forward.
    The image of Eddowes and Saltridge was enlarged and sharpened.
    “Any other life forms in the vicinity?” she asked.
    “There are seven life forms in the fuel conversion plant fifty meters ahead of their current position,” reported one of her androids. “They are hidden from our view by the building.”

    “That's far enough!”
    Eddowes looked up to see a Yridian flanked by several Tellarites. They stood on top of a concrete structure looking down on them. Each Tellarite held what looked like old laser rifles - pointed at them.
    “Are you Shmuuth?” Eddowes asked loudly.
    “Do you have what was agreed upon, Starfleet?” the Yridian demanded. “I will have my payment in advance or you will have nothing!”
    Saltridge stepped up next to Eddowes and the Tellarites shouldered their laser rifles and took aim. He could hear a thrumming sound as they prepared to fire.
    “There's no need for any of this,” Eddowes assured them, keeping his voice reasonable. “As soon as we see what you have, we'll transport down what was promised.”
    “My last dealings with Pressman's Starfleet humans was most unfair!” Shmuuth complained. “I don't trust you! I want to see the payment now!”
    Saltridge turned to Eddowes to say something, but one of the Tellarites panicked and fired his weapon. A blue laser beam blasted a black trench into the road and as the Tellarite raised the muzzle the beam sliced off Saltridge's left arm. She screamed and fell to her knees, grabbing her severed limb. Eddowes saw that some sort of red fluid oozed out of the partially cauterized wound. He bent to help her up, noticing briefly that the contents of her arm weren't exactly bone and flesh even if they were red.
    “Stop!” Shmuuth screamed, grabbing the Tellarite's rifle. It went off again, burning another black line into the road, narrowly missing Eddowes.
    “Eddowes to Wolf!” he hollered into his communicator.
    “I've monitored your situation, Mr. Eddowes,” Stride responded. “Prepare for immediate beam out.”

    He was still holding Saltridge when they materialized on the Wolf.
    “Eddowes to medbay!” he called. “Medical emergency!”
    “No need for that.”
    It was Elgin and he was pushing a cart. He brought it up next to the transporter platform.
    “I see you had enough presence of mind to retain the arm,” Elgin noted. “Well done.”
    Saltridge seemed to be doing better. She managed to get to her feet, clutching her severed arm to her chest. Android or not, her face looked like she was in shock.
    “No need for the cart, Mr. Elgin,” she assured him with a thin smile. Her face was white, her voice was quavering. “I can get to your workshop under my own power.”
    Eddowes watched her go with Elgin, tasting bitter disappointment at how the brief away mission had fallen apart. He wondered what Pressman had done to Shmuuth to get him so angry and paranoid. He headed for the bridge to report the mission failure... but by the time he had left the transporter room he felt a strong urge to head for security instead.
     
  10. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Chapter Seven

    When he entered he found the Captain waiting for him. Six Tellarites and one Yridian cowered before the Wolf's security androids. It seemed Stride had beamed everyone up. The bulky laser rifles were piled up off to the side.
    “Ah, there you are!” cried Shmuuth when he saw Eddowes, like they were old friends. “My good fellow, you can clear this whole matter up. There was a misunderstanding down on the planet surface and your... uh... Captain and her Breen friends have taken umbrage. Please tell them that I tried to intervene on your behalf when things - “
    “Where are the coordinates?” demanded Captain Stride, taking a step forward. Shmuuth shrank back from her, bumping into the security androids standing behind him.
    “N-now look here, Admiral Pressman promised - “
    “He's not here, Yridian,” Eddowes pointed out, coming to stand behind his Captain. “You could have kept your end of the bargain, but now... you had best answer the Captain quickly.”
    “You don't dare harm me,” Shmuuth sneered, trying to muster some confidence. “I have those coordinates memorized. The numbers you want would die with me.”
    “Which Tellarite shot at my officers?” Stride asked, quietly at first. She looked at Eddowes.
    “I honestly can't tell them apart,” he admitted. He had felt so good about the away mission, now he hated what it had degenerated into.
    “They resemble some of my food animals,” she remarked. “Too bad they're so old and stringy. You like to play with laser rifles, Tellarites?”
    There was no response from any of the Tellarites. Stride picked up one of the rifles and examined it. The weapon was big and heavy, obsolete by Starfleet standards but still dangerous. She handled the cumbersome gun as if it were weightless.
    “Which one?!” she yelled, her yellow eyes now wide with rage.
    That's when one Tellarite pointed to another one.
    Stride immediately used the laser rifle as a blunt instrument, bashing the Tellarite's skull into pulp with one powerful blow. His nearly headless body thumped to the deck, the arms and legs trembling with his final random nerve impulses. The rifle stuck straight up from his body as it soaked in a growing puddle of blood, solidly embedded between his shoulder blades. His remaining comrades, now splattered with blood and brain matter, huddled together in terror. The Yridian's mouth hung open, his eyes huge as Captain Stride turned towards him.
    “Shmuuth, is it?” she asked, advancing on the Yridian. “You can give me those coordinates now, or I'll shatter every bone in your spindly little body.”
    Eddowes had stepped back toward the turbolift to avoid getting more blood on his uniform. Shmuuth looked at him, wordlessly pleading for help. Of course, this kind of conduct had no place on a Federation starship. He might have objected to Stride's outright murder of the Tellarite, but he already knew it would do no good. Besides, the scream that Saltridge had made when getting her arm burned off was still fresh in his mind and that dampened his sympathy a little.
    “I was also negotiating with some Orion buyers!” Shmuuth said, making an effort to sound threatening. “They're very good friends of mine, very tough customers! They will come looking for me!”
    “How frightening,” Stride scoffed, running her clawed fingers through her feathers in frustration. “This is your very last chance, Yridian!”
    One of the Tellarites succumbed to his fear and bolted for the turbolift doors. Before one of her guards could even raise his disruptor Stride seized the fleeing captive and hoisted him over her head. Eddowes saw muscles flex in her arms and back as she tore the Tellarite in half at the waist with a terrible ripping sound. She flung each half into a different bulkhead as blood and viscera washed down onto the deck. Some of his vertebrae scattered and bounced like tumbling dice among the booted feet of the security androids.
    Shmuuth jabbered out a set of numbers, crying while he did it. To Eddowes it seemed like nothing more than a terror-driven reflex to Stride's brutality. The Husnock smiled wide, the sight of her fangs causing Shmuuth to drop to his knees.
    “You have what you wanted,” he said feebly, looking down at the blood-drenched deck. “Please beam me out of this place... I just want to go home.”
    Captain Stride laughed at him then, long and loud. Shmuuth could do nothing more than cringe and look up at her, tears streaming down his ugly face.
    “I suppose you want your payment, too?” she asked. “Very humorous. No, Yridian, I have other plans for you!”
    “Captain,” Eddowes interrupted. “Perhaps we should - “
    “We've already de-cloaked twice for the transporter,” Stride said. “I won't risk a third de-cloak in orbit. We're fortunate we haven't been detected already! Besides... these creatures have seen too much.”
    Eddowes knew right then, that the remaining four Tellarites and their Yridian boss were doomed. Aboard a regular Starfleet vessel the worst that would happen to them might be assignment to a penal colony. He didn't even want to think of what the Captain would do. But he couldn't just stand by and allow her to murder these men. The Wolf was a clandestine ship, yes, but murder? He couldn't allow it to continue.
    “Captain,” he said again. “Maybe we could find a planet somewhere nearby where we could maroon these men. Leave them where they can't communicate - “
    “Oh, I'll make sure of that,” she assured him, her tone getting even more grave. “Computer, isn't cargo bay two currently empty?”
    “Cargo bay two contains no cargo at this time,” replied the computer.
    “Very good,” she said. “We'll reconvene there, Commander.”
    Stride glanced over at her security androids and they went into action, herding the group of captives into two groups and taking them into the turbolift. Soon there was just a few guards, some old rifles and a large red mess left in security.
    “Whatever you're thinking, Sir,” Eddowes said slowly. “Maybe you should reconsider. Perhaps Admiral Pressman would want more prisoners. We could lock them in the brig and bring them back after we complete our mission.”
    “We're not calling the Admiral,” answered Stride. She sounded a little disappointed in him. “I'm not done with this stupid Yridian yet. He has to learn the price of treachery on my ship. I would think you'd be in favor of Shmuuth and his goons paying for what they did to Saltridge.”
    He was going to tell her that wasn't what the Federation was all about, but he realized it was the same debate he'd had with Pressman. Stride was exactly the kind of Captain Pressman would prefer in the field, devoid of any moral constraints. Feeling hopeless and depressed he followed his Captain into the turbolift and they went to join the prisoners in cargo bay two.

    By the time they got there the security androids had already acted on further telepathic orders from Captain Stride. They had forced the four Tellarites to the far side of the bay while Shmuuth stood next to the entrance. A single guard stood behind him with the muzzle of his disruptor pressed against the back of the Yridian's head.
    “I see everything is in order,” noted Stride as she entered.
    “I gave you the coordinates!” Shmuuth whined. “Why can't we leave it at that?! This isn't how Starfleet does business, Captain!”
    “I know how you do business, you ambushing coward,” snarled Stride, turning and bending down so her face was only a centimeter from Shmuuth's. “Now you'll see how we deal with back-stabbing buffoons like you on the Wolf.”
    She went over to the cargo bay controls and activated the space door. It slowly opened after the force field kicked in, an alarm sounding in the bay as it did so. The bleak wastelands of Zeta Alpha 2 rotated below them.
    “Would you like to return to your planet?” Stride asked in an angry hiss.
    Eddowes saw the security androids prod the Tellarites toward the forcefield until they bounced off of it. He heard the boots of the security androids magnetize to the deck. He saw Captain Stride's tail wrap around a catwalk support behind her. Closing his eyes, he grabbed onto a protective railing in front of the cargo bay controls. He couldn't believe it had come to this.
    In the end, it wasn't quite as dramatic as he'd feared. Stride's claw delicately tapped the key that released the forcefield and her captives were immediately sucked out into space. The screams of the Tellarites were heard for just a split second. The only security android that moved was the one behind Shmuuth, the Yridian was securely grabbed and saved from being spaced. He gasped for air and gibbered incoherently as he saw his men fly off the deck and spiral towards the planet below.
    Captain Stride reactivated the forcefield and closed the outer door. A couple of her dark feathers had detached and now drifted around in the air as the atmosphere was replenished. If the sudden changes in pressure had bothered her she didn't show it. Shmuuth reacted terribly, some capillaries had burst in his skin and his eyes bugged out as he clutched his throat.
    “It's raining Tellarites,” she remarked to Eddowes jokingly. Seeing his lack of mirth, she made a more serious remark. “Don't worry, Mr. Eddowes, once they go beyond the influence of the Wolf they'll drift back into phase and burn up in the atmosphere. There will be no trace left behind to threaten our mission.”
    Eddowes couldn't manage a response. He simply nodded miserably as Stride went over to Shmuuth, again putting her face right in front of his. The Yridian was sagging in the android's grasp, it looked like he might pass out at any moment. She slapped him to get his attention, her claws gashing his skin. Cruel treatment, to be sure, but Shmuuth did seem to focus a little more.
    “Don't you sputter out on me, Yridian,” she warned him. “You didn't get spaced, but that doesn't let you off the hook. I've got something special planned for you.”
    The security android released Shmuuth and he fell to the deck, retching.
    “Mercy, Captain,” he mumbled. “I beg you...”
    Stride didn't answer, she just made an offhand motion to Shmuuth's guard. The security android got out of the way as the angry Husnock loomed over the babbling Shmuuth. Her tail arched over her head, again reminding Eddowes of a scorpion. The metal tip of her tail opened up to reveal a bright white light. She closed her eyes and concentrated.
    The intensity of the light suddenly surged into a blinding white flare that shot forward, enveloping Shmuuth. One moment Eddowes could see him groveling on the deck – the next moment he was gone. The open metal appendage at the end of Stride's tail snapped shut and the white light disappeared. Eddowes cautiously walked up next to Stride and saw that there was a small, white shape on the deck. Captain Stride moved in closer and bent to examine it.
    “A perfect cuboctahedron,” she remarked, her impressed whisper barely audible to Eddowes. “Just as predicted. Stride to Kelinda!”
    “Kelinda here.”
    “Please report to cargo bay three on the double.”
    “Acknowledged.”
    “Mr. Eddowes, if you would be so kind as to very carefully pick up this object and bring it into my cargo bay. Take great care not to damage it. Our experiment is not yet complete.”
    They left most of the androids to clean up cargo bay two and proceeded to three. The security android that had been attending to Shmuuth went with them as well, although Eddowes didn't understand why. He braced himself for the odor as they entered the Captain's quarters once again. Kelinda joined them only seconds later. She looked over the object that Eddowes held in his hands.
    “Excellent work, Captain!” she said. “Your mental control was perfect. For someone who is not a Kelvan to use this technology... I never thought it could be done.”
    “Thank you, Kelinda,” Stride said. “It was challenging, but worthwhile. Now the second part of the experiment must be achieved. Mr. Eddowes, please set that on the deck, be as gentle as you can.”
    He thought those words were funny coming from Stride, but Eddowes did as instructed, backing away with Kelinda toward the cargo bay door. Captain Stride stood over the object and arched her tail again, opening its metallic stinger. A full minute passed as she closed her eyes in concentration, a faint thrum could be heard as the implant reached full power. For a moment Eddowes thought whatever she was trying wasn't working, but the white light finally burst forth again and touched the object on the floor.
    His eyes adjusted after the flash and Eddowes was shocked to see Shmuuth standing there, apparently still alive. The scratches on his face remained. So did the decompression damage on his skin, but there he was. He looked around the cargo bay with growing horror.
    “How did we get here?” he asked them, terrified. “These animals... that terrible smell. Are we back on the planet?”
    Stride leaned against the bulkhead, not answering him. Eddowes could see the process had weakened her somewhat, which surprised him. So far the Husnock had given him the impression she was unstoppable.
    “Are you all right, Captain?” Kelinda asked, putting her hand on Stride's arm.
    “Is she all right?” whined Shmuuth. “Madam, this demonic beast has tortured me, slaughtered my employees – ”
    “That's enough complaining, Yridian,” Stride growled, starting to recover. “You will clean this entire cargo bay while I am gone.”
    “I'll do no such thing,” Shmuuth sniffed.
    “This security android will make certain you do,” she gestured and the android advanced with its disruptor at the ready.
    “Android? I thought they were Breen - “
    The security droid cracked Shmuuth on the head with the muzzle of its weapon.
    “That's the only warning you'll be getting,” Stride snarled. “Now get to work.”
    The three of them left the cargo bay as Shmuuth replicated himself a shovel.
     
  11. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Chapter Eight

    “An amazing result of pooling our technologies,” Kelinda marveled. “Your mental power is indeed formidable, Captain, if you can restore as well as reduce. I can't believe you accomplished this without our central power source or the energy field we relied on. The innovation of integrating the weapon into your own biology using Borg technology is a credit to Husnock ingenuity.”
    “Without you it would have been impossible to start with. Thank you for your help in constructing the new implant,” Stride said with a tired smile. “Use of the Reducer demands much energy from me, but I don't doubt it will serve me well in the right situation. We'll be underway soon, report to Engineering. Commander, change out of that uniform and meet me on the bridge.”
    Eddowes thought of Shmuuth, trapped in the filthy cargo bay.
    “Slave labor, Captain?” asked Eddowes, trying to shame her.
    “No, think of it more as a suitable punishment or one of your human practical jokes,” she told him as they headed for the turbolift. “The fact is I can easily have the replicator reclaim all the waste in there and recycle the matter. That's what I've been doing this whole time. But I like the idea of Shmuuth pushing a shovel through fecal material.”
    “When he's done with that task?” Eddowes inquired, already fearful of the answer. “What will become of him then?”
    “I will probably use the Reducer on him again and place him on a shelf,” Stride speculated, her interlocking fangs showing in a wider grin. “He can be a gift for Admiral Pressman when we've completed our mission. The two of them can reunite and swap stories.”
    “Couldn't you have reduced the Tellarites as well?” he asked, even more disgusted by the unnecessary loss of life. “You could have avoided killing them!”
    “That many? With great effort, maybe,” Stride admitted. “But it hardly would have been worth it. The Yridian's coordinates still have to be verified, so I will keep him alive at least until we reach our destination. Practicality demands that much. I think you already know the Tellarites were dead the moment I beamed everyone up to the Wolf.”

