Blood Red Dawn by TemplarSora
Summary: The Borg return with a vengeance, striking the Vega Colony deep in the heart of Federation space. The USS Rafale, an Akira-class starship, is mobilized with a fleet to defend the planet.

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Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: None
Genre: Action/Adventure, Friendship, Tragedy
Warnings: Adult Language, Character Death, Violence
Challenges: None
Series: Rafale - Star Trek Online
Chapters: 11 Completed: Yes Word count: 18998 Read: 12481 Published: 24 May 2012 Updated: 26 Jun 2012

1. Chapter 1 by TemplarSora

2. Chapter 2 by TemplarSora

3. Chapter 3 by TemplarSora

4. Chapter 4 by TemplarSora

5. Chapter 5 by TemplarSora

6. Chapter 6 by TemplarSora

7. Chapter 7 by TemplarSora

8. Chapter 8 by TemplarSora

9. Chapter 9 by TemplarSora

10. Chapter 10 by TemplarSora

11. Two Weeks Later by TemplarSora

Chapter 1 by TemplarSora

ODDS FOR SURVIVAL: NEGLIGIBLE

SENSORS; INOPERABLE. BEGIN REPAIRS IMMEDIATELY

ERROR; HULL STRESS LEVELS CRITICAL. POWER FLOW CRITICALLY REDUCED

END REGENERATION CYCLE; REDUCE UNNECESSARY ENERGY DRAIN. REPROCESS DAMAGED UNITS TO OPTIMIZE REPAIRS

HOSTILE IDENTIFIED: SPECIES 5618. DESIGNATION: UNKNOWN. SHIP CLASS: UNKNOWN. THREAT ASSESMENT: INCONCLUSIVE; ASSUMED HIGH

BEGIN ATTACK

ERROR; COMMUNICATIONS RELAYS INOPERABLE. UNABLE TO ESTABLISH COMMUNICATIONS. ASSUME HIGH RESISTANCE BASED ON PREVIOUS ENCOUNTERS

UNIT 372A9T DESTROYED. PREPARE TO REPUROSE DEBRIS FOR REPAIRS

DIRECT HIT; ATTEMPTING TO REMODULATE SHIELDS

ERROR; SHIELDS INOPERABLE. WEAPON SIGNATURES: UNKNOWN. POTENTIAL MATCH FOUND: UNITED FEDERATION OF PLANETS

CRITICAL HULL DAMAGE

ERROR

ERROR

=/=

 

RAFALE
Star Trek: Online

BLOOD RED DAWN


 

Chapter 1

“Computer, NOW is there an open channel to the Merveille?”

The computer’s feminine voice replied “affirmative.” Jessica St. Peter sat at the desk, looking around the deserted lab before tapping a few controls on the display. The screen directly in front of her switched to show the Starfleet seal, and below it were the words “COMMUNICATIONS OPENING - NCC-91221.”

The astrometrics lab was empty, aside from the blue girl. A few other members of the science department would usually come and go throughout the night, but as long as work got done no one cared if personal calls were made, especially this late in the shift. Jessica yawned, then ran a hand through her long mess of blue hair that she had just taken out its usual ponytail.

Astrometrics was, as far as she knew, a rite of passage for every new science officer on the Rafale. It didn’t matter if you were a geologist, a warp-theorist, or, as she had found out, a xenobiologist - everyone worked the late shift in astrometrics until they had earned their stripes.

Or until a new science officer came aboard to replace her. Sadly, since she came aboard almost eight months earlier, no new science officers had joined the crew of the Akira-class starship. Even with the modifications the Rafale had received to make her more of a science vessel and less of a warship, very rarely did science officers put her on the top of their lists. Which had certainly made her choice that much stranger to her friends.

There was a small chime, and then Jessica found herself staring at a young woman who was smiling wide with excitement.

”Evening, Lieutenant!”

Jessica shook her head in response and sighed. “You are never going to let me live that down, will you?”

”Not until I’m promoted. Then YOU have to call ME ‘El-Tee’ for a while.” The other girl stuck out her tongue, giggling just a little.

“You are so special.” The two girls laughed. “What are you up to tonight? I half expected Bridget to answer.”

Justine Dubois shook her head. ”Not much... I'm getting ready for bed. Bridget is still on shift. So where are you?” Justine began unzipping her uniform to take it off, stretching a bit. ”You look exhausted.”

Jessica looked down at a few alerts that had popped up. She pressed the button on the console in front of her, punching the alerts off; random particles of destroyed comets and other random gases weren’t very interesting to her. “We are...en-route to some star-cluster or other...”

”Go sleep or something.”

She shook her head in response, glancing at the display to her left as it recorded more data on the area. “I've been pulling long shifts in astrometrics...I really don't know why...” She looked back at Justine, grinning. “I'm a biologist, not a star-mapper...”

“Something going on?”

Jessica shook her head and shrugged. “Just...areas of space that haven't been completely mapped.” She reached for the cup of coffee to her right and brought it to her lips, taking a long drink and savoring the once hot liquid. It still tasted right, but the aroma had gone with the heat. “What about you guys? Where did y'all head off to after we caught up back on Earth?”

“I'm not sure right now... Somewhere in the Perseus Arm.”

“Oh neat.” Jessica nodded, doing her best to sound like she knew where that was. She’d have to look it up on the starcharts later. “How are you liking sickbay?”

Justine shrugged. ”Pretty boring, so far. I don't care where it's from or how exotic... Fevers are all the same.”

“Heh...they have you doing the intern stuff still?”

The other girl rolled her pitch black eyes. She put her elbow on the desk in front of her and propped her head up with her hand. “It's practically babysitting...”

“ You'll be the chief one day. Just pray it's on a Galaxy or Sovereign...I hear they have really nice, and really BIG, sickbays...”

”One day...”

Jessica heard another alert from the computer. More gas. More dust. She punched the alarms off again with mild annoyance. “We really need to play ball again when we get together. I don't care if we have to have holodeck characters even out the teams...I miss volleyball.”

Justine nodded. “Yeah, on real sand...That was great.” She frowned. “Speaking of missing things, I haven't seen Bridget in like a day and a half. I swear they're putting us on opposite shifts on purpose.”

St. Peter laughed a little, nodding. “They might be. You could try requesting the night shift in sickbay; see if you can't trade with someone else.” She wrinkled her nose. “Unless the doctor is being a jerk about it.”

”I just might.” Justine laughed. “It's either that or give Bridget a bad cold.” She reached forward and began tapping a few controls on her display that Jessica couldn’t see. ”Let's see, what requires mouth-to-mouth?”

More alerts, this time for a few rogue comets. Jessica rolled her eyes, laughing a little. “Don't you doctors have a thing called ‘ethics?’”

”Eth-what-now?”

She shook her head, smirking evilly. “EthAN, the cute boy that liked you until he found out you were with Bridget.”

“He is cute, isn't he?” Justine blushed, the sudden rush of blood turning her face a bright red with her embarrassment. “Well, his loss, I guess. Bridget found me first. She's much prettier, too.”

Both girls laughed in unison. “You broke his poor little heart,” Jessica observed, remembering that awkward moment at the Academy mess when the young cadet had approached Justine. “I don’t think I saw him again for a few weeks after that, and then he was always avoiding us.”

”I didn't mean to!”

“I hear he got the Enterprise though, so I'm sure it worked out well for him.”

Justine nodded in agreement. ”Yeah, that's like being quarterback. He's probably some chick magnet now, and I'm here being forgotten.” She stuck out her bottom lip in a mock pout, exaggerating a sigh before shrugging and putting her infectious smile back on. “I still win in the girlfriend department, though.”

“Well, would you rather he didn't forget you?” Jessica reached over to the console at her right and began tapping a few buttons. “I could try and call him now for you...”

”No!” The other girl quickly reached her hand toward the screen, as if she were going to try and reach through it to stop Jessica. Jessica just laughed, shaking her head as her friend blushed even more.

Justine narrowed her eyes suddenly and sat up, looking devious. “And how is your friend doing, hmm?”

Jessica groaned, smacking her forehead. “Don’t go there, Justine. It was one date.”

“Uh huh. Sure it was.”

Jessica glared at her friend, and she could feel her own face grow hotter in embarrassment. “After the awkward conversation about me and the engines, and then the stepping on of the feet - no Justine. I’m lucky to get one word from him now, he’s so embarrassed.” She sighed, shaking her head. “That is an experience I do not want to repeat.”

Justine just giggled a little more, then pointed at the screen. “Lovely shade of purple you've got there...”

“Oh hush...”

”What? You match my hair.” She pulled a lock of hair forward to the screen to show Jessica. Chances were good it matched her cheeks, since the blood had rushed so quickly to her blue skin.

“I bet your captain just loves your color choices...what's next?”

”I dunno, maybe blue? Or do you have the market cornered on that?” The girls laughed some more. Jessica looked at the screen to her left; it had been quiet for a while now, and it was still showing nothing new.

”So when do we get to hang out again?”

Jessica shrugged, still reading the report on her display. “Well, unless we wind up at Starbase 39 at the same time…”

Justine sighed, propping her head on her hand. “I miss the Academy sometimes... We could all just hang out whenever.”

“That's about the only thing I miss.” Jessica tapped the display next to her, calling up her personal mailbox. It was still only populated by the three messages from the previous week; two were from her father, the third from the girl’s mutual friend, Bridget.

”Well, that and v-ball.”

“Well yeah! That’s a given.” Jessica rolled her eyes. Volleyball had been what brought the three of them together in the first place. They’d played together for the four years they had known each other at the academy, eventually making the varsity squad. The game was special for them and whenever they met back up, they would find the nearest patch of sand and a net and play for hours together.

The chronometer on the console showed 0136 in large, bright numbers. She turned back to her friend and frowned. “When's your shift, hon?”

”Oh-six. When are you off?”

“Six?” Jessica shook her head. “That's almost four hours from now!”

Justine sighed, drooping a little. “I know…”

“Poor JD...what are you still doing up?”

“Talking to you, of course.” She smiled.

“Oh, right...I called you.”

Her friend began clapping. “You've solved another one, St. Peter. You'll make Commander for this.”

“Oh shut up.”

”You're the boss...” Justine made a motion with her hand and mimed zipping her lips shut, grinning. Jessica laughed, and the other girl just saluted back, her grin growing.

“You smart...Smart pants.” Jessica rolled her eyes, shaking her head before trying again. “Smart ass.”

”See, this is what happens when I don't sleep... I go completely insane.”

“Completely? You were already insane.”

=/=

“Captain, we’re getting another intermittent contact on long range sensors.”

Captain Mal’kon turned his chair to the right and then turned his body further so he could address the Trill science officer at her station behind him. “Anything new?”

The small woman shook her head, her short red hair barely jostling from the movement. “No, sir. And…it’s gone again.” She looked up at him, discouraged. “That’s the third time tonight we got a ghost reading, sir.”

Mal’kon stroked his chin thoughtfully, then turned his chair around so he could face the view screen again. “Record the scan results, Nizeri. And then get Commander Seurer to run a level five diagnostic on the sensors. I want to know if the sensors are messing up, or if we really are seeing something out there.”

Nizeri Sano sighed, nodding to herself as she got to work. “Aye, Captain.” She brought up the intra-ship communications menu on her station and opened a channel to Astrometrics. A second later, the screen shifted to show the blue alien working the night shift. “Jess, it’s Nizeri.”

Jessica motioned off screen, lifting a finger as if to tell someone else to wait, before she turned to Nizeri. “Hey Nizeri. What can I do for you?”

“We’ve got another anomaly. I need you to replay the sensor logs from about ten minutes ago to right now and record them.”

“Understood. Give me a second.” Jessica bent her head down, typing in the commands. She looked back up and smiled. “Done. Sending it to your station now.”

“Thanks. Tell Justine I said hi.” Nizeri winked, causing Jessica to turn bright purple at being caught. Nizeri closed the channel with a small laugh.

