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Earth Orbit: Stardate 53391.0

The Pershing and the Shran hovered just outside the Enterprise's slipway. The huge silhouette of the Sulu loomed a few thousand meters away.

Admiral Murphy sat in a command chair surrounded by six holographic displays floating around him in mid-air. A dozen technicians handled the massive amounts of information flowing into the state of the art Combat Information Center or CIC. His screens gave him up to the second status on every ship in his fleet, the condition of the fighter squadrons on the Sulu, and a complete three dimensional starmap of the surrounding system.

Murphy placed his personal headset over the crown of his head and fitted the microphone boom near his mouth.

"This is Freedom 6 to all Task Force Commanders," he said pressing his hailing button. "Tracking stations are showing the enemy fleet at 4 lightyears out. This is it. Give me a comms check in sequence."

"This is Blackjack 6, loud and clear," Tigranian said appearing on a holoscreen near Murphy's right arm. He sat on the Pershing's bridge. Ensign Gleeto was at the tactical station and Lieutenant Moran was at the helm.

"Got you, Dan," Murphy replied.

"Ice-Ax 6, loud and clear, Sir," Zhe'vasda said from the Shran. Her image took the holoscreen just to the left of Tigranian's.

"Got you, Kivrana."

"This is Rapier 6 on the flight bridge," Captain Bennet said appearing on the center holoscreen. "Got you on the intership uplink, Sir. Cobra Squadron is spinning up their T-Bats now. They'll be cleared to punch out as soon as we clear the Pluto Marker. Two flights of four each: one under Commander Bentley and one under Commander Neman."

"Got you loud and clear, Parker," Murphy said. "Acknowledge the REDCON status on fighter cover."

Murphy took a deep breath and his brought up the last ship's display.

"Alright, Pioneer 6," he said establishing a comm link with Annabeth on the Enterprise. "It's up to you. Is she gonna launch?"

"Freedom 6 this is Pioneer 6," Annabeth replied. "We've completed fuel and weapons upload. Final checkouts and diagnostics complete," Annabeth responded. "We're in final pre-start sequence to fire up the core now. She'll launch…even if I have to get out and push."

Murphy smiled.

"Acknowledge, Pioneer 6," he said. "Hopefully in won't come to that. Give me another report when you're moving down the slipway."

On the bridge of the Enterprise, Annabeth disconnected the subspace channel and keyed her internal microphone.

"Main Engineering, this is the Bridge. It's now or never, fire her up."

"Acknowledged, Ma'am. We're almost ready," Scharr replied.

"We're past almost ready, Tren. Get her going or we'll be fighting the Cardassians next to the moon.
Down in Engineering, Scharr stood at the main control console glaring down at T'les.

"What's wrong, T?" he said as his antenna curled in annoyance.

"The warp core is primed and ready, Sir," she replied struggling with piece of conduit adjacent to the dilithium chamber. "However, I am having difficulty connecting the final plasma vent line."

She pressed the end of the black plastic hose against the metal coupling that ejected super-heated plasma from the main firing chamber. Even with all her Vulcan strength, she was unable to attain a lock enough to close the seal. With a final grunt, she tried again, but to no avail.

"If we don't get those lines hooked up, we won't get any plasma flow to the EPS grid! You've got to get it connected!"

"I am aware, Sir!" T'les replied with the slightest hint of emotion.

Chief Quinn looked at the sight and laughed. He hobbled across the deck plating to the base of the warp core.

"May I, Sweetheart?" he said gesturing to the conduit.

T'les, with every ounce of Vulcan discipline she had remaining after two days of putting this ship back together, balled her fist and stood up straight.

"If you believe you have strength greater than mine, Chief Quinn," she said holding up her hands, "you are more than welcome to try."

Without a word, Chief Quinn pulled a silver hip flask from his pants pocket, unscrewed the lid, and sucked a huge swig of liquor between his lips. He then leaned forward, and spit the entire mouthful onto the warp seal.

Scharr looked on in utter confusion.