    Eddowes went to his quarters and stripped off the uniform he'd been so happy to wear. It was soaked through with blood and gore from the terrible activities of the day. It stuck to his skin and it stank, a proper metaphor for what he had just witnessed. Eddowes didn't bother to remove his three gold pips from the collar, he felt like he didn't deserve them. He smeared a dark red mess around his lavatory as he changed and stuffed it all into the reclamation unit. He felt like he was throwing away the hope he'd had that morning.
    Thinking back on his previous excitement, he felt like a fool.
    After he had changed into his gray, emblem-free MACO uniform he actually felt better. Anonymous, invisible, just like a criminal should be. Any other First Officer would have relieved a Captain of their command after seeing what he'd just witnessed. Any other First Officer would've been backed up by Starfleet Command, the Chief Medical Officer and probably the whole crew. Captain Stride would have been arrested in disgrace for what she had done.
    But the Wolf wasn't just any ship.
    Pressman and Stride's lectures made it clear that this Fleet would operate outside the law. The androids on board, especially the security models, obeyed without question. Eddowes and Saltridge were constrained from any real dissension. He could file a report with Pressman (assuming they survived their mission) but he doubted the Admiral would take any action against Stride. The business with the Klingon in medbay seemed to show Pressman was willing to put up with Stride to get the job done even if she did infuriate him.
    With a despondent sigh, Eddowes headed for the bridge.

    His spirits were lifted somewhat when he saw Saltridge was already back at the tactical station. She was intact and back in her gray uniform. Stride stood up from her chair as soon as he entered.
    “The bridge is yours, Commander,” she told him. “Break orbit, meet up with the Malurian at the edge of the system and proceed under cloak to the coordinates Shmuuth provided.”
    “Very good, Captain,” he answered.
    As soon as she left Eddowes went over to Saltridge.
    “Are you all right?” he asked. “How do you feel?”
    “Elgin did a good job of repairing me,” she replied, flexing her arm. “I'm good as new.”
    “That doesn't get rid of the trauma inflicted by the injury,” Eddowes commented, frowning.
    “I'll get over it.”
    “I know you will, let me know if there's anything I can do.”
    “Captain Nichols is hailing us.”
    “There's a ready room through there, right?” Eddowes pointed to a set of doors on the opposite side of the bridge. “Can you put him through in there?”
    “Yes, Sir.”

    Eddowes found the ready room in very good order, it looked as if no one had entered it since the ship had been built. There was one tiny view port, a desk with a computer terminal and a chair. None of it appeared to have ever been used. There was no other furniture or decoration of any kind. Eddowes sat down behind the desk and activated the computer station. Captain Nichols appeared on screen.
    “Commander,” Nichols greeted him warmly. “I heard you had a tough away mission.”
    “The party we were dealing with became hostile,” Eddowes reported. “Lieutenant Commander Saltridge was, um, damaged in an attack.”
    “But she's back on duty now?”
    “Yes, Sir,” Eddowes assured him. “She'll be fine. We did obtain the coordinates we were after, I'm sending them to you now. Captain Stride was... very persuasive. One of the people involved is still on board until we can verify the coordinates he provided are correct. The others have been... dealt with by the Captain.”
    “I see,” said Nichols gravely. “Commander, I know this is an extremely difficult situation for you. We are witnessing and performing actions that conflict with the very heart of what the Federation is supposed to stand for.”
    “Captain Stride - “
    “Yes, and we're working with life forms like Captain Stride,” Nichols said. “This is beyond any training we've ever had.”
    “She's killing people over here, Captain,” Eddowes told him in a strained voice. “She murdered a group of Tellarites today. Six deaths! I won't even tell you what she's done with the Yridian. Can't you speak to Admiral Pressman about this? There has to be something - “
    “Each of us has the authority to take whatever action is necessary to protect the secrecy of the mission and insure its success. If that means deaths, then I can tell you Pressman will sanction those killings. I guarantee it. Each of us will have to sacrifice some of our moral high ground for these missions. As one of the Risen you’ll have to serve under commanders that are… making the best of difficult situations.
    “Look at Captain Kelly of the Deneva for example. He’s a Kobali that’s been rescued from the Borg. They’re another Delta quadrant species, I don’t have time to go into it in detail, but essentially he was a zombified zombie. ‘Twice dead’ is the term Admiral Pressman used. Despite all that he strikes me as an excellent commanding officer. Stride is also from a radically different culture, capable of things most humans would abhor. But she’s getting the job done, that’s all Pressman cares about.
    “I've also done things on my ship I'm not proud of. I've got three Risen serving on the Malurian right now. They didn't ask for this, they likely don't even want to be here, but I'm using them to complete the mission. If my ship had been ready before the Wolf I would have eliminated those Klingon spies back at the shipyard just as Captain Stride did.
    “I understand where you're coming from, Mr. Eddowes, I really do. But for now we proceed. When Captain Stride explains the whole mission, I think you'll see the reason we've taken these extreme measures.”
    Eddowes doubted there was any possible justification for what he had witnessed so far, but it was pretty clear there would be no intervention from Captain Nichols.
    “Yes, Sir, thanks for listening,” Eddowes said, exasperated.
    “Any time, Commander, Nichols out.”

    After a long watch on the bridge Captain Stride returned to relieve Eddowes. She seemed to be rejuvenated after her rest and was wearing a clean uniform. Eddowes didn't ask about Shmuuth, preferring not to know what the Yridian's current predicament was.
    “How long to our destination, Mr. Eddowes?” she asked, slipping her tail through the back of her chair.
    “A little over five hours at our current speed, Captain,” he answered. “Nothing unusual to report.”
    Saltridge had gone off duty a couple of hours earlier. As soon as he stepped in the turbolift Eddowes inquired with computer and found out she was back in the forward observation lounge. He found her back at the Starfleet table with Elgin.
    “Where's Kelinda?” he asked, sitting down with them.
    “Working on something for the Captain,” Elgin answered. “They're trying to complete a key part of the mission before we reach our destination.”
    They sat in silence, without food or drink, watching the starfield warp by. The ghostly shape of the Malurian was barely visible as she travelled beside them.
    “Sometimes I really miss having a meal,” Saltridge remarked wistfully.
    “I actually don't miss a lot of my previous biological activity,” said Elgin. “Living this way is more efficient.”
    Saltridge looked over at him with a half smile.
    “So if they could have asked your permission to become one of the Risen, you would have accepted their offer?”
    “I didn't say that,” Elgin replied carefully. “I am merely cognizant of the available benefits now that I have made the transition.”
    Eddowes nodded, not surprised in the least by Elgin's response. He had thought the Vulcan's pacifist beliefs would make him the most miserable crew member on board the Wolf. But Elgin would be satisfied as long as there was logic in their mission – even if it was twisted logic.
     
  12. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Chapter Nine

    He awoke in his quarters after a couple of hours and cleaned his lavatory, scrubbing the dried blood away so it wouldn't be there when he returned. He didn't feel any better when he had finished. He had hoped that somehow by cleaning up the mess he would diminish the memory of the events, but his memory of what had happened was still vivid, perhaps more vivid than if he were a flesh and blood person. But his reverie was cut short because he had a strong impulse to go to the bridge.
    “It's time for real action at last, Mr. Eddowes,” Captain Stride greeted him warmly. “We're within minutes of our destination. No more waiting. We can now discuss mission specifics in full!”
    Eddowes saw that in addition to Saltridge, Kelinda and Elgin were also present on the bridge. Stride leaned forward and spoke to the android helmsman.
    “Zoom in on the coordinates I gave you.”
    Eddowes took his station. Watching the screen, he saw only black. He brought up his display and began more detailed sensor sweeps, still seeing nothing.
    “Sir, what are we looking at?”
    “Did Pressman give you the historical speech about the Doolittle Raid?” she asked him.
    “Yes, he did.”
    “They didn't destroy Japan in that raid,” Stride said. “They just wanted to do some damage to send a message. They wanted to show the enemy that they could hit back hard. That's what we'll try to do today. Captain Nichols already knows this and now I can tell you. With the help of Kelinda and some of Admiral Pressman's very skilled Starfleet engineers I have constructed a new weapon.”
    Upon hearing this Eddowes felt a chill run up his back.
    “Here in the Alpha quadrant there are exit apertures for the Borg transwarp network. This new weapon can be placed in the vicinity of such an aperture and detonated. With a conventional attack, there would be no effect because there's no real target. The transwarp conduit is generated from the hub in the Delta quadrant.”
    Eddowes switched to a tachyon beam scan which did reveal something, a very small subspace distortion.
    “When the Borg cube showed up in the Alpha quadrant its arrival here was monitored by an astronomer on Zeta Alpha 2. This man was part of a team that was able to get detailed sensor readings of the exit aperture used by the Borg and they found a flaw. Unfortunately, he talked to the wrong people about his idea and got himself killed. His information was stolen before Pressman's people could get to him. Those valuable numbers were obtained by his old Yridian friend Mr. Shmuuth, who kindly gave the coordinates to us.”
    The bridge was silent for a moment at the mention of Shmuuth's name. The androids went about their usual business, but both Eddowes and Saltridge became noticeably uncomfortable. Stride rolled her eyes a bit, annoyed by their soft hearted approach to getting the job done.
    “How is this attack supposed to work?” Eddowes finally asked, putting the Yridian out of his mind. “I don't see any way into the conduit from this end, an exit aperture is useless to us.”
    “What the sensors found isn't much. It's a kind of barely detectable feedback loop that theoretically stretches all the way back to the transwarp hub itself. If you're using a tachyon beam to probe the aperture coordinate, Mr. Eddowes, you might be seeing that same transient signal.”
    “Yes, Captain, I am,” Eddowes confirmed. “But I'm hearing a lot of maybes in what you're describing. How can we exploit this flaw if the transwarp hub is across the galaxy?”
    “With existing Federation technology, we can't. However, we've been able to create a device that uses an Omega particle charge riding a soliton wave to transmit a devastating subspace shockwave backwards through the exit aperture flaw into the transwarp conduit. This shockwave will be focused through the conduit and shred subspace to pieces at the origin point located in the Delta quadrant at the Borg's transwarp hub. If it works at least a portion of the hub will be destroyed, but more importantly subspace itself will be eliminated within a generous radius around that location. With the subspace damage, they can repair the hub if they want, but they can never use it again. The Borg will have to start over someplace else, which will take a considerable amount of time and work.”
    The tiny subspace distortion danced about on the display as Eddowes watched dubiously.
    “Why haven't the Borg detected this problem and fixed it?” he asked.
    She looked around the bridge with those sharp, intelligent yellow eyes.
    “They don't necessarily know everything, Mr. Eddowes, look at how Riker was able to turn the tables on them with a simple sleep command. Arrogance is one of their greatest weaknesses. The Borg is a far-reaching cybernetic enslaving machine, but it isn't a god.”
    Saltridge was still skeptical.
    “The kind of forces we're playing with... we could be destroyed while attempting this.”
    “We still have to make the attempt, Saltridge. I'm not promising anything, this weapon is untested after all. That's the main reason Admiral Pressman decided to send two ships, this thing certainly could easily malfunction and destroy us. The Malurian will watch at what we hope is a safe distance and record everything we do. If we fail, then maybe the weapon can be perfected based on data Captain Nichols collects.”
    She stood up from the Captain's chair, rising to her full height. She pushed her shining black feathers back behind her shoulders and looked down at Eddowes, who was still studying the data on the exit aperture.
    “Any more questions?” she asked. Her query was not threatening, or even unkind. Stride seemed to genuinely want to cover all the bases.
    Eddowes once again noted that Stride had some good command qualities that would serve her well as a Starfleet Captain. However, he didn't think these counterbalanced the Husnock's more belligerent behavior. She was tough and extremely intelligent, but he still regarded some of her behavior as criminal. He just couldn't help it. Secret mission or not, he thought much of what had transpired on this voyage was just plain evil.
    Now that he knew the full situation, Eddowes saw that they had no choice but to try. If Stride's weapon worked it could conceivably destroy millions of Borg drones and cripple their ability to launch more Alpha quadrant attacks, at least for a while.
    “No, Captain,” he answered. “There are still unknowns here, but I see nothing to stop us from making the attempt. Ready to proceed.”

    The Malurian held position half a light year away. Captain Nichols decided against using the phasing cloak during the test, concerned that it might interact with the weapon in some unexpected way.
    Captain Stride ordered the Wolf into position.
    “Mr. Elgin, would you accompany Kelinda down to cargo bay one. It's time to prime the weapon.”
    “Right away, Captain,” answered Elgin.
    “Saltridge, monitor the progress of the weapon,” Stride ordered, sounding tense. “Yellow alert. It's supposed to automatically target the aperture but if it deviates in the slightest we may have to alter its course or abort. Keep your hand on that shield control, we'll need them up at full strength as soon as the weapon leaves the ship.”
    “Yes, Captain.”
    Eddowes scanned the vicinity around them for any other ships. He detected only the Malurian and the Wolf.
    “The area looks clear, Captain,” he reported.
    “Stride to Kelinda.”
    “Kelinda here.”
    “Is it ready?”
    “Ready, Captain, just waiting on your order.”
    Stride checked her own readouts at the Captain's chair. She stood up and checked over the helm android's shoulder. She sat back down and Eddowes heard her take a deep breath.
    “Fire.”
    He saw the device fly out of the open door in cargo bay one. Along with everyone else on the bridge, Eddowes watched its progress intently. The weapon never wavered, it flew straight at the flaw in the aperture.
    “Magnify,” Stride ordered.
    They could see the weapon, a long missile with a glowing blue tip that was starting to build a soliton wave around it. Success seemed inevitable and even Captain Stride was on the edge of her seat, tail twitching excitedly.
    That was when it all went wrong.

    A Borg cube burst through the aperture when the weapon was still thirty thousand kilometers away. The device was captured in a tractor beam from the cube and held in place. The soliton wave was still building up, but the collision with the weak point in the aperture had been averted. Captain Stride never hesitated, she attacked her sworn enemy on sight.
    “Red alert!” she yelled. “Fire gravimetric torpedoes, full spread with maximum yield!”
    Saltridge blasted the cube with a string of ten rapidly fired torpedoes. There was some severe surface damage at first, but the cube's shields adapted and stopped the massive explosions after the first few hits.
    “Bring us closer, align the phaser lances, continual fire,” Stride ordered.
    Eddowes was not familiar with the stochastic shields, he hoped they would do their job better than the shields on the Geneva had. The powerful phaser lances mounted on either side of the hexagonal primary hull also changed frequency every time they fired, gouging deeply into the Borg cube.
    “Again! Fire!” commanded Stride, furiously typing course corrections into the panels on her chair.
    The Wolf's twin phaser lances pierced through the Borg shields again. Her thick, bright blue beams plunged into one corner, blowing the section completely apart. The Borg tractor beam kept trying to lock on, but the Wolf's shields held and she was very fast. The helm android was hammering in evasive commands, keeping them out of the Borg's reach – so far.
    “They must have detected the presence of an Omega particle on this end of the conduit somehow!” Saltridge yelled as she fired again.
    “We can't let them take the weapon!” Stride said. “They can't be allowed to assimilate technology that would stabilize the particle. Fire torpedoes!”
    Another spread of gravimetric torpedoes followed by more phaser lance blasts lit up the bridge viewer. Eddowes noticed the bridge lights dimmed slightly every time the phaser lances were used, he could only imagine how much energy they were drawing from the Omega Triple Core. A good thing, too, since they were able to punch into the cube... for now.
    The Borg finally managed to lock onto the Wolf using a crossfire of four separate tractor beams. The stochastic shields started to overload and the ship shook violently. Saltridge was desperately trying to keep them up, but failure was imminent. The phaser lances dug another set of ragged gashes into the side of the cube but it wasn't damaged enough to be put out of commission. It started to draw the partially activated weapon in.
    “Captain, we should destroy the beam emitter that has the weapon!” Eddowes shouted as the Wolf began to shake even more.
    “Align lances and fire!” she responded. “Prepare to engage phasing cloak!”
    The phasers blasted out the Borg tractor beam emitter, setting the weapon adrift again.
    “We're losing the shields, Captain!” Saltridge reported.
    “Drop them and switch to phasing cloak at once!” Stride answered. “Get us some distance, come about to - “
    At that point Eddowes saw the cube release a string of sparkling red objects. They must have been running on a powerful magnetic field line because the objects smashed into the Wolf like the were mounted to a bullwhip. There was a tremendous crash and power actually went out for a moment. Emergency power kicked in and Stride made an urgent call to Engineering.
    “Stride to Kelinda! Can you get the core back on line? The helm is dead up here and impulse engines are down.”
    “Core is still stable but power transfer conduits have sustained heavy damage from whatever weapon they're using. It's going to take time to repair.” The voice came from an android, not Kelinda. Eddowes imagined she was busy working down there and unable to shift back to human form.
    Chaotic sounds of banging metal and electrical shorts could be heard as Kelinda's android responded, increasing his fear of a possible Omega particle explosion. His panel came back to life briefly and he saw on sensors that the Malurian was racing in from her fall back position to join the battle.
    They watched in silence for a moment as Malurian cut into the cube with her phaser lances, rolling as she fired. The twin blue beams stabbed it again and again, carving deep black trenches in a spiral pattern. The destruction inflicted looked severe, but the Borg shields were steadily improving despite the shifting frequencies and awesome power of those weapons. As the Malurian passed over them Captain Nichols dropped several gravimetric torpedoes into the areas he had just damaged with his phaser lances. There were massive explosions but the Borg shields reduced their effectiveness, keeping the damage to the outer hull. Elgin returned to the bridge and assumed his station. He scanned the cube for a few seconds and sat back in his chair, mortified by what he saw on his readouts.
    “Captain,” Elgin reported urgently. “The Borg have obtained the missile again. It is inside the cube. It's just a matter of time before they assimilate it.”
    Eddowes was struck by the reality that instead of hurting the Borg, they had given them one of the greatest energy sources ever discovered. They would be impossible to stop now, invincible. The Borg would spread like a plague through the galaxy and it was all their fault. If only Admiral Pressman could see them now, how arrogant would he be?
     
