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USS Sovereign
En-route from Sector 001 to the Pierosh star system, Warp 9.97

Temporal Investigations special agent and rapid response team leader Maya Ixis sat uncomfortably in the seat to the captain’s immediate right.  She disliked being anchored to the bridge, and although she realized the logic behind having her at the captain’s disposal, she would have rather been training with her team on the holodeck in preparation for whatever awaited them on Pierosh II.

Captain Rixx, the Bolian starship commander, sat ramrod straight in his chair as he read the latest briefs from the Gibraltar.  “It appears the on-scene personnel are doing a solid job of reconnoitering the situation,” he assessed.

Ixis looked sidelong at the man, her expression carefully neutral.  “Unfortunately, Captain, adequate isn’t even close to sufficient under the circumstances.”  She modulated her tone to try and sound less confrontational, though Rixx gave no sign of being offended.  “I’m sure they’re doing the best they can, but Gibraltar is an outdated escort ship with few scientific resources.  If the situation on Pierosh II worsens, and I think that likely, they’re going to be in over their heads very quickly.”

Rixx set down his padd and focused his eerily serene gaze on the younger Efrosian woman.  “I sincerely hope you are wrong, Agent Ixis.  Even at maximum speed it will be another six days before we reach that system.  Whatever is unfolding there may well have come to fruition before our arrival.”  He turned back to the main viewscreen.  “They are Starfleet.  They will do their duty.”

Ixis exercised restraint and held her tongue.  She was still certain that an inexperienced crew thrust into this scenario could only spell disaster. Looks as though we’ll find out soon enough, she reflected darkly.

*****

Observation Lounge, Deck 2, USS Gibraltar
In geo-synchronous orbit of Pierosh II


Sandhurst had again assembled the senior staff in the briefing room.  He hoped to pool his department heads’ skills and knowledge in order to get a clearer picture of what had happened at Pierosh II, and who or what might be responsible.  Ramirez, Plazzi and Ashok had been recalled from the surface to attend, while the newly awakened Juneau had volunteered to stay behind and oversee the remaining surface teams.

The captain stared at the image on the briefing room’s wall-screen, a head shot of the scientist currently residing in Sickbay, one Dr. Stephen Benghazi.  The image had been taken some five years earlier, and showed the countenance of a man who could perhaps be best described as driven.  His receding gray hair was tied in a short ponytail, and his deeply set pale green eyes seemed to burn with an unnamed obsession.

As he craned his neck to look down the table at Plazzi, Sandhurst asked, “So what do we know about him, Elisto?”

Plazzi glanced up from the padd containing Benghazi’s biography.  “To sum it up briefly, sir, he’s believed to have been born circa 2309 on the Crevanus colony.  He was recovered as an orphaned survivor of the Tholian attack on that planet a year later, and no other family members could be located.  Benghazi was adopted by a family on Alpha Centauri and was raised there.  He apparently demonstrated an early aptitude for science and mathematics.”  Elisto scrolled through the text as he mined only the most important bullet points from the story of the man’s life and accomplishments.  “Graduated from Atramis University on Alpha Centauri and pursued his graduate and doctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Earth, earning dual doctorates in quantum mechanics and applied dimensional theory in 2341.”

The science officer quirked an eyebrow as he read.  “Well, now this is interesting… it says here that he was later employed by the Daystrom Institute as a researcher into parallel dimensional theory.  Eventually he transferred to the Vulcan Science Academy, where he taught for three years, until being recruited by the Starfleet Corps of Engineers to look into the viability of resurrecting the 23rd century Transwarp Propulsion Program.  Apparently, the SCE later shut down that line of research after the underlying theory once again proved impractical.”

Plazzi briefly scanned the remaining text and set the padd down on the table.  "He spent the next few decades bouncing from one project to another, serving largely in an administrative capacity while submitting over a dozen separate requests to the Federation Science Council for the authorization and resources to conduct research into ‘subspace inter-dimensional tunneling.’”

Sandhurst grunted sourly.  “Looks as if he did an end run around the Science Council to put together his little experiment here.”  He shook his head as he wondered aloud, “Am I the only one who thinks it’s a bit strange for someone whose background is in astrophysics and quantum mechanics to be heading up a meteorological survey?”

“It’s not terribly unusual, sir,” Plazzi replied.  “It would appear that Dr. Benghazi was hired on, ostensibly, for his administrative experience in supervising scientific projects.  His leadership credentials are as impressive as his academic ones.”  The science officer directed a mischievous smile at Sandhurst.  “It’s no stranger than an engineer by trade captaining a starship.”

The captain smirked and inclined his head as he conceded the point.  “So, it appears we have a group of rogue Federation scientists hiding out here on Pierosh II, conducting unsanctioned research into breaching the walls between dimensions.”  He looked to the assembled officers.  “Everyone onboard with that?”