Chapter 2 by TemplarSora
PRIORITY ALERT

ATTEN: STARFLEET COMMAND

U.S.S. REVERE, NCC-1805-B

Admiral Quinn,
Revere just made contact with seven unidentified vessels close to the Gamma Orionis sector border. All seven were small, possibly unmanned, probes. They were critically damaged when we found them, and we were unable to establish communications or determine if there were in fact life signs on board before we were engaged without warning.

I’ve included the tactical scans of the ships; all seven were destroyed, and we were unable to recover anything to corroborate our scans. I believe the work of my science and tactical officers, but this data is…disturbing.

Please review our findings and advise.

Captain Youssef Jafari

===


Chapter 2

“I do not understand what the Captain has requested, Nizeri.”

Nizeri Sano smiled at her friend across the table. “It’s just a drill, Wirst.” She took a bite of the food on her tray - mashed potatoes, one of her more favorite human foods - followed by a sip of water to wash it down. “The Captain has every right to call for an exercise on his ship, you know.”

Wirstowx raised an eyebrow and nodded. “It is the nature of the exercise that has me intrigued. I was not under the impression that large boarding parties were a common tactic.” He took a bite of his own food.

Nizeri rolled her eyes. “Oza don’t do boarding parties?”

“I meant among the Klingons.” Wirstowx took another bite before continuing. “However, no. The Vinrali did not see that as a necessary tactic, so we were not put to use in that regard.”

Sano smiled; it was easy to imagine the large, muscular Wirstowx and a team of his kinsmen beaming onto an enemy ship and wrecking havoc. Ozem warriors were the closest thing to Klingons that the Federation had found twenty years earlier on its first voyages into the Andromeda Galaxy. They stood as tall and had the same build as their Milky Way counterparts, and were led by much of the same warrior ethos. The startling difference was attitude; the best comparison was that Oza were a mix of Klingons and Vulcans.

Strength and passion, combined with intellect and calm. Order and chaos. It was an effective combination.

Wirstowx opened his mouth, breathing in before taking a bite of his food. On a previous encounter, he had explained to the Trill that it was the equivalent of her own sense of smell, since the Oza did not have noses. She watched him take another “sniff” before putting the food in his mouth, wondering what kind of world could cause a species to lose the need for a nose.

He glanced up, his deep purple eyes meeting hers. “You’re doing it again, Nizeri.”

“Doing what?”

“Theorizing as to why I don’t have a nose.”

The Trill woman blushed, dropping her gaze to her potatoes. She scooped another forkful of her meal. “At least I’m not asking how you lost it.”

Wirstowx thought for a moment, then gave a slight nod. “Indeed.”

“So what is so hard to understand about the Captain’s order? The Klingons do employ boarding parties.”

“I’m not disputing that. However, a typical Bird of Prey has a crew compliment of twelve to twenty. A boarding party would be no larger than six to twelve personnel.” He took a gulp of water. “The captain is having us prepare for a boarding party of a much larger size.”

Sano shrugged. “How large?” She brought her glass up to her mouth to take a drink.

“Forty to sixty members.”

Nizeri sputtered, nearly spitting her water onto her friend. “Sixty?! That’s outrageous!”

“Now you see my dilemma.” Wirstowx took another bite. “Obviously, he is expecting something much more catastrophic than a simple border skirmish with the Klingons.”

“I’m not smart on security, Wirstowx, but I don’t think anyone that we’re in conflict with employs that number in a boarding party.”

“There is no one. Not even in my home galaxy did we see numbers of that size. It is very peculiar.”

“That’s one word for it.” Nizeri pushed her tray away.
Wirstowx glanced at the tray of half-eaten food, then back up at the Trill. “Is something wrong?”

“I think I lost my appetite.”

===


“Ok, that’ll do it. Recycle the power flow status, and let’s try this again.” Lieutenant Commander Elaina Seurer typed a few more inputs onto her PADD, then looked at the console in front of her to make sure they matched.

“Careful, easy does it girl.” Elaina spoke softly, watching the power level for the sensors slowly rise back to operational standards. The diagnostic the captain had ordered had taken her team the better part of the day to complete; it was now almost fourteen hours later, and she could tell her engineers were tired.

“EPS looking good, commander.” A crewman in a yellow jumpsuit looked over his shoulder to her. “We should have sensors back up in ten minutes.”

“Keep an eye on it; you remember the last diagnostic we ran.” Elaina tapped a few more commands, steadying the power to the sensor array.

Eight months ago, that last time a high-level diagnostic had been done on the sensor array, power had been restored much quicker. The resulting explosion injured three of Elaina’s people and flooded the sensor labs with radiation. Rafale had to be put in drydock for weeks to get the problem fixed. She wasn’t taking that chance again.

She sighed, still monitoring the rising power levels. Whoever had the idea to convert the Akira-class’s shuttle deck into more lab space and install a sensor suite meant for a Galaxy-class starship needed to be strung up and beaten. Even though the Rafale had been purposely built to hold the updated sensors - rather than retro-fitted like many of her sister ships - she still dealt with compatibility issues, whether it came in computer resource allocation or power allocation.

Today, it was power allocation. The Braidan woman wiped her forehead with the back of her right hand, looking down at her left. Lines, in patterns of circuitry, were just visible even underneath her dark skin. Her fingers were tipped with small, dark circles - buttons, just under the skin - connected by the circuits to a large metal disc that took up most of the center of her palm.

Like all Braidans, Elaina had been outfitted with biomechanical implants as a child which allowed her to instantly remove any toxin from her body. It was the crowning achievement of the failed human colony, where only a handful of the original settlers survived a catastrophe that irradiated the entire planet, making it effectively uninhabitable and cutting off all contact with the rest of the Federation. In order to survive, they had integrated their medical instruments with terraforming equipment into portable units. As the years and technology increased, the size of the units decreased until, when contact had been reestablished forty years ago, the units were small and portable enough to be implanted directly into the person.

While effective for saving her life, Elaina had come to learn quickly at the Academy that her implants drew the ire of many of her instructors.

She sighed, shaking her head. Aside from the faint trails of circuitry that lined her forearms, and the small implants on her right temple and palm, she looked nothing like the dreaded Borg they had mistaken her for. Even after two years aboard the Rafale, many of the older officers were still uncomfortable around her.

"Looking good, Commander." The technician walked over, handing her a PADD. Elaina took it and activated it, looking over his readings and checking them with what she saw on her console.

Satisfied, she handed the PADD back and nodded. "Bring the sensors back to full status." She tapped her commbadge. "Engineering to bridge."

"Bridge here, go ahead Commander."

"Let the captain know he can have his sensors back, the diagnostic is finished. No critical errors found, only a few minor recalibrations."

"Understood. Bridge out."

Elaina yawned, glancing down at the clock displayed on the console in front of her. It was well past time for her shift to be over, and in a few hours it wouldn't even be worth it to go to sleep. She frowned; she missed her warm bed and soft pillow. Oh well, she thought, pressing the center disk on her palm, then tapping her fingers in a sequence she had created at the Academy for her all-nighters. There was a soft beep, and she closed her eyes as her implants kicked in, forcing her body to produce stimulants to keep her awake longer. She swayed slightly, then opened her eyes. Everything was in sharp focus, and she stretched her arms. Sufficiently awake, she smiled and clapped her hands, causing a few of her engineers to turn and look at her. "Ok. What's next?"
Chapter 3 by TemplarSora
PRIORITY ALERT

ATTEN: STARFLEET COMMAND

U.S.S. MERVEILLE, NCC-91221

Merveille was just attacked by unidentified vessels in the Gamma Orionis sector near the Vega system. All ships were small unmanned craft. We've taken damage to non-critical areas of the ship, and no casualties or wounded to report. If these things couldn't stand up to a medical ship, then they were either duds or already wounded when they found us.

Included are the readings we took on the ships. Let us know if you need more information.

Captain Taggart

===


Chapter 3

"It figures the stupid things would work again
after I eat..." Justine shook her head, her purple hair looking frazzled. Her shift was over now; otherwise, Jessica noted, the doctor had gotten very relaxed with the uniform code and decided that not even an undershirt was necessary while on duty.

"Aww...seriously?"

"Oh well..." She lifted a mug to her lips and took a long drink. She smiled, setting it down on the desk in front of her. "Mmm...At least I got some good coffee."

Jessica laughed, zipping up her own uniform. It was just about time for own duty shift, this time on the bridge. It was her first bridge shift, and she certainly didn't want to be late. But Justine had called once she had gotten off, and Jessica owed it to her friend to at least say hi. "The real thing not cutting it for you?"

"They burned it. Again."

Jess laughed again at her friend as she took another drink of coffee. "So, how did the rest of your shift go?"

"Just got off... Halfway through eating, we were under attack and I had to go prep a few tables, just to be ready."

Jessica stopped, her eyes going wide. Obviously, nothing had happened; Justine was still there chatting with her, and she only looked tired, not crying, so no one died. Still, the way she just brushed off the fact that her ship had been attacked...

"Under attack?!" Jessica practically leapt from her chair. "What happened? Where are you guys?"

Justine shrugged, not looking all that interested. "Just a few stray unmanned craft. We didn't end up needing to send anyone to sick bay." She yawned. "But man... That wakes you up pretty fast."

"Unmanned craft? From who?"

"Dunno whose they were. Didn't make contact other than firing at us. Our crew was damn quick. It was all over before I finished prepping the third table."

No wonder she was so relaxed.
"Oh wow. Any debris?"

"The crew's working on it, but it's nothing anyone recognizes straight off. So it might be a while..."

That was odd. "Where are y'all again?"

"Alpha Quadrant, Vega System now."

"Huh...that's strange." It was deep in Federation territory; there was no way it could have been Klingon, Jessica decided. But who else could it be? "And just went after you out of nowhere?"

"Like I said, looks like strays. We've got nothing else around here. Captain's probably gonna want to stick around and patrol for a bit just to be sure, though." Justine sighed, propping her head up on her hand, looking disappointed.

Jessica was probably a mirror image. "I don't blame him, for sure."

"I know it's what I'd do."

Jessica frowned, sinking back in her chair. "So unless the rest of the fleet gets assigned to help out...I probably won't be seeing you any time soon, aside from calling, huh?"

"It's looking that way...Sorry Jess."

Stupid aliens.
"It's ok. I'm sure I can handle it." Jessica sniffled loudly, trying her best to pout as hard as she could. The image brought Justine to giggles quickly, and Jessica soon joined in.

"I'll see you soon, I'm sure." The younger woman smiled, clearly daydreaming again. "It'll be great...There'll be shore leave, and rainbows, and we'll all play volleyball."

"There you go." Jessica smiled, nodding. "I think that sounds marvelous."

===


Lieutenant Seymour Sonia was at his post near the back of the bridge when the turbolift opened. He looked up to see the blue alien practically sprint off, looking frazzled as she worked to tie her hair in a ponytail, and shook his head.

"You're late, Jess."

St. Peter nodded, blushing dark purple. "I know, I'm sorry! I got caught up," she stopped, looking around the bridge. No one else had turned to look at her. She moved closer to Sonia, lowering her voice. "How bad is it?"

Seymour grinned, chuckling a little. "No one noticed. I wouldn't mention it." He shrugged. "I also wouldn't do it again."

"Right. Thanks." She relaxed instantly and put an arm on the back of his chair. "So, what do I do?"

Sonia shrugged. "Not too much, since this is your first time at Ops." He stood up, offering the chair to the woman. "Go on and get set up. I'll let you know what I'm looking for once you're ready to go."

Jessica sat down, punching in her access codes. Seymour watched her, his eyes slowly moving away from the console to the blue woman's body. He felt his face grow hot, and he coughed, moving away to the small hall that connected the bridge to the turbolift. A food replicator was recessed into a wall, and he input the commands for a mug of coffee.