  13. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Chapter Ten

    “Transmission coming through from Captain Nichols,” Saltridge reported.
    “On screen,” growled Stride through gritted fangs, trying to control her rage.
    “What's your status, Captain?” Nichols asked. “It looks like the Wolf has lost power.”
    “Only for the moment,” she assured him. “The damage to power transfer is being repaired. Watch out for that weapon of theirs, it looks like it's intended to smash power grids. We'll be back in the fight as soon as we can. I'm sure you've seen that they have obtained the weapon containing the Omega particle. That cube cannot be allowed to escape, it must be completely obliterated. ”
    “That's exactly what I was thinking,” Nichols replied grimly. “They've started adapting to our phasers and torpedoes, we won't be able to fight them much longer. But I have an idea. For the sake of the entire galaxy, this has to be done. Mr. Eddowes?”
    “Yes, Captain Nichols?”
    “It's been a pleasure to know you, however briefly,” Captain Nichols saluted them. “This is for the United Federation of Planets. Good luck to you all.”
    The transmission ended.
    “What's he doing?” Eddowes wondered.
    On the viewer they saw the Malurian engage her phasing cloak and disappear.
    “Power coming back online, Captain,” Kelinda reported from engineering.
    “Align the phaser lances - “ Stride's command was cut off as they saw an enormous rupture open up one whole side of the cube. “Belay that, engage phasing cloak and back us off!”
    Huge pieces of wreckage flew through the insubstantial Wolf as the Borg cube was torn apart in front of them. A brief cheer went up from Stride, Eddowes and Saltridge but they soon saw it was much more than what they thought. The destruction was not limited to the cube, the aperture itself became visible briefly as the weapon's effect spread out. It flickered like a window into an immense furnace before it collapsed in itself, creating a momentary gravitational funnel behind the disintegrating Borg ship.
    Eddowes could see that there had been a giant detonation in the center of the cube.
    Watching the sensor display, Eddowes was concerned that the Omega discharge would no longer be perfectly focused into the conduit. The soliton wave was too erratic to be relied upon now, some of the subspace damage would inevitably occur in the Alpha quadrant. Eddowes could already see the Omega reaction spreading out on the Wolf's sensors, chewing up subspace as it expanded. He couldn't see any sign of the Malurian.
    “We should try and contact Captain Nichols,” he suggested tensely. “We don't know what actually happened. It's possible - “
    “If I may, Commander,” interrupted Elgin. “I believe the Malurian engaged her phasing cloak, took a position in the center of the Borg cube, destabilized the Omega Triple Core, and came out of phase just as the ship exploded. The resulting damage overwhelmed the Borg and destroyed the cube from the inside out. A great sacrifice. There is something of a soliton vortex forming at the aperture, but I'm not certain how much Omega will be taken to the Delta quadrant now.”
    “My god...” breathed Eddowes, momentarily overcome with grief. Tears welled in his eyes as he thought of the Malurian's last moments. What it must have been like on the bridge or in Engineering to know that they were about to die.
    “Captain Nichols did more than just defeat that cube,” Elgin remarked from his station. He was busily going over data from the sprawling explosion that still dominated the viewer. “The reaction that our weapon was supposed to create and focus into the transwarp conduit was generated, but at a much higher power level. The addition of the Malurian's core and the energy from the cube magnified the reaction. Subspace is being devastated for a small distance on our end, but once that shockwave reaches the Borg transwarp hub... the entire assembly should be blown apart. I'm getting additional readings now. This is incredible.”
    “Did it work?” asked Saltridge anxiously.
    “Based on what I am seeing here,” Elgin announced. “The Delta quadrant transwarp hub should be largely demolished. In fact, it's likely the nebula it was nestled in is actually on fire over in the Delta quadrant right now.”
    They sat in silence for a moment, absorbing the implications of Elgin's analysis.
    “We've accomplished the mission, then,” Saltridge said cautiously, trying to find something positive in their terrible situation.
    “Thanks to Captain Nichols and the noble starship Malurian. Get us out of here. Come about, proceed at maximum warp,” Stride ordered, her voice tinged with sorrow. “We'll try and stay ahead of that spreading subspace dead zone.”
    The Wolf turned and sped from the spreading Borg wreckage but they only got as far as half a light year. The Omega shockwave caught up with them and subspace started to fall apart. Even though she was using her phasing cloak, the Wolf still vibrated as subspace fragmented around them. Their warp field was stripped away and the only thing that saved the Wolf from taking more damage was being in a phased state. The ship spun and rolled for several minutes until the androids on the bridge got it under control.
    “Full stop,” Stride said, more of an observation than an order. “Damage report, Commander.”
    Eddowes looked over the reports coming in from androids all over the ship.
    “Moderate damage, Captain,” he replied. “Mainly from our battle. The Omega particles are still stable.”
    “Warp drive will now be impossible,” Elgin reminded them.
    “Helm, how far to the nearest class M world?” Stride asked.
    “At full impulse it will take about a year and eight months to reach Dytallix M,” reported the android. “Maybe longer. It is just barely habitable. There is a meager ecosystem and some automated mining facilities present on its surface.”
    Stride sat back in her chair, thinking. Eddowes realized after a few moments that she must be calculating how long her remaining food supply would last. Stride and Kelinda were the only organics he knew of on board besides Shmuuth. Kelinda seemed like she didn't mind replicated food, but Stride had already told him that she hated it.
    “Mr. Elgin, at what distance can we expect our warp capability to return?” she asked, her face getting more furious by the moment.
    “The shockwave is still expanding,” Elgin observed. “The effect extends beyond Dytallix M. Maybe just under two years of impulse travel before we can use warp drive again.”
    Stride's tail fell to the deck with a clang.
    Two years.
    After a moment, she looked up defiantly, her yellow eyes sharp and resolute. She walked over and sat back down in her chair. She smoothed her feathers over her shoulders and took a deep breath.
    “Set a course for Dytallix M,” she ordered, her anger barely under control. “Full impulse.”
    “Are any other Federation worlds going to be inside the null warp zone?” asked Eddowes.
    “No, Commander,” replied Elgin after a lengthy scan. “We've been very fortunate in that respect.”
    “How is this fortunate?” demanded Saltridge.
    “The soliton element of our weapon did focus much of the shockwave into the conduit,” Elgin pointed out. “The Delta quadrant Borg received most of the destructive force and subspace damage. The region on our end was significantly reduced, it could have gone on for many light years in every direction. As it is, we are dealing with a subspace null zone extending out a short distance from the former location of the exit aperture.”
    “I survived as a Borg drone for seventeen years,” stated Stride grimly. “I can survive two years of waiting on this ship. I still have unfinished business with Admiral Pressman.”
    She sounded confident, but Eddowes could see her expression was troubled. Remembering the deer fawn meal he witnessed, for the first time he was glad he was no longer made of meat.
    As the Wolf moved off, Eddowes brought up the aft view at his station. The conflagration that had engulfed both the Malurian and the Borg cube was starting to coalesce into a molten cinder of debris. By paying a high price and taking an even higher risk, their Doolittle mission had been achieved. The Borg had failed to steal the Omega technology itself and they didn't escape with the knowledge used to stabilize it. Most importantly, without their transwarp conduit, they wouldn't come calling any time soon.
    He slowly realized that they had fought the Battle of Wolf 359 all over again with just two Federation starships – and they had won. They had bested the invading ship and demolished one of their most important bases. He hated to admit it, but Pressman had actually been proven right. That amoral, untrustworthy bastard had gambled and gotten lucky.
    For now.

    Commander Eddowes returned to his quarters when his shift was done. While the day had started out in one of the most intense battles he'd ever seen, the latter part of his shift had been dull and depressing. It had consisted mostly of the Wolf limping forward at full impulse and watching the diminishing ember of the wreckage from their fight with the Borg.
    He sat down next to his window and looked out at the stars. He couldn't help but think of Captain Nichols and a tear tracked down his face. Eddowes wondered who the three Risen were on board the Malurian. What ships were they originally from? What were their names and positions? Would their families ever know these people had given their lives to defend the Federation twice? The questions in his head darkened his mood even more. He doubted Pressman would ever let the details of what they were doing see the light of day, even in the far future. Duty beyond death was just too horrible a concept to unleash on grieving relatives. The knowledge that the Federation Council had ignored its principles and agreements to secure victory would cause outrage with the other Alpha quadrant powers.
    No eating, no drinking, not even a shower was required for his new android body. No holodeck onboard the Wolf. Just sleep and duty were available to him. While he had only served on Captain Stride's vessel for a few days, he felt worn down. Burnt out. Even expressing his sorrow in private provided no solace. He theorized that some of the Risen must contemplate suicide when they realize the nature of their predicament. Was he even capable of that? Or was there a prohibition built into him against harming himself as well as Admiral Pressman? Maybe some day he would try to find out... His train of thought made Eddowes shut his eyes, which conjured up the image of Captain Nichols and his final salute.
    The door chime sounded, startling him. Panic crept in to join his depression. Who would pay him a personal visit?
    “Come,” he answered softly, steeling himself.
    The doors parted to reveal Saltridge. She stepped in wordlessly, tear tracks shining on her face. It turned out she was being haunted by the same doubts as Eddowes.
    “I am overcome,” she told him quietly, “by regret. I wish there had been some way to save the Malurian. Some way the Wolf could have intervened. I wish I wasn't one of the Risen. The regular androids seem to have a better handle on things; they follow orders and complete the mission. Here I am, a machine under the delusion it's a person... it's pathetic.”
    “I think our emotional awareness proves how successful Pressman's technique can be,” Eddowes answered her. “It's simultaneously a blessing and a curse. If I have my feelings, aren't I still me? But if my emotions persist in this form, doesn't that mean I will simply suffer as eternity stretches out? Would I be better off as a mindless automaton?”
    Susan walked over to him and put her hand on his shoulder.
    “At least you're not alone,” she told him. “Maybe in the end that's what's really important.”
    They sat and talked for a while after that. Eventually Eddowes realized there was, in fact, one last comfort their android bodies could offer them. He was very grateful, an intimate relationship might be the only thing that offered hope for keeping his sanity. A two year voyage would be more bearable when one had multiple techniques to explore... and share.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2018
  14. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Chapter Eleven

    One year and seven months passed as the Wolf moved along at full impulse. The aftermath of their last battle had receded until it was only an orange glimmer, then it was a speck, then it vanished from view completely. Eddowes had zoomed in on the site from time to time, seeing only drifting metallic debris. Thorough scans revealed that Elgin had been right, the transwarp conduit had been destroyed. Alone in his quarters, Eddowes and Saltridge dared to hope that the hub at the other end had been wiped out as well. If it had, if that nebula had been left burning as Elgin described, at least Captain Nichols and his crew had not died in vain.
    Stride had said they would use part of their extended travel time to add phasing cloak technology to a couple of their gravimetric torpedoes. It was very expensive and time consuming to develop, but hopefully it would make major sacrifices like the Malurian's unnecessary in future battles.
    Eddowes was sitting on the bridge, bored to death. Elgin had just gone off duty. He and Saltridge would follow as soon as Captain Stride returned to the bridge. The long, dull journey didn't seem to bother Stride too much. He supposed suffering as a Borg drone had taught her patience. The only negative effect the ordeal had on her seemed to concern her diet. She had stopped eating her young animals, letting them grow as much as possible before devouring them.
    The last remaining deer were well cared for by Mr. Shmuuth. To the disgust of Eddowes, Stride had finally decided not to reduce the Yridian for the voyage. Instead she used him as a personal servant, something he strongly objected to.
    “Captain,” he had told her a couple of days after the battle. “You can not use this man as a servant! He's not a member of Starfleet, he should not be forced into manual labor on this ship.”
    “Nonsense,” she had replied. “Mr. Shmuuth has agreed to help out around the ship of his own accord. If Jean-Luc Picard can fill a bridge position with a child, this Yridian can certainly earn his passage tending livestock. A cabin boy takes us back to the 'ye olden days' of sailing ships, don't you think, Commander?”
    Her tail had curved over her head as she spoke. It pointed right at Shmuuth as he stood on the deck of Stride's cargo hold, little sugar cubes spilling out of his hands.
    “Would you prefer to be reduced for the rest of your trip Mr. Shmuuth?” she asked.
    “No, Captain,” replied Shmuuth quickly. “I am happy to help however I can.”
    He immediately went over and started feeding replicated sugar cubes to Stride's deer.
    “There you have it, Mr. Eddowes,” Stride declared. “This creature isn't being abused. Far from it, he's thrilled to be part of our crew.”
    Eddowes was uncertain of his argument at that point. Should he push for Shmuuth to be reduced? That seemed cruel as well. Should he swallow this cabin boy nonsense? He could ask Stride to just leave Shmuuth alone in his quarters, but he had to admit he didn't trust the Yridian himself.
    He hated that the same security android – still marked with dried, splattered blood from the day Shmuuth came aboard – always followed him around. Stride's constant eyes and ears, keeping Shmuuth firmly under her thumb. In the end he had simply left the situation alone. Shmuuth bringing a deer a pail of water was hardly the worst atrocity he'd ever witnessed on board the Wolf.
    As time passed, the number of livestock animals dwindled until there was just a single remaining doe. Shmuuth doted on it with deep devotion, obviously worried that after it was eaten he would serve no purpose. He had already been reassured by Stride that she would rather eat replicated swill than Yridian, but he still didn't quite believe it. She ordered him about like a butler and he gladly tolerated it because he was rightfully terrified of the Captain. Eddowes didn't like to admit it, but Stride's example of spacing the Tellarites had certainly made an impression.
    He was jolted out of his reverie by a report from the helm android.
    “Ship detected, Sir, extreme range.”
    Eddowes brought the image up on his panel at the Captain's chair. As he studied the sensor readings, he started to get excited.
    “Susan, look at this!”
    “Looks like a heavily damaged Miranda class vessel,” she observed. “What the hell happened to her? There's almost nothing left... wait.”
    “You're seeing four life signs, correct?”
    “Um, that's the way it looks,” she agreed cautiously. There appears to be power and atmosphere in the medbay section only. Other than that, she's adrift.”
    The ship appeared on the main viewer, a small gray speck.
    “Magnify,” Eddowes ordered eagerly.
    The forward portion of the primary hull was broken and blackened, but he could still read USS Hurricane. Eddowes stared at it intently for a moment.
    “Alter course to intercept.”
    “Allan,” Saltridge whispered. “Shouldn't we notify the Captain?”
    “I am in command at the moment,” Eddowes replied evenly. “and I am starting a rescue operation. I will not leave four Starfleet officers out here to die, Susan. With the subspace damage in this area it's very unlikely they will ever be rescued.”
    “But the secrecy of our mission - “
    “Our mission was already accomplished,” Eddowes pointed out. “I want those life forms beamed into cargo bay four. Flood the bay with anesthetic gas. Secure the doors, but don't send any security androids. I am confident that we can pull this off. You have the bridge.”

