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"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."


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