Sonia had been on the Rafale since his graduation two years ago and had quickly risen to his position as Beta-shift Ops officer. It wasn't the varsity team, sure, but being JV was better than bench-warmer - he got to be the big fish in the small pond of his peers, and he liked it that way. With the position came an additional duty: training new bridge officers on his duties at ops. It was never very hard, especially with officers like St. Peter. A leering grin spread across his face; besides being able to show off for them, the women definitely made the additional duty less of a chore. And of the female crew members on the ship, the lieutenant sitting at his station was definitely the most well endowed.

He returned with his mug, taking a long sip before standing over the woman and looking at the screens she had brought up. He pointed with his free hand in front of her, doing his best to keep his eyes straight ahead. "Alright, I can definitely tell you wear a blue uniform. 'Environmental controls,' while important, aren't so critical that the display needs to be this huge, or dead center. Also, I don't usually care about sensor status until something is wrong with them; allocation of sensors, however, definitely good to have up. Crew duty lists are good, since you're responsible for making sure posts are manned when necessary. Let me show you how I usually run." He reached down without looking, brushing his hand against hers as he tried to manipulate the screen. His face went hot again and he stammered, still trying to work the controls.

Jessica giggled softly, sitting back as far as she could in the chair to let him work. After a minute or two, Seymour had successfully brought up his own display preferences. He stood back up, wiping his sweating face with his hand. "There."

Jessica nodded. "You dip a little everywhere, it seems like."

Sonia grinned. "Well, as Operations Officer, you kinda need to be a 'jack of all trades.' Science, engineering, personnel, communications; just a bit important." He leaned in a little so that he could speak in a lower voice to her. "You know, the operations officer is usually the most senior bridge officer, aside from the captain and the first officer? I'm only a J-G, like you, and look at where I am." He winked when she looked up at him. "Pretty cool, huh?"

Jessica sighed, looking back at the screen in front of her. "Yeah. Really neat." Her voice was flat, and she clenched one of her hands underneath the console in annoyance.

Seymour didn't notice the change in his companion's demeanor. "Oh yeah. It's no big deal, of course. I started out in engineering, but I wanted to get on the bridge, where the action is, you know?"

"I bet you feel really important up here."

Sonia grinned. "See? You get it." He put an arm on the back of her chair, then pointed as an alert message flashed on the screen. "Ok, so see here, sensor control is asking for more power for a second look at an object we just passed."

Jessica nodded, punching in commands. "I see that. So, message goes back saying 'sure' and then get engineering to transfer down?"

Seymour nodded. "Not much to it, especially on a slow night like now. If there were more scans going on, or if we were at a higher warp, or even just in the thick of a fight, we'd probably tell them to buzz off, but this works for now."

Jessica laughed humorlessly, looking behind her at the man. "'Buzz off?' Really? So you're the bastard that sent that message to me the other night?" She turned back to the screen as Seymour's face froze in panic. "Nice job."

Sonia smacked his forehead with his palm. "Damn. I didn't realize that was you. Sorry."

"Would it have made a difference? Or are you saying that because you can't keep your eyes off me?"

His ego deflated, Seymour turned around and leaned his back on the chair. "I guess lunch is out, then."

Jessica laughed, shaking her head. "I wonder what clued you in, Sherlock."

===


The Akira-class starship Rafale slipped silently through space at warp speed, her travels taking her to the Klingon front. Because of the recent activity, her route had been ordered to take her near the Gamma Orionis block to investigate the reports of unprovoked attacks on her sister Starfleet ships. Despite her significantly smaller weapons load-out compared to others of her class, Rafale could still put up a fight.

Fighting wasn't her purpose here though; her upgraded sensor suite, fit for a ship five times her size, was capable of looking deep into the region of space, while her escort-type hull could potentially deter any would-be attackers. At least, that was the hope.

Rafale sped through the star-dotted expanse, searching. Her nacelles flashed as she increased speed and veered off course.

She had found something.
Chapter 4 by TemplarSora
PRIORITY ALERT

ATTEN: ALL SHIPS

U.S.S. RAFALE, NCC-93017

Rafale has positive sensor contact on four unknown contacts near the Omar system. We are moving to intercept. Any available ships in that area, please standby to assist.

Captain Mal'kon

===


Chapter 4

"We're about six minutes out, Captain."

Jessica turned her head to see the rest of the bridge behind her. Captain Mal'kon and the first officer had both arrived on the bridge the moment the unidentified ships had been located. Mal'kon was seated in the command chair, staring ahead at the viewer as if he would be able to see the ships that were still a few light years away.

She felt a hand on her shoulder, and she looked up at Seymour, who had stayed standing behind her. He motioned with his head for her to move. "I should take my post." Jessica could tell he was all business; the awkwardness from earlier was gone, replaced with a confidence that Jessica could almost see radiate from him like an aura. He gave her a small smile as she stood up, then he slipped into the chair and immediately set up the console to his specifications. "Engineering is transferring all available power to shields and weapons, Captain," he called from his post, bringing up status reports from around the ship. "Doctor S'Tel is reporting sickbay ready. Torpedo and phaser control are ready. Engineering...ready."

Jessica wasn't sure what to do now; she'd been on the bridge plenty, pulling duty as needed. But she had never been on the bridge in an engagement, no matter how small. She found herself very suddenly out of her element, and she nervously looked around the small bridge as the rest of the bridge crew manipulated their controls, preparing the Rafale for the worst. She clasped her hands behind her back and turned on her heel, ready to clear off and get out of the way.

"Lieutenant, where are you going?"

Jessica stopped dead in her tracks, then slowly turned around to meet the first officer's dark, intense eyes. The Vulcan raised an eyebrow in curiosity, waiting for Jessica to answer. When she didn't, he nodded toward the science station in the back. "Take you post, Mister St. Peter."

Jessica blinked a few times, then managed to reply with an "aye, sir" before turning to the station. Her stomach knotted with excitement and dread. What if she messed something up? What if she wasn't quick enough with her information? What if she missed something?

She tapped the controls on the table-like station, logging in and setting up to be on duty. She glanced out the side of her peripheral vision; the first officer had moved off to check on the rest of the crew. She brought her focus back down to her readings. An alert flashed, and she gasped. "Captain, short range sensors picking up three contacts, intercept course. Unknown build!"

Mal'kon swiveled his chair around to face Jessica. "How close?"

Jessica opened her mouth to respond, mentally hitting herself for not giving that tidbit of information, when the deck rocked under her feet. She grabbed her station as the red alert klaxon blasted overhead and the lights on the bridge turned red. "Right on top of us, sir!" It was a stupidly obvious thing to say, she realized after she had closed her mouth, but she had gotten the message across.

The captain turned his chair forward again. "Tactical analysis, Lieutenant! Wirstowx, evasive pattern Echo!"

There was a low hum that grew louder as the ship executed the maneuver, and Jessica could feel the inertial dampers barely keep up with the ship. She held onto her station with one hand while she worked her controls, trying to get a clear reading on the small ships.

The deck shook again, and a display on the wall in front of Jessica blew, showering sparks down on her. She raised her arm to shield her face as she shouted in surprise. The smell was disgusting, like burning plastic and tobacco, and she coughed as she inhaled the dark smoke. Her arm burned from the pieces of melted panel that had rained down on her.

She was surprised when she realized she had finished the analysis. She quickly ordered the readings to display on the tactical console as well as a display to the right of the view screen. "Analysis complete. Erratic readings...heavy damage already. Weapons are a disruptor and plasma hybrid. No communication system to speak of; it's possible it's been damaged." She frowned. "Captain, I'm not picking up any lifesigns."

The ship rocked again, and another panel exploded at another bridge console, filling the bridge with more smoke. Jessica held on as she felt herself carried forward by momentum as the ship was violently thrown from warp. Alerts blared at every console due to the sudden change in speed.

She pulled herself back up, gritting her teeth as she focused on her job. She could feel her heart racing, and she could see everything around her in sharp detail.

This certainly is different, she thought.

===


The deck rocked underneath her feet, causing the Trill to stumble out of the turbolift and onto the cramped bridge of the Rafale. She managed to get to the science station at the rear of the small command center, and grabbed hold of a support strut to balance herself. There was another echoing boom through the frame of the ship, and the ship rocked again.

"The first four contacts are now dropping out of warp, joining with the other three."

"Where did they come from?"

"They all look the same!"

"Shields are up and holding, but we only managed to get them to 68 percent!"

"Computer unable to identify them, Captain, but they're all definitely of the same origin!"

Nizeri looked up and caught a glance from the other science officer on duty. She was gripping the console tightly to keep herself steady, and she had already begun to perspire. "Jess, what happened?"

"We had picked up four unknown ships and changed course to intercept." She wiped her forehead with her hand, coughing a little. "We were steady at warp, and then out of nowhere we took a plasma bolt to the starboard nacelle. Wirstowx got the shields raised, but by then most of the system had been taken out."

Sano manipulated her own controls, performing every scan she could manage of the enemy ships. Most of the Akira-class ship's sensors were unavailable while the ship was in combat, but she could get a good enough idea of what the enemy ship was. She raised her voice over the chaotic din of the bridge.

"Captain, sensors indicate the ships have incredibly complex autonomous systems..." She paused, finishing the assessment silently in her head. It's not possible, she thought. It has to be an error.

The captain turned his head just barely to the side to look at Jessica as the ship rocked again. "Anything useful?"

Jessica pressed more controls, manipulating the sensors further. "Routing results to tactical. Minimal shielding located in the center of the probe, probably to protect the power plant or the central computer." Jessica gasped, causing Nizeri to look up. "Captain, these are the same type of probes that attacked the Merveille just the other day!"

Captain Mal'kon jumped out of his chair and hurried to the back to see her scans. "You're sure?"

"Yes, sir. Same readings, same build. These probes are identical to ones that have been attacking ships for the past month in this region of space."

Captain Mal'kon turned to face the view screen as a bright green lance of plasma and energy spewed from the probe on the screen. A moment later it collided with the Rafale's shields, causing the ship to shake again. "Ensign Wirstowx, there's your engagement authority. Weapons free; fire torpedoes, full spread."

There was no acknowledgment from the front tactical console. Nizeri heard the familiar sound of a full spread of quantum torpedoes as they were expelled from the torpedo launcher, and turned to look at the view screen in time to see the five blue objects fly out and slam into the black mass of twisted metal that had attacked them. The spherical probe, which had been steadily rotating during the attack, stuttered before exploding in a giant ball of green gases.

"Captain, the other probes are moving off."

"Fire at will, Wirstowx."

===


The Rafale chased after the retreating probes, phasers lashing out mercilessly. Torpedoes launched again, and another probe was obliterated.

"Wirstowx, that was too close!" Mal'kon dropped into his chair and pulled the restraints over his lap. Around the small bridge, everyone at a console sat in their chair and held on.

Jessica's eyes widened, and she looked up at Nizeri. The Trill was equally frightened, and tightened her grip on the science console, the only station on the bridge that didn't have chairs. Both women closed their eyes as Mal'kon's voice shouted at the last moment to brace for impact.

The probe erupted on the view screen, and the shock wave slammed into the Rafale's already weakened shields. The starscape went spiraling upward on the screen, and the rest of the bridge followed. Jessica felt herself lift off the deck plating as the inertial dampeners struggled to keep up with the explosion. There was a thunderous explosion that resounded throughout the ship, and in an instant the bridge was thrown backward. Consoles exploded and lights flickered off. Jessica lost her grip on the science station and was thrown over the captain's chair. She felt the artificial gravity catch up with the inertial dampening system, and she screamed as she landed, slamming into the helm station.

Then, darkness.
Chapter 5 by TemplarSora
Chief Medical Officer's log, stardate 83141.91

The recent attack on the
Rafale resulted in seventeen injuries. Five crew members were admitted for smoke inhalation only and were released promptly. Of the remaining twelve, nine were treated for minor wounds and burns. Three arrived in critical condition. Of them, only the science officer on duty, Lieutenant St. Peter, remains in critical condition.