    Eddowes hurried to his quarters, excited to once again change into an official Starfleet uniform. He had an idea, yes, but no notion of what he would say to these people when he met them. He couldn't help but think there had to be a way to make this work. The Wolf needed to carry out at least one successful rescue operation. He felt a deep desire to directly save some people after what he'd been through. He raced out of his quarters and made his way to cargo bay four, rushing past indifferent crew androids.
    He felt a pluck at his elbow and saw it was Shmuuth. He had emerged from Captain Stride's cargo bay and was frantically trying to slow him down. Eddowes didn't slow his pace and the Yridian had to run to keep up.
    “Commander,” Shmuuth whined. “The Captain is up in medbay, but she has asked me to prevent you from opening cargo bay four. She is most insistent.”
    “Don't you have a doe to take care of?” Eddowes replied, glaring at him. He could feel it, though, Stride's strong influence emanating from her Norman Implant, commanding him to stand down. He intended to test the strength of that connection against that of his own will... if he still truly had a will. Shmuuth's security android followed along with them, not interfering for the moment. He knew her puppet could take action against him, but he had hoped Stride wouldn't go that far. A moment is all he would need to -
    “Mr. Eddowes!”
    Stride's voice would have made his blood run cold if he still had any. He was within half a meter of the doors, there were people in there that were depending on him for their very survival. He was convinced that the intervention of his Husnock Captain would not be to their benefit. He struggled to find some way of convincing her this rescue could work.
    “Yes, Captain?”
    She stomped up to him, her ire barely under control. The strain of not eating properly was starting to show. Her skin had faded from gray and was on its way to a pallid white. Her lips had changed from purple to a lighter violet. Her yellow eyes were glassy and the vertical pupils were a little wider than usual. Sometimes when she was talking, especially when agitated, her jaw would yawn a little wider than necessary on its extra hinge.
    Shmuuth and his ever present security android hovered by the cargo bay, as if he needed two more reasons not to open the door. Shmuuth looked like he would prefer to be anywhere else, glancing over his shoulder as Captain Stride stood behind him.
    “You weren't going to bring people aboard without informing me, were you?”
    “Their ship is in terrible condition,” Eddowes explained, trying to think. “They could've died at any moment so there was no room for hesitation. I am begging you to render assistance to these people, Captain.”
    She shook her head, feathers flaring out briefly.
    “You know I can't do that without compromising our mission,” she snarled.
    “We're only talking about four people here,” Eddowes argued. “That's why I changed into a regular Starfleet uniform. I think we can keep them contained, and beam them down to a starbase at the end of our journey. It's just a couple of months before we clear the subspace void - “
    “Months!” spat Stride, unimpressed. “Listen to yourself! They simply can't be on board my ship, you know that. The answers to even the most basic questions they are certain to ask are classified.”
    “But I have a plan,” Eddowes insisted. “I've had the bay flooded with gas. They will all be sedated, so there won't be a security breach. We'll just tell them they're on a Federation starship and that they're being rescued.”
    “Then what?” Stride demanded. “Take them to the nearest starbase? Maroon them on Dytallix M? Hand them over to Admiral Pressman? What is this positive outcome you've envisioned?”
    Eddowes didn't have a response, he hadn't thought that far ahead. He just knew that he wasn't going to abandon survivors on a wrecked ship.
    “Can we at least see who we're dealing with?” he asked, exasperated. “The gas has already done its work and been dissipated. They won't be conscious, so there's no security risk in opening the door. If there were Husnock lying injured in that cargo bay, you would help them, right?”
    Captain Stride growled in frustration, her eyes narrowing. She ran her hands over her feathers, the metallic implants that studded her skull peeking out between her fingers. Her tail smacked into the deck a few times as she thought over the situation, leaving dents. Each time her tail made a harsh clang Shmuuth whimpered and cowered. Only the Breen-helmeted security android was without an opinion on the matter, standing as still as a garden statue. Eddowes felt an abrupt cessation, the impulse to stop was gone from his mind.
    “Very well, Commander,” Stride sighed in frustration. “Let's see what you've found.”
    “Thank you, Captain,” Eddowes said, relieved she had seen reason. He was absolutely sure they could work something out with these people.
    He released the lock on the cargo bay door and opened it.

    Shmuuth was struck by a phaser blast before the doors had fully opened. He crumpled to the floor at the feet of the security android, which brought its disruptor to bear and returned fire. Eddowes was shoved aside and a person in a Starfleet uniform wearing a breathing mask ran down the corridor. He glanced into the bay and saw three others, all wearing breathing masks, one of them on the floor from the security android's disruptor fire.
    “Breen!” someone shouted from inside the bay. More phaser shots were fired as Stride and Eddowes took cover on either side of the door. The security android was hit with a couple of phaser blasts, but the stun setting did little to deter it. Captain Stride had taken off down the corridor after the person who had escaped and they had both disappeared deeper into the ship.
    Eddowes opened his eye socket and looked into the bay for a moment, firing a stun blast from his eye phaser. He struck one of the figures as they stood up to fire and they sprawled on the deck.
    “Listen to me!” Eddowes yelled. “Stop firing!”
    Since the android under Stride's control continued to rain disruptor blasts into the bay, his plea did little good. As far as the survivors were convinced they were under Breen attack. Given the Breen's fearsome reputation a surrender was even more doubtful. The android kept firing as it advanced into the bay, keeping the remaining person pinned down.
    “We're here to help you!” Eddowes cried. “You're on a Federation starship! Just let me talk to you!”
    The android had now cornered the final survivor, who was wounded. Eddowes rushed into the bay and stunned the person with his eye phaser. He bent down to pull off the breathing mask and revealed a young Vulcan officer, green blood dripping from his disruptor burns.
    “Dr. Serein to cargo bay four on the double!” he shouted. The lack of response from the Doctor made him even angrier.
    He turned to the other individual on the deck and removed the breathing mask. Underneath was a human female, dead from a disruptor hit to her heart. He felt despair well up in him and dropped both breathing masks on the deck. Eddowes bent down and double checked the female lieutenant commander for a pulse, just in case. There was nothing. He allowed the phaser to retract and his eyeball to slide back into place.
    Eddowes went over to the figure he had stunned in the fight. He pulled off the breathing mask and saw the blue face of a Bolian. He hadn't sustained any hits from the security android and Eddowes felt a little better knowing he would recover.
    He turned towards the door and saw Dr. Serein enter with a squad of security androids behind him. Eddowes ran into the corridor and grabbed the Doctor by his white lab coat.
    “When I call for you in the future, Doctor,” Eddowes told him through clenched teeth. “You'd better acknowledge me or I'll pull off your antennae!”
    The Andorian blinked in surprise and staggered back as his coat was released. Eddowes got himself under control and thought maybe he'd spent too much time on board the Wolf. He didn't like how it was changing him.
    “Just remember, I am the First Officer on this ship,” he said, trying for a less hostile tone.
    “Yes, Sir,” Dr. Serein answered in a hushed tone.
    “Now see to those two,” Eddowes ordered, stepping over the unconscious Yridian. “They're to be transported to medbay under guard and restrained for treatment. Also, try and look after Mr. Shmuuth.”
    Thinking of the person who escaped when he had opened the door, he grew worried. Captain Stride had been in pursuit and he didn't care for that person's survival odds.
    “Eddowes to Saltridge.”
    “Saltridge here.”
    “Intruder alert, all decks, person in a Starfleet uniform wearing a breathing mask, last seen exiting cargo bay four. Try to get a fix on internal sensors.”
    “Yes, Sir.” Red indicators lit up around him and she made the announcement to the entire ship.
    As he said it, Eddowes knew an alert wasn't necessary, although Kelinda would still need to know. Stride would already have used her Norman Implant to alert all androids on the ship to the intruder. He could feel it himself as he sprinted down the corridor looking for them. He welcomed the impulse to seek this person out because it meant that Stride hadn't killed the fugitive... yet.

    “Intruder detected in computer core section, deck ten.”
    “Acknowledged,” Eddowes replied, getting in the nearest turbolift. “On my way.”
    The doors opened and he saw the Captain at the entrance to the core, motionless. He silently came up beside her under the one of the extensive computer segments that comprised the brain of the Wolf. She looked down at him and motioned to a maintenance crawlspace below the nearest processing ring. He nodded and they quietly circled around in opposite directions.
    The masked survivor emerged above Eddowes, having climbed up the center of the core. He saw the figure nimbly run across the top of the processing ring and jump down, right on top of the Captain.
    Stride grabbed the escapee by the throat and tore the breathing mask off its head. Eddowes saw it was a male Bajoran, his boots dangling in the air. She had caught him before he ever touched the deck and Eddowes was worried she would finish him off before he could intervene.
    The Bajoran fought back ferociously, managing to free himself by using some sort of electrically charged weapon. He repeatedly struck Stride's arm with it and delivered a hard kick to her midsection. Squirming violently he wrestled free of her grasp and hit the floor.
    “Stop!” yelled Eddowes, running up to them. “Please wait!”
    The Bajoran ignored him and pressed his attack on Stride, showing he had mastered some type of martial art. His effort was valiant, but the cybernetically enhanced Husnock had greater reach, strength and resilience. Her tail whipped around, knocking his electrical weapon out of his hand. At the same instant she seized his arm, twisting it hard until Eddowes heard the bones splinter. The Bajoran howled in pain, dropping to his knees on the deck. Stride released the broken arm and clenched her fist, raising it to deliver a blow that Eddowes assumed would be fatal.
    “Captain - “ his plea was cut off as the Bajoran pulled out a small concealed object and threw it down, shattering it and creating a small explosion. The computer core section was instantly filled with dense white smoke and Eddowes fell back from the brief shockwave, disoriented. When the ventilation system had cleared out the smoke a moment later, he looked up to see the Bajoran had vanished. The lame trick was the type of thing he would have expected from a stage magician on Earth, but it had worked. It was just him and the Captain, who was even more enraged now.
    “Stride to Saltridge!”
    “Saltridge here.”
    “Continue scans for Bajoran life signs, intruder still at large,” she ordered.
    She closed her eyes for a moment, intensifying the android search of the ship. It looked like the Bajoran had managed to hurt Stride with his electrical weapon, some of her implants appeared damaged and there were burns on the skin of her arm. After a pause and some deep breathing, she turned to Eddowes, her yellow eyes brimming with fury.
    “Did any of the others you brought aboard survive?” she asked him, pushing her feathers back out of her face.
    “A Bolian and a Vulcan,” Eddowes reported. “I ordered Dr. Serein to treat them in medbay.”
    Stride picked up the Bajoran's discarded weapon and looked it over. It was some kind of high voltage discharge batton. She slammed it against the bulkhead, smashing it to pieces.
     
  15. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Chapter Twelve

    The two survivors were still unconscious when the Captain and Mr. Eddowes arrived in medbay.
    “I need to speak with one of these men,” Stride informed Dr. Serein. “The Vulcan looks like he's in no condition to speak. How about this Bolian?”
    “He's just suffering from a phaser stun,” the Doctor told them. “I can administer a stimulant.”
    “Proceed,” Stride ordered.
    Dr. Serein injected the Bolian and he regained consciousness, reacting in terror as he saw Stride looming over him. Eddowes, still in his Starfleet uniform, tried to step in and comfort the man.
    “Relax,” he told the Bolian, putting his hand on the man's arm. “You're safe on a Federation starship. In medbay, see?”
    “Last thing I remember,” he said slowly. “we were transported onto a Breen ship. I saw one of them when they attacked.”
    “You're fine now, it's all right,” Eddowes told him, hoping it wasn't a lie. “My Captain has some questions for you.”
    “That is the Captain?” he asked, incredulous.
    “What's your name, Mister?” Stride interrupted, impatient.
    “I am Lieutenant Pisck of the starship Hurricane.”
    “Tell me about your Bajoran comrade,” Stride demanded.
    “What's happened?” asked Pisck, looking around medbay. “There were four of us. What about the Breen?”
    “There are no Breen,” Eddowes said, trying to reassure him. “Just answer the question.”
    “The Bajoran you refer to is the Hurricane's First Officer, Grisgo Jorie,” Pisck explained reluctantly. “I know he served in a Bajoran Special Forces Unit during the Cardassian War before he joined Starfleet. Is he all right?”
    Stride frowned, exposing a row of fangs as she contemplated how much damage this man could do to her ship. She glared at Eddowes who nodded in silent agreement – this man had to be brought under control at once.
    “We were testing our new warp core when the Hurricane ran into a subspace anomaly,” Pisck explained. “Our new core became unstable. We were able to eject it at the last minute but there was a warp plasma conduit overload that destroyed a good portion of the ship. We were able to devise a sort of safe zone in medbay, but by then there were only four of us still alive. We had to wear breathers because we kept losing the force field that contained the atmosphere.”
    Neither Eddowes nor Stride replied to this, although the answer was obvious. The cause was the Omega shockwave colliding with their ship during the warp core tests. It was depressing to know that even more people had to give their lives to fight back against the Borg. Eddowes worried that the body count wasn't finished yet.
    “How is Mr. Rhosable?” Pisck asked, looking over to the next bed where Dr. Serein still worked on the Vulcan.
    “He's suffering from severe disruptor wounds,” Dr. Serein told him. “He may yet recover, but it is doubtful.”
    “Disruptors?” Pisck sat up in bed. “Then there were Breen! You lied to me, Commander! Sir, I must insist I be told what's really going on here! Is this some kind of ruse?”
    “Listen,” Eddowes said in a serious tone before Stride could do anything. “I am Commander Allan Eddowes and this is Captain Stride. You're on board the Federation starship Wolf. We have security officers that wear Breen helmets as, uh, a disguise. That's what you saw before.”
    “How do I know this isn't some sort of holodeck or illusion?” Pisck asked, getting more upset. “How do I know you aren't really Breen or some other hostile species?”
    Stride grabbed his uniform and lifted him out of bed. Pisck struggled, but it did no good. Stride's tail swung around and lightly struck him on the side of his head. This all happened in the space of a second and Eddowes shut his eyes to spare himself from witnessing the man's death.
    “You can be certain my species is hostile,” she assured him, pulling his face within a centimeter of hers. “Does this feel like an illusion, Bolian?”
    He gasped at the terrible scent of her breath and put his hand up to rub his sore head.
    “No,” Pisck admitted in a hoarse whisper.
    “If we were enemies of the Federation we never would have rescued you,” Eddowes tried to point out. “If you were a captive, you would be in a holding cell, not medbay. We aren't demanding any strategic information from you. Just try to calm yourself, Pisck. Captain, maybe we should put him down and resume the search for Mr. Grisgo.”
    “Yes,” Stride growled.
    He could tell from her tone she was thinking of simply killing Pisck right then. After all, Eddowes had already said too much. He had given their names, the name of their ship. He tensed for a violent conclusion, but Stride just placed him back in bed.
    “You'll be guarded by security while you're our guest,” she told Pisck. “They'll be wearing Breen helmets, but try and control yourself, Lieutenant. I won't tolerate any more disruptions on my ship. Understood?”
    “Yes, of course, Captain,” he answered, pulling his blanket over him like a frightened child.