The others appeared to accept the premise, and Sandhurst leaned back in his chair.  “I realize that this probably goes without saying, but I’m going to mention it anyway.  That heat you’re feeling is the glare of the spotlight on us, and it’s going to be there for the duration of our time at this planet.  Starfleet Command, the Science Council, and even Temporal Investigations are all clamoring for updates, and you can bet they’ll be scrutinizing every one of our reports with the proverbial microscope.”

Ramirez frowned, and the others didn’t appear any happier than she with this news.

The captain continued, “My point is that we need to make sure everything we send up the chain of command is as accurate as we can make it.  Conjecture is fine on this end, but where your reports are concerned stick to what you can prove.  Admirals, agency directors and ambassadors may well be making decisions that will effect a great many people based on our findings.  So, check your figures, and make damned sure you can back up your hypotheses before filing your respective reports with Commander Ramirez and me.”  He scanned the dour faces of his subordinates and then favored them with an ironic smile, “No pressure, though.”

His attempt at humor fell flat, so he looked to Taiee.  “Doc, what’s Benghazi’s condition?”

Taiee was to-the-point.  “He’s dying, sir.”

The captain’s eyes narrowed in frustration.  “I take it there’s nothing that can be done for him?”

“No, sir.  The EMH finally pinpointed the problem. It appears his DNA has been irrevocably warped somehow, likely a result of the energies accompanying the pulse that devastated the research station.”  Taiee appeared disappointed, but her professional detachment held firm.  “We attempted a genetic tissue graft from a few undamaged cell nuclei we found in his bone marrow, but it didn’t take.  The damage appears to be too extensive.  For now, all we can do is make him more comfortable until he dies.”

“Can we interrogate him?”  This from Ramirez, who had remained silent until now.

Taiee cocked her head thoughtfully.  “We’ve placed him in an induced coma for the time being.  I suppose we could wake him, at this point with a terminal diagnosis it really wouldn’t make any difference.  His neurographic scan didn’t indicate any serious neural degradation so far, so it’s possible he might be coherent enough to answer questions.”

Sandhurst nodded favorably.  “Okay, Ramirez and Taiee, I want you to oversee waking him and getting what information we c—“  The captain was drowned out in mid-sentence by the wail of an alarm.

“Intruder alert,” the computer announced.  “Deck 1, main bridge.”

*****

Main Bridge, USS Gibraltar
In geo-synchronous orbit of Pierosh II


Petty Officer 1st Class Brazeal manned the aft auxiliary control station, which had been configured as a science console in order to watch for anomalous energy readings from the surface of the planet.  What at first sounded vaguely like a malfunctioning air circulation pump grew into a bizarre cacophony; a pulsing, grinding screech that filled the bridge with discordant noise.  Brazeal winced and covered his ears, then watched incredulously as he witnessed a black, two-dimensional rectangle appear to rise from the deck.

A burly, emerald complexioned Orion stepped through this window onto nothingness.  Without warning or preamble, he raised a compact and lethal looking rifle and stitched a line of smoking holes through the back of the command chair.  As the unfortunate occupant of that chair, Ensign Qawasimi’s chest exploded outward to spray the bridge well with gore as the young man toppled from the center seat and thudded lifelessly to the deck.

Ensign Browder at Operations had been trying to locate the source of the sound, and was unaware anything was amiss until he was showered with bits of the duty watch officer.  Instinctively he grabbed the phaser positioned beneath his console and pivoted in his chair to find a gang of heavily armed Orions surging onto the bridge.  He raised the phaser and got off a glancing stun shot at one of the attackers before another of the Orions shredded both Browder and his Ops board with a sustained burst of plasma jacketed slugs from his assault rifle.

The bridge devolved into a frenzied storm of action.  Some officers and crew dove for cover as others tried valiantly to resist the sudden onslaught.  Brett Lightner hit the deck as rounds hissed past his head and perforated the main viewscreen.  He rolled under the console and fumbled for the phaser housed there as his mind reeled with the surreal speed of the attack.  As he attempted to increase the weapon’s power setting with trembling hands, someone grabbed hold of his lower leg and dragged him out from under the station.  Lightner flailed with the phaser, unable to even depress the trigger before he was struck full in the face with the muzzle of an Orion’s rifle that crushed his nose and shattered the orbital socket of his right eye.

Security Specialist Weatherly who manned the Tactical station had the presence of mind to initiate an emergency lockout of main computer functions on the bridge.  He realized that he didn’t have time to reach for his weapon, and instead launched himself towards the nearest Orion.  Weatherly delivered a solid elbow strike to the pirate's head that sent the attacker staggering against the bridge’s safety railing.

As Weatherly stooped to collect the Orion’s dropped rifle, he was unprepared for the sensation of Kutav’s wicked dueling blade as it sank into his back.  Weatherly reflexively dropped the gun as his arms flailed beyond their natural ranges of motion and tried desperately to reach the killing implement lodged deep in his flesh.  Kutav grabbed him roughly about the head with a muscular arm and pulled the knife from Weatherly’s back with his free hand.  The ahmet yanked the young man’s head to one side and drew the blade across Weatherly’s throat, which ended their struggle in a pulsing cascade of the human’s lifeblood.