Quinn then withdrew an old-fashioned, chrome cigarette lighter from his jacket. He flicked open the lid and struck a flame. Calmly, he touched the fire to the puddle of alcohol which flared to life in a hot flash.

"What are you doing!?" Scharr shouted as he dove for the fire control handle on the far side of the warp core pit. "You could ignite the whole EPS grid!"

"Calm down, Ice Queen," Quinn said as the flame burned itself out. The old man reached over, connected the conduit, and sealed the gasket with one finger. Scharr and T'les looked on completely dumbstruck. Quinn took another swig of liquor as he explained. "The polymer carbide o-rings in those seals gets hard as diamond when it's cold. It's designed to function with 5000 degree plasma pumping through it. It just needed to be heated a little first."

Calmly, Quinn looked over to T'les and grinned.

"These old ships are like good women. They only do want you want when you take care of them right. You gotta know where to rub 'em, where to finger 'em, and where to get 'em hot!" He burst out laughing as T'les awkwardly climbed out of the warp core pit to join Scharr at the control panel.

"I had no idea that humans felt engineering and coitus were so closely related…" she whispered as she adjusted the controls.

"I guess they are…" Scharr said shaking his head. "Ok! It's now or never. Let's fire this old girl up by the checklist."

"Dilithium chamber structural integrity field is active. Matter/anti-matter injectors to standby," T'les answered.

Quinn shuffled over to another control panel and flipped a bank of switches.

"Primary and auxiliary fuel pumps to prime, Impulse fusion reactors to plasma accept. They'll kick over as soon as the EPS pressure climbs above 300 millibars!" the old man shouted. "Best cover your ears, it's gonna get loud in here!"

T'les looked over to Scharr who gave a final nod. The Vulcan put her hands over the inducer controls and took a deep breath.

"Matter/anti-matter injectors to start," she said pulling down on the row of switches.

A rumble caused the entire room to vibrate. Two streaks of light started at opposite ends of the warp core, shot towards the dilthium chamber, and collided in the center of the tower. A cloud of dust was ejected from the inside of the bulbous center section as more waves of light began pulsing up and down the core.

Thrum….Thrum…Thrum…

A slow steady rhythm like the sound of a heart beating began to echo through their ears.

Thrum, Thrum, Thrum, Thrum, the beat grew faster and faster as their gauges and indicators began to rise.

"That should do it," Quinn shouted over the din. "Kick her over!"

"Matter/anti-matter injectors to run!" T'les shouted as she flipped the switches to their final position. A huge screech echoed off the walls as hot warp plasma shot into the EPS grid. Scharr and T'les both cringed as the cacophony finally dissipated into a steady, pulsing cadence.

"I told you to cover your ears," Quinn chuckled.

Scharr rolled his eyes.

"Matter/Anti-matter reaction is at 100 Cochranes and rising. EPS pressure leveling off at 450 millibars. Impulse fusion reactors are active!" T'les said allowing herself the slightest smile of relief.

All over the ship, systems transferred from shore power to internal feed. Outside in space, the other vessels of the task force watched in amazement as lights flickered across the entire hull. The Big E's deflector dish came to life with a brilliant, blue glow.

Scharr laughed in triumph as he keyed his intercom.

"Bridge, Main Engineering! The warp core is hot! Let's get it on!"

On the bridge, Annabeth banged her fist into her armrest. At the helm, Phil activated his console.

"I've got control," he said grinning. "Nav thrusters and impulse drives are online. Warp drive available on your mark, Ma'am."

At the science station, Laria ran a final check of her systems. "Main computer is active. All systems running at standard automation, bringing up external sensors."

"Katie," Annabeth said into her intercom. "You've got power. Lock and load then get up to the bridge. It's time to go."

"Aye, Ma'am!" Katie replied from ten decks below in the torpedo bay.

"Alright," Katie said signaling Buster at the central torpedo console. "Bring the first one down, nice and easy," she said raising her hands.