    They headed back to the bridge. Eddowes said nothing during the short turbolift ride, he dreaded what Stride might say next. If they could find and safely contain Grisgo he would feel better, but the fact that he was formerly with Bajoran Special Forces didn't make him optimistic.
    “We've located him,” Saltridge announced as soon as they hit the bridge.
    “Mr. Eddowes, it may become necessary to target him using a TR-116 rifle,” Stride said, trying to formulate a plan to take him out cleanly. “Make sure we have a precise location.”
    He didn't relish the idea of shooting this man, but Eddowes went to his station and checked. Sure enough, a single Bajoran life sign... in the Wolf's forward gravimetric torpedo bay. The bay was automated to the point where an android presence wasn't necessary most of the time so he had been able to slip in undetected. Managing to evade a shipwide search by the security androids wasn't an easy thing, his infiltration skills were impressive.
    “Grisgo Jorie to the bridge.”
    The call startled Eddowes, but Stride wasn't surprised. She settled into her chair, her tail curling over her shoulder.
    “Put him on the viewer,” was all she said.
    The picture that appeared before them was a disturbing one. Blood was soaking into his blond hair and staining the sleeve that sheathed his broken arm. One of his wild green eyes was swollen shut. He looked desperate and the crazed grin on his face was unsettling. Grisgo stood next to a gravimetric torpedo with an open case. His broken arm hung at his side but it looked like his wounds hadn't slowed down his sabotage. His good arm was inside the torpedo itself and it looked like he was holding on to something.
    “Mr. Grisgo,” Stride greeted him. “You can stand down now. You must realize we're not the enemy, we're fellow Starfleet officers on a clandestine assignment.”
    “No, Captain,” replied Grisgo. “I will not stand down. I am holding a phase inverter next to the detonation unit of this torpedo. If you try to transport me, it blows up. Send any security in here to take me out, it blows up. If I get tired and drop the inverter – boom. It is clear to me that this is no Federation starship. The fact the you're trying to masquerade as Starfleet officers concerns me greatly. Are those Borg implants I see on you? Why would a real Starfleet vessel be carrying Borg weapons like this torpedo? Why are there Breen crew members on board this ship?”
    Eddowes rolled his eyes.
    “Again with the Breen,” he moaned. At least his threat ruled out needing a sniper, that much he was grateful for. He had no wish to be a long distance assassin. “The Borg and Breen aspects of our ship can be explained if you give us a chance.”
    “Where are the three officers that were with me?” Grisgo asked angrily. “I want to see them now.”
    “One of them is dead,” Stride told him flatly. “The other two are in medbay. If you want to see them, you're welcome to report to my Doctor.”
    “I feel safer down here in your torpedo bay, Captain,” he replied. “Remember, if you try any cute tricks, I will detonate this Borg weapon and whatever deception you're engaged in will be finished.”
    “My mission is already complete,” Stride said. “The only thing blowing us up will achieve is preventing our safe return from that mission. We already lost one ship on this voyage, I'd like to bring my ship back intact. I'm sure you were involved with covert missions in the Cardassian War and that you also wanted to return home alive. I'm really no different than you were.”
    “No, I have no reason to believe anything you say,” Grisgo answered defiantly. “I'm not going to take your word on any of this. What was your mission? Who do you report to? What species are you? I've never seen anything like you before.”
    “No, Commander Grisgo, you haven't,” Stride replied, her tone thoughtful.
    The Captain started tapping something into the panel on her command chair. Eddowes had no idea what she was planning to get out of this one, but it was clear to him that neither the Husnock or the Bajoran would back down. He had to try and defuse this before they were all killed.
    “I understand you're the Hurricane's First Officer,” Eddowes said, trying for a friendly tone. “What if I came down there alone to talk? Unarmed, no deception. I'd like to explain what we're doing, First Officer to First Officer. Would that be all right?”
    “No, that would not be all right, Mr. First Officer,” Grisgo said with a wry smile. “You do a good job of trying to sound official. Even though you appear human and wear a Starfleet uniform, I don't trust you either. You come down here and I'll detonate this weapon before you can step out of the turbolift.”
    “Resume course for Dytallix M,” Stride ordered. “Full impulse, helm.”
    “Aye, Captain.” The helm android laid in the course and got them moving.
    “So you're just going to ignore me? You think feigning indifference will save you?” Grisgo seemed indignant that he wasn't being taken seriously. “You take us to a starbase or a real Starfleet vessel right now or else.”
    “Or else what?” Stride countered, amused. “Destroying my ship will kill your two remaining friends as well. You already admitted you don't know what is going on here, will you take the chance you're actually destroying a Starfleet vessel on a crucial covert mission? You don't trust us, but what if you are wrong? I thought you would have more brains than that, Mr. Grisgo.”
    Eddowes noticed a dark form that gradually emerged from the ventilation duct above and behind Grisgo. The bulk of this shape grew until he recognized the natural form of Chief Engineer Kelinda. Two tentacles crept quietly into the torpedo case. After a moment, more tentacles slithered out like striking vipers as the unsuspecting Grisgo stood talking to Stride.
    He was firmly seized and pulled away from the torpedo, but it looked to Eddowes like Kelinda now had taken the phase inverter from his grasp. Grisgo's hand was empty as he was flung about, thrown into the deck and surrounding bulkheads repeatedly by the legion of powerful tentacles. He tried to fight back, but his injury made that very difficult and Kelinda's glistening black appendages were too numerous and strong for him. They watched from the bridge as he was reduced from a proud Bajoran Special Forces fighter to a shrieking rag doll. His little chain earring went flying and they could actually hear more of his bones fracturing.
    Stride pointed and laughed as they watched the Kelvan attack Grisgo on the bridge viewer. For his part, Eddowes winced at the savage beating inflicted upon the hapless Bajoran. After several minutes Kelinda left his battered, motionless body sprawled on the deck and reverted to her human form. It was fascinating to watch as the slimy, black mass contracted and changed into a lovely woman. At the conclusion of her change Kelinda's human arms were still inside the casing, safely holding the phase inverter.
    “Excellent work, Kelinda,” Stride commended her. “Can you repair the damage he has done?”
    “I think so, Captain,” Kelinda answered, peering inside the open torpedo. They could see security androids entering the torpedo bay behind her to collect what was left of Grisgo.
    “Outstanding,” Stride remarked, getting up from her chair. “Well done. You have the bridge, Mr. Eddowes, I'll be in medbay.”

    Commander Eddowes went off duty several hours later.
    He had spent part of his time watching the androids industriously clean up the mess left behind by Grisgo Jorie and Kelinda. Various pieces of debris like his weapon and earring were carefully collected. Many bloodstains and some vomit were cleaned up. Dents and scratches on some of the equipment were fixed. Kelinda had long since rendered the gravimetric torpedo safe again and it was placed back with the other torpedoes to await some future target.
    He stopped by medbay to see if Grisgo had survived his ordeal. To his surprise all three beds were empty and Dr. Serein was in his office working on his computer. Eddowes decided not to stop in, he'd had enough of the Doctor for one day. As he was leaving he felt a strong urge to go to cargo bay three, apparently the Captain wanted a word. He would have much rather gone to his quarters where Saltridge would be waiting. He wanted to forget how disastrously wrong his noble rescue attempt had gone. Once again, as he walked down the corridor in his official Starfleet uniform, he felt like a bad joke.
    The cargo bay doors parted and he saw Stride was hanging upside down eating her last deer. It looked like only a rib cage and perhaps a lung remained. Shmuuth stood off to the side with his constant android companion, trying to avert his eyes from the spectacle of Stride's meal. The indifferent security android now had a couple of superficial phaser burns to go with his dried blood splatter.
    “Commander,” Stride greeted him. She kept hold of the rib cage and its contents, but she swung herself back up onto the catwalk. “Come in.”
    Eddowes reluctantly climbed the stairs and approached Stride as she continued to eat. The smell was awful, but he hid his revulsion well. Maybe the events thus far had deepened his tolerance for gore and violence. He had seen more of it up close in his short time on the Wolf than anywhere else in his career.
    “Before we begin, Captain,” he said, looking down as she snapped the rib cage apart. “I would like to know what happened to the personnel in medbay.”
    “Well,” she said, sitting back on her hammock. “Mr. Rhosable is dead. That plucky Bajoran died as well, although he was something of a surprise.”
    Eddowes had put his hand to his forehead in grief, now he looked up.
    “A surprise?” he asked. “There were four people we were supposed to rescue and they were killed. That's what I find surprising, even though I shouldn't. I keep asking myself what we could have done differently and the only answer I can come up with is this: we should've stayed in Starfleet. The real Starfleet with all of its inconvenient rules and morals.
    “On a regular Starfleet vessel, we could've welcomed these people on board with open arms. Taken them right to medbay for treatment, given them comfortable quarters. Brought them back home to their families. They would be happy and alive.
    “But because we're a ship in Admiral Pressman's secret fleet, we couldn't do any of those things. I put on this uniform so I could masquerade as a real Starfleet officer and convince them they had nothing to fear. It was a lie, yes, but I thought I could protect them. Better than letting them suffocate in a wreck that we caused.”
    “Mr. Eddowes,” Stride interrupted. “We didn't cause that wreck, the Borg did. If they hadn't launched a counterattack the subspace damage would have been far less and almost entirely limited to their end of the conduit. But things didn't go according to plan, so here we are.”
    “It was Admiral Pressman's mission - “
    Stride turned from her meal to face him, whipping her head around so her feathers flared out for just a moment. Her eyes were cold and clear, her gray skin tone was darker and he assumed under the coating of red blood her lips were regaining their healthy purple.
    “Yes, yes, if things were different they wouldn't be the same,” Stride answered harshly. “Let's get some things straight, Commander. First, you don't allow people on this ship without my personal authorization. Ever.”
    “But rescue - “
    “That includes rescue missions. As you already mentioned, rescue is not one of our strong points. You put the Wolf in grave danger when you let that little Bajoran fellow scurry around causing trouble. You knew better than to bring strangers on my ship. They're lucky I didn't dispose of them the same way I got rid of those Tellarites.
    “However, I do try to shape calamity into advantage. The people you're so sad about are dead, but don't despair - they are not dead forever. That's what's so remarkable about Grisgo.”
    “What do you mean?” Eddowes asked suspiciously.
    “When we lost the Malurian, we lost Captain Nichols and three of the Risen. Steep investments that were supposed to last a very long time, but instead they had to give up their lives so the mission could succeed. Now I have something that will take the edge off of Admiral Pressman's disappointment.”
    “What do you have?”
    “We can't easily replace the Malurian, but the dead human female from the Hurricane had no head injuries. Mr. Rhosable also had no head injuries. The most amazing thing is that despite his severe injuries, Dr. Serein tells me that Grisgo Jorie's brain is still possibly viable. They have all been put into special stasis so they can be processed into Risen. All we need to do is get them to Exo 3 for the procedures. Isn't that wonderful? There's a chance the people you're agonizing over aren't permanently lost. They could end up... just like you.”
    Eddowes sank to his knees and sat on the deck. This was far worse than seeing them dead. Knowing that each of them were, in fact, condemned to be one of the Risen. It was beyond horror. How could he not have seen this coming? Now, besides feeling like an incompetent officer that got people killed, he felt like a grave robber. He was a ghoul ferrying bodies back to Pressman so he could convert them into undead officers. He was actually living in one of the horror films he used to watch with his brother.
    “I should be very cross with you,” Stride mentioned darkly, looking down at Eddowes as he sat on the floor. “But Dr. Serein told me something.”
    Eddowes didn't respond, he just stared at his boots and tried not to cry out in anguish.
    “He told me you threatened to tear off his antennae.”
    He looked up at her, startled. Her big yellow eyes were staring down at him, the vertical pupils wide from smoking her Nuarr.
    “Did you really threaten to do that?”
    “Um, yes, I guess I - “
    “There's hope for you yet, Mr. Eddowes,” she commended him, chuckling. She stuck a broken rib between her fangs and expertly sucked out the sweet marrow. “I'm proud of you. Don't worry, Grisgo will make an especially good Risen operative, once he's been properly conditioned. Pressman will be pleased about that. I consider the whole matter closed.”
    “What about Pisck?” Eddowes asked, getting to his feet. “How was he... disposed of?”
    “Who? Oh, the Bolian. He's fine. I gave him quarters.” She crunched the breastplate of the animal like a potato chip, her bite scattering a few small flakes of bone onto the deck.
    “You – gave him quarters?!” Eddowes was shocked. His jaw dropped and he stared in disbelief at his Captain. He didn't pretend to understand the often cruel Husnock sense of humor, so he didn't get his hopes up. “He's still alive?”
    “Of course,” Stride answered. “He's a perfectly healthy Starfleet officer. Admiral Pressman does employ some unaltered living beings in certain support positions. Mr. Pisck doesn't seem to have a problem with a transfer, not that he has a lot of choices. He's not dangerous like his Bajoran friend, so I saw no harm in letting him have quarters on the Wolf. He knows enough not to misbehave, I think.”
    “Yes, Captain.” Eddowes was overjoyed. One person had been saved. Intact. Not beaten to a pulp, not dead and then Risen from the dead, just... saved. “Thank you.”
    “Dismissed,” she said, turning to the remainder of her meal.
    Eddowes left the cargo bay, walking by Shmuuth who was busily sweeping up straw from the deck and headed for his quarters. He wanted to tell Saltridge of his amazing discovery – Captain Stride was capable of mercy. Mercy! He never would have guessed the brutal Husnock would give another creature a break, but that's apparently what had happened. She probably wouldn't believe him! The relationship with Susan had been a great boon to Eddowes over these many months, the only true pleasure he had known on board the Wolf. His outlook had improved a lot when they decided to share quarters.
    Susan wasn't there.
    “Computer, where is Lieutenant Commander Saltridge?”
    “Lieutenant Commander Saltridge is in the forward observation lounge.”
     
  16. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    He found Kelinda, Elgin, Saltridge and Pisck seated around the wooden Starfleet Arrowhead table. He had once asked why Pressman allowed an object like that wooden table on board, when they worked so hard to shed Starfleet trappings.
    “It's made of real wood,” Stride had answered. “it's likely to burn up when the ship is destroyed anyway.”
    Eddowes liked gathering around it, for some reason the table made him feel like he was still connected to Starfleet. It was really the only symbol of fellowship on the Wolf.
    He sat down next to Susan, taking her hand. Saltridge had confided to Eddowes that Kelinda and Elgin were also a couple, something he found hard to fathom. But as time went on he saw the Kelvan was fond of the Risen Vulcan and he seemed fascinated with her as well. After all, Kelinda didn't have a whole lot of options to indulge her love of human sensations.
    He had asked Elgin about their relationship once. He simply couldn't help himself. He had gotten the usual Vulcan disdain...
    “I have never understood the human preoccupation with sexual activity,” Elgin had said. “But in fact my relationship with Kelinda has been most rewarding. Thanks to the Soong Team on Exo 3 our bodies have ample sexual abilities. But the best part is to get to know a life form descended from extra-galactic beings. Her people have made great advances since coming to our galaxy. They have enhanced their shape shifting abilities, lengthened their lifespans...”
    Eddowes saw Kelinda nudge Elgin and giggle a bit, more evidence of the Kelvan's romantic feelings. He looked around the table, finding only one genuinely glum face. Across from Eddowes was the dejected sole survivor of the USS Hurricane.
    “Mr. Pisck,” he greeted the Bolian. “Good to see you're doing well. I understand you've been given the opportunity to serve on board the Wolf. Congratulations.”
    “Thank you, Commander Eddowes,” Pisck replied dryly. “My options as Captain Stride explained them were somewhat limited.”
    “A surprising outcome,” Elgin noted. “I would've thought Pisck would end up reduced or killed. Perhaps even eaten.”
    Eddowes couldn't be certain, but for a moment he thought that Elgin's crack about Stride eating Pisck was pretty close to a jest. But it couldn't be, not from a Vulcan. However, he could see Kelinda thought it was funny.
    “A welcome change of heart from the Captain,” said Saltridge hopefully. “Maybe she'll be more flexible in the future.”
    Eddowes laughed out loud at that and turned to look out the view port.
    “It sounded like the Bajoran might actually live,” said Kelinda, sipping her coffee. “Or at least be revived some day. I thought perhaps I'd finished him.”
    “That was quite a show you put on in the torpedo bay,” Eddowes remarked. “Grisgo met his match and then some. No offense, Mr. Pisck, I know he was a friend of yours.”
    “I guess you did what was necessary to save your ship,” replied Pisck. “If this pretty lady hadn't acted I have no doubt that Grisgo would have followed through with his threat. His fate was... very unfortunate, but I prefer staying alive, even if it means serving Starfleet in a different way.”

    Dytallix M was everything Eddowes would expect from a mining planet. It was remote, uninhabited by intelligent life forms and not very inviting. Three quarters of the world was an arid desert dotted by small automated mining installations. There were no oceans, just very salty lakes that hosted briny marine life forms that were more bone and shell than meat.
    What interested Captain Stride as the Wolf orbited above the gray and black globe was a large green subcontinent in the southern hemisphere. It was surrounded by several of these lakes and it hosted an inland sea that was composed of filtered water. It was probably the only fresh water on Dytallix M and around it was a concentration of thick foliage that composed a sizeable jungle.
    The plant life of the rest of the planet just barely got by. Lichens, shrubs, thistles and moss survived in pockets all over the desert areas. But on the subcontinent Stride saw larger animals hunting smaller animals among the trees. Eddowes could see her already large eyes get larger as the Wolf's sensors zoomed in on the area.
    “Shmuuth and Pisck, report to transporter room five at once,” she ordered, getting up from her chair. “Mr. Eddowes, you're in command. After we beam down, engage the phasing cloak until I signal you. It's time to go hunting! Do you know how long it's been since I have been able to hunt an animal in the wild?”
    “I assume the last time would have been back on Spilornis,” Eddowes guessed. “It's probably been a couple of decades, right?”
    “No, it's been almost five years,” she told him, getting more excited by the moment. “I had the opportunity back on your world. The Starfleet personnel there didn't like it, but after a while they allowed me to forage freely in one of your South American rainforests. It was a great feeling to be liberated from the Borg, but hunting in a forest increased my joy a thousandfold.”
    Eddowes didn't even want to know why she was taking Pisck and Shmuuth with her.