Upon arriving on the bridge, I found Lieutenant Wirstowx had already administered a pain reliever. When queried, it was discovered the helmsman had given her a large dose of hydrocortilene, per standard procedure. Due to St. Peter's alien physiology, the hydrocortilene caused her to go into anaphylactic shock. I quickly administered a dose of triox so that the woman would not be oxygen deprived, and then emergency transported her to sickbay immediately, where I began to flush the hydrocortilene from her system.

Because of further injuries sustained in the battle - a broken femur, three broken ribs, and a strained wrist - I was forced to put St. Peter in a coma so that I could perform surgery on her injuries and prevent further allergic reactions. She will be required to wear a leg brace for a few days upon her release, and will not be allowed crew duty for at least a week to let her body finish healing.

Doctor S'Tel, Chief Medical Officer, U.S.S.
Rafale

===


Chapter 5

The sun was warm on Jessica's face, and she smiled, leaning back in her lounge chair on the beach. After the events of the previous week, it was nice to soak it all in: the sound of waves crashing on the sand; the smell of the salt in the air; the gulls squawking high above her.

Thump! Whump!

Jessica smiled more, tilting her head up enough to see the other two people with her but not enough to cause the pain in her chest to flare. In the day and some hours since her release from sickbay, she had quickly learned how limited her movement was if she didn't want a sharp sting in her lungs or her leg.

Whump! Smack!

"Oh, come on Justine! You should know better than to do that with her right there!" Jessica playfully chided, then winced as a small pain jabbed at her. She leaned her head back more, still watching the two other girls play.

Justine giggled, shaking her head but not taking her eyes off the ball as Bridget set the ball to herself and then gave it a powerful hit across the net. Justine dove, kicking up a barrage of sand that managed to shower Jessica with a few stray grains.

"Point!" Bridget laughed, raising her hands in the air. Her body flickered for a moment, causing Jessica to sigh; just when she started to feel at home, the illusion had to be destroyed by a moment of lag in the communication system.

Justine laughed, standing back up and throwing the volleyball back at her blonde friend. "I'm still up by five, Joie." She blew the other girl a kiss, her own body turning an odd blue color and going transparent as it flickered as well, before returning to normal. Then she turned and smiled at Jessica. "Jessiy, you need anything?"

Jessica shook her head slowly, preventing more pain from ruining the fun with her friends. "Maybe a little bit cooler weather. And a margarita. And maybe a leg would be nice too."

Justine smiled guiltily at Jessica. "I'm sorry hon. We can stop playing if you're feeling left out."

"Bull crap, I'm about to beat you." Bridget served the ball while Justine wasn't watching, hitting the sand just behind the purple-haired girl. She laughed. "I'm on a streak now!"

Jessica laughed, clapping her hands lightly. "Keep playing, I'm enjoying watching."

"Watching or coaching?"

"They're not the same?" Jessica winked, then shooed Justine back to the game. "Play!" She spoke a bit more forcefully as she gave the command, "Computer. Lower temperature two degrees."

There was a beep, and then Jessica felt a slight breeze blow on the holodeck, lowering the temperature of the already beautiful Risan day that the girls had created. It was the same beach where they had won their championship two years ago when they played for the Academy. Jessica smiled, memories of the day flooding her mind. It was an incredible day for the three friends, made even more memorable when Justine and Bridget had finally kissed, starting their own relationship.

It had always struck Jessica as odd, that Justine and Bridget - who were both female - would try to form a romantic relationship with one another. It certainly wasn't unheard of, but as a biologist she couldn't get past the futility of the situation. They were breaking every rule imaginable as far as biology and procreation went. Why would they enter into a relationship that would produce nothing to show for the effort beyond their affection?

Of course she understood why; it was a silly reason, love, but she could understand it completely. Still, the sight of them often caused her to become even more confused. In the end, she decided, she was happy that they were happy. Sometimes things weren't as black and white as science liked to tell her.

"Heads up!"

Jessica snapped out of her thoughts in time to see the volleyball flying towards her. She brought up her hands to shield her face in time for the ball to hit her hand. Pain flew up her arm from her injured wrist, and she cried out.

Justine and Bridget's holographic avatars came running. Bridget knelt beside Jessica and gently took her injured hand in both of hers. "Sorry, Jess."

Jessica sighed, shrugging slightly. "Price we pay, I guess. I'm ok, really. It wasn't broken to begin with; I doubt that broke it just now."

Bridget stared at Jessica with her blue eyes, making sure the blue alien was telling the truth. She blinked, then smirked. "You just flickered there."

Jessica rolled her eyes, pulling her hand back as both of her friends flickered together. "Y'all keep flickering all the time. It kinda ruins the illusion."

Justine huffed, crossing her arms. "It really does. I think I forgot for a moment you're not actually with us here."

Justine and Bridget both perked up, looking behind them for a moment. Jessica waited, and then the two girls frowned in annoyance. Bridget nodded, then spoke aloud to no one. "Understood. We'll be done in here shortly. Kinsley out."

Justine stamped her foot. "It's only been an hour!"

"What's up you two?" Jessica asked, crossing her arms. "Trouble?"

Bridget gave Justine a sideways glance before shaking her head. "No trouble. Bridge is complaining about comm time usage." She looked at Jessica and frowned sadly. "I think our game is going to have to be cut short."

Jessica nodded. "The holopresence certainly does use a lot of comm bandwidth. Y'all are doubling it by using it together." She gave her friends a reassuring smile. "It'll be ok. We'll meet up together soon for the real thing."

Justine smiled, offering a hand to Jessica to help the injured woman to her feet. "We had better. Bridget is going to need all the help she can get to play me next time."

Bridget stuck her tongue out at Justine, helping get Jessica to her feet. Jessica winced as a throbbing pain ran through her body from her still-healing leg. Bridget noticed, turning her head to the side. "Computer, remove Risan beach."

Instantly the scene around the girls shimmered, then vanished, replaced by the silver web of struts that covered the walls of the holodeck. Jessica found her footing easier on the flat surface as opposed to the sand, but she was still somewhat frustrated by the sudden disappearance of her favorite beach in the galaxy.

Justine looked saddened too, while Bridget just stood there, holding onto Jessica's arm. "Are you going to be ok, or do I need to call someone to help walk you back to your room?"

Jessica laughed, shaking her head. "I'll make it. Thanks though." She pulled her friend in and gave her a tight hug. "I had fun, at least for a little while."

Bridget returned the squeeze with a small laugh. "It was good to see you again, Jess. I'll talk to you later."

Jessica let go of her friend and moved to Justine. Justine grinned, pulling Jessica in for a tighter hug that almost made her yell in pain from her sore ribs. Instead, Jessica just gritted her teeth. "I'll talk to you later," she said, letting Jessica go. "Love ya!"

"Yep. Love you guys too. Take care." Jessica gave a small wave and watched as her friends turned around. They both shimmered for a second before disappearing as the comm channel that linked their holodeck with the Rafale's was closed. Slowly, Jessica limped to the door, frowning sadly at the ending of an otherwise fun day.

===


"Lieutenant St. Peter. Are you experiencing an increase in pain?"

S'Tel regarded the blue woman with pity as she limped into her office, though the Vulcan would never show her compassion on her face or let it be found in her words. Instead, she barely looked above the top of her computer and raised an eyebrow to help accent her question.

Jessica shook her head, an embarrassed grin tugging at her lips. S'Tel sighed softly, an effective pause for her that helped to prevent an errant eye roll to show her frustration with her patients. "No, no pain, I mean, no more than usual. Well, 'usual' for what I've experienced so far."

The doctor lifted herself gracefully from her chair and walked around her desk. Jessica turned slowly to face her, cradling her injured hand. S'Tel reached and took the hand in her strong grip and lifted the appendage slowly so she could better examine it. It was darker blue than the rest of her skin, and slightly swollen. She gently squeezed the woman's wrist, and glanced up in time to see Jessica's eyes flutter from the pain.

S'Tel quickly put a hand on Jessica's back, feeling down her spine for a pressure point and then gently applied pressure as she had learned decades ago. Jessica quickly regained her balance, shaking her head as she fought off her dizziness. "You're wrist appears to be bruised, and I'd say you've injured it further. What happened, Lieutenant?" She picked up her tricorder from the corner of the desk and flipped it open, taking a quick scan of the injured hand. There was additional bruising, of course, but otherwise nothing serious that could require surgery. She closed the tricorder, satisfied, waiting for Jessica to explain her visit.

"I was..." The science officer sighed. "I was on the holodeck. With my friends, from the Merveille. They were playing volleyball..."

S'Tel made the tiniest groan in the back of her throat. She let go of the other woman's hand and started towards a shelf on the wall where she kept her hyposprays. "I believe I warned you not to take part in any physical activities for at least a week, if not two, Lieutenant. Will I need to confine you to your quarters?"

Jessica shook her head, struggling to limp after the doctor. "It's not that, I swear! I wasn't playing, I was just watching. They hit a ball and it accidentally came to me; I had to shield my face and..." She lifted her hand up, her face turning a deep indigo color as she blushed.

S'Tel tilted her head to the side. "Indeed." She motioned for Jessica to come closer and, when the girl was close enough, applied the hypospray to the woman's arm. "This should dull the pain in your wrist for a few hours, but I would advise against any more activities where you could injure it again."

St. Peter nodded, biting her lip. "I know...Thanks, Doc." She turned to hobble out, and S'Tel watched as the girl limped out of sickbay, a brace on one leg and cradling her hand.

Things could have been so much worse. It is well that only she was so seriously injured.

S'Tel turned back into her office. Satisfied that none of her nurses could see her anymore, she let out a long breath and relaxed, frowning. Sometimes she hated having to be so cold and detached from her patients, but it was a blessing as well; logic helped keep her focused on the task at hand. Too many times had she seen a combat triage in this new war with the Klingons. Disruptor burns; limbs lobbed clean off; stab wounds from the incredibly violent weapons of an incredibly violent people.

Strange, how close we came to being like them. How is it that, after all this time, they've managed to not simply destroy themselves?

She closed her eyes, regaining her composure before she sat back at her desk to update her medical logs with her most recent patient. She would leave the question for contemplation later, while she meditated.
Chapter 6 by TemplarSora
PRIORITY ADVISORY

STARFLEET COMMAND

Attention all ships:

I'm sure word has started spreading, so I won't insult your intelligence. Multiple ships have recently been attacked, primarily near the Gamma Orionis sector. This is a fleet-wide advisory to move to a standing yellow-alert, with exception to those ships actively engaged in border patrol operations near the Klingon border. I am also ordering all ships which actively engage any unknown threat to attempt to capture the attacking ship intact or its crew alive for further investigation.

The readings received from numerous ships are troubling, and frankly I do not believe it. Until hard evidence is received, we are to assume these attacks are a prelude to further hostilities with either the Klingon Empire, or a new hostile force.

Report all findings to Starfleet Command.

Admiral Jorel Quinn

===


Chapter 6

"How's your hand?"


Jessica glanced down at the hand she had placed on the desk in front of her and smiled. "Doc was a little angry that I was playing with you guys. But it wasn't injured more. Don't worry."

Bridget Kinsley shook her head, sighing. "We did tell you it was a bad idea." The other woman leaned back in her own chair, covering her mouth as she yawned. "We'll have to go someplace safer next time, Stormy."

Jessica's smile widened at the nickname. "I haven't heard that in almost a year now."

"What, did you think I could forget that?" Kinsley giggled. "My sunshine and my storm cloud. The two of you got me through school."

St. Peter shook her head. "I think we got each other through that place."

Bridget nodded in agreement. "It was a lot of fun, though. Practice days."

"The 602 afterwards."

"Downtown San Francisco or San Diego on weekends."

"Oh my god, that club Justine got dragged into and we couldn't find her..."

"And she was dancing on the bar with that Andorian and Vulcan when we finally did!" Bridget finished, laughing loudly and clapping her hands. "I don't think she ever drank more than a glass of wine since then!"

"That was three years ago!" The two girls laughed. "That was a fun night."