Amidst the chaos, Brazeal tapped his compin and announced an intruder alert which initiated a computer driven ship-wide alarm.  He then sprinted for the nearest turbolift and actually made it into the lift car and announced his destination.  Just as the doors began to close, one of the Orions tossed a plasma grenade into the lift that landed with a soft clunk on the carpet and rolled to a stop against Brazeal’s feet.  He was immolated in his own self-contained crematorium en route to Deck 4.

The fight was brief yet bloody and culminated in five dead bridge crew and three more wounded.  The Orions suffered only two of their number briefly dazed from the crew’s frantic defensive measures.  Those Starfleet personnel captured in the attack were moved to the front of the bridge, forced to lay prone on the deck with their heads toward the now inoperative viewscreen.  Two Orions stood over them and swept back and forth with their rifles, prepared to bring lethal force to bear on any unauthorized movement.

The way having been cleared, the Baron stepped out of the dark portal as the doorway vanished behind him.  He moved immediately to the engineering console on the upper level as he reached into the folds of his cloak to produce the yellow, tear-drop shaped crystal.

Kutav approached and gestured to the darkened consoles throughout the bridge.  “We have been locked out, Baron.  What are your instructions?”

The Baron appeared calm and collected as he waved the crystal over the engineering board which inexplicably came to life.  The display screens began to flicker through a litany of shipboard schematics so quickly that Kutav had to look away.  The Baron rapidly set about disabling Gibraltar’s internal security systems.  While he worked, he spared Kutav an irritated glance and growled, “Prepare yourself and ten of your men to be transported into main engineering.  Take that section, but make certain to keep collateral damage at an absolute minimum.”

Kutav gave the Baron a skeptical look, then held up the sinister looking firearm he had provided them.  “Your weapons have no stun setting.  How do you suggest we do that?”

The Baron shrugged, already deeply engrossed in Gibraltar’s schematics.  “Fight them hand-to-hand if need be, but if you damage the engineering systems I’ll have your head, and those of your men.”

Kutav resisted the urge to shoot his mysterious benefactor then and there.  He surmised that the Baron was clever enough to have taken precautions to prevent such an obvious act of betrayal.  He turned and barked out orders to his men, who scrambled to collect the Starfleet phasers scattered about the compartment.

After he gathered nine of his men around him, Kutav checked the setting on his phaser to ensure that it was on heavy stun.  The Baron navigated his way through the ship’s systems until he located the command processor modules responsible for transporter control.  He initiated a site-to-site transporter lock and beamed Kutav’s party into the ship’s engine room.

The Baron turned his attention next to subduing the remainder of the ship's crew before they had a chance to interfere with his plans.

*****

Sandhurst and the others leapt to their feet as the intruder alert sounded.  The captain urgently prompted, “Computer, display visual recorder, main bridge!”

The viewscreen shifted from the picture of Dr. Benghazi to an image of the ship’s badly mauled bridge.  The bodies of fellow crew littered the floor while heavily armed Orion pirates milled about the command center.  Sandhurst was stunned, unable to grasp for the first few seconds how this had happened.  The sight of dead crew finally spurred him to action.  “Computer, raise shields.”

As the computer acknowledged the captain’s order, Ramirez reacted from years of security training.  She instructed, “Computer, release anesthizine gas on Deck 1, main bridge.  Seventy parts per million concentration.”

The computer’s feminine voice responded, “Unable to comply.  Access to internal security subroutines has been restricted.”

Undeterred, she tried another avenue.  “Computer, erect level ten containment fields around all persons on the main bridge.”

Again, the computer proved incapable of fulfilling the command.  Ramirez swore formidably in Klingon as Sandhurst shot her a worried look, his expression tight with anger.  “Commander, take a security team and get up there.  Jefferies tube alpha-three will take you right up into the ready room.  You can stage from there.”

Without taking the time to acknowledge the order, Ramirez sprinted out of the room as she tapped her compin and directed a security team to join her on Deck 2.

Sandhurst moved to the viewer and issued orders as he reconfigured the wall display into a ship’s systems control panel.  “Taiee, get to Sickbay and prepare for incoming casualties.  Plazzi, get down to the auxiliary control room and reroute command functions to that location.”  The two officers rushed out as Ashok moved to the captain’s side.  “Lieutenant, it looks as if they’re trying to hack into our control systems.  You and I need to erect an adaptive firewall to prevent that, at least until Ramirez and her team can take back the bridge.”

“Aye, sir.”  The large man set to work and tapped away at the screen as he moved to assist Sandhurst in blocking the enemy’s infiltration into their computers.

The computer’s voice issued forth again, and again it was the bearer of bad tidings.  “Intruder alert,” it declared in its irritatingly calm tone, “Deck 15, main engineering.”

*****



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