    Over the next four hours Stride called the ship periodically to transport a captured animal from the surface to her cargo bay. Everything had seemed to be going well, until her last contact. He could hear some kind of commotion in the background, Shmuuth was screaming in terror.
    “Stride to Eddowes! Three to beam up right away!”
    “Deactivate phasing cloak,” he said to one of the bridge androids. “You heard her, emergency beam out!”
    Susan was just coming on duty as Eddowes got up from the command chair.
    “You have the bridge,” he said. “I'm heading down to transporter room five to see what the problem is. The Captain is returning from her hunt.”
    Eddowes hurried down to the transporter and arrived just after they had materialized. He saw Stride grappling with a massive arthropod on the platform as Pisck fled and hid behind the transporter console. Shmuuth staggered off as well, a cluster of quills embedded in his chest. The creature Stride was fighting had a writhing mass of compound eyes and three lobster-like claws. It seemed to support itself on a bed of slime, like a snail, which had firmly adhered to the smooth transporter platform.
    He opened his eye phaser, intending to stun the creature, when Stride changed her grip and pushed harder against the animal's claws. Its upper body was composed of an exoskeleton studded with barbed spikes that looked very thick and resilient. As his Captain applied more pressure, however, Eddowes heard it crack. A second later it split open, spilling a foamy green fluid all over the deck and transporter. She pushed even harder, her purple lips pulling back from her fangs as her muscles rippled with the effort. To Eddowes' amazement, she tore the creature completely in half, the sticky body parts still jerking as they spasmed on the transporter pad.
    A weakly pulsating organ floated lazily up to the surface of the thick green fluid. Stride ripped it free of the carapace and chomped a large bite out of it. Shmuuth vomited in the corner while Pisck sat on the deck next to the android working the transporter. The Bolian rocked back and forth, covered with cuts and bruises, his eyes huge with fear. Eddowes thought Pisck was probably in shock.
    “Not the best tasting heart I've ever had,” Stride remarked, tossing the remainder back onto the corpse with a splat. “A disappointing animal. Too much goo, not enough real meat. Fortunately the rest of the life forms we encountered had more culinary potential.”
    The Captain paused and closed her eyes a moment. He suspected she was relishing her hunt, but after a moment he saw she had summoned a cleanup crew of androids to tidy up the transporter room. They could mop up the sticky mess, but Eddowes had no idea how they would get rid of the foul odor.
    “Another exciting day in Starfleet,” she said to Eddowes as she stepped off the transporter. “Nothing like exploring strange new worlds, meeting exotic aliens – and eating them.”
    “You really enjoy ripping life forms in half, don't you?” Eddowes asked, shaking his head.
    “It was something of a tradition on Spilornis,” Stride explained tiredly. “A Husnock parent would often bring home a stunned food animal and tear it in half, dumping the contents onto the family feeding plinth. The children hung over the plinth and consumed the meal from above. It was a time honored ritual that parents shared with their young offspring. It doesn't take long until they're ready to hunt on their own, but I still cherish the memory of feeding my son.”
    “That's heartwarming, Captain,” Eddowes commented, trying not to form a mental picture of what she had described.
    Shmuuth moaned and vomited again, hitting his head on the corner of the transporter console. Pisck was trying in vain to clean himself off with trembling fingers.
    “It looks like your two hunting companions need a trip to medbay,” Eddowes pointed out.
    “Perhaps,” agreed Stride, looking down at them with disappointment. “They didn't enjoy Dytallix M as much as I did.”
    Pisck and Shmuuth were both hurt and shaking badly, but each one was still clutching a large drawstring bag. He hated to ask, but he needed to know if there was any danger to the ship.
    “Captain, what's in those bags?”
    “Ah!” Stride picked one of the bags up and opened the drawstring so Eddowes could see.
    To his relief, they only contained several of the white cuboctahedrons.
    “In case of what you humans call a rainy day, I decided to reduce a few specimens for future consumption,” she explained. “I intend to amass a collection of life forms from different worlds and preserve them in this fashion so I have a varied menu.”
    She was taking deep breaths now, leaning on the console. He could see that the hunting, fighting and especially the reducing had taken a toll on the Husnock. Whatever biochemistry had been keeping her going was starting to ebb.
    “I am going to my quarters now,” she said tiredly. “Leave the bags, I'll have androids pick them up and deliver them to me later. Set course for Exo 3. Full impulse, then we'll take her up to maximum warp after we clear the subspace void. How long is it until we're out of this, Mr. Eddowes?”
    “Probably another week, not too long,” he answered. “Will Admiral Pressman be there?”
    “We'll deliver our three bodies to the transformation facility there,” she said. “If the Admiral is not present, we will seek him out. I'm sure by now he thinks we were destroyed. I'll enjoy proving him wrong yet again.”
    Stride slowly walked out into the corridor, leaving grimy green clawprints on the deck as she headed back to her cargo bay.
    “Mr. Pisck? Mr. Shmuuth?” Eddowes bent down next to the traumatized pair. “Would you like to visit Dr. Serein?”

    Eddowes ended up escorting the men to medbay. Shmuuth seemed to be in better mental shape than Pisck, but then Shmuuth had served longer on the Wolf and knew what to expect. After Dr. Serein gave Pisck a hypospray he seemed to relax and his state of shock diminished.
    “It was horrible,” Pisck managed after a while. “Just... I've never seen anything like this. The vicious way she ran those animals down. She was relentless, Commander. Faster and more agile than I thought for a life form of her size. She was silent, descending on her prey from above. Hanging upside down as she tore them apart. It was the most hideous thing I've ever experienced!”
    Shmuuth said nothing at all, probably because he knew better. His security android had rejoined him once they reached medbay. It stood beside him, a silent, intimidating bedside mannequin, waiting for all of the quills to be removed. Eddowes had thought the Yridian might attempt escape while on the planet, but he hadn't. After seeing Stride in action again he had likely dismissed all thoughts of fleeing.
    “What happened to you down there?”
    “Just one of Dytallix M's friendly life forms,” croaked Shmuuth weakly. “Apparently there's a creature down there that lies in wait and fires poisoned quills into potential prey.”
    “The toxin is not fatal to a Yridian,” Dr. Serein told a relieved Shmuuth. “I have given you something for the pain. The wounds should heal completely in a few days.”
    Shmuuth's face wrinkled and he vomited again, shuddering violently as he did so. Eddowes stepped back out of the way. The stench was horrific and Shmuuth groaned miserably.
    “He'll live,” Serein assured Eddowes.
    “You gentlemen seem to be in good hands,” he told them, eager to return to the bridge. “Get some rest. I'll see you later.”

    Eddowes returned to the bridge and took command. Ordinarily the events of the day would have upset him very much, but he realized he had gotten more used to serving on the Wolf over the last couple of years. What it came down to for him was simple. The Captain had stopped for a meal. Two crew members had gone through a rough away mission, but they had lived to tell the tale. On board this ship, that was a good day.
    “Helm, set course for Exo 3, full impulse,” he ordered. “Engage phasing cloak.”
     
  17. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    Chapter Thirteen

    They had a small party when they reached what had come to be called the warp line.
    Eddowes, Saltridge, Elgin, Kelinda and Pisck gathered around the wooden table in the forward observation lounge. Each of them had a drink, but they sat in an apprehensive silence. There was a great deal of tension on board the Wolf, the hope of regaining warp capability after such a long voyage was cause for celebration.
    “It's hard to believe we're finally at the edge,” Saltridge said excitedly. “As much as the Wolf has become home to us, I am ready for a change of scenery. Even one of Admiral Pressman's secret bases would do. Anything that's wide open with fresh air.”
    “This voyage is nothing,” remarked Kelinda. “I was born in the middle of the intergalactic void. We lived on our ship for over one hundred and fifty years.”
    “I'm still impressed Kelvan technology is able to propel a ship from your galaxy to ours in just three centuries,” Eddowes said.
    “That's still one long voyage,” Pisck whispered, impressed.
    “We didn't mind,” Kelinda said, smiling. “Our ship had everything we needed. Kelvans prefer being indoors anyway, we like being surrounded by walls.”
    “Attention all decks,” Captain Stride announced. “Prepare for warp speed.”
    They watched, breathless, as the warp barrier was again broken and the stars streamed back around the ship. They had finally done it and a cheer went up from all those assembled.
    “Estimated time of arrival at Exo 3 is now six hours.”
    Captain Stride's voice sounded victorious and Eddowes had to admit she had a right to be proud. They all did. What had been accomplished against the Borg was nothing short of a miracle. While he had settled into a close camaraderie with those on board he was anxious to spend time with others and get off of the ship for a while. The Captain hadn't been very forthcoming about what would happen when they found Pressman. Eddowes hoped she would grant shore leave if they arrived at a clandestine base somewhere, but Stride would not let him in on her plans yet.
    Everyone raised their glass and toasted their escape from the warp void.

    A few hours later the Wolf slid into orbit around the icy orb of Exo 3. They had avoided the tachyon pulse satellites posted at the edge of the system since Pressman hadn't changed their location since Stride's last visit. The Captain still had the phasing cloak active so their approach had gone undetected. They knew Pressman was down there, because the Pegasus had shown up on their long range sensors. Stride ordered them to enter orbit on the opposite side of the planet, saying she wanted to surprise the Admiral. It was the manner of her surprise that alarmed Eddowes.
    “I have a special torpedo loaded in the bay,” she told him on the bridge as they took in the frozen globe beneath them. “It needs to be fired into the shaft we cut as soon as it's ready. I will also need an emergency shelter beamed down as well. I have already selected the coordinates.”
    “Excuse me, Captain,” Eddowes replied slowly. “What shaft are you referring to?”
    Eddowes saw a set of planetary coordinates come up on his station. He quickly arranged for the transport to take place, wondering what she was up to. If there was a vast android factory on this world as she claimed, why not just hail the facility? She still hadn't answered him.
    “May I ask what your intention is, Captain?” Eddowes inquired cautiously. “Why would a torpedo be - “
    “When Husnock reunite we hold a feast,” she explained. “I want to invite Admiral Pressman to a proper dinner. Are the items I requested ready?”
    “Yes, Captain,” he answered, checking his console. “But I still - “
    “Alter our orbital orientation, helm,” she ordered, typing in a new set of numbers.
    They watched as the Wolf turned to face the planet. The picture they saw on the bridge changed as the horizon of the planet was pushed to the side until only the icy surface dominated the viewer. Stride seemed to be waiting until the coordinates she spoke of were in sight.
    “There,” she said, her tail twitching. “Disengage the phasing cloak. Power up the starboard phaser lance.”
    “Captain?” Saltridge was certain she had misunderstood. “Is this an exercise? You didn't mean we should really arm our weapons?”
    “You heard me,” Stride answered with her fang-filled smile. “This is not a combat exercise. Lock on to the coordinates that have been provided. Tightest beam, low power.”
    “You intend to attack Exo 3?” Eddowes asked, incredulous. “We've come all this way - “
    “Deactivate phasing cloak and fire.”
    Saltridge complied and they saw a gigantic pillar of blue energy lash out at the ice below. A mammoth, mushroom-shaped impact cloud composed mostly of steam ballooned up from the surface as they continued to fire. Stride allowed the phaser lance to burn into the surface for a couple of minutes before she ordered them to stop.
    “What now?” Eddowes demanded. If there were Starfleet personnel below, secret or not, Eddowes assumed they would be in a panic. Retaliation had to be on the way.
    “Now we fire the torpedo,” she ordered, standing up. Eddowes watched with growing dismay as the torpedo arced away from the Wolf and headed down to the planet surface. “Mr. Eddowes and Mr. Shmuuth will accompany me to the surface. Now is the time to beam down the emergency shelter about two hundred meters from the target area. Exo 3 has a couple of subsurface oceans, monitor the descent of the torpedo and make sure it penetrates into liquid instead of ice or slush.”
    “Your torpedo is following the channel cut by the phaser blast,” Eddowes reported. “It has arrived at the liquid layer of the ocean. I still don't – ”
    “Captain, the Pegasus is coming around with shields raised and weapons charged,” Saltridge reported, sounding worried. “They're hailing us. Urgent, they say.”
    “Tell Admiral Pressman to meet me on the surface, I think he can find the spot.”
    Eddowes looked at the viewer. A tornado of steam and ice chips swirled around the area they just blasted. Why would they want to beam down there?

    Stride, Shmuuth and Eddowes materialized wearing MACO parkas in the middle of a full white-out blizzard. They could still feel aftershocks as the thick ice beneath them adjusted to the damage caused by the shaft they had created. The flashing light from the emergency shelter guided them in, otherwise they could have easily gotten lost. Shmuuth was already shivering inside his parka and he was extremely nervous because his android escort had stayed behind. He was certain that Stride intended to dispose of him on this frozen world in the deep grave carved by the Wolf's phaser lance.
    Eddowes was glad the shelter had been beamed down already assembled and powered from the cargo bay. Putting it together in this weather would have been a nightmare. Stride, a hulking figure in the oversized parka the computer had replicated for her, motioned for them to get inside. Shmuuth slipped and tumbled face first into the shelter wall. Stride grabbed him and pulled him up again, her clawed feet giving her superior purchase on the treacherous ice. Other than a growing bruise on his head he seemed intact. The inside of the shelter was spacious enough to accommodate a dozen or so life forms. It was warm, secure and equipped for a group to survive for quite some time.
    “Captain,” Shmuuth asked in a fearful, low whisper. “If we're having a meal, why didn't you beam down any provisions?”
    Before she could answer his question, Saltridge contacted them from the Wolf.
    “We're getting a signal from your torpedo, Captain.”
    “Already!” Stride marveled, very pleased. “Wait for the second signal, then initiate the retrieval command. Stride out.”
    The shelter entrance burst open behind them and Admiral Pressman entered with several security androids and an alien. Eddowes hadn't seen a creature like Pressman's companion before. It didn't wear any winter gear, just a metallic-weave silver robe over its very thin body. An enormous head traversed by thick, pulsing arteries bore a gaunt face with a sour expression.
    “Well?” Pressman said to the alien as soon as they entered the shelter.
    The odd being looked around for a moment.
    “No,” it responded in a whisper so quiet they could barely hear it.
    “All right, it is really you,” Pressman snarled, rage contorting his face. “I don't believe it. No tricks, no illusions. Captain Stride of the Wolf returns alive after all this time. I was convinced you were dead. Now that I see you're safe, what about the mission?!”
    “When we started this I assured you I would hurt the Borg for you,” Stride answered mildly. “I did that. The mission just took a little longer to accomplish than we planned. When we were finished, I decided to come straight to Exo 3. You always spent so much time here, it seemed a likely place for a rendezvous.”
    “Sure, welcome, great – now what the hell are you doing?!” screamed Pressman, unable to contain himself anymore. He pushed back his hood and they saw his bald head was tinted red despite the extreme cold. His eyes bulged with fury as he closed in on Stride. “You've attacked the planet that hosts my clandestine base! That's way over the line, even for you! What possible reason could there be for such an outrageous act?!”
    Instead of answering, Stride shed her parka, pulling it off and flinging it into the corner with her tail. The Husnock folded her arms and looked down at the incensed Admiral, her cranial implants sparkling like a crown of stars above her dark feathers. In a calm voice, she gave Shmuuth some more instructions.
    “Make sure each organic individual has a beverage, appropriate utensils and condiments.”
    “What's he doing here?” shouted Pressman, baffled at Shmuuth's presence.
    Stride turned to answer, but a signal from the Wolf came through.
    “Saltridge to Stride.”
    “Stride here.”
    “Second signal received, Captain.”
    “Initiate.”
    An aquatic life form at least three meters in length materialized on the table along with a device that was attached to its skin. It was still moving slightly. Stride held up her index finger to Pressman and walked over to the animal.
    “What is this Ryntar doing here?!” demanded a revolted Pressman as he backed away from the pool of salt water forming on the floor.
    “Please be patient, Admiral,” Stride said. She laced her fingers together into a huge double fist and bashed in the creature's head with a resounding crunch. Shmuuth had started setting out plates and was bathed in a hot jet of brains and fluid that splattered out from the crushed skull of the animal. He screeched in dismay and ran to clean himself off with antiseptic wipes. “There we are. We can begin.”
    Pressman didn't respond, watching Stride with a mixture of outrage and contempt.
    “Please, Sir, have a seat,” Stride invited him, taking a survival knife from the shelter supplies and turning the Ryntar over. She sliced its belly open with an incision over a meter long and began carving fillets from the flesh.
    “We'll need to cook this meat for the Admiral and his companion, Mr. Shmuuth, set up a heat source at once.”
    Shmuuth got to work activating a small heating unit while Stride sat down and tore another section of flesh from the beast, eating it raw. Pressman wasn't shocked, he had dealt with the Husnock before, but he was plainly disgusted.
    “We knew about the warp void,” he advised Stride between his clenched teeth. “We surveyed its perimeter. Telemetry wasn't very clear other than to show something catastrophic had happened deep inside the target zone. I assumed both ships had been destroyed. Now you show up here without Captain Nichols. What really happened on your mission?”
    “I'd like to try some of that melted butter from Earth,” Stride told Shmuuth. “I made sure it's in there, just look for it. The lemon juice as well. Hop to it, Yridian, the Admiral doesn't have all day.”
    Pressman took a deep breath and motioned for his alien companion to sit down. They sat across from Stride and Eddowes, Pressman still glaring angrily over the Ryntar's carcass.
    “Not bad,” Stride commented to Eddowes as she hinged open her jaw to finish off a generous portion of the sea creature's flesh.
    “Is the Admiral's companion an android or an actual human?” Shmuuth asked, bringing Stride a metal cup full of melted butter. “Shall I set a place for him?”
    Eddowes looked at Shmuuth, then at the alien, puzzled. Why did Shmuuth think this being was human? The alien flicked its eyes to the Admiral, showing some unease at the Yridian's remark.
    “He won't be interested in eating with us,” Pressman answered quickly, leaning forward. “If you're done fooling around, can I get a report now?”
    “Delicious!” Stride roared, tasting her buttered meat. “I never tried this when I was on Earth but now I can see why this butter is so popular with your people. Mr. Eddowes, please bring the Admiral up to speed on our mission to date.”
    He did as she asked, telling the story from when they had first arrived at Zeta Alpha 2. Stride ate silently next to him, glancing up from time to time to see Pressman's reactions. The Admiral gave Shmuuth an evil glare as the story of his betrayal was recounted. Pressman's eyes widened in surprise when Eddowes explained how the Borg had fought back against them. Lastly, his eyes actually filled with tears when the destruction of the Malurian was described to him.
    “Are you all right, Sir?” Eddowes asked. “Shall I continue?”
    “Captain Nichols was a personal friend,” Pressman told him, his voice thick with grief. “His bravery and loyalty will not be forgotten. Please go on, Commander.”
    Eddowes told him of their encounter with the wreck of the Hurricane and revealed the fate of the four rescued crew members. As Stride had suspected, this news cheered the Admiral up.
    “All right, Commander,” he said, a slight smile on his face. “Beam those bodies down to these coordinates. Pressman to Exo Base Operations.”
    “EBO here.”
    “Please notify the Mudd and Soong teams that there are three more potential subjects being transported to receiving.”
    “Acknowledged, Sir. EBO out.”
    The Admiral had calmed down and the alien with him looked bored and irritated. Stride had eaten at least five kilos of meat while Eddowes had been talking. Shmuuth had provided everything for the meal Stride had asked for and he now stood off to the side in terrified anticipation.
    “Set an additional place and dig in,” Stride told him.
    “Oh, I'd rather not, thank you,” Shmuuth said, looking down on the seafood with clear misgivings.
    “Shmuuth - eat,” Stride commanded, an undercurrent of menace in her voice.
    “Delighted, Captain,” the Yridian sat down and cut off a small portion to cook up for himself.
    The Admiral had finally developed an appetite as well. Dipping the cooked meat into the melted butter he nodded in approval as he chewed. The aroma started to remind Eddowes of a typical Earth fish fry.
     