"There were a lot of fun nights, and not just on the weekends. Cram sessions?"

"Uggh; you and that one guy, Dutchman, you were impossible."

Bridget feigned insult. "Biology was hard! I never had a mind for that. Besides, how often did I have to help you with tactical strategies?"

"Look at me, Bridget! I took the Kobayashi Maru once, and I failed before I even sat down in the simulator." They laughed again. "I'll never be in command; you were born for it."

Bridget sat up straighter in her chair, pushing out her chest and looking up and to the left. "Captain Bridget Kinsley, captain of the Starship...hmmm..." She giggled. "Well, it does have a nice ring to it."

Jessica laughed with her. "It does. And if you ever need a science officer, I'm your lady."

Bridget smiled and replied, teasingly, "Are you even a lady?"

Jessica shrugged, smirking playfully. "Well, you did try kissing me."

As soon as the words came out of her mouth Jessica regretted it; Bridget's face turned bright red and she looked away with a pained expression on her face. "Yeah. I know, " she quietly replied.

"Bridg...I'm sorry. That was mean. I didn't mean...I'm sorry." Jessica bit her bottom lip nervously. "Hey, look at me. I'm sorry."

Bridget looked up and offered her a small smile. "I know. I guess I'm still a little...ashamed? I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable or put off. I just..."

"Water under the bridge; I'm the one joking about it, remember?" Jessica smiled wide. "Besides, you wouldn't have Justine now."

Bridget nodded, then frowned a little more. "You never told Justine why you went to the Rafale."

Jessica looked off to the side, her smile fading fast. "I know."

"Are you ever planning on telling her?" Jessica shook her head, causing Bridget to frown more. "She really misses you, you know."

"I know. I think I've gotten more calls from her than I have from my own father." Jessica laughed a little.

"She thinks you were a little jealous. Or felt like a third wheel with us."

Jessica snapped her head back towards the screen in surprise. "No she doesn't."

"She probably doesn't anymore; I hope I convinced her, at least. But you have to admit, it did look that way. It still does sometimes, from my end." Bridget ran a hand through her blonde hair, her eyes looking off to the side.

Jessica leaned in towards her screen in mild annoyance. "Hey, look at me, Kinsley." Bridget looked back at her, looking as if the two had had this conversation many times before. "I didn't leave because of the two of you, or the two of us. I'm happy for you both. I had to come here."

"I know. And you forgot to tell us where you were going."

Jessica blushed. "I swear I told y'all where I was looking at being posted." She smiled, shrugging. "It's only for a few years, and then either y'all can come here, or I can go there, or we can go find another ship and start things over."

"I hear they're working on a new ship or two at Utopia Planetia. Should put the Sovereign to shame."

"As soon as we can, then." Jessica leaned back, but she wasn't satisfied. The past year away from her two best friends had been taxing on their friendship, but it had started even before she had graduated before them. Her two friends meant the world to her, but there didn't seem to be any way to convince Bridget that she hadn't left out of jealousy or a feeling of being left out. In truth, maybe it had played a part in her decision, but other circumstances had forced her hand. They were personal, and probably selfish, reasons, but they were her reasons, and she hated to have to defend herself for choosing the Rafale over other ships, including the Merveille with her friends.

Jessica smiled a little. "Besides, think of the experience we're getting. When we finally meet up on a new ship, we'll be able to handle anything."

"It would be a little easier on us to have each other again."

"Of course it would." Jessica leaned forward on the desk, wincing slightly as her recently repaired ribcage flared with a dull pain. "I do miss you guys. So much."

"We'll meet up in a few weeks at Starbase 39. Both of our ships are looking at being docked for at least a week or two for resupply and to pick up new crew. Are you going to be healed up by then?"

Jessica flexed her wrist. "I sure hope so. Limping around the ship is getting annoying. We'll see."

Bridget nodded. "I need to get going; I'm supposed to meet Justine and another friend for lunch."

"Lunch time already?" Jessica glanced over at her own clock and sighed; it was 1400. "I need to get some food, too. I'm supposed to be going back to work today."

"Already?"

"It's been a little over a week now, yeah. Should get the brace off my leg in a few days, too."

"Well, please don't hurt yourself again." Bridget smiled a little. "Alright then. Have fun. I'll talk to you soon."

"You too. Say hi to Justine for me." Jessica smiled back. "I miss you."

"We'll see each other soon. Don't worry." Bridget winked. "Be safe."

"You too."

Her friend shrugged. "You know me. I'm always safe." She laughed, and the screen went dark as the channel was closed. Jessica shook her head, suddenly feeling very sick.
Chapter 7 by TemplarSora
Stardate 83167.01

Vega Colony Orbit


"Nope, things have been pretty quiet here. Probably just as well; we've been on the Klingon front for months now. Being further away, deeper in our own territory, is giving us a nice chance to take a breath and collect ourselves. And get our repairs done."

"I understand that.
Oakland's been here for a few weeks now, finally finished our resupply. We should be heading to Vulcan for a quick pick-up of a new officer or two and then we'll be right back on the line."

"Damn, Lok. Goodluck to you. When are you heading out? We should get together for a game of chess, for old time's sake."

"Ha, that would be fun. I'll bring the drinks if you bring the...what the - "

"What is it?"

"I don't...know. Are you seeing this, out by the moon?"

"We're on the opposite side of the planet. What's going on?"

"Some...large energy...disturbance."

"Graj, you're starting the break up. What's going on?"

"Gods! Get hel...rge ships comin...be shaped! Bridge, red...all weapons!"

"Graj? Graj?! Bridge, lay in a course for the
Oakland, max impulse!"

===


Chapter 7

"Is he really going to try?"

Nizeri took a bite out of her sandwich, chewing while she tried to maintain her innocent smile. She nodded a few times.

Jessica rolled her eyes. "I hope not...I don't think my ribs are healed enough for me to be nauseous."

The other women at the table laughed, their red uniforms identifying them as junior security officers. Jess was friends with the one, Kaitlyn. She had only just met the other officer, and wondered if she had just recently transferred aboard.

That was, until she had been distracted by Nizeri.

"If Seymour asks me to dinner again, I'm going to break another rib. I swear!"

The others laughed even more around the table. Jessica scooped up her food and took a large bite - she wasn't even sure anymore what she had ordered.

The other woman, Evelyn, swallowed her drink. "I don't think I was on board five minutes before he asked if I needed help finding my way around the ship."

Kaitlyn snorted. "Let me guess, you wound up at the bunks in two minutes?"

"Well, five."

The officers laughed. Nizeri coughed, quickly taking a drink and nodding behind Jessica. Evelyn also straightened in her seat, taking a quick bite of food to wipe her smile away. Jessica closed her eyes, waiting for the inevitable...

She felt a hand come down on her shoulder in what would otherwise have been a friendly greeting. Instantly pain flared in her still-healing chest, and she crumpled a bit, letting out a shout.

"Oh, crap! I'm sorry, I forgot!" Seymour put a hand under Jessica's other arm to help keep her in her chair.

The blue woman shrugged him away with a grunt, turning her head to glare at him. "What is it, Seymour?"

"I, uh...I was just wondering if..."

Jessica shook her head, interrupting him. "No, ok, no. I'm not interested. I'm sure there are plenty of other women who are interested in you and the engines, but I'm not. Before you hurt me anymore, please, just leave."

The other officer looked stunned, like he had just been slapped, and Jessica had to admit the thought had crossed her mind. He nodded, mumbling a little as he turned and walked away, back out the doors of the mess hall. Jessica turned back to her friends to see similar shocked expressions on their faces. "What? There's a reason they call me 'Stormy.'" She stabbed her food with her fork and took another bite as the girls started laughing.

===


"Captain, we are receiving a message from Starfleet Command, marked urgent." The first officer turned toward the lone command chair, where Mal'kon was seated. "Shall I put it through to your office?"

Mal'kon nodded, standing up. "You have the bridge." He turned and exited the bridge into his ready room.

Elaina watched him leave, curious. Once the door was closed, she tapped the Vulcan standing near her own station. "What was it about?"

"I cannot tell you, Commander."

"Come on. There had to have been a subject or some priority to it."

"It was high priority, but there was no subject line beyond 'Fleet Alert.' Whatever it is, I am sure the captain will inform us shortly."

Elaina crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. "You're no fun."

"Fun has nothing to do with it, Mister Seurer." The Vulcan first officer raised an eyebrow. "And on the subject of fun, I have been meaning to discuss your next emergency procedures exercise."

Elaina smiled. "You mean the warp core containment breach exercise? It should be a good test."

"Is ejecting the core really necessary?"

The engineer shrugged. "Not really. The alternative is allowing it to go critical and the ship with it." She grinned.

The Vulcan drew in a sharp breath; Elaina could practically feel the annoyance radiate from the stoic man. "I do not believe it wise to go through with this exercise."

"But it is logical."

"I am not arguing the logic behind the necessity of being well-prepared for the worst of emergencies. The wisdom in executing to this level, however, leaves much to be desired."

Damn. Elaina frowned, sighing. She was sure she could have gotten him to break then. "Well, I supposed we could just simulate it. But that wouldn't be very realistic."

"There is always the holodeck, Commander."

"But the engineers would know it's an exercise. And that they'd be safe if they messed up."

"And if they 'mess up' during your exercise?"

"Fear is an incredible motivator to do your job correctly."

The Vulcan blinked, and Elaina mentally jumped for joy - she had surprised the man. It had shown for only a brief second, but it was enough for her. "Fear would only lead to more chaos. Your engineers would perform equally as well, if not better, in a controlled environment."

Elaina opened her mouth to reply, hoping to catch him off guard again when the door to the captain's ready room opened. Mal'kon marched out quickly, his face grim. He sat down in his chair before beginning to bark orders around the bridge.

"Wirstowx, lay in a course for Starbase 17, maximum warp. Yellow alert. I want diagnostics run on all weapons, shields, and sensors, and then I want those systems charged and ready for combat."

Elaina stood; she knew the order for diagnostics was for her. "Understood. What's going on?"

Mal'kon shook his head. "I don't know much more than you do. One of our colonies is under attack, Vega colony. We're meeting a fleet to reinforce the planet."

"Do we know who we are facing?"

Elaina frowned; she would have asked the question too, even though she knew the answer. She knew the Vulcan commander knew the answer, too, but it had to be said.

"We don't know. But whoever it is, they've come in full force." Mal'kon turned to his first officer. "Send a message to the Khitomer, let them know we're on our way. She's leading the reinforcements." Mal'kon shifted uncomfortably in his seat before he pressed a control on the arm of his chair. "Crew, this is the Captain."

===


"Crew, this is the Captain."

Jessica and her friends looked up as the voice cut into the normally loud mess hall, silencing all the conversations in the room.

"We're en route to Starbase 17 to meet the Khitomer and a small armada of ships to reinforce one of our interior colonies."

"A colony is under attack?" Kaitlyn looked around. "How'd they get behind our lines?"

"We don't know who we're going to face there. I want everyone ready for the worst. Contact has been lost with Vega Colony, and the ships in orbit there."

Jessica gasped. "No..."

"All hands: Battle stations."

"What is it, St. Peter?"

Jessica shook her head. It wasn't possible. She had just spoken with Bridget only an hour or so ago - how could contact be lost now? How was there a battle happening now? It had to be a dream. It wasn't possible.

"Jess, hey..."

She startled as Nizeri came into view in front of her. She looked around; when had she fallen on the ground?

"St. Peter, what's wrong?" Evelyn was next to her, a gentle hand on her shoulder. "You're worrying us."

"Vega Colony. The Merveille was there."

Nizeri covered her mouth; she knew Jessica's friends were on that ship. As they helped her to her feet, the sick feeling came back to Jessica, the same feeling she had had when she had spoken to Bridget only an hour ago. As they left the mess hall with the rest of the crew, she prayed they wouldn't be too late.
Chapter 8 by TemplarSora
"The cube is sending out comm traffic on older frequencies!"

