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‘Grim-grinning ghost, earth’s worm, what dost thou mean
To stifle beauty and to steal his breath,
Who when he liv’d, his breath and beauty set
Gloss on the rose, smell to the violet?

- William Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis


===


Hunger.

The air tore again, causing pain. It was taking too much concentration, too much energy to keep the rift open and allow it to manifest. It had to return soon.

But it was just so hungry.

Nothing remained in this place. There was no life.

No food.

It was hungry as it returned back through the rift. There was a sick sound of something ripping as the air tore again behind it.

===

RAFALE

STAR TREK ONLINE


Ghost Ship

===


Chapter 1

The prey wasn't moving.

Alpha Tajaln leaned forward, his breathing even and slow. Despite being thousands of ketrics away from his target, he felt his body preparing itself, as if he could leap from his throne, through the viewer suspended in front of and above him, cross the distance of vacuum, and wrestle with the pearl-white starship that hung motionless in the Great Bloom.

He turned his throne to the left, peering down at the other hunters as they worked at their stations. He addressed the closest one, whose helmet was adorned with the faintest remnants of blue paint. "Scans, Gamma."

"Nearing completion, Alpha."

He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. "What do you have now, Gamma?"

The junior officer paused before calling up the scan. "I am detecting low emissions from the Federation ship. Class is Miranda." He continued working his controls while reading his results.

Tajaln let out the breath he held in a quick rush, letting his impatience known. "That tells us nothing, Gamma. Beta!"

His second in command, a large Beta named Gan, stepped around the command-throne from his place to the right of the Alpha, taking the Gamma’s place and manipulating the controls with a skill the lesser Hunter was clearly lacking. He grunted in disgust. “The Bloom is disrupting many of our scans, but the ship is running on low power. I am not detecting any life signs on board.” He paused for a moment before turning around. “Weapons and shields are offline.” He bowed once his report was complete and walked back to his station.

Tajaln leaned to the left of his throne, casting his eyes downward at his Gamma. “That, Gamma, is why you will not be Alpha.”

“Yes, Alpha.”

“You must learn what is important about our prey. Yes, they are Starfleet - Humans, weak, unworthy prey - but they are capable of defending themselves. You must know to look for your prey’s weapons.”

“Yes, Alpha.” The dejected Hunter bowed his head low in shame.

“Beast or man, do not expect your prey to be unarmed and unable. When you have learned this, you may yet be Alpha.”

The Hunter nodded silently before turning back to his station in frustration. Tajaln nodded to himself as he sat straighter in his throne. It would take much time, but he was sure that under his tutelage, his cousin could yet make an excellent hunter and, Ancients willing, an Alpha of his people. But until that time came…

“Alpha!”

The large Hirogen hunter turned to his right. “What is it, Beta?”

“I am…” The Beta shook his head, rechecking his instruments. “This cannot be. I detected a spike in radiation on the Starfleet ship and it is…gone.”

“Thalaron?” Alpha Tajaln stepped down from his elevated throne, waving the Gamma to come look over his shoulder. “The Bloom is rife with it after Shinzon and Enterprise.”

Beta Gan shook his head, growing more frustrated. “It was not, of that I am sure. And if it was, we would be safe; our hull can block the particles, and our shields are raised.” He smacked the console with his fist. “I cannot get another reading on it. I am sorry, Alpha.”

Tajaln grumbled in the back of his throat before dropping a hand on the Beta’s shoulder and squeezing. “It is not to be apologized for, Beta; you have not failed. Continue scans of the Starfleet ship and the surrounding area.” The Alpha turned to face his Gamma. “Contact the rest of the pack; tell them to spread out in the Bloom and signal at the first sign of more Starfleet ships. And have them use the gifts we have received from Empress Sela.”

The Gamma bowed before turning around and returning to his station, relaying the message. Tajaln mounted the steps to his throne. Resting next to it was his weapon, a large silver tetryon rifle. He lifted it up, raising it so that it pointed above him at the ceiling. “I will be leading a hunting party. Gamma, you will join me. Gan, the ship is yours until we return.”