  18. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    “I should have brought a bottle of Bollinger down with me,” Pressman lamented. “But after your entrance I wasn't sure exactly what I was dealing with. Speaking of which, you still haven't answered my first question, Captain.”
    “Isn't it obvious?” she asked innocently, her sharp yellow eyes flitting from person to person. “I wanted to test my new invention.”
    Stride tapped a claw on the device that was still attached to the Ryntar.
    “I built it to enter a subsurface ocean, seek out an appropriate food animal, latch onto it and send a signal for transport once the beast is shocked into submission. I call it the Sinker. Cutting a hole for the Sinker seemed to be a good way to alert you to our presence while getting some ice fishing done at the same time. Ever since I learned this planet had subsurface waters that support life I've wanted to sample what those waters have to offer. The Ryntars that inhabit the seas of Exo 3 looked particularly promising, so I programmed the Sinker to seek one out for us.”
    “Irresponsible,” Pressman reprimanded her. “Dangerous. Stupid! What if a passing ship had detected that phaser shot? I don't want attention attracted to this planet, Captain. I think your reckless behavior has put my base and our mission at risk.”
    “Stride to Wolf, come in.”
    “Saltridge here.”
    “Any other ships detected in or around the Exo system?”
    “Just the Pegasus, Captain.”
    “Thank you, Stride out.”
    “That's not my point,” Pressman responded, getting mad again. “If you won't follow orders, you're no good to me. If you're thinking you can go against me, I could have my security androids shoot you down right now. Exo 3 can be the final resting place of the last Husnock. One less monster in the galaxy is usually a good thing.”
    “You might want to think twice about that, Sir,” Eddowes cautioned the Admiral, trying to be the voice of reason. “Have you ever seen her rip someone in half?”
    “No, Admiral, I am not moving against you,” Stride countered, tearing off another piece of meat. “Mr. Eddowes is correct, having your androids attack me in this little shelter wouldn't end well for anyone. I've also implanted your secret into a couple of random androids and programmed them to reveal it at a pre-determined time unless I direct them otherwise. An insurance policy, as you humans say.”
    “What secret?” Pressman scoffed, his confident grin returning. “My operation has full support from Starfleet and the Federation council, you know that.”
    “I'm referring to your friend here, Mr. Chapman.” Stride's purple lips formed a knowing smile around her sharp teeth. Pressman paused and sat back, his grin fading. The alien next to him looked alarmed as he slowly backed his chair away from the table.
    “This isn't a good topic for public discussion, Captain,” Pressman warned her.
    “Hardly public, Sir,” Stride responded. “One of the reasons I chose this location was because it is remote. This is a sensitive conversation and there's too many people wandering around at your facility. Mr. Eddowes is absolutely trustworthy and Mr. Shmuuth... well... I don't think he'll be selling information for a living anymore, will he?”
    “Of course not, Captain,” Shmuuth replied, his hands starting to tremble.
    “My point is, your friend here isn't what he appears to be,” Stride stated.
    “You've made a deduction, but I'm not impressed,” the Admiral said, returning to his meal.
    “No, Sir, I've made an observation,” Stride said. “Many of my ex-Borg compatriots just concentrated on recovering from their ordeal. Reclaiming their old lives. Rejecting everything the Borg did to them. That's fine for them. But since I was made into a Borg, I decided to embrace my cybernetic enhancements and harness them for my own benefit as an individual.”
    Stride's hands were full of meat so she tapped her feathered head with the tip of her tail. The gesture caused Eddowes to flash back to the first time he met Captain Stride in the Wolf's medbay. How far they had come from his horror at that initial meeting. Now he was at her side, threatening an Admiral on a desolate, frozen planet in an ice fishing shack.
    “I'm aware you modified some of your implants before you left on your mission,” Pressman told her, still eating his meal. “I wasn't concerned then and I'm not worried about it now.”
    “I've done more than you realize, Sir. These implants have been re-purposed to enhance my own abilities, several more of the devices in my body have been modified for cracking computer encryption. I already browsed the computer on board the Pegasus before the Wolf ever left the shipyard. More importantly, I modified three of my cranial implants so I could gain some of the same special awareness and protection that the Risen enjoy.”
    “What special awareness?” Eddowes asked, frowning. “Protection from what?”
    “What do you see?” Stride demanded, pointing at Chapman. “You there, Shmuuth, tell me what you see.”
    “A human Starfleet officer, of course,” Shmuuth replied cautiously, squinting at Chapman.
    “Mr. Eddowes, what is sitting next to Admiral Pressman?”
    “That's enough!” Pressman yelled, dropping his fork.
    “I don't know what that is, but it's no human,” Eddowes answered, seeing Stride's point.
    “I'll tell you what it is, Commander, our guest here is from Talos 4.”
    Pressman put his face in his hands and groaned.
    “The Admiral no doubt brought him down here to determine if we're real or not,” Stride continued. “Our unexpected reappearance and behavior caused him to wonder if we were some sort of illusion. The Talosian here is highly qualified to make determinations in such matters. It takes on the appearance of a Starfleet officer to any biological life form it encounters. Androids, however, tend to see things as they are.”
    Captain Stride's actions upon reaching Exo 3 seemed a little less insane to Eddowes now. He started to realize that the Husnock had a plan all along. He could see that Pressman was starting to understand that Stride had her own agenda as well.
    “As a cybernetic organism myself,” Stride continued. “I sought to possess the same clarity of vision as the Risen. Some of my Borg implants are now devoted to blocking telepathic infiltration into my soft organic brain. This means I'm a little harder to fool with telepathic illusions.”
    “Is this true?” Pressman asked Chapman. “Can you read her?”
    “Something is keeping me out,” Chapman whispered after a moment, the veins on his head throbbing with the effort. “Something more than her usual primitive, violent thoughts.”
    The Captain was very pleased by Chapman's response, leaning back in her chair and folding her arms. Pressman looked even more uneasy as he realized she had moved another step beyond his control.
    “You've brought Mr. Chapman with you many times to Federation Council meetings,” Stride said. “He's been to Starfleet headquarters. Did you ever inform anyone what he truly is?”
    Pressman said nothing, he just sat there fuming with rage.
    “You didn't want to give up your edge,” Stride said. “You have Federation and Starfleet approval of your plans because you manipulated top ranking officials with Mr. Chapman's help.”
    “That's not the case,” Pressman retorted, shaking his head. “The Federation was moved to action because of the Wolf 359 tragedy, pure and simple. They saw the threat to us and acted.”
    “Sure, that event was the cornerstone of your power play,” Stride said. “But we both know you used this being to eliminate critics of your drastic proposals. Didn't one of your most staunch opponents, an Admiral Norah Satie, go insane after she opposed you at a Federation Council meeting? She's still institutionalized on Elba 2, isn't she? Her case is hopeless, I read, even their miracle medicine doesn’t improve her condition.”
    “You can't prove Chapman had anything to do with that,” Pressman replied, looking guilty.
    “I certainly can,” Stride assured him. “The androids I modified will make sure that authentic images of your companion are broadcast throughout Starfleet. I have a couple of other contingency plans in place as well if some accident should kill me off. Once Starfleet finds out Pegasus violated the quarantine of Talos 4 so you could influence people with telepathic illusions, they'll bring the death penalty down on you, Sir. If this gets out you're a dead man, it won’t matter how many friends you have.”
    A very heavy silence descended on the shelter after she said that. The wind of the blizzard still howled outside, ice and snow pelted against the metal walls around them. Another rumbling aftershock in the ice below caused the room to shake for a minute. The triumphant yellow eyes of the Captain were locked with the cold blue eyes of the Admiral.
    After what seemed like an eternity to Eddowes, the Admiral blinked.
    “What are you after, Captain?” he asked, getting down to business. “You want more power? A higher position?”
    “No, Sir,” Stride said. “Since I reached the Age of Departure on Spilornis the only thing I've wanted to do is command a starship. Whether it's a Husnock warship or a Federation vessel doesn't make much difference to me. I am generally satisfied with where I am and what I am doing.”
    “What then?” demanded Pressman, exasperated.
    “Now that we've completed our assault on the Borg transwarp hub I want to run a mission of my own,” Stride explained. “For this mission I would like to borrow Mr. Chapman here.”
    The Talosian looked mortified when he heard that. Pressman just shook his head.
    “Out of the question,” he told Stride.
    “On the contrary, Sir,” Stride responded, her voice coming close to a low growl. “I think Chapman here might be interested in volunteering to help me.”
    “I very much doubt it,” Pressman said. “We can try and work out something else - “
    “No!” Stride sent her chair tumbling into the wall behind her as she stood up. “You promised me when this all began that you would tell me all you knew about the fate of the Husnock! I held up my end, Admiral, now you need to hold up yours.
    “I was able to determine from information on the Pegasus that the creature responsible for the extinction of the Husnock was a powerful being capable of creating very impressive illusions. There was no location that I could find in the short time I had, but I have a feeling you could give me that location.”
    “Yes, I could,” Admiral Pressman's trademark grin was returning now that he was back in familiar territory. He liked to be the keeper of secrets. “Is that why you went to all this trouble? To force me into divulging that information?”
    “I didn't think you'd approve of using the Wolf on a mission of personal vengeance,” she replied. “But, as you said, one less monster in the galaxy is a good thing. Right?”
    “This being is far more powerful than you realize, Captain,” Pressman warned her. “His illusions did fool the android officer on the Enterprise, so your modified implants aren't likely to see through him. He already slaughtered all of your people in an instant, their ships and weapons meant nothing to him. What do you think you can do against a life form with that kind of power?”
    “Sounds like I should have my own telepathic illusion expert along,” Stride remarked, looking at Chapman. “Fight fire with fire.”
    “You're not serious,” Pressman sneered. “This being is above even the Talosians. The illusions he can create are greater in scope than anything Mr. Chapman could generate. What you're suggesting is impossible.”
    “Does that seem like something you'd be interested in learning about?” Stride asked Chapman directly. “Perhaps you'd like to examine this being. Perform some tests, I've read that your species are avid researchers. Who knows what you could learn?”
    Chapman said nothing at first. But Eddowes could see the alien's sour expression soften as he thought it over. He speculated that the Talosians considered mental power the ultimate currency.
    “You're not actually listening to her, are you?” a horrified Pressman asked. “Captain, the life form you're talking about is immortal. Understand? He can't be burned down by phaser fire or torn apart by an angry Husnock.”
    “I still mean to confront this thing,” Stride insisted. “I will not be denied.”
    “I don't want to lose the Wolf to your vendetta,” Pressman said. “The destruction of the Malurian was bad enough. There are only so many Wolf class ships in existence and they are precious to the Federation.”
    “I wish to observe this being,” hissed Chapman suddenly.
    “What?!” Pressman's expression was now one of sheer panic.
    “You underestimate Talosian mental abilities, Admiral,” Chapman replied in a weak, gravely voice. “We can destroy starships and even civilizations if we choose to. We did, after all, decimate our own home planet. I would like to meet and examine the creature that Captain Stride is talking about.”
    “You want to fight it too?” Pressman countered, desperate. “She doesn't just want to have a chat with it, she wants to kill it. Isn't that right, Captain?”
    “My intention is to avenge my son and my race,” declared the Husnock. “I have no shame about that. I've rendered good service to your Starfleet and I will continue to do so – if keep your word. If that leads to an actual conflict with this entity, all the better.”
    “I didn't think Talosians were built for physical combat,” Admiral Pressman said to Chapman.
    “If there's any physical fighting to be done, that will be on me,” Stride assured them. “I just want to make sure what I'm seeing is real. My modified implants might be a good start, but I need someone like Mr. Chapman to be certain what is real and what is not.”
    “You want to be certain he's really dead, you mean,” Eddowes said, showing his disapproval. “We're planning a murder here, aren't we? Let's call this what it really is, an assassination. Something that's made even more ridiculous by the fact that the intended victim is immortal.”
    “Immortal can mean a few different things,” Stride argued. “He may not age, but can he get sick? Can he be injured? We're not talking about a Q here. Admiral, I want the name of that planet.”
    “This creature hates the Husnock!” Pressman yelled. “Captain Stride, if you go to this planet it means the destruction of your ship and a death sentence for your crew.”
    “If you deny my request, Sir, it means a death sentence for you,” Stride shot back. “I want a face to face encounter with this life form. Chapman sounds like he's interested. What do you say?”
    Admiral Pressman looked at Stride, Chapman, Shmuuth and Eddowes. He thought it over for several minutes as the freezing tempest continued to howl outside the shelter. Finally he took a deep breath and stood up, bowing his head to the inevitable.
    “The Husnock are 'a species of hideous intelligence who know only aggression and destruction.',” Pressman quoted, sounding glum. “That's how the being you seek described your people to us. I admit, it's obvious to me how he got that impression.
    “But I can also see that his description is not the sum total of what you are. Look at what you built as a people – a space-faring race of over 50 billion. That doesn't happen without some rationality, some cooperation. I am grateful for what you as an individual have helped me build in the last couple of years. Since I have learned you are more than what we were told, I appeal to you – stop now. Try to understand, this is one situation where violence is not the answer. Prove that the Husnock can embody more than endless war. Prove that your people didn't deserve to be wiped out. Move on, try to live a life.”
    Stride seemed to be considering Pressman's words and for a moment Eddowes thought that the unlikely moral plea from the Admiral might actually sway his Captain. He knew the Admiral's speech didn't have as much to do with preventing a murder as it did with preserving a valuable asset. Captain Stride and the Wolf had completed a very difficult mission. He would hate to lose them. The uncomfortable silence went on for several minutes until Stride suddenly slammed her tail into the floor.
    “No,” she snarled. “He killed my son. I will not stop until I can look this thing in the eye.”
    “Very well,” Pressman sighed. “The entity you want calls itself Kevin Uxbridge. He was last seen on Delta Rana 4. It's possible Mr. Uxbridge is still on that planet today. You may take Mr. Chapman with you on this mission and only this mission. I truly hope I see you both again, but I think you're making a terrible mistake. I know that I can't convince you otherwise, I wish I could. Best of luck to you all.”
    “Admiral, request permission to remain on Exo 3,” Eddowes said suddenly.
    Captain Stride turned to look at him, but said nothing.
    “I would like to remain here as well,” added Shmuuth anxiously.
    “Denied,” replied Pressman after a moment. “You were brought back into Starfleet to serve on that ship. I need you there, your input and point of view might be the only factors that give this mission a slim chance of success. I'm sorry, Commander. Shmuuth, serving on the Wolf is a very hazardous job... I can't think of a better place for you.”

    Captain Stride, Mr. Chapman, Shmuuth and Mr. Eddowes beamed back up to the Wolf.
    “Mr. Eddowes, please assign comfortable quarters to our special guest.”
    “Right away, Captain,” Eddowes answered sadly. “Please come with me, Mr. Chapman.”