"Where did they come from?"

"Try to keep shield power up by diverting auxiliary power."

"The cube is regenerating-- we need more firepower! Where the hell is the
Khitomer?"

WE ARE THE BORG. YOUR BIOLOGICAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL DISTINCTIVNESS WILL BE ADDED TO OUR OWN. YOUR CULTURE WILL ADAPT TO SERVICE OURS. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.

"The
Archer is falling back! Weapons are offline!"

"
Kelvin is dead in the water, hull breaches on decks four through thirteen, heavy casualties!"

"Still reading a temporal wash from the cube, can't get a fix on it."

"Helm, come about and get us into the same firing arc as the
Montreal's weapons."

"Engaging evasive maneuvers!"

"Engineering, we need more engine power to stay ahead of the Borg tractor beams."

"We are attempting to engage the ships before they can leave the system. Any available ships, report to the
Renown."

"I'm trying to contact Vega Colony, sir, but the Borg are jamming us!"

"Direct hit! Warp core containment failing!"

"Tactical, prepare a high-yield torpedo volley."

"
Merveille is back up and running, ready to beam over critically wounded. Prepare to triage your personnel."

===


Chapter 8

"We will be entering the system in five minutes, Captain."

"Steady as she goes, Mr. Wirstowx. Bring weapons on standby, and raise shields."

Wirstowx gave the faintest of nods to the Captain as he executed the orders. On his combined helm and tactical station, a display of the ship turned blue as the shields sprung to life; another display showed each weapon on the small Akira-class and their steadily rising power levels.

Wirstowx glanced up from the station to the viewscreen. Stars were streaking past at dizzying speed, and a few of the other ships they had met up with were visible in front of them. Defiant, Sabre, a few Sovereign and Oslo-class ships - whatever was happening at Vega Colony was big. Wirstowx glanced back down, the faintest hint of a smile playing on his lips. He had heard about all the hostiles in this part of space that the Federation had to deal with: Klingons, Romulans, Breen, Cardassians, even the Dominion. He had only met a few Klingons in the short time he was in Starfleet, but never in anything more than a small skirmish between the Rafale and one or two other ships.

A fleet battle would be glorious.

"One minute to system entry."

"Red alert. All hands to battle stations."

The lights on the small bridge dimmed, and displays switched from the typical blue to bright red. Wirstowx hated red alert; it was so much harder for him to see in the dim, red lights. And the blaring klaxon did nothing to keep him focused; it put him on edge, made him uneasy. Those were two things no warrior wanted to be when he was preparing for battle. After a few seconds the klaxon stopped, but the lights remained.

The massive officer closed his eyes and took a few steadying breaths. He could taste the stale air, but there was a hint of other things. He frowned a little; he knew that taste in the air from when he was a child. It always lingered, oppressive and heavy in the air before a battle. He hated it. Some of his people reveled in the taste, saying it brought them even more focus and resolve. But he could not bring himself to do so, knowing that it was in the air because of his crewmates.

The taste of fear was never something he enjoyed with his friends.

He opened his eyes as the chronometer began its countdown from ten. "Ten seconds to Vega."

He heard a gasp behind him, recognizing it as the chief science officer; he was glad, for a few moments, that Nizeri wasn't on the bridge. "Captain, I'm picking up a strange energy disturbance in the Vega System. There's a lot of interference, I can't get a good reading."

"Five seconds."

"Try again once we're out of warp. All hands, brace yourselves!"

The image on the screen flashed as the small fleet of ships dropped out of warp. Wirstowx scanned the view in front of them, puzzled.

Debris was everywhere. A few ships hung dead in space, their inner decks exposed to vacuum, plumes of plasma leaking from their damaged cores.

"How many ships were at Vega when this began?" asked Mal'Kon.

To his right, Wirstowx heard the first officer reply in his stoic voice. "Recent reports indicate seven ships, Captain."

"There's a lot more debris than that, Captain," the science officer called out from his station in the rear of the bridge. "Not all of it is Starfleet either. Showing enough debris here for a small space station." He paused. "That can't be right."

"What, chief?"

"Sir, the computer has to be giving me faulty readings." Wirstowx heard him tap a few times on his console as he rechecked the sensors. "I'm getting two matches."

"And?"

"Captain, the unknown debris matches the probes that attacked us and other ships in this region for the past month. It also matches..." He trailed off.

Wirstowx frowned. He had no patience for the dramatic flair the man was employing, whether it was intentional or not. He tapped his console a few times to bring up the tactical scan the other officer had completed to see the results. The first match was there, there was no doubt - it was a perfect match in composition and energy signature.

"And what, commander?"

Wirstowx cleared his throat and spoke up. "The ships are Borg." He continued to monitor his own scanners, not sure what the problem was.

The taste of fear hit him like a sack of bricks, and the bridge was suddenly eerily silent. Something about that word caused everyone to stop what they were doing; he could see a woman to his left looking forward at the viewscreen.

"Chief, sensors, now. Are there any more Borg ships?"

"Searching."

"Wirstowx, keep us with the fleet and signal the Khitomer. I want to know what we're doing now."

"Aye." Wirstowx keyed the commands, sending a communications burst to the flag ship. "Khitomer is replying. 'Escort formation move forward. Rescue ships, begin search for survivors.'"

"Understood. Keep us with the escorts then. Chief, keep a look-out for any intact ships."

Wirstowx glanced behind him at the captain. Mal'kon was seated forward, his elbows on his knees and his chin resting in his hands, lost in thought. He had seen that look before, on friends and enemies alike. He wasn't nervous. Wirstowx had never seen Mal'kon show any anxiety in the few years he had served under him. The man was contemplating, possibly making peace with himself.

The taste in the air grew stronger. Everyone around the small bridge was thinking the same thing.

They weren't going to survive this battle.

Wirstowx turned back to his controls and focused on his duties. If he was going to die today, he'd do it proudly, at his station, as a warrior. Mal'kon wouldn't expect any less from him or his fellow bridge officers.

===


"What is going on?"

Nizeri Sano glanced over from her station in the sensors lab at the blue woman beside her. "I have no idea, have you see these readings?"

Jessica nodded. "I'd say something is wrong, except that we're cross-cueing our sensors with the Khitomer and the Renown. Everyone is picking up the same thing."

Nizeri frowned at her, turning back to her own scans. "What about the energy distortion?"

St. Peter shook her head. "No idea. The interference is killing our scans before we can get a good look. We'll have to ask one of the larger cruisers for their scans; we just don't have enough power to toss in there. What we do have is chroniton particles and a distinctly Borg energy signature. Probably one of their warp conduits."

The Trill tapped her fingers on the console top in front of her in frustration. "Where did they come from? How did we not know?"

"Nizeri, the Borg have been gone since before I was born. The only reasons I even know about them is what my father told me and the little bit I had to learn at the Academy. Everyone believed that they weren't coming back."

"We should have trusted our instruments. I even dismissed the scans as wrong when I first saw it. I'm sure I'm not the only one over the last month to do it, either."

"I've got something!"

Nizeri looked over as Jessica manipulated her console quickly, the blue girl biting her bottom lip in concentration. "Oh my god." She slapped her commbadge. "Sensor control to bridge. Chief, three ships closing fast. They're Borg!"

"I see them here. Keep an eye out for more. Are you ladies armed?"

Jessica looked at Nizeri, who shook her head. "No, sir. We'll get to the nearest weapons locker right now."

"I need you down there. I'll get a security member to get down there and watch you. Keep your heads down, and Jess; hang on to something."

Jessica's face turned dark purple in embarrassment and Nizeri couldn't help herself as she snickered. "Aye, sir." Jessica tapped her commbadge again.

"They're closing in. Scans are odd though; it looks like they're running on minimal power."

"Maybe they're damaged from the ships that were near here?"

"There's no way the ten ships in orbit could have dealt this damage to all the Borg ships; it'd take maybe five fleets the size of the one at Wolf 359 to do this." Nizeri furrowed her brow in concentration. "I wonder if the conduit is damaged." She tapped a few more controls in front of her.

"You think they got caught in some transwarp turbulence? Would that cause that much damage?"

"It all depends, really. Transwarp conduit technology is still new for us. You'd have to talk to Elaina about it." She frowned. "Those cubes are right on top of us, hold on."

Jessica and Nizeri both reached out and grabbed the console as the ship rocked from the first salvo. The engines whined as the helmsman began maneuvering the Rafale, and the two science officers could hear the sound of the ship's cannons and torpedoes firing at the attacking Borg ships.

St. Peter shook her head, holding on as best she could while keeping the Rafale's sensors trained on the cubes. "What a morning this turned into."

The ship rocked violently from a hit, and the two women held even tighter.

===


"Get those conduits buckled down; they're going to blow the next hit we get! Start transferring nonessential system power to shields and tertiary life support to weapons!"

"Yes, sir!"

Elaina braced herself on the main engineering console as the ship rocked again. Sparks flew from a wall station to her left, and she covered her face to keep from being burned. Smoke vented from the top of the powerful warp core that towered in front of her. "Stabilize the flow rates and increase shielding to the warp systems, they're trying to cut our legs out from under us!"

"Shields are down to 45 percent, tactical is requesting more power to the forward shields!"

Elaina cursed. "Of course he is, that's where our cannons are. Let him transfer from the rear or ventral shields, but I'm not giving him more power than I've already pulled!" She ran to the back of the engine room to the table-like station where a young Tellarite ensign was struggling to hold on and maintain the critical anti-matter containment fields. "How are the pods?"

"Get off me!" he grunted back, not even looking up at her. "I can do my damn job, do yours."

"Just don't blow us to kingdom come," she replied in kind, smacking him on the back and moving away to another crewman.

The ship bucked, and the engine room went dark as all of the personnel were dropped to the deck. The hull reverberated with a resounding boom, and Elaina could feel her ears pop; the hull had been breached. A moment later a screen on the Tellarite's station turned blue, showing the environmental hazard alert. The ensign glanced at it quickly and called out "Hull breach!"

"Where?" she called out, staggering back to the station.

"Decks one through five, sections alpha through delta." he replied uninterestedly, his focus on the anti-matter pods.

Elaina gasped, and the chaos of the engine room seemed to disappear as the engineers in the earshot stopped what they were doing and turned to the ensign.

It took the commander a moment to recover and swallow the lump in her throat. "Deck one, section charlie?"

The Tellarite didn't look up from his work; he just nodded once, looking annoyed at the interruption of his much more important work.

One of her engineers spoke from behind her. "The bridge."

"Took a direct hit, yes," the Tellarite finished, still not appearing to pay attention.

Elaina blinked a few times, in obvious shock. She slowly brought her hand to her chest and tapped her commbadge as the ship rocked again. "Engineering to bridge." There was no response. "Bridge, please respond." She held onto the station again as the ship shook once more. "Bridge, please respond!"

===


Jessica lifted her head up, coughing as her lungs burned from the smoke that hung thick in the air. She put her hands under her and pushed up, lifting herself off the deck.

"Nizeri!"

There was a faint cough, and movement near her. "Yeah. I'm ok." She saw the petite Trill sit up, rubbing her shoulder. "You?"

Jessica shook her head. "I'm fine." She finished standing up, her knees shaking a little from the shock. She coughed again. "That was a close hit."

The doors to the lab opened, and a large security officer stepped in. He called out in his gravelly voice, "Nizeri! Lieutenant St. Peter!" He stepped around the console bank and spotted the two women. He knelt next to Sano, and Jessica recognized him.

"Wirstowx, what...what are you doing down here?" Nizeri wrapped her arms around the massive alien.

"Captain Mal'kon assigned me to come down and protect you in case we were boarded." He kissed the Trill's forehead, then lifted her to her feet effortlessly. "I believe I got here just in time." He frowned. "That was a very violent attack."

Jessica nodded, brushing a few stray hairs out of her face and behind her ear. "I'll say. It sounded like it was just a deck up from us."

Wirstowx paused, then turned away from the two women. "It was."