A magnetic arm lowered from the ceiling with a two-meter long, glossy black photon torpedo in its grasp. Buster artfully maneuvered the projectile into the cradle mounted in the loading track. Once it was secured, he released the magnetic clamp and sent the weapon forward towards the torpedo tube. After a brief ride, it sealed itself behind the hatch with a pneumatic hiss.

"Bridge, Starboard torpedo loaded!" Katie shouted.

Buster immediately brought down another projectile and repeated the process on the opposite tube.

"Port torpedo loaded!" Katie added.

"I've got plenty of help down here with your crewman from Lady Blackjack," Buster said. "They need you on the bridge, Ma'am. We'll keep her spitting fire. You just shoot straight."

"Good luck," Katie said with a smile, "and thank you," as she headed for the turbolift.

A few minutes later, she emerged onto the bridge and took a seat at the tactical station next to Phil.

"It's gonna take a while to get used to being up front next to him," she said activating her controls. "Torpedo bays and phaser banks charged and ready, Ma'am."

"These instruments are little bit crude, but I think I can tell that space is that way," Laria said pointing to the viewscreen. "Science, as ready as we'll ever be."

"Helm ready," Phil said.

"Sickbay is up and running," Alex said through the intercom. "Let's get moving!"

"Main Engineering, all energizers charged and ready. You've got full power."

Annabeth looked around the bridge. She pressed the shipwide intercom. A bosun's whistle echoed through every chamber and corridor.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Captain. Your work the past two days has been outstanding. However, this is the real deal. We're going into action. Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, and take care of our new ship. We're gonna make those bastards sorry they ever decided to leave spacedock."

The cheers echoing through the ship echoed back through the bridge speakers. Annabeth allowed herself a smile.

"Museum control, this is the USS Enterprise, clear all gangways."

In the museum's control center, Doctor Weitkamp reached down and pressed a large button on the main panel. The four visitor gangways pulled away from the Enterprise, the long banners hanging from their sides that read "The Big E Welcomes You!" slowly folded away.

"USS Enterprise, this is museum control. All gangways cleared. Good luck," Whitecamp said softly, praying that her ship would still look like this on its return.

"Phil," Annabeth said on the bridge, "Clear all moorings."

"Aye Ma'am," Phil said moving his hands over his controls. "All moorings cleared, gravitational and life support umbilicals retracted, Captain."

"Alright everybody," Annabeth said leaning back in her chair. "Let's see what she's got." She keyed hailing frequencies. "Freedom 6, this is Pioneer 6, Big E is REDCON 1 and moving."

"Freedom 6 acknowledges," Murphy replied. "Pershing and Shran will form up on your flanks as soon as you clear the dock."

"Aft thrusters."

"Aft thrusters," Phil repeated.

"Ahead, one quarter impulse power," Annabeth said sharply pulling down on her jacket.

"Ahead, one quarter impulse power," Phil said opening the throttle.

For the first time in 80 years, the Enterprise-A moved down her slipway towards open space. A crowd of workers in pressure suits had assembled on the dock's inboard walkways. They raised their arms triumphantly as the ship roared brilliantly back to life.

Tigranian watched on the Pershing's bridge as the white saucer of the Enterprise caught the shimmering light of Sol as it exited her berth. The letters "NCC-1701-A" seemed so large, he felt that the entire planet could read them.

He listened to the open command frequency on the speaker next to his chair. He suddenly became aware of a roar echoing across the entire fleet. Every crewmember of the Pershing, Shran, and Sulu cheered as the Federation's most famous ship moved to the lead of their formation.

The Big E turned out of Earth orbit. As Annabeth watched Luna pass by, a voice echoed in her comm system.

"Pioneer 6, this is Blackjack 6," Tigranian said. "Pershing forming up on your aft port quarter."

"Pioneer 6, Ice-Ax 6, Shran coming in off your starboard."

The two battleships assumed flanking positions. The massive Sulu then took its position half an AU behind.

"Pioneer 6, Rapier 6, we're right behind you," Bennett signaled.

As his task force took the shape of a giant wedge, Murphy steadied himself.