A chorus of “Yes, Alpha” echoed in the command room. There was a bustle of activity as seven of his hunters, Gamma included, stood from their stations to retrieve their own hunting rifles and gear. The few who had removed their helmets donned them now, while the rest fetched the paint to mark each other with. Tajaln stepped down to the nearest one and dipped three fingers in the red paint. He lifted his hand to his helmet and dragged the fingers from the brow of his helmet up and back. After the ritual, he placed his breathing mask over his face and lifted his rifle in the air again. “Bring us within transporter range,” he barked. “Today, we hunt!”

===


The woman sighed, her crystal blue eyes locked on the brown leather chair standing before her. They were separated by the smooth, glass-like surface of the ready room desk, but she still felt as if she were intruding on some holy shrine she was not allowed to see.

It had been months - nearly four, in fact - since the chair’s previous owner had been killed. Four months since the ship had been crippled and her command crew killed by the Borg. Four months since Vega Colony was attacked.

And now, almost four months since she had received an extra full pip on her chest to show her new rank. Without breaking her gaze on the chair, she idly lifted a blue-skinned hand to her chest to feel the two full pips and one outlined that were pinned to her uniform.

Jessica St. Peter shook her head, turning around and resting her butt on the desktop as she took in the rest of the ready room - her ready room. She looked down, frowning.

Three months ago she had worn the normal uniform for her position on the Rafale - the dark, navy blue pants and blouse, with lighter blue shoulders and stripes down the arms, and the gold communicator chevron with the sciences division emblem etched inside. She had been a scientist, and one of the newest crewmembers on the ship.

Now, what had once been standard science-blue was a bright mustard color. She still wore the science division badge, since that was (she felt) her true position in Starfleet, but she wore the command uniform out of necessity.

She was in command. And this was her office, the small ready room just off the back of her bridge of her ship. She let out the breath she realized she had been holding and turned back around to face the chair.

It felt all wrong to her. She had no business in this room, even if it was a rebuild of the previous ready room. The bridge had been destroyed by the Borg, necessitating a rebuild of the entire deck - to include the captain’s office. Even if it wasn’t the same room, it was wrong.

This is Mal’Kon’s.

Nothing remained of the late Captain Mal’Kon in the ready room. Jessica had been in his ready room only once before, when she had first come aboard the ship almost a year ago. She remembered there being old artifacts, ancient weapons of sorts, mixed with amateurish paintings and carvings he had claimed to have made himself while “learning” a new hobby.

The walls were bare now, save for a framed Starfleet Academy volleyball jersey with her last name on it and her number, “16,” which hung next to the small, triangle-shaped viewport. A gold model of the Rafale, in her original Akira configuration before her recent refit, sat on a shelf near the door. On one side of the desk sat her terminal: on the other, a volleyball with numerous signatures in black ink was proudly displayed. They were her trinkets, her attempt to make the office her own.

And yet, in the entire time since Rafale had left spacedock, Jessica had been unable to sit in the brown leather chair across the desk from her that was rightfully hers to sit in.

At least she was more comfortable here in this room. Mal’Kon’s presence wasn’t nearly as strong here as it was in her new quarters. The captain’s quarters were far better than the bunk area she was used to, but they were definitely still the late captain’s quarters. She had been forced to remove many of his personal effects herself. She still refused to sleep in the bed, favoring the seemingly unused sofa that sat in the common area of the room in front of a wall of windows. The view overlooked the bridge, nestled protectively between the hull pylons. It was a wonder the room hadn’t been destroyed along with the bridge.

Borg precision. Effectively, mercilessly brutal.

A chime behind her caused Jessica to jump, bringing her back from her thoughts. A voice from the ceiling helped to end the silence.

“Incoming message for you, Commander. It’s Admiral Zelle, from Sierra Station.”

Jessica reached for the computer terminal on her desk and spun it around to face her, pressing the button on the base to activate it. “I’ve got it in here, Obruz. Thank you.”

The black screen came alive, proudly displaying the Federation seal. That was soon replaced with the image of a dark skinned, bald Deltan woman in an admiral’s jacket. She smiled at Jessica. “Commander St. Peter. It’s good to see you again.”

Jessica smiled, feeling herself blush a little at the woman. “Admiral. What can I do for you?”

If Zelle noticed Jessica’s embarrassment, she didn’t let on. She leaned closer to the screen. “How would you like a mission to cut your teeth on, Commander?”

===


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