Nizeri covered her mouth, her eyes growing wide. "That means..."

There was a crackle overhead, and then some static as the damaged speakers came on. "All remaining senior officers, report to engineering! I repeat, all remaining senior officers, report to engineering: the bridge has been destroyed.

"We need to save the ship."
Chapter 9 by TemplarSora
"This is the Emergency Medical Hologram aboard the U.S.S. Khitomer. I am requesting assistance from any Federation vessel in range. The Khitomer is being overwhelmed by Borg boarding parties.

"These Borg are different than the ones in my history records. They seem...disconnected somehow. They're strange, but still quite dangerous.

"I've lost contact with the bridge, and Main Engineering is under assault. I am unable to contact Commander Davis for new instructions. I don't know how much longer we can hold the ship. You must send help immediately!"

===


Chapter 9

"What do we do now?"

The question broke the uncomfortable silence that had fallen around the Master Systems Display in Engineering. The gathered officers looked around at each other, unsure and, for some, afraid.

As the remaining bridge and senior officers who weren't otherwise engaged in keeping the ship together trickled into Engineering, more information about the battle had come to light. The bridge had taken a brutal and concentrated attack; an empty, burnt out shell of the former command center was all that was left to be seen by the internal optical sensors. Other areas had been targeted around the ship - surgical strikes to try and take out the most important systems and centers of activity.

"It's as if they're intentionally targeting leadership."

Wirstowx nodded in agreement. "A sound tactic. Cut off the head and leave the body unable to defend itself or mount an effective counter attack. They must be after something that they could not stop to finish us off or assimilate us."

Jessica shuddered at the thought. "I think I'd rather be killed here."

"Indeed; I can see why Starfleet fought so hard against the Shay'd in Andromeda. The resemblance in method is uncanny."

Seurer stepped forward, interrupting the exchange. "All of the areas targeted would have been weak points on an original Akira. Thanks to the design changes implemented in the Rafale, the only truly critical area they hit was the bridge." She brought up a display of the damage reports that had started pouring into Engineering now that internal communications had been reestablished with the entire ship. "Shields took a beating, but we still have them; it's probably the only thing keeping them from beaming over or beaming us off."

"Small blessings." Nizeri shook her head. "Do we still have impulse? Can we get back to the planet, with the rest of the fleet?"

Seurer nodded. "It'd be safer than waiting out here for a cube to come pick us off." She walked to the main engineer's console in front of the pulsing main reactor. "Setting a course for Vega, three-quarters impulse."

The officers glanced around at each other. Uniforms were soiled with soot, hair was out of place, streaks of black stained their faces. They were all tired, now that the adrenaline of combat had worn off just enough for them to catch their breath.

Jessica glanced around at the chests of her companions. Lieutenants and Ensigns. She sighed, then turned and walked to Elaina, tapping her on the shoulder to get her to turn around. "You're the highest ranking officer, Commander."

Elaina shook her head, smirking. "I noticed, St. Peter." She scoffed. "Hell of a day."

"What do we do?"

"For now?" The dark-skinned Braidan turned around, sizing up the other officers. "Dammit, I don't know. Sensors? Shields?"

Wirstowx nodded. "And weapons?"

Elaina shook her head, surprising the other officers. "Not important; we're trying to stay alive, not jump back in the fight." She turned back to the console in front of her, frowning.

Jessica furrowed her brow in frustration, then leaned in closer and lowered her voice. "You don't know?!"

"Watch it, lieutenant. I'm under enough pressure to keep us in one piece; my first concern isn't rushing back into the fight."

"Neither is mine, but surely we can do something?"

"So go get the sensors back." She stood up straighter. "None of us asked for this, and heaven knows none of us are ready for this."

"You're in charge, and all you can say is 'I don't know what to do?'"

"St. Peter, get to that console with Nizeri and bring our sensors back." Elaina snapped back, glaring at the other woman. "Give me time to think."

"We don't have time to think, Commander!" Jessica hit the top of the console as she raised her voice to a shout. "The Borg are out there picking off other, more damaged ships! They're still attacking the colony! We have to help them!"

"Commander!"

Seurer opened her mouth to scream back at Jessica, but she quickly held her tongue and walked to where Wirstowx was standing. "What?"

"Ship in distress."

Elaina rolled her eyes. "Of course there is." She stretched out her arms, motioning around her. "Look around, Ensign. We're in distress."

"It's a medical ship, with wounded from the other vessels."

Jessica perked up and walked over quickly. "Which one?"

Wirstowx hesitated before replying, quietly, "Merveille."

Jessica staggered backwards; Wirstowx reached out and grabbed her by the arm to keep her on her feet. Seurer shook her head. "How many people on board?"

"Crew of about 400..." Jessica murmured. "They can take an extra..." She trailed off, her eyes going wide.

"They are saying they have already taken extensive damage, and have transported approximately 500 extra souls from other critically damaged ships." Wirstowx read off the message. "Three cubes are headed towards them at this moment." He looked back at Elaina. "One is a tactical cube, breaking off and on an intercept course for the medical ship."

Elaina shook her head, taking in a ragged breath. She walked back to her console and put her hands on either side of it.

"Commander?" Sano asked cautiously. "What are your orders?"

"I have a visual."

The officers all turned towards the engineer who had called from behind them, bringing up a visual of the Merveille. Her spherical primary hull was scarred and blackened from multiple attacks and hull breaches, and her starboard nacelle was flashing unsteadily from damage, the occasional plume of plasma escaping from a destroyed injector. She limped forward as a large, dark, cube-shaped ship barreled towards her, extra hull-plating on the exterior distinguishing itself as a more powerful Tactical-type Borg cube.

Nizeri gasped, covering her mouth. "They won't stand a chance." She turned back to Seurer, who was also watching the screen in silent despair. "What do we do?"

Elaina shook her head. "I...I don't know."

Jessica glanced around the engine room. All eyes were either on the chief engineer or on the image of the Merveille - her friends - running for its life. Green torpedoes fired from the cube, and the small medical ship evaded successfully, but she knew it was only a matter of time...

Jessica hit the panel behind her with her open palm, causing everyone except Wirstowx to startle. "Weapons status?"

Wirstowx raised an eyebrow, then brought up the necessary information. "Eighty-two percent. We have forward cannons and torpedoes, and one dorsal phaser array, saucer section."

She turned to her fellow science officer. "Sano, status of the cube?"

Nizeri looked between Jessica and Seurer nervously. Not seeing any objection from the lieutenant commander, the Trill accessed the ship's sensors. "Sensors are spotty, but the cube's power grid is fluctuating wildly. The forward hull plating has been extensively diminished, and the cube isn't making any attempt to either repair the damage or rotate the forward face to a less damaged side."

Jessica hobbled across the room to Seurer, her injured leg protesting anew. "We need engines, Commander. And to transfer all weapons' power to the forward facing batteries." She turned away, then back as she remembered. "And shields. All available power to the forward shields."

Seurer blinked a few times, then nodded. "Aye." She went to work immediately, back in her comfort zone as an engineer.

"Weapons are ready, Lieutenant."

"I have coordinates for a weak spot, Wirst. Concentrate your fire there."

"Received. Targeting." He turned to Jessica for confirmation. "Sir?"

It took Jess a moment to realize he was addressing her. She nodded, and he turned back, confirming the target.

"All available power has been rerouted. We might blow a conduit or two, so keep away from the walls, but this should..."

"The cube is attacking again!"

Jessica whipped her head around to see the cube lash out with twin beams of disruptor fire. The Merveille dodged to port, evading one of the beams, but the maneuver had put her in the line of fire for the second, staggered beam. It drilled through the secondary hull, bursting out through the bottom with an eruption of orange fire. The ship continued listing to port, and the pinpoints of light that showed windows flickered along with her nacelles and deflector.

"Direct hit! Her shields are down!"

Jessica's breath caught in her throat. She grabbed Elaina's shoulder, screaming, "Now!"

===


The cube continued its merciless rampage toward the wounded Federation ship. It was an unfamiliar design, but adhered to many of the same specifications that most Federation ships were built with, making it easy to pick out high-interest targets. The main control facility, or "bridge" as their prey called it, was normally at the top of the forward section of the ship.

A quick sensor scan showed extra armor near the top of the ship, but not enough systems and power were tied to that point. The bridge was further down, with more protection. It was easy to pinpoint.

NEW CONTACT LOCATED. IDENTIFIED - "AKIRA" TYPE ESCORT. MAIN CONTROL FACILITY - DESTROYED. NO NOTICEABLE DAMAGE TO MAIN TARGETS.

CONCLUSION: MODIFIED "AKIRA" TYPE ESCORT. PREVIOUS ENCOUNTER INFORMATION: IRRELEVANT. BEGIN TARGETING PROTOCOLS - ENGINEERING.

WEAPONS FIRE DETECTED.

The cube opened fire, its plasma torpedoes speeding towards the Merveille to finish it - it would be one less target and obstacle to deal with, now that another ship had entered the fray.

Rafale appeared behind the damaged medical ship, quickly flying over the top and in front of her and taking the brunt of the torpedo attack with her forward shields. Then she returned fire, phaser cannons lashing out with bursts of orange and mixing with a spread of bright blue quantum torpedoes. She lifted her nose, the one remaining phaser strip on the underside of her saucer-section adding to the destruction.

The weapons fired again and again, each volley slamming into the same spot as the nimble escort continued forward at her top speed, not wavering from her course as she threatened to collide with the cube.

WARNING: HULL DAMAGE AT CRITICAL LEVELS. BEGIN ROTATION TO UNDAMAGED FACE.

RETURN FIRE: DESTROY.

The cube began to turn its damaged face away from the merciless Rafale, but the Federation ship followed, altering her own course to keep her weapons trained on the chink in the cube's armor. The Borg ship fired back, weapons targeting anything left of value on the smaller ship.

The cube lashed out with twin disruptor beams, hoping to catch the small escort in the same trap it had caught the Merveille with. The Akira dodged to starboard, then quickly back to avoid the second beam, but it was still too slow; the beam connected with her unshielded warp nacelle. The cube fired again on the wounded Starfleet ship, and succeeded in severing the damaged nacelle completely in an explosion of metal and plasma.

Rafale fired one more spread of torpedoes, then hung dead in space, waiting for the final blow.

===


Jessica coughed, picking herself up off the deck. Fire suppression systems were being activated all around her, and there was a light shower of fire suppression foam falling on her from an overhead sprinkler. She coughed again, then shouted. "Report!"

"Starboard nacelle's been cut clean off! Core containment was breached, I'm ejecting the core!"

"Shields and weapons are offline!"

"Sensors are down; I can't tell you what's going on!"

Jessica cursed, wiping her face and pushing her hair back behind her head. She staggered to the main console as Seurer finished inputting the commands to eject the core, and watched as it disappeared, thrown through a hole under the ship and tossed into space.

"Hold on to something!"

No sooner had the Braidan shouted the warning than the ship lifted up, tossed away as the warp core exploded under her. Everyone went flying around the engine room with screams, slamming into walls, railings, or consoles.

Then, an eerie silence fell on the room. Jessica picked her head back up, looking around. Fires burned around the engine room, and consoles that had been functional only seconds ago were now dark or shattered. The only light came from the fires around her.

What are you waiting for? She picked herself up, ignoring the protests of her wrist, and sat against the bulkhead she had hit. Finish us already. We did our job; you left the Merveille alone. What's the matter, can't take any more of us?

The overhead speakers crackled, and a faint voice could be heard, broken by static. Jessica shook her head; she had imagined it. Nothing on the Rafale was working. If the cube didn't finish them off, they'd all suffocate to death anyway.

But they're safe. We saved them. Bridget, Justine. They'll be ok. Jessica began laughing.

"Rafale, come in..."

What?

"This is the U.S.S.
Wolf 359. If there are any survivors, please, respond! Come in, Rafale!"

Impossible. I must be dead.
"Shut up!" she called. "Just be quiet now."