    After directing Shmuuth back to her cargo bay, Stride took the turbolift to the bridge. Her androids were there, working tirelessly as they always did. She walked around the bridge, doing a full circle before she sat in her command chair.
    “Engage phasing cloak,” she ordered.
    “Aye, Captain,” responded the android.
    Captain Stride slid her tail through the slot in the back of her command chair and settled in. She looked down on the frigid wastes of Exo 3 and thought over what Pressman had told her. She knew he was only concerned with losing a Wolf class ship and the Risen on board. His moralizing was nothing more than a pretense to get what he wanted, which was to send Stride on another mission for him. However, she found herself dwelling on the fact that fighting this Uxbridge entity wouldn't bring her son back to life. It wouldn't reverse the extermination of her species. If she killed this being she would still feel utterly alone on this invisible ship staffed almost entirely by machines.
    Could she really get beyond her desire for revenge?
    Embrace this new existence and forget the past?
    She focused on the image of her son the last time she had seen him. He was growing into a proud, healthy Husnock male with a glistening mane of feathers and a strong set of jaws. He had watched her from the tree tops as she left Spilornis for her first space assignment; Stride had been able to see him from the fighter's porthole as they ascended into space. He had deserved a life of his own. A mate. A warship. Conquest.
    But that would never happen.
    She couldn't let that go. It was impossible. Her thirst for vengeance would not be denied. At long last, she would track down the entity responsible for the demise of her people. She leaned forward and gave the order, consequences be damned.
    “Helm, set course for Delta Rana 4. Maximum warp.”
     
  19. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    CHAPTER FOURTEEN

    Delta Rana 4 was more than two weeks away from Exo 3, even with the Wolf traveling at her top speed. To Eddowes the delay was excruciating, like a slow death march. Captain Stride had spent a considerable amount of time with Mr. Chapman, Elgin and Kelinda trying to devise a strategy to use against the being known as Kevin Uxbridge before they arrived. Since Eddowes would only be compelled to renew his objections to the entire mission, he had opted not to attend.
    Instead he concentrated on his duties, finding comfort in the routine. It was during a dull bridge watch on the third day of their journey when Saltridge received a transmission from Admiral Pressman. With everything going on, Eddowes decided to speak with the Admiral in the Wolf's seldom used ready room.
    "Commander," Pressman greeted him. He seemed to be his usual cheery self, sparkling eyes with a friendly grin. Eddowes wasn't fooled - Pressman would never put the unpleasantness of the Exo 3 meeting behind him. "How are things aboard the Wolf? Captain Stride is no doubt busy preparing for Rana 4."
    "At the moment, things are uneventful, Sir," Eddowes reported. "I don't suppose you've discovered a way to call this thing off?"
    "Not exactly," was Pressman's evasive reply. "But I do have a good reason to delay Captain Stride's... business on Rana. Are you familiar with Omicron Ceti 3?"
    "Of course," Eddowes answered, puzzled. "That's the Rehab Ring."
    The Rehab Ring was the jewel of the Federation's medical system. A series of expansive space stations circled the planet Omicron Ceti 3, housing some of the most qualified physicians and psychiatrists from a wide variety of worlds. The planet, despite being bombarded with Berthold rays, hosted a plant that emitted spores with great healing powers. The people treated with the spores were also protected from the radiation and could enjoy recuperative visits to the therapeutic facilities on the surface. When their healing was complete the patient was beamed up to one of the orbiting facilities and the spores were removed. Eddowes had known injured officers who made miraculous recoveries after visiting the Rehab Ring.
    "I've received word of an urgent situation," Pressman explained. "You've read the reports concerning a life form known as the Crystalline Entity?"
    "Yes, Sir," Eddowes confirmed, his brow furrowing.
    "I've learned that it has been detected on a course that would take it to Omicron Ceti 3," he explained. "Starfleet has dispatched a vessel to defend the Rehab Ring but they're not certain it will arrive in time. This is a perfect job for the Wolf, Allan. There are hundreds of thousands of people on the Rehab Ring stations, thousands more on the planet below. We can't take a chance that Starfleet will be able to stop the Entity in time."
    "I see we're passing close by," Eddowes noted, accessing the terminal on the ready room desk. "We could intercept in just six hours."
    "Precisely," agreed Pressman. "The Wolf could easily destroy the Entity before it does any damage. Being able to approach under cloak before the thing can scurry away is an important advantage. I figure this one is right up your alley, Commander, you will be saving the most important medical facility we have."
    He wasn't thrilled about the ship going on another assassination mission, but the goal was certainly laudable. There was just one major problem...
    "The Captain isn't going to like this," Eddowes warned Pressman. "She's been very focused on her own goal since we returned from Exo 3."
    "No one is saying she can't go to Rana," Pressman pointed out earnestly. "Just... not right now. I didn't think you would mind a delay."
    "I don't..." Eddowes thought about it for a moment. "Of course we'll defend the Rehab Ring."
    "Good luck, Commander!"
    "With the Entity or the Captain?"
    "Both."
    Pressman terminated the signal and his smiling countenance was replaced by the benign Federation logo for a moment before the screen went black. Eddowes sighed and returned to the bridge.
    "Set course for Omicron Ceti 3, helm," he ordered. "Maintain speed."
    "Allan, what are you doing?" Saltridge whispered from tactical.
    "New orders, Susan," he told her. "The Wolf has an actual job to do."
    The next few hours went by uneventfully, although Eddowes felt increasing tension as the shift change approached. He resolved to give Stride the usual status report in the privacy of the ready room so he could properly explain what had transpired.
    It wasn't long before he heard the turbolift doors open behind him and the familiar clicking of Stride's claws against the deck. The Risen enjoyed many advantages that came from living in android bodies, but he had no immunity from anxiety.
    "Report, Commander," she ordered as she loomed over him.
    "Captain, may I see you in the ready room?"
    Her yellow eyes narrowed in suspicion for a moment and she tilted her feathered head slightly. Finally she nodded and they went inside. He decided to come right out with it.
    "I've altered course for Omicron Ceti 3 - "
    That was all Eddowes was able to get out before his Husnock Captain whirled around and seized him. Razor sharp claws gripped his neck and arm as she slammed him into the bulkhead. The strength of his android body made it possible to fight back, but Eddowes thought defending himself would just make matters worse.
    "This is one order you should not have disobeyed," she snarled. "Don't think you are protected from destruction just because the Risen are rare and expensive! I'll snap your mechanical head off - "
    "These are orders from Admiral Pressman himself," Eddowes argued. "It's a vital mission, too! We're saving an entire Federation medical facility!"
    "Were you not with me on Exo 3?!" she raged, her face coming close enough for him to smell the Captain's slaughterhouse breath. "Pressman wouldn't dare oppose me!"
    "He's not," insisted Eddowes. "He didn't countermand the Rana mission, he simply asked us to make a slight detour to save the Rehab Ring at Omicron Ceti 3! The Wolf is to destroy an attacking alien before it can wipe everyone out."
    She released him then, her claws slicing through the bioplast sheeting of his arm all the way down to his polyalloy skeleton. Eddowes fell to the deck in a heap while Stride took a step back. The room was silent again except for her deep breaths as she leaned over to clutch the ready room desk for a moment. When she turned toward him she had regained some of her composure.
    "Naturally, you obeyed your superior," she said, pushing some stray feathers out of her face. "I... regret my initial reaction. How long will this delay us?"
    "It shouldn't be more than about twelve hours for the whole trip," Eddowes assured her, getting to his feet. His arm wasn't working properly, it hung by his side, twitching erratically. He felt a ring of pain on his neck as well, as if a circle of spear points had been pressed into him.
    "What is this alien you speak of?" she inquired impatiently.
    "The Crystalline Entity," Eddowes informed her, straightening his torn uniform. "No match for an ordinary starship. Certainly an easy target for the Wolf."
    "I've heard of it," she said, nodding. "You're right, Commander, this is a small diversion."
    Her gaze shifted down to his damaged arm. If he didn't know better, he'd have sworn a fleeting expression of shame was visible on her face. If he'd read her right, the feeling only lasted a second before she returned to her usual surly demeanor.
    "Report to Mr. Elgin in android repair," she ordered gruffly, turning toward the view port behind the desk. "Dismissed."
    After Eddowes departed Stride stood in silence and took in the sparse confines of the Wolf's ready room. She had never had a reason to spend time there before, her quarters were for privacy and the bridge was where she worked. She found the stillness of the room unpleasant and her mind wandered back to her interrupted mission. Her fangs clenched and she angrily turned toward the door, her semi-metallic tail breaking the computer monitor loose from the desk as it swung around. It bounced off the bulkhead and Stride caught it in her hands, crushing it between her callused palms.
    Looking down at the parts and pieces of the broken computer scattered on the deck, thinking of her delayed vengeance, she decided to focus on something else. There was a life form she could take her immediate frustrations out on, the Wolf was already heading to intercept the oblivious Entity.
    Captain Stride smiled and returned to the bridge.
     
  20. Greysun

    Greysun Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2016
    CHAPTER FIFTEEN

    Saltridge stared wide-eyed at Eddowes as he made his way from the ready room to the turbolift. Her shift was already over, but she had waited for him, afraid Stride would react badly to the Wolf's course change. Having heard the commotion and seeing the damage to Eddowes, she knew she had been right to stay on the bridge. She stepped into the turbolift, putting her hand on his damaged arm as soon as the doors shut. She could tell he was upset, but he was holding it together pretty well.
    "You have to stop provoking her, Allan" she advised, as her fingers delicately touched the gouges around his neck. "Your constant moral stands are going to put you on the scrap heap. Especially when it comes to this business of avenging her civilization and her son."
    "If we don't at least try to maintain our ethics, we might as well just be standard androids working mindlessly at our stations," he answered angrily. "If that means earning the Captain's wrath..."
    He trailed off with a scowl and they both stood quietly for a minute as the decks zoomed by. Saltridge's eyes drifted down to Eddowes' shredded, shuddering arm.
    "Android repair?" she asked in a hushed tone.
    Eddowes nodded miserably. It was one area of the ship he had avoided for various reasons, but this time it was his turn to be fixed. He hated the idea of going to be repaired instead of heading to medbay, it just underlined his artificial nature. The ride down was a long one, neither one of them spoke again until they arrived at Elgin's workshop.
    They found him tinkering with a bio-neural gel pack, surrounded by scores of handy spare parts. The endless rows of legs, arms and torsos hanging there made Eddowes feel uneasy as they made their way to Elgin's workstation. He looked up as they approached, raising on eyebrow as he saw the damage Eddowes had sustained. He activated his tricorder and started a diagnostic scan of the hapless First Officer's tattered arm.
    "Most unfortunate," he commented dryly, studying the results. "May I ask where you incurred such injuries?"
    "The bridge," Eddowes replied.
    "Indeed," responded Elgin ruefully. "I had no idea the bridge was such a hazardous area. No need for concern, Commander, I have just what you need."
    They watched as Elgin poked through the hanging arms and legs. The dangling appendages reminded Eddowes more of a meat locker than a workshop.
    "Here we are," said Elgin, taking an arm off of its hook. Eddowes saw there was actually a tag with his name attached to the hook. An array of limbs customized for him were grouped in that section, even a torso that swung gently back and forth as Elgin pushed past it. All of them had that same tag: CMDR EDDOWES, A.
    "Just sit on the table for a moment, Mr. Eddowes," Elgin said, pointing at a clear spot on his expansive workbench. "This won't take long."
    Eddowes hopped up and Elgin applied pressure to his shoulder in three places at once, releasing the damaged appendage and sliding it out of its ragged sleeve. The entire process was painless, but the sudden absence of his arm felt very weird. The Vulcan looked over at Saltridge as he worked.
    "Have you done any further testing with your latest modification?" he asked her.
    "There hasn't been an opportunity, but I do appreciate the upgrade."
    "What's he talking about?" asked Eddowes as Elgin prepared his new arm on the work table next to him.
    "After our encounter with the unruly crew of the Hurricane, I started thinking about following the Captain's lead."
    "How so?" Eddowes pressed, already dubious. She hadn't mentioned anything to him about this before and he was a little hurt to be left out.
    "Captain Stride has made good use of the remaining Borg implants throughout her body," Saltridge reminded him. "She's even added some new ones. Just as she takes advantage of her Borg experience, we should be able to take advantage of being Risen. I thought I could use something more than just the eye phaser we're equipped with."
    "What have you done?" asked Eddowes, intrigued. "You've installed another hidden weapon in your body?"
    "Not a weapon exactly," Saltridge commented pointedly. "It seems Mr. Elgin here prefers installing only non-lethal upgrades. But he did find an outlawed device in Federation records that showed some promise."
    "A banned weapon?" asked Eddowes, shaking his head in disapproval.
    "If used properly," Elgin countered. "The technology in Lieutenant Commander Saltridge does not inflict any lasting harm. How does that feel?"
    The new arm clicked into place, his mind found and activated it after only a second or two. After a minute had passed Eddowes felt like he had a real arm again. He was able to flex his fingers, then stretch the arm above his head. It felt entirely natural, there was no pain at all.
    "I have to admit, Mr. Elgin, you've done an excellent job!"
    His gratitude was wasted on his Vulcan crewmate, but Eddowes felt relieved just the same. Elgin studied the puncture damage around his neck as Saltridge proudly extended her arm, palm out. Her palm split horizontally, the heel of her hand parting from the upper portion. Her fingers bent back and the transparent muzzle of the weapon they had been discussing pushed forward. A rotating green light emanated from it along with a low humming sound.
    Eddowes watched her demonstration with great interest, but was puzzled. The device seemed to do nothing, he could see no obvious effect at all.
    "What about the power drain?" inquired Elgin, grabbing a tool to mend Eddowes' broken bioplast sheeting.
    "It's very manageable," she assured him happily.
    "I don't get it," Eddowes admitted. "What is it? What does it do? As far as I can tell, it doesn't do anything."
    "It is a portable neural neutralizer," Elgin informed him. "A much larger, more primitive prototype was once used at the Tantalus 5 facility a long time ago. I have refined the design to make it safer and increase its efficiency. The invention was intended to help calm violent patients, but from the reports I read things got out of hand. The Federation banned the technology, but since we're already on a ship full of forbidden machines it didn't seem like it would be out of place."
    "What does it actually do?" Eddowes demanded.
    "Pretty much just what it says," Saltridge explained as it retracted into her arm and her hand snapped back together. "It neutralizes neural impulses. The target becomes placid, following whatever directions are given. Memories can even be altered. It seemed like something we could have used when Mr. Grisgo was threatening to blow up the Wolf."
    "So... it manipulates the brain? No wonder the Federation Council banned it."
    "Essentially," agreed Elgin, finishing up his repair job on Eddowes' neck. "If abused it could empty a person's mind entirely. However, when employed with caution, it could have theoretically allowed Susan to persuade Grisgo to peacefully stop what we was doing. She could have made him believe he needed to cooperate with us. How does that feel?"
    "Better, thanks," replied Eddowes, still preoccupied with the neural neutralizer. "A mind control device, Susan? Really?"
    "It doesn't work on androids," she noted dryly, rolling her eyes. "Do you prefer the solution that Stride and Kelinda came up with? They left Grisgo smeared all over the deck."
    Eddowes had no response to that, she was right. He still wondered if Grisgo really was dead. They had left his corpse behind on Exo 3, the icy planet where the dead most certainly did not rest easy. If there was any possible way to salvage him, he was probably on his way to becoming one of the Risen already. The thought wasn't a comforting one.
    "Does the Captain know about this?" he asked, standing back up.
    "What I do with my body is my business," Saltridge retorted. "I'm not privy to her self-modifications, I expect the same level of privacy. After all, it's not like they consulted us before converting us into Risen. I have no guilt about taking back some measure of control over my life."
    He couldn't argue with her there. Having a secret ability or weapon in reserve, especially if it provided an alternative to killing, was something he approved of. He still didn't know how Captain Stride would react if she knew.
    "She'll probably find out about it eventually," he predicted gently. Saltridge shrugged off his warning.
    "Then she can praise my initiative," she said with a half smile.
    "Do you have something in that bag of tricks for me?" he asked Elgin, attempting to make a vague Wizard of Oz joke.
    "Perhaps," he responded, serious as always. "I have an upgrade that interfaces with your eye phaser and the Wolf's main computer. It will allow you to fire at a target, but that target will be beamed to a pre-determined location on the ship. It allows you to create the illusion that you've vaporized a target when, in fact, that being has simply been transported to the Wolf's brig or medbay."
    "Deceptive," said Saltridge approvingly.
    "It is an efficient modification," Elgin continued. "Easy to install. There are aliens out there that have used this technique for years. Let me know if you are interested."
    "I don't feel comfortable with experimental modifications," Eddowes told him. "Tinkering like that seems more likely to cause problems."
    "As you wish," said Elgin, shrugging.
    "Let's go have a drink," Saltridge invited him.
    As they headed for the door they made their way past more hanging body parts. Eddowes noticed that this group all featured tags reading LT CMDR SALTRIDGE, S. The suspended, swaying arms and legs had a spare torso behind them as well. He experienced an involuntary shiver and felt glad when they had left Elgin's creepy repair shop.