"Capital Space Traffic Control, this is Starfleet Task Force Freedom, clear the slot. We are approaching Titan Marker."

"Acknowledged Starfleet Task Force, the slot is cleared of all civilian traffic to Pluto," the controller replied. "You are cleared to exit the solar system on any vector."

"All Commanders," Murphy said switching back to the fleet's internal, encrypted frequency. "We stick with the Big E until the Oort Cloud at 278 Mark 115. After that, Sulu, Shran, and Pershing will remain in a holding pattern in the Kuiper Belt using the gravometric interference to mask our warp signatures. Enterprise, you'll move out to meet the Cardassian fleet. Take out those Cataclysm ships as fast as you can. Then, get out of there. Let the big guns take care of the rest."

"This is Pioneer 6, acknowledge."

"Blackjack 6, acknowledge."

"Ice-Ax 6, acknowledge."

"Rapier 6, acknowledge."

Traveling in perfect formation with Annabeth at the lead, the task force sailed forward to the edge of interstellar space.

****

As the task force entered the Kuiper Belt, Admiral Murphy keyed his intercom.

"Parker," he said to the commander of the Sulu, "Let Cobra fly."

"Aye Sir," Bennett said from the flight bridge. He turned to the Air Boss and flashed a thumbs up. "PUNCH 'EM OUT!"

Eight T-Bats flew down the port flight deck and into space. They broke into two tight formations of four fighters each. Half of them headed for the Shran while the others made for Pershing.

Tigranian and Zhe'vasda heard a voice crackle to life in their comm systems.

"Blackjack 6, Ice-Ax 6, this is Cobra 6 on your push," Bentley said from the cockpit of his T-Bat.

"Got you loud and clear, Cobra 6," Zhe'vasda replied.

"Loud and clear," Tigranian echoed.

"Acknowledged," Bentley replied. "I have two flights of four coming on station. Flight 1: Flight lead call-sign Cobra 6 moving to starboard nacelle of USS Shran. Flight 2: Flight lead call-sign Cobra 5 moving to port nacelle of USS Pershing. We have 1-8-0 minutes of play time. Our individual loadout is full charge on pulse phasers, times 12 Mark XII micro-torpedoes, and 1 Starphoenix anti-starship guided missile. Request Task and Purpose."

Tigranian looked out and saw four small angels quickly take formation next to his ship. Something about seeing them there was deeply comforting.

"Cobra 6, this is Ice-Ax 6," Zhe'vasda replied. "Task: Conduct security vicinity USS Shran and USS Pershing. Purpose: Prevent enemy vessels from influencing Shran and Pershing prior to engaging Cardassian fleet. On order, attack by fire Cardassian main body to provide freedom of maneuver for USS Enterprise once sentry vessels are destroyed."

"Ice-Ax 6, Cobra-6," Bentley replied. "Acknowledged, WILCO."

Tigranian keyed his mic and spoke.

"Cobra 5, this is Blackjack 6."

"Blackjack 6, Cobra 5," Daredevil replied. "Funny how we always seem to run into each other like this, isn't it, Sir?" Even though the transmission was audio only, he could tell she was smiling.

"Don't bullshit me, Dee," he said with a smirk. "You love it."

"That may be true, Blackjack 6," she said. "But we definitely got ourselves a situation here. Is it true what they say about us being useless till Sabre and the rest of the ole' gang take out those scout ships? They're damn good, but I don't like putting all our eggs in one basket like this."

"Afraid so, Dee," Tigranian replied, "but you know as well as I do how strong that particular basket is."

Daredevil looked out at the massive battlestarship flying next to her.

"When you right, you right, Blackjack 6," she replied. "I just hope Saber can drive that thing. It's not exactly a high performance piece of military hardware anymore."

Tigranian laughed.

"Never tell him I said this to you, but in his hands, everything is a high performance piece of hardware."

He heard laughing on the other end of the comm.

"Damn, Sir," she said after catching her breath. "If you're talking like that, we're in worse trouble than I thought."


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