"Rafale, we read you. The Merveille is coming around to transport any survivors; we're going to finish what you started." The female voice was pained and breathless. "You made good work of the ship. Who's in charge over there?"

Jessica coughed, shaking her head. If the hallucination wants to talk back, fine then. Better to die with company than alone. "I'm...Lieutenant St. Peter. Jessica...St. Peter."

"Good work, Lieutenant. I look forward to meeting you back at Earth. Wolf out."

"
Rafale, this is the Merveille, we have a lock on your location. Prepare for emergency transport."

There was a shimmer of blue, and the sound of thousands of chimes, and then white. Jessica closed her eyes and smiled.
Chapter 10 by TemplarSora
"This day isn't over yet, Captains. Any and all available ships are meeting to try to push the remaining Borg ships out of the area. I want all ships able to fire weapons there for the final action. I'm transmitting the coordinates now; warp to the location as soon as possible.

"Quinn out."


===


Chapter 10

Jessica opened her eyes and took a deep breath. The air stung in her lungs from the smoke that was still dissipating. She looked around her and saw the others who had been in engineering with her lying on a transporter pad, starting to look around in confusion.

There was a shadow over her, and a hand rested on her back. "It's ok, you're safe now. Don't move too much till we can check your injuries."

Jessica tilted her head to the left to see the Bolian who was taking a scan of her, his blue lab coat stained with dark blood and soot. Satisfied, he nodded to her before moving on to the other Rafale officers.

"Where...are we?"

"The Merveille, and I have to say, you jumped in just in time." Jessica turned back to the transporter control, where a Bajoran in a yellow uniform stood, carrying a phaser rifle. His face bore fresh scars on his upper lip and back across his cheek, and the top of his uniform was similarly discolored with blood. He stepped forward and offered Jessica a hand up. "Thank you. Lieutenant Obruz Dossu, ship security."

Jessica accepted his hand and let him pull her up. "Lieutenant Jessica St. Peter."

"St. Peter?" He looked surprised. "I guess you're in charge then?"

"Well..." She paused, turning around to look behind her. Seurer wasn't moving, and the Bolian doctor was frowning at his scans. She turned back to the security officer. "I guess so, yes."

"I was ordered to coordinate with you, get your less injured into bunks for the ride home and triage your wounded." He looked behind her. "I guess that's one person going to triage now."

Jessica turned back again to see medics loading Seurer's unconscious body onto a stretcher. A large gash had split her forehead open, and blood had covered most of her face. The woman's chest slowly rose and fell, for which Jessica was grateful.

There was a soft beep as the guard's commbadge alerted him. He tapped his chest. "Obruz here, go ahead."

"Is she here yet?!"

Jessica's eyes went wide and her heart started racing; it was Justine. "Justine! Are you ok?"

"Oh my God, Jessiy! Get to the triage, now!" Justine choked on the last word and let out a deep breath.

"What is it? JD, what's wrong?!" Jessica grabbed Dossu's arm, pulling him closer as if to help her hear what was happening on the other end of the channel.

"Just hurry!"

The channel closed. Jessica's stomach was doing somersaults as she looked up at the Bajoran. "Take me to the triage."

He nodded solemnly, then led her out of the transporter room as the pad came to life again and more survivors beamed over.

===


Shock had taken its toll on Jessica. Not even the stench of blood, as it soaked the carpet in the crew lounge, registered in her mind. She was faintly aware of the muted voices around her, moaning in pain and fear, but even those didn't faze her.

Her eyes flitted across the dim room, searching. A few cots here and there were covered by blood-stained sheets, hiding the fallen from sight as medical officers moved around the cramped space to other patients they could save.

They had stopped, and Jessica shuddered, bringing herself out of her stupor. She gave the shoulder of the man standing next to her a squeeze, looking up at him and offering a small smile of gratitude. "I think I can find them. Thank you, Lieutenant Obruz." She slowly worked up her courage before looking out over the sea of bodies, searching for them. Her eyes caught a flash of purple, and she moved forward.

Only Justine had talked to her the few minutes earlier in the transporter room. The panic in her friend's voice wasn't lost on her - it had registered as clear as a damn gong in the middle of a cello recital. As she moved toward the purple locks of hair, the knot in Jessica's stomach twisted tighter and tighter with each step.

She came up next to Justine, who was sitting on a stool next to an occupied cot, an open med kit on the ground next to her; most of its contents had been spilled out and used. Jessica gasped when she looked down, choking on a sob.

Bridget was lying on the cot, her face contorted in a painful grimace as she coughed. Her beautiful blonde hair had been scorched and burnt short, and half of her angelic face was red and black with burns and blood. She coughed again, bringing a shaky hand up to her lips to cover her mouth before she opened her eyes. She smiled weakly as she locked eyes with Jessica.

"Stormy...you made it."

Jessica swallowed, searching for something to say to her friend. She knelt down, taking Bridget's other hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. "Of course I did." She tried smiling as she felt tears roll down her face, unable to think of anything else to say.

Bridget's eyes closed, and Justine reached out and shook the woman with a frustrated sob. "No, dammit! Stay awake." She took Bridget's other hand and squeezed it. When Bridget still didn't answer, she gave the unburned cheek of her friend a light smack with her hand. "Bridget, stay with me!"

Bridget's eyes opened again as she began coughing. Small flecks of blood rained down on the sheet covering her, and she glared at her lover. "Cadeau..." she whispered. "Please..."

Justine shook her head as she sobbed more. "No. You can't do this to me!" She spoke as though the words had been crammed into her throat, each one making it harder to breathe or speak. She leaned forward, resting her head on their clasped hands.

Bridget pulled her hand gently away from Jessica and placed it on top of Justine's head. She looked down at Justine, then back up at Jessica. She smiled wider, her eyes fluttering again. Her mouth opened and moved, but no sound came out.

Jessica leaned in closer, shaking her head. "No..." she pleaded along with Justine, the tears flowing more freely down her face. "No, don't do this."

Bridget laughed a little, causing her to go into another fit of coughing. Her head rolled backward as her eyes closed again. "Not...my choice." She reached blindly with her hand, eventually finding Jessica's again and gave it a weak squeeze. "Take...good care...of both..." Her voice trailed off.

Justine looked up again, smacking Bridget's face again. She yelled something at Bridget in her native French, hitting her again; Jessica didn't understand what she had said. Bridget's eyes opened again and she coughed, grimacing in pain and frustration.

"Justine...I love you...please..."

The purple haired woman sobbed harder and kept speaking in French. Jessica recognized one phrase as she repeated it over and over.

"Je t'aime." I love you.

Bridget smiled, then looked up at Jessica. She tugged with her hand, prompting Jessica to lean closer as she opened her mouth to speak again. "I...lo-" She coughed, gasping for air before she tried again. "I..."

Jessica gave her hand a squeeze. "I love you, too." She tried to smile.

Bridget smiled back as her head rolled back onto the pillow. She closed her eyes again.

Jessica felt Bridget's grasp on her hand loosen. Justine screamed, her sobs echoing above the noise in the lounge. Jessica cried with her, putting her arm around Justine and holding her as close as she could.
Two Weeks Later by TemplarSora
Commander's log, stardate 83212.78

This log is being submitted to Starfleet Command and the Bureau of Starfleet Personnel in regards to Lieutenant (JG) Jessica St. Peter during the altercation with the Borg at Vega Colony. While in command of the USS
Wolf 359, I personally witnessed her capability during the battle in command of the USS Rafale. From my ship, I saw the ship engage a Borg Tactical Cube, a feat which would have given far more experienced commanders pause, and remain a viable threat to the enemy vessel until the time that the fleet was able to engage and neutralize it. In doing so, the Rafale was able to keep the Borg ship from destroying or assimilating the USS Merveille, a medical ship full of survivors from Vega Colony. Furthermore, the bridge log on the Rafale shows that Lt(JG) St. Peter took command of the vessel at a time when all other capable officers were either killed or unable to do so. Her actions were solely responsible for the survival of her ship, the Merveille, and any other ships that may have been preyed upon by the Borg. It is my recommendation as Commanding Officer of the USS Wolf 359 that Lt (JG) St. Peter be awarded with the Star Cross. Furthermore, I also recommend that she be given a field promotion to Lieutenant Commander and retained on a provisional basis as the Commanding Officer of the USS Rafale until such time that a suitable replacement can be found.

Commander T'Randa Rembrant, U.S.S.
Wolf 359

===


Two Weeks Later

Jessica sat up as the sun began to set, rubbing her eyes. She yawned, stretching out her arms and gazing up at the red sky with a small smile.

The wind whipped her hair around her face, and she did her best to quickly take control of it and tie it up behind her before laying back down on the thatched roof of the quaint little two-story Tudor home.

Two weeks had gone by, and it had been a flurry of activity since the Rafale and her surviving crew had finally reached Earth. Because of her role in keeping the ship in one piece and rescuing the Merveille, Jessica had spent nearly a week and a half between San Francisco and the orbiting Earth Spacedock, doing countless briefings and debriefings on the battle.

Fifty-five lost, including the commanding officers. One hundred two injured - the remainder of the small crew. And, she was being praised for saving the lives of almost a thousand people. She frowned, gazing up at the slowly darkening sky.

Numerous ships had been destroyed, and the fleets that had raced to save the colony had been devastated. Thousands dead, with even more wounded. Entire command crews killed off, as if targeted solely for the reason of being in command. The vast majority of the casualties of the battle had been Lieutenant Commanders or higher, and nearly every dead crew member was on a command staff of some type.

Only one person in those statistics mattered to her. She closed her eyes, fighting off the wave of guilt and depression that threatened to crash over her again. It was harder, being here in Bristol now.

She had gotten the call three days ago. Mr. Dubois, husband to a Betazed ambassador and father of her remaining best friend, Justine, had summoned her to their family home in Rhode Island. Justine had requested an indefinite leave of absence to go home following Vega.

"She won't speak, she won't eat. Sometimes I think she doesn't even blink; just stares straight ahead in bed, not moving," he had explained in heavily accented Federation Standard. "Please, she needs a friend - she needs you - to help her through this."

You promised Bridget you'd take care of Justine, she had reminded herself. So she had packed up and beamed across the continent to Boston, then caught a ground transport to the small town the Dubois family had called home.

She still isn't eating. She still isn't speaking to us. Jessica sighed, closing her eyes again. To make matters more difficult, her half-Betazoid friend had started to project her emotions, making Jessica's own mourning even harder to handle alone. She was thankful for the help of the security officer from Justine's ship - Lieutenant Obruz had taken over as a sort of executive officer in her absence while Seurer focused on the repair effort underway to bring the Rafale back to being space-worthy.

So I can focus on trying to fix the one person left that I care about, she thought. The more she thought about it, the more hopeless it seemed as Justine sunk deeper and deeper into the pit of despair she had dropped into when Bridget died.

It wasn't the only thing she had to focus on, but it was the most pressing concern for her. Rafale would be in dock for months at least - it would be plenty of time for her to find a new crew for her ship.

Commander Rembrant's recommendation, when combined with sensor logs and other eye-witness accounts, had carried a lot more weight than Jessica had thought. Without much choice, she had quickly found herself on Earth Spacedock in Admiral Quinn's office.

The "Chief of Staff of the Federation Starfleet" Admiral Quinn.

He had congratulated her, promoting her to Lieutenant Commander and captain of the maimed ship until a "replacement" could be found. She knew what the older Trill really meant, though: she was in it for the long haul. Starfleet was already stretched thin by the conflict with the Klingons. The battle over Vega against the Borg only served to cull more of the already dwindling population of command-level officers. She knew she wasn't the first or the last junior officer to leave the battle with an early command, but she certainly felt the least qualified.

Jessica sighed. There would be plenty of time to think of it later. For now...

"Jessica? It's almost supper time!"

She sat up as Mr. Dubois summoned her. Her eyes gazed out to the slowly darkening red horizon as she took a deep breath.

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